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Saturday, February 25, 2006

General Updates

The Girl is off running around in Samsara, our Animal Crossing: Wild World town. We briefly hooked up with The Brother last night on NiWiFi, which rocked because he's total pro at the game and gave us a few tips. She just got pounced by the insurance salesman, though. "Yeah, I found bees!" she just exclaimed...

Hopefully I'll get enough coffee in me to start working on the Lovecraft IF. I think I've done the rough draft of uh lessee, hrm, five endings and have about nine planned out. Nine might not seem like a lot, but this is short story format ... not even the length of a novel or short novel, nor does it have the easily varied scope of something, like, say, Caves of Time. And besides, some of Montgomery's kid's book only had fifteen or so endings.

And before anyone freaks out because I invoke the "Choose Your Own Adventure" genre, lemme rest the fears that it's not the same format. Yeah, there's some heritage but the framework isn't modal. In other words, you can't obliquely choose to "run from the room screaming" or "attack the monster" per se, and then you get a whole new page. Instead, pages react to a series of interactions on the page to determine overall changes to the story. So some aspects of the story might be effected over multiple pages and others might be succinct.

It's hard to describe. I shouldn't really be describing it, I should just get back to writing. I'm kinda fighting the urge not to jump into Guild Wars, to be honest, because I'm pretty certain some of my high level buds are probably online, which could get me past Ice Caves. Or to try a round of M.U.L.E. .... mmmmm mule.

No wonder I don't do this professionally.

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Friday, February 24, 2006

WGN Goes For Scare Tactics Journalism

Apparently WGN did a story where they essentially branded video games as the new street drug. Brilliant. I didn't see it, despite being a Chicagoan, because to be honest ... WGN is usually full of stories of rape, house fires and terror anyway. This is Chicago, and what bleed doesn't just lead but often get it's own parade.

I don't really plan on seeing it, unless I feel I should to justify a few angry emails. I'm not sure that is really required though. I would offer up the rant a few of you might be expecting, but Kotaku and 1UP have really done a top notch job of debunking it already.

I will email them, however. And it will be aggresive and sanguine. While it's true that well-composed correspondance is more effective than simple ranting, I gotta say - in my job I read customer feedback daily. And emotion does count for something.

I emailed the following:

I'm writing in response to the segment comparing video games to an addictive drug. It's sad and pathetic to see large news channel like WGN stoop to such levels of pseudoscience in order to generate fear in a viewing public. I know "what bleeds, leads", but c'mon. How f--king stupid do you think we are?

Your statements were not backed by science or medicine and merely jump on the bandwagon of "video games will ruin your kids". I am familiar with the studies of NIMF, Dr. Craig Anderson and others and the frame in which they pose their arguments.

WGN, instead of adhering to the legitimate science, choose instead to sensationalize the story and compare interactive media with some kind of crack.

Poor journalism by any standard and lowers the bar for WGN in general.

Sad. Truly sad.

Oh yeah, I f bombed them. Not censored in their version.

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Doom: Unrated

This will be a spoilerific review, but since the movie is ass ... I'm not spoiling anything that wasn't already rotten.

Watching this film knowing that one of the producers felt I should just STFU really helped put the entire movie into perspective. Only begrudgingly did the makers place the action back on Mars, despite the fact that the location is irrelevant since 99% of the film takes place inside without any indication of what planet the marines are on. So in terms of concessions, that probably amounted to a couple of line changes (not even sure that's true) and a different CGI intro. Boo freakin' hoo.

From there, the producers scrap most of what actually makes Doom, in all of it's incarnations, Doom. The only real remnant from the game is the excellent set and prop design which at times feels almost hauntingly lifted from Doom III in particular. Everything else is offbeat or misplaced. Instead of a singular marine, we get a team. The characters of this team have been called "shallow" or having "one characteristic to tell them apart". That's almost giving them too much credit. There's New Kid, Disgusting Guy, Noble Warrior, Religous Freak, Shaft, and Shaft II. The character with most depth is easily Hot Blonde Scientist Who Still Believes In Her Brother. But honestly, she can be reduced to Sympathetic Chick Without A Bra.

There is no hell or demons, instead there is a Resident Evil lift about genetic mutations causing zombies (which neither look nor act like they do in Doom III) and some mumbo jumbo about a viral infection which knows if you are good or bad (so be good for goodness sake!). The weapons are mildly Doom-like, although the much heralded BFG is actually just the plasma gun with an attitude. In what is perhaps a failed nod to fan dissatisfaction with Doom III, the rifles are equipped with flashlights which go out on a moment's notice and apparently 20 round clips.

The most obvious nod to the game is the brief "first person sequence". The sequence works oddly better as cinema than homage, since the digitally merged scenes give the section of film the odd appearance of being done in one take. Sadly, it results in scenes which reminded me more of those sad movie shooters from the Sega CD days than anything id ever produced. When the Hell Knight crashes out waving his chainsaw around, you'll know what I mean.

Around the bend of the last half of the movie, it tries to add in a moral and human element to the plot ... but fails miserably. Stealing liberally from both Resident Evil and Aliens, the plot never rises to the level of either. That's right, it never even matches Resident Evil and doesn't even begin to reach the stratosphere of Cameron's work. It has all the nuances of a snuff film, but by the end of the movie you just wish they'd shoot the writer. Honestly, anyone who thought naming one of the main scientists in the film "Dr. Carmack" was clever doesn't deserve to have their name in celluloid. Only Uwe Boll's "Captain Kirk" beats that out for least intelligent character design.

The producers can bitch and whine all they want that the gamers got in the way of their grand, epic vision. The film speaks for itself. If someone took the title and set design out of the equation, they'd be left with a wildly subpar genre film who's only draw was to see the Rock's tattoos. The next time this studio wants to make a movie without any regard to the game or gamers involved, I humbly request they do just that. Stay the hell away from our games, please.

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Lost: Presumptions and Theories

Consider this a long reaction to Clamatius' quite insightful comment that the Others would have required either a causal role or advanced survelliance to intercept the plane crashing (in two places). That reaction being that he is right, but also being reminded that these kinds of distinctions can help corral possibilities.

For instance, let's presume:

Ethan's and Goodwin's Group caused the crash of 815
Evidence: Without having caused it, it would have been near impossible for them to reach the locations of the survivors, with alibis, at the precise time that they did. If they merely observed the crash, they would lack the level of premeditation required to be able to sneak into the crowd.
Impact: Ethan and Goodwin's Group (I'm not calling them Others to potentially distinct them from Zeke's Group) are capable of a) manipulating large objects well outside the island's boundaries.

And from there, you can build larger theories based on that presumption. Now, further evidence might prove that presumption false, but that's not so bad because it tells you important things about the presumed impacts. So if it's shown that 815 crashed on it's own, then it's possible that the group can't effect events outside the island and might effect other theories about things which happens on the mainland(s). Likewise, you can try to stack presumptions to see if they hold up. For instance, there was a theory going on that Walt's appearance was just a hologram. However, since Kate touched her black horse, it probably indicates that at least some of the "visions" are the island are more tangible than others.

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John Smedley Is A Liar

Sorry, I just can't think of any other way to put it.

"There has never been a release by Sony Online Entertainment that has been incomplete," Smedley said.
-- In 'Galaxies' Far, Far Away ...

That was his response to CBS News when they covered the whole NGE fiasco. And I say, quite frankly, bullshit. Bullshit, Mr. Smedley. SOE has released at least one incomplete game and I know because I played it. PlanetSide, when released, was neither feature complete nor was it fully beta tested. It had widespread bugs and required multiple gameplay adjustments, including major enhancements to the core aspects of how the game was played. If the game was complete when it was shipped, then why were you still developing it while I was playing?

And now, they're getting similar attacks about the NGE in Star Wars: Galaxies. Really, not a big surprise there.

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Thursday, February 23, 2006

Lost: Let's Recap

Last night they re-re-reshowed the first episode. Matthew Fox was on The Daily Show, and continued to insist that the show has a framework, an outline, an ending, an even a sugary sweet center.

But how many loose ends are we talking about here? Let's see (I'm sure I'm going to forget like 100 things):

Really Old Stuff
Black Rock shipwrecking/Bermuda Triangle type Island.
Hanso Foundation doing pretty much anything.

Coincidences so inexplicable, or possibly even "symbolic" that they seem fate-like or manipulated.

Walt potentially "summoning" a bird.
Claire's baby being special/psychic
Desmond predicting Jack's successful surgery.
Kate apparently getting a spirit animal.
Hurley's unlucky use of the numbers.
Desmond getting shipwrecked, recruited, and taking some kind of meds

How about a passenger jet being split in half just over an island, crashing in two parts near different beaches, but having a decent portion of the people inside surviving?

And one survivor getting the use of his legs?

People seeing things which ought not to be there, being able to touch them, interact with them.
One of these "things" (Walt) talks backwards, rest don't
Polar bears, horses and such un-tropical island like fauna.
Whispering in the woods.
Smoke monster.
Train noise, track sounds.
At least one group of insidious "Others"
Others know the locations and timing of the crash
Others need/steal children for ... something
Hatches, underground base
Desmond was looking for a specific person, with a code phrase (replacement?)
Countdown and the computer
Magnetic Generator (?) and blast doors within hatch.
Inside Out Quarantine Warning, with Numbers
Unknown incident (from the one armed scientist)

What else am I forgetting?

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Washington Post Looks At Turbulent Game Industry

I'm not sure it's got much that will really surprise gamers, but the Washington Posts looks at the good and bad in the industry today:

The video game industry ought to be riding high. Public interest has never been greater, overall sales are up, and blockbuster movies such as "King Kong" and "Star Wars" routinely look to video games to extend their reach into popular culture.

But companies that make and sell video games are suffering, caught up in an unusual set of circumstances that are cutting profits and jobs just when they should be in top form. Major game publishers Activision Inc., Atari Inc. and Electronic Arts Inc. all missed their most recent earnings expectations and each company has had layoffs in recent months. Retailers such as Electronics Boutique Holdings Corp. and GameStop Corp. have faced similar problems.
-- An Industry Off Its Game

It goes on to talk about the 360's stuttered launch, the possible delay of the PlayStation 3 and the relative invisibility of the Revolution, although I'm not certain that last one is too accurate. I don't know about you, but I actually have a pretty good feel for what the Revolution might be like these days, now that the controller has been announced and we've got at least a comparative feel for the hardware.

Still, the Post has a point. It's just not unexpected. Companies are taking a hit to ramp up to the next generation while coasting on the previous one. With the industry larger than ever before, the effects are magnified. However, there is also a lot of hardware to be sold next year and higher priced new titles as well.

Personally, I still have more PS2 titles to last me a while, and that's not counting all the DS fun I plan on having over the next few months. And eventually finishing Guild Wars (and possibly, just maybe, getting into PvP). So they can take their time.

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More Mainstream FUD

Spong points out that ABC News willfully ignored information from GamerDad in writing their "Pictochat will steal your child and sell it to the black market" story. Anyone surprised? It's not like they've ever done any fact-checking with anything Jack Thompson ever lied about, or tried to offer a fair and unbalanced story on this. Scare pieces don't sell well that way. If it bleeds, it leads ... and if it might make you scream ... it um, goes on page two.

And the "Overblown 25 to Life Story Of The Day" award goes to WAVE 3 in Kentucky, which announces that the game allows that "teens 17 and older can legally act out Rebecca's real-life nightmare" ... that being of her police officer husband being shot and killed by a teenager, who then turned the gun on themselves.

Just stop, news-type people, with trying to place grieving widows and brothers as unbiased opinions on games in society. It's like killing a puppy in a movie, you can't win on logic so you'll just pull out something heavy and emotional. Real nice. This piece ends with a link to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fun.

Any responsible piece of journalism would have provided something a little more useful to the reader .... like a damn review of the game.

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Wednesday, February 22, 2006

IGN Disses Intellivision Controller

I take issue with this:

Look, we understand that many system designers were shooting in the dark during the early days of videogames. I'm sure that a handheld controller that looked like a touch-tone phone appeared "Space Age Technology," and the design even preceded the Nintendo D-pad by more than a half-decade…even offering more directional points than an 8-way controller could dream of having. But good luck figuring out if you're pressing left or just slight up and left. And controller overlays? Work of the devil.
-- Top 10 Tuesday: Worst Game Controllers

I think the Intellivision disc was an excellent predecessor to the analog control many of us enjoy today. No, it wasn't the best ergonomic design and definately took a little practice before gettting really adept ... but mostly that was because our hands were already used to the Atari "brick and stick" approach ... which was an even most egregious ergonomic disaster.

And overlays? Definately a mixed blessing. Yes, it created a need for organization unseeen previously and hereafter in video games. However, it also offered up a variable control scheme for developers, allowing for games like Sea Battle (impossible to do without it) to exist. Games like Treasure of Tarmin would have been a total menu hunt without such a controller.

So meh to you IGN.

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More Video Game Cheerleaders

Is that a harsh description of the Girlz Gaming House, the latest rendition of combining attractive females and controllers to market gaming software/hardware/whatever. Are they more cheerleaders or players themselves? I'd prefer seeing advertisers front people who can actually play a few rounds over a booth babe any day of the week ... but the whole "cams and house" combination just makes it seem less than your, well, traditional girl gamer clan type deal.

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Brilliantly One Sided Example Of Poor Journalism

ABC 13 out of Toledo has just hopped on the "scare you, don't inform you" bandwagon:

Disrespectful, dangerous, plain stupid, that's how many groups are describing this new game, and some police officer groups are using their websites to encourage consumers to boycott it.

Blasting guns, shady characters and edgy hip hop, police say it's the next generation of Grand Theft Auto.

It's called "25 to life" and that's what police say players would get if they were driven to act out anything they see on screen.

Sgt. Richard Murphy says, he is upset with the company that came out with such a hash and violent game, which teaches kids to kill a police officer.
-- Video game controversy

Many groups? Try one group. And police say it's the next generation of GTA? Wow, they must teach game analysis in law enforcement school these days, considering nearly every game review declares it to be a subpar clone, at best.

And thank god ABC news is there to remind people that if you actually shoot a police officer, you might go to jail. The impressive powers of the PlayStation 2's brainwashing chip almost made me forget. Must have been all that firearms training I was getting while playing.

Here's a question: if my video game console is sooooo damn good at training firearms, then why don't all the law enforcement agencies start using them in lieu of shooting ranges? It would take a lot less money. Huh? Oh right, that's because it's complete nonsense.

Basically, this story amounts to a news organization paraphrasing someone's press release as if it were all complete fact. Absolutely ace reporting, right there.

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Championship Guild Wars Builds

Clamatius has found a couple of links where people describe the Guild Wars builds used with teams winning championships.

On a related note, I had an abysmal run at Ice Caves of Sorrow last night. The latter missions definately get harder and good party coherence is just a must. After debating for ten minutes on who should lead the party, half the party spent the first five minutes not listening to the leader and generally getting everyone killed. In five more minutes, the party just dissolved itself.

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Is The Grind Necessary?

I've heard from many people, including some actually in the industry, that in order to develop video games ... the "grind" is a necessary evil. The "grind", of course, being that period of time pre-launch where nobody has time to sleep or shower because they're too busy putting in the spit, polish and duct tape on their product before shipping.

Otherwise you end up with what an old QA manager of mine refers to as a "gum release". That from an old Dilbert cartoon where, in lieu of a legit software release, the company just starts throwing things from the office into boxes ... leading Wally to announce, "this one's getting gum!"

It seem ex-EA producer Josh Holmes, of NBA Street and Def Jam, disagrees. He's helped form Propaganda Games, which apparently is trying to ungrind the crunch time:

"I think the industry was getting to a point where it was being driven purely by the need for profits and purely by the need to put out a game within a very, very tight time frame," he said. "And over time (it) became almost an expected part of developing a game, to the point where it was sort of planned for. . . . I don't think that that's necessary and I don't think it's really fair either to the people that you're relying on."
-- Vancouver developer looks to make video games without burning out staff

During the glory days of web development, I probably spent about sixty to eighty hours a week in the office. It was brutal, but I have to say that I see both sides of this argument. There's a certain equation involving time and quality which can be difficult to balance. I've also heard that part of the concept is to weed out undesirables by overworking them which, for the record, is pretty much how every doctor in this country gets his job as well.

A few years ago, I don't think I would ever have argued against the grind. Now, having been out of it, I can't imagine ever finding a reason to support it again. Seems like two properly managed forty hour weeks can be better for everyone than one crazy eighty hour one.

But I've never tried to ship a game, different industries have different needs.

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Sex and the Indie Game

It might take a while to load, for some reason, but this short article at PitchforkMedia is worth it:

Her [Brenda Brathwaite] interest led her to start a "special interest group" within the IGDA, or International Game Developers Association. This group gives developers a place to hash out issues from the legal to the technical to the artistic, through a blog ( and regular talks at conferences. But she's also reaching out to everyone who has a stake in the issue, even if they're not on her side. "These four groups-- politicians, parents, retailers, and developers-- all want the same thing: we don't want sexual content in kids' hands. [But] instead of working toward this common cause we're spending all this time beating each other up," says Brathwaite. "What I would love is for all of us to work together on this, to really evaluate the problem."

Sexuality never had much of a foothold in games, and the chilling effect has grown worse after the Grand Theft Auto incident-- which may have cost the game's publisher, TakeTwo Interactive, as much as $50 million. Today, it's hard to find any serious sexual content in a mainstream game. God of War included a sex scene, but the European game Fahrehnheit lost some of its sexual content when Atari ported it to the U.S. as Indigo Prophecy. And while Mature games draw the attention, they don't measure up in sales. Patricia Vance, President of the ESRB-- the industry-funded group that rates games-- says, "Mature game sales are a fraction of what other games represent in the marketplace. E [for Everyone], for an example, is still by far the largest category for sales as well as for rating assignments."

But then there's the indie space. No major retailer will carry an "Adults Only"-rated video game, but developers can sell their work over the internet-- or even give it away. Though it's not a porn site, probably hosts the largest single collection of adult interactive content on the web, and it's all free. Founder Tom Fulp started the site for Flash developers of all stripes, as a portal where they could post and discuss their games and animations. (The indie hit Alien Hominid, which I wrote about last year, debuted on Fulp estimates that mature games draw around 15-20% of the traffic on the site, and the biggest hits-- like Orgasm Girl, where you play a lesbian angel who sneaks into schoolgirls' bedrooms and gives them something to dream about-- score millions of users.
-- Get That Out of Your Mouth #22

Considering Hollywood has embraced the sex game (probably NSFW) should any of this come as a surprise? Can I mention once again just how many google searches for naked patches find their way here? And we're talking nude patches for games like Doom 3 ... where nudity ... I mean ... well it's not like demons wear a lot of clothes, people.

The demand is out there - and there's probably a large audience just waiting for something more intelligent than a DDR clone with tits.

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Did You Miss Me?

All five of you?

Jury duty yesterday. Which, in Cook County terms, translates to getting paid $17 for playing Animal Crossing for nearly six hours straight. Not a bad day, all in all.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Quick Note To Advertisers

You can take modern actors/athletes/political figures and paste them into historical footage, old movies, previous commercials, old sports games, or backyard videos.

We get it. You can stop now.

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NPR On Cell Phone Game Growth

Morning Edition had a decent overview of the burgeoning cell phone game market, covering such hits as Tetris and Bejeweled and also doing a good job of explaining the wider demographic versus a somewhat luddite consumer base. Personally, a few adventures in cell phone monopoly work well for me.

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M.U.L.E. in High Fidelity

So, I finally got Animal Crossing: Wild World. It's occupied an hour or so of my day since I've gotten it. I actually like a game which emphasis shorter, daily, visits than long marathon matches. I haven't gone NiWiFi just yet, but I while talking about the game to The Brother, I made the seemingly odd comparision to the Dani Bunten classic, M.U.L.E., which I can't fully explain other than the feeling of wandering from point to point trying to enhance your land.

Still, the comparison sparked The Brother to shortly thereafter send me a screenshot of his success at getting M.U.L.E. to run on his OS X laptop. So I had to try. I got Frodo, found the disk image and everything seemed good to go. Except I couldn't get a "joystick button" or "action button" to get recognized ... which is apparently because Frodo emulates the joystick via the numeric keypad.

Problem is ... I've got this fancy keyboard. No numeric keypad.

So I download a demo of a virtual keyboard, use it's keypad to enter the keys into GamePad companion so that they are probably mapped on my USB adapted PS2 controller. Yup, I'm playing a Commodore 64 game that once fit on a 5.25 floppy via a Unix based operating system off of a PlayStation 2 controller. I'm sure I could get more complicated, but I'd have to try really hard.

Still, it's the best rendition of the game I could possibly have hoped to get. And the game, for the curious, still rocks. It's impressive how much intelligence the developers crammed into the game. There are a lot of dirty tricks to play in M.U.L.E., like buying up all the reserves of food or tricking someone inflating a price to buy the product instead ... and the computer is familiar with many of them. As well it's extremely capable in terms of dealing with plots and knowing when to sell and buy. After a few games, I could still only get second place in tournament mode ... and the was with a flapper. Course, that was because light green mechtron worked around my "starve their energy needs" plan while brown mechtron did the "starve their food needs" plan.

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SacBee on D&D

The Sacremento Bee has a lifestyle feature on Dungeons & Dragons, and geek culture in general. What's interesting here is that I think they could have written this ten years ago and it would be about the same, minus the "several famous people own up to being geeks" bit.

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Game Art Competition

N-Sider Into The Pixel, an art competition for people who apparently within the game industry. As any gamer who has peeked at the "making of" material for their favorite blockbuster knows, video games these days often have a lot of high quality art commisioned during the design phase of the game. As the 2005 entrants prove, this contest showcases them quite well.

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