narcogen's blog

If you haven't already, subscribe to the Bungie Podcast via iTunes.

The latest edition features Paul Bertone talking about mission design, as well as a friendly wager between him and Luke Smith.

Bertone, a Patriots fan, predicted 90 catches, 1100 yards, and 20 TDs for wide receiver Randy Moss. Loser gets a fauxhawk.

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Gamers With Jobs urges gamers not to expect too much from Halo 3, because nothing can live up to the hype. While examining the extent to which our appetites are dictated to us by the omnipresence of information about AAA must-sell titles, it does seem that some of Julian "rabbit" Murdoch's theses say more about his approach to gaming in specific and entertainment in general than the medium itself.

In response to having one's expectations brought too high, Murdoch quotes Alice Walker:

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Back in August, gaming website Kotaku posted scans of what purported to be a leaked Halo 3 manual on their site. Not knowing if they were genuine, they put them up and let the readership decide whether to give them credence or not.

Now it seems that Internet Investigator James Young has sent Kotaku a rather odd letter. Kotaku has posted the entirety of the letter, but it's worth pulling out a few select pieces for examination:

It has come to Microsoft's attention that your website includes material which is in violation of Microsoft's intellectual property rights. Content currently residing within your computer system infringes on the trademark rights of Microsoft Corporation and constitutes an unauthorized activity relating to Microsoft computer programs.

So, first off, disclaimers: I Am Not A Lawyer and This Article Does Not Constitute Legal Advice.

Secondly, trademark infringement. This usually refers to use of a registered trademark within a certain context. These are protected to prevent companies from creating me-too products to confuse consumers.

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There's been an awful lot of community discussion around the first version of Microsoft's recently released Game Content Usage Rules. Most likely a result of Halo 3's upcoming Saved Films feature, Microsoft is the first game publisher to openly publish such rules, instead of simply remaining silent over copyright violations that do benefit them insofar as they help promote the games.

Shortly after the rules were noticed, some machinima studios claimed that its restrictions against "adding to the game universe" and prohibition against usic "music and audio effects" forced them to close down.

Don "DonkeyXote" McGowan in Micrsoft's legal department, who helped draft the rules, also posted in his blog about them, touching on the story, audio, and reverse engineering items specifically.

Machinima For Dummies has two news articles on the rules: one, two. Hugh Hancock provided an analysis of the rules, stating that they do need revision but are mostly positive.

However, probably the best analysis comes from EFF attorney Fred Von Lohmann, linked to in Hancock's post. The bottom line is: using this license is not mandatory, and even if you do use it, it provides rights additional rights to the fair use rights you already have.

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It's hard to escape the concept of repetition in entertainment, especially in gaming. While the word "repetitive" itself is often used as a criticism (hello Halo 1's interiors) games are designed to be played repeatedly, and incorporate repetitive elements into their designs.

It's understandable. As an object lesson in entertainment economics, look at the DVD player. Widely hailed as the fastest-adopted new entertainment technology, it is built on the foundation of repetition; the idea that people will want to play the movies and television shows they love over and over. Given that game console hardware and software are both about three times as expensive as DVD players and DVD discs, they have to be at least as repeat-friendly to warrant that kind of investment.

There a lot of different ways to extend a game's useful lifetime and give gamers more bang for their buck by allowing for repeat plays; the Halo series, as well as many other games, provide excellent examples of this.

Since the nature of online multiplayer itself is repetition-- short competetive matches played with a seemingly endless revolving door of random opponents-- we'll leave that aside for the moment. Many games don't have multiplayer at all, and even most that do don't encompass all of their purchasers in online matches. However, there are many ways that repetition is used in designing a single-player campaign that can remain interesting after many playthroughs.

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Earlier this week I experienced something that, up until now, I thought only other people had to go through.

Xbox hardware failure.

I plugged it in, and instead of the familiar sights and sounds of console startup, I got a loud pop and a puff of smoke.

Is it the Red Ring of Death, people ask? Am I going to get a new unit under Microsoft's new three year warranty?

Nope, I say. Because I'm not talking about my Xbox 360. It still works fine.

I'm talking about my original launch Xbox, which gave me nearly six years of mostly faithful service, from December of 2001 until now. Sure, the past three years or so there were periodic disk errors. Sometimes it refused to "recognize" a game disc in the tray. When it was Halo or Halo 2, it was comical; how could the console not recognize those?

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The Escapist article The Future Of PC Gaming Isn't You simultaneously contains one of the most true and one of the most false statements I can recall recently about this whole "casual gaming" thing that, like wireless technology, people just won't shut up about.

The most true is this:

"Casual gaming is not a demographic, it's a behavior."

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Two and a half years ago, I said that rumors that the Xbox 360 would not have a hard drive as standard were evidence that either the speculators, or someone at Microsoft, were on crack.

I thought it was silly for Microsoft to become the first company to make a hard drive standard in a console instead of an option, only to become the first company to remove the same feature.

I thought it was silly to tease developers into depending on the hard drive, and then take that away.

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In French, the phrase "syndrome de la page blanche", or white page syndrome, is intended as an expression of writer's block; the inability to begin a project faced with an empty page.

Myself, I always viewed it as an expression of the usefulness of limitations, boundaries, and direction: one of the reasons why so many works are derivatives and combinations is because it is easier to start with what you know and then change it than trying to tilt at the windmill of creating something truly unique. When faced with a boundary or limitation, you are teased into approaching it and testing its strength. If one was truly free to do or say truly anything without limit, it seems likely one would find nothing to say.

It is this thought that runs through my head while playing Freeverse's Xbox Live Arcade conversion of Marathon: Durandal. One is given to wonder if there is any value in such an object beyond nostalgia; a chance for those who played the game a decade ago to relive that experience. For some, a chance to recapture youth, or a chance to remember good times.

However, it is a good deal more than that; and comparing it to other games in the genre that make better use of the modern hardware in today's console provides an object lesson on the usefulness of limitations and boundaries.

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Some of us senior citizens are having a blast now that Marathon: Durandal is out for Xbox Live Arcade. I'll post later in greater length about how this adaptation is simultaneously absolutely faithful to the original while still timely and fun, and how its design teaches lessons still relevant a decade after its release.

However, many Halo fans have never played Marathon. Many may not have heard of it until now. Some, as ridiculous as this sounds, were not even born when it was released. Is Marathon still for them?

It sure is. But before playing, it's best just to do some fair warnings about some quirks in Marathon's design that might frustrate a player whose only exposure to Bungie so far is the Halo series.

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I've captured screens from many, but not all, of the individual scenes within the Halo 3 E3 2007 Campaign Trailer. Some contain things of note that have yet to be confirmed, and others show new versions of familiar objects from the Halo universe.

There appear to be three distinct kinds of scenes in the trailer. Straight gameplay footage is recognizable because HUD elements are present, and gameplay is shown either from the first person perspective if on foot, or in third person if using heavy weapons or a vehicle.

Cinematic footage, or footage of scripted events, is usually recognizable because it presents events that do not occur within the scope of gameplay and are not presented from the perspective of the player, and no HUD elements are present.

It is likely that there is a third kind of footage shown within this video: that is actual gameplay events, presented without a HUD and from an arbitrary camera position, using Halo 3's Saved Films feature. When the events shown are actual gameplay mechanics, such as infantry or vehicular combat, but the perspective is even further away from the action than when using a vehicle or heavy weapon, and no HUD elements are present, it is likely this is the kind of footage we're seeing. Rather consistently, Halo cinematics have not included significant amounts of combat, or events that could have been part of actual gameplay, with very few exceptions (the confrontation between Johnson, Keyes, and the Arbiter, for instance).

Click "read more" from the front page for the entire text, which is quite image-heavy.

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Halo trailers have usually fallen into one of three categories: announcement, multiplayer, and campaign. Of these, announcement and multiplayer trailers are usually very straightforward, so here I'll be focusing mostly on the campaign trailers.

A Seamless World

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While part of me still hopes somehow that the list of Halo 3 Achievements discovered awhile back at Xbox.com is not entirely legitimate, or at least not complete and final, it did contain something quite interesting. The final nine achievements are worded like so:

Score over points in the Campaign meta-game on the Nth mission.

While the idea of points might be new to the Halo series, at least in campaign mode, it is certainly not new to first person shooters or to Bungie games in general. Looking at those two sets of precedents could produce a pretty good picture of what this feature might entail in Halo 3. If that's not enough, a good hit off the crack pipe would provide visions of even more outlandish implementations.

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First off, a quick apology for the lack of updates around here. Mrs. Narcogen and I have been moving all our worldly possessions crosstown in cardboard boxes, suitcases and backpacks over the past two weeks, and the job now is nearly done. For me, that makes... eleven apartments in thirteen years. The new place once again has a separate room for all the gadgetry, so that's where the New Rampancy Towers is located.

Iris Reaches Out And Touches... The Wrong Person

The Hushed Casket has quickly become, along with the CompundIntelligence group at Bungie.net and the ARG forum at Bungie.org, one of the best places to keep up with the alternate reality game promoting Halo 3, which is apparently called "Iris". There's still no hint of whether or not Forty Two is involved in this game, although it does seem that Bungie is a bit more involved this time around, and things are more clearly focused on the game. The Halo 3 comic, for instance, is a far more straightforward bit of storytelling with a direct connection to the game, as compared to the I Love Bees audio drama. This has led to a predictable criticism-- that if the game only attracts fans of Halo, as opposed to fans of ARGS, what's the point, since Halo fans are going to buy Halo anyway? I've wondered that myself more than once. Clearly the sales benefits of ARGs are indirect at best.

Those benefits are likely no comfort at all to college student Michael VanderZand, whose mobile phone number was concluded to be related to the game because of its resemblance to a number in an Xbox Live profile. For the full story, read rapture's piece at THX.

As for the game itself, the friendly (if a bit terse) AI called "Adjutant Reflex", mistaken by many as a monitor despite his lack of a numerical designation, has apparently been taken over by a more powerful and less friendly entity-- perhaps that is a monitor?

We're In For Some Chop

Yesterday I read at HBO that Louis Wu was linking to a purported list of Halo 3 achievements, but was a bit suspicious at first. Then, the authenticity of the list was seemingly confirmed when it was also located at a very official source-- xbox.com itself.

Imagine my disappointment, since I had just finished writing a long piece on how the achievements couldn't possibly be the real thing, but were just a hoax perpetrated by a fan with too much time on his hands. I posted the thing and deleted it within five minutes.

Even now, looking at the list, I hold on to a desperate hope that it's a red herring or perhaps a placeholder of some sort. If it's real, it's a spoiler, so click "read more" below for my look at the list.

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So now it's over. For just about everybody. I thought I'd do one last collection of observations about the Beta before we begin the four months or so waiting for the Real Thing to arrive. However, before that happens, it's interesting to note that the beta didn't end at the same time for everybody...

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