'Stay Alive' Puts Horror Into Video Games

It also horrifies those who have to sit through it
Brian Orndorf (briano)
When a close friend dies horribly in his home (Milo Ventimiglia), a group of online gamers (including Jon Foster, Sophia Bush, Adam Goldberg, and Frankie Muniz) get their hands on the prototype video game he was playing, entitled "Stay Alive." Enthusiastically playing the gothic survival game at first, it soon becomes apparent that the participants are being killed off one by one in the same fashion they were killed in the game, leaving the survivors to try and find a way to keep themselves alive long enough to find the source of the evil.Ah yes, another week, another miserable horror film a studio is trying to keep a secret by not screening for the press. Is anybody paying close attention to this growing practice? You should be.
©2006 Hollywood PicturesIf "Stay Alive" wasn't enough of a fantasy, the production is actually asking the viewer to accept a film about video games where all the main characters are thin, employed, and a couple of them downright good looking. But then "Stay Alive" is so predictably dreadful and so idiotically directed, that little detail should be the least of my criticisms.Directed by William Brent Bell, "Alive" does have some gumption to try and create a plotline involving gamers. I find it insane to try to please a sour, nitpicking subculture like that one. With video games a notoriously iffy subject matter for cinema, "Alive" looks to dazzle with next-gen graphics and a screenplay crammed with gamer idiosyncrasies (Red Bull product placement, sweatiness), but the gimmick is shoved into the most uninspired horror machinations that could possibly be depicted on the silver screen. "Alive" is a straightforward slasher film, though obviously defanged from an R to a PG-13 rating so the audience that doesn't read film reviews will be able to see it opening weekend without mom and dad becoming upset. The characters are set up like bowling pins, and they're knocked down just as easily. Sprinkle in a mild pass at a traumatic backstory for the lead role, a romance that comes out of nowhere between two characters who barely know each other, some truly heinous acting from anyone who merely steps into the frame, and "Alive" consistently proves itself to be the most idiotic film this year that wasn't directed by Uwe Boll. All the audience can do is laugh at what's being attempted onscreen, including the half-realized idea that this video game world is somehow connected to the real world. Bell also co-wrote the script, but instead of fleshing out the story to create a more intriguing backdrop to this already dated nonsense, he's too busy thinking up screenwriting 101 names for the characters, including Phineus, Loomis, Swink, Hutch, and October. I wish that much imagination was given to the rest of the film, which runs through the deadbeat horror traditions (including boo scares and amateur editing) with all the excitement of a tax audit.F


Adults Love Video Games!

Video Games
March 23, 2006
Sony's Playstation 3Every time I do a report on computer or console video games I wonder if I am targeting the correct market. I personally have been known to get addicted to a computer game here and there-- *cough* Unreal Tournament, Counter Strike, Halo 2 --and admit that I have been upset with myself many a time for wasting too many hours behind a controller or mouse. Heck, at one point I think I pulled in twenty-four hours in a two week period for Counter Strike; or was it Unreal Tournament? Anywho, based on the latest survey it now looks like it is the adults, not the kids, who are more likely to be found behind a joystick.
Adults are GamersAccording to a report by the Consumer Electronics Association, about one-third of adult gamers spend ten hours or more playing video games per week. Compared to only eleven percent of teens, some have to wonder where we find the time.58% of homes with consoles consider it their primary game platform25% of adults used handhelds in the last 6 months64% of adults play alone55% of adults play online5x more teens are playing mmogs than adults especially women77% of teens used handhelds in the last 6 months78% of teen males play online games58% of teen females play online games
The Consumer Electronics Association finds the statistics startling while the people working on PS3 rejoice. According to the report put out by the CEA, adults will purchase 19 million of the next-generation consoles in the first year. "The fact that adults are racking up more gaming hours than teens is startling, but there are several associated findings that shed light on this," said CEA's Senior Manager, Industry Analysis Steve Koenig. "Interestingly, a greater percentage of 12-14 year olds spend time gaming than older teens ages 15-17. Older teens simply may not have the free time for extra hours of gaming or they could be gaming on wireless handsets since 81 percent of teens own or use a wireless phone." Through the new study, CEA also investigated gaming platform ownership and behaviors and found the data revealed the PC dominates the adult game market while teens spend more time using game consoles. For households owning a PC and a console, 58 percent consider the console to be their primary gaming platform despite its lower engagement. Additionally, the study showed portable gaming to be decidedly more popular with teens than adults. Only 25 percent of adult gamers who own a portable game device have used it in the past six months compared to 77 percent of teens. Additional adult vs. teen behavioral differences emerge in the study when online game play is evaluated. The majority (64 percent) of adult gamers either mostly or always play console games by themselves and just over half (55 percent) play online. Conversely, teens are five times as likely to engage in multiplayer gaming with their consoles, especially teenage girls - an unexpected result. Teens also are much more likely to game online, but here males outnumber females - some 78 percent of teen male's game online in a given month compared to 58 percent of teen females. The survey results also suggest female gamers outnumber male gamers in the 25-34 age category. This result stems from high rates of play of online games, many of which are free of charge (i.e. Yahoo! Games), among female gamers. The 25-34 age group also comprises the largest concentration among overall female gamers (29 percent). In a promising trend for consumer electronics (CE) retailers, CEA found that some adult gamers purchase additional CE products specifically to enhance their console gaming experience. The most common purchase made by these consumers (one in four) is performance audio-video cables; additional products include displays, furniture and A/V receivers. "A huge opportunity exists for retailers through the popularity of gaming," Koenig said. "Not only are gamers buying traditional gaming accessories, but they're also buying or at least expressing strong interest in major purchases like audio components, speaker and high-definition displays. This will continue as next-generation game consoles, which capitalize on the eye-popping graphics afforded by HD technology, penetrate the market. We anticipate 19 million of these consoles will be sold in their first year on the market, totaling $8 billion in revenue." Though I'd hate to admit it, there is a strong possibility that I could be a strong contributor to that revenue. Seriously, a few hundred at least. Stay tuned for updates.

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Still Missing the Link

The less-than-roaring success of the 'King Kong' video game is yet another example of the difficulty of cashing in on movie tie-ins.

By Julie Tamaki, Times Staff Writer
Since the days of "Donkey Kong," video games have evolved with apes.So when Ubisoft Entertainment partnered with "King Kong" director Peter Jackson to develop a game based on last year's film, it was widely touted as the missing link between video games and movies.
In the end, though, retail sales didn't live up to the hype and "Peter Jackson's King Kong: The Official Game of the Movie" demonstrated yet again that, despite their similarities, video games and movies are very different animals."It was a successful game but fell far short of expectations," said Michael Pachter, an analyst with Wedbush Morgan Securities in Los Angeles. "It's shocking to me they expected a gorilla game to do well."Movie producers and game designers have tried for decades to cash in on each other's appeal with movies based on games and with games based on movies. Flops have far outnumbered hits. And even as technical differences erode — games are more cinematic, movies rely heavily on computer effects — the gap between the two remains difficult to bridge.Only one game with a movie tie-in, "Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith," ranked among the top 10 bestselling U.S. titles of 2005, according to NPD Group video game analyst Anita Frazier. In contrast, Frazier said, "King Kong" came in 72nd.Ubisoft lowered its revenue forecast in January, in part because reorders of "Kong" were lagging behind expectations. The French publisher shipped 4.5 million copies of "Kong" to retailers worldwide, and it estimated recently that just more than 3 million actually sold.Even so, Ubisoft executives described the game as a financial success that helped raise the company's profile in the entertainment industry. The company's future endeavors include a deal with Sony Pictures Consumer Products to develop and publish games based on the upcoming animated feature films "Open Season" and "Surf's Up.""Not only did we make money on ['Kong'] but it's going to bring us a lot more business," said Tony Kee, vice president of marketing for Ubisoft.Jackson's manager, Ken Kamins, said in an e-mail that the director and Universal Pictures also were pleased "both creatively and economically" with the game."By any reasonable definition, 1 million units would represent a successful video game," Kamins said.Though the allure of Hollywood partnerships remains strong, some game publishers have begun straying from the movies-to-games trend, choosing instead to tap Hollywood talent to develop original stories rather than recycling the ones found in films.Part of the reason is a recognition of the fundamental difference between movies and games: Games are interactive, movies are passive. Movie-based games that succeed often use the film as a starting point for new sto- ries that cater to the strengths of interactive entertainment.Games based on the "Star Wars" movies, for instance, use the well-known galaxy of planets and characters to launch players into new adventures that might require them to pilot starships or ferret out Imperial spies."Kids want to do something exhilarating and different," Pachter said. "They want to blow things up. That's why 'Star Wars' games do good."In the case of Kong, Pachter said, "the game was faithful to the movie. The art direction was great. The problem is, who wants to be a gorilla?"Cooperation between studios and game publishers is fueled by the growing legitimacy that games enjoy in Hollywood. Annual game revenues rival box- office receipts. Top games can make more than some hit movies. Many directors and producers grew up playing video games."As the technology surrounding games becomes better, I think you'll get more Hollywood persons involved in creating games," said Edward Williams, an analyst with investment bank Harris Nesbitt. "What those directors will be able to do is to look at a game and allow the users to engage in a story that can go on for a longer period of time than a movie."Electronic Arts Inc., the world's largest independent video game publisher, has teamed up with director Steven Spielberg, a video game fan, on three fresh creations. The Redwood City company, which has published titles based on the "Harry Potter" and "Lord of the Rings" films, has resolved to reduce the number of games it churns out that are based on licenses, particularly those attached to movies.Steep fees paid by publishers to creative talent and actors for voice-overs are fundamentally altering the economics of the movie-based game business, according to Frank Gibeau, general manager of North American publishing for EA. At the same time, the company no longer believes it's essential to use movie licenses to help expand the popularity of video games, given the mainstream appeal that games enjoy.Chicago-based Midway Games Inc. is collaborating with MTV Games and Tigon Studios, founded by action star and hard-core video game fan Vin Diesel, to create a car chase game called "The Wheelman." Plans call for Paramount Pictures Corp. and MTV Films to make a movie based on the video game starring Diesel."It's a new paradigm in the entertainment business: combining from the ground floor up the simultaneous development of a video game, a movie and the music," said Dave Zucker, Midway's chief executive.MTV Films has options to make movies based on three video games including "The Wheelman.""The way video games are being developed these days, many of them are very cinematic," said David Gale, an executive vice president at MTV Films. "And there's no time frame that the movie has to come out in to coordinate with the video game."Timing the release of a game to a movie has long been problematic, because the computer-created worlds that make games come to life often take longer to create than movies."To really capitalize on the movie's marketing, you need to come out day-and-date with the movie," said Frazier of NPD Group. "Studios are much more cognizant these days of the time frame needed by developers."Warner Bros. formed a division two years ago to handle the licensing and development of video games based on new and old movies in addition to original creations."The video game space in general represents a growth opportunity for a studio like Warner Bros.," said Jason Hall, senior vice president of Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment.Hall's division not only helps pave the way for film stars to help polish a game by lending their voices to movie-based titles but also helps game developers get their hands on movie assets necessary to turn out quality games."Because of our increased competency as a film studio, we are able to better understand what we can do to facilitate their production," Hall said.That hasn't always been the case. "The traditional structure was, the consumer products division of a film company would go out and try to license as many ancillary markets as possible," said Neil Young, general manager and vice president for EA's studio in Playa Vista. "Video games were there with T-shirts, pens, coffee mugs and fluffy toys. You'd all get the same materials, and if you were lucky you would get a visit to the set."Brian Farrell, CEO of Agoura Hills-based THQ Inc., recalled the time he made an eight-figure offer for the license to produce a game based on a large movie franchise. He said he emphasized the importance of having adequate time to develop the game when he submitted his bid.Nonetheless, the April deadline Farrell set for a response came and went. It wasn't until several weeks later that he received word that his offer had been accepted."I said we're not interested," recalled Farrell, whose company has spun off games from kid-friendly films such as "Monsters, Inc." and "Finding Nemo." "You make a lousy game — even based on a great movie — it doesn't sell."Within the game industry, the most infamous example of that was a version of "E.T. the Extra Terrestrial" designed for the Atari 2600.Designers had just six weeks to create the game, but hopes for blockbuster sales ran so high that there were more games manufactured than there were Atari consoles. More than 1 million cartridges wound up being dumped in a New Mexico landfill, and the fiasco was blamed for helping spark the 1983 crash of the video game industry.Piggybacking on the muscle of a Hollywood film can be particularly expensive for game makers, because of the hefty licensing fees that film properties command. In the case of King Kong, for example, Ubisoft not only paid licensing fees to Universal Pictures but also cut Jackson in on the game's revenue."It's a very risky proposition," said Geoff Keighley, a host on "G4," a video game program on cable television. "As you spend more and more money on games, the risk increases."The average cost of developing a game is $4 million to $5 million, according to Pachter, and is expected to rise $10 million to $15 million for next-generation consoles such as Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Typically, licenses are 5% to 15% of wholesale revenue, he said.A growing number of studios realize the value that video games can bring to a film."If people love the video game, the chances are they're going to really be looking out for the movie and vice versa," Gale said.One way software publishers are avoiding the timing issue is by trying to cash in on the popularity of movie classics with plots that take the stories into the future. EA, for example, is making a game based on "The Godfather" that builds on the original story. Warner Bros. is developing games based on "Dirty Harry" that are expected to feature Clint Eastwood's voice and likeness.Los Angeles-based Vivendi Universal Games Inc. is developing a title based on the movie "Scarface." Instead of watching Al Pacino's character Tony Montana die in a fusillade of bullets, players can steer the gangster past his enemies and back into the streets of Miami, where a new tale begins."The film has a story," said Pete Wanat, the game's executive producer. "We wanted to tell a different story."In the game, for example, the gangster uses boats to travel beyond Miami to various Caribbean islands as he tries to rebuild his drug empire. Players can also control Montana as he walks, drives, deals drugs and shoots his enemies."I don't want to be the industry average," Wanat said. "Luckily for us, 'Scarface' has never been more popular than it is now."


Ohio Pinball and GameRoom Show

Posted by: James McGovern
Roving reported Kevin Steele sent in an update I am sadly just getting into the news from his experiences at the Ohio Pinball and GameRoom Show last Friday. He will hopefully have even more for us today from his Saturday festivities, if he has recuperated. Check out these pictures with a running commentary by Kevin himself!

Attendance was great - vendors I talked to said that this year's Friday attendance was much better than any previous years'. That said, they also told me that Saturday usually has three times as many attendees, so I'm expecting to be even busier tomorrow!
There was a good variety of pins this year, better than last years' show. I saw some fairly rare pins - besides the ultra rare ones like the Aaron Spelling pin (actually one of three made - my mistake about it being the only one!), there was the rare King Kong pin, the prototype Tommy pin, and a Big Bang Bar.
I was also glad to find other pins I'd never seen before "in the wild" such as the Starship Troopers pin and Stargate. I also got to play my first game on a Lord of the Rings pin, and discovered why it's such a popular pin: it's a fantastic game!

Most of the games on the floor were a bit on the run-down side, unfortunately - lots of credit dots, indicating problems. Some pins were represented to excess - I saw about four Demolition Man pins, for example. Many pins were filthy, and some were just plain unplayable. Luckily, there were occasional "gems" to be found, such as the three pristine pins by the Marco Specialities booth: Stern's Monopoly, Lord of the Rings, and Terminator 3.

Speaking of Terminator 3, I could not handle to be around that pin too long - Arnold's voice constantly commanding "shoot heah, and heah, and heah." drove me nuts while I was playing the Lord of the Rings pin right next to it. If there's one thing I hate, it's a pin telling me what to shoot for!

There were a variety of "container pins" available, most looking like they had been pulled out of the bottom of the container! These re-imports were in what looked to be poor to just-plain-awful condition - I say "looked like" because they never even unfolded them and set them up, so you couldn't even see the playfields or verify that they worked! Add to that the fact that they were priced far above their apparent condition, and I doubt a single one sold.

The AFM tournament got off to a slow start: I never saw more than one or two people playing on the six pins, and you had to register for the tournament to play. One of the pins had Bill Ung's excellent LED saucer lights, but a couple of the AFM machines looked a bit worn and one never worked.

That ultra-cool video pinball machine I took a photo of? Vanished. Gone. Nowhere to be seen. I suppose they never managed to get it working. A shame, as I wanted to at least get a better picture of it!
I got to see my first "MAME-like" Juke! Someone had gutted an old jukebox, put in a PC with dual LCD screens, and some nice jukebox software - you could view the playlist on one screen while the second screen played music videos or displayed album art. Not a bad piece of "Jukebox Emulation"!

Lots of nice people, lots of nice compliments about the new GameRoom magazine, and lots of free tokens handed out. All in all, a good first day, and I'm looking forward to day two.
-Kevin Steele

By Gareth Mitchell Presenter, Digital Planet, BBC World Service

One eye works harder than the otherPlaying virtual reality computer games may help treat the condition known as amblyopia, or lazy eye, say researchers.
In patients with amblyopia, one eye works better than the other. Because the amblyopic eye is inferior for some reason, the brain decides to use the good eye.
Over time, the neural connection to the bad eye becomes gradually weaker in favour of the good eye.
The traditional way of fixing the problem is for patients to force the bad eye to work harder by wearing a patch over the good eye.
The treatment usually involves patching for around 400 hours and can cause the eyes not to work together, resulting in double vision.
Researchers at Nottingham University say that an experimental treatment using virtual reality (VR) may offer the best of both worlds, encouraging the lazy eye to be more active and getting both eyes to work together.
"Traditionally VR has been used to present realistic environments in 3D so you imagine you're there because of the depth of the world around you," said Richard Eastgate of the university's Virtual Reality Applications Research Team.
"But we're using VR to make something unrealistic. You could call it virtual unreality," he told Digital Planet.
"We're actually presenting two different versions of the world to each eye."
Effective treatment
In one experiment, the team has been trying out a racing game where the computer sends images of the player's own car to the amblyopic eye, but the other cars go to the good eye.

A racing game was used for the researchObstacles on the track are sent alternately to each eye, so both eyes team up to get the patient through the game.
The researchers are encouraged by the results.
"We thought we'd develop a system that needed about 400 hours of treatment like patching. In the end we achieved the same effect in an hour," said Dr Eastgate.
It is not entirely clear how the treatment works on a neurological level.
Research in the past has tried static images. But the team believes that modern virtual reality has allowed different but related dynamic information to be sent to each eye for the first time.
"The technique hasn't been proven with rigorous trials but the early results show a very rapid effective treatment through this system," said Dr Eastgate.
You can hear more on this story on Digital Planet on BBC World Service and downloadable as a podcast from the BBC News Technology website.


Game Provider Adopts Arcade-Like Payment

Staff and agencies28 March, 2006
By MAY WONG, AP Technology Writer Wed Mar 22, 6:53 PM ET
SAN JOSE, Calif. - Remember how easy it was to spend a roll of quarters on arcade games? Soon, some online gamers will be able to similarly play "Bejeweled" or "Zuma" at 25 cents a pop.
Instead of paying, say, $20 to WildGames, to download and own one of its games, users could just drop in and play the game online, using a 25-cent WildCoin.
"It‘s an all-you-can-eat buffet, per game," said Alex St. John, CEO and co-founder of WildTangent.
Advertisers also will be to capitalize on the growing online gaming market by giving away WildCoins as part of promotions, St. John said. Coca-Cola Co. will be among the first companies to do so.


Special Video Games May Be Good For Some Eyes

By K.C. Jones, TechWeb News Video games may have a new and unexpected use -- correcting lazy eye.
Recently published findings in Eye Journal suggest that 3D video games may actually work faster than traditional therapy for amblyopia. The Virtual Reality Applications Research Team from the University at Nottingham in the United Kingdom recently finished trials on patients using virtual reality games to exercise and strengthen weak eyes.
The experimental treatment appears to work in just one to three hours, while patients using eye patches usually do not experience results until they have worn the patches up to 400 hours -- usually over the course of several months.
The news is not likely to boost sales of video games among eye patients. According to Nottingham University Research Orthopist Paula Waddingham, the therapy only works with specially designed video games and videos. Gareth Griffiths, who left the University for New Zealand, designed unique virtual reality videos to present different images to the strong eye and the weak eye.
"You can't just buy them off the shelf," Waddingham said during a phone interview Tuesday.
Waddingham said the trials give hope for young patients who do not consistently wear patches and adults who develop problems in their strong eye or want to pursue careers with vision requirements.
Researchers plan more trials to determine whether their encouraging findings are valid and what mechanisms are at work during the healing process.
"It made us think things are happening in the brain that no one thought of before," Waddingham said. "It could be reactivating a pathway that's already there."

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