Cathode Tan - Games, Media and Geek Stuff
logo design by man bytes blog

Saturday, August 06, 2005

I Like Cutscenes

I felt I need to declare this after reading the Idle Thumbs writeup of Fristrom's NTI talk:

He makes it very clear, however, that this means more than just filling a game with cut-scenes, quite the opposite in fact. "I hate cut-scenes," says Fristrom. "I've never seen a cut-scene where I haven't thought 'yeah that was cool... I sure wish it had been me doing it'." This feeling stems from an even bigger problem, he says, one which doesn't try to make games cinematic, but make cinema through games; that of the Frustrated Director Syndrome.

The way he sees it, far too many designers seem to have greater aspirations towards being movie makers instead of game developers. They envision epic and complex tales but with the added bonus of interactivity. Yet when it comes to actually implementing that story they find that they can’t really get the player to view their masterpiece exactly as they would like, so they slip in a cut-scene instead to save time, thus yanking the player jarringly into another gear.

First, I should preface by saying that I really like Treyarch's work on the Spidey franchise and, quite obviously, Fristom knows what can only be considered technically as a truckload more than I do. Heck, I don't even know what NTI means. That's never really stopped me from shooting off at the mouth though, and since Jamie goes right to the oft-cited example of Half-Life as to what's correct in such storytelling, I feel I should offer the following opinion.

Half-Life had cut-scenes. And Half-Life 2 had even more of them.

OK, so no ... they weren't really cut-scenes because the camera never "cuts" away. And sure, I agree that's a good thing. But they did have heavily scripted scenes that break from the normal gameplay wherein the player really isn't in any control any more. They are cutscenes, it's just that the player can move the camera around to watch them.

Case in point. Try and kill any of the main characters in one of HL2's scenes. You can't. Heck, in some of the later scenes, you can't even move - you just watch. Some of the moments in Half-Life 2 amount to cutscenes that you simply can't skip past.

So in no way does the first-perspective sticky cam offer a panacea for smoothing out the transition between active gameplay and passive cinema. It offers some interesting alternatives, sure, and definately some lessons learned, but it's not a cure all.

And that's OK. I like cutscenes. If they are good that at least. For instance, the cutscenes in Time Splitters: Future Perfect are relatively short, skippable if you've seen them, and sometimes at least moderately funny. Often they offer a quick breather after slaying a whole hidden lab of zombies. Likewise, there were many scenes in both HL and HL2 which helped make a more believable world and offer moments of entertainment outside of blowing crap up. And some the cutscenes in the Theif and Diablo series were, for instance, pure candy.

I don't instantly prefer one versus the other. It's all a matter of style, and how to pull it off. I think the real problem is when cutscenes go bad, they give them all a bad name. Project: Snowblind, for instance, has really pretty bad cutscenes. Which is odd, because some of their Valve style scenes are fairly decent. But the difference in the models between the cutscenes and the game, as well as the level of writing involved in them, makes the game drag.

So game industry, don't get rid of some animated goodness if you can do it with polish and flourish. If you can't, well ... text is still cheap.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Quick English Lesson

I know not everyone has had the courtesy of a married-to-the-hip relationship to the English language like the one that I've had to endure. My mother, a journalism major, made it a daily exercise to correct us whenever we spoke incorrectly, be that using words like "ain't" or "anyways" to the inserting of words like "whom".

Even with that upbringing, it should be noted that my English can suck just like everyone else. It's not our fault people, it's a crazy mixed up hobo of a language. And remember that before someone thinks it's really funny to highlight some minor grammar mistake I might make in this post. You're not funny, and you're missing the gist here.

What I'd like to do is point out that English can be written in such a way that it renders itself useless. A sentence can be formed so vaguely that the only acceptable response is to actually scratch your head. For instance, a news report might say something like "a person left the alley holding a bag which may or may not have contained cocaine".

While there is nothing really wrong, grammatically, with that statement, its quick translation "someone probably had cocaine in that alley" is really jumping to conclusions. You know that there was an alley, a person and a bag ... and some jackass reporter is just making something up about cocaine to keep you from changing the channel. The bag may or may not have been containing a great many things, including a sonic screwdriver, a puppy, Russian dolls or perhaps just a forty.

With that lesson learned, please read the following from Sony:

"The operating system has also yet to be clarified. The integrated Cell processor will be able to support a variety of operating systems (such as Linux or Apple's Tiger)."
-- PlayStation 3 processor could support Mac OS X Tiger

Naturally, the Cell processor can support a variety of operating systems. Any processor can support a variety of operating systems. In fact, a processor can technically support an infinite number of operating systems, assuming one could keep writing new OS's for the hardware until the heat-death of the universe.

And certainly, one of those could resemble or be based on OS X. It could also be Windows, the Amiga OS, Acorn, the TI-99 system, BeOS or any other existing operating system that someone wanted to labor over enough to port.

That doesn't mean anyone will. And I really think Apple has enough worries moving to Intel to worry about a game console. And I doubt an OS X port would get far without Apple.

So yes, that PlayStation 3 may or may not contain OS X.

I'm betting ... not.

3D For Language Learning

Now here's an interesting idea. Maybe not as lofty as fighting cancer, but still interesting. Use a 3D game engine to create a foreign town to help learn a language:

We have combined the Torque Game Engine with a very robust speech recognition engine to make a compelling interactive experience. Some of the developers went so far as to live in Spain to make sure we got it right. We have been working on this project for quite a while and have used a market validation process to make sure we're creating something that people will want to buy.

Virtual Spaniards inhabit the town, and wait for you to interact with them. The conversations are the heart of the program and take place in a window we call the VoiceBox. The VoiceBox contains both sides of the dialog in Spanish, a phonetic pronunciation guide, and English. The initial release will include 12 characters with 2+ conversations each, covering the basics of conversational Spanish: pleasantries, directions, shopping, weather, etc.

They also have a website.

Kitten Huffing

Just got introduced to the Uncyclopedia from this link on Blues. How hilarious is this site? Take kitten huffing as an example:

1. Catch a live kitten.
2. Cup hands around kitten's head leaving a small hole for you to put your mouth around.
3. Inhale strongly until you have sucked the soul from the kitten.

Oh yeah. Kitten souls. Did I mention it has a animation clip of kitten huffing in action?

Rockstar Kicked My Dog

Bullying Online, a UK based charity to help kids who are victimized by school bullies, has this to say about Rockstar's upcoming Bully:

ROCKSTAR'S BULLY GAME: We hear that Rockstar want to talk to Bullying Online about their controversial new game called Bully. Better late than never. We contacted Rockstar's public relations department on June 29 asking for a copy of this game so that we could evaluate it. We also asked what support they were putting in place to deal with young people who might be upset as a result of the game's content. No response to our email. Bullying is not a suitable topic for a computer game. In term time this charity is contacted by up to four suicidal pupils a day. Between 16-20 children a year kill themselves in the UK due to school bullying. Amusing subject for a game isn't it?

How the hell is Bully controversial yet? There's so little known about this game that all the knee-jerk ferver by these idealogues just illustrates how little they care about reality. This is just attention whoring, plain and simple. Look, look at me ... over here! I've got a reason to hate Rockstar too! They ... um kicked my dog! Honest! Gimme!

Support to deal with kids upset with the content? Look, if the content is too visceral for kids - go complain to the ESRB for giving it a Teen rating. But before you look like a complete idiot, if it isn't too late, you might wait for the ESRB to rate it. Jesus, I didn't like the ending to God of War, but I sure don't expect Jaffe to stay by the phone so that I call and cry about it.

As for what's a suitable topic to make a computer game ... well, it seems like lots of people are getting opinions on this these days. You can't kill police officers, or steal cars, or engage in school violence, or I guess do anything immoral. If people get hurt by these activities in the real world, we should do our best to pretend they don't exist and certainly not emulate them.

Problem is - if we set the bar like that, then you better start pulling games and movies left and right. Because the list of activities that people get injured or killed during certainly include war, detective work, stopping alien invasions, sneaking around enemy bases, clearing mine fields, football, skateboarding, skiing, brandishing swords, chasing ghosts, race car driving, eating, sleeping, jumping on crocodile's heads, smashing boulders, running and quite possibly breathing.

Just because someone out there finds something offensive or odious doesn't mean it's not entertainment for somebody else. You want to warn your contingency about the kind of content in a game, movie or book - be my guest. Leave the rest of us out of it. Game makers are responsible for creating something entertaining that will sell. They aren't responsible for your kids, your playgrounds, your streets or your backyard. The makers of Black Hawk Down certainly don't owe money to the VA and I don't think the Tony Hawk series is exactly going to pay for street signs to tell kids not to skateboard on rails.

And before anyone gets on my case for ripping on kids and now charities - I should say that I worked a crisis line for 5 years. A damn sight longer than most folk. I've talked to suicidal students during terms before. And the thought that a video game would even manage to make the equation on such a life crisis is insulting to the nature of the situation and precarious in it's assertion.

VGL Postponed?

Anyone know why most of the Video Games Live events are postponed? I'd love to catch it on Northerly Island.

Dev Day Diary: Target System

This post might be completely indecipherable without the use of diagrams and glossy photos ... if so, please ignore.

So the problem I have right now is making a non-analog control system enjoyable. Harder than it sounds when one considers that some kind of analog device has become standard on pretty much everything but Nintendo's handhelds ... and even the DS has ways to compensate that via the touchscreen.

So I'm just pushing the ship around, getting a feel for how it plays with eight compass points and ... well, it's not bad. The real problem is that without some kind of grid system, it gets to be a real pain to aim at anything. You have to resort to drifting just to line up a shot, because your eight points might not be matching up with your target's eight points (insert diagram here).

The solution might be some kind of targetting system. Sort of like a 2D version of Panzer Dragoon. The system would handle the compensation between angles and could be accurate based on variables like speed and distance. This would get the player back to worrying more about their basic positioning rather than fussing against the controls to get a precise location.

About Snowblind and Dark Legacy

There's basically two games on my PS2 right now - Project: Snowblind and Gauntlet: Dark Legacy, both from the dumpster diving mentioned earlier.

First, I gotta say again that Snowblind is much harder than I ever expected it to be, and that's a good thing. It's actually challenging in a very tight way. It's not just a swarm of enemies, but it's a combination of semi-realistic damage and lots of cover. No, it doesn't feel like Rainbow Six, but it doesn't entirely feel like Quake either. It nestles in better than I'd say it's pedigree of Deus Ex games managed - and that's saying a lot. The plot is pretty cliche and the cutscenes have something to be desired (more on that later), but the levels are well done and detailed and gloss over some of those parts. Yesterday I hacked a military bot and went on a rampage and it occured to me that Crystal Dynamics probably did a better job of simplifying the augs than Ion Storm did (but still sadly removing the whole concept of owning the character).

Then there is Gauntlet. Thanks goes to Hieronymus for the warning. He's not inaccurate, of course, it's about as mindless as coop gets without removing the requirement to push the analog stick around. That is, if they would just get it down to one button, then I think their core gameplay goals would have been achieved. However, one thing I love about The Girl is that she adores mindless destruction and hence we've been playing it plenty. And to be honest, we don't have a wealth of coop options at hand right now, having played through everything in Baldur's Gate, Norrath and the Three Kingdoms for now.

However, it's easy to poke at these early PS2 games and point out the low poly models , non-existent AI, blocky maps and repetitive gameplay. I've done a lot of writer workshops and know from experience that it's always easy to kick the little guy. But it's a lot harder to try and pull out what they do right. For instance, while the maps are blocky - they aren't poorly designed and do actually provide some challenges in trying to unlock every gate and area. Sure, most of that can be solved simply by running around and shooting randomly, but it's something. The designs are also nicely varied ... we just hit the Sky Tower complete with it's balloon and winged platforms - not the normal fantasy fair. And there is something to that old "kill many, many things" strategy of gameplay that served the original well and echoes faithfully into games like Dynasty Warriors.

I guess I'm saying that there's a great game in there, this just feels like an early tech demo of it. Sadly, the new Gauntlet game seems to be awash in problems - having now lost both of it's star designers and facing various delays. Myself, I would have prettied up the graphics, made the characters far more customizable, add in a Diablo style magic item system, installed a decent magic combo framework and introduced random dungeons.

But that's just me.

Thursday, August 04, 2005


I was remembering Parsec when I heard about Wolf3D being on a calculator. Well, here's Parsec:

I had forgotten about the fuel and heck, even the waves of enemies. And the version I had certainly didn't have color ... or maybe it was just the monitor that didn't. I don't quite remember. I mean, I was like ... 4 ... so gimme a break.

However, in searching, I also found this 99er's site:

TI-99 emu on a Sharp Zaurus. How about that for one's past ramming headlong into one's present?

Dev Day Diary: Wide Turns

Odd how technical stumbles can alter the direction your coding. Until T2D's Mac socket code is up to snuff, trying to make the playable iTunes interaction fly will be difficult, and I really need to get more up to snuff myself on techniques for quick 2D visualizations before making it pretty.

So I ripped out the core sections of SHMUP code that was in there and reframed it into the start of an Asteroids clone, with the idea of adding a random mission system to keep things interesting. However, I'm also doing all this with the intent of hooking up a pair of joysticks so that The Girl and I can crash on the couch and play. The oddity here is that the most fundamental analog device available to OS X is a mouse ... and there you only get one. However, the GamePad Companion conveniently allows you to remap analogs as an eight way hatstick.

Course, eight compass points is significantly smaller than, well, the 360+ that analog offers. So while it offers a convienently low denominator of control which can be easily translated to keyboard, mouse or joystick - it certainly doesn't offer Asteroids style control.

So now I have a control system in search of a game. Not the worst thing in the world, since there wasn't much of a game to start with. It's nice to have next to nothing for at least one reason - you can easily make wide turns.

Like We Need More Crazies

First, we had the zealous lawyer from Florida who actually thinks that game consoles brainwash children into being assassins.

Then, we have a grandmother who is simply astonished that Rockstar tricked her into buying Grand Theft Auto for her fourteen year old child.

Now, we've got these jackasses:

Ronald Moten and his Peaceoholics Youth Council are taking their views to the front door of Rock Star Games in New York City. They say violent videogames like Grand Theft Auto are played out on the city's streets.

Peaceoholics List of Demands for Rock Star Games

- Not to release Bully under any circumstances
- Volunteer to sell its violent and sexually explicit games in adult video stores only.
- Let parents return Grand Theft Auto for a full refund until they do a national awareness campaign to educate parents of content and possible effects.
- Create a fund for victims of unauthorized use of a motor vehicle and car-jackings, etc.
- Make a national apology for misleading and lying to children, parents, and legislators about their intentions and causing insurance premiums to sky rocket.
- Give a written response within five business days of receipt of these demands.
-- Area Kids Protest 'Bully' (thanks kotaku)

I never thought that the anti-game movement would simply self-implode on it's own, but it's seriously looking like it might. One can only garner attention by banging the crazy drum for so long before the neighbors begin to complain.

Let's look at the hippie demands one by one. Yeah, I know these are just kids ... but trust me, it will be fun anyway.

Not to release Bully under any circumstances
Yeah, right. Good luck. I've been saying that Rockstar was going to lose big on Hot Coffee. And I still think I'm right about that. But Bully? Bully is going to sell like goddamn hotcakes. Sweet, juicy, schoolyard hotcakes. And why shouldn't it? What possible right do these people have to say to a game studio, "you can't make that". What right would anyone have to say that?

Volunteer to sell its violent and sexually explicit games in adult video stores only
For one thing, has there been even a breath of indication that Bully has any sexual content in it? More importantly, GTA ... even modded ... was no more explicit than about 99% of R movies. So, there goes Blockbuster. Yeah, with their edits.

I got a better idea. Why don't the Peaceoholics go live in a commune and leave my game stores alone?

Let parents return Grand Theft Auto for a full refund until they do a national awareness campaign to educate parents of content and possible effects.
Last commercial I saw for San Andreas was CJ shooting the hell out of everything, major explosions, gangsters talking in back rooms, and a lot of running to Guns N Roses. If a multimillion dollar ad campaign of that nature isn't enough for these parents who buy their kids games like that, I don't think an awareness campaign is in order. Perhaps some kind of brain transplant might work.

Create a fund for victims of unauthorized use of a motor vehicle and car-jackings, etc.
Etc? Etc?? How about this instead. Create a fund for victims of stupid demands. Like me. Now Rockstar is responsible for all urban crime? They're responsible for your parents, for the criminals on the street and joy riders. Apparently Rockstar is now bigger than Jesus. That's right, Rockstar is your god. Dance, puppets, dance.

Make a national apology for misleading and lying to children, parents, and legislators about their intentions and causing insurance premiums to sky rocket.
Insurance premiums? Oh right, Rockstar is god and responsible for all car thefts too. Forgot. A national apology? How would that go, anyway? "We're sorry you thought our game about gang violence was appropriate for your fourteen year old son. Next time, don't be an idiot."

Give a written response within five business days of receipt of these demands.
Here is a rough draft. Bite us. Take some responsibility for your own neighborhoods and tell your parents to do the same. Learn to read the back of a box before taking it to the counter. Figure out that just because little Jimmy wants it, doesn't mean he should get it. Monitor what your kids do on the internet. Stop buying them gear which can strip code away.

In short. Don't be an idiot and leave the rest of us alone.

Damn, the crazies are increasing in number. The rational folk on that side of the debate aren't being heard and don't seem interested in talking to us. Sometimes it seems like they're just content having a seat at the table.

Right now, if I was Rockstar - I'd think about releasing the raunchiest sex game known to mankind and sell it off their website. They'd make a damn fortune. Only problem would be listening to these ninnies.

Sex in your Second Life

The games blog over at the Guardian has a good bit about the mature content in Second Life, and the ways Linden Labs has maintained the online game to seperate the adults from the kids. It's an excellent perspective on how the moral movement could angle with this.

Game Technology Fighting Cancer

I had previously joked that playing video games will cure your cancer in response to some of the copious amounts of sheer PlayStation Love that was pouring out in response to the witch hunt.

Well, Dr. Brian Butler is using game technology to fight cancer:

Marrying more than 20 years of anatomical data from Houston radiologist Dr. L. Anne Hayman and three-dimensional computer gaming software, the program helps Butler and his team precisely analyze a tumor's location in the body and where they can and cannot deposit radiation.

The computer program is a refinement of intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT). IMRT, used for the first time anywhere at The Methodist Hospital in March of 1994, forever changed how cancer patients around the world receive radiation. Instead of a single radiation beam that treats the entire area around the tumor, IMRT uses a more precise multi-beam method that better pinpoints cancer cells in the body.

See, ma ... I could become a brain surgeon yet. Nurse, hand me that dual pad ... stat!

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Poor Cutscenes

I've got a longer rant brewing about this, but I'd like to offer up a simple public question.

How come Half-Life 2 and I Love Bees are both lauded as examples of neuvo game narrative when they are, in fact, diametrically opposed? On one hand cutscenes are so dreaded that they are to avoided at every angle, which is apparently the new black ... but on the other hand you have a game which ended up being primarily nothing but a reason to get cutscenes?

PomPom storms the 360

At least Microsoft is clearly embracing the indie scene for it's next console:

Award-winning Indie game developers PomPom Software today announced the signing of an agreement with Microsoft that will see both a new version of its critically acclaimed Mutant Storm and a sequel appearing exclusively on Xbox 360.

Building on its success on Xbox Live Arcade, the deal will see a radically re-engineered Mutant Storm (currently code-named Reloaded) appearing on Xbox 360 Live Arcade as a launch title this holiday and Mutant Storm 2 (an exciting progression of the franchise, currently code-named Revolution) is due to appear in the second half of 2006.
-- PomPom Kicks up a Storm on Xbox 360

One ARG dies so another may live

I was unaware of the ARG Seen Steve, having kinda shaken the genre from my system after being disappointed with how the ILB was getting turned into more radio show than puzzle. Still, it's a fascinating form of gaming, and the real purpose of Seen Steve was, I guess, to recruit for another, upcoming ARG:

When all was said and done, Seen Steve had close to 20 specific games it parodied and it spawned a massive 25 page thread over the course of its two week run. The game managed to capture the essence of the ARGs we all know and love. And, despite its "lame" launch and later "meltdown", Seen Steve still had a high standard of quality usually reserved games created by larger, experienced PM teams. The only real complaint about the game is that it might allow other wannabe PMs to go "Well, if he can create such a great game on the fly, then so can we."

So, if you've always wanted to help in an ARG, but felt you didn't have the necessary qualifications to help run an entire game, now is your chance. Visit the Project Phoo website to read more about the project, and if you have what it takes, sign up, and help create the next great ARG (or at least the next best learning experience).

There ya go: if one wanted to dive into the goody ARGness, Phoo may be the way to go.

Meaningful Explosions

Blame Corvus for this one.

At some point, games started to emulate cinema more and more. This is pretty much accepted fact, particularly in realm of 3D games. Also at some point, games become storytellers. I can't tell you how many times I've read a post from a mod team which is something like "You are a vampire hunter in the service of the Vatican" or "You are a renegade police cop out for justice" ... shooters in particular suffer from this need to define the character and plot of the game and we can see it stick closely as you radiate out from that perspective. It's natural to impose a persona on a perspective (despite what Valve will tell you), and as personal as third and first person perspectives game are ... so is the need to narrate.

Whether this is a good thing or not, another debate. I will say that games-as-movies detract from what Chris calls Neo-Retro design and in turn leaves a wealth of previous games collecting dust in terms of what they might have to say for game design. While Freelancer could have been Elite with better graphics, it still felt the need to tell a story ... and to do so within a confined and normalized space. Two things one could never use to define Elite's "space playground".

However, Corvus talks of what's inherent in the conflict when story-telling. For those who haven't suffered through a writer's workshop, I'll tell you that conflict is oft considered the lifeblood of a story. If Jack and Jill just go up the hill, get some water, and return home for some cake ... well, readers wonder why they bothered reading it in the first place. But once Jack tumbles - boy-daddy you got the makings of a yarn now.

What seems missing from many games these days are meaningful explosions. While some eye candy is little more than what Fristrom refers to as cowbells - in other words an explosion which is more than just backdrop, but I would assume less than narrative, some eye candy can be brought about as the result of real conflict.

There are explosions which just happen, and one just keeps moving on. There are some which results in more tangible effect - like blocking your path or killing all your squadmates. There are some which perhaps the player is excited to cause in the course of his quest, a sort of self-controlled cowbell if you will.

And then there can be some with real meaning. But these are few. The only I can think of right away is when I got revenge on Anna Navarro in Deus Ex. I never liked Anna. I knew she would probably betray me the moment I strayed from my appointed tasks and I knew that perhaps at some point I would have to take her on. I also knew I didn't stand much of a chance.

Course, she didn't expect me to place five proximity mines in the room and then hide by the toilet. Not terribly heroic, but it worked.

Now that was an explosion with real meaning, and the finale to some actual conflict. And one of the reasons I played that game so many times.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Those Quick Couple Interviews

I thought in honor of the upcoming carnival that I would point back to the interviews with Jeff and Andrew, since there is no way to choose between the two of them to highlight.

First up was Andrew Bub, GamerDad, who brought to bear years of reviewing games and being a parent onto the industry:

What I don’t like is the disparity between TV and movie ratings, and videogames. Movies aimed at 13 year olds are FAR more violent than most videogames; more violent than Halo, for example. Y7 is the TV rating that says gunplay is okay for kids so long as it’s animated and nobody dies, but games get a T-Teen if a gun makes an appearance. I think the inconsistency between the ratings can be confusing to parents. Then there’s the other line in the sand – blood. Medal of Honor from EA is rated Teen despite having an extensive D-Day recreation that’s truly horrifying. It’s T because they removed the blood. Meanwhile the body count in a shooter like Halo 2 is much lower, but there’s purple blood. Blood = M. Violence does not. The ESRB has to do things this way, there are so many games released, but I’m not in favor of “line in the sand” ratings. I believe parents deserve as much information as possible. GamerDad isn’t an attempt to replace the ESRB – we’re here to enhance it.
-- Interview with a GamerDad

Then we had Jeff Freeman, SOE Developer, who has been fighting this kind of culture war since the days of D&D:

Sure there's a similarity: it's a futile attempt because no one is listening.

If parents believed that violent video games were bad for their kids (and not just, you know, other people's kids), they'd stop letting them play them and that'd be the end of it.

One the one side, you have people yelling how bad games are and grasping at anything they can find to hold up and say, "See! I told you so!"

And on the other side you have – I guess – some people saying that those people are wrong.

But the parents aren't even listening to this debate. Kids still play rated-M games. Somehow they're able to play for hours and hours and hours without their parents knowing about it. And what, the store clerk should have stopped them? (Like, "I can't stop my little children from playing 37 hours a week of Baby-Killer 3, because I don't understand this little letter on the box it came in!").
-- Jeff Freeman, SOE Developer and Parent

I have tried to get people on the other side of the fence to talk - but none of them have even bothered to respond. People with some actual research like Walsh and Anderson seem to be more interested in talking with nutjobs like Thompson - who from every account is completely belligerent to anyone who doesn't have a video camera - than with the people they're supposedly engaged with. So to those people I guess I'd say - it's hard to have a real debate when you won't come to the podium.

p.s. ... remember, the COGIV puzzle is unsolved still, so one can win some swag

FragDolls Go To War

This AlterNet story about War being Fun brings up the odd mashup of attractive girl gamers being on tap to help sell another of UbiSoft's creations, namely America's Army. While this is pretty standard fair for the gaming industry ... and I actually have a lot less problems with paying girl gamers to stand beside a game than someone who could care less if it was a first person shooter or chewing gum they were selling ... they bring up an interesting point:

"America's Army" offers a range of games that kids can download or play online. Although the games are violent, with plenty of opportunities to shoot and blow things up, they avoid graphic images of death or other ugliness of war, offering instead a sanitized, Tom Clancy version of fantasy combat.

Which brings up something of a predicament for the "violent games are bad for you" crowd.

What if these games are simply not violent enough? Forget for a moment the preteen or tween market. They don't need booth babes to convince them to buy violent materials, their parents will apparently do that for them. We're talking here about the same teenagers for which military recruiters all over this same nation are trying to sell the idea of going to a far away country, meet people and blow the hell out of some of them. We're talking about kids that are apparently mature enough to understand death and dismemberment - otherwise why would they be having this conversation?

If that's true - doesn't America's Army constitute a kind of false advertising? Why not make the game as bloody, grisly and hard as war itself? Do we have a problem with M games which are honest and upfront about the kind of gore they splash on the screen or with T games that mask the fact that when you shoot someone, they bleed.

I stopped by a suburban game store yesterday. I noticed Black Hawk Down is rated T and Resident Evil: Outbreak is rated M. One is apparently violent ... the other violent and gory.

Which is really the actions of the responsible society? Should we be rewarding Novalogic for portraying a military action that actually took place in, you know, reality as less realistic than a zombie attack?

Monday, August 01, 2005

Calculating Doom Wolfenstein

One of the first computers I remember using was a TI CC40 and playing this game called Parsec. The main idea of Parsec was to fly in one direction without hitting the ceiling or floor of a cave.

Now, there's Wolfenstein on a TI calculator. At this rate, you'll be able to frag cacodemons on your toaster right soon.

Machinima to the People

Indie film maker? Can't afford the salary of even the actors you find off the street? Turn to machinima, says

Strange Company's treatment of "Ozymandias" has the most critical success, Hancock said. Film reviewer Roger Ebert has compared the short to important anime works.

"It's been shows at film festivals around the world," Hancock said. "I've had professors of literature with absolutely no video game background calling us and telling us how fantastic it is and how they use it for their students."
-- The twist: Gaming industry helps out movie industry

To PC or not to PC

Again, I find myself in that moral quandry - can I really justify a PC powerful enough to keep up with the coming generation of gaming? My 9700 was already showing it's wear, AGP is on it's way out, yadda and yadda. Worse, the Mini does everything I need. So I don't really need a Windows box to run software or check the internet or anything. And if I really do - the old laptop is running XP now.

So if I'm going to get a box just to run games, why not wait for a 360? Or a PS3? I'm likely to get a next-gen console as it is and there is definately enough on the PS2 alone to occupy me until that time. I also agree with PeterB in that I really like playing games on my couch.

The PC, however, still gets some of the best games on the planet. While console ports have definately gotten more sophisticated lately, with cross-development and portable IDE's and middleware, it's still no panacea. If anything, the PC games have taken a hit on the nose with games like Doom 3 and Deus Ex 2 making design considerations for the XBox, only to make an equally lackluster game for the console. So the real price tag here is to stay on the cutting edge ... and how much is that worth?

And with current trends, is that a gamble? Will the studios spend more time focusing on the harder-to-pirate, easier-to-support, insanely-powerful consoles with the next generation? Not a "death of PC gaming" but a "shift of PC gaming"?

360 HD-DVD? Maybe Not.

Ars Technica does the fact-checking on the rumors that Microsoft is definately installing Toshiba's HD-DVD post 360 launch, and finds the facts insubstantial. Now if only Slashdot would bother with such fact checking, some of us could stop wasting our time pondering about it.

Like Ken, I think HD-DVD is still somewhat likely for MS, but it could be done in a number of ways, and rumor-mongering is probably not embedded technology for the console. For the record, I think it would be best for the consumer to just have the 360 go with Blu Ray and save us a lot of trouble. But Microsoft doesn't always do what's best for the consumer.

Dumpster Diving

I'm a pretty big sucker for games under $10, and it kinda bit us last night. After having watched other people go through virtual adventures for almost 48 hours straight, first with my friend and I making our way through Timesplitter's coop and then with me finishing up the frustrating end to God of War, The Girl wanted to try some new things out.

First up was the Fellowship of the Ring, $8. Unfortunately, we had no idea that this title was utterly removed from EA's later titles and instead of being a third person masher is rather a third person adventure. Still, she tried to soldier through as the designers sought fit to have Frodo worry about the Bag End deed, and hitting a warning bell that didn't really warn anyone and then the Bag End key and ... well, that was about it. Bad controls and no map or indication of where one is supposed to actually go sucks the fun out of such a title. I briefly tried it, only to quickly run into the "task" of sneaking past Nazgul ... which I failed instantly after the instructions came on the screen ... without seeing a single Nazgul.

After putting it away, The Girl said I should know right where it's going. When I said the trash, she said I might be able to at least get a buck for it at EB. But the public good, I reminded, if we do that there's a chance someone else might try to play it.

Next was Giants Citizen Kabuto. $5. Had heard a lot about, but never really understood. Much better start than FOTR, The Girl actually made her way through the first mission without a hitch. The backdrop is certainly inventive, even if the graphics have clearly not aged well. Controls though, seemed equally dated and possibly just not very console friendly. Using the Mekka jetpack on the second mission was far more chore than fun. Not a failure, but Kabuto is on probation.

Even though Project: Snowblind was a shooter, The Girl was willing to try it next. $17, so it was the most expensive of the bunch. Snowblind isn't completely Deus Ex Lite, but it's really close. Most notably gone though, is the stark lonesome of Denton's world - replaced with levels stocked with allies and enemies trading shots at each other. She was really trying to get her teeth into it, but Snowblind is a pretty full meal for someone not accustomed to shooter controls.

Which is one reason why every console shooter made today should have a viable coop mode. Hands down. Studios need to realize that shooters aren't the easiest thing to control for even avid gamers, and if they could just bring a friend along it would help considerably. The Girl was doing well enough during the game that if I just could have her back, she probably would have been fine. But there was enough action that I was struggling to make through the second mission, so the game seems somewhat inaccessible for those less experienced.

I think we still have a cheap copy of Gauntlent: Dark Legacy laying around, so maybe that's next.

Sunday, July 31, 2005

To David Jaffe

Just finished God of War. Some only mildly spoiler notes follow.

Great game. Excellent mechanics. Enjoyed the hell out of it, even some of the jumpy parts. Shame that the end scene didn't use any of those mechanics, or any of the combos I'd found, or any of the magic I'd learned and instead was a really, really cheap fighting game. Cheap enough that on normal mode the enemy can chain two or three moves that are indefensible and come back from near death to winning in about a minute.

Ended up finishing on easy mode, because of course I wasn't anywhere near a save point and certainly wasn't going to go through all that again. Felt cheap to make it all the way to the end and have to wimp out for a fight that resembled nothing of the fine game before it.

And in general I wonder, why is it that the ending of games is often the least satisfactory part?