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Archive For June, 2006

deadOtaku Comes To Life, Profiles Wonderswan

June 25, 2006 11:38 PM | Simon Carless

wslogo.png The relatively unknown to us deadOtaku blog, devoted to "covering esoteric extremities of Japanese popular culture", recently added an excellent multipage overview of the Bandai Wonderswan handheld, and we dig it.

As the intro explains: "In a time when few dared to challenge Nintendo's Pokemon-fueled dominance of the handheld console market, Bandai released a challenger to Nintendo's throne: Wonderswan. It was affordable, had a wide range of titles and supported by Bandai's own extensive anime-licenses and looked like it might have a chance competing against the Nintendo Game Boy despite it being a difficult uphill battle."

But it's the succinct software profiles that are particularly good, such as the ever-droolworthy Judgement Silversword ("Inspired by the classic shooter Radiant Silvergun, Judgement SIlversword was the last game to be released on the Wonderswan. Originally developed as an amateur game using the Wonderswan development WonderWitch, Judgement Silversword was later released as an professional game... [it] is perhaps the most rare and sought after game on the Wonderswan, still fetching prices of over $100 on eBay.") [Via Wonderswan.co.uk]

Kohler Loose In Japan - Call Authorities

June 25, 2006 8:01 PM | Simon Carless

mario45.jpg Intrepid Wired News columnist Chris Kohler has marauded his way across to Tokyo, where he's blogging furiously and visually on game-related matters, and there's already some fun stuff up there - for one, a tip on the 'Best Video Game Store In Japan', apparently Mandarake Galaxy.

Kohler notes: "Besides being great for finding extremely rare games at very reasonable prices -- this is where I got a 64DD and all the launch games for about $250; note that I said "reasonable", not "cheap" -- Mandarake Galaxy also had some of the lowest prices and best availability of more recent games." Also revealed: "The soundtrack recording to Super Mario Bros., on a 45. Very few things make me as holy-cow as this did." Woot!

Also fun - an Xbox 360-related blog post in which it's noted of the general lack of enthusiasm for the hardware in Japan: "What this store did to advertise the fact that they had an Xbox 360 in stock was to take the original faded-ass display box for the Xbox and slap a label on it saying that they had Xbox 360s in the back." Youch.

Mashing On Some Rehearsal Joypads

June 25, 2006 3:21 PM | Simon Carless

tromhero.jpg Over at We Make Money Not Art, they have a really fun post documenting an experimental music artgame named Rehearsal Joypads, and based around Bemani-style music game concepts.

The post explains: "In Rehearsal Joypads, the usual controller interface of video game controllers has been replaced by that of a musical instrument. Intended as a product to help learn a specific skill needed to play a real instrument, they have been designed as motivational aids for beginner musicians facing the problems associated with not practicing enough."

It continues: "Rules of the accompanying video game: play your part correctly (as dictated by the coloured lines scrolling past), and the brass band stays in time and together; play it wrong and they drop their instruments, walking off in disgust. By playing the game repeatedly, the fledgling musician could get the fundamental patterns for scales, arpeggios and so on 'into the fingers' before playing the same thing on their real instrument." Neat, but obviously Guitar Hero-esque, too - looks like Trombone Hero is already up and running, then!

The DS Has No Place To Hide

June 25, 2006 11:24 AM | Simon Carless

noplace.png Actually, we think this has been out for a little bit, but thanks to The2Bears, we just spotted it - a multi-game homebrew DS title called 'No Place To Hide', which has even been updated to use local WiFi despite being entirely fan-coded - impressive!

The official 'About Page', which subtitles the game '10 mini-games for scorers', explains somewhat non-English-ly of the title: "Avoid all objects/characters to do the best time!
In the 5th game, you will touch the "ship" for avoid asteroids! In the 6th game, you will move jesus for avoid arrows.In the last level, you should use keys to move the boat and avoid helicopters :p"

Wait, Jesus _and_ helicopters in the same game? We're sold! And as The2Bears notes, the game "...is a great little package of 10 mini games for the Nintendo DS. It even has a shmup-like dodging game. With wifi working as well it shows the continuing improvement of the DS Homebrew scene."

Hey, Hey, Quakecon's Happy 2006 Days

June 25, 2006 7:30 AM | Simon Carless

quake2.jpg It's been a tiny bit late being announced, but it's delightful to see that QuakeCon 2006 has finally been announced, after "some unexpected issues locking in the dates and location".

But, it's revealed: "Don’t worry, we’re still bringing you another kick-ass QuakeCon event, and it’s already right around the corner - August 3 – 6 in Dallas, TX at the Hilton Anatole Hotel in their Trinity Exhibition Center... With about 1,800 BYOC spots, QuakeCon 2006 will be a bit more exclusive than it has been the last couple of years, but we hope people will enjoy the more personal touch this year." Highlights include: "...high-stakes tournaments, workshops, exhibitors, the BYOC Area, parties, and the public’s first chance to play Enemy Territory: Quake Wars."

We also noted (linked from the comments) an interview with QuakeCon tournament director Nate, who reveals of the 'fun' _not_ to be had at QuakeCon, in terms of the least fun (volunteer!) positions: "SECURITY! The security crew, BY FAR, has the most thankless job at the event. They spend hours upon hours on their feet, checking bags, protecting areas, and keeping us all safe. Do they get thanked? Nope - they get yelled at by drunks at the door." And inebriated FPS players are far worse than soused MMO geeks!

No Great Video Game Critics, Yet, Redux?

June 25, 2006 3:49 AM | Simon Carless

hungit.jpg Continuing on from the discussion on Chuck Klosterman's game criticism article, there's actually a good, detailed piece by veteran journalist John Scalzi, discussing the ever-complex issue of games, criticism, and game criticism.

Lots of good points here, but here's just one: "The current generation of video game reviewers are primarily reviewers, not critics. Which is to say that the reviews are aimed at telling readers whether a game's play is worth shelling out $50 for, and not about the cultural and aesthetic context of the game and why it is significant in that regard."

However, he continues: "This is not a problem. Reviewing tends to be thought of as the idiot cousin of criticism, but as someone who has done both, I reject this interpretation, because it's jackass stupid. Reviewing a game with an eye toward its playability, the enjoyment it gives to the consumer, and its simple overall fun factor is entirely valid." Yes! Smart!

Aha Taiken Spots The Difference On PSP

June 25, 2006 12:18 AM | Simon Carless

photops.jpg Back to the wry world of importers NCSX, and the most interesting game listed in one of this week's main updates is Nou ni Kaikan: Aha Taiken for PSP from Sega, an obviously Brain Age-inspired piece of 'spot the difference' fun.

It's explained: "Sega teamed up with Kenichiro Mogi from the Sony Computer Science Research Lab to create a brain game which focuses on photographs and the differences in them. Professor Mogi is a specialist in brain science who's research centers on the relationship between the physical brain and the perception of the mind. For example, one may be prompted to stare at a photograph and then another photograph that's nearly identical to the first one. Point out the very subtle difference in the second photograph and prove that your brain power generates enough electricity to power a hamster wheel."

In fact, there's a whole heap of Where's Waldo type challenges hanging out in the UMD: "The software includes over a 100 exercises and over 4000 crisp photos which feature disparate themes and locations for a wide variety of subject matter to test perception." Wonder if Sega will bring this one to the States? We're guessing yes.

Lost Dreamcast Games, Come Out And Play?

June 24, 2006 9:00 PM | Simon Carless

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

June 24, 2006 5:40 PM |

['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.

pse-9512.jpg   pse-9811.jpg

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

June 24, 2006 2:00 PM | Simon Carless

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!

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