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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Honour Amongst These

It's not often an online debate retains civility and reason, rarer still a debate manifested in an ideological battle contested between representatives of contractual obligation and freedom to act beyond the realm of legality. Click here and you'll discover something very special - an intersection of worlds - where Astalavista's underground community of software crackers engage Mode 7 Games' nervous_testpilot in a miraculously rational dialogue regarding the nature of piracy. I say miraculous because the first line reads "I was wondering if anyone had a Determinance serial key or crack" and the second post contains "I'm a developer on Determinance", yet sanity is maintained.

I'd often assume that developers and pirates were juxtapositions of greed - ancient credal colossuses, opposed in stance yet bound to their terrain in a need to swell their treasuries by any means possible; The developer would charge the highest price they could extort from consumers and the pirate would go to great lengths to avoid paying for anything. Astalavista's community reaction to nervous_testpilot and the arguments put forth by both camps are profoundly enlightening. I've come to realise each faction labours in support of an established world-view. Money is hardly a factor.

Whether or not we buy games can immensely affect the lives of developers, especially smaller 'indie' teams. Determinance has been an investment of life for Mode 7. Through piracy we're not only robbing ourselves of any further team projects, we're directly downloading a deposit of defeat to the doorstep of developers in disregard of their sacrifice for our own enjoyment. In contrast, the software cracker views each anti-piracy measure as a challenge. There may be no such thing as an altruistic action but software crackers don't work for loot, their labour's goal is to exclaim 'w00t!'.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Just Add Amaterasu


The creative minds of Clover Studios (Okami, God Hand, Viewtiful Joe) have taken root once more following exile during Capcom's talent culling. Rather than allow themselves to be taken to market, the talented developers discovered the resolve (and capital) to found a new company - appropriately entitled Seeds. There's no news as yet regarding their first project. I'm hoping Seeds' website will grow to become decipherable. Nonetheless, Splines will regularly check on the fledgeling Seeds.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Reservation for Doomguy

This is Damiano Colacito's "Face of Doom", projected onto another face - that of Sarajevo's Europa Hotel. Sarajevo is the capital city of Bosnia and Herzegovina. As such, Europa Hotel has steadily remained a suffering monolith whilst humans summoned hell in the streets below.

I understand this work bares a crude message to be decoded. Mr. Colacito proudly displays his art as a parallel between the suffering of a pixelated marine and that of a nation. His actions belittle a tragedy. I hold the opinion, in earnest, that computer games are due a greater acknowledgement for their contribution to culture, but "Face of Doom" represents entirely the wrong ethos in achieving this goal. We should allow people to learn from the games they play, never impose our values upon others - especially in drawing comparisons between the virtual and the real.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Bohemia's Faded Rhapsody

Operation Flashpoint harboured leprosy. At Codemaster's behest, a company named Macrovision developed an insidious embryo named Fade and cocooned their creation within Flashpoint's scripting. Macrovision's foreign mass had the potential to become malignant at the slightest scent of a software pirate. Should Flashpoint be installed illegally, Fade would awaken and begin to degrade the guts of its host. Oddly, this was exactly what Codemasters wished for - a new strategy against piracy - greedy gamers would observe their illegitimate bounty's highly realistic world as it corrupted, then dropped chunks. Fade's influence would rapidly render Flashpoint unplayable, a frustrating foray into the abyss.

I installed Armed Assault yesterday. Armed Assault is the sequel to Flashpoint in all but name, developed by Bohemia but published by another. Although Fade is not included with ArmA, its spirit festers on through Bohemia's bodged attempt at releasing a finished game. ArmA might as well be released accompanied by the suffix 'Limited Addition' because its qualities are significantly limited. In 30 minutes of ArmA I've been frustrated by: a convoy unable to turn corners, trucks with no texture, merging squaddies becoming frozen squaddies, and this repeating, game-breaking dialogue:

Squad Leader: 9 - Move To 4x4 at C67
Number 9: Roger
...
Number 9: Negative
Number 9: Where are you?

The above took place on the second primary mission, as the enemy began to outflank us to the East. My squad was ordered back to the 4x4s so that we could maneuver and counter-attack the flanking forces. Number 9 played coy but disagreed with my squad leader, thinking himself a superior tactician. I found him standing in a field, mouthing 'Roger' but secretly thinking 'Negative'. I shot him in the face, but my friends didn't understand.

Currently, ArmA is not worth your money, or worthy of your time. Download a copy of Flashpoint if you'd enjoy a similar experience. I may review ArmA later, but only when it's fixed.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Review: Counter-Strike: Source - Zombiemod

I believe a game without zombies is not reaching its potential. CS:Source's Zombiemod, therefore, manifests a significant advantage over inadequate, zombieless titles. There's nothing deplorable about a zombie drought - my conviction is borne simply out of love, of the undead. These recent Splines verdicts may hazard an attempt at explaining my ethos:

IL2-Sturmovik:
"My rusty Russian biplane's landing gear presented not the only disappointing let down - no zombies. 37%"

Supreme Commander:
"Unlike the marvellous Warcraft 3, there's no choice but to command lousy pre-undead types. The framerate has a certain shambling, lurching quality, extra points for that. 38%"

Stubbs The Zombie:
"I hated this game. 50%"

Zombiemod is a rancid carcass of a game - easy to get your teeth into, and full of surprises. There's a simple concept: the round begins with all players warm-blooded, bunched together and knowing that momentarily one of their number will succumb to infection and crave the taste of flesh. The opening seconds consist of panic buying, as humans arm themselves to the teeth before teeth sink deep into their arm; only, with Zombiemod being a ghoulishly modified subsidiary of Counter-Strike, the zombies eschew gnawing for tainted knives - one stab being all that's needed to maintain the spread of undead. There's no AI to be found at this battleground - the living won't die when infected, they simply switch allegiance. The zombies understandably won't settle for anything less than the annihilation of humankind, only by doing so can they win the round. Humans must survive until the timer runs out and the zombies become vegetarian.

Vents make excellent (and claustrophobic) choke-points.

Survival is a grave task. The septic hordes unnervingly wash over terrain like an unclean tsunami, and so the humans' mindset must be one of coordinated defence if they are to stand a chance against their uncharacteristically intelligent foe. Now here's where my gripes begin: as this is a game based on Valve's Source engine, players are able to erect impromptu barricades out of the level's fittings (excellent!), unfortunately this process is frustrating rather than fun - furniture seemingly draped with subtle yet super-strength flypaper, able to stick the burliest survivors dead in their tracks at the slightest collision. Luckily, most servers allow for a teleport command (often !zstuck or !teleport - typed into the chat panel), which can be a life saver.

The maps widely vary in size and quality, it's only through curious experimentation that you'll discover favourites. Each map tends to bias the humans through design - plenty of lofty vantage points and tight gaps favour the wary. It's often through the living's callous acts of bravado that the undead are able to gain the sheer mass necessary to overcome the perils laid down by a map's designer. A winning tactic involves the effective exploitation of a Source's impact modelling - take your position, shotgun in hand, at the ledge of an precipice which you know a zombie must carefully jump across to get at you, then the beauty is in the timing - hold off the blast until your foe has sprung and you'll be rewarded with the panoramic sight of a corpse in flight. Zombiemod may be played on the traditional Counter-Strike maps too - a rancid breath of unlife dictates a significant alteration of gameplay. Maps you thought were comprehensively memorised and due burial will surprise you with their new zest for life.

Sound effects and graphics should be familiar to anyone who's played CS:Source. They are all of a high quality, especially the weapon modelling. There's a scattering of unusual character models which have been designed by the Zombiemod community, although zombie sound effects come directly from Half Life 2. If this game proves itself as successful as I hope it to be, I'd expect plenty more content to arrive over the coming year.

You can find Zombiemod's official website and community forums here. I'm not sure as to who I should thank for the development of this game, although having registered on the forums I received an email from a certain Mr. James Willson - so, thanks James!

Zombiemod can be found by applying a filter for maps named 'zm' in Counter-Strike:Source's server list. And for those of you wondering, the zombies are of the running kind - I know - bah!

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Buy Determinance: Swords then Divorcery

Ian and Paul - creators of Determinance - are finished development, done with paperwork, and crippled through caffeinated consumption. Determinance is ready for sale via direct digital download. You can part with cash and be rewarded in wonder by clicking these words.

The Splines Determinance preview!
The Splines Determinance interview!!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

BBC's Watchdog humps XBox 360

Wii Democracy

Wii owners may now proceed, unmolested, to the Wii voting stations. See the Japanese liberation effort here.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Reduce then Rebuild


Today's MMOs are an insult. Designed to favour simplicity, MMO gamers become simpletons. Repetition is the resultant gameplay. The time will come when we may view today's MMOs through a veneer of nostalgia - World of Warcraft will be seen as quaint. This day cannot come soon enough, here's why:

Clearly MMOs possess an appeal... perhaps a trait beyond mere appeal - they offer a community, a unique place of being; they aid in definition of the self - 'World of Warcraft player' becomes an attribute - player's lifestyles are altered to:
a) Meet the actual and temporal demands of the community.
b) Reap the benefits conferred through membership of the community.
c) Commonly, to meet personal goals, eg: 'I've got to reach the next level tonight, even if it means my boredom'. Personal goals are often established to confer a long-term benefit.

I believe the popularity of current MMOs can be explained through community motivation. Ironically, community motivation is an unintentional byproduct of MMO retail - developers cannot assure their code will encourage the formation of community but must instead offer an appeal able to attract individuals - the community's composition.

So, to reiterate, the community is good - it should be preserved. Lifestyle changes which favour the play of MMOs may bring about negative health consequences and potentially alienate real-world relationships, but this is the responsibility of the individual (or, if the gamer is young, the responsible parent) to ensure the MMO is enhancing life, rather than controlling it. This is exactly where I believe today's MMOs to be in fault. The successful MMO need only offer a limited appeal, perhaps hyped through a pervasive marketing campaign, attract players, then allow community motivation to become an adhesive.

The successful MMO is a venus fly-trap, its sweetness serving only to attract. Once lured, the MMO's effect on its players is corrosive, its labyrinthine innards offer nothing of value besides the quest for appeal - 'I've heared this game only really begins when you've got a mount/Oh, my mount is superficial but at least it will aid me in attaining the maximum level, that's when the game really gets going/I'm a Being of Pure Ownage, I raid the labyrinth with my buds every day, but gosh I miss the fun of earning this privilege'. People search the virtual worlds for nourishment, not noticing they are being digested.

If you can see some truth behind these words, I think you'll agree MMOs need to change. To bring about a meaningful revolution we must first identify the sepsis in need of removal, then build upon it. I believe the most pitiful failing of MMOs lies in the rigidity of their structure. For example, Planetside's primary objective is the conquest of bases, continents, and eventually the world, but the methods available to achieve success are sourly limited by the game's content - inflexible and unimaginative - walls cannot be smashed, bases follow a standard blueprint, new content dribbles into the world at the pace of school custard - hype becomes the tool of choice for a developing team unable to meet the demands of its subscribers, announcements of distant content are the means of coaxing players into staying another month. The MMO world presents itself too often as a developer-defined barrier - an impassible mountain or single-purpose item - and could be resolved by granting players the power to refine and create. The crafting system of World of Warcraft deceives gamers into a belief they are engaging in a unique process when in truth each outcome of item creation has been narrowly defined and fixed, unchangeable. The virtual world could become truly alive if developers granted their players an ability to rearrange and form new content without needing permission. Oddly, Second Life defines itself as something other than a game, and yet it embraces a philosophy of freedom never seen in MMOs.

As gamers, and as the source of income for MMO developers, we should demand the re-questioning of each and every facet of game structure. The question should be, 'Does this element restrict our players?', and, if yes, 'How can we change this to empower our players?'. Unfortunately, with subscribers numbering in the millions, the established MMOs of this generation are unlikely to hold the motivation essential for this question to be addressed. In turn, we must look to the future. Let's view our MMOs critically and allow our opinions to be known. This way, when tomorrow's MMO enters development, revolutionary concepts will be implemented from the outset.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Splash

Tomorrow will herald the final day of Douglas Lowenstein's position at head of the ESA - today, the president reaffirmed the video games industry's determination against adversity. One would not be remiss to remark that the DICE summit currently taking place in Las Vegas could be fairly regarded as the final pulse of Mr. Lowenstein's major influence upon the industry. But we should know Doug better than to have expected a ripple on the radar. What we got was a wave. Gamespot reports.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The Political Player : PeaceMaker


"PeaceMaker is fun – challenging, tense at times, and extremely well-presented. But it’s also an important game with the potential to enlighten people about one of the great issues of our time."

-
Earnest Adams previews PeaceMaker. I'll be getting to grips with Middle East politics over the coming weeks in preparation for this game's imminent release. Expect a review soon.

I can't forget Auto Assault

NCsoft's profits have dropped a staggering 43% in 2006 for reasons worthy of celebration. The truth lies in the figures. Sales remain on par with 2005, with the original Lineage continuing to prove its superb appeal amongst Asian gamers - reinforced by NCsoft's other heavy-hitters Guild Wars and City of Heroes. So why the economic slump? Essentially, NCsoft have spent big in 2006 in order to maintain dominance for the foreseeable future - a sublime sacrifice to make, especially considering the treats we gamers may enjoy this year - Tabla Rasa, Exteel, Dungeon Runners and the next Guild Wars expansion excite my WASD keys to varying degrees of greatness. Having said that, I enjoyed Auto Assault (I enjoyed its concept, at least) but the memories of a world torn asunder by NCsoft's centralisation fetishists still haunt me; I simply cannot bare to observe such potential totally wasted once more in 2007. Please, NCsoft, don't loose your creations onto the internet until you're certain people will pay money to enjoy playing your games.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Decency is Upheld

Call it karma, irony, or social Darwinism in action - Jack Thompson's delusional ego and unmitigated public failures have deservedly landed him in trouble. A disciplinary hearing ought to forebode the finality of Jack's life as a lawyer. A potential outcome would see Jack disbarred - the real-life equivalent of waking in the Jobcentre to find all your items taken away and the door guarded by a burly, gilled man who distracts your hatred for 'Captured' levels with disjointed breathing and sporadic hostile implications: "You're not welcome around these parts, outlander".

I believe thanks for Jack's meeting with justice are owed to the ESA (Entertainment Software Association) - its members able to battle at the political and legal level. Without ESA representation, gamers' losses at the behest of anti-game activists would ensure the perpetual reduction of the games industry to the status of valueless scapegoat.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Panic!

Ebay have banned virtual auctions .
But although this may seem sensational, I'm certain it's not. Firstly, Ebay's decision to outlaw the trade of virtual gaming artefacts simply aligns their policy with the long-established EULA regulations - something all gamers must bind themselves to before playing most MMOs. The addition of prohibition to trader's point-of-sale activities will fail to curb virtual item sale for reasons similar to those which can be used to explain the proliferation of online streaming video. The distributors simply work faster and in greater numbers than the authorities charged with stamping down on their activities. Ebay will adopt YouTube's poise - officially denouncing and simultaneously acknowledging that their user's actions are largely beyond control.

Also, correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't Ebay always remove this kind of auction if it came to an administrator's attention?

Good Riddance

This Month in Games is dead. I've always borne a hatred for it. You'll be seeing no more of it because its mission was essentially a gargantuan one - to inform readers on each and every game worth playing this month. It failed because, as the coverage was essentially of a previewing nature, I was forced to make educated (and wild) guesses as to the quality of each game. Also, I write this blog for pleasure, and to inform my readers - This Month in Games achieved neither.

In return I'll keep the news pieces flowing, and step up the frequency of opinion writing too.

Thursday, February 01, 2007