Archived entries for gaming

I’m posting this here instead of on Twitter so I can limit any potential spoiler fallout that might happen from what I’m about to say below. If you’re reading past this paragraph, then you know what you’re getting into. That being said, I’m going to try – *try*, mind you – to avoid any sort of spoilers.

First thing to be spoken of is the opening. At this point in time, the pre-credit introduction to the game is possibly the highest artistic and emotional achievement in video game history. I cried before it was over. Out of disbelief, out of anger, out of pain, out of fear at what the rest of the game was going to do to me. It was maybe 10 to 15 minutes long, and I was already completely invested before it was over. From there, we take a bit of a jump and the story starts in earnest, with each scene revealing a new aspect of this decaying world and its complex characters.

The game plays like the Uncharted series. Everything is third person, and you know when you’re about to enter a fight because there are lots of waist-high crates and barricades strewn around the area. You crouch, you shoot, you punch, you climb up things. But, everything is more brutal. Much more brutal. Bullets aren’t shrugged off – direct hits stagger you and obscure your vision, and the bad guys take advantage of this and shoot you more. If you aren’t careful, you’ll get swarmed in melee combat and dropped to the ground as the beating continues mercilessly. Then there are the “zombies”. They aren’t slow. They aren’t easily killed. They are the things of nightmares and they will kill you in a heartbeat if you get sloppy around them. I’ll freely admit that I had to turn the game down from Normal to Easy because I was dying with more regularity than I wanted.

Visually, the game is absolutely gorgeous and does a great job of showcasing just what the Playstation 3 is capable of, even now in the twilight of its life cycle. The near photorealistic characters bypass the Uncanny Valley in the same way that Red Dead Redemption’s characters did: via the deft hand of an artist. The characters look real but feel like they’ve been hand drawn and animated. Which is something to be thankful for, since the voice actors and writers do an amazing job of bringing those characters to life. These are real people with real problems, problems they are oftentimes unwilling or unable to discuss.

A key departure from the Uncharted series is the focus on exploration and upgrading your gear. Scavenged goods can be applied to your weapons, rubbing alcohol and loose cloth can be made into medical packs, scissors and duck tape into a shiv, and so on. The raw materials are hidden in side rooms and buildings, opening up the world in a way that Naughty Dog hasn’t done before. These changes make The Last of Us feel more like a Fallout experience than an Uncharted experience. Which is both good and bad. Good because it matches the setting and genre, bad because it slows down the story – possibly too much.

After seven hours, I can’t be sure that I would be one of those perfect score critics. Partially because both my wife and I agree that we’d rather die than live in the game’s rotting, empty, violent world. And partially because the story isn’t being driven forward in that masterful Uncharted way Naughty Dog is known for. The Last of Us is slow and aggravating in places, confusing and obtuse in others. It lurches spasmodically forward out of nowhere, the ambles around aimlessly after.

Maybe that just means The Last of Us is doing exactly what it set out to do.

Maybe that just means that I wasn’t ready for what it was going to do to me.

Maybe that just means I still need to see where the second half of the game takes me.

Maybe then I’ll know for sure.

My amazing wife sends me things throughout the day.

A few moments ago she sent me to Zac Gorman’s incredible Magical Game Time with the note: “This guy’s Zelda comics are the best.”

Zac Gorman - Magical Game Time

I think I am completely inclined to agree.

(The original is here, and you should click through to see it in full moving gif glory.)

Years ago, there was a plucky game company in Saint Catharines, Ontario by the name of Silicon Knights. It started out making PC games, then moved into the console market.

Their first big break was launching the seminal Legacy of Kain IP with the release of 1996′s Blood Omen. This put them on the map, and should have put them on the path to bigger and better things. But, instead they sued Crystal Dynamics, their publisher and patron for Blood Omen, when Crystal Dynamics moved to do the next game themselves. It was settled out of court, but enough interviews were done in the meantime that gave the impression that something was a little different about how Silicon Knights did business.

After their break with Crystal Dynamics, Silicon Knights announced a new, original sci-fi game dealing with the cybernetic alteration of humans in the 25th century. The game will be called Too Human, and they tease it at the 1999 E3.

Too Human is intended to be released on the original Playstation, but before work gets too far along, Silicon Knights is locked into an exclusive deal with Nintendo, every developer’s dream gig. Nintendo is tough, but fair, and their pockets are near limitless.

Silicon Knights was able to snag this deal because of the impressive work they showed Nintendo on an in-development game for the N64, Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem. Nintendo had realized that they were losing audience to the more mature titles on the Playstation, and Eternal Darkness’s esoteric insanity-focused horror would help bring that audience back.

Nintendo bumps up Eternal Darkness up to the GameCube, and  it is released in 2002 to critical fanfare. Two years later, Silicon Knights follows that up with a remake of Metal Gear Solid, which is also well received. Development on Too Human has also continued, behind the scenes.

Soon after the Metal Gear Solid remake is released, Nintendo and Silicon Knights end their relationship. There are lots of rumors as to why this happens, namely that both sides found the other hard to work with, and these rumors probably have a fair bit of truth to them.

Regardless, Silicon Knights next found itself partnering up with Microsoft in 2005. The goal of this partnership? To complete the nearly decade-old Too Human, now a Diablo-esque action RPG based around Norse mythology that replaces magic with technology. The game is released three years later and is one of the biggest disasters in video games history.

It is a disaster so severe that it leads Silicon Knights’ founder and head, Dennis Dyack, to the bizarre conclusion that the software vendor that licensed Silicon Knights the game engine for Too Human must be to blame. So, Dennis Dyack directs his lawyers to sue that vendor: Epic, one of the most powerful software companies in the video game industry.

The basis of the suit was that Epic withheld advancements in their software until Epic used those advancements to release their own games, at which point they would release the new features to their software customers. This wasn’t some dark secret, or even something Epic tried to hide. The new shiny in their games was a marketing tool used to sell companies on licensing their game engine. But, for Dennis Dyack, that practice was malicious and willful harm to his company.

Silicon Knights lost their lawsuit, and they also lost the counter-suit that Epic brought against them. They lost it so hard that the judge ruled all copies of Too Human had to be collected and destroyed.

At this point, the only thing keeping Silicon Knights afloat was the generosity of the Canadian government, and that they already had Activision on the hook for an in development X-Men game, X-Men: Destiny. When it finally sees the light of day in 2011, X-Men: Destiny is even more of a disaster than Too Human. I’ll let Kotaku explain why.

With two back-to-back bombs and nothing to follow it up, Silicon Knights was doomed and within a few months all but a handful of employees were gone. Not long after, the twenty year-old company was nothing more than a legal entity on a piece of paper, unable to close because of legal proceedings.

This brings us to the present, the birth of Precursor Games, and a much talked about Kickstarter for an Eternal Darkness “spiritual sequel”.

Precursor Games is a new studio that has scavenged people, software and hardware from the ruins of Silicon Knights. Nearly all (of the less than 10) employees are formers at Silicon Knights, with Dennis Dyack is acting as the creative director for the studio. Their first big initiative is a crowd-funded, episodic game they’re calling Shadow of the Eternals, the “spiritual sequel” Eternal Darkness.

To say the crowd-funding initiative has been met with a tepid response would be…overly kind. For example, their Kickstarter ask is for $1.5 million, and they’ve raised barely $88k so far. Expectations are low that they are going to even be able to break a tenth of what they are asking for.

Why is that? Well, not to put a fine point on it, but: Dennis Dyack. For the last half decade the sort of people who would fund a Kickstarter like that have watched Dyack destroy one of those most interesting developers in the industry for entirely personal reasons. They know that he hasn’t been able to repeat the success of Eternal Darkness because he hasn’t had the tight control that Nintendo used put on him. They know that he’s just going to screw it up, so why should they give him any money?

Apparently the team at Precursor are as aware of this as everyone else. The other day, they posted  a video of him responding to that Kotaku article and some other comments that have been floating around in various Internet cesspools.

Warning, this is long, it is awkward, and it never should have seen the light of day.

I have a theory about that video.

I think that the two business shirts at the end of it told Dyack that he was going to do this video or find himself unemployed. I also don’t think it is about Dyack apologizing, or bringing facts to the table, or clearing the air, or anything like that. I think it is about making him seem weak, confused, old and awkward. Traits that evoke pity, traits that allow us to forgive him.  I think that’s why they didn’t edit him, why they let him stumble over words, why they made him say those stupid usernames.

I think they turned Dennis Dyack into a public sacrifice to the god of crowdfunding.

And I don’t think it worked.

Fair warning: This is for people who have beaten Mass Effect 1,2 and 3. Heavy spoilers follow below.

I’m going to try not to swear in this. I’m going to try not to come off like the stereotypical angry internet nerd. I really am.

I may not be successful in that attempt, though, because the ending to Bioware’s Mass Effect 3 has turned me into some kind of confused feral animal.

From the beginning, Mass Effect was a franchise built upon choices and their consequences. In fact, the very first thing you do in the game is to choose your Shepard’s origins. And from there, the choices never stop coming at you. Do you let Wrex live? Who do you leave to die? Do you save the Council? Do you fall in love? Who do you fall in love with? Do you stay loyal? Do you bring everyone back from the suicide mission? In the third game, all of these choices come home to roost and the stage is set for the final battle where you expect to see just how bloody and costly your final victory is going to be.

Except that’s not what happens at all.

What happens is that for the second time in Mass Effect history you can talk the final boss of a game into shooting himself in the head. The game does this without even the slightest hint of irony, mind you.

Then you get to talk to the Catalyst Reaper God a glowing child that gives you three arbitrary choices about how everything is going to be wrapped up. Choices that are in absolutely no way, shape or form affected in the slightest by the thousands of previous choices you’ve made up to this point.

The choices are, quite literally, color-coded for you and are, without exception or mitigation, completely terrible.

The Blue choice is to take control of the Reapers. The galaxy is “saved” and then immediately doomed as all the mass relays are blown up. You die and your crew crashes, never to be rescued. Apparently this is the choice the Illusive Man would’ve made, which is odd considering blue is the paragon color in the series.

The Red choice has you destroying all synthetic life – including EDI and the Geth, which, if you were any good at the game, have come quite a long way and are probably helping you out right now – but, hey, you get to kill the Reapers. The galaxy is once again “saved”, the relays blow up, your crew crashes without hope of rescue, but you might actually kinda-sorta-maybe survive this one if you got your multiplayer readiness score high enough. Anderson is who they show making this renegade choice, which is even more bizarre than Illusive Man being used to show the paragon one.

The third choice is the Green choice. Green being the other primary color in the RGB spectrum you see, and one between red and blue (except not at all). This choice involves “synthesis”. Some kind of fusion of organic and inorganic races that will change all life in the galaxy, technomagically. This ending also ends with you dying, the relays exploding and your crew crashing, never to be rescued. Everyone does glows strangely, though.

Just to give a quick summary, that’s three choices for how you want to end the game that have absolutely nothing to do with that huge armada of unified races you spent three games building, or the close personal bonds you’ve forged with your crew, or gives any kind of a damn that they all end with the galaxy in arguably a worse place than it was with the Reapers invading.

Which means, quite simply, that none of your choices mattered.

You could’ve killed your whole crew, turned the galaxy in on itself in a storm of fire and blood and you would’ve gotten the same three choices as some one that walked the precarious tight-rope of galactic peace and brotherhood.

I can understand the production and design pressures to make sure that the third chapter of the game felt as complete for new players as it did for people like me that meticulously played the previous two. However, the sudden, butcherous winnowing of five years of game choices down to three arbitrary endings is inexcusably lazy.

It also sets a dangerous precedent where player choices can be discarded as a cost of admission to the ending of a game. Have a franchise where player choice matters, but don’t want to be bothered to pick up after them? End cap your game like Mass Effect 3 did!

Oh, and the glowing child thing? That’s never explained or even questioned in the slightest. Which has given rise to a sadly hopefully fan theory that the whole thing with the Catalyst is just Shepard hallucinating. I think that gives the writers of the game too much credit and lets them off a hook that should be firmly set in their respective mouths.

Ultimately, I think there should not have been a choice – especially a RGB choice – at the end of Mass Effect 3.

Instead of a choice there should have been a consequence, an effect, from all of your previous choices in the games. That’s sort of how the first game did it, after all. Beating Sovereign was how things had to work out, the question just how you got there, and how many dead friends and foes were in your wake. The finality of the series should’ve been an endgame where all cards were placed on the table and your actions were judged as satisfactory, exemplary or neither.

The game didn’t need you making some ultimate choice to override all of your other choices. Those choices were enough, more than enough, to show the game how you wanted this story to end. And in a game, video or otherwise, it is the player that should get to decide how the endgame looks, no one else.

Maybe I’m just bitter about not getting the little blue babies Liara and my Shepard kept talking about.

Either way, I’m going to believe that this fan-written ending is the real one.

I guess in that regard, you could say that is the final choice I’ll ever make in the Mass Effect games.

Pity it isn’t to play it again.

I’m just going to leave this here.

A Jacksonville mother charged with shaking her baby to death has pleaded guilty to second-degree murder.

Alexandra V. Tobias, 22, was arrested after the January death of 3-month-old Dylan Lee Edmondson. She told investigators she became angry because the baby was crying while she was playing a computer game called FarmVille on the Facebook social-networking website.

Tobias entered her plea Wednesday before Circuit Judge Adrian G. Soud. A second-degree murder charge is punishable by up to life in prison.

And then I’m going to point out that games are built using a combination of math, art, storytelling and psychiatry. The last one is especially true of persistent world games. We use systems like B.F. Skinner’s schedules of reinforcement to find the exact number of times a player will perform a tast – say watering their crops in Farmville – before you have to give them a reward. Encouraging the “Well, I’ll do just one more X before I quit” behavior the designer wants. And when we’ve done our jobs correctly, that last time is the time that gives you a reward, causing the player to either continue playing, or look forward to their next play experience. We give them cravings, essentially.

Persistent world games are built to give people a good feeling, and then make them want more of that feeling.

It is an intentionally, deliberately created method of addiction.

So, when you see things like the news story above, think about it in the same way you would when a crack addict burns her house down and kills her infant child.

Because they’re both the same story, of some one who succumbed to an addiction.

Only difference is one of them happens to be available at Best Buy and Walmart and on your kid’s Christmas list.

Let’s get this out of the way right now:

I wouldn’t have bought this game unless Amazon hadn’t pretty much given it to me. A few months back, they ran a deal for it, listing it well under any other list price, and it came with a $20 credit toward my next video game purchase. I’m also pretty sure that I used a previously earned $20 credit to buy it. (I love that stupid rolling credit.) So, bottom line, I paid next to nothing for the game, and because of that, it would have to do a lot to earn my ire.

So, that out of the way, here’s some general information about the game and its history.

Metroid: Other M is a Nintendo Wii game that tells the continuing story of one Samus Aran, space bounty hunter. It is the first Japanese Metroid game produced since Super Metroid. For most of the 00s, the property was in the capable hands of Retro Studios who shocked (and impressed) the gaming world with their first person take on the game. Other M was made by Team Ninja, best known for the bouncing boobs in their Dead or Alive series of fighters, and oddly enough, volleyball simulators. This is the first Metroid to ever deal with Samus’s backstory, and the first one to give her a voice actor. The intent of the game is to act as a bridge between the Japanese and American versions of the property through Team Ninja’s unique take on the classic aspects of the game. Those classic aspects being: room by room exploration and puzzle solving, the finding and utilizing of new items, and, of course, blasting the crap out of any alien life you come across.

And how did Team Ninja do with their first go at one of video gamedom’s timeless properties?

Well…let’s just say I think something was lost in the translation.

And I do mean that quite literally. The writing in Other M has to be some of the absolute worst I’ve ever encountered in a video game. Barrels upon barrels of needless words used to say simple things. There’s lots and lots and LOTS of internal monologging, most of it of the angst-ridden, lifted-straight-from-an-anime kind. And for that to happen in a game like this, it makes me think that something did in fact get lost in translation. Because there’s no way a producer would sit down, hear crap this bad, and then sign a check to pay the person to write more just like it. The Japanese version of the game has to be better…right?

Thankfully, the visuals that accompanying the hooky words and voices are pretty, if plastic in a way that only things from Japan are capable of being. It’s like they refuse to acknowledge that people have pores or any sort of skin texture on their side of the Pacific. And the pre-rendered bits are absolutely stunning, and never overly long.

But, Zach, you’re thinking, the core of any Metroid game isn’t the story or the writing or the cinematics, it’s the damned combat and exploration. What about that? Is it any good?

Yes, it is.

Well, most of it, but I’ll come back round to that in a minute.

The Wii controller, when not used as something you wave at your TV like a vibrator at a hooker, is a simplistic thing, and Other M knows it. You’ve got three buttons and a control pad. One button shoots, one button jumps, one button rolls you up into a ball. That’s it. And Other M manages to get a hell of a lot out of those three buttons and a control pad.

First off, the game is in a kind of pseudo-3-D. It has depth occasionally, but for the most part, you’re moving about on a 2-D plane, so the control pad doesn’t have to worry about doing a whole lot. Just point in the direction you want to go, and it’ll take care of itself. Most of the combat revolves either around you mashing a button to blast something, or holding a button to charge up and then blasting something. Some times you have to jump on something or run up to it before you blast it, which leads to these very cool little finishing movies.

Speaking of, the jumping and rolling are simplified to. Wall jumping just requires you to hold the control pad in one direction and mash jump, it’ll take care of the rest. Bomb jumping, once a necessary skill for beating older Metroid games is a thing of the past now, too. There’s also a dodging mechanic called sense something or other that I never could properly figure out how to make work on command, but it did a good enough job of keeping me safe by letting me do what I was already doing that I didn’t think about it. That’s pretty much the summation of the core combat mechanic of the game: it does its job without making you think about it. It just works. Which is probably the best compliment you can give a system like this.

But about that one thing I mentioned I’d come back to earlier. So, for the most part, the game’s in third person 3-D. The camera is somewhere floating above your character, and you’re hopping about and blasting things. But then, you’ll need to shoot a missile or scan something, and you have to take the Wii controller, which you’ve been holding horizontally for hours now, and point it at the television. At this point it goes into first person mode, allowing you to lock on to things, scan them, and blow them up with missiles.

The motion sounds physically awkward, but it really isn’t. The Wii controller is a tiny thing, and moving your hand around it is a breeze. But, then there’s the problem of when the game like to make you do this. It’s never at a convenient time. It’s always at a time when there are thousands of mutant spaces bees swarming you, trying to make passionate love to your innards with their mutant space bee stingers. The result is more stressful than it needs to be, and it really breaks the flow of a solid combat system.

The exploration part of it seems to remain idiot proof, thankfully. Upgrades are hidden all over the areas you are blasting your way through, some of which (most, if I’m going to be honest) you can see when you first pass through an area, but you can’t get to. You’ll either have to come back and get then when you’ve gotten a new toy, or claim them when the looping level design brings you back into a room from another point. It’s a time-tested and proven system that gets the most out of art assets and keeps the level designers thinking. Hell, in Other M they’ve even gone one step further and given you an indicator to let you know if there is an upgrade hidden in the room once you’ve killed all the bad guys in said room. It wants you to explore, and it wants you to be rewarded for that exploration.

On the whole, I’m mixed about Metroid: Other M. On one hand, it’s always nice to see new views on classic properties, and Team Ninja certainly hit a lot of high notes with the game. But, it also reminds me why the Japanese share of the game market is shrinking like a scrotum in cold water. The clunky dialog and lack luster stories just don’t hold up to the likes of Western mega-games like Halo, Mass Effect, Modern Warfare. Other M feels like something I’d download from the Xbox Live Arcade, not a multi-million dollar triple-AAA title. That’s not to say I don’t think that this game is worth the time it takes to play it, because I believe it is, there are just too many mistakes to make me ever want to play it again.

Should You Buy It? Sure, once it drops about $10 in price. There aren’t that many solid Wii games out there, and Other M, despite its flaws is definitely a solid game.

Other Things Like It: Shadow Complex (better in every way), Lara Croft: Guardian of Light (more puzzle-y, and co-op is an added plus), Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and Super Metroid (See why they call this genre “Metroidvania”)

Late last week, Pat reminded me about this project called 48 Hour Longshot Magazine (they got sued by the TV show, don’t ask). The concept is simple: create a magazine from start to finish in 48 hours. Post a theme, all content is due 24 hours later, and then 24 hours after that, a print on demand magazine is posted for sale.

This time around, the theme was Comeback.

Here’s what they said about it.

Interpret it how you want. After all, comebacks are morally neutral. Disgraced politicians, the Taliban, and Whooping Cough have all come back. But beautiful babies have too, their little kumquat hearts restarting just in time.

You can come back from anything, even death.  This is a hilobrow concept. Sports teams stage comebacks. Skirts stage comebacks. Ideas stage comebacks. Even Lassie. Lassie always comes back home again. It is all theater, in a way, with very specific requirements. The preconditions are forever the same: you have to lose before you can win; it has to vanish before it can return; you must have faith.

Maybe some comebacks don’t seem so serious to you. What is significant about a basketball team coming back from 16 points down in the fourth quarter to win? It reminds us to hope. What is meaingful about the fashionability of the length of a skirt? It’s in the mechanics. Inch by inch, we get to witness change. It may seem like you’re analyzing hem lines, but they are just a stripped down and convenient model for how the world happens.

And there’s another definition, too. (Your mama probably knows it.) Maybe one time, someone said something to you that was real mean, and as you stood there, stinging, the most perfect retort rose into your brain and flew out of your mouth. It landed flush, and your opponent was staggered. You walked away proud, even though you don’t like violence. There are those comebacks, too.

About the only thing that unites all these things is that the best comeback is the least statistically probable. Comebacks are a reminder that weird stuff happens in the world! Norms are made to be deviated from.

So what did I do with that?

The nerdiest fucking thing possible. I wrote about game design and video games. Specifically about fungibility. A term that refers to how easy it is in a game to jump from last place to first, or fall from first to last. A metric of flexibility, sort of. I started writing Friday night, conked out around 1 or 2, woke up and finished the bit, shipping it off to Longshot at around 11am local time.

At about 11:10 local time I decided what I’d written was probably just a nerd game theory wankery and went on with my weekend.

But, low and behold, about 28 hours later, guess who’s name crawled up on the list of accepted submissions.

What? No. Mine, you assholes.

And here I am on page 24 of Longshot Magazine, #1.

I’m curious to see what they’ve done with my bit, because it looks like they’ve copy edited it down by about 300 words. And that’s probably a good thing.

So, yeah. There you go. My first published work.

If you want to buy it (which all of you should, the project looks awesome, I’m probably the low point of the whole thing), you can find it here.

I know a lot of you are printheads. This is the sort of project you should be looking at. Using new media to make relevant and interesting old media.

The first and most significant change is that in the near future, anyone posting or replying to a post on official Blizzard forums will be doing so using their Real ID — that is, their real-life first and last name — with the option to also display the name of their primary in-game character alongside it. These changes will go into effect on all StarCraft II forums with the launch of the new community site prior to the July 27 release of the game, with the World of Warcraft site and forums following suit near the launch of Cataclysm. Certain classic forums, including the classic Battle.net forums, will remain unchanged.

That is part of a bit published on Blizzard’s official Battle.net forums, the Blizzard discussion run hub for all of their video game properties. For those not familiar, Blizzard makes World of Warcraft, a persistent world MMO with a sustained player population somewhere north of several European nations. Oh, and then they make Starcraft, a video game with a professional gaming league in South Korea and where a two cable networks broadcast footage of the decade old game 24/7. Last but not least is Diablo, which is really just a giant time sink based around the cover of late 80s metal albums. That didn’t keep it from selling a bajillion copies, though. All three of these games are having either expansion or new versions releasing in the next two years. Which mean Blizzard’s forum traffic is going to go through the damn roof.

Probably why they want to get a handle on the incessant flaming and troll wars that are common place.

They’ve gotten their share of flack for this, though. Several different groups have suggested that this policy would lead to game conflicts spilling over into real life conflicts. That the lack of anonymity could in fact be dangerous to the player base.

I have absolutely no idea why people would think something as trivial as video games would inspire people commit acts of violence. I mean it’s not like there’s a history of that happening all over the world. And every video game player I know is a even-tempered, emotional mature adult. There is absolutely no way anything bad could happen from this.

Oh, wait? What’s that, young lady? You’ve got something to say?

….fuck.

This is a terrible idea, but it is going to be a blast to watch.

My schadenfreude organ is turgid at the clusterfuck that’s going to follow in the wake of Blizzard’s decision.

At first I was going to dismiss this like I would any speed run or high score game video. But after a few moments, the scale of what this person has done hits you. This video is the culmination of years of bizarre obsession and study, into something that has next to no real value. Much in the same way that performance car enthusiasts spend thousands to make their cars a few hundredths of a second faster to the legal speed limit, this man has traded years of his life to find the perfect Mandelbrot pattern to optimize a virtual city’s development. And he didn’t come arrive at it by chance, either. There is a level of knowledge here, in engineering, math, procedures, that speaks of a higher education, and an application of that knowledge through experimentation and observation that utterly impressive.

I’ll never understand why this person did what they did.

But I will always respect the achievement this is.

A bizarre, bizarre achievement.

Because they’ve dredged up a story that’s horrendously old about an Japanese eroge called RapeLay and they end it with this stinger:

“No one should play a game where the only way to win…is to rape.”

Yes. Because something I wrote about nearly a year ago, and something Something Awful lampooned three years before that is even close to news?

At this point anyone who is aware of the eroge market in Japan knows it is fucked up and vile, but the fact that you’re resurrected a dead story to try to stir up some sensationalism is utterly pathetic.

I know you’re losing the 24 Hour News War, CNN, but at least man up and try to do some real journalism before your death rattle.

Please?

Remember how I told you about that horrific Japanese eroge “Real Kanojo” (”Real Girlfriend”) a few days back? Well, turns out all those special…um…”effects” the game was touting only happen if you’ve got a fairly beefy computer. People with less powerful machines are greeted with remarkably different results. As seen below:

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Kotaku has the full gallery of such disasters here.

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This is a still from a Japanese eroge (erotic-game) called “Real Kanojo” (“Real Girlfriend”). You have the ability to virtually…umm…whatever is going on in that picture to an impossibly proportioned digital doll. Those crazy perverts even built in a facial recognition system into the “game”. If you hook up a webcam, the pixeled succubus will react to your facial cues.

Via Kotaku.

Over the last few days Microsoft has banned approximately a million consoles from their Xbox Live network. The wave of bannings comes on the heels of the release of Modern Warfare 2, which is already the biggest selling video game in history…only three days after is launch. The bannings were targeted at players who were using pirated copies of the game, and were requested by the game’s publisher, Activision.

Ok, so, that’s the news bit.

But then there’s what happens when you put pressure on a fungible group like software pirates. Over the past few days, the web has been flooded with banned Xboxes for sale on eBay and Craig’s List. The system still work as a device to play games, but nearly all of their multimedia functions, like streaming from Netflix, were tied into the Xbox Live network. This is something that the purchaser only finds out after the sale has gone through. Brick and mortar retailers are getting hit in the same way, and since they don’t check the machine’s status on Xbox Live in most cases, neither they or the customer have any idea that the system is effectively lobotomized until it is too late.

The aftershock from the ban wave will hit families that are looking to save some money during the holidays in a tight economy. Sure, a $299 Xbox 360 for $100 on Craig’s List may seem like a great deal, but buyer beware. Odds are the system is one of the walking dead. But in a way, that could be a silver lining. If a family couldn’t afford the online component of the system, the banned system would be perfect for them.

If you’re buying a used system and hoping for it to work online – watch your ass.

“There are so many issues we have to solve, and the biggest challenge is that the market in Japan is shrinking — they key is gaining success in the US and Europe,” stated the exec. “At the time of the original PlayStation the Japanese market was one third of the global market, and production costs weren’t that high — so we were able to generate profit from that market alone.

“But now we’re in the era of the PlayStation 3, and the Japanese market is only one fifth of the global market — when it comes to production costs, those are swelling, so it means that unless we gain success in the overseas market our studio will go bankrupt,” said Kobayashi. “It’s a crisis we recognize.”

Found on Kotaku this morning from Yasuhide Kobayashi, the VP of Sony’s Japan Studio.

I know it is the running joke right now in gamer circles to deride the Japanese for lazy game development, and for the most part its earned. The last great Japanese games were early to mid through the PS2 life cycle, which was almost a decade ago at this point. But to see a decline of this magnitude is amazing.

It also makes me wonder about way the numbers are being judged. Titles sold or dollars spent? Japan sells more hand-held units than anywhere in the world, and a DS game costs about half of what a XBOX 360 or PS3 game costs. The numbers could be skewed toward places where people sit on their asses in front of giant flat screen TVs instead of where people play games on commuter trains.

Blame Tim.

So, here’s a picture of a claw game that spits out fake plastic breasts.

boob_machine

From Japan, of course.

I’m not even going to talk about the fact that the name of the game is the code word for the successful surprise attack by the Japanese against Pearl Harbor in World War 2.

Nope, not gonna mention it at all.

Oh, Japan, Japan, Japan. Why can’t you just have normal sex? Why do you have bring in eels and octopi and things I don’t dare mention for fear they’ll come for me in the night. Is it because your men are overworked and suicidal? Is it because nearly all of your young female population has at least one STD (Infection rates has high as 82%!)? Are the pressures on your society so great that you just can’t fuck like a normal person? And if so, are things like this really how you want to relieve that tension?

For the rest of you, a primer.

Eroge (sounds like pirogi) is the Japanese portmanteau of erotic and game, erochikku mu. Originally starting out as games with romantic elements, with possibly a little titillation as a final reward, the genre branched in its early stage. One branch became the “love simulators” where players attempt to woo a girl through extended dialogue options. The other branch ran off gleefully into the night with the titillation, poured a roofie cocktail down its throat and came back the next morning with the broadest range of pornographic video games you can imagine. Both branches have become firmly embedded in the otaku sub-culture, sort of like every male owning at least one Playboy over the course of their life.

The eroge industry, like the Japanese porn industry on the whole, is massive. There are literally thousands of these games, most of them falling in the less-than-nice end of the spectrum. With technology growing like it is, more and more of these games are coming to market. Eventually, the shoe had to drop, just like it did back in 1998 when the Japanese finally got off their ass and banned any erotic material depicting fictional characters under the age of 18. That ban was targeted at producers of hentai that were doing stories about underage teenagers. In this case, the shoe dropping was a city council woman in New York City named Christine Quinn working in party with New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault and Equality Now. It came to her attention (probably because the exact same thing was playing out in England) that eroge were available through online retailers like Amazon.com, eBay.com, Buy.com and Overstock.com. Using Japan’s place as a signatory on the 1985 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the advocacy groups were able to send the Japanese press into a bit of a tizzy over the games.

The first really weird part of this? The game they singled out as being the most egregious is 3 years old. The game is called RapeLay, and it tells the story of a Japanese subway groper, or chikan. The details are nauseating, but not uniquely singular. Hell, this game was featured on the humor site Something Awful back when it came out, and they took a moment to say that they can’t wait for the pro-censorship in video games people got a hold of it. I don’t think they could have predicted that it would take three years for that to happen.

The second weird part of this? The key fanner of the flames in Japan is the New Komeito Party, a Buddhist-centric political party that seeks world peace and all of the joys that come along with that. Their chosen method to fan the flames? Using their ties with the Tokyo Broadcasting System (TBS) to get them to run false news stories about the Ethics Organization of Computer Software (EOCS), the trade group for eroge manufacturers. The time line of events goes something like this. TBS gets the EOCS to sit down with them and talk about the potential of banning the production of violent eroge. TBS then takes this interview and cuts it to make it seem like the EOCS is going to announce a prohibition on these kind of games. Some how the EOCS catches wind of this and freaks out. TBS offers them a second interview and the EOCS declines, not wanting to be even more misconstrued. So, TBS just runs the hacked up story and says to hell with the EOCS.

This was probably the goal of the New Komeito Party in the first place. TBS isn’t known for being the most scrupulous of media outlets (think FOX News crossed with TMZ), and in getting them to run a story saying the EOCS is going to ban these games the New Komeito Party has primed the pump of public outcry if the EOCS doesn’t ban them. They even managed to get TBS to include the June 2nd meeting of the EOCS as the announcement date of the ban.

Pinned in a corner, the EOCS sent out a fax to all of their member companies at the end of their June 2nd meeting stating that from this point on, there were to be no more rape simulators. They would work with individual companies who had games already in development or were prepping finished games for production. There was no vote taken, and the decree is neither contractually or legally binding. It also doesn’t affect the cottage industry of game developers who work outside of the umbrella of the EOCS.

So, that seems like a pretty straightforward victory, right? Well, nothing is straightforward in this winding story. The first game the EOCS worked with after the decree with was a lovely title called (rough translation here) “Gang raped by the entire village ~girls covered in milky liquid~“. After the EOCS made its changes the game will now be called “The trap set by the entire village ~bodies covered in milky liquid~“. The game hasn’t hit shelves yet, so no one knows if there were content changes made to the game or not. My best guess is that the EOCS is going to usher in another generation of tentacle porn and ghost cocks with their changes. Both were ways that porn producers side-stepped the Japanese government’s restrictions on showing explicit penile insertion.

So, from an MP in England and a City Councilwoman in New York, we jump to another Japanese censorship ruling that I have no doubt will end up spawning a dozen more unsettling sub-genres but never actually direct the core issue.

Right now, the Japanese islands are in turmoil. The population is in freefall. In five generations, the nation of Japan won’t have enough people to keep up their own infrastructure. This isn’t helped by the lacksidasical view taken by Japanese youth toward their own sexual health and development. Nor is it helped by the national escapism and fantasy in their pop culture. The otaku is a part of normal life, but a life that sends people into themselves, not out into the world. The final summation is that products like eroge are methods to make people money. Which is to say, they need an audience who is willing to pay for them. As long as that audience exists, they will exist. The better use of time is not spent attempting to ban them outright, but rather to address the core societal problems that cause people to develop such violent notions of sex and sexuality.

Yale’s been putting up a few classes a year as “Open Courses”, and I’ve been paying off-handed attention to them, but I apparently missed this one.

ECON 159: Game Theory

Description:
This course is an introduction to game theory and strategic thinking. Ideas such as dominance, backward induction, Nash equilibrium, evolutionary stability, commitment, credibility, asymmetric information, adverse selection, and signaling are discussed and applied to games played in class and to examples drawn from economics, politics, the movies, and elsewhere.

Course Aims and Methods.
Game theory is a way of thinking about strategic situations. One aim of the course is to teach you some strategic considerations to take into account making your choices. A second aim is to predict how other people or organizations behave when they are in strategic settings. We will see that these aims are closely related. We will learn new concepts, methods and terminology. A third aim is to apply these tools to settings from economics and from elsewhere. The course will emphasize examples. We will also play several games in class.

Now I have even more shit I want to push through the brain meats.

molyneux

“The truth is, I think I’m famously awful at developing games. Before, I’d walk into the office, wave my arms and say ‘I’ve just had a cool thought’ — usually after severe alcohol abuse — and that lead us to spending a lot of money very foolishly on things that weren’t going to get anywhere.”

-Peter Molyneux

wtf10

Fuck you, world. I didn’t need to see shit like this today. Not in the state that I’m in. Fuckers.



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