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July 8, 2006

COLUMN: 'Game Mag Weaseling': Poor Mr. Hicks

['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.]

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I was recently lucky enough to add a few copies of 3 For 3DO Enthusiasts to my collection. This means that I now have six issues of America's top (and also only) full-color magazine devoted to the wonder console of the early 1990s. Foreign 3DO owners had it much luckier -- while 3 only lasted seven issues (plus one free giveaway), 3DO Magazine lasted until late 1996 in Britain (with a demo CD, even), while an unrelated Japanese magazine with the same name ran for twelve issues over the course of two years.

The 3DO Company did have their own internal newsletter, but neither it nor 3 never really took off much. It's simple why, really. The 3DO console had a pretty poor market position by the time someone bothered to start a mag for it in America (the system was already on the skids by early 1995), and there simply wasn't the userbase nor the advertising revenue available to make a big, fancy magazine. That, however, didn't stop Don Hicks, head of Massachusetts-based PiM Publications from talking up a big game in his kickoff editorial for 3:

"3DO has a broader appeal. 3DO attracts a different type of consumer than Nintendo or SEGA machines. This means a publication dedicated to those 3DO users must explore the platform differently than most multi-platform game machines available in the U.S. or Europe. In fact, 3 should be a blend of product reviews, technical information, market information, and stories on new developments and the people that make them happen."

In short, Hicks wanted to create a type of mag that was already in something of a vogue in the mid-90s: a "multimedia" magazine. Remember that word? How it got bandied about all the time in Next Generation, Wired, Fusion, Electronic Games, Electronic Entertainment, and about a hundred other computer mags? 'Twas a bold new future that gamers had to look forward to ten years ago -- one with lots of video, lots of pre-rendered game sequences, and lots and lots of Tim Curry...with a dash of Mark Hamill on the side.

Unlike most of these avant-garde info-tainment magazines, though, 3 kept a pretty low profile through its existence. A very low profile. No issue was over 64 pages, and each one featured surprisingly straightforward design, which black text on white backgrounds and screenshots aligned next to each other in neat little rows and columns. (The screenshots are pretty obviously taken with a regular ol' flash camera in early issues, but Hicks hooked himself up with a real screen grabber later on.)

Towards the end of 1995, 3's page size went below 50 an issue and the mag's days were obviously numbered, despite the unwaveringly cheery tone of Hicks' editorials ("The 3DO Company has matched their competitor's efforts with more product, better design, and a company filled with people to make it happen," he wrote in the next-to-last issue). The mag closed without comment with its December 1995 edition and has since remained largely forgotten by pretty much all gamers everywhere.

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The funny thing about this story isn't 3 itself -- it's your typical game mag, pretty much, and once you get over the amateurish design you'll find that it's pretty darn well-written. The real story doesn't begin until you look at Don Hicks and the state PiM Publications was in at the time 3 was launched.

Until 3 came along, PiM's main title was Amazing Computing, a monthly mag devoted to the Amiga computer line. It was one of the first Amiga mags in America, debuting on a monthly schedule in early 1986, and it was arguably the most respected -- only IDG's AmigaWorld held a bigger readership. Commodore's bankruptcy in 1994, however, put a rather obvious period at the end of Amiga's story -- while the fanbase might keep it going for a while, it was plainly never going to rival the PC in the marketplace again, no matter what the Amiga's notoriously optimistic fanbase thought.

So Hicks, like any decent businessman, decided to diversify a bit. He signed a deal with The 3DO Company to let PiM distribute the first two issues of 3 for free to their user mailing list, similar to the way Nintendo launched their own magazine in 1988. Unfortunately, his timing couldn't have been worse. The PlayStation and Saturn were launching in Japan just as 3 hit newsstands, and most hardcore gamers of the time decided to wait and see what Sony and Sega would do in America before spending $500 or so on a system without any "killer" titles. To put it another way, Hicks did everything right with 3's launch; it's just that the audience simply wasn't there.

With 3 closed, Hicks' only product was once again Amazing Computing, a mag appealing to an ever-diminishing base of Amiga users. Amazingly (hur hur), he kept the mag going until late 1999, and even when each issue was cut down to 32 pages and printed on paper that the phone book would be ashamed to use, Hicks still tried his damndest to remain upbeat in his writing. "This issue's diminshed size might have a negative effect on the North American Amiga market," he wrote in what became the final issue (above, right). "Yet, we have no choice, if Amiga vendors are not able to get product, make sales, and earn a living, then we need to design a system where they can. We stated many years ago Amazing would continue as long as there was an Amiga market. If this means removing Amazing from the newsstands to lower ad prices for Amiga vendors to keep them in the here [sic], we just may need to do that."

I know it's impossible to keep a diehard Amiga fan down, but I can't help but feel sorry for Mr. Hicks. He stuck with his choice of computer through the good times, then the bad, then the very bad, and his "Plan B" out of his dilemma was to launch a mag for a doomed game system. PiM Publications declared bankruptcy in late 1999 and Hicks disappeared from the Internet soon afterward, but wherever he is, I hope he's still got that positive can-do outlook on life. That, and I hope he gave up and got a PlayStation 2, at least. Hopefully he wasn't one of those (shudder) Nuon early adopters.

[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.]

Eating Up Green, Eggs, and Pan

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/grham.jpg Another neat get-together that we completely missed was the Games 4 Girls student game competition held by the University of Illinois, in which "eight [all-female] teams (27 college students) participated" to create the best female-friendly game using GameMaker.

The overall winner was Green, Eggs, and Pan from a Cornell University group, in which "two players must work together to help Pan and Greeny save the dragon eggs that have been stolen by the evil lizard king! This game is a cooperative 2-D sidescrolling platform adventure game."

The game's screenshots seem kinda fun, and there are a host of other entries to check through = our favorite description: "Honorable Mention: University of Buffalo created a game called 'Fluff'. This game designed to motivate the player to protect the fluffs and give a feeling of remorse when a situation forces them to eliminate a few for the greater good." Remorse-based gameplay! [Semi-via GTA.]

The Making Of Bloodspell

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/bloodspell.jpg It looks like the official Neverwinter Nights website has added 'BloodSpell: From Concept to Finished Scene Part 2' (and there's a Part 1, if you missed that), dealing with the previously GSW-mentioned machinima movie from Hugh Hancock and friends at Strange Company.

This second part starts by talking about how the voice actors were cast: "We cast our film in much the same way a conventional film or theatre director would do: created some posters for the film (using suitable artwork from the 'net before we had our own), plastered anywhere we might reasonably expect actors in Edinburgh to frequent with said posters, and waited for e-mails. We took over the cellar room of a convenient pub on Edinburgh's Royal Mile, and proceeded to audition down to the cast we've got today."

Also interesting is how multiple takes/setups were done in the game engine: "As you'll see from our raw footage here, one of the biggest advantages for us in using NWN is the simplest feature - the "Pause" button. Using that, we're able to set up a little bit of action, run that for a moment, then pause the game, set up more, and repeat. In the Jered on the Steps sequence you see here, for example, we set Jered cutting his wrist with our custom blood VFX, ran our camera script, let that run for a few moments, then paused it and fired off some effects through the DMFI One Ring."

David Jaffe's Stargazing, Fo Real

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/jaff.jpg God Of War creator David Jaffe, who's currently working on an unnamed PSP title, has updated his personal weblog after a long hiatus, and it's all about... stargazing!

Jaffe explains in the post: "My brother brought his telescope over to my new house the other night... And eventually, I came across Saturn. It's a big sky so it took awhile. But eventually, I found it. At first, I was just looking at this fuzzy white blob. I thought it may have been another star. But as I adjusted the focus, the rings came into view. I was looking at Saturn. In real time... It actually took my breath away. Not hyperbole, folks. My mind actually- quite unconsciously- sent signals to my body that made me gasp."

Of course, this means that Jaffe's new PSP game is called Saturn and it's also on Sega Saturn and it's about exploring the stars and it's competing with Spore for the... oh! Jaffe adds: "I 100% promise this has NOTHING to do with my next game. No, it's not a viral marketing thing. Just a story about my backyard and seeing Saturn thru a telescope. :)" [Though there is a mini conspiracy theory in the comments about why Jaffe's new house is in San Diego but he's working at SCEA Santa Monica, but we'll leave that discussion to the real tinfoil hat types.]

Agent Smith's Guide To Game Website Reading

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/lsmithola.jpg We recently covered 1UP.com News Editor Luke Smith's refreshing wish not to play ball with inane game company PR - hence some rumbling going down - and now we note he's updated his weblog with a list of game websites he digs.

He starts with the infamous NeoGAF, of which he explains: "It really is the Mos Eisley of the Internet. You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. From members of the Sony Defence Force, to Xbots, to Delusional Nintendo Fanboys NeoGAF is a wasteland of opinion, conjecture and angst -- it's also heavily posted on and read by the game industry (at quite literally all levels), despite its sometimes acrid-community, it's an excellent resource." True words!

OK, OK, you got us, he's also very nice about Gamasutra and GameSetWatch, the latter of which he comments has "some of the best links on the Internet (related to gaming)", and notes that this weblog poster himself "may be one of the busiest minds in our industry." Aw, thanks - but is being busy actually wired, or is it tired? I'll have to consult my trend oracles.

[Oh, and Smith ends with a good wide-ranging gameblog list: "Some others, in brief: Jeremy Parish, Kathleen Sanders(especially this one), Sam Kennedy, John Davison, Bonnie Ruberg, Terra Nova, Garnett Lee, The Escapist, Jane Pinckard."]

Tower Bloxx Postmortem Gets Whale-Sized

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/ranki.gif We do occasionally link to articles on sister site Gamasutra when they're of interest to you oiks on GSW, and this one should be - a neeto postmortem of Digital Chocolate's cellphone game Tower Bloxx.

Now, Digital Chocolate is Trip Hawkins' firm, of course, but Tower Bloxx is done by the guys at wholly owned Finnish studio Sumea, and the "Tetris meets Sim City" title looks to be a bit of a slept-on cult hit - it's won plenty of awards, including best-ofs from GameSpot, IGN, and a Mobie Award, but we'd never heard of it til we got pitched the postmortem.

The gameplay, which has one-button gameplay (yay!) in action modes and involves stacking swinging skyscrapers on top of each other, is adorably thought-out, and the final page has a totally great, whimsical graph of what we presume are the rewards/milestones if you manage to build your tower high enough - is that a Douglas Adams reference regarding the highest entity you can reach? Some of us round here hoped so!

July 7, 2006

Echo Delta To Internet Fandom - Rare Game Alert!

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/edelta.jpg Via the forums of FrankC's Lost Levels, there's a some discussion on an unreleased N64 game prototype currently up for eBay auction, named 'Echo Delta'.

The discussion points out that there was an IGN preview of the game back in 2000, explaining of it: "Echo-Delta, developed by the Marigul-funded design team Clever Trick, is a title that's hard to categorize. It has both real-time strategy (RTS) and RPG elements, but plays like an action-based game as well. You have 18 minutes to raise a sunken ship from the ocean floor. To do this you scour the sea bottom in search of resources that can be used to help upgrade your special submarine named Scout." Interesting stuff.

Looks like there are other copies of this undumped proto floating around, though - there's a long and fascinating conversation about another (?) copy on the ASSEMbler Forums back in 2004, which also goes into whether there are a number of other Spaceworld 2000 N64 protos floating around - apparently so! The current seller wants $1,520 for this Echo Delta N64 proto cart, though - pretty pricey.

Bush's Brain, Filtered Through The Gaming Press

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/bratra.gif The cunning like a fox Kyle Orland has posted a fun piece over at VGMWatch on how the video game press handled the recent news that President Bush had been given a DS and a copy of Brain Training by Nintendo for his 60th birthday.

Orland notes: "This story is more than a PR case study — it’s also a rare window into the political inclinations of some members of the video game press... While Nintendo was careful not to state anything explicitly in its letter, the implication of giving a brain training game to a president widely stereotyped as a dim bulb is not lost on anyone. Which outlets took the bait and made the obvious joke, and which ones played it straight?"

Results were predictable: "Leading off the snarkfest, unsurprisingly, is Spong which had by far the most ruthless attacks on the prez. Not only does the British site lead off by calling Bush a “warmongering lunatic and global terrorist overlord,” but it goes on to suggest that Bush’s aging should make people happy as they “wait for the inevitable.” Ouch!"

[Oh, and we ran into this gem of a headline from today's Spong, which shows the 'genius' that is the tabloidiest game site on the Internet, whatever GamesRadar is trying for - and for those too scared to click through, it reads: 'Bono Looks Sanctimonious Cock as Game Investment Row Flares'.]

Kazam! Instant Game Rarity!

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/msg3s.jpg Woops, we missed this one from a few days back, but Namako Team points to a fun recent 1UP feature called 'Instant Rarity', written by GSW columnist DannyC, and subtitled: "Are those 'rare' games really worth the dough?"

Danny notes in the intro: "In recent months, gamers have had to pay exorbitant prices at online auctions for titles like Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, Dance Dance Revolution: Mario Mix, and the limited-edition version of Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence. For these and many other games, secondary market prices often shoot up past the $100 mark within weeks of initial release, and the trend shows no sign of stopping. Fortunately, however, the commissioned reprinting of rare titles has recently become a common occurrence, and with a little smart shopping, you might just be able to avoid taking a financial hit due to the phenomenon that is instant rarity."

Another interesting bit relates to intentionally low print-run games: "Many games published by Atlus, for instance, have been the victims of eBay price inflation. The company's famously niche titles often sell out immediately, and they're almost always in demand by fans of quirk-filled Japanese titles like Disgaea and Riviera. "Our philosophy is to always leave the market a little hungry," says Zach Meston, Atlus USA's assistant PR/marketing manager." Those cheeky chappies!

Wow, and one more particularly intriguing bit regarding GameQuestDirect and GameStop with regard to Koei's Gitaroo Man: "It soon became apparent that GameQuestDirect was selling its new reprinted stock in bulk to GameStop, who would, in turn, open these sealed games and sell them as used. The reasoning behind this is that used copies of Gitaroo Man command a higher price at GameStop than new and sealed copies -- a strange but common occurrence for older, rarer titles sold at the retail chain."

Mr. Smoozles Goes Nutso, Says Ince

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/nutso.jpg You may know UK game writer Steve Ince from his work for multiple Revolution Software titles - as noted in his bio: "His nomination for Excellence in Writing at the Game Developers Choice Awards 2004, followed on from the three BAFTA nominations that were received for Broken Sword - The Sleeping Dragon: Best Game Design, Best PC Game and Best Adventure."

While offering writing and design consulting, Ince has also started indie developer Juniper Games, and he just sent around a press release about a new demo for the improbably named Mr. Smoozles Goes Nutso, which is "an arcade adventure game based upon [Ince's] online comic strip, Mr. Smoozles", and rather sweetly made in Game Maker, by the look of it.

The story? "Play as Ed and join in his struggles to avoid Mr. Smoozles, who's been turned completely nutso by the evil Goragons. Dark creatures from another dimension, who are intent on destroying reality. Will Ed defeat the Goragons, free his friends, restore Mr. Smoozles' mind and bring the world back to normal?! And the biggest challenge – will Ed save his valuable collection of Geeks Monthly?! Well, of course he will - with your help!" There's a PC demo available, too, so triple yay.

COLUMN: 'Bastards of 32-Bit' - Cosmic Race

cosmicrace1.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 Cosmic Race for the Sony PlayStation, published by Neorex and released in Japan in January 1995.]

All hail Gazuga!

Bad games are an inevitability for every console, but only a few stand out as being among the worst of all time. Bad games are fleeting; their life span is determined by however long the possibility for a cheap laugh exists. For a game to be considered as one of the worst of all time, however, it has to have impact. The worst games have legends attached to them, are universally loathed, and eventually become ingrained in gaming culture.

Cosmic Race is a title that is legendary for its many failures, all of which were highlighted in a review printed in a 1996 issue of Game Players. The game's infamous review was one characterized by disbelief, and Game Players' editors maintained that there could never be a game worse than Cosmic Race. The magazine even made Cosmic Race a semi-permanent part of its ratings system: 100% was "perfect"; 0% was "Cosmic Race."

Obviously, I was overjoyed when I was finally able to track down a copy.

cosmicrace2.jpgTo The Box with you.

Playing Cosmic Race for the first time is a bewildering experience, as its gameplay seemingly strives to be as counterintuitive as possible. Start a race and as soon as you hear the word "Go", your ship will immediately sink under the track and become stuck in the ground. Your time will then likely run out before you can escape, ending the game well before you'll be able to figure out what went wrong.

So what happened? Well, like some kind of idiot, you probably expected the accelerate function to be mapped to the X button. That's just what they wanted you to think! According to Cosmic Race, the best place for the accelerator is obviously the R1 shoulder button. Duh. This only becomes apparent after a few more experimental plays, however, after which the next big challenge is figuring out how to turn your ship. If you think that merely pressing left and right on the directional pad will navigate you through turns, you're not ready for Cosmic Race.

I'M BOREDNot quite as good as Rocket Dogs.

Once the controls are understood (under no circumstances can they ever be "mastered"), it becomes easier to concentrate on Cosmic Race's many other flaws. As Game Players noted in its review, much of the game's graphics seem to have been cribbed directly from clipart found in early PlayStation devkits.

This lends the game a kind of patchwork quality -- Cosmic Race's graphics are the visual equivalent of a song constructed using only Casio keyboard demo loops. The non-stolen artwork doesn't fare much better, as much of it leans toward the scary side of anthropomorphism. The gameplay really isn't so bad, however...that is, if you can look past the fact that collision detection is essentially random.

In the end, though, Cosmic Race left me a little disappointed. It's bad, sure, but there are far worse games out there. The inexplicably awesome soundtrack alone keeps it out of 0% range, and the simple race-to-the-finish gameplay is compelling precisely because the game's programmers botched it so badly. It's more fair to call Cosmic Race the stupidest game of all time, rather than one of the worst. As for whether it's worth tracking down just to see this stupidity in action, that's another matter entirely.

[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.]

Small Arms' XBLA Degrees Of Separation

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/sarms.jpg Upcoming Xbox 360 Live Arcade games is one of my favorite topics, and handy indie site TIGSource has compiled a bunch of them about Small Arms, the Gastronaut Studios-developed game which is "kind of a cross between Metal Slug and Super Smash Bros., which is a pretty good idea."

He links to some YouTube-hosted video of the game from E3, the only movie I've seen of the game in action, which actually references an important point for me - who's doing effective PR for independent XBLA titles? One of the things we're noticing is that there's not much info about a lot of the titles (videos, screenshots, press releases) before they go live, which is a shame, because then people don't get to know about them. Microsoft, appoint someone just to do that, immediately!

Even more interesting, an XBLArcade.com news story reveals, via an MTV News story: "Small Arms will have an Achievement that it’s director calls “Six Degrees of ‘Small Arms.’ ”... The way it works is that the four people who work at Gastronaut Studios will initially be the only ones with the Achievement, as soon as someone plays with any of the four, they will also get the achievement." Oh yes - best idea ever!

MMO IT, Play.d Do Web Mag Thing

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/playd.jpg This whole PDF-able downloadable game magazine thing seems to be increasingly popular, and this time, we've spotted two new magazines doing it - MMO IT and Play.d.

Firstly, according to their press release: "Pugland is pleased to announce the first edition of the new magazine, MMO IT, has just been released. This magazine caters to massivly multiplayer online games for the PC market and is distributed freely in PDF format." The layout is somewhat basic, but it does indeed cover "smaller titles which the normal games magazines wouldn't cover", including Ballerium, Shattered Galaxy, and even something called The Universal that we'd never heard of - formerly called 'A Tractor', weirdly enough.

However, much more professional looking, if covering much more well-trodden ground, is UK console PDF magazine Play.d, which has just released its second issue in PDF form. The layout is pretty neat-looking, with definite echoes of UK magazines such as GamesTM and Edge, and there are some fun articles in there, such as a shooter round-up and retro discussions of Speedball 2 - definitely worth poking around in.

July 6, 2006

X360 Achievement Difficulty Decoded

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/rr666.jpg We've covered Xbox 360 achievement-related site Achieve360Points a few times in recent weeks, and now they were nice enough to mail us to explain a new feature they just added.

They explain: "Our team wanted to let you know about our new feature over here: Achievement Difficulty Ratings. It basically just lets you know how difficult it is to attain the achievements in any game. You can check out the feature on any of our game pages." Notably, as you'll see: "There were three games that ranked in the "Near Impossible" status:" Ridge Racer 6, Bejeweled 2, and Smash TV.

We certainly agree with regard to Ridge Racer 6 - presumably set up by the hardcorest of the hardcore Namco Japan coders behind the game. We've played the title a whole bunch and we're still under 100 points out of 1000 for it - the full achievement listing has a few fiendishly hard achievements, including: "No Crash Victory: Single Races - Congratulations! You've won by showing your quick yet beautiful driving techniques", and "No-Nitrous Victory: Single Races - Congratulations! You've won by not using the fully charged nitrous" - yikes!

[Oh, also, a good tip for Ridger Racer 6 - some people don't realize that if you turn on nitrous help (fully charged nitrous to start the level) for races, they don't count toward proper completion and Achievement Points - so watch out for that!]

Like DOOM III, But With Added Jesus!

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/angelic.jpg One of the plus sides of representing Gamasutra is that we get all kinds of entertaining press releases, such as a new one promoting the 'Great Conquest Collection', "a six-pack of [PC] games that provides players over 70 hours of playing time filled with fun, action, entertainment, skill-development and moral enhancement."

What's more, the press release comes with a killer quote that we love: "These games are the equivalent to violent games such as DOOM III, however these games have been built to encourage the younger Christians with Biblical values in a storyline about spiritual warfare," writes Rob Allwright, editor, Soteria Magazine. So... like DOOM III, but with less of the demons, then? Eeexcellent!

The collected games include some we've heard of before - we're particularly tickled by 'Ominous Horizons: A Paladin's Calling', which is about Johannes Gutenberg's printing press being stolen in 15th Century Mainz (!): "Gutenberg could now create thousands of copies of the Bible to be distributed throughout the world, making the Word of God easily available to any who sought it. With his press destroyed, and the Bible stolen, a Paladin is called upon to once again free the world of evil and return the Bible to Gutenberg. You are that Paladin in, Ominous Horizons: A Paladin's Calling." No, really - you ARE that Paladin!

Unbelievably, there's an even better quote to end the press release. Harry E. Pratt, regional spokesperson for Christian Game Developers Foundation, says: "Parents and grandparents have become quite frustrated. They want video games that will challenge and excite their children in a positive way... The Great Conquest Collection positively influences our youth and provides lasting moral implications for them. We are fully confident our video games will prepare all players in their daily battle against the devil, his followers and their evil ways." Or your money back.

The Power Shovel Lullaby Method

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/pshov.jpg Via GSW columnist RyanS, an old G4 Cinematech video that we missed, but is sooo worth it, since it displays the genius of 'Omega 3 & The Fatty Acids', a band apparently formed entirely to sing the praises of a cheap Japanese PS1 import.

Some of the lyrics to the song accompanying video of the game, as far as we can tell, read: "You're a very nice game... $9.99, a very nice price.... Power Shovel, teaching me to be the best that I can be." Most importantly: "I shovel turtles... and curry, for free." And as you'll see from the video, that's really what you do in Power Shovel!

Also, there are a bunch more Cinematech-related clips down the right hand margin, which is cool, because you can check out some of the other fun they've been up to recently - I particularly like the extremely gory Jaws clip, which highlights the amount of ways you can gore, drown, and otherwise spindle humans with your lovable shark! Also cool - 'The Pirates' for PlayStation 2, a Japanese import which I'm presuming is a D3 game - the jaunty hornpipe background music makes it, mind you.

Eve Ink - A Tattoo Story?

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/evetat.jpg From the department of the somewhat wacky - an extreme fan of recently GSW-mentioned PC MMO Eve Online has set up a weblog documenting his large, complex Eve Online tattoo that's currently being inked into his back - there's a work in progress pic on the site.

As the blogger explains: "Having played the game for so long now, nearly 3 years, I have come to appreciate the back story and overall depth of EVE, and I have for the past 6 months or so been deliberating on the pros and cons of both getting the tattoo and where I should have it placed if I had one." The tattoo so far has "...the first Caldari character with a little colour down the left hand side. As with the images each race will be coloured by that particular races tone, in this case shades of blue."

We also think it's sweet that he asked permission of developer CCP to get the tattoo: "Kieron, the the Head of the Community Support for CCP and EVE, finally got back to me with a response. And the response is great news, CCP have no issues with me using some of their intellectual property as the basis for my tattoo." Aw, we wanted to see what would have happened if he had it done anyhow, and then they served him with a lawsuit. :P [Via QT3.]

Game Ads A-Go-Go: Deeply Disturbing Game-Related Ads

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

Welcome back, ad-fans, to Game Ads A-Go-Go! This week I have collected for you three ads that I personally find disturbing for various different reasons. That doesn't mean that you'll find them disturbing, but hopefully you can at least laugh at the nervous paranoia and general mental instability that is manifested in my reaction to certain game magazine ads. In each case, I've presented the ad itself, why it disturbs me, and some psychoanalytical and physiological musings over why it is disturbing. So pull out your therapists' couch and kick back for a strange and wonderful journey deep within the human psyche.


Case #1

momboy_large.jpg

Product Featured in Ad: Handy Boy, Handy Gear

What Disturbs Me About the Ad: The implication that this kid/man is not properly returning the affections of his girlfriend/mother, choosing instead to focus them on a hyper-accesorized handheld video game system.

Underlying Psychological Cause for Disturbance: Inbreeding is not only taboo in nearly every civilization on Earth, but it is also bad for the genetic diversity of a species. Also, immature males over the age of twenty are commonly frowned upon in today's productivity-driven, creativity-deprived adult American work culture.

Comments: "Sometimes life can be complicated..." No shit. Especially when you're an overgrown man-child who's cheating on your mom with a Game Boy.

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Case #2

cyberpad_large.jpg

Product Featured in Ad: CYBERPad

What Disturbs Me About the Ad: Passively positioned skeletal human forearm jutting forth from TV screen, ready to spring to life at any moment and strangle you. Glowing sparks from broken CRT could set fire to nearby polyester-blend stuffed Mario collection.

Underlying Psychological Cause for Disturbance: Skeletons typically symbolize death because they are usually covered in certain biological materials conducive to the state of being alive. If found uncovered, death has likely occurred in the organism. Death itself is disturbing because it implies an end to existence. And death emerging from a common household TV set is just not supposed to @$%*ing happen.

Comments: The tagline for this controller should be "Makes your worst nightmares come true." Scary ads like this are why religion was invented (*ahem*, I mean, bestowed upon humanity by God).

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Case #3

gotpanic_large.jpg

Product Featured in Ad: Panic (Sega CD)

What Disturbs Me About the Ad: I really don't care for the font used in the tagline.

Underlying Psychological Cause for Disturbance: Fonts can be extremely disturbing if used improperly. This phenomenon has been demonstrated numerous times by several prominent Dutch experimental psychologists (Devenpeck, 1997). Fanciful lettering observed by the eye is transmuted and processed by the scripticile command center of the brain, also known as the fontainebleau nodule. (Onderdonk, 1967). This all-important nervous center overloads and shuts down when bombarded with too much lateral fontitude, causing serious mental disturbance (also see Greki, 1989, and Vanderveergul, 1995).

Comments: If you're going to parody the "Got Milk" ad campaign, then at least get it right and use the proper post-modern Gravadia Sans-Serif Semi-Bold 104 instead of the cheap Spanish font sweatshop wood-carved imitation, Grasazda Extra Smooth 72!

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[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.]

Grumpy Gamer Hosts Delightful Gaming Carnival

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/grumpy.jpg That Grumpy Gamer himself, Ron Gilbert, is hosting the Carnival Of Gamers this month, and the traveling display of various linked posts about video games is as eclectic as ever.

Gilbert notes in his whimsical intro: "Due to a massive pile-up out on Highway 4 and the two-headed dog only having one set of pet registration tags, the much anticipated and often delayed July edition of Carnival of Gamers has finally arrived. We've set up in the parking lot of the old Payless store just outside the county line so laws regarding "liability of death" don't apply."

Lots of fun articles here, but I like Kill Ten Rats' on managing game messageboards in particular: "Idiots attack you. They attack your game and your company, but they attack you personally. We all have seen enough examples of these. Idiots defend you. Stupid fanboys and groupies can be rather counter-productive, especially if they are defending one thing by impugning another." Having edited Slashdot at one point, I, of course, have absolutely no idea what he is talking about.

Nevrax Tries Comic Approach To MMO Tutorial

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/ryz.jpg So, MMO tutorials - how do you expect them to work? In-game hints, perhaps, or a dense manual with lots of thick-typed text? Well, the folks behind PC MMO Saga Of Ryzom have a new idea - the creators announced that they have "innovated once again with a new kind of tutorial: a comic book!"

As is explained: "This comic [.PDF] fully explains one's first steps in Ryzom via screenshots from the beginners' island : from the characters creation to explanation of the windows, skills and quests... Another great reason to join the thousands of new players enjoying Ryzom's new free trial in Ruins of Silan."

The PDF uses Planetwide's Comic Book Creator, which is also currently in development for SOE's Station Players subscribers, and is, well, reasonably diverting? However, probably the most exciting forthcoming part of the likely underperforming Ryzom is the Ryzom Ring (well-previewed on MMORPG.com), which "enables players to craft, test and then launch their own quests and live content scenarios into the live game" - it's due this Fall.

July 5, 2006

Otaku Swedish Chipmusicians Go! Go!

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/jr1.jpg The extremely useful chiptune/game music resource Vorc.org has managed to spot an awesome new Swedish book which is all about chiptunes - though unfortunately in Swedish!

As Vorc owner Hally explains: "Jens Ryden self-published a 200+ pages book titled "Otaku Sweden Go Go". It focuses on Swedish chiptune scene and featured some of the best known composers from the current Swedish scene, such as Role Model, Goto80, CrazyQ, Covox, Dubmood, Zabutom, Maktone and Random. Although the book is written in Swedish language, a cd with two tracks from each artists comes together."

Hally adds an email address to order, but pics of the book (with Game Boy-related photos, etc) and ordering info is also available at RebelPetSet.com - for a 100-copy limited edition piece, it sure looks professional. [Oh, and talking of retro goodness, we'd like to point out that seminal chiptune label 8BitPeoples just released a new freely downloadable LP from Alex Mauer - 'a distinctly unique release 15 years in the making'. Grab it! Oh, and a new USK release full of Japanese Game Boy rave got posted between me posting this and it going live - those guys are hoppin'!]

Games For Control Freaks

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/loresjo.jpg Lore Sjoberg continues to occupy the 'wacky guy' slot over at Wired News (yes, he's wackier than teh Kohler!), and his latest 'alt.text' column, named 'Games For Control Freaks', suggests some pretty odd alternate game controllers.

The Brunching Shuttlecocks co-founder notes in his intro: "Between the success of Guitar Hero (and the buzz over its sequel) and the upcoming Nintendo Wii with untold attachments, it's clear the game-playing public is looking for something beyond the standard controller, something more immersive, more intuitive. Something that will make them look even stupider playing video games. I have some suggestions for controllers I'd like to see in the near future because I, alone among humanity, have nothing better to do right now."

There follows, yes, silliness - we particular dig the 'brick controller' concept: "It would be great to have a game where you take down enemies by heaving an actual brick at them. I guess it would have to be a foam brick, unless they make TVs a lot tougher. Why don't they make TVs tougher? All I want is a future where the televisions are rugged enough to handle having an actual brick thrown at them, plus there are video games where you win by throwing an actual brick. And some sort of brick-retrieving robot or genetically engineered dog, I guess."

The Escapist Whips It Real Good

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/esckid.jpg Those lovely folks over at The Escapist Magazine have published their latest issue, and, well - let's let them explain: "If you’ve played even a few games you’ll know all too that they can definitely suffer from “the slow parts.” But still something keeps us playing these games despite the boredom and grinding repetition. This week The Escapist looks at what happens when entertainment stops entertaining in Issue 52: “Where there’s a Whip.”

So what's in it? "Feature contributor Allen Varney catches up to speed running, the art of completing a game as fast as possible, in his latest piece, “Speed Thrills.” In “Zombies are the Master Chief” Russ Pitts discusses player-made variants in Halo 2. Dana Massey returns to share the importance of longevity in games in “The Forgotten Gamers.” And Peter Robinett questions if there is an epidemic of boring games in “But I Thought Games Were Supposed to be Fun.”"

We particularly like Varney's article, which highlights a number of people from the Speed Demos Archive, and starts: "Bethesda Softworks' Morrowind roleplaying game has a main quest storyline intended to last 60 to 80 leisurely hours. But if you play Morrowind as fast as you can, how long does the main quest actually take, start to finish? Go on, guess. Guess low. Seven minutes, 30 seconds." Speedy!

GameSetInterview: OCReMix's DJ Pretzel

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/djpretzel.gifDavid Lloyd, better known as DJ Pretzel, began OverClocked ReMix (OCReMix for short) in 1999 as a home for the reinterpretation of videogame music. Seven years later, the site has accumulated almost 1,500 songs by 466 ReMixers, a community of over 20,000 members, and it's own weekly podcast.

The site's mission statement is to "prove that this music is not disposable or merely background, but is as intricate, innovative, and lasting as any other form", which it does through not simply remixing the music, but rearranging it - thus the use of capitals in "ReMix", a spelling coined by Lloyd. The site has seen submissions ranging from house, to hillbilly, and prog to thrash, all quality controlled by its board of judges, helmed by Lloyd. We spoke to him regarding the site - its history and its future, and its highlights.

(Click through to read the full feature, including plenty more Pretzel-centric information!)

What is your background as a gamer?

My family had a Colecovision, 2600, and C64 at different points during my childhood, but I really got into gaming when we purchased a Sega Master System and I started playing games like Shinobi, Phantasy Star and Alex Kidd. Definitely fell into the Sega camp, which put me at odds with 90% of the kids at my elementary school, but I’m a loner anyways, and while the NES had its share of great games, Phantasy Star in particular I feel was a cut above. Later I did get a NES, then a Genesis, then SNES... got into PC gaming. In general, as my time grew scarcer, I gravitated away from RPGs and towards reflex/skill based games like Ridge Racer 4, Street Fighter Alpha, etc., but I still miss the genre.

Probably my favorite RPG was Lunar for the Sega CD - they made a PlayStation version, but I swear, the Sega CD version had a soundtrack that was ten times better. I’m far from hardcore, but I’ve played a good variety of games on a good variety of systems. In all instances, music was one of the criteria that highly affected whether I’d stick with a game long-term - it’s probably more important for me than for the average gamer.

What is your background as a musician and fan of music?

Both of my older sisters were in band in school, as was I - trumpet, and then euphonium. They both also took piano lessons; I did not. Interestingly, I’m the only one who still regularly plays a piano, or keyboard instrument of some kind, even though I’m self-taught. There might be a message there, I don’t know. Inexplicably, though great fans of music, my parents have almost no musical ability whatsoever, whereas we three are all at least what I’d call competent - I think it skipped a generation.

At any rate, when I was 10 or so Emily got a Yamaha PSR-something synth for Christmas, and a couple years later when she lost interest I think I bought it off her for $20. Besides just writing the types of limited compositions that were possible with something like that, I actually got into programming sounds - it was one of the few PSR models that let you design your own patches using basic FM synthesis, and I loved it. I decided that, whether or not it would end up being my job, I loved working with synthesizers and electronic music, and eventually convinced my parents to buy me a Casio CZ-101, my first “professional” synth.

Though it was again very limited, it was 100 times more programmable, and I had fun designing my own sounds. From there I started upgrading and building a makeshift studio, with more and better gear. When I finally got my Ensoniq ASR-10, which all my initial mixes were made with, I was about 16. I spent the next three years doing originals, learning the instrument up and down, and then in 1999 started OC ReMix.

As a fan of music, my background is... that I love it. Some people say they like ‘all genres except rap’ or the same for country, but that’s usually a bland answer from someone who doesn’t actually remember band names or specific songs. In my case, I literally love songs from every genre. Bars, restaurants, no matter where I am, I’m always trying to identify what song is playing, by what band. Outside of it not being related to my profession as a software architect, music plays about as big a role in my life as it could.

Who are your personal favourite game composers, and what are your favourite game soundtracks?

It’s hard to choose, but Yuzo Koshiro and Tokuhiko Uwabe (“Bo”) are two of my favorite composers, and the OSTs for Revenge of Shinobi (Genesis) and Super Castlevania IV (SNES) two of my favorite scores.

When and why did you start OC ReMix?

Late 1999 - there were two motivations. One was that I wanted to force myself to do more music, as I was slipping a bit, and was also interested in learning aspects of arrangement. The other, stronger factor towards creating a public, open-genre, open-platform game remix website was that nothing like that existed at the time, and I was 100% sure that it should. I didn’t necessarily think it’d grow as quickly as it did or reach the point where it is today, but I knew it was a niche that needed to be filled.

How much time do you spend working on the site?

Probably an average of 10 hours a week; less when I’m taking a bit of a breather, and far more when I’m actively developing a new feature, working on one of my own mixes, or helping coordinate a site project.

Do you have any favourites from the site?

I love ‘em all. If forced at gunpoint to choose, highlights would include Star Salzman’s ‘Pillar of Salt’, jdproject’s ‘The Ken Song’, Harmony’s ‘Dragon Song’, and (with humility!!) my own ‘Love Hurts’ mix. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Are there any games you would like to see done that haven’t been?

The main theme from Mega Turrican is amazing and deserves some coverage; there’s just so many great games out there... I’d like to see more Sega Master System and TurboGrafx-16 coverage in general, because those are underappreciated consoles with a wealth of games that had great music. Ninja Spirit, Legendary Axe, Phantasy Star... I plan on doing an Aztec Adventure mix this summer, and that’s yet another game that hardly anyone knows but which had some really catchy tunage.

On the flip side of that, are there any games that you feel have been done to death?

Square, Capcom, Nintendo. Final Fantasy, Chrono Trigger, Mega Man, Zelda, Mario...but not “to death”. “To death” would mean I thought that the range of creative options for rearranging music from those companies and those games had been depleted - far from it. Those games have great music that deserves the attention it gets, and people are still finding new ways of interpreting it - it’s far from dead. However, with so many games and even systems that haven’t been explored yet, it’s sometimes a little dismaying that ReMixers’ attentions focus on some of the same titles.

The community built around the site seems very active, especially in term of reviewing submissions and the like - was this something you expected when you started the site?

I expected it would grow, but it’s reached a level of notoriety and activity that I wouldn’t have imagined six years ago. So, yes and no - I did envision things becoming more interactive, submissions picking up steam, interest growing. But I didn’t know it would continue doing that for five years, and become what it is today.

The trend’s continuing - we’ve got various site projects that cover the entire soundtracks to games, like the recently released Street Fighter 2 project ‘Blood on the Asphalt’, new mixers are sending in their stuff and old ones continuing to come up with fresh ideas, and in general I feel like we have the same type of momentum we always did; nothing’s slacked off, everything’s cumulative, and I’m just happy mixers and listeners alike are still adding so much energy to the site. It’s really less of a website and more of a concept, and the enthusiasm with which that concept has been embraced and continues to be embraced is fantastic.

Top Ten: Signs Your Casual Game is Not Good

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/ressi.jpg Following on from last week's Casuality conference in Seattle, casual game site Gamezebo has posted 'Top Ten Signs your Casual Game is Not Good', as created by GameTrust's Adeo Rossi, and presented at the conf.

We won't list the whole ten, you'll have to click through for that, but some highlights include: "6. The first localization was in Latin", and "4. The embedded ad got more play". Yes, yes, very cute, Mr. Letterman wannabe. And on this general subject, a recent Gamasutra recap rounded up all of our coverage of Casuality, which had some really interesting sessions, including an interesting Bing Gordon keynote.

In his talk, the EA non-co-founder (haw!) sounded genuinely enthused about the casual game revolution - and the importance of status in it: "Gordon outlined lessons for the game industry by referencing his own experiences in Club Pogo. He first emphasized the power of 'badges'. He himself has 269 badges on Club Pogo, and even though the badges are only for collecting based on gameplay, they stand as symbols of success seen by the community."

PC Format UK Exemplifies The Online Charity-A-Thon

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/sprel.jpg Gama contributor Jim Rossignol points to the PC Format UK charity Quake IV match, which is not only for a good cause, but again shows off the ways you can raise money for charities by playing virtual games as well as real ones.

The post explains: "Sport Relief is a noble cause indeed, but we can't help but feel that cyber-athletes are under-represented at this mammoth charity fundraising event. So, that's why the staff of PCFormat magazine UK will, on Thursday 13 July at 4pm, endure a first-to-1000 kills game of Quake IV." They reckon it'll take about six or seven hours - ouch.

This is somewhat reminiscent, of course, of the Second Life Relay For Life, which is apparently taking place later this month, and is "a volunteer-driven effort to hold an American Cancer Society Relay For Life event in the Second Life world. It's a walk-a-thon in cyberspace, where SL residents gather, camp out, dance, donate money and of course walk our custom built track that encompasses the 96 acre park." More charity-related game action, plz!

Special Report: To Live And Game In NY

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/washsq.jpg[We're proud to present a special extended report fom Matt 'Fort90' Hawkins, which takes a bite out of the Big Apple's video game scene, from his own inimitable perspective, summing up the history and state of NY's arcades, game stores, and gaming culture. Wanna do this for your own home town? Go ahead and contact us.]

Summer has finally arrived, and many folks across this nation are spending their leisure time by traveling. One very popular destination is New York City, and it's only natural given that the Big Apple simply has it all. You'll find absolutely everything in NYC: fine art, film, music, theater, dance, food from all corners of the globe... but what if you're into video games? It would seem that the center of the world, culturally speaking, is devoid of one single element. In recent years, New York has become home for a burgeoning creative scene, followed by some glimmer of hope for commerce, but if you're simply a fan of video games, it may feel like NYC is no home at all.

Things haven't always been this bad, and while what was once here might not be particularly impressive to some these days, at least it was something, and perhaps still worth celebrating, especially since there seems to be very little written about that era floating around the net these days. There are still a few places to go and play games, along with stores to buy them, aside from the usual retail chains, which might be of some interest for both out-of-towners and even native New Yorkers who had no idea that there's stuff beyond Gamestop.

([UPDATE - fixed link, sorry!] Click through to read the full feature, including likely the most detailed discussion of NY's game life ever typed into a computer!)

THE ARCADES

As already mentioned, there's not much info available on the arcade scene that used to be, so all I can do is recount the "good old days", back when I was a freshman in college ten years ago. Whenever I grew weary of schoolwork and needed to blow off some steam, I would make the trek to Times Square and straight to one of two favorite haunts, Playland and the Broadway Arcade. Those were the days when arcades were still arcades, not the "amusement centers" that we have today; you didn't go to have dinner or to win friendship bracelets or other cheap trinkets, you went there to blast aliens out of the sky, give the final boss a devastating upper cut, or simply to set the top score, period. And your arsenal was a pocketful of quarters, not some stupid game card that required you to do math when it came to balancing its "credit".

Playland was located on Broadway and I believe between 46th and 47th Street. The place was dingy, cramped, and seedy. So it was basically every child's paradise, as well as every parent's nightmare; ask any gamer who grew up in NYC and you'll more than likely get an enthusiastic "Playland? Man, I loved that place!" followed by "I had to sneak in all the time because my parents would have killed me if they knew I went there." It was such a bright and shining example of the arcade's glory days that looking back, it almost feels like a cartoony caricature: the entrance had a flashing red light, much like on the old fashioned police cars, and you could either get three I heart NY shirts for ten bucks or a fake ID made. In the back was some room where the real seedy types gathered to do who the hell know what, hence why I stayed the hell away. Even the walls themselves had character: faux-wood paneling and plastered on-top were pin-up posters of Traci Lords, Cindy Crawford, and assorted other "babes" from the 80s and 90s. And of course, there was the reason why people converged in its dank, smoky quarters in the first place: practically the entire history of video games to that point, all strewn about and encapsulated in torn and tattered arcade units, but still very much alive.

Nearby was the Broadway Arcade, which really wasn't on Broadway but just a block away, on the corner of 49th and 7th Ave. Compared to Playland, it was quite clean-cut and modern, and not every player smoked a whole pack while slamming the controls, but at heart it was still very much a heaven for diehard gamers, with a nice selection of then current games, which were mostly fighters, a few shooters, and some classic titles sprinkled about. And with none of the nonsense with machines that spout out tickets to trade-in for candy or cheap knickknacks. But by late 96, early 97, both were out of business, along with all the strip joints, sex stores, and other traces of "Old Times Square" that the city, with the help of Disney, managed to bulldoze away in their effort to "revitalize" the neighborhood. In its place a string of "family-friendly" or "classy" joints would pop up over the following years. The "new-wave" in arcade entertainment had begun.

The first was XS, which opened in either the spring or summer of 97 and was dead center in the heart of Time Square, on 42nd St between 7th Ave and Broadway. The place was a complete counterpoint to Playland; it wasn't some hole in the wall filled with beaten up Ms. Pac Man and Street Fighter machines, but a two-story tall complex will all the popular games of the time, as well as plenty of deluxe sit down machines, such Tokyo War, Namco's head to head battle tank simulator which utilized gigantic (especially for its time) 50 inch monitors, as well as VR rides, a bar, and an internet cafe (back when the web and email were still a novelty and not a day-to-day necessity). It was New York City's first taste of using a "credit" card to play instead of quarters or tokens, which are always a total hassle: instead something costing twenty five or fifty cents, its then 3.5 credits, but you only have 2.7 you're out of luck, unless you add a dollar to your card, which gets you 3 credits, or if you could add five dollars for 20 credits, but you may not play that many games, though after 7 pm they knock of 1.5 credits on certain.... you get the picture.

All that flash didn’t come cheap, and the prices for everything were astronomical (and unfortunately a sign of things to come). The offerings were too much for the locals, which the operators knew, so they targeted tourists, which succeeded to a certain degree but not enough to sustain long-term business. Despite their attempts at putting forth a clean-cut and safe environment, there was supposedly an incident late one Friday night in which a woman was struck down, dragged up to the second floor (via the cramped, spiral staircase), and taken into the bathroom where she was sexually assaulted (note: all efforts to find a specific report to recount details have been unsuccessful). Afterwards security was beefed up considerably, but it was too late, and a few months later, the place was shut down just a little over a year after opening. From most accounts, the place was almost always empty. Given the high cost of rent, most places barely get by in the heart of NYC, though others arcades would appear and give it their best shot...

Whereas XS tried to make arcades respectable, Barcode attempted to make them upscale and chic. It opened in either late 98 or 99, right next to the Virgin Megastore, on Broadway, near 46th Street, and from what I understand, cost 10 million dollars. The target audience was primarily the upper crust; one Friday evening, my friend and I decided to check it out, but we were stopped at the door by the bouncer and denied access. The reason? His pants had holes in them. Once again, my friend didn't have nice enough pants. To go in an arcade.

I looked inside, to check out what we'd be missing, and witnessed a sea of deluxe arcade set-ups, mostly Sega games (my favorite brand of arcade entertainment), including almost every single racing title of theirs up till that point. And the entire space was completely deserted. Where was everyone? At the bar, which was filled with men in business suits, and all staring at the "sexy" bartender, who was literally standing on the bar. She was pouring what I believe was vodka down her chest, trying to get it to run down her body and onto the one leg that was raised, with the foot hovering over a glass. Mind you that this was when the whole Coyote Ugly bar scene was really hot in the city, and since this woman was wearing really high heels, balancing precariously, high above the floor, and was perhaps drunk (though she looked most definitely like a total idiot) she nearly fell backwards, which might have broken her neck. Anyway, the place didn't last long either, despite the fact that later on they tried to change things up by making it more family friendly, with the incorporation of redemption games to win chintzy prizes or candy.

Barcode closed its door about 2000, 2001, and not long afterwards another arcade popped up, calling itself "The Broadway Arcade", despite the fact that it was on 42nd Street, near the Port Authority on 8th Ave, well over a block and half away from Broadway. This "other" Broadway Arcade was more of the same: three stories this time of assorted gaming machines, mostly large, deluxe units, such as Dance Dance Revolution which was starting to become popular in America, as well as some fighters for the hardcore set, more redemption games for the kiddies, as well as a sports bar, with accompanying sports related games for fathers and business types after work. But despite yet another attempt to wrap the arcade experience in a bright and shiny package, trouble still went down. A few doors down is the B. B. King Club & Grill, which plays host to a number of musical acts, and often after a R&B or rap performance, a fight would ensue among thuggish youth. They'd get kicked out of the establishment and almost immediately make a b-line to the Broadway Arcade to continue their fight. Violent scuffles would break on a regular basis, causing them security to beefed up considerably. But like XS and Barcode before it, despite its glitzy potential, The Broadway Arcade closed it doors a few years later to little fanfare.

Then you had Lazer Park. Located on 46th Street near Broadway, the place was smaller and far less impressive looking than the bright and shining behemoths that XS, Barcode, and Broadway was. It was just a laser tag arena, a purely average one at that, with some video games in the waiting area. The arcade component wasn't anything terribly impressive and had basically what everyone might expect: some fighting games, DDR, classic stuff, plus redemption machines, along with a Battletech set-up which was a star attraction. But in the end, it worked long enough to stick around longer than any of the other "new-wave" arcades.

Over the years, Lazer Park tried different things to keep in business. I recall in the summer of 2003, the manager brought up the idea of getting involved in the business of selling consoles and games, and asked for my opinion. I basically said that it wasn't worth the trouble, but in the end, he ended up pursuing it anyway. I can't say honestly if it was a super successful move, but I never saw many people lining up to take a game home. (It didn't really help that their selection was hardly stellar.) Another gimmick was “Super Sundays;” for $20 a person could play unlimited games from 7 pm to midnight. While Lazer Park managed to hang in there, perhaps far longer than anyone could have expected, it closed its doors this past May, after nine years of business.

So what do we have left? Not much really... There’s still the very last vestige of the old arcade scene, the Chinatown Fair, on 8 Mott Street, in the heart of Chinatown. It’s become the final true dark corner of the city for gamers to gather. It still feels (and smells) like "the good old days" to a certain extent, thought the sights and sounds are mostly attributed to SNK and Capcom games and their followers. There's a few other machines, like some classic stuff, even a few pin ball machines in the way back corner, but most of them are broken, and really, most people are there to play Marvel vs. Capcom 2 anyway. For me, the place hasn't been the same ever since the star attraction literally died. Upfront, There used to be a chicken in a booth which one could play Tic Tac Toe against. If the chicken won, he got some feed. If you won... well, I don't know, because you never won. The feathered bastard always got the first move. Okay, maybe that's just one reason. But he embodied much of what the Chinatown scene was all about, and the mood and atmosphere in general just hasn't been the same in recent years.

Anything else? A few pockets here and there. Going back to Times Square, there's an arcade that virtually no one talks about, but some folks know and have made it their spot. Located in the Port Authority, which is the major bus depot in the city, on 8th Avenue and 42nd St, is the Leisure Time Bowling Center and Cocktail Lounge, and right to the lanes is an arcade with a good number or contemporary games. The star attraction is perhaps the Daytona USA 2 set-up. The place even has its own tokens, and everything is actually reasonably priced.

Back down south in Chinatown is a tiny, hidden arcade in the Kong Man Center, located on 89 Bowery, between Canal and Hester Street, which only a select few know about. There are only about four machines, though one was busted during my visit (and I have feeling that it's always been that way), and each one is a SNK machine, with the highlight title being King of Fighters XI. When I went to check the place out, a few of the local kids were playing, and they all stopped for a second to check me out; it was clear that I was foreign territory. Right next to the entrance is a two-player Initial D set-up, and when I first arrived, I also noted a kid sitting in the first player seat, reading a manga. I wondered if he was indeed just reading or simply waiting for his next opponent. After I had seen all I had needed to see inside (which again wasn't much since there were only three active machine, though it offered me my first glimpse at KOF XI), I decided to give a Initial D a try and take my chances with the kid, It turns that he really was just reading his manga, and he let me play... perhaps he took pity on me. It would have been clear to anyone that it was my first time.

Then you have web2zone, on 54 Cooper Square, between Astor Place and 4th Street. The place is an internet cafe that has tons of PCs hooked up to allow networked play. Nothing terribly exciting... there are numerous such places across the city (I'm guessing... can't say really since I'm not a PC gamer really), until you go down to the basement. There you'll find two Japanese styled Virtua Fighter 4 Final Tune cabinets, linked to each other; each machine only has one set of joystick and buttons, so when head-to-head, each person has their own screen. Also, again since its straight from Japan, you have to sit down to play them. When I went to check it out, there must have been at least twenty folks all packed into the somewhat cramped basement, waiting for their turn. Again, its nothing, but it's at least something, especially to these folks.

Once again, back to Times Square, where someone's giving it another shot at high-scale arcade entertainment, this time a name that's had relatively great success across the nation. Just a few months ago, a Dave & Buster's opened on 42nd Street, between 7th and 8th Avenues, on the south side, almost directly across where the second Broadway Arcade used to be. If you've ever been to a D&B, you know exactly what to expect. But since it’s in the third floor of a New York City building, it's considerably smaller compared to than their usually spacious restaurant/bar/arcade complex. So the designers unfortunately decided to scale down the arcade component the most, meaning there's only a few games on-hand, and they're extremely pricey. But that's the case with any Dave & Buster's, regardless of location. At least it’s the home to a very new 8 player Daytona USA set-up, perhaps in the best possible condition (without a hint of burn-in on the screens).

That’s pretty much it for arcades in New York City. Pretty sad, isn't it? But is it at all surprising? As stated earlier, arcades are a dying breed all over the nation, so what would make NYC immune? Given that one can find multiple places to get excellent Chinese food and see sketch comedy live, among a great number of other things to do in NYC well past midnight, perhaps it’s not that crazy to expect to find at least a few places to play a quick round of Mortal Kombat.

Actually, if you do go out to Brooklyn, there is Barcade, which as the name suggests, is a combination bar and arcade. Come for the cheap prices on local ales. Stay for the rows of classic games, such as Super Mario, Rampage, and even the old vector Star Wars game. Unfortunately, it’s located dead center in the heart of the trendy section of Brooklyn, Willamsburg (on 388 Union Avenue to be exact), which means instead of arcade rats, the place is swimming with hipsters. And while they may look (and smell) better, their general attitude often leave a lot to be desired. At least they're easily beaten in almost any head to head game.

Plus, there's always the far southern tip of Brooklyn, Coney Island and it various arcades. You'll find a bizarre mish-mash of old and new titles. Until recently, it was perhaps the only place on the eastern seaboard where one could find the Sonic the Hedgehog arcade fighting game, though it’s been missing for a few years now. Virtually every machine is on its very last legs. In that sense, Coney Island has always felt like the place where arcade games finally go to die. Though, while it’s still breathing, I highly suggest everyone rush to the arcade at the El Dorado Bumper Cars for the last Ms. Pac Man machine left, perhaps in the entire state, that costs only a quarter a play (and it’s nice and hard, thanks to the speed injection).

THE STORES

So what if you just want to buy video games? You've got assorted GameStops and EB Games, but we all know that the major game retail chains are almost always a pain in the ass. (And if you think the ones in the ‘burbs have incompetent and rude sales people, you ain't seen nothing till you've been to one in the Big Apple.) NYC is the home for tons of small, independent shops where you can get rare, even unheard of records, movies, and the such. But what about games? Again, there's very little to speak of. And once more, things used to be better. Much better in fact.

The golden age of video game retail had to be about six or seven years ago. This was shortly after the dawning the PlayStation era, in which games were officially not just for kids anymore. Due to a more active, older fan-base, more money was being thrown around, and better technology gave fans a good excuse to buy into the hype. There was a heightened awareness of what else was out there, meaning that import games were finally coming to their own. At his point, the internet was not nearly as pervasive and as usable as it is today, hence there were more than a few good stores to get games.

The one that many New Yorkers knew and love (and probably still miss) was Games Express, which was on 32nd Street, between 6th and 7th Ave, right near Penn Station. It was a huge store with a vast selection. During its most thriving days, in the late 90's, they had a vast selection for every platform at the time: PlayStation, Saturn, Nintendo 64, Game Boy, Game Boy Color, plus older systems like the Genesis and Super NES, even the Game Gear and Game.com systems. Then there were the import games, for all the major systems, as well as game soundtracks, toys from Japan, anime, art books, posters... they had it all. But as online sales sites began to build steam, the selection started to dwindle a bit, though their excellent prices always stayed the same; there was always a huge selection of older games, all brand new and at dirt cheap prices. One didn't have the brave the used and bargain bins of the major outlets, or deal with the headaches of Ebay with Games Express was around. And the best of all were the sales people, who were (for the most part) bright and intelligent folks, who became your friends, and vice versa. But when they began offering cell phone activations in 2003, you knew the days were numbered. And in either 2003 or 2004, the store officially closed its doors. The reason? Why many small business end up having to shut down: the high cost of rent. Since real estate is so valuable, the owner of the building realized that they could make much more money by turning the land into condos instead of continuing to collect rent from someone selling old Dreamcast titles.

Another great indie store was Videogamesters, which was first on 6th Ave, between 13th and 14th Street. It was a much smaller store compared to Games Express, but they too offered a great selection of games for all the current and older consoles, plus imports, and had a few really good sales people on-staff. They had three television sets, one running the hot PlayStation game at the moment, the second running the one for the Saturn, and the third for the N64. My fondest memory is of the day one of the coworker’s friends came by and hooked up an old 2600 to one of the monitors. The little kids were totally flabbergasted by the site of the old Atari Spider Man and Empire Strikes Back games, which were all passionately booed, while the employee and his friend (along with myself) all grinned with glee. Though just like that other store, their landlord decided to hike the rent. But instead of just closing down, Videogamesters decided to move a few blocks away, onto 14th, near 8th Avenue. The new store was much nicer and far bigger. There was even room for a few arcade machines. But just like Games Express, as the gaming commerce online grew, the numbers of folks that would stop by the store began to shrink. It also didn't help that the location just didn't feel that prime for such a business. I believe they closed their doors in 2001 or 2002.

As nice as Games Express and Videogamesters were, they simply couldn't compare to the scene down in Chinatown. That was the primo spot to get games, especially stuff from Japan. The absolute height was around 98-99, the tail end of the 32/64 bit systems, and the coming of the next generation, primarily the Dreamcast. There were an insane number of stores dedicated to selling games; my personal favorite was on the second floor of a small shopping center, at the corner of Canal and Lafayette Street. Aside from their great assortment of import Saturn and Game Boy titles, they sold these Sega figurine key chains, and the NiGHTS one remains one of my favorite game related knickknacks (and highly coveted among diehard Sega-phile friends).

But the real action took place on Elizabeth Street. Once more, you could find games for sale literally everywhere, and not just the real deals but bootlegs. There used to be a guy who lived on the second floor of a building on Elizabeth, who set shop out his apartment. I never caught the guy's name... I don't think he really gave it out, and he was such a creep that I tried my best to avoid as much conversation as possible. His appearance was always unkempt (he always wore the same exact thing: an old dirty wife-beater) and he seemed to ooze grease. Plus the guy was constantly eating noodles. Anyway, he had a whole stash of warez, mostly Chinese PC games, though he had a slew of PlayStation games. The prices he asked for, especially for pirated games, were insane, but he sometimes had that one thing you couldn't find anywhere, plus if one was persistent, he could be talked down.

That guy was small potatoes compared to some others. In the Elizabeth Center, the underground mall where most of the major game selling has sprung from (at 13-17 Elizabeth Street, right next to the NYPD station), there used to be a lot where a guy had sold SNES games via a catalogue. You would leaf through it, and when you found something you liked, they would load the appropriate game to the Game Doctor, which was a floppy disk drive that attached to the console, and make a copy. This went on for a while before they got ratted out by the FBI; they shook up all of Chinatown, running quote a few folks out of business, including the greasy guy, but the folks at the Elizabeth Center stuck around and decided to sell games legit.

There were two primary stores there: J&L Game Trading and another somewhat nameless place that went by "Penguin Village". Again, this was the PlayStation era, as well as a time when anime and manga was starting to take hold in America, plus fighting games were still popular, so both places were constantly packed with kids playing the latest import fighter featuring Dragon Ball Z or Gundam characters. J&L was the bigger of the two, with a wide selection of domestic and import titles for the major three systems (again, the PS, Saturn, and N64). Penguin Village was smaller, and had therefore had a smaller selection, but better prices. Both also provided mods for people to play imports as well as warez, or "back-ups", so that connection was still there.

Business was simply booming for both by the end of ‘98 (each store was especially packed due to all the interest surrounding the Dreamcast which had just been released in Japan), so much so that they each had to expand. Penguin Village took over another, more roomier lot in the underground mall, which was literally just twenty feet away, whereas J&L went topside and got an actual store across the street. As fast as they had each grown, they immediately had to scale back; Penguin Village got rid of the second store and went back to just the one, which still exists today, though now it calls itself "Initial D" for whatever reason (the real name is in Chinese, hence why I'll never really know), and J&L dropped the original location and simply moved everything to the outside store, which is on 28 Elizabeth. The place is still open, even with prices on imports that are often outrageous, given that the same stuff can be found online, such as Play-Asia or NCS at more reasonable prices. I personally attribute it to tourists who aren't as in the know. Plus they still have a considerable amount of N64, Saturn, Dreamcast, even Neo Geo (and Neo Geo CD) games. And for whatever reason, a few months ago they started selling PC Engine games. It should also be noted that for both J&L and Initial D, you don't pay sales tax for anything for whatever reason, unless you pay via credit card. So if you want to shop at these stores... bring cash.

Yet another import specialist was all the way uptown, on 431 5th Avenue. User-Side was a small boutique that specialized in all things Japanese, primarily electronics like computers and DVD players, plus they had a nice selection of games. It was pretty much a very small version of Akihabara (the main electronics district in Tokyo) and unlike the places in Chinatown that had to beef up prices to cover their overhead, all the prices for games were the same exact thing in Japan. It closed sometime in the last year or so, and the reason is a mystery since game retail was not its main business, and it looked to have a very steady customer base of Japanese businessmen.

Nearby on 7th Ave and 40th Street was yet another game store, one that mostly specialized in bootleg anime, plus had a rather odd name. I believe it was Games and James. The place was small, but the prices were rather big, but that's to be expected from any store near Times Square. It died away around the time Barcode did as well, around 2001.

The final big indie game store in the city is one that many New York gamers know all too well about. Located on St. Mark's, which is the heart of the East Village (and is unfortunately becoming more and more NYU country as the years pass), it's gone by two different names over the years: Multimedia 1.0 and St. Mark's Games. The place is well known for primarily three things. First, it's immense collection of vintage hardware and games. Virtually every single game machine ever created is at the store, as well as a huge selection of games for each platform. I believe they have virtually every single Sega Master System game available. Then there's the crates all over the place filled with controllers from all sorts of systems, all tangled up, as well as marquees from various old arcade machines. The second thing almost everyone knows about them are the simply ridiculous prices for pretty much everything, especially since many of the older items and import titles are often in less than optimal condition, And the third thing is the unbelievably rude clerks. Many often wonder how it managed to stay in business despite the fact that absolutely no resident gamer could tolerate being there for more than two solid minutes, but then again, St. Mark's does have a heavy, steady flow of tourists.

So one has to wonder how they will fare from this point on; they recently changed locations, to 202 East 6th St, between Cooper Square and 2nd Avenue, and is now called VideoGamesNewYork. The place feels much like before... sorta like a grimy museum for old, dusty game systems, but its far bigger so its much easier to window shop. As for the legendary rude employees, the one time I was there, it was manned by a rather charming young woman, so hopefully the attitude didn't come along for the move.

Another place which managed to make a move was Games Express. Most are unaware of this, but shortly after the store near Penn Station was closed (and their other location in Harlem, which I unfortunately never got the chance to visit), the management took over a completely different game retail business in the financial district and made it their own. Now on 82 West Broadway, near Warren Street, its a far smaller space compared to the one they used to have, and selection is rather limited (all the games from before were sent back to the warehouse, presumably for the mail order division), but at the great prices for older games are still there. Plus it’s just nice to have Games Express back.

One new store that’s popped up, which isn’t really independent, but there’s only one of them, is the Nintendo World Store, near Rockefeller Center. You’ll find everything related to Nintendo there, from games to t-shirts and that sort of “accessory” stuff. Plus there are kiosks where you’ll find kids playing Smash Brothers while their parents do shopping, and nice display of various pieces of Nintendo hardware over the years (including the Desert Storm-torn Game Boy and pieces from the AVS, before it became the NES).

That's about it when it comes to the retail side. Again, sorta paltry, eh? Well, at least for New York City; again, there are a few other options once you leave Manhattan. I've long heard of a huge gaming store called Fordam Game World that's in the Bronx which I've yet to investigate. Then you have the Fultron Street Mall in Brooklyn. It’s a strip mall with dozens of small, independent shops, and a few sell games. Many have some truly great selections of mostly older, hard to find stuff, and the prices on most are pretty stellar. Just be wary of Game Boy Advance games; some places sell Hong Kong produced bootlegs, so just make sure that Nintendo seal of quality looks legit and not bad-Kinko’s grade photocopied.

THE CULTURE

Given that New York City is the home for so many things, which therefore spawn entire subcultures dedicated to them (you've got people who spend practically every waking moment to their passions, whether it be Asian cinema, improvisational noise-punk ensembles, or arty-farty gallery hopping to name just a few), one might be wondering if one exists for video gaming given the lack of resources. Does anyone ever throw any parties, and if so, does anyone ever go to them? And if you're from out of town, can you go? Again, there's not much.

There used to be a place called Game Time Nation on 111 East 12th St, between 3rd and 4th Avenues. Similar to an internet cafe crossed with a karaoke bar, but instead of renting out a PC, one could rent out a couch and a large screen television to play consoles games for a few hours in the evening. It was actually a very nice space, and the home for special gaming related events, plus it was in a prime neighborhood (near several college dorms, filled with young kids, and some of them just had to be gamers, right?). But I guess it wasn't enough since it's been closed for a little while now.

Some are well aware that in on the west coat, primarily in the Southern California, you've got a very active community of fighting game players that organize and meet up to play on assorted message boards. The one that instantly comes to mind for most folks is shoryuken.com, which holds a yearly tournament called Evo. Each year the best players across the country (and even those from other sides of the Pacific) gather to face off against another, and the event has been slowly gaining steam in terms of popularity. It was announced earlier this year that the tournament would be spread across the country: semi-finals would take place on both the west and east coast, in Los Angeles and in New York City. Once word got out, many in NYC became instantly excited; finally a chance for their skills to be on display, and on the competitive stage. Then recently came the announcement that the east coast semi would happen in Stamford, Connecticut. Naturally, many here were both disappointed and confused, since no real formal explanation was given for the change. Some will content that its not that far a distance, but the fact that it was supposed to be in the Big Apple, and all of sudden not, says something. Again, no one really knows the reason, but given the difficulties that others have faced when dealing with video games, its perhaps safe to say that its more than likely something related to costs. So, given that fighting games are just as popular in NYC, you would think that a tournament could be easily assembled here, right? Well for that to happen, there needs to be an organization to help whip one together.

There's only one NYC based group of players that I know of, Empire Arcadia. They're quite the curiosity, since they seem to be the only group that goes around playing games with any sort of sense of "group presence." The most interesting part is where they play, especially when you consider the lack of any real competitive event out here, at least in comparison to out west. What they basically do is offer themselves (perhaps for a monetary fee?) to gaming companies who wish to introduce a product to the public by providing a band of expert players to fully feature its qualities. Basically, it’s playing games as a service. I'm not certain how they conduct business, if it is a business per se, or what they're really all about. One look at their website (http://www.empirearcadia.com/) offers a rather cryptic display of their mission statement, which is all about "representing the true Gamer Community and Culture", as well as assorted press releases. They have developed a name for themselves, though I've only encountered them at one gaming event; you could tell who the ringleader was because he was the guy wearing the NES PowerGlove.

Another organization that's dedicated towards encouraging and empowering the New York gamer's community is New York-Tokyo, which hold regular events in the city about every month or so called Gamer's Nite Groove. The GNG mission statement, from what I can gather, is a hope to re-create the same vibe among gamers that exists in Japan. And how's it working thus far?

Each event usually has a game company as a sponsor, so there's one key game as the highlight, often something which is yet to be or has just been released. Though recently they tried something a little different: a special Tetsuya Mizuguchi night was held, with all his games being celebrated. The GNGs often take place at very swanky locales throughout the city, and the Mizuguchi event was no exception. A very trendy eatery in Willamsburg (again, the uber-hip capital of Brooklyn) was the stage, where in the back the game Rez (the favorite of folks who run the event, it’s always their regardless of the featured game) was projected on massive 40+ feet high screens, one on each side of the room. For a fan of the man's work, it was truly a site to behold, and the event itself felt like something special, which the GNG strives to provide. But what about the people? Did they appreciate the display and the games on-hand?

Truth is, not really. The GNG events are fairly heavily publicized, but they seem to get the same twenty or so people, time and time again, and while they qualify as part of the NYC gamers’ scene, they all seem very much blasÈ and bored. Perhaps it’s understandable given that Rez and the rest of the games on-hand were not something that's up most audiences' alley (as evidenced by how everyone removed the featured games from the DSs and PSPs on-display and replaced them with their own games), but why were they there again? Maybe because they're that bored for anything game related? But again, given the small number that actually showed up (in the event's defense, they do get a higher number at most other events, simply because their games are more mainstream, plus its usually nearer the weekend... the Mizuguchi event was on a Tuesday, which is an odd night for most everyone, especially the younger set), one has to wonder if they're worth bothering to cater towards. Maybe everyone just knows that video games, as an interest, are sorta dead in the Big Apple.

But is it malaise in the end? Of course not, people want to play games, they just can’t. And why? What’s been the one thing that has crippled all attempts to get a video game scene going on in the NYC? Money, of course. Everyone knows how expensive the city can be, and entertainment is not cheap, or at least its not meant to be around here. You can’t get much these days for fifty cents, and that most certainly includes a game of Pac Man. And people have unfortunately come to accept that fact. Again, it doesn’t help that games don’t have a home here either when it comes to the creative and publishing side, so there’s no spill-off, but that’s a whole different issue…

And that's how it stands. If you're from out of town, come for the rich food, incredible art, and wonderful people. Just make sure to bring your own games.

[Matt 'Fort90' Hawkins is a New York-based freelance journalist and Gamasutra contributor - you can contact him through his website.]

July 4, 2006

Why No Lester Bangs Of Gaming, Double Redux

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/hungit.jpg It's a story that won't go away, and after the last response to the Chuck Klosterman article on game journalism in Esquire, Clive Thompson over at Wired News has also weighed in.

Thompson has more than one good answer, here, firstly: "Why isn't there a Lester Bangs of video games? Answer A: Because even if he existed, nobody would hire him. Brilliant critics don't just sort of "emerge." They're nurtured and hired by editors who care about the medium. Today's mainstream editors mostly neither play games nor think about them much."

Secondly, and even better: "Answer B: Actually, there are Lester Bangs of video-game writing. Tons of 'em, in fact! But they're not writing in mainstream media venues. They're blogging their witty analyses on 1Up.com, or doing exuberant podcasts and video blogs, or flamewarring their way to the truth on rollicking discussion boards. Or they're like the geniuses (genuii?) behind Penny Arcade, crafting insanely funny webcomix that communicate more in three panels than most critics can do in 1,000 words." Hear, hear!

COLUMN: 'Parallax Memories' – Alien Soldier

ENGRISH IN CAPS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!['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 Treasure's sci-fi action game for Sega Genesis: Alien Soldier]

VISUALSHOCK! SPEEDSHOCK! SOUNDSHOCK! NOW IS TIME TO THE 68000 HEART ON FIRE!

Rarely today will a console game actively and repeatedly kick a player in the groin to the point of hospitalization (though Devil May Cry 3 and Ninja Gaiden come to mind). Super-hard difficulty is no longer the gold standard in the gaming industry. But Treasure's 1995 rarity Alien Soldier is definitely part of the Old Guard. To quote Treasure Corporation's CEO (Shacho) Masato Maekawa, "Alien Soldier was made from the beginning for 'Mega Drivers Custom' so of course that one is difficult."

But Alien Soldier is not only famous for its difficulty, it has one of the most whacked out stories and some of the best worst Engrish ever. If the title screen is not enough to convince you, here is a line from the intro: "The shadow of the evil terrolist [sic] called Scarlet blocked the way to the outside universe for human beings." It goes on to make a whole lot less sense involving the characters Epsilon-Eagle and Xi-Tiger. It's not really important, but it is funny: the game is so firmly seated in Engrish that you wonder, why bother with a story at all?

Epsilon Eagle will protect the world from the Scarlet.Xi-Tiger Sensed the Existence of Epsilon

Alien Soldier is the boiled-down essence of Gunstar Heroes. Epsilon-Eagle's job is to take down thirty-one bosses over twenty-eight levels as quickly as possible. And nothing else. The weapons are similar to Gunstar Heroes, but now you can hold three weapons rather than just two. While there are "areas" and "stages," they are more like refuel stations between the bosses. These levels last only about two to four screens, about ten to fifteen seconds, and most of the enemies are about as hostile as a slug.

If you don't want to take the time to master Alien Soldier, it's best not to even start playing. The game is all about mastery. It can be beaten in as few as ten minutes, but it takes a long time to get that good. Learning how to beat the bosses and how to get the most health naturally leads to faster progression through the game.

Does that thing look like a... yes, omg, it does.He Also Flew Away, Chasing after Xi-Tiger.

Gunstar Heroes is about keeping as many ideas inside of one project as it can, Alien Soldier is about refining those ideas as much as possible. While options seem plentiful at the beginning (there are over a dozen ways to display your health and ammo) you quickly realize that the game is nothing more than a boss parade spiked with pure energy. Where Gunstar Heroes's levels are long and very detailed, Soldier's are short and generic.

Even though some bosses are the same in both games, they fight quite differently, faster and more aggressively. In Gunstar Heroes, the bosses are very stylish and can be defeated in multiple ways. In Soldier, though occasionally you'll enter a free-form battle, most bosses are just large enemies with a single, direct route to destruction.

Gunstar Super/Future Heroes falls somewhere in the middle. Instead of having a few long levels, it has many short ones. The gameplay is not as improvisational as Gunstar Heroes and not as rigid as Alien Soldier. The length of the Super/Future, while shorter than the original, is longer than Soldier. There is a trilogy here, if you want to stretch the idea far enough. I highly recommend giving Alien Soldier a shot, now that it is not as highly priced as it was: just make sure you understand that Alien Soldier is for "Mega Drivers Custom."

[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.]

GameSetQ: 'Lost' Xbox 360 Games?

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/amped-3.jpg Another round of the GameSetQ feature ("a daily question to be answered by GameSetWatch readers in the comments of this lovable weblog, and in some way related to the day's gaming issues"), because we've been playing the late Indie Built's previously GSW-mentioned Amped 3 again, and we feel like it really is one of the unfortunately ignored Xbox 360 titles to date.

One of the later, wackier Amped 3 cut-scenes has an evil Darth Vader-style suited game development director addressing a fake GDC lecture on why sequestering your game developers in a zeppelin is a good idea - and the gameplay is darn good fun, too, though definitely reliant on multiple retries of challenges.

So, the question is: "What Xbox 360 or Xbox 360 Live Arcade titles do you think have been unfortunately ignored , under-commented on, or otherwise not given enough coverage, and why?"

Answers below - feel free to start heated arguments, or, of course, you can just be as sweet as sweet can be.

Why Final Fight Streetwise Rocks In 2006

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/ffstret.jpg Well, OK, most of the world doesn't agree, with a terrible average rating of 33% over at review aggregation site GameTab, but blogger SuperTy has other ideas entirely about Capcom title Final Fight Streetwise, explaining: "Streetwise is the best game so far in 2006, and I'll show you why."

The over-caffeinated Ty concludes of the PS2/Xbox title, which was the last production of Capcom's U.S. in-house developer Studio 8 (Maximo) before it got shut down: "The decoded versions of the game reviews and I agree; Streetwise has great gameplay, or at least pretty good gameplay. We're also in agreement that either the game reviewers are too retarded to know where the enemies are or that they don't know how to use a camera to see them."

He continues: "The storyline is dramatic and hilarious, especially if you remember who Two-P is at ALL (the goofy looking enemy with the orange cape). If you like video games, I mean, like, good, old fashioned video games, and maybe yelling "OH! MY CAR", then forget what you know about preconceptions... because everything you know is a goddamn lie."

An earlier Superty post on the same subject links to some great YouTube vids showcasing the 'genius' that is the game, with the takedown of underworld figure 'The Weasel', dodgy sexual content and hilarious pathfinding in full effects. Also showcased by the same author is the classic cockroach challenge, in which you have to clean up a diner by, uhm, stamping on insects. That'll fix the code violations!

COLUMN: Letters from the Metaverse - Escape From Orientation Island

[‘Letters from the Metaverse’ is a regular weekly column by Mathew Kumar about his adventures in the massively multiplayer online world of Second Life. This week’s column covers getting started.]

Depending on who you talk to, the online virtual world of Second Life is one of two things. It’s either a model virtual community, standing up as well as a shining example of a real marketplace in a virtual world as it does as a thriving social gaming sandbox, OR it’s a gigantic sweaty virtual orgy, featuring every fetish you could hope to dream of played out in virtual public. Fancy putting on a diaper and being teabagged by someone dressed in a raccoon suit? You can probably do that in Second Life.

2006_07_04_hat.pngAhem. I can already hear the cries of the Second Life devotees who subscribe to the former view of the world, but to be honest, as it stands no one really seems to know what Second Life is, or what it means, with everyone from Business Week to hyperbole obsessed academics and "ludologists" stumbling over themselves to define it. Which is probably why our fearless leader, SimonC, asked me, as a total newbie to Second Life, to put on my investigative journalism hat (it’s got a little card in it that says "Press") and INVESTIGATE.

Well. As soon as you’ve gone through the painless creation of an account and installation of the client, which checks in at less than 30mb, but eats up to a gigabyte of your hard disk as it streams the world, you’re dumped quite unceremoniously on Orientation Island in your new virtual form.

For some strange and not entirely discernable reason you’re only given a limited number of choices for your second name, and the choices are uniformly terrible, consisting largely of Japanese food (Oh! Those wacky Japanese, with their “Ebi” and their “Gyoza”!) or the names of science fiction authors. These names probably ensure that you have a unique name in the world. A uniquely stupid one.

So my avatar is called “Seven Kikuchiyo”. He’s actually called Seven as a (weak) reference to Killer7, which I was playing and somewhat enjoying at the same time I began Second Life, so I picked his second name as a bonus reference. I am all about the pop culture references.

2006_07_04_firstthing.jpg

So this is Orientation Island, which will completely fail to help you if you’re as impatient as I am. You’ll quickly learn how to edit your character and create a terrible facsimile of yourself, probably with polygon shears you can’t spot because the camera is so bloody unhelpful. You’ll learn to fly and to run around like you’ve crapped your pants (or at least, that’s what the animation looks like to me) use vehicles, buy stuff, and use your incredibly confusing inventory, which rather than a traditional box of objects is a system of hierarchical folders containing everything from the animation which makes you run like you’ve crapped your pants, to the pants you’ve crapped.

Anyway, I got bored of all that jazz, and quickly exited through the first gate I could find onto the main island, making sure to fail to pay attention to where it was sending me. That would have been way too sensible. No matter, because all of my all my stereotypes of Second Life as the grubby red light district of the internet were smashed within seconds, as I was teleported directly in front of a sex shop.

2006_07_04_sexy.jpg

Here you can see a range of sex animations for your avatar. If you'll click it to get a closer look, you'll note that most of the animations explicitly list a male and a female as taking part in the sexual congress, the same way that fascists like George W. Bush considers marriage to be between only a man and a woman! Does this mean that the inhabitants of Second Life discriminate against gays and lesbians? Is this something I could… INVESTIGATE?

NEXT WEEK: I forget all about that and attempt to buy clothes which aren’t completely lame, probably.

[Mathew Kumar is a freelance journalist who’s dabbled in MMORPGs, but is too cheap/strong willed to play past a free trial. He got his break with Insert Credit, and his work has been featured in publications as diverse as The Globe and Mail, Plan B magazine and Eurogamer.]

Eve Online Continues Out To The Stars

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/eveo.jpg Over at Firing Squad, they have a pretty comprehensive interview about MMO Eve Online, chatting with CCP senior producer Nathan Richardsson "...about their plans for EVE Online, including an upcoming DirectX10 version of the game."

Richardsson discusses plans for the new Kali expansion, some of which sound pretty lofty: "The flagship however is Factional Warfare, where we’re opening up the large NPC factions and empires for players to fight their wars for them in PvP. Up till now, the future of the NPC controlled universe and surrounding areas have been up to us to decide, but with this we hope to give more power to the players, releasing more control of the universe to the players."

In addition, the Vista-specific version of the game is discussed: "We call it EVE Vista since it’s mainly for that operating system at the moment. The content and gameplay will be exactly the same as with the current client, playing on the same servers in the same EVE universe. The only difference is that it will be utilizing the new features and optimizations of DirectX10 and then leveraging the programmable shader pipeline." Shinier spaceships are all anybody ever wants from life, anyhow.

How M.Bison Deals With Mario's World

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/bisonmario.jpg As always, Google Video turns up some neat things, and the latest of these is a vid of Street Fighter II's M. Bison blasting his way through Super Mario Bros - or at least, a faked-up World 1.1 of the NES classic.

As for what manner of technical background underlies this arch fakery, the description reads: " NES Super Mario Bros. - Using M.Bison's ultimate Psycho Crusher, for the ultimate win! Credit goes to Bane84 for the NES Super Mario Bros. World 1-1 bonus stage for MUGEN. Thanks, Bane84!" Aha!

[For those who don't know, MUGEN is "a 2D fighting game engine designed by Elecbyte starting in 1999... The engine allows for anyone to create characters, stages, and other game objects through interpreted text files and graphics and sound compilations, and it also supports MP3 background music during gameplay." The MUGEN scene is pretty fascinating, and rarely explored - anyone got any tips on where to start?]

July 3, 2006

What Eugene Jarvis Did Next

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/fanf.gif I was discussing Robotron 2084 and Defender creator Eugene Jarvis with a freelancer earlier today, since we're thinking about interviewing him for Gamasutra, and it turns out that his company Raw Thrills has just debuted some new arcade games.

You may know the Jarvis co-founded Raw Thrills from arcade game Target Terror, of course, a digitized light-gun shooter where you battle terrorists and "...the final mission is to prevent a hijacked airliner from destroying the White House", but his latest release, following up from street racing title The Fast And The Furious, is The Fast And The Furious: Super Bikes.

Apparently, the action is now centered around motorbikes, not cars, hence the new sitdown cabinet, and: "This time the action is not confined to the United States, breathtaking locales from Shanghai to Monaco, Sturgis to Switzerland and others." Sure, it's all a bit Cruisin' USA, but it's nice to see new arcade games out - Raw Thrills also just debuted Big Buck Hunter Pro, which also features 'critter hunting', including "...raccoons, possums, skunks, blackbirds, bluebirds, squirrels, foxes, wolves and rabbits." How lovely!

The Xbox's Genesis, Memo-ed

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/uncloaked.jpg Dean Takahashi at the San Jose Mercury News has apparently been hacking into Microsoft again (or getting emails from execs!), and he's reprinted a fascinating email about the birth of the Xbox on his weblog.

Takahashi sets it up handily: "A little more than seven years ago, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates decided to pick the Xbox team over the WebTV rivals and enter the video game business. He allowed both teams to move forward for a time, but in the meeting summarized in the email below, he made a fateful decision to go with the Xbox."

The second memo explains the genesis well, as a MS exec comments: "We're convinced there's a threat to the PC business in the home, in part based on Sony's success with the PlayStation and interest in the PlayStation 2." Then, Bill Gates himself checks in: "Our goal needs to be to contain Sony and to focus on a duopoly. I'm concerned about the costs of bootstrapping a console effort: branding, marketing, ISVs, manufacturing." Plenty of other oddness and insight in here.

COMIC: 'Our Blazing Destiny' - Haruhi Suzumiya 4-koma

[Our Blazing Destiny is a new weekly comic by Jonathan "Persona" Kim about our society, cultural postdialectic theory, and video games. And anime series that just finished airing in Japan about a few hours ago!]

Since Persona isn't even ON THE INTERNET right now (omg!), we pass on a salutary message from him, as follows:

"Hello everyone! I'm at Anime Expo right now, selling my wares, becoming one with my people! Preparing for the event took an extremely long amount of time and due to the chaos, all I can offer this time is a sample from my doujinshi this year. The entire comic is devoted to Haruhi Suzumiya, a new anime about a girl who has the power of god but doesn't realize it and all her friends that try to appease her so that she doesn't destroy the world. In my doujin, they go on adventures through various video games all in 4-panel form. Everyone loves an adventure, right? Right??"

[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's also at Anime Expo in the Artist Alley RIGHT NOW, selling a doujinshi about Haruhi Suzumiya and Phoenix Wright! Stop by right now!]

Heart Of The Tiger, The Hamill Of The Fight

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/wc3.jpg A little more retro from the 3DO Multiplayer Blog, where it's Wing Commander III for the 3DO being probed in some detail - it is, "in so far as [the 3DO blog's impassioned owner] am concerned, the greatest game for the 3DO Multiplayer."

The author notes: "To be the best game for the 3DO it has to tick all the right boxes. So, it has to incorporate the feel of the generation, or rather it has got to be in-tune with the kids of the time. Right? To be the best game of 'Real(tm)' entertainment, it's got to do the Silicon Valley wet-dream thing. It's got to be down with the kids on the block." And not the New Kids On The Block, presumably.

Overall, I really like this near-ending paragraph, which explains the series' charm excellently: "Ultimately why WCIII is so good is because it goes for the emotions in a 'big' way. By tweaking the music dependant on how you are doing, by sending video messages to your head up display, by letting you fail missions without ending the game immediately... by letting you chat up the female lead characters, by essentially giving you a genuine feeling you are fighting for the future of the human race and taking part in the inter-personal stories in this epic space drama - Wing Commander III is a gaming blockbuster that truly draws you in." Passion!

Metal Slug's 3D 'Evolution' Explored

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/mslug3d.jpg There was quite a lot of commentary when it was announced SNK Playmore was working on a 3D version of the classic 2D Metal Slug series. Well, the 3D title is out in Japan, and GameSpot has a hands-on mini-review of the title.

The initial summaryof the PlayStation 2 title is, well, predictable: "If the thought of taking this classic side-scroller into 3D is enough to raise your blood pressure a few points, you'll be glad to know that the game does at least retain the same attitude and focus on frenetic shooting, knifing, and exploding that the series is known for. That said, it does suffer from some of the same pitfalls that so many games have stumbled into before when trying to make the leap to 3D."

The preview concludes: "Based on our short time spent with Metal Slug, it looks like the first 3D game in the series is a decent effort. It maintains the focus on firepower and over-the-top action, and the tone of the game is entirely Metal Slug. There are no announced plans as of yet to release Metal Slug in the US, but if you're a diehard fan and are curious to see what the game is like, this would make a decent import. All the dialogue and menus are in English."

By The Winds Of Athena, I Have The Power!

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/odys.jpg Really, physics game blog Fun Motion can do no wrong in our evidently mildewed eyes, and the latest entry profiles fluid dynamics-based PC title The Odyssey: Winds of Athena in some style, including video.

As is explained: "The goal of Odyssey is straightforward. Boats enter the single-screen world from a designated starting point, and it’s your job to make sure they reach the designated exit intact. To this end you can control the wind (with a neat gesture-based clockwise/counterclockwise mouse rotation) or click and drag to affect currents in the water." Plughole bathwater interface ahoy!

FM's Matt Wegner further details: "The fluid dynamics in Odyssey are excellent. Interacting with the currents is intuitive, and the resulting motion is predictable. Of course, when you’re dealing with fluid dynamics it’s easy to generate eddies and whirlpools. This can sometimes be frustrating, since it can be difficult to keep your boats moving forward."

COLUMN: 'Free Play' - Pixeljam

[’Free Play’ is a regular weekly column by Ancil Anthropy about freely downloadable video games and the people who make them. This week’s column profiles Pixeljam.]

Pixeljam identifies themselves as designers of "neo-retro games," and their games do indeed demonstrate an impressive vocabulary of gaming imagery, much of which evokes Atari arcade and VCS titles. The team is composed of artist/photographer Richard Grillotti, who draws and animates the pixel population of Pixeljam's games, and musician/programmer Miles Tilmann, who codes the games in Flash; Mark Denardo creates the games' VCS-like sound effects and music.

Pixeljam's goal, says Miles, is "to make as much impact with as little glitz as possible, and to keep the level of abstraction so high that people's imaginations are doing the work to fill in the gaps, instead of a million dollar 3D engine." Like most freeware developers, they don't have access to that kind of money—Miles tells me they didn't work for six months to produce their most recent release, and are now trying to "yank ourselves out of the debt we created and make even better ones." (Why not help them out?)

Monsters have no place

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Ratmaze is the first game the group was able to complete. It stars a cute pixel rat who hunts for cheese in 37 rooms that look as though they wouldn't be out of place in Atari's Adventure. Like that title, Ratmaze contains secrets: on the first playthrough, a thorough player may find a hidden trick to aid in subsequent runs through the game, in addition to another surprise.

Ratmaze was developed while Pixeljam was working on a more ambitious project: Gamma Bros. This game follows the daily commute of two brothers, Zap and Buzz, home to their families for dinner—the path between their place of work and the Earth, though, is filled with dangerous refugees from Galaxian who need be dispatched using Robotron-like four-way laser fire. Though passwords divide the game into stages, Gamma Bros is clearly intended to be played in one long session from start to finish-transitions between waves of enemies, bosses, shops and bonus scenes are seamless. The brothers just keep falling until they reach the Earth.

The real charm of this pixel game is in the little details. Enemies burst into blocky explosions, a salesman floats by with power-ups in tow, a word balloon—containing the image of a coin—hovering over his head. And there are little touches a player might miss the first time through: the reflections of the brothers in the windows as their ships leave the station, or the sight of one brother chasing a flock of enemy ships in the background. There are details for those who seek them, and of course there are secrets. "There's got to be secrets in video games," says Rich.

Good people of Earth

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The pixel people who would eventually become Pixeljam's signature actually debuted at a Chicago art show. Multimedia art collective M5 approached Rich about contributing, and he created pixel model series 01, featuring a bunch of sassy pixel ladies, including a recreation of Botticelli's Birth of Venus.

"We really like our little pixel characters and feel they have a lot of personality," Rich tells me. "They're just regular folks, with strengths, imperfections and odd little quirks like all of us. Some of them are pretty well balanced, some are a bit more unstable." Says Miles, "the pixeljam universe is populated with these little personalities who never talk, and have around 4 or 9 colored squares for a head, but for some reason we can still kind of relate." Rich adds that he would "like to see our universe expand and grow"—Pixeljam has a number of upcoming projects envisioned, including two planned sequels to Gamma Bros.

Finally, be sure to check out...

...OMAC, a musical endevour which sees Pixeljam tunes provider Mark Denardo performing hip hop over chiptunes.

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[Ancil Anthropy is a game developer and space invader. She fills dessgeega.com with lots of good stuff and writes for a bunch of places, including The Gamer’s Quarter and The Independent Gaming Source.]

July 2, 2006

From Last Bronx To Summer Holidays

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/shol.jpg Wandering along to check out the latest import releases detailed at NCSX, with their customarily delightful descriptions, and we see a couple of neat games to focus on - a 3D fighter re-release and a summery folly for PSP.

The former is the Sega Ages Last Bronx re-release for PS2, and it's noted: "Whereas AM2's Virtua Fighter series featured safe and sanitary fighters such as Pai and Jacky, the cast of Last Bronx was made up of grungy, street-wise, and hardened gang leaders who battle with weapons such as nunchaku, wooden swords, and massive hammers." Also: "The conversion is pretty much perfect and 1:1 with the coin-op original. The fighters move fast and attacks and combos flow in fluid motion" - yay, Sega Ages is getting much better.

The latter is Sony's My Summer Holiday for PSP, for which it's rhapsodized: "My Summer Holiday takes gamers back. All the way back to an alternate reality in 1975 when life was carefree and fun. This particular childhood memory features a summer vacation with an aunt and uncle in a country town full of greenery, blue skies, rivers brimming with fresh water, and most importantly, insects. Little boys love to catch and catalog bugs." It's a PS2 to PSP conversion, despite sounding very DS-like, mind you.

There are plenty more intriguing releases from this week (games, mags, accessories) listed in the latest news section at NCSX, too (and no, we don't have any deal with them here at GSW, which just like their sunny disposition!)

Column: The Gaijin Restoration - Ganbare Neo Poke-Kun

title["I often import games from abroad and play them. On such occasions, my imagination is sometimes stimulated more as I don't understand the language.” – Fumito Ueda, creator of Ico and Shadow of the Colossus. 'The Gaijin Restoration' is a weekly examination of underappreciated Eastern games that never cross to Western shores. This week's title is Ganbare Neo Poke-Kun released for the NeoGeo Pocket Color in 2000.]

(Click through to read the full column, including more on this cult portable title.)

A History in 2D
no alt textWhen Sony and Nintendo decided that the Third Dimension was the future (with Sega trying to split the difference with the Saturn) a little company was breathing in the sprites of 2D. SNK, Shin Nihon Kikaku, literally New Japan Product, was plodding on in the arcade and boutique home markets with the NeoGeo. With prices (with inflation an almost negible bullet point) that would make the PlayStation 3 blush, SNK asked the hardcore to put their wallets were their GameFaqs message posts were and succumb to the 2D majesty.

The NeoGeo hardware was all about the animation, enough to make any cel buff hope for Bluth to kick the Laser disc habit and start working on fluid, if low res, exquisite minutia. The anemic 2D of the PlayStation saw stunted Castlevania's and late generation Metal Slug ports, dropping frames. The N64 made some valiant if flawed forays with Mischief Makers and Yoshi's Story. The Saturn rocked the 2D for the generation, but little else. Not until the DreamCast dropped in with Capcom's Street Fighter 3 variations and the beautiful high-rez Guilty Gear did we start seeing consumer level 2D delights. The NeoGeo's ancient RAM carried it for over a decade, before falling to the bump-mapped blade, yakuza business 'pressure', and perhaps Sony's Third Party Approval Process... to be reborn as SNK Playmore.

While my lifetime of spent tokens still do not reach the price of NeoGeo-cum-Metal Slug X, I was an early adapter for the NeoGeo Pocket Color (NGPC.) With a generous endcap at EB Games, the rabid SNK fanbase online, and a steady stream of first party titles (made by the very people who designed the hardware) and a generous big brother library to pull from, the NGPC enjoyed a miserly 3% market penetration and ended up doing a Dreamcast pullout.

But along the way I had pulled in a few imports - an Ogre Battle, the fabled British version of Faselei! and most importantly, the post-modern, genre critical, primordial Wario Ware/Tamagotchi-esque, vaguely homosexual collection of minigames Ganbare Neo Poke-Kun.

The Urgame's Game


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In a gilded nutshell, Ganbare is the story of a little bug who lives in a one room apartment. He likes to clean, play a little NGPC, and if he's in the mood, get out for a stretch and build some minigames. The minigames are a pure survey of electric screen ludology, starting out with various Pong clones (Space War may get shunned, but its grandchildren represents in spades.) But they aren't straight up Pong or Breakout. Little tiny subersive subversions have been rippled into all of the simulacrum, small What-If scenarios.

As expected, there's only so much you can do to Pong, but as the history of gaming continues, we see the snark come out a bit more as the 8 bit era erupts; the ninja side scroller gets replaced with a facsimile, except the ninjas are replaced with mobsters, whose shuriken are in turn replaced with bullets. A personal favorite is a cross and crossfire between Laser Blast and Galaga, with our little bug friend (as the games evolve, so does his appearance in the minigames) caught in the middle! Three waves, and even a boss fight, were you dance across the city skyline just trying not to get hit.

Get to the King of Fighters parody and relieve the sad days before Street Fighter II, when the only move that mattered was the JUMP KICK. Round it off with an RPG parody (and you thought WarioWare's Dungeon Dilemma was amusing) and even a level with vector graphics and gameplay reminiscent of Space Harrier. Plus, all levels have various point or time goals to aim for, which may or may not adjust the little bug's happiness. And his joy, in turn, is reflective of your own in this game.

Keeping House


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The real puzzle of this game is the unlocking of more game. When not battling through the epochs of videogame history, you are playing a sort of Corey Haim Double Switch! role as you spy on Mr. Ganbare. Leave him to his own devices. Observe his OCD for cleaning and playing with blocks. Press on the cardinal D pad and watch as lights turn off, smaller bugs spring up from the floor, and two other mundane actions as the room changes other time. Press the A button to summon a guest to the door, from a speedo wearing pompadoured man, to a pooping dog, another bug, a giant penis, alligators, old men, game show hosts, super heroes, the spirit of autumn and so on and so forth.

Most of these guests just seem to want to use the bathroom, or grab a crotch, give the flu, or dance around. Mostly, these have a negative influence on our little friend's feelings, and he'll sit, back to the screen, possibly contemplating becoming a cutter, or goes to take a walk with a hobo pack, not building me any more damned minigames. Go overboard on the doorbell and you'll find it boarded up for a few minutes. Many a theory was struck, from keeping the lights on during the night, unless he's sleeping (the game used the NGPC internal clock and calendar. Yes, Santa shows up.) Others said to focus on highscores on the minigames and lay off the door.

Amidst all the speculation, there has never been a unified theory of Ganbare Neo Poke-Kun happiness, and progress in the game can become stagnant. Unfortunate, since the minigames, even the simplest, are well thought out, the apartment is alive with high quality sprite animation and hilarity.

Ganbare Neo Poke-Kun isn't the easiest game to get a hold of these days, but with the great NGPC bundles out there, this is a game for gamers, importers, the sadistic, the nihonphile and anyone who enjoys high production values. The box and manual are awash with beautiful clay/3D representations of the denizens of the game - perhaps a pointed telltale of era, or perhaps I'm just waxing poetic for a brief closing paragraph about a videogame.

[Ryan Stevens is the associate producer on the various Cinematech shows on G4TV, which showcases many of the games written about here. He's been known to do the collaborative blog thing at That's Plenty.]

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IGDA Casual Games SIG Whitepaper Launched

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/igdacash.jpg The International Game Developers Association website has just unveiled, on its IGDA Casual SIG website, the 2006 Casual Games Whitepaper.

It's explained: This document [.PDF] represents the best practices and knowledge of more than 30 in the casual game space. The paper follows on the success of previous editions, and is a must read for anyone working in the casual game industry." Mind you, with 116 pages and multiple sections, including sections on distribution, technology, and much more, reading it will be anything but casual!

One small tidbit - I like this definition of casual games from the whitepaper intro: "The term "casual games" is used to describe games that are easy to learn, utilize simple controls and aspire to forgiving gameplay. Without a doubt, the term "casual games" is sometimes an awkward and ill-fitting term – perhaps best described as games for everyone. Additionally, the term "casual" doesn’t accurately depict that these games can be quite addictive, often delivering hours of entertainment similar to that provided by more traditional console games. To be sure, there is nothing "casual" about the level of loyalty, commitment and enjoyment displayed by many avid casual game players – just as there is nothing "casual" about the market opportunity and market demand for these games. " Rah rah!

Dragon Shmups Rise Up, Fly Away

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/df9.jpg We previously covered the announcement of the 'Dragon Shmup' competition over at Shmup-Dev.com, and now TIGSource points out that the competition is closed and entries are available to the public, yay.

TIGSource writer Dessgeega notes: "all of the finished entries can be downloaded on the competition forum. (you may need to be logged into the site.) my favorite is smark’s lair, which plays the way a game starring a dragon should play: like rampage." Oo, Rampage!

Also very notable - The2Bears, who entered the competition himself with the neatly abstract Dragon Forever, has reviews of a whole bunch of the entries on his site, and they're rather impressive looking.

[Another highlight - Fleur De Luce, which it's suggested is "probably the best of the bunch" - "Gameplay uses a two-colour scheme somewhat like Ikaruga does, but with some major differences. You control the “colour” of your shot, and depending on the shot colour of the enemy you can hit their bullets and create flower tokens to capture."]

Marino's Machinima Marvels, Mapped Out

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/ret3.jpg Just got turned on to Paul Marino's 'Thinking Machinima' blog over at Machinima.org - Paul runs The Academy Of Machinima Arts & Sciences, dedicated to narratives built in video game engines, wrote an excellent book on machinima, and is part of The ILL Clan, who we've written about before.

In any case, a recent post by Paul notes: "For those of you of are not steeped in the Machinima day-to-day, some recent controversies have stirred the coals within a small section of the community, which is both a bit uncomfortable yet to be expected. Ken Thain's always great 3DFilmmaker.com blog, details out some recent points of contention and gives them a proper overview.... In any case, I chose to focus this post on some of the current successes of Machinima."

And successes there are, from World Of Warcraft machinima Return ("The film showcased epic storytelling, post production polish and fine voice acting - moving on to win last year's Best Off-the-Shelf Machinima Award"), to Deviation's film fest success: "One of the biggest coups this year has been the inclusion of the Counterstike-based Machinima, Deviation, into a world-respected event, the Tribeca Film Festival." Lots more good info here.

Gamerbytes: RobotStreetGang, Wright/Eno, Pink DS Lite

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/gbytes.jpg So our collaborative game news site Gamerbytes has been up a couple of days, and already, some people who aren't us have been posting stories on it - impressive. Here goes:

- Flynn posted a story revealing that: "Robot Street Gang founder Mike Benson relaunches his site to pimp segments he produced for [G4's] X-Play. See, kids, starting an underappreciated new games journalism site has its advantages." Indeed!

- Xir pops up to reveal: "Will Wright, creator of the video games "Sim City," "The Sims," and the forthcoming "Spore," spoke (with Brian Eno) on playing with time" earlier this week - there's an MP3 and a synopsis in there, too.

- Simoniker (damn, that's me, isn't it?) pointed out the pink DS Lite - "Japan only for now: "The name of the color is "Noble Pink" and it will retail for 16,800 Yen, the same price as the Crystal White, Ice Blue and Enamel Navy editions."

We figure we'll probably do a round-up of the best stories on it (that we wouldn't otherwise cover on GSW) every few days, because, you know, we don't even have to write the thing ourselves (ok, apart from that last story, but hey, at least we're honest about it!)

2005 Origin Awards - Papergaming Done Right!

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/warma.jpg We don't pay as much notice to board/cardgames as we should, but hey, that's what Ogre Cave is for, and they've posted the winners of the 2005 Origin Awards, one of the biggest award ceremonies in the papergaming world.

The full list is on their site, but the cave troglodytes help us out by picking the gems: "Items of note: among the winners were Artesia for Best RPG, GURPS Infinite Worlds for Best RPG Supplement, Gloom for Best Traditional Card Game, and Warmachine: Apotheosis for Game of the Year." We don't know much about Warmachine: Apotheosis, but it certainly has fetchingly-designed miniatures to go with it.

What's more: "The Ravnica: City of Guilds expansion for Magic: The Gathering got the nod for Best Collectible Card Game or Expansion, and Miniatures of the Year went to Wargods of Aegyptus. Midnight Syndicate also got some recognition for their great work, as The 13th Hour Roleplaying Soundtrack won Game Accessory of the Year." Here's a GamingReport review of the latter, which is "a new CD of horror musical soundscapes (think mood-music for those who want to feel fear) to be used to set the mood and atmosphere for [paper-based] gaming" - neat idea!



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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