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by Mike Schiller

20 Mar 2008


Via Kotaku:

Now here’s a church who knows how to get with the times—about halfway through the blog of San Francisco’s Mission Bay Community Church is the graphic you see to the right.  Not nearly as controversial as, say, Halo 3 night would be, this is an appeal to youth by a church that knows how to hop on the gaming bandwagon without having to explain away all that nasty violent stuff that goes with it.  Combine that with the idea that the style of Nintendo’s ‘Mii’ figures immediately recognizable at this point, and you have a brilliant little church marketing campaign.

It’s actually pretty amazing that the Wii has been out for 16 months now, it’s shown up everywhere from physical therapy routines to senior citizen centers to schools, and not once have I seen it used quite so effectively as an informal advertisement.  Maybe it’s the burning-with-rage Easter Bunny that does it.

As it turns out, YouTube is chock full of tutorials that will teach you how to make your own Jesus Mii (not to mention Miis for pretty much every other famous person or character out there).  The one below isn’t quite the same as the one in the flyer, but it features the Deku Palace music from The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, so it wins.

Enjoy your weekend, all.

by Mike Schiller

20 Mar 2008


Given that Monday was St. Patrick’s Day, it only seemed appropriate that I would pull on my greenest sweater, throw back a couple o’ pints o’ Guinness, and play some serious Guitar Hero.

Before last week, such a proclamation might have seemed like a complete and utter non-sequitur, but last week saw the release of the three-song Dropkick Murphys pack for the can’t-possibly-argue-with-it price of absolutely free.  Now, we can use our fake plastic guitars to get in touch with our Irish sides…because what could possibly go better with a Boondock Saints / The Departed mini-marathon than some Irish boys shouting at you?

Problem #1: All three of these tracks are from the most recent Dropkick Murphys album, The Meanest of Times, which isn’t really such a bad thing, but they’ve got a hell of a legacy that they could be drawing from at this point.  I know they’re trying to promote the latest album, but they’ve now released four of that album’s tracks as playable songs across two different Guitar Hero games.  Part of being Irish is drinking to the past, yes?  Would it really hurt to pretend the band existed before 2007?

Problem #2: The songs are largely chord-mashing tests of endurance.  Aside from the very fun chart for “Johnny, I Hardly Knew Ya” (which benefits greatly from its traditional roots), there are lots of chords coming at you fast and furious; chronic down-strummers will have carpal tunnel by the time they end.

There is a tangible benefit to downloading these tracks via the Xbox Live downloading service: the expert-level chart for “(F)lannigan’s Ball” very well may be the easiest Guitar Hero III song with which to break the elusive 500,000-point mark.  That’s 10 GamerScore points just waiting to be snagged.  It’s actually quite smart for Activision to release, for free, a track that seems so ready-made for passing such a milestone.  It’s easy in games like the Guitar Hero series to feel like you’ve hit a plateau, that you’re never, ever going to get any farther in the game, that your fingers just aren’t quite coordinated enough to blow through “Through the Fire and Flames” or stay on target long enough to pull a 1,000-note streak.  To put in a song that makes it comparatively easy to pass one of those heretofore pretty-damn-difficult milestones is a psychological boon for the frustrated.  It’s the type of thing that tells the intermediate player, “no, seriously, you are getting better.  Come back.  Lars misses you.” And then, just like that, you’re hooked again, thinking that maybe, yes, this is the time you’re going to beat “Raining Blood” on expert.

It worked on me. 

If nothing else, the note charts in the Dropkick Murphys pack beat the hell out of the insanely easy “Dream On” chart that they released to promote the upcoming Guitar Hero: Aerosmith release.  Plus, you just might get one achievement closer to total Guitar Hero domination.  You can’t put a price on that, and so they didn’t.  Take the time and download it.  What do you have to lose?

by Mike Schiller

19 Mar 2008


“SECTION 1. Section 31 of Chapter 272 of the General Laws, as appearing in the 2004 Official Edition, is hereby amended by deleting the definition ‘Harmful to Minors’ inserting the following new definition:  ‘Harmful to minors’, matter is harmful to minors if it is obscene or, if taken as a whole, it (1) describes or represents nudity, sexual conduct or sexual excitement, so as to appeal predominantly to the prurient interest of minors; (2) depicts violence in a manner patently offensive to prevailing standards in the adult community, so as to appeal predominantly to the morbid interest in violence of minors; (3) is patently contrary to prevailing standards of adults in the county where the offense was committed as to suitable material for such minors; and (4) lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value for minors.

“SECTION 2. Said Section 31 of Chapter 272, as so appearing, is hereby further amended by inserting in the definition of ‘Visual Material’ after the word ‘videotape’, the following: ‘interactive media,’.”

-Full text of the proposed Massachusetts House Bill 1423, titled “An Act to Restrict the Sale of Video Games with Violent Content to Minors”

What you see above is the entirety of the bill introduced in Massachusets this week, sponsored by state representative Linda Dorcena Forry and backed by Boston mayor Thomas Menino.

From the outset, it’s easy to see that the introduction, discussion, and imminent failure of this bill is mostly for the sake of posing for cameras and influencing constituencies.  Anyone attached to a bill like this can be pointed at as a “family values” candidate, someone who supposedly has the best interests of our children in mind.  The recent popularity of gaming makes it a prime candidate for the fire and brimstone of politicians, something that people can look at and condemn at the drop of a hat as they watch it capture the imaginations of the world’s youth.  Shouldn’t they be outside, playing?  Should they really be interacting with something that treats stealing a car as a good thing?  This bill represents people who don’t understand a medium preaching to people frightened by it, a volatile combination any way you look at it.

Is this porn?

Is this porn?

Still, based on the text of the bill, one might take some issue with the ways it has been represented in the media.  For one, it is constantly referred to as the “games-as-porn” bill, which seems a bit disingenuous, since such a label seems to imply that those behind the bill are chomping at the bit to call games porn, to get them out of stores and ruin the day of the developers and publishers behind the filth.  I don’t necessarily see it that way—to me, it looks a little bit like a “games-can-be-porn” bill, which actually makes a little bit of sense, to a point.

by L.B. Jeffries

18 Mar 2008


For all the fantasy trappings that dominate video games, it’s kind of surprising that there aren’t many games that push the boundaries of what magic could do in a video game. I’m going to operate on the loose definition of magic as “a supernatural ability to interact with your environment” both for the sake of argument and to illustrate a greater problem with video games & magic. Simply put, a supernatural force that is supposed to give me the ability to do anything does not, in video games, seem to do much except be an elaborate light switch.

Every RPG that comes out, every action game that uses magic, is confined by one simple paradox: it’s only for combat. In Hexen magic was little more than a different kind of gun that the player used. In games like Final Fantasy or Baldur’s Gate, magic mostly served as a different method of attack. In both Diablos, it can’t even be used inside of town, much less for anything besides killing. All that magic really boils down to in games is variations on attacking, healing, shields, flying, fear spells, etc. Okay, flying is cool, but BESIDES that, you start to get the idea that most wizards in video games tend to be very bloody minded people. Bioware’s Knights of the Old Republic comes to mind as an exemption, but it was little more than a dialogue option that tended to kill the conversation in that instance. I’m not shitting on magical combat in video games, mind you. I’m just noting the fact that all elements in combat, whether it be an RPG or a shooter, involve kill or be killed. You’re either hurting someone or enhancing your ability to hurt someone. Again, that’s not a problem, but for something with the interactive potential of magic to be reduced to a boomstick…it kind of leaves you wondering. After all, a gun does not have a lot of variety even in real life. You’re either shooting it or you’re not, leaving it to be little more than the interactive equivalent of a light switch. Why should magic be trapped along the same principles? Would it be possible for someone to feature magic in a game that wasn’t expressly pre-determined to just go boom (or help me go boom) all the time?

by Mike Schiller

17 Mar 2008


L.B. Jeffries posted a review of Steam’s excellent, groundbreaking downloadable game Audiosurf today, a game that we just can’t get enough of at PopMatters Multimedia HQ.  It’s nice to have a music-based game that doesn’t rely on any sort of latent musical talent, and the ease with which it can incorporate any piece of one’s MP3 collection is astounding.

Having played around with it for a while, we’ve found that Underworld’s “Dirty Epic” is a fantastic candidate for a fast-paced but relaxing ride (and a ten-minute one, at that), Wilco’s “Heavy Metal Drummer” is fun if you’re the type who likes rolling hills, and pretty much any spoken word piece (think audiobooks) is fun if you’re the type who thinks hopping curbs in your 4x4 is a good time.  Oh, and people seem to be enjoying “Through the Fire and Flames” a bit, too, as they’ve finally found a way to play that song that lets them hear the end.  No experience, however, has so far matched the good time to be had by playing the game with Akron/Family’s “Ed is a Portal”, which crests and falls so smoothly, building huge amounts of momentum for six minutes or so, after which you get about a minute of coasting up a hill for a cool down.  The combination of fantastic song and fantastic track is a sort of synergy that has, until now, been nearly untapped in gaming.  Download the demo, and try to tell us that the ten bucks for the full-on experience isn’t worth it.  Once you’ve dropped your Hamilton, come back and tip us off to some new musical experiences that we might not have tried yet.  We’ll be eternally grateful.

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