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April 1, 2006

GSW Recommendation: Don't Beat Up Beatmania

bm.jpg Most people have been shouting about Oblivion and Kingdom Hearts II recently, but a game sneaked out to U.S. retail this week that we have to point to - the U.S. debut of Beatmania, after a host of Japanese arcade titles, PlayStation and PlayStation 2 versions, and even a European version for the original PS1 Beatmania.

Now, it's pretty clear that the press aren't too impressed, with a distinctly disdainful GameSpot giving the title just 5.6 out of 10 ("Song list is wanting; controller doesn't make you feel like a dj; not worth the added cost"), and even the fans are mad.

But if you live near a Fry's Electronics, they have the bundle, including gorgeous controller, for $54.99, and honestly - if you haven't had a chance to play the Japanese PS2 versions of the Beatmania titles, prefer electronic to guitar freakishness and can get past some of the quirky J-cheese on the soundtrack, this is still seriously good fun. Plus, we're pretty sure the game will be difficult to get hold of soon in the controller bundle version, since it probably shipped in limited numbers.

[And if you really can't stand the U.S. version, get it anyhow for the controller, and go see Play-Asia, which has beatmania IIDX 9th Style for $39.99 on import, so there.]

The 8-Bit Artist Scrawls Into An Interview

mbison.jpgCarrying on with the game-art angle, The Little Mathletics blog continues to do some fun interviews, and the latest is with 'the 8-Bit Artist', someone who "has been painting authentic renditions of Nintendo games from the 8-bit era."

Some of the questions are a tad highbrow, such as whether the 8-Bit Artist's work is 'pop art' ("It could be claimed as pop art, some people might say it's just fan art. Painters have been doing similar stuff for a long time - maybe not video games specifically, but you know.")

But overall, it appears that, much like Warhol, the Artist's art may actually strike the dischordant note that all modern art needs to be hip ("I've had people tell me that what I'm doing is copyright infringement and that they are going to email Nintendo and tell them about me. Haha, I'm sure a possibly multi billion dollar corporation doesn't give a shit about little ole me painting some Nintendo dudes. Some people might think since I am just "copying", and that my stuff isn't original... I like the word "recreating".) There's more to see at his DeviantArt page and his MySpace blog.

Game Art Art Game Art Game?

excite.jpg Over at The-Inbetween.com, Mike Nowak has a thoughprovoking, vaguely snarling blog post on games as art, and why asking if they are is missing the point somewhat.

He notes on the whole odd 'are games art?' discussion: "It's already there. It doesn't matter if Hideo Kojima doesn't think games are art and says art is the stuff you find in the museum, whether it be a painting or a statue. The organizers of the "Controller" exhibit have already contradicted his statement by showcasing their work in a gallery. They have already turned classic games, like Super Mario Bros., into art (mario_battle_no.1) and into something entirely different in the same manner that LHOOQ turned a classic painting into its own distinct work of art."

Overall, Nowak concludes, stridently: "It doesn't matter whether the games of yore are art or were art. What matters is that there exists an entire generation of artists that grew up with them and continues to live with them. An entire generation defined by them. In their eyes, those games that resonate aren't just mindless entertainment, they're mythology... That's what makes game art. Not renders and sprites, but artists' interpretations of them; their reworking of the systems and rules of games; and their use of interactivity to make a statement." I say, a little intelligent fire is good for a 'debate' like this.

Splitfish Doublefists It With The GlideFX

splitfish.jpg Video game peripheral company SplitFish, which got a bunch of publicity earlier this year for a very Revolution-like lasertracking controller, sent us a press release about "its new PS2 and PS3 controller", the GlideFX (pictured).

According to the company: "The GlideFX features separate left and right hand grips, a track ball rather than the customary right stick and a game play sensitivity control that allows it to be tuned to the player’s preference", and is "part of the FX video game adapter series being developed by SplitFish in which each product is custom tailored for various types of video games."

So, apparently you need a different controller for each game genre, now? Apparently, so say the SplitFish guys: "The eyeFX 3D Adapter (as reviewed by I4U) is ideally suited for niche markets specifically for flight sims. The DualFX, with its laser guidance system is designed as the ultimate shooter controller. The GlideFX supports and is specifically designed for all other video games." And the mini trackball is definitely cute - look for it being demo-ed at E3.

March 31, 2006

COLUMN: 'Bastards of 32-Bit' - Fox Hunt

foxhunt1.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 covers Capcom's PlayStation title Fox Hunt, which debuted in September 1996 in North America.]

We don't need a spy, just...a guy.

We can look back and laugh now, but for whatever reason, full-motion video was at one time thought of as the future of gaming. Though it had its roots in the 1980s with arcade games like Dragon's Lair, FMV-based gameplay experienced a revival of sorts in the 90s, with the advent of the Sega CD and the release of infamous titles like Night Trap and Sewer Shark.

The trend continued on through the introduction of the Sony PlayStation. Early releases for the console included upgraded ports of FMV-based shooters like Novastorm and Starblade Alpha, and many titles persisted in the inclusion of live-action video cutscenes. To the horror of gamers burned by consoles like the Sega CD and the Philips CD-i, it seemed like FMV would never die.

Then, along came Fox Hunt.

foxhunt2.jpgSo good it'll save your life!

Despite FMV's bad reputation, Fox Hunt had a lot going for it. Developed by Capcom (yes, that Capcom!) for the Sony PlayStation, Fox Hunt was filmed with a budget of five million dollars, a huge amount in comparison to the money spent on the campy Digital Pictures FMV games of old. It's this budget that gave Fox Hunt its star power -- the game features actors George Lazenby and Rob Lowe in major roles -- and secured a soundtrack full of popular licensed music.

As a game, Fox Hunt was to be a multi-genre epic consisting of item collecting, puzzle solving, and shooting segments -- practically every gameplay element ever attempted in its FMV predecessors, except for perhaps Night Trap's vampire-trapping mechanic. If ever an FMV game could succeed and win over the bitter hearts of former Sega CD owners, it would be Fox Hunt.

from Fox Hunt to The West WingI'M HUNGRY

Naturally, Fox Hunt turned out to be one of the worst games of all time. Despite its promise, the game managed to cram the worst parts of every single FMV title ever made into one unplayable nightmare. The plot makes little sense. The puzzles make less sense. The shooting segments are almost impossible to play thanks to terrible controls, and otherwise talented actors are wasted in their brief appearances.

This is to say nothing of the full-motion video itself, which is three hours of the stupidest thing you will ever watch. Your jaw will go slack as you see your character clap his hands and laugh while he navigates a hospital maze in a rocket-powered wheelchair. You'll witness multiple "pull my finger" gags, one of which features the shocking twist of your character burping...and then farting! It's almost a shame that Fox Hunt is considered to be one of the rarest PlayStation games to ever be released, but then, this is probably for the best.

Despite -- or perhaps because of -- its flaws, Fox Hunt remains a significant piece of gaming history. As one of the last games of its kind to be released for any console, it can be assumed that Fox Hunt's failure was what finally put an end to FMV-based gameplay for good. For this, we can all be grateful. Thank you, Fox Hunt.

[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.]

Aidez Moi Dans Le War On Terror

wont.jpg We covered our delight/dismay about a PC game called 'The War On Terror' a few weeks back, and now, OGJ's bete noire Kieron Gillen has conducted a review of it for Eurogamer.

In the review, some of the politics of said title are made a little clearer: "Despite its 'torn from the headlines' name, it's not particularly weighted in the real world. It offers three sides to play on and a campaign of each to play through. That is, the World Forces (i.e. America and chums), The Order (i.e. non-threateningly unspecific group of Terrorists) and China (i.e. China)."

Unfortunately, the end result for the game is comments like this :"Then you start seeing past the programming faults and realise no-one in the design team had a clue either. The camera wobbles around aimlessly, with a tap of the cursor when fully zoomed out making it lurch far too much to be vaguely controllable", and a 2/10 score. Still, as one of the commenters points out: "Why does Eurogamer hate freedom?" Guys, didn't you hear 'we' won already?

Sound Games Are Poked, Prodded

blank.jpg Over at the Inverted Castle weblog, the 'video game blog necessary for 200% completion', they've been taking a look at audio-only games designed for the blind.

As the blog explains: "The first of these “audio only” games I discovered was Sonic Invaders, which plays sort of like an auditory version of Missile Command; X,C,V,Space,N,M, and < control your 180° array of guns, and as you hear incoming ships on your headphones you hit the key corresponding to the ship’s angle to fire at it. Later ships shoot back, and you need to hit B at the right time to raise your shield and deflect their shots."

Actually, a commenter on the blog post also points out some interesting legacy audio titles for consoles, noting: "Kenji Eno/Warp had some sound only games. One for the Saturn (called Real Sound - Kaze no Regret) and one for the Dreamcast (Real Sound 2 - which may never have been released)." Are there any other classic audio-only titles we're missing?

Grumpy Gamers Get Decisive, Dammit

lore.jpg The actually rather amusing Lore Sjoberg has a new column up over at Wired News, in which he burbles, in his own hirsute way: "Astonishingly enough, nobody asked me what I wanted to see in a next-generation video-game system. If only I had some sort of public forum in which to express my opinions."

There follows a number of things he felt that GDC and the game industry needs to address RIGHT THIS SECOND, but I'm afraid that Lore and GSW conflict in a major way on his distate for rhythm mini-games ("Long gone are the days in which all it took was a rapping dog and a catchy beat to grab my interest for hours on end"? Sjoberg, you gotta believe!).

But we are, at least, in line with his wish for more puzzle-adventure games ("If we can spare a few billion to make sure farina farmers don't go out of business, then by God we can spare some money to make sure we get a Monkey Island game every other year.") We think we know another Grumpy Gamer who would just adore that idea.

March 30, 2006

Gospel - The Game Of Champions?

treee.jpg Christian games are a favorite subject here at GSW, so we note with glee the press release announcing the new Gospel Champions PC game series from Silver Burdett Ginn Religion (which sounds like a liquor company, if ever we heard it!) and Third Day Games, Inc.

Apparently: "The new Gospel Champions series takes children back to biblical times by recreating Gospel stories in a state-of-the-art game that intertwines action/adventure gameplay with sequenced elements of Bible stories."

The gameplay is explained simply: "Children control their Zack or Mary Martha character to avoid adversaries and solve puzzles that lead them to an animation of each part of the story. Once they have found all the story elements, they then perform tasks related to the story. For example, they might bring five sick people to Jesus to be healed or help Zacchaeus pay back those he cheated." You also have to get people to come down from trees.

The official Gospel Champions website has more info, including preview screenshots for the missions, which include collecting bonus tokens to find out about the 'Saint Of The Month'. We kid you not.

Game Ads A-Go-Go: Proof that Video Game Companies Want You to Die

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 classic game magazine collection.]

At some point in the early nineties it became wildly fashionable for video game publishers to threaten your bodily health. Everything was "In Your Face!" and "Attitude!" and "Play it Loud!" which is exactly why I played it quietly. Unlike my other gaming brethren, I didn't want to die. And that, my friends, is why I am still here to bring you these next three examples of shameless attempts on gamers' lives.

"Kills Gamers Dead"

toxickonami_large.jpg

What at first seems to be a wonderful, helpful product from Konami turns out instead to be a deadly poison. As we saw last week, Konami clearly wants you to die. So they have no shame in putting out liquid video games with "toxic levels of excitement." That means, in plain terms, that they are trying to poison you to death. Their games also make you urinate uncontrollably ("32 Bladder Loosening oz."), but not because they're laced with diuretics. No -- it's just because you die.

This is Exactly Why I Don't Play Hockey

brethull_large.jpg

The ad doesn't spell it out explicitly, per se, but the game is actually about emergency dental surgery. Brett Hull, D.D.S. is a master in the field, and he wants to show you a few pointers on the trade (note the novocaine reference in the fine print). But he has a dark secret that you must discover over the course of your adventure: It turns out that the mad doctor gets his patients through rigged hockey games in which extremely pale Polish mobsters are dressed up as inconspicuous hockey players and paid to knock out your teeth.

Ok, you got me; I made most of that up. But I didn't make up the part about the Accolade-sponsored hockey player thugs that come to your house and knock out your teeth (while killing you) if you play this game. Apparently it's a great game, though -- you might just want to risk it. At the bottom, the ad proudly proclaims, "Any more realistic and you wouldn't want to play it." Presumably because, if it were any more realistic, you'd actually be playing hockey and there'd be no point. So right there, in ink, is concrete proof that the pinnacle of digital hockey simulation was achieved in 1995 with the game Brett Hull Hockey 95. Ever since, hockey game publishers have been working towards their inevitable extinction.

Push Your Friend Over The Edge (Really)

brainwash_large.jpg

So far we've seen that most video game companies don't pussyfoot around when it comes to murder; they just want to come out and kill you directly. But STD (the inventor of sexually transmitted diseases) and InterAct take a more subtle approach -- they want you to do the dirty deed yourself. Using the innocent-looking "Handy Boy" device shown in the lower right portion of the ad, they slowly and continuously brainwash you over a period of three to four weeks. You don't think anything is wrong at first and keep playing Tetris until 4 AM every morning. But one day, an arbitrary InterAct employee nonchalantly flips a tiny black switch in their corporate headquarters. You black out, and the next thing you know you're at a dangerous construction site pushing your best friend to his death in a wheelbarrow like a murderous zombie. Meanwhile, your other friend, who is not yet done with his murder training, just starts freestylin' off to the side -- rapping about your nasty grandma and how he rode the bus that day -- somehow adding a stomach-twisting Reservoir Dogs-style senselessness to the brutal-yet-carefree peer-on-peer violence.

I'm not sure how many of these Rube Goldberg murders InterAct pulled off, but in a twisted way I have to admire the sadistic ingenuity of their plan. Why they would advertise it and ruin the complex scheme, I don't know. Somehow, evil geniuses cannot resist bragging about the brilliance of their work, and as we well know, it always brings their downfall in the end.

...Except in the U.S., of course, when that end meets teenagers, who, (apparently) according to thorough focus group studies in the mid-1990s, thought life-threatening game companies were cool. It seems they were just giving gamers exactly what they wanted all along.

blowear_large.jpg

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

Experimental Gameplay Project Gets Competitive

towerofgoo.gif The excellent casual/Flash site JayIsGames has some new info on an Experimental Gameplay Competition, gleaned at last week's GDC in San Jose.

The original Project spawned a much-trafficked Gamasutra feature and a GDC talk (here's the slides), and the main protagonists are now part of the game industry, so, as Jay notes, "...the Experimental Gameplay Project has been so successful they are opening up the fun to anyone who wants to get involved! They are holding a 2-week game design competition to build a game based on the theme they will announce on April 1st at the Experimental Gameplay website."

As a result of this, "the top 5 competitors will receive an interview with THQ’s Heavy Iron Studios. One will be selected for a paid summer internship with the company." What a great prize for those looking to get into the biz. Personally, we're hoping all of the entered games could be as good as Tower Of Goo, but somehow we reckon that's wishful thinking.

GameVideos Is A Bouncing Baby Website

gamevids.jpg Looks like there's been a happy delivery over in the Ziff Davis offices, since game video site GameVideos.com is now live, in the customary 'Beta' format.

Thus far, we like the range of videos, including speed runs, that the site seems to promise, though we can't work out how to link into individual videos, and there are a few sound-enabled ads that are driving us a little batty - we hear they're working on it, though, and it's cool to see The 1UP Show get a suitable home.

We still dig the recently launched Eurogamer.tv's technology the best, in terms of smooth Flash-converted movies playing at high res without having to worry about having third-party movie codecs installed, though. But with user-contributed content and an easily navigable interface, we're pretty excited about GameVideos, too, quite apart from GameTrailers and the scads of other content sites with extra video all over them - let the battle commence.

Alt.Publishers - Here, There, And Everywhere

caves.jpg The indie, miniature, or otherwise 'niche' publisher is certainly starting to flourish in these 'end times' (joke!), and since a few have appeared over the past few days, weeks, and months, we thought we'd give them some brief shout-outs.

- Most obviously, you may have heard of Cinemaware Marquee, which is a slightly odd use of the classic 'It Came From The Desert' developer/publisher's name to brand 'indie'-style U.S. retail debuts for a number of interesting European-sourced PC titles, including Space Rangers 2 (though, according to several threads, it has the decidedly controversial StarForce copy protection on it), the wacky Neighbors From Hell, and a neat maritime-sim 3-pack.

- Also newly formed is Bay Area publisher Graffiti Entertainment, part of larger firm Signature Devices, and notable because it has signed South American GBA RPG Mazes Of Fate, a good-looking first-person dungeon crawler that is "the first Latin American game ever [officially] done for a Nintendo console."

- Finally, and somewhat controversially, there's mini-publisher Variant Interactive, who have set up with some grand plans, mentioning PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and Live Arcade debuts for some of its indie titles, including a claimed 2007 PSP release for a conversion of Cave Story, Pixel's beloved 'dojin' game. However, a stormy thread over at GAF alleges that "Pixel did not agree to give them any source code but didn't mind what they were doing under the assumption that it was going to be a freeware project." No confirmation to this, but we'd still love to see a souped-up Cave Story on handhelds.

March 29, 2006

GameSetQ: The Publisher Bankruptcy Sweepstakes?

bfish.gif Firstly, thanks to all of you for replying to the first ever GameSetQ, on Brain Age and your parents - a wide-ranging set of remarks concluded that, well, 'parents just don't understand', as far as them specifically buying a Nintendo DS to play the game. We'll see, eh?

Now, another timely question, spurred on by the continuing woes of publisher Infogrames and Atari, which have sold off a lot of their core assets as they struggle under long-term debt issues. They're not the only game publisher struggling a bit, either - Midway, while investing heavily in next-gen, is due to lose $66 million in 2006, after a $112.8 loss in 2005, and Majesco's fall from grace has been notable. So we're asking, simply:

"In 5 years time, which major game publishers will no longer exist as standalone entities, either because they are bankrupt, or because they've been acquired by other bigger fish, who've assumed control of their IP and management?"

You can be specific as to who you think might bust out, or just name the companies you think won't be around any more for whatever reason. And in 5 years time, we'll all dig out this thread and laugh.

COLUMN: 'Shmup Me Up, Buttercup' - Under Defeat's Spell

ud_logo.jpg ['Shmup Me Up, Buttercup' is a bi-weekly column by Jeremiah ''Nullsleep' Johnson, dealing with the latest shoot-em-ups, or shmups, from Japan and the West, and covering the frantically cultish game genre that refuses to die, despite many bullets aimed in its direction over the years.]

G.Rev Does It Again

In the last "Shmup Me Up" I made a point of mentioning the impending release of G.Rev's new shooter for the Dreamcast, Under Defeat. Those of you who took note and picked it up probably already know what I'm about to say. This game is brilliant. So brilliant in fact that I contemplated cancelling the column this week just to get more playtime in on it. But my loss is your gain, as I've recognized the importance of making it clear that you need this game, you need it so bad.

Pretty Pretty Boom Boom

ud_ss01.jpg The first thing that strikes you about this game is how absolutely polished it is. While graphics and audio are not necessarily the most important aspects of a shooter, it certainly doesn't hurt when a game looks and sounds as good as it plays. Under Defeat is polygon-based and has enough eye candy to easily stand alongside other wonderfully designed 3D shmups such as Gradius V and Ikaruga. The environments are diverse and detailed, with little elements that really add to the experience such as trees swaying from the force of explosions and cows falling over in shock during the first stage alone. Shoot an enemy helicopter while its sliding onto the screen and it wipes out, spinning and plummeting to it's death with a satisfying boom. Larger enemies and elements of destructible scenery produce plumes of dark smoke. Your secondary weapon emits a beep when it's ready to charge up and a metallic thud when it's locked and loaded, audio cues that help you keep your eyes on the action. And you've also got the option to play through the game with the original soundtrack or the excellent arranged soundtrack. It all helps to really enhance the mood of the game and get your adrenalin pumping.

Twist and Shoot

under_defeat.jpg Fortunately, Under Defeat has some great gameplay that lives up to the promise of it's graphics. Your helicopter is outfitted with front guns and a few of the standard screen-wiping bombs for escaping those tough spots. To supplement your main shot there is a secondary gunpod that delivers additional bursts of firepower and recharges when you stop shooting. The gunpod can be equipped with one of 3 different weapons. They range from the low-powered but quick-to-recharge vulcan, to a medium-powered cannon, and finally an impressively destructive high-powered rocket with a significant blast radius. If an enemy or object is destroyed by your gunpod its point value is doubled, making its use integral to playing for score. Another nice touch is the rotation of your helicopter either slightly towards or away from the direction you're moving in. Aggressive players will likely go for the first option, while the second offers a more intuitive approach if you're more likely to be shooting at things that you're running away from.

You Can Defeat Me All Day Long

Overall Under Defeat is a dream to play, and a pleasure to look at. The gradual increase in difficulty between levels, easy to grasp scoring system and flexible gameplay make it a great choice for beginners just learning to love bullets, and plenty of fun for veterans of the genre as well. G.Rev definitely has another hit on their hands here and their continuing support for the Dreamcast has gained them quite a loyal following. So if you're looking for some hot helicopter-on-helicopter action, this is where it's at. Glad that's done with, now I need to get back to playing.

[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.]

Preview Ho Digs Up Stinky Gumballs

spyspy.jpg So, you may remember that GSW was on the outraged side about James Wagner Au's new 'Preview Ho' column for Kotaku, which seemed to err on the 'death squad' side of judging game journalism.

Well, ol' Waggie, we take our hat off to you, you've discovered a genuinely disturbing online game site secret - the practice of selling 'gumballs' on the front page of major sites like GameSpot and GameSpy.

As the piece explains: "Gumballs are those thumbnail screenshots you see on the front page of GameSpot, when you visit the site— clicking on these takes you to an article about the game... In the GameSpot invoice I looked at, a gumball for two weeks cost the media buyer’s client over $7000." Au's source notes: “You can purchase messaging plus units that increase the likelihood of an article about your game showing up on their front page."

Though this isn't about the quality or otherwise of the previews (and our previous comments, that we feel the vast majority of previews are unbiased, stand), this seems, at least to me, to overstep the edit/advertising boundaries. I had no idea this was going on, and we've certainly never done it for Gamasutra (we have sponsored sections, like Nokia's on the front page right now, but they are clearly delineated with a dotted line and the word 'Sponsored' in the link.)

I'm aware that the content it links to isn't sponsored, but, for example, which of the article and/or trailer links on the front page of GameSpy has been paid to be fixed in place right now? All? None? Just.. yuck. If this is going to happen, there needs to be some indication that a sponsor has paid for increased prominence.

In Oblivion, Everyday Life Is Boring

obliv.jpg So, Dave Long's latest column over at GamerDad raises an interesting question about overly expansive video games, specifically brought up because of Bethesda's immensely popular Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion.

Long comments of Oblivion's extremely open game style: "...for all [Oblivion's] attempt at immersing me in its world--and let me tell you, I've been super immersed--the moment I get into the main plot and see that I can simply walk away from those events with no penalty, returning whenever I like and finding that time simply stood still, that immersion goes right out the window."

Of course, there's a logical fix for this, suggested by GamerDad: "So the question becomes, what if the world did go on without you? That brings up better and more intriguing possibilities, but a whole lot of extra work for the developers and designers. Walking away from a big fight should result in some kind of good or bad outcome of that fight. Without you, the townspeople should maybe lose the battle you decided was too heated for you, thus causing bad things to happen."

Or, playing devil's advocate, is that the kind of thing that you wouldn't expect to happen in an RPG, so it shouldn't? All we know is that modern games are complicacacacated.

Braid Creator Goes Painting, Raspberrying

paint.jpgYou might have heard of the rather intriguing Jon Blow from his work running the Experimental Gameplay Workshop at GDC, or his former code column for Game Developer magazine.

Even if not, then you might have spotted that his rather spectacular, rather mysterious time-reversing game, Braid (actually described in print by Tom Chick for Yahoo!, for those wondering what the heck it is about!), which won the 'Innovation In Game Design' award at this year's Independent Games Festival.

No demos of Braid are available yet, but we did find a game prototypes webpage on Jon's site, including such extremely cool downloadable Windows prototypes as Painter ("There are different critics with contradictory aesthetics who judge your painting, and you try to construct things that please enough of them to get by"), and Raspberry ("The goal of this game was to explore gameplay modeled as a time-based composition (the way music is).") Go check 'em out.

March 28, 2006

COLUMN: 'Parallax Memories'- Secret of Mana

SoMhead.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 Squaresoft’s action RPG: Secret of Mana, released for the Super Nintendo in late 1993 in the U.S. and Japan, and debuting later in 1994 in Europe.]

Turned into a Moogle!

Secret of Mana is a game that started its heritage as a Final Fantasy title in the U.S. Released stateside as Final Fantasy Adventure, Seiken Densetsu for the Game Boy is the first title in the “Mana” series of games. While it never felt like a Final Fantasy game, I did enjoy it. Little did I know that it was part of its own series until my discovery on the internet years later.

Released in late 1993 for the SNES, Secret of Mana (Seiken Densetsu 2) is one of Squaresoft’s most colorful and aesthetically pleasing games. The music, created by Hiroki Kikuta, is extremely well implemented and memorable. It ranges from haunting and unsettling to exhilarating and fun, yet is always fitting for the mood and setting of each well crafted area.

1.pngA Boy, a Girl, and a Sprite

The game starts with you and your friends on a treasure hunt over a river, next to a waterfall. The sun is out and you’re without a care in the world. One wrong move and you find yourself in the river, only able to return home by taking the sword in a nearby stone and chopping your way through the forest. Unbeknown to you, these actions result in the return of all evil to the land and the leaching of Mana energy from the world.

After finding that the sword is the Sword of Mana and being exiled from your town, you decide to stop the evil forces that have arisen. On your quest you pick up a sprite that has lost its memory and a girl who is trying to find her true love.

Like a good team, even after you’ve helped them solve their problems they will stay with you. Unfortunately, the story was poorly translated, and at times is somewhat confusing, but it’s not the focus of the game anyway.

2.jpgLaunched From a Cannon

The game takes you over many different beautifully designed locations, each filled with unique enemies and tons of boss battles. The story is just a tool to make you a tourist in this lovely world.

The real joy comes from playing the game itself: mastering the use of three characters if you are playing by yourself, or learning to play well other people controlling each character in the team.

The action element lends itself quite well to the strategy of RPGs in Secret of Mana. The ability to play with more than one person is just icing on the cake. The overall package--gameplay, music, graphics and story--is not one to be missed; even if the story is a weak link.

[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.]

XYZZY Ranks Top Text Adventures For 2005

r360.jpg Those good folks at Adventure Gamers have spotted an important event in the interactive fiction world that we missed - the XYZZY Award winners for 2005!

As AG points out: "Leading the pack with four of the ten awards was Jason Devlin's Vespers - a monastery-set game with multiple endings - which was also the winner of this year's Annual Interactive Fiction Competition, while group effort Beyond triumphed in the "best story" and "best individual puzzle" categories."

Personally, we kinda enjoy the idea of Tough Beans, by Sara Dee, for which, as a recent review explains: "Tough Beans does a better job of describing a day where everything just goes wrong than does Son of a...(another entry in this year’s competition). The story hints at something deeper." We like it when things go wrong! Also, apparently, points in the game [MINOR SPOILER ALERT!] "...are awarded in situations where Wendy shows some backbone, spunkiness, cleverness, etc." Which is conceptually neat.

Gamer's Quarter Debuts Issue 5

gq5.jpg Just before the weekend, an alert went out - there was nothing that could be done, but the new 5th issue of The Gamer's Quarter, sporting an "enormous 114 page monster of goodness" in terms of old, 'new', and busted game writing, had debuted.

It turns out you can also pre-order a print version of the issue, but for those just content to download the PDF [.ZIP], this will also work perfectly well for you.

Our favorite section is probably 'Phoenix Wright and the Turnabout Hair-Burger' by Mariel "Kinoko" Cartwright and Jonathan "Persona-Sama" Kim, another delightfully deranged comic.

But 'Not New Games Journalism Manifesto' by J. R. "Mr. Mechanical" Freeman, which talks to Kieron Gillen and Jeremy Parish (though apparently without the latter's permission to reprint), is a reasonably fun jaunt through hilarious navel-gazing, for old time's sake. We at GSW are currently practicing Fossilized Game Journalism, incidentally. The Black Belt 'Toasty' version.

Gizmondo Gets 'True GameTrailers Story'

gizcake.jpg Unfortunately, our extensive Gizmondo coverage has pretty much slowed to a stop, much like Stefan Eriksson's Ferrari Enzo, post-impact, but that didn't stop the MTV-owned GameTrailers site from posting a detailed video on the Gizmondo farrago that we've just spotted.

The account is particularly handy because it repurposes a lot of CNN footage from the original crash, including lots of spectacular overhead helicopter shots of the crash scene, as well as re-highlighting the mysterious 'Dietrich', whom we at GSW are still obsessed with. In any case, it's great to see a pictorial version of all that stuff we've been writing about.

[Oh, while we're here, and didn't previously get a chance to blog this, tech weblog Engadget had a geek birthday cake competition a few days back, and one of the featured cakes was a totally awesome Gizmondo-themed one, with a Ferrari cake ripped in half, a fake electricity pole, a miniature bottle of whiskey, and even a confectionary Gizmondo. NIce going!]

March 27, 2006

GameSetQ: A Brain Age For Your Parents?

btrain.jpg So, we thought we'd try something new, in additional to our columns and other shenanigans - a daily question to be answered by GameSetWatch readers in the comments of this lovable weblog, and in some way related to the day's gaming issues.

The very first one deals with Nintendo's Brain Age, the DS title inspired by the research of Professor Ryuta Kawashima, a prominent Japanese neuroscientist, and discussed in some depth by Satoru Iwata in last week's GDC keynote - the series has collectively sold well over 5 million copies in Japan, and comes to the U.S. next month - with some of us already toting our free GDC copies. The question is:

"Do you think your mother and/or father would appreciate playing Brain Age? In fact, will your dear parents usher in the mainstream game age by buying a DS just to play Nintendo's brain teasers, like in Japan?"

I'm totally going to cheat by making the first comment to give my own answer, but we promise not to post any other replies under ridiculous pseudonyms - all of those belong to you!

COMIC: The Multicart Project: Part Three

punchouticon.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 - check out the full comic archives so far.

In part three, Little Mac from Punch-Out sticks and moves his way into our hearts, again. Let's watch, won't we?

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[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.]

Michael Jackson's Secret Sonic 3 Shame

sonic3.JPG Over at the increasingly vital YouTube, there's a new fan-made video exploring Michael Jackson's contribution to the Sonic 3 soundtrack, a concept that at first sounds wacky, but, when confronted with overt musical evidence, notably less so.

The detective work surrounding the video started after an interview with Roger Hector of Sega, in which he revealed: "Sonic 3 (also called Sonic & Knuckles) was a lot of fun, but it was also very difficult. Michael Jackson was originally brought in to compose all the music for the game, but at the very end, his work was dropped after his scandals became public. This caused a lot of problems and required a lot of reworking. But the game turned out great in the end."

Thus, the video, a transcript for which is available on the same forums, and which notes, among other things, that the "...piece of music played at the end of Sonic 3, bears a strong resemblance to the michael jackson song 'Stranger In Moscow'", and that "In the Sonic and Knuckles collection [for PC], some of the music has been replaced... All these tracks in the original Sonic 3 have one thing in common, they all use various "Hey" and "Go" type vocal sounds, which is a trademark of Michael Jackson." Yay, conspiracy theories are plenty of fun, and this one seems on the money.

Classic Brochures Still Being Digitized

aic.JPG Great Scott! We first mentioned Jason 'Textfiles.com' Scott's new Digitize.textfiles.com classic print brochure scans a few days back, and he's been adding even more great stuff since then, so let's check back in.

We particularly enjoy the 1983 Adventure International print brochure, for "the Scott Adams-helmed Software publishing house (1979-1984). Includes the Scott Adams adventures, video games, strategy games, financial software, utilities, and additional adventure games or game development kits."

Also neeto, though, is the 1983 Sierra On-Line Hi-Res Adventures Promotional Catalog, "an introduction to the Hi-Res series of adventure games by a mysterious Host who travels through time and space to sell you games." Interestingly, one of the ads is for the video game version of The Dark Crystal, the classic Henson film, converted to home computer by Roberta Williams, and sometimes forgotten nowadays. Keep up the great work, Jason.

March 26, 2006

Shifted Librarian Keeps Shifting Into Gaming

libr.jpg A particularly interesting subject is the use of video games in libraries, as recently covered in a Gamasutra wrap-up of the Gaming, Learning, and Libraries Symposium. Now, Jenny at The Shifted Librarian is organizing the troops around gaming and libraries, making for even better news.

She notes: "We've had trouble moving the discussion forward on the Gaming in Libraries website due to a lack of staff time and resources, so I ended up deciding that we should just put all of the wiki-style information on Meredith's already-oh-so-wonderful LibSuccess site. It made sense to take advantage of such a great, existing resource and that way, we'd be part of a larger community."

Jenny continues: "I finished editing the Gaming section to add entries for every library that came to the March Gaming SIG at MLS that is doing some type of gaming (video, board, card, etc.) and that gave me some info about it." This is totally great work, and very much to be applauded, as games move into public spaces in a variety of neat ways.

Mega64 Goes GDC, GRAW, OMGWTF

ico.jpg We mentioned this briefly earlier in the week, but we were delighted that the Mega64 guys showed some spectacularly funny Season 2 previews (including some totally great Luigi's Mansion and Ico sketches) at the Game Developers Choice Awards [UPDATE - just noticed GameDev.net has a nice pictorial awards write-up] in San Jose last week - we also got to say hi to them, and were oddly more fanboy about them than when meeting any game creators.

As Dr. Poque notes on his blog: "The Shadow of the Colossus/Ico team thanking us in their acceptance speech was one of the best moments of my entire life. I'm still glowing after it." You can see a tiny, tiny teaser for the Ico sketch in the Mega64 Season 2 trailer on their official site - though the fake Season 2 trailer is possibly better, haw.

Finally, on the newly released Mega64 front - Xbox 360 Live has these for download, but YouTube also has them - the Mega64 guys' Crosscom promotional trailers, in two parts, for Ubisoft's Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter. More great stuff, and as far as we're concerned, these people still need to be given a cable TV show, like, yesterday.

Wired Gets It Wright

wright.jpg So, the new April 2006 issue of Wired Magazine has made it into stores, and it's guest curated by The Sims and Sim City's maestro Will Wright, who appears on the cover with Spore-mirrored sunglasses.

One of the articles already posted online from the issue is Wright's editorial on how games help, explaining: "Just watch a kid with a new videogame. The last thing they do is read the manual. Instead, they pick up the controller and start mashing buttons to see what happens. This isn't a random process; it's the essence of the scientific method."

Also up is a piece by Steven Johnson, which intriguingly claims of the big online game worlds of MMOs and commerce: "There is reason to believe that the divided metaverse is merely a transi­tional phase, and that its component worlds will coalesce." Oh, and a mini-article on 'one-minute games' by the writer of this GSW post, if you'll forgive the self-reference. In any case, fun stuff!

COLUMN: 'The Gaijin Restoration' - Chair Chasers

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 Konami Computer Entertainment School Osaka Laboratory's Team Wife of Estate's Chair Chasers [UPDATE: Here's the download link], which was made available on the interweb in 2002 for the PC and is a mouthful to present.]

You Had Me At Chair

Nintendo has Digipen. Their students slave away each year, and maybe we'll get a Rumble Box or two. A nifty aesthetic, a cool idea, a winning design; but I ask where's the heart? It's in Japan. Konami has their Osaka school, whose tutelage berthed The Time Wife of Estate, a most excellent moniker, and an excellent developer with the vision to bring the world the much needed Chair Chasers. A lengthy, narrated tale unfolds of a slain CEO, a battle for power, some sort of tie in with ancient Egypt and a simple warning that one's butt must not leave the chair. From there the game let's you choose from several protagonist - elderly salary man, secretary, company mascot, etc, and it's off to race!

Ancient Egyptians made the pyramids because they were in a congolmerate.  And they sat on chairs

Now to be fair, the narration is muted (and spoken with an odd, effected English,) the story ridiculous, the textures simple and the game short, but like a three legged canine at a dog show, this baby's got heart. In spades.

When Feats of Strength Are Not Enough

chair5.jpgChair Chasers is to be taken at face value: a kart racer, a student project made with love and polished with apple sauce for the teacher. With games like Stretch Panic being called glorified tech demos, I'm not sure how to pigeonhole something like Chair Chasers. It's very short at three tracks, but each follows golden threads of game design, adding more complexity and perfect little moments, that will bring back the smiles. Level one is fairly simple and lets you get used to the control for your character, as their feet kick around corners, and race towards power-ups including homing AIBOs, force fields and fan propulsion systems. The second stage features the dreaded staircase. The butts don't leave the seats, but each character has their own unique and humorous way to make it up the flight. Level three, the final race, is labrynthine in design and nefarious in implementation, with office doors blocking paths, shutting and opening at random. The highlight is a massive ramp that gives way to a 180 degree camera sweep as the avatar and competitors take to the air and strike some poses, with chair in tow. It's reminiscent of Sonic Adventure's first level race with the whale. Non interactive, but seamlessly intergrated, quick, and overly pleasant. Again, I'm smiling.

Each would-be CEO has a unique control scheme. Some make wide turns, others stop on a dime. Some clamber up the staircase fast, others plod on. When they wipe out, get pummeled by an exploding poodle or what have you, they each act accordingly, my favorite being the mascot having to make like the exorcist girl, and turn his head completely around. It's these little touches that we take for granted in big studio developed games. There is a near Miyamoto-esque attention to wonder.

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Still, In The End...

...it's a little game about racing chairs. While I still marvel at all the little touches, and how it just makes me smile. It takes a certain type of PC game to really feel console-y, and a lot of them are Japanese games. The consummate Cave Story, another Japanese developed PC game, is the last one that truly gave me that feeling. There's something accessible, and magical. When was the last time you actually thought about how down right weird Super Mario Bros. was? On the reverse, a lot of US developed console games are starting to feel like PC games. Did anybody play Sudeki? Well, no matter.

[UPDATE: Thanks to commenter Trifle, we've found a download link to grab Chair Chaser. In addition, we also have a video containing an edited open and some gameplay, as well as the CESA info page for Chair Chasers, a game that guarantees a smile and the obvious wtf.

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[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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