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Archive For April, 2006

The Top Stress-Relieving (Video) Games?

April 26, 2006 10:01 PM | Simon Carless

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

April 26, 2006 5:26 PM | Simon Carless

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

April 26, 2006 2:29 PM | Simon Carless

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?

April 26, 2006 11:10 AM | Simon Carless

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...

April 26, 2006 7:35 AM |

[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

April 26, 2006 2:48 AM | Simon Carless

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!)

Minter Talks New Xbox 360 Game, Maaaaan

April 25, 2006 9:40 PM |

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

April 25, 2006 5:05 PM | Simon Carless

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

April 25, 2006 1:01 PM |

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

April 25, 2006 8:57 AM | Simon Carless

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.

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