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Friday, June 29, 2007

An Uplifting Experience

I've begun the arduous task of moving house, and it's totally no fun. Due to this, Splines only has neglect and mistreatment to enjoy during the immediate future. I'll write something better when my surroundings shrug off their transience. Until then, Splines out.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Bruce Banner: "Hip Header"

That header, up there, represents my first stab at Photoshop. An incredibly amateurish stab, I know, and one that could be deflected by my sensei in an imperceptible instant, yet I'm pleased with how much I've learned. 'Who's my sensei?', I demand that you ask. Go on, ask it! Well, seeing how you're so insistent, my thanks go out to The Corporation Gaming Community, because without their advice I'd still have a flaccid polygon lasso.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

HP Pencil: Tomb Shader


So, the picture (above) and video (below) both tenuously link to the purpose of this post, which is to give you a heads-up on Gametap's generous gift to gamers: beginning on July 10th, visiting Gametap will place you privy to a new animated series. The first season intimately deals with Lara Croft, yet season two is already planned to be quite different:

"[I]t will feature six different IP [Intellectual Properties - Translation: six video games and their characters] that share a common theme, explored and created by different creative teams."
- Ricardo Sanchez (VP of Content at Gametap)

I think this series has the potential to be brilliant. Unfortunately, the trailer is rubbish. Which is why instead we have the picture (above) and video (below), natch.

Anything You Can Do...

Thursday, June 21, 2007

My Free Time: Engaged

It's now been a week since I emailed The Nobel Foundation to request their reasoning for issuing a warning/cease and desist letter to Impact Games: creators of Peacemaker. There's been no response, so I sent them a second email:

"Seven days ago I sent Jonna Petterson [of Public Relations] an email requesting some information regarding why The Nobel Foundation issued a cease and desist letter to Impact Games - creator of the computer game Peacemaker - which was due to include the Nobel Prize as a reward for the player winning the game. Due to a lack of response, I can only assume that The Nobel Foundation regards computer games as unworthy of respect or consideration for their potential to foster peace. Please prove me wrong by satisfying my request: why was Impact Games' Peacemaker not allowed to feature the Nobel Prize?"
... and I'll keep on sending them emails until I get an answer to my question. Thanks, internet!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Manhunt 2 Refused Rating

Manhunt 2 has been effectively banned from sale in the UK, reports The Register. This comes only weeks after the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) issued a report detailing the need for an analytical approach to videogames as a maturing medium.

The BBFC have betrayed their nativity, and the people they represent. They are so far removed from reality, they fail to fathom that Manhunt 2 will still be available, albeit through means of import and digital distribution. The BBFC are relics. To them, modern society is a locomotive that travels too fast for their comfort.

The Sims Become Autonomous

Electronic Arts' body has undergone drastic surgery, emerging from the operating theatre in chunks: four autonomous 'business units'. The ex-adjoinees would like themselves to be known as:

  • EA Games
  • EA Sports
  • EA Casual Entertainment and ...
  • The Sims
That's right, The Sims now answer to nobody but the inexorable demands of acquisitive capitalism. Considering they've already acquired their own brood of credit cards, it can only be a matter of time until The Sims: Secret Police surveillance becomes a mandatory installation for our monitors. We'll all be talking Simlish if we know what's good for us. I need to lie down.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Altar the Legalities

Does Manchester's gun crime problem bare any relation to Insomniac Games' Resistance: Fall of Man? The answer is clearly not a simple one to reach in consensus, so I'll leave you to your own opinion. The purpose of this post is to question the various rationales of thought which have culminated in the Church of England Vs. Sony fracas.

I have identified three major groups: Sony, The Church of England, and British Labour MPs. The issue is in fact far more complicated because in some respects it is legal (thus, bound by precedent) and in other ways it is a matter of public opinion (dictated by perspective and personal sympathies). We'll stick to the three groups because each of their stances on the matter have now been firmly stated. I hope that, in writing this article, I'll be able to demonstrate that each groups' actions and reactions have been governed by nothing but self-interest, rather than care for the people of Manchester.

Resistance: Fall of Man is set in 1950's England during an alien invasion.

Let's begin with Sony, who, prior to the launch of PS3, commissioned Insomniac Games to produce a game that would demonstrate the technical capabilities of their new console. I sincerely doubt that any part of Sony's instructions to Insomniac involved suggesting that the game should outrage the Church of England or incite the people of Manchester to violence. Sony's interest, as with most businesses, lies in profit. As such, Sony gauged Resistance: Fall of Man's value in terms of units sold and this factor's potential impact of the PS3's competitiveness against market-share rivals.

So, when the Church of England expressed offence, Sony's sentiment could be measured in the words of their own representative:


"We do not accept that there is any connection between contemporary issues of 21st century Manchester and a work of science fiction in which a fictitious 1950’s Britain is under attack by aliens…"
- David Reeves (SCEE President) addressing the C of E

The Church of England's concerns have been vocalised by The Very Reverend Rogers Govender (Dean of Manchester Cathederal). Church is still seen by many as an important adhesive in social cohesion, a symbol of ethical community spirit, and a respectable voice on worldly matters. The Church of England's motivation could thus be accurately simplified to be the continuation of the Church's status within England, achieved through the defence of values that are synonymous with the community and their particular denomination of Christianity.

Considering the clearly unethical actions of Sony should they be found guilty of abetting violence, the Church of England's tablet of persecutions remains oddly specific to copyright issues regarding Manchester Cathedral itself. The Church of England wish for Sony to comply with:

  1. The removal of Resistance: Fall of Man from retail shelves, or, the modification of the Manchester stage to revoke access to the cathedral's interior.
  2. An apology from Sony because of their use of realistic imagery of the cathedral without prior permission.
  3. A 'donation' from Sony which would be used in Church youth projects.
Copyright: Church of England - phew!

A selection of British politicians have made their views public - among them, Keith Vaz (Labour MP and long-time anti-game advocate), Jack Straw (leader of the House of Commons) and Tony Blair (British Prime Minister - resigning in ten days). Each have issued statements in support of the Church of England:
"It [Sony] has a moral duty to withdraw the game and make reparation to a Church charity, but it ought also to have some enlightened self-interest about the damage that it is doing to what was a reputable brand."
- Jack Straw

Now, I'll give this issue some analysis and, besides questioning whether Sony or The Church of England was the brand to which Jack referred, I'll try to keep biased criticism to a minimum.

As mentioned earlier, I think the crux of this issue is whether or not all these legal wranglings will actually result in a better situation for the people of Manchester. Surely the copyright issue bares no relation to any question of ethics; it is a means of gaining the Church an advantage in the courts that, I'm sure, will eventually become the issue - the question perverted from, 'Can computer games harm communities?' until it becomes the irrelevant,
'Is a church a public place?'

I find the suggestion that Sony should make a 'donation' wholly problematic. The Church of England has claimed that their institution is seen as a soft target: open to criticism and abuse in a far greater degree than other religions. Yet, if any institution other than a religion were to demand the exchange of money under duress, even for educational purposes, then they'd be susceptible to similes with the mafia. Perhaps this metaphor doesn't quite ring true, (I'm not aware of any mafia youth programmes), yet the Church of Scientology certainly invests in their own educational schemes and I doubt that politicians would be so keen to defend L. Ron Hubbard's followers if Resistance: Fall of Man had sparked an identical furore with the Scientologists.

I'm deeply intrigued as to why British politicians have been so directly opinionated on this issue when they're usually prone to ambiguity. Could this be because many British voters attend Church of England services, thus supporting the Church has become an issue that effects the next election's results? Surely not, because the number of games players in England must exceed that of church-goers? Having said that, games players don't have a unified ritual of indoctrination or regular sermons made to them. I think it's irresponsible and damaging to debate if politicians were to make public statements without knowing the matter of contention in intimate detail, yet I fear much of what has been said is based on succinct briefings, researched on the basis of demographics rather than experience. The UN have proven the value of governance in the mediation of disputes, so why is the British government so keen to align with the Church of England and assign blame to Sony?

The case of Church of England Vs. Sony is an apt demonstration of our culture's unwillingness to communicate and preference for legal actions over compromise. This article's length can be seen as proportional to the distance my jaw dropped when I realised the stubbornness of these institutions (each with vast resources at their disposal) to come to an agreement that would benefit the people of Manchester, the people whom each group claim to care about.

I'll conclude with a few ideas:

  • At the upcoming meeting, bring a PS3 and a copy of Resistance: Fall of Man. Let the cathedral officials and members of the youth project play the game. Sony representatives should encourage and listen to criticism and all participants approach the get-together with a constructive attitude and open mind.
  • Youth associations in Manchester could be provided with PS3s upon the release of Home and LittleBigPlanet- because of their constructive and non-violent nature.
  • Sony could apologise, and the Church of England could pay heed to various sources that display the lack of causation between games playing and violent acts.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Review: Peacemaker


Impact Games' Peacemaker is extraordinary. It's a framework for discovery and an impetus for investigation. Peacemaker will place a lasting impression on your psyche. Our odd minds are configured with the potential to evoke the sensation of empathy: whereby sympathy and understanding can be conferred by the imaginative process of placing oneself into the situation of another. Impact Games have seemingly developed Peacemaker with empathy as a central tenet. In Peacemaker, you'll be granted a startling synthesis of the subjective and objective. You'll be posited with the perspective of either the Israeli Prime Minister or Palestinian President in what initially appears to be an adversarial relationship with one another. Empathy will flow from the source of subjectivity and your sympathy will be bestowed on 'your people' - those closest to you in heritage and homestead and not necessarily in personal policy for peace. Overcoming the wants and needs of some of your people - the patriotic yet punitive, those influential and ignoble - this is the real challenge of Peacemaker.

Peacemaker
's strength is perhaps its very existence as a game. Games allow for a great deal of flexibility for their players' methods in approaching a problem and devising a solution. In Peacemaker, you'll be both pupil and teacher. The game has a clear message to learn, yet each player will leave Peacemaker with an understanding that is unique to themselves. The concept of saving and reloading (foreign to other media), empowers the player of games to effectively learn through trial and error with allayed fears of 'making the wrong move', thus experimentation is encouraged.

In Peacemaker, the solution to peace between Israelis and Palestinians is realised through a recognition that it is in both states' best interests to cease the conflict. The actions and words of each leader have ramifications beyond the locality of their deliverance. Pronouncing a speech of mutual cooperation with the Palestinians may unnerve a tense and security-concious Israeli parliament, yet the Palestinian leader may hear these same words and feel encouraged to reign in militants and resume negotiations with a newly empathic Israeli Prime Minister. Cleverly, Impact Games have simulated both leaders' inability for total control over their populace. People are not automatons, they'll act in their own interests and potentially counteract the inertia of their leader. Impact Games have astonishingly simplified this complex social phenomena, refining it into a system of 'Hopes' and 'Fears' which are clearly presented to the advantage of the player.

There's a wealth of incidental information to assimilate.

If you devote an evening to Peacemaker, you'll likely 'complete' the game as both sides. I'd like to believe that Impact Games intended Peacemaker as a demonstration for what games can achieve, yet I'm dismayed because Peacemaker isn't a particularly good game. Insulting though it may be, Peacemaker's gameplay could be compiled into a comparatively brief string of 'if-then' directives. Newsworthy events are too few in number, leading to an immersion-shattering repetition in a major and gameplay-critical portion of the game: the effect of your citizens' actions upon public opinion. When I've read the same news story about trees being vandalised on Israeli settlers' land for the third time, I stop caring about the trees or the settlers. Once I'd played Peacemaker for a few hours, I had to resist the urge to blinker my perception of the game and view each action and event only in terms of what effect they had on public opinion. To do this would be to negate the positive humanitarian effect that I assume Impact Games intend to foster. Yet perhaps Impact Games should have been more cynical of the gnarled gaming enthusiast's tendency to reduce life changing events such as the removal of Israeli troops from the Gaza Strip and morph this into a clinical 'W00t! +12 approval'. Perhaps the solution to this anal gaming is for Impact Games' next project (and I sincerely hope there will be one) to remove any display of situation simplifying 'points', instead adopting a visual representation of the effect the player's persona's decisions have upon their people.

I found Peacemaker's soundtrack to be particularly uninspiring - a rather half-hearted accompaniment towards a two-state solution. Eventually, I overlaid Peacemaker with Enya, with satisfying results.

This notion of a two-state solution (in which the Israelis and Palestinians share Jerusalem as their capital and centre of government) is the final of four 'milestones' that the player must reach in order to win Peacemaker. Interestingly, Impact Games originally intended for the player to win the Nobel Peace Prize in place of their final milestone. This was not to be, as The Nobel Foundation refused Impact Games the right to use their award in the game. I'll be sending The Nobel Foundation an email requesting an explanation for why this decision was made, as I believe this shows a lack of respect for the aspirations of Peacemaker and for the games industry as a whole.

I've been deeply satisfied by the experience that Peacemaker has shared with me. Though its foibles are numerous, Peacemaker remains the gamer's synagogue and mosque of meaningful game design. Peacemaker professes lessons and offers sanctuary for thoughtful reflection. My advice: give peace a try - it's only a tenner.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Empathy with Agency

I've only recently returned from Hereford, where four years of friendship and frags culminated in my Planetside outfit's 6th official real life meet-up, in real life. For (four?) years now I've been quasi-considering my favourite MMO to be on its final tour of duty, yet the truth is that Planetside is still fighting on. Having said this, two thoughts are never far from the minds of Auraxis' deadlocked combatants: 'When is a new MMOFPS going to be released?', and, 'Will it kill our game?'. The community's questions have been met with a return-volley of answers, as IGN reports on SOE Seattle's devastating rebuff to the claim that Sony have come to regard the MMOFPS as a non-profitable venture.

The Agency, Sony's 'inside-job', effectively pinpoints a surgical strike against the MMOFPS community's sceptics. Due to the distant release date and secretive nature of the project, details are sparse, yet we can be sure that the covert character of The Agency beckons a departure from the epic and obvious brutality of Planetside.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Maxed Out


The next SimCity game is under development, but Maxis aren't the developers - that's the news on the street, anyway. EA will remain SimCity Societies' publisher, yet they'll risk importing trash by commissioning Tilted Mill Entertainment (Caesar IV, Children of the Nile) as developer.

The predictably ferocious backlash surged forth from internet types and was met with a curious and charismatic response:

"This SC is not a realistic urban simulation, which I understand, to many, represents the heart of what SC is. No one is blind to that. And if you're just completely turned off, even angered by the mere notion of any game called SimCity that is not a detailed, realistic urban simulator, I absolutely understand that viewpoint, and absolutely respect it."
- Chris Beatrice (President, Tilted Mill Entertainment)
Developers often resort to hyperbole as a method to attract attention, so I find Mr. Beatrice' words atypically refreshing. I'm a little concerned, however, that his ability to respect the anger of SimCity fans may result from the nonchalant acceptance of a man who firmly knows his game will sell, albeit to another demographic. SimCity Societies may well be comprised of a lower density of complexity per hectare, perhaps aiming at the elusive 'casual' crowd. One thing's for sure - the neighbourhood just got Tilted.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

I've not been paid for this

Kindly sway your oculars rightwards and you'll find a link to the most marvellous of journalistic delights, Gamasutra. I've come to appreciate this website by fathoms with each passing day. Thoroughly deserving of a place in your daily gaming digest, Gamasutra updates with the quality and insight of Nostradamus hoping for a promotion. Click for an intrepid insight towards inspiration.

That's Autumn

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Review: Europa Universalis III


It's because of my liberal attitude towards the carrying capacity of caravels that I can boast to boat 10,000 Englishmen across the Atlantic each month - vital shoulders needed for the support of muskets during their righteous rumpus against a rebellious rabble of ex-pats with fancy hats. Europa Universalis 3 has fairly laid claim to the title of 'Zealous Provider of Tweakery', offering the chronic toggler an opportunity to alter and improve virtually every facet of the machinations in their governance of a nation as it steams through the Renaissance/Enlightenment era of European history. My feudal noodle concocted a despotic plan of conquest: I decided to maximise serfdom (which had the effect of increasing my nation's productivity at the cost of popular discontent) in order that a gargantuan English navy might surf the seas. The scheme paid off, and by neglecting the conquest of European land I'd almost fully colonised North America by the year 1600, rebuffing all competition from rival states. However, it was not to be EU3's huge cargo-hold of treasuresome tweakery that would amount to my aforementioned liberal troop-carrying policy, instead, this would swell from the tumultuous tides of minor bugs (I wanted to say minor buggery) that find their home deep in the dynamics of EU3, namely, the too-tempting option to pause the game, divide my armies into smaller companies, then load each of them onto my ships - massively bypassing the maximum volume which should be imposed by the number of transports in the fleet. My justification for this debauchery was that EU3 rigidly defines which ships are able to carry troops and those which are not, with the larger battleships nonsensically unable to stow away soldiers. It would appear that my colonists took a similar revolutionary attitude to the rigidity of my rule, they rose up in force in the year 1620.

By the year 1630, France was mine. The Cosmopolitan swines chose my moment of weakness to sail across the channel and strike a blow against my capital, occupying the whole of Southern England while they were at it. Admirable as EU3's AI may have been to me at that moment, vengeance had to be mine. God was clearly on my side (I'd already claimed 'Defender of the Faith' years earlier), so I allowed the Americans to have their precious America and swiftly exploited my way to 30,000 troops in Normandy by May 1622. Another admirable feature of EU3 is the option to hire Admirals (and Generals), greatly improving the combat performance of units; this would be to my detriment in Normandy because France had superior Generals (accredited to their superior 'Army Tradition' - accrued through victories in land combat - something I'd lacked through years of peaceful, submissive colonisation), for this reason I'd have to win through strength of numbers. I hired a further 20,000 mercenaries using the Ducats I'd amassed through tax and trade with the new world, then I promptly fricasseed the French.

I'd opine that one of the greatest assets of EU3 is its ability to mimic the mindset of the medieval world. Imperialism has historically never been questioned on a moral basis because of warfare's cost in human lives, instead, rules of war were traditionally evoked on the notion of the 'Casus Belli' or 'A Just Cause for War'. Having possession of a Casus Belli equates to the only sensible way a nation within EU3 will be able to declare war without incurring a stability penality, which leads to inefficiency, loss of income, revolts, perhaps even revolution. Fighting without a Casus Belli was the French King Louis' fatal mistake. He'd plunged his army into disloyalty and his nation into a mood for dismembering head from body. I exploited this by utilising another of EU3's nifty additions - spies! My men of the sleight were able to incite troop desertion, forge reputation-damaging documents, hire port-blockading pirates, and instil yet further French unrest.

With the French and their utterly insignificant allies out of the way, I was able to reclaim what I'd rightfully stolen from American natives. I'll take this opportunity to criticise EU3's AI of allies in war, which I'd describe as thoroughly 'A' but neglectfully 'I'. My Portuguese friends showed dog-like loyalty as their boats sailed enthusiastically up and down the channel, occasionally landing wet-nosed mutts in Kent (where there had been a battle two years prior), cheerfully sacrificing their ships to the elements as they stayed out at sea, wagging their sails, gathering barnacles and generally getting soggy, possibly in the hopes that a discarded baguette might be netted and paraded in the English court for all to see.

Battling the ungrateful uprising, I came to realise a painful truth to be learned of EU3: colonialism is fruitful but duller than the terrain of my newly-acquired Holland. If the real meat of EU3 can be found in the competitive strategy of economic and military war, then the bland side-dish could certainly be equated to the acquisition of unclaimed land - the process of which can be summarised with 'click the colonist button until territory becomes your national colour, repeat until 1000 colonists arrive and form a city'. For this reason I'd highly recommended playing as a power with vested interests in the annexation of their neighbours (the Ottomans, for example), the risk being that otherwise you may play the game on full speed, constantly waiting for your colonies to expand, and allowing the events in your heartland to pass by without consideration.

For someone who's fascinated by history, Europa Universalis 3 is tantalising. If I were to choose the date 1452 (the earliest possible in EU3), I'd be presented with an accurate depiction of the factional alignment of the world at in that period; when time begins to flow, however, new history is in the making. I'm not exactly certain how Paradox Interactive have managed to accomplish this. The divergent nature of EU3's history somehow manages to be both feasible and interesting each time I begin a new campaign. The actions of other nations are not merely influenced by your own decisions, the AI displays a believable motivation to accomplish goals according to the pressures and opportunities which present themselves, differing in activities and successes according to some genius randomiser which I've yet to fathom.

The soundtrack of EU3 is both as epic and magnificent as the scale of history which the game hopes to convey. I frequently prefer the in-game audio to my own music folder, EU3's aural accompaniment being so superbly suited to amplifying an atmosphere of noble savagery. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the sound effects of battle and sieges, most of which sound rather like a drunken tussle with a glockenspiel rather than anything remotely evocative of combat.


EU3's graphics are simple yet attractive and more than enough to convey the details needed to play a game of this type. Oddly, when my old graphics card melted in last month's heat, I discovered that my temporary replacement (a GeForce 3) was not enough to play EU3, which apparently requires 128MB of graphical RAM.

After patching the game, changes were made to the start-up panel, informing me that there is an active mod community for EU3. I believe this is deserving of mention because I'm certain all of my qualms about the game may be remedied either by fiddling with the config files in the system folder or simply downloading a mod that applies a similar result.

There's much about EU3 that I've been remiss to mention, such as the impact of religion on diplomatic relations, provincial stability and justification for war. I've been playing EU3 for months, yet I discover something new and vital every day. This learning process is part of EU3 (also a convenient excuse to cut this review short) and an exemplary reason to stray off the beaten track. Learn a lesson or ten then restart and pick an oft-forgotten nation such as Poland or Ethiopia. Play Europa Universalis 3 and shape your own incredible history.