Saturday, July 30, 2005

In The Navy

I couldn't help but click on the link.

I guess the Navy decided that the best way to represent the mind-numbing labor you'd have you do during your enlistment was with a crazy-ass videogame that has you, so far as I can tell by the screenshots, blowing all hell out of humongoid lanternfish and connecting puzzle pieces a la Pipe Dream.

I didn't bother playing it since they require registration. And the last thing I need is some pansy-ass Squid calling me up for bellbottom duty.

Of course, this smells of desperation.

America's Army, at least, attempted to give you a basic sampling of training: Pick up this gun and shoot shit.

This Navy game, by their description, appears to be a more abstract evaluation. Possibly a sort of graphical ASVAB. Reflexes, puzzle-solving, mechanical inclination, shit like that, pushed into a game kind of framework.

I'm always amused by how the military is represented in the gaming industry. Hell, I'm amused at how it's represented in all media.

Which seems a good time to mention my favorite recently-spotted porno title: Navy Girls Love Semen.

The worst thing I can say about games produced by the military is that they're dull. This is unsurprising. The rule in the Marine Corps seemed to be: If you're dealing with people you work with everyday, be as offensive as possible; If you're dealing with anybody else, be as unassuming and vague as possible.

Military games produced by the gaming industry, by contrast, are almost always ridiculously over-the-top. They're also riddled with some of the most banal stereotypes I've ever seen.

If you're wondering where this rant is coming from, just take a peek at the Gamespot Quake 4 preview.

Try again, guys.

Ooh, a tough-as-nails officer with a troubled past. Everybody respects him, though.

Fuck that. How about an incompetent political kiss-ass? And when he gives you a stupid, contradictory order, you're given a choice of several responses, and if you pick a smartass one you get written up and busted-down and suddenly the game becomes "burn that shitter."

A Master Sergeant that loves the Corps? Wow, what a stretch. And despite severely injuring Marines during training, they still give him authority? Yeah, right. That dog woulda been neutered quick.

How about a Master Sergeant that constantly tells you what a mistake it was to enlist? About how he's missed every important thing in his life, he missed his own mother's death because he was shipped off on some bullshit, budget-justifying training op.

A musclebound gentle giant? You're killing me, here.

How about a big guy that's a lunkheaded jackass? And he still does his job. And at times he's a dick but other times he's helpful? And he bitches all the time about orders but gets them done anyway?

How about a real human being?

Granted, those descriptions are static. It will remain to be seen exactly how those personalities come to life in the game.

But I'm just getting tired of these idealized cliche-factory military games.

Shit, Conker's Bad Fur Day seemed more accurate to me.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

In Which I Do More Research

Just a little bit more
(well, a lot) about Jack Thompson, and then I'm done. I swear.

His site makes this statement:

"The heads of six major health care organizations, including the American Medical, Pediatric, and Psychiatric Associations have all testified before Congress in June 2000 that violent entertainment contributes to teen violence."

That's . . . well, that's actually true. They did. They released a statement. I'll get to that in a second.

Back to Thompson. Immediately following the thing about the health care people, the site makes this statement:

"Video games are literally "murder simulators" teaching our kids how to kill."

This seems to imply that somehow the Congressional statement backs up Thompson's conclusion. Does it?

Here's the conclusion that the July 26, 2000 "Joint Statement on The Impact of Entertainment Violence on Children Congressional Public Health Summit" makes (my source):

"More study is needed in this area, and we urge that resources and attention be directed to this field.

"We in no way mean to imply that entertainment violence is the sole, or even necessarily the most important factor contributing to youth aggression, anti-social attitudes, and violence. Family breakdown, peer influences, the availability of weapons, and numerous other factors may all contribute to these problems. Nor are we advocating restrictions on creative activity."

This hardly backs up Mr. Thompson's claims.

Now, jumping back to before the health care thing, the site talks about brain scan studies done at "Harvard, Indiana University, and elsewhere prove that adolescents' brain functions are damaged by a steady diet of violent images."

Lots of Universities do lots and lots of brain scan studies. Lots of conclusions are drawn. Many of those conclusions are refuted or require more evidence. They might eventually become theories. A theory is a best guess. This is called science.

Off-handly mentioning a few Universities and claiming they did studies that "prove" whatever you're espousing is most assuredly not science. It's commonly called "bullshit."

Check out this study done at Duke University. It found that the brains of aggressive adolescents (those with a diagnosed behavioral disorder) responded differently to violent images than those of nonaggressive adolescents. But what does that mean? It means their brains responded differently.

Here's something over at Harvard. This study came to the conclusion that the two major factors that predicted aggression in a child are violence in the home and inhibited temperament. No mention of video games. Strange. Maybe Mr. Thompson should correct them.

And before we jump to a conclusion and refuse to budge, we should pay some attention to other ideas. "However, a more complete understanding into the causes and solutions of violent behavior will not prevail without further research into the role played by the brain. That is the consensus of an international group of clinicians and researchers of violent behavior, writing in the current issue of Neuropsychiatry, Neuropsychology and Behavioral Neurology."

Maybe Mr. Thompson should be looking into what the heck all these antidepressants are doing to our children.

Maybe we aren't emphasizing the importance of hugs. They're supposedly instrumental in preventing children from becoming overly-inhibited. Which, as I cited earlier, is possibly a deciding factor in youth aggression.

Okay, enough with Harvard and their stupid studies. What do they know?

Thompson, yet again:

"The Federal Trade Commission in September 2000 found that big entertainment companies aggressively market adult-rated violent movies, music and video games to American children."

I kind of see why he's bringing this up. But he's missing the mark. The point of the FTC's study was that the advertisers were doing something wrong, not the game makers. And we all know that advertisers would market running shoes to quadriplegics. Why is this a surprise when it's videogame marketing?

The study itself says:

"Although scholars and observers generally have agreed that exposure to violence in entertainment media alone does not cause a child to commit a violent act, there is widespread agreement that it is, nonetheless, a cause for concern."

I'll give them that. As a parent, you should definitely be concerned - but only about what your children are watching/reading/playing/hearing.

That report made several suggestions for the industries to enhance their self-regulatory efforts (and we know how Mr. Thompson feels about the ESRB). Those suggestions were:

"1. Establish or expand codes that prohibit target marketing to children and impose sanctions for noncompliance.
2. Increase compliance at the retail level.
3. Increase parental understanding of the ratings and labels."

Nary a mention of murder simulators, sniper mode or thousands of zombie-eyed children wholly unable to be responsible for their actions.

So once again, Thompson mentions something that doesn't really support his hypotheses at all.

Someone might, at some point, bring up the Anderson & Dill study, "Video Games and Aggressive Thoughts, Feelings, and Behavior in the Laboratory and in Life." You can find a copy of it here. I especially would direct people to the 'Video Games and Aggression: Experimental Work' section, which cites other studies and reviews their conclusions.

I would urge you, also, to review these notes on the study, which point out some problems with the research methods (which are, often, inevitable, but must be made apparent).

The most glaring thing I've found, from reading these studies, is that they are notoriously difficult to summarize. People like Thompson (and Grossman) seem just to take the titles and make up whatever conclusions suit their cause.

I love Thompson's final few paragraphs on his site. He claims his only target is marketing standards, but it's clear by his actions that he stands on the forefront of a massive censorship effort, whether purposefully or simply by fueling the fire. Painting himself as a freedom advocate, he gleefully seeks to push blame on a thing, thereby removing responsibility from the perpetrators. His attacks on the ESRB and the ESA are characterized by ad hominem fallacies.

Yes, I can see his agenda is protecting our freedom.

Here's something I've wondered. If violent media is desensitizing people to violence, how does that encourage violence? The common metaphor is that it acts like an addictive drug - you need higher doses to become stimulated. But that's a false metaphor. Studies are inconclusive concerning exactly how violent images affect neurochemistry. There are other environmental, genetic and neurochemical/neuroanatomical factors to consider.

For all we know, the excitement caused by playing a violent video game may be the equivalent of beating a sack of potatoes - release of tension.

And even the Anderson & Dill study said there was a clear difference between excitement and aggression, and that often it was difficult to tell which was at work while playing a videogame (both at the same time being possible, and in all different amounts, and possibly divisible into sub-types -- you can see how tricky a subject this can be).

As for escalating youth violence . . . well, maybe the March 26, 2002 Gallup Poll article titled "These young people today. . ." can provide some insight:

"American teens can be easy scapegoats for media outlets looking for simple angles on social problems. A new report by the Casey Journalism Center on Children and Families scrutinized TV and newspaper stories regarding children and teens over a three-month period and found that more than 90% focused on the "quick-hit" stories of crime and violence or abuse and neglect among today's youth."

Wondering where the report cited resides? Why don't you point your browser here. It's telling that this report discusses how seldom these "quick-hit" stories actually provide any contextual information.*

I wonder how many mentioned videogames.

Yes, Columbine happened because some kids "obsessively trained on Doom." Here they are practicing safe and responsible gun ownership. Just let me suggest that somehow, in some way, their access to guns might have facilitated the tragedy, and I'll have crazies on my ass from hell to breakfast.

Nope, it was definitely videogames.

*I am not attempting to establish a direct correlation between this study and any of the videogame-related topics I've discussed. I only thought it was interesting that youth violence is often considered "epidemic" and that 90% of news stories about children focused on crime, violence, abuse or neglect. Perception shapes reality.

I Take It All Back

Good old Jack Thompson

The guy was in my head, mewling and crying and spouting aphorisms about mortality that somehow incorporate rantings on child pornography simulators and murder trainers.

I told him to lay off, that I was collating his latest findings. "Exposure to My Penis Has Turned My Pants Into Pornography Junkies" blared the title. Genius. And true, all of it true.

He and his damned pants.

I finished stamping each page with the official 'Certifiably Jack!' seal of approval. Jack wouldn't have it any other way.

I watched him struggle with the top of the Cap'n Crunch box. He was mumbling his usual steady stream of oracular raving. "Propagating clearly divisive packaging. The cereal manufacturers will rue the day. Rue . . . the . . . day." With each of his final three words he slammed the box on the counter. It sat there deflated and sad.

Jack's hands were purple. "Let's go get some breakfast. Bring the panty shields."

Jack liked to line his underwear. To soak up any "accidental overarousal to stimuli brought about by repeated exposure." Genius.


We pulled up to a McDonald's. Jack eyed the children on the Playground with the look of a father besieged on all sides by forces arrayed against his own flesh and blood. Which he was, in a way.

I turned off the car and tried not to make eye contact with Jack. He'd told me "eye contact raises the serotonin in the brain and stirs aggression. We all know that the sex and violence centers in the brain are in the same exact spot, so watch what you stir up, son."

I soaked up Jack's running monologue. "Playground fighting, Columbine-times-10 in any McDonald's, the sugar, vertical heights of equipment. That pipe there, a virtual tunnel to smoke out virtual VC, a murder waiting to happen. Pipe killer."

We went inside and up to the counter. Jack preferred to let me order for him. He said he didn't trust his "cranial menu. Too many options."

I ordered him a Bacon-Egg-Cheese breakfast and myself a McGriddle. We took a seat in the corner, where the plastic furniture was being warmed by the early sun just peeking over the horizon. Jack sat where he could watch the children.

I saw a family take a seat on the other side of the room. They had a young boy, maybe 11, with them, and immediately upon sitting down he pulled out a Game Boy Advance and began pushing the buttons with a steady, insistent rhythm, what Jack called "the orgiastic reveling in sadism using the hands as an embodiment of machismo."

I knew what would be coming. I saw Jack's eyes flick over the boy. I started to count to ten.

Then I thought better of it, and cautioned Jack to count to ten. He shook his head vehemently. "Another budding member of the Hitler youth right there. Doug Lowenstein and his cronies won't take another down with their prostitute-killing, makeup-artist-having kind."

"Jack," I began, but he waved at me a few times and rose from his seat in a smooth movement. It was like an oil-covered ferret sliding out of a drainpipe, sleek and foreboding. He moved with oozing purpose, a beeline toward the child with the Game Boy, who remained transfixed by the miniature murder-education device.

The boy's parents caught sight of Jack only steps from their son. The glint in Jack's eyes was surely unsettling. The father lunged forward, moving between Jack and the boy.

"Stand aside, thug!" Jack shouted. "Your son is rapt in the clutches of a most vile temptress. Even now his head swims with simulated gropings and stabbings, he is being seduced by images too terrible to describe."

"Now see here-" the father began.

Jack shoved him aside.

Alas, I was not quick enough to grab Jack's collar. He is often like a rabid dog, yet his rabies is a disease of compassion. For the children.

The Game Boy Advance went flying. Its screen caught the sun and reflected a golden gleam into my eyes. I turned away, nearly too late. The infernal contraption would not have me today!

My attention turned rapidly back to Jack, who had his hands on the child and was shaking him with vigor. "The foul demons which have entered you are powerless against the might of my protection and service. Out with the misleading ratings system which haunts you and your family, out with the labias and nipples your Sims game provides, out with the Hot Coffee and all the videogame pornography!"

The child was beginning to turn green. By now his father was up off the floor and red-faced; I saw him yell for someone to call the manager.

"Jack." I tapped hurriedly on his shoulder. "Jack!"

"What!" he yelled, turning on me with flames in his eyes. At least he had stopped shaking the boy.

"We have to leave. Now." The father had run in and scooped his son away while I'd distracted Jack. "Go wait in the car, Jack," I said calmly.

He looked at me, visibly shaking. "Go, Jack," I said, more firmly this time, and he wandered out the doors like a man in a trance.

"I'm so sorry," I said to the father. "Take this card. I will expect a call within the next few days. It would be very nice if we could settle this out of court."

He took the card and peered at it curiously. His wife looked at the card and then at him expectantly. I held my breath.

"That's fine."

I gave a small bow and left the fast food joint, heart pounding. Before returning to the car I leaned against a wall next to the Playground. The laughing children sounded like cackling hyenas.

I fingered a small stack of cards in my pocket. I pulled one out, felt the fancy, embossed lettering and tossed it into a heavy cross wind. It zipped away, soon out of sight.

I hadn't even noticed the words, only the writing. There was no need. The words - I had memorized them.


The card danced and skittered in the wind, topsy-turvy and willy-nilly, coming to rest against a curb, where it would sit until a rain, several weeks hence, would flood it into the sewers.

The writing glinted dull and black:

"Please excuse my friend. He suffers from a degenerative mental disease, which renders him unable to control his impulses. I apologize if he has caused any harm. Please refer any complaints to his legal counsel, as he is unable to handle his own affairs. I sincerely hope any damage can be satisfactorily handled out of court."

And below that was a name and number.


I got back in the driver's seat and stared straight ahead, my hands resting slackly on the leather steering wheel.

Jack fidgeted. "I did bad again," he whispered.

I blew out a sigh. "Yes you did, Jack."

He turned toward me. "Look at me," he said.

I turned and glanced quickly up, then down again.

"No," he said. "Look at me."

I looked. His eyes were coated with tears. Then the tears bubbled over and dripped down his face. "It's all for the children," he blubbered, and the rest of his diatribe was lost in choking sobs.

I put my arms around him, drew him close and patted his back. "Shh, shh," I cooed. "It's gonna be okay, Jack. You're a good man. You gotta keep going, don't let this stop you. Keep going."

He pulled away, his sobs only sniffles. "For the children?" He cocked his head like a puppy.

I nodded. "For the children."

Lies, Damn Lies and Jack Thompson

Pretty much
every single game-related blog I read has mentioned Mr. Jack Thompson.

I cruised on over to Mr. Thompson's website,* just to soak in a little crazy-ambiance.

This little tidbit caught my attention:

"The incredibly violent Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, made by Take-Two Interactive of New York City, has caused multiple copyist killings across the country. A recent Gallup Poll found that any American teen who has played this one game is twice as likely to be engaged in an act of violence than those who have not played this one game."

Naturally, I was immediately concerned. Not only did the game cause copycat killings (no doubt much like Son of Sam's talking dog), but it's making teens more violent. Horror of horrors.

I was disappointed that Mr. Thompson neglected to cite his sources. He mentions a Gallup Poll, though, so I went to their website and signed up for their gracious 30-day trial.

Searching for 'Grand Theft Auto' in the Polls section yielded two results.

The first one dealt with how children view restricting access to media. Not what I was after.

The second had the juicy title, "Grand Theft of Innocence? Teens and Video Games." Spectacular.

Opening the second one, I was struck by this immediately:

"It has come to our attention that the public is erroneously relying upon the information included in the "aggression connection" paragraph of a Sept. 16, 2003, article by Steve Crabtree titled, "Grand Theft of Innocence? Teens and Video Games," which Gallup subsequently determined cannot be supported by the properly weighted youth survey data, and thereafter removed from the original article. Gallup now expressly retracts the entire "aggression connection" paragraph that was included in Mr. Crabtree's initial Sept. 16, 2003, article because the data do not support any such conclusion. We regret any confusion that may have been caused by Mr. Crabtree's initial article."

The "aggression connection" paragraph is exactly what it sounds like. A paragraph which posits "mounting evidence of a connection to aggressive teen behavior" in regards to violent videogames. That connection is bunk. The Poll certainly doesn't lend any credence to such a claim.

Which is, naturally, why that part was retracted.

In fact, the Poll also mentions that "[t]wo thirds of teens have played sports-based games[.]" Why aren't they making a connection between sports games and violence?

What makes Mr. Thompson's position so laughable is that this Poll (which I assume is the one he is citing**) provides no data whatsoever on how many of the teens that are playing these videogames have committed any acts of violence. None whatsoever.

It mentions Grand Theft Auto only enough to say that 76% of boys and 44% of girls have played the game.

But maybe I'm mistaken. Maybe there is another Gallup Poll which makes the connection (and supports it). I sure would like it pointed out to me.

In the meantime, I'd like to refer Mr. Thompson to some other Gallup Polls (see, statistics can be fun!).

How about the January 22, 2002 article "The Blame Game: Youth and Media Violence," which states:

"Each addition to a rapidly growing list of cases of violence in American schools, which now includes a Jan. 15 school shooting at a New York City high school, intensifies the discussion about the potential impact that media violence, and media technology such as the Internet and video games, have on teens. But Gallup poll data suggest that blaming the media for teen crime and violence is not a new tendency. While the public is quick to call for the regulation of violent material at the source, it also believes that the responsibility for teen exposure to violent media rests a little closer to home."

The article then goes on to cite Poll data from 1999 and 1954. In the 1954 Poll, 70% of American adults thought blame for teen-age crime could be placed on "mystery and crime programs on TV and radio." 70% also said that reading comic books could be blamed.

Or I could also refer Mr. Thompson to an April 20, 2001 article titled, "Americans Say the Family is the Starting Point for Preventing Another Columbine."

In response to the question, "In your opinion, what is the single most important thing that could be done to prevent another incidence of school shootings by students, like the recent ones in California?" here's the number one answer in 2001: 31% said 'Parent involvement/responsibility.'

Only 5% said 'Control media violence/video games/Internet.'

The rest of the Poll should be a good read for Mr. Thompson. Yes, it does have respondents saying that media is important. And I wouldn't contest that.

But the overwhelming responses refer back to family and home life. That certainly seems to keep priorities straight.

Mr. Thompson would probably be able to twist the data in the June 23, 1999 report "Public: Current Efforts to Control Exposure of Children to Violent Entertainment Are Not Enough." There is clear data there saying that a large percentage of adults (18 years and older) believe that children's exposure to violent media is a serious problem, and that current information about the content provided by the producers is insufficient.

This actually seems like reasonable data to back up a straightforward and non-inflammatory campaign to both clarify the ratings systems to meet general parental approval and educate parents on how to ascertain the nature of a product's content.

But, of course, Mr. Thompson would never do something so reasonable. Best to misuse numbers in his pursuit of . . . well, whatever he's doing.

Then there's a May 10, 1999 article, "Media Portrayals of Violence Seen by Many as Causes of Real-Life Violence." There's lots of meat for a firebrand, if you dig a little. For example, 58% said that the federal government should do more to regulate video games. And 49% blamed TV programs, movies and music (though no videogames mention, odd) 'A great deal' for causing shootings like the one in Littleton, Colorado.

Just ignore the fact that 40% said 'Breakdown of family/Parenting/Poor parenting' caused the Columbine shooting. And that only 4% attributed the tragedy to '[the] Entertainment Industry/TV/Movies/Music'. And definitely don't point out that 51% said Parents were '[a] Great deal' to blame for causing shootings like the one in Littleton (and 33% said '[a] Moderate amount').

Of course, the only thing this Poll can actually speak to is perception. These are the connections that people are seeing themselves. This is not a scientific Poll, it's an opinion Poll. You can draw certain conclusions from responses, but they'll always be suspect. The best you can say about this data is "X percentage of our sample perceives Y issue thusly --" and then give the data.

On to something funny.

Mr. Thompson's site (and this makes me wonder whether the site is legit) has three links at the bottom.

One goes to (with a link to that PSA with the kid describing what sounds like an awesome videogame). One goes to (the made up word about slanted research).

And one goes to I shit you not. Way to advertise for the enemy, Jack!

It was as if I were at an Andrea Dworkin website (no, I don't know why I would be) and they had links at the bottom to Jarring.

*I think it's a mistake to use what seem to be the imperative forms for the verbs in his site name. This seems to say, to me, "Stop, kill!" Though I do play videogames, so that's probably just the psychosis talking.

**And I freely admit that I'm going off of an assumption. But at least I'm citing my sources.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Are We Really Doing This Again?

I'm reading
Gamespot. I come across this article.

Guess what? Jack Thompson says crazy shit. Again.

My first question: Why is Gamespot vindicating this lizard-brained shithead?

I think this guy keeps getting press because even people that can't stand what he says want to hear more of it.

It's like tuning into Art Bell during some of the stranger phones calls (and, yes, there is a continuum of strangeness, even among the crazies).

Now Jack Thompson is going after The Sims 2.

Here is Thompson's latest brain dropping (apologies to George Carlin):

"Sims 2, the latest version of the Sims video game franchise ... contains, according to video game news sites, full frontal nudity, including nipples, penises, labia, and pubic hair."

I, apparently, have played the inferior version of the game.

As pornography, The Sims 2 is akin to making sock puppets hump. Tongue-kissing my own hand would be more titillating. Anybody that has actually played the game would realize that if you want to get your rocks off, there are far less tedious ways.

For example, Google just about any freakin' word you can think of - there's bound to be a porno site slotted into your search results somewhere.

The old geeks (OG, as might be said), probably recall a very similar social and political furor over a supposed children's medium - comicbooks.

Dr. Fredric Wertham will be a familiar name to some.

It's hard to be a comicbook fan and not vilify this man. I'll try my best to be even-handed. Note, also, that I was not alive during the controversy he created, so my knowledge is based upon scattered sources.

A pivotal moment for comicbooks came when Dr. Fredric Wertham published Seduction of the Innocent in 1948.

The gist of the book is something that we are hearing constantly. I'm of the opinion that it is being said constantly, all throughout history and possibly in perpetuity.

That media contributes to making us more violent.

On the face of it, this statement doesn't seem too erroneous to me (though erroneous, nevertheless). I would qualify it by saying, "Media may contribute to making a person more likely to act in a violent manner."

Of course, I also think you could replace "Media" with almost any other word. Steak, for example, may contribute to making a person more likely to act in a violent manner. Pigeons, too. And marmalade (how I hate marmalade). Paris Hilton. Teflon.

Go on. Try it.

Seduction of the Innocent went wrong by vastly inflating the influence of comicbooks. This is the same mistake that people like Jack Thompson live and breathe. Making everything into an extreme example (labia in The Sims, vaginas hidden in the shadows of a comic panel, playing Doom will force you into a psychotic rage) is a great way to incite the public.

And, oh, how the public loves being incited. There's no rule like mob rule.

Wertham's biggest mistake is that he blamed violence completely on the environment. And he worked off of the assumption that viewing violent or sexual content will automatically generate the desire to emulate that behavior.

That's one of the worst conceptions of human behavior I've ever heard. It amounts to Garbage In, Garbage Out, which is amusing, but also a glaring fallacy. We ignore thousands and thousands of images and ideas everyday. Others we synthesize into our world conception and some we actively oppose. Some we enjoy without striving to emulate, others we hold as role models. Combinations are endless and chaotic. The reactions aren't fixed, not even in children.

Might as well try and predict the weather. Oh yeah, people do that, too.

What did comicbook makers do to try and stem the tide of controversy? Well, they formed the Comics Code Authority. Even then, of course, the crusaders continued to fight, claiming that the Code was ineffectual, or deliberately misleading the public, or insidiously encouraging actual sex and violence.

Does anybody see any similarities to the wave of anti-videogame nonsense and the creation of the ESRB? And the backlash the ESRB is now facing despite their, by all accounts, reasonable ratings system?

And people like Thompson continue to rant and rave: "The sex and the nudity are in the game. That's the point. The blur is an admission that even the 'Ken and Barbie' features should not be displayed. The blur can be disarmed. This is no different than what is in San Andreas, although worse."

So, he equates the fact that Maxis thought it prudent to cover up even the suggestion of nudity as proof of wrongdoing? Let that be a lesson to game makers: don't even bother being discreet; that just proves you're dirty pornographers. Disarming a blur to create SimAnatomicallyIncorrectNudistColony hardly seems on par with GTA's ass-slapping softcore bump-and-grind.

Or is there some kind of "Under the Covers" mod in The Sims that zooms in on Whoopee, cues the porn funk and proceeds to show freaky Sim sex all . . . night . . . long, baby!

Even discussing how fucking ridiculous this guy is makes me feel ridiculous.

Another crazy quote:

"Thompson's new conclusion: EA is 'cooperating, gleefully, with the mod community to turn Sims 2 into a porn offering.' "

My second question (or set of questions), then: Is anybody out there using games like The Sims 2 or GTA for masturbatory purposes? Have you ever frigged while playing any kind of videogame, at all? Has a game ever turned you on, to the point where you demanded release?

I just wonder if this is a new development.

A middle-school lunchroom somewhere:

"Tommy, man, you gotta check out that game DOA: Extreme Beach Volleyball. The chicks are so hot I had to pull out some Vaseline and a happy sock. You probably don't want your controller back."

I don't know. The mind boggles.

When it comes to sexual content in videogames, I'm strictly a "look but don't touch myself" kind of guy.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Here Is My Job

Non-Disclosure Agreements prohibit me from saying pretty much anything.

Work hums and throbs like a colony of ants toiling underground, darkness, muted conversation, the sharp rasp of a soda can being popped open.

That any kind of video game gets made, ever, is now completely mind-boggling to me. The sheer scope of the effort is hard to conceptualize. Hundreds, maybe thousands of man-hours each day.

This isn't Pyramid-type building, large blocks that require huge initial amounts of effort and then stay, for a very, very long time.

It's chaotic - small changes cause huge repercussions all across the board which then must be changed again which again causes repercussions, with all of the new repercussions being added to the list of things to change.

I'm having a blast.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Plan Ahead

I almost forgot
I'm on the Auto Assault Beta.

So I haven't updated the client in a few weeks.

I logged on at 7 to try and get in some playtime.

The patches are still coming. It is 7 minutes to 11pm, the close of today's test.

Stupid, forgetful me.


I realize, perhaps
, that some might have found my previous post offensive because I used many "naughty" words.

When human beings get offended by words it is the result of the 'spookification' that language fosters - that is, words are only a map of the territory, but are so integral to our understanding of our world that they actually shape our conception of that world. This doesn't seem so ridiculous, unless, like me, you were taught in school that we use words to represent things we observe.

Why, then, would we allow words to determine what we observe or how we react?

Spooks. Ghosts in the system. Emotional correlations. Semantic ambiguities.

Where I'm going with this: I can write without using what are commonly called swear words. I like using them, however, because I know the emotional correlations and they suit my purposes.
With this post I will refrain from using them. To some people this might appear as if I have more credibility, or am at least being more tactful, or more respectful, or what have you. Spooks.

Regarding the GTA Hot Coffee modification:

Many people see Rockstar as having backslid or misrepresented themselves. The ESRB is being painted by some as inefficient.

So what happened?

Rockstar knowingly allowed sexual content to remain on their game discs for GTA. This content is inaccessible, so far as anyone knows, by any in-game means.

It was pointed out that there could be a button combination which unlocks this mode. If by chance one exists, and if it were not placed by Rockstar, then it would be more aptly classified as a bug, since it enables code not meant to be played.

Regardless, the ESRB's job is only to classify content playable under the software license. Are we now going to demand that games get rated on any possible content on their storage medium, regardless of playability?

So someone discovered a way of altering the game code to make this locked section playable. Yes, it can be done on console games, too. The cleverness of hackers is a poor excuse for making Rockstar culpable. If I lock something away in a safe, say a pornographic magazine, and several brilliant persons break into that safe and show that magazine all over the town, am I at fault?

Maybe if it could be proved that I knowingly placed that material in a seemingly-protected position but knew the full capabilities of the thieves and placed resources in a position so as to aid them in their task. Rockstar certainly could have engineered this themselves. It does not seem to help them, however, and the negative effects seem more obvious than any sales boost.

The result of the media frenzy and the political hubris and the angry parental teeth-gnashing is that a game rated for those 17 and over is now classified as being for those 18 and over.

I'm not certain in the long-term what this hubbub may have accomplished. There was more vilification of the game industry and video games. There were many, to be fair, sincerely concerned parental groups that nevertheless have not used this as an example of why they must strive to be better (or just good) parents but as more ammo in the 'h*ll in a handbasket' theory (the lament and lie of the old).

As regards that particular theory, also known as the 'When I was your age' theory (the speaker begins 'When I was your age' to open a long and tortured half-truth concerning how much better-behaved everyone was and how much respect everyone had and how society was a perfectly-functioning machine).

It is natural, as people grow older and lose their ability to keep up with popular culture (possibly any culture at all), that they will harbor resentment. They may grow afraid of a world that is markedly different from the one they long ago adjusted to. They look upon the old kinds of obscenity and violence, wrapped in shiny new packages, as harbingers of something ominous rather than as the marching on and commodification of the status quo.

What grand culture of the past so obviously outranks that of the present?

Shakespeare? You mean the trite, cliched plays filled with double-entendres and blood? Every Shakespeare play is either a comedy or a tragedy. A tragedy has lots of guts and gore and violent sexual content (Richard III, Hamlet, Macbeth) and ends with nearly everyone dying. A comedy always had multiple sets of lovers and they get mixed up somehow and some slapstick happens and in the end everybody gets married. Deep, huh.

What of the Ancients, the originators of civilization? Ooh, we have the story of Oedipus, who killed his father on the road, thinking him a stranger, then went on to accidentally marry his mother after answering the riddle of a hideous, violent monster. Once the gruesome events are laid bare to all, Oedipus's mother hangs herself, and Oedipus seizes the brooches from her garment and drives them into his eyes. And don't miss out on the equally putrid sequel, Antigone.

For live entertainment, nothing could beat the French Grand Guignols. Ostensibly only frequented by poor, depraved perverts, they in fact enjoyed immense popularity across all sections of society. Or the bawdy variety shows that eventually became burlesques.

And for those so worried about the children, have you read the original Grimm Fairy Tales? You might enjoy Cinderella, where one of her stepsisters mutilates her own foot to fit into the Prince's slipper. Or the surprise ending where pigeons peck out the stepsisters' eyes. Or maybe Snow White, which ends with the wicked witch forced to put on burning iron shoes and dance until dead. A real crowd-pleaser. Not to mention the intimations of necrophilia when the Prince buys Snow White in her coffin.

Or maybe you might remember the Punch and Judy show? The children's play that prominently features spousal-abuse, murder, infanticide, selling one's soul to the Devil and sheer homicidal violence.

Yes, those days certainly were pure and just, media-wise.

What I'm never exactly clear on is just what these parental groups and politicians feel is allowable content for the different category groups?

How much blood is too much? How long must we linger over the violence? Is it lingering if we must focus on only one victim, like how the bat in GTA can be used to continually batter someone? And isn't that a player preference issue? Me, I like to get in maybe one gratuitous whack, but I've seen some people that make it their own personal minigame. If we're mowing down wave after wave of baddies does that sufficiently qualify as not lingering over the violence, since we spend so little time with the individual killing?

How much sex is too much? As some have pointed out already, The Sims is rated T for Teen and makes Whoopee (psst, that's a code-word for sex) a goal. That is already two steps further than Rockstar went - Whoopee is enabled in the game proper and is encouraged. Granted it is pixelated out, but there is no question what is happening. And there are a full range of nudity patches that will clear up that little, ahem, 'problem' with the game all over the web. We obviously aren't concerned with any sexual content being too much.

In BMX XXX (poorly named, because it featured no actual pornography) the rating was obvious - the inclusion of videos with various strippers elevated the game to the level of a Girls Gone Wild! video that's more a hassle than enjoyable (though I would argue that such things are for adults - much fourteen-year-old angst could have been spared by regular exposure to images of firm, bouncing college breasts - and I may have even applied to college!).

What of future games? Who will decide if the implementation warrants an AO rating? We are clearly not basing our content rating system on the MPAA's guidelines. If we were, GTA would have remained an M game. Training Day was rated R, and it contained full-frontal nudity.

So my opposition and ire comes, not from a disagreement with the usefulness of ratings, but from the kneejerk opposition against Big Bad Video Games that has currently solved exactly zero problems. Legislation is largely unnecessary. What is necessary is education, an even-temper, patience, an understanding of video games as an emergent medium and the willingness to learn new parenting methods.

I am all for getting as much information as you can about media before you purchase it. I'm cautious about going to the movies (mostly due to cost), so I will read several reviews, poll people I know that have seen it and weigh it against my interest (and available funds). I do the same with videogames. And music. And books.

As a parent this takes fortitude. You must be willing to be an arbiter, but also be flexible. Is it worth forbidding something that your child will probably encounter elsewhere (at school, a friend's house), or is it better to make small allowances provided that you are there to offer supervision? I could definitely see myself with a child, working them through Las Venturas with a camera, picking scenic points for pictures and, as they get older, let them experience more of the game.

But that takes work. Which is my other major reason for indignation.

If you don't want to put in the work, don't have children. For those who would argue that I wouldn't understand, not having children myself, well . . . that doesn't make sense. I don't have children because I don't want to put in the work. Not yet, at least.

Cross my fingers.


Thank God
it finally happened.

The troglodyte morons that run this country, in conjunction with the waterheaded jackanape media rabid watchdog groups, slapped a fat old Adults Only label on GTA: San Andreas.

Of course, this doesn't bother me on a personal level. I can still waltz into any game store, pick up a copy, run down to the local newstand to grab Swank and Hustler, get a box of cigars from my tobacconist and a handle of Beam from the local booze merchant, dial up an escort service and have me a grand old time.

This bothers me
because, well, it's reactionary. The GTA games are not meant for people under 17. That's what M means.

Adults Only is meant for people 18 and over.

I hate to repeat myself, but are we really the type to go off half-cocked over the difference of one measly year?

That's not really the issue here, though. The issue is that an AO-rating, like NC-17, has an associated stigma. Many retailers won't touch it (Well, I guess we'll see if they touch it or not). People have once again used a political process to do something that could have been served better by educating other parents, boycotting the product and taking an active interest in their children's lives.

Woah, mindblowing.

Here's what happened, though.

Angry, worthless parents that apparently are too stupid to be a judge of content for themselves complained to the same old legislation-happy, censorship-lusting politicians that take the same tired bait over and over again: "Think of the children!"

What's always touted in these Congressional melees is how truly horrible we have become as a society (even though this argument is made by every fucking generation re: the current generation). Back in Tipper Gore's day, they didn't have any bad music. And even if they had, kids wouldn't have listened to it.


Like a bunch of middle-school guys in the '30s wouldn't have loved to hear Lucille Bogan belting out:

"I got nipples on my titties as big as your thumb
I got something between my legs make a dead man come."

Think of the children!

Is what used to be considered obscenity more readily-available? Very probably. But is it novel?

Much of the good old days are a result of selective blindness. If your granddaddy claims he never tried to finger his high school sweetheart, well, he's either lying or he's a preacher; Even then he's probably lying.

We never thought it prudent to protect the children from the disgusting practice of systematically killing off Native Americans. Aww, how cute, little Billy's playing Cowboys and Indians. Time to walk the Trail of Tears, Billy!

And we never thought maybe the children shouldn't be a part of bigotry and intolerance - remember segregation? After all, those are family values.

News flash. Obscenity is a human institution. People have used foul language for a long time. Maybe kids used to be a little more careful around whom they spoke, but as soon as the parents were gone it was f-this and f-that. And when the kids weren't around the adult mouths grew foul, too.

Guess what, also, precious. Censorship has been around since there was shit to censor. Ever since Ug told Urg to 'Rgg!' and Urg bashed his head open with a rock. Or I guess ever since God said 'Let there be light!' and then, after creating the serpent that would corrupt his own creation, 'Shit!' and then he killed the Serpent. Because it was obscene.

Depends on your worldview, I guess.

Woah, woah. Enough history. Enough railing. Well, on that particular topic.

Bottom line: The world never gets dirtier; It stays dirty. It's just for some reason we keep getting all these fucking uptight people.

And as for GTA. Boo-fucking-hoo. Little Jake saw titties and now he might want to possibly develop a normal sexual drive - better get the castratin' tongs.

If there's one thing I've learned about politics and media:

If you have a movie with Arnold Schwarzenegger that features a prominent scene of him falsely representing himself and coercing his wife into performing a striptease, followed by countless scenes of him mercilessly killing Arabs, all wrapped up by the explosion of an atomic bomb (no doubt irradiating countless people when the fallout drifts) while Arnie laughs at his triumph . . . well, that's a family film.

And I'm proud to be an Ameri-
ah, fuck it.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Should Have Been Good

I really wanted to like Tron 2.0.

I am a fan of the movie. I remember the lame-ass arcade game.

I even enjoyed some of the moments in the first few levels of the PC game. Buena Vista Games constructed an FPS with minor RPG elements with almost every game element tying into the theme of computers and software.

Think ReBoot. Man, that show rocked.

I had a good time on the first couple levels. The disc is a great weapon, basically same principles as the lightsabers in the Jedi Knight series.

The spreading corruption was cool. Upgradeable subroutines, spiffy. Reading random e-mail scattered through the system. All of it a blast.

Then I got to the lightcycles.

Arguably what should have been the greatest part of the game. I say that because it was the greatest part of the original movie - at least it was to a five year old boy. Motorcycles! That make a wall of light behind them! And you try to make the other ones crash into that wall! Brilliant!

And, at best, Tron 2.0 makes lightcycles bearable.

However . . .

When you begin the lightcycle tutorial . . . and you listen to the slow-ass tutorial narrator's stupid speeches with no way of moving the tutorial forward but to listen . . . and you finally sit through the damn thing and you're supposed to move to the circle to leave the arena but you hit your own wall accidentally because the camera and control system is shit . . . and then you get the option to quit or retry and the tutorial starts over again . . .

That sucked. And the matches are even worse, because of the lack of camera or lightcycle control. Not that you can't control the camera or lightcycle at all. Just that the control available is like navigating a drunk hippopotamus down a mile-long Slip N' Slide using only a retractable dog leash and a cattle prod.

So, anyway. I beat the lightcycle matches anyway. I just didn't have fun doing it.

Then the next set of levels . . . my god.

See, the Kernel (hah!) took all your weapons, so no cool disc and blaster and whatever else you might've acquired.

Instead you get the rod primitive, or the PRod (hah!). These are pointy Devil Sticks that shock foes. Which means, yes, that you must get right up in their faces and then waste a bunch of energy de-rezzing them.

And it's way too hard. I play on Easy, because I like the experience of going through a game more than I like replaying sections over and over. That's just how I like to play. I happen to believe that a game's Easy mode should be . . . Easy. Even too easy is fine, because you can still say it was easy.

Tron 2.0 on Easy is not.

I suppose I must disclose that I'm not spectacularly skilled at video games. I could reasonably beat Civilization on about the third difficulty level (and then maybe only 50% of the time) and got stomped at any difficulty above that. I don't think I could make it even half of the way through Far Cry (so I cheated in order to at least finish the game experience I paid for). Hell, I could never even beat the original Super Mario Bros. (though Mario 3 was one of the first games I ever beat).

That said, Tron 2.0 is just too hard. That stupid PRod sucks, even with a power upgrade installed. The bad guys spot you from across the level and then pelt you with their discs (which make you dead quick). The only thing that might've helped me, the Fuzzy Subroutine (masks footprints), needed an upgrade to be effective. I stupidly upgraded something else several levels back (the only time I could've upgraded, that I found).

Running was ineffective as well. Just more bad guys and those discs that fly across the level.

See, the disc is a great weapon for a player, because it's so damn powerful. But it's not so good when every major NPC has one.

Not to mention the alarm system, which you can almost never see, that not only spawns guards but shoots at you as well.

I suggest that designers make an Idiot mode. This would provide minimal challenge. It almost plays itself. Let me decide if that's fun or not. Then go ahead and make the other modes the same way they've always been. Simple, right?

If designers can make a Punishing mode where they unfairly inflate all the NPC stats and underpower yours, then they can make a Really Easy mode, too.

Or how about this: How about having an Enable Cheats menu. Don't make me unlock it. If I were actually able to get all 1500 golden goose necks, which would let me unlock Invulnerability, do you think I need to fucking unlock Invulnerability (Jak games, I'm looking in your direction)?

Just give me a cheat menu. Let me make the decision whether or not I think cheaters never win. You could even do something crappy to get across the message that "cheating is not cool, dudes, stay in school!".

Like make scoring different (if you have scoring). Or, I don't know, have some dude giving players the finger in-between levels while a voice calls them "grimy sneaking, two-faced snakes".

Stop trying to make some kind of crazy decision that the player should have to work for cheats because you're an artist and that is not how the game is played, man. I mean, if you don't feel like adding cheats in, that's fine. Don't worry about it, then.

I'm talking about games. Games. I know I play them for enjoyment. Maybe even fun (gasp!). Challenge can be fun, sure, so go ahead and provide challenge.

But sometimes I don't care for challenge, I just want to get through. Or sometimes challenges are grossly unbalanced (Kya: Dark Lineage - it was like being manic-depressive, super-exciting fun segments interspersed with soul-crushing, die-and-reload-fests).

Woah. How about this? How about selectors that let us vary the challenge. You have categories of challenges (Enemies, Jumps, Timing, that sort of thing) and sliders that move up and down, making the categories harder or easier respectively.

Sliding Enemies up would make them tougher, use more tactics, make you more vulnerable. Sliding Jumps up would reduce your jump distance/height, maybe how much control you have over your direction in mid-air. Sliding Timing up would randomize timing more, speed up certain puzzles, maybe reduce the control-reaction time.

Anyone want to proof that idea out? Or know of any games to take such an approach?

Saturday, July 16, 2005


Suggested Changes/Alterations/Additions to the Hammer Editor

Note: I am by no means a skilled Hammer user. I've only had maybe a week's worth of focused immersion. If some of these things actually are possible in the editor itself (that is, not in Face Poser, Model Viewer or through modding the game) then I would definitely like to know.

1. Add complete functionality to all the enemies in the editor that aren't fully-implemented: the different synths, stalkers, the Advisor, icthyosaur.

2. Make User Interface alterations possible from an entity. Maybe just have a few different kinds of possible additions.

3. Make scripting functions. As in NPC branching responses that do not utilize scripts.txt or require recorded voice files or phoneme extraction.

4. More func_precipitation options, including water splashes where rain intersects water.

5. Directed phys_explosion. Tie it to a func_illusionary brush?

6. Skin previewer.

7. Selectable env_screenoverlay options: Cel-shaded, black and white, washed-out, sepia and others.

8. Moveable sun/moon entities able to be connected to time-based interpolating light_environment (sunsets, sunrises, crazy Xen-sky, that sort of thing).

9. Render Gordon in-engine, or at least allow a secondary rendered-model option. I know, I know, Valve is still working on this, how to animate the model because it doesn't match up to the dimensions implied by the first-person perspective, which is why there's no third-person perspective yet . . . so I understand why it's not there. I just, y'know, want it there.

10. Upon implementation of #9, go ahead and give us mirrors.

11. Cloth simulation, possibly as a func_illusionary or maybe a flexible solid. Tricky.

12. func_brush with moving water textures for waterfalls, cascades, et. al. Variable flow and splash when intersecting water brushes.

13. func_water_analog improvements. Fogging, reflection, more control over appearance in general. No more workarounds, please.

14. To round out the water wishes, actual physically simulated water. Haha. No, really. This is a long-term dream. Even just a kind of func_physbox that is constrained by world geometry and has a certain level of coherence which, when lost, turns the physbox into a puddle shader or large droplet particles - something like that.

15. Make func_tracktrains spawn the way they're built in Hammer, instead of the weird x/y flip from right-facing to left-facing. Can't be too hard to fix, can it?

16. Physics prototyper. A simple way of testing out different properties of the physics entities without inserting them, compiling and running. Maybe this could be a standalone program some diligent person creates.

17. Allow NPC info_node sharing within a certain radius. This may actually be possible, I haven't found out yet. It's my understanding, however, that once an NPC finds a node to move to, that node becomes locked for any other NPCs.

18. Allow multiple cameras to display on different monitors at the same time. This also may be possible, though by all accounts it takes some pretty crafty workarounds. Maybe an invisible blocking brush of some kind?

19. Tree and vegetation creator. I'm sure there are standalone programs that would do this, but it would be nice to have a simplified one in Hammer itself, control height, branching, color changes, that kind of thing.

20. Faster model previewer. The one in Hammer, not the Model Viewer program (which works fine). The one that you bring up when placing a prop entity, which only shows the model .jpgs anyway but for some reason is slow as molasses.

21. True curves. Long-term.

22. Moving cloud layer. func_clouds maybe? An env_animatedsky entity?

That's what I got for now.

I'm sure I'll find the need to make more wishes.

Please read this post, Valve.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

So It Begins

Oh Happy Day!

This upcoming Monday I will begin as a paid intern doing QA testing for a next-gen launch title.

Fucking spectacular!

Goodbye endless expanse of free time!

Wait a minute . . . shit.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Obsess Much?

, so I've gone a little Half-Life 2 (and all things related) happy.

And as much as I hate to toot my own horn (yeah, right) I would like to direct your attention to a new blog I've started.

It will be filled with speculative meanderings of an HL2 nature.

Basically, it's fanfic.

If you're interested in my take on the war against the Combine (and NOT centered around City 17 with its blasted Citadel) then please take a gander at Coterminous.

Thank you much for indulging me.

One Other Thing

Regarding Warhammer 40K:

The minimap is truly awful. I am constantly disoriented trying to navigate. The close zoom level doesn't help either. I have to sit and stare at that diagonal map (why not just have it as a square?) and try and figure out exactly where my camera is and in which direction it is facing. Inexcusable.

The minimap gets an F+.

Librarians Are Badass

Warhammer 40K has been how I blow off steam lately, both figuratively and literally.

It doesn't reinvent the genre, but it plays with the RTS formula in ways that please me.

I like being able to reinforce units in the field without having to send hastily-built troops across entire maps. I like how the main resource to manage, requisition points, ties into the war theme - it leads me to press the advantage more (and often forces me to pull back from a superior force).

I like terrain considerations and how their effects are relayed to the player in a clear manner. And how pulling back to a more defensible position can save your squad from utter annihilation.

The voice acting is powerful and appropriate. Sure, most of the male characters sound like The Kurgen while the females sound like the Southern Oracle, but that's totally cool with me.

I like the huge walking mechs.

My gripe with the game is that every scenario goes down the same way for me:

1. Barely get my base defense built, grab the closest req points, send my first troops for other nearby nodes.

2. Build turrets like fucking crazy. I put them everywhere, and I put a lot of them everywhere. I thought I was turret-happy in Starcraft, but this game is ridiculous. I actually contemplate assaulting a req point in the heart of the enemy's base, somehow getting my builders in to fortify it and laughing as my turrets tear apart their structures.

3. Wait on requisition points for every little thing. At this point I'm well-defended, but I build troops slow as molasses. If your army isn't fully-upgraded, it's pretty much worthless, so I'm down to building my squads one plasma weapon at a time and watching enemy attacks on my defenses wither under hails of turret fire.

4. Finally get enough fortified requisition points to build my army to full strength. Which means a fairly minor unit cap. Which makes sense, because you are supposed to care about those units as more than mere fodder. Of course, it also means that once I hit my limits on both troops and vehicles (meaning I'm probably fully-upgraded as well) then all my req points and power just build and build.

5. Use my army to stomp my foes into paste. They are cut down by the thunder of my guns. Even if I didn't have uber-powerful weapons to throw against them I'd probably overwhelm them with sheer numbers. Which is cool. By this point, however, I also have at least 20000 of both req points and power and that number keeps climbing to the very end, and nothing at all to do with it but build more turrets. Turrets that I don't need.

This has been the pattern for the seven chapters I've played so far and I expect it to continue.

Four suggested alterations/fixes:

1. Let me use a percentage of my leftover requisition to alter the makeup of my starting army on the next level. Why is it I have to research sergeants each map? Or flamethrowers? These guys are elite? I know this is a genre convention, and I could accept it if they added a least a little continuity.

So let me only upgrade the starting army. If I can afford to fully outfit them, so be it. But then I still have to earn the upgrades for armies I build in the next map. I could deal with that.

2. Make single-player pausable (for all I know it is, but I haven't discovered how) and allow me to mark out routes for troops. This will let me plan out my assaults (and fully use the potential of the Jump ability) instead of simply marching everything I've got in one direction - which works, but makes me feel like I'm an infection vector rather than a field commander.

3. Fix vehicle routes for god's sakes. They are awful. And make sure that if you group vehicles they stay together. I'm tired of watching just one fucking walker rush ahead of all the others and get significantly weakened just because they couldn't hang together. Cohesion, people, cohesion. This is more minor for infantry, but there will still be times when I order a major group to attack a target and only one engages, the other just sticks around in the back staring at their feet. So I'm stuck trying to maneuver them manually (which, with a pausable option, I would enjoy, instead of rushing to twitch-coordinate).

4. Let me sell buildings. Or at least dismantle them. See, sometimes my own turrets will interfere with the movement of my vehicles. The only way I can find to get rid of those structures is attacking and destroying them. This works, yes, but it's also stupid. If I can call huge buildings from orbit I'm pretty sure I can take apart a turret. Or have them fold up into the ground, inactive, so I can get units by, and make a time delay to reactivate them. It's minor, yes, but I had taken half a map and wasted lots of trying to get my vehicles to the front, watching helplessly as the enemy fielded vehicles of their own, before I figured out that the trick was to just blow up my own shit. I don't like making decisions based on the bounding boxes that constrain me at certain points of the battlefield. Just make it so my own vehicles can clip a certain percentage of structures I own. Problem solved.

The other thing that bothers me is not knowing the backstory. It's clear that some parts of this game were made to be accessible to those without the background and other parts were made with fans in mind. So while familiar genre conventions allow me to wreak destruction, I'm often left wondering just what the hell is going on.

Story-wise it's fine, with several different enemies all trying to screw each other over and a relic and big avatars and a clear betrayer in your midst.

But I can't help the feeling that I'm missing a lot. I don't know the Imperium. I pick up a lot from the characters, but in-game there's little to really immerse me in the lore. Maybe some references throughout the levels to famous battles or people. Maybe a knowledgebase that can give me just the skinny or the whole fat enchilada.

Most of the time this wouldn't bother me in an RTS. Knowing that there is a whole lot of extraneous information out there, though, is what unsettles me in this case. Put it simply, I don't like being out of the loop.

When the loop is small, like with new IP, there's a minor amount to learn and I'm more at ease. When I'm in the loop (as with the Jak series), knowing where the characters came from and their adventures as a continuum, the whole thing becomes more enjoyable. When I'm out of the loop, well, I can still enjoy myself, I just want to know more.

And I'll probably delve into some of the reference stuff on WH40K. It seems an interesting place, though its straight-up wargaming roots are, well, on the surface.

Basically, I give the game a split thumb. The levels are good for getting rid of some stress through the effective therapeutic technique of watching cute little Hello Kitty-esque ultraviolent minions slog it out with terrible implements of war. On the other hand, the levels can take a long time to clear and there are a lot of things they should've altered from the RTS formula that they left intact.

Recommended as a brightly-colored, animated, gory stress ball.

Click click click.

Monday, July 11, 2005

It Truly IS Hammer Time

Thinking is hard
. My brain hurts.

Been obsessed with stupid Hammer editor. Have been involved in the crazy world of func_physboxes and brushwork.

Today I spent about seven hours working with func_tracktrain. It makes a train. Simple, right?

Seven fucking hours. But I did it. I made a train that can be called and sent using buttons. Or controlled while on the train itself.

And the thing that really had me stumped for awhile - making an alternate path that could be switched on and off.

Throw the switch. Watch the track section move into place. See the text inform you of which path is active. Now turn the train loose and watch it follow whichever path is active.

Truly astounding.

If anybody's curious, I could write up my notes, possibly make them resemble a tutorial, though I couldn't guarantee utility.

Anyway, that's where I been and what I been doing.

Also playing Warhammer 40K: Dawn of War. Will probably have comments concerning it forthcoming.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

In The News

The next
Tony Hawk game must have this included as a challenge.

Victorianism: Still Rearing It's Prudish Head

ESRB Rating: M for Mature, Possible Ranting, Mild Raving

After reading Greg's post over at Games*Design*Art*Culture (the topic being the GTA: San Andreas hot coffee modification) I admit to being a little peeved. Then I re-read it.

I hate that I agree with Greg on several points. But then, there are some things I disagree with, as well. Balance.

First, the idea that these minigames exist in any versions of San Andreas is questionable. The best info I can find is that some of the content for these minigames exists. How much? Nobody's sure, since the minigames utilize assets already present - CJ, some house interiors, the girlfriend models - and essentially rearrange them into a soft-core rhythm game.

The hot coffee mod itself is, well, it's a modification. By all accounts, one Barton Waterduck discovered unused code in the PS2 version and used memory hacking to suss out the minigame. Of course, we aren't sure exactly what was in this initial unlocking, because the current mod has been drastically altered by modders (anybody want to get the unaltered content and show everybody?). The PC version allowed even more editing. Such editing was necessary in order to get the content to a playable state.

In other words, the original content has been changed. The most I've seen of Rockstar's content would hardly qualify for an MTV reality show. A few later mods show the girlfriend's nipples. Woo. I know that in the US we find a wardrobe malfunction inexcusable, but give me a fucking break.

To actually get the mod to a format that could be considered even mildly pornographic you have to use the hot coffee mod in conjunction with the nude girlfriend mod (which is an end-user hack). And even then don't expect penetration.

I have a feeling that the reason for locking the content away had several justifications. That (1) Americans definitely can't handle shit like this, as is evident even when it isn't included in the game proper (2) rhythm games are boring and there are already too many of them in SA and (3) it adds nothing at all to the tone or story of the game.

In fact, it's possible that Rockstar North, located in Edinburgh, simply didn't see a problem with the content, or that they might try to release it in the European versions and simply lock it for the American version. After all, you can actually see real boobs on TV over there, and, miraculously, their civilization hasn't collapsed.

Greg's suggestion that, if this is the result of a rogue developer, that "Rockstar should dig him out, crucify him, and make a public apology" is, well, ridiculous. Maybe, as I suggested before, they simply didn't think it was a big deal. Maybe they'd tell us to lighten the fuck up and have a, well, whatever they have in Edinburgh. A pint?

I can't find any mention on the ESRB's website concerning the inclusion of content that requires special coding to unlock, since, by most software licenses, such hacking of the code is a violation of the software license.

In other words, the hot coffee mod would barely qualify as an easter egg. It's not reachable through gameplay, or a menu screen or to anybody that doesn't go out of their way to install the damn thing.

If we're trying to say that hidden code that's sexual in nature automatically demands an AO rating . . . I heartily disagree. The American Pie movies had content that's comparable (if not worse) and they were rated R, which according to the MPAA means that those under 17 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian - which is less restrictive than the ESRB rating (which makes no mention of M content being suitable at any time for those under 17).

It certainly isn't a violation of the ESRB contract, so far as I can see.

In fact, on the ESRB's site they state that their ratings "also take into consideration how such content elements are depicted and used in the context of the game." Since the hot coffee mod is not an actual part of the game, any charge that the rating system is flawed is bogus. There is no context for the content (wow, that sounded Johnny Cochran-ish).

The ESRB's president, Patricia Vance, in response to the political fracas, said, "Assemblyman Yee has been on a crusade for years to undermine the integrity of the ESRB, and in so doing, generate support for his legislative agenda. His latest attempt to win political points is to claim, without any legitimate basis, that a game rated for ages 17 and older with explicit content descriptors prominently displayed on every box has been inappropriately rated."

Which leads to the questions - are 17-year-olds (the lowest age of the M-rating) mature enough, assuming they modify the game, to handle horribly simulated software-rendered sex? Do we really want them re-enacting the boring, mechanical way their own parents make love? Should we keep encouraging the rhythm method?

Grand Theft Auto is particularly resistant to modification - they don't release any kind of mapping tools, they lock their file format, basically they expect modders to fend for themselves. And the modders do. So when something like hot coffee comes along, it's because a very competent hacker was able to pull out worthless code and make something out of it.

And, seriously, there is no safe way to protect such content from being hacked. Not in an age where CSI posits pulling conversations off of clay that encoded as the clay spun.

So why didn't Rockstar just delete the little bit they had finished?

Greg makes the assumption that any decent version control system could have done away with the content easily. I see where he's coming from on that, but it begs some questions big time - So Rockstar can't possibly have a bad version control system (never, ever assume that displays of competence automatically exclude incompetence)? That a project so large can't have any trouble managing content? That anytime a AAA title is released that has some useless code or art assets locked away then the company has a bad version control system?

That's a lot to assume. There can be many reasons for locking away content rather than removing it. Maybe removing it causes unexplained errors. Some of the code or content could be re-used elsewhere, so rather than trying to extract just those needed bits it all gets left in. A company honestly just might not have time - small changes can make big bugs. Maybe some of the mechanics for other rhythm games were derived from the hot coffee segments, so it would've been necessary to go line-by-line, recompile and completely re-test.

The point is that there are plenty of possible reasons why the content was left in. And maybe Rockstar did figure that some enterprising hacker might draw out this information and do something with it. So?

What it comes down to is that San Andreas shouldn't be in the hands of children. If we want to argue that 17-year-olds are far too immature to handle some mild adult content, but that an 18th birthday automatically gifts them with wisdom, well . . . please hit your head against the fucking wall (obviously not even my 25th birthday gifted me with wisdom - *sigh* there's always next year).

Because we see no problem with those same 17-year-olds shooting cops and jacking cars. Or hunting down your former friends for betraying you. Or killing deliverymen with an RC airplane.

Of course, this argument goes back to the old sex vs. violence debate.

We Americans, as a whole, are particularly thick-headed about this - we like our violence extreme and our sex repressed.

People make sex dirty; Violence is always dirty, and vicious, and tragic. But somewhere we got our wires crossed. Lucky us.

I personally don't have a problem with depictions of violence. But I do find it particularly stupid that we demonize sex so fanatically while simultaneously allowing more and more blood and gore to get through. Some equity would be welcome.

Where I do agree with Greg is in his estimation of the effect that the hot coffee mod is having on the public image of video gaming. It does encourage the "censorious blue-nosed faux-Democrats" (though I would add in the fanatical far-right fascist fucks) and their political manipulations.

And I can see the reason for his claim that this could've been part of Rockstar's publicity plan. Controversy sells more units. Though it does seem a little roundabout, not to mention belated. San Andreas has already sold a shitload of copies. Stirring the hornet's nest of legislation-happy American politicians is counterproductive.

Still, maybe it's the old "any publicity is good publicity" saw.

So, no, Greg, I respect your opinions immensely, but I don't think Rockstar deserves a bitch-slapping.

The politicians? Yeah, they deserve one.

The prudes that guarantee our media stays soaking in bullets and bloodshed but won't show a bare breast? They deserve a few.

The fanatics that, while shouting their shallow mantra, "We're doing it for the children," want to control the content I have access to? Fuck 'em.

After all, that's what they're most afraid of.

Rant complete. I apologize for my horrible use of prepositions.

Friday, July 08, 2005


I totally forgot
to mention another site for Hammer editing. The tutorials by wisemx are absolutely wonderful.

Clear descriptions coupled with screenshots of the implementations plus the actual sample files!

Top drawer, indeed.

P.S. - Any HL 2 players out there try Garry's Mod, any version? I've tried two different versions and crashed out to errors both times. The concept compels me yet no files have delivered. Bugger all.

Success! Of A Sort.

Inspiration hit me pretty hard yesterday.

I blame the one named Hieronymus over at The Game Chair and this link he(she?) sent me. The link leads to a multi-part site, of which one part details making an Unreal II mod. Well, a map, I suppose, but one with more dialogue variety and NPC behavior than a typical Unreal II map. Everything is well-explained and examples are shown.

So I fired up Hammer and resolved to do something.

Up until yesterday, my proficiency consisted of being able to make a solid and hollow it and paint textures. I've been able to do those things since Worldcraft was released.

I searched and searched for some good tutorials.

For a long time I've been resisting any kind of video tutorials. I like being able to jump back and forth on a page and follow things step-by-step. While, yes, this is possible with video it also takes a light touch sometimes to find the exact place you want.

But I went ahead and got a video tutorial on making rope bridges from Filefront's great archive. While the tutorial narrator has a pretty strong accent to me (welsh? not 100% positive), he is informative and thorough.

I didn't make any rope bridges. But I did find a few other sites that got me going.

Valve's Developer wiki is pretty cool. I don't like the way it's organized, but if there's something specific to search for it's useful. has a good listing and I haven't run into any broken links yet.

The final product of all this?

I made a box-shaped level with a nice skybox*, a big pool of water, a spotlight, a small shack with a usable hinged door, a citizen with RPG launcher, a physics prop car and a Strider.

And it worked great. Popping into the shack, I hear the citizen shout "Strider!" Grabbing my own RPG and some ammo, I open the door to see the poor citizen collapse under that horrible Strider gun. I retreat back into the shack and the door closes.

When I open it again, there's that damn Strider, standing right on his path_corner and squatting down to try and get at me. I run out and head for the water. As the Strider follows it kicks the car hulk around, finally launching it toward me.

Some well-placed RPGs and the monster falls.

Sure, the architecture is ugly and the textures are boring.

But I made it.

*Skybox tutorials suck. Except for the ones concerning 3d skyboxes. But for normal skyboxes, I have yet to find a tutorial that specifies that you must use the texture labeled "skybox" rather than one of the skybox textures (i.e., skybox/sky_03_06) because, well, a skybox is a collection of textures. Then, to set the actual skybox, you go to Map Properties, down the Skybox data and type in which one to use. I know, I'm an idiot. I still feel the difference was never made clear.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Good Show

After a few run-throughs
of Facade, I now feel fit to comment.

I really like reading about the development process. I like hearing the speculation and the promises and the failures and successes. And all of that becomes an even greater joy when the software is finally released and I get to see how it all turned out.

Facade does not disappoint. Well, it didn't disappoint me. In fact, I was impressed.

Surface wonder is one way that games can grab us - the manipulator gun, high-resolution textures, superbly done cell-shading. Eye-dessert is always apparent - have you seen the screenshots for Starship Troopers?

Depth is another way that games can grab us, but the drawback to depth is that it is much more difficult to decide how to use it - tons of cutscenes? hundreds of branching quests? micromanagement?

Facade has a dizzying array of depth and it manages it in a timed context. Brilliant.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005


It can be a difficult thing to bring to the surface those principles in games that I enjoy. That is, elucidating the mechanisms of fun and play seem very easy to feel-in-my-gut but not so easy to analyze. Part of this is due to the sheer amount of different game mechanisms and the way they tie into theme, tone, control, graphics and audio to create that specific game.

A game, for me, has no quidditas, no fundamental substance which determines its game qualities (apologies to classical scholars that might object to my word choice). There are no Platonic Ideals of gamehood from which specific examples of game are derived.

I sometimes realize that I've been a game designer before, when I was a child. That my seemingly-chaotic play would often coalesce into a formalized structure. Although that structure could be incredibly unstable, fluidly changing with a capricious child's dictatorial whim.

In one of my neighborhoods all the kids would gather at the park and play rummy. This became a regular thing, not cemented into schedule but understood. From those countless games we would hack out variations, altering rules to fit our playstyles. Amazingly, we would keep these variations organized in our heads. When the time came to play, we'd say the game was John-rummy, or Todd-rummy or Jake-rummy.

Play can be chaotic or ordered. I used to build grand Lego vehicles and then destroy them in a manner befitting their blockish hubris. This was the rule for my creations: You may live, for a time, and then you must be demolished to your individual components. A game?

Play is not always a game. A game is always play.

Let me state that differently. Play does not seem to always fall within a game structure. A game seems to always involve some kind of play.

Forgive me if I end up repeating things uttered by artists for centuries.

How does one design a game?

Have an idea.

Yes, that always seems the first step, for really almost anything. Possibly anything at all. Need to get across the room? Have an idea of crossing it first.

I like to look around and find some kind of real-life process and think of how to model that in a game. Maybe washing dishes, which I hate. How would I formalize a dish-washing method? What risks and rewards are inherent in this system? What kinds of sticks and carrots can be added? What kind of time system should be utilized?

And, of course, finally, does this work as a game? If it can function as a game, should it?

I find that much of my time nowadays is spent playing games and looking at the systems of those games and not nearly enough time in simple play, devising my own systems and creating my own games.

A motivated designer might analyze every type of game imaginable for ideas of what to do and what not to do - and while some seemingly-awkward mechanics will be transmitted to future games, others will be purposefully rejected.

A dedicated designer should design; I am guilty of oft-ignoring that simple advice.

I can't say I've codified my own set of design guidelines. Maybe it's something that happens ex post facto, when you lay in the sweaty aftermath of finally finishing your game, and you look over the wreckage you made of your life and sanity, and you wonder, "Why was I so compelled to make this thing? What about its specific methods and intricacies and mechanisms so fascinated me that I willingly fine-tuned them to satisfaction? By what agency did those mechanisms provide joy in their unfurlings?"

Then you start writing a lot of nonsense that lends some small order to the chaos of gaming. And simultaneously contributes to that chaos. Ah, the grand contradiction of critical analysis.

Yes, yes, I have argued here before on the utility of having a shared critical language of game design. I'm not going to backpedal - such a language might be immensely useful for development teams to share information, for worldwide mod-projects linked only by e-mail to adequately describe their goals (to team members and web surfers), for analysts to develop an actual process of criticism, even for review sites to talk of common elements instead of just associating genres that might be largely inconsequential.

But we don't need that language.

Gamers have a language, it's just couched in the trappings of specifics. The outer layer is still surrounding the inner concepts and this can be just as useful for analysis. How have the mechanics of Mario been carried over to each successive generation? How have they been altered?

I'm often more concerned, not with what a game asks you to do, but with how well it implements doing those things.

Criticism can smack of elitism. Explaining how Citizen Kane artfully arranges its narrative and how the direction heralded a creative revolution in film can be difficult to convey. Simpler to just mandate appreciation and damn those that question.

We tie our own likes so much with what we can appreciate that often appreciation equates to like - thus another's dislike can damage our ego because it seems to strike at our reason. Our own logic is always the best.

The structure of games can lead designers to think of them as ordered systems. An ordered system can be analyzed and optimized. "There is a formula for making a successful game, if only it could be found." Yeah, right.

I don't think there are any perfect games. Only perfect moments in games, where whatever they are meant to accomplish goes off completely without a hitch. Maybe that's complete immersion for the player, or bringing forth that feeling of accomplishment, or influencing an opinion, or creating decisions with impact. Or all of those.

When such a thing happens . . . well, it's those moments that sweeten the endeavor.

Those moments happen when I play guitar, too. When my fumbling fingers seek the groove and I forget the circle of fifths and I no longer count out the rhythm or worry about notes or scales and things just click.