Cathode Tan - Games, Media and Geek Stuff
logo design by man bytes blog

Friday, May 20, 2005

"Games are not art or media"

Video games are not art or media. They are simulations, not all that different from the simulations used by the U.S. military in preparation for war.

-- Illinois Senator Deanna Demuzio


The Illinois government just got one step closer to making the sale of violent video games to minors a punishable crime. Now, tell me ... how am I supposed to trust my government to make decisions about what is a violent video game when the sponsor of the bill thinks they are all training simulations? What basis are they making these judgements on? What criteria are they choosing here? Is any interactive medium instantly a "simulation"?

So out of touch. Well, here is the good senator's bio page. Her office number is there, feel free to give her call. I may do the same.

Update ... here's her contact info, including email:

Senator Deanna Demuzio
49th District Senate Office
140 Carlinville Plaza
Carlinville, Illinois 62626

Office Phone: (217) 854-4441

Hey, don't look at me like that ... it's public information. I'll be emailing the Senator when my head stops hurting. Ever had one of those Friday afternoon work hours where you just get headaches? I do.

DIY Console Games .... Why Not?

There has been much hoopla about Nintendo allowing "unsigned" code on the Revolution, only for Gizmodo to come along and just lay everyone's party to waste:

the company so afraid of piracy that they shut down emulator sites and made their game discs in the Gamecube spin backwards—has no intention of letting fledgling developers copy their own content to the Revolution and play it. They even mentioned a “new DRM system” at the conference (which was heralded by a lone boo), ensuring everyone that the only way to get content onto the Revolution was via one of their locked down channels (online downloads, and I’m presuming maybe in-store purchases).

- Nintendo Revolution Homebrew Likelihood Not Good

Well it was a fun rumor while it lasted. Now it comes time to ask ... why not?

Why not allow for a delivery system of some kind that allows for homebrewed code to run on consoles? Let's examine the two common excuses given.

Piracy: It's why previous consoles have used these arcane media formats - to make it harder for people without the authentic tools to make backups, copies, etc. And yet ... piracy still exists. This isn't an entirely insane reason to force all code to be signed, but it seems a pretty extreme ones for the potential benefits (which I'll get to in a bit).

Revenue: Most consoles lose money on hardware, make profit on software. Well, actually that's Sony's model. Nintendo makes money on both and Microsoft spends money like a drunken sailor stationed in WhoreTown. But let's stick to the point.

The rationale here goes that if Joe Black in his garage makes UberGame 3000 and sells a billion copies, Nintendo won't see any of that money. That's potential revenue loss, or untapped profit potential, or some other term an MBA could make up on the fly.

It's also a little bogus. First of all, Joe isn't going to sell a billion copies. He's most like only going to get a few discs off to his friends, and he'll probably have to pay for the beer just to get them to play it. If what a company like Nintendo wants to do is control the profit angle, they should develop a reasonable download medium a la Microsoft's Xbox Live Arcade. Give the DIY set such a simple and reasonable method of selling their goods to the public and the company would be seeing more profit, not less.


Wider library of games. Independant titles are often more inventive or at the very least more niche than the hollywood movie style productions of the larger studio.

Easier to download. Finally, the console makers are realizing what Sega was trying to tell everyone years ago ... there's this thing called the Internet and it's here to stay. But I'm unlikely to wait the 3 days required to download that 10GB game that would take me 5 minutes to open off a Blu-Ray disc ... but if it takes me ten minutes to download a new four-player version of Defender with integrated party mode ... I'd do it.

Community. Take a note from the PC world, guys. Community matters. It's kept Counter-Strike online all these years and made Valve one rich puppy. Epic has embraced their mod community with a big old bear hug, and they're probably Unreal's most loyal crowd. Microsoft is caught onto this with Live and it's paid off well for them.

Untapped features. Opening the door to indie coders and developers would allow for a whole slew of imaginable features. Imagine playing a Halo 3 mod ... on your XBox 360. Imagine playing a game your friend wrote for a PSP ... on your televion via your PS3. Or why stop at games? Maybe your Nintendo DS party will have a fun IRC channel because someone loaded it up.

Point is - Sony and Microsoft at the very least are making much hay about being able to play your songs and your movies via the console. So why not your programs? Of course there are complications and questions to be answered, but the first company to embrace this is going to see the biggest rewards from it. Homebrewing consoles is already a trend despite all the measures taken to stop it ... so why not use it as an advantage instead of treating it like a crime?

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Play Fate

Fate is a Diablo style dungeon hack that features some decent graphics and seems to take make and honest effort to address some of the gameplay issues when it comes to that genre, like shopping and crafting.

This going to be an odd recommendation, because this is a game I currently have no access to try (it's Windows only) and have mixed feelings about the core technology, Wild Tangent, that drives it. That doesn't mean you shouldn't try it though. I mention it here mostly because it looks like a decent effort and as far as I know, nobody's heard of it. And that kind of thing kinda sticks in my paw, so to speak.

In Robin's Words

The oddest thing I saw, by far, was the GBA Mini: a super small version of old tech with no real forseeable value other than the fact that it is… tiny. If you understand what Nintendo is thinking here, please drop me a note

She's also got a great rundown of some of the games being shown.

I got nothin', dear Hunicke. I dunno what the old N is up to with this particular shenanigan. Indeed, it looks adorable, but how many times can they repackage the GBA hardware and hope to stay the market leader? Nintendo seems to have made this odd deal with the GBA crowd that they still get plenty of attention, like a worried parent would do after having their second child.

Look, N, you're the grandaddy of backwards compatible. You're the king. We know you have our backs. We know that even if you gave up on consoles and started making transistor radios that we'll probably be able to still play Fire Emblem off them. You don't have to appease use with making last year's stuff in a shiny new case that doesn't sport some new features.

Oh well. I still think the next GBA should be the Revolution controller, and if need be, I'm prepared to do more poorly organized hoaxes to prove that point.

MS FauxPas 2.0

I was hoping that Microsoft might earn back a little cred after their MTV special, but apparently they unveiled something unexpected at E3:

But the press conference started about 40 minutes late, so we on the main floor had a lot of time to look at these people. They seemed like they could be developers or bloggers or something... they were all 20'ish, in jeans and T-shirts and whatnot. But, they were all fairly attractive - or at least the women were - as was noticed by the people behind me.

The next thing we noticed was that none of them wore the little circular pins we all had been given when we came in. Hmmm. Weird.

Satori has the story, although I think I technically read about this on kotaku first. While yeah, I'm sure this kind of thing isn't unique to this situation ... that doesn't make it any less pathetic. If Microsoft can't get people honestly excited about a brand skippy new game console, maybe they shouldn't try to fake it.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Game Tunnel's April Round-Up

Game Tunnel has their April Round-Up by the Illustrious Panel posted. Definately worth a read - this one covers such titles as the acclaimed Oasis and the soon-to-be acclaimed Tribal Trouble:

This is an extremely approachable 3D real-time strategy game. Kind of a dumbed down Warcraft your mom could play. With random level generation, up to 6 human players, online rankings, and a devoted development team I don’t think you can go wrong here.

I rather like the Panel's discussion. They aren't afraid to hit hard if a title deserves it, but they also have ample praise where due. In the mod community, it's just so easy to get good reviews from your own community (only to get bashed in forums later). The indie community needs a good media outlet, and honesty has to be a part of that.

Quick History Lesson

For everyone applying the dual tools of shock and surprise to the fact that the XBox 360 will be a Media PC and that the Sony PS3 will have Blu-Ray and that apparently both machines will force us to throw out our old trust Normal Definition for that wacky new High Definition that all the kids have been talking about should read this:

These initial sales gave rise to the hypothesis that, in order to succeed, the new generation of consoles must do more than just play games. With the plethora of expansion ports available on the PS2, Sony seemed poised to insinuate its console into the middle of any home-entertainment system, thereby taking over the living room (assuming other Sony products had not done so already). Although it requires the purchase of an accessory, Xbox's ability to play DVD movies is interpreted in some quarters as Microsoft's attempt to gain a foothold in the living room, too.

More careful examination, however, shows that the PS2 DVD phenomenon was a brief anomaly. At ¥29,000 ($270), the PS2 was, in effect, the cheapest DVD player on the Japanese market when it was launched early last year. Once the price of DVD players had dropped sufficiently, PS2's sales became more like those expected of games consoles.

-- The Economist ... Dec 6th, 2001

Look, people buy game consoles to play games. It's as simple as that. The ability to hold or play MP3s or communicate with PCs or PSPs will be nice. For some people, it will be sweet as hell in fact.

But it's kinda like the Mac Mini. Yes, you can embed it into your dashboard. Sure, you can strap it to the back of your plasma TV. It's possible that with the right mechanical acumen, you could even make it into a robot. Most people? Most people will put it on their desk and use it as a computer.

The game companies are going to fill the airwaves with as much noise as possible about their products right now. Heck, the fact that a console can be used laying down or standing up is considered news right now. If any machine in my arsenal will take a playlist off another machine and sing some songs, that's great. But I'm not going to run out and buy a game console because of that. It's just value add.

Let's use a recent example. The PSP plays MP3's. Not many people bought it for that reason. In fact, two of my friends with PSP's plan on getting iPods in the near future.

I'd like to think that I could just get a PlayStation 3 and be done with the High Density DVD wars. I don't think that will happen. If the 360 can play MP3s over wifi, that's great ... but Apple seems to have my back there already.

I'm not saying that any of this won't be neat for consumers or help somebody push some units across the counter, but we should focus on what this is all about ... which is the games.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Dev Day Diary: Gettin Purty

The beautification process, at about 10%. I've also run into a snag ... I think my Torque client is in total violation of the LGPL :( Will need to rip out the current lib and replace the rpc calls, which honestly shouldn't be too bad and might be lighter weight in the end.

I'm beginning to think that 2D was really the way to get back in touch with the visual side of games->art as opposed to games->prose, which I know is an odd way to look at code, but if you even got that last bit you know what I'm talking about anyway.

The Micro. Again, I ask ... why??

So, the the GameBoy Micro is essentially my GBA SP, but slightly wider and without the foldscreen that I so dearly love. Same processor, same game library, supposedly a better screen.

This isn't the GameBoy upgrade we've been expecting, right? Surely there is another product in the lineup following suit shortly. Because while I get that it's sleek and small and portable ... so is the GBASP.

Perhaps Nintendo did the math and realized they shouldn't diverge the Nintendo DS demographic and allow the PSP to do a WWF style shoulder drop in the middle. It's not that I think the Micro is a bad thing, it seems like a pretty slick form factor ... but I wouldn't choose it over the SP. While the SP will give me the occasional hand cramp, the flip design is perfect for tucking into jeans and tossing around during long trips.

Or perhaps Nintendo has just decided to hold onto the next-gen GameBoy news for after this whole fray of specs and stats and wild punditry.

Or MAYBE the GameBoy IS the Revolution ....

OK, maybe not.

More XBox + Indie

From over at Insert Credit I read that Live Arcade will be demoing PomPom's Mutant Storm and PopCap's Zuma as well. This is a pretty serious test for independant studios. It's like Microsoft left the back door to their banquet open and now we get to see who stays.

Sony unveils PS3 ... why?

So the cat is out of the proverbial bag (and I'm sure there's more where that came from).

Why? Yeah, yeah ... OK ... it's E3. People love to announce things at E3. Missing E3 to announce things is apparently like not sending thank you cards in the game world.

Somehow, I think gamers would forgive. Here you have Microsoft who did a little viral marketing here, a little MTV special there, some covers on TIME ... ya know ... a marketing blitzkreig.

At this point all Sony really has accomplished is reminding the world that yes - they have a product too and yes, it should be every bit (perhaps more) as powerful and they'll have some games on it as well. However, they are also going to be drowned out by all the noise of E3. 360 news, Revolution news, gajillion product launches and probably a good deal of trance music. At the end of the week, people are going to be noting something like "Oh yes, and Sony unveiled the next PlayStation. Now Bob with Sports..."

Microsoft is very good at crafting a message. They had a crack team of scientists figure out years ago that if you end anything with "X", it makes it sound cool. Sometimes it works if you begin with "X" too. They've turned Bungie's love for injokes and project hoaxes into a powerful form of internet meme-play.

Since Sony isn't going to be launching for Christmas ... why bother with the interference now? It will be just some details that will get trampled over and probably give some craft XBox developer the notion to build their own EyeToy.

Course, I imagine every gaming forum on the planet probably has at least one thread dedicated to "XBox 360|PS3|Nintendo RULEZ OVER " type quibbling. Dang Sony, couldn't you let us have a couple months of peace?

Another funny Google Ads thought

It's ironic that I've ranted against Lucas and his films a couple times here, only to be rewarded by schlocking his goods in my header. God I love those things. That kind of sense of humor is like, a sign of sentient life.

MIT in Review

It's been a little while since I pointed out Mr. Hellweg's inability to google when the MIT Tech Review declared that videogame blogs just aren't out there. A lot of you were surprised to find out that some of your daily reading material was really just a figment of your poor deluded mind.

Many sought reckoning, myself included. In fact, I also emailed the mag's Editor in Chief as well as Jason Goldman, Chief Blogger, who supposedly "inspired" the column by wondering if we're out here.

I assured him we were. I have not, however, heard back from any of them. However, a few netizens who could navigate MIT's site better than myself did leave a more permanent mark.

Pretty sad when a "magazine of innovation" can't master such futuristic concepts as Google and e-mail, I'd say. Maybe they should do a segment where they just read from blogs as punishment?

Monday, May 16, 2005

Them's Fighting Words

If you can take yourself away from refreshing kotaku to see if Sony will reveal their PS3 for a few minutes, please take note of the following:

The high cost of game development means that only the largest companies can afford to be in the business. While low-budget movies can occasionally become hits, "it is now impossible to 'Blair Witch' this business," said Jeff Brown, vice president for corporate communications at Electronic Arts, referring to the successful independent film.

--HDTV Is a New Reality (NYT, registration blah)

Grand Text Auto has a sweet post declaring that the age of Big Hair Games has begun. And if you believe Mr. Brown - it will be impossible to take part in the age with your normal sized hair. He's really throwing down a gauntlet here and saying that the next leap in graphics will outshine anything a small studio can accomplish to the point where they might as well not bother.

What do I think? I think he can eat a bag of hell. This is precisely the kind of narrow minded outlook which keeps Electronic Arts from having any serious fun. Sure, let's ignore Katamari and Alien Hominid. They didn't sell as well as Madden, and surely that was because they didn't have eye dropping graphics and NOT having anything to do with a juggernaught influencing things from the backside.

Mr. Brown seems to think he can put the small shops on notice. I think it's he who should be taking notes. Big Hair Games will cost more not just to make, but eventually to play. Ah yes, the weird math which has kept high end games at about the same price for nearly a decade is going to pop as soon as the big publishers all nod at the same time. They want to take the lid off their budgets ... in fact it's the only way they know how to compete with each other.

The problem Mr. Brown doesn't seem to understand is quite simple:

Gamers will not want to pay $60 for a title that they can beat in ten hours.

Now that's going to happen. You will see $60 titles soon enough. And some people will buy them, but this is also going to leave the backdoor wide open for someone to offer a valid $30 alternative.

Right now, budget often is equated with cheap and undesirable. When compared next to the Big Hair Games, that might change to simply affordable.

Frag Dolls Across the Pond

Oh man. Ubisoft is setting up Frag Dolls UK. That's just mean. Hot girls who play video games with British accents? That's just evil. EVIL. I recognize not everyone has this particularly auditory affliction for foreign accents and that perhaps I am the rare sort who almost went a giddy while being, ahem, served at the Covington Gardens Lush ... but still.


The Ludologist sums up some thoughts about the 360, lovingly entitled "It has more pixels", that I think is more or less spot on. Pay particular attention to his last few paragraphs.

TV Watch: Clone Wars Marathon

Tivo'd and watched the Clone Wars marathon that Cartoon Network aired on Saturday. While I think the main franchise lost it's soul years ago and is now so full of itself that it's in danger of an implosion which could threaten to swallow Venus ... others have managed to avoid the allure of simply using the mythos like it was one long after-school television show designed to sell toys.

For instance, the first Knights Of The Old Republic reminded me why I had any hope for the prequels in the first place, as sadly dashed as they might be.

I had actually avoided Clone Wars at first, due to my intolerance of TPM and AOTC. A co-worker forced me to watch a couple episodes and then it was just innocent negligence that I didn't give it a full on try. So the marathon was a great opportunity to give it a real chance.

Verdict? Didn't love, but really liked it. It neatly sidesteps much of Lucas' mistakes by focusing heavily on the action, which has always been the best part of the movies. It accomplished much better than AOTC did the feeling of a galactic conflict ensuing while still keeping pace with the characters. Comic relief was brief and unintrusive, unlike say, Phantom Menace.

Course Anakin is still a jerk, but I guess that's because his character is a bit of a jerk. He gets a moment of redemption towards the end, but that's fleeting. Anakin is such a missed ball when it comes to juggling this whole epic that it's just unavoidable in any format. He's reckless, he's violent, he's insubordinate, he's irresponsible, he's an egomaniac and he's ... the chosen one? C'mon ... the Jedi need to do their math better.

The Sith come out spotless though. Makes me want to see Grevious on the big screen. The same animation techniques which made Samurai Jack enjoyable work favorably here and on occasion bring out some real character to the scenes. Voice acting and sound effects were top notch. All in all, much more looking forward to more of this than Revenge of the Sith.

But I guess proclaiming that Lucas was a whore probably hinted to that anyway. On a side note, I read that Kevin Smith declared Episode III to be the one that all the haters will enjoy. I actually don't like being called a Star Wars hater. It makes it sound like I wanted Lucas to pillage his own work until there was nothing left but another opportunity to sell children some cheap plastic toys while completely ignoring the actual story, but I really wasn't involved in that decision at all.

Round up - Replayability

Replayability seems to be reaching a kind of meme-state in the blogosphere right now:

- Zen of Design notes a gamasutra article exposing short but replayable games. They even refer to them as "microgames" although by their description I would just go with "classic"

- Note GameDevBlog's hiring request which is trying find someone to help create the "feel like there's infinite variety in our city missions" in Treyarch's next Spidey game.

- Marble Blast made it's way onto XBox Live Arcade, marking a ramp up in indie titles cuddling with big business consoles.

So where will this go? In mainstream games, titles with heavy replayability mostly include the sports genre, and the rare deathmatch gem. (Editor's note: and the strategy game genre) Will gamers remember the days they used to spend hours at an arcade replaying a game fondly ... or will they hug Half-Life 2 until it dies?

Jane on the 360

GameGirlAdvance is almost ready to declare the console wars moot, even before Sony and Nintendo get out of the gate:

Xbox 360 does not compete with Sony or Nintendo. It is not a gaming console. It is a powerful device to deliver content online and over WiFi. Microsoft's real competition is Apple, Yahoo, and Google. Apple's movie-download service. Yahoo's retail channels. Google's - well, everything. Heck, throw Comcast and TiVo in there for good measure.

I don't really agree, but I don't really disagree either. Mostly I think it's something of an exaggeration of the situation, but I do think Microsoft's big selling point will be in the arena of downloadable content. I just don't think it's going to compete with my Tivo or iTunes anytime soon, just like my PS2 never stood a chance against my trusty Toshiba DVD player. Particularly not with the storage specs the 360 is currently listing.


After some IM chatting with my brother on what forms of games would work well with iTunes integration, Tempest came up. So I bring to you, Untitled Tempest Clone. The green lines respond to the music, the red lines are what you must defeat. Powerups will probably fall from the outside of the screen to the center, and there will definately be a two player option. It's probably about 40% done right now, but there's so much beautification to do that it's ridiculous. So much so that I'm likely to play with that before worrying about, like, scoring, which is kinda odd philosophy for me ... but this is a game intended to be viewable on your big TV while music is blaring for your party. So it can't be fugly.