Wednesday, April 30, 2008

CBS Early Show and GTA IV, er "Carcer City"?

cbs_GTA4.jpgWe were lucky enough to be invited to comment on GTA IV for the CBS Early Show this week, and we just noticed something kinda strange in the footage. In the intro to the piece, rather than use the real box art, they bizarrely used a piece of early fan-made art for the mythical "Grand Theft Auto IV: Carcer City." Real GTA nerds (or able-fingered Googlers) will know that Carcer City is the location used in the Manhunt games, and is essentially a fictional mashup of Newark, Detroit, and Philadelphia. Fans speculate that the Manhunt and GTA games exist in the same "universe" thanks to subtle references spotted in the GTA games. For example, there's reference to Carcer police chief Gary Schaeffer during a radio report in GTA III, and characters in both San Andreas, and the PSP games make reference to the city on the radio, and when you run into people on the street. "I'm moving to Carcer City!" etc. If you want to go even nerdier, "Carcer" is derived from the Latin word "carcere" which means "prison."

Anyway, nerding-out aside, I thought it was weird that a major media outlet would make sure a weird rookie mistake, particularly as they seemed to be so "progressive" in the rest of their coverage, showing that they kinda "get it." Fat, hairy wildman-of-Borneo looking Davison blatherings aside (and hey, the camera adds 10 pounds, OK?) it was a very well-informed piece overall, and was one of the first pieces I saw on the game that marked the distinct lack of sensationalism from the mainstream press on GTA this time around.

Guitar Hero embeddable widget

Picked up from the good people at Wired's Game Life blog, who scooped it first (hi Chris, Susan). Is it me, or is it stupidly difficult?

Oh yeah. Right. It's me.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The genius of GTA IV: The Monster Is You

I was chatting with Mary Jane at Forbes last night about GTA IV, and over the course of discussing the way the game unfolds we actually stumbled upon what I think has long been the true genius of the GTA franchise. For all the talk in the press of the nasty stuff that the game enables you to do, very little of the discussion ever goes beyond that. As I mentioned yesterday, the vast majority of GTA coverage tends to be of the mechanics, and it's clear that what GTA really excels at is giving you the freedom to do whatever you want. Just because you can do something though, doesn't mean that you have to.

The true genius of the franchise is that it makes YOU the monster, rather than presenting you with a monster to control.

There's nothing making you run down pedestrians. You don't have to shoot the cops when you're trying to escape from that warehouse. There's nothing that says you have to get your jollies from hookers. Sure, you do have to take out the bad guys, and there are some terrible things served up as part of the narrative, but the truly monstrous things are, for the most part, purely voluntary. The franchise has been doing this since the early days, but the depth that Rockstar has brought to Niko's character makes it far more apparent. He is a reluctant monster. A recovering monster who only really becomes evil when you direct him to be so.

Batman and The Dark Knight trailers, eerily similar?

Monday, April 28, 2008

Grand Theft Auto IV: Compassion and Consequence


While the enthusiast press has spent the last 24 hours trying to outdo each other with more and more outlandish ways of saying "Grand Theft Auto IV is very, very good," I have to say that my favorite piece of criticism so far came from the New York Times. Seth Schiesel's excellent piece does a wonderful job of conveying what it's like to step into Niko Bellic's boots, and work through the tragic story at the heart of Rockstar's latest masterpiece.

To say that GTA IV is a game I've been "looking forward to" would be a spectacular understatement. I've been chastised in the past for using expressions like "my favorite" and "best ever" in association with this franchise, but time after time it delivers so perfectly. San Andreas is still one of my favorite games ever, and now GTA IV continues to make my jaw drop each and every time I pick up the controller. For all the talk of its violence, and its grit, IV is a truly elegant game. The way the story unravels, and the characters blossom is a thing of real beauty.

As I've mentioned before, in the run up to the release of the game we were asked for a "parent perspective" comment from a lot of different new outlets. As you'd expect, a common theme in the questioning was the ugliness of GTA: the sex, the drugs, and the violence. Reporters would ask why such a cold, heartless game was so popular. What no one understands, it seems, is that when you wipe off the blood, and the "smell of titty" (as Niko's brother Roman so eloquently puts it early in the game) what sets GTA apart is that it has heart.

After reading all the enthusiast press reviews, I was surprised that very few of the reviewers looked past the mechanical "perfection" of the game, and really stared into its soul. If there's ever an audience willing to go deeper on a game of this magnitude, I'd like to hope that it's gamers. Grand Theft Auto is such an established franchise, that for the enthusiast audience there is much that needn't be discussed. The mechanics of the game can be taken as read. Yes, the combat is better, and the lip-syncing is wonderful, but these are things we expect from the newest generation of one of the world's most successful games franchises.

Given that the infamy of GTA precedes any rational discussion of it, there is much to be said about what lies beneath. If you look past the graphics, or the controls, or even the wonderful performances from the numerous characters, this is a game that genuinely has something more to offer. The reporters asking about the ugliness would be surprised to learn, for example, that the notion of "consequence" has been alive and well within the franchise since 1997. Doing bad things makes life difficult for the player. This is something that fans have had plenty of time to get used to, but to many it's quite a revelation. Beyond this, the real soul of IV is Niko himself. Much as CJ was far more complex than just a stereotypical gangbanger in San Andreas, GTA IV bares its soul through it's antihero. Complex, tortured, self-loathing, and deeply flawed, he is far more than the crude caricatures we so often see in games. He frequently questions the ugly things he is forced to do, he bares his soul to strangers little piece by little piece, and he shows compassion for targets he is sent to kill. As the game world opens up, so too does its central character. The satirical view of modern day America is viewed through his eyes, and while the game is many things; witty, violent, challenging, intriguing, and exciting, what it really represents is a modern day tragedy.

As Schiesel says, it "sets a new standard for what is possible in interactive arts."

The problem with the Wii Wheel and Mario Kart Wii

feature_image_large.jpgI've heard it all today,
"Mario Kart is lame."
"The wheel sucks."
"Mario Kart is awesome."
"The wheel is excellent."

As someone very clearly in the target zone (dad, kids, lots of family playtime) for Nintendo with this thing, I learned something unexpected this weekend. Forget whether you think the game is good or bad. Forget worrying about whether it's a step backward in terms of game design. What really needs to be asked is "does it deliver on what Nintendo is promising?"

The answer, realistically, is "not quite."

Now admittedly my kids are certainly on the young end of the intended audience for Mario Kart, but they're already big time Mario fans. I've discussed in the past how much we enjoyed playing Super Mario Galaxy together, and I think I've mentioned my three-year-old's Jedi skills at Mario Kart DS. If there was ever an "easy" audience for this game, I think we're it.

So here's how it went down yesterday.

At 10am we grabbed the keys to Mrs D's car, and the three Davison boys hightailed to the local Toys R Us to pick up the copy of Mario Kart we'd pre-ordered the previous day (let's not go into why Nintendo has yet to put What They Play on it's mailing list for product after six months of asking about it, it's too depressing.)

wiiwheel.jpgThere was much excitement in the air. We grabbed the game, a second wheel, and indulged in a third Wii Remote thanks to the handy table with all three of the above neatly laid out to entice us. This $50 game cost me over $100 so all three of us could play together. We practically ran back to the car, and dashed back home as soon as we could.

After tearing open the game, rigging up a pair of Wii Wheels, and installing the Wii system update, we were ready to rock. The boys know a bunch of the tracks like the backs of their hands thanks to the DS game, so we jumped into a familiar environment in a three player game; the boys with the wheels, and me with the Nunchuk.

It didn't take long.

My oldest struggled through, but had some major problems with the calibration of the wheel. He'd either turn too much, or too little. Both being equally frustrating, as they result in the same thing: banging into the walls, or falling off something.

My youngest struggled at first to get to grips with holding down the "2" button for the throttle, and very quickly tired of trying to steer the kart like a real car.

We abandoned three player races and tried single player "coaching" games. Son on lap, controlling the kart together. My older son started to get the hang of it, but was still a little frustrated, while my little guy gave up completely. "Can I play Mario Kart on the DS?" he asked me, less than 15 minutes after we'd started playing the Wii game.

My oldest boy thinks he'll get the hang of it "eventually." We don't play console games during the week, so he's looking forward to trying it again next weekend, and thinks he'll start to get good at it with some practice. The little guy's not interested. "I don't like it," he told me last night.

Friday, April 25, 2008

More kids on GTA IV

102-screenshot.jpgOur story with quotes from kids about how they were going to pull the wool over their parents' (and everyone else's) eyes to get their hands on GTA IV proved pretty popular, so we followed up with something that goes into a little more detail today. As I mentioned in the last post, something that all of the moms we've spoken to ask is "why would you want play this?" (or words to that effect) so we asked the kids exactly that. The comments from the teenage boys in our Kids talk about Grand Theft Auto IV piece are all variations on the same theme; namely that they like games for escapism, they like the violence and the naughty stuff because they'd never get away with it in real life, and lastly they all know exactly how they'll be getting the game on Tuesday.

As with the previous story, some of the quotes from these young teens that are wise beyond their years are quite sad, in a way.“I just think that the only reason parents don’t let their kids play these kinds of games is because they think of video games as a babysitter – and that’s because they use it as one," says one. Another sums up the sentiments of every "underage" teen wanting to play the game, “I really don't want GTA IV to be wrecked by having to play it in secret”."

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Putting GTA into some perspective with moms

boximage.gifThe call for pre-release comments from both parents and kids about GTA IV has been great. We've been able to pull together some great quotes from kids about how they'll be getting their hands on the game, and we have been able to sit down with some moms to get their take on the reputation of the franchise too. This stuff has been particularly helpful for targeting how we'll approach the game next week, and getting a handle on what it is that pushes folks' buttons about the thing.

When we talked to the moms, we were expecting to hear a lot of concern about any of the suggestive content in the game. After all the fuss with San Andreas about Hot Coffee, and the word already out on the strippers, and hookers and "services" they provide in GTA IV I was fully prepared to be fielding questions about sexual content in games, and why this was a primary concern. Oddly though, none of the moms we talked to even mentioned it. Their perception of GTA as a franchise is that it's "violent" and each expressed concerns about beatings and drive-bys and indiscriminate killing. One mother asked us, "When will there be a game where you are actually punished for shooting at cops?" and was quite surprised to learn that GTA has been penalizing players for challenging authority since the very first game back in 1997.

After watching the trailers with the moms, and talking in more general terms about the franchise, something that came up from pretty much all concerned was "why would anyone want to play this?" All but one of the mothers found the whole notion somewhat distasteful based on their preconceived notions, but attitudes did start to shift a little when the more satirical or humorous footage was shown. For many, it seems, it's hard to comprehend that a video game can embody the same approach to entertainment as the media they're used to seeing on television. The attitude that "games are for kids" is deeply engrained in many, and coupled with parents' wishes to protect their kids from anything that might be "damaging," it's easy to see why there's a very conservative attitude when it comes to games.

box.jpgUsing television as a simile becomes quite useful in these scenarios. Get the moms talking about a more "adult" TV shows that they enjoy, such as The Sopranos, or Dexter, or Weeds is a great way to put the whole thing into some perspective. None of the moms we spoke to found any of these shows as objectionable as they found GTA, and they all admitted that they wouldn't allow their kids to watch them either. With this framework, it's possible to explain the fairly simple notion that "some games are for adults" a little more clearly. Much as Dexter does not represent "all TV," GTA does not represent "all video games." To stretch the concept to breaking point, you could argue that the perception (or perhaps it's more like the "wish") is that all games are like Mario Kart. If this is the case, anything that contradicts this thought is considered subversive. To feel that way though is no more absurd than considering that all TV is (or should be) like Everybody Loves Raymond. If you are prepared to see that there is a distinct difference between a sitcom and an adult cable show, then surely you should see that there's a difference between Mario and GTA?

Monday, April 21, 2008

Are you a teen? Are you getting GTA IV next week?

If the answer to both of these questions is "yes," I need your help. I need to know:

How old are you?

Will you be playing GTA IV?

If so, how will you be getting your hands on it?

Do you have friends that will be getting the game? How will they be getting their hands on it?

What is it that attracts you to the GTA franchise? Why do you want to play it?
(conversely, if it doesn’t interest you – please explain why)

What do your parents think of GTA? And why do they think that?

What do you think about all of the sensationalist coverage that the game gets? Is it really so bad?

Do you think games like GTA really effect kids’ behavior?

Email me your answers here, and mark the subject line "Teen GTA IV."

Friday, April 18, 2008

Looking for a production intern

We have too much to do! We need help! Here's the full job posting for the production intern spot we're opening up on What They Play...


- Process screenshots for products.
- Process videos for products.
- Basic data-entry assignments.
- Assist in article production.
- Testing site for bugs and enhancements.

- 1-3+ Experience using Photoshop.
- 1-3+ Experience with HTML and CSS.
- Experience dealing with various video formats ie. Quicktime, Windows
Media, Mpeg etc.
- Strong bug writing and documentation skills.
- Experience testing on Windows platforms and MacOS.
- Knowledge and interest in video games a major plus.

- Excellent communication skills.
- Strong Reporting/writing/analytical skills.
- Self-starter with good leadership/project management experience.
- Ability to work independently but also work as a teamplayer.
- Highly motivated with excellent problem solving skills.
- Excellent organizational skills and desire to work under pressure in a highly dynamic environment.

This job is for work in San Francisco, California. In you're interested in this position, please email your resume and cover letter to Use the subject: Production Intern.

(note: We have Rock Band at the office)

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Okami as spiritual enlightenment

This one's just a link whoring post, sorry; Dave Finkel's Okami piece is up on the site today, Video Games 101: What Okami Can Teach Your Kids.

“I can easily envision a child playing this game, learning more about the legends therein, and extrapolating into stories of gods, of Feudalism, of the warring within the Shogunate... the stories are so textured and the characters are so vivid.”

GTA IV chatter

080412_COVER_small-thumb4.jpgFresh from the sugary ego-high of seeing N'Gai's Newsweek story on What They Play in print yesterday (maybe I'm old-fashioned, but there's still something special about seeing something in print) today's return to the office after the quick trip to Minneapolis this week included recording a radio interview about Grand Theft Auto IV for Metro Networks this morning, and then taping an episode of Cranky Geeks over at the Ziff building.

The Metro thing, particularly, was a refreshing change from the norm, as the reporter very much wasn't out to get the most salacious GTA story he could muster, and instead was extremely well-informed, and asked some very smart questions. There definitely seems to be a culture shift starting in the media right now, and while we'll no doubt see plenty of sensational nonsense about GTA IV, there are more and more mainstream reporters prepared to stick their neck out and show that Rockstar's game does not represent all video games.

I will never have this much patience

Mario Theme Played with RC Car and Bottles - Watch more free videos

Friday, April 11, 2008

23 AO rated games

feature_image_large.jpgIn light of all the attention that the sex vs. violence poll we posted on What They Play recently, I'm hoping our latest story will arouse some interest too. Over the past month, we've been digging around trying to find everything we can on all 23 games that are rated "AO" (Adults Only) by the ESRB, and the results are here in our For Adults Only story.

You'd be surprised how tough it is tracking down all this stuff...many of the games are no longer available, some of them aren't really "games" and one of them was never released. Of the 23 that carry the rating, 20 of them do so because of something "sexual," and the naughty content runs the gamut from masturbation to oral sex, sex with vegetables (!), rape, and scatology. Interestingly, with the exception of the Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas hiccup a while ago, little of the AO-rated stuff is recent, and that which is comes from "special editions" on the PC which are only available as digital downloads, and are based on naughtier European releases.

We tried to play as many of the games as we could, but for some of them it just wasn't possible. Some of the older, less "gamey" stuff was almost impossible to track down, and in the case of "Cyber Photographer and Printshop" we couldn't even find any information online, save for the basic facts that are also listed on the ESRB site. Try it! Try Googling it, Asking for it, Yahoo-ing it, and any other kind of search or community based tool that might track it down. There's nothing. IGN may say that it's the "ultimate Cyber Photographer and Printshop resource for trailers, screenshots, cheats walkthroughs, release dates, previews, reviews..." and on and on and on. While that's usually the case, believe me, in this case, it really isn't. There's nothing. Its like it never existed. If you've played it, or have it...let me know. I'd love to update the feature.

Interesting international view on sex and violence in games

Norwegian site Dagbladet very kindly linked to our GTA IV story today, and also provided some commentary on the sex and violence poll that we ran. What's most interesting are the results to a replicated poll that they're running that shows the very different attitudes to violent and sexual content in Europe.

Here's how their responses to the question "As a parent, which would you find most offensive in a video game?" break down as of lunchtime today. In case you don't read Norwegian; "Et grafisk, avkappet menneskehode" is the "graphically severed human head" response at 65.8%, "To menn som kysser" is what it sounds like, "two men kissing" at 24.9%, "En mann og en kvinne som har sex" is "a man and a women having sex" at 5.2% and "Gjenaatt banning" is the cursing response, at 4.1%.

dagbladet poll.jpg

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

What They Play = Webby Honoree

We got some great news this morning; What They Play is an "Official Honoree" for the Family Parenting category! “Of the more than 8,000 entries submitted to the 12th Annual Webby Awards, fewer than 15% were distinguished as an Official Honoree," says the official site. "This honor signifies an outstanding caliber of work.”

I'm so proud of what the team has been able to do in just a few months!

Farewell Game for Windows: The Official Magazine

It made me incredibly sad to learn today that Games for Windows: The Official Magazine is being closed down (that's the last issue with Sims 3 on it.) Times are tough in the print games media space, so there's a degree of inevitability here...but it's always a bit of a shock when things like this happen. I'm really glad that the team will still be employed as part of the 1UP Network, as they are clearly some of the most talented writers in the business. I'm sure that Jeff and the crew will be producing some wonderful stories (particularly features, where they always excelled) for 1UP, and I can't wait to see them.

Putting the deal together for GFW with Jeff, and Simon, along with my old boss Scott McCarthy and current partner Ira Becker was something I was very proud of from my latter-days at Ziff. We put together the concept, pitched it to Microsoft, and pulled together the deal in a fairly short space of time (these kinds of things are often very drawn out things) as a huge effort to reinvigorate the PC games media space for us. CGW had enjoyed many, many years as an important part of our media strategy, but shifts in the market meant that things really needed shaking up. We needed something to go out and really shout about, something to re-engage readers, and marketers, and work with Microsoft on re-establishing PC games as something significant, and dynamic. I thought the magazine looked great, and boasted some really wonderful editorial. Jeff, along with Shawn, Sean, Ryan, the art team of Rose and MJ, along with Darren before he left a month or so ago put together a magazine with some of the most imaginative, and challenging editorial of anything in the games space. Far from just banging out previews and reviews, and producing a magazine that reads like something where the team is just working to a deadline to "get it done," GFW always read like something that had had a lot of thought put into it. It asked challenging questions, and explored genuinely interesting themes and ideas. It may have been shortlived, but the team should feel very proud of what they achieved. As the quote sort of goes; that which burns twice as brightly, burns half as long.

You can read more on Jeff's blog, and Simon's blog on 1UP.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Guitar Hero On Tour

I dunno...As Brooks mentioned on IM the other day, it kinda looks like a lousy SNL sketch.

Quietly, a spectacular week

Sometimes, you have to stop and take stock of what's going on. For the past five months we've been charging forward like some kind of proverbial charging thing, and we rarely have the chance to really take a moment to celebrate what we've achieved. While we're loathe to sit back and just think "my god we're awesome," we do occasionally have brief moments where we look back and think, "wow, this week was actually a pretty big deal."

A1.jpgFor a start, we finally closed out the second round of our series A funding; our series A1. The money is in the bank, the lawyers are done with their expensive lawyering, the papers are all signed. Ira and I can breathe a bit of a sigh of relief, and think about our day-to-day business dealings exclusively for a while. It by no means takes the pressure off...but it takes one of the pressures off. For a while, anyway.

Secondly, we closed out version 1.2 of What They Play. This was a project that's been ongoing for some time, and its felt like we've had a never-ending bug list to attend to. Every time bugs were fixed, new ones (or, frustratingly, old ones) would rear their ugly heads and we'd start to notice more and more things that we wanted to fix. With v1.2 done, we're moving on to a new phase of development, and while we refer to the next batch of enhancements as "1.3" we're not going to be approaching landmarks like that any more. We have a big list of things that need to be done, and we'll be rolling them out as and when they're completed. As part of this, John has brought a freelance engineer on board (who started on Monday) and this week we prioritized all of the stuff that we want to roll out between now and the summer.

Sales has been kicking ass. Rachelle and Tracy were in New York for the bulk of the week, and had closed out two new deals by the time they were back on Friday. On the home front, Ira worked his magic on two big accounts, and I'm pretty sure there are more that I'm forgetting about. The Rockstar campaign for Bully that's been on the site for the past few weeks has been performing really well, and we just started running the ads for Okami on Wii from Capcom mid-week. We're getting more and more meetings booked with the right people, and we've finally nailed down arrangements with a number of big names that we'd been pestering since the tail end of last year.

On the edit side, we hit a big landmark this week; we posted our 1000th product write-up/review/piece/thing on Thursday. This has been something we've had our eye on doing for a while, and psychologically, at least, it marks a major milestone for us. The database is starting to feel appropriately "full." There's still lots to do...but a thousand of anything is a lot of stuff. We also have nearly 50 feature articles on the site, too. A less spectacular number I know, but it wasn't so very long ago that you could count that number on your fingers.

traffic trend.jpgTraffic was good this week too. We had our biggest traffic day ever at the beginning of the week, and the overall trend has been heading in the right direction for the past month or two. As with everything else, there's a long way to go...but it's nice to have a string of "best day for xyz ever" in quick succession. We also had our best week for referrals too. The Grand Theft Auto IV story we posted got the most Diggs we've ever had, and it threw off some OK traffic, too. It's kinda funny getting excited about the small numbers we get jazzed about lately. In the old days on 1UP we'd get excited about numbers in the thousands...these days, anything that gets into double-digits starts to be a big deal.

And all that was in just one week. I'm pretty sure there was more that happened, too. We had a quick end-of-week celebration with champagne that was left over in the fridge from when we launched, and we lost track of everything while we were toasting...that's always a good sign, right?

Friday, April 4, 2008

Colbert's Peabody

Grand Theft Auto and the American Mom

Every now and then, I notice something about American pop culture and attitudes towards it that makes me feel more alien than usual. Despite being in the States for 10 years now, I'm still astounded by attitudes to certain types of content; none more so than sex and violence.

With Grand Theft Auto IV just three weeks away now, the game is an important part of what we're doing on What They Play. We're polling parents and kids about attitudes towards the game, and doing what we can to educate our audience about the game. As part of this we've been doing a lot of outreach into other communities; the obvious "gamer" and "geek" stuff like Digg, Reddit, StumbleUpon, etc., but (probably more importantly) the "mommy" communities and blogs too. As part of this, our valiant "street team" (ludicrous marketing term) posted a poll on CafeMom that replicates the one we have running on the site right now: "Would you let your under-17 year old play Grand Theft Auto IV?" with answer options: "Yes," "No Way," or "Maybe, after I have learned more about the game."

So far, the responses are 62% "yes" and 37% "no way" and a (very surprising) big fat zero on the "Maybe, after I have learned more." American moms, I'm sad to learn, are either prematurely judgmental, or unwilling to do some research. Ouch. That screws our whole business plan, huh?

More shocking (to me, anyway, to get back to my original point) was the first comment that was posted on the page. "We are really laid back when it comes to video games because my husband is a huge gamer," says the commenter. "We let our 5 year old son play games like Gears of War and Halo, but I absolutely draw the line when it comes to Grand Theft Auto. Did you know you can pick of prostitutes and drive them to back allies and have sex with them in your car? You cant see the actual act itself, but you can see the car rocking with them in the backseat and the windows fogging up. Enough said."

I absolutely draw the line at Grand Theft Auto.

Because a five year old chainsawing someone in half and seeing blood splatter all over the screen in Gears of War is far more acceptable than an implied sex scene where you see the car bounce around a bit.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

1000 reviews on What They Play

We call them "reviews" but of course they're not really. "Write ups" or "synopses" or "Parent Guidance." Whatever you want to call them, we just hit a major landmark in the development of the site - the 1000th entered into What They Play.

Honestly, we weren't expecting to get here quite this quickly. Not so long ago, Zoe and I figure "hmmm, maybe by Christmas," and this slowly morphed into "mmmmm, maybe by the summer." Then, this week it became, "wow, maybe this week."

The 1000th article was Sega Rally Revo. I sorta wish it had been something more important, or more significant...but there you go. A landmark reached. Now we have to keep pushing to get as much great content as we can up for parents to understand more and more about games, and to be able to connect with their kids over this stuff.

Oh, if you're wondering what the image is, it's a snapshot of our CMS' editorial counter.

11 Things Parents Should Know about GTA IV

With GTA IV hitting stores later this month, it's safe to say we're entering insanity season when it comes to press coverage of the game. While the enthusiast press prints or posts every tiny scrap of information it can possibly find on the thing, the mainstream press is no doubt psyching itself up for a fresh batch of ignorant, badly-researched sensationalism with which to scare the misinformed. To try and counter that, we put together the first piece of coverage we'll be doing on the game this week, and posted it this morning; Grand Theft Auto IV: 11 Things Parents Should Know.

We'll be expanding on this over the weeks ahead, and trying to bring some sensible level-headedness to the whole conversation. There'll be no escaping from the "prostitutes game" shenanigans, or the (inevitable) "blow job" commentary, or the "glorified violence" editorials, but hopefully we can all work together to put this stuff into perspective. GTA IV is aimed at adults, not kids. It has an M-rating, and its content is no more objectionable than anything you'll see on cable channels like Showtime or HBO, or at an R-rated movie. The whole "games are for kids" argument is just old, tired, and bullshit. Anyone with half a brain knows that if kids want to get their hands on something, there's a pretty good chance they'll work out a way. That shouldn't preclude games from targeting an adult audience, and its shouldn't necessitate foolish crusaders demanding that titles be banned. If kids want to see the bloody and sexy version of Dexter, they need only download it from iTunes. If they want to see the nasty shit that's in Saw, or Hostel, they can stroll into Target and pick it up pretty much unchallenged. GTA IV will be harder for kids to buy than equivalent other media...and the sensationalism just feeds their desire to play it further. What's important is that parents know what the game has in it, and can head anything objectionable off at the pass.

Personally, I can't wait. Because, despite evidence to the contrary, I'm an adult. The Grand Theft Auto franchise has been one of my absolute favorites since the days of the original 2D game. At the Official PlayStation Magazine, we were the only U.S. publication to put Grand Theft Auto III on the cover when it was released in 2001. San Andreas is still one of my favorite games of all time (even though I had to squeeze the entire game into a single weekend due to a print deadline.) I love the sarcasm, the wit, and the unflinching and uncompromising approach to game design for a mature audience. I'll be playing GTA IV (on 360) as soon as it comes out, and I won't let my kids anywhere near it. I'll be playing at night, when everyone's gone to bed, and playing for as long as I can stay awake until I've beaten it.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

What's hotter? GTA IV PS3, or Xbox 360?

Neck and neck, pretty much. Certainly not showing the huge delta that a lot of fanboys no doubt expect. This is just Amazon of course, so it's not an accurate display of the entire market - but it's certainly an interesting snapshot.

Rediscovering Myst

Nick from 1UP pinged me yesterday asking if I'd play through Myst on the DS for them. Apparently there weren't many "volunteers" to review the thing, as everyone remembers it being such a handful. I don't think I've actually played it myself since the original was released on the Mac back in 1993, and I'm pretty surprised that Empire has chosen to produce such a literal port for the handheld. As far as I can tell it's using all of the original 8-bit era graphics, and they're using the same approach to the gameplay as Cyan did, too...there are no instructions, or tutorials, and there's no dialogue to break you in gently. There are no enemies, no time limit, nor any need for speed or dexterity.

The interface has been tweaked a little; you use the stylus (obviously) to interact with the environment, and the upper screen is used to convey information and allows you to view magnified images from the environment (reading signs, and books, etc.) There are some new mini-tools too; the magnifying glass helps with inspecting clues, there's a camera for snapping certain things for future reference, there's a simple notebook that uses a typewriter metaphor, and a map that shows the whole island. The DS version also includes the "new" Rime Age that was previously seen in the PSP version of the game, as well as "bonus" content at the end of realMyst (the 3D, remake that Ubisoft released.)

I only started playing this morning...but as far as I can tell, it's a full-on version of Myst, quirks and all. No doubt any of the 12 million people that played it 15 years will get a kick out of playing through it again, but you do have to acclimate yourself to the old-school UI , and the almost obstructive approach to letting you in on whatever it's trying to get you to do.

Sunday, similarly awesome

I'm not cut out for drinking the way I used to be. A small gathering turned into an epic all-day drinkathon this past Sunday. It was the kind of drink-anything-to-hand epic that we used to enjoy pre-kids. Between five of us we managed to polish off five bottles of fizz, the vast majority of a bottle of Macallan and there were some beer duds kicking around at the end of the night too, which I don't remember anything about. Gary shared his encyclopedic knowledge of cigars with us (and broke open the collection) much to the amusement of the ladies.

Mrs. D tells me she loves this picture...I'm not sure why.