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About GameSetWatch

GameSetWatch.com is the alt.video game weblog and sister site of Gamasutra.com. It is dedicated to collecting curious links and media for offbeat and oft-ignored games from consoles old and new, as well as from the digital download, iOS, and indie spaces.

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Archive For April, 2006

ColecoVision Welcomes Careful Drivers

April 25, 2006 4:40 AM | Simon Carless

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.

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

April 24, 2006 10:22 PM | Simon Carless

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

April 24, 2006 5:39 PM | Simon Carless

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

April 24, 2006 1:32 PM |

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

April 24, 2006 8:36 AM | Simon Carless

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

April 24, 2006 2:35 AM |

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.]

Column: The Gaijin Restoration - Jung Rhythm

April 23, 2006 9:54 PM |

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

April 23, 2006 5:00 PM | Simon Carless

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

April 23, 2006 12:51 PM | Simon Carless

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

April 23, 2006 7:52 AM |

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.)

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