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April 29, 2006

Bloodspell Machinima Goth Funks It Up

bloodspell.jpg Rockstar-esque uberblog Boing Boing has posted info on the release of Episode 1 of Strange Company's 'Bloodspell' machinima, the long, long in-development movie that's made using BioWare's Neverwinter Nights, according to its official site.

A couple of interesting points - firstly, the movie "will be released as 5-7 minute episodes every two weeks until the entire film is available", and it's released under a Creative Commons license, which means people are free to mash it up and mess it up to their heart's content.

There's also a LJ making-of diary which has lots of great content, including the pronouncement: "BloodSpell began as a small, short, indy film to fill the gap between big Strange Company projects. We're fairly certain that the monster that idea spawned is the largest and most ambitious machinima project ever attempted, which just goes to demonstrate the dangers of enthusiasm." Yay, enthusiasm!

CDi Of The Tiger, The Thrill Of The Fight

thunder.jpg You may know him as GSW's very own 'Bastards Of 32-Bit' columnist DannyC, but now Monsieur Cowan has played even further to his obscure side and penned a big Philip CD-i 15-year retrospective for our chums at 1UP.

As the intro notes: "OK, so assuming that you actually know what the CD-i is, odds are that you think of it as little more than "that one system with the jacked-up Zelda games." There's a little bit more to the CD-i story than that, though. It's a tale that involves Nintendo's baby steps toward disc-based media, the origins of a little Sony project called the "Play Station," and a forgotten console that's host to some of the worst games of all time."

The resulting piece has quite a lot of precise info that was hazy to even geeks like us, and any feature that names Hulk Hogan's 'Thunder In Paradise' game as one of the _highlights_ of a console's lifecycle is a must-read around here, at least. Also, 'The Wacky World of Miniature Golf with Eugene Levy' - ouch!

Noitu Love and the Army of Grinning Darns?

noitu.jpg The ever-vigilant Tim.W at Indygamer has spotted another freeware PC gaming gem, this time via Sweden, and it's the bizarrely named Noitu Love and the Army of Grinning Darns.

But wait! Tim(e) explains all: "With a quirky name which is actually evolution spelled backwards, Noitu Love and the Army of Grinning Darns is quickly gaining widespread recognition for it's classic platforming goodness. Setting a standard by winning TDC's Game of the Week award barely days after it was released, fans of classic console arcade action will not be disappointed with this effort."

If further explanation is needed: "Much like Capcom's Mega Man series, you get to utilize certain devices to change form and access special powers. The first few levels may seem repetitive but the game does get better after the second stage... Most of the highlights occur during boss battles, where each leader has to be defeated using different strategies." Yay, delightfully retro.

Gitaroo Man Sings Again, In A Different Tone

gitaroo.jpg GamesAreFun has posted up some neat news - the most complete info yet on Gitaroo Man Lives! for PSP, revealing a new official website for the port (aw!) of Inis' super-fun PlayStation 2 rhythm title.

According to GAF: "The site has a bunch of screens, along with a tracklist that reveals the names of two new songs in GM Lives! - "Metal Header" and "Toda Pasión." There's also a 30-second streaming sample of Metal Header, which we've made available for download."

The site also notes of the two bonus songs for the game, which is due in Japan this May and has no confirmed Western publisher yet: "According to the site, Metal Header was written by "tomzuin h" and recorded by Sonica Studio. So, it's not COIL (the rock group who did most of the original GM's songs), but it still has that distinctive Gitaroo Man feel, which is very nice to hear." Pick up the PS2 version of this title, if you haven't already - it's skeleton xylophone levels of fun!

[UPDATE: Ah - actually, Gitaroo Man has appeared on Koei's E3 game list, and "is coming to PSP in America later this year", according to 1UP. Hurrah for that!]

April 28, 2006

Danger, Danger, Rolling Physics Assault!

rolling.jpg We hadn't forgotten about Matt Wegner's Fun Motion physics game blog, so were delighted to see that he's posted a downloadable version of physics game Rolling Assault, made by Matt himself.

Interestingly, the title, which involves piloting a tank along a side-scrolling track while shooting enemies, has some drawbacks explained by Flashbang Studios' Wegner: "More often than not the limitations of reality actually get in the way [in physics games]. Rolling Assault suffers in this regard. The control seemed fine in the early prototypes. It was satisfying to roll around; the wheels’ motion was aesthetically pleasing. However, as soon as we introduced very specific movement goals—dodge this missile, jump over this barrier—the sluggishness in the tank’s motion becomes apparent. The tank simply isn’t nimble enough to perform directed tasks without some degree of player frustration."

Commenter 'Dave' noted of the results: "I love the way the tank moves and handles, although you are right, any ideas of split-second manouevres to avoid incoming fire go out the window pretty quickly." But nonetheless, for the princely sum of zero dollars, the mini-game, which was entered in the 2003 Independent Games Festival competition, is well worth checking out.

COLUMN: 'Bastards of 32-Bit' - Space Station Silicon Valley

sssv1.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 Space Station Silicon Valley for the Nintendo 64, published by Take-Two Interactive and released in the United States in October 1998.]

When suicidal rodents become passé.

In 1998, developer DMA Design faced a crossroads. Known previously for the creation of the Lemmings series, DMA experienced a dry spell in the mid-90's when Lemmings's popularity waned, following a glut of rereleases and expansion packs. 1998 was to mark a new beginning for the company, however. This year saw the release of three DMA-developed titles, one of which would propel the company to new heights of fame and fortune, while the other two would languish in relative obscurity.

Suffice to say, DMA's biggest success in 1998 was not with the Nintendo 64 sci-fi action title Body Harvest, nor was it with this week's featured game, Space Station Silicon Valley. In the end, neither game had the impact of DMA's other 1998 release, Grand Theft Auto.

sssv2.jpgAttack of the killer ROMs!

Compared to Grand Theft Auto, Space Station Silicon Valley is a silly game indeed. As a new arrival at a space station inhabited by robotic animals, you play as a mobile computer chip with the ability to temporarily possess and control any deactivated creature you encounter. Gameplay is based around a series of objectives, many of which can only be accomplished by using special abilities unique to certain animals. One level may have you possessing a dog in order to herd sheep into a pen, for example, while others require a more complex series of tasks that involve using some animals to attack and deactivate others before objectives can be completed.

While Grand Theft Auto represented a radical departure for DMA Design in terms of genre and gameplay, Space Station Silicon Valley shares many similarities with the company's earlier Lemmings games. There's no central character, for one thing; the player-controlled computer chip has no special abilities of its own, and serves only as a medium of travel between deactivated animals.

The concepts of player-encouraged cooperation and teamwork are present here as well, and are made more challenging by the fact that some of the animals instinctively want to kill one another. In many ways, Space Station Silicon Valley represents the last great evolution of the Lemmings-styled puzzle game, as the subgenre is rarely attempted in modern gaming.

Featuring N64 blur effects!Save a hooker, possess a robot dog.

The game contains a good amount of wit and charm that makes it stand out among character-driven puzzle titles. Character design has a goofy Nick Park vibe to it, and there's a lot of subtle humor to be found throughout. The implementation of the game's soundtrack is particularly clever: background music is piped into every level through a series of speakers, which can be destroyed if one wishes to play in silence.

Space Station Silicon Valley's cutesy look and puzzle-rich gameplay may seem like a far cry from Grand Theft Auto, but the games share some common ground -- both feature gameplay that involves the hijacking of transportation, be it vehicle or animal. It's not too much of a leap in logic to equate beating a hooker to death with biting a sheep on the butt in order to take over its body, either. Well, okay, maybe it is. Still, few titles can claim to be even remotely similar to Space Station Silicon Valley, and it occupies a unique position in the N64's library of forgotten classics.

[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.]

Second Life's Game Developers Get... Game!

techw.jpgVirtual world blog 3pointD has a new post about a Second Life game development competition, showcasing some of the best games designed within the rapidly expanding virtual world.

The contest is open for all to try now, and 3pointD blogger Mark Wallce explains one: "Tech Warfare, by SL resident Eckhart Dillon... is a team-based real-time strategy game that plays very much like a PC-based RTS. Teams of avatars can create units — consisting of small bots that are created wherever you’re standing — which then go off on their own power to do battle with each other, the goal being to destroy the enemy base." Pretty sophisticated!

However, it's also mentioned: "One interesting thing to note: The games are being judged by how much money they earn during the final stage of the contest. This will turn out to be a wildly inaccurate measure of how well they fulfill the “fun” metric, however." A commenter notes that the change in judging "was something that was requested by a majority of last year’s participants", mind you.

Suda51 Goes Into The Darkness

suda.jpg Edge-Online has posted one of its regular features taken from Edge Magazine itself, and this time it's an interview with Grasshopper Manufacture's Suda51, a figure of Nathan Barley-esque cultish semi-adoration around the GSW offices.

Of the designer's Killer 7, it's noted sagely, if impenetrably: "Combining grasshopper's cut-up production techniques with Production Studio 4 producer Shinji Mikami's guidance - perhaps the development equivalent of drink and drive - that title's polarised reception cast Goichi's company as a global cult commodity." Also notably mentioned are the just-released Samurai Champloo PS2 game and the forthcoming Contact, both of which have Suda51 oddness scrawled all over them.

Suda Goichi (aka Suda51 - Japanese pun there, yes!) also talks a little about new PS3 title Kurayama ('Darkness'): ""The game is inspired by Kafka, a writer I greatly admire," Goichi begins, apparently not intending to make that challenge any easier on himself. "I thought for a long time about how to adapt the environment in his books into a game - to represent the mystery perhaps by applying filters, or dividing them into various missions.""

However, it's also noted in the Edge feature that concept paintings for the title are "currently the game's only visual representation, given that both its development and developer support from Sony are in their earliest stages." So... come back in a couple of years? Nuts.

Many Rocks, Many Games, Kazam!

rockz.jpg So, we spotted a recent weblog post by Matt 'Fort90' Hawkins that links to a totally smart collaged picture called 'rocks.jpg', which features a photo of some rocks, as 'interpreted' by a few of your favorite games.

Of course, this means that the Doom 3 version is almost completely dark, the Vib Ribbon version is extremely pseudo vector graphics-heavy, the Duke Nukem 3D rocks are somewhat hilariously being offered a dollar bill (y'all!), the Dead Or Alive 4 version has a bikini on the rock, and... the smartness goes on.

But who made this graphic, and when, and for what purpose? Matt doesn't quite seem to know, and nor do we - we've been reliably informed that it's not from SomethingAwful, either, which would be our first bet. Anyone know? Is it still being added to, like the Sistine Chapel? Answers in comments, please.

[UPDATE: Commenter '573' traces the pics to English-language 2Chan image-board 'clone' 4Chan - which apparently started as a SA offshoot, anyhow, so we were close. The images were done by multiple contributors to the /v/ board. And smartass 'John H.' mentions: "The Nethack one is incorrect: rocks in that game are of the gemstone class, and would be represented by asterisks..." Ooo!]

[UPDATE 2: Oi, Kotaku - no crediting for the link or even the source update? Weak.]

April 27, 2006

Zizzle Sizzles Up Mini Pinball Tables

potc.jpg The rather smart RetroBlast! has spotted a brand new consumer-aimed pinball table from innovative toy company Zizzle, the folks behind the Zizzle Iz - and designed by Star Wars Episode 1 and Theater Of Magic pin designer John Popadiuk, too.

RB! links to an informative rec.games.pinball post (Usenet still alive? Huzzah!) which explains: "John Popadiuk is designing a few games for release this summer by a company called Zizzle. A smaller version of a full size pin. Real solenoid flippers and bumpers, ramps and multilevels. Real wood cabinet but at a discount price. Around $300. First out is a Pirates of the Caribbean and Marvel Super Heroes. Trying to tap in the home market just as Bally did in the mid '80s."

There are a few pictures of the Marvel Super Heroes prototype from the New York Toy Fair earlier this year which show that, for $300, this might actually be a pretty fun purchase - the Pirates Of The Caribbean ad also linked seems to indicate that, although it's not got the sophistication of the real, multi-thousand dollar thing, Zizzle's concept may still be a pleasant compromise.

Game Ads A-Go-Go: A Brief Guide to Gaming Diseases

vcg_logo_gsw.jpg['Game Ads A-Go-Go' is a bi-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.]

In a previous Game Ads A-Go-Go, I gave you proof that video game companies want you to die. This week we'll go a little bit more in depth with the same theme, examining one of the more subtle ways that the video game industry intends to do you harm. It's a fact: some video games spread infectious disease. Luckily, some brazen advertisers were kind enough to put warnings in their ads for us to interpret (snarkily). So get out your latex gloves, 'cause it's time to examine some particularly nasty games.

The Disease Guide

megamanx3_large.jpg

Disease: Repetitive Gameplay Syndrome
Spread by: Mega Man X3 (SNES)

Symptoms: Gives the infected individual the impression that he/she is playing the exact same game over and over again, no matter how many different games he/she buys.

Other Symptoms: Feelings of guilt and shame that the afflicted just bought his/her 20th copy of a game originally released in 1987.

Treatment: ONE (1) COPY OF "KATAMARI DAMACY" PLAYED TWICE DAILY FOR THIRTY (30) DAYS.

Prevention Tips: Nothing short of the absolute destruction of Capcom will stop the spread of this disease.


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roadrash3_large.jpg

Disease: Road Rash
Spread by: Road Rash 3 (Genesis)

Symptoms: When operating motor vehicles on public causeways, afflicted becomes aggressive and attacks motorcycle riders with loose, hand-wielded chains.

Other Symptoms (see included literature): Acute burning sensation in the nipples, general scrape-like rash on 60% of the body.

Treatment: COMPLETE CESSATION of "ROAD RASH 3" PLAY FOR TWENTY (20) DAYS. THEREAFTER, PERMANENT AVOIDANCE OF MOTORCYCLES, CHAINS.

Prevention Tips: Wear leather chaps when riding.


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zoop_large.jpg

Disease: Lacklusterpuzzleclonitis
Spread by: Zoop (Multi-platform)

Symptoms: Every two years, the afflicted produces another single-screen unit-manipulating puzzle game similar to Tetris.

Other Symptoms (see included literature): Loss of friends, loss of appetite, insomnia, excessive battery consumption, dreams about puzzle games, hairstyles that resemble pieces from puzzle games.

Treatment: EMERGENCY GREEDECTOMY RECOMMENDED. OTHERWISE, ONE (1) TESTOSTERONE INJECTION MONTHLY FOR TWO (2) YEARS, THEN DAILY FOUR (4) HOUR SESSIONS OF LIVE-ACTION "MORTAL KOMBAT II" ROLEPLAY THEREAFTER.

Prevention Tips: Regular psychotherapy towards the goal of the realization that you're not a game designer. Avoid bodily fluid exchange with Alexey Pazhitnov.


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burncycle_large.jpg

Disease: Gonorrhea
Spread by: Burn:Cycle (3DO)

Symptoms: Burning sensation when urinating, strange discharge from the penis. Rarely, painful or swollen testicles (Typical patient reaction illustrated in picture above).

Other Symptoms (see included literature): Spontaneous head explosion.

Treatment: 300MG AMOXICILLIN TABLETS TAKEN TWICE (2) DAILY FOR TWENTY-ONE (21) DAYS.

Prevention Tips: Avoid playing video games with your penis.

Bonus Disease

blockeye_large.jpg

Disease: Conjunctivitis (Pinkeye)
Spread by: Blockbuster Video Rental Chain

Symptoms: Redness, irritation, watering of the eyes.

Treatment: FOUR (4) DROPS ERYTHROMYCIN IN EACH EYE DAILY FOR SEVEN (7) DAYS.

Prevention: Avoid rubbing infected Blockbuster merchandise directly onto eyeballs.

[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. He is also a big fan of bacon.]

Owls In Video Games - Why The Lack Of Coverage?

rael.jpg Our post-post-modern British chum Kieron Gillen points out one of the more marvellous concepts for a themed video game weblog that we've recently seen. Quite simply named 'Not Enough Owls', the site explains regally: "Owls: majestic creatures of the English countryside, and long overlooked by popular culture. This blog will go a small way to setting that right by documenting the role of owls in computer games."

The weblog's first post is lamenting an evil role for an owl in Sony's Loco Roco, raging: "There's no explanation of why he's there, why he's on the side of evil, or why he appears to be drunk, fat and in a Pac-Man ghost outfit. It's exactly this sort of lazy, fallacious nonsense that inspired this blog in the first place", and threatening menacingly: "Sony, you must correct this or the full weight of the revo-hoot-ion will be brought to bear upon you."

The latest post, very suitably, explains the role of Psygnosis in owl-based games, declaiming sagely: "One might be inclined to suggest that if there were any company in the history of videogaming which had supported owls, it might be Psygnosis." Sadly, the company's owl logo and owl-based game Agony didn't stop the industry REPRESSING THE OWLS YET AGAIN, and we feel a writing campaign to make sure that NintenOwls debuts at Revolution launch may be in Not Enough Owls' imminent future. Or at least a petition for some kind of Harry Potter-licensed Hedwig game where you deliver letters and eat worms? Petitions always work.

Sunday is a Day of Chu

SundayGameStudio.jpgFamitsu reports in an interview this week that former Sega man, Kaya Takafumi, who was largely behind Chu Chu Rocket, and had a stint at Sony as well, is creating a rather unique kind of game school called the Sunday Game Studio.

The school is aimed at so-called 'society people' - or those who have graduated from college and already found a job and contributed to society at large - and caters to those with free time on Sundays, thus the school's name. Students would be rigorously and strictly selected, for the school claims that they will learn with the guidance of seasoned game professionals, and as an internship, the casual PC game products created by students will actually go on sale in Yahoo!'s Game division.

Takafumi is drawn to networked games for their potential to expose new creators easilym and believes in his school in a sort of patriotic way to stimulate the creativity of Japanese designers against what he sees as a growing trend of publishers curtailing development around sequels to make a profit. He plans to enforce strict schedules of around three months for most of the games developed at Sunday Game Studio, in an effort to propel motivation to finish the projects. If the school works according to his plans, it will highlight the casual game market to which he has become increasingly attracted. One wonders how far the Pied Piper's music will play.

Tra5hTa1k Gets Into FFXI, Bigtime

trashtalk.jpg They're veteran machinima types, but for some reason, we haven't seen much online press for The Ill Clan and their fun new machinima show, Tra5hTa1k.

As a recent press release notes, "Starting with the 1998 game, Quake, the ILL Clan animators created a humorous cartoon in the normally violent 3D game" in the form of the Lenny and Larry Lumberjack shorts, including Apartment Huntin' [.MOV link].

This latest episode of Tra5hTa1k With Ill Will, their latest bi-weekly show (6 episodes thus far!), includes a 'review of Final Fantasy XI', which seems to degenerate into chaos pretty darn quickly, and from a quick perusal, it's actually pretty funny, nuanced stuff - not generally true of most 'comedy' machinima, besides that produced by the Rooster Teeth guys of Red Vs. Blue fame. As the Ill Clan are 'the originators', you should respect them like Afrika Bambaataa (uhh, or Steamboat Willie!) and view their show. Honest.

April 26, 2006

The Top Stress-Relieving (Video) Games?

incrisis.jpg Back to those fun folks at Toybane again, and this time they've set up a neat little list of 'The Top 8 Stress-Relieving Games'.

Top of the heap, naturally, is Katamari Damacy/We Love Katamari ("Both of these games are perfect examples of good, clean fun ways to wreak absolute havoc while spilling not a drop of blood. I have often found myself firing up one of the Katamari games after a particularly long day at work and just basking in the silliness. And no matter how badly your day has been, it can’t possibly be as bad as the poor Prince’s.")

But also hanging around near the bottom of the 'relaxing' list, under Guitar Hero and Rez, is, paradoxically, Incredible Crisis, a PS1 title we can heartily approve of: "A story of a family going through the worst of all possible bad days and jumping from one insane adventure to another via a series of increasingly surreal minigames, Incredible Crisis is playable by almost anyone, hilarious to watch and above all, short." It's all about the Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra, soundtrackers of this gem! Any other games that help you chill the huck out?

Mizuguchi, Buena Vista Team For Lumines, EEE, Meteos Fun

lumines2.jpg So, we don't even normally do 'breaking news' here, but this new Buena Vista press release is too precious and GSW-ish to pass up - Tetsuya Mizuguchi's Q? Entertainment has signed a multi-title publishing deal with the Disney division, and goodness is ensuing!

We quote: "BVG will publish the upcoming titles: Lumines II, a mesmerizing sequel to the highly popular action and music puzzle game, for the PSP system; Lumines Plus, a pulsing new version of the original title for the PlayStation 2; Every Extend Extra, an electrifying action puzzle shooter game for PSP; and Meteos: Disney Edition, a new version of the popular galactic action puzzle title Meteos featuring beloved Disney characters, for the Nintendo DS."

At one point, we'd heard that Ubisoft was still publishing Lumines II, but apparently not. Also, not sure what happened to the ((QB)) label, which was meant to be a 'boutique' label for Q? products with Bandai? It's referenced here in a Mizuguchi interview, but we note the Buena Vista agreement is for "all territories outside Asia", so maybe the ((QB)) concept is publishing these 4 titles in Japan?

(Oh, and that Tokyopia interview mentions that Q?'s CEO is "Shuji Utsumi [formerly] from Disney Interactive", so that probably helps explain the new Buena Vista connection. Anyhow... excitement!)

Violence In Games Researcher Spills Beans

bbkf.jpg GameSpy is continuing to, uhm, kick things up a notch, to tragically borrow an Emeril-ism, and its latest interview quizzes Dr. Sonya Brady about her somewhat controversial research that recently debuted, allegedly linking violent games and permissive drug/alcohol attitudes.

Brady, a postdoctoral fellow in the Health Psychology Program at the University of California, San Francisco, comments of reactions to her work: "What kind of feedback have I received? My feedback from research colleagues and other older adults has generally been positive. What I find most interesting is the feedback I have received from adolescents and young adults. Some people are interested in learning more about the research, even if they are skeptical of the results. Other people have been very angry." Those damn kids!

As for what people can do if they don't like the way the research was engineered, Brady suggests: "If people genuinely think that this research is flawed and feel passionate about the issue of whether videogame violence has any negative effects, I encourage them to pursue a career in research and to potentially design their own research studies in the future." OK, well, we'll see you in about ten years, then?

Simsploitation Scandal For Bijou Covergirl?

bijou.jpg Since we tend to read highbrow paper magazines such as The New Yorker and, uhm, lad/gadgetmag Stuff Magazine, we spotted that current cover girl and former 'wild child' Bijou Phillips has a penchant for the creations of a certain Wired-cover-starring Bay Area game designer.

In her full interview with Stuff, Phillips, who recently filmed the new movie Zodiac with director David Fincher, comments, when asked what she does for fun: "I play The Sims. I've gotten every single expansion pack for The Sims 2, and I'm obsessed."

She continues happily: "I sit online for hours downloading wallpapers and crystal spray paint - I just go nuts. I can sit and design houses and make families forever. I'd rather do that than anything else." Yep, there goes Will Wright, fulfilling another girl's domestic dreams yet again. [DISCLAIMER: Guys' domestic dreams can also be fulfilled by The Sims, and we are not confused about the difference between sexy and sexist, like the Spinal Tap folks.]

Special Feature: Halcyon Days - CGW In 1984...

[EDITOR'S NOTE: We're _very_ proud to welcome Kevin Gifford of Magweasel and Video-Fenky fame as a GameSetWatch contributor - he'll be starting a new column focused on the history of video game magazines for GSW in the near future. In the meantime, he made a rather lush 'test' feature for us which focuses on the heady world of early '80s game magazines. Thanks again, Kevin!]

Everyone loves Computer Gaming World. Sure! Who doesn't? It's the oldest game magazine still in active publication anywhere, a title it wrested from Computer & Video Games when the print edition died in terrifying obscurity in 2004. (I heard somewhere that the articles inside are very nice as well, all spell checked and everything.)

Back in 1984, however, it was a much smaller, humbler magazine than the robust juggernaut that lightning-bolts its way to mailboxes monthly today. In fact, it was less a magazine and more an oversized newsletter, with scratchy black-and-white pages interspersed among the expensive glossy ones. (CGW from this era is particularly loopy because it used ITC Korinna, the typeface used for the questions in Jeopardy! and lots of other game shows, as its main text font. The effect is like reading a particularly dense edition of the Sears catalog.

It was a heady time to be running a hardcore PC game magazine (especially since there four separate, healthy platforms to cover), and peering at the advertisements of the time reveal an industry more than a bit different from the one we have today. Let's take a closer look at these ads, all borrowed from 1984 issues of CGW...

Most retro game fans know how exciting Electronic Arts' ads were in the early 1980s. They were all just like this one for Archon II -- few graphics, lots of text, and the authors of the game (the "software artists") front and center. It was part of EA's efforts to distinguish itself from the rabble of small-time game companies and push its products as not just games, but works of art, or at least artisanship.

The artists of Archon II are (left to right) Jon Freeman, Paul Reiche III and Anne Westfall. Jon Freeman wrote an on-and-off column around this time for CGW called "The Name of the Game" that basically served as a public place for him to mouth off at the game industry's villains -- dishonest publishers, programmers who rip off ideas from other games, and SF authors trying to write text adventures (apparently this was a major crisis at some point in time).

Reiche, who later attained cult-idol status for co-writing Star Control II and now heads up indie developer Toys for Bob, looks about thirteen years old in this photo.

Competition Karate was one of those games where you didn't control your fighter directly, but instead typed a key to have him execute the move you want in the next "turn" of gameplay. Sounds pretty Apple-ish to me. I honestly didn't know they gave out trophies in karate tournaments.

Now we get to the ads printed on the B&W pages. I know this ad looks like it's from an old Wonder Woman comic book, but it really is for a computer game. For a wargame, it's got some pretty frenetic ad copy: "Nothing could stop the Wehrmacht...or so Hitler thought. He was wrong!!! [...] For all you devoted true-blue wargamers who can't find an opponent, that's no longer a problem!!!" All right, already. We hear you.

Wikipedia tells us that the Brewster Buffalo (called the F2A-2 by the US Navy) was an all-metal carrier craft that debuted in 1939 with a full-metal monoplane design, wing flaps, retractable landing gear, an enclosed cockpit, four fixed machine guns and attachments for two 100-pound bombs.

The British bought about 200 of them and sent 'em off to the Far East in order to save their main fighters (the Spitfire and Hurricane) for the European theater. They were deployed in Burma and Singapore and soon became the butt of endless jokes by Japanese pilots, who shot them down in droves with their superior Zeroes. The Buffalo was withdrawn in the space of a couple months and never used again by England, America, Belgium, or any other Allied country...except for Finland, who loved the things and got so good at piloting them that 12 Finnish pilots became aces (i.e. shot down more than five enemy planes) in Buffaloes before the end of the war.

This ad just made me curious; that's all.

  

Two separate "We want your games ads", both presumably placed by traditional book/music agencies trying to get into the game business.

It was still possible in 1984, albeit barely, to program a game by yourself, make 100 copies, put them in Ziploc sandwich bags, place an ad in mags like CGW, and actually see profit out of it. As games got more complicated, though, agencies like these tried to play middleman for lazy coders who didn't like the marketing aspect of making games.

I'm really not sure what the advertisement on the right is asking for. This is an ad! You've got to keep your sentences simple!

Not Funny. The whole "it to the" section sort of ruins the joke. Plus, if you need to order the XXL size for a shirt like this, shouldn't you really be reconsidering your priorities?

Here's a trivia question, is that a boy or a girl wearing the shirt in the photograph?

Interactive Fiction, From A Thousand Miles

woodsgdc.jpg Marvellously encylopedic game credits/info site MobyGames has also been known to run feature stories on occasion, and has just posted a detailed multi-part article called 'Something about Interactive Fiction', a neat overview which starts by citing Jason Bergman's fun IF Quake April Fool's joke.

Author Terrence Bosky then makes an important point: "Interactive fiction games respond to natural language input. In his book Twisty Little Passages: An Approach to Interactive Fiction, Nick Montfort points out that interactive fiction games recognize player input on two levels: Within the game world, and within the realm of the game as a program (saving your game or restoring it, for example)."

We then wander through many of the usual touchstones (Info-who?), before ending on this fun note: "Asked if he was surprised by the continued interest in Adventure, Don Woods said, “No, I'm not surprised. It spawned a large and active industry, and people in the areas of adventure games and interactive fiction keep looking back to see what else can be learned from the early successes. If anything, I'm occasionally surprised by the reverse: in the past few years I have begun encountering computer professionals who have NOT heard of Adventure. That used to be quite rare!”"

Nonetheless, it's still all about the spelunking, right? (Pictured above - Don Woods accepting the First Penguin Awards at this year's Game Developers Choice awards on behalf of himself and Will Crowther for creating Adventure - the award was presented by Infocom veterans Steve Meretzky and Bob Bates in full cave gear! Oh, and completely offtopic, while Googling to find this, we found out what IGN did at GDC this year. And people accuse them of being lowbrow!)

April 25, 2006

Minter Talks New Xbox 360 Game, Maaaaan

mintergame.jpg For all those out there who think we're Japanese fetishists who just have a wank everytime Hideo Kojima talks about what book he's reading now, witness our undying devotion to Jeff Minter! We'll give ourselves a good rubdown any time he does something too! The Tempest 2000/VLM/Neon/Unity creator is working on a new game for the 360. He's got the particle system going, and took some screen caps on his livejournal. Therein, he puts some odd words pairing animals and their emissions.

[One of these names pictured in the screenshot is 'Capybara spunk', which reminds us that our pals at Capybara Games have a really neat new project coming up, which I can't actually reveal, but involves persons that eat the flesh of others, in a genre you wouldn't expect.] Regardless, back to Minter. His new game hasn't really been properly defined, but he's talked about it just a bit, starting with how he feels expectations will be.

"Finally starting to get a grip on this new game. Always takes a while at first and there are times of floating around with that feeling of "I promised I would make an excellent game but I'm not feeling it yet", but it has ever been thus. In truth it's always been that way. It was exactly that way when I said I'd do Tempest 2000. I was certain the entire Jaguar community would laugh and point at me because of the crapness of what I'd made."

mintergame2.jpg>Whoops. Now I wish that when I met him at E3 2001 (I think that was the year - he was there for the Nuon), I hadn't asked him why Tempest 3000 wasn't much better than 2000. He probably felt bad. Anyway, he then went on to mention that even though Neon did really well (that's the visualization system for the 360, if you didn't know), the fact that Unity didn't come out makes him a bit nervous. Even so, cautious optimism abounds:

"At the moment it feels like it's starting to shake down well, the initial ideas resolving into things you can actually bolt game mechanic on, really nice bits like today with the p-system work just being lovely... it's good that it feels like it's starting to slot together well. There *is* no formula for this stuff, you just have to munge things around until they feel right and then build from there. And despite everything, despite hangovers from previous projects and people like the fucking Rev whose mission is to make game designers want to slit their wrists rather than ever design a game ever again - I'm starting to feel increasingly confident about this one, it feels nice, it really does :)." Guess we'll see! [Cross-posted from Brandon's IC.]

What About Brian Makes Game Designers Instantly Cool

brian.jpg We'd also noticed that new ABC romantic mishap sit-com What About Brian features a 'game designer' in the lead role, but, and we take his hat off to him, Kyle Orland at Video Game Media Watch actually sat through an episode of the thing.

He explains: "From what I could gather from half-watching the show’s first three episodes, the titular Brian is the sober business type while his best pal Dave is the creative fire behind Zap Monkey studios (known for the fictional arcade semi-hit “Throttle Autobahn”)."

But wait, it gets better: "In tonight’s episode, the pair gives a pitch for their big new game “Visiostate” to a group of producers. From what was shown in the presentation, the game (which seemed to be running on an Xbox) jumps from space adventure to prehistoric fetch-quest to super-spy bike race through a city with amazingly little grace (At one point Dave says it’s “never the same game twice.” I’d settle for it being the same game once!). One cool feature shown in the demo: a digital camera picture of one of the producers turns into a 3D in-game model instantaneously." I'll buy that for a dollar!

COLUMN: 'Parallax Memories' – Gunstar Heroes

Treasure Box['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 Treasure's run-and-gun action game: Gunstar Heroes for the Genesis.]

Lunatic Heroes

I first played Gunstar Heroes was with a friendly rival (he had a Genesis before I did, and more NES games). One day, after school, he came over to my house with a game box in hand and said this new game was better than Contra, which we had to play. It was the last game I played with him before I moved away. I don't know if I agree that it was better than Contra.

The game was originally conceived with the title "Lunatic Gunstar," but Sega of America recommended "heroes, since it's cool," to the then-unknown development company. The game was programmed in their spare time, and after a few bumps, Gunstar Heroes was released in the US and Japan in September 1993, on the ninth and tenth respectively. The game's success on both sides of the Pacific established a name for the small company, who were called Treasure.

Seven Force Level
Freedom of Choice

Gunstar Heroes is hard to describe - to say it is similar to Contra doesn't do it justice. I usually play using the homing-laser, which makes it fairly easy to beat the game using only a few continues. I have a friend who told me that he found the game damn hard and used far more continues. We got together last month to play though the the Treasure Box release. I realized it was his choice of weapon--the double flamethrower--that made the game so difficult for him.

Gunstar Heroes was built on choices, and not just in weaponry--the main stage order is selectable. I tend to go left to right out of habit, and the game seemed foreign when my friend took a different route. The bosses (and there are many) can be taken down in many different ways. This game is the epitome of Treasure's early don't-leave-anything-out design process.

GOLD DUST!
Fan Fare

Even with all the variations, the many levels, and bosses, Gunstar Heroes still produces a tight package of action. There are so many extremely original ideas crammed into this game. Every boss fight is memorable, and even the music and sound effects are overachievers.

Treasure is almost synonymous with hardest-of-the-hardcore fans, and their fan-base was practically built on this game alone. For years, devotees despaired that there would never be a sequel (though they ultimately had mixed feelings when it finally arrived in the form of Gunstar Super Heroes). There is a reason why fans are so zealous; Gunstar Heroes is a masterpiece of the Genesis library.

[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.]

Mother 3's 'Malaise' Poked At Pointedly

mother3.gif We at GSW continue to link to reviews that deflower your favorites (and alleged soon-to-be-favorites), and next up is import store NCSX's het-up review of Mother 3 for Game Boy Advance, in which, well, fur flies.

The un-named reviewer barks: "Perhaps the bottom line with respect to the visual department is simply why the game is on the outdated Game Boy Advance platform in the first place?", continuing: "Mother 3 offers absolutely nothing new when it comes to gameplay; truth be told, anyone familiar with either of the prior installments (or any other RPG ever made) will have no problems understanding what to do."

While he admits of the series: "Still, oddity is not without its own charm and hence gamers fell in love", the conclusion is grim: "It is remarkable that nearly 12 years after Mother 2 was released, Nintendo could still put forth a product that feels like a true sequel. It is appalling, however, that while the latest installment feels like Mother [aka Earthbound in the U.S.], it is an artificial sentiment more than a genuine one. Maybe this series is really a flash-in-the-pan: this is the third installment yet in truth the second original game; Mother 2, for all its fleshing-out and expanding, was at its core a remake of Mother 1."

Apparently: "In seeking to create an entirely new story and scenario, Shigesato Itoi let whatever nonsense that floated into his head to accumulate on paper and, even worse, morph into a full fledged game." Wow, what's that in my cornflakes? GameSpot has hands-on impressions of a much more Switzerlandian nature, on the other hand.

ColecoVision Welcomes Careful Drivers

colecodk.gif Via the ever-vigilant Atari Age, we're directed to a new interview with Coleco Industries' Dave Johnson at the ColecoNation magazine - according to the intro, Johnson "helped design and produce over 100 video games for the ColecoVision, ranging from Donkey Kong to Spy Hunter."

Among the interesting subjects covered was just how arcade conversions such as Donkey Kong, for which the Colecovision version was the first home version, were done ("We were never given source code or any other documentation. The basic technique for documenting a game was to have one person play [the arcade game] while another videotaped it. We never even did a direct video feed because it was better to zoom in and get close-ups of the actual pixels.")

He also gives a heartwarming reference to the relatively homegrown Coleco success: "In the beginning, no one knew if the product would be successful or even noticed by the public. Atari seemed like an incredibly successful product and it was hard to imagine how a little toy company from Connecticut could compete. It was very rewarding to see ColecoVision take off." Aw.

April 24, 2006

There's A Lara Croft Straining To Get Out Of Us All

laraa.jpg The ever-reliable 'Games Without Frontiers' column by Clive Thompson over at Wired News decided to delve into the attraction of Lara Croft this week, and surprisingly, Thompson's angle is that it was empathy, not lust, that drove millions of gamers into the Tomb Raider's grip.

He explains happily: "I think young boy gamers loved Lara for reasons that were considerably stranger [than "the basest urges"]. They weren't just ogling her: They were identifying with her. Playing the role of a hot, sexy woman in peril -- surrounded by violence on all sides -- was, unexpectedly, a totally electric experience for young guys."

Thompson, referencing Carol Clover's concept of 'The Final Girl' empathetic effect in horror movies, comments of the Tomb Raider series: "As with the slasher flicks, there's.... a constantly threatened woman, fighting for her very survival, attacking goons on every side -- and a captive audience of young men. Playing as Croft was an emotionally catalytic experience."

[Incidentally, did anyone else know about Tomb Raider: Quest For Cinnabar? Doesn't it sound like she's either looking for a cheap bath product or an expensive lounge bar?]

Final Fantasy VII - A Contrarian View

ff7.jpg Over on the personal site of 1UP Features Editor Jeremy 'Toastyfrog' Parish, there's a just posted, vaguely tongue in cheek, sure to be controversial re-review for Square Enix's often deified Final Fantasy VII.

Parish wastes no time in quipping that the title is: "Based on: A Hironobu Sakaguchi X Silicon Graphics slashfic crossbred with a really poorly planned D&D campaign", before explaining of the 'mediocre' title: "FFVII does have some value -- for instance, as a litmus test. In many ways, it serves as a convenient dividing line between different classes of gamer."

He continues by noting of the gamers "who totally love FFVII" and "inexplicably... number in the millions", that: "Some of them are simply nice but misguided people, but generally speaking, they're youngsters who had never actually played a role-playing game before 1997. (Or who suffer from intense, debilitating head trauma.)"

So... FFVII, travesty, or traviata for the soul? I'm afraid I wander marginally into Parish's camp - I'd rather be off playing Dungeon Master.

Comic: The Multicart Project: Part Seven

The Multicart Project is a weekly comic by cartoonist Dave "Shmorky" Kelly - check out the full comic archives so far.

mp07.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.]

When Retro Clothing Wasn't Even Retro

caverns.jpg Believe we've run a couple of stories on it already, but Jason Scott's Digitize.textfiles.com is still an amazing source of classic gaming and computing scans (though Jason, please add an 'added on' tag we can sort by, because we're having trouble working out what is new past the last 10 items nowadays.)

In any case, further perusal of its vaults shows a couple of particularly neat items which show that the current 'retro T-shirt' craze actually has antecedents in clothes and merchandise that were available in the early '80s - this is a 1983 Atari Connection catalog that includes a great Centipede T-shirt, as well as one for the much more obscure Caverns Of Mars, which is apparently in the very hack-friendly Atari Flashback 2.

Even better, though much less game-themed, is this Sweet Gum 'unusual computer gifts' catalog from 1982, which includes a page of 'Softwear' for the computer enthusiast - including 'I'm bilingual - I speak English and Basic', and the almost salacious 'Byte My Bits'. Sweet Gum and Hot Topic have more in common that anyone previously thought, apparently.

Meijin, YMCK Duke It Out

meijin.jpg YMCK, don't you know, is the massively excellent chiptunes band that broke onto the scene about a year ago, maybe more. Famicom instumentation with lounge jazz cutesy female vocals, it all works quite well. And thanks to Youtube, you can check out a particularly interesting performance of theirs. Yes, that's none other than Takahashi Meijin onstage (who I've met! He's very bald!), singing his heart out, and occasionally pressing buttons really fast.

If you're not familiar with Meijin, shame on you. He's been with Hudson Soft for an eternity, and is renowned for his ability to press famicom buttons really fast (16 times per second...or he used to be able to, anyway). Zepy tells me his highest ever was 17. In the movie Gameking, he broke a watermelon with his technique. And his hair! That certainly explains the watermelon poking minigame we linked on december 4, 2003. He's also the basis of the Adventure Islands character.

Regardless! Here, while the cameraman has not been able to take the stupid timestamp and displays off the image, he has captured an event of some magnitude. It also seems they're singing some song that is very famous. I'm too stupid to identify it, so I'd appreciate someone letting me know. Update! People less stupid than me have imparted some wisdom. The first song is Rock and Roll Rendezvous from YMCK's new album (which features Meijin in its recorded form, too! - thanks brendan). The second song they do is a Caravan Stage from the Gunhed series, namely Super Star Soldier. I'm rather embarrassed I didn't recognize it - thanks ioonearth. Do check out the other YMCK videos if you've never heard them, they're better than some other things! Thanks to the mighty Juan Ramirez, who just redesigned his site, for the Youtube link.

Bonus: Zepy says: "Takahashi has released two albums on his own in the past, and a 16 shot 20th anniversary album just last october. Check it out here." And this is his official site. [Cross-posted from IC.]

April 23, 2006

Column: The Gaijin Restoration - Jung Rhythm

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 Jung Rhythm from Altron. It was released in early 1998 for the Sega Saturn in Japan.]

Music Makes Me Move
When I was two years old, my parents noticed my left eye bulging out of my head. This led to that and whatyaknow, I had a brain tumor on my optic nerve. Snip-snip, all better. Except now I had monocular vision, but no monocle. A steady diet of 2600 games were prescribed to build up my shattered hand-eye coordination. But somethings never hit 100%, including my spatial reasoning (you don't want to be in the car when I'm merging on the freeway), my handwriting (I was a prime candidate for Ms. Mavis Beacon) and my rhythm (a straight-A 3rd grader pulled down to the murk of mere adequacy by the tyranny of the recorder.) Also, on the latter: I'm very white.


vibWhat I lack in rhythm I make up for in plucky soul. Though I adore music games, I am by no means good at them. Now the question is: I may not have Rhythm but do I have Jung Rhythm? This is a quaint Sega Saturn game which apes PaRappa the Rapper, or more accurately, totally bites its style more than a little. Fundamentally, both games are singing games, have you play as children, require precise timing, have six story based stages/songs, an unlockable seventh, and I suck at both of them. More importantly, they both feature really odd scenarios, from Parappa getting a drivers license to Jung Rhythm's eating breakfast, painting a cow and competing in a version of Set It Off with a low poly Paris Hilton 3rd grader.

The low poly count isn't really an issue, but it's a constant reminder of the Saturn's sorry fate, at least in 'The Colonies'. The stills presented here have shrank some of the ugly, but believe me, its a bit of a grimace, especially when you have to consider the charming superflat of PaRappa. Scenes are vibrant, and change dynamically depending on performance and progression. Control is amazing for any right brained or two left thumbed would-be 8 year old little girl. Even with God of War coming out a decade after the PlayStation controller was released, I still have problems hitting TRIANGLE or SQUARE with conviction when it's dictated. The Saturn's more literal ABC control makes me a much better pusher-bot, and when the D-pad is brought into the equation, I can cope with transliterated cardinal directions.


Everyone's a Critic

vibThis is a fairly easy game to play without a firm grasp of Nihongo, though the songs are indeed in Japanese. There is a cutscene with a song rendered in English, and quite a few songs have the odd purloined word show up - Ms. Mini Hilton even starts counting in Swedish at one point, bringing chills to spines of anyone who ever saw mid-90's John Candy/Doug E. Doug vehicle Cool Runnings. The one caveat is stage progression. When you make it to the end of a song, a panel of judges pass fiery convictions on your performance. You must be up to muster with all the judges to a certain degree to continue. And here we find no Jung Rhythm nor reason. While one Judge seems to just go for general accuracy, and another likes when you go crazy on the ad-lib moments, the others are conundrums wrapped in enigmas presented by Japanese text and bar graphs. Frustrating.

Coda

no alt textIn the end, it's another music game that never came to the states. It's available and cheap. Making progress can seem random at times, but the bizarre plot and hum-along music are up to par. So, I invite you to enter the 3rd grade, eat some breakfast, slap down a ho, paint a cow, sing some karaoke (does that count as a post-modern gaming scene?) and make it to the stage to sing a stunning duet with rock god Mr.Chorking. Which is a horrible name for a rock god!

[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 and recently wrote about Zelda and its lateral connection to the seedy world of attractive violinists.]

Real-Life Shenmue Streets Get Stars & Stripes Attention

smue.jpg For those not in the know, Stars & Stripes is the official newspaper of the U.S. military, and therefore, you might expect any news stories about games in it to include perhaps America's Army, or maybe Chuck Norris or something.

But, in reality, a story from the April 21st issue discusses the real-life location of Shenmue's in-game streets, "the clutter of bars and shops called the “Honch” across from Yokosuka Naval Base", a U.S. Navy outpost in Japan.

Giving Sega geeks everywhere a good name, interviews reveal just how much the most hardcore Shenmue fans want to hang out with sailors: "“I envy you for getting to walk down Dobuita every day,” Drew Onia, a 19-year-old from Calgary, Alberta, said recently in response to a query on a Shenmue fan Web site. Onia, who’s played Shenmue since it first appeared six years ago, is one of several fans who have visited Yokosuka to see how the real city stacks up next to the virtual version." Yes, this is what gaming idiots really do in their spare time, military folks.

Investigation: GamesRadar's Launch Spin

gamesradar.jpg So, we first reported on the launch of Future Publishing's massive U.S/European consumer game site GamesRadar back in December, and leading up to its launch in early March, there was a fair bit of online coverage - Mediaweek even weighed in on the "war... [that] pits major online gaming content sites... against each other for gamers' intense attention and the increasing amount of ad dollars aimed at this young male audience."

But wars are rarely played in an entirely gentlemanly fashion, and this week, Future released a press release on GamesRadar's launch which pointedly noted that the site "...debuted as the fifth largest site in the category, measuring 2,602,354 unique visitors strong in the US, according to comScore/Media Metrix’s March 2006 Gaming Information Key Measures report." It also directly referenced its competitors, stating bluntly: "GamesRadar ranked substantially higher than IDG Entertainment, UGO Games and Ziff Davis’ 1UP Network."

Naturally, this seems to have raised the hackles of at least one of the above competitors, whose Marketing Manager emailed a number of people, including us here at the CMP Game Group, accusing them of "deliberate spin on the facts and a bashing of competitors in order to manipulate industry perceptions", partly due to the press release's reprinting on biz site Next-Gen. [Incidentally, if anyone from Future is reading, you should update your press release page, because your competitor's Marketing Manager thought the Next-Gen story was a solely editorial one, when it fact, it was a cut and paste of an existing Future press release.]

However, I think that any condemning of 'skewing of editorial' here isn't really the point - Next-Gen is a Future website, and is simply carrying Future's company line, which is, after all, factually correct - according to Media Metrix, GamesRadar really _did_ outpace 1UP, UGO, and Games.net & friends. It's certainly a little dirtier than normal - a milder version of those Pepsi ads saying Coke sucks, perhaps. (Quick disclaimer here: I also run Game Developer magazine and Gamasutra.com, the latter of which is a partial competitor to Future's Next-Gen biz site. But I have no agenda with Next-Gen, with whom we actually happen to share a number of freelancers.)

But a more interesting story here, one that we've also been following for a little while - how cheats/FAQs site Cheat Planet figures into the GamesRadar story, and how Future has been presenting that. When the site was purchased by Future in mid-2005 for $8.7 million, it was revealed that Cheat Planet was "the fourth largest consumer games information website in the US", and attracts "nearly 3.5 million unique visitors in the US alone [Source: Comscore Media Metrix, January 2005; Gaming Information Key Measures Report.]" This stat in itself is somewhat surprising to many, but given that we can't see where these visitors are coming from as external observers, and that Cheat Planet has had at least 7 years to creep up search engine rankings, it's not quite as crazy as it sounds.

gameplanet.gif So, on GamesRadar's launch in early March, Cheat Planet's traffic was folded into the site - Cheat Planet URLs now redirect to Cheatplanet.gamesradar.com, and thus, all of Cheat Planet's unique visitors are now counted as GamesRadar visitors. Although we don't have access to Media Metrix's stats to look at this further, we do have the ever-controversial, but internally reliable Alexa.com, which uses the Amazon Toolbar to monitor site popularity, and there's a very illuminating graph on there. It shows reasonably clearly that GamesRadar as a whole has now assumed the basic traffic level of Cheat Planet, and that this change occurred concurrently with the switching of the Cheat Planet URL to point to GamesRadar.

In fact, it appears that Cheat Planet's traffic has effectively decreased - in January 2005, it had 'nearly 3.5 million' uniques, in December 2005, it had 3.2 million, according to Future's own website, and now it's been folded into GamesRadar, the two combined apparently have 2.6 million uniques. [Though we did notice that Cheat Planet's highly-trafficked forum is still hosted on Cheatplanet.com, so that may be confusing matters.]

But nonetheless, Future's press release this week had David Cooper, Publisher of GamesRadar commenting triumphantly: "We are thrilled that more than 2.6 million unique visitors appreciated the quality and the passion for PC and videogame information that our editors produce daily on GamesRadar." Is this disingenuous? I would say so. It appears that, since the majority of the site's readers have come across from Cheat Planet, and Cheat Planet is/was particularly well trafficked for user-contributed cheat codes reached through search engines and its forums, and actually contained no internally authored editorial content. GamesRadar's editors (who, incidentally, I have nothing against!) don't wholly figure into this initial first month 'surge' in traffic - which is, of course, not really a surge at all. Which isn't to say that people won't gradually patronize GamesRadar for the editorial content over time, but... there's spin here.

Yet these are the games people play with traffic stats to get notice, and ad dollars. While there's nothing in there explicitly to condemn, it's symptomatic of the fact that Future are struggling hard to come out fighting online in a market that's crucial for the company, given the current problems with print magazines, in which the company is arguably significantly over-leveraged. Given that companies such as Ziff Davis and IDG are coming from essentially the same print-heavy position, and that gains in online earnings need to outpace decreases in print revenues before each company's shareholders are remotely happy, expect the war in the consumer game website biz to get significantly messier from here on out.

Inaba, Kamiya Are Chasing After the Gods

shrine.jpgViewtiful Joe creators Atsushi Inaba and Hideki Kamiya sat down with Japanese games site, ITMedia for a chat about Okami [JP link], their recently released "nature adventure" game. Turns out it takes a lot of blood, sweat and tears to create something as beautiful as Okami.

According to the ITMedia interview, the project started out innocently enough. Inaba mentions that when Viewtiful Joe was done, he asked Kamiya what their next project should be and was met with this reply, "I want to draw the greatness of nature." Inaba says he was taken aback at that response from the man who was involved in such violent, grotesque fare as Biohazard and Devil May Cry. Kamiya's yearning stemmed from his childhood in the country and how he felt, in some ways, homesick for that greatness of nature, living in a city. When Clover Studio was formed, there was a desire to produce something with a larger team than Viewtiful Joe's very small one and thus Okami got its first green light. But that was when the problems started.

Kamiya remembered a photo book of white wolves that had made an impression on him, and decided that the nature theme would be expressed by having that wolf swiftly fly and tread over the ground. So they made a demo movie of the game that was entirely realistic, but limited by the hardware, and the team was stuck. Then someone made a random drawing with Japanese painting feel to it, and from that moment on, they decided to go with a brush stroke style. But the team still didn't have any idea how to make an actual game out of this. They completed a couple of demo movies, but the style wouldn't stick until the third. At the time that Clover and Okami (here's import impressions of the final game from IGN) were revealed in 2004, the movie was actually a complete fake and all the gameplay showed inside it didn't really exist.

okami.jpg The trouble they experienced was not that kind of development trouble where they'd decided on something difficult and now they just have to implement it, Kamiya states in the interview. It was that over and over again, they batted their heads on what to do with the title to the point of getting headaches. Nothing was resolving itself, and as their first big title, the pressure kept mounting. There were points where Inaba became furious with Kamiya and the entire team was sprawled on the floor in anguish. (As an aside, Inaba mentions that Kamiya wrote the entire scenario by himself.)

So how did it get there? Mostly through things that came into Kamiya's head in chats with his development team, according to the interview. Somebody mentioned that it would be a shame to just draw the scenery for the player. From that, it was thought that simply having the graphics that way, with no gameplay concept to link to, would be merely playing to the peanut gallery, and reviving nature came up as an overarching goal. At this time they held many meetings, and Kamiya was struck with the thought of actually letting the player create things like trees and rivers and such.

In one such meeting, someone used the word 'shinra banshou', which means the entirety of creation and nature, in reference to how gods should be able to control it - thus, the idea of using a brush to draw things flew into Kamiya's head. Even after this, the team experienced difficulties with, well, difficulty. Kamiya's past games were very hard, and Inaba begged him not to go down the same road. So that they decided to make Okami a game where the depths were more suggestions of what you could do and accomplish in an open world, than something where you learn and refine past mistakes to greater skill.

In the end, Okami is a game both designers think should be fun just to play and not to master, as in Viewtiful Joe, where even extremely inexperienced can enjoy the small parts and reactions of playing the game. At this point, Inaba states, "Okami is not art." He explains that the offbeat graphics direction came to be seen by gamers as something special for them, something the typical person would find hard to grasp. But Clover's intentions couldn't be farther removed from this. (By the way, pictured at the top here is Oomiya Shrine, which shares the same kanji as Okami.)

The Xbox 360 Should Cost.... More!

x360.jpg I like Dave Long's 'LongShot' editorials on GamerDad - always have, used to link them when I edited Slashdot Games, and the latest is especially fun, espousing the theory that the Xbox 360 was too inexpensive.

Long explains his reasoning: "The beginning of a console generation has typically been for those with deep pockets or an unhealthy hardcore jones for videogames. These people are willing to smack down big bucks for the latest technology. The price of 360 was too low to keep the launch confined to that group and it was a big mistake in my opinion."

He continues: "With a higher price tag, Microsoft would have made more money, made sure sellouts wouldn't have lasted for months after Christmas and still sold through all the units they had to sell before the holiday", and concludes even more defiantly: "That's why I think Sony should be aggressively high with the price of PS3. Push that newly priced at $129.99 PlayStation 2 into every single home possible by sending the message that right now, the next generation of gaming is SUPER expensive." Thoughts?



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