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Archive For March, 2006

Why HUDs Matter, Truly, Madly, And Deeply

March 14, 2006 8:04 AM | Simon Carless

ninjag.jpg Clive Thompson's latest column over at Wired News discusses the role of the HUD in modern video gaming, and actually acts as a partial rebuttal to a recent Gamasutra article that suggested minimizing on-screen icons and info was the way to go.

Au contraire, says Thompson: "I actually think our HUDs are a deeply impressive achievement -- gaming's contribution to the art of information delivery. The gaming HUD is not merely some ugly, artificial kluge. It's a triumph of data engineering. After all, a good HUD allows you to juggle a ridiculously huge amount of information."

He gives a good example of why HUDs matter, too: "Consider one of my favorite action-games, Ninja Gaiden. The HUD lets me monitor how much health I've got left, how relatively long my health bar is, how much ninja power I have left and how much health my boss-fight enemy has -- all while I'm frantically bouncing backward off the heads of my enemies. This is a superhuman feat of concentration, people; it's about four times as much information as I process at my work desk, even on a good day." So... HUDs - love 'em or leave 'em?

GameTap Gets Specific With Uru, Neo Geo

March 14, 2006 3:11 AM | Simon Carless

bbstars.jpg Though we already covered subscription gaming service GameTap's alleged new additions for March, but just a brief note, since they just sent us a 'Heads Up Monthly' newsletter with precise info about some of the new titles.

Firstly, the featured new game for the month is Uru: Ages Beyond Myst, which we recently covered for its Cyan-impelled online resurrection (though it's unlikely the GameTap version could, uhh, 'tap' into that easily), and also other brand new you're retro titles loaded onto GameTap, which now has 394 playable games, include Sim Safari and Quest For Glory I-III, yay.

Also coming down the pipe on March 16th are Altered Beast, Golden Axe & Virtua Fighter from Sega (with target platforms unspecified), and, probably the biggest news of all, on March 29th: "Neo Geo debuts on GameTap with Baseball Stars Professional." Thus, this a whole new hardware platform for play and delection - are Metal Slug and some classic fighters coming soon? We can only hope.

COMIC: The Multicart Project: Part One

March 13, 2006 10:21 PM |

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 first action-packed installment, David Crane's A Boy and his Blob, co-stars of David Crane's David Crane's A Boy and his Blob, arrive at The Project and await their strange and horrible destinies!

mp01.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.]

Xbox 360 Gets Faceplates, Faceplates, Faceplates

March 13, 2006 5:21 PM | Simon Carless

xbface.jpg Over at Hexus.net, they have news that the Xbox 360 faceplate biz is about to get much freakier, since Chinese company Jetion, which runs the Game210.com website, is now showcasing prototypes of 3D bas-relief X360 faceplates.

The faceplates, which are being shown at CeBIT 2006 in Germany, would likely need HR Giger-licensing before actually being produced, as Hexus suggests, but it's clear that the era of the collectible faceplate is well and truly among us - anyone know of a website that's collecting and listing all the variants, both first-party and third-party?

In fact, quite apart from the retail faceplates, oddities such as a faceplate that was part of the Gorillaz designers' art collage for the X360's UK launch, plus the inevitable exclusive Zero Hour faceplate are regularly changing hands for largish sums on eBay. Now there are pre-order faceplates too, will the madness ever stop?

MIT Press Gets Second Person Gaming Down

March 13, 2006 11:03 AM | Simon Carless

planetfall.jpg Over at academic-oriented game blog Grand Text Auto, blogger Noah Wardrip-Fruin has revealed info on a new MIT Press book, 'Second Person: Role-Playing and Story in Games and Playable Media', which compiles some interesting writers and academics to discuss video games in book form.

This comes after the release of 'First Person' from MIT Press, now out in paperback, which perhaps tended a little further toward the ludogolical, and includes contributions by interesting characters including Chris Crawford, Will Wright, and Eric Zimmerman, all hopping around to create "a series of discussions among creators and theorists".

As for 'Second Person', some of the highlights of the included articles look to include: 'The Sands of Time: Crafting a Videogame Story' by Jordan Mechner, 'The Creation of Floyd the Robot in Planetfall' by Steve Meretzky, and Chris Crawford on 'Deikto: A Language for Interactive Storytelling', alongside a lot more material. Actually, the MIT Press has been putting out some smart game-related books of late, if you can stand a little theory with your game writing, what with Jesper Juul's Half-Real and the actually neat Game Design Reader from Eric Zimmerman and Katie Salen.

EDITORIAL: Blogging Down The House - Who's Zooming Who?

March 13, 2006 5:12 AM | Simon Carless

blogging.jpg So, video game blog Kotaku has a new feature up, named 'Blogging Down The House', that apparently heralds a new 'Preview Ho of the Month' feature on the website, which will be "a compilation of the most egregious, blatant promotion for unreleased games from across the gaming press", announced in a feature that begins: "Why do games, for the most part, unrelentingly suck such ass?"

The article's author, Wagner James Au, is a former in-house and current out-of-house blogger for 'virtual world' Second Life, and is, to be honest, a bit of a long-time critic of the mainstream game biz. In reviewing E3 2001 for Salon, he suggested that the game business was "still grossly unprepared for the mainstream, a disreputably grab-ass, twerpy adjunct to the real media." Even more stridently, in a follow-up article on the Columbine massacre for Salon in 1999, he stoked the game violence connection quite ably by suggesting: "Knowing the dark urges these games evoke in me, I can easily picture Klebold, Harris and all their pathetically savage predecessors, slack-jawed before their PCs and game consoles, misappropriating them to dress-rehearse the revenge melodrama they've already scripted in their heads." Nice.

Now, I've already mailed Au to point out that Dan Hsu's previously GSW-referenced rant on magazines trading ad space for reviews was published in EGM, despite him saying that it "didn’t show up in game magazines", and honestly, I think major Slashdot threads and a massive 78-comment VGMWatch thread about the story doesn't qualify for making it something that "most of the gaming press cravenly failed to follow up on."

But, putting aside that story, and bearing in mind that I may be more of a 'glass half-full' guy than Au, here's the important point. I have the April 2006 issue of Official U.S. PlayStation Magazine here next to me, and sorry - the previews just aren't "groveling" or "hyping crap". For Midway's Stranglehold, for example, the most judgmental line I can find is: "Besides the Hollywood treatment, the core game will be third-person action title, replete with guns, bullet time... and even vehicles." That's a description, not a rave. And we at GSW recently discussed how video game magazines genuinely seem to be evolving, as more mature gamers demand more considered, expansive editorial.

Now, I'm not saying that there aren't video game previews, or even reviews, that aren't off-base. Everyone makes mistakes, as Au himself admits. But in suggesting that: "Bloggers have transformed the mainstream media... US politics... and Hollywood... It is time for blogs to do the same thing for the game industry, breaking the closed circuit of suck once and for all", this is where Au loses me.

Attacking the integrity of video game journalists will not magically make video games 'better', in some kind of tremendous cacophonous upswell. Here's the truth of the matter - good game writing is out there, and video game creativity and innovation will continue to exist, both on the risk-happy indie game scene, and even in many mainstream games, despite the financial factors which favor risk aversion - as a random example, try the analog punch controls in Fight Night Round 3. With the genesis of aggregated game rankings and the Internet, previews surely aren't the root of all evil when it comes to misguided buying decisions.

And, since I feel Au is picking up on a larger trend, there is no absolute death of creativity to go alongside the industry's financial issues right now - there wasn't in 1983, and there wasn't in 1994/5, and there isn't now. In fact, we should be criticizing constructively, as we also try to do on sister pubs Gamasutra and Game Developer magazine, and helping to meld a better industry through coherent discussion.

My view is that we should collectively be highlighting intelligent writing from Computer Games Magazine, The Escapist, OPM and the multitude of online sources that GameSetWatch covers daily, and helping to break indie and mainstream games that startle and innovate, rather than finding a different shaped stick to bash game journos (and, by inference, the game industry) over the head with. Sure, it's not perfect out there, but isn't it more fun to try to build the new world together than to break the existing one down for no good reason?

[UPDATE: Over at QT3, Tom Chick has a slightly different rebuttal, suggesting: 'I never thought I'd say this, but Wagner James Au has a point. It's not a very good point. And it's not particularly well thought out. In fact, I'm not even sure it's the point he's trying to make.']

Pac-Man Pops Up On Google Maps, Waka Waka

March 12, 2006 11:09 PM | Simon Carless

pacfield.jpg Now here's a light-hearted post for a Sunday evening - the excellent Google Sightseeing website, subtitled 'Why bother seeing the world for real?', has posted satellite-snapped pictures of a giant Pac-Man crop circle, complete with dots (and presumably not 'power pills', as GS suggests, since any fule kno you don't get two of them in a row!)

Looks like the field in question is just outside Reading in England, and apparently, the Google Sightseeing folks have spotted the great yellow one before in field irrigation designs, noting in terribly geeky fashion: "From all the way up here, it looks like some sort of cool pixel-art."

Oh, and a plea for help - while we were Googling for context on this piece, we spotted a news item about a themed Pac-Man wedding from 1982, from a couple who "met, dated and fell in love playing Pac-Man". Apparently: "Not only were the aisles adorned with Pac-Man popcorn balls, the 450-pound wedding cake had four-foot high figures of Mr. and Mrs. Pac-Man kissing on a tall pedestal overlooking a simulated playing field of the popular video game." Where are they now? Are there any pictures of the wedding? We must know.

COLUMN: 'The Gaijin Restoration' - Notam of Wind

March 12, 2006 7:31 PM |

Notam1.jpg["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 Artdink's Notam Of Wind, released in Japan in September 1997.]

Up, Up And Away?

A good friend of mine had taken several hot air balloon lessons, and at one point was studying to get her hot air balloon license. She passed on 2 notes of interest to me. One, hot air balloons gets priority above all other flying vehicles at airports, and this fact, perhaps, fueling the second: you have no direct control over the X or Y axis planes of a hot air balloon. All you guide is the Z, with instruments and instincts for the prevailing crosswinds for compensation. But its pretty much all up. And down. (She never did get her license, but did go on to make flying robots.)

Notam2.jpgKaze no Notam is a game about going up and down. It's a vaguely realistic hot air balloon game from designer Artdink, the proto-masters of the none-game-game (Tail of the Sun, A-Train, plus the recently GSW-covered puzzle title No One Can Stop Mr. Domino.) This 1997 PlayStation release lets you design your balloon, choose an exotic location, time of day, music and weather for three different scenarios. Try to hit a target on the ground with a limited amount of green sandbags or drop three of these green slugs in a triangular formation and see how much surface area was covered. But if hitting stationary targets and, uh, surface area, don’t float your balloon, you can go ‘wolf hunting’ as you try to peg down floating kappa, penguins and other Macy’s Day Parade floats gone awry.

Drifting Through The Skies

If you just want to tread the air, the visuals will keep you company, as well as the gentle music selection. Though presented with first generation graphics from a 1997 game, the fluid 3D world and capable camera gel nicely with the leisurely pace. The weather effects and subtle use of the sun also bring a serene, naturalistic atmosphere to the blocky cities and football fields you pass over. I could almost see the terrain populated by MuuMuu. A first person mode is activated when you decide to drop some sandbags. And above all, the CD case is the real design winner, with the beautiful Engrish phrase “Did you luxuriate in the wind?” written on the flat end of the spine.

On a language front, Notam is an easy entry for import. The menus have copious amounts of English, and the controls are what you would expect: you can flame on to rise and release some of the hot air to lower yourself. Your instrumentation shows you the current wind directions for particular altitudes (and your balloon's altitude) on the right hand of the screen, while a compass sits at the top and a mini map on the left. A more detailed map gets its own dedicated button. The compass responds to how you position the camera, so if you want a keep a direction as relative North (and you will) there enters a bit of dexterity with a dash of cinematography.

notam3.jpg

Surf The Wind, But Mind The Time

Despite the charming and leisurely flow of the game, a constant time limit is always taunting, dogging and failing you. For such a laid back experience, where you literally expect to go wherever the wind takes you, it’s really a sadistic feature, especially for the Rounds option which asks for more specific goals within the three tasks. The Wind itself is a harsh mistress, that will repeatedly beat you mad north, northwest when all you want to do is go south by southwest and listen to some music.

It's an interesting entry in Eastern game design that would never fly (hover?) over in the Territories. Still, with the exception of the Rounds' requests, I’ve put hours into conquering all of the challenges through snow, sleet, and sunset as the games holds up the mirror of nature with the unforgiving wind, and the tenacity of man with the damnable time limit. In all, a zen-like amusement that won’t let you reach Nirvana.

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

notam-tag.jpg

Flooded With Interest About Fl0w

March 12, 2006 2:57 PM | Simon Carless

fl0w.gif Worth throwing out, even as it's currently marauding up Digg, is the Flash game named Fl0w, which also comes in downloadable PC/Mac formats, created by USC's Jenova Chen with Nicholas Clark as part of their MFA thesis.

The 'Flow in Games' messageboards are rapidly filling up, and the ever-dependable Jayisgames also picked up on the title, describing it as "...a mesmerizing game of primordial life, evolution and survival. Dive deep into the wild blue to seek out and consume other organisms on your path to simple cell nirvana." Mm, cell nirvana.

In fact, running a vaguely Spore-like concept against Electroplankton-ish visuals, the neat-looking abstract title, made by one of the creators of Cloud, the innovative IGF Student Showcase winner, has very simple instructions, to wit: " What am I supposed to do? * Dive deep into the space, eat, and evolve." We like it a lot.

Why The X360 And Co-Op Are New Best Friends

March 12, 2006 9:51 AM | Simon Carless

graw.jpg Over at GamerDad, long-time columnist Dave Long has a piece discussing the idea of 'the new co-op trend', subtitled: "Before 360, it really wasn't about playing together. But rather about beating each other, killing each other, crushing each other under the heel of a boot."

So, what's he talking about? Well: "In a trend that will hopefully continue throughout the life of the system, game makers are suddenly offering the one thing PC gamers have clamored for ever since Doom: Cooperative Gameplay Modes. Good ones. The most recent example is the game I've been playing the most since Wednesday, Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter."

In fact, Long suggests of the game: "The solo missions are a graphically rich jaunt through Mexico City that I've only spent the briefest amount of time with thanks to the superb multiplayer flip side of the game", and further points out: "Ghost Recon isn't the only 360 game that's got co-op. Perfect Dark Zero is improved some by featuring that gameplay mode too. Kameo: Elements of Power also has a co-op feature. It's gotten to where Microsoft now has it as an official bullet point entry on some game boxes if the game has the feature." Anyone else got fave X360 co-op modes?

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