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Saturday, June 25, 2005

I Just Fragged Satan

Great Books Games aims to develop gaming franchises centered about rich stories contained in the Great Books. Dante's Inferno, with it's descent through nine levels of Hell and ever-more-sinster demons leading to a three-headed Satan, is the obvious place to start.
-- Great Books Games [thanks]

Sweet. Though to be honest, I think GBG is a bit fooling themselves if they see using the Unreal 3.0 engine as a cost saving tool. Heck, I'd think books of this caliber could be done in 2D or isometric and still be extremely compelling. When you have great literature, do you need cutting edge graphics?

Friday, June 24, 2005

Couch Couch Revolution


Video Games Live

Lasers, music and video games? Count me in:

Renowned video game composers, Tommy Tallarico (Advent Rising, Tony Hawk Pro Skater, Earthworm Jim) and Jack Wall (Jade Empire, Myst III: Exile, Splinter Cell), and Clear Channel Music Group today announced upcoming tour dates for Video Games Live, an immersive, music and video concert experience.

Check out the whole bit on for more information and tour dates.

Grand Theft Dissertation

Elaine Wolf takes a look at Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and notes that in between it's violent edges, there's a history lesson taking place:

Last night I dreamt I went to Compton again.

I cruised the streets of South Los Angeles while the orange glow of the ocean-fed sunset lit up the Watts Towers and delayed the plans of graff writers. Everything was different, and yet nothing had changed. Sweet was rolling die with Big Smoke at the old playground, but my brother was strategically MIA, weakening the Grove Hill Families through incompetence and inaction. The cops were running our neighborhood like their own corner store, taking what they wanted, and always on credit.

But the Los Angeles I dreamed of was no more real than the estate Manderley in Rebecca, the novel from which I cribbed the opening line of this article. My Compton was a fictionalized neighborhood in an animated version of Los Angeles called Los Santos, one of three cities in San Andreas, the most thoroughly realized virtual world yet in the tremendously popular Grand Theft Auto video-game series developed by Rockstar Games and Rockstar North.
-- Grand Theft history []

An excellent read and a refreshing take on the title other than "you can beat a hooker". Wolf takes to task the fact that kids are being raised by video games and that their perspectives on history and culture do matter.

Open Invite to Parents

"The research is on the money," he told this morning, "but anyone working in a games store has known this for a long time. The number of copies of Grand Theft Auto I've had to sell to parents accompanied by their ten year old kids, who I had refused to sell a copy to just a few minutes before, is absolutely sickening."
- New research shows that parents ignore game age ratings []

More proof these anti-game laws will only result in some rare, but expensive, frivolous lawsuits. It won't help the kids, the parents will buy it anyway. It won't help crime, because there's no tangible connection there. So why do we have all these people so keen to tie video games to crime? It's not necessary. Most rational people agree that a ten year old kid doesn't need to play Grand Theft Auto - so why do parents keep buying it for them?

There's clearly a bigger social problem here. Parents are disconnected from the lives of their kids. When it comes to video games, they must have a bigger problem as many are faced with completely new technology.

Look, parents - I know you aren't reading this ... but if you are: Forget the lawyers. They just want to win more lawsuits. They aren't looking out for your kids. Forget the politicians, they're just looking for a safe issue they can look good with so that you'll forgive them the next time they screw up. Forget the television news, because all they want to do is scare the bejeeezus out of you so that you'll feel it's imperative to watch their show.

In short, they are all freaking lying to you. So come swing by our place. Yes, the gamer's house. OK sure, there might be some dirty socks laying around and I don't think that particular bag of chips is still quite fresh. But we have a lot of games, and we know them a lot better than some ambulance chaser.

I won't lie to you, I'm not really interested in your kids. I'm not going to tell you how to raise them. I don't have any of my own. But I will tell you about games. I'll tell you if I think they're violent or difficult or whatever. I gave my niece Katamari Damarcy for Christmas. Trust me, I'm one of the good guys. So are most gamers out there. Your best bet for information is to find someone passionate about these things and talk to them. Get a subscription to EGM. Sure, it will look funny next to that copy of Vogue, but you'll be much better informed.

And if you want a really good resource, go visit GamerDad is run by Andrew Bub, who (among other things) does have kids. He and his group have a whole database of video games they've reviewed from a parent's perspective. So why go to CNN to learn about video games? I bet Nancy Grace has never even tried to save a princess.

In short, we need to cut out the middle man. If kids are going to play games, parents need to know about games. Might as well just come on over and learn from the experts. And you're unlikely to find them on TV.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Simply SAGing

I did want to get a quick bit in today about SAG's refusal of the voice acting contract. This should sum it up quite well:

With its latest move, SAG's National Executive Committee killed the deal between its members and gaming companies. AFTRA's National Administrative Committee approved the deal last week, and it will go into effect for members on July 1.

Many actors who do voice-over work in games belong to both unions, and will therefore be covered by AFTRA.
- Video game stocks mixed after SAG rejects contract

It's interesting to note that this was large enough to upset stocks a bit, but at the same time is something of a non-issue, as contracts can move ahead under AFTRA. So SAG gets to look like it's being brave, the publishers get to keep what they agreed originally and the little guys? Heck, seems like voice actors, developers, producers and the rest of the lot are just about where they were when this got started.

This seems more like a warning shot than war right now. But as video games hollywood up more and more, expect it to keep coming back again and again. So I guess the real question is - should technical people in games union up to protect themselves against the day a publisher has to redraw a budget to pay residuals?

Heck, should technical people just get a union to protect themselves ... period? It seems like everyone in the movie industry has a union ... why should developers stay without one?

World Fair 2.0?

Wired is holding NextFest here in Chicago this weekend. If it's nice on Sunday I might grab The Girl and go, it does sound rather neat, although framing it as the next World Fair seems a bit much. But on the other hand, they are supposed to have a robotic Phillip K. Dick and I seriously have some questions for him.

Oh F'n Hell

CNN has decided to join the "it's fun to scare the **** out of parents" fray:

BETHANY MARSHALL, PSYCHOTHERAPIST: Well, I`ll tell you what does have do with violence, strong emotional experiences. And when those kids are gaming and they press the button or the mouse and they actually kill somebody and there`s an emotional charge that does rewire the brain. And another thing that affects violence is lack of parental rules. So a question I have with these games are, Where are the parents.

GRACE: You know, Dino Lombardi, I`ve only got one minute left. But in the last Tennessee shooting, where a kid shot two cops and a third person, they had been watching this Grand Theft Auto for days on end. It said life is like a video game. And you`re still telling me this is OK?

LOMBARDI: Well, I`m not saying it`s OK, but I don`t support censoring it.

GRACE: Yes, you are!
-- CNN's Nancy Grace via kotaku

So you have a psychotherapist actually trying to bring the conversation to the parents, which God forbid might enter into a debate about children because it might deter you from the thought that your video game will kill you. Thankfully there is a respectable journalist there to go after the facts of the situation and try to bring a level of intelligence to the discussion right?

GRACE: … children can get this, Jack Thompson!

I really feel for parents these days. They've got nobody to turn for help. The government is more interested in opening lawsuits than extending information. The mainstream news is out to freak them out for better ratings. So while I think parents and information are the keys to this issue, both items are running out of friends quickly. Someone out there should be feeling ashamed for themselves, because there's simply a public good which isn't being done here ... and someone has the job to deliver it.

Carnival III: Revenge of the Carnies

Corvus has the third Carnival of Gamers staked out. Plus Ten Carnie Points to him for presenting an illustrated version.

And let's highlight this bit of CoG III:

Oh, and please don’t run away when it’s all over folks. We’d like to know what you think of our sideshows and, more specifically, we’d like to know which entry you liked best. On Monday the 27th, I’ll be naming your overall favorite entry “The Geek Supreme of the Carnival of Gamers III” and sending the author a mysterious prize. I can’t do that, unless you toss in your $.02. So feel free to take a spin through and head back to leave your impressions!

So let Corvus know your favorite. I particularly like Thomas' twitchiness of guns, but I haven't read them all just yet ... though props also goes to Kutagari Watch, which should really be a sideshow affair at this point.

I almost submitted the Dad Day bit since I rarely write anything like that, but 60 Minutes just got under my skin too much.

Next Carnival will be here on July 7th. You can go ahead and email submissions to the Carnival Grue at carniegrue at and it will wait in some dark corner for my brass lantern to go out. Or deliver the email. It's somewhat unpredictable.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Gosh Dang It

I was kidding.

They aren't.

Never Prospering

Surprisingly, it's not always about just being a dick. "It's frustrating," says Duncan Ariey, whose cheating ways date back to 16-bit Game Genie hacks. "To lose consistently to people who got better than you by playing six to eight hours a day while you're at school or work—some people cheat just to even the playing field." Latecomers are especially disadvantaged, says Ariey: "Nobody wants to turn on their new game and be killed 50 times in a row by people who have had the game longer. I know many people who cheat not to boost their win column, but to keep it from being ruined in their first few days of having a game."
-- Sons Of The Glitch

What's annoying is that the guy kinda has a point, but not one really worthy of downloading some elfbot and keybinding the spacebar to "Headshot Nearby Target". But it is an interesting design flaw of many modern online games. Since the grand ole Days of Doom, multiplayer games have become increasingly competitive and even giving rise to professional gamers. One of the problems with online games is that it can only be as enjoyable as the weakest player. Heck, there's a whole class of griefers who just jump on servers, team kill repeatedly until people leave the server and then hit the next one. Even without cheating though, the gameplay experience can be altered just by newbie players. And how do you think the newbie feels?

I remember getting Unreal Tournament for the Dreamcast. I instantly jumped online to see how the modem handled it and was surprised at how smooth the play was. Course, back then I worked with guys who would LAN up a good game of UT several times a week. So everywhere I went, I more or less destroyed the competition. Which was really fun for about ten minutes, but then I had kinda cleared out all the small games I had joined and realized I was being a dick.

So what's the solution? Well, better game matching software definately seems to be in order, a la Live, so that players are better tied to players of their own weight. It also seems like we could use some more games with less competitive rules. This would have to get away from the twitchplay-instantdeath style which is fairly popular so that gamers feel like they are playing a game, not just respawning.

I did address some of this in my first Unreal mod, Bounty War. In Bounty War, players are worth a specific amount based on the number of kills they've had. So better players are worth more points to kill. So while a newbie might get a veteran player only once, it would allow them to catch up some with a single frag. This is similar to the classic headhunter style of games, where players are worth the amount of a certain token they can collect before depositing the tokens. The original Aliens Versus Predator also acknowledged this somewhat, by rating scores based on the size of a team. So three Predators against one Alien, the Predators are worth more per kill.

I've never heard a good excuse for cheating and I probably never will. That's not to say that games can't take a good hard look at making a playing field wide enough for a range of gamers and not just the l33t. Microsoft is aiming for more casual players with the 360. Nintendo aims for more pick-up and go style games with the Revolution. Game design will need to compensate for both.

Quick Word On Conker's

I guess the XBox version of Conker's is finally unleashed. Since the reviews seem to always leave this out, let me just make a quick public announcement:

Conker's has some of the funniest cinematic scenes to ever be placed in a video game. Some of the parody work is simply brilliant and is alone worth the price of admission for the game.

That is all.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Video Games Cure Cancer

It's true. Here in my secret volcano lair I've got a crack team of mad scientists and they've shown that ever since I've been playing video games, I don't have a lick of cancer. Not a lick, I tell you. Unfortunately those quacks also say that it causes ADD and creates a verbal syndrome wherein the person will involuntarily make obscenely geeky references at the drop of a hat ... so what do they know.

Seriously, it seems like everyone has a statement about what video games can or can't do these days. I could riff off a long series of links pointing to how a 486 processor taught someone to draw or that an Atari 2600 made them question their sexuality or how a GameCube turned a neighbor's son into a terrible android assassin from the future, but I'm too tired just from reading all these claims in the first place.

The one thing that seems consistent is that people are reading into video games whatever they want. Gamers advocate that games either have a minimal effect or completely positive ones, whereas the witchhunters more conservative views suggest that they create violence where there previously was none. Thankfully, the science is almost utterly inconclusive and mostly contradictory ... so we can look forward to debating about this for a really good long time.

My humble opinion is pretty simple. I have a long standing contention that video games are art. I've dabbled in photography, poetry, digital art, and writing in both short story format and even a novel (extremely bad and unpublished ... but at least it's long). I've been programming on and off since I was kid. I started doing Unreal mods as a serious habit a few years ago. I've been gaming since before people played them at home. From my perspective - video games are art. The act of constructing them is similar to constructing poetry or a novel, the act of playing them is similar to going to a movie or listening to a concert. People get hung up on how technical video games are ... but they forget just how technical it is to create art in the first place. People like to think of art is merely an explosive force, but without technical knowledge - be it grammar, woodworking, lighting or whatever - that force would never find a way to be seen or heard.

I can't quite admit that video games are art in one hand and try to say they have no effect on a person with the other. Art is supposed to have an effect on you. It should be able to make you happy or angry or thoughtful or remorseful. Good art should help educate you, realize more of the world around and think about the world that could be around you. Of course some art is more appropriate for some audiences more than others. By itself, art isn't going to make someone a smarter person, or a better person, or a more criminal person - but it will always be a component. Violent people can always revel in violent art which might aggravate them. Hate Metal anyone? At the same time, art can be something which helps generations to understand themselves ... even if the material itself is riddled with violent acts. Shakespeare anyone?

Art isn't going to save the world, or destroy it. Art's simply a byproduct of our lives. By giving it too much credit or too much blame will undoubtably be missing the point. People can learn from it. People can react to it. People can practice their reading skills, their logic skills and sometimes even their artistic skill with it. Art can reinforce bad ideas just as well as good ideas. This is because it's not a babysitter, or a teacher, or a sageful advisor. It's just art.

Review Rally

First, DIY Games has a review of 50 Castles, which involves chickens among other things.

Second, Game Tunnel has both their May Round-Up and a review of Darwinia available:

As hard as it is to describe this game, I can see five to 10 years from now people reminiscing about playing Darwinia much like people today talk about playing Amiga games and the original Doom.

Monday, June 20, 2005

What They Aren't Saying

That guy I said I wouldn't talk about? I guess 60 Minutes has edited up a short version of that interview, now focusing squarely on cranial menus and shown it around. I've been getting some questions about this. But I'm still not talking about that guy. I'm talking about this case.

So let's recap. The Playstation 2 is technology sophisticated enough to brainwash a teenage mind and train Devin Moore Thompson well enough to overcome an armed veteran police officer from within the confines of a police station. Do not pay attention to anything else.

Well, that's one scenario at least. Here is another:

Moore's father told The AP that his son was a troubled young man.

"I kept telling people about it, going to the church and telling people he was a troubled child, but people didn't pay me no mind," he said. "I raised him from a baby, but people don't listen."

Kenneth Moore said he sent his son to live with the young man's mother two years ago because he couldn't control him. He said that his son would often steal his car and that last year his mother found a gun in the house belonging to him.
-- Devin's father, Kenneth Moore

What's interesting about that story is that it doesn't mention video games. Not once. Here is a story which interviewed Devin's father, that also has nothing to do with video games:

Reporters encircled Thompson's father and a female companion as they
exited the courtroom, yelling questions as he repeated, "No comment."
Standridge said that Thompson's family is sorry for what has happened.

In an earlier interview, Thompson's father, Kenneth Moore and Fayette
County High School Principal Radford Hester told The Tuscaloosa News the
teen had many discipline problems at home and school.

Kenneth Moore describes his son as someone who loved trouble, stealing
cars and dabbling in drugs.

"He was a good kid to people in town, but as soon as you get to know him
he would change for worse," Kenneth Moore said.
-- Death Penalty News

These are from 2003, when the crime in question happened. December, 2004, is when the "Life is a video game" phrase jumped out and suddenly this was all about Grand Theft Auto. And here's the kicker ... there is some doubt that he even said that:

When Moore was arrested, it was stated he made the comment, "Everybody has got to die sometime." This was later amended in December 2004 during a motion hearing claiming the statement was, "Life’s a video game. You’ve got to die sometimes.”
-- Video Games Under Fire

And at that point that nameless guy walks in and started to get everyone riled up against the video game industry. But,

Prior to the filing of the lawsuit in February 2005, Moore’s attorney, Jim Standridge, filed for youthful offender status for Moore but was denied. Mr. Standridge had planned to use a diminished capacity defense in addition to claiming that Moore was frightened because he was a young black male being arrested in a mostly white, rural community. When Miami attorney Jack Thompson arrived in Fayette and convinced the brother of Arnold Strickland and the parents of Leslie Mealer to file the lawsuit against the video game developers and stores, the defense changed its plans. The defense now states because of Mr. Moore’s diminished mental state, he was programmed to act in a violent manner by video games. Mr. Standridge is prevented from commenting due to a current gag order.
-- Video Games Under Fire

Wait, diminished capacity? Frightened? Why aren't we hearing any of his father's statements? How is it that 60 minutes couldn't go back to 2003 and dig up any of these quotes about his troubled youth, his broken home and his criminal tendencies?

How does a trial go from being about psychological problems and media gag orders to brainwashing and interviews on 60 Minutes? In 2003, this was problem youth and a tragic event that the media wasn't supposed to be involved with. In 2005, it's a media circus about how innocent the kid really was, if only it wasn't for his game console. Why the shift in attention?

Because if you look at all the facts, there is no other way to see this but for what it is. A troubled black kid with emotional problems facing certain jail time in a predominately white area, frightened and unstable enough to decide take another's life for the hope of just getting away. Is this such an unbelievable scenario that we have to add in murder simulations and brainwashing? I don't see how anyone who has lived in the real world would need to go that extreme. This was violent, this was tragic and this was horrible. This wasn't science fiction. This was real. It might not make as good of television as Ed Bradley decrying how horrible violent media is, while repeatedly flashing the screen with images of pixel gore ... but it is true.

Father's Day Retrospective

It's a three hour drive, minimum, from Chicago to Decatur. The Girl and I have now made the round trip twice in as many weeks, once primarily to see my brother and then another to do Father's Day since The Girl's father would be, well, conveniently in town and all. And for those of you who don't live in the Midwest ... my apologies because we're having just about the best weather on the planet right now.

For his birthday, I got my dad two games. Rome: Total War and The Missing. I think The Missing actually kinda freaked him out ... the whole ARG genre possibly being a bit of a stretch for him, and Total War arrived completely broke. What's humorous about this is some two decades ago he granted my brother and I our first computer and warned us it wasn't for use with Space Turkeys. Space Turkeys was his symbol of wasteful computer games, based on a ad with blazing words about blasting such cosmic fowl.

Needless to say, that ban didn't last very long. That's right Joe Lieberman - even back then kids could get their hands on computer games. Violent? Heh, try playing the 2D side scroller of Conan sometime. Or even Karateka.

But I digress. The fun part was when a flight simulator errantly found it's way onto my father's laptop some year later. An avid pilot, he would play this ... well, let's just say obsessively. The family got an Intellivision and Dad was simply the best at Night Stalker. We'd watch him play just so that we could see the next robot that we couldn't beat. More recently this has moved to a Nintendo 64 ( he was quite the GoldenEye fan ) and GameCube ( a true Need for Speed freak ).

So, the truth is that Dad isn't just a gamer. He's actually a little hardcore. With access to a LAN party I think he'd not only attend, but there'd be some trash talking as well.

That Imported PSP in the Window

Ferrago is reporting that Sony is strong-arming small UK retailers to stop importing the PSP to their shores. I really don't get this - a sale is a sale. Yeah, I'm sure there's some global demomarkeconomicgoober rule that it's bad to bring numbers from on market to another, particularly when you're already considering hiring trained pandas in order to make enough of the damn thing to fulfill the orders. But my high school level of economics still sees a sale as a sale. If Sony had really wanted to crack down on small retailers, they should have found those people selling the $250 "value" pack for like $399 just because they knew it would be in short order during the launch.

Oddly, I get decreasingly likely to get a PSP. If someone gave it as a gift, I'd probably enjoy the hell out it - but it really doesn't seem like a form factor that I'd haul around enough to justify the purchase. Maybe once the DS and PSP have more robust wifi and web browsing options I'll re-examine them.

Still, it's funny that Sony is having problems like this - when there was so much forum furor about how the PSP just wouldn't sell.