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Thursday, April 26, 2007

Arrested For Writing

Allen Lee, an 18-year-old straight-A student at Cary-Grove High School, was arrested Tuesday near his home and charged with disorderly conduct for an essay police described as violently disturbing but not directed toward any specific person or location.

The youth's father said his son was not suspended or expelled but was forced to attend classes elsewhere for now.

Today, Cary-Grove students rallied behind the arrested teen by organizing a petition drive to let him back in their school. They posted on walls quotes from the English teacher in which she had encouraged students to express their emotions through writing.

"I'm not going to lie. I signed the petition," said senior James Gitzinger. "But I can understand where the administration is coming from. I think I would react the same way if I was a teacher."

Cary Police Chief Ron Delelio said the charge was appropriate even though the essay was not published or posted for public viewing.
-- Student writes essay, arrested by police [Chicago Tribune]

I heard about this on NPR on the way in. Incredibly scary that a kid could get 30 days in the slammer for simply handing in his homework. This essay wasn't made public anywhere - and yet he is charged with the same crime as someone pulling a fire alarm in a crowded theater. If the essay wasn't directed at anything or anyone in particular - what precisely were they trying to defend?

Sometime people need to stop treating everything as a crime. How is a trip to the therapist or a conference with a parent not the more rational, reasoned response? If Lee was a real danger (and every indication is that he is not) - would a criminal charge even work as a deterrent? I don't see how.

Lost: D.O.C.

If Lost can continue this pace through the next season, I'd almost be willing to forgive the blunders of the past. Just excellent work. I'm busy as hell, so I'm going to highlight just a few things.

Did Sun get Jin into his role as enforcer?
It sure seems like it. Borrowing money from Dad got Jin in debt without him knowing or wanting. Sun didn't realize just how much of an impact it would have on Jin and that's when everything spiraled out of control for them. This was one of the few flashbacks which was not only connected to the island story, but was almost more interesting than the island story. And in part because it builds on what we already know about the couple. Engaging stuff.

Sun's affair and her redemption
Once again redemption rears its head on the island (which, considering the past ... does not bode well for Sun). Sun is happier knowing that her child is Jin's even if it puts her at grave risk. Is this why the island wants Charlie dead? Has he redeemed himself enough?

Juliet, the reluctant villain
Juliet's character is clicking on several levels. Her interaction with Sun was honest and deep. She's clearly intent on betraying them all, of course, presumably because Ben continues to promise a reunion with her sister. She hates to do it - but oh is she doing it. Does Jack know? He was pretty absent in this episode, so no real insight on if he's playing along or being played. Right now, I'm leaning to the latter. Juliet is very good at this.

Oh and Kate is so pregnant
I'm just certain of it now.

Creepy little hospital
Wonder what else on the island has elaborate secret doors.

Lost in translation
The buzzmill says the parachutist (whose name may be Naomi) said "I am not alone" to Mikhail. Did someone else land on the island? Does Penny join the cast next season? Is that why Desmond's book was found?

Except that the bit about Flight 815 being found and everyone dead - hence igniting a slew of new theories about purgatory and the after life - just doesn't add up. What, Ben can phone the living? Or ... the Others are alive but can see the Losties like some kind of M. Night movie? And the parachutist too? I'm so not buying it. What this seems to be evidence of is that e off island operatives weild a hefty amount of power - something we've already been seeing anyway.

Augmented Reality For PS3

There hasn't been much in way of camera games to get me excited, but seeing something like this gets me pretty curious -

Eye of judgement is a pretty unique game and comes bundled with a camera stand, play mat and a deck of special characters, the USB camera is required for playing. To start with you place the card under the camera which has a unique 2D bar code which is read by the camera and turned into a detailed monster, each monster has its unique strengths and weaknesses. The game is played on a 3x3 map, and your goal is simply to occupy five of the nine squares on the grid simultaneously.
-- Eye of judgement for Playstation 3[]

So that hand and card is real, but the monster is generated by the game. has more pics at the link above. Augmented reality is a weird bastard son of virtual reality - essentially placing virtual object into real environments. While pretty nifty, I haven't seen a lot of applications that would make me thing it wouldn't have a similar future than VR - i.e. mostly a movie prop. This game might sway me a little though.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Jack Thompson For Hire

Jason Della Rocca got hero status from me for calling Thompson an ambulance chaser. Thompson apparently called Jason an idiot and a jackass and challenged Jason to a debate.

What's telling is what transpired afterwards. Thompson will debate - but only for money. Jason writes:

Personally, I’m not interested in getting paid under such a controversy-for-profit model. As you’ll see, my “counter challenge” of coming up toå Montreal to do a free debate at Dawson College (where a school shooting took place last year) was declined by Jack. Oh well.

To his closing remark about being paid to defend the industry, the opposite is more true. In an ironic twist of economic fate, the IGDA is not directly rewarded for getting involved in the censorship/violence struggle. Since any such work cannot be excluded to non-members, and that everyone in the industry benefits from progress, such work is by definition a “collective good”.
-- Massacre Chasers Profiting Most From Fear and Tragedy

Jason posts the priceless email exchange. If you want to debate Jack in public, his first step is for you "to get an agent". That's right - Jack's intellectual conversations begin with having his people talk to your people.

Jack is a tool. He makes his living by being a public figure. I'm glad that Jason chose not to take the money. For one thing, it is pointless to debate things with a guy like Jack because he refuses to stick to little rules like facts and reality (crucial points in many a debate). For another - it is really time for Jack to be out of a job.

Jack Thompson profited off the deaths of innocent people by lying on television. There is no civil stage to put him on anymore (if there ever was).

Major Heroes Spoiler Online

I can’t take credit for this — several regular readers sent me email this morning about it — but it appears the online graphic novel version of “Heroes'’ has given away a fairly significant plot twist involving this Monday’s episode and the final race to stop the destruction of New York City.
-- Who is the bomb man on “Heroes'’? [Mercury News]

Said graphic novel can be found on NBC's site. I haven't looked yet.


A Thumbs Up For Roger Ebert

Kottke notes that some people have suggested Roger Ebert should stay away from his own festival, due to his post cancer treatment appearance.

Roger says to hell with that. Now, I've never been a huge fan of Ebert's work in general, but good for him. If he feels he has the mind (and, as he puts it, thumb) to attend ... well anything at all ... then dear golly sweetcakes he should. The only shame would be on those who would turn a cancer survivor's appearance into a tabloid article. Culture shouldn't want to put you back into a closet just because you aren't pretty.

And hey, Ebert is attending the most excellent Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago - same place that gave me therapy for my, well somewhat ambigous neck-arm-wrist maladay. Have fun in Lincoln Park, Roger - the weather is getting nice out there.

Some Irony With XNA

I was just browsing the FAQ on Microsoft's XNA studio when I ran across this again:

Q: What versions of Windows does XNA Game Studio support? I'm running Windows Vista, can I run XNA Game Studio Express?
A: Right now XNA Game Studio Express is only designed and tested for Windows XP SP2. Windows Vista and Windows Server 2003 are unsupported platforms, although we are working on bringing Vista support in a future update.
-- XNA Frequently Asked Questions

I've drifted through these answers before - but the irony of this fact didn't click with me the first time. Microsoft's vaunted Games For Windows program, a Vista only feature set which the New York Times believes will help revitalize the PC gaming world, should help merge the worlds of the Xbox 360 and the PC world.

For Vista users.

But wait, if us XP users aren't even worthy of playing Halo 2 ... why is it we are the only ones allowed to code XNA? In other words if I wanted to be a part of Microsoft's new gaming initiative in all it's glory - to cross-develop 360 and PC games AND play with Xbox Live on both a computer and console ... I'd need three installations. A 360, Vista and XP.

Nice. If Microsoft is still tied to XP enough that it is an intergral part of XNA - I don't see why Games For Windows shouldn't include XP as well. What's good for the goose, right?

More evidence that Games For Windows is primarily a marketing sham.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

When The Media Wakes Up To Jack Thompson

I suppose it was inevitable. Sooner or later Jack would say something so incredulous that when no evidence at all would support him, the media outlets would finally question him.

Meanwhile, authorities released a search warrant listing the items found in Cho's dorm room. Not a single video game, console or gaming gadget was on the list, though a computer was confiscated. And in an interview with Chris Matthews of "Hardball," Cho's university suite-mate said he had never seen Cho play video games.
-- Were video games to blame for massacre?

Which leaves the door wide open for such a quote as this, just a bit down in the same piece:

"It's so sad. These massacre chasers — they're worse than ambulance chasers — they're waiting for these things to happen so they can jump on their soapbox," said Jason Della Rocca, executive director of the International Game Developers Association.

And from, what almost amounts as a confession from the media:

How does this happen? Unfortunately, I have some insight. In a previous life as a news reporter covering courts, I remember the strong temptation to go to lawyer Gloria Allred for quotes. Sure, half of what she said sounded like blathering nonsense, but she was so easy to get on the phone before deadline.

But the Thompson situation is infinitely worse, because his misinformation mostly goes unquestioned by anchors who clearly know nothing about video games. Most just nod their heads gravely or don't seem to understand what he's saying. And while Allred is one of many lawyers who offer opinions on legal issues, when it comes to video games, Thompson's seems to be the solitary number in the mainstream media's massacre-coverage Rolodex.

All of this is a shame, because it sets back important debate. There are real video game issues that need to be discussed intelligently, including the industry's confusing ratings system, minors interacting with adults in online games -- and, yes, the level of violence in Mature-rated games.

-- Another tragedy, another platform for video game fearmonger

This is what I wrote in September of last year (after the Kimveer Gill shootings):

Remember, Devin Moore was a "someone who loved trouble, stealing cars and dabbling in drugs", according to his own father. Not some straight-A student who suddenly fell into a den of evil video games. None of these examples - not Columbine, not Devin and not Gill - have any indication that either the people involved were anything but unbalanced regardless of the kind of media they enjoyed.

Focusing on these extreme sensationalistic cases isn't good for either side. It demonizes gamers and drowns out the legitimate science. There are studies that video games can be inappropriate for children ... either because of content or quantity. However by trying to make a good parenting issue into a mental health or crime prevention one ... everyone loses out.

Course, I keep saying this over and over. The media could care less, though, because they're out for the sensational story. Politicians could care less because they just want to look like they care about the children. Jack Thompson could care less because he's insane.
-- Cathode Tan

Perhaps after the pundits (I include you, Dr. Phil) realize just how off the mark this was - they can realize the wicker man they've been creating out in the field. Fox can't consider it a serious news outlet and Jack Thompson a "school shooting expert" at the same time. Either you report the truth or you report sensational nonsense. It's time to draw the line in the sand.

This kind of misinformation and the connected attention whoring by the likes of Thompson is an insult to journalism, to gamers and to Virginia Tech and all the other victims of shootings trivialized and marginalized by somebody's media crusade. And not in that order.

The time to stop was about two years ago, actually. It's good to see a little catch up being made though.

Thanks to Patrick and GamePolitics for the links.

Driver For 360 Controller On OS X

I have created a USB driver which allows you to use wired XBox 360 Controllers via USB, and wireless XBox 360 Controllers via the Microsoft Wireless Gaming Receiver for Windows, on your OSX machine, including support for the Apple Force Feedback library. The driver is licenced under the GPL.
-- - Mac OS X driver [via Engadget]

That's completely awesome. I may be tempted to pick up a 360 Controller now, if I can get one that works on both Windows and OS X. Standardized controller anyone? We could do worse than the 360's design, that's for sure.

Heroes: .07%

Last night saw the return of new episodes for Heroes and the show definately kicked things off in a very strong way. Gone is the backpedalling of narratives - now we get just short, concise recaps or slight rewinds of previous scenes. Even the weird city hopping effect is a thing of the past. The show is maintaining a tight focus on the characters themselves and the cast is beginning to feel more like an ensemble and less like a rabble.

Course, much of that was becoming true prior to the hiatus, it's just good to see that no steam has been lost. I kinda thought the show was overhyped in the beginning but now have some serious faith in it.

My only beef was have Shuresh walk away from Sylar while Sylar was knocked out. Given how powerful, dangerous and psychotic he is - why do people insist on not clubbing him repeatedly when he's knocked out? I do like Psychic's Cop role in the story at this point, a definite improvement from his previous job as domestic whiner.

Also, Linderman's description of a "good thing" is highly reminiscent of an Alan Moore storyline - cause a major event which appears to be a catastrophe in the hopes of installing new faith and leadership. Anyone who saw the recent V for Vendetta (or better yet, read the book) will know what I mean. I suppose that's a good thing on it's own ... if someone is going to be borrowed from for a comic plot - Moore is a good way to go.

Movie Watch: Hot Fuzz

We went out Saturday for The Girl's birthday and saw Hot Fuzz. If you're reading this and you haven't seen Shaun Of The Dead, stop now and go rent it. Hot Fuzz does for vigilante cop movies what Shaun did for zombie flicks. Few other directors or production teams can take a genre and so lovingly parody it. The training scenes of Kill Bill come to mind - three parts homage and one part slapstick. You could almost take this film seriously until someone karate chops a grandma in the mouth.

Oh yeah, it's actually quite violent in places. Like Shaun, they don't shy away from the same gore that is a staple of the genre. OK, so maybe gore isn't a huge staple of cop flicks. OK - maybe they just like gore. There's not tons of blood or anything, just a few scenes clearly tossed in for shock value.

Highly recommend and I hope this team is hard at work on another film.

Game Play: Dark Cloud 2 Final Thoughts

Dark Cloud 2 went back to GameFly in an unfinished state. That was kind of sad for me considering the number of hours I had poured into the title. Unfortunately, while so much of this game is gold, the end chapter just somewhat falls apart. All the work you've done up to a point suddently feels meaningless and you're forced to revisit all sorts of old dungeons only with hugely more difficult monsters. This means the game really, really wanted me to go and replay old levels to grind up all my weapons before advancing into the final boss fight.

In other words, not much new for a lot of work. It is a great game and has many mechanics I wish new games would steal from, but I didn't have the patience for that last push.

Game Play: Bully

I didn't play much of Bully before putting it back into the GameFly envelope. It wasn't that it was bad - actually there would seem to be a decent amount of good in the title. The graphics are pretty decent for a PS2 title. There's this level of immersion to the school that kind of feels like Rockstar. The premise is handled well - a game about a horrific school that enforces the boundaries and restrictions of a school from class bells to truant officers.

No, it's not that Bully is a bad game - its just that it made me reminiscent about Grand Theft Auto a little too much. I didn't really want the boundaries of a school, I wanted the open roaming of a vast cityscape. That Bully rides ontop of GTA's engine is apparent in just about everything - from the UI to the fact that various gang will hunt you down for being on their turf. I know a lot of people defended Bully as "not another GTA" - but c'mon, it really was. And not being violent? Please. I beat the snot out of like five kids just trying to make it through the tutorial. Just because you don't get an AK doesn't mean it isn't violent.

I feel a little bad because I always thought Rockstar should expirement with the GTA framework for non-GTA titles. Instead of a gang story, put it into a sci fi, fantasy or western setting ( i.e. Gun ). Rockstar has done amazing work with the "sandbox" concept and they should spread their wings a little wider.

But kinda like that one novel from an author you fairly like, Bully was good but simply didn't grab me. I'd recommend it as a rental for sure - and definately for fans of GTA.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Find A Game In MeatSpace

Barcade lets you search for arcade that might be lurking around you [via insertcredit]. It's not crazy effective as of yet, those wanting a slick Google Map Web 2.0 experience will be disappointed. However, as The Girl can attest, when you're hunting those rare pinball machines - you'll take any tool you can get.

NY Times (Overly) Optimistic On PC Gaming

The New York Times just published an article about how PC games are bouncing back:

Anita Frazier, an industry analyst for the NPD Group, a market research firm, noted that in the first two months of 2007, domestic retail sales of PC games reached $203 million, a 48 percent increase over the $136.8 million in the period a year earlier. She noted that these figures do not include revenue generated by PC game sales online, or online subscriptions to play PC games.

“Yes, it does look like a fluke, doesn’t it?” Ms. Frazier said. “Rest assured it’s not.”

She said the bulk of this surge in sales is rooted in the role-playing video game genre that, itself, grew 43 percent over the same period last year. “The robust performance we’re seeing in PC game sales can be tied to several key titles across several genres,” she said, “but we’d be remiss not to address the continued success of World of Warcraft.”
-- PC Games, Once Down, Show Signs of Rebound

Ah yes, World of Warcraft. We'll get back to that later. Let's go back to the beginning of the article where the Times uses a 28 year old lawyer as an example of the nouveau PC gamer:

When I was a kid, I used to like Nintendo and used to play on consoles,” said Mr. Kirschner, a 28-year-old lawyer. “But right now I don’t have the time or money to invest in a $400 console and $50 in a game.”

He then buys Civilization IV. Which costs $40 on Amazon right now. Many new games for the PC cost $60. And let's not even talk about how cheap $400 is compared to getting serious about your gaming rig. So I think the cost portion of this quote is something of a non-starter.

The genre is more pertinent. The "new PC gamer" is looking for titles which can be played at random intervals for random periods of time (some would call that casual, I'd say ... sporadic). Console games are often more about sucking you in for at least an hour or so at a time. Although with things like Live Arcade, that's changing as well.

He continues about the kind of games on the PC that, "It’s not just killing unlimited enemies on a screen." Course, the problem here is that many PC games are becoming married to the console format. Even titles which aren't "just killing unlimited enemies on the screen" like Knights Of The Old Republic or Fable get their start on the Xbox and then port over.

Civ IV is just one example of a genre still pretty exclusive to the PC world. The other would be the MMO genre. Which brings us back to World of Warcraft. As I mentioned earlier - MMO's are moving into the console realm at a pretty decent clip. I wouldn't expect WoW to go Xbox on us anytime soon, but what happens when the console market gets it's own World Of Warcraft? I mean, that's essentially the kind of hammer Halo brought down. Sure, GoldenEye proved to many that a console FPS didn't have to suck, but Halo brought online multiplayer into the fray - proving that nearly all the advantages of a PC FPS game were workable on the console.

I mean geez, if Bungie produced a Halo MMO for the 360 - can you imagine the resounding soundwave?

Now let's look at these numbers:

The upsurge comes after some recent reversals. Over all, retail sales of PC-based games in the United States exceeded $970 million in 2006, an increase of about 1 percent of sales the previous year of $953 million, which represented about a 14 percent drop from $1.1 billion in 2004.

By contrast, according to the NPD Group, retail sales for console games in 2006 were $4.8 billion; another $1.7 billion was spent on games for hand-held devices like Sony’s PlayStation Portable.

A one percent increase after a fourteen percent drop is hardly a "reversal". The handheld market eclipses the PC numbers and the console figures simply swallows it whole. Consoles buyers are over four times the size of the PC consumers and let's remember the bonus materials consoles give developers and publishers: much lower rate of piracy, easier hardware footprint and quality assurance.

So how exactly is the PC market poised for a resurgence when the console market still enjoys a far more viable customer base?

Games For Windows is trotted out as one factor. I still don't see how this Vista only offering will make much of an impact in the next few years. The Times then also talks about major gaming rigs like Dell's XPS monster, mentions how it costs over five grand and then finishes with a quote about "the economics of the PC" that “everybody needs a computer.”

Sure, but if the PC gaming market shows anything - it's that not everyone needs a computer to game.

Again, I'm not looking for PC gaming to fail. Many of my fondest gaming memories were on a PC. I would love a PC game revival - but nothing in this Times article adds up to one.

Halo 2 For Vista

Read Tim's opinions on Halo 2 for Vista as a fine example as to why it simply annoys me so much. I rather liked Halo when it came out for the PC, and I'd like to enjoy Halo 2 as well. I can't though without upgrading to Microsoft's latest OS - and OS which doesn't really interest me in the slightest.

None of the gaming features touted for Vista are terribly impressive. Tim notes that "Tray and Play" is kind of neat - but some irrelevant to PC gamers. Installing before playing was just never a big deal (now, issues associated with installations ... like copy protection and such - that's another story ... and Vista, if anything, aggravates those). I'm a big fan of a standardized controller for PC's (and Mac's) - but let's face it ... nobody is going to use the 360 controller for Halo 2 instead of their keyboard and mouse.

And Tim's review of Xbox Live for Windows is hardly glowing. The real kicker? It has driver conflicts because Nvidia is still working out their Vista drivers. XP drivers? Oh yeah, those are fine.

So thanks Microsoft for keeping one of the finer games you've produced as a cheap and ineffective marketing toy. Having been a gamer on Windows XP for all these years, I'll go put some ice on my groin. Thankfully developers like Epic aren't following suit, so I can at least look forward to trying to run some new FPS games on XP.

Wal-Mart And The Mysterious HD Player

Continue with coverage of the format war - let's pose the question ... who is arguably more powerful than porn when it comes to selling movies?

Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart is like a commercial nation all of its own. Remember that the big controversy stemming from getting the dreaded "AO" rating for games comes not even really from being pulled from Best Buy - but from the big W.

So when Wal-Mart decides to make a deal for a super cheap high definition player, someone's format is going to get a big boost.

But whose?

Although the news was initially pegged as a huge boost to the HD DVD camp, closer examination and more accurate translation of Chinese reports indicate that the players for Wal-Mart are “Blu-ray (or blue light) HD DVD” players, adding an extra layer of confusion to the matter. Both next-generation optical formats use blue or violet lasers, so unless the player is to be compatible with both HD DVD and Blu-ray, the exact nature of this low-priced will be unknown until we get official English confirmation.

Wal-Mart spokesperson Mellissa O’Brien would not comment on the apparent deal between the retailer and its Chinese manufacturing partners, but did offer to Home Media Magazine, “[Most] of the shoppers asking about and purchasing either Blu-ray or HD DVD are already pretty savvy technically about both — they are the kind of consumer that absolutely wants the very best and latest in quality that's available. It's not quite yet a product the average shopper is attune too, but we anticipate that will change very soon as prices continue to come down.”
-- Sub-$300 HD Movie Players En Route From Wal-Mart [DailyTech]

Sony could really use a $299 model as Toshiba has already released a $399 player and the 20GB PS3 - the former budget method for getting into Blu-Ray - is being dropped. Course, if this is a Blu-Ray player, a deal like this might have factored into dropping the line. Remember I assumed a price cut of some kind would follow suit with cutting the 20GB from the sku line, I might have just been off by a hemisphere on what kind.

Blu-Ray Takes Early Lead

The first quarter seems to have been a win for Sony's Blu-Ray format:

Of the high-definition discs bought by consumers in the first quarter, 70% were in the Blu-ray Disc format and 30% were HD DVD, according to sales figures provided by trade publication Home Media Magazine.

Blu-ray took the lead in February, and its percentage of total sales accelerated to the point where it accounted for nearly three out of every four high-definition discs sold in March.

What's more, when given the choice, consumers are going with Blu-ray. Warner Home Video released "The Departed" the same day, February 13, in both formats. Between then and March 31, consumers bought 53,640 copies of the film on Blu-ray Disc and 31,590 on HD DVD, according to Home Media's market research, based on studio estimates and Nielsen VideoScan point-of-sale data.
-- Blu-ray burning its high-def DVD rival

Some credit has been given to the PlayStation 3 as well. If these numbers are solid, someone over in Japan is probably smiling right about now. I find it funny when people "feel sorry" for Sony, having the #2 best selling console hardware and just recently the #1 game title (God of War II) and now are apparently getting a lead in what might be the most important format launch they've had in about a decade.

Yeah, boo hoo for Sony.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Tonight on The Simpsons

Marge goes online for the first time and becomes obsessed with a role-playing game that Bart and many of their neighbors are playing.

Marge meets World of Warcraft? Excellent.