Sony haters – today is your day!

How ironic. I can provide a feed to Next Generation Online on my own site (see the Games feed on the top nav-bar) but, at work, I can’t visit the site itself.

These restrictions allow me to see the world of videogames news from the perspective of your typical shoot-first-ask-questions-never gamer:

Sony Admits PS3 Delay ‘Possible’
Few in the industry believe that PlayStation 3 will launch in the spring. It looks like Sony may be ready to announce a delay. A company spokesperson has admitted that a delay is possible. 

Hey, based on that headline I can almost hear the hate-threads being written and the haters crowing “told you so!”

Although I can’t visit it, I’m expecting “News with attitude” Sony hate site Evil Avatar to lead the mob.

I don’t give a monkeys about buying hardware on day one. To me it’s a mug’s game. Pay the highest price for the least support and fewest games. No thanks!

My personal opinion is that a rushed release is a bad idea. Furthermore Microsoft has forced the next generation on this industry. I can’t blame them for wanting Round 2 to start as quickly as possible and to get that all-important lead on their competitors. However, I think if Sony were to be seen dancing to Microsoft’s tune and pushing out the PS3 as soon as possible it would look BAD.

Well, bad to those who have an appreciation of how the industry work beyond claiming how Sony must deliberately make their machines go wrong just after warranty and other such likely stories.

Would the current generation leader being dictated to by the new kid on the block look like a GOOD thing?

Would a dominant Japanese company, a nation who own the industry more than any other, look good taking it’s cues from an American company?

Assuming your mentality is not a flag-waving american Xbox fan then your considered answer should be ‘no’.

Regardless, delays by Sony will be  lasciviously profiled by the kind of sites with an agenda, whilst championing Zelda delays, DS Lite shortages or rushed, overheating hardware as A GOOD THING.

Let’s keep it in perspective huh?

Somebody pinch me!

Am I dreaming? Surely I can’t be living in the real world. A rational world. A world that’ll defend it’s right to put guns into the hands of the irresponsible but condemn videogames on the basis that pixels pulled the trigger?

Just when you thought you’d seen it all:

Utah votes through bill on ‘obscene’ videogames
Utah representative David Hogue’s controversial violent videogames bill, which tags videogames onto existing obscenity laws relating to pornography, has sailed through the House of Representatives by a vote of 56-8.

Ok, I’m sure it’s not as black-and-white as that paragraph can suggest. But, come on! I’d normally get quite wordy on all this but I really think this is getting ridiculous now. Then again, this IS Utah we’re talking about..

..I suppose now would be a good time to show you another piece from GamePolitics. As you might guess from the text above, politicians are quite happy to jump on a populist bandwagon, make knee-jerk decisions based on ignorance and sweeping generalisations. Some of us can even sympathise with this behaviour even if we don’t agree with it.

Want to see the worst of the worst? Ok then: legislation based on heresay, conjecture and ignorance.

Playing games doesn’t make me violent. Dumb politics, on the other hand, that’s a different matter.

Gently does it

You know, I really enjoy games, but I absolutely love the industry and culture. With 2005 and Hot Coffee going around I find myself reading GamePolitics at lot more than I used to. As it suggests, it’s about games and the real world rather than scoring some interview with Miyamoto.

A short piece on the site states:

Movers and shakers: The stuffy Wall Street Journal (can’t read their website without a subscription) has named a list of key video game industry players. Luckily, joystiq does have a WSJ sub, so we can leech onto their recounting of the list.

Notably included: ESA honcho Doug Lowenstein “This man is fending off attacks from rabid, misguided politicians who are looking for a galvanizing election issue. He’s got his work cut out for him.“; Professor Edward Castronova (MMO economy expert): “ He writes about games from an academic perspective. Pretty cool gig, if you can get it.“; Sam Houser, Rockstar Games: “ He’s the “Quentin Tarantino of videogame designers.

Notably not included: Jack Thompson

It’s not often you see understatement used on the internet so I thought that last line was well worth a mention. 😀

GTA – Now offending a prostitute near you

It appears that, however shakey your moral grounding may be, you can always point at GTA and claim it offends you.

Game Politics (another miraculously unblocked site at my POW) presents a news piece that reports how sexual workers (not my phrase) are taking issue with Grand Theft Auto in it’s depiction of the treatment of prostitutes. It goes on to suggest the glamorisation of the ill-treatment, violent behaviour and killing of prostitutes is depicted in the game as a positive thing.

Firstly, I’m not here to argue about prostitute’s rights or whether they are entitled to an opinion. These people are human and have the same right to express any opinion as you or I. As the GP article points out, they have particular reason to sensitive to the issue of violence as prostitutes have been the target of serial killers and maladjusted individuals. I totally sympathise with their concerns.

However, I believe they’re wrong on this one.

I recently beat GTA San Andreas by mainly focusing on the core missions that advance the game story and take you through the central game. A central part of the story sees the player’s character being double-crossed by his old friend who, it appears is part of a much more organised drugs cartel (which may be behind his mother’s murder) than just the amusing stoner we think he is. The player’s character has to infiltrate and earn the trust key members of the cartel to gather information and, ultimately destroy it.

One member of the cartel is Jizzy B – a purple-clad pimp. Some of his demands are missions involving you couriering his girls to a destination, picking them up, beating up customers who attempt to violently attack the women and, in one tongue-in-cheek piece of narrative, kill a sugar daddy who attempts to ‘steal’ one of Jizzy’s girls. The sugar daddy is, of course, a man of the cloth.

As the narrative proceeds, the player dispenses justice on the pimp who pays the ultimate price for his crimes.

I’m pretty sure I’ve got it covered there. Those missions must be played out if the player is to proceed with the core narrative of the game and wishes to further their progress.

I’m not convinced that, through these missions, GTA is rewarding the player and teaching them that acting violently towards prostitutes is a good thing. If anything it is demanding the player to protect them from those that would do them harm – including their pimp.

Of course, GTA offers enough tools in the game to allow the player to do what they wish when they’re not focusing on advancing the game’s narrative. You can steal a taxi and the game lets you earn money by taking passengers to their destination. You can haul cargo in trucks cross country. You can export and import cars. You can indulge in some illegal street racing. You can steal a certain type of car and undertake ‘pimping’ missions – which differ very little from the taxi missions in that a person must be picked up and dropped off at a certain geographic location within a time-limit.

None of these ‘gameplay-tools’ are essential in completing the core game. They are available to the player if the player wishes to use them. In some cases the player may be rewarded (earning fare for acting as a taxi for example). More challenging optional tasks – such as finding all 100 opposing gang graffitti tags and respraying your gang’s tag over them – unlock hidden bonuses on their completion. This tagging task is akin to looking for 100 needles in a very large haystack. Good luck with that one!

The player can also run around doing small cash-earning tasks, decide to buy a weapon and hunt down every prostitute-shaped character in the game. They don’t have to. But the combination of tools make it possible if the player decides that is what they want to do.

In real terms, a gun is a tool. A hammer is a tool. A pencil is a tool. But with the will of the user they could all be used to kill someone. Does this instantly mean the tool is evil or its production and existence should be moderated or questioned? The National Rifle Association, I’m sure, have a very clear perspective on whether a tool is inherently evil or destructive or whether the user of the tool is the one that actually defines it’s use.

GTA is a nice, high profile target – for anyone with a grievance on anything. But, in my opinion, the argument have no credibility in the world we live in today.

Videogames are the new rock and roll. The work of the devil and, it seems, the reason for all of society’s ills.

That’s another statement I don’t believe is true.

No prostitutes were harmed in the creation of this article.

Mum’s Army

I’m of the firm belief that my employer has access to a range of books with titles like “How to de-motivate your staff” and “How to make a bad situation worse”. For the time being I won’t go into a full list of their actions (not whilst I remain employed there at any rate) but one cute move is to block pretty much all the gaming websites I have in my bookmarks. That’s quite a lot of sites. I appreciate that web access and the means to use it are by no means a given right for me to complain about. However, in the context of keeping your staff happy and motivated it does a lot of good.

Somehow, a site that has slipped under the radar is A fantastic, British-focused site with good articles and informed commentary. Thank heavens for small mercies.

A recent article “Videogames’ worst enemy is lazy parenting” responds to the actions of women’s magazine “Take A Break”, their readership group entitled “Mum’s Army” and the group’s belief that violent videogames should be banned.

The article goes on to make the distinction that many measures have been taken by the games industry to inform the concerned parent of a game’s content and to control what degree of access their child has to it. Age ratings, content description, in game warnings and hardware with parental lock out controls are just some of thse measures. It appear’s that Mum’s Army believes that if the content is ‘out there’ then they have no means to intervene before it hits their child’s retinas than an outright ban.

The article is worth a read – whatever side of the fence you happen to sit on.

I can’t help conjuring up a mental image of Johnny-12-year-old playing the 50 cent game in the front room, gazing transfixed at the pixellated thuggery on screen whilst his mother is sat on the sofa behind him engrossed in Take A Break magazine.

My opinion is that these sort of parent needs to stop taking a break from parenting and to start taking it seriously.

Breakfast on Pluto

The other week it was cowboys in love, this week it’s transvestite orphan irishmen!

Cillian Murphy makes the most of his cheekbones and does drag astonishingly well without making it seem ridiculous. The story is about this square-peg-in-society’s-round-hole character growing up an orphan, searching for his mother, surviving on wits and optimism set against a background of Ireland, London and the increasing presence of the troubles and conflict in both areas. The film is split into 33 titled vignettes which makes the whole thing very digestable and the through-the-years theme allows for a great soundtrack. Bittersweet without being too bitter or too sweet. Recommended.

Sorry for the snappy review – this is what happens when you leave it too long between seeing a film and writing about it.

A Cock and Bull Story

Ryan, this one’s for you..

ACABS is a film about making a film based on a book about making a book. I knew nothing of the original work other than it was being made into a movie and that such an endeavour had often been regarded as impossible.

As a fan of both Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan and quirky English movies in general I was looking forward to this. Both leads delivered what I wanted from them – Brydon playing the likeable, affable harmless chap and Coogan playing a more unlikeable character in the lead role. I’m really not sure about Coogan sometimes. Whilst his highest profile exploits seem to be based around anti-hero type characters (Paul Calf, Tony Ferrino, Alan Partridge etc) his own image isn’t that great either. He’s certainly no show-biz luvvie and perhaps this side of his character is taken further with his portrayal of himself in the movie. Coogan plays himself as a pretty unlikeable and vain character. This was either no effort at all for him or a brave acting challenge and a demonstration of a good sense of humour. As a mere viewer, I’m not sure which one it is.

The film definitely falls into the ‘quirky’ category. After the period-drama facade falls away and the fly-on-the-wall documentary style narrative picks up it’s hard to say, specifically, what happens. There’s little in the way of plot other than bits of conversation and a study of one man’s vanity and indiscretion. Perhaps this is a key factor of the original material and the film does a fantastic job of emulating it. I can’t say, I’m ignorant in that regard.

The film is pleasant enough, challenging only in the fact it doesn’t really have a typical narrative structure and generally inoffensive. If you enjoy playing “where have I seen that British actor before?” then this will entertain you. There are moments of dialogue in the movie that show some verbal sparring between Coogan and Brydon which definitely come out as the highlights of the movie.

All in all, I enjoyed this movie but I can only recommend it if you’re willing to take a bit of a risk with your viewing. A hit as a ‘proper’ film, a narrow miss as genuine entertainment.

Shadow of the Colossus – making of

Whilst this topic may seem somewhat premature for any european readers who, at the time of writing, are still waiting for the release of this game, this page is worth a look.

Clickety click

The page provides some detail as to how some of the eyecatching effects in this visually stunning game were conceived and produced. The opening statement regarding how, in the final days of a console’s shelf life the ‘masterpiece’ games appear. I’ve always believed this to be the case and enjoy this era of a console the most. After five or so years, many of the PS2’s tricks have been learned and optimised and ways of making the machine perform tasks that appear beyond it’s reach have been discovered.

Fur, blur and lighting. Oh my!

You need only look at games at the end of the 16 bit era to see further proof of how technically savvy programmers had become. The Megadrive / Genesis in particular had some incredible titles that, unlike the SNES, didn’t depend on an extra chip to perform miracles. I’m thinking of stuff like Gunstar Heros, Ranger X, Contra Hard Corps, Alien Soldier, Red Zone and Vector Man in particular. And, yes, I’m well aware of the chip used in the 16 bit conversion of Virtua Racing.

I feel that the current turnaround in hardware – particularly on the PC – allows for a degree of laziness. Don’t get me wrong, I’m in no way inferring that game developers are lazy! However, if a game needs a lot of videoram then the specs will call for a videocard that can give it. Because there is no one universal hardware spec to program for, as with consoles, games do not need to be optimised for it and the required specs to run it can just be bumped up instead of the developers endlessly opitimizing their code. This is an observation, not a criticism.

Anyway, back to the linked article, I don’t think it’s necessary to understand all the technical terms mentioned but I do believe it’s worth taking on board just how much planning, effort and consideration went into each aspect of the game. The same applies to development teams in all games actually. Gamers simply don’t and can’t know just how much clever stuff is going on and what tricks have been thought up just so you can enjoy a game a little more. Shadow of the Colossus is probably one of the finest examples of this but, trust me, all games have an unbelievable amount of work put into them.

When gamers criticise games such as, say, GTA San Andreas for having poor graphics I have to wonder just how ill-considered such criticism is and just what degree of understanding of graphics those criticisms are based upon.

Still, great article for a great game. Go read it!