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July 15, 2006

Sandlot Talks Indie Inspiration

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/salot.jpg Over at casual site Gamezebo, there's a good interview with Daniel Bernstein from Sandlot Games, a casual game developer best known for, as is described in the intro "hit trading and adventure Tradewinds series (my personal favorite casual games of all time) [and] Cake Mania, among the most popular and sweet-tasting casual games of the year."

Discussing other great casual titles, Bernstein has some fun picks: "I've always loved the gameLab games - they are very original. Obviously, the production values of PopCap titles, including Chuzzle, are first rate. In fact, "chuzzling" is a word we use in the production of our titles that means that extra bit of personality and polish. Thanks, PopCap. Andy, our Director of Development, just finished Tropix, and loves lots of things about it."

He also has some bold thoughts for the future: "I believe casual gaming as a valid and fulfilling social activity will replace traditional TV as the dominant entertainment platform... What's the demographic for TV? Everyone watches TV. Everyone will play casual games. Pretty soon the term "Casual Gamer" will be as silly as "TV watcher" because everyone will be one."

COLUMN: 'Game Mag Weaseling': Mag Roundup 7/15/06

['Game Mag Weaseling' is a weekly column by Kevin Gifford which documents the history of video game magazines, from their birth in the early '80s to the current day.]

It's funny. I thought the whole point of subscribing to magazines was that you didn't have to worry about having to track them down every month at the bookstore. Yet all of my Ziff Davis subscriptions seem to have mysteriously stopped sending after three months, and none of the subs from other publishers have been processed after around four months of waiting. Ah well. I guess I was spoiled by living 10 minutes away from all the publishers for so long.

Without further ado, then, let's take a look at all the game magazines that hit U.S. newsstands over the past two weeks. (Click through to read the full column.)

Electronic Gaming Monthly August 2006 (Podcast)

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This month's EGM -- besides "having a nice-lookin' coupla men on the cover" (as editor Crispin Boyer put it in the podcast) -- has a fairly bold theme running through its pages; namely, sequels suck and you know it. The preview feature is "The Top 50 Coolest New Games," with emphasis on "new" -- the editors actually managed to find fifty games under development right now without a single "II" or "The Revenge" or "Return to Wankerdor" in the titles, and they've ranked them up and busted them out over 27 pages of this 110-page issue. Number-one is EA's Army of Two, which seemed to get a little drowned out in E3 show-floor coverage but looks a fair bit more impressive now that a magazine's devoting larger acreage to it.

The sequel hatin' continues: In the reviews section, where a 8.0/7.5/7.0 rating is enough for Game of the Month. NCAA Football 2007, in particular got badly dinged (resident sporto Bryan Intihar gave it a 9 last year; it got a 7 from him this time) for looking great on the 360 but still not having all the new gameplay bits of the lower-gen versions. NFL Head Coach gets reviewed, and while it doesn't receive a rating (since it came late in the cycle), it's obvious that the game was the bane of Bryan's existence all month.

The ESA will love: The news feature on Jack Thompson and the subculture of put-down games that grew around him. Also, the other news feature about a 10-year-old who went to computer camp and made his own video game, complete with a development staff and everything. This is the sort of story that warms the cockles of Doug Lowenstein's heart.

The ESA may not like so much: A caption in EGM's Final Fantasy III feature that suggests gamers "check eBay for fan-translated copies" if they want to play the original Famicom version. (Actually, come to think of it, the fan-translators would probably be angrier -- they tend not to enjoy people selling their stuff.)

Official PlayStation Magazine August 2006 (Podcast)

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Two months after E3, and a lot of mags seem to be paying attention to controllers all of a sudden. OPM #107 is no exception, opening with a piece on the PS3's gimmick-not-a-gimmick controller that asks nine developers their opinions on it. The top feature this month, though, has to be their long-form interview with Ted Price, the man who got his start in games by purchasing a 3DO development system and cold-calling companies about his hot concepts. Lucky man. Another bit takes a look at independent giant Pandemic, which we're told has a "quality of life director" who has a six-figure budget devoted to making sure the devs are all happy and sane.

Other features: Include an RPG preview blowout (lotsa FFXII English stuff, if you're interested) and "The Opposite of Fun," a look at the 20 worst PlayStation games ever made. I think they're far too rough on The Guy Game, myself. 50 years from now we'll look back on it and see it for the important cultural signpost it is, I swear it.

The disc: Has Yakuza on it, and that's all you really need to know.

Nintendo Power August 2006

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Nintendo Power seems to have the slowest newsstand distribution of any game magazine out there. This mag hit the stores earlier this week and just now they're getting to their E3 blowout sex-travaganza. The wait is worth it for the diehards, though -- the mag reads almost like one of those collector's programs for the Super Bowl, with lots of previews, Wii-views and pix of happy people enjoying what will undoubtedly be Nintendo's future dominance of video games. There's a ranked preview of 25 Wii titles, with Super Mario Galaxy up top and NP's editors doing creative things with the games they didn't have art for (a guy in a moogle cap illustrating the Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles piece, for example).

Interviews: NP tends to get dev interviews that no one else gets, and this month's little exception, with Kouichi Ishii (the Mana series), Goichi Suda (Contact), and Mark Pacini (Metroid Prime 3) stepping up to the plate.

Making its triumphant comeback: The "You found the Ocarina!" ad, although it's all fancy-looking and sadly lacking in elves riding dragons now.

Tips & Tricks August 2006

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The editorial this month (T&T started doing editorials a few months back) makes an interesting point -- increasingly, gamers are seeing "codes" in games (such as the Konami code) as a thing of the past, even though mags like T&T still have a readership. "There are a lot of very popular games that are actually much more fun to play when using cheat codes," the editors write. "It was an eye-opening experience to find that our message is still not being received by the masses. Wake up, America! Those games you're playing are loaded with secrets, and we're here to tell you all about them...so pay attention!"

Case in point: The "Mystery Codes" section at the back each issues, covering codes that seem to be accepted by the game but have no apparent effect. This month's top mystery code is for the GameCube edition of Cars -- the code ("WATCHIT") unlocks movie clips in the PS2 and Xbox version, but the Cube port doesn't have any movie clips ('cos Nintendo sux HURRR), yet the code's still accepted. Does it do something...else, then? T&T have apprently been proven wrong before with codes like these. We'll see.

Funniest bit: Associate editor Niles Livingston's quest to finish every single mission in Naruto: Ultimate Ninja. The developers at Bandai must have wanted to see Japanese children slit their wrists after attempting to complete the mission mode, which includes such innovative challenges as "Get 9,999,999 gold!" and "Fight every character against every other character 99 times!" For those of you slow on math, completing that last mission requires that the player goes through 14*13*99 = 18,018 matches. Luckily, since you don't actually have to win these matches, Niles screwed around with the game settings and stuck some rubber bands on his controller to speed up the process. However, even with these cheats, finishing the mission takes 17 straight days of play, and T&T's press deadline arrived on Day 16. I look forward to a full update next month. Presumably it unlocks some utterly jaw-dropping concept art, or perhaps bin Laden's location.

Hardcore Gamer Volume 2 Issue 2

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This is, I think, the first issue of HCG where the cover wasn't drawn by Mr. Airbrush himself, Terry Wolfinger (although there's a lovely centerfold of Super Mario Galaxy drawn by him inside).

There's a huge bit on the Wii this month, leading me to wonder if Nintendo's new system will be to HCG editor Greg Off as the Jaguar was to GameFan's Dave Halverson.

Kindly skip: The cosplay page. Not to toot my own horn, but Newtype USA has a cosplay column written by Jan Kurotaki, and she is the only person who does cosplay right. In the world. I mean it. Buy a copy and see. Please.

Xbox Live Gamer 2006

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Oh lord, it's Future one-off mania! First up is the second edition of Xbox Live Gamer, a co-op job between the editors of OXM and Maximum PC. This one (unlike CPU's effort a while back) is actually pretty remarkable, featuring nearly all original content and a great deal of neat art and design. There's even a bunch of E3 coverage that didn't make it into any other Future mag, including interviews with CliffyB and the producer of Rainbow Six: Vegas. It's all info that anyone with a 360 probably knows already, but still, a remarkable effort and a contender for Best One-Off of the Year.

The Essential PSP Handbook

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This one isn't quite as impressive as Xbox Live Gamer, mostly 'cos there just isn't as much interesting stuff to discuss about the PSP for 112 pages. A lot of the tech stuff is nothing a net search wouldn't reveal, and the great majority of the mag is devoted to standard previews and reviews. The design's still nice, though, and the mag comes with one of those Sportflics-style postcards for Pursuit Force. (Yes, I know they're called "lenticular" postcards, but I was raised in the 80s, and so they're Sportflics, forever.)

Beckett Spotlight: Cheat Codes

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Could someone please make me stop buying Beckett one-offs? Seriously, this magazine looks straight out of 1988. And, oh cripes, I see that Beckett Sports Video Gamer is due out this month, too. God, give me strength.

(Note to self: The next time I'm unemployed, make sure to use my secret pen name when begging Beckett for work.)

[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.]

Iwai's Blog Sends Electroplankton Felicitations

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/elek.jpg Poking around the awesome Music Thing blog and its entry on bizarre musical instruments at the Futuresonic festival in Manchester, we discovered something wonderful - Toshio Iwai has an official Tenori-On weblog in English, and he also talks about Electroplankton on it.

We've previously covered Tenori-On, which is Iwai's insane-looking new Yamaha co-produced touch-based musical instrument, which shares a lot of ideas with his DS title Electroplankton (and his previous cult PC title Sim Tunes!), but there's lots more info on the blog, as well as a post on Electroplankton's European debut.

In it, Iwai comments: "Electroplankton was released in Europe today, July 7th. I am very happy, so I made a drawing which Electroplanktons
were swimming to Europe through the Milky Way." Darn, wish there was a wallpaper-sized version of it.

He also reveals: "European version of Electroplankton recognize the language setting of Nintendo DS, so the language of the menu and etc. is changed. And the voices of Volvoice in the Audience Mode are also changed. I asked Nintendo of Europe to record children's voice of each language. (Original Volvoice's voice is my daughtar's voice ;-)" Cute!

In The Groove, Evergrooving Along

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/itg3.jpg Some quirk of fate led us to the In The Groove homepage, where Roxor Games' distinctly DDR-'inspired' rhythm game for arcade and consoles lives, and there are a bunch of potentially intriguing things there - not least an image from the Play Meter arcade trade magazine which reveals that In The Gro(o)ve 2 was the highest rated 'Video Kit' (upgrade!) in June 2006 by the surveyed arcade operators.

From this, we can guess that the Konami lawsuit against Roxor filed last year (the upgrade kits are often going into DDR machines!) must either be settled or stalled. It's also neat to see the entire Play Meter arcade charts to see what smaller U.S. arcade operators actually care about nowadays - looks like The Fast And The Furious by Eugene Jarvis' Raw Thrills is way up there, alongside fun stuff like House Of The Dead 4 and Initial D Ver. 3 from Sega.

[Oh, and in case you missed the 'classic' In The Groove April Fool from this year, as we did - it's EverGroove - "a unique game combining the best elements from the In The Groove dance games plus the addictive features of massively multiplayer online RPGs (MMORPGs)", which "adds a new SUPER MASTER difficulty with up to 50 steps per second". Well, the first bit isn't actually too crazy an idea, heh.]

On Brody Condon's World Of Game Art

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/insu.jpg So, editing Jim Rossignol's 'Blogged Out' column for Gamasutra today, we came across the extremely insane 'Insurgents' image by game-related artist Brody Condon, who runs Tmpspace.com as his virtual gallery.

Though we were aware of some of Condo's earlier projects, such as the Waco: Resurrection FPS and the real-life John Carmack model which is "a low polygon likeness of the famous game engine programmer" which was "milled in polyurethane, and textured with hundreds of hand placed inket decals", we hadn't seen some of his newer game art.

This includes 'Need For Speed (Cargo Cult)', which is "a Lamborghini Countach from 1985 made in cast urethane branches. The original 3D model for the car was extracted from the popular racing simulation Need for Speed." Also neat, and a bit older, is DeResFX.Kill < Elvis; 2004, which " is a modification of the first person shooter computer game Unreal 2003. As the viewer camera floats through an infinite pink afterlife, twitching multiples of Elvis are controlled by the original game's "Karma Physics" real-time physics system." Fun fun!

Puppy Escapes Nintendogs, Chomps DS Lite

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/dschomp.jpg Ever had a pet eat one of your favorite gaming handhelds? Jacob Kaplan-Moss has, and he's blogged about his puppy's attempt to consume his DS Lite on his weblog.

Jacob notes: "So I came home to find this: Bad Dog! [A moment of silence for my so-recently-new toy...] He mangled the thing pretty good, but amazingly it still turns on, albeit with a busted touch-screen."

However, Nintendo's customer service provides a happy(ish) ending to this story! Amazingly, when he called, Nintendo said: "So it looks like the best I can do is to charge you $50 to repair it, how does that sound?" Jacob grins of this development: "Major props to Nintendo's customer service. I don't know many companies that would replace a unit that's been eaten by a dog for around 1/3 of the sticker price. That rocks."

Joysticking Around At California Extreme

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/ppark.jpg Last weekend was the totally awesome California Extreme, and Andy 'Waxy' Baio has written up his favorite titles from the show, concentrating on the quirky and gorgeous, of course.

Some highlights: "Panic Park. One of the funnest arcade games I've ever played. The goal of this Japanese two-player import is to shove your opponent around in a number of great minigames. The controls are like two big cushioned levers, which you throw your entire weight against to move your character around onscreen. Tilt your head sideways and watch this video to get the idea." Yay, another Panic Park mention on GSW this week!

Also: "Bumper. Released in 1936, Bally's "Bumper" was the first pinball game to use bumpers on the playfield. Funny enough, early pinball machines wouldn't get flippers for another 11 years, until Gottlieb's Humpty Dumpty in 1947. Until then, gameplay was limited to shooting the balls and watching them fall. If you want to see it for yourself, Bumper can be found at the Lucky Ju Ju pinball gallery in Alameda."

[Incidentally, on a quick office poll of people that weren't sick at the time (rats!), so actually attended, FrankC's game of the show at California Extreme was a completely restored, pristine Funhouse pinball machine. YUM! BSheffield's game of the show was 'play the arcade cabinet before they take it away', because he turned up late and they were wheeling cabs away before the official exhibit end date. Apparently, he lost!]

July 14, 2006

Ultimate Zidane Mash-Up Bonks It Out

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/zonkit.jpg We heart 'I'm OK' artist Derek Yu (hey, here's a full video walkthrough on Google Video!) - so much so that we got him to do the Pac-Man themed cover for Game Developer a few months back.

Anyhow, he's been doodling on his personal site again, and has come up with the best Zidane-related video game parody we've seen (and yes, the game-related vids based on the event are 'hilarious' too) - captioned 'Zonk's Revenge', it's either a Zidane-renamed Bonk or actually Air Zonk in the picture, though we're probably being stupid in not working out which.

Oh, also in the doodles - 'Paul Giamatti is Cao Cao in a Romance Of The Three Kingdoms Movie' - uhh, can anyone say totally awesome? We also want a Puppy Chaser T-shirt, but maybe that's just us.

Guitar Hero Gets Wireless Guitar Maaaania

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/flyingv.jpg Over at GameSpy (which really doesn't seem too connected to the 'blogosphere', despite posting some neat articles!), there's a preview of the Guitar Mania peripheral range, showcasing three different third-party Guitar Hero controllers.

It's revealed: "The low-end model, or entry level guitar is named the Shredder, a wired controller in a similar shape to the standard RedOctane controllers that Guitar Hero fans are used to. The mid-range model is the Rocking V, in the shape of a Flying V guitar. The high-end model that we got to play with is the Freedom V, the most exciting release for current fans of the game who already own two guitars, as it's the first wireless guitar peripheral on the market." Hot diggity!

However, the version GameSpy tested had some tilt sensor issues, and their conclusion: "Our play testing of the TAC Wireless Freedom V guitar resulted in mild disappointment. The RedOctane guitars are more functional, and are your best bet for competitive, hassle-free gameplay. While we wish that we could get wireless versions of the standard guitar, at the moment we're still stuck with annoying controller cables." Still... wireless!

Hyper Street Fighter Rage Attack Video Alert!

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/hsf2.jpg Over at fighting game HQ Shoryuken.com, they've posted lots of videos from the recent Evo West tournament, showcasing the tournament which went down on July 1st-2nd in Los Angeles, and showed an impressive variety of winners across the multiple games.

The site proclaims, happily: "I’m sure you’ve all heard such stories as Alex Wolfe’s comeback against Alex Valle in HSF2 at Evo West. Well, now you can see it for yourself. We have Match Videos from the Finals of Hyper Street Fighter 2 and Capcom Vs. SNK 2 at Evo West 2006 for you to download! Grab them and see how it all went down!"

Well, unfortunately, the site had pretty slow download speeds when we tried, but don't worry - Alex Wolfe, who came 2nd in the Hyper Street Fighter II tournament (yay!), has posted videos of his own fights onto YouTube, including the insane last-round comeback mentioned in the above description - start watching at about the 3 minute 10 seconds mark!

Dreamcast Net Browsing Like It's 1999

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/dreamkey3.jpg Slightly retro blog The Dreamcast Junkyard has an extremely fun article up regarding going online in the UK with the Sega Dreamcast, even in this day and age.

Blogger Gagaman(n) explains: "Firstly, from browsing Sega-Europe's website hey still have a Q&A section for the Dreamcast (go see for yourselves), and one of them was about obtaining the last edition of the DC internet disc, Dream Kit Ver.3. It appears they still have piles of them, so they're giving them away to anyone that requests one for free. I requested one for the fun of it recently, and in two days it popped through the mail."

Having also grabbed a VGA adaptor (although not the somewhat insanely rare broadband adaptor, unfortunately!), next up: "I didn't want to pay the per-minute stuff to try it out, so I hunted down a free ISP for it and luckily enough there was one. Right here... Using this I slapped the Dreamkey disc in, put in the details I printed out from that site, and there we have it! My DC was online again, if only temporarily. The ISP worked, although I cant tell if it was truly free yet until the next phone bill arrives." There's even a video on the site showing his DC happily motoring along using its inbuilt modem, aww - not exceptional, but entertaining!

Slipgate Ironworks Smites Lazy Workers!

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/slipgat.jpg Here's a fun piece of randomness - we got a brief note to Gamasutra from an amused reader who had checked out the announcement of John Romero's new studio, named Slipgate Ironworks, which "will specialize in massively multiplayer online games".

The reader noted wryly: "I found it funny that the logo is based upon/copied from a Soviet poster "We smite the lazy workers" - here." And what do you know, it is! Is this just another covert way of revealing that, if you take a job there, you're going to be bitch-smited? Almost certainly.

Now, Romero does comment on his blog that: "Fear not, the name Slipgate Ironworks is only a temporary name for my company. We'll be renaming it sometime during the next year to something real. :)" So perhaps the final company name will be 'The Bread Starts Here'? Thank you, we'll be here all week.

COLUMN: 'Bastards of 32-Bit' - Roll Away

rollaway1.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 Roll Away for the Sony PlayStation, published by Psygnosis and released in the United States in November 1998.]

Rollin' Rollin' Rollin'

Looking up information on obscure titles can be a chore sometimes. When entered into a search engine, a name like Roll Away, for example, will yield tons of pages promising "1000'S OF CHEAT CODES!!", few of which apply to the game in question. This is only slightly less helpful than the search results that tout themselves as being "the ultimate Roll Away resource," but offer only a single paragraph review of the game, at most.

In this case, it's not until you search for the game's European title, "Kula World", that you begin to get some useful results. Though the game flopped in the United States, it became somewhat of an underground hit in Europe, where the title was lauded for its 3D take on the single-screen puzzle genre of yesteryear.

rollaway2.jpgCall it "quirky" and I'll punch you.

Roll Away was developed by a Sweden-based design team of roughly a half-dozen people, and the game's premise was the result of an idea one of the graphics designers had during a dream. In the game, players must guide a gravity-defying beach ball through a rotating, 3D labyrinth in order to collect items needed to exit each level.

The game closely follows the example set by classic "find the key/find the exit" puzzlers like Solomon's Key and The Adventures of Lolo, and the constant shifts in perspective give Roll Away its own unique brand of challenge.

The beach ball will cling to any solid surface, so much of the game will be spent rolling along walls and ceilings. Trying not to become disoriented is where most of the challenge comes from, though there are a number of obstacles in each level that can get in the way or deflate your beach ball, forcing you to start over. Roll Away becomes difficult quickly, and later levels require both twitch reflexes and the complete mastery of your beach ball's limited abilities.

Collect enough fruit and you'll get to the blood and pea soup bonus round.The Internet has good things on it, too.

As addictive and fun as the game may be, however, it's no mystery as to why Roll Away never achieved the popularity it deserved. The title received little in the way of magazine coverage, and advertising was practically nonexistent.

Even the back of Roll Away's jewel case seems clueless at how to make the experience sound appealing; the gameplay summary includes the phrase "the world's coolest beach ball," and "Pick up coins, gems and fruit," is actually listed as a bullet point.

Following the release of Roll Away, developer Game Design Sweden AB soon changed its name to PlayCom, and has made a name for itself in its achievements in Shockwave-based gaming. Roll Away itself, in fact, has been successfully cloned in the fan-made Shockwave game Frenzirynth.

Though consoles rarely see the release of puzzlers like Roll Away in today's market, the genre has found new life on the Internet and mobile platforms. Perhaps these are the new gaming frontiers to watch, for those who remain fans of the "fruit-collecting beach ball" brand of puzzle game.

[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.]

Warp's Fortunately Lost 3DO 'Gem' Explored

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/warped.jpg The ever-crazy 3DO Multiplayer Blog has what must be a world-first English language review - for Warp's bizarre 3DO title Rush and Fire Megadas, a particularly obscure title from Kenji Eno's mystery machine.

Blogger 3DOKid comments: "Say 'Warp' to any 3DO fan and they immediately wax-lyrical about D's Diner or perhaps mention the much delayed D2 for the 3DO M2 that never materialised and that the Dreamcast version that did materialise was nothing like the version destined for the M2. Us 3DO fans being real wows at diner parties. Not unsurprisingly, we 3DO fans don't mention Megadas. You're dying to know why I guess - or perhaps not, but here goes."

He explains: "The premise is that it is a Warp TV channel. You get a News channel, Weather, Shopping, Movie, Educational, Adult and the game channel - Megadas. They are all pretty sorry." The most 'interesting'? "The final game is called "Oda Nobonaga over sleeps". The objective being to wake this major daimyo of the Sengoku period of Japanese history by slapping away at the 'A' button and eventually waking him up. Once he's awake you get rated." OK, I think we see why this is obscure, now.

July 13, 2006

Ultimate Ghouls N Ghosts Gets Lunatic Video

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/ghogho.jpg This one's been floating around for a bit, but I didn't realize how insane it was until I looked at it properly - a YouTube-hosted promotional video for Goku Makaimura, aka upcoming PSP title Ultimate Ghouls 'N Ghosts from Capcom, which plays out like a particularly surreal absinthe dream.

Along with a spectacularly redbearded Japanese guy hanging out his famous underwear and using his lance to turn out the light in his dingy apartment, we then see him switching some of his treasure for money and hanging out in karaoke bars with hostesses, before getting in shape to kick ass as Arthur the Knight - sublime.

If you haven't seen them, actually, the trailers for Ultimate Ghouls 'N Ghosts itself are particularly satisfying - sounds like you'll be getting to play the title if you turn up to the San Diego Comic-Con next week, too - so have at it!

Dreamcast Goes Under The Counter In Japan

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/superpotato.jpg Over at GameSpy, a new Japanese-themed column by Jonti Davies talks about the effect of new hardware sales restrictions in the country, as previously covered at Gamasutra, and it's all extremely bizarre.

As Gama noted: "The Electrical Appliance and Materials Safety Law, passed in 2001, already requires manufacturers to place "product safety of electrical appliance and materials" (PSE) safety certifications on new electronic goods, and beginning in April, retailers will be prohibited from selling pre-2001 electrical items without the PSE mark... Pre-2001 consoles such as the Dreamcast and original PlayStation would fall under the law, but as Japanese newspaper the Asahi Shimbun explains, there are several ways of getting around the regulation."

In Davies' case, it went a bit like this: "Me: Hello, I'm looking for a Dreamcast... Staffer Number Two (upstairs): Well, you see, there has been a new law passed which says we can't sell such hardware in this store. Me: Really? You don't have any Dreamcast consoles here? Staffer Number Two: Oh, we do have one. Would you like to see it? Me: Certainly. Staffer Number Two: It's in perfect condition... just 5000yen. Me: Um...? Staffer Number Two: Just buy something for 100yen so we can give you a receipt, and then we'll sell you this Dreamcast... unofficially." Well, that's ONE way of dealing with it!

XBLA Frogger Doesn't Forget Konami Code

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/frogger.gif Our chums at Achieve360Points have sent over some very important news about the new Digital Eclipse-developed Xbox Live Arcade version of Frogger - the classic Konami Code is included in it, thank the Lord!

A360P notes: "The Konami does in fact work in Frogger, but there aren't many benefits to it at all. Enter the code and begin your journey as a giant frog dodging traffic. The classic code must be entered at the player select screen. Simply enter: Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A."

The full Frogger info page has pictures of all the achievements for the game, incidentally - we've only got 4 so far, showing us to be kinda hopped out, unfortunately - it's 25 years old, and it's still really tricky on later levels.

[Oh, and a tip from us to you - it's highly recommended that you go to the pause screen and switch the art back to the original coin-op style - it's cleaner and easier to play with, in our humble opinions. Also, people around the GSW office have been heard to call the updated graphic stylings '90s shareware style' - not a compliment!]

GameSetInterview: Halo Screenwriter DB Weiss

dbweiss.jpgDB Weiss is the author of 2003's Lucky Wander Boy, a critically acclaimed fictional story dealing with obscure video games. Born and raised in Chicago, he has a Masters of Philosophy in Irish Literature and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing.

He's currently living in Los Angeles, where he is writing the latest version of the screenplay for the Peter Jackson executive produced movie Halo, based on Bungie's best-selling game franchise (following on from an initial draft by Alex Garland), as well as a screenplay for Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game along with David Benioff.

GameSetWatch managed to reach Weiss via email to quiz him about his well-received piece of game-related fiction, as well as his current work as a screenwriter in Hollywood, with particular reference to his current work dramatizing Halo for the big screen.

(Click through to read the full interview.)

Lucky Wander Boy was praised by many people for doing the unthinkable and combining contemporary fiction and gaming culture - why do you think this is so rarely done, and what inspired you to attempt it?

I’m glad they liked it, wherever these people are. I think it’s probably a natural thing that videogames are a relatively new subject for fiction, being the youngest popular artistic medium. I wanted to write about them because they’ve permeated my life, along with books, music and movies. As more people for whom this is the case come of age, I think we’ll see more videogame cross-pollination.

What sort of feedback do you receive about the book?

Generally very favorable. I do get a fair number of emails about it, and it’s gratifying to know that something you wrote means something to someone you’ve never met. There are some people who don’t love it, of course. I take them seriously too. I think that, if I were to write it again, now, it would be better. But I have no plans to do that.

How much research about the history of gaming went into Lucky Wander Boy?

More than I expected. When I realized the character had to be a lot more obsessed with gaming than I actually was, I went back and read books by Steven Kent, Leonard Hermann, lots of others… I also did a lot of “research” playing emulators, and looking at pics in Van Burnham’s excellent Supercade videogame art book from MIT.

How seriously do you take criticism?

If it’s useful, I listen to it, definitely. I mean, "THIS GUY SUCKS ASS" is not useful. But "THIS GUY SUCKS ASS *BECAUSE*...", sometimes that’s someone tell you something you ought to know.

A while ago you said that you would be working on "quasi-journalistic stuff about games, sooner or later". What has come of that?

Nothing, unfortunately. Too busy with other stuff.

What is your own history as a gamer?

I played games obsessively between the ages of about 8 or 9 until maybe 15 (Atari 2600/Intellivision through NES). Then I took a pretty long hiatus, only really picking them up again when I was in my 20s. Now, it depends how much work I have to do. Whenever I have the time, I play. A lot of handheld stuff now, DS, PSP – they tend to swallow your life a bit less.

What are you enjoying most at the moment?

New Super Mario Bros. on DS and Lemmings on PSP. (What am I, eight years old?)

What are you working on at the moment?

I write for film now, mostly – appropriately enough, I’m currently adapting Halo for producers Mary Parent, Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh. I’ve got another novel finished that needs a second draft – and maybe someday, I’ll be able to work in games. I certainly hope so.

That's pretty exciting - I know you mentioned being a fan of the game's multiplayer mode a few years back, but were you attracted to the storyline of the single player game back then?

Yeah, I’m pretty excited about it. And I did always think there was a lot more to the Halo universe than most games -- I remember switching to “Easy” mode on the first game, so I could plow through it more quickly and find out what happened next.

How did you become involved with the project? It wasn't anything to do with an interview you did where you said:

"Far more work went into the LWB screenplay excerpt than any other section of the book, except possibly the end. I think someone ought to hire me to write terrible, techno-mystical action screenplays. I think I have a knack."

Was it?

That’s pretty damn funny – I’d forgotten about that. Let’s hope that, except for the “terrible” part, I was right!

Actually, it came to me in a far more prosaic way – producer calls agent and mentions project, agent sends sample script to producer, I go meet producer and we really get along, etc.

How far along with the screenplay are you?

Just starting in on an entirely new second draft.

[NOTE 07/19/06 - DB Weiss pinged us again and said he wanted to make sure this was made clear: "When I said I was starting "An entirely new second draft," I meant *my* second draft. I didn't mean to imply that there weren't many elements of the Garland draft in it, which of course, there are, in both drafts I've written."]

How long have you been writing for film, and was this something you wanted to accomplish from the beginning?

Yeah, it’s something I’ve always kept a hand in, so it’s very gratifying that it’s finally starting to work out. I was writing scripts for years, sometimes even for extremely small sums of money -- but I’ve only been working in Hollywood proper for around two years.

Going back to your views on criticism, you must realise to some degree that the screenwriting projects that you've taken on will inevitably attract criticism from some elements of their associated fanbases - does this worry you?

Not really. I do think about it, but it’s inevitable. There will be the 5% on the fringe of any hardcore fanbase that get angry about any change you make to the source material. The truth is that novels, games, comics, and what-have-you are not usually ready to be slapped up on screen as-is. If you did do a 100% faithful version, 999 times out of 1000 it would be a mess, and even the 5%-ers would recognise as much.

What can we expect from your new novel?

17th century, 30 years war, lots of weird stuff with alchemists...really have to get back to that...

Finally - regarding your desire to work in games, Ron Gilbert recently criticised the state of storytelling in videogames, saying:

"Honestly, I have not played anything in a long time that I thought was doing a particularly good job at telling a story."

Is that something you'd agree with?

Well, I loved Psychonauts and think Tim Schafer's story is smart and a lot of fun. God of War was great too...but in general, I think Ron is more or less right.

There are a lot of writers in film (and presumably in fiction as well) who love games, but I’m guessing that many of them get caught between stations, in a way. What I mean is, maybe they don’t feel comfortable with the world of games to try to kick-start their own game projects as a creator -- which is a nightmarishly difficult process anyway, probably much harder than getting a movie made -- but on the flipside, there’s no equivalent of the spec script in gaming, to the best of my knowledge. Honestly, even in film, the role of the original script has shrunk to almost nothing. And if they’re lucky enough to be working for film...well, it does pay better.

Still, I think that games will inevitably up their game in the writing and story departments, they’ll have to, if they really want to be mainstream. All the "games are bigger than movies" talk is ridiculous, of course, total 'lying with statistics’ type stuff. The truth is, for better and for worse (very often for worse) movies make so much damn money because lots and lots of people go to see them. They’re made for everybody. Hardcore gaming audiences exert a lot more influence over the direction of games than cineastes exert over the direction of film. But a move in a mainstream direction is inevitable, from a business point of view. Which, alas, is usually the point of view making the decisions.

The Escapist Escapes From Pseudo-Print Chains

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/escap.jpg Well, looks like alt.gaming Web magazine The Escapist, formerly wrapped up in a magazine style interface which we found made it difficult to remember to link at times, has broken out, and is now a website (with added magazine-like content still there!) - which is cool.

They say: "To mark its one-year anniversary The Escapist announced today the launch of its new web portal... the magazine’s current issue remains the centerpiece, with the site now integrating The Escapist Lounge blog, industry news coverage and contextual discussion forums for readers to voice their opinions about everything the site has to offer."

In addition: "After careful consideration and much discussion, we’ve decided to eliminate the ‘Casual Friday’ edition of the magazine,” said Julianne Greer, Executive Editor. “Instead we will publish the full issue every Tuesday, offering readers the magazine in its entirety any day of the week. In addition to the publishing changes, we are now featuring a text-only version of one article per day on the new portal, as well as the stylish print version the magazine is known for,” continued Greer. ”This option is in response to those readers who prefer reading The Escapist in a more traditional web format.”

Hurray, readability! And here's some new stats showing that they've really published quite a lot of articles in the last year. But what, no GameSetWatch link in Recommended Sites? We're TRAGICALLY disappointed, haw. [EDIT: Yep, the nice Escapist folks added us to their blogroll, and we thank them from the bottom of our attention-whoring hearts.]

COLUMN: 'Game Rag Slapdown' - Poop It Forward

I'm losing it...[The 'Game Rag Slapdown' is an exclusive bi-weekly Thursday feature written by The Game Rag's Nathan Smart that's always video game related, sometimes funny ha ha, but mostly funny hee hee (and sometimes funny, period). This week, Nathan solves race relations with an ape.]

This week I’ve been playing a lot of Black & White 2. I got the game because I thought it was going to be the sequel to race relations from the Civil Rights Era. I was wrong.

I have been feeling guilty lately because I haven’t interacted much with the opposite color - as much I’d like to - and this game was going to be my ticket out of guilt city.

I opened it up, installed it and instead, was treated to a game where I’m a God trying to choose between helping my people or being mean to them. I was really angry at first because I was thinking how the heck am I going to get over my guilt now? Then, something weird happened. Something that touched my heart. Something that pulled on my teste strings.

I chose the ape character and he was just moseying along gathering grain and pooping on storehouses. This got me kind of angry so I punished him. I don’t want him gathering grain, I just want him to poop on storehouses.

Anyways, an opposing army approached and so I decided to destroy their city. I can’t have armies approaching my town – not even just to walk by. I took my armies and my ape creature and directed them to tear up the enemy’s town. My armies went to task but my ape decided to ignore me and this is where I was touched.

Instead of destroying the town, he decided to gather trees. I watched him gather a tree and I assumed he was going to take it to our storehouse. Instead, he planted the tree in the enemy’s city.

What a perfect metaphor for race relations in our times! Racist people are always getting so angry at black people for approaching them and instead of attacking their towns (like Harlem and Beverly Hills) – wouldn’t it be nice if they planted trees there? Or better yet. Pooped on their storehouses?

I know, I know. I’m living in a dream world. What kind of a utopia am I thinking of where trees are planted and poop is pooped? Well, before you completely think I’m a nutjob, just hear me out.

The next time someone you don’t like does something mean to you, instead of retaliating, why don’t you just look them in the eye, grab a tree and plant it in the nearest piece of property they own? Or look for a shed where they store stuff and just drop out a little poop on it? Wouldn’t that just blow their minds!

It’s a new thing I’ve come up with that I’m calling Poop It Forward and I hope you’ll pass it on.

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

Uno Announcement Overshadows New XBLA Games

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/unoxbl.jpg So sure, we all spotted the announcement of Xbox Live Casual Wednesdays, and that's great news for rabid XBLA fans such as ourselves at the good ship GSW.

For those not in the know, and I'm adding info on price here, since that wasn't in the initial announcement: "The complete schedule [for XBLA releases] is announced as follows: July 12 – Frogger ($5/400 points); July 19 – Cloning Clyde ($10/800 points); - July 26 – Galaga ($5/400 points); August 2 – Street Fighter II Hyper Fighting ($10/800 points); August 9 – Pac-Man ($5/400 points)." Hopefully it'll go beyond August 9, too.

But XBLArcade.com has spotted the real story here, something Microsoft were clearly trying to hide from an adoring public (joke!): "It seems that along with Frogger being set loose, MS quietly released the long awaited patch to fix the match-making issues they’ve been having with Uno." Yay, this is great news - we had a lot of trouble finding XBL partners for the game and thought it was just us - evidently not.

"When asked about the update on various forums this morning, Richard Thames Rowan, UNO Program Manager at Carbonated Games, had the following to say: 'Yes, this update fixed the multiplayer matchmaking (both Quick Match and Ranked Match), along with another of other bugs, including better theme deck support (which is invisible until new theme decks are released).'"

Galactic Civilizations II Expands Into Dark Places

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/galciv2.jpg We continue to be fascinated by the good job that Stardock and Brad Wardell are doing in making people care about their hardcore indie PC games such as the Galactic Civilizations series, and FiringSquad has a good interview with Brad on the GalCiv II expansion, named 'Dark Avatar'.

For a 'niche' PC game, GalCiv II seems to have sold pretty darn well, and Brad notes: "Everything we had planned on was based on a projected linear increase from what happened during Galactic Civilizations I. Way back when GalCiv I came out, Master of Orion 3 was new and a lot of people were anxious for space-based strategy games. So the success of the first game had taken us by surprise. With Galactic Civilizations II, there wasn’t that situation so we did not think there would be the kind of mass-market demand for a space-based strategy game."

The company is also renowned for being light on game protection, and Wardell explains just why: "But the bottom line is that we are certain that CD copy protection costs more sales than it gains through “preventing piracy.” Gamers — particularly people who buy games — resent being treated like criminals, and it affects their purchasing decisions. If I thought that a retina scan would increase sales, then you can be assured that a GalCiv III would require it. Not having CD copy protection has definitely helped our sales."

July 12, 2006

GameSetQ: Underwear Man's Heralded Predecessors?

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/simcopter.jpg So, we were reading a new weblog post by Rob 'Xemu' Fermier at Ensemble Studios, where he discusses the phenomenon of 'Underwear Man', and it got us to thinking.

Wha - 'Underwear Man'? Rob explains: "For many months now, whenever someone would take a screenshot from within the editor, one of our units would appear prominently in the final image. This alone might have been amusing, but as it turns out, the unit would always appear stripped of any techs the player had researched. Due to how we represent the player's military units, that means he wouldn't have even his baseline civ-specific armor so he would appear, well, mostly naked. Fortunately his modesty would be preserved by a pair of underwear that was painted into the base mesh."

Terrible! "Thus was the legend of "Underwear Man" born, making his ubiquitous presence in every screenshot we would make for internal distribution. He was, as you might imagine, the subject of much amusement. But all good things must come to an end, and today I finally fixed the bug, banishing Underwear Man forever."

So, our GameSetQ for today is:

"What video game bugs have you seen that have made in-game characters appear in incredibly undignified ways? Name the game and the tragic disfigurement - stretched limbs, missing clothes, messed-up colors, and missing body parts will get bonus points!

Please comment below - our useless contribution is that we've definitely played a game where your character can front clip into the viewing plane, allowing you to see through their face and into the inside of their head, where their eyeballs are separately modeled and look really weird, but we can't remember which game it was - one of the Resident Evil-s? [And yes, the screenshot is from SimCopter, obscure reference ahoy.]

COLUMN - 'Compilation Catalog' - Falcom Classics

['Compilation Catalog' is a regular biweekly analysis of retro remakes and compilations old and new. This entry's subject is Falcom Classics, released in 1997 for the Japanese Sega Saturn.]

CoverThe amount of time and effort the venerable Japanese PC developer Falcom has spent remaking and re-remaking their classic franchises (most notably Ys) has become almost a running joke over the years. It's tempting to see this package, developed by JVC Victor and released in 1997 for the Japanese Sega Saturn, as more squeezing of the same bloodless stone. But included along with the requisite Ys are two of Falcom's earliest hits, Dragon Slayer and Xanadu, which influenced the entire course of Japanese action RPGs afterward. While fans who are only familiar with Ys might not see these two dusty old relics as classics, they're still quite playable today, and an interesting look at a genre in its infancy.

Each of the three games has been completely overhauled in colorful 32-bit-era 2D, far cry from the originals' EGA-ish graphics. Each has redone - or new, depending on the case - music, too, though the games have tended to retain their original sound effects, appropriately. Most importantly, though, the earlier two games in the pack have had their controls streamlined and adapted to the Saturn's joypad, making them much easier to get into than the Japanese PC originals are these days. Plus, each of the games has a new "Saturn Mode" that add additional gameplay tweaks, but these can be skipped in favor of an "Original Mode" for each.

Dragon SlayerDragon Slayer, released in 1984, is the very first action-RPG ever made. At first it might look very much like the graphical derivatives of Rogue that have proliferated over the years, right down to the way you bump into enemies to attack them. But even apart from the fact that it runs in real-time, Dragon Slayer's rules are a bit different. The game plops the player down in the middle of a 2D overhead map that's scattered with blocks, potions, monsters, chests, gold coins, and a fair variety of items whose purpose will surely be a mystery to any new player, including a...house? There doesn't seem to be much of a goal to the game at first glance. Sure, there are monsters to kill and treasure to find, but the functions of items are a mystery, there's nothing to buy with the treasure, and enemies don't add to a player's experience levels. And where's the exit to this level?!

The point of the game becomes more clear when one notices that picking up one of the crystals scattered around a level and then "using" it on the house (the player's home, which is located right in the dungeon, for some reason) increases the player's strength by a good deal. Additional items increase health and damage potential, while others can be used to defend against the attacks of enemies. Further structure is noticeable when the player comes upon a gigantic, unmoving, three-headed dragon situated in one corner of the first level. Attacking it early on is an easy way to experience a quick death, but thankfully there have been more than enough items placed within the level to allow the player to grow strong enough to (of course) slay the dragon.

Once that's been accomplished, the game moves on to the next stage, with a new layout and another dragon to beat. It's like a series of miniature, abstract RPGs laid end to end. One could be forgiven for noticing a resemblance between this game and a fourteen-year-old's summer project, thanks to its seemingly nonsensical nature and arbitrary mechanics. And once you've figured out how to play the game, all is not roses: it can be irritating juggling the one item you can carry (a key, a cross, a ring) and those that you accumulate, and making trips between item fields and home can be a chore, even after one learns how to push the house around (!). However, it's interesting to see how such an untamed project gave birth to a relatively measured genre.

XanaduXanadu (which has no relation to Olivia Newton John) was developed as a direct sequel to Dragon Slayer. It was one of the first big hits in the Japanese PC game market, having sold over 400,000 copies after its release in 1985. Its graphical style and assortment of items bear some resemblance to its predecessor, but Falcom practically started from scratch with the game's design, resulting in something that should be much more recognizable to modern players. The bulk of the game takes place in an underground, 2D dungeon that's viewed from the side this time, and there are ladders, doors, pitfalls, and shops to navigate. Enemies can be seen roaming around on the map, and when the player's character collides with one, a top-down encounter begins. The player can attack the enemies by simply running into them, or magic can be used to attack from afar. Once each of the enemies are killed - or once the player escapes - the game continues as usual. Each of the game's ten areas (called "floors" even though each has many of its own floors and distinct areas) has smaller, self-contained sub-dungeons. Upon entry, these are represented entirely by rooms in a top-down perspective, with individual enemies infesting each room.

Familiar elements abound here, for fans of both Eastern and Western RPGs old and new. When starting a game, the player is set free in a surface-level town, which has various shops and training facilities that can be used to improve the player's starting statistics (most of which are swiped wholesale from Advanced Dungeons & Dragons). There's experience to be gained here, and underground churches where the player can level up (each level of fighter or mage experience has its own title - a nice touch). The items that can be found are pretty close to the consumables seen in later (and even modern) action RPGs. Subterreanean shops carry weapons, armor, keys, and food, the last of which is consumed slowly over time and is essential for keeping our intrepid adventurer alive. Weapons and armor change the player's sprite visibly when equipped, which is a cute touch, and the game's indigenous monsters are nicely varied (if not always original - watch out for those Beholders).

The game does have its share of problems. Game balance shouldn't be mentioned in this case so much as a complete lack thereof, and the archaic, inertialess "jumping" takes some getting used to. Starting around Floor 3 or 4, dungeon design becomes pretty devious, and it's often easy to find oneself stuck in a room without a key to get out. Granted, there's an in-game escape button included just in case that does happen, but who wants to get sent back to the first floor every time the level layout gets the best of them? Judicious saving can help avoid this, however. Also, the "karma" stat, while an interesting predecessor to more developed morality systems, is a sticky matter. Killing certain enemies raises the player's karma by a certain amount, and if a player's karma is too high, priests in churches will refuse to grant level-ups. The only way to decrease karma is to drink a black potion, which also has the effect of knocking off half a player's health bar. It probably won't be clear to most players which enemies are "good" and which aren't, so it's easy to end up facing either a drug habit or a restart.

Even so, learning the dungeon layouts and figuring out how to best use the game's sytems for survival is satisfying, and boss encounters are rare enough that they're thrilling when they're discovered. And discovery is key here: it might have tiny graphics, but this is a big, big game, with lots to explore and find and see and do. Plus, even when the game's balance has you down, the whole thing is practically begging to be exploited for all it's worth. It can be a vicious game, but it gives the player more than enough means to be vicious right back to it. (Check over here for a video of the game being completely taken apart in 13 minutes.)

Ys1987's Ys doesn't bear series links to either of the above games, but Xanadu's collide-to-attack mechanic was included and practically refined into an art form. This game is most often compared, unfavorably, to its contemporary The Legend of Zelda, and many players aren't sure what to think of a game that doesn't require you to swing your sword to hit enemies. But the heavily action-based play style is still as solid and addictive as it always was, and while the game's messy dungeon layouts haven't aged as well as its setting or story, it's still easy to see why Ys has remained popular all these years. Ys was originally the main draw in this package, and most of the bonus material included in the limited edition of Falcom Classics is strictly Ys-related. The game had already been remade a couple of times and ported to many, many platforms before this package came out, and it would go on to be remade again in the super-polished, high-resolution Ys Eternal.

This version of the game is certainly attractive, and its Saturn Mode adds a run button and diagonal controls. How much these actually aid the original gameplay is debatable, though, and the lack of voice and the relatively high level of Japanese required - at least, compared to next to nothing in Xanadu and Dragon Slayer - make this remake hard to recommend as a reason to track down the package. Plus, the remixes of the classic tunes - which are arguably what the series is known for - are merely pedestrian and functional. Luckily, the other games in this collection provide an interesting enough glance into the (pre-)history of Japanese computer games and RPGs that they make this package more than worthwhile, especially for its easily-manageable going price on eBay.

[Trevor Wilson is a web developer and amateur game developer who indulges his unhealthy obsession with obscure, strange, and unique video games over at his weblog, namako team. Thanks goes to the always excellent Hardcore Gaming 101 for the screenshots of Ys and Xanadu.]

The Land Of 10,000 Plastic Marios

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/10km.jpg GSW columnist RedWolf of VintageComputing 'fame' has just posted an extremely fun interview with video game memorabilia collector Brett Martin, who has "about ten to fifteen thousand individual pieces" of game merchandising, yikes.

The neatest bit is Martin singling out his most treasured items: "My favorite Zelda sets are the two sets of original 1987 unpainted enemy gashapon toys, as they have a figure of every character in the original game! Also in that link is a great set of hand painted Zelda figures. You can find the rest in each section. There is also a similar set of Mario unpainteds from the original Super Mario Bros. that I have. How can a collector pass these up? I even have some doubles for sale on the site (hint hint)."

But wait, there's more! "My favorite Zelda piece is the Link statue I have, where my favorite Mario piece would be my 4′ statue. I’m big on statues, but also love the intricacy of smaller pieces. I also have to say I love my prototypes that I have of Metal Mario, Starfox’s Fox McCloud, Banjo-Kazooie, and the Donkey Kong 64 characters. 1 of 1, can’t beat that!" Wow, insane geekout.

Rugby Title Gets Maori Motion Capture

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/haka.jpg Yet again, we get all the top, breaking Maori motion-capture related news from New Zealand, as follows: "Game developer Sidhe Interactive and Ngāti Kimihia Hāpu (sub-tribe) of Ngāti Toa Rangatira announced today that Sidhe’s upcoming videogame title “Rugby League 2” for Xbox would feature the traditional Māori Haka known as Ka Mate."

As is explained: "The Haka is a warrior challenge, traditionally performed at the meeting of Maori tribes as a means to both show respect and intimidate opponents. Still used ceremonially today, Ka Mate has also been adopted by New Zealand sports teams and is performed before international sporting events..."

Thus: "Sidhe Interactive consulted with the Ngāti Toa Rangatira at length to ensure both the accuracy of Ka Mate within the game and obtain tribal approval. Ignite Studios acted as advisor to the collaboration and produced the haka component - traditionally trained specialists were sourced to record the vocals and perform motion captured actions. In the game, Ka Mate is performed by computer animated representations of the New Zealand national rugby league team, the Kiwis, before international matches. Ngāti Toa Rangatira elders reviewed and approved the final result." Is this the point where we ask whether Prey did something similar with depressed Native Americans hanging out in seedy reservation bars?

WayForward Talks Sigma Star Shantae

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/psymea.jpg Nintendo fansite Cubed3 has a neat interview with WayForward's Matt Bozon posted, in which the Shantae and Sigma Star Saga creator dish on any number of interesting things.

Most bizarrely, it's revealed of Sigma Star Saga: "We had a very cool opportunity to reinvent a brand that was flopping in Japan (a... game called Star Ixiom). We signed on, but the deeper into the details we got the less Namco wanted to follow the original game. So in the end, we were allowed to make a completely new one."

Also, the prospects of a Shantae sequel coming out seem more and more remote, but there's some far-off hope shown: "The GBA game hasn’t been forgotten. Believe it or not, there are still negotiations going on for that game, and the DS sequel. Because GBA is slipping away, I’ve put my attention on DS. But that’s not to say the GBA game couldn’t come back on Virtual Console as a SNES game."

Out Of Control With Insano Controllers

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/krazyk.jpg Well, firstly, is any feature starring an Accordion Hero controller in the artwork _NOT_ going to be featured on GSW? You knows the answer, clearly, which is why we're linking to Chris Kohler's new 1UP piece, 'Out Of Control', which discusses 'the craziest game controllers evar', oh yes.

There's a particularly fun section on the original Street Fighter's 'hydraulic buttons': "Apparently, the buttons had no theoretical upper limit on how strong your attacks could be. Once players realized this, they would pretty much resort to any means necessary to kick the ever-loving jeebus out of the pads. Dropkicks from the top of the cabinet were not out of the question. Scientists at the time estimate the average life of a Street Fighter machine to be approximately eight minutes."

Unfortunately, Kohler manages to insult two of our favorite arcade machines OF ALL TIME on the last page: "But for every game with a unique input device that makes sense, there are some that are just plain ridiculous. Take Namco's Prop Cycle -- please. Hop on a stationary bicycle and fly yourself around a river valley? No thanks. And then there's Panic Park, which, we are shocked to find, has not yet caused any deaths." In penance for hurting our feelings, he must buy us both of these machines out of his own pocket. [The reason we like Prop Cycle so much? You don't have to pedal too hard, so it fits in with our sedentary lifestyle.]

Ex-Frag Doll Branches Out, Bites Back

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/versus.jpg Of course, you can't expect that UK Resistance will provide you with anything remotely newsworthy (haw!) - but in a funny way, they have, in their wide-eyed look at new UK girl gaming duo VersuS, who sent UKR gallery links and discombobulated them a great deal: "This kind of reverse anticipatory stalking is confusing and has put us on the defensive. Still, we'll power through, as it's pictures of girls."

But here's the fun bit that's mentioned in passing - the newly monikered 'Siren' is formerly known as Voodoo, and has just left the Ubisoft-created Frag Dolls UK 'clan', where her newly posted farewell comments contentedly murmur: "I've had some really great times as a Frag Doll. Something I'll always be grateful for though is that it's allowed me to meet some truly amazing people."

However, the About Page for VersuS seems to indicate some decidedly strong opinions on, say, sponsored girl gamers, with the caption 'Freedom instead of Adverti$ing', and the following comments: "We’re not here to endorse any product or sell you anything. If we say it, it’s because we mean it, not because it pays our wage. We’ve both seen the perils and pit falls of “selling out” and have learnt one vital lesson; if you love something then honesty, independence and freedom are the best path to take."

There's more: "On a similar note, we may both be girls who game but we are not here to wave the “girl gamer” flag... In our experience “promoting girl gamers” can often be used as the cover story of big business trying to widen its market whilst still getting some pretty faces in the Magazines, in other words: Free advertising."

[On the other hand, VersuS themselves do have a distinctly 'girl gamer'-esque gallery ("because we are proud of ourselves, what we do, and what we stand for"), but it's free self-advertising, not free corporate advertising, I guess? They try to explain it, a tad awkwardly, in any case.]

Sooo.... interesting! Those with long memories may recall that I had a bit of a dust-up with the U.S. Frag Dolls around the time that they launched, for what I felt at the time was 'hidden agenda' Ubisoft product promotion, something that I will say that they've addressed by making it _somewhat_ more obvious that they're paid Ubisoft promoters - which is good. But it seems like at least one Frag Doll has been disillusioned by her Monkees-style manufactured past. Wonder if she'll say anything more about it? We await developments ghoulishly.

On Columns' Funereal Majesty

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/colgg.jpg We still dig just about all of the posts on The New Gamer, and the latest discusses why the cutdown Game Gear version of Columns is strangely moving - though I'm not even sure it's intentionally so, honestly.

Apparently, it's partly the music ("Instead of the chinsey, hokey reverberations of the Genesis version, the Game Gear's score (as well as the almost-identical Sega Master System soundtrack) resonates with chirpy but languid tones... the track comes across as spirited, but sad, and sets a melancholic tone that I'm not accustomed to with my puzzle game".)

But it's also the game's backgrounds ("As the levels progress, the sky gets darker and a crescent moon comes into view. By the ninth and final level the moon has become full, the town is blanketed in shadow and stars litter the sky. You'll never advance further than this level; the sun here will never rise again, but the columns will continue their freefall while the solemn soundtrack loops over and over in the background.")

Writer G. Turner sums it up: "How can a handful of gems seem so melancholy? Why does this puzzle game instill sadness when there's no story, no characters and no real conflict to speak of? There's hardly any intensity in its falling columns, but yet, it still manages to be emotionally moving." Can anyone think of any other curiously downbeat games?

July 11, 2006

Klosterman Surfaces, Blowing Rhetoric, Harpooned By NGJ

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/mdick.jpg Having caused a large amount of anguished self-reflection from anybody who has ever written about video games ever, journalist Chuck Klosterman has popped up over at GameSpot News in a detailed, interesting Q&A in which the Klost "outlines the reasons he threw down the gauntlet".

For me, Klosterman comes across most strongly as surprised that anyone actually cares, but his key point is this: "I think that people were confused by my piece. What they seemed to think that I was saying is that no one is doing good video game criticism. And that's not really the point, I wasn't making that argument. What I was saying is that there seems to be no dominant person writing about video games in a way that transcends the insular culture of gaming."

Another good point is made, actually: "If there's somebody in the gaming community that has a problem with it, I totally understand it, and that's fine. I'm just surprised that this is the first time that someone's ever written about this in a mainstream publication. That alone makes it seem worth having done it."

So certainly, the 'enrage game journalists' box can be successfully checked at this point, and some good issues were brought up. But overall, I think we've learned... well, what have we learned? Maybe that we need more forthright personalities in game journalism - people willing to battle the PR machine head on and slay the hydra of mediocrity foreve... oh, it's time for my pills? Thank you, nurse!

COLUMN: Letters from the Metaverse - American Apparel in a Parallel World

[‘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 shopping.]

After my first column last week I got a rather lovely comment from the poster fluffybunny, who said “I have to admit I'm looking forward to your next post, even though I generally feel Second Life is getting way too much attention these days.” Fluffybunny picks up a good point – Second Life does seem a bit overexposed, doesn’t it? (Not that I’m trying to put you off this column, or anything.)

For example, only seconds ago SimonC mailed to let me know of a brand new Second Life blog, Second Life Insider, which has about nine hundred million posts already. There’s a nice one which joins me in my opinion that Orientation Island is absolutely bloody useless, at least.

2006_07_10_10s.jpgThe recent reaction of the world at large to the launch of Second Life’s branch of American Apparel, though, more than adequately shows off how much exposure the virtual world is getting. It was actually SimonC’s post on this very thing which intrigued me enough to start this column, as I decided I absolutely had to visit the store; American Apparel is the only brand I’ll let myself wear without shame.

For those of you not familiar with American Apparel, here’s a quick overview - begun by Montrealer Dov Charney, it sells 100% cotton clothes in block colors that are, more importantly, produced 100% sweatshop free in downtown Los Angeles. Slightly less importantly, it’s pricey, and advertised mostly with perverted images of girls in their skimpiest offerings.

It’s pretty much for twenty-something hipsters. Of which I am one. Unashamedly. So unashamedly that my favorite piece of clothing is their California Fleece Track Jacket. I have it in brown, so it’s only fitting that my avatar in Second Life should wear something analogous.

Shops in Second Life are a strange proposition. Most simply consist of a wall of static images of what you can expect to get if you stump over your cash, and you’ve got absolutely no way of telling if it’ll look good on your avatar, or even work, it seems, until you’ve paid up. After scouring the web for the slurl of the American Apparel store (which took a lot longer than I expected it to) I teleported in, hoping for something better.

2006_07_10_5s.jpgThe first thing that strikes you about the American Apparel store is how much like an actual store it is, unlike the boxes full of image boards that I’m used to seeing. Of course, it’s all smoke and mirrors. Items are still purchased from image boards (cleverly placed above clothes racks) and there’s STILL no way to tell what the clothes would look like on.

(The image boards actually only show store designer Aimee Weber’s avatar wearing the clothes, so she either thinks that only women would shop there, or she’s just a little bit too in love with herself.)

Seriously, people. Am I the only one who thinks it would be trivial to have mannequins in stores? I haven’t seen any in the world yet, and I’ve seen plenty of statues. None the less, the place does have a nice American Apparel ambience, even it is even heavier, if anything, on the NSFW images scattered around the virtual store. That’s everyone’s favorite Torontonian porn actress/proud wearer of American Apparel socks [and little else-Ed.] Lauren Phoenix.

2006_07_10_8s.jpgSo, even though I couldn’t be sure what I was buying was good, I decided to stump up the cash (350 Linden dollars, which is about one US dollar) on getting myself a track top. Thankfully, though I didn’t have enough money on me, buying currency is effortless, even though at that point you have to come to terms with the fact you’re now spending REAL money on virtual things.

So, breaking that psychological barrier, I was soon the proud owner of the track jacket, and off to the changing rooms I went (more for effect than anything) and emerged looking pretty sweet in the cranberry version. Success.

Now I just need to get some designer frames.

NEXT WEEK: I suddenly realise I shouldn’t have revealed my player name as it could make undercover reporting impossible, before being talked down when it turns out no one reads what I write anyway. I celebrate by going clubbing with some furries, or something.

[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, Twitch Film, and Eurogamer.]

Kalinske Talks Joint Sega/Sony Console

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/kalin.jpgThis has been floating around everywhere, but it's too good not to post - an excellent, literate interview with former Sega president Tom Kalinske over at Sega-16, where he spills on everything from Yuji Naka's rebel attitude to a then-proposed Sega/Sony console!

Regarding Yuji Naka's decision to work on Sonic 2 in the U.S. office, and whether that upset Sega of Japan, he commented: "I'd imagine it did. Yeah, it most likely added more fuel to the fire. I think he (Naka) wanted more freedom, and since Sonic wasn't as successful in the Japanese market as it was in this one, he probably wanted to be closer to where it was successful and listen to why people thought it had been successful, as well as get the input of Americans who loved the character and gameplay and all that. I think there was a lot of that in there too."

On the Sega/Sony uberconsole: "I remember we had a document that Olaf and Mickey took to Sony that said they'd like to develop jointly the next hardware – the next game platform, with Sega, and here's what we think it ought to do. Sony apparently gave the green light to that. I took it to Sega of Japan and told them that this was what we thought an ideal platform would be – at least from an U.S. perspective – based on what we've learned from the Sega CD, and our involvement with Sony and our own people. Sega said not a chance." Wow.

NES Circuit Bending Creates Extra Knobs

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/neshack.jpg The vigilant Fort90 sends along word of this extremely cool 'Circuit Bent NES' modified by Philip Stearn, also known as Pixel Form, to create abstract NES-triggered graphics when given an external audio trigger. [UPDATE: Thanks to commenter RavenWorks for pointing out that the mod doesn't create NES audio, but rather creates visuals from external audio.]

Stearn explains: "In early June I was contacted via email with a request to modify an NES game console for use with chiptunes based music performance. I accepted and have made some incredible progress over the past few days. I've already completed the manual bends and have pretty much solidified the circuitry that will be handling the audio reactivity." The result looks pretty awesome, and sounds/looks nice [.MOV link] too.

There are also some marvellous ghosts in the machine to behold: "One glitch I found bounces the screen around in response to the audio. For whatever reason, the amount of image bouncing that occurs once it's setup is controlled by the knob for the high frequency threshold." You've wired the tweeter to the crossfader, man!

The same person also does some very cool TI99/4a mods: "Over the past year I've been messing these computer up by short circuiting their video circuitry and adding mods that will do all sorts of crazy things to the graphics."

COMIC: 'Our Blazing Destiny' - Super Mario Bros!

[Our Blazing Destiny is a weekly comic by Jonathan "Persona" Kim about our society, cultural postdialectic theory, and video games. And about the dramas that happen behind the two-dimensional playfield.]

Here's Persona's info on this week's slightly delayed comic, which is [*WARNING*], vaguely disturbing and ever so slightly NSFW, but hey, Nintendo, don't hurt us: "Sorry this comic took so long! I've been hit by my yearly cold and it's messing me up pretty badly. I hope the colors at least look okay on this comic.

"Anyway, I've been playing the New Super Mario Bros. for the DS lately (thanks to Aderack, Aerisdead, and Thatbox!) and the new mushrooms that either make Mario gigantic or miniscule started me on a track of thinking about all of Mario's past power-ups. Whenever he ingests something, he always has some sort of change in constitution, whether it be a P-balloon, a mushroom, or a metal cap. Not only that, his power ups usually come with a wardrobe change - from raccoon ears and tail, capes, and Hammer Bros. shells to frog suits, statues, and even Kuribo shoes!

"So is Mario some sort of cosplay fetishist?"

mariocomic.jpg

[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 working on a report about his Anime Expo experiences soon to be posted here, probably within the week!]

VH1 Game Break Stuns Kotaku Geek

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/ggamerz.jpgNot that I'm trying to start beef, following the Kotaku vs. IGN incident, but VH1's Game Break has a post up sharply criticizing Kotaku's treatment of women, and referencing a Michael McWhertor post from last weekend.

In the post, McWhertor comments: "So, you girls want to come into our boys club and play our video games. Fine. A lot of us like girls. But you've got to understand our natural instinct to harass you over the internet at the slightest hint that you might be the bearer of actual breasts—the naturally occuring kind, that is, not the masculine version borne of fistfuls of Peppermint Patties and Cheese Puffs.”

VH1's Harold Goldberg rants: "Kotaku wants girls to spend $99 for a tech item so they won’t be harassed when they play an MMORPG? Why not simply say, “Hey, guys, grow up: don’t harass”? And by saying that a guy’s natural instinct is to harass women is pretty low … and pretty scary. Sounds like the “He-Man Woman Hater’s Club” with a gamer bent. At its best, it’s written by a guy who’s afraid of girls."

Wait, but here comes the capper from Game Break: "At its worst, McWhertor is promoting something religious extremists like the Taliban would enforce: the idea that it's a girl's fault that a guy harrasses her. She was the one that didn't have a veil on her face (or in this case, a voice changer on his mic, right)?" Yay, jihad reference!

Here's our view on it - McWhertor, who posted a few times on GSW in his day and runs GeekOnStun, has been getting very much 'this way' on his personal weblog, such as this one - but we think it's highly, highly ironic and significantly based on the UK Resistance school of being well adjusted and playing at being heavily maladjusted. Does this mean some people won't take it the wrong way? Probably not!

COLUMN: 'Parallax Memories' - Turbo Duo

US Turbo Duo Box['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 NEC's console: The Turbo Duo]

A Hell of a Life

I admit that while writing this column, I have been woefully negligent of one system for far too long. This console was released in October of 1992 in the US and died in December of 1995, enjoying hardly more than three years of life. If you could even call it a life. NEC and Hudson’s Turbo Duo was the dream of many young, broke gamers but the possession of few.

The Sega CD was released the same month and was technically inferior to the Turbo Duo. But the established market of Genesis owners and the deep pockets of Sega helped to crush the Duo. Of course, considering how poorly the Sega CD did anyways, "crushing" may not be the best description.

Bonk, NOT Johnny TurboThe PC-Genjin

It is a little unfair to start with the Duo though. The original console was the TurboGrafx-16, which was released about three years earlier in 1989 for the US. In 1987, the PC Engine was released in Japan, one year prior to even the Sega Genesis. The console also saw an extremely small release in 1990 in Europe as the Turbografx. If you’re lost, the PCE and TG16 are the same thing in a different plastic housing.

To help sell their system, Hudson Soft and NEC needed a mascot. Sega was promoting their system with Sonic and his "attitude," so the TG16 tried to cash in on their ornery little cave man, Bonk. (In Japan, Bonk was known as PC Genjin, which was not only a pun. "Genjin" functionally translates into "primitive man.") It worked well, and early sales of the system were strong in the US.

It didn’t last long though. The early sales were quickly killed by the Genesis, and the TG16 was taking a back seat to even the original Nintendo Entertainment System by 1991. Shortly after that, the TurboGrafx CD add-on was released and doing abysmally, with only five games released during its six-month life span.

Japanese PCE Duo. Looks just like mine, but its not. I don't have mine here right now. Perhaps later. Seriously, it looks just like mine does
But the Soul Still Burns

By late '92, NEC is ready to release the total package of TG16 plus TGCD, with a few additional bits, as the Turbo Duo. Sales started off decent, and brought back some interest to the dying platform. For $299, you received six CD bundled games and one random Turbo Chip (also known as the HuCARD, which is a thin card on which games are stored). The system could take full advantage of every game previously released for NEC consoles as well as Super CD games, which otherwise required a special card to be played with a TGCD.

But by next year's holiday season, the system was scarce, and by '94, it was almost impossible to find one. The system was dead in 1995. Dead in America, that is. The US only saw about 75 CD games; Japan got over 270. Of the 300 plus HuCards that were released in Japan, the US hardly received 100. The PC Engine saw new games all the way into 1999, even though the US branch had completely shut down four years earlier.

This system intimidated and eluded me for years. On all corners of the internet, amazing things were whispered about this rare and haunting console from my youth. It wasn't until after I had finally acquired one of the most coveted games for the PCE CD that I finally ended up breaking down and purchasing the Japanese CD behemoth. That was a few years ago, and there's still so, so much to catch up on.

[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.]

Dogz, Nintendogs Pee On Each Other's Leg

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/dogz.jpg At Water Cooler Games, Ian Bogost has posted a fun entry on how Nintendogs was pre-empted by PF Magic's PC 'dog sim' Dogz, which was available around 10 years back - but his write-up includes a certain amount of sour puppy chow.

[We've previously discussed the very recent GBA version of Dogz from Ubisoft, which is the game in name only, since it's actually a Japanese game by MTO given the name of the original virtual pet, but did actually pre-empt the Nintendo title as well in original form, oddly enough.]

However, I do disagree with Bogost more than a little in his comments: "Given [Dogz co-creator] Andrew [Stern]'s role in an arguably more sophisticated and certainly much earlier dog simulation, I must admit that I grimace a bit amidst the effusive praise heaped upon Nintendogs". Why? It's not like people haven't considered pet simulators before, and Nintendogs is a well-done one.

Also, it's claimed huffingly: "It's certainly a serious, legitimate title, and I don't mean to discount that fact. But Nintendogs is also intended to backdoor new players into a Nintendo DS. "I don't play games," a target buyer might think, "but I do like puppies."" Well, to that, I retort - isn't Nintendogs is just a game that Nintendo thought would appeal to a wide audience, who would enjoy playing it - which they do? Overanalyzing a bit much, here? You've certainly backdoored me into linking your article, though, Monsieur Bogost!

July 10, 2006

Hungarian, Romanians Not Getting On, Gamewise

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/rospa.jpg On our regular daily Google News trawl, we came across a tragic Bucharest Daily News article discussing "a Romanian computer game that roused controversy due to its racist theme that encourages the players to carry out a war against ethnic Hungarians."

Apparently, Romanians In Space's slogan is, wait for it: "Follow your destiny. Kill any non-Romanian alien prick in cold blood." What's more: "The epic story of the game starts in 1988, when Dictator Nicolae Ceausescu conquers the United States and becomes the emperor of Earth ten years later. Romanians dominate the planet for 100 years, but the new emperor, Traian Basescu (the current president) promises to conquer the entire galaxy. However, his plans are hindered by what the game calls "alien pricks."" Uh... lovely.

However, the game's creator claims this was all satire: "Out of ten missions, only one is against the ethnic Hungarians. Everything was a joke and it was meant to be a joke that mocks all the problems between Romanians and ethnic Hungarians." We just spotted that Eurogamer has more on the controversy, which all sounds... controversial.

Second Life Insider Climbs Inside Second Life

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/ugly.jpg Those scamps and wags at the AOL-owned Joystiq have just launched their latest blog, Second Life Insider, and are the latest company to jump on the ever-accelerating Linden Lab virtual world express.

Already, some fun articles have been posted, including one on why people would make themselves ugly in SL: "I've gotten so used to walking around admiring those avatars that are attractive to me that when I see one that's less so, I do tend to stop to talk with him/her."

The post concludes: "One thing that's been made perfectly clear to me while writing this post is my own bias toward beautiful people. It just seems to be easier to do nice things for pretty folks, or to offer help to someone you find nice-looking. I've always thought that one of the strengths of interacting in SL is the fact that you learn fairly quickly to look beyond an avatar's outward appearance and focus instead on their actions and speech." Well, working in the video game biz, you learn to be nice to ugly people very quickly (joke! joke! joke!)

GameTap Charges Into Sports Week

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/gtap.jpg Time for a little more GameTap, of course, and this time, the PC gaming subscription service is listing some of the most immediate releases to debut in July - haven't had chance to check on the GameTap client itself, is anything else listed into the future?

For now, we have the following: "Sports are in the air all around the world, and this includes the world of GameTap with a full week devoted to sports games! GameTap’s “Sports Week” launches this week with “3 Count Bout,” “Super Sidekicks,” “Riding Hero,” “Football Frenzy,” “League Bowling,” “Summer Games II,” “2020 Super Baseball,” and more." This is pretty cool, actually - a few fun Neo Geo titles and a classic C64 game, among others.

Oh, and we also get a list of 'June’s Top 10 Most Played' over all of GameTap, which is as follows:

1. Super Burger Time
2. Cyberbots: Fullmetal Madness
3. Kohan II: Kings of War
4. GigaWing
5. Sonic the Hedgehog 2
6. Heroes of Might and Magic IV
7. Street Fighter Alpha 3
8. Rayman 3: Hoodlum Havoc
9. Bust-A-Move
10. Human Freeway

Again, a fun combination here - some CPS2 games, some PC RTS titles, classic Genesis games, some wayback Atari 2600 and arcade games, all the way up to newish Rayman titles. In conclusion.... we still like GameTap, and you can't make us hate it!

[UPDATE: Just went and booted GameTap to look in the in-game 'Coming Soon' section, and it claims that, later in July, we'll get the following: 1943, 1944, 19XX, Black Tiger, Capcom Sports Club (!!!), Final Fight, King Of Dragons, Lost Duel, Mega Man: The Power Battle and Mega Man 2: Power Fighters (!!), and Son Son, all legally licensed. Man, those GameTap guys have some powerful geek voodoo.]

Inside The Minds Of Mario

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/mlu.jpg Ever-educative game blog SiliconEra has posted a fun interview with the 'Mario In MySpace' parody guys, including a new video that has Mario and Luigi complaining about MySpace-related friend mishaps, following the popular original video along the same lines.

As the blog explains: "The duo took their talents online when they made their Myspace sketch using clips from the Super Mario Brothers Super Show. In the story Luigi complains about having to add Toad’s band to his friend list, even though he isn’t friends with him. In the dubbed over cartoon Asterios voices Mario and Toad while Geoffrey does Luigi’s voice. The YouTube video was a surprise hit for the team with nearly 40,000 people who watched it."

We actually think it's quite funny, despite all indications that it might be tragic, and the interview ends: "With a point to get across and some great source material Overtime Comedy struck gold. Best of all both of them are having fun in the process. “I really enjoy making these cartoons,” Geoffrey exclaims. “If you told me that I was going to be spending my time syncing mouths to a vocal track, I would tell you that I’d rather kill myself. For some reason, however, it’s a lot of fun.”" Hurray?

GameSetInterview: Barrie Ellis @ OneSwitch On Accessible Gaming

Accessible_Game_Switch.jpgStarted by Barrie Ellis three years ago, OneSwitch is a website aimed at providing information on assistive technology for moderately to severely disabled gamers. Ellis specifically focuses on accessibility switches – modified controllers with an on/off button that can be connected to the unit to operate particular functions within the game. “If a person happily presses a switch to roll a dice in a group game, even if they do not grasp the concept, it is their luck that provides a result, and no one elses,” he says. “This has value.”

OneSwitch aims to not only provide instructions for the modification of controllers, and suggestions of games playable using this equipment, but also to illuminate the issues associated with disabled gamers so that developers might learn too. It is in this capacity that Ellis was recently asked to act as Accessibility Advisor for the 2006 Retro Remakes competition, themed Good remakes of good games that anyone can play, regardless of their ability”. He will also be appearing as a member of the International Game Developers Association's Game Accessibility Special Interest Group giving a talk on Accessible Gaming at the Brighton Game Developers Conference on July the 14th. We spoke to Barrie about accessibility, the Retro Remakes competition, and what the industry can do to accomodate disabled gamers.

(Click through to read the full feature, including plenty more interesting info on accessible gaming.)

Why did you start OneSwitch?

OneSwitch was started in June 2003, after nearly ten years of working paid and voluntarily for severely disabled adults. I spent a lot of time tinkering with accessibility ideas after discovering assistive technology at 'Thurrock Care' day centre in 1994. Here, old BBC computers with various accessible interfaces were in regular use, for educational aims, and for pure fun too.

People seemed to react positively to technology, and the power it could bring them. I started to wonder if I might be able to adapt some of the old games machines and gadgets I had in my loft from my childhood. Things progressed from there...

In relation to gaming, what is "assistive technology"?

Basically, anything that assists you in playing video games, where you couldn't otherwise. It can range from things as complicated as Eye Trackers for people unable to use any other part of their body, to things as common place as a pair of head-phones for blind gamers wishing to play Audio Games.

My personal focus is on controllers adapted for use with accessibility switches. These enable gamers to use different parts of their body to activate different controls with the most appropriate specialised switch. The picture above demonstrates a boy (Christopher Myers) playing a mini-game of darts on Sega's Shenmue II on Dreamcast using a red head switch.

I gather you're pretty handy with electronics?

I'm self taught, and would only say that I have pretty basic electronics skills. Thanks to the Internet, I've almost always managed to track down people that can help, where I've been stuck.

How difficult are the interfaces talked about on your site to create?

It depends. Adapting old Namco Arcade Sticks is not particularly difficult, but is very time consuming. You need to wire fourteen accessible switch sockets to each and every control. Adapting something like a PC USB game controller for a single switch gamer is probably the best place for beginners to start.

I imagine there'd be a lot in terms of minigames that are playable using one-switch, but has there been much in the way of complete games that have been released in the recent past?

Many PC and on-line games have been written that are single switch compatible - I particularly recommend Aurikon and Alice Amazed.

As for games from main stream developers:

In 2002 NAMCO released Star Trigon in Japanese Arcades, which aside from a START button, was played entirely with a single button. Great fun game.
In 2000 Clap Hanz’ PlayStation game Everybody's Golf 2 could be played with a single button (although menu navigation is more involved).
Um Jammer Lammy could be played with a single button in Easy mode (again - needing more controls for menu navigation).
In 1998 CAVE released Uo Poko in Japanese Arcades, which could be played entirely with DOWN on the joystick.

So - pretty obscure! Of course there have been quite a few single button mobile phone games, but I don't really consider these very accessible games, due to the tiny controls of a mobile handset.

Do you think accessibility is ignored by developers?

Accessibility for disabled gamers, which include young children and novice gamers, is rarely considered by main stream developers. There have been some notable exceptions. Atari included "Special Feature" game options on their golden age Atari VCS games. These were aimed at very young children, opening their games up to a wider audience. Valve included subtitled descriptions of sounds in Half-Life 2 fully opening up the game to deaf gamers.

The reasons why wider accessibility is generally ignored by developers are down to three reasons as I see it:

1. Ignorance. Developers unaware of this area are understandably a little daunted by the huge range of disabilities. They don't seem to realise that many accessibility features are quite simple to implement, and could benefit a wide range of gamers. No one is realistically expecting a game to be made accessible to everyone. Many are expecting a little more consideration though.

2. A lack of easy to digest help. There is yet a concise collection of accessibility help and advice. In the meanwhile, I can recommend these sites:

An umbrella of the major players in gaming accessibility.
Features an excellent research area and forum.
Top Ten Accessibility wish list guiding the Retro Remakes 2006 entrants.

3. No agreed ratings system. A standard needs to be agreed for categorising and announcing accessibility features, along the lines of the American ESRB and European PEGI age ratings systems. This will make life easier for game producers and consumers alike.

I guess, in terms of what you're saying with simply implemented features, I've heard a lot of people complaining about things like lack of support for colour blind gamers - it's just a simple thing, but, like you say, it's just not considered.

Precisely. Developers will find that adding just one simple accessibility feature will open up their game to more and more people. Who could possibly lose out from this?

Well, as you mentioned, Valve subtitled Half Life 2, and it did widen the audience for their game. This seems to have been one example of accessibility technology that's filtered through the mainstream media and has been duly praised.

A good thing. More please!

Do you think the rating system is the kind of thing that we could reasonably expect to see implemented in the next few years? It doesn't seem like something that would be overly difficult.

I think it is more difficult than it seems, but is definitely possible. With the IGDA's Game Accessibility Special Interest Group we are planning a book which will hopefully be looking at ways in which this can be put in place.

What is your relationship with Retro Remakes to date?

I first became aware of them in the lead up to the Classic Gaming Expo UK in 2005 which we had a stall at. A guy called 'Merman' contacted me, telling me that a mini-competition had reaped a handful of one button games at Retro Remakes. I got in touch with them, asking if I could host them on my site. They agreed, then went one better, and ran a competition solely to create accessible one button games. Seventy odd games that came from this international endeavour accessible to play with a single button.

The team at Retro Remakes seem very sympathetic to accessibility, which has led to this year's competition. This was kicked off thanks to ‘Caffeine Kid’s desire to see a worthwhile game programming competition for 2006.

You're on board as "Accessibility Advisor" for the 2006 competition - what does that entail?

I helped with the rules and advice that opened the accessibility side of the competition. From thereon I've been on hand to give advice to programmers as questions have surfaced.

Have you had many people asking for help so far?

There have been a good number of intelligent questions from a wide range of people. Some of the programmers have remarkable knowledge in this field and have at times answered their own questions. Where I and the entrants have been unable to provide good advice, I have relied upon the IGDA's Game Accessibility Special Interest Group. Posting questions on their mailing list generally garners some very helpful replies.

What are you hoping to see come out of this competition?

An idea of how difficult it has been for programmers to create fun games, with good accessibility features in a three month time scale. This might help persuade main stream developers to do the same with their games. I'm also hoping to see some novel ideas on how to provide accessibility, such as the "ActionCaptions" suggested by ‘Rogue’.

What kind of features would you like to see implemented?

I posted a personal wish list for the Retro Remakes programmers. I can't think of much more that I would wish to see at this stage. If there were only a few things that started to filter through, it would be: Game options supporting simplified controls. Speed control options over the entire game. Very wide difficulty setting options, with developers remembering that there is no such thing as too easy for some gamers.

Is there anything coming up in the near future that you think will improve the situation? I'm curious as to whether you think the Nintendo Wii controller will impede or assist accessibility.

The Wii one handed controllers will certainly help a range of gamers, but not all. It's certainly a step in the right direction. There are a lot of gamers out there already using one handed controllers. Microsoft have recently announced that they are looking at releasing a simplified controller for the Xbox 360. They realise, perhaps on the back of the Wii and present day concerns, that very complicated controllers are alienating a whole range of potential gamers.

Sony seem to be lagging behind with their PS3 as regards any accessibility. They have announced the most complicated standard controller yet seen on a games console, and with the move to USB and wireless controllers, the massive range of PSone and PS2 controllers have been shut out. I really hope that Sony consider releasing a PS2/PSone game controller adapter for the PS3. The previous PlayStation consoles have been the games console of choice so far.

Do you think we'll see things changing in the future?

Yes, and it already is slowly. I just hope things keep getting better. Everyone has the right to fun.

The Shivah Adventures Its Way To Glory

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/shivah.gif Back, once again, to TIGSource, and they've spotted an rather intriguing new free graphic adventure, named The Shivah, as entered in the monthly MAGS competition.

As is explained: "The story is about a rabbi who had received a large sum of money from a former member of his congregation, and being extremely suspicious the man decides to investigate the origins of his good fortune.

The TIGSource folks also point out: "A few things are done differently in this murder mystery, for example there are no puzzles requiring the use of your inventory and practically no items to collect. Progression is usually achieved by extracting clues from conversations with other characters." Yet more neat stuff from the graphic adventure clans, basically.

Tetris Company Cracks Down Again

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/tetris.jpg The giganto-uberblog (worship them!) Boing Boing has posted a story on The Tetris Company cracking down on a Mac shareware version of Tetris, and horror scandal horror has ensued.

According to correspondent Kirk: "Quinn, probably the most attractive of all tetris clones, got a nastygram from The Tetris Company. This program, which has been around for years, but which recently got enough publicity to draw it to the attention of the Tetris Company, is no longer being distributed. I don't know the legal basis for this nastygram - after all, there are dozens if not hundreds of tetris clones - but the developer certainly has no resources to fight the big magilla."

The official Quinn website has a note from the developers in question: "While both Simon and I (Chris Wells) feel that Quinn does not violate any trademark or copyright law international or otherwise, we have decided to cease distribution while we explore our position and where we can go from here."

Not sure if BB is trying to paint this as 'big guy vs. little guy' scandal - there's been plenty of vitriol directed in the direction of The Tetris Company before - but if it's got identical tetrominos in an identical gameplay style to Tetris, then I think The Tetris Company has a point. Not so keen on their evolving 'Tetris Guidelines', mind you, but that's a whole other kettle of blocks.

COLUMN: 'Free Play' - OMEGA

[’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 OMEGA.]

"I think too many people take part in one game title," says doujin freeware developer OMEGA of the videogame industry, in an interview conducted by NTSC-UK's Jamie Davies. Though friends often contribute graphics or music, OMEGA develops alone. "OMEGA is a circle like other doujin game circles....a solo circle."

omega-twintower.png

OMEGA's most recent release, TwinTower, appears to be a straightforward balancing game. Blocks fall from the sky, and the player catches them on a set of scales controlled with the mouse. The goal is to build two towers—one on each scale—that reach the height the stage requires without tipping the balance and making them topple.

There are only ten stages, but the game's depth comes from how those stages are scored. A stage only ends when both towers have been capped by a special top piece, so the player is free to keep adding to them—bonuses are awarded for final height and weight, and for any coins still attached to the tower at the end. They're easily knocked off, so the player has to build carefully around them without upsetting the balance. A quick play with a deep scoring system—TwinTower is an OMEGA game.

Have a strong will!

OMEGA's design philosophy is more often applied to shooters. Dan! Da! Dan! gives the player three minutes to clear three stages with the highest possible amount of points. These stages are filled with Mr. Driller-like configurations of different-colored blocks. Shooting a block removes it and any adjacent blocks of matching color, and those blocks will give up whatever's inside them: credits that extend the timer, sunbursts of bullets.

omega-e2.png

Tapping the shot button shoots bullets straight ahead, while holding it creates a small field that can destroy hard-to-reach blocks and slow down bullets. Pressing the special button—when fully charged—will turn those bullets into points, and activate a spread shot that lasts for a few seconds. Smart use of these abilities is essential to achieve a decent score.

Every Extend is a shooting game in a less strict definition, as the game involves no shooting. Rather, the player controls a guided bomb that will explode at the touch of a button. Crossing the screen are formations of blocks that, if caught in the explosion, will also explode—allowing a crafty player to engineer large chains for lots of points. Learning how to get those points is necessary: since one stock is lost whenever it blows up, the player needs enough points to earn extras—needs "every extend".

Huge object approaching!

In 2005, Q? Entertainment—developers of Meteos for the Nintendo DS and Lumines for the Sony PSP—announced that they were developing the sequel to Every Extend, Every Extend Extra, for Fall 2006 release on Sony's handheld. Like Q?'s prior PSP release, each stage seems to feature a new skin and a different trance track. One skin is modeled after OMEGA's original game—another appears to be an homage to Dreamcast rail shooter Rez, which a number of Q?'s staff worked on. It's a curious collaboration between freeware and commercial development, and the results ought to be interesting.

Finally, be sure to check out...

Geki Pori, a game of belly-bumping platform combat starring monsters from Ragnarok Online, played by up to four people at a single computer.

[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 9, 2006

Koopa's TV Show, ET's Xmas Horror

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/koopa.jpg The ever-prescienct Press The Buttons has been poking around on '80s TV show websites, ever a font of wisdom for weird video game related shows, and has uncovered some fun info on a Nintendo-related TV show that I, at least, had no idea existed - and maybe that's for the best!

As is explained: "One television series that seems to have been completely swallowed by time is a local market kiddie show featuring everyone's favorite turtle despot, King Koopa. For a brief time the king reigned on his own low budget thirty minute southern California series, King Koopa's Kool Kartoons. The show has been merely an Internet rumor for years, but now someone with an old VHS tape has rediscovered the program and has offered it up as proof that the show really did exist."

Looking elsewhere around Retro Junk, the site in question, there are a bunch of old TV video game ads to browse, including our personal favorite from a cursory glance - an Xmas-themed ad for the Atari 2600 version of E.T.. Yes, you too can have an extra terrestrial deliver you a terrible, landfill-bound video game!

Heroes Of The Half-Year - Gaming Power?

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/bfme2.jpg Meester Tom Chick has handily pointed out that Yahoo! Video Games, which has a fair amount of exclusive content as well as GameSpot-licensed reviews nowadays, has posted their picks for the best games released in 2006 so far.

Most interestingly, EIC Rich Greenhill picks a couple of unexpected titles: "THQ's The Outfit is a WWII action game unlike any other WWII action game; don't hold the mundane theme against it. If straightforward deathmatch bores you to tears, this is the Xbox 360 tactical shooter you need to check out... Meanwhile, eking out the spot for my best pick so far is the awkwardly named Rise of Nations: Rise of Legends -- it takes all the innovative mechanics of its predecessors, refines them, and then adds fascinating fantastical races and beautiful art design."

Then, Mr. Tom Chick himself notes: "Oblivion, Titan Quest, Rise of Legends, Chibi-Robo, Syphon Filter, Monster Hunter: Freedom, and even Drill Dozer and the latest Yu-Gi-Oh card game on the GBA are all top-notch titles", before picking out Electronic Arts Los Angeles' Battle for Middle Earth II as his top title: "marry[ing] almost perfectly technology, gameplay, innovation, pacing, and sheer knock-you-back-in-your-seat awesomeness."

Mega Man Makes Break For Dobson's Arm

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/dobbo.JPG Best event of the weekend? Definitely not the streaming cold I'm currently suffering from (in the middle of the summer in California, MEH!), but rather Gamasutra news contributor Jason Dobson's new Mega Man tattoo, as documented on his own eToychest site, woohoo!

El Dobbo reveals that the classic pixel character was "...not my first choice, to be sure. I initially had decided on Simon Belmont to take up a permanent residence on my upper arm, but as his sprite is mainly orange and brown, I feared that over time the thing might just look like a bad case of melanoma." Eugh!

As for the tattoo event: "Honestly, I found the pain of the actual procedure to be far less painful than the traumatic event that I had built up in my mind. It stung, to be sure, but a short while into the initial outlining of Mega Man, the area on my upper left arm where I was getting the tattoo simply began to feel numb." You go, Jason!

Adventure Lantern Shines Out Strong

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/gums.jpg Someone mentioned it in comments a few days back, but we finally got round to checking it out - the latest issue of The Adventure Lantern PDF zine has debuted, with Al Emmo And The Lost Dutchman's Mine on the cover.

The full list of zines show that 7 issues have debuted thus far, and there are also a bunch of online reprinted reviews/previews from previous PDF issues, including the review of Gumshoe Online: The Murky Truth, another of those niche but intriguing PC adventure titles.

As is explained: "Gumshoe-Online is a web based detective game. The entire game is played online... You are a detective hired to get to the bottom of the latest crimes occurring in Wheaton City in the 1930’s." It's also noted: "Be forewarned; as many in the forums can attest; Gumshoe Online is very addictive. You really don’t get the full effect from the free tutorial case." We like nichiness when it's like this.

Arthur's Look At Playing Dead In Games

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/deadplus.jpg Over at the 'War And Video Games' weblog, there's a new post up discussing a new video game-related story which is in the rather fun "bi-monthly 40,000-copy newsprint periodical" Arthur Magazine.

As blogger Ed Halter explains: "The latest issue of Arthur is now available for download as pdf. Check out my article "Playing Dead: How Protest is Entering the (Video) Game of War," in which I interview Joseph DeLappe about his dead-in-iraq project."

He also adds: "(And don't miss Arthur's profile of director Peter Watkins—whose mind-blowing films are essential viewing for those interested in games and war.)" Didn't know about Arthur Magazine before - it's not very game-related, most of the time, unless you count previous cover subject Grant Morrison (who has worked on the Battlestar Galactica game among others - keep up, kids!), but it does seem cool.

An Eye For Pinball Photography

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/tiell.jpg Brand new weblog A Bunch Of Nerds has posted about some exquisite pinball machine photography from Kevin Tiell.

The site notes: "Forget these new fangled consoles with their multi-core processors and fancy graphics, it’s all about pinball today. Photographer Kevin Tiell is a brilliant photographer whose many hobbies include arcade-photography and naturally, pinball machines."

It continues: "Tiell’s recent project, “The Game, Reflected”, is a series of photographs taken from the perspective of the actual ball itself, following the motion of the ball and highlighting pinball machine design and form." Of course, if you wanna see gorgeous pinball machines like this in person, California Extreme is the best way to do so, if you're in San Jose, CA on Sunday. But we mentioned that already. Oh well!



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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