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Sunday, December 31, 2006

Happy New Year

To round off Splines' spectacular year-round coverage of current events in gaming, the Blair family have invested in a PS3.

First making friends with the playground bully, now this - there's no denying it Tony, all evidence points to you being an idiot.

Happy New Year, reader!

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Can't wait to see Beyond

Reminiscent of the procedurally generated worlds flaunted by Will Wright on his upcoming title Spore, the video below these carefully chosen words demonstrates a project with definite potential. If you like what you see, head on over to the Infinity website and lend your support.

If net-gossip is to be believed, Infinity is yet merely a highly impressive framework awaiting a talented game-greasemonkey to bolt on the features able to lend entertainment to aesthetics. Currently, players are unable to leave their ships and explore on foot. Frankly, I find the lack of an atmospheric re-entry animation leaves much to be desired in the realism-realization theme.

I sincerely hope that the Infinity team absorb the criticism that will likely come their game's way, and emerge all the stronger because of it. Splines will be keeping an eye on this one!

Infinity : Tech Demo

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

The Poster of Healing

Help out the less fortunate and ensure you don't waste a precious moment of life by skipping on over to the MMO Calendar website and grabbing yourself twelve months of impractical girl-armour with which to adorn your bedroom wall. An epic 100% of proceeds go to Saint Jude's Children's Research Hospital.

An Ernest Opinion

Ernest Adams, of ex-Bullfrog fame, writes of the established trend for two dominant consoles (and an "also-ran") - over at Gamasutra.

Monday, December 25, 2006


As I sit here, happily digesting a generous portion of my Grandma's Christmas lunch, lazy thoughts float about my mind. Synapses thrust glances of past memories to the fore. Somehow, my brain interprets the probing of deep, soggy recesses as though a compressed MPEG archive were activated. I look directly ahead: the gentle glow of an LCD. And yet there is another sight, an acceptable, natural, yet incomprehensible cognitive vision.

Ah! It's last night. I'm tipsy. Words drift off the tongue, take form. Grandpa meets my gaze, speaks.

What's required is simplicity. The technology is here. All's needed is some bright spark to put it all together. The internet is too complicated, too many screens, clicks - I want to sit in my living room, point at the screen and have it all come together. I want some feedback; to know I'm making progress, a sense of worth for time invested.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Destroy A Life

Thanks, Penny Arcade!
Click image for legible lettering.

Friday, December 22, 2006

SL Griefer Whallops Below The Belt

Well, it's not often that genitalia features in the news, so let's take advantage of this opportunity to display gratuitous rudeness.

Second Life exists online as a haven for cyber-denizens, encompassing a burgeoning virtual economy (SL's currency, 'Linden Dollars', can be legally converted to real-life cash) driven by user-created content brought into existence through a flexible and innovative development tool. The SL 'game' represents a Sociologist's wet dream; offering an opportunity to observe and partake in an ongoing process of untold ramifications, unravelling as a consequence of large-scale social interaction combined with near total anonymity.

On a side note, ShadowBolt and myself joined SL only yesterday... expect tales of sordid mischief very soon.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Sioux City: Skint

In a perhaps inevitable move, Nintendo has become the subject of a nationwide class action lawsuit relating to issues with the wrist strap for the Wii remote.

As Gamasutra aptly note, legislation of this sort against Nintendo could be predicted by Jeff Minter's least legally-aware llama.

It's odd. When I spend hours gaming, then re-enter the real world, for a moment I often forget the same rules don't apply. I particularly yearn for the option to 'save', before I commit myself to taking a risk. I find it ironic how our compensation culture mimics this yearning. If a person suffers a quantative loss (Wiimote + Velocity + TV = Loss) there is a modern human phenomenon whereby people expect the universe to return itself to a state of rightful order. As we can't 'save', we sue.

Update: 8.39 AM 21/12/06

Nintendo's official response:
We believe the lawsuit to be completely without merit"

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Bon Voyage, Doug

Interview: Mode 7 Games

Paul Taylor and Ian Hardingham are the brains behind Mode 7 Games, and jolly top blokes. Between them, the roles usually assigned to a multitude of game designers are neatly compacted and allocated to mere human frames. How they cope with the burden is beyond me, although Ian would perhaps suggest it is his family whom keep his spirits up.

DuBBle: Hello Paul and Ian! I'd like to ask a few questions for Splines, if I may.

Firstly I'd like to congratulate you on your achivements. I can hardly comprehend the sacrifices you guys have had to endure whilst developing Determinance. I want you both to know that your efforts stand testamount to the ideals of gameplay and originality - oft lauded by the games industry but rarely delivered by any but the most daring of developers.

PAUL: Thank you. We've definitely learned a lot about the balance of originality and fun gameplay in making Determinance, and we know that gamers will appreciate the effort that's gone in to reconciling those two elements.

Q: The steriotypical game developer is thought of to be underpaid and overworked. Do you find yourselves adhering to this steriotype?

IAN : No. It's a huge amount of work but when you're doing it for yourself somehow "overworked" doesn't seem to be the feeling, and it always helps that I can (and do) get up at midday. And as far as "underpaid" goes, we haven't earnt anything yet but somehow that makes it seem much less underpaid than earning a bad salary - Paul may well have a different opinion on that! My family helps me out so I'm never short of whiskey, and as long as you have whiskey everything seems pretty rock-n-roll. When I run out of whiskey I'll be underpaid.

PAUL: I think that "underpaid and overworked" feeling is largely something that people in big commercial development houses experience. As we fund ourselves through various means, and we're working hard on something that we believe in, we've got nobody to bitch at but ourselves. You don't want to see Ian when he's run out of whiskey.

Q: To what extent have Mode 7 been left to fend for themselves whilst working on Determinance? Have you recieved much support from within the industry?

IAN: Zero, but I somehow think that's pretty reasonable. We've been working on this for three years but until this September we didn't have a product. Until then we had a bunch of ideas barely visible on a beta which looked pretty much unfinishable by two guys. During most of our development is seemed like the outside world couldn't see the potential of the idea, which I did and do still find very hard to understand. But on the other hand, Determinance really wasn't very good until this summer. It all came together through a period of bad feedback and very hard work and as soon as we got there, people started really taking notice. Easy as it would be to rile against the industry for not supporting us, we just didn't have anything particularly worth supporting until very recently, when all of the three years of hard work finally came together. And then people really started responding.

When I first had the idea for Determinance in 2003 it was like a diamond encased in mud and rock. We spent the last three years trying to expose the diamond by haphazardly cutting chunks, but the convoluted development is a huge part of what Determinance is today. I'd like to say we made one mistake and we should have prototyped right at the beginning (instead of plunging straight into full production), but I don't think we would have come out with what we have now if we'd done that. In fact, we might well have given up. Only with the huge investment of time already in the 'broken' Determinance did we have the motivation to fix it.

PAUL: Ian's right in that we've had no practical support from industry-types, but that's not to say that we haven't had encouragement and also been able to work with people to fill in some gaps. The GarageGames community was invaluable in that there were talented people around who were happy to work with us. We've also had some nice words of support and help in other ways from some indie developers: Jamie Fristrom at Treyarch; Mark Healey who did Ragdoll Kung Fu, Peter Stock who did Armadillo Run. On the PR side, PC Gamer UK have been phenomenal supporting us, as have sites like Gametunnel. There's some shameful behaviour out there in the world of commercial games journalism, but we're lucky there's still some people who are willing to take a look at new games and not just be spoon-fed by expensive agencies.

Q: Determinance constantly radiates a sense of humour. Is this a reflection of your personalities shining through the coding? Will future Mode 7 games carry on this comedic quirk?

IAN: Two things. In the very initial design document for Determinance I wanted the flying protagonists to be hugely irreverent, care-free and mocking characters. The script for the un-finished single player story (which by the way Paul thinks is ATROCIOUS) is really defined by the conversational style - playground joshing intermixed with the hugely epic, the style I really wanted to become known for. That drives the look and the voice acting of the characters - we had the entire script voice-acted and the taunts done by the actors, so each character has an actual back-story which I think helps immensely.But that's just the specific thing. Paul and I both refuse to take anything seriously, especially not anything as fundamentally ridiculous as game development. We're also both very different kinds of gamer, and the clash of the two different ways we think about games often leads to really amusing "compromises".

I have a huge dislike of things "trying" to be funny - I think you need to amuse yourself and not worry about other people. They'll follow.

PAUL: I don't actually have a sense of humour or a personality: those parts of my brain are now used to carry "information" like Johnny Mnemonic. Mode 7's not going to make any more games because Ian's analogy about the diamond was so fucking painful to read that I'm leaving him.

Q: What are your views on the connotations of the word 'Freeform'?

IAN: Ha. I believe the back-story to this question is that we were describing Determinance as a freeform sword-fighting game but had to stop because people thought that meant we were a sandbox RPG. I'm goingto let Paul do most of the answering on this one.

PAUL: Some people are idiots, so they associate words with processes and objects rather than looking at what they might actually mean. I take the word "freeform" to mean "unconstrained" and not "a bit like GTA". Thus, we were calling Determinance a freeform game because you can move the sword wherever you want, and there were no preset moves, but idiocy prevailed and we had to relent. I also hate the words "sandbox" and"febrile".

Q: Do you truly believe that blogs such as Splines are able to make a positive impact on public opinion for games developers?

IAN: I think it's pretty obvious that the news side of gaming blogs is pretty much sewn up by the big sites, so it's got to be about opinion. Any kind of loyal readership gives a blog power to impact an indie developer. If you have only a hundred readers and you recommend them to play an indie game, and half of them try it and half of them like it then you've given that game twenty-five new players who will tell their friends. That can be a huge impact on an indie developer and that's with only a hundred readers. If someone plays a game and someone they respect has said it's good they're 200% more likely to like it.

On a slightly different note, I think there's space for a vastly critical indie-games site. All the big ones right now just want to"support" indies by giving everything a positive review and not really saying the hard truths. You won't make many friends that way but you will increase the respectability of the industry - something we need right now.

PAUL: Yeah, Splines and its ilk are very important. I agree with Ian in that we would like to see some more intelligent opinion - the problems are always two-fold. One, you have to write well, and two you have to spend a lot of time marketing your blog as well as writing it, which is something that writers don't generally like doing. I've certainly struggled with both on our blog! I would dearly love to see more opinion on the indie games sector, which is why we've started doing more opinion pieces. We're starting to line up some guest-bloggers too, which I'm quite excited about. I think that big companies need to pay attention to smaller blogs -they're the ground-swell of opinion. We've obviously had great experiences with Splines and with Addicted Geek, which is somewhat similar in some respects, so we love the smaller blogs.

Q: When are we able to purchase Determinance? Will the game be available in stores?

IAN: We very much hope you can purchase Determinance from one of several online publishers in January. If it happens, boxes will come later.

PAUL: Ian just said "in January" because our actual deadline is January 14th and he and I both know that SOMETHING will happen to make us miss that. God mocks all deadlines we've ever set.

Q: What are Mode 7's plans for the future?

IAN: We've already tentatively started design work on our next game, but a lot of what happens to us depends on how Determinance is received.

PAUL: Yeah, we want to see what happens with the game and then what the community needs from us. If it's viable to do further Determinance game modes and so on then we'll do that, but we're excited about the nextgame idea too.

DuBBle: I wish you both the best of luck. I'll be following Mode 7's progress, and you can rest assured Determinance will grace my hard drive so long as I am a gamer.

IAN: Huge thanks for the support, and it's great to be here.

PAUL: Cheers, mate - that's nice to hear, although ending the interview with "Well, it's a shame your game is so dire", pulling your trousers down and making a noise like a pheasant is always more amusing, I find.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Steam Blown Away

Amongst those one million people suffering the effects of an energy failure are Valve's Steam servers. Remember the wild speculation of naysayers when Steam first went live? People said that so long as Valve maintained a single, central server, there would be a risk that one day the system may go down and thus all Steam-dependent games could become unplayable. The prophesied day is upon us. High winds in Seattle have forced the local energy authorities to cut off the juice, leaving many Steam users unable to touch their legitimately purchased game software.

Valve should have foreseen a failure of this type and built in a system of redundancy. Instead, it is their customers that foot the bill.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Sony's Greener Grass: Bitter

Ever wonder how Sony got away with replacing the rumble functionality of their controller for Sixaxis' awful attempt at stealing the motion-sensitive market from Nintendo? It's largely due to the shocking appeal of Wii. Thankyou, ladies and gentlemen, I'll be here all night.

Youth in Crisis

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Mode 7 : The UK's Best Mode

Mode 7 Games, developers of the innovative multiplayer swordfighting game Determinance, are at this very moment readying themselves for the imminent release of their game. Amazingly, Paul Taylor has somehow found the time to begin a weekly feature on the Mode 7 blog in which he hopes to raise thought and discussion over abstract gaming principals - beginning this week with Some Kind of Horrible Pun on Virtual Reality.

I'm enrolled for the final beta test of Determinance and (hopefully) I'll be bringing an interview with the Mode 7 team to Splines very soon.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Supreme Developer

You'll find a fantastic interview with Chris Taylor of Gas Powered Games on the PC Gamer Podcast. Chris portrays himself as some kind of easy-going gaming sage, his words are clearly shaped by years of experience but his sense of humour does not appear to have suffered from it. If you'd like to skip directly to the interview, Chris is introduced 16 minutes 46 seconds into the podcast.
Wii on CNN

Friday, December 08, 2006

PC & Wii - Meant to be?

Launch day +1. As the already minimal Wii stocks of Europe are depleted, Nintendo promises that all lusting customers will be satisfied before Christmas. However, HMV spokesman Tim Ellis admits his business could have "sold many more times than we've got, to be honest", as many retailers face the trauma of demand in excess of supply.

Perhaps Nintendo have underestimated the popularity of the Wii amongst PC gamers. From my perspective, the Wii aims to deliver a gaming experience which is both absent and genuinely missed by the PC gaming community. Rather like the Nintendo DS, there is a certain youthful flexibility - a willingness to adapt and morph according to player's needs and desires, which is embodied by the Wii.

Contrary to popular belief, even the greatest grumpy sweaty nerdling needs a break from Khelgar-herding once in a while. The PC Gamer Forums are testament to this, possessing a thread in excess of 2000 replies on this very issue.

Even as a socially inept, visually disturbing excuse for a human being, my Wii has secured itself a place in the living room, essentially fermenting into the natural squalor of student life.

Monday, December 04, 2006

This Month in Games : December

The Gaming Orchard's plethora of juicy offerings would appear to have dropped a month early, leaving PC gamers with a bitter taste in their mouth this Christmas, with such examples of anti-climatic mediocrity as Warhammer: Mark of Chaos, Bad Day LA and Archlord (my rant on which can be found here).

This month, I'll be focusing on the console releases. For PC game stocking fillers, please refer back to last month's This Month in Games or buy the excellent Guild Wars: Nightfall or the budget release of the time-enduring, marvellous The Longest Journey.

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess

Released by Nintendo to serve as one of many reasons to buy a Wii, but also available for the Gamecube, TP could well become the paradigm of Link's adventures to date. Darker and with greater visual flair than its many siblings, TP offers little new to the series, but refines much of what made the previous games so good. Link's well-endowed boffin, and your tennis elbow (if you are playing on the Wii) will be tested to the limits by the multifaceted challenges to be overcome. TP leads the player through a drastic transformation from elf to wolf, as the levels are designed to have gamers shift through Soul Reaver style planes in order to fully explore both Hyrule and the mysterious 'Twilight'. Nintendo's 'gameplay over graphics' ethos should lead us to expect, in TP, an experience wholly capable of reminding gamers why we place such pride in our passion.

Gears of War

Out now on Microsoft's 360 and developed by Epic, Gears of War has been hyped so much it's hard to separate the P from the R. Dark, gory and short are three words I would use to describe GoW's action and one word which would be applicable to my love-making. GoW's gunplay places emphasis on the player's understanding and exploitation of available cover; so called 'blind fire' (discharging a weapon without line-of-sight to pinpoint an enemy) is included as a feasible option for suppressing a threat. Microsoft will be crossing their collective fingers in anticipation for the sales figures on this one, as GoW's profits may well bare prophetic tidings for the future competitiveness of the 360 against its rivals, the PS3 and Wii.

It's GTA: Vice City on your PSP! I think Rockstar are really on to something big here - combining a free-roaming virtual cityscape with the liberty of mobile gaming is bound to help countless impressionable young teens successfully transition beyond the shock of real life not being fun in comparison to videogames. Commute whilst playing everyone's favorite 'murder simulator'! The tiny PSP would appear to handle VCS's visuals to the best of its ability. Portable gaming suits the series' dynamics for streamlined useage of multiple functions assigned to a single button. This game is likely to help dissipate many long, wasted hours, transforming time into useful practice for a life of crime.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Addicted to [EPIX]

TotalBiscuit(John Bain) from wcradio.com speaks at The University of Advancing Technology TechForum 2006 about addiction to video games, namely World of Warcraft.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

She Lets Me Slip Away...

Not so much Splinerisation lately, sorry. I won't fob you off with excuses, I've not been busy, although my time has been occupied. I've been neglecting the numerous impending essay deadlines this week in favour of Neverwinter Nights 2; and although I wouldn't go so far as to say my review was wrong... I will admit to reviewing without first giving the game a proper chance to earn my appreciation.

The game has charm. I've come to learn this through days of adventuring. That dwarf Khelgar I mentioned? He's now my best mate. Although I've been feeling utterly relaxed whilst playing from the comfort of my bed, the truly epic story has kept my buttocks firmly clenched. The AI is still rubbish, mind.

I'll probably write more when the game is completed and re-played with a party of housemates.

Anyway, read below this post for an entirely inaccurate review. I promise to avoid making the same mistake twice.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Review : Neverwinter Nights 2

By no means a perfect game, Neverwinter Nights 2 meets (and exceeds) all of the role playing genre expectations. Intricate character creation and development? Check. Huge world complete with towns, dungeons and lavish, lust-inspiring loot? Check. Multiple-solution problem solving, including moral dilemmas for both the honourable and maniacal? Check. NWN2 even includes a varied and constantly evolving storyline, arguably lacking in NWN1. Why is it then, when so much good can be said of Obsidian's latest effort, I still find myself tossing and turning throughout Neverwinter Nights?

Have you ever suffered through one of those dreams in which you desperately want to achieve a goal, but your efforts are in vain because your mind won't let you succeed? The state of angst I wake up in after one of those dreams is comparable to maneuvering Khelgar the dwarf into a tactically viable, non-suicidal position within the cave of a thousand tiny annoyances. NWN2's AI is atrocious, beyond acceptably poor, enough to drive you into the realms of deepest dwarven hatred. The problem is not simply confined to Khelgar. All AI-controlled party members (up to a maximum of three, plus yourself) fail to grasp the most basic tenets of their role within the group. Rather like joining forces with drunken technophobic cave-dwellers and attempting World of Warcraft's Molten Core, a Neverwinter Nights 2 player will soon discover their party members' preference for randomly targeted violence and staring off into the distance. The 'Broadcast Commands' - general orders, such as 'Stand Your Ground' or 'Follow Me' - help a player to reign in their party, but often go ignored when most vitally needed. The solution I found worked best for my play style was to place all group members onto 'Puppet Mode', essentially rendering them thoughtless in battle unless issued orders directly from HQ.

Although AI caused me most frustration, this game is full of minor, quickly accumulating niggles. The graphics are sub-standard, accompanied by framerates and loading times worse than Oblivion. There's a bug which crashes the game if the player has anyone but their main character selected at the end of a battle in which dialogue is automatically triggered. Many equipped items do not show on the avatar such as one has come to expect. Unsuccessful attempts at thievery go unpunished, even though the player is informed of a critical failure... I could go on, but to unveil all of NWN2's flaws would be to spoil the fun.

And the game is fun. Everything that was great about NWN1 can be found in its sequel, and then some. The orchestral score can be mood-defining, capable of evoking joy, excitement, intrigue and awe - often all at once. The story, (arranged into acts) manages to be both lengthy and entertaining. I found the characters to be particularly well realised; the first two hours of gameplay both introduces and kills off more memorable and ultimately likeable characters than most games can hope to boast in their entirety.

Although I can't recommend NWN2 for Game of the Year, there is a lot to be found, and liked, right here. The singleplayer campaign is perfect for literally days of epic fantasy, and the multiplayer features all of the dungeon master functionality of the original game. As time goes on, we can only expect for NWN2 to improve, with Obsidian having already released the first patch and an active fanbase of modders out there.

You can buy Neverwinter Nights 2 from Play.com

Friday, November 24, 2006

Our Biased Media

Respect, Virtually

There have been a couple of major events since Splines was last updated. The Playstation 3 and Nintendo Wii have launched in the US, the ESA apologised for issuing a 'cease and desist' order to fellow gaming blog Bits Bytes Pixels & Sprites, and nothing what so ever has happened regarding funerals within virtual worlds. Of cause, nobody of sound, rational mind would choose to write about funerals at such a period of gaming furor.

Today, I'd like to talk to you about funerals.

In the glory days before the time of university and a receding hairline, I was loyally devoted to playing Sony's MMOFPS Planetside. The bunch of buddies I fought alongside called themselves Vanu Corporation, and I still regard their burgeoning forum as an online sanctum, to be trawled and spammed to excess.

I was informed through this forum that a prominent member of the Planetside community had recently died, and that there was going to be an online funeral held in-game at which the player's sons would speak about their father. Being as it is that Planetside involves a fair amount of weaponry, Vanu Corporation offered themselves as funeral security. Forum chatter turned to the principles of defending a herse. Anti-aircraft MAXes on the hill, extra ammunition hidden along the convoy's route, empire commanders pleading for temporary peace in an eternal war.

As it turned out, the event passed without incident; but I don't believe it is security which prevents violence at organised events within an armed virtual community. I believe two factors play the greatest roles - respect and fear. To someone unfamiliar with persistent online gaming, the very notion of virtual funerals may seem absurd. To those who have experienced what it is to know 'internet people' better than 'real people', a respectful online community can exist in tandem with non-stop killing. It is through respect and fear that an MMO gains emotional meaning; the respect a comrade can have for another will lead to wonderful things being accomplished, and the fear of shame or shunning that a miscreant may have imposed upon him should he behave beyond norms deemed acceptable by the community ought to prevent misdeeds from being committed.

So I guess what I'm trying to say is that it is not through the imposition of force, but the cohesion of community, common good will prevail.

On a side note. There have been many such funerals within MMOs since the beginning of time (MMOs have existed since the universe formed, right?) and there have been many such success stories to accompany countless massacres conducted by angry funeral gatecrashers. What I'd like to know is your opinion on the moral nuances of killing those attending a virtual event. I think it would be fair to ask that if the game mechanics allow for the ability, and every player pays an equal sum to enjoy the game, why should killing attendees of a funeral not be allowed? I wouldn't intentionally spoil any event arranged to honour the dead, but I do enjoy causing mischief online and it is with some shame that I admit to allowing a sly chuckle escape when I hear about weddings being canceled due to artillery etc.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Ploys R' Us

My Google homepage helpfully informs me that it was Benjamin Disraeli who said "How much easier it is to be critical than to be correct"; poignant words indeed, particularly because today my great eye bares down on this chap, and his critical but unhelpful comment.

"One of the worst things going for us is that we're called videogames"
Doug Lowenstein - Entertainment Software Association

I believe that the best which can be said about this statement is that, upon primary ponderance, the notion makes perhaps a little sense. Ultimately, the worst that can be thought is, 'How on earth could this nonsense be uttered by a public representative of gaming?'.

Presumably, the ESA chief believes the 'game' part of 'videogame' to be the main problem, because of the connotation the word carries with children and their toys. Now, you can find some excellent arguments for and against this train of thought all over the web, so I'll try and assume another tack.

I believe it's fair to make three statements in regards the current state of the general public's view on modern gaming. 1: Gaming is becoming culturally and critically accepted, but, 2: A few aspects of modern gaming mean some people remain skeptical. However, 3: The word by which we choose to name our hobby and passion has little (if any) baring on the level of skepticism gaming draws upon itself.

The factor which will dictate the opinions of gamers and non-gamers alike is that of quality. It is only through developing games worthy of respect that gaming will be accepted gladly by the mainstream populace as a cultural artifact. Altering the paint scheme of a fast-food takeaway which fails basic health and safety tests may momentarily increase the level of custom, but it is not without addressing the underlying issue that the number of explosive-diarrhea sufferers will be reduced.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Grand Theft Mario

Monday, November 13, 2006

Art Toad

We're back on familiar territory, reader*. Recent Splines supplements covered the topics of video games as art and government grants for game developers; today I'll be combining both contemporary issues into one byte-sized nibble.

The quote below comes from the mouth of French Minister of Culture, Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres:

"People have looked down on video games for far too long, overlooking their great creativity and cultural value... Video games are not a mere commercial product. They are a form of artistic expression involving creation from script writers, designers and directors."

To place this statement into context, Monsieur Vabres, (and, with him, a portion of the French government) hopes to offer French cinema-style subsidies to help encourage game developers to operate out of France.

Whether this policy will come into existence or not is yet to be seen; a similar lack of observation causes me to ponder upon the potential extent of governmental interference in the creation of French computer games. Will subsidized developers be essentially constrained within the pockets of ministers, or will they have freedom to roam the receptacle, to create within confines?

You can find a Game Politics article on the French decision here, and an interesting, recent, IRC debate on the potential for games to exist as art here.

*Thanks for coming back Colin.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Peripheral Vision

'Evolution or Revolution'? A question long asked by skeptical observers of technological development since Grah first saw Ug roll a smoothly chiselled stone out of his cave and proudly proclaim his new invention would soon bring about the Ford Ka. Ug claimed his Wheel would revolutionize the brontosaurus trade, but Grah saw the Wheel as only a simple refinement of the reliable and abundant Rock blueprint.

We now know better, of cause. Whether evolution or revolution, a helpful change to existing gadgetry will attain mainstream acceptance so long as it simplifies and/or amplifies the process. With our increased cranial size, we know that Grah was wrong to assume that Ug's changes were unnecessary. Ug realised the importance of experimentation, fostering new ideas into tactile matter and shaping the future through trial and error.

I propose that the PC as a medium for gaming is in danger of loosing its traditional role as a proving ground for new ideas; the revolutionary impetus is shifting towards the consoles, which by their generational nature require that players regularly embrace new technology. What I mean by this is that every five years or so the console gaming community is refreshed by new software and, (more importantly) new hardware. When a customer purchases a 'next generation' console, they can be assured to be provided with a totally re-invented gaming system. Today I hope to focus on the peripheral; the method of control traditionally associated with joysticks, joypads, keyboards and mice.

So, if the consoles can be said to be 'generational' in their method of upgrade, how can we view this process with PC hardware? The PC bares many similarities to that of consoles, both exist thanks to the cooperative integration of similar components; however, the burden and privilege of upgrading a PC falls solely on its owner/s. The artefacts that make up a PC could be said to exist on differing timescales - a graphics card may go from being cutting-edge to obsolete in three to four years, but a mouse or keyboard (the peripherals I talked of earlier) may never need to be replaced until a tragic caffeinated accident occurs. Because of this, peripherals are often overlooked for upgrade as owners tend to prioritise the replacement of objects assessed to be of greater immediate value to them - that means shiny new graphics and ultra-fast processing speeds.

For all of its strengths as the technologically superior cousin of the console, the PC could well loose its value as a format for original and inspiring ideas to be brought to life simply by failing to encourage its customer base to experience exotic peripherals, evolved from the reliable and abundant Keyboard and Mouse blueprints.

The problem would appear to be twofold:
Firstly - the Personal Computer's customer base is a vauge and abstract notion. How do we define a PC? Do we include Apple Macs? Microsoft may own a veritable monopoly over the PC operating systems, but not over PC gaming. Electronic Arts are certainly the most influential gaming publisher, but just how far does this influence extend? A massive degree of inter-corporate cooperation would be required to develop and release a reasonable alternative to the keyboard and mouse.
Secondly - even if the customer base could be defined as anyone who has used a keyboard and/or mouse to play a game within the last year, even if the hardware developers and the software publishers could come to a consensus as to what sections of peripheral must be chiselled in order to transform Rock into Wheel... why should anyone want to upgrade when the keyboard and mouse combination work perfectly fine?

Perhaps the solution to these problems will come through a saturation of knowledge. When the Wiimote and the motion-sensing Playstation 3 joypad are released, perhaps PC gamers will observe and come to prioritise the need to expand the capabilities of their own peripherals. The day that gamers' control method preferences place precision and speed as equally important factors along with immersion and enjoyment, my peripheral vision will be complete.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Super Kim

Sunday, November 05, 2006

This Month in Games : November

Ladies and Gents, we have hit the mother lode! As we all know from the state of Woolworth's adverts on the telly, Christmas comes at least fifty days early in Corporate Land; and as a result November's gaming bounty will keep geeky digits warm long into the dark winter night. This month, we as gamers witness the release of possibly the finest games of the year; In this jovial time, let us remember the games less fortunate than Battlefield 2142, games that offer entertainment but not true greatness, games that are overlooked and left to suffer the season in solitude. Where to begin?!

Sid Meier's Railroads!

Perhaps because this game is really good fun, perhaps because I have an unnatural fondness for railways, or perhaps, although I love writing for Splines, all I can think of right now is jumping back onto Sid Meier's Railroads - I love this game. Playing SMR can best be compared to being presented with a lively tapestry of country and town, industry and business, supply and demand... and being told to spawn a sprawling mess of metal and steam in order to generate profit from a newly-emerging industrial society. Hamlets become towns, which grow into cities, all the time increasing their lust to produce and consume resources - with all their development closely linked to the expansion of the railway network, either by you or your competitor. The naivete of the early scenarios' 'train set' ethos quickly dissipates to be replaced by challenging, ruthless business. Hostile takeovers and industrial monopolies are just some of the dirty tricks you can dabble in, or become the victim of. Buy it here. You won't regret it.

Flight Simulator X

Let's get the important question out of the way first. Yes, the X in Flight Simulator X is pronounced 'ten' and not 'ecs'. 'Ecs sounds better, you think? Ecs would have embodied the evolution implied by the inclusion of impressively detailed photographic mapping of the globe in Microsoft's latest Flight Simulator title. Ecs would bridge the gap between Microsoft's main gaming markets - the XBox series and the PC - emboldening Microsoft's marketing strategy to encourage independent modding of their games and encouraging gamers to transmit across the gap between formats. Ecs carries a certain mystique with it, breaking away from Flight Simulator tradition, and what some may claim to have become a stagnant license. Ecs just sounds better. Flight Simulator X is an impressive, and pricey, (50 pound for the standard edition, 60 pound for deluxe) addition to a gamer's collection. There's reason to assume a progression from earlier editions of Flight Simulator, with a greater volume of interesting ariel challenges and vastly improved depth and height modelling; a frequent virtual flyer or unseasoned novice should consider trying on a new pair of wings. But I'm not going to buy it until either Microsoft reduce the price or make you their new marketing manager and sack this woman.

Okami is a special, beautiful game. Available for the PS2 in the US right now, and in the UK from Febuary, I feel genuinely sad knowing that unless this title comes to the PC I'll never get to play it. Having only gasped at screenshots and read the review, I feel as though it would be best to quote Edge magazine to give my readers an idea of the worldly wonders of Okami.

Extracts from Edge:

"Okami is certainly an epic, a luxuriously long, physically vast adventure peppered with side-quests, mimigames and micro-comedies, and with a cast of hundreds. But Okami is an epic in another sense too, in the precise, literary meaning of the word. It follows neither a single narrative arc nor a logical gaming structure. It is a rambling, episodic tale, by turns grand and nonsensical, crude and beautiful: a hero's journey that continues long after its three acts appear to be over. It is one of the great videogame legends"

The visual style is profoundly oriental. The player's avatar is a goddess, embodied by the form of a magically gifted wolf. Combat and interaction is dealt with in 'brushstrokes', on-screen gestures which, (when performed successfully) trigger a power to be activated. I really want to play this game, and you can find it here.

That's the end of my recommendations for this month. Too harsh? Well, you could always try Neverwinter Nights 2 (PC), Medieval: Total War 2 (PC) or Canis Canem Edit (Bully(PS2)).

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Watch and Gawp

I saw this well known Trackmania Sunrise movie for the first time today. I'm posting it here for the benefit of the 87 year old North Korean technophobe with newly restored eyesight that hasn't seen it yet.

Monday, October 30, 2006

We all Want the Same Thing

Following on from last week, a number of prominent writers have responded to the 'So you want to be a games journalist?' article written by Aaron McKenna; here are two of the more helpful responses:

Kieron Gillen's Workblog
Richard's Online Journal

Masters of the Past : Shogun : Total War

Chris enters the room.

"It's back, it's back!"
"What's back?"
"It's back!"

Chris exits the room.

This recent confusion was sparked off by a shared, long-treasured memory of Shogun : Total War, awakened once more by PC Gamer's demo of the upcoming Medieval 2 : Total War. My confusion rapidly dissipated, to be replaced with astonished delight, upon discovering what much loved and oft-mourned feature from Shogun returns to the Total War series on November 10th. I think you will know of what delight I speak, but I'll leave the unsure to keep guessing because it's more fun that way.

Shogun : Total War remains a masterful example of game design. Uncomplicated by the additional challenges posed by its younger siblings, Shogun casts Feudal Japan as the context for refined battlefield tactics and meaningful economic decision making. The game operates on two stylistically separate but intrinsically linked layers; the first of which is the Strategic Map, (where armies are produced and moved between provinces, and all Japan can be seen) with the other being the Battle Map (in which your forces engage an enemy). Both are enthralling, simple to use and difficult to master. Pumping out troops and charging head-on at the bad men will get you killed, fast.

The lessons of Sun Tsu are at the heart of Shogun's ethos. Patience and a shrewd cunning will bring your faction closer to victory than strength of numbers or a fortress-full of cash. Will you invade and annex a fertile but poorly defended province this year, or bolster your army with Warrior Monks (the sight of whom can often cause your opponent's Buddhist units to scarper) and wait until the enemy leader leaves himself vulnerable? Of cause, killing the enemy without incurring a single loss is always fun, and developers The Creative Assembly know this, which is why they included assasins and the Geishas (they are to die for).

Graphically dated, but able to hold its own against modern games; you can grab Shogun along with Medieval and Rome, plus all of their expansion packs including Alexander for a very reasonable 33 pound right here.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

I'll Take Two Sugars

The following extract was procured from a Gamasutra article on the effects of the Hot Coffee scandal upon the modding community.

In order to protect the trust it has tried to build up with parents, following the Hot Coffee controversy, the ESRB put some of the onus on the people who develop and publish games. "We asked the industry as a whole to be more conscious of how mods might impact ratings, however whether that might be happening is more a question for publishers than for the ESRB," [Patricia] Vance [Executive Director of the Entertainment Standards Ratings Board (ESRB)] said. "That being said, it is obviously impossible for the ESRB to consider content that may at some point be introduced into a game by a third party. The most and best that ESRB can do when it comes to ensuring that its rating assignments are accurate is to obligate publishers to disclose all pertinent content they produced and will ship with the game, including, as of July 2005, content that may not be playable (i.e. 'locked out'), but will exist in the code on the final game disc."

For the ESRB, this disclosure policy ensures that their ratings are truly reflective of the publisher-created product as a whole. When it comes to mods, however, Vance noted that the "ESRB has no ability nor intention of holding publishers accountable for the actions of third parties who independently introduce newly created content into a game through their own modifications. We simply want them to be aware of the risks it presents in terms of consumer trust in our system, and when warranted, desirable or possible to try to do something about it."

When an independent party modifies a game to include extra content, it seems rational that the publisher or developer of said game should bare no responsibility or blame for actions committed which are out of their control; so I'm pleased to learn that the highly influential ESRB have opted to take an informed and respectful stance on this issue.

With publishers now required to declare even 'unlockable' content, (hidden features included by the developer and able to be activated by technical tweakery) I predict gamers will see a fall in unlockables but no significant damage to the independent modding scene. So long as publishers have the legal protection from changes made to their games after retail, the mod scene should continue to thrive.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

E came, C saw, A conquered

Following on from recent Splines coverage, one of the most respectable and trusted sources of gaming information on the internet, Games Politics, has been acquired by the Entertainment Consumers Association.

Game Politics' editor and founder had this to say:

"I'm proud to be associated with Hal's new organization, which is designed to be the voice of today's video game consumer. Here at GamePolitics we've always had a consumer-oriented outlook, but until now, there was no organized group to fight for gamers and their interests. With the launch of the ECA, gamers now have someone to watch their backs."

The 'Hal' referred to in this comment is a certain Mr. Hal Halpin, founder of the ECA. I'll be sure to keep Splines updated with any and all developments as the ECA expands and evolves.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

A Burning Issue

Bad news for everyone apart from shoe-shiners, as Blizzard have officially announced that their World of Warcraft expansion pack, Burning Crusade, will be delayed until January of 2007 for "a little extra time to polish the content and ensure that the expansion meets our expectations and those of our players".

There will be complaints, sure, but it's time to face facts; Blizzard could announce that each copy of Burning Crusade came with a slap in the face and millions of fans would gleefully hand over their cash, whilst simultaniously demanding a nerf for the overpowered face slap.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Bad Boys, Big Birds

Although comments from EA Games suggest that Battlefield 2142 will simply "appropriate ads by region and language"; meaning that players will not have their cookies scoured for potential succulent marketing pulp, this misleading cartoon from the boys at Penny Arcade produces chuckles nonetheless.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Pen? I'll take the Keyboard.

My talented friend comments on a recent article 'So You Want to Be a Games Journalist' on his online compendium of words and pictures - The Bloggings of The_B. It's my life dream to become a good gaming journalist, and this article helped me to understand the underlying foundation upon which the publishing houses stand.

Kieron Gillen criticises the article, "There's true stuff in there, but it's mixed in with a lot of stuff that's just plain wrong or self-glorifying." , I don't feel myself close to assuming a position able to judge either Gillen or McKenna's views; but I will say that writing a guide for aspiring journalists must be a difficult task, and one for which McKenna deserves credit for his intentions.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Do You Want To Play A-Gain?

With the release of Bully in the US, and the banning of Canis Canem Edit's sale in Currys, Dixons and PC World here in blighty, it's time to take a rather different look into violence and gaming.

Yesterday, Keith Vaz (anti-videogames advocate, Labour MP) challenged British PM Tony Blair on the issue of simulated violence in Bully by asking, "Does he accept that this is not about adult censorship, but about protecting our children?" .

Blair's response was as follows:
"I think it can be said that the video games industry, or at least a substantial section of it, has made significant advances over the past few years, but as my right honorable Friend [Vaz] says, it is important for that progress to be maintained."

And you know, I think Blair may have unknowingly stated exactly what the gaming industry needs to learn. After three decades of development, should not our community be producing content more evolutionary than an eternal era of hitting people with baseball bats?

I believe that violence has its place in gaming; blood and death are part of the medium of adult entertainment, but so too is philosophy, the surreal and the unexpected. The concept of life and death in gaming has for too long been analogous with victory and defeat. Fifteen years ago, Sonic was collecting rings to avoid instant death, a life lost - and a loss for the player. Today, many games still operate at the whim of a similar mechanic.

Last night, I read in Edge about a game called Captive. Your character is a prisoner, trapped in a cell but with remote access to robots able to find and release him. Victory will come when you see yourself from the eyes of the robot, and look up to see the robot looking at you. When this happens, the player can either choose to 'win' the game, ending the experience by freeing the prisoner from his cell, or alternatively to continue the game by choosing to be re-imprisoned and thus required to free themselves all over again. This game was released by Mindscape on the PC, Atari and ST in 1990 - that's right, sixteen years ago. As Blair notes, our industry may have made significant advances in recent years, but what kind of advancement can gaming claim to have made within our minds?

It's time to proclaim gaming for what it truly is - an active medium, suited to stimulate the human brain. Rockstar produce fine games, the GTA series and Bully, I'm sure, will provide quality interactive adult entertainment. But does a Rockstar game, or any other recent development, truly utilise our hugely flexible medium to challenge our minds, to shock, confuse... reward, only to punish; and ultimately to present a difficult decision to us - game over or continue?

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

A War Poem

This poem may accompany the lively and joyful tune 'Please Mister Postman'

Im a Company of Heroes soldier, look and see (oh yeah)
'Infantry Under Attack' - that's Sarge and me (you're too slow)
I've been demoralised, such a long time
I've gone and stepped on an anti-personnel mine

My limbs are gibbed; my gibs out on a limb
A wave of shrapnel keeps my torso trim
I kept to cover, but you ordered me forward
Your poor decision merges entrails with mud

As a tactician, your one of the worst
More spritely reactions have been seen at the rear of a herse
My comrades lie slain, my Sarge without squad
I curse your name, you incompetent sod.

Written and composed by the (late) Sir William Williamsworth VV of Williamshire, Middlesex.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Digging Doug

Game Politics reports on the form next year's E3 will take, with wording directly from ESA head-honcho Doug Lowenstein's mouth.

To summarize, E3 2007 will run from July 11th-13th, operating from Santa Monica, California. It will feature "major press events" and "intimate meetings in premier hotel suites". Essentially, for the majority of gamers, E3 will be what it always has been - a time of year when journalists bombard us with exciting tales of future developments. The industry insiders will still be accommodated, on the basis of E3's new invitation-only policy, and it will be from this slimmer guest-list that we gamers are drip-fed delicious information.

"The new E3 is first and foremost about getting business done. When we asked key audiences what they wanted in the new event, we heard that they wanted opportunities for high-level meetings in a business-like setting, to play games, network, and socialize, to see major company offerings while also preserving the sense of discovery that is so much a part of E3, and to hear substantive presentations on the most important issues and trends facing the industry"
- Doug Lowenstein

Friday, October 13, 2006

The C is for Comrade

"The Entertainment Consumers Association (ECA) is a [...] non-profit membership organization established to serve the needs of those who play computer and video games. Formed in 2006, the ECA is an advocacy organization for consumers of interactive entertainment."

The ECA aims to speak for the little gaming guys at the big boy's table. Ever the skeptic, I remain doubtful because today I'm trying something different. A quick poke around the ECA's website (linked above) reveals that the organisation hopes to voice 'the gaming community's' opinion(s) by getting us to sign up as members at their website and join local ECA chapters for LAN parties and geeky discussion. I think it's a great idea... rather like Communism, I doubt it will ever come to life as intended.

Still, I'll be signing up as a member and I'll keep you informed should the red-pimpled army begin to march.

[Edit : The ECA requires your credit card information to become a member. I'm not willing to part with my details unless the ECA can offer a substantial benefit to gamers, which I believe they cannot at this time.]


Last month, The Daily Telegraph was reported by Splines to have published sensationalised coverage, including categorizing video games under the term 'Junk Culture'. I'm happy to have this story brought to my attention by a PC Gamer forumite. The title of the story is "Pupils to be given lessons in video games", and is written in an astonished but accepting tone. The article begins like so:

"Video games are likely to become part of the school curriculum after research funded by the Department for Education praised them as a powerful learning tool.

It may surprise parents struggling to control children's addiction, but games on computers and consoles were found to be "a compelling learning resource".

It's only brief and worth a read; And probably the closest gamers will ever get to a sympathetic article from the Telegraph.

Thursday, October 12, 2006


Joystiq reports on a 20-day XBox 360-laden bus tour upon which Microsoft will embark upon today. The goal of the road trip - to publicise Microsoft's new console and to act as a counterpoint against the recent upsurge in political anguish against video games.

The bus carries the slogan "Safety is no game. Is your family set?". Robbie Bach, President of Microsoft Corp's Entertainment and Devices Division, hopes that the console's cruise will attract and educate parents, presumably because they generate a significant proportion of XBox 360 revenue.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Preview : Determinance

Determinance is essential swordplay. Mode 7 Games have captured the invariable nature of the dual; Determinance distills a mortal melee and morphs its properties into pure, heart pumping, gameplay.

How have Mode 7 Games achieved this? Through much careful consideration, I would imagine. The movements and angling of your sword, delicately, satisfyingly, bound to the motion and middle button of your mouse. Swordplay quickly becomes second nature, the emphasis of play quickly evolving to predicting and countering the strategy of your opponent. This game is designed for social play, over the net or ideally at a LAN party. In a way, this is my greatest criticism of Determinance, the singleplayer features are lacking to the point of their questionable purpose beyond tutorial functionality, as a precursor to the fresh, multiplayer, meat of the game.

The interface is uncluttered, attractive and functional, reminiscent of Introversion's work. Although the graphics are nothing to write home about, they provide a sturdy base upon which players may soar and delve into the possibilities of aerial and submarine exploration.

The audio, refreshingly unusual. The voice sampling used for the combatants has been recorded with a chuckleworthy degree of British cheekiness, perhaps a knowing nod to the curry-swilling marines of Giants : Citisen Kabuto. Trippy techno accompanies Determinance in its musical score. If you have ever generated a CD Key, you'll know the sort of tunes to expect.

It's not all roses in the tranquil garden, however. Determinance suffers from a major memory leak, and it's a leak that threatens to flood the flora with a rotten ooze. Often, even directly after a reboot, the game would play at a dismal, ruinous, framerate. My friend's PC flat out refused to run the game, loading a black screen then crashing directly back to Windows. Hopefully, being as it is that the copy I played was pre-release, these issues can all be addressed and resolved by Mode 7 Games before Determinance goes to retail. Paul Taylor of Mode 7 comments, "[W]e took [Determinance] to PC Gamer and it was absolutely rock solid for about 2 hours without a single bug or crash. Then Ian took it to a little LAN party and THE SAME CODE decided to screw itself up constantly. We're working on a solution right now though."

Paul Taylor will be talking about Determinance and the challenges he has faced as an indie developer, you can listen and learn from his words at the Interactive Gaming Festival in Nottingham on 27th October. More information here. You can keep up to date with the continuing development of Determinance at the Mode 7 Games website here.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Make Love Not Warcraft

Monday, October 09, 2006

BAFTA - For the win.

You can find the results of the BAFTA Game Awards here. I won't ruin the surprise but Psychonauts wins best screenplay.


Are the BAFTAs failing the video games industry by pegging on titles we normally associate with television and movies, such as 'screenplay', onto gaming awards? I'm inclined to say that the honour of a UK games award ceremony taking notice of our industry is well worth the current supposition that games equate to interactive movies. I hope that, with time, mainstream acceptance of gaming as a valuable medium will lead to the creation of our own terminology to attach to games at award ceremonies. And I still don't know what to call the GTA-alike.

Suit up, Commander

You like? You click.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Development of Gambling

Do you play Linden Labs' Second Life? This could be your chance to win "a bunch of cool schwag from some of SL's most prominent creators".

You'll need to guess the exact date and time when Second Life will embrace its one millionth resident, and post your guess as a comment on the page linked above. The only requirement to enter : you must be a subscriber to Linden Labs' creation. The closest guess wins the goods!

Stroke and Click

Mode 7 Games are almost ready to release their flagship title, Determinance, and I've been lucky enough to get my hands on a preview copy of the game. Mode 7 hope to achieve freeform, tactile swordplay within Determinance by enabling gamers to manipulate the movement and angle of the virtual sword, utilising strokes and clicks of the mouse. I live in a house full of eager and easily excited lads, and so persuading them to fire up Determinance on our home network should not be too much trouble... considering the prospect of ariel apex action.

Expect a preview soon.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

This Month in Games : October

The leaves, once fallen, quickly turn to mush. Last month's barrage of pyrotechnic wonders have had a similar liquidising effect on my brain, reducing me to a shell shocked shadow of a gamer. So perhaps it's for the best that this month's explosive offerings are a little thin on the ground, allowing our mind fields to grow healthy and mentally fortified once more.

The global superpower of this month's games is Defcon, from Introversion Software. "Everybody Dies" seems to sum up Introversion's chosen topic of intercontinental nuclear war quite nicely. The scoring system is simple : 1 point lost for every 1 million of your civilians killed, 2 points gained for every 1 million enemy civilians eradicated. Defcon follows the established Introversion trend for visually simple, yet charmingly functional gaming; presented in a style similar to that of the 80's cult classic Wargames. The game plays out over the course of six (optionally time-compressed) hours in which the war escalates as the 'Defcon Levels' decrease, with nuclear missile launces seen only at Defcon 1. The time scale of this game should make it a direct hit with office workers, allowing for a game to be played over the network and minimised quickly on command. You can purchase a downloadable copy for ten pound, or pay an extra five pound to attain a boxed copy; available at the Introversion website linked above.

As for other games, well... uhh... Call of Juarez looks nice. Play as both a dual-pistol-wielding, evil priest and a sneaky, stealthy chap and do all this in a wild west world... wonderfully. I'd imagine you can buy it at Play.com, but investing in Defcon and playing Just Cause and Company of Heroes seems like a much better idea to me.

If we are lucky ShadowBolt might write something about the console scene this month. Otherwise, this has been a bit of a poor feature eh?

Monday, October 02, 2006

A Darwinian Dynamic

Harvey Smith, team member on such projects as System Shock, Deus Ex and Thief : Deadly Shadows, gives an interview with Gamasutra which you can enjoy here. I found Harvey's views on the games industry a real pleasure; this is a guy who understands the history of gaming and the need avoid stagnancy by introducing revolutionary concepts into the community. Harvey is now a creative director at Midway Austin, toying with such ideas as "cell phone players [being] the butterflies in MMO's" and "players in a chat lobby being pulled into shooters for micro play sessions, playing the parts of throw-away enemies or even the player-character's semi-autonomous rockets." Harvey says, "Some of that is starting to happen, which is cool."

Bringing together various gaming platforms, combining previously disparate gameplay elements (orc slaying and butterfly flapping, for example) and enabling players to experience both alongside one another; cool indeed! Such a concept as connecting mobile phones to MMOs such as World of Warcraft are not new, but the potential to include a swathe of new, eager gamers into the online sphere simply by accessing their familiar mobile devices seems like an opportunity to share gaming with a diverse and uninitiated audience. I look forward to a time I can text my (imaginary) long-time City of Heroes playing friend, ask him to show me where to find the underground layer of the evil Dr. Spelunker, and have him pop into my world as a helpful monkey-sidekick using the phone in his (fictional) holiday villa.

"I don't have strong opinions about the way "the game industry" should go. There's a Darwinian dynamic that will drive that [...] I think that "good things happening for the industry" will be a second order consequence of creative people doing what they love." - Harvey Smith

Sunday, October 01, 2006

That's what Wii get

In a recent interview with Nintendo, Iwata Asks about the design of the new Wii console. Nintendo have a theory that gaming should be the centre of living room entertainment for the family. To meet this goal, the Wii will be designed to cater to the demands of parents, concerned about the number of hours their children may spend entertained in the centre of the living room. The Japanese gaming rig will feature an ability to monitor and log the hours spent playing, enabling curious parties to keep tabs on a suspected gaming addict.

A study of 500 children, conducted by the UK Television show Tonight with Trevor McDonald, found that 14% of British kids spend 10 hours or more per day with their number crunching friend. Is this addiction? If the figure is to believed, I'd say 10 hours of gaming per day would rapidly cause me to feel unhealthy.

Good parenting begins with a sturdy parental knowledge of their child's life. If this can be aided by a gaming machine, I'm all for it.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Blocked from Access

Did you know that 8.7% of the male population is affected by some level of colour blindness? I didn't, until I read Brannon Zahand's thought-provoking insight detailing the accessibility features (or, lack of) offered to today's gamers. This statistic is evidence alone to support the existence of a significant market proportion, alienated by the lack of tailored functionality to meet their needs. Imagine being unable to distinguish between the colours yellow and green... now imagine trying to play Tetris with this disability - where did the fun go? I originally intended my last sentence's example to be Bejewelled, but after looking at a screenshot I found that a simple and effective evolution occurred during a decade of puzzle gaming - Bejewelled features gems shaped according to colour, meaning that the colourblind can play by observing an alternative attribute. Bejewelled highlights the ease in which an oversight can be repaired, conferring financial advantages to the developer and accessibility to the gamer.

Zahand illustrates how the question is often asked 'How do we get little Sally or Grandpa to play our games?', surely including the unwilling into our gaming fraternity should become a long term goal to be pursued after the willing but unable have had their problems addressed?

If we are to truly believe that gaming is able to unlock a new, higher level of human consciousness, as I adamantly profess, then inclusion of the willing should become the gaming industry's primary goal.

Just a short anecdote before I sign off. I played Planetside using Teamspeak for the best part of two years, during this time my outfit (guild/group) insisted that all members join the voice communications server so that they could partake in the audio chatter and instruction that would be issued by a human voice rather than via text. A few months after this policy began, outfit command noticed one of our crew who was never on Teamspeak and rarely followed orders... a conversation over private messages ensued. The commanders were ashamed to learn that their disgruntlement was directed at a deaf man. His impairment had led to the anger of his peers and his own lack of integration with the outfit. Understanding and compassion went a long way to heal the rift but unfortunately, in this instance, my outfit's reliance on audio communication led to our deaf soldier moving on to keyboarded pastures, green with a capital 3.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Serious Stuff

Gamasutra covers a story announcing the latest Serious Games Summit, which you can find here. The conference, centered in Washington DC, will run on 30-31st October of this year and cover such topics as "A Virtual Orchestra Game for Introducing Children to Music", "Serious Stuff Gamers Do"and "Using Real-world Gaming to Achieve Real-world Goals".

You can find further information on CMP Games Group's other major event - the Games Developer Conference - here.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Fun... Just 'coz.

Storyline is not important in games. Games which possess the greatest longevity are games that don't tie the player down with restrictions. Humans play games to escape from life's demands, not to be accosted by a giant calculator. At the dawn of gaming, Pacman, Gauntlet and Joust, under the constraints of exceedingly limited memory and processing power, provided gamers with memorable experiences worthy of the title they have earned themselves - 'Classic'.

Today our community finds it hard to exalt in praise any game which doesn't attempt to bring - for example - conspiracy-laden, philosophical, multiple-conversation pathed, dynamic, revolutionary, emotionally charged, voice acted by that guy that plays Jean Luc Picard on Star Trek... well I forget where I was going with this, but our community would appear to feel cheap or dirty in hailing a game for being simply fun, demanding nothing less than Patrick Stewart.

And so I'm happy to have spent the weekend playing Just Cause with my friend Colin. JC (simply a coincidence that the abbreviation for Just Cause emulates our messiah?) grants its player the freedom to explore and cause mischief with total disregard for fun-wrecking constraints. Unlimited dual-pistol ammo, infinite parachutes, the ability to breathe underwater and a healthy chunk of bullet-absorbing flesh all grace the secret agent avatar of JC. Avalanche Studios have performed a modern day miracle in their developmental quest for fun over fuss.

I'm certain that I'll be playing JC for weeks... or at least until Friday when my pre-ordered copy of Company of Heroes arrives. And as for liberating, freedom granting, FUN games of the future... its only a short while until Will Wright's Spore is released.

You can purchase Just Cause on all platforms from Play right here, and this website has set itself a mission of keeping the Spore release date up-to-date (current ETA for Spore is March '07). I'm excited already!