War... What is it good for? Raising awareness?

Originally posted on Armistice Day, 11 November 2009 at Posterous.com

“Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare” was released worldwide between 26 November & 10 November 2007.  The following year "Call of Duty: World at War" arrived (in North American territories) on 11 November 2008 with Europe's release just three days later.

This year "[Call of Duty:] Modern Warfare 2" [title according to whether you are a “hard core Caller”, just somebody who can read, or have to be patronized (with a “z”)] was released to the general public on 10 November 2009.

Is it just me that thinks that a release date during the second week of November is in bad taste?

War Games

If a member of her majesty’s Government can be lambasted in the UK press for not lowering his head enough to show a certain respectful gravitas during a Remembrance Day service whilst laying a wreath, then how is it that video game publishers do not feel the same wrath?

I am ignoring the aforementioned Government Minster’s Prime limited ability to compose a handwritten letter, & then the subsequent conduct during a telephone conversation with a grieving mother of a British Forces serviceman killed by a Taliban bomb whilst on foot patrol near the Nad Ali District Centre in central Helmand on 5 October 2009.  I am not even going to mention that Jamie Janes had begun his career in the Army soon after his 16th birthday anniversary, joining 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards when he was 18.  On the date of his unfortunate death, just two years later, he was engaged within his second regional Call of Duty.  Nor will I state that at the date of his death, Guardsman Janes was one of two hundred & twenty British Troops killed in Afghanistan within the last eight years.

Image taken from Sky News article ("Soldier Killed In Helmand Was 'Friend To All'", 7 October 2009)

Driving Internet traffic to this Blog entry by just quoting search engine buzzword criteria from recent news topics would be considered a shoddy attempt to capitalise on the sacrifice of all Troops posted around the world.

I would like to think that if just a single reader now has a raised awareness of the plight of our active servicemen & servicewomen then it has been worth the intrusion.

Incidentally, Jamie James [with an "m"], a guitarist/singer-songwriter from Toronto, who used to be a member of Steppenwolf later founded the group The Kingbees.  One of the tracks from their first (& eponymously titled) album contains a track called "My Mistake".  Coincidence, Mr Brown?  I think not.

Even though Activision, the publishers of the most recent title in the long-running series, are trying to help with donating the (multi-)million(s) they have made from this franchise so far ("Game developer's newest 'call of duty': Help vets find jobs / Firm donates $1 million to boost employment for lagging demographic", The Washington Post, 8 November 2009), the timing of this year's release was, again, a great (but, sadly, missed) opportunity to raise awareness of the various charities that exist to help fallen service personnel around the world.

Marketing Campaign

Although owning every “Call of Duty” main & spin-off series releases to date (some titles purchased for more than one platform), I found that I was not a fan of the first "...Modern Warfare" title.  I prefer the earlier World War I/II outings where you appreciate how the individual soldier makes a difference to a war campaign, rather than winning a battle because you have a larger defence budget, the correct fitting boots, and guns that function as originally intended.  That is, they do actually allow a solider to defend themselves whilst they are defending an entire nation.

My one & only attempt to play online with “Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare” made me feel very ill for hours afterwards due to the random nature of motion that my co-players took as soon as the multiplayer game launched.  On that day I reverted to playing my US imported “Manhunt 2” on the Wii console (via the “Freeloader” product I purchased from Play.com) to calm my kinetosis.  But I digress (again).

I also strongly believe that the Recommended Retail Price (£55.99) of the latest “Call of Duty” release had been set far too high for the current economic market.  To an extent, though, demand of the game would far outstrip supply even if they had not only raised the selling price, but had also made a version available that included “MW2” branded night-vision goggles, a statue of the main game character, a “hardened” case to protect the instructional guide (as the game disc never leaves the player’s machine), & a compulsory trip to Afghanistan.

Even up until a day before the release of "...Modern Warfare 2" I did not intend to purchase it.  This plan lasted until I returned to my humble abode on Monday evening when I was asked by my two youngest kids for the game for Christmas.  Prior to that point they were not interested, but the TV advertising (including the Xbox 360 “Modern Warfare 2” Super Elite console sold out across the UK for a number of weeks) had caught their attention.  Their elder sibling was like me; not bothered either way.  In fact, an unopened “Game of the Year Edition” of “Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare” bought as a gift & presented to my eldest offspring last Christmas was sold earlier this month to fund the purchase of “Uncharted 2: Among Thieves”.

Reporting for Duty

On a side note, that may be relevant to some who are just about to comment on my parenting skills, are you aware the Pan European Game Information [PEGI] ratings system is self-regulated & not enforceable by UK law (at present)?

Also, the British Board of Film Classification system that is used on some home video & video game releases, but primarily for film (cinema) classifications, is also not enforceable by UK law at present either:

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has notified the BBFC of a serious issue which has come to light in relation to the Video Recordings Act 1984 (VRA). Because the then British Government failed to notify the European Commission under the Technical Standards and Regulations Directive (83/189/EEC) of the Act, the VRA is no longer enforceable against individuals in the United Kingdom...

Certain game titles are not allowed to be played in the company of minors in our household; other games are played with parental supervision at all times, and some games are played without any adult being present (as they have been played by at least one grown-up and, allegedly, responsible member of the household already).  If we have visiting children then only the latter category titles are played until they return to their own homes.

United Offensive

We are very fortunate to have our own private local area network of three PS3 consoles (with the fourth, another European 60Gb model, being added to the National Grid this coming 25 December).  I think British Gas have reverted to paperless billing since March 2007 in order to save a few dozen trees on our behalf.  My kids favour online multiplayer action, especially with first (or third) person shooter titles, and I would prefer their experience to not be ruined by the harassment of "Yankers" (from across the pond) just because my family have the audacity (read: skill) to be able to kill a player who thinks England is another one of the many United States.

Hence, I elected to also require the “…Modern Warfare 2” game for myself so that we could have our own local three-player competitive games with each of us sat at our respective consoles.  We regularly have similar matches with “Killzone 2”, “Uncharted: Among Thieves”, “The Club”, “Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six: Vegas 2”, “Resistance: Fall of Man”, “Call of Duty: World at War” and, less often, the previous “…Modern Warfare” title (mainly crowded around a single console using the less than ideal split-screen facility as some people tend to ‘cheat’ by looking at another quadrant of the screen).  I was, though, darn sure I was not going to go out in the nearing sub-zero temperatures of November and queue for the chance to gain one (or more) of the Blu-ray discs & wait in a line of people for hours before the high street retailers were able to accept my money.

Captain Price

In order to maximize my changes of finding a bargain price, I keenly subscribed to the various “deals” threads at HotUKDeals.com watching others work themselves up into a frenzy because they could save a couple of quid at one retailer, or had heard a rumour of a supermarket with a promotional price for the first few days, or even those that took advantage of a poorly conceived trade-in throughout GameStation stores.

GameStation’s management had kindly concocted a part-exchange scheme where you could relinquish ownership of two of your existing game titles (as published list on an in-store leaflet) & pay an additional £4.99 to gain a copy of the “…Modern Warfare 2” game (for the platform of your choice).  Unfortunately, it did not take GameStation Store Managers long to find out that one of the anticipated part-exchange titles (“Overlord II”) could be purchased for £9.99 from Play.com, and they quickly exercised their right to refuse to accept more than one copy of this game for fear of losing revenue on the resultant ‘pre-owned’ stock for re-sale in-store.

The day after the GameStation offer was announced Play.com’s sales charts showed that “Overlord II” was outselling pre-orders of “…Modern Warfare 2” pushing that item into second place in the weekly ranking .  Just a pity that Codemasters, the publishers of the “Overlord” series, had to make staff cuts recently; I bet they benefitted greatly from GameStation’s offer!  Play.com certainly did.

Such is the bargain-hunting spirit of the British Public though, that many converted their two (still factory sealed) £9.99 games, and additional £4.99 cash amount, into a £40 value on their GameStation trade-in card to be used at any time following the release of the new “Call of Duty” title.

Many were happy… but many were not (as they had pre-ordered the same title for over £40 at Amazon.co.uk, or GAME.net, and had received confirmation that their orders had gone past the point of cancellation).

Both groups of consumers, however, were less than pleased when the news of the £26 Sainsbury’s Supermarkets offer was made public.  This was short-lived for the GameStation customers though, as they realised than the £40 GameStation Trade-in Card could be used to purchase anything (not just the game on the offer leaflet).  I bet GameStation’s share holders were slightly enlightened because they then did not have masses of people trying to part-exchange the entire UK supply of “Overlord II” (or “SingStar Take That” available for £14.99 at certain online retailers).  Look out for pre-owned “Overstock II” coming to a GameStation store near you.

Last to play their gaming hand were Wm Morrison Supermarkets vastly undercutting their nearest rival by a single penny (at £25.99).

I was certainly not aware of this until I turned up at a Morrisons store on the day of release.

Reconnaissance Mission

I woke at my usual time, showered, dressed,… woah!… back up there Muskie… undressed, showered, dressed, and left home as normal, dropped one of my kids off at school at 8am (slightly earlier than usual, as it transpired that the roads were somewhat less heavy on traffic; maybe some people had a late night for some reason).  I drove responsibly back across town to Morrisons, parked carefully, walked to the cashpoint machine, withdrew cash in a non-frenzied manner, ambled into the store, collected a basket, sauntered to the video games aisle & approached the counter expecting to see a price not too far from £35.00.  I then saw the counter staff preparing the £25.99 labels that had obviously only been issued prior to the store opening minutes earlier.  I requested (the first two of the three) PS3 versions without any hint of hysteria.   I had no reason to stand around for hours, & my only exposure to the inclement November weather was when I removed my gloves as I entered the store.  I handed over my cash, did a little more shopping for five minutes, returned to my car, left my bags, and returned in-store to purchase another PS3 version of the game as there was a sales rule restricting purchases to “only two per customer”.  Nine minutes between purchases was all that I needed to circumvent the stringent “not for eBay resale” security measures.

I then drove home abiding to the posted speed restrictions, said goodbye to my other two kids who were leaving for the day (& who fortunately had not realised I had their beloved games in the plastic carrier bag I had about my person).  I then switched on my laptop computer & my optical scanner in order to prepare a digital image of the appropriate supermarket receipts to provide to my fellow HotUKDeals members as “proof” of the price I had paid (although this was not needed as many people had posted “got one” messages already).

Maybe Morrisons shoppers are just a blip on the statistics that the media did not report upon but chose to generalise the mad-crazy-bonkers attitude of the other members of the UK population that contributed to 1.23 million sales in the first twenty four hours.

Others may have stayed up late (or early, depending on your point of view) & queued for hours, or woke up earlier than usual to stand outside stores that do not operate a “24-hour opening” policy,  I preferred the sensible approach to shopping.  I am weird that way.  Mind you, as I said previously, it was not important to me when I bought the game(s); just that I (sorry, Daddy Christmas) did not have to pay silly money (read: over £40) per item.  In the end I did not have to pre-order to secure this price, I just walked into my local supermarket & paid just 47% of the Recommended Retail Price (of £54.99).

Big Red One

Talking of Christmas, I have read that Microsoft have given out some early presents for many of their “loyal” Xbox 360 console customers (with their “modified” hardware) who just had to go online to be one of the first (tens of thousands) to try the new game they downloaded digitally from “the InterWeb” days before it was available commercially (read: legally).  As part of an operation to closedown at least 1 million so-called “pirate” users on the Xbox Live service, the eager gamers have now been served (read: “Pwned”) with a “banned” notice for their loyal service to the console manufacturer’s revenue stream.  “Boom… Headshot!” I believe “the kids” call it.

Roads to Victory

Mind you, Microsoft platform owners are not the only customers who are not experiencing the new game as originally intended.  A majority of PS3 format players are finding that they cannot gain any of the Trophies during game-play.

The first patch for the PS3 (version 1.01), available early on release day, allowed (depending on whom you believe) either a) [Internet rumours] the skipping of the "Airport" level that is causing controversy due to the nature of the mission request in-game, or b) [the Developers] the resolution of some late-breaking game code issues.  However, it also ‘broke’ the in-game Trophies "firing" (unlocking) at the appropriate points.

For the short term, PS3 players can play offline by removing the previously downloaded patch update via the “Game Data” XrossMediaBar menu item thus reinstating the original game code to award Trophies as expected.  If the same players wish to play online, then the patch is required to be (re-downloaded and) installed (resulting in the return of the lack of Trophies if then playing offline).  Still, at least PS3 owners can play online.  Xbox 360 players banned from the Xbox Live service arguably only have themselves to blame.

The development team at Infinity Ward have reportedly found the problem with the PS3 Trophy system.  A further patch will be made available "as soon as possible".

Finest Hour

If the scenes reported across various forms of media yesterday outside the doors (& down the streets) of retailers were indicative of a mass of people queuing for something important, I can only imagine in horror what food rationing must have been like during War time, and what chaos ensues around a lone water standpipe 100 miles from any villages in African nations today.

Spare a thought for those less privileged... especially around the commemoratory anniversary today, 11 November.

Ninety one years after the ceasefire of the First World War in 1918 we should reflect upon bygone world affairs & the results of "playing war games".

If you benefited from a cheaper game this week, perhaps you could spare a few minutes making a charity donation too.