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Friday, February 02, 2007

Dev Diary: Loops

Sometimes it's helpful to think of games as a series of loops of varying sizes. Epic developers used to talk like this to mod teams. An inner loop might be the action and reaction between pushing a button and having a gun fire. An outer loop might contain overall combat mechanics. Way outer loops involve things like UI beauty and pretty logos. The outer loops are related to your inner loops (that pretty UI might describe the gun you were firing) - but it's a lot more distant than the delay the firing animation is given.

I've been playing mostly with setting up Dreadnought's inner loops. I've got melee combat, basic ranged combat, a concept of movement, health, energy, loot drops, loot pickups and crates (chests). I just started thinking about the loops outside of that - choosing weapons and attacks, setting up player menus, etc.

Right now I'm at a bit of a crossroads. I could keep moving outward and start flushing out the editor more, build some better test maps and starting modelling out the crafting functions. Or I could keep focusing inward on try and get the combat basics down really tight.

I'm leaning to the latter. My worry there is that I'll tinker so long on finer details and eventually get weary. However, combat is key. It's really, you know, the game. I'd like to make melee more interesting than just bumping characters around. Plus, how combat actually works will directly impact how crafting works.

Probably inner. Then ... the Bears are in the Super Bowl! Maybe I'll just nap until Sunday.

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The LED Boston Scare

Apparently this is fear of technology week:

Phil Kent, Turner’s chairman and CEO, made the apology in full-page ads in Boston newspapers for “the confusion and inconvenience” caused as highways, bridges and river traffic were shut down in several areas while police checked out the signs, some of which had protruding wires.
-- Turner CEO apologizes for Boston scare [MSNBC]

Emphasis mine. Interestingly Chicago found about twenty of these LED ads and took them down to avoid a similar scare. However, no charges will be filed. The city might seek compensation for taking them down - but I'm guessing that number would be far less than Boston's figures ... which including detonating one of them just to be safe.

These LED ads are of course the Adult Swim ones, if you haven't seen them yet. They were deemed scary by the city of Boston because they had batteries and wires. Next, they'll be exploding the wall clock near you.

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More Wired On Super Columbine

In his artist's statement on the Super Columbine website, Ledonne says he created the game as a kind of cautionary tale. He describes his work as an exploration of the killers' mentalities, pointing out that he took great pains getting the narrative details right. I could be cynical and say he probably did it hoping to make a killing -- pardon the pun -- but for the sake of the higher argument I'll play along.

What makes Ledonne think that a video game is the best way to try and deconstruct the tortured minds that led to Columbine? Gaming is essentially escapist entertainment and while there are plenty of violent games out there to help you get off, if that's what gets you off, no one has ever confused a Sony console with a social laboratory.

With all due respect, I think this is the wrong medium for this sort of soul searching.
-- Shoot to Kill, Shoot to Thrill [Wired]

First to clarify ... the next paragraph insist that the author, Tony Long, is not supporting Slamdance's ban of the game or even covering that topic ... he is discussing Super Columbine Massacre RPG itself.

That said, I think I would politely call this line of argument as ... engaging? That's probably giving it too much credit. It's a very plausible and somewhat reasoned counterpoint - I just think it trips over its own assertion.

Firstly, I haven't played SCMRPG yet myself. I honestly don't really plan on doing so - I haven't hooked the PC back up and I have no real desire to do so just so that I can run through some games which didn't really interest me in the first place. However, like The Luddite himself admits he's not a gamer, I'm not sure that's the point. Actually, it's quite evident he isn't completely at grasp of the facts at hand since he routinely accuses Ledone of trying to make money.

Off of his free game? Seriously, Tony. Do a little research next time.

However - as he's not talking about Slamdance, I"m not really defending SCMRPG itself.

I just don't think you can get away with saying gaming "is essentially escapist entertainment" and excuse that as some kind of evidence that games can't make social commentary. Am I to made to believe that plays, movies, books and poems are not forms of escapist entertainment? Even when they are social commentary? Is Schindler's List the entertainment equivalent of a history professor's speech?

The problem with Long's case is that he has no case. He provides no supporting logic to show why games can't be social commentary while every other form of entertainment on the planet seems to be allowed that possibility. The no one has "ever confused a Sony console with a social laboratory" is only proof that Long hasn't heard of our dear friend BatJack. I mean, if a box can make an army of Manchurian children capable of killing people with their cranial menus ... how is that not social commentary?

At the crux of both Slamdance's Baxter's moral cold feet and Long's inability to embrace game is the concept that if Ledone had compiled the information he researched on Columbine into nearly any form other than a game ... it would gain acceptability. If instead of being interactive it were merely pictures thrown on a wall ... it would be legitimate.

But adding any kind of parser between the machine and reader ... and suddenly you've gone too far. Which once you've used the word parser ... well - that just makes it even weirder to try and narrow this down. So if Ledone were to make Super Columbine into an interactive text ... it would still be "wrong". Unless that interactive text removed the player from being in control of the narrative.

So at the core - at the real meaty center - what the detractors find distasteful ... is Ledone's choice of narrative control? It's OK to present information about Columbine, but no OK to try and interject a user into the information. It would be OK to try and represent enough information to make a reader feel like they were there and understand the facts of the day ... just so long as the reader had no control over the course of those facts. Unless, of course, someone were to produce a documentary about how Columbine could have been averted. Just so long as that documentary didn't come with a joystick.

You can immersion in your documentary. But if you have too much, you have a game.

And somehow that's wrong?

To date, Slamdance has not been able to provide a singular rational excuse for pulling Super Columbine from the contest. Instead, they've blamed anonymous third parties and given some minor legalities which could easily be cleared up. If this is the kind of logic game detractors use ... I'm not going to hold my breath waiting for one.

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Thursday, February 01, 2007

PlayStation 3 - One Guess, One Question

The buzz about Sony right now is mostly concentrating on one thing: will they lower the price of the PlayStation 3 line earlier than originally intended ... as in this year?

I want to guess yes. I want to say that the summer will see either a modest ($50) price drop or hefty ($100+) in both skus. They won't do it right away - although since many people grey marketed their units for over MSRP, I'm not sure consumer feelings need to be curbed. Rather, they'll probably wait to see a clearer picture of post-holiday sales.

Why would they do this? Because Sony's biggest problem for the PlayStation 3 is a lack of an installed base. Without a sizeable demographic to justify the large budgets required for high end titles on the console, they'll find it harder to developer the kinds of titles required to drive more hardware sales. It's the grist that gets the wheel rolling.

The PlayStation 2 didn't have this problem because it had a more modest price and was a fuctional DVD player. The PlayStation 3 may be a functional Blu-Ray player, but until at least half of households have HDTV ... it's not a compelling factor. Despite Microsoft's incessant crowing to the contrary - the 360 has had much of the same problem. However, since it doesn't have a price tag tied to being an HD-DVD player, it has less of a hill to climb.

However, my "no they won't camp" comes from one singular fact: Sony's pretty arrogant. It will be hard for them to admit that their expensive toy really is just too expensive for the times. It might spark the idea that the machine can't sell and isn't worth the purchase at any price. So my second guess is that they will bundle the skus with titles that they know will sell.

My third guess (for my increasingly inaccurate title) is that they might even tap into the PlayStation 2's continued popularity and package it with a PlayStation 2 title. Assuming, of course, that PS2 sales and development remains strong through the summer.

Honestly, they'll probably just ride it out. But I think there's tacts Sony could take to mitigate the sluggish start.

The question is simple: how hot does the PS3 get? I just got wind of someone porting USB fan accessories from Japan to keep the box cooler while playing games. No word of actualy overheating (red lights) or damage ... just concern from being hot to the touch.

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Dev Diary: Want Some Rope?

Dreadnought is still coming along smoothly. I got "crates" and "loot" working, so you can actually get things now. You can't do anything with them, but they're shiny. I started to define some objects which might resemble the actual product like certain monsters and weapons. I'm going to start working on some of the more advanced interface concepts like switching weapons, declaring attacks, closing doors and the like pretty soon.

But I've been thinking about one of the major features I really want to add - the ability to easily create your own maps and tasks (quests). The question is ... how much rope should the player get? Enough to tie a knot or enough to hang themselves?

Theoretically, if a player can create any map they want - they could create one room, fill it full of crates with powerful weapons, play it and go beat down whatever they like. Now - some of that is contained because if Dread's skill system works as designed ... that Iron BloodBlade Of BeatDown won't be nearly as powerful because they won't have any powerful attacks with it.

That doesn't alleviate the possibility of map creation becoming a Christmas party, just lessens the after-effects.

The question is ... do I care?

For one thing, Dreadnought's entire engine will be in JavaScript. That means in runs on the client side and is nearly infintely hackable. I won't go into details here, but one could pretty much do anything from give yourself new weapons to double your health if you wanted to take the time reverse engineer the scripts and write a couple javascript: bookmarks (this being why Dread won't ever be multiplayer in this form).

So - it's the player's experience they are tinkering with. Their own backyard. So why should I make a restrictive system to protect them from themselves?

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Wednesday, January 31, 2007

You Died Of Cholera

This is in direct response to Corvus' And Miles to Go Before I End Game.

I'm a big fan of permadeath. I think it's great for both immersion and tension. I'm also fairly certain it's a great way to clear out virtually any modern MMO game. Permadeath worked before people would spend money on a monthly basis to build up a character. I mean, if I've invested $100 in a character only to have them deleted? Ugh.

And when it comes story-driven games ... permadeath has that annoyance of giving rise to really kinda sucky endings. Imagine if Frodo died of gangrene before reaching Mt. Doom? "You Died Of Cholera" makes for a funnier t-shirt than it does drama.

I think, however, clever compromises would be neat. I think some of this came up with the death Round Table.

Inheritance - You die, but your stuff goes to another. Another you happen to play! You might not get to keep all your stuff ... but that +10 Sword Of Severe Dragon Dislike won't go to waste.

Afterlife - This is actually old school. In the roguelike Avatar, when you died you went ... elsewhere. You could fight your way out of the afterlife to return to the mortal realm (or abandon all hope). A friend of mine and I actually had a whole concept of keeping track of life's goals and having various planes of existence interconnected. So if I went to a higher plane - my comrades could worship me and I could occasionally grant them with boons.

The Search For Spock - Death is reversible ... but requires a lot more than just a rez spell. You better have friends willing to go venture into the Cave Of Despair to worship at the Night God to plead for your soul ... because otherwise it's game over, man, game over.

For the record, Dreadnought will use a version of inheritance. Not to get into too much detail, you'll lose the equipment you carried but will have a storage bin for keeping backups. There also might be brain damage (skill loss).

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TV Watch: House And Some Blonde Chick

Last night's House was an interesting because it departed from the normal "disease as villain" formula. Instead of tracking vectors and requesting tests, House was forced to deal with an emotionally traumatized patient. Nothing's physically wrong with her - there's no mystery to solve - and the episode has to manage to drag House along.

This might have flopped. The "Some Blonde Chick" in question was played amazingly well by Katheryn Winnick - who you've possibly never heard of even though she's had about two dozen small roles. She was in "Failure To Launch" if you caught that. The interplay between her and House puts some meat on the bones of what might otherwise have been a pretty meager meal of a show. The subplot of a dying cancer patient, for instance, is largely filler.

House, the show, will have to do more of this down the road in order to sustain the show. The "disease of the week" episodes are grand and all, but the villian subplots (Trigger, Evil Guy From Boston Public) - haven't been as strong as they could. If the show can sustain arching plots and characters that don't feel like obvious antagonism (for instance - any previous episode with Sela Ward doing essentially anything at all) - it will have more longevity.


Gates On Vista's OS X Likeness

O'Brien: Frankly, a lot of what I see here, um, seems to mimic a little bit [Apple's Mac] OS X. Were you going after a specific look there, the Mac look, or?

Gates: No, no, no. Actually, uh, the, we're ahead [slight pause] on a lot, uh, there's whole areas where we've innovated like Media Center and tablet, uh, that, uh, no one else is doing and the parental control, that's the first time that's been done. Even in this photo area, you know, we'd love to have you compare how we've done, make it easy to make a DVD, edit high definition movies.
-- Vista Innovations are not Mac OS inspired says Bill Gates [New Launches]

*Nelson laugh* Ha ha. The link has full video.

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Wonderful Newsgroup Logic

I've been lurking on a few newsgroups lately. Google Groups, for the record, rocks. The interface is so much more powerful now and since I can create an RSS feed for any group I want - it makes things just that much easier. However I'm quickly reminded why I don't actively participate in them much anymore.

A flame ... spat? It's not really a war. A flame spat has sparked up. All it took was one of my favorite kinds of netizens - the kind who actually think positing an open question to a forum is more efficient than just googling. I hardly need to critique his logic here - the ensuing comment trail have pretty much done that for me.

Down the way though, one of the many detractors defends the harsher than "RTFF" (Read The Fraking FAQ) tone as simply pre-emptive. If they are rude to the rude person - the next person might think twice. In other words, the next person who won't be bothered to search the newsgroup before asking a question will somehow mysteriously stumble on the flame spat instead and then go on the non-existent search. Or something.

Whatever. The whole thing really just best serves as an example as to why I mostly just lurk these days.

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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Dev Diary: Dreadnought Early Screenshot

Ah, the fidelity. Clearly the interface could use some work. Actually, I'm still working with the render basics in general.

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Is Vista Breaking Casual Games?

Short answer: no [Kotaku].

This is an update to the furor discussed previously that I initially started to bite on and then agreed with Thomas that it was mostly bunk.

It comes down to this: the Game Explorer ain't going to explore all your games. Don't like it? Get a Mac. Err, I mean - don't use it.

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TV Watch: Nights Of Meh

Maybe it's a winter slump, but the last couple of nights haven't really thrilled me.

I've been luke warm about the show since it's inception. Last week felt like an upbeat, at least in the overall plot and structure department. I dunno though - this one felt again like the show was spinning its wheels. The really interesting tidbits - Cheerleader's Mom and Heeero's Dad - were all to brief and really completely unsurprising. Oh, and every TV guide I saw out there gets extra demerits for spoiling Takei's appeareance right in the first sentence of the teaser. About as bad as Fox showing Jack's dad ... but more on that in a moment.

That Shifty Dad can't make do without Hooker's Mom's pr0nsite is mildly disturbing. Sadly, it's also about as interesting as the rest of the family drama. Wasn't Shifty Dad like a total ex-con badass? And his kid can hack any electronic device in the world with his thumb? Can you say road trip? Can we drop this new age Cosby crap now?

And did I miss something? When did Invisible Doctor Who indicate to Mimic Boy that he could train anyone?


Studio 60
Still a heartfelt favorite of mine - last night had the characters injecting themselves with dumb to advance the story. Darius and Simon's feud - and maybe this is just the white boy in me - feels petty and immature. Matt's hounding of Harriet seems borderline litigal. Tom's inability to explain to Lucy that he got railroaded by Jack - a known railroader - is inane.

Basically the only subplot I had any real sympathy for was the cocaine addict and soon to be single mom trapped on the roof.

And where is Jeannie with the light brown hair?

I can see it now - writers crammed into a tiny room wondering, "how can we portray Jack's family life as more twisted and tortured without having to bring Kim back?"

"Well, has he tortured any of his close relatives?"


Sure, he's the puppetmaster who has possibly been behind all kinds of evil schemes ... but Jack doesn't know that. And I couldn't tell if I wanted more melodrama in the conversation. Like when Scooter .... Graham complains about prison, have Jack cry out "Try being lashed, bitch!" and then when his dad jumps in the middle have Jack run out of the room crying that nobody understands.

OK, maybe it was better as it played out. Not good, but still better.

Battlestar Galactica
Part of me liked the Baltar scenes - although add in dashes of critique about melodrama and heavy-handed metaphors ... and the hit them with the spice weasels.

About the D, Apollo, Starbuck and ... um ... that other guy ... I officially stopped caring last episode. Look, Dualla's better than the whole lot of them combined. So everytime Apollo makes her cry, that's like 10 new dumbass points for him.


Play Spacewar

Via the Computer History Museum, you can play a java version of the first video game. According to the readme:

This is the original version! Martin Graetz provided us with a printed version of the source. We typed in in again - it was about 40 pages long - and re-assembled it with a PDP-1 assembler written in PERL. The resulting binary runs on a PDP-1 emulator written as a Java applet. The code is extremely faithful to the original. There are only two changes. 1)The spaceships have been made bigger and 2) The overall timing has been special cased to deal with varying machine speeds.
-- Spacewar Readme

Sweet history.

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Apple Pays Bloggers Legal Fees

"The court's ruling is a victory for journalists of all mediums and a tremendous blow to those firms that believe their stature affords them the right to silence the media," said Kasper Jade, the publisher of "Hopefully, Apple will think twice the next time it considers a campaign to bully the little guy into submission."

In total, Apple was ordered to pay nearly $700,000 -- a small amount for a company that reported nearly $1 billion in profit in the December quarter, but a large moral victory for bloggers, journalists and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) which helped defend against Apple's subpoenas.

"We are very pleased, as this will go a long way towards keeping EFF on the forefront of impact litigation defending the rights of online journalists and others," EFF Staff Attorney Kurt Opsahl wrote in an email. "Bloggers break the news, just like journalists do. They must be able to promise confidentiality in order to maintain the free flow of information. Without legal protection, informants will refuse to talk to reporters, diminishing the power of the open press that is the cornerstone of a free society."

Apple last week declined the opportunity to appeal the award ruling and paid in full. In addition, Apple dismissed the underlying case, but did so "without prejudice" (i.e., allowing them the to retain the right to re-file it at a later date).
-- MacNN | Apple pays $700,000 for bloggers' legal fees

I've become something of an Apple fan, but there's plenty of stuff Mother Company does that I don't agree with. Hopefully this will be enough of a legal slap to set them in the right direction.


Wikipedia On Half-Life 2's Narration

Throughout the entire game, Freeman never speaks, the action is viewed through his eyes only (i.e., there are no cut scenes), and there are no discontinuities or jumps in time (from his point of view).

There has been some criticism of these narrative holdovers from Half-Life, since they effectively limit how much of the backstory is explained. Due to the lack of cut scenes, the player never directly sees what has happened in Gordon's absence.

Ultimately, it is not clear to what extent Gordon exists as a separate character outside of the player's influence. Since the start of Half-Life, Valve has made sure that the player's and Gordon's experience are one and the same. An example of Valve's player strategy is shown during the scene in Eli's lab. Investigation of certain props (most notably the newspaper board) triggers Eli to give some explanation to their meaning and history, thus indicating that Gordon presents emotions that the non-player characters can detect.
-- Half-Life 2[Wikipedia]

Course, my problem there is ... I wouldn't consider that as an "emotion". Staring blankly at a bulletin board - while it's technically neat that it will trigger something - isn't really the same as showing remorse or confusion or even interest. It's just staring blankly at a bulletin board.

It's like that old joke - what's the difference between a mime and Gordon Freeman? The mime has personality.

I recognize this is somewhat of beating a dead horse - but it's a follow up to the vein of story-telling and risk-taking that's been coming up of late. I don't disagree that for purposes for immersion, Valve's approach has merit. Of course, they also avoid accurately depicting a worldwide holocaust that ended with the brutal enslavement and mass slaught of essentially the entire human race. While the world Gordon wakes up in is certainly creepy - he's managed to conveniently power nap his way through the worst event in the history of the planet (that he inadvertently helped cause).

Would you accept a movie or television show that offered that kind of plot device? If next week half the cast of Heroes were shown hanging out in Las Vegas commenting on how dreadful that New York apocalypse was? [spoiler alert!] 24 could easily be accused of plenty of things - but when it set off a nuke on the show, it showed the aftermath. It might not have been entirely accurate and left behind quickly ... but it was there.

Part of me is pondering this because Dreadnought is actually kinda similar as I have it planned right now. All the interesting stuff takes place before the game. The game itself will have a plot centered firmly in walking around destroying things. So down the way, if I get stuff working, I might have to examine the accused and the accuser.

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Monday, January 29, 2007

And We're back...

That was almost mysteriously painless.

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Everyone Grab Something Solid - We're Going In

Blogger will now allow me to convert to their new engine. If you don't see me for a week or so - call 911.

Slamdance II: Electric Boogaloo

Not the best title - but I can't resist that joke when I can make it. Also, corrected the earlier post which referred to Sundance instead. I blame the drugs.

Kotaku's main man Crecente calls into question Baxter's reasoning as well - although more specifically Brian questions the excuses Baxter has given for pulling Super Columbine RPG in the first place. First - it was a sponsor or sponsors ... but nobody said what sponsor was involved. He apparently told Brian directly that it was personal concerns with the game. In the NYT article, he blames pretty much everyone including lawyers and mutant rats. OK, not mutant rats ... and Crecente calls shenanigans on the claims of a lawsuit or anything involving the victims of Columbine making a case.

The point is this - Baxter's actions essentially ripped the Guerrilla Gamemaker Competition in two, sidestepped an entire jury panel, and later pulled rank on documentary judges as well.

Can't we at least get a solid, reasonable, explanation for what the root cause of all this panic was? Was it really a sponsor getting cold feet or simply Baxter himself? If it's the latter - what does that say about the credibility of the contest?

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iPod Shooter

For the record - the side links I keep are generally of two kinds: either news which really requires no further commentary or news I just don't have time to comment on when I see it.

I saw this bit about a proposed iPod FPS game and thought it was the latter. Let me just say this: this is a great example as to why closed box development sucks. I'm assuming this is a demo created without access to the actual technical restraints of the iPod. This seems to be detrimental to both the project (because it can't realistically demonstrate the game) and Apple (who is getting a demo that can't be realistically created - see the synergy). And of course gamers who would want to see the game actually happen.

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Unreal Tournament III

Originally titled "Unreal Tournament 2007", Epic is now going with "Unreal Tournament III". This is only odd to those people who got close enough to the Unreal code (licensees and modders) long enough to know that it really should be UT IV. UT2004 departed significantly from UT2003 in a variety of ways (enough that, for instance, a lot of my early work wouldn't port easily) and so technically this is the fourth iteration of the game (UT, UT2003, UT2004, UT...).

I will also be the first to admit that this point of nitpicking is silly, geeky and utterly meaningless to the general public. UTIII is a fine, fine name - I just thought I'd point out my first reaction to it.

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Dev Diary: Dreadnought Design Doc

I swear I wasn't trying for alliteration there.

The roguelike's official name (for now) is hereby Dreadnought. I have a backstory to fit into it. Actually, I had two - but the first one was very deep and complex ... and would have required a deep and complex game to go with it. So maybe that will be the next project, but to start I need to think simple and keep things simple.

I've published a new design doc which goes over the current mechanics I'm considering. The backstory isn't there because I think it will be more entertaining if you are completely unfamiliar with it the first time you play (also, better for testing).

I was close to finishing the combat loop over the weekend. Next will be the experience/skill system (which, if you read the doc, are pretty much the same thing) and then crafting. I can't really give an honest timeline here - I'm basically whistling in the dark half the time.

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Before Deities & Demigods

... was "Gods, Demi-Gods and Heroes". This caught my eye because it's one of the few TSR books I think I have never actually seen. According to Dean_S's photostream it suggests roleplaying Jehova as a character with 200 hit points. Does he at least get a staff of smiting?

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Mac OS 7.5 On Nintendo DS

Hailing from the "ok, that's neat - but why" department of geekery - someone has managed to install OS 7.5 on their Nintendo DS. I suppose we should give them credit not just for this amazing technical feat - but also for not using it to fuel some "Apple buys Nintendo" rumor.

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Gaming With Google

Google Games is a site dedicated to talking about games written for Google's software, including Mars Sucks - a game played with Google Earth and Google Maps Quiz for ... um, Google Maps.

I honestly don't find this kind of dev terribly compelling - but I love it just for the whole "OMG - there's something, let's make a game out of it!" mindset.

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Slamdance/Super Columbine Fallout On New York Times

Kellee Santiago, part of the U.S.C. team that made flOw, a sort of New Age Pac-Man that was among those pulled from the competition, said: “It’s hard not to come to the conclusion that games still are not considered a valid creative medium. It’s like saying that games aren’t allowed to cover serious subjects, and if you do, you must be doing something tasteless.”

To Mr. Baxter, though, it’s not that simple. “Games really are potentially a far more powerful medium that film, aren’t they?” he said while sitting at the Morning Ray Cafe just a few feet from the underpopulated gaming room. “In films you play a more passive role. You’re sitting back looking at something. Because of the role-playing aspect, games literally take the level of our participation to a whole other level. You are actively engaged in the outcome of your actions. Games are going to affect us in different ways, in ways we don’t fully understand yet.”

As he sipped his coffee, Mr. Baxter then said exactly what he had studiously avoided saying for two weeks: “Absolutely, games should be judged by a different criteria than film. I just don’t accept a direct comparison.”
-- Video Game Tests the Limits. The Limits Win.

The Times also goes into details about the finalists who withdrew and mentions that Sam Roberts and the attendees have voted not to issue any awards this year.

Baxter certainly isn't winning any points with me (not that he has to) by pulling out a Thompson-like "games are too powerful a medium" excuse. The notion that simply because games are participatory justifies a much, much harsher level of "acceptable art" smells of cowardice to me. It screams of "we don't really understand this medium - so maybe it should just keep playing Space Invaders".

In other words, did Baxter, in part, pull Super Columbine because he bought into a BatJack "Columbine Times Ten" scenario?

If so, maybe Slamdance should stick to movies. I'm willing to accept that as different mediums - games and film might not utilize the same basic concepts of judging them. That just makes sense. But Baxter seems to be suggesting that games have a much higher moral obligation than a purely visual medium. That they need to "play it safe" because they are so powerful.

What kind of art contest is that?

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Sunday, January 28, 2007

For Sunday: A LEGO Odyssey

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Game Night: Munchkin

A semi-official game night has been kicked off with my circle of friends. Most of us used to LAN together when we shared an office - but now don't really get the chance. In fact, most of our communal gaming was coming down to the occasional Dave & Buster runs and I think a lot of the was pool. So Game Night was born. And it's amazing what a great LAN a table can make.

Munchkin is a Steve Jackson card game which parodies fantasy role playing. Steve Jackson has always been a fan of mine - Car Wars and Toon were early favorites. Munchkin proves his studio is still great - it's simple chaotic fun. You can almost feel the game shift from early friendly alliances and offers of trade to the pile-on backstabbing involved in keeping anyone from actually winning.

We had eight people - it's supposed to max at six but we also had an expansion deck - and the end game can easily take an hour or so. I think the whole game took about four hours or so. It was a great start because the game takes about ten minutes to learn, allows for a lot of social interaction and is fun (and funny) as hell.

Highly recommended if you're trying to get your friends around a table.

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DVD Watch: Feast

Feast was the latest, and potentially the last Project Greenlight film. I've never seen the show itself, but I remember Project Greenlight as a chance to read some just truly dreadful screenplays. According the disc jacket from Netflix - director Gulager's "interpersonal problems" hindered the production. That, though, just sounds like every other reality tv program I've ever seen.

The movie's plot is essentially an updated and highly modified version of Night Of The Living Dead with a bit of Aliens and every B-movie gorefest shown late at night. Instead of zombies we have some pretty hideous monsters who are smart, have fingers like ginsu knives and can occasionally spew acidic, maggot infested goo.

Yeah, this is not one for the kiddies.

Feast manages a kind of brilliance simply because it walks a narrow line between outright horror and outright comedy. The humor is completely internal and never takes away from the fear. It's not humor for comedic relief - or at least any relief is extremely short lived. There's some real originality here - nothing really works out quite the way you expect and in the long run the movie exists as other great horror films have - an exercise in pure chaos.

Apparently the Project Greenlight show itself hasn't had the numbers to guarantee its future. A shame - as this film stands a sample of the project is really capable of accomplishing.

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Game Play: Family Guy Second Thoughts

Here's the problem with the Family Guy video game: like many a college student play - it completely falls apart in the third act. Stewie's final level (at least I think it was the final level) was bug ridden and clumsy. Marks for the grappling hook (required to climb upward to beat the boss) wouldn't work. At one point I could jump to a point and fire multiple rockets into his head (the weak point) and nothing would happen. Aside from all that - it was dreadfully repetetive. Do the same thing over and over and over again until you succeed three times ... then just when you think it's finished ... it starts over .. and then ... it changes slightly but no less dull. Oh, and since Stewie has all of two jokes during this time ... it also robs one of the biggest strengths of the game ... the humor.

If that wasn't bad enough - what I though was Peter's last level (against The Black Knight) was equally buggy. The DDR style fight sequences would go on and on and on until they just mysteriously worked or didn't work. Food, which allows Peter to do special moves, suddenly stopped adding to the food bar. When that mashfest was over, you're treated to what sounds like Peter's final animation.

Except no - it goes to add another Peter level against a giant chicken. It seemed easy until the chicken learned how to block. And I mean block. Constantly. None of Peter's special moves work and it seemed the only choice was to repeatedly bash into the chicken and take some damage when it briefly stopped blocking to attack you.

Yikes. Back into the Gamefly envelope it went. I don't know if there was any more to the game, but since each level seemed to be getting progressively worse ... I didn't want to find out.

If you're really into Family Guy - probably still a decent rental. Definitely not a purchase (hence I also removed it from the ultimate store of fun). I kinda wish the developers had focused on the Stewie mechanics alone and definitely put in a few more QA hours.

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