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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.]

Re-Rebuttal

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

XBus


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.

W00t.

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.