Tuesday, December 23, 2008

My favorite films of 2008

There Will Be Blood ( Paul Thomas Anderson, USA)
The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, USA)
Hunger (Steve McQueen, Ireland/UK)
WALL-E (Adrew Stanton, USA)
Gruz 200 (Cargo 200, Aleksei Balabanoc, Russia)
In Bruges (Martin McDonagh, USA/UK)
Waltz With Bashir (Ari Folman, Israel/Germany/France/USA)
Låt Den Rätte Komma In (Let The Right One In, Tomas Alfredson, Sweden)
Bigger Stronger Faster* (Chris Bell, USA)
Ai No Yokan (The Rebirth, Kobayashi Masahiro, Japan)

There Will Be Blood, The Dark Knight and Wall-E are pretty much instant classics, I don’t think I have to elaborate much on those (although we can quibble about those annoying ‘bat vision’ scenes in The Dark Knight – why, Nolan, why!). Hunger, Gruz 200 and Waltz With Bashir are all pretty grim films, but their unique looks and storytelling styles made them really stand out. Låt Den Rätte Komma In is a wonderfully fresh take on vampire horror, a subgenre I don’t even like. In Bruges satisfied my taste for dry humor and midget abuse. Bigger Stronger Faster* might not be the best or slickest documentary of the year, but it sure is one of the most personal journeys I’ve seen on screen. Ai No Yokan is my yearly odd-one out, an equally frustrating as mesmerizing study of repetition which will drive most viewers mad. I developed a strange love for it though.
FYI: these are all films released in the Netherlands in 2008, spiced up with some films which should have been...

Alexandra, Be Kind Rewind, Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead, El Cielo la Tierra y la Iluvia, The Fall, Funny Games US, La Graine et le Mulet, In The Valley of Elah, Iron Man, John Rambo, Juno, Kung Fu Panda, The Mourning Forest, Naissance des Pieuvres, No Country For Old Men, Stuck, Taxi To The Dark Side, Tropic Thunder, Ponyo, [rec], Sweeney Todd, Wallace and Gromit: A Matter of Loaf and Death

Films I regret I missed:
Aanrijding in Moskou, Caos Calmo, Dagen Zonder Lief, Entre Le Murs, Import/Export, Inside,La Silence de Lorna, Speed Racer (IMAX), W., You The Living

Best gore since The Passion of the Christ:
John Rambo

Worst hairdo in an utterly pointless remake:
Nicholas Cage in Bangkok Dangerous

Most self-centered asshole main character which is nevertheless portrayed as some kind of hero:
Into the Wild

Best fake trailer:
Satan’s Alley

Biggest waste of Tina Fey:
Baby Mama

Best use of prehistoric fish:

Worst Tarzan:
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Best sequel that should not have been one, unless they make it into a trilogy or would that even be worse maybe I don’t know anymore…:
Quantum of Solace

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Confronting the time drain

A whopping 2200 hours. That’s how much time I’ve played World of Warcraft since early 2005. That was the reality I was confronted with when I added up all the play time on my characters before I uninstalled the game from my system. Just think about how many films I could have seen in that time, or how many books I could have read. Or, for that matter, how many other games I could have been playing!

So, was it worth it?

Well, it actually was my job to spend all this time in WoW, so it’s not like I had a choice. Right? Yes and no. Engaging in a game like World of Warcraft for research (or whatever ‘serious’ reason) still cannot hide the fact that not all activities in there work. Not by a long shot. They are play, pure and simple. Then again, you don’t ‘get’ WoW by reading or talking about it. You have to play it. You have to live it. You have to ‘go native’ on its ass.

And that I did. For 2200 hours.

So far, no regrets. WoW remains one of the most impressive, engaging and interesting experiences I’ve ever been part of. Thank God for that. Or was it Thrall?

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The end of WoW?

Long time no post. Well, that’s because I’ve begun finishing my PhD. It’s time for the big rewrite, so that’ll probably mean (even) less blogging, and more working (if there’s a difference).

The reason I’m posting right now is that last Thursday, World of Warcraft’s next expansion pack, Wrath of the Lich King, was released. It marks the end of my ‘fieldwork’. I’ve been playing this game pretty much since the European release back in 2005 and it’s time to put it to rest for a bit. I might continue playing after I finish my PhD somewhere next summer, who knows…

I also wanted to bring up this news item from TwentyFifthNovember.com:

We are proud to declare that all WOTLK PVE raid content has now been cleared. This is both a moment of triumph and a cause for concern. The question in all our minds right now is if we could do this, how soon until the rest of the top guilds in the world clear all the raid content that WOTLK has to offer? Did Blizzard miscalculate in the tuning of these encounters? Or is this Blizzard folding under the weight of a large casual player base that demands to be on equal footing with end-game raiders?

No idea what this is all about? Well, TwentyFifthNovember is World of Warcraft’s top raiding guild (a merger of the famous Nihilum and SK Gaming teams) and they managed to beat all utmost difficult content of the new expansion pack in a mere 65 hours after it was released. That means all the biggest, hardest bosses in the game – Kel’Thuzad, Sartharion and Malygos - defeated in less than 3 days.

To put this into perspective: this used to take weeks, even months of hard training, learning and dedication. These guys manages to do it largely with their old gear from the last expansion pack, and while they hadn’t even reached level 80 yet (the newest top level).

Sure, they are the best skilled players around, but still, this is a strange or at least fascinating situation. Is Blizzard indeed ‘folding under the weight of a large casual player base’, the ultimate fear of all hardcore players.

Maybe. But is this a bad thing?

Monday, October 13, 2008

A little update...

For those interested, they have published the report slash paper I wrote about the recent PICNIC’08 event. It’s titled ‘The Future of Virtual Worlds, or: how do we make money from these things’ and can be found here. I think the title pretty much speaks for itself.

This week I’ll be heading to Copenhagen for what probably will be my last conference visit before the final (year-long) sprint to finish my PhD. It’s the IR 9.0: Rethinking Communities, Rethinking Place conference organized by the Association of Internet Researchers. I’m giving a small talk about the use of walkthroughs and the practice of speedrunning in, yes, World of Warcraft. It’s part of a panel of World of Warcraft researchers though whom I all know very well through my participation in The Truants. I’m really looking forward to that!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Spot the real Warcraft.

I know, it’s another World of Warcraft post. This news item was just too interesting to pass up.

In a presentation on ‘emerging media: its effects on organisations’ (powerpoint here), the US based National Defence University’s Dr. Dwight Toavs used World of Warcraft for a fictional case of terrorist plotting through virtual worlds. The terrorist are using WoW maps and lingo for organising an attack on the White House.

According to WiReD, who wrote a nice article on this amazing piece of terrorism scare, Toavs ‘believes that spies will have to spend more time in virtual worlds like WoW, if they want to have a hope of keeping tabs on what goes on inside 'em.’

We’ve heard about stories like these before. That it could actually happen (I mean, if I was a smart terrorist…) or that secret agents are maybe scouring through my in-game talk, I’m not sure which one is scarier.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Game adaptations and PICNIC

Busy week ahead. I will be presenting during the Third Annual Association of Literature on Screen Conference in Amsterdam. My talk is called ‘Tales of the Past: Performance-based Adaptation in World of Warcraft Machinima’ and is, as one would probably expect, part of the ‘adapting video games’ panel.

What I won’t be doing is discussing the growing number of terrible game-to-screen adaptations made by the likes of Uwe Boll. My paper will focus on how to retain player agency and performance while adapting game to film and will, as a result, discuss player created films, more specifically machinima. Here, play is adapted to film, not just a story.

My case study, the impressively large-scale machinima production Tales of the Past III, blends existing storylines and characters from World of Warcraft’s Azerothian lore with those of the players involved. In a game where you cannot have any lasting impact on the fictional world, a homemade adaptation like this one empowers players to establish themselves as true heroes in Warcraft’s grand narrative.

This conference, pure humanities academia, is as far removed from the marketplace as you can get. The other conference I will be visiting is the opposite. PICNIC is an annual, large-scale, new media oriented event and, quoting their site, ‘brings together and disseminates the ideas and knowledge of the world's best creators and innovators.’

Part of ‘Enquiring Minds’, a group of new media researchers invited to PICNIC, I’ll be looking at all the new developments and ideas in the new media marketplace, with people from companies like Philips and Google giving presentations. Glancing at the program, I’ll be bombarded with a whole lot of utopian celebrations of ‘we’, the creative masses. The inclusion of Aaron Koblin’s The Sheep Market made me chuckle.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Voice became silent.

Last Monday, one of the movie industry’s most beloved celebrities died. His name is Don LaFontaine. Never heard of the guy? Well, you will instantly know him when you hear him. He’s the ‘In a world…’ voice-over guy from many hundreds of film trailers of the last decades.

This news made me think of a little paper I just wrote dealing with the concept of paratext, those textual elements giving meaning to all the information accompanying the main text of a media object (like the preface, table of contents and index of a book). They form ‘thresholds of interpretation’ as Genette puts it, potentially controlling the way a person reads, views or, in the case of games, plays the main text.

While the paper dealt with strategy guides for games (following Mia Consalvo’s excellent work on the topic), I just realised the paratextual power of LaFontaine’s legacy .

The carefully chosen words he uttered (nay, boomed) into his microphone, often in the cheesiest semi-poetic manners possible, may be pure marketing, they exist in a totally different textual plane than the rest of the film. They are not part of a film’s diegesis (or even non-diegesis), but nevertheless form the first threshold many viewers pass before encountering the film itself.

For the movie industry, his voice was all-powerful, an almost God-like tool to steer the audience to the box office. As this fun short with LaFontaine and his colleagues shows, it demands respect.

Here’s a nice article honouring LaFontaine’s work, including a nice little documentary in which you can actually see the man himself talk about his work. The Don will be missed.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Lovely spam, wonderful spam

Well this is fun: it took less than a day for World of Warcraft spambots to find yesterday's post.

Look at that post's comments and you will find a friendly person informing us where to go for the best WoW cheats, dupes, bots and walkthroughs. His/her own site appears to be a bizarre mix of more spam and rondomly generated 'poetry'. It's a splog, as such blogs have come to be known.

World of Warcraft spam is everywhere!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Bringing even more friends (and money) to Azeroth

While the practice of luring in new subscribers through existing subscribers by giving the latter freebies for doing so has been around for ages in the world of magazine publishing. The recent announcement by Blizzard to do the same with World of Warcraft is nevertheless raising eyebrows among the player community.

This is what Blizzard is offering (the particular rules and conditions can be found in their FAQ):

Our new Recruit-a-Friend offer rewards you even more for bringing your friends to Azeroth and, what’s more, they can get some great in-game benefits too!

For each friend you invite you could get:

- An exclusive ZHEVRA in-game mount when your friend pays for 60 days of game time.

- 30 Days of FREE WoW gametime when your friend pays for 30 days of game time.

Also, from the moment your friend creates a character and starts adventuring with you, both of you will receive these additional in-game benefits:

- You and your friend will earn triple the experience when grouped together!

- For every two levels of experience your friend earns, they can grant one level of experience to any one of your characters of lower level than your friend.

-You and your friend will have the ability to summon each other from any point in the world.

Business-wise this is a brilliant recruitment strategy: let players bring in more players, give them virtual rewards which don't cost a thing and reap the benefits. Folks who always wanted to get their significant other hooked, multi-boxers and Chinese gold farmers aside, a lot of players on forums like this one think otherwise are now flaming Blizzard for being unethical, greedy money grabbers.

To quote one player: ‘The fact of the matter is this: you spend more money, and you have an advantage in the real game. This is fundamentally different from any promotion Blizzard has ever had. It's also a sign that Blizzard has lost its scruples about abusing this business model.’

I would say it took them rather long to lose their ‘scruples’. With Blizzard being the 2nd largest publishing company in the games industry after its $18bn merger with Vivendi/Activision, and World of Warcraft being one of the main cash cows, seeing the forces of capitalism enter this virtual world is no surprise at all. It may hurt a bit, but it was inevitable And, yes, resistance is futile.

I sure wouldn’t mind getting one of those Zhevra’s though. Anyone wanna play WoW?

Friday, July 18, 2008

To unlock or not to unlock...

I finally started playing Super Smash Bros. Brawl recently, and I have to say it’s an awesome game. The more I play it, the less chaotic it is and the slicker and more productive my fighting skills become. Problem is: I don’t want to be better at this game.

That seems like a strange thing to say when dealing with a game, especially a game I just admitted to liking a lot. Fact is, Super Smash Bros. Brawl is a multi-player game and this is the main reason I bought it. I want to play this game with (‘up to’) three of my friends, not alone. As most of these friends don’t have a Wii with SSBB on it, I simply don’t want to train myself to such a point where competing is not fun anymore for those involved.

Why not stop playing alone then? Like with many games in the beat-‘m-up genre, a large part of the game’s attraction is unlocking hidden characters to play with. That’s not just the completist in me. These characters aren’t just cosmetic rewards. They all have their own unique and often exuberant fighting styles. So, I want Sonic, Solid Snake, Falco, Lucario. I need Ganondorf, Luigi, Mr. Game & Watch and Captain Falco.

Problem is: to unlock them I need to spend hours and hours on single-player content. Here’s what I need to do to unlock Jigglypuff, taken from an unlock guide on gamefaqs:

  1. Play 350 Brawls
  2. Complete SSE and then clear Events 1-20
  3. Complete SSE and then Find Jigglypuff in the Swamp stage (He is in a Red Door, just enter them all)

Admittedly, this character is one of the hardest to get access too, and there’s nothing wrong with rewarding perseverance and skill at all. The best/most dedicated players should get some kudos from the game. It’s all part of the whole challenge/reward curve of proper game design.

This completely logical reward system does however interfere with the casual gaming approach I’d like to take with this particular title. The either/or situation is a recurring one I find myself in with fighting games. Novice and expert players simply don’t mix well in this genre like they do in, say, Guitar Hero or Mario Kart.

Unlockable features, especially playable characters, remain tricky game design decisions in this industry. If you don’t want to or cannot invest the time and energy to unlock them, you are missing out on content you’ve already paid for.

I guess it’s back to single-player again for me. I might get better in SSBB than I (or my friends) would like. But who doesn’t want to fight with one’s own R.O.B..

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

WWI 2008: notes from a brand fest

The Blizzard Worldwide Invitational I visited last weekend certainly was a unique experience. For those of you unaware of what the WWI is, it’s basically a yearly celebration of all things Blizzard, ie. the Warcraft, Starcraft and Diablo videogame series, for non-US players (as those have their own Blizzcon). Thousands of eager fans swarmed Paris in search of Blizzard developers, playable unreleased games, scoops and, of course, goodie bags. I gleefully joined them.

The whole thing started with a giant opening ceremony. The most fascinating part about this ceremony wasn’t that the hosts whipped the crowd into a cheering frenzy for the presence of Blizzard’s ‘superstars’. That was to be expected. No, it was because these ‘superstars’ included not only the designers and founders of the company but also the heads of PR, marketing and, yes, even global finance. So here was a crowd of thousands, cheering for those who did not make the games and virtual worlds they adore, but for those whose job it is to make a lot of money out of this love. In all fairness, most of the crowd didn’t even know these ‘suits’ (or didn’t hear their names being called out due to the deafening music) but cheer they did. Hurray for the money!

A fellow researcher also present at the event sighed at one point that, in retrospect, the Sony organised Everquest events of yesteryear where far better organised - as a meeting point for community members that is. At these events, she told me, players all wore tags with their server and guild names on it, and the event nourished these sub-communities to meet and greet. No such things were organised at WWI. In Blizzard’s defense, this event was not just for World of Warcraft players (in contrast to the Everquest events). But it does fit WoW's image of being allabout playing alone together quit well.

The MMORPG genre has ‘grown up’ commercially. But it seems to have lost a lot of its tight community feeling.

Sub-communities a plenty though, and all were looking for acknowledgment with the Blizzard dev’s. Raiders where present to cheer for everything re-establishing their hardcore-ness (for example when, during a Q&A session, someone asked when Blizzard would solve the problem of the large influx of ‘newbs’). PvP’ers sat on the edge of their seats when class balance was discussed (how dare they/they should give [insert random class] a more powerful [insert random spell]). RP’ers showed up in full costume, proudly defying ridicule (murloc’s ftw!). There was even a brave furrie – he must have been one! - who asked if druids could please get gendered versions of their animal forms (short Blizzard answer: no).

All groups had to deal with Blizzard developers stressing that the upcoming World of Warcraft expansion pack Wrath of the Lich King is going to become ‘not easier, but more accessible’, with ‘less barriers’ and ‘reduced complexity’ (one might suspect these terms now form the official developer’s mantra, as they were heard many, many times). Some cheered, some winced, some took their opinions to the web to cause yet another flame war between casuals and hardcore players.

All I can say is that it’s a logical step that Blizzard is supporting the more casual approach to World of Warcraft play. By far the largest part of the player base can be considered ‘casual’ players.

On the other hand, it’s also usually this group who cause the feeling of a fragmented, individualised community. You can’t really blame casual players though; not everyone wants a ‘second life’. WotLK’s design approach simply looks like the future of the genre in its popular form. We will have to wait another few months for the expansion pack to come out to see if it’s really that bad/good for the community as a whole.

Oh, and the game they were hinting at in the days before WWI? It was Diabo III. When they thought it couldn’t get worse, here’s another title for moral crusader's on game addiction and violence to start worrying about. Hell, it must be the devil’s work!

Monday, June 23, 2008

And the new Blizzard game is...

In a few days from now, I'll be on my way to Paris for the 2008 Blizzard Entertainment Worldwide Invitational. Allthough they will have all kinds of events around several Blizzard games (most notably Starcraft II), the reason I'm going is the new World of Warcraft expansion pack called Wrath of the Lich King. Can't wait to try that out and hear the developers talk about the choices made in producing this next step in WoW evolution.

Today though, Blizzard decided to tease the masses (including me!) with the splash screen as shown below . It's plastered on lots of Blizzard sites and hints at a big game announcement being made at the event. Due to the ice and all, it could just be Wrath of the Lich King after all (beta launch or release date announcements?). Or will they be unveiling the long awaited Diablo III? World of Starcraft? Starcraft: Ghost after all? Or entirely new IP? Or maybe, as many hope with me, a new Lost Vikings game! I'll keep you posted!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Visiting the NLGD Festival of Games

The videogame industry is ever growing and, like many others, The Netherlands wants a bigger piece of the videogame pie. The NLGD Festival of Games, formerly known as the Nederlandse Game Dagen, is basically set up to pursue this goal. As I did some advisory thingamajigs for a workshop for videogame and filmmakers I was invited to join this celebration of burgeoning Dutch game development.

The workshop itself, a co-operation with the Nederlands Film Festival, was fun and interesting but troubled too. The aim of the organisation was to provide a platform for videogame developers and filmmakers to exchange their skills and knowledge - or at least to probe each other to see if such possibilities would even exist. Enthusiasm filled the room, but like always when these two media meet, not everyone was talking about the same things when discussing stuff like emotion, interaction, playing/viewing, story writing and so on.

The biggest hurdle to take was that the videogame makers present were mostly coming from big budget, internationally-operating developers like Triumph Studios or Guerilla Games, while the filmmakers have to do the low-budget, often arthouse-oriented nature of the Dutch film system. Understandably, the second group isn’t really that interested in grand scale first-person shooter extravaganzas for their own work (and vice-versa). There will be a second round of the workshop in September during the film festival, so 'to be continued'…

The real gems of the NLGD Festival of Games were to be found in the keynotes and other talks, the biggest draw being the venerable godfather of the industry Ralph H. Baer, creator of the Magnavox Odyssey. It was a pleasure to see this golden oldie carve his own spot in videogame history, for example by sneakily avoiding references to his long-running feud with Atari’s Bushnell about Pong.

Following Baer, Edge Magazine’s Margaret Robertson took the stage, trying to show both how much and how little the game industry’s has innovated itself since Baer introduced his first console almost 40 years ago. Her main point was a solid one. The industry has to stop hiding behind the supposedly puberty-like start-up problems of the medium. They should have been long beyond this point (and are, if you look at the right games). Grow up and act accordingly, please.

One more speaker I want to mention is Chaim Gingold, lead designed of the Spore Creature Creator. He had a big, nice talk about how to overlap the spheres of the possible, the probable and the desirable in creating tools like the creature creator. The morning before his talk, I happened to read about players using the ‘possible’ to create their ‘desirable’ content, like walking penis creatures. As we can see, being immature is not only the industry's vice. More interestingly, in some cases players were being threatened with an account ban for doing so.

So I asked Gingold about what can best be described as the impossible and undesirable as a result of launching such design tools in a participatory framework. As expected, all he could reply with was they he did not know about the legal games being played in the upper echelons of the company, and that he as a developer doesn’t mind such user creativity. Well, apparantly, publishers EA and/or Maxis do mind. At least the issue gave me the questionable honour of saying ‘wobbly penises’ through a mic at an international conference without anyone even blinking an eye. You gotta love the game industry…

Friday, June 13, 2008

How not to make a game: Limbo of the Lost

Imagine making a game out of as much copyright protected material as you could possibly think of, publishing it through a company who is not aware of you doing this and then hyping it all over the internet as if it's the coolest, most original game out there.

I think I'd better let the fine people from Rock, Paper, Shotgun explain this one.

After the read, head to Amazon.co.uk to read the highly suspicious consumer review and accompanying comments. "I lol'ed" indeed.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Save Skrien!

I didn't even notice this startling news: apparently, the Dutch government is thinking of withdrawing its subsidy for Skrien, now in its 40th year of publication, due to budget cuts or something. It's the only serious film mag the Netherlands has, and a safe haven for mediastudies scholars.

The following pressing letter was sent out through the film and television industry mailing lists. It’s in Dutch, it basically states that if you want to offer your declaration of support for their cause, do it today on skrien2008 @ gmail.com.

Skrien reddingsplan 2008 – Ondersteuningsbrief

Beste filmliefhebber,

Waarschijnlijk heeft u al via de media vernomen dat de Raad voor Cultuur aan het ministerie van OC&W heeft voorgesteld Skrien niet langer te subsidiëren. Dat betekent kort gezegd het einde van Skrien.

Wij denken dat er nog ruimte is om de Raad voor Cultuur en het ministerie van mening te doen veranderen. We vragen daarom of we uw naam onder onderstaande brief mogen zetten. Daarmee kan Skrien laten zien een gewaardeerd onderdeel te zijn van de Nederlandse filmwereld.

De brief zal worden aangeboden aan de Raad voor Cultuur en het ministerie en online worden gezet op de website van Skrien.

We hopen dat u deze mail wilt doorsturen aan collega’s en vrienden in de Nederlandse film- en televisiewereld. Mocht u hierdoor deze mail meer dan eens ontvangen, dan vragen we uw begrip. We hebben helaas weinig tijd en er staat veel op het spel; daarom maken we gebruik van deze methode.

We hopen dat u in een e-mail aan skrien2008 @ gmail.com wilt bevestigen (onder vermelding van uw naam en functiebeschrijving) dat wij uw naam aan onderstaande brief mogen toevoegen. Het liefst voor 29 mei, zodat de brief op tijd is voor de deadline van het beroep bij de Raad voor Cultuur. Maar ook daarna zijn nieuwe namen welkom: de definitieve beslissing van het ministerie valt pas in september.

Bij voorbaat dank,

André Waardenburg en Kees Driessen

hoofd- en eindredactie Skrien

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Digital Culture, Play, and Identity – A World of Warcraft Reader

I finally got my copy of Digital Culture, Play, and Identity – A World of Warcraft Reader. And all I can say is that it turned out great!

For those who don’t know it yet; it’s an impressive collecting of articles from a collective of researchers who gathered to not only analyse World of Warcraft, but also to play it. It’s a broad
but still in-depth look into the WoW phenomenon and, being the object of my research too, I will certainly enjoy digging further into these articles.

Even though I missed out on participating in the creation of the book (I joined The Truants too late, meh), I’ve been playing with this crowd for quit some time now and they are not only a smart but also a fun bunch
(go Truants!) .

A big /cheer to Hilde and Jill for this fine book. And /hug Torill for keeping the Truants spirit alive!

Monday, May 26, 2008

Bavarian porn > soccer

Sometimes I get asked to write weird articles. Still, I wasn’t expecting this one.

With the European soccer championship coming up, the
University of Amsterdam’s weekly magazine, Folia Civitatis, decided to make a soccer-themed issue. As I’m their regular film journo, they asked me to write something film-related. Of all things they could’ve come up with, they chose Bavarian porn.

‘Bavarian porn?’ some of you might think? Well, it was a highly successful 70’s softporn/comedy genre from the Bavaria/Tirol regions of
Germany and Austria (there’s your link with soccer; Austria is one of the hosts of the championship). It’s infamous for its combination of heimat nostalgia and silly sex and nudity. In a sense a bizarre subgenre of sexploitation. The genre is known as Lederhosenfilm in German speaking territories, and as Tiroler seksfilm in the Netherlands. It’s cheap, dumb and degrading to women and/or humankind in general. But in its stupidity and offensiveness it’s also very, very funny.

Really, track one down if you’ve never seen one, they are hilarious.

I actually had the dvd of Ach Jodel Mir Noch Einen (1974) lying around the house (don’t ask) and revisiting it was a blast. It’s better (un)known as 2069: A Sex Odyssey in English, a title which should be telling enough; it actually combines all that is worst/best of Bavarian Porn with sci-fi!

Naturally, I had a lot of fun writing the piece, especially as it needed to be a bit tongue-in-cheek (it’s pretty hard to write anything serious on this stuff anyway). I'll provide a link when it's published. The conclusion was that if you don’t give a crap about soccer (like I do by the way), watching Bavarian porn this summer is the next best thing to do to cleanse your thirst for stupid fun in the

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Jack Thompson: Guilty!

I couldn't let this one slip:

Jack Thompson, considered to be the bane of gamers worldwide, is guilty of no less than 27 of 31 misconduct charges in court cases he led against Bully and GTA. At least, this is what a judge is recommending to the Florida Supreme Court.

Only some of the charges:

-Knowingly making a false statement of material fact or law to a tribunal
-Using means that have no purpose other than to embarrass, delay or burden a third person
-Engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation

Oh, the irony...

Read the full report here.

Maybe this will halt his strange crusade. It probably won't...

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

GTA IV makes babies happy

I guess this is my first entry into the ‘blogosphere’. Well, here goes…

One of the best things about getting a little kid - she is one month old now and growing like crazy - is that I actually had more time to, well, do nothing much. Sure, taking care of the wee one takes up a healthy chunk of our time, and the whole sleep-poo-cry cycle can be tiring for all involved. But I had taken some weeks off from work to be a full time family man, which freed up so much time that, suddenly, I had the liberty to do all those things I never had the time for! Did I read all those books and articles lying around? did I watch all those films and series I missed? Did I even go out in the sun which scorched Holland in the past weeks?

No, I pretty much spend most of my free hours playing GTA IV.

Perfect timing Rockstar!. Some recent minor distractions aside, this is the first game to really pull me away from World of Warcraft. Which wasn’t that hard by the way, my WoW being hacked and plundered just after my kid was born (I lost 8000g on that one, thanks virtual economy!).

Thus, there I was, taking my new buddy Niko through all kinds of violent ordeals in Liberty City. And what a splendid killing spree it turned out to be. Gone are most of the troubles which plagued prior instalments like messy aiming, cars popping in out of nowhere, no multi-player. And now we can even skip those unnecessary long drives to and from quest objectives after failing missions again and again; now you can just take a cab, pick your location and skip the entire ride!

Skipping the ride almost always feels like a loss though as GTA IV’s Liberty City is one of the most beautifully rendered, vibrant and believable virtual worlds out there. It is however not just a New York 2.0 for virtual sightseeing. It is clear that, like previous GTA’s, Rockstar wanted to make a sandbox with a point. GTAIII, Vice City and San Andreas all parodied American culture through its radio channels, billboards, dialogues and so on. GTA IV follows suit but got rid of all the over-the-top silliness which tended to make you forget its finer details. So, no jetpacks, Area 51’s or overkill of ramps here. Calling the changes ‘gritty’ or ‘darker’ is marketing mumbo-jumbo but there’s truth in it as well. You could almost say that Rockstar has taken a more mature approach (gasp!).

More than ever, Rockstar’s Liberty City is a bleak, dystopian depiction of the real. It takes no prisoners; the media, the internet, the government, the crime gangs, even people just walking down the virtual streets, all of them are degenerated, corrupted, spoiled. It might still be far off - ‘it’s only a game’, remember - but it’s eerily recognizable. As suggested elsewhere, the American Dream has never been so far out of reach for Liberty City’s inhabitants. Drawn to Liberty City under false promises of freedom, peace and wealth, Niko’s downward spiral into sin is entirely believable, even logical. And you wish him while doing so.

Exposing a child to such harsh, violent worlds might be a bit unethical but hey, where else but in your lap do you put a crying baby when you’re playing! When I was ploughing down rows of pedestrians and crashing my car into other players (GTA multiplayer is a hoot!), the pleasure the baby seemed to derive from the rumble my controller made on her tummy made it al seem ok. She really digs that!

Ps. This post seems a bit dated already but Blogger decided to lock my brand new blog for suspicions of me being a spambot (sigh).