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Friday, June 29, 2007

Oblivion Sucking My Hard Drive Away

It seems like every time I play Elder Scrolls: Oblivion, it gets less stable. It has gotten to the point where I don't play full screen anymore in the hopes of recovering from a crash. Sometimes, though, it just takes the whole Windows box with it.

And people wonder why I like console games.

Did this happen to anyone else? I didn't see any mass reports of unreliability. I'm afraid this is tipping my hard drive (which I did defrag after the install) into Oblivion itself. I suppose I could re-install, but I'm like level 20 right now.

360 Red Light Failure - Reaching A Tipping Point?

Also via Gaming Today (they're not blocked here at work), GamePolitics ponders a bit more closely at the problem of dying 360's:

Although GP is not - yet - ready to declare, as 360 Gamer did, a scandal, the alarming Xbox 360 failure rate is quickly reaching a tipping point. In his excellent Law of the Game blog, attorney Mark Methenitis, who has lost two 360’s to red ring failure, discusses the legal implications:

"The concept of a warranty is simple enough: Someone selling a product assures the buyer that of something… Microsoft has encountered an interesting problem with the 360. The failure rate is high, but so are sales. What is a gamer to do? …What is a consumer to do?

Unfortunately, short of a product recall (which seems unlikely given that is has not happened yet and safety is not the issue) or a class action suit, the individual consumer is likely stuck. Why? The cost of an action against Microsoft would be astronomical, and more than likely, they will just settle before any court could place any actual fault on them in order to avoid future, similar suits."
-- Xbox 360 Hardware Failures - Is It Time for Consumer, Regulatory or Political Action?

Yeesh. So Microsoft will never admit to a endemic problem, because doing such would cripple their defense against what seems like a mounting opinion that something needs to be done ... and that something might end up in court. GP tries to poke at the actual numbers at play here, quoting one source who doesn't buy 360 Gamer's survery which listed 61% of respondents as having failed consoles (web surveys are woefully inaccurate, so...) but pulls a gem of a quote from a service center getting bombarded by returns as saying "We decided it wasn’t in anybody’s best interests to continue the sham that this fault is easily repaired."

That service center being MicroMart, a major repair specialist in the UK. Not some forum flamemonger.


Man Vs. Wild Flash Game

Gaming Today points to the Discovery Channel's Man Vs. Wild game, a Flash based choose-your-own-adventure type affair. You get a couple of choices and may be occasionally visited by a video with Bear, the show's host. Bear is the kind of person you wouldn't trust a pretty girl around - fit, smart, personable and his name is Bear.

I was eaten by a lion in like three steps. Still, it's interesting to see an old school format being wrapped around what's essentially a television commercial for a television show. Someday, you'll just be playing this on your television while Bear is taking your date out for a dinner.

Game Night: Illuminati, Guitar Hero

My knee hurts, but more that in a moment.

I'm not sure our group has played Illuminati enough to have the hang of it yet - our rounds always seem to be about an hour of people simply grabbing uncontrolled groups and then some final struggle between a couple of players which lasts only a few turns. Last night the victor had amassed a decent poker's hand of special cards which allowed him to call a piviledged attack (no intereference), pool all his money and swipe an entire arm of groups to seal the win. I had a two turn strategy to double up on taking weak groups and then use a special card to take my final. But about the time I devised this plan, the special card full house came up.

Still fun, but I think we'll need to try adding in the special goals which do provide a better incentive to steal specific groups, destroy things, etc.

This was followed by a couple of hours of laying down mad riffs in Guitar Hero II. I'm still hopelessly on medium level it seems, even though after everyone left I managed to finish one more hard song. Bringing the total to two.

I think my knee is an indicator as to why though - I didn't hurt it by standing up and playing guitar ... I hurt it while sitting and playing a card game. I don't really quite know how.

Point being - I'm just old.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Cat Bombs or Bomb Cats?

I know I've been pretty silent today/as of late, but I can't pass this up:

The most creative way to use a cat as a weapon happened in World War II. The United States’ OSS (Office of Strategic Services, the precursor of the CIA) needed a way to guide bombs to sink German ships. Somebody hit upon the inspiration that since cats have such a strong disdain of getting wet and always land on their feet that if you attached a cat to a bomb and drop it in the vicinity of a ship, the cat’s instinct to avoid the water would force it to guide the bomb to the enemy’s deck. It is unclear how the cat was supposed to actually guide a bomb attached to it as it fell from the sky but the plan never got past the testing stages since the cats had a bad habit of becoming unconscious mid-drop.

Not to be outdone by its predecessor, the CIA also attempted to use cats but this time as a bugging device during the Cold War. Although a disaster as a guided bomb, the CIA thought that a cat would make the perfect covert listening device in a project known as Operation Acoustic Kitty. They attempted to surgically alter the cat by placing a bugging device inside him and running an antenna through its tail. The project took five years and $15 million dollars before the first field test hit a slight snag when the bugged kitty was released near a Russian compound in Washington and was immediately hit by a car while crossing the street. The project was ended soon after.
-- Cynical-C Blog - » 7 Unusual Military Animals [via regine's bookmarks]

The article calls them "cat bombs" but somehow "bomb cats" seems more appropriate. And sounds just cool as hell.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Shadowrun hacked for XP, Possibly Halo 2

Apparently Razor1911 accomplished what I wasn't willing to wait for from Falling Leaf, a crack to play Shadowrun on XP. The Joystiq comments also point to a story on wowloader which looks like it might crack Halo 2 in the same way. Or maybe they're the same thing - I dunno, I'm writing this on a Mac.

To clarify, this "removes" the "requirement" for Shadowrun to "use" DirectX 10 on Vista. Except that Shadowrun is a DX9 game and doesn't require it at all so it just removes whatever block Microsoft tossed in to force it onto Vista.

Which is now officially not only stupid and a bit mean - but futile as well.

Burnout Ad Banned ... And Nicole Kidman

Apparently EA is in trouble for releasing a Burnout Dominator ad with the slogan "inner peace through outer violence." I tried to snag a full sized version of the poster off the Guardian, but after registering for their media site the image was no longer on the server. Clever Brits.

I think it's interesting that the fuss is over advocating violence and EA's response as, well, to stick by the ad. To assert that maybe it does relieve tension to smash cars around in the virtual world. While that concept might run counter to the "playing forty hours of Halo might make your kid misbehave" science - I wonder how the real facts on it play out. Perhaps acts of aggression do calm us down in the long run. Surely there's a reason why football was invented in the first place, right?

On the flip side, the Guardian also points out a recent Nintendo ad with Nicole Kidman. Sorry, link will not send you to said ad. This might be it on YouTube, but I can't hit it right now to find out. I agree with Keith that it's a brilliant advert, and a stark comparison to Sony's "no really, we have cartoon street cred" approach.

Although that said I think the ad for PS3 with Motorstorm in it was pretty sweet.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Dark Sector Trailer Pulled - Nobody Sure Why

Gaming Today and received a request from the folks behind the game to remove the "excessive or offensive content" from our host as a measure to appease the ESRB - regardless of age protections like an age gate - a term used in the industry that prompts viewers to agree to only view the content if they are of an appropriate age. (Granted its not hard to lie to get access if you're 13) The big question is why has the trailer (which has been publicly viewable on Filefront since December 2006 and March of this year) just now become "bad" and since when does the ESRB rate trailers for products not yet released?
-- Dark Sector Footage Even Darker Thanks to ESRB

Today, the ESRB "responded" with a prepared statement and no specifics. Seems to becoming the rule of the day.

I swear I didn't mean the culture war post to be the theme for this week.

NIMF's "Victory" Feels Rather Hollow

Gaming Today covers quite aptly Dr. David Walsh's statement on the lashing Manhunt 2 has received:

The NIMF statement applauded the rating as it declared take Two's decision "a victory for parents and children."

“Because of the their thoughtful decision to give Manhunt 2 its strongest rating, “Adults-Only,” the ESRB has sent a strong message to Take-Two and other game makers that they no longer can push the envelope on gratuitous violence in video games. The ESRB showed real leadership in assigning this rating and further evidence it is making significant progress in keeping extremely violent and graphic materials out of children’s hands."

The NIMF goes to make a statement that should raise an alarm for all those that value the freedom of choice and the right for freedom of expression.

“Hopefully Take-Two has learned from its Manhunt 2 experience and will undertake preventive measures to ensure its future games, including Grand Theft Auto IV, are appropriate for families and gamers."

"As gaming technology continues to change, we hope to continue to work with the ESRB to ensure that future games have appropriate content and context for children."
-- NIMF's Victory "for Children" Shuns Freedom of Choice

Remember when I said there was the assumption games were for kids - well, there you go. And that apparently trying to keep Manhunt 2 off shelves completely is indicative of the fact that we can't control what parents purchase for their kids? Yeah, that's there too.

I agree with NIMF on some points and their mission in general - but this is just advocating censorship because it's easier than fighting the real fight. NIMF's "victory" comes up short because in celebrating this - they are also admitting defeat. They admit they can't educate parents about a Mature rated game. Mature rated games "have content that may be suitable for persons ages 17 and older" - hence are not family games. But that won't satisfy NIMF.

If it's on the shelves, kids will want to play it and parents will buy it for them. That is the message of this "victory".

And it's also the problem at hand.


Apparently the head of FASA recently went on a long rant about the failures of their latest title, Shadowrun. Cutting yourself out from the wide XP market just for that lovely Games For Windows moniker doesn't seem to really be paying off there, huh?

In a related note - they finally released Geometry Wars for XP via Steam. Bought it the next day.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Stargate SG-1: Unending

I've watch Stargate SG-1, the television spinoff from the movie, since just about it's inception. I'm always wary of movie conversions, especially into television, since it is usually a cheap cash-in with little hope of success. Buffy is a notable exception - but that is largely due to the fact that Whedon was rescuing his original attempt from the campy form the movie took.

Stargate's television format accepted most of the movie's original premise. Many key concepts, like O'Neill's and Jackson's relationship, are held tightly to the core. Some aspects, like aliens speaking hard to understand dialects and the specifics of Stargate travel, get shifted around. The show managed to do what televisions shows should do for movies though - expand the concept into a more interesting and material universe. The show had a solid tone for a serial too - somewhat serious but often self-referential and tongue-in-cheek.

For me, it wasn't Firefly - it's not an evolution of a genre in any serious sense of the word. But it was a lot of fun to watch, rewarded you for watching more of it - it was an easy show to love.

So when we realized we were watching the series finale this weekend, we were a bit shocked.

Unending proved to be just as its title suggests. The core of the episode traps the characters into a time dilation field wherein they spend many years with each other. It is perhaps too grand of an analogy, but this closer reminded me of the closer to Six Feet Under - more interested in showing you one last vignette into the character's lives than the resolution of any major plot points you might have been interested in.

The result is oddly satisfactory. Even if the rumors of a direct to DVD movie weren't true, and it appears they are, in the long run Stargate made us care more about the characters themselves than whatever evil nemesis has cropped up this season. Why worry so much about whether they defeat Apophis? He'll just be back. Well, OK, maybe they wrapped that one up at long last - but I'd say that the decision to give us one long look back at the characters was a good one, even if it lacked Richard Dean Anderson. This season has had some stumbles, but at least we got him back for 200.

Fun Fact! Michael Shanks, who notes in "Unending" that you can distinct The Asgard from their voices - provides the voice for the Asgard Thor, featured in the episode.

Wikicrawl: "Garden Gnome Liberation Front"

Fun Fact! Garden Gnome Liberation Fronts (GGLF) are organizations that claim to stand for the liberation of garden gnomes. They are often comprised of practical jokers who attempt to rid the world of "unjust" imprisonment of gnomes through petty theft or vandalism, usually in humorous or tongue in cheek ways. Various related pranks are likely an outgrowth of the Travelling gnome prank. Members of such groups are often cited for illegal conduct including petty theft and trespassing. [Wikipedia]

Oddly enough I got there from Wes Craven. Shiny nickel to the person who can guess that trail.

Better than a bug - "rabbit crash"

Many geeks are familiar with the fact that the term "bug" comes from an actual moth trapped in a server (that links to a pic of said actual moth) - but the team that developed the original graphics for the scifi show Babylon 5 had a more unique problem:

We were working on Amigas, Video Toasters, which were massively primitive.” Straczynski, never at loss for a story, went on to elaborate. “The initial render farm consisted of several Amiga’s linked together with wires that ran through the apartment of the guy who initially did the FX. The wires also ran through his rabbit cages. Every so often, in the middle of a render, a rabbit would chew through a wire. They would call me to tell me they had a rabbit crash. And now here we are today.”
-- CGSociety - Babylon 5 ‘Lost Tales’: Part One

A Culture War Over Fear

In 1972, the Wes Craven horror film The Last House On The Left was released. The plot was a dark contrast to the vampire and werewolf movies of the time. In the film, two girls are raped and tortured to death and the parents exact revenge on their killers. The nature and graphic level of the violence proved highly controversial for the time. The BBFC refused to certify the movie, although later it would appear uncut in video format during the video nasty era.

It also sold quite well at the box office, spawning several clones and even Wes Craven followed it up with The Hills Have Eyes - a distinctly similar movie.

Craven wrote the The Last House On The Left after being deeply influenced by television reports about the Vietnam War.

Now we have another war, more news footage, Abu Ghariab ... and suddenly a new slew of movies which feature rape and torture as their centerpiece (not to mention television serials like 24). The Hills Have Eyes was remade and despite the subject material being of more or less cut from the same cloth as its original and The Last House On The Left, it meets with little or no controversy. A sequel is released the following year.

The BBFC's statement on The Last House On The Left noted the "sadism and cruelty" for dropping the certification. This is precisely the same argument they have made in banning the video game Manhunt 2, now that the film council's domain includes not just film media but interactive media as well - undoubtably to avoid the same "video nasty" loopholes of the 80's.

So as a culture we have accepted our fear of rape and torture as acceptable media when it comes to a flat, non-interactive video. Not when it comes to interactive media, however. The explanation of "to avoid public harm" is probably the same - even though the release of Captivity probably won't cause any street riots. Course, once again, we have no science to prove that the video game would either. So "public good" here is sharing the same narrow focus that it always has.

The Wii has complicated things with its lovely motion controller. Does swinging a controller like a baseball bat make you any more violent in the end than being able to simply push a button? I fail to see any evidence that to nature which means we're simply moving the stick out of pure "common sense". Which is often not common or sensible.

What are we really afraid of?

If the media is meant to be out of the hands of children, then that is one thing. But to assume that a game like Manhunt 2 should simply not be sold at all means that we are completely unable to keep children from spending $60 on inappropriate material or that children would be the only ones interested in the game. The former is debatable but since most purchases for children are made by adults - it seems another argument altogether. The latter isn't really discussed but seems an assumption in the underlying logic. Games are for kids ... so you certainly shouldn't put anything too nasty in there.

This is of course an assumption that fails the basic statistics of video game players. It might pass for common sense in some circles though.

Also, however, it feels like video games are a target because they're a weak mark. Fighting a video game about torture is kinda like fighting torture itself - except much easier and completly ineffectual. Still, a winnable fight is agreeable over no fight at all to some.

We all agree that we don't want innocent or good people to suffer or die - but there is little we can do to stop it. Should someone make a game about the subject, however, we can certainly sharpen our axes. Games are a straw man ... an effigy ... of not just cultural fears over technology and new mediums but the represented material itself.

And yet, if we banned Lolita, pedophilia would remain.

I don't write this as a defense of Manhunt 2 in particular. I played the first for a while, found it a dull repetetive exercise of bashing things in a bloody manner and sent it back. No real desire to play the sequel. Still, just because it is this franchise and Rockstar, the favorite kicking target of many, doesn't mean we shouldn't question the decision in a broader sense. Perhaps the game truly is unfit for consumption - I probably will never know because I probably will never play it.

At the very least we should be allowed more clarity into the decision. What line of cruelty and sadism do we truly feel is unfit for consumption? In some ways every deathmatch game out there is an excercise in sadism - but obviously we can distinct that from putting a plastic bag over a stranger's head.

All I'm saying is that moments like this are worth examining in some detail - so that we can better the conversation so that ten years down the road when some other medium is being banned while Manhunt 4 is released with little fanfare .. we're better equipped for it.

DVD Watch: Venus

Venus is a movie for people who love Peter O' Toole. Course, I don't understand the rationale behind anyone not loving Peter O' Toole - so except for those few people who probably don't need to see a movie about a lecherous old man and his complicated relationship with a young girl ... it's a movie for everyone.

OK, so maybe that's just skirting the real issue. The problem with Venus is that the subject material sounds so taboo - a man lusting after a girl who could well be his granddaughter in age - that it feels hard to justify. But when you're in the middle of the movie, it feels so easy to justify. Not just because O'Toole is brilliant but also because the movie manages to deal so earnestly with life and death that at times you forget it resembles a love story. Venus is hardly a tale of erotic fiction - this is not some kind of softcore fantasy. O' Toole's character has more screen time by about a hundredfold which in some way contemplates his advanced age and the ravages it has left on his life than misty images of a nubile girl.

For the most part, the movie is morbid and thoughtful. While O'Toole's emotions for the girl are childish, niave and slightly creepy - the emotions the movie as a whole sells to the viewer are realistic and mature. Venus is a vignette into the world of what it means to have lived and then to simply not be able to live much any more.

DVD Watch: Woodenhead

Woodenhead is a New Zealand arthouse flick. The movie's website features a quote explaining:

Gert is ordered by a dump owner to deliver his beautiful mute daughter, Princess Plum, to her wedding. The two embark on a mystical journey through strange, stunning monochrome landscapes peopled with a menagerie of monsters and freaks. 28 year old Kiwi Florian Habicht could be the bastard son of Béla Tarr and Guy Maddin if his talent weren't so uniquely original. His innovative film combines a wicked sense of humour and larger-than-life characters with lush, dream-like imagery.

Which is all well and good except that Plum is not mute, the journey is hardly mystical and the menagerie of monsters is largely rounded out by a man who can apparently run faster than a pig. And if all that weren't bad enough, the next line of the quote is "The memorable soundtrack was recorded before any visuals were shot, with the actors invited to improvise their parts around it, to disturbingly dreamlike results."

The actuall results is having actors nod their heads around for minutes at a time while a poorly dubbed dialogue floats over the top. And the dialogue is pretty much crap as well, so the only dreamlike result is wondering how such an idea made its way to the screen.

Some movies exist purely because they defy so much convention that people are afraid to critique it because they look like they aren't artsy enugh. Woodenhead is such a movie. If you want to see a bizarre rendition of a fairy tale world, go rent Alice by Czech director Jan Svankmajer. Or Pan's Labryinth even. But dear god, leave this one well alone.