Category: Uncategorized

Gaming in the Penthouse?

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a digital hoarder. One of the things I hoard is pdfs of gaming magazines. There are a few sites out there that post gaming magazines but, of course, they don’t just post gaming magazines. They post all kinds of magazines. Sometimes I will stray away from the gaming mags section into the front page of the site and skim through to see if there are any other magazines that look interesting.

I was doing that recently when I saw this image:

penthouse game and watch

I thought it was interesting that Penthouse would have a picture of the torso of a woman with a Nintendo Game and Watch covering her vagina so I downloaded the pdf — yes I downloaded it for the articles, really!

The “article” is just a few pages of a woman in progressively fewer clothes with some vintage and modern gaming stuff and some text explaining what the gaming stuff is. Oddly, although they credit the photographer, the source of the gaming stuff, and the clothing company, they don’t seem to state the woman’s name. Keep it classy, Penthouse…

Penthouse credits

In this same issue there is also a one page article on current games  but, to make things more interesting, it doesn’t seem like having videogames in Penthouse is a one-time thing because the site where I downloaded the pdf lists recent issues of the magazine and I noticed that this was the previous month’s cover which has a story “Professional Gamers are Making More Than You”:

Penthouse pro gamers

The article is only one page with a half page picture from what looks like The International or some other DotA 2 tournament and 5 paragraphs of text.

So is this a trend within Penthouse or just a coincidence? It would be interesting if Penthouse was trying to attract a gamer market. Other magazines have tried to mix objectification of women with gaming but haven’t really stuck around. What will be next? Mincraft porn?

(I’m afraid to search for that because I’m afraid it already exists…)

This War of Mine

5506eec2f005etwomwebsitescreensho_thumbThis War of Mine is a fascinating game. It is a side-view game that shows you a cut-away dollshouse-style view of the building you are in. You control a small group of survivors (up to 4, I think) who are civilians trying to survive a war in an Eastern European city. One character at a time you give characters orders like open a door, cook food, go to sleep, or build a shovel. There are two parts of the game: day and night. During the day you control the players and tell them to eat, build things or raise vegetables. Occasionally someone will come to the door to trade, ask for help, or even ask to join your group. During the night you pick one person who goes out to into another building in the city where you scavenge for food and supplies and encounter other groups of survivors who may be hostile, willing to trade, or just want to be left alone. While one of your characters is out for the night, your home can be raided and the others can be hurt so you should leave someone on guard. Managing the physical and emotional health is a huge part of the game. Characters can be hungry, tired, hurt, sick, or depressed. Most, if not all, of these can end in the death of a character.

5506ef0cd4202twomwebsitescreensho_thumbWhen a character dies it is touching because it is (usually) not a death from combat, as in so many other games (although characters can die in combat while scavenging) but from hunger or illness. This makes it sadder because it is such a mundane death. When one of my characters in the game gets shot to death, I am frustrated but when one dies from hunger, I am disturbed.

You can keep playing with fewer characters but, to be honest, I usually quit and start over. In this way, despite the “realism” of the situation I still treat it like a game. The creators of the game try to eliminate that gameness by autosaving and lot allowing you to go back to earlier saves but this just serves to make dying more frustrating and makes me play more conservatively. The game creators might say that is the point but it is a balancing act that I’m not sure is solvable.

There are some issues with the interface that I would like to see ironed out. If nothing is happening during the day, there is a button to end the day and send someone out scavenging but there are times when you are waiting for something like a water filter to work where you don’t want to end the day. In those cases, you have to just sit there and wait when it would be nice to be able to jump head a couple hours.

Another issue is that when you go scavenging it is too easy to send the person to a place without equipment or to have the people staying behind sleep on the floor instead of a bed (which means they will be complaining the next day). There are minor complaints though and don’t really detract from the game.

six thumbs up

feeling bad is such
an addiction in this game
just try not to die

(Coincidentally, This War of Mine is one of a few games I’ve played lately that use a side view perspective which is kind of strange for me because I usually play FPS games. While they have little in common with The Swapper, Another World, and Deadlight, there is the fact that Deadlight and The Swapper similarly take place in dark settings (both in terms of tone as well as lighting) which gives them a tonal similarity.)

Console Wars Review


Blake J. Harris’ tale of the rise and fall of Sega is both incredibly fascinating and incredibly frustrating.

It is incredibly fascinating because it gives lots of details on how Sega America was able to make the Genesis as popular but unable to capitalize on that success in the long term.

It is incredibly frustrating because Harris decided to write the book in the form of a narrative and write entire conversations and even thoughts that there really isn’t any way to know if they are based on the memories of people he interviewed, historical documents, or if he just made them up. To be fair, Harris is totally up front about this. In the author’s note in the beginning of the book he writes:

“Console Wars is a narrative account based on information obtained from hundreds of interviews. Re-creating a story of this nature, which draws from the recollections of a multitude of sources, can often lead to inconsistencies; particularly when dealing with industry competitors and especially when dealing with events that took place more than two decades ago. As such, I have re-created the scenes in this book using the information uncovered from my interviews, facts gathered from supporting documents, and my best judgment as to what version most closely fits the documentary record.”

It also isn’t as if my complain is particularly unique. The New York Times found his reconstructed dialog, “stilted and phony” and noted his use of numerous cliches, “speed is blazing, a woman is doe-eyed, go-getters are scrappy.” The Telegraph also complained about Blake calling a woman “doe-eyed” and wrote:

“Conversations have an eerie, inhuman air: ‘I suppose your jumping to conclusions,’ says one character to another, ‘is a testament to the type of guys we are, and, perhaps, also a sign of the times we live in.’ Other characterisations are sketchy at best: the Japanese people mostly speak in a strangely stilted English (‘OK, then, let us now go on a real vacation’).”

Personally, I didn’t find the dialog particularly bad. I just want to know what people actually said. I wish Harris had just released all the interviews or at the very least had included tons of footnotes (Not endnotes though. Endnotes are evil!(And the Endnote application is even worse!)). Of course releasing the interviews probably wouldn’t have sold as well or gotten optioned for a movie but it would have satisfied me and isn’t that really what is important?

Moving from criticism of the style to discussion of the content, Harris makes a convincing case that the real war wasn’t between Sega and Nintendo so much as it was between Sega of Japan and Sega of America. While the style of the book makes it hard to tell if this is entirely accurate or is jingoism, it is an interesting tale with lots of things that I wasn’t really familiar with as well as a great deal of stuff that I remember seeing as a college student in the early 1990s.

This combination of things I didn’t know anything about and things that I kind of remembered happening made reading the book an interesting experience. Because I was reading it on my Android tablet, I actually spent a lot of time switching back and forth between the book and a web browser looking things up in the attempt to find out more about the people and events. Since finishing Console Wars I have started reading another non-fiction book and find that I am doing the same thing with it. I wonder if the mid-1990s notion of hypertext has been replaced by the ability to just jump from the book to an online text at any point? I found this particularly weird in the other book I have read when it mentioned someone early on and I went online to read a couple articles about that person. Then later in the book when there was a chapter devoted to him I had a hard time deciding if I had already read that chapter or not. However, that says more about me and my attention span than it does about Console Wars.

To get back on topic, despite its flaws, Console Wars is really a must read for anyone interested in the history of Sega and Nintendo in the USA in1990s. The specificity of that recommendation is meant to indicate some of the other flaws of the book because Console Wars doesn’t spend much time discussing what Sega and Nintendo were doing in Europe and only really discusses Japan in comparison to the USA, barely mentions other consoles that were out around that time, and really tapers off before and after the 1990s. Keeping those caveats in mind, Console Wars is really worth reading if you care about the subject mater at all.

Six thumbs up

The shots were fired
Brothers held for questioning
Sonic is missing.


I like listening to podcasts in my car, when I’m riding my bike, and walking around campus. So I’m always looking for new ones to listen to. One of my favorite places to look has been a thread on the Idle Thumbs forums which is where I ran across a post about the Spawn on Me podcast. On it they talk about videogames and identity. It has quickly became one of my favorites (except when they talk about sportsball… 😛 ) and often gives me something to think about.

The most last episode I listened to was no exception (I’m a little behind as they have released a new one since then). Titled “Blackademics 101,” the episode features guest co-host Tanya Depass, and guests Kishonna Gray and TreaAndrea Russworm talked a lot about not only race in games but also in academia.

On the episode they talked about getting pushback from students when they talk about race in the classroom and how they have gotten comments about it from students on their course evaluations. This resonated with me because I talk about race in my classes but I haven’t gotten much pushback from students and I haven’t had any mention of it on my course evals.

Now there could be a number of reasons for this:

  • I’m just an awesome teacher
  • I don’t talk about it as much as they do
  • I’ve just been lucky
  • I’m a white man.

Now, it should be noted that last year I did have a white female friend who did have a student mention how her talking about race made the white student feel uncomfortable, so it can’t be that white people are immune from getting such comments on student evals. Of course I also don’t know how much my friend talked about race or in what way. So, as people online love to write, “the plural of anecdote it not data.” So it must be that I’m just awesome…

However, when Gray and Russworm talked about some of the harassment they have gotten online it reminded me of the very minor incident I received a year or so ago and my reactions to it. It happened when someone started found the abstract to my dissertation and posted it in an online discussion thread I had been taking part in. They started trashing it and making assertions. I was worried they were going to start dogpiling me and hunting down personal information. Luckily, none of that happened and in a few hours the thread had died down and nothing has come of it. But in the moment I was worried. I contemplated deleting my accounts and posts or denying that it was me. But I didn’t want to do those because I was worried they would think it was a sign of weakness. Instead, I just closed the browser tab and went away for a few hours and it went away. No harm done.

What I experienced was minuscule and was over in a few hours. I can’t imagine what it is like to be the center of attention like that for days or weeks or months at a time. The urge to bury your head in the sand and never say anything ever again must be very strong. (Even as a write this I’m trying to be both vague as well as non-accusatory so that this very post doesn’t get any negative attention) But they and others who have been the subject of much harsher and sustained scrutiny haven’t buried their heads and that takes bravery.

Assassinate DRM and ports…

I played the first Assassin’s Creed back when it came out and liked it well enough. I just never got around to buying the others. A couple months ago there was a sale on steam and I picked up Assassin’s Creed II, Brotherhood, and Revelations. I’m playing through 2 and I’m enjoying it but drm is still terrible and it is a bad port.

Although the game is on Steam, it still uses the crappy Uplay drm which requires it to launch the Uplay program thingy. Only it won’t launch on Windows 8 when you try to start it through Steam.

OK, fine. I can just launch it directly through the Uplay thing, right? Of course not. When you try to do that it says it is launching steam or something but that doesn’t work either.

So play the game I bought, I have to launch Steam, then launch the Uplay application which I had to enable running as administrator, then go back to Steam and start the game, which makes the Uplay thing flash in the taskbar so before the game starts I have to click on Uplay to give it focus and then the game will start.


So once I get the games started it runs fine. Only, instead of telling you to press the left mouse button or the E key or whatever, it shows you a picture of an open hand, or a closed hand, or a foot, or something else. assassinscreed2controlsAnd the background of the icons clearly have the Xbox button colors which probably indicate which controller button you need to press.

So to be able to tell the different between a picture of a head and a picture of a head with a tiny little up arrow in front of it, in addition to the process mentioned above, I also have to open up a picture of the controls to put on my second monitor to know what buttons I’m supposed to be pressing…

Thanks Ubisoft…



Thoughts on the PS3 from a Windows computer gamer

Now that the PS4 is out, I finally bought a PS3. I know… I’m poor. Give me a job and I will be happy to spend my money on expensive consoles. I thought about buying either a PS3 or a 360 for a while but decided on the PS3 because I don’t want to pay to play online (I’m poor) and there are more exclusive PS3 games I haven’t played.

So on Black Friday I ordered the PS3 with Last of Us and Batman Arkham something or other and it arrived on Monday. Setting it up was interesting so I thought I would write up my impressions. (Spoiler: I’m not really impressed so far)

I plugged it into my tv and plugged an ethernet chord into it and started it up. The setup process was pretty easy but I thought it weird that I had to put in the date and time manually. Can’t it just get that from the internet?

It set its output to 1080p but my cheap Polaroid-brand tv is only 720p. I could still see the text so I just figured I would let it go and change it manually later. I went into the settings and ended up in bluray and dvd settings. I think I found the output settings but I didn’t change it because I figured if it ain’t broke I won’t try to fix it.

Getting it connected brought up one of my least favorite problems with non-computers: cryptic error messages and no way to fix them. I last experienced that when I had an ipod touch that wouldn’t download updates and I finally got it to work by running a vpn to my university. The PS3’s error was no less cryptic. It tried to get online and after a while it couldn’t. It threw up an error message with a strong of numbers. I look online to see what people say about it but as it usually the case there were a bunch of different errors. No way to get to ini files or anything like that. So I just restart it and it magically works…

Next I get to the dreaded updates. I had heard the PS3 is constantly updating and it was true. There are tons and tons of updates. People used to say that about Windows too but with computers you can at least do something else while it downloads updates. Not so with the PS3 (for example, while I’ve been writing this I’ve been downloading and installing an update on the ps3.)

I’m really surprised at how bad the PS3 is at running multiple apps at once. Some stuff can’t be downloaded in the background at all. Even when it can, you have to click the button but even then you still have for the system to do something before it will even let you download in the background! I tried to background download Uncharted 3 and it said I would have to wait 7 minutes before I could do that!

So I left it on and went to sleep. I got up in the morning and the game didn’t show up so I start the download again. I went to class and when got back the game has downloaded. But it hasn’t installed yet. There were all these files: Uncharted Multiplayer, Uncharted Single Player, Uncharted 2D movies, Uncharted French language pack. So I install the single player part. But it still doesn’t show up. So I install the multiplayer part and the 2D movies. Then the game finally shows up.

Alright, the game is installed so I can play it. I click on the game and the screen goes black. The screen goes black a lot. No indication that anything is going on. If that happens on a computer that’s a bad thing. But I guess it is just business as usual for the PS3. Now, once the game gets started I get a loading indicator. Of course, my computer has an SSD that my Steam games are installed on so it doesn’t take forever to start unlike the PS3. Now, to be fair I cold install an SSD on the PS3.

Satisfied that the download worked I go to download Ico and Shadow of the Colossus. The background downloading works better for this though. So I watch something on Netflix while it downloads. I go to check out the download status and somehow it is trying to download Uncharted 3 again… grrrr….

To wrap it up, the PS3 is no computer. I realize it is old technology. But I guess I’m still not a console guy. I’ll play the PS3 exclusives but I think I’ll stick with my gaming computer and my roku for most of my gaming and media watching needs.  If nothing else I’ve got a bluray player!

even at just a Penny, the Arcade’s price is too high…

I’ve been reading Penny Arcade since it started on loonygames. I don’t read them any more. And I won’t go to PAX as long as Mike Krahulik aka Gabe is involved no matter how many people say it is an inclusive and welcoming place.

I first stopped reading Penny Arcade back in 2010 or 2011 during the Dickwolves debacle. What I found most frustrating about that whole thing wasn’t the original comic strip. I didn’t find it that bad. I can see why people would though. It was Gabe’s inability to show a similar understanding of why people might be upset about a rape joke that made me stop reading Penny Arcade. As the timeline I linked to shows, Gabe and Tycho didn’t just disagree with people who didn’t think it was funny, they ridiculed them and were jerks.

So I stopped reading their comic.

But after a while, I started occasionally reading the comic again.

Then in 2012, Gabe threw his support behind a card game about tentacle rape that eventually got pulled from Kickstarter. When someone questioned his support of the game, Gabe replied to the criticism with snarky and mocking tweets.

Another offense, although quite minor in the overall pattern of what I view as terrible behavior, was the Penny Arcade Kickstarter. I saw it as kind of sleazy and taking advantage of the good will of their fans. But, that isn’t that big of an issue.

Then in June of 2013 Gabe initiated two separate twitter flame wars about transgendered people. The first, which didn’t get much publicity started on June 7th (it might be hard to follow these because Gabe tweeted so many times and because of how twitter does their timeline but I’ll start with the screengrab of the oldest tweets first and then move to the more recent ones):





Then, on June 20th, some people noticed that a panel at PAX Australia had a description that some people found disturbing.


Somewhere along the line, the issue of transgendered people came up again and Gabe showed that he had learned nothing from the tweets that happened on June 6th.



This resulted in posting an apology of sorts on Penny Arcade and Gabe promising to donate $20,000 to charity.

The makers of Gone Home, The Fullbright Company, decided not to attend PAX because of this. And other people debated it as well.

Throughout all of this, I had posted some comments on blogs and tweeted about this but what made me take the time to document the reasons why I won’t read Penny Arcade or attend PAX is the news that during an interview at PAX, Penny Arcade’s business manager, Robert Khoo, asked if there was anything that he had done that Gabe and Tycho resented. Gabe responded:

I think that pulling the dickwolves merchandise was a mistake.”

To which several people in the crowd cheered.

Other people have probably written about this and done it better than I have but that was the straw that broke the camel’s back and forced me to write about it.

By using the cliche “straw the broke the camel’s back,” I want to emphasize that it wasn’t just one thing that made me stop having anything to do with Penny Arcade or anything Mike Krahulik aka Gabe is involved with because it wasn’t just one thing. I’m sure lots of people will still support Penny Arcade and still attend PAX. They are free to do so but I won’t be one of them.

Hopefully, by posting all these links and screen captures I’ve shown that Gabe has a pattern of saying, writing, and doing things that that are insulting and infuriating and I’m not willing to give him the benefit of the doubt any more. For me, the price of doing so it too high.


Since I posted this Mike Krahulik has posted a clarification. I don’t really find his explanation of why he said what he said to be entirely satisfying. Actions speak louder than words. I hope he means it but I will need to see him do a lot of good things before I give him the benefit of the doubt again.





Valve Software is a Worker’s Paradise? Maybe for the Bourgeoisie…

A few weeks ago there was a lot of talk about Valve Software’s New Employee Handbook and some other things like a blog post by Michael Abrash, a podcast with Gabe Newell, and a story on Bloomberg Business Week. All of them paint a picture of Valve as being a Worker’s Paradise where there are no bosses and everyone can do what they want and everyone rides around on magical giant puppy dogs.

Somehow I have a hard time swallowing that pill. It tastes kind of bitter.

Now don’t get me wrong, I like Valve games as much as anyone. I like Steam. Portal 2 is the only game I’ve paid full price for in years. The New Employee Handbook paints a picture that is awesome. I would love to work there.

Well, let me modify that statement: I would love to work there as someone involved in making games. That’s a key requirement and the reason why I don’t really believe Valve is the Worker’s Paradise everyone seems to eager to want to believe it is. Even with statements from Portal co-creator Kim Swift claiming there actually are bosses at Valve, I think there is still a lot of work that isn’t taken into account in this idealistic story.

I’m a terrible grad student and so before I went all Marxist I wanted to make sure I was correct on who were the Proletariat and who were the Bourgeoisie. When I did I found out that according to Wikipedia, Bourgeoisie is derived from the Old French word for walled city which I think makes sense since I think the creative class at Valve are living a live largely walled off from the Proletariats who make it possible for the games to be made.

Pyramid of Capitalist System
Pyramid of Capitalist System

I’m sure that the designers and people coding the games probably find the situation described in the handbook and elsewhere to be largely accurate but what about the other people who work at Valve? What about the people responsible for keeping the Valve website up? Or playtesters? Or the people responsible for keeping Steam working? Or heck, what about the janitors or the people responsible for keeping the refrigerator stocked and clean? I really doubt that those people really have the freedom to do whatever they want or can just go off on their own and start making Half-Life 3 or something. I would love to be proven wrong, though.

I don’t want to trash Valve too much here. I really do enjoy their products. I just think that when we hear about something that just sounds too good to be true, we need to step back and look at what is left unsaid and ask some questions.

In other words… Don’t Believe the Hype:

Too Much Videogame History

I thought it would be good to try to provide a brief history of LAN parties and LAN games in the intro to my dissertation. This has turned out to be a surprisingly tough thing to do.

Although there seem to be no shortage of great books about videogame history, there still seems to be some big gaps. As useful as books like The Ultimate History of Video Games, Replay, and Phoenix: The Fall & Rise of Videogames are, I still had a lot of trouble finding the “first” game to allowed people to link together two or more personal computers together and play with one another. I’m not blaming these books at all because in all the history of videogames that is a pretty specific thing to try to find.

Moreover, finding the “first” of anything is pretty tough to do anyway if only in part because of the difficulty in defining what a “videogame” is. For example, Wikipedia has decided that “video” in “video game” traditionally refers to a raster display device if only because people who seems to be most interested in the article have chosen that definition.

I guess what I’m saying is that it would be nice if we could get some “new” history. Something that didn’t rehash the Atari-ET-Nintendo-Tetris highlights. Something that finds out something about the proto-videogames, home computing, and those other things.

The Final Hours of the Final Hours of Portal 2…

So I’ve played through the single player portion of Portal 2 twice now — once normally and once with the commentary (although I did miss one of the comments at the very end because I pressed a button before I got to click on the commentary and then didn’t have an opportunity to listen to it). I haven’t played the co-op part though because I don’t have any close friends with Portal 2 and I don’t want to play it with strangers.

Anyway, I enjoyed Portal 2 but I wouldn’t say it was perfect. I wished there was more of the Rattmann stuff and while I’m a big comic book fan the Lab Rat comic wasn’t enough. I also felt the gel stuff, while fun, felt kind of unnecessary and like padding.

I think my biggest issue is with the writing. Without going into spoilers, I’ll just say that Wheatley’s storyline was extremely predictable and the revelations of GLaDOS was immediately obvious. Most irritatingly, for me, was Cave Johnson. He just seemed way too similar in style and humor to Team Fortress 2’s Saxton Hale.

A couple days ago I also had the opportunity to read through Geoff Keighley’s The Final Hours of Portal 2 ipad app. And by “had the opportunity” I mean I downloaded a copy of it not that I got a special showing or anything. And by “downloaded a copy” I mean I pirated it and then unzipped the ipa file and looked through the jpeg files that the text is embedded on because I don’t have an ipad. Apparently, the text is available on the Kindle even though the official website doesn’t mention it. I downloaded the free sample and the images were in black and white so I passed on it. However, now it is available as an Adobe AIR app on Steam and I did pay for that so I’m all totally legal now officer.

I found The Final Hours to be a quite fascinating read. I was left with wanting more though. I really liked books like Masters of Doom and the criminally out of print Game Over even though they are both flawed. While it is unfair to expect a $2 app to be the size of a full book, I would like to see The Final Hours of Portal 2 to be expanded to full length.

I’m a sucker for Valve games and I’m a sucker for “making of” books (about games I care about, mainly) so it is little surprise that I liked Portal 2 and The Final Hours of Portal 2. Like everyone else, though, I’m really waiting for more Half-Life.