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Friday, June 15, 2007

Another Microsoft Launch, Another Viral Campaign

Ilovebees was hip, clever and fun. Now that it's become practically an expected part of nearly any major Microsoft launch - is it me or is becoming a bore?

Well that's just weird

Christians selling Doom? Someone call the Church of England!

Batman: Dark Knight's Gotham Police Car

It's rather rare I get to be on the cutting edge of movie information, but when they film a scene from Batman: The Dark Knight a block away, it's not too hard. Not that I got any kind of interesting scoop out of the deal, but at least the below image of the side logo on a Gotham police car:

We drifted past where they were actually shooting, didn't see much and some young production assistant asked forcefully if I wouldn't take any pictures. Ah, Hollywood is so exciting.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

The Church's Perspective

I just think it's sad that a church is so focused on a game.

I'm not one to trivialize games as media, of course. But let's get a little perspective here.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Church On Shaky Ground And Wrong Path

Speaking of The Escapist:

According to Alex Chapman of Campbell Hooper Solicitors, there is a provision in the United Kingdom's 1988 Copyright Designs and Patents Act which states that representing certain artistic works that are on public display, including buildings and sculptures which are "permanently situated in a public place or in premises open to the public," is not a copyright infringement.

"Therefore, the inclusion of the Cathedral in the game could not be considered to be an infringement of any copyright on it," Chapman declared, adding that since copyright on a work expires 70 years after the death of its creator, it is also very unlikely that the Cathedral has any copyright remaining on it at all.

He explained to The Escapist's Andy Chalk: “Pubic buildings are generally fair game for inclusion in videogames, films, etc., and it is something that their owners just have to accept."
-- Church on the wrong track in suing Sony over war-game, says lawyer

This is from Ekklesia, a British Christian think tank. They continue on to say:

"When Canterbury Cathedral complained about featuring in a war-game last year, we wrote to the Dean and chapter suggesting that they should use it as an opportunity to promote a positive message about peace-building and reconciliation, rather than getting into an unseemly and probably unwinnable legal case. Similar principles apply in this situation.”

Barrow added: “Using the publicity to focus on tackling gun crime is a positive move. Similarly, the Cathedral could ‘rebrand’ its public space by mounting an exhibition on initiatives in global non-violence. There is also an opportunity for the Church to reconsider its own image - Cathedrals are stuffed full of military images, so they cannot claim that being associated with war and violence is entirely alien – though arguably it should be.”

In short - yup.

Escapist On Oblivion's Breasts

Seriously. Remember that time the ESRB re-rated Oblivion? The Escapist sure does:

A modder unaffiliated with the game's developers, working on her own time, manipulated art assets in the game, rendering female characters topless, and distributed her work over the internet. It was an act beyond Bethesda's control but to the ESRB objectionable content is objectionable content, and it needed to be weighed, measured and rated.

The ESRB's decision incensed industry insiders, perplexed onlookers and gave politicians a jumping-off point for continued assaults on the industry's integrity. Looking back, there's a reason the incident didn't make bigger headlines: The news dropped in May, just a week before the last real E3 event, and there were bigger stories to cover that month. But with player-centric content vehicles like LittleBigPlanet and PlayStation Home on this year's docket, last year's ESRB decision may prove to be the gift that keeps on giving for an already beleaguered industry.
-- The Escapist - The Breasts That Broke The Game

Michael Zenke continues on a similar path I've hit on before - you can't punish the publishers and developers for modders taking advantage of a mod friendly framework. John Romero might think you can, but he developed Daikatana.

Mods have been around before friendly frameworks. Fact is - if people want to modify a product they've purchased ... they will. If it's just software or even an innocent toaster.

Gaming Father's Day

Gamasutra is apparently running a series of interviews with game developer dads (via Inside Mac Games). See also the old Cathode Tan interviews with Jeff Freeman of Sony Online and Andrew Bub of fame.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Time Shifting Confuses Jericho Ratings

Fans did their best to save ‘Jericho’, even sending CBS 25 tons of peanuts. And CBS reversed its decision, though only for 7 episodes. But they do so with a plea: don’t time-shift it!
-- Want to Keep ‘Jericho’ on the Air? CBS Pleads with you not to Tivo It

Apparently the time shifting threw off CBS' initial tallies for the show. Wonder just how badly Neilsen is keeping up with the new technology after all - and how much I can blame that on my Studio 60 getting canned!

A Miss Universe For Heroes?

Tokyomango points out that Heroes might get prettier face:

Less than a month after being crowned Miss Universe, Riyo Mori is hoping to land another job _ a role on the NBC sci-fi series "Heroes.""As soon as I won Miss Universe I had this big chance," Mori said in an interview Monday. "I've never acted before. I went to the casting audition and read a script in English and Japanese, and they said it was really good. So I hope I can be in the show."

Mori said the role of Yaeko would be a love interest for one of the main characters on "Heroes."
-- Miss Universe Hoping for `Heroes' Role

Why Safari For Windows

Wired's Cult Of Mac asks who would really want Safari on Windows since the OS X version, as they say, "sucks".

The answer is simple: Apple does. They want it for the same reason they put iTunes on the platform - to increase the size of a demographic with better access to a consumer device. Can you imagine the iPod's success without iTunes for Windows? Safari for Windows may certainly not be nearly as instrumental, but since it will be your testbed for writing iPhone widgets - why wouldn't Apple put it out there? They don't care about getting a few more browsers hits here and there, they want access to the deep pocket of Windows based web developers.

Granted Safari's beta crashes at the sight of a proxy and may snap a few widgets - but the rational seems clear.

I just wonder if they'll port Dashboard. Imagine being able to write a Web 2.0 widget for Windows, Mac and iPhone.

Big Online Prize? Big Online Hacks.

CNBC said Wednesday that it was investigating claims that people playing its online "Million Dollar Portfolio Challenge" may have engaged in "unusual trading."

The idea — besides drumming up publicity — was to teach the contestants that CNBC called "aspiring moguls" how to trade stocks, not how to be at the center of Wall Street's next financial scandal.About 375,000 people entered the competition, which started in March, creating more than 1.5 million mock portfolios of stocks they bought with "CNBC Bucks."

Although stock picks were made with fake money, the $1-million prize will be the real thing."There are always going to be cheaters. You can try your best to make it fair for everyone, but sometimes a few people are going to try to find ways around it," said Timothy Sykes, a hedge fund manager and blogger who offered players advice during an evening feature that aired regularly on CNBC. (The feature had a decidedly light air. One night, according to a video clip on Sykes' website, three female models helped him by holding up signs of stock charts. "Suddenly, I feel woefully overdressed," that evening's CNBC host, a woman, said as Sykes introduced the models.)

Several contestants complained that trades made by some of the 20 finalists violated contest rules, CNBC said in a statement, and the channel then launched an investigation.
-- CNBC probes stock-game claims | Chicago Tribune

Remember The Da Vinci Code Contest? Or specifically how the final solutions were posted online as people finished them? Apparently there was a winner, although you basically have to e-mail Sony (as per the contest rules) for them to cough up a name. There was never any word on how the cheating was handled, if at all, or the prizes handed out.

Here's the thing about such concepts: security is hard. I wore a security hat for about three months at a large insurance company and I gotta tell you - it's nerve wracking dealing with those crazy intertubes. The thing is - the client is so incredibly untrustworthy and you have no choice but to deal with it. Can it say, take screenshots and upload them where you don't want them? Oh yeah. Worse, with the say the stock game, the Internet provides a distributed method for cheaters to organize. It's possible stock numbers were inflated just by coordinated purchases via networks of family and friends.

A friendly note from a long time gamer to companies going down this road: there will be cheaters, and there will be griefers. There always have been. There always will be. If you wave money around, there will be more. Plan well, plan ahead and good luck.

Can Id Give Apple Gaming A Boost?

In a strange but ultimately attention-grabbing move, John Carmack chose the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference to officially reveal Id's new games engine, 'Id Tech 5', which promises an end to texture memory constraints and "virtually unlimited visual fidelity" - you can read more of this posturing at the official Id site.

Id is developing its own title to premiere the technology, which will support Mac, PC, PS3 and Xbox 360. Tech 5 will also be available to third-party developers.
-- Id reveals Tech 5 engine [Guardian]

In related news, The Girl brought home a shiny new MacBook Pro last night. I didn't get too close to it for fear of my extremities, but it looks like a screamer. I haven't seen any specs on that new GPU it is sporting - but I'm guessing it is a darn sight better than the Mini. Possibly faster than my PC, considering the Santa Rosa chipset and all (I'm finding Oblivion is a very CPU hungry game).

Carmack's always had a soft spot for Macs, Doom III is still one of the better flagship titles for platform. The real problem is Microsoft's hold over core technologies like DirectX will constantly be a thorn in the side of developers looking to truly cross-develop. How much of a solution something like Cider will be remains to be seen.

Still, if Tech 5 runs smoothly on at least MacBook Pro's and above - and is anywhere near as developer friendly as the Doom III engine was, with its slick scripting concept, then at least Apple will have one more gaming feather in the cap.

Another Quick Vista Rant

After commenting on the last news bit about Falling Leaf trying to get people to buy Vista games in the hopes they'll run at some point on XP - a good question comes up:

What's so wrong with Vista?

Honestly, I don't have anything against Vista. I think it sounds interesting - but it doesn't offer me anything compelling as a user to justify the cost. What do I need any new fancy UI things for? Here is my interaction with my Windows box: I boot, I wait for a desktop, I double click an icon to launch a game.

That's it. So why should I care if windows can float in 3D or spin around or do a little dance? None of the new gaming stuff, like tray and play (or whatever it's called) will make that process any simpler. So there's really only one thing in Vista of interest:

DirectX 10.

And honestly, I haven't seen anything so incredibly compelling about DX10 ... except when Microsoft refuses to make a DX9 version. I wasn't so terribly disappointed in the Lost Planet demo because it didn't use any new shader tricks. I'll be happy to play Unreal Tournament III. I have a relatively stock gaming rig - no powerhouse by any means ... so chances are I'd be dialing back all those fancy features anyway.

No, at the end of the day - Microsoft has packaged nothing of interest to me. And they know it. And that's why they've kicked me to the curb like last week's news. Because if they supported these games, like Halo 2 (and I'm sorry - you can't tell me an Xbox game can't be made to run in DirectX 9 - it only uses DirectX 9 already) and Shadowrun in the same vein as other developers will be doing for users for years to come, then they might not sell as many Vista copies.

There is no other reason for holding a DirextX 9 title like Halo 2 over the heads of XP users. What's sad is that a company of Microsoft's size would stoop to these tactics. Won't Best Buy sell them enough Vista discs this year? Do they really need to kick me around in order to get a few more?

Apparently. And well, Microsoft, that's why my only OS purchase anytime soon will be Leopard.

Monday, June 11, 2007

As Promised

The caption is grand:

Stormtrooper: "Show me your melon buns"
Shop assistants: "(with a wave of the hand) You dont need to see our melon buns"
Stormtrooper: "I insist (points blaster)"
Shop assistants: "OK you win!"
-- Akiba Trooper

This guy has a whole section about being a StormTrooper in Japan. Honestly I was leaning to something like kid Batman playing Guitar Hero or a really cheap Metroid costume, or even just your standard cute girl in a cat costume ... but didn't feel like going around Flickr's annoying "spaceball" cover today.

When Homophobia Helps Terrorists Win

I'm sorry. Everyone knows I try to keep politics off this blog. I rarely talk about it because this is supposed to be a more light-hearted, entertaining fare.

But honestly - this is too dumb for words, too scary, too irrational:

Today's New York Times has a an op-ed piece by Stephen Benjamin, a former US Navy Arabic translator, what the military calls a "linguist". He volunteered for the Navy, went to the Defense Language Institute to learn Arabic, and was ready and willing to go to Iraq. He never got there. Why? Because military snooping on IM exchanges between Benjamin and his roommate revealed that they are gay, as a result of which he was discharged from the Navy.

As we have discussed before on a number of occasions, the US military badly needs people with Arabic language skills. Discharging those they have merely because they are gay is stupid. Both the success of other armed forces in incorporating gay soldiers and polls of US forces indicate that it will not lead to the alleged problems of unit cohesion that constitute the only halfway credible argument against allowing openly gay soldiers.

Benjamin's account also reveals that the US is not following its announced policy of "Don't ask, don't tell.". Mr. Benjamin was not open about his gayness. He was exposed by government snooping. Apparently the administration believes that pandering to the distaste of social conservatives for homosexuality is worth the lives of American soldiers. That's a funny way of supporting the troops.
-- Don't Ask, Don't Translate [Language Log]

When your fears over what a man does in private with another man risks the security of a nation - something is wrong.
And if those fears are founded in your religious belief, you've already missed the boat when trying to wage a war against religious fanaticism. Heck, you've missed the whole damn ocean.

Again, apologies for the interruption. I'll try and find a humorous picture of someone in cosplay to amend.

Lego MMO? Yes, please.

The LEGO Group has confirmed that an MMO based in the Lego universe is under development, and is expected to be on store shelves by Christmas of 2008. The new MMO is being developed by NetDevil. Most recently, NetDevil delivered Auto Assault, which received a less-than-enthusiastic response from players and reviewers.

LEGO Universe will build on the franchise's success in the Star Wars Lego games developed by Traveler's Tales. "LEGO Universe ties together all aspects of our community and line of products in an online environment that can be enjoyed by LEGO fans of all ages. By merging the online world of social interaction with the LEGO concept of play, LEGO Universe will provide our community with an entirely new way to experience LEGO and connect with other players in a fun and imaginative setting," said Mark William Hansen, Director of Business Development, LEGO Universe.

Early reports are that the game will include character advancement, lots of community and social features, and that it will be a child safe MMO alternative for those younger gamers who aren't quite ready to tackle hacking and slashing.
-- LEGO Goes MMO With LEGO Universe

Back when I spent a decent amount of my quality time discussing mod possibilities with other like-minded people, one of the ideas tha would come up every so often was a "construction" gametype = where there would the ability to build walls and buildings from basic blocks and then invite people to come knock them down. OK, so it was something of a "construction" "deconstruction" gametype.

Still, I wouldn't mind a little virtual online world which was little more than a playground of Lego blocks. Now, if it turns out to be little more than an massively multiplayer version of the Lego Star Wars style of play - I wouldn't be terribly disappointed, but not nearly as thrilled either.

The Church Against Sony

Entertainment company Sony may be the target of a legal action by the Church of England, for featuring Manchester Cathedral in a computer war game.

The controversial game is Sony Playstation’s ‘Resistance: Fall of Man’, which features gun battles inside the cathedral without permission from the Church.

The game has been highly popular, with more than a million copies being sold, however, the featured shoot-out in the cathedral shockingly kills hundreds of soldiers in a virtual version of the holy building.

The Church of England has called for an apology from the game makers, and has called for the game to be removed from shops, saying that if this is not done it would consider legal action.
-- Church of England to Sue Sony for Illegal Gun Fight in Cathedral

OK, for one thing I am so tired of everyone's solution to a beef they have with games being to remove them completely. It's idiotic and honestly a huge sign of the fact that games are still considered the second class media of culture. I mean this isn't even calling for a boycott, as most organizations would do against say, a film - but rather the insistence that whatever problem said group has with said game is valid enough that nobody on the planet should be allowed access to it.

Which of course - is never true. Here we once again have a group capitalizing on a game for self-promotion. Does anyone actually, honestly believe that a shootout in a game depicting a futuristic alternate reality will lead or hinder gun control here in the real world? That's like saying Children of Men will lead to less birth control because hey - it's not like the world is having babies anyway.

This constant myth that gamers are unable to discern fiction from reality is insulting at best.

I'm not entirely sure what legal ground the Church has here - this is definately a dark little corner of copyright/trademark law. I would think that Manchester Cathedral being something of a public space would mean that in some sense the likeness is in the public domain - but I'm not sure. So the flip side here is that if they have any kind of legal traction when it somes to trademark protection, I suppose I can understand in some small sense the stance.

But it is still a lousy and irrational way to take the stance.

More On Oblivion

I spent a large portion of yesterday in Cyrodiil. We had been up late with Guitar Hero the night before, so this kind of virtual vacation was a good way to recoup. I'm still majorly impressed with the level of just pure tweaking which has gone into this game - I can't imagine the number of notes which they must have taken between Morrowind and now. Morrowind was good, but this game is improved in about a thousand subtle little ways - most of which you'll barely notice. I mean, just the whole aspect of levelling up feels less "gamey" - even though I still run and jump nearly everywhere I feel less like I'm just trying to beat stats in general and more like I'm simply playing. Tiny aspects of melee feel like they went over a complete overhaul (not just the obvious active block but things like stuns and recoils).

At one point I pickpocketed a Bandit Ringleader before backstabbing. That's how a Pirate Lord rolls. For the most part, the custom class is holding up quite well. Basically a mage with stealth, blade and speechcraft skills. It's a pretty good self-sustaining class, because I can heal without resting (takes a while), create potions to sell off, pick my own locks and talk people into giving me stuff for cheap. Everyone seems to like a Pirate Lord - at least with enough jabber.

I can't tell if the speechcraft minigame is brilliant or annoying. There is something genius about the design - which has you trying to hit larger aspects of a rotating discs on types of talk the NPC enjoys. Some like jokes more than boasting, for instance. What's odd is that you have to use all four kinds of talk - so you end up with the NPC riffing a series of odd statements. Mechanically it works great, but listening makes it seem like you're having a conversation with a wind-up toy with Torretts.

Still, the Elder Scrolls games are one of the few that gives off such a grand sense of scale. More like Elite than Ocarina of Time - most of the time your "mission" is simply to see what is going on over that hill. The "radar" system is great because it doesn't require you to wander aimlessly pass the same cave five times.

Later I'll probably play around with a few of the mods and report back. For now it's just a major time suck. Haven't coded anything since Thursday.

As of the announcement, Bethesda had been working on Oblivion for 2 years, since 2002,[25] just as Bethesda was finishing up with Morrowind.[26] In the same timeframe, Bethesda's Elder Scrolls team was split in two: half, mostly designers and artists, were sent to work on Morrowind's expansions; and the rest, mostly programmers, were sent to work on technology for Oblivion.[13] The team's goal then was, in the words of executive producer Todd Howard, to "create the quintessential RPG of the next generation", with a focus on a "combination of freeform gameplay and cutting-edge graphics."[6] Producing for next generation machines, rather than a cheap upgrade, gave Bethesda an additional four years of development: four years that "all but guaranteed" a punctual launch alongside the Xbox 360, four years that offered room for Bethesda to start from scratch.[27] Howard describes this as an aspect of Bethesda's greater goal of "Reinvention", where the team's goal is to make "a new game that stands on its own, that has its own identity"