November 2005 Archives
November 25, 2005
Over the next week I'll be taking a little vacation and probably won't be posting to the site. Oh sure, I'll still be around, checking out the Gaming Steve forums and a few other things, but I probably won't have time to post new stories to the site over the next week. Which brings me to ... The Gaming Steve Comment Contest!
How it works is real simple. Just post a comment on this topic telling everyone and the world what is your favorite video game and why. Make sure to post your comment no later than midnight Sunday, December 4th, then come back to the site on Monday, December 5th where one person will be chosen at random to win a free copy of City of Villains Deluxe Edition for the PC! And, well, maybe I'll give out some other free stuff as well to others ... ah what the hey. I'll also give out a free Half Life 2 T-shirt and a free copy of the Auto Assault Pre-order CD as well. So that's three prizes to three lucky people, and all you need to do is leave a simple little comment.
Again, all you need to do is just leave a comment on this topic telling everyone what is your favorite video game and why, and that's it. Just make sure to enter in your real email address when you enter your comment so that I have a means to contact you -- don't worry, you won't get put on any list and you're email address will be kept totally private. Feel free to comment on anything else and comment as many times as you like (only one prize per person).
I'll see you all back here next Monday, in the meantime check out the very active Gaming Steve forums, or catch up on some old podcasts, or play the classic Star Control II. Just make sure to check back on December 5th when the winners will be announced and I'll be posting the next episode of the Gaming Steve podcast where I interview the guys at NetDevil, the makers of the upcoming Auto Assault. See you then and good luck to you all!
November 23, 2005
One of the cooler aspects of the Xbox 360 is the addition of "achievements", which are basically rewards for achieving various in-game objectives (i.e. finish the game, unlock secret items, obtain certain high scores, etc.). As you "collect" these achievements they are added to your Xbox Live gamer profile in the form of cool icons for the world to see.
Sounds like an original concept, right? Rewarding people for achieving various in-game accomplishments on a console game? Well, this concept which first surfaced over 23 years ago on the Atari 2600!
Back in the "gaming stone age" (AKA the year 1982) Activision offered free cloth patches if you achieved a high score in any one of their games. Users were instructed to photograph their TV with the high score showing and mail it in and then Activision would send back a patch. Quite a bit of work in order to receive a piece of colored fabric, but it does mark the very first true "achievement" system for video games. In total there were 43 patches for 33 different games and the patch designs were quite varied and pretty damn cool.
So what made me think about this obscure past of gaming history. Well, just this past weekend I was at my parent's house poking around my old room when I came across my old Puma sweatshirt and my collection of Activision patches! Take a look at this bad boy! Doesn't it just reek of 80s nostalgia? Damn, I used to wear this thing everywhere, proudly showing off my various gaming achievements for the world to see. I think I should get an achievement for just having this blast from the past.
Anyone else still have their Activision patches? And how many did you manage to get in total?
What's that in the back of my closet? My old Puma sweatshirt, complete with Activision game patches? Score! Note the other relics of gaming history in the background as well.
November 22, 2005
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It was wet and freezing cold, but that did not deter several hundred people from standing in line outside the Best Buy in midtown Manhattan for several hours/days in order to be the first people on earth to own an Xbox 360. Of course Gaming Steve was there covering the event, chatting with the people on line, and getting very very wet. Check out my photo coverage of the event, and make sure to check out my podcast where I interview and chat with the all Xbox 360 devotees pictured here.
The scene of the madness, it doesn't look too bad...
Next to #2 was #3, David Carbone (right), another one of the walking weary.
November 19, 2005
Last week it was reported that anti-game crusader Jack Thompson removed himself from an Alabama lawsuit against the makers and sellers of Grand Theft Auto III. It appears these initial reports weren't quite accurate.
In Strickland vs. Sony, the families of two police officers and a police dispatcher killed by then 18-year-old Grand Theft Auto player Devin Moore are suing Sony, Take-Two, Rockstar, Wal-Mart, GameStop for damages, based on the premise that GTA turned Moore into a triple murderer. The plaintiffs were being represented by Thompson and his legal team.
On Thursday, November 3rd the defense argued before Circuit Court Judge James Moore in Fayette County, Alabama that Thompson should be removed from the case for alleged misconduct. However, rather than wait for the ruling from the Judge -- which could have lead to much embarrassment for Thompson and potentially damaging to his anti-game crusade career -- Thompson simply removed himself from the case on Monday, November 7th. At the time of his departure Thompson told Game Politics, "The other side wants to make me the issue. The important thing is that the clients be served."
Well it appears that Thompson spoke too soon as yesterday Judge Moore ruled on whether or not Thompson could dismiss himself from the case ... and it couldn't have gone much worse for Thompson.
In an 18-page decision Judge Moore excoriated Thompson's professional conduct and outright rejected his attempt to withdraw from the case. Instead, the Judge revoked Thompson's Pro Hac Vice (visiting) admission to the Alabama Bar, which essentially forced him off the case and removed his visiting Bar credentials. In addition, Judge Moore noted that he was referring the matter to the Disciplinary Commission of the Alabama Bar for "appropriate action."
Thompson, as one might expect, was furious and issued a scathing letter to Alabama's Judicial Inquiry Commission, questioning Judge Moore's ethics.
In a profession in which prior actions and decisions carry enormous weight, this verdict could seriously derail Thompson's future anti-game effectiveness. Only time will tell but for the time being Thomson will no longer be able to practice law in the state of Alabama. Thanks to Dennis McCauley of Game Politics for breaking this story and continuing his exhaustive work on this matter.
November 18, 2005
Frappr! family. Enjoy the bonus goodness! Gaming Steve Episode 27 Program
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November 17, 2005
What's going on with this week with video games and television shows? Last night World of Warcraft was a $1,000 answer on the college version of Jeopardy! Next Monday, the day before the Xbox 360 launches no less, CSI: Miami takes on video games with an episode labeled "Urban Hellraisers”. The plot summary: “When a group of criminals play out a violent video game in real life, the CSIs must stop them before they strike again" ... yeah, that sounds about right.
But what really caught my attention was this past week's My Name is Earl in which Darnell is seen playing Berzerk on an Atari 2600! The dialog in the episode was as follows:
EARL: That's not a bad Berzerker score.
Now that's what I call classic TV!
November 16, 2005
Imagine you could take programming code and turn all the mathematical instructions into a graphical representation. Not only would this look cool but it could actually be useful in visualizing the code and how various elements work with one another. Media artist Ben Fry has done just this -- he took the assembly code of past Atari 2600 games and mapped their execution visually with surprising results.
Ben's transformation from binary code into a visual map is quite interesting. First Ben maps out the binary code of the cartridge itself using a series of numbers for lines of code and orange boxes for bytes of data. Then examines each line the code and the results of all conditional statements (i.e. if x is true, go to y). If the math results in a true statement a curve is drawn from that point to its destination. The end result is a elegant mix of curves and numbers.
What's really interesting to see how the programing varies by game. Extremely simple games, such as Combat, are light and airy. While complex games, such as Pac-Man, are a tangle of lines and curves. Unfortunately he only has six games on the site including Adventure, Air Raid, Combat, Pac-Man, Pitfall, and Q-Bert. But could you imagine what a modern game would look like mapped out using this method? Scary.
November 15, 2005
The Internet is just an amazing place. Say you wanted to find a web site which does nothing but store and catalog maps from hundreds of video games throughout time? No problem! I managed to find not one but two web sites completely dedicated to just this one esoteric hobby.
First up we have VGMaps.com. Definitely not the prettiest site around, and the navigation is a bit confusing, but if you stick to the map directory you will find a treasure trove of map goodness! Nearly every console and computer system is represented on this site, you'll even find a few arcade games in there as well. Unfortunately, the quality of the maps are a bit spotty at times, but there are so many listed that you'll probably find something of interest.
Over at Ian Albert's Video Games Maps you'll find quality over quantity. Ian doesn't have a huge selection of game maps, but what he does have are painstakingly crafted works of art. Just a word of warning, many of these maps are quite large usually weighing in at a couple of megs each. But nothing compares to his Ultima 7 map, which is an insane 24,576×24,576 pixels in size and a 84 MB download. Now that's a map!
November 14, 2005
City of Heroes and the newly released City of Villains (of course), the future of comics, what's next for Cryptic, Jack's favorite comics, and much more. Oh yeah, and we talk about the comic book classic Atari Force, enjoy! Gaming Steve Episode 26 Program
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November 11, 2005
M.U.L.E., a planetary-colonization/trading simulator that turned economic bartering into an adrenalized action-strategy mixture, was for years considered a lost classic of the 8-bit era. Happily, today's gamers can now re-experience this game verbatim - and now, with full online multiplayer capabilities.
M.U.L.E. has been available on modern systems through an Atari emulation. The downside was that you could only tap into multiplayer mode the way our forebears did: by cramming up to four people around a single machine. But now, thanks to the folks at Kaillera and Atari800WinPlus, up to four colonists can play M.U.L.E. with each other over the net with the new Atari M.U.L.E. Online package.
Fondly remembered for its addictive gameplay, tongue-in-cheek humor, and criminally catchy theme music, M.U.L.E. was a masterpiece crammed into a simple-but-ingenious interface. The premise was simple: up to four aliens were dropped on the planet Irata ("Atari" backwards), and granted one parcel of land per turn. Players could then purchase MULEs (Multiple Use Labor Elements - essentially multipurpose worker robots) and set them to work harvesting food, energy, smithore, or the invaluable crystite. Economic output was determined by player race (some were better for harvesting food, some for raising energy, and so on), land type, and happenstance. But it was after the production phase, during trading, where the real excitement kicked in. Players would attempt to hawk off excess goods, or buy or sell supplies like food or energy. Players who devoted their land towards mining might make a killing selling their valuable minerals - but then could be at the mercy of others who sold the food or energy they needed.
The bartering portion featured one of the most ingenious interfaces ever designed. Sellers stood at the top of the screen, and buyers at the bottom. Each could physically push a line towards the other end, which represented the price at which they'd be willing to buy or sell. When the two lines met, a transaction occurred. Not only did this perfectly illustrate the concepts of supply and demand in visual terms, but it turned the cerebral activity of economic trade into a visceral real-time experience. The spectacle of three players literally racing to push the "buy" line towards a seller sitting loftily at the top of the screen was one of the most entertaining and memorable aspects of gameplay.
A lot of old games are revered simply because of nostalgia, but M.U.L.E. deserves its reputation as a classic, and now new gamers can experience it firsthand, and better than before. Check it out - preferably when you have a lot of free time to kill.
November 10, 2005
Hey all you Kingdom Hearts fans (you know who you are!). While you patiently wait for Kingdom Hearts 2 to be released (is this game ever coming out?) some new world information has been released in Japan. From this Japanese magazine preview it appears that Sora and the gang will be traveling into the world of Tron!
I have to admit that the first Kingdom Hearts was pretty cool, especially when you got to explore the world of Jack Skeleton and Halloweentown, but exploring the world of Tron would be so freaking cool. Of course this game has been in development so long I wouldn't be surprised if it came out with the PlayStation 3 at this point (only kidding ... sort of). Now if Disney would just get started on that Tron 2.0 movie we'd be all set (all pictures after the jump).
Some might remember last December when a 22-year-old gamer spent $26,500 on an island that exists only in the MMORPG Project Entropia. For those unfamiliar with Project Entropia it allows gamers to buy and sell virtual items using real cash. Players are allowed to exchange real currency for PED (Project Entropia Dollars) and then back again into real money.
At the time this story got a fair amount of airtime, with most news organizations taking the angle of "hey get this, some silly gamer 'bought' a virtual island for $26.5k ... what an idiot!" Well, that silly gamer is laughing no more as he managed to recoup his investment in less than one year.
According to the game developers the now 23-year-old gamer, know as only as Deathifier, has made the money back that he spent on the island. By selling land to build virtual homes as well as taxing other gamers to hunt or mine on the island he was able to generate an income on his virtual land. With his initial investment paid off, Deathifier can start making some real-world profit from a completely virtual property.
It will be interesting see how another virtual property in the game performs as just last month Project Entropia player Jon Jacobs bought a virtual space station for a mere $100,000. Jacobs plans to turn the space station into a virtual resort ground that spawns dinosaur-like monsters, which visitors can kill (actually, that sounds pretty damn cool). Jacobs will take a cut of the virtual resources that gamers will make selling the dinosaur hides and he estimates he will make about $20,000 a month from running this virtual service.
Could you just imagine if World of Warcraft decided to start selling loot and land directly to players? Azuroth would probably have Gross National Product higher than 95% of the world's countries. Ah, the future is fun.
November 9, 2005
With so much going on with the site I thought it would be a good time for some quick housekeeping items.
First up, the podcast. Over at Gaming Steve HQ I have installed a new recording setup which allows me to easily record pretty much anywhere in the world, but yet still maintain studio-level quality. This will not only allow me to (hopefully) record the show more often but also allow me to easily bring the show on the road. In fact, one of the first uses of the new setup was to perform several interviews including the development teams from City of Heroes, Guild Wars, and the upcoming Auto Assault. Look for those interviews, and much more, in future Gaming Steve podcasts.
Second, Gaming Steve Frappr! Frappr creates Google Maps for groups of people and incorporates their photos and locations onto a world map. I've created one for the Gaming Steve site, just enter your name and location (it works for the entire world and you don't have to enter any identifying info) and you can add your mark to the world.
Finally, I have removed the RSS 1.0 feed from the site as it was quickly getting outdated. With all the new features and technologies being added to the site only the RSS 2.0 feed will be supported from now on. If you have subscribed to the RSS 1.0 feed you don't really need to do anything as the site will automatically redirect you to the 2.0 feed. In the long run this will be for the best as RSS 2.0 is always expanding and updating it's protocol.
Now go add yourself to the Frappr map!
November 8, 2005
With all of the buzz around the new World of Warcraft Expansion people almost forgot about Blizzard's "other" game, StarCraft: Ghost. Although this game has been in development for what seems like forever, from what was shown at Blizzcon this game appears to shaping up quite nicely and we might even see it before the end of 2006!
Until then we can enjoy this nice little Q&A on Blizzard's new game and eleven brand new screenshots (after the jump). Enjoy.
Q: What is StarCraft: Ghost?
Q: How will StarCraft: Ghost be different from other tactical-action console games?
November 7, 2005
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November 4, 2005
Every day I spend a little time trolling the web to try and find uncovered gems for my loyal readers, and today I managed to hit the motherload in classic gaming goodness.
Daniel P. Hower's Coin-Op Video Games appears unassuming at first glance, but hidden in the site are not one but two undiscovered gems of classic video game history. First, Daniel has the largest selection of video game flyers I have ever seen with over 2,732 flyers on the site and more added every day.
These "flyers" were nothing more than sales brochures created by coin-op game manufacturers in order to promote their games and feature game screenshots, pictures of the gaming cabinets, descriptions of game play and concept art. Not only are all the flyers on the site in mint condition but Daniel has an extremely well-designed flyer database allowing for lighting fast flyer locating.
But if that wasn't awesome enough his second "treasure" is even more impressive. I'll let Daniel explain this one in his own words:
Back in 1982, my best friend had a Sony stereo walkman recorder. Audio was the conventional recording media back then and we recorded all kinds of stuff. One day we were on our way to the arcade 'Just Fun' in Ithaca, NY and came up with the idea to record video game sounds.The list of recorded arcade sounds is truly staggering ... it's practically a "who's who" of classic video games. Unfortunately Daniel was actually playing these games while he was recording, so they're not perfect copies. But ... who cares! Where else are you going to find recordings of Vanguard, Time Pilot, Venture, Phoenix, Gorf, Tron and hundreds upon hundreds of other games?
Daniel, I salute you! Check it out this site ... right now!
November 3, 2005
Considering all the recent talk on how World of Warcraft actually functions in China I thought it would be interesting to take a much closer look at this little understood topic.
First and foremost it's important to understand that Blizzard doesn't actually run World of Warcraft in China. They have licensed WOW China to the company The9 which is one of the leading online game operators in China. In addition to running WOW, The9 also run several other MMORPGs including "MU", "Mystina Online", "Granado Espada", and "Joyful Journey West". I'm sure that most of you probably haven't even heard of some of these games but they are extremely popular I assure you.
Just to give you an idea of how popular MMORPGs are in Asia and China the game "MU" first launched in February 2003 and very shortly reached a player base of over 15 million registered users. MMORPGs are a huge business overseas and completely dwarf the American and European MMORPG market. Even your "average" MMORPGs in Asia have over a million registered users (meanwhile Everquest is proud of having nearly 500,000 users at their peak).
The9 and Blizzard launched WOW in China on June 7, 2005 and in less than one month the game exceeded 1.5 million paying players and continues to grow at an breakneck rate. Financial analysts expect WOW China to easily reach over 10 million registered users if not more.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about The9 is that it's a public company and traded on the NASDAQ market exchange. What that means is that The9 has to publicly disclose their business operations to anyone who might be interested in investing in the company. They do this by publishing quarterly reports every three months as well as an extremely comprehensive annual report at the end of each year. If you have never read an annual report because it sounds boring you might be surprised what you can find in there, including some very interesting information on how an online gaming company is run in China.
All of the following information can be found in The9 2004 Annual Report which may give you a better understanding of how WOW functions in China. All items in quotes are directly from the report and I have provided the page number within the report for easier reference. This is just a small overview of some of the more interesting and relevant items. Make sure to read the entire report to get a true understanding of just how unique the Chinese MMORPG market is compared to the States (details follow the jump).
Concerning the WOW license agreement with Vivendi Universal Games (VUG)and Blizzard (Page 11)
Concerning online game operators in China (Pages 13-14)
Concerning SARS and MMORPG gaming (Pages 20-21)
Concerning online games and regulation by the Chinese government (Pages 23-24)
We are required to obtain applicable permits or approvals from different regulatory authorities in order to provide online games. For example, an Internet content provider, or ICP, must obtain an ICP license in order to engage in any commercial ICP operations within China. In addition, an online games operator must also obtain a license from the Ministry of Culture and a license from the State Press and Publication Administration in order to distribute games through the Internet. If we fail to maintain any of these required permits or approvals, we may be subject to various penalties, including fines and the discontinuation or restriction of our operations. Any such disruption in our business operations would materially and adversely affect our financial condition and results of operations.”
Concerning the regulation of Internet cafes in China (Page 24)
Concerning the regulation and censorship of information in China (Page 25)
Concerning Internet service in China (Page 28)
Concerning payment for online games (Page 37)
Each customer needs to maintain only one Pass9 account, which provides information regarding the customer’s available prepaid game playing time for each selected game district and payment history. A customer can purchase game playing time through any of the following methods:
Prepaid Cards. A customer can buy prepaid cards at retail outlets including convenience stores, supermarkets and bookstores all across China. Each prepaid card contains a pass code representing game playing time offered by the card based on its face value.
Prepaid Online Points. Over 120,000 Internet cafés across China have used our self−developed eSales System, which is part of our Pass9 system and enables an Internet café to buy prepaid online points from our distributors and sell such points to their customers.
Online Payment. A customer can buy game playing time online by charging payment directly to a credit or debit card. In addition, we offer free online game playing time to our new registered customers and users of our SMS service. We have also included free game cards in our marketing materials to attract new customers. Our integrated membership management and payment system also incorporates a variety of community−building features, such as chat rooms which provide registered users a platform to interact in real−time groups or one−on−one discussions, and bulletin boards which allow registered users to post notes or inquiries and respond to other users’ notes or inquires. We believe these features encourage user congregation on our site and facilitate player interaction for the games we offer.”
As you can see, WOW and all other MMORPGs in China face completely different challenges than those in the States and Europe. Which makes WOW even more interesting as with most MMORPGs the developer simply has to worry about gameplay balance, server stability, community management, billing options, 24-hour maintenance and few hundred other items. When you then factor in government regulations, language and cultural differences, and even SARS, it makes what WOW has accomplished that much more impressive.
Whether or not Blizzard can continue this delicate balancing act between countries and cultures remains to be seen, but it is extremely interesting to view the unique challenges facing Blizzard when maintaining and expanding WOW over the next couple of years.
For many the Atari 2600 joystick was their very first gaming controller and it holds a special place in their heart. Of course it only moved in eight directions, and it only had one button, and it put a horrible strain on your wrist, and it broke all the time, and if was difficult to use, and the rubber joystick made your hand sweat, and it didn't always work, but you loved it all the same.
Of course gaming technology has come a long way since then ... now our controllers have pressure sensitive analog buttons, shoulder pads, rumble packs, and no wires. But those of you who miss those earlier times when one button was all you needed to save the galaxy your prayers have been answered with the Stelladaptor.
The Stelladaptor is basically an Atari 2600 to USB adapter that will allow you to use standard Atari 2600 compatible controllers, including joysticks, paddles, and driving controllers, on your modern PC. It's compatible with Windows, Macintosh OS X, or Linux operating systems and requires no additional drivers to use. It's a bit pricey at $29.90 (not including shipping) but if you want to play your MAME emulated games using the "real deal" then this is what you need.
I am quite curious about that USB functionality. I wonder what would happen if I plugged that thing into my Xbox 360? Can you imagine trying to play Dead or Alive 4 using an Atari 2600 joystick? Of course, you could only kick with the one button, just like the old times...
November 2, 2005
Scheduled to be released on November 22nd in North America this 360 page book (get it?!) will cover perplexing topics such as:
Samba De Amigo was one of the very first rhythm games ever released way back in June 2000 (six months before Dance Dance Revolution came to the states) and although it received excellent reviews it didn't sell that many copies. Not only was it a Dreamcast exclusive (ouch) but perhaps there just wasn't that large of a demand for a maracas simulator. But for the handful of people who actually played the game had a memorable time as the maracas were a lot of fun and multiplayer was a blast.
Well move over Samba De Amigo ... you have meet your match!
The new PlayStation 2 game Guitar Hero arrives in stores today and it comes with its very own guitar controller! Now that is just freaking cool. So far the reviews have been excellent with GameSpot saying "Guitar Hero plays fantastically, it has great music, and, for a change, it's a rhythm game that's accessible to beginners." The game's music selection contains tons of headbanging rock, and it was developed by Harmonix, makers of the fantastic rhythm games Frequency and Amplitude, need I say more?
The only downside? The price of the Guitar Hero Bundle (game and controller) is a little expensive at $70, but if history is any indication of games with crazy special controllers usually retain their "ebay value" over time. And with $60 Xbox 360 games right around the corner $70 doesn't seem that expensive ... did I mention that it comes with freaking guitar!
If you've ever been interested in the rhythm genre, this is the game to buy. Get it now!
November 1, 2005
Another day, another major corporation jumps onto the podcasting bandwagon. Yahoo just launched their own podcast directory and it's pretty nice. The RSS feed function seems to be a little buggy, but the interface is very clean and it's extremely simple to navigate.
And, of course, the Gaming Steve podcast is listed. I am hoping that a few of you would still like to vote and review. If so, do so here!
For those of you new to the site you can check out all the past Gaming Steve podcasts in the podcast archive. A few choice episodes include the recent Xbox 360 roundtable discussion, my interview with Xbox Live's Major Nelson, and my interview with Will Wright.