Kickin’ It With Call Of Duty 4: Modern Warfare

I just finished last night and I gotta tell you, it kicks big time. It’s entirely too short, but makes up for it with nonstop, hyper-real action.

The most realistic next-gen game I’d played thus far was but Call of Duty 4 looks much realer. Maybe the technology has improved that much between the release of the two games or maybe it’s because Call of Duty 4 is set in the real world, but in Modern Warfare it’s like you’re right there in the thick of it. The only thing that breaks the realism in seeing closeups of people’s faces. Faces must be the hardest thing to replicate in video games.

Anyway, here’s some gameplay footage of a mission I failed because I didn’t know you had to find a console to upload code to stop a launch of nuclear missiles.

but with a level restart:

The Gamer Vote

The is trying to convince gamers to set aside their controllers long enough to mobilize against legislation in various states and nationally that would put restrictions on the sale of video games and/or fine retailers who contravened those laws.

They’ve created the as the vehicle to activate gamers. It’s not a bad idea but count me as skeptical because those who are most likely to be most offended by such laws–hard-core gamers–are the hardest to reach because, you guessed it!, they’re playing games.

, the average gamer is 30 years old (just the age  when people tend to become more politically active) and the vast majority of game buyers are over 18 years of age; six in ten gamers are men; and most expect to be playing as much or more video games than they do now. That tells me they’ve got a vested interest in easy access to their pasttime.

I don’t think games should be treated any differently than books or movies or music. I do think they are a legitmate form of artistic expression that deserves every bit as much constitutional protection of any other form of artistic or political expression. And I most emphatically do not believe that there is a causal link between video game violence and it’s real life counterpart.

Video games are an easy target for politicians looking to bolster their "family values" credentials. As a Democrat, it pains me to admit that these politicians are largely from my own party. Chief among them are , , and . All three are sponsoring the so-called "," and all three have or have had presidential ambitions.

There was a study recently that demonstrated heightened levels of agressiveness in people just after they’d played certain video games. I’ve no doubt that’s true. But the implication that that violence carries over into everyday life does not follow.

A game like is crime and fighting game; it requires agressiveness. That doesn’t mean I am more likely to go out and put a cap someone’s ass or run someone over because I just did it in the game.

But if it’s discovered that some school shooter played Grand Theft Auto, then it must be the game that caused the violence. It’s certainly an easy explanation, however flawed.

A more realistic explanation–yet harder to fit into a news segment–is that the violence is a result of a whole host of reasons, many of which may be specific solely to that individual. I just find it an incredible stretch to believe that playing video games will cause an otherwise normal and healthy kid to commit violence in real life.

That’s not to say that kids should be able to play any type of video game they want. I don’t. My sixteen year old nephew was visiting some time ago, grabbed Grand Theft Auto from the shelf, and said let’s play this.

I do not for a second believe that playing the game would do him any harm and I think he’s mature enough to responsibly handle the game’s content. But it wasn’t my call. Until he’s 18 years old, that’s his parent’s decision. I’ve no doubt he’s played it before, but at least I was sending him the message that even his cool uncle thinks the game is not yet appropriate for him.

Had I let him play it, the "Family Entertainment Protection Act" would not have prevented him from playing the game and I guess it would have made me a criminal if not in fact, then in spirit.

The fact is that families already have the tools to "protect" themselves from entertainment (which is a rather absurdly hilarious thought, when you think about it). Their called .

The missing ingredient here seems to be the parents themselves. The parents need to read the ratings before buying the games for their kids. The parents need to be involved enough in their childrens’ lives to know when they’re consuming something that is inappropriate. My sister, for example, locks up the controllers so her kids can only play video games when she approves. She knows what games they play. That’s a fine solution.

What is intensely annoying about things like the "Family Entertainment Protection Act" is that I do not want to live in a locked-down child-safe world.

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Are Gamers Athletes?

I know this story is a week old, but I must address it. A week ago Sunday, on professional gamer Fatal1ty and how he’s making a ton of money winning .

The piece details the exploits of Fatal1ty (a.k.a.  Jonathan Wendell) and his growing celebrity as a gamer and his clout as a commercial endorser. His agent tries to argue that Wendell is an athlete for a new form of sport.

No. No no no no no no no no no NO. He is not.

I’ll agree that video games are sport in that they consist of people competing against one another and that they are quickly becoming a spectator sport, but gamers as athletes? Please.

One of the primary aspects of being an athlete is skill of a physical nature. Don’t tell me that a largely sedentary activity such as playing video games is a sport, the most excursion of which requires sweating over controller.

Wendell clearly has mad skills as a gamer (and actual athletic skills, as the piece points out), but to call someone an athlete merely because they excel at video games is purely absurd.

Watch the 60 Minutes Video:

This Week In Internet Marketing – 1/24/06 – 1/27/06

Here’s a roundup of this week’s posts at my :

HDTV Buying Guide

It has been just over a year since I bought my and now I can’t imagine life without one. The picture is so crystal clear (and huge) that it almost bothers me to see movies in the theater because you see imperfections in the film in theaters (scratches and lint on the film and such) that you do not see in a purely digital high definition transmission. I rarely see movies in the theater anymore; usually only those movies that are so epic that they demand viewing on a massive theater screen.

Needless to say, playing video games on it is a treat, as well.

I have since given advice to friends on buying an high definition television and someone suggested I put it on my blog. So here it is:

My HDTV Buying Guide

HDTV Research

Considering you’re on the brink of laying down some serious scratch for your new entertainment system, you’ll no doubt want to research your purchase before committing the cash.

The best starting point I’ve found is . It will take you through the basics: What type of set you can afford; what size screen you should get; the fundamental definitions, formats, and technologies you’ll need to understand; the difference between wide-screen and 4:3; features and cable connections (with a superb chart); what to know about playing video games on your set; understanding picture quality and settings on your HDTV; and what to know about accessories and warranties.

About.com has an excellent page that ; they also have a very good home theater section.

Burn-In

You mean you could spend a ton of money on a new HDTV, only to have it completely ruined by burning a TV station logo into your screen? Theoretically, yeah, you could. But don’t completely freak out about it; a little common sense and you’re fine.

Basically, the idea is to not have a static image showing on one
portion of your screen for a long time, or that image will “burn-in”
and you’ll always have a “ghost” of it whenever you watch your TV. I
was all paranoid about it but fear has proved largely unfounded; You
just need to be responsible about how you use the set.

Don’t spend eight hours at a time playing a video game with a stationary graphical element (like a health bar) on it without changing the image once in a while. If the presidential election ever comes down to the wire like 2000 again and you’re rivited to CNN’s all-live coverage, just remember to change the channel occasionally to refresh the screen so that crawling ticker at the bottom doesn’t wreck your screen.

I admit, it freaked me out at first, too. But common sense is all you need. I have had no problems.

Read more:

Buying Refurbished

I bought a refurbished HDTV, so I’ll focus on my experience but don’t let the word "refurbished" scare you away. Refurbished can mean anything from the packaging the item was shipped in was dented and so was returned to the manufacturer but nothing at all was wrong with the item itself, or there was something wrong with the item but it was refurbished by the manufacturer to like-new working order.

Sellers of refurbished items put many safeguards in place, so you need to pay attention to their policies, but I think it’s a pretty safe process. I had no problems. The risk of buying refurbished, I think, is small but the savings benefits are significant.

There are two companies that I narrowed my purchase options down to but there are others out there that you can find when searching for “.” Those two were (because they are based in Minneapolis, so I’d presumably get my set quicker and since they are in town, if I hd any problems with the TV, it won’t be a burden contacting them in person).

Before settling on your particular set or of you’re planning on buying from an online shop, definitely check out for reviews of both the TV you’re considering or the merchant. Some of the reviews are obviously by the merchants selling the items, but most of the reviews are by people who have actually bought the product, so can see if there are any issues that you should be aware of.

I ultimately bought my TV from is and I was very happy with them; they had excellent customer service, and the TV arrived before they said it would. Their shipping service was great: Two guys brought it into my home, took it out of the box, and set it up in about five minutes.

You’ll also need to buy decent cables—everyone except people at Best Buy have told me that you don’t need to buy the obscenely expensive ; but even so, you’ll need good cables to hook up your home theater sound system, your DVD and/or VCR, your cable box, and your gaming system.

When you finally get your set, you’ll need to "calibrate" it for optimum performance. . You can buy set-up discs to optimize your TV for realistic settings (they set them at the factory to high brightness and high contrast to make the TVs look more vivid in the showrooms). I found one at Best Buy.

If you don’t already, think about subscribing to one of the premium movie cable channels like . Each of them have a high-definition channel and the movies on them are something to behold: The clarity is amazing—better than DVDs and certainly better than movie theaters that are using reels. You won’t really be getting the best out of your set if you don’t subscribe to some HDTV channels.

Movies are amazing but if you’re into sports, there’s nothing like watching a football or baseball game with the extra screen width and the surround sound picking up field noises and being able to hear hecklers in the crowd behind you.

As I said before, playing video games on an HDTV (especially if you’ve got a surround-sound Dolby 5.1 home theater setup) is an amazing experience. Needless to say, video games will only get that much better if you hook up a next-generation video game console such as the to your HDTV.

That’s what I’m talking about!

Xbox 360 Specs – High Definition Gaming

I was planning on doing a wish list of features I’d like to see in the next version of Grand Theft Auto. One was the ability to create mayhem at a sports stadium filled with people. I’d like to be able to sneak into a football stadium packed with people watching their hometown team and snipe at people and sorta just create panic in the stadium ala Black Sunday.

GTA does a pretty good job at having the ambient AI (artificial intelligence) characters in the game react realistically but usually it’s groups of people, three or four in a bunch, who react. I can’t recall seeing more AI characters reacting to something you, as a player, have done.

I ran across an article on Xbox.com about the Xbox 360’s artificial intelligence capabilities that explains why you don’t see massive crowd reactions to player actions in games. The article quotes Chris Satchell, General Manager of the Game Developers Group at Microsoft, explaining what the computational processing power of the Xbox 360 will mean for next-gen games beyond beautiful, high-definition graphics and 5.1 Dolby surround sound:

"I love it when you take an NPC [non-player character] and give it some really simple rules—by itself, it looks okay—then you put 10 of them together and the interaction makes things start to look interesting. Then you put 100 of them together, then you put 500 of them together…the emergent behavior is really amazing."

"You plug in some really simple things [A.I. rules]—fleeing behavior, avoidance, fright—you put these emotions in and you run it with 30 NPCs, you get one type of behavior. You run it with 500 NPCs, and you get a film. You see a scene and now you’ve got enough processing power to run 500 NPCs, with enough processing power to render them and to do collision for them, you get experiences in games you’ve never seen before."

So not only will the Xbox 360 improve dramatically from a look and sound standpoint, gameplay itself will be improved and more realistic.

Add to this the graphics improvements and sound system improvement and the next-gen systems will bring video gaming a large step closer to the holy grail of gaming: photorealism.

Take a look at Madden 06 for Xbox 360 trailers at GameInformer.com. The graphics are clearly vastly improved over the curent-gen version of the game. Much sharper and more detailed. Take a look at Brett Favre‘s face in the Packers vs. Vikings clips and you’ll see the character actually looks like Farve. The players’ movements are also immensely improved; they are much more fluid and natural.

Couple these improvements with the built in 5.1 Dolby surround sound support and the improvment in the realism of the games becomes obvious. You may be able to hear a fan heckling the quarterback in the stands on the right-hand side. Or in first person shooters, you may be able to hear shots coming from behind you on your left, allowing you to wheel around to face the threat without ever having seen it.

Games need to get to the point where it becomes less and less obvious that you’re playing a video game and more like you are a participant in a drama. That requires realism and realism, ultimately, is where video games must improve if the industry is to elevate itself above films as the predominant entertainment and art form. The Xbox 360 will help the industry reach that goal.

Halo, The Movie

Microsoft and Bungie have announced that Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson will produce Halo, The Movie. Jackson’s most recent project, King Kong, is currenlty in post production. Jackson is a good fit and a great get for the Halo movie. His cinematic brilliance speaks for itself but he’s also a huge video game fan, as an August interview with Game Informer made clear. His movie King Kong will release with a video game tie-in that is not simply an afterthought, but a game that stands on its own. Jackson was intimately involved with Ubisoft in the production of the video game as well. (I wrote a piece on the King Kong game in August and how it overcomes the problem of HUDs)

Amusing Aside – Let this be a lesson for techies everywhere: Leave the English to we professionals. The Bungie.net posting announcing the landing of Peter Jackson was written by Joesph Staten, listed on the Bungie site as Writer/Director of Cinematics. Staten tells the world that "Needless to say I and the rest of Bungie are positively incontinent" over the Jackson deal. I assume Staten means that he’s excited about Jackson being the executive producer of the film. If so, either the use of the word "incontinent" to express excitement is a new form of slang that I’m unaware of, or, more likely, he doesn’t know the definition of the word. The general usage of the word "incontinet" refers to a loss of control over excratory functions. Maybe it’s just me, but I’m guessing Staten didn’t mean to say that he was so excited he shit his pants.

Master Chief In Dead Or Alive?

In other Halo news, Game Informer had the scoop on Bungie’s product placement in Dead Or Alive 4 for Xbox 360. Bungie acknowledges that they and DOA’s Team Ninja have talked about including a Halo character in the next-gen DOA title.

Halo 3 Delayed

Finally, it looks like Halo 3 will not be released to counter Sony’s introduction of their next-gen console, PS3, as Bill Gates has suggested. Microsoft’s entertainment and devices president Robbie Bach said in an interview that Halo 3 may not be ready to offset Sony’s launch but that "Halo is something we’ll ship when it’s ready."

Part of the problem may very well be that Microsoft delivered their development kits to game designers so late that a lot of developers are playing catch-up in order to meet the launch date. The Xbox 360 launch may not be all that, either. Expected in late November, my industry sources tell me that Microsoft will release only 800,000 units, meaning there will not be enough to go around. Couple that with the fact that the late release of the development kits means game developers haven’t had enough time to take full advantage of what Xbox 360 has to offer, and it will probably be wise to wait a while before splurging on the expensive console. Second generation Xbox 360 games will probably take better advantage of the console’s power.