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June 17, 2006

PC Engine's Sapphire Bootlegs Exposed

sapp.jpg You might've noticed that the ultra-rare PC Engine arcade card game Ginga Fukei Densetsu Sapphire has been turning up on ebay at reasonable prices recently. The real deal quite often fetches upwards of $400, so these fakes can be rather enticing. Here's an example of one.

Luckily, the fellow who runs superpcenginegrafx.com has put together a rather extensive guide to determining what's real and what's false. Apparently these (rather high quality!) bootlegs were made through the Swiss company care4data, and are easiest to tell from the real deal by the fact that the tear strip goes across the middle of the logo, rather than much lower, where it'd usually be. This is a seriously detailed report. There are six pages of info here (navigate at the bottom), from manual scans to disc images.

So now you know - one wonders if this will reduce the value of the original as well? Thanks to SignOfZeta for finding this, and Justin Cheer of superpcenginefx.com for putting the whole thing together. [Cross-posted from Brandon's IC, which also has a follow-up post with more PC Engine-related obscure neatness from the same site.]

COLUMN: 'Game Mag Weaseling': Your Month in Mags (July '06)

['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.]

den0606.jpg

With the popularity of my field guide to US mags last week, it's been decided to make coverage of modern mags a regular feature on my little column. Most discussion of mags on the net tends to dwell on how obsolete they are and how uninformed and completely inferior the writing staff is. I think that's largely a bum rap.

Click through for the full guide to July's U.S. video game magazines...

Sure, not every magazine on the stand today is a pristine work of fine art, but things are a lot better than a few years ago -- most staffs have realized their readership is net savvy, so now they go less for the "reference guide to everything" approach and more for, you know, something you might actually like to read and keep on the shelf. I want to show people how well (or, as the case may be, unwell) they're succeeding with this.

For starters, I'm going to cover everything on the newsstand as of today, June 17, 2006 -- the day which will be known across the world as the day the U.S. tied Italy in the World Cup, proving we're good at things besides barbecues and dying of heart disease. I'm skipping out on Computer Gaming World and Game Informer since the latest issues I have were a while ago; I'll touch on them (and any other stragglers) in future columns.

Electronic Gaming Monthly July 2006

Most mags have their first issues after E3 coming out this month, and EGM launches off by interviewing the three top PR guys from each console maker -- Kaz Hirai of Sony, Reggie the Stare of Nintendo, and Shane Kim of Microsoft. This is followed with their annual post-E3 Opinionated Preview Guide, which takes 80 or so games from the floor and asks the simple question "How was it?" to all of them. The answers to this question still wade a bit into generic preview prose, but it's still the most readable of the month's E3 preview blowouts. (They also get top marks for not filling their pages with random booth photographs.)

The cover story this month is Call of Duty 3, which wasn't public at E3 and therefore counts as a super-hotsclusive for EGM. As any long-time Game Informer readers know (and as the EGM editors admit in their podcast this week), military games are about the most boring thing you can put on a magazine cover. They all look exactly the same.

Recommended: Listen to the podcast with EGM in hand and goggle as executive editor Shane Bettenhausen defends Sony's E3 performance with all his might. Also, read the two-page spread on the hilarious history of the Gizmondo, complete with a "car crash" design theme.

Top quote: "I counted the polygons -- Metroid [on Wii] only had 30,000. Lame!"

Official PlayStation Magazine July 2006

OPM's E3 coverage includes its own Kaz interview, as well as a two-page spread on the PS3's controller that spins the "Wii ripoff" argument and actually does a pretty decent job at it, discussing how well it worked with Warhawk at the show. The editors also get dev reactions from 6 or 7 industry dignitaries (including Kojima) and spread the cost/controller/online debate over a few pages of editorial coverage. Other main features include a long, multi-page interview with Tetsuya Mizuguchi and the annual OPM Power 20 list of influential industry folks, including names like Phil Harrison, Tim Sweeney, the Wii controller, and (in a bit of a longshot) Steven Spielberg.

Recommended: Greg Sewart's slamming of the PS2 version of Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter. OPM's got a podcast too, by the way.

Disc: Kind of zzzz. Cars leads and Urban Chaos and Pac-Man World Rally follows. Older demos on the disc include Namco's Kill.Switch, which still gets my vote as one of this generation's most obscure classics.

PC Gamer July 2006

I love big, huge anniversary features. PC Gamer agrees with me here, I reckon, because I think they just did one of these two years ago for their 10th anniversary. This iteration has tons of little box-outs filled with trivia over the past 149 issues, which ranges from the silly to the downright humorous. (They also finally admit that famous gamer-wife Stevie Case is probably not "the next game god," as they predicted in 2000. As a form of apology, they also printed a "Next Game Gods" comic that was cut from the original 2000 issue. It's great.)

PC Gamer divides its bread-and-butter game coverage into genre, with previews, reviews, and even features getting divided into the shooter, strategy, roleplaying, or "The Gamut" (i.e. "Misc") section.

Recommended: The "Five Legendary RPGs" mini-feature. Actually, there's a lot of hardcore mini-features in PC Gamer these days. It's funny, but throwaway features like these work a lot better in print than online for some reason. I think it's because retro-features online tend to be overwritten and drag on forever (I'm extremely guilty of this), making it hard to get through all of it.

PSM July 2006

The top cover feature is on MGS: Portable Ops, with lots of MGS4 in subsequent pages. (The feature talks extensively about Hideo Kojima, and what he wants to do with the series and so forth, but the actual interview with Kojima is small and mostly PR-speak as he isn't revealing much about MGS4 right now. It's not bad, but in retrospect, I probably would've approached the interview from a different angle.)

This issue was produced before E3, so the other previews don't have a great deal of meat behind them.

Recommended: 4-page feature on the history of controllers, with a long interview with Logitech marketing guy Ruben Mookerjee. Sounds stupid, but their massive chart of controllers over the years (with pix) is lots of fun -- it's neat to watch the progression of all the world's joysticks in the space of a single spread.

Look out for: PSM's revised website, currently (ostensibly) under construction. The old one was badly neglected, so hopefully there'll be something new in the redesign.

Offical Xbox Magazine July 2006

This issue isn't post-E3 either, so it's pretty similar to PSM above -- mostly previews that aren't much news to anyone right now.

The cover story is a straightforward treatment of F.E.A.R., but my favorite bit is the feature on Live achievements, which have proven to be more addictive and successful than Microsoft could've possibly imagined. Bits include quotes from devs on how they come up with the things and interviews with three nerds who "boast" over 30,000 points.

Another top feature: The 20 Best Xbox Games You Never Bought. Includes Psychonauts and Play coverboy Voodoo Vince, but sadly no Whiplash. Funnily, a lot of games from the 2003 holiday season are included -- those couple months were definitely the best and worst of times for the ol' box.

Disc: Tomb Raider: Legend (a little late, no?), MotoGP 06, and a Live version of Battlefield 2.

Computer Games July/August 2006

I found an issue! I found an issue! And it had a superb editorial in it from EIC Steve Bauman about how the "new media" of online game sites couldn't exist without the "old media" giving it things to talk about. I'm sure webloggers around the world will be aghast and rail against it on their sites, assuming they are as lucky as I am and can find a copy of the magazine.

Putting CG and GamePro next to each other, it's remarkable how similar they look designwise these days. I can attest that CG is a much, much, much better read, or at least that they use longer words that challenge the mind to a greater extent.

Top Art: A quote from an ex-EA exec mentioning masturbation includes a picture of the guy from classic Commodore 64 beating-off sim Stroker. They don't make games like that anymore, sadly.

Nintendo Power July 2006

I may start to sound like a broken record here, but I want to repeat that Nintendo Power is not just totally readable these days, but actually a damn fun mag to read -- they've arguably got the most well-written "random" features of any US mag. The previews tend to avoid boilerplate text, too, and the look is so clean that you'd hardly believe this mag exists if you just time-traveled in from 1990.

Of course, only Nintendo Power would be doing a 5-page preview feature on Tomb Raider: Legend by this point, so I suppose the more things change...

Play July 2006

Best known as "that one PS3 game with the really bad pre-E3 screenshots", Untold Legends looks pretty darn good in this issue, as you'd expect from Play. Though it's perhaps no coincidence that the concept art is usually printed a lot larger than the screens...

Play's E3 wrapup is pretty pedestrian, consisting mostly of lists and previews.

Top bit: Interviews with Takashi Tezuka (a postmortem on New SMB) and the creators of the new PSP Earthworm Jim. Fun read, considering you'd have to be a...well, a Dave Halverson to remember the original very well these days.

Hardcore Gamer Volume 2 Issue 1

I'm tempted to just say "Aw hell, just go read it on the site", but man if this isn't my favorite cover of the month. The combination of Terry Wolfinger drawing Lego figures and the promise of "360 luvin'/PS3 luvin'/Wii luvin'" along the site warms every possible cockle of my heart simultaneously.

It's never spelled out for you, but HCG's E3 report is by company and appears to be ranked -- #1 is Nintendo, #2 Microsoft, #20 NIS America, and so on. Kind of a neat touch, I think.

Top bit: Retro feature on Golvellius, one of the Sega Master System's top saving graces.

Tips & Tricks July 2006

Oh my, this cover.

GamePro July 2006

All right -- this is a little complicated, so pay attention.

This is the first issue of the Best Buy edition of GamePro. The only difference is a Best Buy-only cover and a spread on the inside with coupons and a little boilerplate game coverage. Otherwise it appears to be unchanged.

The idea here is that you go to your local Best Buy electronics store, pick up an issue of this, buy a subscription for $20, then save lots of money over the next 12 months with all the great coupons you'll be getting. In that aspect, it's kind of like a version of Game Informer or GMR for Best Buy stores. However, you can't buy an individual issue of this "Level-2" edition -- you have to buy a 12-issue subscription for $20, and that's what the UPC code on the mag rings you up for. Of course, this begs the question of why on earth you would buy this when real GamePro subscriptions are cheaper, but I suppose I'm not a high-powered electronics store executive and I'm not understanding the full picture here.

Anyway, the main feature this month is a long bit on Super Dragon Ball Z. I think every DBZ game Atari has ever released has gotten a cover story in GamePro. (The cover of this mag would be Super DBZ, but since this is the Level-2 edition, you get Reggie Bush representin' south San Diego with his cheeks instead. I'm not sure which would be a better cover.

Recommended (I suppose): There's a feature on EA's NCAA football game written by the guy who was starting center for Cal in 2001 and 2002. Well, English was one of his majors, so I guess he's qualified to write for a video game mag well enough, but...

One-off of the Moment

CPU (Computer Power User) has a special on the Xbox 360 on stands this summer at Walmart and other places. It's actually pretty massive, at 160 pages and no ads, and it has everything from a potted history of video games to a bit on online gaming that includes "screenshots" taken by pointing a camera at the screen. Nearly every single game and accessory is reviewed, though, so it's far from useless.

[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.]

Cathy's Book Gives Teen Girls ARG Attack

cathys.jpg As you know, we do try to cover alternate reality games (ARGs) here on GSW, and one of the most notable firms in the area (if not _the_ pioneers) are 4orty 2two Entertainment, as headed by Jordan Weisman of FASA/WizKids fame.

Anyway, we didn't understand properly, until we read the press release, abouta new book called 'Cathy's Book: If Found Call 650-266-8233' being published this October, and created by 42's Sean Stewart and Jordan Weisman, with a promotional tie-in to CoverGirl cosmetics.

The press release explains: ""Cathy's Book ... " is the story of a teen girl who decides to investigate the mysterious disappearance of her boyfriend. She documents her investigation in a journal, filled with her notes, sketches and pieces of evidence. An immersive experience, the book is filled with clues and the reader can follow where they lead, including phone and web elements."

So this is an book featuring some ARG elements for teen girls that you actually pay to buy ($17.95 for the hardcover) - a really interesting attempt to reach a new market from the folks who did The Beast and the resoundingly successful I Love Bees.

[Oh, and we just noticed that a New York Times article on the book helped spawn an attack against the commercial placement in it, which led to a defensive press release from Perseus explaining: "The authors then came to us with the idea of extending the main character's journey (and the reader's experience) from not only the book and fictional websites but onto the real websites of CoverGirl and BeingGirl.com... No money was paid for product placement." Fun!]

Cecropia's 'The Act' Gets First Trailer

theact.jpg Massachusetts-based 'entertainment production company' Cecropia has been doing some interesting work for a while now, heavily (and just about solely!) covered by sister site Gamasutra - see the 'Fluttering Off The Beaten path' profile and an Ernest Adams column on the subject.

Ernest Adams describes the project best: "[Cecropia is] making a coin-op game about emotion, controlled by the earliest of videogame input devices, a single knob. They call their game a "filmgame." It's an animated cartoon built by highly experienced ex-Disney animators, still working with pencil and paper in the traditional manner. The characters aren't gawky mo-capped 3D models whose polygons are showing; they're beautifully drawn 2D people whose feelings and state of mind are visible in every frame - true personality animation. They're charming, tough, sexy, aggressive, sweet, goofy, and just plain fun to watch."

Well, now they've added a trailer for 'The Act' to their website, and it's really neat stuff, showcasing a 'old-time movies' visual style that almost feels like Humphrey Bogart meets Harold Lloyd, and some great-looking hand drawn animation. It's truly unconventional, and we really hope there's a place in the market for this alternative thinking - wonder how it'll play? Dragon's Lair++? [Via Cartoon Brew.]

Spielberg's EA Game About Relationships?

spiel.jpg The folks at Grand Text Auto have linked to a mini-article in The Economist about game AI which features them talking about Facade, but even more interesting, for us, is a hint about the game Steven Spielberg is making at Electronic Arts with design veteran Doug Church.

Neil Young, general manager of EA Los Angeles, is quoted toward the end of the article, and notes: "Tellingly, Doug Church of Electronic Arts, who gave the keynote speech at last year's AIIDE conference, recently started work on a game with Steven Spielberg where “the focus is on building an emotive relationship at a story level and a gameplay level between the player and another character,” says Mr Young."

So, is this going to be anything like ICO's compelling human relationships, as recently explored by Katherine Isbister in a fascinating book extract on sister site Gamasutra: "In ICO, the player-character (the young boy carrying the stick) finds a trapped princess very early on in game play. From this moment forward, the player takes care of her. The princess (Yorda), is not really able to defend herself and is not as agile as the player-character. She must be led by the hand to ensure that she tags along, and she needs help over obstacles. When the player ­battles the shadows that threaten her, she will stay close by (within social distance)"? That would be interesting indeed.

Reality Show Creates MMO Kaos, Romero Intervenes

romero.jpg The newish VH1 Game Break blog has a suitably descriptive entry on a new 'gaming reality show' launched by the folks at IDG's Games.net - and it's the first interesting video doc about games we've seen done for online, actually.

As the VH1 folks explain: "In the online reality show called “Creating Kaos,” David goes up against the Goliath “World Of Warcraft” for dominance of the MMORPG space. You’ll meet Damian Grow, a two-day-a-week doorman and “full time CEO,” who only has enough money to buy chips and Chinese food to eat. Legendary game maker John Romero bets Damian can’t do make his game a big seller. Meanwhile, one of the designers lost his family because of his all-consuming compulsion for creating "Kaos.""

The game, incidentally, is Kaos War - Rise Of The Fallen, and we're particularly ticked by the fact that the related GamePro article has Games.net video producer Wendy Chan commenting: "People have already started comparing John Romero to [American Idol judge] Simon Cowell." Only with added robot frogs, right?

Art Of Gaming Exhibits Metal Slug

ms003.jpg Relatively little known consumer game site GameSide has announced the first issue of its 'art in games' PDF magazine, 'The Art Of Gaming', devoted to Metal Slug.

Basically comprised of a review/appreciation of SNK's 2D game series, along with fan art of various, sometimes horrid qualities (we do like Ze Liu's 3D model of a Metal Slug, pictured here, though!), this is fun to flip through swiftly, though people used to the more avant nature of PDF mags like The Gamer's Quarter will probably be a bit less impressed with the fanboy (or, in this case, fangirl) nature of the 20-page mag.

Then again, what other mag would have an interview with non game-related DeviantArtist Captain Fry for no apparent reason, in which he admittedly displays some nice taste in fave game art ("Street Fighter III: Third Strike probably exhibits some of the finest character animation I’ve ever seen in a video game (and a mention must go to Guilty Gear X for daring to venture into hi-res 2D and succeeding well) and any Metal Slug would follow a close second to this")?

[Still, Captain Fry has some very weird, possibly libellous pastiche art of his biology teacher on his DeviantArt page, so there. Is Metal Slug _your_ favorite pixel art ever? Inquiring minds, etc... we nominate Bucky O'Hare because we're being obtuse. And not because we're remotely furry, got it?]

June 16, 2006

Ancient Naval Warfare, Not Ancient Navel Warfare!

galleyb.jpg Over at Troy Goodfellow's Portico weblog, he's posted an interesting interview with Xavi Rubio about Hyperborea's upcoming PC ancient naval wargame Galley Battles.

Discussing why ancient naval warfare is more complex than you might think, Rubio explains: "Galley warfare was, on a microscale, similar to the aerial duels of the 1st World War. Individual galleys try to maneuver in order to make a good position to ram the enemy without being rammed. Boarding techniques are more rough, but the fact is that you need to create superiority points where you have more ships than the enemy on local zones, in order to break the opponent's formation and make his morale sink."

Again, it's neat that the game industry has so many niches and sub-niches that someone can think about developing a game like Gallery Battles and still expect to make (a little!) cash off it, in this case, via Shrapnel Games publishing it - Rubio notes: "As the game has been focused on a "niche" sector of the market, we know that we won't get millionaire sells, but we are sure that there exists an audience insterested on this kind of game. In fact, the existence of several publishers of this kind of indie games is the proof." The game's screenshots are a bit basic, sure, but let's hope that the gameplay is effective.

Wanted: Second Life Newbie, Design/Fulfillment Guru

gsg.jpg So, we're continuing to have lots of fun with our weekly GSW columnists, the latest of which is, of course, Jiji's new 'Compilation Catalog' bi-weekly column, an "analysis of retro remakes and compilations old and new". And, actually, this is a good point to say thank you to _all_ our columnists for the amazing job they're doing in posting regular, kickass material about video games.

As we expand further, we're looking for a couple of new helpers, so I'm going to explain what we're looking for, and let's see if anyone can help out. Please contact us at editors@gamesetwatch.com if you think you're interested in either of these mini-jobs.

- We think Second Life is, honestly, really interesting as a 'virtual world' where a whole lot of weird/odd things happen. So we'd like a SL correspondent to write for GameSetWatch, for weekly (or more often, if you're having fun!) explorations of what's happening in the world, from the bizarre through the sleazy to the plain lame. We were thinking that it might be cool to have a relative newbie document starting from scratch in SL, though - a lot of the Second Life reportage right now is from veterans, but explaining things in a more basic fashion (with screenshots) might be a good way to get a fresh perspective. [Payment for this will be in the form of trade-based things like Game Developer magazine subscriptions and suchlike, at least until GSW gets a bigger readerbase. Send a couple of examples of your work.]

- We'd like to do something unconventional with physical object publishing related to games. Trying to be a little vague here, but if you're a talented graphics designer and you've designed CD covers and cases before, and you're also familiar with mastering and printing a _small_ amount of CD-ROMs (through an external manufacturer), and love indie games, then we have this idea we'd like to act on. Ideally, you should also be able to handle physical fulfillment for a small amount of CDs (ie have time during the day to mail stuff off.) Oh, and you get part creative control of the project (yes, you can be Peter Saville!). [Payment - you get part of any revenue made on the project (likely to be relatively small, but should pay for expenses, etc). Send some examples of your graphic design and a quick description of what CD printing you've done before, if any - I'm thinking this would suit someone who's done low-printing indie music label work before.]

So, there you go. As you may know, GSW is really a labor of love for us, so if anyone wants to hop on board, now's the time to speak up!

Jack Black Pimps Libre, Talks Favorite Games

jbds.jpg Looks like Paramount is still doing the heavy 'viral marketing' thing for Nacho Libre, which opens, what, today? But this is actually quite fun - they managed to collar Jack Black to ask him what his favorite arcade/home video game is [.MOV].

Turns out he likes Scramble, but there's a certain classic ColecoVision title that he's particularly enamored of. The soundbite itself is only 36 seconds, so we've just given away most of it, heh.

There's also a little movie of him playing Project Gotham Racing 3 over Xbox Live and talking in a very Jack Black-like way. And if you were the person who commented last time we featured Jack throwing his DS around - yes, the videos will probably still be boring this time.

Buggin' Out Over QA Opportunities

bugs1.jpg I was just reading this in my physical copy of Edge, but apparently now it's also posted on Edge Online, yay - a good, unrelentingly honest feature on game testing called 'A Bug's Life'.

The article starts by pointing out: "Anyone with any experience of the QA process will deny the slightest resemblance between testing a game and playing one for pleasure: finding bugs is unmistakably work, and, by common consensus, very dull and repetitive work at that. On top of this, pay is often poor, job security frail, working conditions extreme and recognition hard to come by."

In addition, it used to be that testing was one of the best ways to get hired as a designer or assistant producer, and this article suggests that may not even be true any more: "For all that testing experience is still a common CV footnote, it’s increasingly just that: a footnote, a summer job done during one of the university courses that are squeezing out the opportunities for graduates of the games industry’s unofficial vocational school. “I don’t actually think that QA is such a good route into the industry anymore,” warns [Arthur Parsons, an executive designer at Travellers’ Tales].“

So... all a bit depressing, then? All I can say, having worked in the game industry developing titles that were then forced through the QA wringer, is that good testers are worth their weight in gold.

COLUMN: 'Bastards of 32-Bit' - Warhawk

warhawk1.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 Warhawk for the Sony PlayStation, published by Sony Computer Entertainment America and released in the United States in November of 1995.]

Plane blows up other planes, makes good.

Returning to the PlayStation's first-generation titles can be a risky venture. They're good for whenever you find yourself on a nostalgia kick, but more often than not you usually end up wondering how you ever tolerated all that weird polygonal tearing and warping. Even worse, it's hard looking at titles like these and coming to grips with the fact that, at some point in your life, $50 for Battle Arena Toshinden seemed like a really good deal.

Some titles have aged better than others, though, and Warhawk's gameplay holds up better than much of the PlayStation's first-generation library. The likes of Street Fighter: The Movie and King's Field don't exactly provide much competition, but even when judged on its own merits, Warhawk is still a lot of fun to play today.

warhawk2.jpgWhen sprite-based explosions were good enough.

Warhawk wears its age like a badge of honor. Start the game and you'll find yourself watching an FMV sequence. A live-action FMV sequence. The actors are bad, the sets are sparse, and the storyline is pretty dumb. Still, it's fun to watch the tough-as-nails commander (with a heart of gold) chew out the Warhawk's young, cocky hotshot of a pilot and his levelheaded and steadfast copilot after every stage. It's like the Sega CD never left us!

Gameplay doesn't require much in the way of description. You control an armored aircraft that can somehow go from accelerate to reverse in a matter of seconds. Using this ship, you're charged with the task of stamping out terrorism, which is occasionally accomplished by flying into volcanoes to collect canisters of red goo.

Thankfully, your ship doesn't actually control like the bulky chunk of metal it appears to be. Control is where the game excels -- whereas many flight-based games get bogged down in realism, the ship in Warhawk can stop on a dime, hover, and spin in place while in mid-air. Your ship's unusual freedom of movement is what allows for much the game to take place within enclosed environments, which often deteriorate into Death Star trench-style obstacle courses. Warhawk may be an aerial combat game at heart, but the emphasis on flight precision is what keeps the experience fresh more than ten years after the game's initial release.

Thrilling FMV sequences, starring...this guy!Needs more motion-sensing controller.

One of Warhawk's more interesting features is that it contains more than thirty different endings, not all of which require playing the game to completion. Dying on any of the game's levels produces a unique ending text for each. It's even possible to get a "good" ending this way...that is, if your idea of a good ending is the evil terrorist leader choking to death at the dinner table while laughing at your plane's flaming wreckage.

To get the best ending requires some ingenuity on the player's part, however. During the last mission, the game informs you that the only way to kill the final boss is to ram your plane into it, sacrificing your characters' lives in the process. Or so you'd think! If you've read the instruction manual, you'll know that the Warhawk has a cockpit ejection function, which you can use to your advantage in order to see the best ending.

The thought put into these numerous endings demonstrates that Warhawk wasn't just a throwaway first-gen title. Warhawk was developed with the sort of care and detail that makes it worth revisiting today, and hopefully, the upcoming PlayStation 3 sequel will follow suit.

[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.]

Lost Hacks Turn Up... Pac-Man 3?

pacman3.gif RedWolf's extremely entertaining Hacksterpiece Theater column, "devoted to fun, odd, and interesting retro game hacks", is continuing with a look at some more early DahrkDaiz hacks, in this case Pac Man III and Mega Man Challenge.

Both are neat, but Pac Man III is the most fun: "DahrkDaiz designed 32 new levels for a wide-eyed Pac-Man to chomp his way through. Some of them are on the traditional side of things (ho-hum square-ish), while some are quite devious (invisible walls!). Never one to just modify a few tiles and walk away, DD had to provide a completely new feature or two."

What's there? "In this case, he provided a new way to play the levels: on the title screen, you can select either “Linear” play, which takes you through the boards in sequential order, or “Random” play, in which (surprise!) you play the boards in a random order. DD also added a pellet counter in the upper-right portion of the screen which keeps track of how many pellets you have left to eat before completing the board." Awesome stuff, again!

Donkey Pong, And The... Whaaat?

turds.jpg So, who says bathroom humor is dead? Certainly not Codemasters and its Funsta.com casual game subsidiary, who are mailing us about, wait for it, a poop-related Donkey Kong pastiche.

Here's the sullied email in question: "I'm reaching out to you on behalf of M80 and Ignited Minds regarding the launch of an online game called Donkey Pong And The Adventures Of Rimdiana Jones. Have you heard of it? If not, it is the first from The Turds collection of roguish comedic characters born from the best of toilet humour."

We actually got sent a lovely poster as a promotional consideration for The Turds, who are apparently some kind of pop culture phenmenon in oxygen-starved parts of the world - also on the site is, uhm, 'Bogger' (yes, Frogger!), and forthcoming very soon is Poobert (ahem, Q-Bert), and amazingly, Dung Beetle Rally - the first game to star dung beetles since Schadenfreude's seminal 'Dung Ho!'. We have no words. But we must scream!

June 15, 2006

Virtual Land, But Real Lawyers

cornfield.jpg MMO egghead blog Terra Nova has a very interesting post on a new lawsuit named Bragg v. Linden Lab over virtual world Second Life, in which it's claimed that Linden "made unauthorized charges on pltf. credit cards, breached an auction contract by allowing the land to auction, accepting payment, and then suspending pltf's account."

However, it's explained of the furore: "It appears from these news reports that Bragg figured how to tweak the URLs for Second Life land actions so that certain plots ("sims") that were on the standby queue could be brought up for auction early and bought at a lower price (about $300 compared to about $1000). According to BNA, after Second Life learned of the sales, it froze Bragg's accounts, cleared the sims of his structures, and re-auctioned the property." So... probably not a groundbreaking virtual land case, and more a EULA sidestep?

[Not lawsuit-related, but very SL-pertinent: we also spotted a whole different thread at Slashdot Games which has some very interesting insight on creating within Second Life from a self-described veteran developer, who claims the SL technology is getting pretty creaky at this stage: "The scripting language is interesting, fun, and somewhat well thought out. If you could use it to write someting that ran locally, you might be able to have something semi decent. but... After it goes thru the server system and out over the net intermixed with all that SL data using Linden Lab's lazy update protocol, you feel lucky to get things to work at all, ending up with everything a primitive compromise."]

Gitaroo Man Rocks The Live! Out

gitaroo.jpg We've been eagerly awaiting the release of Gitaroo Man Live! (the PS2 rhythm game from Inis, the Ouendan folks!) for the PSP, as you can see from a recent GSW post on the subject. Well, the guys frmo Siliconera have reviewed the PSP import version of the game, and all sounds wonderful.

Spencer Yip notes: "The new tracks are the highlight of Gitaroo Man Live since everything else has already been done in the PS2 version. The new songs have a lot to live up to since Gitaroo Man’s soundtrack is one of the best original video game soundtracks to date. Metal Header is the first new song you’ll be able to play. The song has fast lyrics and a happy punk rock feel to it. Also this song has English vocals."

But wait, there's more: "Metal Header has Kira and Gitaroo Man battle a purple robot who turned their back up musicians (comprised of people dressed in panda, rabbit and monkey suits) into bats. Toda Passion is an awesome addition to Gitaroo Man. The song has an island beat to it with bongo beats mixed in. In this stage Puma, U1 and Kira are chasing a cat that is flying in a spaceship. If you’re digging the new songs or any of the other tracks in the game you can freely play them in jukebox mode. It’s the same thing as having a Gitaroo Man CD in your discman." Oo!

So basically, great stuff, and: "Koei announced that they will be publishing this under the name Gitaroo Man Lives! in North America for a fourth quarter release." The world is saved!

GameSetInterview: John Gillotte On DSQuake

dsquake.jpg

[NOTE: GameSetWatch 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. The third in his regular series talks to the folks at John Gillotte about the homebrew DS version of Quake.]

John Gillotte began work on a Nintendo DS port of Quake in late January. The project is far from finished, but it's certainly an interesting look at what can be done in terms of homebrew content for the DS. We spoke to John about the project, and the inner workings of the DS.

What inspired you to attempt to port Quake to the DS?

I got a Nintendo DS at launch so it came with one of those Metroid Hunter demos. I was totally convinced then that it could run Quake and more importantly that it could be fun. I come from the school of thought that the keyboard and mouse is the only way to play a FPS and I know I’m not the only one. Playing the Metroid demo was the first time I played a FPS on a console and wasn’t entirely frustrated with the lack of precision control.
Quake is a great game and I wanted to play it on the DS. So I waited around for a while figuring someone would be adventurous enough to do it. No one did so I gave myself two weeks to put my hands on it and get some results and it worked out.

What made you think it could run Quake? I would assume that the DS would be quite different from a PC in terms of architecture.

Metroid Hunters is on the same order as Quake, at a quick glance I could tell that polycount, texture complexity were about the same. If the DS could pull that off for Metroid, it could run Quake.
Yes, it’s true the architecture is very different but the Quake source code is largely very portable C code. So you could compile it for just about anything that has a C compiler. However it’s not the DS’s processor, ram, or even video cards that differs the most from a computer it’s the ROM cartridges.
Until recently desktop computers didn’t use solid state devices for storage, and by that I mean USB Flash drives. So traditionally computers have RAM which is super fast, and hard drives which are super slow. With that in mind that is how the Quake was designed, to load what it needed all the time and cache what it needed sometimes to minimize the need to use the hard drive. Quake for the computer needed at the very least 8mb of RAM to run, about 2mb for the program code its variables, and the remaining 6mb for the heap which is for loading levels, models, textures, sounds, and additional program data. So with the DS and its 4mb of RAM still requires the 2mb of RAM for program code and its variables, leaving only 2mb for the heap. So the DS is far from having enough RAM to load Quake in the way it did for the computer. Luckily the ROM cartridges are somewhere between RAM and hard drives for speed. So cache turn around is a lot faster and it’s ok to rely on reading something from the RAM cartridge, such as things that are used infrequently or are relatively small in data size per frame such as sound data.

Where do you start with something like this?

I got the source code to GLQuake and looked at it for a few hours to make sure it was feasible. From there I hacked and slashed until I could get it to compile for the DS. From there it was baby steps all the way. Bringing one thing online at a time.

What are you finding easy to work with in the DS hardware?

I’m finding the DS hardware is pretty fast, I am impressed with that aspect of it. The small amount of memory it has is troublesome.

Because the DS only has 4mb of RAM?

Yeah but not just the RAM, the DS only has 4megs of RAM and 512k of texture memory.

What are you finding difficult?

Debugging is probably the single most difficult part though, which wouldn’t be a problem if I had the official devkit hardware. I think that is probably the concentration for the next bit of work I do on it. I’ll take to find or make some nice debugging solutions for it, so I can find errors faster and get statistics. Which will pay off in the long run and for other people’s projects as well I’m sure.

Are there many shortcuts you’re having to take?

Well in the short-term, tons, but that’s somewhat irreverent because I just haven’t gotten to those issues yet. In the long-term, only a few things. Dynamic lighting, it looks like it’s going to be impossible to stick with the original light maps. It’s going to have to change to vertex lighting because of the limited texture memory. The only other one I can think of right now is music. I doubt it would be possible to play the mp3s from the original NIN sound track for a variety of reasons. Perhaps mods or MIDIs might be implemented at some point. I’ll try my best to see what options there are for the music though.

What sort of support for mods are you planning on implementing, and how easy do you think it will be for people to create their own mods?

I don’t plan on implementing any mods but it supports the mods made from back then: Team Fortress, CTF, Action Quake, and a bunch more. The difficulty might be easier than it was originally because there are more tools to choose from.

Has the process of finding out about the DS hardware simply been one of trial and error?

No, not really. I’m using the Devkitpro package for the Nintendo DS. There are good examples lots of documentation and there it’s quite a bit of knowledge in the forums on how to do DS programming. DS scene is newer and isn’t as mature as the GBA scene but it is pretty good and in the coming years will be much more knowledgeable.

Have you made any great discoveries doing this?

No, I don't think I have. I haven't done too much exploration into the DS hardware yet. People have already looked into doing extensions that are very much like OpenGL, which has been good enough up until this point into the project. Most of my exploration has been into the Quake engine trying to figure out how every little bit of that works. Actually that is far less documented than programming for the DS. To be honest there isn't much one could ask for in terms of hardware support for the DS, the guys who have made the programming libraries for it have done a great job.

What equipment are you using for the development?

Only consumer products are what I have access too, including the Nintendo DS a total of about 250 dollars in equipment. So that is a good thing for anyone interested in doing something similar. In specific I have a Supercard SD, 1gig SD card, a passme2 device and of course a Nintendo DS which I happened to flash the firmware with the Flashme.

What’s restrictive about the firmware that you would need to flash it?

Until a few weeks ago it was difficult to boot homebrew from the GBA without doing it. Now there is a new class of devices called “Nopass” which now allow for not needing to flash the firmware anymore.

You’ve mentioned that you’re particularly impressed with John Carmack’s work on the game - what do you like about his coding?

When you account for when Quake was released and the computers it was designed to run on the function of the Quake’s engine is amazing. Say you were to make a list of all of its technology and features it is very impressive, the Quake virtual machine, its own memory manager and so on. However the actual source code is fairly messy and often regarded as spaghetti code. For example using global variables as function parameters is done countless times. Sometimes the naming of objects in the code seems arbitrary. I will say however given its flaws it’s certainly no less of an honor to work with it.

How easy is the WiFi going to be to set up?

I know everyone is concerned with it because they want to death match but it will be one of the easier parts of port. The overall difficulty should be pretty low, that’s because all of the hard work was done for me being someone already made the TCP/IP stack. I plan on doing some WiFi stuff with it soon but initially for debugging then networked game play.

What kinds of people are you looking for to help with the game?

Right now programmers that can hit the ground running, the Quake source code is big and there is no documentation that I could find. I need people who know what they are doing and can figure things out on their own and that need minimal amounts of help.
I have had a lot of people contact me because they want to do art work. I think that is great, but honestly at the moment I don’t need much in terms of art. I’m working with a complete game already that doesn’t need much or any filler art. Perhaps after DSQuake is more mature I could help people get together to make a mod for Quake, maybe even a total conversion. I know a lot of people want to just get their hands on some project and build their portfolio for the game industry and I totally support that.

What kind of time schedule do you have in mind for the release of this?

Honestly I can’t say. No earlier than several months from now unless I get some serious help. It’s really in its infancy.

Sir Campbell Dubs Sensi Soccer... Crapola

sensi.jpg We've previously covered the iconoclastic ramblings of veteran UK game journalist Stuart Campbell, and this time he's outdone himself - a lengthy harangue on Sensible Soccer 2006 in which he calls the title "an unfinished, bug-riddled game that's clearly been released at least three months before it was ready, purely in order that it could be in the shops on the first day of the World Cup."

Interestingly, he particular attacks Eurogamer's 9/10 review of the game, claiming: "And the odd thing about the 3,000-word review isn't that it likes the game a lot more than anyone else seems to (there's nothing wrong with that, and if there was then this reviewer would be in a lot of trouble), but that it doesn't take so much as one sentence to passingly address any of even Sensible Soccer 2006's most glaringly obvious problems, omissions, bugs, errors and issues."

So, what? "The most strikingly apparent is the moronic level of the computer opposition. ("The CPU AI is, for the most part, ideally pitched to caters [sic] for every skill level" - EG review). The CPU players are, in fact, absolutely catastrophically dim. Goalkeepers will hurl themselves 20 feet (or, in fact, magically teleport themselves 20 feet, but more on that later) in order to turn a shot that's clearly going five yards wide back across their own goal and/or out of play for a corner, yet will stand dumbly and watch a ball sitting stationary on their six-yard line for 10 seconds while a forward runs half the length of the pitch to smash it past them into the net."

Now, Campbell is certainly a fan of the controversial, having memorably written pro-piracy articles and all kinds of 'against the grain' rants in the past, but he _did_ work for Sensible Software for a while in the '90s, and some of his comments seem, well, not entirely crazy. Anyone played the game and can comment? Or are you all watching the England match?

COLUMN: 'Game Rag Slapdown' - One And A Half Men

I'm losing it...[The 'Game Rag Slapdown' is an exclusive bi-weekly Thursday feature written by The Game Rag's Nathan Smart that's always video game related, sometimes funny ha ha, but mostly funny hee hee (and sometimes funny, period). This week, Nathan Smart and his non-video game playing friend discuss the week's news, in a very special, podcast edition of The 'Game Rag Slapdown.']

I decided this week to do something I've always wanted to do and that's record a podcast with my friend Zachariah. He's a really funny guy and someone who I really like to write with. I couldn't think of anything in particular to podcast about but then I remembered an idea I had a long time ago - a podcast with a video game expert and a comedian. I guess, when you think about it, it's sort of like Loveline except without the incest and fetish.

So, here's this week's edition of the Game Rag Slapdown in podcast form:

DOWNLOAD

A couple of corrections:

-Christian Slater was not in K-9 - that is correct. BUT, he was in a movie called Kuffs (another dog movie) and that is where the confusion was.
-Ellen Pompeo is on Grey's Anatomy.
-Rachel Bilson is on The O.C.

[Nathan Smart is a fake news writer for The Game Rag and really enjoys the benefits of it (no facts, no research, no real interviews). He also does Bobby McFerrin versions of indie rock songs with his one man group Indie Blockedappella. He thinks things are funny.]

Kohler Perishes In NES-Related Plastic Burning Incident

kohnes.jpg OK, we're, like, totally lying, but Wired News' Chris Kohler did indeed post a fun photo-essay about getting Final Fantasy III for Famicom working on his U.S. NES in which he tries to choke himself with pungent NES case smoke.

He explains: "When I said I'd pretty much come up empty on previous thrift-store runs, I forgot that I found a beat-up old copy of the Famicom game Final Fantasy III at a Goodwill for $4. The perfect guinea pig for my experiment, as it's not exactly rare and not in good shape, either. Could I run it on my NES?"

The answer is yes, if there are amusing Ouendan-style cries for help involved, and the following PSA is heavily involved in the whole ether-soaked mess: "Game|Life Safety Tip: If you are going to hold a small piece of plastic in your hand while you set it on fire with a cigarette lighter, make sure to do it on the roof of your apartment building. This will make sure that the acrid black smoke that ensues will dissipate into the atmosphere instead of into your face, and also ensures that your screams of pain will carry farther."

From GunPlay To GunPorn?

blackk.jpg Intriguing game ludologist Matteo Bittanti has posted a version of his essay 'From GunPlay to GunPorn' online at the Videoludica website, and it certainly charts some fun territory.

The academic paper starts with the quote: ""Happiness is a warm gun (Happiness bang, bang, shoot, shoot) Happiness is a warm gun, mama (Happiness bang, bang, shoot, shoot)" from The Beatles, and then notes: "What is a first-person shooter? It is a digital application, originally created for recreational purposes, resulting from the interaction of four major components: computer, film, television, and military technology, with the latter informing the previous three."

The full paper continues: "In this paper, I intend to examine how a recent first person shooter, Criterion's BLACK (2006) articulates these different components", and there's even a related video presentation [WMV link], along with the full PDF version, to explain more, albeit in a fairly ludological fashion.

[And, to make it clear, it was Criterion's Jeremy Chubb who first coined the phrase 'gun porn' when talking about Black - we heard him get all excited about it an EA preview day a few months back. So in this case, it was the game's makers devising the eyebrow-raising 'unique selling phrase', not the media. British people get overexcited by guns, btw.]

June 14, 2006

GameSetCompetition: VGPocket Winner Announced!

vgpocket2.jpg We've randomly picked the winner of our VG Pocket 50-game edition in the latest GameSetCompetition, so congrats to the alien cyborg (we can only presume!) named Nerox91.

Martian madman Nerox91 will now be teleporting to his local starcade to play happily with the VGPocket, which works as both a handheld with 2-inch color TFT screen, and (when plugged into a TV!) as a 'TV game'. Also, if you were wondering what the answer was, here we go:

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

Yes, yes, Wikipedia is your friend! This isn't the last GameSetCompetition, either - sometime in the near future, we'll be debuting a nice new one thanks to our friends at Konami, yay.

Dead Men Use Virtools, Bang Bang

deadhand.jpg We spotted this a little while ago, but ex-GSW editor TonyW has done a great job at writing it up: "The PR folks from Canada's Fuel Games let me know that Dead Man's Hand, their latest advergame, has been launched in support of the TV series Deadwood. The series [is] a mud-spattered, gin-soaked view of life and death in an American frontier camp."

Tony concludes of the game: "Dead Man's Hand draws players into the world of the TV show with complimentary activities such as gamblin' and drinkin' and shootin'--it's an example of game-based advertising that's low on the crass and high on the class."

But, as he also mentions, probably the most interesting thing about it is that it uses the Virtools web plug-in, a relatively little used web browser extension which nonetheless can create impressive 3D in a browser, and is also used for a few 2D casual games like several of Flashbang Studios' titles. It's not a top tier Unreal Engine contender, but if you can wrestle it into submission, it seems to make good stuff.

[OFFTOPIC: On the Virtools engine front, here's actually a student competition to make (non-web browser) Virtools engine games right now, rather bizarrely themed around Shiny's Dave Perry, and called "David Perry's Best Video Game Weapon Ever!" But how do we get a 'David Perry - Recommended' "personal stamp of approval", darn it?]

Buyer Beware: First Bootleg DS Games Surface

bootlegds.jpgAccording to a report by Chinese Nintendo DS fan site YYJoy, the first bootlegged Nintendo DS games have made their way into the black market. And if eBay's history with the Game Boy Advance is an indicator, these things are going to be duping potentially honest gamers very soon.

Unfortunately, eBay has no real safeguards in place for bootlegged games, so the only protection you have is to educate yourself on the tell-tale signs of counterfeit crap. As a public service announcement, and thanks to photos provided by YYJoy, we're here to help!

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First, let's take a look at the front of one of these counterfeits. Now, despite what you may think, Nintendo's manufacturing partners do not use Epson inkjet printers set on "medium" quality to produce DS labels, and they don't apply the labels by hand. So if you see a DS cartridge label that looks like this at your local Gamestop, immediately grab the geek behind the counter by his shirt collar and slam his face into the counter. This will increase his tension meter. If this goes up far enough, you can extort him for money in the name of Don Vito Corleone.

Perhaps the finer points of image reproduction elude you, something typically caused by damage to either the eyes or the brain. In that case, another sure sign of a counterfeit DS game is the numbered code on the bottom of the label. SZGD-20011-A888 is not a Nintendo DS product number. Nintendo DS numbers begin with NTR (a leftover from when the DS was code-named 'Nitro') and end with a region specific acronym, either USA, JAP or EUR. If you come across a Nintendo DS cartridge with a code number like the one pictured, sneak behind the counter and press the O button gently to use CQC and grab the store clerk from behind. Don't press too hard, or you will slice his throat and make a mess.

Not enough? Let's look at the back:

bootlegds-back.jpg

On the left is a dirty horrible counterfeit videogame that may fund The Terrorists(tm), and on the right is a red-blooded apple pie lovin' American Nintendo DS game. Most noticeable is that the metallic pins on the fake are black. This is because counterfeiters use black magic, and have black hearts. Also take note that the Nintendo copyright text, though reproduced exactly, is perfectly centered vertically. In a true Nintendo DS game, the text is slightly above center. If you see a Nintendo DS game in a store with perfectly centered copyright text, open the command prompt and type /report. This will automatically report your find to Nintendo's anti-piracy ninjas, who will take care of the rest.

In addition to being dirty and awful and taking money away from the industry we love, counterfeit video games have a nasty habit of being defective. Remember, these things are cheaply manufactured and meant to be sold quickly, so if your battery decides to die on the day before you take your Nintendog to the state finals, well, it's your fault for buying a counterfeit. We don't seriously expect to see these things popping up at brick and mortar stores any time soon, but as my genuine "NINTONDO" version of Super Mario 2 will attest to, it could happen, and it probably will.

Ill Clan Tra5hTa1k At UCB Theater In New York

trashtalk.jpg We got a note from the crazy folks at The ILL Clan reading: "Popular internet gaming news comedy cartoon comes to Upright Citizen's Brigade Theater for a Special Live Performance." And that's just what they're doing, invading New York!

Further explanation follows: "The ILL Clan are bringing the show to the Upright Citizen's Brigade Theater for a live show, performed in real-time. That means the characters will be controlled by the voice actors like 3D virtual puppets, and will be able to interact with the live audience and guest, singer/songwriter, Jonathan Coulton."

Here's the actual location/time, for you NY gamers: "Tra5hTa1k LIVE, Thursday, June 29th, 7pm; Upright Citizens Brigade Theater, 307 W 26th St - $5 (cheap)... Seating is limited-for reservations, please call: 212 366 9176." We previously covered ILL Clan's Tra5hTa1k (for this is what this is!) a few weeks back.

PS3's Giant Crab Reaches National Stage

crab.jpg We only cover the most important, vital, and breaking news here, hence a new PRWeb (doh!) press release on Kinyo's Giant Enemy Crab Song and Ridge Racer Remix songs being featured on Spike TV's Game Head show in the near future.

The former is, of course, based around the demo of Genji 2 that took place at Sony's E3 press conference - infamously 'based on famous battles that actually took place in ancient Japan', but also featuring, uhm, giant crabs. C'mon, you've seen the giant crab fever already on GSW (yes, with some extra Kaz Hirai 'Riiiidge Racer' meme-age, too) - now apparently, we get terrible techno remixes. Oh, and a NewGrounds Flash movie called 'Giant Enemy Crab Battle', naturally.

So, this phenomenon has all the early signs of a horrific meme - we're now waiting for 'Giant Crab: The Musical', featuring such classic dance numbers as 'Attack Its Weak Points!', and tragic ballads such as 'It's Not Easy Being A Giant Enemy Crab In Feudal Japan'. Oh dear.

WSJ Gets Brain Game Workout

wsjgame.jpg It's extremely pleasant to see the Wall Street Journal publishing an editorial praising video games - and even somewhat eyebrow-raising? But nonetheless, a piece named 'The Brain Workout' by Brian Anderson does exactly that.

Anderson references the anti-game lobby, and then notes eloquently: "New media have always met with suspicion: As The Economist editorialized a while back, a "neophobic" tendency dates from antiquity, with Plato's argument in the "Phaedrus" that the relatively newfangled medium of writing corrupted the memory-building powers of oral culture. Of course sometimes the new is bad. Yet the critics of video games are not only conjuring up a threat where none exists; they're ignoring the positive moral lessons and cognitive benefits that many of today's sophisticated games offer."

Also notable: "Most violent games put the player in a familiar hero's role, notes Judge Richard Posner in a 2001 Seventh Circuit appeals-court decision overturning an Indianapolis anti-video-game ordinance. "Self-defense, protection of others, dread of the 'undead,' fighting against overwhelming odds--these are the age-old themes of literature, and ones particularly appealing to the young," Mr. Posner observes." Overall, an excellent editorial that makes us happy that more people in the mainstream media 'get it'. [Via NeoGAF.]

COLUMN: 'Compilation Catalog' - Space Invaders Pocket

cover['Compilation Catalog' is a biweekly analysis of retro remakes and compilations old and new. This entry's subject is Space Invaders Pocket, released in Japan in 2005 for the PSP.]

The PSP has proved to be fertile territory for retro-collections, beginning right with its Japanese launch (with Darkstalkers Chronicle: The Chaos Tower). Taito was quick to follow up with repackaged versions of its own efforts, beginning with the Japan-only Space Invaders Pocket. Not to be confused with the later PSP remake Space Invaders Galaxy Beat (by Marvelous Entertainment), SI Pocket includes emulations and ports of eight of the venerable series' iterations, though it's debatable whether several of the titles are really unique entries.

Space Invaders' Background

If you're familiar with console or arcade video games at all, you probably know what's going on here: neatly-arranged rows of alien invaders march across and down the screen (with that inexorable TROMP, TROMP cadence) toward Earth, while the player controls a single ship on the surface that fires back up at them. Space Invaders created a genre and was singlehandedly responsible for arcades' explosion of popularity around the world. The original Space Invaders is present here in its Black & White, Cellophane, Upright, and Color versions, each of which applied slightly different presentations to exactly the same game. SI Cellophane (1978) literally used strips of colored cellophane superimposed on the monitor to lend the illusion of color to the graphics of the original SI Black & White (1978). SI Upright (1978), which moved the game into an upright cabinet from the original's "marquee"-style tabletop cabinet, turned the player's ship and the shelters green and placed a static background of a planet behind the action.

Invadin' The '70s And '80s

Space Invaders Color (again, 1978) was the first time the game was released in full color, though the trick the developers used to turn each row of enemies a certain color looks an awful lot like the bands of cellophane used earlier, as a given row on the screen always turns the objects inside it the same color. Space Invaders Part II (1980) gives the illusion of being a true sequel, but it really just added a new type of UFO, made some invaders split into two when hit, and caused UFOs in stages past the first to drop invader reinforcements.

Return of the InvadersReturn of the Invaders (1985) was the first proper sequel the series received, and it really pulled out all the stops. Developed by (but not credited to) those masters of the bizarre at UPL, it took the basic single-screen shooty formula and added detailed full-color graphics, varied enemy formations and movements, intricate and truly alien invader designs, and new gameplay mechanics. For instance, the ever-present shelters that the player can duck behind now have a tiny murder-hole that can be opened up by a few shots from the player's cannon, while the rest of the shelter stays intact (until it takes enough damage to self-destruct). Plus, by destroying all but a single type of enemy on a stage, the player can trigger a "challenging stage" in which the remaining invaders combine into a large boss enemy that rains destruction on the player and can be destroyed for a tasty score bonus.

When hit, some enemies fly off into space and arc gradually toward the ground, and the close to the ground these are shot, the higher the bonus the player receives. Return is more difficulty and much tricksier than its predecessors, too, especially with a certain enemy whose core is its only vulnerable point - hitting it elsewhere will cause the player's shot to be reflected back after a cleverly-timed pause. With its looping and pulsating enemy formations, spacey-sounding music, and higher rate of fire, Return retains a much fresher, dynamic feel than the stodgy-to-some original does, these days.

Invadin' The '90s!

Majestic Twelve: The Space Invaders Part IV (1990) mixed things up again, adding powerups, new bonus stages and enemies, and a new level branching level flow reminiscent of Darius, Taito's other popular shooting series. In fact, much of Majestic Twelve's look and presentation should feel familiar to anyone who's played other Taito games from the era, as it shared programmers, artists, and composers with several Darius games and the cult-classic shooter Metal Black. As in Return, there are many and varied new types of invaders, and each stage in the game has its own indigenous and nicely-animated invaders (and bosses).

The powerups new to this game include one that adds a faster rate of fire, one that stops the marching of the invaders momentarily, and one that summons the series' traditional shelters (which aren't present initially in this game). Plus, there are several powerups that grant super-powerful weapons that can destroy many invaders at a time and are activated with a second fire button. Between stages, the player encounters the amusing "Cattle Mutilation" bonus stages, in which the player defends a green pasture full of unwitting cows against flying saucers bent on abducting them. Majestic Twelve does go a bit easier on the player than previous Invaders, and the powerups make it one of the more forgiving games in the series. It's also pleasing to the eye, even today, despite the typically washed-out color palette its hardware sported.

AkkanvaderThe last game in the package is the most colorful of the all: Akkanvader (1995), better known in the US as "Space Invaders '95: The Attack of the Lunar Loonies" is bright and well-animated with sprites that are gigantic when compared with the rest of the series. It's truly a "cute-'em-up," and with its wacky-cartoony style, large cast of playable characters, and the way it lampoons series conventions, it is to Space Invaders as Konami's Parodius is to Gradius. Guest-starring here are two Silver Hawk ships from the Darius series, Sayo from the Pocky & Rocky games and a friend, a stray cat and dog, and two sentient, uh, dollops of excrement, one pink and one blue.

As in Majestic Twelve there are powerups to be collected, and a new charge shot has been added. But Akkanvader moves beyond the single-screen nature of the rest of the series and is a true vertically-scrolling shooter, with proper level layouts and bosses. And even though it was released eleven years ago (and counting), it's as fresh and attractive as any modern 2D game, and a fitting send-off to the series' original run in arcades.

Overall Emulation Impressions?

Each game included in this collection is pixel-perfect in its presentation. The games up to and including Return of the Invaders seem to be emulated, as they retain their coin-operated nature (press the PSP's select button to drop in more credits). Majestic Twelve and Akkanvader lack an explicit credit-feeding button leading one to believe that they were ported instead of emulated. As Return, Majestic Twelve, and Akkanvader are all vertically-oriented games with lengthwise resolutions that exceed the PSP's vertical resolution, they can be viewed in either cropped or rotated modes. The rotated (or "tate") mode in each game can be activated by pressing L and R together. With one's left thumb on the control pad at the bottom of a left-rotated PSP and one's right thumb on the X button at the top, this is not an altogether uncomfortable arrangement, and allows the entire original picture in each of these games to be viewed as it was intended.

Each game has an options menu for setting difficulty, scores for play extends, number of lives, and so forth, and in the front-end menu there's a brief description of each game (in Japanese, of course). The first of each pair (!) of loading screens features a rotating selection of silly illustrations of the titular Invaders involved in everyday activities like singing karaoke, heading off to work, playing arcade games, and so on.

Space Invaders ColorThere are some technical problems with the collection, however. When starting any given game from the main menu, a player can expect to sit through various loading screens that last fifteen seconds or more (Akkanvader takes a full thirty seconds). And returning to the main menu can take just as long, giving you double the wait when switching games. This is a relatively early PSP release, and there was indeed much hubbub about the long loading in UMD-based games back then, but this is a little ridiculous. Plus, Akkanvader sports some heavy slowdown when compared with the original, and it pauses for a half-second to several seconds whenever the background music changes (as it seems to be streamed off the UMD).

Conclusion

Most fans of the original would surely be content with a single, definitive version of the original game (Color, perhaps), so for how much longer will Taito continue to repackage all of those revisions of the original as distinct games? And while Return of the Invaders is an eternal classic in this writer's view (and Majestic Twelve very nearly reaches that level), and while the excellent Akkanvader has only recently made it home outside of this collection (in Taito Legends 2 and Taito Memories 2), it's debatable whether this package is worth its roughly-$50 asking price.

[Trevor Wilson is a web developer who indulges his unhealthy obsession with obscure, strange, and unique video games over at his weblog, namako team.]

Jump For Joy (Using Ferries) With Gothic Blocks

gblocks.jpg The still excellent TIGSource has posted a story about odd-looking PC indie title Gothic Blocks, in which "you guide a character going by the name of Ionesco who must reach the highest altitude possible in ninety seconds."

Apparently, the game was made using the Torque 2D engine, and is "similar to Free Lunch Design’s Icy Tower" - which we also haven't played, though we heartily support any game made by a developer called Free Lunch Design!

As for strategy to do well in the title: "A combination of mouse and keyboard controls can be used. Tap the left mouse button to jump and right click to freeze the ferries. Your avatar will always move towards the mouse cursor. The jump action is only allowed when you’re standing on solid ground or a frozen ferry." This game sounds... odd.

June 13, 2006

Escapist Defects To China, Red Storm Results

China.jpg It appears that it's that time of week again when a new issue of The Escapist Magazine appears, and this time, it goes like this: "There’s no denying China’s eminent presence in the video game industry. How is this existence making an impact? The Escapist takes a look at China’s involvement in the video game industry in issue 49: “New China.”"

From the blurb they sent us: "Feature contributor Thomas Wilburn discusses how piracy is the engine behind China’s economy in “How China Cheats at the Video Game Industry.” In “China Game, China Brain” Simon Abramovitch compares the human brain to game companies as systems of connected elements. And Allen Varney returns with a look at the state of the Chinese online gaming market and how it will soon be number one in “Red Blindness.”"

All of these articles look good - but we particularly enjoy Wilburn's piece, starting: "Standing on the top floor of a large, mall-like shopping center in downtown Xi'an, there was no way for me to know that the shrink-wrapped King of Fighters collection was an illegal copy."

GameSetInterview: Telltale Games Talk Sam & Max

SamandMax_office.jpg

[NOTE: GameSetWatch 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. The second in his regular series talks to the folks at Telltale Games about Sam, Max, and more.]

In 1987, Steve Purcell published the first Sam & Max comic, Monkeys Violating the Heavenly Temple. The story of a six foot anthropomorphic dog named Sam and his "hyperkinetic rabbity thing" friend Max, they hit the spotlight in 1993 in the LucasArts game Sam & Max Hit The Road, then went on to Fox Kids' The Adventures of Sam & Max: Freelance Police in 1997. LucasArts announced Freelance Police, a sequel to Hit The Road, in 2002, but the title was cancelled in March 2004.

Shortly after that, in June, Telltale Games was founded by a number of those who had worked on Freelance Police, including proucer Dan Connors, who became Telltale's CEO. After four games in the past two years - Telltale Texas Hold'em, CSI: 3 Dimensions of Murder and the episodic Bone licenced games Out from Boneville and The Great Cow Race - Telltale annouced a new Sam & Max game for Q3 this year, the trailer for which debuted at E3, and can currently be seen on their web site.

As well as getting a chance to discuss the game with Dan Connors, we also passed a few questions the way of senior designer Dave Grossman, another ex-LucasArts employee, whose design credits include Day of the Tentacle.

What's the history of Telltale?

Dan Connors: Telltale was founded in June 2004 by Kevin Bruner, Troy Molander, and myself. We all met at LucasArts where we worked together for years. We left LucasArts in order to start a company building games based on great stories and specializing in dramatic content. Since that time we have funded the company, launched four products. We will be launching the first season of Sam & Max games on GameTap this fall.

Did the working relationship between Steve Purcell and Telltale begin at LucasArts?

Dan Connors: I met Steve originally when we were working on Sam & Max Hit the Road, but we worked much more closely on Freelance Police.

Why have you gone with GameTap for the distribution of the game?

Dan Connors: Because GameTap has a very similar vision to Telltale’s as far as what the future of gaming can be. Turner has been very successful in creating networks and they are putting a lot of resources into ensuring GameTap is a success. From a content standpoint, they've been great to work with because they trust us to create a great product.

Why are you using an episodic method of release for your games?

Dan Connors: For one thing, we're building a company, not a product. When you build a company you need to think about emerging opportunities. There have been many examples of developers not being able to make it because they didn’t control their own destinies. In order to be great Telltale needs to innovate. Being a leader in episodic game production and distribution creates more opportunities for us.

Does this make it easier to listen to feedback from fans and critics?

Dan Connors: Definitely. We consider ourselves an online company, and having a community is very important to us. Having a tight feedback loop with them is critical.

Why are the episodes shorter than those for the Bone games?

Dan Connors: Because they will be coming out on a much tighter schedule.

Does it feel like there's a lot of pressure to get this right?

Dan Connors: If we want to succeed, we have to live up to the expectations of our fans. The pressure is a good thing because it forces us to prove ourselves. That will end up bringing out the best in everyone. I'm more concerned about narrow expectations of what Telltale "should be" or games we "should make." Telltale needs to take chances and try new things to thrive.

What can people expect from the games, interface-wise?

Dave Grossman: Interface-wise, expect a wise interface – guffaw, guffaw, oh, I couldn’t resist, though I’m sure we’re all wishing I did. The games use an intuitive and fairly minimal point-and-click style interface, with an inventory and a few other whistles to support things like driving Sam and Max’s extremely cool car, shooting, and other mayhem. Cranium required, but for the most part you can leave your reflexes at the door.

How heavily is Steve Purcell involved in the project?

Dave Grossman: As these things go, pretty heavily. We email quite a bit about the story and the art, and Steve makes time to come in for some of the story and design meetings, which is extraordinary as I know how busy he is with other projects. He doesn’t just rubber-stamp things; he comes with a lot of concrete ideas of his own. It may not seem like much as I describe it, but so far I’d say he’s been more involved than the creators of any of the other licenses I’ve ever worked on.

On a similar subject, who is writing the storyline?

Dave Grossman: Brendan Ferguson [co-designer on the game and yet another ex-LucasArts employee] and I are doing that, but Steve does have a lot of input. And we’re glad to have it, because Steve’s peculiar sense of humor is the foundation on which Sam & Max is built. (I’ve discovered that trying to channel Steve while writing is really, really fun.)

Who is the game aimed at? Judging from various comments from fans, there seems to be some concern that the game will be aimed at too general an audience to satisfy "hardcore" fans.

Dave Grossman: We do want to be able to attract a mainstream audience, but we don’t want to disappoint loyal Sam & Max fans, either, so the games aim somewhere in the middle (now I know how politicians feel). They won’t have quite the baffling tangle of brain-squeezing challenges that the old, large-scale graphic adventures did – they are simply too small to be that complicated – but they’ll be trickier and stranger than, for example, The Great Cow Race.

GSW Goes To The 2006 Webbys, Woot

princeweb.jpg So, GSW was at the 2006 Webby Awards at the Cipriani in New York last night, since sister site Gamasutra ended up winning the 'Games-Related' Webby, yay.

Other nominees in our category were CNET Networks' GameSpot (which picked up the audience-voted People's Voice Award, and who we chatted to during the ceremony), encyclopedic game site MobyGames, IGN Entertainment's GameSpy, and review aggregation site Metacritic. We also ran into the guys from MiniClip.com, who won the People's Voice award for Games for their free webgame site, and were very nice Brits, and one of whom actually reads GSW (hi!).

As you may know, your speeches are limited to just five words if you win a Webby - host Rob Corddry of The Daily Show warned winners that an on-stage attendant would kick them in the balls once for every word they went over! In fact, the full list of 5-word speeches are now up on the site - Gamasutra's is listed as 'heart plus science equals games' - hah, it was actually: 'ART plus science equals games'. But we like their version better, maybe?

But heck, forget about the boring webgeeks who won awards - the highlights were Gorillaz accepting for Artist Of The Year in bizarre puppet form (Murdock and 3D appeared sitting on a balcony like The Muppets' Statler & Waldorf and rambling incoherently in conversation with Corddry.) And then, Prince turned up to get his Lifetime Achievement Award for selling albums online ahead of almost anyone, played a song about being independent and digital (and diminutive and salacious!), and then threw his guitar over his head and walked off stage. Dude. Prince. GSW took some pictures of the 'Purple Rain' guy and the Gorillaz chaps, if you want to see.

Anyhow, we were delighted to win (first time ever, after Gamasutra was nominated way back in 2000 or so!), and we promise to continue to kick ass with Gama, GSW, Game Developer, and all our properties in the near/far future. Also, we saw Prince!

GameSetCompetition Reminder: Pink VGPocket Rocket!

vgpocket2.jpg A final reminder for today's noon PST competition deadline - 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 13th 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!

COLUMN: 'Parallax Memories' - Umihara Kawase

Umihara Kawase SFC Box Cover.jpg['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 TNN/NHK SC’s 1994 bizarre platformer for the Super Famicom: Umihara Kawase]

Hook

Umihara Kawase is one of the most surreal games that I have ever played. In case you haven't had the pleasure, it's a platforming, grappling-hooking, fishing, action rubber band simulation game. That sounds confusing, though, so just visualize a grappling hook game in which your grappling hook is a fishing lure attached to a rubber fishing line.

The game itself takes place inside of the dream-like world of Umihara Kawase, the name of the main character as well as the game. The name is made up of four kanji: sea (umi), belly (hara), river (kawa), back (se). It is an old fishing proverb that means "sea fish are fat in the belly; river fish are fat in the back." So, now you get the pun, maybe.

In a tight spot with only a goldfish in sight!Line

The subtitle of Umihara Kawase is, roughly, Rubbering Action Game. With her rubber fishing line and hooked lure Umihara can either catch fish or hook onto walls, platforms, pistons, and treadmills. While it may sound rather plebian, rest assured that this is not your father's fishing.

The creatures all walk around with two legs and range from coelacanths to eels. You can hook them from any angle, and they are rendered momentarily unconscious while you reel them in (how this small girl can fit fish twice her size into her backpack I will never know).

Everything you can do with your hook and line you can do in the first level of the game; you gain no more items or abilities. What you do gain is knowledge from brief visual tutorials before the first levels. They show how to appropriately dodge enemies while hooking them in, swing down from ledges, use momentum, and many other useful actions that you'll probably discount when you first encounter them but become essential as the game progresses.

As you get more accustomed to the level design and enemy placement it’s easy to notice things hidden in the earlier levels. These were put there for master fishermen who know how to get in and out of sticky situations. (Sophomoric, overdone pun removed for my and your sanity. - Ed.) Little ledges just off the edge of the screen, seemingly unreachable, hold extra lives (backpacks). When you first start playing, while you have the abilities to reach these areas, you don't have the experience or skill – but then, when you first start playing you don't really need the extra lives as much either. Each of these little challenges is a puzzle unto itself, and the choice to wager your current life for the payoff of a one-up is entirely yours to make, but be aware that it's quite possible you'll acquire the backpack only to find yourself stuck on a platform with no obvious way off.

Giant Tadpole Boss. As a strange twist of evolution the tadpole gives birth to frogs.And Sinker

The game, like pretty much every good platforming and puzzle game, is one-hundred percent about its level design. Where's that fish heading? How do I get over there? How will I get off of there? Hey, might that be a special warp door? Are my thumbs physically capable of employing this strategy? Sometimes, though, the game breaks this purity, and spawns a fish where you're about to land or too close to another. Unfortunately even if you have your plan of attack routed about as perfectly as it can be the game will occasionally throw a wrench in the gears by randomly spawning fish either into an area that you are about to land on or swing into, or just too close to another enemy to be caught in the remaining time.

Bland, digitized photo backgrounds aside, the game is delightful. From all the silly little details of the walking fish, to the way that Umihara winds her reel and the red and white of the fishing line. It’s difficult to get into, but once the initially steep learning curve is overcome you can really begin to enjoy it. The game received a sequel for the PSone titled Umihara Kawase: Shun. If we're lucky, one of our other guys here at GameSetWatch will take on that one - but for now, if you've got a Super Famicom handy, give Umihara Kawase a try.

[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.]

NPR Presses Start On Alt.Gaming Podcast

bonkart.jpgThe most excellent (Wyld Stallions rule?) Kyle Orland of VGMWatch fame sends over a note of a new game-related podcast from the NPR, and it sounds pretty neat.

Orland explains: "Thought that the GameSetWatch readers might be interested that National Public Radio is getting behind gaming in a big way with a new podcast, Press Start. It's not the usual NPR style, rather three gamers (myself included) talking informally about gaming culture and issues for 15 minutes every other week. The first episode -- about games as art -- just launched yesterday."

Look out for more updates, no doubt - in the meantime, check out Kyle's report on the sheer amount of Toyotas at E3 - amusing, considering our recent story about the Evo fighting game tournament that's also sponsored by the Toyota kidz. They sure get around, eh?

Sunday Lunch With The Richest Video Game Golfer Ever

gteec.gif Over at one of the Chicago Times' weblogs, there's an interesting piece named 'Sunday Lunch With Larry Hodgson', picking the brains of the Incredible Technologies exec and 'Golden Tee Golf' creator.

People often forget how financially successful the title is - arcades aren't very well in the U.S., but a hell of a lot of bars have Golden Tee machines - and the article notes: "Larry spent his days working at his restaurant kitchen job and then coming home to play with his computer -- remember the Commodore 64? -- until all hours... But, Hodgson says, "I think she kind of got it," when, a couple of years after he took that "day job" with Arlington Heights-based Incredible Technologies, then a small-time developer of video game software for other coin-op manufacturers."

It's revealed: "The company is now an industry leader, with more than 100,000 Golden Tee machines in play around the world." In fact, it's so popular that GameSpot is reporting a special 'home arcade' version of Golden Tee being rolled out right now. In some ways, it's the epitome of 'casual gaming' writ large. With beer and hot wings.

June 12, 2006

Evo World Finals To Shoryuken Vegas In August

tk5.jpgIf you haven't been keeping up with the Evo arcade fighting game series, you might be interested to know that, according to a post on Shoryuken.com, the world finals are due to take place at the Red Rock Casino, Resort, and Spa in Las Vegas, Nevada, from August 18th-20th.

Interestingly, this year's competition is sponsored by Toyota and their Yaris car, showing the increasing corporate interest in game competitions, and the prize structure reveals a hefty $65,000+ in prizes, divided up into many parts among the finalists.

FYI, the games being competed with this year are Capcom Vs. SNK 2, Marvel Vs. Capcom 2, Tekken 5, Street Fighter III, Dead Or Alive 4, Guilty Gear XX Slash, and two extras - Hyper Street Fighter 2 and, bizarrely enough, Mario Kart DS. So, lots of fighting and a little karting, then!

PangYa For Wii - Is It Dead, Or Alive?

pangwii.jpgNeeto import game blog Siliconera has some excellent Wii-related game cameo news for us, and it relates to our old friend Albatross18.

Firstly, what we know: "Super Swing Golf Pangya, coming out for the Nintendo Wii, was originally developed by Ntreev Soft for the PC. Tecmo quickly snapped up the publishing rights and added in Wiimote support so players can use the controller as a golf club."

But now, what we didn't know: "Since this is a Tecmo game you’ve got to expect some of their mascots in the game right? Players will be able to unlock special costumes to dress up their characters like the Dead or Alive icon Kasumi." Though commenter 'the_importer' notes: "believe that TECMO stated that you actually unlock the actual character, not a costume. So we’d actually be playing with an SD version of Kasumi-chan." Even better for the otaku?

[UPDATE: Game Science's Jonnyram posts in the comments to handily clarify: "The interview with the developer says that it is just a Kasumi costume for one of the Pangya characters. I don't believe any of the popular Tecmo characters will make cameo appearances themselves, though I expect a wide array of costumes will be in the final game." So there!]

Nintendo Fun Club Ebay Goodness Alert!

funclub.jpg Co-editor FrankC of Lost Levels fame was kind enough to point out a rather fun eBay game ephemera auction, for classic Nintendo Fun Club newsletters.

Though the person auctioning is a little heavy on the hyperbole: "Before any video game web site, before any video game magazine, there was the Nintendo Fun Club! Formed in 1987 the fun club was the magazine precursor to the Nintendo Power magazine", he goes on to note: "Up for auction are the ORIGINAL and COMPLETE volume 1, number 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 issues, welcome letter, and two packets detailing the current and planned future Nintendo Entertainment System games."

It's cool stuff, especially the Zelda issue, but bidding is currently stalled at just 1c - maybe because, in one of the issues: "Word search game has two (of 10) words circled". Uhoh - couldn't he work out any the rest? In the meantime, we wait patiently for bids, oh yes.

Unit Operations - Operationally Dissected?

unitops.jpg Over at the Gameology blog, which we hadn't entirely spotted before, there's a review of Ian Bogost's new book, named 'Unit Operations: An Approach to Videogame Criticism'.

One note of caution is sounded to start with: "Bogost does spend a good deal of his time summarizing the material to which his approach is responding, but a reader not familiar with some of the dominant conversations in literary theory (in particular) may find portions of the text daunting." We've flicked through the book briefly and concur - it's dense stuff!

But overall, it's suggested by reviewer Zach Whalen: "Whether you're serious about studying, creating, or playing video games, this book not only has something valuable to contribute to your understanding, it has the potential to radically reformulate the intellectual terms on which you relate to video games." If you can understand it, that is, heh.

COMIC: 'Our Blazing Destiny': Sonic the Hedgehog Series

[Our Blazing Destiny is a weekly comic by Jonathan "Persona" Kim about our society, cultural postdialectic theory, and video games. And sometimes about hedgehogs that run really, really fast.]

This time round, here's our special Persona explanation of what the heck is going on below: "This comic centers on the wonderful history of Sonic's aural representation. Ever since his first yelps of synthesized asphyxiated pain, Sonic has developed his voice and his appearances for the modern world, showing off his heroism with such choice phrases as 'NOT MY DAY!!', 'LET'S GET 'EM!', 'THAT WAS TIGHT!', and my favorite: 'HEY GUY!!'"

"Following this evolutionary path, my dream for the next Sonic game is to just have Sonic constantly screaming at me in pure Engrish jibberish as he run into walls and consequently clip through the floor to a watery grave. 'OK!' "

LET'S SPEED, KEED!!

[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!]

NASCAR Rookie Wins With Help Of NASCAR Game

nasc06.jpg Every now and again, another sports star wins an event and credits a video game for helping them. This particularly happens in the world of motorsports, and at the weekend, NASCAR's Denny Hamlin credited use of video games in helping him win the major Nextel Cup race in Philadelphia.

Here's what the AP says: "Rookie Denny Hamlin never turned a lap at Pocono Raceway before this weekend. Well, not in reality, anyway. So for his first career Nextel Cup win, the 25-year-old owes some credit to the makers of his video game. "They got every tree on the site, everything's mapped out perfect," Hamlin said yesterday after winning the Pocono 500. "Visually, I know where my letoff points are.""

Presumably, he's talking about EA's NASCAR '06: Total Team Control, in which you can: "Radio to teammates for assistance, while managing on-track partnerships, or take the wheel of a teammate's car in the middle of a race to fend off rivals." And also win NASCAR races in real life!

Nintendo Monopoly, Cha Cha Cha!

nopoly.jpg Over at PressTheButtons, there are lots of details on a press release we also got sent on Friday, but didn't have a chance to follow up on (doh!) - yep, Nintendopoly!

As is explained: "That's right; USAopoly has been granted the license from Hasbro and Nintendo to create a Nintendo-centric Monopoly board game. Get ready to "play" as iconic items such as Mario's iconic hat, Donkey Kong's famous barrel, the familiar Koopa Troopa shell, a majestic Hylian shield, Link's heavy metal boots, and the classic original NES controller all recreated as pewter tokens."

Blogger MattG notes: "This sounds like a great idea and will surely sell plenty of units. As someone who doesn't own any incarnation of the Monopoly board game, I know I'd buy this. Well, if I knew enough people interested in playing on a regular basis. While this is all well and good, let me ask the obvious question: where's the video game version?" Where, indeed! Click through for lots of pics of the playing pieces.

June 11, 2006

Parish Report Takes On Zaxxon With Klaxon

zax.jpg The inimatable Jeremy Parish has updated his 1UP blog with a Retronauts entry on the Zaxxon series, of all things, but he actually weaves a compelling web around the story of the franchise - from the 1982 arcade original to the 32X 'Zaxxon's Motherbase 2000' (which is actually up on GameTap, we seem to recall!)

Parish raves of the original: "Zaxxon was completely amazing. In 1982, I mean. In an era where Mattel was selling Intellivision's solid-white stick figures as "life-like graphics," Zaxxon was a bold leap into 3D. Of course, Sega would later whip up Super Scaler technology for really impressive 3D, but amidst Pac-Man Fever the isometric perspective of this space shooter was good enough."

But he's limp on the 32X follow-up (and rightly so!), noting: "If you're really jonesing for a Zaxxon clone, Isolated Warrior for NES and Viewpoint for Neo Geo kinda sort have a similar feel. But in the end, there's really just one Zaxxon." Oh, and: "Coda: The fact that Sega and D3 haven't remade Zaxxon for their Sega 3D Ages series is almost criminal... although given the abysmal quality of the 3D Ages series, it's probably the lesser of two crimes."

Study At The Akihabara Otaku School?

akiot.jpg Though this title came out some time ago, Somari @ #ic pointed out that there's the opening movie to Japanese PC hentai title Akihabara Otaku School (very vaguely NSFW) up on YouTube.

We mainly link because the Frontwing-developed title, which came out in 2003, has got a _ridiculously_ catchy theme tune arranged by Blasterhead, who is one of our favorite Japanese chiptune musicians - actually, we released his 'Killbots EP', which is entirely done on Game Boy with Little Sound DJ, on our net.label Monotonik.

But the whole opening CG is actually really slick (geeky 'otaku' converging on the Japanese game shopping district Akihabara in trains to hang out with girls and interact with them, most likely in very NSFW ways, though the NSFW-ness isn't really touched on in the intro!) - so... it's fun, and worth checking. Nice fake shooter at the start of the movie, too.

Thrift It Up For Games, 2005 Style

gen16.jpg So, we noticed the folks at The New Gamer commenting on our write-up of the insane Nintendo garage sale find, but in the process, they mentioned: "we are actually planning on starting up the whole game saling report again, and even have the seeds planted for the first thrift-based article of the new year. Until then, our "drunksaling" archives are still available."

So, it turns out the archive is of Chicago thrift/garage sale game hunts, originally inspired by the DrunkGamers site, hence the name, and it's lots and lots of fun to look through - for example, this article from last summer, with tres amusant comments like: "The following sale was ..terribly ambitious, including horribily worn scales selling for $40. Overpriced? Certainly. Did they care? Apparently not."

There are also wholesome lessons derived from each visit, for example: "Lesson of the week: Assemble a list of the games you already own, and make sure to note the condition. This will save you the trouble of buying duplicates, or passing up games you thought you owned but don't actually already own. Case in point: the acquisition of Starfox, a game of which I now own two copies of." So basically, this is almost as much fun as actually going! Looking forward to this year's batch...

Column: The Gaijin Restoration - Gunslinger Girl Vol. 2

hiding["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 Gunslinger Girl Vol. 2 for the PlayStation 2 released in Japan in 2004.]

Violent Tymes
On November 23rd, 2004, the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility revealed their list of the WORST VIOLENT VIDEO GAMES for 2004. Talk about making my job easy; we were ramping up for Cinematech: Nocturnal Emissions (under a different project name at the time) and compiling our own lists of the most violent, depraved, weird and FMV-full games we could think of. Their list ended up being laughable at best and sorely in need of a proof reader. There were games not released yet, games from 2001, and a lone end quote hanging out with San Andreas, no doubt in coercion to go out for some Hot CoCo. The creme de la stupid was the inclusion of Gunslinger Girls 2.

First off, such a game does not exist. Gunslinger Girl exists as Vol. 1, 2 and 3. A small caveat, but still. Also, this game was only released in Japan, based on an anime series that ran in 2003-04 in Japan, and as far as Wikipedia can tell me, was released on DVD in the States in late 2004. This makes me think someone on the ICCR has a kid ankles deep in some sinister torrenting scheme. (To be fair, the ICCR later re-edited their list, leaving the initial lampooned paper as a sort of rough draft.)

no alt textSo, of course when I recieved Gunslinger Girl Vol. 2, I hoped for heaps of gore, with villains brained, and hopefully, girls hurling guns at rabid okapis, with a bravado and accuracy that screams: "We don't need no freakin' bullets!" Alas, we get a piecemeal shooter on flexi-rails that's as violent and sexy as a sad-sack 12 year old, sweaty yet turgid, trying to sneak into a PG-13 movie.

In Medio Tutissimus Ibis
no alt textGunslinger Girls Vol. 2 starts out with you playing a 14 year old school girl in a lengthy tutorial, followed by another, briefer, tutorial. There are also a few tutorials in between. The gameplay, boiled down to roots and ash, consists of taking cover, reloading, aiming and shooting as an endless army of henchmen as you track down the bosses. Occasionally you shoot thrown grenades or dull scenery that may reveal power-ups. The triangle button and a nudge of the analog stick act as a sort of super-aim, draining a bit from your concentration bar as the aiming reticle snaps onto an enemy, so you can unleash a flurry of iron slugs into his trunk.

This super-aim is the scoring prodigy of the engine, allowing you to dance around several enemies and rack up a sort of combo. The problem is juggling triangle to circle (to shoot) to X (to reload) doesn't have the finger chemistry it should. More importantly, the lock-on feels cheap, when manual shooting is also easy (but carries the weight of challenge) and you can then shoot people in the freaking head, which is much more cathartic. Except the gunshots remind of anemic cult members at the outhouse: strained.

Past the tutorials lay two episodes with 3 sections apiece. Part one has you on Knight Boat right out The Simpsons, chasing down, what I can only assume, is an evil, gorgeous albino girl, through the canals of Venice. A final confrontation places us both on motorboats exchanging shots, instead of the saliva that I may or may not have hoped for. The next level has you chasing a stranger on a train, ending in a shoot out with some dudes on motorcycles right out of Shadow Hearts. And that's all you get.

The End of the Middle

no alt textO.K. to be fair, the game has a bit of charisma and replayability, as well as a DVD with four or five episodes of the show, Region 2 encoded. There are a variety of guns to unlock, either through high scores, or killing specific enemies, and what you unlock on one volume can be played in the others, giving the series a bit of a .Hack feel.

As for the charm, when running from one area to another, obviously late for class, you often find yourself under fire with no cover. ROLLING will flash near the score and you can quickly dab the shoot button to do a rolling dive and perhaps flash some scandalous Fruit of the Looms. You can also smash square if you have enough concentration to go into super concentration mode and peg every enemy on the screen. Just don't forget to duck and reload afterwards. Still, the game punishes you in end of mission report cards for using super concentration, but also castigates you for not feathering the triangle button enough.

So, this is a PG-13 experience all around. Maybe if it bundled all three volumes together, sans the anime, maybe it would feel like a game. Or maybe it just needs a GunCon 2 or a Wii re-haul.

[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.]

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Mother's Itoi On Vegetables, World Cup Tees

itoi.jpg One of the more cultish figures in the Japanese video game is Mother/Earthbound co-creator Shigesato Itoi, but interestingly, he's not just a game maker - PingMag has a new interview with him that focuses on his advertising, design, and vegetable (!) businesses.

Itoi explains of himself: "I do a lot of things, but I would say my job title is still copywriter. I’ve been involved with advertising copy for a long time, and been a creative director in my later years. More recently, I work as a producer, a planner, or an organizer." Looks like games (we linked to a skeptical review of Mother 3 on GSW a few weeks back) really are a small part of his circle of interest.

In fact, the interview particularly focuses on T-1 World Cup t-shirt series Itoi is curating, explaining: "I just wanted to invent something between art work and mass production, such as the craft goods in Japan... The world feels like it’s heading to become a place where there is only “things to be used and then thrown away,” or “things impossible to get.”... So I thought about normal T-shirts, that are not so special that they go on display at a museum, but that people look after." An admirable concept!

Parappa Part Deux's Battle Mode Explored

parappa2.jpg Though it's on the Neologasm DS blog and not actually DS-related, there's an excellent post up there illuminating some of the less-known modes of Parappa The Rapper 2 for PS2.

It's explained: "The game has a freestyling algorithm that scores you on extra presses you insert into the pattern. As long as your presses are in time and complicated enough, you can score extra points." But even more so: "The really awesome part, though, is multiplayer. You don't just play the levels competitively, but you play one line from a level over and over in a virtual rap battle of oneupsmanship, taking turns freestyling more complicated patterns until the game declares a winner."

An interview with Parappa visual creator Rodney Greenblat we did for Gamasutra last year detailed why Parappa was in some ways a bit of a disappointment: "I think there was going to be a way to edit the animated vignettes, to mess-up, play backwards or forwards, or re-order the segments because it's all live, not pre-rendered. He was trying figure it out and ran out of time, and I think he got really frustrated with all that."

But it's still darn neat, and actually an under-rated game, in our opinion (SNIP the CUT!), so the attached movie showing some slightly drunken Parappa 2 multiplayer is good to check out if you haven't seen it before.



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

Game Career Guide (for student game developers.)

Indie Games (for independent game players/developers.)

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

GamerBytes (for the latest console digital download news.)

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


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