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May 27, 2006

Get Speedy With Metal Slug 5!

ms5.jpg Back to the always fun Speed Demos Archive after a little hiatus, and this time they've added a speed run of SNK Playmore's Metal Slug 5, which, while maybe not the best of the series, is good fun to check out for wacky bosses and classic 2D fun.

The run, by Mike Uyama, is played at hardest difficulty with no deaths (wow!), and there's lots of good tactics-related discussion in the text submitted with the run, but Uyama notes at the end: "I'm satisfied with this run, I don't think there are more than 30-40 seconds worth of mistakes/bad randomness. I don't think I'll touch this game again even if there is a lot of room for improvement because it is the worst out of all the Metal Slug games. Hopefully I will have a successful run of Metal Slug 3 someday."

Luckily, if you don't like that version of the game, there are also runs of the first Metal Slug, of Metal Slug 4 (also called "the worst of the Metal Slug series"), and for Metal Slug X, one of the best MS titles - lots of blasting action to enjoy!

Why There Are No Indie Video Games?

noindie.jpg Well, the title of this GSW post is the title of a new Slate article by Luke O'Brien, subtitled "And why that's bad for gamers", and dealing with the state of indie in gaming.

O'Brien has some fair points, such as :"In today's movie business, it's possible for an indie film like Napoleon Dynamite to become a sensation. Saw, which cost a mere $1.2 million, grossed 100 times that amount. That just doesn't happen in video games." Basically true - the barriers to producing and the variable sale prices for smaller budget games seem to have precluded such a major phenomenon as yet.

But other parts of the piece are rather meanspirited - claiming that classic creators are burnt out and solely working for the big boys, for example, with Sid Meier having "spent most of the last decade updating his previous hits at a company owned by Grand Theft Auto publisher Take-Two Interactive" - the acquisition was only recent, and saying Garriott "never produced another breakthrough like Ultima" rather underplays the importance of Ultima Online as a pioneering MMO, if that's not included in the statement.

And so, we reach the same old 'cultural crossroads' conclusion, which is as untrue as it ever was: "If the big studios stay in charge, it may return to its former status: the pastime of teenage boys and middle-aged nerds at gaming conventions." How about Nintendo's Brain Training, the casual game explosion, EA's moves toward developing original IP, the strides with games like Guitar Hero? I'm bored of this article, so why do people keep writing it?

Underdogs At E3 Sent Overground By Baio

abai.jpg Andy Waxy.org Baio, who created now Yahoo!-owned events site Upcoming.org and is quite the gamegeek (and a GSW chum!), made the trek down to E3 earlier this month, and has posted his impressions of his 'E3 Underdogs 2006' at his personal site.

He does note, interestingly, that in finding the downtrodden: "This year was particularly hard. Partly because I spent most of the day waiting in line to see the Nintendo Wii, but also partly because the entire gaming industry is getting so weird."

He continues: "In catering to the casual gamer and trying to differentiate from the competition, every platform and publisher is spending serious money turning former underdogs into big-name titles... I was surprised to see games like Loco Roco and Viva Piñata with huge marketing efforts by Sony and Microsoft. (What hath Katamari wrought?)"

But some of the Baio-approved 'under rug swept' titles include our favorite Elite Beat Agents, Guitar Hero II, which Baio is parading around at work "(I won't be happy until I get Jerry Yang and David Filo to battle it out on "Bark at the Moon.")", and one title not really mentioned by GSW thus far, Elebits for Wii ("Part hide n' seek shooting game and part physics simulation, Elebits uses the Wii controller as a gravity gun to ransack ordinary household settings to find and capture cute little characters.") Neeto!

Sonic, The Comic, The Archive, The Definitive

s0r.jpg We've been meaning to post this for a while, but well worth checking out (though not strictly legit) is the Sonic The Comic Archive, an almost complete scanned archive of every single Sonic The Hedgehog and Sega-related comic book published thoughout the '90s.

The handy info page explains it best: "STC is a comic based on the adventures of Sega's flagship mascot Sonic the Hedgehog, as well as including strips of many other famous Sega characters such as; Ecco the Dolphin, Sparkster and Streets of Rage. STC was produced by two companies over its 8 year and 223 issue life span."

We love Sonic, but our favorite bit is the special comics section, which includes such wackiness as an 'Eternal Champions' special edition comic, and a poster mag starring the Street Of Rage characters. Yay, Sega, yay! [Via #ic.]

May 26, 2006

Waiting For Hasselhoff, Rocking Out To Cthulhu Karts

bwn.jpg Our dear friends at Schadenfreude Interactive, last seen discussing game designs featuring renegade beekeepers with amnesia, have returned to sister site Gamasutra with a brand new column, 'Waiting For Hasselhoff'.

The feature "chronicles audio engineer Alex Voll mit Aalen's Beckettian odyssey, waiting for David Hasselhoff to arrive and craft voiceover for the firm's award-winning Cthulhu Karts series", and the lines he must speak are rather astounding: "A borean terror gnaws at my vitals as, before me, a many-tentacled creature waves its dire glaucous flag. Am I courting madness with this karting madness?"

We won't give away the ending, but suffice to say, the path of the Hoff does not run smooth, and Voll mit Aalen is obstructed, among other things, by German death metal band Moribund Impetus, who, he relates. "leave the studio a mess. Someone has left a pair of leather chaps behind an amplifier. I sigh and place them in the Lost & Found cabinet beside the Ottorino Respighi-shaped Pez dispenser, a deflated inflatable pig, and a cucumber wrapped in aluminum foil. This job is not as glamorous as I expected it to be -- some days I just feel like a janitor with a copy of ProTools." Working in games isn't as fun as we thought!

Mr. James Demands That The Flogging Continues

doracleaver.jpg Several smartypants are pointing out that Three Rings CEO Daniel James, the creator of Yohoho! Puzzle Pirates, and a jaunty piratical hat-wearing presence at any conference or gathering you care to mention related to the game industry, has started a weblog, 'The Flogging Will Continue'.

The latest post, 'Burning Flipside, and the relevance of Burning Man to MMOs' has some interesting discussion on the future of MMOs and recreation. James comments, comparing the Burning Man experience to 'the Vegas experience': "The analogical contrast between Second Life and expensive content-driven theme-park MMOs like World of Warcraft is obvious."

He argues: "If humanity has a future (i.e. if we don’t blow ourselves up, or devour ourselves in green or grey goo), then I believe we’ll largely live lives of leisure. How will fill that leisure time will be profoundly important. As a creator of leisure, a builder of (virtual) leisure cities, I would much rather people spent most of their time at a virtual Burning Man than Vegas. That said, Puzzle Pirates is more Vegas than Burning Man. Heck, we’ve even got Poker. Clearly I have some work to do!" [Via Broken Toys.]

COLUMN: 'Bastards of 32-Bit' - Um Jammer Lammy

lammy1.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 Um Jammer Lammy for the Sony PlayStation, developed by NaNaOn-Sha, published by Sony Computer Entertainment America and released in the United States in July 1999.]

It's a bit of a rush and a bit of a dash!

While most video game genres expand over time and continue to offer new twists and complexities to old formulas, such is not the case for the rhythm genre. What began with story-based, character-driven titles like Parappa the Rapper soon gave way to more simplistic, arcade-friendly fare such as Beatmania and Dance Dance Revolution, both of which refined the mechanics of music-based gameplay, yet eliminated many of the more complex elements that once characterized the genre.

This move can be seen as beneficial to the genre, as early rhythm games were often criticized as being too short, and for possessing too little depth. Modern games in Konami's Bemani series, on the other hand, are almost infinitely replayable due to their lack of specific goals or finite storylines. For all the advancements the genre has seen, however, there's a certain charm present in older music-based games that modern titles seem to lack. Um Jammer Lammy may not have the length and depth that Bemani fans crave, but it possesses wit and charm in spades.

lammy2.jpgThere's no foolin' around with deers.

Um Jammer Lammy stars a would-be rockstar lamb named Lammy, and you're in charge of helping her get to her big concert on time. Along the way, you'll have to help Lammy put out fires, land an airplane, and escape from the clutches of hell itself...using only the power of her mind. Heavy stuff! Gameplay is cue-based, with timed button presses simulating the playing of a guitar in accompaniment to various call-and-response sequences. If this formula sounds familiar, the similarities to Parappa the Rapper are beyond coincidence; Lammy takes place in the same universe as Parappa, and features many of the same characters.

Um Jammer Lammy never garnered the recognition and critical praise that Parappa did, however. This is somewhat puzzling, as Lammy's soundtrack is one of the best to ever be featured in a video game, and easily bests the music found in Parappa and its sequel. Gameplay in Lammy also has much more variety to it; unlike Parappa, two-player cooperative and competitive modes give the game life beyond the completion of its story mode, and there are several optional goals to achieve both in single-player stages and when playing against a computer-controlled opponent. One of the game's best features comes upon the completion of the story mode: an entirely new set of stages that star Parappa as the main character! These stages -- which feature all-new music and rap-based challenges -- prove to be an inclusion that doubles the game's length.

If I'm dead, then the game's over! What a STUPID game!I thought milk was pink!

The game is still a short-lived experience in comparison to modern rhythm titles, but what Lammy lacks in replay factor it more than makes up for in sheer weirdness. Make no mistake, this is one bizarre game. In the third level, a caterpillar vomits uncontrollably while it urges you to put children to sleep by strumming them like guitars. For landing a plane, you're given a set of false teeth, which add a wah-wah pedal effect to your guitar when you equip them. The game's strangest moment, however, was censored out of the United States release -- in short, Lammy trips on a banana peel, dies, and goes to hell, where she has to battle an evil J-Pop idol for her mortal soul.

You won't find moments like this in Dance Dance Revolution, that's for sure. Story-based rhythm games may have never achieved the popularity of their Bemani successors, but titles like Gitaroo Man Lives! prove that the subgenre isn't dead yet. One can only hope that a Lammy sequel isn't far behind.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: If you're a fan of music games in general and NaNaOn-Sha in particular, you might want to check out the recent Gaijin Restoration column on 'Vib Ribbon', another classic rhythm game for PS1 from Masaya Matsuura and friends!]

[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.]

Dead In Iraq's America's Army Feedback

protest.jpg Over at the War & Video Games blog, there's an informative post on the 'deadiniraq' art project, which, as is handily explained, was created by Joseph DeLappe: "He's been logging onto America's Army under the name dead-in-iraq, and choosing not to fight. Instead, he just types in the names of American military casualties."

Blogger Ed Halter has compiled some of the more eye-opening reactions to this virtual protest, for example: "Don't be surprised if there's a book deal in this. "My Noble Online Protest", by Joseph "surrender-monkey" DeLappe, coming soon to a B&N near you", or, indeed: "Couldn't he do something more original than name all the dead?"

There's also an excellent GameSpy article on the concept, noting: "One of the reasons DeLappe has specifically targeted America's Army is because he has some personal issues with the game itself. During our interview, he calls it "a tax-payer funded propaganda and recruiting and advertising tool for the Army."" Which... it is?

Extreme Hunting 2 Takes Sega Over The Edge?

extreme.jpg You knew about Virtua Fighter and that tennis one, sure. But did you know about EXTREME HUNTING 2: TOURNAMENT EDITION? Well, it's made by Sega Amusements USA, which is based in Elk Grove Village, IL - won't be too many more elk there for long! But anyway, it strongly appears to be an atomiswave game (just look at them robust screens), and is a tournament edition, meaning you can be ranked against other people who wear hats and plaid in public, should you so choose.

Check out some movies, where you'll find you can injure a bear then try to shoot it as it escapes! Then you can shoot fish in the water! Or even poorly animated squirrels! All the while listening to twangy, poorly constructed hillbilly music (and I know my hillbilly music, I worked at a folk music club). But don't forget, there are also frightening mystery animals - will it be a vicious bunny? Possibly a rabid duck? Maybe even a diabolical titmouse! You've got to play to find out!

extreme2.jpg The game was announced some time ago, but should be coming out in 'early summer, 2006.' which sounds a lot like now! You might think I was joking with the whole demonic animals thing, but just check out this quote from the tips section: "Keep a look out for the MONSTER ANIMALS, or the largest animals in the spot." The bold and caps are their own. Those frightening animals, wandering around in their natural habitat - frankly they're just asking for it! So, just wait til it comes out, then you can slouch behind a man with a red, impatiantly waiting for your turn. Will that man ever finish? The khaki pants brigade can't be kept waiting around! [X-post from IC.]

Vectrex Plus Synth Cart Plus 2600 Equals Musical Insanity

vek.jpg Somewhere round the edges of art, retro gaming, and music, there lies Sebastian Tomczak and his multitude of circuit hacking projects, the latest of which performed an insanely detailed Vectrex/Atari 2600 symphony at an event in Australia the other day.

Our minds boggle at what was going on, but to try to explain it in less than three pages: "The idea behind Black Dog White Dog is to have a 'visual score' written on the Vectrex Logo program...The Vectrex is then filmed via a video camera, which is on its side to compensate for the machine's unique screen dimensions."

But wait, there's more: "Connected to the TV was a set of twenty-four light dependent resistors (whose resistance lowers the more light is presented to them), each replacing certain buttons in one of four 'recreated' Atari 2600 CX50 control pads. These four matrix sets where plugged into two Atari 2600's each running a copy of Paul Slocum's Synthcart."

So basically, the Vectrex's visual output was controlling Atari 2600 music through light sensitivity, and: "Both Ataris had had a direct audio modification performed on them. The audio from the left Atari was played directly through a Marshall guitar amp. The right Atari was through a Behringer bass amp." Wow. Check out Little Scale and the Milkcrate homepage for more on the many and varied circuitbending projects on display here. [via Xir!]

GameTap Updates On June Madness

gtap.jpg Holy canole, is it a GameTap time of the month again? We got an email from the 'all you can eat' subscription gaming service (which we still heart) with its schedule for new game additions over the next month, so thought we'd pass them on.

Today, the 25th, looks like we're getting MegaRace 3 ("Strap yourself in for this fast and futuristic combat racer"!), an amusing sequel to the over the top '90s franchise - as well as the Neo Geo MVS version (we think!) of Bust-A-Move, aka Puzzle Bobble - always fun.

Then, appearing on June 1st, we have Super BurgerTime ("It's rarely been seen but it's finally here...the 1990 sequel to BurgerTime!"), and June 8th sees Rolling Thunder 2 & 3 ("The SEGA Genesis presents two follow-ups to the spy classic, Rolling Thunder.") - certainly some neat obscurities popping out from the underbrush here.

Finally, June 15th has Legendary Wings ("Hey, Capcom, you got your vertically-scrolling shooter in my side-scrolling shooter!"), and June 22nd: "Sports Week: Football, bowling, wrestling...not to mention a few other heavy hitters." Oo, should be some nice Neo Geo and arcade titles showing up in there, we'd imagine. [UPDATE: Matt from Turner mentions in comments: "The "Sports Week" content was moved to July so we could celebrate Sonic's 15th birthday on June 23!" Hurrah!]

May 25, 2006

IGDA Scholars Talk GDC Experiences

wrightpee.JPG In a rather touching post, the International Game Developers Association has collected a multitude of reports from GDC 2006 student scholarship winners, who each won a pass to GDC and a professional game developer mentor to help guide them.

Elizabeth M. Chung of Pennsylvania State University gives an idea of the general fun level of GDC [yes, yes, run by CMP, who also runs GameSetWatch, but no shilling here, it's a great conf!]: "You spend literally every waking moment of your time devoted to discussion with others about games, meeting exciting people in the industry, seeing the new games that are in the making, and enveloping yourself with the most creative people on the planet." Yay!

But actually, our favorite feedback is from Eric Peter Foster of the University of Advancing Technology, who goes completely against the grain and calls out Will Wright on his GDC 2006 speech: "He is a good speaker, however it did seem a little long, and it dragged on a bit... I think in the future, unless he talks about something more interesting to me, I will go to another session if there is a good one going on." Rawk! [Oh, and ta to Joystiq for P-A screenshot swipe!]

Game Ads A-Go-Go: Visual Hyperbole

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.]

Welcome back to another extremely whimsically over-analytical edition of Game Ads A-Go-Go! I'm actually finally almost done moving, so I have more time this week to write total pap. In this episode, we'll be focusing on what I like to call "visual hyperbole." Hyperbole (pronounced hi-per-bo-lee), for those who don't know, essentially means "extreme exaggeration." There are many examples of visual hyperbole in video game ads of yore since the advertisers typically want to get their point across in the most dramatic way possible. Let's take a look at a few.

All Hail The Great Shodown

shodown_large.jpg

Somewhere in the South Pacific there lives a race of tiny people in baseball caps that worships a god known as Shodown. The mighty Shodown, in an impressive display for his peoples, regularly manifests himself as a colorful upright wooden cabinet in a local cave. Every week the people of the village gather around Shodown to beg for mercy and forgiveness:

"Oh Great Shodown, we have worshiped you plenty. We have given you trinkets of rock and bone. Why, oh why have you not watered our crops this season?"

Normally, Shodown only responds to their pleas with swirling lights and sound. But one week, Shodown finally replied:

"Trinkets of rock and bone are not enough to satisfy the great Shodown. I require a much greater sacrifice: that of a large metal disc with a picture of a man's head impressed upon it!"

Puzzled by their god's request, the people went to their village's greatest minds: blacksmiths with years of experience in crafting odd metallic things. It took all of the village's blacksmiths working together for seven days and seven nights to craft the perfect metal disc for Shodown. Soon after, the people took the disc to Shodown and deposited it into a slot in the front of Shodown's cabinet. Another week passed, and the people returned, saying:

"Shodown, we have worshiped you plenty. We have given you the sacrifice you requested. Why, oh why have you not watered our crops this season?"

The great booming voice of Shodown replied:

"Last year, one disc was plentiful for Shodown. This year you must deposit four discs before I water your crops."

---

Folk tales aside, there is something else you should know about this ad. Look in the print at the bottom and you'll find this:

yodudeability.jpg

The Best Rack in Town

bestrack_large.jpg

"Finally, there's a video pool game that actually 'feels' like real billiards."

I'm completely confused. First, this ad tells us to "chalk up" (Dude), then it tells us not to ("Do not try this at home" in the fine print), then they throw in a couple crude references to breasts, and then they finally reveal that all this hullabaloo is actually about a video pool game, and that we're not actually supposed to use our fingers as pool cues. Talk about mixed messages. Am I supposed to play with my fingers? Not play with my fingers? Chalk my fingers? Chalk the cartridge? Grope the billiard balls?

I think we're just better off skipping this game and playing a different one.

Be Careful What You Wish For

tecmobaseball_large.jpg

The other night I was in a similar situation as the young fellow pictured in this ad. I was sitting in my living room playing a crappy baseball game on my Intellivision, when I off-handedly remarked to my friend that someone should make a more realistic baseball game. Just then, a baseball hurled through my living room window, completely shattering the glass and hitting me in the head. My friend walked away with a few small glass shards in the arm, but I was knocked unconscious for a couple hours. When I awoke, a stunning revelation hit me: someone already has made a more realistic baseball game. It's called Baseball and people play it all the time. Then I jumped up, grabbed my shotgun, did a dramatic roll on the floor, popped up in front of the window and blasted the kid outside who threw the baseball at me.

Shortly afterward, in the police car, I realized that I had a problem with distinguishing video games from reality.

[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.]

Toronto Game Jam Jams Games Out Of Toronto

kalish.gif We've just spotted that the results of the Toronto Indie Game Jam are online, including ten downloadable titles and seven games that 'didn't quite make it' to a workable stage just yet - and the selection looks very cool indeed.

All created over a three day period, one of the initial highlights is definitely Kalishnikitty ("Graphically stunning. An animated cat! Parallax scrolling! Photo realisitc explosions! They owe it all to version control. Be sure to play until the end...")

But also well worth messing with is Glucose Maximus, in which "The goal is to feed the kids running towards the ice cream vendor. There are medic and ammo resupplying kids that will help you, don't kill them!" Niiice jam, guys!

Bang Howdy! Gets Public Beta Spittoon

bhowdy.jpg Good news, everybody! Three Rings, the creators of the excellent casual MMO Puzzle Pirates, have announced the public beta for Bang! Howdy, a multiplayer online tactical strategy game for the PC, in which "players face off in the steam-powered Wild West, using casual strategy game mechanics in a variety of gameplay modes."

The game, which has a Beta blog and is "a hybrid between turn-based and real-time strategy gameplay, and is played in short fast-paced rounds", looks very neat indeed - and it's going to be 'play for free, pay for items' when it launches, just like a whole bunch of Korean titles like Kart Rider that have been super-successful.

Also, damn, it's steampunk, and has a great press release quote: "We been diggin' away in the mines for a good long while and we can finally report that there's gold in them thar hills," said Michael Bayne, director of "Bang! Howdy" and Three Rings' CTO. "Hitch up yer wagons and get ready to ride, because yer not gonna want to miss out on all the fun."

Warning Forever, Interview For Right Now

wfor.gif Our fave interviewblog Little Mathletics (whose Alistair Wallis may be helping out GSW with some interviews soon!) has posted a great chat with 'Warning Forever' creator Hizoka T. Ohkubo, and the intro sets things up really nicely regarding the Japanese 'dojin' title.

The piece explains: "If you were at all unconvinced about the amount of inventiveness in indie games, you'd do well to look at Hizoka T Ohkuba's Warning Forever. Like bullet hell shmups, but don't want to go through the drag of fighting your way through levels to get up to the bosses? This is the game for you."

Interestingly, Ohkuba talks (for the first time in English?) about his next game, commenting: "'I'm working on a follow-up now, but it's been slow recently because I've been busy with my job. I'm aiming to get it finished sometime this year, but I'm sure you'll understand if it doesn't get done. Knowing that I'm a fan of the retro type 2D games, like Warning Forever, you would think that would be what I'm making, but the next one will be an action game in 3D. It will be like Warning Forever in the way that it will be simple, and you will be able to play it at any time."

Rolston Checks Out (Of Designing The Elder Scrolls)

rolston.jpg Over at HardOCP, not generally known for its game coverage, they have an excellent interview with Oblivion's Ken Rolston, who is newly retired from the company (game designers getting to retirement age? The industry is growing up!) after a long career in paper/videogaming.

Rolston, who was "lead designer on the Bethesda Softworks fantasy RPG The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind and its expansions Tribunal and Bloodmoon, as well as on the new sequel Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion", talks about his time, noting of today's game biz: "I preferred working in small teams with short schedules and smaller budgets, and I don't prefer the slick, polished products of today to the rougher, simpler products of a decade ago."

As for his retirement years? Rolston grins: "I aspire to be the nicest, most charming, most reliable husband, son, sibling, and friend in history. Against that laudable ideal, I plan to play the accordion. A lot. And sing in close-harmony groups. And wander around and sponge off friends, and have adventures. And play stupid paper-and-pencil RPGs. And paint toy soldiers. I may also become a positive force in society. Yeah. That's the ticket." Hey, that's what we want to do, too!

Gizmondo - The Story Continuezzzzzzzzz?

enzo.jpg Though much of it is rehash, a UK Sunday Times feature story on Gizmondo has a number of choice investigative-ish extras on the continuing, continuing, continuous story of the v.crooked, v.failed handheld gaming firm.

We particularly like this quote from Paul Davis of Gizmondo liquidators Begbies Traynor: “No matter how much you spend on cars, watches and directors’ perks, you just can’t get through a sum as big as this quite as quickly as Gizmondo did.”

There's also some good material on Carl Freer, one of the key figures in the whole mess: "Freer, who celebrated his 36th birthday on Friday, preferred luxury to performance — hence the chauffeur-driven Maybach. But behind the electric gates of their Hampshire home he and Anneli kept a Range Rover and a Land Rover Discovery as runabouts. In the garage were a couple of Harley-Davidsons — one with a diamond-etched crank case."

More evidence of overindulgence? "Last year the company spent £2m on leasing cars. It also bought a share in a racehorse. Papers show about £400,000 was spent on watches, many for potential investors and people with whom Freer wanted to do deals." That's... quite a lot of cash.

[In related news, we got some gangtastic mini-posters for legendary Gizmondo title Colors in the office recently, from the company's former U.S. PR firm. But we still can't get a copy of the mythical GPS-enabled Gizmondo 'killer app', even though there are some press copies floating around - mail us if you've got one spare!]

May 24, 2006

GameSetCompetition: Win Totally Cool Death Jr. Swag!

deathjrswagsm.jpg So, thanks to our friends at Backbone Entertainment, part of super-duper developer Foundation9, we have a new GameSetWatch competition giveaway, and it's rather awesome.

To help promote the new Death Jr. titles being released later this year (and Backbone's largesse in general), the lucky winner gets the pictured loot (click on the pic to enlarge!) - a Death Jr. T-shirt, a mini 'C-4 Hamster' action figure (!), and best of all, a special metal Death Jr. Case Core Coffincase.

This is a smaller version of the cases generally used by exceptionally gothy musicians as instrument-holders, with a Death Jr. plaque on the front, a beautiful red velour interior, and a copy of Death Jr. for PSP hiding inside it - along with a couple of green Death Jr. lollipops, clearly the highlight of the whole package.

So, in order to win, you need to answer the following question:

"When Death Jr. and friends appeared on the June/July 2005 issue of GSW sister publication Game Developer magazine, DJ was brandishing a scythe and pointing to a graph. What 'hilarious' joke descriptors are on the two axes of the graph?"

Please send your answers to editors@gamesetwatch.com any time before Monday, June 5th at 12 noon PST. There will be only one winner randomly picked from the correct answers, the judges' decision is final, and the C-4 Hamster will not blow up in the mail, according to its packaging. Happy trails!

The Return Of The TigSource

tigs.jpg Whoomp, there it is! After a significant downtime, indie powerhouse site TIGSource.com has flipped back into life, just as swiftly as it exited the stage. With a pleasant new redesign and posts by a number of the previous writers (Dessgeega, Derek Yu, others!), looks like this could be good news for indie game fans everywhere.

The sidebar for the site says: "I'd tell you that we're back from the dead except we were never really dead in the first place. Just sleeping. Soundly." Suuuure. While it's been away, other sources we've been forced to peruse have included the ever-reliable GameTunnel, of course, plus the slightly more casual Jay Is Games.

But our favorite TIGSource offshoot, the Indygamer blog, which was rating and linking to an insane amout of indie titles, has apparently gone on semi-hiatus "due to personal reasons", as of last Friday. Let's hope that editor TimW restarts, either on TIGSource or his own blog, soon.

The Exchange Student Gets Adventurous

exchstu.jpg We always get some odd press releases at Gamasutra, and are happy to reprint them over at GSW, and the latest is introducing The Exchange Student, "an interactive sitcom and it will be sold online in the form of episodes, for PCs and Macintosh."

The title is developed in Flash, and features art by Will Eaken (who "has worked on some of the most popular adventure games in the history of the genre like The Dig and Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis", though perhaps not quite in leading roles) and Dave Rigley (creator of the online comic 24 and a half.)

The plot, somewhat wackily, "...follows Emilio Carboni, a 22 y.o. Italian student who has never had a girlfriend in his entire life. His friend Vicenzo just came back from an exchange program in Sweden. Vicenzo was really satisfied with the program since he met a lot of very attractive ladies during his stay in Sweden. Emilio decides to follow his friend's path. He travels to Sweden to spend a semester there, studying in a city of Sweden called Västerås. Fate however is not that kind with our 'hero'. The game follows the events taking place from the moment that Emilio leaves his house in Italy until he completes his exchange program and returns home."

So, we're thinking some kind of Leisure Suit Larry meets American Pie thing, then? The concept art gallery certainly looks promising, if you dig the LucasArts old-school graphic adventure stylings.

Falcoon Cornered In SNK Building, Interview Results

snk.gif The folks at RetroBlast! have hooked up with Coin-Op.tv, a retrogaming specific video site which has run some neat stuff in the past, and the first combined fruits of their loins are a video interview with SNK's Falcoon conducted at the SNK offices in Japan.

The story notes: "COIN-OP TV roving reporters Bobby & Alan visit SNK Playmore's overseas location in Osaka, Japan - where they spoke with 'King of Fighters' Designer and Producer Falcoon! Find out what inspiration drives a guy like Falcoon into the game business and what's in store for the new 'King of Fighters'"

Falcoon is a 'wacky guy', and you can check out the previous Coin-Op.tv episodes on the RetroBlast! site, including such goodness as a Bill Kunkel interview, plus lots of I Am 8-Bit and California Extreme coverage - we're heartily in favor!

EverQuest II Goes... Parkouring?

eqpark.jpg The ever-helpful Aggro Me points the way to one of the craziest MMO-related videos we've seen here at GSW in quite some time - an EverQuest II parkour video, in which various in-game characters do 'crazy jumps' across the fantastical architecture of Norrath.

For those not in the know, parkour's Wikipedia article explains that the 'sport' "...(also called freerunning, abreviated to PK) is a physical discipline of French origin in which participants attempt to pass obstacles in the fastest and most direct manner possible, using skills such as jumping and climbing."

Oddly enough, there's been a couple of other parkour references in video games recently - Marc Ecko's Getting Up from Atari twinned elements of parkour and graffiti in a 'tough urban package', and a GDC lecture from the Assassin's Creed team mentioned that the Ubisoft title "strives for real world rules and drew influence from many sources including parkour". [EDIT: Oop, and Jare points out Eidos' Free Running for PSP, which we hadn't spotted, and is out this month in Europe!] But heck, this is fantasy parkour with gnomes (elves? goblins? Hell if I know!), and as such, to be adored.

Virtual Iraq Game Exposes Iraq Veterans To Digitized Trauma

FSW.jpg Sister GSW site Serious Games Source, which is running two features per week on the whole 'serious games' phenomenon, plus a bunch of daily news, for those who dig that type of thing, has a new write-up on addressing post-traumatic stress through games, and it's pretty interesting and thoughtprovoking stuff.

The article discusses the Virtual Iraq game, which "is based on the popular commercial Xbox game, Full Spectrum Warrior, using assets from the game on top of others that have been added", and "uses gradual exposure to trauma in a manageable way, which eventually leads to habituation and extinction of the syndrome."

Thus, U.S. Army physicians are able to simulate increasing levels of trauma, from "being attacked or ambushed" to more gruesome follow-ons, "providing 3D sound, vibration and even scents (such as gunpowder, cordite, body odor, garbage, burning rubber, diesel fuel and Iraqi spices)" to add to the mix, to attempt to produce therapeutic results. It all seems disturbing, but since the initial cause is so disturbing - if it works, or helps, we're all for it.

May 23, 2006

Kick! Punch! It's all in the Cellphone!

basara05.gifEver since an urban legend that certain cell phone straps prevent cancer, it has been popular to feature them as promotional materials. Ever thought how useful it might be to have a weapon strapped to your cell phone? Capcom's got your back, according to Impress Watch! In order to promote the upcoming Sengoku Basara 2 (a sequel to the series known as Devil Kings in the US), if you preorder, you will receive one of five hero weapon cell phone straps at random.

Maeda Keiji's staff might also be useful as a fishing rod to snatch rare fish from your friend's aquariums when they're not looking! Date Masamune (that's as in Dah-Tay, not Win a Date with Masamune) offers his triple set of swords, perfect for pricking random people you don't like in public! Meanwhile, Saneda Yukimura's dual spears would be good for picking your nose surreptitiously. Chosokabe Morichika's harpoon might make a wonderful little spear to hold taffy on until you want to eat it later. Last, but not least, Mori Motonari's round, painful-looking dagger thingy (pictured left) might...help you disguise yourself as a New Age practitioner?

The little weapons will also come with an exciting trading card! Oh boy! Capcom's also planning some other things, such as limited edition covers, a Sengoku diary and fortunetelling. Oh my! Check back later to see if the new Cooking Mama will come with a set of Ginsu knives!

COLUMN: 'Parallax Memories' - Snatcher

Mega CD Cover['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 Konami’s cyberpunk adventure: Snatcher]

Junked

Snatcher is a game that many people know, yet few have played. And if you haven’t played it yet, I don't know that I can change your mind with only a short column even though I will try. One doesn't quite play this game so much as just progress its story. But though its gameplay is lacking, Snatcher makes up for it in just about every other possible way.

The only English-language version was released in late 1994 for the Sega/Mega CD, although many versions of the game were released over three generations of Japanese consoles. The game takes full advantage of the CD format; programming tricks increase the number of colors the Genesis can display on screen, and the extensive voice acting is enjoyable and well produced. While not a commercial success (mainly due to Sega's mishandling of the Sega/Mega CD), it developed an enormous cult following and is highly sought after to this day.

Neo Kobe CityNeo Kobe Pizza

Gillian Seed has recently been assigned to the Anti-Snatcher task force where he will be a Junker eliminating snatchers—artificial life-forms who take the skin of humans and wear it. Both Gillian and his wife have amnesia (which doesn't come off as cheesy as it sounds) and are separated as they try to regain their memories. They make their new homes in Neo Kobe Japan, a city both skeptical and scared of the snatcher invasion which has been leaked by the press. The scene is set for a sci-fi detective story.

While Snatcher is usually touted as being based on Blade Runner, anyone who has read Philip K. Dick's sci-fi novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (the inspiration for the film), knows that Kojima was also familiar with it. As both the writer and director of the game, a young Hideo Kojima shows his affinities for film and literature, even as he masterfully presents a piece of media that could only be accomplished as a videogame.

Snatcher is basically a menu-based adventure game; even the navigation goes through menus. Occasionally, you will get a shooting-gallery-esque section where you are to aim and shoot on a grid. The Konami light gun—The Justifier—can be used at these sections (though I can't imagine how it would be possible). Above the menus, you see your location from Gillian's perspective. "Looking" and "Investigating" will become your friends as you throw away logically looking in strategic locations and just search and look at everything a couple times before moving on.

Console The Tears Romantic Cyberpunk

I don't mean to sound negative about the game, just its mechanics. The story is engaging and masterfully told. The characters in the game all feel like more than just two-dimensional caricatures of real people. The relationship between Gillian Seed and his wife is truly touching. Because of the intimate and personal nature of their conversations, I always felt the need to return to the privacy of Gillian's apartment when calling her, even though I could have been anywhere. And just like in his most famous series (Metal Gear Solid), Kojima constantly reminds you that you are playing a game.

I hesitate to give concrete examples for fear of spoiling the parts that make this game so exceptional, but the game twists your perceptions with questions in a conversation tree, with options in the menus, and even by using your TV against you. Snatcher creates some of the most original and memorable videogame moments I have ever witnessed.

Looking above, I realize there is too much to say about the game and all its little touches. Touches like the name of Gillian's mechanical assistant "Metal Gear Mk2," the little homages to Konami games like Goemon and Castlevania, the visual jokes and puns, and personal memos from Konami staff and Kojima himself. All these things are just a small part of the whole—even combined with the clunky controls—that make this one of the best stories told in a game ever. On October 27, 2005, Konami renewed the Snatcher trademark, and although all it means is that US law requires the renewal every five years, at least we know that they have not forgotten the series.

[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.]

SKUs, SKUs, SKUs - The Future By Retail Listings?

x360.jpg Bill Harris at Dubious Quality has been digging around on EB Games, and has been trying to work out the retail climate for the increasing frequency of next-gen titles, and he's been coming up with some interesting results (though they're doubtless skewed by what companies have chosen to announce to retail.)

He notes: "45 Xbox 360 games are scheduled for release before the end of the year, but only 31 Xbox titles. Almost half of that 31 will be shipping by the end of June. After that, the 360 titles are listed in a 2-1 ratio for the end of the year... In other words, in about two months, the transition from Xbox to Xbox 360 is essentially over."

Even more interestingly: "2007? You can see for yourself. 40 titles listed for the 360. Zero listed for the Xbox. Again, that doesn’t mean that absolutely nothing will come out for the original Xbox next year, but even with a few additions, game releases for the Xbox are going to be very scarce."

There's also a good breakdown of current and forthcoming games by genre, in which it's also pointed out: "Fighting games and platform games? Just a niche now. Platformers drove the Genesis/SNES generation, and fighting games were a premier genre in the both the Saturn/PS1 generation and the early Dreamcast/PS2 generation, but no more. Less than 2.5% of the games listed for the 360 are fighters." Altogether, an excellent analysis.

Indie Gaming Declares... Independence?

indgames.jpg In our travails, we spotted a new Associated Press ASAP story on the rise of indie video games (ASAP being the youth-oriented AP division for the under-35s, interestingly!), and it's focused around the IGF-licensed 'IG: Independent Games' retail compilation done by the Moondance Games folks.

[DISCLAIMER: Some of the GSW folks also run the Independent Games Festival, whose name has been licensed by the Moondancers!]

Since the Amazon page is a bit non-specific about what games are on there, a Gamasutra story from late last year is a bit more exact: "Previously IGF-entered games featured on the compilation include full versions of Dark Horizons Lore, Global Defense Network, Rocketbowl and Strange Adventures In Infinite Space, as well as demo versions of Gish, Creatrix and others."

The piece notes the oft-discussed centerpiece: "In the '90s, indie studio Miramax forged onto big screens. Today, Moondance hopes to do the same on store shelves. It's been nearly 10 years since indie films swept the Oscars and changed the Hollywood landscape. Indie games, however, remain a decidedly niche and small-time affair. Who's ready to play?"

One suspects that outfits like Grasshopper Manufacture and even Quantic Dream could be called indies in some way, of course - just on a slightly larger, console-based scale - so the point is as characteristically blurred as always. But we love the indies who are IGF-sized, whatever.

The story also notes, rightly: "Moondance's biggest challenge has been convincing retailers like Best Buy that this subculture of gamers don't just wanna play indie games online at sites such as GameTunnel.com and MadMonkey.net." It's likely that most indie games will continue to flow to consumers digitally - but we like Moondance for trying!

In Japan, Ninja Renting Is In Danger!

phot_fujisawa_00.jpgAh, Japan! Land of laws no one pays attention to! Used games have been sold since the dawn of the Famicom, despite the fact that it was technically not allowed. Any lover of games will tell you the used game market here is heaven. So when it technically became allowed in 2002, used games sales simply went one step up the nirvana ladder of completion. It certainly didn't please companies though, who lose quite a bit to a secondhand industry that is estimated to be 30% that of new retail.

Rental is also technically not allowed and this one works to a point: the only things you've been able to rent in a non-shady way here are demos and who wants to pay for the right to play a demo? However, in the land that invented the ninja, we have our ways of being sneaky. When you buy a game at any good non-chain retailer, you will probably receive a note on the date when the game's resale price will go down, and how much you can sell it back for before that date. Thus, if you're relatively quick, you can buy a game close to release date, play it and sell it back for an excellent price, which is kind of like Ninja Renting, because you have to be pretty skilled at games to complete them before the price goes down.

Now, in the year 2006, Koei has hired a female vampire to suck the blood of other companies' games and regurgitate it to you. Called RentaNet, the chain will be opening the first ever opportunity to legitimately rent games this week in Tokyo and Kanagawa, and is prophecied to extend into around 10-15 locations by the end of the year and a further 1800 by 2008. They say prices will differ by store, but the prices sound an awful lot like Ninja Renting without the pride. For new titles, a month's rental will be about 5000 yen, while a 5-day rental will be in the range of 2800 yen, which incidentally is kind of the universal budget game price.

For classic titles, or those that have been out for one year, about 500 yen for the 5-day rental is predicted. Like most game shops, RentaNet will employ a point system for discounts and bonuses. Locations will also be in places close to things like Namco's game centers in order to target game fans. The store offers a selection so far of EA's, Taito's, Sony's, Koei's, Bandai Namco's and Tecmo's lineups, though it naturally seems to be centered or exclusively based on their PS2 catalogs.

Despite wanting an ability to rent for a long time, now that it's here, I'm worried that it will keep the wonderfully healthy used games market from thriving. Psychologically, after years of conditioning that the only way to get a game here is to buy it or steal it, I've become so used to it, it's a bit weird to even consider renting.

Raise Hell With Earache Extreme Metal Racing

earache13.jpgSo, we're still mildly obsessed with budget PlayStation 2 racing title Earache Extreme Metal Racing (which has a MySpace page as its official site!), though we certainly make no guarantees to its quality. Go to that official site and check out the video. It's...something else! Also, do note the rating they've got for their box mockup. I'm guessing that 3+ rating might be a bit premature!

So as for what's new, Sky Nash, goth metal gal and game designer, has got a new advertising scheme for the game, along with her pop, Frazer Nash, of Frazer Nash communications. They've snapped up the domain 6-6-06.co.uk in order to promote the game, which is a damn fine idea. Release the power of Satan with Earache Extreme Metal Racing! Or something of that nature! The countdown you see there is for the release of the PC demo, which we're sure will be...well, a video game of some kind. Check out a choice quote from the press release: "So the sign of the Beast is about to hit our calendars- 666, yes all three digits are on the horizon. It can only mean one thing; the Beast along with his mates the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are about to unleash a plague of death across the planet! but on a lighter note;"

And that's the end of the paragraph! I simply just can't get enough. Let's have another bit: "The level will also be populated with the fearsome living dead who carry either the plague of death or the special acceleration boost, so don’t be shy and go in for the kill!"

moi.gifPeople say that truth is stranger than fiction, but I think in cases like this, fiction is pretty damn strange. I'm imagining what a fearsome living dead person would look like, whilst carrying the 'special accelleration boost.' This game will be the best of all time, or else Satan himself will punish developer Metro3D for their crimes against...well, not humanity. Devil...try. I could go on and just quote the whole excellent press release, which includes things like: "They don’t want to spread fear and panic BUT we are all going to DIE!!" but I suppose I've got to draw the line somewhere.

For those curious, the elegant gothic lolita-esque Sky Nash herself can be found right here. We tried to get an interview with her at E3, but she was in exams. Pity. Try not to stalk her though, she's not of age.

May 22, 2006

Exclusive: 'Fictional' Bret Easton Ellis Hates Artoon!

lpark.jpg Continuing the hard-hitting journalism for which GSW is renowned, we've been reading Bret Easton Ellis' latest novel, Lunar Park, which stars the drugged-up and dysfunctional 'Bret Easton Ellis', the author of all Ellis' previous books, struggling to cope as someone apparently impersonating his American Psycho villain Patrick Bateman starts terrorizing his home town.

Post-modern conceits aside (and the book is _very_ well written, incidentally), the relatively on-the-ball references to video games as part of Ellis' (fictional?) family life in the book are notable, including mentions of a Mortal Kombat Halloween character, Ellis' son reading GamePro and Nintendo Power, and various other reasonably clued-in passing jabs.

But on P.116, Ellis' trademark cutting wit gets to work on Blinx creators Artoon, or more specifically, their pre-Blinx PS1/GBA platformer, as referenced with regard to Ellis' daughter: "Sarah went to the media room to play Pinobee, a video game about a flight-challenged and oddly charmless bumblebee whose expression of disgust always managed to fill me with alarm."

We say it's time for a rumble between Sonic co-creator and Artoon founder Naoto Oshima and the fictional coke-snorting version of Bret Easton Ellis - who's with us?

COLUMN: Byebye, Multicart Project!

mpdizzy.gif Well, we're sorry to announce that Dave "Shmorky" Kelly's weekly GSW cartoon strip The Multicart Project, which, you may recall, "detailed the lives of Nintendo Entertainment System characters way past their prime, living in low-income housing and just trying to get by", is no more, having reached the end of its run on GameSetWatch.

At least, we _think_ our relationship is no more, according to what we could decipher of a scribbled note thrown through our window by Mr. Kelly's lawyer Oscar Acosta. All of the previous 8 episodes of the strip are available in archived form, and we will forever love anyone who can make scrambled Dizzy jokes in the same strip as KC Munchkin medical testing gags and Alex Kidd-related racism taunts.

However, all is not lost - we will be starting a brand new comic from a new author next Monday (29th!), and GSW regulars should look out for all kinds of fun from it - or at least, a brief stifled chuckle. We're keeping the identity of our new cartoonist secret for now, mainly because it's not Doonesbury or Charles Schulz - but somebody much, much funnier!

Bob Ross, Eat Your Heart Out?

nurie_ccpt01-4.gif In Japan, it's time for Ertain's releasing Relax your Heart with Adult Color-In Painting! No, it's not a stress-relieving porno coloring book that uses the DS stylus in unique, adult ways - it's something of a paint program and game slapped around famous art pieces. In much the same way that Nintendo used the popular books by Ryuta Kawashima for Brain Training, Ertain hopes to strike lightning by releasing an adaptation of the extremely popular series of Adult Coloring Books.

These books have one of the most "fun" claims ever: they are classical art outline books that say they stimulate the frontal lobe when you choose the order and color of your paint, and the temporal lobe when you remember where you saw the painting before! (This just in: I'm going to release a series of books called Adult Male Urination Training which teaches you how to work your frontal lobe by aiming correctly and your temporal lobe by remembering the last time it burned so much. It'll make millions!)

In any case, Ertain's game seems a lot cooler than the books. Basically, a classical painting is displayed in the top screen, and the player (with lines for guidance) can render it in any manner they choose on the bottom screen. For instance, when you use the color pencil tools to spruce up a work, and erase something with the erase tool, little eraser shavings will appear on the screen, which you can blow off with the DS microphone.

The watercolor and oil painting tools will allow you to mix colors with the stylus for that hand-painted look. You can choose among different paper types, as well to give the picture different textures. By playing mini-games, you can expand your painting subject matter and pictures. Once you're done, you can have your painting analyzed and criticized by different virtual people, from the perspective of beginner painters all the way to first-class pros. While you paint, you can listen to the soothing sounds of Agematsu Mika, a professional South American harp player. The game releases on July 27th for Nintendo DS.

Ertain is one of my favorite small Japanese developers. I can only hope this will hit a home run for them in the same unexpected way Brain Training did, though I doubt it. It would be nice if the company hit the big time, because their stuff, ranging from an actually competent strategy game for the GBA, a gladiator training game and a stand-up comic game, is beyond unique.

Hudson's E3 'Helpers' Lost In Translation?

hudba.jpg We first heard about this in shadowy rumors at the Sony party at E3, but GSW co-editor Brandon has attempted to piece it together a little better for his weblog Insert Credit - an odd E3-related cultural semi-accident from the Japanese headquartered Hudson Entertainment.

As Brandon explains: "You may not know this, but Hudson had a bit of an interesting tactic for E3. They hired a group of models, all of whom would be available at any time for Hudson's partners, and certain editors-in-chief of important publications. Those involved were able to choose a girl based on pictures sent via mail. I'm told that most refused."

The post continues: "Now, this is a rather common practice in Japan, though it's not really out in the open. In Japan, businesses will hire escorts for their big clients, if ever they do business deals in a club or something similar - you've probably seen it in movies. Then the clients can negotiate with those escorts afterwards, with the obvious intentions. But here, the official word [at E3] is that the girls weren't supposed to be escorts, or arm candy, so much as kind of personal assistants - get you coffee, translate where necessary, things like that."

The full story isn't quite there, but it's noted: "Of course, they wouldn't send me the list of girls and their photos, but I'm pretty sure [the Hudson website's] features page [lists them]... complete with mini interviews and personal data: Music Plus TV hostess Yoi Tanabe, horror film actress Sharon Senina, eastwest magazine hopeful Chyna Chuu, and PhD student Theia Monera."

[So, the story isn't completely confirmed, and it's worth mentioning again that the above folks, if they're the same ones presented by Hudson pre-show, were hired to help out as assistants, nothing more. But it's all a bit of a cultural logjam, eh?]

X360 Sees Handy File List, Funny Rockstar Achievements

rocktab.jpg GSW has talked about super-handy Xbox 360 achievement-related site Achieve360Points.com before, but we wandered over there today and noted that they've added a complete list of Xbox 360 Marketplace content per game in one place - extremely handy!

As the creators point out: "Ever hear about new content hitting the Marketplace but you aren't anywhere near your Xbox 360?" Problem solved! Now you can also marvel at some overall stats (which aren't _quite_ right, because of some overlap between items being classified in different places) as follows:

"Xbox Live Arcade: 56 downloads costing 13,980 Microsoft Points (U.S. $174.75)... Xbox 360 Games: 654 downloads costing 54,030 Microsoft Points (U.S. $675.38)... Everything Else: 223 downloads costing 3,780 Microsoft Points (U.S. $47.25)... In total, there are 933 downloads available on the Xbox Live Marketplace."

Another fun thing just posted are the achievements thus far for Rockstar Table Tennis, a much-awaited X360 game due out soon, since the rankings/icons are actually much wittier than your average game ranking choices - well, perhaps 'wittier' is the wrong word, but achievements include 'The Creampuff', 'The Noob', and even 'The G.O.A.T. - Achieve the highest TrueSkill rating possible in any Ranked online game mode.' Wait, did Jeff Minter work on the game?

Into The Harem With Oo Okuki

oookuki.jpg Oo Okuki is a rather odd forthcoming Japanese console game from Global A Entertainment, a company which makes historical simulations, generally. Oo Okuki translates to Chronicle of Shogun's Harem, and is available for PS2. It's essentially a game about court intrigue, backstabbing and cattiness, from the perspective of a woman in the shogun's harem.

Within this unique-sounding adventure game you have to maintain good relationships with your other harem women, and beat your rivals, to become the harem's top woman. The game uses S-Force middleware for 3D sound, so you know when someone's approaching, if you're snooping in their room.

It's got a unique art style for the illustration, which is what originally drew me to the game. More of Global A's recent games do, actually, such as Edomono, and their recent Taito-published PSP titles . And, well...they did co-publish the new Choaniki.

As far as I know (I can't find the CERO rating - perhaps because the game's not yet released), Oo Okuki is not rated 18+ or anything, which makes one wonder how they'd get around that in a game about a harem. But hey, they bill it as a "trickery simulation" game. Can you beat that, really? It's coming out on July 13, according to Play Asia, where you can also pre order it. Beware though, this game will require extremely solid knowledge of Japanese. [X-post from IC.]

Eve Online Banks On Crazy Machinations

eveo.jpg We must admit that we're not entirely up on the craziness that is massively complex, massively scheming PC MMO space sim EVE Online - though for those wanting to get a primer, the Wikipedia page and Jim Rossignol's PC Gamer UK article on the game [PDF link] are a great place to start.

Anyhow, via Nelson's linkblog, it appears that the Eve Intergalactic Bank has been formed by in-game players, and it provides a range of bank accounts for your hard-earned EVE Online dollars - even a 'high interest savings account' with a minimum deposit of 1,000,000,000 ISK. And personal in-game insurance! ("Gives the client cover for the loss of skill points and implants due to pod killing, or money due to ransoming.")

There's even a radio ad for EVE Online podcasts [.MP3] - complete with stirring classical music and requisite cool female voiceover, and other services the bank provides include a well-received share brokering service for in-game companies who go public. There's lots more info on the FAQ page - and the mind boggles.

May 21, 2006

COLUMN: The Gaijin Restoration - wordimagesoundplay

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 Tomato's wordimagesoundplay from Sony Music. It was released in 2005 for the PlayStation2 in Japan.]

Perspective/Tunnel Vision

In 1965, a man (who had dabbled in lingerie and had once cut off John Cage's tie in a music recital) shot the Pope. On video. With a new Sony Porta Pack, which legend tells he simply procured from a dock somewhere. That night he showed his saturated video and video art was born; video art was for the people. That man was Nam June Paik, who recently passed away this year, but leaving a legacy of video art that has transcended past the ruddy halls of public access and pushed through into the realms of interactivity, and thusly, video games.

no alt textTomato's wordimagesoundplay is an odd little beast. A PlayStation 2 disc, it was actually published by Sony Music, not SCEI/J, the likely suspects. It was also given a stealth launch worthy of the Saturn and has had a mysterious, small, trickling release, with an estimated print run equal to the feeding of the 5,000. Despite being a Japanese release, the game has an undeniably British twang, since the full motion video clips and the music is supploed by Underworld, who actually founded the Tomato group, a collective of sort that seems to focus on art and design, with nothing to show for the culinary arts, despite their moniker. With this little 2D metallic doughnut's odd origins out in the open, let's step into this art project.

Semicolon/Breath

no alt textTheir are four distinct modes, all with haute-couture names: Miracles and Wonders, Latlong, Phonology and Sleeping Eye. Respectively: a 3D space filled with a meandering narrator pludging (plowing while
somehow being sludge-like!) through the 3D Text; a story of London and Tokyo, shared on a screen, again with text, but now video sliding underneath keywords and the like, begging for a Found in Translation wisecrack, but generally enjoyable with a cinematic score; a human sequencer, where one choose from an octet of limeys who shout out catch phrases about fax machines or make awkward hand gestures with mouthy theramin sounds which you can then slightly manipulate and even save to your memory card; a 15 slider puzzle, with a twist, (but
still...) that unlocks linking mini-games (all tied together by some internal logic) that recall clay creatures and textual mazes reminiscent of the Atari 2600's Adventure (though dragons that look like ducks are still far more terrifying than the word snake.)

wordimagesoundplay has a lot of words, images and sound. Generous, heaping portions. Its the play that's in question. I love games and I love media art, but I find myself being overly conscious of lauding anything that combines these great two tastes into some delectable snack food. I'm a huge fan of Rez, whose work-in-progress name was Project K, a curt nod to Kandinsky, the synaesthesiac Russian painter. Toshio Iwai's Otocky and Electroplankton have a strong didactic urgency, something that I feel is an honest and earnest theme in the
budding art style. More importantly, all of those artworks acknowledge their ironic existence and allow the fact and feature of PLAY. Even Corey Arcangel's Super Mario Clouds acknowledges it in the most extreme of ways: by removing it. wordimagesoundplay is on the PlayStation 2 when it really could have all done in Flash (damnable, hateful, words, I know) and presented to the people there, instead of as a forced fetish boutique object.

Appropriate/Form

no alt textIf the media is the medium is the message is the massage, then there needs to be a liquid feel for what is 'form appropriate.' This is clearly an art piece, pressed and presented in obscurity that will blossom on eBay. At some point the game collectors, the Underworld fans and burgeoning upstarts that populate Dorkbot will try to grab hold of its meager, mod-chip supported, aura. Now, to cement myself in hypocrisy, if it was ever to come out on an artfully mastered DVD, I'd throw down. And as an equal disclaimer: I don't own wordimagesoundplay, it was a loaner.

[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. Yes, he went to art school.]

Rumble Roses XX Gets Raunchy On Xbox 360 Live

So, we at GSW rented Konami's M-rated Rumble Roses XX for the Xbox 360 from our friendly neighborhood GameFly service, and we were unsurprised to find a fair amount of skin on view. The female-only wrestling title actually got fair marks for gameplay, but if even GameSpot notes that "the game's sense of sexuality is still rather unseemly", you know that there's plenty of weird CG jiggling going on.

But (and this is the reason for the upcoming jump), the Xbox Live-compatible Photo Mode in Rumble Roses XX for X360 was what really blew our mind - basically, you can buy costumes, customize characters and settings, and take pictures of them, then upload the pics to Xbox Live so everybody else can see them.

Japanese titles like Megumi: Virtual View and the ultra-NSFW Sexy Beach 2 obviously play up this voyeuristic photo angle with CG divas, but Rumble Roses is out in the States, too, and people on both sides of the Pacific are taking full advantage of the wide-ranging variables to pose the Rumble Roses girls in some very eye-opening poses. After the jump, we picked the three that made us splutter the most... does Microsoft know how close to the edge some of this material is?

[Though we do note that Rumble Roses XX is clearly an M-rated title - dumb 'scandal' is not the point here, just an arched eyebrow at Konami's taste... anyway, onwards, and we repeat - NSFW, NSFW, NSFW.]

rr1.jpg Coming it at #3 on our 'we can download WHAT from Xbox Live?!' list is Mizyu's tasteful picture of one of the RR girls in a New York-type environment, complete with what looks like two small pieces of string as underwear. She's looking pensive - or possibly, just cold.

Mizyu's Xbox Live gamer info reveals that he's Japanese, and largely plays Dead Or Alive 4 and Rumble Roses XX - though he has got 4 achievements in Marble Blast Ultra! [All these pictures were taken by pointing a camera at a TV, incidentally, so apologies for the lack of quality.]

rr3.jpgStraight in at #2 on the bogglemeter is Katsu555, with this classy pose of two girls, one of which seems to be inspecting the other's bosom area with some significant interest.

Most of the poses of couples in the Rumble Roses XX Photo Mode archives seem to be more tasteful (OK, _marginally_ more tasteful) modeling-style poses, as opposed to this action shot. Katsu555 is also Japanese, but all we know about him is that his Gamerscore is 445.

rr2.jpgAnd the runaway winner is from Tiurin (also Japanese - but we're not trying to condemn a nation, they just seem to be the most skilled at taking the really suspect photos!), and evidently a fan of Ninety-Nine Nights and FFXI as well as Rumble Roses.

Although the picture as taken from the TV is a bit washed out, it looks similar when viewed directly - Tiurin's managed to get the lighting so washed out in the picture that any underclothes being worn effectively can't be seen. And that, my friends, is what happens when Konami gives gamers the ability to manipulate anything based on some pretty suspect character models and costumes to start with.

To conclude - Rumble Roses XX really is pretty terrible from a misogynistic point of view - but the entire game is sleazetastic, so there's no reason to be surprised? We still were, though - so you guys might be, too. Now, time to scrub ourselves clean, and back to playing Uno.

Turbo Express, Game Gear, Cha Cha Cha?

gamegear.jpg When we were checking out U.S. portable gaming site Modojo for its recent 'best of E3' coverage, we also discovered a series of handheld console retrospective features.

So far, these number the NEC Turbo Express ("the proverbial king of kings, a high class machine capable of amazing visuals"), and the Sega Game Gear ("essentially a portable Master System with a "high resolution" backlit screen... a cool little unit that had plenty of potential.")

Not having had a Game Gear, we found the game recommendation round-up for it, complete with video of a couple of the titles, particularly helpful - even down to the 'no Star Wars games on the Genesis' tragedy revisited ("Ok, so the Genesis loses out on Star Wars games while the Game Gear gets a watered down port of SNES Super Return of the Jedi!?!")

Eyezmaze Folks Take On Time In Chronon

chronon.jpg Casual game powerhouse Jay Is Games has latched onto the fact that there's a new time-based point-and-click puzzle game from On, the creator of cult Flash game site Eyezmaze, from where the Grow series of games emanated.

The new game is really a clever enhancement o the oddly compelling Grow series, and Jay explains: "The time-based puzzle takes place in the dwelling of a creature that leaves early in the morning and returns in the evening. The object of the game is to move the correct items at their respective times throughout the day to complete the story."

Go ahead - try to score top marks (100/100!) by: "Click[ing] on items to act upon them, if possible, and change the time of day by clicking on the time buttons along the top of the game window." Also, commenter Jacob notes intelligently: "Its called Cronon cause Kronos is the Greek god of time, and the game has to do with time!"

My Perfect Strategy Game: IGDA Indie SIG's Michael Lubker

sporeme.jpg ['My Perfect Game' is a new irregular feature, where we ask 'interesting people' what their perfect video game would be like. This third instalment is from IGDA's Independent Games SIG co-ordinator Michael Lubker, and deals with his particular obsession - strategy games.]

My perfect *strategy* game would be more about characters and influence. What training your character (leader) has would affect what types of units in a city would be attracted to you and come under your control. Fighting monsters would impress city leaders and attract them to you, or you could send in assassins or gossips and undermine a city's leadership. Don't always start out as an empire leader, but maybe a small town, and influence others (through battles, charisma gained by training and influencing certain groups of people, or all-over charisma by defending towns), diplomacy (influenced by charisma), economics, or covert ops) until you lead a large group. Also, control is important, I'm very much looking forward to strategy games on the Wii.

Resources - I have to say resources are important, and I actually like collection and using economies. I do think it would be interesting to have one or more characters that you actually control as in the above example, so you might zoom out to standard RTS mode and build some buildings (like for example a smithy) and then zoom in, select your character, and have him get training from that smith, thus upgrading his stats for armor and weapons, or buy a weapon from the smith (which comes from your overall resource stock). I'd like to see more economics and not so many RTT's.

Research - technology trees are great, but I'd like to see more connected units such as groups of researcher characters working together. It would be interesting to have scientist "hero" characters that each can learn things from mentors (who live in buildings built in RTS mode) and create new innovations. Each scientist could have his own tech tree which can cross pollinate with others' training and innovations, thus giving you a much wider range of technology. Lego-style creation, as in Alpha Centauri, Impossible Creatures, and Spore, is a great thing to have as well.

Diplomacy - I would like to see much more diplomacy in AI. I know that is a challenge, but an important one. I would like to see more trading abilities as well as effects based on influence and covert operations.

Mounts and Vehicles - I'd like to see mounts and vehicles need riders/pilots, not come with them.

Training and Building - I'd like to see units need training, start out as a worker, then be mentored by various people who live in the buildings you build. And you can zoom in and take control of any character and build him up into a new leader, start a civil war, and install a new character in the palace. Characters should also be customizable (clothing, personality, etc) and saveable, and persistant.

Building should be handled better, with people actually becoming "part of" the building and working there. Also it would be interesting to have people take shelter during rain. Strategy games should also have the option to build roads between buildings ala SimCity (and have pathfinding use the roads you build). It would also add a lot to strategy games to have disasters as in SimCity.

Multiplayer: I like the trend toward multiplayer campaigns and persistant systems. But I would really like it if you could build up and customize characters which you can import into battles. Say, you have your Super Scientist who has all these neat inventions, which you can then use in your next game, and your ally has another, and they cross-pollinate their ideas...

The 'Massively Singleplayer' game idea in Spore is also interesting, as it could be applied to other strategy games too... for example, imagine Rise of Nations' campaign with it averaging out everyone's mileage (not including your country, yours is affected by you) so that you see other countries' territories changing based on real stats from other players' campaigns.

[If you think you fit our random arbitrary definition of an 'interesting person' and would like to contribute, please mail us at editors@gamesetwatch.com to check (IMPORTANT - email address is now fixed, sorry if you tried before and it bounced!), and you can write about your perfect game, too. Otherwise - don't call us, we'll call you!]



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