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Friday, September 29, 2006

Woz: Enemy Combatant

Not really, but I couldn't think of a better way to illustrate Colbert inverviewing Wozniak.


Metroid Drink

There is a "power up" joke in there somewhere - but I'm too sleepy right now. From the Gamers flickr pool.

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Beating Down Game Movie Flops

Not satisfied with simply cutting down one movie at a time, The Olympian takes on Stay Alive, Silent Hill, and Grandma's Boy all at the same time, commenting that if they "had the power to give negative stars", they would.

Why is it so hard to translate games into film? We've certainly seen enough literature arise from games that we shouldn't assume a decent storyline can't be derived from games (see Battletech or Halo). Here's a couple of guesses:

Culture Clash
Movies like Doom show that in general - Hollywood doesn't get games. Largely they're just interested in the brand name and a few key factors (BFG! CARMACK!) rather than earnestly looking at the game as a narrative in its own right.

B-Movie Syndrome
Game movies have not yet had their Spider-Man ... a summer blockbuster which sells so well that studios will greenlight nearly any budget for any license. Science fiction and fantasy are a lot easier to create and control on a VGA monitor than they are on the big screen. Wing Commander showed that when you took the pithy bitmapped Kilrathi and turned them into latex Halloween masks - the only real villain remaining is the movie itself.

Weak Game Writing
Let's accept the fact that largely - game writing sucks. It's generally an afterthought behind sound assets and marketing material. There are discernable exceptions of course - but Doom wasn't doing itself much good when it's most iconic character is a nameless space marine. Note that the common trend of a "tabula rasa" main character does nothing to help this fact.

Uwe Boll
Oh yeah, I'm singling him out. The man has done more to set game movie production back than anyone else on the planet. He's given studios a vehicle to schlock cheaply produced films to fans while showing virtually no regard for anything like ... well, quality. I would box Uwe Boll in a heartbeat if he promised to choose a new profession.

Right now I'd say our shining beacon of hope is easily Peter Jackson's Halo. Jackson is a very astute producer and known for being faithful to source material. Bungie loves a well-developed backstory and while the Master Chief is a bit of a blank slate, he's got some personality. And there's always Cortana for character. If Halo can be a done well and sells well - game movies might just get the tournaround they need.

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MTV On "Defcon"

MTV takes a look at the new title from the makers of "Uplink":

"Defcon" came about because, during the development of "Darwinia," Delay got bored. He started messing with a prototype of a game based on that big screen from "WarGames." It was fun enough that Introversion considered releasing it as a "B-side" to "Defcon" and then decided that the concept might be sound enough to be Introversion's third game.

There was eventually that problem with winning a nuclear war in a video game. They've tacked on a timer that ticks down when a set percentage of the world's missiles are fired — a timer that inspires the mad generals playing the game to let loose with a final desperate fusillade — and then tallies the dead.

That kind of morbid endgame might lead some to think "Defcon" is one of those message games or some sort of cousin to "Metal Gear Solid," the king of nuclear-anxiety games. It's not. "We're all in our mid-20s," Arundel said. "When we were getting to 11 or 12, the world was getting better and the Cold War had finished. We had never really been through a time of real nuclear threat."
-- Developer Hopes Nuclear-War Game 'Defcon' Leaves Its Mark

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Thursday, September 28, 2006

Will The iTV be Apple's Game Machine?

Inside Mac Games takes a gander at two opposing sides to the question of whether or not Apple might try to get it's game on with the iTV. I've pondered similar things about the Mac Mini, but if anything Apple's game situation has only gotten worse with time.

Tack onto this that we don't know much about iTV. It might not even be running a OS X. In fact, I kinda doubt it since apparently it's got a tiny internal power supply (no external brick). I'm not sure if it's running a hard drive or flash memory - but I'm guessing it's flash. Considering it's smaller than a Mini and yet requires apparently a lot less power to run and effort to keep cool - I'm guessing the iTV might actually be based more on iPod tech than Macintosh. That's clearly a total guess, mind you, I've only seen screenshots of the darn thing.

At best they might allow iTV to play the new iPod games. I'm not sure how well the controls would translate to, say, the Apple Remote. What would the point really be? For one thing, that 320x240 resolution might look OK on a SDTV - but it would still pale compared to any other game system you could hook up to it. Heck, without multiplayer a Atari 2600 would be a better choice.

Unfortunately while I think Apple is missing out on games - I think they'll continue just that well into 2007.

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Cathode Tan Wonders

When did Joystiq start referring to itself in the third person?

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Lightsaber Versus Starship

My money is on the Falcon, to be honest. From Matt Brett's photostream.

While The Girl was away on business, I made my way to the end of story section of Lego Star Wars II - but of course, that's when the real fun begins. The randomness of Free Play and being able to now cobble your own Lego character can lead to conversations like:

"Who's that?"
"The one wearing Boba's head."
"That's just his helmet. That's Huevo Bandito. Minor character. He's a high plains drifter from Tatooine."
"Huevo Bandito?"
"The Egg Thief?"
"God, you're a dork..."

(end scene)

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Xbox Live Anyone

Then there's the question of demand. Parks Associates surveyed 2,000 gamers with Internet connections, and found that only 18% of all gamers play games on consoles, portables, and cell phones. Of those, 31% would be interested in cross-platform play. "If you are an Xbox loyalist, [Xbox Live Anywhere] expands the value of the service," says Matt Rosoff, an analyst with consultancy Directions on Microsoft. "But it's an incremental thing [in terms of revenue and users]."

Adding PC-to-console playing capabilities may make more sense. Parks Associates' research shows that 40% of gamers who play both console and PC games would be interested in cross-platform play. PC gaming is a huge market, expected to grow from $3 billion worldwide to $9 billion by 2010, according to Microsoft estimates. Microsoft already has a foot in the door with Windows and MSN Games.
-- Microsoft Plays It Cool on Games

I thought Anywhere really seemed like an odd concept, but I completely agree that PC-console makes a lot of sense. While computing might be sneaking it's way out of the study and into the living room ... many of us will still have our boxes under that desk. If an Xbox in the living room and the PC in the den could play against each other ... that would be most sweet indeed.

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2010 Brings Monoliths And Faster Processors

Well, at least the faster processors. 300% faster than our current crop, according to Intel. Damn, if I could just wait to upgrade until then ... that Intel Core Duo I've been eyeing will be like $10.

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Ridge Racer 7 - Best Looking of TGS?

If the Ridge Racer series ever needed a boost, it's right now, and Ridge Racer 7 is like a giant shot of nitrous to the franchise. Running on the show floor, we got to play a single course on the show floor running right off of a PS3 debug unit. And, to our complete surprise, Ridge Racer 7 was playing in full 1080p definition at an astonishing 60 frames per second.

While the gameplay basic driving gameplay in RR7 doesn't really do anything too different from RR6, the graphics are the driving force in this latest edition exclusively for the PS3. With some of the most vibrant colors, amazing real-time shadows and gorgeous reflections, RR7 shines in almost every visual aspect. And the car models just look great.

There were rumors that most games would not make 1080p for launch, but TGS is proving that theory wrong, and Ridge Racer 7 is leading the pack in style.
-- The best-looking games at the Tokyo Game Show

It's odd - just yesterday I was talking with a co-worker about HDTV. He had been by the Sony Store and wasn't precisely impressed. I guess they had some Blu-Ray movie running at 1080P ... and he wasn't terribly impressed. I'd say this suprises me but I remember thinking a similar thing about DVD and home theatre when I was at Best Buy oh so many years ago. In fact, it wasn't DVD's heralded better image that roped me into eventually buying one ... but all the extra features they could cram into a disc.

Some of the screenshots from TGS finally make the PlayStation 3 actually seem like a next-generation machine. Again, though, it's not the price keeping me from a purchase so much as this HDTV thing I'm not quite ready to hop into.

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Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Lego Cheney

From minifig's photostream

I Moved A Square

When I look back on trying to code games as a "bedroom programmer" as I think the term has been coined (which is fine since it makes it sound sooo much sexier than it actually is) ... I really see it as a series of restarts. Even when I was modding I had to rewrite the wheel repeatedly - either because the Unreal codebase had changed on me or I hated what I had already done.

Over the weekend, I got iTunes to draw a square in it's visualizer. That was a bit of a feat. Last night I got keys to make a square go left or right - very shakily at first and a little more smoothly now. Mind you, when I was in the Make Something Unreal Contest, I was coding multiplayer class-based campaign modes.

It's like Bill Hicks used to say: "Funny things change. Today - water. Last week? Heroin."

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Drink Cocaine

Apparently there's a new drink in town:

Sales--and worldwide media publicity--took off after the newspaper wrote a story about the brand, which has none of the illegal substance but more caffeine than a Starbucks Grande coffee and 350 percent more than Red Bull, No. 1 in the $8 billion category. Available in New York and California, Cocaine Energy Drink will be sold on and through its own Web site within the next 10 days. Kirby says distribution in clubs and retail stores will be nationwide by year's end.
-- MediaPost Publications - Cocaine Energy Drink Gets A Real Buzz Going - 09/27/2006

The article also mentions that the company has spent all of $40 on their marketing so far. Course, that might explain why they can't keep their web servers running.

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Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Opera Wii to Support Flash and AJAX

The only confirmed web browser for the Nintendo Wii will be available on the "Wii Shop Channel" for free download until June, when the software will begin selling for an undisclosed price. Supporting Flash and AJAX-based content such as Google maps, the Opera browser will allow users to surf the web with their Wii Remote.
-- The Escapist News Room : Opera Web Browser Free On Wii Until Until June, 2007

I'm assuming The Escapist is reading off of a PR statement and not just rumormill mumblevine crop like we saw right after that last Wii media blitz. Both Flash and AJAX is very good news (although Opera's AJAX has always been a bit flaky for my liking). I'm guessing the Wiimote will act just as a mouse, but I'm not sure I'd rely on any other forms of input (keys, scrollwheels) for those looking to game this up. Still, the mouse is a very user-friendly and ubiqitous for of input - so that's not too bad.

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$85 PS3 Games? Not Buying It

The rumor that is ... although if it turns out to be true - I won't buy the games either. Here's why I think this is bogus:

IGN is sourcing Japanese journalist Munechika Nishida's "multiple information sources" that PS3 games will be between ¥8,800 ($75 USD) and ¥9,800 ($85 USD). Development costs are being blamed for the pricey games.

The article also states that third party developer support is lagging for the PS3 and that Sony will switch to a "traditional business model" where they'll sell the PS3 at a lower price and recoup the money off of software sales.
-- Joystiq: Japanese PS3 games to cost up to ¥9,800 ($85 USD)

Here's the thing - I don't have anything against sourcing the source of a source. I don't get paid to care. But it doesn't add up.

#1 - Charging more for games in reaction to lowering your price because you feared your prime market found it too expenisve is just nuts ... even for Sony.

#2 - Maybe Sony doesn't have the greatest third party support, but clearly they have enough to cobble together a launch library and a decent roll call of upcoming games. That bit sounds more like forum meme than fact (just one of those things that doesn't seem clear cut).

#3 - What kind of news is Sony will switch to a "traditional business model" where they'll sell the PS3 at a lower price ... that's always been the strategy.

So when the guy who wrote something about the guy who heard about the guy doesn't make sense three times in a row ... I'm likely to just toss the whole bit of information out.

That said, I'm sure we'll $70 not too long into the PS3's run. 2008ish maybe?

Update: Looks like the brouhaha was over Japanese prices, U.S. prices to be $60 like just about everyone else these days. To Joystiq's credit, that article does specifically mention that the info was specific to Japan. So while they weren't getting their barrel in shape for the waterfall, this is another example of a lot of people looking for another for rag on Sony.

Poor multinational billion dollar conglomerate. It's OK.

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Vice City Blamed For Deaths

Thanks goes to Winkyboy for sending me this:

Family members of three people slain by a 14-year-old on newsman Sam Donaldson's New Mexico ranch sued the makers of the video game "Grand Theft Auto: Vice City" on Monday, claiming the crimes would not have occurred had the teenager never played the violent game.

The $600 million lawsuit names several companies and Cody Posey, who it alleges played the game "obsessively" for several months before he shot his father, stepmother and stepsister in July 2004. Posey, now 16, was sentenced earlier this year to state custody until he is 21.

The games and others in the "Grand Theft Auto" series depict police killings and other acts of violence. The lawsuit calls various editions of the game "virtual reality murder simulators."
-- Suit blames video game for N.M. slayings (digg it)

Naturally, this is BatJack Thompson's work. Even though his patented video game argument failed miserably in the criminal case of Devin Moore and is barely treading water in the civil case (that would be the case where Thompson's lack of professionalism lost him his temproray Alabama license, btw) - this is a carbon copy of the same nonsense he continues to espouse.

Is sychophant the term for a lower form organism which feeds on the dead? Or is that just a maggot?

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How Gaming Got Its Bad Rap

Somehow, despite evidence to the contrary, games are still seen as the sole providence of teenage boys, at least by the mainstream media. I asked Williams why, and it just so happens he has done research on this as well.
In his research, titled "A Brief Social History of Game Play," Williams recounts that video games began as an adult pastime, with the earliest arcade machines appearing in bars and nightclubs. Even after coin-op games caught on outside dingy watering holes, they were patronized by a mix of ages and ethnicities, and weren't particularly viewed as kids' entertainment.
Crackdown on arcades

According to Williams, the mix of people to be found in arcades was unacceptable to conservatives. During this time, Ronald Reagan was making his White House bid, and games and arcades that contained them became the whipping boys for social ills. Reagan made cracking down on welfare mothers a central issue and "this political agenda (led) to frames about truancy, unsupervised children and the negative influences of electronic media — especially arcades — working as babysitters for unconscionable working mothers."

In the mid-'80s, the collapse of the video game industry virtually wiped games off the map. When Nintendo revived the hobby in the late 1980s, it marketed its machines as toys. That was necessary to get stores to carry the units, since the retail establishment still had a bad taste in its mouth over the video game collapse.

But marketing as a toy necessitated that the software be aimed at a younger age group, a strategy the Big N still hasn't fully outgrown. That solidified the perception in the minds of the public that games were kids' stuff. That focus on children, combined with the demonizing of games, drove away many of the adults who still enjoyed the hobby.
-- Inside Bay Area - How video games became the boogeyman over time

An excellent synopsis of just how gaming got into the frontlines of the culture war. I'm sure I'd have more to say but I'm knee deep in work right now.

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A Fistful of Yen

MTV visits the strange and foreign land of Japan for a little shopping:

Game Hollywood is on the fifth floor of an unassuming building in Akihabara. The sign that something was a bit different about it was a poster for Rockstar's "Warriors" game. The American flags hanging in the store and covering the windows, and the copies of "Halo" on the shelves, were also giveaways. This was material for the underground fans, Rogers explained. "I remember in America, maybe back in the 1990s, people were importing 'Final Fantasy,' " Rogers said. "Now in Japan, people are importing 'Halo' and 'The Warriors' and 'Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.' "

Rogers had the man at Game Hollywood's cash register, who identified himself as Mr. Takasaki, try to explain why American games didn't tend to matter too much. "Japanese people tend to like games that are character games, games about anime characters, role-playing games, that all have the same aesthetic," Rogers translated. "American games tend to be a little more risky. They try a little bit too many different things." Mr. Takasaki had some love for American gaming stuff, of course, but even he didn't own an Xbox 360.

So instead of the kinds of games one might expect to find at GameStop, a tour of Akihabara brought to the fore a phenomenon of a different sort: "Mother 3." America may have been all about Xbox 360 and next-gen hype, but the plain red boxes for "Mother 3" — an emotional role-playing game about a young boy and a cast of strange characters for the Game Boy Advance and a sequel to a title released in 1994 — was the big deal during Rogers' April tour. Commercials played for it on monitors in the major Akihabara game stores Rogers entered. The commercials featured a woman nearly in tears as she described playing the game. Rogers translated the game's slogan: "It was bizarre, it was interesting, and then it was devastating."
Where Does A Game Called 'Mother' Outsell 'Halo'? Check Out Tokyo's Coolest Street

And while you're on the side of the globe, browse through GregT's trip through the Tokyo Game Show:

Speaking of Squeenix fangirls, I don't think I'd quite relished the depths to which Kingdom Hearts pulls at the cosplay-oriented sensibilities of the Japanese female. Standing in line to play Re: Chain of Memories I felt like I'd accidentally stumbled into some secret club available only to those with surplus stocks of oestrogen. Much gushing was made over a huge tapestry canvas featuring the shojo-esque portraits of Kingdom Hearts' pretty, pretty male cast ensemble. There was also some kicking transgender costuming going on. I counted no less than three Soras (two depicted to the left), four Axels, and a Riku, all sporting an apocalyptic attention to detail, and all female.
-- Tokyo Game Show Aftermath

Be sure not to stop at that one post though, he's got a like a jillion.

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Monday, September 25, 2006

FPS Revolutions

The Bioshock gameplay video brought up discussion on first person shooters and their evolution in general. Much shown in Bioshock is actually "old hat". I first heard about individualist task-based AI when Team 17 was talking up their Alien Breed 3D sequel. Gun and player modifications were done justice with Deus Ex and destructible environments are practically buzzword now.

Not saying Bioshock won't rock. Pulling off these ideas well is achievement enough. Still, I don't think it's revolutionary (maybe evolutionary?).

Here's a few list of things I wish shooters would think about:

Get My Hand Out Of My Face
I'm not sure who first thought that people walk around with objects held up to their head - but it's simply not true. Unless I'm actively using something - it's at best held to the periphery of my vision. I understand that many professional marksmen hold their guns to their eyeline to fire ... but when I'm not holding anything I certainly don't wave my fists in front of me.

I don't need the flashlight in my line of sight to know I'm carrying one.

Consider My Health
Halo broke tradition by insisting that perhaps no - you can't carry your pistol, knife, three machines, plasma ray gun and rocket launcher all in your back pocket. Course, Counter-Strike had considered this some time ago and Deus Ex even considered everything in your pack as it pertained to size.

Virtually nobody has tried to bridge in between the "couple shots and your dead" philosophy of games like Counter-Strike and Action Half-Life with the "this magic box will heal all wounds" of nearly everyone else. Again, Deus Ex came close - with Action HL style damage zones but Quake style powerups. I'd actually like to see someone do the reverse - weigh so that maybe your kneecaps won't get blown off but it's more complicated than simply picking up a syringe to get healed.

This Bustling City Of Empty
Shooters have increased the number of particles, polygons, explosions and crates that they'll render to screen - but we still get the same number citizens and other neutral parties. Heck, we've gotten even fewer monsters since the days of Doom. Our virtual worlds have gotten more photorealistic - but less life-like. Or at least less lively.

And old modder friend of mine, the Evil Dr. Wong, had taken up the charge to play with this aspect and lemme tell you - it can have a real impact. It's a lot easier to believe that everything around you has gone to hell when people are running around screaming.

The "sole warrior against a hoarde of enemies" was interesting for Doom. It's gotten pretty old since then. Sure, games like the Medal of Honor series and even Halo at least represent comrades and arms. Even back in Marathon they were trying to trump up the "solo warrior" motif ... but it's time to move even past that. Games like Half-Life 2 move in the right direction ... but then it still always ends up being Gordon alone in some hallway.

That's all for now. I'm sure there's more. Heck, that's not even thinking about simply multiplayer mechanics.

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Do We Still Want 40 Hours Of Play?

I think the first time I heard the notion that "games should deliver at least 40 hours of play" was when I was getting a copy of Ocarina of Time. Later, I was talking to a industry insider friend of mine about how short I found one game ... and he responded that they didn't think people wanted week long bouts of content anymore. An aspect of the aging gamer market is that we have less time to devote to finish epic storylines.

Wired just posted an article on the same note:

At some point, I sadly realized I just couldn't afford any more time. I've got a life to lead: Books to read, a day job, my infant son to hang out with, other games beckoning. That's why I've collected a shockingly large mausoleum of unfinished games over the years. Kingdom Hearts II? Stopped halfway. Kameo? Three-quarters through. Enchanted Arms? Eh -- I'm this close to bailing out.

All of which makes me wonder: Who the heck actually finishes a story-based game in 40 hours? Who are these mythical 40-hour gamers?

They certainly exist. Whenever I wander onto the boards at 1UP or Penny Arcade, they're crammed full of hard-core gamers bitching in all caps about how the games these days are too easy, too sucky and over way too quickly. They have the precise opposite problem as me. Dude, I spanked that game in, like, nine hours. What's your problem?
-- The Mythical 40-Hour Gamer

First, I can sympathize with Clive. I always take longer to finish games than it seems the rest of the gamesphere. I'm very much the sightseer player - I'll hang around environments just to poke at the scenery. I rarely resort to cheats or guides so puzzles and boss fights can sometimes hang on for days. Plus - I'm actually pretty busy. If I can squeek out an hour or so to game a night, I'm lucky.

Still, I like the epic games. Well mostly. Here's my modern day requirements for feeling the need to finish a game:

1) Gameplay that doesn't grind you down. I don't have a lot of time for frustration. I certainly don't have time for inane puzzles or worse - puzzles that I know the solution but can't solve because your jumping physics suck or you expect pixel perfect reflexes.

2) Fresh content. Resident Evil 4 did this almost perfect. Just when the scenery or monsters seemed to get old - they would throw something new at you. Goldeneye: Rogue Agent did this horribly. Super powers don't cover up shooting the exact same henchmen over and over again.

3) A story. Preferably a good one. Now this is optional if the above two are accomplished with enough fervor. Shadow Of The Colossus had very little story to it ... but I'd play that game to the ends of the Earth. Lego Star Wars I was based on three movies I hated, but I played it to death.

The short version is that there has to be something to look forward towards in order to justify loading that game time and time again. MMO's survive largely on #2. Actually, #2 is usually the favorite. Is this because the other two are much harder?

Possibly - and therein lies the answer why we will likely see less and less 40 hour games. Content costs development money and in this generation of games ... often a lot of development money. If they can push them, developers are much more comfortable with a tight core gameplay that doesn't need to change up, a decent story to hum along and enough to content to suffice half of the old axiom.

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Apple "Clearing Up" Home Entertainment?

There's something very wrong with this rah-rah piece on Apple's strategy for home entertainment ... it doesn't mention games. Not once. It talks a lot about how Apple is stepping up their home theatre technology and move the Mac brand more into viewing position with products like iTV ... but apparently it takes the snapshot view of the future which doesn't include gamers in the living room.

This is contradictory to facts, of course. Gamers are a widening demographic. Consoles are becoming the forefront of gaming - not home computers. Meanwhile, Apple seems mostly concerned with games on the iPod. Games developed by a select few developers at that.

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Sunday, September 24, 2006

For Sunday: Bendito Machine

Two civilizations summon the gods in this peculiar game of king of the hill. Who will come out on top? Bendito Machine is not only a deep meditation on the precarious nature of human evolution, it's pretty damn funny too (there's even a sexy hot tub party and some weird four-legged creature who craps all over the place).
-- AtomFilms - Bendito Machine