Today’s Opinion and Links


Games journalists who write about the allegedly woeful state of games journalism, in my view, fall into three personality types:

1) I pretty much invented games journalism dontcha know. Here – look at my Jovian talent and how much more wonderful I am than everyone else.
2)  I am a nasty little shit-bag with a grudge against a world that has failed to recognize that I exist.
3) My competitors are taking readers away from me for fun, and so snide, inaccurate editorials are my only recourse to vengeance.

There is nothing wrong with investigating the business of games journalism. Heaven knows we all need to be held accountable. But one aches for some light to be cast upon us from outside our own little world; some torch held by an individual who isn’t wielding A Fucking Obvious Agenda.

Adding to my inherent suspicion of these evergreen ‘state of games journalism’ tirades is a concern that they play to ludicrous popular prejudices about the relationship between the game industry and the people who write about games.

I know for an absolute fact that dirty deals get done, that spineless media types sometimes cave to financial pressure and that idiots can be swayed by sordid goodie-bags, but the quasi-world of bribes and double-deals portrayed by some does not really exist. 99% of games journalism is a mundane affair of honest people making an honest, albeit pretty easy living.  On the whole, the other 1%, the bad guys, get caught, sooner or later.

And let’s just get something else straight here. At its best, there is nothing wrong with the quality of games journalism.  I could name, off the top of my head, 30 games journalists writing in English who are bloody great at their job (for the record, that number does not include my esteemed colleagues). Some of them write beautifully, some are tenacious reporters, some trained to the highest levels of professionalism, some hold a terrifyingly deep and broad knowledge of games.

On t’other hand, I am unable to name 30 games journalists who are on the take, who regularly tell lies, who sensationalize as a matter of course, who are so boring their pompous editorials make me want to cry.  These people do exist. I just can’t name that many of them because (on the whole) they’re not important, because they haven’t achieved much in the way of professional recognition. (There are exceptions, alas).

Specious Arguments

Of course, my 30 really good writers represent a small percentage of the number of people writing about games. But one does not criticize the state of professional motorsports on the basis of a visit to the local go-kart track.

A large number of people writing about games aren’t getting paid. They have every right to construct God-awful sentences, specious arguments and outrageous slurs. Even from the professional sector, bad journalists have a habit of getting fired, sooner or later, doomed to scratch a meagre living at the very fringes of our business.

Look, if you need to read more than 30 people covering this one subject, or you are unable to find good writers who suit your tastes, by all means let’s hear your thesis as to why games journalism is a nest of talentless, dishonest roguery. Otherwise, spend some time in the company of those genuinely talented individuals who love writing about games for a living, and who manage to do so without displaying ugly professional envy.

 (Note – I’m not going to name my 30 favorite games writers, because I’m bound to forget some people who deserve to be mentioned and, anyway, it seems a presumptuous exercise.)

And Finally….The Point

Which brings me onto what I really wanted to write about today – PR and review scores. I guess I wanted to get my whole thing about games journalism out of the way before turning to publicists – the vast majority of whom I value and like a great deal – because it is a symbiotic thing and it’s difficult to address one without the other.

The reason why PRs are once again taking a kicking in the press is because a PR firm, Barrington Harvey has been accused of  attempting to manage a review score average over the launch weekend of Tomb Raider: Underworld. One reporter says he was asked by an unnamed PR to hold off on publishing a review if it scored less than Eidos’ own target of 8.0.

This is, of course, utterly deplorable. But weirdly, I actually feel sorry for the PRs, because (I can’t prove this; call it a hunch) they were probably, miserably, attempting to follow orders from the client and, in this financial climate, we do what the client says. And I also feel a tiny bit sorry for the client (Eidos) because they are working in a necessarily cruel media environment.

Barrington Harvey has been handling game-PR accounts for 20 years and is run by former games journos and game industry professionals. It’s a good outfit, especially in comparison to some agencies from outside the biz, who take a Stalinist view of information. (Full Disclosure – the founder of Barrington Harvey was once my editor. He used to give me a ride to work in his crappy little Citroen and, although he’s never mentioned it. I probably owe him about six months worth of petrol money at 1986 prices).

Overstep the Mark

The problem of publishers attempting to control information and opinion is that It Can’t be Done. Public Relations, as good PRs know and as BH’s Simon Byron pointed out in his admirable ‘calm-down-everyone’ statement, only has so much influence. It can try to bend opinion, spin lines, cajole favors, but it can’t force journos to do anything and, usually, attempts to overstep the mark hurt more than they help. This affair about Tomb Raider has done the product no favors at all, even though it is a perfectly good value 8/10 game.

There are other areas where control is the order of the day for PRs. In the last 20 years, I’ve witnessed with growing dismay, the increasing power of the dreaded Non Disclosure Agreement. Time was, you could get away with point-blank refusing to sign these things (I never signed them, on principle, for years) but nowadays that would be a foolish approach. They are everywhere.

I’ve come to see a certain value in them. In the old days, if a story leaked, the publisher lost control of the process and the actual announcement lost its impact. By explaining the product under NDA, and letting everyone have their say at the same time, everyone is served for the best. The publisher tells its story, the journalists report in an ‘even playing field’ environment and the readers can pick or choose where they get their information.

Ideally, the NDA is released at a time that is sensible for everyone. For example, review code NDAs are released just before a game hits the market.

Alas, publishers want their cake and eat it too.  They rope us into NDAs but then they play silly fools by offering certain publications exclusives which, in turn, draw accusations of corruption.

If you want to use an NDA, by all means go ahead, but bear in mind that it is an Agreement and that no reporter worth his or her salt ought to keep signing these things if they are, in effect, upholding exclusive arrangements with rival media outlets.

Likewise, there are some publishers who seem to believe that owning an IP is much the same as owning anything that is said or written about that IP. Lawyers and PRs understand this fact, and yet, being who they are, will do whatever they can to undermine it.

Emotional Values

I feel that some of this is an emotional response; a need to control the uncontrollable. Taking this view for a moment,  it’s harder to be entirely unsympathetic towards the publisher.

If you’ve spent three years working on a project, perhaps your career rests on its success, looked after and nursed every aspect of its development, imagine the trauma of it suddenly being torn apart in public and subject to such a crude device as a review score? Imagine going from total control to zero control.

It’s a horrible fate but, unfortunately, inevitable.

However, as much as I want to be sympathetic, I’ve dealt with too many PRs whose need to control is not an emotional act, but a cold, cynical, commercial imperative. The worst offenders, by far, are the guardians of certain really big products, who feel that the immense value of their IP is like some grand reflection on their own value; a free pass to behave like an ass. 

You Are to Blame

All this leads back to the biggest villain of all, which is you, the consumer of games and reader of the games media.

The problem we have is your addiction to review scores; essential little signposts to whether a product is worth your hard-earned money or not. And the final inevitable conclusion of this addiction is Metacritic and GameRankings, outlets of immense usefulness which you have the temerity to use day in and day out, zero-ing everyone’s attention on that number of numbers, that holy of holies, the average review score.

The hysteria this number invokes is both ridiculous (as we saw last week) and depressingly understandable.

People do use average review scores as part of their judgment process for spending money. And, unfortunately, 7.9 is a whole lot further from 8.0 than it is from 7.8 (if that makes sense). That 1% might cost a struggling company actual money. Little wonder Eidos shat a brick.

It does not excuse interfering with the editorial process, but it does explain the manic desire of game publishers who attempt to control the uncontrollable.

The fact is that trying to control a review score is as vain – and as immoral – as trying to control a sports score or a stock-price. The review score – assuming the good professionalism of the reviewer – is a reflection of freedom of expression. If you mess around with that stuff you’re due some serious condemnation. Eidos and Barrington Harvey, to be fair to both, have understood this, held their hands up and withdrawn from what might have turned into an ugly situation. We can only hope that this episode contains lessons for us all.

Revenge is Sweet

November 12, 2008

Last week, a news story did the rounds about a game called Run Clarkson Run. It featured truck drivers mowing down a man called Jeremy Clarkson. The previous week, Clarkson, a gobshite TV presenter, had made a joke about truck-drivers and their alleged penchant for murdering prostitutes.

The game was pure revenge, and was picked up by many of the British papers, not just the tabloids.

Sadia Chishti, who made the game, said, “Clarkson is a loveable rogue, but we think he’s overstepped the mark this time. So we figured we’d give truckers the chance for revenge. And not just truckers; the whole family can spend hours playing the game, running over and killing Jeremy Clarkson just for fun."

It got me thinking about games as acts of vengeance.

I don’t mean games that feature revenge. There are plenty of those. Violent games often use revenge as the pretext for a major character going slightly balloons, exploding anything that had even the slightest relationship with the death of a beloved father / brother / comrade / quietish bloke known slightly from the pub who sometimes enjoyed a quick game of pool.

What I mean are games that are created purely as an act of revenge.

The beauty of this approach to revenge is two-fold. In games the player gets to actively do horrible things to the subject of the author’s ire. You can see the character being chopped up, mutilated and profoundly humilated. Sometimes, the deaths have a great dollop of irony in there. In Clarkson’s case, being mowed down by truckers is doubly sweet, as he is, famously, a smug twat who drives really nice cars for a living.

We have all seen plenty of silly Internet games in which our dear departing president is humiliated by, say, a killer pretzel. There must surely be a game somewhere in which the vile Sarah Palin gets lost in a wardrobe and must screech her way out. These games veer into the territory of satire, which is, after all, the most effective revenge of the powerless against the powerful.

The second power of games is their ability to draw headlines and thereby audiences. Journalists pick up on vengeance games as good copy because games are hot and pictures of famous people being humiliated – even in the context of a Flash game –  are visually interesting.

It is almost entirely a waste of time to write an outraged blog post or online poem about the iniquities of the world. The powers that be will fail to tremble at the power of your prose. Even a searing YouTube production is unlikely to garner much in the way of column inches. But a videogame? The press loves a videogame. If you really hate someone powerful and arrogant who has done bad things  to the world in general, it is your duty as a citizen to humiliate them in a funny, game, preferably one that’s violent.

Unfortunately, writing videogames – especially funny ones, is hard work. Traditionally, the reason to write a videogame is to make money rather than to speak of your anguish to the world, or to get even with some fellow or other. I can think of very few commercial games that were made as an expression of vengeance.

One, from the mid-1980s, comes to mind. It was written by a guy who had been stitched up by a games company that had gone bust. I forget what it was called, but it featured various in-jokes about the peculiarities of the UK games distribution network, circa 1984. Weird.

I don’t doubt that more than a few in-game creatures have been expressions of vengeance. Perhaps the odd hatchet-faced monster who looked a bit like the artist’s cold-cheeked mother-in-law. Or the hairy-arsed barbarian who sounded just a tad like the pompous boss (it would be great to hear of any such examples….please).

But, in general, revenge is not a big enough reason to invest thousands of hours in a game’s production.

Now though, games are becoming easier to create. Individuals can get to work, easing out all their frustrations and hatreds through a new and exciting media, in which literally, anything can happen to anyone. The age of videogames as satire is upon us.

Revenge is yours oh LittleBigPlanet player and Flash enthusiast. Take it.

November 6, 2008

We have awoken into a new dawn, where anything is possible and Things Will Change.

Which is all great. Really.

But one thing won’t change; that being the high prevalence of assholes populating Planet Earth. Unfortunately, not even Barack Obama can make them all go away (though dispatching Sarah Palin to oblivion is a very fine beginning).

Defining an asshole is much more difficult than just recognizing one. Karl Rove is an asshole; probably knows it himself; probably knows exactly what makes him such an incredible asshole.  Robert Mugabe, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Dmitry Medvedev are assholes of such vintage that they don’t even know they’re assholes. Anyone who voted for Prop. 8 is an asshole, though, inexplicably, they live under the delusion that everyone else is an asshole.

Fucking assholes. They pollute the universe and they always will.

The problem we have is that the idiots have gotten hold of an amazing technology that amplifies their every moronic utterance and gives volume to their idiocies. They have co-opted the Internet, the most beautiful invention of our age, and so we must daily struggle through a howling gale of their shit.

Getting, Finally, to the Point

I mention this in the context of phony user-ratings on websites like Metacritic. These sites usefully aggregate reviews, offering an average review score and a place from which to browse reviews. it also allows anyone else to name their own reviews score. User scores are counted separately from the reviews, which are selected by Metacritic.

You can criticize the effect Metacritic has on the market. Controlling, bully PRs are now even more paranoid about each and every review that deviates from the average, as if there exists an absolutely ‘right score’ for a game based on the average. But you can’t criticize the usefulness of this service. Being able to compare different reviews from one place is just great.

However, the user-reviews are being hijacked by – you guessed it – assholes. What they do is this. If a big game is appearing on a console they don’t actually own, they go in and place a fake score in order to bring the average user score of that game down, thereby somehow making the console they do own seem more attractive, which in turn makes them feel smarter than other people. Clever, no?

I said earlier that it isn’t easy defining an asshole, but someone who does this, must surely qualify. I concede that they aren’t molesting children or poisoning the water-supply, but still…the asshole’s activities cover a broad spectrum of crimes, and we must acknowledge even the least of these.

Metacritic has promised to do something about this. There are various ways you can eliminate rogue posters via registration, or through computing marvels that eliminate outlying stats. I wish them luck.

But the assholes have also managed to contribute to an infinitely sad trend in the information age, which is that we take the views of individuals, less and less seriously. In a perfect world, a comparison between the views of actual gamers and paid reviewers would be illuminating and fascinating. In the real world, it’s almost meaningless. So, when you post your reviews score, that you spent time thinking about and that might be of use to others, you’re wasting your time. Your voice is being taken away.

The internet promises a two-way conversation between the media and the reader, as well as an infinitely varied conversation between everyone. But if the people you’re talking with are acting like the rogue posters on Metacritic, what is the value of that experience?

Blogs have allowed anyone to become a publisher and, indeed, they have given rise to some amazingly good content providers. All too often though, they give voice to self-serving ego-maniacs telling the rest of us how marvelous they are and how bloody stupid we are.

I admit that the only thing worse than what we’ve got right now, is what we had before, when only an elite were given access to the media, while everyone else had to sit and listen in mute fury at whatever was being served up  You can still get a sense of this experience by watching the  ‘experts’ of soliloquistic media on channels like Fox News.

We must all carefully censor what we read, calculating a certain curve for the self-serving ego-mania of the other guys. And that’s okay. it’s just part of life. We must also be careful to afford those with alternative opinions to our own, the space to have their say. (If you define an asshole as anyone who disagrees with you, you may well have landed upon the perfect definition of an asshole). But we should also do our bit to put an and to the abuse of forums, user-vote mechanisms and blogs, perpetrated by people who are diminishing your ability to speak freely and effectively.

And, if you are someone who posts fake reviews online, please stop. Asshole.

Recent lay-offs, downsizing and studio closures have somewhat dampened the absurd over-optimisim of those who believe the game industry is immune to global financial downturn.

In the last week, EA, WildTangent and THQ have sent workers home. Already, we’re hearing less about a skills-shortage and more about able, unemployed game development professionals. I believe stories about lay-offs will become a regular occurrence in the months ahead.

Analysts are marking target prices down for major publishers. This is not only in response to a general value-depression in publicly traded stocks, but to a general sense that revenues and profits will be deflated in the year ahead. Sony has cut its profits outlook by an incredible 57%, citing the game industry as part of the problem.

Even so, despite a general deflation in optimism, the momentum of our industry has not quite run out of steam. Nintendo powers ahead, a glorious Mallard smoking through verdant lands. Ubisoft just posted a great quarter.  But sales are certainly being impacted. September NPDs were nothing special and October is expected to be flat. 

It is almost certain that strategists at the hardware manufacturers are revising worst–case scenarios downwards in anticipation of vastly reduced consumer spending in the next 24 months.

The CFOs, cold as spiders, are rarely animated by fluffy notions that games can stand apart from a financial downturn, on the basis that people spend more time at home, or because they really do offer great value for money, per hour spent playing.

The fact is that unemployed consumers spend less on videogame entertainment than their employed neighbors. They may continue to play games, but you’ll see more lending, more piracy, more used game sales, and less action at the retail shelves.

Likewise, some of those consumers we’ve been relying on to jump aboard at certain hardware price triggers, are now likely to wait, perhaps opting for less expensive gifts this Holiday. The much vaunted Blu-ray revolution could hardly have asked for a more difficult consumer environment, impacting sales of PS3.

The lay-offs aren’t just about the broader economy. Some of it is due to individual performance issues by publishers. It’s also mid-cycle, a time when companies re-evaluate the successes or failures of various early-cycle development gambits. Most publishers tooled up heavily when the new consoles appeared and must now adjust their staffing levels to reflect actual income. Blaming the economy can be a convenient cover for piss-poor strategic thinking or disappointing development work.

Gaming does offer great value, and we live and die through self-generated technology cycles that stand, slightly, apart from the rest of the world. But the idea that we’re completely free from economic turmoil and consumer confidence crash is a dangerous fancy. Hard times are coming. For those who are losing their jobs right now, they’ve already arrived.


Sony’s Act of Hypocrisy

Sony’s decision to recall LittleBigPlanet is pure cowardice and hypocrisy.

It’s also, probably, the right and sensible thing to do and might also be seen as admirable, at least in the swiftness of its execution.

The game features small snips of music, tucked away, featuring lyrics in Somalian that quote, directly, phrases from the Quran.

So far as I know there is nothing about the lyrics or the music that might offend anyone. What seems to be offensive is that some passages of the Quran, religious words of great significance to millions of people, are being used in the context of a rather silly (albeit awesome) videogame.

Muslims have complained although, at this point, none in any official or senior capacity. If people are getting upset, it behooves all decent folk to hear what they have to say, and make a judgment call.  One ought to endeavor to get through life without being a pain to others, right?

Of course, Sony’s decision has nothing to do with simple rules of decency. Sony doesn’t care about anyone’s feelings. Sony cares only about its profits. In this, it is much like all corporations around the world, even the ones who pretend to be nice.

Sony has no view on religion. It has no view on anything other than a desire to be left in peace to make as much money as possible.

Sony has learned that pissing millions of people off is a poor way to profitability, and so avoids making this mistake.

But there are different shades of anger. I look at the movies, TV shows and music that Sony produces and, a lot of it makes me pretty angry because it’s such drivel.

But this isn’t the sort of anger that Sony execs are going to worry about, and I don’t blame them. Lots of people like these products, and who am I to brandish such consumers of crap as utter morons?

Then there’s another type of anger that Sony execs have had to face. Like the one where a Sony game features acts of violence in a place of worship.

You’ll recall that Resistance features scenes inside Manchester Cathedral, a Christian church.

A senior Christian cleric expressed anger about this game, and was covered extensively in the media. Sony’s response?

Did it rapidly recall the game?


Did it offer an apology?

Eventually, and half-heartedly.

Did it release a self-serving defense of its actions?  

That’s the one.

The difference here is in degrees. On the one hand, a game featuring some non-contextual direct quotes from a sacred text. On the other, a violent intrusion into a sacred place.

Sony’s decision to treat one with the utmost seriousness and the other with the utmost contempt is easily explained. The reaction to anti-Christian content in any media is usually measured in a slightly annoyed grey-head appearing on NPR or Radio 4. Content that is viewed as anti-Islamic often raises more visual protests.

Sony understands that extreme religious anger is something any sensible person or company will work diligently to avoid.  It’s also something the media really loves to cover.

My point is not about the reaction of different religious people to perceived slights so much as the reaction by Sony to actual trouble.  

Sony saw the possibility of bad press and angry scenes and made a very quick decision.

It ran.

But, of course, the next time it annoys a group of believers, it’ll have a much tougher job handing out a dismissive statement, such as in the Manchester Cathedral episode.

The other difficulty about this situation is the nature of LBP. This is a game that invites highly individual expressions of creativity and points of view, very often aggressive and contemporary. I fear there is much more LBP-related content coming soon that will make people very angry indeed.

And although this content will be beyond Sony’s control; there are many people in the world who will find this distinction irrelevant. Sony’s actions, while swift, have probably not been decisive.


Is Blizzard Whoring Itself?

Do you think EA Sports would get away with charging fans $100 a head, to come look at its games once a year?

Konami or Capcom would just love to be in a position where they’d be forced to apologize to fans, for the grave sin of selling out all tickets to an annual sales pitch.

For Blizzard, it’s just a way of life.

Blizzard is one of those names that makes people feel something good. Through brands like World of WarCraft, StarCraft and Diablo, Blizzard has a reputation among its fans that’s deserved and peerless.

This is what makes BlizzCon such a joyful, happy event in the gaming calendar. It provides living evidence of the connection gamers can make with the companies that create their favorite entertainment experiences. How marvelous it is, to see consumers so thoroughly knowledgeable and passionate about a single company.

But how easy it is for companies to take all this love and devotion and smoke it straight up the chimney stack.

Given an audience of such gleam-eyed devotees, all Blizzard has to do is take those fans for granted, and start gouging the hell out of them. Try that, and sooner of later, the love will fly away.

What’s interesting about this year’s BlizzCon is the level of antipathy leveled at the company for a variety of seemingly innocuous announcements – the StarCraft trilogy, monetizing and paid-for customization of characters in WoW. The latter two weren’t even announcements so much as bits of information teased out in open debate.

None of these financially-motivated moves are especially surprising, taken individually. But they’ve each attracted lots of criticism in the forums.

Activision wants its big brands annualized. After a ten-year space between StarCraft One and Two, it might seem indecently hasty to drag out StarCraft III within a year. Fiscally prudent then, to deliver a trilogy of single-player campaigns, each based on one of StarCraft’s much-loved races.

The game’s legions of multi-player fan can pass on the extra single-player campaigns. It’s just an added extra for those who want more single-player action.

I have no doubt that each of these games will represent great value and bags of entertainment. And yet, reports from the show floor suggested fairly negative reactions and, at best, “mixed feelings”.

Given a choice between a single game with shorter race-based campaigns, and a trilogy, most fans would vote for the former. The choice they are actually being offered is whether or not to spend more money on more content.

Likewise, the idea of charging for extra services in and for customizable character traits in World of Warcraft.

In both cases, the standard offering will remain the same. Consumers won’t get getting anything less. They are being offered more content or more choices, as long as they pay.

Many of them undoubtedly will pay, even those currently wailing in the forums.

But does this feel to you like a company finding ways to please its customer base, or does it feel like a company finding ways to make more money?

There’s nothing wrong with Blizzard seeking to make as much money as it can from its own properties and from its own genius. But what’s concerning here is the definite feeling that these additions have come from the dollars and cents end of the hall, and not the fun and games part of the business.

Although each of these moves is entirely justifiable in their own right, what’s concerning is the general sense of brand erosion that comes about when loyal customers feel like they’re being taken for granted.

Blizzard must find ways – above and beyond the famous goodie bags – to make loyal customers feel like they’re getting something back.

Love is a two-way street. Otherwise, it starts to look like something else entirely.

This blog entry is about sex, covered clumsily and immaturely. You’ve been warned.

Disgusting Notions about Sex in Games

There are few subjects in the world quite as grisly as sex in games.

I don’t just mean the risible crapness of sexual games past and present. I also include the multi-colored promise of digital romps of the future. Words like teledildonics leave me dizzy with nausea.

Sex and games. It doesn’t sound like a good match. I’m contemplating writing something along the lines of ‘look, it’s not that hard to get laid’ even though it’ll make me sound like an old geezer telling FIFA 09 players to get on down the rec and have a proper kickabout.

Even I managed it (once, on a Welsh hillside, in 1993). Sticking one’s John Thomas inside another organism is, apparently, the most natural thing in the world (I speak exclusively from the male perspective here).

Do we really need to start copulating with robots or getting off on-screen via slinky avatars? Do you see what I mean when I talk about the giddy, sticky grossness of this subject?

But some folks…they just can’t leave it alone. They’re the grown-up versions of those strange kids back in the schoolyard, forever clasping themselves, cross-eyed with inner sublimation and glee. Vile little beasts.

Damon Brown covers technology for a magazine called Playboy (an organ of utter nakedness and yet more nakedness; page after filthy page of nakedness.). He’s written a book about sex. Sex in games. Today, he’s interviewed over at Salon where he salivates about his favorite subject. (I imagine him as a drooling little man in a macintosh and heavy-framed spectacles, but since this idea is entirely a slice of my ‘made-in-England, 1973′ imagination, it may be inaccurate.)

For those of you who have read any one of the many ‘sex in games’ editorial features, published with relentless tedium in this biz over the eons, the feature covers a familiar litany. Custer’s Revenge…Strip Poker games…Leisure Suit Larry…Lara Croft…Dead or Alive…Conan cup-sizes…Hot Coffee…

Admirably, his book does manage to devote an entire chapter to examples of gay and lesbian games, which was either a very short chapter or a long-winded way of saying ‘um…not much here I’m afraid’. (Even putting sexual content aside, gay and lesbian characters are almost completely non-existent in the entire history of games).

He is also quite interesting on the future of sex in games but, again, I warn you, this is not for the squeamish…

"Our grandchildren are going to have amazing sex lives — I can’t think of a better way to say it. Connecting vibrators and other types of tools to the computer and getting pleasured by a professional or a long-distance lover is a brilliant idea."

Groooooo. Urgggh etc. He goes on…

"I’d say within five years it’s going to become standard equipment for a lot of people."

Standard equipment? A lot of people? All wanting to be pleasured by professionals at "long distances"? (There’s an awesome joke about big dicks in there somewhere but I can’t quite grasp it).

The near future of videogames involves fake cock-and-vagina like accessories operated by sleazy professional thrusters and writhers, working from derelict call-centers. And the anti-games lobby is worried about Manhunt 2?


Advice Wanted for Evil Henchmen and Bosses

This excerpt from the new issue of Edge’s letters page made me laugh.

Hi. I’m an end of level boss and I’d like to improve my skillset and get more out of my henchmen. There’s not much work any more for a guy like me so I need to stay ahead of the game. Any advice?

Try not to wear anything glowing around an obvious weakspot.

Try killing your attacker in a corridor, from behind. Do this instead of waiting in some large, open and usually deserted arena that you’ve specifically designed to show off your attacks whilst simultaneously exposing your weaknesses.

Outside your chamber will be an assortment of boxes. These boxes contain (amongst other things) fairies, medi-packs, ammunition for guns and other such tools which can be used against you! By removing such items you stand a much better chance of survival.
Sgt Rock

If it becomes rapidly apparent that your enemy is able to reflect certain attacks back at you, stop using that weapon. Resist the temptation to try this attack again later – they will almost certainly still have this ability.
tin robot

If you insist on residing within a locked room, keeping the key on you at all times should prove problematic for any would-be heroes.

You are not alone. Apply for entry into the National Bosses Union, and see if you can get a group of bosses together to tackle your nemesis. Make sure their attack patterns and moves are different from your own, to help prevent a single strategy from being effective against you. Together, you will prevail.
evil bozz

If all else fails, make a stylish exit and regroup for the sequel.

Nintendo Prepares for War

The DSi fits Nintendo’s historic strategy of heavy innovative artillery followed up by a series of small arms skirmishes.

So, for that matter, does Wii HD.

Both are logical progressions on products that excited the market, but which now need to gain ground. PSP is becoming stronger. Handheld gadgets like iPhone are making significant gains in the game industry. the whole stylus, touch-screen thing is looking jaded.

Likewise, Xbox 360’s price is now competing with Wii and Microsoft is doing its damnedest to take a piece of the non-hardore market. There will come a time, soon, when even the most casual of Wii users will notice the vast graphical gulf between Wii and competing consoles.

And, now that graphical realism (of a certain kind) is becoming commoditized, Nintendo should be able to afford to upgrade its Wii – definitely on a 2011 timeline. Anything later than that begins to look like sluggishness.

Anyone expecting Nintendo to pull another Wii or DS out of the hat is being unfairly optimistic. Wii especially is one of those remarkable products that comes along very rarely; one thinks of the Sony Walkman or the Volkswagen Beetle or even the Gameboy.

It is difficult to see how Nintendo’s genius in focusing on the physical user-exoerience at exactly the right time can be repeated. More likely, Nintendo will build on its massive user-base and brand-profile to keep the Wii story alive for years to come. Part of that process, inevitably, will include a graphical overhaul and a much greater emphasis on online entertainment and distribution.

John Davison’s story at WhatTheyPlay isn’t going to win any Pullitzer Prizes. It featured hardly any details, virtually no evidence and shadowy, unnamed sources. But I admire his stones for running it, and I trust the story absolutely both because of the breadth and depth of Davison’s contacts and because what he said in that story is so very clearly right. If Nintendo was not looking to give Wii a make-over in the next few years, we’d have cause for extreme concern.

 This is not to say that Nintendo is beyond criticism. Its E3 play – covered ad nauseum – was weak to the point of absurdity. The announcements we’ve heard so far this have been solid, sensible and vaguely encouraging but they have not prompted headline writers to reach for ‘Nintendo Turns It Around’ type accolades.

(What I do find grossly unfair are the stories about Nintendo’s faltering share-price.  Because, right now, share-price is about as useful a guide to a company’s health as the pollen count.)

Taken as a whole, the Nintendo events of the past week – those announced or unannounced, show a company alive to the dangers posed by its competitors. Nintendo will need to marshall all its creative resources in the years ahead if it wants to stave off encroachment into its impressive market-share. Nintendo will never alllow itself to forget just how much market-share it lost in the 1990s, by allowing other companies to spot the main chance.

Farewell Game Theory

For the past few years I’ve co-presented a podcast called GameTheory. Always with Gary Whitta, most recently also Kris Graft and previously with Jeremy Williams. It covered game industry news and topics and, essentially, was just a Skype recording of three blokes talking on the phone about games.

We decided to call it a day this week. The reasons are multiple. We’re too busy; it diverts energy away from our other roles (for which we actually get paid).

But most of all, I think we had just come to a natural end with the show. Gaz and I had gotten to the point where we knew what the other would say before he’d even begun to talk. We were spending way too much time agreeing with each other and even seeing each other’s point of view. All very polite but not exactly great radio.

Still, it’s been lovely to receive so many messages from fans of the show expressing their disappointment and indignation at our decision to quit. Gametheory always had a great audience, impressive not only in size (I count 8,000-12,000 people a week as big) but also in their knowledge and passion for games. It was simply not possible to be lazy on that show, and hope to get away with it.

Anyway, I’ll miss doing the show. It was a lot of fun.


DSi Compared with New PSP and iPhone

It was either an early morning or a late night for journos in the West looking to cover the Nintendo conference.

Hats off to Joystiq for posting a 3.00am. feature comparing the tech-specs of DSi,  PSP-3000 and iPod Touch 1.0 which, if you like comparing tech specs (and who doesn’t?) is well worth a look.


Will Wright Donates to McCain

GamePolitics has been digging through some records to see who, in the game industry, is donating to which presidential candidate or political party. Great work. here’s the list and the link.

Republican contributors:

    * Will Wright: (Spore, The Sims) $3,000 to McCain; previously donated $2,350 to Giuliani
    * Bobby Kotick (Activision CEO) $2,300 to McCain; previously donated $2,100 to Romney
    * Curt Schilling (38 Studios) $2,300 to McCain.

Democratic contributors:

    * Strauss Zelnick (Chairman, Take-Two) $2,000 to Obama; had previously donated to $2,500 to Edwards, $1,000 each to Biden & Richardson
    * Ben Feder (CEO, Take-Two) contributed $1,000 to Biden in 2007
    * Sam Houser (Rockstar) $4,600 to Obama
    * Patricia Vance (president, ESRB) $2,000 to Obama
    * John Riccitiello (CEO, EA) $4,600 to Obama
    * John Smedley (Sony Online Entertainment) $2,300 to Obama
    * Richard Garriott aka "Lord British" (Ultima series, NC Soft) $2,300 to Hillary Clinton
    * Alex Rigopulos (CEO, Harmonix) $32,900 to Obama
    * Kathy Vrabeck (president, EA Casual) $2,300 to Obama
    * George Lucas (LucasFilm) $33,100 to Obama
    * Doug Lowenstein (former ESA head) $2,300 to Hillary Clinton
    * Kenneth Doroshow (new ESA general counsel) $2,500 to Obama
    * Gabe Newell (pres., Valve) $2,300 to Dodd


Kevin Garnett Talks NBA 2K9

Here’s a good Q&A with Boston Celtic and NBA 2K9 cover-star Kevin Garnett, in which he talks about how he plays games with team-mates. Always good to see a big-name endorser who knows his onions.

A History of Worms

I love retrospectives about big-name franchises and how they came to be. This one from Develop covers the history of the Worms franchise. Here’s how it began.

The original Worms was designed by lone programmer Andy Davidson in his bedroom, and the first concept, called ‘Artillery’, did not feature worms at all but soldiers and tanks. Its creator entered the game, now called ‘Wormage’, into a competition run by Amiga Format magazine, where it failed to make an impact. Undeterred, Davidson then took it to the European Computer Trade Show in London in 1994, and showed it to a producer from Team 17, who agreed to develop and publish it under the title Worms.


You Don’t Have to be Mad to Work Here

Gamecock has responded cheekily to a controversy about its DS survival horror game Dementium: The Ward.

The Japanese Association of Psychiatric Hospitals had requested the game’s Japanese distributor to pull the game, saying it encouraged discrimination against the insane.

Diplomatic as ever, Gamecock’s Mike Wilson said…

"The co-publisher/distributor for the game in Japan, Interchannel, will deal with the situation appropriately. In the meantime, we’re thrilled that this quick bout of paranoia has brought so much attention to our first lovechild with [the game’s developer] Renegade Kid."

Source: MTV Multiplayer


A Hero of Game Development

Today in the great savannah of games websites you can read 17 Cliff Blezsinski interviews; 5 Op-Eds about whether or not Jack Thompson really exists and a couple of outraged-types still banging on about a PR guy who owns a crappy games website you’ve never visited, and never will.

There’s also this.

It’s the incredible true story of a fella who spends his working life watching NFL games – every single one of them, every single week.

Anthony White of EA Tiburon comes to work on Monday and studies each and every NFL game, looking for new plays and formations to add to Madden. He usually gets done by Wednesday. In Madden 2008, he added 32 new formations and 1,200 new plays.

The way he watches? Each team’s offensive plays in order. It’s the best way to understand a coach’s over-arching strategy.

You’re wondering what he does for fun, y’know, at the weekend? He watches the live games, and some college, and he uses cookies to teach his girlfriend how football works.

Anthony White is a game industry hero.

I Want My Worm Back

David Perry is another game industry hero. He is interesting fellow who leads an interesting life. Certainly more interesting than yours or even, perhaps, mine.

Nevertheless, even game industry heroes suffer those moments when they stare into space and say aloud, "Why did I do something as dumb as that?"

In his case, it’s the sale of Earthworm Jim. He tells the story best…

"The industry was going 3D. I was funding development  out of my own bank account. And I was being asked on a constant basis, "can you buy a Silicon Graphics $25,000 computer, and oh, we need the software too, that’s another $25,000…" – I was just writing checks left and right, trying to understand how we were going to move our company into 3D.

"And I was getting pushed back, because the team was a 2D team. Our skill – I think our secret to success – was that we had people who could draw with pencils, and draw fantastically, so that their animation was great. And to say to those guys: "put down your pencils, guys! We’re going with 3D packages…"  And they just were like, this is not something we’re interested in doing.

"It seemed smart to just get out, and not have to bet the farm on that, and it turned out to be the dumbest move ever. Because the team, the next game we made was MDK, which was a 3D game, and it just won awards everywhere. So suddenly, you know, we absolutely pulled off making 3D. So I was like: "Shit". [laughs] ."

Full interview on Kikizo

The Plastic Guitars are Destroying Us All

There comes a point in all our lives when the thought of yet another plastic guitar or set of bongos or balance board invading one’s house becomes intolerable.

Think of all that crap making its journey from front-room, to dusty cupboard to garage and, finally, to a great, sombre mountain of plastic white guitars, somewhere in Ohio…like a vile Damien Hirst thing, representing the contemptible vacuity of adult lives spent pretending to be rock icons.


Disney Interactive Studios’ solution to this horrible situation is to create music games without peripherals.

CEO Graham Hopper says…

“I don’t think you need to buy a new peripheral with music games. How much space do you have in your home for new peripherals? I’ve got guitars falling out of storage closets."

Story at

This is Kinda Funny

GamesRadar has taken a bunch of games and imagined what they might be like if their titles were taken literally (so, Metal Slug would be about a slug made of metal).
It all sounds rather silly and pointless, and it is. But, it beats reading Cliff tell you how great GoW2 is, or hearing the latest never-ending fart about games as art.



I Think Mussolini is Cool

I’m talking about my fictional three-legged dog that I keep in my head. I call him Mussolini. That cute little guy. The way he begs is hilarious.

What you say? There’s another Mussolini? He was famous? And he wasn’t cool? Wow. Maybe I’m being insensitive. Maybe I should have, like, kept a vague eye on the world outside my own little universe before creating fictional characters with names that are bound to upset people.

And no, the ‘Portugal is a long way from America’ thing doesn’t fly. The Maddie story has been carried extensively on U.S. news networks.

If you have no idea what I am going on about, go here.



Why Jack Was Good For Us All

The intellectual poverty of the anti-violent-games argument can best be summed up in two words –  Jack Thompson.

What a disappointment that man has been to censorship fans everywhere. There was a time when ordinary people would have listened carefully to someone arguing that interaction with virtual violence could have detrimental effects to the sanity of grown men and women. An articulate, clever, media-savvy and attractive personality would have dragged the people along with this misguided notion.

But what they got was Jack Thompson, neither charming, nor powerful, nor especially interesting. And, as the years went by, he dropped from his glory-days of CNN appearances to giving interviews to any games blog fool enough to offer him the time of day

He, or at least his utter impotence, was the best friend the game industry ever had.

Braid is a Rip-Off

You probably won’t agree with Simon Byron on the XBLA hit-of-the-year, but you might just enjoy his editorial.

Like gambling with casino tokens, you never know how much you’re spending. We think Braid ’s a quaint diversion, programmed competently and with care, but because we didn’t actually go into an actual shop and actually hand over actual money we’d worked long and hard for, we’ve missed the trick it pulled.

Nintendo’s Charity DS

A big hand for Nintendo for its limited edition DS in support of cancer. The company will give $5 to a cancer charity for every one sold and a guaranteed $100,000.


A Message For Nintendo Fanboys

Heres’ an editorial comment that comes straight to the point.

It’s called Nintendo Fans: Quit Your Bitchin’. Matt Furtado points out that the expectations of the fanboys can never be realised by Nintendo, even if the company was of a mind to gratify its most "loyal" (read, "noisy") customers.

Nintendo has a press conference set for October 2nd when, presumably, the company will attempt to regain some of the hardcore ground lost at E3. But, the forumites are setting themselves up for fall, says Furtado…

"We are hearing the same cries for attention from the Nintendo faithful. They are pleading with Nintendo to announce a new Zelda, Mario, Kid Icarus, Earthbound, Star Fox, Metroid, Punch-Out!!, F-Zero, Ice Climbers, Pikmin, and other miscellaneous Nintendo franchises.

"Every time Nintendo reveals they are going to hold a conference, every single Nintendo fanboy comes forth from underneath their little rock and starts to make outrageous predictions that will never come true. Then, when Nintendo doesn’t make the announcement of biblical proportions, you cry like an infant about how Nintendo betrayed you and doesn’t care about you anymore.

"Believe it or not, Nintendo has been around for over 100 years. The chances are, while slim, that their corporate leaders might know a thing or two about running a successful multi-billion dollar business."

Force Unleashed Is Really Not That Bad

It’s always good to see a writer step out of the review-orthodoxy.

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed has managed a paltry average score of about 74%, but is still selling well, backed by THAT brand and an enormous marketing campaign.

But we shouldn’t write the game off completely. Sure, it’s buggy and repetitive, but it has merits above and beyond playing in the Star Wars universe. That’s the argument of Scott Jones, who, despite acknowledging the game’s failings, is still playing and playing.

Maybe it’s the fact that the game’s developers do something that few developers have the moxie to do these days: They deliberately frustrated me to the point of pissing me off. And at a time when games are being shortened and sweetened in the name of reaching the largest possible audience, in this age when casual gamers are being wooed and coddled, I found this frustration to be comforting. There’s a brand of old-school, sadistic pleasure to be gleaned from these moments.

Game Weapons and Science

While many consumer sites are apparently happy to churn out an endless manufactory of previews and reviews and interviews, Radar has actual stories to tell. (I know it’s a Future product, but I’d say so anyway.)

Its most recent feature looks at in-game technologies, and asks how close we are to realizing them in the actual world. Radar begins with the Quake 3 Rocket Jump (point the rocket-launched at the ground and use the blast to jump). It also looks at cloaking, health packs that heal shot-gun wounds, bullet-time and biomods. A good read.

Here’s the skinny on cloaking…

It could happen, but it’ll take a lot of work. In 2003 Naoki Kawakami, of the University of Tokyo, produced a cloak that reflected a projected image from in front of the wearer onto the back of the cloak. So you’d need a camera, a projector, a cloak made of a special reflective material and a small, naive child to fool. Still, we’re getting nearer to flexible monitors, with both Philips and Sony working on that technology, and cameras are shrinking at an alarming rate. It doesn’t take too much of a stretch of the imagination to see the system being refined into something useable. And by then we’ll all have windows made of diamodillium and we’ll be drinking steak lattes.

New Xbox 360 Commercials

Commercials are emerging from Microsoft’s new Xbox 360 campaign. Aimed at the non-gamer, they promise an escape to popular fantasies.


This is Amazing

Nintendo’s YouTube ad for WarioLand Shake It is, maybe, the best games ad of the year. Pure marketing genius.

Literally, thinking outside the box. You’ll see what I mean.

Are You Hard or Are You Soft?

This blog exists to direct readers to good editorial content that doesn’t properly fit into our main News section. Sometimes, it’s a struggle to find genuinely gripping stuff to read.

Here’s an exception.

MCV’s report on the casual vs hardcore thing, from a UK perspective, is definitely worth a look. Ben Parfitt adeptly picks his way through all the arguments about hard vs soft, digging out some actual sales stats and quotes from Big Companies, to back up his assertion that  this dichotomy is mostly bollocks. Because when you actually begin to pull apart soft and hard games, it’s not as simple as you think.

Pure Fun

For example, where does Pure fit in?  Congratulations are certainly due to Black Rock (nee Ciimax) for this incredibly fun off-road racer, published by Disney. The feel and rumble of the ATV’s is special, the environments are gorgeous and the easy–to-play tricks system is a joy. It also boasts a relatively gentle  learning curve. Recommended.

Pity the Spore Moderator

Forum Moderators are the Victorian night-soil shifters of our age. They plod through the grime and filth, in a pitiful attempt to keep the streets clean for good, decent folk like you and me. Little wonder that they sometimes completely lose their marbles.

Think of the poor soul who, entirely exasperated on the official Spore forums, made certain threats against people starting arguments about the dreaded DRM thing. He / she appeared to suggest that violators would have their Spore accounts banned, thus rendering their copy of the game useless.

Sanity prevailed and another moderator emerged from the shit to calm everyone down and clear up the confusion. Anyone criticizing EA would merely lose their posting privileges.

Oh. That’s alright then.

Thanks to Shacknews.

Prank Stories and Cold, Cold Fear

Despite my ingrained paranoia about such things, I was once caught out by an editorial prank. I ran a site called FGN Online. We received an anonymous email about a new piece of hardware from Sega. We called Sega and, to my eternal confusion, their PR guy didn’t deny the data from the email. He didn’t confirm it either.

We threw a Hail Mary and ran the story.

It was a dumb decision. We lost credibility. Our competitors had a field day. Readers melted away. I’d estimate that half our audience disappeared overnight. It took a while to get them back.

This disaster happened to us even though we tried to check the story (not nearly thoroughly enough, I’ll admit). But we were a comparatively small site. I wonder how much damage the larger blogs are having over running a fake story concocted by Cheap Ass Gamer, about which, apparently, no calls were made. The forums are ablaze with glee.



Embargoes – Good or Evil?

Every 13.5 days, in the game industry, you will read an Op-Ed from some pompous games journalist holding forth on the dismal state of other games journalists. By my count, there are about 1,274 games journalists who have written pretty much the same article.

Usually, you’ll hear about scandalous corruption and laziness that goes on elsewhere, as opposed to the Olympian professionalism of the writer; generally some bloke you never heard of, who ran a semi-pro blog for two years before it closed down, and once did a six month journalism course in Bermuda.

Almost always, wretchedly dull stuff.

John Keefer over at Crispy Gamer serves up a very readable four-pager that sidesteps the usual tedium and raises specific, interesting points on the validity of embargoes.

He says review embargoes are bad because they are almost always in place to protect a carefully negotiated exclusive elsewhere. This leads to corrupt practices, because the exclusive outlet may be tempted to play nice to the product.

In this he is absolutely right.

Exclusive reviews are a corrupt practice. No question about it. (I don’t say that all exclusive reviews are corrupt, only that the practice inevitably leads to instances of corruption). Review embargoes ought to be flat, across the board and the devil take the hindmost.

But, a free-for-all would be equally invidious. The flat embargo should be in place to avoid even more corrupt practices, like those dodgy websites that would play the game for 17 seconds and post the "first" review.

Keefer claims that "intelligent readers will gravitate to the best-written, the most evocative and the most accurate information available". Unfortunately, advertising metrics very often ignore how intelligent readers are or are not (there are exceptions to this). Traffic pays wages. This is why some sites choose to hoodwink advertisers and readers by telling blatant lies about their traffic.

Also fatal to his argument  – the bulk of readers actually don’t gravitate to the "best-written" content. They go to whatever serves their purpose best; all too often a timely review score from a vaguely reputable source that will justify their game purchasing decisions.


I don’t know if they teach the value of being first with a story at that journalism school in Bermuda. But they sure as hell teach you it on the editorial floor of a newspaper office. Along with ‘don’t get it wrong you shitty little fucker’. (The 1980s were the golden years of ‘lovable’, drunken office-bullies. How I miss those dead, rotting bastards.)

Keefer makes an argument against embargoes for previews (or big announcements), which is less convincing. These embargoes are usually in place to give everyone an even-footing after a press tour or announcement. It avoids garbled, rushed reports from press conferences or hurried calls back to the office. It avoids de-facto exclusives going to the guys whose office is first on the PR road trip.

Embargoes give writers time to craft their reports. He says taking the luxury of time away from the journalist somehow sharpens their wits and pencils; that the deadline is an energizing force that favors the best scribblers.

This may be true of talented, trained, or experienced reporters, but  in reality, what we often get is semi-literate garbage from wanky bloggers who clean up on traffic.

Sure, I can write quickly, but it’s the ability to ponder a new idea or a fresh experience, even for an hour or two, that pays dividends to the reader’s experience. There’s a reason why they call journalism the first draft. Time for thinking has value too.

Keefer makes some great points in a well-written, thoughtful piece. I don’t disagree with his world-view; only with his faith in an open media market where good, honest journalistic practices will triumph over the cynical PR hack or the gutter-blogger.

The sad truth is that if you want to survive in this game, come armed with more than noble ideals.

Japanese Girls Undress

Elsewhere, Kotaku has some video of Japanese erotic games on iPhone. You rub the screen. The absurdly dressed girls lose their clothes and make silly faces.

I am also betting that, even among my readership of quality, intelligent, decent folk, this link to Kotaku gets more click-throughs than this one to John Keefer.  Prove me wrong.


We Smug Mac Owners

Let’s talk, briefly, about those ghastly ‘I’m a PC’ ads from Microsoft. The ones featuring varied-inspirational-people-of-the-world PC owners who are even more smug than we self-satisfied Mac owners. Turns out the agency, Crispin Porter + Bogusky, used Macs in the creation of the campaign.

A spokesman told Seattle Times…

"As is common in almost all campaign workflow, agencies and production houses use a wide variety of software and hardware to create, edit and distribute content, including both macs and PCs."

If you haven’t seen the ads, I urge you not to press play on this embed. You’ll only get angry…


Sega Planned It All Along – The Fiends

Say it ain’t so Brucey. Game industry marketing veteran Bruce Everiss, for all sorts of reasons one of my favorite bloggers, says Sega wanted its Condemned 2 ad banned ALL ALONG. These complex, dastardly conspiracies will be the end of us. Mark my words!!!

"Just consider this. It would have been a small campaign with a very small number of broadcast slots probably on channels with low viewing figures and so with cheap advertising rates. So this banning publicity has got Condemned 2 far more publicity than the adverts themselves. Which the cynic in me says was what Sega planned all along."

How Games Help Plain Bad Kids…er…. ADHD Sufferers

My honest and oft-expressed opinion about ADHD is almost exactly the same as my Grandfather’s would have been, had he not died in 1964. The fact that I am entirely ignorant on this subject is irrelevant. It never stopped him calling for the head of Clement Attlee, and it won’t stop me.

Researchers at The Ohio State University College of Medicine are using videogames to measure the brainwaves of ADHD kids who play them. Here it gets technical…

"The study measures the child’s brain waves while playing a video game. As they begin to lose focus on the game and their brain waves slow down, the child’s ability to control the game decreases and they are prompted to refocus, speeding up the brain waves.

"Until they regain the correct amount of focus on the game, as measured by their brain waves, the game ceases to function normally. Sensitivity of the game’s controllers will change based on the child’s brain waves."

The docs are hoping that his sort of treatment will work better than doping the poor mites up to their eyeballs, as an alternative to releasing them onto the streets to terrorize our pets.

God Despises You

In an online agony aunt thing, a religious high priest / vicar  advises a parishioner that games are "a colossal misuse of valuable time".

"Obsession with video games can involve other departures from God’s will…this can involve a colossal misuse of valuable time and also end up diverting time and attention from more useful and valuable pursuits that better glorify God."

It’s true. Games really are a waste of time. Unlike sitting in a church for hours on end looking at the back of some loon’s head and dreading, moment by damned moment, the bit where you’re going to have to shake his damp hand and mumble something about peace and love.

(Buddy, I was brought up a Catholic. I know pain.)

The wise one also advises his flock that killing people in games is not a sin, unless you feel hate while you are doing the killing.

"Taking the life of another in video games is not a sin against God’s prohibition to murder. If, however, what is done in the video game is an expression of hatred or callous disregard for human life, then the heart and motives are wrong, and then it is sin in God’s eyes."

Yeah? What about if you feel pure, unabashed, blood-lusting glee? And what if you’re interfering with yourself while you’re killing virtual Nazi nurses? Is that wrong?

I only ask from the perspective of theological interest.

EA Red Alert 3 Virals are OK

Electronic Arts marketing dept have been making use of the "star-studded" cast of Red Alert 3 in these pretty funny McCarthyite virals, urging players to abandon inter-galactic warfare, for the sake of the homeland and the good fight against Commies.

God, remember, hates Commies because they hate Him. You might be able to claw back some days in Purgatory here. Go get some…



We are Like Infants

She’s a baroness who sits in the House of Lords, but don’t hold that against her. Susan Adele Greenfield, Baroness Greenfield is a scientist who specializes in brain diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

Anyone who has experience of these horrible illnesses will appreciate the work she is doing.

Baroness Greenfield, like many media-frendly egg-heads, has crossed over into the world of TV and books. And it’s here that we meet her, talking about the effects of videogames and how they infantilize us.

Australia’s ABC quotes her, on a recent trip to Adelaide….

"What I suggest is that the screen technologies are luring people more into more time spent abrogating their sense of self."

"So what we may be doing is infantilising people’s brains, that is to say, keeping them in the booming buzzing confusion of the small child."

I don’t think much of her idea that games players are somehow impeding their own development. However…

Do we escape to games in order to reconnect our neurons and dendrites to some half-remembered state of mind from childhood? Is that really the attraction of all entertainment (which, if you follow her theory, seems to be). That any time I pick up a book, or go to the theater or play Call of Duty, I’m regressing into a cozy world of infant play?

Many people will dislike this theory – those who actively yearn for their childhoods are invariably fuckwits – but entertainment is undoubtedly an escape from the humdrum of reality. But what is to an escape to? Merely the author’s imagined world of plots and narrative and characters? Or someplace altogether more personal?

Thanks to GamePoliics for tip.

No..We Are Like Depressives

Another scientist this week says games players are less mentally healthy than other people. Everquest players (you begin to see the flaw in this research) were tested by someone or other. They were found to be slightly more physically fit than the average and slightly more unhinged. Details are scant.

From New Scientist…

"The gamers reported more cases of depression and substance abuse than their compatriots. "They may be drawn to use the game to help deal with emotional distress," says team member Scott Caplan of the University of Delaware.

I am slightly disappointed that we gamers are not fatter than everyone else. For those of us at the top end of the tubby index, gamers may become yet another group in society who will one day exclude us. We porkers will be forced to move on once more, exiled to collectng robots or playing retro AD&D or something. Gamers should unite in fattyness. Go get some M&Ms. Do it for the group.

A Hard-Ass, Kicking Against the System and Saving the World

Variety ran a story yesterday about producer Avi Arad optioning movie rights to Bioware’s Mass Effect. Arad is best known for rejuvinating Marvel’s movie output including X-Men and Spiderman.

Good story, despite the odd claim that Mass Effect has certain qualities that are unique among videogame narratives such as "a hard-ass protagonist" and a "bureaucracy trying to hold him back" and an "alien invasion". Real fresh, when you put it like that.

The Guardian Goes OTT on Moore

The Guardian got some serious traction out of its interview with Peter Moore. But an epic in five parts? Peter Moore is a videogame executive.

Some People Are Mad At Me

I talked yesterday about the whole DRM Spore thing. On the Internet, some people think I am a moron. Again.

Their argument, in rough terms, is this….

A product is on sale that does not fit my particular preferences and lifestyle. So instead of buying that product, I decided to take one very much like it for free, which is an act that I understand is wholly illegal. How dare anyone call me dishonest.

Last note on this. I never have said that EA was right. Only that, if you really don’t like a product, consider the notion of just not buying it; maybe protesting in a way that does not enrich you personally at the expense of others. And, by all means, stick one to EA that way.



I’m laughing at the websites that claim an "exclusive interview" with Peter Molyneux.

Guys; there’s no such thing.

That man will give an interview to a goldfish. I Googled ‘Molyneux Interview’ and got a quarter million responses; 50 in Google News alone.  That man interviews himself, while brushing his teeth. He lies in the bath, under the water, burbling, "So, Peter, tell us about the innovations you’ve added to Fable II…That’s a very good question. Let me begin by saying…" etc.

Right now, Peter is exclusively talking to an exclusive audience of thousands at GC Asia in Singapore. In fact, he will be the only Peter Molyneux in the universe talking in the only Singapore that exists at this moment in time. Now that’s exclusive.

Anyway, we have a freelancer out in Singapore right now; a degenerate prowler of hotel lobbies. Evan is Lord of the Impromptu Interview. Don’t ever let him catch you lining up for coffee. Oh boy.

He did catch Peter and, guess what, we got an EXCLUSIVE!!! Or at least a conversational gambit that’s worth passing on to you, dear reader.

He’d love to work on a Wii game

"I’d love to work on a Wii game," he reveals.

"I’d love to work on anything that changes the interface that a player uses.  Forget about Wii, just ask yourself this: what’s the biggest power you can give a designer?"  It’s changing what people hold in their hands."

But what he really is working on is something different. "It’s something that is based upon an experiment we’ve been sort of working on for a very long time, and had a real breakthrough – I’m being intentionally tantalizing here – that really has got the Microsoft, scratching their heads and thinking ‘wow, what’s this.’  So it’s certainly a branch…a very different game."

You read it here..FIRST!!!! (enough with the sarcasm now).

This DRM Thing

The anti-DRM crowd. They have a point, but then it gets lost by mob-insanity.

They get mad about EA only offering three installs for Spore. I don’t know many people who install games on three computers, but I dare say it’s a few. EA says 1%. OK. That’s a significant number of people, all in all. They ought to be offered some more options. Perhaps three is too stingy.

So, we hear a proposal that future games allow five installs. Because, really, how many people actually need FIVE computers all running one game?  That must be a fair compromise, right?

Wrong. The forums continue to howl and wail, effectively convincing any sane publisher that there are some people who simply will not be pacified unless the games are given away on street corners, along with a free set of steak-knives.

I agree that the DRM solutions currently in use are often frustrating and damage publishers. They need to be improved. Customers need to be heard. Action needs to be taken. EA needs to address these issues one by one.

But there’s also a nasty sort of relativism going on here, that is weakening the position of those protestors who have a genuine grievance. The significant damage comes from illegal copies of software being distributed by thieves. Annoying anti-piracy solutions is a by-product of criminal activity. They are car-alarms blaring at 3am or faintly apologetic staff searching your bag as you exit a clothes store.

And this mob-pandering argument that DRM encourages piracy? Please. What encourages piracy is dishonesty. Either you’re the sort of cheap fuck who wants something for nothing, or you’re not.

Nintendo and the Hardcore…Again

Yesterday I talked about Nintendo’s need to begin making games in the West for its audience of hardcore gamers. Good to see that one of its closest allies is already on the case.

Over at GameDaily, here’s Ubisoft boss Yves Guillemot (a genuinely good guy running a sound business on decent principles) talking about some hardcore games coming to Wii.

"Tom Clancy will appear at one point. We need to make sure they look good. We have engines that were created for the next-generation consoles. We had to re-engineer a certain number of engines to be sure we could use the quality of the machine. Even without the high-end graphics, the experience can still be very interesting. … To make sure we can create good enough products on Wii or products better than Nintendo’s takes time. That’s why you don’t see many products, but you will see more and more in the future."

The Future? It’s Scary Right Now

When you see the bankers in tears, it’s time to get frightened. It’s time to start thinking about the penny-jar and maybe growing a vegetable garden, and canceling your subscription to certain television channels.

But, as the world begins to trim its belt, we in the game industry go for the usual mantra of ‘it won’t harm us because we’re growing so damned fast’.

N’uh-huh. Hmmmmmm. And other noises of chin stroking skepticism.

Let’s hope the publishers and developers haven’t entirely staked their future on a glowing tomorrow of never-ending betterness. because we might just be headed for some Hogarthian tableaux of misery; a morality play for the blessed entertainment elite.

Here’s Mythic CEO Mark Jacobs, a sensible fellow, talking to Gamespot about the need for prudence.

"If you’re an independent developer, the first thing I would say when you have a success, sock away the money. Make sure you always have an emergency fund, and it’s a significant emergency fund. If you’re successful, don’t think it’s going to last forever. Be smart how you spend the company’s money.

"We don’t look like a lot of other game developers. We don’t have a ton of pool tables. We don’t have any pool tables, frankly. Or ping-pong tables, or these huge buildings that are shrines to people’s egos, or offices that they just spent a ton of build-out on. And I don’t mean the normal perks, because normal perks are good. It keeps people happy. I certainly won’t name names, but I’ve been to other studios, and I look at what they’re spending money on or how they’re wasting money, and I go, "Boy, this is going to come back to haunt you if you don’t have a ton of success."
The Great Eye of Death has turned its gaze upon us friends. It is time to repent our profligate ways. See you tomorrow (hopefully).


Some Advice for Nintendo

Are we all still bleating about Nintendo’s abandonment of the hardcore? You better believe it. The Japanese toy-maker’s shameful decision to focus on proven, profitable products rather than expensive, marginal hardcore games still has the fanboys in a stew.

But hold on. Destructoid has come to the rescue with its Five Easy Ways Nintendo of America Can Start Making Up With Its Core Audience. It’s a well argued feature with a strong premise…

"The situation with Nintendo right now is a lot like when Kiss went disco.  They look like they’ve sacrificed their creative souls in order to make a quick buck, and the people who supported them through the tough times feel betrayed. That has caused a intrinsic sense of disconnection between the hardcore Nintendo fan and NoA. Without that connection, Nintendo home consoles in the West will not survive past the Wii."

But while the five suggestions are entertaining only the last – Make Some New Games – holds much in the way of promise.

Because there must be something in the suggestion that NoA some day become more than a marketing and sales operation for Nintendo Japan and actually use more Western development talent to create novel, popular, Nintendo-esque games for Western audiences. Why the hell not?

Pipe Up, Peter

Persuading Peter Moore to sing about his days at Microsoft is about as difficult as talking Amy into trying out this weird looking powder I just bought from a strange guy on the corner.

But we can forgive the garrulous old fox when he turns in such splendid stories as these, relating to the original Xbox’s fundamental strengths (it really was an awesome, inspiring vision, almost a dream) and its deadly weaknesses (Sony or Nintendo would never have dropped a bollock on the manufacturing cost thing, in the way that software maker Microsoft did).

"There was a huge bet they made on the original Xbox, not to put in dial-up, just to put a broadband modem in there at a time when the great majority of people were still connecting via dial-up modem – it was a ballsy bet to say, ah we don’t care about you, you’re a bunch of luddites we’re going to move on to the people who connect the real way.

"The hard drive in every Xbox killed us; we we’re still selling it at $199 and the hard drive was like $70. That’s why we prematurely left the original Xbox, because the more we were selling – there was still great demand – it was killing us, and there was no way to bring the price down."

Powerful People are Fuckwads…

…incompetent egomaniacs working out their mental personalities while the rest of us go directly to hell. For proof of my theory, go pick up a newspaper right now and read the headlines. See?

None are more powerfully corrupt and dumb as the guys who collect your taxes and spend them.

I believe this view to have been entirely vindicated by a quick session playing Budget Hero, in which you can balance the U.S budget by abandoning obviously crazy ideological policies (both left and right) and replacing them with sensible ones.

I thought the game might persuade me that running a Big Government is a tough business, It ain’t. It’s common sense. We just have uncommonly insensible people doing the job, and always will have.

Thanks to Wired for the link.

Jobs that I Just Wouldn’t Want To Do…

…Negotiating rights issues with music industry sleaze-bags on behalf of Activision for DJ Hero. Even the thought of going into one of those meetings is making me feel quite queazy.


Two Things are Making Me Wet My Knickers With Excitement…

…The first is this weekend’s Ryder Cup. Me and my high-def TV will become one in a deep embrace of golf.

The second is Empire: Total War in which you control the armed nations of the 18th Century – easily the best century of global armed conflict ever. What makes this one so bloody exciting is the addition of a decent sea-warfare mode as detailed by CVG today. Read this and share my joy…

"Ships are more complicated than land units," explains lead designer James Russell. "There’s more you can do with them. Ships have hulls, crews, different kinds of shot, sails and masts. You need to pay attention to wind direction and they’re constantly moving and firing from all sorts of angles and directions. We’re looking to get the best spectacle while keeping things manageable for the player."

This reminds me to remind you to oppose, by all means necessary, the disgraceful plan to sell off H.M.S Victory. If anything proves the folly and meanness of the people in charge, this surely does.

My blood. It do boil.


Tale of the Desert

In the howling sands of Arabia, a man in exotic garb stumbles towards an ancient crate. He has spent many years in search of this treasure.  Desperately, he claws open the box. His eyes widen with deep amaze as he sweeps the dust away and finds…

…100 fully packaged Nintendo Virtual Boys.

They had lain undisturbed through the long centuries since the year 1995, only to be found by our heroic adventurer.

Okay, enough with the italicized melodrama. They were actually discovered in the warehouse of Geekay Games in Dubai, by purchasing manager Vijay Chandrabota. He slapped them onto the shelves and they’re selling well to local collectors.

This gives me a golden opportunity to rerun this ad from the Virtual Boy’s launch campaign, complete with that hilarious line, "It’s so advanced it can’t be viewed on a conventional TV screen".


Muslim Massacre Dude Wriggles and Worms

Back to the Middle East.

Arch-moron Eric "Sigvatr" Vaughn has issued an apology for his dumb game Muslim Massacre. In an excruciating, groveling, pathetic attempt to pull himself out of a Dead Sea-sized tub of shit he writes…

"My intentions when releasing this project were to mock the foreign policy of the United States and the commonly held belief in the United States that Muslims are a hostile people to be held with suspicion. I would like to make it clear that I have never shared such a belief and my intention was to mock those who actually do believe these things."

Y’see, it was all a big joke on the warmongering pigs in Washington (who can be relied upon not to give a flying crap what some kid-programmer says), and not at all an offensive jibe at a religion, some of whose members have, in the past, had a singular reaction to fiction that derides their faith.

This is a lesson to us all. If you ever find yourself at the center of a media blitz, because you’ve only gone and offended millions of people and their deeply held beliefs by creating a game in which they are gleefully massacred, point the blame at Uncle Sam and cry ‘satire’.

Thanks to Kotaku.

Molyneux in Trouble Again

Talking of fatwahs…

Peter Molyneux ought to be thinking of going into hiding, maybe getting some MI6 protection, having surely offended the ticklish sensibilities of fanatical, frothing, fundamentalist madman, er, Denis Dyack.

Molyneux told Joystiq, "Too Human … it has some gems in there, but they’re hard to find…If I got my hands on the game, I’d rip out a few of the things they did and just concentrate on the core. It just slightly forgot about what it was trying to be. In a way, it tried to be something it was not. It felt – and again, I thought it did some things really well – that there was something slightly off about it. I’m sure that Dennis Dyack is going to come and kill me now."

Peter, you really shouldn’t mess with Canadians.

Can’t wait to hear Dyack on Fable II.

Why Hsu Quit

Dan Hsu tells Crispy Gamer why he quit EGM to take a break and write a blog. Media types will enjoy picking the bones out of this one.

He tells of EGM’s troubles in dealing with Game Informer’s "smart" distribution method (read: it’s completely unfair that I have to sell my magazine while they effectively give theirs away through GameStop promos)

And the Internet and its habit of promoting magazine exclusives by scanning the best pics (read: my beautiful work, stolen by grasping barbarians).

Also, the challenges of working with a "hands on" editorial director (do you really need me to translate that one?).



Internet Rumors and Why They Play

You might have caught a dumb rumor earlier this week about TV network G4’s plans to run a five hour special later this month, introducing ‘new’ Xbox 360 plans. A few games news networks picked this up; you know, the way they do. (To be fair, some were cautious about the story’s veracity). Here’s host Adam Sessler cutting the whole thing down. He wonders why no journos called G4 to check the story.


Obama, McCain in Saints Row 2

New trailer for Saints Row 2 features weapons-toting likenesses of Obama and McCain and a goofy election theme. Fun.

Ten Future Trends

Develop’s Owain Bennallack is one of my fave game-journos. Here he is knocking out the ten game industry trends we can expect to see emerging over the next decade.

"High Street retailers will become entertainers. Digital distribution is a reality, albeit one that arrived less with a bang and more with a “Sorry I’m late, have I missed the main course?” The High Street has long confounded its obituarists, but surely simply sticking games on shelves for six weeks won’t beat online retailers like Amazon, let alone pure digital distribution?

Congrats also to all my pals at MCV on their tenth anniversary.

Levine and the Anti DRM Crowd

Is there a better interviewee in this business than Ken Levine? Here is the ever-quotable one on Bioshock’s draconian DRM restrictions. "When we had the copy protection issues come out, I was out there talking about the product, I didn’t run away from that. And frankly I got some nasty fucking threats. I think it’s important that somebody takes responsibility, and at the end of the day my job as creative director is to sort of be the arbiter of taste."

What The Web Takes From You

The game industry is ignoring key lessons from other businesses, such as the web, while we are being stripped of all our best ideas. That’s the theory of Aleks Krotoski at The Guardian.

It’s undoubtedly true that web people are all over game UI and reward mechanisms in order to improve online user-experience, but are game designers really blind to web interfaces?



Hate and Suffering

In the world today, people will be murdered for no good reason, and children will suffer terribly. What’s more, United Airlines have ceased distributing little wet towels in economy class.

Lots of things for us to get angry about; opportunities to take up arms against evil.

Good to know that one person has thrown all their outraged indignation against that most vile creature; that devil Will Wright, and his abomination Spore – through the unholy creation of a website called antiSpore.

Because what the world really needs is fewer questioning, intelligent, sensitive entertainers like Will and more purple-faced haters like this moron.

That Sex Attacker and His GTA Thing

Hands up class, who really and truly believes this worm would have NOT attacked women in the streets, but for his exposure to videogames. Hands up who thinks it was Grand Theft Auto that drove him to become sexual predator. The Sun is out of touch with its readers, millions of whom play and like games such as GTA 4. It ought to stick to soccer transfers tittle-tattle.

Force Unleashed Commercial is Really Cool

It’s kind of a shame Star Wars: The Force Unleashed is getting a hammering from reviewers (low 70s – not good) But take heart from this lovely ad. I won’t try to describe it; just watch.


Be a Better RTSer

As an RTS player, I’m like that useless-at-sports kid who turns up on gameday, kitted out and ready to play, forever watching from the sidelines. I can win the World Cup in the safety of my own back-yard, but out there in the real world? Meat.

Thanks then to Tom Chick’s useful and entertaining guide to playing Real Time Strategy against actual people, as opposed to piss-easy single-player mode. Lots of handy tips here in readable prose. Here’s one.

"The dirty little secret about RTSes is that they’re based on economy. You suck resources from the map and convert them into an army. You then use your army to stop the other guy from sucking resources or, more likely, to make him waste his resources in battle. It’s like drinking a milkshake: He who builds the bigger straw sooner wins. And the way you do this is by ABVing – Always Be Villaging."


How It Feels to be Mauled in a Review Scandal

Remember Kane & Lynch and that Gamespot review and Eidos busting an eyeball? Here’s a wonderful interview with Jens Peter Kurup, director of Kane & Lynch at Io. He talks candidly about what it’s like to get bad reviews, and how he feels now about the Gamespot scandal.

"It was surreal to sit in Copenhagen and watch the game get shredded in forums for reasons and feelings that didn’t all seem entirely based on the game itself. I know this might sound like a sissy song of “Boo-hoo! This isn’t fair” and other unproductive thoughts, but you asked me how I felt and I did feel like that for a couple of weeks after the GameSpot review. Pathetic I know, but in glimpses I still feel it, because when I meet somebody who hasn’t played the game, I can be fairly sure that his or her opinion is based on the GameSpot review. It just won’t go away.."

Note to PRs – developers have feelings, and it does neither you nor them any harm for those feelings to be shared.

Google and Games

Here’s Chris Morris over at Forbes ruminating on the reasons why Google may be in the process of publishing games. Bottom Line: Because it can. But can it do them well?


GameStop – PawnShop

This is fascinating.
A former GameStop employee takes the retail chain apart, most especially its used games policies, which he compares unfavorably to virtually any other form of buying games.

He also alleges that many people trading old games are junkies.  It’s all done as a riff on Zero Punctuation. Thanks to Kotaku.


Hitler is an EA Sports Star

Here’s the thing about User Created Content – those darned kids are forever playing naughty. Case for the prosecution; Adolph Hitler is apparently the most popular user-created boxer for EA’s boxing game Facebreaker. How they’ll chortle at EA’s PR-daily meet. Thanks to CrispyGamer.

You Will Not Freakin’ Believe This.

When asked, almost 50% of consumers want to pay cheaper prices for games. HTFP!

Bad Games in Sci-Fi

We all enjoyed the unbelievably crummy fake Xbox 360 game the guys were playing in 90210 last week but, come on, it’s a show about earnest teenage relationships. What do you expect?

On the other hand, shows about evil robots, international criminal madmen and time-travelling noble savants really know how to do videogames, right? Wrong.

Here’s a great read, shaming ten really terrible videogame sequences from action and sci-fi movies including that Tempest-esque world domination one from Never Say Never Again, where James Bond trades electric shocks with testosterone-loaded Spectre fiend Maximilian Largo. Which reminds me; when are we getting some decent holographic games?

How 3D Games Fail Test of Time

This notion that graphical realism has pretty much been nailed in games is going to look like hubris to our far future-brethren of, say, 2013. And, looking back at our proud achievements in 3D they will offer us a resounding ‘LAME’ or whatever they say about things that are shit. However, the stuff we do in 2D? The simple gaming pleasures that please us every now and again? These, they’ll ‘dig’.

That’s the theory of Tokyo-based programmer / blogger Mark Cooke, who makes the case convincingly by comparing the ‘don’t they look awful’ wonders of the 3D past with the simpler games that have withstood the shifting dunes of time.

Games as Corporate Logos

This is worth about 24 seconds of your extremely busy and useful life. Games as famous corporate logos. Great fun.

Bruce Everiss is Completely Crackers

…and immensely entertaining. Here he is arguing with a straight-face that Xbox 360 will outsell Wii.

Media Shit-Storms We Fondly Recall

Speaking of the media and videogames, here’s UK trade paper MCV’s look back at the ten most memorable shit-storms in gaming history.

You can probably guess whose in this line-up – Night Trap, Mortal Kombat, Carmaggedon etc. Actually, that’s as far as I got. Guys, the whole, click-through-for-the-next-entry thing is so 2003. Scrolling. It’s the future.

Anyway, click through for yesterday’s best links (hee-hee).



Jaffe – Palin is a Perfect MILF

I spent an hour trolling the game sites today and, through the thicket of Spore reviews and Cheerleader Deathmatch features I concluded that there is really only one story worth your attention today – Davd Jaffe on Sarah Palin’s qualities as a MILF.

Speaking on his vlog, the God of War creator weighed in to the political debate, with some insight worthy of CSPAN.

"I think she’s, you know, kind of cute. She’s the perfect definition of a MILF. Not to, you know, disparage her or anything. I’m not trying to sort of make it about that, but it’s like that’s what I see when I look at her. I didn’t love Hillary but I looked at her and I saw experience and intelligence. I look at this woman and you see a MILF. That’s what you see."

Who says we in the game industry have nothing to say about the real world? Thanks to Ripten.

Previous Best Links

PSP-3000 Battery Life U-Turn

John Koller, director of hardware marketing at SCEA has flipped a 180 on previous reports of reduced battery life in the new PSP.

Posting on the PlayStation blog he writes, "There have been reports about the battery life of the new PSP system (PSP-3000) being shorter than the current model (PSP-2000), following an interview we recently did with Gamespot.

"I’d like to make a correction and clarify that the new PSP will have equivalent battery life to the current PSP, about 4 to 6 hours for games and about 4 to 5 hours for UMD videos. While the enhanced screen of the new PSP draws a little more power, our engineers in Japan worked to reduce the power consumption of the overall system including its components, so you won’t have to worry about losing any time when enjoying the more vibrant visuals displayed with the new PSP."

He doesn’t explain why he previously told Gamespot that battery life would be diminished by up to 30 minutes.

Berlin Wall Rebuilt

An East Berliner desperate to escape the totalitarian, spy state of the GDR needed some serious stones. Any attempt to cross the heavily guarded Berlin Wall carried a significant risk of death – up to 200 people were killed, from around 5,000 attempted escapes.

Garry’s Mod has released a Half Life 2 map of the complex, allowing players to attempt their own escape. Maps are accurate although, unlike the original escapees, players can shoot back at guards, provided they find the weapons.

Star Wars Forever

Seems like LucasArts execs have been playing the ‘no more bad old days’ card for at least three years. I recollect interviewing an exec in 2005 who was adamant that no more shit games would be henceforth emerging, shamefaced, from The Presidio.

Still, hopes are extremely high for The Force Unleashed, due on sale in a couple weeks, and a little reassurance for fans of the Star Wars, oftentimes burned by shoddy work, does no harm.

In an interview with Eurogamer, producer Cameron Suey said, "It was very important to us that this is not just a throwaway product with the Star Wars licence.  There are so many people that care so much about Star Wars that we have to let them set that bar. And rightly so; they’re going to set it very high – with this game we really have passed that bar."

Bioshock Post-Mortem

Game Developer Magazine’s significant editorial asset is its product post-mortems, and this one’s worth a read. It tells the story of Bioshock, from the POV of project lead Alyssa Finley.

"When the game was not shaping up to become what it needed to be. For example, the first vertical slice prototype we built was an non-navigable linear corridor shooter that looked like it took place in an abandoned box factory. It didn’t provide a compelling experience as either an RPG or a shooter. In response, we threw away that prototype and started again from scratch with the goal of building a single room that felt like the ruined underwater utopia we were trying to build."

Thai Anti-Games Censorship

Here’s Thai blogger Jesada Chandraprasert on that country’s ongoing attempts to reign in usage of what it sees as "dangerous" games.

Bigwigs recently attended a conference on games, which concluded with a number of action-points designed to regulate, monitor and discourage use of games. Thailand has a list of banned games as well as restrictions on the import of violent games.

The Conduit Stays Hot

High Voltage’s Wii FPS garnered a good deal of hype when it as shown off-site at E3. And at PAX, it seems to have bolstered the generally positive media reaction. Here’s Wired’s Chris Kohler’s breezy, informative walk-through for "the last best hope for Wii FPS". Developer says a publishing deal should be announced in two weeks.

Previous Best Links

The Dog is Polished

Peter Molyneux says he’d rate his Fable 2 game 9/10, were he the reviewer. 

This, surely is the logical way forward for games magazines, seeking to trim editorial costs – have a game’s developers rate their own work.

Frankly, I doubt the average scores would differ much from those currently posted by the less demanding and most timid review organs.

We really should hear what score Will Wright feels Spore merits, especially given an emerging and fascinating rift in the reviews-a-sphere.

Should Mario be Retired?

Yes. Absolutely. So says Patrick Goss over at (Microsoft-owned) MSN.

He argues that over-exposure is diminishing the impact of a gaming icon.

Undoubtedly, Nintendo is flogging its little plumber halfway to death, with a baffling myriad of appearances. But the conclusion does not do justice to the observation.

Rather than pimping Mario out to every half-assed project from Nintendo, the character ought to be reserved for genuine star turns and the odd delightful cameo. Nintendo might also consider some new faces to delight the kiddies. It’s not like Mickey Mouse ever retired, but at least Disney is forever adding to its family of characters.

When a Fall Preview Isn’t

Ben Fritz is that Variety dude who is forever telling other games journalists how they ought to behave.

And why shouldn’t he? Not a reason in the world.

His latest beef? Magazines that advertise Fall Preview features that are "dishonestly" filled with games that don’t come out until after the Fall. Guilty of this monstrous crime against Ben is GamePro, which advertises a feature filled with 107 games for 2008, 47 of which aren’t actually due until 2009.

He has a point. They ought to have called it the Fall Preview and then said something like 107 great games for 2008 and beyond. That might have legitimized what otherwise does look like what can most politely be described as inaccurate advertising.

And Finally…

Turns out Levi Johnston – father of Bristol Palin’s baby – plays videogames.

Wait, wait. A young American dude who likes to play videogames?

What next? He’s kinda into chicks and sports and beer and stuff?