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Friday, December 16, 2005

Minions of Mirth Beta Released

I've only got time for one post today, so this will be it.

Being something of a lurker on the GarageGames forums, I know that the Prairie Games team have been working hard on their Torque powered MMO for some time. An MMO is always a pretty ballsy move for a small independant team, so it's great to see that they are releasing a demo.

This press release has the overview.

Features of Minions of Mirth include:

-Auto-patcher that delivers immediate content and feature upgrades
-Full single player support
-Player vs Environment and Player vs Player multiplayer
-No monthly service fees for multiplayer
-Form your own party of up to 6 characters. Join other players in online alliances with up to 36 characters
-16 playable classes, 12 playable races, Multiclass characters in three careers up to level 100
-3 playable realms: Fellowship of Light, Minions of Darkness, and the Monster Realm
-14 huge and diverse zones to explore
-Unlock monster templates to create your own stable of monsters
-Epic Battle System
-A tremendous amount of unique NPC, creatures, items, and quests
-2 hours of original music
-Free dedicated world server with source code is available. Host your own persistent world with your own original content

Right now, if you head over to the Prairie Games site, you can't go anywhere without stumbling on their download links. So stumble on down there and try it out. There are demo flavors for Windows and OS X, so very few of y'all have an excuse not to try it out.

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Thursday, December 15, 2005

LucasArts Publisher on Games Industry

BusinessWeek has a column from a LucasArts exec on the current state of the industry with all this flux between consoles and whatnot:

But even the well financed giants offer no guarantee of success in a hit driven business with minimal back end revenue streams and no assurance that your next "big" game will be the breakout hit necessary to please Wall Street.

Of course the ugly secret in the industry is that there are always a few video game companies that take it in the neck during a platform transition, and the coming cycle will be no exception.

The recent purchase of Pandemic and Bioware by Elevation Partners, two developers who have been both fiercely and vocally independent, are only the latest signs that industry consolidation is happening.

As a result, the middle and bottom tier of publishers and developers are likely to shrink even further through acquisition, roll up, or even bankruptcy, as we've already begun to see.
-- The Console Transition: A Publisher's Perspective

Not much new or earth-shattering, but a fairly somber account of what a lot of industry watchers have been saying. He's not completely bullish on indie developers, saying that PC and handheld markets are still key. In fact, he interestingly seems to put his money on a stronger indie scene for handhelds in the future, which is something I've been hoping to find in my stocking for some time now.

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Grinch Stolen, Irony Ensues

Ihli said stealing the Grinch, worth $60, would not have been easy. It was staked down with cords and attached to a fan to keep it inflated, she said.
Moszer also said it has a zipper on the side, not easy to see, to increase deflation time.
"Even if you use the zipper, it still takes a good three or four minutes to deflate," he said.
Ihli and Moszer said other decorations in their yard were left, including a large blow-up bear and the Grinch's dog.
"I'm not going to take the other decorations down," Moszer said. "I'm not going to let something like this ruin Christmas."
-- N.D. Police Seek Stolen 8-Foot Grinch

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PC 360 Controller Review

One thing that everyone seems to agree on with the 360 is that the new controller is a great design. Thankfully for PC owners, there is a USB version compatible with Windows (and also works peachy on the 360). Gamezone gives a full review.

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Just to expand all those acronyms, the International Game Developers Association is adding an Alternate Reality Gaming Special Interest Group to their roster. They just kicked it off, so there isn't too much to see there just yet, but it's good to see IGDA add some interest to the genre.

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DVD Watch: Fantastic Four

The Girl and I had a superpowered night yesterday, which was fitting since I had gotten stuck in a Wikipedia induced comic book research frenzy yesterday. It's interesting to go from reading about The Darkness video game to reading an entire synopsis of the Crisis of Infinite Earths by continuity king Alan Kistler.

So we ended up watching Fantastic Four. Talk about your mixed bag. The characters were handled fairly well. The special effects weren't too gratiutous. There was an actual attempt to bring some realism into the concept, with the world reacting to the mutations and Ben Grimm's handling of his somewhat horrific fate. Doom's makeover wasn't as bad as I dreaded, although it was fairly close.

There were, however, plot points which completely made no sense. It was either poorly written or poorly edited at points. Some minor spoilers follow. Like how Doom's IPO goes south because of the accident on the space station. That accident where everyone comes back unharmed? Doom's financial officers must have been ex-Enron material, because that's one fast multi-billion dollar collapse.

Or how about getting Sue Storm to strip in order to sneak her way into the crowd and then teleport everyone to the other side. Wait, Sue can't teleport people? Who cares! She took her shirt off!

My favorite though is Reed's magic apartment. First, we know that Reed is completely broke ... and yet he can build and power toys unlike man has ever seen. Then he builds a magnificent device which can apparently give, remove, enhance, or simply dilate someone's powers no matter how technically inept or randomly they use it. Get into the container or just break it open ... Reed's made this one foolproof.

I will say that despite some of the blatant silliness ... even the lower echelons of comic movies these days aren't so bad. I mean, yeah, some of the movie was groan-worthy ... but it was a decent popcorn film. It's a shame not every rendition can be Batman Begins ... but it could be worse. Heck, I'd watch this twice over compared to any of the Star Wars prequels.

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Like complicated number puzzles that result in pictures? I have no idea if I do, but if that's your kind of cake ... is your place to be. I could try explain the concept, but to be honest it's easier if you just go to the site.

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Ultima V: Lazarus

For fans of the old-school RPG variety, there is a Dungeon Siege project to bring back Ultima V:

Ultima V: Lazarus is an exceedingly ambitious project that will greatly improve the graphics and sound in the PC version of Ultima V. However, that's not all. Rather than releasing an "upgrade patch" as happened with U4, what we're doing is a true from-the-ground-up remake of the gaming classic, Ultima V.
-- Ultima V: Lazarus site

Insert normal comment about legality and whatnot here.

Still, looks like another reason to pick up Dungeon Siege some day. I think the older Ultima games had a roaming quality to their gameplay which we didn't really see re-vitalized in games until Zelda or perhaps GTA. Morrowind was the one to really hold the candle on "world based" CRPGs and thank golly they've stuck to their guns. It would be interesting to see those concepts brought to other games, though. Elite, for instance, was a massively large game ... and yet somewhat limited in scenery.

Ultima V: Lazarus is apparently going to launch in a few weeks, so one will have to wait to see how well the project captured the original game.

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Thoughtcrime could be double plus good

Thoughtcrime is a student project which aims to bring Orwell's 1984 into a literary virtual world:

Thoughtcrime is a literary game designed for use in secondary literature classes reading the novel 1984. Played in a virtual world that brings the totalitarian regime of Big Brother to life, Thoughtcrime pits players against each other in a subtle struggle for survival.

Thoughtcrime may be played with small or large classes, from school or home computers with Internet connections. Played over the Web in real time, a game of Thoughtcrime may begin at school but extend well beyond school hours. The game is currently being played in the Secondary Worlds MOO.
-- Thoughtcrime website

Pretty neat idea. Again, it's a reminder that as graphics have become more powerful game have become more cinematic ... and yet less literary in nature. Not everything that is possible with text is possible with a renderer. I'm not sure what kind of compelling gameplay would be needed to bring players into a textual world, but it would be interesting to see.

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No HD-DVD for 360

Despite earlier rumors, Microsoft has "no plans" to make an HD-DVD equipped Xbox 360 in the future, according to (quoting a Microsoft rep to IGN). Considering that rumor was started by a remark by Gates himself, one shouldn't feel bad about making the mistake.

This is an interesting limitation for the 360, which hinges largely on those with HiDef televisions to get the full experience. It also doesn't bode well for the HD-DVD format since any player that supports it will have to go up against the PlayStation 3 and Sony's Blu-Ray format. The PS3 will insure that a large base will be capable of playing Blu-Ray movies, but no such unifying gadget looks like it's going to appear on the horizon for HD-DVD.

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Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Fake Or Foto Quiz

Dreamy Gamer found this quiz which tests your ability to guage Computer Graphics against Real Life. Pretty neat.

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I've Never Liked Ebert

It's true, I'm a Chicagoan who has always found that one of it's stars is more bluster than luster. I've read too many Ebert reviews that I thought was off-base and heard too many accounts of the guy being something of a jerk in public. Not to recently, Ebert said that games were an inferior form of art due to their fundamentally complicated and interactive nature.

Much bruhaha was made out of this.

Ebert has since responded to comments about his comments more times than I imagine he desires, but the tone that sticks in my head is this response:

I believe books and films are better mediums, and better uses of my time. But how can I say that when I admit I am unfamiliar with video games? Because I have recently seen classic films by Fassbinder, Ozu, Herzog, Scorsese and Kurosawa, and have recently read novels by Dickens, Cormac McCarthy, Bellow, Nabokov and Hugo, and if there were video games in the same league, someone somewhere who was familiar with the best work in all three mediums would have made a convincing argument in their defense.
-- Roger Ebert's Answer Man

Which, I think if we look in our heart of hearts we know is partially true. Ebert has said repeatedly that he's not a gamer and hence may not be the best equipped to judge. In other words, I doubt he spent a lot of time playing Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time or ever even tried to hack his way through the Infocom rendition of Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy, both games made clearly not just by technicians ... but artists. Also, it's easy to point out that he's completely ignoring every non-narrative aspect of games. I mean, Ico might not have been Citizen Kane, but it sure was pretty and emotive.

Still, I'm not sure games have gotten their Citizen Kane. However, I think Ebert's mistake is assuming this makes the medium simply inferior. Just because a medium is technically complicated doesn't mean it lacks potential. At one point, making movies was terribly diffcult and it took revolutionary people to figure out how to make it work. Not even artists per se, just visionaries who could see how two cogs might fit together.

Look at all the time we spend debating the Hollywoodization of games or ludology or the narrative capabilities of ingame avatars. If not art, games are clearly a medium with the potential for art that is trying desperately to find it's footing to become artistic.

I don't think Ebert was wildy offbase on this one, just a bit of old timer. I'm guessing years down the way, we'll look back at his statements in way similar to how Bill Gates announced nobody needed more than 640k of RAM.

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Journalistic Whoring

Idle Thumbs has a great thread about the standards for game journalism going on. While I won't name any names, rubbing various gaming hardware against various body parts is a common theme.

Ah whatsit, I will name names. Chobot has turned into a pinup hack and I've always thought Game Girl Advance was way overrated after the whole Rez incident. There. I said it.

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UT2004 Mega Pack

Gotta shout out to the old stomping grounds. A Mega Pack for Unreal Tournament 2004 has been released on the world with a ton of new maps. I was, however, kinda saddened to see no new mutators or mods in the pack. In fact, I haven't heard much about any realy neat new mods or mutes since the Make Something Unreal contest ended. Which was also about what I expected.

Still, UT r0xx0rs your boXX0rs. So give these maps a try.

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Star Wars Fans Fleeing The Galaxy?

Wired has a feature about the apparent swarms of fans not terribly pleased with SOE's gameplay makeover:

Players of the massively multiplayer online game Star Wars Galaxies are feeling a bit like the films' besieged rebel army these days. To them, LucasArts is the evil Empire, raining down terror in their alternate universe.

Over the past month, countless longtime Galaxies players have quit playing the popular online take on the ubiquitous film franchise. Their grievance: a controversial, sweeping redesign of the structure of the game that they say has ruined the fun -- and made irrelevant the years of work they have invested into their in-game personas.
-- Star Wars Fans Flee Net Galaxy

Our man in Havana, Finster, has a more personal account of the sweeping changes over at Top Of Cool, highlighting the same article but with his added experience from the SWG beta.

I had blogged earlier that the 10 day trial wore me out in just a couple of hours. Since the original never interested me in slightest, I can't say I'm not against the overhaul ... but I think they need to keep on hauling. With Guild Wars looking twice as good and playing better without a monthly fee ... SOE's got their work cut out for them.

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Tuesday, December 13, 2005

BatJack Finally Wins Something

Having failed to press his case in courts numerous times, jail the Penny Arcade crowd and writing satire ... BatJack Thompson has finally found a task worthy of a man of his stature and cunning. A foe for which BatJack is equipped to properly handle.

He got a sixteen year old arrested on charges of harassment. Well, at least now we know his boxing weight. Jack doesn't do so well in a courtroom against industry figures or, you know, facts ... but when a high school kid threatens him ... his handy tape recorder sure does come in handy.

Course, it will be interesting if the lawyer for the boy brings up all the nasty things Jack has called gamers in the past. I mean, I certainly don't condone calling people up and threatening bodily harm ... but when you berate a whole group of people in rabidly insulting ways .... well, sometimes people get upset.

Hey wait, can't this kid just blame Grand Theft Auto and wouldn't Jack be obligated to drop the charges? I mean, it's not his fault Take Two is allowed to publish a murder simulator on Sony's brainwashing box, is it?

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Christmas Giving: South Asian Earthquake

Following a massive earthquake, about 2.5 million homeless people in South Asia face a brutal winter. While gamers got plenty of donating possibilities with Katrina, victims of the Pakistan earthquakes haven't been so lucky. This is a tragedy of colossal scale wherein at one point there weren't enough tents manufactured in the world to keep up with the needs of the survivors. lists several donation possibilities for Americans, including the International Red Cross and Islamic Relief. I personally donated to WorldVision, rated four stars by Charity Navigator, for the cause.

So while you have talking heads complaining that Christmas isn't being advertised enough and advertisements complaining that you aren't spending enough - remember that this season isn't about claim to a religion or waiting in line for the next game console. The west lives with a lot of luxuries ... and compassion should be a natural result of our well-being.

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Classic Doom on Doom 3

Flaming Sheep Software recently released a mod that puts classic Doom into the Doom 3 engine. Not sure of the legality here, but from some of the forum comments it looks like they built stuff from scratch, so it should be kosher. Haven't seen any screens either, so I'll have to wait to get home and see how it turned out.

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Very Real CGI

Fraggerock has a simply must see image which at first glance looks like a real person or at the very least a convincing model as opposed to a CGI render.

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I Saw A Haggis

The Scotsman is running their annual Haggis Hunt to try and spot the wiley animal, often mistaken for a sausage, in the wild. The wild haggis is somewhat related to the snark or sidehill gouger and can be quite elusive. Hunting one requires a grounded knowledge in haggis related zoology, like the fact that males only run clockwise and females counter-clockwise. A normal person can't catch up to one, but is best advised to run to the other side of the hill and wait.

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Monday, December 12, 2005

Happy Holidays

As the Christmas season gets into full swing, I'll probably not be around much. Shopping, parties, hangovers, etc. Apparently I've missed the window to get things safely shipped from online for some things ... like the things I really need to get. Which kinda sucks, but living in Chicago I'm provided with a large number of alternate means of commerce.

Speaking of, the web site which pays my bills has gotten an inordinate number of thank you notes about the fact that we actually mention "Christmas". Apparently there is a War On Christmas going on, and I wasn't even invited. I guess this War is going on despite the fact that I know nobody who is actually fighting it. I've never met a single person in all my years who actually hated Christmas enough to declare hostile actions, but according to Bill O'Rielly ... there's enough people to constitute warfare.

I don't think it takes a college degree to see this for the cultural McCarthyism that it truly is. If you don't have a "Christmas" sign in neon light that clearly means you hate Christmas and are probably some commie pinko hippie who, by de facto rules, hates America. Happy Holidays might as well be Mein Fuhrer. The fact that one is simply trying to be all-inclusive in terms of a) there are people in this world that don't celebrate Christmas, and one still wishes them well and b) the holidays have been extended from Thanksgiving and last until Valentine's Day and therefore encompass far more than a single day is beyond these pinheads.

So to them ... I have a simple solution. The conversation goes something like this.

Me: Happy Holidays.
Pinhead: Happy What? Why do you hate Christmas?
Me: I never said I did.
Pinhead: But you're afraid to say Christmas. That means you hate it.
Me: You didn't say you loved Christ.
Pinhead: What?
Me: That's right, I heard it. You hate Christ.
Pinhead: But...
Me (pointing and screaming frantically): CHRIST HATER!

And so on. See if they'll try that in public again.

Later, just to show what an evil Scrooge McDuck who kicks kids I am ... I'll hunt down some links to help people donate to Pakistanis. Take that, Fox News.

Till then, Merry Christmas to you and yours.


Games Train For Disaster

"These games let people train on their own schedules," said Eric Holdeman, an expert in disaster relief and director of Washington state's King County Office of Emergency Management. "And it gets us away from death by PowerPoint in the typical classroom environment. It's also cost-effective."

The first game, which took three months to develop, trains health workers to respond to an anthrax outbreak. A massive flu pandemic simulation is in the works.

Players learn how to set up MASH sites, evaluate patients and dispense drugs. They also are trained to distribute medications to health-care sites and notify the public, instructing people on what to do -- without instilling panic.
-- Games Tackle Disaster Training

Again, it's always good to see games doing some good. Course the antigame nuts also point to these examples and swear it's proof that it can train people to be a sniper.

To which I would respond, "Your appendix has to come out. Your doctor was trained on a PlayStation 2. Any questions?"

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Sunday, December 11, 2005

Thompson Attacks Hilary

The anti-game group is starting to look like a daytime soap opera. First everyone on that side of the fences loves BatJack. Then NIMF tell BatJack to take a hike. BatJack tells NIMF he didn't love them anyway. Now, in a column for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, BatJack is sticking it to his ex-bedmate Hilary Clinton.

What did Clinton do then? Within days, she accepted the offer of the Entertainment Software Association to throw her a $1,000-a-plate campaign fund-raising breakfast attended by video game industry moguls! ESA President Doug Lowenstein, who organized the fund-raiser, is the lobbyist leading the charge against Clinton's video game bill. What goes on here?

It's what former Clinton adviser Dick Morris calls "triangulation." Hillary is positioning herself "to the right" of the Republicans on this hot-button "culture war" issue while winking at the video game industry by proposing a bill that she and they know is unconstitutional and poses no threat. She wants to have her electoral cake and eat the industry's campaign contributions, too.

"Too clever by half," as the Brits say, because some of us out here are not as dumb as she thinks.
-- What kind of game is Hillary Clinton playing?

News to Jack. You're aren't really a threat either, considering your nack for getting thrown off cases. So maybe you should take your own advice and let the adults work this out.

And the email address to remind the Star-Telegram that Thompson is a mildy insane lawyer with his license recently removed in Alabama and only really good at arguing cases to a news camera would be

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