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Monday, April 24 2017 @ 01:11 AM PST

New study shows video games don't cause loss of empathy

For those of you still convinced that video games somehow cause aggressive behaviour in players, here's yet another study that refutes those claims.

This particular study shows no connection between video gaming and loss of empathy.

Please stop repeating BS claims about video games causing violent behaviour in kids. It's just not true. Aggressive and violent behaviour in kids has a lot of causes, with the main one being bad parenting. Which is of course why (bad) parents are quick to blame anything other than themselves.

Troubles continue for Denuvo

It seems like only yesterday that Denuvo's DRM (copy protection) technology was unbeatable. The best software cracking teams in the world seemed ready to throw in the towel.

But Denuvo's glory didn't last long, and games 'protected' by Denuvo are being cracked increasingly quickly. Recently, Resident Evil 7 was cracked within five days of its release.

So Denuvo has joined the ranks of all other copy protection software, in that it: a) doesn't prevent 'protected' games from being copied; b) causes a lot of problems for people who purchase 'protected' games legitimately; and c) costs game developers a lot of time and money, both for the Denuvo technology and for related technical support.

Denuvo responded to the Resident Evil 7 cracking news by saying that five days of protection is better than nothing. But a simple cost-benefit analysis shows that using Denuvo (or any other DRM technology) to protect a game is always going to cost more than can possibly be saved.

Adding to Denuvo's misery is the news that their corporate servers were recently breached, and private email archives published. It must be fun to work at Denuvo these days.

Update 2017Feb22: Techdirt points out that the alternative to using annoying, counter-productive DRM is to make games that are actually good, and make them moddable, like Quake, which still earns money for ID Software, twenty years after its release.

A Christmas gift from Nintendo

Nintendo has formally apologized for all of its anti-customer activity and vows to do better in the future.

Just kidding. No, Nintendo must have realized that it hadn't recently reminded us all just how much it hates us (the people who keep them in business - for now). Their latest move is to go after people who modify Nintendo ROMs to add new content.

I think there are just too many lawyers around. They are desperate to find work, or simply justify their high salaries, and convince dim-witted and ignorant executives to pursue these counter-productive and sad initiatives.

Atta boy, Nintendo. Figure out who loves you the best, and then break their hearts.

Denuvo downturn

Until a few months ago, the software copy protection technology (aka DRM) known as Denuvo was considered uncrackable. Now, games 'protected' by Denuvo are being cracked within days of their launch. And game developers are starting to dump the technology as a pointless waste of time and resources.

The game developer Playdead recently removed Denuvo from their popular game Inside, presumably so that it could be sold from the GOG web store, which doesn't sell DRM-encumbered games.

Bethesda has also removed Denuvo from the 2016 release of Doom. The Denuvo protection for Doom was defeated very soon after the game was released. According to at least one source, Denuvo effectively offers its customers a refund if a protected game is cracked within three months of its release. That may be what happened here.

Update 2016Dec20: Denuvo has responded to the media attention by saying that they don't offer refunds. But that's just semantics; not having to pay for something that normally costs money is just a proactive refund. Also, Techdirt weighs in. And again.

Another game studio says NO to DRM

You can add another name to the growing list of game developers that have decided not to bother copy protecting their games. Polish game studio Flying Wild Hog apparently realized that a) all DRM mechanisms are eventually defeated; b) DRM is costly and time-consuming to implement; c) DRM is annoying to paying customers; d) DRM increases support costs; and e) their efforts would be better spent on improving their games.

The result? Their most recent (no-DRM) game, Shadow Warrior 2, is selling extremely well on Steam. Sure, some people are no doubt 'stealing' the game, but those people will always find a way to do that whether there's DRM or not.

More stories of game developers making bad (and good) choices

The recently-released Forza Horizon 3 racing game includes a special feature that you only get when you purchase the game: crappy performance. That's because the game includes resource-intensive DRM (also known as copy protection). The problem doesn't affect people playing 'pirated' copies, because those copies have had the DRM removed. So, basically, this is a great reason to avoid buying the game and find a DRM-free copy instead.

Noted purveyor of extremely crappy games Digital Homicide likes to threaten people who post negative reviews of their games. This eventually generated so much negative feeling that Steam decided to drop the publisher completely from their catalog. This setback prompted the the company to rebrand itself as 'Digital Suicide'. Okay, not really. But they did take their ball and go home, sulkily declaring that the company has been ruined by Steam's actions. Boo hoo.

'Bait and switch' is a nasty retail tactic used to create consumer interest in a product, only to change the deal, leaving the consumer with something they didn't actually want. When the product in question is a Kickstarter-funded video game, telling investors that the promised DRM-free version will no longer be an option is likely to generate some ill will. The developers of Duke Grabowski, Mighty Swashbuckler! discovered this the hard way. To their credit, they saw the light and reversed their decision, surprising nearly everyone.

Happily, there are a few game developers who truly understand their relationship with customers. PM Studios, who make the Playstation Vita game SUPERBEAT: XONiC, discovered instructions for copying the game on reddit. Instead of unleashing their dogs (i.e. lawyers), they joined the discussion, stating their appreciation for the attention, and offering a discount on the game. Result: massive increase in consumer good-will, and increased sales.

Review - EA Sports NHL Legacy Edition

It was 1994, and my buddy and I were looking for games we could play together. At the time, that meant DOS games running on a PC. Neither of us particularly enjoyed playing against each other, so we were trying to find games that could be played cooperatively. We invented cooperative modes of play in turn-based strategy games like Panzer General and Warlords II. We hot-seated single-player games like Duke Nukem. But that killer cooperative game remained elusive.

When we discovered that EA's NHL '94 could be played cooperatively, it was a revelation, and began a never-ending quest to find more great cooperative games.

Many single-computer sports games are uniquely positioned to provide a multiplayer experience, since there's typically only one view (an arena or stadium, or the portion of it where the action is currently taking place), and all players are almost always visible. All that's required is support for multiple controllers, and an understanding on the part of the developers - that cooperative play is worthwhile.

EA's NHL '94 was a lot of fun to play cooperatively. We quickly learned how to work together: one player digging the puck out of the corner while the other fought to stay in scoring position in front of the net, waiting for that perfect pass. Sure, the graphics were crude, and the audio limited, but the overall experience was a blast. EA also understood the value of having real NHL players in the game, and licensed the use of their names. Roster updates were provided by EA for free. Epic, weekly sessions ensued.

We also discovered that we could play cooperatively with as many as four people, and eventually started doing that as often as possible, although it could sometimes get a bit crazy. Still, four people around a single computer, bashing away on their controllers, with excited yells as we scored, high-fives all around, are some of my fondest gaming memories.

The EA NHL game changed over the years: the visuals and audio improved with available technology. Platforms were added, and we shifted from DOS to Windows, then eventually to consoles. We switched from joysticks to gamepads, then to console controllers. Features were added and removed, sometimes seemingly at random; some of the best features appeared appeared only once, such as individual user stats. Indeed, we started to notice early on that EA seemed to be starting from scratch each year, with the result always having better graphics, but with various aspects of gameplay either improving or actually getting worse. It became a running joke to wonder whether each year's game would actually be an improvement over the previous year. One year, the EA game was so terrible that we played the 2K NHL game instead.

Along the way, LAN and Internet gaming became possible as well. Until recently, we never found it necessary to use any of the network-based multiplayer modes, because we were always able to get together in the same place and play on one computer or console. Now, sadly, that's changed. We live in different cities, and our living situations (and health) aren't necessarily conducive to loud, beer-fueled, all-night hockey sessions.

Okay, so what about online gaming? Sure, it's not going to be quite as much fun as being in the same room; virtual high-fives just aren't the same. But at least we'd still be able to play, right? Not so fast.

There are several major hurdles to getting two or more people connected to play online. First, they all need their own computer or console, and they have to be the SAME KIND of computer or console. For PC gaming, that means a graphics card, which adds several hundred dollars to the price of a PC. Each PC would need to be able to run the most recent game, so the CPU and RAM specs needed to be current. Of course, consoles get around that problem, as long as everyone has the same make and model. Still, the expense involved in everyone having up to date hardware made this difficult.

But there are more hurdles to playing online. Everyone would also need to buy their own copy of the game. Since we always wanted to play the most recent edition, that meant everyone would have to shell out $60+ every year. For many of us, this was just too expensive to consider. Keep in mind that this was never an issue when we were huddled around a single computer or console; only one copy was required.

And so our epic hockey sessions gradually reduced in frequency, then stopped happening completely. Sad faces all around.

But that's not the end of the story. A few weeks ago, while commiserating with one of my hockey buddies, he proposed a solution: he would buy an XBox 360 (the same console I currently own), and we would both purchase the most recent EA NHL game we could find that still runs on the 360. We quickly determined that our best bet was EA Sports NHL Legacy Edition, which was released in 2015.

And it works. We're able to play cooperatively online. But there are some serious limitations. YES, there are good reasons for these limitations, but they only apply to competitive, human vs. human games where the players aren't actually friends.

What we've lost in going online with EA NHL Legacy Edition

  • No way to pause the game. Have to pee? Hold it until the end of the game! Need to get another beer? Sorry, you have to wait. Girlfriend called? Send her to voicemail. Pizza arrived? Let it get cold. Weirdly, there isn't even a way to call a timeout.
  • No way to change controller settings during a game. Using the wrong scheme? Too bad; suffer with it or cancel the game and start over.
  • No way to choose player colour. Used to being blue? Sorry, you're stuck being the almost-invisible yellow.
  • No way to remove yourself from a game, or join one in progress.
  • Replays are automatic and un-skippable. There's no way to stop play and manually check a replay to see what just happened.
  • Most gameplay settings are simply unavailable. In the local multiplayer game, you can tweak gameplay in numerous ways, to make the game more fun. In the past, we adjusted these settings frequently, gradually ramping up the difficulty as we got better. Being able to adjust game speed, pass speed, pass accuracy, pass interceptions, and automatic shot aim all made the game a lot more enjoyable, especially when a particular edition had gameplay bugs. Playing Legacy online, there's a single difficulty setting and that's about it, and even that is limited to GM mode.

Is there a solution?

Here's a suggestion for EA: add a 'couch experience' option for multiplayer modes. Show a big red warning message if you must, but please let us experience the game without all these restrictions. Open leagues and games would never use this option, because doing so would be untenable when the participants don't even know each other: the result would be both unfair and awkward. But for those of us who are used to playing cooperatively with good friends, it would be wonderful.

Your move, EA.

Sega shows Nintendo how to relate to fans

While Nintendo continues to treat its biggest fans like criminals, competitor Sega recognizes the value of fan goodwill and free promotion, and embraces fan projects.

One of the people involved in developing a 3D Sonic game called Green Hill Paradise Act 2 was nicely surprised when a Sega representative saw a review and stopped by in the comments to give an official thumbs-up.

One can easily image Sega's lawyers going apoplectic as their advice (to sue, sue, sue) goes unheeded. Perhaps those lawyers can find employement at more litigious and fan-hostile companies - like Nintendo.

Nintendo wields copyright hammer: damages self

In a beautiful demonstration of how not to run a company, Nintendo once again loses fans and public good will by issuing a DMCA complaint against the developers of an hours-old game, developed as part of the Ludum Dare competition.

No Mario's Sky (the title a play on the recently-released No Man's Sky and the classic Mario games), is a game about “exploration and survival in an infinite procedurally generated universe.” The main character in the game is clearly Mario of the Nintendo games. This was enough to wake up the lawyers at Nintendo, and they did what comes naturally to people locked in their dark, nasty little copyright-is-all reality, issuing the DMCA complaint and warning the developers to cease and desist.

But the people behind No Mario's Sky, a group called ASMB, were clearly ready for this move; they immediately changed the game's main character, and re-released the game as DMCA's Sky (hee hee). They also withdrew the game from the Ludum Dare competition.

Let's look at the score card for this incident:

ASMB: received plenty of support and publicity, with very little effort. Had to withdraw their entry from Ludum Dare, but the extra publicity more than makes up for this.

Nintendo: had an opportunity to win fans with no actual downside (since the idea that this game could somehow dilute their brand is simply laughable). Instead, lost even more fans and the positive publicity that comes with not being a bunch of corporate dicks.

Reminder: Nintendo hates you

If you love Nintendo and their games, it's a good idea to remember that they don't reciprocate. The more you love them, the more they want to hurt you.

The latest demonstration of Nintendo's loathing for its most ardent fans: they shut down a fan remake of the twenty-five year old game Metroid II: The Return of Samus called AM2R.

The people behind AM2R have been working on this labour of love since 2012. Just as it was about to be released, Nintendo decided to shut it down, citing completely bogus trademark issues.