Friday, March 25, 2011

65. bioware vs. homophobia

today we're talking about dragon age 2, the latest from bioware.  like most games in the rpg genre it shares, players have choices outside of the main storyline in what they want to do, and how they want to do it - side quests, extra items, bonus content and the like.  a lot of times games take the custom factor further, and like da2 allow users to customize the appearance of either a male or female protagonist for their journeys.  the first dragon age (dragon age origins) had all of these elements with a slight twist - they had a romance component of the game based on how you interacted with the other characters, ultimately leading to romantic encounters with the one you have an affinity for.  now this idea's not completely new - the mass effect games (also bioware's) have a romance portion as well.  even back in the late 90's final fantasy vii had a system where cloud would end up on a date with aeris, tifa, yuffie or barrett during a scene at the gold saucer.  granted, the "date" with barrett is more awkward bro time than romance but the point is that the system was in place.  where dragon age differed was that your character could, if desired, have a romance with a character of the same sex, which brought both wrath and praise following the revelation of a possible gay male love scene with zevran the assassin.  i thought it was a good idea - because guess what?  people aren't all straight males aged 18-35.  in an industry where developers almost pander to their audience with sometimes ridiculously proportioned female characters and cater to every kind of straight male fanservice (no one even blinked at the thought of a female character having a relationship with leliana the bard), it was about time that they take a look at society and at make an effort to include their entire player base.  that player base, in fact, not all being the same person.

bioware used the same romance structure in dragon age 2, and after talking a look at their social forums, it's unfortunate to see that some people are holding onto, shall we say, less than progressive social views.  the prime example comes from a poster going by the name of bastal, who posts with the heading "bioware neglected their main demographic: straight males."  he claims that (and i'm sure this is accurate) that the "overwhelming majority of RPG gamers are indeed straight and male."  he goes on in what can only be described as an eloquent passage of anti-wisdom:
"i'll be generous and assume that 5% of dragon age 2 players are homosexuals.  i'll be even more generous and assume that the anders romance was liked by every homosexual.  are you telling me you could not have written another straight romance that would have pleased more than 5% of your fans?"
an amazing analysis by a sharp mind, i know, but it's clear to see that eloquence doesn't always preclude ignorance.  in other parts of the post he talks about how easy it could be to add a "no homosexuality" option to the game to allow da2 players homophobes to play through the story without feeling yucky.  please, read the whole thing, it's magical.  the crux of his argument really becomes "but every other bioware game caters to me and how i live - and i'm selfish enough that i can only enjoy a game that caters only to me and people like me exclusively."  sir, just because you're polite doesn't mean i share your vision.  i'm sure many of "our" demographic don't either.

but how is he and his straight male justice force being neglected?  i could fire up the game right now, start up a male character, and still use the romance system to woo me a bonny lass.  no one's being neglected.  that's like saying  that even though a lot of women played the game bioware should make double sure that i, their "primary target," the straight male,  am happy.  oh... wait yeah he did say that too.

it was all enough for da2's lead writer david gaider to step into the forums and regulate.  he goes on to say alot, but it can all be captured in the beginning of his reply:  "the romances in the game are not for 'the straight male gamer'. they're for everyone. we have a lot of fans, many of whom are neither straight nor male, and they deserve no less attention."  gaider went on to say a lot more about privilege and the majority, politely calling this guy an asshat, which you can see from the same links to the forum throughout this post.

this guy doesn't represent the straight male gamer.  i'm actually more than a little upset that there is a demographic cleavage that he and i share.  so i'll close with david gaider's words, because i really can't come up with better:  "the person who says that the only way to please them is to restrict options for others is, if you ask me, the one who deserves it least.  and that's my opinion, expressed as politely as possible."

bioware social forum post here
dragon age 2 official site here
originally via joystiq

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

64. goodbye 28-day wait to rent a new movie, hello zediva. and thank you, copyright loophole.

the idea of being able to stream movies and television over high speed broadband connections is wonderful, especially when there's so many sources to access it from.  now you buy streams for single episodes, complete television seasons and moves from hulu, itunes, amazon and netflix's online servics among many other sites that provide similar service.  now i'm sure you could just download it from a newsgroup if you really wanted, but people that play it legit pay to watch, because there's always those pesky copyrights to worry about, breaking laws, ridiculous lawsuits and blah bloopity blah blaaaaaaah.  but the problem is that you always have to wait - up to 28 days because movie studios impose limits on these services.  so you can't rent a new dvd until it's been on the shelves for sale for a while.  weakness, i know. but one new site is trying to fill that 28-day gap, and says that they've found a way to be able to do it, for as low as $0.99 per rental, without the imposed wait period, and wait for it...

completely legally.  no jolly roger or eyepatch required.  welcome to zediva.

and they've found an extremely novel way to do it.  it all hinges on the concept of the first-sale doctrine (title 17 - §106 and §109 should suffice ), which goes all the way back to 1908.  the first-sale doctrine puts limits on the absolute power of a copyright, saying that someone who legally purchased a legally produced copy of copyrighted material is allowed to sell, lend or give away that copy once they've gotten their hands on it (i mean otherwise ebay wouldn't really be able to exist now would it?).  while that's what allowed brick-and-mortar video rental to operate, netflix and companies of its ilk don't operate that way - they rent you a license to watch a streamed movie.  and while you're watching it, other people can stream it too - there's no such thing as a "copy" really.  old places like blockbuster and hollywood video used to actually own copies of the movies - where if there's one copy of a movie left, and customer 1 grabs it, customer 2 can't get it.  because there's a limited number of copies.

zediva uses that old brick and mortar model and brings it up to speed for our digital lives - they've actually bought copies of these dvd's, not licenses to share. so since they own copies, by the first-sale doctrine they don't have to wait 28 days to let users rent them.  their servers actually have dvd drives in them using physical disc media instead of using digital files, and when you order a movie, they pop it in, and stream it right to your computer.  so what you're actually renting is a physical disc and a dvd player.  genius.  zediva founder venky srinivasan explains the logic behind the service -  "it seems like a completely reasonable thing for people to do, and that’s how it started."  he was trying to find a way around his frustration trying to watch new release movies while travelling when the idea hit him.

otherwise, what you're watching works like a regular dvd with player controls, even subtitles in multiple languages if you want them.  you can take a break and watch it later for a period of 2 weeks.  even if your wifi signal is low and you don't have full connection, zediva will automatically adjust bitrate for the stream to make sure you're not getting hiccups in playback.  they're kicking off with about 100 titles, but there is still that one downside of operating like an old brick-and-mortar rental business - there's the possibility that the movie you want to rent will be temporarily sold out.

so sure, they may be doing it because they think a 28 day wait is ridiculous, but their attitude is that they want hollywood to see them as a customer, not a lawsuit target.

check them out at for more details.

united states copyright office 

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

63. mobile casual vs console - those birds may be angry but they don't know everything

what is a "casual game?"  the term has been around for a while, so it does actively differentiate itself from what could be considered a "standard" game.  i guess.  to me it means games that aren't as in-depth or involved as a standard game on a console or PC, but still retain that short-term fun factor.  so as an example, final fantasy VII - not a casual game.  farmville - yes, a casual game.  we've seen casual gaming build up a lot of steam over the last couple of years, with either positive or negative affects on your psyche, i'm sure.  how many of you have seen farmville notices from your friends polluting your facebook feeds or someone requesting that you help them in their mafia war?  too many, i would gather.  stop messaging me people, i don't care that a cow wandered off of your damn farm.  learn to be a better farmer. casual gaming isn't restricted to facebook or social networks though, of course - i myself have been known to play a number of games on kongregate and test my gelatinous architecting skills in world of goo.  all very fun, but i'm not doing stat calculations in the back of my head or trying to figure out what the increased damage output on a new weapon would be like in world of warcraft.  i'm just chilling.

mobile platforms really made the difference though.  games in the "casual" category generally don't require fast processors or high-end video cards, so mobile makes a lot of sense for publishing.  not only does it have the low-end chops to make it happen, but the market is much larger - pretty much everyone has a cell phone these days with an increasing number of them being smartphones, while not everyone has a console system or pimped out gaming rig.  so now we have apple's app store and the android market filled to the brim with these casual games as apps, from anywhere to free (on android anyway) to $0.99 to a few bucks for a download.  these include stuff like fruit ninja, doodle jump, and of course, angry birds.

angry birds took flight as an extremely popular casual game on both the apple and android platforms.  free on android and $0.99 on apple, the game flew by the 100 million download mark, which is for lack of a better phrase, impressive as hell for pretty much any software.  but that seems to have given game developer rovio just a bit of a hubristic tone in some of the statements he's recently been making.  recently at the SXSW conference in austin TX, peter vesterbacka, "great eagle" at rovio, argued that console games are "dying" in the face of the growing gaming market.  he went on to say that the model of $40-$60 per game that are difficult to upgrade simply doesn't work anymore, and more than implied that big budget console games are stagnant and lack any new innovation, leaving mobile casual games as the way.  of course i think his opinion maaaaaay have been slightly biased being the head of rovio.  maybe just a bit.

which i can sort of understand on some level.  console game budgets rival those of hollywood blockbusters (example: final fantasy xii was $48 million and it's small compared to others), and the sheer amount of capital investment means that large studios sometimes do play it safe in big projects.  but i think i speak for most people here when i say that doesn't mean that i'm always going to prefer a cheap mobile game over console.  if i'm in my living room, and i have my droid x sitting in my pocket, a ps3 and an xbox 360 hooked up to my tv, and a laptop nearby, chances are i'm not pulling out the phone and firing up angry birds.  9 times out of 10 if i'm not already playing world of warcraft i'll be clicking on one of the consoles.  hell, most of the time i'd click on a ps2 over a mobile game in this scenario.  if i'm lounging at the house, i want something complex.  something with some depth.  something that will look good 46" large.  not a pocket game on my phone, and probably not a mini game off of PSN or xbox live.  for me and presumably "my type" of gamer, that's just how we prefer things.  the casual mobile games or downloadable console mini games appeal to players that like games the way they used to be in the early 90's and earlier - short, sweet and to the point.

but i'm not always home in front of my tv or laptop.  sometimes i'm in a waiting room at the doctor's, or on a train or short flight.  then i'll definitely break out the phone for something casual like angry birds.  it is a fun game, and i'm not trying to knock it at all, but to me it serves as more of a short term diversion than anything else.  and to be honest reminds me of catapult games from kongregate.  just with birds.

Friday, March 11, 2011

62. technology does what it can for the land of the rising sun

no silly image or cheesy tagline for this one, as it can't really apply today.  as you all probably know by now, early this morning, a devastating earthquake registering at an 8.9 on the richter scale struck the island nation of japan roughly 200 miles from the city of tokyo.  this was the most powerful earthquake to hit the land of the rising sun in over 100 years, killing hundreds, uprooting thousands, and delivering widespread damage as far as 6 miles inland from the country's eastern coastline.  there was even a threat of a nuclear emergency at an atomic power plant north of tokyo, the quake downing plant cooling systems, causing an additional evacuation of all residents within 3 km of the plant.  the quake caused a twofold problem - not only was there the structural damage - the nuclear problem mentioned, collapsed buildings and power loss, but since the epicenter of the earthquake was in the water, it also spun off massive tsunamis hitting the japanese coast and even radiating outward towards hawaii and the western US coast.  according to shenza chen of the US geological survey, an earthquake of that magnitude in shallow water (shallow here being about 15 miles deep) creates an extremely large amount of energy, driving the tsunami across the pacific.

residents in hawaii were evacuated from the coastlines as a precautionary measure against potential damage caused by the waves.  there were reports of 7 foot high waves in maui, with lower reports of 4.3 in hilo and 2.2 in honolulu.  for those that may think that 7 foot high waves aren't really that bad, you need to understand that these aren't ordinary waves - they have far more power behind them and enough force to push water inland.  tsunami warnings remained in effect until after 11AM eastern time.  after last year's chilean earthquake, officials decided to play it a little safer.  just to put things into perspective on how powerful this earthquake and the associated waves were, hawaii is almost 7,000 miles away from the epicenter of the earthquake, and hawaiian harbors still felt it.  harbors on the western US coast saw enough power in the water to knock boats loose from their moorings.

amid this type of chaos, a lack of communication can easily amplify these problems by a great degree.  with infrastructure damage it's always possible that networks and phone lines may be down, so firing off a text or email to loved ones saying "i'm ok" may be out of the question.  i know from my own experience that even proximity to an event can drive a family member to mania if they don't hear anything.  something as simple as a person being out of touch can lead to fear and hysteria in those who worry about them, who in an event of this magnitude could have little idea or awareness as to whether or not a loved one is even alive.  in this situation, technology has stepped in to try to help out, and open some lines of communication.

google has published their person finder, available in different languages, that allows people to enter the name of a person to either search for any information on them or post any new information about them.  the service is completely user driven, so people have to contribute for the tool to be of any use, but so far (as of 1:41pm eastern) there are roughly 7200 records.  it also provides a single point for other disaster notification services from japanese companies.  google also used this application after the christschurch earthquake in february.  a japenese developer published something similar with the ushahidi crisis platform (in japanese).  this is separate from their crisis response center, which provides users with relevant maps, emergency numbers and links to other services for further information.  news outlets like CNN are providing constant coverage and updates, liveblogs and eyewitness accounts, and there are a myriad of other tools and tech online aimed to help, educate and illustrate the scope of what's happening.

social media has also been buzzing throughout the ordeal - the hawaiian red cross has been constantly updating their feed on twitter (@hawaiiredcross), providing information, news and video.  earlier this morning individual users were seding tweets to wake people up on the west coast if they don't already know about the tsunami warnings.  facebook group pages have appeared earlier today to provide information and spread the word about what's going on while individual users are posting information and well wishes through their walls.  internet communities and our state of communications technology have definitely helped in a number of ways.

this doesn't even go into how technology helped from the very start, in the form of japan's early earthquake warning system.  this warning system senses the first shockwave and sends messages to TV and radio stations, news outlets and even cell phones.  unfortunately for those close to the epicenter, the warning may not have made it in time, but to people further out, it could have made a world of difference.

of course technology can only go so far and help so much.  all we can hope for now is for a minimized loss of life and a steady road to recovery.

popular science
wall street journal

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

61. ... yeah this guy does not represent us

gamers in general that is.  i'm just waiting for someone to use this story to fuel the fire for a "violent gamers story."  "this just in, guns don't make criminals, controllers do!  story at 11."

dramatic pre-creation.  image from gamesradar
i know a lot of people that use video games not just for fun but as some form of therapeutic activity.  that could either be some casual gaming to unwind after a long day at work or logging on and playing some call of duty to blow off some steam.  and there's nothing wrong with that - the game is played, the user feels better and we all move on.  but that's not how it always goes down. some game content is frustrating - difficulty levels and/or awkward game mechanics can cause a player a bit of anger in the process.  it could be anything from not being able to down a boss to the way a camera pans across the scene that irks one's ire.

quick example - street fighter 4 was such a game (for me, anyway).  and that was 100% because of the comeback mechanics.  when you get owned in a round, you get (pretty much) rewarded with an "ultra combo" desperation move that hits extremely hard.  i found it unbelievably irritating that i could be beating someone for the majority of a match while retaining most of my health just to be dropped to next to nothing with an ultra combo and ultimately lose thanks to a couple of lucky strikes.  it was extremely frustrating - my body temperature went up, i would start speaking in tongues and i could even feel that vein throbbing in my forehead that so many cartoons and anime like to draw.  while it could make for an interesting match between two players of equal skill, i felt that the mechanic rewarded the weak and the unskilled with a cheap shot to level the playing field.  luckily i have some self control - the controller didn't go through my television or across the room.  it was put down on my coffee table, and picked up again when i removed the sf4 disc and loaded up tiger woods pga tour instead.

and that's really the way to deal with game rage - if you actually start to get angry playing a game, the game becomes work, and a source of fun is replaced with a source of stress.  so just put the controller down, pick a different game, browse the interwebs.  or just go outside.  use some sunscreen if you haven't been in a while.

there are of course people who would strongly disagree with my methods - recently in fact there's one kenichi moriai in yashio city, japan. this man's method of dealing with game stress was to run around town and bend the windshield wipers on eight (8) freight trucks in late january.  granted, the damage was only about $2000, but what's important here is that he made a destructive little jump from verbal venting to, shall we say, illegal augmentation of physical property?  what is additionally strange is that these 8 trucks are only part of a windshield wiper bending spree (i know, right?) in yashio and the neighboring soka city where over 100 incidents of bent or broken windshield wipers.

but why?  what game could have driven him to this?  according to kotaku and the mainichi shimbun, when asked by authorities, moriai simply answered "i was sick of playing fighting games."  this vandalism became a game to him, and supposedly provided him the enjoyment he normally gets from gaming.  he also claimed to have done much more than just this, and is suspected in a fire extinguisher theft in his apartment building.  the man is 31 and unemployed, but it looks like he's going to have bigger problems to deal with.  so what conclusions can be drawn here?  are video games a crime deterrent?  does life imitates art?

nah, this guy was just a little too close to the fringes of reality.  but you should play more games just in case.

link to the kotaku article here
speak japanese?  here's the original mainichi shimbun article

Friday, March 4, 2011

60. wii party games for consenting adults - ubisoft and wii dare with we dare

who DOESN'T accessorize skirts with wiimotes? 
before i continue, i must express my pleasure at today's issue, because this is the first ever of my posts that i was legitimately able to tag with the phrase "sexy party."  moving on.

you have a wii?  you like it?  you ever think that it has some shortcomings?  like not having anything that allows you and your significant other (and/or friends) to facilitate naughty time and sexy parties?  well ubisoft has an answer for you with their upcoming we dare.  think mario party or super smash brothers - a party game meant for multiple players, hit with a pinch of poledancing and a splash of wiimote spanking.

yes, you read that properly.  wiimote spanking.  those that straddle the line between gamer and swinger rejoice.

we dare, which ubisoft claims is aimed for mature audiences, features adorable little mini characters running around doing mostly harmless things, like spinning through hoops, eating apples and flouncing through other mini-games included in the software.  but for the other side of the controller, they've has released a trailer, entitled "have a spicy evening," to give viewers a small taste of what the offscreen gameplay is like.  upon watching it i could see that this type of game fits right in with one of my standard evenings - start with a nice dinner with some friends, pop on the wii for some entertainment, convince my lovely lady friends to pretty much make out with a wiimote, take turns putting the wiimote down our pants and give everyone a round of spanking, and finally strip down to the beat of silhouetted strippers on the screen.  nervous looks all about and not knowing who was going to be ending the night with who.  ahhhh yes.  a standard evening indeed.

i really can't hate on the idea though.  well, not excessively.  i'm with you on the concept ubi, just not execution.  when you have a game console that works through human motion, you're going to get developers that try to tweak the controls to do something different.  or in this case, downright strange.  just a couple of weeks ago i showed you make-out kinect bowling and gave you links to all sorts of other stuff (on that, i wonder if the name mike tyson's make-out is already reserved).  all of that considered, i'm honestly surprised ubisoft (or any other game developers) didn't hit us with this sooner.  the convergence of sex and games has been accelerating over the last 20 years, just not on the control side.

onscreen vs offscreen gameplay
so what's the big deal right?  if adults playing wii want to be pseudo-swingers in the sanctity of their living room, there's really no issue with it.  slap an "M" rating on it from the ESRB and away we go.  at least that's how i would see it happening here in the US.  europe's got a slightly different spin on it though.  the european PEGI (equivalent of our ESRB) gave we dare a 12 rating with a "parental advisory" sticker on it.  12 as in ok for kids 12 and older to play it.  TWELVE.  and they stand by it.  according to a PEGI statement through destructoid,
"PEGI does not take into account the context of a game when rating it, we only look at the contents of the game. [We Dare] has been rated as a PEGI 12 because it contains mild swearing, minor assault on a human-like character and words/activities that amount to obvious sexual innuendo, explicit sexual descriptions or images and sexual posturing."
and ubisoft straight up doesn't care.  what PEGI is saying is that the game ratings only reflect what is on the screen, as opposed to how it's played.  i can play a model or other person who's more appealing to visualize can play smash brothers doing nude jumping jacks if they really wanted to, but that's not going to bump the game rating from T to M so i can't argue on that level.  but this case is different.  in my nude jumping jacks example, there was no intent with design (i.e. context).  this means that the scope of nintendo's control design never extended past a wiimote. in we dare on the other hand, ubisoft is blatantly advertising that this is how the game is played, and the intent of the game is for adults (*cough*) to get together and get a little more friendly with each other.  "provocative control" is even one of the manufacturer's comments on its amazon listing.  no judgement on context, PEGI?  this game has an overflowing barrel of it.  and if context is not taken into account when issuing a rating, what is the point of even giving it one at all?

at any rate, go ahead and enjoy this little diversion, europe.  clearly our stodgy american asses won't be seeing a release on our side of the pond anytime soon.  and if you really want to make some some sort of weird swinger party game, dev for the kinect.

but for the love of god, when you're done put those controllers away somewhere.  we don't want the kids using those same wiimotes to play smash brothers with their friends after school.

direct link:  HD trailer from pressfirevideo's youtube channel

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

59. when sony was in LG land, let my playstations go

in the pantheon of technology lawsuits there have recently been several worthy bouts of note involving the heavy hitters of tech.  apple, microsoft and google have all been very publicly involved with lawsuits and counter-suits and what have you, mostly dealing with technology in the mobile sphere.  gaming wasn't able to duck it either, with sony's recent dealings with hacked consoles and now-famous geohot and a california raid on an xbox modder last year.  whenever something like this hits the news, i (as i'm sure many others do) start to worry about what would happen to consumer products involved if one of these companies were to win.  i mean ACTUALLY win, effectively ending availability to the consumer tech in question.

and it goes on - just across the pond this time - sony vs LG round 2.  the immediate consumer-consequence fallout?  the guardian reports that european customs agents have been instructed to seize playstation 3's from entering the region for 10 days.  now this dispute, as they always are, is about who owns what.  in this case, sony was sued by LG for allegedly infringing on their patents concerning blu-ray technology, and have successfully won an injunction that allows them to block incoming playstation 3 imports.  this also includes sony's bravia line of televisions.  the blu-ray patents involve how multiple data streams are received and processed, as well as reproducing that data onto a read-only device.  i call this round 2, because i, as many others, speculate that this is a revenge suit by LG, having been sued by sony last year claiming infringement on LG phones and modems sold in the united states.  back then sony asked for, you guessed it, the court to stop LG from importing, marketing, or selling those infringing devices in the US.  the involved patents?  a few actual technologies like transmission of digital signals and storage of photographs.  but one was for delaying the recording on a cell phone so that the recording doesn't pick up the button clicking to activate record mode.  another was for associating pictures to phone numbers on caller ID.  ridiculous?  a little.  patentable?  yes, for many riches.  sony claims that they have licensing deals in place with nokia and others and that LG should do the same to use the same tech in their products.

ahhh revenge.  what other reason would LG have to wait this long after sony's release to drop the law hammer on them?

now sony does still have a SOME stock on the shelves over there, a reported 2-3 weeks worth, but if this situation goes on for an extended period of time, european customers may be threatened with not having a playstation 3 to buy.  in the netherlands alone they've seized tens of thousands of consoles and are just stockpiling them in dutch warehouses until some resolution can be reached.  sony can appeal to the patent office to have the ban lifted, but at the same time LG has the power to lobby for an extension of the ban.  they're even within their rights to file that the warehoused playstations be destroyed, but that probably won't happen.  so potentially, while there may not be consoles to sell to european customers, sony may also have to compensate  LG for every.  console.  they've.  sold.  worldwide.  i feel bad for the people at sony that had to calculate how much cash that is - according to the guardian sony's sold 3 million playstation 3 consoles in just the UK since march of 2007.  that's tons of pounds.  i hope consumers don't suffer on either front - on the ps3 side OR the LG phone side, all of the tech involved is pretty nice.

with tech lawsuits becoming such a nice part of life as the big new thing these days, the question has to be raised as to whether or not the patent system needs to be revisited to prevent the ridiculous situations we've seen in the past few years.  i understand that inventors need protection on the things they design, but when is enough enough?  pictures on caller ID?  really?  tech patent law is just a troll game these days, with users potentially being the ones to pay.  i propose we just put a representative from each company involved in a tech lawsuit (and paul allen) in the cage and have them fight it out.  at least then we can be entertained when this noise goes on.  and it should be set up so you can stream it on your ps3.  or your LG quantum for that matter.