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7:06 AM on 10.12.2007

RESISTANCE IS FUTILE - EA buys Bioware, Pandemic

In a move announced late yesterday, Electronic Arts announced a deal to purchase VG Holding Corp, the company that owns respected developers Bioware and Pandemic Studios.

The deal, which will cost EA about 775 million, will give them an advantage in key genres, including action, adventure, and roleplaying games (according to MarketWatch).

Leaders of both companies seem optimistic, but how much of this is "appeasing the new boss" BS is unclear. Pandemic president Josh Resnick stated, "Pandemic Studios remains focused on attracting the best talent and creating blockbuster action games. As a worldwide publishing leader, EA represents the ideal partner to bring our titles to market as global entertainment events" Bioware head Ray Muzyka said, "We are truly excited by John Riccitiello's new vision for EA. This vision is consistent with BioWare's focus on crafting the highest quality story-driven games in the world. It will enable us to further the careers of the passionate, creative and hard working teams at BioWare Edmonton and BioWare Austin"

For those not keeping score, John Riccitiello is the former COO of EA who left in 2004 to form private equity firm Elevation Partners, which (until yesterday) owned Bioware and Pandemic. He rejoined EA in February as the new CEO.

What this means for all parties involved isn't clear yet. The deal is supposed to wrap up in January of 2008, but the timing of this announcement may have something to do with the posting of EA's second quarter results, set for November 1st.

UPDATE: Games Industry has more details on the acquisition. According to them, the total final cost to EA will be in the range of 860 million, which will take EA around 2 years to make back. John Riccitiello, who admitted having a "residual interest" in Elevation Partners, made clear that the acquisition was made through an independent audit committee. Riccitiello did not disclose any personal benefit to the deal, but forms filed by EA to the SEC indicate that the CEO could personally make almost $5 million from the purchase.   read

12:53 PM on 09.25.2007

Stranglehold on PS3 delayed until Halloween: 3 people care

For the record, I am one of those people.

Inexplicably, the PS3 version of Stranglehold has been delayed until October 30th, putting it 2 months behind the 360 version and nearly 7 weeks behind the PC version. I haven't seen any indications as to why the game has delayed, although it is likely having something to do with the Blu-Ray edition of Hard Boiled. Anyone out there heard anything?   read

10:54 AM on 08.30.2007

Odd thought - Oh what a difference a price drop makes

Just thinking...

Remember when everyone was bringing up the fact that it was trivial to find a PS3 in the wild. Now with the price drop for the 60 GB version and the news that SCEA has run out of PS3's internally, everyone seems to be scrambling to pick one up.

Just bored at work, letting my mind wander....   read

1:37 PM on 08.09.2007

Shit's On!: Mark Rein Responds to Silicon Knight's suit

It seems that Epic Games will not go quietly into the night regarding Silicon Knight's recent lawsuit contending that Epic willfully and illegally withheld vital parts of the Unreal Engine from them, resulting in delays and buggy code for the upcoming SK game, Too Human.

Epic Games VP Mark Rein released a statement today saying that Epic has "done nothing wrong" and that Epic will be counter-suing SK for "misappropriat[ing] Epic's licensed technology" with the development of the Silicon Knights Engine, a move SK's lawsuit claims was forced by Epic when it refused to support efforts to optimize the code for Too Human. Epic went on to say, "Indeed, the plain language of the Silicon Knights' Complaint makes clear that Silicon Knights wants to take Epic's Licensed Technology, pay nothing for it, and use it any way it pleases."

This accusation may have merit. In the Silicon Knights suit, SK states that "Progress on the Silicon Knights’ Engine continues to date and, at this time, the Silicon Knights Engine is completely independent of Epic’s Engine and certainly derives no benefit from the unworkable source code provided by Epic." Later in the same paragraph the suit states, "Moreover, as development of the Silicon Knights Engine continues, the amount of code from Epic’s Engine employed by Silicon Knights continues to decrease. After the release of Silicon Knights’ Too Human, all Epic code will be removed from the Silicon Knights Engine", inferring that there is indeed UE3 code within the developing SK Engine, despite the fact that it "derives no benefit from the unworkable source code." Furthermore, in the Prayer section (basically where SK lays out how they would like the Court to rule), clause M states that "(4) Silicon Knights may alter the Engine without restriction; (5) Silicon Knights is under no obligation to disclose or share any alterations Silicon Knights makes or causes to be made to the Engine with anyone, including Epic". To Mark Rein, this is essentially is an open admission of SK's willingness to use parts of Epic's engine code without having to pay for it.

More information is available at GameDaily.Biz, since they are apparently one of the chosen few who received the initial press contact from Epic.   read

7:28 AM on 08.07.2007

Civ 4 Webcomic Showdown

In preparation for the release of Beyond The Sword, an expansion for the popular Civilization 4 game, Firaxis tapped several prominant and not-so-prominent webcomics artists to create a series of comics based on Civ 4.

In a recent poll on Joystiq, who regularly highlights gamer comics, the two strips offered up by Ctrl-Alt-Del creator Tim Buckley were voted best by a significant margin, followed by Dueling Analog's and PVP.

The most interesting reaction may be from PVP fans, whose hatred of CAD is nearing legendary status.

The comics are posted below, what does the Dtoid community think?

Dueling Analogs
PVP Online
GU Comics
My Extra Life
8-Bit Theatre   read

9:25 AM on 07.20.2007

Silicon Knights put down the lances and pick up lawyers, sue Epic over UT3

Silicon Knights, developer of the Blood Omen series as well as the upcoming Too Human have recently filed suit against Epic, creator of the super-mega-big-damn hit Gears Of War and the Unreal Tournament Engine 3 which powers it. SK claims that not only did Epic withhold enhancements and bug fixes for the licensed version of the UT3 engine from them, but it was done intentionally to give themselves an unfair advantage in the market.

At the crux of SK’s complaints is Epic’s contention that most of the enhancements and bug fixes requested by Silicon Knights were “game-specific” and not “engine-specific,” therefore it wasn’t Epic’s responsibility. Little niggling bits like a functional graphics renderer were therefore Silicon Knights’ problem. Meanwhile work continued on Gears Of War, work funded (according to the suit) by the licensing fees paid to Epic by Silicon Knights and other unnamed licensees.

All of this comes to a head at E3 2006, where Too Human and GOW, both games using ostensibly the same engine, are shown with vastly different reactions. Gears of War wowed audiences, going on to win Best game that year. Too Human, forced by Epic's neglect to run on an incomplete and broken engine, was roundly criticized as slow, buggy, and generally disappointing.

The solution was the creation of the “Silicon Knights Engine” (although company CEO Denis Dyack initially denied its existence) which will presumably be used in Too Human and all future Silicon Knights games. The lawsuit is unclear as to whether the SKE is wholly independent venture or a natural offshoot of the supposedly unusable code provided by Epic. The lawsuit seems to say both, and this distinction could be a major obstacle for Silicon Knights moving forward.

Silicon Knights seeks either a complete dissolution of their contract or significant modification, allowing SK to use and modify the UT3 engine as they see fit, with no further obligation to Epic. In addition, Silicon Knights seeks a total refund of all licensing fees paid to Epic in addition to all profits made from Gears Of War to date. Gears Of War has sold over 4 million copies since its release in November of 2006, making the potential payoff substantial for the struggling developer.

Dyack was lambasted for his criticism of the video game media and its supposed unfair coverage of Too Human at E3 2006. Perhaps this lawsuit gives more reasons behind his frustration. I recommend reading the actual lawsuit papers provided here in pdf form. It's longish (54 pages) but surprisingly free of a lot of legalese and gives a pretty good insight into the various back-room negotiations involved in the video game business as well some fairly technical details written for the layman.   read

6:30 AM on 07.13.2007

Sony Takes Customer Good Will And Screws It In The Ear

According to CVG, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe is announcing that the recently discounted 60GB version of the Playstation 3 will be discountinued in the US after July, turning the much ballyhooed price cut into almost a bait-and-switch. Why American news was announced by the European wing of SCE is beyond me, but of late Sony has seem like a company almost at war with itself. The left arm doesn't seem to know what the right arm is doing.   read

10:26 AM on 06.26.2007

Hays Code v.2 - or - Everything Old Is New Again

The current furor over the banning of Manhunt 2 (whether explicit in the case of Australia and Ireland, or implicit in the AO rating provided by the ESRB or the non-rating from the BBFC) has resulted in heated debates about the nature of censorship, the potency of the ESRB and other industry-run ratings agencies, and the legitimacy of video gaming as art. Often the comparison between films, where graphic depictions of sadistic violence are treated with major releases and million dollar ad campaigns, and video games, where a pixellated ass can delay a game’s release by weeks, boils down to complaints of unfair treatment by unknowledgeable and largely fearful populace.

This “parents just don’t understand” philosophy is hardly new. As new forms of art emerge, various groups crawl out of the woodwork to decry the society-destroying influence of comic books, heavy metal, gangsta rap, and television. Of all the current forms of entertainment, movies provide the closest analogue to video gaming: both are multibillion dollar industries, the budget for producing a new, AAA title is in the millions on average, both have the capability to tell deep, meaningful stories or simply be enjoyable time-wasters. Both media even have internal, studio-run agencies (the MPAA in the case of films and the ESRB in the case of games) that are designed to regulate content so the government doesn’t have to. So what, if anything, does the history of film and film regulation have to tell us about the troubles gamers and game companies face today? Well before the ESRB, before Jack Thompson, before Tipper Gore, even before the MPAA itself, there was…

THE HAYS CODE (cue dramatic music)

(For players at home, see if you can count the similarities between the movie industry as described and the games industry today. For health reasons, making a drinking game out of this is not advisable.)

Warning…History Ahead!

Back around 1915, the Supreme Court ruled that movies were not protected free speech, stating , “...the exhibition of moving pictures is a business, pure and simple, originated and conducted for profit ... not to be regarded.. , as part of the press of the country, or as organs of public opinion.” The Court also said “[Films] may be used for evil" and therefore "We cannot regard [the censorship of movies] as beyond the power of government” (This tact has been tried unsuccessfully a few times relating to video games). In the wake of this decision, towns and cities began forming censorship boards to determine what people could and could not see. Toss in a few sensationalized scandals (standard Sex, Drugs, and Jazz Music stuff) and Hollywood became the symbol of all that is wrong with the world today. To avoid what many saw as inevitable federal regulation, the movie studios formed the precursor to the MPAA, the Motion Pictures Producers And Distributors Association (MPPDA) as a way to self-regulate the seeming torrents of smut oozing from theatre screens around the country. (Swap a few acronyms and change “sex scandal” to “school shooting” for the video gaming version).

For the first 8 years of the MPPDA’s existence, it took a more tepid, “Please don’t show a booby” approach to censorship, but in 1930 a more rigid Production Code, sometimes called the Hays Code (after the head of the MPPDA Will H. Hays) was enacted. Among the guidelines of the code included 3 “General Principles”:

1. No picture shall be produced that will lower the moral standards of those who see it. Hence the sympathy of the audience should never be thrown to the side of crime, wrongdoing, evil or sin
2. Correct standards of life, subject only to the requirements of drama and entertainment, shall be presented.
3. Law, natural or human, shall not be ridiculed, nor shall sympathy be created for its violation.

Along with these, there were more specific examples of what can and can’t (mostly can’t) be shown in film, including nudity, sex, lustful kissing, mixed race couples, homosexuality and STD’s (lumped together as “sex perversion”), gratuitous murder, swearing, drug use, and the catch-all “vulgarity.”

The formation of the Catholic (eventually National) Legion of Decency (presumably with a floating, cross-shaped fortress with lots of round tables in front of large screens) in 1934 brought the awesome boycotting power of millions of god-warriors to theatres around the country. And so, facing pressure from outside groups like the CLOD and various PTA and women’s groups, the code was enforced until 1967 when MGM Studios, a member of what was now called the MPAA, released the film Blow Up without a Production Code approval. Enforcement became impossible, so the MPAA went from a restrictive organization to a ratings one, no longer requiring decency standards for films and paving the way for future rating systems on television and video games.

Culturally, the United States of 1930’s bears some striking resemblance to how many people see American culture today. In his article More Sinned Against than Sinning: The Fabrications of "Pre-Code Cinema", film professor Richard Maltby states:

“There is little evidence that there was any widespread concern among moviegoers about the moral quality of the entertainment they consumed in the early 1930s. There is, however, a good deal of evidence of concern about moviegoing in the period, although the groups and people most vociferously complaining about the moral viciousness of Hollywood were not themselves part of the audience. Contrary to the mythology of “Pre-Code cinema”, the early 1930s was in fact a period of increasing moral conservatism in American culture, in which the movie industry, along with other institutions of representation, failed to keep pace with a growing demand for a “return to decency” in American life. The protests about movies by women's organizations and Parent-Teacher Associations was a moral panic expressing class and cultural anxieties at a time of social, economic and political uncertainty; movie content was the site of this moral panic, rather than the cause of it.”

Sound familiar?

So what does all this mean, besides a semi-interesting anecdote about pre-WW2 movies and a little bit of dot-connecting? This fight has been fought, and won, before. Granted some of the circumstances are different, the biggest one being that delivery mechanism for games is owned wholly by producers of games, namely Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo. One of the biggest contributors to the destruction of the original Production Code was the breakup of the studio-owned theatres and the growing popularity of “arthouse” cinemas. Unless an analogous, third-party console outside the realm of the ESRB is developed (or the console manufacturers realize the majority of the users of their systems are well over the age of 18 and figure out the world won’t end if they release an AO game, a more likely and frankly better solution), this will remain a significant obstacle. However, don’t lose heart, comrades. It may be a long fight, but it is a fight we are willing to stick to and win.

Suck it Hays!

(unless noted, quotes cribbed from Wikipedia, but research done elsewhere)   read

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