Category Archives: news

Seung-Hui Cho: Games Not Motivation for Va. Tech

With the release of Virginia Governor Tim Kaine’s report detailing the findings of the Virginia Tech massacre review panel, the influences of violent video games were dismissed as a contributing factor in killer Seung-Hui Cho’s actions. Whilst this will offer little comfort to the victims’ families, it is a welcome development in the almost-daily conflict between the sensationalist media and common sense. Whilst I’m sure Jack Thompson and ‘not actually a medical professional’ Dr. Phil are sharpening their pitchforks and stocking up on paraffin, such instances of blame laid squarely at the feet of interactive entertainment beg the question – why is it so difficult for people to assign blame to the conscious decisions of the individual?

I’m sure many of us had wondered what, if any games had featured in Cho’s (now apparently) non-existent games collection, and how long it would take proponents of the ‘people don’t kill people, games do‘ argument to secure their parasitic mandibles onto the victims’ families’ suffering as a sickening means to further their own weak, tired agendas. Somehow, I can’t see even Jack Thompson managing to pin the blame on the hedgehog this time. I desperately want to believe that there’s another reason for games acting as a perpetual scapegoat other than the fact that people simply cannot accept that people like Cho are simply that fucked up that to assign blame on them personally would be just too hurtful; to acknowledge that society itself is fundamentally damaged enough to spur young men like Cho onto horrific acts of murder would be too difficult to accept, but that too is just too difficult. I’m acutely aware that to dare to imagine such a world is shameless utopianism, but to dismiss the killing of innocent young men and women as a result of playing video games does nothing more than cheapen the tragic loss of life, and the misery of the people left behind.

Perhaps the focus of the attention of ‘professionals’ like Jack Thompson is misguided; surely if anyone lies to blame, the gratuitous media coverage of massacres like Virginia Tech should also be held accountable. If Dr. Phil wants to publicly lambast video games for the moral turpitude they are on shows like Larry King, then surely he has to accept that news coverage of tragedies such as this are equally guilty for glamorizing killing. Pot, meet kettle.

I applaud Tim Kaine and the Virginia Tech review panel for conducting their investigation impartially, without bending to popular opinion or media ‘expertise’. We can but hope that this report will go at least some way towards restoring the sense of personal responsibility tragically lacking in today’s society.

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Insert Random N-Gage Gag Here

Despite the spectacular failure of earlier attempts by Finnish communications giant Nokia to crack the notoriously difficult handheld gaming market, and the subsequent ridicule that was heaped upon them because of it, they are nevertheless trying again. Word on the street is, predictably, similar to last time – more ridicule and mild speculation as to their chances of success. However, they’ve got the backing of some major players and could fare considerably better this time around. So what’s different?

Well, for starters the last time they ventured into the market with their original N-Gage device, which was by described by some as resembling a taco, Nintendo’s GameBoy Advance largely dominated the market for handheld gaming and their efforts to break into this highly contested marketplace were further hampered by the terrible design of the device itself. Combine this with a less-than stellar lineup of games, and the result could be compared to the ‘success’ of Microsoft’s attempts to muscle in on Apple’s turf with their Zune media device. However, you don’t become a market leader without learning from past mistakes, and so this time Nokia seem to be in a much stronger position to make their re-launch of the N-Gage gaming platform more profitable. I use the word ‘more’ in the context of ‘it may actually make them some money this time around’ and the word ‘seem’ in the context of ‘the whole venture could still crap out anyway, dooming Nokia to decades of pointed fingers and hysterical laughter’.

With companies like EA, THQ and Capcom all declaring their support for the N-Gage, things are starting to look quite promising for November’s relaunch. However, the real cunning behind the whole operation lies with the decision to implement the N-Gage platform across a range of devices, as detailed in this interview with Jaakko Kaidesoja. Now, when you look at the previous device – aside from very real fears of being petrified by it’s nightmarish ugliness, like a certain Gorgon of legend – it’s easy to grasp why this would be so crucial to the success of the N-Gage platform. It is not only this, however, that makes smartphone compatibility such a shrewd move for Nokia.

Last time I was on the subway, I noticed a large proportion of the other passengers playing games on their cellphones – although this could’ve been an excuse to avoid direct eye contact, according to the unspoken rules of subway etiquette. This observation got me thinking – how many potential gamers are out there, that would never consider buying a device so perceived as ‘childish’ as a Nintendo DS or PSP? Despite the proof to the contrary, gaming is still perceived by many would-be gamers as a childish pastime. However, as evidenced by the growing popularity of mobile gaming, there’s gold in them thar phones, and by offering people a way to play games on devices that they’d like to own anyway, the re-imagined N-Gage platform has all the ingredients for a successful foray into the handheld gaming market.

Despite this, Nokia cannot afford to be complacent – as Peter Molyneux recently stated, limitations of the hardware and actual usability of the devices themselves will still prove a barrier to many gamers. All things considered, perhaps Nokia’s critics would do well to wait until Q2 of 2008 before passing judgment on the N-Gage platform.

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Dare To Be Different?

So, in a somewhat ‘daring’ move (I promise that’ll be the only time, ok?), Sir Richard Branson has acquired the rights to resurrect ‘classic’ British science fiction comic hero Dan Dare in a cross-platform deal that gives Branson the rights to the publishing, television, movie and video game licenses for the franchise.  This is the latest high-profile entertainment deal involving Virgin, following hot on the proverbial heels of the announcement of the proposed Ramayan 3392 MMO to be produced in association with Sony Online Entertainment.  The question is – why?

It’s no secret that Branson favors risky business deals – after all, it’s a defining characteristic of any successful entrepreneur, and to build up a media empire consisting of over 350 companies, you’ve got to have balls of steel.  However, it’d be a not-inconsiderable challenge to name a franchise that would be harder to reinvent and rebrand for a modern audience, especially in the context of movies and subsequent video game adaptations.  Perhaps this would be worse, but not by much – hopefully this series will be short-lived, and will crawl off to die in a corner somewhere, perhaps between Xena: Warrior Princess and reruns of Sliders.

The most pertinent question with regards to the imminent return of Colonel Daniel McGregor Dare is not one of style; even the guys at Extreme Makeover could probably cobble together a ‘look’ for Dan that would sit well with the legions of moviegoers and gamers that would buy into the franchise.  No, the question lies with the character himself, and how the audience is expected to identify with him.

To say that Dan Dare comes from a different age would be a perfect example of the old saying ‘they don’t make ’em like that anymore’.  Defined by his rigid moral and ethical code, Dare was a role model to a generation of kids in a time where the memory of World War II was still pervasive across popular culture, especially comics.  Preferring diplomacy to violence, Dare serves as a memory of a bygone age where honor was still held in high regard, and a man’s word was worth something.  Short of completely reinventing the whole notion of the Dan Dare character, how are modern audiences supposed to take him seriously?  Strip away the moral aspect of his character, and what are you left with?  A tired, generic space hero from a time long since forgotten in the mire of today’s popular ‘culture’ of product placement and questionable ethics. 

However, I believe firmly in Branson’s business acumen, and genuine enthusiasm for the character.  Perhaps my skepticism is misplaced; maybe the franchise can offer something sadly lacking in many of today’s entertainment series – integrity.  Also, given the originality of the decision to develop an MMO based on a Sanskrit epic is certainly promising given the drought of originality in the video game industry today, and could be an indication of the care and attention that Branson’s team will lavish on the Dan Dare franchise.  I for one would love to see them pull it off. 

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Expansions, All The Rage….

It’s been an eventful weekend in terms of announcements. Probably the most anticipated industry news for some time was the announcement of the next World of Warcraft expansion, Wrath of the Lich King. This expansion, for those not familiar with the enormously-popular MMORPG, follows on from the first expansion The Burning Crusade and incorporates a whole host of new features such as the new character class of the Death Knight, an increased level cap from 70 to 80, the new profession of inscription, siege tanks and destructible buildings (which hopefully won’t be limited to battleground games) and new customizable haircuts, facial features and a new set of dance moves.

Whilst some players bemoaned the lack of a cinematic video, I think it was a good call by Blizzard to show solely in-game footage for the first glimpse of the new content – I like shiny HD cinematics as much as the next guy, but I feel that seeing the new continent of Northrend and the Death Knight as they’ll appear in-game is more important at this stage. You can check out the video here.

Also big news over the last few days is the more detailed information revealed regarding id Software’s new franchise, Rage. All jokes aside regarding id’s penchant for mono-syllabic titles, this looks to be one to keep an eye on. Speaking at QuakeCon07, John Carmack announced that Rage would be a blend of FPS, action and adventure, with strong racing elements and the option to extensively customize your vehicle. Speaking to Kotaku, id Software CEO Todd Hollenshead mentioned the non-linearity of the game’s plot:

It is an action-oriented game but with a lot of adventure elements. It will be story driven, but you can also choose your own route to go through things

This sounds great, and I’m sure id have done a great job of managing the delicate balance of structured progression and player freedom, although I’ll be eagerly anticipating some more solid details of the game’s plot, and how this plot is advanced through the decisions you make throughout the game. As we can see in the debut trailer the game looks gorgeous, with beautifully-detailed textures, fluid, realistic animation and the richly atmospheric lighting that we’ve come to expect from an id Software title.

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