Category Archives: Video Games

I’ll be at Gamercamp this Weekend!

I’m happy to say I’ll be participating in Gamercamp this weekend, November 13-14. Gamercamp is “a celebration of the art, creativity and fun of video games,” hosted annually in Toronto. I have some friends in the gaming/indy gaming community, and if you’ll notice this year at TCAF we included a small–but to my mind important–indy gaming component. I think there’s some real interesting crossover between indy gaming and indy comics, particularly the development of narrative and working outside of the studio/corporate model, and that’s actually the subject of the panel I’m on! Here are the details:

Gamercamp: Developing Narrative in Comics & Gaming
Sunday, November 14th, 12:30pm-1:30pm
Comic books and video games—these two relatively young media have grown out of their infancy and are taking on complex issues, emotions, and ideas. Join us as we discuss the intersection of these media and what they can learn from each other. We’ll also be showcasing a range of interesting mutations that cross the barrier between media.
With Miguel Sternberd, Benjamin Rivers, and Christopher Butcher

Exciting! I’m definitely going to try to spend as much time as I can there this weekend as well, as the other panels, talks, and exhibitions seem quite cool indeed. Plus there’s two nights of cool events including a concert by Anamanaguchi, and a double-feature screening of The Wizard and The Last Starfighter! Neeeeeat.

Head over to http://gamercamp.ca for all the deets, and hopefully I’ll see you there this weekend.

– Chris
Image is a screenshot of the game “The Depth To Which We Sink” by Bigpants

A quick little follow-up on Comic-Con…

So, here’s Wizardworld Chicago The Chicago Comic-Con’s promotion for this year’s show, taking the top spot every day this week in comics/nerdculture news-site ICv2’s daily newsletter:

CHICAGO COMIC-CON 2009!
600+ Guests including Twilight Saga Actors, former UFC heavyweight champion, Andrei “THE PITBULL” Arlovski, scores of Star Wars guests, wrestling legends and some of the HOTTEST actresses including Michelle Rodriguez, Emma Caulfield, Orli Shoshan and Rhona Mitra.  Get a premier weekend pass or VIP Package and get into the show 1 hour early each day.  Advance tickets start at $25, more at the door.  Get your tickets now at [redacted].
A Paid Advertisement from Wizard Entertainment

Did… did you notice the lack of comics? At the Comic-Con? I mean it’s Wizard, I think enough has been said about Wizard’s relationship to comics to put them into the ground by now (and yet…), but still. They went through all that trouble to rename the convention and everything add “Comic-Con” back in, and their promotion seems to be downplaying, or ignoring completely, comic books. In favour of “hottest”ness. It’s a little strange?

Or maybe not, if you look at San Diego.

One of my biggest criticisms of The New York Comic-Con is that, in its early years, it showed enormous potential to be the sort of comics & publishing-oriented show that this industry needs and deserves. It’s not like it hasn’t been more-or-less sold out every year, particularly the early years that were all about New York Publishing (including and especially comics!). Yet every year the show becomes more and more about movies, toys, and tie-ins. They’re pushing the show closer and closer to the San Diego model and it makes for a weaker show each year. What is the San Diego model btw? Simple: A gateway to nerds. Comic Con International: San Diego is selling floor-space (and advertising space and mind-space) sure, but what they’re really selling is access to mouthy nerds with blogs, tastemakers, half-comprised of the people that make up their audiences and the people that will incite the rest of the country to be their audiences. Comic-Con is all about access, and who’s willing to pay the most for it.

Let’s get this out of the way: I love comics. I think comics are awesome. And I think comics as an industry and a medium needs big events like NYCC and SDCC and hundreds of other regional comics shows: they act as ambassadors for the medium. And so the question for the organizers of these events should be “does any of what we’re doing serve comics as a medium? or an industry? or is it just about the value of the access to mouthy nerds with blogs?”

Now I’m not an idiot, I know the preceeding sentence is naive as fuck. Seriously, Microsoft shows up with a suitcase of cash and they should ask them “but how does what you’re doing serve comics?” Of course not. But there’s that idealism of mine: why not? Something like SDCC but just for the entertainment industry? It doesn’t exist. The movie studios, the video game producers, the TV Shows and toys and Bud Bundy and all that, they’re coming to the comic book show. SDCC has got all the power, because nothing else like that event exists anywhere (Gareb Shamus tried and clearly failed; Reed is travelling the same road Shamus took). Imagine if SDCC really did take the ideological position of “how does what you do help comics?” with their exhibitors, and charged them accordingly? What if they used ideology as the wedge to expand the show into the parks, into the stadium, into the giant parking lot that’s as big as half the convention centre? Here I Drew A Map. Imagine the best possible things happened! Wouldn’t that be great? Why not work towards the best?

Pipe dream, sure. But I like having comics at a comic-con, and if it’s a zero-sum game with attendence: 150,000 people each year, and more and more of the people attending have little-to-no interest in anything other than their specific blinkered fandom (which tends to exclude comics), that means less money for the folks doing and selling and bringing comics to the show. Which tends to mean less comics at the show.

As an aside, the 10,000 TWILIGHT fans at the con really were a problem for the show, but a lot of the reasons that got floated came from a sexist, xenophobic, bullshit fanboy place. I actually feel bad even writing this, but truly, legitimately, 6,000 people at the show JUST for Twilight means 6,000 people that weren’t spending money at the show means 6,000 people that might’ve wanted to go that had an interest in dropping a few bucks at the various vendors? Shut out. Twilight is just the biggest, most concentrated fandom in years–maybe ever, so it puts the problem of Hollywood “stuff” into the clearest relief against the traditional convention crowd. I don’t begrudge anyone taking a road-trip and having a great time for the weekend; I hope the fans had fun. But with a very tight, closed economy at the show (due to space limitations) and little-to-no crossover with the rest of the event, what did having those fans and that event bring to the show? To comics? Why was Comic-Con the best place for that event to happen? And if it wasn’t the best place, and space is at a premium at Comic-Con, then why was it held there?

Two last things:

1. Anime Cons. The big buzz in anime conventions right now is that prices have gone up, and the recessionary economy means that attendees have less pocket-money. Anime Expo, typically one of biggest shows of the year, was reportedly a very poor sales show for most-if-not-all exhibitors. No one had any money. They did have costumes, they did come to hang out with their friends, and they did spend a not-inconsiderable ammount of money on a 3-day pass. They just didn’t have any left-over, afterwards. This wasn’t isolated either, not trying to pick an AX, this is the buzz from most anime shows I’ve been hearing. When a show becomes primarily a place to participate in fandom, a closed circuit, it tends to decline… rapidly. Sci-Fi cons are the biggest examples of this. If your convention is a place to break-out your Klingon costume, hang out in a hotel for three days and go to room-parties, then your convention is not long for this world. Or rather, it’ll be around forever, it’ll just shrink and be sad. No one wants that. Imagine 20 years from now, 40 year old dudes breaking out their Naruto costumes and drinking schnapps out of a bottle in their Holiday Inn 2 dbl bds room with 10 other similarly dressed people. That’s the difference between a vibrant, thriving medium, industry, and fandom, and one that has started to eat itself.

2. PAX: The Penny-Arcade Expo. From nothing to the second-biggest nerd-culture convention (for the public) in just under 5 years. Anyone who follows convention planning/news/whatever is in awe of what they’ve accomplished, and they’ve done it in a smart, controlled way–with an iron fist. First rule of exhibting at PAX? PAX IS A VIDEOGAME SHOW. If what you “do” isn’t directly about video games? You can’t exhibit. Period. 5 years, second-biggest nerd-culture event in North America, accomplished by sticking to their guns. Cooooooool.

Alright. That’s 1200 words of nonsense. Time to go.

Christopher

UDON at the forefront of Holiday Video Gaming

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In addition to featuring a bitch’n soundtrack, this new video trailer for Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix also features a very prominently placed logo for UDON, the publisher and creative studio headquartered right here in Toronto. UDON slapped a fresh coat of digital paint on the game, completely re-drawing all of the character animations, backgrounds, character art and ending sequences to bring the 20 year old classic screaming into the High-Def age. The game looks fantastic.

Pleasing die-hard Street Fighter fans is about as difficult as pleasing Trekkies, but this game is expected to make fans of the series happy. It’s a downloadable game for the Xbox360 and PS3 that features online competitive play, tournaments, and I’m pretty jealous that I don’t get to play, seeing as I’ve only got a Wii… Still, for those of you with the proper systems, you can thrill to getting your ass handed you by some random 12 year old kid anywhere in the world, rather than the random 12 year old kid standing next to you at the arcade machine.

This is a pretty major feather in Udon’s cap, as the game is expected to be one of the most popular titles of the holiday season, and it looks like the studio is going to be front and center in the promotions. I’m friends with the guys at Udon, so I know how hard they worked to pull this together, and I’m glad to see them getting their due… Likewise, I’m glad to be sitting on a few dozen copies of the currently-between-printings Street Fighter Graphic Novels, which should move quite nicely any day now thanks to the continuing build-up in interest in the series

Oh, and while I’m shilling, the second issue of the new SF2 comic drops in stores this Wednesday.

– Chris

I am in Seattle.

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“The bluest skies I’ve ever seen weren’t in Seattle. The greenest hills I’ve ever seen weren’t in Seattle. When I arrived in that coastal town, there was only shades of gray.” – Bruce McCollough

So I’m in Seattle at the Penny Arcade Expo. No fanfare, no sound and fury, I just showed up like a Ninja. So far, not including my boothmates from Oni and UDON, I have seen exactly 5 comic book people at this event: John Green, COrey Lewis, Ryan Yount, Marion Vitus, and Ed Brubaker. This is not a comic book show or really of any interest to comics people… although the guy walking around dressed as The Tick might lead you to believe otherwise.

Why am I here? Is this really a vacation? WTF? I wrote this on the plane on the way in Thursday morning, trying to sum up my own feelings on the event:

I am currently on my way to PAX and I have no idea why I’m going. Well, I know why. My friend Jim asked me if I could help him out at the UDON booth, and I said yes. Thinking about it now, part of me wanted to do this for the work aspects… to see how the Penny Arcade guys run their event. I run an event too–the Toronto Comic Arts Festival–and while TCAF & PAX started at around the same time, last year PAX’s attendence was roughly 37,000 people, and TCAF managed about 6500 over the course of a half-dozen festival events… I want to see how the show has managed to grow, and why, but also how they manage that many attendees all at once! Maybe it’s just hubris, but I can totally see a time when TCAF could be this big, or bigger, and attending PAX in the first few years to see how the show works makes a lot of sense to me. To see ways we can improve, add features and value for attendees. Ideas to steal.

The other reason I wanted to go, and this is the crazy one, is that I just love conventions. Love’em. I love theshow floor, the panels, the events… I love sleeping on hotel beds, using hotel pools, getting to see at least a small part of a new city. I like meeting people, and getting a chance to interact with the people I’ve already met. I almost always have a great time at cons–San Diego this year was fantastic–and I’m kind of expecting that this will be no different. Actually, scratch that, it will be different because I’ve got no horse in this race. PAX is a video game con, with video game industry people and video game fans and video game obligations and… I’m a comics guy. Even me, your humble blogger, I try to be… well I have to be… “on” at comics shows. Or book events for that matter. But this? This is a vacation to a place where you speak the language but the culture is totally different. Where you can observe (and even interact!) without affecting the proceedings. I will be in the mist, chilling with the gorillas and we’ve all got Nintendo DS’s. I can sell comics in my sleep, I’ve been to over 50 conventions in my lifetime, the “work” part of this will be easy. That just leaves fun and frolic and a drink or two. Maybe.

I can’t think of a better reason to go away for the weekend.

– Chris

Now it’s Sunday afternoon, and I’m out in the lobby using their free wireless and taking pictures of people walking by. It’s been a pretty fun weekend, we sold the UDON booth out of almost every book they had (the manga didn’t move quite as well as everything else, but it still did solid). I’ve actually gotten 3 really good nights’ sleep, and I feel like I learned an awful lot from these guys. I even got to have a quick conversation with some people from Reed Exhibitions, the folks that will be helping the PAX show expand to the east coast (and the folks who put on the New York Comic Con). That’ll be interesting.

I’ll probably have a more thorough wrap-up of the event later, but for now, I’m having a great time, and I’m going to go finish up the day.

L8rs…

– Chris

DC Universe Online Impressions – I Am Reviewing A Video Game

superman_vision.jpg

In the weeks leading up to the San Diego Comic Con, my friend Jon Ellis, former Editor at PopImage.com, was inundated with party invites and press material from companies exhibiting at the show. As I had not registered for San Diego as press, and run a ‘blog’ instead of a ‘website’, and am not as polite to the general public as Jon is, I was not. I mean sure, props to my friends at IDW and Oni; your free booze tasted great too. But Jon was getting better stuff than me and he hadn’t written about comics in months.

Luckily, he forwarded everything my way.

That’s how I got on the press list for the new MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game–like World of Warcraft or, dating myself, Everquest) from DC Comics: DC Universe Online (DCUO). For the die-hard comics fan who knows little-to-nothing of the online video games, this is the project that pulled Jim Lee away from the artistic tour-de-force that is All Star Batman and Robin The Boy Wonder. Lee designed and redesigned more or less every hero in the DC Universe, as well as dozens of buildings and locations including Metropolis and Gotham, the Bat-Cave and Wayne Manor. The idea of the game is that you can create your own fully customizable and completely original superhero, and then fight alongside the characters you know and love, like The Superman and The Green Lantern. All well and good, but I doubt I would have made much time for it if Sony Online Entertainment–the folks behind the game–weren’t throwing a huge party on the Wednesday night of Comicon.

I like to think of myself as an ethical journalist or blogger or journoblogger or whatever, I don’t feel like I owe anyone coverage. But If I do say that I’ll stop by and do a hands-on with your game oh and thank you for inviting me to your party, and then I go to the party, I should at least check out the game, you know? That way the next time Bender-Helper reps some insane party they won’t look at their list and go “Isn’t that the guy that had 15 raspberry vodka martinis as poured through a giant ice sculpture of our client’s company logo, hit on all of our product demo guys, and then bailed on his appointment with us Thursday afternoon? Fuck that guy, he’s not getting into the My Little Pony Extreme Online party!”

I think that’s called “playing the game” in modern parlance.

SOE Ice Scultupre

So we headed out to the party on Wednesday night, held at a San Diego nightspot spelled “Belo” and we were calling “Bellow!” (as in “Get Me A Martini,” he bellowed!) and then the cab driver laughed at us when we told him where we wanted to be because it’s pronounced “below” as in “underground”. So yeah, party at a nightclub with a name so trendy we couldn’t pronounce, on a borrowed invitation. Good Start! Did I mention we weren’t on the list either?

Luckily, I am Charming, and talked my way in. Also, let’s face it: I’m chubby with a beard, I looked like I ought to be at a video game launch party, and by God, the nice woman and huge dude working the door knew it as well.

Aside: On the whole, I think I will take the general aesthetic appearance of video game journalists over and above the general aesthetic appearance over comic book journalists. No offence to friends in the industry, but apparently 90% of video game journalists roughly fit the “bear/cub” descriptor, at least at this party, and if you’ve got to be surrounded by people also looking for free booze and hors d’oeuvres, then at least they can have the decency of fitting my aesthetic and gender preferences to a tee. And they did.

When we got to the door (the second, interior door) we did not have nametags prepared, but I did have a close personal rapport with Spencer at the door (“Hey, I emailed you the week before Comicon. Twice. You must totally remember me!”) and so that went well. He directed us to the free-swag table, which consisted of a notepad with Pen, a ballcap, and a poster. I don’t do posters or ballcaps, but the notepad seemed eminently practical and so I grabbed one. Little did I know that the Pen was also a miniature flashlight that shot out the Goddamned Bat-Signal, because if I did, everyone I know would be getting a Pen-with-miniature-flashlight-that-shoots-out-the-Goddamned-Bat-Signal this week. Maybe that’s for the best; walking away from a party with two armloads of swag is a little gauche.

And then, the party! I have to say that it was perhaps not as well attended as the PR folks would have hoped. Admittedly, we did arrive a little early, but perhaps even on a lowly Wednesday night there’s just too much going on in San Diego, including a competing Marvel/Activision party, to pack the joint. Can I just say for a second: THANK YOU. This DCUO party ended up being my favourite of the week. Sure, the booze was flowing and the passed hors d’oeuvres were top notch, the DJ seemed to be playing nothing but tracks cut from the “Chris’ Favourites” playlist on my iTunes, and I got Pen with bat-signal in it, but it was the only party I attended this week where I could hear myself think, or hear what my party companions were saying. I know the irony of me complaining about parties being too crowded when I’m talking about a party I basically hijacked an invite to is thick, but I’ll take “moderately attended” over “there is a wave of people at the bar 4 people deep and also I cannot move” any day of the week. That and, by around 11, it felt like a full party everywhere but the dance floor anyway.

I should probably talk about the game?

The party didn’t have the game up and running. I mean, it’s a game at a party, and despite what the Nintendo Wii would have us believe, having games running during your party can kill the mood. There were several video screens running the promo material, talking about the interactive experience of running through your favourite comic book settings as a superhero, the amount of work that has gone into the game, and, most-touted, the amount of work that Jim Lee has put into the game. DC has been notoriously reluctant to promote creators above and beyond the properties themselves, because most creators are free agents and the comics industry in particular works very hard to ensure that no creator maintains any loyalty to any publisher. I was genuinely surprised to see how hard SOE/DC were leaning on Lee’s involvement with this game–perhaps there’s a different metric at work when the creative force is also a top Vice President at the company.

…thinking about it now, I feel that the biggest reason to put Jim Lee’s involvement at the front-and-centre of the online promotion is that SOE and DC are entering a very, very crowded market for MMORPGs. While the behemoth that is World of Warcraft continues to roll on, there are hundreds of fully-realized video game worlds now available to video game fans, including several with a superhero theme. City of Heroes from NC Soft has a several-year head start on DCUO, and while it doesn’t offer real “licensed” DC characters, neither does DCUO exactly. As I mentioned many paragraphs ago, players in DCU Online don’t play as The Superman or The Green Lantern (or as villains like Lex Luthor or Solomon Grundy), they play alongside them, or against them. While you get to be a hero of your own design, you never get to be the hero you may have idolized, and I would have figured that would be the real draw to a game like DC Universe Online. If the game isn’t going to offer you the chance to be The Superman that you may have always wanted, then is it significantly different from other offerings? Is the presence of the incredibly well-loved superhero creator Jim Lee going to be enough to entice hardcore comics collectors to the MMORPG realm? How do real gamers feel about that, are they just companions to the real heroes?

I didn’t know the answers to these questions, and so I decided to do journalism, if by journalism you mean asking opinions of random people at a party. Which I do. The consensus that I received was that even gamers wouldn’t trust fellow gamers with the keys to The Batman. Can you imagine The Superman crashing out of the sky, beating up dudes and knocking down buildings, screaming “n000000bs!”? It turns out Sony could, and did, and hence the appearances of The Aquaman and The Wonder Woman are all computer controlled. Sure, fair point, but maybe I really want to be The Superman and replace all of my “o”s with zeros? Why can’t there be a game for me? Most of the assembled gaming journalists seemed to accept the game on its premise (play in the DC Universe), rather than the platonic ideal of the game (I will play Guy Gardner and constantly hit on other male characters, as is my right), which was refreshing and made me reconsider my position on the game a little. Then I realized that I was at a party and talking about video games instead of drinking and schmoozing, and so I headed to the other section of the bar with the dance floor.

Aside: I hinted pretty strongly to someone at Tor.com that I should blog for them, because hey, why not? That’s what industry parties are for.

Another Aside: I listened to a dude talk about a new collectible card game (like Magic: The Gathering) that exists entirely digitally, inside an upcoming new STAR WARS themed MMORPG, for like 10 minutes, just because he was cute. This was awful too, like you’re spending real money to buy digital cards that you can only play with in this game, and he was just really cute and earnest. Heartbreaking.

Seeing as only one extremely extroverted young man was braving the dance floor (and I require something of a dance-quorum before shaking my groove thang), we went in search of oversized comfortable furniture in which to sit and drink and chat. We met these two great British games journos who were actually at the end of their U.S. sojourn, it having begun a few weeks prior at E3, the Electronic Entertainment Expo. They weren’t “comics people” per se, but were enjoying little bits here and there and having a fun time in America. As we sat chatting about comics and games and Japan, Heidi MacDonald swung by with Mr. Beat in tow. Mr. Beat is English, as were our game journos, and so they started talking in some sort of impenitrible slang that is normally turned off when interacting with foreigners. Heidi and I observed that we were in a party at the San Diego Comic Con where we were the only comics people in attendance. Which is a little weird, you know. Well, us and Jim Lee, who showed up at some point and I didn’t notice it.

You know Jim Lee? No? Well all you need to know is that Jim Lee is having an excellent time. Seriously. Jim Lee is the new Stan Lee. Jim Lee was rocking the dance floor, just him and like 7 ladies, dancing away and snapping photos and having a great time, all to the strains of Journey… you know that song that’s everywhere since The Sopranos ended? I heard it at every single club party I went to all week. Anyway, Jim Lee was having an amazing time, and so I went over and said “Thank you for having a good time at this party, you’re just awesome,” because I’d had quite a few but also it was genuinely heart-warming to see someone enjoying themselves at a press party.

Then the lights came up and we all turned into pumpkins.

I just-barely made my appointment at the SOE booth the next day thanks to wall-to-wall-crowds, for my hands-on time with the game. Thanks to the first day of the show being a madhouse the official press schedule was thrown out the window. That said, I got onto a machine with my marketing/sales tour guide within 5 minutes, and might I just add that he was cute too? SOE: Thanks for employing my type of guy, it makes the marketing speak go down waaaaaaaay easier.

So my initial, hands-on-impression of DC Universe Online? It’s a video game. Seriously. I mean, it has that sort-of-clunky handling I mentally associate with Tomb Raider rather than the slick movement feel of first person shooters like Halo, and I feel like that might be a hallmark of the genre.

I was running around kicking and punching guys, throwing cars at them, blowing up scenery, the whole 9 yards. As I got more comfortable the PR guy starting showing me how to do more and better super moves, each looking impressive. To keep an element of strategy to the proceedings you can’t just keep hitting the “Kick everyone’s ass supermove” button, with each special attack requiring a period to recharge, marked by a little on-screen timer. So I’m getting into it and running around beating up civilians who’ve been infected with an Alien virus (Brainiac-related, I think) when Lex Luthor drops from the sky, being chased by The Green Lantern. Myself and the other heroes on the connected consoles descend on Lex with a barrage of fully-charged supermoves and kind-of ugly costumes… It’s a bit disconcerting to see Lex LuthorTM In Power Suit being engaged by a gaggle of superheroes that look like something out of a mid-90s superhero publishing effort, sort of like Fan Fiction. I can’t tell if that’s good or bad, but if I had to hazard a guess I’d say the fan base would be “into it”. Lex gets defeated, zoomed away, and then he and The Green Lantern both “respawn” to take up the reigns of their eternal battle once more… It all feels a bit pointless, like it’s all going on whether or not I’m there, and for a game where gamers are going to be expected to pony up a monthly subscription fee, that’s a strange to me. Admittedly, this is just the demo, to give us a feel for the game, but those were my feelings so there you are.

Meanwhile, messages are flashing across the bottom of my screen. SUPERGIRL HAS BEEN DEFEATED! THE ALIEN VIRUS HAS BEEN STOPPED! BIZARRO IS ON A RAMPAGE! or something along those lines. The PR guy tells me that if I activate my super speed, I can head over to where the other characters are and get in on the fight. I have super speed? I click it on and move my character. Zoooooom! I’ve got that electric/blur trail, like in The Flash comics, and that is pretty cool. “You know,” says the PR guy. “You can run up the side of that building there.” And I’m off. And I am running up the side of a building at super speed, and across the side of another building, and on the underside of a bridge, and it is super, super awesome. Seriously, this is the point at which DCUO goes from being just a video game to a whole experience, when I get to viscerally feel the thrill of running up and over a building and leaping from the ledge onto the next one. I also know as I’m doing it that this likely isn’t an experience unique to DCUO, but it is an exciting one and well-executed too. If you haven’t tried breaking the laws of physics, I do recommend it, it’s a lot of fun.

In all my running and jumping and moving to higher vantages, I spot one of the game’s big events: Bizarro is squaring off against The Superman below me. With a mighty punch Bizarro fells The Superman and without hesitating I launch into action. With no other superheroes around–TM DC Comics or otherwise–it’s up to me to stop this huge and shambling monster. Groups of virus-infected civilians begin to swarm me as I unleash a well-orchestrated series of supermoves on Bizarro, trying to keep the monster off guard so that his eye beams will stop knocking away huge chunks of my life-meter. I’ve got the explody superpower, and the spikey super power, but it’s the one where I generate a big club out of rocks and then take a swing that I finally knock him out of the park. Yes, 90s-looking superhero with a strange mix of powers and me, we succeeded where even The Superman had failed! Bizarro: Defeated! I was proud of my accomplishment, and cute PR guy was genuinely surprised (“Wow, I thought you were toast when you went up against him.”) which only added to my sense of pride. Bizarro disappeared, and “respawned” down the way (as did The Superman, which is too bad because I was sort of hoping that all of the in-game characters would wear those black armbands with the bloody Superman logo for a while), reminding me that these characters really are fighting a never-ending battle, but one I walked away from feeling victorious.

I’m going to be honest here, I’ll probably never play this game again. When it comes to consoles I’m a Wii guy, and I’m never going to have a computer new enough or powerful enough to play a cutting edge MMORPG. Hell, I got this gig because I was looking for somewhere to drink on Wednesday night that wasn’t the Hyatt. I can see how my opinion is both invalid and not to be trusted on this one, but: The best part of my Thursday at the show was defeating Bizarro in an online game. It was just incredibly fun, and I recommend the experience. While I can’t tell you how this stacks up against MMORPGs or whether Jim Lee has enough fanboy cred to attract a whole new audience to the genre, I can tell you that in this game, you are no mere companion to heroes. That counts for a lot.

– Christopher

PiQ Issue #1: Post-Mortem

piq-cover-small.jpgI think it’s important to point out that in the first issue of PiQ, the magazine calls its readership the following names: nerds, dorks, geeks, freaks, maniacs, and pervos.

They seem to mean these little bon mots with affection, but it does tell you quite clearly what the editorial staff thinks of its readership. Of course, the new magazine from ADV (nascent anime and manga publisher) is meant to replace Newtype USA, their former chronicle of otaku culture with a name and content licensed from the original Japanese Newtype magazine, and so some recognition that it is the hardcore fan who may be used to such derisive terms may simply be a way to ingratiate itself to the new readership. But it’s going to take a lot more than saying that we’re all nerds together and adopting the tagline “Entertainment for the rest of us” to convince me that they have anything to say, let alone that we’re all alike…

I previously covered PiQ magazine when I got my hands on the press-kit for the magazine prior to its release. The press kit broke down the aims of the magazine and their demographics quite clearly: they want men age 18-34. I’d say the magazine delivers on that promise, though they don’t quite realize that not every man in that demographic is interchangable…
I’m going to be upfront and say that I disliked the first issue. I’m not going to string you along listing good and bad before revealing my ultimate conclusion; PiQ Magazine #1 wasn’t very good. That out of the way, PiQ does have strengths to recommend it, and a lot of potential, but going by the first issue they’re going to have to work awfully hard to achieve any measure of success. It’s incredibly problematic and likely quite rushed, and with a lot of former Newtype readers already very, very angry at them, they’re going to need to improve, and quickly, to get a chance at long-term survival.

I’ve written an incredibly thorough page-by-page analysis of the magazine. It’s taken days to actually put it all together. I’ve included it behind the cut because people browsing here probably have no interest in a 6500 word essay on a magazine that they will never read, but when I say POST MORTEM I actually mean it. I am digging through the entrails of this thing CSI-style to find out what they’re doing and why. Don’t say I didn’t warn you, and you probably shouldn’t bother reading unless you’re really, really interested in the subject.

With that, click to continue: Continue reading PiQ Issue #1: Post-Mortem

First Look: ADV’s new PiQ Magazine Media/Vendor Kit

I got my hands on a copy of the media kit for ADV’s new magazine PiQ. Since I didn’t see any note of this over at Brigid’s always-excellent Mangablog (http://www.mangablog.net/), I assumed no one else has posted about this yet. So let’s pour over the entrails together, shall we?
Designed to replace the popular Newtype USA, PiQ (pronounced “peek”) (although I keep saying “pie-cue” whenever I see it) is taking a hard line away from the beleaguered anime industry and branching out to be the high-end American Otaku lifestyle magazine of choice. Why? Well, as I mentioned the anime industry may have had its worst year ever in 2007 (although I see them regrouping and putting it all together in the second half of ’08), and because as Naruto has shown us, Japanese culture is more than just anime (or manga), and with North American iterations of previously Japanese-only endeavours like Capsule Toys, Manga, Gothic Lolita Culture, and anime making their mark on the nerd-culture industry, it looks like a license of a Japanese magazine covering a troubled industry just wasn’t going to cut it, going forward.

But the question is, will PiQ?

The PiQ media-kit I received included a letter from Publisher Gary Steinman, outlining the major changes that the magazine will undergo. It’s very important to note that throughout all of the commentary I’ve seen from ADV on this matter, including the media kit, PiQ is being treated as a name change to Newtype USA, and not as an entirely new magazine. While I have no firm answer as to why this is, I’d speculate that declaring it to be the same magazine but with a name change (not to mention a substantial format change…) means you get to maintain your existing distribution and subscription arrangements. But it’s pretty clear that the new boss ain’t the same as the old boss.

For starters, the magazine will shrink in size, both in physical dimensions and in page count. The new physical size is 8″ wide x 10″ tall, as compared to Newtype’s 9″ x 12″. The latest issue of Newtype weighs in at 160 pages, and the info for PiQ seems to be saying it’ll drop at around 130 pages. The price is also much lower, with the new magazine retailing for US$6.99/CDN$7.99, versus $12.98/$16.98 for Newtype. Oh, and the magazine will be perfect-bound rather than stapled, which means it’ll have a spine! No more free DVDs with each issue either, so far as I can tell. The big format change? PiQ will drop Newtype’s right-to-left Japanese reading orientation in favour of a standard left-to-right orientation. Essentially, the otherworldy Japanese “object” that was Newtype USA is gone, to be replaced by something that very-much resembles Wizard in size… and in tone.

According again to the Media Kit, the new editorial breakdown for PiQ will be:

    • 20% Anime
    • 20% Gaming
    • 20% U.S. Comics / Japanese Manga
    • 20% Genre Movies / TV / Home Video
    • 10% Toys / Collectibles
    • 5% Gadgets / Hi-Tech Gear
    • 5% Lifestyle (fashion, accessories, events)

Apparently PiQ is “entertainment for the rest of us, squarely addressing the needs of a cutting-edge young male audience,” and they’re estimating a 70/30 split in readership, in favour of male readers. This reads to be to be very, very similar to Wizard magazine, a jack-of-all-trades scenario.

Some final stats from the presentation:

    • PiQ is expected to have a 100,000 circulation at launch, with a target circulation of 150,000 by the end of 2008.
    • PiQ will launch with 15,000 subscribers, all of which are former Newtype USA subscribers. So, now you know how many people subscribed to Newtype.
    • The first issue of PiQ goes on sale March 18th, 2008.

Also included with the material I received, twice, was a mock-up of the first issue over. As noted on the cover itself this is a cover concept only, and is not necessarily going to be the final cover. However, it pretty clearly shows where the magazine is headed, and while it may have the bearing of Wizard, it looks an awful lot like video game magazine PLAY (which I love and is awesome). Lets take a look:

PiQ Issue One Concept Cover - Copyright 2008 AD Vision Inc.

PiQ Issue One Concept Cover – Copyright 2008 AD Vision Inc.

So, what do we see here? Well, the first and most telling thing is the comparison between this cover and the most recent Newtype USA. Where Newtype USA Jan 2008 features the names of tons of new anime series (at least two dozen by my count), an anime creator profile, an anime art book, and the words “Anime, Manga, Games, Music, more!” the focus on the new cover is all over the place. A Tokyo Travelogue! Cosplay! Anime! But also video games and LOST and Battlestar Galactica and Red Hulk and the promise of bulleted lists! (No manga?)

So there you have it, the inside scoop on (what might be) the first issue of PiQ. All you have to go on about this magazine being the same one as Newtype USA is the publisher’s say-so, with the magazine looking significantly different, and more generic, than what has come before. But honestly? This is probably a really smart move on ADV’s part, with magazine publishing being almost entirely advertising-driven, opening up your mag to the extremely lucrative advertising of the extremely lucrative video game field makes a hell of a lot of sense, and ending a licensing agreement for a magazine’s name and content that may or may not be contributing to your bottom line anymore? The same. The only thing up in the air is what the fans, anime fans, Newtype buyers and subscribers, are going to think of something that isn’t quite as OTAKU as they were hoping for. Hey, there’s always Otaku USA for you Otaku out there!

Still, I’m looking forward to the first issue. I think that, much like the comics industry needs something like COMICS FOUNDRY, it also needs something like this to supplant the rampant misogyny in Wizard’s magazine… Good luck guys.

– Christopher