Congress to MPAA: Let’s get naked and rut like pigs

November 11, 2007

FROM JASON’S MOVING BOWELS — At least you can see Republican ideological pandering coming from miles away. But this time it’s the typically anti-corporate, socialist-leaning Democrats who want to prop up big business.

Go figure. I’m not even going to mention that it’s election time and everybody’s hunting for corporate sponsorship donations.

The U.S. House of Representatives (source via CNET) is considering a bill that is getting kudos from the MPAA because it would force universities to pony up for Napster and other pay-to-peer services in hopes of cutting down on illegal file sharing.

If colleges refuse, the feds want to yank funding. A $100 billion aide cut would be one big matzah ball for the higher education industry to drop.

It’s not hard to immediately see problems with this wonderful legislation. First, colleges would be burdened with the cost of policing for the music and film industries (if I were a lobbyist for the MPAA and RIAA, this would be the part where I break open the champaigne). The cost of new technology and personnel, of course, will be passed from the colleges to the students, from the students to Sally Mae, and from Sally Mae to the taxpayers.

It’s a de facto tax going straight to Hollywood. And you thought Big Oil was the player you had to watch for corruption.

Second, colleges will have to police all file transfers — whether they’re legitimate or not — in order to comply with the law. That means podcasts, In Rainbows, open source software, public domain videos, and all other legal files will have to be monitored, too.

Reduced to its core concept, that means the government is forcing private establishment to enact a police state. It places students under constant surveillance. The same Democrats who fight for privacy and derail the Patriot Act (which they should) are advocating here a breach of privacy and the same kind of wiretapping they accuse Bush of doing.

Third, the government doesn’t have the infrastructure right now to enforce the law. Police are not notorious for their ability to investigate ‘Net crime, though the FBI and other federal agencies have a better track record.

Those same agencies have severely limited resources, though, and have bigger things to worry about — like making sure their intelligence on imaginary WMDs gets fact-checked before it leads to a $2 trillion war in the Middle East.

Universities are completely within their right, which they have so-far thankfully been brave enough to exercise, to complain to Congress about this ridiculous, expensive, civil-rights-violating, and unrealistic plan. I can only hope someone remains on Capitol Hill who actually understands the Internet enough to cast an informed vote.

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Castlevania: Portrait of Belated Awesome

November 11, 2007

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FROM JASON’S SMUDGED-UP DS — As a budget gamer (read “cheap-ass”), I’m coming a bit late to the Castlevania:Portrait of Ruin party.

Fine, it’s a little more than mere tardiness; it borders on truancy. The cake’s been eaten, there’s no foam left in the keg, the stripper is passed out under the table, and the police are outside just waiting for someone stupid enough to stumble through the door and get behind the wheel.

Released in December 2006, Portrait of Ruin originally had a hefty $39.99 price tag. I got a 50 percent price cut by waiting almost a year, which is my typically rule of thumb (with some notable exceptions: I bought Pokemon Diamond new for $45 and Guitar Hero III for $95. Those had social play appeal, though).

Let’s get the obvious out of the way first: POR is basically a re-skin of its DS predecessor, Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow. Sure, it trades the dampire main character for a more traditional whip-wielder (Jonathan Morris, not Belmont) and his mage sidekick. It’s the same basic mechanics, though — trading various skills, weapons, armor, and accessories and leveling up the character in order to wend further through what the Japanese game title calls Akumaj┼Ź Dracula Gallery of Labyrinth.

Where it got seriously impressive, however, was level design.

Everything starts out the same, right down to lowering and crossing the drawbridge. But at various points inside, you can enter paintings hanging in the castle, transporting you to (in astonishingly Mario 64-ish fashion, now that I think of it) various themed levels.

The most impressive implementation of this is the Nation of Fools, which is designed in a loop-de-loop environment. As you progress through the level, the floors and ceiling gradually re-orient in 90-degree increments so that at points you are walking on the walls, then the ceiling. It gets trippy when monsters are walking in one degree of freedom — completely unaffected by gravity — while you are walking in another.

Jumping into another portrait, Sandy Grave, allows you to finally ditch the all-too-used blue, black, and gray color pallet we’ve been seeing in Drac’s abode for years and enter an Egyptian-themed dungeon. It works quite well, and the designers managed to keep the evil-incarnate feel while working warm yellows, reds, and browns into the game. There are mummies and even a Pharoah-ish boss to fight, but none of it slides into cartoon territory.

Sandy Grave and a couple of other levels — like the excellent Forest of Doom — even let you go outside and escape the brick and mortar confines of the castle. It’s still night outside, so presumably the ol’ Batman can still hunt you and the undead continue to teem, but there’s the benefit of running and jumping against the background of a big, bright moon.

Those outside bits are generally sans-platforms, too, and have a definite ActRaiser quality (that game was released on the Virtual Console in May. I’m still Wii-less, though, and hoping developers hear my cries for a DS port or remake).

Some of the monsters do feel recycled, but others deviate from what we’ve seen before. There are the staple bats, skeletons, harpies, mimics, slimes, and such. Then there are more innovating baddies, like hulking sand mummies, an enormous dog-like creature with leathery wings, towering rock golems, a creepy dragon zombie, a double-headed snake/woman, Big Trouble In Little China-esque flying eyeballs, and man-tall beehives.

The highlight of the monster design, though, is Legion, a boss comprised of thousands of human bodies mangled together. The more you hit Legion, the more zombified bodies fall off and rush forward to suck your blood. It’s actually quite easy — and incredibly gruesome — to defeat this one, but that’s not the point.

All said, Portrait of Ruin delivers, even if it doesn’t use the stylus or touch screen at all. There are few other titles on the DS that impress me as much. It’s well worth the $18 for a used copy at your local game store.


How direct democracy cripples Digg

November 11, 2007

FROM ANDREW’S EXHAUSTED MIND — I’ve noticed recently around what the new Web 2.0 has come to call “social networking” sites that there is a considerable amount of group think taking place.

The most prominent example currently is the news site Digg. Digg works via a system of “voting” on stories in a pseudo-democratic fashion. If you find that you like a certain story, you would “Digg it”; whereas if you dislike a particular story, you would “Bury it.” Stories which satisfy a secret “Digg Algorithm” reach the front page. These front page stores would then receive hundreds of thousands of views that day, and see a significant amount traffic increase for a time to come.

Now, I’m not too interesting in deconstructing the specific inner-workings of Digg. I’m not even interesting in how some people try to game the system, which may or may not be a common occurrence. No, what I am going to explore is how the inherent nature and structure of the Digg system is flawed, and how this flaw effects the quality of news in which a person finds on the front page.

Digg’s system is very similar in method to a direct democracy, a form of government that the United States is erroneously accused of utilizing. The problem with this method is that voter apathy, or rather differing levels of activity in users will create disparities within the system, pushing stories which may not otherwise have seen the front page. If a small contingent of users band together around a common goal, it will become easy for them to push stories to the front.

A prime example of this behavior is the Ron Paul grassroots supporters. They get it, they understand the system, they know that all it takes is a little organization and you can pretty much get any story to the front page. Is this a bad occurrence? Not necessarily, however, it does show the flaw in a system which is primarily meant to be a news source. Depending on people’s personal preferences, certain stories will be buried and others will be flung to the top. There should be no personal preference in what gets reported, not a game in which whoever works the system best controls what is shown.

The volatility inherent in Digg’s system will lead to a system which is not well suited for what was intended to be a news aggregation site. While it does provide a site which is excellent for finding some comedic content, I’ve noticed that the quality has drastically decreased in the past few months as the site has grown in popularity. What possibly could be done to change this? Well, I’m not sure, but until then, I’ll be going elsewhere for my news.