Michael Moore of Video Gaming

Spare us the enlightened citizens’ re-education through First Person Shooters. From the Entertainment Weekly profile of the forthcoming Halo 2:

Clearly, there are political and religious dimensions to Halo 2 that were absent from the first game. (“You could look at [the story] as a damning condemnation of the Bush administration’s adventure in the Middle East,” admits Staten.) Such provocative themes were bound to come under the scrutiny of Microsoft’s legal team. Even as the game was getting its final polish, lawyers forced Staten to change the name of an alien antagonist, arguing that it carried Muslim overtones. Staten objected. Nonetheless, some of the voice actors (who include Michelle Rodriguez, Ron Perlman, and Miguel Ferrer) were called back to rerecord dialogue only weeks before the final version was delivered.

My knee jerk reaction is to condemn it out of hand, but hey, he’s a storyteller, and he can tell the story he wants. We in the West allow people to express themselves and seek to better our own consciousnesses by understanding other cultures, even those completely at odds with our way of life.

Hey, that’s well and good. Just so we don’t forget that our culture affords tolerance and certain parts of ours does not, and our culture, though imperfect, is better than the peak of Islamicism and we defend it.

(Link seen on The Bleat, which is a daily column from some obscure Minnesotan newspaperman.)

Book Review: The Official Nintendo Player’s Guide (1987)

I bought this book last week at a yard sale for a quarter as the annual search for old gaming systems and small televisions reaches its crescendo immediately before the Atari Party. I also got a third Sega Genesis almost as cheaply, but that’s beside the point.

Back in 1987, the Nintendo Entertainment System was under two years old, and Nintendo was still driving the PR bandwagon pretty hard, so they published this tome. Part strategy guide and part catalog, this book was designed to get you excited about your Nintendo Entertainment System and excited about spending more money on more cartridges.

Still, it offers a quick overview of the cartridges that addicted users to the NES, including Super Mario Brothers, Metroid, Kid Icarus, and There’s Something about Zelda. It provides tips, maps, and pointers to help you get hooked, and once you’re done with the basic cartidges, surely you’re going to want to buy more.

The individual chapters on each game were written by different writers, all Japanese, and all probably marketing flacks. This led to several interesting turns of phrase that are too formally casual to be native and an excess of exclamation points, as well as declarations that anything that ran on an NES was a “realistic simulation” of anything other than the height of mid-1980s computer game console technology.

Still, it was an interesting flashback and pre-Atari Party 5: The Fellowship of the Joystick preparation. The book was also unintentionally a read-n-sniff experience; the person from whom I bought the book obviously had stored it with a Nintendo or the Sega for some time, for this book carried the scent of obsolete electronics, which was worth the quarter itself for an aging Gen Xer like me.

Perspective for Geek Gamers

Hey, geeks, you think the world revolves around you and your predilections for HALO, Half-Life, Counter-Strike, EverQuest, Asheron’s Call, and other high-end FPS extravaganzas?

David Kushner in Wired magazine begs to differ. He knows that the biggest audience for online gaming is older women who like simple, easy to pick up and easy to put down games.

Gentle readers, I know this is true. For the two most hardcore gamers I know, in terms of time spent at the keys, are my aunt and my mother-in-law. Even more than Heather and her StarCraft, even more than me with Civ III. Take it to the bank.

She Wants A New Drug

To make a short story long, I sent a link to my beautiful wife who is a Starcraft player (dudes, she’s not only a sultry babe, but an übergeekette, too). She then reads the piece linked to, and she says I should read it, too, because it’s called The Ultimate War Sim, and so I do, but not because I am into Real-Time Strategy (RTS) games, but more because she’s a babe and I am hot for her, but it’s funny, so you should read it, too, gentle reader.

Those Geniuses at MIT

According to the Boston Globe, those young geniuses at MIT have come up with a way to meld exercise with video games to make exercise “fun”:

The hot-air balloon was too low, much too low. A mountain loomed ahead, its granite wall reaching out to smash the fragile basket. Daniele De Francesco had only seconds to react. So De Francesco did the only thing he could do. He pedaled faster.

It worked. On the TV screen in front of him, the balloon slowly rose, clearing the peak with room to spare. De Francesco even got a couple of bonuses. He snared a floating gold coin worth 50 points, as well as a vigorous cardiovascular workout.

As a 2000 graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, De Francesco still has use of the school’s Zesiger Sports and Fitness Center. That’s why he’s one of the test subjects for an MIT project that merges video gaming with physical fitness.

It’s called CycleScore, and it’s a recumbent bicycle connected to a personal computer programmed with a simple, engaging game. CycleScore transforms the bike’s pedals and handlebars into game controllers, and offers a game program that rewards steady effort and the occasional burst of speed. There’s even a touch of the shoot-’em-up, as the balloonist can fire missiles at passing targets for extra points. The idea is to create a system so interesting and enjoyable that people will forget they’re sweating.

Wow! He’s got to have a Super Genius business card to recreate Prop Cycle, a Namco video game from 1996.

Milennium Arcade had one of those in Crestwood. In 2001, I played it several times and told everyone I was going to open a chain of health clubs where all the cardio equipment had a video game component.

I am going to be a little saddened when someone with, you know, follow-through comes along and makes money off of it. Kinda like that database with a Web front end wherein you can enter little scraps of information and links and the software will serve it up as a Web page. Something else I didn’t follow up on when I had the idea in 1998.

Conspoonmer’s Report Best Buy

Conspoonmer Reports labeled the PlayStation 2 game Karaoke Revolution a Best Buy (much better than its prequels The Karaoke and Karaoke Reloaded), so Heather and I got it last night.

We didn’t have the headset controller, so we bought a kit with a headset in it; unfortunately this proved to be product that fit into the back of the PLayStation to make it into a DVD Karaoke machine, not the USB headset that lets you interact with the game. Oops. Well, it came with a karaoke DVD of its own, so we could attempt to sing along with Avril Levain’s latest hits, or we could buy a USB headset. So we went out. And spent another thirty bucks.

Well, instead of lamenting our stupidity and or returning the karaoke kit, I think we’ll have to have a karaoke party.

However, don’t compete against Heather in Karaoke Revolutions. I think the designers probably expected normal people to take more than one run through every song to win the game. But Heather has never been normal.

You Can’t Improve on Perfection

Taito’s bringing back Space Invaders, Slate reports. Mattel’s remaking Electronic Football II. Activision’s releasing their greatest hits in a single joystick you can hook up to your television. The commentator acknowledges the creativity inherent in working in the tight technological media. Good work.

In today’s games, though, except for Civilization III, the technology has outstripped the game play. I mean, arcade games have dwindled to three genres: Gun games, side-by-side fighters, and driving (or airplane) simulators. Home consoles have first person shooters and role playing games. Where’s the creativity in frames per second? Here’s a hint; it’s not.

Today’s Object Lessons

Courtesy of the Everquest players who killed Kerafyrm, The Sleeper, an “unkillable” monster designed to be the end of the EverQuest world or something. Players should not have been able to kill it, you see. Seems that the Sony development team gave the beast 10 billion hit points, a bunch of invulnerabilities, and an unbelieveable regeneration rate, and 200 players teamed up to do the impossible. Much to Sony’s chagrin.

Lessons to be learned:

  • Developers:
    Don’t even tell me about “Functions As Designed.” Just because you think that no user would do what you believe is improbable doesn’t mean he or she will not. If you need something to be impossible to kill, make it impossible to kill. If I tell you it’s possible to enter bad data into the database, don’t tell me that a user wouldn’t enter bad data. He or she will, and your faulty application allowed it.

  • Everyone:
    Out there on the Internet, there are a lot of patient people with lots of time that they can spend probing, prodding, and investigating vulnerabilities. They have more infinity than you do. Close your ports, and good luck to you.

ZOUNDS! Someone Throw An Atari Party, Stat!

Pejman links to a post on The Volokh Conspiracy that describes a story (whew! blogosphere lineages can sound like the beginning of a Viking epic, wot?) about the life college freshmen know.

Particularly interesting numbered points (which technical writers know should be bulleted since they do not define a prescribed order):

9. Atari predates them, as do vinyl albums.

11. They have likely never played Pac Man and have never heard of Pong.

Zounds! Someone should start a charity or something. Perhaps some government-sponsored history of arcade games!

On the other hand, get off my lawn, you damn kids! I have video games and console systems older than you! Where’s that garden hose?