Jessica Nigri gets asked to leave PAX East for her Lollipop Chainsaw cosplay

Jessica Nigri was asked to leave the PAX East show floor on day 2. The reason for her dismissal from the show had to do with her choice of outfit as she portrayed Juliet Starling, the protagonist from the upcoming Lollipop Chainsaw game. Jessica Nigri has been portraying Juliet Starling for a while now after she won an online contest to see who could make the best Juliet. She’s attended events dressed up as Juliet, but at PAX East she really came out in something meant to turn heads. But there’s a problem, PAX often has kids running around, and no doubt their heads were among those turning and fixating on her attire.

Initially Jessica was asked to change her outfit, which she did, and she put back on the same outfit that Juliet Starling wears in Lollipop Chainsaw by default. This outfit is basically your standard sexy cheerleader suit, with the short skit and the low cut top. Even this change, however, was not enough for the PAX East crew, and they asked her if she could wear a more conservative top. In the end, Jessica left the show floor on day 2. Below is the image of the outfits worn by Jessica at the show.

Jessica Nigri Lollipop Chainsaw

Jessica Nigri as Juliet Starling from Lollipop Chainsaw at PAX East 2012

Personally, I don’t have a problem with PAX East asking Jessica to either change her outfit or leave. I know that many cosplayers are roaming the show floor in somewhat revealing outfits at times, but it’s different when you’re dealing with an exhibitor. PAX East is different from E3, where the show is locked down and no children under 18 are allowed into the show, even under adult supervision. And while Jessica’s outfit isn’t going to harm anybody or turn them into any sort of deviant, I have to respect Penny Arcade for working hard to create a family friendly atmosphere, even if it’s not the most popular stance to take.

The incestuous relationship between games journalists and PR

It’s something that gets talked about once in a while, but it’s always a subject that either quickly gets brushed under the rug, or it gets laughed off nervously. It’s a reality, however, and it’s the biggest obstacle in our industry when it comes to getting gamers to trust us as journalists. I’m talking about the incestuous relationship that exists between games journalists and game developers and PR.

To deny that there’s a whole lot of coziness going on between games journalists and PR is akin to sticking one’s head into the sand. As I talk about this, I’m going to name specific examples, but I’m going to refrain from naming names or companies outright. The point of this article isn’t to point out who is guilty, because the problem runs much deeper than what can be named from a few specific examples.

A few years back, a bit before the launch of the Wii and PS3, I attended a media day at a large publisher’s office. We were there to see games for the 360, Wii, and PS3, and for many in attendance it would be their first hands on with Wii and PS3 software. After the first couple of major titles, we broke for lunch. The publisher treated us to a nice catered meal, but I noticed that a few reporters left to “go get some real food” with a couple of members from the PR team. At the time it seemed harmless.

As we sat down to eat, a few guys at the table grumbled that the guys who left for lunch were getting a great free meal, but that they “typically paid it back with a glowing preview.”

I didn’t think much of it and chuckled at the comment, figuring it was more of a joke than anything. But sure enough, as embargoes lifted, the guys who went to lunch served up previews that were devoid of criticism that were also packed with bits of information that nobody else had access to at the event.

The experience caused me to open my eyes a bit to the practice. I’ve witnessed countless similar occurrences in other settings. I took a trip to cover a gaming event outside of the country once. I was treated amazingly well on the trip, but again, there was another group that had a deep familiarity with our hosts who ended up posting previews that were far more glowing and, once again, contained additional information than we were able to collect at the event.

I’ve seen the same sort of stuff take place at E3. I’ve seen it take place over Twitter. Anybody who is looking will see it, you don’t need any sort of insider access to see that certain reporters benefit from a friendly relationship with developers and PR.

These relationships aren’t some devious plan or the result some under the table dealings in most cases. The reason this happens is because we often become friends with PR or developers as a natural consequence of communicating and spending time with them. The problem arises when people find that they have an easy time talking about what they like about their friends’ work and that they struggle to criticize that same work. The issue is compounded when former journalists are now in production, and they have former co-workers handling critiques. And while I do like that some journalists often refuse to review games that they get a little too close to during development, they still do benefit greatly from increased exclusive access.

So what can be done? If the nature of the industry pushes us naturally into these positions of friendship, is there a way to avoid favoritism? If you’re on the PR side of things, wouldn’t you want those who tend to give you the best press to be the ones you trust with increased access to your products? If you’re the reporter, wouldn’t you overlook a few minor gripes in exchange for a better working relationship with your PR contact?

Well, it would take a denial of basic human nature. I don’t know that journalists are ready to fairly criticize their friends, and I don’t know that PR is ready to bestow equal access to all individuals and news outlets, regardless of how critical or kind they may be. It’s what needs to happen for us to improve as journalists, and for the games themselves to improve. Proper criticism is key to improving products.

If we truly love this industry, we’ll start doing the hard thing and start getting honest, even with our friends.

Can Kotaku repair their image with the hardcore audience?

I’ve been an outspoken critic of Kotaku over the years. I’ve refused to give the site clicks, and I’ve heard countless complaints from other gamers about how poor the coverage is at Kotaku. Normally I wouldn’t rail so hard against a publication, but Kotaku was seriously one of the shining of examples of everything that holds games journalism back from being taken seriously.

Always willing to sacrifice quality for the sake of a few extra clicks, Kotaku was notorious for putting out articles that were extremely low quality, rushed, off topic, not properly sourced when they were reporting on another site’s exclusive news, and for having a poor attitude when answering to criticism and negative feedback.

But everything is changing now. Kotaku is not the same as it was even three months ago.

Stephen Totilo has taken over at Kotaku as top dog now that Brian Crecente has left to be part of the Vox Games team and former editor-in-chief Joel Johnson is writing for Jalopnik. New faces at the site are headlined by the highly respected and likable Jason Schreirer. These changes have brought about an immediate change in the attitude at the site, and the writing has noticeably improved. The design is still a mess, but we’ll worry about that later.

In recent weeks, Stephen Totilo has shown that he’s a responsible editor-in-chief that cares about the content produced under his watch. There’s still a disposable story that slips through here and there, but the blatantly offensive or truly awful posts have been put to a stop, and when one has slipped by, Stephen has apologized via Twitter for it. It’s radical change in attitude coming from the top at Kotaku then we’re used to, and I hope people are paying attention.

For years Kotaku’s stance has always been, “we’re Kotaku, so deal with it.” Seeing Stephen opening up increased dialog is what is going to be the biggest difference for the blog. For the first time in years I’ve been willing to read articles at Kotaku, and if I don’t like what I see, I have patience because I am seeing a sincere effort by the staff to improve.

I’m curious what others think. I’ve rarely heard a good word about the site said when I’ve been sitting down with other journalists or talking to gamers who are well read in the world of gaming.

For Kotaku to turn their image around, they’re going to have to stay pushing into this new direction. It may cause their overall click count to go down, an I’m not sure how the upper management at Gawker will feel about that, but I just hope that they stay patient and allow Stephen Totilo to continue to have free reign.

Personally I’d love to see Kotaku become a respectable website in our community. The more great outlets we have, the better we are as an industry. It’s a long road back, but it looks like the driving forces at Kotaku are willing to stay in for the long haul.

Can I get an explanation here?

I’ve had my PS Vita for a little over two weeks now and overall I’ve been loving the game. I’ve already started rolling out some reviews for the games over at Gamer Theory, including my review for Hot Shots Golf: World Invitational. I gave the game a 4 out 5 star rating, which means it’s a very good game. I’ve also been downright addicted to the game since I gave it a go for the first time, but I’m also incredibly frustrated by it.

Allow me to explain.

Hot Shots Golf: World Invitational is far more deep than it appears on the surface. There are standard shots, power shots, and then there are special shots that you can execute. The game barely tells you how to do any of the three, and it’s all tucked away in loading screens or in the user manual, but even in those places it’s poorly described. And in no place does it mention that you need to level your golfer up to a certain level to use certain special shots. In addition to the different shots, there are conditions that aren’t explained very well. The game leaves a lot up to you in regards to figuring out the gameplay systems and what the visual cues mean. The end result is confusion and frustration.

At times the hole itself seems to be larger than at other times. It took a forum search to find out that there are different cup sizes throughout the game. Also, there are challenges on each course that are totally unexplained. As it tallies up your score after each round, you’ll see a bonus for completing a “Crown” goal, but you’re never told how to achieve the goal. Again, it takes some forum hunting to find out what the requirements are. Eventually these goals get explained, but not until after you’ve COMPLETED EVERYTHING ELSE IN THE CHALLENGE MODE. Silly is a nice way of putting it. Asinine is the accurate way.

And Hot Shots Golf is just a more recent example, but I’ve noticed that one area Japanese developers really fall behind is in their ability to train the player. SoulCalibur V is also light on tutorial, but then you have games like Final Fantasy XIII that hold your hand for far too long. I’m starting to see that Japanese developers are either lacking proper focus testing, or else they’re just stubborn in how they want to handle (or mishandle) tutorials.

As the average age of the gamer continues to creep upwards, and as more and more triple A titles roll out each year, developers really need to figure these basic issues out. If I have to waste time outside of the game itself to figure out how to play a game effectively by searching around forums or online guides, then the developer has failed.

Pardon the dust, and the time away

When I decided to get back to putting posts up on The Stupid Gamer, I went through the process of updating the WordPress software, which caused some real issues. The site was actually down for the count until I was able to figure out that the theme was the issue. So I’m reverting back to my old theme for now, but it’s probably not permanent. Right now I’m noticing that some posts look pretty bad as they were written with the old theme’s format in mind. Sorry about that, but the work to fix those old posts would be overwhelming. New posts going forward will look great though…I promise.

As for posting, I’ll get back to it. I still love this blog and I just haven’t had a lot of time for it since getting Gamer Theory up and running. It was never my attention to abandon The Stupid Gamer. For those that come back, thanks for being patient. For the new readers going forward, feel free to browse the archives, but try not to take me too serious here…

How to improve the E3 Expo

E3 2011 was considerd a runaway success by just about everybody you ask. The show went smoothly, the booths were packed, there was plenty of awesome games on display, and as far as I know, nobody got hurt. So why nitpick? Well, there are some issues with E3 and I think it would be wrong not to talk about them. Here are a few ideas I have about how to improve the gaming industry’s greatest event.

Increase access to the show

I discussed how the ESA is in essence creating a closed loop by restricting access to smaller media sites a bit before the show, so I’ll keep that brief, but there are ways in which the E3 Expo could improve access to the show floor without compromising the media’s ability to work.
E3 2011 ran from Tuesday to Thursday. The press conferences generally take place on Monday and Tuesday, and a few parties last until Friday or Saturday, but the show floor itself is only open for three days. Publishers spend unspeakable amounts of money to construct their booths, only to have them up for three days. My idea would be to extend the show for two more days, but allow those who don’t qualify for media badges only to attend days 4 and 5, while days 1, 2, and 3 would be media exclusive. The media would benefit by dramatically smaller crowds during their stay, and even with one less day, the general attendees would also have a smaller crowd. The extra two days would also extend coverage of the show, allowing for some of the smaller titles to get some additional exposure. Due to thinner crowds, the ESA could relax the media restrictions enough to get smaller sites a better chance at attending the conference.

Consider a new venue

Los Angeles is actually not the most ideal city for holding E3. It’s convenient for many of the developers that live in the area, but for travelers, it’s not great. The city is expensive, it’s public transportation isn’t as good as other popular convention cities, and downtown LA doesn’t have much to offer in regards to activities besides crummy bars and some movie theaters. A city like Las Vegas offers better public transport, more hotel options, better activities, and an overall more affordable destination for most travelers. Even San Diego or the Bay Area would be better if they wanted to keep the convention in California.

Require more from official partners

The E3 Expo is a huge benefit to the city of Los Angeles, its hotels and restaurants, and local businesses. Hotels, in order to be part of the official E3 housing, should offer free Internet to their guests. My hotel, which was a very nice hotel, still charged a $13/day Internet fee. I guarantee that they’d drop that fee for E3 attendees if it was a requirement to be part of official E3 housing.
Given the huge boon to the local economy that E3 provides, it wouldn’t be hard for the expo to leverage their muscle just a bit more to help attendees get some extra perks. I’ve been to other conventions that have handled this much more proactively than E3 does.
I hope it doesn’t sound like I dislike E3, because I love going to the conference each year, but I do think it could be better. It seems that each year the show has a healthy showing and a good time is had by its attendees, but I rarely see the show organizers strive to improve the conference in a measurable way. With a few improvements, E3 could be more accessible, more affordable, and an overall more comfortable expo to attend for both media and general attendees.

Out to E3: The Stupid Gamer is on Hiatus

For E3 week I’ll be down in Los Angeles and will be taking a break for The Stupid Gamer. I’ll be covering the show for www.gamertheory.com, so head over there to check it out. A couple of years ago I did blog my E3 schedule and how my days broke down here on Stupid Gamer; and I might do that again, but all of my reactions and previews will be found on Gamer Theory. Enjoy the week away from me…

StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm screenshots emerge

A Dutch website, www.insidegamer.nl has posted a big batch of screenshots for StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm, which is part 2 of 3 of the StarCraft 2 story arc. All of the screens come from the single player portion of the game and they contain heavy spoilers in them for the Wings of Liberty campaign. If you haven’t finished Wings of Liberty, it would be a good idea to hold off checking out these screens. If you have finished the Wings of Liberty campaign, the spoilers in the screens are very minor. Check ‘em out in the gallery below. (Click on individual images to enlarge.)

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The original image post on Inside Gamer is found here: http://www.insidegamer.nl/pc/starcraftiiheartoftheswarm/screenshots

EGMi app available on iPad, Android soon

It’s no secret that print media is struggling. EGM disappeared for a while before Steve Harris revived the magazine and changed the focus. The reboot of the magazine has been successful, even if the circulation is more limited than what EGM has seen in the past. To bring something different to the EGM experience, EGMi was introduced that allowed subscribers to access additional and exclusive content online. There has also been lots of free content available online, including video clips, screenshots, audio interviews, and interactive features. Given the success of Apple’s iPad and iPad 2, making EGMi into an app just made perfect sense.

Right now the EGMi app is free to download, and it’s updated weekly with new content. There is still additional content available for those that subscribe to the print version or buy the current issue, but the amount of free content is quite impressive.

I emailed Steve Harris to get more info about the app and ask about Android support, and Steve responded to confirm that indeed an Android version of the application is in the works and will be announced very soon. If you have an iPad, check it out, it’s one of the nicer ways to read up on news and check out reviews with developers.

Also, to check out the desktop version, visit http://www.egmnow.com/

The decline of Sonic the Hedgehog and his hope for new glory

It’s no secret that Sega has struggled to put out quality Sonic titles. They occasionally come out with a decent effort, but your average Sonic the Hedgehog game is disappointing these days. What once was Sega’s flagship mascot that drove the sales of millions of consoles is now the butt of many jokes by gamers, journalists, and analysts. Why does Sega struggle so mightily to get things right? Is the problem on Sega’s side, or does the issue lie with Sonic himself?

Sonic the Hedgehog released in 1991 for the Sega Genesis. For all intents and purposes, he was intended to be Sega’s version of Mario; and for a while, he was doing his job well. Sonic helped push the Sega Genesis into a position of market leadership for 16-bit consoles in 1992, placing Nintendo is 2nd place for the first time since 1985. Sonic the Hedgehog arrived with a deafening boom. And that’s the kind of entrance you needed to make in the early 1990s. You had to show up in extreme fashion for anybody to take notice. In an era of neon shorts, MTV, Hulkmania, Ninja Turtles, and the Bigfoot pizza, loud and flashy is how we wanted our entertainment. Sonic the Hedgehog was built for the early 1990s.

Sonic the Hedgehog box art

Fast and full of that '90s attitude.

Sonic burst onto the scene, allowing Sega to create their “blast processing” buzzword and usher in their newfound in your face attitude. As long as extreme was cool, Sonic had no trouble pleasing Sega fans. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and Sonic CD followed quickly after the first release, and sales were strong for Sonic 2, which saw over 6 million copies sold. Sonic CD managed to buoy the Sega CD for longer than it deserved to be around, but it wouldn’t be long before Sonic’s appeal would begin to falter. Sonic the Hedgehog 3 would release to favorable reviews, but would only sell 1.8 million copies compared to Sonic the Hedgehog 2’s 6.3 million. While still no slouch, Sonic was seeing a decline. With Sonic and Knuckles, reviews remained positive, but grumblings about Sonic’s originality were starting to surface among journalists and gamers alike.

Sega continued producing Sonic games for their consoles with mixed results until the launch of the Dreamcast when Sonic Adventure came out. Again, Sonic was back on top with reviewers and fans excited by Sega’s latest effort. The game had been successfully brought into the 3D realm, despite some glitches and unsure feelings regarding Sonic’s new friends. It wouldn’t take long for that unsure feeling to grow. Sonic’s look also got a makeover, losing his pot belly and gaining some height, longer hair, and a bigger capacity for sarcasm. In the days of waning extremism, Sega dialed up his extreme attitude a few notches.

Sonic Generations

Sonic of the early 90s (right) alongside the more modern Sonic (left).

Sonic Adventure 2 still saw favorable reviews,  but Sega did little to correct some of the issues Sonic Adventure had (camera problems, odd glitches, unwelcome extra friends). In the end, Sonic Adventure 2 would become the signpost for the series, where the sign it bears reads, “CAUTION: BUMPY ROAD AHEAD.”

I remember being at E3 2003 and seeing Sonic Heroes. I got some good time with the game on the show floor, and I left hoping that what I had just played was just severely lacking polish and that it would be cleaned up by release. The gameplay seemed interesting, but it was a technical mess. Upon release, I found that most of those technical issues were still in the game, making it a big disappointment and a an obvious misstep.

Nostalgia and good will couldn’t keep up with Sonic’s slide into the downward spiral going forward; especially when 2005 saw the release of Shadow the Hedgehog. While Sega did a good job capturing the early 1990’s in your face attitude, their attempt to get in on the mid-00’s angst and “mature gaming” movement was a misfire of epic proportions. Forcing themes of maturity into one of gaming’s most lighthearted franchises didn’t spur on new fans, it only alienated fans more.

Subsequent releases in the mainline Sonic the Hedgehog series have continued to disappoint. 2006’s Sonic the Hedgehog and 2008’s Sonic Unleashed both turned Sonic into a sad joke. Any word of a new Sonic game has since been met with derision, mockery, and downright bitterness from once Sonic supporters and fans. I personally handled the review for Sonic Unleashed, and it was at that point that I resolved to avoid any Sonic games until they were both proven through solid reviews and the lens of time.

The Werehog did far more harm than good for the Sonic franchise

So why did Sonic falter when Mario was able to continue to flourish under Nintendo’s watch? Well, while Sonic himself was changed to fit the evolving fads of the 1990s and 2000s, Mario never needed changing as a character, simply because he wasn’t created as a reaction to what was hot in marketing. Both characters appeared in product-of-their-times titles, but only Sonic changed noticeably as a character. Mario could afford the occasional misstep, but everybody learned to blame that individual game, and not the Mario character himself. Additionally, Nintendo has been far more reserved in mainline Mario releases while Sega has been fairly liberal in their project green lighting. Nintendo refused to repeat mistakes between their releases, while Sega often repeated and magnified their bad decisions.

So is their hope for Sonic? Well, if you’ve been paying attention to the handheld space, you’ve known that Sonic has actually done quite well with his mainline titles on the GBA and DS. Additionally, Sonic Colors was well received on the Wii, even if many people refused to believe it. It just feels as if Sega is going to have to roll out multiple solid efforts before fans are going to fully trust again.

And what of Sonic Generations? For those that don’t know, Sonic Generations looks to be offering a mix of the old-school Sonic we all loved in the 1990s and mashes his up with the current era Sonic. The game will visit 20 years worth of Sonic levels, allowing the player to control either the classic Sonic in 2D side-scrolling action or the current era Sonic with 3D action. Early buzz is positive, and E3 2011 will be the make or break moment for the game. The concept is great, and it just might be what Sega needs to get the series back on track again.

Sega hopes that Sonic Generations will please Sonic fans from both eras.

Personally, I feel that Sonic is a relic of a bygone era. The 1990s ended, and with them so did Sonic’s heyday. Any attempts that Sega has made to modernize Sonic have irritated longtime fans, while his 1990s-based roots continue to shine through and deter those that don’t carry nostalgic feelings. It’s not to say that Sonic won’t see any quality games, but Sonic will never again be looking down at Mario unless Nintendo loses its collective mind. The Sonic name still carries decent weight in the industry, but if Sonic Generations is a flop, the damage just might be irreparable.

In one week I’ll be down in Los Angeles, attending the E3 expo. Among all the huge titles that are sure to be at the show, I hope Sonic shows well. A well-received Sonic can only help this industry when far too many games are based on space marines and bro-fist military squads.