Quote of the Day

Ladies and gentlemen, the first shot of the console war has been fired:

“We didn’t want to go out to E3 and show a bunch of rendered videos that wouldn’t necessarily reflect reality. Sony has created that expectation and we’ll have to see if they can deliver on it. We’ll have real content at E3, real games that people can go out and get their hands on.”

Oooh, burn. This is going to get fun.

In-Game Advertising

Having seen the news from a couple of days ago that post-apocalyptic MMO car combat game (what a combination) Auto Assault is to start getting in-game advertising, I felt the time was right for a nice little rant on the subject. Product placement is a phenomenon that’s gotten really big, often ridiculously so, in film recently and with development costs soaring it’s always a good thing to offset some of those costs, right?

Nuh-uh. EA games are full of product placement but the money plainly isn’t poured into improving the game and they’re still all the full price of £50/$60. In Fight Night Round 3 even the achievements are branded so that if you happen to win a certain tournament your account will be adorned with a Burger King logo for all who care to look at it.

I can actually deal with that because real sports are heavily commercialised and anyone who watches them on TV is used to hoardings around the pitch and tournaments named after beers and banks, but is having ads for current companies or this week’s TV shows in a post-apocalyptic world actually helping immersion? Doubtful. It didn’t help in Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory when I had to watch sustained shots of Airwaves chewing gum or when I saw Manhattan plunged into darkness…except for the Airwaves blimp hovering above the city.

Thinking about how it affects immersion or the gameplay, the sheer amount of PR crap that goes into this is just creepy. A couple of months ago Edge had an interview with a guy from one of the in-game advertising agencies who said that “it’s really about enhancing the gameplay”. How exactly? They got a reply the next month from someone who used to work in development who listed stories of changes to actual gameplay that were vetoed because advertising space had been sold, or this one:

“I have personally heard the sponsoring companies haggle to get a ‘special mission in the game where the player has to buy a XXX phone to complete the mission.'”

I’d be pissed if I bought a game and it had something like that in it, but this kind of stuff happens all the time and is getting more and more invasive, now to the point of using your connection to stream in new ads. It’s downright insidious.

Advertising won’t drop prices just like products in movies haven’t meant prices dropping and products in TV shows haven’t eliminated commercial breaks, because the savings won’t be passed onto the consumer. The only example of free but ad-supported gaming that I can think of is the ‘Smarts Adds’ (their spelling) Gizmondo, and I think about 12 people bought it. A company with shareholders to answer to will pocket a few thousand off their development costs and continue to take £50 a time as long as people are willing to pay it.

Commercialisation of games is as inevitable as it has been with any other medium where costs only go up with technology, but I hope publishers can keep their feet on the ground with this. They’ve been making money for decades with little or no licencing (hell, even paying for licences to use in driving games) and I hope they don’t forget that because alienating thousands of fans isn’t worth a few extra notes in the pocket.

PS3 Worldwide Launch

Now it looks like things are going to get interesting. A year after Microsoft’s worldwide launch was filed under the “could have gone better” category, Sony are going to attempt the same thing. Credit to them for not shitting on the European audience like they can so often be accused of doing, at least.

My name is still down for one and it remains to be seen how we’ll they’ll be able to deliver since demand is likely to be astronomical (depending on what price they announce, of course) and one can assume that first generation bespoke hardware would have even more manufacturing problems than the more proven stuff that Microsoft launched with, but they’ve thankfully given themselves more time to get the manufacturing done.

One thing we can be assured of is that the gloves are really going to be off at E3 now, with Microsoft showing off some second-gen stuff (Halo 3, please), Sony letting us know the exact launch details for the PS3, and Nintendo coming in with their dark horse in the form of the Revolution. I have a feeling that people aren’t giving Nintendo all the credit they deserve at the moment and they’re being very hush-hush about something, so I’ll be watching them closely come May.

Time to start saving those pennies again because this year is going to get expensive…

What The Hayes?

I had to laugh at this. Isaac Hayes has quit his role as Chef in South Park because he objected to the “intolerance and bigotry toward religious beliefs” of the show.

That’s fair enough, but he didn’t have a problem with the jokes about Christians and Muslims, or the jokes at the expense of Kyle’s Judaism in pretty much every episode, but only decided to quit when the show inevitably turned its sights on his own religion, Scientology. With Tom Cruise’s well-publicised descent into madness continuing it was only a matter of time. Matt Stone put it best:

“[We] never heard a peep out of Isaac in any way until we did Scientology. He wants a different standard for religions other than his own, and to me, that is where intolerance and bigotry begin.”

Hypocrites can suck on my (white) chocolate salty balls.


This has to be the story of the year. The scummiest of scumware manufacturers, Starforce (read up on them here) decided that it would be an excellent idea to show just how effective their malware anti-piracy protection was by posting a link to a site where people could download a pirated copy of Galactic Civilizations II, a game unencumbered with their technology. It’s of course completely irrelevant that any of the Starforce games are also available for download if you’re so inclined.

I’m going to use this to segue into a related issue: why on Earth do they insist on putting the same ridiculously over-zealous copy protection in game after game, when the only people it affects are those who actually care enough to drop £40 on a game? Starforce in particular is downright insidious, installing secret drivers, blocking blacklisted software, causing system instability, and sticking around when the game is uninstalled. It might be different if it actually prevented the games from being pirated, but I searched for Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory on one of the biggest sites and several copies came up, complete with Starforce bypassed.

Now I’m not advocating dropping any kind of protection because it’s unfortunately needed – Max Payne 2 had nothing more than a CD key and got pirated to hell because no online play meant a unique key wasn’t needed – but the basics like SafeDisc stop casual copying which is the best they can hope for without hardware protection. Those are pretty unobtrusive and aren’t going to stop the hardcore piraters, but nothing is for now.

The thing that really gets me is that I, as someone who buys the games/movies/albums that I want, am the one who ends up suffering from it. I’m sure people remember the Sony rootkit disaster, which did absolutely nothing to stop MP3s appearing in hours and ended up crippling legitimate users’ systems. That means the pirates got perfect copies without restrictions while buyers who had the audacity to stick the disc in their PC ended up with some pretty nasty software indeed, without even being asked about it. It’s similar to why I don’t like iTunes – I wouldn’t pirate a 128kbps audio file, let alone pay 79p for one with restrictions.

In an ideal world they wouldn’t need any protection because people would buy the stuff that they wanted, but this isn’t a utopia and unfortunately there are people who refuse to pay for any of their media. While I support the publishers in their attempts to protect their IP and think pirates are scum, they need to take the moral high ground and stop pulling this shit on their legitimate customers.

PlayStation 64

With the first day of Spring a little over a week away and Sony still insistent on getting the PS3 out in that impending three month window, the jokes and conspiracy theories are inevitably starting to hit fever pitch. I’ve just been reading this feature over on 1UP and it really made me think.

I chuckled at their Dreamcast 2.0 feature back in November and although those parallels are quite amusing, I have to say that the ones between the PS3 and the N64 are even more compelling and Sony will be in trouble if they come out a year after the 360 with little extra in the way of power and a price tag $100 bigger, brand name be damned. Microsoft’s launch might have been a minor debacle but the signs are looking like unless Sony have pulled the wool over all our eyes they could actually be taken to the wire with this one.

I’m tempted to back Microsoft if only because I want to see what would happen if a system that they can’t give away in Japan becomes the top dog. That could be interesting…