The Agency is no more…along with over 200 jobs

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The Agency was supposed to be an MMO based on spies and a worldwide theater of covert ops. It was hugely ambitious with real-world cities to be used as hubs for missions and teams defending the world against other players determined to steal it. It sounded awesome.

Unfortunately, it seemed to exist only as vaporware with the occasional screenshot or video released every few months to remind players that it was barely alive. And now we’ll never know if we could have been in like Flint, or as slick as James Bond.

That’s because the project was canned along with most of the people working on it. According to the news over at the Hollywood Reporter, Sony Online Entertainment had also announced shuttering three studios – all of which were involved with the Agency along with a number of other projects.

Over 205 employees are to be laid off in the restructuring as Sony focuses more on two other MMOs: reviving the action shooter MMO, Planetside, as Planetside: Next, and continuing to build atop one of the oldest MMORPGs out there, Everquest.

It’s not the first time that a promising project like the Agency has been shuttered. The game industry is, unfortunately, filled with more than a few stories of canceled titles due to a number of reasons ranging from a lack of funds, corporate restructuring, or simply losing focus or interest in the project. Hopefully everyone affected will be able to quickly land on their feet elsewhere.

Is Samsung is watching your keystrokes?

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Network World has an ongoing story broken by Mohamed Hassan, an IT expert, who reported the discovery of a keylogger program on two new laptops bought from Samsung. When Samsung was initially asked about it, they had first pointed fingers at Microsoft.

Later, however, when the incident was escalated upwards, a supervisor at Samsung admitted that the software was knowingly put there to “monitor the performance of the machine and to find out how it is being used.” Examining the program, a keylogger called “StarLogger”, it records every keystroke made – even the ones that you think are safe when you type in passwords. It runs in the background, silently, and can email the results back without the user knowing.

If this is widespread across more than the two Samsung laptop models that Hassan investigated (an R525 and an R540), it’s a blatant security vulnerability evidently sanctioned by the company. The supervisor’s answer is telling because that’s exactly what it implies.

If you’re not familiar with what a keylogger like this can do, just imagine inviting someone to look over your shoulder while you do your banking or email who then reports your keystrokes and password back to a total stranger. It would also be as if Toyota or Ford secretly installed video cameras inside their cars to monitor just how people use them, sending the data wirelessly to wherever.

When I first heard about this, I was amazed that a company would even think that this kind of thing was okay. It’s not the first time this has happened, either. Sony was caught a few years back for rootkits that secretly installed on PCs when you played any of their music CDs on them, rootkits that were found to inadvertently open security holes and cause problems for Windows machines in general, forcing a huge recall of all affected discs.

People already have a lot to worry about when it comes to protecting their information online. The last thing they need to do is to worry about whether the company they’re buying a new PC from is also trying to get it…and leave the door open for everyone else to do the same.
 
UPDATE (3.30.11): Samsung has launched an investigation and is working with Mr. Hassan and fellow security expert, M.E. Kabay

UPDATE (3.31.11): It turns out that in the end, it was a false positive. Samsung is completely in the clear, though as Network World has commented, odd that an employee would admit that there was a keylogger on these laptops when asked by Hassan. Nevertheless, it turns out that the virus scanner used to detect the software, VIPRE, mistakenly identified another piece of software for the keylogger. VIPRE has since been updated and GFI Labs, the developer of the scanner, have issued apologies all around.

Attention 2K Sports, This is Ridiculous …

I have played five regular season games in Major League Baseball 2K11. In all but two, I have lost a starting pitcher (Clayton Kershaw, Hiroki Kuroda and Ted Lilly) to injury. I also lost left fielder Xavier Paul to an injury in another game. This does not happen in real life.

Are other players experiencing the same problem? I was able to give the game a qualified recommendation of sorts when I first reviewed it, but if this problem is widespread, I cannot recommend this title for purchase unless and until this gets patched.

Today’s releases, March 29, 2011

  • Shift 2 Unleashed (EA Sports) Racing title for PC, PlayStation 3 and XBox 360.
  • Tiger Woods PGA 12: The Masters (EA Tiburon). Golf title for Nintendo Wii, PlayStation 3 and XBox 360.
  • WWE All Stars (THQ San Diego) Wrestling title for Nintendo Wii, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, PSP, and XBox 360.
  • NASCAR The Game 2011 (Eutechnyx/Activision). Racing title for PlayStation 3 and XBox 360.
  • Country Dance for Wii (High Voltage Software/GameMill Entertainment). Dance title for Nintendo Wii
  • Mayhem 3D (Zoo Entertainment/Rombax Games) Demolition derby title for PlayStation 3 and XBox 360.

Rockstar Games: Tribeca Film Festival selects L.A. Noire, or, Film Artists Declare Video Games to be of Artistic Value

Rockstar Games announced today that upcoming release “L.A. Noire” will be an official selection of the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival.

“We’re thrilled that L.A. Noire is being recognized by the
Tribeca Film Festival in this way,” Rockstar Games founder Sam Houser, said in a press release. “It’s a real honor, and another step forward for interactive
entertainment.”

The obvious big deal contained in that announcement is that L.A. Noire is a video game, not a movie. But it’s no secret that many video games, especially Rockstar titles like the Grand Theft Auto series and Red Dead Redemption, have incorporated many cinematic aspects into their games.

Games are now cinematic enough for filmmakers to take them seriously, or at least wonder if they should do so. As Tribeca reports on its website, the film festival will on April 30 show a demo of L.A. Noire, to be followed “by a special discussion exploring the
cinematic elements of filmmaking that have crossed over into the gaming
industry.”

In years past, cinematic would mean cut scenes. L.A. Noire, however, has been getting a lot of press for the face capture technology game developers are using to give characters lifelike facial expressions. In terms of gameplay, the idea is that the player controlled detective will be able to tell if game characters are lying or telling the truth.

But in terms of cinematic arts, this kind of technology means L.A. Noire and future games may put honest-to-goodness acting in video games. Last year’s Red Dead Redemption, in this writer’s opinion, featured some of the best voice acting in video game history, but even though many well-known actors have given their voices to games, games are not really considered to be an actors’ medium.

L.A. Noire may change that. Players may not always agree if it’s a good thing that many games are becoming “interactive movies,” but this game’s selection for the Tribeca Film Festival represents a new step for games’ fascinating evolution. Aside from CGI and an overabundance of superheroes, the films of the 1980s were not so different from the films of today. Video games are almost an entirely different medium.

Is that medium art? Gamers have perhaps unfairly singled out film critic Roger Ebert for asserting that games are not art, if only because he is surely not the only person to hold that view. But this writer agrees with the many gamers who say games are art, or at least they can be.

Many movies are terrible, and do not deserve to be called art, or even entertainment. Many games deserve equal criticism, yet as is the case in cinema, many games are the products of outstanding craftsmanship and artistic vision. If film score can be called art, so can game music. If painting is art, so can be the work of graphics experts who develop beautiful vistas or cityscapes from ones and zeroes. If screenwriting is art, so can video game writing. Yes, really.

The argument against games as art seems to be that games do not have a singular story. In writing “Network,” for example, Paddy Chayefsky was able to tell the world exactly what he thought about the media and American society, and every character behaved according to his  vision. Games, especially RPGs, challenge the player to make their own choices. Some may say when the audience can determine if a story’s protagonist is good or evil, aggressive or diplomatic, suave or a clown, the writer’s vision is lost. I disagree.

Even when the audience is playing what may be essentially a high-tech “Choose Your Own Adventure” book, the writer(s) still determines the outcome of the players’ choices. In deciding what choices lead a character down a good or evil path, the writer is able to express a personal view on morality. I don’t know if humanity has ever really agreed on what “art” is, let alone good art, but if games provide a means for creative people to express ideas and emotions to an audience, they deserve to be considered in that discussion.

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Nintendo 3DS is almost here …

The Nintendo 3DS is scheduled to be available at 12:01 a.m. Sunday morning. If you have $249.99 to spend and insomnia, you’ve been notified.

As far as games go, here’s what is set to be available on launch date:

  • Pilotwings Resort
  • Steel Diver
  • nintendogs + cats: Golden Retriever & New Friends
  • Super Street Fighter IV: 3D Edition
  • Asphalt 3D
  • Lego Star Wars III: The Clone Wars
  • Madden NFL Football
  • Pro Evolution Soccer 2011: 3D
  • Ridge Racer 3D
  • Combat of Giants: Dinosaurs 3D
  • Bust-a-Move Universe
  • Super Monkey Ball 3D
  • Samurai Warriors Chronicles
  • Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Shadow Wars
  • The Sims 3

Duke Nukem Forever delayed, try not to be shocked

In what 2K Games calls “the shortest delay in the history of ‘Duke Nukem Forever,’ the title’s release date has been postponed from May 3 to June 14 in North America.

“In case you haven’t heard, Duke never comes early,” said 2K Games president Christoph
Hartmann, said in a press release Thursday. “We’re committed to deliver a laugh-out-loud,
politically incorrect experience that people will talk about for years
to come. We thank Duke’s fans for their continued patience – I promise
this won’t take another 15 years.”

Duke Nukem fans who have been patient enough to wait 15 years for the title have matured aged bit since 1997. The game appears to have more than enough violence, profanity and nudity to warrant an M for Mature rating, although the word “mature” may not be the best word to describe anything related to Duke Nukem.

Duke Nukem Forever was supposed to be released in 1997, but that didn’t happen. Games that actually came out in 1997 included “Starfox 64″ and”GoldenEye 007″ for Nintendo 64, “Star Wars: X-Wing vs. Tie Fighter,” “Fallout,” “Grand Theft Auto” and “Age of Empires” for PC and “Gran Turismo,” and “Castlevania: Symphony of the Night” for PlayStation.


Review: Homefront (PS3)

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Red Dawn, a film released in 1984, channeled Cold War thrills with an invasion of America by the Soviets and their allies. While it might have stretched the limits of plausibility, it was still a fun piece of fiction that imagined how it could have gone down and how ordinary people became heroes in defense of their homes.

Games have also gotten into the act ranging from IO Interactive’s third-person shooter, Freedom Fighters, to Massive’s RTS epic, World in Conflict. But there are no more Soviets, right? Well, there are always ultranationalist Russians if you follow Modern Warfare 2.

Instead, THQ has settled on North Korea to take on the United States.
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