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Saturday, August 13, 2005

JoWood V. Perception, Round 1

Well, I'm equally slow on the posting that Perception has announced it's continuing development and that JoWood is nothing but a pack of filthy liars. Course, JoWood is essentially calling Perception a pack of filthy liars, so this is getting to Carrollian propotions of nonsense.

On one side you have JoWood, a publisher with a less than starling image trying to claim ownership of a license that nobody can seem to figure out if they have any claim to, regardless of Perception's work (Perception was rewarded the Stargate license and my understanding would be that even if they did default - it's up to MGM).

On the other you have Perception which is working on their first ever console/PC title, having only two relatively obscure arcade games under the belt to date. And they're pushing a shooter title into an already crowded shooter market. I mean, even id had trouble making a success from an FPS game and they're responsible for the genre.

Bottom line is - none of this looks good for the gamer. Sure, JoWood is being a dick here but they probably wouldn't do that if they knew they'd get a quality title out of the deal for the holidays. It's bad enough to leave things up to studios and publishers sometimes, but at this point it's down to the lawyers ... so it's quite likely that Stargate fans are going to have to wait much longer to get the game they want.

On a side question - Unreal license + Stargate franchise rights. Wonder how much money went into this game before hour one was even billed. It's not like that combination hasn't been used before ... including Star Wars and Star Trek ... but those are usually done with more experienced dev teams. Was any of this, from Perception to JoWood, such a great idea to begin with?

Guess we'll have to wait and see. Love to be wrong on this one.

Pathetic Humans!!

Ah, I love that this is right after I declare war on Mars.

Destroy All Humans came via GameFly yesterday. I didn't know that one of the main aliens is voiced by Zim. Dear golly, that's reason enough to play it. We only got through a couple of missions, but for the most part it seems like Pandemic is running hard with this "we'll build the playground, you destroy it as you see fit" philosophy ... and it works pretty well. It's very interesting to compare this game to Mercenaries. Mercenaries is more serious and feels, I dunno, a little more grand in scheme. Destroy All Humans feels a little more like an arcade, more tounge in cheek, but also somehow more accessible and easy to just pick up and go. You can just go terrorize a town if you want, pick up some DNA, and save the game and go. In Mercs, you gotta have some cash set aside for that sort of fun. Both great games, and I'm leaning towards Mercenaries being the better of the two, but I can't wait to see what Pandemic has next.

Friday, August 12, 2005

We Invade Mars (again)

Now that the recon droids have surveyed the area, we're scouting out likely locations to get boots on the ground:

During its first two years, the orbiter will help build on NASA's knowledge of the history of ice on the planet. The planet is cold and dry with large caps of frozen water at its poles. But scientists think it was a wetter and possibly warmer place eons ago — conditions that might have been conducive to life. Scientists are also trying to determine if it could support future human outposts.
-- Spacecraft Blasts Off to Gather Mars Data

Better watch it you three-eyed, green skinned bastards. We're coming.

Free Battlefield 2

Shane is still giving away a copy of Battlefield 2 over at Aeropause. He's got an extra copy that he is raffling off for people who simply email him. Yup, that's right, just email him. Unlike some folk, he's not going to make you jump through hoops or anything. He even provides a form from which to email him. It's that damn easy. Think of it as a really massive demo that don't you have to download or anything.

But Does It Play Doom?

Someone has shoved NetBSD into a toaster:

A full NetBSD installation is on the 512MB compact flash attached to the TS-7200. This includes self-hosted compilers, FTP/telnet server, ssh client/server, crypto libraries, kernel/userlevel debuggers, and standard UNIX utilities. Apache with PHP is also installed on the TS-7200 and presents some CGI programs to control the LEDs, play music, etc... Since the 4x40 LCD is attached as a generic console, manipulating text files is also reasonably possible using installed text editors, though admittedly using vi on a 4 row text display is not particularly productive.

Humorously, that keyboard pictured is the one I use at home.

Since When?

Does wildass forumfodder digs at well-known games passes as some kind of game journalism? I mean, this stuff is two bits above flamebait at best:

Talk about overrated. GTA: San Andreas offers little more than brand appeal and played-out stereotypes. This bloated, glorified expansion pack added a few noteworthy gameplay enhancements, such as the outdoor terrain and some enhanced drive-by shooting segments. But the sheer size of the game works against it: "more" doesn't necessarily mean "better." In the end, San Andreas has a fair share of cool moments, but it was really an excuse for developer Rockstar to milk the gaming community one more time.
-- Ten Hugely Over-rated [sic] Games []

Yeah, it's not supposed to be hyphenated. I checked. That's great writing. If they can't even check the spelling on their title, I won't even bother jabbing at their half-ass opinion. It's not like you can't stumble on a "this popular game really sucks and you should listen to why I think so" post every other second on the net. Hey, about someone do a list of "Top Ten Worst Uses For The Games.Net Domain". That would be fun.

Between this and IGN offering candies of questionable origin, makes you wonder what it takes to get a job writing these days.

SOE Should Add Another Rule

Immersion Versus Profit
Forcing obnoxious Fanta ads into your already dwindling MMO sci-fi shooter is probably really stupid.

PlanetSide is now officially my least favorite game of all time. I didn't think it could get any worse. I was wrong. They shove completely out of place ads onto people and aren't even discussing a subscription break. Nice.

Laws of Virtual World Building

Ralph Koster is Chief Creative Officer for Sony Online Entertainment and knows a metric truckload about building online worlds ... which is, by the way, one half of a truckload more than Stephen Hawking knows, if my sources are correct. Anyway, he has compiled a list of laws from himself and his cohorts about the process, and you have to like a list of laws that starts with:

Ola's Law About Laws
Any general law about virtual worlds should be read as a challenge rather than as a guideline. You'll learn more from attacking it than from accepting it.

And here is one that if every MMO creator had on their wall, I would have played a lot more of them:

Is it a game?
It's a SERVICE. Not a game. It's a WORLD. Not a game. It's a COMMUNITY. Not a game. Anyone who says, "it's just a game" is missing the point.

And here's one just for Corvus:

Storytelling versus simulation
If you write a static story (or indeed include any static element) in your game, everyone in the world will know how it ends in a matter of days. Mathematically, it is not possible for a design team to create stories fast enough to supply everyone playing. This is the traditional approach to this sort of game nonetheless. You can try a sim-style game which doesn't supply stories but instead supplies freedom to make them. This is a lot harder and arguably has never been done successfully.

Great stuff. Head over to the article at Next Generation to read them all.

Unreal Engine Trains Soldiers To Be...


Tactical Iraqi builds upon a popular existing PC-based computer game called “Unreal Tournament,” in which a player moves a game figure representing him or herself through a landscape filled with buildings and characters.

The Tactical Iraqi game arena reproduces the environment of Iraq, geographically and architecturally. Most important, the characters are recognizably Iraqi, speaking Iraqi Arabic and using gestures and other non-verbal cues characteristic of the nation.

Using a headphone and microphone system, Tactical Iraqi trainees communicate with these characters in Arabic, using appropriate body gestures, to perform typical war-theater tasks: entering a town and locating a head man, check documents at a road crossing, and other civil administration tasks.

Tactical Iraqi is a 3D language lab, not unlike the one mentioned before. This is of course another fine example of how video games are so interactive that they can hardwire a man to be lethally polite. Evil. Pure evil.

Talk Up Some Shooters

Here's a public reminder to contact Corvus if you want in the first evah RoundTable Discussion. What's a round table? Well, to quote the C:

If you’re just tuning in, the Round Table is going to be a collection of posts, all published on the same day, on a single topic, wherein links are provided (in every post) to the rest of the Round Table posts. I’ll more than likely be providing a PHP script which will handle the linkage for us (using a drop down, or something fancy like that). The topic will be publicly announced here (expect a Round Table page soon), so anyone can feel free to join in at any time.

Naturally there might be some bumps the first time through, but I like the first topic: innovation in the FPS genre. It's something dear to my heart since I spent a couple years modding Unreal games just because I didn't feel there was enough pushing of the envelope going on. And what did I get in return? Beans. Lousy beans. Oh, right, and some prize money during the last Make Something Unreal. Right, there was that. And all that fun I had online. Yeah. And actually, come to think of it, the beans were from elsewhere.

Yes, I'm in an odd mood today. Stop looking at me like that.

Rockstar Goes Unreal

According to that muckracker Crecente, Rockstar has purchased the Unreal engine. Golly, there must be some happy folks over at Epic right about now. They've cozied up with Microsoft, there will be an eval version of UE3 shipping with PS3 dev units, Midway has gone all a skitter over their stuff and now the badboys of the game industry will be creating their next hooker-kicking simulation with their goods.

I hope all of these companies realize that one of the engine's biggest strengths is it's moddability. Course, it remains to be seen if Rockstar will want to take advantage of that in the future.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Games and Aggression

GGA is talking about this new study that suggests there is no difference between gamers and non-gamers when it comes to violence:

Players were not statistically different from the non-playing control group in their beliefs on aggression after playing the game than they were before playing, Williams said.

Nor was game play a predictor of aggressive behaviors. Compared with the control group, the players neither increased their argumentative behaviors after game play nor were significantly more likely to argue with their friends and partners.

“I’m not saying some games don’t lead to aggression, but I am saying the data are not there yet,” Williams said. “Until we have more long-term studies, I don’t think we should make strong predictions about long-term effects, especially given this finding.”
-- No strong link seen between violent video games and aggression

Now the average age of these gamers was 27, and therefore far out of the range of the minors that the witch-hunters say get brain damage from playing video games. Or they have nasty thoughts, or smaller frontal lobes or maybe they just end up chewing on more pencils as an adult. It's all kinda confusing. That last one is about all that happened to me. My prediction is that overall the research will just kind of eat itself and everyone will pick out the parts they like the best.

I don't think the parents are going to benefit from any of this, since it's just not clear enough. If politicians are going to try and make this a health issue, they better back it with research that is fairly bullet-proof, or we've just learned nothing at all from history.

Dev Day Diary: Public Shaming

At work we came up with a theory of "public shaming", that is that if you just publicize what is someone has to do to a wider group, it's more likely they'll pressure themselves into geting things done. Doing amatuer game dev is pretty much 99% about pressuring yourself, especially when you are a team of one.

Excuse me while I blabber, here's my self-pressure:

- Find method to get the compass direction of a moving object, not just rotation or velocity. C++ method best.
- Make asteroids scaleable, not just fixed sizes, and accurately crash or bounce from that
- Create RockGenerator(s) and affix them to the boundaries of the player's playground
- See if the targetting reticle is useful or just annoying ... decide between target cycling or 4 option keys

- bring beam/weapon system over from Fugue
- Develop shield system
- Outline beacon HUD
- Determine base creation system ... fixed, random, a bit of both?

That out of the way, I'm finding about an hour or so a day let's me just tick a couple of tasks away off. Things are actually starting to click and reusing some of my old UTC (Untitled Tempest Clone) has already made UAC (Untitled Asteroids Clone) into feeling quasi-gameplay-ish, or something like that. I've decided that instead of distinct boundaries or sectors, UAC will be about exploration and wandering, with a virtually unlimited landscape for playing within.

If it continues to click and I get anything worth actually releasing in any form, I think I've decided to release it as freeware, but add a bribery based economy to it. If someone wants features or fixes or ports or anything, they'll have to pony up. Bigger the bribe, the higher the priority it gets.

Considering, however, that all one can do right now is float around a really ugly field of rocks, I don't I'm going to worry about that yet.

Chevron One Locked

I won't quote from the PR release since it's pretty old news that the Stargate game was cancelled. I guess keeping yet another mediocre licensed shooter off the shelves is in some ways a good thing.

The Stargate shows have a lot of gaming potential though. While I keep expecting the franchise to dwindle, both SG-1 and Atlantis have kept a pretty brisk pace at making their universe an interesting place to visit on a weekly basis. This is a mythos with real depth, history and dynamics now ... and ripe for interactive media.

A good shooter, though, I think would have been hard to pull off. Unless they put in some serious mindgrease on it and tried to break the mold (see upcoming RoundTable on innovation in the FPS genre), it would have been at best a semi-decent episode with shooting. Aspirations that it would be a SG themed Halo would be a great thought, but I imagine unrealistic. And it seems JoWood agrees.

I don't understand why JoWood doesn't utilize the Silent Storm engine and make the next great X-Com that everyone and their dog has been wanting. Heck, go old school. Call up Codo Games and have them use their latest RebelStar engine to do a GBA game of the same vein. Bases would be setup on far away planets instead of on Earth, there could be diplomacy options as well as research options, and instead of cutscene-ish interceptor screens, you put in a turn based space combat system.

Is the market for turn based strategy really gone so far south that shooters will become the norm? So spice up the genre, make it coop, make it PBEM, add in Internet coverage of the war. It's just agonizing to see such a simple marriage between genre and source material languish.

As If It Weren't Obvious

If you do not download the modification software the "Hot Coffee" scenes will not be playable. When playing an unmodified version of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas there is absolutely no way to access these scenes.
-- No More Hot Coffee

So the PC version is now cleansable. Course, any hacker worth his skin can more or less take the old version, the new version, run some clever diffs and release a whole new patch. Hence, the debate of "games are always moddable" is still live and will likely be playing at a Congressional debate near you.

Will Games Go Union?

I think this might the be crux of it:

Taylor Ball disagrees. An attorney at the Los Angeles-based firm of Mitchell, Silberberg, and Knupp, he most often represents employers in the entertainment industry.

"I'm afraid things aren't going to go the way that's best for both the workers and the employers," says Ball. "If you ask me what's my advice to the workers, it's to carefully evaluate the gains they think they're going to achieve via unionization versus the gains they think they can realistically obtain by working with their employers through an open-door policy. I mean, there have been some real changes at EA based on an anonymous e-mail. If an anonymous e-mail can do that, do you really need a union? Do you really need to start paying dues? Do you really need to start worrying about strikes?"
-- Video Game Workers Still on the Fence Regarding Unionization []

Is the internet and the power of bad publicity powerful enough to voice the demands of the professional game developer?

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Board Game Parenting

These parents rock. They get all manner of board games, from Dungeons & Dragons Clue (It was the Vorpal Blade in the Temple!) to card games like Knizia. Just the amount of pictures and descriptions from their collection is browse-worthy, if one can keep down the ire that these kids have a greater variety of gaming than your average ComicCon. My parents were big Monopoly and Uno fans, but never could have found something like "Sinbad".

Two Week Unity Widget Contest

Unity is a game development environment for the Macintosh, and they're trying to get people to take a free spin for two weeks and see what they can accomplish in terms of making a Dashboard game:

The competition runs for 14 days and the deadline for submissions is August 22 2005. We have some real fancy prizes to give out and the rules are simple so let the games begin: If you don't have it already, download Unity and get started. You can have your first Dashboard Widget in 15 minutes, and from there on only the sky's the limit.

If you already used your trial period, use the yellow sidebar item on the right to request a fresh trial for the run of the competition.

Today's top-notch game technology has been packed under Unity's hood, and some of tomorrow's too. High-octane Doom3 type graphics, amazing physics simulation, all stuffable into those tiny Widgets that Apple with characteristic charm put into Tiger, their latest Mac OS X update.
-- The Unity Dashboard Widget Challenge

I'm contemplating this, although I gotta say - two weeks is a really short time for a person, or even a group, to get the hang of a new environment and produce anything really ready for public viewing. Still, I've got an idea involving toy boats for a game that this might be perfect for.

Update: I should clarify that Unity has a trial period that is the same as the time of this challenge, and older trials can be renewed for it. So this is a free download to try it out for this contest.

Congrats, Alison

For making the big blogs by making art from Unreal, but don't forget who handed you props first.

Just go see it for yourself.

Myths from Jack "BatJack" Thompson

Fine, I refer to him again. Right now about 95% of the traffic coming to this blog is looking for information about Jack Thompson, or as I like to call him now ... BatJack (thanks Broken Toys), so what is one to do. I live to serve, peeps, I live to serve.

These latest gems are courtesy his interview with ChatterBox [big MP3 there] where he not only violated his court demand to stop talking to the media about the Devin Moore case, but also tried to pass the following along as truths.

The game industry caused Columbine
One of Jack's favorite thumping points. The problem with this theory, and another fine example of just how much respect Jack has for the law, is that the lawsuit arguing the same thing was thrown out:

Babcock rejected the plaintiffs' claim that video games should not be protected by the First Amendment, ruling that a decision against the game makers would have a chilling effect on free speech.

"Setting aside any personal distaste, as I must, it is manifest that there is social utility in expressive and imaginative forms of entertainment, even if they contain violence," Babcock wrote.

Doug Lowenstein advocates porn for children
Well, to be fair, what Jack said was something more like "Doug believes kids have a constitutional right to buy porn", or what he said in his letter was "consume porn" ... which is an odd mental image.

What Doug actually said was:

"This law will have a chilling effect on free speech. It will limit First Amendment rights not only for Illinois' residents, but for game developers and publishers, and for retailers who won't know what games can and cannot be sold or rented under this vague new statute," said ESA president Douglas Lowenstein.
-- llinois Game Bill Becomes Law; Game Industry Fights Back

That, of course, being in response to the Demuzio Law. Funny how things sound different when not spoken by a crazy person, isn't it?

50% of kids purchase mature video games...
...during successful stings. I can't really debate that percentage, since I've never actually seen any information on any of Jack's infamous stings posted publically ... anywhere. But let's take it at face value. Let's do the math here.

85% of all video games for minors are purchased by adults. That leaves 15% of minor purchases actually being made by the minor themselves. Half of them wouldn't be able to buy it an M game at a store, so that is about 7% of minor purchases. Only 12% of video games have a M or AO rating.

So out of all the games purchased for kids, probably around 1% are actually out there buying a game potentially inappropriate for them. So when the Senators and BatJack are screaming "THINK OF THE CHILDREN!" Remember, they really mean "THINK OF ONE PERCENT OF THE CHILDREN!".

Mods violate a game's copyright
This one was bizarre. Thompson talked about this at length, making me think that the mod connection is a lot safer than it previously appeared. According to BatJack, any mod that releases while mentioning the game title they are modding is in effect violating that game's copyright. You know, like Unreal Tournament 2004 mods or Half-Life 2 mods or ... hey, wait ... I just violated some copyright!

Of course, I didn't. Mods by and large don't use any branding or logos or trademarks or assets or anything else that isn't covered by their EULA. Epic has, for instance, very strict rules about what you can and can't use to release your mod with. They even loosened those rules for the MSUC to include previous incarnations of their products to give mod authors more material to take from.

But a mod can't just simply take anything it wants and brand itself with a lot of logos implying a direct connection or relationship with the parent company. With the exception of some splash imagery while a game is loading, perhaps, the distinction is perfectly clear. Having modded for years now, I can safely say that BatJack is barking not just in the wrong tree here, but in a completely different yard.

But fraud is fraud!
Well, I guess that's naturally true ... but I thought it would be interesting to point out that BatJack defends this grandma who bought her fourteen year-old kid because, well, fraud is fraud.

Let's repeat that. BatJack defends a grandparent who buys their fourteen year old kid Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.

And again.

BatJack defends a grandparent who buys their fourteen year old kid Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.

What a goram hypocrite.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Good Morning

IGN just asked if I wanted a scat gummy. If that's the level of writing on the net today, I'm going back to bed now.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Interview with a WallFly

CBSNews, which has often featured gaming related interviews and columns, has a sitdown with Dr. Jerald Block. Aside from being a physician, the good doctor is also CEO of SMARTguard Software, creators of WallFly. WallFly is software for your PC that monitors your children's activities and allows parents to chose when and what their kids are playing.

Unlike other voices trying to warn parents about games, Dr. Block comes off as rational and logical. Falling firmly on the "games can be bad but are unlikely to turn your child into a murderous android" side of the camp, he provides a measured response to the current witchunt:

While I believe it is the government's job to regulate dangerous products, I think we are nowhere near being able to say that about computer games. We need loads and loads of more research. For example - look at the recent Kaiser study on media. It was a terrific study, really very well designed and on an important topic. However, when it came to computer use, I think it had some flaws. Specifically, (1) the data was self-reported and not actually measured by the investigators and (2) the diaries that participants filled out stopped at 12 midnight. What sort of gamer stops at 12 midnight? Finally, (3) the data under sampled the weekend use by participants.

I believe gaming is a binge-like behavior that may peak on weekends. Anyway, this was one of the best studies out there and it has some important flaws. We need research, research, and more research. Until then, any government response is premature and based on inadequate data.
-- What's Up, Doc?

Once again, a reasonable voice you probably won't hear much from ... simply because the crazies have control of the microphone.

DS Homebrew sans Nintendo

If the big game companies don't want to find a way to support the homebrewers, maybe the market will evolve to the point that they don't have to do. On one hand you have increasingly sophisticated software, like this Nintendo DS port of Heretic, and then on the other you have the upcoming M3 Movie Player for DS ... which among other things allows you to "play NDS and GBA game ROMs".

While yeah, there's clearly other ways to get your software installed on the DS, it's great to see such a highly visible, marketable item see fit to include this. Gamers are more likely to buy something like that than Nintendo's own Play-Yan, which doesn't allow such a feature.

Unless Nintendo aims to break this through some kind of firmware update, playing homebrew looks like it's only going to get easier.

An Ex-Generation Console?

OhGizmo! tells tale of such a thing:

The fine folks at Messiah Entertainment have apparently stolen my very thoughts and created a gaming masterpiece. The Generation NEX Nintendo takes both NES and Famicom cartridges. The form factor is much more slim than either the original NES or Famicom. Then, as if allowing me to play NARC again in peace without having to blow into my cartridge and perform strange ritual sacrifice wasn’t enough, they have included 2.4gHz wireless for the controllers.

Senile Lunatic From Miami

Can't ... Stop ... Laughing.

Humor is good for the soul. Remember, if you like Scott and Tim's work - you can still win some swag

David Byrne On Games

David Byrne, who if I recall correctly once made art out of PowerPoint, also is interested in games as art ( thanks gewgaw ):

We don’t much identify with the characters in videogames either, except to the extent that they are avatars of ourselves. They don’t exist apart from our own decision-making. In books and movies the characters have their own motivations and personalities, we may love or hate them, but they are not us. Somehow the fact that they are not exactly the same as us allows us to invest more emotionally in them and their future. The distance allows us to see part of ourselves — a problem, an issue or a relationship — being acted out to some unknown conclusion. Or even to a known conclusion — many myths and stories don’t lose power even though we know the ending. So it’s not about the surprise of the change, it’s about the resonance and thrill of observing it happen
-- David Byrne's Journal, July 31st

That link might go sour once it isn't "current", mind you.

Some People...

...just can't help themselves. One would think that after being warned by a judge to stop talking about a case to the media, that they would. Being a respectable attorney and certainly not any kind of attention whore, that is. Well, I guess we know which kind some lawyers are, I guess.

Anyone have the email for the Fayette County Circuit Judge? I've got a link to send him.

Adventures in Computing: The Network Drive

I finally tried to install my Inoi (which laughingly sounds like annoy to me) network drive yesterday. Neat idea, toss an FTP/Samba server onto a bit of PCB and let people hook their drive up to it.

Neat idea, if it worked at all. After getting the green LED to glow and the hard drive to chirp, apparently Inoi's networking has something to be desired. Like, connections. Neither the cards' IP or apparently domain name would offer up anything resembling a response.

So, buyer beware on this product. I'll update this post later with the model number.

Update: it's this model. Anyone with experience with the model would be great, since Inoi is currently ignoring my emails. I say buyer beware on this company.