Sunday, February 27, 2005

Nothing to Do with Interactive Entertainment

Sorry. This could relate to interactive entertainment only in the longest of stretches. But I couldn't contain myself. Deca, didn't you read the book? You should feel free to weigh in on this in a more measured fashion. I just like the art style.

They're making an animated (rotoscoped, by the look of it) film of PKD's A Scanner Darkly.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Design Challenge: What Would a Maoist Videogame Be Like?

This page of Maoist videogame reviews has been making the rounds on various game-related blogs lately. The thing that interests me the most about these reviews is that they start with the assumption that games convey ideology, something people have argued about endlessly. Traditional game reviews almost always ignore even the possibility of a bias in the game's presentation. For instance, while most reviews of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic mention the choice the player has between good and evil, the Maoist review takes note of the fact that the game is significantly easier for players who chose evil and skewers the game for teaching the player that "those who have the courage to kill, are strong. Those who don't are weak."

The review continues to examine the lessons that are inherent in KotOR. "In one part of the game, the player fights for money--to the death. This serves well to illustrate the society, where money is everything and human life is worth nothing. The worth of a corpse is solely a function of its persynal properties, which have to be looted to advance in the game." While the paranoia and the talk of "fascist bastards" turns me off, I have to admit that I am happy to find someone examining the ideology of games.

After poking around for a bit, I had to ask the inevitable next question: "What would a good, Maoist (or Marxist, or Communist, or even Socialist) game look like?" Their review for Rise of Nations begins to point the way.

" least in RoN there is an entire economy, a political system and history. The outcome of the game does not depend on the action of one super-robot constructed by the player: as in 'Tropico,' we see all the citizens scurrying about their work and that work determines whether the player wins or loses." So, it would seem that a Maoist game should focus on a society rather than a single, heroic central character. The player's success or failure should take place within a group context rather than from an individual perspective. In addition, the economy and political system should be linked such that economic failure leads to political downfall and vice versa.

"It was an advance for RoN and others to 'assume' the world is non-violent and that the game occurs in that context, either as economic competition or cultural competition." Presumably, a Maoist game then would be based on achieving peace rather than dominance. Think PeaceCraft, an idea my friend, ClockworkGrue, came up with. Success in the game should be possible to achieve through economic, political, and/or cultural means rather than solely through military domination.

Are there any other fundamental design decisions that would lead to non-Capitalist ideologies in a game? Are there games out there that do this already?

Aside: I can't resist this little dig... I love the little bourgeois link to at the bottom of each review. It makes me wonder...

Monday, February 21, 2005

Athena's Legacy

If making better games is a worthy goal, then helping to even the gender gap in the industry is a necessary step. Furthering that goal is a friend of mine Sarahlah, who runs the blog Athena's Legacy. It is an insightful look at the life and opinions of a female software engineer in the game industry.

Check it out at:

Friday, February 18, 2005

Microsoft explains 1337

I guess leetspeek has arrived, since the Evil Empire has now posted a glossary on it. I wonder what this would have looked like if it was written in the 50s or 60s.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Online Co-op: Where F*#% is it?

Deca and I have been looking for a good Xbox Live enabled co-op game, something for those nights when getting our asses handed to us by 12-year-olds on Halo 2 just doesn't cut it. Now, I understand that online co-op presents a conundrum for developers. It represents more design work, more art work, and more programming; and the payoff for all that extra work is in no way guaranteed. However, I sense that, done right, online co-op could significantly enhance some games. The question is: "What would it take for developers to pursue online co-op more readily? Is there a way to do online co-op that's cost effective and still entertaining?"

We're looking for something that allows us to play a campaign together, not something that puts us on a team against other players (ie, not Battlefront, Halo 2, etc). Ideally, something like Halo's split-screen co-op, just over the Internet. There's no particular requirement that it be first person, either. Hunter: The Reckoning, while not my favorite game ever, was a ton of fun to play with a few friends gathered around the tv. It would be great to be able to engage in that kind of fun over Xbox Live.

Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory seems to have online co-op missions which sounds great to me [screenshots at Kotaku]. Are there any other good Xbox Live co-op games out there (or coming soon)?

Friday, February 04, 2005

Return to Halo 2

Nope, this isn't a post about sequels. In honor of our resurrected Halo 2 nights, I'm throwingup a link to a late review posted recently over at While the writing leaves something to be desired, the sentiments are great. This is a player who clearly loves Halo, but is conflicted over Halo 2's shortcomings, just as I was in many ways.
On the graphical glitches: "During cinematics and gameplay alike, the player is greeted at almost every room entry, quick turn, or camera change with simple coloured blocks,mossy green or ocean blue figures, that are quickly gone over with another level of texture and detail to bring them up to par, as though 'the gnomes' had been slacking in their efforts to create the world ahead of you. Peripheral vision shows a brown box; turning towards it shows a shaded crate; looking away slightly replaces it with the same flat placeholder. While some of the things that have changed in-game are a matter of preference and will merely take some time to get used to, this is unacceptable."

On the story: "But as it stands the game is unfulfilling, not leaving you an artistic cliffhanger or with a feeling of curious suspense, but rather of disappointment and irresolution; the game is obviously not finished, and while the ending was 'intentional' (as though someone was accusing it of being 'accidental'), it remains unfinished, both in its entirety and in detail, by their own admission. Yes, there is certainly the possibility of a third installment, or even a 2.5, but this is hardly consoling; I have already spent my money, and have little desire to spend another bundle to merely get what was originally promised. It is the principle of the thing."

The author also touches on much more granular issues like weapon balance, difficulty, inadequacy of coop, and level design. After all is said and done, the mere addition of Xbox Live support catapults Halo 2 into "great game" status for me, but for some interesting critiques from someone who's clearly thought a lot about it, this article is well worth a read.