Monday, April 26, 2010

Supreme Court to Look at Games: Industry Under Attack, Threat Level Red Edition

The United States Supreme Court will hear a case to determine the constitutionality of a law banning the sale of violent video games to minors. Arguments surround a California law (I wrote about in depth here) - which was signed into law and found to be unconstitutional before it went into effect. This will be the highest court to determine whether video games are afforded the free speech protections of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution - and it is very, very important to our industry. Free speech sounds like it addresses the things we say, but it protects everything from strippers to protest marches- just about anything to bring a tear to each American's eye. Thanks to the great work of The ESA, every time the question was raised in the past, the court's found the legislation to be unconstitutional, but the highest courts ruling on the issue were at the district court level. This means the decisions are not binding nationally and may be over turned by the Supreme Court.

Two tests must be met to justify restrictions on speech. There must be a compelling interest to be protected and no less restrictive way to protect the interest. The case is before the Supreme Court because the State of California failed to show either. The two California courts under review determined the State did not show sufficient evidence to support their claim that violent video games harmed minors - the same conclusion reached by The Byron Review in their report commissioned by the British Prime Minister (I talked about that one in depth too, here). The court further found there were less restrictive ways to prevent minors from playing games including the parental controls on gaming systems.

If the Supreme Court finds the law to be constitutional State legislatures across the country will try to garner favor with scared parents by enacting anti video game legislation. Politically, it is the safest thing they can do. The kids who suffer don't vote. The parents who are scared, do. We've already seen it. Just about two years ago, to congressmen Jim Matheson and Lee Terry completely ignored an FTC ratings enforcement study and misrepresented facts in support of an anti video game bill. Rather than pointing to the real improvement of the error rate against sales of M rated games to unaccompanied minors from 2000's 85% to 2008's 20%, they used an older study. They also forgot to mention the error rate for DVD's was 35% at the time of the bill. The California Attorney General is using the same type of misdirection saying "It is time to allow California's common-sense law to go into effect and help parents protect their children from violent video games." Well the law, which two California courts found to be unconstitutional is neither common sense nor necessary for parent's to protect children.

It sounds trite by now, but the the first argument against the law really is the slippery slope argument. “If you are going to start here, where does it stop?” While it is great to use at cocktail parties, and you can’t turn on talk radio without one caller paraphrasing “and then they came for me,” it hardly ever carries the day. The world exists on a slippery slope and sometimes we just have to wear spiked shoes and suck up decisions. The bigger concern is the chilling effect. First used in a legal opinion by Justice Brennan in 1965, the term refers to the social impact of penalty bearing legislation - and it's scary. If I am a game retailer and I know I will have to pay $5,000 if I accidentally sell an M rated game to a 16 year old – notice there is no intent requirement in the legislation – I just won’t sell M rated games. If I don’t sell them in the store, I am not going to order them from the publisher, who in turn will not make them any more and the average gamer, who is 33 years old, so shit out of luck. Even though we all love Mario Galaxy, Halo and Call of Duty are good too. Gamers soon get bored of sixth grade level content, and like the comic book industry before it, the game market collapses. More on this and how it really happened in comics in a eerily foreshadowing of our current situation here.

Rather than listen to California's Attorney General, or our Governor Schwarzenegger who believes, ironically, there should be no penalty for the sale of an R rated Terminator film to a minor but there should be one for sale of an R equivalent game, we should all heed the advice of the Byron Review:

Having considered the evidence I believe we need to move from a discussion about the media 'causing' harm to one which focuses on children and young people, what they bring to technology and how we can use our understanding of how they develop to empower them to manage risks and make the digital world safer

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Remember When Games Were Fun: Prince of Persia Edition

Here is an excerpt from a Wired profile about Jordan Mechner - full disclosure, Jordan is a client - and he talks about when game making was fun and the results showed in the product.

“I was right out of college, spending a summer at home,” Mechner says. “I had an Apple II, so I took my brother out into the parking lot of our old high school and made him run, jump and climb, and that video was the basis for the game.”

The date was Oct. 20, 1985. We know this because the 21-year-old Mechner kept an astonishingly comprehensive journal, which he has since posted online. While he was still an undergraduate at Yale, Mechner was already earning royalties off a best-selling action game that he had created, called Karateka. He wanted his next game to have the same essential story elements — a youthful hero, a princess in danger, an evil lord — but on a grander scale, like a “Disney movie,” as he wrote at the time.

Nearly four years later, the original Prince of Persia game was released for the Apple II. Mechner’s rotoscoped animation, based on his brother’s acrobatics, was smoother and more lifelike than anything gamers had experienced before. The 1989 game became a smash hit, ported to nearly every operating system and game console at the time. And Mechner began pitching the idea of a Prince of Persia feature film.

The idea didn’t gain traction at first, and the series faded from the limelight after a failed attempt to translate the gameplay into 3-D. But in 2003, Mechner worked with Ubisoft to bring the series back to life with the critically acclaimed Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. The success of this new game was key, he would say later, to getting Disney and producer Bruckheimer excited about the idea of a film.

Bruckheimer’s production company hired Mechner to write the screenplay, keeping the series’ creator intimately involved with the making of the film. (Three other scribes share writing credits on the final version of the script.)

Mechner “came up with a good story and worked really hard on it,” says Bruckheimer.

With the release of the Prince of Persia movie Jordan will be the first game creator to cross over and write a major feature film. All indications are it will displace Tomb Raider's 9 year run as the top grossing game to film transition. In case you were wondering if the two films have anything in common, yes they do - me.

You can read the whole thing here.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Best iPad game: Crysis PC HD Running on iPad Edition

Wanna play Crysis in all it's glory but don't have your Alienware machine with you?

Otoy has it running - and just about anything else without building a ported version - on any device. Build once, play anywhere. No more neutered versions of games. No more porting or rebuilding expense. No more concern about the market value of the port to the additional device.

This is great news, because before iPad, it was limited to your phone, and that is way to small to enjoy the game:

There is also more older stuff here, but it does not involve an iPad, just stuff to make you scratch your head: