Friday, July 29, 2005

Parental controls

Okay folks ... time for a little editorial. The best thing about my having this little part of cyberspace real estate is that when push comes to shove, I can vent. The subject of my rant today? Hot coffee and frivilous lawsuits ... and no, this has nothing to do with McDonald's.

In case you missed the news, an 85 year old grandmother has filed a suit in New York against Take Two Interactive and its Rockstar subsidiary over the game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. According to the lawsuit, the woman claims that Take-Two engaged in "false, misleading and deceptive practices" because she bought the game for her 14 year old grandson without knowing the game contained hidden scenes of an explicit sexual nature.

The content in question stems from the now infamous "Hot Coffee" mod for the PC version of the game. In GTA:SA, Rockstar had originally planned to have a mini-game which ended up with the main character, CJ, going through a series of events before ending up having sex with a girl in the game. Rockstar eventually decided not to include the content in the final version of the game. However, due to the nature of the game production, pieces of the programming code for the mission were left in the game. Before I go any further, let me say that this is actually a common practice in the video game industry. When the PC version of the game Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver came out from Eidos, fans were surprised to find buried in the coding a series of audio files that apparently were recorded for a different ending. The thing is, because of the thousands upon thousands of lines of code required in programming a game, and because of how those lines reference one another, many times it's simply easier to "break" the coding to render some function(s) unusable. Of course, as the saying goes, "Nothing is foolproof to a sufficiently talented fool." Hackers immediately found the broken code in the PC version of GTA:SA and created the "Hot Coffee" mod to rebuild the broken mission.

Now, like Frankenstein's Monster, the Hot Coffee mod has a life of its own and is rampaging through the political world. Politicians who have nothing better to do are jumping on the video game bashing bandwagon. Why? Because apparently somewhere along the way, some people forgot that it's actually the PARENTS' job to raise their kids. Instead, these politicians want to garner support by trying to act like white knights riding in to rescue children from the evils of the world. And THAT is a load of bullshit.

Here's the deal ... using this case as an example. This woman, an 85 year old adult, KNOWINGLY bought her 14 year old grandson a copy of a game titled GRAND THEFT AUTO!!! A game which has as clear as day on the back of the box an ESRB rating that clearly states:

Let's break that down for a sec:
  • Mature 17+ - This is like a movie getting an R rating from the MPAA. The product is suggested for people ages SEVENTEEN AND UP!! Most retail outlets won't even SELL these games to minors WITHOUT the consent of a parent or guardian.

  • The big black "M" - See above

  • Blood and Gore - You KILL people ... and in very violent ways

  • Intense Violence - Umm ... You kill MORE people ... and in very violent ways

  • Strong Language - Remember George Carlin's "Seven Dirty Words"? Yeah, they're all here, along with a few extras.

  • Strong Sexual Content - Do I NEED to spell this out for you? If so, here: S-E-X

  • Use of Drugs - People buy, sell, and use drugs in this game

Is there ANYTHING in that which would make and SANE person think this is okay content for a 14 year old? NO!! And by the same token, is any of this really ANY different than ANY R rated movie that hits the big screen? NO!! So why in the HELL does the video game industry seem to have a big bullseye on it?

Even Electronic Arts isn't safe from the idiocy of lawsuit happy populace. A Florida lawyer is looking into sueing EA over the popular Sims 2 game. Why? Because some gamers decided to create custom skins and hacks for their Sims to get the characters to run around in the buff, or engage in "sexual activities". WHO THE HELL CARES? When does the supposed responsibility of the game company end? If someone modifies a product after it's been sold, whose fault is it? If I bought a car, customized it in ways that make it no longer street legal, and then got a ticket ... could I sue the car manufacturer since it was originally THEIR product?

All this boils down to is a politically charged witch hunt. From Communists to comic books to covens of witches ... people just don't seem to be content without having something to build a new Inquisition around. I'm reminded of a line uttered by Tommy Lee Jones in Men In Black ... and I'll close with it and step off my soapbox for now:
"A 'PERSON' is smart. 'PEOPLE' are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals and you know it."

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

PSP 2.0 update

The new firmware update for the PSP was made available in Japan today. The thing is, no one has an exact release date for when it will be available here in the States. Some places think it will be in the next day or so ... but what can I say? I'm impatient. I downloaded the new update from Sony Japan and installed it on my PSP. This is DEFINITELY an update worth getting as soon as you can. Why? Check out these goodies:

  • Web Browser - This is a fully functional Mozilla based web browser customized for the PSP. Though Flash isn't supported at this time, the fact that the software recognizes it probably means support is coming. Tabbed browsing is a novel idea, but so far, I haven't found the controls to CLOSE a tab. The software does support animation and Javascript (with controls to enable/disable each), as well as a variety of screen formatting options. These include Normal, Just-Fit (Page width is changed to fit the PSP screen), and Smart-Fit (Page content is rearranged to fit PSP screen width). Unfortunately, data is still entered with the onscreen phonepad style entry. However, Sony did include some extras for "http://" and ".com" and other such web standards.

  • Wallpaper - Now you can ditch the standard PSP background in favor of your own custom wallpaper. Just pick a photo from your memory stick to set as a wallpaper, and the PSP will convert it to the new background image. Afterwards, you can delete the photo if you want, as the PSP saves the background independently from the original file. You can always switch back by disabling the backgrounds in the System Settings menu ... or by replacing the image w/ a new Wallpaper.

    For the record, if you want to design your own wallpapers, the PSP's standard resolution is 480x272.

  • Themes - Tired of waiting until the first of the month for a new color scheme on your PSP? Now you can pick your favorite theme to use. That's right, Ray ... you can keep your PSP pink all year long.

  • Photo Sending - Share your favorite pics or wallpapers with your friends by beaming them to friends over an ad hoc connection.

  • Photo Formats - And speaking of photos, the PSP now supports not only JPGs, but also TIFF, GIF, and BMP files

  • Audio/Video Formats - I'm clumping a lot of these updates together. With the 2.0 update, the PSP has added support for PCM WAVE files, MP4 AAC audio, MP4 video playback (without all the odd conversion requirements), and improved support for ATRAC3plus files.

  • Additional Playback Features - These include a Jump feature, A/B Repeat, 4:3 Picture Mode, and Audio Change features

  • Korean Language - Kinda self-explanatory there

There are also a bunch of standard security fixes and such, which I won't worry about listing right now. I will say though that after playing around with the new features, I'll probably be using my PSP for a whole lot more now. Sony definitely did a good job with this update.

As I said, I'm not sure when everything will be available in the States, but one of the default bookmarks on the browser is a PSP-specific page from Sony. The opening page allows you to choose your region from Europe, North America, Japan, and South Korea ... however, as of 6:00p EST, only the Japan and South Korea options were available.

It's also interesting to note that in Japan, Sony will be rolling out a service for the PSP which will allow PSP owners to download trailers and such to their PSPs for free, with an ultimate plan to allow users to download half-hour TV shows for a small fee.

And for those of you as impatient as me, the Japanese update works fine on American PSPs, and does NOT affect region-encoding for UMD movies. Basically, if you're willing to sort out the download and installation instructions to get the update on your Memory Stick, the rest is easy and painless (and in English). Just make sure the encoding on your web browser is set to Western (ISO-8859-1). It should be that way by default, but set it again just in case.

Let me know if any of you get the update, and what you think of it as well.

Friday, July 22, 2005

GameSpy and Comic-Con

Okay ... so my coverage of Comic-Con got screwed up royally due to the communication breakdown I mentioned earlier. However, I'm still putting together what I can to salvage the seires in some way. So far, three fairly substantial pieces have made their way up over at GameSpy. Check 'em out:

Comic-Con 2005 Index: Polygons Go To Print

Paul Jenkins Interview
Comics Go Gaming
Comic Book Roundtable

I'm going to try to have more up next week, and hopefully everything will get straightened out. Either way, look for me to be writing a bunch of comic related gaming articles shortly.

Colored image

So, the comic piece I posted the other day got some color thrown onto it, courtesy of Kelly Yates. Take a look and tell me what you think.

Colors by Kelly Yates Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Comic heroes play games too

Randy Green did some spot art for me during Comic-Con. This piece was originally going to be a part of the GameSpy series, but since that's screwy at the moment, I figured I'd post it here.

What comic characters do in their spare time Posted by Picasa

New Avatar

One more thing I got at Comic-Con is a new avatar for my stuff ... courtesy of Kelly Yates, The new image will show up on business cards, shop merchandise, etc. I did a quick coloring job in Photoshop, but don't expect the colors to necessarily stay the same. Let me know what you think though.

New Image Posted by Picasa

Monday, July 18, 2005

Communication breakdowns

Ugh. So my comic feature for GameSpy was supposed to start this week. EVERYONE was expecting it this week ... well, everyone but GameSpy. It seems like things got hectic at the GameSpy offices with covering EA's Hot Summer Nights, plus two of the editors being out of the office for vacations and such. Communication kinda fell apart, so it looks like anything I write can't make it in til next week. The bad thing is that means the stuff I write is late, and it also delays my getting paid for the work. The bright side of it though is that I will have a little more time to write up some more detailed pieces for the series.

Heading home

I'll be heading back to Jax tomorrow. I've got a BUNCH of swag from the show ... especially video game stuff. "Like what?" you ask. Stuff like this:
  • Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction demos (PS2/Xbox) signed by Paul Jenkins
  • Marvel Nemesis: Rise of the Imperfects demos (PS2/Xbox)
  • Marvel Nemesis t-shirts
  • Death Jr. comic, issues #1 & 2
  • Death Jr. 2005 SDCC t-shirts
  • Death Jr. hardcover art book, signed by Ted Naifeh
  • The Art of Darkwatch hardcover, signed by High Moon Studios
  • Juiced t-shirt
  • Destroy All Humans! t-shirt
  • Destroy All Humans! soundtracks
  • City of Villains t-shirt
  • Red vs. Blue DVDs (seasons 1-3) signed by the cast
  • Jump Tribe exclusive Yaboo plush, signed by Clive Barker
  • Mortal Kombat "Cold Snap" Sub-Zero exlusive action figure
  • Mortal Kombat "Skull" Scorpion exclusive action figure
  • Exclusive MegaMan Zero action figure
  • Limited edition Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess coin
  • Doug TenNapel sketchbook

I got a lot of other stuff, but you get the idea. So what does this mean for you? More than you think. The swag bag is filling up quick, and that means it needs to be thinned out soon. And that means the contests are coming ... the only question is, what will you guys have to do to EARN the swag.

One more little oddball bit to throw into the bag ... my actual Comic-Con press badge. Besides proving that I am actually a writer (heh), I decided to get the cast of EP to sign it with me. So, besides getting an autograph from your truly (a treat in and of itself), you can also get the autographs of Victor Lucas, Tommy Tallarico, and Julie Stoffer (formerly of Real World).

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Pics from Sunday

More pics from the last day of filming.

Me on location

Vic and Tommy wrapping the NARC review

Tommy interviews Doug TenNapel (creator of Earthworm Jim)

Julie shoots an EA/Marvel piece

A little more of Julie in action

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Saturday pics (part 2)

More pics from today at the show. Also, there's a LOT of new projects to work on, and new people to work with. Details to come.

"I scored with the Princess" ... 'nuff said

JD filming outside the show

Tommy takes a breather

Marla and Geoff stop to say hey

Saturday pics (part 1)

Saturday marked the start of EP filming, as well as more writing for GameSpy. I'll wrap up filming tomorrow, and spend most of the afternoon wrapping up some GameSpy writing. Anyway, I decided to taked as many pics as I could. Here you go.

Judgment Day Fantastic Four filming

"Comic of the Week" segment with Randy Green

More "CotW" filming w/ Randy and Mike Marts

Tommy and Tina talking shop

Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction booth babes

One of many interviews with Paul Jenkins

Beck and Tommy get caught in the war of Red vs. Blue

Catching up w/ Christina Z.

Randy, Kelly, and I (behind the camera) start w/ a good breakfast

Second day con adventures

First off, I've gotta apologize if this post gets a little disjointed. I'm in the process of writing a feature piece for GameSpy on Tuesday. Yeah yeah ... I know it's only Satuday, but between covering the show for GameSpy and filming with Electric Playground, I'm not going to have a lot of time between now and Monday night to get it all done.

Yesterday was another round of setting up meetings, coordinating articles, and basically doing some hardcore networking. I was surprised to run into Vic (Victor Lucas from EP) around lunch. The original plan was for him to come in on Friday night. Anyway, it got sprung on me that he needed me to not only get people to agree to the interviews, but to basically schedule most of today's shooting as a whole. We grabbed lunch, discussed some possible projects, and caught up on the latest happenings. We were supposed to touch base later in the evening to review the shooting schedule I worked out, but I never got the call from Vic. So I guess everyone's just going to have to be happy with what I came up with and improvise when changes pop up.

Had a long talk with Brad Foxhoven and David Wohl from Titan Productions. I know both of the guys from their days back at Top Cow. Since then, they've founded a new IP development studio. Titan's main goal is to get Hollywood more involved in the video game industry, and to develop some quality properties. Titan is currently working with Clive Barker and John Carpenter, and there are a few other deals finalizing as we speak ... deals with a LOT of potential. I've also scored an exclusive with Titan about changes to the Clive Barker game Demonik. It seems that all the art has been redesigned by artist David Finch, and it looks frikkin' AMAZING!!!

So, I've set up a BUNCH of filming all day. Interviews with Paul Jenkins, Josh Blaylock, Jae Lee, Christina Z., Ed McGuiness, Brandon Peterson, Joe Kelly, and a whole lot more. I've also got more to do with GameSpy at EA, Majesco, Activision, and a few other gaming stops.

I'm going to make a point of stopping by Design Studio Press early in the day. Why? Because the guys from High Moon Studios will be there signing copies of The Art of Darkwatch. That is a gorgeous book, and I'm really looking forward to the game now. And speaking of games, it looks like I'll be going to Rockbottom Brewery tonight for a get together with the crew from Backbone Entertainment, the developers of Death Jr.

There's a lot more going on, but I'm pressed for time. I'll catch up later.

Friday, July 15, 2005

First (official) Day

Lots of stuff at the con ... first a few pics. Some are a little dark, but hey ... it's a camera phone.

Market Street is buzzing

Randy Green and David Wohl

Heading to lunch by the marina

King Kong by Weta Workshop

"I am your father ..." (yes, it's sideways ... sue me)

Kelly Yates enjoying the food at Hooters

Randy enjoying the other Hooters attractions

Now that we have that out of the way, here's a rundown of events. Spent most of the Preview Night last night setting things up for the rest of the show. Randy, Kelly, and I hit Hooters for dinner and got all set for today. Today, we hit the show and I kicked into high gear. Probably the biggest thing today was the lengthy interview with Paul Jenkins. Damned good interview, and something I think you'll all get a kick out of next week. I have a bunch of video game related goodies to add to the infamous "swag bag". Everything from t-shirts to action figures to soundtracks to autographed demo discs and more ... and there's a lot more to come.

I picked up a few goodies for myself as well. I bought the complete Red vs. Blue DVD collection. Damned funny stuff. Also, I picked up a sketchbook from Josh Howard (Dead @ 17). I'll probably get a sketch from him tomorrow. Also, I bought one of Clive Barker's new plush toys. That's right, I said Clive Barker has a new line of plush toys. The characters, part of a liner Barker developed called "Jump Tribe" are unique creatues ... each packed with a small hardcover book explaining the characters' stories.

Another interesting project I saw is a program called "Comic Book Creator for Video Games). The software allows gamers to take screen captures from various PC games and format them into a comic book layout, complete with word balloons, effects, etc. The finished products can then be saved into PDF format and sent to all your friends. VERY cool so far. I'm looking forward to seeing more as the product gets closer to release. Check it out for yourself at Planetwide Games. The company was also nice enough to give me a copy of its latest MMO, RYL: Path of the Emperor.

There's a lot more going on than I can touch on right now, but I need to get started on some regular writing too. I'll update more later.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Layover thoughts

Currently, I'm sitting in a lounge at the airport in Dallas/Ft.Worth. I've got another two hours before my connecting flight to San Diego takes off, so I've got time to kill. I slept all of one hour so far (from 3a-4a), and I'm feelin' a bit loopy. Good news though. The T-Mobile Hotspot account I set up before I left is working great, so I should have all sorts of internet access while in SD. For those of you who don't know, T-Mobile Hotspots are located in airports, FedEx Kinko's, Borders, and Starbucks ... and as we all know, you can't trip on the street without running into a Starbucks.

Speaking of Starbucks ... I need coffee. I'll talk more later.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Comic-Con 2005

It's that time of year again. Tomorrow morning I'm flying out to San Diego to cover Comic-Con International. Right now I'm taking a break from the pre-rtip madness to throw a quick post up to update current situations.

I'll be in San Diego from July 13-18. The first night is the preview night, where a lot of my work will include setting up and confirming meetings for the rest of the week. The two biggest chunks of work I have are for GameSpy and Greedy Productions. For GameSpy, I'm working on the previously mentioned week-long series focusing on the relationship between the comic book and video game industries. I'll be previewing and reviewing comic realted game projects and game related comic projects. I'm also set to have a host of interviews. "From who?" you ask curiously. Well, so far I'm tenatively confirmed for:
  • Randy Green (Witchblade, Tomb Raider)
  • Christina Z.(BloodRayne, Witchblade)
  • LeSean Thomas (TMNT, Cannon Busters)
  • Jimmy Palmiotti (Hawkman, Punisher)
  • Art Thibert (Chrono Mechanics, Ultimate Spider-Man)
  • Brandon Peterson (X-Men, Strange)
  • Paul Jenkins (Hulk, Origin)
  • Ames Kirshen (Director of Video Game Development, Marvel)

There's a lot more in store, and as always, things may change on the fly, but I'll keep you posted as much as possible.

Also, I'm going to be involved in Greedy Productions' filming on Saturday and Sunday. Besides helping with filming for a Comic-Con themed episode of Judgment Day and Electric Playground, I'm also setting up the filming for another round of "Comic of the Week" for the upcoming season of Electric Playground. Once I get a list finalized, I'll let you know.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Working all the angles

This seems to be the norm lately, but I've got a lot off different things in the works at the moment. More than enough on my plate to keep me busy.

First off, on Wednesday I'll be flying out to San Diego to cover Comic-Con International 2005. While there, I'll be covering the event for GameSpy, helping Greedy Productions with some filming, and possibly working the event freelance for a couple of other places as well. Immediately following the show, GameSpy will begin my week-long series spotlighting the relationship between the comic book and video game industries. The series will include interviews with comic professionals, previews (and reviews) of various comic-based projects, commentaries, and more.

Speaking of commentaries, I'm currently working on a plan for a regular weekly or bi-weekly column. The column may appear in rotation at GameSpy, but either way it will begin within the next week or so here at Stacking the Deck. One thing I've noticed in my time covering pop culture is that anything with any semblance of status lives and dies through the support of its fans. While this may seem to be a pretty basic observation, have you ever really taken the time to examine various fanbases? Many cover the entire spectrum of backgrounds, befliefs, status, and the like. The new column will take a closer look at some of the memebers of these fanbases, and spotlight what it is about different industries, franchises, properties, products, etc. that brings together such a diverse range of people. Don't worry though ... my usual wit and charm will remain intact. (Translation: "Yes, I'll still be a smart ass a lot of the time.")

I'm still working on putting together the pitches for some television, radio, and print projects as well. Also, it looks like I may start writing for a couple of new media outlets. Once things get a little more cemented, I'll pass the word along.

Yeah, there's a LOT more going on, but I'm pressed for time at the moment. I'll update more later. OH!! Look for remote updates to the blog direct from Comic-Con next week too ... that includes remote email posts, pics, and even audioblog entries.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

"100% FanBased"

You never know when a wave of inspiration will hit ... and when it does, you'd better be ready to ride it all the way to shore. Sometimes the smallest hint of an idea will grow and ultimately gain a life of its own. On Monday, my mind gave birth to one such idea.

For those of you who've been following my exploits, you'll know about some of the various irons I have in the fire right now. Besides working on my regular writing gigs, I've been busy trying to work on some projects to get Visionary Ink up and running, I've been putting together a pitch for a television show, I've been working on a blueprint for a potential radio show, AND I've been fleshing out a couple of ideas I have for some possible game and comic properties of my own. All of these projects are currently being worked on to varying degrees. Depending on events and circumstances, some of these may never see the light of day. Others may be closer to reality than you think. And who knows what I may get involved with tomorrow. Hell, there may be a slew of other ideas and opportunities just around the corner. You never know ... and neither do I. All of which leads me to Monday's inspiration.

The various projects I've got in the works cover the entire range of formats and subjects. Print, radio, television, and internet are all covered ... as are video games, comics, and other "pop culture" subjects. And while Visionary Ink is a cool name for the print work (hence the "Ink" part), it kind of limits what people perceive it to be. Keep in mind that when the idea for Visionary Ink first came about, I was still cemented firmly in the comic industry ... pushing and promoting projects for different industry pros and the like. Hell, even when I started branching out into video games, I was still pushing the comic industry. So when I needed something to file things under, "Visionary Ink" came to mind. The name fit, and so it stuck.

But now, my career has evolved to cover a wider range of topics. In fact, even Visionary Ink has evolved from a catch-all for my projects in its own seperate project. As a result, I had to come up with a new place to build my ideas. While working on some notes for my GameSpy Comic-Con coverage, as well as some notes for the radio show I'm developing, I made a note that said I wanted to "cover the spectrum of the [video game] and comic fanbase". For some reason, that line stuck with me for a while. And that's when it hit me ...

Everything I'm working on right now is for you ... the fans of the different industries. Video game fans. Comic fans. Etc. It's all about the fanbase. Even my blatent marketing of myself is all about building and supporting a personal fanbase. So why NOT incorporate that into everything I'm doing? I did some planning, some digging, and have now officially come up with "FanBased Media", which will act as the umbrella encompassing each of the independent projects I'm working on. FanBased Media is, in essence, the production house from which these ideas will ultimately spring to life or wither and die. FanBased Media will play host to its own blog, detailing some of the projects in the works. Though if you are a regular reader here at Stacking the Deck, you'll probably already know about things by reading it here first. FanBased Media will also have its own shop with its own unique merchandise (thank you CafePress!!)

So where is all of this going to lead? Hell if I know. But you're all invited to join me on the ride.

All aboard!!

Friday, July 01, 2005

Video Games ... they're "fan"tastic

Things have been crazy lately for me on the work front. Ended up with two rush review jobs, which I wrapped up and got posted today over at GameSpy. The first is for the new Atlus RPG, Riviera: The Promised Land (GBA). Riviera is a fun RPG title, but it's also one you'll definitely have to put some time into. I almost gave it a lower score than it has now, simply because it takes a while to really get into the game and to get used to unique quirks the game offers. Luckily, I kept at it and was pleasantly surprised. Check it out if you get the chance.

The other review was for the new Fantastic Four video game. Technically it was three reviews, as I had to check out the Xbox, PS2, and Gamecube versions. So it's no secret that comics are invading the mainstream a lot these days. And with the new FF movie coming out, you knew that the obligatory video game tie-in couldn't be far behind. Well, thankfully for both comic fans AND gamers, the developers did a great job of keeping the FF true to their roots. While it's not the greatest comic-based game ever, it's actually pretty good. Plus, it shares more than a few gameplay elements with one of my favorite comic games, X-Men Legends. Also, there's a LOT of unlockable extras in the FF game, including some pretty cool interviews with the cast of the film, and none other than Stan Lee himself.

There's a lot of other things currently in the works for me as well. First off, I'm beginning work on my week long GameSpy series focusing on the relationship between the comic book and video game industries. The series should coincide with my coverage of Comic-Con International. I've already got more than a few interviews lined up for both the feature series and for Comic-Con. If you're going to be at the con, let me know.

There are a couple of other interesting projects I'm working on as well. I won't go into too many details right now, but for all those people who make the joke "You have a face for radio" ... well, you may be more right than you know where I'm concerned.