All posts by Olly

Resume and Court

Just in case you happen to be an editor from a prestigious magazine who wants to pay me lots of money, you can now find my resume in the About section of the site.

I had my second visit of my course to the Crown Court today and apart from being more interesting than last time it only reaffirmed my conviction never to work on a provincial newspaper (tomorrow I have a visit to the local newspaper, so we’ll see what I think about it then). I’ve spent about six hours total in court and I’ve yet to see a verdict delivered, and they never seem to get anything done. The entire thing just seems grossly inefficient; a place for ostentatious people with cauliflowers on their heads to go and argue semantics. I thought the justice system was supposed to be accessible to the normal person?

When Did Games Magazines Stop Being Fun?

The advent of the Internet as a viable form for the gaming media to exist in has been the biggest shake-up of our section of the industry since Pong, with the main source of information to the consumer changing from being static monthly magazines to the dynamic and interactive (not to mention mostly free) Internet. What I want to know is whether or not this quantum shift is what’s responsible for the metamorphosis of most magazines from fun reading into stoic Edge clones.

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t bashing Edge. They’re one of the few publications that I trust with where my £40 goes and they do a great job of filling their little niche. In fact, they’re now the only games magazine that I buy on a regular basis (in addition to my subscriptions to IGN Insider and GameSpot Complete). My complaint is that it seems like every magazine is trying to be them.

Rewind ten years or so: I was buying Super Play, Nintendo Magazine System, and Gamesmaster every month and looking forward to what would become N64 Magazine. None of them had any illusions that games were high art and they’d make jokes and interact with the fan base, as well as have features that I still enjoy going back and reading today – pragmatic features on import gaming or creating a fanzine and tongue-in-cheek ones about things like gaming recipies or a gamer’s first visit to Japan. I still have my magazines on my bottom shelf and I can still kill a couple of hours by digging out a favourite issue and having a quick read.

Now the Official PS2 Magazine is a £5.99 advertorial, Official Nintendo Magazine has been shit since it changed from the NMS format, gamesTM is one of the most blatant Edge clones around (they’ve even manipulated scores based on Edge’s), and even the surviving magazines aimed at a younger audience like Gamesmaster have tried to realign themselves with teenagers. Edge are the only ones who consistenly write with conviction and intelligence.

Maybe it’s the fact that as many gamers are adults as are kids today, and it makes sense to cater your magazine to the ones with the disposible income, but something doesn’t have to stop being entertaining to be grown up. We need a well-written magazine for grown-ups that’s less Newsnight, more Have I Got News For You.

If It’s In The Game, It Was In Last Year’s Game

EA have, in my opinion, been a threat to the games industry for a long time. They’ve been known for their endless rehashes, sequels, and expansions for years but recently things like the EA Spouse and the purchase of the NFL and ESPN licences have only compounded the animosity that some areas of the gaming community have felt for EA. Even as real competition in the form of Ubi Soft has emerged, EA have constantly been attempting a hostile takeover, neutralising the threat to their growing monopoly.

I make no secret of the fact that I detest EA, and will now actively avoid their games at every turn. The ones that I’ve bought have been buggy (Battlefield 1942 still has bugs from launch after over 1GB of patches) and obviously rushed to deadline, and they’ll squeeze every last penny out of every franchise they have by pumping out cynical cash-ins on the brand names. I won’t even pirate their stuff because I don’t want to pollute my hardware with it. The kind of homogenisation that they practice and their gradual monopolisation is going to be nothing but bad for the industry and could destroy its chances of being taken seriously as an art form.

What really pushed me over the edge to write this was a story today on Happy Puppy that we may be looking at $70 EA games in the next generation of consoles. For the people who celebrated the fact that Madden would be the only NFL game after Sega’s ESPN series made serious inroads into the market, this will be your reward. ESPN sold for $30 but without that competition EA has no reason to compete on price. Madden is usually an early system seller so the manufacturers need it on their launch calendar, and people are going to have to pay it because there’s no other choice. It might only be speculation at this point, but I’ll bet that their stuff won’t be $50 anymore.

I have a feeling that this won’t be my last rant on EA for the forseeable future. Just wait for what delights E3 will bring from them…

PSP as a Media Player?

With Sony’s handheld set to launch in the US towards the end of the month, the predicted handheld war between the PSP and Nintendo DS is really going to take off. The DS has had a few months to get a head start and has achieved an impressive dent in the market in that time, but the PSP is a seriously impressive piece of kit that’s going to take some beating in a world where aesthetics are everything (just look at how the iPod’s done).

In the inevitable “which is better?” flame wars that accompany any console launch always seem to fall back on an attempt to decide whether the innovative gaming concepts that are possible with the DS’s unique hardware, an idea that is certainly appealing but has yet to prove itself as a financially viable direction for the industry, is going to compete with the PSP’s ability to function as a portable media hub. Indeed, it seems that the PSP comes closer to the concept of being an entertainment hub than Sony originally envisioned for the PS2. While it’s an appealing idea to have your movies, music, and games in one pocket (using the term loosely) machine, available wherever and whenever you want them, is it actually going to be a viable media player?

One of the first pitfalls is storage. Unless Sony come up with a recordable UMD standard – unlikely, considering the piracy implications – all of the non-game content on your PSP has to run from one of Sony’s proprietary Memory Stick Duos. Prices of memory obviously falls over time and with increasing demand (in 2000 a 64MB SD card would set you back £180; I just bought a 1GB card for a little over £40) but even when a $150 1GB Memory Stick Duo falls to a more affordable price, a gig simply isn’t a lot of space when you’re talking about media. Just look at how the once-cavernous 5GB early MP3 jukeboxes are now curiosities, and anything less than 20GB is now considered small. Those don’t even hold video!

It might be adequate as a music player of picture viewer, even if it’s not going to trouble the likes of Apple and iRiver too much, but what is really going to be awkward for the PSP is video. The US version will come with a free copy of Spider-Man 2 on UMD which should look great, but it’s never going to take off when movies are $20-30 each and they only work on the PSP. It’s not like you get a DVD copy with it so that you can watch it on your nice TV and sound system for the 99% of the time when you’re not sitting down with a small screen for two hours. You can’t even output the PSP to a TV to watch the movie.

The PSP can play movies off the Memory Stick, but it only accepts video in its proprietary MPEG-4 format that the user will have to encode themselves and the average person isn’t going to have a clue how to do. Putting DVDs onto the PSP could prove popular, but DVD ripping is illegal in most places, even for DVDs that you own. It will remain that way until DVD is an obsolete format (meaning: when HD-DVD/Blu-Ray is the standard and they no longer make DVDs), which isn’t going to happen in the PSP’s lifespan. Sony aren’t going to be able to advertise this ability and no-one will legally be able to make and market software to do it.

Ultimately, the PSP is going to be another portable games machine. The implementation of music and video playback is just too limited to be anything more than a gimmick. At best it will be used in the same way that a camera phone is used as a quick substitute for a real camera; the PSX CD player function updated for the 21st Century. Like the PS2 DVD player was used as a first player for many people before becoming the basic player for the kids’ bedrooms, the PSP’s multimedia functions will simply pave the way for the next generation of portable jukebox players as video functionality becomes the next big thing.

The early success of the DS has shown that new ideas can be popular, and the PSP is going to need quality software to back it up – not just PS2 ports – if it wants to take Nintendo’s handheld crown.

Microsoft’s Ineptitude

The other day I posted that Microsoft had sent me a replacement power cable with a European plug which was pretty useless to me. I phoned them up, they shipped out a new one, and I thought nothing more of it.

Well, today my replacement for the replacement arrived and…it was another European one. I’m not even going to bother ordering another one – I’ve diced with death for three years with the old one so I’ll just risk it and take the payout from Microsoft if my house burns down.

Gaming Thinks of the Children

With so much baiting of the games industry going on in the media it’s always nice to see someone impartial reporting something positive about it, especially when it seems to contradict the old “gaming makes you violent” maxim by giving games an application where they’re going to help people. If sick children aren’t going to get people on our side I don’t know what will. Maybe games helping sick baby animals?

What would be even nicer would be to see the likes of the Daily Mail reporting on it, but apparently that sort of story doesn’t sell as many papers as some sensationalist bullshit about how Manhunt has you playing as someone who kills for sexual pleasure (it doesn’t, in case you couldn’t guess).

Thank goodness for the BBC; it’s good to know that they’re going to be around for at least ten more years.