Friday, July 22, 2005

Serenity Sneak Preview

Last night we went and saw a sneak preview of Serenity which, as you should all know by now, is the movie continuing the cancled Fox television show Firefly. If you are still clueless about the whole thing you should run out and get the show on DVD.

We wore our "Joss Wehedon is my master now" tshirts which come from this PvP Online comic strip and can be brought from ThinkGeek. There were a couple of people wearing Jayne's knit hat there as well.

And the movie... Oh yeah baby. I've just seen it and I already can't wait till it is released on September 30th. In my opinion is that it was too good, but I can't say why without spoiling it. I think it is going to be a big hit for fans of the show and the uninniated. Better for the fans though so if you arn't inniated you best get a move on. There is no such thing as a non-fan, either you are a fan or you havn't watched the shows. Having watched part of an episode when it aired and dismissed as a stupid wanna-be western in space doesn't count. That is what got the show cancled though. Personally I always did think they didn't mix in quite enough future tech in with the western stuff. The movie doens't make that mistake.

It was an hour drive up from Brisbane to the little town of Robina where the movie was playing as an opening to their Film Festival. Although it wasn't a large theatre it was packed full. Remember that Firefly only kinda aired here in Australia, so they are all fans post airing of the show. I say kinda because last year they played a few episodes late at night on channel 10, and just like Fox started with the "Train Job" instead of the real first episode. They asked for a show of hands for people who had driven in from Brisbane and about 75% of the people raised their hands. They pointed out some people that claimed to have driven in from somewhere else with the impression that it was a really really long way to drive. My wife had been running "Firefly Nights" for the people at work. Basically showing two episodes every week till everybody caught up, they are all diehard fans now.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Hot Coffee

"Graze on my lips; and if those hills be dry, stray lower, where the pleasant fountains lie." -William Shakespeare
I am sure you have all heard about the “Hot Coffee” sex scandal of the game Grand Theft Auto: San Adreas. But in case you haven’t it appears that Rockstar Games had a mostly complete “Sex mini-game” in the game. Modders have managed to unlock the content and now the media and politicians are in an uproar about it.

Here is a LINK where you can find a video of Hot Coffee mod in action. Go ahead and watch it so you know exactly what everyone is talking about. It’s all over the news at the moment anyway and now you can tell all your friends that you actually saw without having to spend the money modding your XBox and figuring out how to download a patch to it.

From the wording of the re-classification from the ESRB I get the impression that they are changing the classification because the content is actually included in the original product regardless that it is only accessible by a third party patch (and some actual hardware modification for the console systems) in violation of the terms of service.

"After a thorough investigation, we have concluded that sexually explicit material exists in a fully rendered, unmodified form on the final discs of all three platform versions of the game (i.e., PC CD-ROM, Xbox and PS2)," commented Patricia Vance, president of the ESRB, in an official statement announcing the ratings change.

Vance continued: "However, the material was programmed by Rockstar to be inaccessible to the player and they have stated that it was never intended to be made accessible. The material can only be accessed by downloading a software patch, created by an independent third party without Rockstar’s permission, which is now freely available on the internet and through console accessories. Considering the existence of the undisclosed and highly pertinent content on the final discs, compounded by the broad distribution of the third party modification, the credibility and utility of the initial ESRB rating has been seriously undermined."

What about the Sims 2? Isn’t the nudity of the models also included in the original product only covered up by a pixilated blur effect that can be easily removed with a “freely available” software patch?

Remove the blur with "The Sims 2" nude patch.
In "The Sims 2," Sims are blurred when they use the bathroom, take a shower, or enter the hot tub naked. There is a user made nude patch that will get rid of the blur. The nude patch for "The Sims 2" works for Sims of all ages.
The nude patch does edit the exe for "The Sims 2," but makes a backup in case you want to restore the patch at a later point.
Instead of the nude patch, there is a cheat code you can use to turn the blur on and off. To turn off: intProp censorGridSize 0, to turn on: intProp censorGridSize 8
Download "The Sims 2" Nude Patch
-Courtney Marchelletta From

Grand Theft Auto: San Adreas was already ready rated “Mature” and obviously wasn’t intended for children. It is now rated “Adults Only” (a difference in age 17+ to 18+ but also no more Wal-Mart sales.) The Sims 2 is rated “Teen.” You can read all the ESRB rating details here to see what those actually mean.

So to quote Damion Schuber (scroll down to find his 7/12/05 post), “Clearly, the lesson here is: white suburbanite hot tub sex = good. Black gangsta sex in the hood = bad.” He makes another very good point in the same post "almost any game can be deviant if the player tries hard enough - that’s what interactive MEANS. Wanna commit genocide? Go play Civilization. Wall up your neighbors and watch them collapse, sobbing, in puddles of their own urine? The Sims is right up your alley. On the other hand, if what you really want to do is pretend you’re an EMT saving lives, GTA is pretty much the only game in town."

In the end Rockstar is re-mastering the discs without the offending files in order to get reclassified back to be “Mature” (it’s original rating still saying that it is inappropriate for children) and the modders will change their mod to include those files back in. Nothing really changes except that Rockstar is forced to waste some of the millions it’s made on the sales of the game and politicians will another example of how are protecting the children (did I already mention that the game was already rated inappropriate for children?) I'm sure the whole scandal just boosted the game's sales anyway.

And if after all this you find that you actually like the idea of sex video games, you should try Japanese Dating Sims. You can find them at JList. I’ve never played one myself, 30 minutes of a boring game just to watch 30 seconds of porn doesn’t seem like a fair trade.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Thank You Lance Armstrong

Live Strong
-Lance Armstrong
Outdoor Life Network is doing a thank you card for Lance Armstrong. The actual giant card will be going around the country in July but if it isn’t going to be in your area you can still send him a message via email that they will collect and pass on.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Realistic Video Game Violence and Environments

"Anyone who clings to the historically untrue -- and -- thoroughly immoral doctrine that violence never solves anything I would advise to conjure up the ghosts of Napoleon Bonaparte and the Duke of Wellington and let them debate it. The ghost of Hitler would referee. Violence, naked force, has settled more issues in history than has any other factor; and the contrary opinion is wishful thinking at its worst. Breeds that forget this basic truth have always paid for it with their lives and their freedoms."
-Robert A. Heinlein
I did have a very interesting thought about video game violence while playing Battlefield 2. I realized that I never attached any real world significance to any of the killing I do in the game. Every time I kill an enemy the violence of the killing never occurs to me. Instead I find myself picturing some pimply faced 13 year old kid whining and complaining that I had ‘got him.’

I do however find myself attaching real world significance to the environment. There are houses, apartments, shops and billboards and I keep thinking about the people that used to live there. What happened to them? How would it feel to have your neighborhood become a war zone? You get the impression from a lot of the Middle Eastern maps that they have been getting blown up for years and years and yet there are also new, half completed construction projects. They keep getting blown up and they keep building new ones. The weedy brick path up to the TV station that is lined with palm trees, how long ago was that a brand new building? The half built damn that somebody must have thought was going to be a great boon to the area, will it ever get finished? What would it be like to live like that?

People keep going on about how the graphics are getting realistic and the violence is getting too real. But the realistic graphic violence isn’t turning me into a crazed killer, but rather getting me to think about the innocent victims of that violence and destruction.

It reminds me of a commercial that was on TV in the US a few years ago. It was for one of those ‘too violent for TV’ videos that showed real people getting killed and maimed. The commercial showed a few clips that cut away right before the gory part. One was of a woman about to cross a train track in front of an on coming train. That commercial proved to me that I have not become insensitive to violence because I could not watch that commercial. I had to turn away. Knowing that it was real, knowing that woman was about to actually be hit by that train was just too much.

Oh there was another one from about the same time. This one regarding child / spouse abuse. It just shows this little kid about 3 or 4 years old, sitting on the stairs in his house. In the background you can hear his drunken father yelling at his sobbing mother. Then you hear a loud ‘SMACK’ and the kid on the stairs starts dramatically at the sound. Oh man, that commercial got to me. Every time I saw it, even knowing it was coming, I would jump too and get this queasy lurch in my stomach. Wonder what they did when filming it to get the kid to jump like that. He is way too young to be acting.

There was a good deal of violence in video game links floating around this week too. One piece was written by a guy who went to school at Columbine when the shootings occurred who claims to have known both some of the victims as well as the two killers. I started to read it but unfortunately got distracted by work and never went back to it. The Slash Dot article that lead me to it also had a few reaction links to that article but I didn’t get a chance to read them either.

Ranting about Battlefield 2

The best thing about playing online is playing with other people. The worse thing about playing online is playing with other people.
So I am playing a good deal of Battlefield 2. Although I really like FPS games I hadn’t played one seriously online in a very long time. I was going to write a bit about the ‘online’ part mentioning how I usually just play the single player versions of the FPS games. I would then back up that admission with some quotes from one of the Unreal developers who mentioned that something like 80% of the people who bought the previous versions of Unreal Tournament didn’t play online. Some of us don’t like showing off how much we suck at the game in front of others and nobody likes to get killed over and over before they even learn the game.

But instead I am going to rant about Battlefield 2. I haven’t had such a love/hate relationship with a game since the early days of Ultima Online.

First of all the menus are horrible. When you are in the game there is a pause to get the menu up. Why? Because they are playing a full screen movie behind the menu and it has to load. You may think a few seconds delay to bring up the menu isn’t a big problem but it really starts to get on your nerves, especially when you meant to press RETURN to bring up a different menu but accidentally hit ESC instead. No option to turn this movie off.

While I am going on about the menu not only does the delay in opening it suck, but it and its various other information screens suck as well. Now I have created quite a few game menus in my time. I am building a few right now at work. I know how hard it is to plan out and display a whole slew of information on screen in a way that is readable and doesn’t look too busy. So I won’t make any disparaging remarks about the menu layouts but rather how they work.

Let’s start with selecting a server which uses and embedded Gamespy server. I play on local Game Arena servers (I would normally play on an Internode server who are my local ISP but BF2 keeps kicking me off their servers keep kicking me offline with a punk buster warning) and in order to find them I type gamearena in the server filter (which works most of the time). Now because the game is new most of the servers are full, but since it would be too hard to update the population of each server in real time you have to press the refresh button which also works most of the time. Only when you do so it doesn’t keep the filter text. There also isn’t any queue to get onto a server so you wind up just clicking on the server, try to enter, say okay to the window that says the server is full, and then click on the server again, repeat until you get in. There is also no way to see what servers your friends are playing on except to select each server and then scroll through the player names on both sides until you find them. Like I said at the beginning I haven’t played an FPS online in quite some time so I can’t really compare their server stuff to other games but one reviewer did ask why all other game servers seem to be getting better while Gamespy is getting worse.

Okay you’ve played the game and the round is over. It throws up a menu screen with loads of information about the previous battle except it doesn’t tell you what any of it means. Hey look I got 32 trophies, 12 checker board thing, 16 crosshairs and 10 skulls! Would it have killed them to have some tool tips or at least a page in the manual that explains what all that means instead of making me go searching through inane message boards for the info? And even when I know what they mean it doesn’t help that much since its really vague how the total score is arrived at.

You can go to the Battlefield HQ and look at your character stats and see what awards and medals you have won. All the awards that you haven’t earned are grayed out and there is no way to see what they are. You can’t select them and there is no tool-tip for them. I can just imagine the frustration of the achiever archetype player who has only 1 or 2 medals left to earn but has no clue what they are let alone what element of the game he has to master to earn them. Again searching though fan sites and such shouldn't be what you have to do.

Now there are bunch of little things I could nit pick about the game itself like how the auto balance feature loves to switch me to the loosing side seconds before the end of the match, but the thing that pushed me over the edge this weekend that had me screaming and pulling my hair out is that I went out and spent 60 bucks on a new joystick because I want to fly helicopters and jets. I didn’t want to do it online because constantly taking these vehicles and smashing them into the ground while I try to adjust my joystick settings and get comfortable flying isn’t really fair the rest of the people on my team. But the only offline maps you can play are the small 16 versus 16 player maps that are very small. If you are lucky you can shoot down your own helicopter before the NPCs, who have jumped in as soon as the map started, take off with it. Then you can fly for a few minutes before you wind up drifting off the map and getting killed for being AWOL before you even get a chance to smash it into the ground. Would it have been hard to give me access to the large maps in some sort of training mode so we could practice flying? How about a specific ‘training map’? You can’t create your own server and play by yourself either, you need a second player to start the game. (Edit: I was just able to start a server and get into the game by myself, it still says it is waiting for a second player but it lets me start.)

There is some love in the love/hate relationship though. It is really fun to play especially when you are on a squad with your friends who have microphones that work. Mine doesn’t, I am guessing it has something to do with the onboard sound card in my machine and we will see what happens once I get a real sound card in there. The graphics are incredible, especially on my new monster PC in 1600x1200. I guess the best thing I can say about it is that I am going to skip proof reading this post and get online. Bye.