A few days ago, a friend and I were discussing the venerable Tim Rogers, an opinionated games writer if ever there was one. Here's the fun thing about Rogers, though: If you were to shuffle one of his reviews in with those of ten other game reviewers, his piece would stand out like the Batman in daylight, foremost for one obvious reason -- it'd be really, really long. Rogers meanders all over the place, delving into each aspect of a game, as well as many things seemingly unrelated, which he then acknowledges as seemingly unrelated. Sometimes, after noticing that 15 minutes have ticked away from your life and your web browser's scroll bar thing is only half-way down the page, you just wish he'd get to the point.
Rogers, as far as game reviewers go, is an anomaly. People don't want a novel; they want pros, cons, and a numerical score, because they'd rather be dashing someone's virtual brains against the pavement than learning. So I guess it kind of makes sense that games generally exist on the flipside of that reviewing stereotype.
Take, for instance, Resident Evil. Find the red lion, blue tiger, and green goat to form a key so that you can crank open the Voltron door. Sure, your gun-toting pyromaniac of a hero probably could've written a book titled "101 Ways To Pop A Door Off Its Hinges," but where's the fun in that?
Oddly, even though we constantly quip about padded-out sequences or pointless sidequests in our favorite games, we sound the sirens on the whaaambulance when those elements finally take a hint.
So which do you want? Games that toss in chores and fetch quests in exchange for that ever so marketable "60 hours of gameplay!" bullet point, or masterfully designed experiences -- like Portal -- that leave you hungry for more?
Well, today's Roundup, described by some as a "masterfully designed experience -- like Portal -- that leaves you hungry for more," hopes to satisfy all comers. Caged within, you'll find stories about a bill of rights for PC gamers, a new race for StarCraft II, and free gas! You heard me -- free gas! It's all after the break.
Google inked another 3 year deal with Mozilla to remain the default search option in the open-source Firefox browser. Originally set to expire back in 2006, the deal was extended to 2008 and will now run through 2011.
"We're very, very happy about our relationship with Google," said John Lilly, Mozilla CEO, "and this makes sure that Mozilla will be sustainable and thrive for quite a long time to come."
Lilly has good reason to be happy, as the partnership netted Mozilla around $57 million in 2006 alone, or about 85 percent of the company's total revenue. The funds go towards paying staff, supporting its bandwidth and hardware infrastructure, and to distribute grants.
Google comes out ahead, too. As Firefox continues to grow its marketshare and increase its userbase, that means more searches and clicks for Google, which in turn translates to advertising revenue. But for as much as Google and Mozilla may seem intertwined, Mozilla maintains that the two operate independently.
"We develop our product and technical direction as part of an open process unrelated to the search relationship with Google," Mozilla wrote its 2006 Financial FAQ. "We talk to Google about the parts of the product that offer Google services (i.e., the Firefox Start Page) and the services they provide, like anti-phishing. Otherwise Google does not have any special relationship to Mozilla project activities."
I can't sate my Twitter addiction. I'm loathe to hit up my favorite gaming sites. I can't even allow my glance to linger on iGoogle. Why? Because PAX is in town, and I'm, well, not. Due to circumstances beyond my control, PAX is out of my reach this year. So while the hardest of the hardcore come together for a weekend of gaming goodness, I'm doing my best to avoid a jealousy-induced pity party. But, even though my non-presence at PAX is a huge loss for the entire gaming community, it got me thinking:
The PAXian legion, as I mentioned earlier, is predominately composed of so-called "hardcore" gamers. Without even being in the same state as the community-focused gaming expo, I can assure you that over 100 attendees will be clad in "Green Linen Shirt" T-Shirts, replete with armor stats and a sour tinge of body odor. Why? The answer's obvious: they're gamers -- and proud. For a number of reasons -- the medium's relative youth, alarmists' tendency to buzz about, etc. -- dedicated gamers embrace their hobby with a near religious fervor.
Sure, movies have "cinemaphiles" and literature has its bookworms, but gamers are Scientology to other mediums' group of co-workers who meet sporadically for a round of Putt-Putt. With time, I imagine our community will fragment -- genres will expand and tastes will narrow -- but for now, we're a thick stew, full of assorted meats and veggies, but still part of a cohesive whole.
So, do you call yourself a gamer? Are videogames an integral piece of your personality? Is your pride inextricably tied to your Gamerscore? Or are you just a person who happens to play games, and nothing more?
Today's Roundup is like a perfect sundae, with just enough gooey non-gamer-friendly fare drizzled over a vanilla base of terms like "ESA," "second-hand videogame sales," and "Starcraft II release date." There is a spoon, and it's after the break.
Starting this week, Microsoft will update the way its Windows Genuine Advantage behaves. The first change will come in how WGA keeps itself updated, with MS saying "in this release we've also added the ability for future updates to WGA Notifications to have both the validation logic, as well as new forms of notifications, installed without additional steps."
But the biggest change comes to how WGA handles installations that fail to pass validation. Taking somewhat of a cue from Vista, users sporting a copy of Windows flagged as non-genuine will be greeted to a plain black background. Users will still be given the ability to change the background to whatever it was before, but every 60 minutes the desktop will go back to black until Windows passes validation.
In addition, Microsoft plans to add a "persistent desktop notification." Similar to a watermark, the non-interactive notification will appear permanently over the system tray as a reminder that the copy didn't pass validation. Users won't be able to click, move, or otherwise manipulate the notification, but it will be translucent over desktop items, and stay hidden under open windows.
Will this latest effort curb software piracy, or is WGA a bad idea to begin with?
Sometimes you have to roll the dice if you're to have a shot at a big payout, and that's exactly what NBC did when it scheduled no less than 2,200 hours of live streaming coverage to be available free of charge on its website. Without enough viewers tuning to turn those pageviews into advertising dollars, the decision could have turned into an epic fail for NBC. Instead, the broadcasting company was able to cash in on the virtual gold.
As of Saturday, NBC reported it had received a staggering 1.2 billion pageviews resulting in an equally impressive 72 million video stream views. Those numbers represent more than the totals for the 2004 and 2006 Games combined.
But NBC wasn't the only big winner in this years' Olympics. According to research firm Nielsen Online, search engine and news aggregation Yahoo was getting 4.7 million unique visitors a day at the Olympics' peak. AOL, ESPN, Sports Illustrated, the Beijing Organizing Committee, The New York Times, and USA Today also saw heavily increased traffic.
Google doesn't often trail the competition in the search engine market, but while others had already implemented a suggest feature to online searches originating from their respective home pages, the same thing was noticeably absent from Google.com. Having a suggest feature means related search queries to the ones you're typing in appear below the search bar. You may have noticed this when typing search queries in Firefox's search box or the Google Toolbar, but up until now, it hasn't been a part of Google.com. So why did it take so long to implement?
"Quality is very important to us, and since so many people visit the Google.com homepage, we wanted to make sure to evaluate and refine our algorithms to provide a good experience using Google Suggest," a Google spokesperson said.
If you're not seeing it just yet, not to worry, your interweb isn't broken - a full roll out is expected to be complete by the end of the week.
Last night, before tossing and turning for a good three hours, I finally finished George R.R. Martin's "A Game of Thrones." I'd been nibbling my way through the book -- a 900-page tome -- since late May, so I was understandably thrilled to see its final page, as well as its wildly out-of-place ad for the "A Game of Thrones" collectible card game. But AGoT's only the beginning of a planned seven-part series that began in 1996. Needless to say, AGoT's sequel has been on shelves, Amazon, and wherever else books are sold since before my age had taken on a second digit, and because AGoT ended on a huge cliffhanger, I nabbed the second book from my local Borders with all the subtlety a frothing nerd could muster, clasping it in my hands with a grip that bystanders described as "air-tight."
However, if I'd voraciously devoured AGoT back in '96, I'm fairly sure my satisfied smile would've flipped upside down. The final chapter felt like a build to the climax, but then -- as though it was a badly planned rollercoaster -- the story just ended, leaving readers dangling for roughly two years. (Yeah, the bad kind of rollercoaster.)
Obviously, literature isn't the only medium that backhands its users this way. Games, too, have a habit of rolling out large, red, inappropriately timed stop signs just when things are getting good. Even worse, development cycles now pack double the staff and take twice as long to complete compared to only a few years ago. Looks like the wait between sequels will only grow more arduous before it tapers off.
So, what's the least satisfying game ending you've ever come across? How did you react? Did you pen an angry email? Boycott the sequel?
This installment of the Roundup features the successor to a top-notch game with an abysmal ending, a peek behind the scenes of a controversial game that's attempting to tell a titanic, cliffhanger-laden tale, and so much more. See the stunning conclusion after the break.
Not very long ago, in a land not at all far away, there was a little company called Blueport. It held the copyright on a piece of software that the US Air Force liked using for logistics. Blueport protected its software with a time bomb—a bit of code that made the software self-destruct when the license expired. That date was approaching, and Blueport wanted to negotiate a new license with the USAF—and you know, get paid.
Instead, it got a bit of the ol’ shock and awe. The Air Force not only didn’t pay up, it paid big contractor SAIC ($2.5 million in lobbying in 2007) to reverse engineer Blueport’s program and disable the time bomb. The Air Force also paid SAIC to rewrite the program, and by rewrite I mean simply cut and paste any of the original code that seemed useful.
Some Linux users are getting a feel for what it's like to be one of the Windows faithful, as the open source community looks to be under siege. The U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team (CERT) has issued a warning for "active attacks" against Linux-based infrastructures using compromised SSH keys.
Specifics remain scarce, but the attacks appear to use stolen SSH keys to gain access to a system, after which time the attacker uses local kernel exploits to gain root access and install a rootkit called phalanx2.
"Phalanx2 appears to be a derivative of an older rootkit named "phalanx". Phalanx2 and the support scripts within the rootkit, are configured to systematically steal SSH keys from the compromised system. These SSH keys are sent to the attackers, who then use them to try to compromise other sites and other systems of interest at the attacked site."
The US-CERT has outlined ways Linux users can reduce the risk of attack, as well as what steps should be taken if a compromise is already confirmed.
"Gordon Freeman is a menace to society. When he's not bludgeoning our men with cars and annihilating our demolition teams with their own ordinances, he's white-washing their corpses with paint and treating wild, endangered headcrabs like lowly mammalian bulls. Sure, we enslaved his species and all, but does he have to be such a jerk about it? He toys with us as though this were some sort of game, and we won't stand for it."
--An excerpt from The Combine Times, the final Combine paper to include anything other than obituaries.
--Gordon Freeman's reply
Yeah, Gordon Freeman isn't the most loquacious guy around. He speaks through his actions -- or rather, your actions. But that's what makes him great. He's a videogame character under your direct control. He fights like you, so why shouldn't he think like you?
As you've probably noticed, my particular Gordon Freeman is, well, have you ever imagined what it'd be like if one of the loud-mouthed, rap-prone kids on Xbox Live was tasked with saving all of humanity (and managing a classy goatee)? Am I like that in real life? No, but slipping into the hazard suit of a silent protagonist like Gordon Freeman allows me to project a side of myself into the game that hardly even exists in reality. I'm not constrained by any pre-set personality the man might have, so my imagination washes over the game, and it becomes a whole new experience.
Sure, I enjoy having the tightly braided engagement-lasso of a compelling, whip-smart lead wrapped around my neck as much as anyone, but I also think that such a lead doesn't lend him/herself well to gaming's main strength: interactivity.
So, how do you like your protagonist: strong and silent with a side of whatever you want, or glib -- fried up and delivered just as the developers ordered?
Today's Roundup features heroes of both varieties, along with a smattering of other stories about your favorite industry. From details about WoW's colossal (and free!) pre-WotLK update, to exclusive titles' death knells, there's no way you'll leave this Roundup without something to talk about. Jump past the break for more.