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In the news

Once again, Rockstar Games is in the news, this time over Manhunt.

I am adding to this post as the story develops.

Thad has collected the initial links to the recent uproar over Manhunt in the British Press.

Update: Slashdot Games has reported on this issue. The report includes links to Blue's News, which in turn links to MCV UK. I will assume you can trace the links by yourself if you want to, so I will just quote the interesting plot twist from MCV:

The story of the “Manhunt” murder case took another twist with the revelation that the game was present in the victim’s home, not the killer’s.

Narinder Pooni, media services officer for Leicestershire Police, told MCV: “Apparently the game was found but it was in Stefan Pakeerah’s bedroom.”

Pakeerah was murdered by his friend Warren Leblanc in February.

While this fact does not in itself undermine the allegation made by Pakeerah’s mother and the Daily Mail that Leblanc was influenced by Manhunt, it does make the issue more complex. It also raises questions such as whether the 14 year old victim owned the game. And if so, who bought it for him?

As for the link between Manhunt and the crime, the police are clear. Pooni said: “We haven’t connected the game with the murder and we’ve already made that statement, but some sections of the media chose to ignore it…the motive was robbery.”

Vertical integration

Well, there you go, it's the biggest games industry news item of the year so far: EA has bought Criterion. The number one middleware maker now belongs to the number one developer / publisher.

What does it all mean? has interviewed both Criterion's David Lau-Kee and EA's Bruce McMillan to find out what they think.

I'm sure many people will be discussing this for quite some time. I will update this post as new commentary comes in.

Update: Apparently this deal cost EA around $48 million, which seems pretty low to me. (Microsoft paid $375 million for Rare.)

New gaming blog: Ron Gilbert's Grumpy Gamer

My friends told me it was antisocial to obsessively comb through my referrer logs every day. So I dumped them.

I wish I hadn't though, because now I can't gloat at them for finding a link to Ron Gilbert's new blog, Grumpy Gamer.

Not only does he have a blog, his professional career has been dedicated to preventing serious spinal cord injuries as well as serious aquatic injuries.

Also he recently did an interview for the only half-way decent Austrian radio station, FM4. And I missed it. Luckily, a transcript is available online. In German. Among other things, Ron says he agrees with Old Man Murray's judgment that adventure games killed themselves.

He also published an essay he wrote in 1989 called "Why Adventure Games Suck". To my knowledge, this had only ever been published in Chris Crawford's now exceedingly hard to get Journal of Computer Game Design. Hurrah for the internet.

So it's come to this

If all else fails, bombard them with quirky links, even if they have been lying around on your hard drive for months.

So here goes:

If Pacman had affected us as kids we'd be running around in dark rooms, munching pills and listening to repetitive music.
A great quote from Marcus Brigstocke.

Speaking of which. If you keep up with things, you've heard of Pac-Manhattan. But do you know GPS drawing? It's geocaching's evil twin brother.

A Day in the Life of a First Person Shooter Protagonist. Over a year old. I have no shame. But it's still funny. Again, satire exposes the yawning abyss between video game simulations of reality and everyday society.

Someone wrote a multitasking graphical OS for the Intellivision console. Someone else wrote an article about it. In German.

PVP Online once had a story-line about a pen and paper role-playing game about pen and paper role-playing gamers. A bit like playing Sim City inside of The Sims.

This is the Flying Flapjack, a really weird plane. It has no direct connection to interactive entertainment.

Not work-safe: The Accidental Video Game Porn Archive.

The Southtyrol-game, "one of the worlds largest hand carved pinball style game machines". It's Linux-powered. Austria trivia: when something cool happens in Northern Italy, it's referred to as South Tyrol. If something uncool happens, it's referred to as Northern Italy.

Someone has made an Orac PC case - Orac of course being the very smart computer from cult (i.e. unknown but some people saw it when young and impressionable) British sci-fi series Blake's 7. I would much rather have a Zen PC case, i.e. a huge wall panel with blinking lights, that replies to commands with a thundering "CONFIRMED". But that's just me.

Am I Game Or Lame? - retro Internet trope applied to video games.

Text mode Quake 2. Links to many other quirky text mode things. Not to be confused with IF Quake, which is way cooler.

Intelligent Artifice: I provide the links, you provide the smart, insightful commentary. Or the other way round, whichever you prefer.

Woman in game

I'm sure you've read this:

Spider-Man 2 star Kirsten Dunst ordered video game designers to tone down the animated version of her character Mary Jane - because they gave her over-inflated breasts.

The actress was asked to give her approval for the sequel's new merchandise and had to chastise the game's saucy creators.

She says: "I got to approve the video game, the way she looks. They made her boobs gigantic. I was like, 'Tone down the boobs, please!" It was a little ridiculous."

(That's pretty much the whole article, but if you insist, I got it here.)

It can be seen as a blow against the rampant oversexualisation of women in games, but somehow I think that would be reading too much into this: it's not as if Hollywood movies only ever focus on the nice personalities of young actresses. (I'd link to a picture of Ms. Dunst in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind if I could find one fast enough.) Maybe there's less here than meets the eye.

This is the perfect opportunity to mention that Robin recently quoted something really interesting about oversexualisation of in-game characters.

(Alas, Jamie hasn't mentioned the Kirsten Dunst story yet as far as I can see, but he did mention the undersexualisation of game developers.)

Small update

I have been very busy again, hence the lack of recent updates. We just passed a major milestone, and now we are preparing for a meeting where we are presenting the result of that major milestone. Many loose ends need tying up...

Last Saturday Noah Falstein and Bob Bates happened to be in Vienna, and I spent a very pleasant afternoon and evening with them. We saw a little less of Vienna than planned, instead spending time in cafes and a heurigen. Basically we had one very long conversation. We talked about many different subjects, but as Bob noted, any subject can be useful in game design. So, in retrospect, we talked a lot about games, but we did it by touching on many other topics. I couldn't think of a better way to spend a rainy Saturday.

Boy inspires cancer video games

A nine-year-old boy with leukaemia has inspired a video game to help children understand and deal with cancer. Read about it here.

Being a cynical old grouch in some ways, it's not often that I call something moving and inspiring. But I find this moving and inspiring. It's not the only positive general news item on games, but it's just a really nice counterweight to all of the headlines a la "Toddler kills five after having licked videogame packaging" or "Fanatical organisation makes violent propaganda game" or "Another crap product released with no redeeming values whatsoever".

I have only read the description. Although it appears to be a simple action game, the design sounds like a fairly sophisticated interpretation of what it's like to have cancer. I especially like

Attitude — (from home) Possibly the most important component of health. The electric barriers are called Setbacks, and when you hit them, your attitude will go down.

The game itself and more information about it can be found here.

Sociolotron, a BDSM MMORPG, more or less

I seem to be picking up material from an ever-decreasing number topics these days. This time, a BDSM MMORPG, and it's link to a shadowy figure from my past.

Yesterday, I read this Wired article reports on Sociolotron, a new small-scale MMORPG. It sounds intriguing:

The game offers fare such as battling monsters, questing and other fantasies familiar to players of games like EverQuest and Ultima Online. But Sociolotron differs by providing a way to indulge in sexual taboos like rape and bondage with consequences like sexually transmitted diseases and even pregnancy. And it is quite explicit in informing would-be players about what they may experience in-world.
This article contains a little more information:
In the realm of mature play, Sociolotron doesn't merely push the envelope: It crumples it into a little ball and shoots it into space.

In this online role-playing game sex isn't just an option, it's an inescapable fact. Have too much sex and maybe catch a disease - or at least become a less moral person. Don't have enough and lose out when you die - lacking heirs to whom you can pass on your wealth and possessions. Characters in the game deal with pregnancy, disease, gangs, crime and drugs in a very graphic manner.

"My original intention was to make a simulation of life in a way that fits most peoples' fantasies," said Patric Lagny, 43, the developer of the online game.

"I found out over time that many people fantasize about being a prostitute, being a big-shot mafia boss, playing BDSM games. So my intention was to give them a playground to live out these fantasies without danger. However: If you can live out these or any other fantasies without any danger, things become boring very quickly."

When the world first opened, players immersed themselves in a hedonistic world of sex and crime, but soon became either disgusted or dissatisfied. So Lagny created rules, guards, a justice system, made it possible for players to kill each other permanently and added some other real-world worries to keep things interesting.

Lagny sees his game, which has about 2,000 subscribers, as just that - a game.

What particularly caught my eye was the name of the game's developer, Patric Lagny. Could it be the same Patric Lagny with whom I worked at Blue Byte in the mid-nineties? The guy who played the emperor in the full-motion video sequences in Battle Isle 3 (hence my earlier reference to a "shadowy figure")? It was just conceivable enough to warrant some research.

The Sociolotron website is registered to a Patric Lagny in California. The last time I'd met Patric, he was still living in the Ruhrgebiet in Germany. His home page however, quickly told me that his age is around 43, his email address is the same as the one from the website registration, and that he moved to LA in 2001. Also, he is currently

[...] involved in the development of a Massive Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Game with some special and totally new community features.

I'm sure some people will get worked up about the subject matter, but I possess the famed Dutch permissiveness which makes me not care. However, I applaud every effort that is made to stretch the boundaries of the medium.

So. I write about sex and violence. Then I write about running into an old co-worker from Blue Byte. Then about an old friend from Holland who made a sex-based chess game. And now I found out an old co-worker from Blue Byte has made an MMORPG about sex and violence. What will happen next? Maybe I don't want to know.

Links: Ren Reynolds has commented on Sociolotron as well as another online sex game, set in Amsterdam's Red Lights District, on Terra Nova.

Dutch games

Historically, the Netherlands is not known for game development. The reason why I packed my bags for foreign climes (Germany) in 1991 was that there were no serious game development companies in Holland at the time.

But by now, things have changed.

Amsterdam-based Guerilla Games, although they've been around in one form or another for quite some time, are coming out of the blue with two AAA titles: Killzone and Shellshock Nam 67.

(I cannot resist a little rant about Edge here, who did a cover story on Killzone last year, and promptly inserted all the cliches of the British schoolboy in Amsterdam, i.e. marihuana, red lights district, etc. for which they earn my eternal contempt. "Video magazine for grown-ups", my ass.)

But anyway, a friend of mine from the Netherlands, with whom I used to talk about making games before I ever joined the industry, just sent me an email about a game he's been working on. It's called Love Chess.

Based on the Greek and Trojan epos, LoveChess takes you to a place where the gods make love on the chess-board. Play chess with sexy queens and amorous knights on your PC.
The feature list contains such gems as:
Watch the chess pieces make love from every angle you want.
Diverse and unique animations for all movements varying from very tender to very bizarre.
Ambient music that brings a serene sense of peace and tranquility.

And the best double entendre I've seen in quite a while:

Proven game play.

Battle Chess + Porn, an unbeatable combination. I'd buy it if it ran on a Mac, and if I liked chess.

It fits in nicely with the Dutch reputation for permissiveness, and it looks like an interesting experiment in presenting sex in real-time 3D. (See also this earlier post on sex in games).