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March 11, 2006

The Shroud Goes GPS Gaga With U.S. Mobile Users

shroud.jpg Over at U.S. handheld site Modojo, which we referenced the other day, they have a look at the GPS functionality for U.S.-aimed mobile RPG title The Shroud, and it's very interesting stuff.

Your World Games VP Robert Sprogis explains the GPS-related concept for the Harvest Moon-ish mobile RPG, which actually includes farming challenges for its other major online mode: "Players with GPS compatible phones will be alerted to breaches during their gameplay. A compass will point them in the direction they need to go, and they will have to physically move themselves to these breach spots in order to embark in these GPS challenges."

And where might these be? According to Sprogis: "All the obvious landmarks would make great choices for breaches, anything from the Empire State Building to the Golden Gate Bridge. It would be pretty cool to see a whole bunch of Shroud players standing out in the middle of the Golden Gate competing in a GPS challenge." As long as the authorities think they're going to stay on the bridge, of course, yikes.

When Game Music Gets 'Dangerous'

lotr.jpg A little old, perhaps, but not spotted by many - Science Blogs' 'Cognitive Daily' blog took a look at how in-game music affects video games last month, citing a study in which researchers made volunteers "play three different segments from The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers."

Apparently, the volunteers "rated the game/music experience along 21 different dimensions", presumably into parallel universes, and science-blogger Dave Munger suggets: "Perhaps the most interesting result of this experiment had to do with the gender of participants. Males rated the game as significantly less "dangerous" when music was not being played compared to when music was played, but women found it equally dangerous in either case."

So... music is kinda important to the whole gaming experience, right? Or do you guys all put Cat Power or Mantovani on when jamming to God Of War? [via Fort90.]

'Video Game Art' Author On... Video Game Art

videogameart.jpg After somewhat of a hiatus, the LA Weekly's Joshuah Bearman has returned with an interview with Nic Kelman, editor of the book Video Game Art, which we previously mentioned on GSW back in December.

Kelman seems positive as an advocate for games as art since he's, well, not in the game industry, but still points out: "Look at some of the best design in video games — the colossi in Shadow of the Colossus, or the character design in Psychonauts — that you’re not seeing anywhere else. One of the points of the book is that we’re on the verge of games coming into their own as a medium. Breakthroughs are happening. It’s one game in 50, yes, but that ratio exists in any art form."

Also rather wonderfully overwrought, but arguably correct, is Kelman's commentary on the MMO: "And in MMOs the gameplay itself is often boring. But people are addicted. It’s this constantly unfolding drama with a giant cast of complex characters. They’re complex because they’re real people. And that’s the tip of the iceberg for real emotional connection. I mean, people are dying from dehydration playing these games. When was the last time anyone died from being so engrossed with Proust? Never." So... WoW is the new Proust?

Pocket Gamer Gives UK Gamers Portable Peeks

pockgam.jpg So, it looks like it's been in vague stealth mode for a while, but an attractively slick new portable-oriented (mobile/DS/PSP/GBA) UK consumer site called Pocket Gamer officially launched today - and it looks both reasonable and readable.

The site (not to be confused with Ziff Davis' U.S. print property Pocket Games) seems to be staffed by journos including current contributors to the UK's B2B-centric Develop magazine, including ex-Edge editor Joao Diniz Sanches and current Develop editor Owain Bennallack, but doesn't appear to be a product of Develop parent Intent Media, rather a spare-time and/or freelance project for those involved.

In any case, some fun PocketGamer articles thus far include an in-depth review of Flitzer, a soccer streaking title (!) in which "In just 90 seconds of streaking, your aim is to achieve as high a score as possible without getting caught by the fuzz (so to speak)", as well as, wait for it, how to play online with N-Gage Arena, a subject rarely broached on other sites. Overall, if you can split your gaming up into portable and non-portable flavors (something that we personally don't always do), this site, or comparative U.S. newcomer Modojo, which has the same concept, may just be for you.

March 10, 2006

Steambot Chronicles Gets Toot Toot Pre-Order

harm.jpg OK, we have a winner for the 'wackiest pre-order of the year' award already. That would be, as pointed out by Gaming-Age.com, the mini-harmonica pre-order for Atlus/Irem's Steambot Chronicles for the PlayStation 2, now available at all major U.S. game retailers, apparently.

Of note in relation to this, 1UP's (and sister site Gamasutra's) very own Nich Maragos interviewed Steambot Chronicles creator Kazuma Kujo recently, and also has Atlus localizer Tom Hulett chat about the change of name from Bumpy Trot, the odd Japanese title: "At one point, when we were trying to come up with a name that described the game, I think we had the main title Relaxing Non-Linear Adventure, subtitled Be A Bad Guy If You Want. We almost went with that one, right until the end, when someone suggested Steambot Chronicles."

In fact, some earlier 1UP import impressions explain the game further, defining the game aptly as "a cel-shaded Miyazaki-esque mech action game that marries Misadventures of Tron Bonne to Amplitude", and then noting: "don't expect to see... [the game] translated anytime soon. Its whimsical atmosphere and cartoonish vibe don't really fit into the marketing plans of publishers hoping to ride the coattails of God of War or Grand Theft Auto. But hey, you never know." And yay, Atlus saved the day!

COLUMN: 'Bastards of 32-Bit' - No One Can Stop Mr. Domino

mrdomino1.jpg['Bastards of 32-Bit' is a weekly column by Danny Cowan that focuses on overlooked, underrated, and inexplicable titles from the era of the PlayStation, Saturn, and Nintendo 64. This week's column features PlayStation game No One Can Stop Mr. Domino!, published by Artdink in Japan in January 1998, and released by Acclaim in the U.S. in October 1998.]

No one, I tell you. NO ONE!

It's easy to hate a company like Artdink. In years past, the Japanese development house has covered genres that vary from the niche (Oh boy! Train simulators!) to the hopelessly obtuse (Oh boy! Uh, aquatic reef simulators!), with many of their titles further hampered by the fact that they aren't very much fun to play.

No One Can Stop Mr. Domino, on the other hand, was one of Artdink's few games that successfully combined an interesting concept with compelling gameplay. Put out in America by Acclaim (of all people) back in 1998, most gamers never gave the title a second look, resulting in a quick and unceremonious trip to bargain bin obscurity for Mr. Domino.

mrdomino2.jpgGrandpa's in the house.

The game stars a little domino man out to use his domino powers to create havoc in the human world. Despite his mighty aspirations, Mr. Domino's powers are limited to placing a series of dominoes behind him as he runs a circular path around each level. Once a level is lapped at least once, Mr. Domino can run into previously-placed dominoes in order to cause chain reactions and trigger traps that will teach those filthy humans a lesson for ever taking him so lightly.

Make no mistake: Mr. Domino is the jerk to end all jerks. The game begins with him performing various acts of benign mischief against inanimate objects, but once you get to level three, the gloves come off. In this level, Mr. Domino attacks an innocent family by using dominoes to trigger traps around their house. Dad gets punched in the genitals. Mom gets caught in an explosion. At the end of the level, grandpa is crushed by a giant bell. Through all this, Mr. Domino never stops smiling.

mrdomino3.jpgSeriously, don't even try to stop him.

A level is completed whenever the required number of traps are triggered by falling dominoes. These traps can be set off one by one, but ideally, the player wants to trigger them all in succession in order to earn the highest scores. This is made difficult and occasionally frustrating thanks to the fact that Mr. Domino marches continually forward (no one can stop him, remember?) during each level, and the slightest misstep can ruin what was once a perfect domino setup. Skillfully dodging the obstacles in Mr. Domino's way and then watching a well-placed series of dominoes trigger several traps in a row offers the kind of satisfaction that makes it all worthwhile, however.

It's rare to see a puzzle game strive to accomplish something beyond the geometric shape dropping/matching/clearing archetype, and Mr. Domino does so with style and an inexplicable sense of humor. Don't let the terrifying prospect of an Acclaim and Artdink collaboration throw you; No One Can Stop Mr. Domino will only set you back a few bucks for a used copy, and it could very well be the most important story ever told about a domino man's struggle against humankind.

[Danny Cowan is a freelance writer hailing from Austin, Texas. He has contributed feature articles to Lost Levels Online and 1up.com , and his writing appears monthly in Hardcore Gamer Magazine.]

Game Print Publications, Doing The Different Dance

cgw.jpg So, video game magazines - reeling a little from all that crazy online competition, right? Well, yes, but it's interesting to note that recent circulation numbers in the UK for game mags show stabilization or even increases for those magazines that try to run classier, longer-form content, such as PC Gamer and Edge.

Even more teen-oriented mags in the U.S. are trying to switch things up - IDG Entertainment just sent us a short release mentioning that: "The April issue of GamePro (on stands March 14) debuts the new "HyperCritical" section- it features aggregate review scores from GamePro and competitors like EGM, Game Informer, IGN, and Official Playstation Magazine, pointing out must-have titles across the board." Citing even competitors' scores, GameRankings-stylee, in a print mag? Interesting, to say the least.

But that's not all - Ziff's Computer Gaming World PC game magazine has recently revealed that it's dropping review scores, though as QT3's Tom Chick points out: "the idea is that 1UP.com will do the conventional review, which will appear online, and CGW will do more extended coverage to complement that review."

In fact, CGW's Jeff Green, recently the subject of an above-averagely interesting GameCloud interview, turns up in the forums to chat about the concept, noting admirably: "We're expecting both positive and negative feedback, of course.
Just like we did with the no "game of the year" awards thing, which was done for a similar reason - to function less as an arm of the publishers' marketing depts, and more as a resource for the gaming community." Jeff, now you've angered them, please watch out for the marketing mafia with their earpieces and their dark glasses and their 'Mr. Anderson'? Nobody can help you, not even Bubsy.

The Fascination Of The Rogers

rempers.jpg It's really odd how much the Internet is fixated on Tim Rogers, considering that the Internet claims to hate one of the alleged progenitors of 'New Games Journalism'. The latest prime example of this is Something Awful's newly penned spoof Sonic Riders review, apparently authored by a 'Tomithy Rempers', and starting out: 'As I ride the JR Sobu line back to my apartment, I clutch Sonic Riders in my anticipatory little hands.'

As a few messageboard commenters have pointed out, the problem with pastiching Rogers (who we at GSW know reasonably well through IC and occasional Sobu line rides, and who is currently doing marginally more reined-in work for biz site Next-Gen), is that he already acts at almost Liberace-like levels of self-referencing, whether conscious or not.

Still, we hadn't spotted a 2003 Tokyopia post by Wired Games' Chris Kohler doing the Rogers-pastiche much more adeptly than perhaps even the man himself, and get particularly tickled by this prime rib: "All internet cafes have one girl. She sat next to me a mess of keitai straps and clashing, layered tops. I stopped counting at five. I looked over at her computer. She was looking at pictures of Aerosmith. In a sofa booth across the way, a salaryman read a MiniMoni photo book and attempted to obscure his erection. It was not difficult." Dude, that's totally Roger-ian.

Really, a tremendously serious GameSpot article on the concept of 'New Games Journalism' back in 2005 sums it all up neatly: "GameSpot made repeated inquiries to Electronic Arts, Midway Games, Lionhead Studios, and other publishers and developers, and not one was familiar enough with NGJ to make a comment." So really, nobody cares. Which is why we wrote a long, well-thought out post on the whole thing and people keep talking about it.

Death Crimson Overkill With Giant Controller

kyodaicrimson.jpg An artist in Japan has taken it upon himself to create a gigantic 'controller' for Death Crimson, one of the worst games of all time.

According to the workshop blog where I found it, the game got a score of 1.0909 out of 10, in the first week of user reviews in Sega Saturn Magazine, the lowest ever for the console. The enormous controller is hard to wield, but that doesn't matter, as it's impossible to survive in the game anyway. There's a lightgun at the tip, so you could theoretically use it for other games - you could, that is, if they hadn't glued the lid of the embedded saturn shut, so your choice is Death Crimson or nothing!

kyodaicrimson2.jpgThe horrible Death Crimson was later lauded as a cult classic, even getting a PS2 re-release, which sold out instantly, as the mmcafe notes. The game was made by Ecole, which if you remember, is also putting out Melty Blood AC for PS2. The Death Crimson art controller was created by Takamasa Sumi - you can see a flash movie of his work here, subbed in English. He seems to really like girls in gothic lolita maid outfits, and you can see one playing the game on the aforementioned blog entry. Also note the impossibly tiny TV.

The exhibit was displayed at the third Fukuoka Asian Art Triennale, but has now moved to Darwen, Lancashire in the UK til early April. Go give it a look! Here's the official site for the object, which he's named 'Kyodai Crimson' - aka 'huge crimson'. Also see this thing constructed for the PS2 version, and sold at Wonderfest. Thanks to Sweater Fish for the link!

March 9, 2006

Calderoids Makes Asteroids Art, Dahhhling

calder.jpg Oh, art, here you come, messing with video games again. The folks who created Pac-Mondrian, which was handily described as 'Pac-Man meets Piet Mondrian as only an abstract painter and a ravenous circle-being can!', are at it again, and they've now launched artgame project Calderoids.

Wha? Well, the chaps at Prize Budget For Boys explain: "In Calderoids you dodge and destroy Alexander Calder's kinetic mobiles in the triangular ship of Atari's space shooter Asteroids. The ubiquitous mobiles we hang over baby cribs were originally
conceived by Calder as fanciful models of the universe: 'There is, of course, a close alliance between physics and aesthetics.' Based on a physically exact model of the behaviour of mobiles in space, Calderoids frees you from gravity to fly around and blast Calder's sculptures in your cosmic spacecraft."

Thus, you can now play Calderoids online (Java required), and also "in an arcade cabinet modified from an Asteroids original at Toronto's InterAcess [as part of Artists Crack The Game Code] until March 25."

And wait, wait, we found an arty quote to end with: "Calderoids combines the relatavistic theories of Alexander Calder's kinetic sculptures with the virtual dimensions of Atari's arcade classic Asteroids in a game that spans 20th century models of the universe." So there.

Game Ads A-Go-Go: Dumb Ads of the '90s

vcg_logo_gsw.jpg['Game Ads A-Go-Go' is a weekly column by Vintage Computing and Gaming's RedWolf that showcases good, bad, strange, funny, and interesting classic video game-related advertisements, most of which are taken from his massive vintage game magazine collection.]

Hello, folks, and welcome to the first episode of 'Game Ads A-Go-Go' on GameSetWatch. I've dredged up all my early 90s gaming mags from the murky depths just for you, and I'll be going through them every week to show you interesting ads of the recent gaming past.

This week we'll be looking over a few ads from classic game mags that feature dumb marketing copy. And If you didn't know, "copy" is the "writing part" of the ad -- that is, the words. I'll also be throwing in some snarky commentary to go with them (everybody seems to love "snarky commentary" these days). So, on with the show...

Feed me Bullets

First off, we have an ad for the Super Nintendo game The Untouchables, which daringly proclaims "They've got a bullet with your name on it."

untouchables_small.jpg

Sure they do -- that is, if my name is "Untouchables." This just in: Suicide rates among the Untouchables at an all-time high.

This Sounds Dangerous

Next on the block, we have an ad from NAKI for their rechargable Game Boy and GameGear batteries. Apparently they're explosive. In fact, they're "ALMOST NUCLEAR."

naki_nuclear_small.jpg

The statement in the slanted box to the left reads: "WARNING:NAKI battery packs cause extended play which has been known to result in mind melt!" If that weren't bad enough, the ad goes on to talk about their batteries creating a "gaming explosion," and also about how you can "nuke your Game Boy or Game Gear" with their "totally nuclear" rechargable batteries. So to sum up the capabilities of this product: their batteries scramble your brains, destroy your $100 gaming handheld, then proceed to explode in your face. But you'll find no pansy conventional explosives here -- it's a nuclear explosion, so it takes out not only you (the owner of the device), but at least the whole block as well. In other words, this is a horrible product. Where can I get one?

All-You-Can-Eat War Buffet

The Gulf War in the early 1990s caused a huge merchandising explosion unknown to any war since, well, ever. Quick to capitalize on how totally awesome wars are (especially when we overwhelmingly crush a tiny army that is outfitted only with 1960s-era military technology), game developers jumped on board and created opportunities to reenact this time-honored human tradition.

super_conflict_small.jpg

The red tagline near the bottom reads: "Super Conflict is all the war you'll ever want."

Which is, what? None?

[RedWolf is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Vintage Computing and Gaming, a regularly updated "blogazine" that covers collecting, playing, and hacking vintage computing and gaming devices. He has been collecting vintage computers and game systems for over 12 years.]

Tony Hawk's Sk8land Gets Graffiti Mosaic

sk8land.jpg The guys at Agora Games, the company behind the online community for Tony Hawk’s American Sk8land for the Nintendo DS, mailed to mention that they have "recently put together a mosaic consisting of the best moderated graffiti artwork uploaded [using DS Wi-Fi] by THAS players."

They explain: "Whether you’re an active community member or not, it’s possible that your art has made it into the 16,200 tile mosaic, which is made up of over 8,000 unique player created images", and further note: "You can download a large, 9MB version and zoom in to see the individual graffiti tiles. You’ll notice many of our community members have already found their artwork!"

For example, StigTrix is very excited, exclaiming: "My PurePwnage logo, Gollum, Pikachu(with pink background!?), Grim Reaper, Dr. Evil, SNES logo, Olympic flame... That's all I can find for now!" Is this the point where we offer a prize for the first person to find a logo that doesn't actually appear in the mosaic, and then send you all frickin' insane?

Pursuit Force Gets JP Shooting Force

Bigbig Studios' PlayStation Portable stunt-filled super fuzz title 'Pursuit Force' shipped to retailers this week in North America, just days after Japanese publisher Spike released it in the East. Reviews have generally been positive (with the exception of EGM's opinion), but the real action is online -- and free.

Following in the footsteps of last year's Kenka Bancho promotional bad-ass eye-beam shooter, which features the best rock guitar loop ever, Spike has released Shooting Force -- a sort of straightfoward, alternate universe Spy Hunter-meets-Cave bullet hell shooter designed to promote its PSP muse. Okay, it's not quite "bullet hell", but the later levels can get quite frantic, as can the slalom bonus rounds. Maybe it's just "bullet Jersey".

Freeloaders looking for cheap fun should also check out Spike's Shinobido: Imashime-inspired Shockwave platformer. It's a surprisingly playable, tower-climbing, throat-slitting ninja diversion, with great sound and production values.

WARNING: For all games, keep in mind that Macromedia Shockwave is required, semi-annoying advertisements will precede each initial session, and that some menu guesswork may be necessary if Japanese language deficient.

Might & Magic Scores 'Evil Faces Of Cinema'

prrk.jpg We at GSW got a rather fun press release today that we figured we'd reprint, since it deals with the delightful combination of Might & Magic and the Oscars. Seriously.

Here's how: "Award-winning composing partners Rob King and Paul Romero’s moody opus, Evil Theme, was selected for the Evil Faces of Cinema montage for the 78th Annual Academy Awards pre-show Oscar Countdown 2006, which aired Sunday, March 5, 2006 on ABC. Originally scored for the best-selling computer game, Heroes of Might & Magic III, the specially edited composition was featured with film clips of legendary evil villains of cinema including Darth Vader, Hannibal Lector, Freddy Kruger, The Exorcist, The Mummy, Bela Lugosi (as Dracula) and many other famous characters." Dude, Bela Lugosi!

In fact, sister site Gamasutra recently featured an audio gallery from the duo, which reveals, vitally, that "they had a Top 10 hit in Taiwan on EMI Records with Gigi Leung's "Short Hair"." Also, Rob "started out as the audio director for New World Computing and brought Paul in on the first Heroes of Might and Magic score." So now you know. Anyhow, Seacrest out.

March 8, 2006

Gizmondo Crash Gets Computer Sim, Exec Gets DNA Test

enzo.jpg Oh, we are _so_ not bored with Stefan Eriksson of ex-Gizmondo's Ferrari Enzo crash in Los Angeles the other week, and nor is the local press, judging by a new report in the Malibu Times which reveals that "Former Gizmondo director Stefan Eriksson surrendered a DNA sample at the Malibu/Lost Hills Sheriff's Station... in the company of his attorney."

This is to work out if Eriksson's blood is on the driver's side airbag of the crashed Enzo, of course - and if it is, he may be facing a drunk driving charge, quite apart from the other 'fake Homeland Security' and lying to police farrago. As for a colleague that was also on the scene: "Brooks said Thursday that the mysterious man who was with Eriksson at the crash site is a U.S. citizen named Trevor, but Brooks would not release his full name. "We would like to talk to him, but we can't get to him," Brooks said. "He is believed to be on board a $14 million yacht that is cruising Santa Monica Bay right now." Trevor gave a home address that was traced to a boat slip in Marina del Rey that had been occupied by the massive luxury yacht, which is reportedly registered to a [former Gizmondo executive] named Carl Freer." How many Gizmondos make a $14 million yacht, again?

But, and here's the kicker [via WreckedExotics], CBS 2 has an online video with a computer simulation of the crash commissioned by police, complete with footage of the Ferrari being hauled away, and a police spokesperson revealing that the Ferrari hit the power pole that split it in half while, uhh, sideways and 2 feet in the air. Impressive stuff.

Cherish The Chips: Nintendo A Go Go

fds.jpg ['Cherish The Chips' is a bi-weekly column by Jeremiah 'Nullsleep' Johnson, discussing the latest and greatest goings-on in the world of the 'chiptune', and covering the best classic or modern music created using those pesky video game machines.]

Nintendo Gets Its Chip On

Chiptunes are nothing new, their history stretches back to the 1980's when kids first started making music with their Commodore and Atari computers, a tradition still kept alive today. But what about Nintendo? Up until the turn of the century, the NES and Game Boy were content to stick to their roles as gaming machines and nothing more. But now, with a diverse selection of tools for writing the music, and a thriving community of musicians harnessing the hardware, this relatively young scene is reaching maturity.

lsdj.jpgPocket Full of Bleep

The Game Boy's got a lot going for it, small, portable, battery-powered and built like a tank, it's an all-terrain music workstation. Combine it with LSDJ or Nanoloop, the two most popular pieces of software for creating Game Boy music, and you can push the little grey brick to it's limits. Although their interfaces differ drastically, the first presenting a standard tracker interface and the latter a semi-abstract matrix of squares, they both afford a high degree of control over the sound capabilities of the GB. And there are plenty of great examples of how far you can push it, take the new release by Bit Shifter or the japanese lo-fi trance stylings of USK just for starters.

nru_logo.jpg NES Tracking, Not Just For Nerds

Then there's the big brother, the NES or Famicom, depending on what region of the world you're in. While the first tracker to show up for the NES, Nerdtracker 2, was originally conceived of as an entry into a 'most useless utility' competition (where it took 1st place), there are a some less restrictive tools that have appeared recently. The latest of which is FamiTracker, a continually improving Windows-based application that's easy to pick up and start writing NES tunes with right away. Beginners will have an easy time finding support from the active community of users over at the 2A03.org forums.

midines.jpgMidines to Impress

If you're more comfortable working with midi than columns of hexadecimal numbers, you might want to go the Midines route. A 'hardware / cartridge interface (game) that enables MIDI control of the 8bit NES sound chip,' from NES super-genius x|k, it certainly has the most potential to break into the mainstream music studio. You can hear it on x|k's own recent release Outra, as well as an appearance on track 3 of the upcoming Venetian Snares album from Planet Mu.

nes_dpcm.jpgHey Hey MCK

Finally, if this all sounds too easy and you'd prefer to get down and dirty in a text editor to write your music, go straight to MCK or one of it's variants. An audio driver for the NES that takes MML (Music Macro Language) as it's input, it has somewhat of a niche appeal. But that hasn't stopped it from being used to great effect by Konami-fetishist RushJet1 or the previously mentioned Japanese fami-pop trio YMCK.

Who could have predicted that the same machines that introduced us to Mario and Zelda would be repurposed so many years later to bring this lo-fi symphony to whole new generation? Now where's my PowerGlove piano?

[Jeremiah Johnson is co-founder of chipmusic and computer-art collective, 8bitpeoples.com based out of New York City. Working with Game Boys and NES consoles to create music, he has been featured in various publications ranging from Wired to Vogue.]

Driver Gets Griff, Flash... Fun Gameplay?

d4.jpg The continually entertaining MTV News game section, which now has a dedicated news page for its exclusive Stephen Totilo-sourced reports, has a new story discussing the soundtrack to Atari's 'Driver 4: Parallel Lines', and subtitled: 'Rappers don't retire anymore. They make songs for video games.'

Totilo talked to both Grandmaster Flash and Professor Griff from Public Enemy, both commissioned for new songs for the Driver 4 soundtrack, and, according to Totilo: "One of the Public Enemy tracks on the soundtrack, "Narcissistic Fix," includes a simple message from another rap dad to his son: "Now when's the last time you read a f---ing book?"" Of course, Professor Griff, the author of this line, is a controversial figure himself, having been at one point fired from PE for allegedly claiming that "Jews are responsible for the majority of the wickedness in the world", though by now, is presumably much mellowed.

Of course, the final words should probably be left to Professor Griff: "What other kinds of games can we make that feature the talents that hip-hop artists have to offer? Is it always gonna be the driving, shoot-'em-up, bang-bang kind of games?" Oh, Griffy, but that's the only kind of game there is.

Mega Man Metastasizes Through The Millenia

megam.jpg We're so not bored of 1UP's 'Retronauts' columns that we already covered the first two, so there's no reason not to link to the third 'Retronauts', about Mega Men (!) old and new.

Though Jeremy Parish notes of the series' over-complex lineage: "Even those who have been into the series from the beginning (such as myself) can't help but shake their heads in dismay at a series where spin-offs (Mega Man X) get spin-offs (Mega Man Zero) that get spin-offs (the upcoming Mega Man ZX for DS)", he does wax lyrical about Mega Man: Powered Up for PSP, the forthcoming title that is "a complete reimagining of the very first game, supervised by [series creator Keiji] Inafune and digging deep into the series mythos."

Particularly to be drooled over in 'Powered Up' is apparently the construction mode, covered heavily by Parish in his 1UP preview, and a very good use of the PSP's PC transfer/storage capabilities. Overall, it's concluded with grins and trebles all round: "By and large, Powered Up seems to do the original Mega Man justice. The one missing element is a pixel-perfect port of the NES game... but apparently you can download 8-bit stages from Capcom's servers, so maybe there's no reason to complain."

UK Resistance Finds Vintage Sega Ads, Plus... US Resistance?!

segaviz.jpg The continually entertaining UK Resistance has now dug up some early '90s UK Sega ads [vaguely NSFW] that appeared in Viz magazine, the "popular British adult spoof comic magazine".

We particularly admire the 'To be this good takes AGES / To be this good takes SEVEN PINTS' tagline, but all of the print ads are delightfully bad/good/something - as UKR's Commander Zorg notes wistfully, in between staring at ladies through the window with his binoculars: "Nowadays it's all viral marketing web sites. How we miss proper adverts with prices on."

However, all is not well in UK Resistance land, since a shocking new site named US Resistance has appeared, and seems to be attempting a semi-lame 'American humOr' version of UKR's patented 'what are girls? we like Outrun!' schtick.

As a commenter ably puts it: "I like the way US Resistance has placed UK Resistance in its 'sites we hate so much they don't even deserve a functioning link' section, even though the idea to put that section on the front page at all came from UK Resistance. Americans: this is what people call irony." Unless, of course, this is a tremendously elaborate UKR-originating joke. In which case, we may need to go and lie down.

March 7, 2006

Why Signing A Game Publishing Contract Is Like Running Over Your Mother

charne.jpg Video game lawyer Jim Charne writes the 'Famous Last Words' Q&A column for the IGDA website, and this month's update discusses the concept of 'best efforts' in meeting game milestones, to some entertaining effect.

Basically, Charne argues: "'Best efforts' is another example of a term of art [described earlier as 'like legal icebergs. Only a small part of their meaning is on the surface']. It does NOT mean that the developer will try really really hard to do the job. A law school professor described “best efforts” to me in this manner: If you agree to use your best efforts to drive a colleague to the train station in time to catch his train, and your mother were to be crossing the road and in your path, best efforts would require you to run over your mother."

Giving a hint as to why independent game development is fraught with danger nowadays, since the possibility of projects being canceled with subsequent layoffs can be great, Charne concludes: "In the typical development agreement, that gives the publisher the unfettered unilateral right to accept or reject milestones for purely subjective reasons, it is dangerous for any developer to agree to this “best efforts” standard." Thus ends your GSW legalese 101 class for the week.

The Further Adventures of Tron Guy

tronman1.jpg So there I was, attending the late-night movie at the Act 1 and 2 in Berkeley, California, and who should I see but Jay Maynard, AKA Tron Guy - a fellow with an elaborate, light-emitting Tron outfit. It makes sense, as I was there to see Tron, after all. I gave him my card, which he stuck in a pouch he has in his Deadly Disc (no pockets for Tron!), and found out what he's been up to recently.

I got my first info bits during the pre-movie Q & A. Jay is a computer consultant and systems programmer from Minnesota, and just like everyone else, has a Livejournal and a myspace account (which he just kicked an imposter off of, and doesn't intend to use). His cycle is gold in color (why? why not?), and I later discovered that he maintains the Hercules IBM mainframe emulator, which I certainly don't understand, but which seems quite Tron-like. He's also a pilot, and a big fan of Animaniacs. For some reason you can also take a visual tour of his house. Check out that machine room! Since his initial 'discovery' via the net, he's appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live, among other things - you can read all about that here.

tronman1.jpgBut I digress. Of interest to GameSetWatch readers will be the fact that not one but two Atari 2600 homebrew games have been built to some level of completion, which bear Tron Guy's likeness. Jay himself doesn't play a lot of games. In his own words: "I'm sorry to say I'm not much of a gamer. Never have been, really. I do have a few here and there, and have played all of the TRON universe games (a friend has both arcade systems, as well as the others). I've got a copy of TRON 2.0 for the Mac, but have never gotten beyond the training phase: it keeps crashing."

How Ironic. Anyway, of the two Tron Guy games, only one has come out - appropriately named Tronman, and made by Neotokeo2001. Check out the nifty glowing cart here, and don't forget to download the bin, which will work on Atari 2600 emulators. Here's a handy description: "Tronman must make his way around the game-grid and collect the food that appears. Collect enough food and the card-key to the next level will appear, grab it and move on to the next sector and a new item to feast on. Beware of the patrolling Recognizers, If they catch Tronman they will De-Rez him."

tronman1.jpgWhat does Jay think of the game? "I suck at that even worse than usual. [But] I was really impressed with how it turned out." The second game was designed by Charles Gray (AKA Atari Charles), a Canadian fiction writer with a penchant for things Atari - that interview I linked a few paragraphs up was by him. There are some roms of 2600 digitized Jay floating around from the game, but it's unfinished for the time being. We do have an image of the label though, sent by Charles. His game was to be called Tron Man: Buffer Overrun, and was actually the inspiration for the game that did get finished.

COLUMN: 'Parallax Memories' - Contra: Hard Corps

HC1.jpg['Parallax Memories' is a regular weekly column by Matthew Williamson, profiling classic '16-bit' games from the Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo, and other seminal early '90s systems. This week's column profiles Konami's seminal Contra: Hard Corps for the Genesis, released in September 1994 in the U.S. and Japan, and in October 1994 (as Probotector) in Europe.]

An armored personnel carrier drives through a barricade of men with guns, and a mechanical spider. Screeching to a halt; a wolf man with a gatling gun in place of a right arm, and a three foot tall robot with a gun as tall as he is, are launched out of the carrier. Enemies pour in from all angles as the mismatched duo make their way across a city and up the side of a knocked-down building to fight a cyclopean robot.

This is just the first 3 minutes of Contra: Hard Corps.

Created by the mind of Nobuya Nakazato, Hard Corps is the start into a spiral of insanity for the Contra series. Still the current director of the games, Nakazato is credited with; The Alien Wars, Shattered Soldier, and Neo Contra as well.

HC3.jpgDuring the early nineties Konami had firmly planted its main franchise titles on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System.

In the mid-nineties they decided to let their hair down with these same franchise games on the opponent system, the Sega Genesis, resulting in some fantastic new ideas. Hard Corps was allowed to take the already alien series of heavy action into the deranged world of biological experimentation.

Set five years after the Alien Wars a law enforcement group, the Hard Corps, is sent out to restore peace to Neo City. Starting the game, a choice of four playable characters becomes available while a tune amusingly similar to Baby Got Back plays. The motley crew to select from includes; Ray the human machismo, Sheena the ironclad amazon, Brad Fang the wolf man, and Browny the dwarf robot. Each character has a different array of weapons at their disposal, all creating unique gameplay.

hc2.jpgHard Corps introduced branching stages and paths to the already classic Contra series. Help the research lab, or follow your nemesis Deadeye Joe? Based on the decisions you make throughout the game, different angles of the story will unfold and your path to the end will change. There is also some hidden wackiness off the beaten path, including a neat homage to Castlevania.

The only drawback is the level of difficulty that the game slaps you with right from the start. After a bit of practice and some memorization this can be overcome with little problem. Contra: Hard Corps, as an entire package, is easily one of the greatest games in the Genesis’ library and has the best music that the FM modulator ever put out.

[Matthew Williamson is the creator of The Gamer's Quarter, an independent videogame magazine focusing on first person writing. His work has been featured on MTV.com, 1up.com, Chatterbox Radio, and the Fatpixels Radio Podcast.]

Plasma Pong Jerks Around With Classic Ball-Bat

ppong.jpg The rather fun Fun-Motion physics game blog has a mini-review, complete with video, of Plasma Pong, "a mesmerizing freeware title by Steve Taylor, a student at George Mason University. It combines a cutting-edge realtime fluid dynamics simulation with the game structure of Pong."

It's explained of the title: "There isn’t a whole lot to say about the gameplay in Plasma Pong, really. The game structure mirrors that of the original Pong: You score if the ball makes it past your opponent’s paddle and vice versa... The right-mouse button creates a vacuum and sucks the ball towards you. This is a great way to safely catch the ball, as the fluid dynamics tend to create sudden unpredictable movements as the ball gets caught in eddies and currents."

But wait, there's more: "Left-mouse button fires plasma which shoots into the playfield. It can be used to push the ball for some extra speed, but also modify the currents. If you can succesfully create an eddy near the opponent’s side you can usually score when the ball makes sudden last-second movements." Excellent stuff, and well worth checking out.

FPS Advice For Aggressive Young Girls

testes.jpg The excellent Guilded Lilies blog, which looks at gaming from a female perspective, is now discussing a woman's view of first-person shooters, and suggesting that, hidden under the "exaggerated masculinity" could be some attributes of use to today's metropolitan lady.

In fact, author L Laughy suggests: "...I think the violent content is exactly why women should play shooters. I think the opportunity to role play violent situations has the potential to be a good experience for balanced individuals, including women. Having the opportunity to experience a sense of accomplishment in a life-threatening situation, for example, such as being under attack by wave after wave of Covenant aliens in a game like Halo, provides a chance for a woman to gain a sense of confidence not normally available to her while playing Bejeweled."

She concludes: "Does that confidence carry over in the real world? It is difficult to say, especially since all the psychological studies I have seen so far are looking for the negative effects of computer game violence, not for any potentially positive effects." We will now refrain from saying 'Girl Power' like happened on Spaced that one time.

March 6, 2006

Atlus Announces Unexpected Translations

contact.jpg Atlus, on Friday, announced two (three, really) titles for Nintendo handhelds. The first is Contact on DS, from Grasshopper Manufacture. For whatever reason, Atlus is not presently playing this up, but this is GM's first original title after Killer 7, under Suda51 (they do a lot of contract work for other people - like Samurai Champloo and Shining Soul II). They have an English page at GM now, incidentally.

Anyway, Contact is an RPG-ish game, in which you and this doctor person land on a mysterious planet, and you have to go search for items in order to rebuild the ship. But the interesting thing to me is that you and the professor are very pixelly, and you've landed on a prerendered 2D planet. Most times, the professor's actions will go on in one screen, while you forage for things on the other. Interesting concepts abound, with hunting, fishing, battles, and the like.

The other game announced is Super Robot Taisen. The reason no Super Robot game has come to the US is the crippling license issues of having so many robots from so many companies in one game. This would be hell for a US company. But this is SRT Original Generation, meaning the robots are familiar, but not the exact licenses. Think of it as a legal Taiwanese knockoff. The gameplay and battles of the series remain intact, which is the main reason to play this, though rumor has it the character (text) limit imposed by the Japanese cart may not be easy to get around. Just like the Super Famicom days!

[Oh, one thing a lot of people haven't picked up on yet is that they're bringing both SRT: OG 1 AND 2, both for GBA. There's more good stuff coming from Atlus on the GBA front, we hear, so keep your eyes open.]

GP2X Gets Clones, Clones, Clones

vektar.png You guys know the GP32, right - Game Park's intriguing Korean handheld? Well, the GP2X handheld from GamePark Holdings has just debuted, and the results of the first GP2X game coding competition have now been released, fan site GP32X.com notes.

The results page notes: "Well, it was a risk holding a 20 day coding comp this early on in the GP2X's life - but it paid off. Some 26 entries and some great releases for you to check out." The overall winner was 'Bubble Train', which looks suspiciously like PuzzLoop/Zuma, closely followed by the not at all Geometry Wars-like Vektar ("Jeff Minter would be proud. Dreamy visuals and silky smooth blastem up gameplay"), followed by the GNUBoy Game Boy Color emulator, but other goodness included an Acorn Archimedes emulator (!) and an obligatory Yahtzee game (an update from GP32, since GP32 games don't work with the GP2X, doh!)

Wait, you say, but isn't there an XGP handheld from Game Park as well? Well, the Wikipedia entry explains the highly confusing situation well: "Game Park is the creator of the GP32. In mid August 2005, they announced the XGP. This system is one of the two units that make up the successor to the Korean handheld GP32. The other one is the GP2X, made by GamePark Holdings (a separate company that split off from Gamepark in early 2005 and which consists of all but one of the engineers responsible for the original GP32)." The XGP is more of a commercial game device, whereas the GP2X is strictly homebrew, all the way. So now you know.

Strategy Guides Get Intricate, Stay Paperlike

gtaguide.jpg The eagle-eyed Matteo Bittanti points to a New York Times article discussing the state of the book-based video game strategy guide, including a number of interesting points.

In particular, BradyGames' success with the GTA strategy guide is made explicit: "The guide for Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, an intricate and violent action game, has sold 748,000 copies, an unusually high number, since it came out in 2004. [Prima Games guide writer David] Hodgson estimates that the 55 strategy guides he has written have sold a total of one million copies."

Overall, one of the article's main conclusions, while noting that online resources may be eroding the market, appears to be that: "Video games are not usually associated with reading, so the strategy guides' popularity is something of an oddity, marrying the fast-paced, fast-twitch world of computer and television console games with the tactile and ruminative experience of text-centric manuals." We're still trying to work out if this is a fair and/or positive comment or not.

Tetris - Not Just For Blockheads?

tetri.jpg Excited anticipation for Nintendo's forthcoming Tetris DS (for which the British Gaming Blog has lots and lots of luscious images) has caused the DS Neologasm blog to post an eclectic linkfest to Tetris and Tetris-related games.

Firstly, it's pointed out: "I'm on Warp Records' mailing list for downloading something from Bleep at one point or something, so they sent me this ad about some web game... you might notice certain similarities with a certain game of recent interest. It's a pretty nice Flash rendition, with some awesome music."

Secondly, there's some fun linkage regarding the recently X360-bound (at least in Japan!) Tetris: The Grand Master, as it's noted: "Along with this explanation came this video of Death Mode from the game's creators, Arika. Wow. There's also this other Death Mode video from iFilm. Arika has more videos on their movies page: look for the section with "TGM" links." All very neat stuff.

March 5, 2006

GSW Interview: 'Handre', Game Box Art Parody Insaneguy

eggman.jpg We've previously covered the awesomely disturbing video game box parody art of SomethingAwful's 'Handre', and, since the GAF forums are all ablaze with the publishing of his latest uber-bizarre art piece, for Namco's Dig Dug, we thought we'd catch up with him via IM to chat about his work.

GSW: What's your name, location and background, firstly?

Handre: My name is Handré de Jager, I was born in 1986. I live in South Africa and I'm currently a graphic design student at the University of Stellenbosch.

GSW: When did you first doing these video game box art spoofs, and what made you think of the concept?

Handre: Well, the first one I did was the Mega Man one, as one can probably see. I'm not 100% on the exact completion date, but it must have been somewhere in November 2005. Multiple things inspired me to do it.

Firstly was the Mega Man 1 and 2 U.S. and European box art. The whole concept was completely bizarre. Megaman was portrayed as a middle-aged man in weird costumes, usually holding a gun. It also seemed way more serious than the games were intended to be.

Another inspiration was this site: http://asame2.web.infoseek.co.jp/mariof.html. I'm not sure what it's about, since it's Japanese, but it was linked to from Something Awful's front page once and the images of Super Mario Bros. 3 in it was amazingly funny to me.

digdug.jpg

GSW: Seems like a lot of the themes you keep expanding on are based around making very cartoon-like video game characters grotesque and overly 'real'. Are you trying to make any point on how absurd the game concepts are, or is it just more pure fun than that?

Handre: The absurdity of the game concepts do play an important role, but the main idea for me is to make the games as ugly and overly serious as possible in a humorous way. Of course there are completely ridiculous elements as well, like the bulging crotches and pubic hair which are mostly for cheap laughs. :)

I think in Western culture, especially a few years ago, the idea of the action hero was always a slightly older man. In Japanese games they were frequently children or cute little creatures. I think that's why some of the box art from the 80's and early 90's came out so incorrect. That is also an important aspect of most of my parodies - most of the people are middle-aged.

GSW: This all started on the SomethingAwful Forums, right? What kind of feedback have you had? Has anyone actually got upset about their favorite characters being besmirched, or felt that you were actually mentally disturbed in some way? :)

Handre: Haha. No, the feedback always seem really positive. Occasionally someone will say things like I ruined their childhood memories and so on, but I'm pretty sure they're saying it as more of a joke. That's how it appears to me anyway.

aiai.jpg


GSW: Oh, and just quickly, how do you make the pics?

Handre: Simply enough, with Photoshop and a tablet.

GSW: So I see you just posted Dig Dug recently - got any plans for other games? Have there been some games that people are begging you to do?

Handre: Well, my next project will be Platform Hero [later parts listed here.] It's not a real game, but a parody Flash animation of platform games in general created by Shmorky, from Something Awful. The requests I get the most are Bubble Bobble and Earthbound. I might do Bubble Bobble some day, but I doubt I'll get to Earthbound, but who knows. At the moment I'm pretty busy with my studies, so they won't be made as rapidly as a few months ago. I had a really long holiday back then, so I had loads of time.

[Thanks again to Handre for letting us chat to him. He now has all of his pics up on his DeviantArt page. The full hi-res list of his box-art parodies is as follows: Mega Man, Bomberman, Snow Bros., BurgerTime, Adventure Island, Kirby, and Dig Dug.]

M.U.L.E. and BigDog: Separated At Birth?

bigdog2.gifWere the robotics experts at BostonDynamics inspired by the 1983 Electronic Arts game M.U.L.E.? BostonDynamics admits its 4-legged robot is "the size of a large dog or small mule," but opted to call the DARPA-funded workbot BigDog. Coincidentally, the function of BigDog is nearly identical to M.U.L.E.'s Multiple Use Labor Element machine that helps interstellar colonists survive on alien soil in the turn-based multiplayer game.

While the M.U.L.E. is pure fiction, the development of BostonDynamics' BigDog is funded by the real-life DARPA Defense Sciences Office in the USA, and according to New Scientist, was designed to help soldiers carry heavy loads "in terrain too tough for vehicles." The robot is powered by a gas engine, can haul 120 lbs, and trots at 3.3 mph. While its terrestrial uses seem obvious, the roboteers at BostonDynamics were clearly aiming for the stars. BigDog today, Multiple Use Labor Element tomorrow?

360 Points Goes Crazy, Gets Hint-y

bor.jpg One of our favorite websites recently is Achieve360Points, which is an invaluable source of info about how to score big with those pesky Xbox 360 Gamerscore points, and which we recently referenced regarding their interview with 20000+ Gamerscore genius ST_TheKing.

Well, the site is going from strength to strength, and particularly cool is its listing of achievements for X360 games that aren't even out yet, including those for Rumble Roses Double X, for The Outfit, for Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter, for Burnout Revenge, and for Oblivion.

Achievements are actually fun to read, even if you don't own the game, since they give you a good idea of the shape of the title. Even better, Achieve360Points is now adding achievement-specific guides, such as this one for Ridge Racer 6, making focusing on point collection even easier for the OCD among us. Finally, gamer interviews have also been updated, including one with fellow 20,000+ gamer Crono117, who is, suspiciously enough, another Canadian, just like ST_TheKing - is it a long winter up there?

Minerva Descends From Heavens For Second Helping

metas.jpg The smart kids over at Idle Thumbs have spotted a brand new Half-Life 2 mod release of interest to, well, just about everybody. It's an extension to the MINERVA single-player, described as "Significantly influenced by games such as the Marathon and System Shock series... [featuring] enigmatic directions and instructions from an unknown third party."

Let's let the Thumbs explain fully: "Adam Foster has released the second level in his intense single player Half-Life 2 modification, MINERVA. If you're jonesing for some Source action in the time between now and HL2: Episode...One, go check out MINERVA's Metastasis 2 right away, you."

Interestingly, Foster was one of the modders profile in the recent CGW/1UP 'Mod Summit' feature that we mention on GSW, adding some fighting comments about his design ethos: "We don't have to deal with focus groups insisting on lowering things to some lowest common denominator. My first Minerva maps are fairly straightforward, but I have some much more outlandish ideas for the future. One dispenses with combat entirely-at which point, those hypothetical focus groups are violently scribbling in their notebooks with red ballpoint. I couldn't care less."



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