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stories by Alejandro Quan-Madrid

3 ways Skrillex is bringing dubstep music to gamers

It appears that Sonny “Skrillex” Moore is trying to expand his appeal to video game fans. The poster boy for the aggressive, abrasive American variety of dubstep music certainly has his fair share of haters … like people over the age of 25 who can’t get into his style. Regardless of your opinion on the guy’s music, however, give him credit for his efforts to broaden his brand with a handful of recent video game-related projects. Here are three examples, all from this past November.

Pay what you want for a new Wii U … remix album

DJ Cutman pays homage to Nintendo’s latest console with his instrumental album Wii U Grooves. This self-described “lifelong fan” of the Big N samples various songs from the new console’s games and operating system and flips them into a bunch of different music styles. Regardless of what you think about the Wii U, I think we can all agree that these remixes are pretty chill. 

Waking Mars mirrors a multiethnic, 21st-century America

I love the way that Waking Mars approaches the ethnicity of its characters. The astronaut heroes just happen to be an Asian guy and a black woman. These details never really come up in the story, yet they are quite obvious during the dialogue scenes in this Martian-botany, cave-exploration game. I was pleasantly surprised to see that for this dynamic duo, race is an afterthought.    This uncontroversial yet uncommon approach to representation in interactive media speaks to the future (humanity is exploring another planet, after all). In essence, it echoes the same sentiment many have about the shifting demographics of the United States, where a diverse coalition of Americans recently reelected President Barack Obama.     In Waking Mars, available on mobile and computer platforms, you play as the scientist Liang and are guided by his colleague Amani. They’re trying to find out what happened to their roving robot and better understand Mars’ plant life and history. Developer Tiger Style presents characters that are intelligent, capable, and don’t give in to any lame racial stereotypes. Liang doesn’t do kung fu, and Amani isn’t some Aunt Jemima-style caricature. These digital people of color represent a diverse, post-racial, intergalactic future (similar to the Star Trek series … except Mr. Sulu was a martial-arts master).   Though the U.S. is quite far from being at the same point — both in terms of technology and race relations — Waking Mars presents a forward-looking, optimistic view. Political analysts seem to agree that a broad coalition of blacks, Latinos, Asians, women, QLGBT, etc. helped secure the election for Obama. People of color specifically are outpacing whites in terms of birth rates. The country is only going to continue to become more diverse, and developers need to start recognizing this change.    How many games can you think of that star a generic, white male in his mid-30s? Maybe a better question would be, how many titles can you identify that don’t? In her book, Rise of the Video Game Zinesters, author Anna Anthropy says that, “The population who creates games becomes more and more insular and homogenous: It’s the same small group of people who are creating the same games for themselves.”    As Anthropy later argues in her book, however, that’s becoming a thing of the past.    With the rise in popularity of indie titles (and their lower production costs), developers can take more “risks” like having an Asian guy and black woman be the heroes. When will big-budget releases follow? I would hope that mainstream audiences can take a story and its characters for what they’re worth and not need a white male protagonist to anchor every experience. The massive popularity of Dora the Explorer, a children’s cartoon featuring a tech-savvy, bilingual Latina girl … and her monkey, gives me hope for the next generation.    “With the right mixture of traits, the characters come alive and feel worthy,” says Tiger Style co-founder and creative director Randy Smith. Even though he was talking more about the style of storytelling his team used in Waking Mars, the developer’s approach to character design is universal. For Liang and Amani, “their dynamics are compelling, their plights are sympathetic, and they have a way of writing their own backstories.”     If you agree with this approach, please support these kind of games to show that an audience does exist for well-developed protagonists who happen to be from minority groups.   You can pick up a copy of Waking Mars (and a handful of other awesome indie titles) by making a name-your-price donation in the latest Humble Bundle. The promotion runs from now until late next week. 

LA Game Space: A video game center for the people (interview)

LA Game Space wants to upgrade and democratize the creative video game community. The non-profit company is aiming to create a facility in downtown Los Angeles where people of different disciplines can come together to research, collaborate, and make new forms of interactive entertainment. The founders also envision it to be a place for workshops, lectures, and more.

Someone is making a film about playing Dyad on mushrooms

I’m quite curious to see what it was like for freelance journalist Justin Amirkhani to ingest hallucinogenic mushrooms and play through PlayStation 3 title Dyad. He’s launching a crowdsourced fundraiser to pay for the production costs of making a short film about the experience. Amirkhani even had the game’s creator, Shawn McGrath, reluctantly guide him through the trip. I suppose this is art.

One Million Hit Points: 01 — Sworcery secrets, a retro game store, and more

I cleared a huge hurdle. I managed to produce a second episode of my video-game-culture webshow, One Million Hit Points. Actually, this is the premiere since the last one (with the senior citizens playing Wii Sports bowling) was technically the pilot. I’m confident that episode one is at least seven times better than episode zero. Wait….

Rappers Kanye West and Big Sean sound fierce over the Sword & Sworcery LP

I don’t know if I’ll ever get over mixing together video game music and hip hop. This time, I blended a song from the iPad game Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP with one of the recent collaborative offerings from rapper/producer Kanye West. Actually, the main wordsmith on this recording is one of Kanye’s protégés, Big Sean (though you can hear a some lines and grunts from Ye at certain parts).  

IndieCade is empowering me to become a game designer

I’m ready to transition from writing about video games to designing them. I wouldn’t have thought this move was possible if not for attending the international festival of independent games, IndieCade, for the last four years. I won’t continue as a weekly contributor to GamesBeat after Bitmob finishes merging with it at the end of this month. Fittingly, I want to look at my history with IndieCade as it sandwiches my journalism career and helps guide me to the next level.  

Space Invader mosaic on its way to attack the earth

I’m not sure if we can still call this Space Invader mosaic “street art” when it’s up in the stratosphere. The artist Invader, who was featured in the award-winning documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop, sent one of his pieces up into the second layer of the earth’s atmosphere back in August. He created the high/low-tech unmanned spacecraft using a balloon for flight and a camcorder to film the voyage.

Pokémon, Earthbound, and Zelda meet to form The Denpa Men

Ignore the cumbersome title and all of the dudes in leotards. As offbeat as it seems, The Denpa Men: They Came By Wave is actually not that weird. This downloadable adventure for the 3DS handheld system is actually pretty traditional, sharing a lot in common with some classic Nintendo role-playing games (RPG). In fact, developer Genius Sonority appears to have played up this theme by filling its game with allusions to some popular RPGs such as The Legend of Zelda, Find Mii, Pokémon, and Earthbound.

Game-expo booth babes speak out on nerd perspiration

Back in 2010, I interviewed a handful of promotional models at the Electronics Entertainment Expo trade show to hear what they thought about working such a gig. Most of them responded that it was fun and that they met a lot of nice, interesting people. Then, I asked them about having to take pictures with a bunch of sweaty conference attendees. It turns out, they had a lot of passionate opinions on that subject, and I decided to (finally) compile their responses into a short video.

I’m a jerk to someone I know only through the 3DS’s StreetPass Mii Plaza

I’ve met hundreds of people through the StreetPass Mii Plaza application on the Nintendo 3DS, and I’m an unreasonable jerk to just one guy. I’ve never talked to him before, so I have no idea what he’s really like. But we’re acquaintances through this simple, inter-console social-media service. Now, whenever our handhelds swap data and our Mii characters cross paths, I decide to be kind of mean. It’s an ongoing joke … one that I don’t even know if he’s aware of.

Adventure Time cartoon creator wants to get into games journalism…sorta

Pendleton Ward, the creator of the wildly popular Adventure Time cartoon, wants to start writing about video games. He recently created a new website to do so. At this point, he’s mainly filled it with a few hypnotic animated images of a simple Super Mario having fun with a plunger. In his first post, Ward expressed his desire to “interview people who work on games.”

Midnight anniversary screening of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World proves the film is now a cult classic

One of the best video-game-themed movies just turned two years old. To celebrate, a couple hundred fans of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (a film adaptation of a comic book) came out to watch a midnight screening with series creator Bryan Lee O’Malley. I decided to brave the warm Southern California night to see the eponymous main character fight his girlfriend’s seven evil exes. When I arrived at the theater, one thing was immediately clear: This motion picture is undeniably a cult classic.

Sony has good cures for video game sequelitis

If you’re sick of only seeing upcoming releases that have numbers in their titles, maybe you should take a look at what Sony has been up to lately. The PlayStation 3/Vita maker has been working to put together a solid catalog of exclusive, original games. From its this season's string of PlayStation Network hits to some of its pleasantly surprising reveals at the recent Gamescom conference, Sony is taking plenty of risks to distinguish itself.

Sound Shapes vs. downtown Los Angeles

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sgeZkjEvISI&w=560&h=345] The level editor in Sound Shapes is pretty damn rad. I used the tools from the PlayStation 3/Vita music-based platformer to recreate a shot I filmed of a lovely skyline in downtown Los Angeles, Calif. Then, I used my computer to blend that original video with a recording of a quick run through the stage.

Sound Shapes is the definitive video game mixtape

Sound Shapes for the PlayStation Vita and PS3 is essentially an interactive video game mixtape. Developer Queasy Games masterfully blends together work from various visual artists, designers, and musicians for the different stages in this charming 2D platformer. The level editor gives players the creative freedom to put together and share remixes and mashups. And everything in this colorful, minimal PlayStation Network title is tied together in an an ode to physical recorded music. 

Spelunky is an excellent teacher

The secret to calming the chaotic nature of Spelunky is to understand the extent of the hero’s abilities and the general flow of the game. This 2D Xbox Live Arcade platformer/adventure/treasure-hunting title will actually teach those things to you, but you’ll have to die plenty of times first. Plus, it has an old-school difficulty where when the player dies, he ends up right back at the beginning of the game.

Writing for Bitmob helped me get a job teaching game design

I just picked up a part-time job teaching game design to underserved youth in my neighborhood. The funny thing is, I’ve never really made a video game before, and I don't know how to program. What I do have, however, is three years of experience writing about games and plenty of industry contacts, all thanks to Bitmob. I was able to sell myself on those points, and now I’m using my insider perspective to put together a kick-ass program.

Square Enix is using a quirky game show to promote Quantum Conundrum

While many publishers promote new releases with simple banners or trailers, Square Enix is going a step further with its latest title, Quantum Conundrum. SE is teaming up with production company Iam8bit to produce The Super Dimensional Quantum Learning’s Problems and Solutions Gametime Spectacular. It’s a game show, and yes, that’s the actual name.

Pokemon Conquest: Great for jaded fans of the series

Developer Tecmo Koei might have designed Pokémon Conquest to be a way to introduce kids to strategy games, but I think it’s actually ideal for jaded fans of the series. This spinoff for the Nintendo DS is more about raising an army and conquering kingdoms than trying to “catch ‘em all.” And for former Pokémaniacs like me who are a bit tired of the kid-friendly franchise these days, Pokémon Conquest is the perfect way to fall back into it.

New Super Mario Bros. 2′s coin fixation is confusing

Nintendo recently showed off how New Super Mario Bros. 2 for the 3DS is going to be all about the heroes getting paid, but something doesn’t quite add up to me. During the company’s software-showcase presentation during the recent 2012 Electronic Entertainment Expo, Scott Moffitt, Nintendo of America’s executive vice president of sales and marketing, made a reference to players helping Mario collect one million coins but didn’t say why.

Nintendo shows its commitment to the 3DS

OK, so we didn’t see a jumbo-screen “Nintendo 3DS XL” at this year’s E3 industry trade show like Japanese newspaper Nikkei predicted. Nintendo didn’t drop any mind-blowing news about upcoming releases for its current handheld, either. But the company did show off its commitment to the system with a solid lineup of actual games…and, you know, none of that casual-market-grabbing media-center connectivity or any singing, fitness, and dancing titles. 

Fans come out swinging at the Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown pre-launch party

Game publisher Sega recently teamed up with the guys at production house/art exhibitor Iam8bit to host a little brawl in honor of the upcoming Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown (Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network). They had plenty of TVs, arcade sticks, and PlayStation 3s loaded with the game at the Iam8bit gallery in Los Angeles, Calif. for fisticuffs fans to do some sparring. A good number of folks showed up just to watch and cheer.

Mario Tennis Open can trick casual players into becoming competitors

Mario Tennis Open is definitely a product of the current trends in gaming. At its core, the Nintendo 3DS title is a solid, light-hearted sports sim. Studying the flow of the experience, however, reveals how developer Camelot cleverly blended that base with mechanics from popular casual games. In this way, unassuming novices can easily find themselves tricked into becoming strong digital athletes.

Games as art? These future developers really mean it

People who argue that video games are art should stop referencing Shadow of the Colossus and instead look at what the folks at the University of California Los Angeles Game Lab are doing. Tucked away in the north end of campus, the academic program recently hosted its second-annual Game Art Festival. I made it out to closing night of the two-day event and was quite amazed to see the many directions the participants are taking the medium.