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Entries from January 2008

France makes tangible gesture to treat games as art

January 30th, 2008 No Comments

While video games in the United States continue to struggle even for recognition as speech rather than pornography, the French government has officially recognized video games as art. Gamasutra reports that France is now allowed to apply a 20% tax credit to encourage the production of video games.

Of course, while this is a coup for the industry at large, individual games aren’t out of the woods just yet. As with all government funding, there are a few strings attached:

“For a studio, criteria to obtain the tax credits range from obligatory narration driven, artistic expenses, sociological and political issues relevant to European citizens, to the obvious requirement of non-pornographic product, to the doubtful celebration of the country heritage, and blurry, to say the least, ‘violence that could mentally, morally or physically hurt end users.’”

So, before qualifying for a tax credit, individual projects will be subjected to much the same public scrutiny that we see in America (albeit with a more French twist to the unspoken moral standards).

Strings or no, a nation whose identity so centrally focuses on culture and expression has declared to the world that games are art. Perhaps other nations will take notice.

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Smash Brothers: Brawl to introduce demos to Wii

January 28th, 2008 No Comments

This one’s a few days old, but it was a pretty slow news weekend.

IGN has reported that the upcoming Super Smash Brothers: Brawl will include time-limited demos of at least nine of the games for which the brawlers became famous. While some are indisputably classics (Super Mario Brothers) and others are more . . . debatable (Ice Climbers), all the games are notable for defining the icons that have virtually become synonymous with gaming.

This represents the first time since e-Reader cards that Nintendo has used a game as a sort of Trojan horse for some of its old intellectual property. It’s also the first time that virtual console games have been provided with interactive demos.

While Nintendo has been slow to emulate the Xbox live marketplace model for digital distribution, it appears that they’re moving in that direction, albeit with the baby steps for which Nintendo’s online strategy has become so infamous.

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Media still hates video games: Film at 11

January 25th, 2008 No Comments

Fox News recently aired a segment where a panel of journalists discussed the sex scene in Mass Effect and its relationship to child rearing. The scene was described as, “full digital nudity and the ability for players to engage in graphic sex.” While the segment has already drawn criticism from the gamer community for uninformed pontification and general yellow journalism, Kotaku is reporting that EA has stepped up to the plate to defend the game:

[The journalists] have had zero experience with Mass Effect and are largely ignorant about videogames, the people who play them, and the ESRB system that governs their ratings and sales . . . The resulting coverage was insulting to the men and women who spent years creating a game which is acclaimed by critics for its high creative standards. As video games continue to take audiences away from television, we expect to see more TV news stories warning parents about the corrupting influence of interactive entertainment. But this represents a new level of recklessness.

They go on to request a factual correction about the game’s content. Historically, whenever the ESRB or individual developers draw significant criticism in the media, they’re left to weather the bad publicity alone (or to try to make the best of infamy). It’s nice to see publishers actually standing behind the products from their developers, and by extension, the system designed to bring those developers’ work to market while ensuring that consumers are aware of its content.

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In Defense of Micropayments

January 23rd, 2008 No Comments

Gamasutra has posted an interesting (if inappropriately titled) opinion piece about the impact of the game industry’s drift toward favoring the casual gamer. The main thrust of the article is that favoring the casual gamer while still monetizing the core gamer will ultimately result in a more à la carte microtransaction setup than the current, “buy box, receive contents” paradigm.

While he argues that this is ultimately a good thing for core gamers (buy what you want for the amount you’re willing to pay), games like Lumines on Xbox Live Arcade have been sold off piecemeal and suffered no small amount of venom as a consequence.

Another tricky issue is that it’s easy to hide substantial price gouging by breaking it down into numerous smaller scrapes, and it’s difficult to believe that an industry that charges $10-20 for a metal box wouldn’t be tempted.

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Virtual riches have real limt

January 21st, 2008 No Comments

It appears that World of Warcraft has a hard maximum on the gold you can accumulate, and the number is 214,748. Considering the most current mean value of 1,000 gold is about $48.60, this means that the fattest possible pocketbook is worth about $10,436. So, if you were ever wondering how long you can play Warcraft and still break even, the number is about 58 years at 14.99 per month.

Better get to farming, though.

Edit: I suppose that’s the longest time you could play a single character. Multiply by 8 per server for a hard maximum

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Study finds positive transfer between Wii surgery and professional surgery trainer

January 18th, 2008 No Comments

According to a recent study, surgeons who game on the Wii for an hour before testing on a virtual surgery tool show improved precision with their tools. Games requiring fine manipulation of the Wii remote were more helpful than games like tennis.

This is an unusual entry into the whole “games teach skills” debate because it shows a nonspecific improvement in performance from brief exposure. You’d be hard pressed to claim that these surgeons learned anything from playing games like Marble Mania, but perhaps there was a general “warm-up” effect on performance.

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More jump ship from HD-DVD; future looks bright for Sony

January 16th, 2008 No Comments

Things aren’t looking good for HD-DVD in the format war. After the format was abandoned by Warner Brothers, New Line, and HBO, and raelegated to the sale bin at Amazon, Variety is reporting that Universal’s agreement to exclusively back HD-DVD has expired.

While this isn’t strictly video gaming news, Sony has historically tried to position the PS3 as a multimedia presentation device rather than as a simple game console. If Sony manages to position Blu-Ray as the dominant video format, it could prove a boon to PS3 sales in much the same way that the rise of DVD aided the PS2.

It’s been said before, but don’t count Sony’s black box out of the console race until the generation has ended.

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101 free games

January 14th, 2008 No Comments

1up has seen fit to grace us with a list of 101 free games available as of 2008. They run the gamut, from blatant rip-offs to arthouse weirdness. There’s some surprisingly polished games in there, and many can be played in a browser window or on the mac (for those of us with less traditional PC gaming means). The games are sorted by genre, though sadly not by platform.

Go on, check a few out.

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Yet another controller patent suit

January 11th, 2008 No Comments

Well, it looks like Nintendo and Sony (but not Microsoft) are getting sued over their controller interfaces. This time, the patent dispute appears to be about the way the wireless devices are sorted by their broadcast identification tag.

The games industry has a long proud history of lawsuits over IP, both hardware and software related, though this particular one evokes memories of the fight over haptic feedback in Sony’s DualShock Controllers.

Maybe it’s just because they’ve been so high profile in gaming news, but it feels like controllers make easy targets for patent suits. They share so many common traits that winning a patent suit against one console developer implies that you can win the same suit against all three. Low hanging fruit, perhaps?

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Journalist notices elephant in living room, publishes

January 9th, 2008 No Comments

It looks like another toe has been flattened in the careful dance between professional game critics and publishers. This time, Dan Hsu is reporting that several publishers will no longer be supporting EGM with preview materials in retaliation for published criticism, effectively leaving the publication as much in the dark as the common gamer.

Hsu is not new to the strained relationship between critics and publishers, having commented in 2005 on the relationship between advertising revenues and game review scores.

Though both his commentaries have been posted as editorials and have not been directly verified as legitimate news, Hsu’s willingness to frankly discuss the conflict of interest inherent in so much game journalism and criticism suggests a degree of integrity the industry sorely needs.

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