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But seriously

I think that by now it is obvious, even to me, that this blog has rolled down the slope of my audience's attention span, and that it is time for me to push it back up, the way Sisyphus is forever pushing his boulder up a hill in the realm of the dead. Even my blogging service has decided to start dropping some not-so-subtle hints.

Although I must say the empty blog has a kind of charm, plus it is evoking more comments than in the days of yore when it was festooned with more thoughtful entries.

But anyway. It's not as if nothing interesting has been happening in the games biz. Although I have been procrastinating like a madman where the writing of entries is concerned, I did still collect various fun little items.

For instance, there is this BBC story on the virtual girlfriend running on a mobile phone, developed by a company in Hong Kong. This story offers a treasure chest of tropes: love, sex, the virtualisation of life, the Far East. References to Tamagotchi and William Gibson jump to mind, along with droll comparisons with real girlfriends. But I trust you, dear reader, to be smart enough to see the rich and multi-faceted nature of this story yourself, without me stating the obvious or pretending I have any kind of strong opinion on stories like these.

While I'm on the subject of virtual women: the October issue of Playboy magazine features many female video game characters in states of undress. Allegedly. If you didn't know about this yet, you can read the details on CNN.

Boy, I do seem to have a lot of quasi-disreputable links lying around. This brings back memories of the good old Everquest porn days. It took me years to get Google to stop sending people my way who were into that stuff.

Anyway. How about these NES controller hot pants? Is this officially licensed Nintendo merchandise? Better order some before their lawyer SWAT team comes crashing through the window.

And here is what you get when you mix Barbie, live xxx chat, and Eliza, with a hint of subservient chicken thrown in. It's good for a smile or two, especially if you turn on the audio. That is some seriously cheesy music. Oh, some of the ads are not entirely work-safe.

Well, I think that should be enough to disperse any fond memories you might have had of a weblog with entries that managed to be relevant, edifying and witty at the same time. Those days are past, my friend.


Dana is from San Francisco. Dana runs a simple website about honey called I Love Bees. I Love Bees has been hacked by something strange. Something that is counting down to "wide awake and physical". Dana doesn't know what to do, according to her blog.

Other people are keeping a very close eye on Dana's metastasizing website.

One of those people is Tycho from Penny Arcade:

ILB hit big on the Game News radar when the first revelations were made, and I haven't seen much on it since - but revelations like those and the subsequent processing of the missives happens virtually every day at the NetNinja Wiki. They seize on each snip of dialogue, gumming the out of context fragments together into monologues of startling clarity - then, going to a greater level of magnification, they add context and speculation to their reconstituted script. These messages are sometimes in plaintext in the source of the page, and sometimes ferreted away inside an image. More recently, odd sound files have become available that appear to represent the discovery or construction of a voice. My favorite page yet has got to be this one - where haikus drawn from elsewhere on the site are synchronized with what looks like raw log output from working processes into an oddly compelling narrative.
He thinks I Love Bees is a very convoluted and coded way to tell a story.
[...] a story about a military artificial intelligence from the Halo/Marathon universe that resides on the I Love Bees server, infected by rogue and more than possibly Covenant software.
See also this earlier post about hoaxes and this one about world-building.

The end of Britsoft

MCV UK laments the end of Britsoft:

With Eidos for sale, Codemasters for sale, Criterion bought and Argonaut in financial crisis, it’s not just the media frenzy surrounding Manhunt that should be giving the market pause for thought this week.

From a content creation and ownership perspective, the UK industry is faced with the harsh realities of global consolidation. Indeed, a collection of its biggest brand names could fall into foreign ownership in just a matter of weeks.

But how does this look from a non-British perspective?

The Germans may feel left out. I can't think of a German developer able to deliver worldwide AAA titles who hasn't already been acquired. Consolidation within Germany itself was set back by the collapse of Phenomedia and the problems of JoWooD, although they seem to have picked themselves up again. So while the world is consolidating for the next-gen future, the Germans are being left behind.

The French seem to be doing OK, although from what I hear it's not easy being a developer there. The only halfway decent and dependable employer seems to be Ubisoft: a company I admire, but which doesn't exactly have an unblemished record regarding the treatment of both internal and external developers. Many of the big French companies of yore are bust, have been acquired, or are mere shadows of their former selves.

The wailing and gnashing of teeth regarding the goings-on in the UK remind me of one of my pet theories. The British (and the French) still have some nostalgia for the time when they were major world-spanning empires, and subsequently they sometimes have trouble facing the reality of not being quite that important anymore. Being Dutch, I can lean back and smile, because our Golden Age was in the 17th century, and now long past. I've gotten used to being from a small country. Instead of getting upset when we no longer fulfill the expectations of empire, I can take pride if we occasionally punch above our weight.

The same goes for the Dutch games industry. Also, having lived in several different countries, I just can not get excited about one particular country's games industry.

But anyway, enough pop socio-historical claptrap. More news from the British front:

Whilst most acquisition talk has surrounded EA’s $48m swoop for Criterion and coffee-spitter of a cash offer for Eidos, MCV understands that French giant Ubisoft has reached an advanced stage in negotiations with another of the UK’s prized games assets in Codemasters.

To quote Alan Moore's excellent Bojeffries Saga: "They eat our women, sleep with our food." But it makes a lot more sense than buying Eidos. Ubisoft has a decent publishing operation, especially in Europe. But they have shown that they can make an enormous amount of developers work. So why not buy some more? I think this rumor will turn out to be true.

Doom 3

Well, Doom 3 is out. The reviews appear to be positive.

I found this review by Tom Chick through Robin's blog. It's different from the usual review, describing not just the game, but also the whole hype around the game, and how it affects one player's experience. It's definitely a good read.

Mr. Chick doesn't have a very positive opinion of the game:

"Okay, maybe it's a good game. But just barely. I could think of ten other PC games this year that are way better than Doom 3. It's overlong, repetitive, derivative, uninspired. It's full of fucking monster closets, for Christ's sake. Monster closets! There's a monster just sitting in a closet that won't open until you walk past it. What's up with that?"
The Gamespot review makes similar points:
The game's structure will undoubtedly remind many players of Half-Life.

When all is said and done, it's still a pretty basic sci-fi story, but in DOOM 3, presentation is everything.

[...] your objectives are usually tried-and-true FPS conventions, like finding Key X and hitting Switch Y so you can get to Area Z.

While the simplistic AI isn't the worst thing in the world, I suspect a lot of gamers will take some offense at the gimmicky way enemies spawn in, for reasons visible only within lines of the game's code. Most rooms are devoid of enemies until you set off some invisible trigger or grab a powerup, which at which point demons will teleport in to attack you.

Although in the end their verdict is positive:
For maybe the first time, id Software has made a game where pace and presentation are among its strongest points, instead of an afterthought.

[...] there simply haven't been many shooters in the past few years that have molded story, pacing, atmosphere, gameplay and technology as well as DOOM 3.

Much more than for pretty much any other game in the Western world, including Half-Life 2, any discussion surrounding Doom 3 will be distorted by the hype and the legacy and the emotions related to them. We'll get people loving it because it's Doom, people hating it because it's not the Doom they remembered, people hating it because everybody loves it, people hating or loving (or neutrally reporting on) other people loving or hating it, etc. I predict that the majority of the reporting and discussion on the game will really be about arguing whether the story of id Software is an inspiring tale of heroism, or a tragedy. Are John Carmack and his sidekicks taking the gaming industry to the next level? Or do they no longer have what it takes to excite the masses?

That whole discussion will be magnified and intensified by Doom 3's status as one of the games that can either revive or spell, aha, doom for the PC games and related markets, as can be seen in the reporting by mainstream and financial news sources:

CNN Money:

"The releases of 'Doom 3' and 'Half-Life 2' may be more responsible for more computer upgrades than any other factor in the past several years," said [Gary Cooper, an analyst with Banc of America Securities]. "This could revive a PC games sales environment that has not seen a year-over-year weekly sales increase in units or dollars since the end of February 2003."

USA Today:

Together [with Half-Life 2], the games could amount to a renaissance for a PC industry desperate to reclaim some of the glamour from console video games, which have been responsible for the bulk of the $10 billion video-game market.

Yahoo! Finance, quoting NVidia's operating results for second quarter fiscal year 2005:

NVIDIA launched volume production of its desktop GeForce 6800 family, which includes the 6800 Ultra, 6800 GT and 6800. The GeForce 6800 Ultra and GT were recently named the recommended GPUs for id Software's Doom 3(TM), regarded as one of the most highly-anticipated PC games in history.

BBC news:

The eagerly awaited blockbuster computer game, Doom 3, has been leaked on the internet. Copies of the game on file-sharing networks and newsgroups are being downloaded by thousands of people. The cost to the game's makers, id Software, could run into hundreds of thousands of pounds in lost sales.

The stories on piracy are particularly puzzling. Every PC game gets pirated, and I found it surprising it took that long, not that it happened at all.

But anyway. I still haven't played Doom 3, and since I am a proud non-PC-owner and don't like to play at work, I probably won't play it for a while, at least until the Xbox version comes out.

From what I've seen and read so far, I get the impression that, arguably for the first time, id has done a great job on making a game that tells a story (i.e. unlike Quake 3) and that has modern, AAA production values - "pace and presentation are among its strongest points, instead of an afterthought". At the same time, several aspects of the game appear to be derivative or simplistic. One can ask whether those were intentional artistic choices, perhaps motivated by the game's predecessors, or signs of creative weakness. But I cannot see much real interest in asking that question, apart from preparing for that inevitable moment when Doom 3 is used as an argument for or against a decision in some other project.


So is there really a vaguely titillating object in Max Payne 2?

This guy seems to think so. Or maybe not. He doesn't want to say what the 'peculiar' thing might be. Because it's something dirty maybe! And that can give you cooties! Thank god this 'subtle joke' is work-safe.

That's hilarious! If only more programmers took the time to put little things like this into games. It makes it fun to find hidden things like this.
Yeah, programmers put a lot of fun objects in levels.

Enough with the sneering already.