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May 13, 2006

COLUMN: 'Game Mag Weaseling': E3 Me to Death

['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.]

So how was your E3? Hectic, I bet, wasn't it? One of the advantages to working for a magazine whose primary subject isn't video games is that I don't feel obligated to attend the show any longer -- and there's no way in 'ell I'd attend it for fun, because it really isn't fun. There is nothing identifiably fun about having to elbow a 380-pound man wearing a T-shirt with "Orcs FTW" written on it in order to play Destroy All Humans 2 so you can write your 20th 600-word preview of the day for GameWanX or whatever site you're working for. The fun comes in getting drunk at parties for free and throwing people into the Figueroa Hotel's swimming pool. This is scientific fact and everyone knows it.

I would like to say that things were different back when E3 was held for the first time on May 11-13, 1995, but I'd be lyin'. Sure, the show was smaller -- accepting only about 50,000 GameStop employees instead of over 100,000 -- but the three-day cycle of noise, chicks, and sweating has swirled unabated for 11 years now. If anything the partying was particularly hardy in 1995, because the IDSA (called the ESA nowadays) had just been formed and the industry in general was so fed up with the Consumer Electronics Show that they all jumped for joy, literally, when IDG announced E3. (Fun fact: The CES was planning to hold a game-biz show of their own, CES Interactive, at the exact same time as the first E3. It was cancelled after the IDSA officially sanctioned E3 and companies ignored it en masse.)

showdailydoga.jpg

Here are the three issues of the 1995 E3 Show Daily. (Inferior sites watermark their images. I dogamark mine.)

If you read the ESA's official E3 history, you may get the idea that they "held" the show for its entire history. This isn't quite true -- they just sanctioned it, and IDG (publisher of GamePro and organizer of such events as the Macworld Expo) actually set up the whole thing. This means that the Show Daily was written by the staff of GamePro and Electronic Entertainment, IDG's de-facto PC games magazine at the time.

IDG turned over show management to the IDSA for the 1999 show, and after that there was a conflict between the two outfits over money owed or something like that (I only heard snippets of the story). Therefore, IDG was never allowed to have a booth on the show floor, and therefore, when I worked at GamePro, I had to update our website from a suite in the Staples Center that we always had to give up on Day 2 because the Lakers would have a playoff game scheduled that evening. Ah, memories. Regardless, with that transition, publication of the Show Daily went to Imagine Media until 2001, when Ziff Davis Media picked up the rights. Future handled the paper this year, and they've got it until 2008. I haven't read their effort yet, and to be honest, I'm not sure how many people really read the Show Daily -- I have the impression most people grab it just so their swag bag has some kind of flat support, for ease of stacking crap on top of.

But what was walking the show floor really like in 1995? For a taste, let's refer to the floor plan as it was published in the 1995 E3 Show Daily:

The South Hall of the LA Convention Center, home to Microsoft, EA and a gaggle of third-parties these days, tends to play second fiddle to the West Hall in the minds of most E3 showgoers. Not so 11 years ago -- Sega, Sony, 3DO, Atari, and Philips (with their CDI console) all had booths here, making this venue the place to scope "the future" as it existed in 1995. In fact, Sega had the largest booth of the show (larger than any first-party's today), and they turned it into a Saturn madhouse, complete with nearly a dozen pro athletes pushing their sports lineup.

Acclaim's booth is the same size as EA's; they had the real-life Batmobile in the booth that year to push their terrifying Batman Forever games. SNK has an enormous booth on the left side for reasons I can't fathom. Bigger than Capcom, Namco and Konami, for Chrissakes. Meanwhile, there are tons of tiny little booths dotted everywhere (mostly PC publishers and hardware makers), a stark contrast to the more spread-out layout of today.

West Hall, as always, is dominated by Nintendo. However, 1995 didn't feature a particularly robust showing from Nintendo -- the Ultra 64 had just been delayed a year, there was no conference, NOA chairman Howard Lincoln spent his keynote address whining about SNES software piracy, and the booth's twin highlights were Killer Instinct and the Virtual Boy. It was arguably a lamer showing than even 2003, when their top attraction was Pac-Man and...erm, that's about it, actually. (Good thing Reggie Fils-Aime was forged in NOA's laboratories in time for their big comeback in '04.)

Big booths from companies that don't exist anymore include Ocean, Gametek, American Softworks, Jaleco, and Berkeley Systems (this is when they were swimming in You Don't Know Jack cash). Biggest of all is the infamous Playmates Interactive, who had their top asset stolen from them when Interplay announced the purchase of Shiny Entertainment just before E3 started.

Booth 4124 is occupied by Abco Distributors, who bought up a great big chunk of space to advertise their hot new title: Cooking with Dom DeLuise, a 2-disc CD-ROM cooking reference. If you thought Eidos holding backyard-wrestling shows in 2004 was lame, how about a fat Italian man showing you how to steam tomatoes? And have him not even dressed up as Mario?

E3 did not occupy Kentia Hall in 1995, so all the dregs of the industry slunk around instead in Petree Hall, now home to Midway and Atari. I'm not including the list of companies in this scan because I honestly don't recognize any of the names apart from magazines and the late American Sammy.

The Day 3 edition of the Show Daily reports that John Wayne Bobbitt made an appearance at a Petree booth: "Rumor has it that he willingly showed his scar to all those who were curious, and periodically employs a comedy writer to come up with genitalia jokes." The Show Daily doesn't identify which booth paid him to show up, but I'm guessing either Bacchus Releasing or "Beautiful, Beautiful Women" (yes, that's the name of a company).

The conclusion to make from all this: E3 today really isn't any different from E3 past, except the porno companies have been shoehorned out by the random Asian MMO publishers. That, and the term "FTW" did not exist in 1995.

[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.]

Trade Wars Returns With A Vengeance!

exarch.jpg Jason 'Textfiles.com' Scott sent over a link to a new press release about Trade Wars, described as "the pre-eminent BBS game" in its Wikipedia profile, in which "...the player is a trader in a galaxy with a fixed set of other players (either human or computer). The players seek to gain control of a limited set and amount of resources, usually fuel, ore, food, and technology, and travel through sectors of the galaxy trading them for money or undervalued resources."

The release explains, announcing a new version of the c.1974 (!) title, explains: "Trade Wars: Tournament, the Trade Wars remake, will attempt to retain much of the addictive core gameplay that made the classic such a success. In an effort to reach a more broad modern audience, this classic gameplay will be exposed through a 2D/3D graphical interface style." Woohoo, 2D and 3D!

Interestingly, it's also mentioned: "Between 2000 and 2003, EIS worked with developer Realm Interactive, LLC, and publisher NCSoft, to develop Trade Wars: Dark Millennium (later called Exarch), an MMO Trade Wars spin-off." This was a long-in-development space sim, and I'm not sure the Trade Wars connection was ever heavily plugged.

Best Of The Worst Ads Ever?

gaia.jpg This actually debuted just before E3, but it's so GSW-ish we still have to run it - Scott Sharkey's 1UP feature on 'The Best Worst Ads' in game magazines.

Sharkey starts: "Each time I discarded an ad it was like killing a little piece of myself, but in the end we were left with the absolute cream of the crap", and then delightedly shows off horrific artifacts such as Color Dreams' generic horrors ("Nobody's quite sure what the absolute worst Nintendo game is, because every game Color Dreams game ever made is tied with every other one for first place.")

Also highlighted - a really pointless Secret Of Evermore ad - "I still don't get the point to this one. There's no actual trick involved or anything, unless you count making people bob their heads in and out of their magazines like morons." Oh, and the pictured Gaiares ad is mullettastic!

D3 Publisher - Info, Info, More Info?

simple2000.jpg The rather wonderful Jiji at Namako Team has posted an extremely lengthy overview of D3 Publisher's recent Japanese output, including information on the latest Simple 2000 releases in Japan.

There's actually some really neat stuff out there (none of which is ever coming to the States, curses!), including Simple 2000 Series Vol. 99: The Caveman, "...kind of a cross between Pikmin and Artdink's Tail of the Sun. You lead your little tribe of monkeys around a series of environments, coordinating to achieve goals and overcome enemies, and evolving them bit by bit into humans."

But, ironic detachment aside, the Simple 2000 games often aren't actually that good, being borderline shovelware, after all, and Jiji's review of The All*Star Kakutou Matsuri makes that clear: "It's a semi-cel-shaded 2D fighter with 3D backdrops featuring characters from a bunch of different D3 games. It's...unsurprisingly average."

Ziff, Gamers Go Absolutely Gazerk

gazerk.gif While we were at E3, we spotted that Ziff Davis had launched a game-specific search engine, Gazerk, and, more to the point, that Search Engine Lowdown has a closer look at Gazerk, a site intended to provide "targeted articles, advertisements, videos, blogs, game updates and cheats in a central area."

We tried the vertical search engine on GameSetWatch, and the results aren't bad - similar to what we might see for Google. Trying a big E3 game such as Gears Of War, the results are decent - but don't really seem that stratified, or useful, beyond a normal search engine. But... it's early days, right?

The Search Engine Lowdown review is similarly a little skeptical: "When the search industry is striving to become more relevant and more a part of a person’s life, it seems odd that Gazerk would essentially ignore how seriously gamers take this information and give them something that is less relevant than any of the other search engines and package it in a design that is flat and annoying."

May 12, 2006

E3 Tidbits: Vol.3 In A Now Concluded Series

eba.jpg Holy crap, E3 is basically done and dusted - the show floor is closed, the press room is slowly thinning out, and Gamasutra's live E3 2006 coverage is completely done. So we'd better round up some of our favorite alternative games of the show, hadn't we?

- Game of the show, for me, was Inis and Nintendo's Elite Beat Agents for DS, which we already mentioned - Deep Purple and Steriogram confirmed so far for the soundtrack, an official page up with video and screenshots, and lots more to come. And really, it's basically Ouendan 2 - who's going to argue with that?

- But also very much drooled over by GSW staff was Capcom's Dead Rising, which has a somewhat hilarious 'Welcome To The Williamette Parkview Mall' fake brochure for the X360 exclusive, complete with fake adverts and mall map, and some much gorier game ads ("Desecrate the dead!! Show no mercy!!") It's all tremendously tongue in cheek, mind you (soccer balls! shears! traffic cones on heads!) and that's why it's adorable.

- Rounding up some of the other highlights for alt.gaming idiots like ourselves - D3's Work Time Fun (WTF for short!) for PSP is, of course, the U.S. version of Sony Japan's previous 'Gaijin Restoration' - reviewed Baito Hell 2000 - and as such, is pretty darn smart.

- We didn't get a chance to check it out properly, but on the mini-game and music front, LucasArts' recently confirmed Traxion, designed by my old chums and co-workers at Kuju Entertainment, looks like much fun - you can plug any music track in and just play, much like Vib Ribbon.

- Also, just say yes to Backbone and Konami's Brooktown High: Senior Year - U.S. dating action that looks to outdo Sprung, if that's even possible. And, heck, Tennis for the Wii was a blast. And now, sleeping is the new rock and roll. Bye bye E3!

COLUMN: 'Bastards of 32-Bit' - Elemental Gearbolt

elegear1.jpg['Bastards of 32-Bit' is a weekly column by Danny Cowan that focuses on overlooked, underrated, and inexplicable titles from the era of the PlayStation, Saturn, and Nintendo 64. This week's column covers Elemental Gearbolt for the Sony PlayStation, published by Working Designs and released in the United States in June 1998.]

Our elementals go to 11!

Working Designs' legacy is built on the "*sigh*"s and "ugh"s of a legion of disaffected gamers. Though the company translated and released dozens of titles in the United States during its 14-year run, Working Designs' distinct brand of humor and penchant for adding or changing content during localization earned it the ire of what seems to be the entire Internet. Complaint has been registered with practically every title Working Designs has published, ranging from legitimate concerns over difficulty rebalancing to essay-length screeds over how a game is completely ruined if its script contains the word "Wheaties".

Elemental Gearbolt has one of the smallest localization footprints of any Working Designs-published title, and is consequently discussed less often than many of the company's other games. The title remains one of the best lightgun shooters to ever be released, however, and few games in the genre have yet to match it in terms of depth and originality.

elegear2.jpgLike Dirge of Cerberus, except it's a game.

If you've played any modern lightgun shooter, you know what to expect from Elemental Gearbolt on a basic level. The game takes place in a first-person perspective, and all movement occurs on predetermined rails. Enemies pop up. You shoot them. Avoid dying for high score.

Elemental Gearbolt takes this basic formula and then further simplifies it, adding its own twists and subtleties. You have unlimited ammo and never need to reload, but you can't just go around blasting everything as fast as you can. You can only fire one bullet every half a second or so; attempting to shoot faster will result in your gun jamming momentarily. This deliberate pacing gives the game a curious sense of rhythm, and necessitates the use of a greater amount of strategy and accuracy than most other lightgun shooters.

Once you get into the beat of firing as often as the game will allow, Elemental Gearbolt becomes a soothing experience, somehow exuding an aura of calm amidst all the explosions. The game's fantasy setting and orchestral soundtrack contribute in a big way; it's easy to be lulled as the view soars over mountaintops, the music swelling as you rhythmically blast away at biomechanical creatures in the distance. Despite the game's difficulty, Elemental Gearbolt is always more relaxing than it is frustrating, yet remains just as compelling as the more frantic titles in the genre.

Just ignore the anime crap and you'll do fine.Warning: sweaty palms corrode gold plating.

As with many of the best games, Elemental Gearbolt accommodates and welcomes expert play. A trade-off sequence at the end of every level presents the opportunity to either upgrade your weapons or add bonus points to your score, meaning that the highest scores can only be earned by playing with crippled weaponry. Working Designs further refined the game's scoring system for its English release, and also ran a series of high score contests for a short while. Winners of the Elemental Gearbolt contest at 1998's E3 received a gold-plated GunCon -- a prized item that has now become one of the most sought-after collectibles in the PlayStation's library.

Despite what your opinion of Working Designs may be, Elemental Gearbolt is well worth checking out. The game's atmosphere is unlike anything seen before or since in the lightgun shooter genre, and its elements of strategy make it stand out among its peers. The possibility of winning a golden GunCon may have long passed, but Elemental Gearbolt's excellent gameplay remains.

[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.]

May 11, 2006

E3: Q, Gamevil, Hudson Get Crazy

nom.gif While we've been here at E3, errant Game Developer editor Brandon Sheffield (who, yes, also co-founded Insert Credit) has been roving the floor doing on-the-fly interviews with Gamasutra, and some of them are worth repeating here, vaguely niche as they are.

- Q's Tetsuya Mizuguchi and Phantagram's Sanyoun Lee were rather interesting, actually, and Mizuguchi was in particularly philosophical mood: " War games are easy, just fight with somebody, beat them, that's it. Physically everyone wants to fight, that's a basic instinct. That's ok. But I think that war has really dark aspects. So if you use the hi-def technology, and the blood sprays everywhere, the head is exploding and things like that…do you really want to watch that? Do you want to have that sort of experience? I don't think so."

- We really love Gamevil and President Kyu Lee, thanks to Skipping Stone and other awesome mobile games, and his chat revealed that the firm is considering a DS game, and rather adores Nintendo: "Actually Nintendo is a company that I really like. At the Game Developers Conference, I liked what they said about disruption [essentially, that Nintendo is trying to shake up the industry], and that's really something the game industry has been missing for a long time."

- Also, Hudson Entertainment's John Lee had some neat stuff to say, particularly when it comes to getting Turbografx games on the Wii Virtual Console, and even re-licensing non NEC or Hudson titles: "It comes down to two things. One is resources, and right now I'm sure our lawyers are working non-stop. There were so many games that came out for that system, over 300. So we have to go back to the original developer, and some of them aren't even around anymore, to say "we want to bring your games back on this platform."

E3 Tidbits: Vol.2 In An Interminably Long Series

e32006.jpg Wait, where did that E3 pre-show day and a whole Day 1 go? Oh yeah, up the wazoo. Still, if you're reading the gorgeous Gamasutra live E3 2006 coverage, you'll know that we're busy bringing you all the news that matters. But here's the real important stuff, the news that matters slightly less:

- The absolute best personal appearance at E3 this year? This would be German peripheral company Fanatec featuring Tyson, the skateboarding bulldog on their stand. Yes, the famous skateboarding bulldog, stop looking at us funny, OK? We saw Tyson wandering around outside the Kentia Hall, with his very own E3 badge (wonder if they asked for tax records for dogs?) and his master carrying his battered skateboard just ahead of him, and we thought - my God, E3 is a wonderful place.

- Wait, we have to talk about games now? We drooled all over Inis and Nintendo's Elite Beat Agents, which is a completely new-scenario filled U.S. localized version of the gorgeous Ouendan, of course, and an absolute must-buy, especially since it includes Steriogram's awesome Walkie Talkie Man (see amazing Michel Gondry video for the original song here!) as one of the two demo E3 tracks. The other song on the E3 version was 'Highway Star', which we presume is the Deep Purple song also used in Rock N Roll Racing, but didn't have any headphones spare to confirm.

- Finally, Korean MMO Wiki is on the WebZen booth, and you may remember that "Officials from Nintendo have raised concerns through its Korean distributor Daiwon C.I. that characters in forthcoming Webzen-published South Korean PC online game Wiki may violate trademarks from its GameCube title The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker." Well, the title is now playable on the E3 show floor, and honestly, WebZen, we don't want to be too rude, but check out the screenshots - we're not sure why giving Link some new clothes and haircut makes this any less of a blatant stylistic yoink.

And... hey, wait a minute! From the official Wiki game description: "One entity binds time, space and dimension the World Tree. By using the nutrition saved in the World Tree’s leaves you can travel to the past. And everything you do in the past dramatically affects the present." Isn't this all a bit Ocarina Of Time? Or maybe the paranoia police have got us, late on an E3 evening. To the bed-cave, Batman!

Game Ads A-Go-Go: Bad Game Ad Puns

vcg_logo_gsw.jpg['Game Ads A-Go-Go' is a bi-weekly column by Vintage Computing and Gaming's RedWolf that showcases good, bad, strange, funny, and interesting classic video game-related advertisements, most of which are taken from his massive classic game magazine collection.]

Who knew that moving gigantic boxes of hundreds of heavy game magazines would be so hard? I guess I did...or I should, since I moved them out of storage recently for use in this column. But now I have to move them all again, along with bajillions of (metric) buttloads of other heavy stuff into my new Snarky Commentator Headquarters (SCH), which is located on the opposite side of town. Despite the immense and neverending Great Move, I took a short break today to bring you a few new ads for your consumption. This week's column deals with bad written puns in game advertising. Let's take a look.

Take a Byte Out of Crime

lawnmower_large.jpg

In this The Lawnmower Man ad, Time Warner Interactive crams not one, but five bad puns into one page, all dealing with the word "byte." Get out your Magic GoGo-Pens at home and see if you can spot all five. 1000 GoGo-Points to the person who finds them all first!

Actual Scream Shot

screamshot_large.jpg

Wow. The resolution of that image is pretty good considering it's an actual 3DO game screen shot. Oh wait...it says "SCREAM SHOT." *slaps forehead* Silly me. Turns out it's just another boring picture of a velociraptor screaming.

Rune Your Day

runes_large.jpg

Like any hardworking man, I need variety in the ways I ruin my day. That's why FCI has released "the ultimate game," Ultima: Runes of Virtue II, for both the Super Nintendo and Game Boy systems. Now I can ruin my day twice: once at home, and once on the go by playing this horrible game. Incredible technology, really.

[RedWolf is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Vintage Computing and Gaming, a regularly updated "blogazine" that covers collecting, playing, and hacking vintage computing and gaming devices. He has been collecting vintage computers and game systems for over 13 years. He is also a big fan of bacon.]

May 10, 2006

E3: Robin Williams Breaks Spore, Will Wright Incandescent

wiredwright.jpg So, we just got back from a special Wired Magazine event to help celebrate their (pictured) special Game Issue with Will Wright on the cover. Alongside a cocktail party, Wright was on hand to do a hands-on demo of Spore, which is looking absolutely phenomenal, as always.

But the particularly neat part of the demo was when Wright mentioned that it was incredibly easy to make alien creatures in Spore, and called up a willing volunteer in the front row - who just happened to be Robin Williams, a video game fan of some repute.

Williams then proceeded to use the insanely cool Spore creature creation tool to make a gigantic-schnozzed, 6 armed monstrosity which could hardly walk, its nose was so large, and actually crashed the entire game when he pressed the button to see what its offspring would look like.

So there's your headline for the day/month/year - a Robin Williams vs. Will Wright showdown to match, uhm, Weird Al Yankovic vs. Coolio. [But we were kidding about Wright being mad - he was actually pretty amused, cos, you know, Robin Williams is funny - we note Kotaku has some of his on-the-fly one liners up already.]

Nintendo: Wii Want You To Use Language Proper

nintendowii.jpg One of the funnier things we've come across thus far at E3 is an official 'Nintendo Style Guide' hand-out given to us after the pre-E3 press conference yesterday - let's excerpt the important bit.

Subtitled: 'A Guide to the Proper Usage of Some of Nintendo's Products', the hand-out reveals: "Wii: Nintendo's upcoming home video game console. It is simply Wii, not Nintendo Wii. It is pronounced "we," indicating its all-inclusive nature. The name works best at the beginning of declarative statements. For clarity, it is best to avoid passive verbs and prepositions."

Wow - we feel like we're reading Eats, Shoots and Leaves suddenly. Of course, this means that Nintendo really want you to call it 'Nintendo's Wii' [EDIT: OK, they would prefer just 'Wii', but 'Nintendo's Wii' is technically correct, and 'the Nintendo Wii' is not, we think.] Ugh - not happening.

The rest of the definitions are less interesting, though the sheet of paper does officially note that: "DS stands for Dual Screens (or Developers' System)" when talking about the Nintendo DS, confirming that the DS part doesn't really have a single definition. More fascinating grammar-related E3 news later.

May 9, 2006

E3 Tidbits - Vol. 1 In An Interminably Long Series

e32006.jpg Well, E3 is fast ramping up here in Los Angeles, and after covering the Sony event in voluminous detail for Gamasutra (keep checking the E3 live coverage page!), we're off to the Nintendo and Microsoft pre-E3 press conferences today - hopefully, their marathon nature won't drain our laptop batteries too bad. As for what has happened thus far:

- The Second Annual 'Not An E3 Party' failed to live up to its name, since it definitely appeared to be E3-related, but a number of nice people, including VGMWatch's Kyle Orland, the IGDA's Jason Della Rocca, the San Jose Mercury News' Xbox 360-related 'man of the moment' Dean Takahashi, and the IGJA's David Thomas made an appearance at the succulent Golden Gopher. Oh, and Kotaku's Brian 'Brain' Crecente, who wondered why we didn't link to his Columbine RPG impressions from a Columbine survivor, pretty edgy stuff. Oh, we just did.

- Just about to write it up for Gama, but GameTap are debuting Sam & Max and URU Live exclusively on their network - though Sam & Max will be available for non-GameTap download later, fear not. As regular readers know, I still like the cut of GameTap's jib - I'll be appearing on their GameTap TV on Friday sometime talking about the show, I believe.

- At some point during the Sony press event, a fanboy gave the geekiest whoop we've ever heard after viewing the Final Fantasy XIII trailer, at which point GSW co-editor Frankc yelled out: "Is that guy OK?". Well... we thought it was funny at the time. Also, Kaz Hirai's PSP-manipulating hands looked pretty much in need of a manicure when projected in HD on a massive screen right in front of you, poor guy - PS3 launch must be a nailbiter.

COLUMN: 'Parallax Memories' – Ristar

Image from the Mega Drive Version
['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 Sega's platforming game: Ristar, released in 1995 for the Genesis.]

The Shooting Star

Pretty late in the Genesis' lifespan—after the Sega CD and 32X, and just before Saturn was released—a little-publicized game was released: Ristar. The concept for Ristar came from Yuji Naka's leftover ideas for Sonic the Hedgehog. Originally, Sonic was to be a rabbit that could reach out and grab things with his ears, but as the speed of the game increased, a new animal was needed in its place.

While Naka was not part of the team itself, lead designer Mitake Takumi—a designer previously for Sonic CD and later for NiGHTS into Dreams—stared to create Feel. The game didn't have a rabbit, but it did have a black blob wearing a star-like mask with two predominately ear-shaped points. Feel was never released, and most of the ideas and designs carried over to Ristar with only a small makeover.

Use those arms little star
Greedy Galaxy

Ristar is woken to save the galaxy from Greedy, who has corrupted all its leaders—no subtleties of symbolism there. Most of the gameplay in Ristar involves either grabbing something, headbutting it, or using it as a handle. When grabbing, Ristar will stretch his arms out like rubber bands and grab hold of pretty much anything on screen. As a result, jumping is only mildly helpful, and moving Ristar can be somewhat complicated. The first two levels are just a warm-up, but you need them to get use to the controls.

After becoming familiar with the way Ristar works, its ingenuity begins to show. Before climbing ladders, you have to grab them. To attack enemies you need to grab them first, then headbutt them. But after spending some time just running into or bumping off of enemies and the environment, you start swinging around on them.

The more you master the controls the deeper the game becomes. Testing your skill on a cliff, using your arms to get higher and higher, will usually reward you with hidden items or areas. New paths become clear after you learn how best to interact with the environment. The pace of the game becomes more organic and less linear; you feel like Tarzan swinging freely around in space.

Notice anything similar?
Unexplored Space

Place a new mechanic in something very familiar, and the game is completely different. Most areas and elements of the game don't fall too far from the tree of Sonic the Hedgehog. The artistic aesthetic is almost identical in the designs of environments and backgrounds. The game also has play mechanics similar to Dynamite Headdy. Yet as similar as these things are, they feel original when navigating them with Ristar's spandextrous arms.

From the music to level design, everything is high quality, which is expected in a game that arrived late in the system's history. The best thing about it is that even if you don't feel like pulling out your Genesis—or, god forbid, purchasing another system—the game was hidden in the Sonic Mega Collection, available for all 3 current generation systems. You may already have this classic sitting on your shelf.

[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.]*blink*blink*

May 8, 2006

Warning: E3 Intercedes, Updates Slow This Week

e32006.jpg So, we'll try to come back to GSW as much as possible, but we'll mainly be covering the E3 Expo in Los Angeles this week for sister site Gamasutra - including liveblogging of the major press confs on Monday and Tuesday, woo!

We're also planning plenty of Q&As throughout the week, and we're going to try to do efficient, swift booth round-ups, like we did for Slashdot Games back in 2003. (One of our pet peeves is that nobody does brief impressions and descriptions of each of the games on the major booths, compiled together by company, to get a good overview without having to read through a loong preview for each game. So we're gonna do that!)

Anyhow, check out the Gamasutra E3 2006 live coverage page, and we're gonna update as regularly as we can here, in a similar way to our 'GDC tidbits' series from back in March. You'll like it!

SpongeBob Squarepants, Meet... Diner Dash!

sbdash.jpg So, we (and by we, I mean I and especially my wife!) really like gameLab and PlayFirst's modern update of Tapper, Diner Dash - and it's obviously been a big smash in the casual gaming world.

So, we weren't so surprised to see Diner Dash 2, a straightforward but fun sequel in which you "Join Flo as she returns from Nirvana to help four fellow restaurant owners defeat the greedy tycoon, Mr. Big." A recent Detroit Free Press review of it notes: "Like the original, the sequel is full of quick, mindless, engaging fun" - and while we think it's actually good for the brain, we agree in principle.

But we _were_ surprised, though delighted, to see a completely apposite licensed applied to the game - yep, SpongeBob Diner Dash has just launched. Apparently: "Mr. Krabs is expanding his Krabby Patty kingdom one restaurant at a time. Slippery sturgeon, antsy anchovies, and even Bubble Bass keep everybody's favorite fry cook-turned-server on his tip-seeking toes." Oh em gee, we're so there - whoever thought of this tie-up should get a medal.

Rooster Teeth Unleash New RvsB, Strangerhood DVDs

shood.jpg Over at the Rooster Teeth Productions homepage, they've revealed the release of Red Vs. Blue Season 4 and The Strangerhood Season 1 on DVD - they're both available at the machinima producers' store, and at your local GameStop bricks & mortar retail establishment, too.

You can check out the recent RvsB season vids for download, too, and it's fascinating to see the large amount of feedback they're still getting for the Halo 2 machinima, despite the fact it's not as well publicized as it used to be - over 18,000 comments on Episode 72 of the show, for example.

Sometimes I think The Strangerhood, which uses The Sims 2 engine and was co-sponsored by EA when it debuted, is even more slept-on than it should be, so all should go check out the first season immediately, if not sooner.

May 7, 2006

Join The Freeware Rebellion!

raig.jpg A few months back when this weblog started, we noted a rather hilarious Mario-related video from Jim Munroe at No Media Kings,

Now he's made a bunch more game-themed vids, most recently a video called 'Freeware Rebellion', dealing with Raigan and Mare of N creators Metanet Software - some of the most militant indie game creators around - but extremely charming with it!

Their story and philosophy is pretty fascinating, and Jim's other vids are also well worth checking out - as an example, 'Million Dollar Gamer', a "fake movie preview that asks: what if the plucky heroine from Million Dollar Baby was into the Dance Dance Revolution videogame instead of boxing?" Neato.

Presenting Arcade: The Documentary

arcadedoc.jpg We've previously reported on Jason Scott and his currently in-production Get Lamp documentary, about the history of the text adventure. Well, simultaneously, as if one documentary isn't enough, he's now announced Arcade: The Documentary.

Scott explains of the concept: "It will be about arcades. Not so much about games, which has been done quite to death, but about the actual places, the come on inside to the flashing lights and drop some money into some skill games and you'll lose your money but have a great time places that have been around for about a hundred or more years and which have included various types of machines ranging from skill cranes to pinball to pachinko to skee-ball to shooting galleries to video games."

But for those worried about Get Lamp falling by the wayside, he explains: "It will be a shadow documentary, the night shift, the guy who uses the office and the photocopier when the company's closed. This doesn't mean it won't be good, just that I will not turn down an interview with an Infocom Implementor because I need to go find some shots of a pinball machine in a bar." So there! His excellent BBS Documentary is still available for purchase, if you want to check out his first multi-DVD doc.

O'Donnell Waxs Rhapsodic On Halo Soundtracking

h2s.jpg Wandering back to appropriately named game music site Music4Games, which has recently redesigned, we note that there's a new interview with Bungie composer Marty O'Donnell, regarding the newly released Halo 2 Volume Two soundtrack.

The Halo soundtracker is particularly interesting when discussing the soundtracks that have shaped him: "There are a lot of influences in there. Brahms, Stravinsky, Barber, Gentle Giant, Genesis, and of course don't forget Mike Salvatori. I was in an early music ensemble at USC and I also loved my counterpoint classes."

In addition, he gives a good overview of why game music matters to him: "My philosophy is that a memorable hook well never let you down. If you have the chance to connect it to a great game or movie - go for it. I also believe that good music will bring people to deeper emotional levels, give them context for the time they spend playing the game, and will stay with them long after they've finished playing."

Don't Be Nasty To Game Academics, OK?

thinker.jpg The last time we covered Matt Sakey's regular 'Culture Clash' IGDA column, we got all het up (again!) about some of the invective in it. This time, however, his May column, on developers vs. academics, comes from a basically sound concept - the suggestion that the two parties should mingle and mix contentedly.

For example, I think the following is absolutely true: "The application of film theory and criticism to motion picture production has resulted in better movies, and a deeper understanding among filmmakers of what ingredients go into quality film... An understanding of the theoretical and critical context of games will help the medium evolve to provide ever more meaningful and impactful game experiences." A good point.

The only note of distate I find is the sentence: "Xenophobia is common throughout all industries. Insular communities tend to be protective of their shared wisdom and suspicious of outsiders. They believe that only their own confederates can possibly contribute anything of value, even when it's applicable across multiple disciplines and incontrovertibly proven." Note the link to the previously GSW-discussed Jason Della Rocca piece on quality of life issues - is this meant to imply that Jason's argument is 'incontrovertibly proven'? I do hope not.

As for Sakey's comment: "In the games industry, many developers are quick to angrily and often rudely stereotype academics as frustrated wannabe game makers" - well, from what I hear, the lecture hall was completely packed out for the GDC 'Top 10 Video Game Research Findings' talk, and the Serious Games Summit @ GDC Jesper Juul keynote was also a notable success, so... I don't know, sometimes I feel like the IGDA (and, in particular, Sakey's column) browbeats game professionals entirely too much, for being a complementary organization. It'd be nice to start from a position where both parties are given the benefit of the doubt.



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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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