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Friday, May 11, 2007

Of Curmudgeons And GameTaps

The old Curmudgeon Gamer set his target on GameTap, this time around having an email exchange with Simon of GameSetWatch about the potential loss of gaming history:

Simon "I just like them because they make old, interesting games available legally. It's as simple as that. There will still be ROMs and standalone copies of these games (Sam & Max is coming out as a standalone digital download too, and at retail, don't forget). Sure, there are some exceptions like Uru, but that needs a server to exist anyhow.

Are you being a Curmudgeon? :) What do you think they are doing wrong? It's not possible that old games would just be available for free, because companies can monetize them. We have to wait for the public domain to kick in for that."

Matt: "Perhaps a bit of a curmudgeon, but more importantly a person who likes being able to purchase copies of media. Do we know that [all the games GameTap offers exclusively on their service] will be untethered? The lesson of Half-life 2 and other Steam-linked products is that you may find yourself dependent on the service for authentication -- either now or in a few years when you want to revisit a game -- even if the game itself doesn't require anything online.

That's what my friend/co-blogger Ruffin calls the virtual rare book room, and it's a reasonable analogy I think. There is a gatekeeper who stands between you and things that you (think you) own (in the instance of, say, a public university where the people ostensibly own the library's holdings).
-- Preservation, GameTap, and Curmudgeoning

Matt's got a point - well they both have points which is why it's a decent read. My problem with the online services is even less historical and more about fears as a consumer. When I buy a game and it downloads to my hard drive - I like to think of that as my game on my hard drive. But it's not really my property if I have to login to a remote server to access my own local files.

I actually wonder why the model didn't work out better. Treat games as rentals. I mean - that's what Steam and GameTap are more similar to than physical media sales. You don't really own the content outright, you've just negotiated some terms to use it for a while. My only problem with was that their library was usually small, out of date and was slow to get new titles.

For my money, a model like Steam where you can buy a physical disc in the store, install it - and then not be able to use it if something goes wrong with a remote connection - is just no deal at all. If that becomes the mainstream, it will be the nail in the already mostly built coffin of my PC gaming life. Yeah, I get piracy is a huge issue for PC games. That doesn't mean I want to be unable to finish my game when your buggy software won't let me play it.

When it comes to the preservation of games, we've got a pretty thorny issue. Matt's line of thinking is correct that the GameTap/Steam/etc approach isn't a safe method for the future. It's not really a preservation model at all - there's no guarantee the games will be around for prosperity. Yet - as one of the commenters note - this is something of a problem for games in general. They aren't like books which simply need a good room for storage. They're worse than even those old VHS tapes you probably can't watch anymore because your player went for $20 at a garage sale. Games are really only reliable on the platform they were designed to play on. DOS games are becoming harder and harder to keep around. There are Amiga games I was quite fond of which I doubt I'll ever be able to properly play again. Emulators, sadly, can only go so far (and even emulators, well, only run on the platform for which they are designed). Backwards compatibility on consoles is becoming more and more contentious, it seems, with every generation.

This is precisely the reason I'm unlikely to part with a cartload of aging console hardware. No, I'm not likely to bust out Defender any time soon - but I feel I need to keep the ability to do just that anyway.

And I think it's very easy to underestimate this issue or dismiss it outright. We need to acknowledge this as a bad thing. Games are part of our culture and as a medium they build on themselves. Where would we have gotten Wing Commander if it weren't for Defender? I'm a big proponent of the theory that old games still have plenty to teach modern game design - but they can only do that if someone can boot them up.

TV Watch: The Office

Did anyone else catch that last night's episode was directed by Egon Spengler? Freakin' sweet.

Lost: Big DHARMA Question

The great Lost And Gone Forever Blog poses one of the the big questions from the recent episode quite well:

So it turns out that there really was a purge and Dharma was effectively wiped out, other than Ben. Also, while the Others seem to be semi-hippies, they're not above mass murder, which is nice. But this begs the question - why are the Others continuing to receive the Dharma food drops? How do the Others have such tremendous wealth and power to carry out their wacky schemes? The only thing I can think of is...
-- "The Man Behind the Curtain" Instant Reactions!

His answer, which is what I've been thinking as well, is that the reason why there are still food drops, still communications and still recruits is that the hostiles took over DHARMA. Whether the hostiles are all natives or perhaps a combination of natives and DHARMA ex-pats becomes rather immaterial after the purge ... because then everyone is DHARMA. Having wiped out one side, they assume operations.

And perhaps even the goals of DHARMA. Remember, Ben insists they are the "good" guys. This also clears up some of the problems people have with a timeline where DHARMA references seem to persist post-purge.

The real wild card is Kelvin. We should be able to assume he was potentially the sole survivor of the purge, having been left safely at the Swan station. Others in hatches might have survived for some time as well. It's possible that the hostile's use of nerve gas might even explain the quarantine labels - though that seems like a stretch considering the fast acting nature of the gas. Unless confusion set in and some of the survivors were afraid the attack was in fact an illness.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Massively Motion Controlled Breakout

Old King Lud IC mentions an interesting use of a crowd:

A marketing company hired by MSNBC tested this very question, putting a theatre full of people in front of a motion sensing camera. Their collective motions controlled the paddle of MSNBC's Newsbreaker, which is riddled with design problems in its capacity as a news delivery system, but a polished Breakout clone (originally designed by Woz). The result? A sort of tribal purity, energetic, and blissful in the aftermath.

I'll be posting a video of this once its approved by the Dubai ports authority.
-- Communal Play

Check out the link for an image.

Lost: The Man Behind The Curtain

Another excellent episode. I'm actually getting pretty excited about this finale. The writing is approaching the stratosphere at this point. Even all the little tie-ins ... while they don't add up to much substantial ... makes the viewer feel like they can actually keep track of things and make sense of what's going on even there's a huge cloud of mystery just around the corner. This is a great improvement over the "hey look over there!" style of plot development not a few episodes back.

So let's hit some highlights.

Ben's a liar
Well duh. But this was a pretty big lie. Ben being a native is something we took for granted ... some people even thinking they should start counting his toes. So if he lied about that we can pretty much rest assured that anything else Ben said may be a lie. Big things like what year it is or who Jacob might be.

But Richard is a native.
WTF was up with that? Richard is a "hostile". And was that bad makeup or has he just never aged. Does "Jacob" keep "good" people young as well as healthy? Does that screw with our timeline as well ... if we can't determine how old people are?

If we're to assume Richard is descended from the Three Toed Folk, maybe they just have abnormally long lifespans? If the Others are all ex-natives, then why would they continue to recruit people for DHARMA like Juliet? Maybe the assumption that the "hostiles" are all Three Toed Folk is wrong, and "hostiles" are just DHARMites gone native?

Huge questions here. Like what was so "bad" about DHARMA that they all needed to be purged?

And where did Richard get that modern watch? Stole it from a kill?

Oh Jacob, where art thou?
The phrase "the man behind the curtain" alludes to the grand Wizard of Oz who wasn't actually a wizard at all - but a grand illusion controlled by said man. Locke assumes all the flashing of lights, whirling of objects and other poltergiest style effects were just an illusion from Ben. But Locke heard something. And Ben did not hear something.

The problem with Locke's theory is that there's a still shot of Jacob being briefly visible in the chair. It's hard to tell who it might be (if it's anyone we've already seen). So my guess is that Ben has managed to keep Jacob trapped in the cabin with his magic dust that circles the joint. "Jacob" may be a native that is trying to escape.

But you said Jacob was the island
I'm thinking it might be a close distinction. Maybe the three toed folk have gone all ethereal on us. They're the whispers and the smoke. Sometimes they can take human form, a physical form. Not having any body of their own - they steal the shape of people they've seen in other people's minds. The reason Richard hasn't aged is that he is just the shape of a dead man. All the apparitions we've seen have been whatever age they were when first imagined.

For all we know Cindy and the kids are already dead and some natives are just walking around in their forms. Creeeepy.

Jack & Juliet, sitting in a tree
Sawyer's revolution lasted all of what ... two minutes? Jack seems to be wrangling control back and I think most of the Losties will follow his lead to prep for the upcoming attack. Juliet's credibility appears to be pretty solid since she's willing to talk details about Ben's plans. Sayid and Sawyer will be hold-outs, but not forever.

The following characters should check their life insurance policies
Charlie, Sun, Jin, Naomi, Ben, and Rosseau.

What about Locke?
Oh he's totally alive. And he's sticking around for a good long while I think.

When Did TV Get Good Again?

Like all at once - all the shows have kicked it up a notch. Apparently like rehab, a little hiatus can be good for you.

Heroes was never actually bad - but it was off to a shaky start. Characters, locations ... plotlines seemed rather scurrious. The show spent a lot of time trying to explain itself. Subplots spent a lot of time doing nothing. It was still entertaining to watch an Otaku pause time, sure, but the show wasn't entirely a must watch.

Now the show is capable of handling multiple plots, characters and concepts with ease. Multilayered is a buzzword often tossed around for modern television writing capable of busting out of the normal two plot formula - and if Heroes is anything these days ... it's multilayered. A conversation between Claire and Peter alone is working on at least two levels - the personal story about their relationship with their family and ... well, trying to save the world.

Oh, Lost ... where have you been? You scared us for a bit when you started adding new characters just to fill out some additional episodes. You left behind all sorts of loose ends and ideas that quite honestly - we almost sold off because we weren't sure if you wanted them anymore. It got so bad that it seemed like your own characters were fed up with the story.

But when you're back, you're back. It's almost easy to forget such things as Locke acting like a complete weirdo when he is now such an utter badass. We were a little afraid you had almost left the whole idea of being mysterious behind so that instead you could have steamy caged love scenes and campy sappy backstories. Not now. They mystery, suspense and thrills of the island are giving us that season one smell that we ourselves had almost forgotten.

Veronica Mars
A sheriff showdown? Old friends cropping up? That girl with the unforgettable grin? What what? Romantic subplots funny and curious but not overpowering? Yeah, V is back with a vengeance for at least a few episodes. Sadly she's likely to get cancelled shortly thereafter - but at least she can leave with some styl.

BatCheck: BatJack Still Crazy?

Yup. Still crazy. I'm sure most people have already seen he is suing Wendy's for supporting the Manhunt 2. Course, Wendy's isn't supporting Manhunt 2 - they're doing some promo stuff with the Wii in general. Which would be a bit like suing Ford over the crazy bitca who cut me off this morning on the way into work.

Lost as Interactive Adventure

The old Curmudgeon Gamer sends this along:

Speaking at MI6, he said that the games industry could learn something from the group interactivity that goes into a supposedly passive entertainment experience such as television. “Do the fans influence the show?” he asked. “The answer is ‘yes’. The influence of the vocal fan base is huge and so they are not just watching Lost but also playing it. We try to invite the audience to theorize about what they think the show is and so they are playing along.”


We are judging the singers from the moment we see them. In CSI or House we are working with the characters to figure out the mystery.”

He said gaming is moving towards “group interactivity instead of individual activity” and cited MMOs. “They are the beginning of that process but they won’t appeal to my Mom. I asked her about World of Warcraft and she just said it sounded violent. But she does love MySpace and she is playing that all the time. It’s an MMO.”

Lindelof strongly believes in listening to audience reactions. “People can always tell you what they don’t like but they can never tell you exactly what they want. They are expecting you to deliver that. But we do react to negative feedback. It’s always constructive even when it’s hard to hear.”

He offered some advice on the nature of episodic content and explained why Lost has been given a definite end-date. He said that although ABC is “leaving money on the table” by ending the run after five series, it was the right thing to do in order to reward the audience, and give the show some meaning as a mystery
-- Writer Says Lost is an Interactive Adventure : Next Generation - Interactive Entertainment Today, Video Game and Industry News

More on last night's episode, gaming the episode and that mysterious deadline later today.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Hasbro Gaming On Credit Card Debt?

Boing Boing via The Consumerist levels this claim:

The Game of Life called Twists and Turns that will replace play money with a Visa-branded card. Matt Collins, Hasbro's vice president of marketing, said of the switch, "When we started to design a completely new edition of the popular game, we knew it was also time to reflect the way people choose to pay and be paid - and replacing cash with Visa was an obvious choice."

They also changed the goal of the game from accumulating the most money to earning the most "life points." Supposedly this a combination of wealth and life experiences, but it's not hard to see parallels between "life points" and the reward points and airlines miles offered by certain credit cards.
-- Debt: Hasbro And Visa Pervert LIFE Board Game To Train Children In Racking Up Credit Card Debt - Consumerist

Wait. Really? Can we check the math here?

Reward points are granted to you for spending money with a credit card. From my understanding of "life experiences" - that would be game events like getting married or making friends or taking a vacation. The only parrallel would be if you can't get married except by earning (spending) so many dollars on your fake Visa.

If you don't then the game is merely rewarding people for doing things in life other than accumulating money. It's setting up a dual point system where actually living your life has merit alongside earning money. I know that's a bizarre concept in American culture, but it is hardly evil. If anything it has made the game less orientated to being materialistic.

Course, I don't entirely disagree with Mr. Consumerist here. I think converting a credit card into a toy for kids is inherently a bad step. I just don't think it allows for open ended analogies to prove a point.

"Millennials" Go "Where Games Are Played Online"

Sixty-two percent of Millennials said they frequently or occasionally socialized on the Internet, versus 38 percent of the rest of the participants in the survey, a 63 percent advantage. Other prominent Millennial online activities include watching content created by others: 71 percent vs. 51 percent (+39 percent); reading or posting on message boards: 51 percent vs. 38 percent (+34 percent); reading blogs: 55 percent vs. 36 percent (+53 percent); creating personal content: 58 percent vs. 34 percent (+71 percent); maintaining own personal Web site: 36 percent vs. 22 percent (+64 percent); and keeping a web log (blog): 35 percent vs. 18 percent (+94 percent).

Among the more mainstream Web activities, Millennials invest significant time in the following: searching, downloading or listening to music, 78 percent vs. 50 percent (+56 percent); visiting gaming sites where games can be played online, 66 percent vs. 49 percent (+35 percent); and watching You Tube or other video-streaming sites, 62 percent vs. 36 percent (+72 percent). Further, almost half (48 percent) visit a television Web site in a typical week.
-- 'Millennials' Defying the Old Models

If you don't know what millenial is - don't feel bad ... they used to be called Gen Y'rs. You know you're the target of marketing hounds when your demographic has not one, but two nicknames. The gist I get here is that over half of them enjoy playing games from web sites. It's a little higher than I would have expected from a generation brimming to the gills with mobile forms of entertainment - but it speaks to the trend that casual online games are no passing fancy.

"PlayStation" Shooting

"This is not another Virginia Tech," Cardinale said. "This is simply a dispute between one person and a group of individuals."

Police identified the deceased victim as a 19-year-old former student at Fresno State. The wounded men, 19 and 22, were taken to a hospital to be treated for gunshot wounds. One was a current student and the other was planning to enroll, police said. It was unclear what happened to the fourth man.

Police would not release the names of any of the victims, but said all were acquaintances of Brooks who lived in the same apartment complex.

A man with a bloody bandage on his left shoulder who described himself as one of the victims told The Associated Press the dispute started when he and the other victims accused Brooks of stealing a Playstation video game console and game.

"The guy who shot us -- he had stolen from our apartment. We went to confront him with the evidence and it just turned ugly from there. He pulled a gun out on us," said Drew Pfeiff, 22, a Fresno State junior from Raleigh, N.C.

Brooks fired five or six times, grazing Pfeiff, he said.

"I hope they find him," Pfeiff said. "People don't deserve to die for stupid stuff like this."
-- Playstation dispute provokes shooting death

Of course the fact that it was a game console will surely be highlighted multiple times. Not that it matters when it could be anything just as meaningless when it comes to a human life ... an iPod, notebook computer, etc.

Even More Hardware: Elgato EyeTV

In honor of dismissing the Cyberhome DVD burner from active duty, The Girl sprung my birthday gift early: the Elgato EyeTV 250. This sweet piece of hardware connects a coax to your Mac and turns it into that PVR that you always wanted. We really just started playing with it but so far I've got nothing but raves to report. The installation is insanely easy - just hook it up, load the software and run the wizard. There's a bit of juggling to be had between it and TitanTV - but once you see a fully functional TV guide which you can record from with just a few clicks ... it's all worth it.

We haven't actually hooked up a recording to the big TV yet, so we'll see how the quality holds up there. We were using it to watch TV while running to the kitchen to get dinner going - which was deliciously fun on it's own.

Back to those controllers...

So we've been playing on the React and Nerf controllers a bit longer. The Nerf controller has held up to its promise. Actually, The Girl tossed it across the room once and a shoulder button popped off. After a very quick bout of panic it seemed the button was rather well designed for this and we managed to simply pop it back on.

The React controller, on the other hand, has been shelved. The real problem isn't the completely useless tilt function - but rather it's almost useless wireless function. Once the controller is turned off or goes to sleep - it has one hell of a time picking up the signal again. It's not a lot of fun to return from the fridge only to have to spend a few frustrating minutes pressing various buttons and begging a controller to recognize a transmitter two centimeters away.

And I make a lot of trips to the fridge...

Monday, May 07, 2007

Lost To End In 2010

Apparently ABC made a public announcement that their hit show Lost would run until 2010 and then end. This is a response to the flagging ratings of season three foremost it seems. I just heard on NPR while running some errands - I'll try and find out more concrete info tomorrow.

OK, more info:

The end is in sight for ABC's acclaimed island mystery Lost, but fans will have to wait until 2010 for all the answers.

In a highly unusual move, the network announces plans today to end the show after three more shortened seasons of 16 episodes each. The episodes will air consecutively, repeat-free, from February to May.
-- One mystery solved: 'Lost' to end in 2010 -

Thanks Thomas! On the radio they noted more about the causes (ratings) and that apparently this is taking a page from HBO's book, but I can't say I'm familiar enough with their shows to get the connection. Is this a shame? I dunno, I've always advocated that Lost needed a firm deadline so that it could stop wandering around the main mystery and story. Still, I think the ratings were due to fix themselves just by having higher caliber writing in general.

Hardware Hijinks: Cyberhome DVD Burner

To continue the fun of misbehaving hardware, our DVD burner, a Cyberhome cheapie, has been taken out of service. We were having enough problems actually recording things but as of yesterday it simply didn't want to read anything either. No write. No read. Making this something of a DVD holder.

If you Google Cyberhome DVD Burner I think you'll find that we're not alone in this experience. I kinda assumed in this day and age of cheap electronics - if all I needed was to record then I'd be OK. Apparently not.

So second lesson learned ... do not buy Cyberhome.

Bad Best Buy: Broken Shredder ... "New" In Box

Like every other American with a credit card and mortgage, I get lots and lots of (paper) mail I don't really want. I'm offered a new credit card at least three times a week. If I go to the doctor or dentist I get insurance statements for the next couple months. Most of this is information I barely need and sometimes don't even read. It's all mildly sensitive, though, so I'd prefer to shred it before tossing it away.

So I got a cheap 5 paper shredder from Best Buy. Well, I thought I did. I thought it was a little suspicious that the top had been taped shut - but didn't think much about it. When I finally opened it up this weekend, though, the shredder had a large gash in the middle of it, scratches up and down and more to the point - it didn't seem to want to shred anything.

I can get the notion of placing returns back on the shelf if they're in like new condition. This one, however, clearly didn't even have a cursory glance before restocking. Whoever returned it could have made a quick $20 by returning a small rock instead of the shredder since I'm guessing nobody even bothered to open it.

So lesson learned - if there's tape in sight ... find another box.