Friday, December 21, 2012

[Active Gaming Media] Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year 2013!

To all our Friends,

At this time of year we at Active Gaming Media would like to wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Prosperous New Year.

Also, our staff decided to create a simple video as proof of our gratitude for your support throughout this year!

Unfortunately only a few of us appear, but hopefully it will help you to put some faces to names. 

Merry Christmas!

Active Gaming Media

P.S. Those who like Space Invaders will like our video as well.
We hope you will enjoy it.

Friday, December 14, 2012

New Gaming Order: The Hardware Site

Even if 2012 is neither the year of the apocalypse foreseen by the Maya civilization nor has brought any big surprises in the video game industry, there has been many smaller news and trends that can lead video gaming into a new direction, possibly even into a “New World Gaming Order”. Looking back to 2012 I’d like to introduce some of these developments to draw a scenario as how I think gaming may change for players worldwide, starting with the physical site of video gaming in this article.

Touchscreens and mobile gaming

Touchscreens are continuing their success story on mobile devices and tablets, and even though the number of feature phones in Japan and the West are still higher, most of them are replaced by smartphones. This has helped Android which is supported by a broader variety of devices to become the No. 1 system for mobile devices worldwide and to enormously boost user numbers and lastly even revenue for their Google Play Store. 

As a gaming system both Android and Apple’s iOS well beat other handheld consoles like Ninendo’s 3DS and Sony’s PS Vita in numbers of sold devices.  That means that sales opportunities are greater on smartphones and tablets, not speaking of the lower development costs than for dedicated handheld consoles. So it’s no wonder that small or indie developers, and even big publishers like Konami and Sega in Japan concentrate much of their development power to those platforms. 

However, playing on “touchscreens only devices” rather appeal to casual gamers, not to hardcore players. And I think the future of gaming will also depend on the question how game developers can leverage the advantage of the current touchscreen device generation to its full potential to also appeal to the more serious player clientele. 

Right now Japan’s portables and the games supported still offer too much of a real and unique gaming experience. And games available in the App Store or Google Play Store are either casual games or ported AAA titles squeezed to into those devices. Publishers have to built games from the ground up and tailor them to the touchscreen to be able to become competition to be reckoned for handhelds. The better they can come up with an original unique gaming experience for this device the more successful it will become among hardcore players. 

One scenario I see to take off in the West is the upcoming of peripherals and controllers for mobile devices. More and more companies develop controllers for hardcore games to be used with tablets. These can be played along with casual games from the same store on the same device, and I think it’s likely that this trend is going to continue. The Wikipad is such a tablet that takes a big step up from touch-based controls and that for example allows Grand Theft Auto 3 for Android to be actually playable.

Cloud Gaming

Cloud gaming or "Gaming on Demand", as an equivalent to Video on Demand services for video games, seem to have several advantages over more traditional forms: 

1. The possibility to play a game that is rendered on a distant server allows to run games on max settings without requiring a powerful configuration, but only a device supporting the video/audio display, and a high-speed internet access.

2. Platform independebility and the possibility to continue playing on several devices. Customers are adopting connected devices and they expect games to be instantly accessible and playable across those devices. Customers can choose where to play, because the game progress will follow customers from devices to device. This allows game designers to develop new forms of gameplay and experiences, as different devices could allow different views on and play modes for the same game.

3. Piracy-prooven technology. Since playing the game does not require any physical copy or or a digital installation on the local device that provides pirates with a target, it may also connect publishers to audiences of traditionally underserved countries such as China and Korea.

4. The adaption of freemium or other new monetization models to hardcore titles. Most services still work with purchase or subscribtion models, but bear the potential to allow other forms of payment such as advertizing and unlockables.[1] Moreover, Cloud Gaming allows to re-monetize older titles, especially since the 2nd hand market in the West and Japan are quite strong, and publishers don’t see any of that money being in circulation here.

Currently there are two dominating Cloud Gaming competing with each other, Gaikai and OnLive.  While it's open to speculation what Sony is going to do with the smaller company Gaikai after its purchase, OnLives services are (theoretically) available for use straight on TV's, PC's or tablet and mobile devices. [2]  [3] 

Besides these other companies try to jump on the Cloud Gaming train such as Big Fish Games  who lunched Big Fish Unlimited, a could gaming service for their 100+ games streaming instantly to PC's, mobile devices and internet connected TVs.
However, I think the future of (Cloud) Gaming will depend on two factors.
a) The distribution of streaming technology such as gaming servers and the speed of (mobile) internet networks
For now probably only a few network infrastructures in the world including Japan and major metropolitan areas abroad would be able to bear a big shift toward cloud gaming.

b) The exclusive availability of major titles for these services.
Right now the selection only includes minor or older titles, and it is essential for service's survival to exclusively offer new titles in the future.

If publishers are able to succesfully place and monetize their hit titles on these services players will follow and Cloud Gaming could become the major form of playing in the future.

The Ouya

I think there is no-one who has not heard about the Ouya yet. It’s a free-to-play based Android 4.2 powered game console which was funded via Kickstarter with $8,596,474 from 63,416 backers in one month. Upon it’s release it will be likely one of the strongest consoles in the market.[4] 

The Ouya’s biggest advantages are:
  • It’s hackable, and hackers are officially invited to improve the console for better performance.
  • It (theoretically) allows to play any game from the Android store which makes it a library of more than 1000 games, most of them free-to-play. It especially offers players who don’t like playing on a mobile device a real gaming experience.
  • It allows to stream games through OnLive, including all advantages mentioned above for the service.
With regards to these points and the ones I mentioned earlier it indeed has a lot potential to determine the future of video gaming. But I also believe there are certain requirements that oversee in the hype which can turn the console into a big flop.

1.    The Ouya needs (real) console games, and/or a user base 

Not only that since they were designed for touch screen devices most games from the Android library will barely be compatible with the Ouya control pad, I also believe people will only jump aboard the system if it offers them a real console gaming experience. There are no AAA titles to be found on Android, and I think the success of the console will depend one of the following points:

a) Will major publishers and developers focus their development on the system? 

b) How close are the Ouya designers going to work with OnLive and how well will the streaming of games work.

This creates a rather problematic cycle. Because big-name developers won’t create any content unless the console has a large enough installment base that justifies high development costs. And players won’t come if they don’t find something interesting.

On top of that it will also depend on how many creative indie developers will start developing games for Android. All app stores rather have the image of being flooded by rather cheap wannabe games. Unless there are games that stick out gamers will rather stick with Sony and Co. And unique indie-games are rather to be found on PC. 

2.    The Ouya has to go portable

Gaming is going portable, there is no doubt. But as mentioned above it must offer a real gaming experience. The Ouya is going into the opposite direction. It takes the mobile Android store designed for portable devices and forces players to play on an immobile TV.

Even the Wii U with its screen-controller is going mobile, not speaking of the thousands of tablets sold every day.

I think the Ouya still can cause an upset in the industry but on the long run it will only be competitive if it’s makers also put out a mobile version of the system.

To summarize my thoughts, I believe the future of gaming will lie somewhere in the middle of all the developments mentioned above. 

In the end I think we will see much more AAA title video games being played on one or various mobile touch devices mixed with casual ones in one store. And very likely we will have more additional peripherals that allow hardcore gamers to really experience their favorite video games streamed as free-to-play via a wireless networks on the go or wherever they are located. Or do you think that is too far fetched?

[1] The advertising payment model is used by Square Enix’ cloud gaming service CoreOnline where users are encouraged to watch advertising in order to earn more playing time for the firm’s back catalogue of free games. But players can also pay a fee to unlock segments of the game.
[2] The service is still fighting problems such as network and account problems.
[3] The first one allows receiving games straight on TV or any screen through a $99.99 “game system” including amongst others 2 USB 2.0 ports, 1 HDMI port and a minijack, and furnished with a wireless universal controller. The other one consists in a free application installable on computer, tablet or smartphone. Both of those offer 3 gaming ways: a free 30 minutes trial, a game renting/purchasing service (for around $6, $9 or $50, the games are respectively available for 3 days, 5 days, or unlimitedly), or an unlimited access to a selection of more than 200 games called Playpack for $9.99 per month.
[4] The open-sourced Ouya will feature a Nvidia Tegra 3 quad-core processor, 1GB of RAM, 8GB storage, one USB 2.0 port, one HDMI port, one Ethernet port and a Bluetooth LE 4.0, as well as WI-FI 802.11 b/g/n. The maximum output for resolution is 1080p. It’ll be available for $109.99.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012


Over the past few years, there has been a constantly growing trend – especially among young people - toward using abbreviations on the Internet, in emails, and text messages. These abbreviations are usually used in part to help save time (except for cases in which the reader is not familiar with a particular abbreviation, thus conversely causing them to spend more time reading the text, trying to decipher it), in part to look cool, and in part almost subconsciously, because they’ve been pretty much ingrained into our contemporary culture.

Seeing as how translators generally don’t get hired to translate text messages, chats, and private emails (usually), most people in the industry probably don’t come across these abbreviations too much in the course of their daily work. However, these abbreviations appear extremely often on the Internet in general, and are sometimes present in text to be translated when working on, for example, a story, or maybe an article covering contemporary culture or youth trends.

As a native English speaker and longtime Internet user, I am familiar with a good number of the abbreviations commonly used in English. But – and I must admit, I hadn’t even considered this until recently – English is not at all the only language in which these abbreviations are used. Most (if not all) languages used regularly on the Internet possess their own respective sets of Internet-based word and phrase abbreviations, and some of these can be pretty interesting and creative.

In English, most of these abbreviations are simply straightforward abbreviations of simple phrases using the first letter of each contained word. Some of the more common abbreviations are “LOL” = “laugh out loud”, “OMG” = “oh my God”, “IDK” = “I don’t know, etc. Let’s check out some of the more interesting variations on these themes in other languages...

In French, people seem to get a bit more creative. For example, “A12C4” means “See you one of these days,”  – pronounced as/short for “À un de ces quatres”. Some more examples: “Ksk t'fu” - meaning “What the hell are you doing?” – is short for/pronounced Qu'est-ce que tu fous?”, and “J'ai acheté du vin” (“I bought some wine”) is rendered “GHT2V1”.

In Japanese, a very common “abbreviation” (technically closer to an emoticon, possibly) is “orz”. While this is technically not an abbreviation, I’ve decided to include it here because it’s related to the subject matter, and because I can. orz is usually quite tricky for first time viewers... Looks carefully – do you see it? It’s supposed to represent a person kowtowing or giving a deep bow - the “o” representing the head touching the ground, the “r” is the arms and shoulders, and the “z” is the legs bent – expressing apology, disparity, or hopelessness. (I bet you see it nhow, right?)

In Spanish, people have taken to borrowing, combining, and Españolizing words and abbreviations from other languages. For example, “lolear” is the forced Spanish verb form of “to LOL”. Another word commonly used recently is “ganbatear”, which is the Spanicized form of the Japanese verb “ganbaru”, which can be loosely translated to “to try one’s best, to go for it”, and which among translators and Japanese speakers is famously difficult to translate accurately.

The English abbreviation “LOL” itself has spawned many internationally localized versions. I’ll wrap up with a quick list of some of the more interesting versions:

Thai: 555 (pronounced “hahaha”)

Chinese: 哈哈哈 (also pronounced hahaha)

Hebrew: ההה (technically the transcription of “hhh”, because in Hebrew vowels are usually left out in writing)

Russian: лол (literally “LOL”)

French: mdr (short for “mort de rire”, or “dying of laughter”)

Arabic: لــول (also a transliteration of “lol”)

Afghani: mkm (abbreviation of the phrase “ma khanda mikonom”, meaning “I’m laughing”)

Japanese: w (short for the Romanized version of the word “warai”, meaning “laugh”)

Monday, August 27, 2012

Non-Game Elements Of Game Localization

When localizing a video game, the biggest part of the project is obviously the localization of the language and content of the game itself. However, there can be many other aspects of a game localization job that many people don’t even consider when thinking of such projects.

One element of video game localization is a game’s manual. This aspect has many inner elements itself. For example, as is the case with in-game text, translated text will not always fit properly into the space allotted in the original manual. This is especially true when translating from a language such as Japanese – in which entire phrases can sometimes be written in just a few characters – to a language such as German – in which a single word can easily take up a dozen characters or more. This also applies to text-based graphics throughout the manual, as well as to charts, etc. Usually problems with such “overflows” are dealt with by conferring with the client and having them either alter the manual layout, or decided which parts of the text to cut, when necessary.

Another aspect of game localization which is similar in nature to the one above is the game’s packaging. On top of text overflows (and sometimes, conversely, large gaps or openings in the text boxes), depending on the country for which the game is being localized, there are some types of scenes and screenshots which may have been prominent on the original packaging but which cannot be displayed on the localized version. Violence, nudity, and blood are extremely common on Japanese video game packages, but in some cultures – especially particularly religious ones – these sorts of images are forbidden. This of course has little to nothing to do with the job of the translator himself, but once a translator becomes a “localizer,” the chance that these factors will have to come into consideration rise considerably.

Websites are another such part of the game localization process which must be dealt with carefully. Once again, the overflow/text gap matter comes into play – although this is much more easily dealt with on a Website as opposed to a physical manual, and so does the matter of proper and improper imagery and content. For more video- and audio-heavy Websites, regional bandwidth allowance must sometimes be taken into consideration as well. (Countries such as Australia have notoriously low monthly bandwidth allowances, which may drive prospective users away from an extremely content-heavy Website).

Finally, there is the matter of press releases and advertising. Although a developer will oftentimes hire two or more unrelated agencies for the translation and localization of a game and it’s directly related branches (manual, Website, etc.) and PR-related materials, they also sometimes hire a single agency/translator for the entire package. This can be rather tricky, as a translator with great expertise in actual video game translation may not exactly be equipped for formal press releases and advertising translations, and vice versa. After all, the sort of terminology and language used in video games can differ quite significantly from that used in more business-like press releases.

As you can see, video game localization is much more than just translating the in-game text on an Excel file and sending it back in. All-inclusive video game localization can be much more tedious and trying than simple in-game text translation, but at the same time on top of having the obvious benefit of broadening a translator’s skill set, it can also be much more lucrative and profitable for those willing to commit to the extra work.

Why Japan is Doing it Right

Nowadays, it seems that complaining about the Japanese Game Industry is the “cool” thing to do. Browse along the major gaming sites, or read industry magazines and there are likely to be legions of commenters complaining about how the East is lagging behind the West and how they need to step up their game if they want to be able to compete.

And why shouldn’t they, if even outspoken developers from the East (ex-Capcom employee Keiji Inafune being one of particular note) are more than eager to point out that Japanese game companies radically need to change their modus operandi lest they be crushed by the giants of the West?

But I think they are wrong. In fact, I think Japan is on a much more viable track of game design than the West and, in fact, I would even go so far as to say the entire industry may be doomed if the game industry keeps “evolving” the way it is now.

You see, when people say Japanese games are not as good as Western ones, they tend to equate graphical prowess to design quality. These are not the same things. It’s a pity that there is such a big emphasis on pretty graphics nowadays, especially since it results in a lot of people not giving certain wonderful low-budget games an honest chance simply because they think the games look like they were made in the last generation, or just because they do not match some personal arbitrary standard of what a video game should look like.

Some of my favorite games in this generation have been criticized of having sub-par graphics despite presenting intelligent and deeply emotional experiences (most notably games like NieR[1] and Deadly Premonition[2]), and it is a worrisome trend in the industry (undoubtedly fueled by Hollywood) that games are being primarily judged on their visuals and not on their actual merits anymore. So worrisome in fact, that I think this trend is steering the industry in a possibly fatal direction.

The symptoms we’re currently seeing aren’t all that different from the big North American Video Game Crash in 1983. Again, we’re seeing a market with an overabundance of consoles and big budget games that have to struggle to break even, even if they sell millions of copies. The reason we’ve ended up here is because the cost of creating video games keeps rising and rising, mainly because there is far too much emphasis on “mind-blowing graphics” and special effects extravaganzas.

Compare that to the relative success of “humbler” games (not only Indie games, but also lower-budget games from bigger companies) and it seems obvious that we need to start thinking smaller, rather than bigger, lest the entire industry collapses under its own weight.

Recently, the boss of 2K games, Christoph Hartmann, stated that “Until games are photorealistic, it'll be very hard to open up to new genres. We can really only focus on action and shooter titles; those are suitable for consoles now,” stressing the importance of photorealistic graphics for the future of video games.

Now I have tremendous respect for 2K and their games: BioShock[3] and Borderlands[4] rank among my favorite FPS games of all time (both of which contain bright colors and cartoonish design, ironically), but it is this exact mindset that is going to harm the industry rather than nourish it.

The creation of photorealistic graphics is only going to increase the production costs of video games, and if the developers still actually want to make money on their products, they are likely going to have to raise the prizes as well. As it stands, it’s quite common for a new game to be priced close to $60 which a lot of people consider a hefty sum of money. (Now I would personally argue that this is nothing new, since video games have always been expensive, especially in the cartridge days, but that’s a story for another day.) The fact remains that in the current global economic situation, for many players $60 is already a lot of money, and further increasing the average price of video games is more than likely going to scare off a lot of potential customers. It is very much a downward spiral, albeit one that looks increasingly pretty as you get closer to the inevitable end.

The key to the survival of the medium then, is not to strive for photorealism and Hollywood-style blockbuster video games, but instead to take a step back, cut down on production costs, and deliver quieter games (who knows, maybe even cleverer ones?) with lower budgets, which is exactly what many Japanese companies are doing.

Of course, in many cases, this is a necessary evil rather than a personal choice, but the fact remains, and Japanese games are a prime example of how the quality of a video game is determined by the ideas behind them, not the horse power. In fact, one might even argue that having to work under more restricted circumstances is a catalyst for the creative thought and fresh ideas that so many of today’s high-tech blockbuster titles seem to lack.

The major video game publishers have created an industry that runs on appearance rather than content, and they’re about to find out that more polygons do not necessarily build a stronger foundation.

[1] NieR (Cavia, 2010) is an Action RPG for the PS3/Xbox 360 in which you play a middle-aged man trying to cure his daughter from a disease. The game was ousted for its outdated graphics but found a solid fanbase among people who enjoyed the emotional plot, humorous dialogue and satirical elements. Interestingly, both console versions in the West featured the father figure (a rarity in JRPGs in the first place), whereas for the Japanese PS3 version, the protagonist was replaced with the girl’s older brother.
[2] Deadly Premonition (Access Games, 2010) is an Action/Adventure game heavily inspired by the TV drama Twin Peaks, starring FBI special agent Francis York Morgan, who visits a small rural town in the US to solve a murder case. Again, the game was ousted by many review outlets for its lackluster graphics and wonky controls, but it also found a very vocal and adamant fanbase for its unique narrative, hilarious dialogue and off-the-wall humor.
[3] BioShock (2K Boston, 2007) is a first person shooter (FPS) taking place in the fictional underwater dystopian city of Rapture. The game was critically acclaimed for its atmosphere, political commentary as well as its now-famous plot twist that questioned the nature of video games.
[4] Borderlands (Gearbox Software, 2009) is a first person shooter with some light RPG elements. Featuring cell-shaded graphics (quite unusual in this genre), the game was well-received mostly for its unique system of randomly generating weapons, which allowed for an unparalleled variety in guns.