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Sunday, July 31, 2005

To David Jaffe

Just finished God of War. Some only mildly spoiler notes follow.

Great game. Excellent mechanics. Enjoyed the hell out of it, even some of the jumpy parts. Shame that the end scene didn't use any of those mechanics, or any of the combos I'd found, or any of the magic I'd learned and instead was a really, really cheap fighting game. Cheap enough that on normal mode the enemy can chain two or three moves that are indefensible and come back from near death to winning in about a minute.

Ended up finishing on easy mode, because of course I wasn't anywhere near a save point and certainly wasn't going to go through all that again. Felt cheap to make it all the way to the end and have to wimp out for a fight that resembled nothing of the fine game before it.

And in general I wonder, why is it that the ending of games is often the least satisfactory part?

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Saturday MoBloggin

I'm not sure how much the backyard counts as mobile bloggery, but it's a start. The Girl is off reading in her sun and my old friend Seth is still crashed on our futon, sleeping off our night of drinking and watching FireFly DVDs.

This morning I got a chance to fuss with the SmartJoy adaptor, GamePad companion and Torque 2D. This is the first real step in getting the Mini to behave like a console. Results were pretty positive, though a little touchy and disappointimgly slow in-game.

Zoink. Battery just ran out. The Z needed a quick recharge after a morning full of blogrolling I guess. Gave me a chance to try the SmartJoy again. Now the main problem is the game speed, which seems odd since I don't even know why Torque would realize that the PS2 controller was anything but a mouse.

But it's a start. If we head downtown this afternoon, I'll bring Z along for some warhiking.

Friday, July 29, 2005

360 goes DVD ... and then HD-DVD?

So, the fact that the 360 is going to have an HD-DVD isn't too surprising. I had somewhat expected that the old MS would realize that High Definiton means High Density, and while it would have been nice to see format unity on two of the console to help drive the industry, nobody can be surprised that they snubbed a Sony-back format like Blue Ray.

But, um, the first run 360s will have DVD drives anyway? Is Microsoft completely nuts? They're going to whip all of their early adopters by slogging them with yesteryear's storage medium? Anyone who would seriously buy an early 360 with a DVD drive knowing that HD-DVD was coming around the corner, please raise your hand ... so that it can be slapped. This would seem to either punish those important inital purchasers or chain the console down with a lower common denominator.

Doppler, the Cabin Story Mod

After I completed the first beta of Freehold UT, one of my interests in making it more complete was flushing out various other gametypes using the same code. Since my favorite gametype was Containment, a coop game which pitted players against a horde of dangerous, infectious creatures, I wanted to do more cooperative style gameplay.

Corvus' recent discussion on story and conflict reminded me of the riff off of Containment I never finished. The basic idea was a cabin story done in a multiplayer game.

A cabin story is a kind of framework where much of the conflict comes from character interaction, but the characters are generally trapped together with some kind of really dangerous problem. The Thing is perhaps the epitome of this kind of story - characters stuck together, vicious creature loose and any one of them might be the creature. And from that idea, came Doppler.

The idea was that a squad of players would be on a map. One of them is an android doppleganger, unknown to the rest. The goal of the doppler is to kill as many of the squad as possible without being detected. The goal of the squad is to kill the doppler, but no innocent people. In some ways, it's a coop variant of the classic hunter gametypes. Scoring would follow suit - with the doppler earning a certain amount per kill, the squaddie who nails the doppler get a big bonus and anyone who kills an innocent gets a big decrease. There was to be like five rounds on one map, and the high scorer wins.

The doppler was stronger and healthier, but appeared just like another character. In fact, I think the final version I was working on had the doppler as a duplicate of the players ... the only visual clue that they had to start with. I later wanted to expand it with DNA scans and the like, but I never got it finished. I can't quite remember what the critical problem that made me pull it from the last build of Freehold UT ... but I remember it was somewhat fundamental. Since then, I've always thought it was too esoteric for an online mod.

Hard enough to get people to play mods online these days, even worse if it's something of a social experiment. Anyone wants to take a stab though, feel free.

Solve Puzzle, Win Swag

So I've decided to kick the puzzle up a notch. With bribery.

Here's the deal. First person to send an email to with the correct answer wins a $50 gift certificate to ZeStuff, purveyors of fine wares involving swag for fab comics like VG Cats and Ctrl+Alt+Del. Sure, I could be all trendy and send you to ThinkGeek, but then I wouldn't be supporting two web comics I read all the freaking time, now would I?

What you need is to:

-Read the Carnival of Gamers IV, which is also the puzzle

-Read the Question

The puzzle is now closed, as of March 3, 2006. The solution is posted

Get Your Python On

If one were interested in game development using Python, the registration of the Python Game Challenge has now opened, with the hopes of raising some public awareness of game development with the serpentine language and maybe getting some fun games in the process.

Taping Brando

Wired has a great article on the mashup of movies and games, including this bit on the upcoming GodFather game from Electronic Arts:

The line wasn't in The Godfather or either of the sequels, but it will be in The Godfather game this fall. To capture Corleone's final performance for gamemaker Electronic Arts, creative director Philip Campbell showed up at Brando's Los Angeles mansion with a portable DAT recorder, a shotgun mike, and a lavalier mike. "It was just the two of us, sitting in his living room," says Campbell, who spent three hours with the actor in February 2004 recording the game's script. "When we signed the deal to do The Godfather, we never dreamed we'd actually get Brando."

There some great insight on what happens when Hollywood and game studios work together, and some industry bits on what happens when they don't.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Game Chair Goes Casual

No, they aren't lounging in boxers and drinking milk from the bottle ... they've got a report from the Casual Games Conference:

Maybe casual gaming isn’t so casual. Dylan, from says, ”I think ’casual games’ is actually a misnomer. There’s nothing casual about the time or money spent on the game. What’s casual is how easy the games are to learn.” Dylan used to create a new game every week for his website, but is now working on a new game he hopes will appeal to casual gamers. He describes his current venture as “a music visualizer you can play.” The new game, which has yet to be named, is a racer that responds to the music you are playing on your computer: as the music increases in intensity, so does the speed of your car.

Game Developer Magazine Career Guide, who I always dislike linking to because of the numbers href popups they adhere to, has bit on the career guide in the upcoming edition of Game Developer. Includes tips for the indie scene, salary surveys and some insight into the gruelling, soul-crushing hours probably required to help get it just right when Kratos splits someone in two.

First Annual Game Writers Conference

Finally, the storytellers get their own. Topics will include writing for MMO's, AI for writers and ARGs.

RIP, Tapwave Zodiac

The official Tapwave site has officially declared the Zodiac deceased. Clock it, July 25th 2005.

I almost went with a Zodiac instead of the Zaurus, but the Zaurus was just so much cheaper that it was hard to pass up. The Zodiac's main problem is that it was ahead of it's time ... it would have been more suited in today's wifi-leaning digital media-mania than yesterday's pre-PSP who-wants-to-fight Nintendo world. A finely designed device, if not something of a misfit for the industry.

Zodiac, we hardly knew ye.

Some Notes For The Coming War

Well, any hopes that laws like the Illinois one will die quickly and quietly or that controversies over explicit content will move to a more rational sphere rather than a sensational one seem to be diminishing rapidly. I was talking to The Girl about this last night and we remarked that it seems the best hope right now for things to return to normalcy is that everything get so ridiculous so quickly that everyone is suddenly caught unaware as to how stupid the whole thing can get and immeadiately stop talking about it.

Our old Floridian lawyer, for instance, really stumbled when he first put the focus on a "cheat code" in the Sims 2 and then mumbled something into the microphone about mods. Thank God he did and that he chose the Sims as his next target, since they are more like warm fuzzy teddy bears to Rockstar's howling badger ... and nobody wants to see warm fuzzy teddy bears get pulled off the shelf. I'm watching this like a hawk so far, and it doesn't seem like he's going to get the kind of buy-in we saw with Hot Coffee. It's like that great line from William Petersen in Manhunter where he tells the maniac that he had a disadvantage for being, you know, insane.

But now we've got parents who are actually defending themselves for buying their young, impressionable games about cop-killing and hooker-banging (yes, I plan to use every euphemism for sexual intercourse with prostitutes during the course of this affair ... it's just what I do) ... and they're going to defend themselves en masse, which is quite convenient for the gaming industry.

Now when Rockstar has to go in front of the FTC about the villainy at foot with kids accessing inappropriate material, they'll have an entire witness list already prepared for them. It would make for great scene in a movie, wouldn't it? Calling in each one of these plaintiffs before Congress and forcing them to explain themselves before everyone?

Yeah, probably won't happen. Would be sweet though.

For the rest of us will be watching things unfold, here are a few notes to keep in mind ... because there's a lot of confusion out there.

You don't own your software. Common misconception. What you purchase when you pay for that box at Best Buy is actually just the media, manuals, packaging and a license to use the included software. That license, called the End User License Agreement, is inherent for the most in simply installing the software ... and limits what you can and can't do with programs. For an easy example, it's why if you started copying CD's of Windows that Microsoft gets to come by your house and take away all your toys. Although, that would probably fall under copyright laws anyway. A better example is that you aren't usually allowed to go into the software in an attempt to reverse engineer it.

Mods can't do just anything. It's sad but true. For the longest time, though, the biggest concern mods really had was copyright law. And trust me, most didn't even understand that very well. Even if the EULA never specifically states it, there's just things you can or can't do with someone else's IP. Now the ESRB is saying there are things you can or can't do with someone else's content. While some of that existed previously under the EULA, like reverse engineering, one of the problems with the ESRB statement is that they've actually raised the bar past the EULA to include their own rating system.

It's not just creation, it's distribution. Remember, the ESRB didn't just call out the third party modification - but also it's broad distribution. Most people think that the attention to mods will be insane because you can't stop people from diddling with software on their hard drive. Not only is that true, to a certain extent it's even allowed under fair use. However the distribution of mods can and has been halted or regulated ... and with a fair amount of success. Mods get foxed all the time, and even parent companies like Valve or Epic need to be mindful of mods potentially releasing code that they weren't supposed to have access to or that could be harmful to the original product. So in other words, the mere existence of a pornographic mod wouldn't meet the same criteria the ESRB stated - it would also require easy accessibility.

Some links:

- Great explanation of EULA's (and even how they compare to GPL style agreements)

- Discussion on copyrights and mods, from my old stomping ground

- The actual ESRB statement revoking the Mature rating in San Andreas

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

The Problem Sues

So let me get this right.

Rockstar supposedly "deceives" the ESRB by not detailing unlocked content which someone could only unlock by breaking the legal agreement inherent in using the software when they submitted the game for review. This I am to believe is a heinous crime worth much ado, even though I can't find or get anyone to show me that such non-disclosure was even against the ESRB's original rules on the matter until they changed those rules to include modified content.

But this woman knowingly purchases a game rated mature for her fourteen year old son and now expects monetary compensation because ... he might have access to really crappy softcore porn?

Her lawyer even has the balls to say that no parent would knowingly buy an adult-only video game for their children? Really? So knowingly purchasing a game reknowned for earning health and money by killing the hooker who just boned you doesn't count?

Anyone out there actually going to try and tell me the problem is Rockstar? Anyone want to try that with a straight face? That the problem isn't the parents, the lawyers and the ESRB? Because unless the mod community also released a patch which rendered this woman completely stupid, I'm not buying it.

So let's catch up on the fallout so far.

-Major title removed from Wal-Mart, Target, Best Buy and Circuit City.
-Modifications scrutinized for being able to alter ESRB ratings post-purchase.
-Lawsuits for fining store clerks for peddling violent games emboldened.
-EA gets sued for Sims 2.
-FTC investigation announced.
-Class action suit filed by all those parents who were "tricked" into buying GTA for their kids.


Asian Lara Croft

GarageGamer Ben Bradley updated his .plan with details and pics, including a native version of the iconic Lara Croft, from his trip to China to talk about games:

Everquest II showcased some upcoming secret info in their hidden theater... I signed some sort of NDA, but I have no idea what it said... It was in Chinese. I probably ended up becoming the first foreign human to contractually marry some exotic elf or something.
-- Plan for Benjamin Bradley

Google Code Jam

Google is putting the best coders in world into a mass kung fu competition, complete with misty mountain resort, anonymous ninja fodder and a withered old man who unsurprisingly can kick your ass because he's really a Rain God.

OK, not really. But they are setting up a virtual arena for coders to test their skills against each other and a chance to win cash prizes:

Join coders from around the world in this intense competition that requires all your mind has to offer.

Not only will you be in your glory of coding, but there are prizes for it too! It's more than just $155,000 but a chance to work for the hottest tech company, Google.

This is how it works:

The tournament is a timed contest where all participants compete online to solve the same problems under the same time constraints.

The competition is available in four programming languages - Java, C++, C#, and VB.
-- Googe Code Jam (thanks GameDev.Net)

Play-Yan Manager For OS X

Oh sure, I go and get a cheap PDA to act largely as a mobile media player, and then someone finally goes and makes iPlay-Yan to manage files between OS X and Nintendo's yet to be released in the US media player for the GBA.

Humorously that link doesn't seem to work correctly for FireFox on OS X.

I may yet consider it. The old Zaurus is perfectly capable at playing MP3's, pretty robust at surfing the web and reading e-books, but is somewhat lacking the movie department. And the GBA has a battery life to drool over. I just ordered some PS2 USB adaptors from Lik-Sang, so maybe a Play-Yan is next.

Mom, Can I Have $3,500? Please?

I stumbled on this while trying to think of a worthy puzzle prize. Comes with about thirty games. Gimme.

For the record, this is not going to be the puzzle prize. If you solve the puzzle and buy me one of these, I might let you play it. Maybe.

On Doug Church

Who is Doug Church? Kieron Gillen explains, "In short, a fair chunk of the things which Spector gets credit for, originate with Church (And, to be fair to Warren, he goes entirely out of the way to tell people this)", and then reprints this fab interview with him:

If you look to Underworld to Shock to Thief, I think you can see a progression of taking out everything that kept you from diving into the world. That’s the reason why the CD version of Shock was so much better than the floppy disk version. We desperately tried to stop them releasing the floppy disk version, as - well – the whole reason we overlaid the automap, the whole full screen, the augmentations was because we wanted you to play it full screen, not to stop and read but be in the world all the time. With Thief it went even further. We really tried to narrow down the player’s ability, but within that narrow scope to give them complete control. I can see the progression that way. In a lot of ways, with Deus Ex and the stuff Warren’s doing, is the reverse of that. Okay – you guys took all that lot out. We’re going to go back to the Kitchen Sink approach and go for broad but shallow game as opposed to a deep and narrow game. Obviously, some day we hope to both make a both Broad but deep game.
-- Doug Church [Kieron Gillen's Workblog]

Psychochild & Free Speech

I'd have to say there isn't much new for avid Cathode Tan readers in this ... talks about how this is a new culture war, comparisons to the attacks on comics and role-playing games, and the chilling aspect such censorship movements can have on art.

But that doesn't mean it isn't wonderfully written and should merit a thorough read:

Finally, we come to video games. Now we have politicians and legal advisors clamoring to decry something they understand so little about. Again we have a medium which encourages creativity, problem solving, an interest in bending the rules, along with a way to convey meaningful messages to a wide audience. This is the double-whammy in the eyes of the older generation. Surely this medium is corrupting children and leading them astray?

Of course, one of the things about comics, role-playing games, and video games is that they aren't always for children. Japan, a culture that never had the Comics Code Authority, has a thriving comics industry that sells to multiple markets. In addition to simple tales for children, you have more complex tales of romance, mystery, horror, and intrigue. Yes, you even have comics dealing with sexuality in Japan! Further, according to the ESA, the average game player is 30 years old. Thirty! If a 30-year-old isn't able to handle a bit of consensual sex in his violent game, I don't think it's the developer's fault.
-- Free speech and video games [Psychochild's Blog]

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

What Could Have Been

The great news is that Microsoft not only has a plan to allow developers to purchase a devkit directly from them, but a free Prototype Kit to allow anyone to test their XBox code on PC hardware! Read it here! The bad news? It was announced in 2000, before the XBox launched, and to my knowledge a single kit was never shipped by this program.
-- Microsoft embraces indy game devs [Outside Looking In]

While I think the old MS has done some great inroads in getting indies onto the console, it definately sounds like it could have been so much more. Maybe they'll try again with the 360.

The Modders Speak Out

As much as I'm trying to put the ESRB decision behind me, it would seem very unfair for me not to highlight this statement from the GTA mod community about the affair:

At the root of this rather knee-jerk reaction lies the argument that Rockstar Games somehow "hid" pornographic content from the ESRB with the intentions of it being "unlocked" later after avoiding an Adults Only rating. While it may be true that portions of the Hot Coffee mod were created from assets found in the retail version of the game, to say that Rockstar knowingly hid and sold pornography is absurd. For starters, most (if not all) of the allegedly "obscene" animation assets found in the mod can be seen elsewhere in the course of regular game play during less "graphic" sequences. Secondly, the audio assets used in the mod exist in the retail game during the default censored "Coffee" scenes. As such, it would stand to reason that these parts of the game were already seen by the ESRB, and the game was labeled as having "strong sexual content" accordingly.

The primary difference between the retail version of the game and that of the modded version is that the above content has simply been rearranged and intensified by the consumers. By using the logic that this content was illegally "hidden", one could just as easily claim that any R rated movie has covertly crossed the limits of decency because the end-user could very well pause their DVD player on a scene containing nudity, thus exceeding the length of such scenes by which the MPAA decides whether a film is to be classified as R or NC-17. The same could be said of even a PG-13 rated movie which contains brief nudity.

Please, read the whole thing. It goes on to point out more concerning the nature of mods and games than I've read on anything else in this debate, and highlights the very precarious, overreaching and scurrious nature of the ESRB ruling very well.

I know everyone loves to hate Rockstar, but there was so much more to this than one company. I know a lot of people are trying to ignore the aspect of mods in the case, but I think it's about time to stop that behavior - it's what got us here in the first place. The heart of this debate never should have been what Rockstar did or did not leave on the disc - but what is fair use of the contents, what should constitue the ESRB rating and how much responsibility do we expect on the behalf of developers and publishers once their game enters the wild.

Nobody wants to see mods go away, except for maybe the rabid anti-game types who are currently basking in their latest win.

Years have gone by with mods as a fundamental part of PC gaming, and even more recently console gaming as well. To date, the mod community themselves have done more policing on illegal behavior than anyone else ... and that's pretty much the way it should be.

Because the problem with the ESRB's resolution of the Hot Coffee mod was not hidden content, but that they decided to take governance on the Internet itself. The "broad distribution" of the mod was a key factor in their decision ... and that distribution is nothing less than an online community which is large, vibrant, creative, beneficial to the game community and very little danger to parents ... and certainly not the domain of the ESRB.

Ginormous Game Cover Gallery

I had meant to post this eons ago, but I think I got caught up in the Carnival puzzle or something. Anyway, I found this huge library of old video game box art which is big blast from the past for anyone who remembers just how neat those old Psygnosis covers, by Yes artist Roger Dean, could be.

Great Moments in Babel History

A translation worthy of dropping the name ban on Thompson:

Jacket Thompson is a man of extremen and only for this reason already by definition dangerous. In an interview with CBS he even called Doug Lowenstein, head of the organisation which performs the age testing for games, the ' Joseph Goebbels of the gameindustrie '.
The Sims 2 next target jacket Thompson
(Dutch site translated to English via babel)

Monday, July 25, 2005

More Wifi Piracy

A man in England was arrested and fined for using someone else's wireless connection. However, this bit makes it sound like it might have been a secured network:

Police sources said Straszkiewicz was caught standing outside a building in a residential area holding a wireless-enabled laptop. The Crown Prosecution Service confirmed that Straszkiewicz was 'piggybacking' the wireless network that householders were using. He was reported to have attempted this several times before police arrested him.

Since you don't really have to "attempt" to access a public/unsecured node. You just, you know, click.

Girl Gamers Found Living in Britain

What's getting so odd about people talking about female gamers as if they were some lost tribe cut off from the normal social morays concerning joysticks is just how many there are out there:

But gaming has crossed the sexual divide, with even the Bridget Jones generation now picking up joysticks and control pads. The latest industry figures show that girl power now accounts for almost a quarter of Britain's active game-playing population.
-- Games push all the right buttons (thanks

For those trying to get their head around the math on that one, that means that for every four British gamers one runs into, you'll have to act shocked and amazed that one of them has breasts.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

At Least It's Not About Sex

Atari's upcoming graffiti game Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure is getting some pressure of it's own:

Written by designer Marc Ecko and featuring the voice of hip-hop artist Talib Kweli, Atari describes "Getting Up" as a "groundbreaking graffiti gameplay system."

But Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Queens) sees it as far more sinister.

"You are personally encouraging children to deface neighborhoods, break the law and wind up behind bars," Vallone wrote in a letter to Atari Chairman Bruno Bonnell. "This is an appalling lack of responsibility on your part."
-- Graffiti video game tagged as sinister by councilman

Boeing Goes Wireless

Well, Wifi. Because a wireless plane wouldn't fly so well.

The high-speed Internet service is called Connexion, it lets you communicate wirelessly while in flight. A two-way satellite links with a network of ground-based stations. You can use the service by visiting the Connexion website and creating a user account. Expect to shell out $30 on most international travels, $20 for trips that last less than 6 hours, or $10 for the first 60 minutes of access, then just pay 25 cents for up each minute thereafter.
-- Boeing's Connexion Wi-Fi Service Takes Off

Dev Day Diary: UAC

Well, the iTunes powered Tempest clone is officially on hold until Torque 2D's Mac socket code is fixed and until I get a better grasp of the particle system, since my sprite based visualizing was just not cutting it.

Now I'm working on a bit of a mashup between NetHack, Asteroids and Robotron. Well, mostly those latter two first. It might turn out something like the indie title Flatspace, but not being very Windows empowered right now, I wouldn't know. The emphasis will not be on an Elite style trading system. As much as I love that title, the trading aspect feels played out.

Your Answers, Censored Edition

I really wanted to do another set of answers to queries today, but since Hot Coffee ... they've all been about lawyers, pedophila or naked. Not really as funny.

The Question

So far, nobody seems to have gotten very far on the COGIV Poetry Puzzle. Remember, the answer is the name of a video game.

Here is The Question.

Open Questions

Yeah, I'm pretty much worn out from the hoopla of the Coffee controversy. But I still have a few open questions.

Will the Sims 2 push go anywhere?
I'm really hoping not. If it does, it could be the start of a landslide. Right now the gaming community seems pretty smug in the "there's no real nudity on the discs, so why worry?" theory.

Well, that certain floridian lawyer used the word mod in some context seven times in his fairly short little letter. And about how easy EA had made it to mod, and all that jazz. So I guess now people get to see if they're right on the ESRB cave-in or not.

And if this does push on ... I suspect we'll see modders represented in the debate about as much, if not less, than gamers in the current one.

Are we going to see DRM for games?
It's really not such a crazy idea. The game industry has been looking for an excuse to go as hardcore as possible with copyprotection. But while I've seen this bubble in a few conversations the question is ... will it work? I know Epic does MD5 package checks off of servers and other anti-cheat measures use similar tactics ... with somewhat measured results. Would a company actually end up doing a package sig check for a single player game? I guess they might if it they can say "they had to break the DMCA to publish that porn".

Is porn really worse than violence?
You can almost hear the shifting winds as the anti-gaming crowd starts dropping it's guns and goes after panty raids instead. Is this country really that puritanical?

And what will this do to those people with actual valid theories about what violence does to kids in games today? Is that debate simply doomed to be sidelined if the big concern is sex? I guess we'll have to see which we hear more about in the next six months: 25 to Life or Sims 2.

Why all the Rockstar hate?
Just a general question. When the Demuzio law started to finalize, Tom Chick said "it's about time". When it first appeared that the Coffee content was on the disc, Costik said "bitchslap Rockstar". And now that the ESRB caved, Penny Arcade quips "this is how it should have been rated all along".

And the conspiracy theories that this was all some mad plot of Rockstar's to make more money continue. PA even brushes the Wal-Mart issue aside saying that Best Buy is just down the block.

I mean wow. Politicians and lawyers just succeeded in getting a major video game title pulled from the world's biggest retail giant, and lots of major voices in the industry respond ... "good riddance"? Harsh.

Do you really think mods are DOOMED? OMG that's ignorant!
OK, not my question ... but the kind of thing that was starting to pop up after Tan got linked around forums.

No, I don't think mods are doomed. But I think they very likely might get diminished. Epic, id, Valve and those attached directly to major titles which are attached to the hip with mods are not going to suddenly get a mod-ectemy.

However, I wouldn't be surprised if they have a stricter EULA the next time around with what you can and can't do with their engines. 99.9% of mod teams won't care, because less face it ... many mod groups these days are looking to break into the industry and putting "I made the animations for GimpFight 3000" is probably not the best way. But if that happens, it will be sad to see companies have to become content cops. I could mourn about the problems with that for days, but I won't until it happens.

Finally, I really do doubt as many new titles will be interested in supplying mod tools and support. Which truly sucks. Mods were becoming a near standard in the PC world, breaking out of the shooter and strategy genres and moving into RPGs and more. Now they'll be weighed against the possibility of lawsuits, and may lose more times than not.

Later today, I'll post cheerier stuff. Promise.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Asking the Same Question

Star Wars: Galaxies developer Jeff Freeman is asking the same question I am:

What happens when Congress figures out that all games – for PC and consoles – have to given an AO rating if user-generated-content is factored into the evaluation? I mean, even if the game isn't intended to be mod'd.
-- M v AO []

Jeff's take is that this whole thing shows more the futility of the AO rating in general more than anything. Which is a fairly rational take ... I just wonder if the industry will see it that way.

If Jeff sounds familiar, here's why. If you haven't read that interview previously, it's even more interesting now.


So in my continuing quest of all things wifi, I got a Zaurus 5500 with a wifi card off of eBay - of which I'm currently using both to blog right now.

For the most part it's geeky goodness ... it was cheap ($150 for both) ... it's got Linux and a ton of apps and is wildly versatile, sporting both an SD and CF slot. More than a PDA, I'm using it as a portable terminal and media browser. Like a poor man's PSP but with shell commands.

The wifi seems tempermental and while the keyboard is slick, it's taken me about 10 minutes to type this so far. It's also not exactly a powerhouse ... hires mpegs skip and stutter a lot.

The battery life is also remarkably PSP like, showing just how prevalent such issues are with multifunction portables.

Still, it's neat to see this kind of tech become cheap and ubiqitous. This guy is far more powerful than any PDA I've had to date (which has been quite a few), and also the least expensive.

Patricia Vance Clarifies ... or does she?

Gamespot got the president of the ESRB on the line:

GS: My read of your statement yesterday suggests that the ESRB is directing its energy toward modders, not publishers, and is, in effect, saying it's worse to unlock adult-rated content than to put it in the game in the first place.

PV: We're not saying that at all. What we're saying is that if you, as publisher, produce content that's pertinent to a rating, and leave it on a disc--risking that it might be accessed by a modder--then it's your responsibility. And if it undermines the accuracy of the rating, it's your responsibility.

It's up to publishers to take action against third-party modders, not ours. Our only obligation is to make sure that the rating is accurate. The publisher is responsible for creating content. If they then leave it on the disc and it undermines the effectiveness of the rating, then we have no choice but to take action. We're actually putting responsibility solely in the publishers' hands.
-- Cooling Hot Coffee

I really want that to make me feel better, but it really kinda doesn't. It's way too vague and the "action against third-party modders" bit ... on one hand she emphasizes content left on the disc, but on the other she is reminding publishers that what happens to their programs is their responsibility.

I'm not sure that wouldn't include someone putting a naked skin on a model and then putting them into interesting situations. Or even just using a game engine to produce a porn machinima. I mean, that's all just hacking content on a disc. The fact that it's varying degrees of it doesn't enter into Patricia's rhetoric.

And of course, now we have a Floridian lawyer attacking Sims 2 for nakedness.. Since that's somewhat old news, hopefully he won't get traction and this will all die down. Then it will probably be truce time until Hot Coffee 2.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Bit more aftermath?

Wow. Everyone is probably wishing the Hot Coffee stuff would just go away.

I hope that everyone wasn't part of the crowd attacking Rockstar, because they should have known better.

Take-Two itself said in a statement that it's lowering guidance for the third fiscal quarter (which ends July 31) to $160-$170 million in net sales. "Accordingly," the company said, "guidance for the fiscal year ending October 31, 2005 is also being lowered to $1.26 to $1.31 billion in net sales and $1.05 to $1.12 in diluted earnings per share."
-- The price of Hot Coffee: >$50 million

That should give the "Rockstar did this on purpose to raise sales" tin foil cap crowd a bit to chew on. Right, this was all a marketing scheme to increase profits. Because Rockstar being that wildly savvy gaming company was soo wiley as to produce a section of gameplay in a vast conspiracy to lose millions. As if that makes any sense at all. Think for a second people, this clearly wasn't intentional.

Thompson doesn't seem to care. He cites a cheat code that can remove the blur that covers the nether regions. "The nudity placed there by the publisher/maker, Electronic Arts, is accessed by the use of a simple code that removes what is called 'the blur' which obscures the genital areas. In other words, the game was released to the public by the manufacturer knowing that the full frontal nudity was resident on the game and would be accessed by use of a simple code widely provided on the Internet."
-- Sims 2 content "worse than Hot Coffee"

Oh, I'm so tired of trying to explain to people that this guy is insane. I hope those in the industry who have been supportive of things like the Demuzio bill or attacking Rockstar learn that if you give these people a molehill, they'll do their best to raise a mountain on which to preach on. Oh, did the maniac zealot not stay to only one whipping boy? Gee, what a surprise.

Good Morning Modder, Have Some Cold Coffee

Bad mood morning:

But some in the industry are now wondering about the ratings implications posed by mods after a Dutch programmer created one that unlocks a hidden sex level in the violent action game "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas." After all, video games aren't like the feature films you see in the theater or get on a DVD. They're made of software code. They're malleable.
-- Video game 'mods' scrutinized after ratings flap


"I tip my cap to that first step of showing responsibility," said Tim Winter, the council's executive director. "Phase two needs to be absolutely getting to the bottom of this coding issue. How did it get into that game? How did it get past the ratings board?"
-- Game's rating change a sign of things to come? [msnbc]


When the smoke clears around the Grand Theft Auto sex scandal, the innocent bystanders of the collision between politics, puritans and corporate dissembling may prove to be the community of "modders" who tinker with game content for their own amusement.
-- Game Over for Modders? [wired]


Sen. Hillary Clinton has called for an FTC investigation of the whole affair, but Take Two is trying to keep attention on the modders. Spokesman Jim Ankner won't say whether the company is removing the sexual content from the new discs (it is if it wants an M rating, the ESRB says) but instead emphasizes that the next release will have "enhanced security" against hackers like Wildenborg.
-- Game Over for Modders? [wired]


Take Two isn't the only one blaming the modders. In its Wednesday press release, the ESRB said it "calls on the computer and video-game industry to proactively protect their games from illegal modifications by third parties, particularly when they serve to undermine the accuracy of the rating."

"That parent doesn't necessarily know that mods are available for their 13-year-old to go out and find that could radically change the product," said ESRB vice president Patricia Vance. "If the rating itself is being undermined by third-party modification, I think we as an industry need to figure out what to do about that."
-- Game Over for Modders? [wired]

...and finally:

Adding even a small measure of technical protection to games could make modding a violation of the controversial Digital Millennium Copyright Act, says Electronic Frontier Foundation attorney Fred von Lohmann. But suing modders misses the point, he argues. "It's not the modders who have done something wrong here.... After all, the content was in the game. If the game publisher was really, sincerely interested in preventing this kind of use of the game, then there's nobody in a better position to scrub the code than the guys who wrote it.
-- Game Over for Modders? [wired]

All emphasis mine.

That last one is the core rallying cry of everyone pissed at Rockstar. Costik even quotes up after that to suggest that going after modders is insanity.

The problem is, guys like Costik might just be realizing that the insanity is just where their browbeating of Rockstar is leading us. When the ESRB themselves are saying that if a kid can alter the content of a game in violation of the EULA, then it's the responsibility of the company to insure those alterations don't modify their rating .... well, modders have a problem. If a kid in his basement with a hex editor can cost a company millions in sales with a modification, do you really think companies are going to be as interested in offering tools and technical advice for kids to do the same? The days of Counter-Strike are over. Mods are no longer a major selling asset, they're merely a value add to a retail box with low risk to the parent company and great opportunity to find upcoming talent. But neither of those benefits are worth the risk of having a couple of kid take your game, turn it into a sexy romp and then become the focal point of Congressional hearing.

Perhaps all the fallout will become "publishers are responsible for all content on a disc - hidden or otherwise" ... but that's not where people like Vance are pushing. And Take Two has a valid point. They didn't break the ESRB with their product, the modification ... beyond the allowance of the EULA did.

The ESRB isn't saying "bad Rockstar for leaving this content intact", they're saying "bad Rockstar for not enforcing your EULA".

And that EULA means ... don't modify Grand Theft Auto.

So, hey. Thanks Greg and everyone else who decided this was a great time to point the finger at someone else in the industry. As a long time modder, it was really nice to see industry figures be so quick to jump to the attack without really thinking the issue through. You've all put the relationship between modders and games at fairly considerable risk. Modders go head to head with their EULA constantly, but that didn't use to be the software industry's problem. Now it is.

And for what?

For what? What did you gain? Did you look good for the parental control groups? Did you teach Rockstar a lesson about version control? Has anyone really thought to themselves, "well at least now the children are safe".

Yeah. Right. Quite literally, thanks for nothing.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

GamerDad on Hot Coffee

Andrew sends up his thoughts about the ESRB decision. He takes a pretty heavy hand to Rockstar in general, but this point he makes more clearly than I've been able:

What's being missed is the difficulty. Activating this stuff in the game requires a determined person (or child). It isn't easy and it requires third party equipment like GameShark to do. No child left unattended and innocent is going to "stumble" onto this stuff. And, I might add, a determined child with Internet access and no supervision can uncover MUCH worse things on the Internet with far less effort.

This is a serious issue (especially if Rockstar put the code in there) but the controversy has done more, I think, to introduce this mod to children - than it has done to protect children from it. Believe me, before the story broke most kids had no idea this content was there and the game was released last October (or so). Now every kid knows about it and is probably trying to make it work. Kids are like that.
-- GamerDad & Hot Coffee

Don't Try This At Home

The Neistat Brothers would like to offer this Public Service Announcement about about the dangers of video games in the hands of children. Remember kids, they may not be professional scientists ... but they do have a lot of protective gear. So don't try this at home.

ESRB Re-Rating Bad News for Games

Well, I'm pretty surprised that the ESRB officially changed the rating of GTA:San Andreas based on user modification.

That's bad news people. And if you need proof, here you go:

The company said it cooperated fully with the ESRB's investigation into Hot Coffee and will provide a software patch for current users of the game and parents to ensure versions already out in the public cannot be modified. Take-Two will soon begin working on a version of "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" with enhanced security to prevent the modifications that led to the revised rating, the company said.
-- GTA San Andreas withdrawn in US

Now ... how do you suppose they are going to do that? Let's see, here are some guesses:

1) Sue the pants off for the makers of Action Replay.

2) Institute DRM and copy protection schemes to insure that any modification of the game will require even more technical skill than the Hot Coffee mod (which was fairly considerable)

3) Take legal recourse against anyone who appears to be creating any user modification which could adversely effect the rating of the game.

Now. Take a look at those three and ask yourself ... do you really think that only Take Two and Rockstar will take these actions? Heh. Think again.

The modders I know from the Unreal community could make a decent multiplayer sex mod in about a month. I wonder if Epic is asking themselves right now if embracing mods is worth risking not being sold in Wal-Marts around the country.

It's sad to see the ESRB cowtow to political pressure like this. In the age of DMCA and people buying music they can't even copy from one machine to another, someone can take an existing game, modify it into porn, and cost a company a few million in sales. None of this had any legal standing, but the ESRB just set a completely inane precedent. Brilliant.


If the ESRB is going to put a burden on publishers and developers that requires policing any end user created content that may contain pornographic material, then developers like id, Valve, Epic, and others who actively support the mod community may have to reconsider how open we make our games to changes. In such a case, the ESRB would effectively be requiring us to throw out the baby with the bath water as far as modified content goes. Either way, I think developers and publishers are entitled to understand the ratings process, and in such a high-profile case, understand why the rating was changed so that we may plan accordingly.
-- Todd Hollenshead, CEO of id Software


Your Answer, Hot Coffee Edition

There is no "tan ass" on this site, so whoever is googling for that can stop looking here.

Update: and please stop looking for bodily harm against a certain Floridian lawyer. Don't make a martyr out of a nutcase.

Out of Curiosity

For all the people glad the ESRB "finally took action" (by crumbling underneath political and media pressue) ...

What possible good do you actually see from this?

Game Tunnel June Round-Up

For a the birds-eye view of some current indie games, there's no better place.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

I don't care if everyone already saw it on BoingBoing: I heart

Stardock lets off some Steam

Stardock has opened up (which will actually redirect you to ... but we shan't nitpick), an online game purchase system. Instead of trying to paraphrase how it works, I'll just steal from the website:

For $69.95 you can become a member and receive 10 tokens. Your tokens can be used to purchase any of the games available on the TotalGaming network, at a significant discount compared to buying the same titles standalone. Tokens can be used at any time - even if your membership expires - so they won't go to waste.

TotalGaming members will also gain access to additional content free of charge, like some betas of upcoming Stardock games and more.

When you subscribe to you are provided with our Stardock Central application, which is our core technology that allows you to manage your games. Through Stardock Central your games will always be kept up-to-date and you'll never have to worry about losing what you buy, since you'll always be able to re-download your purchases in the future, even if you don't renew your TotalGaming membership.
-- TotalGaming.Net

Notable Hot Coffee Column

Notable because it actually has a decent focus on a gamer:

Among the many teenagers taking advantage of game cheats and mods is Charlie Smith of Glendale, Calif. An avid video-game player, Charlie competes in online leagues with his fellow gamers, and he has downloaded mods for the controversial "Grand Theft Auto," or GTA, as well as other games. Charlie hasn't used the Hot Coffee program, he says, nor has he come across any others that might change a game's rating in the same way.

The mods he uses do things like allow his character to fly and make him less likely to die during a game. He doesn't know anyone who's looked at the Hot Coffee mod, he adds. "That seems like sort of an isolated thing," Charlie says.

Far from being a negative force, the mod community in general has come to play an important role in the development of the industry, say media watchers.
-- What lurks inside video games []

Nice to see an unbiased column which doesn't try to throw down fear in order to hook readers.

Fight it out, AIM style

For about thirty seconds of entertainment, go see, where you AIM handle can do mortal battle with another. Basically it's googlefight for the neuvo-IRC crowd.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Clinton, Yee, Demuzio and You

Today it seems the Illinois law fining clerks and store owners for the sale of "adult" video games to minors will go into effect. Somewhere else, certain other politicians will be beating the podium decrying similar issues and coming up with the same basic ideas. Course, as I pointed out in "Seriously, let's think of the children", it's not going to change a thing because parents will just keep buying the games anyway.

The problem isn't an epidemic of kids buying mature games, it's parents buying mature games for their kids. Why? I think Jeff said it best:

But the parents aren't even listening to this debate. Kids still play rated-M games. Somehow they're able to play for hours and hours and hours without their parents knowing about it. And what, the store clerk should have stopped them? (Like, "I can't stop my little children from playing 37 hours a week of Baby-Killer 3, because I don't understand this little letter on the box it came in!").

I get the feeling that a big part of the problem is that the parents do hear the "video game violence is bad" side of the argument, but they don't believe it. They're probably the ones who bought the game to begin with, and they still will.
-- Jeff Freeman, SOE Developer and Parent

Now I see the fight from the other side going basically like this:

1. Hear about new laws
2. Assume new laws violate First Amendment
3. Stops worrying about new laws

Problem is, the pro-gaming side isn't paying enough attention. These new laws aren't concerned with free speech, they're going after public safety. In case you haven't had the "is it OK to yell FIRE in a crowded theater" test lately, public safety usually trumps free speech. So it's high time to stop being complacent about it (or worse, as a certain very well known game writer replied ... "the gaming industry deserves it") and start paying attention.

The problem is that this is a pretty dangerous foundation the witchburners are setting up. Video games, to them, are a violent and dangerous and cause public harm. Unless the pro-gaming side of things remind people that games and nicotine are really quite different, most people will simply not care.

In other words, the same reason why parents keep buying Grand Theft Auto is the same one why most parents won't care that it could be classified as a health risk.

Behemoth's Next Big Thing

Derek over at The Independant Gaming Source (or tigger as I like to call it) has pictures and details of the next game from Behemoth, the makers of the indie success Alien Hominid:

There wasn't too much else to see, honestly! Tom told me that there was an entire small level available, but the game always crashed halfway through (or a player would get stuck in mid-air). Along with the roast beast, there was also a "weapon pick-up" in the form of a golden thing-a-ma-bob. The pick-up didn't seem to have any noticeable effect on the game at this point in time. Enemies consisted of orc grunts (who wore different outfits but seemed to behave the same), and an orc wizard, who popped out of the bushes to cast some spells.
-- The Behemoth's Next Game: Exclusive SDCC Preview!

Sounds awesome, and there isn't enough FBI agents or yetis in the world to keep me from getting it.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Clinton's Solution

Clinton's soon-to-be-proposed legislation will call for a $5,000 maximum penalty for retailer caught selling or renting violent and pornographic video games to minors. Much like the way cigarettes and alcohol are sold, M- and AO-rated video games would be kept out of minors' reach by being placed in locked cases and behind counters, only to be retrieved with ID, she said
-- Clinton to propose legislation on video games

So, um. To everyone who said the Demuzio Law would just get laughed away and never had a foundation to begin with?

This is only getting worse. Not better. Don't expect the First Amendment to protect games here.

I gotta head out for a while. More on this when I get back.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

GameSpot's Hot Coffee Review

Given that the minigame is about as raunchy as an episode of Sex and the City, cannot be accessed without entering a long string of cheat codes, and takes several hours of effort to access, charges that San Andreas is "pornographic" may seem extreme to some. However, its existence does appear to contradict Rockstar Games' carefully worded statement blaming hacker mischief for the existence of the Hot Coffee mod.
-- Confirmed: Sex minigame in PS2 San Andreas

Except, of course, for the fact that without the hackers, the codes and flags wouldn't be released. So the existence is still very much the fault of the hackers.

And to an extent, this proves that Rockstar isn't completely lying. The Hot Coffee modders have clearly modified the code to swap out the naked textures and there are other modifications to the gameplay in certain versions of the mod to "enhance" the visits (unlocking all girls, etc.)

So like I had mentioned earlier, the truth is in the middle. What Rockstar left in, but kept locked, was a lame, unfinished and only semi-raunchy "sex" game with no nudity. The modders have enhanced this by placing naked textures and altering gameplay.

In the end, Rockstar probably should have just kept silent. I really doubt they are legally liable for the actions of other people altering their code. Nor do I see how the ESRB could have predicted this without doing the same level of hacking ... which the fact is quite advanced seems to have escaped just about everyone on this issue.

What's next? The ESRB going to get crucified if someone introduces a "blood" mod to a game? I mean, we all know bloodshed isn't as bad as fellatio, but I guess they better start hiring some hackers just to be prepared.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Forgot the Clue

Completely forgot I was going to give a clue to the COGIV puzzle.

So here it is:

You should look towards the source for some clues.

Dev Night Diary: Disparaging Thoughts

Haven't had a DND for a while, but there are reasons. I've been somewhat caught in my own dev quagmire. My first problem with UTC was having no idea of what I was doing. Unfamiliar with Torque 2D and clueless about C++ were fairly big obstacles. But now my problem is far worse. Now my problem is that my game isn't any real fun. I've tried ripping it up and putting it back together in various ways, but it still feels like ... at best ... a very derivative shooter with little longevity. The visuals are lacking and while the procedural textures are nice ... they aren't nearly efficient or powerful enough to do what I currently need.

There's something inherent missing or broken and it's hard to put my finger on just what it is. I may take a few steps away from the project for now and start on something else.

Rockstar has no worries. Mods have worries.

There's been a lot of foaming about the blood in the water for Rockstar. Hilary Clinton and a certain Floridian whacko lawyer have gotten together. Game developers are decrying Rockstar for making them look bad. Rockstar's PR efforts have been questioned widely if not simply openly mocked.

For the record, I think the truth is somewhere in between Rockstar's releases and the mod author claims. And it should be noted that all the mod author has to do is release his source code to publically solve this quandry. Why shouldn't he, it's not like he could sell it.

Some people might read that and say, why can't he? Well, that's because by installing the game he agreed to an End User License Agreement, or EULA, which almost certainly states that he can't profit on software related to GTA without permission from Rockstar. This agreement has been the legal barrier for the mod community since around the time mods began. You can play with the code, but don't try to act like you have a license to the engine.

However, the Hot Coffee mod may not even be protected by that. Simply releasing a tool to hack into the code may break the EULA, as has been in the case before. Eidos attempted to crack down on the notorious Lara Craft nude patch and Tecmo cracked down on nude DOA's under these auspices.

The point being that while it seems like the cannibals are swarming, Rockstar isn't in much hot water here. Every game shipped today has protections for hacks like this and wonderful laws like the DCMA only make them stronger. Even if Rockstar provided animations of big bouncing boobies, it's not their fault that a user broke the EULA.

So people like Hilary have no case. Which is fine for them. They don't need one. They just need soundbites and reasons to pound podiums for a while. It's not like they're going to actually have to do anything about it, other than win brownie points.

The real losers here will be the mod community. While people like Valve and Epic will undoubtably try to hold onto their cash cows and folks like Will Wright will continue to try and push forth "user worlds", most companies will look at all of this hubbub and at their next board meeting decide that being permissive with users and their content isn't worth the legal flak. They won't allow any dev time for mod tools and they'll double check their EULAs to allow crackdowns just in case.

And if these people who are currently lamblasting decide to turn their gaze towards the mod community being unrestricted, there will be real hell to pay.

New ESRB Ratings

It's going to go something like this, with a simple but strict delineation:

KIDS: Only cartoon violence is allowed.
TEENS: Violence may be prevalent and realistic, but there must not be any blood.
MATURE: Violence of any kind involving blood.
ADULT: Depicting that a man actually has sex with his girlfriend.

Oh wait, my bad. That's the current system. The fine line here is that any scene which actually visually shows sex is going way too far, but any auditory or other suggestion that sex occurs is probably OK. For instance, God of War features a rythm sex mini-game similar to what is in the GTA Hot Coffee mod, but the camera turns away just as a shipgirl is about to fellate Kratos. So that makes it OK for a seventeen year old to watch it.

If they showed that, you'd have to wait a year. But if Kratos' bloody evisceration of his foes were, you know ... just a little less bloody ... you could probably play God of War before you were able to drive.

Course since a lot of parents would buy it despite the rating, since the consumer advocacy groups have largely failed to convince them of a problem, that's all rather moot. Apparently the real reason to avoid an Adult rating for a game is that fact that Wal-mart won't carry it. So in other words, Wal-mart has video games with violence at any speed, but puts the brakes on any kind of sex?

Is sex really that much worse than violence? It hasn't been in my experience.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Jeff Freeman: SOE Developer & Parent

Jeff Freeman is a game developer and blogger who has a history with gaming that includes BBS door games (that's when modems had baud rates with three digits, no decimal points, kids), pen and paper role-playing games and most recently the massively multiplayer online Star Wars: Galaxies. He was a major advocate for Dungeons & Dragons around the time that watchdog groups were decrying the game for causing suicidal tendencies and really bad movies with Tom Hanks. He's also a parent of two. In our continuing series of interviews with people who can give a first-hand and in-depth perspective on both gaming and parenting, Cathode Tan sat down for a chat:

How long have you been developing games and how many kids do you have?

Jeff: I've been developing games professionally for 4 ½ years, and "unprofessionally" for ah...longer than that. :)

I have two boys, ages 13 and 15. Come to think of it, I was just about my younger son's age when I got my first home computer, a TI-99/4a – and the very first thing I did with it was to make a game.

Not a very good game, but still. It's interesting (to me, probably not to anyone else) that was my motivation for getting a computer to begin with. Rather than wanting a computer so I could play games, I wanted one so I could make them.

My sons are just the opposite: they want a PC, Xbox, PS2, GameCube, DS, PSP and whatever comes out next so that they can play every game that anyone ever makes for anything.

Do you find that while developing games you have to consider whether or not you kids would play the content?

Jeff: My kids are pretty hardcore when it comes to games – there's not much that they don't play. Unless I were making a Mature or Adult Only game (and I'm not), my main thought would be that they are going to play it, so what will they think of it? "This is cool!" Or "Ew, this sucks." They will tell me.

As far as worrying about whether the content is appropriate for them – That's just not really an optional thing given the current state of the industry: We can make things that are definitely not for kids, or we can make things that are definitely for kids. There's very little middle ground, there.

Your defense of Dungeons & Dragons is a matter of Internet record, do you feel any similarity between the attempt to convince parents of the dangers of paper role-playing games and the current media coverage about violent crimes and video games?

Jeff: Sure there's a similarity: it's a futile attempt because no one is listening.

If parents believed that violent video games were bad for their kids (and not just, you know, other people's kids), they'd stop letting them play them and that'd be the end of it.

One the one side, you have people yelling how bad games are and grasping at anything they can find to hold up and say, "See! I told you so!"

And on the other side you have – I guess – some people saying that those people are wrong.

But the parents aren't even listening to this debate. Kids still play rated-M games. Somehow they're able to play for hours and hours and hours without their parents knowing about it. And what, the store clerk should have stopped them? (Like, "I can't stop my little children from playing 37 hours a week of Baby-Killer 3, because I don't understand this little letter on the box it came in!").

I get the feeling that a big part of the problem is that the parents do hear the "video game violence is bad" side of the argument, but they don't believe it. They're probably the ones who bought the game to begin with, and they still will.

This isn't all "bad parenting" or confusion over video game ratings. The parents don't believe the accusations, and you can't make them.

And this latest brouhaha over the GTA 'hot coffee' mod is especially funny. How can anyone possibly be worried that their little kiddo is going to download a mod, from the internet, which unlocks in-game sex? Internet. Sex. Download. Your kid's downloading what from the internet? Oh Thank God! It's just the GTA hot coffee mod! *whew*

Apart from all that, the charges against Dungeons & Dragons were a little different, in that they were mostly carried along by the "Satanic Panic" of the 80's (thank you, journalists – that was great. Let's do it again sometime). That eventually transformed into the "violent games make violent people" nonsense that this debate seems to be entrenched in, and then after a while no one cared any more because all those young D&Ders grew-up (and even before then: The D&D players in high school were the violent ones? Naaaah!).

Guess what I think is going to happen to this debate.

From BBS door games to a global MMO running on a 3D engine ... how much has technology changed the experience of gaming online? Have these changes happened too quick for us to know how much of an impact it can have on the culture around us?

Jeff: Well there's no question technology has had a big impact on the experience: more people – and especially a more diverse group of people – are sharing their experiences with one another, demanding more accessible games, and more entertainment-oriented rather than challenge-oriented game play and so on.

In a lot of ways though, the 3D graphics and the commercial parts of the equation have forced steps backward in terms of functionality, game play, and the individual player's ability to have a meaningful impact on the game world.

Not that we won't eventually get back to where we were, with the nifty 3d graphics, but we do have some catching-up to do just to get back to where we were with text MUDs years ago.

This reminds me of how telephone technology changed over the years. The first phones you could just pick up, say the name of the person you wanted to talk to, and you'd be connected right to them. We're just now getting back to that.

As a developer, how well do you think the ESRB works as an aid for making reasonable solutions about games? Are there improvements to either the process or the ratings that might help?

Jeff: I think the ratings are so vague and the criteria by which games are rated is so broad that we'd be better off putting stoplight symbols on games: RED, YELLOW, GREEN. And that's it.

Sometimes less is more informative.

RED: Don't buy this game for children.
YELLOW: Don't buy this game for grandparents.
GREEN: This game isn't any fun whatsoever.

Some politicians and lawyers are pushing various measures and laws to "protect the children". Is this the kind of protection kids need these days? Do you feel fines against store clerks and larger labels are part of a solution to help parents?

Jeff: Uhm...No.

I don't even believe "helping parents" is the real motivation for that. I think the real motivation there is to try and stop other people's children from playing games that those kids' parents don't mind them playing.

And...maybe to get some votes, or possibly even because going around raising a fuss about video game violence beats working for a living.

But you know, I'm real jaded about this sort of thing.

I like to imagine a world in which games are considered in the same light as books and film: Some of them are for kids, and some of them aren't, and no sane person really has a problem with Deer Hunter (the movie) or The Godfather (the movie) being inappropriate for 8-year-olds.

But I also realize that we don't live in that imaginary world.

That is unfortunate – we'd get more meaningful games if we were allowed to explore areas that elicit emotional responses beyond just "Ewww! That was bloody!"

I mean, if you want to make a game that people remember, there aren't a lot of tools at your disposal. Largely that's due to the perception that video games are for kids, period. Adults can play them, but they're for kids, so there's sort of a national outcry if you put anything in a game that isn't 100% kid-friendly.

It's not as if we're all sitting around thinking, "Oh man, we wish we could do this totally depraved thing that has no redeeming value, no artistic merit whatsoever, but The Man won't let us!"

It's more like we're wishing we could do more meaningful things, and "The Man" says "I can't sell that. Who am I gonna sell that to? Get out."

Well, but there is one ironic exception to that: If you do it so over the top that there's just no mistaking that the game is inappropriate for children, then you can get away with it.

If Hollywood were in this situation then they'd only be making rated-G movies and rated-X movies and nothing in between.

Increased aggression. Addiction. Low attention span. There's more than a few charges against allowing kids to play video games these days. Are any of these things issues you see with your own children? Are there any specific warnings or words of advice you'd give to other parents?

Jeff: They are definitely more aggressive now than they were when they were babies, but somewhat less aggressive than when they were toddlers.

I have seen them latch onto some new thing – be it a video game or the fad of the month – for long enough that I don't consider either one of them to have low attention spans, but not for so long that I start thinking they're addicted.

Heck, they watched Lion King about 900 times back in the day and I never thought to send them to rehab. Kids just do that sort of thing.

As far as advice for other parents...No! What do I know? Raise your own kids. Or let store clerks do it. Whatever works for you. Heh.

Enough of the bad. What are the positive aspects you feel games have on kids, and do you have any specific examples with your own?

Jeff: In our case, the most positive aspect is that it gives us a common interest. So we get something that we're all interested to discuss, compare and contrast the individual games that we like to play and so on.

I'm not sure what we'd have in common if it weren't for games. I might have had to start watching, ugh, anime.

Are there any games you play with your children? Any suggestions for parents of games that would work well for the ages of your kids?

Jeff: When it comes to actually playing games, our interests are a bit too diverse to actually play together. I've played MMOs with son#1, but mostly he wants to play in PvP competitions that I'm not, uhm, "interested in" (let's say) enough to actually play.

Son #2 is more interested in console games (and sims, for some reason), of the sort that you don't generally play with other people. So I mostly just watch him play, and he shows me all the cool stuff that I'm too old and slow to get to myself.

And they give me great game reviews, like this (old IM conversation):

Q: Did you like it?
A: nope

Q: Why not?
A: bad customization options

Q: How do you mean?
A: can't make ur own models
A: and the ones provided suck
A: especially monsters
A: and lame battle cinematics
A: I want to see my little characters fight!
A: save your money and download and RPG maker on the internet

Q: RPG Maker 2000?
A: yeh

Q: There's no English version of that!
A: uhh
A: well, not my prob :P

And when the kids are away? What gets your attention these days?

Jeff: Work work work...and I play pretty much every shiny new MMO (or even just MO) that comes out.

But otherwise? I watch a lot of movies. I especially like Romantic Comedies.

Thanks again go to Jeff for his answers, who like any good developer gave them during the graveyard shift Monday night.

If you like this sort of thing, check out the GamerDad interview.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Filled with filthy smut

Joy of Tech says what's in my heart.

Apparently Rockstar had created the fine line between pushing the envelope and setting kittens on fire in front of the White House ... at least from some of the reactions out there.


While the slight adjustment to CSS is nice, parents and the like should note that I've added a right bar section "For Parents", which much to my surprise already has four links. GamerDad we've talked to, NIMF we've talked about and the other two are new. GameFam comes Hunicke Approved, so it must be good enough for the rest of us mortals.

I'll say right here and now that on some of these sites might be opinions about video games I don't necessarily agree with ... but everything I've read on them is rational and well-thought out and merits attention. Especially if you're trying to raise chillin's.

Nintendo DS on top of old Smokey

People have probably already stumbled on this, but if you missed this interview with Everest Mountaineers abusing the hell out of their Nintendo DS's, it's worth a read:

GameSpy: But how much abuse did they actually take?

Neal Mueller: A ****load. Because the air is very thin, a lot of transistors just break. They literally implode. Also, the temperature can get to 20 below zero Fahrenheit, and wires and LCD screens can get very brittle at that temperature. But the DS is well-built, and it's built in a way that is less susceptible to the problems you have at high altitudes and low temperatures.
-- Mountain Men []

And don't forget, you can still try to win a Nintendo DS from Kotaku. Although I entered myself, so if you win one and I don't ... you owe me half.

That Sky Looks Like Ground

VGCats is really teh funny

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Mirror Image Living Log

On a positive note, my bit about Counter-Strike Porn and GTA got a mention on the German Spiegel Online network, although I have only a brief inkling of what they are saying. Babel tells me that I'm referred to as writing a Mirror Image Living Log and I'm not quite sure what to think of that but it sounds cool as hell.

Strange Reactions

I'm about to complain a bit. It will probably come out as attention whoring whininess.

I don't really care.

I'm normally a bit surprised that anyone wants to read my stuff, much less bother to tell other people about it or link to it. But I had expected a little more support from the GamerDad interview. I mean, when I got a developer from SWAT4 on the line, Blues' and Shack posted it as did several fan sites and Irrational themselves. Considering what a hot topic violence, kids and games are these days - why not?

Well games.slash rejected it in about a half hour. Blues and Shack ignored it. Evil Avatar posted it, but they decided to categorize it as such:

Yeah, that's right ... the site for "gaming news with attitude" considers an interview with a professional game reviewer wherein he talks about games and the game industry and kids and gaming and just a whole bunch of stuff about games to be totally off topic.

Which is sad. Because that means that if a crazy ass lawyer who probably hasn't played a game in his life gets up and makes a speech - everyone will hear it. But if a perfectly rational gamer who is trying to actually help parents make a decision about gaming gets up to the table ... well I guess sane people just aren't as interesting. So the people who know the least but yell the loudest will get center stage because they're entertaining. Rational dialogue is going to be the sideshow.

Avatar's explanation is that "We do not normally link to interviews with other webmasters. Webmasters, despite the hard work that they do, are not developers." Right, because the only news worthy of being posted comes from developers. And not marketing guys or reviewers or producers or anyone else in the game industry. Whatever.

However because I do love to produce offtopic material, I plan on continuing this kind of interview. I've already got one lined up and am hoping for a third to sign on by the end of the week. At least then we'll have it on record that these conversations have taken place.

Thanks goes to the various members of the blogosphere who linked up and to ConsoleGold News ... who by the looks of it never sleeps and gets just about every news bit out there.

Your Answers, Mosquito Edition

I'd like to quickly respond to a couple of mosquito related queries. Or at least try to.

Anime mosquitos do not actually exist. Not even fictionally. There is no recorded evidence to point to one. This is probably because they are very, very small even if they would have larger than normal eyes.

I'm not entirely sure of the answer to "what are the side effects of multiple mosquito bytes" ... The Girl suggests that there is probably always at least one itch you can't scratch. We're both a little confused, however, as to what kind of data storage is required for even a single mosquito byte.

Gosh dang, this query tracker is more fun than google ads.

Blast from My Sordid PDA Past

I blame gizmodo's soliciting comments about PDA's (that's me towards the bottom) for the dragging out of this URL from the closet:

One of my first forays into serving web content to the general public was hijacked, a fansite for Palm Pilots. I even had one of those pilots with 3Com branded on it. I wrote a PERL based CMS for it, setup sections for quick user feedback (think protobloggish), and I eventually moved to whole operation to it's own domain. Then I lost the need to have a PDA in my life, lost interest in updating the site, and then eventually abandoned the domain. Now it's one of those link farm things. Not to mention the name "hijacked" makes little sense with the name swapping Palm does these days.

Just weird, like lifting up one of the couch cusions and finding that old novel you never finished ... writing.

More Thoughts on WiFi "Piracy"

In the shower this morning I had an odd thought about the possibility of using someone else's public wifi network being illegal. Yes, I know how horribly geeky that sounds and I'm quite comfortable with it.

Anyway, if my neighbor sets up a public wifi network and I use it, then let's say for fun's sake that it's the equivalent of cracking his firewall, using a brute force password program to get control of his computer and running amuck on his system. Let's say his system had a share drive for his personal LAN to host movies, music, etc. for his whole house.

Now according to the "attacking my router" crowd, someone who has setup a public WiFi connection with publically available copyrighted material is in no way rousing the ire of the RIAA, because they're just being ... infiltrated? Something there doesn't really add up. And I'm guessing the RIAA would agree.

Seems if you don't want your material publically available ... don't make it publically available. Seems like Internet Common Sense 101.

GTA Earns Another Star

GameDailyBiz (beware of annoying popup links) is reporting that NIMF is alerting parents about the Hot Coffee mod in San Andreas. NIMF, or the National Institute on Media and the Family, also has parent orientated reviews, not unlike our friend GamerDad ... although they're even more obscure.

What's interesting about NIMF is that they're founded by none other than Dr. David Walsh. Walsh, who also goes by the moniker Dr. Dave (I don't get the first name doctor thing, always makes them sound like a cartoon character), has appeared alongside a certain wacko lawyer from Florida occasionally. Remarkably when removed from such trappings, Doc Dave sounds pretty rational:

It's not that every teen who plays Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is going to go out and pick up an Uzi. The real impact is much more subtle. The worst effect of ultra violent, sexually exploitative video games is the culture of disrespect they create. Whoever tells the stories defines the culture. What do we think the effect is when our kids' storytellers are violence simulators that glorify gang culture, celebrate brutality, extol crudeness and trivialize violence toward women
-- Teens like M Rated Games ... duh

But I guess that "won't pick up an Uzi" bit gets edited out when one is trying to, you know, crucify an industry for getting kids to pick up Uzis. To be honest, everything I've read of Walsh's seems pretty reasonable when it's not being used as kindling for the witch burning.

Jeff Minter on the the 360

This is a little old, but the Guardian Blogs have a great interview with Jeff Minter, the man behind llamasoft and so many pretty colors dancing to music, and his upcoming work with the 360:

Neon is controlled with up to four controllers simultaneously. Each user controls certain aspects of each effect using the analog sticks and the d-pad and buttons. Any layers not controlled by users are controlled by an audio-driven "autopilot" system. The 360 will be able to utilise a variety of different audio sources, and any of those sources can be used to drive Neon.
-- Jeff Minter vs XBox 360

Of course, I think it's so brilliant to develop gaming for the living room which is cooperative and casual that I've been working on it for a few months now ... so it's fascinating to read what a guy like Minter is doing about it.

Blogged Out

Gamasutra now has a column called Blogged Out, which chronicles the bloggery of various game professionals:

The IGDA's Jason Della Rocca suggests that we all read up on Modern Portfolio Theory for a better grasp of how diversification of investment might moderate investors’ fears and the damage risk aversion can cause to growth. Continuing the train of thought, Activision's Jamie Fristrom suggests that the real problem with risk-averse publishers is the near-breakout titles (he cites Treyarch’s cancelled Dead Rush) that will so often be canned before completion. How many games, he asks, could have been great, even if they weren’t to be the next The Sims?

Monday, July 11, 2005

Interview with a GamerDad

One of the more interesting aspects of all the mainstream coverage about how video games and their impact on parenting children is just how little we see of parents, gamers or children. When 60 Minutes covered the Devin Moore shootings, there was no Devin, there wasn't Devin's parents and there was scant sign of anyone who really played games (except for some brief clips so that Ed Bradley could scuffaw at more gore during GTA).

Cathode Tan suggests reversing this trend and kicks off the movement by sitting down with Andrew Bub ... AKA GamerDad. is precisely the kind of website which should be flashed at the end of any show covering this issue. It's a place where parents and gamers get together and talk about the industry, their children and how it all fits together. Very often, the parent and the gamer is the same person. So without further adieu, here's a few words from someone on the frontline of trying to help parents get information about the games their children might play:

Just for the record - how long have you been a gamer and how many kids do you have?

GamerDad: Let’s see . . . I first noticed Space Invaders back in 1978 or so and that’s when quarters became scarce in my home. Atari 2600, Apple IIe, Commodore, Sega Genesis, man, I really haven’t looked back since! I’ve been a professional freelance writer for the past 8 years. I have two kids and just had a vasectomy – so it’s likely to remain at two. My darling Maggie is 5, and little Henry is currently entrenched in the “terrible twos.”

You've been reviewing games for some time. When did the idea for GamerDad come about?

GamerDad: Part of it was the Internet bubble bursting. Part was turning 30 and wondering if I wanted to continue riding the frustrating freelance writer treadmill forever. A lot of it was the tech bubble bursting and my losing an alarming number of outlets in a short period of time. But mainly it was that I became a parent and a stay-at-home dad. The time I spent with Maggie made me less interested in the current blastfest du jour and more interested in how kids learn, how they’re affected by games. Since I’d written a couple feature articles about violence and gaming, and since I liked the topic, I decided to become a pundit – a voice – in that argument. Since most game review sites ignore the children issue, and since almost all of the kid-review sites are written from a “non-gamer” point of view, I decided it was time for the industry to have a more reasonable voice - A voice that was honest about content, kept up on BOTH sides of the “Games are Bad/Games are Good” argument. One that told parents which games to buy and which to avoid, but above all, one that argued from an “I like games” perspective.

It seems that the controversy about whether games are bad for kids has raged on since the days of Atari. Do you think there were notable moments where it escalated? The first person shooter genre perhaps, or the quick evolution of graphics?

GamerDad: Oh, I’m sure Pong scared the crap out of some parents! And Pinball always had a seedy reputation too. But the notable milestones are a coin-op called Deathrace 2000 (semi-based on a movie of the same name), one called Space Invaders (which launched the “addiction” concerns among parent’s groups, and of course Mortal Kombat. Then came Doom and Grand Theft Auto. It’s amazing really. There about been hundreds of thousands of games, but the mainstream really has only noticed a handful (it’s also amazing that they never noticed older crude games like Kingpin or Carmageddon).

Graphics are the most obvious cause for concern. I remember my dad being shocked at the “realism” of Wolfenstein 3D back in 1991, but now that game looks crude and inoffensive when compared with modern shooters. Doom too. But I’d argue the real escalator of the controversy boils down to content. With Deathrace it was concerns over driving over people, with Mortal Kombat it was the fatalities, and with Grand Theft it’s the complete freedom and amoral nature of the gameplay. (Please note that I used “amoral” not “immoral” here.)

Manhunt and Grand Theft Auto are often given as examples of video games, but games like Halo 2 are also rated in the same category of "Mature". According to some, the ESRB ratings are too soft ... but you've been quoted as saying games like Halo should be rated for teens. How skewed do you think the ESRB system is overall?

GamerDad: Whew, this is a really good question. Let me start by saying that I’m in favor of the ESRB. They have an impossible job (nobody knows that better than me and my crew) and they do a fair job.

What I don’t like is the disparity between TV and movie ratings, and videogames. Movies aimed at 13 year olds are FAR more violent than most videogames; more violent than Halo, for example. Y7 is the TV rating that says gunplay is okay for kids so long as it’s animated and nobody dies, but games get a T-Teen if a gun makes an appearance. I think the inconsistency between the ratings can be confusing to parents. Then there’s the other line in the sand – blood. Medal of Honor from EA is rated Teen despite having an extensive D-Day recreation that’s truly horrifying. It’s T because they removed the blood. Meanwhile the body count in a shooter like Halo 2 is much lower, but there’s purple blood. Blood = M. Violence does not. The ESRB has to do things this way, there are so many games released, but I’m not in favor of “line in the sand” ratings. I believe parents deserve as much information as possible. GamerDad isn’t an attempt to replace the ESRB – we’re here to enhance it.

In general, does the industry give parents enough information about games for purchases? Is the boxing informational or misleading? Will a big sign describing the ESRB ratings help?

GaemerDad: No. And the reason is described above in the size of the ESRB’s task. GamerDad lets me be more nuanced than the ESRB can ever be and we can provide more info that you can fit on a box. We’re the place to go when you want a clue why the ESRB rated a game a certain way. will tell you what’s in the game more specifically than the ESRB can.

I think the ESRB signs are helpful, I think a lot of parents could benefit, but I also think too often politicians and the industry figure its ignorance that prompts a parent to buy Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas for their 8 year old. Often, from what I’ve seen, it’s not ignorance, its apathy. Some parents either don’t care or don’t believe that violent videogames are harmful. Why? Well, how many Rated R movies did you read as a kid? How many adult books did you read? Did it harm you? Maybe, maybe not but there’s definitely a class of people who just expose their kids to anything and that’s where their involvement ends.

Is this a bad thing? GamerDad says no. Ultimately it’s the parents right to choose the media and intensity their kids experience. GamerDad is just here to encourage them to make informed decisions and to watch, or play, games with their kids. I believe that parental involvement is MUCH more important than mindlessly protecting your kids from anything controversial or disturbing.

As a parent, how do you feel about the way lawyers and politicians have framed violence in gaming? Does it seem like they are voicing real parental concerns or generating new ones?

GamerDad: It’s opportunism, pure and simple. Politicians know that their laws will be struck down as unconstitutional (FACT: Games are protected by Free Speech, they cannot be regulated by the Government) and the lawyers, man don’t get me started on them, they’re just looking for anything they can blame (read: sue) in the wake of real tragedies. This tactic works (it’s always worked) because when something horrible happens it feels good to blame it on something like Doom or a comic book.

Recently the mainstream media has made a lot of connections about violence and gaming. Do you think that in general this is being done with accuracy and clarity or does it just leave parents with a lot of very scary unanswered questions?

GamerDad: New York Times Headline from last year: “Bad News Parents! Games Might be Good For Kids”

I’ve spent a year thinking about that line and I can’t find any reason why that might be bad news – unless you hate games and hope they’ll get banned. Any other way of looking at it is positive. Has to be positive! This isn’t bad news and I think it takes a pretty unprincipled reporter and editor to write a line like that. Look, there’s a real bias against games in the media. Books like “Killing Monsters” by Gerard Jones are ignored against the latest anti-gaming screed. Statistics are ignored if they’re in favor, and the methodology of the studies that prove games are bad is never scrutinized. But it’s getting better, especially when they call on GamerDad to help with the article. (grin)

If a man (a completely random and nameless one, of course) arrived at your door and told you that the PlayStation was capable of loading your children with a cranial menu and manipulate them into being unwilling assassins, would you think he might be insane?

GamerDad: Yes. We all know that technology won’t appear until the PlayStation 3 hits shelves.

When it comes to influencing kids, how do you feel video games rank compared to other aspects of popular culture like movies, music or celebrities?

GamerDad: “Influence” is a tricky word here. I mean, everything is an influence and sometimes, often, influence can be a good thing. So I’d say “same, maybe less.” Games, being interactive, force a child to think, to be engaged, to memorize patterns, learn new skills, and when there are puzzles, to think outside the box – use logic – and to try until they succeed. I think these aspects of gaming influence kids FAR more than some digitized blood and violence do. Movies, games, comics, books, etc., can inspire interest in other subjects (a war movie can start a kid on a history reading binge, a football game might make a nerdy kid want to watch football with dad or mom), they can inspire humanity (Schindler’s List) or they can inspire interest in horror, gore, and military weaponry. They can all also inspire anti-social behavior and even violence, but I’d argue that this only happens in weak-willed or mentally troubled youth. And I’m sure we all realize that a trouble child or adult can be set off by anything. Catcher in the Rye, the Bible, Doom, The Passion of the Christ, Barney, you name it.

In general, what tips do you have for parents before they go purchase a new game?

GamerDad: Read GamerDad. (Smiles) I’m not kidding. We’ve got a search engine that lets you search for any kind of game. Say you want a game on the Xbox for a 5 year old. Enter in that information, sort by ESRB and/or GamerDad Seal, and you’ve got all our reviews aimed at your child.

Finally, what have you been playing lately and do you have any new recommendations for parents?

GamerDad: It all depends on the age of their kids, but I’ve been really into some of the more oddball games out there. Rhythm games like Donkey Konga (GameCube), Taiko Drum Master (PS2) and Dance Dance Revolution are excellent family games. So is Eye Toy (PS2) and any of the Mario sports games on the GameCube. These allow 2-4 players to compete and the game appeal transcends the typical testosterone geekery, complexity, and difficulty of most other games. I mean, everyone likes to bang on bongos, drums, and dance around like an idiot . . . right? Okay, well, kids like it fine. Trust me.

Of course after the kids go to bed I’m all about Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and Battlefield 2 baby. When the kids are away, then your friendly neighborhood GamerDad can really play!

Thanks again to Andrew for his time and answers. The URL is once again, Kids, if you're reading this ... do us all a favor and pass it on to your parents. Trust me, you'd rather have them reading Andrew than listening to lawyers on the television.