Time To Go Gaming?

Most of the time I am reasonably happy that just reading books is keeping me up with cutting edge developments in science fiction. Certainly film and TV seem mostly to be following the curve. But I always worry that I might be missing out on something, and this article suggests that I really ought to get back into video games.

I have heard a lot of good things about Mass Effect before, specifically the fact that Commander Shepard can be played as either male or female with ease. However, the article suggests that Bioware’s game designers are a lot more sophisticated than just worrying about gender.

Sadly I have two problems. Firstly I own neither a PS3 nor an XBox, and I suspect that my PCs are all inadequate for game playing. Also, my hand-eye coordination is so poor that any sort of action game is pretty much closed to me. So I suspect I would be wasting my money on the game. Can anyone comment?

A Collector’s Market in Video Games?

My shoulder is getting better slowly, and I’m learning to manage the problem. I’m sure it would get better much quicker if I could take a couple of weeks off, but that’s life. Anyway, one of the things I am trying to do is do more stretchy-type exercises: yoga, Pilates, that sort of thing. I remembered Neil Gaiman recommending a Wii game by New U that did those things, so I thought I would investigate. I remembered it being about £25 in the UK, and I figured it would be cheaper now as it came out well over a year ago. Boy was I surprised.

The game is $30 on Amazon.com, which seemed about right, but when I looked at the UK it was a lot more. Here’s Play.com:

game on play.com

OK, so maybe that’s the usual “covert $ to £ and add a bit” thing that we often have to put up with over here. But now here’s Amazon UK.

game on play.com

Yep, £99.98. Wow.

I suspect what’s going on here is that the item Amazon UK is linking to is not the same as the basic game. It may be bundled with something. But it did rather surprise me, and I did have a moment of “is that what a Neil recommendation does to the price of a video game?” thoughts.

Parliament at Work

I have been pointed (thanks Kate!) at a transcript of discussions in the committee stage of the Identity Documents Bill currently going through Parliament. In particular note the comments of Dr. Julian Huppert, MP (LD, Cambridge):

There are a number of different circumstances: there are people who are neutrois and inter-sex people—there is a complicated collection. The simple solution to many of these circumstances is just not to have gender information on any of these identity documents. The people I spoke to would push for that very strongly. They are concerned about a repeat of what happened in Trafalgar square at Pride 2008 when there were inappropriate demands for gender recognition certificates. Hon. Members will know some of the history of that.

There does not seem to be a need for identity documents of any kind to have gender information. It is not a very good biometric; it is roughly a 50:50 split. Military ID, such as the MOD90, which obviously can have quite a high security clearance, contains no gender information. That might be what we should look at. It is certainly what some of the people I spoke to were keen on.

To summarise, the transgender people I spoke to said they did not want this new clause. I therefore do not support it because I support them.

So, Toiletgate makes it to Parliament. And some remarkable good sense being talked by an MP. My congratulations to the people of Cambridge on their electoral choice.

More Bits and Pieces

Here are a few more things that may be of interest:

– First and foremost, the Hugo Voter Packet has been released. For a mere £25 (currently rather better value that the US$50 price, though it may not be after the election) you can get a massive collection of ebook goodness, including all six nominees for Best Novel. Bargain.

– Talking of Worldcon news, Reno is going to hold a film festival. That’s excellent news as it shows they are working hard on attracting a new and diverse membership.

– On to some archaeology, and it appears that the Maya were pretty clever at urban plumbing.

– Back in Melbourne, scientists claim to have proved that Phar Lap died of arsenic poisoning. Of course this doesn’t prove murder, so they have not yet declared war on the USA…

– And finally, another plug for James Maliszewski’s excellent Grognardia blog. Although it is ostensibly about role-playing, it has many posts about pulp fiction. Here’s James talking about Lovecraft and Conan. His latest post is about the history of role-playing and its connections to the SCA and science fiction fandom. My knowledge is a bit fuzzy, but if one of you would like to point Lee Gold, Diana Paxson etc. at him I’m sure he’d be very grateful.

Linking Again

Because I should be packing for P-Con and doing the day job.

– An interesting statement by Christopher Handley’s lawyer on the subject of obscenity and manga, and why they chose to plead guilty.

– A great article on fear being the enemy of gender equality (thanks Nnedi!).

– A suggestion that the iPad is the Wii of the tablet market. Actually the thing I found most interesting about this is that if you go into a computer games shop in the UK all of the effort goes into selling XBox and PS3 games, with the Wii stuff hidden away in a small corner. That’s odd if Wii is easily the top-selling console. Anyway, I don’t think I’ll be buying an iPad until it has the eye-friendly Kindle-style screen. The iPhone hurts my eyes quite enough.

– Peter Tennant of Black Static takes the opportunity to show that not all male horror fans are sexist. Nice piece of PR by TTA Press there, which is another reason why it is important to apologize well.

Gaming Goes Meta

We are quite used to new novels referring back to things that have gone in the past, and even including fictional novels inside them. But can gaming go meta as well? Apparently so. James Maliszewski’s excellent Grognardia blog introduces us to the new role-playing game, Mazes & Minotaurs. On the face of it this is just another standard RPG, but set in ancient Greece rather than in a cod medieval world. However, M&M has been published in two editions, an “Original Rules” set, riffing off the original Dungeons & Dragons, and a “1987 revised edition”, riffing off AD&D. See reviews here and here.

I have no idea whether the game is any good, and I don’t have time for gaming these days anyway, but I am mightily amused that someone has seen fit to publish a game in such a way.

Sports Games on the Wii

One of the most impressive things about the Wii is the range of realistic sports that you get with the basic package. Wii Sports Resort adds to this. I’m particularly addicted to the table tennis game, though that is in part because the solo version serves up such interesting opponents – thus far I have played against, amongst others, thiny disguised versions of Catwoman, Darth Vader, Miss Piggy, Michael Jackson, Winne the Pooh, Scooby Doo, a werewolf and Kenny from South Park. In general, however, the attraction of the sports games is that the Wii’s unique interface technology allows you to play them in pretty much the same way as you would play the real thing. Of course the Wii helps you — I would be totally useless at real table tennis — but at least I’m getting exercise.

Anyway, encouraged by such realistic game play, the next thing any new Wii owner is likely to do is to buy some of the specialist sports games on offer from people like EA. Paul Cornell blogs about his experience over Christmas:

Ashes Cricket 2009 on the Wii (complete bloody swizz, you don’t actually use the Wii controller as you would a cricket bat, which one intuitively expects from such a game, and would characterise any cricket game for the Wii that I’d actually want to buy).

Spot on. I made the very same mistake. Given that the basic Wii sports lets you bat in baseball and play tennis, it seems inconceivable that a Wii cricket game would not yet you bat in a realistic manner. And yet it does not. That game isn’t by EA, but the Tiger Woods PGA Golf game is. I stupidly bought that too, and discovered that the golf game in Wii Sports Resort is actually a better golf simulation.

As a side point, the people who design the interfaces to these sports games should be taken out and shot. There’s really no excuse for poor menu design and lack of access to features except in the highly constrained way the game wants to force upon you.

The real problem with Wii games, however, appears to be that the game manufacturers have simply converted their old, keyboard-based games for use on the Wii. This I can understand. It is an economic problem. You don’t want to have to write a completely different game for the Wii when you already have something that works on the Playstation, PC and so on. But that means that there is a gap in the market. Someone out there ought to be producing really good sports simulations for the Wii that use the Wii interface in the way in which it was intended. If anyone knows of such a game, especially if it is a cricket game, please let me know. (And actually I’d love a chance to help design such a game. I have worked in computer games before.)

As an aside, the Wii game that I know of that is actually most like batting in cricket is the “Return Challenge” table tennis game in Wii Sports Resort. The mechanics of hitting a table tennis ball are different, but aside from that it is a very similar psychological problem. You have to face ball after ball; the drink cans placed on the table tempt you to try to hit your return shot in a precise way rather than just playing safe; and the crowd noise can be a big distraction. It is an exercise in concentration. Sir Geoffrey would approve.

Well Buckle My Swash!

Via Matt Staggs I discovered this blog post about the venerable early role-playing game, En Garde! I’m delighted to see that the game is still available. En Garde! was never much good as an RPG, but it worked really well by post and was very popular in postal Diplomacy magazines for a while. The author of the post seems unaware of this, but he does suggest that the game would work well online. I think he’s right. (And no, I really don’t have the time. Sorry.)

Microsoft Defends Right to be a Bigot

Breaking news on Twitter today concerns this story from the Lesbian & Gay Foundation about a woman who was banned from Xbox Live because other players found the fact that she was an out lesbian “offensive”.

We hear a lot of whining these days from right wing and religious bigots about how their right to hate other people is infringed by human rights legislation. Microsoft appears to have taken this to heart. Their concern was not whether it is right to discriminate against someone for being a lesbian, but simply how many people wanted to complain about not wanting to have to play games with one.

Obviously Microsoft is a private company, and I don’t think that there are any US laws requiring it to provide services to lesbians if it doesn’t want to. On the other hand, I’m sure that it sells a lot of products to LGBT people. I suspect a certain amount of letter writing might go on.

Hat tip to John Couthart for the image link below.

Be a lesbian - but not on Xbox Live

Two New Blogs

Here are a couple of interesting sites that came to my attention today.

The first one is a bit of a blast from the past, being about the philosophy of role-playing games. I don’t have time to pay much attention to such things these days, but Jack Philips sounds like my sort of gamer.

The other one is a news blog about science fiction-related events in New England. I won’t be following it, but those of you in the North East probably should. I was particularly pleased to see that a theater in Massachusetts is staging Rossum’s Universal Robots.

Warhammer Goes Online

The BBC Reports that Games Workshop is launching an online version of their Warhammer role-playing game that will compete with World of Warcraft. As a retired game designer, I took an interest in some of the things they were pushing as advantages of their system:

Ditched in WAR has been item damage which sees weapons and armour degrade in quality as they are used until they break. Also gone is the need to ghost run from a graveyard back to a corpse when a character is killed. From the start everyone also gets a bag big enough to hold all the loot they gather.

Well, it is a “fantasy” after all, so who cares if equipment never breaks and one small backpack can hold thousands of gold coins and several suits of magic armor without getting heavy, right?

Still, I did like what they said about providing an open gaming environment rather than creating an objective for playing that everyone has to aim for.

Meanwhile another BBC report reveals that computer gamers are actually fairly fit compared to the general population, but they are more prone to depression.

Steampunk Rising

Via Jeff VanderMeer I find this photo-story on steampunk from ChannelWeb magazine. Being a photo-story, it concentrates heavily on craftsmen such as Richard Nagy and costumers, but it does include brief quotes from Ann VanderMeer and Jess Nevins. I note also that I’ve been hearing rumors of plans for steampunk conventions. I suspect they’d do well. Hopefully someone will run a gaming track and dig out a copy of Space 1899 which had one of the best RPG backstories ever, and was sadly let down by dreadful rules.

Gary Gygax RIP

Talking about people dying, news is just coming in that Gary Gygax has passed away. I only met him once, and we tended to disagree a lot about what role-playing was all about, but without him there would have been no Dungeons & Dragons, and my life would have been much the poorer. (I might, for example, have never met Marc Gascoigne, Kim Newman, Neil Gaiman or Eugene Byrne; and Martin Hoare might never have thought it would be a good idea for me to meet Dave Langford).

So long, Gary. May whichever gods you end up with not be too angry about the number of hit points you allocated them.

Taxing Your Gold Pieces

The US Government has announced that it is launching an investigation into commercial activities in online gaming. They are at pains to point out that they are not intending to tax every gold piece a party of adventurers brings back from a dungeon. However, the mere existence of game farming (employing kids to play online games for the real-world money they can make) points to the fact that real profits can be made. And one of the issues is that game farmers tend to operate from outside the US. Goodness only knows what the policy wonks in Washington will make of it all. My guess is that they’ll be totally confused and will throw their hands up in horror. Either that or they’ll get hooked, give up politics, and move to Second Life.