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Saturday, September 23, 2006

Bioshock Gameplay Video

Gaming Hobo points justly to the Eurogamer Bioshock video as worthy weekend media. It's quite interesting. I wouldn't call it revolutionary as much as a evidence that they may have learned many a lesson from the past. It does seem to blend Deus Ex and System Shock together - or in other words it might be the game Deus Ex II should have been.


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A WTF Moment From Apple

“We’re really glad to see Apple start to take the iPod in this direction,” said Glenda Adams, Aspyr Media’s director of development. “It’s the one big piece of entertainment that was missing. Obviously, we’re disappointed that [Apple] launched it as a closed development system. We had pitched several game ideas for iPod at Apple over the past couple years, but it didn’t lead anywhere.

“We think we’ve got a lot to offer the iPod game market,” Adams continued. “Not only have we worked with Apple on Mac games for 10 years, we’ve developed and published several handheld (PocketPC and Game Boy) games in the last couple years.”

Other developers were less diplomatic. “It was lame of Apple to ignore the guys that have been loyal to them,” said a developer who asked not to be named. “We were ready, willing and able to create anything they wanted.”
-- Mac game makers disappointed by iPod shut-out (via Joystiq)

Seriously Apple, that's cold as ice. Shutting out the hobbyist sector from playing with your new iPod toy is one thing. We're used to that kind of rejection. We've got thick skins and layers of defense mechanisms to keep us warm. Shutting out developers like Aspyr though?

When I first stated that this seemed like Apple is taking iPod gaming more seriously than Mac gaming - I figured it was one of those knee jerk myopic industry outsider kind of statements. You know, the thing that fuels a blog like this.

Now I'm not so sure. I mean, Apple has a long history of controlling the most the things it holds the dearest. Mac hardware, iTunes, iPods and now iPod games. When Apple considers something really critical - they hold it as close to their chest as possible. They are not of the "if you love it, set it free" cult.

However, I firmly state once again that they ignoring the biggest and most successful exception to that rule: podcasts and videocasts. You can barely see The Steve walking on stage these days without him talking about RocketBoom eventually. Where would RocketBoom be if Apple had decided to only allow vblogs from industry insiders like Disney? Frackin' nowhere, that's where.

Apple has the opportunity to try and create a portal for hobbyist gaming literally unlike that we've seen before. With iTunes, they've got a robust gateway into a casual gaming market that adores the synergy between community and media. So maybe it can't be quite as wild west as the podcasts because it's running actual code ... but that's a lame excuse for simply showing everyone the hand.



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A WTF Moment From Sony

There have been a few times in the past when I've ragged on various sites for continously quoting certain key Microsoft employees for repeated relatively vapid and often completely unfounded statements as if they were some kind of source of news.

Listening to one executive bash another company's product is generally two steps away from listening to two fanboys duke it out in forums. The only difference is that the executives use better grammar and the fanboys are often better informed.

Just to prove I'm not playing bias here, lemme add Sony to the list:

"[Nintendo and their DS] are appealing to the same audience that Game Boy has always appealed to. And if you look at the adoption rate of the DS over the first 17 months, not only does it trail the PSP but it also trails their other platforms ... They're potentially losing some of their core audience and they're not really expanding beyond that, and we think we're expanding into a completely new audience as we did with PlayStation ... we'll dip down to the younger consumer eventually, and we'll ultimately appeal to that vastly Earth wide audience we carved out with the original PlayStation."
-- Sony: Nintendo is losing audience, not expanding it [Joystiq]

Firstly, Nintendo has titles like Brain Age which has gone on the books for scoring highly with non-gamers. The PSP has nothing remotely similar. Secondly, the Nintendo DS has spanked the PSP in sales like a naughty schoolboy. If anyone is trailing anyone else - Sony is doing the following.

Thirdly - Earth wide audience? WTF. Oh wait no - that actually makes perfect sense.

Sony executives are Martians. It explains why their PR is so bizarre and why they can't communicate very well to consumers. English is their second culture.

Well, welcome to Earth Sony execs. Now, please hire a decent translator and start explaining why the PlayStation 3 is worth it's price tag for the holidays.



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Friday, September 22, 2006

A Rainbow Of AT-AT



In honor of Lego Star Wars II. From the Brickfest 2006 photoset.


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Audio Adventures

I'm not sure if this qualifies as a Round Table post or not, since I'm responding specifically to Thomas' notion on using audio in games.

Sound in games can be a fascinating dimension. I still react almost viscerally when I hear that alarm noise from GoldenEye rings in a movie or television show (Stargate: Atlantis uses it constantly). Back in the olden days, when Dungeon Master showed up with surround sound audio - it felt like someone had completely changed the rules of the game. Even when I was a CounterStrike admin the most common defense for someone doing well was that they were just wearing a really good set of headphones that helped them locate people.

And yet these days the most common critique you hear about game sounds is that they don't have enough bass, or "omph", or gritty realism.

What if sound took back the center stage? What if there was no video output? Well, here's a couple of thoughts:

Audio ARG
This is actually what ilovebees slowly transformed into ... an onllne mystery whose plot was advanced by a series of audio files. I was actually a little annoyed because it shifted the game dramatically from being about puzzle solving and reading to waiting for people to make phone calls and downloading wav's.

Still, it was impressive how complete of a world was created with just audio snippets. Not just a plotline, but characters and backdrops as well. If text is the cheapest way to describe a detailed world, audio is the next cheapest.

Audio Puzzler
Speech detection has gotten much more sophisticated these days. If they can use it to avoid your phone calls on technical support, why not use it to entertain you as well? Think virtual GameMaster without the text - just the speech. The game sets up the description of the puzzle and you converse with the parser to solve it. Since not constrained by graphics, the puzzles could be anything from brainteasers to twenty questions.

Audio Platformer
Makes no sense, right? How do you have platform without a screen to represent it? It's simple ... rock concerts do it all the time. It's called audience participation. Certain points during the audio - the player has to perform an action specific to the audio cues. Shout out, sing back, clap, whatever. Basically Simon Says meets Guitar Hero.

That's all I got time for right now. Good mental exercise for when one is looking to shove a game into iTunes, I might add.



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MTV Goes Behind The Counter

...at a video game store:

Whitman has manned the counter at Bandit Video Games in Sicklerville, New Jersey, for five years. Post has worked weekends for one year. During their time there, they've seen eccentric characters and learned just how well game ratings really work. They know which games you can't sell the average customer no matter how hard you try. They've heard the buzz about this year's PS3 and Wii consoles and know which one their customers significantly care more about.
Post has taken note of how many women have come into the shop looking for games in his past year. That number would be two. And the number of people who come in with birds on their shoulder? That's one.

Earlier this year, Post and Whitman convinced their boss and owner of Bandit Video, as the guys in the shop call it, to start sharing some of this information on the Internet. They launched a blog called "A Day in the Life of Video Games" (DayInTheLifeOfVideoGames.BlogSpot.com), the rare spot where gamers can find out what people on the other side of the counter think of them and the stuff they pay to play
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What's It Like Behind The Counter At A Video Game Store? These Bloggers Tell All



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Rain, Meet Parade

There are two popular theories going around the gamesphere these days. One is that the Wii will overtake Microsoft and Sony and retake Nintendo's seat at the throne of gaming. The other is that Microsoft will ride it's early lead and overtake Sony.

So that would be Nintendo, Microsoft and then Sony in the next few years. At least with theories combined. I often hear the first two swapped.

They're kinda fascinating theories ... it's almost sad that they are products of reacting to PR hype than facts. Here's the facts that seem to be constantly ignored:

PlayStation 2 remains the dominant console
It's consistently outsold the Xbox 360. It's got somewhere five times the installed base over any other machine (the only real rival? The DS). Development continues to be quite strong on the platform and the holiday library definately outshines it's upcoming sibling and likey the 360 as well.

The Wii is still an experiment
Everyone wants to love the Wii. I want to love the Wii. It's still the only console I'm contemplating as a replacement for my trusty PS2.

I think Nintendo is going to have a very happy holiday season. I just think we need to realize a few things:

The wiimote could backfire with hardcore gamers
There are still very real, very open questions about the wiimote being able to replace the standard controller wholesale. Control schemes on shooters like Red Steel and Metroid Prime 3 are still being adjusted ... even this close to launch. Certainly, many games will provide unwiimote controls ... but that somewhat defeats the purpose.

The wiimote could intimidate casual gamers
This is completely contradictory to Nintendo's very public scheme to garner new players ... but in some ways the wiimote is a bit scary. At least, from the pictures where people are off the couch and pretending to bowl, swing, jump, swerve or do the hokey pokey and turn themselves around.

We're Americans. We're a self-conscious people. We only do karoake when we're good and drunk. Not everyone might be in for crowding into a small living room and waving their arms around. Not when that couch is looking oh so comfy.

It's not that simple
It was easier when you had three consoles released at basically the same market for similar prices. Course, even then you had to take into factors of what you considered a "win". Microsoft, with it's sales numbers and massive loss of money in the project? Nintendo with it's diminishing market but high profit margins? Even then, Sony and Microsoft were playing one game while Nintendo was playing another.

Now, we have three products with three different philosophies. Microsoft is sticking to the "traditional" model: subsidize hardware to acheive marketshare. Nintendo has completely changed up: lower hardware costs and strike the lowest common denominator (potentially the "nongamer"). Sony has shifted course: use their current marketshare to sell a heavily subsidized component of their next gen consumer line (tied to HDTV).

They all have different goals. Microsoft is just looking to expand their market until the Xbox 3 when they hope to achieve some profitability. Nintendo is trying to expand theirs into untapped markets (which they've had success with the DS) to create their own niche. Sony is hoping that in three years, high def means Blu-Ray.

Until these markets all collide - in other words the nongamer starts gaming and does it solely on an HDTV and acquire an HD movie library ... it's going to be a very fragmented picture in the gaming world.

I'll say it again - 2007 is going to be a very interesting year. My guess is still that by 2009 it will look something like a three way tie. Perhaps one company will have enough of a margin to appease fanboys.

Until then, I'll be trying to convince The Girl that waving our arms around in the living room will actually be really, really fun.




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Two Views On Saint's Row

Over at Mercury News, guest reviewer Jerry Pham talks about respect in Saint's Row while Dean suffers under standard definition. It's a bout of GTA Clone Wars.


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Thursday, September 21, 2006

Asteroids Had A Backstory

See the required reading to see where this is riffing from. I'm not necessarily responding directly to anything in those post - mostly just resounding afterwards.

Regular readers of Cathode will be familiar with some of the points I'll be making.

And as an aside, I'm going to to do my best to avoid dragging academic or technical jargon into this post. Reason for that is that I'm sure most academics are quite aware of most of the below.

There are times when the interliterati sect divide specifically interactive fiction from hypertext fiction. I'm not really against this distinction because only when you try and divide the two can you pull together a list of components which makes the formats operate.

Interactive fiction is often defined by what does has whereas the hypertext by what it does not. Interactive fiction employs a prompt which the user can interact with some kind of process. Hypertext fiction does not. Interactive fiction attempts to define an interactive environment which the player can experiment within. Hypertext fiction does not.

To place this within classic gaming analogies - interactive fiction attempts to emulate a GameMaster. The virtual GM sits behind a screen and will respond to requests or questions, if capable. Hypertext fiction is simply the book and you're left to traverse the (albeit sophisticated) navigation.

This might sound harsh on hypertext fiction. So let's reverse course a bit and examine what hypertext fiction includes that interactive fiction does not. For one thing, HF has a straightforward narrative. The story is its backbone. In fact, some early examples of hypertext fiction barely include anything resembling actual gameplay. Many of these stories are simply being formatted in parrellel. The plot is still linear - but you could choose which portion (or in some cases, perspective) of the storyline you were reading.

By comparison, early examples of interactive fiction barely had any story. In fact, I could level many of the same complaints I've made against Half-Life 2 at Zork. The illustration of backstory is not the same as plot. There might be a grand tale of a Great Underground Empire behind Zork - but the actual story is about someone wandering around a dungeon.

As a complete aside - I believe this inherent gap is the downfall of many game to movie conversions. But I digress.

So we have these two formats: one is akin to passing messages over a screen and the other is something like unfolding a map. One seems rooted in gameplay. The other in narration. Clearly they seem distinct and potentially insoulable.

But of course, that's not the case. There are examples of blending all over the place. Take gamebooks, which add RPG elements to a Choose Your Own Adventure format. (aside: Fighting Fantasy books feature both Steve Jacksons).

I'd even say most modern game design is the combination of interactive and hypertext fiction. Take Wing Commander. Every time you are out flying around shooting space cats, you're sending messages to a GM behind a screen (which processes your velocity, shots, shields, etc. into an environment). When you hit the ship and/or cutscenes - you're selectively choosing portions of a narration (or having past events to select them for you).

This could easily be applied to Deus Ex or Deus Ex II. However, non-branching narrations apply as well ... they just aren't as sophisticated. As the headline says, even Asteroids had a backstory. It's true - I stumbled on the manual when I was packing stuff up for The Move. There's a bit about who you are and what you were doing when you were essentially assaulted by big rocks.

It was actually pretty common for those early arcade games. I think the reason is very simple - in general games can't resist trying to merge these two formats. We're not just talking about Asteroids here ... but Clue as well. All of this gameplay versus narration, immersion versus cinematics, prose versus play stuff ... it's just part of entertainment. We like playing. We like stories. We're greedy. Do the math. I bet if you researched hard enough, you'd find a backstory for chess.

There's a big movement to constantly represent these two forms within each other. Some game designers are kicking traditional cinematics out for in-game sequences (thank you, Valve). Many interliterati speak of emergent narratives. OK, that's jargon. They talk about plot which arises from gameplay. I came, I played, I walk away with a story to tell you.

I think that's all grand. But I think it's a tool in the kit and not the holy grail. I think it's important to keep this stuff distinct so that you have all your options on deck. Because while I don't think these forms aren't insoluable ... I think they can dilute each other. If you want to tell a really powerful story - treat it as a really powerful story. Don't expect the virtual GM to accomplish that for you. If want to make compelling gameplay - make compelling gameplay and story be damned.

Huh, this was supposed to end with a look at Randolph Carter and how it blends (and does not blend the two), but this has gone on long enough. Rant for another day.



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IF Homework

Here's been my biggest problem with dealing with Randolph Carter:

What, given the constraints of a text-based game, would people really want to play?

Set aside all the discussion on the evolution of a narrative or the synergy between player and textual whatnots or immersive narrations or whatever. Free yourself from jargon.

Imagine a game which requires no graphics at all (including ASCII graphics) which you would find compelling to play. Describe it with reasonable brevity.




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Required Reading

I was going to link and discuss these bits later ... but today might be swamped. So for the post I hope to read later today, here's is your headstart?

First, Grand Text Auto defines IF. Or at least makes a noble effort. Second is the post that was riffing on, where Mara discusses hypertext versus interactive fiction. Combined they make a great surveyance of the landscape which is interactive forms. These posts struck because after reading them, I'm not sure which camp Randolph Carter resides.




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FrOZ

Found via Plexav:

FrOZ is a text adventure engine based on current technology from computational linguistics and theorem proving. It uses real natural language processing techniques to analyse the user's input and generate the system's output, and accesses a description logic knowledge base with a theorem prover.

FrOZ was conceived by Malte Gabsdil, Alexander Koller, and Kristina Striegnitz in 2001, and then implemented by a number of students of computational linguistics in Saarbr├╝cken under their supervision. The system had been laying dormant, until a surge of public interest (i.e. three or four different people who wanted to try the system out) in 2004 made us clean up the distribution and create a website for it. That's what you're looking at right now.
-- FrOZ

Plexav mentions that it aims to "to incorporate a task planner into the engine, freeing the Player from having to detail well-known processes. The planner will fill in any conditions that must be met (i.e. standing up before running, opening mouth before drinking, etc.) thus making for a more naturally flowing adventure experience. "

Which makes me think that for being generally task driven narratives, many IF engines focus on a dialogue model (be it between the player and the parser or the player and NPC's via the parser). Is a command line a proper model for handling tasks or are there other computing models we could draw on?




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A Couple Of IF's In The Morning

Today is going to be pretty much devoted to talking about interactive fiction - assuming I can wrangle in any amount of time to devote to writing anything of length. I definately don't have time for news digging.

In the meantime, here are a couple of interactive pieces I've stumbled on this morning:

In the last Carter post, Jonathan points to his Make Your Own Adventure project. It's hypertext fiction with the twist that players can add their own actions and pages.

Also, the always informative Uncyclopedia has a it's own version of Zork.



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Controversy Monday At Dinosaur Comics

The Brother forwarded along this recent Dinosaur Comic on crazy people who play games. Golden.


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Wednesday, September 20, 2006

I Think I Understand Pointers Now

Nothing to add to that, really. I just wanted to mark the moment.

What Are These?



Because I've got no clue. From Lin1000.tw's photostream.


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A Line For A Wii? Better Be-Wii-ve it.

There’s going to be more stock of Nintendo Wii than the company has ever had for a console, and yet Nintendo UK boss David Yarnton still acknowledges that there will “most definitely” be shortages. You might want to go pre-order a Wii before you finish reading this.

In a recent interview with Eurogamer as reported by gamesindustry.biz, the Nintendo exec was surprisingly candid.
“We’ve sold close to six million units of DS hardware since launch and four million Nintendogs, so Europe is a very important market for our company and growing,” said Yarnton.

“[With Wii] we’re looking at about four million units before the end of the year globally and Europe will get a reasonable proportion of that,” he continued.

“The stock that we’re looking to get we believe will probably be more than we’ve ever had for any console launch. But from the feedback we’ve had from our retailers, whatever we have won’t be enough as the demand from people is really heating up for it.”
-- Yarnton On Nintendo Wii Shortages: ‘Most Definitely’

Now I think that's talking specifically about the European launch ... but I wouldn't expect any more from the other launches. I suspect they'll be in more supply than the PlayStation 3, but that might be small comfort.

And no, I will not tire of wii-puns.



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Curmudgeon Your Podcast

Matt, founder of Curmudgeon Gamer, got invited on to the most recent Next-Gen podcast. They discuss the Wii, digital delivery of games and sex (in games). And props to Matt for taking the chance to correct the myth about the PlayStation 3 and rentals. Plus, he gets a good plug in for this here blog (woot!).

It's a good cast and I think Matt did a great job. Hopefully he's not afflicted by the same illness as I which makes one hate the sound of their own voice.



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Disney Gloats On iTunes Movies

Disney said it has already flogged around 125,000 downloads of the 75 films currently available at between $9.99 and $14.99, netting it $1m in sales. Revenues of $50m are likely in the first year of the arrangement, he predicted with some fairly basic sums.

More Disney movies are on their way to iTunes, subject to legal clearance.

Iger also bigged-up iTV, Apple's forthcoming Sqeezebox-style wireless streaming device for video, saying "it felt like a game-changer to me in many respects".

Iger said that his dealings with Apple maharishi Steve Jobs had been highly instructive, adding he often turns to him for advice on new media. "For me, he has become just a tremendous sounding board," the Disney boss gushed. We imagine among Jobs' advice so far has been (a) to put Disney movies on iTunes, and (b) that iTV will be super. ®
-- Disney 'very, very bullish' on early iTunes movie downloads

Wait ... they flog downloads?



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L33T GR4F1T1

Cryptic graffiti spray-painted next to a swastika on Juneau's lone synagogue angered and confused many late last month.

Police initially labeled the mark "pp4lyf" as "gang-related graffiti," but to some Internet-savvy youth the tag seems less likely to be a sign of the infiltration of organized hatemongers in Juneau than of the proliferation of an increasingly popular type of computer slang known as "leetspeak."

Leetspeak, or leet, is a computer communication style in which letters are replaced with numbers and symbols to spell or abbreviate phrases and sentences. Although leet is far from new - it is believed to date back to the 1980s when hackers and programmers used it to mask their communication - the lingo has become popular in recent years with the explosion of interactive video games, instant messaging and social networking Web sites.
-- ClubHooligan.com - Cyber wordsmiths transform the 3N9Li$H language

Somehow this seems like some kind of creepy turning point for geek culture.



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Tuesday, September 19, 2006

International Talk Like A Pirate Day

Today is Talk Like A Pirate Day, although to be honest I have enough trouble communicating with co-workers that I don't think I could stand adding in "aaaarghs". This comes on the back that the Swedish Pirate Party isn't doing so well.

Well, just remember - 90% of your DNA maybe similar to that of a monkey - but 99% of it is similar to a pirate.



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Kids Learning Writing With Myst

Fifteen children between the ages of 9 and 11 are staring at the computer screen, mesmerized, as the adventure game Myst III: Exile is played. In the middle of the group sits Tim Rylands, the most popular teacher at the small elementary school Chew Magna, in the village of the same name near the English city of Bristol. Once more he manuevers his cordless mouse to guide the cursor along the dark walls of a hollow mountainside. Rylands then tells his students, "OK, now write down which way we should go to get to the ladder. What do you come across? What do you experience on your journey?" The only sound heard is the furious scribbling of pens.

Rylands has found a way to make writing fun for kids. Myst is a beautifully designed series of computer games set on a mysterious deserted island that can be endlessly navigated. According to Rylands, the visually rich landscape inspires his students' creativity.

He can back up that claim with data. An average of 75 percent of English children between the ages of 9 and 11 reach so-called "level four literacy levels" in reading and writing (including spelling, grammar, vocabulary, etc.). At Chew Magna, that percentage stood at 77 in 2000, rising to 93 four years later after Rylands began using computers to help teach writing. Boys in particular, who normally score lower in these areas, have made tremendous progress. One hundred percent reach level four, compared to 67 percent in 2000.
-- AlterNet: Reading, Writing and Video Gaming

Pretty smart, really. Give kids a common and vibrant experience to pull from and get excited about. Myst is a great choice - rich in detail and family friendly. Plus it's a puzzler - so they're actually engaged in the experience and thinking about the environment. One of my writing teachers in high school had a nervous breakdown and had to take three weeks off to stay at home in a dark room. I would rather have had Myst.




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Psycho Kills People, Story At Eleven

The media continues to be surprised that a psychotic killer liked violent media and surely there are some out there that will try to prove that games made him kill.

All I know is this: every picture I've seen of this guy has him weilding some huge knife or gun. Every picture he is giving the camera a look like the lens is going to get it. He complained that violent video games weren't violent enough for him. He adored the likes of the Columbine killers and Devin Moore.

Now if someone could show me the pre-GTA picture of him dressed in a button down shirt and carrying a backpack of books with a big smile on his face - maybe I could buy that video games warped him. Until I see such a transformation - I'll go with the obvious conclusion that he's just a complete nutjob.

Remember, Devin Moore was a "someone who loved trouble, stealing cars and dabbling in drugs", according to his own father. Not some straight-A student who suddenly fell into a den of evil video games. None of these examples - not Columbine, not Devin and not Gill - have any indication that either the people involved were anything but unbalanced regardless of the kind of media they enjoyed.

Focusing on these extreme sensationalistic cases isn't good for either side. It demonizes gamers and drowns out the legitimate science. There are studies that video games can be inappropriate for children ... either because of content or quantity. However by trying to make a good parenting issue into a mental health or crime prevention one ... everyone loses out.

Course, I keep saying this over and over. The media could care less, though, because they're out for the sensational story. Politicians could care less because they just want to look like they care about the children. Jack Thompson could care less because he's insane.

So parents - it still looks like you're on your own.




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Is Your Computer Secretly A Supercomputer?

I can't describe how skeptical I am of this:

The most powerful computing device in your PC may not be that dual-core processor, but your average graphics card. Interest in tapping the hidden processing power in graphics processor has been growing over the past two years, but Peakstream is the first company to actually offer a solution to create a supercomputer based on graphics cards.

Peakstream claims that it has developed a new software platform that can create supercomputers by combining the processing capability of common CPUs with the resources of modern graphics cards. Simply by adding the horsepower of graphics cards to an existing computer, the company claims that the original system can be accelerated by a factor of 20x.
-- The hidden potential in your graphics card: A supercomputer? | TG Daily

It goes on for a short while - but the short version is that your computer could be spending all those pixel pushing bits of silicon to think smarter about things when it's ... well, not pushing pixels.

Since most people reading this would want to use a supercomputer to play Quake anyway, I'm thinking there's a bit of a chicken and egg problem here.


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HD-DVD V. Blu-Ray: Round 32

While discussing's Universal's recent line in the sand, BetaNews took them up on their offer to "read the blogs" to see just how well the war was going:

In Home Theater Forum, attendees of CEDIA Expo report seeing the latest Blu-ray demonstrations from Sony and others as equaling, if not yet exceeding, HD DVD quality.

Early in the game, Blu-ray supporters including Sony touted its 1080p (progressive) scan capability early on as inherently superior to 1080i (interlaced), while HD DVD supporters including Toshiba responded by saying that interlacing the disc encoding would not affect the quality of the picture in any appreciable fashion. Many, though not all, of the first reviews from video experts would seem to validate Toshiba's view.

But then on Thursday, Toshiba became the first manufacturer to announce the second wave of high-definition players. Showing the first new models behind glass at CEDIA Expo, Toshiba said the HD-A2 and HD-XA2 will feature 1080p resolution, calling it "the highest HD signal currently available." So if Sony had an advantage there for awhile, there it went.

The HD-XA2 will also support the new 1.3 specification for HDMI, the high-definition interconnect standard. This standard enables higher bandwidth connections for lossless audio codecs, plus support for newer video compression schemes. Learning this news, a few HD-XA1 and HD-A1 owners, who are also members of the AV Science Forum, reported feeling "screwed out" of new features that may not be coming their way as upgrades.
-- Universal Studios Unlikely to Ever Support Blu-ray

So it sounds fairly razor thin. Will the current high def formats be the next laserdisc?


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Monday, September 18, 2006

Randolph Carter: Final Draft

I think I've squashed the remaining major bugs from The Case Of Randolph Carter. I will continue doing some final passes for the next couple days and then submit it to Slamdance before Friday. I'm actually a little happier with it now than when I completed the first draft. In retrospect it accomplished the goal I was aiming for - it proves a viable framework for interactive storytelling that doesn't require a parser or prompt for the reader-player to chew through. Instead the reader is allowed to generally just read the story and nudge things in a general direction.

Now, I'm not saying there aren't serious misgivings here. For one thing, I stated that I disliked stories which could threaten to kill you off. Then I go and pick a horror genre where over half the endings are some kind of grim fate. Also, I disliked interactive fiction which dissolved into trial and error puzzle solving - and yet there's certainly a great deal of trial and error within Randolph Carter. In fact, it's basically a series of blind alleys.

So I'm not sure I would return to this exact same format, but it's given me notes for trying new formats with similar goals. I do think that a format which centralizes around the text and not the parser is vital if you're trying to construct a narrative. It's not that I don't think storyworlds can't generate some kind of narrative - it's just that it likely won't a strong a plot driven one. I'm working within a lot of grey zones here, though, so I might try some further expirements which push the boundaries out in either direction. One might be an episodic story similar in scope to Carter and another might be a more randomly created storyworld.

We'll see. After this I'm going to focus mostly on the iTunes game. Mostly it just feels good to have actually finished something again.

Thanks again to Clamatius for his champion editing skills and Jason for the redesign suggestions (even if I just ended up stealing his colors).




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Virtual Space Invaders Display



Apparently found within Second Life. I'm suddenly filled with the desire to make a Space Invaders mobile. From Ami_Chyan's photostream. See also the virtual Sonic display.



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Ten Minutes With Lego Star Wars II

The Girl brought up Her Puppy to live with us this weekend (Her Puppy, btw, being a full grown Shepard-Rott mix. She's still Her Puppy, though). To welcome her to the North side, she took her for a quick walk. I took this chance to finally boot up Lego Star Wars: The Original Trilogy.

Corvus referred to the game as LEGO Star Wars: The Good Trilogy and even as I jumped into the game for only about ten or twenty minutes, I'm reminded how true is that statement (also check out his quick review). The first level is an extended version of the droids escaping the shuttle. At one point, if you explore in the right direction, you open a window which shows the adjacent hallway.

There is Darth Vader ... torturing little Lego rebels. To death.

Now, I don't want to make that sound too awful violent or dark. It's actually pretty cartoony. Remember that when Lego people die - they just disassemble. They can be resurrected without so much as a phoenix feather. It's not gruesome. It's just a reminder that even when represented solely by toys the first films come out much more serious and interesting than the prequels. Vader and his troopers aren't there to have a chat with The Princess - they're there to kill every mofo other than the ones they'll later torture.

Remember that in just few scenes they'll hit Tatooine and burn Luke's adoptive parents to death.

I'm just pointing this out because when people defend Lucas as someone who wanted to bring light-hearted family-friendly serials to the big screen ... I have no idea where they get that. I mean, sure, I think Lucas himself has said that. But A New Hope more closely resembles it's source materials: Kurasawa films and Westerns. It doesn't resemble rompish serials with crazy cliffhangers and frentic action antics until Return Of The Jedi.

Anywho. It seems like it's a great game done even better. Even after just ten minutes with it - I'd say it's highly recommended.




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XNA Quotes

Microsoft's XNA studio for the 360 has come up in a couple of interviews. First at Gamasutra's Introversion talk:

What's Introversion's take on the recent indie-gaming populist rise with Microsoft's XNA club announcement?

Microsoft are putting a lot of effort into supporting XBox development. It's great to see them investing in something like XNA club as a kind of incubator for new ideas. I think the terms prohibit commercal release of any titles, so I don't think it will generate that many new independent games, but I do think it'll provide a breeding ground for experimentation that can then be taken forward - that can only be a good thing.
-- Gamasutra - Q&A: Introversion's Bedroom Programmer Survival Guide

And then Shacknews recently sat down with CliffyB:

Shack: During Microsoft's GameFest 2006 in Seattle, the company announced XNA Game Studio Express, which will allow almost anyone to compile and run their own code on Xbox 360 units.

Do you see this as a step in the right direction for the industry? What are your thoughts on homebrew in general?
CliffyB: I think it's awesome. I get emails all the time from people who want to get into the biz; it's trickier now than it was when I was a teenager and every possible venue for these eager gamers to get in is a step in the right direction. It's that young blood that's going to be able to take the design risks that the big guy just can't afford to do. It's the guys at gaming school who do a portal game that Valve then works with to make a new and innovative game like Portal.
-- Interview with CliffyB

It's really getting great feedback so far, for such a nascent idea. I'm convinced this is because the idea itself is sound and most people are willing to give Microsoft slack for any issues with implentation right now. I wish they'd make the XNA Xbox I compatible, since a cheaper SDTV friendly console is way more ubiqitous than an HDTV friendly one.

And by the by, that CliffB interview has some interesting points on using cinematics and gameplay.


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Games For Windows

Microsoft launches it's Games For Windows branding today. I had earlier bashed Microsoft for rolling out this campaign with mostly marketing tactics. There is one thing I like though ... see if you can spot it:

Say goodbye to the old PC game boxes. Can't say I'll miss them. But this is all you're going to see for the most part. The games that carry these logos will support wide-screen displays, will support 64-bit versions of Windows, can be launched from within Windows Media Center, and support the Xbox 360 game controller for the PC. The games have to meet guidelines for easier instllation, improved reliability, and support Vista features such as the Games Explorer and Parental Controls.
-- A+E Interactive: Microsoft Kicks Off Games For Windows Logo

Find it? .... how about "support the Xbox 360 game controller". Now, it's fairly incidental and an almost obvious move for Microsoft ... but it goes back to what I was saying about game development with Apple. Microsoft has released a branded controller and centralized it with a stamp of approval.

Why is this a fundamental change? Well, try to have your friends over to play a PC game with nothing more than a keyboard and a mouse. The key/mouse combo is awesome for the single player - but gaming is becoming more and more of a living room exercise and often with other people. A game controller solves this ... and a standardized game controller eases developer worries about what buttons players can push.

Many Macs these days ship with an Apple Remote. Why not offer an upgraded version that could double as a game controller?



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More On The PlayStation 3 Launch

The Brother and I were back in hometown this weekend and we both had already decided we wanted a Wii when it launches. I still find the PlayStation 3 fairly interesting. For one thing, check out this preview of Resistance: Fall Of Man -

The game itself uses Insomniac’s proprietary engine and the entire single-player campaign can be played in co-op mode. There will be three vehicles that can be driven in co-op mode.

Graphically the game was stunning. During the event in Burbank, it was running at 720p, but the goal is to have it up to 1080 by launch. The environments are destructible and detailed. The sound was equal to the graphics, with a rich narrative.

Hands on allowed the media to play parts of levels, not full levels, but the experience was somewhat typical of the FPS genre in some regards, but not so in many others. The AI of the enemy was bright and often the Chimera employed tactics that some FPS gamers use – like run forward, shoot and then backpedal while continuing to shoot.

In all this is one launch title that is looking like a must-have for potential PS3 owners. Sony allowed a treat in seeing snippets of the game, but these were more than enough to whet the appetite for much more.
-- Resistance: Fall of Man Preview from GameZone.com

Two things - one, it sounds like a very solid launch title. Two, I've got no interest in it right now because the resolutions sounds like it's high def friendly - but probably not standard def friendly. And I'm guessing Sony isn't worrying about being standard def friendly. NPR just had an interview with columnist David Pogue about the upcoming format war. His advice was a solid: stay out of the middle of it. Course, he was recommending HD-DVD over Blu-Ray (if one simply must jump in) based on price alone.

And he was leaving the PlayStation 3 out of the equation. At just $100 more than the HD-DVD player and with a whole slew of other functions - it's clearly the beach-head of the coming high def war. I don't think Sony is going to waste too much time worrying about things running at 480 and below.

2007 is going to be a fascinating year for technology.




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Exporting Ignorance

Religious critics of evolution have trained their sights on one of the world's pre-eminent fossil exhibits -- Louis and Richard Leakey's extensive skeletal collections illuminating the origins of man.

Evangelical Christians in Kenya are demanding that the exhibit at Nairobi's National Museum edit out references to human evolution in order to prevent young African Christians from being taught falsehoods.

"We are objecting to the message that the fossil exhibits represent the scientific evidence of human evolution," said Bishop Boniface Adoyo, chairman of the Evangelical Alliance of Kenya, which claims to represents churches of 35 denominations with 9 million members. "They do not. Human evolution is still a theory and this cannot be called as evidence.”
-- Wired: Evolution Attack Goes Global

In related news, the U.S. Congress is considering a bill that will remove the payment of legal fees for establishment cases based on separation of church and state. The simple version: you can only defend the separation if you're really wealthy. Otherwise when a judge admits publically that he feels the laws of man come after the Bible, you'd better start taking donations.


What a happy Monday.