Archive for November, 2009

25
Nov
09

Dissertation Overview

Okay, this one is cheating. I’m cheating, but I think its still interesting.

BLAHDISSERTATIONSTUFFNOW

Tentative Title – “Anonymity and Accountability – Do people hold the tentative social bonds created through gaming activities in the same way that they hold and react to ‘real world’ social structure.

My chosen topic is an examination into the views of companionship and morality in a virtual environment in order to test a hypothesis that people (particularly those with more of an affinity for video gaming) engage a different set of moral and social constraints upon themselves.

I believe that this is a valuable area to explore because of the relative lack of exploration into the area – the majority being wildly exaggerated media scare-mongering that video gaming turns our vulnerable youth into deranged murders. I am not attempting to see if there is some lasting change upon morality as a result of video gaming – I wish to see if the users adopt a different set of social values, or even adjust their own. Even if it turns out that they do not, the insight that a moral and social set of ethics can be maintained in an environment where murder is the driving force then my study will prove interesting.

There have been some articles written on the topic of people’s alternative morality – those relating to instances of relaxed moral constraints (the recently released “Playing by the Rule” report by Frida Castillo listed 19 video games that the player would commit war crimes in.) or adapted social structures (Myer’s “Play and Punishment” is an fantastic year long study into how breaking social rules even in a virtual area caused backlash and aggression was most intriguing).

However, none have ever gone so far as to compare the real and virtual world’s morality systems. There are countless lists of the ‘worst thing you’ve ever done in a game’ or vague investigations into the ethics presented to us in gaming, usually on video gaming websites which have no sort of theoretical framework and no case studies or very little research. The articles that are closest to my area are usually based on, while valid and useful, un-sourced and underdeveloped discourse.

I believe that my dissertation will provide solid reflexive analysis of case studies that even if not useful to the community as a whole will help me to identify my own beliefs on the topic.

In order to set accomplish my grandiose quest into this sociological area, I intend to both collect new data and analyse existing incidents that have been documented – the incidents in gaming interaction that have stood out.

These incidents are major cases – they have managed to be recorded for posterity, so they are more than standout cases – they are flags in the history of virtual social interaction, but what they present are significant changes in human interaction – actions that are more than immoral, but would be met with public outcry and legal proceedings if they took place in the real world – the raiding of a virtual funeral by the guild “Serenity Now” – the infiltration and con-artistry of the “Guiding Hand Social Club” in Eve Online.

These are stand-out cases and few and far between – but we cannot discount them. They are not deviant responses, if only for the sheer number of players involved in both such incidents. These incidents (which fantastically, in the internet age of information saturation have been recorded in detail – even so far as filmed in the funeral’s case.) I intend to use these as case studies (which, I am yet undecided) to provide supporting evidence that there is a moral and ethical change or possibly release from constraints in the virtual world.

However, there is a problem with this methodology – all it can overall accomplish is that there may be some change to people’s ethics in a virtual world – freed from accountability – but this does not help me in my overall topic of study. In order to combat this, I intend to examine this change myself.

I intend to gather and question a group of ‘gamers’ on the nature of their interactions, observing them while they play games with their friends to discern how their attitudes change, and what they believe their own ethical systems to be. The difficulty in this area is that the users may be unaware of their own changes – self-reflection is not a conscious task, least of all during an escapist activity. In order to combat this, I will need to spend a great amount of time in my investigation in order to draw attention to this change in ethics – if indeed it exists.

All the information gathered from this will be qualitative information – both primary and secondary sources. I will deconstruct this information with a strong psychological framework and close reference to the already existing investigations into the area in order to draw my own conclusions from both the case studies and my own interviews. My methodology will be that of primary reflexive qualitative research with qualitative secondary case studies to provide contrast and framing.

Finally, I will draw conclusions from this in order to discern my opinions. I do not intend to prove a hypothesis, and it would be arrogant to believe I could in ten thousand words. More over, I wish to raise new topics with some sort of more solid foundation for possible future investigation or at the least creating discourse among my peers on my findings.
Bibliography
“Et tu, Mario? – Murder, looting, pizza theft, and other hazards of cooperative video-gaming.” – by Jamin Brophy-Warren – http://www.slate.com/id/2235587

“Play and Punishment – The Sad and Curious Case of Twixt” – by D. Myers
http://www.masscomm.loyno.edu/~dmyers/F99%20classes/Myers_PlayPunishment_031508.doc

“Playing by the Rule” – Frida Castillo – http://trial-ch.org/fileadmin/user_upload/documents/Evenements_et_manifestations/Playing_by_the_Rule.pdf

Record Breaking Heist rocks Eve Online guild to the tune of $16,500 USB in virtual goods” – originally written by PC Gamer UK – http://eve.klaki.net/heist/

“So we Pwned this funeral today – Serenity Now”http://serenity-now/org/ & http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ewP1zfm_Yqg

Trigger Happy – by Steven Poole

New Perspectives on Games and Interaction – Edited by Krzysztof R. Apt

18
Nov
09

Hotel for Dogs

“Hotel for Dogs” is about as derisive a work that you can get without going down the “Alvin and Chipmunks” road where your hideous talking animals are designed with an in-built business strategy. But I’m a fan of taking things and making them better by changing their entire premise. This is the pitch for Harry Dean’s “Hotel for Dogs”.

“Hotel for Dogs” is a tense political fictional documentary that will make you re-examine the way you see people, and let you into a world you didn’t know existed.

And that world is the prison next to the Hague Court for War Criminals. This is the Hotel for Dogs. The film follows a series of war criminals waiting to be tried – and go through their last ‘free’ days before they become fully convicted criminals and are most likely to be locked away for the rest of their lives. Some are in denial and believe they will be found innocent of all charges, others are trying to come to terms with the atrocities they committed. We also get delve into the minds of the guards and judges – those innocents who spend their lives surrounded by the dregs of humanity – the rare people that mankind feels that are should be better removed from the annals of history.

The film will touch on topics of sin, imprisonment, forgiveness, when you have gone beyond forgiveness and finally the blind eye that society has taken before to these people.

I think that’s about everything. I have a vague idea for characters, and I also have a plan for a sequel – “Hotel for Dogs 2: the Business of Evil”.

07
Nov
09

The First Talk of Project

Well, it’s about time that I start talking about my project on this – this is the main reason for this re-emergence of my blawg anyway.

Now, my project for those of you who don’t know (and I wager that everyone who read this does) is a four player, networked first person shooter with usb applications made in unity focused around the concept of betrayal.

That’s a mouthful, isn’t it just? So in order to explain, I’ll go through element by element.

Four Player – Well, I’ve wanted to do something that was multi-player for forever – I wanted something more than a game and I certainly wanted it to be more of a sociable activity than a one player experience – I always intended to do an exhibition piece and I think you can make more of a connection with people in a short time. So, in some regards, it’s an exhibition design choice. The fact that’s it’s four player will come in a bit – just not now. Also, it should be known that I wanted my last project to be multi-player and was (thankfully) told to stop it because that was silly.

Networked – Because of the visualization of the project, and the fact that it was an exhibition piece, it had to be networked. Also, screw net code. I’m new to any sort of multiplayer and the idea of internet play scares me a lot. Tell you the truth, this is the part I’m least confident about.

First Person Shooter – Again, this is an experience choice more than it is anything else. This game could work in third person, and it could even work in something like a 2D platformer. But nothing gets a user involved quite like first person. People instinctively get involved when they see through a character’s eyes – and I want to draw people in as fast as possible. Also, I have to say, I’m not overly confident in my modeling skills (and as such have already outsourced to my wonderful and far more capable ladyfriend) and we can minimize exposure to crap textures by putting the user in that model.

USB – Now this is a bold and dangerous choice, and I can say now, first on the chopping block should deadlines loom. I wanted to get players more involved in the game, and this is a problem with video games. The medium manages to simultaneously cause a great level of suspended disbelief in players but they are very aware of their actions being fictitious – I wanted to add some real world consequence – as such I’m intending to make a usb tazer glove that will shock ‘killed’ players in order to make them aware that they’ve died.

Unity – I’m coding in Unity, and while this seems like a logical choice based on the lack of alternatives – we must remember that as of a couple of days ago, the Unreal 3 engine was released as a free indie tool. I’m quite scared of it, tell the truth, and I do have more experience in Unity. So, that’s that. In a long range thing, I suppose their could be potential for an Xbaux indie game – with cruel game score achievements like ‘Morally Reprehensible – Betray 30 players you have alliances with’ or ‘Nice but Dim – get betrayed 30 times’.

Betrayal – And here is the crux of the biscuit – my game is an investigation into the nature of trust and betrayal between friends or strangers – when removed of (most) consequence – how will people react? Are they willing to do things in a video game that they wouldn’t do in real life? And what does that actually say about them? I think it’s about as interesting a topic as I could explore. I can say for a fact that my next major blawg will be over my opinions on the matter.

 

That’s it for the meantime, it’s half three, after all. For the mean time, everyone should visit www.gotoandplay10.co.uk – and see lots more exciting projects. That’s everything for now. Auf Wiedersehn.

 

Oh yes, and it’s called S.B.I.B.

02
Nov
09

The Top Ten Video Game Shopkeepers.

So, I figured in a grim and lazy way of keeping me maintaining this thing, I’ve decided to go the way of all hack want to be journalists, and make a top ten list. I could quite easily make fun of lists for a significant amount of time, but I do really enjoy them myself and it’s not like this is anything more than a distraction.

The idea came to me while I was sitting on a table with my girlfriend outside of her locked house, and we discussed it and it took very little time to think who should be on the list.

For every hero, there must be one who supplies them, aiding them on their quest from the background – and sometimes they leave a significant impact upon your quest, or are just that damn memorable. Here’s to you, virtual capitalists!

10 – The Starship Titanic Crew – Starship Titanic

SMASH THE SHIP! SMASH THE SHIP!

One of the Crew - a bellbot with delusions of revolution.

Starship Titanic was a woefully overlooked game for the PC, based on a concept by Sci-Fi and humour messiah, Douglas Adams, and then written by the wonderful Terry Gilliam. See, just the prospect of the writing calibre should coerce you into playing it.  Factor in a great design aesthetic and stellar voice acting, and you had a magnificently obscure point and click game.

But this isn’t a top ten games that I’ve played that I think you should list. It’s about shopkeepers. Now, I’m starting on shaky territory by putting these guys down – the charming dysfunctional robot cast never actually sell you anything – but exist in order to make your glorious trip on the Starship Titanic as awkward as possible. Factor in that the game also featured a custom dialogue interface – you really felt like you were talking to the eclectic and hideously broken crew.

The Barbot was a particular sticking point in the game, outright refusing to give you a crucial item that sat behind him until he could finish mixing a drink – probably the most bizarre drink ever – and even then he would become a drunk robot and not give me the GODDAMN ORAFACTORY CENTRE GIVE IT TO ME YOU STUPID BARBOT.

9 – Deckard Cain – Diablo Series

NO WITTY TEXT

The last of the wizards, finally putting to rest the issue. Are wizards tight? Yes.

Moving from the shaky ground of the robotic crew of the Starship Titanic onto the shaky ground of Deckard Cain. Deckard is a recurring NPC of Blizzard’s dungeon crawling rogue-like haven of many an RSI gamer. Deckard is your most recurring ally – the survivor, the taskmaster and the guide in your quest against the ultimate evil, Diablo – the lord of darkness.

And Mr Cain has the gall to charge you to look at your goddamn magic items. Deckard, let me break this down for you. I am a mighty hero on a quest to destroy Diablo – to lock him away again and save the world. And you are a mage, with near limitless knowledge and you have the gall to tell me what this stupid sword does?

ASS.

8 – Beedle –The Legend of Zelda – The Wind Waker

I don't really like the beetle on his pants.

Let's be friends.

Now this is a man who knows the meaning of business strategy. Not many people can operate a floating shop and manage to maintain custom, let alone give our business loyalty cards.

Now those of you who remember this card system, you know what’s coming. But if you didn’t play through The Wind Waker (and you really should) then upon getting to the final and highest card available, what is your reward?

A hug. That’s right, a hug. From a shirtless, floating, swindling ass. Sure, I’m a little bitter still, but who wouldn’t be? But we do have to stand back and admire Beedle’s work. His ‘reward’ is an example of Capitalism at it’s finest – encouraging massive custom not for the products but in want for a reward – and this reward has no cost whatsoever. Genius. Cruel and more than a little bit creepy, but genius.

7 – Cut Me Own Throat Dibbler – Discworld Point and Clicks

Alright 'Throat?

I don't trust any business man who threatens suicide.

Unfortunately, I cheated a bit here. C.M.O.T. Dibbler is more of a literary character, but he has appeared in games, so I claim he counts. Dibbler is a fantastic example of an obstacle vender – more often than his products, his information was required to advance, and you had to run the gambit of the slew of useless and often horrible products he had to sell you. Managing to be about sleazy as a street side vendor can possibly be, Pratchett’s businessman manages to be magnetic and repulsive in equal measure.

6 – Happy Mask Salesman – The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time & Majora’s Mask

These Prices are Crazy

The Happy Mask Salesman laments the loss of some of his more 'evil' stock.

This is the last Zelda, I swear. Zelda is a real contender when it comes to this list – I could very easily make a list purely out of Zelda’s shopkeepers. For example, in Link’s Awakening, you could actually just pick up an item and then walk out of the store without paying for it – and from that point on the whole population would refer to you as ‘thief’ and not help you. Which is troublesome.

But anyway, he didn’t make the list – and this guy right here did. Happy Mask Guy makes the list because of his mannerisms and stock. Sure, some of these people have quite insane powers and items, but none of them carry the dangers of the Happy Mask Guy. Majora’s Mask? This guy made it. And was carrying it around on his back with a huge number of massively powerful magical artefacts.

When he finds out that the mask is gone, he appropriately freaks out – but maybe, he shouldn’t have been carrying a device of untold evil and power around without some kind of care. Then he charges Link (which as it happens is pretty much the best person you could do, admittedly), a small child with getting it back. Here’s a thought, Happy Mask Guy, how about you give me some of those magic masks you’ve got there, and I’ll do it faster.

He would be higher, but my goodness is he irresponsible.

5 – Merchant – Resident Evil 4

Hello Stranger!

Seriously, how heavy is that coat?

Probably the most memorable character from Resident Evil 4 is the amazing Merchant. The man in purple was your silent compatriot, teleporting around the map, never encountering danger or the insane villagers that you had to overcome. He carried an infinite amount of ammunition and weaponry and had the awesome power to perfectly modify weapons on the spot. He was invaluable in your quest, and a welcome sight to the weary Leon and Ada.

But weapon sales, upgrades and ammunition is not new, and the ability to dodge danger is nothing special – the merchant in Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance managed to make his way around two castles that were in parallel existences. Which is impressive.

No, what makes the Merchant number 5 on this illustrious list is his horrifying personality and mannerisms. His laugh, his declaration that you had ‘NOT ENOUGH CASH’ or that he would “Buy it for a GOOD price.”. Resident Evil 4 was a significant reboot for the series, and the game now had a new, grimier and more grimly realistic tone. And when you can design a character that is creepier than a bandaged woman wielding a chainsaw who is on YOUR SIDE – you’ve done something special.

4 – Borderland’s Various Vending Machines – Borderlands.

Yes, it's crap. But I found the best image I could.

Hand Grenades from a Coke Machine. The Future.

This was a tough one, with Borderlands just beating out the horrifying plasmid stations of Bioshock. Bioshock’s stations were great at conveying the mood of the gutted and decaying Rapture but inherently makes no sense – I couldn’t really contemplate that Andrew Ryan would allow the selling of horrifying genetic mutations on each street corner – while it does embrace the “No Gods, Only Man” mantra of Rapture, I always found it jarring.

Borderlands on the other hand, I feel hit the mark with their cheery, slogan launching vending machines dispensing guns, ammunition and health. They conjure the mood of the wastelands of Pandora and show the population’s grim-minded embracing of their situation and going beyond despair into humorous acceptance. As the former doctor Zed says “Why go to a real doc when you’ve got my machines, and their scary needles?”

Not to mention, on a non-character side, they’re refreshing stock every twenty minutes is a fantastic system. Every twenty minutes of real time, the game changes the stock of the shops – an obvious system with Borderlands’ gazillion weapons dynamic, but still an interesting take on the merchant.

3 – Tom Nook – Animal Crossing

What is it with the blue crotch cover?

You'll be in his pocket forever?

Tom Nook is a racoon in the surreal and pointless world of Animal Crossing. Upon your arrival in your town, your character realizes their amazing shortsightedness and has not purchased a house, nor have they brought any kind of finance. Tom Nook leaps to your rescue and sells you a house – that you can pay off at any time – no rush, no hassle.

And he’s got you. You’re trapped forever. In a no-hassle world of passive-aggressive guilt from your racoon oppressor – making his fortune of the labours of your tireless avatar. Anyone who has played Animal Crossing will remember the day that you paid off your mortgage to Nook, only to find that somehow in the time it took you to walk to the Nook ‘n’ Go, that he has modified your house – be it a second floor, basement or even less plausibly, a massive increase in floor space.

And guess what! You’re back in debt. Nook is also the only vendor of any kind of furniture on a regular basis and of a legal nature (Crazy Red, I’m onto you) and as you slave away against your ever increasing debt, nook moves up in the world, upgrading from his tiny shack to a multi-storey megastore “Nookingtons”.

The man has taken the pitch to the ultimate level – his spin is unparalleled, because he ignores it. He just goes for it and reckons that the huge guilt of his bailing your homeless ass out will carry him through. And apparently, Crazy Red is the criminal.

2 – Drebin 893 – MGS4

Having numbers for your surname has never been so good.

SAMPLE PRODUCT

Drebin is a fantastic character. I think he’s my favourite Metal Gear character with the one exception of the younger Revolver Ocelot (An Ocelot never lets its prey escape). Drebin is more than a vendor – he’s the incarnation of the games socio-political environment – a mercenary arms dealer that deals in death with a smile and for the right price, while accompanied by the ludicrous shaved monkey Grey. Plus he’s a snappy dresser, and in my book that counts for a lot.

He’s more than a vendor apposed to most of these chaps, he’s a main character, interacting directly with Snake and advancing the plot, while most vendors only advance your inventory.

Now, Metal Gear has always been a source of some disagreement in gaming circles – some say it’s more of a movie than a game, and some who say it’s a movie then move on to point out the cyclical and often poor writing. But I like that extremely long-winded nonsensical style, and Drebin’s character is delivered with such a magnificent self-confidence that he’s always a pleasure when he’s on screen.

1 – Smilin’ Stan S Stanman – Monkey Island

They've got allen wrenches, gerbil feeders, toilet seats, electric heaters Trash compactors, juice extractor, shower rods and water heaters Walkie-talkies, copper wires safety goggles, radial tires BB pellets, rubber mallets, fans and dehumidifiers Picture hangers, paper cutters, waffle irons, window shutters Paint removers, window louvers, masking tape and plastic gutters Kitchen faucets, folding tables, weather stripping, jumper cables Hooks and tackle, grout and spackle, power foggers, spoons and ladles Pesticides for fumigation, high-performance lubrication Metal roofing, water proofing, multi-purpose insulation Air compressors, brass connectors, wrecking chisels, smoke detectors Tire gauges, hamster cages, thermostats and bug deflectors Trailer hitch demagnetizers, automatic circumcisers Tennis rackets, angle brackets, Duracells and Energizers Soffit panels, circuit brakers, vacuum cleaners, coffee makers Calculators, generators, matching salt and pepper shakers

Where does a pirate-time guy get a suit, anyway?

Now, when it came to the end, there could be no real discussion. Stan is the epitome of the fast-talking snake oil salesman and would talk the legs of a dead guy. And tried to in the first game.

He’s a staple of the series – just as recognisable as Guybrush, Murray or LeChuck and every fan wants to talk to him and has the knowledge that somehow, he will turn up again. He’s not a great salesman – his pitches put people to sleep and he’s so far ahead on the business dynamic of the world that his items are near impossible to purchase. But Stan never says die. He somehow always manages to keep going – and start up some other implausible product and throws himself into it with gusto and full force – building stalls and lighting them up with electric lights only outmatched by his own garish suits.

Stan – you are a great man and as long as Guybrush lives, I want you to irritate him with a ridiculous pitch about some product. You are the ultimate salesman and I’d salute you, but I think that would probably sign me up to some three-year warranty on a new coffin.

Finally, I have to have some kind of basis – I would feel bad if I were to publish up a list without some kind of meaning behind it. What I’m trying to accomplish with this little list is that a vendor is a game staple – serving a simple purpose in order to advance the player’s arsenal, or just to keep them alive. But what the vendor CAN be is an additional character – and every single character can improve the tone of a game, and to abandon an opportunity to do that diminishes the game.

Near every vendor in World of Warcraft can repair any kind of magical cloth, leather or metal armour, legendary weapon or common butter knife. But the vendors who stand out are those who have a limited supply of a certain schematic and are recognisable by the crowd of players hoping to get that particular item when it respawns next.

It’s always possible to make your world more immersive, and to disregard that opportunity is a waste – you’ve been handed another character and one who the player is going to spend significant time interacting with. Who knows – you might just make it onto a list like this.