Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Gamers can be engaged politically

Last month, Microsoft announced a partnership with Rock the Vote, a group which works to engage young people with the political process. This partnership enables Xbox Live subscribers to have voter registration materials sent to them by making a request right from the Dashboard, and provides content from both political parties to allow gamers to become more informed about a candidate or issue. I watched Barack Obama's acceptance speech from the Democratic National Convention and have downloaded John McCain's acceptance speech from the Republican National Convention.

I spotted a story on Edge Online announcing that 100,000 Xbox Live users had participated in an unofficial presidential poll on Xbox Live where users could express their preference for a candidate by downloading the candidate's corresponding gamer picture.

From the above story:
"According to Microsoft, the sample of 100,000 voters was larger than the combined samples from individual Gallup, NBC and CNN polls."
"The company said that more than 55,000 voter registration forms were downloaded through Xbox Live and Xbox.com during the first two weeks of the program, and that videos from the recent Democratic and Republican conventions were downloaded nearly 25,000 times."
Those are impressive numbers.

Admittedly, not all Xbox Live subscribers are of legal age to vote, and not all who participated in this poll will go out and actually vote, but the majority of gamers are over 18 and if nothing else, this partnership will raise gamers' awareness and hopefully their level of knowledge about the political process.

If candidates and others want young people to vote and be interested in the process, becoming informed needs to be easy and can't be blocked by barriers to entry like poring through lengthy newspaper diatribes or suffering through the "talking heads" on every news network.

This is politics on demand, and gamers don't even have to let go of their controllers.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Artie Lange in San Francisco

**Eric the Midget Update**

I was lucky to be able to see Artie Lange in San Francisco last Friday night. It was Artie Lange "and friends," which included Yucko the Clown, Sal Governale, Shuli, The Reverend Bob Levy and Beetlejuice.

Unfortunately, due to traffic and parking nightmares, I missed Yucko, Sal and Shuli, but Bob Levy and Artie were great. It's always fun to see people in person, so that alone was cool. When Artie brought out Beetle to say a few words, he received a standing ovation second only to Artie's.

I was surprised and happy to see that most of the people there appeared to be Sirius subscribers and fans, as none of the Stern show inside bits were lost on anyone. The Nob Hill Masonic Center is a 3,165 seat venue and it appeared to be pretty close to sold out. This satellite radio thing might just work after all.

**UPDATE: I forgot to mention that Eric the Midget was in the audience. An involuntary member of Stern's "Wack Pack," he used to be one of my favorite callers to the show, but lately he has become so angry and self-serving with his personal promotions that he is now merely annoying. Artie handed him the mic to say a few words and he received huge boos after attempting to promote an upcoming personal appearance.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Of Great and Mortal Men album release party in Sacramento

Last night I went to one of my favorite pubs in Sacramento, Fox & Goose, for the album release party and performance of a group of musicians who have released a collection of songs titled "Of Great and Mortal Men."

3-CD release packaging

It's a collection of 43 songs on three CDs, one for each of the U.S. Presidents so far. The packaging itself, let alone the music, is quite impressive with an oversized booklet, individual illustrations of each president in a different style of art and complete lyrics and information about all of the artists who contributed.

You can read more about how the project came about in two articles from the local news and review paper, but it began as a challenge to write 43 songs in 28 days and turned into a national and international effort to complete the entire undertaking. The project has received national coverage in publications such as GQ and the Washington Times.

Of Great and Mortal Men

My friend Chad is one of the contributing musicians and played bass during a set last night.

Chad on bass

It was great music, and the songs were non-partisan with no bashing of any particular president or party. If you're intrigued you can find it at the Standard Recording label, Amazon and iTunes.

A 44th song will be recorded for whomever the soon-to-be-elected next President is. The last song will be released for free online. Here's hoping the group will be working to find plenty of words that rhyme with "ama."

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Penny Arcade Expo 2008, the review

It was definitely another successful year for PAX. Initial estimates are that 58,500 people attended over the three days. That number of people, even in a large convention center, has its disadvantages, but not necessarily because of the number itself. More on that later.

First, the highlights.

1. Meeting Wil Wheaton.
Me and Wil
Need I say more? Probably not, but this was the coolest thing I did, so let me throw some words down here. I missed Wil's keynote at last year's expo, but listened to it online, checked out his blog, and have been a fan ever since. We are the same age, so many of his gaming and life experiences have been similar to mine, and it is both fun and nostalgic to read his writings about his life growing up, and familiar and interesting to read his writings about his life now. I "get" the Star Wars, Family Guy and most of the musical and gaming references.

I was looking forward to reading some of Wil's books, and after this meeting, I was not disappointed:
Sunken Treasure - Wil Wheaton's Hot Cocoa Box Sampler and Happiest Days of Our Lives
The "Hot Cocoa Box Sampler" is a limited edition collection of writings from his books, his blog, and several other sources. "The Happiest Days of Our Lives" is his latest book, and tells stories from his youth growing up and coming of age in the 70s and 80s. I have to say, regarding the picture on the cover of that book, I did not have pajamas exactly like that, but mine were similar (full-length zipper and footsies, you know it), and you'd better believe I had a bicycle with a banana seat!

Wil was an exceptionally cool guy to meet. I threw him a little curve ball when paying for the books by literally presenting him with shiny gold rocks. He recognized them right away and said that they were merely pyrite and not worth anything, to which we both then said "...but they're shiny gold rocks." I'm not going to start The Great Shiny Gold Rock Controversy of 2008, but I will say that Wil recognized the value of what I had thought to bring and credited me accordingly. I did also present several sheets of a cotton/linen blend paper printed with green and black ink, which he happily accepted. Surprisingly, no one had thought to literally bring him shiny gold rocks before I did. I wish I'd taken a picture of them, but alas, it was such a dark secret I dared not leave any trail of evidence prior to their unveiling. Do not be surprised if that was the first and only time such an audacious offering will be recognized.

I also went to Wil's panel, where he did some readings and then Q&A. Great stuff. He didn't just read, he did a bit of acting and made the stories fun:
Wil Wheaton panel
Wil Wheaton panel - WHEEEEE!

2. The Exhibition Hall

This is great every year. It's a lot of fun to walk around and see all of the latest or upcoming releases from developers and often, be able to talk to the developers themselves. The most visible thing was the displays for the upcoming iterations of Guitar Hero and Rock Band:
Guitar Hero III demo
Rock Band 2

Ubisoft was demoing the new Raving Rabbids game on the Wii, which was participatory like Guitar Hero and Rock Band, except the "instrument" is you:
Raving Rabbids

The main exhibition hall was probably 1/2 to 2/3 larger than last year's hall, so the show is growing along with the number of attendees.

The not-so-much highlight

The only thing that was not as cool this year was the waiting in lines. For everything. This has been reported elsewhere, and apparently the PAX organization is aware of it and will work on this for next year. The convention hall was crowded, yes, but not overwhelming. When forced to wait in a line, however, things became ugly. Not the attendees, just the waiting. As attendees, we all had similar "line-waiting" stories to share, so we all got along fine. It's just not very fun to wait 45 minutes to an hour or more to see a panel or presentation and not get in. This discouraged me from attending a couple of the panels because I wanted to spend time in the exhibition hall or just exploring instead.

Hopefully, some "pre-reservation," armband or another system will be implemented next year. It would seem that attendees could, if not reserve a spot when buying their admission pass, choose which panels or talks they want to see for sure upon checking in on the first day of the show. A similar system is already in use at PAX for those who wish to attend the band performances in the evenings (first 4,000 in line at the beginning of the day), so extending this to other functions should not be difficult.

The Omegathon

PAX would not be complete without the Omegathon and particularly the Omegathon finals. This may have been the most highly attended event of the show. This year's ultimate showdown was with "VS. Excitebike," which was apparently only released in Japan.
Omegathon finals - VS. Excitebike

A version of this game was released in the U.S., and most gamers from the classic era will remember it. The Omegathon finals is the culmination of an elimination tournament over the entire course of the expo, where the two remaining gamers face off to determine the true champion. The tournament games range from classic and the latest videogames to real-world physical manifestations like Jenga. It's quite a feat to win, and the past two years the prize has been an all-expenses-paid trip to next year's Tokyo Game Show along with $5,000 spending money. This year the prize also included custom-painted Penny Arcade-themed gaming consoles.

A Community Gathering

Ultimately, like years past, the Penny Arcade Expo is about bringing together the community of gamers. All types are welcome, from board gamers, to PC gamers and console gamers. There's a little mix of other related phenomena like cosplay also, which adds to the fun. This year, I believe the number of attendees may have pushed the facility to its limits, so it will be interesting to see how the arrangements are handled next year. Line management is a solvable issue, so hopefully next year will be even better.