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May 6, 2006

COLUMN: 'Game Mag Weaseling': In The Beginning...

['Game Mag Weaseling' is a weekly column by Kevin Gifford which documents the history of video game magazines, from their birth in the early '80s to the current day. This week's inaugural column starts, appropriately enough, at the beginning.]

There is no better way to start a column devoted to game-magazine history column than to document where game magazines began in the first place. (To tell the truth, I can actually think of several better ways, but I lack the supple, alluring physique required for any of them. And the lube.)

The exact debut dates are lost to time, but it's generally agreed that the very first magazine specializing entirely in games was Computer & Video Games, which was launched in mid-October 1981 by British media firm EMAP. Its editor, Terry Pratt, was both a tremendous game fanatic and a very technologically-minded guy -- the premiere issue of C&VG includes not just new game announcements and tips for arcade games, but also columns on programming in BASIC and successfully building a Sinclair ZX81 computer kit:

"As I mentioned before, always take care when soldering in components, especially transistors, to prevent overheating. Two transistors are supplied with the ZX81, TR1 and TR2. Both are ZTX313s, which are very small physically, and proved a real problem to even the most skilled kit builders. The effects of overheated transistors are distorted characters or no picture at all. For those who think they may have damaged theirs, the direct equivalent to the ZTX313 is the 2N2369."

With this editorial bent (which likely did not excite your typical 10-year-old Atari 2600 owner in 1981), it's little surprise that Pratt left CVG in 1984 to head up Beyond Software, a British game publisher. He stayed on as the magazine's publisher until 1987, by which time CVG had dropped the technical mumbo-jumbo and became the UK's version of GamePro, part industry cheerleader and part game/lifestyle rag for teens. Just like that, it coasted all the way to 2004, when it was killed not by low circulation, but by getting bought by rival publisher Future and closed in favor of Games Master, Future's own "multiplatform, kiddie and not all that opinionated" magazine.

By most accounts, the UK's Computer & Video Games beat out America's Electronic Games by a mere week or two. EG got its start with Arcade Alley, a column in Video magazine (a monthly devoted to TVs and laserdisc players and that sort of thing) written by Bill Kunkel and Arnie Katz starting in 1979. Once Activision was founded and video games showed their first sign of becoming a fad, Kunkel convinced the higher-ups at Reese Publishing to produce a one-off magazine devoted entirely to video games. That became Electronic Games, and sales were hot enough to make it a regular bimonthly, then monthly magazine.

Just like Computer & Video Games irrevocably defined British game mags, Electronic Games' basic style became the prototype for nearly every US magazine that followed it. Terms like "easter egg," "scrolling," and "screenshot" were originally coined by Kunkel for the editorial (yes, someone had to invent these terms), and the magazine became both a vital gamer resource and something of a trade mag for the home video-game industry. The result made Reese Publishing a rich company -- and as Kunkel writes in his book Confessions of the Game Doctor, it couldn't have happened to a less deserving publisher:

"Just think of the range of magazines that Reese was publishing in those days. They were probably the last company on Earth still doing those sleazy detective magazines that were already becoming retro-chic in 1981 [...] Beaver, however, gets its own paragraph, at the very least. Beaver was a men's magazine that occupied the absolute bottom of the porno ladder. The head photographer, a charming and gifted gentleman named Tony Curran, got many of his models straight off the bus at the Port Authority. Sometimes he got them right off the street. He would bring them up to the office and let me tell you, these were some of the skankiest-looking women I saw until crack came along."

The success of Electronic Games allowed Reese to move operations to downtown New York and its employees to consume the best cocaine that the early 1980s could produce. By the fall of 1984, though, the party was over -- ad sales had fallen to miniscule levels, and Katz and Kunkel both left the magazine as the publisher hired new staff that didn't know anything about games to put it in a new direction. That direction was computers, and productivity, and Sharper Image-style electronic toys, and readers didn't care less -- the rag limped into 1985 and didn't last much longer. "I've often thought in the ensuing years about what might have been if Electronic Games had simply gone quarterly and ridden out the crash," Kunkel later wrote. "We would have come out the other side in 1986 when the NES hit and we would have had the kind of credibility that money couldn't buy. But that didn't happen."

With Electronic Games failing to survive the crash and Computer & Video Games the victim of magazine consolidation, the oldest currently-running game rag in the world is Computer Gaming World, which premiered in December 1981 and just put out issue 263 this month.

It was founded by Russell Sipe in 1981 in response to a lack of game coverage in the computer magazines of the day. "In early 1981 I had some questions about perceived problems in computer history-based simulations," he said in a 2005 CGW interview. "I looked around to see if I could find reviews of these games. Of course, there were none. It occurred to me that no one was paying attention to computer games in the press, including the computer press. It was obvious to me that computer games were going to be big one day. So I said to myself, 'Someone should start a computer game magazine.' The rest, as they say, is history."

The magazine launched almost simultaneously with Electronic Games, but unlike EG and many of its imitators, it kept a very low profile, keeping page counts small and limiting circulation to several thousand copies. Despite (or, perhaps, because of) this underground approach to publishing, Sipe attracted a large pool of talented regular contributors, including Charles Ardai, M. Evan Brooks, future editor-in-chief Johnny Wilson, and Scorpia, the first noted female writer in game magazines and the main source of CGW's RPG and adventure-game coverage for nearly 16 years. CGW was the only game-exclusive magazine to survive the Atari shock of 1984, which Sipe later wrote was mainly due to CGW's extremely low-key approach.

CGW did not seriously try to grow until 1986, when it expanded to nine issues a year. The following year it launched Computer Game Forum, a subscriber-only seasonal magazine concentrating on strategy. It ended after two issues, and CGW became a full-fledged monthly soon after, with most of CGF's regular features (including the "Rumor Guy" news column) crossing over to the old magazine.

Sipe's magazine expansion program continued through the early 1990s, culminating in the sale of his company to Ziff Davis in 1993. Many readers were concerned about this sale, but it was arguably a necessity -- by 1993, CGW's coverage was still chiefly targeted at fans of hardcore RPGs, wargames and flight simulators, at a time when the PC marketplace was rapidly becoming younger and action-oriented. The magazine went through an evolution phase for much of the mid-1990s, but by the end of the decade was the largest PC magazine in the US. Not that it is anymore, but hey, can't win 'em all.

[Kevin Gifford breeds ferrets and runs Magweasel, a site for collectors and fans of old video-game and computer magazines. He owns enough magazines to smother himself with should the need arise, and his secret fantasy is for someone flush with game-publisher stock options to give him a monthly stipend so he can spend a year researching their full history and finishing the site. In his "off" time he is an editor at Newtype USA magazine.]

L.A. Glitterati Gawk At Gizmondo Crash... Still

enzo.jpg At this point, we're gobsmacked at how long the Gizmondo Ferrari story is dragging on, but the Los Angeles Times has now published an entire new article entitled 'We can't help but gawk at the Ferrari wreck', and interviewing local website editors and TV reporters about the continuing interest in the story.

Apparently, the town is still obsessed with the 162mph crash: "According to KTLA [local TV news reporter Bill] Smith, who crisscrosses the Southland numerous times each week doing live remote broadcasts, interest in the Ferrari mystery has remained as constant as "American Idol" ratings since February. "Most of our feedback has been in the field," he said. "Wherever we are, people come up to the live truck asking about it. They begin conversations, 'Were you the guys at the Ferrari? Did you see the Ferrari?' ""

Let's leave the final word to LA Observed's Kevin Roderick: "There is no substantive issue here, there's no societal imperative at all... "And I keep waiting for it to turn out to be less than what meets the eye; I keep wanting to let it die. But it won't. And I'm running out of ways to wink at it: 'This is a lame story, but here. Here's another twist.' " Yeah! Uh... yeah!

'Metal Gear' Mastermind Meticulously M-Somethings

kojima.jpg Over at the ever-reliable MTV News, Stephen Totilo has a new interview with Hideo Kojima up, one that again uses a little more tangential style and grace than your average game maker Q&A.

Firstly, it's noted: "The renowned game designer of the nearly two-decades-old "Metal Gear" series keeps a Spartan crash pad just down the street from the design studio where Kojima Productions is developing the PlayStation 3 installment of the adventures of Solid Snake. Against the wall, he keeps two dark, framed images, each featuring several MRI snapshots of his brain", apparently from some previous "spine and neck problem".

There's also some good questions on how politics affect his games: ""I think there are two types of games," he said. "One game is a tool that you play to have fun. An example is like a bat or a glove — it's a tool to play baseball and have fun. It's a sport. The other is that it could be a novel or movie type, meaning that there is a message or there is an eye-opener to the people who actually see it or read it." He said he feels he makes games of the second type, but that even those involve a bit of playing catch."

Eets Postmortem Roasts The Indie Goodness Pig

eets.jpg Over at sister B2B site Gamasutra, there's an extremely informative postmortem for PC indie title Eets, detailing what went right and wrong in the development of the darn cute-looking title.

The first thing that went right, apparently, was a pair of wacky web cartoonissts: "With zero budget in marketing, we garnered 7,500 downloads over a single weekend. Much praise has to be given to Tycho from Penny Arcade, whose link distorted our web stats by the hour (we could literally see the stat bars rocket upward, AT, or “After Tycho”), and to Fileplanet, who graciously hosted the demo and placed it on the front sidebar."

There's also some very interesting discussion regarding why the Eets creators decided not to partner with Valve for the company's Steam download system: "Valve wanted to have exclusive online rights to Eets (unless it sold poorly), and we could not make the business case given the reluctance from Valve on providing us with their Steam sales numbers on similar games, nor would they provide basic user information such as active installed base of female game players, and region-by-region active Steam users." Interesting stuff.

Forthcoming Xbox 360 Live Arcade Goodness Revealed

mutantstorm.jpg Some sharp-eyed smarties on the NeoGAF forums have spotted that Microsoft has launched the May edition of its 'Power Up' digital Xbox 360 magazine, which requires a free Xbox.com account required to access, and in it is a new list of forthcoming Xbox 360 Live Arcade titles, a couple of which are unannounced.

After a grand total of zero new XBLA games in April, we were frowning at MS, but this new list for 'Summer' release is making us grin, lots! Apart from previously announced titles such as card game UNO, the free Texas Hold 'Em Poker game (developed by TikGames), and the much-awaited Street Fighter II: Hyper Fighting, now confirmed for the first time is hardcore shooter sequel Mutant Storm Empire by Pom Pom (the original is my most-played XBLA title!), as well as the recently revealed Cloning Clyde from Outpost Kaloki X makers NinjaBee.

Also listed of note - the previously announced Roboblitz from Naked Sky Entertainment, the similarly mentioned Heavy Weapon from PopCap, and a brand new game called Small Arms by Fuzzee Fever creators Gastronaut Studios, of which nothing is known. Hopefully, they will all be playable next week!

Ritual SiNs at E3 With Amusingly Retro Attitude

s!n.jpg This whole post is very vaguely NSFW, but we just had to say how amused we are with Ritual Entertainment's E3 promotional model campaign for SiN Episodes, based around "cover girl and Playboy model Bianca Beauchamp (Elexis) and Cindy Synette (Jessica)" - both of which appear to be sporting outfits which are basically painted on.

We think that this is hilarious primarily because this type of thing used to be tolerated back in the late '90s (I'm particularly thinking of the Gathering Of Developers lot at E3, which was always liberally staffed with schoolgirls and Duke Nukem's exotic dancer 'friends'), but the Ritual guys don't seem to have got the 'no booth babes' telegram - or if they did, they don't care. And anyhow, we still imagine they adhere to the 3D Realms school of female relations.

Now, GSW colleague FrankC claims that he's just impressed with the fine workmanship on the lovingly crafted uniforms for Elexis and Jessica, and it's true that relatively little flesh is being shown (Jill from GDMag was particularly fascinated by how low the librarian-style glasses were on Bianca/Elexis' face), but then again - maybe this is just the same as having a real-life model for 'girl power'-totin' Lara Croft, just with more... vinyl?

May 5, 2006

Oh, Miyamoto, Oh, Oh

miyam.jpg Over at Edge Online, they have an excellent new interview with Nintendo's Shigeru Miyamoto, who, I don't know, you might just have heard of?

The piece is subtitled: "What happens when a doodler and dreamer becomes the senior managing director and general manager of Nintendo's entire game development programme?" Well, lots of wonderful things, apparently.

There's plenty of happy, grinning prose here: "Since his debut as Jumpman 25 years - nearly half of Miyamoto's life - ago, Mario has led a march which has never strayed from its simple goal: accessible, playful, entertaining games. In the DS that idea has crystallised into a piece of hardware and with Mario Bros' arrival comes the strong sense of a circle being closed."

And, actually, Nintendo's whole line of persuasion just seems so... contented, as Miyamoto gushes, all fluffy bunnies and rainbows: ""For example, when it comes to Revolution, we don't call it a next-generation console. We call it a new-generation console. We want each household to always have a Revolution console connected to their TV. If someone comes into your house and there isn't a Revolution sitting comfortably next to the TV, we want them to argue, and say: 'Oh! Why don't you have Revolution?'" We melt with you, Nintendo.

COLUMN: 'Bastards of 32-Bit' - Ore no Ryouri

orenoryouri1.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 takes a look at Ore no Ryouri for the Sony PlayStation, published by SCEI and released in Japan in September 1999.]

Who's the chef? Me. I am.

To import-hungry gamers, the PlayStation Underground was one hell of a tease. Disguising itself as a quarterly disc-based magazine, the typical issue of Underground was little more than a series of videos and demos promoting the latest PlayStation releases. Occasionally, however, the magazine would feature import coverage, with some issues going so far as to include playable time-limited versions of titles available only in Japan. Trouble is, only a small percentage of these games would later see release in America, leaving many players forever curious about what existed beyond the first few minutes of gameplay in titles like Metal Slug and Puyo Puyo Sun.

One of the more popular imports to be featured in the magazine was Ore no Ryouri, or "I'm the Chef", as it was called in the one-level demo version played by Underground subscribers. The title's unique gameplay won it many fans among Underground members, but despite many subsequent requests for an American release, no English version ever surfaced.

orenoryouri2.jpgIt's hard out here for a chef.

Ore no Ryouri is commonly described as a cooking simulator, but the game's scope goes way beyond mere food preparation. You're responsible for all of your restaurant's cooking duties, yes, but you're also the guy in charge of washing dishes, counting money, and chasing down dine-and-dashers when the situation calls for it. Careful handling of food during the cooking portion is important as well; customers don't tend to react too well if their soup includes a fingertip you cut off while slicing vegetables.

The game's multitasking requirements may initially seem daunting, but tasks are made simpler by the fact that control is limited to a single button and the DualShock controller's analog sticks. Cooking in particular feels very natural, as control in most cases involves manipulating both analog sticks in roughly the same way as one would use both hands. Chopping meat requires fast movements to simulate quick strokes of a knife, for instance, and making a good ice cream cone involves a slow rotation of one stick in order to give it an attractive swirl.

There's also a story about a frog or something.To clarify: A mama who cooks.

Do well enough in a level and you'll soon face the area boss in a cookoff, where skillful cooking on one side will cause the lesser chef's restaurant to suffer a series of roach infestations and belligerent customers. Ore no Ryouri contains a fun two-player mode similar to these boss battles, along with a number of bonus extras and pointless minigames to round out the package.

While Ore no Ryouri may have never found an American release, the PlayStation Underground demo version is captivating enough in its own right, and is very much worth seeking out for fans of unconventional gameplay. Similar action can also be found in the game's spiritual sequel, Cooking Mama for the Nintendo DS, which was recently announced for release in the United States. Now if only some enterprising party would develop a cooking simulator that takes full advantage of the Nintendo Wii's control scheme...

[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.]

Ludum Dare Spawns Sky Full Of Stars

fos.jpg The Indygamer weblog continues to do sterling work reviewing awesome PC indie titles, and its latest set of reviews cover the Ludum Dare 48hr game competition, which has just started judging.

One major highlight so far, reviewed by Indygamer, is Jari Komppa's 'And The Sky Full Of Stars', "combining elements from both Katamari Damacy and Fumito Ueda's Ico" - and all done by one person is just 2 of our Earth days, too!

According to IG: "Shadowy figures are attempting to destroy your town, but fortunately you have the ability to pluck stars from the sky and use them to smash these evil creatures." Oh, and the site has added an easy way to see the Ludum Dare games, even setting up a ZIP file with all the entries - awesome.

IGE's Axis Of Evil Advances On MMO City

wow0.jpg The world of MMO websites has been seeing some stealth and not-so-stealth takeovers recently, and Grimwell Online has details on the latest machinations of noted and controversial gold-seller IGE, whose holding company has purchased Allakhazam.com, one of the biggest MMO item info sites out there.

Over at Broken Toys, Scott 'Lum The Mad' Jennings has plenty more insight on the move, and, among other things, cites a post to Allakhazam which suggests: "The value of the purchase is really obvious. Thottbot and Allakhazam are the two largest sites for the largest MMO game in the world. The two have cancelled each other out financially, since anything one would charge for in a premium service was offered by the other for free. Now with both sites, we can expand our premium service to cover all WoW players."

But in reality, this is all a little confusing - are all these legitimate sites owned by IGE and partners (and not blatantly advertising gold sales yet) just being bought for legitimacy, or is IGE just one obsessed-over corner of a business empire that just includes MMO info sites too? Or are we overanalyzing this? We do want to know who's funding the whole caboodle, though.

Not-Forgotten Nuon Pummeled By BreakDown

breakdown.jpg Scott at DragonShadow has ported yet another Playstation Yaroze game to the Nuon! This time it's BreakDown, originally by Chris Wallace. It's a multi-directional shooter, with a kind of early Psygnosis-like design, which originally had digital and dual-analog modes. As an added feature for the Nuon, since it doesn't have dual analog, he's implemented a 2 player simultaneous control scheme, where through use of two controllers, you can control each turret individually. You unlock the two player mode by holding down B and C-down at the title screen.

This isn't actually a stand-alone release, incidentally. It's added to his existing suite of Nuon releases, which you can get in one package now. It's got Katapilla, Invs, and BreakDown. Word on the street is he might start on the awesome Robot Ron from Hermitgames, if the creator is into the idea. I'm all for it personally - as, well...I suggested it! If you've got a Nuon, and even if you don't, go check out DragonShadow for updates. [Cross-posted from IC.]

May 4, 2006

Exclusive: 'Halo: Spartan' For Gizmondo Details

halo.jpg You may know that GSW has been singularly obsessed with the now basically defunct Gizmondo handheld gaming system, having followed the 'car crash in the making', all the way from the lavish Gizmondo UK launch party to the, uhm, actual car crash.

So now, we have a, how you say, coup de grace? According to a source close to the former development arm of the company, the Gizmondo Manchester (formerly Warthog) development studio in the UK was working on pre-production for a 3D, FPS Halo title for the Gizmondo in 2005 called 'Halo: Spartan', before the company declared bankruptcy. And the game, had it gone into production, would have used the Gizmondo's back-mounted camera to detect motion and provide a 'mouselook'-like effect as you swiveled the handheld around, enabling the player to change the camera view just by physically rotating the machine. Whoa.

Now, you may be aware that the 'Halo for Gizmondo' rumor has come up before - in fact, Bungie specifically stated back in January 2005: "I am told Microsoft does have a relationship with the handheld maker, but I can tell you right now the arrangement does not include Halo." And, just to be clear, we believe Bungie - it's pretty likely that Gizmondo never officially signed a contract to do Halo for the Gizmondo.

However, Gizmondo did sign an official deal with Microsoft Game Studios in November 2004 for Gizmondo versions of Age of Empires, MechAssault and It's Mr Pants, with "at least two more titles to come from the deal in the coming months." Those extra games may well have been undecided, and were still subject to negotiation - they've certainly never been revealed.

But then, the rumor started (or more specifically, was actively encouraged by Gizmondo executives) that the Gizmondo was Microsoft's unofficial 'Xbox Portable', and thus the release of Halo on the Gizmondo (as one of those unannounced games) was only a matter of time. The execs used deals like this one with Microsoft to extract tens of million of dollars from investors (at least one of whom, who lost tens of thousands of dollars, has written to GSW mentioning that 'Xbox Portable' and portable Halo was used prominently in Gizmondo sales pitches!) Of course, the resulting funds seem to have gone in part to yachts, multi-million dollar homes, and sheared-in-twain Ferraris.

Yet the fact remains - there's video on the web of the 'Gizmondo Augmented Reality' prototype, which was to use the camera as an integral part of gameplay, as you looked at the Gizmondo screen and the handheld placed 'virtual items' on top of the photo output - a really neat idea. It wasn't too much of a stretch to simply use that tech concept to sense directional changes by monitoring the camera output, and map it to mouselook - something that the Gizmondo technical team apparently had working using the open-sourced version of a popular Id Software FPS running on the Gizmondo, as a test.

As for the plot of 'Halo: Spartan', it was to revolve around the first ever mission for Master Chief, as depicted in the Halo: The Fall Of Reach novel written by Eric Nylund in 2001 as a prequel to the first Halo game. Or at least, that's how the folks at Gizmondo saw it. It's possible that Gizmondo never even mentioned to Microsoft that they were working on this tech and pitch, and it was simply to tell investors about - we wouldn't put it past the insanity of the company to just start pre-production anyhow.

Or it's possible that it was a pitch to fill one of the remaining slots in the Microsoft contract, and was never approved - none of those other licensed Microsoft titles ever came out for Gizmondo, incidentally. But in any case, it existed, and as an intriguing footnote in the history of both Halo and Gizmondo, it shouldn't go unrevealed.

[UPDATE - 05/05/06: Former Gizmondo Manchester employee 'exhog' has popped up in our comments to confirm that "a storyline and basic game structure at the very earliest stage of concept" existed for the game, but to take issue with any claim that coding had started, stating that it was all done "with a wink and a nudge to extract more cash out of the investors". He says (along the way confirming that the Manchester studio was working on a Gizmondo version of MechAssault): "It never went anywhere close to becoming real, maybe just maybe if Giz bosses weren't such crooks and knew anything we would have released the mech assault game and then who knows, big M might have started to consider the possibility." Oh, and he also adds: "While i am here i hope that ape Erikson and fatty Freer rot in prison."]

E3's Bleep Bloop Blasts Up Virt, 6955, Tetris Fiends

bleep_bloop.jpg We're delighted to note a last-minute addition to the E3 party fiesta that should be a blast for chiptune fans: "dublab & Party Scammers present... BLEEP BLOOP - an evening of video game inspired sights and sounds."

We're hosting the full web-friendly flyer version of the info, but here it is: "As the E3 video game expo kicks off in LA, dodge the corporate fuzz and come join dublab for music, art & heavy joystick action... Bands: 11hz Robot: http://www.myspace.com/11hzrobot; Dolphinforce: http://www.myspace.com/dolphinforce; 6955: http://www.robotandproud.com/6955/; Virt: http://virt.vgmix.com/ .... Tuesday, May 9th / $7 / 21+ / 8pm-2am, the Little Temple, 4519 Santa Monica Blvd, Silverlake."

Yep - that's the godlike Virt, live in LA for the first time ever, with other amazing chiptune types like 6955, and DJs, visuals, plus a Tetris tournament running all evening, yikes. Miss this and you are squarewave.

McMillen Talks Gish, IGF, Animation Greatness

mcmillen.gif Over at Animation Magazine's website, they have an excellent interview with Gish co-creator Edmund McMillen, talking to the artist and animator on life after winning the IGF Grand Prize in 2005 for the gloop-heavy PC platformer.

Unfortunately, as McMillen discusses the post-IGF course of Gish creators Chronic Logic, it's clear that there has been a mutual, but slightly unfortunate breakup, as he notes: "Because of the company split and disputes over rights to the game, we lost a lot of mainstream publishing deals. Personally I think that Gish would have done really well on handhelds and Xbox Live."

However, plenty of good is on the horizon, since McMillen is working with Gish co-creator Alex Austin on two new titles, including Book Of Knots, where "you take the role of a physics-based biped who sets out to collect the souls of the immortal creatures written about in the Book of Knots. Think [Sony’s] Shadow of the Colossus in 2D meets Gish, and you'll have some idea of how the gameplay will feel." Sounds mouthwatering - looking forward to it, and the other referenced indie titles, soon.

Digital Devils, Sans Atlus?

story.jpgAsmik Ace has announced that the latest in their series of forward-pushing SRPG series will be released this winter for the PS2. Entitled Tensho Gakuen: Chronicles of Moonlight (Japanese link, click on the white sidebar for a very cute announcement animation!) is a sequel to the spin-off from the main series, Majin Gakuen. (The difference between the two splinters is that Tensho Gakuen takes place in modern day, while Majin Gakuen takes place in the Edo period.)

Both series revolve around people in Japan interacting with spirits and gods, Majin with warriors who communicate with the gods, and Tensho with schools that train practitioners to maintain the balance of a spirit world. Thus, while the whole series feels a little reminiscent of Shin Megami Tensei, Tensho Gakuen titles have a feel similar to Atlus' Persona series, and this latest will take place five years after the first Tensho game, and will apparently interact with save data from the first game. Since its appearance in the late PSOne age, the Gakuen titles have earned a considerable amount of support and praise from hardcore fans.

These games are noted for one feature in particular -- when talking to people, the usual dialogue selection choices are given, but there's also a different dialogue system in place. Two circles with four emotions or approaches, each represented by an icon appear to have you respond to the character, things like worry, comradery, friendship, love, anger, coldness and so on. In later games, as you tend toward certain responses, the icons change to reflect your personality -- coldness may change to cruelty or heartlessnes for instance.

Previous titles have worked in a lot of gameplay changes and storyline branches into this system and there's no reason to expect Tensho Gakuen will be any different-- the details we have for a start reveal that the series' habit of splitting up gameplay into the usual dialogue scenes ---> battle are still there, with the third mode being a Valkyrie Profile-esque map of the school of with limited time blocks consumed by different activities and conversations with different people, that once eroded, move you onto the next chapter.

Tensho Gakuen will most likely have refinements in its considerable SRPG engine as well--already the graphics look heavily improved over earlier titles and are more isometric a la Tactics Ogre than the series' standard Fire Emblem style--but these, as yet, have not been revealed.

Silver Platter Tries To Revitalize UMD Movie Scene

umd.jpg Even though there's been all kinds of doom and gloom about the future of the UMD movie format, with a lot of the major studios largely bailing on UMD, we were kinda heartened to get a pre-E3 press release from Silver Platter, who bill themselves as 'the indie UMD label'.

There's a good recent interview with the founders on the Video Business website, in which it's noted: "The Venice, Calif.-based company thinks core PSP consumers will eat up the 35 titles it’s releasing this year on UMD, the PSP’s format. The line primarily consists of extreme sports discs priced relatively low at $17.95." Title include neat skate vid The DC Video and the amusingly named Teddybear Crisis snowboarding vid.

Also: "Further underscoring its faith in PSP titles, Silver Platter is opening a 1,000-square-foot retail outlet near its Venice headquarters. Dubbed UMD Lab, the store will hold 50 to 75 UMD titles, including its own and major studio offerings. PSP hardware, accessories and game software also will be sold. A Wi Fi-equipped gaming lounge will let customers test the wares." Whoa... hopefully, margins will be good enough to bring all kinds of weirdness to UMD - like 8-track!

GameLife Blows Up Like Lip After Wasp Bite

gamelife.jpg We sat on this for a bit long, so everyone has picked it up now, but since we already wrote that nice headline, we're going to run it anyhow - PRWeb, home of ridiculous self-constructed PR puffery, has a new press release touting the non-sensible GameLife gaming video show, claiming that it "has overcome David-and-Goliath style odds" to reach fame and fortune.

If you haven't seen it, GameLife is a much-remarked upon, so-amateur-it's-unmissable broadcast, starring the guy whose voice breaks repeatedly in the Simpsons - or some nerdcore variant there-of. Kotaku's Brian Crecente handily supplies them a quote: "Expect to see a lot more of this video game version of Wayne's World in the coming months." To which we'd like to point out - Wayne's World is fictional, and was created by actors to be intentionally funny? Sorry, we've evidently got our curmudgeon hat on today!

Still, car crash TV is still TV, and apparently: "Ziff Davis Media has also taken an interest and obtained first distribution rights for the show's E3 special, in trade for media access to the floor of the world's largest video game convention." So, expect GameVideos.com to be crushed under the load when the E3 special comes out.

May 3, 2006

A Tale Of Two Scores

trialz.jpg The somewhat bizarrely named NeoGAF, which is where the gigantic pedantic Gaming-Age Forums hang out nowadays, also posts features, and its latest is named 'A Tale of Two Scores: Video Game Reviews and Their Conflicting Metamessages'.

The intriguing piece, which appears to be some kind of first-year J-school essay, conducted actual research, which revealed that independent viewers estimating scores based on the text of a video game review tended to underestimate the resulting score by anywhere between 0.8 and 1.3 points out of 10, depending which of two slightly convoluted ranking methods were used.

The conclusion: "In conclusion, well, there really is no clear conclusion, just as there is no clear cause of conflicting metamessages and no clear solution. Thanks to their unique composition, video game reviews carry two metamessages, and for whatever reason, these metamessages don’t always reinforce one another as they should."

[We think this sucks/rocks, and rather thought that it showed that actual scores are higher than game review texts currently 'imply'. But we were never that good at reading graphs.]

Super Wagner Wars?

闘劇.jpg Mainichi News reports that Tougeki '06- Super Battle Opera, the fourth in a line of tournaments held by Enterbrain -- publisher of many magazines like Famitsu, creator of the RPG Maker software, and publisher of titles like Fire Emblem's sister game, Berwick Saga--and their arcade magazine, Arcadia has begun on the 3rd of May. (Rather disingenuously, Arcadia advertises their various Tougeki Soul and tournament-related game strategy guides below the announcement.) Harmony of Kicky Punch, err, Super Battle Opera's preliminary rounds will be held all over Japan in 270 shop and arcade locations, though previously selection rounds have been held in Hong Kong, South Korea and America.

The interesting thing about the Aria of Knuckle -- sorry, Super Battle Opera -- is that it doesn't revolve around a single game, but rather nine different games: Street Fighter III: Third Strike, Virtua Fighter 4: Final Tuned, Tekken 5: Dark Resurrection, Melty Blood Act Cadenza, Guilty Gear XX Slash, The King of Fighters XI, Neo Geo Battle Coliseum, Samurai Spirits: Tenkaichi Kenkakuden and Fist of the North Star.

Symphony of the Figh--oh, who am I kidding?-- Super Battle Opera's preliminaries will be held from the 3rd to the 5th. Separate tournaments are scheduled for each game, three on each day, to cover the entire nine. Its so easy to tell this is a Japanese tournament by the conspicuous lack of Soul Calibur and Marvel vs. Capcom 2.

Inform 7 Makes Text Adventure Programming Natural

inform7.jpg The ever-reliable interactive fiction site Grand Text Auto has news of the debut of vitally important IF language iteration Inform 7, and there are some major changes.

Nick Montfort explains: "After years of work and anticipation, Graham Nelson’s new interactive fiction development system, Inform 7, is out. The new system is in many ways more different from Inform 6 than OS 10 was from System 9: Code looks like natural language (like English prose, specifically), a new and well-crafted IDE from Andrew Hunter is provided, and numerous improvements to the language and world model have been incorporated. Games still compile to z-code, however, to run on the standard interpreters that run earlier Inform games."

Here's some example source code (!) from a sample Emily Short game, as quoted in the news piece: "The warning sign is scenery in the Entrance Hall. The description of the warning sign is “You know the words by heart, having heard them first from your father, and then studied them yourself on many more recent occasions.” The printing of the sign is “Those who seek to leave the castle depart at peril of their lives and souls, unless another servant be provided in exchange, or a fixed term of absence be granted by their master.” Understand “old” or “familiar” as the sign." This is... source code? Iiiinteresting.

Lost Levels Gets Fishy With Pescatore

pescadouble.png GSW contributor and Gamasutra staffer Frank Cifaldi also runs that there Lost Levels thing in his leisure time, and luckily enough, the site has just updated with a look at obscure, unreleased Sunsoft NES title Pescatore, courtesy Mike Thompson.

As Frank explains: "Our latest awesome and badical Lost Levels Feature Presentation spotlights Pescatore for the Famicom, a lost puzzler from the days when Sunsoft made really great games. Except Pescatore isn’t a really great game. In fact, it’s kind of crap. It’s like Dr. Robotnick’s Mean Bean Machine (aka Akuma no Densetsu Durakura PuyoPuyo Bushido Gaiden) except that instead of featuring monkey robots and fat guys, it has random crashes."

But it appears that this was one late NES title that it was a wise move to skip on releasing: "Had Sunsoft released this game at or near the time it was displayed, the company would likely have taken a financial hit. It's unfortunate that Sunman was never released, and it's an utter shame that most gamers missed out on both Mr. Gimmick and U*fouria. But leaving Pescatore unreleased was probably a wise business decision."

May 2, 2006

Sega Hires New Vampire Death Squad

segavampires.jpg Admittedly, it's a pretty small squad. According to a press release over at Coinop Today (official PDF here), Sega has hired two new ladies to the merchandise division. Their names are Candice Lozano and Daria Szpiczakowska, and they are clearly the beginnings of Sega's legion of the undead, poised and ready to re-assert Sega's dominance in the console and arcade arenas. Candace, who we assume to be the brunette, was previously the Business Manager of Sega Studio Kansas City(!), which is apparently "also the first studio site to house redemption products." I bet that means something to somebody! But later, upon a move to darkest Ohio, she took on the title Food & Beverage Director. This, you'll find, is a euphamism for blood-sucking!

Daria, she of the death stare and the blonde hair, is a new graphic designer. "We knew Daria was a “prize” as soon as we met her and saw her work,” said Laurie Jezuit, Sales and Marketing Manager of the Merchandise Division. I bet you did - after she drained the blood from your body! Here's another thing: "Together, the amusement team will be developing a strong campaign for Sega’s new business opportunities..." - that's the bit where they take over the world again. Nevermind that they all work in the arcade division, and just sell plush toys and things. Not in our minds they don't! Fly swiftly, Sega Vampires, we're rooting for you!! Thanks to cap'n frank for the link! [Cross-posted from IC.]

COLUMN: 'Parallax Memories' – Darius Twin

Cover for the Japanese Version of Darius Twin['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 Taito’s side-scrolling shooter: Darius Twin]

Warning! Giant Ship Approaching!

Darius, as a series, is usually the odd man out when the topic of horizontal shooters comes up. R-Type and Gradius are the names that get thrown around, and occasionally Darius will be mentioned as a side-bar. But a patron of '80s and '90s arcades couldn't ignore the gigantic three-screen arcade cabinets that held Darius and Sagaia (Darius II outside the United States).

The first game in the series released for the SNES was Darius Twin in 1991. When every other console release was a port of either Darius or Sagaia, Twin aimed to be something new. Most changes were aesthetic, but the flow of the game was altered heavily. The original branching triangular path was changed to twin diamonds, separating, converging, then separating again. At the point of convergence is a level that scrolls in all directions, most prominently diagonally. Stationary obstacles come at you at all times from all directions, forcing tight maneuvering and unique puzzles.

Nice diagonal scrollingTuna Sashimi

Giant fish are probably the last thing you expect to see in a shooter, but one of the many charms of the series is its collection of aquatic bosses: coelacanths, mackerel, squid, nautilus, lobsters, sea horses, sea turtles, and a huge anglerfish the size of four screens. These are mechanical fish that attack with lasers, arms, glowing orbs, and occasionally other fish.

These intergalactic ichthyoids, in addition to having planets to lord over, all have distinct names and code numbers (which carried over from Sagaia). The sea turtle is MX04: Full Metal Shell, the squid is BD4Z: Demon Sword, and the mackerel is HH02: Killer Higia. Bizarre, but not at all uncommon in this series.

Like the fish, the music was composed in the tradition of the series by Taito in-house band Zuntata, who wrote some of the most memorable soundtracks for games of the '80s and '90s. The score is creepy and eclectic; it stands out from the from the first stage and haunts you to the last. And even though the Darius music is overlooked by many, it sure got a large and expensive soundtrack release.

The King is dead, long live the KingZone Is Over

This game departs in many ways from the previous games in the series, presumably to make it more palatable to console gamers. Twin is nowhere near as difficult as Darius and Sagaia. But to balance this, there is never an option to continue; the player is forced to single-credit the game. Usually in the Darius series, death spells defeat as the levels have get more difficult and the upgrades rarer. In Twin, the ship retains its power-ups post-mortem, sweetening the bitter taste of defeat. The game is accessible to those unwilling to spend the many hours required to master the other Darius games, but not so easy that everyone can beat it on their first try.

Twin added marvelous little touches to this epic series. It named most of the planets in Darius' galaxy. It resurrected and upgraded some of the series' best bosses, including a deadly duet of Emperor and Queen Fossil. And the pace and tone are never so serious that you feel the need to take notes. Even with its unorthodox (and unorthogonal) scrolling, it's a relaxing break from its own series and from other, more technical, shooters.

[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.]

Shmup-Dev Sprouts Wings, Turns Into Dragon

dbreed.jpg We've been fans of the competitions over at Shmup-dev.com for a while, and the latest, "dubbed “DRAGON SHMUP” has been launched on May 1st, 2006."

According to an official press release (oo!): "This competition is focusing on any aspect of the shmup genre under a few conditions. The game must star a fantasy/medieval dragon as the main character. The dragon must shoot something, either lasers out its eyes, or some sort of gas out of its mouth (or both)." Hawt - can anyone make anything to rival Irem's epochally good Dragon Breed?

In addition: "The competition setting must be in a fantasy realm that appears to be in the medieval era mixing with magic that has been seen in many “fantasy” style games / movies.... Judges will be rating the games on most original, best graphics, best sound, and of course, best of the best!" The contest is available to enter until July 1st - and there's more info at the official Shmup-Dev website. And may the best firebreather win!

Lumines Gets Little Cell Phone Legs, Arms

lumobile.jpg So, we totally love Lumines, which is why Modojo's new information about Gameloft's version of Lumines for cellphones fills us with delight, in particular the news of the soundtrack: "11 skins/musical tracks across an eclectic mixture of genres including house, reggae, and electronica. Tracks from Mondo Grosso and Andy Hunter have been confirmed."

Now, Mondo Grosso, which soundtracked the PSP version, is a not unexpected choice, but it's neat to see electronica wiz Andy Hunter also featuring on the soundtrack - hopefully, with some Mizuguchi input, the rest of the licensed artists will be suitably enigmatic.

Also notable is a whole bunch of gameplay changes: "[In arcade mode there are] multiple types of blocks will be discovered and unlocked - some will boost your high score, while others will spark off explosions that will clear the screen", plus there are: "Additional shapes beyond the traditional "square" are present, as well as a third color, creating an additional layer of depth and difficulty at high levels of play."

Not sure if this stuff is turning up in recently confirmed Lumines 2, as well, but either way - a mobile puzzle game to rival Tetris? Just say yes!

Takahashi Charts Xbox 360 Manufacturing Machinations

x360m.jpg Over at trade mag Electronics Business, which is more about manufacturing electronics than playing them, San Jose Mercury News tech guy Dean Takahashi has posted an excellent cover story on the Xbox 360's manufacturing challenges, apparently using a lot of material from his Xbox 360 Uncloaked book.

Particularly interesting is the explicit Xbox 360 shortage explanation: "Both Samsung and Infineon Technologies had committed to making the GDDR3 memory for Microsoft. But some of Infineon's chips fell short of the 700 megahertz specified by Microsoft. Using such chips could have slowed games down noticeably. Microsoft's engineers consulted and decided to start sorting the chips, not using the subpar ones. Because GDDR3 700-MHz chips were just ramping up, there was no way to get more chips. Each system used eight chips. The shortage constrained the supply of Xbox 360s."

There's also more unprecedentedly good juice in here: "Microsoft's brass was worried that Sony would trump the Xbox 360 by coming out with more memory in the PlayStation 3. So in the spring of 2005, Microsoft made what would become a fateful decision. It decided to double the amount of memory in the box, from 256 megabytes to 512 megabytes of graphics double-data-rate 3 (GDDR3) chips. The decision would cost Microsoft $900 million over five years, so the company had to pare back spending in other areas to stay on its profit targets." So there you go - even non-techy GSW readers probably realize that $900 million is a big chunk of change.

May 1, 2006

Tick, Tick, Tick, Tetris

tettimel.jpg The entertaining game-related Aeropause weblog has spotted an unlicensed, but nonetheless Tetris-'inspired' clock from Japan.

As is noted: "Strangely, it looks A LOT like Tetris blocks but is just a bunch of random blocks falliing at the same time. The number of blocks piled at the bottom indicates the time passed and you can switch over to a normal view to see how much time you've wasted watching this thing."

So sure, "It's simply a creative way to watch time pass", but perhaps this is our opportunity to ask for more Tetris merchandising! Are we the only people who have been jonesing for Tetris pillows, plush toys, and other ephemera? Wait, don't answer that.

[Incidentally, we just interviewed the God-like Alexey Pazhitnov for a forthcoming Game Developer feature. He's quite Russian!]

GameSetQ: Wii're Being Constructive, Not Destructive

wii.jpg So, we had this GameSetQ feature ("a daily question to be answered by GameSetWatch readers in the comments of this lovable weblog, and in some way related to the day's gaming issues"), and then we forgot about it a little bit, and then we remembered it again, so we're going to do another one!

And, since we just posted some game developer reactions to the naming of Nintendo's Wii next-gen console over at Gamasutra, we figured that we're both too late and too bored of the 'OMG! What do you think of the name?!' questions, so we offer the following, to be answered in comments:

"What name do you think most suits the Nintendo Wii, and what would you have named it, if you were the highly paid chief of Nintendo's crack branding team for this crucial pre-launch period?"

Uhm, when we say crack, we mean efficient, not actually smoking crack. You guys know that, right? The best answer will probably get mentioned in an update to the story - or we'll just laugh and point at it.

Comic: The Multicart Project: Part Eight

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.]

On Princess Peach's Less Emotional Box Refit

ppeach.jpg The perceptive Toybane have an extremely interesting post on how and why Nintendo's Super Princess Peach box art has been revamped from the Japanese release of the DS game to its Western debut.

There were some raised sexism-related eyebrows in some quarters when it was revealed, on playing the Japanese import, that Peach's special powers included crying and getting angry - especially since she normally plays a damsel in distress in the first place.

Toybane notes of this design decision, as it extends to the box: "The storyline for “Super Princess Peach” involves Mario and the gang being kidnapped by Bowser. Yet the original Japanese cover portrays Peach clearly stuck in the same state of “distress” she has been in since 1985. The cover shows her with her mouth agape and her eyes widened with fear."

They continue: "When designing the U.S. Box art, NOA clearly tried to soften the misogynistic implications of this image. They chose to replace the bubbled portraits of Peach’s emotional states (known as “vibes” in the game) with a single bubbled portrait of Mario being tied up, a clear attempt to highlight the fact that Peach has been “empowered” and thrust into the role of the heroine."

As the Toybane folks go on to point out, the change isn't wholly successful, but it definitely downplays Nintendo's oddly emotion-orientated game mechanics to some extent - either an improvement, or an 'under rug swept', then.

Shanda Gets Sued Over Virtual LAN Software

haofang.gif An interesting post over at the v.useful, relatively obscure Billsdue weblog, which is where former MarketWatch co-founder and current Chinese MMO firm CEO Bill Bishop hangs out - he has news on a Chinese lawsuit regarding online gaming 'copyright violations'.

The linked article notes that (major Chinese gaming firm) Shanda's subsidiary Haofang is "being sued for using War Craft [the RTS, not World of!], Counter Strike and three other games without copyrights." A commenter on Bill's blog explains what Haofang does a little better: "By having the user download client software that connects to a Haofang server they can emulate the LAN environment and play other gamers across the Internet in LAN mode (without the need for a CD-Key)."

Even more interesting, the anonymous commenter notes: "To say that these services promote piracy is very dubious. Blizzard tried for years to shut down Haofang but were unsuccessful so I think that Aomei is just trying to get some publicity. However Blizzard did manage to shut down a similar, but not identical, service in the U.S. called BnetD." Hm, but... playing games online without a CD key? Are we sure this doesn't encourage people to, say, not have a CD key? This is certainly not cut and dried, though - I suspect many of the intricacies are lost to us in the West, since we haven't seen the system running.

April 30, 2006

COLUMN: The Gaijin Restoration - Sampaguita

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 Yarudora Series Vol. 3: Sampaguita from Sony. It was released in late 1998 for the PlayStation in Japan.]

The Pleasure of My Text

I’ve been hooked on interactive fiction for quite a while, and by extension adventure games. There are several of my unspellchecked text adventures haunting the net (which I won’t reveal, due to intense shame.) My bookshelf houses the Oulipo Reader, Cortazar’s Hopscotch and the excellent Twisty Little Passages, and I feel in every fiber of my being that Fahrenheit, er, I mean, The Indigo Prophecy is an excellent, evolutionary return to form, using the semantics of cinema to deepen the experience of narrative. But, my humble beginnings come from my A+ book report from the 2nd grade on Seaside Mystery, or its complete title: Choose Your Own Adventure #67: Seaside Adventure. This was the gateway drug to Infocom, to Sierra, and eventually Half-Life and beyond.

no alt textChoose-your-own-adventure (CYOA henceforth) is an interesting, not quite missing link in interactive fiction. Often pegged as juvenile, it’s true that CYOAs do often cater to the kinder-crowd, but its simplicity and influence often creep into new media. Laser discs (with a modicum of twitch), DVDs and even CDs got into the act (with special mention to a vinyl record by one Ken Nordine: Colors, which came with obfuscated directions for random access playing.) I digress; I blog. This weeks little gem from the East is Yarudora Series Vol. 3: Sampaguita. The former part of the title is a concatenation which expands and translates to “Drama that You Do.” The latter, Sampaguita, is a Sri Lankan flower. The game is an anime CYOA for the PlayStation 1. That drama and that adventure owe it all to their preceding pronouns.

Dark And Stormy Nights

no alt textThe game casts you as generic, nice if a bit lonely, salary-man everyman. Walking home one dark and stormy night, the area is bristled in an eerie tension. Police patrol, the wind blows, and black puddles glower light, and an alleyway hides away a crying girl in beautiful pink dress. She has amnesia. You do the noble thing and take her home and tend to her wounds. From here on, anything can happen to cut this story short.

There are 20 bad endings, 5 normal and a scant 3 good to strive for. The whole game is animated in a queer letterbox frame, pushed to the top of the screen, and peppered with stills when the action slows down. Periodically the choices pop up, and here is where the game becomes fiendishly unfriendly for friends of imports: it randomizes the selections. You can’t map a flowchart of progression without memorizing the actual kanji, hiragana and katakana, with some options looking identical to the untrained eye. A lone walkthrough Romanizes some choices, allowing one to go syllable hunting for a good, or even a normal ending, though finding all the bad endings is by no means easy.

In-flight Entertainment

no alt textThere’s a charm to the game regardless. It reminds me of watching the person to the left’s in-flight movie, with a glaring angle, crap resolution and no sound, (your PSP battery is dead, and you’ve already read this month’s Edge 4 times over) and trying to bend the movie to your will.

The plot is filled with action, snuggling, mysteries recovered, trips to arcades and a man named boy. Eventually a halo of flowers shows up, which I can only assume is the sampaguitas. Probably highly charged with mimetic energy. But to recall my cryptic and grammatically awkward mention of pronouns from above, it’s how the game handles you that is remarkable. Your choices may be few, but you only speak what you select. Your head is always cut off, or only the mouth is visible. The only time your eyes are revealed, is at the climax of the plot. And even then, your mouth is covered. This leads to interesting blocking and opens an interesting angle for those interested in inoculating the reader/viewer into the story. If any of this interests you, it seems Sony has ported it over to the PSP, so you can explore Maria’s dark past on your bullet train commute past Mt. Fuji.

[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.]

Follin's Prime Gone, Not Forgotten - Remixers

prime.jpg Although all-time great video game musician Tim Follin, whom we interviewed for Gamasutra a few months, has now unfortunately quit the game biz, as we mentioned on GSW back in January, his legacy of genius music lives on, both in undiscovered 'gems' and remix goodness.

On the first of these - even the semi-canonical Follin Drome website doesn't list the obscure Sega Mega CD comic license Ultraverse: Prime, made by Malibu Interactive before they stiffed, and apparently so poor that it was only sold as a bundle with FMV game Microcosm, youch.

Well, we completely missed this Sardius-penned review of the 'Prime' theme song which reveals that the cheesy title tune (.MP3) has a flute (!) and synthesizer solo. Given that only Tim Follin ever puts rock-themed flute solos in games, and we know that he worked for Malibu, this appears to be a 'lost' Follin soundtrack (co-composed with Geoff?) of some kind - we're getting a copy as we speak.

It was also recently brought to our attention that the folks at OCRemix are partway through a Follin remix project, and some of the completed (though thus-far unavailable!) selections include musical genius XOC, he of Super Mario World cover album genius, who is covering both Magic Johnson's Fast Break & Super Off-Road. Hawt. In the meantime, poke XOC's other great arrangements and rejoice.

Is The Video Game Movie Doom-ed?

doomed.jpg A few weeks ago, an intriguing column in New York Magazine by Hollywood producer Lynda Obst appeared, named 'We Lost It at the Movies', and dealing with "...how Hollywood freaked out over vanishing audiences—who’ve now magically reappeared—and why teenage boys are a studio’s worst habit."

This started in June 2005, and Obst notes of the movie studios' frantic attempts to bring back movie audiences: "October brought Doom literally, which had started off tracking like gangbusters... Based on one of the most successful video games of all time, it would have to be a blockbuster, wouldn’t it? The tracking continued to build until the week of the movie’s debut, when it collapsed. If the kids didn’t come to Doom, starring The Rock, we could no longer call anything."

And, guess what? The film "...ultimately did $28 million in domestic box office. This was beyond horrible. Word of mouth killed Doom before it even opened. This was news; bad news." Of course, one does wonder how many teenagers have even played Doom, given that it's not a major console title. Nonetheless, Obst comments of market research: "Young men were too busy to go to the movies anymore. They would rather play video games on Friday nights or be on the Internet playing video games with strangers or hooking up or pretending to be hooking up or playing video games with or without the person they had just hooked up with."

So, Obst seems to be hinting that boy-friendly video game or action movies are some of the riskier things filmmakers can do right now, given their fickle audience: "We used to have a weekend to get our money out of a movie like Stealth or Doom. Now we get one night, tops. And that’s not enough to break even, the way it might have been in the good old days before the summer of 2003... we have to kill our singular addiction to teenage boys. We need to diversify the meaning of “our audience.”"

Of course, Obst has been diversifying for a while, given that she produced How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, but... maybe the film biz is going through some of the same diversification issues as the game biz, for high-budget titles?

Boppin' Bops Back Onto Windows

boppin.png Over at Press The Buttons, blogged MattG has spotted an Apogee shareware classic once again available, in the form of reconstituted side-scrollin' puzzler Boppin'.

The official site has the new, free to leech Windows download for the game, of which PTB explains: "Seemingly combining elements of Dr. Mario with more conventional platformer adventures, our heroes accomplish this task by picking up special blocks and bopping them around the room so that they connect with identical blocks located in each level."

We also like that the Wikipedia entry for the game notes: " The Amiga version only sold 284 copies, according to the developers, and so it was ported to DOS and released as shareware."

Oh, and another fun note for the title: "The game was extremely bloody, with depictions of suicide when you lost all your lives, leading to concern from Apogee that led to the blood being disabled in later versions of the game, along with a replaced splash screen with a note claiming it to be a "politically corrected version"." Yay, political correctness!

Worky's Challenge Gets Serious Postmortem

worky.jpg We at GSW hope you 'automatically' read features on sister B2B site Gamasutra - hence the lack of backlinks, haw. But the same may not be true for Serious Games Source, our new B2B site covering "games created for training, health, government, military, educational and other uses."

The latest feature up there is a neat 'postmortem' look at Spanish educational 'serious game' Worky's Challenge by Exelweiss Entertainment, of which it's explained: "The game was an initiative by a mutual insurance company and the regional government of Valencia and was related to workplace risks. Workplace risks has been a touchy political issue in Spain lately. The number of injuries and deaths during work has skyrocketed in the last years. A burgeoning construction sector (which by itself has higher risks that other economic sectors) and the bad or nil preparation of workers in low-skill jobs have been two of the major culprits for this."

The game itself is actually a graphical adventure teaching about workplace safety, along with arcade-style mini-games, in which players are "battling Dr. Fatality by adopting safety measures and avoiding accidents", and the game's commissioners were certainly picky: "After being finished, the game had to pass an external panel of workplace experts to make sure everything was correct... Even simple details like the way a computer was placed relative to a window needed to be changed. A computer screen should not be directly facing a window to avoid screen glare." My eyes!

Sadly, we can't find a link to Exelweiss' Spanish-language game online anywhere, but if anyone knows where it can be downloaded or otherwise checked out...

In Praise Of Cinematech Nocturnal Emissions, Pt. Deux

crimepatrol.jpg So, the first time we were nice about gonzo game video show Cinematech: Nocturnal Emissions, which shows on U.S. cable channel G4, it brought us one of the show's producers, Ryan Stevens, who now writes the 'Gaijin Restoration' columns for GSW.

But, separately of that connection, and the fact that there's widespread gamegeek complaints on the rest of G4's non-gaming direction nowadays (I just found out that GameSpy's new staffer Li Kuo, who I was praising the other week, used to work on the excellent pre-'movie celeb' version of Icons, incidentally), the fact is that Nocturnal Emissions still rocks hard , because you will see video of weird, odd, awful, obscure and inspiring video games, most of which you can't even find footage of on the Internet.

You can see a few of these on the videos page at G4TV.com, but you probably need to watch episodes for the full effect. Now admittedly, there's a lot of cleavage in there, but a recent show I heartily enjoyed, for example, had: "[3DO laser game conversion] Crime Patrol [and its sleazy South American drug dealer sequel], [previously GSW-referenced] Rule of Rose, [excellent Korean PSP title] DJ Max Portable, and much more... including everyone's favorite [and the aforementioned smut], Megumi." In conclusion: you don't have to watch the rest of G4, but if you're a gamegeek, watch this.



If you enjoy reading GameSetWatch.com, you might also want to check out these UBM TechWeb Game Network sites:

Gamasutra (the 'art and business of games'.)

Game Career Guide (for student game developers.)

Indie Games (for independent game players/developers.)

Finger Gaming (news, reviews, and analysis on iPhone and iPod Touch games.)

GamerBytes (for the latest console digital download news.)

Worlds In Motion (discussing the business of online worlds.)


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