Spotlight: The Reapers

By Drayco, as a contribution to HSM

Families on Home are more than groups of friends who hang out together.  They are family.

A relationship with a fellow family member is more than just a friendship. Family comes first, and if you don’t agree, you shouldn’t be in one.

Family is forever. You can’t choose your family and then leave because you view or see another that you might like. You work together to resolve your issues and stick together, no matter what. It’s the idea of true friendship, no matter how large or small the family. From a family of five to a family of five hundred, they can both hold the same quality. Quantity doesn’t matter; rather, it’s the caliber of the people whom you have by your side.

When you run a family on Home, it’s like shopping for the best food at the supermarket: you pick through the apples at the store to find the ones that are ripe and unbruised. You choose the best of the best, and toss the rest.

If a particular Home user in your family doesn’t care about you or the others in your group, why have that person take up a slot on your friend list? Show of hands: I’m sure some of you reading this have gone through your friend list at some point and thought, “Who is that person?”

When you’re in a family, you shouldn’t have to ask that question. You should know, the moment you look at that person, if he or she is a real friend. Otherwise, it’s simple: delete them. And if they send you a message and ask you why, then tell them.

“I obviously haven’t spoken with you often, but if you would like to get to know each other better, we could add each other back,” is my usual line. Apologize that you both never speak, and that friends should talk. If they say no, then don’t worry about it. Or, if they say yes, the worst that could happen is you decide, after getting to know this person once more, whether or not you get along or have anything in common.

Conversely, if the deleted party doesn’t add you back (or doesn’t send a message at all), then they didn’t know you or didn’t care enough to send you a message. Onward.

Clubs in Home can be generally defined as three different things:

The first type of club is a common space for just an elite group of friends, thirty or less, to hang out together without the interruption of outside users. These people congregate at a clubhouse to just hang out, have small parties or meetings, or discuss and plan possible multi-player gaming events on other PlayStation games.

The second usage of a clubhouse is as a meeting spot for the larger families in Home, where multiple clubhouses are prepared by different family members to hold thirty of the members on each. This allows for the members to “belong” to something rather than just being called a member and having no meeting space.

Usually, the top ranks in a family are on the leader’s club list, and each of those own a clubhouse as well so that the higher ranks have a place to meet. The leader himself (or herself) would be on five of the club lists, seeing as you may only belong to five clubs.

The third type of clubhouse is just a party club, where different types of parties or gatherings are hosted, with random users passing out promos and listening to tunes. Typically such party clubs get a DJ to play music for the people who show up for a good time, and patrons type their chats in order to respect the mic of the DJ.

Every so often, though, you meet a club that’s a little different. In some cases, a lot different. And in this issue’s column, I want to spotlight one of the most interesting and unusual families I’ve ever met: the Brotherhood of the Reapers. Check out their website at if you want to see more.

The Reapers could be one of the most elite groups of people on Home that I’ve ever encountered. After speaking with BLACK_DOOM, the leader of this group, I discovered that being a part of this club is more difficult than finding something that no longer exists. Like searching, as a child, for that fallen star that you saw…and you search and search, but little do you know that it burnt up before it hit the ground.

The Reaper virtual outfit, from Infamous, is something you could only receive via special pre-order of the game title. Only then could you receive the code needed for your Home avatar. Some people, of course, sold the code on websites for cash or trade; if they never went on Home, at least someone would get something from the code, and the seller would receive a bit of money in return.

During our discussion I was told that the codes sold privately for anywhere from $25 up to $75, depending on how close to expiration they were. Yes, these special codes had an expiration date. Just like when we were younger, and we could win free drinks or collect codes with the plastic in the pop bottles. You would be so happy you’d won, or you would laboriously collect the points, just to either end up losing them or going to cash them in and finding they had expired.

Honestly, out of all the codes that people get on bottles…very few get entered, and thus many people probably win without even knowing. So we miss out. As I can imagine so many others that had preordered had the code and went to use it only to find out they should have used it sooner. Missed opportunities are a sad and sometimes heart-breaking thing, but that’s also what makes this item so special. You can’t buy it, hack it, or make it; it is what it is, and if you do have this Reaper costume you could have access to a very elite group of friends.

While hanging out with the Reapers, I was able to learn quite a lot in regards to what they do and their purpose for being on Home. It was like stepping into a totally different experience than what I’ve grown used to with other fams, groups, clubs, crews or clans.

The Reapers hang out a lot together and set up games tourneys between different people within their family that have the same games. They even created a giant board game out of different virtual items in the Toy Story Crib. DJ Tenchu mentioned it in a previous article, and had the pleasure of trying the game out. Personally, I would love to get a chance to play the game myself, in order to see how it works in greater detail.

This particular group also holds occasional public events. One in particular is called “Walk Among Reapers.” Also known as W.A.R., they gather at their club and vote upon which locations will be visited for other Home users to view the event.

When they first arrive at the designated location, they all stand at attention in a line and wait for instruction. Once given the word, they all walk around the entire space, showing off their elite gear to all the other users in the space. After they have walked around the space – and attracted a ton of attention – they make a circle or line in the middle of the space and all rock out together.

I had the pleasure of seeing this back when the MotorStorm public space first came out. I’d only been on Home for a few months; I’d purchased some clothing, but hadn’t learned very much about the various fams and clubs on Home. I was dancing at MotorStorm with my best friend, Levi, having a great time…when, next thing you know, we’re surrounded by people. The Reapers. There were so many of them! All rocking out and being very respectful, having a good time with everyone. Needless to say, it was certainly a unique experience.

Levi seemed to know who they were, but I didn’t have the pleasure of knowing at the time. Nowadays, I can say I truly know who the Reapers are, and what and why they do what they do.

(They also mentioned that, for fun, they will get one of their members to dress up as Cole – the game title’s protagonist – and run around while they all chase that person. It’s really funny.)

The main purpose of a W.A.R. party is to show everyone in Home who the Reapers are, and hopefully meet some new people with the same interest in Infamous and in possession of the elite gear. They are definitely an exceptional example of one of the most interesting and respectful clubs on Home.

Having such a close bond with digital friends (or, heck, even friends in real life) is rare, and it’s nice to see that this club is dedicated to something far greater than needless drama and fighting. Sure, every family has its past, and sometimes things need to change in order to gain respect back within the Home community. The Reapers are not immune to this; they are also are in the process of recovering from a turbulent past, rebuilding trust and relationships with other clubs.

(Don’t get me wrong: not all of the families on Home fight and cause drama, but there are a few out there that seem to have nothing better to do than act like children, fighting over things as childish as what people wear — or even going to such horrid lengths as dedicating themselves to overt racism. I have no doubt that Sony has its ears to the ground and is dealing with the truly inappropriate groups that have unfortunately sprung up here and there.)

When all said and done, The Reapers are a very kind and respectable club on Home. I want to thank BLACK_DOOM for a wonderful evening, taking the time to show us me this incredibly rare and exclusive fraternity. I would recommend to anyone who has the “Reaper” gear to contact this group and give it a try. Like chasing Cole and catching him, the Reapers sure caught my eye, even though joining them may be impossible.

Dolphy Race for MS

By Cynella, HSM staff writer

On December 3rd, at 9PM Eastern time, several people gathered at the Hudson Gate public space to raise awareness for Multiple Sclerosis. Most were sporting purple text bubbles and purple or orange clothing.

Multiple Sclerosis is most commonly known as MS. MS causes the body’s immune system to attack and damage the nerve cells. Although there are many speculations about what causes the disease, the cause is unknown. Almost any neurological symptom can occur and the disease often progresses to include cognitive and physical disabilities. This disease most often appears in young adults and is more common among females. There is to this date no cure for MS, only a few treatments that can help the victim to return some function after an attack.

Home has previously seen breast cancer walks, but the numerous people that showed to the Dolphy Event proved that we of Home are a caring community that can come together to support a variety of different causes. Although there are currently no clothing items other than breast cancer t-shirts that donate money to charities, I think that there could be several different charities and events represented in Home.

The night at the races started out with great excitement; many raced, including a purple dolphy named plzcurems. Unfortunately the recent problems in the Hudson Space were very present as people froze and experienced network errors. Nevertheless, the night ended with a party celebrating the night’s events.  I would personally like to thank all that made it out on Friday night to support this cause.

How did the PlayStation controller evolve into what you see today?

Triangles, Squares, Exes and Ohs- a design history of PlayStation’s iconic controller
You take it for granted: the iconic PlayStation controller that you’ve picked up and used, for years, without ever really thinking about where it came from.

Did you know that it almost didn’t come to pass at all?

For the past 17 years, Teiyu Goto has worked on the external design of every PlayStation console, as well as their controllers and other accessories. In an interview with Famitsu magazine, Goto divulged the internal process that went into crafting some of the most iconic images in video games.

Goto began his design work at around the same time the development staff put the final touches on the first PlayStation tech demo.  Since game systems were a new category for Sony, Goto was given carte blanche to go in any direction he wanted with the design. He thought up assorted designs for the console, but wound up going with a very simple one in the end: a basic box with a circle on top for the CD-ROM. The console itself was a relatively easy design process compared to what challenges he faced with the controller.
At the time, the Super NES was a huge hit, and naturally Sony wanted SNES gamers to upgrade to their system. Originally the management department at Sony didn’t want the controller to be a radical departure of a standard type of design, for the fear that gamers wouldn’t accept it.

Ignoring management’s request for a flat, Nintendo-like pad, Goto came up with a design that had grips on both ends and showed it to Sony’s president at the time. The president was very impressed; he really liked the grips on the controller because it let him get a 3D-style grasp that fit comfortably in the hand.

Management, however, was still unreceptive. They argued the grip design was simply no good, that gamers wouldn’t like it. Goto ended up switching the design to a flatter controller, and that survived all the way to the point where it was time to start making molds. Just around then, a creative report was called for: an internal presentation where assorted groups showed their current in-progress work to the top brass. During that report Goto showed off the flat controller design, explaining that this is how game consoles work right now, and Sony’s president — recalling the earlier design – was totally livid at the change.

“This is no good! Change it! What was wrong with what you showed me earlier?” He asked.

It was a huge boost for Goto: the president of Sony saying what he did in front of the entire management team gave him the confidence that his design was right all along.
That explains how the controller got its look, but not how the buttons got their rather unique names.

“That was also pretty tough,” Goto revealed. “Other game companies at the time assigned alphabet letters or colors to the buttons. They wanted something simple to remember, which is why PlayStation went with icons or symbols, and Goto came up with the triangle-circle-X-square combination immediately afterward.

He gave each symbol a meaning and a color. The triangle refers to viewpoint; it represents one’s head or direction, and he made it green. Square refers to a piece of paper; it represents menus or documents, and made it pink. The circle and X represent ‘yes’ or ‘no’ decision-making and he made them red and blue respectively. People thought those colors were mixed up, and Goto had to reinforce to management that that’s what he wanted.

It’s hard to imagine the famous PlayStation controller looking any different than it does now; even with the advent of motion-controller technology upon us — the Move, Kinect and Wiimote — I suspect we’ll look back, twenty years from now, with tremendous fondness at the old controller that we all use today.

Strong Bad’s Cool Game for Attractive People

by Estim20, HSM team writer

Last time I reviewed a game (admittedly not that long ago, and in fact was my last article) I reviewed the Telltale episodic release for Back to the Future. It honored – in its own way – the 25th anniversary of the films and Michael J. Fox’s research for Parkinson’s, bringing back Fox, Christopher Lloyd and Claudia Wells for their respective roles. In case you’re wondering, Claudia Wells played Jennifer Parker, the on-again-off-again-thanks-to-temporal-anomaly girlfriend in the first film.

The game is all well and good, especially if you’re a graphical adventure fan. What I left out of the review, though, due to restricting the focus of the article to Back to the Future, is that Telltale Games, the company behind the release, isn’t new to graphical adventuring game. In fact, several employees garnered experience prior to the company’s formation when they created a prototype of Sam and Max (the game) for Lucasarts.

That’s right; the founding employees of Telltale earned their stripes with the company that creates Star Wars titles. Before the gaming division more or less shifted focus largely to that little sci-fi franchise, Lucasarts developed a line of graphical adventure games, which people still play to this day. Such titles included Maniac Mansion, Day of the Tentacle, the Monkey Island series and Sam and Max Hit the Road.

If you search the rest of Telltale’s catalog, you’ll find only two games that aren’t based on existing franchises: Telltale Texas Hold ‘Em and Nelson Tethers. Even Poker Night at the Inventory is technically a franchise-driven game, given the basic premise is that four characters from other games converge in a poker table and face ‘you’ at a game of cards. Everything else is focused on their respective franchises and, perhaps unsurprisingly given Telltale’s history, are almost universally point-and-click adventure games.

As such the series I decided to review here is another graphical adventure series that you can find available for the PlayStation 3. I am focusing on the series based on an Internet property, Strong Bad’s Cool Game for Attractive People, or SBCG4AP for sure.


Okay, I probably lost a few of you to laughter as you read the name. It isn’t that the name is grammatically incorrect; the sticking point is likely the two words that start it off. Who is Strong Bad? Is the title really serious, or is it comedic and facetious? What are its qualifications for ‘cool’ and ‘attractive’ exactly? Well, you can ignore the third question, because it won’t matter, but the other two are fair game.

First, yes, the title is being facetious. It is in reference to the character you control for the span of five episodes, egg-headed ‘wrestleman’ Strong Bad, star (and ensemble darkhorse, really) of the Internet animation series Homestar Runner. Yes, that is its real name and Strong Bad is really a character from this series.

Well, I say ‘series’ with the caveat that it isn’t released on any schedule and it isn’t designed like television animation. There are no set episodes, as much as shorts and skits designed around specific ideas. Today it is a Flash animation site, with numerous shorts, music videos and fourth wall-breaking antics from the cast (and even crew), but its formative years weren’t quite that auspicious.

Homestar Runner as a concept began as the brainchild of Mike Chapman and Craig Zobel back in 1996, making it a good fifteen years old as of the time of this writing. They browsed the children’s section of a local bookstore and found the state of affairs there rather dismal. This prompted them to create a parody of such books, entitled “The Homestar Runner Enters the Strongest Man in the World Contest.” It introduced the eponymous character as well as three other future staples of the franchise, Pom Pom, Strong Bad and the Cheat. Get used to the names; they’re indicative of the world’s general charms.

The only other Homestar-related piece they concocted that year was a music video created with Mario Paint for the SNES, coupled with a song sung in faux-accents and extolling the virtues of Homestar’s great athleticism. For close to four years, these two works were the only available pieces. By 1999, however, that changed when Mike and his younger brother, Matt, took up learning Flash by that point. They needed something to develop their talent, and Homestar proved the essential factor.

Thus was revived Homestar Runner, this time as a website, going live in early 2000. Over the course of eleven years, the creation’s fictional world took form, with various staples and word-based gags that would typify its existence. Homestar Runner, in case you’re wondering, is a simple-minded athlete with no visible arms, skin as white as glue and a speech impediment that sounds vaguely like Elmer Fudd’s. The site includes various other characters, ranging from a green-skinned, slightly creepy coach with a Midwestern accent (Coach Z) to a concession stand owner who frequently dabbles in crazy, faux-black market scams (Bubs). On top of that, the series takes place in the ambiguous geography of Free County, USA – think of Springfield from The Simpsons, but with less resemblance to the United States.

These days, Homestar Runner encapsulates numerous shorts, features, music and even live performances (using puppets instead of animation). Plus, over the years, the site grew to spawn various features and characters, such as Teen Girl Squad, a comic created by Strong Bad involving said teen girls in ludicrous situations. The shorts, generally the longest pieces in the gallery, amount to a significant chunk of the material, building up characters and the setting as well as providing numerous absurd bits of comedy that seem like this is how toons see the real world.

By far the most prolific segment, however, is the Sbemail segment, hosted by the star of this game series, Strong Bad. “Sbemail” is a contraction of “Strong Bad” and “e-mail,” which is a great, concise description of what the segment offers: Strong Bad answering e-mails from real fans. As of this writing, there are 205 Sbemails and they perfectly illustrate one crucial aspect of Strong Bad’s character: he loves electronics from the 1980s. Within the context of the Sbemails, he just upgraded to a computer capable of handling wallpapers, ditching a laptop that could only last for five minutes on the battery.

With eleven years under its belt, the Brothers Chap’s magnum opus isn’t easy to summarize without a good number of pages dedicated to it. Given this is a game review (and no, I haven’t forgotten), it’s less likely I’ll be able to give it the attention such a task needs. I recommend visiting the site and selecting the ‘Random’ feature on the bottom of the screen to get a decent idea how the series plays out. It’s absurd, it’s quirky, and it’s good when you just need five minutes of comedy and bonkers scenarios.

And with Sam and Max as a precedent, Telltale knew it had a chance to translate the series into a graphical adventure series. The series was announced and ultimately debuted in 2008 for Wii before making its jump to PC, Mac and PlayStation 3. PlayStation Network received the episode in full in 2010 for $15, cheaper than the games originally sold for on the Wii.

And now, without further adieu, let’s dive right into Strong Bad’s Cool Game for Attractive People. I still love that title.


I should note that yes, the site is named Homestar Runner, who is a character in the franchise. However, Strong Bad is the ensemble darkhorse and is just as popular, if not more so, than his dim-witted co-star, thanks in no small part to his e-mail series online, named Sbemails, as mentioned above. As such, he became the star for Telltale’s venture, with Homestar becoming an NPC.

The story focuses on Strong Bad, dressed to the nines as Mexican wrestler (even though he rarely wrestled ever in his tenure on the site) and so-called ladies’ man. You control him through Free County, USA’s lush environments, such as his house, his car that rarely gets driven and the track and field, all in pursuit of the episodes’ goals. Along the way he’ll meet his fellow co-stars, from unarmed marshmallow-skinned Homestar Runner to broom-shaped Marizpan and Strong Bad’s yellow unidentifiable creature, the Cheat. As said earlier, get used to all these names.

The episodes feel very much like episodes, each one effectively self-contained plots that don’t inherently lead into the next. The only indications you get of what the next episode will be about are the previews, though series of jokes about an arcade cabinet in need of repairs does serve as a series-long build-up to the final episode. As such, you can play any of the episodes, even the final one, in any order without requiring knowing what happened prior.

The first episode does set up everything you need to know about the Homestar Universe without having seen the series, kicking things off with Strong Bad delivering a song about how no one can handle his style. He immediately segues into what he does best: answering e-mails. The first episode pegs him with the question – why haven’t you beat the snot out of Homestar – and he finds himself unable to give a good explanation, so he feels he must now follow up with the request.

Thus begins the aptly-named Homestar Ruiner, where Strong Bad finds a means of runing Homestar’s chances of winning a local contest, dubbed the Free County Tri-Annual Race to the End of the Race. From here on out, is episode after episode of offbeat comedy and plots that resolve themselves just in time for the next episode to begin. By the time you end the series, you’ll have stole and returned a king’s throne, won a Battle of the Bands, filmed a poorly-acted no-budget cop drama ripped from the 1980s and discovered that video game characters aren’t necessarily as charming in real life as they are in digital form. And that’s not including one episode’s outtakes.


If you read my review on Back to the Future, then you know what to expect: very little was altered between Strong Bad and that title. You move Strong Bad from one screen to the next using the left analog stick, tilting it gently to make him walk or further for running. The circle button that caused Marty to dash in his title wasn’t used for that purpose here, instead for canceling holding items and speeding up dialogue.

The shoulder buttons function the same way: you can switch from object to object in the environment and see which objects may be interacted with. This’ll come in handy, though Strong Bad can also face the item and highlight it that way. X still interacts with everything and if Strong Bad is holding an item, Circle returns it to your inventory.

Square brings up the inventory screen, which holds every item that isn’t nailed down. Triangle brings up the map, which you can add locations to as you discover them by either finding them, thus adding them automatically, or adding them yourself when the game tells you to go to a certain location.

This scheme works and little wonder they fiddled little with it for future games. It works well and you likely won’t be fidgeting with it or be too aware of it in-game, helping immersion. Which is good, because the game does want you to pay more attention to the jokes and plot rather than whether or not your controller is actually working.

Rock On, Strong Bad: The Best of Free County USA

Being that the series is based immensely on verbal jokes and absurdity, there are quite a few things that can go wrong, especially when making the transition from web animation to 3D adventure game. Fortunately, the game captures the feel of the universe and art style beautifully, losing next to nothing in the process. The characters look as they should and their environments manage to pull off the cartoon look admirably. It does look like a 3D game – more on this later – but they manage to get it working and that they should be commended for.

In addition, to compliment the visuals, every voice actor from the original web series returns for their respective roles. This wasn’t as hard as it sounds, as the vast majority of voices were provided by only two people. That’s right; two people played every major character in the series, with one, Matt Chapman, playing seven roles (Homestar, Strong Bad, King of Town, Bubs, Coach Z, Strong Sad and Strong Mad). The other voice actor, childhood friend (and wife to Matt’s brother Mike Chapman) Missy Palmer, provides the voice for Marzipan. They pull great performances here and, unsurprisingly, help make the games sound impeccably like shorts off the site.

As for the gameplay: The map mentioned above is extremely helpful for a game like this. SBCG4AP is by no means a sandbox game in size, but the map cuts down on the amount of travel tremendously regardless, especially in such a case as Episode 5, where you’ll be spending plenty of time traveling between the video game world and the ‘real’ world. Episode 4 also benefits from it, as some areas don’t actually contain exits (e.g. Strong Bad’s own ‘country,’ Strongbadia, which is converted into Strongborneo for one scene).

With plenty of locations to explore, there should of course be items to use and view. Fortunately, there are plenty of objects to interact with for the sole purpose of eliciting conversations, rather than solving puzzles. Strong Bad is quite a talker and comments on anything that the game allows the player to select, occasionally more than once, so check items at least twice. Plus, given this is an adventure game, you can use some items in various ways that don’t further the plot, such as sticking people up with Dangeresque Strong Bad’s nunchuck  ‘gun.’ Adventure games aren’t new to this and Telltale would continue the tradition with future games (try giving various people algae cakes in Back to the Future episode 4, for example – you’ll never see teeth the same way again).

Speaking of interactivity, I mentioned in my Back to the Future review that sometimes having Marty try to look at the items instead of using the shoulder buttons to switch from item to item can be problematic. It’s a little maddening a few sections, such as the final puzzle in Episode 1, but it didn’t prove too much of an obstacle. It’s odd, though, as SBCG4AP seems to both lack and possess this problem. For the good side of this, I don’t recall any puzzles that felt like the laboratory scene in Episode 1 of BTTF. The puzzles don’t require a hectic scramble to turn on and switch off devices in rapid succession, let alone with two people arguing while you must listen to their words carefully.

On the note of Back to the Future, one issue raised regarded camera angles. Fortunately, this issue doesn’t plague this series. Strong Bad’s outing uses very few camera angles outside of cut-scenes, making it seem like a platform game that hasn’t quite jumped off the ground. As such, you won’t find yourself struggling with the controls as the camera shifts from one angle to the next,

On a side-note, as much as some of the situations in the series can sound too mature for kids when summarized (Dangeresque, Teen Girl Squad’s basic premise, Gel-arshie), the game is fairly kid-friendly. If you find shock humor distasteful and think too many games focus on titillation and violence, Strong Bad’s outing is a breath of fresh air. For $15 you’re getting a series you won’t be ashamed of showing the kids and it lasts a good few hours in total.

Any case, in addition to the main plot points, there are numerous collectibles that add towards a final score – with requisite trophies if you’re a trophy hound – and each are fairly unique and tie into the particular episode. Some are articles of clothing, which Strong Bad may wear. If you find them, they will be delivered to a trans-dimensional photo booth (which looks like a normal photo booth until you walk in) and you can customize your Strong Bad to your liking.

If you ever miss any of these items and want to improve your ranking, the game does end with an Extended Play, allowing you a chance to get anything that’s still permissible to find. There are limits to it, but plenty of items may still be found. Plus it may give you the option of interacting with minor items, for the sake of hearing what Strong Bad has to say on the matter.

And finally, here’s something that’ll be on both the best and worst lists: the game is chockfull of references to its original material, more so it feels than even Back to the Future. Some of the jokes hinge on preceding material, extending beyond just use of characters and setting, and fans of the series will adore them. If there is a game in the Telltale line-up that feels the most fan-service-driven, it’s this one.

Stupidest Things Homstar Said: The Worst of Free County USA

First things first: the series is filled with self-referencing humor. Anyone who isn’t remotely familiar with the series – and sometimes even then – won’t get all the references thrown about, from Gel-arshie to even plot-significant ones, such as Stinkoman. One entire episode is predicated on a running joke, namely that Dangeresque 3 hasn’t been made (until now!). If you aren’t familiar with the series, be prepared to stare in wonder at what transpired.

Secondly:  If the graphical quality of the series doesn’t seem up to par with what you’d expect a PS3-exclusive title to handle, that’s because this title wasn’t ever a PS3 exclusive. Remember, it debuted on the Wii, requiring they port it over and adjust certain features to accommodate. The graphics aren’t horrible by any means and don’t nearly mean as much as some might think (or even the Videlectrix boys in-game do and they care a lot about it). Still, if they feel behind-the-times – more so even than you’d expect these games should be – there’s the explanation.

 Similarly, the controls work well, but there is one section that would’ve made use of a motion controller, betraying its origins. Episode 5 requires you to find a light musket peripheral in-game (don’t ask – it makes sense in context) and use it as a light source so that Strong Bad can navigate his own house, to free the ghosts of the American Revolution (again, don’t ask). The way it works is you can use the light gun to scare away ghosts and you can move it to deal with the ghosts. This becomes a bit of a pain in either version, though it isn’t much of a sticking point.

When I mentioned Extended Play, I mentioned how it could help you find what you missed during the story. However, this doesn’t give you the chance necessarily to find time-sensitive items found during only specific points in the plot. Also, these items especially highlight the ‘Guide Dang It’ nature of the series, wherein there is little to no way one can expect anyone to find said items without using a guide. This is particularly problematic when the items must be found in specific points, at the risking of being lost forever.

Also, I’ve found more glitches in these episodes than in any other Telltale series I played. One notably overt example in Episode 4 had dialogue from a character no longer in the room continuing to play, without any means of stopping it. The metal detector may also inadvertently react when nothing’s available to unearth. Items you earned previously may suddenly get ‘re-earned’ with the appropriate music and image appearing on the screen. There are several more, but these illustrate the concept simply enough: they don’t interfere with the game too much, but can be aggravating.

Finally, there is no way to buy episodes individually. This does raise the stakes a little in regards to whether one should buy it, though a demo is in place in case you feel interested. The best place to get an idea, naturally, would be the web series, as the games are essentially graphical adventures that double as episodes.

In Summation

Overall the series is very well-designed and capture the essence of the Homestar series exactly. The game does suffer from a heavier dose of “Guide Dang It” syndrome than Back to the Future, especially in regards to finding all the bonus items (and thus trophies), but it is a brilliantly funny offbeat comedy series that is worth checking out.  The demo does provide enough of the experience to figure this out so give it a shot.

For those new to the series, the best option is to check out the series online. This will catch you up on all the reference if you find the game series interesting and entertaining, plus it’s entirely free and it’ll give you an idea of whether you’re into its style of comedy. Overall, though, the series is perfect for anyone into the adventure genre and fans of the series; it may win over a few people new to it, though as always, your mileage may vary.

The Importance of Research: Anita Sarkeesian and Tropes Vs. Women

by RadiumEyes, HSM team writer

What constitutes a sexist, misogynistic portrayal of women in video games?

One of the biggest questions in the gaming industry concerns the presentation of female characters; a natural extension of discourse on the subject throughout media, it raises the core difficulty facing developers today, namely the art of the female form and how it relates to the overarching cultural and social mythos.

One doesn’t have to look very far to notice why this remains a problem – the 20th century provides numerous examples from various media (including comics, advertisements and literature) of the woman as unequal in standing to the man in human societies. To give an example, an Alcoa Aluminum ad from 1953 touted its easy-to-open ketchup bottle cap with the phrase, “You mean a woman can open it?” This unfortunately presents the female figure in the ad in an unequal position – the caption that opens the ad suggests her frailty (in contrast to the implied “stronger male”) and the old social expectation of women being the homebodies. Nowadays, sexism still exists in popular media (the “Everything I Do Is Wrong” ad campaign for milk springs to mind), and with the video game industry is ripe for critical attention; the now-famous Feminist Frequency series, “Tropes vs. Women,” presented by Anita Sarkeesian, attempts to analyze common themes in games that happen to be sexist, and explain where things went wrong.

Unfortunately, Sarkeesian herself received a lot of backlash for the series, even before it began – apparently, there’s something about a video series examining video games through a feminist lens that brought out the vitriol in many. But what about the videos themselves? Do they handle the subject matter well?

This question is best addressed by disregarding the anger and bitterness expressed by numerous (male) viewers, who thought it appropriate to attack Sarkeesian herself instead of the arguments made in her videos; sexism in video games is critically important to discuss, as it hopefully opens up avenues for gender equality in the industry.

With that said, let’s look at some of Sarkeesian’s videos. Her first, Damsels in Distress Part 1, begins with her discussion of the classic story of the captured female and its place in history as well as games; now, it opens up with a brief discussion of the game Dinosaur Planet, which saw cancellation before being redesigned into Star Fox Adventures. Sarkeesian unfortunately skips over one of the most critical parts of Dinosaur Planet – the second character, Saber, which she only alludes to by mentioning that the game had two playable characters. This point would have made for great discussion; Dinosaur Planet had two equally capable protagonists, and their genders did not define their actions or inform their abilities. Unfortunately, this gets overshadowed by the overarching discursive narrative of sexism in video games present in the Tropes vs. Women series; Dinosaur Planet feels more like a footnote than an integral “what-if” game that got subsumed into a popular Nintendo franchise.

At the same time, Sarkeesian presents Krystal (the female fox-like being) as a sexualized damsel in distress, downplaying her role in Star Fox Adventures; the scene where Fox McCloud encounters Krystal for the first time doesn’t actually carry the connotation Sarkeesian suggests. Instead of being a typical example of the trope, Krystal is temporarily imprisoned in a crystal shell when she tried to save her own planet from destruction; Fox uses her staff for a brief period in the game to help her escape her confines, and she quickly retrieves her weapon from him once freed. A better argument would be made for her involvement in Star Fox: Assault, where she becomes less involved directly in the action of the game; yet, her role strengthens in Command, where she receives her own ship, the Cloud Runner.

Peach, no longer in need of rescuing.

Peach, no longer in need of rescuing.

The first video of the Damsel in Distress series also simplifies (or completely glosses over, in some cases) games that do not adhere strictly to the archetype; even Princess Peach, the poster girl for the trope, doesn’t quite fit completely into it. In the “core” series (those Mario games explicitly showing Peach being captured), Peach operates as the royal figure, whose disappearance could very well have thrown her kingdom into disarray; Mario saves the princess not only because of the classic “save the princess” formula, but because he is a loyal subject who recognizes Peach’s power. Shigeru Miyamoto uses this narrative so often because it is one of the most recognizable and easiest to tell – that doesn’t excuse the fact that Peach always winds up being the hostage, but Miyamoto tapped into one of the primeval tales found throughout human history.

But that’s another story for another day; Peach’s position as the “helpless princess” definitely needs to be addressed, but Sarkeesian speaks of it as though Peach is defined by her helplessness; from the video, she discusses the trope as a “ball game” between two dominant male figures, with the woman as the prize. What makes the series unusual is that Peach never offers anything other than a kiss in gratitude for Mario’s continuous flouting of Bowser; she does not marry him, she does not become his “property.” Instead, Peach resumes her duties as princess until Bowser returns to kidnap her once again; there seems to be an unspoken bond between leader and subject that speaks at once of love and respect for one another. Mario, the humble plumber, springs to the rescue, not expecting anything in return – Peach feels safe knowing that no matter what Bowser does, Mario will defeat him.

Zelda makes for a more baffling example – her double identity as princess of Hyrule and Sheik do show how she is capable on her own, something Anita directly addresses in the video. Her status as the “damsel in distress” stems from her constant capture by Ganondorf, the primary antagonist and a member of the Gerudo; Ganondorf’s desire to wield the Triforce and claim dominion over the entire world makes this a bit more complicated than Bowser, as he has a major political motive for removing Zelda from the picture entirely. Of course, Zelda being a woman makes this rather cringe-worthy, as it plays to the idea of the woman as the inactive participant in a power play between male character; like Super Mario Brothers, the Zelda series provides a classic narrative technique that plays upon the millennia-old concept of women as frail and powerless against male aggressors.

One major issue I had with her damsel-in-distress tropes is the bevy of clips from various games without any commentary on them whatsoever; the appearances of games such as the 2008 Alone in the Dark and Devil May Cry 4 focus exclusively on images of women in a helpless position, but Sarkeesian provides no context for them. To give a great example of this, Ico appears among the clips shown in the second Damsel in Distress video; this classic 2001 release follows the story of Ico and Yorda, two children who fight against Yorda’s mother, the evil queen. Sarkeesian doesn’t provide any detail on the story, and how it follows the stereotypes presented in her video, leaving the audience wondering if Ico really follows the archetype that closely.

Mass-Effect-3-the-real-female-shepardOn top of all this, Sarkeesian doesn’t provide an overview of gaming history from its nascent stages to today – YouTube user The Gaming Goose, in his response to the “Damsel in Distress” series, outlined several games from the 1980s that included playable female protagonists, ranging from the 1981 Lady Bug to 1985’s Baraduke, the latter of which depicts a non-sexualized representation of women (as Toby Masuyo wears a space suit throughout most of the game). Additionally, the iconic Metroid franchise centers around Samus Aran; one of the most famous reveals in gaming history showed Samus to be a woman in the original game. Nothing about Samus’ suit draws attentions to her “femaleness;” indeed, nothing gender-specific can be ascertained through the suit alone. Only by removing the armor does Samus reveal her identity to the audience, and it comes at the end of Metroid, when you’ve completed the entire game.

In addition, the “Ms. Male” video paints a rather curious picture about the use of “gender signifiers” in video games; Sarkeesian actually mentions that Toru Iwatani created Pac-Man to appeal to gamers, but focuses on one particular quote from an interview from Wired (dated May 21, 2010) where Iwatani explains his decision to go with “eating” as the gameplay structure for the classic Pac-Man arcade game. This quote, where Iwatani associates seemingly stereotypical trends (such as fashion) with women, receives a very critical eye from Sarkeesian, who finds his views “regressive;” other reviews of the video (such as that found in Hidden Thoughts) pointed out how polarizing this is.

Does the idea of “eating food” really sound offensive and unnecessarily drawing attention to gender lines? What made Ms. Pac-Man so unique was the fact that it displayed a relationship that couples could identify with; Sarkeesian’s snarky comment about the birth of the infant “through wedlock” comes across as needlessly harsh, because Ms. Pac-Man gives no overt indication of the couple’s marriage status. Simultaneously, in the Wired interview, Iwatani explicitly notes how dark and boy-oriented games at the time were, and wanted to counterbalance that with a light-hearted game centered on a non-traditional gaming principle (in this case, eating) to draw audiences who might otherwise avoid the arcade.

Of course, times change – Iwatani worked on Pac-Man during a time when shooters such as Galaga dominated the marketplace, but that no longer applies, since the present day offers a far more diverse range of genres (and representative games) to play.

Bayonetta = Cereza.

Bayonetta = Cereza.

As a final note, the Tropes vs. Women series marks one of the most famous attempts to bring attention to the male-female dichotomy in video games, but Sarkeesian’s points are marred by poor research; the removal of the Bayonetta video from her YouTube channel inadvertently gives us a great example of this, as Sarkeesian based her discussion on the character (and, subsequently, the game) on incomplete information. She described Bayonetta as a single mother, for example; anyone familiar with the game would know otherwise, and Sarkeesian’s statement to the contrary likely stems from images of a young girl, Cereza, whom Bayonetta helps throughout the game. Cereza happens to be a young Bayonetta, which is hinted throughout the game – confusion over the characters’ exact relationship betrays unfamiliarity with the story, and a misunderstanding of Cereza’s constant references to Bayonetta as “mummy.” This last point can be explained when one looks at Bayonetta’s narrative – Cereza mistakenly identifies Bayonetta for Luka, who gave birth to Bayonetta in 1411, thus cementing the Cereza-Bayonetta duality.


The Gaming Goose’s response to Anita Sarkeesian’s Damsel in Distress (uploaded 23 July 2013):

Q&A: Pac-Man Creator Reflects on 30 Years of Dot-Eating; Wired, 21 May, 2010.

Hidden Thoughts analysis of the Ms. Male video (posted 25 November 2013):

A Second Look at the LucasArts Cantina

by FEMAELSTROM, HSM team writer

When I first walked into Home I was doubly lost, like a blind man in the dark. I searched the navigator to see what this brave new world held for me; there was indeed a vast array of places to go, but the first one that really stood out and made my mind jump to attention was the LucasArts Creature Cantina.

I admit I am a massive Star Wars fan. I love the series, and have since its debut in 1977. Now I had the chance to walk the famed cavernous space that is the Mos Eisley Creature Cantina. The joyous thoughts of walking in this place rattled like coins in a clothes dryer and made this the first place I went when I arrived.

You enter at a long, sand-colored hallway; this is a great spawn point. It gives one the feeling of having just walked in off the streets of the Tatooine city for a break and a drink. The walls are lined with pictures of the famed Star Wars characters in promotion of the BluRay box set. As you round the hall, you find the entirety of the place in eyeshot, and what a sci-fi fan’s feast it is. To your right is a machine that is plastered to the wall with a blue light fixture in it. This is cool because this is right out of the movie. Watch your copy and you will see that it is there. On the left is a white C-3P0 head dismembered and adorning a sign that reads, as the movie states, “No Droids Allowed”.

Then you enter the actual place. The first thing you see is a long curved bar with an NPC bartender.

I can’t tell you how many times I have seen people stand there and ask for Jawa Juice, like it’s code for something greater or more sinister. There have been a few times when I have seen people talk to the bartender as though it is a person. My tactics to save the new person the trouble is to either private-message them or walk up and joke on how I’ve been on a long time and he’s never even moved from that place. He is never going to respond, not in a million light years. Yes, supposedly there were times when someone from the dev team would bring the bartender to life and interact with the community, but I never saw it.

So, yeah, I figure it spares them the rancor of those who will mock new arrivals still adorned in the familiar blue Home logo shirt. Although, to be fair, I rarely have seen such venom fired at any particular group while in the Cantina. For the most part, people here tend to not be overly aggressive. I basically think that this is such a target specific place that either you love the franchise and want to go to have fun, or you are one who does not care for it and would tend to stay away, save the trolls who go just to pester people.

Han shot first.

The bar is a long one — long enough to hold a good amount of people all adorned in various Star Wars or sci-fi attire. One side faces a set of dark alcoves; perhaps one of these is where Han Solo fired (first) on Greedo. This area is great because one can go and simply sit and chat with friends on what is the quieter side of the bar. There is a caution here for new people, though: in the last alcove, there is a set of red and blue lights on the wall. Many people who know the trick will try it on the new patrons. The ‘trick’ is this: they try to convince an unsuspecting person that running in between the red and blue lights will allow you to go outside the cantina or some fantastic promise like that. Truth is that the victim will simply get stuck between a chair and a table, forcing the victim to leave the Cantina and thus return.

Not the worst thing that can happen, granted, but annoying and rude to new Home friends.

Tucked into one corner is a commerce point. This is a very well thought-out commerce point because it is set into the décor as a separate alcove. Some places have obvious commerce points that are simply a floating blue shopping bag icon on a kiosk. This actually blends in quite well to its’ surroundings, and is stocked with a good amount of LucasArts items from the Star Wars franchise as well as the Indiana Jones franchise and Monkey Island.

Coming back around the bar, there is a large, dark room. It seems seedy until you realize that nobody really occupies that place. It has a large screen promoting the aforementioned Star Wars HD movies. The short video is entertaining for the first few times, but the zing quickly fades after a few rotations. I walk the place often and rarely see anyone there, but it has that darkness that seems right for those below the law to do their evil workings, like Sith Lords or bounty hunters.

Leaving the video screen room, there is a small alcove that holds some four or so booths. These are occupied at a constant stream and I myself have had many a fun day and night there. And now, the centerpiece of what is the pinnacle of geekdom in this wonderful place. One term summarizes this iconic centerpiece, and that is:

Figin D’an and the Modal Nodes.

You know them, you love them and they play 24/7 just for you.

The Creature Cantina band. The iconic bubble-headed band that plays far out and wacky instruments from a long time ago in a galaxy far far away, playing for your enjoyment. They are NPCs, but excellent ones. They do what every band should do: play no matter what the people around them do. They play all the famous songs, and the dance floor in front of them — though small — seems to hold just enough people and make it feel crowded and happily active.

Though it is now an older place in the frontier that is Home, it’s still a great place to hang out with friends and even find a few new ones that share the mutual love of all things sci-fi and fantasy. There are a few drawbacks to voice, but nothing that should keep anybody away. There is a curtain that doesn’t allow you entrance into a room that has been under construction for so long it seems that it will never be done, likely due to budget cutbacks or somesuch.

There are no rewards here, and no games or activities to entertain you, like Sodium has at its hub in the bartending game. Like any other place, the music gets repetitive after a while, but that’s ok when you sit and indulge in that ‘Jawa juice’ and watch the swarms of Stormtroopers and Boba Fetts standing around adding to a rich flavor that helps this virtual world become a little bit more real.

In the end, all anybody can measure a space by is whether or not you want to go there; whether or not you like it enough to hang out there and find the fun in it. I personally have it on my favorites list, and still enjoy it. Business has slowed since the advent of the Hub, but there are always new people coming and going, and some people that are veterans there. Being void of games or activities, this space still stands out as a great destination to just hang out in and let the Force be with you. Enjoy that Jawa juice!

Issue 10

by NorseGamer, HSM Editor-in-Chief

Social games are big, big business.

As consumer electronics and the availability of the internet have filtered through more and more of the western world’s population, the target demographics — and psychographics — for game developers have changed. What was once exclusively the domain of a fairly small socioeconomic strata has exploded into a giant industry which reaches audience numbers in the hundreds of millions of people.

Social games, in particular, have really reshaped this industry. I’m very much an old-school gamer — I love the solitary experience, and I miss the days when “multiplayer” meant either going to a friend’s house or going to an arcade — but there’s something to be said about the lure of social gaming and casual gaming. As a working adult in my thirties, I just don’t have time to sit down and commit eighty to one-hundred hours on a Front Mission 3 playthrough (as epic as that game was) — but I love the intermittent rounds of Angry Birds that I can squeeze in.

And, judging from the numbers, I’m not alone. Skyrim gets a lot of oohs and aahs, and The Old Republic is one of the finest MMO titles ever created, but their audiences pale by comparison to a Zynga game. Zynga is all over the place; Second Life, Entropia, IMVU, Twinity and others have had loyal followings on the PC for years; and Home has quietly been growing into quite a playground for social gaming on the PlayStation 3.

People are inherently social creatures, and social games are the newest evolution of video gaming.

The man on the cover of this issue, Richard Garriott de Cayeux, should be familiar to everyone. If you’re reading this and you don’t know who he is, then you are not a gamer. It’s that simple. Garriott’s alterego, Lord British, is more than just a name; it’s a synonym for quality gaming experiences that you can’t find anywhere else. So when we discovered that Lord British himself was diving into the world of social gaming, this publication — which is devoted to social gaming — had to find out more.

Mr. Garriott’s venture: Portalarium.

From their website, — “Portalarium is revolutionizing role-playing games for social media. Formed in September of 2009 in Austin, Texas, Portalarium is developing and publishing premium online games and virtual worlds for popular social networks and mobile platforms. Portalarium games maximize the fun and social play experience between friends, making it easy to find each other and play together regardless of where you are or what you are playing.”

Now, under normal circumstances, this would be just another basic business summation. But let’s not forget that it’s Richard Garriott behind it. This is the man who more or less wrote the book on how to create an RPG. This is the man who essentially pioneered the MMOG. And if you need further proof of what he intends to bring to the world of social gaming, take a look at his utterly brilliant essay on his new Portalarium “Ultimate RPG” project. You really should read that essay before jumping into this HSM issue.

This is a man who has a history of extensively studying the things he dives into, and then creating a product which is simply head-and-shoulders above what everyone else has thought of. So when Portalarium announced its newest game, Ultimate Collector: Garage Sale — and we found out this was going to be one of many interlinked pieces which made up part of the Portalarium social games experience — we knew we had to find out more.

This issue of HomeStation Magazine is truly jampacked — it’s more like a double issue, quite honestly — and we are very grateful that the team at Portalarium, including Mr. Garriott himself, were so generous with their time. All of us here are social gamers — if you weren’t, you wouldn’t be reading this — and we think you’ll find this story exceptionally interesting. Portalarium, like Home, should be on your radar for a long time to come.

From all of us here at HSM, thank you for coming with us on this ride.


Editor-in-Chief, HSM


Twitter: @HomeStationMag

YouTube: HomeStationMag

Issue 8

Aloha, and welcome to the eighth issue of HomeStation Magazine!

This issue of HSM puts the spotlight on one of Home’s most notable groups. They are not a club, nor a fam, nor anything else so informal; they are a legitimate production company, well organized and dedicated to the creation of a product which is difficult to master: machinima.

That group is PSTalent.

You need only look as far as Home’s own cinema screens to see their work. And there’s a reason why their films are being shown in Home: because they’re really quite good. I’ve had the good fortune to meet DIRECTOR_ON_DUTY, along with several key members of his PSTalent team, and they’re a remarkably cohesive, tight-knit group.

I personally take my hat off to anyone who has the skill level and work ethic to consistently produce a quality product that gives back to the
Home community. It’s easy to talk a good game; it’s quite another thing to back it up. I’ve got a fair level of experience with professional showbiz, and let me tell you: it’s exhausting work. Now multiply that level of difficulty by trying to overcome the technical difficulties of filming in virtual reality, plus trying to still creatively tell a compelling story.

It is thus that we felt it wholly appropriate to feature PSTalent in HomeStation. They’ve earned it. And my Jedi powers sense even greater success coming their way.

This issue is absolutely jampacked with content:

  • A gender-swapping sociological experiment (Gideon, Keara, Burbie and Orion)
  • How to “live off the land” in Home and build up a substantial list of goodies without spending a dime (Burbie)
  • Five darn good reasons to love Lockwood Publishing (johneboy1970)
  • An interview with Locust_Star about Ooblag’s Alien Casino (Jersquall)
  • How to actually get a girl to have a conversation with you in Home (Orion)
  • A day at the Home Community Theatre (xx96791DEATHxx)
  • The latest Echo Chronicles chapter, following the epic saga of the Homelings (SealWyf)
  • An interview with a true Home athlete, RayBladeX (Burbie)
  • A look at Irem, Granzella and the South Sea Island Retreat (Aeternitas)
  • An examination of the upcoming Hub deployment within Home (Gideon)

So, from all of us at the HomeStation, thank you for coming along with us on this ride. We hope you enjoy Issue #8!

Mahalo nui loa,


Editor-in-Chief, HSM


Twitter: @HomeStationMag

AlphaZone4 2011 PlayStation Home Awards Results

by NorseGamer, HSM Editor-in-Chief

Virtually every Home fansite brings something of value to the table. Yet if you were to ask what the most important Home fansite out there is, I’d have to go with AlphaZone4. And considering that it’s almost certainly the most heavily-visited Home fansite on the planet (and by a fairly significant margin), I’d say that’s a fairly safe assertion.

So what happens when AlphaZone4 throws an awards competition? People pay attention.

Awards ceremonies are interesting critters. People can say that they don’t matter, or that it’s an honor just to be nominated, or that you can only win if a guy named Weinstein is behind your production. But the truth is that they do matter. It matters when Shakespeare In Love beats Saving Private Ryan. It matters when Pulp Fiction loses to Forrest Gump, and The Shawshank Redemption is left in the cold. These things matter to us.

They matter for two reasons.

One: PlayStation Home is a very, very competitive marketplace. Most social games follow what’s known in social economics as a power-law distribution: namely, that most of the real money is coming from a very small percentage of users. Chances are a decent number of those users, because of their customer engagement, might seek out further information about Home online. They’ll stumble into the deepening cesspool known as the Sony forum (which desperately needs to purge the trolls), and/or discover satellite projects. So the chances are good that voter-determined rewards, if structured correctly, provide some decent feedback as to who’s doing what correctly.

Two: We, all of us, live for those moments where we shine like a boss. Those moments where we just do something or achieve something awesome. Could be anything. Winning a street fight or winning a spelling bee. Doesn’t matter. And whereas any Home fangroup can put together an awards show, AlphaZone4 matters because of its size and importance. So yes, it’s a big deal.

Let’s first dive into the results, and then discuss.

BEST COSTUME: Lockwood Mechjet


BEST ACTIVE ITEM: Lockwood Gift Machine

BEST REWARD: Underwater Apartment


BEST APARTMENT: The Lockwood Dream Yacht

BEST FURNITURE: Animated Cherry Blossom Tree



BEST MINI-GAME: Sodium TankTop


BEST EVENT SPACE: Uncharted 3 — Fortune Hunter


Let’s cover the obvious first. Lockwood owned this competition. While the Active Item category was more or less a guaranteed victory, and I doubt anyone seriously expected another developer to take the top honors for last year or win the Best Multiplayer Game category, it’s somewhat surprising that TankTop won for best mini-game, considering it’s built into a personal estate and yet it still earned enough votes to beat much more accessible public mini-games such as Cogs. I’m also frankly a little surprised that the Dream Yacht won for Best Apartment; don’t get me wrong, it’s a great space, but I would have expected the price to have been a voting deterrent. Can we expect to see more premium-priced estates in 2012?

I’m rather glad to see Lockwood win for Best Costume with the Mechjets. Yes, it’s a ten-dollar outfit, and yes, they never bothered to divulge that it has no bipedal locomotion built into it, but it’s as close to Robotech as Home has gotten so far, and Lockwood is to be commended for experimenting with customized avatar emotes with their Iron Fusion line. Besides, as HearItWow has observed in the past, the Mechjets are quite valuable to anyone who shoots machinima in Home.

As an aside: were it up to me, Best Apartment would have gone to the LOOT Space Apartment. There’s just so much functionality packed into that estate that I can’t think of anything even close to it in terms of value. But it may have been released too late in the year to earn enough votes, which is a shame.

Beyond that, it’s good to see Aurora win for Best Public Space and Best Game Space. Most public game spaces don’t offer anything more than just the game, but Aurora is that wonderful combination of social gathering spot and gaming space. It also saw periodic updates over the course of 2011, which helps to make it feel like a dynamic environment rather than a static one. Though I absolutely hate having a gaming level involuntarily strapped to my avatar’s back (a horrid practice picked up by Lockwood as well with Sodium2) — it just riles up my inner Patrick McGoohan, and it makes me want to shout to the heavens that I am not a number, I am a free man — I have to admit that OrbRunner is quite a catchy game. And Aurora itself is one of those spaces that teasingly hints at a story (or at least a loose narrative), which is one of those delightfully intangible elements that makes a space feel more alive.

I do want to briefly acknowledge Hellfire Games for a moment, and not just because they were in attendance at the ceremony. If you read our recent interview with Hellfire Games, then you know that they are responsible for bringing poker to Home. Yet because Home Hold ‘Em isn’t known as HELLFIRE GAMES HOME HOLD ‘EM A HELLFIRE SHINDIG DIRECTED BY HELLFIRE GAMES, they may have been overlooked a little bit, despite reintroducing one of Home’s most beloved games. Also, if you haven’t picked up the Novus Prime music player, we strongly recommend it. It was playing during the awards ceremony, and let me tell you: all formal events in Home should take place with that music in the background. PR videos should have that music in the background. And real life events are made so much more interesting with that music in the background. A mundane trip across the living room to feed the cat turns into an epic Carmina Burana lightsaber battle for Middle Earth when that music is playing.

What can we expect for 2012? Will Lockwood continue its dominance? Or will the crown be wrested from them by LOOT or nDreams, both of whom have exciting projects in the works? Or, perhaps, will some other developer come in out of nowhere and lay it down on the Home community?

One thing is for certain: 2012 will be a year to remember for Home. Congratulations to the winners of the AlphaZone4 contest for 2011!

SCEA Top Ten Items (By Units Sold) For March, With Consumer Trend Analysis

Information courtesy of GlassWalls, SCEA Home Community Specialist; commentary provided by NorseGamer, HSM Editor-in-Chief

At the beginning of 2012, I predicted that this year would be remembered as the “Year of the Game.”

I have no particular gift for prognostication, but it seemed like a fairly obvious and logical conclusion to draw. Home’s shifting towards being more of a gaming platform, and for very sound business reasons. And the timing is spot on, too: how many personal estates can you own? How much clothing can even a prominent cross-dressing fashionista possibly want? But if there’s one thing that Mass Media proved, as soon as Midway entered the picture, it’s that gaming tokens offer a remarkable source of long-term revenue.

What we’ve seen, just with the first quarter of 2012, is a remarkable dominance of freemium gaming microtransactions. Here’s what happened in March:

#1)         Digital Leisure Inc.                                        500 Chips 
#2)         Lockwood Publishing                                    Lockwood Token Pack – 80 
#3)         Mass Media Inc.                                             The Green Ticket 
#4)         Lockwood Publishing                                    Lockwood Token Pack – 480 
#5)         Sony Computer Entertainment America        Freestyle Dancefloor 
#6)         Sony Computer Entertainment America        The Stick Up Kid Gold Guns & Tie 
#7)         Digital Leisure Inc.                                        5,000 Chips 
#8)         Digital Leisure Inc.                                        Old West Saloon 
#9)         Sony Computer Entertainment America        The Stick Up Kid Gangster Skinny Jeans 
#10)        Sony Computer Entertainment America       Check Black Shirt and Tattoo (Male)

So — let’s dig into this and see what consumer trends we can divine.

1. Digital Leisure once again holds the top spot, and indeed takes up three spots on this list, with commodities somehow related to gaming. Keep in mind that this developer offers you a free weekly stipend of chips to enjoy, which may be a better incentive to try the games as opposed to Mass Media’s strategy of offering intermittent free-play windows. Think about it: if there’s a particular game you really want to try out for free at Midway, you have to wait for it to open up at a free-play window — and gamers are an impatient, truculent lot. Whereas with the Casino, you’re free to blow your stipend as fast as you want on any game of your choosing, without having to wait. This may be more conducive to getting people to spend money at a faster rate.

2. The only personal estate on this list is Digital Leisure’s Old West Saloon. And to an extent, this makes sense: I’m struggling to think of any other really superlative, knock-your-socks-off estates that have been released since the beginning of this year. And I’m sorry, but SCEA’s 2012 estate offerings so far have been as exciting as watching my ex-wife recovering from anaesthesia. You know the beauty is there, and you’re waiting patiently with genuine concern, but you really want to get back to the bikini and games. And Digital Leisure’s Saloon brought the games, along with background music and a setting that’s more than just one big box. Hopefully the Saloon’s sales, in a marketplace flooded with personal estates, will encourage developers to continue to innovate with what an estate does and is.

3. Lockwood Gift Machine tokens chew up two slots on this list. Is anyone really surprised at this point? The Lockwood Gift Machine has been an absolute smash hit since it started, and it capitalized on behavioral economics by giving people the ability to give gifts to each other. Sony has tried to copy this (rather badly) with the gifting feature in some of their recent estate offerings, but it astonishes me that no other developer in the last year has bothered to blatantly copycat Lockwood and open up their own gift machine. Look: it’s okay to copycat Lockwood. Companies copycat each other all the time (hell, even HSM isn’t immune to being copied and imitated). Just look at Apple’s influence on computers and tablets. When a successful product or innovation is introduced, it is natural for others to try to incorporate the most successful elements of it into their own business models. This is called competition, and it drives innovation. So will somebody please compete with Lockwood?

4. Mass Media is once again high up on the list with the Green Ticket. Big surprise there. Midway makes a strong case that really simple, easily-recognizable games with scaling difficulties and multiple rewards are a long-term cash cow in Home. Digital Leisure picked up on this formula, and it’s possible that Sony may be able to cash in on it with the new Cutthroats game.  The potential downside is that it may discourage much more intricate and detailed freemium games — Sodium2 and Novus Prime, for instance — from being developed in the future, as their for-purchase commodities don’t seem to sell in nearly the same quantities. This is something which I dread, and I hope won’t happen. So go buy more stuff from Lockwood and Hellfire Games, please.

5. Fifty percent of this list is taken up with freemium gaming microtransactions and gifting. Just wanted to point that out.

6. The Freestyle Dance Floor. Not only does it appear on this list, but it’s in the top half. And it’s easy to see why: it’s a cool personal estate item that combines the best elements of some of Lockwood’s similar commodities, but it also gives you a few of the catchy dance tracks from the Hub soundtrack. See, this is called innovation. And it pays off. Where it gets interesting, I think, is when LOOT introduces some of its forthcoming virtual commodities onto the Home scene, such as the portable EOD. My guess is that portable RadioIO is effectively going to kill most standalone music items in Home. It’s interesting, sometimes, how one commodity in Home can actually exert tremendous downward pressure on so many others — and I suspect that’s going to happen here.

Stick up kid. Now with “raging editor” emote.

7. The Stick Up Kid. I don’t get it. Please explain to me why it’s selling so well. The fact that the torso component sold better than the legs (and appears on the list for the second month in a row) leads me to believe that avatars want to run around with guns. Certainly, there’s been an increase in firearm hand items in Home, and given the makeup of Home’s active population (predominantly young and male), I suppose that’s not surprising. Speaking as someone who owns firearms in real life, though: guns aren’t toys, kids.

8. Same thing goes for the Check Black Shirt and Tattoo. Why is it performing so well? I’ll admit, I’m culturally out of my element on this one. Tattoos turn me off. My grandfather, an oak of man who led a very hard, blue-collar life, had a beautiful tattoo of a woman with long hair — except, when viewed from a different angle, it became a flaming skull. It was a work of art. And when I asked him about it as a small boy, he smiled slightly and said, “You have to be exceedingly young and exceedingly stupid to get one.” Now, hey, I’m no prude, but our culture is going bugnuts with tattoos. As (I believe) Jon Stewart once asked, “Have we as a culture become so collectively bored that we’ve begun drawing on ourselves?” I live on a tropical island, so I see barely clothed bodies on a regular basis, and trust me — tattoos everywhere are not attractive.


9. There are no female clothing items on this list. None. At all. Huzzah! Is there just nothing appealing for actual women in Home recently, or have the (semi-)secret crossdressers decided to tone it down a notch? Or, since there are more freemium gaming options now available in Home, is the discretionary spending going towards gaming instead? I mean, guys love gaming. Possibly even more than women’s clothing.

10. How will Cutthroats affect the April list, I wonder? It’s a freemium game, and like Casino chips and Midway tickets, its coins aren’t a permanent resource which can be acquired once for a set price and then used indefinitely. I actually do wonder if the higher prices for Cutthroats’ coins will be a deterrent; there’s one value pack at the Cutthroats store which is fifty dollars, and I believe that’s currently the most expensive commodity you can purchase in Home right now. At those kinds of prices, gamers might want something permanent instead of renewable — infinite fireball cannon shot, for instance. I’ll be very curious to see if Cutthroats makes it onto the top-ten list next month.

Moving into the second quarter, what can we expect? Probably more of the same. More gaming microtransactions. Fewer estate sales. Value packs. Possibly the occasional bit of clothing. The real question is whether or not Home’s audience has dramatically changed in the last year, towards a gamer-heavy crowd, or whether it’s the same core group of spenders who have shifted from social purchases to gaming purchases. Either way, it appears that SCEA’s business strategy of shifting Home into more of a gaming platform is not just a successful venture, but indeed the correct course of action to have taken.

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