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Early Access Doesn't Work. At Least Not for Me. Most of the Time.

I’ve been thinking about early access games a lot over the past six months. On the surface it seems like an incredible way for small game developers to raise the capitol to get their games made and for the gamers to see behind the curtain and have input into development. And when things go really well, it does work like this. However, from my personal experience, this is rarely the case.

I’ve been involved with several early access projects now and I’ve yet to feel like any of them were a smashing success. Some have felt like complete tripe that were created to make a quick buck, and others, while being diligently worked on by passionate teams, just seem to miss the mark one way or the other.

The biggest issue I’ve noticed in my limited experience has been miscommunication between developers and the gamers who have joined their respective games via early access. Usually this is in the form of time frames. It seems like developers feel the need to give very quick turn around time frames for a project that they are going to early access with so as not to scare away a lot of prospective investors. The thing is video games typically are not something you rush when you are creating them. From my understanding of the industry it often takes years to make a decent game. In some cases a decade or more to make a mediocre or not so decent game. (Diablo 3 or Duke Nukem Forever anyone?)

Some developers get around this by not giving a firm final product release date. Instead opting to release a playable alpha or beta and updating it on a regular schedule. This seems the intelligent way to go. Assuming, of course, that you keep your investor players in the loop with constant updates. Even then, gamers are an impatient and entitled lot and may lose faith in an early access project when it seems like a release date is not forthcoming in an amount of time they deem it should be. If a developer provides a release date and then misses it … well, let's just say it isn't pretty.

Hey, they're getting close to releasing Starbound. Relax.Developer and publisher Chucklefish has found this out the hard way with their game Starbound. After missing targeted release dates twice and not updating the game as often as they originally intended Chucklefish has drawn the ire of some of it's supporters. Despite the fact that the game is still in active development, had a sizable update in February, and seems to be chugging toward a 1.0 release in the near future, there are still many angry supporters of the project for the a fore mentioned missed deadlines. One need go no further than than the Steam store reviews of the game to see this.

Another issue that rears its ugly head are so called “developers” who raise money through crowd funding or early access, then release an early access game and run off with the money. Often times the product that is churned out is a fetid pile of unplayable crap that leaves supporters angry in the extreme with no recourse. In a couple of cases the issue has been so bad that Steam had to pull the games in question from their store and offer refunds. For an example of this just do a Google search for Earth: Year 2066.

For my friends and I the issue has gotten to the point that we won't go near an early access game on Steam unless the reviews are at least listed as “mostly positive” or better. To be honest, we're all pretty sick of early access and have pretty much decided to avoid it. This is a shame because the majority of games that Steam thinks I’m interested in lately are early access, and I’m really just not. If a large enough segment of PC gamers are feeling this way, then the whole early access enterprise is doomed to failure.

Gee, thanks for this, Steam ...Steam's fix for both of the problems I mention above is to place a caveat emptor on any store page for an early access game. This is, at best, a bandage. Steam (and other stores like it) should consider a cure in the form of a policy that somehow protects their customers from disingenuous “developers” while giving honest developers the breathing room they need to release a good product. Something with a little more teeth than a caveat emptor. If they fail to do so, they will likely lose the trust and goodwill of a lot of their customers.

Beyond a vague suggestion that Steam draw up a better policy for early access games on their store, I really don't know what the solution to all of this is. I've been thinking about it on and off for months and very pointedly in the last few weeks. Early access seems like a great idea, but once the human factor is introduced, it seems to, like a lot of ideas, fall apart.

Maybe patience is the answer. Perhaps gamers could learn to be more patient and understand that a quality video game doesn't just pop into existence over night, that it takes years to create a quality product where video games are concerned. And maybe developers, the good ones, could be more realistic with the milestones and goals of their products allowing their supporters to develop realistic expectations of the final product and the industry as a whole.

Again, I don't really have an answer. What about you? What are your thoughts on early access games and crowd funding? Have you been burned by participating in early access? Do you have a solution? Let us know in the comments below.


First Con

Rhonda and a friend at Triad Anime Con.

Do you remember your first con? It’s like your first Doctor—it will always hold a special place in your heart. It is a communal and emotional experience.

This weekend, I’m at Triad Anime Con in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Anime is a fandom I’ve tried to introduce myself to before, but it just didn’t stick. One of my best friends’ daughters is a huge anime fan and has contributed some articles here on the subject. It has been my immense pleasure to be present at this, her first ever con, and what an honor and a thrill it is to relive it all over again through her eyes.

Triad Anime Con is fairly new and run by a local anime club. It’s not what I would call a very good con.... It is highly disorganized and there’s a dramatic lack of logistical information. The staff seems present but non-functional. (I sat through a struggling panel yesterday that simply needed their computer hooked up to a projector and no one from tech ever showed.) The panels are run mostly by fans and lack some polish and focus.

But for a fan like my friend's daughter that has lived out her passion online with friends, reading books from the library, and watching features on Netflix... this is euphoria.

Even without cons, our fandom is primarily described as community. Almost all of us celebrate in obscurity and there’s a basic desire to be validated.  Although the panels weren't great, there’s nothing like seeing a room full of cosplayers.

Then you know that you aren’t alone.


Sound Unlocked: Five Fantastic Women who have Composed Gaming Greatness

March is Women's History Month, and I would like to share some of the amazing musical work women have contributed to the video gaming world. I've selected five songs from five women that I feel have made a huge impact, and I'll briefly detail their careers and other musical highlights for you to consider.


Kinuyo Yamashita (alias "James Banana") began her short career at Konami composing the tunes to Castlevania, including the iconic "Vampire Killer." While I personally am a bigger fan of "Wicked Child," it's difficult to argue against the incredible hooks and melody of the series's trademark song.

Yamashita did some other work for Konami in the 1980s, but the majority of her compositions were for Japan-only releases. She left Konami to do freelance work in the late 1980s, composing several titles for Natsume (including the sensational Power Blade/Blazer), doing the SNES soundtrack of Mega Man X3, and several other Japan-only titles.


Michiru Yamane is also tied to Castlevania, beginning with the Genesis's Bloodlines and composing many of the franchise's titles until her departure in 2008. Arguably the most notable tune she composed for the franchise was the stunning "Dracula's Castle" for Symphony of the Night, although I have a very big soft spot for Portrait of Ruin's "Jail of Jewel."

Beyond Castlevania, Yamane helped compose music for several other Konami franchises, including their Pro Evolution Soccer series, Rocket Knight, Contra, Suikoden, and Twinbee. After leaving Konami, she has been connected to the 2D fighter Skullgirls and arranged two tracks for Super Smash Bros. Wii U.


Shimomura is one of gaming's most talented and notable musicians, with an incredibly broad range of games to her credit. Kingdom Hearts and its subsequent sequels are probably her biggest claim to fame, but Shimomura has many other incredible credits to her name, including Street Fighter II, Super Mario RPG, Parasite Eve, Xenoblade Chronicles, Super Smash Bros. Brawl and Wii U/3DS, Legend of Mana, and the upcoming Final Fantasy XV.

My personal favorite may be from Atlus' Radiant Historia, "Mechanical Kingdom."


Tsujiyoko is one of Intelligent Systems's key composers, and has worked on their most influencial franchise, Fire Emblem, from its inception to the present day (although she has taken breaks; Sacred Stones and Awakening were supervised by her instead of featuring her compositions). The video above shares the memorable main theme of the series as it has evolved throughout the years. My personal favorite comes from Fire Emblem for the GBA: "Wind Across the Plains."

Tsujiyoko has also worked on the Paper Mario series, the two Battleclash games for the SNES, and arranged remixes for Super Smash Bros. Brawl and Wii U/3DS. She has created one of Japan's most endearing anthems through the main theme of Fire Emblem and it's only fairly recently Western gamers have had the chance to discover her talents.


Naruke got her start composing for Telenet Japan, where she co-composed titles like Valis III and Legion. She joined a mass exodus of the company however and wound up at Media Factory, where she became one of Japan's more unique composers as she tackled the West West-esque RPG series Wild ARMs. She composed all of the songs for every single title in the franchise save Wild ARMs 4, where an illness kept her from being able to do it all herself, and some other musicians assisted her.

Beyond that series, Naruke's individual style can be heard in Super Smash Bros. Brawl and Wii U/3DS ("Full Steam Ahead" is by far my favorite of hers), The Wizard of Oz: Beyond the Yellow Brick Road, and Half Minute Hero: The Second Coming.

Have a favorite I didn't mention here? Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments!


Manga Style — Chibi, Shoujo, Shounen

The Japanese manga style is broken down into three categories: Chibi, Shoujo, and Shounen. All of these terms also apply to anime.

An example of a character drawn in chibi style.

Chibi is used to portray extreme emotions or just to mix up animations styles a bit, generally as comic relief. Chibi characters have large heads, round cheeks, massive eyes, and are highly simplified. The body is usually smaller than the head. Chibi can work in conjunction with both Shoujo and Shounen, although it is not used in grim or serious-minded stories, as it is meant usually for a bit of humor. There are anime or manga that are exclusively Chibi, but these are few and far between. An example of Chibi would be Dragon Ball.

Shoujo style.




Shoujo is generally for romance, or what I like to call 'First World Problem' (FWP) stories. Set in modern Japan, Shoujo is usually about sports, school, and romance... all the little frivolous issues that Japanese teens or adults face. No Shoujo character is unattractive.

If you like romance novels, Shoujo is for you. Stylized, exaggerated, and pretty, Shoujo is generally targeted towards women and girls. Examples are things like Toradora or Haikyu!!.

Shounen style.


Shounen is extremely detailed. Used for action and horror, although not exclusively, most of the cool stuff is done in Shounen style. In my opinion, the storylines tend to be more involved and interesting than Shoujo. Women in these stories are usually love interests or extra powerful characters. Shounen is directed mostly towards the male population with things like Dragonball Z.

There are many cases where manga or anime are a mix of both Shoujo and Shounen and the genre does not in any way constrain the style. I've happened upon action mangas done in Shoujo and FWPs stories in Shounen. Newer anime and mangas tend to blur the lines more frequently.

One of these mixed styles is Fairy Tail, drawn in Shoujo, but with a much more Shounen-esque story. A few great things about this manga is that it is extremely long, so plenty of reading and watching material, the main character is female, and one of the most interesting and powerful characters is a woman.

Ellie is a geek teen who loves to read, watch, draw, and talk about all things manga. When she's not doing that, she's playing Minecraft with her gang of friends or gaming with her family.


The Last Man On Earth

Phil Miller, the last man.

The FOX network appeared to be doing the impossible by launching a new comedy, The Last Man on Earth, with only one character—Phil Miller, the last man, played by Will Forte.

How do you sustain a series with just one character? Nobody knew until they watched the premiere episode on March 1st and learned that he might be the last man... but there is also a last woman. What the creators have done is a perfect example of the existentialism of comedy regarding the basest of questions about gender, stereotypes, and identity.

Although it’s impossible to imagine, the show does a good job of showing us what it would be like to be utterly and completely alone on the planet for nearly three years. Phil and his actions are relatable, if not admirable. With very little dialogue we learn a tremendous amount about him.

Even if he doesn’t seem to have many aspirations, Phil is educated and definitely right-brained. He decorates his new home with some of the greatest works and accomplishments in history, humanities, sports, and the arts. Surrounding himself with these works not only reminds him of humanity but the tangibility of them is his form of respect and identification with the human race.

Eventually, though, Phil loses hope. As he says,

“I just realized that having other people around is really what makes life worth living."

Agreeably, like many sciences, philosophies, and theologies, the sitcom creators pose Phil’s most basic human needs as camaraderie and affection. Phil interprets these as drinking buddies and sex—all of which require other humans.


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