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June 24, 2006

Lost Dreamcast Games, Come Out And Play?

gorkam.jpg Randomly stumbling around the Web, we found a fun scan of a Sega Dreamcast brochure over at X-Cult, which looks like it dates from around 2000, and includes a number of unreleased Dreamcast titles left over at the end of the console's lifetime.

Particularly notable are three titles from Ripcord Games, which was, surprisingly, the entertainment software label of Panasonic Interactive Media (and publisher of Postal, even!) until a management buyout in 1999, but ended up going belly-up without publishing any of its Dreamcast titles.

These titles (here's a press release from the time) included Legend/Quest Of The Blade Masters, Spec Ops MOUT, and Gorkamorka, which was a racing title based on the Warhammer 40,000 boardgaming title - but none of them actually made it out. Oddly enough, Gorkamorka was based on the Jeff Gordon Racing game engine, though - weird - I remember a co-worker getting a PC Beta version of it because he was an insane Warhammer fan, and it was... alright.

COLUMN: 'Game Mag Weaseling': Magzombie

['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.]

PSE, aka PSE2 aka PlayStation Extreme aka PSExtreme aka Dimension PS-X, was in constant publication for over a decade and yet nobody's ever heard of it. When I worked at Ziff Davis Media, it regularly came in the mail and became the butt of neverending jokes -- it was tabloid-shaped, it was incredibly thin, it was written and designed as if the editors of GameFan grew up and got lazy and disillusioned. I was quizzical on how the magazine could possibly be profitable, but was assured it had something to do with its parent, Dimension Publishing, producing strategy guides and somehow getting PSE thrown on the EB Games magazine racks as part of Brady Games' distribution. Or something.

I thought the magazine had petered out sometime early last year once they lost the tabloid format. Imagine my surprise, then, when I was poking around the bookshelves at ADV Films (site of my day job) and found issues as recent as May 2006. Apparently we had a complimentary subscription, and apparently PSE was still putting out issue after 40-page issue, complete with real ads from real game companies. But who could possibly have been reading? The magazine had no website (it was last updated in 2004 before disappearing), it had no advertising at all -- heck, issues beyond summer 2005 don't even seem to include any method of subscribing to the magazine.

Russ Perry, an Illinois collector and the only person I know with a better magazine collection than mine, lists the most recent edition in his possession as December 2005, and I know there's no way he would have missed the 2006 issues unless he was actually unable to resubscribe. This suggests to me that most of the very last issues were sent almost exclusively to PSE's "comp list" of game developers, publishers, and potential advertisers, such as ADV Films. It also suggests that they lasted until May 2006 mainly so they could fulfill outstanding subscriptions -- i.e., their subscriber base was so pathetically miniscule that no other magazine was interested in buying it out. Just a theory, though.

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The first incarnation of PSE was Dimension PS-X, which launched with the November 1995 issue and became the first monthly magazine in the States exclusively devoted to the PlayStation. It changed its name to PSExtreme in Issue 4 after Sendai, publishers of rival magazine P.S.X. (which was first on the stands with a one-off in late summer 1995), complained about the similar title. Greg Off, a member of GameFan's charter staff, was the editor-in-chief.

The original Dimension PS-X was an extremely hardcore-oriented mag that owed much of its look to the GameFan of the time. It even recruited ex-GameFan alum Kei Kuboki to head its import section, titled "Impact" and taking up a good quarter of the mag at times. Kei left pretty quickly, but the renamed PSExtreme continued along similar lines and had its pinnacle from 1997 to 1998, when every issue was over 100 pages and the mag easily outclassed Ziff Davis Media's P.S.X. The tables began to turn with the launch of Future's PSM and Ziff's Official PlayStation Magazine in 1997 -- PSExtreme's low-budget GameFan design was beginning to look hokey and outdated, and its rivals' more refined look held more appeal with the mass audience that began to buy PlayStation consoles in droves. Dimension kept going, however, helped by a deal with Prima that had them producing dozens of strategy guides for the publisher. (They also published Nintendo 64 mag Q64 for several issues.)

PSExtreme relaunched in October 2000 as PSE2: The Player's Guide To The World Of Playstation, a massive-looking mag with a cheap $3.99 cover price and a page dimension set similar to Rolling Stone's. Things didn't really change in the editorial department, however, and the expanded page width mainly resulted in enormous blocks of wombly wibbling text occupying the center of every page. Things continued in this fashion until January 2005, when PSE2's page size was reduced to more normal dimensions. It was at this point when I thought they folded (especially after editor Zach Meston left to join Atlus and Greg Off and Tim Lindquist went to head up Hardcore Gamer magazine), but I was wrong -- they relaunched again in April 2005 by redesigning the logo and dropping the "2" from their name.

pse2-0308.jpg   pse-0605.jpg

May 2006, displayed above, is the final issue. Editor-in-chief Mark Androvich told me in an email that the June/July issue was completed and ready for printing when the plug was pulled. (At least one ex-staffer is currently suing for back pay.)

Its mere existence is truly strange. Almost nobody I know was aware that PSE2 existed by the time it became PSE. It was off all known magazine shelves, although it apparently got more distribution in corner groceries and other such non-traditional areas. As mentioned, it had no website nor any name recognition amongst gamers. So why did it last another 13 issues? Was it just so editor-in-chief Androvich would have something to do when not busy with his party rental service? Who was paying the printing bills?

Regardless, PSE, whose circulation must have been in the very low thousands toward the end, has become the toughest mainstream game mag to assemble a complete collection of. Why? Well, very few people bought it after 1999 or so, and arguably for good reason, as its approach to coverage by 2006 wasn't very well suited for the gaming audience or for the print medium it used. (That, and it had a lot of flubs -- the May issue's review of Ice Age 2 is illustrated with screenshots from Sonic Riders.)

[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.]

GamaRoundUp: Crawford, Prophecy, Sex

crawf.jpg We realize that, especially if you're busy and frivolous and don't care so much for some of the straight business news we run on big sister site Gamasutra, you may not have spotted every interesting feature we ran this week. Thus, we'll round up the neat stuff regularly, starting... now!

- A recent interview with Chris Crawford had the veteran game designer ranting and raving about the state of video games, so we asked our audience of game professionals what they thought - and the responses, including comments from employees of Obsidian, Harmonix, Crystal Dynamics and more, were pretty darn interesting.

- Published in edited form in the June/July issue of Game Developer, Gamasutra managed to get the full, extended 8,000 word (!) postmortem for Quantic Dream's pretty darn interesting console title Indigo Prophecy/Fahrenheit, as described by creator David Cage. So go check it out now.

- We're still running reports from the recent Sex In Games Conference, and the latest is a look at how adult games get distributed. Peter Payne from J-List is esp. fun rounding up the kinds of Japanese adult titles: "Payne explained how he has expanded his catalogue to cover: fetish titles like Let’s Meow Meow! (furry / cat-girl game), transformation games (no, not robots, but titles like the X-Change series where boys are mysteriously changed into females and have to complete tasks such as sexual conquests in order to transform back to a male and retain the hand of their girlfriend), Yaoi (boy-on-boy games – which are particularly popular with females) and general bishoujo (pretty girl) / romance games."

There's also plenty of other stuff, for example - a chat with Square's Kosei Ito about mobile Final Fantasy titles, an interview with Capcom Mobile, mentioning a Western-developed Phoenix Wright for cellphones, and bunch of interesting columns, including commentary from Steve Palley and Jim Rossignol. Go poke 'em, now!

Outbreak Breaks Out Of Ordinary Gaming

obreak.jpg Over at Videoludica, they've added a game profile for a pretty darn interesting hybrid serious game, explaining: "Outbreak is a new game project, a part of the Serious Games initiative, that hopes to bring critical, real-world issues into a high-quality, fun game on the commercial game market. It is being designed by Angel Inokon, a Masters Student within the Learning Design and Technology program at the Stanford School of Education, and Jeff Bowman, a first-year student at the University of California, Berkeley, pursuing a B.A. in Computer Science."

Matteo Bitanti has constructed a page quoting from the official game website, and explaining: "In the next 5-10 years the H5N1 virus (Avian Flu) will mutate and threaten millions of lives across the globe. Ironically, the first lives claimed to the virus will be the young and the healthy. American young adults, especially, must be mentally prepared to survive for up to 18 months hunkered down in quarantine in hopes of escaping a virus that kills 50% of its victims. Employing the right strategies today, could mean survival tomorrow."

Thus: "Outbreak is a computer game in development that puts you in charge of responding to the virus at every level. Every family, every city, and every nation will rely on your decisions." There's plenty more info on the official Outbreak site - particularly good is a video PowerPoint presentation explaining the concepts behind the thought-provoking title.

Life Meter Makes Mario Marvellous

mariodan.jpg The totally great Life Meter Comics has added a new entry to its LJ blog, and it's pure serendipidity - an amazing Mario character montage by artist Dan Schoening.

Dan writes: "Basically the piece was inspired by my artist friend Tim Kelly. He suggested I do a line up of Mario characters. Instead, I decided to make it more pin up like, and throw in as many characters that I enjoyed from the Mario series into it. The art itself was also a test in a new more fluid style, as I normally have a more angular feel to my work."

[Oh, and before we forget, Life Meter has a mini comic currently in production, and as they mention: "Guys, this mini has 90% NEW MATERIAL NOT CURRENTLY ON THE SITE. There's some Life Meter favorites (like Bannister right on the cover, there) and lots of new faces (like Natasha Allegri on the back)." Looks like you can pick it up at Comic Con and other small-press events in the U.S. this year.]

On Mahjong As Metaphor

mahj.jpg So, you may or may not have spotted that LA developer Legacy Interactive has launched a new casual games site, "...including the most popular games from all the major developers and publishers. In addition, Legacy is selling its own downloadable games, including the inaugural episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent, as well as the perennial family favorites, Zoo Vet and The Apprentice."

[This is probably a good point to mention that Legacy once made us print a correction in Game Developer magazine, which was fair in that the columnist writing the story for us called the ER game in question by its pre-production name - but hilariously _something_ in that we had to put that the game's real name was not just ER, but ER: The Game Based On The Hit TV Series. Well, we're GameSetWatch: The Blog Based On The Hit RSS Feed, so there.]

Anyhow, after this lengthy digression, we note that Legacy has set up a casual games blog called 'Games For Grownups', which has a couple of posts notable for being written by real casual game aficianados. We particularly like the one called 'Mahjong As Metaphor', and written by 'Princess Fly', who 'works third shift at the Harley Davidson Vehicle Operations Plant in Pennsylvania as an inspector'.

She (and we're presuming there's no JT LeRoy-ing going on here) comments of playing casual Mahjong PC games: "I love clearing the screen. It makes me feel the same way I do when my list has check marks next to every item. Another way I can relate to this game is peeling back the many layers of my person. I feel the older I get the more I learn about my inner self. Each set of tiles that leaves the screen is another mystery solved or another task completed." Y'know, this is kinda cool.

June 23, 2006

Bonjour Myst Vitriol, Au Revoir Inner Calm

myst.jpg Back to the semi-crazed 3DO Interactive Multiplayer blog, where the latest game to receive attention is the 3DO version of 'all-time classic' 3D CD-ROM adventure Myst, and boy - attention it receives!

Let's try this on for size: "Good grief - this game is boring. Dull. Dull to be fair is something of understatement. Myst is equivalent to a thousand years spent watching paint fester and peel from a wall. You see, to watch paint dry, perhaps, would instill a sense of anticipation, of hope, of interest, something Myst fails to achieve on an epic scale. God spent two billion years watching the Earth cool-down before he started making worms and cardboard and stuff - which must have been two billion years well spent compared to playing Myst for 5 minutes."

The conclusion on Myst, which some 'gamers of a certain age' seem to adore, is that it pales in comparison to other poor 3DO game: "In summary - If you want to be bored, listless, aimless and wander about picking up pointless items and wishing your time away - I suggest you go to place of employment. There is no action. No guns. No aliens. No half naked women. No C-Class actors. No monsters. No animation. No jelly fish. No nothing. And the graphics have dated badly."

So, what do you guys think? Did Myst actually have a certain mythos, charm, and certitude that made it alluring, or was it always just a gimmicky use of CD-ROM technology that led into dark, random puzzle-based dulling dead ends? Answers on a postcard (or in the comments), please!

GameTap Adds Yuji Naka's First SG-1000 Game

gtap.jpg We already reported on GameTap's newest updates, including a bunch of content for Sonic's 15th anniversary celebration, huzzah! But now they've put out a press release with more info, revealing, crazily enough, that they're debuting a bunch of games for the Sega SG-1000, the largely Japan-only cart system that debuted in 1983.

GameTap particularly references this because Sonic creator Yuji Naka's first game, Girl's Garden, is included as part of the first set of SG-1000 games, but here's the full list, taken from the overall GameTap game list, just for your edification: Borderline, Flipper, Girl's Garden, N-Sub, Pacar, Safari Hunting, Star Jacker.

The release also clarifies our previous confusion over Lock-On and Sonic 1, commenting: "Sonic’s birthday wouldn’t be complete without three new lock-on SEGA Genesis titles: “Sonic The Hedgehog and Knuckles,” “Knuckles the Echidna in Sonic the Hedgehog 2”, and “Sonic 3 - Sonic The Hedgehog & Knuckles."" [EDIT: We just checked, and there _is_ a Sonic 1 and Knuckles 'Blue Sphere' mini-game combination available on GameTap, sorry for previous confusion. Obviously, the other two combos just allow you to play Sonic 2 and Sonic 3 with Knuckles and the extra enhancements.]

Hall Of Light Gives Amiga Illumination

beast.jpg I was discussing the phenomenon of very specific, incredibly well-researched game information projects with FrankC the other day (MobyGames is obviously the best multi-platform solution, but many other projects drill down into specialized areas), and brought up the 'Hall Of Light' Amiga game database, which you may not be aware of, but is... well, crazily detailed.

If you check out the top 99 most-viewed games of recent, you'll get an idea of the kind of insane database/scan info available for all Commodore Amiga titles - for example, Shadow Of The Beast II, that classic Psygnosis parallax side-scroller, has everything from hi-res box scans to in-game maps and beyond, and all spectacularly cross-referenced - here's Psygnosis' publisher page, for example.

So, whether you want to know about Speedball 2 (mm, Bitmap Brothers!), or even The Great Giana Sister (mm, completely banned classic Mario ripoff!), there's something for all Amiga fans at HOL - and I find myself wishing that they'd bring their insane detailing to bear on other platforms, too - though sites like Lemon for Commodore 64 do a pretty kickass job for their particular computers.

GameSetCompetition: Win 'Metal Gear Saga Vol. 1' on DVD!

Remember when we gave away some way cool Death Jr. swag? Yeah. Those were good times. I think of them often. And then remember how later on we gave out a brand new VGPocket 50, the only portable game system to ever let you play such mind-blowing classics as Mr. Onion and Pop the Lop anywhere you want to?

I bet you were compelled to say "man, that GameSetWatch got the GOODS." And you would be right, we did got the goods. But it was only one goods, and everyone knows that more goods is more good. So this time we got more. Ten of them, in fact. But it wasn't easy.

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We sent our special operative monkey (or is it ape? we often mix up the two) Ai Ai on a top secret solo sneaking mission to locate and acquire ten copies of Metal Gear Saga: Volume 1, the way awesome documentary DVD that Konami released as a preorder bonus for Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence [And, of course, many thanks to Konami for providing them to us - buy their games! Now!]. The DVD is fun to watch, but more importantly, it goes for about $20 on eBay, and I need to eat.

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Our orangutan operative easily located the secret underground base of one Jeremiah C. Penguin, a bloated hoarder of rare videogame merchandise, who had acquired so many copies of Metal Gear Saga: Volume 1 that he built a moderate cabin out of them. Always one for the direct approach, Ai Ai knocked on his door.

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Jeremiah is never happy to entertain visitors.

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But I am not here to be entertained, thought Ai Ai.

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Drunk with power, Ai Ai hopped on top of Jeremiah's roof, and started preaching a sermon for some strange chimpanzee religion, for which he was both the sole proprietor and member. Jeremiah was furious!

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"Hey, get down from my roof, you crazy hominoidea!" said Jeremiah, shaking his greasy fin at the air. And that's just what Ai Ai did.

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But Ai Ai only knows how to do things violently, and soon Jeremiah's rare and valuable collection came crashing down on him. All in a day's work, thought Ai Ai, stereotypically, before securing all ten copies of Metal Gear Saga: Volume 1 and bringing them back to GameSetWatch HQ.

Turns out we're not legally allowed to sell these things so, hey, you guys want them? Would YOU like to own a brand new, slightly bloodstained copy of Metal Gear Saga: Volume 1 on DVD? Of course you would! Here's how. Simply answer the following bit of videogame trivia:

In Konami's original Metal Gear Solid, what CODEC frequency is used to contact Meryl Silverburgh? (hint: back of the case!)

Please send your answers to editors@gamesetwatch.com any time before Friday, June 30th at 12 noon PST. There will be ten winners randomly picked from the correct answers, the judges' decision is final, so don't give me no guff. You wouldn't want Secret Agent Ai Ai knocking on your door, now would you?

Sonic - 15, And Totally Not A Rodent!

sonic.jpg So, you may have seen the news, as reprinted on sister site Gamasutra, that Sega's lovable mascot Sonic The Hedgehog has turned 15, and has incidentally "sold more than 44 million units worldwide" in the process.

But in the initial story, we described Sonic as an 'azure rodent speedster', and Josiah Colborn wrote in to rage: "...in the recent Gamasutra news story by Jason Dobson about Sonic the Hedgehog's 15th anniversary, Sonic is referred to as a famous "rodent". Rodents are characterized by their large, flat incisors, built for gnawing. Hedgehogs do not have those."

He continues: "In addition, all rodents belong to the Order "Rodentia". Hedgehogs belong to the order "Insectivora", along with shrews and moles (which are also not rodents). This is a forgivable mistake, as even www.dictionary.com lists them as rodents, with Princeton apparently backing them up." But... our journalistic reputation is ruined!

And then Josiah rages on: "People frequently refer to Diddy Kong as a chimpanzee. For the record, chimpanzees are apes, not monkeys, which do not have tails. Diddy Kong does have a tail, yet the misinformation perpetuates! I know, I'm ridiculous, but don't be surprised when I'm equally infuriated that the Geico mascot is referred to as an "Amphibian", when he is clearly a reptile." You tell 'em!

COLUMN: 'Bastards of 32-Bit' - Tail Concerto

tailconcerto1.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 Tail Concerto for the Sony PlayStation, published by Atlus and released in the United States in August of 1999.]

Less bumpy, more fuzzy.

I wanted to like Steambot Chronicles a lot more than I did. It sounded like something I'd enjoy, being a fan of multigenre blends and all, but it suffered for having too much dialogue and not enough action, and ended up becoming boring quickly. It didn't help that the game looks and plays a lot worse than I ever thought it could, either.

Tail Concerto is like a prototypical Steambot Chronicles. Both games promise a lighthearted adventure coupled with steam-powered robots, but only Tail Concerto delivers on this promise in the context of an entertaining game. It's weird that I'd enjoy one game and not the other, though. Maybe it's my anti-mech bias kicking in again. Or maybe if the creators of Steambot Chronicles had fixed up the controls and changed the human cast into kitties and puppies, I would've liked it a lot more. One of those things, I guess.

tailconcerto2.jpgOutgrowing RPGs kind of sucks.

Tail Concerto is one of those action games that had hyped its "RPG elements" to such an extent that it made me a little wary at first. Personally, I always think of "RPG elements" as being the boring parts of a game. Whenever an action or adventure title suddenly decides to shift into RPG mode, this almost always means that a lot of talking, exploration, or leveling up are in store. Depending on how well these elements are implemented, a game can either benefit from the added depth or become terminally dull in the process.

Tail Concerto succeeds in making its RPG elements as painless as possible. The dialogue is brief and the voice acting is good, but most importantly, the exploration elements are actually fun. Much of Tail Concerto is made enjoyable by your character's ability to enter houses and break stuff during exploration segments. The game encourages this, in fact -- many items can only be found by walking into peoples' houses and destroying their furniture. There's never any punishment for this, and it effectively allows for Tail Concerto to be both an action game and an RPG simultaneously, with neither genre ever becoming overwhelming enough for the experience to become repetitive.

Taste bubble justice, misguided kitties!Because shooting bubbles at things just works.

Despite its RPG-like qualities, however, Tail Concerto is very much a 3D platformer. You play as a mech-piloting puppy who shoots bubbles at kitties. The world's cat population is causing trouble with the dogs, see, and it's your job as an officer of the law to capture them. There's fetch quests and a few segments involving the dreaded mine cart, but everything in Tail Concerto is handled with a charm that makes even the most mundane of video game conventions seem fresh and enjoyable.

Fans of the Mega Man Legends series (and The Misadventures of Tron Bonne, in particular) would do well to check out Tail Concerto, as the games share a similar lighthearted vibe and graphics style. Even if you prefer your video game storylines to be serious and brooding, though, you could still find yourself falling in love with Tail Concerto's levity and optimism.

[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.]

Bridge Build Your Way To Graphics Carditude!

bbuild.jpg The nice guys at Chronic Logic sent us an email to announce a free competition version of Bridge Builder, their fun PC physics-based construction game, and a new competition in association with ATI - and the full details follow below!

"Chronic Logic has released a FREE contest version of their award winning Bridge Construction Set (BCS) video game.  This special contest release allows new users to experience some of the excitement that comes with owning Bridge Construction Set.  It also gives both current owners as well as those looking to try out Bridge Construction Set the opportunity to win some great prizes.  The contest is hosted by bridgebuilder-game.com, an excellent fan site with a very active community.  To participate in the bridge building contest and get in on the prizes, just download one of the free contest versions of the Bridge Construction Set and read the contest rules. Chronic Logic has made the free contest versions available for Windows, OSX, and Linux to make sure that all users can participate.  All valid entries will have a chance to win a free Chronic Logic Game, and the cheapest bridge in each category will win themselves a brand new ATI card.

If you already own Bridge Construction Set you can just grab the contest level, and begin your building.  The full version of BCS can be purchased for $19.95 directly from Chronic Logic. The contest ends at 10 p.m. GMT on Sunday, July 9th, at which time all entries will be tested and the results will be announce within the next few days." Neat!

Virtual Soccer Management Star Cruelly Rejected

fmanman.jpg The always wonderful Wonderland blog (which was mentioned in Entertainment Weekly recently, congrats Alice!) has managed to spot a fun story about a UK soccer fan applying for a soccer management job, and citing his experience playing the Football Manager video game as his main qualification.

According to the application letter: "My Football Manager 2005 experience has included league, Cup and European experience and has allowed me to become an expert in work permits, scouting, tactics, and man management." And really, it is a good question - since poker players go from playing online poker to winning the World Series of Poker, why can't armchair coaches do the same?

Even better, in this case, the Chairman of the real-life soccer club in question, Middlesbrough, replied, commenting: "Quite frankly we were of the opinion that your tenure with us would have been short lived, as your undoubted talent would result in one of the big European clubs seeking your services." That showed him!

June 22, 2006

Chopin's X360 Dream Kinda Weird, Eh?

chopin.jpg Trusty RPG site RPGamer has lots of information on new Namco Bandai RPG Trusty Bell: Chopin's Dream for Xbox 360, which, wait for it, "takes place in a dream world dreamt by no other than the famous composer Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849) himself, three hours before his early death in a hospital."

Apparently, and this is all pretty damn surreal: "In this dream, Chopin meets a young girl named Polka and a 16-year-old boy Allegretto. Polka, whose death is drawing near, lives with her mother in a village called Tenuto... Considering the identity of the key character, it comes as no surprise that music has a special emphasis in the game. In the Japanese version, famous actor Leo Morimoto will provide narration, and Russian pianist Stanislav Bunin will perform Chopin's original piano scores." Wow, 50 Cent, eat your heart out.

Also noted by the site, which seems to have images from the game also archived, tut tut: "The overall musical composition will be the work of Motoi Sakuraba, who is well-known for his production for the Tales series... The game is under development at tri-Crescendo, the same studio that has contributed to such titles as Radiata Stories, Star Ocean and Valkyrie Profile." Fortunately, being for the Xbox 360 in Japan, commercial considerations do not apply (guffaw!)

IGN, Kotaku At It Like Itchy, Scratchy

argh.jpg Well, we hate to ignore a good catfight, so here it is - Kotaku and IGN, smashing and burning like a prissy Frankenstein on a screaming acid bender. OK, so we have to explain the history for this? Nah, we'll let Kotaku do it.

Joel Johnson says: "IGN's Nintendo correspondent Matt Casamassina claimed on his official blog that he was moving on to cover 360 and PS3 games—a shocking revelation from a man who has made a career in the enthusiast press by wholeheartedly devoting his coverage to a single company. Then, in a half-assed retcon, Casamassina claimed to have left his computer on while on vacation, obliquely placing the blame for the announcement on the Algonquin Roundtable of IGN's own group-home editorial staff."

But now, IGN's Tal Blevins claims that Kotaku are the idiots here, clarifying in the comments: "I wasn't busting on the original story at all. I just find it ironic that, after finding out it was false, the author of the original story posted another "news" piece where he (a) called Matt an "ass," (b) insulted the publication he worked for, then (c) called into question the credibility of the publication when the information was taken from a blog post and not the site itself." Um... yeah!

You know what, both of you guys? You're stinking the whole place up here. In fact, someone sent the thread around the entire office as an example of how the rowdier elements of game journalism continue to make everyone else look a tad unprofessional. Still, in a world where game developers aren't glamorous, don't sleep with kiss-and-tell tabloid hussies, and don't often crash their Ferraris on the PCH, this is about as much US Weekly-style excitement as we get round here. We bet four quatloos on the huffy alt.weblog!

[UPDATE: Kyle over at Video Game Media Watch has a detailed post on what we are now hilariously calling KotakIGN-Gate, including a number of comments from Kotaku and even Joystiq editors, existing together in some kind of delicate pre-apocalyptic stasis.]

Armadillo Running As Fast As You Can

armad2.jpg The excellent physics-based game Armadillo Run has been covered a couple of times here and on sister site Gamasutra - firstly, an initial mention, and then we had a postmortem of the game on Gamasutra - and now, Fun-Motion has an interview with Armadillo Run's Peter Stock.

Stock explains of the game's inspiration: "I thought that I could create something unique by taking the concept of construction (Bridge Builder was essentially the simulation of a static structure) and adding some dynamics (which was what made Stair Dismount so great). During my university course, a student implemented a physics simulation of a ‘marble run’ for their third year project, which I also drew some inspiration from."

He then reveals what he's thinking about next: "Having said that, I do have a couple of ideas for my next project - one is another physics game based around liquid, the other’s a music-based (Bemani-style) game with elements of traditional platform gameplay. These ideas might change - the early part of development is more about exploring and refining ideas than actually making a game for me. I’m looking forward to trying out some new things and seeing what happens." Oo, Bemani platformer, please!

New Zealand's Gaming History Explored

malzak.jpg Here's another interesting but entirely random press release we got a copy of the other day, and it's about game preservation, yay:

"Computer games have commonly been thought of as entirely disposable objects, but a Victoria University researcher says that they are in fact an important part of New Zealand's visual cultural history. Dr Melanie Swalwell, a Lecturer in the School of English, Film, Theatre, & Media Studies, has published her research findings in a unique form in the online journal Vectors: Journal of Culture and Technology in a Dynamic Vernacular."

Unfortunately, we've found that the 'part game and part exploration' is entirely confusing, but apparently, you can "hear excerpts from interviews, see photographs taken during the course of her research, and access historic advertising, news stories and photographs from the "Golden Age" of New Zealand videogaming."

Particularly interesting, though: "Due in part to strict import licensing restrictions which made it difficult to import videogames in the early years, people designed and built their own systems, locally. Consoles like the Sportronic, the Fountain Programmable Video System, and the entirely New Zealand-made arcade game "Malzak", are unique internationally. These were home-grown creations, New Zealand's answer to Atari, if you like." Dude, Malzak! Excellent. Here's another URL to access the exhibit, and here's the original release.

Game Ads A-Go-Go: It's a Jungle Out There

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

After my last column's flirt with actially being funny, I though I'd set back all the progress I've made and go back to presenting ads in a more traditional fashion (i.e. accompanying them with completely nonsensical commentary). I'll likely be doing this until I can cook up another presentation gimmick. Anyhow, this week it's all about animals: what they eat, what they wear, how they live. And it turns out they live inside video game ads. Let's check 'em out.


Never Give Your Penis to an Alligator

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Let's face it: joysticks and alligators don't mix. That's why I keep my alligators and joysticks in separate piles (in quantities of fifteen to twenty) at least five meters apart. If somehow these two base alchemical ingredients combine, out pops a magical wrestle-happy native islander boy with greased hair. And trust me, if you collect more than a few of those, it's a big pain in the ass because you need to keep them in yet another pile (quanitiy ten to fifteen) at least twenty meters away from the first two piles -- lest you find yourself with another reaction that results in plastic half-eaten watermelons named Dave.


Gorillas in the Box

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Let's face it: gorillas eat people. That's why scientists at ASCIIWARE have developed a new tiny gorilla that is simply too small to devour humans. Animal behaviorists (likely bitter about their low wages) have specially trained these apes to lean on random objects and make loud mechanical tractor noises with their lips while you're trying to play Donkey Kong. They're a real marvel of modern science. The only question is: how do they fit such tiny gorillas in such a huge box?


They Called them "Chimplights"

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Let's face it: before the invention of the Light Boy, we all had to keep these things around. And by "things," you know exactly what I mean -- I'm talkin' chimps. Chimps are horrible cooks and they get highly aggressive and ornery past the age of three. But before 1991, they were absolutely necessary for Game Boy illumination. So imagine my surprise when one day, while strolling on the grounds of my ranch (and coincidentally wandering past a large pile of used chimps), I received a Priority Alpha telegram from Vic himself (that's "Mr. Tokai" to you) telling me that he had developed cutting-edge chimp replacement technology. Having such faith in Vic and all his endeavors (as I always do), I immediately let Bulumbo go. I've been chimp-free ever since, and I feel like a new man. Thanks, Vic. You're a pal.

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

Ultima Online Gets PunkBusted

uououo.jpg Cheating by using third-party programs and bots has always been a problem in MMOs, and it's fascinating to note that, while nobody pays much attention anymore, EA's Ultima Online has announced that it will be introducing PunkBuster anti-cheat technology into the game this July.

The official website phrases it thusly: "Player cheating is a serious problem inside Ultima Online, as it is with all online role-playing games. It hurts the economy, gives players an unfair advantage in PvP, and puts honest players at a disadvantage when it comes to competing for resources, spawns and treasure. It’s no wonder the use of cheat programs is the number one complaint to customer service. We hope to greatly reduce the use of cheat programs through the use of PunkBuster, the most recognized name in cheat protection. Used in virtually all triple-A shooters, Ultima Online will be one of the first MMOs to use PunkBuster technology." [Looks like there are some Korean MMOs also using the tech, including War Rock and Knight Online.]

This has obviously come under fire from anyone who's actually still playing UO, since, well, they're the kind of anti-progress types who are still playing UO (kidding, mostly, guys!), so there are plenty of concessions: "We will provide at least one shard to play on that will not require PunkBuster. Non-PunkBuster servers will be barred from using the character transfer service." Interestingly, as well: "PunkBuster will only take screenshots of the Ultima Online game screen itself" - but it does screenshot. So... good thing, or downright Orwellian? [Via Zen Of Design.]

Dead Head Fred - D3's Hidden (Weirdass) Gem?

dhf.jpg So, we were hanging out at the D3 Publisher of America website, trying to work out what excuse they had now for not bringing Zombie Vs. Ambulance out in the States, when we noticed what may be the overlooked quirksome gem of E3 - Dead Head Fred for PSP.

Being produced by Vicious Cycle Software, the game has a teaser trailer up on YouTube that explains the premise fairly well - it's, uhm, an original IP film noir about a guy who had his head removed. Play Magazine (hey, who knew they had a half-decent website nowadays?) has a good E3 preview of the game, explaining: "Taking place in an alternate 1940's inspired universe, you take up the role of Fred Neuman, a private detective who was murdered and then used as part of a bizarre scientific experiment."

But wait, there's more, according to Play: "As Fred battles a variety of monsters, mutants, and ghouls, he can used the severed heads of some of his fallen foes to replace his own, giving him a variety of new ability and powers. For example, one of the heads I got to check out was a zombie head, which can suck in various things, expanding as it fills with said content." So... it's out in early 2007 exclusively for PSP, and who knows, may be a Stubbs-ian exercise in whimsy? Watch out for it.

June 21, 2006

Vision, Psychosis, And EverQuest?

eraserhead.jpg Of course, at GSW/Gamasutra we get odd emails from time to time linking to strange pages. One of the most notable recently was linking to the Peripheral Vision Psychosis and EverQuest website. Which explains MMO addiction in, well - we'll let the page explain things.

Apparently, EverCrack and other MMOs aren't addictive because of the leveling: "There is no secret script in the programming that causes addiction even though apparent addiction does occur... The psychotic element we see manifested and which appears to be addiction in those playing the Sony™ game Everquest™ is caused by a quirk of human physiology. When humans habituate or dismiss notice of a moving object in our peripheral vision, our brain loses the ability to complete the reflex, which should normally occur. A subliminal portion of your vision field drives peripheral Vision Reflexes."

So, in this case, the relentless MMO playing was caused by? An aquarium in the same room as an MMO player profiled on 48 Hours, apparently: "When [EverQuest player] Tommy Stein turned off the room lights to prevent glare on the monitor and left the aquarium light on, the fish or other pets in the tank would be detectable by reflected light. While peripheral vision reflexes only happen when we are approached from behind anything moving in one direction in the tank must eventually go back in the other."

To fix, this, I think the author is suggesting that we build small cubicles for everyone where they can't see anything out of the corner of their eye: "This sounds like science fiction but if you work in a cubicle you sit inside one solution engineers devised to prevent injury due to this quirk of physiology. You, therefore, are protected without ever knowing that the protection or problem exists. Commercially designed office partitioning also includes this protection." So there. Stop looking at us weird.

2007 Independent Games Festival Site Launches

igf2k7.gif Well, what we've been doing all day (and mashing our brains up in the process), is launching the 2007 Independent Games Festival website, which we run here at the CMP Game Group, with a new design and new info on the competition! Check the website for more, but here's what's new:

- the IGF Main Competition, a resounding success in 2006, has received a few minor tweaks (slight category name changes, a demo is mandatory to enter the Audience Award if a finalist), but continues with the $20,000 Seumas McNally Grand Prize, and multiple $2,500 awards for innovative design, audio, technical, art, and best web game. We're really looking forward to entries, and the deadline this year is September 8, 2006 at 11:59pm PDT.

- the IGF Mod Competition, a big hit in its first year, is going even more freeform this year, and allowing mods from any game to compete - from Thief to Half-Life 2 to Oblivion to The Sims and beyond, all mods are eligible. From the entrants, we will pick Best Singleplayer FPS Mod, Best Multiplayer FPS Mod, Best RPG Mod, and Best 'Other' Mod finalists (each a $500 prize), and those winners will show at the 2007 GDC, competing for an overall $5,000 Best Mod prize. Deadline for entrants is October 13, 2006 at 11:59pm PDT.

- the IGF Student Showcase, which continues to be one of the most hotly contested parts of the Festival, continues to honor the ten Student Showcase Winners with $500 travel stipends and an opportunity to show their game at GDC 2007. But we're also adding a $2,500 Best Student Game award, honoring the absolute best student game submitted to the IGF this year. Deadline for entrants this year is November 10, 2006 at 11.59pm PDT.

"In addition to all this, we're pleased to announce that all Independent Games Festival finalists will also be playable in the IGF Pavilion at GDC from March 7-9, 2007, alongside an IGF/indie gaming-themed day of lectures and roundtables on March 6, new for 2007 to help coalesce the IGF community - more information on this will be released at a later date." So there you go... looking forward to another great year.

Cult Leader Lives For Gaming Speed

ufo.jpg One of our favorite quirky journalism sites, Gelf Magazine, has popped up with an interview with cult leader Rael, "the 59-year old French prophet formerly known as Claude Vorilhon."

You may have particularly heard of the Raelians in relation to human cloning (though Rael comments: "The press conference which Dr. Boisselier gave in Miami when the baby Eve announcement was made, we were not even present. Nobody was representing the Raëlian movement"). But in this case, it's the video game-related aspect of the interview - Rael's love of PC racing sim Live For Speed.

Rael explains: "Yes, we have our own [in-game racing] team [in Live For Speed]. It's not sponsored, it's our own team. Some members who love racing cars and me. You know, I was a pro racer before and I quit racecar driving five years ago. But I still race on Live For Speed with our friends and I enjoy it."

Later, he raves to the interviewer: "You can download Live For Speed from the website in England and it's something like forty dollars. You just need a good wheel and pedal and here you are. It's really the real thing. You only miss the g-force. But it's much more comfortable." So, if you're looking for loony co-racers, here's a great first stop! [Via Kotaku.]

WizKids Not Feeling So Wizzy?

wizkids.jpg Sometimes we remember to cover non-video game stuff, when it's interesting - and in this case, OgreCave has commented on unfortunate layoffs at WizKids, the card/CCG game firm.

The OgreCavers note: "According to the press release, this "brought about a tough decision to have a reduction in force." No details are released yet about who will be leaving the company, or what specifically brought on the reorganization. The company stated that "These steps are necessary for the long term health of WizKids, and will allow us to focus on our core Brands of Battlestar Galactica, HeroClix, HorrorClix, MechWarrior and Pirates.""

WizKids was founded by Jordan Weisman, of course, who also founded FASA and 4orty 2wo Entertainment, and whom we mentioned recently, and one commenter even claims that "Accounts are that Jordan has indeed left the company as part of this reorg/"reduction in force"", but there's no official confirmation of this - WizKids is owned by Topps, the trading card company, nowadays, for those keeping count.

[Talking of which, there was a totally great article in The New Yorker the other week about how Topps are trying to revitalize Bazooka Joe, the chewing gum great: "Joe, who began life fifty-three years ago as a crewcut boy with an eye patch, sprouted a few inches. His blond hair grew out and became fashionably tousled. He kept the eye patch but started wearing his cap backward... To keep him company, Topps artists developed five new sidekicks, including an excitable German named Wolfgang Spreckels."]

A History Of Matching Tile Games

famtree.jpg The ever-interesting Jesper Juul says that he's "working on an article about the most disrespected and despised game genre there is. That’s right, matching tile games." And to go with it, he's drawn up a fascinating flowchart of the genre's evolution.

He explains: "For that, I am looking at tracing the innovations and developments of the last 20 or so years. The following tree is an attempt at illustrating the lineages of gameplay innovations from roughly Tetris to Chuzzle. For each game you can see the year of publication plus the innovations of that game listed with a “+” to the side. Arrows mean “family resemblance and probably inspiration” - I will not attempt to verify that a specific game designer was inspired by a specific other game."

However, he knows enough to know that he probably doesn't know everything, hence: "Question: Am I missing a game that contributed to the history of matching tile games? Do you find the connections plausible?" For us, not having Sega's Columns on there is probably a notable omission, though we're never really sure where in the lineage it came, and whether most of the '90s block puzzle games were borrowing from Tetris instead. Anyone else?

Mighty Justice Pins Down, Skewers Riiiidge Raaacer

rr.png The borderline scabrous Noooz has collected the video-related gems from new videocast MightyJustice, showcasing a plethora of wacky Australians shouting at the screen and reviewing games at the same time.

Particularly singled out is the video review of the original PS1 version of Ridge Racer, described thusly: "JubeiSaotome reviews his favorite racing game of all time, it's ridge racer RIIIIIDGE RACER!!" So, yes, there's a little Kaz Hirai sarcasm in here, along with high school humor galore. Please don't put any more games in your pants, though. Please?

There's a plenty of other game reviews up, along with the shocking admission: "I'd like to thank Game Life for being my inspiration!!! One day I can be a famous video game reviewer!!" When GameLife inspires the world's youngsters to go out and wreak video havoc, isn't it time to send in the National Guard?

Lester Bangs, Lester Bangs, William Hung!

hungit.jpg1UP's ever-lovin' Jane Pinckard has posted a good thinkpiece reflecting on a recent Esquire column by Chuck Klosterman which asks: "There is no Lester Bangs of video games. Why?"

Klosterman, as can be seen, isn't really a video game guy, so it isn't necessary his fault that he doesn't know about a lot of the great, progressive game journalism going on outside the GamePro-s of this world. Pinckard is also right to note: "Maybe there is no Lester Bangs of videogames because there's no Lester Bangs of ANY medium. Not anymore."

However, Pinckard goes further regarding the whole 'NGJ' issue: "The problem is, no one really cares for the stuff beyond a small group of like-minded folks who are mainly writers and developers. Gamers, for the most part, don't care to read about how a game makes you feel. Without an audience, fine writers who style themselves critics languish unread on blogs or in tiny niche websites."

Wait, which one of the above are we, again? Damn! Oh, and one other point - a lot of writers that become legends are feared and rejected, even by a lot of the mainstream media, in their everyday careers. Seriously - read Hunter Thompson's colected letters and check out how much material he didn't get published. So... the stars of today may not be the stars of tomorrow? [And nope, not really sure why Hung is here either. His name was just alliterative, I think, plus he personifies how things can be popular despite their, uhm, quality.]

Fantasy Lab Illuminates Neat Game Engine

gclub.gif We get a bunch of interesting emails to sister site Gamasutra that we don't have room for, and here's a prime example - a tipoff from Bay Area developer Fantasy Lab on its new game engine for PC/next-gen consoles.

There's some neat stuff here, primarily demo images/videos on real-time global illumination in the engine, of which it's explained: "For simplicity and flexibility we use a new technique in the Fantasy Engine that allows us to compute global illumination on the fly. The system is simple to use since any surface in a scene can be a light source for, reflect light onto, or shadow any surface in the scene, including itself." And it looks hawt.

Also neat is the section on Subdivision Surfaces with Displacement Mapping, showing how a 500,000 polygon model is created with just 1,700 polygons, plus, uhh, subdivisions and displacement mapping, like it says on the tin. Does Unreal Engine 3 have all of the above? We're a little hazy on the technical specifics at any given time - all we know is that the accompanying movies are real pretty.

June 20, 2006

The Undertaker Vamps It Up, Game Art Created

undt.jpg You can credit Matt Gallant's Metafuture blog for finding his alleged proof that 'videogames are art', a hilarious YouTube game vid starring wrestler The Undertaker.

Basically, just watch it - that's as easy as it gets. But if you'd like some background - at least our lame-o interpretation - the movie seems to have been created using the Create-A-Wrestler mode for WWE Smackdown vs. RAW 2006 for PS2, by the look of it.

In addition, the wrestler that The Undertaker is actually using the mocap for is WWE Diva Christy Hemme - check out a real-life entrance of hers for a comparison - as you can hear, and the Wikipedia entry confirms, Hemme's entrance music is The Hives' 'Walk Idiot Walk'. So does that make The Undertaker an idiot? There, we've over-analyzed this enough!

The Gamer's Quarter Issues Sixthly

gq6.jpg Seems like everyone's launching something today, and the folks at The Gamer's Quarter (headed by GSW columnist Matt Williamson!) didn't want to be left out - thus, they've "...just finished our sixth issue, featuring mobile games musings, E3 impressions and reflections, interviews with videogame pioneers, and plenty of other stories."

The PDF of Issue 6 is now available for download, but it's noted: "...for the full mobile experience -- print copies can be purchased at our online store! Pre-orders will be shipped in late July (with free bookmarks!)" We've seen the bookmarks, and one of them has a GameSetWatch quotation on it, so we highly recommend them in a reacharound type stylee, haw.

As for what's in it - too much to mention here, including jovial E3 cartoons, features on the N-Gage and 'Pacing In Video Games', among others! But a particular highlight is 'Mechanical Donkeys', a profile of M.U.L.E by John Szczepaniak, talking to all the surviving major players in the creation of the early '80s classic, and, as he notes: "Not only do they cover the making of M.U.L.E., but they also speak about the early days of Electronic Arts, and of the development atmosphere of the early 1980s." This is the best issue so far, and speaks volumes to the evolution of intelligent, non-pretentious game journalism online.

Massive Magazine Launches Massive Website

massivem.jpg Dude, it's gigantic! The folks at former dot.bomb and current limpalong TheGlobe.com (but also home to our favorite-ish U.S. game mag, Computer Games Magazine, who are presumably doing the editorial for this mag/site!), have announced the launch of the Massive Magazine website.

This comes ahead of the print publication's launch in September, and, though the site itself is a little clunky, there's already some fun content up - not sure if it's reprinted from the MMO sections of CGMag or commissioned from scratch. For example, a piece on leaving your in-game character from Mark Crump is lots of fun, and Kelly Wand's feature on 'Let Freedom Grind' is also tres entertaining.

Discussing RuneScape and its ilk, Wand's feature notes: "Free online games produced by maverick programmers on shoestring budgets have peppered the Internet since its earliest days. The surprise is that people are still playing the same ones now they were five years ago, despite the ceaseless deluge of shinier fare. Their modest system requirements and learning curves can be easily downloaded and played at work, but even esthetically, certain titles stick in the pleasure gland longer than you’d expect from a crowd that proudly wears its jadedness on its sleeve." In other words, the grind is a sickness that knows no graphical boundaries, hurray!

The Escapist Girl Powers It Up

escw.jpg The latest issue of The Escapist has just debuted, and we'll let 'em introduce it: "Thirty-eight percent of all game players are women. Perhaps that’s why our first discussion on gender and games was so popular, and why we’ve decided to bring you the sequel. The Escapist takes another look at the landscape of women in games in issue 50: “Girl Power 2.”"

Sorry, whenever we think of 'Girl Power' (and we referenced it before), we think of Daisy from Spaced doing that unfortunate Spice Girls thing in a job interview, but this issue, as always, has some readable in-depth journalism on a perfectly valid topic, sometimes lacking in today's game journalism biz when an 'OMG X360!' post will get just as many (or more) page views than a well-considered feature.

Here's the full line-up: "Feature contributor John Walker questions if games are really as inaccessible to women as everyone seems to think in “Asexuality Actually.” N. Evan Van Zelfden talks to developer Denise Fulton about her career in the game industry in “Meet Denise Fulton.” In “The Truth about Little Girls” Bonnie Ruberg returns to discuss the lack of presence of young girls in video games. And Justin McElroy looks at the legacy of Sierra Entertainment and its prominent female staff in “Women at the Pinnacle.”"

UMD Dr. Who Materializes To Save Day - Or Not

eccle.jpg Over at PressTheButtons, the excellent MattG has dug up some good info on the PSP's upcoming UMD movie/TV releases, revealing that, even as the UMD releases dry up, the BBC is coming through with a bunch of new titles in the U.S., including the awesome Christopher Eccleston-lead revival of sci-fi classic Dr. Who - as well as The Office and Little Britain, both great shows.

Matt notes: "I don't understand why the BBC is offering these UMD sets. How large is the demographic crossover between PSP owners and fans of BBC programming in the United States? The BBC can't say that the industry (and the market) didn't warn them if these releases gather dust on store shelves at a $27.95/each price point." But we're somewhat excited by the BBC offerings - but would be MUCH more if Dr. Who had been released in a first season box set, like Family Guy was - a Video Business article on the decline of UMD notes that retailer Hastings "...singled out 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment’s Family Guy titles as a particularly hot seller recently."

Well, the TVShowsOnDVD story that fingered these new BBC UMDs in the first place also notes of a new Family Guy instalment in September: "You can expect a 4-disc release consisting of all of the third season episodes (21 of them, including "When You Wish Upon A Weinstein") - and bonus material (including featurettes, commentary tracks, and trailers) - that were on the "Volume 2" DVD release! Price shown is $49.98 SRP in the USA." With the first and second Family Guy seasons only $36 at some retailers for a 5 UMD set, this is the kind of UMD package we _care_ about. Do more!

COLUMN: 'Parallax Memories' - Mega Drive Encyclopedia Book Review

sticker on the front['Parallax Memories' is a regular weekly column by Matthew Williamson, profiling classic '16-bit' games from the Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo, and other seminal '90s systems. This week's column profiles SEGA’s: Continue Japanese info book.]

FOR MEGA DRIVERS CUSTOM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

As an introduction to this little side story I just want to make it perfectly clear that I have almost no knowledge of Japanese besides recognizing the occasional kana or the characters for Save and Load. Knowing this (though I wish I could change it at times) I recently went ahead and purchased the Mega Drive Encyclopedia. It was pretty expensive and I could not find any kind of information on the book outside of the store that I was getting it from, so I just dove in and bought.

---

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Visual Shock!

The book itself comes in a nice black box with gold letters on the front identifying it as “16-BIT.” On top of that there is an interesting sticker attached to the plastic wrap that gives me either a distinct sense of excitement or the idea that someone was getting paid per punctuation mark.

Turning the box over reveals an interesting item: a Genesis gashapon (capsule toy). Specifically, it is not a Mega Drive, and even the strange box sticker brings this to your attention. The box is about 2” thick, and unfortunately the plastic container that holds the gashapon in place takes up a good inch of that space.

The dimensions of the book are approximately 8” high by 5” wide and it has a nice thin dust cover protecting it. On the book itself (under the dust cover) is an artistic picture of the Mega Drive, printed on the corners of the book as though it is shining through shadows. The paper stock of the book is high quality and a good weight. The words are all very clear and the color is perfect without any bleeding or blurring.


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Sound Shock!

The Encyclopedia is divided into three main parts. These parts start at the time of each of the three main Mega Drive releases: The Mega Drive, the Mega CD, and the 32X. The book is further divided by year starting in 1988 and ending in 1996. Each year is also noted with a black and white pictures from what I assume are important pieces of Japanese contemporary history.

There are reviews for 554 Japanese-released Mega Drive games for the consoles and accessories. They are broken up anywhere from one to three per page. At the end of each part of the book is a new interview with important people who worked with the Mega Drive. The only person who I recognized was Rieko Kodama of Phantasy Star fame. I am happy to report that many of the game highlighted in this column were made into one-page review items.

SPEED.jpgchapter.jpg

Speed Shock!

But what this all boils down to is disappointment. To clarify, my disappointment is in the fact that I don’t understand the language. This is a fantastic set for Mega Drive fans. It’s comprehensive and has many new interviews and features with interesting facts that may have been previously unknown. The layout is spartan and gorgeous, and the love of the system can be seen on every page.

There are no cover shots for most of the games and even titles that were once in English were converted to kanji and kana; this makes it exceptionally difficult for me to learn of new titles I may have missed out on (my initial reason for the purchase) . So while it may not have been a smart purchase for me, I know that someone is going to get a lot of value from this.

[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.]

The Return of Chi-Style Drunksaling!

chitime.jpg After we posted a delighted article about their previous thrift store exploits, also picked up by a few other outlets, we're pleased to see that The New Gamer's motley crew have started their 2006 'drunksaling' campaign in Chicago.

It's explained: "Unitdaisy and I were so inspired by the (now defunct) drunkgamers.com's garagesaling adventures that we decided to follow their example and searched about Chicago, scrounging for games and, when we were done, forced others to relive our experience. For those unfamiliar with the term drunksaling, it's simple: It's kamikaze garagesaling for video games! The following excursion took place on June 3rd, 2006."

And a doozy this first exploration for 2K6 was, including a bizarre faux-gothy estate sale, a mauled coconut monkey ("Who stabbed you in the chest and stole your sweet, sweet life fluid?"), oh, and actually some video games too, including a stand-up Joust cabinet (NOT bought, how dare you guys?), and some Sega Pico games ("The Sega fanboy in me says 'Buy, buy, buy!' whereas the part of me with a glimmer of sense says 'You'll only stuff it in the closet.'). Dude... but that's what closets are for!

American Apparel's Second Life Pad Explored

amap.jpg Ilya Vedrashko's In-Game Advertising weblog has posted a nicely illustrated look at American Apparel's store opening in 'virtual world' Second Life, amusingly (and sarcastically) described as "the second biggest news of the week after Bill Gates' retirement".

One point made by a lot of virtual world watchers is that many big corporations are moving into Second Life for PR reasons (it looks cool!) rather than real-life CPM-style advertising (there aren't that many people in SL at any given point), and a Forbes story on the move is likely exactly the desired result they're looking for.

It's explained: "The initial fashion selection will offer 20 styles of American Apparel’s signature logo-free casual wear: basic T-shirts, tank tops, undergarments and swimwear. Second Life residents may be privy to real-world promotions and discounts from American Apparel, and the marketing tactic may boost actual sales with a link to the online store, the company said." However many people actually check it out, it does seem like good PR - and the GSW Second Life correspondent is just getting set up, so we'll see how they like it, too, in due course!

June 19, 2006

UK's NGC Morphs Into Pan-Ninty NGamer

ngamer.jpg A bunch of UK sites including British Gaming Blog have picked this up and run with it, but Future Publishing's licensing site has revealed a new UK-centric Nintendo magazine, NGamer, billed as "the UK's first unofficial magazine to focus on Nintendo Wii", and replacing/rebranding the existing unofficial mag NGC.

Even though NGC's circulation was, well, pretty tiny ['14,000 (ABC: Jan-Dec 2005)'], apparently Future thinks it can still make money by pricing it at UKP5 ($9.20) with a DVD of game videos packed into every issue. Of course, it's also pointed out: "NGamer compliments perfectly with the Official Nintendo Magazine, published by Future in the UK, France and Italy." This was after ONM in the United Kingdom was wrested away from EMAP, which was a shame, cos it was getting increasingly avant and wacky!

So yep, two Nintendo magazines from the same company in the UK - when the only one in the U.S. now is run by Nintendo! As the British Gaming folks note: "it’s taking a different focus to ONM which has to stick a bit to Nintendo in the UK. NGamer will cover more Japanese stuff, with previews and reviews of import games." But they also comment skeptically: "It does have a DVD with every issue… but it’s gonna need new, good content which you can’t get on YouTube. Which is just about every video on the net." Sometimes it's easier to check stuff out on your TV, though.

GameTap Locks On, Plays Ultima To Win

gtap.jpg Since, as far as we can work out, the folks at GameTap aren't listing the schedule of cool stuff they're releasing on their public website anywhere (uh?), we're gonna continue to run stories with the upcoming updates to the darn cool 'all you can eat' PC gaming subscription site, as received in newsletters/PR. This time, it's the latter end of June digging up a little Sonic and official confirmation of the much-rumored Ultima.

The listing goes as follows: "6/22 - Sonic Week: The furry blue hedgehog with an attitude turns 15 this year and we're celebrating his birthday by debuting three unique Sonic titles featuring SEGA's "Lock-On" technology. Revisit Sonic 1, 2, and 3 playing as Knuckles the Echidna and access new areas, bonus levels, and special powers that weren't available before." Lock-On versions? Totally neat idea - see the Wikipedia Sonic & Knuckles entry for more info - though we didn't think Sonic 1 worked with it?

But 6/29 brings the big fun, in our opinions: "Ultima Week: Adventure and Role Players rejoice! We've got the ultimate in Ultima™. First play the games, starting with Lord British's classic original Ultima through Ultima VI: The False Prophet, then learn about the creator behind the series, Richard Garriott, A.K.A. "Lord British" on Tapped In." There's enough RPG goodness in there to sink a battleship.

[Oh, also: "6/22 - Puyo Puyo: Sonic Week continues with Sonic Team's addictive Puyo Puyo. Move over Columns. Step aside Bust-A-Move. There's a new puzzler in town!" Puyo Puyo is always good for a puzzle, so we approve. Plus, unrelated to this, there's some new sweepstakes where you can win lotsa stuff for playing GameTap.]

Harmonix Director Rocks Cybersonica

joshharmonix.jpg Over at blog PixelSumo, they've got a video link to a lecture by Josh Randall, Creative Director of Harmonix Music, on the excellent subject ‘Interactive Music for the Masses’ - and he should know, having directed Guitar Hero!

The full info on the talk, which happened at the Cybersonica 06 Festival at The Science Museum in London, explains: "Josh Randall will discuss his experience at Harmonix Music, from the company’s origins as a funky interactive music startup, to its growth into North America’s leading music game studio... He’ll look at some of the pitfalls of designing interactive music products for a mass audience and describe lessons learned from over 6 years of music game development."

What's more, in the lecture, which is hosted at PlayStation.com, Randall discusses "...the role of creative expression within the game space, and how new interfaces and controllers are changing the way we interact with our music and TV’s. Music gaming is bringing more and more people together every day, so what is the social impact of these games?"

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

[Our Blazing Destiny is a new weekly comic by Jonathan "Persona" Kim about our society, cultural postdialectic theory, and video games. And classic style Sonic the Hedgehog.]

Here's another Persona-skewed look at the gaming world - in his own words: "This comic is about consumerism and how one can forget their responsibilities when they do not curb their desires.

...I wonder what game Sonic is playing."

When the going gets tough... things happen and people die?

[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!]

Announcement: Game Developer June/July Issue Available

jun-jul.jpg The latest issue of Game Developer magazine, the sister print publication to Gamasutra.com, created by many of the GameSetWatch authors, and the leading U.S. trade publication for the video game industry, is in the process of shipping to subscribers and is available from the Game Developer Digital service in both subscription and a new single-issue formats.

The cover feature for the June/July 2006 issue is an exclusive postmortem for Quantic Dream's critically acclaimed Indigo Prophecy, with exclusive art, described as follows: "On paper, pushing for increased emotion, original play concepts, and new methods of storytelling all in the same game sounds like the ravings of a madman. Indigo Prophecy may not have hit all of these points perfectly, but it has blazed a trail of innovation, and raised the bar for the integration of story and gameplay." It continues: "In this postmortem, David Cage tackles everything from narrative to digital puppetry, and tells us why changing publishers can save your game." An extended version of this feature will appear on sister site Gamasutra in the future.

In addition, the magazine features an in-depth 'State Of The Industry: In-Game Advertising' report, noting that advertising in games is a burgeoning way to add revenue to games, closely tied to licensing, but quickly growing beyond that age-old practice. In this industry overview, Paul Hyman discusses the major players and how they plan to put ads into your games.

Finally, a technical feature focuses on the fact that the next generation of consoles all sport more RAM and better processing power, but the optical drives reading your discs may not keep up as you would expect. In this feature, Neversoft's lead programmer Brad Bulkley offers tips and tricks for streaming your way to a seamless game world. The issue is rounded out by regular news, code, art, audio, and design columns, as well as a 'Best of E3' round-up, product reviews and game art features.

Worldwide paper-based subscriptions to Game Developer magazine are currently available at the official magazine website, and the new Game Developer Digital version of the issue is also now available, with the site offering six months and a year's subscriptions, alongside access to back issues, all for a reduced price. There is now also an opportunity to buy the digital version of June/July 2006's magazine as a single issue. Newsstand copies of the magazine will also shortly be available at North American outlets including Barnes & Noble and other specialty bookstores.

Boot.... Or No Boot?

bootor.jpg Oddly enough, we touched upon the problem of bootleg video games a couple of times in the past week (bootleg DS titles, rare PC engine games), and the Neo Geo community is another place where bootleg carts are particularly common, especially for the Neo Geo MVS arcade cartridges.

Thus, the guys at Neo-Geo.com have set up an entire forum named 'Boot Or No Boot?', and set up to help people decide whether their beloved Metal Slug MVS cart is an original or tragically knocked off - and yes, also so people can make horrific Deal Or No Deal Photoshops!

There's also a fun, exceptionally fanboy thread on why people get upset with MVS to AES conversions - for those not in the know, some people will pick up the MVS arcade version of a rare game (much cheaper!) and transplant the guts into an AES home cart. Note the somewhat hilarious words from Amano Jacu: "Conversions were an ancient ritual performed by a tribe of primitive, wild AES fanatics. Some say they are still alive, hiding somewhere and offering carts as a sacrifice to the Neo Gods."

Speed Demos Rush Things With ICO

icoico.jpg Another place worth checking in at from time to time, the chaps at the Speed Demos Archive have come up trumps again with an excellent speed run of Sony's ubercult ICO.

The entire game is completed in 1 hour and 45 minutes (!) by Kevin Juang, with him commenting: "This run is about 12 minutes faster than the previous "world record" Japanese time. I could probably save 1-2 minutes if I wanted to redo this. At first, I didn't think this could even reach 1:55, so it's pretty funny that this run beats that even after including the credits and ending. Especially since being relatively linear, you wouldn't think there would be many ways to save time in ICO."

There's also plenty of scary OCD-style chatter: "One thing that I tested for about 45 minutes to an hour, was the effect of jumping. Despite my first intuition, I am pretty sure that in fact, jumping and running take exactly the same amount of time. If there is a difference, it is too minute to notice after even 30 second stretches. However, there are some reasons to jump for speed." Yes, kids, this man played just this game for 3 months straight - please provide medal of looniness.

Midwest Classic Spawns New Retro Carts

wolfvcs.jpg Wandering back to the always excellent Atari Age, we note that the recent Midwest Classic game convention has spawned a whole plethora of new retro game carts being sold at the Atari Age store, including unofficial conversions and remakes galore.

One of the neater titles is Conquest Of Mars for the Atari 2600, "an accurate translation to the Atari 2600 of a popular Atari 8-bit computer title. Destroy the Martian rebellion by descending through the six caverns of Mars to activate the main energy reactors and escape to the surface before they blow up!"

But also _very_ cool is Wolfenstein VCS: The Next Mission, based on the classic Nazi-bustin' series in theme, but actually a hack of Atari 2600 game Venture: "Return to the halls of dreaded WOLFENSTEIN. All new enemies, rooms and floorplans await you in this upgraded version of the original Wolfenstein VCS. Badder, Brighter and more Deadly! Do you dare brave the depths of Wolfenstein VCS:The Next Mission?"

June 18, 2006

On The Great 'Games On The Telly' Debate

gamesmaster.jpg Dan Marshall, the UK-based creator of intriguing indie game Gibbage, has just updated his weblog with some fun ramblings about 'games on the telly', as he put it, noting extremely relevantly: "This is something I know about: I work in TV and I make games on the side."

He goes on to note: "The trouble with video games as a spectator sport is that it’ll never work: they’re designed as interactive entertainment, and as such make extraordinarily dull viewing. I stopped watching GamesMaster when they stopped screening stuff about games, and just had a couple of kids playing each other on some arcade machine you’ve never heard of and struggled to commentate over the top about combos."

Interestingly, Dan's solution? "In theory, a decent TV show about gaming is a no-brainer. Games generate brilliant, fiery discussions, and that’s what’s needed. As far as I’m concerned, the ideal game show would be akin to a late-night BBC2 Arts show: just a bunch of well-versed and witty people sitting around a table chewing over the latest news and releases." He then references Edge's recent article "with Simon Pegg, Charlie Brooker, Peter Serafinowicz and Graham Linehan sitting in a pub talking about games" as a good example of what might work great on TV - and I agree, it would, though perhaps not with the beloved 'yoof' audience?

[Also, we liked Dan's comments on a recent, particularly, uhm, trolltastic Gamasutra Soapbox on girls and games from an UCLA professor, in which he noted:" it may as well be a lesson in how to write an entire article without really having any hard evidence to base it on whatsoever." Yay!]

XBlocks Takes Gaming Into Sculptural 3D

xblox.jpg Alice over at the Wonderland blog has spotted a new artgame exhibit called XBlocks, which she describes as "art meets donkeykong" and is further explained on its official website.

It's noted: "xBlocks is a convergence between video games & sculpture — liberating play from the screen. It is a mixed reality installation inspired by traditional platform games of the late 1980s such as Super Mario Brothers or Pitfall."

But wait, there's more: " Using standard game controllers, two opposing players must help their characters navigate in and around a three dimensional maze. The real challenge comes, not from traditional game mechanics but rather from moving with your character as he sprints around corners and jumps between the installation’s two play surfaces." More real-life games like this, please.

Can You Be The Airport Hero Of Narita?

narita.jpg Though we wish it had some kinda of RSS feed, we love reading import store NCSX's new arrivals info, because they stock some wacky stuff and their writing is seriously witty at the same time.

So, of course there's weird Japanese merchandise this week (Band Bros instruments gashapon, anyone?), but our main focus is on the new PSP title Airport Hero Narita, which is, yes, an air traffic control sim for Sony's portable.

We like NCS's description so much we'll excerpt in full here: "In the 1999 movie, Pushing Tin, Billy Bob Thornton and John Cusack played dueling air traffic controllers. Cusack's Nick Falzone fueled conflict against Thornton's half-Choctaw Russell Bell. Despite their battles and bouts of inner turmoil, both had the ability to visualize 3D airspace and guide streams of planes to and fro without having them crash into each other."

It continues: "Airport Hero Narita is sort of like Pushing Tin except the scope of your responsibilities go far beyond what the two cowboys had control over. In addition to keeping a watchful eye on all of the air traffic around Narita Airport in Tokyo, players also direct planes to start their descent, prepare to land, taxi to a runway, depart, and maintain speed/altitude. Due to the critical decisions that are heaped upon the player's shoulders, one must keep track of all the planes and spatial dimensions around Narita airport to avoid any dangerous situations that might lead to disastrous consequences."

So, another characteristically Japanese game in the vein of Densha De Go! - neat. It often intrigues me that titles with such likely limited appeal are released in Japan. But with slightly higher game prices (in some cases), much lower game developer salaries (or so we've heard anecdotally), different distribution conditions (no high level of entry into the big chains, necessarily), and highly stratified niches of 'extreme' fans happy to snap up 10-20,000 copies of games on very specific subjects, it seems like the conditions are there to allow indie console titles with more stable long-term prospects - having more forgiving concept/game submission processes also helps (ahem, SCEA).

Exploring Classic PC Titles On The PSP

quake2.jpg The rather fine British Gaming Blog has an in-depth article on the homebrew PSP emulation scene, specifically related to classic PC games.

Some of the titles referenced, for those who have the correct OS and know what to do, include the classic Duke Nukem 3D ("The PSP port plays well with a good framerate and comprehensive controls; there is no support for the numerous expansion packs, however"), and Quake 2 ("The PSP port is still a beta and has some issues with control and sound, but the team are still working hard at getting it to be one of the most impressive PSP homebrew titles out there.")

The piece ends with some wished-for titles: "Some titles that need to be ported? I’m not a homebrew developer for the PSP, so I have no idea about limitations and feasibility but I’d love to see the classic Grand Theft Auto series, 3D Realm’s First Person Ninja Assassiner; Shadow Warrior, Rube Goldberg Machine based puzzle game; The Incredible Machine and non-SCUMM based but extremely cool Discworld adventure game series." Any other preferences?

Blast Theory's Day Of The Figurines

figuri.jpg You may have heard of UK media group Blast Theory from their 2005 Game Developers Choice 'Maverick' award for their multimedia ARG-like games such as Uncle Roy All Around You.

Well, now artblog We Make Money Not Art has posted info on Blast Theory's latest project, a game called Day Of The Figurines which is being run at this year's Sonar festival in Barcelona.

It's explained: "The game, set in a fictional gloomy town, unfolds over the three days of the Barcelona festival, each day representing an hour in the life of the town that shifts from the mundane to the cataclysmic." What's more: "The centrepiece of the game is a 3.5 x 5 meter model town – at the Centre de Cultura Comtemporània de Barcelona - created using pop up metal buildings, overlaid with computer graphics... Once there, you register, choose your figurine, give it a name, personalize it (kind of shoes it wears, favourite place when it was a kid, name, nickname) and your character is placed into the model town."

As for feedback: "Throughout the day, you get text messages from the game asking where you'd like to go in the town or how the figurine should react to the people it encounters and to some rather unpleasant situations." This seems to be multimedia game art that's actually compelling, as opposed to, uhh, artwank. Is artwank in the dictionary yet?

Netscape Goes All Digg, Gets Games Section

netbeta.jpg So, obviously, Digg is getting to be a fairly big site for citizen-voted journalism - the Digg gaming section is one of the most read 'blogs' around. So naturally, there's going to be other people getting in on that racket.

One of the most high-profile is now the Netscape.com beta, part of AOL, which is in the hands of Weblogs Inc's Jason Calacanis - who has been blogging about launch coverage in some kind of information frenzy.

Part of the multi-subject beta from AOL (which also owns major gaming blog Joystiq) is a Netscape.com videogames channel, sparsely populated right now, but likely to fill out in the near future. We heard there may be a few more specifically game-focused efforts along these lines soon, too - should be interesting.



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

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

Game Career Guide (for student game developers.)

Indie Games (for independent game players/developers.)

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

GamerBytes (for the latest console digital download news.)

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


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