The BBFC refused classification for Manhunt 2 (making it illegal to sell in the UK), a questionable honour it shares with only 1997’s Carmageddon for its ability to kill other drivers and run over pedestrians. I am both a gamer and anti-censorship, yet I find myself strangely defending the BBFC against outraged gaming fans. This was by no means an easy decision and given the 10 year period in which they have rated everything they were faced with, it seems difficult to argue this will be a slippery slope leading to greater censorship. Manhunt, for those unaware of the franchise, is a creation of the ever-controversial Rockstar, best known for creating the Grand Theft Auto series and, well, getting into trouble. Though many are shocked by the result, I actually called this one as soon as the title was announced for the Wii. With its unique controller the player actual enacts the killing and the immediacy this offers was always going to be cause for concern.
I think people need to be aware it is not the gore to which the BBFC object. This is being developed for the Wii and the older PS2 so lacks the visual realism of a PS3 or Xbox 360 title. Rather it is the “casual sadism” and brutality of the style of killing. Now I accept this in films like Saw, a well-written complex thriller which was highly intelligent and very compelling. I accept it far less in bad films which aims to titilate through violence and gore, rather than tell a story or serve some greater purpose. The original game featured a character who had been kidnapped and awakes with a disembodied voice speaking to him through an earpiece telling him he must kill his way to freedom, as those in the vicinity have all been paid to kill him. The voyeuristic villain watches through cameras, offering advice in return for brutal killings. The result undoubtedly violent, but tense and visceral with decent stealth gameplay. This time it sounds as though the player’s character may be more free in how he acts, making it far more dubious.
Of course, should the decision be overturned, the massive publicity received could not be better for Rockstar. I certainly would not have bothered mentioning it otherwise. Now I remain strongly of the view that adults ought to be free to do and see what they please insofar as it causes no harm to others. Yet I do object to those who argue the BBFC has gone completely off the rails here. The result seems to be that the BBFC are saying violence is okay in videogames so long as it is a means to an end and not an end in itself. While I take censorship of anything very seriously, I’m not sure I disagree with that sentiment.
<![Trinity]Matt> get out in the sunshine people <![tithall]grape> oh yeah what a great idea hang on what’s this blocking the door oh yes it’s seven hundred years of culture
This exchange on the Cambridge hub pretty much encapsulates life here now that the weather has actually improved but the welcoming lawns lie empty. Except for yesterday evening, that is, when College was filled with the sound of celebration, commemorating the bicentenary of the laying of the foundation stone. By “sound” I mean an explosive firework display and by celebration I mean that the scholars were all invited to a dinner of drunken revelry (presumably in an attempt to extricate them from the library).
By this time E3 would normally have gamers buzzing with excitement about the industry’s big releases over the coming year. However, as announced last year, the annual event has been massively downscaled to avoid the incredibly expensive one-up-manship that invariably occurred between rival developers and publishers. It looks as though the Leipzig Games Convention may reap with biggest benefits with a projected expansion of 40% this year.
Yet despite the lack of a single focal event, there has been a flood of video footage released in the past several days, particularly from Ubisoft’s “Ubidays” event. The best of the bunch, for your delectation:
Splinter Cell: Conviction shows a fugitive Sam Fisher hiding in plain sight in crowded environments and a new approach to stealth action that feels more like Jason Bourne.
Starcraft II is the belated return of Blizzard’s classic sci-fi RTS.
Team Fortress 2 oddly mirrors the G-Man video prior to Half-Life 2, showing off detailed facial animation and emotion despite the characters being cell-shaded.
Assassin’s Creed demonstrates a little more swordplay, climbing and free running.
Haze suggests more quasi-political private military musings behind its futuristic FPS veneer.
The updated Xbox 360 Elite console is now in the wild with photos flooding the internet as eager journalists get their paws on them. Engadget performed the most interesting test, however, which was comparing the image quality with the standard version. Their conclusion was, as I had predicted, that it is nigh impossible to distinguish between 1080p over HDMI and 1080i over component connections. To Microsoft’s credit they are not targeting this new release at existing Xbox owners, but rather for new-comers who want to move straight to the high-end large-drive version. I suspect the real reason is that they are well aware that their file transfer is still crippled if you move between machines.
Buying the standalone 120GB drive will cause you no problems but because licensed downloadable content is locked to both your Xbox Live ID and your console ID, it will only work on a new console if you are logged in at the time. In an explanatory video at Major Nelson’s site, Albert insultingly describes the “handful of people who might face a unique scenario” if they are not logged in. In essence he has just discounted anyone who does not keep their console internet connected 24/7 as lesser customers. Sorry, unique customers. I suspect that behind his nonchalant attitude he knows full well he was talking rubbish and that far more than “a handful” will be affected by this but is required to peddle the company line. The video has attracted a large number of disgruntled comments. Maybe Albert has very big hands, or maybe it’s based on the fact he did not seem to consider it a problem and appeared unhurried in developing a solution. While it may not be a huge issue yet, these consoles can and do break and many will need to replace theirs (and many of those who bought at launch already have). If Microsoft’s DRM is so short-sighted that it cannot handle this obvious eventuality it places a huge question mark over the quality of their downloads service. Whether it is by a process to “unlock” licensed content or something else, this one needs to be dealt with fast.
And now an exam term top tip (ET³) for those who have trouble with self-control while sitting in front of your computer: the distractionless desktop. The simplest way to do this is to create a new user account and strip out everything non-work related from the desktop and start menu so that it’s just plain difficult to distract yourself. A slightly sleeker solution that still allows you to switch back to other tasks with relative ease is the multiple desktop solution. Using a program like Dexpot you can create additional virtual desktops for you machine and easily move between them. Create a new, plain workspace desktop, with a vanilla wallpaper and free of clutter. You will likely find your productivity increasing fast without web browsers, chat windows and email distracting you. Alternatively Yod’m 3D (pictured) provides a similar feature with less customisation but a pretty animation as you rotate a cube to access additional desktops.
Have any tips you’d like to share with the class? Let me know and I may compile a list of the best.
While making no judgement about the quality of the final film, I openly rubbished the tired teaser trailer for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. The complaint is slightly unfair since all Potter trailers are inevitable compared against the Azkaban teaser which is arguably one of the finest examples made with its atmospheric choir and languid, moody shots. Absurdly it was the trailer for the inevitable game tie-in that sparked greater interest, with impressively realistic incarnations of the film’s characters and a stunningly faithful reproduction of Hogwarts. Yet all this high definition goodness is rather irrelevant since if one were to play the new Harry Potter game, the only format worth considering is clearly the Wii version, wiimote wand poised as you cast spells. The balance has been redressed somewhat by the new full length film trailer which is more engaging, if overly reliant on pyrotechnics rather than subtlety.
Ubisoft have announced a new game in the ever-expanding Tom Clancy franchise, but this outing comes in the form of a World War 3 RTS. Little more is known beyond the title EndWar and the fact its scale is supposed to be massive, possibly even in the massively multiplayer sense. We can assume this is the new project alluded to by the viral website launched several weeks ago.
In other news Kryptonite has been discovered in a mine, though the crystalline substance disappointingly fails to glow green. No word yet on superpowers granted or neutralised.
And lastly for those who enjoy dock action on Windows, a brand new version of Stardock’s ObjectDock ought to be right up your street. Did I mention it’s free?
Apologies for another unplanned extended absence while I relocated to Cambridge for my final term here and tried to kickstart work for the last slog before finals. While Kirsten’s posts seem to increase in frequency as a procrastination attempt the closer exams come, I imagine my own posts will be sporadic this term. However I do understand that this site is seen as a bastion of procrastinatory reading by many so I will endeavour to maintain at least semi-regular service despite exam term. Remember that even when absent I am still scouring my numerous RSS feeds for interesting news items that don’t make it to full-fledged site entries and sharing them (or as a feed’s feed if you prefer). The bottom line: if you want something to read then don’t hide away working and do something interesting.
Like, say, Keggfest. Now an annual institution, Keggfest harks back to the first year when I established the celebration of chocolate as a protest against the commercialisation of the religious Easter holiday. The rules are simple: each attendee must bring a Kegg, a chocolate egg bought at sale-price after Easter, though this year several people really raised the bar with full-on cakes and chewy rice krispy nests. Were there to be an overarching theme, however, this year’s would undoubtedly have been the innovative destruction of eggs with creative methods including crashing remote cars into them at high speed and launching them down corridors with an oversized catapult. The results were as tasty as they were messy.
My laptop had been stuttering at the start of term and realising that I would have little time to deal with it later if things were to deteriorate, I opted for a pre-emptive reformat. I cannot stress how much easier the rebuilding procedure was with my new pre-partitioned hard drive so that after formatting and rebuilding the system partition, my data was already sitting there ready for me to use without any of the usual convoluted backing up and copying. After that experience partitioning off my data is likely to be the first thing I do with any new machine.
Does the name Project Offset mean anything to you? If so, you’ll definitely want to click on this link to the big reveal. Since footage first emerged in 2005, this stunning looking fantasy game has promised cinematic quality rendering in an FPS epic fantasy environment. In short it promises to be everything that Dark Messiah was not. The catch is that now they’re only releasing information after enough people have visited the site, with a blue progress bar edging forward in tantalisingly small steps. Good news is that already people have unlocked two gorgeous screenshots. Bad news is that repeated refreshing from the same address won’t help.
The Elite has officially become gaming’s worst kept secret, being announced pretty much exactly as I stated last post. It’s a decidedly underwhelming offering since pure gamers don’t really need the massive 120GB and HDMI alone hardly justifies the higher price. Meanwhile those using it as a media hub will still find it lacking wireless connectivity or an internal HD-DVD drive (though with the format war undecided this is not necessarily a bad thing). On the other hand, it still costs less than the “cheap” model of the PS3. Buying the standalone hard drive seems like the preferable option.
Meanwhile Take 2 launched a debut trailer for Grand Theft Auto IV. Unfortunately they decided to milk the affair without taking proper precautions. Placing a countdown clock ticking away the seconds a month before your trailer is released pretty much guarantees that hordes of fans will be there the moment the timer ends so having a single machine powered by a gerbil on a running wheel is hardly going to cut it. Unsurprisingly their servers collapsed in a not very spectacular heap. More impressive was the resulting shockwave that took down a clutch of major gaming sites for a few minutes as people struggled to find alternative sources. “I felt a great disturbance in the web, as if millions of GTA fans cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced,” commented Ben Kenobi. The trailer itself was distinctly lacking in content given the insane levels of hype. The engine looks fantastic, set in what seems to be modern day New York. The player takes on the role of an Eastern European immigrant, a happy change from the previous black gangster rap route. The satirical humour is still there with tongue in cheek adverts for Heart Stopper Burger and TV show America’s Next Top Hooker. Yet with no evidence of gameplay or further plot/content it’s difficult to say much beyond “it looks very pretty”.
My Uncle Majela has taken a leaf out of the respective books of the Queen and my mother, finding his 50th birthday fell on an inconvenient date and so “postponing” it until an official birthday this weekend. That means you can look forward to some cute photos of Sebastian doing whatever it is tykes of his age do. You know, tyking.
The release of a trailer for Day Watch (that’s Dnevnoi Dozor to the Russian speakers amongst you) is reason enough for a post itself. It’s over a year and a half since I dragged a motley crew of willing and unwilling victims to see the first instalment of the epic Russian Night Watch trilogy, and although I think it was far from perfect, consider my appetite truly whetted. Although there are clear Hollywood sensibilities (and rumour was they would bankroll the third film) it is nice to see it retains the gritty Russian base with stylistic flourishes that made the original so enthralling. It is not beautiful in the immediate sense, but as you fall under its spell its sheer power makes it a joy to watch. It also featured the most creative use of subtitles I have seen, working them into the scene as they slide behind objects or dissolve ethereally. If you have not yet seen Night Watch, do be sure to grab the DVD before Day Watch arrives.
More interesting, anyway, than a new one for Pirates of the Caribbean. At World’s End looks like — well — exactly like the last two actually. Whilst I’m still keen on seeing the conclusion to last summer’s rambunctious adventure romp, I can’t help but feel the format is wearing a little thing. Trilogy fatigue is difficult to overcome — more of the same is forgettable (Alien 3) while a last ditch soporific attempt to attach deeper meaning to the affair tends to be hideous (The Matrix Revolutions). Upping the ante Return of the King style is a rare achievement, and evening maintaining the same level of energy is hard (Return of the Jedi). Perhaps things would bode better if it were called Return of the Sparrow…
Rumours abound regarding the supposed preparation of the black Xbox 360 Elite which boasts a 120GB hard drive for all your media needs and an HDMI output. So for existing Xbox owners the question is whether it is worth upgrading. The short answer is probably not. On medium sized TVs the difference between component cables and HDMI is probably not noticeable enough to warrant the expense unless you are using the Xbox as your primary media player with the attached HD-DVD add-on. The 120GB hard drive will be available as a separate purchase and is really the way to go. I suspect they will also run quieter with the new hardware. So that leaves the colour, which may or may not be in limited quantities. The truth is that although the black looks cool, white probably matches everything else you own — your Wii, your DS, your (shudder) iPod. Unless you’re a Sony fan, of course, but then what are you doing looking at 360’s?
A Cranworth organised event on Friday featured a lecture from Lord Justice Laws entitled Tolerance and Intolerance generally discussing the approach to questions of freedom of speech regarding sensitive issues such as race, religion and sexuality. It is always pleasant to be reminded that at least the judicature tend to be reasonable and principled where the legislature of late seems to be — well, either careless or insane depending on how generous one feels at the time. For me it was not hugely though-provoking since I already agreed with much of what he said, but did provide some coherent arguments to defend the position. He had much to say on a public law basis which I won’t discuss in detail. Broadly, there are conflicting rights to freedom of speech and to protection, but there is no right not to be offended. The harm caused by speech should be prevented through application of other laws rather than a law restricting speech itself. The talk also took on a delightfully British tone as he explained that people now seem to regard good manners merely as icing upon the moral cake rather than part of the cake itself. How true, indeed.
Over the weekend I ended up fuelling my eBay habit once more, picking up a handful of new games in time for the holiday. They actually offer a nice overview of the console’s one year of existence, stretching back to the launch title Perfect Dark Zero. Although I was unimpressed by the demo, it has now dropped to a far more reasonable level where it might be considered a fun romp rather than the nuanced slice of entertainment perfection that its £40 price tag on release suggested. Rare did an admirable job in producing two release titles for the console (Kameo being the other, and I maintain that where PDZ was significantly overrated, Kameo was actually underrated) but it has taken a little while for it to hit its stride in games like Oblivion and GRAW. The funny thing is that this has resulted in games like Splinter Cell and Hitman receiving far lower scores than the launch crop despite being significantly better. It happens every time, of course, but you’d think we’d have learned to tone down our launch euphoria to reflect this by now…
I’ve been waiting a long time to post something positive about Sony and they’ve finally done it. They were finally able to shine at GDC, showing off Little Big Planet and PlayStation Home. The former is a great little platformer that looks like a cross between a Pixar cartoon and stop-motion animation. However the really interesting revelation (notwithstanding Kotaku breaking the news early) was the pervasive online world of PlayStation Home. Visually it is simply stunning, and allows players to converse and interact in Second Life style. Whether this is a good fit for a gaming platform remains to be seen, of course, but if the community does take to it, it will provide a fantastic hub through which to access other services. The customisable “home” to which you can invite others is a nice touch, with a Hall of Fame/Awards system that seems to offer Xbox Achievement-style trophies from games. The real question is quite how to handle hundreds of thousands of users in the central areas. Presumably they will have to be divided up, but then how will you locate your friends for online gaming? It’s cool and it’s free but the downside is that it’s not a very game-centric advancement. However if a satisfactory solution can be found to these issues, innovative ideas like this, while not truly groundbreaking, show the future may not be quite so grim for Sony.
Meanwhile Peter Molyneux, though claiming to be more reserved, is still waxing lyrical about Fable 2, the sequel to Lionhead’s pleasant if shallow RPG. Aside from including the ability to have children and raise a family (meaning that if you elect to play a female character you can get pregnant — he believes the player character going into labour will be a first), the big feature they revealed was the removal of the entire HUD interface. This itself is not unique, but what they have replaced it with is. Because it’s a dog. Yes, canis lupus familiaris. Pets are far from new but this one you do not directly control. The idea is to foster a two-way relationship so that you genuinely care about this mutt. IGN has more details on the mechanics, as well as videos. Between raising kids and adventuring with your dog, the notion of unconditional love seems to be a theme here with a genuine desire to tap into the player’s emotions. However the world’s rough visuals show the game is far from ready, so don’t expect this to replace Nintendogs any time soon.
More circumlocutory mayham as Episode 2 of the new Sam and Max series lands and fortunately it seems my fears about its online delivery were misplaced. Situation: Comedy lampoons the full range of dire daytime television staples as the feisty duo work their way through a studio earning their 15 minutes of fame. Although the game lasts a little longer than that, it’s not much longer — again a couple of hours. This is largely due to the ease with which you’ll likely solve the game’s puzzles, although they remain as creative as ever albeit with less lateral thinking than their last outing. The storytelling and presentation is top notch and as one of six episodes included under the single price tag of just over £20, it’s hard to complain about another amusingly diverting adventure. Bring on episode three!
I came across an interesting NSA document on network security. It includes various notes on strong password selection that should be obvious, but has a few interesting ideas too. Arguably too invasive for the home user with its strict rules, it’s still interesting to see how the alleged professionals handle things.