Game Freak Acquires Mobile Developer Koa Games

With Pokemon apps already being on the app store and Pokemon Go coming in the near future, it already seemed pretty clear that Game Freak and the Pokemon Company have plans to move further in the world of mobile gaming.  But now, it seems like we may have another reason to believe that this is the case.

Why?  Because apparently, Game Freak has now bought Koa Games, a smartphone game developer.  Here’s a tweet from Takashi Mochizuki of the Wall Street Journal mentioning it:

So yes, it seems pretty clear that Game Freak do indeed have plans to make more mobile apps. Maybe even some that aren’t Pokemon based, given their recent releases of HarmoKnight and Tempo the Badass Elephant.

More Pokemon Go News coming this Month

Back at the start of September, a new Pokemon game was announced for smartphones in the form of Pokemon Go, an augmented reality title where players would encounter different types of Pokemon ‘in the real world’.

Pokemon GO Logo

And while things have been a tad quiet on that front ever since, it seems like more information on said game could now be just round the corner.  Why?  Because as Niantic representative Evan Dexter has said to Slate in a recent interview:

We’re not quite ready to talk in more depth about Pokémon GO than what was revealed in the announcement press release and assets. Come mid-October we’ll be able to start going into more depth about our plans for the game, and about our plans for real world gaming overall.

They’re now ready to the discuss the game in more detail, given how the interview was held back in early September near the game’s official announcement.  So if you’ve wondering what future holds for Pokemon Go, or whether this new app will be an riddled with poorly priced in app purchases and DLC… well, you won’t have long to find out!

Source:

Pokemon Go Article – Slate

Hoopa Distribution Events Announced for Pokemon Series

It’s been available in Japan since July and had a Mega form since only a few months after that, but now the legendary Pokemon Hoopa will finally be available for players in other regions!  Yes, for those who don’t want to try and trade for one online, you’ll be able to download it via an event like Mew, Celebi, Jirachi and all those other such ‘mythical’ Pokemon from the earlier games in the series.

HoopaHoopaUnbound

Above: Hoopa and Hoopa Unbound.  The latter form is only available in Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire.

So when will it be available?  Well in the UK, Hoopa will be distributed via events in GAME from October 23rd to November 5th 2015.  In Germany, it’ll be available in Gamestop stores from October 16th to November 7th.  And in the Netherlands, it’ll be available at the Firstlook Festival from October 10th to October 11th.  Yeah, kind of sucks if you live in the latter, doesn’t it?

As for other regions (like the US, France and Spain)… the way this Pokemon is distributed in those regions will be announced sometime in near future.  Its moveset will be the same as it was in the Japanese events (Hyperspace Hole, Nasty Plot, Astonish and Psychic) and it’ll be downloadable to either Pokemon X/Y or Pokemon Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire.  It will be at level 50.

So that’s an official release for Hoopa at long last then.  Why it’s not a wifi event on the other hand… that’s one hell of a good question.  As is what the hell actually happened to Volcanion or whatever it’s called…

source:

Hoopa Distribution Details – Pokemon UK Press Site

The Video Game Voice Actor Strike; Our Thoughts

Over the last few weeks, there has been… a bit of tension between voice actors and the video game companies that hire them.  Basically, the actors (under the union SAG-AFTRA) want more transparency (knowing what game they’ll be working on), residual pay for when a game is successful (so a bonus for every 2 million copies sold), stunt coordinators at sessions for motion and performance capture and ‘stunt pay’ for vocally stressful roles.  Meanwhile, the companies themselves are less keen, with the likes of EA, Activision, Disney and Warner Bros (among others) not being able to come to an agreement on that stuff.

So there has been talk of these actors going on strike.  Apparently they’re opening the votes until October 4th, and have gotten quite a bit of support for it on Twitter:

But while in principle I do agree with the SAG-AFTRA and their demands for both transparency and better pay, I have to wonder how much power these guys actually have here.

For one thing, how relevant is voice acting to many games? I mean, it’s certainly important for your big triple A Hollywood blockbuster style games and script heavy ones like Metal Gear Solid, but for various others? To be honest, probably not that important. What does a platformer need for voices? A couple of grunts when the character jumps off the ground or dies? The most voice acting a Mario game has ever got has been the intro letter in Super Mario 64:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FLA30ii-DTQ

Freemium mobile games? Yeah, as if Angry Birds or Candy Crush Saga needs much of a voice acting team.

And puzzle games? The only thing Tetris needs is an iconic soundtrack:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NmCCQxVBfyM&gl=GB&hl=en-GB

Even story driven stuff like RPGs doesn’t usually need a lot of voice acting, depending on the direction. On the one hand you have stuff like Final Fantasy and Xenoblade, on the other hand… how much voice acting exists in Pokemon?

Either way, video games are not like film or television. Acting is important in some cases, but is honestly completely irrelevant in many others.

So perhaps on that note, any strike might actually get us more platformers and less first person shooters and ‘movie’ style games. Maybe it’s not such a bad thing after all…

But even for those games that do need voice acting, there’s one other issue that people seem to forget…

Most companies do not use ‘professional’ voice actors.

Okay, some larger ones have huge budgets and hire Hollywood type talent to voice their characters. Like say, the Arkham series. But a lot of other games have a couple of other options, ones that don’t really involve the SAG-AFTRA in any way whatsoever. Namely…

1. Using their localisation/development staff as voice actors

It’s certainly the standard practice in Nintendo and Rare after all. Ever wonder why the WarioWare voice actors don’t seem to show up outside of Nintendo games, like most voice actors? Because they’re not professional actors, they’re members of Nintendo’s in house staff. Same deal is true of the Star Fox series, with recently fired localisation member Chris Pranger having lent his voice to the first boss in the upcoming Star Fox Zero game.

Above: It can work quite well.

And sometimes, even the game’s producers and directors are involved in this. Like how Masahiro Sakurai voices King Dedede in the Kirby and Super Smash Bros series. Or how for a Rare example, the voice of Conker the Squirrel is provided by Chris Seavour, the project lead and game designer for the entire Conker series (he also voiced many of the other characters in the games).

Now admittedly, this doesn’t always work. Sometimes, we have companies who cut costs so badly that they literally hire anyone they can to voice the cast, ending up with something like Chaos Wars.

Yes, the publishing company’s CEO got his kids to voice the main characters (presumably because of the shoestring budget the game was localised on), ending up with some of the most hilarious voice acting this site of Mega Man 8.

But it still provides at least one route a company could go if they don’t care to provide what the SAG-AFTRA demands. And given that it could sometimes lead to worse quality voice acting… do we really want to give the companies an incentive to do this?

And even if they want something a bit more professional than the WarioWare method of voice acting, there’s still an alternative there, because…

2. They can use non-union actors and actresses

Which unfortunately for anyone in the voice acting world, is much easier in video games than it is in Hollywood. Many video game voice actors don’t belong to any unions, and it’s not particularly hard to find an equivalent if the actor in question is part of one.

Or to quote a Simpsons joke:

Mr. Burns: Get me Steven Spielberg!

Smithers: He’s unavailable.

Mr. Burns: Then get me his non-union Mexican equivalent!

*cut to Señor Spielbergo*

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uWxcnl8PL_o

Above: Joke from A Star is Burns

But there’s also another source of labour out there…

  1. They can use the fanbase

Seriously. It sounds a bit silly given that you’re asking people on the internet to do stuff for free (or out of their own pocket). But look at recent history. Games are being funded on sites like Kickstarter, by the fans and buyers. News is being written and distributed for free by bloggers and people on social networking sites.

People are queuing up round the block to go for talent shows and to submit their works to sleazy self-publishing houses.

Now imagine if voice acting also gets out sourced to the fanbase. There are certainly enough great voice actors out there willing to provide their talents for free (just see the efforts provided for various game based cartoons, machinimas, fan games, etc).

It would be all too easy to skip the ‘professionals’ and the pesky ‘wage’ thing and just get people from sites like Youtube to voice the cast.

But even without that, there’s the question of whether voice acting will even be relevant in the future. Why? Well, in one word:

Computers

Computer generated speech is only getting better with time, and given that video games are already a near 100% computer generated medium, replacing the human voices with artificial ones doesn’t seem like a hugely futuristic thing.

And even before that’s possible, something like Vocaloid could work well too. Take a few voice actors, record a bunch of samples, then robotically string them together when you want the character to say something. It’s not perfect yet, but give a few years or so, and it seems possible that many characters (especially ones of few words like Mario) could be entirely voiced by archived samples and speech generation.

So while we do sympathise with these people and see their attempts to get pay and working conditions as admirable, we also wonder how much of a future the whole profession even has, or whether any union conditions will just be avoided by out sourcing and finding people with less of a need to make money.

And all bets are off when automation and AI comes in.

But what do you think? Do you agree with our thoughts on voice actors, strikes and unions, and the future of the profession as a whole? Or do you think they could completely succeed with their goals?

Source:

Voice Actors Voting on Strike Action – Gamesindustry.biz

Pokemon is Coming to Smartphones!

With a game called Pokemon GO, which will let you ‘find Pokemon in the real world’.  Here’s the official trailer/announcement video for the game:

Designed specifically for Android and iOS devices, and developed in partnership with the Pokemon Company and Niantic, it’ll involve going to real life places to encounter different Pokemon species, sort of tying the real world to the virtual Pokemon one in the process.  It’ll also include in app purchases (a very controversial idea to say the least), and may in future connect to the main series games on Nintendo consoles somehow.

Pokemon GO Logo

Above: The game’s logo

It’ll also be released with a device called a Pokemon GO Plus, which will enable players to keep playing even when not looking at their smartphone.  It apparently connects via bluetooth, vibrates to alert them to a nearby Pokemon and has a single button that can be used for simple actions like catching Pokemon.

Pokemon GO Plus

Above: The Pokemon GO Plus device

The game will be released for free in 2016.

So what do we think?  Well to be honest… we’re not sure about the whole concept.  On the one hand, Pokemon is just built for smartphones, since the whole concept is designed around socialising with others and playing in short bursts throughout the day. And the fact this apparently includes trading Pokemon means that Nintendo and the Pokemon Company do understand how much easier and more effective a smartphone app is for this sort of thing.

On the other hand, in app purchases make us very worried.  They’re already a scourge on the industry, as well as manipulative as hell in general (the fact a lot of developers call people that spend a lot of money on them ‘whales’ kind of says it all). But when you consider the average audience for a lot of Pokemon games (younger kids and teens), then it starts to look a whole lot like the Pokemon Company and Niantic are trying to take advantage of kids and their lack of respect for money.  That really annoys us about mobile games in general.  Trying to lure younger people into maxing out their parents credit cards on in app content is not an ethical business practice, regardless of who does it.

But what do you think of Pokemon GO? Neat idea, or obviously exploitative?

Source:

Pokemon GO – Pokemon Official Website