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The Jack Came Back, The Very Next Day

Not really. He's not coming back.

Jack Thompson's appeal of his lifetime disbarment to the Supreme Court will not be heard. I love the total denial strategy of his, the flood rains in his life are actually golden rays of sunshine. He and Blagojevich should form a comedy duo, and take it on the road.

Wii Gets Machinimated

Check out this interesting post on Kotaku today.

In Japan, Nintendo is launching a serviced called the Wii Room, which will deliver original animated cartoons to Wii users. The toons will consist of Miis - the bubble-headed Wii characters - and it sounds like you may be able to cast your own Mii into the action (if that's not the plan, it should be).

Brian Ashcraft points out that - given the fact that Nintendo asks for, among other things, your blood type and buying preferences - it sounds like a thinly veiled market research machine. Maybe. But it's interesting to see a company like Nintendo venture into it's own machinima - game-powered toons, which I've written about in the past for Spectrum.

Kiddie Addicts

Another day, another dubious study on videogame addiction.

The blogsophere is chattering about a new report in Psychological Science, which finds that about one in 10 kid gamers showed signs of addiction: bad grades, irritability, and attention deficit disorders.

My response is: duh.

Of course kids shouldn't be losing themselves to games - or anything. Obviously any medium can be taken to excess. Why is there so much hand-wringing over games but not TV, which we still watch for an average of eight hours a day? And we all know how irritable viewers get when American Idol is preempted by a presidential address.

Maybe kids wouldn't be playing so much Wii if their parents weren't using videogames as babysitters. The problem with this kind of study is that it fixes the blame on the medium, and demonizes youth culture - just like comics, Elvis, and Dungeons and Dragons before - instead of getting to the root of the culture. And, yes, this affects engineering too - because by belittling interactive entertainment, the future *creators* of games get discouraged or even dissuaded. I can't tell you how many times I've interviewed game developers who had to win over their parents to the idea that coding games is a worthwhile pursuit.

I love comics about my games

A nice one by Lemuel Pew, about a bugfix in Lord of the Rings Online.

Fixing bugs can be a dicey proposition sometimes. Sometimes, the players love them. Or are so used to them that they don't want the change, even if the change can be argued as an objective improvement. But I do like some of the strange things the players discover: a lot of creativity there.

Another MMO says goodbye

[from Massively] Shadowbane, the open Player versus Player (PvP) massively multiplayer online (MMO) game, is shutting down May 1st. It's always sad to see an MMO shutter its doors. I remember beta, and launch day: I played a little, but there were many folks at the office that were fairly ardent.

It is eulogized as having been stunted in growth by stability problems at launch: while true, it is also hagiographic.

Stability issues can doom an MMO, but Shadowbane recovered well enough. Really, it is the relentless PvP-centric design that kept it in a niche. PvP is vital to an MMO, but when it completely dominates all other mechanics, a large number of players will simply not be interested. The griefing that dominates the new player experience from the first few minutes in-game is simply not going to suit the vast majority of players that want to escape into an MMO for a while.

Coupling that with the positive-feedback loop of strong guilds coming to dominate a server completely, and you are left with a design that appeals to few, and ultimately doesn't deliver on the ideal of player-centric world change.

But those that did like it loved it. It survived on a core of players for six years, but ultimately, having tried several different business models, nothing was able to attract more folks to the ultra-Darwinian frenzy that was Shadowbane. RIP.

The DSi Cometh

I've been toying around with my new Nintendo DSi, the latest iteration of the ubiquitous handheld gaming system. There's been much debate online about the cool and uncool aspects of the new system. Some gamers think it's a ho-hum upgrade on the DS Lite. Others are giddy over the inclusion of a camera and sound recorder.

Here's what's interesting to me - the fact that gamers can create any content at all. Nintendo is so notoriously proprietary and skittish over hackers, that this marks at least something of a turning point. Just like YouTube opened up video-creation to Generation Net, games are now heading this way too. LittleBigPlanet, the hit PS3 game, let players create their own Mario-style levels. Guitar Hero is letting players compose/swap songs. And Microsoft is pushing software, called XNA Game Studio, which lets players make titles that can be sold via Xbox Live Arcade. Then there's the flood of homebrew titles for the iPhone. While the DSi may not be revolutionary, it's part of a larger DIY trend that bodes well for creativity and the future of the medium.

Recession-proof gaming

[via Edge] NPD's latest survey declares that most gamers are going to keep spending like it's 2008. As I've said before, games are a pretty good value: dozens of hours of entertainment for a good game, hundreds even, for a relatively modest outlay, when compared to movies or concerts.

Having just purchased a DSi, to feed my Nintendo demon, I'm doing my part to make NPD's prediction come true.

Death of the (Other) Dungeon Master

Dave Arneson, co-creator of the seminal game, Dungeons and Dragons, died last week at age 61. I met Dave several times, and interviewed him on a few occasions. Last year, I asked him to reflect on his legacy. Here's what he had to say:

Dave Kushner: Is there a way that you would like D&D to be remembered in the annals of gaming?

Dave Arneson: Well, it's already sort of a paradigm as far as creating a whole new genre. I mean there really wasn't role playing before, and now everybody does role playing. I mean, I came up with the idea of having hit points for characters. How many role playing games use hit points? So, in some respects I've done a lot of contribution. And my biggest problem was actually [laughs] I designed a lot of other games that are really quite good. No, none of them have sold zillions of copies like D&D. I'd really like people to realize I can do other things. I mean we talk about computers. I mean they look at me and they start talking to me about computers, like well you don't know anything about computers. I started my own computer company 25 years ago. I teach computer game design. Well, you understand computers then. Duh, me understandâ''Grog understand computers. So, and often times when I'm talking to people, giving an interview, we don't get much past the you designed D&D. And they start asking me all sorts of D&D related questions, like oh I guess we'll talk to you about D&D, blah, blah, blah, blah. And it's like no (I talk about) I really am three dimensional. so the good part is obviously I can open doors because I did D&D. And D&D is a phenomenon. Most people have played it. Far beyond anything we ever imagined. And that's great, that's fantastic. And because it's been around for 30 years it's going to be around in the future too. So that's pretty awesome. There's not too much, especially games, survive over any period of time. Most games are here today, gone tomorrow. Heck, most computer games if they're (good) they last six months it's great. There's what, maybe a dozen of them that have lasted more than a year. And if you subtract the ones that Will Wright did there's almost none. [laughs]

Wright Takes Off

In September, I profiled legendary game designer Will Wright for Spectrum as he worked on his newest title, Spore. Turns out, that's his last game for publishing powerhouse Electronic Arts.

Wright announced last week that he's leaving EA to run his start-up, Stupid Fun Club - an "entertainment think tank," as he describes it, that develops projects for TV, games, film, and toys. This shouldn't come as a surprise. Wright has always had broad interests - from collecting Russian space junk to building his own Battle Bots. We'll all be better off if he has more freedom to innovate.

"The entertainment industry is moving rapidly into an era of revolutionary change," Wright said recently. "Stupid Fun Club will explore new possibilities that are emerging from this sublime chaos."

Here's my Q/A with him during the Spore development too.

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IEEE Spectrum’s gaming blog was retired in 2010, but it is preserved here for archival reference.

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