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Sunday, January 28, 2007

Poor Conclusion

I believe in Second Life's value as a cultural entity because it embodies the triumphs and conflicts, the spontaneity and weirdness of human interaction. Poignant, memorable events - the likes of which in real life would require significant investment of time, funding, and likely the use of influence and power - can in virtual worlds be conjured with the predominant factor being motivation.

Strength of will has brought various political ideologies into virtual actuality within Second Life. Such visible diversity is often unable to be accepted within a finite zone. Social theorists widely accept the process of 'othering', whereby individuals define themselves by the perceived differences inherent in others' identities. Conflict can erupt when a zone holds value to multiple groups at odds with one another whom, upon collectively concluding their differences to be irreconcilable, resort to means beyond language to attain supremacy within the zone. Front National, a highly motivated conservative political movement based in France, became the target of one such challenge:

"Many regard FN as a fascist organization, which apparently sparked the SL protests... One enterprising insurrectionist created a pig grenade, fixed it to a flying saucer, and sent several whirling into Front National headquarters, where they’d explode in a starburst of porcine shrapnel... By last weekend, whole sections of the FN office were gone, apparently lost to lag or sabotage, their banners and posters floating in mid-air. And FN members seemed notably absent, too"

You may perceive bacon bombs as a lesser artefact of ideological conflict, the swine-swingers do exist (merely?) in a virtual world, after all. This virtual tear hardly parallels Tiananmen Square. Although SL's battles may rage on with little impact on the wider real world, I believe it important to consider these conflicts as a source of resolution without risk of injury. If real change can come about through virtual conflict, the Velvet Revolution may potentially become commonplace.

And penises are funny. Haha, penis.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Hu Jintao : Wanker

Hu Jintao - General Secretary of the Communist Party of China and author of the Eight Honours and Disgraces - intends to "purify the internet environment", furthering his Party's established policy of believing themselves able to judge what is in the best interest for the people under their authority.

The specifics of purification are murky, but I'd wager they will involve increased surveillance and/or further restriction of the Chinese people's access to areas of the internet deemed 'unsuitable' by the Party. Oppressed peoples can take solace in that their moral representative is not a hypocrite, as Rule One of Hu's code states "regard damaging the motherland as a shame". Luckily for Hu there's no mention of the shame associated with the restriction of civil liberties. Avoiding hypocrisy might be a little harder in following Rule Eight, "regard living in luxury as a shame", but nothing a little media manipulation can't fix.

I was going to write 'Let's hope Chinese gamers remain unaffected', but this can hardly be true even if their games remain untouched by this policy. Freedoms I take for granted are being taken away in such an underhand manner it makes me sick.

The Repurcussion is Ranting

The challenges presented to us in life are incomparable to those posed by games. Rarely are the solutions to life's problems so simple as to be overcome by a rummage in your pockets for a chinchilla to be used on a pillar of hazelnuts to cause a cascade reaction leading to relentless armoured-fruit pelting and ultimate dissipation of the problematic issues raised by the expansion of globalisation and exploitation of poverty-stricken peoples the world over. Not that this has ever happened in a game (not to my knowledge?!), but it could - because games indulge their players in a fantasy whereby if a problem is presented, it can and will be overcome. Often games cannot be completed until every issue is addressed and conquered, with non-essential problems labelled 'side-quests' or some such - therefore becoming a 'bonus' - non-essential but rewarding.

Life is chaotic. Often an action taken today will manifest unforeseen repercussions in the future. I'd like to see more of this in games, where solutions are often so obvious as to be an insult to the player. An example from today: Twilight Princess - the path ahead is blocked to me and the usual spider/bomb creatures are nowhere to be seen; I wander aimlessly for a while until stumbling across the village I'd saved the day before, a shop within this grateful hamlet stocks bombs, and although I now realise the solution I am forced to traverse the wilds to reach the original cause of grief.

If developers insist on reminding us that games are not intended to mimic life, then let's dispense with the sometimes aimless trawl for our woe's solution. What I'd like to see, however, is quite different: let's embrace the chaos! Let's kick the tutorial's chickens and find them organised, and angry, an obstacle to the game's completion after the final boss. I believe games provide gamers with the power to callously ignore the perils of repercussion. Why not embrace this fact? I want repercussions to become the game.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Outspoken but Uninformed?

Labour MP Keith Vaz continues to view gaming as little more than "an important British industry". Vaz plays a key role in forming British policy on gaming, so one would hope that his opinions on our much loved industry would come about through informed means. Perhaps not:

"Members of Parliament may not play video games themselves, but most will have families and children who enjoying playing, this helps keep them informed of new developments and issues from the video games agenda."
-Keith Vaz
How could one possibly hope to personify the best interests of government and people when you've nether played the games you aim to form policy on, nor intend to understand them? I'm sure Mr. Vaz would suggest informed decision arises from discussion with a cross-section of the British public and significant industry representatives - so why is is that you, Mr Vaz, have neglected both sectors in favour of the pointless, inevitable outcomes of multiple meetings with like-minded MPs?

Mr. Vaz, I impore you - grant our industry the respect we deserve. Don't limit your focus groups and political discussion. To surround yourself with like-minded friends would be senseless, as would the narrow-minded blinkering brought about through holding talks with representatives of ELSPA - gamers have much to say beyond the realm of ratings. The outcome of your mental-process is important to us, Mr Vaz. Do we expect too much in hoping for an audience? And please, play some games. Perhaps Tony will let you game on his PS3 if you order the pizza.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

And Yet It Moves

I've been swamped with work as of late, so many thanks are due to The Bag from PC Gamer Forums for doing all the hard work and bringing this wonderful game to my attention.

Watch a video of and yet it moves - here.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Thursday, January 11, 2007

A Plea to Microsoft

Please, please Microsoft, extend your Games for Windows campaign so to endorse the adoption of new hardware. We know there's very little preventing a curious consumer purchasing a cordless, vibrating, motion-sensing fantasmogadget from the nearest technomarket, but why should they? PC game developers lack motive to include anything but bland keyboard and mouse functionality because so few gamers hold the peripherals to make the extra effort worthwhile, whereas the finite budgets of gamers won't stretch to include an item which - although amazing, in principle - will never be supported by but a scattering of software.

Microsoft - you could be our great lighthouse. Provide the steady institution of guidance, the support for developers fearful of experimentally navigating turbulent waters. In return, grateful gaming townsfolk will break forth, we'll become the strongest soaker upper of the waves, and for you - Microsoft - the bounty.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Mars Sucks

For aspiring/inspired games developers - this Gamasutra article should make for interesting reading. Paging through the text reveals a tale of three intrepid Intel employees: Omar Rodrigues, Mike MacPherson and Scott Crabtree, detailing their challenge to develop Google Earth into a playable - and enjoyable - gameplay experience.

Google Earth is, by itself, a thoroughly enjoyable result of the so called 'democratisation' process taking place on the web. Unfortunately, its architecture is bulky and rigid, making the task of game development for Earth a difficult one. As a result, the Intel team have made the best of the materials at their disposal, creating a trivia-based UFO hunt, circumnavigating the locales of our temptingly inhabited planet.

I'm happy to announce the team responsible for this project have made their art and code available for all - you can find the resources on page four of the Gamasutra article linked above.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Gears of War: A Revolution?

ShadowBolt, having completed his Jedi training, decides to write for Splines:

I let out a well-earned sigh of relief as my gun was at last returned to its holster – it was over... I usually feel a sense of achievement after completing a game but this time all I had was an urge to play again. Granted this was partly due to the fact that the game was a little too short but mostly as it is just plain fantastic. I had planned to wait until this title came out on PC, owing partly to my hatred of FPS titles on consoles (but mostly because I can't aim worth a damn with a console controller), but this game is not designed for PC and it feels so when you play it. The beauty of the mouse & keyboard combo is that you can move and shoot effectively at the same time, but Gears of War will not reward your skills in this field – it's 'keep your head down if you want to keep it on your shoulders', stray from cover and you'll be ripped apart in seconds. And once the stress of excessive movement is taken away more time can be spent aiming. It's difficult to describe how this system works but I fear that unless a lot of work goes into it the system will not translate well over to the PC where we are too used to the FPS genre – and even if it is changed too considerably to compensate it will not be the game I came to love…

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

A Rare Occurence?

"Microsoft tells Next-Gen that the co-founders of wholly-owned UK-based studio Rare (Viva Pinata, Perfect Dark Zero) have left the development house to “pursue other opportunities.”
Founders Chris and Tim Stamper officially left Rare at the end of December after 20 years, according to Microsoft...
Microsoft said that the departure of the pair has nothing to do with any perceived disappointment in Rare’s developer performance. "

Although it's sad to see a talented team such as Rare suffer a momentous fracture, it's all too common. Chris and Tim will, I'm sure, go on to continue their innovation of the industry - away from the glare of Microsoft.

On a side note, this month's Edge features a lengthy supplement on Bungie (Marathon, Halo), detailing professional life since acquisition by Microsoft. Tellingly, Bungie staff refer to the deal as a 'merger', perhaps a side-effect of maintaining a sense of individuality when swallowed up by one of the biggest fish in the pond. Edge's pictures of the Bungie offices portray an effective working environment; interviews imply a creative, excited team.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

This dress won't Schafer

This Month in Games : January

New Year's Eve was amazing, I hope yours was just as good; But now, ah well - another year, another crippling student loan.

2007 promises to be ushered in by some fantastic games. Due to much final-hour confusion, many of the consoles' hard-hitting titles have been delayed past their ideal Christmas retail date and are due imminent arrival. Perhaps the advantage to residing in Europe: the 'third place' continent in terms of corporations' economic priorities (behind Asia and North America - natch.), is that we of tea-drinking curry-swillers are able to sit aside and allow others to do our retail-testing for us. When quality gaming breaches the borders of our temperate land, we'll know about it. Suffice it to say, Splines will be there, blogging the development of gaming.

Onto the games:

Viva Pinata - XBox 360

The story of life and death for Viva Pinata's papier-mache leading figures is a disturbing one. Viva's developers, Rare, construct each and every Pinata from especially fragile polygons - and their warped creations just love it. As far as this game is concerned, the player simply cannot commit an evil act - the Pinata find happiness in being smashed and having their chocolatey entrails consumed, removing the grief-inducing mortal shortcomings of The Sims, Creatures, Tamagotchi et al. The concept appears simple: You're given a beautiful plot of land, you attract and raise beautiful tasty creatures, become a beautiful person, and appreciate the beauty. In-between vomiting, you come to realise this game, although easy-going, is both challenging and compelling. Rare's creation is to be given a thorough beating with a giant stick for their accomplishments. Now let's hope they get working on a sequel to [edit: NOT Hostile Waters (that's Rage - whoops!).

Garry's Mod - PC
Technically not a new game, but worthy of mention on merit alone - Garry's Mod has achieved a momentous tenth iteration. Garry Newman: The modder who just keeps giving, has made his ingenious/hysterical modification for the Half Life 2 Source engine available for purchase over Valve's Steam... for six quid - w00t! What's it all about, I hear you ask. Well, Garry's Mod is exactly what you make of it. The gamer is provided with all of the assets with which Valve were privy to when constructing their famed oppressive city, armed with tools able to combine and manipulate said assets, then thrown into a server filled with - in RL, ostensibly rationally minded people - gone mad with the prospect of unknown possibility. The picture above shows a wheeled-vending machine, complimented with rear (or lower?) rocket boosters. The realms of silliness are yours to explore - for only six smackeroonies.
Combining the freedom of aerial ventures with the thrill of chopping up a crate (aeronautical slang for a plane) with your rapid-fire crowbar, at 14,000 feet, and surviving to follow the hun-stained wreckage as it plummets to the level of train simulators. As the title suggests, 1946 delivers a parallel history of nazi warfare. According to 1946 and contrary to popular belief, Hitler decided not to do the world a favour and pop his clogs, instead churning out various stupendous prototypes for Luftwaffe usage and sending them off to the far-flung reaches of Aryan turf. There is a lot to be seen and done in this game, as 1946 is packaged with all the previous content from the IL-Sturmovik series - including many obscure flying death-dealers (some of which actually took off the ground), produced during World War 2.

Warioware : Smooth Moves - Wii
As excuses for acting like a twat go, Smooth Moves is one of the best. Beating your friends in SM's wondrous flurry of inspired minigames will have you assume postures you've only seen 'accidentally' on the internet. The use of Wiimote for gestures, in place of the Gamecube's pad or DS' proddermajigger, is as exceptionally fun as it was an utterly inevitable design decision on behalf of Nintendo. For those of you unfamiliar with the Warioware ethos - players are confronted with a rapid flash of instructions followed by a manic and brief adrenaline-surge of minigame madness. Smooth Moves' games most often involve wielding the Wiimote as though it were another object (a weight, a paper shredder, etc) and feigning deserved victory when 1st place is awarded to the luckiest drunkard crowded around the Wii.