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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.