Sunday, September 25, 2005

WoW plagued by mystery disease

Check this out.

These are the kind of things that get me all excited about the future of gaming - especially persistent MMOGs.

But it also begs the question - just HOW much reality do gamers want in their games?

The mind boggles.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

We're too sexy! Muhahahahahaha!

Try typing 'chennai sex men cell number' into the search field on and see what happens!!

We turn up at number four. Brilliant!!!

This is what happens when you get Vinay Nilakantan involved in a project. The human Viagra.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Indian Gaming Industry - Lessons from Bollywood?

by Anand Ramachandran

With the game development industry in India seemingly in a growth phase (albeit in fits and starts), it is time for developers to think ahead and look for ways to achieve global acceptance for their products. With a reasonable Indian market still years away, most developers seem to be focused on making games that western ( and perhaps Japanese and other Asian) audiences will buy, and they’re quite justified in this outlook.

The question is, just what kind of games from India will global audiences like? Perhaps there are important clues in the route taken by the Indian Film and Music industries.

Of late, we have seen several instances of Indian films making their presence felt in UK and US movie charts. Indian music also seems to be slowly but surely gaining a following in global markets. Importantly, though the growth was initially driven by the expatriates or diaspora, this is a market that increasingly comprises honest-to-goodness locals. The John and Jane Does.

“It is surprising and encouraging that other audiences are showing some interest. Mainstream newspapers are showing interest in reviewing films.”, said Tanuj Garg of UTV Motion Pictures, in an article in Screen International a leading trade publication abroad.

What seems to be common among products that do well abroad is that they are without exception extremely Indian in character – offering audiences glimpses into Indian Culture, Aesthetics and Value Systems. We’re talking those family and romantic dramas with Indian morals and song-and-dance routines. Horror, action or thriller titles don’t work. Karan Johar or Yash Chopra will outsell Ram Gopal Verma.

Even the Japanese are, unbelievably, tripping on Rajni films. You can do a double take now.

Consider the top grossing Bollywood films in the UK :

Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham

4.5 million USD

Veer Zara

3.6 million

Kuch Kuch Hota Hai

3.17 million


3.16 million

Kal Ho Na Ho

3.12 million

Among the films currently doing great business are ‘Bunty Aur Babli’, ‘Parineeta’ and ‘Paheli’, which have all crossed 2 million.

From even a cursory glance at this list, it becomes clear that overtly, unabashedly Indian films do far better business than Bollywood films which try to be more ‘western’ in garb and content. No ‘James’. No ‘Dhoom’. No ‘Kaante’.

Even if you consider the music industry, it’s not the early ‘Rock Machine’ type bands that are getting western feet tapping, it’s Bhangra Pop, which manages to bridge the east-west divide better than most other art forms I’ve seen.

These are all products that are undisputably Indian, not just in appearance, but in soul. They offer the global movie-goer or music fan something that is at once unique, distinctive and interesting beyond mere novelty value. Of course, they all have production values on par with world standards.

It certainly looks like Bollywood has made world audiences sit up and take notice by being true to its roots, making quality ‘Indian’ products, and using global Indian audiences as a channel to reach out to the international mainstream. It didn’t happen overnight, but it’s happening now.

A message there for game developers?

I would like to see an industry that has the vision and confidence to take the route of making original, Indian content as opposed to churning out job work or me-too products that are Indian purely by virtue of being made here. I am convinced that the talent and ability abound – it’s only a question of taking the leap of faith.

Yes, it’s risky. Job work certainly pays off much better in the short run – and I’m certainly not suggesting that companies drop lucrative contracts to chase vague ideals. What I’m trying to say is that companies who manage to find the resources and will to make high quality products free of preconceived and rigid notions of what will work internationally and what won’t, will be rewarded with much larger long-term profits and respect from the global industry.

Tuesday, August 2, 2005

Must . . . Play . . . Nethack

by Anand Ramachandran

Let’s get the gist out of the way – Nethack is one mean mother of a game. It grabbed me – conqueror of Morrowind, Lord of Baldur’s Gate, Jedi Master of KOTOR – and turned me into a frustrated, weeping, sniveling level 3 wimp. What could be better?

I have attacked this game about thrice a day over the past two weeks. I have, among other things :

  • picked a lock with a credit card

  • accidentally killed my own dog

  • eaten carrion

  • had sex with a succubus who seemed not to enjoy it very much

  • bought tinned food

  • had my ass saved when my God answered a prayer

  • broken a camera

  • had the most enjoyable hallucination trip since . . well . . . a while

  • stripped naked to squeeze through a narrow gap

God! And I haven’t even scratched the surface of this wretchedly deep hack and slashfest RPG. Curses.

Oh – sorry. I’m talking about Nethack, of course. For those of you who haven’t heard of it, Nethack is a modern day variant of the RPG classic Rogue, in which you explore a devious dungeon filled with, naturally, traps, monsters and treasure.

However, Nethack, like Rogue, does not resort to frighteningly realistic graphics or sudden loud noises to frighten the gamer ( as far too many slasher movie type games tend to do these days. Good on you, Valve.) In fact, these games are characterized by their use of ASCII characters to create their worlds – your character is an ‘@’ symbol, and orc is an ‘o’, a bat is a ‘B’, and so on. So nVidia and ATI – you know where you can put your processing power. All commands are input by simple keystrokes or combinations of them. It sounds simple, but it’s an ingenious, devilishly complex system that is unmatched in richness. Look at some of the screenshots below to see what I mean.

ASCII based graphics. No clipping problems. Hooray.

Falcon's Eye provides a graphical interface for Nethack. Great for newbies.

All the classic RPG elements are included. Races and Character classes (including esoteric ones like Samurai, Archaeologist, Valkyrie and Tourist) – check. Shops – check. Magical traps – check. Cool equipment and artefacts – check. Scary monsters – check. Cute, fuzzy pet – check.

What sets Nethack apart, for me, though, is its sheer unpredictability. I’ve played about fifty times, and each game has been tellingly, dramatically different. I’m not talking mild, cosmetic, Diablo difference here – I’m talking seriously different experiences. Don’t believe me? Try it.

This, people, is imaginative, joyful game design. A game that can scare the pants off you one minute, and make you double up with laughter the very next. This is the spontaneous magic that often eludes big-name releases. This is what the open source movement is capable of – high quality content that can only be achieved by love of the craft, king-sized budgets be damned.

Of course, did I mention that Nethack is free? Yep – you pay Nada for one of the best gaming experiences on the planet. Long live open source. Eat this, EA.

A warning – Nethack is a difficult game. Most beginners keep dying, as I quickly found out. But with patience, and a bucketful of good advice available on the Net, you’ll soon start descending into the deeper levels, and discovering the endless delights therein. Stay with it. Trust me.

For beginners, I strongly recommend Falcon’s eye, a version of the game that uses some elementary, but serviceable graphics, and a friendlier point and click interface. Makes it easier to get into Nethack.

And get into it you should. Forget the ethics and morals of the open source movement. Forget everything. This is a game every RPG fan has just got to play. At least to put all other hack ‘n slash RPGs in perspective.

You can download Nethack and its variants, including Falcon’s Eye, from

India and the Online Gaming Juggernaut

by Vinay Nilakantan

Will subscription driven Online MMO games succeed in India?

It’s a known and established fact that subscription driven MMO online games around the world are fairly large money spinners. Right from Everquest to Star Wars Galaxies to World of Warcraft have all been able to establish very strong revenue models which have allowed continuous development and expansion of the industry.

In India, gaming is big. How big is it? That’s important to know. The highest selling game within India has been ‘Brian Lara’s Cricket’.

No. of copies sold: Over 25,000

While those are not great numbers by a long shot, they are sufficient for a certain amount of ‘earned value’ within an organization. Of course, those are the official numbers.

The reason I say this is we are now at a stage where the Indian gaming industry and the various companies that are involved in it are making moves on whether the ever successful MMO subscription module can be adopted in India. I urge them all to read this.

Let’s look at a couple of factors:

India and computers: It’s important that we define statistics of the potential target audience.

PC Base

11 Mn

PC Penetration


Internet Subscribers

4.93 Mn (QE June' 04)

Internet Penetration


Broadband Users

0.23 Mn (QE June' 04)

Broadband Penetration

0.02% (Dec' 04)


A commonly forgotten factor that most corporate organizations within the gaming space in India fail to pay attention to is the actual configurations of the computer within these statistics. There are computers still running on Win 95, operating with 32MB Ram and depend on the software to render its graphics. Organizations should look a little beyond the above statistics as what they’re doing is allowing a great gaming experience for a potential gamer to be ruined by ignorance and lack of knowledge due to the almost insignificant notification on game software packaging and branding. What does the potential gamer do? Blame the game for the bad experience and never buy a game again. Pay particular attention to this, if you’re concerned about the longevity of this industry in India.

Now – let’s look at the most popular genres of online gaming around the world :


Why the focus on RPGs? It quite simply is the only reason that subscription based PC gaming exists (let’s not go near the web based subscriptions). The genre is oriented towards ensuring a greater game experience as you put in more time into the game.

RPGs as such are a genre which has not been able to take off in India. Whether the reason has been of maturity or whether the reason has been of bad branding, when was the last time you saw a high selling RPG in India? Sure, you have your Diablos and your Neverwinter Nights. The sales from those are so incredibly low compared to sports and action titles, it’s not even funny. “But we sell a lot of Quake and a lot of Unreal games!” Nice try buddy. How does an organization bring in consistent subscription revenue through something like that? Monthly payments: No way. Not going to happen. The average fee is between 7 to 15 dollars per month worldwide. Even with region sensitive pricing – India as such has not been exposed to or nurtured with a model like this. A monthly payment for a game? The same game? Try explaining that to your parents. The only people who would do this are working executives who have been playing games for years and have the maturity to understand why online games have that kind of pricing model. Those kind of people are *extremely* few in number. In fact. I may personally know who they all are. That’s a joke, by the way.

Conclusion: I can keep writing about this but this is what I think we need to do.

Wait a few years. Don’t jump the gun or onto the bandwagon. There is a logical growth that will happen. Sell more regular games. Sell good games. Let broadband penetration increase. Let it become true broadband with 128kbps or more to ensure a smooth and enjoyable experience for the user. Let PC prices drop further. Allow graphics cards to enter households through smart and cost effective pc bundling. Promote effective branding. Dispel myths.

If you build it, they will come…

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Sid Meier's Pirates! Revenge of the Remake.

I love pirate games. Arrrrr.

The original Sid Meier’s Pirates! (installed off a 5 ½ inch floppy disk – anyone remember THOSE?), ate up hours of my time back in the late 80s. You sailed the high seas, bore down on treasure-laden ships, bombarded them, then swashbucklingly swung on board and engaged rival captains in dashing duels. You looted, played politics, flirted with lissome lasses, double-crossed greedy Government scum, and made a tidy profit. It was marvelous.

When Pirates! faded away, the Monkey Island games took over. Guybrush Threepwood, my Man! Laugh-out loud humour being the cornerstone, the games featured interesting plots, unforgettable characters (Murray, the talking skull has to be one of the funniest game characters ever.), lovely graphics and interesting puzzles. And of course, lots of Pirate action. Insult Sword Fighting. Unbearable coolness.

Now, it’s back to Sid Meier’s Pirates! Again, and in Technicolor.

The geniuses at Firaxis have, almost unbelievably, retained the EXACT same flavour and fun factor of the original, while adding just a wee bit to the gameplay and generally giving the game a this-century facelift. Does it work? Hoo, boy!

I’ve been playing for hours. Every day. Arrrrrr.

Some of the things you'll do in Pirates! These screens are all from the SAME game.

Simple, addictive gameplay that makes this one of the most accessible games in years. Newbies, this one’s for you. Lovely, colourful graphics and joyful music that makes the Caribbean come alive. It’s so much fun, there ought to be a law.

Ship to ship combat. Sword fighting (non-insult, for Monkey Island faithfuls – this one’s the real thing). Town raids. Treasure Hunting. Ballroom Dancing. Clever trading. All these activities are introduced as deceptively simple mini-games that exist together in a delightfully charming package.

This is a game I can cheerfully recommend to any kind of gamer – casual or hardcore, soldier or strategist, embryo or fossil. You’ll all dig it. God promise.

Available for PC, and shortly for Xbox.

Tuesday, June 7, 2005

The Coming of SPORE

SPORE is generating the most exciting gaming news in a long time. With all the bla about lack of innovation in games, this is poised to mark an evolutionary leap – from both a development and gameplay standpoint.

Visit and follow the links for more information on what’s getting me all excited.

However, gaming history is rife with games that promised big but failed to deliver on their ambitious bluster. Black and White. Fable. Ultima Online. Neverwinter Nights. Impossible Creatures. Some of these were great games in the end, but the pre-release hype promised a level of innovation that they never reached.

Here’s hoping Will Wright doesn’t fall prey to his own vision. I want a jaw-dropping SPORE, not a lukewarm one.

Gamers Must Experiment.

I don’t play flight simulators.

I just spent three hours playing a flight simulator. What a blast!

Admittedly, the game was Star Wars : Rogue Squadron, not the most complicated or hardcore of flight sims. However, this fun, action oriented title has got me interested in the genre. I now want to check out other titles, potentially unlocking many hours of fun-filled gaming I would previously never have accessed. I’ve already begun enjoying the peerless Wing Commander, and have my eyes set firmly on Crimson Skies. Hours of blissful gaming entertainment I’d have missed out on if I didn’t give the genre a try.

My point is this – there are too many gamers who are locked on to a particular genre, who will say things like “I don’t play action games, they’re too violent”, or “That medieval role-playing stuff is just too slow for me.”, or “Mario? That’s for Kids. I’m more of a Doom 3 kind of guy.”

More’s the pity.

We’re fortunate enough to have available to us hundreds of amazingly compelling games from various genres and time periods. They’re all worth a try, at the very least.

So here’s my suggestion : this month, apart from your regular gaming schedule, resolve to play a few hours of one game from a genre or time period you don’t normally play. Hey, if you don’t dig, then you can always go back to your staples.

Thursday, June 2, 2005

Indian Gaming Magazines - a lowdown

As a reader of computer gaming magazines since the mid-80s, I can testify to the pleasure of getting your gaming fix from the printed page.

Sure, there are web sites that carry far more comprehensive and customizable gaming content, but there's just something about a good old fashioned magazine ( I can't browse lying on my hammock or sitting on the throne, for instance) that has always found favour with loyal readers. It also helped that the contributing writers to the top magazines were experienced, knowledgeable people who had a knack for putting their wisdom into words that spoke volumes, read easy and sounded witty.

With CGW India sadly out of print, (and many gamers in India lacking the kind of Internet access needed for dedicated gaming news gathering) the role played by print magazines in keeping gamers plugged in to the global scenario is crucial to the growth of the industry itself. At present, there are three that I know of – SKOAR, GameForce and R.A.G.E.

SKOAR – the brash young thing.

SKOAR is the best produced and designed product among the three. Bright, imaginative and user-friendly layouts. Lots of artwork, screenshots, pictures. Nice.

And the writing? A witty, youthful style that has a lot going for it – some of the gags are genuinely laugh-out-loud. Most of the reviews and features are reasonably informative and well-researched.

However, I can't help get the feeling that this is a publication run primarily by 23 year old action gamers. Sections titled Nooze, Pheechers, Reevus. Writers with middle names like ‘Zoom', ‘BadJag' and ‘Shifty Shellshock'. A layout that tries far too hard to be cool. Please. (Note – this is a personal opinion, not a comment on the magazine's quality. I am a wizened old gamer who bought his first ATARI 2600 25 years ago. Perhaps the younger crowd digs this kind of style. Ugh.)

Besides, not all the reviewers seem to truly understand the products they're writing about. The review of the Sims 2 in the latest issue, for instance, missed the point completely. The reviewer scored the game low because it didn't have an ‘objective' and ‘structured missions' (an ignorant insult to the genius of Will Wright and his seminal ‘sandbox' gaming approach). To top it off, he, quite ridiculously, compared the game unfavourably to Splinter Cell! (a game which, sensibly for its genre, had these features.) That's like saying a particular model of car isn't a good product because it isn't chocolate flavoured. Stupid.

However, these cribs are merely to draw attention to specific issues which may not be of concern to the widest cross-section of gamers. If you're primarily interested in Action, Sports and RTS gaming, you'll find few complaints.

GAMEFORCE – new and improved.

GameForce used to be the magazine I ignored every month – crappy writing, blatant plagiarism and eyeball-hurting design. But not anymore.

This is India 's most improved gaming magazine. This month's pleasantly surprising issue had well written reviews set in an easy, user-friendly layout. This is what I like to see – functional, crisp design without overdone graphics or needless chaos. Lovely.

What's more, the writing and design have none of the wannabe-cool factor that seems to prevent SKOAR from being what it can be. The new avatar of GameForce has a mature, earnest quality to it that is at once both endearing and heartwarming.

Though the magazine comes with just two CDs (as opposed to a whopping two DVDs with SKOAR – good on you, guys), the content was again a pleasant surprise : I was delighted to see a gaming comic strip, several PDF issues of an online adventure gaming magazine called Inventory, and additional reviews and content in addition to the game demos. That's the way to do it folks : even if you have limited resources, use them well. Applause, everyone.

From the evidence at hand, it appears that the folks at GameForce are making a laudable effort to bring out a quality publication. If they continue to show the kind of improvement they have with this issue, they can easily be India 's best (but for now, SKOAR just manages to hold on to the title).

And R.A.G.E.? I don't know. The design is horrendous. The reviews are passable, but curiously patchy – as if different writers worked on different paragraphs within the same article. It's not an awful magazine, but there's no compelling reason to recommend anything about it. It will have to show great improvements if it is to compete with the other two publications in the fray. I wish them well – I'd love to have another good mag to read, you know.

In conclusion

It's great that there are three magazines catering to what is still an essentially niche (but fast growing) market. As the people behind the magazines try and get better with every issue, it's important that gamers support their efforts by buying, reading and interacting with them. I still remember how long it took for MTV to shed their hopelessly uncool wannabe image when they launched in India , before they finally settled down to honest-original-desi-hip. So here's to SKOAR, GameForce and R.A.G.E. Godspeed.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Game Buying 101

Couple of major updates coming up shortly. But for now, a link to an old article I wrote to help newbies get value for money when they buy games.

Here it is.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

X-Box 360 - Bless you. Thank you.

by Vinay Nilakantan

Let's be clear. If you have access to the Internet and even have a remote interest in gaming, you must have heard about this.


Two weeks back, at a grand launch– we saw the unveiling of the new Xbox gaming console from Microsoft called “Xbox 360” and according to them, the rest is history. So, let's see what the hype is all about.


Nerd - “What is it?”

Geek - “It's almost a friggin' super – computer.”

Nerd - “Really??”

Geek – “Yep…It does 1 whole teraflop per second.”

Nerd – “Damn…”


A few days later at a retail outlet….


Nerd – So I heard the XBOX is a super computer? Why on earth would a household require a gaming console that could sub as a super-computer?


Salesman - Very simple - To make more realistic games.


Nerd – Oh. So does that means we get to see better graphics?


Salesman - We sure do. We'll probably see a three –five fold improvement in the sheer quality of graphics.


Nerd - Nice.


Geek talk: Armed with a custom graphics card developed by ATI, the XBOX 360 boasts of the most advanced graphics card out there. The GPU features Unified Shader Technology (allowing vertex and pixel shaders to work simultaneously) – ATI uses about 48 parallel shaders allowing the GPU to dynamically utilize shader resources with a few constraints. The GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) has 10MB embedded DRAM with a whopping 256GB/sec of bandwidth transfer. Oh and by the way - We're talking 48 pipelines. The ATI X850 (one of the hottest PC graphics card) has a mere 16.


Nerd - What else?


Salesman - Well – you have the ability to program better AI so that the games are smarter. So NOW, you're going to have more of a challenge as you're playing smarter opponents.


Nerd - Cool.


Nerd - What about realism though? I want games that allow me to think this is real.


Salesman - Sure – with the sheer processing power that is available, developers can ensure authentic physics within the game world and so you feel very real world behavior.


Nerd – Cool.


Geek talk: The XBOX 360 has a multi core 3.2 GHz. processor that allows its three processor cores to calculate six threads of simultaneous processing. That is, we're looking at three core processors running at 3.2 GHz, each with the capability to process two threads (or a similar concept) simultaneously. 6! That's a lot. That said - developing code on such a branched architecture might give developers some nightmares but also provides them with access to never-previously-available resources.  As per say, there is no physics processing unit. It's all in the proc.


Nerd - And will I see faster load up times? You got to have that.


Salesman - Sure.

Geek talk: The XBOX 360 now has what they call a Unified Memory Architecture. 512 MB of GDDR 3, running at 700 MHz DDR and having a bandwidth of 22.4GB/sec. Unified, because it's this memory that drives powers both the CPU and Graphics card.


Salesman - And this is really cool – you now have wireless controllers. This means, you don't have to connect those ridiculous wires that run right through the living room to play your games.


Nerd - Sweet.


Geek talk: Wireless controllers are part of standard XBOX 360 release. 2.4 GHz. connectivity along with a frequency hopping spectrum ensures there is no interference. Also, in case your battery runs dry – plug the controller into one of the two USB 2.0 ports. This allows you to continue playing while your batteries keep re-charging.


Salesman – Also, you have forty games available on launch with over a hundred in development and that means there will be a Halo 3. Apart from that, it has a detachable hard drive, high-def game support (up to 1080i), customizable face plates and comprehensive digital media support that supports the entire range of current generation media discs.


Nerd – Wow, they've packed so much into this thing, I wonder how my old XBOX games would look. I mean – all those old games that have agonizingly long load up times will now fly through on this.


Salesman - Uh…well. Not quite true. With all the research and development that Microsoft has put in to making this such state of the art technology, they, well, did not feel that it was too important for users of the existing XBOX to play their old games on this.


Nerd - Say what?


Salesman - Yeah, well - they figure you already have the old XBOX to play those games on so why would you need the new one apart from playing the brand new games that come out. See what I mean?


Nerd – So, let me get this straight. I cannot play my old XBOX games on the new XBOX 360? What about backward compatibility?

Salesman - Look at this way - Not *all* of them. Microsoft, considerate as ever, has itself chosen a few top-selling games that would be backward compatible with the old games. But yep – not all of them.


SO yeah! Backward compatibility does exist, but you will need to stack the new XBOX 360 on top of your old XBOX and ta-da – Back to Back compatibility. Get it? -  Heh!


(Picture courtesy -


Nerd: I got one thing to say to you.


Salesman: Sure, go ahead young man.


Nerd: Sony. Word!




PS3 Specifications

  • Cell cpu rated at 3.2GHz (2 teraflops or 2 trillion computations per sec.)

  • nVidia graphics processing unit "Reality Synthesizer" rated at 550MHz

  • Dolby 5.1ch, DTS, LPCM

  • 256MB of GDDR video ram running at 700MHz, 256MB XDR main ram

  • Blu-Ray disk format (BD-ROM) which holds 50GB

  • Built-in Ethernet ports (10BASE-T, 100BASE-TX, 10000BASE-T)

  • Wireless networking function - Wi-Fi IEEE 802.11 b/g

  • 2 HDMI outputs, 1 Multi-AV output, 1 S/PDIF optical output

  • Wireless joypad with Bluetooth 2.0 connectivity or USB2.0

  • Backward compatible with PS1 and PS2 software

  • Support for 480p, 780p, 1080i and 1080p

Sunday, May 22, 2005

The Worried Parent's Gaming Primer

I’ve heard it many times in many voices – “Video Games are bad for Kids.”

The irony is this – most people who say this have little or no knowledge of PC or Video gaming. Most have never played, or even watched a game for any length of time, and certainly don’t read the reams of material written (chiefly on the web) on gaming.

Then how do they know anything about its harmful effects? Answer : they don’t. They’re just repeating what they normally hear from someone else, who heard it from someone else, who read it ‘somewhere’. It’s a stupid, narrow view held by people who haven’t even attempted to understand what they criticize.

If you’re an Indian parent who is worried that games will ruin your child’s life, and you’ve got this far, hear me out before you throw the CDs out, wot?

Yes, there are lousy video games.

There are also brilliant ones.

Yes, there are extremely violent games.

There are also many that don’t contain so much as a drop of blood.

There are games that encourage quick thinking, imagination and intelligence. There are games that teach history and science (and games that teach both). I have played games where the writing actually explores concepts from philosophy, ethics and morals. No, really. Ask Vinay Nilakantan.

Is excessive gaming bad for your kids? Yes. It is. As are excessive TV, excessive water, excessive exercise and yes, even excessive reading. The operative word is ‘excessive’.

Most gamers are not wacko nerdwads. Neither are they bloodthirsty terrorists-in waiting. Most gamers are people like me. Or my friends. Writers. Salesmen. Designers. Architects. Students. Managers. Parents. The bulk of gamers worldwide fall in the age groups 18-40. Not exactly snot-nosed, impressionable children.

There are violent, grotesque movies. There are books that are sick, twisted and dirty. But parents don’t keep their kids away from reading or movies completely, do they? They help the young ones by keeping them away from the bad stuff and encouraging them to focus on the good.

Why don’t they do the same for games? Because most parents don’t know enough about games to distinguish the good from the rotten. And instead of making an effort to understand the hobby that their children seem to love so much, they depend on hearsay and rumours to provide a shortcut reason to ban it completely.

Worried parents out there, listen to me. For your children’s sake, attempt to understand. There are sites on the internet (check out the links on the sidebar) that can help. Get a sampling of the wonderful, wonderful games out there ( The Sims, Civilization, Black and White, Monkey Island, to name a few). Who knows, you may find a gamer in you as well.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Why Morrowind is Fabulous

Last week, I rediscovered Morrowind.

Just some of the beautiful (and butt-ugly) sights in Morowind. Click on image for larger picture.

It was a spectacle when released five years ago, and even today, in a genre that has seen Neverwinter Nights, KOTOR, Fable and Jade Empire, it stands alone.

Critics will point to its tepid dialogue system. They will single out the lackluster combat. Some will even count the immense, free form gameplay as a flaw.

Let's give them their due. There are many things the game lacks : The twisting, immersive plots and subplots of Baldur's Gate 2 or KOTOR. The satisfying, fun filled combat of Jade Empire. The wit and charm of Fable. No, Morrowind is not the perfect game. But then, what is?

If it's a true, honest-to-goodness role playing experience you're after, you won't find a more rewarding title anywhere.

Where other games make you feel like someone special from the word go, Morrowind casts you into the gameworld as a mere nobody, and challenges you to thrive. No early game feel-good whoop-ass sessions here, nosiree. For the first few hours of gameplay, I felt lonely, miserable and sometimes,( I swear it,) cold and wet trudging from town to town in a harsh, unforgiving land filled with rude, hostile and ugly (really) people. At times, I would be jumped by a lone monster, turn tail and run, not stopping till I saw the familiar, welcoming city gates of Balmora. Aaaaaahhhhhhhh! What could be better?

Yes, only the strong survive in Morrowind. The role-playing system itself if superbly designed and flexible – giving gamers the scope to create just the sort of character they want. The sheer number of skills available alone make character creation and development a delicious process.The challenges involved in gaining skills and leveling up make every victory and achievement all the more satisfying. As you progress into the game, you'll enjoy the sensation of having worked your seat off to become the cocky, fireball spewing (or axe wielding), killing machine you are. Warms the cockles.

What a splendid gameworld this is! Bethesda has created an immense nation (yes, that's what it is, with cities, villages, shopping centres ) for you to explore. Ladies and Gentlemen, THIS is free-form exploration. Unlike games like KOTOR and Jade Empire which often tease you with magnificient vistas while locking you on to a much narrower exploration path, Morrowind throws the world at you. If you can see it, you can go there. Want to find a better route? Go ahead. Feel like climbing a mountain? Suit yourself. A swim, perhaps? Nothing will stop you. While this much freedom can be daunting to newbies, the experienced role-player will savour it.

And this is NOT a game for newbies. What it is is an immeasurably excellent feast for that hard-boiled veteran of RPGs who has conquered it all and is looking for more. No other RPG makes players feel so completely immersed in the gameworld. No other RPG offers as much freedom for exporation and character building. No other RPG has anything close to the hours of gameplay that Morrowind treats you to.

For me, the flaws in Morrowind melt away as you play further and further, until you truly become a part of the world. You feel reassured when you see familiar places and things, nervous when entering a new town, small and afraid when a dust storm hits, cold and wet when it's raining. This is what role playing is all about. This is why every serious role-player owes it to himself (yeah, alright – or herself) to give it a go.

Morrowind is available for PC and XBOX.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Guess what? The N-Gage Qd is actually a GOOD thing.


Yes, yes – I know that it hasn't sold squat and Nokia is planning to phase it out, but just listen a moment.

As a pure handheld gaming device, I'd be hard pressed to defend it. Less than cutting edge (but serviceable) graphics. Small library of worthwhile games. Developers deserting the platform. Not good news.

However, if you're a gamer, and you need to buy a phone, you could do worse than pick up a QD. At about Rs.10,000/-, ( this could come down drastically – Nokia has just slashed the US price to $99) it's a more than decent phone and a superb handheld gaming device. When you look at the whole package, suddenly, it starts to look a lot better.

I've played games on the PC and Xbox for years, and I don't play crappy titles for more than a few minutes. Take it from me, Pathway to Glory, Colin McRae 2005 and Worms World Party are great titles by any standards, and will give you hours of quality gameplay. Ghost Recon, Asphalt and FIFA 2005 are a blast as well. Oh – and I almost forgot the 3-D take on the ubiquitous Snake – an N-gage exclusive that is the best thing Nokia's done in years.The game-centric design also makes the N-Gage the best place to enjoy the many superb Java Mobile games available. I spent several happy hours with Ancient Empires and Prince of Persia – playing these games on regular phones just isn't the same. There are several promising titles lined up for release as well – so you'd be set for another year at least.

Bluetooth connectivity is available for some super multiplayer bigfun.

Of course, being a multinational corporate behemoth, Nokia doesn't care about their customers. Why else would they launch the N-gage in India and make the games horribly difficult to get? Walk into a Nokia dealer and ask for N-gage titles, get a free blank stare. Ludicrous.

Luckily, help is at hand. You can get all the best games over P2P and Bluetooth them to your phone's MMC using the excellent software that comes bundled with the N-Gage.

Naturally, we wouldn't have to resort to this if Nokia had condescended to make the games available.

You can also watch videos and play MP3s – the sound isn't great but it isn't bad either. Some basic PDA features – notepad, task lists, reminders, contacts – round off the package.

In summary – Gamer? Buying a phone? Get a QD. Great value for money.

Ten PC Gaming Classics You Can Still Enjoy

With most current titles retailing at well above Rs.1000/-, gaming is certainly not a cheap hobby. Even hardcore gamers can hardly afford to buy all the games they want, and casual gamers are often deterred from trying games by the price tag. Additionally, most new titles require rather serious hardware to run them. If you bought your machine more than a couple of years ago, these games simply won't run on it. So what's the way out for the financially challenged gamer? Is it a question of spend big bucks or die? Never fear – all is not lost. We've put together a list of games that offer unbeatable value for just about anyone. All the titles we have picked fit the following criteria :
  • Offer hours of terrific, award-winning gameplay
  • Will run even on a Pentium II with 128MB of RAM and an 8MB AGP card
  • Retail for less than Rs.500/-
So look for these beauties at your local game store, and have fun.


Most people who played Fallout when it was first released agree that it was one of the best games they've ever played. Set in a charmingly desolate post-nuclear world of guns, gangs and mutants, Fallout remains one of the most singularly memorable role-playing experiences of all time. It's a tribute to the designers that no other game has even tried to clone its setting and gameplay – there are Diablo clones, there are Starcraft clones, but there's nothing quite like Fallout available even today.
Broken Sword – Shadow of the Templars

The first Broken Sword adventure featuring American adventurer George Stoppard features some of the finest artwork and voice acting seen in an adventure game. The story starts off in modern day France and takes you through exotic locales such as Ireland, Syria and Spain as you try to solve a murder mystery that is not as simple as it seems. Broken Sword's elegant interface and simple gameplay make it easy for even newbies to pick up and start playing right away. The memorable story, well-written dialogues, interesting characters and challenging puzzles make this a timelessly enjoyable adventure.
System Shock 2

A true classic in every sense, System Shock 2 remains one of the scariest, most atmospheric action-RPGs ever made. If you liked Deus Ex, Half-life or any other similar shooter, and you haven't tried this game, do it now. As a stranded soldier on an eerie, deserted spaceship facing off against creepy zombies, you'll find that this is horror gaming at its very best.

Though the seeds were sown by Command and Conquer and Warcraft 2, it was Starcraft that truly kickstarted the real time strategy genre's march to global popularity. With stunning graphics, intense gameplay, memorable music and an epic story, Starcraft became a worldwide phenomenon, and people are still playing it today. This is one of those rare games that seems truly ageless – offering a challenging and immersive experience years after it was first released.

It's not often that a game comes along that creates a sub-genre by itself, spawning a stream of imitators and wannabes trying to cash in on its success. Diablo created a sensation when it was unleashed on an unsuspecting gaming public – winning widespread acclaim and a devoted following. An action RPG with simple yet insanely addictive gameplay, hordes of evil monsters to kill and frightening dungeons to explore, Diablo remains eminently playable and tons of fun.
Alpha Centauri

Somehow, turn based strategy games don't seem to be as popular with Indian gamers as their real-time counterparts. However, if you're the type who enjoys playing strategy games at a less-than frantic pace, you'll simply love this gem from legendary designer Sid Meier. Alpha Centauri offers space exploration, sci-fi warfare and political intrigue in one slick game. And don't let the turn-based tag fool you – the gameplay is tense and involving, and you'll be sweating bullets by the time you realize it's four in the morning.
Heretic 2

An underrated classic that isn't much talked about, Heretic 2 was a top-notch action game that went by almost unnoticed. Your staff-wielding hero can leap, roll, flip and go toe-to-toe with the best of them, and can cast devastating spells for good measure. And you execute all these cool moves in the midst of numerous fast-paced battles, slaying hordes of enemies along the way.
Grim Fandango

Many adventure gamers still swear that Grim Fandango remains the best ever made. Set in a bewilderingly charming and colourful gameworld populated by unforgettable, heartwarming characters, featuring groovy, smooth music and a twisting, bouncing, cartwheeling storyline, this is a game for all seasons. LucasArts outdid themselves with Grim Fandango – but don't believe me, see for yourself.
The Curse of Monkey Island

The best of the world-famous Monkey Island games, Curse was not just a brilliant adventure game, it was also one of the funniest cartoons I've ever seen … er … been in … er … whatever. Stop reading this. Run over to Odyssey (that's a plug, Ashwin) and buy it. Now. Seriously.
Half Life

Half Life 2 wouldn't be here without the original. Nuff said. If you haven't played this, it's time to play it now. If you have, play it again. Even if your name's not Sam. The most engaging, action-packed, scare-your-pants-off shooter ever, until HL2 came along.