03/26/2012

Chinatown’s Video Game Pulse Is Still Beating, But Just Barely

by Matthew Hawkins

So, not surprisingly, I’m sick.

Was bound to happen sooner or later, given my grueling schedule as of late (my sleep schedule has been ridiculous, to put it mildly, plus forgetting to eat hasn’t helped either). Thankfully it’s happening now instead of later this week, which once again is my glorious return to ICON! Heh. Anyhow, real quick:

- This upcoming weekend is Long Island, and the one after? Boston. Finally got my press credentials for PAX East! And I’ll be multitasking as usual, by reporting on the behalf of both MSNBC and Guyism (in the case of the latter, am bringing along Emi, who did such a great job with helping me cover the NYCC last year).

Unfortunately, my chances to interview my new celebrity crush, Zelda Williams, won’t be happening, but at least I’ll get the chance to hang with the Fangamer crew! I’ll also be making an appearance at their booth.

- Once again, can’t go into specifics quite yet, but very soon: the aforementioned pre-TCAF art show is going super swell! Cory has produced yet another kick-ass logo for the thing, and some of the stuff that folks have cooking up already is going to legit blow everyone away. Stay tuned!

- Best game I played all week? Without a doubt, Sine Mora. I’ll explain later, in my review for Heavy, but basically: it has seriously the most insane story for any video game, EVER. And what’s the story about? Well, again, either wait for my review, or simply check out my tweets from earlier this week?

In the meanwhile, you can check out what I have to say about Street Fighter X Tekken this very moment. Spoilers: I think the game sucks.

- But the real highlight of this past week was seeing Tim Schafer speak at NYU. And, as expected, the man did not disappoint! There was two primary components to his appearance; first he sat down and answered various questions, sharing insight as it pertains to the art and business of making games.

I’d provide a recap, but due to being so far away, the only thing my iPhone’s voice recorder was able to pick up was Colleen and I laughing at all his jokes. Instead, I’ll just pass along Kotaku’s excellent summation (pro-tip: avoid reading the comments, which is even douchey-ier than usual).

Anyway, the other part was a demonstration of a game for the Kinect that never got past the prototype stage. Two different versions were showed, for the first time ever: a super crude first run and a slightly more pieced together second take.

Again, Kotaku has footage of the entire thing, but here’s a some snapshots I took (mixed with a few that I Instagram-ed afterward) of the second demo, which is an adventure game in which, instead of pointing at words to initiate an action, has the player performing gestures that are tired to emotion.

Everything is built around three core emotions, each with its own counterpart: love/hate, trust/distrust, and courage/fear. Here we have the main character exhibiting “fear” toward a crew person’s uniform (the goal in this instance is to actually show love for the attire, but Schafer went through all the emotions to demonstrate the mechanic, as well as to show off all the wacky stuff the game’s lead says in return)?

BTW, it’s not like the guy is afraid of clothing doing him mortal harm or the like. In the case of the wet suit, right next to it, was the fear that the previous wearer had peed in it. Moving on, here he is with the look of love (again, for an outfit)?

Which results in him finally putting it on?

Later on, we see him sneaking around an air duct (he’s in a sea vessel, FYI)?

The game has branching paths, so here’s his reaction to a conversation overheard while on his merry way. I believe it’s some kind of lovers’ spat that has him blushing (which he can interrupt, if the player chooses)?

Later on, he encounters a bomb that needs to be defused, and in the process encounters a woman who believes him to be the person who placed it. There’s multiple ways to handle the situation, involving him either being courageous and standing up to her, or being total chickensh*t?

To make the game replayable, often elements are added in the second, third, and so on playthroughs. Here we have an additional clothing choice from the first part of the game?

And guess which one Schafer chose?

Again, everyone should watch the video, to not just learn about the game itself but to hear all the goofy one-liners that Schafer both wrote and delivered! Sucks it never got past the prototype phase; it seriously blows 99% of all the other Kinect games on the market today.

- Oh, so the other big thing from last week was rumors of the pending return of Chinatown Fair. Word first broke via the blog for the upcoming documentary dedicated towards it closing, and quickly spread, so I decided to check it out. Though, unfortunately, I didn’t find much. Just a closed gate?

The sign is also (mostly) covered up?

I ran into some kids, who appeared to be Chinatown Fair regulars, and asked them if they had seen anything, or if they even knew about its impending revival. Both were totally clueless. In fact, they were just in the neighborhood to play old-fashioned cards! Or at least that’s what they told me.

The re-opening is still forthcoming (supposedly, hopefully). It just hasn’t happened quite yet.

- It’s perhaps noting that this was my first time in Chinatown in quite some time. Haven’t been able to swing by in months, due to being so damn busy. Though my visits have decreased over the years, for a variety of reasons. Its best days are clearly in the past; aside from all the game centers closing down, so have all the places that sold Hong Kong movies and animu.

Case in point: I stopped by the Elizabeth Street Mall and it’s a ghost town. The game store that had been a staple for eons, Penguin Village, is no more. The one dedicated Gundam shop is still there, but moved to a far smaller lot. The place that used to sell Strike Witches and related goodies now only aells purses and the like. At least the guy peddling bootleg anime DVD is still around, but I have to wonder how much longer.

Thank God J&L Game Trading is still around. I decided to ask the friendly folk how business was these days: it’s so-so. Chinatown as a whole is in the midst of an economic doldrums; many local community leaders have tried their best to reinvigorate the local economy (which J&L supports to the best of its abilities, or at least as well as a video game shop can), but not much is working.

One big issue is tourists, or lack thereof; there just isn’t as many as there used to be. Thankfully they still have a loyal customer base from local parts. I also asked if the internet is another factor, and naturally the answer is yes. Yet one major reason as to why they don’t deal with imports as much is something I hadn’t considered: the period of time in which a game comes out in Japan and is then released in America is now nonexistent.

It used to take between 6 months to an entire year for a Japanese game to be localized, so imports were a big business for them. But now that most titles come out on both sides of the ocean on the same week, there just isn’t a demand. Not helping is how strong Japan?s economy is these days; a game that’s 9,000 yen now costs $108 in the States. Did I mention how obscenely expensive games in Japan are in the first place?

Chinatown used to be my favorite spot in all of NYC, so it was legitimately heartbreaking to see my old stomping grounds in such disarray. Will it ever see a return to glory? Impossible to say. At least J&R is still hanging in there. And one of my fave places to eat in all of New York is there as well, the Coluck Restaurant. If that place shuts down, man, I have no idea what I’ll do then.

Previous post:

Next post: