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Friday, December 09, 2005

360 Doesn't Like Your Ripped Music

According to techbully ragblog Boing Boing, the 360 will only play audio from CDs it rips itself. Is this true? I could have sworn I've read hands on reports of people streaming MP3's big daddy style from their home computer network, but I could be insane.

If true, that's a completely inane move on Microsoft's part. iTunes and iPods prove that people are moving to a digitally centric method of playing their music. Limiting the 360 to being a fancy jukebox rather than being able to communicate freely with the users' existing hardware just doesn't sound like much of a feature.

For the record, I use an Airport Express to stream music from iTunes to the living room. Installed in a snap, works like a dream and has the handy feature of not requiring bludgeoning through customer lines to get one.

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King's Quest IX Saved

According to an email from the Phoenix Online Sutdion, Vivendi has agreed to grant a "fan license" to allow the continued development and release of "The Silver Lining" and usage of the King's Quest characters. It sounds like Vivendi doesn't necessarily want the King's Quest title to be used, which is actually fairly reasonable since it might cause confusion as to their relationship with the project.

I like to think that my emotionally charged letter tipped the scales. Vivendi probably didn't even read it, but I still like to think that way.

So head on over to the project's site and check out the work.

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Thursday, December 08, 2005

Luxinia - 3D Lua based engine

The title mostly says it all, Luxinia is a 3D engine based on the Lua scripting language. It's got a sliding scale license from free to not-so-free depending on what your needs in terms of branding and source release might require. The screenshots look pretty good, although they won't be giving the high end engines any run for their money. Still, there are plenty of Lua fanatics out there that are probably glad to get their hands on it. (thanks

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Over The Cubicle Wall

I'm currently involuntarily listening in on some co-workers talk about various gaming issues. Hot topics like whether the PSP plays PS2 games, what that two screened thing is called and when Microsoft is releasing a new console.

But what's cool is that it's spontaneously gone from just a couple of people to like five. Remember, these are your average white collar corporate professional types. It's really hard to buy into the "video-heads grow into social retards hellbent on destruction" prudish monotone crap when you hear an AS/400 programmer ask if anyone has played Super Monkey Ball.

To all you ubermoralistic pansy whiners who honestly think games are the signs of decay in society. You're too late. Games are here. Games are culture. Games are society. Right now, you almost certainly have a friend who plays video games on at least a semi-regular basis.

And nothing horrible has happened. So just deal with it.

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Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Video Games Can't Save The World

I know, it's shocking.

But it occurs to me after reading this drek (via Wonderland via apophenia) that those who are out of touch with gaming make this insane leaps of logic.

Then proceed to bash gaming based on these leaps. It would fun to watch if it wasn't so inane. And annoying that these people actually expect to be taken seriously.

Let's begin.

Nourishing such behaviors are different genres of video games. One of the most common is the role-playing game in which the sole player is on a quest to save the world. Many of these games are medieval-themed because in these Dark Age games, it is easy to introduce every kind of fantastic magical element and demonic creatures as obstacles to a quest. What kid can refuse a quest?

Unfortunately, these quests usually pass through ultraviolent challenges like tar pits, death holes, ax and sword combat, and catapulted stones, with enough blood and gore to spare. To paraphrase Little Alex, the protagonist of "A Clockwork Orange," why is it that blood and guts seem most colorful and real on the TV screen?

Wow. How about that for a broad generalization? And what the hell is a death hole? Let's completely ignore the fact that most RPGs are fairly void of blood and many aren't much more violent than your average disney flick. This kind of gross condemnation is a clear indication of punditry who has never bothered with the subject material itself.

If we're going to simply outright bash anything with a violent strain in it's blood - let's start the list. Football. Shakespeare. Cop Dramas. Plenty of operas. Clue (the board game). Hangman.

You get the point.

Players are deliberately placed in situations where only fighting can solve the problems. What does this teach the player? The answer to all problems is violence.

See above. This is hardly unique in culture, sports and media. And yet all of us get through the day without punching anybody.

In this connection, we recall the horror of Columbine High School in Colorado. Both Columbine shooters were drenched in the play of ultraviolent video games. At the time, the murders caused a backlash against violent video games, but nowadays, the old ultraviolence has returned like an old friend.

Oh right, let's bring Columbine back into the fold. Let's forget the fact that no law enforcement agency ever believed such a connection nor did any judicial body. You can recall the horror all you like, but making an erroneous link between a tragic event and your pet peeve is irresponsible and dishonest.

Graphic violence is not the only reason video games are a social problem. They are an obsession with many people. It's OK to play a game once in a while, but when the play is for hours on end, that is not healthy. Players become addicted, living to beat the game. Recently, there have been a number of deaths in Asia from playing video games for days at a time.

Yes, it's true ... some players in Asia have died from what can only be considered overplaying.

It's also the largest and most fervent, by several paradigm shifts, online gaming culture on the planet. Comparing your average gamer to someone who spends most of his time and money in Internet cafes playing Counter-Strike or StarCraft is bit like comparing someone who bought a dirty magazine with spending a full on week in a Bangkok whorehouse.

Once you compare video games to actual addictive problems like gambling and alcoholism ... the cases and the rates of those cases clearly show that assuming games are a potential risk factor is complete and utter hyperbole.

Some kids even dress up as characters for Halloween, but often players do it just to look like or be the character. Is this healthy?

Just as healthy as American pie and baseball, broheim.

How many of our youth have become emotionally stunted from years of seclusion, unable to relate in normal fashion to the demands of ordinary social relationships? Psychologists will be doing a brisk business.

Eventually, the reclusive video-head must go to college, join the Army or get a job. But the only skill he or she possesses is the ability to rule a world littered with death and destruction — and perhaps a warped appreciation of classical music.

This really grinds my gears, to quote Peter Griffin. This assumption that anyone into gaming is inherently an introverted, psychologically unstable, inept malcontent is insulting. Not only does it ignore all the social aspects involved in gaming, all of the games orientated towards these social aspects, but it also assumes that to enjoy games is to not enjoy the world.

Hey, thanks to gaming I've had conversations with people in Britain, Canada and Germany .... on the same day. Wonder when the last time the authors of this piece could make a similar claim? I'm guessing never.

Say, how about developing an Internet game called Peace in the Middle East. Let's project the energies of teens and tweens the world over in solving the most intractable problem of our age. Now that's a quest.

And here it comes. The conviction that video games shouldn't be violent, because violence is bad. Video games should be peaceful, because peace is good. And if video games could only learn to be good, it could help the world be peaceful and cure cancer and perhaps even dance in the daisies from time to time.

The fact that a professor of social science honestly thinks a video game is a plausible solution for the problems in the Middle East is more of a condemnation of this man's education than anything I could type. And the freshman who helped him with the column should stop cleaning erasers and go make a few friends his own age.

Video games are no more likely to make peace in the world than they are to cause a violent uprising. This fear of new media is getting almost embarrassing in its luddism. Oh noes, the magic box in the living room is speaking!

Holding video games to a moral standard higher than movies, higher than books, higher than sports, higher than anything else in culture is indicative of a complete misunderstanding of the medium. They aren't all-powerful constructs, they're just games. They are not a major revolution of entertainment, just a minor evolution.

Hoping to "mitigate the scourge of ultraviolence" by complaining about games is nothing but boorish prudism. And usually shows more ignorance than it does illumination. If someone really wants to mitigate such a scourge, go protest the Iraq War or something. People are dying over there every day, but you want me to worry about Zelda?

I don't think so.

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Xbox 360 Hard Drives Smaller Than Advertised?

Apparently, Microsoft keeps 1/3 of the 360 hard drive to itself:

The Xbox 360 hard drive is certainly 20GB in total, but players can never access more than 13GB of storage space - just two thirds of the stated size.

Obviously some space will always be required by the operating system, as true of everything from iPods to desktop computers, but it's rarely such a high proportion.

The Windows XP operating system for PC, for instance, uses less than 2GB of hard disk space.

-- 360 hard drive - a third smaller than advertised?

Microsoft is just not doing a lot of things right with this launch. Shortages resulting in pre-orders going unfulfilled and the general feeling of "can't have" as opposed to "must have". Overheating charges. Scratched discs. Poor Low Def quality. Lackluster backwards compatibility. Now, a shrunken hard drive?

I'm gonna guess someone in Redmond can't wait for Halo 3 to release.

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The British based video game industry advocate ELSPA has launched, a site intended to help inform parents about those boxes their kids keep staring at. It's a positive slant on video games with information about genres, health risks, etc. The information feels pretty light ... for instance they don't even name first person shooter as a genre type and the "useful links" page is still "coming soon". Still, it's nice to see the industry try and help educate rather than listening to pundits attempt to scare people into submission.

Web sites, though, seem a bit techy for your average soccer mommy. I don't know why it's such rocket science to publish a paper based media guide that stores could hand out, but I suppose it must be either too complicated or not enough television attention for the politicians to consider.

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Tuesday, December 06, 2005

(Assistant) Professor Chicken Little

I wasn't going to read about this assistant professor from DePauw, but it seriously became impossible to ignore at one point. So now I have. And I gotta say.

I'm so tired of hearing about how the sky is falling.

Fifty years of research have established the negative consequences of watching violent television and movies. However, violent video games may have even stronger effects on children's aggression, because (1) the games are highly engaging and interactive; (2) the games reward violent behavior; and (3) children repeat these behaviors over and over as they play.
-- Degrees in Video Game Design "Kidnap American Education"

That quote is the crux of his argument. Children play video games. They like violent games. Violent games make them more violent. So we shouldn't teach people how to make games. Because that will make more violent kids. And that's bad.

Course, he doesn't mention what the fify years of research concludes about all that. This guy, like so many others, like to leave the implication open that this all will end with blood and gore ... but once again, there's no such evidence. No crime has ever been successfully blamed on a joystick. No good kid ever went south solely based on his PlayStation. Nobody has ended up in prison because they played too many games. None. It's a non-existent epidemic, no more worth the worry than fearing a crack in the sky. This is psuedoscience at best, quite like here where psychologists try to make us all believe that every child is an innocent angel until he picks up a controller.

Sorry, I'm not buying it. Nor am I buying an argument from a Poli Sci teacher about interactive media. I mean, it's not even a very solid argument even if he had a point about violence and kids. Colleges shouldn't teach video game design because they might make a violent game? Huh?

Maybe colleges should stop teaching photography. Someone might shoot some porn.

Or chemistry. You wouldn't want anyone inventing a new poison or anything.

And dear sweet jeebus, don't teach the political science. They might start a war or something.

Why would someone make an argument based on such bad facts and logic? Well, probably because he's a complete prude:

In addition, the content of video games may influence children's atititudes toward gender roles. In Nintendo games, women are often depicted as victims. The covers of Nintendo games show males striking a dominant pose. Many games are based upon a scenario in which a woman is kidnapped or has to be rescued

Oh. Right. Nintendo. Those rakish dogs, have they no manners?

Yes. Strike that dominant pose, Mario.

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Xbox Live Widget

Honestly, all of this Xbox orientated posting is completely by coincidence.

Still, I thought this Xbox Live Dashboard Widget for OS X was pretty neat (thanks TUAW). Not that I'll be using it anytime soon, but still ... getting realtime information about the people you play with on your Microsoft console while using your Apple computer? It's a weird, twisty, world we live in.

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Monday, December 05, 2005

Serenity Hand Puppet Script

Bored? Feel like entertaining the kids? Got a lot of extra cloth laying around?

Try re-enacting the movie Serenity for hand puppets. Feckin awesome.

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Xbox 360 Lawsuit

Console owners reported that some systems had crashed during regular use, as well as during online gameplay using the Xbox Live service. Problems included screens going black and the appearance of a variety of error messages.

At the time, a Microsoft spokeswoman told Reuters: "We have received a few isolated reports of consoles not working as expected."

She declined to say how many reports Microsoft had received and said that calls reporting the issue to the company represented a "very, very small fraction" of units sold.

The lawsuit, filed on Friday in federal court in Illinois, seeks unspecified damages and litigation-related expenses, as well as the replacement or recall of Xbox 360 game consoles.
-- Man sues Microsoft over alleged Xbox 360 glitch

Wait. Uh. huh, um. What?

OK, if I had waited on the frozen tundra for sixteen hours in order to get my Xbox 360 and all it did was overheat and crash ... I'd be pissed. I'd also completely expect it to be replaced under warranty. If that was refused for some reason, I might ... might call a lawyer if I had gotten one of these monster $1,000 bundles. OK, then I definately would.

So far, though, there isn't any indication that this is a widespread or common design flaw. The news report doesn't comment on whether the man tried to return the console for a replacement first. I guess if there really is such a flaw, then this makes some sense ... but if that design flaw is just an overactive power supply which needs better ventilation ...

There are just so many ways this seems frivolous to me or at least wildly premature.

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The 360's Uncanny Valley

My hat is off to whoever designed the new King Kong game for the Xbox 360, because they've crafted a genuinely horrific monster. When it first lurched out of the mysterious tropical cave and fixed its cadaverous eyes on me, I could barely look at the monstrosity.

I'm speaking, of course, of Naomi Watts.


This paradoxical effect has a name: the "Uncanny Valley." The concept comes from the Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori, who argued that simulacra of humans seem lively and convincing so long as they're relatively low-resolution. Think of history's best comic strips: With only a few quick sketches on a page, Bill Watterson can create vivid emotions for the characters in Calvin and Hobbes. When an avatar is cartoonish, our brains fill in the gaps in the presentation to help them seem real.
-- Monsters of Photorealism

A year ago I would have thought Uncanny Valley was a lost Anne McCaffery novel, but now I can't seem to leave the back yard without tripping over it. To be honest, that's not a terribly great descriptiong of the Valley. It's not really resolution so much as intimacy, as I understand it. A robot which looks nothing like a human is safe because you can easilly emotionally distance yourself from it. A robot which looks exactly like a human is comfortable because you're used to it. A robot which looks almost human is just creepy, because your head points out all the distinctions of non-human features.

But the Wikipedia will do a better job than I will.

Still, Ebert's made this connection to CG in movies and therefore the connection to games is appropriate. Course, this feels like impatience. Expecting too much evolution from a 360 launch title which was probably designed mostly for today's mainstream cross-platform market is jumping the gun. The next generation of graphics will take a whlie for the developers to work out the tricks of compression, etc., to get the kind of bang for buck we in current gen consoles.

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Are Board Games Alt Games Culture Now?

The event -- organized by local company North Star Games, the YMCA of Metropolitan Washington and the university -- drew more than 200 people, some, such as Chappell, novices to the alternative-game culture, others old hands, such as Jeanne Kramer-Smyth.

Kramer-Smyth, who is pursuing a master's degree in library science at Maryland, called herself a "gamer." Her hobby began when she played Scrabble with her parents as a child. She married a gamer. And she wants her son to become one. "It's the next generation," she said.
-- Little-Known Board Games Get Their Turn

I never really consider board games to be "alternate", but I guess they have become increasingly more so. Even commercials for board games declare they are trying to "bring back game night" for the family. The Girl's family are huge devotees of board games, which lead to my crushing defeat at song, bible and nursery ryhme related trivia over Thanksgiving.

I do kinda miss the old "dungeon" board games, of which I can barely think of a single title right now. However, they generally involved a lot of dice, combat and treasure hunting like a lite RPG ... only in board game form. Blood Bowl was also a huge favorite of my old high school crowd, and I'm saddened daily that nobody has brought it in a true form to the computer world. I've heard (even tried to help) a couple of mods wanting to bring it back. Personally, I'd think it would make a great turn based multiplayer game ... but I'm notably strange.

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