When I gave Grand Theft Auto IV the insultingly low score of 85%, quite a few people suggested that I had some kind of a secret grudge against the game that kept me from giving it the glowing adoration that it so obviously deserved. Well, I'm finally ready to admit that yes, I did have a secret predjudice against the game, one that I'll reveal through the medium of crudely-edited video:
According to an article in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill magazine Endeavors ("Fair Games"), UNC computer science students are designing games for players with low vision. The games were field tested at "Maze Day," when 70 kids with visual impairments came from all around North Carolina to play:
The game [Move to the Music] gives [the blind player] audio feedback on her performance: a handclap when she steps in time to the beat, an occasional buzzer when she’s off rhythm. Six-inch-wide pieces of carpet cover the centers of the squares on the pad, telling her feet where to step.
Other students used information readily available on the internet to write programs that can communicate with Nintendo’s Wii controller, called the Wii Remote or 'Wiimote.' Given the task of making a sports game, one group picked a sport that would be familiar to their target audience: beep ball. The real-life game is based on baseball and played by many blind kids and adults, using a softball that beeps and bases that make buzzing sounds. The game the students created combines verbal cues such as 'Ready!' 'Pitch!' and 'Strike!' with simple figures that seem to zoom closer to the player as they run across a green field. The player swings the Wiimote to hit the ball, then shakes the controller back and forth to run toward a base.
The games are playable on common, inexpensive hardware, and are open source; they can be improved or adapted as necessary.
There's been a lot of disability-related goodness going on at Ubisoft lately. After taking action against an ableist slur in MindQuiz last year, the publisher announced this past September that all its games developed in-house will be subtitled. Also, Ubisoft is partnering with organization Handicap International for a campaign called Ability Together. This campaign raises awareness of the problems disabled people face, particularly those in developing countries. And it includes Handigo The Game, a series of free minigames starring characters with different impairments: one is blind, one uses a wheelchair and one has learning difficulties.
The Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) is back; Playboy's Damon Brown wrote a book about virtual sex has evolved since the crude days of the Apple II and Atari 2600; the music genre surpasses sports as the second most played genre; patent for real-time censoring of audio streams; Microsoft finally gets its patent for real-time censoring of audio streams; and finally, fans have put together an elaborate handbook for anyone who can't wait for Nintendo to get around to localizing Mother 3.
This isn't the first time Sony tried its hand at giving PlayStation owners the ability to create content for its console—anyone remember the Yaruze? Well, unlike that obscure piece of expensive tech, LittleBigPlanet is a trojan horse—a software development toolkit in the guise of a videogame that will automatically create content that Sony can just take and resell to whomever it feels like. So far gamers are more than happy with this arrangement, but as familiarity with the software and ambition of the content creators grow, so will their desire to reap some benefits from their labor.
"...we could all be working for Sony, crafting and sharing levels that Sony owns outright. Perhaps some of those levels will end up being packaged as downloadable content, much the same way that fruit of some of LittleBigPlanet's best beta players is being packaged with the official release.
But how does the equation change as user-generated content becomes less a matter of remixing existing intellectual property by 'modding' a game and starts to look more like the creation of original work? What happens when the systems game developers build for us are less games than platforms for the creation of new games?
On August 27, 2008, the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) and Target announced a $6 mil settlement in a class-action lawsuit concerning the inaccessibility of the Target.com website to blind users.
A major bone of contention in the suit, filed by the NFB in February 2006, was whether the Americans with Disabilities Act applies only to physical spaces, or to virtual ones as well. Target argued:
"Target.com is not a place of public accommodation within the meaning of the ADA, and therefore plaintiffs cannot state a claim under the ADA. Specifically...the complaint is deficient because it does not allege that 'individuals with vision impairments are denied access to one of Target’s brick and mortar stores or the goods they contain.'” (PDF of the decision available at Disability Rights Advocates).
Scanning the local and cable news channels, I haven't seen hide nor hair of this study. You would think FOX News would give it cursory coverage given that IGN is owned by NewsCorp, but that is probably asking too much.
"The study reported that 55% of gamers polled are married, 48% have kids, and those who have started gaming in the past two years are on average 32 years old. 'Based on the research, it's obvious that the gaming market has outgrown many commonly held stereotypes about the relative homogeneity of video gamers,' said Adam Wright, Director of Research for Ipsos MediaCT. 'Today's gamers represent a wide variety of demographic groups: men and women, kids, parents and grandparents, younger and older consumers. All this underscores the fact that gaming has become a mainstream medium in this country that appeals to people from all walks of life.'"
In a different world, Max Payne would be a solid contender for the worst videogame to film adaptation in movie history—taking its place right alongside Super Mario Bros. and Mortal Kombat II as the main exhibits in the case that Hollywood simply doesn't understand gaming. However, as long as the Antichrist (known more commonly by his human name, Uwe Boll) continues to churn out films like Alone in the Dark, Max Payne will just have to be content with the title of "not very good" as opposed to "out and out awful".
Payne, starring an angry and mopey Mark Wahlberg as the title character, is a film that I really wanted to like. It's beautifully shot (it's got a gorgeous neo-noir color palette working in it), it has some decent action scenes (although I think the games did a better job of integrating the John Woo influence), and it feels like the people involved cared about the end product to at least some degree. This makes it all the more disappointing that the end result is a film that feels a bit like Constantinepart 2 (which was another film I wanted to love because I've dug the Hellblazer comics for years).
Sony delays LittleBigPlanet so as to not offend Muslims; Braid gets a negative review (not new, but still interesting); Obama uses Electronic Arts games to advertise to our kids; Uwe Boll gets a positive write-up; a London mayor decides he actually does love (money from) games; a study shows parents happy with games; new ESRB ratings (just for fun); Will Wright's take on DRM; and one lucky kids gets a cool Mega Man costume for Halloween.
First up is news that Sony will be delaying LittleBigPlanet worldwide. It is unfortunate, but to play it safe and avoid an unpredictable backlash from the Muslim world, Sony will delay its most important title of 2008. It's all because of two expressions that can be found in the Qur'an are present in some background music.
"During the review process prior to the release of LittleBigPlanet, it has been brought to our attention that one of the background music tracks licensed from a record label for use in the game contains two expressions that can be found in the Qur’an. We have taken immediate action to rectify this and we sincerely apologize for any offense that this may have caused."
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