I’m Big Daddy Delta, terror of Rapture, splitter of splicers, defender of the weak, diving suit fetishist extraordinaire. I’m stuck on one side of a door, there’s a broken window and a yellow glowing switch a few feet away. I have a clever hacking dart gun, which requires my simply pressing a button when a needle on its meter passes through a certain colour. I shoot, I score… and get a mild electric shock. I repeat. Again and again. There’s an endless supply of darts so I keep shooting until I die of Electron Overdose and respawn, humiliated, at a Vitachamber. Yet again, someone on the art team has thoughtlessly swallowed the Manichean standard that red is bad and green is good, and decided he should use a primary palette to distinguish between these opposites -which means poor old colour-blind me gets killed.
The Other Reader is determined to make an Economist of me at the moment and was very annoyed when last night I couldn’t answer the nonsense question, “Why is the housing population ageing?” I have determined therefore to attempt an answer herewith, fol de rol, and so and so, what what?
There are three interpretations of what she could possibly mean with this nonsense:
That the people in houses are ageing.
That the houses themselves are ageing.
That the people who do the housing are ageing.
All other interpretations are subsections of these. My answers are:
1 The people in houses are ageing because
a) they are three-dimensional beings in a multi-dimensional universe and perceive change over time. Because they are self-perpetuating machines of genetic but not unitary self-preservation, they are not perfect, in fact have self-destruction built in so that they can get nearer to self-replicatory perfection in each succeeding generation, being driven on by evolutionary pressures and the necessary scarcity of resources. Hence they have telomeres, coding caps for their DNA that run out as they get older, which means their repair procedures stop working. The people in these houses aren’t being replaced either, because young people can’t afford new houses, so have to live with their parents, or stay in old cheap, nasty blocks of flats, so houses are gradually getting more old people in them vis-a-vis flats. The Wall Street Journal thinks London’s property is still in a boom and is going to burst soon – at which point Britain will be in a true more-recessed-than-hole-to-Australia recession, and probably take down the world’s financial markets and most of the sickeningly rich’s wealth too. Houses will once again be affordable, but there will be no banks to lend us the money – so we’ll probably have to use aggregated micro-finance, or Good Old-fashioned Building Societies (GOBS) as they’re known. To me.
b) The houses are ageing because of a combination of land pressures, lack of structural maintenance due to the costs of enormous mortgages to pay for over-priced housing and crippled incentives for new housing stock. For example, an average 1 bed flat in London costs in the region of £200,000. The incentive to buy a piece of land that could accomodate twenty such flats is therefore huge. However, through planning law, prohibitive housing prices, wealthy landlords sitting on property and land they neither use nor exploit properly, and the inefficient use of existing housing stock, that land is not available where it is demanded. Where it is available, it is not usable, through green belt laws or local protests, or because of a lack of demand in that area. (There were whole estates in Hull, where houses were being sold at £5000 each in the 2000s, while prices were rocketing elsewhere.) Moreover, builders are wary of investing their money (or taking out loans, which they can’t get anyway) in these properties currently as they all recognise that Britain’s housing stock is still over-valued (see that WSJ article above). The government will neither incentivise them nor pull its finger out and build new towns it suspects it won’t need when that blasted bubble bursts and the economy dies on its arse.
c) For reason a) above, and because there’s not enough council housing stock, meaning people have to live in rented accommodation, meaning the poor housing officers are knackered, running around trying to find homes for someone with 20 kids, while estate agents can’t shift their massively over-priced stock and the bubble just keeps reinflating.
Hence the question, though deliberate nonsense, does raise three important points about the “housing population ageing”; the houses are f*cked, their owners are f*cked, and we’re all f*cked.
There are three things that are going to keep gamers buying games rather than pirating them. Those are community play (achievements, online play, friend lists, chat, etc), fear (in my opinion, generally inducing negative emotions in the general population is something to be avoided as much as possible) and bonus content, such as DLC and Special Editions. Special Editions, in particular, are the future of boxed games..
Why? Let’s look at Russia. Russia was the scourge of legal games until very recently, but 1C have (almost single-handedly) managed to turn that around. They did this through two methods. Firstly, they persuaded the government to deal with high-street game piracy – where normal shops preferred to sell copied games because the unit cost was better and the packaging was nearly as good. The government cracked down on both consumers and vendors.
Secondly, they made their own games nearly the same price as the pirated versions, with much better packages and started their own chain of shops, selling legitimate versions of games from all round the world – which were all rebranded as 1C-published products. Gradually, as physical piracy died off, they raised their prices back to a more-reasonable profit-maximising level – but nowhere near the prices in the rest of the world. (As an aside, one could argue that Russia has reached a fairer price-balance than the rest of the world; we’re unable to get game prices lower because product differentiation means price competition doesn’t work between publishers.)
Special Editions therefore have a threefold appeal – they stymie piracy, give the end-user physical bonus content, normally accompanied by unique game content, and give the publisher a large premium compared to the digital version (which might be sold solely by the increasing numbers of independent developers in the future). I don’t see non-Special Editions surviving the next ten years.
What’ll happen next? I think Digital Editions from large publishers might start coming with the option to buy the physical edition at a much reduced cost. If that seems like it might encourage cost sharing, so that one friend buys the game online and gives his physical copy to another, which obviously would reduce developer profit then I think Special Editions will be turned into Collector’s Sets – no actual copy of the game, but all the accoutrements of a Special Edition.
For example, I love Cryptic Comet’s games and would buy a fan kit of theirs – especially if it included a physical board game version of their virtual board games. But I wouldn’t buy a cheaply packaged disc that was at a premium over the online price, to cover the publishers’, distributors’ and sales’ costs. I think as the market ages and gamers get more aware of the structure of the industry, they’ll start choosing to buy products online, direct-from-developer more – though the community tie-in appeal of vertically-integrated products like Steam (problematic because of its tying of content delivery to community function) may perpetuate the standard publishing model.
What doesn’t work:.
DRM: If it’s hackable, it’ll get hacked.
No Protection: Demigod got killed by a self-created DOS attack from its attempts to monitor
Always-on connections, like Cities XL tried and Ubisoft (that perennial DRM experimenter) will try soon, annoy gamers enough that hacks are always made to get around them. (And are easy to hack, as the Hamachi-play with Demigod at launch showed).
Staggered Releases: game releases have to be simultaneous worldwide, otherwise even gamers with good intentions will download full games in lieu of downloading the demo – then not buy the game.
Having launched the Official Xbox 360 Magazine, it would be surprising for me to say that I’m platform agnostic, but possibly more surprising to say that I’ve been a PC gamer all my life. PC wasn’t my first love – that was, of all things, the Acorn where we played multi-player Risk in school lunch breaks – and I didn’t have any games systems myself until a very late purchase of a Master System 2.
I just used to watch friends play them on their systems, Amigas and Commodores, sitting in rambling old farmhouses or sprawling detached houses that the wealthy of South Manchester splurged their money on. In our lovely semi, we did have games, though where we bought them from I don’t know. However, my brother and I only played them on my mum’s office computer (that was when she moved from the Chinese restaurant to a marketing job, so we got to swap ‘eating custard tarts while waiting for her after school’ for ‘waiting for her while playing Monkey Island and Wolfenstein 3D’.) We had to battle the system administrator, who would delete them each time we installed them – we became experts at guerilla warfare, the multiple ways of hiding files amidst other files, through archiving, fake names, even file-duplication to mask directory sizes, or leaving decoy directories in the relative open.
I remember the feeling of getting when we got a PC of our own, Christmas 1990, the joy of it sitting there, buzzing, in the gently-collapsing flat-roofed room we called a conservatory (because it had a screen door and was really badly insulated, so it must be a conservatory). We didn’t really know what to do with it, but it came with some very basic games – the pinball was good, but nowhere near the wonders of Wolf 3D. Then one night, a boyfriend of a gay friend of my mum’s brought us round Ultima Underworld II. For me, in memory, that’s a bright day. (The couple split up soon after and my mum’s friend, a sweet joyous genius, went gradually mad). I loved the game, still dream of it, and have a little memory palace built into my head from it (more on which another time).
Later on that little system was riddled with more viruses than Larry the Lab Rat. The early days of computing’s dark side consisted of dodgy floppy discs or rotten modem connections, that transmitted filth faster than virus-checkers could catch it. I continually upgraded that machine over the years, until it barely resembled the original system, and was heavily over-clocked. Parts of it survived in my later PCs until fairly recently – the last thing to go was the floppy drive, kept on until it filled with dust and the air rusted its lungs.
We played through the demo of System Shock over and over on that machine, that joyous space horror sim plagiarised by Dead Space recently until we finally got the full game for a birthday or Christmas. Again I feel trauma at my lack of memory of all these things, because the Other Reader remembers everything – she knows every present and every party from every birthday, and I just have this looming, horrifying mist in my past, that gets closer year-by-year and that raises concerned tears in her when it’s mentioned.
The pattern of my memories runs pretty awry here, so I’m not sure when Ultima 7 came in, but it cracked my heart into little shards. It was so open, so much more free than the games that preceded it and succeeded it. I’d never played anything like it, but I’m sure we played it after Ultima 8.
This, Ultima 8, was the final ground-breaking title we ran on that computer, the first game we bought on release. For some reason the computer had moved to our divorced dad Dimitri’s (nicknamed ‘Meet’ and ‘Dim’ like a character from A Clockwork Orange) flat, where it sat in our little bunk-bedded room and we wrote newspapers about trolls on his Amstrad (my first steps into journalism). Ultima 8 was bought after much brow-scratching, saving and worrying from all of us, including Meet. We’d just been gouged to have the computer upgraded, and all of the specs matched – except we had no graphics card and were never going to afford one (I borrowed one at university, eventually, in 2000, to play Black & White, and ruin my degree a little more).
But Ultima 8 wouldn’t start. I jiggered and poked at EMM386 and MEMSYS, and something, something sparked. In the depths of the machine the hard drive chugged and chugged. But nothing. We gave up, we reset, I changed settings. For a long Saturday, my 15-year old self scratched at the innards of a computer he barely understood. Then he abandoned it, leaving the hard-drive churning.
The flat was situated on top of Manchester’s Arndale Centre (later to be blown up when the IRA bombed Manchester, so that we could see down from its gardens into the gullies between the shopping blocks, to see the shattered buses and abandoned bags – the flats were knocked down because the blast had sheared their top floors sideways), and it was built upside down, so that the bedrooms were on the ground floor and the sitting room had a balcony looking over Strangeways prison. We went up there, and sat around, and watched the pigeons, and looked for wrestling on the TV.
Then, downstairs, there was a noise… a strong, strange, dissonant chord, a high keening noise, follow by low bells and rough thunder. We ran down, two steep steps at a time, bouncing off the walls for speed. We jammed ourselves into the room, and watched the then-amazing opening cinematic, as the echo-heavy Guardian stretched a rendered-hand out and turned it…
Most of these games were made by one studio, Looking Glass, or Origin. I miss them.
I have a problem with tech – I’m morally incontinent (stop your giggling at the back, Jenkins!), in that my mind is slightly spoiled so it strongly seeks pleasure, even when I know that the good thing is something else. Plato called it ‘akrasia’, and it implies a lack of moral control.
This has been a problem since my university days, when I couldn’t be dragged away from my computer, by hell or high water. It used to sit on, in my room, 24 hours a day, normally with the door open so anyone who wanted to use it could come in. When it came to exam time, I would ceremoniously take the power cables and give them to a trustworthy friend (normally Philomena Keet) who hid them, sometimes for a week, sometimes for an entire three months (as during my final exams). That’s the only reason I passed my exams, a perverse strength in my recognition of my weakness.
To counteract my enervated tendencies, which continue to this day, I’ve started using an application on Chrome called StayFocusd. It allows you a maximum of ten minutes a day across all the sites you flag as time-wasters, at which point it blocks you from accessing them for the rest of the day *and* flashes up a screen-wide question: “Shouldn’t you be working?” Simple, but highly effective – especially if you absentmindely wander to sites you shouldn’t when your computer has a ‘thinking moment’.
That’s not all that’s wonderful about it. It also prevents you altering it’s settings during your allocated time, by popping up several dialogues if you try and increase your allocation. Then, when time has expired completely, you can’t remove the blocked sites from the list, or access the options at all.
It’s only flaw – as a Chrome extension, it’s too easy to switch off entirely.