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March 25, 2006

The Rise Of The Next-Gen Linux Game

sauer.jpg Over at the Linux Revolution blog, there's a post about 'next-gen' Linux games that shows there's a number of neat titles out there - often available for Windows _and_ Linus' language, but available nonetheless!

The post's intro quips: "If you thought the Linux gaming world consisted of nethack, pp-racer, BZFlag, and well... fortune, you were wrong."

Among the new titles showcased include TA Spring ("a 3D remake of [Total Annihilation], but also has the capability to run brand-new content and serve as an engine for new RTS games"), plus Sauebraten ("The next-generation Cube engine/game. It features some funky realtime geometry editing, single and multiplayer action, and a pretty big user community.")

As the conclusion notes: "f there's one thing that should be clear, it's that modern, open source, next-generation games are beginning to emerge onto the Linux desktop. The graphics in these games these games is coming back up to par with commercial titles, and exciting new open-source game engines are allowing development to proceed at an incredible pace."

Schilling Grabs Endorsement, Stepping Over Teammates' Bodies

glanville.jpg Just before GDC, when we were running a wrap-up story on Gamasutra about Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling's EverQuest II endorsement deal, our now-ex (aww!) co-worker Nich ran across an old ESPN.com column about Schilling's online travails which we'd forgotten about.

It concerns Schilling giving up two home runs to former teammate and Phillies center fielder Doug Glanville - and the explanation for this 'act of revenge' was a callous slaying by neglect inside EverQuest itself.

According to the piece, the two were teaming up "in Faydwer, in the zone of the Butcherblock Mountains, to kill Aviaks." But when the smackdown came down, Schilling was nowhere to be seen: "He had sent a message to me, saying, 'RUN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!.' But he typed this as he was already a mile away from danger and standing next to the guards that protect him. Needless to say, my lifeless character was now chicken feed."

According to Glanville: "I vowed revenge on the soul of Bingbong... for the negligent actions of Cylc", and he concluded with sage advice: "Not enough attention is paid to the off-the-field motivators that create nasty on-field grudges... I believe video atrocities top the list. Curt Schilling assassinated my lovable Dwarf Paladin in EverQuest, happily smiling as his character stood in the safety of the town guards. That can create serious internal friction... I believe we need to analyze some of the video atrocities committed on PlayStation2 or Dreamcasts, or even the Commodore 64, if we need to go back that far."

Post-GDC: Developer Diaries Blossom

gdc_06_small.gif Over at the continuously excellent UK Guardian Gamesblog, they asked a few leading UK developers to document their time over at GDC this week, and a number of the results are in.

Dave Millard at Kuju put up a long synopsis of his week, which notes very cannily of the Nintendo keynote: "By the end, the crowd are in a frenzy and the whole thing has felt slightly religious." The new Scientology, we suspect.

Also contributing is Thomas Arundel of IGF Grand Prize winners Introversion, who recounts his winning experience at the IGF on Wednesday night, and he rather cutely understates: "I got a touch carried away, and vocalized a view on publishers that touched a chord with the audience", continuing: "For 60 seconds (we timed it on the video afterwards :) the hall erupted in applause and I genuinely experienced the best moment of my life."

GDC Tidbits: Volume 3 Of A Short Series

gdc06.jpg A final update from Game Developers Conference 2006 in San Jose, Calif - again, check out the mad crazy Gamasutra show coverage, if you dare, but here's some final vignettes:

- The absolute best thing about the Nintendo keynote yesterday was the Nintendo University-certified protestor walking around outside, and urging Nintendo to 'Drop The Bomb'. In the event, no such Megaton event occurred, but it's just an awesome example of fanboy love - we salute you, Sir!

- The second best thing about the Iwata keynote was, of course, the English-language copy of Brain Age given away to all the attendees, about a month before its official release date. Needless to say (and I know I was joking about a similar Sony thing earlier in the week), copies are already up on eBay. So if you need a photocopied note from Satoru Iwata in your collection, bid often, and bid early!

- The third best thing about the show was apparently the amount of Pictochat action going on in all the major keynotes. Of course, this anonymous metachat style leads to merciless barbs, such as when Valve's Gabe Newell accidentally started talking about 'beef' (as opposed to 'brief') in his Choice Awards intro spot, to a chorus of Pictochatted 'LOL' comments. Next time, GDC, let's see the Pictochatrooms projected on the screen behind the speakers - OMG?

March 24, 2006

COLUMN: 'Bastards of 32-Bit' - Pokémon Snap

pokesnap01.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.]

Because "Bastards of 32-Bit (And Also 64-Bit Sometimes)" wasn't as catchy.

Photography has largely existed in videogames as a supplemental element of gameplay. Titles in the Metal Gear Solid and Grand Theft Auto series, for example, give the player the ability to frame and shoot photographs, but the act seldom results in meaningful consequence. Rarer still are games that feature photography as a dominant gameplay mechanic. There's Gekisha Boy, and...well, that's pretty much it.

Amidst its RPG predecessors and a number of spinoffs into safe, marketable genres, Pokémon Snap stands out as an oddity. Rather than milk the Pokémon franchise with yet another puzzle or card battle game as the company is wont to do, Nintendo instead decided to try something new for the series's Nintendo 64 debut: a game based around photography. The reaction from fans was mixed, to say the least, and the game was generally ignored in favor of more conventional Pokémon releases.

pokesnap02.jpgOh! Wonderful!

The object of Pokémon Snap is to take the best possible pictures of various fictional creatures, as found in their natural habitats. There are optional items one can use to lure the Pokémon closer and to make them strike poses, but otherwise, gameplay centers around simple point-and-shoot photography. Points are awarded for picture clarity and subject matter, with dynamic action shots being the most desirable.

Players cruise along a predetermined path through an environment, and scripted events involving the Pokémon will occur at certain points during the trip. It's up to the player whether he or she wants to photograph these scenes at face value, or interfere with the goings-on in the interest of a better photo opportunity. For the most part, players will get the best results by screwing with nature as much as possible. A picture of Pikachu smiling at the camera will only get you so many points, but a shot taken after you bonk him on the head with an apple and knock him out cold will result in Professor Oak giving you bonus points and calling your cruelty "Very funny!"

magmar in the housePokémon without the Pokémon.

The game's leisurely pace offers a serene experience, free from the pressures and anxiety found in more action-oriented titles. The events that occur are generally out of your control, but there's just enough interactivity present to encourage replay, in the interest of getting better shots. Pokémon Snap also makes for a great two-player game, as players can take turns to try and capture the best picture of the elusive Psyduck, or alternately try and rack up the highest Charmander bodycount in the volcano level by Pester Balling the poor creatures into submission.

Pokémon Snap's unconventional gameplay may have been a turnoff to fans, but more tragic was the fact that this unique, original title went overlooked by many simply because of its possession of the Pokémon license. It doesn't take any sort of familiarity with the Pokémon franchise to find the simple fun in photography, and if you approach this one with an open mind, you might end up enjoying a Pokémon game more than you ever thought you would.

[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.]

March 23, 2006

GDC 2006 Lectures: Cerny, Outsourcing, One-Button

gg_08.gif OK, so here's some alleged highlights so far of the actual lectures from GDC, as covered by us at Gamasutra - and let's be clear, here, this isn't the much loved 'GDC Tidbits' column, it's a whole new, amazing thing, since there's a hell of a lot of good lectures to cover this week:

- The What's Next? panel had some great moments, like Mark Cerny's intriguing perspective on sequels: "Cerny explained with a touch of hyperbole that, the way things are now, whenever you introduce a big new game you can pretty much expect to end up in the hole in the short term. It's not until the "third sequel" that you begin to see a return of investment. "You're in it for the long haul," Cerny said."

- There was an interesting lecture about Microsoft outsourcing game content creation for Forza Motorsport, which was pretty honest about how the increasingly common practice was done: "Eighteen complete track environments and 230 cars, complete with LOD, damage textures, and extensive customization needed to be completed over a year-long production schedule." That's a lot, guys.

- The Gamevil guys, who make some kickass Korean one-button mobile games, did a rather fun lecture on casual mobile titles, including (pictured above) Nom, "in which you play as a runner, jumping over obstacles, catching girls to kiss, and, apparently, making dogs follow you around. The gameplay is varied enough as it is, but the game also requires you to rotate the screen as you play on occasion." Definitely our kind of game!

Game Ads A-Go-Go: Guys Freakin' Out

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.]

Welcome back! This week I present to you the official GameSetWatch guide to guys freakin' out. The commentary this time should be thinner than usual, as I'm currently studying hard for my Official Snarky Commentator Certification (OSCC) exam (officiated by Seanbaby of EGM). That, and I just got a new cat that insists on eating my magazines. But have no fear; the guys freakin' out should mostly speak (or scream) for themselves. And at least you have the pretty pictures to look at.

Konami Hates You

gsw_handygear_small.jpg

This particular guy is obviously just now returning to Earth after a long stint of freakin' out in deep space, but he ran into trouble on the way down. I would be freakin' out too if I were shot down viciously by Konami and in the process of burning up on re-entry to the Konami Homeworld (natch). As if I really wanted to invade their dumb giant video-planet anyway. Flames and smoke aside, the human-sized Konami game boxes alone are enough to drive a man insane with a stray glance (especially the "A...JAX!" logo).

The primary message of this ad is clear: "Don't #%@& with Konami, or we'll kill you."

AHHHHHHHHHHHHHhh!

freakout_2_large.jpg

This deal is just absolutely insane. There's nothing more to say -- I'm speechless.

Our Free Cleaning Kit WILL MAKE YOU FREAK OUT

freakout_3_large.jpg

This ad is actually a two-page ad, but the other page is nearly useless, aside from the fact that it conveniently explains the terrible illustrated visual pun on the left side of the page. The heading reads "Summer Screamers." I agree wholeheartedly; SNES Street Fighter II Turbo for $79.99 is definitely cause for some serious freakin' out. Ha! And they say PlayStation 3 games will be expensive. Try time-travelling back to 1995 and buying SFII Turbo, you pansies! Adjusted for today's inflation rates, that price comes out to actually being somewhere around $1307.50.

Bonus Guys Freakin' Out

freakout_bonus_large.jpg

It's so easy to make fun of people and status-quo-breaking behavior when you have the benefit of time, distance, and the absolute destruction of context -- so it's not really fair. Therefore, I will just let you look at these pictures and think about exactly what humanity means to you.

[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. Check out the new VC&G Forum!]

GDC Tidbits: Volume 2 Of A Short Series

gdc06.jpg We're still at Game Developers Conference 2006 in San Jose, Calif, and still updating the Gamasutra show coverage like crazy people, so here's your latest tidbits:

- Apparently, legendary Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak turned up yesterday to check out the show, and was extremely gracious, signing autographs for all the CAs (conference associates) and generally hanging out. Since he actually has a road named after him (Woz Way) within spitting distance of the conference center, he's kinda royalty in San Jose.

- Both the Independent Games Festival awards and the Game Developers Choice awards went off without a hitch last night - some of the highlights included the Darwinia guys pelting the audience with little foam Darwinia men after winning the Seumas McNally Grand Prize, and then one of them getting the very same back in the face, and the Shadow Of the Colossus guys (who cleaned up!) specifically thanking the Mega64 crew after Mega64's new Ico spoof played as a humorous interlude during the awards. Yay!

- The post-show Sony party, held in the same Parkside Hall that California Extreme takes place in, was a) loud, b) busy, and c) fun. There were geodesic domes, and weird dancers, and loud electronica of some description. Also, we spotted Will Wright and managed not to fanboy swarm him. And the parting party gift, shortly to be commanding inflated amounts on eBay, was a Swisstech keyring multi-tool branded with the PlayStation triangle, circle, cross, square logos. Although I guess it's not got PS3 on it, so the resell value probably sucks.

More soon!

March 22, 2006

COLUMN: ‘Cherish The Chips’ - DS Gets Up To Get Down

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.]

DS On The Fast Track

The big news this week is the completely out-of-nowhere release of NitroTracker for the Nintendo DS. The top-secret, spare-time project of RWTH Aachen University student, Tobias Weyand, is based on FastTracker II and it shows. The familiar tracker layout gives the program a friendly face and a good feature set is already present in this first release. NitroTracker looks to be an excellent addition to the current batch of tools used for writing music on Nintendo hardware.

lsdj.jpgDamn Sensible Design Solutions

Of course you get the basics: partial support for the XM file format that many PC trackers use, the ability to load your own WAV samples, and a whopping 16 channels (about 12 more than I'd have any idea what to do with). But one of the things that NitroTracker does best is capitalize on the unique strengths of the DS. Commenting on the practicality of tracking music on a handheld, Tobias has this to say on the official website, "because of the touchscreen and stylus of the DS, it's quite easy. You can compose your melodies using an on-screen keyboard, directly edit your patterns by making selections, copying and pasting - all with the stylus." Indeed, this sounds totally hot to us! Tobias then goes on to say, "that's not where it ends: If you don't have any samples at hand, make your own with the DS's microphone." Add an option for drawing waveforms with the stylus and we'll be in heaven.

nru_logo.jpg Turntables and Touchscreens

While that isn't yet on the list of planned features, there are some other interesting items to note. Some of the most important being expansion of XM support to include effects and support for other formats such as MOD, IT and S3M. Other improvements, like the mention of supporting 32 or more channels and sample postprocessing, indicate that this is certainly intended as more than just a tracker for chiptunes. So while it may not appeal to people who write chiptunes out of a love for limitations, it is definitely attractive as a more general electronic music production studio on the go. Has the time come for Nintendo to take note and start embracing this culture? The world better be prepared for a whole new generation of DS DJs.

[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.]

GDC Tidbits - Volume 1 Of A Short Series

gdc06.jpg Well, it's still Game Developers Conference 2006 in San Jose, Calif this week, and we're still rushed off our feet, but in lieu of lots of GSW articles, we'll present a couple of interesting facts from the show:

- We ran into the founder of Inis (Gitarooman and Ouendan creators!) last night, and he mentioned they would be showing a new game at E3. So... new Inis game at E3! Yay! Maybe it's the X360 (?) thing they have weird screenshots for on their website.

- Sony is showing some PlayStation 3 material on the show floor, which opens today. All we spotted thus far as we ran past yesterday while it was still being constructed was there were some ducks in a bathtub (a previously shown tech demo!) But more ducks and a bigger bathtub than the PlayStation 2 duck bathtub demo! It's that kinda console, folks!

- You may find all kinds of interesting articles on the Gamasutra GDC 2006 coverage page - so far, we liked both Serious Games Keynotes, and that Emotion Boot Camp was pretty wacky, fun stuff. Today, we have been reliably informed, there are some big keynotes from people like Sonee. More soon!

Las Vegas, Pinball, Best Friends Again

cover4.jpg The ever-excellent RetroBlast! has managed to spot that the Las Vegas City Life has an entire cover story about Tim Arnold's new Pinball Hall of Fame.

As RetroBlast! puts it: "Not only does the article discuss the hall of fame, it looks into what makes pinball worth preserving, and why Tim Arnold has devoted a major chunk of his life to this endeavor. As Tim himself put it, "This is a labor of love. Or insanity."

And heck, any article that starts: "On a recent Thursday afternoon, Tim Arnold deftly works the flippers of a Centigrade 37 machine as he explains the pinball concept of mindf*ck. Guiding the ball by shaking and rattling the game like it owes him money, he talks about how a fairly simple electromechanical device like this can carry you to the brink of glory -- only to dump you in the pit of defeat" is good with us!

March 21, 2006

COLUMN: ‘Parallax Memories’ - Metal Slug: Super Vehicle SV-001

MS1.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 '90s systems. This week's column profiles SNK and Nazca Corporation’s run-and-gun action platformer: Metal Slug]

Marco Rossi, Reporting for Duty

In a pizza parlor somewhere outside Appleton, WI there is a Neo-Geo machine with a monitor in heavy need of repair. One of the available four games was Metal Slug. Although just there to pick up a pizza pie for carry-out, I decided to play one credit. 20 minutes later I returned to the car with a cold pizza and a smile.

Aside from the Contra series, I mainly return to one other place for my gun toting action: Metal Slug. This slap-stick action game was developed by Nazca; which is comprised of ex-Irem employees (look to Gunforce and In The Hunt for influences on the series). What they created is a perfect blend of action and humor inside one of the most detailed and rich games for the arcade scene, and because of that the team was absorbed by SNK.

MS2.jpgRegular Army Recruit

You start by picking either Marco or Tarma of the Regular Army Peregrine Falcon special-forces unit. The Regular Armie's tanks have been seized by the Rebels and the Peregrine Falcon special-forces unit uses their back up plan: the Super Vehicle-001 “Metal Slug.” Thrown into midst of a fight against the Rebels army, you must shoot, slice, and bomb your way through them.

Initially all you have is a trusty pistol or knife, but throughout your mission you can pick up a selection of different weapons from enemies and recaptured prisoners of war. As a member of the special-forces you’re also trained in the operation of the Metal Slug, which the Regular Army has placed in strategic locations. With a huge cannon on the front and a Vulcan cannon you can take out most anything in this tank. If not you can always launch the tank at the enemy as a last ditch effort.

MS3.JPGDown With The General

Your main goal is to defeat and capture General Morden, the leader of the Rebel Army. On your path to victory there are six levels, all of varying location. Each boss is unique and challenging to fight. Levels contain many humorous and deadly surprises such as; old bearded POWs, man-eating fish, and rocket-launching scuba divers. All the levels are masterfully detailed with good upbeat music to keep pace.

After getting a Neo Geo this was one of the first games I tracked down. Everything in this game is balanced and well executed leading to many repeat plays through. While I could only get to General Morden—never beat him—with one credit, I’ve seen it done. My last attempt, after not playing the game in over a year, was in that pizza parlor: I was glad to know I still had a little bit of skill.

[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.]

Two Bears Visit A Shmup Competition...

csa.jpg The excellent The2Bears.com weblog has been doing a multitude of mini-reviews from the new Shmup-dev.com PC game competition in which, quite simply: "...[the] game must be a horizontal shooter... it must have at least one level and a boss at the end of it." Easy enough, huh?

One of the highlights of the competition thus far is the mini-reviewed Prototype, of which it's commented: "I’m a big fan of R-Type and Pulstar so it’s no wonder I like Prototype. You’ve got various shot-types, missiles, a beam that you charge and a “force” type object. In an interesting twist you can control which direction the force faces, rotating it around your ship."

Also well received was Cyberspace Assault, which "has an abstract graphics style reminiscent of Kenta Cho’s games and other Japanese shmups. Some nice thought has gone into the gameplay: you have two types of shots, a straight beam and one that bends somewhat under your control." Great to see the renaissance of the shooter continuing.

You Cannot Resist Chiptune Domination!?

fds.jpg You guys may recall chipmusician Jeremiah 'Nullsleep' Johnson from his regular 'Cherish The Chips' column for GSW, but he's also planning The International Chiptune Resistance World Tour 2006, an awesome multi-country tour with fellow chiptune god Bit Shifter.

As is explained: "Equipped solely with Nintendo Game Boys and NES consoles, this two-man cell operates as a highly dangerous mobile chiptune assault unit. Deployment date: May 2006; mission objective: total chiptune conquest; and a mission trajectory encircling the entire world, with more than 20 strike points throughout Europe, Asia, and North America." Possible dates include New York, London, Amsterdam, Tokyo, and beyond.

However, the team need a little cash to make the resistance occur, as they explain: "This around-the-world endeavor is entirely self-financed, and at the same time, among the most expensive undertakings we have attempted. For anyone in a position to help the cause, we are gratefully accepting donations. We have set our final goal at $3000. By donating, you will be helping us strike a victory not only for 8-bit music, but for independent music in general. The time is now." $357 contributed so far!

CMU Documents Game Innovation

gameinno.jpg Today at GDC, we had a chance to meet with some students from CMU's Entertainment Technology Center, and ended up finding out all about The Game Innovation Database, a new and potentially intriguing website.

As the site explains: "The goal of the GIDb is to classify and record every innovation in the entire history of computer and videogames. Because we could never complete this daunting task alone, we have made the GIDb an open wiki, allowing anyone to easily add innovation entries for the benefit of everyone who cares about the history, study, and practice of game innovation."

A good example is Super Mario Bros, for which the site claims of innovations, among a number of others: "Collecting Coins: Super Mario Bros. is the first game to use item collection as a secondary reward"; "Timer with Audio Warnings: Super Mario Bros. is the first game to give audio cues before the time runs out"; "Warp Zone: Super Mario Bros. is the first game that allowed players to skip some levels."

What we asked to see were timelines (on subjects such as audio and story) with specific innovations tied to them - we think that'd really help tie an already neat (and likely to be hotly debated!) project together. But the project is already well worth checking out in any case.

March 20, 2006

COMIC: The Multicart Project: Part Two

01-icon.pngThe Multicart Project is a weekly comic by cartoonist Dave "Shmorky" Kelly, detailing the lives of Nintendo Entertainment System characters way past their prime, living in low-income housing and just trying to get by.

In this second installment, A Boy and his Blob discover an unsavory house guest in their new room! Let's watch.

mp02.gif

[Dave "Shmorky" Kelly's cartoons have appeared in all sorts of exciting internet places, such as Keenspot, Shmorky.com, and Something Awful, where he served as animator on the Doom House DVD, and is currently outputting The Flash Tub on a weekly basis. He also has an Internet Movie Database entry, which makes him more famous than you.]

GSW Updates Slow This Week - GDC Intrudes?

gdc06.jpg Just a quick note to mention that, since it's Game Developers Conference 2006 in San Jose, Calif this week, and GameSetWatch editors are involved in both the Independent Games Festival and covering the show in significant depth for Gamasutra, updates on GSW may be a little on the sluggish side this week.

But, on the plus side, we promise to return with as many hairs plucked from the heads of famous game designers as we can, which we will then sell on eBay to South Korean cloning firms, as part of our own special project to propagate creativity in the video game industry. Anyone who was just thinking about alternative funding is clearly barking mad - genetic experiments are the way to go!

Play King Kong, Make A Friend

ubikong.jpg Although, we know, Ubisoft's King Kong game was released a while back, The New Gamer has just put up an intelligent essay called 'King Kong & the Merits of Character Interplay which tries to explore exactly how Michel Ancel's game differentiated itself from the pack.

Author G. Turner points out: "There's no one glorified leader in this crew, everyone just pitches in when they can. Ann will prompt you to follow her to take a certain route instead of getting lost. Hayes often be by your side, helping you pick off approaching Venatosauruses, and occasionally tossing you an extra gun (only if you ask first though). Even Carl will occasionally put his camera down to lift a hand in combat or help you open a door. And they aren't mute either - these crew members communicate with you..."

The concluding paragraph takes this point further, encompassing majestic loner Kong himself: "It is this character interplay that King Kong: The Official Movie of the Game excels at. The reactions Ann, Hayes, Carl and other members of the crew have when they interact with you infuses the title with personality that is widely lacking in many action games. The game itself is hardly perfect, but these character nuances and co-operative interplay go a long way towards overcoming the monotony of that comes over the title's later hours. Ancel then uses the comfortable cooperation of the film crew to underscore Kong's isolation, producing two very different playing experiences." An excellent critique.

PainStation Co-Creator Shares The Pain

oldnew.JPG The Little Mathletics blog has been doing some further updates, and has also added an interview with PainStation's Tilman Rieff about the "game of Pong within a specially designed cabinet that would whip and shock players hands, often causing tangible wounds."

The official PainStation site has more info on the latest iterations of the machine, which we recently covered when discussing the Pong Mythos exhibition, and gets a preciously art-styled quote from Tilman on what his collective, fur, has as its aims: "We are developing "art entertainment interfaces"...mechatronic artifacts that are re-evaluating the boundaries between man and his apparatus. Most of the time our creations are gaming machines that somehow incorporate new interactive experiences."

And, of course, every German art terrorist has to have a credo, and it appears that the PainStation guys' one is, simply enough: " World domination, legalize marijuana and make Shigeru Miyamoto president!" Well - fair enough.

March 19, 2006

Baseball With The NES Greats

toadSMB.PNG McSweeney's, that funny ol' publishing/website conglomerate created by Dave Eggers, has posted a rather amusing humor column, written by Rick Paulas, which answers a question about video games and fantasy baseball teams posed by, uhh, Rick Paulas.

The question, from Rick to Rick, was: "What would your ideal fantasy-baseball lineup be if you had to create it using only characters from classic Nintendo video games?", and it turns out there's a well thought-out answer behind this, starting out with Bald Bull from Mike Tyson's Punch Out ("Much like Manny, Barry, or the Big Hurt in his heyday, the powerful giant causes everyone in the ballpark to stop what they're doing when his name is announced.")

Other stand-outs include Toad from Super Mario Bros. ("Only on the team as a favor to the marketable Italian brothers, this diminutive's only attribute is chasing fly balls and catching them in his soft, padded, circular mound-head"), and Simon Belmont from Castlevania (" Despite the fame and fortune he's gotten from his changeup ("like it was pulled back on a string, or maybe a whip," the batters often say), Belmont has a deep loneliness.") All agreeably silly.

COLUMN: 'The Gaijin Restoration' - Asmik-Kun Land

Label Art Work["I often import games from abroad and play them. On such occasions, my imagination is sometimes stimulated more as I don't understand the language.” – Fumito Ueda, creator of Ico and Shadow of the Colossus. 'The Gaijin Restoration' is a weekly examination of underappreciated Eastern games that never cross to Western shores. This week's title is Asmik's Asmik-Kun Land, which represented on the Famicom in Japan in 1991, a palindrome.]

And Now For a Personal Anecdote

Kwirk kicking back with the guy from NARC, Wizards and Warriors and some dude from Double DribbleOnce, when I was little, I chose two Game Boy games. One was Kwirk, which featured a punk rock, shades wearing Tomato who solved puzzles. It was boring. Kwirk later found himself on the Acclaim TV show Video Power. There may be a reason that Acclaim went out of business. The other game was Boomer’s Adventure in Asmik World. The cover featured a pink dinosaur rendered in a carefree illustrated manner, with overlapping eyes, thick black outlines and colors that refused to be contained within. Hopefully, this was to be a gateway to some sort of Doodleville. It ended up being a poor puzzle hybrid. Oh, to buy games based on their box art…

Warp forward to 2006 with various Hong Kong-ish sites offering dual Famicom/NES compatible clones (of questionable legality.) A Famicom cartridge appears with said little pink dinosaur. This is the game I wanted.

Fond Fossil Found

Great SceneryAsmik-Kun Land was Asmik’s late, 1991, entry into the 8-Bit mascot war in Japan. (Now, why they wouldn’t release Boomer, a pink dinosaur who attacks with what appears to be gentle flatulence [OK, it’s a tail-whip] to a generation of strapping young lads who were mesmerized by Sonic’s ‘tude escapes me.) It does give entry to Doodleville, my translation for Asmik-Kun Land. The pastel skies are filled with band-aids, eggs, cutlery, crayons and their sketches that cement the game’s artistic nature. Environment effects include pollen that makes poor Boomer sneeze, interrupting whatever he’s doing, and tomato juice pools that turn him all red and disallow him the use of his items until he washes in some water.

Items can be purchased at any time via the select button using the egg currency Boomer picks up from enemies he’s tail-whipped/farted on. Boomer’s repertoire is a varied, if typical, skill set including rolling attacks, flying, time freeze, an air bubble and the very useful ‘1-OK’, that allows a preventative hit point before a premature ice age. Now, with Boomer being a light weight one-hit kill, coupled with game’s ur-physics (inertia and gravity playing token roles), you get an uprooted 2D platformer where the control approaches the uncanny. Enemies are as bizarre as the surroundings, and are plentiful, with each having their own unique trick to master. Combined, there is definite challenge with the little pinko dino.

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Random Rock Paper Scissors

The game unfolds on an island map, where you can pick which stage you want to play. Each stage is 2 levels long and usually consists of the age old “go as far right as you can” progression, with some horizontal challenges, an underwater level and one in the air. Each stage ends with a boss battle. Boomer doesn’t appear to be capable or willing to take these guys head on, so they play games of Ro-sham-bo (aside: easily the worst minigame in The Rub Rabbits), mixed in with a game of Mother May I and some other random elements hidden in those Japanese glyphs. Pro-tip: stick with scissors, feather the run button, and save your eggs; messing up depletes your stock and when you hit zero, it's back to the beginning of the stage. With luck, perseverance, and some big ovaries, you can clear all the bosses to unlock the challenging final stage, and finally the disappointing all-text ending.

Crayon Sky Power Ups

In the end Asmik-Kun Land is a unique platformer with a clever aesthetic style, a fossil of the popular cel-shading we see today. The somewhat random and anticlimactic boss battles are a barrier for those lacking in Japanese knowledge, but there is a wave of satisfaction in wrestling through this black box’s internal logic into victory. Not an upper echelon title that the West missed out on, but worthy of inspection and play.

[Ryan Stevens is the associate producer on the various Cinematech shows on G4TV, which showcases many of the games written about here. He's been known to do the collaborative blog thing at That's Plenty.]

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FFXI Fan Festival Fares Felicitously

ffxit.jpg 1UP's James Mielke is a _serious_ fan of Square's Xbox 360/PS2/PC MMO Final Fantasy XI, and thus, his regular 'My Life in Vana'diel' column has by far the peppiest write-up on last weekend's Final Fantasy XI Fan Festival in Santa Monica.

The big deal, of course was the FFXI expansion The Treasures Of Aht Urhgan, which Mielke previews in pretty spectacular detail elsewhere on 1UP, but it's in Mielke's naked delight for the expansion that the most joy can be extracted from the piece: "Treasures, as evidenced by all the new features the development team unveiled, just looks like it's going to be cool as hell. I mean that sincerely. Chocobo breeding and raising? Hell yeah. Mog Lockers? Yeahhhhh! Besieged and Assault? Oh Hells Yeah!!!! Job balance changes to every job? About time, my friends!"

Mind you, in some ways, the article also shows how spectacularly complex MMOs are, and how the vernacular becomes solely intelligible to players after a certain point: "Even though I'm a NIN70, I will be the first to admit that PLDs have way better hate control. It's hard not to when you've got Provoke, Warcry (at 70-plus), Sentinel, Shield Bash, Flash, Cures, Cover. As a NIN, I've got Provoke, Warcry (finally, at 70) and the meager damage from the elemental wheel and enfeebling ninjutsu, like Kurayami." Yes, two of those, please! But its delight is, nonetheless, infectious.

Leafy Pastures Of XBLA - Heaven For Indies?

fluffy.JPG We like the folks at Edge Online because they try to hew a little differently from your average 'OMG! PS360!' weblog. They also post material from the excellent mag of the same name, and the latest Edge feature to be posted is named 'Long Live Live Arcade', dealing with the Xbox 360's downloadable game service.

We particularly like that the article is honest about some of the current hurdles for the groundbreaking service: "There are still pitfalls to be negotiated: the interface will need some substantial revision as the service expands, and the arrival of weaker games like the relentlessly vapid Feeding Frenzy could possibly weaken confidence in the system."

But none other than the saintly Jeff Minter comments: “Live Arcade is pretty much the natural home for the likes of Llamasoft", and the conclusion is truly uplifting: "But if standards can be maintained and improved, and an increasing userbase matched with increasing publisher support, then Live Arcade stands a real chance of returning to the days when innovative games were sustainable for small-scale developers, and accessible to whole households of new players." Rejoice!



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Finger Gaming (news, reviews, and analysis on iPhone and iPod Touch games.)

GamerBytes (for the latest console digital download news.)

Worlds In Motion (discussing the business of online worlds.)


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