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CURRENTS
Issue #72
February 20, 2008
Chattering Head
Front Page

Sick, sick, I am sick. I seem to have contracted some sort of virus, and my body screams to do nothing but sleep. Unfortunately, I cannot obey; I must drag myself to class, as well as finish this column.

As you might expect, I have been playing Lost Odyssey. Simply put, it is an outstanding RPG that lives up to, and even surpasses, every one of my expectations. The storyline is a fantastically epic yet emotionally rending tale; the gameplay is a highly enjoyable blend of turn-based combat and extensive skill management, and the game's graphical presentation is no mean feat. If you are an RPG fan, and you own an Xbox 360, then you have absolutely no reason not to pick up Sakaguchi's latest masterpiece. That's right: I said masterpiece.

But now I fear I must point you to a highly troubling statistic which is found on Lost Odyssey's GameRankings page. You see, for some ungodly reason, the game has a pitiful average of 77%-hardly a reflection of its greatness. Stuff like this just makes me mad, ladies and gentlemen. From what I've played so far, I can't understand how it could get anything less than a 9, or at least an 8. But then, what else can you expect from the mainstream gaming press these days? By their standards, the less RPG-like an RPG is, the better. *cough*Mass Effect*cough*

Enough of my ranting; let us hit the news.

Thompson Draws Connections Between Videogames and NIU Shooting
In other news, Lost Odyssey has turn-based combat!
Title

I'm sure you are all well aware of the tragedy that took place recently on the campus of Northern Illinois University. 27 year-old Steven Kazmierczak opened fire and took the lives of five students. Unsurprisingly, Kazmierzak had a history of mental health issues and had reportedly been acting erratic in recent weeks.

Why would I bring something like this up in Currents? Well, as you've likely guessed already, our game-hating friend Jack Thompson has appeared on the scene to offer his commentary on the matter. True to form, he has drawn a connection between Kazmierczak's actions and violent videogames. And as if the entire affair didn't stink enough already, care to guess what TV station Thompson appeared on to give his commentary? You guessed it again; it was Fox News, a network already deep in the doghouse among the gaming crowd. Much to my personal amusement, they describe Thompson as a "school shooting expert," and proceed to ask for his reasoning in the matter. Jack then proceeds into an awkward, barely comprehensible set of ramblings concerning murder simulators, rehearsals, counter-strike, and so forth. Y'know, nothing out of the ordinary for him.

To be honest, there isn't much editorializing I can do here. Or rather, not much editorializing that hasn't been done countless times over. It boils down to this: Jack Thompson is an ignorant fellow who likes to talk at length about things he knows little about. However, not only is he harmless, he is often entertaining. Instead of rehashing those basic principles, how about I just give you the video of his Fox News appearance. I'm sure you'll enjoy it.

Source: GamePolitics |
Thompson Threatens Legal Action Against NIU
Egads! Frivolous litigation!
Title

The story doesn't end there. After his clumsy appearance on Fox, Thompson apparently got right to work on producing some litigation, or at least some threats of litigation. In a letter to NIU's public safety department, Thompson says:

Pursuant to the Illinois Freedom of Information Act, I hereby request production of copies of all documents that reveal Steven Kazmierczak’s play of violent video games, including but not limited to the use of his computer to play Counter-Strike, which he apparently, according to the New York Post, used to rehearse for his Valentine’s Day Massacre at NIU.

The killers in the two worst school massacres in history—in Erfurt, Germany, and at Virginia Tech University—similarly trained on Counter-Strike to rehearse for their killing sprees.

If I am not provided with this information, I shall bring a civil action to secure these documents.

Yes, you read correctly: Thompson really did intrude upon an investigation, demanding information on 27-year-old Kazmierczak's videogaming habits. Sound shocking? Well, it really shouldn't; but just to make extra sure, politically-oriented gaming website GamePolitics sent Thompson an e-mail asking if he really, truly faxed the above letter. Thompson's response was quite decisive, and a little rude:

Of course I sent it to them, you idiot.

The NIU investigators have already responded, professionally, and told me they will get me this information in due time. This is how you do this, which you wouldn’t know.

Well, perhaps you should have followed the NIU investigators' example, Jack; your response was anything but professional.

All humor aside, I think Jack may have reached the point of certifiable insanity. Whatever threads of reality he once grasped have slipped from his fingers. Other than that, there isn't much I can say.

Source: GamePolitics |
Thompson Battles MSNBC, Fake Samuel Jackson
BESMIRCHAL!
Title

The story goes further still. In response to his litigious ways, MSNBC contributor Winda Benedetti has written an article thoroughly panning Jack Thompson.

The Northwest Herald and New York Post have since reported that Kazmierczak's former dormmates say he used to play the popular first-person shooter "Counter-Strike." Though Thompson is now using these reports to make himself sound like a prognosticator extraordinaire, the truth is he's simply playing the numbers. The fact is, one would be hard pressed to find a young man of Kazmierczak's age who has not played video games. Indeed, The Herald reports that Kazmierczak's dormmates said playing "Counter-Strike" was a common activity among the students living in the building — none of whom have opened fire on their classmates.

I suggest you take a look at the full article, as it is quite good. Jack Thompson, however, didn't think so; he told GamePolitics that MSNBC libeled him, and he plans to sue.

But that's not all! Thompson has also challenged a fake Samuel L. Jackson to a debate over video game violence! Why? Because of a certain blog that the fake Samuel Jackson posted on NewsGroper, a site in which it is clearly stated "these blog are not real." Despite that, Jack Thompson got REAL mad at Samuel L. Jackson, apparently believing him to be the real thing. Click the link above the see the article, I'm afraid it contains far too much language for me to transcribe here. However, I will transcribe Jack's follow-up comment that he left.

Mr. Jackson, I enjoyed your post about NIU and about me. Unfortunately, you could fit what you know about school shootings and their causes in a sleeve of Titleist golf balls. I'm a six handicap, and would love to play you a match anywhere anytime.

More importantly, Mr. Jackson, I saw you and the Jack Thompson spoof at the Spike TV Video Game Awards Show. Very funny, really.

Here's a proposal: Why don't you debate me on this issue of whether violent video games cause real world violence. I'll do it anywhere, anytime. You name it.

I dare you.

Jack Thompson, 305-666-4366, amendmentone@comcast.net
PS: Saw you in Black Snake Moan this weekend. I thought you deserved an Oscar for your performance. Brilliant.

Whoa... he included his e-mail address and his phone number? Shoot, he must be serious! Unfortunately, and as the website clearly states, Samuel L. Jackson is not the author of the blog in question. Jack evidently realized this (after forwarding the blog AND his comments to both Kotaku and GamePolitics) and posted the following comment:

Although your badass post was not real, mine is. Jack Thompson

Sigh... I've run out of editorial juice. I just can't find it within me to comment on 'ol Jack anymore; there just isn't anything to say that hasn't been said. So how about this: instead of editorializing any further, let us recite a limerick! How about it, Lusipurr?

Jack Thompson's chattering head
Is as dense and as solid as lead.
The stuff that's inside
Has long ago died.
It's a wonder he himself is not dead.

Such beautiful words... *wipes a tear*

Toshiba to Abandon HD-DVD Format
Flee! Flee for your lives!
Title

As my faithful readers know, almost every week I report a snippet or two of news concerning the HD format wars between Toshiba's HD-DVD and Sony's Blu-ray discs. 2008 has brought nothing but sorrow to the HD-DVD camp, with one studio after another renouncing their HD-DVD support, and many retailers (the latest being Wal-Mart) have done the same. When HD-DVD's CES press conference was canceled, many of us expected a surrender, but Toshiba insisted that they would be continuing to fight the good fight. Soon after, they cut prices on HD-DVD players, but were greeted only with further defections from their format. (Not to mention some increased PS3 sales.)

In the face of such obvious opposition, what can Toshiba do? Not a whole lot, it seems. Rumors of HD-DVD's doom originated from reports from public broadcaster NHK and Reuters. From the Reuters article: "Toshiba is expected to suffer losses amounting to tens of billions of yen (hundreds of millions of dollars) to scrap production of HD DVD players and recorders and other steps to exit the business, Japan's NHK said on its website."

It took them a few days, but Toshiba finally responded to the rumors. From their statement:

The media reported that Toshiba will discontinue its HD-DVD business. Toshiba has not made any announcement concerning this. Although Toshiba is currently assessing its business strategies, no decision has been made at this moment.

As I'm sure you can see, the above statement is hardly a refutation. Basically what they said in so many words was: "Yes, we're throwing in the towel on HD-DVD, but we planned on making a big, overblown official statement laced with fancy PR rhetoric. When we find the little bastard who let this thing slip, we will cut off his head and stuff his body in a septic tank."

Why they even bothered to make the above statement is beyond me, because the very next day, HD-DVD's demise was made official. In an official press release, Toshiba announced that they will no longer "develop, manufacture and market HD-DVD players and recorders." In other words, they've surrendered: Blu-ray has won the battle, and HD-DVD has lost. Miserably. Like it or not, ladies and gentlemen, this so-called format war has come to a close, and it's time to move on.

I don't think many of us are surprised at this; I'm certainly not. Blu-ray has been beating the proverbial crap out of HD-DVD for many straight months now, and PS3 sales have never been stronger. (More on that later). There's no doubt in my mind that Sony's PS3 had quite a hand in this, and in the end, I believe that hand dealt one of the most damaging blows. To all of you who own an HD-DVD player: you have my deepest and most heartfelt condolences. You are now the proud owner of something that's effectively become a paperweight. Hope you have some room on the shelf next to your betamax player. (Teehee.)

"It Is Games That Sell Consoles," Says Microsoft
I thought retailers did...
Title

Microsoft actually took the time to voice their opinions concerning the rumors HD-DVD's demise in a statement to tech blog Endgadget. They seemed rather nonchalant on the matter, stating the demise (or not) of HD-DVD wouldn't have "any material impact on the Xbox 360 platform or our position in the marketplace." They went on to talk about how the 360 has the largest lineup of games on the market right now, and stated that "it is games that sell consoles." However, they also stated that "we will wait until we hear from Toshiba before announcing any specific plans around the Xbox 360 HD DVD player." The way the statement is worded, it sounds as if they have some sort of plan B in place that they are ready to institute upon HD-DVD's death. There's talk of an external Blu-ray drive, but I have my doubts about that one. Microsoft seems to be pushing for digital downloads above all else, and throwing their support behind Blu-ray would likely cloud their message.

I agree that software selection is a large factor in the sales of game consoles, but it is certainly not the sole factor. And, loathe as Microsoft would be to admit it, internal Blu-ray drives can sell consoles as well. To all you 360 fans praying for a Blu-ray add-on, I have this suggestion: GO BUY A PLAYSTATION 3!

RUMOR: Microsoft Developing a New Xbox Live?
I like to play alone, sorry.
Title

I'm not an Xbox Live user, as some of you may know. The reason is pretty simple: I play RPGs, action adventures, and other such titles that have no online components. I have no use for multiplayer games outside of Super Smash Bros, and I certainly have no use for playing Halo 3 with SomeBoob in the Bronx.

Despite that, I found this little morsel of information to be somewhat interesting. According to a Microsoft job listing, a new Xbox Live service is being developed. From the job listing:

We're building the games, the console interface and logic, and the server support for a totally new LIVE experience. Both the games and the dashboard experience will be deeply paired with dynamic server support to create a compelling, fresh scenario each time. We're a small, entrepreneurial team working together to get things done very quickly in an agile environment. If you want to work in a space where you'll get all the responsibility you can swallow, and run as fast as you can, this team is for you.

Sounds pretty definite to me, although Microsoft has yet to make any official announcement on this matter. At any rate, if there is a new Xbox Live in the works, my guess is that we won't be seeing it anytime soon. If I were to venture a guess, I'd say that it will probably be released in concurrence with Microsoft's next system; which we will tentatively refer to as the Xbox 720. Sound good? Good.

Source: GamesIndustry
PlayStation 3 Outsells 360 in January, Nearly Even with Wii
But... you cannot play Lost Odyssey on the PS3. Silly people!
Title

The NPD group has recently released the sales figures for the month of January 2008. Overall, earnings are done 6% from January of 2007, although that does not take into account the fact that January 2007 contained five weeks. One of the more interesting bits of news to arise from their figures relates the hardware sales. The Wii came in first with 274,00 units, which is hardly a surprise. What is a surprise, however, is that the PS3 came in second place with 269,000 units sold--a mere difference of 5,000 units. The 360, on the other hand, came in last place selling 230,000 units, well below the total of its once-struggling opponent. Perhaps even more impressive is the fact that Sony's console outsold the DS, which sold 251,000 units in January. The PSP, which was Sony's biggest seller during the holiday season, tied with the Xbox 360 at 230,000.

My, how the tables appear to be turning. Loathe as some of you are to admit it, Sony is making a comeback here folks. I'm not saying that they've won the race yet; in fact, I acknowledge that they're far from it. However, at this point they are only gaining momentum, while Microsoft is, at best, maintaining their status quo. The question now is whether January was a fluke or if this pattern will continue through 2008.

By the way, for those of you who are interested, here are January's top ten games:

1. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (Activision, Xbox 360); 330,900
2. Wii Play with remote (Nintendo, Wii); 298,100
3. Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock with guitar (Activision, Wii); 239,600
4. Rock Band bundle (Harmonix, Xbox 360); 183,800
5. Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock with guitar (Activision, Xbox 360); 182,700
6. Super Mario Galaxy (Nintendo, Wii); 172,000
7. Burnout Paradise (EA, Xbox 360); 144,100
8. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (Activision, PS3); 140,000
9. Mario Party (Nintendo, DS); 138,500
10. Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games (Nintendo, DS); 133,000

Sources: GamesIndustry
QUICKIES: In Which I Make Passing Mention of Some Relatively Small, But Inherently Awesome News Stories!
A Man Without a Past Fights for a World Without a Future...
  • PSN Downloads Grow
    In correlation with the influx of PS3 sales, downloads from Sony's PlayStation Network have gone up in number significantly. According to a recent report from Sony, 7.9 million items were downloaded in January alone. That's an increase of 1.3 million from December, and brings the total number of downloads since the PS3's launch to 52 million. PSN currently has 2.9 million registered users. "Coming off a great holiday season we see strong momentum behind PS3 in 2008," says company CEO Jack Tretton, "and [we] feel confident about the year ahead."

  • Nobuo Uematsu Interview
    Now here is something any serious fan of videogame music should check out. Gaming website 1UP has put together a very lengthy and informative feature entitled "A Day in the Life of Nobuo Uematsu," which is, more or less, exactly what it sounds like. 1UP's James Mielke visits Uematsu in his Japanese summerhouse and spends the day with him, asking all sorts of questions about his life, his work, and his history as a videogame composer. There is plenty of text to read, and quite a few videos as well. Check it out here.

  • Lyndon LaRouche Touts Conspiracy Theory
    I almost didn't bring this up, but what the heck; it's a Quickie. There's this guy, you see; he's a political activist named Lyndon LaRouche. And, like our buddy Jack Thompson, he thinks that there's a massive conspiracy being held by the game industry, or more specifically by Microsoft. His PAC wrote an article, which is entitled International Fascism: Microsoft Will Kill More Youth than Hitler. If you want a good laugh, take a look; it's really quite comical.

  • A 360 Dies At GDC
    Now this is just too damn rich. An Xbox 360 demo console on display in Microsoft's XNA area of GDC was publicly struck down by the infamous Red Ring of Death. (Commonly abbreviated as the RROD.) On top of that, the machine was videotaped by BBC technology editor Darren Waters, who later wrote, "there's no way of knowing if this particular console was manufactured before or after Microsoft identified the problems with the machines. But at the very least it's embarrassing for the company that its own stock of demo machines is still susceptible to the problem." Yes... I'd have to agree with that.

  • HD-DVD's Death to Boost Sony?
    According to some leading industry analysts, the demise of Toshiba's HD-DVD format will likely result in increased sales for the PS3. Michael Pachter, who is well-known to the gamer crowd, said, "longer term, I think it's a huge boon for Sony, as most retail clerks will be instructed to push Blu-ray along with sales of HD monitors at holiday, so we should see a large increase in PS3 sales year-over-year at holiday." Sales of Sony's Blu-ray equipped system are predicted to rise as much as 10%. Kinda hard to argue with, considering that PS3 sales have been rising even before Toshiba's bow-out. But, like all predictions, only time will tell.

Ugh... I do not want to go to class. I've already skipped my first three, but I have to turn a paper into my English class. If not for that, I would just stay in bed all day.

Now, for the obligatory reminder: if you have any sort of reaction, positive or negative, to the news I just reported, then please send a letter to Q&A. Anyone who read last Friday's Q&A column heard about the quasi-collaboration me and Lusipurr agreed on. So once again I ask: write!

And that would be all, folks. Join me next week for more of your latest news.

Oliver Motok (Email Me!)

 

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