The MPAA Responds To The Blackouts With Self Pitying Prose

In response to the Internet-wide blackout in protest of the gagging SOPA/PIPA bills, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) – a major backer of these bills – has issued a statement claiming that the sites that protested had made their users corporate pawns and abused their power to arm-twist the US Senate to reconsider what may be one of the most important bills for the country. Chairman and CEO of the MPAA, Senator Chris Dodd issued a statement which is on the official MPAA website. The statement is bereft of any real logic and is instead full of contorted facts that paint the MPAA as an honest and upright association that only serves the US citizens and not its own pockets.

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Initially, I did not believe it. Actually, I still cannot believe it. I cannot believe that the CEO of the MPAA actually thinks that the general public can actually buy what he is saying:-

It is an irresponsible response and a disservice to people who rely on them for information and use their services. It is also an abuse of power given the freedoms these companies enjoy in the marketplace today. It’s a dangerous and troubling development when the platforms that serve as gateways to information intentionally skew the facts to incite their users in order to further their corporate interests.

A so-called “blackout” is yet another gimmick, albeit a dangerous one, designed to punish elected and administration officials who are working diligently to protect American jobs from foreign criminals. It is our hope that the White House and the Congress will call on those who intend to stage this “blackout” to stop the hyperbole and PR stunts and engage in meaningful efforts to combat piracy.”

How is a user-supported protest – like that on Reddit – and a community-driven protest – like that on Wikipedia – a “gimmick”? Perhaps it is time to go back to the boardroom and find out what exactly is the problem with a bill that is receiving so many negative reactions throughout the country as well as across the world. Maybe, just maybe, these bills are a gateway to the Land Without Free Speech Or Information.

Has the MPAA’s CEO and Chairman thought about that? I think not.

 

Slew of Websites Black Out to Protest SOPA/PIPA

The scourges that are the United States’ two gagging Acts – the Stop Online Privacy Act (SOPA) and the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) – are experiencing grave turmoil as large sections of the widely used Internet are blacking out for one day in protest against their draconian nature. The ongoing protest against the Bills intensified as Wikipedia, a veritable behemoth on the Internet, joined in the protest as we mentioned earlier. Following close on its heels is the giant community link aggregation website Reddit as well as the website of indie game maker Mojang, the creators of Minecraft. Many other gaming company heads joined together to stand against the draconian law’s enactment.

If passed, the Bills will allow any legal entity that claims copyright infringement on a site to take it down completely, instead of the offending article. For example, if Techie Buzz published an article containing a copyrighted image from a leading record label’s website, our blog will be taken down immediately, without trial. This is even if we give the due credit where it is due.

In short, this is a gagging order for much of the Internet in the name of protecting intellectual property rights. Moreover, the website that is the intended target of this – torrent aggregator The Pirate Bay – is immune to the United States’ laws since it does not fall under America’s jurisdiction.

If allowed to pass, SOPA/PIPA will destroy the beautiful and open Internet completely and irreversibly. In a few minutes Reddit will black out in protest. If you reside in the USA, send a letter to your local representative against passing these Bills. Do your part for retaining the Free Internet!

Mass Effect 3 Will Require Origin For Both Physical And Digital Copies; No Steam Version

Alright everybody, get ready for a massive s***storm. In a recent forum post on Bioware SocialNetwork, an employee announced that the upcoming final installment of the epic space role playing game Mass Effect will necessarily need EA’s much maligned digital distribution platform Origin, and that Mass Effect 3 will not be available on any other digital distribution service, most notably Valve’s Steam with which EA has had some friction with in the past year.

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Is Origin required for the retail versions of the game?
Origin is required for the PC versions of Mass Effect 3, both physical and digital.

Will ME3 be available on Steam?
During initial release Mass Effect 3 will be available on Origin and a number of other 3rd party digital retailers, but not on Steam at this time. Steam has adopted a set of restrictive terms of service which limit how developers interact with customers to deliver patches and other downloadable content.  We are intent on providing Mass Effect to players with the best possible experience no matter where they purchase or play their game, and are happy to partner with any download service that does not restrict our ability to connect directly with our consumers.

The post immediately received negative comments from several fans who were not ready to install an accessory software even though they were planning on buying the boxed edition just so they do not have to suffer from such software. Moreover, the lack of a Steam version also invited several negative comments as many people (including this author) prefer their games under one umbrella. The fact that Origin as a platform has not received many commendations in the community just added to the repercussions.

Tell us what you think of Bioware’s latest move.

CD Projekt RED Drops Witch Hunt Against Pirates

Remember that time when CD Projekt RED started becoming like That Company Whose Name Starts With U And Which Shall Not Be Named Here? Well their fans told them that they were starting to become like said company as well as trying to ape the music industry and called them out on it. Now the company has retracted its complaints and notices against these probable pirates after angry fans told them that it was an affront to the faith they placed them in.

CD Projekt’s newest game The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings shipped without the Digital Rights Management (DRM) protection that is common in most new AAA releases these days; DRM makes it difficult to copy or illegally play a video game. However, in all cases, they are easily bypassed by cracker groups and released for free on torrents. Since The Witcher 2 was released without DRM, because the company said that the security does more harm than good to the legitimate customers, it was praised for its foresight and good intentions. However, later on, in a bid to stop rampant piracy and deter future pirates, CD Projekt started tracking “pirates” in Germany with their IP addresses and sent letters threatening legal action unless they give an atrocious amount (around $1180) as a fine for downloading their game illegally. This did not sit well with a lot of gamers and they took up the issue with the Polish developer itself.

Retracting the complaints recently, studio co-founder Marcin Iwinski said to the fans:

“Being part of a community is a give-and-take process. We only succeed because you have faith in us, and we have worked hard over the years to build up that trust. We were sorry to see that many gamers felt that our actions didn’t respect the faith that they have put into CD Projekt RED.

Not bad at all, CDPR! I was about to lose faith in humanity!

File Sharing is Now An Official Religion in Sweden

Sweden is pretty awesome. Not only is it the country that originated the pirate party a political party whose ideology revolves around open sharing of information between people it is also the first country to recognize file sharing as a religion and the shortcuts Ctrl+C and Ctrl+V as holy signs. The Church of Kopimism (that is what the religion is called: Kopimism) hopes that its newfound legal status may make the lawmakers think a little differently when they are outlining laws against software piracy and also promote peer-to-peer file sharing throughout the world. (Their motto is Copy and Seed)

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Founded by philosophy student Isak Gerson, a self confessed pirate who religiously copies files, the Missionary Church of Kopimism wanted the believers in the sacred act of copying to not be persecuted for their beliefs. Since anyone can become a member of this Church, anyone trying to persecute you for sharing your files or receiving other files is infringing upon your democratic right to religion and religious beliefs. If you thought Gerson was a little wacky, he is but he is also extremely clever.

For the Church of Kopimism, information is holy and copying is a sacrament. Information holds a value, in itself and in what it contains, and the value multiplies through copying. Therefore, copying is central for the organisation and its members.

After a couple of failed attempts to legalize their religion, the kopimi (the believers of this Church) were finally registered as followers of an official religion just before Christmas. If you wish to change your religion to something that actually reflects your viewpoints look no further than here.

Big Shot Gaming Companies Drop Support for SOPA

Well it seems like the much maligned Stop Online Privacy Act has been steadily losing support as time goes by. The Internet, for all its loose frivolities and nonexistent persistent loyalties has banded together to effectively stop a Big Brother-like monitoring legal tool from ever being born. As the senate keeps debating the bill, many of the copyright-loving companies such as EA, Sony and Nintendo have been pressurized by both their fans online as well as their employees to drop support for this bill.

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SOPA, along with its sister law PROTECT-IP has been at the receiving end of much criticism from the citizens of the United States. The bills, if enacted, will allow any content-owning person to order a takedown of a site that either hosts their content or even links to their content. Considering that much of the internet is based upon the linking to-and-fro of copyrighted content, this effectively curbs the freedom of the internet as we know it. Moreover, if the content owner so wishes, he or she may order the IP address of the infringing site to be blacklisted, rendering the site inaccessible. The kind of horror this can inflict upon aggregation sites such as Reddit is unfathomable.

We just have to hope that big wigs like Nintendo, Sony and EA keep dropping their support and that this bill is never passed.

Top 5 PC Indie Games of 2011

As the year draws to its close, we must do our duty as a blog to summarize the things that happened through the year. In addition, considering that I snoop around the PC gaming part of things all around, this post will mostly be about that. As the title says, these are the top 5 PC Indie games of 2011. The PC part is quite important in that all the games have versions made for a personal computer running Windows 7 or Vista (but seriously, why would you be using Vista?). Moreover, each of these games has affected me in one of many ways; from being extremely addicted to it, to playing it for casual fun, to eliciting intense emotional outbursts from the normally stoic person that I am. So, without further ado, here is the list.

5. The Binding of Isaac

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Equal parts shooter and roguelike RPG, Edmund McMillen (of Team Meat fame) has come up with a truly wonderful and grotesque creation known as The Binding of Isaac. You play the titular Isaac who is going to be sacrificed by his mother to appease her god. Thus, to escape her insanity, you dive into the cellar and find that your tiny home’s cellar is in fact an infinitely long dungeon with creatures both ugly and macabre roaming its cavernous depths. Each dungeon is generated randomly and indeed each time you save, quit and reload, the dungeons are randomized again making no two playthroughs exactly the same. The difficulty, therefore, is not linearly scaled with Isaac finding bosses instead of treasure in one room and being forced to fight said boss. It constantly keeps you on your toes right before opening a door to a new region, adding the thrill of the roguelike with treasure and level-ups into the mix. The game, with its convoluted connotations of religion, genre-breaking game mechanics, and simple cartoony gore is a blast to play. Buy The Binding of Isaac here.

4. Frozen Synapse

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Although my real play of the game has slackened off in the months after its release, Frozen Synapse is nevertheless one brilliant tactical game that must not be forgotten when we are dealing with great indie games of this year. With the minute tactical and strategic thinking of a traditional game such as Chess or Go coupled with frantic shooting and explosive rocket blasts, this simultaneous turn-based strategygame deals with you guiding your soldiers through many randomly generated levels, picking off the enemy soldiers and completing objectives on the way. The game is well made for those who like to play in short bursts, with mechanics made to match the play-by-email style of play native to online Chess or Risk, and matches with 8 or more complete turns take days to finish between to equally matched opponents. A wonderful multiplayer matching system as well as a video-recording of the game provides a fertile ground for passionate strategic players to push their foxy plans into fruition. The game’s futuristic neon tones and sublime electronic music works well to enrich the atmosphere. Buy Frozen Synapse from Mode7 games here.

3. Terraria

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I must confess that my own play time of Terraria does not match up with those of the previous games. However the time I have spent looking at YouTube videos of the endlessly beautiful creations of this labor of love have been much greater than a lot of time I have spent on complete games. Terraria is wrongly being accused of being a Minecraft rip-off. Sure, it is a sandbox game. Sure, it also involves blocks and crafting and monsters at night. Yet, there is a greater difference between the 3D voxel-based Minecraft and the 2D pixel-based Terraria. While Minecraft focuses on the crafting part –   to build new things in a virgin world Terraria has definite Role Playing elements, especially when one plays with friends. The fact that one can play for hours and hours based on just the overworld (to say nothing of the dark and dank underworld) is testament to the great game that Terraria truly is. With a tiny 16MB download, one cannot go wrong with Terraria. Buy one for yourself and one for your friends and you are all set to roam around a colorful pixelated world full of things to discover.

2. Bastion

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I cannot stop talking about this wonderful, colorful, heart-wrenching little game from Supergiant Games. Bastion has a soul that very few games of this era have one that briefly joins with you every time you do anything in this game. While it is at its heart a hack n’ slash adventure game, what makes Bastion brilliant is its narrator and the extremely poignant music. I never skipped a moment of conversation in the game, mostly because of the old narrator’s voice that was simultaneously warm and pained with sorrow. As the Kid trying to save a broken Caelondia, you will go to different places of your land, fight monsters and rebuild Bastion, the one place everyone agreed to go to in the time of the Calamity. You get to upgrade your weapons and buy new bonuses, but the crux of the game lies in whether you can truly build your world anew. Featuring a lovely soundtrack one that has been on repeat in my music player for a long while now Bastion is one of the must-play titles released this year. Read our review here to know more.

1. To The Moon

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It is not often that a piece of art is made from cheaply available tools with an amateurish look and feel to it go on to redefine the medium and successfully bring it into the forefront as a vibrant and true medium of art. This is pretty much the definition of what To The Moon actually did. It is sad to know that it has less of a fan base when compared to the previous indie games in this list. At its heart, To The Moon is a point-n-click game made using RPGMaker that is set somewhere in the future when science has sufficiently advanced to change a person’s memory at his or her dying stages. The game follows the quest of two such science agents who go into an old, dying man’s mind because he wants to go to the moon as an astronaut in his memories. Yet he does not know exactly why he wishes to do so. The two agents go back into his younger years to find the source of this compulsion and make startling discoveries. I can freely say that the last part of the game literally made me cry and that has not happened before with any game (Planescape: Torment came close). It is the best game that I have played all year, and you must buy it from the brilliant developer.

Honorable Mentions

Minecraft: Well it released this year but it is still more or less the same game as the alpha as far as game mechanics and enjoyment are considered.
Gemini Rue: A dark, neo-noir point n click game that took storytelling to a whole new level.
Limbo: Though released for the PC in 2011, the game was developed last year for the XBLA.

Indie Darling VVVVVV Comes to the 3DS

This is a lovely early New Years’ Gift for all US fans of the 3DS as well as Indie gaming! Terry Cavanaugh’s acclaimed super-hard and incredibly addictive 2D platformer VVVVVV has come to the US 3DS eShop for $7.99 and is apparently quite a blast to play with the 3DS’ much loved 3D-without-glasses screen as well as the second screen that makes the game quite a lot of fun to play.

VVVVVV

With its simple controls and simpler graphics, yet extremely convoluted puzzles using the gravity-inversion trick of the game, VVVVVV looked like the best kind of game to be ported to handheld consoles such as the Sony PlayStation Portable and the Nintendo 3DS. So when Cavanaugh decided to go through for developing it for the 3DS, using the secondary screen as a map for the game (one of the more useful ways of using the second screen with this game, although I cannot say I did not see this coming).

The 3DS version, being $3 dearer than the PC version, includes the ability to download fan-made levels on the PC and playing it on this game. In effect, for $7.99, you are getting an unlimited array of levels to keep playing with on your 3DS. Considering how easy this game is to pick up and play, this perfectly supplements the handheld nature of the platform.

The Antisec Team Strikes At Online Security Supplies Store

Continuing their role of being a silly bunch of hackers with vague goals and assaulting easy-to-hack sites and then twisting their victims to somehow fit into their agenda, the #Antisec team of [probably] Anonymous has struck again! Now as you can see, I have a poor opinion about these attacks. This is mostly due to their terrible handling of the previous attack on Stratfor and misappropriating stealing money from credit cards. Now I do not know what wrong Stratfor, or their latest target SpecialForces.com did but merely standing by and doing business is something these Anons cannot stand. As I have said before, we live in sad times.

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The pretext that Antisec put up to attack SpecialForces.com, a security gear supply store (they stock items like knives, combat apparel and the like), is merely existing:-

[W]e are announcing our next target: the online piggie supply store SpecialForces.com. Their customer base is comprised primarily of military and law enforcement affiliated individuals, who have for too long enjoyed purchasing tactical combat equipment from their slick and professionallooking website.

According to the group which is yet to be properly identified (they just mentioned Merry LulzXmasand #Antisec in their release and since they mentioned Stratfor, I am assuming they are Anonymous), this attack is indirectly related to the pepper spraying cop of UC Davis fame. How very… precise, Anons.

We will have more on this as it develops.

Really Big Sky: A Review

One of my first forays into gaming was with a top-down shooter game called Flying Tigers, which my dad constantly tells me is the best video game he has ever played. It was mostly because of the fact that the game’s goal was very simple: shoot everything, and on top of it the only controls you needed were those that were required to move (you automatically kept on shooting). It’s an excellent game and on many counts, is still fun to play. How is it relevant to this review? If you liked Flying Tigers or any of its kind of top-down shooters, you are going to love Really Big Sky.

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Boss Baddie’s second game in the Big Sky series (they do not have a storyline as such, but it is a sequel of sorts), Really Big Sky is a blast to play from get go. The visuals are crisp and colorful, bordering on the edgy and epileptic. Unlike other randomly generated level games, Really Big Sky does not look somewhat unfinished, working practically like buttery smooth toast with the enemies, your ship and the satisfying explosions. Much of the levels’ time consists of you shooting colorful lasers and blasters at your enemies and collecting odd power-ups, evading asteroid fields, fighting bosses and pummeling planets with your drill before dying in an altogether dramatized explosion.

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Dying is a core part of this game, because there are no health bars to speak of. If you touch an enemy laser, you’re dead. While this makes the first attempt, where the player is assaulted by both enemies on screen and the brilliant fountains of color from the screen itself, terribly hard, it also gives the player the opportunity to convert the points accumulated in the level into cash to buy power-ups such as improved blasters and adding on a shield. Accumulating more points, skills and kills unlocks other game modes such as boss-only, retro, arcade and others.

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Drilling is also a very important point of the game. Your ship features a drill that you can activate by pressing a key. This stops the automatic shooting, but allows you to drill through a planet’s core, getting point multipliers, speed increments and other such bonuses. On top of that, while you are using the drill, your blaster gets more powerful for a short while of use because of the pressure build-up. Seriously, that is the explanation given.

While it is a generally fun game to play, Really Big Sky suffers from some minor issues. First and foremost being that the Esc key exits the game without confirmation, and there is no pause button. This led to many hair-tearing moments when I, at a humungous score, had to leave the game for a moment and inadvertently pressed the Esc. key, thinking it would pause the game. It ended the game, instead.
Much of the game and the bonus power-ups are not explained at the start, leaving you to understand, through trial and error. While this is not necessarily a bad thing in my book, it may be so for others.

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Whereas at the start of the level it looks rather harmless and even easy, the game gets progressively tougher fitting closer to an exponential graph rather than a linear one. The game is very addictive, nevertheless, and the adrenaline pumping soundtrack in the background makes it quite a lot of fun to survive waves upon waves of ships, asteroids, planets, bosses and space dinosaur skulls (I am not kidding)

You can buy Really Big Sky from a number of places for about $7.99. Go get it!