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Saturday, November 19, 2005

Thompson Forcibly Removed

Well, that might be a bit sensational ... but fun.

Gamecloud and GamePolitics are reporting that the judge in the Devin Moore civil trial denied Jack Thompson's request for withdrawal. Why? Here's why:

James Moore, rejected Thompson's withdrawl. However, the judge only made that ruling so he could throw Thompson off the case himself, saying he was highly critical of Thompson's public conduct. For his part, Thompson is fighting back, writing a note to the Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission that questioned Moore's own ethics.

Yeah. I bet that letter will do lots of good, Batjack. Maybe you should call the feds, have them look into this radical judge who is out to get ya.

Let's see the list. Who supports Batjack these days? Apparently not legitimate scientists or legal eagles. That leaves distraught parents and media whores to go.

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Friday, November 18, 2005

Where is my iMac gaming?

While the commentary on the 360 might be tepid, everyone loves the new iMac. Which is why I still say that Apple is missing a boat or two. Here is this affordable, media friendly, easy to use personal computer that's more suitable for a den or bedroom than the office or study. This is great if you just want to browse the net or watch the occasional DVD ... but who doesn't like a good game on their fancy new toy? Gaming on the Mac needs a firsty party pull, not just the (admirable) port and indie culture it has today.

It's not like the iMac, with any library, could have gone head to head with the 360. But it could have made a hell of a market for those not willing to fuss with pre-orders or are far more interested in casual games than Perfect Dark Zero. C'mon Cupertino ... Apple Game Studio ... it's got a good ring to it. Design a fancy wireless controller and a dozen casual games to go with it. Call it iPlay. Or something. You know you want to...

My begging never does work.

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Are You X-Cited?

The 360 is coming soon, and they hype is getting rather mixed. While there is the usual drool and dropping of jaws one would expect with a shiny new toy, it's not all roses. Microsoft has had to defend the short supply we'll be seeing at launch. Taking a gander at Gamespot's video overview of the 360 seems to confirm Kotaku's suspicions that the 360 isn't well suited for your puny "normal" resolution television set. CNN's Game Over peruses the goods and determines that it's not worth getting one at launch.

So do sharks patrol these waters? Should you pay attention to that day glo orange life preserver?

Well, at the very least Microsoft will be making it's sales early on. While I'd be pretty pissed if I had preordered one of these suckers and wasn't seeing it until December or beyond, Redmond probably won't be worrying about having boxes sit on the shelves for a while. So it will be the darling of the holiday season. The long term fight will come down to a better library, hopefully one that will take advantage of Live and the 360's other features.

In other words, things will be tepid until Halo 3. Then everyone will want one again.

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More Lost Questions

These are in no particular order ... nor am I really expecting answers :)

1. What was Desmond's medicine? My best guess is an innoculation to keep him safe from the "disease".

2. How does a ship like the Black Rock get shipwrecked on a mountain? What does that mean for the age of the island? Does this mean that the island was always a magnet for disaster, considering the Dharma project is about 100 years later?

3. Danielle refers to the whispering as The Others, not the actual people. She only had her own crew get sick, not some mysterious population. However, she's been on the island for what ... 16 years? If Ana-Lucia is right about the knife, some of Ethan's people have been around longer than that. Are there two "sets" of others or is the whispering related/a power of the first set?

4. Kelvin, Desmond's partner, came running out of the jungle to bring him to the bunker. How did he know a boat just wrecked onshore? Where is Kelvin's body now?

5. One thing I don't get about the number button: if you kept entering it right away ... would it just reset the timer continously? It's curious because it changes its possible use. If they are supposed to re-enter something about every 108 minutes, then maybe something else is counting down and needs to be refreshed. If it is only a deadline, then it's only important that someone is at the terminal, with the right code, making it seem like a deadman's switch.

6. Walt's had two messages (spoiler alert). One essentially saying don't press the button. The other saying that the Others were close. This seems contradictory. Pressing the button, we're to believe, is good. Others being close, is bad. Now, Walt could obviously just be subtle or cryptic for reasons all to his own. But if we're to assume that Walt is either trying to be helpful or is now, like, possessed ... the difference doesn't make sense. So which is it?

7. How do you tattoo a shark?

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Game Dev: Bigger and Badder?

Games that are based on content owned by others such as movie studios or are sports based have traditionally been a safer bet for developers than original content titles which have either sold extremely well or flopped completely.
-- Cost of making games set to soar (thanks

By badder, I don't necessarily mean that in the vernacular ironic "good" way. A whle back I got into a lengthly debate about why it's not surprising that the next generation games will be $10 more than current generation games. Lots of people cried conspiracy, but for one thing ... the numbers don't support that. Development costs have soared in recent years and will continue to soar. I tried to explain to people that even simple asset management was becoming a major cost for developers, which some suggested the developers were incompetent (which is funny, since I was referring to professionals who have worked on major titles).

The other side of the coin is licensing. While it's long been argued that creating your own franchise is far more valuable ... which is undeniable ... it's also far more risky. Plus, it's costly to create the next Sonic. You're not just advertising your game, you're advertising your character or your mythos.

I stepped out of that debate saying we'd see a rise in "epic" games. By epic I mean major franchise titles with enormous production budgets that would use overwhelming graphics and assets to justify their cost. These would be titles with track records and a lot of polish. Looking at the 360 launch lineup, I'd have to say we're seeing it slowly. The majority of the games that Microsoft has for it's best foot forward are sequels and quite a few are heralding their graphics as major selling point. The two major ones are PGR and Perfect Dark Zero. And those are just the start.

Course on the flip side, you see things like Live Arcade. Cell phones are becoming a major market. So is it possible we aren't seeing the complete Hollywoodization of gaming, merely a schism in the market itself?

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Thursday, November 17, 2005

Lost ARG = HaX0r

The Disney Blog points out some changes to the Hanso Foundation website, a fictional site for the show Lost which some have compared to ARG style marketing. The short version is that if you enter the right word into a form, you get access to this letter, with some interesting tidbits. Clearly, spoiler alert.

What's funny is the HTML comment that appears on the Hanso site before the form field:
<!-- LOL H4x0r3d!!1 -->

Mebbe there's a someone that Hanso should be keeping an eye on? Course, we should hope they don't...

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Doom Radio Drama

Thanks goes to insert credit for finding this gem ... a radio drama based on the cult classic Doom comic book. Done by the same guys responsible for Bodythumper ... the for-charity video game based on Jack Thompson's uberviolent fantasy, I'm sure it's a crowd pleaser. Being at work though, I'll confess to not having had a chance to listen just yet.

Bonus ... I just listened. It's f'n hilarious. GG to the guys behind this.

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You Have Died

I had a pretty decent night last night on the IF. Cleared up a lot of "interface" issues ... for what constitutes an interface in this case. For the most part, I'm trying to maintain the top portion of the page for really interactive information and the rest to maintain the ongoing description of the current location. So if you pick up a lantern, the top part would affirm that you've picked it up while the bottom would reflect the change with the location in terms of the lantern not being there.

It gets a lot more complicated with some of the "conversations", since some of them can be triggered by picking up items, etc. I had this more or less going to a new page, but now all the information is displayed at once. I'm trying to maintain the feel that the player/reader is in control of the text and to keep them from getting too lost or disconnected.

My latest quandry is in simple design. I haven't decided if I'll kill off players yet. Clearly there are game mechanics to give reason to do so, but when was the last time a book made you reload? Which is more important ... narrative flow of gameplay tension? Not sure.

Technical quandry which goes alongside that is being able to save your place. Haven't decided if I'm going to try and cookie enough information to save anywhere or go with a chapter system, which would be more or less literary savepoints.

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Pointless Theory About Lost

I'm still completely enamored with the show Lost. These kinds of shows can be annoying, because they tease you with so little information. As much fun as it is to try and figure out the mystery, it's generally pointless because there is always hidden information. Course, I can't really remember a show that so boldly executed it's premise without meandering too far into cliche subplots of romance and well, usually romance. I remember telling The Girl that people were saying this was the "return of high concept shows" ... but for the life of us we couldn't really remember when high concept shows were terribly around in the first place.

Last night's episode was good ... interesting in that it's one of the few that didn't dip into a lot of backstory. I suppose that's because if anything, it was backstory of the "tail" survivors. It was also fairly revealing.

Spoilers will follow, though I'll try to remain vague.

Our invisible giant thing seems to have taken a backseat to the Others at this point. What we know about the Others is basic. They look human. They act human. They seem to be stronger and faster than normal people. They are extremely good at manipulation. They've been on the island for some time.

Last night we learned that they take people because they're "good" or "innocent".

Also, at least one of them had a serious hankering to use a radio.

So, my thinking is that whatever went "wrong" with the Dharma Project created the Others. Remember, from the Hanso Mission Statement, "For forty years, the foundation has offered grants to worthy experiments designed to further the evolution of the human race and provide technological solutions to the most pressing problems of our time." The Others are faster, smarter and stronger. And they seem to have a very selective method of recruitment.

Why would there be an underground system with "QUARANTINE" clearly marked on the inside? It's not like any of the survivors have been falling ill to some strange airborne virus. Perhaps the Others themselves are the disease. Their interest in the survivors might not be just antagonistic. They might be trying to get them to help them off the island. Or infecting the "right" ones with the "disease".

What if the numbers and the massive electromagnet system are the means that keeps the Others on the island? They have a boat, but they know if they go to far ... it will mysteriously sink. If a plane tries to rescue them, it will get lost and probably crash. What purpose would a tatooed shark have other than keeping a perimeter? The reason why the computer is so vital to the "project" is that without entering the numbers (for whatever reason ... if the island is able to manipulate luck the way it seems to be able, it's hard guess why the strange setup is there) ... the Others would be free to call on the radio, get some rescue and infect the rest of the world.

Bonus Points: Hanttula's Lost Notebook is an excellent resource for keeping up on the show's myriad of facts and characters.

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More Brits Bully Bully

It looks like another MP has voiced a concern about Rockstar's yet to be released game, Bully. Michael Foster has joined Vaz's call to have the game banned:

Michael Foster said: "I know from my constituents how harmful bullying is and what pain it causes young people. This game allows the person playing it to take on the persona of a bully, able for instance to kick and punch other pupils and spit in their food. I think that can only encourage young people to find pleasure and excitement in abusing others."

Liz Carnell, director of the charity Bullying Online, said: "Our view is that bullying is not a joke. It is not a suitable subject for computer games."
-- MP backs steps to ban kid's Bully video game

Wow, if only everyone could get their personal crusade made into a taboo topic for entertainment. Think about it, we'd have no more war, no more injustice, no more swearing or indecency. I can feel the squeaky clean wash that would take over the world if we'd all just stop paying attention to the bad things.

Seriously lady, I don't think plastic surgery is a suitable topic for entertainment either ... but you don't see me trying to ban it. What's annoying is that I don't buy for one moment that this lady actually believes a video game will seriously worsen the plight of a single kid out there. However, when someone makes a movie/video game/book/whatever on your pet project, it's a reason to thump some podiums and get some free press.

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Live Arcade Interviews

BusinessWeek, via GameDailyBiz, sits down with Greg Canessa of the Live Arcade Group:

It's going to be both actually. At launch we're going to have a nice mix of the retro coin-op, classic stuff and titles that maybe have existed on other platforms and have been upgraded for 360, and completely new and original content. So we really have a nice offering, and you're going to actually see that on Xbox Live Arcade going forward. That's really the vision for Arcade, to have that central destination for small, downloadable games of all types in your Xbox 360 dash. We consider both [types of games] to be huge opportunities; and since retro coin-op games are small, downloadable games, they fit, as well as originally developed content from smaller developers and larger publishers.
-- Retro Meets High Tech on Xbox 360

Then we've got a close-up on Team Xbox with the gang from Outpost Kaloki:

This is why the game plays like it does, rather than being a traditional "drag semi-transparent boxes around" tycoon game. The opportunity to make this game for the Xbox 360 was a dream come true for the designers because it's a realization of the original vision for the game. We were able to implement and fine-tune Xbox 360-specific controls and try to focus gameplay and content on what we thought would be appealing to the Xbox 360 market.

In addition to that, the sheer power of the Xbox 360 let us do great graphics, awesome 5.1-channel sound, and cool processor tricks. While we started with our internal engine, we implemented a whole lot of Xbox-360-specific technology for this game.
-- Outpost Kaloki X Interview

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Wednesday, November 16, 2005

IF Competition Closes

The results of the 2005 Interactive Fiction Contest in, with honors to Vespers, Beyond, and A New Life. I'll probably try all three when I get a breather. I'm still at work on my on IF, but I'm having what one could best call design issues, although that is an odd statement for something void of either graphics or a normal interface.

Stranger Than Fiction

In non geek related news, a woman drove her station wagon through a bookstore.

Not funny enough? Try adding the irony. A woman named Duck (as in for cover) drove her car through the travel section.

Some days, fate isn't cruel. It just likes the puns.

Do You Want Your HDTV?

Kotaku ponders over an apparently non-existent link to a thread about whether the 360 is a good enough excuse to purchase that HDTV which has been winking at you.

Is it? I had originally guffawed the notion that a console could persuade me to go ahead and spend over a grand on even another gadget. Course, I didn't take into effect that perhaps 360 games actually do look bad on "classic" television. Nothing worse than watching some fancy demo at the store only to get it home and it looks like fast moving smears, I suppose. I guess I'll have to wait till more people get it in their mits or see some screenshots to see if that's true or if the guys over at Kotaku just need their eyes checked.

My HDTV purchase is a ways off, regardless. I have an old RCA 36 incher which is, quite honestly, a tank. I really didn't know RCA made them this solid when I bought it, which was well over five years ago and the thing is showing no signs of slowing down. The Girl and I would love to see some unforeseen accident befall on it so that we could free up some living room space, but unless someone has a TOW handy, I don't see that happening.

Urban Video Game Academy

The Urban Video Game Academy is designed to "better prepare students in disadvantaged areas for postsecondary education and technology careers by teaching them the fundamentals of video game design and development." Most excellent. Gamecloud nabbed an interview with it's co-founder, Roderick Woodruff:

We solicited industry participation form leading game software and development companies, but received only a limited interest, due in part to “budget sponsorship cycles” and/or lack of interest if the audience did not number in the thousands. We our audience was more like in the “less than hundreds” but we learned from those who did attend how much interest and learning about the industry took place. We also learned that this type of awareness and training platform must be continued and broadened to reach a larger audience – at the middle, high school and college levels. So after much discussion internally, and among participants who left with the same passion, we started exploring ways to develop an educational and awareness program that would target these audiences.
-- Urban Video Game Academy Interview

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Darwinia is on Steam

Maybe Valve will end up using Steam for good, not evil. They're adding indie darling Darwinia to the lineup. I'm still on the anti-Steam camp of things, since my last experience with it rendered perfectly good software useless ... but if it throws a few English blokes a couple bones, all the better.

Best Buy Poetry

Actual conversation:

"I'm looking for an Airport Express"

"We don't have those."

"Your website says you do."

"Well, our website isn't always right, but I'll look."

*returns, points to where I'm looking*

"It should be right there."

"Yeah, that's what I thought."

"Lemme ask someone from warehouse"


"It's over by where it says wireless and mp3"

"OK, thanks"

"Good to know, people keep asking me about that."

"Yeah. Good to know. thanks."

*now over by where it says wireless and mp3*

"Can I help?"

"Yeah, I'm looking for an Airport Express?"

"We don't have those."

Fine, I know when I'm not wanted.

I did see a 360 in action for the first time. People seemed attracted to Kameo for some reason, though it didn't seem to have the wow factor, imo. All in all it's not that the 360 seem underwhelming or anything, it's just not overwhelming. It's merely whelming I guess. No huge hankering to get one until the library shapes up a bit, which is handy since Microsoft doesn't seem keen on shipping enough out until then anyway.

Sony's DRM, a EULA and You

Sony has come under heat recently for the DRM and EULA model used for their BMG branded CD's. This is with good reason: they're both completely insane.

The DRM isn't so much anti-piracy as it is anti-security. Developed by British company First 4 Internet, the XCP code uses a black hat style rootkit to manipulate your OS into ignoring files named in a certain way. XCP does not do this within any kind of sandbox, however, so any file can take advantage of Sony's stealth technology. To date - it's been tied to virus code and cheat programs. Should this rootkit be installed on your Windows PC ... you've essentially got a massive back door into your computer until it's removed.

And Mac users shouldn't feel left out. Sony also has a kernel extension for you.

Think that's insane? There's more. Sony has also decided that fair use isn't fair, so they've written up a EULA which defies so much logic, I'll coin the term anti-logical. No, it's not just illogical ... this thing repels logic. Here is the EFF breakdown:

If your house gets burgled, you have to delete all your music from your laptop when you get home. That's because the EULA says that your rights to any copies terminate as soon as you no longer possess the original CD.

You can't keep your music on any computers at work. The EULA only gives you the right to put copies on a "personal home computer system owned by you."

If you move out of the country, you have to delete all your music. The EULA specifically forbids "export" outside the country where you reside.

You must install any and all updates, or else lose the music on your computer. The EULA immediately terminates if you fail to install any update. No more holding out on those hobble-ware downgrades masquerading as updates.

Sony-BMG can install and use backdoors in the copy protection software or media player to "enforce their rights" against you, at any time, without notice. And Sony-BMG disclaims any liability if this "self help" crashes your computer, exposes you to security risks, or any other harm.

The EULA says Sony-BMG will never be liable to you for more than $5.00. That's right, no matter what happens, you can't even get back what you paid for the CD.

If you file for bankruptcy, you have to delete all the music on your computer. Seriously.

You have no right to transfer the music on your computer, even along with the original CD.

Forget about using the music as a soundtrack for your latest family photo slideshow, or mash-ups, or sampling. The EULA forbids changing, altering, or make derivative works from the music on your computer.
-- Now the Legalese Rootkit: Sony-BMG's EULA

Sony's response to all of this has been less than stellar. For one thing, they lie about the number of titles actually effected by all of this. Plus, the means to uninstall their rootkit is painfully obscure and potentially harmful. So even if you can find the means to make you computer secure, it might crash Windows. Thankfully, Microsoft and others have stepped up to the obvious problem and offered alternate means of removing the code.

So what does this all boil down to? Well for one thing, it's remarkable how much abuse a large corporation can smack down. Imagine if some software employee had managed to sneak this rootkit onto a download or CD? They'd have the FBI smashing down their door and confiscating all their equipment and probably a decent chunk of livelihood. Sony might be facing a few lawsuits, but at this time they haven't even issued a recall of these CDs.

This brazen attitude, however, isn't simply some rogue aspect of a rogue company. This is Sony. They're a market leader for media and consumer electronics. That makes this not just somewhat shocking, but more than mildly disturbing. This isn't just a freak moment, but part of a larger trend of the media and software industry hell bent to protect their bottom line ... even at the risk of their consumers. While we might see much wringing of hands and shaking of heads over this, it's not like we haven't seen odd DRM and EULA schemas come out from the likes of Apple or Microsoft.

Sony needs way more than a slap here. Consumers need to start fighting for their rights to fair use before the hardware we own at home is little more than a victim for some corporate EULA to justify their "protective" software.

Also, How-To: Protect Yourself from Sony DRM Rootkit Malware

Monday, November 14, 2005

Inquirer, you presume too much

Looks like I was a bit too late. By the time I penned the etymology of a rumor, at least one news site was already pretty much running it as fact:

While the PS3 hasn't been expressly mentioned in the patent in English or Japanese it would be the obvious place to employ this new technology, regardless of how little gamers will appreciate it.
-- No pre-owned games to be allowed for Playstation 3

As many, many others have pointed out (including the Joystiq post which Inquirer cites as a source) ... it's not an obvious place. In fact, it's a pretty stupid place. In fact, before this rumor goes any further, I invite people to actually read the patent, which states:

A disk recording medium adapted for reproduction by a reproduction device

...and goes on to repeat the word "recording" ... oh, about a hundred times. So unless my understanding of how CDs and DVD's work, this would only be operable on a recordable medium.

Are your music CD's recordable? Do you think the PS3 BD's will be? I don't. So stop fretting.

Jesus, Sony just got caught releasing anti-security software on the unsuspecting public. You'd think that would be enough fodder for at least a month or so.

Death in Sakkara, Episode 3

Meant to mention it this morning, but the next episode in BBC's fine Death in Sakkara flash adventure is up ... this one entitled "The Tomb" (cue spooky music).

I did try the Shakespeare flash adventure from the BBC, Seven Noble Kinsmen, this weekend as well ... although to be honest I didn't find it all that grand. The actual interactivity felt lacking. For instance, you find some random objects ... but it doesn't really matter what they are. You can talk to the characters, but you don't really need to in order to finish the episode. Not that Sakkara is, well, Shakespeare or anything, but it felt at least a little more engaging to me.


We've been cleaning and fussing over an upcoming party, so it was inevitable that about 5PM ... we simply crashed. The couch added a kind of gravitational pull all to it's own ... which also reminded me that the futon mattress really needs to be replaced.

The first thing we did, well kind of did, was watch House of the Dead. To say we watched it would admit that it's actually, you know, a movie. Which is simply giving it too much credit. It wasn't necessarily the lack of plot, or crappy acting, or that really gratuitous beginning featuring the breasts of that chick who plays Lois Lane, or the apparently non-existent cinematographer or even the bizarre use of video game footage during an actual action scene (or the fact that it was hard to tell which was preferred) ... it's just that so clearly the mistake happened before all that. Money traded hands at some point when it simply shouldn't have.

Course, there will be a sequel. This time, there will be fraternity hijinks as well. The fact that this film has a greenlit sequel and yet Serenity is probably relegated to obscurity is, I believe, proof that Loki is in fact, God.

Fortunately we could cleanse our palate with the far more excellent Fox lineup of Sunday night cartoons. Fox's motto for 2006, by the way, will simply be "Viewer Discretion Is Advised". It's great to see the same channel which airs the most conservatively biased news on the air also has no problem showing an animated eighteen year old shack up with a presumed terrorist. Hey, I laughed.

The other thing that caught my eye were the game ads. Microsoft has decided to follow the steps of, I guess, drug ads, and simply make an eye-catching segment which has nothing to do with their product. Sure, highly coordinated jump rope and some water ballon warfare is great TV ... but it's not really making me any closer to saving five benjies for a new console.

Nintendo's WiFi commercials, on the other hand, were short, funny and to the point. I especially liked the "you're totally going to kick my ass" spot.

The Business of MMO

Massively Multiplayer Games can be major financial wins for companies. How has the genre grown and continues to grow as it moves across cultural divides like Korea and America? Business Week takes a look:

"If you look at the US market, it's very important, but for different reasons. The retail space is a great place to do marketing. It lends credibility to your product. Our model in Korea is to give away the client, and then charge a subscription fee, and that subscription fee is much higher than it is in the US. A product like Lineage has a $26 a month subscription fee in Korea. But you get the client for free. In the US we tried to actually give away the client, but there's an interesting dynamic, or difference in culture between the US and Korea."

Garriott continues, "In Korea, if you go to a customer and say ?I want to sell you a product, and then charge a monthly fee,' they say, ?You're crazy. Why would I buy a product?' In the US it's actually the opposite. If you go to a customer and say ?Here is a free product, I'd like you to try it and then pay me a monthly fee.' Most Americans say, ?The value of this product is exactly what I pay for it.' So when you give it to them free, they think it's worthless."
-- MMO Giants Prepare for War

There is a pretty flat denial in there that subscription fees are on their way out ... despite the success of Guild Wars. I still think that's a shame, as monthly fees are almost undoubtably a major stumbling block for the genre.

Microsoft Blocks Sony's Spyware

In what has to be one of the most bizarre software updates in recent history, Microsoft's spyware tools will remove Sony's rootkit portion of XCP (eXtended Copy Protection). Someone at Redmond PR must be happy to wear the white hat.