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Thursday, March 31, 2005

Touching is Good

oooo ... Nintendo sounds just dirty sometimes. This time they're just odd - with their touching is good contest where they ship you a mannequin hand for you to pose with in an attempt to get a free DS. Of course, this works on me - I'd definately take wacky pictures for a DS. Sadly, their website seems broken right now, so I might be stuck with a lousy 2D hand.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Damn Fine PSP Review

Ars Technica has a PSP review (thanks gizmodo) that almost makes me want to get the damn thing. It's seems completely honest and balanced and thorough enough to give a feel for the device without physically having one in your hand. I'm still debating whether I need anything even remotely resembling such a device, and if the Zodiac still isn't a worthier candidate. But that screen. That big, beautiful screen. I had at one point thought about getting the GBA Movie Player and just call it a day, but with a screen as wide and pretty as the PSP's ... I don't think I could sleep at night with that decision.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

What a morning

Normally makes me grin, but it's hard to move those facial muscles when you've got both Hilary Clinton and Jack Thompson making statements about video games being the fifth column that will bring down our youth. Dear god, they're coming from all sides now. Democrats might try to use this to make their morality points seem higher - meaning the lunatic fringe for this issue could form a complete circle.

Course, these people might be seriously underestimating gamers. Jack Thompson has long shown that he thinks gamers aren't victims - but mindless idiots ... a fact he recently proved again when people tried to have a rational conversation with him. And Hilary probably hasn't looked at the demographic numbers on males 20-35 who will gladly let her political career die for making inane comments about their favorite games.

Dungeons & Dragons Blamed Again

Thanks to Slashdot, I stumbled upon this piece of brilliance:


"I mean, you have many, many stab wounds and those 'Dungeons and Dragons' fantasy games involve swords and knives and daggers and things of that nature. There may be a connection but I can’t say for sure.”


You gotta be kidding me. Are they handing out law degrees in cereal boxes these days? For the record - there's also alot of swords, knives and daggers and things of that nature in:

  • Kung Fu Movies
  • Cooking Shows
  • Your mom's house
  • Hospitals
  • Shakespeare Plays

    I mean, as long as we're making idiotic connections for the purpose of making a murder more interesting - why not play the whole field? Besides, Mr. Lawyer Man ... you're about two decades too late to lame role-playing games for anything.

  • Monday, March 28, 2005

    Game In A Day

    I had apparently stumbled on this earlier, and then forgotten to actually read through it. I would say "how odd" if it weren't that I do that about 20 times a day. At any rate, GID is a NanoWriMo style contest for quick game dev. For those not in the Nano, that means it isn't really a contest and people basically play on the honor system. It's more of a communal bragging-rights competition than anything else. So basically a small group of indie developers get together for a day and egg each other into starting and finishing a game from scratch before collapsing.

    I'm sure I'm not explaining this well, so check out their website for more. I'd heavily consider participating this year, being a new owner of a shiny Torque 2D SDK, but this weekend is already filling with social excuses.

    TV Spotlight: The Office and Bruce Campbell

    The girl and I are fans of the British comedy, The Office, and as such were suspicious of NBC making a rendition. Most British shows that work over here are more along the lines of game shows or reality shows - comedy gets chewed up through American studios. I remember stumbling upon the American attempt at Ab Fab I'm still talking to a therapist about that one.

    I'll say NBC has done a remarkable job of not falling into that syndrom. The American remake is quite close to it's source. They seem to be relying much more on the antics of the boss (and obviously, Steve Carrel himself). Much of the pacing, style and offbeat quality remains in place - it will just take some time to tell if it can be as hypnotic as the Brit's work.

    On the flip side of disappointment - that being where disappointment does set in and beat you senseless - we taped Bruce Campbell in Alien Apocalypse. Holy ouch. That was painfully bad. I know Sci Fi spends all of $50 and a six pack on these Saturday matinee affairs - but Bruce...Bruce? Someone should have casted him in Doom to make up for all the Duke Nukem malarky. I mean, Bruce, my man, whenever the script calls for an ass-kicking chiropracter ... just say no.

    Friday, March 25, 2005

    Quality Off Topic #032405

    Thanks to Blue's for finding this link about a guy who found the easy way to get your art shown ... hang it yourself.

    Red Lake Killer "tied" to video games?

    Ever since the tragic events at Red Lake occured, I've had this nagging feeling that eventually the media would find some way to tie it back to video games. I mean, surely this kid had at least one violent game, right? So when they find that violent game, the assumption will be instantly made that it "trained" this Manchurian child to kill.

    Did I ever underestimate the media's ability to connect loose connections together in order to sensationalize a horrific story. MSNBC figured out how to make the connection even without a video game.

    That's right. No video games were harmed in the creation of this myth. Instead, MSNBC is reporting that Weise followed a video-game like script based on ... a flash animation Weise uploaded last year. Stop blinking, you read correctly. They got sociologist Dr. Katherine Newman to state that he followed shooter "pathways" and as proof she points to a two-dimensional animation - proving once and for all that it must be getting easier and easier to get a PhD in this country. See, back when I was in college - we had to actually be able to prove something before making ridiculous statements.

    I'm honestly not sure I need to describe how ridiculous this is ... in fact I'm somewhat at a loss to do so. But this is a major news site pulling out a Princeton professor. But is her explanation:

    If you pick up the average video game, you're going to see sequences that look just like the animation this boy produced. It's not something that we look at and say, “Oh, I've never seen that before.” You will see it a million times if you pick up any of the common video games available to teenagers today.


    Which simply proves that she's never looked at a video game in her life. I hate to suggest that one views Weise's flash animation. Number one - it's not good. It's just a violent doodle powered by flash. Number two - I don't think people's works should be viewed simply because they went psychotic. But let's just say that the only video game it reminded me of is Alien Hominid, and I haven't seen any mention that this psychopath was a yellow alien jumping on people's heads.

    I'm not sure what is the best way to fight this culture of fear. Interviews like this one are rapidly pushing the issue into such irrational bounds that it's hard to think that pure logic will work. This kid had his dad commit suicide, his mother die in a car accident and was apparently the geek on campus to beat on ... but surely video games had to be a precipitating factor to violence, because we know he couldn't have seen violence any other way. Our media couldn't itself be a vehicle for kids to learn about death and violence? Never.

    In the mortal words of Bill Hicks - to think otherwise would make you a liar and a communist.

    Thursday, March 24, 2005

    Weekend Plans

    This will be an odd weekend. Plan on trying to get a lot done, because the GF will be out of town, but then I've got this old friend coming into town - so obviously some outing will be planned.

    I probably will be cracking open the Torque 2D SDK this weekend as well. This will mark a pointed departure from years of playing with 3D engines ... but I'm fairly jazzed. 2D art I can grok, whereas 3D is such a treadmill of detail that it's a bit insane. Look at an old 2D game from say, the Amiga ... good art still looks good. Now go try and play an old game of Doom. 3D doesn't stand the test of time nearly as well.

    Still, my art skills are ... well, impaired, let's say ... so I doubt I'll be standing the test of time myself.

    Tuesday, March 22, 2005

    Less Brilliant

    Every so often, the game industry seems to enter this phase where everyone has an opinion, but nobody seems to know what their talking about (myself included). For instance, everyone seems to be in an uproar that game publishers are threatening to raise prices on certain titles - despite the fact that game prices have been kept artificially low for years and the by the time any of us plunk $60 down on a title, it will probably be worth closer to the $50 we do now.

    But of course, Mark Rein of Epic denounces this all as shenanigans and CliffyB says that $19.99 is the magic price point. Epic is trying to say that the problem is that people aren't using the right tools, and that with the right tools everything will be OK. Epic, of course, sells you that tool in the form of Unreal 3 - so they aren't like, biased or anything.

    Then you've got Warren Spector and Greg Costikyan "burning down the house" so to speak, railing on the games industry for being too retail orientated, too profit motivated and reminding us that the budgets for games are reaching astronomical figures. Meanwhile a more indie community is still wondering what all the fuss is about (actually I think his response is more "don't burn down the house, some of us still live here").

    And then finally you've for Microsoft mentioning microtransactions, and the world is a flutter. If it's the professional studios doing this, it sounds like nickel and diming to me - but the rumor is that they'll let users sell content as well. Course, I've been saying for years that profit killed the modification star, and so I'm fully expecting this to be one of the last nails in the coffin. Why do we have to leap from a console paradigm with virtually no user content to a marketplace?

    Look - Alkabeth cost $35 and it was written by one guy (Lord British - you might have heard of him) back in 1980. Half-Life 2 took over a couple of dozen guys, professional voice talent and a state of the art graphics engine ... and it cost $49.99 ... so, I mean ... do the math. Games have become more and more hollywood everywhere. They've got hollywood timelines and hollywood budgets, and these movies last about ten times as long, are completely interactive and sell on a medium - but only cost 4 or 5 times more than a movie ticket. If people want blockbuster games with 20 million dollar budgets and recognizable voice acting and all the bells and whistles - they'll have to pay for it.

    If you don't want to pay for it, it's not like there's not cheaper alternatives to be had.

    Get Gamefly Go subscription, never pay for another title again. Gamefly gets the latest games, uses a Netflix style business model and will even sell you titles over the net with ease.

    Get gamesondemand.yahoo I've had a games.yahoo account for sometime. It doesn't get me the latest, greatest - but does let me catch up on titles I've missed but don't want to go buy. Were it not for this program, I wouldn't have played Anachronox ... and my life would be that much smaller.

    Go indie I'm not even going to try and link to them all. Maybe in another post. Try Garage Games for now.

    Zalman Rocks

    Some time ago, I splurged part of my MSUC winnings on a new puter, complete with a top of the line motherboard with a shiny 64FX chip. First time I'd ever gone top of the line in a computer. I had a shop slap together about half the computer, then ship it to me so that I could salvage the parts of my old computer and shove it in there.

    I don't know what these guys used as base set, but the fan that comes with it can be as noisy as they come. We're talking jet engine here. It's bad enough that I sometimes crack open the case or blow a fan in there.

    So a while back I sought to remedy this by getting a Zalman Quiet CPU fan. This is one of those computer items that when you get it, you consider using it as a paperweight just to scare the neighbors. By that I mean - it's big and impressive. Sadly, I took a quick stab at installing it, failed ... and then apparently lost the brackets and mount in the process. Doh!

    Last night I emailed Zalman to see if I could order just the mounting set. I got a response back in about an hour. Read that - in about an hour. Remember Matrix Online support? The guys who are supposed to have your back when you character deletes itself at 4 in the morning? They took days. In an hour I had this response:


    Please provide us with your shipping address and we will have a replacement set mailed out to you.


    And bam, just like that it's on it's way. That's good service folks.

    Monday, March 21, 2005

    Blackout Morning

    Heh. Had the most brilliant post to send off, but work lost power early this AM. Trust me though, it was totally brilliant. I'm sure the second draft won't approach the eye popping brilliance of the first...

    Friday, March 18, 2005

    Snarky

    Elsewhere in the world, lots of gamers get annoyed that the 20 hour computer generated, interactive movie that they can keep and play whenever they want will soon cost even that much more than the two hour computer generated, non-interactive movie that they can't.

    Thursday, March 17, 2005

    Critical Mass

    So, my goodly friends over at BeyondUnreal are having a bit of a lovefest over Unreal Tournament 2004 being a year old. And let's be honest - it deserves it. UT2004 is hands down the most versatile, action packed, old school online shooter this side of Neptune - and all the Counter-Strike fanboys can bite me if they don't agree. The fact that there's still a franchise out there that respects the value of a good Capture the Flag match earns mucho bonus points in my book.

    But my fondness for the Unreal platform comes from it's mod framework - which is bar none the best out there. I'm a big fan of Doom 3's scripting structure, where you can edit the game on the fly without compiling for many objects, but readers of this blog know that I place value on Epic's decision to keep their accessible code open, free of Visual Studio and easy to learn.

    Unfortunately, there's this odd problem. There's almost nobody playing them. I've lamented on this before, when I swore I was done with multiplayer modding (I am, of course, working on one now...) ... but this time you can hear it from none other than Steve Polge himself:

    It's unfortunate that some of these great mods aren't seeing more players. I think part of the problem is that there are so many online multiplayer FPS games out there that it is much harder to gain a critical mass of players for a mod. Back when counterstrike first became popular, it wasn't competing against many online FPS's in the same genre. Today, a new mod typically competes against many other mods and full retail games if it chooses a conventional genre, such as a tactical shooter or WW2 FPS, while it has to be overcome player inertia to get past its learning curve if it is unconventional (Air Buccaneers).

    Both these scenarios require a mod to be very polished to have a chance of gaining a significant player count - players have many other options rather than sticking with a mod that is still very much a work in progress.

    I don't mean to suggest that mods can't be successful in today's environment, but rather that mods are likely to need to be further along in terms of polish and completion before they can start attracting a big following. This means more perseverance on the part of the mod team during the early development phase when they aren't getting a lot of positive feedback.


    Now Red Orchestra's biggest strength is the quality of it's art production. The screenshots are simply phenomenal. I honestly can't speak very well to it's gameplay - but when it comes to polish and completeness ... RO is definately on the far end of the spectrum. There's simply not a lot of mods, for any engine, with this kind of shine.

    So - here's the question. If a mod that is of such near professional quality that it actually beat out several professional studios during a mod contest to win the grand prize can't muster a significant online presence - who can?

    I think that answer is - almost nobody. Unless you're modding for Valve, who will shove your game into Steam and force feed it upon a mass of unexpecting gamers ... how will anyone achieve a critical mass which is required to maintain online players?

    The thing that Steve isn't mentioning is that online games start life with a serious handicap. You almost have to have human players to get the full experience. While Steve himself is responsible for some of the best bot AI in game history - nothing replaces having a boatload of real humans trying to kick your ass. I found this out in full color when I tested the first round of my mod, Riftwar. The bots were semi-entertaining ... but mostly just target practice compared to having even just a handful of real players on a server. But of course, most people hadn't played it - didn't realize what it was like and didn't know anyone to try it with. So there's this awful chicken/egg problem that any online game (mod or otherwise) suffers from.

    But what Steve is saying is - it's not the age of Quake anymore. People aren't willing to try an online game simply because they haven't yet. There's too many to choose from.

    Here are three ideas to work around this:

    Focus on the offline experience One of Red Orchestra's most noted flaws was an utter lack of bot support (somthing they are just recently addressing). With a strong AI presence, people might be able to at least get the taste of an offline game to whet their appetite to find a server.

    Or, of course, just design a single player game completely and forego the multiplayer. Personally, I think coop is the new black. Design a game as a single player with a coop component (which is actually what I'm doing now) ... get a bit of both worlds and see what happens.

    Focus on smaller groups Battlefield 1942 has apexed, I think, the "big server" concept of shooters. There's definately a draw to having more than thirty people playing in the same small space. It's also much harder to get a decent game going. On the other hand - if you focused on say, only six people being online ... maybe a 3v3 match, especially with decent bot support ... that's a lot smaller critical mass required.

    Learn from Microsoft Ewww, that stung to write. But let's face it - Halo 2's matchmaking concepts are still the talk of the town, the belle of the ball, the ... OK - I'm out of phrases. At any rate, if you can't rely on people to find each other to play your game ... find some way to bring them together. And here's a tip - a simple chat lobby isn't going to cut it. It never really did.

    Steve's solution seems to be "get more professional" ... and to be honest, that spooks me. If mod teams get any professional they might as well stop calling themselves mod teams. And by forcing themselves to have the same demands as a pro studio, mod teams will be cutting their ability to innovate - because as Steve mentions with Air Buccs, that will just make their job harder.


    What would be awesome is to see some small mod teams focus on the first two suggestions, while some kindly game company focuses on the third.

    Wednesday, March 16, 2005

    Procedure

    OK, my head is out of the hornet's nest of various GDC posts. There's a few that are must reads.

    First, let's talk some Spore. Everyone's doing it, and there's a good reason why. If you are unfamiliar with Spore, I'm not going to waste the text repeating what others have written ... Gamespy has an excellent write-up and Kotaku has some screens handy. Now, go over to Don Hopkin's notes on Spore and pay particular attention to these lines:

    Games used to be mostly code and very little content, so compression was important.

    CDROM is the medium that was the death knell for the algorithm. Myst was a very elaborate and beautiful slide show, with a vast amount of data. It looked like they had a great time building this world. Building the world is a fun game in itself.

    At the other end of the spectrum from CDROMs: The Demo Scene. Algorithmic compression of graphics and music.



    and just for context, I'll point you back towards the /. article on .produkkt's 96k shooter demo.

    Now take a breath.

    And continue.

    Essentially the way I'm reading this is that since the advent of mass storage mediums, game development has been drawn towards producing static, near photo-realistic (or at least high resolution) content in which the code resides within. Evolution in gaming has since then been largely rated in appearance - a fact which the power scale of video cards since the CDRom drive became standard can attest to. It seems that the industry is starting to saturate on this trend. Despite what many in the biz seem to want to say - that new tools and more powerful hardware offset the order of magnitude shift that game assets are taking ... the fact remains that not everyone wants to staff hundreds with a budget of millions for over a year in order to produce a game which one person will play for approximately two afternoons.

    I've heard the talk about shaders, and how programmers won't be required to code every model's new skin, and how management tools streamline large teams and asset libraries. I've heard that. I just don't care, because I know that Half-Life 2 was shorter than Half-Life, that Deus Ex 2 was shorter than Deus Ex and that last I heard Republic Commando was short enough that you should try not to blink while playing. Even a personal favorite of mine, the new Freedom Force - I beat in just four nights. It's only chance for longevity is that work of modders building new assets.

    Now compare that to Elite. That was a game that fit on a floppy and I played that game for months. Maybe even years. Elite built out a universe based on a formula. What demos like .produkkt's and Spore show us is that the concept isn't dead, that it is possible to evolve it, it's just been ignored while everyone was distracted by pretty pictures.

    I don't think people are done watching the pretty pictures, but it does sound like some in the industry are interested in giving them some new choices. And I can't wait to see how it turns out.

    Tuesday, March 15, 2005

    Rockstar got robbed?

    Trying to read GDC news is a bit like trying to pick out a fly from a bee's nest. I don't really know what I'm looking for and it's a bit scary to sift through it all.

    One interesting point was that apparently Rockstar stormed
    from the auditorium
    after not winning a single Game Developers Choice award. Childish? I dunno, I wasn't there. Warranted?

    Look, Half-Life 2 didn't deserve to win best writing. Yes, I agree it's one of the best thematically directed games in a long time. It's got some of best art direction in gaming history. The voice work is top notch. The game is immersive. The physics are fun.

    The story was weak. And you can't argue the story wasn't weak because there's isn't enough of a story to defend. There's little character depth, no character evolution, miniscule plot and the backstory is told entirely though accidental glances ... and there isn't much backstory. The set design was top notch, but the play itself was more community theatre than Shakespeare. Great game. Just not a great story.

    Compare that to Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Main character goes through significant change. Backstory is gritty and believable ... and is pertinent throughout the whole game. The supporting characters are interesting, believable, important to the story and also evolve. There's comedy, there's tragedy, there's sex and violence. I'm certainly not saying San Andreas is an urban equivalent to Othello, but there's a lot more meat on the bone than Half-Life 2 had.

    So I dunno, maybe it was immature of Rockstar - but I probably would have done the same.

    Dirt on the boot of America's Army?

    Apparently Scott Miller's blog has a post dishing out details about America's Army, the relatively popular, freely downloadable, military sanctioned online game which has as of yet failed to turn our youth into a force of supernatural strength, dexterity and rage - but don't worry Jack Thompson ... maybe in a decade or so.

    The blog itself appears to be undergoing some kind of R & R, so if that link fails you ... try the VE post about it instead.

    Friday, March 11, 2005

    Time is a harsh mistress

    First, Freedom Force arrived in the mail today. Now there is a glowing commendation for self-publishing, because I was expecting it more like, next week. I really hope Irrational is on to something here.

    Of course, I now have a conundrum. This is the first free weekend I've had in months. I was kinda hoping to sit down and knock out the 2D map interface I've been building lately. But now I've got this shiny thing staring at me, and I know these weekends go faster than I expect. I always think to myself "if I could only sit down for six hours and just code, I could get so much done" and then I hear "want to play some Norrath" from the living room or something. And now I'll have a bunch of superheroes on my back as well.

    Sucks to be me.

    Thursday, March 10, 2005

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    Blogger is having a few technical difficulties beyond my control - so if you see any weirdness, please stand by.

    Wonder companies unite

    A bit more of Irrational news for you - BioWare is teaming with Irrational to help pimp Freedom Force: (thanks Blues)


    We are working with BioWare to help promote the game because we know they understand the kind of gamer who will like our game. Given what big fans we are of BioWare (and how cool it's been to work with another developer for once!) we hope this is just the beginning.


    Tre cool.

    A few notables

    If you're bored today, make sure you've checked out Gamespy's Graffiti Kingdom preview, a Japanese title with a kind of Katamari smell to it. You can "doodle" your own monsters into battle and Studio Ghibli is involved. Does one really need to say more?

    And in my continued risk of being deemed an Irrational fanboy, Gamespy also has a preview of SWAT 4. It's positive, though a bit on the short side.

    And while the rest of the world is drooling over the latest Unreal graphics (no link needed I think), don't forget IGN also has a look at the GDC build of F.E.A.R.

    Freedom is in the mail

    I got my notice today that the Freedom Force preorders are shipping. Sweeet. Good luck to Irrational on their self-publishing efforts.

    Wednesday, March 09, 2005

    zur Doom Vorschau

    View and despair at the first picture from the Doom movie.

    Show that to anyone and ask them what game they're reminded of ... if anyone says "Doom", they're a fool or a liar.

    Tuesday, March 08, 2005

    Irrational talks SWAT

    Irrational Games seems to be redefining "different" this year. One doesn't have to look much farther than Freedom Force Versus The Third Reich, the genre-bending update to the genre-bending original or the fact that Irrational decided to self-publish the title. It's hard not to like a development studio that's willing to stick their heads out for the fans.

    They recently released the single player demo of SWAT 4 to the world, and I had a few questions regarding the design of the game. Bill Gardner, a designer for Irrational Games on the project, was ready to answer them:

    Q:
    The SWAT 4 demo gave a preview to the mission editor. What are the expectations this will have for replayability of the title? How should it compare to more traditional tools like a map editor or modifiable code?

    Bill Gardner:

    Even though SWAT 4 will have both a map editor and highly moddable content, we wanted to give people who aren’t that mod savvy the chance to create their own scenarios. All the missions in SWAT 4 have high replay value since the AI spawning and general behaviors vary so much from one playthrough to the next. We wanted to take that to the next level by giving people the ability to add even more variety by choosing what types of enemies, hostages, weapons, etc. The whole system creates a game that has near limitless replayability.


    Q:
    Immersion seems like a high priority for SWAT 4. Did this place any complications on level design or asset production? How did you balance the "flow" of a map versus the "realism" of a map?

    Bill Gardner:
    It’s always a challenge to find a balance between what’s realistic and what plays well. In the end, we all agreed that everything takes a backseat to the gameplay. We did manage to keep it as realistic as possible though. I think that even though our maps have very nice flow to them, they also maintain a high sense of realism.


    Q:
    One comment that's been heard about the SWAT 4's single player demo is that the "professionalism" required from the player is quite high to achieve a decent rating. What role do you see that including proper procedure and tactics will have in the overall design of the game?

    Bill Gardner:
    This is true to a point. SWAT 4 is not a run-and-gun shooter. It’s a tactical shooter. As such, we tried to encourage people to follow procedure whenever possible. In some cases, that meant penalizing players for things like the use of “unauthorized force”. It may take a moment to get into the groove of not simply shooting anything that moves like in many shooters, but when it begins to click, you truly feel like you’re an officer of the law.


    Q:
    How does the artificial intelligence in SWAT 4 compare to standard first person shooters?

    Bill Gardner:
    I think our AI programmers deserve a special pat on the back. John Abercrombie in particular did some truly amazing work. It’s one thing to have to create believable enemy AI, but to then have to carry around a squad of four friendly AIs is an enormous feat. At the end of the day, SWAT 4 has some of the most impressive AI you’ll see in a shooter. We knew we were succeeding when we were able to surprise ourselves after playing the game for over two years.


    Q:
    In general, how does working with a high-end middleware graphics engine impact the game design? Does the cost of production place limitations on the overall project or does the engine provide the kind of features which offsets the demand for more polygons and higher resolution textures?

    Bill Gardner:
    With all the changes, improvements and customizations we’ve made to the Unreal Engine, we’ve been able to effectively create amazing content under a very realistic development cycle. We’ve been able to go in and add features like normal mapping on level geometry and static meshes. Features like these completely change the look of a level. As you may already be aware, this is one technique that’s used to create the illusion of more polygons. In other words, as production demands escalate, you find ‘shortcuts’ that give you the same benefit (or greater) at a fraction of the cost.


    Q:
    Irrational made the decision to self-publish the new Freedom Force title. How has the experience been so far?

    Bill Gardner:
    Amazing. We took a big risk and a huge jump ahead when we made this decision. There’s a lot more that goes into making a game than I think we realized. Naturally, we’ve adapted to the increased responsibilities. I don’t know if it would have gone nearly as smooth if we didn’t have such great fans and press support. We’re keeping our fingers crossed. If things work out the way we hope, we’ll be able to continue with this model and give our fans more of what they want.


    Q:
    Freedom Force to SWAT 4 ... that's a pretty wide spectrum. Irrational seems to have a diverse array of interests. If you could start a project next week that didn't have to recoup any costs, what would it be?

    Bill Gardner:
    Yeah, we’ve got more than a few bases covered with our stable of games. Working on BioShock is certainly a dream come true for us. As for what else we’d like to work on, there are a lot of things. One thing is for certain though, whatever projects we take on in the future, they’ll be geared towards our fans.



    Well, he had me at "near limitless replayability". Thanks again to Bill for his responses. And rest assured that as BioShock gets closer to the gold disc treatment, I'll probably knocking again.

    I'm lucky to be alive

    After listening to Paul Smith, First Amendment lawyer, talk about the censor war against comics, I realized - I'm lucky to be alive.

    I've survived three waves of violent brainwashing media that was going to either make me a immoral zombie, a suicidal wretch or a killing machine (or some combination thereof). I read comics when I was really young. I played Dungeons & Dragons before I was even a teenager (and we're not talking that sanitized, no-Lovecraft mythos, 2nd Edition stuff - we're talking red and blue boooks here), and I've been playing video games since Atari had the moxy to design them for the living room.

    And if you think this is the first time I've heard the "these things will invade your brain and make you a killer" routine ... you need to listen to this. That's an audio clip of Tom Hanks from Mazes & Monsters, the propaganda film of choice for convincing young ones that role-playing games will lead to violent deaths. Seriously, go read about it, and see if you can draw any connections to what's happening now.

    So yeah, apparently my brain is strong stuff. To quote Sam Donovan, if you're going to came after me - you better bring some kryptonite.

    Can you find the gamer?

    OK. So, I watched it. The 60 Minutes piece on the Devin Moore trial, which probably bears some relinking. It was every bit as bad as I expected.

    First, is it really considered good journalism to start your piece with questioning whether one of the aspects should even exist? I mean, is there better way to color Grand Theft Auto as the villian than to open with "can you believe anyone made this stuff?" (paraphrased of course).

    And also, a tip to Ed Bradley. I mean, I'm sure you have lots of experience and a degree in journalism or something so you probably aren't looking for tips (or reading this) ... but ... when a grown man you're interviewing starts talking about cranial menus you don't just take notes politely and nod, you respond:

    "I'm sorry, did you just say cranial menus?"

    Cranial menus? Jack Thompson compares this kid to the Terminator and Ed doesn't even bat an eye? Tell us, Jack, what options do you think exist on this cranial menu? Were there any other than "knock down police officer and kill"? Maybe if Devin had used the "help" function in his brain, he could have gotten more information about "Cranial Menus 2.0" and maybe gotten that upgrade for the "sit and make free call home" option. Does that run on Microsoft? Because I'd like to have it at home.

    Seriously, how am I supposed to take this seriously? This hard-hitting investigative journalist opens by damning the focal point of the case, then softballs to a guy raving about how Devin killed people with handy access to a HUD. OK, ok, so how can we redeem this? Maybe they'll ask a scientist.

    David Walsh, Child Psychologist:


    You know, not every kid that plays a violent video game is gonna turn to violence. And that's because they don't have all of those other risk factors going on. It's a combination of risk factors, which come together in a tragic outcome.


    So at least Ed got this little factoid out, that not even the psychologist believes that video games can be the sole casuality of an event like this. One point for Ed. Something we should point out about Dr. Walsh's studies about the brain is they are based on what happens to kids througout their stage of adolescence. Devin Moore was seventeen at the time of the attack. The CBS piece said that Moore had spent the last few "months" playing GTA frequently. I think we can do the math here.

    Probably the most condemning part came from the brother of one of the slain policeman, Steve Strickland:


    'Why do you make games that target people that are to protect us, police officers, people that we look up to -- people that I respect -- with high admiration. Why do you want to market a game that gives people the thoughts, even the thoughts of thinking it's OK to shoot police officers? Why do you wanna do that?


    Now, this guy just lost his brother not too long ago. He was crying in the piece. He's clearly hurting. It would be somewhat mean to attack him purely on logic. However, the internet does give me that ability. Hey, don't blame me, I didn't invent the thing.

    Look, Steve, video games aren't vehicles to convey respect and admiration. Hey, I think our culture needs more of that too - I just don't think it's on Rockstar's plate to deliver. Video games, like movies or books or television, are about conveying stories, ideas, interaction, puzzles, challenges - you know, entertainment. And while you might scratch your head about what is entertaining about kicking hookers ... there a millions out there who get it.

    Rockstar didn't want anyone dead. They didn't raise or train Devin to be a killer. Your rage is justified, Steve, just misdirected.

    OK, so surely Ed didn't just quote people from the Pro-WitchHunt camp, right? He got a First Amendment lawyer talking about censorship, and how it compares to the comic book industry of old - but more on that later today. He did get Doug Lowenstein in front of the camera and making that old rational case of "clearly, there's something else going on here." Clearly, Doug, but apparently not clear enough to some.

    What's noticeable, I think, the most about the 60 Minutes piece - is what wasn't there. They had one gamer, trapped in front the largest version of Grand Theft Auto imaginable and basically edited him saying "So you have to eliminate all resistance". Yeah, that was pretty much it. According to Jack Thompson, Sony and Rockstar are busily rewiring an entire generation of children into killers. Did Ed bother to talk to any of this budding "Manchurian Children"? No. No, the only time Ed portrays a "normal" gamer, it's to quote him about killing cops. Nowhere in this piece did a camera point to a sixteen year old kid who had just spent hours playing Ratchet and Clank and not running off and killing someone.

    I mean, this is all about the corruption of gamers into killing machines, but you pratically need to play a game of Where's Waldo to find one during the show.

    And the other truly noticeable absence from the piece? I mean, considering this all revolves around a seventeen year old kid who shot three police officers, allegedly under the training of his game console? Well, that would be that kid?

    Where is Devin Moore? Or Devin's mother? Or any of his friends? Are people shocked he did this? Did he ever beat anyone up? Was he having a bad day? How can you have a lawyer telling me about this kid's GUI and yet completely sidestep the kid?

    I have two open questions after reading about this crime and now watching a piece of investigative journalism on it:

    How did a seventeen year old get possession of a police-issue glock from within a Police Station?

    and

    Why is nobody else asking that question?




    Update: More thoughts here.

    First, some errata

    Well, from the 60 Minutes piece last night, I guess Thompson's case is a civil suit which includes Devin Moore as well as select portions of the video game industry. Interesting that it's so easy to forget that, isn't it?

    Monday, March 07, 2005

    Few Violent Updates

    The GameSpeak series has Scott Ramsoomair's responses to the questions online. Scott is the author of the quite excellent VG Cats, but if you didn't know that - you should be acting like you did anyway.

    CBS also has the web article version of the 60 minutes piece online, for those without magic boxes that record shows for you while you're busy having your brain re-wired by your PlayStation. You really should get one, though, because once Sony is done connecting your violent dendrite to your arm dendrite, you're going to be too busy killing puppies to remember to sit down for that episode of Lost.

    I have, btw, e-mailed Best Buy for some clarifications on some of Jack Thompson's statements, but haven't heard back yet. I'm also trying to get some clarity on my own mistakes. For instance, it's unclear if Thompson is representing Moore or merely making a voodoo doll out of him.

    And to get us out of the funk that mainstream media has put us into, I went off to ask Irrational a few questions about their upcoming title, SWAT 4. Remarkably they answered. I'll have the results tabulated in the morning.

    ante thompsian

    Thanks to Tony over at buttonmashing.com, I'm aware of 60 Minutes doing a piece on Jack's latest work. I haven't seen it yet, so if you're reading this, head over to his place for an analysis, and don't miss the link to the Video Games Ombudsman he notes either, who really gives a blow by blow.

    Sadly, I'm not full of confidence. It sounds like CBS really white washed the issue and pandered to the knee jerk crowd. It seems the gamer's ardent defender was Douglas Lowenstein, president of the ESA and whom Jack Thompson has likened to Nazi propagandist Joeseph Goebbels. So, you know it's going to be a classy discussion when it's mostly between a fanatic and his form of the devil. And as the ombudsman points out, Thompson can talk about the case all he wants since he's involved in the litigation (though, um, ethically - should he?) and Doug is just an outside observer.

    So mostly it sounds like 60 Minutes gave Thompson an open mic. I'll reserve judgment for when I see it of course. But when I first saw CBS's page I noticed their sidebar was touting other features:

    Sept. 11 And Since

    America on Guard

    Postwar Iraq

    Here is the text intros to the top two news.google stories as I write this:

    The United States reacted warily Monday to word that Syria will pull back its troops to the eastern part of Lebanon and would work toward a complete troop withdrawal soon.

    Italy has honoured the secret service agent killed by US gunfire in Iraq with a state funeral in Rome. Nicola Calipari was killed by US troops as he ushered a released hostage, journalist Giuliana Sgrena, to freedom.

    And I wonder why the idea of art imitating life is so hard to grasp for people here. Fact is, I don't think that 60 Minutes is terribly interesting in offering a fair an biased debate on the issue. If it bleeds, it leads, right? And if the video game industry doesn't get on the hook for desensitizing our youth, then the television industry might have to cop to it.

    So the foxes are watching the henhouse. And we're the henhouse. Jack Thompson doesn't get on television because he's intelligent or because he's teaching us about the impact of video games on culture - he's on because he's crazy and crazy makes for good television. Seriously, if I could clean up the raving bum on the corner of Halsted and Belmont, put a coat and tie on him and shove him in front of a camera - I'd probably make millions.

    Eventually, though - people will tire of Thompson. It's not like he's going to win any cases. The real harm would be if Take Two or Rockstar blinks and actually pays him anything. A settlement is Jack's best hope, and if he's robbed of that - he'll eventually go away. As my dad is fond of saying - this too shall pass. We'll just have to suffer the fools for a while.

    Saturday, March 05, 2005

    Better & Shorter

    Here's a comment from Nathan off of the Jack Thompsons post. I don't think there's a more apt response to Mr. Thompson than a fistful of reality:

    As someone who is actually in the Army, I am always amused when people refer to the amazingly lifelike videogames that we use to become mindless, cold-blooded killers. If such games exist, I need to get my hands on them, because they must be pretty damn good. There is a laughably large difference between being good with at Ghost Recon and being able to hit anything on the rifle range. The America's Army game comes a little close, because it's designed by the Army and geared towards realism, but even the colonel in charge of that development product admits that it's more of a public relations tool than an actual training or recruitment device.

    What people like Thompson will never understand is that even if videogames could transfer combat abilities to the person playing (which trust me, they don't), it's not about the capability to inflict violence, but the choice to do so. My commander is a huge Metal Gear Solid fan. He also spent a year in Iraq doing stuff that desensitizes you a lot more than a PS2. Yet, amazingly enough, he's still a loving husband and a great guy, the kind you wouldn't mind babysitting your kids.

    People who engage in indiscriminate violence do so because of a lack of impulse control. It's not about how many dangerous skills or resources they have accumulated, but simply that they are unused to being held accountable for their actions. What a surprise then that thanks to Thompson, they still don't have to be held accountable.


    Excellent. More or less pulls the carpet from essentially everything about Thompson's argument with one sound, honest report.

    On a side note, I'm trying to contact Best Buy to get more details on Thompson's claim of a successful lawsuit against them. Currently, I can only find his own words as evidence.

    Friday, March 04, 2005

    Quotes from Jack Thompson

    Jack Thompson is insane. I'm making that statement boldly and probably with more evidence than a lot of the stuff you're about to read from Jack Thompson himself. I'm going to guess he has a narcissistic personality disorder. It's also possible that he's simply not very bright and compensates with spouting off nonsense. I'll let you be the judge.

    Thompson has made it his personal crusade to bring down the violent video game industry. Any time a kid under the age of 18 does anything violent or criminal, all they have to do now is say "GTA made me do it", and they get free representation from Jack. He'll get on the press and get lots of coverage for his cause and threaten to sue Rockstar millions. To date, I haven't been able to find record of Thompson's cases actually going to trial. Needless to say, the definition of a crusade has changed a lot since our parent's time.

    Thompson's argument is that video games are murder simulators. According to him, children lack the ability to distinguish violent fantasy from violent reality. So to a 14 year old, shooting an alien with a plasma gun is roughly equivalent to shooting an old lady with a revolver. Thompson claims he has scientific evidence of this. The problem Thompson has is that every study which tries to prove actual causation between games and violence comes up short. And this is the way it plays out in court:

    "The issue is the causation. How do you prove the connection from the game to the violent act. Lawyers have tried [to prove the connection] but they haven't really succeeded yet." - CNN Legal Analyst Jeffrey Toobin.

    So let's put that down right now. Thompson has no case. He's empty handed but full of words. The only case he'll ever have is by coercing a young kid into blaming a video game for his actions instead of taking responsibility for them. This is a disservice to every side of the argument. It hurts those hoping to curb violence in the media by reducing their cause to a one note media train whose only end will be to pad Thompson's wallet. Eventually Thompson alone will have created so much legal precedent that nobody will try to bring anything resembling such a case to trial. It hurts those in defense of video games by inappropriately branding them the cause of American violence. It hurts those effected by violence by robbing them of a real day in court.

    Right now, Devin Thompson is awaiting trial for shooting two police officers and a dispatcher. Jack Thompson (clearly, no relation) has the families going after a game developer. Instead of the focus being on the kid, or the parents, or the actions of the officers that day - it will be on Rockstar and Take Two. And when Thompson loses this case, which he most likely will, everyone involved will be worse off thanks to the man.

    CBSNews has recently interviewed Thompson, so let's cross-examine some of his statements. (Bold = Thompson)

    I can tell you that some crimes would not occur but for the violent entertainment. For the families of the deceased, that is the only statistic that matters.

    This is not a statistic, however, that Jack can actually prove. So it's really what one would normally call an opinion.

    Armies have been known to go on rape rampages after battles because the violence stimulates sexual aggression. How lovely that GTA weds sex and violence in the same game.

    So you see, in Jack's mind there is a direct analogy between a barbarian horde raping and pillaging a countryside and playing GTA. To him, there's a connection between the rape of Darfur and raising your wanted level in a video game. I think there is a person out there having trouble distinguishing fact from fiction - but I think that person is Jack Thompson.

    The heads of six major health care organizations testified before Congress that there are "hundreds" of studies that prove the link. All the video game industry has are studies paid for by them, which are geared to find the opposite result. Lawyers call such experts "whores."

    Actually, Jack, I'd call someone trying to profit off of an 18 year old cop killer a whore. But that's just me.

    Jack is of course engaging in spin here. For the record, the testament of which he speaks is here. Nowhere in the document does it link video games to criminal behavior. It says that studies indicate that over time, they can lead to more aggressive behavior and desensitization. It also says, quite clearly:

    We in no way mean to imply that entertainment violence is the sole, or even necessarily the most important factor contributing to youth aggression, anti-social attitudes, and violence. Family breakdown, peer influences, the availability of weapons, and numerous other factors may all contribute to these problems. Nor are we advocating restrictions on creative activity.

    Somehow, I don't foresee Jack quoting that in the future. However, it's the underlying problem he has. By reducing the entire problem of violence into one issue he lets all the other issues off the hook. And he won't win on that issue because he's insane - so in the end, nobody will be to blame and we won't get anywhere with this. Jack will probably make some money though.

    Of course, as you actually grow neural pathways called dendrites that enable you to perform more easily the physical acts of violence.

    The way Jack puts it, it sounds like Rockstar is actually capable of altering your brain chemistry to make you into a serial killer. In truth, your brain is doing this kind of stuff all the time. Sure, it's easier to commit acts of violence as you get older. It's also easier to hold a beer, click the remote and dance the tango. While video games might improve your hand-eye coordination, there's no proof that Counter-Strike would improve your aim with a sniper rifle.

    One instance is Pandemic Studio's Full Spectrum Warrior. If it works for soldiers, of course it works for teens. The video game industry has absolutely no rebuttal to that argument. NONE.

    Really? I'll sell them one for free. The Army has used video games since Doom. They've used it to practice tactics and communication. They have never used it to make a more physically capable, violent soldier. That's just more of the old Thompson spin.

    Yeah, playing Full Spectrum Warrior might make a teen a better soldier. But a) it's not going to cause him to start shooting people and b) it's not going to start replacing boot camp anytime soon - which is where all the things Jack accuses video games of actually take place.

    You just watch. There is going to be a Columbine-times-10 incident, and everyone will finally get it. Either that, or some video gamer is going to go Columbine at some video game exec's expense or at E3, and then the industry will begin to realize that there is no place to hide, that it has trained a nation of Manchurian Children.

    People, I couldn't make this up if I tried. Jack actually believes that the PlayStation 2 is a vehicle of child brainwashing and that the entire video game industry is one step away from footing the bill for the next great massacre.

    Let's get that orientated. To Jack Thompson, a video game console is brainwashing your child. Through no fault of yours or the child's, the child will become a psychotic killing machine and go on a rampage. Without the console, this never would have happened.

    That is insane.

    Witch-hunters always like the black and white argument. As Thompson's own evidence indicates, the truth is much more grey. We deserve a more complicated, deeper discussion about violence in our society. I'm not going to say that entertainment and media might not play a role, but singling them out as the sole problem is an even greater travesty. And the only ones that will benefit will be the lawyers.

    Updates:
    We have a couple more notable witch-hunt follow-ups here and here.

    Thursday, March 03, 2005

    Romero's Tragedian

    Shacknews has an interview with Romero about Gauntlent: Seven Sorrows. In it, Romero says that the game will have a playable tragedian as a character. For the curious, Bartelby has this to say about a tragedian:

    1. A writer of tragedies. 2. One who performs tragic roles in the theater.

    Because as well all know, Shakespeare was a badass on the battlefield.


    yes yes, I'm sure it's a bard-like character class, but still ... funny name

    Single Player Cheating

    I've had a pretty basic philosophy when it comes to cheats offline. If it's you're game and you are playing it more or less by yourself - go to town. Why should anyone care? Be invincible, spawn extra weapons, whatever. It's your game experience, not anyone elses. I've done it - the occasional lift here or there. Used to be ardently against it, but I don't have the time to waste a whole afternoon retrying the same level over and over again, ya know?

    In the original Champions of Norrath, you could easily clone yourself. All you need is an extra save file, the willingness to swap around some imports and then you could copy anything you had in the game. The girl and I copied every gem we ever collected, major weapons, etc. We even created a character called Mool (with more omlauts though) in order to carry all our stuff around.

    In the new Norrath, you can't. You can't import or dismiss characters into your current mission, you've got to start a whole new game (though you can start at your current mission). So multiple saves only gives you the option of going back to an older version of the character, not cloning them.

    At first, the girl and I were pretty annoyed by that. Well, I think she still is. It is less convenient for multiple players in the middle of a mission - no doubt about that. Someone can't just jump in for an hour and the jump out when they have to go to sleep or do the dishes. You have to finish up a mission, save it, then start a new game.

    However, I do have to say - I can kinda see why. I mean, now I am really forced to consider my gem usage and inventory control. When I sell something, it's gone. When a gem gets embedded into my bow - that's it. It kinda returns the game to a sense of normalcy about the value of what you decide to hold in your pack - and in the long run will about aid the longevity of the game. I won't be able to superpower my characters so easily or quickly, making the time to play longer. You still could do it, I suppose, by starting a new game with different characters, trading up and then saving again - but it would be very time consuming and waste space on the old RAM card.

    So I guess the fundamental question is - when does player convenience break into the fun factor?

    Tuesday, March 01, 2005

    Mary Kate

    Phocas