British court: PS2 ain’t a computer

It turns out that the British Court of Appeal didn’t but Sony’s argument that the PS2 is a computer and not a video game console. This means Sony loses out on a multimillion dollar rebate. It’s an interesting item to see, given the recent statements from Sony execs that claim the forthcoming PS3 is a computer that essentially means the end of the PC presence in the home.

Summer ‘Prey’ and ‘Head Coach’

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Finally, a break in the small drought that plagues the summer months.

First there’s “Prey,” which I’m ready to pencil in as a must-have title for the PC and 360. I dig going with a Native American main character — not because I’m on some cliched “aw look, an Indian hero” kick, but because their history and legends are territories gaming has a chance to really explore. If done correctly, it could be good for gaming. Everyone knows the gameplay and visuals will be tight, but I’m interested to see how this Tommy dude comes off. I get to check it out on Friday and will hopefully get to spit some knowledge about that on All Games Interactive. I’m normally there on Thursday, but I get to check out Ludacris that night.

I’m also awaiting my maiden voyage into EA’s “NFL Head Coach,” which is essentially armchair quarterbacking at its best. It’s a coaching sim, where you get to live and control every aspect of being a head coach for an NFL team, from developing the team’s philosophy to making adjustment during a game.

I’ll be honest … I don’t know about this one. I like debating strategy and talking all kinds of football-related stuff and looking at numbers (I’m in a couple of fantasy leagues), but I’m a little skeptical about how “exciting” building a team actually is. Part of the reason I like sports games is that I like directing the people on the field and making them do things I (and other average Joes) could never hope to pull off on a field/court. I like having THAT control.
Maybe I just don’t like having to “manage” others or watching stuff unfold — perhaps that’s why I never got into RTS. Just too much watching. See the pic below.

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Check back during the week for more gaming words.

NHL, NHLPA sign with EA and 2K

The National Hockey League and the NHL Players Association signed a multiyear, non-exclusive deal with both EA and 2K Sports. Outstanding.

Regardless of what you think of hockey, anything that promotes competition between is GREAT, especially when it comes to sports games. It opens the door to innovative thinking in terms of gameplay, and gives people a choice instead of having to be beaten over the head with the same game engine year after year. There’s more than one play to bring across the same sport, and I like seeing different companies take a stab at it.

Of course, it IS hockey, and I don’t know who half the players are — but the thing is, an outstanding game could change that, or at least make me look in the sport’s direction — even if an entire season of it was canceled.

Getting serious

I’ve been delinquent in my posts recently, so my apologies. I’ve been cracking away on our story about the so-called “serious games” movement. I say so-called because I’ve surprisingly run into a couple of people that can’t stand the term itself. David Wertheimer of the Institute for Creative Technologies flat-out said, ”I hate it. I think it was used back then to counter the frivolity people associated with the word ‘game. But now it doesn’t work.’”

Talking to him also included a pretty outstanding mini-talk about the merits of Dungeons & Dragons, and how all you had back then was a dice, some stuff to read, and your imagination. I still remember intricate details about my dwarf many years ago, and he still remembers what level(s) his characters were. My dwarf rocked.

One person you won’t find in the story, sadly, is Tracy Fullerton, an interactive media prof at USC who runs the Game Innovations Lab. We talked some about ‘Cloud,’ which I had heard of, but never got the chance to play until a few days ago.

Fullerton told me that she’s had some people say they’ve experienced a wealth of emotions whenever they play this game. I invested a few hours into the game, and I didn’t think flying through the air and messing with clouds could be so captivating — after all, I’d just seen an eyeful of ‘Superman’ from EA.

In a lot of ways, “Shadow of the Colossus” prepared me for the atmosphere. Minimal text, intricate controls and a lot of investment in the feelings tied to what you were doing. In “Shadow,” you had a chance to feel sad whenever you killed one of the giants, while in “Cloud,” the simple feeling of flying around would take you back to your childhood, or whatever the last time you’ve wished you could fly. I’d label my experience as pleasant and innocent, which is something I’ve needed since some of my life was wasted on playing “Jaws Unleashed.”

PSP: ‘Tomb Raider: Legend’, ‘MGS Digital Graphic Novel’

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Eidos announced today that “Tomb Raider: Legend” for the PSP is primed for a June 21 release. The game will include three new multiplayer modes: racing, obstacle courses and treasure hunting. There’s also going to be PSP-exclusive music, wallpaper and images.

Today, Konami shipped “Metal Gear Solid Digital Graphic Novel,” also for the PSP. For those unfamiliar with the title, this isn’t really a normal game, per se. It’s an uber-interactive comic, where the players/readers can “flip” through the pages at whatever speed they like, and the experience is heightened through music, animation and sound effects. The game focuses on the first “Metal Gear Solid,” and it was one of the more intriguing offerings from Konami at E3. Though I’ll admit, I think anything from Kojima is intriguing.

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Checking the inbox

Just in case I forgot about Sony’s dominance in the market, Sony announced that the month of May was good to them as the PS2 and the PSP ranked as the top-selling hardware and portable platforms in the U.S., so says data from the NPD Group. The release notes that PS2 sold about 232,000 units, compared to 221,000 for the 360. PSP sold 160,000 units, while the Game Boy Advance checked in at 152,000.

Elsewhere, Capcom named Charles Bellfield as their VP of marketing, although with games like “Lost Planet” on the way, he’s probably not going to need that much help.

Brazilian soccer star Adriano will bless the cover of Konami’s “Winning Eleven: Pro Evolution Soccer 2007.” The game will bring the acclaimed soccer series to the Xbox 360, marking the franchise’s maiden voyage into next-gen.

Can’t stop gaming? Head to Amsterdam

A detox clinic for addicted gamers is opening in the Netherlands.

Courtesy of Smith & Jones Addiction Consultants in Amsterdam, gamers who can’t peel away from the screen will be able to take part in a four to eight-week program, which involve talking to therapists and “efforts to build patients’ interests in alternative activities.” The program is set to start in July.

The story features 28-year-old Hyke van der Heijden, who originally came to the clinic for drug addiction.

His chunk of the story is troubling:

Hyke van der Heijden, 28, a graduate of the Amsterdam program, started playing video games 20 years ago. By the time he was in college he was gaming about 14 hours a day and using drugs to play longer.

“For me, one joint would never be enough, or five minutes of gaming would never be enough,” he said. “I would just keep going until I crashed out.”

Van der Heijden first went to Smith & Jones for drug addiction in October 2005, but realized the gaming was the real problem. Since undergoing treatment, he has distanced himself from his smoking and gaming friends. He says he has been drug- and game-free for eight months.

What really bothers me about that part of the story is that it casually links drug use and game use, as if they’re one and the same. There’s the reference to his “smoking and gaming friends” as well as the fact that he’s been “drug and game-free” for eight months. There’s another addict, Tim, who also played a lot of games, then USED DRUGS to keep playing longer.

I’m no doctor, but the last time I checked, smoking and drugs generally fill your body with poison. That’s fact. Gaming doesn’t do that — unless you count some of the extra pounds you gain if you’re sitting at home for 17 hours a day and eat a lot.

I’ll admit that gaming can certainly be addictive, but to just lump them in with drug use reeks of carelessless, and anybody who reads this story that doesn’t fully know the industry is going to buy it.

Let’s make one thing clear: Game addict does NOT equal drug addict.

I did a story on gaming addiction a couple of years ago, where I wrote about two guys who were hardcore EQ players. All they did was play and play, eventually shutting out the outside world to the point where other aspects of their lives suffered. One killed himself. The other didn’t.

And as far as I know, neither of them touched drugs.

My biggest worry is that some parents are going to see this story and think “My kid likes to play games — good God, he might be on drugs!”

Yeah, it sounds silly. But there are plenty of silly people out there.

FTC ruling on Hot Coffee

Gamespot reports that the Federal Trade Commission handed down its final ruling on the “Hot Coffee” scandal, where several sex minigames were discovered in “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas” from Rockstar Games.

The ruling declared that Take-Two Interactive (Rockstar’s parent company) “failed to disclose important information about the game’s content to consumers” and promises an $11,000 fine for every violation — which, as GameSpot points out, could either mean Take-Two gets a financial slap on the wrist, or that it gets fined for every caffeinated GTA copy sold.

The “Hot Coffee” scandal gained the attention of Sens. Hilary Clinton and Joe Lieberman, who wanted Take-Two probed by the FTC. Clinton has also been an advocate for a universal rating system that covers all media.

Louisiana’s Jack attack

You can check out GamePolitics and Gamasutra for the exact details, but it appears the Louisiana Senate has passed HB1381, which targets violent video games.

Jack Thompson, the Florida attorney who’s made it his life’s mission to battle against the game industry (hence the “Crusader Jack” tag you’ll hear lots of gamers use) helped assemble the bill, which nows goes to Louisiana governor Kathleen Blanco to be signed into law.

The bill’s aim is give a judge the power to determine if a game is inappropriate to minors and can be pulled from the shelves. Anyone caught selling an inappropriate game to a minor could get hit with a $100 to $2,000 fine, along with a prison term of up to one year.

“So, what are you in for?”
“I sold GTA to a 17-year-old.”

Naturally, the ESA and friends are going to battle this one to the death, and as history shows, they’re probably going to win.

What’s a little creepy about the Jack attack lately is that he’s poring over past rulings, trying to crack the defenses — as opposed to some other lawmakers, who just seem to be firing bills out there to be killed, like legislative lemmings.

For me, the real threat may come in the future. In a story I did a couple years ago on game violence, several people pointed out to me that the next generation of legislators will have grown up with the industry, and will therefore “get it.”

That makes sense, but couldn’t it have the opposite effect? So far, the people who’ve pitched these game bills either don’t play them, have no idea how the industry works, or both.

But if the next wave of legislators includes a few gamers, would that make them better equipped to battle the game industry? Does the door swing both ways?

Imagine: someone who grew up with games and who “gets it” — gets it enough to go on the legislative attack.

Xbox 360 update cometh today

Microsoft announced that its spring update of the Xbox 360 is available, touting more than 125 new features for Live users. The update will be available to Xbox Silver or Gold members, and it’s also free. According to the press release, the download takes less than a minute.

Some of the features include new playback options for DVDs and downloaded media, the ability to queue up six Live Marketplace downloads at a time, as well as tweaked navigation of Marketplace itself to make it easier for users to find the stuff they want.

For those who want to see the complete list of features in the update, here it is.