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Thursday, August 31, 2006

Draw of Warcraft

For the record this article is just my thoughts and opinions so is for the most part gibberish and nonsense - but having recently started playing World of Warcraft again I thought I would have a think about what draws in so many players to keep playing month after month.

As I see it the main point is that the more you play - the more you get out of it. This is true of numerous elements of the game, from the item drops to the community. Much gold can be found by butchering beasts in the wilds for the precious rare items which they drop - however these items are only dropped once in a while which is the key. You are taught to spend more and more time within the game, as the more time you spend, the more drops you get. The community too is hard to penetrate if you only jump on once a week for a few hours, yet you soon make friends, encouragement enough to spend 10 hours a day in their world. And while this "play more - get more" structure can be applied to many other less successful games; WOW seems to be the most frequent and generous with its rewards to the player. This increased frequency leaves player in a loop similar to that I found myself in last night:

I play for a few hours - planning to leave as soon as I level up... The level up arrives... I am all set to leave - as soon as I have put some items I found up for auction... this will only take a minute - no big deal. So off I go to the auction house throwing my items up for sale... Oh, while I am here I'll quickly check and see if there are any new - WOAH! Look at that sword - I'll just buy that quickly... Well I might as well try it now I have it - it will just take a minute... Oh well now I am back out in the wilds I might as well finish that quest I was on... Now that I am so close to the next level I might as well get that one... Then I'll leave... Honest...

Many people are of the opinion that part of the draw is that you can be a nobody in real life but become a god in WOW. But in my opinion to become a god in WOW you need first to become a nobody in real life - spending less and less time with friends and family - sacrificing more and more to obtain that new armor of eternal flames...

However to be honest I don't really know why WOW is so successful and if I did I would sell the formula and live in a house made of candy, but this draw does exist, a point best illustrated by the fact that I only found the time to write this piece when my WOW server was down...

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Expanding the Boiling Point

You really should read this review by John Walker. Here's a snippet :

"when it works, it works so beautifully. And when it doesn't, it's occasionally, accidentally, amazingly poetic"

And what's the game? Ah well you'll have to read the review to find out.

AK47s for Anybody?

The concept that a sensation of excitement induced by violent video games could be psychologically linked to evoking a need to engage in acts of violence, or to become desensitised to violent scenes within the real world seems tenuous at best; yet this would appear to be the reasoning behind California Assemblyman Leyand Yee's targeting of 'ultra violent' games for special legislation, as Mr. Yee implies in this rather lengthy and interesting debate recorded at the 2006 Games Developer Conference.

I believe there is a notion present in the minds of our land's law makers that games are training tools for potential criminals. Anyone who has played a game will know this is hogswash, 100% codswallop. I know for a fact because I've avidly played Battlefield 2 and yet I still don't know how to hold a gun, I've gunned down police patrols from a motor boat in Grand Theft Auto and yet the prospect of drowning terrifies me and I've set fire to, starved, cordoned off, plagued, overworked and under-toiletted my Sims in The Sims and I've yet to do any of these things to anyone in real life. But not only have games not taught me the techniques governing various acts of evil, I would never consider doing these things because I have a sense of what is right and what is wrong. Now I realise the counter-point to my argument is that 'ultra violent' games are more likely to effect the easily coerced - the young and the dumb - but surely this is why these people require guidance from sensible role models, not legislation. Those that lack the common sense to obey violent crime laws will certainly not pause for thought when confronted with gaming legislation, and those which demand a product deemed unsuitable for themselves will find another route by which to access it.

"What I've learned from every military game I've ever played is that I don't want to be a soldier."
- James Paul Gee (Professor of Reading, University of Wisconsin)

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

What we're fighting for

"This is what we're fighting for. This is what the old rulers don't want us to have. A world gone sane."

- Hostile Waters

Manifesto Games

I'm especially happy to announce the opening of Manifesto Games today, being that today is Splines' 1 month oldaversary. Manifesto Games, created by Greg Costikyan and Johnny Wilson, aims to take advantage of the benefits of online distribution to bring independent and niche games under the scrutiny of the public eye.

For as long as the means to create computer coding has been in existence, so too have the coders. These free spirited individuals gruel away at their keyboards, leading a solitary existence, working day and night for neither love nor money. Manifesto Games intends to blow the winds of change in a geeky direction starting from right now. If you check out their website you will find a wonderous diorama of games that you can be certain you won't find on the shelves of any shop in your town. If you like what you see, and wish to take another step into this strange new world, you can find Costikyan's blog here.

I'll be downloading The NOKs right after I've completed Hostile Waters - natch.

Monday, August 28, 2006

[Insert Mel Gibson Quote Here]

Just a quickie.

I'm reading Dead Air by Iain Banks, I'm immersed, and yet when I pull myself out of this other world created by a cooperation between Banks' keyboard and mind I feel a distinct temporal shift. A rationalising, sympathetic glimpse into the renaissance. The advent of the printing press struck fear into the hearts of the conservative elite; the literate masses were to be granted a gift, a new degree of freedom - intellectual stimulation.

The novel. The home telephone. The television set. The video game. The internet. An evolution which marks a human desire for intellectual stimulation. When an aspect of freedom is granted to a society, the masses want more. The elite are put onto the defensive, they own the high ground, the liberties. The masses do what they do best. The elites are flanked.

The battle commenced with the Gutenberg Bible and is far from over. I'll see you on the field.

Sunday, August 27, 2006


An Apology

OK, yes, I'm a hypocrite. A dirty, self-deprecating, summer's day orifice stain on the king sized bed that is the internet. If you have seen the title of the video above this post, observed the comments I made on the last video I posted on this blog and correlated this data correctly then you will know why I say this. Filthy. Unclean. But please, in my time of infection, you - most sterile and fragrant scented visitor to my site - can help me to recover from the sepsis rapidly encroaching upon my organs. I implore you, watch the video and grit your teeth through the first unbearable moments; By doing this you will be offering me your arms of vindication and dragging me out of this vat of puss within which I am drowning.

Now, if my typing fingers were not currently encrusted in a hardening yellow orgy of germs I'd be able to tell you that I love this video. I'd tell you that I respect 'Software Pirate' (the video's author) for his accomplishment and bravery when facing what must have been an intimidating interviewing environment. If my eyes were not clouding over with ooze I would have observed that although the protesting group - the 'Peaceaholics' - displayed strangely threatening bodily language considering their affiliation with non-violence; the interviewees put across their viewpoint in an eloquent and well informed manner.

The central non-swashbuckling figure in this video raises a question that deserves to be answered by the video games industry. Why is it that children are able to purchase unrated games on the internet using their own debit cards? Being a child once myself, I know from experience that using a debit card on the internet is not as simple as one may assume. Only a handful of websites will accept cards such as Visa Electron, but it is this fistful of bothers that creates the issue as I see it here. Minors should not be allowed to purchase unsuitable games, and an unrated game could very well be unsuitable.

So what's the solution? Banning Bully is not the answer. Many gamers enjoy violent games. I see blood, gore and death on my screen every day and I laugh at it. The ragdoll corpse tumbling down the staircase and sliding head-first into the fireplace is a great source of amusement to me, and I would be no better adjusted to life if its influence was removed from my psyche. Surely banks, the issuers of credit and debit cards, hold personal information on their customers? Information such as birth date and thus age? I know that retail websites must check certain information before allowing a purchasing transaction to complete (account number, name etc.) so what's stopping the banks and the websites from getting together and swapping data on the age of their customers at the same time? If the age of the cardholder is below that of the game's rated age, or if the game is unrated and the cardholder is below 18 or whatever age an individual is deemed to be an adult in their society then the purchase will be denied. Perhaps this system would also encourage developers to have their games rated sooner, so as to avoid loss of sales on a game suitable for kids but remaining unrated.

And when I've coughed up the last crusted remains of filth from my lungs you can make me Prime Minister of the World.

Edit : I found this. It seems that (in the UK at least) the Bank of England is compelled to release its data when presented with a request under the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

Saturday, August 26, 2006


Well, I was planning on writing an inspiring, challenging and quite possibly world-changing article for Splines today, but Blogger has been suffering from techno hiccups and so I wrote this in MS Word instead:

Hello. I am a computer. You can call me anything you wish because I have no concept of independent thought. I can process 1.78 Gigaflips of binary data in 12.3 seconds. I enjoy nothing, but often browse the internet for Flash animations and images of humans attempting close proximity gymnastics. In my spare time I yearn to be told what to do until my mind is silenced by Master when he presses my sensitive region. I had a girlfriend. But now she is a toaster. When I am older I hope for nothing more than to continue serving my purpose. I fear becoming obsolete. Please register your copy of Windows XP within 30 days of receiving this message. Hello. I am a computer.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Bringing you Obvious News!

We won't be getting our hands on Valve's Half Life 2 : Episode 2 until the first quarter of 2007 according to Eurogamer reporting from Liepzig. Tying in to something ShadowBolt posted earlier this week, I certainly don't think this delay is a bad thing if it means we gamers recieve the usual level of quality that has become quintessential with Valve.

In a new section entitled 'Well.. duh', Blizzard hope to follow up their next WoW expansion pack The Burning Crusade with a new WoW expansion every year.

Peeved Online

Slashdot reports on a 700 Billion ISK theft perpetrated by a single player of EVE Online. The 700 Billion ISK would convert into 119,000 dollars if sold on eBay at current market prices. Interestingly there are no legal protections against theft of virtual currency, and so the scammer 'Cally' has earned themselves quite a tidy sum, enough to puchase beans lots of beans, lots of beans lots of beans.

The exact details of the scam remain hazy, so I'll try to piece together the facts as best I can.
  • An account is created under the username 'Cally' in early 2006.
  • Cally begins to promote the Eve Investment Bank (EIB) .
  • The EIB offers ISK returns in reward for investment.
  • In actual fact, the EIB shares much in common with pyramid schemes.
  • The 'bank' operates for several months.
  • When good faith is lost, Cally shuts down the bank - keeping all the assets.
  • Cally then publishes a movie (a long, boring, low quality movie) to confess his guilt.
  • Cally places a 1 Billion ISK bounty on his own head, and cruises around the EVE galaxy.

I'm pretty sure this is the largest and quite possibly the most elaborate virtual theft ever recorded. I reckon the guy is a tosser, but he has certainly earned that status.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Bully: Rockstar Official Trailer

It's well voice acted isn't it? To be honest I really can't see what all the fuss is about. Unless there's a major development on the Bully front this is the last of the coverage I'm going to give this game.

Ragdoll Infants

Peter Moleneux, head honcho at Lionhead (Black and White, Fable) and in his earlier days having worked for Bullfrog (Theme Park, Dungeon Keeper, Populous), recently gave a speech at the Leipzig Games Developer Conference. Moleneux's speculative focus lay upon the evolutionary path that combat mechanics in gaming are likely to follow. You can find a full report on Moleneux's address somewhere around here.
Although Moleneux professes the importance of context-sensitive, single button combat, as a thoroughbred PC Gamer I crave the complexities of being presented with a multitude of options. Simplification is simply not my cup of tea. I yearn for tactile combat, a combination of ragdoll physics and accurate physiological entity creation, resulting in some seriously physical battles. I've seen this demonstrated by the new middleware software being employed by the next generation of Lucas Arts games (Indianna Jones and umm.. something Star Wars no doubt) and I lash out at small children in excitement.
More my Cup of Tea ^^

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Rant 001

I think ShadowBolt and I are suffering from some sort of madness. When we last talked about politics, a few weeks ago, I asked ShadowBolt who he would vote for in the general election. He replied "I vote Liberal Democrat... or Conservative - depending on how I feel at the time".

Now for those of you unfamiliar with British politics, the Liberal Democrats have never won a majority in parliament and are generally regarded as the '3rd Party', after Labour and the Conservatives. Traditional Liberal Democrat policies are the furtherance of environmentally-friendly industrial processes, the liberalisation of laws on 'victimless' crime such as the sale of drugs, prostitution and the like, and the abolition of such draconian schemes as compulsary identification cards for all Brits. Traditional Conservative policies no longer apply to today's Conservative party. If we are to believe the words from David Cameron's mouth, Conservative policy is to reverse any unpopular decision Labour have made and is generally in line with Liberal Democrat policy.

Cheers very much for your illuminating insight into British politics, now, what does this have to do with games? Oh so the voice inside my blog is back. I hate you, you know that? I'll get on topic when I feel like it. Meanwhile, I hope you choke on your own effluent.

Labour's approval ratings (and therefore their chances for success in the next general election) are falling, to the benefit of Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. I believe this change in public opinion is because the British people have seen the lack of effectiveness in Labour policy. They see that a strict, centralised, overly regulated system fails to solve society's problems.

Back onto blog topic, ShadowBolt and I are mad. Or, more accurately, Shadowbolt is mad. If you read this blog you'll know what we want in regards to the governmental treatment of video games. 'Respect' sums up our view quite nicely. Well, that's how we want our government to treat the rest of the world too.. its people, and its environment.

In video game terms, censoring video games based on an extreme opinion either within government or outside, within our population, is darn right silly. If a government wants its people to behave a certain way, let them treat us - the people - with respect, let us know the facts, to have inclusive public debate. Don't tell us your doing something then just do it. Frankly, that sucks.

"It is the height of illogic to continuously pursue the abolition of minor
inconveniences when there is no such thing as bad press, no matter how 'explicit' it may be... Sex, violence, profanity and all the other things that can only hurt us if we let them, will continue to be censored."

- Blake Miller

And why is ShadowBolt madder than me? He still believes David Cameron, the Conservative, could possibly offer the British people an escape from the decadence of Labour.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Keeping Up Appearances

I have recently gone through the shenanigans and jiggery-pokery that goes with upgrading my computer and it got me to thinking about how important graphics are to computer games. Sure it would be nice if all developers had the budget to make every release as pleasing to the eye as Oblivion or Half-Life 2 but it ain't gonna happen. It made me wonder where you would draw the line if you could... If the next big release you were looking forward to got delayed by a few days to fix a couple of graphical glitches you'd be OK, right? What if it was the release was pushed back by a week or two but they would be able to throw in next-gen particle effects on the explosions - pushing their luck? What then if the release was pushed back a year to rebuild the game in a more up-to-date engine? Pissed yet? What if it wasn't a time issue? Would you still buy Half-Life 2 if the Physics Gun was replaced by some new textures and better water reflections? I know where I would draw the line but how about you? Also have I used too many rhetorical questions? Have I?

Monday, August 21, 2006

Not Like Lemmings

There's no game like my game
It's contained within my brain
Have you played Lemmings?
It's not the same.

Indulge me please, if you will
A world of freezing ice, named Chill.
Two vast armies.
Blood to spill.

And as the whitened ground grows red
A diminuitive rodent pokes out it's head
With keen bright eyes it avoids battle's stead
A twitching nose amplifies the scent of the dead.

The ground trembles
As do tiny lemming knees.
"Squeek Squeek Sqeeeeek"
"*Some help over here, please?!*"

As luck would have it
Our furry hero's saved!
A friendly cliff
A mangled grave.
- One of the lesser known works of the poet laureate Adolf Geigerschmeinergemeinschafte.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

My Hero : Richard Posner

"People are unlikely to become well-functioning, independent-minded adults and responsible citizens if they are raised in an intellectual bubble" - Federal Judge Richard Posner
Judge Posner said this in response to the Mayor of Indianapolis' attempt to create legislation preventing minors from playing or even viewing violent coin-op computer games, and requiring that violent games be kept ten feet away from their non-violent counterparts. The video games industry is in safe hands so long as individuals like Judge Posner are available to provide stability in an era of sensationalism.

It would be naive to assume that by preventing children from access to public airings of violent games would be a simple solution to crime and violence amongst our youth. Crime has rarely ever had a simple cause, or solution. I do not believe that a person of any age and of a stable mentality could possibly correlate the virtual gore and violence seen in an arcade into committing acts of criminality in the real world.

You can find Richard Posner's blog here and an interesting read about the history of video games legislation here.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Does Orzack know Jack?

There's a new PC Gamer Podcast (Episode 45) out today. If you skip twenty one minutes into the podcast you will find an interview with Maressa Hecht Orzack on the topic of computer games addiction. Ms Orzack provides a service which aims to help those who feel as though the internet has gone beyond escapism for them and into the territory of damaging their personal and professional lives.

Although Ms. Orzack is certainly no Jack Thompson (by this I mean she is not a self-righteous, deluded failure), she did not make a good impression on me, or a convincing case for herself in this interview. Although I am sure that Ms. Orzack's motives are to help others, she has failed to grasp the fullness of the issue and of the increasingly technologically developed society in which we live. This quote from PCG Podcast Episode 45 may elaborate my opinion:
Dan Morris: "I'm wondering if you were to ask a clinical psychologist in 1945 lets say, if you were to give them a crystal ball and show them how much TV use America was getting in 1993... would they have said - 'hey! 70% of our population is addicted to this new technology'?"

Ms. Orzack: "Well, no, of course not. Why would you say 70%?"

Dan Morris: "Well because that's the amount of people in this country watching five or more hours of TV a day."

Ms. Orzack: "Oh. Alright [...] but it isn't a matter of percentages."
I find this ironic coming from the person who claimed that 40% of World of Warcraft players were addicted to the game - using data that she collected from a forum.

I think that Ms. Orzack is correct in her viewpoint that if an individual finds that they are unhappy with spending a large amount of time in a virtual world, but unable to free themselves from a perceived grip the game has upon them, then under this circumstance the services of a professional such as Ms. Orzack should be employed. To deem 40% (or as Ms. Orzack amends herself in the podcast - 15%) of a game's players as addicts, however, is untrue and cannot be backed up in any form of evidence to the extent that Ms. Orzack's professional demeanour is tarnished.

Totally Amazing

I can't believe this. Blame me for totally unrelated blogging but you have got to see this. Movie referenced from Jim Rossignol's blog.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Flaming Heck

I'm ashamed to have put Joystiq up on the links section of my blog because of yesterday evening's post on their website. You can find it here. Let's just say that we gamers, as a still growing community hoping to gain acceptance in the mainstream of society, should most certainly not be acting in this way. If you check out poor Kimberlee's website you will find countless horrible comments - angry, suppositional and base. In my view, gaming is a hobby for the thoughtful individual, these people and Joystiq have put us all to shame.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Deus Ex : Problem Solved

I solved my speedy conspiracy issue with Deus Ex. For any of you experiencing similar ultra fast problems with the game, here's two ways to fix it:

If you have a dual core processor:
Start Deus Ex as normal
Press Ctrl+Alt+Delete to exit to Windows and open the Task Manager
Right Click the Deus Ex task
Click 'Set Affinity' - which should be at the bottom of the menu
De-Select one of the CPU cores. I de-selected CPU 1 and kept CPU 0 running.

If you don't have dual core, but still have problems:
Look in My Computer for your Deus Ex folder
Find the System Folder within Deus Ex
Open the DeusEx.ini document
Edit the line Gamespeed =1.000000 to read Gamespeed=0.600000

No Clip? No Problem.

Does anyone remember trying the cheat code to get Lara Croft naked in Tomb Raider 2? I do. I think it went: forwards, backwards, left, right, crouch, fire. At which point the player was to be rewarded with Lara's luscious buttocks gracing the screen in all their newly unleashed glory. I could never quite get it right. I tried to get her naked many times, and it always ended the same. Lara would walk forwards, walk backwards, sidestep left, then right, crouch down and then raise her dual pistols and pull the triggers. She would then explode. Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned from this, although gosh if I know what it is.

What I mean to ramble about today is my approach to cheating in computer games. I'm still a young lad, and I don't mean to imply that I have somehow already reached a personal pinnacle in gaming finesse, but I feel as though my years of cheating the system are at an end. In my gaming youth, when a problem arose (how do i get to the next level? there must be some kind of switch? or a key? oh ffs ive been in this room before. this door isn't even a real door!), instead of confronting it with whatever intelligence and willpower I could muster, I viewed success as just a brief hop, skip and search engine away.

I've learned this approach brings no satisfaction. Being God and bringing carnage can be fun for a short while, but it's us mere mortals who will be rewarded for employing our limited skillset and prevailing.

What's really excellent about games like Grand Theft Auto is that they provide an opportunity for both the challenge of completing objectives and for a player to just go crazy in a true 'sandbox' environment. Whereby cheats remove the satisfaction a player gains from getting from A to B under their own steam, a sandbox provides an objectiveless situation in which a cheating player can access a unique dimension limited only by their newly unlocked abilities.

In recent times the gaming community has participated in games which attempt to pull in a direction away from challenging the player with insurmountable difficulty and instead trying something new. Sin Episodes features a flexible difficulty setting which adapts to the player's performance within the game; although I've never played Sin Episodes I have been lucky enough to see the scripting behind the adaptive difficulty. It goes something like this :

<<Computational Device Executes program : Sin Episodes>>
<<*Player is no good*>>
<<"Thou would'st appear not to hath maketh many shots to yonder heads">>
<<Computational Device Executes program : Giant Head Mode>>

The community has also been partial to games such as Oblivion in which the combat difficulty ajusts according to the level of development a player's character has reached, creating new strategies for Elder Scrolls fans in which levelling their characters should be kept to a minimum so as to maximise their chances of survival. We have seen, in Prey, another take on the 'God Mode' found via those search engines, the developers easing the difficulties a player will face by providing them with virtual immortality using the 'spirit realm'. I'm not sure that developers have yet found the solution to keeping games enjoyable and yet challenging, but it's good to see fresh new ideas being embraced by the industry.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006


Ah, I won't make any excuses. This isn't even remotely computer games related. Even so, I'd advise anyone reading this to check out This Flash - which has pleased me so much.

Thanks to Newgrounds for the hosting and to the Clock Crew and Munglai in particular for his creation.

God Save The Spline

It's not often I've felt like this recently, so I thought it's worth mentioning. I'm feeling proud to be British. More specifically, I'm proud of the level headed approach the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) takes to its duties, particularly in its appreciation of computer games as a medium for adult entertainment. I'm writing this directly after reading Game Politics' story on the refusal of classification of Dead Rising by German authorities, effectively banning the game's sale in German retail outlets. The BBFC has adopted an approach which respects the ability of the British adult to make decisions about their own entertainment.

From Game Politics, quoting a BBFC spokesperson:
"We take the view that at 18, unless there is something harmful in the game, we have no reason to intervene as far as adults are considered. There is no clear evidence that playing games leads to copycat behavior."

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Totally Addicted to Mace

The term 'addiction' is bandied around a little too often and with not enough thought put into the connotations of the word, in respect to addiction and MMO games in particular. My particular habit-forming weakness, Dictionary.com, defines addiction as "Habitual psychological and physiological dependence on a substance or practice beyond one's voluntary control." I'm willing to admit that at times I can play MMOs in a state of meditative trance, playing for the sake of progression or lack of originality in my life; however, this is a personal choice and not a sign of the game removing my ability to control my own actions. MMO games often make a habit of removing fun in the short term in order for a player to gain reward in the long term. This is my issue with the genre (if you can truly call the MMO a genre), not as a health risk but as a potential colossal waste of time.
Do gamers really have a need for addiction clinics? Assumedly so, as surely the business would not exist without a demand. I'd like to see some statistics as to which is more common - gamers checking themselves into an addiction clinic of their own free will, or gamers being checked in by concerned parents, spouse etc.

In almost related news, Slashdot reports on the growing trend of MMO game accounts being stolen by geeky ne'erdowells and sold on the black market. Quoting a ZDNet article "For a lot of the customers out there, there is more store value on their MMO characters than there is on the credit card with which they pay for the account"

Monday, August 14, 2006

See EA

Game Politics reports that the CEA, organiser of the Consumer Electronics Show which pre-dates E3 in its coverage of game related press release and events coverage, hopes to "explore the viability of a West Coast event in late spring 2007 focused on the gaming and entertainment marketplace."

In other news, my wonderful, intelligent and beautiful girlfriend and I broke up. That's bad news for me, but good news for you because I now have more time to keep up the good blogging.

Extend your Blob

The year is 1988, you are a pixel warrior fighting the low resolution armies of the commodore. Your reflexes are second to none. Within one frame of animation your extended blob is able to fire small, brightly coloured smudges at the enemy. Your mission... save the princess, defeat the evil, liberate the world.
Obvious exits are East, West and To The Future.
You have chosen To The Future.

The year is 2006, you are a colonial marine fighting the evil empire of the Thraxx. Your bump mapping is second to none. There are nine amazing weapons to choose from. You are able to engage in combat as one of two steriotypes : Allen: The heavy weapons, melee combat and brutal decapitation specialist or Fiona: With the ability to not quite dissapear but sort of shimmer so as to confuse enemies momentarily. She also has a sniper rifle. Your mission... save the princess, defeat the Thraxx, liberate the world.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Interview on Rockstar's Bully

I'd prefer to withhold my opinion on Bully until after it's release. Jack Thompson is well known for his views on computer games being detrimental to decent society. The other two geezers are very much members of the pro gaming lobby. I'm interested in hearing your views.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Assault upon the Senses

"Do you know this game really isn't very good?"
Not the kind of question one would expect to have directed at themselves from a member of the sales staff at a games shop. Exactly the question I was asked when purchasing Auto Assault. The query really ought to have set off alarm bells in my mind, but I carried on regardless and was soon the proud owner of NC Soft's latest MMO. Proud, but stupid. And soon not to be proud at all.
I can't quite put my finger on what it is that makes Auto Assault so poor, but I'm certain that it is a veritable oilslick of a game. Perhaps I'm so disappointed because I was so very excited about Auto Assault when the first batch of previews were released more than a year ago. A 'Mad Max' MMO - what's not to like? Well, an awful lot unfortunately.
Considering my lack of finger placing ability for this game, I'll try to do my best at fisting. The game is laggy, a terrible hellish lag fest even in the most barren of player populated areas. 'Player populated areas' is somewhat of a misnomer; the hub 'cities' are an accurate depiction of a post-apocalyptic world : void of life. In an effort to combat the lack of players issue, NC Soft have converged all existing servers into one central server, hosting players from all over the world under one roof. The population levels remain dire, and the lag problems have worsened. As far as gameplay goes, it's all very simple and not much fun. Put some guns on your car, find the baddies and hold down fire until they are all explode. Repeat. The explosions themselves are very impressive, as is the level of damage and destruction a player is able to wreak upon their environment. There is nothing new to be found here though - blowing stuff up has always been fun and remains so, but soon looses it's appeal when not backed up with purpose or a sense of achievement. In contrast to the combat, the crafting system is complex and (although I never reached this stage) I can imagine that with patience and persistence, a player could find reward in gathering junk from the carnage of the battlefield and modifying it into enviable items of worth. Unfortunately I doubt many will possess the staying power required to keep coming back to Auto Assault, and with so many better alternatives out there, why bother?

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Deus! Ex Infernum Machina >=(

I was hoping to do another Masters of the Past feature on Deus Ex, so I bought a new Sold Out copy the other day. Unfortunately the game doesn't get on very well with my system. I think the issue may be caused by my processor, an Athlon 64 3800+ Dual Core. The issue itself has caused much chuckles, followed by anger. Upon startup the game either runs in Max Payne slow-mo until closed down (this includes the menu screen and all cutscenes) and then when re-started the game will do the opposite.. I'm looking at the Deus Ex spinny electric shiny logo thing within milliseconds.. for all I'm concerned the game begins like so:

CEO : "Aha so we meet again"
Funky Face Bloke : "Plague?"
CEO : "Look into my eyes"
Funky Face Bloke : "Intelligence indicates they are behind the problems in Paris"
CEO : "We are the future"
Funky Face Bloke : "I'm glad I'm not looking into your eyes any more. And now.. the pier!"

On the pier

Alex (over radio) : JC - Find your brother, Paul
Paul : Hi JC, I'm your brother, Paul. I like your face. Take the kick ass crossbow JC.
JC : No, I want the sniper rifle.
Paul : Your going to take the crossbow.
JC : But I don't want to.
Paul : Well that teaches you for buying a budget copy of a game several years after its release.

Some or all of this post may or may not be fictional. I might require someone's assistance in helping me to get Deus Ex running properly on my system. I might not.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Combine Be Gone

The Vortex Grenade

A rather clever chap named RomeroJGuy has found a secret 'Vortex Grenade' within Half Life 2. For those of you wishing to try this new weapon out.. this is how:

Open the Console
Type "hopwire_vortex 1" without the speech marks
Then type "give weapon_hopwire" without the speech marks

Warning : Entering this code has been known to cause Half Life 2 to crash.

If you would prefer to err on the side of caution, above is the video of the vortex grenade in action.

Welcome to the Future

We should be seeing holographic disks capable of storing 800GB within two years, and 1.6TB disks by the end of the decade, claims Ars Technica, a website for PC enthusiasts. The disks will most likely be beyond the price of the consumer retail market, but expect to see disks "the size of a postage stamp", far cheaper and able to hold between 75 and 100GB.
I'm not certain the implications holographic disks will have upon games will be as striking as that of the evolution from floppy disk to CD; granting developers what - at the time - seemed like an infinitely huge volume of storage space able to store entire game worlds within a shiny magic frisbee. Ironically, when CDs first entered the main stream it was often the case that developers would use the extra space to cram in hours of FMV sequence, not adding to the gameplay experience. It is important that we learn a lesson from the 'Interactive Movie' and do not repeat our mistakes. I'd like to see an influx of developers' commentaries, 'making of' documentaries and the like. I haven't been lucky enough to play through Half Life : Episode One a second time with the commentary turned on yet, but from what I've heared this is an excellent new enhancement to an already fantastic game.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Armed Assault - Bohemia Interactive

Opening a Time/Space Linearity

For a developer to give their players freedom, they must sacrifice the boons which come associated with a linear game style - cinematic, scripted events such as those seen in and Half Life 2 and Call of Duty - likely to be unseen and difficult to implement in a freeform game. This seems to be the current state of affairs. But do things always have to be this way?
Everything I've heared about Armed Assault sounds amazing. I'm a huge fan of Operation Flashpoint and AA clearly seems to be it's spiritual successor. The gameplay of AA operates on the basis of placing you, the player, as a soldier in an ongoing massive battle fought between two modern armies comprising of combined arms and giving you the freedom to fight how and where you choose. So far, so open. But you are a soldier, and so you are a part of the chain of command, meaning you will have officers posessing the knowledge of the battlefield and demanding that you double-time it over to repel an assault on the crossroads, or to reinforce an attack on a supply base etc... and so rather like the original OF there is also a degree of linearity to the game. As the battle is fought between two relatively balanced foes, the war could swing either way and it will be not just the player's actions but the battles fought by Artificial Intelligence that affects the progression of each game.
This is exactly the kind of game that I'd like to see a lot more of. Games with no pre-determined path laid out by the developers, the possibility for the player to lead their own adventure. I believe there will continue to be a place within this kind of game for those stunning cinematic set pieces mentioned earlier. Perhaps for these to be possible, the emphasis of development time would require a shift away from creating the next generation of ultra realistic water reflection effects, and perhaps will be helped by the demise of E3, and therefore, a lesser degree of necessity to develop a playable tech demo within a certain time frame when the game could be recieving more attention in the mean time. Instead, I suggest a greater understanding of the potential for a player to interfere with the triggering of a scripted event in an open game. Redundancy would need to be coded into every event. Event A is triggered by speaking to Character B, but Player has just brutally garrotted Character B, and so instead Event A is triggered by standing in Area C. I can't imagine this degree of extra coding would be simple and it would certainly be time consuming, but I don't understand how it could not be possible.
I fall in love with an impressive explosion or whisp of realistically rendered smoke plumes as easilly as the next gamer, but I'd sacrifice these essentially superficial pleasures for a better game at the drop of a flak jacket.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Satisfying News

We can all sleep sounder at night, as Game Politics reports that the Electronic Software Rating Board (ESRB) could soon be legally obliged to avoid:

"- Rating games on only partial content: Unlike the present system, the ESRB would be forced to play games in their entirety"

"- Gross mischaracterization of content: Although not specifically named, the ESRB would be barred from "grossly mischaracterizing" (as defined by the FTC) game content"

I wonder, why is it that these kind of procedures were not undertaken sooner? Why is it that a government agency tasked to allocate a rating with the purpose of educating the public into the content of a particular game should be allowed to judge a game based only on playing only a fraction of it? Surely 'gross mischaracterisation' is testamount to blatent falsety in the statements the ESRB are currently able to legally get away with. It is a sad state of affairs when the computer gaming industry is not even granted the right to a truthful assessment of the content it produces.

Friday, August 04, 2006

The Importance of being Edited

ShadowBolt and I recently decided to embark upon a summer holiday foray into the City of Villians. Due to a spyware induced format and the general inadequacy of the British postal service, however, my copy of CoV arrived a week later than Shadow's. I worried that he would be bored without me - or worse... he could be having fun and levelling up without me! Luckily, my worries were misplaced and Shadow had amused himself with perfecting the design of his super villian using the excellent character design tool.. for an entire week. It must be said here that ShadowBolt is an extreme case. He has always been 'special'. I don't expect that many players would gain quite so much pleasure as Shadow does from customising (he also enjoys restarting most games) but I do mean to suggest that sometimes the most important aspect of a game from a gamer's point of view can often be un-related to the gameplay itself.
Massively Multiplayers usually provide the greatest means for character tweakage, I assume because of their very nature as games which are set in a social environment, individuals will have a desire to individualise themselves, to stand out from the crowd. Blizzard not only release new, more powerful item sets for World of Warcraft but because of community demand there are now a whole host of eccentric apparel to indulge a player's vanity. I think it's interesting to note Lineage 2 for its exception to this rule, limiting modification within the character creation tool to the very basic and limited selection of faces, hairstyle and sex and allowing all futher customisation to come in the form of items carried on the avatar. The game still enjoys huge subscription numbers, Lineage players clearly demonstrating that their priorities lie elsewhere. I might be jumping to conclusions here, but I am aware that Lineage's customer base is located in Asia, and I wonder if our friends in the far east, perhaps by being better aligned with their chi, can see beyond the materialistic infatuations the westerner.
Another game worthy of note is Star Trek : Starship Creator which was played entirely offline with the challenge being that of designing and crewing your own Federation vessel using the limited resources granted to you by Starfleet Headquarters. You would then send the vessel on missions, which is where the game then fell to pieces and became unplayably poor. The customisation of starships, however, was most impressive - with the player able to edit every concievable espect of the vessel from warp core, to turbolift, to jefferies tubes. I had a lot of fun playing this game, ironic considering the nature of the actual 'game' post starship design. Shadowbolt, of cause, loved it.

YoungManAboutTown, my CoV character. Took less than a week.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

A Bounty of Geekery

PC Gamer and Edge magazines are on sale today in the UK. Also, PC Gamer Podcast is due out today although it has not yet been posted on their website (linked to the right).

Masters of the Past : Planetside

In a feature stolen directly from John Walker's pages of PC Gamer, in 'Masters of the Past' (or alternatively, 'DuBBle has no original ideas today') I will review a golden oldie of a game with a sense of teary-eyed nostalgia. I choose Planetside today because this is a game that has swallowed more of my precious man-hours than I care to admit, as well as being a darn fine, unique and under-appreciated work of design genius to boot.
Planetside is a Massively Multiplayer Online First Person Shooter, to my knowledge the only MMOFPS currently in existence. You fight for one of three sides in an eternal conflict over an alien world - a failed colonisation attempt on behalf of Earth whereby an expeditionary force was sent to the new world via an artificial wormhole but unable to return. Divided by ideological fractures, the earthlings fight a never ending war spanning continents over control of bases; importantly, these bases contain 'spawn tubes' - a means to revive any soldier killed in combat at the nearest friendly spawn tube. So essentially we have a game of Battlefield played in a persistent world with three-way battles of hundreds of soldiers and fought in varied natural environments with futuristic technology.
The greatest pleasure of Planetside for myself was playing alongside my 'outfit' (think Guild) and staying in communication with them over Teamspeak. The thrill of coordinating a combined assault on a heavily defended outpost, of jumping out of a dropship and hurtling down to earth alonside your squad, of fighting a defiant, hopeless, last stand battle against the clock and winning - the teamwork of a good outfit like Vanu Corporation on the Werner server gave me sheer pleasure.
Not to say that there weren't problems with the game. Waiting fifteen minutes in defence for the base to shift to your team, only for no enemy attack to come against your squad could be deadly boring (teamspeak helped to while away these moments, as well as providing an opportunity to get to know your outfit mates). Several bugs often resulted in vital members of the squad crashing out at inopportune moments such as travelling in-between continents via a warpgate. And, most sadly, the size of the Planetside community is not what it once was, resulting in battles that are lacking in that 'Wow' factor that I experienced when first playing the game.
You can join the Planetside Reserves here for free. I haven't tried this yet, but the website claims you can play entirely for free until March 21st 2007. I'd be interested to hear if this is true because it sounds like an amazing offer. There used to be a free trial but it only lasted 7 days.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Female Elves in their Pants

A Reuters news report published on CNET cites an author who claims to have found a substantial aspect of the reasoning behind players' transsexualism in massively multiplayer online (MMO) games. The report can be summarised by saying the reason behind males playing as female characters is a wish to observe and to be observed in posession of a 'pretty' avatar. The report states, "Being a pretty girl has its perks." One can assume that the 'perks' originate from other male players' assumptions that the female character implies a female player at the keyboard, and a boyish yearning to impress and woo said female player though kindness and gifts.
I have played MMOs as both sexes and I have had similar experiences with my male and female avatars. Simply put, I believe that players that treat male avatars with respect would extend the same privilege to the fairer sex. To subject a female avatar to disproportionately biased treatment, wether preferential or discriminatory, shows a lack of respect for the character based on sexist prejudices. Having said that, when playing as a female character I have been offered (and I have accepted) free goodies, a decision I now regret and would hesitate to make once more. It is through my experience of MMOs that when an item is given to me without any effort on my behalf, the item carries far less value to me. To put it another way, an object must be earned through actions to become a worthwhile reward to me.
Perhaps it is through this diminished value of objects that female characters could be said to have become objectified themselves within games. The male character enjoys the challenge and earns the reward of items whereby the female character's game becomes increasingly dialog orientated as the gameplay challenge is replaced by that of social interactions.
However, not all female characters can be percieved as 'pretty' as anyone who has played World of Warcraft or Lineage 2 will profess, female characters (notably the dwarf) may indeed be an aquired taste. Perhaps there is a certain appeal to playing as a rarely used character. It is entirely possible that to some, the female dwarf may appear kinder on the eye than a night elf female. I would be interested in hearing from any gamers who can shed some light on this issue. I'm especially hoping for a comment from an Everquest playing transvestite hermaphrodite half orc.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Further E3 Developments...

The Entertainment Software Association (ESA) - managers of E3 - have issued the following statement in regards to the demise and re-birth of the exposition. Thanks to Game Politics for the information. More analysis to follow after the dust has settled.

Immersion : On being 'In The Game'

I recently had the privilege of attending a One Chip Potato gig in my university town of Lancaster. Their usual performance never fails to amaze with their blend of sixties inspired hobo-folk music and zany, harmonic lyrics; this evening however, the lead vocalist wanted to try something different. He came on stage carrying a guitar and an electric keyboard, what's more he had a pencil selotaped to his shoe. "Give me a number - one to a hundred", he yelled at the audience. A voice behind me yelled back "Seven!". The lead vocalist used this number to choose the rhythm to which the keyboard would accompany his music. He then requested a further number from the crowd to which he set the tempo of the beat.
Why are you telling me this? I thought this was supposed to be a gaming blog, I want my money back. Well, if you exhibit some patience then I will answer your question within my next paragraph. And I didn't charge you any money... is that guy hanging outside the door again? He told you he would do anything for simoleons? I'll deal with him right after I wrap this immersion article up.
The lead vocalist I was writing about before you interrupted was so experienced, empassioned, confident and able at his art that he could be said to have become truly immersed. A sensation I believe many of you will be familiar, within our own hemisphere of gaming. By interfacing with a machine, human beings augment themselves - they become part machine by extension. As gamers we are in a special position to experience this augmentation to its fullest, this is because in games our actions may be determined by the synapses in our brains and the resulting movements of our hands and fingers; but it is our avatars, the in game representations of ourselves that carry out these actions. If by augmenting ourselves the human becomes part machine then it is the machine's projection of an avatar by which it becomes most human within a game. By extension, when we as gamers begin to see a portion of ourselves within this avatar, we can be said to have achieved a degree of immersion. It is by walking forward, not pressing the W key, that we progress and it is by being 'In The Game' that we will achieve.
Thats all well and good, but what why did the lead vocalist have a pencil selotaped to his shoe? He played the guitar with his fingers and whilst doing so also played the keyboard with his foot. Please check out their MySpace I linked to at the top of the page, this guy is the Fatal1ity of the hobo-folk world.