Monday, February 27, 2006

Forget Film, Games Do Sci-Fi Best

Commentary by Clive Thompson

Ah, the subtle pleasures of intergalactic fascism. My flotilla of TIE fighters swarmed through space like locusts, picking off rebel troops at will. My mammoth Star Destroyers had reduced a rebel base to a smoldering hulk, and Darth Vader had personally blown up Millennium Falcon and killed that jackass Han Solo -- twice.

As you might have guessed, I was playing Star Wars: Empire at War, the latest strategy title from Lucas Games. And something quite rare was happening: Even though I was deep inside a George Lucas creation, I was having a total blast.

Normally, I cringe whenever Lucas launches another movie. Ever since the Ewoks appeared in 1983's Return of the Jedi, his films have steadily tobogganed downwards into a vale of unwatchability. It's hard to figure out what Lucas has done worse: Is it his increasingly Disneyfied characters? His wooden scripts? Or the plots that, having been carefully denuded of action sequences, instead focus on, y'know, trade disputes?

Which brings me to my point: In the last 20 years, Lucas' vision has arguably been far better expressed in video games than in movies.

For me, this epiphany began back in 1998, when Rogue Squadron came out on the Nintendo 64 -- a note-perfect evocation of in-flight combat. I played it nonstop for four months. Then every year or so, another superb Star Wars title came along to get me addicted, from Knights of the Old Republic to Jedi Starfighter to Battlefront. Each time, Lucas did a much better job of recapturing the original spirit of his universe: A mix of campy voice-acting, moral dread, and -- most of all -- pell-mell action.

Why were the games so comparatively good? A cynic would say it's because Lucas probably isn't as closely involved in the games, so his young designers aren't hampered by his inane creative decisions. But I actually suspect it's deeper than that. I think it's because games are beginning to rival film -- and even eclipse it -- as the prime vehicle for sci-fi and fantasy.

After all, there have been vanishingly few original, mass-market, sci-fi or fantasy movies in recent years. We had The Matrix and then ... what? (I said "original" movies. Stuff like The Lord of the Rings, I, Robot and Minority Report were all based -- however loosely -- on pre-existing books. The shining exception is Joss Whedon's superb Serenity, a movie that, sadly, tanked at the box office.)

In contrast, the game industry has produced dozens of worlds as lovingly rendered and lush in detail as a Bruegel painting. Think of the weird, vaulting steampunk buildings of Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee, the operatic scope of the Final Fantasy series, or the calm beauty of Ico.

Perhaps this shift is taking place because games have an inherent affinity with sci-fi and fantasy. Those genres are based on what-if premises; they're the literary version of the Sim, the author as world-builder. Part of the fun of watching a sci-fi movie is mentally inhabiting a new world and imagining what it feels like to be inside. But now there's a medium that actually puts you in. It's why I reacted to Rogue Squadron with such a jolt of déjà vu: As a kid, I'd fantasized about flying my own X-wing fighter -- and suddenly, bang, there I was.

So if you were a creator wandering around Los Angeles and hankering to forge a new universe, why do a movie? Why not try for a game? For today's youth, the go-anywhere, exploratory feel of immersive worlds is where the cultural mojo resides. Even the few popular fantasy stories in the mainstream today borrow from this vibe. When J. J. Abrams and Damon Lindelof were writing Lost, they explicitly modeled it on a video-game world: An overarching mythology and a cohesive world-picture, slowly revealed through creepy exploration by the main characters.

Of course, assuming I'm right about this trend, it's not all good. There's arguably something lost when games become the central site for flights of fancy. Even the best "narrative" games can't replicate the emotional undertow of a good film. When I wander through Shadow of the Colossus -- or even the old Myst series -- I'm filled with a sense of awe. It's like visiting a breathtaking Renaissance church; I'm struck by the beauty and the neoclassical detail. But it doesn't drag my heart along a path the way a plain ol' linear movie does.

Then again, when's the last time Lucas did that on the silver screen? So I take what solace I can. I boot up Empire at War again, join the dark side, summon Emperor Palpatine, send another couple hundred TIE fighters off on howling suicide missions. Plenty more where they came from, m'lord. My training is complete.

- - -

Clive Thompson is a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine, and a regular contributor to Wired and New York magazine. His blog is
The Xbox 360 vs. the Public Good
Is the Xbox 360 hurting the gaming industry?

It would be hard to get Peter Moore to admit it, try as you might, but it's pretty clear that the Xbox 360 launched a little bit before the system was ready. The certification process for 360 games came right down to the wire, in some cases leading to games being pressed before they had technically passed. Manufacturing rates for the actual consoles weren't at the level Microsoft had wanted, leading to shortages that are still in effect as of this writing. And depending on who you believe, the early launch means that the system's specs are below the PlayStation 3's -- although, given how long it takes for developers to get comfortable with a new hardware generation, whatever differences exist likely won't become apparent until well into each system's life span.

More important, though less remarked upon, is that the Xbox 360 was also launched before the industry was ready. If you pay attention to companies' end-of-year financial reports, which I'm sad to say my job requires me to do, one thing that stands out in the postholiday reckoning was the statement, again and again, that the Xbox 360 launch had hurt sales across the industry.

A few examples: Electronic Arts CFO Warren Jenson says he doesn't "see getting to the installed base numbers we expected & causing some people to stay on the sidelines."

Atari chairman and CEO Bruno Bonnell notes, "As we anticipated, during the holiday season the industry felt a depressed demand for current-generation titles at retail and, as a result, publishers will need to strategically address the marketplace, balancing titles across multiple consoles as well as portable devices." NPD Group numbers for the year indicate that current-generation game sales were indeed down 12 percent, bearing out the executives' claims.

The clearest voice articulating the effect is Wedbush Morgan Securities analyst Michael Pachter, who went on a doom-tinged tear in January, claiming that 2006 game sales would be off by 3 percent in part due to Microsoft's lunge. "Most troubling to us was the fact that the rate of decline was especially acute, down 21.6 percent, during the September-to-November period, a time that coincided with the hype surrounding the launch of the Xbox 360," says Pachter. "We believe that sales may have been even worse in December had Microsoft continued its marketing push, and believe that sell-through was helped in part by deep discounting of new releases during the month."

So it's fair to say that Microsoft's early launch had a negative effect on the industry as a whole. Which raises a question: Was the rush to market irresponsible, or just good business? After all, the likes of J Allard, Peter Moore, Steve Ballmer, and other Microsoft/Xbox higher-ups have frequently said that the "first-to-market advantage" is a major piece of the company's arsenal against Sony in this round. Indeed, one reason the company was constantly playing catch-up during the current generation was because Microsoft's system wasn't even announced by the time the PlayStation 2 had wowed everyone with its Japanese launch -- so getting the jump on Sony and beating it at its own game was important in the establishment of the 360.

The question ties into the concept of "public good," an intangible that's balanced against "private good" in decision making. Writer David Foster Wallace explains it in his essay "Host," which is about right-wing talk radio, like so:

"Suppose that I am the conservative and rabidly capitalist owner of a radio company. I believe that free-market conservatism is Truth and that the U.S. would be better off in every way if everybody were conservative. This, for me, makes conservatism a 'public good' in the Intro Econ sense of the term -- i.e., a conservative electorate is a public good in the same way that a clean environment or a healthy populace is a public good.& In other words, I alone would have paid for a benefit that my competition could also enjoy, free. All of which plainly would not be good business & which is why it is actually in my company's best interests to 'underinvest' in promulgating ideology."

In this case, Microsoft is underinvesting in the public good of maintaining a stable and growing market in general -- something that its rivals Nintendo and Sony could also benefit from, resulting in resources spent to further its competitors' goals -- and putting its own interests first.

The move seems to have worked. Sony talked at E3 2004 about its desire to create a 10-year life span for the PlayStation 2, following the successful eight-year run of the PS1. After all, the PS1 was originally introduced in 1994 in Japan, and it wasn't until 2002 that the Official U.S. PlayStation Magazine proclaimed The Italian Job "the last great PS1 game." But Microsoft's eagerness to abandon the current generation in favor of getting everyone on board its next-generation console has short-circuited the natural life of the PS2, and already this month OPM is asking if Black is "the last great PS2 game?" a mere six years after the console's debut.

You can't really fault Microsoft for that, because that's capitalism for you -- a deeper-seated issue than this essay has the scope for. But I submit that the rush to a new generation was a bad idea anyway, not so much because it weakened the market but because it weakened its own position. Microsoft, after all, was also a victim of the market -- those were Xbox titles suffering right alongside the PS2 and GameCube games on shelves. Furthermore, the 360 production issues caused by the rush to launch have impacted the one reason Microsoft had for going ahead with it in the first place: that key first-mover advantage.

As Michael Pachter says, "In our view, Microsoft did a phenomenal job of marketing the Xbox 360 and created unfulfilled demand for several million hardware units over the holidays. As we move into 2006, we think that consumers will begin to consider deferring purchases of Xbox 360 units once a launch date for the PS3 is announced (we expect an October launch)." In other words, the longer it takes for Microsoft to deliver more product onto shelves, the easier it'll be for all those consumers to just wait a little bit longer until Sony is ready.

The console war is an all-out fight, not an honorable duel at 10 paces, and Microsoft has to grab every advantage it can if it wants to win. But if it's going to change the rules and spin around after the seventh step, it had better make sure its powder is dry, because the element of surprise only lasts so long before Sony begins returning fire.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Mexico mine rescue is abandoned
Pasta de Conchas mine
The rescue effort at the mine lasted almost a week
There is no chance of survival for 65 miners trapped underground in northern Mexico for almost a week, the mine owners have said.

It had been hoped some miners, most trapped at least 2km (1.25 miles) inside the mine, might have survived if air pockets were present.

But now the mine company has told relatives there is no further hope.

Grupo Mexico, said tests of air in the mine showed there was not enough oxygen for anyone to survive.

The men were trapped early last Sunday, when a methane explosion brought down debris and cut them off.

Ten men who were underground escaped safely, and another 12 were rescued, suffering from burns and broken bones.

But nothing more was heard from the larger group further along tunnels, 150 metres below ground.

'Nothing to be done'

Mine director "Ruben Escudero told us all the miners were dead," Juan Hernandez, whose nephew Margarito Zamoran is one of the missing at the Pasta de Conchas mine, told the AFP news agency.

Relatives of the missing at Pasta de Conchas mine
For relatives of the miners, all the waiting has come to nothing
"There's nothing more to be done," Mr Escudero had added.

"We are moving on to the hard task of the physical recovery of our miners so the families can start their mourning," said Xavier Garcia, a senior executive at Grupo Mexico, according to Reuters news agency.

However, he said that it might be two days before rescuers could safely return to the mine.


Operations were halted on Friday because of the risk of further methane explosions. The gas also made breathing difficult for the 100-strong rescue team, as methane is lethal when it forms more than 15% of the atmosphere.

Rescuers were unable to used heavy mechanical equipment for fear of sparking new explosions, but moved more than 800,000 tonnes of debris in days of digging.

Relatives were angry at what they saw at deception and raising of false hopes by the mine's management.

"They tricked us because they knew from the beginning how the mine was," said Aida Farias, whose husband, Elias Valero, is one of the missing.

"They played with us like puppets."

Union leaders have alleged that Grupo Mexico ignored safety concerns, and Labour Minister Francisco Salazar has said an investigation is to be carried out.

Grupo Mexico says it will pay compensation of about £70,000 for each of the dead miners.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Thomas Pink iPod tie keeps your nano on your neck

Finally, for the man who has everything -- except a job where he can dress casually -- it's the Commuter Tie from Thomas Pink. The bright pink silk tie has a hidden pocket on the back that's the perfect size for an iPod nano, and includes an extra loop to keep headphone wires from getting tangled (though from Pink's promo pic, right, it looks like the wires will get a bit jammed anyhow, since the headphone jack on the nano is on the bottom). We can't help but worry that using this with anything heavier than a nano would result in a curious tightening around the throat -- not to mention a rather unattractive stretching of our neckwear. And if you're going to spend $95 on a tie, we'd like to think you can also come up with a few bucks for a dedicated carrying case for your audio player. Of course, all of this is irrelevant to us, since we're not in the market for a pink tie -- it would clash horribly with our pajamas.

Teaser spiderman 3

Image Hosted by

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Row over nuclear toys

An Italian toy maker has caused controversy by unveiling models of the atomic bombs dropped on Japan.

An Italian toy maker has caused an explosive row after unveiling two model nuclear bombs named after the 'Little Boy' and 'Fat Man' devices that killed more than 350,000 Japanese at the end of World War II. The 1:43 scale toys which were unveiled by Italian toy maker Brumm cost six pounds each /Europics

Brumm unveiled its £6 Little Boy and Fat Man 1:43 scale model bombs at the Nuremberg toy fair.

Critics say the toys are in bad taste but a Brumm spokesman said: "We want to protest against the insanity of nuclear-war."

More than 350,000 people were killed when the US bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of the Second World War.

Dave Perry Resigns From Shiny

Dave Perry Resigns From Shiny
Prominent studio head steps down to help sell his company.
by Jeremy Dunham

February 21, 2006 - After learning that Atari would be selling its studios in an effort to meet its bottom line, Shiny Entertainment President Dave Perry has stepped down from his lofty position to help Atari find a buyer for his studio. The reason? According to the Orange County Register which first reported this story, it's because an employee of the publisher isn't allowed to help facilitate a buyout, whereas an outsider can do whatever they wish.

Image Hosted by

"Atari can go ahead and sell Shiny but I think I can help too because I'm on the board of a lot of things. I can bring a lot of parties to the table and I can do that faster if I hit the streets myself," said Perry. "If I'm an employee of Atari, then I'd be stepping all over them. This way, I'm representing a buyer. I can act swiftly and get buyers on the table. I pitched Shiny last time and got $47 million [in reference to Atari's purchase of Shiny from Interplay in 2002]."

We've been waiting for a Jim sequel forever... if Shiny Entertainment is bought, apparently we'll get one.
Reportedly, Perry has already begun his sales pitch to several companies to which he is quoted to saying, "There is a lot of interest out there."

Should a new buyer purchase Shiny Entertainment, it is Perry's full intention to come back on board. As the guy who founded the now-56 employee-strong company in 1993, he wants to continue to watch it succeed.

It should also be noted that whichever company ultimately purchases Shiny will inherit a minimum of three games that Shiny is already working on -- including a long-awaited sequel to Shiny's most famous property, Earthworm Jim.

More as it develops.

From engadget

Viliv P1 PMP coming to US

If you had told us last year that the Viliv P1 PMP would soon be available in the US, we would have laughed in your face (well, OK, maybe we would have been polite and chuckled into our hands). After all, not only does the device have a suspiciously familiar controller, but it's also from Yukyung Technologies, a company with zero US presence. But this is one case where we're happy to be proven wrong, since the player will apparently make its North American debut on March 1 via a dedicated e-store. Specs include a 30GB drive, DivX and Xvid support, 4-inch display, FM radio and CF slot. And, yes, it does still have that round, white controller, but we're willing to overlook that (though we don't know if you-know-who will do the same).

Sunday, February 19, 2006

from the encouraging-better-customers dept.
d writes "Gamespot has an article about an association of prostitutes protesting the GTA games. Apparently, the sex workers of the Sex Workers Outreach Project aren't too happy about their ingame counterparts being treated violently in the GTA games. They note that the games are a bad influence on children, and might encourage rape and violent behavior towards prostitutes in real life."
Role Playing (Games)Games

Saturday, February 4, 2006


No vi el partido del América el jueves (por que ya sospechaba lo peor) y porque tenia ganas de ir al cine, así que me lanze a ver Munich.

La verdad siempre me ha parecido que el estado de israel no debería existir, que es una provocación terrible para los musulmanes (que por cierto ahorita andan enardecidos por lo de las caricaturas de Mahoma) y que Estados Unidos ha cometido una gran pendejada, con su visión a futuro, un futuro en el que los campos de petroleo seran suyos.

Bueno, el asunto es que en 1972 Israel ya tenia sus añitos y sus pleitos con los arabes, y ya se hablaba de alcanzar la paz en el "medio oriente" , como lo ocurrio durante el gobierno de Clinton.
Image Hosted by
Image Hosted by

Yo era muy joven en aquellos ayeres (como 13 años) y con musica de Michael Jackson de fondo en verdad crei que estabamos conjurando el peligro de una guerra que venga del islam, me aterran porque son muchos, son irreflexivos y bastante sensibles.

Bueno, volviendo al asunto de Israel, uno de estos golpes publicitarios que suelen dar las naciones para "Demostrar que son fuertes" fue tomar venganza por el asesinato de la representación del estado de Israel en los olimpiada de Munich.
Image Hosted by

El asunto si fue una tragedia, mucha gente piensa que fue una de la estratagemas de los judios para ponerse como las victimas de la cuestión y que los arabes son unos desalmados.

Bueno como haya sido, los judios enviaron a la unidad asesina del Mossad (¿que no el mossad es de por si al igual que el MI6, la KGB, la CIA y demás agencias de inteligencia una bola de asesinos?) llamada Kidon (bayoneta) a matar a las 11 "mentes maestras" que planearon Munich en la manera más violenta y llamativa que fuera posible.

Volviendo a la pelicula, es de verdad escorazonador saber que tantos secretos se intercambian entre los servicios de inteligenica y algun player independiente, así como que en todo el mundo andan sueltos sujetos dispuestos a desaparecer a los enemigos.

Algo que me agrado de la pelicula es que no ponen a los objetivos como villanos de pelicual antigua, ya saben, malos malos, sino que son personas con las que hasta se pueden encontrar empatia en sus breves minutos en camara.

El final se me hace medio vulgar, sexo con flashbacks de "el rescate" fallido.

El final tiene lugar en Manhattan, bueno, no, de hecho no es Manhattan, es del otro lado del rio, pero se ve la isla, a mediados de los 70, y claro, ahi estaban las flamantes Twin towers (de las que se especula que fueron destruidas por Bush, así que existe cierta concordancia), me gusta tambien que no hace ver a los judios como blancas palomitas obligadas a actuar en contra de su voluntad, si sabemos que son unos inches asesinos que no tiene reparos.
Image Hosted by

Lo que no me gusta es que Spielberg siente que ya hizo oir su voz:

Nueva York . Steven Spielberg opina que los cineastas tienen que volverse más provocadores en Estados Unidos ante la situación política, según publica la revista Newsweek de este lunes. Al menos desde la relección del presidente George W. Bush ha llegado el momento de tomar posición, asegura. "Pienso que cada uno intenta manifestar su independencia y dejar claro en que cree. Nadie nos representa, así que nosotros representemos nuestros sentimientos e intentemos devolver los golpes", afirma el director de Munich.

Si no mal recuerdo este canijo apoyaba las invasiones de Bush, creyente d las guerras preventivas, pues si, debería irse a vivir a Israel.

Sólo puedo repetir lo que en alguna ocasión dijo el gato culto
"Cuando abundan los dioses abundan las guerras"

Image Hosted by