Monday, March 30, 2009

The big three zero zero

As opposed to the big three zero coming in just under six months, that is... No, Saturday night (or rather, Sunday morning) we got our 300th song on Rock Band. At the time of this writing, there are 614 songs available for the Rock Band platform. We've got 300 of them. And that's a good thing, because we don't want most of the other 314. There are a few I wouldn't mind having, but all in all I'm proud to say that we have the best of the lot.

For the curious, #300 was "War Zone" by Rob Zombie. It's the only song of his in the game. I passed on it when it came out because I'm not too fond of the song, but admittedly, it's fun to play. We let Jen's brother pick the 300th song because he got us into the game.

We still have enough for one more song, which will most likely be "Heartbreaker" by Pat Benetar when it comes out Tuesday morning. That'll put us at 301.

Update: 9 April 2009:
We never got that 301st track, so we still have enough Microsoft points to get another one. At this point we're trying to decide between "Heartbreaker" and one of the Toby Keith songs. I could go either way on that one. However, a friend of Jen's from the Disturbed board bought Pearl Jam's "Ten" album, which came with a code to download 3 of their songs for free, so we used that, and got a couple songs I've never heard of and a live version of "Alive", so, thanks Herb for that! And that puts the official count at 303.

Update: 1 May 2009:
The official count now stands at 316 (Steve Austin reference FTW) with "Jane Says" by Jane's Addiction and "Joker and the Thief" by Wolfmother. And we have points to buy nine more. Tuesday (5 May - Cinco de Mayo) it's "Smooth Criminal" by Alien Ant Farm (covering Michael Jackson), "Naked Eye" by Luscious Jackson, and "Midnight Rider" by the Allman Bros. band we'll be getting. That will leave us with credits for six more. Maybe a couple more Stevie Ray Vaughan?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Two games Harmonix needs in the Rock Band family

Last week I wrote about five songs that Harmonix needs to license for Rock Band. One of them was "Through the Fire and Flames" by DragonForce. A day or two after I posted that article, I heard about Activision's forthcoming offering, "Guitar Hero's Greatest Hits" which will combine the best of Guitar Hero, Guitar Hero Encore: Rocks the 80s (those two previously only available for PlayStation 2), Guitar Hero II, and Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock into one big game. What's more, all of the songs will be master recordings, not cheap covers. (The covers were OK, but the masters are preferrable.) And what's best of all, "Through the Fire and Flames" is confirmed!

Oh yes. We will be getting that.

But that's not what I'm here to talk about. Rather than simply suggesting more songs, I now write about two expansion sets Harmonix needs to bring to the Rock Band family:

1. Rock Band: Adult Edition
One of the biggest problems with the Rock Band franchise is that, in order to get the coveted T rating which allows kids to buy games without parental permission, they censor songs and a lot of good songs would be impossible to do, because of the censorship. Disturbed's "Down With the Sickness" was completely butchered, and Red Hot Chili Peppers' "Sir Psycho Sexy" was just a mistake. The T rating affords them the ability to use songs with suggestive themes ("Sir Psycho" is about a sex fiend who, among other things, rapes a "lady cop" who pulls him over; "Sickness" is about a guy killing his abusive mother); they just can't use most words. Every now and then they do something cool. On the Rock Band 2 disc, "Man in the Box" substitutes words that are phoenetically similar enough to credit you for singing the original lyrics. "...buried in my shit" becomes "buried in my pit", and "...shove my nose in shit" becomes "...shove my nose in spit". And they let Weezer get by with saying "bitch" (rather, "beotch") in the downloadable song "Troublemaker". Why they don't go the Battlestar Galactica route and replace "fuck" with "frak" (hey, it worked for the Sci-Fi channel on cable) is beyond me.

So they can't taint the main games, but as far as I can tell, nothing at all stops them from making an adult edition of Rock Band. First, redo the songs that were butchered with their original lyrics. Second, include songs that aren't just profane for the sake of being profane, but rather good songs that would never be usable on a T-rated Rock Band title, so that groups of adults who play Rock Band (like me, my wife, her brother, and our friend, and many others) can enjoy some more adult-oriented songs. And since some of these songs have hidden joke songs that can be unlocked near the end (e.g. "Timmy & The Lords of the Underworld" from South Park on the first Rock Band), throw in a few overly profane songs for shits & giggles. That new "Death to All But Metal" by Steel Panther, for example, sounds fun to play on all instruments (especially sing) but it's way too obscene to even consider. Another good "joke song" would be "Three Little Pigs" by Green Jello. Borderline able to go in the T-rated game, it's still kind of harsh. Or how about going all out and doing "Fuck the World" by Insane Clown Posse, just for the line, "Don't bother trying to analyze these rhymes. In this song I say 'fuck' 93 times!" I haven't counted, but I don't doubt him.

The new GTA game on the DS drops two F-bombs in the intro movie alone. I thought I was being so funny modding my DS just to watch a porn clip on a Game Boy, and then Nintendo goes and proves that adult content isn't entirely outside the realm of what they can do with their handhelds. Kind of moots my point, but it was still fun to make. So if the Game Boy can swear, what makes Rock Band so puritan? There's nothing puritan about any rock star's life... unless your band is called Petra... so why not drop the pretense, at least for one game that, sure, kids won't be able to get at, but older players will eat right up, and of course like all the other games, you'd be able to integrate it into your master setlist by exporting the songs to the Xbox hard drive.

2. Rock Band Pro
Rock Band games are fairly balanced across the board. You've got easy games and hard games, and on the disc, it all balances out. While most of the downloadable songs lean toward the easy tiers, Rock Band's hardest songs, namely Yngwie Malmsteen's three, and Rude Mood by Stevie Ray Vaughan, are downloadable. But these games tend to wear out quickly for the best gamers out there. People who can master songs in no time. You see them on YouTube and score-tracking sites like ScoreHero. The top 100 or so scores all have 100%; once they can hit all the notes, they work on gaming the system to score the most points possible (overdrive timing). Even if you can top the high score by just a point or two, it's worth striving for.

My second suggestion, therefore, is to release a collection of the hardest downloadable content, plus some new stuff sidelined under the excuse that it would probably be too hard for most players. Songs that shouldn't be in the game because they'd just be stupidly hard, but a package that would appeal to the best of the best. I like telling people who are good, "You think you're good at Green Grass, but could you hang with Nightwish if Harmonix released some as DLC?" And then I'll put on the live version of "Wishmaster" and blow their minds. The song itself is a beast, but the live version is something else. Absolutely not to be fucked with. Might as well create a new difficulty tier in and call it "You've already failed". And then throw in some speed metal, and thrash, some death metal, in addition to the symphonic metal. And, as Stevie Ray Vaughan's DLC shows, songs don't need to be metal to be hard to play. Now that we have Yngwie Malmsteen, we need some Steve Vai. We need some Joe Satriani. We have blues. How about some jazz? Jazz is easy to make fun of, but try playing it.

The premise would be simple. In Rock Band, you start out as a garage band and end up touring the world, but even as you do so, the quality of the songs you're playing doesn't increase much. Rock Band Pro would put you in the shoes of a gifted musician, and your rise would not be in terms of venues played, but rather more like the respect of other musicians.

It seems like Harmonix answered Guitar Hero: Aerosmith with AC/DC: Rock Band Track Pack. Are they really answering Guitar Hero: Metallica with The Beatles: Rock Band? Sure, the Beatles are a good band, but will any of their songs offer a challenge? How about Nightwish: Rock Band Pro?

The Pope is an idiot.

"Is the Pope a pedophile?" is the meaner variation on "Does a bear shit in the woods?", itself a dirty and sarcastic way of saying "yes". I don't know the true answer to that first question, but I do know that the Pope is an idiot.

Never mind that he's the patriarch of a religion which adamantly opposes marriage between two men (or women) who love one another while at the same time protecting pedophile priests with equal resolve. I mean, anyone who says love between consenting adults of the same gender is wrong, but if it's a man forcing himself on a boy, it's alright, must be a rational individual, right? There's the world's self-appointed moral authority - it's no wonder so many people enjoy being bad!

But that's just traditional Vatican hypocrisy. It's not just the atheists who can see it; some of God's followers take the Catholic Church with a grain of salt as well. I wouldn't have anything to say if the Pope were just continuing the Church's storied tradition of hypocrisy and abuse. Downright stupidity shouldn't make a headline, either, but hey, it's a slow news day, you know?

Apparently, as reported by the BBC, the Pope flew down to Africa and told this AIDS-ravaged continent that condoms aren't the answer, and that contraceptives are part of a decline in morality. He stopped short of including homosexuality in his list of immoral contributors to this decline, and also stopped short of saying that people who got AIDS through sex deserve it, but that's what he was getting at. So condoms not only prevent unwanted pregnancies, which the Church has always taken a hard line with, but they prevent disease as well. Seems the prevention of disease is not a good enough benefit to offset the "atrocities" of not wanting to start a family just yet, though AIDS prevention, not family planning, was the focus of the article.

The Pope's solution? Don't have sex. Oh, really? Is he serious? If people want to get down, they're gonna get down. Besides, every time a girl has her period, including when she's 9 or 10 or whenever they start, that means an opportunity to bring a new life into the world was passed by in favor of not wanting to raise a little taxpayer. Ultimately, fundamentalist Christians and hard-right Republicans want to rescind womens' rights and turn women into breeding farms as soon as they're old enough to have children as inferred by their opposition to contraceptives and abortion; take their remarks on those subjects to the farthest logical conclusion, and that's what you wind up with. Pure stupidity and a lot of steps backwards.

And forget about preventing AIDS, it's not that big a deal, is it, Your Holiness? Someone ought to contract the Pope with AIDS and see how important he sees it. Of course, they don't choose Popes that are more than a few years from their deathbed anyway, so I suppose it doesn't matter, AIDS might not work fast enough for him.

A signature on the GameFAQs message boards says something like: Religion is to the poor true, to the wise false, and to those in power useful. It's true. I mean, I believe, despite logical arguments telling me the entire Christian mythos is false and explaining where it all comes from. But a part of me still believes. Not enough to go to Church... organized religion is crap, more often than not these days a congregation of idiots, stupid people gathering and preaching hate and intolerance. Fifty years ago it was blacks, now it was gays, the Church always seems to need some group to villify, no matter how good that group's members themselves may be. Some are even Christians themselves! What ever happened to sin and temptation and Satan being the bad guys?

Monday, March 16, 2009

Rules for the Internet

I heard about this in passing, and there are a LOT of versions of these Rules floating around, but this was the most definitive and common set I could find. Some sites list many times more, and some are good, but let's just keep it simple:

1. Do not talk about /b/
2. Do NOT talk about /b/
3. We are anonymous
4. Anonymous is legion
5. Anonymous never forgives
6. Anonymous can be a horrible, senseless, uncaring monster
7. Anonymous is still able to deliver
8. There are no real rules about posting
9. There are no real rules about moderation either – enjoy your ban
10. If you enjoy any rival sites – DON’T
11. All your carefully picked arguments can easily be ignored
12. Anything you say can and will be used against you
13. Anything you say can be turned into something else – fixed
14. Do not argue with trolls – it means that they win
15. The harder you try the harder you will fail
16. If you fail in epic proportions, it may just become a winning failure
17. Every win fails eventually
18. Everything that can be labelled can be hated
19. The more you hate it the stronger it gets
20. Nothing is to be taken seriously
21. Original content is original only for a few seconds before getting old
22. Copypasta is made to ruin every last bit of originality
23. Copypasta is made to ruin every last bit of originality
24. Every repost is always a repost of a repost
25. Relation to the original topic decreases with every single post
26. Any topic can be easily turned into something unrelated
27. Always question a person’s sexual preferences without any real reason
28. Always question a person’s gender – just in case it’s really a man
29. In the internet all girls are men and all kids are undercover FBI agents
30. There are no girls on the internet
31. TITS or GTFO – the choice is yours
32. You must have pictures to prove your statements
33. Lurk more – it’s never enough
34. There is porn of it, no exceptions
35. If no porn is found at the moment, it will be made
36. There will always be even more fucked up shit then what you just saw
37. You can not divide by zero (just because the calculator says so)
38. No real limits of any kind apply here – not even the sky
41. Desu isn’t funny. Seriously guys. It’s worse then Chuck Norris jokes.
42. Nothing is sacred
43. The more beautiful and pure a thing is – the more satisfying it is to corrupt it
44. Even one positive comment about Japanese things can make you a weeaboo
45. When one sees a lion, one must get into the car.
46. There is always furry porn of it.
47. The pool is always closed.

OK, now what I can fill you in on, if you don't know:

* /b/ is an image board, like a message board, but with just images. It's ran by a site called 4chan. In addition to starting all kinds of Internet fads, the reason "we don't talk about /b/" is that from time to time, a lot of child porn gets posted up there. Since 4chan takes extreme measures to keep members anonymous (and it allows anonymous posting) this goes unpunished. 4chan eventually deletes the porn, but their site is notorious for trafficking child porn. Hence two rules.

* 3-7 also apply to 4chan, and any other site that allows anonymous posting.

* 9 is the oldest misunderstanding in the book, that free speech applies to forums. It does not and you can be banned for any reason. It's not illegal. Re-read the bill of rights. (Hint: the message board that banned you ain't Congress.)

* 10 pretty much means that sites don't like competition. Naming other sites you visit is often taboo.

* 11-21 are general rules for how forums operate.

* Copypasta is shorthand for "copy and paste". Figure it out.

* 29 is my favorite. 30's cool too.

* TITS stands for, well, tits. Breasts. GTFO on the other hand stands for "Get the fuck out". If you don't have anything to add, post tits to justify your presence or leave. Unless you're on a kiddy board like GameFAQs where you can't post tits.

* 32. Commonly enforced. Usually with the text "pics or it didnt happen". Usually after someone tells a story involving a female, especially if it's a sister, even if it's a kid, and if it's a girlfriend, she's gotta be holding a sign with your screen name on it and a statement like "I love so-and-so".

* 33 - Lurking means reading posts without participating, so as to get a feel for how a community works.

* 34 is how I got introduced to the Rules. Search Google for "Rule 34" with SafeSearch turned off. Chances are you won't see anything too dirty, just funny.

* 39 refers to idiots who think they'll be answered faster because they typed their ENTIRE MESSAGE IN ALL CAPS. David Draiman of the rock band Disturbed did this on their forum when it was open to the public, and those who knew better secretly laughed at him for it.

* A weeaboo is someone who isn't Japanese but wishes they were, usually because they love anime.

And I think that's about all I can answer. Got more rules? Go ahead and leave 'em in the comments.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

5 Songs That Need to Be in Rock Band

1. "Scotty Doesn't Know" by Lustra
If the title of this song isn't familiar, you NEED to go out and see Euro Trip RIGHT NOW. The movie's about average among the great college humor movies of the last 30 years, but then again, it does have its moments. This hilariously dirty song about Fiona and Scotty's sham of a relationship told from the point of view of Fiona's backdoor man, who makes a big joke about everything, and it's a lot of fun to listen to, and sounds fun as hell to play for all four instruments. Best of all, nobody's heard of Lustra, even people who have seen the movie. You might remember the song, but the band is still an independent act out of Southern California. Harmonix should have no problem licensing their song, which would only make lots of money for both parties. And speaking of parties, it would become the essential song to play at a Rock Band party, along with The Offspring's "Pretty Fly (For a White Guy)".

2. "Through the Fire and Flames" by DragonForce
Yeah, I went there. But seriously now. Not only is TtFaF the sole measuring stick by which all virtual guitars are compared, it's the first song most people think of when you talk about Guitar Hero 3: Legends of Rock, the last Guitar Hero title most Rock Band loyalists played. Before Rock Band came out, GH3 was THE music game to play, and while it had a lot of great songs which will still be legendary 25 years from now, the song that anybody who beat it will remember it for is "Fire and Flames". The song is nearly impossible to pass on Expert and it's solely responsible for clever gamers to rig "bots" to pass songs for them. God challenging Satan to a duel with this song at the end of the tutorial helps as well. Onto the gameplay, though. We know the guitar is challenging - or do we? When you play "Fire and Flames" in Guitar Hero 3, you're doing the work of two guitarists. Watch the video - during the solo, the guitarists trade off. They clearly show it. Put it on Rock Band and divide the work in half. It'll still be hard as hell, but people who do good on Rock Band's "Green Grass and High Tides" and Rock Band 2's "Painkiller" shouldn't have too hard a time getting through it. It sounds like a blast on drums, and it'd clearly be epic to sing. The only problem is that it could be seen as too closely tied to the Guitar Hero brand and it's widely hated by Rock Band loyalists, at least, in words on message boards. Put it out and watch them all download it to prove themselves on the other three instruments. I know I want a crack at it on bass. I might not be able to pass it on Expert, but I know I can on Medium and I can probably get Hard after a few tries.

3. "The Pursuit" by Evans Blue
I really don't know how to classify Evans Blue. They sound like Tool, but not as creepy. Maybe a cross between Tool and Disturbed, but with a vocalist who is completely beyond compare. As for the singing, you might label it as emo, and it's certainly emotional rock, very emotional, with lyrics about relationships, most of them amazing failures, but the music is beautiful and angry at the same time, but it's a controlled anger, more of a dark passion. Both of their albums proceed like a dream, especially their second and final album. "The Pursuit" is both an abbreviation of the title, "The Pursuit Begins When This Portrayal of Life Ends", which is also the last line of the song, delivered after an epic buildup. This band has many great songs as both of their albums are nearly perfect for the kind of music it is (and how many bands can you say put out as many near-perfect albums as albums they put out in total?); other candidates include "Dear Lucid, Our Time is Right Now", "Q (The Best One of Our Lives)", "Kiss the Flag", "In a Red Dress and Alone", "Beg", and even the two songs that got heavy rotation on rock radio in 2006, "Cold (But I'm Still Here)" and "Over". Unfortunately, the band broke up last year - well, technically they just fired their vocalist, who was better than two-thirds of what made them special to their fans in the first place. While some bands, most notably AC/DC, have come back stronger than ever after changing vocalists, only time will tell.

4. something in Latin
Doesn't matter what. My picks are "Salva Nos" by Yuki Kajiura, the FIFTH version of the song from her "Fiction" album, and "One Winged Angel" by Nobuo Uematsu. The metal version used in the second Final Fantasy movie, "Advent Children". See, with all these wicked instrumentals coming out with "NO vocal part" as exclaimed in red when you go to buy the song, e.g. "YYZ" by Rush and "Rude Mood" by Stevie Ray Vaughan. Vocalists need a song that is clearly a song for vocalists, but not a pushover, either. Rock Band has enough of them, they're called "Testify" and "Give it Away", two songs I can gold star in Performance Mode (track invisible) and I suck at singing. No, vocalists need a challenge beyond reading words on a screen (or knowing them by heart) and matching tone and pitch. Once you can do that, the hardest part seems to be singing songs by vocalists with certain special tones, such as Geddy Lee from Rush, or Bon Scott or Brian Johnson of AC/DC. Or if you're a guy, the female vocals will get you every time. But change the language, use one that nobody really speaks, and what you have would be to vocals what "Through the Fire and Flames" is to Guitar Hero guitarists. The new measuring stick. Oh, and both of those songs would be good on the other instruments, though "Salva Nos" is techno and would have to be translated. Not an impossible task. On the business side, I imagine either of those songs would be fairly easy for Harmonix to license.

5. "The Pharaoh Sails to Orion" by Nightwish

I used to say that the biggest reason Nightwish wasn't in Rock Band (clearly a match made in heaven) is that Harmonix didn't want to deal with a huge increase in customers returning broken instruments, but the release of Yngwie Malmsteen and Stevie Ray Vaughan songs recently have shot a few big holes in that theory. The music is just as fast and wickedly twisted as DragonForce's "Fire and Flames" and would be a good answer to that song for the Rock Band platform. I would actually prefer that they wait for a future platform which would allow for dual vocalists (duets) as the male and female parts go so well together on this track. Activision has dealt a decent slap to Rock Band with the announcement of a Within Temptation song to go on sale next week. Within Temptation are one of the more successful European metal bands trying to copy the formula of Nightwish's second and third albums. While nobody's actually done it (including Nightwish themselves, especially after breaking up and re-forming with a new vocalist), Within Temptation have come the closest. Seems to me Harmonix can either do nothing and hope that their less-experienced customers who haven't heard either band won't notice... or they can trump Activision and drop some Nightwish. Pretty much anything from "Oceanborn" or "Wishmaster" - the live version of the latter's title track would win on all kinds of levels. We're talking metal somewhere between Iron Maiden and DragonForce with vocals in the opera range. Think Enya. But singing to DragonForce or Iron Maiden. And you wind up with something that, for years, I didn't think was possible. And it pretty much is impossible in America - you've got to go to Europe for music like that. The closest thing we have is very heavily diluted - I think Evanuisance is still the closest American approximation, and it's like comparing Dora the Explorer to Akira - both are animated, but one is infinitely more complex.

There are hundreds of songs that should be in Rock Band. The oldest compilation album I still have to this day that I made contains some of the best songs of the 1990s, and a lot of those bands aren't in the game. Sure, you have Alice in Chains, but what about Soul Asylum, Counting Crows, The Wallflowers (Bob Dylan's son Jakob's band), Collective Soul, Live? Where's Marilyn Manson? He's got to have a song that's both clean enough for the game and popular enough for the fans. What about Korn? Oh, and let's not forget two of the best of all time, Elvis Presley and Led Zeppelin, are still absent. So are The Beatles, but that's coming in September. Jimi Hendrix, Bob Seger, The Doors, The Eagles, all on Guitar Hero World Tour but nothing for Rock Band. So while one can hardly fault the selection so far (592 songs at the time of this writing), there is still a long way to go.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Who decides what games YOU play?

Looking at the title of this article, you probably think "Well gee Nathan... I do!". Sure you do, I say. You go to the store, or you go to, or if you have a new iPod (iTouch?) or iPhone, the iTunes App Store, you browse the selections, and you buy what you want. Right? Right? Of course there's the ESRB - the Entertainment Software Ratings Board, who rate games, and granting a game the legendary AO rating (which means Adults Only) means it won't get sold in stores, but that doesn't mean you can't get it. By far the most popular AO title was, on a re-review, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, after the ESRB discovered that Rockstar had included sex scenes without telling anybody, and a tiny patch to flip an on/off switch inside the game inaccessible to the players otherwise was all that was needed to get at the sex scenes. (Nevermind that the patch also broke the game; after the first lowrider/dance challenge, the player was unable to continue the game's story.) But nevermind the ESRB, I'm looking past them. Who's past the store, even past the ESRB, who decides what you can play?

I gave a hint... no, actually, I named one such entity above, when I mentioned the iTunes App Store. I'm talking about publishers - specifically, publishers with exclusive rights to a platform, such as an iPod/iPhone, or Nintendo with the DS and Wii platforms. As a gamer you give thanks to these people - they bring you your games. As a developer, however, you see them in a different light. Games cost money to make, and they take time to develop, which in turn costs more money. At least that's what Nintendo would have you believe when they tell you to buy their games, rather than play their older (and some of their newer - up to the Nintendo 64 on the home side and all the way up through the DS on the handheld side) games on your PC or download DS and Wii games for use on modified versions of their consoles. They will tell you that they invest millions of dollars in developing and publishing their games, and in this trying economy, downloading games forces them to lay off gamers and reduce their ability to entertain you in the years to come. Never mind that the same economy hurts the gamers worse, because most of them aren't working for a high-tech company like Nintendo or Apple; most of them don't have a profit-sharing program, have much less benefits and far less pay.

I don't know how easy it is to modify a Wii, but apparently it's been done, and a modified Wii will play burned DVDs of Wii games. A DS can be modified by using a "flashcart", a DS cartridge with a memory card slot - it takes the same microSD cards cell phones use, up to 2GB for the most common device (though more advanced units support bigger cards) - and the games are downloaded from the Net. A flashcart can contain dozens of DS games. And an iPod/iPhone can be "jailbroke", which as I understand it, lets you use programs not approved by Apple. You can pirate the ones they offer or you can use ones they don't offer, which is known as "homebrew". (Likewise, the DS and Wii have homebrew available, in addition to commercial games.)

So, in short, you can buy a console or handheld for a couple hundred bucks, but then you can get the games for next to nothing if you're tech savvy, but Nintendo and Apple would rather you didn't, since they pay their game developers well and want to continue to do so, so they will continue to make you games.

Pretty picture, eh? But what happens when someone makes a game that people would love to play, they spend all that time and money developing the game - and the publisher tells them no? Of course, Nintendo and Apple would never acknowledge that ever happens. They continue on with their story that buying games supports the poor developers who need you to buy their games to continue putting food on their tables to feed their young children - all the while, unknown to most, telling developers, who want to make games to put food on their table, that their game isn't good enough, even when bloggers and forum posters the world over voice their support for the game (albeit just based on what they read online).

I should take a minute to note two things here. First, Nintendo, Apple, and other publishers have a right to protect their gaming device's image, and if your game sucks, and they feel that releasing it would cheapen their image, they're well within their rights to not publish the game. Business is business and crap is crap. Second, and more importantly, before even sending a game to the ESRB, publishers must maintain a status quo of content they allow. It's entirely within the abilities of today's game programming environments to make a game where you play a rapist, chasing women down, luring them into dark areas, or drugging them at parties, and then taking advantage, at times forcefully, in graphic detail. Or taking guns into elementary schools and shooting as many children as you can, with bonus points for kindergartners and developmentally disabled kids. Sure, it can be done. But it shouldn't. Some think Grand Theft Auto games are explicit and obscene. They really aren't; they're not doing anything the movies don't. GTA lets you live an action movie. That's cool. That sells. GTA does absolutely nothing negative to the image of the console it comes on. But if Nintendo were to publish a game about rape or Apple were to publish a game about school shootings, it would look bad for the systems, for the company, and in the end it would cost them a whole boatload of money.

(If the above paragraph offended you in the least, then I have made my point. Because just imagine if it really happened. You would feel dirty touching those game systems, even if you'd never played the games in question.)

But then again, Nintendo doesn't really have much of an image to protect. Not really. I mean, just browse the Nintendo DS section at Walmart or Gamestop and see what they've allowed the system to become. The games that make the DS a good handheld, such as the Zelda game, the Mario game, Mario Kart, the Castlevania games, are mostly hard to find. You can get them, but most of the games you'll see end in Z and are about pets (Horsez, Hamsterz, Ponyz, or Nintendogs); or they're called "Imagine (something)" and are targeted to little girls, or they're crappy, second-rate puzzle games. Not good ones like The New York Times Crosswords or Planet Puzzle League (previously published on the Super NES as Tetris Attack), but stuff like CrossworDS or Clubhouse Games. Neither of those two are bad, per se, but they're far from great. The DS has become a toy for kids, and there is really much more to it.

So when I saw the YouTube video for "Bob's Game", I thought "Hey, this might have potential." Bob's Game may or may not be a hoax, though. Blogger Robert Pelloni has apparently sunk 5 years of his life developing this game; based on the timeline I'd guess he started developing for the Game Boy Advance, but since the DS has been out, he's been aiming for that system. The YouTube video says nothing at all about what the game is actually about, but it's littered with those pop-up captions which provide information about what you see. And what you see is a guy he calls "Yuu" (and replaces "you" with "yuu" all over his site), who is often compared to Crono from Chrono Trigger, walking and running around a 16-bit town, kind of like a Pokemon setting, but in realtime rather than turn-based, with cars driving and people walking around. He shows off mostly design elements, pointing out that all the graphics are original and handmade (and, admittedly, it does look sharp). Then you read the story on his site, and he's talked about how he's gone through all the motions to get a developer's license from Nintendo, and they've given him the runaround. He reportedly registered a business, leased a small office, bought equipment, and ended up satisfying all of their requirements. Still rejected, he then staged a protest, locking himself in his office and sitting in front of a webcam, cut off from the world otherwise. Apparently there was a fire, I think at one point aliens abducted him - yeah, it got pretty silly. At one point he said his antics were authorized by Nintendo to promote the game, but at another he said that he was the best developer in the world, far surpassing those at Konami, Capcom, Square, Nintendo, and others. He seems rather crazy, and maybe it is a viral website raising interest in a forthcoming game, or maybe he's just mad, but there does remain the issue of his game. That video showed something, and that something had promise.

Now, if there's something there and I (and thousands of others) say I want to play that, and I'd pay for it, how can Nintendo on one hand tell him no and refuse to sell him his developer kit, and then on the other hand tell us, the gamers, that we need to pay for games to support the hard-working developers? It just doesn't make sense. But then, the entry-level TopToyDS flashcart costs about $10. You can get a small (512MB) microSD card for around $5. If Bob were serious, he could buy up a whole crapload of TTDS's, 512MB microSD cards, and sell his game for $25 a pop. You'd get, in the mail, a flashcart with memory card preloaded, you pop it in, and there's his game, right in the root of the folder, and maybe some other DS homebrew. Then, you like the game so much, as an F-U to Nintendo, you turn around and download the Mario and Zelda games to your memory card. Well, maybe. To make a point. To tell Nintendo that if they won't let this guy make money on his hard work, you'll not spend money on theirs. But yeah, your mother was correct, two wrongs don't make a right. Piracy as a protest doesn't accomplish anything.

Going back to Apple, PC World has published a list of ten iPhone apps that Apple rejected for various reasons. Granted, none of them are all that impressive, and none come close to the promises made by the Bob's Game video linked above, but hey, we're talking about a cellphone here. You don't expect great things out of cell phone applications. Quick functions on the go, sure, but nothing too spectacular. The South Park one looks good, combining episode clips, information, and fun stuff like wallpapers. What's wrong with that? And hey, #6 looks nice, if nothing else. The politicians-on-a-trampoline looks like decent fun, and who wouldn't like to toss a virtual shoe at a virtual Bush? Bad economy and all.

And then there's Rock Band, with coming up on 600 songs available (and we have close to 300! go us!), one just has to wonder, what makes a song OK to play on Rock Band? I'd have thought, since the game came out, that it would be a good challenge for the hardcore players to play Nightwish, but I always thought that that would be too hard, might void the warranties of the instruments, as it would push them all to the limits (imagine Enya singing for Iron Maiden - but heavier), but then they went and released Yngwie Malmsteen and Stevie Ray Vaughan, with some of the hardest songs for the game so far, effectively erasing my theory.

So, we're back to where we started. Who decides? And, as the one paying, how do you feel that it isn't you?

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Designer babies?

It was bound to happen sooner or later: the technology to design your own kid. A futuristic technology that Star Trek never touched, for obvious reasons, but should be readily available in Roddenberry's future. (Actually it sort of is, and highly illegal, but what was done to Dr. Julian Bashir wasn't gender choice or physical characteristics; he was genetically enhanced to be smarter and more agile, and that isn't the same thing.)

The first main concern is gender. The Chinese are already doing this, to some extent. They only allow families one baby per couple, with certain exceptions, so a lot of female babies are illegally aborted to allow a man to have a male heir, and of course a laborer after so many years. (My blog is so going to get blacklisted in China.) The problem with this is, after a few generations, China will become an all-male population, or so male-heavy that females will become a scarce commodity traded by the rich and the desperate. The sex slave trade will take off and rape will become very common. And since China is one of the most populated countries in the world, this will affect the rest of us as well.

So what gender would Americans pick? I do believe a lot of Americans would choose to have a son, as well. (I'd love to drop a joke about Catholics, but my wife's Catholic, so I've got to tread carefully.) A lot more (than China) would choose daughters (as would I - they're much easier to deal with in the first 10-12 years, heh heh) but the gender balance would still be largely offset. If you're rich and you really want a girl, you can go to China and pull a Brangelina and try to adopt one before somebody opens her throat with a blade, but what if you work for a living?

And that leads to the second point of interest. Some believe that 'designer babies' can be almost guaranteed to be free of many diseases, deformities, and defects. No allergies. No asthma. Nothing like that. But of course this would all cost a lot of money; tens, or possibly hundreds of thousands of dollars. If it weren't such a smack in the face to much of what Christianity stands for, you'd be able to expect overwhelming support from the Republicans as a way to further divide the rich and poor. But is it right, some ask, to play God by using genetic manipulation to eliminate disease? I believe that's exactly a doctor's responsibility, to fight disease any way they can. And if they can eliminate a disease before birth, well, they can devote so many more resources to fighting the diseases they haven't defeated yet. AIDS and cancer, to name two heavy hitters.

But would they be eliminating diseases? Who's to say a perfect baby will really be perfect? There is such a thing as too good to be true, and this could well be one of them. I think anybody who thinks they can make a perfect and disease-free baby is kidding themselves; more likely the baby's going to come out worse off than a naturally-born baby. Something will have to go wrong somewhere. Or maybe the kid will just fall over and die after ten years. We are not advanced enough, scientifically, to guarantee that such a thing will not happen.

Gender and physical traits, possibly. Moral issues aside, those do seem like a possibility. There are certain DNA markers that decide those traits, and if all of them can be found, and all of them can be altered correctly, then you very likely have the makings of a baby design system. The article does not cover sexuality, but I imagine that's on a lot of peoples' minds. Could a baby be engineered to be 100% heterosexual, with no leanings toward the same gender? While it's horrible that parents disown their children when they find out they're gay, it's understandable if they could use pre-birth genetic manipulation to ensure their kids are born straight. The caveat here is that most homophobes believe that sexual orientation is a choice and are therefore bisexual and would miss the point. Additionally, God, whose followers not only accept, but often preach, works in mysterious ways, may have created homosexuality as an attempt to fight overpopulation (nevermind that many gay couples want or have kids and many straight couples either can't have kids or don't want kids). So if we eliminate that, we may be slapping God in the face, proverbially, by eliminating it. If you don't believe in God, at least consider that homosexuality might be a natural evolutionary process for Nature to prevent overpopulation of the human race; whether it's God or Nature, it's engineering brilliance regardless.

The problem however, is that despite being a quantifiable and inborn trait, sexuality as we know it manifests itself in so many ways. If they can track down every DNA marker which makes one gay and flip the switch, maybe they're onto something. But would they stop there? Aside from the tendency to have relations with the same gender, we have people who are attracted to the very young and very old, we have people who prefer rape to consensual sex, and, while perfectly legal, we have people interested in various fetishes, as opposed to "square" sex. Most of those, including some cases of homosexuality (though it isn't true homosexuality, but that's beside the point) are caused by psychological conditions. So essentially they would need to discover all the triggers and eliminate them. Essentially we are talking about removing trauma from the human condition. Pedophilia is an easy target because it gets studied more than anything else I've mentioned in this paragraph, and for good reason. It's a highly dangerous trait and one which should be at the top of the list to eliminate, if possible. And it's often caused by trauma, the cycle of abuse.

But then what can we say for the human condition if we eliminate trauma? We go and eliminate the ability of the mind to become traumatized by abuse because this causes the victim to, in some cases, become abusive themselves down the road. As good as that sounds, what comes next? Could we also eliminate sadness? How about grief? See where I'm going with this?

As a sci-fi fan and something of a science nerd, I can't advocate genetic manipulation because I can see where it can go. I can advocate it in a limited fashion. For example, as long as China is euthanizing girls by the thousands (millions?), I think Americans and Europeans ought to be able to choose to have a girl. That may be vital to the success of the human race (never mind that an all-male China will spread out to the rest of the world, where there are females, and outbreed everyone else). Also, elimination of specific diseases that can be successfully eliminated is a good thing. Two stipulations: First, this has got to be available to everybody, whether you punch a time clock or lounge around all day watching the stock market or whatever rich people do. Second, advancements need to be strictly regulated, and not by nutjobs who want to limit it (aka Christians) or tyrants who want to use it to enforce class separation (aka the Republicans), but rather by a responsible group of some kind.