Second Life hit by self-replicating game-object virus

20 11 2006

In fine cyberpunk form the attacker apparently created an object in the form of a spinning gold ring that appeared above the ground. Loaded with a script it self-replicated when touched and, if I understand it correctly, chased players around. The social engineering was simple: all of a sudden parts of the SL world were populated with these tantalisingly shiny objects, who wouldn’t want to take a closer look..

Half a million players experienced significant lag on hundreds of servers as a result of the object replicating. This apparently is what they look like.

Thankfully, as one Slashdot reader points out, they’ve already identified the suspected mastermind . If sighted please notify the appropriate authorities.

Updates on the situation can be found here. We can only hope the marketing department at Linden Labs aren’t quite so e

Computer gaming is nothing to be ashamed of, says Charlie Brooker

20 11 2006

via the Guardian Guide on Saturday November 11, 2006

“Confession: I worship pixels. Ever since I can remember, I’ve been fascinated by video games. When I was a child, we’d go swimming each week at a nearby leisure centre, and I looked forward to these visits not because I loved swimming (which involved far too much chlorinated water burning your nostrils out for my liking) but because the pool was overlooked by a small gallery area housing a couple of arcade machines

By today’s standards they were absurdly primitive, of course: hulking great boxes farting out atonal beeps while monochrome blobs representing everything from a Wild West shoot-out to a full-scale alien invasion fl ickered across their goldfi sh-bowl screens.

Still, no matter how crude the audio visual representation, my imagination filled in the gaps. Computer games struck me as the most exciting things imaginable. Perhaps it stemmed from some megalomaniacal desire to stare at a TV set and control whatever action it depicted. Or perhaps I just liked blowing stuff up. Either way, I was hooked, and I’ve stayed hooked ever since.

Early aff airs with Battlezone and Pacman led to a pubescent fi xation with the ZX Spectrum, which in turn begat the Amiga, then on to the Megadrive, the SNES, the PC Engine, the Neo Geo, the 3DO, the Jaguar, the… you get the picture. The moment any new bit of gaming kit launches, my wallet fl aps open. When people ask me which console they should buy, I always answer: “All of them.” Why the hell not? After all, speaking in my guise as a so-called TV critic, I can confi dently state that games are markedly better than television. They’re more immersive. Consistently more spectacular and surprising. The storylines and scripts are almost always utter rubbish, but that’s part of their charm.

Furthermore, as a medium, TV encourages you to switch off your brain and slowly coagulate on thesofa. Video games force you to stay alert. Furthermore, you control them. They start and stop when you like. There’s no continuity announcer jabbering over the credits. Your intelligence is rarely insulted, but regularly challenged. There’s more invention (and sheer joy) in a single level of any Super Mario platformer you care to mention than most TV series manage in their entire lifespan. PC shooter Half-Life 2 is a sci-fi action thriller; it’s 10 times more exciting than the best episode of 24 (which I love). With increased connectivity, games are becoming less isolated, too. Many current titles offer seamless integration with an online world. Test Drive Unlimited, for instance, is an X box 360 driving game that simulates an entire Hawaiian island. It takes over halfan- hour to drive from one side to the other in real time; other players, zipping alongside you in traffic, can challenge you to an instant race just by fl ashing their headlights at you. It’s a futuristic communal sandpit, and piddling about on its roads for an hour or so is far more social than slumping in an armchair watching Top Gear on your own.

Still, it’s not always fun being a 35- year-old games addict. Sometimes I’ll be banging on to some disinterested party about how great, say, Dead Rising is (and it IS great: a George Romero zombie movie realised in hilarious detail) – when I suddenly realise they’re regarding me with genuine pity.

Apparently it’s OK to be a sports buff , a movie buff , or a food buff … but being a games buff still somehow offends society. People prepared to conduct tedious 15-hour analytical conversations about football or Kieslowski or the best place to find balsamic vinegar will have the audacity to call you a nerd for mentioning anything more obscure than Grand Theft Auto. Well, fuck your snobbery. Games are brilliant. Still, since I’m pre-programmed to buy almost every new release – I just have to – even I am sometimes embarrassed when approaching the counter. In a recent deeply pathetic incident, I found myself trying to pretend to a shop assistant that the copy of vomitously cute puppysimulator Nintendogs I was buying wasn’t for me but for a fi ctional nine-year-old child. I could do without the recent spate of violent bling-’em-ups, too; embarrassing gangsta epics targeted at excitable adolescent boys (it’s particularly frustrating when the gameplay itself is appealing; like trying to watch an entire OC box set because you admire the editing).

Overall though, video games, like ridicule, are nothing to be scared of. Anyone who isn’t hopelessly addicted should be regarded with suspicion. Don’t like pixels? Think games are shallow? Shut up and learn to love the joypad.”

Mainstreaming Culture

Square Enix looking at Uk Studios

18 11 2006

Square Enix’s European CEO John Yamamoto has praised European developers’ multi-format skills and suggested that the company could follow Sega’s lead in acquiring local teams.

Speaking in today’s issue of Develop sister magazine MCV, Yamamoto discussed the company’s recent successes in the UK and Europe, including the introduction of the latest Dragon Quest game which was released earlier this year – and was the first time a game in the series had been released in the territory.

But as Yamamoto told Develop itself back in March, the next step is to add to the portfolio of Eastern-developed games with a line-up of locally-made ones.

When asked if he was interested in establishing or investing in a studio in Europe, he said: “I am very interested in European development because there are a lot of very good independent studios so we have started having meetings with people right now, and we will keep going.

“Titles I’m looking at are for Europe and also the United States. We have had a few meetings and I think we still need to keep going on that. UK studios handle technology very well – most Japanese companies are making titles for one format, but UK studios have cross format technology and so I’m very interested in those technologies as well.”
via Develop Flash

The Euro Vision: Climax’s Karl Jeffrey Bullish On UK

16 11 2006

via Gamasutra and Jon Jordan

The Euro Vision: Climax’s Karl Jeffrey Bullish On UK
It’s something of an irony that as the sharp end of the games industry winds itself into a maelstrom of fourth quarter cut and thrust in terms of releases (although actually for most companies Christmas is accounted in their third quarter figures), the volume of real news seems to dry up.

Still, the sheer weight of numbers when it comes to autumn and winter games releases remains something to be in awe of. It’s struck me particularly this year as this is the first year I’ve been trying to encompasses even one small part of this output as the DS editor of UK consumer website Pocket Gamer. Does it really make sense for there to be nine DS games released on the 24th of November, including four movie tie-ins: Superman Returns, Eragon, Happy Feet and Flushed Away? To put it in context, that’s only one less game released on one Friday than in the whole of August and September.

One such is Climax’s CEO Karl Jeffrey, who was still in ebullient mood following the sale of Climax’s Racing Studio in Brighton to Buena Vista Games in October. At the time, I suggested it was a bizarre deal in terms of Climax losing its most highly regarded studio, while it seemed unlikely BVG would be interested in the sort of realistic racing simulators it developed.

Personally I’m still not sure about BVG’s model – CFO Tom Staggs has apparently told Bloomberg the company is looking to invest $350 million annually on games during the next five to seven years – but the fact that Jeffrey didn’t want to sell the studio suggests he got a very good price.

“We’ve had a lot of money in the bank before; although not this much money in the bank. But I’m happy to let it moulder there for a while,” Jeffrey says, when asked about the temptation to start splashing around the new found wealth.

A secondary benefit of selling the studio, which accounted for around a third of Climax’s workforce, is an overall reduction in headcount and hence Climax’s monthly burnrate. “At times in the past, I’ve felt like an administrator. I’m happier than I’ve been for a long time following this deal,” Jeffrey continues. “It’s great. It feels like I’m running a games company again.”

Learning From The Past

Indeed, Climax’s new structure – one main studio based in Portsmouth, a smaller handheld studio in London, and a tiny team in LA – demonstrates how quickly the philosophy of running independent game studios has changed. Back in the early 2000s, UK developers, in particular, bulked up employing hundreds of staff, as they bought up studios to create multi-location organizations.

Argonaut Games, headquartered in London, had studios in Cambridge, Oxford and Sheffield. Despite being based in Manchester, Warthog had studios in Texas and Sweden, while Kaboom had three facilities in the Midlands and one in Bath. Between 2003 to 2005, all of these companies went bust, as the risk of developing games, especially original titles, went through the roof.

It’s a lesson from history that increasingly cephalopodian US outfits such as Pandemic-BioWare and Foundation 9 (now a massive 725 staff spread across 11 studios), would do well to consider.

Death To Heavy Iron

Even Jeffrey wasn’t so canny to avoid fallout from that heady atmosphere; something he now calls the ‘Heavy Iron’ model. At one point, Climax had a studio in Nottingham, which he admits lost millions of pounds in the attempt to develop a MMOG based on the Games Workshop license Warhammer.

Jeffrey also admits to getting carried away when it came to the company’s expansion in the US, which at the time it was announced at the end of 2004, was tagged as ‘a crucial part of reinforcing the company’s global positioning’.

“It was a learning experience,” he says. “Whenever I do something, I do it wholeheartedly,” which in this case meant relocating himself to LA, and taking his eye off the core UK business.

It soon became clear, however, that the intense competition for staff in the LA region, as well as the required management overheads, made the situation unsustainable. “I tried to be in two places at once. It doesn’t work,” Jeffrey comments. Climax still maintains a small team in LA – ironically the 16,000 square foot office remains its largest – but the focus of the company is now firmly back in the UK.

Loving The UK

“I’m bullish. I think UK development is resurgent,” Jeffrey states. “We use a lot of outsourcing in China and Eastern Europe, but the costs are going up. They’re good for art assets but I don’t think I’d trust them with a complete game.”

Neither is he worried about the rise of publisher-owned studios. “It’s just cyclical. I don’t think everything will go in house,” he says, pointing out that it will always be more efficient to use external developers for some projects. “If a game goes late, and the team is on your payroll, it’s not as if you’re not going to pay them or sue them for late delivery.”

So the future for Climax, which still relies on a work-for-hire model as its core business, is to invest in the tools, technology and development processes, which will make it a more efficient partner for the likes of current clients such as Take Two, Eidos, Microsoft, Konami and Midway.

It’s also working to develop some original intellectual properties, such as The Fixer. “We’ve been working on it off and on but after Sudeki [the ill-fated Xbox RPG] we realized we blew our own trumpet too early, so it will probably be another year before people get to see it,” he says. Other areas being considered include Xbox Live Arcade-style games and handhelds, especially the DS.

But Jeffery’s bottom line when it comes to running a successful business remains as straightforward as ever. “You have to find your niche and control your costs,” he warns.

[Jon Jordan is a freelance games journalist and photographer, based out of a single site in Manchester, UK. He’s very niche and doesn’t have any expansion plans.]