Consoul's Blog Consoul Games: July 2004

Thursday, July 29, 2004

HDLoader: Game Over

Well, that didn't take long.
HDLoader is officially dead. The HDLoader site is gone, and Divineo (its makers) have posted a small news item on their main site indicating that the product will not be available ever again. Sony have been busy this month.

This morning I read an eleven page Stipulated Permanant Injunction filed by Sony Computer Entertainment America against Mr. Steven L. Filipiak through the United States District Courts. Mr Filipiak is one of many people in the rather unfortunate position of having their ass handed to them on a plate by Sony at the moment. We'll take a look at his case as an example.

Mr. Filipiak runs a business called The Console Corner (, which sells all kinds of videogame consoles, accessories, original games, and also sells and installs modchips. His business is still operating, and the court case has not yet begun, but Sony's injunction has already legally prevented him from "trafficking in circumvention devices", specifically HDLoader and PS1/PS2 modchips. Funnily enough, the exact nature of Sony's injunction actually allows Filipiak to continue selling modchips - though only for X-Box.

It looks like Sony are going to take Filipiak to the cleaners, and the action may not stop there. Their injunction states that "The parties will agree to a final judgement as soon as an appropriate damages amount can be ascertained based on the information provided by the Defendant, as described below." So what was the information described below?

Nothing short of every single physical or electronic record pertaining to the import, ordering, payment and delivery of every one of the devices including all the personal details of everyone involved, including even the details of all actual and "potential customers", "potential sources", "attempted shipments" and even "attempted payments" and "cancelled checks". For the sake of completeness, all Filipiak's computer hardware and disks will be handed over to Sony.  Having been granted exclusion from the usual federal regulations regarding "discovery timing", Sony must be provided with all this in its entirety by 5:30pm tommorrow (California time).

Sony are going to end up with quite a data mine. Just how far they'll go with the information they extract is anyone's guess. One thing is certain, the crackdown is on. HDLoader was the last straw. It simply made piracy way too easy. Sony have found it difficult to get convictions based on modchip sales alone. Fortunately for them, there are lots of idiots around who will provide modchips and pirate software. The Australian courts (unlike practically every other developed nation) ruled that modchips alone were not illegal, as they could be used to allow geniune import software to be played on region-locked consoles. Circumventing copyright is one thing, circumventing Sony's international market-control is another. Divineo's continued sales of modchips despite their retraction of HDLoader illustrates the fine line they're treading.

Pre-empting the region-control argument, one of the Stipulated Facts and Conclusions in the injunction discussed above states that "The only function of the "mod chip" is to circumvent the technological measures [Sony] has implemented to protect copyrighted works." Filipiak has already signed the document, thereby conceding this point. Oops.

Sony have certainly gone on the warpath, but has the horse already bolted? Now that it's known to be possible, other software with HDLoader's functionality will undoubtedly emerge. I guess Sony are just trying to stop it from becoming mainstream. Had Sony not started crucifying people now, HDLoader or its successors could have ended up on the shelves in K-Mart.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Silent Hill 4: The Room

I've been playing through Silent Hill 4: The Room (NTSC/J) since I got it last week and I figure I've seen enough to post some impressions. I might mention some details, but no major spoilers.
First of all - it's different. This is not just another Silent Hill game. While many of the hallmarks of the SH series make an appearance, the game is significantly different from the previous three games. You're not even in Silent Hill for much of the game. The game really centres around your apartment in Ashfield.
When you are in the apartment, you view the game from a first person perspective. Outside of the apartment, the game switches to the traditional third person view. This approach really gives the player a much more intimate connection with their home; one that is exploited as the game progresses. So you're trapped in your apartment, but are able to visit alternate worlds through a hole that appears in your bathroom wall. There is no more item screen, all item use or weapon switching is done on the main screen in real time (meaning that you may be getting mauled while you're at it). There are certainly loads of weapons to collect, though most of them are not terribly effective and many of them break after a while. The melee weapons feature a new charge up system, allowing you to wind up a really big swing. Without saying too much, weapons are not always the answer in SH4.
Voyeurism is the key theme explored in the game. While trapped in your apartment, you can look out through the peephole in your door, out the windows or even spy on your neighbour, though nobody can hear you no matter what you do. The voyeur theme is developed throughout the rest of the game too. Looking out the windows is very reminiscent of Hitchcock's Rear Window - one of many influences that SH4 wears on its sleeve. Japanese horror films The Ring and Ju-on (The Grudge) seem to have made their mark, and David Lynch and Stephen King also get a nod.
I've read many reviews of SH4 that have been critical of certain "flaws" in the game. In my opinion, many of those criticisms have been misplaced. You no longer have an unlimited capacity to carry items. You can only carry ten items and you can't combine them (ie- 10 bullets takes up one slot, so thirty takes up 3 slots). You can only drop items in the chest in your apartment. There are very few healing items. You can't save your game anywhere but your apartment. These are not flaws - they are deliberate changes to shift you out of your comfort zone. If you dive into SH4 expecting to get away with the same techniques you used in the previous three games you will get a rude shock. Right from the beginning, the game gives you clear hints that you'll need to play strategically. I can't say I have a problem with the new game mechanics at all. I've never even come close to using all my item slots.
There are far fewer puzzles this time around and IMO the game feels better for it. Surely the evil cult of Silent Hill had better things to do than go around setting up Resident Evil-style puzzles all day. That's not to say there aren't any puzzles - the Water Prison puzzle really did my head in for a while there. I thought I had solved it - I was wrong.
The graphics are at least the equal of SH3, so no complaints there. The game is almost entirely fog-free (and where there is fog, it isn't used to cover draw distance). The soundtrack is largely atmospheric and unobtrusive for the most part, creating a suitably ominous and oppressive feel. The action and puzzle elements take a backseat to the story and the atmosphere in SH4. I haven't finished the game, so I can't judge the whole story yet, but I like the way its developing and the little creepy ways in which everything is getting steadily worse and more messed up.
Silent Hill 4: The Room is a departure for the series, and a welcome one in my view. It looks like it will do little to develop the mythology around the SH cult (which is probably best left unexplained), but offers up another twisted journey into hell for those who want it.

Note that the screens above are all real-time rendered. Like SH3, there are no more pre-rendered scenes - Konami really have mastered PS2 graphics.