Video game DO kill people, just not in the way you think

Christmas is right around the corner and chances are you have either asked for a new high tech device, or have bought one for someone on your list. I’ve talked a bit on this blog about where devices like BlackBerry’s Xboxes and iPhones are made, but I haven’t gotten into where the materials come from.

These high tech devices need expensive minerals, minerals that are hard to find, things like tantalum, tungsten and gold. One part of the world that supplies these minerals is the Democratic Republic of Congo. Also know as the rape capital of the world, and the centre of the biggest, bloodiest war since WWII. This is where the term “blood diamond” comes from, waring factions would sell diamonds to fund their war. But in the raw material trade, there isn’t as big of a stigma, often becuase it’s hard to tell where manufacturers get their supplies from.

Who's been naughty? Who's tried to be nice?

In steps the Enough Project a grass roots organization who is trying to persuade tech companies to rid their products of conflict minerals. They’ve recently released a progress report of sorts to see which companies have actively made an effort to reduce minerals from the Congo in their products.

Of special note is that Nintendo is at the very bottom of the list. According to Kotaku, Nintendo washes their hands of this by saying they never purchase raw materials and leave up to their suppliers to comply with international ethical codes.

It does make you wonder, do you want your high tech devices to contain conflict materials? Of course not, but how do you know, and should high tech companies be responsible for the business practices of their suppliers? Even the Enough Project knows there’s no easy answer, but that’s why they’re trying to get people to start thinking about where our favourite devices come from.

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Well, ain’t that a bitch

So my primary gaming platform is my xbox 360. It’s served me well over the last two years, I’ve never had the red rings, and it’s only frozen on me twice. The one gripe I have about it is the hard drive. I got mine way back when the 360 only came in the 20 GB variety. I could upgrade to bigger drives, but Microsoft is notorious with marking up their hardware, as well as making sure on first party or licensed third party develops can produce the hardware.

So I was excited when I heard a few months ago that Microsoft would allow any usb flash drive to function as a memory stick, but limit storage to 16 GB. This is good news becuase the licensed xbox memory cards and flash drives are embarrassingly overpriced.

Recently I picked up an 8 GB drive for around 20 bucks and got cracking. I was able to move some things around and get 6 gigs of game saves off my hard drive and on to the stick. It was mainly my Left 4 Dead 2 dlc and all 4 gigs of my Mass Effect saves.

Then came the kick in the nuts.

I’m still not sure why, but now it’s all gone. I did have a power outage recently that could have wiped the flash drive (It went from having 2 gigs of free space, to an un-configured, empty flash drive).

The good news is that most of that space was DLC, stuff I can re download free of charge. The real bad news? I had roughly 120 hours worth of game play in Mass Effect 2 alone that is all gonzo. Now if I had lost my Halo, or Call of Duty saves, that’s one thing, those games run about 6-10 hours in single player and anything multiplayer related is tied to my gamer card. That means it doesn’t matter in I lose my saves, as long as my account isn’t deactivated.

But you might be thinking, I’ve already played the game, enjoyed it, why do I need the saves? Well the Mass Effect series is unique in the gaming world for how well they tie sequels together. My decisions (like who lives and dies, and how I played the game are tracked and carried over to the next game. And the developers, Bioware have made a considerable effort to make those decisions feel like they matter.

So now that we can start geeking out over Mass Effect 3, I am reminded that the 4, well developed and unique Commander Sheppards that I had, are dead. Actually, it’s worse than that, they never existed.

If there is a silver lining to all this, it’s that I will have a chance to play though the whole game will all of the story focused DLC in one go. I mean I did go back and replay some characters half way through when new content was released, but I really haven’t done a full playthrough with all the DLC together.

The other redeeming factor is that Mass Effect is an almost infinitely re-playable game. I’m going into my 5th playthrough and I am realizing that there are things I’ve never done in this game yet.

I also have a little more of an idea of what kinds of things I want my Sheppard to deal with in the next game. So I’ve been making careful choices in the game, but also importing specific save files from Mass Effect 1 so I have an idea of what I can expect to see in the series’ conclusion.

So I’m giving thanks for the great work Bioware has put into their games, and hoping that in the future I keep my important game data on somehting more secure than a flash drive.

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Australia might let you kill more people (In video games)

It’s summertime in Australia right now, a friend of mine just got back from a semester over there. It was approaching 40 degrees there, we just got a couple inches of snow here.

Maybe all that warm weather has melted the cold hearts of Australia’s government, or maybe it just thawed them out of the Ice Age when it comes to video games. Right now, any game rated over MA15+ is banned from sale in the country. So basically every game over here that rated Mature (17+) either needs some editing or “localizing” for Australia before it can be sold. The government is just now opening up to the idea of adding an 18+ rating to their game classification board.

The current rating system has lead to some interesting controversy. Left 4 Dead 2 was refused classification until a heavily edited version was released that really made the game quite boring. Keep in mind L4D2 is a game about killing zombies, widely known as one of the most fun things ever. The AU version removed all the blood, wounding and fire damage to the zombies, so they just run and you, fall when you shoot them, then their bodies instantly disappear. Boooooooooring.

Yet studies conducted in Australia showed no conclusive link between violent video games and long term aggression.

Worse still, the ratings board can be inconsistent, it neutered L4D2, but allowed Aliens vs. Predator to be MA15+ on the basis that you weren’t killing humans exclusively, and the violence was in short bursts. Despite the fact that you can, as the Predator, rip a person’s spine and skull out of their body through their goddamn stomach!

Just some teen friendly sci-fi fantasy fun!

Australia is just about the last developed nation to not have an adult rating for video games, so the news that they have decided to give game classification another look is promising. Maybe they’ll finally get on board with the idea that adults enjoy video games too and that they can make their own decisions about that they and their families enjoy.

Besides! the country was founded by murderers and thieves! and they have a thing against fake violence? (Aren’t stereotypes fun?)

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How to Do a Sequel right

Creating a brand new video game is tough and starting a brand new franchise is even harder, but one of the biggest successes of this generation has been the Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed series. The games does a great job of mixing historical set pieces, with believable crowds of NPC’s great 3rd person melee combat, parkour action and a sci-fi story that some how mixes it all together. It also throws a little conspiracy and end of the world prophecy all in for good measure.

The latest entry into the series, AC: Brotherhood is far and away the best so far, but things didn’t start out so well for this franchise. The first game had it’s issues with just about everything a game could have issues with. Reviewers felt the story was too convoluted, and the game play was repetitive and the game’s tone was too dark and humorless. But that didn’t stop the first game from selling very well for a new IP.

With the success came the inevitable sequel, but Unibsoft Montreal (creators of some of my favourite games ever) didn’t spin out a new game to cash in on the game’s popularity. With two years between games, the dev’s took all the criticism to heart and turned out one of the best sequels I’ve ever played. AC II had all the fun parts of the first game (the defensive combat and free running around populated cities) while adding more platforming elements, better characters and a more immersive universe. And while the game still had a really blunt and ambiguous ending (something that seems to be a theme for this series) the game still satisfied in everywhere the first game lacked.

What’s most significant about this sequel is that it addressed the problems the fans and critics had directly by both building a better game, and talking about how they did it. And with so many games in the industry being churned out year after year with little improvement, it’s refreshing to see developers take such pride in their art.

So when they announced the next sequel will come out one year after AC II, I was a little concerned. I’ve kind of become jaded to these kind of announcements, there have been too many good, if flawed games get really bad sequels becuase the publisher wanted a cash in rather than build a franchise. And it really hurt that the AC franchise was going to get this same treatment. After all, the second one was so good, they could basically release the same game with new maps and more people neck stab and most people would be happy.

But the really strange things is that’s basically what Unibsoft did, but they made it work. AC II had some massive cities and great vistas, but AC Brotherhood give us Rome, a massive city with packed districts, open fields and churches but also a whole bunch of smaller, focused levels and “memories” of your Renaissance Assassin. AC II let us upgrade out Assassin’s villa, but now we can rebuild Rome (it takes more than a day), there are also more puzzles, and assassin contracts.

But best of all, AC Brotherhood does something that most games always flop on, it makes you feel like a leader and does make it boring. It’s something that also bothered me about the GTA series, you work your way up the criminal underworld but once you get to the top, the game ends. Or when you’re up there, you’re still doing the bitch work for other people. But about halfway through Brotherhood your character assumes the role of the new leader of the Assassin’s brotherhood. You begin to recruit new assassin’s and send them out on contracts throughout Europe, leveling them up until they came be accepted as a true assassin. It’s rewarding, fun and has an impact on the actual game play when you can call in your assassin’s to take out guards or save your bacon in a tough fight.

On top of all that, it adds multiplayer, and it’s not some tacked on mode. it’s got 3 unique modes (with two “Advanced” versions) and game paly that is wildly different from the usual shooter fare. Yet it keeps elements that have become central to this generation’s multiplayer play book. You can level up and unlock new perks and abilities which keeps you pushing on to reward yourself. It also set out to carve a new path in multiplayer gaming by saying true to what makes the game great. The game mixes the “hide in plain sight” stealth of the game with free running and some brutal take downs. Unibsoft Montreal has had a pretty solid track record with creating new and unique multiplayer experiences, especially for third person stealth games.

Basically the only thing that takes away from this game is that it came out only a year after AC II, I mean if this game came out last year instead of AC II, it’s be a game of the year contender for sure. But the game play formula is so solid, and it has enough improvements to make it feel unique that I can feel good about calling it one of the best sequels of the year.

It also helps that Unbisoft has taken the high road and said they’d rather take some time off with the series rather than spin out another game and let the series get stagnant

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Gamers looking for love find many people in common. Too bad they’re all dudes

I don’t like the stereotype that all gamers are lonely virgins who can’t talk to girls. I try to let people know that gamers are like any other kind of dedicated fan, be it sports, fashion or movies.

But then I come across a story like this, and it makes me a little sad.  At the end of November this year, there’s a dating event being held just outside Tokyo, and it’s for gamers.  Traditionally, these things pick 40 people of both genders and set them up in a speed dating like scenario.  But since this one is geared towards gamers, there were a lot more than 40 single guys looking for love.

More Women too, 115 apparently have registered for the event, but they’re going to me a little out numbered by the 386 guys who have trouble with the ladies.

At least I can rest easy knowing that it’s going on in Japan and not around here.  Oh wait, it is already over here, it’s called ComicCon

story from MANTANWEB via Kotaku

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Brand New Call of Duty, feels like the old Call of Duty

So the “Most Anticipated release of the year” came out today and I trekked over to blockbuster to give it a try. The guy behind the desk was a little surprised that I was renting it, “You’re not going to buy it?”

“No,” I said, “I bought the last one, and now I barely play it.”

He did give me something to think about, “But think of all the hours you spend enjoying that game” which made me pause. I did spend a lot of time with Modern Warfare 2, the multiplayer sucked a whole lot of hours out of my life when I could have been working on my thesis project. But with the franchise pumping out a game every year I just know what to expect now. And I know that if I put down the 70 bucks for this game, it’d just be sitting on my shelf in two months.

Ya I loved CoD 4, the first game in the series to forgo the WWII setting and head into a modern day conflict. It still has one of my favourite single player campaigns, and it’s multiplayer revolutionized online shooters. Last year’s sequel to Modern Warfare was released to a little bit of hype and to some decent success. However, it had, probably, the dumbest third act ‘twist” of any story in history. Basically, half the main characters get killed becuase they’re British, and then the survivors have to go kill an American general out of vengeance, and end up killing more Americans in two levels than Russians in the rest of the game.

And now we come to Black Ops. While I haven’t completed the campaign (which is supposed to be quite good) and I haven’t even touched the multiplayer, this game is so familiar I’ve pretty much already made up my mind about it. It’s not bad, but there’s pretty much nothing new about this game, it feels more like Call of Duty Plus. It adds little tweaks and touches but there isn’t much here that wows in the same way the last 3 Call of Duty games have.

And therein lies the problem I think, in four years we’ve gotten 3 modern day shooters from the Call of Duty franchise, it’d be hard for anyone to find something new to wow the masses when you saturate the genre with your own product. I’m just tired of playing the same kind of game every year that has the same exciting gameplay, and the same frustrating game design and AI. And after 4 years, the gameplay is getting tired, and the short comings of the game are getting worse.

My main problem is being repeatedly killed by enemies I can’t see, while my friendly AI can’t seem to kill anything. You can forgive a game when the AI slips up and they miss the enemy sneaking into their lines, but after 4 years of this shit, I’d hope that I wouldn’t have to worry about being killed from behind when I have 8 friendly soldiers watching my back. More surprisingly is the number of glitches I’ve seen. For a series known for it’s polish, I’ve been bounced around the map and or had teammates walk through my body, and stay there so I can only see the inside of my helmet while I get filled with lead my and a never ending stream of enemies.

Not to say I haven’t been enjoying my self. There are some things I like, but it seems like with everything this game does right, it makes another decision that drags the game down. A big one is having the making the character you play as something more than a silent super soldier that the player can imprint themselves on. Alex Mason has a face, and can talk, it’s too bad he doesn’t have much to say. There are a lot of lines of dialogue, but they’re filled with so many F bombs you wish he’d just shut up like the rest of the CoD predecessors.

There was a time when and FPS lived and died on it’s variety of weapons, thankfully Black Ops gives a nod to those golden days of shooters with a wicked variety of guns. More than just types of guns, we also get more mods to them as well. These are little things, but having an AK-47 with 2 mags taped together or a flame thrower attachment makes me smile as I put down the unending hordes of heartless commies.

The Nazi zombie co op mode is back from 2008’s World At War, except, I’ve already played this game, it came out in 2008 and it was called World at War. Although I have heard that there are more exciting levels than the first one I played, the basic formula is pretty much the same as from 2 years ago.

Over all, this game have given me a weird kind of feeling while I am globe trotting and skipping through time playing fast and loose with Cold War history. I felt like I was in a James Bond game, taking on Russians, skipping between beautiful villas in Cuba to cold gulags in Russia all the while roving around with a one eyed Russian, a Brown-hair-with-stubble hero and your token black guy. Although, your Alex Mason is very much an American Bond, he might be doing covert ops for his government, but he doesn’t get the girl, swears more than a pissed off Christian Bale and only seems to drink the blood of his enemies. It’s fun, exciting and there’s a lot of variety, yet it still doesn’t seem to feel new. The whole 007 feeling kind of takes you out of the boots on the ground soldier feeling the franchise is known for, and for all the varied environments, none of it is anything that hasn’t been in a CoD game before. We’ve seen Latin America and Russia before, and the Vietnam era missions are way too reminiscent of the Japanese levels in World at War for my taste.

But like I said I haven’t gotten into multiplayer yet, and that’s becuase I already know what to expect, a lot of fun. I know I sound like I’m shitting on this game, but I can’t deny that it’s fun. I think if anything I’m just upset that we get one of these games every year, and that Activision has already announced there will be another CoD game next year. The formula is getting tired, the genre is getting stagnant and if Activision’s track record with music games is any indication (5 guitar heroes in one year? are you kidding me?) I’m not looking forward to seeing this great franchise get run into the ground.

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Want to understand California’s Violent video game controversey? Watch this video.

G4’s Adam Sessler goes to the Supreme Court to talk to a Lawyer for the Entertainment Merchants Association (they’re the defendants) about their position on how ridiculous the execution of this law would be if it is indeed passed.

Take a click and learn a thing or two!

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