Multiplayer: Speed-Runs, A Referee, NES Collectors — The Year In Gaming
Underground French McDonald's employees, 'Okami' also make list of Multiplayer's favorite stories of 2006.
Over the past year, I interviewed captains of the gaming industry and the creator of a Columbine video game. I tracked the rise, fall and possible resurrection of a Bob Ross video game, worked with a team of producers around the world to provide MTV viewers interviews with Chinese "World of Warcraft" gold farmers and did the obligatory E3, PS3 and Wii coverage.
Some of my favorite stories were those that were most under the radar. Here are 10 of the best from 2006:
· In February, I found the grandson of a Ghanaian king and a 19-year-old game maker in Atlanta who both made bold claims about creating the world's first MMO set in Africa. They promised a sophisticated game, launching in December. And the teen designer Adam Ghetti scoffed at naysayers, "They say it's impossible. Maybe if we were doing it in the archaic way everyone else tries to do it." The game is still pending. "How Do You Teach People About Africa? Make A Video Game"
· Later that month, I wrote and MTV aired the results of an evening with Brooklyn-based video-game referee Robert Mruczek, who pays people money to pull off amazing gaming feats and then verifies them by watching videotaped recordings. Mruczek explained to us where joy meets tedium: somewhere along the path to watching a 27-hour run of "Asteroids." Twice. "Gaming's Top Ref Pays Big Bucks For Record-Breaking Scores"
· In April, I explored the controversial art of tool-assisted speed-runs, a practice of harnessing a computer to help a gamer run through a video game in the most freakishly perfect way. We posted a video portion of an amazing "Super Mario 64" run dashed through by an American gamer who would give me an interview, but not his name. He said his piece. And voicing the skeptic's perspective, "Zelda" speed-runner Mike Damiani told me, "It's like tasting a bit of the dark side. Can you really go back to making legit runs after you've had this much power over a game you thought you mastered?" "Gamers Divided Over Freakish Feats Achieved With Tool-Assisted Speed Runs"
· In May, I attended a Manhattan loft party for "Rockstar Games Presents: Table Tennis." Throughout the year, I attended many PR-driven events and often struggled to get a good story out of them. This one is my favorite because of how a trash-talking, Diddy-smooth gamer calling himself Hollywood brightened the scene and mopped the floor with everyone else who tried the game that night. "I'm the Achilles of Ping-Pong," he boasted at the time. Others would recall this as the article that broke the news that the "Table Tennis" engine would power the next "Grand Theft Auto," but I remember it more as the piece that provoked Hollywood's aunt to track me down the next day to tell me the whole family was so proud of its son. "The First Rule Of Ping-Pong Club: Talk About Rockstar's Table Tennis Game"
· Did you know there's a secret underground resistance of French McDonalds employees who try to sabotage their employer? I didn't either, but found these guys while trying to get to the bottom of a McDonalds-hoax video-game story that was making the rounds. The more I dug, the crazier the story got. "Video Game Chastising McDonald's Business Practices Too Good To Be True"
· In June, we considered doing a list of the 10 most influential games of all time. But everyone does that. So we decided instead to make a list of the 10 most influential gamers of all time. No one had tried that. It was debatable if such a thing should even exist. Games may be interactive, but do gamers really have influence? "Playa Rater: The 10 Most Influential Video Gamers Of All Time"
· Also in June, the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, was killed. I am a video-game reporter, so as soon as I heard the news, I wondered what Kuma Reality Games would be doing about it. These guys make first-person shooter games out of daily news items. I called them up and they let me hang out in their New York studio for the next two weeks as they tried to make an FPS out of al-Zarqawi's death. "Take Al-Zarqawi Alive — In A Video Game Coming To Your PC This Week"
· In August, I decided to celebrate the just-about-one-year anniversary of the "GTA" "Hot Coffee" hidden-sex-scene scandal with a story about its effects on game development. "We've seen signs that creativity in our industry is being chilled as a result of last year's political and media attention," game developer Denis Dyack told me. Other developers, named and anonymous, gave differing views on just how much censorship and self-censorship has set in. "A Year After 'Hot Coffee,' Game Developers Are Watching Their Steps"
· Throughout the year, I wrote a Tuesday column called GameFile full of odds and ends related to the industry. My favorite was one I did in early October about "Okami," a game that suggested to me a whole new way of putting social messages in gamers' hands. "GameFile: 'Okami' Goes Green; Official Wii Word; 'Idol' Launch And More"
· In December, I discovered the tribe of hardcore NES collectors. Anyone who sells wood struck by lightning to help fund their gaming habit and lets me know about it can just about guarantee themselves a story on MTV News. It doesn't hurt if you bought a PS3 with the proceeds from selling a single NES cartridge either. These guys are serious gamers. "The Madness Of Nintendo Collectors: Will Sell PS3, Wood To Fund Habits"
— Stephen Totilo
Multiplayer: The Year's Darkest Moments Of Video Game Reporting
Facing down three of 2006's biggest challenges, from busted Mac to ailments.
I do not just play video games all day. Some people think that, when I tell them that I cover the video-game beat full time for MTV News. My job isn't exactly like covering Iraq, which a good friend of mine has been doing day in and day out for more than a year. That's a job of skill and bravery. But there are some challenges that come with this gig. Here are three of my most trying moments of 2006:
The Darkness of the Game Developers Conference
The 2006 Game Developers Conference in San Jose, California, was winding down on Thursday, March 23. I'd written a few stories from the event and needed to file just one more, about a speech and my interview with Nintendo's president, Satoru Iwata. I wrote the piece from the conference site that evening. It was scheduled to run the next day. Other than filing it online back at my hotel, I was done. Before that, I'd go to some parties. Around midnight I finally drove toward my hotel to zap my story to the home office.
When I arrived, however, they were handing out flashlights at my hotel. There was a blackout there and everywhere else in walking distance. No power meant no WiFi and no way to file my story. Someone suggested that Denny's had 24-hour WiFi. I went to one. They had waffles, not WiFi. I drove more. I found a DoubleTree hotel. A nice lady there let me stand at the vacant bellhop desk, log on to the hotel's computer and transfer my file to the home office. It was 2 a.m. One guest thought I actually was a bellhop and asked where he could get bottled water. I shrugged. I filed. I logged out. The woman at the DoubleTree front desk gave me a free cookie. This is the story worth that trouble: "Nintendo Revolution Kicks It Old School For Sega Genesis Fans."
More Darkness, Now at E3
On Tuesday, May 9, just after noon, Bill Gates took the stage at a Microsoft Xbox E3 presentation at Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. Gates is a Windows guy, of course, and the minute he showed up, the Macintosh laptop I was using from the front row — which was full of E3 notes — died. I took notes by hand and then left. I skipped the rest of the day's presentations.
An MTV colleague with a car and more calm helped me figure out that my computer wasn't exactly departed. It still made sounds. We drove around the city, attempting repairs. At the MTV offices in Santa Monica, California, a technician figured out that my laptop's screen lightbulbs just weren't turning on. He fixed it and I went back to work.
The next day, I trucked my tale of woe back to E3. Kotaku's Brian Crecente nodded and smiled. He told me that on the Gates day, he left a pen on his laptop keyboard, then slammed his computer shut. His screen cracked and he had to buy a new machine. I stopped telling people my story. He won.
The Pain of Sitting
Big gaming conferences clearly bring me troubles. So maybe I shouldn't have accepted Nintendo's invitation to attend a Wii pre-launch event at New York's Chelsea Piers on the morning of Thursday, September 13, and an Electronic Arts gaming event that afternoon.
I woke up a day earlier in pain. To be specific, the pain was in my tailbone, some sort of strange bump. I could hardly sleep that night and could hardly sit down that Nintendo morning. Here's a message for any colleague who was wondering why I was on the edge of my seat as Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime unveiled key Wii details: It had nothing to do with Wii. It was pain and worse, but I'm censoring some details here. Standing was better, so I didn't need to grimace when I talked to Fils-Aime after the event, or when I played a demo of "Metroid Prime 3." I filed a report from Chelsea Piers and called my doctor for an emergency visit.
The doctor's diagnosis was brisk: pilonidal cyst. (Look it up when you're not eating.) Surgery would be required. I was still in the examining room when a gaming PR person called, very upset with something I had recently written. I told her that now was not a good time. By the time I was walking crosstown to the EA event, I was taking baby steps. I couldn't have taken a cab. That would have required sitting.
I arrived at the EA showcase eager to be done so I could use my prescription for Vicodin. Nintendo had required people to stand while playing games at its event. But helpful EA PR reps wanted me to get up and sit down at each game. Thankfully, I recorded what people were saying about "Def Jam: Icon" and "Superman Returns" and the rest, because the pain blocked most of my hearing.
The Vicodin kicked in Thursday night, and preliminary surgery was scheduled for the next afternoon. But before that, I had to attend a secret Friday morning meeting with Rockstar Games, so they could tell me about Phil Collins' surprise appearance in the then-unreleased "Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories." There are big leather couches in the Rockstar demo rooms. I looked at them in horror. I turned to the Rockstar guys and just laid it out. If they were telling me their secret, I would tell them mine. They understood. And a surgeon took care of the rest later that day.
The Stock Report:
» Number of games at MTV HQ: 218 (several games have been given to charity, co-workers)
» Last three games to arrive: "Far Cry Vengeance" (Wii), "World Series of Poker: Tournament of Champions" (Wii), "Super Swing Golf" (Wii)
» Last system to arrive: PS3
» Last swag to arrive: PS3 umbrella
— Stephen Totilo
Multiplayer: Best Of The Rest, 2006 — Attempting 'Sonic Body Pong'
Running around dressed like a giant paddle at September's Come Out & Play Festival.
I covered a lot of gaming stories for MTV News this year and traveled far and wide. But still some of what we shot never made it to air. There comes a time to rectify that, and that time is now.
I am unafraid to dress up as video-game characters. I hopped around as Super Mario just this past summer (see "Gamers Drop Controllers, Strap On Bungee Cords To Re-Create 'Mario,' 'Tekken' "). But I sooner thought I'd be wearing Lara Croft's short-shorts than I'd be dressed up as a paddle from "Pong." In September I did just that. Why?
I spent one weekend late that month exploring the Come Out & Play Festival. Gamers and game designers from around the world gathered in New York to play special games designed for the great outdoors of Manhattan. On a Friday night, I watched two guys project a playable variation of "Space Invaders" onto the side of a seven-story building. On Saturday, I ran around Broadway trying to follow Ian Bogost and Jane McGonigal's Cruel 2 B Kind, a take on the tag-inspired game Assassin, but in this case allowing people to only "kill" and be "killed" with acts of kindness. Later in the day, I watched some folks play a miniature-golf course informally set on New York streets.
The only game I actually played myself, however, was "Sonic Body Pong." The game played like old-school "Pong," except the paddles were real and attached to the players' heads. And the playing field was real space, not a screen. And the ball was only represented by sounds coming into each player's headphones, urging them to move a little to the left or right to bounce it back to their opponent. You couldn't see the ball. Other than that, it was just like "Pong." We filmed it and you can briefly see me in action after I whiffed another volley. (Click here to watch a novice's attempt at "Sonic Body Pong").
For some reason, I couldn't let my failure linger on the cutting-room floor. So it's now part of this half-week celebration of MTV News' 2006 game coverage leftovers. Plus I wanted to shed light on the creative folks at Come Out & Play. They did some interesting work and found some peculiar new ways to have fun.
— Stephen Totilo
Multiplayer: Best Of The Rest, 2006 — Controlling 'Halo 2' By Foot
We visit Rooster Teeth — and get to the bottom of the 'foot thing.'
In late October, Sway Calloway and I brought a five-person team to Austin, Texas, to explore that city's vibrant gaming scene (see "My Gaming Block Austin, Part 1: MMOs, Pimped-Out Studios — And Pigs"). We aired a lot of material: interviews with the "Metroid"-makers of Retro studios, a chat with a woman who wrote dialog for "Gears of War," a nearly-disastrous tour of Midway's Texas development studio and some other fun stuff.
Until now, though, we had to leave footage from our visit with a group of gamers called Rooster Teeth on the shelf (see "Machinima Pros Make A Living Playing 'Halo' — With Their Feet"). For the past three years, these guys have entertained millions of fans with movies — machinima — made from their recorded multiplayer sessions of "Halo." They're based in Buda, Texas, just outside of Austin, and record their sessions in the back of a railroad apartment (which is literally next to the railroad tracks). They record voiceovers for their films in their apartment's closet, tie the whole thing together in the cramped back room and release each resulting episode of their "Red vs. Blue" first-person shooter comedy online and eventually in stores on DVD.
On a rain-soaked Wednesday afternoon we drove south from Austin to Buda and got a look at the Rooster Teeth digs. One of the guys, the heavily tattooed Geoff Fink, sat Sway down at a bank of Xbox 360s and recording equipment to explain how the "Halo" machinima gets made. Sway got the details, but we couldn't wrap the interview without asking Fink about a detail we highlighted in our old Rooster Teeth story — the foot thing.
Sway noticed that Fink had nine Xbox 360 controllers at the recording station and enough systems to allow them to be used at the same time — but Rooster Teeth doesn't have nine gamer/actors to wield them. They solve this problem by wielding multiple controllers at once, some with their hands and some with their feet. We needed a demonstration and got one, captured on film (check it out here). No, Geoff Fink isn't exactly veering through a "Halo 2" death-match in the clip, but he is revealing a little bit of "Halo" movie magic.
— Stephen Totilo
Multiplayer: Best Of The Rest, 2006 — The Kenta Cho Interview
Japanese game designer answers questions about Xbox games, his own creations.
Now I'd like to bring you back to April, when MTV News producer Matt Sunbulli and I traveled to Tokyo to cover the local gaming scene (see "Where Does A Game Called 'Mother' Outsell 'Halo'? Check Out Tokyo's Coolest Street"). We booked interviews with local game-design heavyweights like Tomonobu Itagaki and Hideo Kojima (see " 'Metal Gear' Mastermind Imagines Games That Use Smell, Touch"). We tried to secure a tour of PlayStation HQ and hit the Sega arcades.
I also really wanted to talk to Kenta Cho.
If you don't know the name and you like games, then you need to check out the Web site for Cho's one-man games company ABA Games. Cho creates some of the most exotic shoot-'em-up computer games you'll ever play, with a colorful, abstract visual style not dissimilar to what you see when you close your eyes and rub your eyelids.
I'd read e-mail interviews with Cho, some of them in English, with fans located as far away as the Czech Republic. But I'd never seen his photo, and I didn't realize one afternoon in the Harajuku district in Tokyo that the unassuming man handing me a Toshiba business card was Cho himself. With Sunbulli and camera in tow, we went looking for an interview location. Our colleague from MTV Japan helped us stumble around a few blocks. Eventually we came upon the MTV Tokyo café, which you'll see in the background of our first Best of the Rest 2006 Multiplayer video shorts (click here to see the footage).
Cho set up his laptop, powered on a copy of his amazing shooter "Gunroar" and then gave what he told me is his first on-camera interview in English. We talked about how he makes his games (programs them on the weekends), whether he'd like to make an RPG or sports game (no and no), and why he doesn't like "Grand Theft Auto" (takes too long to play through).
But more to the point: We talked about the then-popular Cho-style Xbox 360 game "Geometry Wars," why he distributes his games for free and what the chances are of major gaming companies putting his work on consoles. His answers can only be seen here.
— Stephen Totilo
About this column: The average gamer doesn't have the time or cash to experience one-tenth of the games that come out every week. Collectively, the MTV News team does — and then some. With games streaming into the office each day, we see a lot, we play a lot and we remember a lot. We want to tell you what we're playing and what's worth caring about it, and we'll do it every day at MTV News: Multiplayer. To follow the column daily, bookmark multiplayer.mtv.com.