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June 10, 2006

COLUMN: 'Game Mag Weaseling': The Room of a Total Stud and Someone Who Does Not Have A Magazine Addiction Problem At All

['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.]

Since I have about 100,000 words' worth of text to edit this weekend, I thought I would lay off from typing so much and instead just show off my magazine room for a bit.

shelf1.jpg   shelf2.jpg   shelf3.jpg

The first two pics cover the dedicated video-game magazines, while the third pic covers the computer magazine section.

These pics were taken back in December, and the magazine collection has grown a fair bit since then, taking on large-scale collections of such illustrious tomes as EGM and Edge, and the end result of it is that the shelves have gotten a lot fuller and I need to reshelve and reorder everything again. Ah well. That, and the ferrets keep on pulling mags off the bottom shelves.

famitsu.jpg

One special note I wanted to make is that Weekly Famitsu, the largest and most well-known console game magazine in Japan published its 20th-anniversary issue last week. The editorial team tends to treat their "birthday" issues pretty seriously, and this one was no exception -- it came with a booklet of all the major "cross reviews" (the review format that they invented in 1987 and EGM liberally borrowed a few years later) from their first era of publication, with further booklets due in later issues.

I am not so mad as to have a subscription to Famitsu these days (and, to be honest, my magazine-collecting budget is at an all-time low right now), but I thought I would commemorate this milestone with a shot of one of my favorite possessions -- issue one of Famicom Tsushin (Famitsu's progenitor), alongside the miniature edition they gave away with issue 800 a couple years back. (I also included a pic of the first issue of Gamest, another 80s game mag that concentrated primarily on arcade games. I'll get to that mag later.)

Like Nintendo Power up until a few issues ago, there is more that is the same with Famitsu between its inaugural and current issues than there is different. There's the worrying amount of strategy, the busy and constantly eye-catching visual design, and arguably the most "paid off" coverage in all of game mag-dom. You could argue that it's really not their fault, though -- since Japanese copyright law dictates that publishers have to get permission for pretty much everything they publish about a game from its creators, mags over there are pretty much forced to have extremely cozy relationships with game makers. (It's the same way with Newtype USA, actually. Since we're technically a Japanese magazine, we're required to get copyright permissions for every bit of visual art in every issue of the mag -- none of this "Oh, yeah, go ahead and take whatever screenshots you want" stuff. It certainly tests your organizational abilities.)

[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.]

Puzzling Things Out With Google

puzzu.gif So sure, it's not the 'video game' flavor of games, but Slashdot Games has an informative post on the U.S. Google Puzzle Championship, in which brain-based conundrums are the order of theday.

As is explained: "Registration is open until June 15 for the 2006 Google U.S. Puzzle Championship, to be held Saturday, June 17, 2006—it's 25 or so mind-bending pencil-and-paper puzzles that you have 2-1/2 very short hours to solve. The USPC is a qualifying test to choose 2 members for the U.S. team at the 2006 World Puzzle Championship to be held in Borovets, Bulgaria in October."

But wait - there's more! "For a mild taste of the puzzles try the 2006 Practice Test (as has been noted here in the past, if you can't get the Practice Test open you should probably give the real thing a pass!)." Nope, we couldn't get that far, so we're officially dumb. No spoilers in the comments, too (as if!)

Weird Al Takes On James Blunt, Halo 2

pitif.jpg I'm sure all of you have been keeping up with Weird Al Yankovic's career, right? Right? Well, for reasons of RSS oversubscribage, GSW has, and it turns out he's released a new parody song, 'You're Pitiful', which apes James Blunt's ubiquitous 'You"re Beautiful' in, well... Al-like style!

The track (which fans think is being left off Al's upcoming album because somebody won't give permission!) starts off, after a good gag about the weird 'pre-vocal' intro : "My life is brilliant, Your life’s a joke, You’re just pathetic, You’re always broke... Your homemade Star Trek uniform really ain’t impressing me, You’re suffering from delusions of adequacy."

But wait, there's some GSW relevance here! Nearing the climax of the song, Al spits the following: "You're half-undressed, eating chips off your chest... while you're playing Halo 2, no one's classier than you." Bungie, what do you think of _that_, huh? Though the game did just reach 500 million online games played, so there are certainly plenty of pitiful, appropriately self-deprecating fans out there. Now, back to balancing the chips on our chest...

1UP Goes A Bit Summer-y, Innit?

1upshow.jpg We got news from the folks at Ziff Davis that: "The 1UP Show's summer season has officially begun as of 10 minutes ago" - this was last night, mind you, that's how breaking news we are. But you can go check out the summery-themed videocast yourself, and we're mainly posting this so we can quote the frankly hilarious PR email.

Apparently: "The Summer Break episodes begin with an original new tongue-in-cheek Beach Boys-esque theme song composed by co-producer Jane Pinckard, featuring 70s-retro-style freeze frames of the various 1UP Network staff teams leaping through a sunlit park in San Francisco." What follows is "summer travelogue and outdoor zaniness", apparently! [Also, we noticed that the guys from CGW are too sedentary to jump around quite so much in the intro pics!]

But kidding aside, here's the line-up for the new show, which still seems to be one of the most watchable online video game type things online, so there: " Liberty City Stories got ported from PSP to PS2 this week, and John and Greg explain to Joe why this is a good thing. Ryan's been obsessed with Half-Life 2: Episode 1... Patrick checks out PLAY!: A Videogame Symphony over in Chicago and gets to interview Nobuo Uematsu of Final Fantasy fame, Silent Hill composer Akira Yamaoka, and Bungie composer Marty O'Donnell...Jane tags along with Dana and Sharkey to check out an early build of Untold Legends: Dark Kingdom." Watch and learn!

D3's Demonic Dispatches Dissected - June Edition

kanshiki.jpg We like Jiji's Namako Team blog (so much, in fact, that he's starting a regular column at GSW on retro compilations soon!), and right now on it, he's released his regular OCD monthly update on D3 Publisher's Japanese weird-ass games.

Particularly interesting: "The only non-PS2 game in this update, the DS version of The Kanshikikan (or The Investigator) has been released to a warm reception. Developed by D3 stalwarts Tomcat System, the original game involves CSI-style forensic investigation in an adventure-game framework and was published as part of the Simple 2000 series, and this new version has added puzzles that use the stylus to good effect. This looks like a prime candidate for US release, either by D3 America themselves or somebody like Atlus, so let's hope somebody takes a chance on it. ITmedia and GAME Watch have previews."

But also of note: "The Earth Defense Force Tactics (out July 27) has been getting lots of attention lately. Rakuten posted screenshots and the cover art, the official site is up and ITmedia posted a preview. The strategy maps use an overhead 2D view, and the game resembles other hex-based military strategy games like Nectaris and Daisenryaku quite a bit." Amazing round-up, as per usual.

The Retail Game Gets Depressing Addendum

indiev.jpg If you read GamersWithJobs over the past few months, you'd know that there was an excellent article series, 'The Retail Games', written by Elysium on his experiences as an EB Games manager. Well, now there's a follow-up piece named 'If You Can't Join 'Em, Beat 'Em'.

Elysium notes: "Since posting my original three-part series on The Retail Game, I have received voluminous correspondence in formats digital from people who were left with no shortage of comments and questions... Most common among the messages have been inquiries from would-be entrepreneurs who want to play David and Goliath against the established purveyors of video-gaming accoutrements if, in this particular case, David were an asthmatic, if plucky, gamer and Goliath were an angry, noxious planet hurtling at superluminal speeds toward that gamer."

However, he also comments: "So, you want to start a small video-game retail location, and you want some advice. * Don’t do it! – No kidding, if you have the start-up money, the time, the freedom, and the desire to start your own business, pick something better like independent tech-support or prostitution. The number of hurdles in your way when starting any new business, particularly if it’s your first attempt at entrepreneurship is staggering and unpredictable, but when you consider the multiplicity of additional difficulties involved in staring a gaming retail outlet, you’d be better off dumping your money into Amway or Quixtar." Hah, honest advice that's sassy too, we love it.

NFGMan Makes MobileCharDesign Book

rotovisions.jpg Lawrence Wright, aka NFGMan, has been enlivening the fan community for a few years now with his idiosyncratic stylings, and now he's gone and co-produced a book, named 'Character Design For Mobile Devices', which is available for pre-order from the various Amazons, and is published by neat design imprint Rotovision.

Wright comments: "The book focuses on sprites and character design, and portable game devices from the GameBoy to modern mobile phones. It's stuffed full of sprite histories, developer commentary and interviews, a history of mobile game platforms, some pixel tutorials and more exciting stuff besides." Oh, and we happen to know that GSW co-editor Brandon of IC fame helped wrangle a bunch of the content, if that helps your buying decision.

Some of the artists profiled are as follows: "There's an interview with Michael McWhertor, creator of Marios 64, and Sato Takayoshi who ported Sexy Parodius to the Sega Saturn. Army of Trolls, eboy, Jan Halfar, and Chris Hildenbrand - who creates graphics for over 20 games a year - are also featured."

Also, for developers: "Glu Mobile, Jadestone, Game Loft, Capybara and Blue Label Games graciously contributed images, stories, anecdotes and fascinating info about their development methods. The book is jammed with images from their cutting edge games, as well as past releases and several secret looks at unannounced and unreleased titles." Fun!

June 9, 2006

Wrap-Up: Game Ad Summit Randomness!

gas.jpg So we made it back alive from the Game Advertising Summit, and have posted a couple of extra write-ups over at sister site Gamasutra, but here's some random highlights that we're far too tired to write up properly, but you might dig.

- If you ever get a chance to see EA Chicago's Kudo Tsunoda talk, do it! He's a hilarious natural public speaker, and his riffing on how EA got 'The King' from Burger King into Fight Night Round 3 (complete with disparaging comments about hardcore gamer forum weenies who, in his mind, whine overly about the product placement) was pretty darn hilarious. He also mentioned that EA Chicago is working on a next-gen version of the Def Jam wrestling games in which there's lots of licensed clothes and bling, and you can get virtual clothing in-game, and then click a button to order those same exact clothes in real life - whoa.

- Nielsen VP Emily Della Maggiora had some really interesting new stats she's researched on in-game ads per platform - in particular, when asked if they felt games were more realistic with real ads placed in them, 29.7% of Xbox 360 owners strongly agreed, vs. just 14.3% of PS2 owners and just 11.4% of PC owners. Even more so, an insane 50% of Xbox 360 owners said that real ads make them more interested in the game, versus just 29.9% for Xbox and less than that for PS2. This may be down to the amount of hardcore gamers and/or the amount of suitable sports and racing titles on X360 right now, of course, but it's still impressive in showing acceptance for _relevant_ in-game product placement/ads.

- The publishing panel that I moderated (featuring Activision, THQ, and Midway reps) was enlivened by the last-minute addition of Julie Shumaker, EA's in-game ad czar, who had some interesting comments on the current well-integrated 'static' product placement in games. If you go with static ads that are woven into the game, this tends to work much better in terms of authenticity, but of course, you don't know how many copies the game is going to sell when you sign the contract.

Shumaker noted that all EA's product placement deals have minimum shipment amounts, and they've only failed to reach those once in 5 years, but also noted that the minimum ship for last year's Need For Speed was stipulated at 3 million units across all SKUs, but the game actually shipped 11 million - great for the advertisers, but hardly the best financial deal for EA, since they're giving away all those extra eyeballs for 'free'. Woops.

In-Game Ad Summit Knocks GSW Out

browne.gif For those wondering why updates will be a little bit slow today, that's because we're at the GDC Focus On Game Advertising Conference in San Francisco (both reporting on for Gamasutra, and moderating a panel), thus... you won't see so many wacky NES garage sales posts!

Nonetheless, the Microsoft keynote, as covered on Gamasutra, is actually pretty neat - Microsoft's Kevin Browne commented that the company's wholly owned Massive Inc. subsidiary is "reaching out to Sony and reaching out to Nintendo" to help get a standard for in-game ads, and commented that completely different ad serving technology would simply not work, he believed: "We're going to hold ourselves back."

So, in other words, Microsoft wants to set the standard, which could be a big deal for making in-game ads more prevalent (and relevant). Oh, and in other news, Frank is at the Sex In Games Conference, so were he to post, it'd probably be much more 'perky'. But also NSFW, so there! More later..

COLUMN: 'Bastards of 32-Bit' - Burning Rangers

brangers1.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 Burning Rangers for the Sega Saturn, published by Sega and released in the United States in May of 1998.]

Treasure the life.

Shadow the Hedgehog. Sonic Riders. Sonic Heroes. It wasn't always like this. At one point in time, Sonic Team was a font of creativity. Innovative titles like Samba de Amigo and NiGHTS brought the development team much critical acclaim, even if these games weren't always a success in terms of sales. After the death of the Dreamcast, however, things changed. Though Sonic Team's portable software output remains solid if mostly unremarkable, console gamers have for years now been forced to endure a torrent of awful Sonic the Hedgehog sequels and spinoffs. The trend shows no sign of waning, either; if initial impressions of the upcoming next-gen Sonic title are to be believed, there's little hope of seeing a glimmer of Sonic Team's former creative spark ever again.

But let's think happy thoughts! Burning Rangers is a game that was developed during the peak of Sonic Team's creativity, and it plays like nothing that has been released since. It's a little rough around the edges, sure, but Burning Rangers is arguably more innovative than anything Sonic Team has developed in the last five years.

brangers2.jpgHave goddess on your wings.

So, get this: you're a firefighter. Not just any old firefighter, mind -- you're a firefighter from the future. As such, you have access to a jetpack and a laser-powered water cannon to help you in your task of putting out fires and saving lives. Gameplay is exploration-based, and requires careful navigation through environments that explode and collapse around you.

Burning Rangers would be little more than a simple 3D platformer if not for its implementation of audio as a crucial gameplay element. Listening to radio chatter between your teammates is a requirement in many cases, and since the game lacks a mapping function, you'll often need to rely on the aid of a navigator in order to make progress. The game has a habit of thrusting you into total darkness or into situations where fire affects visibility, and there's a great amount of tension in having to rely solely upon your navigator's spoken directions in order to survive.

CRADLE'S ROCKIN' WITH LOOOOOVEJust Burning Rangers.

With so much of Burning Rangers' gameplay reliant upon audio, it's kind of a shame that the voice acting isn't better than it is. The game's entire translation is pretty flaky, actually; one of the lead characters is referred to as "Lead" and "Reed" interchangeably, and most of the dialogue inexplicably has a creepy, faux-seductive quality about it. The floaty controls could use a lot of work as well, and the game's rough graphics and framerate are hard to stomach at times. If ever a game cried out for a remake, it's Burning Rangers.

Despite its problems, though, Burning Rangers has a number of good ideas and innovations in its favor. After a small adjustment period, it's possible to ignore the gameplay annoyances and concentrate more on the joys of putting out fires and saving polygonal Sonic Team staff members (including Yuji Naka himself!) from certain doom.

In any case, it sure beats the hell out of Shadow the Hedgehog. Because seriously.

[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.]

GamerDad: Jeff Vogel On Being A GamerDad

avernum.jpg Parentally informed website GamerDad has just posted an interview with Jeff Vogel of Spiderweb Software, quizzing the Exile, Geneforge and Avernum creator on being a parent and developer.

When asked: How has being a father changed the dynamics of your company, and the personal dynamics of being a gamer and a game developer?", Vogel interestingly comments: "I only started to play Everquest really serious after my first daughter was born. I don't know. I guess I needed a fantasy world to escape into. I stayed awake late at night, so I could look after her if she woke up while my wife slept. Everquest helped fill up those hours."

In addition, when the question is posed: "Is your older daughter a gamer yet? If so, what do you have her playing?", Vogel commets: "She is four, and she's starting to get into the game thing. Her favorite game is Animal Crossing for the Nintendo. Though I tend to think of it as less a game than a "game"."

[Actually, slightly dry interview notwithstanding, it's good to see parents quizzed on how they merge being a gamer or game developer with birthing small versions of themselves.]

Garage Sale Unearths Nintendo Motherload

zelda3.jpg The game collecting community is apparently buzzing thanks to a new eBay auction, only a small fraction of an insane array of Nintendo rarities unearthed at a garage sale in New York State.

Excuse us for not retyping the all-caps, but here's the explanation from the seller: "ON A TRIP TO THE HAMPTONS THIS WEEKEND I STOPPED AT A GARAGE SALE. AS I WALKED UP TO THE HOUSE I NOTICED A BIG PILE OF SUPER NINTENDO/NINTENDO GAMES. AFTER SELLING ME AROUND 100 GAMES FOR $40."

"THE SELLER TOLD ME HE WORKED AT NINTENDO FOR 10 YEARS AND PART OF HIS JOB WAS TO GO AROUND TO THESE NINTENDO COMPETITIONS. HE SOLD ME ALL TYPES OF GAMES THAT HE SAID WERE PROTOTYPES(INCLUDING 5 COPIES OF THE STARFOX COMPETITION GAME." A serious find!

So basically, the seller has now uploaded pictures of his haul, and it includes insane rarities such as the Nintendo Campus Challenge NES cart (only copy ever found!), the second ever (?) English language prototype of NES Earthbound, a Zelda 3 SNES proto, a work in progress version of NES Tetris, and a whole heap of other goodness. Co-editor FrankC of Lost Levels can describe it better, but suffice to say that the collecting world is rather hyped about it.

[UPDATE: a newly listed eBay auction by the same seller has his full haul detailed (yes, caps lock alert again!): "(5) SUPER NINTENDO STARFOX SUPER WEEKEND TAPES--THE ONLY KNOWN COPY OF THE 1992 NINTENDO CAMPUS CHALLENGE GAME PAK WITH THE GAMES SUPER MARIO 3, PINBOT, AND DR. MARIO, THE 2ND KNOWN REAL COPY OF NINTENDO EARTHBOUND, THE 2ND KNOWN SUPER NINTENDO NTSC PROTO OF ZELDA 3, (2) SUPER NINTENDO PROTO'S TRUE GOLF CLASSICS PEBBLE BEACH, (1) NINTENDO BASEBALL STARS 2 (1) GREMLINS 2 (BOTH PROTO'S), (1) NINTENDO TETRIS PROTO IN A MIKE TYSON PUNCHOUT, (1) KEN GRIFFEY PRESENTS MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL DEMO GAME, (7) NINTENDO EMPLOYEE LIBRARY GAMES (INCLUDING ZELDA 3) AND ABOUT 60 VARIOUS NOT AS IMPORTANT SNES/NES GAMES."]

Gaymers Get Own Survey, Article

gaymer.jpg Over at New England paper In Newsweekly, Alexander Sliwinski has put out an in-depth article on what the paper describes as "the first study ever of GLBT gamers or 'gaymers'", from the University of Illinois and activated this week at Gaymersurvey.org.

Sliwinski notes: "The survey is long at 91 questions and takes approximately 30 - 45 minutes to complete. The questions are mostly multiple choice, covering a variety of topics from general gaming habits, sexual identity, online gaming to recent purchases. An initial concern of those within the industry who received advanced copies of the survey was regarding its length."

But overall: "Paul S. Kollist of the "Fraggots Clan," one of the few GLBT first person shooter clans that exist said that he really enjoyed reading over the advanced copy and that his straight friend who looked it over thought it was excellent as well." There's also actually a detailed article on GLBT guilds and clans, including Kollist's clan, as part of an extended gaming section at In Newsweekly.

June 8, 2006

DrPetter Has A Prescription For Fun Indie Games

7ths.jpg We haven't linked to fun shooter-related indie blog The2Bears for a while, and now they've come up with a freeware indie game creator to watch, Sweden's very pseudonymous 'DrPetter'.

The2Bears folks are particularly singling out 7th Swarming Of The Machines, done for the recent Ludum Dare competition, commenting: "It’s a nice little shooter of sorts. All you need to worry about is left and right, thrust and fire. And not getting crushed between platforms."

But they also note: "I've become a fan of DrPetter and his games. There's Shmester 5000 [and] POC06." We particularly like the look of Shmester 5000, which "...has an interesting power-up system. Catch and collect orbs, which will act as shields for you (they’re able to absorb 1 or 2 hits based on colour). Or, convert your orbs into a weapons upgrade, 4 orbs per upgrade. You can even go down a notch, gaining 4 orbs again. Cool, very cool."

When Is A DS Lite Not A DS Lite?

dslitem.jpg So, as Joystiq points out, all kinds of game journalists got their DS Lite consoles from Nintendo today, complete with a 'booby-trapped' box that plays a cute little audio fanfare when opened - see the attached movie on the page. [And thanks for the cute pic caption!]

Well, over at the tragic world that is Chris Kohler's Game|Life at Wired News, he also got a package from Nintendo, but, well - just play the movie and see what happened with his. Poor guy.

[We'd like to take this opportunity to note that the extended pause for the fanfare to stop, followed by 'God-DAMMIT', is one of the funniest things we've heard this week. Though we do know teh Kohler, and he's not generally very sweary, so maybe that's why we're amused. Also, Nintendo and swearing - just say no!]

EDOC Laundry Makes For Puzzling Wearing

edocl.jpg So, in the world of ARGs (alternate reality games - keep up, class!), EDOC Laundry is one of the most innovative and oddest, revolving, as it does, entirely around items of clothing that you buy which have clues embedded in them.

The Wired Magazine article introducing the concept last year explained: "This is the first time that apparel has been used to disseminate clues in an ARG; the games usually rely upon hidden messages in TV shows, movies, Web sites, faxes, emails, or IMs. “Fashion as the story delivery mechanism got me really excited” explains designer Elan Lee, who was also behind I Love Bees, the award winning ARG used to virally market Halo 2. As players decode the messages in Edoc Laundry garments, an alternate world unfolds. Poor Richard, the band fabricated to provide the plot for the game, lost its manager."

Now, ARGN has a fresh update on the ARG, explaining: "Anticipated for months, the EDOC Laundry game rushed to the stage to belt out its ARG rock this week with a preview of the next season of clothing, two new websites, and more mystery swirling around its characters. Also new to EDOC Laundry is the unveiling of their eStore, where customers can purchase clothing online directly from EDOC." There also a fan Wiki if you want to explore further - intriguing stuff.

Half-Life 2's Episodes Monitored, Treated Carefully

hl2ep1.jpg Over at Shacknews, Chris Remo has an excellent interview with Valve's Robin Walker and Gabe Newell on Half-Life 2 Episode 1, episodic content, and Doritos. Ok, we lied about the Doritos.

Remo notes of the episodic content: "Having only just released its first piece of episodic content, this type of game creation is still new to Valve. However, the company is fully committed to the method. "We are definitely doing this instead of Half-Life 3 right now," said Valve's Robin Walker." Swines! Do both! But they're right, as Walker notes: "There's a lot of depressing evidence out there indicating that not very many players are finishing out games. As a creator, you want people to see all the cool stuff you've made."

The piece ends on an interesting point: "Early reports indicate that Episode One is doing nicely in retail, not just online; Valve announced today that the retail version of Half-Life 2: Episode One debuted at #1 on the European retail PC sales charts upon its release."

Sure, that's because it's Half-Life 2, but if you can sell episodic/digital content at retail as _well_, then won't the eventual transition be smoothed over a whole lot better for all game companies?

Konami Code Pushed, Filed, Stamped, Indexed...

kcode.jpg Over at the mercurial 1UP, Jeremy Parish has a fun post on games that use the infamous Konami code for the NES, outlining the shared cheat method for some rather classic titles.

Parish notes: "Kazuhisa Hashimoto, the man who crafted many of Konami's NES home conversions, was a kind-hearted saint. Well, no, basically he was as weaksauce as the rest of us. Whatever; he was nice enough to add a debug code to some insanely difficult games so that he could actually finish them, and no one bothered to remove the code before the game shipped. And because we're all mere mortals, once we learned the code we abused it."

After going through games like Gradius, Contra, and Life Force, Parish also steps in to point out that Gradius III on the SNES brought the code back, albeit in tricksy fashion, and Harmony of Dissonance on GBA continues the tradition ("This is a game where the best magic spell causes your hero to be supported by a shield straight from Gradius, featuring arcade-accurate sound effects. So, yeah, it's little surprise that this is where the Konami Code made its Castlevania debut, allowing you to play as Simon Belmont in Boss Rush mode.") This is the kind of rich geek tapestry that only a toasty frog can weave, y'know?

MMO Big Brother Pinpointed, Surveyed?

eyedoom.jpg Selectparks blogger Chris Dodds mails over to links to his special questionnaire on MMO surveillance, which "is being used to garner experiences and opinions of game administrators (and other players) monitoring game play", in games from Second Life to World Of WarCraft and beyond.

The intro explains: "Many players are unaware of surveillance being conducted by game administrators, often justified as a means to enhance game play and control cheating. Players within some MMOs are also tracking and recording other player’s movements, and conversely, creating methods to protect the privacy of their own digital personas. The rise of surveillance (and counter-surveillance) techniques and technologies within these virtual worlds is an extension of the pervasive monitoring of individuals in real-world environments. Many real-world technologies (such as bugging, video recording and location tracking) are being reproduced in virtual worlds and can be classified as a form simulated surveillance."

Before you get too scared, the three parts to the issue are: "Parents monitoring their children’s computer play... Game administrators monitoring players... Players monitoring each other." If you're convinced that the CIA is communicating to you through your virtual teeth, or if you're not, you'd better go take the survey now, eh?

Game Ads A-Go-Go: Out-Of-Context Game Ad Illustration Face Quiz

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, friends. In all my...two months of game ad punditry research, I've discovered that blatantly taking things out of context is a time-honored comedy tactic that rarely fails. So, in the interest of entertainment, I have assembled some of the best out-of-context illustrated game ad faces in the universe and turned them into a little quiz. On each question, you will be presented with a number of choices, only one of which is the correct answer. After you've thought hard and written down your answer (no cheating!), you can view the correct answer by clicking on each link below the question. Doing so will reveal the full ad and put the faces in context. Then see how you stack up against your friends. Good luck!


Question #1

facequiz1.jpg

Look at the picture above. Is this man:

a. Fighting a demonic gladiator summoned from Hell
b. Begging for mercy from his abusive mother
c. About to be dissected in an alien prison
d. Stuck behind the answer board on Jeopardy
e. A really bad volleyball player

Click here for the answer.


Question #2

facequiz2.jpg

Look at the picture above. Is this man:

a. Being tackled by a policeman at an outdoor rock concert
b. Having a colonoscopy
c. Badly piloting a jet pack
d. Sticking his head out of a train window
e. Both b. and d.

Click here for the answer.


Question #3

facequiz3.jpg

Look at the picture above. Is this man:

a. Narrowly dodging plasma blasts
b. Taking part in a live action Pac-Man reenactment
c. Playing tennis
d. Eating a really fast hamburger
e. Really a woman

Click here for the answer.


Question #4

facequiz4.jpg

Look at the picture above. Is this man:

a. All of the below
b. A midget
c. A bodybuilder
d. A pissed-off vigilante with a thirst for alien blood
e. Secretly measuring his penis

Click here for the answer.


Bonus Question (Extra Credit)

facequiz5.jpg

Look at the picture above. Is this man (to the left):

a. A king among men, ready to lead a brave band of adventurers to victory
b. A sport spectator with a gay-looking hat
c. Richard Garriott making a cameo in a tennis game ad
d. All of the above

Click here for the answer (look carefully).


Making the Grade

So, how well did you do? Tally up your score (one point for each correct answer), add seven to that, then divide it by two. The resulting number you get will be completely meaningless, but you can post it on your refrigerator and feel proud. Heck, I'm proud of ya -- but I'm your mom, so I guess it doesn't count.

Well, that's all for now. Until next time, this is the RedWolfster saying, "Eat your prayers, say your vegetables, and don't forget to punch your uncle in the kneecap."

[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 very silly person.]

Ikaruga Manga Looks Double Plus Good

ikam.jpg Over at shmup blog Shoot The Core, they've linked so some awesome-looking pictures from a Japanese-sourced Ikaruga manga which we had no idea existed.

Webmaster Posty simply comments: "Courtesy of the Shmups.com forum, here are some pics of the Ikaruga manga, created by cantHUE. These look absolutely beautiful, and unfortunately I know very little about them, since they are extremely difficult to acquire outside of Japan. If anyone can get their hands on some copies, shoot me an email!"

There's also a link to the cantHUE website from whence the manga originated - these are unofficial, right? Japanese speakers can intercede here! Also... can anyone else recommend any video game-related manga with particularly fine art? I think someone said the Kingdom Hearts official manga was on the fetching side, from memory.

Knocked Up In Second Life!

slpreg.jpg Over at Kotaku, they have a neat post summing up a series of articles on getting pregnant in Second Life, as originally published in multiple parts in the alt.newspaper the SF Weekly.

This leads into an extended comment on the extended Snowcrashism of SL by Kotaku's Eliza Gauger: "I find myself more and more intrigued by the aspect of futurism in the various articles I read about Second Life. Remember back in the days of Shadowrun and Snowcrash, we all thought the internet was going to be a totally immersive, avatar-based, 3D virtual reality experience? I was baffled during the nineties because we seemed to have been completely wrong. The internet was just a big BBS with no user limit and onscreen graphics."

She continues: "So I realized a few days ago that with the advent of widespread MMORPGs, we're finally getting the immersive, graphical internet we always dreamed of. We just took a roundabout route to get there."

[Oh, and another SL-related follow-up - Daniel 'Puzzle Pirates!' James has updated his weblog with a long, v. interesting discussion on the earlier Second Life server-related story in which he was quoted, noting: "Second Life has been built and operated more like a religion than a consumer-oriented business. I like to joke that Philip went up the mountain and came down with stone tablets describing how to build ‘The Metaverse’. Indeed, when I’ve seen him speak, he likes to refer to these immutable laws... My problem is that I think that most of these beliefs are basically wrong, or at least, not necessarily the case for a successful player-created world. Moreover, I think that they have absolutely nothing to do with what the player wants to experience in what is most definitely an entertainment product." Interesting!]

Hacksterpiece Theatre: The Lost Hacks of DahrkDaiz

mariosun The wacky japesters at Vintage Computing have returned to previously profiled Mario modder DahrkDaiz, and are now wandering through his early back catalog of weird and wonderful hacks.

The game they profile this time (albeit an unfinished hack!) is Mario Seasons, "...a colorful, impressive overhaul of the original Super Mario Bros. for the NES. Notable changes to Super Mario Bros. in this hack include a new power-up, new levels, a new enemy (”Dry Bones” from SMB3, which even comes back to life when you stomp him), completely new graphics (most of which were taken from Super Mario Bros. 3), “slightly different physics” (according to DahrkDaiz), and the ability to save your stage progress between games."

Writer RedWolf notes: "DahrkDaiz did such a good job with the graphics and animations that it’s often hard to remember that you’re not playing a Super Mario Bros. 3-based hack (Try to remember that you can’t pick up a stomped Koopa in this game like in SMB3!)." Mm, we wonder if mashing-up Mario makes Miyamoto mad?

June 7, 2006

GDC Radio Offers Stealth Tips, Spore Dissemination

thiefiii.jpg Something we wanted to remind everyone, cos it's another 'sister site' thing - we just posted another audio lecture from a previous Game Developers Conference (2002, in this case!) on the official GDCRadio.net website, which now has weekly game development-related podcasts - every week!

The latest free audio lecture is from Ion Storm's then-Project Director Randy Smith discussing stealth gameplay fundamentals in the Thief series, in a talk titled 'GDC Radio: Design Fundamentals of Stealth Gameplay in the Thief Series' - some neat design concepts on sneakin' around. In addition, previous lectures have included a very neat GDC 2006 talk on community in Spore from Maxis' Caryl Shaw. [You can also pay to grab other specific lectures from the pretty darn comprehensive archives.]

The 'GDC Radio' archived podcasts from previous Game Developers Conferences are on alternate weeks, and then you'll see the Gamasutra podcasts on the other weeks - consisting of panels moderated by Fat Pixels Radio's Tom Kim, these are turning out awesome so far, and the upcoming Next-Generation Development one (hopefully debuting next Tuesday!) should be particularly good. Here's the podcast feed URL for all of the GDCRadio podcasts, if anyone hasn't signed up yet.

GameSetCompetition: Win A VGPocket 50!

vgpocket2.jpg Having just given away some fun Death Jr. swag, we're continuing on the marvellously random competition front, and this time, we're giving away a crazed pink handheld with a whole bunch of built-in retro-styled games - the VG Pocket 50-game edition!

As you can see from the official website, the VGPocket series works as both a handheld with 2-inch color TFT screen, and (when plugged into a TV!) as a 'TV game', runs on included batteries, and includes a whole bunch of custom-created NES/SNES-style 2D games, with titles as varied as 'Street Racing' (looks a bit like Spy Hunter), 'Table Ball' (looks a bit like Shufflepuck Cafe), Pool Pro (hey, it's pool!), and, uhh, 'Pop The Lop'. Whatever the hell that is. Oh, and 'Road Works', which is a bit Pipemania-y!

vgpocket1.jpg So, thanks to the VGPocket guys, we can give away one Retro Classic version of the VGPocket handheld, if you can answer the following multiple-choice, and not terribly difficult question relating to another handheld with 'Pocket' in the title:

"What year was the Game Boy Pocket released In?
a) 1991 b) 1996 c) 2001"

Please send your answers to editors@gamesetwatch.com any time before Tuesday, June 14th at 12 noon PST. There will be only one winner randomly picked from the correct answers, the judges' decision is final, and that's that. Have fun!

Go Go N-Gage Downloads, Go Go!

civgage.jpg That wacky new VH1 Game Break site has pointed to something quite neat - Nokia is now offering both playable demos and digital downloads of full N-Gage games, apparently as a precursor to the next-gen N-Gage platform, which will be almost entirely Xbox Live Marketplace stylee, from what we can divine.

Game Break notes: "You can play everything from “Mile High Pinball,” one of last year’s best games, to “Pathway to Glory,” which has great multiplayer capabilities." Actually, we didn't like Mile High Pinball that much, but a bunch of N-Gage titles, particularly those released later in its lifespan, are seriously good fun - the official site has a full list of downloads.

Actually, we've previously discussed other people's surprising love for the software available on the console (even if the hardware is still horrid as both a phone and a handheld) - we quote: "Some key highlights of the N-Gage library (which is what...53 games strong right now?) are: Pathway to Glory and Pathway to Glory Ikusa Islands (86% and 78% on Gamerankings),High Seize (87% on Gamerankings), Glimmerati (87% on Gamerankings), Pocket Kingdom (70.1% on Gamerankings), Civilization (74% on Gamerankings), Rifts (83% on Gamerankings), Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory (86% on Gamerankings) and soon Warhammer 40,000: Glory in Death."

The Goat Store Goes Dreamcast Crazy

goat.gif Dreamcast enthusiast Sweater Fish Deluxe has informed me of The Goat Store's plans for 2006/2007, with some 12 'official homebrew' releases lined up.

As they've done in the past, these will include a game disc, manual and packaging (one would only assume), and be priced...rather reasonably. Here's the list (before it's even on the goat store front page, so keep that in mind...), with comments from mr. Sweater.

- Feet Of Fury 2
- Donk! (a Dreamcast port of an Amiga/CD32 platforming game)
- GOAT Games Vol.1 (a collection of mini-games based on classic game concepts with new twists - this should be the next release, out sometime this summer)
- DCastle (a visually impressive, but so far not entirely fun game that I previously thought was gonna be a part of GOAT Games, not a release of its own)
- Age Of The Beast S.E. (the next game from the people that made the original Beats Of Rage, I don't know what the S.E. will involve, but that's the Dreamcast version that's gonna be for sale, otherwise the game will be a normal freeware release)
- Amnesia Adventure Game (a graphical adventure something or other, I think the name is a placeholder)
- unknown adventure game from S+F Software
- R3K (an unreleased Lynx game based on the old game Ram It! - and Tempest 2000 - being re-written for the Dreamcast)
- Quake engine fighting game (apparently a 3D fighter made using the Quake engine; that has proven to be a pretty flexible engine, though I have to wonder...it'll probably be something more like Powerstone or Heavy Metal Geomatrix than a real 3D fighter)
- Samurai Warrior (a Beats Of Rage mod with all original graphics and a heavily customized BOR engine which some people say is really more advanced at this point than Age Of The Beast is gonna be)
- Feuer Frei! (I have no idea...apparently an action game based on a Rammstein song)
- BlockSquare (a Lumines clone previously released as freeware called Block Smash, but now featuring various enhancements and bonuses)

So there you have it. The Goat Store seems to be making a major push, having also recently become the official outlet for Songbird Productions, the wacky Jaguar and Lynx supporters from way back. I love Songbird for their sticktuitiveness, but can anyone really afford a $90 port of Total Carnage, nice game though it may be? [X-post from IC.]

Second Life Will Eat The Internet!

cornfield.jpg MMO enfant terrible Scott 'Lum The Craaaazy' Jennings has posted a fun entry on Second Life's server demands, for which he cites a CNET News article on the issue by Daniel Terdiman.

It's revealed, somewhat amazingly: "Second Life” currently runs on 2,579 servers that use the dual-core Opteron chip produced by AMD. Each server is responsible for an individual “sim,” or 16 acres of virtual “Second Life” land. At peak usage that means that each server is handling about three users."

Lum notes of this: "Philip Rosedale, Linden’s CEO, responded that their architecture was similar to Google, so no worries. Not mentioned: Google has slightly more concurrent users than Second Life, and probably serves more than, uh, three users per server. A more tenable response is that SL actually sells server space; owning “land” in SL can run a user up to $200 a month, which is in line with many rack-mounted server solutions for other web applications."

But nonetheless, as he says... "When thought of as a game server, it makes my wee head explode into goo." Gooooo!

Blizzard's Secret Sauce, In Full View

blizza.jpg A lot of people are linking to this, but we might as well join the band of merry adventurers - The Escapist's new article 'Secret Sauce: The Rise Of Blizzard' is indeed, pretty fun to page through.

The intro notes: "In 1991, videogame industry leader Sierra launched the Sierra Network (later called the ImagiNation Network). It was geared more-or-less toward children, with cartoon-ish art and themes, but it allowed users to play a variety of games and chat with friends in online chat rooms - all for an hourly fee, of course. It was, in every way, ahead of its time."

But, it continues: "The Sierra Network, not surprisingly, failed and was shut down in 1996 by AOL, who had acquired it from AT&T. Ironically, this was not too long after the internet had become both widely understood and easy-to-use, and right around the same time that several other online gaming services had begun to flourish. Among them, an exciting new service offered by a company called Blizzard." Learn more about Blizzard's sprouting into a very tall tree via the link.

Video Games Live Gets OCRemix Podcast

pretzel.jpg We got a press release, and now we communicate it to you: "OverClocked ReMix (www.ocremix.org), a non-profit site dedicated to fan arrangements of game music, and its official podcast VGDJ (www.vgdj.net) recently attended Video Games Live in Philadelphia.

While there, they obtained exclusive interviews with several professional game music composers and musicians: Tommy Tallarico, Michael Salvatori (Halo), Gerard Marino (God of War), Jack Wall (Myst 3/4, Jade Empire), Marcus Henderson (Guitar Hero I & II), Martin Leung (videogamepianist.com), and more.

The 87-minute long episode, which includes news about projects like Guitar Hero II, God of War 2, and an upcoming album of arranged music from Tallarico's Earthworm Jim games, can be downloaded at the VGDJ site.

[Personally, we have a slight preference for the VGMix guys when it comes to video game remix sites, but since VGMix always seems to be down for horrid reasons - though "VGMIX 3 WILL HAVE A PHYSICS PROCESSOR", according to Rushjet1 on the VGMix forums, we'll have to give it to OCRemix, who have an, uhh, working site n stuff!]

Acclaim's Juiced Gets Horribly Grime-y

juice.jpg We _believe_ that UK Resistance may have run this at some point in the distant past, but the scarily intense ASSEMbler over at ASSEMbler Games has posted one of the fruits of his attendance at the Acclaim bankruptcy auction a few months back - the cancelled intro for the Acclaim version of street racer Juiced.

As the thread notes: "Features: Mediocre rappers, Lame CG effects, Some of the worst blue screening ever, Sparkling lyrics such as "T*ts up foot down pedal to the floor".... This video is sure to leave you feeling warm and fuzzy all over." Still, it's a bit of grime, innit?

ASSEMbler has also posted (complete with annoying watermarking, etc), a video of the Acclaim version of Combat Elite, eventually released with significantly different gameplay, as we recall: " It has a lot of rough parts where you can see work in progress, like the programmer voiceovers, the soldier is name "Steve God of Hairdos."" And it's all about the boss barnet, right?

June 6, 2006

One Room, One Week, One Deleted Thread

heist2.jpg Originally spotted via the revitalized Indygamer, which has several mini-reviews of the games featured there-in, the One Room One Weekend Competition #4 [mirror, the original thread got accidentally deleted!] just finished.

There's a ZIP with all 10 entries in it, all created with Adventure Game Studio, the excellent graphic adventure creator - there's a follow-up thread on the forums about the competition, which is another example of the grassroots support for indie graphic adventures still showing potency.

The overall winner was The Heist, which Indygamer reviews, explaining: "Featuring animated 3D graphics and several action sequences, your objective is to break into a mansion and steal some valuables before making a quick escape. Items can be bought with the money stolen from unsuspecting park visitors. Multiple solutions exist, and different cutscenes are shown depending on your approach to solving each puzzle." Sounds neat for just a week!

Anti-Corporate Hoaxsters Plug McDonald's 'Serious Game'

mcdhoax.jpg Another GSW sister site, Serious Games Source, has news on what may be the video game-related hoax of the year - the appearance as the the UK-based International Serious Games conference of alleged McDonald’s representative Andrew Shimery-Wolf.

The executive, who was apparently from McDonald's Interactive, a hitherto unknown division of the fast food giant, lectured to a presumably confused audience on "McChange: Serious Games from Training to Corporate Social Responsibility", and apparently announced that it "is striking out on its own from parent company McDonald's." "We can no longer stand by while McDonald's corporate policies help lead the planet to ruin," said Andrew Shimery-Wolf, co-director of the former Interactive Division.

The full text of the speech and related press statement makes the amusement clear - "We began developing a simulation of the fast-food industry, for use by managers in developing market strategies." said Division CTO Sam Grossman. "When we added a climate simulation module, it showed those strategies helping lead to global calamity... Management doesn't seem to care, and we can't sit back and fiddle while Rome burns, so our team has decided to break away from McDonald's and do something about it."

Who's behind it? The SGS report notes: "As for the culprits, an update at serious games weblog Water Cooler Games indicates that an email response to a McDonald's Interactive press request came back as: 'Sent by: admin@rtmark.com', linking the stunt to the social activism group RTMark, which has previously "swapped the electronics of talking Barbie and GI Joe toys and then returned them to the store... and then issued a message as the 'Barbie Liberation Organization'", among other stunts." Oops, I bet the organizers of the event wish they'd vetted their applicants a bit better.

Warhammer Online's Barnett Videoblogs It Up

warhammer.jpg The rather interesting looking Warhammer Online, by Mythic Entertainment, is slated for release in 2007 - after a whole separate Climax-developed MMO ground to a halt earlier this decade. Meanwhile, Mythic's website plays host to a cornucopia of video blogs by Design Manager Paul Barnett, which feature behind-the-scenes looks at Paul's time at E3, as well as his time spent at Mythic headquarters.

Along with an irreverent look at the team's office conditions, including the current state of their action figures, who is plotting the demise of whom, and why employees are allowed to walk around in space helmets, the blogs offer sneak-peeks at some of WAR's concept art, in-game mechanics, and character design. Some previously unreleased information can be gleaned about the upcoming game, and it's presented by a charming, sleepy Brit, which is how I would prefer to obtain all my news.

TenNapel Talks Artists, Earthworm Jim, Decline Of Civilization

doug01.jpg So, we generally don't link to stories on sister site Gamasutra because we presume that you're reading them already (you are, right?), but this one is particularly GSW-ish, so worth checking out - an interview with Earthworm Jim creator Doug TenNapel (also notable for The Neverhood and current Nickelodeon animated series Catscratch) about "what game developers look for in an artist, transitioning between mediums, and why your fans don't necessarily know best."

TenNapel is particularly fascinating on why he thinks game companies don't always hire the right people: "I do think that the gaming industry is too immature to understand what classic artistry even is, because the ones I keep seeing them hire are just the wrong kind of people. Like for instance, if a guy maybe renders with his pencil really well, puts good shading on a creature, but his anatomy is completely wrong…they hire him because he tricked them with his cool detail, even though the foundation of his drawing is weak."

He also discusses what the Earthworm Jim PSP title currently in development (even after controversy) at a Dave Perry-less Shiny Entertainment may be like, commenting: "The team is made up of Shiny employees, the ones that are still around... Dave Perry is no longer with Shiny, and neither is the original Earthworm Jim game, except for some of my own sketches... We kind of wanted one direction and, while I love the team, they're good guys and everything, but no offense to them - it would dishonor the original team to say that these guys are going to throw down an authoritative Earthworm Jim." Well, we hope it turns out nice anyhow, Jim deserves it!

Charla On Video Game Mag Shenanigans

egm-0606-thumb.jpg Kevin Gifford's recent article on the state of U.S. game mags has elicited _lots_ of commentary, both in the post itself and elsewhere online, and poking around in the Slashdot thread on the post, we found a very neat comment by Backbone Entertainment's Chris Charla, formerly EIC of Next Gen magazine, about the game magazine industry.

Charla is great at explaining the difference between the U.S. and UK game markets, by way of rebutting complaints about the amount of ads in game magazines: "In the US, magazine distribution is really inefficient -- there are hundreds of thousands of places to buy magazines, and to reach the realtively small number of people interested in a nich publication (games, fishing, knitting, etc), you need to print way more copies than you can possibly sell. Selling through 20 or 22% of your newstand copies is considered good, and hitting 30% or higher is fantastic. That means you're wasting the cost of 70% of your newstand distribution, which is a lot. At best, your newsstand sales might break even."

He also explains: "Then you have subscriptions. The $12.99 or $19.99 you pay for a year of a magazine doesn't come close to paying for the printing and shipping. It's a total loss leader. What it does, however, is ensure a certain level of readership for the magazine (vs. the uncertainty of newstand/retail sales). This number of readers -- the guarenteed circulation -- can then be shown to potential advertisers, along the lines of "hey, look, a quarter-million people subscribe to this magazine! Our research shows they each spend $600 a year on software! You should advertise, because this is your core audience." And then (hopefully) you sell some ads. Advertising is the *only* place a typical US magazine makes any money at all."

He concludes: "That all said, magazines are a fanastic bargain, and given that the ads are really very targeted, I don't mind seeing them in games mags, the same way I enjoy looking at the ads in car mags or other technology magazines." Do you feel likewise?

The Genesis Of The Genesis Logo

segaa.gif Over at the Excess Gaming website, they've got a pretty amazing collection of Sega logo anims from Genesis titles - all painstakingly captured into animated GIF form, presumably by running an emulator over the original ROMs.

Interestingly, the above linked page is just 'Vol.3' of a gigantic set all housed in the Special Sega Projects section, and some of our favorite anims include the obvious (yay, Earthworm Jim 2), the extremely obvious (Vectorman, and the crazed (uhh, a death metal zipper for Devilish?)

Also, the other 'Special Projects' stuff is pretty amazing - for example, all the fatalities from UMK3 on the Genesis, heh, and lots more besides. It's good to have bizarrely complete sites like this!

COLUMN: 'Parallax Memories' - Ecco The Dolphin

Ecco Mega Drive 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 Novotrade International's underwater adventure: Ecco the Dolphin]

Tide of adventure

One of the most important and difficult things for a game to accomplish is the atmosphere. From the newest sci-fi FPS to the earliest 8-bit platformers, they worry about sound, lighting, and color to immerse the player into their worlds. One of the key elements in this equation of atmosphere is audio, not only the sound effects from your actions, but also (and sometimes more importantly) the music.

One of the major problems with 16-bit and pre-16-bit games is that the music was entirely synthesized interpretations of real instruments. This style bores many people who don't enjoy chiptune music beyond humming the underworld theme of Super Mario Brothers (though this is not always the case). There is an artificial wall between the players and the game that prevents them from full immersion. If nothing else, the use of compact-disc media started tearing down this wall with Red Book audio. Novotrade International knew this and jumped on the opportunity to create one of the most immersive and atmospheric games of the 16-bit era.

Ecco still has friendsA sea of discovery

Ecco the Dolphin has been released many times on different platforms and is a fairly well-known game. I hope everyone can understand if I skimp on the details for this game under the assumption of familiarity. Besides, all you need to know about the game is on the cover. But more importantly, it's a game about loneliness. The game's atmosphere and plot details emphasize this theme, but its story elements are introduced gently enough that they never detract from the real star of the game--not the dolphin, but the dark, claustrophobic arena of the ocean depths.

Mood plays an incredibly significant role in the game, and so you must take music into great consideration when choosing which version to play. Obviously, this is where the Sega CD comes in. By placing special emphasis on the sound of the game for the CD version, Tassonyi Kadocsa created the quintessential version of Ecco. Spencer Nilsen produced the music for the CD version, and while some fan cliques accuse him of butchering the US version of Sonic CD, he created quite a masterful soundtrack to accompany Ecco's dark and desolate ocean setting.

Ecco so lonelyDeep sea diving

It's quite a task to reproduce a pelagic setting in a game. The few earlier attempts failed, and most platforming games up before then had terrible underwater control, so it is a singular feat that the game moves so freely and smoothly. It captures the flow and elegance of fish through a glass tank, at an aquarium, or in a zoo. Navigating gracefully around the ocean floor and through the countless coral catacombs is just the start of the game. The backgrounds become darker and darker as you swim further and further underwater. You begin to run out of oxygen, and you are constantly harassed by enemies and obstacles while you attempt to reach each tiny pocket of air. The game keeps Ecco further and further from the surface until you are forbidden from returning there.

If the atmosphere and immersion of the CD version is not a good enough reason to track it down, its playability should be. The exceptionally frustrating difficulty of the Genesis/Mega Drive version has been toned down for the CD version. Restart points are now closer to the place of death, instead of much further back in the level (or even at the start). As well-known as this game is, most people haven’t really played it. For one reason or another (perhaps you were too young, or it was too hard, or you were struggling to be a man at an age where dolphins were totally just for girls) it goes overlooked, and people who've never played it assume they must have, once, somewhere, like at a friend's house or something. Perhaps, now is the time to go back and give it that chance.

[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.]

Welcome To The Metafuture Of Gaming

metaf.jpg New blog on the blog alert! Awooga! Awooga!, This time, Matt Gallant, who admits to "a short stint as the editor of Kotaku when it first launched", as well as work for Computer Games Magazine, Computer Gaming World, GameSpot, GameSpy, and others, has launched Metafuture, "a videogaming and gaming-associated subcultures blog".

Matt notes: "If you find that other gaming blogs post too much rehashed, inconsequential, or even just plain boring information in the rush to meet their posting quotas, then Metafuture is the place for you." Dammit, does that mean we have to stop running our daily German PC game strategy game patch round-up in order to compete?

All 'joking' aside, though, the blog is off to a good start, with, say a tire render comparison post calling Motor Storm's tires "a solid brown cheese wheel covered with random bumpmapping", and a spectacularly random Halo 3 documentary harangue, including an indication that the game's teaser trailer "....may just provide you valuable hints about finishing your fights apart from my own personal hint, “stop trading all that fish you catch and the diamonds you dig up for AK-47s and machetes.”" Someone's been listening to too much Kanye West!

On Reforming Game Ratings, Incrementally

esrb.jpg We here at GSW have ranted before about Matt Sakey's regular IGDA 'Culture Clash' column, oh yes, and this month's upsets another nest of bees, albeit in a well thought-out manner - in discussing changes to the ESRB game rating system.

Generally, the ESRB is under such attack at any given point from extremely unreasonable people that many people around the game industry feel bad about pointing out issues. Not so Sakey, who nonetheless overall notes: "I admire the ESRB. My only true complaint is that they're over-sensitive post-Hot Coffee and a little too quick to re-rate games. The fact that Kim Possible shows more skin than the unhacked version of Oblivion, and the effort involved with hacking it, should have had more bearing on their decision to re-rate that game."

He goes on to suggest, interestingly: "Game rating scales are based on the cinematic model established by the MPAA, which creates an immediate problem that lawmakers can take advantage of by twisting the intent of those ratings to suit their needs... It's wrong to see [game] ratings as delimiters of purchasability. They're just guidelines. To combat this, content descriptors should have greater prominence than the rating itself. If game content is concisely and honestly defined, the rating system is protected."

Another comment is about sex and violence (snuggling up again!): "The ESRB is also wrong to separate sex and violence. In the U.S., R-rated films are open to kids under 17 if accompanied by parent or guardian. Many include some remarkably explicit sexual content, and there's no real limit to the gore and violence an R film can have. Films containing either or both carry the same rating... Sex and violence are both for grown ups. Implying that they should be delineated separately in games (I'm unaware of any released game receiving an AO rating for violence) plays right into the hands of those who want to label games as pornography, and therefore subject to government oversight." An interesting point of view, too, in a column which talks carefully about possible holes in a tricky grid of possibilities. What think you?

June 5, 2006

Why Game Developers Are Actually Customer Service

50c.jpg Over at PopCultureShock, there's an excellent new column on the realities of game development, part of a continuing series by High Voltage Software lead designer David A. Rodriguez.

Rodriguez discusses how he talks about his 'dream' game designer job with friends, noting: "The problem is that they eventually make their way to telling me all about the awesome game they would make if “they” were the ones making the games. This is usually how it goes for most of my conversations with game fans and even interviews with new designers."

He explains, cannily: "I’m not an artist... Someone comes to my company with a contract. They give us money to make something. I make it. They take it and sell it. I don’t work in art. I work…in customer service. And fortunately or unfortunately, the customer is always right. That means that no matter how bad I think an idea is. That means no matter how unreasonable the request or how STUPID the last thing they said was, in the end they write the check, so they get to decide. I can voice my opinion. I can tell them what I think because that’s what they are paying me for, but ultimately, if they decide that something must be in the game…then you can bet your sweet ass it’s gonna be in the game."

Interestingly enough, Rodriguez is currently working on 50 Cent: Bulletproof - G-Unit Edition, a PSP game which is different to the underwhelming PS2/Xbox title released last year, and one can only imagine how whimsical shot-up rappers can be about gameplay - not that he's referring to that particular title in this case. But yep, it's all about customers, and it's a very fair point to make. [Via DubiousQuality.]

Follow Us Into Rhythm Heaven?

tengo.jpg We have to admit that it completely slipped our radar, but luckily, the guys at the British Gaming Blog have pointed out Rhythm Heaven, aka Rhythm Tengoku for the Game Boy Advance, noting: "You see, it looks just like any other crazy Japanese game, but this one’s being made by Nintendo, and the same studio responsible for the amazingly addictive and totally crazy Wario Ware series." [Though an IGN report claims the developer is 'J.P.Room' - anyone know who that is?]

[UPDATE - over at NeoGAF, Jonnyram notes that J.P.Room is the music group/company involved, and the Wario Ware folks are the designers - excellent - in fact, looks like that's the thread that British Gaming Blog took the news from in the first place.]

The post continues: "Out on Game Boy Advance on the 3rd of August (in Japan), play revolves around small, rhythm based mini games, where you match songs, tap things in time to music and other crazy challenges.
Rhythm Heaven’s difficulty increases not by pace, but by the precision that you must use to conduct, tap, pluck and who knows what else."

Judging by the screenshots, the Nintendo-published game does indeed look pretty neat - but what are the chances it'll ever get a U.S. release on GBA, given that the DS is in full swing now over here and licensed kids' titles tend to rule the roost in the West on the Game Boy? We can only hope...

GameSetInterview: Henry Jenkins On The Responsibility Of Games

jenkinsh.jpg [NOTE: We at GameSetWatch have asked AlistairW of the excellent Little Mathletics weblog to come on board as a co-editor and conduct a number of interviews with diverse personalities exclusively for GSW - from dojin authors to game industry figures. This is the first in his 'GameSetInterview' series, a tremendously lengthy but equally fascinating talk with MIT's Henry Jenkins.]

Henry Jenkins is the Director of Comparative Media Studies Program and Full Professor of Literature at MIT. He has authored and edited 11 books, and has been studying videogames as media text since the early 90s from various perspectives, including the effects of interactive media on behaviour, which lead to his testifying before Congress following the Columbine High School massacre.

He has been described by Cory Doctorow of Boing Boing as "one of us: a geek, a fan, a popcult packrat" while Will Wright commented that "Henry Jenkins offers crucial insight into an unexpected and unforeseen future". His reseach is currently focused on "media convergence", the theory that the users of contemporary media combine muliple sources for an overall richer experience. His book on the subject, Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide, goes on sale in August.

Click through for the extended entry...

What is your history with videogames?

I played Pong when it first hit the market. I spent some time with early Atari and text-based adventure games. But then I zoned out on games for a while so that I could focus on my graduate studies. When I emerged on the other side, doctorate in hand, I was astonished at what had happened to the medium. Like Rip Van Winkle, I had slept through the collapse and re-emergence of the games industry. I rediscovered games when we bought my son an NES for Christmas. I remember plugging it into the set on Christmas morning, cranking up Super Mario Brothers, and feeling like we had just entered another realm of reality. If games had changed this much over the past decade, I thought to myself, then what would happen in the coming decades. So I became one of the first Humanities-based games scholars in the world and have been studying games, alongside a range of other media, pretty steadily over the past sixteen years.

Over this time, I’ve been involved in many different aspects of games culture. I’ve done consulting work and workshops for a number of different games companies—from Purple Moon to Electronic Arts. I’ve testified before the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee after Columbine and contributed to a number of amicus briefs designed to defend the rights of gamers. I’ve helped to lead a major research effort focused on games and education, a project which involves prototyping and testing games. I write a monthly column on games and game theory for Computer Games Magazine.

Has the industry progressed in the way you thought it would?

Nothing ever progresses in the way one first imagines because the most innovative possibilities are often the most counter-intuitive. I foresaw games as becoming more and more central to the entertainment sector, more integrated into the worlds of film and television. I think we can say that this has happened in dramatic ways—from the very complex ways that Enter the Matrix connects with the other materials in that franchise to the use of alternative reality games to promote Lost and Doctor Who or the recent announcement of a game for adult women focused around Desperate Housewives. I imagined games becoming a richer and more sophisticated storytelling medium—as we can see through the steady progression of the Final Fantasy series. I imagined more and more sophisticated interfaces—as might be seen from Guitar Hero or the new Wii. I imagined the emergence of game designers as auteurs—as is certainly borne out by the visionary work still being done in games by Shigeru Miyamoto or Will Wright. I would not have imagined or predicted the extraordinary expansiveness of game environments as borne out by Grand Theft Auto 3 or Animal Crossing.

I would not have predicted, despite my fascination with participatory culture, the unleashing of user generated content which has occurred across the games space—all of the skins, mods, and machinima that is being produced and the ways that some core companies have embraced that grassroots expression. I would not have imagined the huge growth of networked and multiplayer games or the emergence of alternative and augmented reality gaming or the rapid growth of mobile gaming.

I know you’ve been very interested in alternative reality games – what is it about them that interests you, and do you see them growing in popularity?

In my new book, Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide, I am very interested in the coming together of three core ideas: Convergence, Participatory Culture, and Collective Intelligence. I use convergence not in the usual sense as a technological process—the bringing together of all media systems through some integrated black box—but in a broader cultural sense—describing a world where every story, image, sound, brand, and relationship gets played out across the broadest possible number of media channels. By participatory culture, I mean the power of everyday people to take media in their own hands. I argue that at the present time everyone seems to agree that our media scape is going to allow for greater participation from consumers (witness the push in games towards user generated content, for example) but that the big struggles right now are over the terms of participation—who sets limits on what companies or consumers can do and how can we as consumers take advantage of the power of networked computing to challenge the terms being set by corporate interests.

By collective intelligence, I mean the ability of large scale virtual communities, such as fan discussion lists, to achieve more collectively and collaboratively than they can achieve as individuals through their ability to pool knowledge. The concept of collective intelligence describes a world where nobody knows everything, everybody knows something, and what any individual member knows is accessible on demand to the group as a whole. The blogger and science fiction author Cory Doctorow describes this structure as an adhoc-cracy, distinguishing it from the fixed structures of a bureaucracy.

Okay, so that’s a long introduction but I hope it already starts to suggest what interests me about alternative reality games. Alternative reality games operate across all three of these spaces. First, they are informational scavenger hunts which disperse information across a broad range of different media channels. This goes back to the pioneering work which Neil Young did for Majestic, arguably one of the earliest and most influential examples of this practice. Second, they encourage players to create new media tools which they can use to process and communicate information. And third, they can only be solved by people working together as teams and tapping the power of social networks to solve problems. So Alternative reality games are, in a sense, the perfect illustration of all of the principles which I see shaping the media landscape at the present time. Perhaps even more interestingly, researchers like Jane McGonigal are arguing that people are moving from solving imaginary problems in alternative reality games to applying their collective intelligence to confronting real world challenges—looking for information about the Washington sniper, trying to track campaign finances. I believe right now we are acquiring skill and knowledge through our play which we will employ in more “serious” or purposeful ways later, but the speed with which these principles get integrated into education, government, activism, and even the military or religion is staggering.

So, yes, I think we are going to be seeing more alternative reality games. The movement is gaining momentum, though there is still not a fully developed business model for thinking about how to build on this trend yet, and so it is likely to remain in the hands of marketers on the one hand and amateurs on the other.

Do you consider yourself a gamer?

This is a challenging question. I’ve played games off and on across most of my adult life. My own tastes run towards casual games—I don’t have long periods of time to play games (not and do everything else my job requires) and I am not particularly well coordinated so I don’t end up getting to play as many hardcore titles as I might like. I try to make a point of spending some time with most of the more innovative or controversial titles to hit the market. I often get to talk directly with the designers about what they were trying to achieve. And sometimes I end up paying students to walk me through levels of a game so I can get a clear sense of what’s going on. I am not sure that makes me a gamer—but then, there are an awful lot of people like me who consume games alongside a range of other media rather than seeing them as the most important medium in their lives.

Which designers and which games have impressed you recently?

Like every other gamer and game critic on the planet, I suspect, the game that I most eagerly anticipate is Spore, which promises to be the triumph of the creative designer over the lethargy of a sluggish and increasingly formulaic games industry. Everything I read about Spore seems more impressive—it is stretching what we think of as games in every direction at the same time and knowing Will, he’s still got a few tricks up his sleeves that nobody has heard about yet. In terms of recent games on the market, I was very impressed by the character design interface on City of Heroes—as a comics fan, I can attest that they compressed down into basic building blocks the entire history of the superhero genre, creating a tool which allows every player to generate a multitude of different characters which never the less fit coherently into the world of the game. That’s a brilliant accomplishment.

In terms of imaginative game play, I would, again like most gamers I know, point us towards Katamari Damacy and Psychonauts. Both create radically different kinds of game play experiences and help to free games from that morbid preoccupation with photorealism. And for sheer fun factor, we’ve been having a blast playing with Guitar Hero in our departmental offices—it seems to really breakdown the wall between people and brings out everyone’s inner rocker. And if you want to see game design which stretches the envelope, you should always keep an eye on what Eric Zimmerman and the folks at GameLab are doing. They keep creating some of the most interesting casual games on the market and every game they make forces me to think about the medium in new ways.

Do you mean rethink in the sense that they’re doing things with casual games you didn’t possible?

Each game that comes out of GameLab asks us to think about the fundamentals of game design. Eric Zimmerman is an important game theorist apart from his role as a game designer. So, he uses his games to ask questions about the nature of the medium. Some of his games—Loop for example—are trying to see how to simplify the interface of games—it’s a game which can be played without a single mouse click. Others—such as Sissyfight 2000—explore the social dynamics between game players. Still others—such as Arcadia—focus on the perceptual challenges of multitasking and resource management, suggesting how much better we are at playing games today than when the first arcade games emerged. And still others—such as Diner Dash—introduce totally new play dynamics into the form. Yes, each stretches what we mean by a casual game, but each also asks us to think about what we mean by a game, period. It is interesting that Zimmerman is now working with James Paul Gee and the MacArthur Foundation to try to develop some templates and tool sets to allow kids to design their own games as part of learning about the design process. I can’t wait to see what they come up with.

Do you think there is a demographic toward which videogames are aimed, and how do you think this affects the quality of output by the industry?

Let’s be clear: games are the product of a media industry. All industries know who their consumers are. Games are made with particular consumers in mind. Right now, the core of the games industry is male; most are somewhere in their teens and twenties. This is the group which is best served by the games already on the market. They buy the most games; they spend the most time playing games; they are the hardcore gamers. The percentage of women who fall into that group is growing year by year but women, as a whole, spend less time playing games than men and buy fewer titles for their own consumption. (I add this last qualification because some statistics show women buy more games than men.

These statistics are misleading because they include mothers who buy presents for their kids.) The problem is that the core demographic for games is saturated. Most young men who want to play games are already playing games. They will upgrade their systems from time to time. They will buy new titles. But the pattern is set and the companies are finding themselves competing for the same consumers. The growth is going to come by expanding that market. Right now, the highest areas for expansion include female players, older players, and casual players, and this is where more and more energy is getting directed within the games industry. This is all the more case because Electronic Arts is now the 800 pound gorilla which dominates the hardcore gamer market and so any newer companies need to swerve around it to try to find another niche market for their products.

Mind you, now even Electronic Arts have come out and said that they are going to focus more on new and original IP. Do think the industry is realising that it needs to pull itself out of the creative slump that seems to be threatening it?

It remains to be seen what they really mean by that. I’ve been hearing that song from E.A. for some years now but it’s proven harder to realize innovative and original intellectual properties than one might have imagined. There are certainly signs that E.A. may be getting its act together. I have a great deal of respect for a number of key folks at that company—Neil Young, Danny Bilson, Arcadia Kim, Doug Church, Bing Gordon, Will Wright, and many others. It’s never been a question of having one of the best talent pools in the industry. It has been a matter of giving those creators enough room to do their best work and a willingness to take a risk on games which don’t look like what’s already on the market. The problem is that as game budgets have pushed higher and higher, the whole industry is becoming risk adverse. And unfortunately, consumers are not only letting them get away with this but they become risk adverse themselves. They don’t necessarily support the most creative and original games on the market. They line up to buy new instalments of the same franchises. They want to make sure that the new games have the same features they’ve enjoyed in old games. They are often hostile to things that don’t look like games to them. I can be critical of the big game companies for not breaking the mold but when they do, consumers often aren’t there to support experimentation and innovation.

Do you think the solution to this is a case of original and creative games being marketed better, or (as you’ve supported before) do we need a “Gaming Oscars”?

Certainly, better marketing of creative games, rather than marketing departments in effect stifling innovation by weighing in on creative decisions prematurely, would be a big step forward. Certainly, the industry needs to provide some awards which recognize risk-taking and innovation rather than commercial success. The Oscars work because they create greater public visibility for films which might otherwise escape the attention of the average filmgoer. They provide a huge boost each year to the top nominees. But the games industry tends to give its top awards to games which are already commercial successes and often seems to value those things which are already prized by the hardcore gaming community. That’s in part because game designers design games they want to play and there is not enough diversity within their own community to allow for a diverse range of aesthetic experiences to emerge.

I think we need to find some incentives to promote independent and experimental game work. I place my own hopes in the long term contributions of games studies on reshaping the games marketplace. I don’t mean this in the usual sense—that is, university trained designers breaking the mold. This may or may not happen. But if we look at the rise of film studies, we can see something else happen—that as more and more students take one or two film courses in their undergraduate career, we are seeing a growing awareness of independent films and documentaries and there is greater interest in experimental elements being integrated into the mainstream of the film industry. Film studies may do more in encouraging a more critical consumer of cinema than in training film industry employees. And the same will happen for games as games studies classes emerge as part of the undergraduate curriculum.

Is there a way to make consumers more aware of the innovative product out there?

This is where game critics come in. Think about how people become aware of new and innovative work in other media—film, say, or music. It has historically been because there were powerful, imaginative, and intelligent critics who took on the responsibility to educate the public about the emergence of something creative, fresh, and original. So, in cinema, someone like The New Yorker’s Pauline Kael, taught us to look at various international cinemas intelligently and developed a following of people who would take a look at anything she recommended. There are not yet game critics who reliably serve that function. Indeed, most game critics are a conservative force on innovation, raking designers over the coals if they break too far from expected features of certain well-designer genres. This is one reason why I have started writing a monthly column about games for Computer Games magazine, to model a form of criticism which embraces innovation and diversity.

Today, user-recommendations are also emerging as a powerful force helping people identify new forms of expression in other areas. For example, MySpace plays an important role in introducing young consumers to new music groups and most bands now see it as valuable to give away samples of their work on line in hopes of tapping the networking power of MySpace. We need to be thinking about how consumers might take up a similar role in response to the most creative new games—becoming viral marketers not simply of mainstream titles but of independent and experimental work in games. There are certainly a few blogs which are starting to play this role in the serious games space but I haven’t seen the same energy put behind experimental games. There is talk underway right now, however, to develop an independent games festival similar to the role which Sundance plays for the independent cinema—a place where discriminating consumers and independent artists can meet and talk about the future of the medium and see cutting edge work.

Do you think the current questioning of whether or not games are art hurts or helps the output?

The debate about whether games are art matters on several levels. First, it matters on the level of public policy. I recently was in a debate with a state legislator who wanted to restrict access to M rated titles because he felt violent games led to real world violence. I argued otherwise. His response was to say that his view should dominate either way. “If I’m right, then I’ve protected kids from the threat of youth violence. If you’re right, all I’ve done is insured some kids spend more time playing outside. No harm either way.” For this argument to hold, we have to assume that games have no positive cultural contributions to make, that they are commodities, like cigarettes, and not artworks. Try to imagine someone making a similar claim about books or cinema at this point. So, the fight to see games as art is a fight to protect games from censorship and mindless regulation.

It is also a fight to help game designers gain greater creative freedom from the marketing forces in their own companies, to gain a toehold for innovation within games. Players don’t have to care about whether games are art if they don’t care that every new game looks just like the games that were produced and sold to them last year. There has to be someone out there championing innovation and diversity within the games industry; otherwise, the economic forces will lead towards more and more franchise titles and more and more formulaic games. It doesn’t matter whether there are games in the Museum of Modern Art. It does matter whether the best game designers are given enough room to push the limits of games as a medium and whether or not there are people out there who are willing to support risk-taking and experimentation within the medium.

What about the claim that games lead to violent behaviour? Does this have any basis in serious study?

The more time I spend on this question, the more complicated it turns out to be. It starts with the amplification effect which takes place: the best researchers are making much more modest claims than most of the public realizes and this is because of the over-inflated rhetoric of our moral reformers and culture warriors. Hillary Clinton, for example, argues that games represent “a kind of contagion...a silent epidemic threatening long-term public health damage to many, many children and therefore society.” I don’t think you are going to find much evidence to support those kinds of sweeping moral judgements. The rate of youth violence continues to decline in this country. You are going to be hard pressed to find many serious researchers who think games in and of themselves will turn a normal kid into a psycho-killer. In fact, what is being argued by the most reliable critics is that games constitute a risk factor—one among many—which may impact kids already at risk due to much more overarching problems (mental illness, histories of domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse, poverty, access to weapons through the home, proximity to street gangs, etc.) There are very legitimate concerns which I and others have raised about the research methodologies being used to study media violence, but at the end of the day, even read at face value, the evidence is not there to support the kind of huge claims which Clinton and other games critics are making. If I were to distil down my own core assumptions here, they boil down to two basic claims:

1. Media’s influence is most powerful when it reaffirms our existing structures of beliefs and behavoirs, least powerful when it seeks to change them. At the end of the day, we are shaped much more by the immediate influences on our lives—our schools, our families, our neighborhoods—than we are by what we see on television or experience in a game. Games can have negative influences— just as any other media can—by perpetuating negative stereotypes which are already deeply rooted in our culture or by re-enforcing existing and socially destructive attitudes. For that reason, I am concerned about Rockstar releasing a game called Bully in the context of a school culture which often re-enforces bullying behavoir or about the mods that got released after 9/11 which had people taking pot shots at “terrorists” in turbans who pop up from behind the counter in their local Qwickie Mart.

2. There is no such thing as media violence—at least as it is often discussed. We should not be talking about violence as some monolithic category as if it was all fundamentally the same stuff and as if there was no cultural value in being able to represent violence. I’ve just gotten through teaching a class where we looked at a broad range of violent works and tried to tease out what kinds of stories they told about violence, what kinds of attitudes they adopted towards violence, and what kinds of meaning these images and stories about violence had in different cultural and historical contexts. We found stories of violence cropping up in every artform and in every human society. We need art to speak to us about the nature of trauma and loss or of human aggression because these are core aspects of our lives. So, the idea that we should get rid of media violence is absurd and unthinking. What we want to do is to make sure that our media violence is meaningful and that it encourages some degree of reflection on the place of violence in human societies. We achieve neither by seeking to regulate or ban violent representations. We can achieve both by having open and honest conversations about the place of violence within our culture, conversations which include the broadest possible range of voices—not simply media reformers and experimental psychologists but also criminologists, cultural critics, anthropologists, and creative artists.

Do you see games studies becoming more widespread?

We’ve seen dramatic increases in the number of games studies classes in recent years—not simply in the United States but around the world. A decade or so ago, most of my students at MIT wanted to become filmmakers. Today, an increasing percentage want to be game designers and these includes most of the more creative and intelligent members of any given class. We are seeing even smaller colleges teach at least one course in games the same way twenty years ago they were starting to offer film appreciation classes. I’d predict that in another decade many undergraduates will take at least one course in games as part of the mix of their undergraduate education. This more educated consumer population is going to be more demanding and more open to innovation and diversity.

Following up on that, where do you see the industry going in the next few years?

There are some disturbing trends right now which warrant close attention by anyone concerned about the future of games. On the one hand, there is growing pressure mounting to regulate games content and the games industry is still offering the wrong response to that pressure. This goes back to what I said about art. The response to reform movements can’t be simply “hey, we aren’t as bad as you think we are.” There has to be an affirmative case for games and that involves thinking more seriously about games as art and games as educational resources. Otherwise, games are going to be seen more as commodities than as forms of human expression and they are going to be read as social nuisances and not as adding value to the society.

So, one negative scenario would be that games become tightly regulated and many of the current mature game titles or their equivalent get taken off the market. This is a very real possibility and gamers who aren’t paying attention to the public policy debates and are not writing letters to their political leaders on these issues are going to be blind-sided when this happens. Equally concerning to me, however, has been the rapid consolidation of the games industry into the hands of a small number of massive publishers who are flexing their corporate biceps by driving up the development costs of games and insisting that the only games which consumers will buy are blockbuster titles. This has the potential of pushing smaller games publishers out of the market and further narrowing the range of games consumers can play. In this case, the solution may come by the diversification of the games industry. That is, smaller companies in such a context will have no choice but to pursue options which don’t look very much like what Electronic Arts is producing.

They will move towards casual and serious games; they will move towards games for women; they will explore alternative and augmented reality games; they will tap games for special markets—religious games, say, or games for people with disabilities; they will push games in unexpected directions. One key factor here may be the ability to distribute games online rather than shipping them to stores. Right now, a small number of retailers have a stranglehold on the games market and they expect a game to sell massive numbers of units or it is removed quickly from their shelves. This makes it much harder for some of these newer forms of games to survive. But if we can get to digital games distribution as the industry standard, these smaller games companies can last longer and can target more specialized market segments. In such a world, the power of consumers as grassroots intermediaries to spread the word and the power of game critics and scholars to educate the audience become vital factors helping to diversify the current games medium.

Gamma Bros Get In A Pixel Jam

gbros.jpg Thanks to an email from developer Miles Tilmann, we've got a hot tip on 'neo-retro space shooter' Gamma Bros. from the folks at PixelJam. As their official weblog explains: "We created Gamma Bros as a free, full-length game for all to enjoy." Yay!

Tilmann describes the game as "akin to galaga, gradius, robotron, etc", and notes "...it also has a full soundtrack and loads of personality." Oh yeah, and the sountrack is particularly notable because it's done by Mark DeNardo, who is an excellent 'folktronic' chipmusician.

Anyhow, the 20mb game is downloadable for PC or Mac, and actually uses Flash Player 8 to run - there are also some screenshots on the official site if you want to peruse before you download. And if you like it, donate $$$ via PayPal or hang out for the merchandising, eh?

GameSetCompetition: Death Jr. Winner Announced!

deathjrswagsm.jpg Thanks to all who entered the recent Death Jr. competition to help promote the new Death Jr. titles being released later this year (and developer Backbone's largesse in general).

The lucky winner, who 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, is Torin Macbeth - congrats, Torin, we'll be sending you the coffin later this week, maybe you can find some small songbirds to bury in it.

And, for those wondering the answer to the 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?"?

Well, the cover scan is available online, but one of the axes was partially obscured, so you had to work out that the amusing descriptors were 'Death & Taxes'. So there! Oh, and we're going to have another competition starting soon, so watch out for that.

You Got Hot Dogs, You Need... Hot Girls!

hotg.jpg The jokers at QT3 have pointed out that there's now a PC demo available for the enchantingly named HotDogs HotGirls, "a 3D management strategy game by [Australian developer Fuzzyeyes] and German publisher Trendverlag that came out last April." [EDIT: Thanks to a commenter, corrected 3D Gamers' mistake - despite the very Germanic tone and German publisher, Australians created the game itself!]

The official game site has more info, explaining: "The primary objective of this game is to manage and dominate the fast food industry city by city until the players' chain of stores dominates the country." We imagine this being said in a stern German accent, with 'fist pounding on desk' emphasis on the word 'dominate', or course.

But here's the twist in this obviously Tycoon-styled game: "Using beautiful franchise girls as the primary selling point for the stores, players are in for a real treat as they manage their stores through hectic cities and situations, conquering competitor stores through superior tactics and staff management..." Yes, staff management! We see! More Schadenfreude-esque games like this, please!

COMIC: 'Our Blazing Destiny': Metal Gear Series

[Our Blazing Destiny is a new weekly comic by Jonathan "Persona" Kim about our society, cultural postdialectic theory, and video games. And a lot of Metal Gear jokes, it seems.]

This week, Persona continues on the tres amusant Metal Gear Solid tip, and here's his explanation of the thought process this time:

"This comic revolves around Liquid and his truly disturbing fixation with 'Outer Heaven.' I mean, what kind of horrible ego-destroying child-raising did Big Boss do that drives Liquid to constantly recreate the relationship of Boss vs. Snake? Liquid's desire to succeed where his father didn't is so intense that not even designer virus-instigated death is enough to stop him! At this rate, the only thing Snake can do to truly stop Liquid is to take Ocelot and throw him entirely into a vat of molten iron, making sure every ounce of his spectre-conducting, mustached body is gone."

"Then Snake would have to jump in himself so that Liquid doesn't do some instant body-transferring from the moment Snake had to grab Ocelot and threw him in. There at the iron factory, Otacon would then sob to himself, whimpering a last 'Can love bloom on a battlefield?' (or a 'Your mother seduced me!') as Old Snake's artificially aged body gets licked by the flames of hot iron, his withered hand giving one last thumbs up to the world." So there!

Oral Fixation.

[Jonathan "Persona" Kim is sometimes a character animation student at the California Institute of the Arts, other times a ninja illustrator, but in his heart, a true comic artist looking for his destiny in the sea of stars. His path on the torrid road of comics include a quarterly manga on The Gamer's Quarter and his website on the internet drawing hub Mechafetus.com. He'll also be attending Anime Expo this year at the Artist Alley selling a new doujinshi full of game-parodies and random nonsense. Come out and see him!]

Irate Shadowrun Fan Placated By Playtest

srunner.jpgPhilip Richardson, who, apart from being a semi-keen Shadowrun fan, works as a Program Manager in Microsoft's CRM team, has been blogging extensively about his concern over the new FASA Shadowrun Xbox 360/PC game, according to an interesting NeoGAF post - many were a little perturbed to find out that it's an FPS, and not an RPG or MMORPG.

But as Richardson explains in a recent weblog post: "As mentioned earlier I had lunch with the Shadowrun team today. I was invited over to FASA studios (part of the Microsoft Game Studios) because I'd had some passionate things to say about their new game. I also brought along a couple of other gamers: Adam and Tim who are also long term SR fans."

Richardson's conclusions? "So I played the game and let just say this: it's good. Yes folks: it's share price increasingly good... Artwork: Feels like Shadowrun. Good Job! The SR universe has a lot of different types of artwork (as Tim pointed out yesterday). From the gritty stuff in the early source books to the more cartoonish work in the more recent editions. Gameplay: Feels like Shadowrun. One particulary moment struck me as 'very' Shadowrun: When I saw an Elf meld through a wall carrying a submachingune. Backstory: Needs some work here. A bit of butchered Shadowrun. My advice to FASA: Cut it out. You don't need much backstory for a squad shooter!" There's lots more info on the game at the official Shadowrun site.

Resident Evil Lego Fans Brick Things Up

zomi.jpg Apparently, this may have been featured on other sites a few days back, but heck, we just found it, so there - it's totally cool BioHazard/Resident Evil Lego scenes, by some rabid Japanese fan.

Doing a lovingly crafted re-imagining of the intro, Lego style, our Babelfishing reveals: "It becomes quiet noiseless and collar sound one does not do in the mansion. Why completely there is no sign of the person... So much being large, just someone probably has lived in the luxurious mansion. And will the resident here be somewhere?"

But wait, there's more: "The old typewriter and ink ribbon are put in stairway side.... Suddenly from somewhere the sound of gunfire did. Gill "now? " The crith "even if we probably will go"." Epic stuff! Actually, some of the zombie shots are kinda scary, and make us long for Lego Everything, not just Lego Star Wars. Is that sad? Undoubtedly.[Via xir.]

June 4, 2006

FilePlanet Goes Back To The Old Demo Skool

dnem.jpg Planet Doom has managed to spot that IGN-owned FilePlanet has opened a little oldschool PC demo download page, where, as they point out:"In this section you can grab the first releases of such games as Diablo, Half Life and even the Classic DOOM."

Obviously, standard annoying FilePlanet download queue rules apply, but some of the fun links include the original Duke Nukem 3D shareware episode, as well as the Shadow Warrior demo from the 3DR chaps - uh, slightly suspect screenshot there, chaps.

In Shadow Warrior, lest we forget: "You are Lo Wang, Shadow Warrior, an assassin who has no qualms with decapitating his foe and using the head as a weapon. Indeed, in Shadow Warrior, you will have the chance to wield throwing stars, katanas, four-barreled shotguns, nukes, and heavily armed vehicles -- anything to snuff the life out of your doomed enemies." And I'm sure we all want a Lo Wang, right?

Dark And Light - Heavy On The Post-Launch Dark?

dnl.jpg Super-sarcastic MMO site Corpnews has a small news item about newly launched MMO Dark & Light which links to a screenshot allegedly summing up the entire title's launch period - the player fighting an, uhm, 'pile of excrement'.

An associated topic on the Corpnews forums has lots more extremely snarky commentary on the game, which has been in development from creators NPCube for at least 3 or 4 years now - there's a recent interview with Lead Designer Stephane Quilichini in which he comments: "Even if its not all finished like we’d like, but we have too much delays so now we have to get it out, its time." Uhoh.

Bizarrely, the NPCube developers relocated to Reunion, "an island and overseas département... of France, located in the Indian Ocean east of Madagascar", but part of the European Union, and we note the Wikipedia entry mentions: "Reunion is currently experiencing an epidemic of Chikungunya virus. As of April 6, 2006, 230,000 people have been infected, which amounts to 29% of the population." Wonder if this is related to Quilichini's comment: "So some developers [were] sick, we lost a few weeks with this and we were not ready"? Looks like there _are_ some perils to moving game development to a lush tropical island!

As for the launch comments, some of those singled out by the Corpnews guys are not... wonderful: "Graphics are reasonable. The sound effects are improved, although it's the first time I've heard crickets chirping in a snow storm." The ten-word summing up thread is reasonably tragic, too: "Dissapointed, had high hopes and it didnt even come close"... "Shallow attempt at making an mmorpg of a terrain simulator." Double ouch.

COLUMN: The Gaijin Restoration - Adventure Island 4

title screen["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 Hudson's Adventure Island 4 for the Famicom released in Japan in 1994.]

Hey You Guys!
“Sometime in 1986 my parents rented The Goonies and my life was forever changed...” is a horrible way to start a piece of writing, even something as lowly and common as a blog entry. It’s filled to the brim of faux pathos worthy of a Lyttle Lytton award. Still, I rather enjoyed Goonies and the next year badgered my grandmother during one of her routine baby-sitting sessions into purchasing The Goonies II for the NES, where Annie was a mermaid, Konami Man replenished your health and you met the Fratelli’s miniscule cousin, Pipsqueak.

no alt textIt was my first real Metroidvania, though produced long before that portmanteau was coined. Some dabbles in Metroid had taken place, borrowing a friends cartridge, but never much progress. Though, my mind was blown open and feasted upon by the simple fact that the first worthwhile act in the game involved going left. Goonies II was eventually completed, with a little help from my father, a Zork sorta-guy, who dug the ability based roadblocks and the first person, leave your reflexes at the door, puzzle rooms. I even took a picture of Annie the Mermaid for Nintendo Power (never published.) This gameplay was fantastic, getting intimate with the map, digging out from an inner-core, seeing tantalizing locales that you can’t quite get by yet, etc, etc, what you can read in any recent handheld Metroid or Castlevania review.

Aged To Perfection
no alt textTakahashi Meijin no Bouken Jima IV or Adventure Island IV is a Famicom game released in the geriatric twilight-years of said system: 1994. At this point I was campaigning around Britannia with a boomerang wielding mouse and most of Japan were counting down to December 3rd and the PlayStation. Hudson, developer and publisher, had even spun-off several Super Adventure Islands on the SNES, but it seems that Master Higgins, the rotund adventurer and fruit gourmand was fated to shine his 8-bit nipples one last time.


Unlike the previous games, which consisted of kidnapped girlfriends, linear level progression, skateboarding and the quest for the ultimate Del Monte fruit cup, Adventure Island IV has you rescuing kidnapped dinosaurs (which you can later ride!), a pure Metroidvania world to map and explore, snowboarding and surfing added to the repertoire and, well, even more fruit to collect. (And eventually your buxom bikini clad cosplayer is whisked away as well.) Caveat: no map.

Should. Be. Played.

no alt textThe game is a charm, and though it offers not battery backup, the passwords are short and in English, as well as the menus. The world is diverse but perhaps not a fully realized Pangea; even with a myriad of items its pretty obvious what to do next. A handful of bosses plague you throughout the game, but with multiple hitpoints and odd eggs scattered about offering carnivores delights, Master Higgins, can play Cabana Boy for quite a while. The control is also spot on, and you unsavory types looking to emulate will be missing out on very refined NES d-pad action. It’s a marvelous little gem that I would have hoped for a revived life on the GBA, but maybe now it could lead to the dual-screen world, with a map and some sickeningly sweet peach syrup on the side.

[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. He just got a moped.]

Eguchi: Caricatures An Integral Part Of Wii

carica.jpg Over at Wired News' game blog, they have confirmation that Nintendo's Wii hardware stores player profiles and caricatures, thanks to a leftover interview with Katsuya Eguchi conducted during this year's E3.

As is explained over the thus far mysterious feature: "Wii hardware will include a feature by which players can create "profiles" of themselves that include not only personal information but a caricature of their face that any Wii game will be able to access and use, as seen in the demonstration of Wii Sports Tennis."

Eguchi further comments: "The caricatures will exist in the hardware, as data, as one of several profiles that you could save in the Wii. And if you insert compatible software into the Wii, it will pull up the images that you chose", noting: "We're focusing on creating an editing tool that will allow players to create images as well as allow users to select one of several already-created images, if they're not artistically inclined."

This sounds, as with a whole bunch of other Wii features, extremely neat - I wonder if they'll go as far as including art tools in the creator, or whether it'll just be mix and match eyebrows and chins? In any case, personalization is big right now (see the Xbox Live Vision camera for another example, yay!)

Be Jean Grey, Bruce Banner In Ultimate Alliance!

uaua.jpgf At the website for Activision's forthcoming multiplatform game Marvel Ultimate Alliance, they've announced that you can audition to be the voice of Jean Grey or Bruce Banner in the actual game.

This is clearly a fun competition, rather than Activision trying to save money on voice actors (haw!), since the winners "will get an Xbox 360, a copy of the Marvel: Ultimate Alliance game, a poster signed by Stan Lee, a pack of Marvel: Ultimate Alliance playing cards and a trip to Los Angeles to record their lines and meet the producers."

Though it's not like we're massive superhero geeks here, the game's line-up does sound fun: "9 out of the 20 plus playable characters in the game have been revealed: fan favorites Spider-Man, Wolverine, Captain America, Thor, Blade, Elektra, The Thing, Ghost Rider and Dr. Strange." And looks like the game is based on the X-Men Legends engine, which provided basic but fun Diablo-style superhero leveling powers - the Wikipedia page for Ultimate Alliance has a few more details.

Now, if we can just persuade the producers to voice cast against gender, just as Cate Blanchett is playing Bob Dylan, hm? That would certainly be a twisted Freudian reason for 'Hulk Smash!' [Via Blue's News.]

We're Just Dotty About Dot Fighters

dotf.gif We'd seen a couple of mentions of Japanese dojin PC title Dot Fighters, but a post over at the revitalized TIGSource points out a couple of very neat things - firstly, there's a preview video [WMV] link for the freeware title available.

And secondly, we didn't realize that Dot Fighters is by the same person who created ArmJoe, an awesome PC dojin fighter which is, as IC reminds us, "an offbeat and flashy 2D fighting game set in the universe of the japanese version of the popular musical based on Victor Hugo's masterpiece Les Misérables."

So, from Cosette to Pixeldots, then? Looks like it. There's a work in progress page on the official site, unfortunately only in Japanese, where you can see more in-production shots and wait eagerly for a playable version, which we dearly hope will be along soon.

COLUMN: 'Game Mag Weaseling': Your Field Guide to US Magazine Racks

['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.]

Judging by the nationality of most comments on my columns so far, I've come to the conclusion that most people who care about old magazines are either honourable Britishers (or brash little Cockneys) or people who stopped reading game mags long ago.

Therefore, I thought it'd be nice to give a quick tour of all the game magazines you can find in US bookshelves right now. The output isn't quite what it was ten or even five years ago, but there's still a remarkable amount of print getting churned out each month -- and what's more, nearly all of it these days is written for "core" gamers like you and I. (This transformation rolled out gradually through the PlayStation 2 era and chiefly came about because market researchers realized that children and "casual" gamers just don't bother with print media any longer. Apparently they're happier texting each other and engaging in illegal street racing or whatever, and we hardcore folks are simply behind the times.)

Ziff Davis Media

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Ziff Davis has been around since 1927 as a publisher of "regular" books and magazines; they put out tons of pulp magazines in the 40s and at one point even owned a group of TV stations. They began publishing game mags in 1993 after buying Computer Gaming World and expanded in 1996 with the acquisition of Sendai Publishing, creators of Electronic Gaming Monthly and a ton of other early-90s mags. Sendai was purchased mainly for EGM, and Ziff shut down all of Sendai's other mags (including Computer Game Review and P.S.X.) within a year.

EGM is their flagship publication, and they were the first magazine to really see the transformation in readership with the PS2 era. Their current design dates from 2003, and back then it was nothing short of revolutionary by US standards -- long, rambling preview features that actually made previews interesting to read; lots of short articles on game-lifestyle topics; and a freeform approach to multiple-editor reviews that actually looks like a modernized version of the system CRASH settled on in the mid-1980s.

Every US game mag has shrunk in pages lately as ad dollars slowly drift toward online, but EGM's weathered this a fair bit better than all the other mags. In my incredibly biased opinion (I wrote for them for two years), it's still the most smartly-written mag in the country.

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The Official PlayStation Magazine is handled in the US by Ziff, who got the rights in 1997 and renewed them in 2000 -- rumor has it that Future was turned down because Sony didn't want the same company producing both the official PS and Dreamcast magazines in the US.

The OPM editorialships are all different for each country, but really I think the mags are all the same -- you got a lot of design flash and even more lifestyle-type articles than EGM. You'll also notice here that Ziff editors occasionally like to produce multiple covers for a single issue without telling anyone -- both of these covers are for the June '06 issue.

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Computer Gaming World is the oldest game mag currently in existence. It started as a glorified fanzine mainly devoted to wargaming, packed with eye-rollingly pedantic text and letters from angry readers indignant that the editors misspelled "pseudo-Napoleonic." This was still good enough to be the nation's #1 PC magazine in the early 90s, until Doom debuted and the PC game marketplace was overturned overnight.

Ziff bought the mag in 1993 and, to be honest, had a lot of trouble figuring out what to do with it. PC Gamer snagged a lot of their audience as a result, but CGW's a much better organized and well-written mag these days.

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Ziff Davis used to put out zillions of "specials," or one-off newsstand-exclusive magazines. Nowadays it's down to an annual Xmas buyer's guide, a launch guide whenever a new system's released, and the seasonal mag Pocket Games. These specials used to be written by nameless freelancers and tended to be an afterthought in the editor's eyes, but Pocket Games got redesigned and has Jeremy Parish writing a ton for it, so it's actually worth reading these days.

Ziff also used to publish such lofty mags as GMR, Xbox Nation, GameNOW, Expert Gamer, EGM2 and Cyber Sports, but they're all gone now. The loss of GMR in 2005 drove a great deal of gamers away from magazines period, but most of GMR's design sentiments wound up creeping into EGM anyway, so it's all good.

Future Media

In terms of quantity, Future's the biggest game-mag publisher in the US. They got their start in the US by purchasing the bankrupt GP Publications (producers of Game Players magazine) in 1993 and gradually adding on original mags. Nowadays they've branched out into guitar magazines and even a title called Scrapbook Answers that sounds incredibly silly but is apparently a really big hit. (Top trivia: One of the art people on Scrapbook Answers used to design GamePro.)

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PC Gamer (which debuted in the UK in early '93) was Future's first mag of their own in the US, and it was a major shot in the arm, considering how fuddy-duddy and wargame-heavy CGW still was in 1994. It's still the top PC mag in the States circulation-wise, and it tends to get pretty much all the hot PC-game exclusives. CGW arguably has more integrity to its reviews and editorial staff, though, and that's partly due to its long life.

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PSM is Future's independent PlayStation magazine, and one that (as Future will take every opportunity to tell you) actually outsells the official PS magazine in America. They're arguably best known for the "swimsuit issue" they publish every year, with comic-book artists drawing Lara Croft and KOS-MOS in assorted compromising positions. Their writing is generally less well-known, although there's a lot of humor and goofy captions, which is always enough to keep me entertained.

The Official Xbox Magazine is Future's in the US, and the disc is by far the biggest draw. The writing was laughably fanboy-like at the start (Xbox Game X was almost always touted as a "PS2 Game Y-killer"), but the writing's improved lately, perhaps out of necessity since 2005 was a pretty slow year for the Xbox before the 360 launch.

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In addition to these three mags, Future puts out about five squillion newsstand specials. You will almost always find 2 or 3 on the stands at any given moment, with more coming around Christmas. I couldn't even begin to come up with the money to collect all of these. Curse them.

Nintendo of America

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Nintendo Power was the top selling magazine in the US until the GameCube era; its circulation was in the millions for most of the 90s. It became a laughingstock in recent years, but last year's redesign was a complete revolution for the magazine, transforming it from a kiddie mag to a bible for hardcore net-forum Nintendroids. It's now much, much more fun to read, and I'd even go so far to say that it's just as much essential reading now as it was in the NES era.

Since Nintendo Power is published by Nintendo themselves, no one else has ever dared to put out a Nintendo mag in the US -- a far cry from the UK, which had no less than three monthly GameCube mags at once.

Game Informer

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GI, with a circulation of over two million, is the biggest game mag (and one of the biggest mags period) in America. This good fortune was by-and-large placed in their lap -- it was the house mag of a humble mail-order game joint in Minnesota that grew, and grew, and got bought, and grew some more, and bought some other places, and now it's almost got a monopoly on game retailers in America.

To be frank, its writing didn't cope with this massive growth at first -- silly misspellings were rampant, and the stories written for their flashy cover exclusives were so rambly and information-free to be almost useless apart from the pics. Things have improved a ton in recent years, though, and now GI actually does a lot more "industry magazine"-type coverage than even EGM does, making it superb reading for any hardcore-ite. It hurts me to say this, having been a Ziff man for so long, but they're totally decent as a magazine nowadays. But EGM is still better.

Larry Flynt Publications

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Once upon a time, LFP published VideoGames & Computer Entertainment, arguably the best-written magazine of the 8- and 16-bit age. That magazine was split into 2 or 3 separate mags in 1993, but the only survivor is Tips & Tricks, the strategy title.

T&T's design has been essentially unchanged for nearly a decade and most hardcore gamers ignore it, but its columns on Japan, Final Fantasy, and (especially) classic gaming are regular good reading.

IDG Entertainment

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There was an era when GamePro was the perennial second-runner behind Nintendo Power in circulation. There was a time when other mags couldn't even touch it. In fact, there was even a time (in 2002-3) that I worked for it. Then most of the staff left, and management was afraid to mess with the "winning" formula even when its younger-skewing approach was out of date for the maturer-than-thou PS2 market.

Now it's practically fallen off the radar of US gamers. Its last really cool exclusive was two years ago, and usually it gets mentioned on forums only when someone wants to make fun of it. IDG's attention is mostly on their online sites nowadays, too, leading to rumors that the mag is largely being ignored and could be in danger.

Code Vault was IDG's answer to Tips & Tricks. At one point it was monthly (and I wrote a ton of neat crap for it that nobody ever read), but no one noticed and it went to a seasonal newsstand-only schedule in 2004. Even worse, all (and I mean all) of the content is just recycled from Brady Games strategy guides now. Sad.

Magazines That We Forget Exist (Not Game Developer, Of Course)

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Play (nothing to do with the UK mag) is headed by Dave Halverson, previously leader of Gamer's Republic and the world-famous Diehard GameFan. Dave is such a hopeless fan of platform games that it's quite literally become Play's calling card now -- he simply hasn't played a hop 'n bop he doesn't like, and, well, what other mag in their right mind would put Death Jr. on the cover twice? (Note that I'm not complaining, because I chronically rated platformers higher than anyone else at EGM and got made fun of for my Blinx 2 obsession.)

However, Dave does know how to design up a mag (the Okami issue a while back was beautiful), and he's got his little niche audience and fills it perfectly.

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Remember How I said that CGW used to be text-heavy and filled with letters bitching about how bad it was? Well, Computer Games, published by a mail-order place in New Hampshire, is still like that.

This mag is so obscure that I can't even find a copy of it anywhere in Houston. Seriously. I tried, like, five different places before giving up. I need to get a subscription. In its place, then, here's a copy of Now Playing, a movie/DVD magazine originally launched as a section within Computer Games -- much to the consternation of readers. It later spun off into its own seasonal mag and has since been sold off to an independent publisher.

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Hardcore Gamer is the most obscure mag of all, mainly 'cos they give it away for free in PDF form on their website. Many people don't even realize that there's a print edition -- one that I've never ever ever seen on the stands, so I assume it's de-facto subscriber only.

Coverage is very much like the GameFan of old, which I suppose would preclude it from becoming any less obscure in the future, but it's fun to thumb through.

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I'm including PC Pilot here just to fill space, basically. Sorry. A British mag devoted to flight sims, it publishes an official US edition that claims to be bimonthly but really comes out whenever.

Retro Gamer used to have a US edition, but that disappeared when the mag switched publishers, and now it's imported and costs even more money, as you can see. You very often see imported issues of Edge in bookstores here, although the number of Britmags on US shelves used to be much larger -- I remember reading Computer & Video Games back in 1992 this way. Of course, with Retro Gamer, I sometimes wonder why they bother -- it's not like anyone in America would know about Gremlin Graphics, Oliver Frey, or Another World. (We call it Out of this World here, bub. If you don't like it, why don't you move to Canada, you longhair?)

And that completely covers it. My slant: If I was on a one-way flight to Moscow and I could bring any game magazines I wanted, I would buy EGM, GI, Nintendo Power, CGW, and PC Gamer. Oh, and Computer Games assuming I could find it, which I probably couldn't.

[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.]



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

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

Game Career Guide (for student game developers.)

Indie Games (for independent game players/developers.)

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

GamerBytes (for the latest console digital download news.)

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


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