Friday, November 25, 2005

I Need Some Spats

with The Movies has been a joy.

It requires patience, large amounts of it -- it is not so much directing as it is remixing, so you must have the mindset of a DJ poring over samples, cutting and splicing and tweaking until everything is just so.

Some people might be disappointed to find that Sandbox mode doesn't even unlock everything, you still have to build up your studio and play the game -- though with considerable help. While I too would have liked all the moviemaking options laid out for me, I also find it fascinating to think of all the content that remains for me to discover.

And there is a lot of content.

What follows is a short-term wishlist:

1. Detailed light placement and color picker.

2. The ability to lay out routes for dolly shots and camera panning.

3. Freeze frames in postproduction.

I made a small film to celebrate my two-year wedding anniversary. I'm sure my wife wouldn't mind me sharing it (since it's uploaded on a public web page anyway).

Here you go.

And while it might still be debated by some whether or not videogames can make a person cry, I now know firsthand that things created with the aid of a videogame can turn on the waterworks.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Talk About a Trial

I decided to give
the Star Wars: Galaxies Free Trial a go, because I'm a sucker and learned nothing from my initial experience with the game.

The installer works on a strange system whereby it puts up a completely arbitrary set of numbers to represent the time remaining to download -- and then those numbers increase at a steady rate.

I think at one point it told me that the download would finish a short time following the heat-death of the Universe.

I'm assuming that they are sending the information by way of a trail of ants marching their way through the modem cable, each ant carrying an orgone imprint of a 1 or 0 -- upon reaching my end, the ants self-immolate, the moment of their deaths transmitting the information encoded upon them through the ether, captured and translated into electrical signals by some type of Reichian collector.

Oh, and by the way: 200th post!

Friday, November 18, 2005

Here Today, Gun Tomorrow


Far too short. The gameplay is narrow, but with a wide view.

When you make a large world designed with freedom and choices in mind, it's important to remember to fill that world with lots of interesting activities that actually contribute to freedom and choices.

It doesn't take very long, after you've learned the ropes, to find that there is simply nothing at all to do other than a few repetitive sidequests or advancing the plot.

There's no dynamic to the game, no feeling of making an impact outside of the fixed storyline. The cities feel like facades from a spaghetti western. The countryside has tumbleweeds, grazing buffalo and not much else.

The weapon mechanics are slick and friendly, but there are few situations where weapon choice takes on any significance. It's usually enough to plug away with whatever you've got, every now and then dropping into the (apparently now a requirement in every game*) slo-mo system to plug the bad guys with your pistol(s).

You can scalp enemies. This serves no purpose whatsoever and is not tracked. Do it often if you like repeating activities that have no impact on the game.

The story itself is engaging, but it zips along. There's never a moment where a segment doesn't feel rushed. The characters don't get fully fleshed out and they aren't expressive enough to develop much attachment to them. The voice acting is great, though, and helps a bit, but the body language is a canned loop that is absolutely laughable.**

I feel this game should come with a label: Warning! This game contains a cheap end-boss fight that will be so stupidly frustrating that not beating it won't impact your self-esteem.

Here are a few things I would have liked to see:
--An American Bison stampede
--A herd of Mustangs
--A detailed duel system
--The ability to swim
--A barfight - which would also mean hands & fists combat
--Buildings that had some purpose
--Stagecoach/train robberies
--Cattle rustling
--Claim jumping!

*As dictacted by the Bullet Time Act of 2005

**Why, oh why does everyone do that stupid fucking shrug when they've finished talking? Way to recycle the 'lame skater punk' mocap data, Neversoft.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

An Aside

My television show
standards are not very high.

But how is it that not one fucking show can refrain from using a variant of the phrase, "I'm feeling nauseous."

Just once, only once, I'd like to find out a script writer remembers that nauseating is still a word.

Check out and read the usage note.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Twelve Steppers and Teetotallers

Allow me
, an authority on absolutely nothing whatsoever, to get the word out:

Video games are not addictive.

It can be difficult to change from thinking "things are addictive" to "people exhibit self-destructive feedback loops in reaction to different stimuli."

It's much easier to endow objects with a mystifying quality than to take on more responsibility for our actions than we may desire.

We blame the games, like we blame the drugs, like we blame everything but ourselves.

[Note: The following website, MAVAV, is a confirmed hoax, as pointed out by Allen Varney. I'm leaving the paragraphs they way they originally appeared, even though I was duped. A clever hoax has sturdy legs -- just ask HL Mencken.]

Just look at Mothers Against Videogame Addiction and Violence, filled with unverified claims, black-or-white thinking and sensationalism. For example, their definition of an MMORPG:

"Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPG) is a digital escape from the real world for emotionally unhealthy and mentally unstable people. It is a place for computer enthusiasts and social outcasts to gather un-bothered and un-harassed by the realities of real life."

Notice the demeaning tone and the core assumption that MMORPGs are a harmful activity. Seems a pretty strong claim considering that MMOs capture an ever-growing world market that is at the least in the tens of millions. I would say that being an ignorant demagogue is a delusional escape from actual logic for emotionally manipulative and mentally questionable people.

You could also take a look at The Daedalus Project, which strives to collect data from actual players. Taking a look at their model of player motivations shows an issue more complex than the alarmists would allow.

Our brains are addicting machines. They create connections, compulsions, responses, tendencies, habits, and patterns, all of which are reflected in our behavior. Combine the chemicals that sort conceptual data with those that trigger somatic responses and complex behaviors emerge.

Specific interactions may react more forcefully inside certain people, fulfilling mental/chemical needs with such efficacy that attempts to interrupt or cease the behavior results in physical/mental distress.

Chemicals don't decide our fates anymore than those experiences which trigger those chemicals. The tricky part is that there could be no discernible difference between physical and mental addiction, other than the type and magnitude of chemicals involved.

Can it be difficult to break a cycle of dependency? It can be grueling.

There is a rat. When this rat presses a button it triggers a release of endorphins in its brain. There is a surge as the neurotransmitter floods all available receptors, then a lessening of the effect as it is drawn back into the cycle. The stimulation of the receptors may lead to an increase in the number of those receptors. The next time the button is pressed more of the neurotransmitter may be required. Why does the rat push the button over and over until he starves?

There is a girl. When she presses a button, images flash and she watches the screen react to her input. Dopamine floods her receptors. This is a pleasurable experience. So she continues to push the button, neglecting friends and family. She craves that dopamine rush.

There is an NPC. This NPC has been programmed to open a door. The door is locked. The NPC has no key. The NPC tries to open the door. The door is locked. The NPC tries to open the door. Until an instruction arrives to supersede that instruction, the NPC will continue to try to open the door.

Do we blame the chemicals? Do we blame the activity which triggered them? Should we?

Maybe it's just poor programming.

All those sad sacks in AA, are they all alcoholics? What about the ones that have been sober for 10 years?

The first step is to admit that you were powerless. The admission you must make from that moment forward is that you are an addict. You must never say you were an addict. By always framing yourself as an addict, you attempt to prevent the insidious little thought: "But all that bad stuff was in the past. What's one little drink?"

This is how magic works. Or you could call it Will to Power. Or adjusting your self-image. Or empowerment.

I would discuss metaprogramming, but Leary, Lilly and others have done the job wonderfully.

The governments of the world can pass all kinds of legislation designed to (ostensibly) protect citizens from their own desire-run-amok, but that won't stop addiction.

If you have to, if you absolutely must, keep pressing the buttons, even as the hours or days slip away and you stop eating, even as your friends leave and your family frets and you dig that hole deeper, ever deeper, until you've guaranteed that escape would be nearly impossible, then your problem can't be solved by laws or social outcry or demagogues.

Eventually, if you've recognized your problem and are willing to seek help, then there's only one button left to press.

The power button.

We have done an outstanding job with our myriad cultural inventions to fulfill the manifestations of our hidden chemical needs. And when those needs run away from us we do an even better job of shifting the blame.

A videogame can't make you a killer; You first have to be willing to kill.

A videogame can't make you cry; You first have to be willing to cry.

A videogame can't make you play.

Supplemental Anecdote

In twelfth grade I gave a report in my Anatomy and Physiology class. The name of the study I was discussing is now lost to time, but I clearly remember the subject and the resulting confusion it created.

The topic was the Alcoholism gene and its implications.

Of course, hands were raised and the question that came out again and again: "So if you have this gene you're going to be an alcoholic?"

"No, no, no." I'd shake my head and try to explain. "You see. If you have this gene it is possible that with the correct circumstances that the ingestion of alcohol could set off certain cascade reactions that would lead to a feedback loop encouraging the continued ingestion of alcohol. Addiction would include not just repetition of the behavior but intense withdrawal symptom following any attempts to stop the behavior."

This was not exactly an easy-to-float concept, even in that class. "So this gene makes you an alcoholic?"

Sigh. "No. Consuming alcohol to an extent where it begins to negatively impact your life and subverts your patterns of behavior that allow you to function -- where the consumption is near-impossible to moderate -- that makes you an alcoholic. The behavior goes hand in hand with different cycles of chemical dependence."

"So, like, no matter what, if you have this gene you're an alcoholic?"

"Oh god, how do I explain this. If you have this gene and drink alcohol, there's a significant chance that you may develop behavioral patterns consistent with addiction -- at least compared to samples of persons that lack this gene. If you never drink, you'll never become an alcoholic. Ever. And actually, you could have this gene and drink alcohol and never fall into a pattern of alcoholic behavior. It just depends on a lot of other factors."

Blank looks.

I'm still trying to get a handle on the subject myself.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Favorite Language, Blue

to Majcher, for sending me a link on IGDA forums that had a minor little back-and-forth on my Warren Spector post.

Most surprising, to me, was this little nugget, from arsagano:

"How you present an argument is more important, if not drastically so, than the argument itself. Since I couldn't finish the article, I have no idea if his points were valid or not. When you attempt to debate using such harsh language you completely undermine your viewpoint."

The saddest thing, to me, about such a statement is that the author will probably never experience Bukowski, or Hunter S. Thompson, or Chuck Palahniuk.

They'll probably never give a chance to certain types of music simply because they use vocabulary in a manner they find distasteful. And they'll ignore the many excellent movies that have employed vulgarity.

I don't think I undermine my viewpoint by using harsh language, because my viewpoint includes harsh language.

The presentation is more important than the message? Did I miss a memo? Or is this some kind of extension of the videogame industry's fixation on graphics over gameplay?

Here's gametitan:

"I couldnt get past the harsh language, just seemed to juvenile.Warren's post was well written and mature from a developer with a praised career. Countering that with something that is juvenile just makes Warren's case more stronger."

I would have rather had some discussion of, oh, my content rather than the window dressing. As it is, disparaging my post (and not reading it) over some potty mouth makes me wonder, then, gametitan: What's your point?

You didn't read the post and then you cite the presence of a few curse words in order to label the whole thing too juvenile.

What really bothers me when people dismiss ideas whole cloth simply because of "bad" words (and when they use their dismissal as grounds to call the work childish) is the implication that when I use profanity it's reflexive; As if I were not aware whatsoever of my word choices and the reactions that some people might have toward them.

Believe me, I'm aware.

I have a dream . . . that in the future my words will be judged, not by their content, but by whether or not I use harsh language.

Anyway, thought this was an interesting little aside.

Now I'm going to wait for the inevitable comment that suggests I'm far too sensitive and shouldn't post on the Internet and so on.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

A Spector Hangs Over Us

Reported already
, but thought I'd chime in.

Warren Spector waxes nonsensical.

"At this point, GTA is the ultimate urban thuggery simulation, and you can't take a step back from that. But I sure wish they would apply the same level of design genius to something we really could show enriches the culture instead of debases it."

Ah, yes, enriching culture. Also know as empty term.

See, I was raised not knowing what the fuck 'enriched' our culture or not. I was taught to make my own judgments concerning what culture I consumed and not bother with trying to figure out what was best for someone else, what might possibly advance humanity. With, naturally, the influence of my fucking parents (you can tell they did a good job).

Culture doesn't enrich or debase. Anybody heard the one about the guy that butchered his father, fucked his mother then gouged out his eyeballs? A classic.

I don't want to read too much into Mr. Spector's words. I admire his work in the videogame industry. But that phrase "urban thuggery" just comes off a little teensy-bit . . . oh, elitist. So, like, conspiracy theory-based thuggery good, urban thuggery bad?

"And as we're seeing, they're feeling threatened. And that's not something I think we can afford to ignore."

We can't ignore them, see, so we must give in to their demands to ensure that everything will be communicated to us at a fourth grade level. Or we could politely listen to them, educate them on the measures in place to inform consumers and thank them for being so understanding. As if.

"They don't understand why their son is barricading himself in his room killing demons all day. And they don't understand why their daughter, instead of playing with Barbies which is something they understand, is instead raising families of little virtual electronic people."

First off, get this: Boys play violent games and girls like The Sims. That's another nitpick, but it shows that even famous developer-types still hold onto stereotypes like a dog with an old sock.
I'm wondering if these hypothetical parents have bothered to talk to their hypothetical children about why their children choose to play such games. You know, that whole communication "thing" that was so popular back before we blamed everything on media (back before never, in other words).

"They don't get it. And people blame and fear what they don't understand," he added.

And we must placate them. Placate them by any means possible. Or we could do that other words that ends with -cate. Educate.

Oh, and the particularly nasty ones we can just tell to go fuck themselves. Those types tend to burst into flames upon hearing naughty words.

Spector finished by calling for the industry to create games that are more than "mindless pathetic killfests," games that show players the consequences of their actions and evoke emotions. He said that "right now pretty much all we [game makers] offer is a cheap adrenalin rush."

Yes, yes, make a call for more creativity by disparaging all that has come before. That always works so well. I want to pull out as much meaning from the last few statements as I possibly can. Keep in mind this is going to reek of assumptions. Deal.

1. All games made to date have been mindless pathetic killfests. Which means not only are you all idiots, but you're also pathetic. Especially if you played Deus Ex (I get hit twice, since I also played the sequel - doubly pathetic).

2. No game has ever showed anyone the consequences of their actions. So when you ate the power pellet in Pac-Man you only thought it allowed you to go after the Ghosts. And when you shot all those people in GTA, it was your imagination that there was an escalating system whereby law enforcement personnel would attempt to prevent your forward progress.

3. Games have never evoked emotions. Ever. Nope, won't even entertain the notion. We'll tell you shitheads when games have evoked emotions, yes sir.

4. Mr. Spector has never thought of games as anything other than cheap adrenalin rushes; Ergo, games have never been anything other than cheap adrenalin rushes. I know, he said 'pretty much' so there's a little wiggle room. Good show.

"I do think that a lot of the games we make lead to a coarsening of our culture. And I think that inevitably leads to government and judicial intervention. And that means eventual cultural irrelevance."

Coarsening of culture is always the first cry of dickheads that find themselves and what they say growing increasingly irrelevant. That's my guess, at least. Can't wait till I can join my voice to that bullshit party line.

Mostly what his statements seem to boil down to is the lovely battle cry of the industry folks that see dollar signs in them thar hills (them hills being the Hollywood system and traditional Big Media) and are worried of pushing envelopes too far before they've managed to carve out their own niche.

That battle cry, as I've mentioned before, is the delightfully cognitive dissonance-causing "We must preemptively censor ourselves so that the government does not censor us; Only by not doing anything potentially offensive can we ensure that freedom of expression is protected."

Absolute horseshit.

As for cultural irrelevance, yeah, sure, I buy that.

After all, look at what happened to books . . . and movies . . . and music . . . and comicbooks . . . and the Internet . . .

Friday, November 04, 2005


Books, you fools!

"Software giant Microsoft Corp. said Friday it has signed a deal to scan and put online 100,000 books from the British Library."

So, there's that.

Then there's Google Print. Somewhat controversial (it's a copyright thang) but nevertheless moving forward.

And I discovered how to check out e-books using my county library card.

It's like the world suddenly remembered that reading's not so bad. And they're making it really damn easy for those of us with librophilia (assuming that's a word) to slake at least some of our lust.

Though speaking as someone who is in dire need of at least three or four more bookshelves, I'm sure I will continue, with the help of the spouse, to acquire more and more analog texts. It's almost a sickness, at this point.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005


Crunch time

Know this much, ye who seek employ at a videogame development company: You will inevitably be called upon to sacrifice many, many hours in order to provide the masses with digital interactive distractions. Forget your aches and pains, forget your extended commute, forget all matters of body and mind.

This is not a complaint, but a warning. Not even much of a warning, more like a heads-up.

Be prepared.