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April 8, 2006

Stealing Around In Super Stealball

stealball.jpg It's been a while since we featured Matt Wegner's super-fun physics game blog Fun-Motion, but now he's back with a review of Rag Doll Software's title Super Stealball for PC and Mac, which is, well, physics-crazy.

As Matt explains: "The rules of Super Stealball are simple. Each arena has 2-4 ragdolls and a ball. If you touch the ball it changes to your color until someone else touches it. Retain control of the ball for long enough and you pass the level."

Sporting some crafty AI, a free demo version, and at just $4.95 for the full PC SKU (a price currently shared by the also very cool Ragdoll Masters, this looks like a fascinating indie buy - Matt comments of the title that "...on the whole you generally achieve a state of flow and stare thoughtless at the monitor. It’s like playing in a very engaging physical sport. You simply do."

Henk Rogers Talks Tetris, Tetris, Tetris

tetris.jpg So, Henk Rogers is a very interesting person indeed - the original businessman who licensed Alexey Pajitnov's Tetris for the Game Boy, the co-owner of The Tetris Company, and most recently an ever richer man after his mobile company's sale to Jamdat, and that company's sale to Electronic Arts.

So, we're delighted to see an in-depth interview with Rogers over at Planet GameCube, in which some fascinating details are discussed, including the 'guidelines' for the Tetris franchise: "We have a minimum bar that we create every year, called the Tetris Guideline, and that guideline is the minimum spec for which someone has to create Tetris. And we raise that bar every year. Part of what we do in the guideline, for example, is dictate which buttons do what."

In fact, Rogers is surprisingly clear-headed, even Machiavellian about the whole thing: "We have two kinds of licenses: ones that makes us money, and one that helps move Tetris forward, and Nintendo [for Tetris DS] is one that actually does both. On the ones where the licensee is just in it for the money, we tell them what to do." Lots more great specifics elsewhere in the interview, too.

Artists Crack the Game Code, Tell All

mash.jpg We don't often cross-reference features on sister game development site Gamasutra (mainly because we presume that you read it anyhow - you'd better!), but up today is a particularly GSW-relevant feature, a set of interviews with the ' Controller: Artists Crack the Game Code' artists.

What's that, then? Let us excerpt: "An exhibition held at the InterAccess Media Arts Centre in Toronto, Ontario between February 25th and March 25th 2006, Controller: Artists Crack the Game Code displayed the works of artists working in the field of video game modification. While some installations exploited inherent flaws of games to create artistic glitches, such as the Radical Software Group's Prepared Playstation, or Tasman Richardson's Atari videos, others had taken a more hands-on approach, from Myfawny Ashmore's Mario NES hacks, to Prize Budget for Boys' arcade machine recreations."

We probably like Ashmore's reply discussing feedback on her Mario-related work the best: "Some people get mad at what I've done, like it's video game blasphemy or something. One guy came up to me and yelled at me and said "Why did you do that? You ruined it!" as thought I had permanently altered his relationship to the game, which if I had, was impressive to me. Some really get into the existential aspect of it. Some just think it's funny, which it also is. I'm happy with any of those reactions, as long as no blocks come flying through my window."

GameTap Adds Capcom Classics

gtap.jpg So, a few people seem to have started caring about GameTap since its price reduction to $9.99 per month, and the GameTap website is, for whatever reason, kinda bad about passing on the latest in-network promotions, so we'll keep posting pertinent info as we get it.

This time, we'd already noted that Ghosts 'n Goblins (Capcom) and its sequel Ghouls 'n Ghosts (Capcom), as well as Darkstalkers: The Night Warriors (Capcom) had appeared, but now it's Capcom Week, and the following arcade emulated games have also been added to GameTap: "Street Fighter II Champion Edition, 1941: Counter Attack, Commando, Exed Exes (Savage Bees), Knights of the Round, Magic Sword - Heroic Fantasy, Mega Twins / Chiki Chiki Boys, Mercs / Commandos 2, and Trojan."

You know, that's pretty cool, particularly Knights Of The Round, which is a totally fun Final Fight-style medieval brawler. Also Mega Twins - plenty of cuteness! Oh, and apparently SNK week is "coming soon", so as soon as we find out what the heck's getting posted then (it's totally going to be Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon 2003, we think), we'll get back to you.

April 7, 2006

COLUMN: 'Bastards of 32-Bit' - Bulk Slash

bulkslash1.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 focuses on Hudson's Bulk Slash for the Sega Saturn, which was released in July 1997 in Japan.]

Not your grandma's mech game.

I don't get mech games. I can't find the fun in Virtual On, the complexity of the Armored Core series scares the hell out of me, and even though Carnage Heart would be a perfect fit for this column, I just can't make myself play it. I'm not quite sure why, but it seems like the appeal behind controlling giant robots will always elude me.

Bulk Slash is the only game in my experience that has been the exception to this rule. It's the mech game for people who hate mech games; the number-crunching statistics screens inherent to the genre are nowhere to be found here, and it's one of the few games of its kind that doesn't make a huge ordeal out of something as simple as a 180-degree turn. The game further differentiates itself from its peers by being playable without the use of a ridiculous and expensive controller. That, and it's actually fun to play.

bulkslash2.jpgNeither fat nor fanfiction.

Simulation-minded mech fans should stay far away from this one; Bulk Slash is an action game through and through. You pilot a robot through several fenced-in 3D stages, blasting everything that you can get a lock on and hunting down assigned targets as quickly as possible. Your mech has the ability to change from a ground-based biped into an airborne jet (and vice-versa) at any time -- a necessity, since there's often a lot of ground to cover in every level.

Graphically, the game takes advantage of the hardware's strengths without trying to push it too hard. There's a bit of a pop-in problem at times, but the framerate is fast and consistent enough to make the concession worthwhile. The Saturn isn't exactly known for its ability to render 3D graphics, either, so it's impressive to see a game of this type handled so well on the console.

giant robot shootin' down a butterflyMore man than machine.

Other aesthetic touches further add to the game's charm; the use of bright colors is refreshing to see, making the game stand in stark contrast with the muted tones present in many other mech games. The weapons are pretty cool too: the lock-on lasers and napalm bombs arc crazily, and there's a certain specific thrill involved in marching up to a huge gun turret and destroying it with a laser sword.

With its easy-to-master controls and a simple stage-boss-stage-boss structure, Bulk Slash feels like less of a mech game and more of an action game with a mech in it. Where other games of the genre are bogged down with simulation aspects, Bulk Slash places its focus on action throughout. This may be where the game succeeds in places others fail; stilted realism may appeal to only a select few, but the allure of giant robots shooting things is universal. If you like robots but don't want to program them, put them together, or guide them along a hex-based grid, Bulk Slash is a great alternative.

[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.]

Nintendo's Booth Babe Speaks Out

e3bb.jpg The Revolution Advanced website has a relatively new article called 'E3 Though The Eyes Of A Booth Babe', in which one of the girls manning the Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess booth for Nintendo at E3 2005, Yvonna Lynn, talks about her experience.

The article is a little on the drawn-out side, but includes a few amusingly sketched claims: "What makes a booth babe cool or uncool is often not related to her position. In fact, many times the fully clothed model doing the “Vanna White” with some upcoming gadget has far more obnoxious arrogance than the Playboy model hired to hang out of a tiny outfit in the next booth."

Of course, recent alleged news from the E3 organizers notes that: "Material, including live models, conduct that is sexually explicit and/or sexually provocative, including but not limited to nudity, partial nudity and bathing suit bottoms, are prohibited on the Show floor, all common areas, and at any access points to the Show." But Yvonna, as simply a welcoming female demonstrating a Nintendo game, is arguably less of the stereotypically exploitative booth babe, thereby rendering this entire story and the headline vaguely pointless. So that's... good? [Via PressTheButtons.]

Oblivion Creators Quizzed On Gender Issues

obl.JPG Via the Guilded Lilies blog, they've spotted an interview with Bethesda on Oblivion 'gender bias' issues which is, at the very least, intriguing.

This is odd, as the piece's intro points out, since: "Oblivion is one of those rare fantasy RPGs where female characters aren’t perpetually spilling forth from impossibly skimpy armor, and characters in positions of power and leadership are frequently women."

But, though the official Prima strategy guide comments: "Sadly, only three races offer females with power design advantages", Bethesda’s Pete Hines then commented of the 'controversy': "All the races are balanced equally for each gender. Talking about power design is different than balance. Essentially, for each race both genders have the exact same stats except for two: one where the male has a 10-point bonus, one where the female has a 10-point bonus." So... storm in a teacup?

Gamers - You Have Horrible Taste!

matt.jpg The last time that we covered Matt Sakey's regular 'Culture Clash' IGDA column, we got a little perturbed at the level of invective in there, and his latest April 2006 IGDA column, on 'establishing an industry identity', again falls on the combative side.

Sakey's central theory seems to be that, well, gamers are dumb: "Everything that is wrong with the games industry can be summed up in one word: Psychonauts. The fact that this wonderful game moved only a handful of units in the United States is an offense. The publisher didn't advertise aggressively, and I do hold Majesco partially responsible. But mostly I blame gamers for failing to buy a title with practically universal appeal." Um... one would think that the definition of 'universal appeal' is that everyone would buy it?

The conclusion? "There's certainly profit and probably long-term stability in continuing the status quo: franchises, sports licenses, movie tie-ins. But following that path exclusively means that gaming will never aspire to anything greater. If that's okay with you, then so be it; accept that this medium will forever remain a bastard stepchild, the lower spawn of higher arts."

This Au-like argument seems, to me, to be fallacious - you iterate reliable, fun, profitable titles (yes, aesthetes, Madden is enjoyable to play!) so you get the opportunity to take greater risk on other titles, or you just use digital distribution and lower development costs to take those risks. It's not a fire and brimstone moment. But I guess it's more fun if we pretend it is. Gamers, you suck!

April 6, 2006

COLUMN: ‘Cherish The Chips’ - Parity 'til You Puke

pulsewave.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.]

PulseWave Rocks New York

For anyone in doubt about chiptunes being on the rise, there are some interesting developments in New York City that might convince you otherwise. Peter Swimm, administrator of the Toilville netlabel and guitarist in OMAC, as well as being a mighty chiptune musician in his own right under the guise of Mathletes, has spearheaded a new monthly live music event focusing specifically on low-bit music, called PulseWave. The kickoff show last Friday at Manhattan venue The Tank was an auspicioius start —

one-bit.jpgOne-Bit To Rule Them All

Tristan Perich was the first to play, sitting down at a drumkit to provide some beats for his bleeps. The bleeps being provided by his One-Bit Music project in which "Perich programs and packages electronics in a standard CD jewel case that generate minimal glitch/dance music when headphones are plugged in." The 1-bit sound may be simple, but in the best possible way. It's gritty and full of energy, and Tristan's live drumming suits it perfectly. And the crowd took to it immediately, you have not lived until you've seen a lanky dude in a mexican wrestling mask spontaneously begin spastically dancing to this stuff. If you can't catch a live performance though, consider picking up one of the limited edition copies of One-Bit Music, which comes with, "a silkscreened poster including the schematic, source code and part list."

bit_shifter.jpg Atomic Game Boy Kid

Next up was Bit Shifter, whose Game Boy based wizardry did not disappoint. Working with multiple GB units, NUBY lights attached to their screens like some type of glowing alien facehuggers, he proceeded to launch into a high energy set that didn't take long to set the room on fire. Somewhere around the half-way mark he succeeded in blowing out the tweeters in the PA with his sonic assault, giving the remainder of the night a Square Waves Under the Sea feeling. But it didn't matter much, by the end of his set Bit Shifter was the nucleus at the center of an atom of crazed, dancing maniacs, everyone burning up their mitochondria at a mean rate.

virt.jpgHave You Ever Seen a Chiptune God?

Virt took the stage last, and it was well worth the wait for his first NYC performance. With a setup that consisted of a Midines, laptop, keyboard, guitar, smoke machine, midi-synched lighting rig, and lasers, it was clear that he came prepared to flex his muscles. Appearing on stage in a puffy jacket, he looked like some kind of hip hop superstar that had been teleported into the world of chipmusic. But it was obvious that he was in his element, the hits did not stop coming for a second, an enhanced version of his cover of Michael Jackson's Thriller even made an appearance. And when he grabbed his electric guitar and started shredding away one-handed, over incomprehensibly intricate melodies, while playing keys with the other hand, the room began crackling with near limitless power. An amazing showing, and hopefully just the first of many more to come.

notendo.jpg Total Tileset Terrorism

Throughout the entire night Jeff Donaldson, also known as noteNdo, provided the visual component for the show. With dual circuit-bent NES consoles he threw switches, turned knobs and generally abused the hell out of helpless cartridges in time with the music. While most people get frustrated when they see their Nintendo glitch up, Jeff goes out of his way to mangle the graphics so far beyond their original appearance that they lose all context, becoming spasming, abstract, kinetic pixelscapes. The results are amazing, and his low-level controlled chaos provided the ideal complement for the obsessively meticulous chip programming behind the music.

The Pulse Is Rising

So, it's safe to say that this first PulseWave night bodes well for the future of the series. And The Tank's emerging reputation as the CBGBs of New York's chiptune scene will be further cemented this Friday night when we storm it once again for the International Chiptune Resistance World Tour fundraiser event. Beer will flow, old videogame hardware will be lovingly exploited, and I'll probably punch someone in the face for screaming out "Play the Tetris song!" — but those sore knuckles will be totally worth it.

[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.]

Mobile Phone Gaming Out of Control?

mPlay01.jpgAre your fingers too plump for button-mashing gameplay on your mobile phone? Thanks to MobileChaos, you can fatten up your phone to match your dumpy digits with its brand-spanking-new MPlay attachment. Simply slide your phone into the waiting arms of the MPlay's universal holder, clamp that sucker in, attach your handset's phone adapter and enjoy the same D-Pad and multi-button goodness handheld console gamers have been enjoying for over 15 years.

When your phone rings, quickly rip out handset's phone adapter, unclamp your phone, and yank it from MPlay's universal holder. Hopefully in time to answer the call. Or, just shove the entire handset/controller combo against your ear. Suddenly, the MPlay add-on makes the original N-Gage and its goofy sidetalkin' setup seem stylish.

Forecast For World Of WarCraft - Blizzards?

wow0.jpgStephen Totilo over at MTV News continues to file very interesting stories, and the latest is one on the introduction of weather effects to Blizzard's World Of Warcraft.

As the article explains: "A rotating team of developers at Blizzard Entertainment actually worked on creating a weather system for five years. Only last week, however, did the game's developers find a way to patch it into the game in a way the meets their expectations — and that they hope will meet fans' as well."

Designer Jeff Kaplan explains that the weather is thus far cosmetic, but he "...has seen gamer requests for rain that isn't just cosmetic but has the effect of rusting armor and muddling travel. Those are even the types of features promised in the upcoming MMO "Dark and Light," whose Web site says winds will slow winged characters and accumulating snow will stymie dwarves." Dude, my dwarf is buried!

Dreamcast's 2D Fighting Gems Shine Through

sfa3.jpgThe Retro Gaming With Racketboy weblog has a very fun article up discussing the Sega Dreamcast's 2D fighting game roster.

As the intro points out: "The Dreamcast was strongly supported by both Capcom and SNK. It received many of the best fighting games before the PS2, XBox, and Gamecube. There are also a number of great games (mostly SNKs) that did not get a port to the newer console or the ports were inferior."

Some of the highlights include Last Blade 2 ("Many SNK fans consider the Last Blade series to be what Samurai Shodown 3 and 4 should have been"), as well as the extremely fun Mark Of The Wolves ("modernized fighting system... is basically SNK's counterpart to Street Fighter 3: Third Strike.") Anyone else got a favorite DC fighter?

When Games Make With The Funny

fgames.jpg Over at Edge Online, they've got a rather fun article discussing the use of humor in video games, and starting with the line: "They say there are only seven stories in the world. Others, particularly those who’ve recently read a copy of Viz, say there are only seven jokes. But ask people to name funny games and you begin to feel like there are only seven possible answers."

Much of the article takes the form of an interview with Ron Gilbert, the original 'funny guy' of game design, who notes perceptively: "The problem with games is that you’ve taken timing away from the author and given it to the player, so in order to do comedy, you can’t use a lot of the same techniques that linear artists are used to using in comedy, because they can’t use timing."

As for the seven possible funny games, ever? "The Secret Of Monkey Island usually pops up first. Sam And Max and Day Of The Tentacle next. Conker’s Bad Fur Day might get the British vote, Leisure Suit Larry the American. After some brow-furrowing for a more modern title – probably The Bard’s Tale – you’ll be back to where you started with Grim Fandango. Take Ron Gilbert and Tim Schafer out of the running, and things look pretty bleak." What's missing, though?

April 5, 2006

GSW Special Report: Table Tennis Mayhem @ NYC

table1.jpg [This special GameSetWatch report about Rockstar's special NY blogger Table Tennis showdown was rushed to us by Matt 'Fort90' Hawkins, a New York-based freelance journalist and Gamasutra contributor - much appreciated, Sir!]

This past Saturday Rockstar held a special tournament in the downtown New York City. The game? Their new Xbox 360 curiosity, Table Tennis. The participants? Member of the local video gaming press.

First up, I've been never been a super huge fan of Rockstar's titles. I know they have a legion of devotees, primarily thanks to Grand Theft Auto, which helped to user in the era of sandbox gameplay, as well as make the world take notice that games have "matured" and so has its audience. But for whatever reason, I just don't dig banging hookers via a Dual Shock. It simply ain't my thing. Hence why Table Tennis immediately got my attention when it first hit the scene. Many were rather confused, some even irate, with Rockstar's first foray into the next generation of gaming. It looked neither risky nor groundbreaking, but clean, simple fun.

And simple's the key word here. I've somewhat become a cranky old gamer, one who find today's games too cumbersome and complicated. I just don't have the time, energy, or interest to deal with expansive worlds, emergent gameplay, or whatever else is hot in gaming today. I simply want to push a few buttons and have fun dammit. And Table Tennis looked to provide just that, to go back to what video games are (or were) all about. After-all, wasn't a ping pong simulator what helped to inspire the medium in the first place? But most importantly, it just looked easy to play.

Truth be told, despite the fact that I'm an avid gamer, I'm also a pretty lousy one these days. Hence why I'm a big fan of far less demanding, easier to digest "casual" games, which appear to be the bane of the hardcore set's existence (and like all cranky old men, my attitude is if something pisses the kids off, I already know someone's doing something right). It’s also why I wasn't automatically scared by the notion of entering a tournament for a game I hadn't even played before. Its just ping-pong, right?

table2.jpg Which is exactly what the game itself is, nothing more, nothing less. There's no superfluous nonsense, like pop music or slapped on street cred, just straightforward table tennis action. That's not to say it's drab or boring. From the get go, its intensely focused on bringing you, the player, straight and center in the thick of action, and it does so spectacularly, thanks in great part to its platform; some believe that its almost a waste to use the power of the Xbox 360 on such subject matter, but whereas all other 360 games have tried to deliver players in the midst of otherworldly, or ultra realistic visceral thrills, its crowning achievement just might in fact be simply placing the players in the shoes of someone who's means of attaining victory lies within a tiny white ball and a paddle.

When I first entered the space, everyone was busy giving the game a test drive. There were some plastic sheets strewn about that described the controls: left stick to move, right stick or face buttons to hit the ball, plus shoulder buttons to execute special maneuvers. Seemed easy as cake. As I watched a game taking place, one of the Rockstar reps mentioned that its very much like Virtua Tennis, and I could certainly see that. And given the immediate pick and play-ness of that game, I was ready for action almost immediately.

Though as drop dead simple as the controls seemed to be, it wasn't. Things were far more sophisticated that I had assumed, and I found myself struggling from the outset, with a very mild "oh great, super precise controls is gonna make something else that's suppose to be simple and fun a damn chore" anxiety attack in my head. But that's okay, because the other person I was playing with, Vlad from Joystiq, was in the same exact boat (though perhaps minus the mini-mental breakdown). We fumbled around the controls for a bit, making comments and connections as we went along. And over time, we each sorta figured it out.

After about an hour or so, it was tournament time. There would be two brackets: first players would play best two out of three matches against an opponent. Those who win advance to the next round, until there is only one left, and the losers are then placed in another bracket. They each face off against each other until one remains, then that person would face off against the victory of pervious bracket to crown the champ. Names and positions were drawn at random, and because there wasn't enough participants, myself and another person were given "byes" and automatically advanced to the next slot. My first opponent would be Fiona, the wife of Vlad. Immediately the pressure was on, because as I played, not only was Vlad cheering his wife on, but about two other friends as well.

table3.jpg In the game, much like its real-life counterpart, you basically hit the ball back and forth, though it’s more than just that of course. The key is to angle shots so the opponent can't get to the ball. Again, fairly obvious strategy to figure out. As one plays, a meter will fill up which will allow the use of more sophisticated maneuvers. But early on, I just wanted to make sure I didn't screw up therefore couldn't have cared less about performing any fancy tricks. So I ended up playing conservatively, as did Fiona, which led to a rather boring match to watch. Though the strategy worked, as I slowly pulled ahead. Near the end, I figured "what the hell" and went for a fancy move, which backfired, so I ran back to what had worked. Eventually I scored my first win. And if felt good!

While waiting for my next match, I watched everyone else's matches, and it was fairly obvious that everyone's skills were slightly improving. So I knew I'd have to bring my game up a notch if I was going to continue on to victory. My next adversary was Nick from Evil Avatar. And... he made short work of me. I scored some points here and there, but it was mostly due to mistakes on Nick's end. As comfortable as I was getting with the controls, I was still fighting with them, primarily their extreme sensitivity. In the end, I did quite poorly, but I still had another chance, as my name was added to the seconded chances bracket. So to stay in the game, I had to defeat Steve from Xbox Exclusive.

There are numerous characters in the game, representing various nationalities, and I had been using the male Chinese character, Liu Ping. It should be mentioned that they are simply amazing, and what truly brings the player into the game (as well as a fine example of the 360's abilities); every little move and display of emotion (whether it be a boastful punch in the air for a victorious exchange, or the wince of just having screwed up) is just spot on. Ping had served me well my first time around, but not so much the second time around. I was tempted to change to Luc, a French male that looked very much like Luke Wilson from The Royal Tenenbaums (right down to the head band and the big nose) that everyone was using, and winning with, but decided to stick with the man from the east.

Maybe I should have because Steve basically destroyed me right from the outset. In the middle of my first match, one of the Rockstar reps decided to give me some helpful hints. This is like telling the driver of an out of control truck who knows he's going to fly off a cliff and into certain doom when and where to turn on the turn signal. Basically, it wasn't helping. I knew defeat was inevitable, and I took it like a man.

Afterwards I simply sat around watching those who had to stuff advance on, while chitchatting with fellows losers, mostly about what had worked and what hadn't. The key to any good party game is that its as enjoyable to watch as it is to play, and Table Tennis passed that test. Whenever two players went beyond eight or so exchanges of the ball, a counter would pop up, adding to the drama. Whenever it hit about 30, everyone simply stopped what they were doing and stared at the screen, waiting to see who would drop the ball, literally. Adding to the intensity are slow-mo close ups of edge of your seat "will he make it or won't he?!" shots, which while gimmicky, works extremely well and doesn't disrupt the flow of the game. Though my favorite dramatic event takes place in the background; each stage is meticulously rendered. Again, its nothing fancy, just enough to get you there. Yet when things get really hot and heavy, it all goes away, as the lights dim and an almost blinding spotlight shines down. Plus the background techno music gets drown out by a loud hum, as if all the air is being sucked out of the room.

In the end, Steve, the guy who knocked me out of the competition, made it to the end, but was defeated by some guy from UGO. Rockstar says that they intend to hold tournaments such as this on a regular basis, and I'll be back, perhaps better, perhaps worse.

Cinemaware Marquee Adds Darwinia To U.S. Retail

darwin.jpg It seems like only the other day that we talked about Cinemaware Marquee as one of our alt.publishers to watch (they've signed interesting games including Space Rangers 2, yay), and now they're at it again, announcing Introversion Software's IGF Grand Prize winner Darwinia as signed for U.S./Canadian PC retail release this June.

Most interestingly, it's noted: "Darwinia will be available for $29.99 in June everywhere games are sold. As an added bonus, the game will include an exclusive poster and collectible figurine." Is the figurine going to be a Darwinian, and will it be cute? Inquiring minds want to know.

[Also, Introversion has a rather fun account of their IGF award experiences up on their official website, complete with a video from the Chronic Logic chaps of the fateful winning and swearing moment.]

Shmup-Dev Compo Ends With A Bang

csa.jpg We previously covered the rather smart Shmup-Dev competition, and now word is through (in the form of an 'official' press release!) of the overall winners.

As is explained of the top titles: "Prototype, an R-Type clone claimed the first prize. Next we have Funky Space, which is somewhat like defender as far as the scrolling goes, but it comes with crazy power-ups!! Then at the third place we have subsurface, an undersea adventure loaded with 3D graphics and awesome particle effects!"

The article concludes: "You can go through the list and see games with amazing graphics and detail all the way down the ranks. With great titles competing for the first prize, it's a great time playing each one of them!" And they're all free to download, too - bonus.

3 Point D Is The Future Of Those Video Games

esheep.jpgOver at Clickable Culture, the blog of GSW contributor TonyW, there's an informative post pointing to a new game weblog devoted to virtual worlds of various kinds, and named 3pointD.com.

The 3pointD About page explains things well: "3pointD.com reports on the emerging 3D Web — sometimes called the metaverse — in all its manifestations. From virtual worlds like Second Life to applications like Google Earth, from cool mapping hacks that link up real-world locations to new ways of creating virtual ones, from concepts like folksonomy to the culture of online worlds, find news and feature articles about all that and much more at 3pointD.com, every day."

Interestingly, the blog has a oft Second Life-linked sponsor, and one (as TonyW points out!) just discussed on CNet, as the About page continues: "3pointD.com is kindly sponsored by the Electric Sheep Company. While occasional eSheep announcements may appear on 3pointD, they’ll be clearly marked as such. Otherwise, the site is managed and edited by journalist Mark Wallace, with no direction from anyone."

April 4, 2006

COLUMN: 'Parallax Memories'- El Viento

El_Viento_GEN_ScreenShot1.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 Wolfteam’s action platformer: El Viento, released for the Sega Genesis in late 1991 in the U.S. and Japan.]


A Tale of a Wind Gypsy

What happens when an anime-themed development team decides to create a game after reading some H.P. Lovecraft? Apparently El Viento. Annet, a blood descendant of Hastur, is shouldered with the responsibility of saving all humanity using the power of nature magic.

Developed in 1991 by Wolfteam for the Sega Genesis, and released by Renovation in the United States, El Viento follows the mold of outrageously sexy late 80’s anime. Much like other efforts of the development team (Valis), style is emphasized over control and design.

viento-octo.gifTerrors of the Deep

This game is outright, silly in retrospect. While it may have been taken more seriously at one point, fighting a horde of New York gangsters in the 1920s who are controlled by a mob boss being paid to stop Annet from preventing the resurrection of Hastur is just the start of this train wreck. However, the plot is not the only problem. The background scrolls horribly, seemingly with no connection to the foreground. The building designs, while they are modern apartments, feel very similar to some of the later Castlevania action games, and the style is even further replicated in the Grand Canyon level.

The music is fairly bland and forgettable, and the sound effects are outright inappropriate. While I normally enjoy playing games with headphones to appreciate the subtleties of sound, this game has no need for any special attention. That is, unless you have some over-taking urge to make your ears bleed in terror. Then comes the terrible sprite scaling: the worst offenders being explosions and a certain octopus-squid thing.

After New York, things get even stranger. Hastur's followers need to be destroyed, and not only in New York, but; Mt. Rushmore, The Grand Canyon, caves under New York, and even on a blimp. In these locations are: piles of logs that explode for no reason when you step on them, cacti that float in the air and used as platforms, prehistoric cave men and giant caterpillars under the streets of New York--and these are just a few of the more ridiculous items.

elvie-1.gifCthulhu fhtagn!

I can’t tell if the designers wanted to throw in homages to H.P. Lovecraft of just ran out of ideas, but I am hoping for the former. The first sign of Cthulhu Mythos turns up with the mention of the evil god Hastur. Then the game goes on to make more subtle references in the forms of a Byakhee as the helper of Restiana (your misguided nemesis), and the boss of a later level is a Mi-Go. Because of the appearance of the Mi-Go as a metaphorical ball-under-the-cup sleight-of-hand trick, I am leaning towards the Wolfteam running out of idea options.

Overall the game is a little wacky, has floaty controls, head-scratching level design, and insane locations with no relation to the time period. The animation for the main character is pretty nice, and some of the enemies have nice touches to them. The game did not age well at all though. It spawned the sequel, Ernest Evans, which is (believe it or not) even worse than El Viento. All is not completely lost, as it is definitely good for a few laughs.

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

GameTap Reveals Post Price-Cut Sekrits

gtap.jpg Yeah, yeah, we've covered GameTap a zillion times already, but this is the first time since their price reduction (the PC 'all you can eat' service is now $9.99 per month), and has added on-demand streaming of all its video segments in 'GameTap TV'.

We now have more info on what popped up in March, and what's coming in April, via their email, plus the Top Ten, so since we're still the only people who run these - we're doing it again:

"Among March’s notable game additions are Baldur’s Gate (Vivendi Universal) for PC, Crazy Taxi (SEGA) for Dreamcast, Virtua Fighter (SEGA) for SEGA 32X [which we totally called, oh yes!], Populous: The Beginning (Electronic Arts) for PC, Golden Axe (SEGA) for the Genesis, and a number of arcade favorites, including Ghosts 'n Goblins (Capcom) and its sequel Ghouls 'n Ghosts (Capcom), Darkstalkers: The Night Warriors (Capcom), and Baseball Stars Professional (SNK Playmore)."

As for the top ten most-played games for March, there's some interesting stuff in here - Quest For Glory and Sim Safari, even:

1. 1942
2. Age of Wonders II: The Wizard’s Throne
3. Quest for Glory I: So You Want To Be A Hero
4. Sim Safari
5. Warlords Battlecry II
6. Heroes of Might and Magic IV
7. Pac-Man
8. Empire Earth
9. Sonic the Hedgehog 2
10. Railroad Tycoon 3

It's also noted: "Entire weeks [in April] will be devoted to new content from Capcom, SNK, the King’s Quest franchise, and the big daddy of them all - Street Fighter! Each week will feature five to a dozen games related to its focus." A little vaguer, this time - but there hasn't been a Street Fighter game on GameTap yet, so we're looking forward to seeing which.

[Also, we heard, maybe... opportunities to play GameTap games against each other later this year? Hope so! We still don't think GameTap got off on the right foot, but we're wondering if they can get going at some point... the idea is still great in terms of making great old titles legally playable again.]

Shaun Brings Deadness To Mobiles

shaun.jpg We like Shaun Of The Dead, a lot - much as we adore Spaced, and we're looking forward to Hot Fuzz, whenever that pops onto screens. Thus, we're somewhat delighted by the launch of the Shaun Of The Dead game for cellphones in Europe, yay.

According to the PR: "Shaun of the Dead pits players against an onslaught of zombies and un-dead scum set inside the confines of the Winchester Pub... Players find themselves defending the pub from a first-person perspective, battling droves of zombies with weapons and household objects including a shotgun, cricket bat, and vinyl LPs from a record collection."

We particularly like the fact that the movie is explained in the press release as "a "rom zom com" (romantic zombie comedy)" - but we do wonder, is Dire Straits one of the LPs being thrown in the mobile game, and will New Order really get spared? Details like this are very important. To us alone.

Plumbers & Ties Not Friends On 3DO

warn.jpg We've been keeping up with the seemingly Herculean task of the 3DO Interactive Multiplayer weblog for some time now, and now they've got round to documenting 'Plumbers Don't Wear Ties' for the 3DO, one of the most, uhh, suspect games for the system, in more ways than one.

As the blogger, SkyKid, notes of the much-maligned (and vaguely NSFW) title: "Is a collection of still images, strung together with an appalling story line, an incomprehensible scoring system and with more retries than Jeffery Archer a game? Does it make it the worst game ever?"

He concludes: "[Is it] worse then Primal Rage...? Worse than Rise of the Robots? Worse than Cyberdillo?... No. No it isn't - The saviour of this game. The Messiah, is a pretty blond woman who scampers about in lingerie." But... what if we like dinosaurs and robots with no clothes on?

April 3, 2006

COMIC: The Multicart Project: Part Four

Oh, Death BreathThe 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.

Death Breath, adversary in the way badical and awesome Kid Niki: Radical Ninja, has a date with none other than Athena, star of SNK's appropriately named Athena. Will Death Breath's unavoidable 8-bit programming keep him from true love? Probably!

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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.]

Mind Control Stomps The Grounds

stomp.jpg The Indy Gamer blog has noticed that Mind Control Software, the most interesting developers behind IGF winner Oasis, and a host of weird and wonderful prototypes and alternative projects, has released a demo of its latest PC casual title, called Stomping Grounds.

As the blog explains, Stomping Grounds "plays like a card battle game minus all the complicated rules... Each encounter consists of six rounds in total, and a key is awarded for every round won." There's a fun Lion King-esque graphical theme, too.

So basically, it's "a casual action-strategy game", just as Oasis switched up a lot of mechanics from more complex PC RTS and turn-based strategy titles into a cohesive casual whole - and honestly, we hope it gets a whole lot more commercial interest that Oasis, which seemed to get somewhat ignored by the casual gameplaying public - anyone hazard a guess as to why?

Mario Outlaws In Bomb Scare Shocker

mscary.jpg Via PressTheButtons, we have tragic news on girls being investigated for Mario-related 'bomb' shenanigans, in a bizarre pre-April 1st incident.

Specifically, out in Ohio: "The Portage County Hazardous Materials Unit and Bomb Detection Unit were called in to downtown Ravenna on Friday morning after seventeen suspicious packages -- boxes wrapped in gold wrapping paper with question marks spray painted on them -- had alarmed residents."

As PTB notes: "That's right: five girls were building their own Mushroom Kingdom and spreading question blocks inspired by Super Mario Bros. around their Ohio town."

Of course the original report also notes: "Boxes were found at the Immaculate Conception Church on West Main Street, the Portage County Courthouse, Deluxe Pastries, the corner of Cherry Way and Main Street, Reed Memorial Library, Ravenna High School and a residence at Sanford and Main streets." Mmmmm, we don't care about "possible criminal charges"... think of the Deluxe Pastries!

Did April Fools Fool You?

bcraft.jpg Yes, yes, we know, April Fool's Day was several millenia ago, and GSW didn't even bother pulling anything (we were going to finally run something on Halo for the Gizmondo which is actually true, but then nobody would believe it because it was run on April 1st, and... fuggedabutit!) Still, the nice folks at Shacknews have rounded up most of the game-related April 1st gags unleashed early in the weekend, to good effect.

One of our favorites is Blizzard opening a Burgercraft restaurants, because, let's face it, wouldn't all of us go anyhow? ("'The Zerg Rush All-You-Can-Eat Special'... 'Zealot Fries (french fries with “special” sauce to stimulate your psychic potential)'... yum!)

Also, it appears that Ars Technica has reviewed Duke Nukem Forever, branding it as "a fast-paced game that caters to everyone's worst impulses", and noting: "I'm sure we'll hear from every politician after this game, and of course this is worth about ten more months in the limelight for our ol' buddy Jack Thompson." The only worrying thing about the 'review' is how close it may be to the actual game review in 20XX, of course.

April 2, 2006

7th Serpent Finally Releases The Payne

7s.jpg Via the Shacknews forums, there's word of the release of Max Payne 2 modification, 7th Serpent, after what can only be described as a number of years in development.

The pedigree of these mod, which has been in production since 2003, is pretty darned impressive - as a random example, one of the musicians, Chad Seiter, "...has done work on the TV shows ALIAS, LOST, and the movie The Incredibles."

The mod itself is "a third-person shooter modification for the Max Payne 2 game engine thrusting players into a world of corruption, secrecy and vengeance as they control Vince Petero - the main character - who has been subjected to experimental testing and is left to his own devices in order to extract the truth from those who keep it from him." The screenshots look mighty impressive for a mod, especially for such a relatively unmodded game - so go dig out your copy of Max Payne 2 and check it out, forthwith.

COLUMN: 'The Gaijin Restoration' - Docchi Mecha!

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 SCEI's Docchi Mecha!, released for the PlayStation in April of 2000.

The Plays The Thing...

Docchi Mecha! started of, for myself, as a purely financial investment. It was 5$ used and in pristine condition, as most second hand imports I've found to be, often replete with registry cards, memory card stickers and various warnings about epilepsy, or perhaps cautionary tales of bubble economies. The cover, presented here, piqued interest, but, caveat emptor, I've learned my lesson. It was the backcover that made this the companion purchase to Dirge of Cerberus (which was, is, and always will be chocobo guano.) The front featured vector style proto-prince Katamaris and flocks of HR Puf 'N Stuf types consisting of enough ellipsoids to make Ecstatica blush. The kawaii and weird checked out. The back cover, while mundane in comparison, offered the glimmer of hope of being playable.

This wasn't going to be a bunch of text, accompanied with dithered pictures of Japanese girls of questionable age, nor a menu intensive attempt at regulating the temperature of my mech suit as I face the existential crisis of deep space combat. It looked to be some sort of real time strategy excursion, not exactly a console or Japanese staple. Interesting.

Ellipsis Ellipsis Ellipsis

chair5.jpgThe game starts with an odd introduction, with 3D/2D constructs that seems cel shaded and seemingly engine built, but doesn't seem to be the same rendering of the main game. I could be wrong; this could be an export from some tweaked Flash, but it honestly feels like an engine build. Why is this important? Well, in the annals of video game archeology, this could be one of the earliest cel shaded games. With a release date of 04/27/00 it beats Slap Happy Rhythm Busters, Jet Grind Radio or the domestic Wacky Races to market by a couple of months.

After the impressive opening, there is an unfortunate maze of menus to navigate till the game drops you into the first bout. Now this is a 3D world, presented with the choices of isometric camera, and zoomed isometric camera. You control the white cherub flying overhead, on a miniscule map: my enemy's base was seconds away, with only two control nodes between us. At the beginning you call forth little beaked peapods and via a menu, suggest where they head, and what type of activity to partake in. And this is the issue: while I was influential, I was not authoritative. It reminded me of the Sega CD FMV sports titles, where you coached players, but they wouldn't necessarily listened to you. There was no micromanaging of pathfinding, or selecting what specific enemy beak'd peapod to squelch. But I bore my will, and advancements were made.

My peapods harvested enough succulent golden orb food to allow me to summon agreeable one-foot aliens, giant fish obsessed with sucking on the dirty ground, and uncontrollable godzilla terrors, each with their own unique talents. I never had any problems with the latter, as they were literally uncontrollable. They would go over to the enemy and start munching on the peapods until the Lilliputians overtook him. All of these units had a great look, though using ellipsoids, a trick to get a lot of independent 3D objects on the screen, they all featured cartoonish but striking eyes, and an almost bumpy texture of cheap convenience store pinatas. Varying techniques of warfare were used, from blitzkrieg to guerrilla combat, but I was always beaten back to my base, but only ever extinguished by the time limit, expressed by a fuse counting down the across the screen, in time to the wax and wane of the day/night cycle. Repeated plays and repeated defeats.

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... Unfortunately

The tip of the iceberg has been surveyed, and I expect there is some grand treasure frozen underneath. Maybe a caveman. This is when import gaming straddles that line of wonderful and annoying. The internet was initially of little help, with the translated katakana mainly finding empty FAQ pages, or Docchi Meccha! nestled in a list between Do You Remember Love and Dodge Ball. Katakana searches led to a Japanese wikipedia entry, which, Babelfished, makes for an interesting read. The pidgin explanation confirmed what I expected but didn't clear up enough to allow me any progress. Also, it seems my homebase, as well as the enemies, translates to a king-pao, which I thought was a moniker for some sort of chicken dish. Apparently, there is also quite a bit of medium-named voice talent signed on as well.

This is the most frustrating type of game: I can gleam much of the mechanics, I'm in thrall to the art style of both the cinemas and the game, and it plays like a hybrid notion, but I can't crack the cypher. I invite any stalwart GSW readers to comment below, and flesh out any of the games intricacies that you may know.

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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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Toybane Tries For JRPG Evolution

pq.jpg Some of the folks from Evil Avatar have splintered off and formed a new game-related blog Toybane, which looks like it should have some neat content within its plain exterior.

One example is a column called 'The Role Call', which discusses "the symptoms associated with the fatal RPG battle-syndrome, and the antibodies being concocted by brave games that are striving to eradicate this vile disease."

The author notes: "With the large glut of genre releases on the Playstation 2 over the past five years, most are steeped in traditional battle mechanics. This not only means the random encounters that interrupt dungeon exploration and immersion flow, but also the fights themselves... Thankfully, many games are realizing that an evolution needs to take place." Yep, we like Progress Quest too.

Sega Arcade Boss Talks Rev, Regions

vf.jpg Over at 1UP, they have a spectacularly in-depth interview with Hiroshi Kataoka, President of Sega's arcade amusement departments, about all things arcade and Virtua Fighter.

Particularly interesting was this reference to the Nintendo Revolution as an arcade conversion source: "As for console ports, in recent times it has become more difficult to do home conversions of gun games due to the wide variety of TVs in use by consumers. While the arcade games use specialized, high-resolution screens, you don't have that sort of standardization in the consumer market. So, I'm personally hoping the Revolution's controller will allow us to do more ports of gun games." Woohoo, House Of The Dead X from Lindbergh to Rev? Horsepower may be a problem!

There'a also an excellent explanation of the difference between Japanese and Western arcades: "Game centers in Japan are a place you go on an impulse - you'd stop in to play on the way home from school or work to kill some time. Young adults and salarymen go there thinking "instead of playing at home by myself, I'll play against others." In the western market, you have to get motivated and plan to go to an arcade. Most people in the west, it seems, would rather just stay home and play on PCs or consoles." Well summed-up.



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