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Friday, March 11, 2005

Time is a harsh mistress

First, Freedom Force arrived in the mail today. Now there is a glowing commendation for self-publishing, because I was expecting it more like, next week. I really hope Irrational is on to something here.

Of course, I now have a conundrum. This is the first free weekend I've had in months. I was kinda hoping to sit down and knock out the 2D map interface I've been building lately. But now I've got this shiny thing staring at me, and I know these weekends go faster than I expect. I always think to myself "if I could only sit down for six hours and just code, I could get so much done" and then I hear "want to play some Norrath" from the living room or something. And now I'll have a bunch of superheroes on my back as well.

Sucks to be me.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

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Blogger is having a few technical difficulties beyond my control - so if you see any weirdness, please stand by.

Wonder companies unite

A bit more of Irrational news for you - BioWare is teaming with Irrational to help pimp Freedom Force: (thanks Blues)

We are working with BioWare to help promote the game because we know they understand the kind of gamer who will like our game. Given what big fans we are of BioWare (and how cool it's been to work with another developer for once!) we hope this is just the beginning.

Tre cool.

A few notables

If you're bored today, make sure you've checked out Gamespy's Graffiti Kingdom preview, a Japanese title with a kind of Katamari smell to it. You can "doodle" your own monsters into battle and Studio Ghibli is involved. Does one really need to say more?

And in my continued risk of being deemed an Irrational fanboy, Gamespy also has a preview of SWAT 4. It's positive, though a bit on the short side.

And while the rest of the world is drooling over the latest Unreal graphics (no link needed I think), don't forget IGN also has a look at the GDC build of F.E.A.R.

Freedom is in the mail

I got my notice today that the Freedom Force preorders are shipping. Sweeet. Good luck to Irrational on their self-publishing efforts.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

zur Doom Vorschau

View and despair at the first picture from the Doom movie.

Show that to anyone and ask them what game they're reminded of ... if anyone says "Doom", they're a fool or a liar.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Irrational talks SWAT

Irrational Games seems to be redefining "different" this year. One doesn't have to look much farther than Freedom Force Versus The Third Reich, the genre-bending update to the genre-bending original or the fact that Irrational decided to self-publish the title. It's hard not to like a development studio that's willing to stick their heads out for the fans.

They recently released the single player demo of SWAT 4 to the world, and I had a few questions regarding the design of the game. Bill Gardner, a designer for Irrational Games on the project, was ready to answer them:

The SWAT 4 demo gave a preview to the mission editor. What are the expectations this will have for replayability of the title? How should it compare to more traditional tools like a map editor or modifiable code?

Bill Gardner:

Even though SWAT 4 will have both a map editor and highly moddable content, we wanted to give people who aren’t that mod savvy the chance to create their own scenarios. All the missions in SWAT 4 have high replay value since the AI spawning and general behaviors vary so much from one playthrough to the next. We wanted to take that to the next level by giving people the ability to add even more variety by choosing what types of enemies, hostages, weapons, etc. The whole system creates a game that has near limitless replayability.

Immersion seems like a high priority for SWAT 4. Did this place any complications on level design or asset production? How did you balance the "flow" of a map versus the "realism" of a map?

Bill Gardner:
It’s always a challenge to find a balance between what’s realistic and what plays well. In the end, we all agreed that everything takes a backseat to the gameplay. We did manage to keep it as realistic as possible though. I think that even though our maps have very nice flow to them, they also maintain a high sense of realism.

One comment that's been heard about the SWAT 4's single player demo is that the "professionalism" required from the player is quite high to achieve a decent rating. What role do you see that including proper procedure and tactics will have in the overall design of the game?

Bill Gardner:
This is true to a point. SWAT 4 is not a run-and-gun shooter. It’s a tactical shooter. As such, we tried to encourage people to follow procedure whenever possible. In some cases, that meant penalizing players for things like the use of “unauthorized force”. It may take a moment to get into the groove of not simply shooting anything that moves like in many shooters, but when it begins to click, you truly feel like you’re an officer of the law.

How does the artificial intelligence in SWAT 4 compare to standard first person shooters?

Bill Gardner:
I think our AI programmers deserve a special pat on the back. John Abercrombie in particular did some truly amazing work. It’s one thing to have to create believable enemy AI, but to then have to carry around a squad of four friendly AIs is an enormous feat. At the end of the day, SWAT 4 has some of the most impressive AI you’ll see in a shooter. We knew we were succeeding when we were able to surprise ourselves after playing the game for over two years.

In general, how does working with a high-end middleware graphics engine impact the game design? Does the cost of production place limitations on the overall project or does the engine provide the kind of features which offsets the demand for more polygons and higher resolution textures?

Bill Gardner:
With all the changes, improvements and customizations we’ve made to the Unreal Engine, we’ve been able to effectively create amazing content under a very realistic development cycle. We’ve been able to go in and add features like normal mapping on level geometry and static meshes. Features like these completely change the look of a level. As you may already be aware, this is one technique that’s used to create the illusion of more polygons. In other words, as production demands escalate, you find ‘shortcuts’ that give you the same benefit (or greater) at a fraction of the cost.

Irrational made the decision to self-publish the new Freedom Force title. How has the experience been so far?

Bill Gardner:
Amazing. We took a big risk and a huge jump ahead when we made this decision. There’s a lot more that goes into making a game than I think we realized. Naturally, we’ve adapted to the increased responsibilities. I don’t know if it would have gone nearly as smooth if we didn’t have such great fans and press support. We’re keeping our fingers crossed. If things work out the way we hope, we’ll be able to continue with this model and give our fans more of what they want.

Freedom Force to SWAT 4 ... that's a pretty wide spectrum. Irrational seems to have a diverse array of interests. If you could start a project next week that didn't have to recoup any costs, what would it be?

Bill Gardner:
Yeah, we’ve got more than a few bases covered with our stable of games. Working on BioShock is certainly a dream come true for us. As for what else we’d like to work on, there are a lot of things. One thing is for certain though, whatever projects we take on in the future, they’ll be geared towards our fans.

Well, he had me at "near limitless replayability". Thanks again to Bill for his responses. And rest assured that as BioShock gets closer to the gold disc treatment, I'll probably knocking again.

I'm lucky to be alive

After listening to Paul Smith, First Amendment lawyer, talk about the censor war against comics, I realized - I'm lucky to be alive.

I've survived three waves of violent brainwashing media that was going to either make me a immoral zombie, a suicidal wretch or a killing machine (or some combination thereof). I read comics when I was really young. I played Dungeons & Dragons before I was even a teenager (and we're not talking that sanitized, no-Lovecraft mythos, 2nd Edition stuff - we're talking red and blue boooks here), and I've been playing video games since Atari had the moxy to design them for the living room.

And if you think this is the first time I've heard the "these things will invade your brain and make you a killer" routine ... you need to listen to this. That's an audio clip of Tom Hanks from Mazes & Monsters, the propaganda film of choice for convincing young ones that role-playing games will lead to violent deaths. Seriously, go read about it, and see if you can draw any connections to what's happening now.

So yeah, apparently my brain is strong stuff. To quote Sam Donovan, if you're going to came after me - you better bring some kryptonite.

Can you find the gamer?

OK. So, I watched it. The 60 Minutes piece on the Devin Moore trial, which probably bears some relinking. It was every bit as bad as I expected.

First, is it really considered good journalism to start your piece with questioning whether one of the aspects should even exist? I mean, is there better way to color Grand Theft Auto as the villian than to open with "can you believe anyone made this stuff?" (paraphrased of course).

And also, a tip to Ed Bradley. I mean, I'm sure you have lots of experience and a degree in journalism or something so you probably aren't looking for tips (or reading this) ... but ... when a grown man you're interviewing starts talking about cranial menus you don't just take notes politely and nod, you respond:

"I'm sorry, did you just say cranial menus?"

Cranial menus? Jack Thompson compares this kid to the Terminator and Ed doesn't even bat an eye? Tell us, Jack, what options do you think exist on this cranial menu? Were there any other than "knock down police officer and kill"? Maybe if Devin had used the "help" function in his brain, he could have gotten more information about "Cranial Menus 2.0" and maybe gotten that upgrade for the "sit and make free call home" option. Does that run on Microsoft? Because I'd like to have it at home.

Seriously, how am I supposed to take this seriously? This hard-hitting investigative journalist opens by damning the focal point of the case, then softballs to a guy raving about how Devin killed people with handy access to a HUD. OK, ok, so how can we redeem this? Maybe they'll ask a scientist.

David Walsh, Child Psychologist:

You know, not every kid that plays a violent video game is gonna turn to violence. And that's because they don't have all of those other risk factors going on. It's a combination of risk factors, which come together in a tragic outcome.

So at least Ed got this little factoid out, that not even the psychologist believes that video games can be the sole casuality of an event like this. One point for Ed. Something we should point out about Dr. Walsh's studies about the brain is they are based on what happens to kids througout their stage of adolescence. Devin Moore was seventeen at the time of the attack. The CBS piece said that Moore had spent the last few "months" playing GTA frequently. I think we can do the math here.

Probably the most condemning part came from the brother of one of the slain policeman, Steve Strickland:

'Why do you make games that target people that are to protect us, police officers, people that we look up to -- people that I respect -- with high admiration. Why do you want to market a game that gives people the thoughts, even the thoughts of thinking it's OK to shoot police officers? Why do you wanna do that?

Now, this guy just lost his brother not too long ago. He was crying in the piece. He's clearly hurting. It would be somewhat mean to attack him purely on logic. However, the internet does give me that ability. Hey, don't blame me, I didn't invent the thing.

Look, Steve, video games aren't vehicles to convey respect and admiration. Hey, I think our culture needs more of that too - I just don't think it's on Rockstar's plate to deliver. Video games, like movies or books or television, are about conveying stories, ideas, interaction, puzzles, challenges - you know, entertainment. And while you might scratch your head about what is entertaining about kicking hookers ... there a millions out there who get it.

Rockstar didn't want anyone dead. They didn't raise or train Devin to be a killer. Your rage is justified, Steve, just misdirected.

OK, so surely Ed didn't just quote people from the Pro-WitchHunt camp, right? He got a First Amendment lawyer talking about censorship, and how it compares to the comic book industry of old - but more on that later today. He did get Doug Lowenstein in front of the camera and making that old rational case of "clearly, there's something else going on here." Clearly, Doug, but apparently not clear enough to some.

What's noticeable, I think, the most about the 60 Minutes piece - is what wasn't there. They had one gamer, trapped in front the largest version of Grand Theft Auto imaginable and basically edited him saying "So you have to eliminate all resistance". Yeah, that was pretty much it. According to Jack Thompson, Sony and Rockstar are busily rewiring an entire generation of children into killers. Did Ed bother to talk to any of this budding "Manchurian Children"? No. No, the only time Ed portrays a "normal" gamer, it's to quote him about killing cops. Nowhere in this piece did a camera point to a sixteen year old kid who had just spent hours playing Ratchet and Clank and not running off and killing someone.

I mean, this is all about the corruption of gamers into killing machines, but you pratically need to play a game of Where's Waldo to find one during the show.

And the other truly noticeable absence from the piece? I mean, considering this all revolves around a seventeen year old kid who shot three police officers, allegedly under the training of his game console? Well, that would be that kid?

Where is Devin Moore? Or Devin's mother? Or any of his friends? Are people shocked he did this? Did he ever beat anyone up? Was he having a bad day? How can you have a lawyer telling me about this kid's GUI and yet completely sidestep the kid?

I have two open questions after reading about this crime and now watching a piece of investigative journalism on it:

How did a seventeen year old get possession of a police-issue glock from within a Police Station?


Why is nobody else asking that question?

Update: More thoughts here.

First, some errata

Well, from the 60 Minutes piece last night, I guess Thompson's case is a civil suit which includes Devin Moore as well as select portions of the video game industry. Interesting that it's so easy to forget that, isn't it?

Monday, March 07, 2005

Few Violent Updates

The GameSpeak series has Scott Ramsoomair's responses to the questions online. Scott is the author of the quite excellent VG Cats, but if you didn't know that - you should be acting like you did anyway.

CBS also has the web article version of the 60 minutes piece online, for those without magic boxes that record shows for you while you're busy having your brain re-wired by your PlayStation. You really should get one, though, because once Sony is done connecting your violent dendrite to your arm dendrite, you're going to be too busy killing puppies to remember to sit down for that episode of Lost.

I have, btw, e-mailed Best Buy for some clarifications on some of Jack Thompson's statements, but haven't heard back yet. I'm also trying to get some clarity on my own mistakes. For instance, it's unclear if Thompson is representing Moore or merely making a voodoo doll out of him.

And to get us out of the funk that mainstream media has put us into, I went off to ask Irrational a few questions about their upcoming title, SWAT 4. Remarkably they answered. I'll have the results tabulated in the morning.

ante thompsian

Thanks to Tony over at, I'm aware of 60 Minutes doing a piece on Jack's latest work. I haven't seen it yet, so if you're reading this, head over to his place for an analysis, and don't miss the link to the Video Games Ombudsman he notes either, who really gives a blow by blow.

Sadly, I'm not full of confidence. It sounds like CBS really white washed the issue and pandered to the knee jerk crowd. It seems the gamer's ardent defender was Douglas Lowenstein, president of the ESA and whom Jack Thompson has likened to Nazi propagandist Joeseph Goebbels. So, you know it's going to be a classy discussion when it's mostly between a fanatic and his form of the devil. And as the ombudsman points out, Thompson can talk about the case all he wants since he's involved in the litigation (though, um, ethically - should he?) and Doug is just an outside observer.

So mostly it sounds like 60 Minutes gave Thompson an open mic. I'll reserve judgment for when I see it of course. But when I first saw CBS's page I noticed their sidebar was touting other features:

Sept. 11 And Since

America on Guard

Postwar Iraq

Here is the text intros to the top two stories as I write this:

The United States reacted warily Monday to word that Syria will pull back its troops to the eastern part of Lebanon and would work toward a complete troop withdrawal soon.

Italy has honoured the secret service agent killed by US gunfire in Iraq with a state funeral in Rome. Nicola Calipari was killed by US troops as he ushered a released hostage, journalist Giuliana Sgrena, to freedom.

And I wonder why the idea of art imitating life is so hard to grasp for people here. Fact is, I don't think that 60 Minutes is terribly interesting in offering a fair an biased debate on the issue. If it bleeds, it leads, right? And if the video game industry doesn't get on the hook for desensitizing our youth, then the television industry might have to cop to it.

So the foxes are watching the henhouse. And we're the henhouse. Jack Thompson doesn't get on television because he's intelligent or because he's teaching us about the impact of video games on culture - he's on because he's crazy and crazy makes for good television. Seriously, if I could clean up the raving bum on the corner of Halsted and Belmont, put a coat and tie on him and shove him in front of a camera - I'd probably make millions.

Eventually, though - people will tire of Thompson. It's not like he's going to win any cases. The real harm would be if Take Two or Rockstar blinks and actually pays him anything. A settlement is Jack's best hope, and if he's robbed of that - he'll eventually go away. As my dad is fond of saying - this too shall pass. We'll just have to suffer the fools for a while.