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RobertBowen Blog

Platform wars for gaming should cease.

When I look at the two other key forms of entertainment I enjoy in the home - listening to music and watching movies - it becomes increasingly clear to me why standards are necessary, and why the game industry is stuck in the dark ages.

I can pick up a CD from my collection and play it in a hi-fi, a console, a personal CD player, or on my PC. It works in all of these devices, and should I require to make it portable I can rip the music to MP3 format and consume it in that way as well. In effect, there is no artificial barrier placed in the way of me listening to a particular music album - it just works, without hassle, on whatever device I prefer to use. That places the power of consuming that music in my hands.

The movie industry is perhaps more notable in that it has gone through two major 'format wars', and saw the sense in deciding on one set standard on both occasions. First it was Betamax vs VHS, and more recently it was HD-DVD vs Blu-Ray. So why did all the distributors decide to eventually back just one format?

Simple. To make it easier for the consumer to buy their products. To allow standardisation of playback devices so that whenever a consumer buys a player or a movie, they know it will work no matter what brand of player they use. They can take that same disk and put it in a dedicated player, or put it in their PC, and it will simply work, without hassle, and without having to check if it is compatible.

Why, then, are we still stuck in the feudal dark ages when it comes to games? Why are the key players still forcing artificial lock-in to their own platforms, and forcing developers and publishers to expend more money and resources to make slightly different versions of a game for each of those platforms? Multi-platform game development is now prevalent in the gaming industry, and yet that same industry cannot seem to see how nonsensical it is that they have been put in this situation in the first place due to what simply amounts to artificial barriers imposed upon them.

All it is doing is raising costs, and putting unnecessary constraints, and often additional financial costs on the game consumer, forcing them to choose one platform over another in order to get 'exclusives'. This is simply taking brand loyalty to the extreme, and creating an unnatural divide in the gaming community as a whole.

In my view, it would make far more sense for the development houses to be allowed to make a single version of a game that will simply work, no matter what 'playback device' you choose to use. Why can't the game industry simply agree on a standardised system of delivery, as the other entertainment industries have done for decades?

It would also see an end to this constant nonsensical bickering (and sometimes vitriolic ranting) between people over which system is best, and get people actually talking about the merits of the games themselves, rather than which piece of hardware happens to make it 'look' better. It would also alleviate the need to effectively buy four systems (including Xbox 360, PS3, Wii and PC) for those gamers who do not want to miss out on particular games that are 'exclusive' to each platform. So in the end, many gamers are being forced to buy several devices for game playback, rather than just one device that meets their needs. That inevitably means they have less money available to buy the actual games - which in turn has a knock-on effect to the game industry.

At a time when online distribution of game content is on the rise, does it make sense any more to be constrained by artificial hardware barriers? Does it make sense for game developers to often be constrained by the lowest common denominator of hardware when trying to create a game? In my view, it doesn't make sense any more.

The game industry at the moment just feels like some Frankenstein's monster of disparate notions, each bolted on over the years until we have an uncohesive mess of square pegs and round holes when compared to the other entertainment markets. I think its way past time for these key players to sit down around a table and actually thrash out a single standard, and stop creating artificial barriers that are increasing game development time and costs, and fragmenting the consumer base.

The day that I can buy a single copy of a game, put the disk in a PC or a set-top box or even a portable device, made by any manufacturer, and just see it work without hassle - I think that day will be a major breakthrough for gaming as a whole, and free the gaming population from the artificial shackles of the past.

Some Favourite Fiction

I've lost track of how many books I've read over the years. I even had a fairly decent collection at one time (numbering over 3000 books), but I had to get rid of a large portion of those to make room for my kids. ;)

Anyway, here is a small snapshot of some of my favourites over the years...

Stephen Donaldson:

The Chronicles Of Thomas Covenant...

Lord Foul's Bane
The Illearth War
The Power That Preserves
The Wounded Land
The One Tree
White Gold Wielder

John Wyndham:

Day Of The Triffids
The Kraken Wakes
The Chrysalids
The Midwich Cuckoos

Herbert George Wells:

The War Of The Worlds
The Invisible Man
The Time Machine
The Island Of Dr. Moreau
The Food Of The Gods

Basil Copper:

The Great White Space
Into The Silence

Edgar Rice Burroughs:

Thuvia, Maid Of Mars
The Chessmen Of Mars
Tarzan Of The Apes

Alan Dean Foster:

Into The Out Of
To The Vanishing Point

The Icerigger trilogy:

Mission To Moulokin
The Deluge Drivers

David Gemmell:

Knights Of Dark Renown

Robert E. Howard:

The Conan stories
The Gods Of Bal-Sagoth (collection of short stories)
Solomon Kane

Katherine Kurtz:

Deryni Rising
Deryni Checkmate
High Deryni
The Bishop's Heir
The King's
The Quest For Saint Camber

Barbra Hambly:

The Darwath Trilogy:

1: The Time Of The Dark
2: The Walls Of Air
3: The Armies Of Daylight

Ian Fleming:

Dr. No
You Only Live Twice
From Russia With Love
Live And Let Die
On Her Majesty's Secret Service

James Herbert:

The Rats
The Fog
The Dark

Raymond E. Feist:

A Darkness At Sethanon

Dean R. Koontz:

Cold Fire
The Bad Place
Darkness Comes

Jules Verne:

Journey To The Centre Of The Earth
20,000 Leagues Under The Sea
Mysterious Island

Alexander Dumas:

The Three Musketeers
Ten Years Later
Twenty Years Later
The Man In The Iron Mask
The Count Of Monte Cristo

Douglas Adams:

The Hitch-Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy
Restaurant At The End Of The Universe

Clifford D. Simak:

All Flesh Is Grass
The Visitors
They Walked Like Men

Dennis Wheatley:

The Devil Rides Out
Uncharted Seas

Larry Niven:

The Mote In God's Eye
Dream Park

H. Beam Piper:

Little Fuzzy
Fuzzy Sapiens
Fuzzies and other people

Charles Dickens:

The Old Curiosity Shop
Oliver Twist
Great Expectations
A Christmas Carol

Robert Louis Stevenson:

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Treasure Island

Isaac Asimov:

I, Robot
The Bicentennial Man

J.R.R. Tolkien:

The Hobbit
The Lord Of The Rings (complete)

Clive Barker:

Books Of Blood series

Robert Jordan:

Eye Of The World
The Great Hunt
The Dragon Reborn

The Complete Works of Edgar Allen Poe
The Cthulhu stories of H.P. Lovecraft

The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann Wyss
Involution Ocean by Bruce Sterling
Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton
The Body Snatchers by Jack Finney
The Warlock In Spite Of Himself by Christopher Stasheff
Massacre River (and other 'Fargo' novels) by John Benteen
The Ipcress File by Len Deighton
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Dracula by Bram Stoker
The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
I Am Legend by Richard Matheson
The Moon Pool by Abraham Merritt
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift
The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan
Paradise Lost & Paradise Regained by John Milton
Duncton Wood by William Horwood

It's not an exhaustive list by any means, and there are many, many omissions, but I'd recommend any of these as a 'good read'. :)

Favourite movies by genre

Here are some of my favourite movies of all time, listed by genre.

Favourite Sci-Fi movies

1. Blade Runner (Director's Cut) ( 1982 )
2. Forbidden Planet ( 1956 )
3. The Day The Earth Stood Still ( 1951 )
4. The Terminator ( 1984 )
5. War Of The Worlds ( 1953 )
6. The Time Machine ( 1960 )
7. The Abyss (Special Edition) ( 1989 )
8. The Day The Earth Caught Fire ( 1961 )
9. Close Encounters Of The Third Kind ( 1977 )
10. Soylent Green ( 1973)

Favourite Fantasy movies

1. LOTR: Fellowship Of The Ring ( 2001 )
2. LOTR: The Two Towers ( 2002 )
3. LOTR: Return Of The King ( 2003 )
4. Sleepy Hollow ( 1999 )
5. The 13th Warrior ( 1999 )
6. Pan's Labyrinth (Spanish) ( 2006 )
7. Jason And The Argonauts ( 1963 )
8. Le Pacte Des Loups (aka Brotherhood Of The Wolf) (French) ( 1999 )
9. 7th Voyage of Sinbad ( 1958 )
10. Conan The Barbarian ( 1982 )

Favourite Period movies

1. Braveheart ( 1995 )
2. The Three Musketeers ( 1973 )
3. Scaramouche ( 1952 )
4. The Horseman On The Roof (French) ( 1995 )
5. Ben Hur ( 1959 )
6. Master and Commander: Far Side Of The World ( 2002 )
7. Name Of The Rose ( 1986 )
8. Le Bossu (aka On Guard) (French) ( 1997 )
9. Seven Samurai (Japanese) ( 1956 )
10. The First Great Train Robbery ( 1978 )

Favourite 'Westerns'

1. The Good, The Bad and The Ugly ( 1966 )
2. Once Upon A Time In The West ( 1969 )
3. The Outlaw Josey Wales ( 1976 )
4. Rio Bravo/El Dorado (basically the same)
5. A Fistful Of Dollars ( 1964 )
6. Unforgiven ( 1992 )
7. Hidalgo ( 2004 )
8. How The West Was Won ( 1962 )
9. Heaven's Gate (uncut) ( 1980 )
10. The Magnificent Seven ( 1960 )

Favourite Horror movies

1. The Changeling ( 1980 )
2. Invasion Of The Body Snatchers ( 1956 )
3. The Devil Rides Out ( 1968 )
4. Halloween ( 1978 )
5. The Frighteners ( 1996 )
6. The Haunting ( 1963 )
7. Legend Of Hell House ( 1973 )
8. The Shining ( 1980 )
9. Dracula: Prince Of Darkness ( 1966 )
10. Lifeforce ( 1985 )

Favourite 'Monster' movies

1. Aliens ( 1986 )
2. Jaws ( 1975 )
3. An American Werewolf In London ( 1981 )
4. Predator ( 1987 )
5. John Carpenter's The Thing ( 1982 )
6. Tremors ( 1990 )
7. King Kong ( 1933 )
8. Them! ( 1954 )
9. Jurassic Park ( 1993 )
10. The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms* ( 1953 )

* I'm a sucker for Harryhausen movies.

Favourite War movies

1. Where Eagles Dare ( 1968 )
2. Saving Private Ryan ( 1998 )
3. Apocalypse Now ( 1979 )
4. Kelly's Heroes ( 1970 )
5. Battle Of The Bulge ( 1965 )
6. A Bridge Too Far ( 1977 )
7. The Longest Day ( 1970 )
8. The Deer Hunter ( 1978 )
9. Cross Of Iron ( 1977 )
10. Taegukgi (aka Brotherhood) (Korea) ( 2004 )

Favourite Action movies

1. The Spy Who Loved Me ( 1977 ) (+ all James Bond)
2. The Bourne Identity ( 2002 )
3. Raiders Of The Lost Ark ( 1981 )
4. Lethal Weapon 2 ( 1989 )
5. Die Hard ( 1988 )
6. Ronin ( 1998 )
7. The Replacement Killers ( 1998 )
8. Enter The Dragon ( 1973 )
9. District B13 (French) ( 2004 )
10. Eraser ( 1996 )

Favourite Thrillers

1. The Ipcress File ( 1965 )
2. The French Connection ( 1971 )
3. North By Northwest ( 1959 )
4. Cop ( 1988 )
5. Marathon Man ( 1976 )
6. Rear Window ( 1954 )
7. The Conversation ( 1974 )
8. Magnum Force ( 1973 )
9. Leon (aka The Professional) ( 1994 )
10. Strange Days ( 1995 )
11. Children Of Men ( 2007 )
12. Kiss Me Deadly ( 1955 )

Favourite Light Entertainment

1. A Shot In The Dark ( 1964 )
2. Return Of The Pink Panther ( 1975 )
3. It's A Wonderful Life ( 1946 )
4. The Italian Job ( 1969 )
5. The Big Lebowski ( 1998 )
6. Little Shop Of Horrors ( 1986 )
7. The Court Jester ( 1956 )
8. Repo Man ( 1984 )
9. Way Out West (or any Laurel & Hardy movie)
10. Anything with Will Hay

Favourite Animated/CGI movies

1. The Incredibles ( 2004 )
2. Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs ( 1937 )
3. Lady And The Tramp ( 1955 )
4. Fantasia ( 1940 )
5. Renaissance ( 2006 )
6. Tron ( 1982 )
7. Shrek ( 1999 )
8. Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within ( 2001 )
9. Akira ( 1990 )
10. Titan A.E. ( 2000 )

No more SecuROM or StarForce for me.

Many people already know my stance on restrictive DRM, and copy protection systems such as SecuROM and StarForce. Considering some of the difficulties I have had with SecuROM and StarForce in the past, I finally decided to remove games using that software from my game collection. It's taken me three days to check the majority of games in my collection, and separate those I deem problematic from those I deem acceptable.

Quite a number of titles are now languishing in a crate shoved in a cupboard, never to see the light of day again. It saddens me that I had to do it, but I can no longer support games, developers or publishers using this kind of malware. Most people know about the issues regarding StarForce, but I've also had difficulties with SecuROM. I atrribute two DVD drive failures and interruption of data backups using Nero to interference from both SecuROM and StarForce. I now face the prospect of reformatting my hard drive and installing the OS and all my applications from scratch, just to ensure all traces of these copy protection systems are removed.

After reading about it from all around the net, I checked my system registry and found null entries, and went into my user settings to find a hidden directory buried there with files named using illegal characters making them impossible to simply delete, and requiring a third party application to remove them. SecuROM is not uninstalled when a game is uninstalled - it remains on your PC to potentially interfere with CD/DVD burning software and drives. It is also rumoured to interfere with certain kinds of virtual drive, some SCSI devices and potentially some RAID setups.

I find this practice unacceptable, and in my view SecuROM is more like a virus due to the way it installs without your knowledge and buries itself deep in your system, resisting attempts to remove it. I have two firewalls (hardware and software), two anti-virus applications and a spyware/adware removal tool on my system because I do not wanted it infected by malicious software. Now I realise I have unwittingly been installing such malicious software along with the games I purchased, and it sickens me. Of course, it was my own fault for not educating myself more thoroughly about these things in the past, but foolishly I placed my trust in the developers and wanted to support them to combat piracy.

Needless to say, I will be a lot more vigilant and wary in the future. Even some game demos now come with SecuROM attached, so I will have to avoid those as well. Basically I will have to wait until others post about the copy protections used on certain games before making future purchasing decisions, because I will not risk compromising the integrity of my PC again.

This is the list of games I have put aside:

StarForce protected games

Brothers In Arms: Earned In Blood
Codename: Panzers: Phase One
Cossacks II: Napoleonic Wars
Psi-Ops: The Mindgate Conspiracy
Rainbow Six: Lockdown
Sniper Elite
Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory

SecuROM 7.xx protected games

Boiling Point: Road To Hell
Call Of Juarez
Company Of Heroes (Gold)
Dark Messiah Of Might & Magic
Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter
Hitman: Blood Money (Triple Pack)
Lego Star Wars
Lego Star Wars 2
Neverwinter Nights 2
Project Snowblind
Rogue Trooper
S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow Of Chernobyl
Warhammer 40,000: Dawn Of War (Gold - includes both expansions)

Anyway, some of those games listed above number among my favourite titles, and many may ask why I would deny myself the enjoyment of playing them. The answer is simply that I cannot risk these copy protection systems interfering further with my PC, and that takes precedence over all other considerations. It does not matter how sugar-coated the pill, it is still a bitter pill to swallow.

Similarly, I will purchase no other titles using these copy protection systems in future, and especially will not purchase games that come with activation limits and other restrictive DRM measures. It is simply not worth the risk.