December 30, 2008

Moral Dilemmas

Here are two moral dilemmas I recently stumbled upon. They are both about what kind of content is suitable for children. Now, the German government is really touchy this subject, especially in computer games. I strongly disagree with banning media - why not simply setting a higher minimum age?! However, I think we all agree that some kind of content simply isn't suitable for children. But what about those two:

Violence against Robots
Droid Torture
I recently watched The Clone Wars (or rather let it run in the background). It was obviously abysmal. But I was surprised about some quite violent scenes. Especially, there are some "funny" scenes where robots are pushed of a cliff and fall into their deaths just for fun. In Star Wars, robots exhibit features very similar to humans. They can speak, make decisions, have a unique identity and can feel pain (remember the droid torture scene from The Empire Strikes back). I also suspect they can be broken beyond repair - they die. Showing characters die in a children's movie is bad enough but showing death and pain in a lighthearted and casual way is really bad taste.

Do intelligent movie robots have human rights? Should violence against them be treated just like violence against human characters? There are aliens in that movie after all and violence against them is treated seriously. Isn't this even some kind of hidden racism? It is somewhat an absurd situation. We need to determine the moral value of a hypothetical scenario because already the display of that hypothetical scenario has implications.

By the way, in Episode 1 they kinda jumped that bullet by making the robot army remote-controlled. This way, the robots appeared more mechanical. In The Clone Wars, there is no such backdoor.

Lego Adult Content
Lego Decapitation
Lego nowadays releases toys based on successful movies. They inevitably create interesting moral dilemmas. For example, you might have noticed that there are no Nazis in their Lego Indiana Jones toyline. There are just some vanilla uniformed military bad guys. They don't have the swastika insignia. It sounds absurd at first. If kids play with the toy they must have seen the movie and they know that the bad guys are Nazis. On the other hand, Lego might simply just avoid the PR-Nightmare of things like Neo-Nazi Lego enthusiasts re-creating Triumph des Willens with minifigs.

But there is more. The heart removal scene from Temple of Doom is supposedly missing in the Lego Indiana Jones game. Why? There are other violent scenes where minifigs loose their heads or are cut at the waist or even explode into pieces. Why would they make a stop at removing internal organs? Is it just a practical choice - minifigs have removable heads but no removable hearts?

So that's it. Just two questions I've been digesting since yesterday. What do you think?

By the way, after playing the demo I've ordered Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga. I have this hunger for a simple action game, I love the humor of it and I would like to try the co-op functions. Also: The Euro almost matches the Pound by now and so you get games from UK quite cheap (I got mine here)!

December 26, 2008

Preisrutsch bei Steam: Alle Spiele 10-75% günstiger

Verspätetes Wehnachtsgeschenk für Gamer: Sämtliche 942 bei Steam gelisteten Spiele kosten bis zum 2. Januar 2009 mindestens 10% weniger.

Portal für 3,74€!

Das großartige Audiosurf z.B. kostet ebenso wie BioShock(!) nur noch 4,99€.
Zehn Euro Rabatt gibt es auch auf den neuesten Teil der Prince of Persia-Reihe, 34,99€ statt 44,99€. Für S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky bezahlen Interessierte nur noch 14,99€ statt 29,99€ — bei Amazon kostet das Spiel zur Zeit 39,99€. / Direktlink: die günstigsten Spiele

December 25, 2008

new fine cassettes in our Tapedeck!

two fresh mixtapes in our tape section: “All Killah No Fillah” by CGB-1 and a rocking disrupt and Soom T live recording from a night with the Mungo’s Hifi in Glasgow!

December 23, 2008

neue kunst im netz – the great transition

die oberfläche der alles umfassenden simulation, die unsere wirklichkeit ist, bekommt mehr und mehr risse. verwundert reiben wir uns die augen und beobachten das seltsame geschehen. ein eingreifen bleibt uns aber scheinbar verwehrt. der film, der sich uns darbietet, lässt sich weder anhalten noch vor- oder zurückspulen. so warten wir gespannt auf die auflösung und den abspann, der natürlich nie kommen wird.
doch wenn wir uns konzentrieren, die wahrnehmung schärfen, um das beobachtete zu reflektieren, gelingt es uns auf einmal mühelos unseren blick dem bann der leinwand zu entziehen. während wir uns mit unseren müden augen umschauen und wieder zu sehen beginnen, bemerken wir die fortschreitende veränderung und die entwicklung des anderen.
die zeit des übergangs hat begonnen.

wie immer frei zum download unter

December 22, 2008

And Yet It Moves


And Yet It Moves ist ein Jump’n'Run-Puzzle-Indiegame mit außergewöhnlicher Grafik und hohem Coolnessfaktor: Die gesamte Spielwelt kann beliebig in 90°-Schritten hin- und hergedreht werden, wodurch sich ständig neue Sichtweisen auf das Level ergeben.

Der kostenlose Prototyp, vor zwei Jahren von einer Handvoll österreichischer Studenten kreiert, besteht zwar nur aus zwei Leveln, ist aber definitiv den 12MB-Download wert. Auch eine OS X-Version für den Mac steht bereit.

Download And Yet It Moves

Some thoughts on Braid

I just finished Braid. It took just the forenoon - it is a pretty compact experience. It is good but there are some things that bother me.

One thing is that it is really hard. It is a very special KIND of hard. We've encountered this also when designing levels for Excit: if you push the puzzles very far, they will increasingly start depending on bizarre and arbitrary details and special cases of your game mechanics. From the perspective of the author, it might seem like you are "exploring" some kind of deeper, emergent functions of the system. It might be especially interesting for authors with an analytic mindset and background. From the perspective of the player however, it sometimes seems very frustrating and even unfair. It is disarming being beaten by somebody on his very own game, especially if he used rules the you weren't really aware of. I believe Jonathan Blow crossed the line there a couple of times. As Yahtzee put is so very directly: "That, Jonathan, is what we call a 'Dick Move'." While there certainly is an audience very fond of that kind of puzzles (see Asshole Mario), many people may not enjoy the game because of this. I'm afraid it is especially the kind of people, who would otherwise appreciate the remaining values of the game (like fellow blogger Corvus for example).

Which brings me to the second problem. People have been yapping about it everywhere and it is true: The final sequence is really cool and creates an awesome plot twist. I also enjoyed the epilogue and texts in the books in-between. They were well written and included some very intriguing thoughts. However, apart from the final sequence, the rest of the game has only very little to do with the story. Adding insult to injury, the choice of visual style is questionable if you consider the story. It seems like Braid is actually two games. The first game is a very tough puzzle jump & run. The second game is an experimental, story-heavy, non-competetive, less objective-driven one. What the two games are trying to archieve is mutually exclusive and I believe it would have been better not to combine them.

I will write a more detailed post on Game Design Reviews. Regardless of the two problems (or maybe BECAUSE of them) the game is very intriguing and interesting. It is wort trying out for yourself.

December 21, 2008

Xbox 360 Impressions Update

I've been playing some more Catan in the last days. After a meal, it's nice to pop in a multiplayer match. Because I ALWAYS loose, I get frustrated quickly and leave the console rather then getting stuck in front of it. Generally it is very good. It could use some interface tweaking though. Very important and useful functions are often invisible. For example, there is a screen that shows how many resources are in play. This screen is quite important as you can consult it before you start trading to check what you can expect to get from others. The screen is shown by holding one of the trigger buttons. Although I generally like quasi-modes, there is no hint telling players that this function exists at all. As a result, players will request resources that nobody has and waste everybody's time. Also, I don't quite get why I have to press ANOTHER trigger button just to see how many points everybody has. The whole GOAL of the game is to collect points, why would such a vital information be hidden? It's not like this one number takes up precious space.
Also, I ran against a poorly documented rule - it seems like you can't build more than 5 settlements but the actual message box that pops up spells something like "No more space to settle". I might have lost 2 games until I figured it out.
Of course, I'm just whining because I didn't manage to score even one win online. :-(

Grand Theft Auto 4
I played some more GTA4. Actually, more than I should have. It is very addictive. I think I got a good impression of the scope so far and I'm quite surprised. Compared to San Andreas, there is a lot of stuff missing. For example, San Andreas had a rudimentary car tuning system. I really like the cars in GTA4 and was looking forward to unlock that feature to mess around with them. I was surprised when I realized it was missing this time. Although it seems like a step backwards, on a second thought I think it was a good choice to leave it out. San Andreas was this bloated, convoluted behemoth. GTA4 is more focused, slimmer and polished. So you don't have to choose the exact menu when you buy a burger and you don't get fat and don't have to hit the gym to get in shape. The title "GTA4" is actually spot-on: it is a GTA3 remake, rather than a San Andreas sequel.

Also, I can't believe I'm saying this but the story is really good - at least as good as a solid movie or TV series. The main character is very well fleshed out and lovable. There are cool plot twists and witty dialogue (not just funny but witty!). Because of the story and the refined boiled-down mechanics, I think this is the best one to start if you haven't played the series yet (Yu-Chung: hint, hint!).

The only problem so far: Sady, this one is very true. :-/

December 20, 2008

Xbox 360 Impressions: Gears of War

Gears of War
I just wanted to add this to my recent list of first impressions of Xbox 360 Games. I had the opportunity to play the first two chapters of Gears of War now. I really can't understand the hype it received. It is a solid but VERY dull shooter with some polish, balancing and control issues. The characters look great as long as they are old or scarred (or both) to show off the normal mapping. The smooth young female - not so great. The environments look very dirty and use maps with a very high resolution. That's quite nice but it gets OLD. They decided to go for a total Warhammer 40,000 "inspiration" and made the characters incredibly bulky. The environments all look like fallen gothic tombs. At first sight it is a cool styling but it gets old after the second level. Unlike Call of Duty, almost everything looks like filler material. There is nothing that stands out as being memorable.
The cover system is the new thing. It is a minor gameplay tweak that spread like a virus among other games (GTA4 for example). It is nice to see some development but I have difficulties to get used to it. One big problem is that all cover-related activities are stuffed onto one button that works context-sensitive. In the heat of the battle I constantly trigger the wrong moves and end up being exposed to heavy gunfire with my face against a wall. This makes me actually afraid to use that button at all. If I pull off some cover move correctly, I fail to get any advantage or satisfaction. It all seems a bit pointless. Might change if I go to higher difficulty settings. Right now, the fighting is mostly totally trivial and simple (the difficulty setting is called "casual" and it fits) which is fine. However, from time to time, there are situations where I die OVER AND OVER AND OVER again and I have NO CLUE what I'm doing wrong.

Also, I have come across some glitches. At one point you are attacked by killer bats so you have to stay near light sources (cool idea actually). You have to push a burning car across a dark alley. In my game the car got stuck halfway in the alley for no reason. I did not recognize this a glitch because it appeared every time and so I died numerous deaths trying to get trough the alley. Restarting the whole game fixed it.

I tried multiplayer very briefly but the match I was playing seemed to boil down to jumping around each other with sniper-rifles or the chainsaw and hoping for a one-hit kill. Not exactly the kind of experience I was expecting.

So there you have it. The game is not really bad. If you want to unwind with some repetitive, mindless shooting it sure hits the spot. I will play at least trough the casual campaign as it is very short. However, it doesn't seem to offer any hidden depth, it lacks some polish and the superficial eye-candy wears off quickly.

December 18, 2008

neue arbeit online

vorratsdatenspeicherung, onlinedurchsuchung, bka-gesetz.
ohne mich.
ab jetzt nur noch anonym ins internet.

out on REAL 7″: Normaa – International Calling

our fine NET-7″ made it to 45-vinyl on the Bastard Jazz label

December 17, 2008

X-Box Game Impressions

After my recent comment on my early impressions of the X-Box 360 hardware, here are what I think about some of the games I've tried so far:

Grand Theft Auto 4
It is the first "real" game I got. I bought it used form Outpost Cologne (a small RPG Store in Cologne that also sells pre-owned games). I think it was a great deal for 30€. There were some problems with the DVD being scratched but they fixed it with a funky CD repair kit and it worked (to my surprise).
I like the game very much. I've been following the series for some time, only skipping Vice City. I find the GTA4 to be simpler and more mature then the last one, San Andreas. It is less of a parody than San Andreas was. Killing people and generally crime is taken more seriously, at least in the cutscenes. There is more focus on the characters and their motivation. I found myself quite emotionally attached to the main character (maybe because he is East-European like me?). The RPG Elements are gone so you don't have to learn to ride a bike. There seem to be less pointless and far-out activities. The dating system is still there but now, the main character talks with his girlfriend about his past while on a date which add a previously non-existent value to it.
The game also just looks stunning. It's not just about the next-gen GPU power. The whole city is created with much more care. Every street has a distinct look and feel. The architecture is detailed and diversified. Again and again, you find yourself at corners with amazing vistas. The cars finally look like they have been designed by someone who at least saw a car in their life once. Especially the sports cars in San Andreas were laughably mis-proportioned!

Overall a very enjoyable, addictive experience. A milestone and a no-brainier.

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
I wanted to buy THIS as my first title but it was sold out except at GameStop. The guys at GameStop were aware of this and raised the price to audacious 75€ so I just borrowed it from a colleague. It might be a strange idea not want an exclusive title as your system seller but it seemed to offer a short-paced single-player experience and a solid multi-player. The first one I need for lack of time, the second one I consider the whole point of the X-Box.
Normally, I wouldn't even consider a military shooter. I think they are something for gun-enthusiasts and I'm not one of them. I know far too much about guns than I wish I would. However, a fellow X-Box owner wouldn't stop praising that particular game and the surprising Zero Punctuation review did the rest. I tried Call of Duty 1 on my PC and pretty soon I understood what they meant.
I expected a lot from Call of Duty 4 and it delivered. It takes a basic formula of a military shooter, polishes to the max and uses that as a stage for the most spectacular and exhilarating experience they could think of. Every level is distinct and very memorable. It actually consists of a sequence of carefully thought-out scenes, each one being engaging on its own. There is no "filler" material, everything is made of awesome. The general idea is just to deliver this amazing dramatic experience and it works out very well. There is a ton of great ideas. Just as a quick example: the game begins with the tutorial, which is a Training camp of the British Special Forces. After some shooting on the sooting range, you get into a plywood model where they train a scenario of an attack on a freighter. You need to run trough it while shooting at plywood targets. Your time is taken and the game suggests a difficulty depending on it (which is pretty accurate as I found out by trying out the more difficult setting). The cool idea is that after that tutorial, the first level is actually ON that freighter you were training in the plywood model for. Not only is it easier because you already know where to go, it makes the tutorial fully integrated into the storyline and you also get this shocking simulation/real-life comparison. And it doesn't stop there, I could go on and on.
So although might it seem dull at first it has lots of great ideas and it looks stunning, too so: two thumbs up.

Gears of War
Had to order this from Austria because the game is banned in Germany. Not just restricted like other violent games - it's actually banned. You can't buy it. Nowhere. Can you believe it!? Anyway, I just got it and didn't even get trough the tutorial. It looks great - that's for sure! Will post more soon.

I borrowed it just to try it. I is nice. It's like Tony Hawk but with gesture-based controls (using the analogue sticks) and with a sandbox environment. I'm just not that into virtual skating so I gave it back after a few tutorials. Also, I think the game got confused with my X-Box being in Germany and the interface set on English. So it did the obvious thing: it installed the French language. And you can't change it. *sigh* Good programming boys!

Need For Speed Pro Street
Being a fan of racing games, I had big hopes on this. It seemed like a more mature version of Need for Speed. It is not. It's just Need for Speed but annoying and boring. There is this DJ that is constantly commenting the race and especially praising you for no reason. Maybe it's the bad translation but he really got on my nerves. The tracks are boring as hell. Gran Turismo also has some boring ones but at least they are based on original tracks. Making fictional tracks boring is really silly. Also, the controls seem too sensitive. I thought it was because I was getting used to the steering wheel but no - I tried other games and it's the game's fault. Oh yeah and the car customization options are mind-blowingly complicated and unsatisfying. I just gave up figuring it out and this is a big deal for me because I rarely do.

This was actually the first game I tried on my X-Box. I got it as soon as I got my account working. I don't want to comment too much right now because I haven't seen enough. It is a jump & run with some unusual audio-visual choices, a robust and cool new mechanic and REALLY difficult puzzles. The puzzles are what actually kept me from playing it so far - figuring them out can be slightly exhausting and time-consuming. But I'm motivated to play it and will do it when I have the time.

Got in on Arcade. A no-brainer. Like REZ but with more awesome. I'm really glad I was able to get it like that because I was planning on buying it and was shocked by the prices for the PS2 and Dreamcast versions.

The same as with REZ. Again also a great example of the really nice selection of high-quality games availible on X-Box Arcade.

Bought it for the last points on my card. I tried the board game long time ago but never played long enough to grasp the rules. The arcade demo game me a glimpse on what the game offers and I bought it after some struggle. Since then, I played a couple of games and quickly learned the rules. I found it a surprisingly effective learning tool for people who want to try the board game. There is a good tutorial function, a very nice, illustrated click-trough manual and simply playing a couple of games is all you need to get comfortable with the system. Getting the same level of proficiency with the board game would take a many sessions in a span of a couple of evenings. So it is a very good example of games as learning tools.
But it is also a valid alternative to the board game. Playing it is much quicker and simpler then setting up a board game. It has a multilayer option so you always have 3 other people eager to play at the press of a button. There is no set-up required and because it is digital, there are a couple of little "helpers" to help you deal with the rules and develop even more in-depth strategies. It's the first multiplayer I tried on X-Box and it works great. Live-chat works well, and if you are not the talkative type, you can always just use the "emotes" from the game.
All in all, yet another great arcade title. I'll pick up Carcasonne in the future as well.

Besides that I've tried some demos but that's topic for a different day.

December 13, 2008

X-Box 360 – First Impressions

After the annoying retail experience here are the early impressions from my first two days of X-Box 360 ownership (ownage?):

The original X-Box was well-known for it's enormous Size. Maybe I lack the training but the actual retail box of the X-Box 360 is so surprisingly heavy that I had troubles actually lifting it from the stack in the shop. It is compact but VERY massive. I was foolish enough to buy the box before buying the games so I had to carry it for quite some time across the town. Later, I drove home on my bike. Carrying it for hours and dragging it home tucked under my arm was exhausting to say the least.
The unboxing experience is quite dull and uninspired. Everything is in colorful plastic Bags and randomly tucked inside. The console itself is on top and the accessories below behind a separation but it is a far cry from the lucid and organized Wii package or the lush experience of unboxing of an Apple product.

The worst are additional accessories like the Wi-Fi Adapter or a Controller - they are in those awful translucent hard plastic wraps which you need to laboriously prey open with scissors. Every time I saw somebody open those, by the time they got the product they were literally furious - not a great emotional state for the first impression. People hate this! Why are they using those??!

The X-Box itself is ok. It is big but I saw that the PS3 is even larger. It looks and feels well. The only thing I dislike about the industrial design is the silver CD tray - it looks cheap and doesn't fit to the white plastic of the case. Also, the flap for the USB ports seems like it might cause problems with more extravagant USB sticks. The flap is there because the X-Box is tapered at the "wast". I really dislike it when superfluous styling gets in way of usability.

The included headset feels INCREDIBLY cheap and awful. I haven't actually used it but I expect it to break very soon. It is not the one you can buy separately as an accessory.

I do like the controllers. After all those problems with the first-gen controllers (this one still makes me lough out loud), they finally nailed it. The 360 controllers works very well for me. They feel like they are well-made, the buttons are on the right places. They even look pretty. I'm just concerned that they might turn from white to yellow with some time. I keep you posted. Meanwhile, my second controller will be black.

One thing that is just crazy: the power brick is HUGE. I'm sure it has a higher volume then the whole Wii. I've NEVER seen a power brick that big. Seriously, what do they put inside that thing? A whole nuclear power station?

Noise and Heat
I was afraid from what people said about the noisy fans on the X-Box 360. I was expecting something like a vacuum cleaner or a hairdryer. I was relieved when it wasn't that bad. Yes, it is louder then a Wii or a PS2 but hardy the nightmare I was expecting.

My only concern is that the noise is to cool down the console. So hiding it in my vitrine doesn't really mask the noise because the X-Box get hotter and the fans must work harder creating even more noise.

On-line Experience
This is actually why I bought the X-Box and I am extremely pleased. The beginning was a bit bumpy. Setting up my X-Box Live account took a while. The interface could be tweaked at a couple of places. Choosing a nickname seems impossible because Mircrosoft had the great idea to put Zune, MSN and X-Box Live accounts together. So basically, every reasonable nickname is already taken. It was too late until I realized that I couldn't select any of my favorite nicknames because they were taken BY MY VERY OWN MSN accounts.
There are avatars on X-Box live right now which are cheap Mii rip-offs. They are poorly made. They look nice but customization options are very limited. You can select various features but you can't scale, rotate or even re-position them. So you have just 4 different positions a mole (left cheek, right cheek, left chin, right chin). The selection of glasses is way too limited and the hairstyles seem all to be a variation of a side parting.

Once set up and logged in, I was confronted with the "new X-Box experience". It is a badly organized rip-off of Apple's coverflow but I will get used to it. The navigation is much more quick and smooth then the Wii shopping channel. It makes you realize how inferior that part of the Wii is. You can access a lot of information about games, check out nice screenshots, trailers, demos. Every X-Box Arcade game has a free trial version. The downloads are executed in the background so you can continue browsing while downloading.

The biggest difference from the Wii is that everything is integrated. So you will see if friends are online no matter what you are doing - playing a game, watching a move. You can seamlessly browse from the game on your hard drive to the content available online for that particular game. You will have achievements in every game. Although I don't really NEED them, being able to see which games and achievements your Friends have is great. Being able to see which games my friends own is already a great feature but with achievements I can even see how much time they invested in each game. So I can even tell if they totally mastered a game or if they just tried the first level to check it out. Going back to the crippled friend code system of the Wii will be hard.

There are some things I miss from the Wii. I like how the Shopping Channel shows you exactly how much space and Wii points is needed for a particular download, how much of both you have right now and how much you will have after the download. I'm missing that kind of break-down on the X-Box.
On a more fundamental level, there is not much to do online apart from browsing content and buying stuff. I like how Nintendo is trying to create a couple of apps you can fool around with like the voting channel or the Mii channel. I miss that as well.

But I have great fun with it anyway. The selection of games is awesome. I will comment on them in the future.

I was really blown away when I plugged a USB stick with some XVid videos. After a quick system update, I was able to watch them smoothly in HD quality. The video controls work well and are unobtrusive (unlike the Windows Media Player). Finally, I have a dedicated multimedia device and don't have to plug my notebook to the TV anymore. This is a GREAT convenience and I think the X-Box is worth just because of this. Again totally different approach from the Wii, which doesn't play DVDs or even Audio CDs. Nintendo says it is because they are going for a dedicated gaming device but I suspect it is because of licensing problems.

That's a lot I had to get off my chest. Generally, my first impression is very positive in the end. Buying it was a nightmare, installing had some rough spots but until now it does deliver exactly what I was hoping for and even surprised me a couple of times.

By the way, I was devastated when I found out I could get an X-Box 360 Bundle with BOTH Gears of War on-line. Noooooooo!!!!

December 12, 2008

Autodesk sucks

After Krystian's post on how badly Microsoft treats their potential customers, here's a rant on how much Autodesk's licencing policy sucks.

Not stricktly a gaming issue, I decided that it still fits into this blog because most assets you'll see in today's commercial games are created with their tools. Not to advertise for them, just stating how this relates to the blog.

One last disclaimer: 3ds max is a trademark, property, product and whatever is relevant for Autodesk's lawyers. I'll be using the term "3ds max" in this post for brevity's sake.

I've been using 3ds max for years, most intensively during my time at the NEON Studios as a production character artist. When NEON Studios closed, I purchased the program to continue working in the industry as a freelancer.

There, the bullshit starts.

In the USA, the package costs about 3500 USD, or ca. 2615 Euro at the current rate. Adding 19% German sales tax, we're at about 3111 Euro for comparison. Now get this: I paid 5.057,50 Euro and it was a good deal including the subscription (which I'll discuss later).

There is simply nothing that justifies a 60% premium, and even if there was, Autodesk would be doing a terrible job communicating it to the customer.

Even better: the EULA (end user licence agreement) states that the licence is only valid in the territory of purchase, so buying 3ds max in the US wouldn't make me a legal user in Europe.

As is, the message is clear: "F**k you, rest of the World!"

Now, I started studying at that time, so of course I looked for an educational program. Indeed they offer a educational licence for about 130 Euro, but you cannot work commercially with it. "That's OK for a student!" one might say.

But consider this: a student wants to learn the program because of its popularity in the games and movie industry, but his school only teaches Cinema 4D (like KISD). Say he actually buys an educational licence (because students always buy the software they use) and let's further assume that he becomes quite proficient with it, getting him a small freelance job for a local cinema, ruling out the possibility for a game studio to let him use their licences.

Strictly speaking, the student's educational licence is no good in this case. So what are his options if he was to go 100% legal? Buy the 5000 Euro commercial licence? Yeah right, the budgets barely covers the rent. Reject the inquiry? How else should he start his career? Let the client buy the licence? Ridiculous.

Thus, the message here is also clear: "*uc* you, students!"

Look at Adobe. They offer an "in-between" educational licence which is more expensive than the poor student version but still much cheaper than the regular one (~1000 Euro vs. ~3300 Euro for the Master Collection), while allowing commercial usage.

Back to my story. I bought the full licence with the so-called subscription, which means you get all the bonus extensions and even major releases for about 500 Euro during a year. I got the subscription without extra charge because a new version was announced but not yet released then.

So I bought max 9 and got 2008 and 2009 when they came out. But I'm allowed to work with the older versions only as a benefit of the subscription. With the subscription expired, version 9 and 2008 cease to work. That wouldn't be a problem if the files were at least partly backward compatible, like other formats. Not every studio updates to the latest version immediately and for their entire pipeline, unlike what Autodesk might be wishing. I don't know what disadvantage Autodesk would suffer for users to work with versions they once paid money for.

Now, Autodesk is kind enough to allow me to enter subscription again, but not without charging me an extra 100 Euro "penalty". For what? For not being permanently "loyal"?

Again, the message here is pretty clear: "F*c* you, existing and returning customers!"

Sadly, I'm in this too deep already. Go save yourself with Blender!

P.S. I just saw that the German price for 3ds max 2009 is now ~4600 Euro incl. tax. Price reduction is, of course, a good thing for new customers, but it makes the penalty for returning customers all the more insulting.

X-Box 360 Bundles are BAD

I was fortunate enough to grab a used HDTV for almost nothing from a relative. Having the TV and no HD source I got into the problem of choosing which HD Console to purchase. Some days ago I complained about some bad choices Nintendo made this holiday season. But those are nothing when compared to what actually Microsoft does with their X-Box 360 bundles. Each of the three companies made some mistakes in the past but Nintendo and Sony still manage to get some reasonable and thought-out products on the market. So on a basic level, I get the impression that they have some actual people in their marketing department that think things trough. Conversely, Microsoft's marketing department seems consists of a bunch on monkeys. There is no other explanation. So let us review the evidence in form of the X-Box Bundles currently availible.

As a preface I would like to point out that the whole idea of the X-Box was seriously flawed from the start. The scheme is that the console is heavily re-configurable. Some of the specs (like the hard drive capacity) can be beefed up by purchasing overpriced accessories. In this particular case they are INSANELY overpriced. Nothing says "FUCK YOU!" to your customer more then selling a Wi-Fi USB Stick for 80€. But on a more fundamental level, this approach makes the product much more complicated and convoluted. It requires the customer to do some research before selecting the right base product and the right accessories. So if I check X-Box bundles on the German Amazon, I get TWO tables which compare the features of the bundles. They are labeled (and I tried to translate the grammatical construction used there) "These tables will make the search for the right X-Box a bit easier". The kicker is that the aren't even up-to-date anyway and contain false information. But this pops up the question: why is the search for the right X-Box so hard in the first place? Why do I even have to study that shit? If that thing is already so terribly over-priced, why isn't it at least simple? I do have some affinity for technology but even I find the X-Box System it annoyingly complicated. Good example: Wii. There is just the Wii. That's it. Buy it, be happy. That used to be the unique advantage of a console over a PC.

But anyway. So the cheapest option right now is called "X-Box 360 Arcade". The bundle contains an X-Box sans Hard Drive. The games included are Sega Superstar Tennis ("I wouldn't recommend that version of Sega Superstars Tennis to anyone who isn't a massive fan of the company." - Wired) and a CD with a bunch of X-Box Arcade titles and demos. There is also a 256MB memory stick and a headset. It costs 180€ here in Germany - less then a Wii.
But can you spot the flaws? Take the name for example? It suggests that it is a Bundle that highlights the X-Box Arcade features of the console. However, the really cool thing about X-Box Arcade is that you can buy all those games on-line. In order to do so, you really need a Hard Drive which THIS particular bundle doesn't contain (and the stick is ridiculously under-sized for that). You also need Microsoft Points which you also don't get with that Bundle. What you get instead is Sega Superstar Tennis and a headset you can't use since you have no game that supports it.

The second Bundle is the X-Box with a 60GB drive. It comes with a headset and two games: Lego Indiana Jones ("The game suffers from a slow start, the first six chapters indistinct and repetitive" - Edge Magazine) and Kung-Fu Panda ("This shallow and repetitive beat-'em-up is fun for a while, but doesn't last much longer than the movie that it's based on." - Gamespot). It costs 240€ - about the same as the Wii.
This Bundle and the Arcade Bundle seem to have been designed to compete with the Wii. They fail. Although the titles have some familiy-friendly quality... well let's be frank: they suck BIG time. It seems like nobody bought them so Microsoft decided to shove them down people's throats. Congratulations Microsoft! What a great way to start a relationship with a customer: show them how mediocre your games can be!
Here is how you do it right: the Wii comes with Wii Sports. The game might be not something you play forever but it is enjoyable and it shows off the unique capabilities of the system.
The funny thing is that the bad games will actually scare away customers because they will think they pay for things they don't want. Selling a vanilla X-Box for the same price would seem more attractive. I've met two young fellow customers at the store who, after some consideration, bought the 160€ (!!!) more expensive PS3 just because it had a good game bundled with it (Little Big Planet). They clearly rejected the much cheaper X-Box because they found the games repelling. That's how bad this bundle is. Finally, take note how this bundle also features a headset even though you can't really use it with the games included.

So finally, let's tackle the high-end solution. The "X-Box Elite" for 300€. It features a 120GB hard drive, the same headset, a HDMI cable and it is black. Also, the games included are (drumroll) ... Lego Indiana Jones and Kung-Fu Panda!
This one left me quite speechless. Let us consider the kind of person that would spend 300€ for a high-end black X-Box. It would be probably a person very interested in video games. He (probably male) would have some knowledge about games and a keen interest in AAA Titles. What kind of incompetent idiot thinks that this person would be even remotely interested in Lego Indiana Jones and Kung-Fu Panda? Clearly, the "Elite" gamer will actually PAY MORE if he could get a packaging WITHOUT the crappy games printed on it.
But that's not even the main problem. The main problem is: what is exactly so "Elite" about the X-Box Elite? For a while I considered buying it because it seemed like was the "all-inclusive" solution. It isn't. If you compare it to the 60€ cheaper 60GB X-Box, all you get is a bigger hard drive and a HDMI cable. Now about that cable - even if you buy it at the over-priced "discounters" (they all sell the cables 5 times more expensive then they should be) it will cost maybe 20€. Which leaves us with 40€ just for the bigger hard drive. If you buy hard drives separately the difference is 50€ so here is your chance to get the bigger hard drive slightly cheaper. At this point Micrsofts's technology-centered strategy breaks down.
As a customer, I ask myself the questions like "Why would I want a bigger hard drive" or "What do I need that hard drive for anyway?". Those are valid questions as neither the Wii nor the PS2 (the two most successful consoles) have one. But the marketing of Microsoft is so focused on the specs that they fail to even tell you what this technology is for. Also, there is nothing in that Elite Bundle that lets me experience the advantage of that bigger hard drive.
Again, I get a headset which I can't use. This time around, it makes slightly sense because a "Elite" gamer will probably want to have a headset for his team-based shooters. But then he could just as well buy the 60GB version, which also includes that headset. And what about the other "Elite" extras like Microsoft Points, rechargeable Batteries or an X-Box Live Gold membership? Nope.

Microsoft, you screwed up on this big time. Let me spell it out for you: Bundles are made to encourage people to buy a system. They should include not only the technology but also a "showcase" application that is either interesting on its own (a so-called "System Seller") or which demonstrates the unique abilities of your product. Preferably both. Ideally, Bundles should be tailored towards a specific persona. They should be more expensive than the "pure" system but slightly less expensive than the individual components cost when bought separately. None of your bundles exhibits ANY of these characteristics!

I already mentioned how the Wii is sold with Wii Sports. It is both, a system seller and a technology demonstration. The PS3 bundles are also very excellent. There is a bundle with the family-friendly system seller Little Big Planet. There is one with the more "hardcore" Mirror's Edge, which certainly looks stunning enough to be a technology demo. There is a bundle with Singstar Abba and Mama Mia on Blu-Ray which work very well for the young couple where the guy needs to convince his girlfriend of the value of the expensive system. And if she doesn't like Abba: there is even one just with "Keinohrhasen" on Blu-Ray - an extremely successful German chick-flick. So while Nintendo goes for a robust one-fits-all solution, Sony tries to focus on different purchase scenarios and works towards the need of their customers by delivering products tailored to their needs. What Microsofts does - I don't know. It doesn't seem like there is anybody with a brain behind those bundles. Every salesperson I spoke to had the same tormented look on their face. Seems like they frequently have these discussions.

So finally, here is what I would do if I would work for Microsoft:

The cheapest version without the hard drive should be the family Wii alternative. Drop the misleading name, drop the headset, add one Title that is GOOD - say Lego Star Wars ("Even if the new bells and whistles aren't enough to bring back established fans, this is still Lego Star Wars at its finest." - Gamespot). You don't want them to regret that purchase because they have some upgrading to do with that barebone X-Box.

The mid-range 60GB version could be the "Arcade" Version. Include NO game, drop the headset. Instead include at least 2000 Microsoft Points and the Wi-Fi adapter for headache-free installation (and to compete with the Wii and PS3). Also, include an nice, shiny print catalog of the available Arcade titles to encourage them to use your on-line system to get their games. They will soon run out of points and will come back for more. They will have to buy the "real" games separately but that's the case with the current bundles anyway. It would be the vanilla, customizable one-size-fits-all version.

The "Elite" version should come with a kick-ass Multiplayer Title. It's not like there are none on the X-Box: Halo 3, Call of Duty, Gears of War - each will do fine. Include the headset this time. Also include extended X-Box Live Gold Membership, a rechargeable battery and maybe throw in a just few Microsoft Points so they can start downloading stuff to that big hard drive. The goal here would be to make this the all-inclusive package. It's "Elite" after all. The system is so complicated that I'm sure people will be happy to pay even more than 300€ for a solution that takes care of everything. You COULD drop the Wi-Fi adapter here because the "Elite" player will be inclined to play with a cable anyway.

After spending a whole day researching and running around downtown I finally got the Indiana Jones / Kung-Fu Panda 60GB version. I put the games on Amazon Marketplace without even opening them. I got a pre-owned GTA4, a pre-owned Wi-Fi adapter and 4000 Microsoft points. Also I borrowed a bunch of other games from a fellow X-Box owner so I'm pretty sorted right now. After that retail fiasco, the actual experience of the System is better. I will write more soon. Meanwhile, if you got an X-Box, get in contact with me. My id is "Krystoschmeisto" (see gamer tag on the right). I'm eager to test some of the X-Box Live Gold functions as long as my trial month lasts.