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finallyalex Blog

There's something nasty in the woodshed

I have been profoundly angered, saddened and inspired to action by a whole host of GameSpot comments recently.

This one is the latest in a long, long line -- and it might be the one that has finally ensured I'm going to sit down and write something about the issue properly. It's no better or worse than any others; it's just the last straw.

For now I'm just going to present it without any sort of comment at all, other than to state it exists.

"Oh brother, now we get the politically correct propaganda on a video game website. As anAnglo-SaxonProtestant male, I have gotten my share of hate from those promoting 'diversity'. Perhaps they needsensitivity-training to learn how to validate my own idiosyncratic world view. We straight white guys need to start a support group to prevent our emasculation by hate groups like Feminine Frequency. I propose " Massively Masculine Men with Massively Monster Members". Let's fight back against these whiney skanks!"

More, as they say, to follow.

What's that strange bearded man doing on my video game news?

As some of you might have seen, we've had new by-lines rolled out on the site, and I thought I'd take the opportunity to update this long-neglected blog to celebrate the fact. If you haven't seen them, you can see mine here or Danny's here-- or you can just look below at mine if you don't much care for links.

An image of the new by-line area.

If you're confused the the last part (as it seems some people are) the banner at the top of the page might give you something of a hint. As well as helping get content about games in front of your pretty faces, I'm something of a roller derby nut. I currently try to coach (read: shout at lots) The Steam Rollers and (occasionally) Batter C Power, two teams from the inimitable London Rollergirls.

I also occasionally spend some time writing about roller derby on a voluntary basis to help spread the word, generally under my adopted skate name, Lex Talionis, mostly for the world's premiere roller derby news site, DNN (whose jacket you can actually see me sporting in the aforementioned byline photo.

Those of you who've been around for a little while may remember a little feature we did at the start of last year where we got a few of LRG in to put some fitness games through their paces... which ended up being one of the favourite things on the site that I've had a hand in making. But anyway...

If you're confused about the whole derby thing, then this NSFW (due to language--naughty Raw!) meme-related video might help. If that doesn't work, then I'll just let Gotham Girls say it better than I ever could (with some help from Yakety Sax) with the highlights from last year that formtheir 2012 season preview video.

Alex Sassoon Coby Ornament

This blog is a part of the scavenger hunt.

Share a couple of items on your Christmas wishlist this year.
At the top of my christmas wishlist is a new gaming laptop and a decent external monitor. I like the flexibility of having a rig that can be put away. I love PC gaming, and tend to get so much more out of games when I play them on PC, but just don't have the hardware at home to do it in quite the way I want.

Next is a couple of tickets to Japan. Trundling round Super Potato in Akihabara is one of my favourite things in gaming next to killing a new raid boss in WoW, and even though the Japanese games industry isn't anythign close to as powerful as once it was, a trip to Japan does always offer some really exciting glimpses into what the future holds.

What games will you play during the holidays?
In the few bits of time off I have at home, I think I'll be mostly playing World of Warcfraft: Cataclysm (I'm Kasugano on EU Draenor, most of the time). I'm also going to use the time to attend to some unfinished business; I'm yet to beat Rodin in Bayonetta, and I haven't finished my Insanity playthrough on Mass Effect 2.

I may also go back to Fallout: New Vegas if that's been patched up a bit; I bought it on launch day, but abandoned it in relatively short order thanks to the games massive haul of bugs. And who knows... I may even finally build up the resolve to open up that copy of EA Sports Active 2 that's been taunting me for several weeks.

What are the kinds of food or drinks you must have during the holidays?
Holidays tend to mean excess. We're talking port, champagne and malt whiskey, to wash down the turkey, smoked salmon, Christmas cake and--of course, Christmas pudding.

This is perhaps why I then feel the need to sleep for most of January.


Why I agree with Keith Vaz

I agree with Keith Vaz. Now that's a headline I never thought I'd write, so it probably warrants some explanation. Mr Vaz, a long-time ill-informed critic of games and the games industry put forward an early-day motion this week that many have pounced upon, suggesting he's back on his 'games are evil' bandwagon and should be roundly mocked. However, what the motion says is simply that PEGI should be encouraged to educate parents as to the nature of game ratings, and point out in no uncertain terms that games that are rated 18+ are, you know, only for those over 18.

The new colour-coded pegi ratings.

It seems to me that this is precisely the sort of thing that needs to happen. The UK game-publishing industry worked quite hard to ensure that their preferred system, PEGI, got the nod over the BBFC for rating games that required age-restriction in the Digital Economy fracas, and now needs to put in some work to explain those ratings to the public. Changing the colours of the logos is something of a start, but when you have age ratings that look very similar to the age-level suggestions for difficulty on children's toys, is it any wonder that many parents simply don't get it?

Games are still seen in many sectors as primarily a childish pastime, and while this is changing, the industry could do a lot worse then to take all steps necessary to point out that games which are designed with adults in mind are, in fact, not for children. This would serve the dual benefit of keeping games away from those for whom they are not intended--and so deflecting the blame in any tabloid scandal when children do end up doing bad things after playing games--and helping to make the point that games are for grown-ups too.

The motion in question (which you can see here) simply "calls on the Government to urge Pan-European Game Information to take further steps to highlight the inappropriate content of these games for under 18s." Game publishers led the charge for PEGI over the BBFC, and so getting unfamiliar ratings onto boxes; they now have a responsibility to back that action up by making sure that parents know what these ratings mean, and are not--as many still believe--suggestions or ratings of difficulty. It may be hard to see from the inside that a simply 18+ on a box doesn't suffice when we all know precisely what it means, but more needs to be done to educate those who still don't see games as any different from children's toys.

There are also similar issues ongoing on the US which are, I think, analogous. On the one hand you get the publishers making the case that they are making games for adults, and that they should be treated as such. Yet when any attempt is made to enshrine ratings into law, or to suggest that products explicitly intended for adults only are rated Adults Only, there is much hue and cry. It seems that the industry on both sides of the pond wishes to eat its cake and have it too--and that's neither useful nor responsible.

Can you guess...

...which game I'm looking forward to playing this weekend?

Perhaps you will be able to glean something from my inscrutable gaze.

PC gaming woes

After my post last week about the general troubles facing PC gaming and the problems publishers have had addressing them, I now have a set of rather more personal PC issues that are causing me bother.

My gaming laptop has, unfortunately, blown up. The screen has gone crazy, and none of it works. I can't even get it to run off an external screen. This makes me a very sad panda indeed, but it has left me with an idea. I am going to attempt to chronicle my journey back to PC gaming (which I have been rather remiss on, of late) through this blog and probably London Calling as well, if I deem it worthy, with greater news about what's out there.

I know that our coverage of new gaming technologies, PC upgrades and the like hasn't been great of late (in fact, I admit it's been almost non-existent), but I intend to do something about that, starting here. The aim will be to provide helpful information to those looking for it, as well as to give me a platform to whine about things that make me cross.

So, on that note... does any one have any recommendations for hardware manufacturers, components brands, or just getnal tips on building / buying gaming hardware? I have a fair few ideas and prejudices of my own, but I'd like to gather up your views as well as I get underway.

Ubisoft's massive step backwards

As you may have heard, Ubisoft has just started testing a programme--called the Online Services Platform--it intends to roll out to all its PC titles in due course, as part of the latest Settlers beta. This is not normally the sort of thing that would drive me to pontificate, but it contains a few interesting features wrapped up within its stated goal of offering "exceptional gameplay and services" for which they should be ashamed.

Firstly, let me say that I accept that piracy in the PC games market is a problem, and many of the previous attempts to curb it have been fairly ugly. Take the much-maligned SecuROM, for instance. Let's ignore the Bioshock rootkit fiasco, and just look at EA's troubles with it. For Mass Effect, SecuROM initially required the game to be activated online once every ten days for it to keep working. This was decried from all corners as excessive, draconian, and generally simply served to annoy those people who had actually forked over a large slice of their hard-earned cash to get hold of the game. EA (to their credit) backed down fairly swiftly, and removed this restriction.

Somewhat strangely, Ubisoft has just taken a massive step backwards. It has elected to try and find out for itself if the best way to reduce piracy is to treat all your paying customers as potential criminals… but rather than doing so once every ten days, it is going to treat you as a criminal for every single second you are playing its games. The Online Services Platform requires that you be connected to the Internet and Ubisoft's servers all the time you're playing their games, whether the gameplay requires it or not. To add insult to injury, this isn't just a check when you log in or when you save (online save games are apparently the carrot in this arrangement), it's a constant check. This means that if you happen to go offline during your game, it will pause and wait for you to go back online for permission from Ubisoft to be restored.

No problem, you may think--your gaming rig may be firmly rooted in one spot and permanently plugged in, but what about other people? What about those people gaming on laptops, on the move? Wi-Fi while travelling can be extortionate… so why on earth should one be forced to pay for it for the privilege of being able to play single-player games you've paid for, on your own system? Thinking a little closer to home, you might like to consider what happens to your gaming when your broadband happens to go down, or if you happen to be in a large building (such as university halls of residence) with flakey wi-fi. Every time your connection drops, you'll be kicked out of your immersive game experience into the technical tundra as you attempt to satsify Ubisoft's anti-piracy whimsy.

In an ideal world, anti-piracy software wouldn't be necessary, but I accept that some form of protection is needed. However, I strongly believe that this should be as near to invisible to the legal user of the game as possible; if you're going to inconvenience and alienate your paying customers, it's going to be counterproductive and simply serve to further damage the market in question. It will drive users who would otherwise stay entirely legal when it comes to their gaming into breaking your DRM systems by attempting to block this intrusive and aggressive system, and will drive yet more users to either ignore PC gaming completely or seek out illegal copies--which, mark my words, will still exist.

It should be noted that this programme isn't just about reducing piracy; the OSP does offer other services such as online save games and unlimited installs on computers you personally authenticate, but it's the compulsory nature of the programme as part of antipiracy effort at the core that I think is the most significant element.

I contacted Ubisoft for comment on this backward step earlier, and this is what the firm said: "The platform requires a permanent Internet connection. We know this choice is controversial but we feel is justified by the gameplay advantages offered by the system and because most PCs are already connected to the Internet. This platform also offers protection against piracy, an important business element for Ubisoft and for the PC market in general as piracy has an important impact on this market. Any initiative that allows us to lower the impact of piracy on our PC games will also allow us to concentrate further effort on the creation and expansion of our intellectual properties for the PC - our goal is to deliver the best gaming experience to our customers."

I shall let you make your own minds up.

GameSpot UK Podcast is live...

...and hosted by me!

You can find it here. As those of you who've been following the podcast will know this is my first time hosting it... and don't worry, it's not going to become a regular thing.

As explained in the intro, Guy's been struck down by swine flu, Luke's off on a super-secret mission for us, and Mark is having fun moving house... which left me. I rather enjoyed the challenge, and think that our brief show worked rather well, under the circumstances... it'll take more than a few piggy sniffles to get the GSUK podcast.

Hope you like it.... we've got all the usual segments (though the news discussion is a little brief), and have two competitions to give away 20 Champions Online beta keys and 5 signed copies of Ashes Cricket 2009 on PS3. So go give it a listen... and be gentle.

Win a TV, and waste a little time...

A couple of updates from me for today...

First up, we have a competition that's running alongside this week's Start/Select! We've teamed up with the nice people at Fox to give you the chance to win not only Max Payne on Blu-ray, but also a 40" HDTV and a PS3 just to make sure you can watch it.

What you need to do is watch the latest Start/Select, which features an interview I did with John Moore, the film's director, and answer a simple question... easy.

Other than that joy, I have just discovered a little flash game that is oddly compelling, much in the way that Progress Quest was, albeit in a much prettier way. Thankfully it's got fairly strict limits plugged into it so it can't waste more than about 5 minutes a day, but it did make me smile. Anyway, take a look and judge for yourself.