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Thursday, November 08, 2007

Hot Coffee Settled - Bored Media Awaits GTA IV

Take Two settled "Hot Coffee" out of court for some wacky terms. If you swear you were offended by altering your own game so that you yourself could see porn on your own game, you yourself can ask Take Two for $35. It's quite possibly the best deal going on the planet right now. Someone finally found a way for corporate America to pay me for watching bad porn. Clearly, there is a God.

Seriously, I kinda wish Take Two had fought this one. I think they would have won because this was a case made by the media (and the ESRB) and not the facts. I think they would have won and I think there would have been a legal precedent that consumers are actually responsible for the changes they make to software that they buy.

But I can't argue on someone else's dime - so I'm not surprised they didn't. Clearly, it's a shame this didn't all happen on the PSP - where nobody would really care and the ESRB would just squirm their way out of it.

Solace On "Golden Compass"

The Golden Compass comes out soon and many people call it the "anti-Narnia", in part because the original books were written by an avowed atheist who openly admits the book attacks the church, dogma, etc. The script has been edited to avoid conflict, and Solace In Cinema offers this response:

The script has already diluted the source material down to avoid upsetting the overly religious. This of course beggars the question why go near these books at all if you have to fuck them up so badly just to appease people who’d rather watch a tractor-pull anyway? Dumbing down the religious aspect in these books is akin to green-lighting a new version of the Nativity Story only to open with an abortion scene. And of course the god mob are far from appeased, preparing more wholesome fare like a dead man being fingered in his stabports by a doubting cult member. So we’re given a half-pint concept for no good reason at all. Wonderful.
-- The Golden Spinnything trailers

The trailers have me a little jazzed about the movie, but The Girl and I want to get audiobooks on the originals as well.

Writer's Strike Closes The Office

I honestly haven't written anything on the WGA strike because it kicked up right as NaNo did and I haven't had time to actually figure out what the nuances are.

So here are the writers and actors of The Office doing it for me.

From DailyKos, thanks Jason.

"Suicide" Bombing Always Made Sense In Games

Don't get me wrong - I think Clive Thompson is a great games journalist and I really did find his column on suicide bombing in Halo 3 enjoyable. And while I think he has a point well taken that Live's matchmaking service makes particularly effective because people don't want their stats going down ... this kind of strategy has existed for some time. Unreal Tournment's Redeemer is a suicide bomber's technological wet dream. Sure, it's great if you can guide it half way across the map - but it will do if you can just shot it into a crowded room. And of course when I played Counter-Strike, half the time anyone used a grenade it seemed like it would take them and half their team along with them. And in CS, you don't respawn until after the round, so...

Or take being a pyro in Team Fortress. While the baseline strategy is to hide around corners and from beneath ledges and burn people while they can't get to you - another is to run headlong into a group of people while holding down the trigger button, hoping that you'll get four or five of them before anyone can get a bead on you.

And of course, none of this is actually suicide bombing. It's respawning bombing. One is taking the ultimate in all penalties and one is waiting a few seconds. So while I appreciate Clive's article - I think it might have to go up for some kind of hyperbole award.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

ESRB Continues To Blur Its Message

I exchanged some emails last night with Matt O' Curmudgeon Gamer, which you can read the summary of his opinions on the ESRB's Manhunt 2 statement over there. I poked at him first because he's had real interaction with the ESRB and I wanted to make sure I wasn't off-base with my initial reaction. From his take on things, it would seem rather not.

Let's break this down:

Earlier this week we learned about a hack into the code of the PSP and PS2 versions of the game that removes special effects filters that were put in place to obscure certain violent depictions. We have investigated the matter and concluded that unauthorized versions of the game have been released on the Internet along with instructions on how to modify the code to remove the special effects. Once numerous changes to the game's code have been made and other unauthorized software programs have been downloaded to the hardware device which circumvent security controls that prevent unauthorized games from being played on that hardware, a player can view unobscured versions of certain violent acts in the game. Contrary to some reports, however, we do not believe these modifications fully restore the product to the version that originally received an AO rating, nor is this a matter of unlocking content.
-- ESRB issues statement about Manhunt 2 hacks and controversy

OK, here's the thing about the above statement: it does not represent any departure from the original Hot Coffee fiasco. The modders for Hot Coffee also modified code to remove logic to show previously unshown scenes. The only big distinction is that the PC does not have the same kind of restrictions that the PSP platform has - but that just alters the hill the PSP hackers had to climb to get to the same point.

Let's examine the ESRB's rebuttal to that point, from the same Joystiq post:

The Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas "Hot Coffee" situation involved a scene that was a) fully rendered in an unmodified form on the disc (the Hot Coffee mod did not alter the content that was there, it merely unlocked it), b) not previously disclosed to the ESRB during the rating process, and c) easily accessible to all owners of the PC version of the game. Conversely, in the case of Manhunt 2, a) content that was programmed to be part of the game (i.e., visual blurring effects of certain violent depictions) is being modified, b) the content was previously disclosed to the ESRB, and c) unauthorized versions of software and/or hardware are required to play the modified content.

To say that the Manhunt 2 material wasn't unlocked, because code removed special effects filters, but that GTA material was unlocked, because it switched some flags to allow the scenes to play - is simply semantic. Technically it's the difference of an apple and say, a granny smith apple. For the Manhunt 2 material to be shown at all, the scenes must exist in their unaltered format (just like GTA). Telling the code not to display a blur filter isn't significantly different from telling the code to show scene A instead of skipping it.

The ESRB has engaged in this kind of wordplay before - shifting blame from publishers to developers to modders in their arguments depending on who was asking the question. The only real distinction here is that we are talking about material that Rockstar disclosed, the ESRB rated and Rockstar "edited".

So in other words - the real distinction between the Manhunt 2 content and the GTA content isn't Rockstar, it isn't the publisher and it isn't the modders. It's the ESRB. They've decided to handle this situation in a different way for one basic reason:

Someone did the math and they realized they could get away with it. The PSP is a tiny market compared to the PC, Manhunt 2's controversy is already old news and quite frankly nobody really cares about a subpar game on the world's second rate handheld martket.

The problem with that is that the ESRB continues to act more like a political body than as a standards body. Their message in instances such as this is not necessarily about communication with consumers as it is about damage control.

If the same kind of focus was getting shown onto the situation as we saw with the frantic over-reaction to Hot Coffee, I'd put dollars to donuts that the ESRB would be singing a different tune. If we were talking the Wii version here? Oh brother, watch out.

Sadly, that's precisely what consumers - and especially parents - don't need. Parents don't give two cents, nor should they, whether the material was on the disc, or added to the disc, or hacked from the disc, or if the flag was set by a config file, or if it took a hex editor, or if their kid could run a binary patch, or whatnot. They need to know what happens when they buy a game and what can happen after they bring it home.

This is a failure to communicate - and one that's indicative of a problem with the ESRB in general.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Game Play: Hellgate Demo

I got a little time before falling into a deep sleep last night, right after catching up on NaNo from the weekend. So I loaded up the Hellgate: London demo and took it for a spin.

The good - Hellgate looks darn good and plays with only the occasional hiccup on my mediocre CheapBox++ (2GB Ram, P4, 7600GS). I think it skipped some dynamic lighting and other fancy features, but I don't feel like I'm missing much.

The sorta good - if someone described Hellgate as a "third person, 3D Diablo" ... they did a good job. Hellgate follows Diablo's run and click gameplay pretty tightly. So if you found that to be your cup of tea, the demo is definately worth the demo.

The I hope they fix this - Don't get me wrong ... I love the theme. The combination of horror elements, modern architecture and a weird mix of sci-fi fantasy really pays off. They just need to fix it. For instance, I try talking to a ... techsmith I think it was? And his voice dialogue is all about how wonderful it is to talk to me and ooo baby and ... I don't know. It was creepy, didn't match the actual text of the conversation and totally killed the mood for me. Other NPC's were similarly off-putting.

The I know they won't fix it, but I wish they would - I don't know if I've ever been a huge fan of Diablo's skill trees and wish they would come up with another mechanism. Honestly this setup has only really worked for me when playing these kind of RPG's on the PS2 and I don't want to bother with any kind of complexity and there was a high chance of replayability. On the PC, it just feels like I'm either a) wasting time experimenting with skills I don't know or b) waiting for someone else to figure out the most powerful routes and mimicking what they do.

I give it a tentative thumbs up, and the online play might put it over the edge there (though I have no idea when I'd have time to actually play it). I'll definately bleed the demo dry before making a purchase.

Anyone Cracked The Crysis Demo?

On Gaming Today:

When downloading the Crysis demo, I'm sure you expected, just as I did, to
get a glimpse of the incredible visuals and a taste of what the game is
like. And it delivered - and then some. A few days ago, a script of ...
Read Full Article, Crysis Demo More than Just a Demo

Apparently a little hacking can:

- Unlock the game from being "Vista" only. So, boo to Microsoft some more for trying to create and enforce a technical distinction which clearly doesn't exist.

- Unlock tons of additional material which was intended for later in the game. This one doesn't really surprise me much ... it's actually happened before in other demos, albeit not necessarily to this scale.

I'm still poking at the Hellgate demo, so not sure if I'll ever get around to letting this one bring my machine to its knees or not.

Would Phantasmagoria Get Made Today?

Sexy Videogameland pondered if a game like Phatasmagoria could be made today which was apparently followed by Destructiod showcasing some choice videos of the graphic (as in violence, rape, tigers, bears, oh my) FMV game for Halloween.

I'm with Leigh here - especially if a already targeted developer like Rockstar made it ... it would probably get an AO rating and shelved in development. While violence in general is accepted in American culture - Phantasmagoria pulls a lot of violence against helpless women.

On an oddly related note - did you know the Incredible Hulk appeared on Mister Roger's neighborhood? We visited some friends on Friday and they mentioned the episode and that the theme was that "some things are imaginary and fictional". Can someone tell me why we can't have similar conversations with kids about games?

WikiCrawl: Seth MacFarlane

This might be common knowledge, but I had no idea:

On the morning of the September 11, 2001 attacks, MacFarlane was scheduled to return to Los Angeles on American Airlines Flight 11 after being a keynote speaker at his alma mater in Rhode Island. In 2005, on episodes of Loveline and Too Late with Adam Carolla, MacFarlane stated that he tried to make the flight, but arrived about ten minutes after final boarding ended. At 8:14 a.m., fifteen minutes after the departure of American Airlines Flight 11, the plane was hijacked, later being flown into the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York City. He was told he would need to wait for the next flight and then sat down next to someone as they were watching the attacks and he said to the man beside him, “I was supposed to be on that flight."[11]
-- Seth MacFarlane [Wikipedia]

For those who didn't know, MacFarlane is creator (and many of the voices) of Family Guy and American Dad. At one point he stated he wouldn't use 9/11 in his humor due to the experience but has since (thankfully) reversed that.