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Saturday, October 31, 2009

Modern Warfare 2's "PSA" Funded By "FAGS" (Update)

I couldn't make this up if I tried, people.

As if I didn't just get done decrying Infinity Ward's poor content choices, now we have this fake PSA ad (pulled now).

The PSA portrays the Phillies' Cole Hamel warning against random grenade tossing. It's "sponsored" by the Fight Against Grenade Spam.

Get it? It's sponsored by FAGS. I'm not quite sure what the rationale from Infinity Ward's PR people to toss a homophobic slur so blatantly into what could have been a light hearted ad, but then I again I don't know the reasoning behind having American soldiers willingly partake in mass civilian slaughter is either.

Maybe I'm just not Modern Warfare's core demographic? True, the gay-bashers and the rage-players are two huge groups which make me dread playing with the random public - and since that seems to be what Infinity Ward is marketing towards, I guess I'll stick with other shooters.

Update - Ad has been pulled thanks it seems to some responses ... here and here.

I think the root of all this problem is this response from Infinity Ward's Robert Bowling:

@pkollar I think it was more of a social commentary joke of that stereotype than it was a fist-bump of acceptance to it.
[fourzerotwo twitter]

Word of advice to Infinity Ward: stop trying to make social commentaries. You seem to kinda suck at it. Whether it's commenting about gay-bashing players or sociopathic acts - it's striking derision ... not dialogue.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Modern Warfare 2's Airport Scene - A New Low?

When I first started to hear about Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2's airport scene, I thought - nice PR ploy. Look, we have this scene so violent that we'll make it optional. Cue forum chatter and lots of free advertising.

Yeah. Then I watched it (pulled now). And, um.

What the fsck was that?

I'm not even going to debate whether material like this should be allowed in a game. I don't condone censorship, if Activision and Infinity Ward want to make it ... let them make it. Trying to determine the finer lines of what should be legally distributed and not legally distributed when it comes to virtual violence is a futile, pointless debate.

That's not the same as me agreeing that Activision and Infinity Ward are in the right and there's nothing to discuss. This material is wrong. It's exploitation, it's grotesque sensationalism and has no place as a part of packaged entertainment. Let's get real specific here: this is not Modern Warfare this Modern Selling Games By Being Extreme.

According to Activision and Infinity Ward, I should be OK with this material partially because they make it optional. This is a total cop out. It places the obligation on the player to determine the morality of scene they haven't actually played out. This is them basically saying "We know this is over the top, but that's OK because we made it your choice."

If it's over the top, it shouldn't be part of the game. The player is not the producer here, Activision and Infinity Ward should take responsibility. If they feel so strongly that this material is acceptable - just keep it in the game, no if's and's or but's.

Worse, though, is narrative angle. This is Activision:

Infinity Ward’s Modern Warfare 2 features a deep and gripping storyline in which players face off against a terrorist threat dedicated to bringing the world to the brink of collapse. The game includes a plot involving a mission carried out by a Russian villain who wants to trigger a global war. In order to defeat him, the player infiltrates his inner circle. The scene is designed to evoke the atrocities of terrorism.

And this is Infinity Ward:

The scene establishes the depth of evil and the cold bloodedness of a rogue Russian villain and his unit. By establishing that evil, it adds to the urgency of the player’s mission to stop them...
Infinity Ward: Modern Warfare 2 Airport Scene is Real, Optional[GamerRiot]

Well, it certainly evokes terrorism. And, it certainly establishes evil. What both companies so neatly sidestep, however, is that it plants the player into a character that is a complete sociopath. That the player is, if I'm reading the description of this scene correctly, shooting innocent unarmed civilians in the back as they run screaming from them, pulling others to safety, and destroying an elevator full of people all in the name of justice and The American Way - makes absolutely no sense whatever. It doesn't "add to the urgency to stop them", it makes the player a willing participant in the atrocity. No reasonable character would go through this experience and come out the other side a military hero - there's no good side to this scene, it's just evil carried out by evil people. By playing through this scene, the player is in the role of a a cold-blooded murderer ... the very kind they're likely supposed to be fighting. This isn't narration, it's exploitation.

And let's get realistic here - this is only going forward because this is an A-list franchise with a lot of weight. If it was say, a game mod or a military shooter about Fallujah - we wouldn't be having this conversation, because the material would already be shouted down.

Activision and Infinity Ward should be ashamed and players should move on to better games.

Thanks to goodgaming for multiple tweets on the subject.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Stargate Universe, We Really Need To Talk

So I thought "Darkness" was a slow but at least moderately interesting thanks largely to watching a couple of characters breakdown, especially Rush. The Eli Factor was less annoying, because at least Eli was as surprised as I was that everyone expects him to know everything or solve anything.

But "Light"? Painful. Just painful.

Spoilers abound, this is critique and not review ... so if you haven't watched it, well, you're warned.

A few of the finer points:

Don't expect a sensible viewer to really buy into "everyone is going to die" scenarios five episodes into a new show.

Especially when that scenario includes flying to a massive energy source, and everyone was originally going to die because the ship had no energy and your resident smarty smart keeps talking about how the ship came here "for a reason".

Also five episodes in - the whole "stranded on a hideously boring planet" scenario isn't really going to sell easily. The whole "this planet is full of sand" scenario was kinda dull enough.

So instead of plot or conflict, we're bombarded by video confessionals, in the form of one liners spoken into an alien handycam, a sex scene, a lot of moping around, some background music, and some really fairly nice views of the impending sun.

What we lack is any emotional connection to these characters. Eli gets the most airtime, and he's just annoying as hell. Rush is the most developed, but tuned to be unlikable. Our fearless commander is probably the closest thing to a character I might care about and we know he's destined for martyrdom.

Did any of the characters freak out and try to mutiny? Not really, not in any real way. I half expected Eli and Cute Chick to hook up in their supposed last few minutes - which might have made for some interesting dialogue later ... but no such luck. Maybe the shuttle could have gotten stranded? Oh no, we get an incredibly implausible landing instead.

Right now the show is centered around putting everyone into a horribly doomed scenario that everyone survives. Well, OK, Cute Chick's dad bit it - which is sadly the show's best moment to date, even though Cute Chick seems to have rebounded pretty well. The frame of the show is like a disaster movie, which is awesome, except that if you watched a disaster movie and five hours into the movie you only had one real tragedy - you would want your money back.

Finally, the ending of "Light" was just bizarre. Hey, I'm trying to give you a compliment here - but then I'm going to accuse you of being an evil son of a bitch with pretty much nothing to show for it. Felt to me like someone ran the tape and realized there was 40 minutes of essentially a slow ballad music video and decided to toss a bit of infighting for good measure.

Hopefully in the next couple of episodes, it will be less of the Rush and Eli show and we can finally get some real depth into the secondary characters other than lame quips that would barely pass on an actual reality show. Hopefully the conflict will get more complicated than the "big thing we can't solve, oh my we are all dead, oh wait there's the thing we need" style of arc. Because I'm not buying this show has the chops to kill any character off at the moment.

But if the next five episodes follow the same vein as the last five episodes, I'm going to wish the ship had flown into the sun ... and stayed there.

Monday, October 26, 2009

How Hulu Is Kinda Stupid

It recently hit the street that Hulu is considering charging for their content. I suppose I can appreciate that, Hulu offers a lot of material which is quite valuable - recent shows, especially, for this age of time shifting. There's a decent amount there I'd access to catch up on some TV.

Which is why, if ad revenue is down and the powers that control Hulu need more cash, I have a recommendation other than forcing people to pay.

Stop being so damned stupid.

See, back in July, Hulu blocked the PlayStation 3 browser from accessing content. At first this was just done without much explanation, but then a very corporate non-answer arrived which takes a bit of brain pulling to translate (they use "windowing" as a term if it explains everything) - but in between the lines it comes down to "our partners pay for specific rights concerning television viewing, and threatened to pull out."


Distribution availability across platforms — theaters vs. TV vs. recorded media like DVDs vs. online streaming vs. mobile phones — was always implicitly or explicitly controlled in that world. But a few factors have made the barriers between those platforms more permeable: the rise of the web, increased broadband availability, the ease of digitizing video, and the increase in the computing
power of devices like gaming consoles, set-top boxes, and mobile phones.

However, in the near-term, the windowing strategy is still dominant in the business. Billions of dollars flow in across these different windows, and entire companies are organized around them. Nothing productive comes from flouting that reality (except to law firms who work on the occasional lawsuit).

Yeah. So this is why that is kinda stupid. Television industry types, listen up - because I'm only going to rant about this once.

Technology has converged your precious windows. Sorry about that, but it is really time to move on. Thanks.

See, I can watch your little television programs on my television using a computer any time I want. Heck, with the right cables - I can probably watch it with my iPhone. With some mad Linux skills, I could still do it on my PS3. This concept that my television is somehow under your control is so archaic that you make my old TiVo laugh. As if VCR's and DVR's shouldn't have been enough of lesson - the fact that my television is essentially a massive computer monitor at this point is just not that difficult of a concept to grasp.

See I have this Mac Mini. And it hooks right into my television. And it has a web browser. Which can play Hulu. So that kinda fscks your stupid windows concept right up.

But I don't watch Hulu on the Mini, because it is an older PPC model and the performance sucks. It worked pretty good on my PS3 - but now that's blocked. So now I don't watch Hulu.

And someone at Hulu is wondering why ad revenues aren't what they'd like them to be - but instead of the networks realizing this is nearly the year 2010, the whole thing is considering going to a pay-to-view model ... which is quite possibly they only way the thinking around the whole thing could travel any more backwards in time.


So yeah, go ahead and charge for Hulu. Let's see how that works for you. Or wake up to the modern world and just increase your current viewership.

Couple Notes on Uncharted 2 Multiplayer

I made a massive push on the Uncharted 2 single player experience, but don't really have my head around a full post for it yet. I did, however, want to expand my earlier review from the multiplayer demo.

The full version of the game has more maps and many more gametypes, including some fairly successful objective based ones. The mandatory Capture The Flag variant has players hauling around a large idol, which adds the not nearly used enough mechanic of hobbling the flag carrier, and also adds some of the fun of Epic's Bombing Run - namely tossing stuff around.

There are also a variety of domination/territory based games - which work remarkably well considering they are designed around the same maps as deathmatch (same, actually, goes for CTF).

The short summary is that Uncharted 2 adds an amazing online experience for the PlayStation 3. Highly recommend it.

Sadly, though, I still have to complain about the matchmaking. My assumption is that some players are teamed up at the beginning of the night, which makes breaking players up evenly difficult - but the problem remains the same. Numerous times the session will have all the high level players on one side, which often causes the highest level player on the losing side (and it always seems to be the highest level player) leaving early - which just cripples the losing team completely. Some of this gets pretty brutal.

The gameplay is good enough where it can be fun even if you're losing, which is an indication of a great game ... but when I can pretty accurately predict the outcome of a game just by the team makeup before the game starts, it sucks some of the fun out of an otherwise excellent experience.

Update: Last night I played a couple of hours and only had one match which was somewhat unbalanced, but not the wild sort I've seen repeatedly nights before. Don't know if this is just random behavior swinging to the other side or if there was a server-side fix. I'll keep an eye out.

Update to the update: Last night was bad - lots of very mismatched games. At one point, I just started leaving as the game started. Oddly, this is what finally caught Naughty Dog's eye, that I was jumping games. Which, don't get me wrong - not proud of ... but I can restart a game much faster than finishing it, and maybe the next one won't be such a one way battle.

Some digging seems to indicate that yeah, specific teams are the cause (that's in response to this, and I have lots of similar pics). This is age old problem of online play - boiling down to clan players getting repeatedly paired against casual players.

I'll probably roll this into a longer post, or the more complete Uncharted discussion. It's a huge detriment, though, and may just push me to coop way more- which I think is a shame (not that coop sucks, just that I'd be avoiding my preference. I just like fighting human intelligence...)

Update to the update to the update (guess I should just start numbering these). Naughty Dog is releasing a patch this weekend. It will "deter players from leaving voluntarily" and adjust goals for teams with fewer players. I'll try it out this weekend, but it seems like the wrong solution to the wrong problem to me. Address why people are leaving voluntarily first, simply deterring them seems pointless. I'll leave if I want to leave.