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Friday, January 13, 2006

Essay For Parents From A Game Developer

The always worth-the-read Dean Takahashi penned an open letter to parents yesterday:

Neither Lieberman nor Senator Hillary Clinton, who are sponsoring the Family Entertainment Protection Act, play games, but what they may not realize, is that a lot of adults do. Ironically, Arnold Schwartzenegger, who has not only starred in “ultra-violent” movies but licensed himself out for Terminator videogames, has jumped on the family entertainment bandwagon as well. The California courts, however, seem to agree that is all much ado about nothing.

As teens inevitably turn into twenty- and thirty-somethings, they will bring a familiarity with game genres to steer their own children toward fun and enriching family entertainment, which in many cases will happen to come in the form of a video game. The current unease over video games, like previous incarnations of this same argument over rock and roll, will fade into the generational mist.
-- An Essay For Parents From A Game Developer

Good stuff. Towards the end, where he says the best thing parents can do is game with their kids? Well, guys like GamerDad and Jeff Freeman have been saying the same thing. And when you read things like this, and then you read the psychotic nonsense of BatJack ... it really shouldn't take a lot of time to figure out the more rational side on this debate.

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Illinois Gov Seeks Gaming Expansion

The same guy who tried to make a moral mountain out of scientific anthills wants to expand gambling in the state:

This expands gambling. In gambling you can’t win. The more you play, the more certain you will lose. It’s a game of chance,” said the Rockford man, who is the executive director of the National Coalition Against Gambling Expansion. “So you have a governor who has pledged not to expand gambling come and change his mind. And then try to say we should get upset about it, that it’s not a big deal.”
-- Keno plan for education funding gets quick opposition

Hypocrisy? Sure seems like it to me. To try and censor the sale of games which there is very little proof of social harm while later seeking to expand another kind of gaming with lots of proof that it raises social problems seems pretty hypocritical. So, if it's possible that Timmy might act up in class, we need the state to come in and protect us. But if it's going to send your dad into a state of abusive alcoholic poverty, that's OK.

Just so long as the state makes some money in the long run. Have to keep an eye on what's important, ya know.

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25 To Life Gets BatJacked

Joystiq mentions that Jack "BatJack" Thompson thinks police should storm stores and remove 25 to Life from shelves. I don't know which is more interesting, the fact that Thompson actually thinks he has a legal justifiction for this call or that he probably believes it might actually work. Seriously, the man needs medical attention.

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Mumblevine Crop

Just a gander at some of the latest rumors around the gameblogosphere.

  • Nintendo will release a redesigned DS. Of course they will. For two reasons. One, they always redesign their portable hardware. Two, I just got one for Christmas ... so expect a press release by the end of the month.

  • PlayStation 3 will be $500. I dunno, $500 is possible but it really feels like the upper edge. I'd guess $400, no two-tier release but plenty of bundlewear.

  • Mac users, please stay tuned. More than a few Mac fans felt that MacWorld didn't have the bang it usually does. Rumor mill has it that Intel supplies are little short, so expect press releases on a monthly basis as the year goes on.

  • Release dates. The PlayStation 3 or Revolution for Spring, Summer, or 2007? Stop kicking yourselves, people. Not even Nintendo or Sony probably has the answers just yet. Spring is looking increasingly unlikely though.

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  • Thursday, January 12, 2006

    Guild Wars: Factions Not An Expansion

    ArenaNet rocks.

    I had assumed that Factions, which will add new professions, monsters, weapons and other goodies to the critically acclaimed MMO Guild Wars was like every other expansion out there. An additional charge with the original game.

    Nope. According to IGN, the new box is stand-alone to the original game:

    Rather than offering an expansion, ArenaNet has designed Factions as a stand-alone campaign in the Guild Wars universe. Players new to Guild Wars can buy Factions and play on the new continent of Cantha -- and then buy the original Guild Wars when they're ready to play on the original continent. Existing players can grab Factions to add Cantha as a new realm of play, either using existing characters or starting fresh.
    -- Guild Wars: Factions Revealed

    How hard do these guys rock? I heard Chuck Norris did a roundhouse kick on one of their producers and the guy lived. That's how hard.

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    GameSpot Rips A World Apart ... Apart

    Jason Ocampo has a review of the infamous Derek Smart's Universal Combat: A World Apart which beats down virtually every aspect of the game:

    In theory, this is a game that should appeal to anyone who has ever wanted to be Jean-Luc Picard, sitting on a bridge and issuing orders to explore a huge galaxy. There's a huge galaxy in this game to explore, as you can travel from system to system, interact with countless vessels and stations, and explore strange new worlds. However, the execution just feels off, and you'll encounter plenty of frustration along the way. For example, it can take so long simply to get from point to point that you're left twiddling your thumbs while staring at the screen. The combat also can be a frustratingly short and brutal experience, as your huge warship can get taken out in just seconds.

    It also doesn't help that the production values vary from poor to abysmal. The space graphics look ancient, especially in comparison to the handful of sleek, cutting-edge space sims that have been released in recent years. Models and textures look blocky and bland, and the game has trouble getting even the little details right. For instance, clouds whip around planets at about 500,000 miles per hour, and the star field in front of you suddenly changes if all you're doing is selecting an item from one of the menus. We also encountered a weird bug half the time that sent our ship into an uncontrollable clockwise spin. The only solution was to quit out, restart the game, and then repeat if the spin was still there.
    -- Universal Combat: A World Apart Review

    These days Smart is probably better known for his inflammatory comments on the net than his actual game design. If this review is indicative, that might become even more true in the future.

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    Lost Thoughts: Teh Monster

    Everything beyond this point should be considered a spoiler for those not up to date with the show.

    So last night we got our first really good look at the "invisible monster" of the island. Or at least it kinda seemed we did. Charlie goes up in a tree. We hear something rather siren or whistle like. Some mechanical crashing and gnashing of trees. A trail of black smoke pours out and faces Eko. Images of his past flash just slow enough for trigger happy DVR owners to see (I missed them) in the smoke. Smoke trails off. Charlie, amazed that Eko faced it down, tells Eko he's lucky to be alive. Eko says he wasn't scared of it.

    So that doesn't really seem like the whole story, does it? I mean, that's not really the kind of thing that rips a guy out of a twenty foot tall tree, rips him apart and throws him unceremoniously downward. Nor does it seem like the loud tromping and smashing which knocks hills aside in it's wake. So let's recap a bit.

  • Danielle stated that the island has a security system. "There are no monsters".
  • Locke, Kate and now Eko has looked into the "eye of the island" (Locke's words) and seen something which seemed to more enlighten them rather than frighten.
  • The smoke/eye can read thoughts and/or memories.
  • The monster is accompanied with a variety of mechanical noises. It reminds a Bronx home owner of the hood. It sounds like chains at times.
  • It comes seemingly from nowhere, and quite possibly from underground.
  • It can grab people, pull them into the ground and also kill them.

    So let's make the following assumptions:

  • The monster's primary function is island security.
  • The monster is at least partially mechanical.
  • The monster is released from hidden areas of the island.
  • In it's capacity, the monster may need to retrieve or kill things as well as spy on them.

    Now, let's say that beyond the odd socio-psychological expirements the show has been hinting towards, the island is also a biological one. A polar bear in the tropics certainly offers some potential evidence for this (as do some the letters on the Lostverse Hanso site). So imagine a big zoo or reserve for genetically altered animals with researchers working underground from various stations. One would probably need to be able a) keep track of these animals, b) bring them underground for expirements and c) destroy them if necessary.

    So Hanso builds a network of security capable of watching their experiments. This includes sensors to detect the animals. A roving camera system capable of making close monitoring. And a powerful claw-like mechanism. Making the latter two covered in smoke or invisible is extremely handy for sneaking up on creatures (ever had a cat?).

    So why is this odd smoke like camera capable of reading people's minds?

    Well, if your expirements involved humans, it might become necessary to be able to determine the "good" from the "bad" ... however that's being judged on the island. Possibly the eye can tell the difference between an "other" and a normal person. So Locke and Eko weren't in any real danger because they're normal folk and apparently not in any "restricted" area of the island.

    Not sure why the pilot was so unlucky though.

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  • All The Boll You Can Take

    Deadbolt has a great feature on video game director, Uwe Boll:

    Boll told Coming Soon, "Dungeon Siege transcends the video game genre and appeals to mainstream entertainment audiences ... Based on the success of House of the Dead, I believe Dungeon Siege contains major crossover potential because of its unique blend of action and fantasy, on the order of Lord of the Rings." Boll’s cast for the fantasy epic includes Jason Statham, Leelee Sobieski, John Rhys-Davies, Ray Liotta, Matthew Lillard, Burt Reynolds, Ron Perlman, Claire Forlani, and Kristanna Loken.
    -- Boll Keeps Rolling

    It's esssentially an overview of the infamous director's career, inlcuding the theories about German tax law which apparently allow the man continue working. I've taken Brinstar's advice on BloodRayne, although I was amazed to see that Guinevere Turner helped write the damn thing. Going from indie lesbian flick to social commentary horror to schlocky b-movie action is a very odd career path for young "Max".

    Now, I've seen House of the Dead. And it was bad. bad. The best part was seeing Lois Lane's breasts (if you've watched Smallville, you'll understand). So what will happen with these movies when Boll can attract solid B-list actors and some decent writers?

    If Rotten Tomatoes is any indication, not much.

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    What Hardware Did You Yearn For?

    Boing Boing has a bit on a 9 year old's fanatic drawings of the PSP he desires. Which reminds me distinctly of when I first wanted ... rather needed ... an Amiga 500 when I was younger. In the middle of boring PCs and academic Macs, the Amiga seemed like a multimedia funhouse for the home. The related blog entry at Hoopty drags up memories of 2600 yearning. While the 2600 and Intellivision were both seminal game machines for me, it was actually the adults in my life who decided to get them. With the Amiga, though, I can remember staying up late trying to explaing multi-tasking to my parents.

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    Possible Cathan Demo

    I might try and cobble together a quick demo of the text adventure engine I've been working on by next week. I'm trying to pin down a short but simple story to work off of first and then need try and shove it into the new framework. The new stuff is a pretty radical departure to the near infoclone I had before, and I'm still unsure about it. Most basic is that I'm working off of pages, or scenes, rather than distinct rooms. Think of a page where most of the content is initially blank, but portions become revealed through manipulation and eventually the user goes to the next page.

    Pages are chronological. Once you go forward in the pagelist, going back would be essentially the same as reverting back to that point. The rationale behind this is to try and write this more as a story which are played like a game, rather than distinctly as a game. I have no idea whether it will fly or not, hence the demo.

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    Wednesday, January 11, 2006

    It's a Mac, Mac, World

    So the great yearly moment for many Mac devotees, the Jobs Speech of MacWorld, has come and gone. I'm not a full member of the Cult of Mac, but I get their newsletter all the same. I use a Mac Mini almost exclusively at home, except to sneak into the occasional Guild Wars session, and it's one of my favorite computing purchases in about a decade.

    I think the Intel move for Apple is a bold and intelligent one ... and I think that so far they are executing it brilliantly. However, that doesn't stop me from being dismayed that yesterday's announcements included nothing new in the $500 range of computers. No revamped Mini. No new low-end notebook. MacWorld is usually a splash, but this felt a little more like a ripple to me.

    Also, I'd like to clear some things up. My rebuttal to TUAW's take on a Mac console was one my most hit pages ever and while it oddly generated no comments over on this side of the URL, there was more than a plenty forum comments about it. And as many discussions on the net goes, there were more than a few misconceptions.

    Mainly, I never really suggested nor thought that Apple would release a game console, merely agreeing that they might position the Mini to be more suitable in the living room. I didn't think we'd get an iBox revealed yesterday. My logic was going down more of the path of the perils Apple faces by entering the living room without contemplating the fact that people game there now in more and more numbers. So everyone who kept "pointing out" that Apple would be crazy to try and release a new console against the 360 and PS3 was really, really, really not reading at all.

    With the iMac, Apple is eclipsing the living room. The Mini could have a place in this strategy as well. And games would be a powerful component to that strategy.

    The Seattle Post Intelligencer had a decent write-up on this, by the by.

    As far as predictions go though, I'm not holding my breath. Especially after Apple released another iMac without better media inputs and controls. It's a monitor that I can watch all sorts of movies, play music and talk to an iPod. Why make it so hard to watch TV too?

    But I'll just end with the simplest way I can summarize my stance on the whole.

    It would totally rock to be able to download games off of iTunes.

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    1st Annual Sex In Videogames Conference

    Really, pretty self-explanatory:

    Evergreen Events is pleased to announce the upcoming Sex in Video Games Conference: Exploring the Business of Digital Erotic Entertainment to be held June 8 and 9, 2006 at the Nob Hill Masonic Center in San Francisco, California. The conference is the first of its type and will be an annual event.

    The unique conference will focus on the design, development, and technology of sex in video games from a national as well as international perspective. In addition, this conference will also have a strong focus on business matchmaking and networking. During the conference's two day run, it will feature numerous lectures and keynotes, a machinima art show (erotic art and movies derived from video games) as well as panel discussions with leaders in video game and adult video game development.
    -- 1st Annual Sex In Videogames Conference

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    Guild Wars Factions

    Acid For Blood has the news on the upcoming Guild Wars expansion as well as the exciting news that, like ArenaNet has been prone to in the past, there will be previews available for people. This sneak peak is scheduled for Jan. 20-22, but it's entirely likely ArenaNet might hold others before "second quarter" release.

    Guild Wars still has a warm fuzzy place in my heart. It's an MMO I don't mind sitting down for even weeks at a time and then revisiting. Seriously, more people need to adopt the GW framework and stop insisting that monthly fees are a necessity of the genre.

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    A Blu Ray 360?

    Engadget is reporting that Microsoft's Peter Moore stated that a Blu-Ray drive is possible for the 360. This officially declares Microsoft's high-density format strategy as "scattered".

    To recap, 360 games will apparently be stuck with DVD has the only storage medium. If you want to watch HD movies off the 360, you will be able to buy an HD-DVD drive for that purpose or possibly Blu-Ray.

    So. Basically. The 360 is a DVD based game console. There might be add-ons. Nothing really else to see here.

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    Chuck Norris Facts

    A bit off topic, but important information everyone needs to know. Heck, just to make it game related I'll highlight this little known fact about Mr. Norris:

    Chuck Norris originally appeared in the "Street Fighter II" video game, but was removed by Beta Testers because every button caused him to do a roundhouse kick. When asked bout this "glitch," Norris replied, "That's no glitch."

    But Chuck's important role in our space program should also be heeded:

    Chuck Norris once bet NASA he could survive re-entry without a spacesuit. On July 19th, 1999, a naked Chuck Norris re-entered the earth's atmosphere, streaking over 14 states and reaching a temperature of 3000 degrees. An embarrassed NASA publically claimed it was a meteor, and still owes him a beer.

    Read the whole list of Chuck Norris Facts.

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    Tuesday, January 10, 2006

    God's Debris

    Anyone who ever wanted to check out Dilbert's deeper side should take a gander at God's Debris by Scott Adams. Actually, no Dilberts were harmed in the making of this "thought expirement wrapped inside a fictional story", but Scott's close association with his cubicle comic has apparently forced this book to go to free publishing in order to be read.

    The synopsis?

    Imagine that you meet a very old man who—you eventually realize—knows literally everything. Imagine that he explains for you the great mysteries of life—quantum physics, evolution, God, gravity, light, psychic phenomenon, and probability—in a way so simple, so novel, and so compelling that it all fits together and makes perfect sense. What does it feel like to suddenly understand everything? God's Debris isn’t the final answer to the Big Questions. But it might be the most compelling vision of reality you will ever read. The thought experiment is this: Try to figure out what’s wrong with the old man’s explanation of reality. Share the book with your smart friends then discuss it later while enjoying a beverage.

    Shrödinger's Cat in NetHack

    During a completely random spin around the wikipedia, I stumbled on this:

    In the computer game NetHack, monsters known as quantum mechanics may carry a chest containing Schrödinger's Cat. When opened, there is a 50% chance of finding it dead and a 50% chance of it jumping out alive.
    -- Schrödinger's Cat In Fiction


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    Is Lost Like An Interactive Game?

    The Seattle Times thinks it might be:

    "Lost" is the first television program that owes its soul to video games. Remember the feeling you got the first time you tried a treasure hunt? For fans willing to "game" the show, it's the same thrill.

    Unlike traditionally passive television shows, which expect viewers to zone out in a couch-potato haze, "Lost," which returns with new episodes Wednesday night, has embedded clues throughout. It's these recurring tidbits — and the patterns they form — that make "Lost" the first show to resemble a video game

    -- Fans play TV series "Lost" like an interactive video game

    Interesting, and there's definately some evidence to support the claim. I've read elsewhere about how Lost owes some success to it's internal acknowledgement of DVRs and other modern TV watching equipment, allowing fans to study each episode frame by frame. It's probably no accident that this show was among the first available on iTunes as well.

    Some of the ARGish aspects of the show have been lackluster however. It's nice to poke around for clues, sure, but it lacks the meat of a normal ARG. Lost doesn't feel like a revolution to me, but more of a sign of things that might come down the pipe in the future.

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    Take Two Buys Irrational

    According to Reuters (ignore the almost humorous mistake in the title), game publishing company Take Two, backers of the wildly successful and controversial Grand Theft Auto series, have purchased Irrational Games ... known for Freedom Force and SWAT 4.

    This has me a little nervous, to be honest. Irrational seems like a nice little shop. When I questions about SWAT 4, they were happy to oblige with answers. Take Two is a large house with some fairly shady history, business-wise. SWAT 4 is, imho, one of the most underrated games of recent history. Take Two might either mean more coverage or less innovation.

    Update: IGN has an interview with Ken Levine of Irrational. According to Ken, "Since the acquisition, I think they've been to our studio once. And once you hear more about BioShock and the other title, I think the last thing you'll worry about is us being creatively compromised."

    So. You know. Whew.

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    Monday, January 09, 2006

    1 Very Odd List

    Joystiq points to GamerGod's 10 Most Interesting People In Gaming 2005 list. And I'm glad they copied the list on the blog, because it doesn't show up in Safari. I'm guessing this list was created in about five minutes and partially fueled by some combination of beer, nicotine and crack.

    10. Patrick Wildenborg - The guy who unlocked “Hot Coffee.”

    OK, that's not a bad start. PatW did some interesting work, granted not in a vacuum, and was fairly eloquent about it in the long run.

    9. Jessica Chobot - The girl that licked her PSP to become a celebrity.

    Is that interesting? I would use another term. Perhaps ... sad?

    8. Rod Blagojevich, Governor of Illinois involved in the "Hot Coffee" scandal.

    Well, Rod isn't really in the industry. And his involvement in the Hot Coffee scandal was pretty non-existent. Old Rob was going to push for anti-game legislation regardless and his "involvement" in the scandal was mostly just sound bites.

    7. Patricia Vance, President of the ESRB

    Maybe this is personal opinion, but I've found Vance to be mostly unclear and misleading. The ESRB could have made a clear cut position about mods and publishing at beginning of the Hot Coffee trouble, but instead they made conflicting statements over some time. Not really interesting. More like annoying.

    6. Will Wright - creator of Spore

    Had Spore been released in 2005, this might actually make some sense.

    5. John Smedley, CEO Sony Online Entertainment - Mr. Smedley indicated a whole new direction for SOE games in North America.

    There are probably a couple thousand SOE customers who know why this is nonsense.

    4. Old Grandma Hardcore - a gaming grandma and her blog make headlines.

    OK, point there. While I find the amount of attention OGHC has gotten kinda bizarre ... it's waaaay more interesting than tounging a handheld.

    3. Brenda Braithwaite - Lead Designer for Cyberlore’s “Playboy: The Mansion” game.

    Why is this more interesting that every other designer out there? Because she's a chick?

    2. Leroy Jenkins - One small video of gameplay in World of Warcraft took the entire gaming community by storm.

    Uh. OK.

    1. Jack Thompson - ready and willing lawyer to do "Hot Coffee" combat in the name of the common good.

    Now just frakkin shoot me.

    Thompson is damn lunatic. In the name of the common good? More like in the name of his personal damn crusade against his own paranoia. The only way someone could make the mistake of assuming Thompson is the most interesting figure of gaming is they've never really paid any attention to him.

    You know, the woman who used to sit on my block with a sign detailing all the people who had died in her life and wailed for hours at a time got plenty of attention as well. But she wasn't exactly the most interesting citizen around. Get my point?

    10 most interesting? More like "10 people we could think of without having to google too much". 10 people and only two are designers here ... one for an unreleased game and another because they have breasts. No props for the ArenaNet guys for beating the MMO pay to play subscriptions? Nothing for Costik for quitting his gig and trying to rev up an indie label? If you're going pull out the big guns like Will Wright, why not go for Sid Meier for striking gold twice with Civ IV?

    I guess, though, it's too much to expect from people who find licking a PSP one of the most fascinating events of an entire year.

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    XBox 360 Launch a Dud?

    It's always hard to gauge a launch of new consumer product as large as the 360, but let's be honest ... there isn't a lot of good news for Redmond here. One used to say that at least it sold well, but now the Financial Times is reporting that the 360 won't even meet sales estimates. That report continues to say that gamers will be experiencing shortages through at least this month.

    So let's tally the score card here:

  • Lower than expected sales
  • Continued lack of supply
  • Persistent rumors of overheating and crashing
  • Disc scratching prevalent enough to force GameFly to institute protective policies
  • Non-HD performance rumored substandard

    That's not exactly a rocket ship to the moon in terms of a new product, particularly one that is supposedly going to start making Microsoft some cash as opposed to just being a tax write-off. Recently, Microsoft announced an external HD-DVD drive for the 360 ... a plan previously suspected but until recently denied by the old MS. Depending on how all the pricing works out, this might make for an interesting twist when Sony finally makes it to the stage, but all of this rolled together really begs the question of whether Microsoft simply jumped the gun here or not. If so, the comparisons to Sega's DreamCast might be more worthy than previously thought.

    If Nintendo manages a Spring 2006 launch, this might play well into their hands. Consumers unwilling to gamble $400+ on a potential dud will be far more willing to pick up a sub $200 machine with, while less bells and whistles, also a lot less troubles. Mumblevine has it that Sony won't be putting anything on the shelves until next Christmas, at the earliest, though ... so Microsoft has plenty of time to fix any hardware issues, get some better titles in the library and hopefully make the external HD-DVD an attractive alternative to the PlayStation 3's built-iin Blu-Ray.

    If not, Microsoft's vaunted expirement might not have the pay-off Redmond wants.

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  • The Alternate Reality of 2005

    The ARG Network has a retrospective of 2005 and that darling genre of new media, Alternate Reality Games:

    As the world became more familiar with ARG through hit games The Art of the Heist, Perplex City, Jamie Kane and Last Call Poker, the community was also treated to many interesting and in-depth grassroots projects like Omnifam and Seen Steve. Overall, the year was very good for the genre, and the community is thriving and growing very day.
    -- 2005 In Review: Alternate Reality Gaming

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