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Entries from October 2008

Murdering Children in Fallout 3

October 31st, 2008 2 Comments

. . . is not possible. Sorry for the bait and switch, but Simon Parkin has posted an editorial at Gamasutra about this very issue. His main point is that, although the postapocalyptic RPG Fallout 3 has a fairly open world that leaves you free to be as noble or horrible as you like, the game makes special exception for the sanctity of young life and this ostensibly moral design decision says something sinister about games as a medium.

The problem boils down to this: without the designers’ invisible hand, the game doesn’t make a very convincing argument against killing kids. There are a lot of reasons why making the argument would be difficult, but most of them revolve around the idea that games are entertainment, and being punished for murder isn’t very entertaining. More subtly, the idea that designers need to police your moral behavior suggests that they think you’re learning morality from the games you play.

Cynical readers could probably argue that the designers are only really worried about how they’ll be perceived, rather than by the consequences of their design decisions on players. However, it really does seem like there should be some serious problems (gameplay or psychological) with being a horrible person. Go give the article a read and post some suggestions for what to do with this problem if you have any ideas.

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History Lesson: Prince of Persia

October 29th, 2008 Comments Off

The Prince of Persia brand has become synonymous with parkour and time travel, but it wasn’t always so. Once upon a time it was a devious sprite-based platformer where the hero was limited to merely human abilities, but set against supernatural obstacles on a strict timer.

Beyond the bitter taste of reality, the game was also known and praised for its extraordinarily high animation standards, and it boasted hand-crafted sprites that were outright human in both proportions and motion. Prince of Persia set the gold standard for realism in video games for years and is still remembered as seminal for it.

It’s long been said that developer Jordan Mechner actually videotaped his little brother to model his sprite work, and that this was the reason the animation worked so well. For the curious, 1up has actually found a copy of this footage, so go take a look and be surprised when you instantly recognize a kid you’ve never seen in your life.

If you haven’t ever played the original, this is as good an excuse to check it out as any. Just remember that some guy hacked it all together with a video camera and a 1980s computer.

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New Plague Sweeps Azeroth

October 27th, 2008 1 Comment

28 minutes later
Image by
Katie McKiernan

The travel brochure says “Don’t eat the food” and it’s not kidding. Crates of infected grain have been delivered to all the major cities in World of Warcraft, spreading the same scourge that created the undead and ultimately the forsaken faction. Taking a cue from Resident Evil Outbreak, players infected by the scourge become zombies and can then attack and infect other players. Of course, other players and guards can reciprocate the aggression, though they run a risk of infection if they do. There’s a brief incubation period where the players can be cured, but clusters of bodies near the healers indicate that things could be going better.

The last time a plague ran rampant through Azeroth, it was a little less scripted. The introduction of the Blood God Hakkar propagated a disease called corrupted blood that killed any characters who had not yet reached endgame instantly. Epidemiologists tracked the spread of the disease through the game’s transit networks and used it to develop disease transmission models that may one day be useful for real world outbreaks of fatal contagions.

While the current oubreak is a bit more controlled, it does have one distinguishing feature that makes it different than the corrupted blood epidemic. The world narrative calls for increasing urgency in the outbreak, a fact that Blizzard has chosen to simulate by gradually decreasing the duration of the infection debuff.

Put another way, you used to have 10 minutes to find a healer. Now you have two.

The combination of Warcraft’s dense server populations and the gradually decreasing incubation period make the scourge an interesting source of modeling data. Shorter incubation means less chance to travel, but also means more rapid spreading in denser populations. Whether epidemiologists take notice or not, players can hope to see resolution of the disease plot line in the upcoming expansion: Wrath of the Lich King.

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Virtual Crime Edges Closer to Real Crime

October 25th, 2008 2 Comments

No, Jack Tompson has not been granted a position on the writing staff. Instead, a 43 year old Japanese woman has been arrested for hacking the account of a 33 year old Japanese male. The catch is why she did it: their MMORPG characters had suffered a messy virtual divorce, so the spurned lover accessed her ex-husband’s Maple Story account and killed his character in a fit of vindictive rage.

The alleged hacking occurred after the pair had shared usernames and passwords, an accidental version of the social engineering that usually goes into MMORPG accounts. More interesting is the fact that this is a crime of passion. The woman has been quoted as saying, “I was suddenly divorced, without a word of warning. That made me so angry.” So, on impulse, she committed an act of (virtual) violence on her onetime partner. She has been transported 600 miles to be detained in the jurisdiction where her ex-husband lives, and faces fines up to $5000 or 5 years in jail.

With ponzi schemes, black market virtual economics, and now impulse murder in virtual space, it begs the question of how much crime we can stuff under the umbrella of hacking. Although the virtual murder resulted in no bodily harm for anyone, the victim in this case has lost time and resources. So at what point does virtual become physical injury? More importantly, how do we manage the legal ramifications of intersection between virtual and physical?

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Fallout 3 Sees LittleBigPlanet and Raises it a Nationwide Cancellation

October 22nd, 2008 Comments Off

Microsoft India will be canceling Fallout 3 because local cultural sensitivities are too risky for an India release.

While the company won’t go into specifics about what is offensive in particular, American gamers can look forward to finding out in about a week on 10/28. This news follows a delay announcement from Sony regarding LittleBigPlanet, so that the corporate giant could scrub the game clean of any Qu’ran references.

Perhaps it’s just the gaming glut from the approaching holiday, but content compromises from two high-profile games in two weeks seems a little above the norm for localization casualties. The two games have taken a complementary approach, one modifying its content and releasing, and one preserving the content and canceling. It’s difficult to balance between the right to speech and good business decisions, but if you had to pick between dropping a game or compromising it, what would you do?

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Catan Coming to DS

October 20th, 2008 Comments Off

Tired of lugging a 7 pound board game or a 15 pound Xbox just so you can crush your friends with your spatial reasoning and financial acumen? 1up is reporting that Catan will be hitting the DS.

Details are virtually nonexistent at this point, but the game’s title will be Catan: The First Island. Nintendo’s little handheld hasn’t really been noted for its voice chat functionality, so you’re probably still safe from accidentally shouting about your wood for sheep on the bus. Still, try to be careful as details emerge.

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LittleBigPlanet Undergoing Self-Censorship

October 17th, 2008 Comments Off

Today sees another casualty of game localization as LittleBigPlanet is being delayed to remove passages from the Qur’an. Sony had this to say about the offending passages:

“During the review process prior to the release of LittleBigPlanet, it has been brought to our attention that one of the background music tracks licensed from a record label for use in the game contains two expressions that can be found in the Qur’an. We have taken immediate action to rectify this and we sincerely apologise for any offence that this may have caused.”

Regrettably, Sony’s unspecific language makes it sound as though the passages were removed because they were offensive in and of themselves. Fortunately, Gamasutra found the motivating post on the Playstation Europe message boards before it was removed. The user’s complaint follows:

“We Muslims consider the mixing of music and words from our Holy Quran deeply offending. We hope you would remove that track from the game immediately via an online patch, and make sure that all future shipments of the game disk do not contain it.”

LittleBigPlanet has an unusually strong focus on merging multiplayer with user-generated content, so it’s unsurprising that the new game wants to endear itself as broadly as possible. Nevertheless, it’s always a shame when a game’s original art design suffers ad hoc revisions. Here’s hoping the LittleBigPlanet experience is undiminished.

Edit: Evidently the shipped but unreleased copies of the game are going on Ebay for $250. Get ‘em while they’re hot!

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Microsoft Makes Consessions for Large Dashboard

October 15th, 2008 Comments Off

There’s bad news and good news for 360 gamers today. The bad news has actually been around for a while: Microsoft is updating the dashboard on Nov. 17, and if you don’t have 128 MB of free space for the update, you’re in trouble.

The good news is that the company seems to have noticed that this represents a full half of the storage space in the Xbox 360 Arcade SKU. So they’re offering a free 512 MB memory card, or $20 refurbished 20 GB hard drives to system owners most likely to be hurt by the update.

If you’re hurting for space, go enter your serial number at the storage upgrade website to see if you’re elegible.

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Blizzard Plans to Squeeze You Just a Little Harder

October 13th, 2008 Comments Off

If you thought you were ripping Blizzard off at $15/month, worry not! The developer has worked out a way you can give something back. Bloggers at WarCry are reporting a button in the assets of the Wrath of the Lich King expansion beta labeled “Paid Character Customization.”

Though reluctant to comment on it at Blizzcon, WoW production director J. Allen Brak eventually conceded that the button was real and would be implemented in the future. Just when you thought you were safe from micropayments.

Anybody out there willing to pay cold hard cash to change your character’s hair color? Equipment? What would it take to make you part with an additional $2 for your favorite MMORPG?

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Microsoft Stays Execution on Condemned XBLA Titles

October 11th, 2008 Comments Off

Underperforming Live Arcade titles can breathe a collective sigh of relief today because they’ll live to see another day. In response to complaints that it’s just too difficult to sort the wheat from the chaff, Microsoft had earlier promised to cull underperforming games from its download service.

Microsoft has conditionally rescinded the threat, releasing that they have developed a list of exclusion criteria and are content with that for now. This announcement comes in advance of an Xbox Dashboard update intended in part to improve the accessibility of Live Arcade. However, uncharitable analysts have no doubt noticed that the company now has a gun to the heads of some of its developers.

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