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August 5, 2006

COLUMN: 'Game Mag Weaseling': A Pair of Eulogies

['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.]

cgw-v2n3.jpg   cgw240.jpg

I have a couple of obituaries to write this week -- one which you might be aware of already, and one which I'm approximately 99% sure you aren't but is just as historically important.

First off, as you may have heard, Ziff Davis Media's Computer Gaming World is going to be no more after issue number 267 in October. In its place, a November/December launch date is set for Games for Windows: The Official Magazine, an alliance with Microsoft as part of the giant's efforts to rebrand and revitalize the PC game marketplace. I've never seen the "Games for Windows" brand outside of E3 or the Game Developers Conference, but Microsoft's apparently getting really, really serious about pushing it this fall, getting it on store kiosks and game boxes and everything.

Editor-in-chief Jeff Green was quick to assure people this week that GFW would not be "nerfed", so to speak -- the new magazine would still be oriented towards hardcore gamers ("You are not going to see a three page article on Minesweeper," he told FiringSquad, although that would be pretty cool to see, actually), and many of the columns that CGW is known for, including the Tom vs. Bruce gameplay diaries, will stay in the new magazine. However, Ziff's own press release stated that CGW's staff would be "broadening the outlet's reach, influence and editorial content to complement the coming renaissance in Windows gaming," which seems to indicate at least a nod towards the Freecell crowd.

It wouldn't be the first time that CGW has reinvented itself. The magazine launched almost simultaneously with Electronic Games in 1981, but unlike EG and many of its imitators, it kept a very low profile, keeping page counts small and limiting circulation to several thousand copies. It didn't seriously try to grow until 1986, when it expanded to nine issues a year. This soon changed to monthly, and before long CGW was the top pretender to the throne in what was a very crowded PC magazine scene in the early '90s. However, CGW was woefully unprepared for the revolution that Wolfenstein 3D and other "only on the PC" action games brought to the scene -- by the time the mag was sold to Ziff in 1993, CGW's coverage was still chiefly targeted at fans of hardcore RPGs, wargames and flight simulators. If it wasn't for the new Ziff staff re-targeting the mag toward younger non-pipe-smoking types, it may not even exist today.

One could argue that CGW -- and PC game mags in general -- are due for another revolution. Of course, CGW's been trying its hardest to foment just such a revolution, completely revamping its reviews and aiming to become less a definitive PC game source (like PC Gamer) and more a supplement to a gamer's computer life, something to read alongside IGN et al. or while waiting for the WoW patch to download. It may be that this is exactly what Ziff should be doing (and that's what I believe, certainly), but the old Computer Gaming World name was preventing the mag from finding a new audience that would resonate with it fully. (Then again, it may be that Ziff loves Microsoft moneyhats just like everyone else. You can't discount that.)

Still, although the new magazine title doesn't exactly roll off the tongue, I look forward to seeing how both Ziff and Microsoft try to tackle the PC games scene of the next five years.

rainbow-8112.jpg   rainbow-8408.jpg

My second eulogy this week is for Lawrence Falk, the founder and editor-in-chief of The Rainbow magazine. He died in June of a heart attack at the age of 63 after serving as mayor of Prospect, Kentucky (a Louisville suburb) for 13 years.

You probably haven't heard of The Rainbow, mainly because its subject matter -- the Tandy Color Computer series -- was by-and-large the laughing stock of the playground computer-game scene for most of the 80s. But The Rainbow was actually the longest-lasting of the great 8-bit computer mags in the US, running uninterrupted from July 1981 to May 1993 for a total of 143 issues.

Although I've admittedly never touched a real CoCo in my life, I have nearly all of these issues -- from the very early newsletters (typed on a CoCo and output on a cheapo printer without any descenders on the 'p', 'y', 'j' or 'g' characters), to the massive 300-page tomes from 1983 to 1986, to the tabloid-sized newsprint issues at the very end. The computer it covers may not be first-class, but the magazine itself is, because it embodies pretty much everything that was right about the early computer marketplace. Every issue is packed with ways to truly use your computer, whether it be BASIC or assembly programming, electronics projects, or games and little applications you type in yourself.

There are mounds of black-and-white ads from dozens of basement companies, most run by one guy hoping to become the next Lord British with his bold new interpretation of Asteroids. The letters section is vast and passionate, constantly railing on Tandy's terrible customer support at a time when there was no easily accessible Internet to nerd-rage on. In short, there was real grassroots passion in The Rainbow's pages -- a sort you can still feel reading the mag today, and the kind that was pretty much run out of computer magazines completely by the mid-1990s.

There was a project afoot to scan and distrube the entire Rainbow library on DVD with Falk's permission. The bulk of the work is already done, but the future of the project is unclear now that it has to deal with Falk's estate instead of the man himself. I certainly hope that any legal issues are worked out quickly, though -- if you miss how computer mags used to be, a DVD Rainbow collection would be pure heaven to browse through.

[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.]

Anatomy Of A Rumor: EA, Wii, Digg, And You

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/nintendowii.jpg The question of game journalism, page views, and Digg hyping was brought home to me again this week, after a Gamasutra post that I made about Electronic Arts' post-earnings analyst call was picked up by a whole bunch of people, and at least in one case, notably distorted. How, why, and when? Let's go through the timeline.

Now, I'm not claiming any particular 'skill' in going to listen to the webcast of the earnings call - other people do so, too, but the thing I wrote that eventually got transformed into a Digg-topping headline was this:

"Regarding Wii pricing, EA execs simply commented that publishers would have to decide on pricing themselves, but that Nintendo had indicated that first-party Wii titles would not be priced at more than $49.99 - suggesting that Electronic Arts games may debut for Wii at $49.99 at launch, though they did not state this specifically." I'll reprint the exact EA quote later.

Most people who picked up on this, as part of a more explicit announcement that EA were doing more Wii and DS games (actually the subject of my Gamasutra headline), understood the greyness of the EA comments on price - for example, Joystiq commented, using my post:

"First party Wii titles won't be more than $49.99 "suggesting that Electronic Arts games may debut for Wii at $49.99 at launch." They weren't saying though." Right.

However, then UGO affiliate GameWorld Network came out with the following article: "EA Drops Bombshell: Wii Games 'No More Than $49.99'". The article is completely uncredited (not even saying where the comments took place), and specifically says:

"EA announced "...we have ramped up [game] production for the Wii and DS Lite' following significant excitement over the Nintendo-created consoles at E3." The spokesperson also went on to say that Wii games won't cost more than US$49.99 at launch. Well, we would hope not."

For reference, an earlier part of the original Gamasutra post says:

"Talking in the conference call following the announcement, EA executives particularly noted that "...we have ramped up [game] production for the Wii and DS Lite", following significant excitement over the Nintendo-created consoles at E3."

So GWN's story takes half of EA's quote and half of my own sentence and conflates them, and then changes the whole 'first-party games are $49.99, we're not saying exactly' statement to be much closer to 'all Wii games are $49.99'. Suck.

Then, even more confusingly, the GWN folks submitted the story to Digg, where it currently has 1423 Diggs (and has never been flagged as inaccurate!), and used quotation marks incorrectly again, this time directly suggesting:

"EA dropped the news during a conference call "...we have ramped up [game] production for the Wii and DS Lite' following significant excitement over the Nintendo-created consoles at E3. Wii games won't cost more than US$49.99 at launch."

Which is simply not true. To other sites' credit, they then attempted to unravel this mystery, with IGN doing a creditable job of explaining the confusion, getting a denial from EA that pricing has been set, and noting:

"In an earnings conference call yesterday, Electronic Arts CFO Warren Jensen responded to a question about Wii pricing, referring to comments from Nintendo president Satoru Iwata: "The only thing I heard is the CEO of Nintendo saying he could not imagine any of their titles being sold beyond $49.95."

This goes most of the way to explaining the confusion, but I went back to an archive of the EA earnings call just now, and here's Jensen's full answer to the question, for the record:

"All of the companies in the industry are going to have to make a decision about that. The only thing I heard is the CEO of Nintendo saying he could not imagine any of their titles being sold beyond $49.95. So again, everyone is going to have to make their own decision about pricing on that platform."

So, you can't hear Jensen saying that, but as I mentioned in my original report, I feel that a 'make up your own minds, first-party is $49.99, make up your own minds' answer indicates that EA is at least considering similar pricing. (Now, having said that, first-party Xbox 360 launch titles were $49.99, whereas most third-party launch games were $59.99 - but now, the first-party Gears Of War is apparently launching at a $59.99/$69.99 pricepoint this Xmas. So there's plenty of messages here!)

But overall, it bothers me that GWN has taken a statement I made that was not, in itself, explicitly newsworthy, and changed its message so that it's practically a scoop. It makes _me_ feel nervous about expressing these kind of nuanced opinions, which I think are perfectly legitimate, in news.

FWIW, I actually submitted our article on the EA earnings call to Digg hours before GWN's, but under the headline 'EA Ramps Up Wii Game Production'. So naturally, it got 9 Diggs, compared to 1423 for 'EA Drops Bombshell: Wii Games "No More Than $49.99"'. Unsurprisingly.

And this is exactly why I find completely reader-driven story choice a major problem at times - and I'm seeing it everywhere. Massive aggregators like Digg make it much easier to attract readers, as a one-time surge, to completely unknown sites with carefully skewed, sensationalist stories (as GWN has been attempting very successfully since), and it makes it all the more difficult to practice balanced journalism and get any notice.

So, is the era of Digg the age of the troll? I think we should be told.

The New Gamer Goes Home With Chibi Robo

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/chibirobo.jpg One of our absolute favorite alt.gaming sites, The New Gamer, has posted a new article called 'Chibi Robo & Domestic Compensation', discussing Nintendo and Skip's frankly little-referenced (yes, apart from Chris Kohler's sacrificial shrine!) GameCube robot housekeeping game.

It includes, among other things, a wonderfully complete explanatory paragraph on the game: "n Chibi Robo, children and other family members are freed from monotony of chores, leaving robots to bear that burden. You control a six-inch tall robot named Chibi Robo through the Sandersons' estate, home of a financially strapped and troubled family. Jenny, the daughter, dresses solely as a frog and refuses to say anything but 'ribbit' while the father and mother grow more and more estranged, thanks to the father's recent lack of employment. But Chibi is oblivious to such family matters - he's just a simple robot who serves only to scrub the floors and pick up after his owners and, as Chibi's puppeteer, you'll be doing plenty of both."

Somehow, the game seems particularly, well, Japanese, as reviewer G. Turner notes: "Chibi Robo tries to instill the same pride in a job well done with its in-game financial imbursement but, as my parents learned, money isn't always the best carrot. All the Moolah, Happy Points or merit badges are no motivational substitute for real intrigue, suspense or emotional intensity. Chibi Robo was able to deliver the intrigue, but tosses money and collectibles at the player in lieu of a substantial conclusion to these characters' stories and in hopes that it'll compensate for the terribly redundant gameplay." Aw.

GameSetLinks: Harmotion, Conquering, Mario Blocked

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/harmot.jpg Well, time for some final Friday links of note, and these come from a variety of sources, as follows:

- Via Jamie Fristrom's GameDevBlog, a pointer to the Double Jump Studios game development blog, and information in turn on the Beta of their new game, Harmotion, which is described as follows: "Imagine a player vs. player crossover of Geometry Wars, Giga Wing, and Rez… Harmotion is particle effects heavy title with fast and frantic game mechanics of a vertical shooter. The game is driven by collaborative competition using an adaptive player generated music system as well as glorified stats, rankings, and leaderboards." XBLA, now, plz!

- Buried toward the bottom of the general misfortunes of Matt 'Fort90' Hawkins' day are some neat tips on weird games, the most notable of which is the following: "Here’s yet another thing which from Insert Credit I forgot to talk about a whiles back: check what has to the potential to be the indie game of the year, as well as a glorious return to the salad days of Mortal Kombat 3 and Tattoo Assassins… Conquering Light!!! First off, dude, check out the roster." The same people do Dark Presence, which is a prequel or a sequel or something. Anyway, insanity.

- Now that Michael Zenke is doing the MMOG Nation column for us (yaay!), we got round to bookmarking his MMOG Nation website, and found a really fun post on Beckett's new MMOG magazine on there - and yep, GSW's own Kevin 'Magweasel' Gifford is probably the other person in the country who bought a copy of the mag! In conclusion: it's awful. But we do find out about Blue Oyster Cult’s Eric Bloom playing World Of Warcraft, so there's enough 'don't fear the reaper' puns in there to last Beckett another few issues.

- Finally, here's a Kotaku-dug-up link we like a lot - info on a homebrew, blocky 3D Mario 'remake' for the Sega Saturn. As Monsieur Ashcraft notes: "Way too blocky and anatomically incorrect: Mario doesn't have a nose. Redeeming point? It reminds us of that kickin' Dire Straits music video. This mod dates from 2003, making it older than Kotaku, but not older than Crecente. Nothing is that old." Dude, we don't like to gossip, but we heard Crecente's first game playing session was against NAPOLEON. Able was I, ere I saw Elba? Nuff said!

August 4, 2006

NCS Spots Wizardry, Bomberman, Art Clock Fever

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/famiclock.jpg So, while we don't actually order import games too often, we still find New York-based National Console Support, Inc pretty much invaluable for good descriptions and info on the latest Japanese game imports - and we still love their breezy, sardonic text stylings.

So this week, there's some new neatness - particularly the debut of Wizardry Gaiden for PlayStation 2 from Taito, showing the continuing odd Japanese penchant for the classic Western RPG series - I previously remarked on a Japanese DS iteration of the game in an older GSW post.

NCS says of the title: "Anyone hankering for an RPG that looks and plays like something transplanted from 1988 is in luck. Wizardry Gaiden: Prisoners of the Battles is a visually stark adventure game that moves in stutter step and relies on text-based menus to execute attacks, manage inventory, and ration gold amongst party members." Old. School.

Also wonderfully released this week - Bomberman: Act Zero for Xbox 360. NCS notes: "Tasked with hardening Bomberman for the more mature audience of the Xbox 360, Hudson went with western comic book superhero sensibilities over Hello Kitty simplicity. Fast tracked to gritty evolution, Bomberman Act Zero features sleek warriors in glistening armor who battle in fast paced bouts of maze bombing action." This change of style is, much like Shadow The Hedgehog, much-derided in the West, of course.

A couple of other merchandise pieces popping up from NCS this week that are rather entertaining - some officially licensed Nintendo clocks - you know, like those ones people have on eBay, except actually nicely designed? And from Sega, though not particularly game-related, the Caltoy UJ turtles - "with bright colorful shells and simple faces that are reminiscent of a two-eyed potato." Oh Sega, you're sooo cuuuuute.

COLUMN: 'Bastards of 32-Bit' - Tempo Series

tempo1.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 the Tempo series, published by Sega and released across several platforms in the United States and Japan in 1995 and 1998.]

Tempo's in the house tonight.

Tempo led a short, unfortunate life in the video gaming world. Unlike the stars of many mascot-based platformers, Tempo wasn't an unlikable jerk; he was just a little grasshopper who wanted to share his love of hip hop dancing with the world. He never infuriated players with repetitive one-liners, and he never got totally in your face with his x-treme attitude.

Poor Tempo merely had the misfortune to arrive on the scene after Bubsy and his ilk had successfully buried the character-driven platformer deep into the Earth's mantle. The fact that Tempo made his debut on Sega's notoriously undersupported 32X didn't exactly help his cause, either. The Tempo games remain an engaging play today, however, and could end up being pleasant surprises to the many who missed these titles when they were first released.

tempo2.jpgYou know he's gonna move your mind.

Developed by RED Company (better known as the creators of Bonk's Adventure and the Sakura Taisen series), Tempo stands out as one of the best games to ever be released for the 32X. Whereas other 32X titles failed in trying to push the hardware's weak 3D capabilities to its limits, Tempo opted instead to use the 32X's power to infuse the game with fluid animation and vibrant background graphics. The result is a solid, refined platformer with a unique look and style made possible by the added horsepower of the 32X.

Tempo is built around the concept of gameplay as performance art. The game's levels are actually sets built inside a TV studio, and an unseen audience often vocally reacts to the action on-screen. While it's entirely possible to play through the game as if it were any other platformer, skilled play and the use of the more complex moves available to Tempo is pleasing to the audience, and is consequently awarded with more points. There are many different endings possible, all of which reflect how well the player entertained the audience throughout the game.

Tempo was followed up in 1998 by a Japan-only sequel for the Sega Saturn. Super Tempo ditches the TV show setup of the original title, and introduces several new gameplay mechanics that make for a radically different experience as compared to its predecessor. Super Tempo is also characterized by its reliance on bizarre humor and obscure references to Japanese folklore, much in the vein of fellow Saturn platformer Keio Yuugekitai Katsugekihen. Unfortunately, this title would mark the end of the Tempo series, as no further sequels were ever released or will likely ever surface.

Didn't buy my game huh? WHY I OUGHTTAThe groove is outta sight.

The debut of the 32X version of Tempo was accompanied by the almost simultaneous release of Tempo Jr. for Sega's Game Gear in 1995. Though it's interesting that such an obscure series would see a unique portable entry, Tempo Jr. is best forgotten because...well, it's pretty bad. Sega did their best to try and cram as much of Tempo's trademark fluid animation into the Game Gear title as possible, but the end result is a sub-average platformer with none of the gameplay innovations found in the original 32X release.

If anything, the mere existence of Tempo Jr. signifies that Sega likely wanted Tempo to be a major franchise, with new releases and sequels spanning all of the company's available platforms. The failure of the 32X as a console pretty much insured that this dream would never become a reality, however. Tempo may have had heart and charm, but neither was enough to overcome the combined evil forces of Bubsy and Sega add-on hardware.

[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.]

GameSetLinks: Meier, Saints, Atari Force

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/intru.jpg OK, it's late (or early, when I post this!), so let's wrap up the day with some completely random linklog fun and games, shall we?

- Edge Online has the neeto 'Time Extend' article on Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri, and there's some really nice writing in here: "For if Alpha Centauri opens with pessimism, it closes – on almost any ending other than abject defeat – with a swell of hope and wonder in place of the expected triumphalism. It reassures that the events of the game weren’t the entirety of mankind’s future, but just another step, no less ginger or more significant than Gagarin’s, Aldrin’s, Armstrong’s..."

- You may have heard of the Flash animated web serial turned DVD release Broken Saints? Well, there's a neat interview with creator Brooke Burgess over at Movieweb, and it turns out that he's an ex-EA drone: "I used to produce video games at Electronic Arts in Vancouver where I live in Canada. The idea came because I was going through a struggle after working on the same franchises year after year. I was trying to reconcile my use of modern technology and media technology with a burgeoning, growing spiritual side." It's also noted: "Because of my video game background there's quite a bit of interest in adapting Broken Saints for an interactive experience for next generation consoles. That's absolutely in the works, I'm hoping to actually announce the official publisher and platform by the end of the year."

- GSW columnist RedWolf went ahead and did some nice scans and commentary on the Atari Force comic, which is "a mini comic book (5″x7″) that came as a free pack-in with the game Defender for the Atari 2600 in 1982. " Yes, you've probably heard of it before, but it's plenty of fun: "It’s the year 2005 and the Atari Technology and Research Institute’s Fuji symbol-shaped headquarters looms high on the horizon." Sadly, the comic-referenced Atari offices in Sunnyvale, more recently Midway's dev studio out there (and not actually Fuji-shaped!), closed before that date, *sigh*. History, damn you.

- The 'Panels and Pixels' blog, which reprints comics and games columns from the Pennsylvania-based Patriot-News newspaper, has a neat column on Rule Of Rose which quotes some from the Gamasutra interview regarding it. The blog notes of the Atlus-published, Sony-developed title: "Whether the game comes under fire once it’s released remains to be seen, but it’s apparent that Takayama and his cohorts had more in mind than catering to prurient interests." Nicely done, Sir.

- It's not quite games, but it's still computer art - check out Freax: The Art Album, which "shows a unique selection of pixel graphics from the Demoscene made on computer platforms as such as PC, Amiga, Atari ST, Schneider CPC, C64, ZX81 and in various categories like ASCII, ANSI, disk covers and comics. "Freaks the Album" is a fascinating documentation coming on 296 pages, in full-colour and the DIN A4 format." The same distributors also have a neat DVD of Commodore 64 demos, even.

- Bonus link: Mario's New World: Symphonies in the Washington Post, which cannily reports on the video game symphony catfight: "One of the most entertaining things about this new mini-industry of video game music performance might be the squabbling going on behind the scenes. The two companies putting on these productions -- Jason Michael Paul Productions and Mystical Stone Entertainment -- pretty much hate each other and are engaging in a fair amount of trash talk as they fight for the same gigs."

- You know, the first column from our friend Joseph 'Buzz' Berkley, with its amazing 'Wii for adults' scoop, hasn't gone down too well on some blogs - for example, commenters on Codename Revolution insist: "That was possible the stupidest thing I ever read", and concerned Wii fans on Infendo point out: "Game developers and geniuses alike are allowed lives and interests too remember!" And on Extralife, well: "Hugh Hefner listens to classical music… should we all wonder that he’s responsible for probably the most widely distributed adult magazine instead of off writing symphonies?" Well, skeptics aside, the fact is that Buzz knows best!, and he'll be gracing us with more reviews and exclusive news pieces soon.

August 3, 2006

Loco Roco Gets Mucho Loco Franco Coverage

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/lrlrlr.jpg So, it's all in French, but we got a nice mail about some cool PSP-related physics game hilarity, as follows: "Just a mail to tell you that there are some cool stuff being done around LOCO ROCO for the loco roco week on the PlayStation France online gallery ARTCADE."

Like what? "Like tee-shirts and sweat shirts made by fashion designers around the game. There is also an exclusive vidéo and 7 Loco roco songs on streaming."

But what else? "An Illustration by WAD fashion mag designer is also available there." All pretty fun stuff, and a good warmup for the North American release of Loco Roco, which is apparently on September 5th, finally.

MMOG Nation: Shadow of the Drow

Box! ['MMOG Nation' is a new regular bi-weekly column by Michael Zenke about current events in the world of Massively Multiplayer Games. This week's column is about the addition of the Drow race to Dungeons and Dragons Online.]

Adding content to a Massively Multiplayer title is par for the course. Ongoing storylines, additional zones, new classes, and new gameplay elements are all standard additions to make sure users feel as though they're getting their money's worth. New character races are also a fairly common addition. They tend to coincide with expansions, and often show off new technical capabilities of the game's engine. Everquest 2 is getting the 'Fey' in its upcoming Faydark expansion, World of Warcraft is debuting two new races with the 'Burning Crusade' expansion, and even Ultima Online eventually added an additional player race to the primarily human world.

At the end of June Dungeons and Dragons Online (DDO) added a new player race, too, but it's not an expansion tie-in. It's a poorly thought-out freebie given to players who accrue faction with some of the in-game organizations. It's also not just a new race; it's pandering to the sordid id of Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) players everywhere. The release of the Drow race ties directly into the poorly considered backstory of DDO, and is just one of many signs that Turbine just doesn't get it. Today I'm going to talk about who the Drow are, where they fit into D&D and DDO, why Turbine has squandered a great campaign setting, and why this bodes ill for the future of Massive games.

(Click through to read the full, inaugural column from Mr. Zenke!)

Nerd Raaaaage!

To begin with, some context for my nerd rage. The new player race is the Drow, the darkly tinted elves who in many D&D settings reside underground in subterranean caverns collectively referred to as the Underdark. They worship a dark goddess (formerly a demon queen) named Llolth, like long walks in the dark with spiders, and generally enjoy being nasty baddies that table-top players love to hate. Their society is based around matriarchal feuding houses and a deep religious fervor for their goddess. Because of the female-focused nature of their society, male Drow tend to get the fuzzy end of the lollypop. One such 'disadvantaged' Drow, though, has become a fantasy icon and I believe is the ultimate reason why the Drow have ended up in DDO.

Drizzt Do'Urden The Forgotten Realms fantasy series now known collectively as 'The Legend of Drizzt' tells the tale of Drizzt Do'Urden, Drow ranger and nice guy among jerks. A soft-spoken and caring character penned by R.A. Salvatore, the scimitar-weilding dark elf has been a fan favorite since his first appearance in 1988's The Crystal Shard.

'Favorite' may be an understatement, as the fanboi-ism surrounding this (admittedly compelling) character borders on the disturbing. If you've even been playing a MMOG and noticed a character walking around with a name like Drizzzt or Drizzit or Drzzzit, this character is the origin of that unpronounceable mish-mash. Dual-weilding swords and acting as if the weight of the world were on their shoulders, these "roleplayers" are the worst kind of drama queens. Endless retellings of their character's backstory, and constant references to important characters in the Forgotten Realms setting make them almost unbearable to talk to; they make all of us upstanding nerds look bad.

Old Drow? New Drow!

In contrast, the Drow of Eberron (DDO's Campaign Setting) are a primitive race living in the jungles of Xen'drik. Living simply hundreds of years after their rebellion freed the elven races from enslavement to a society of giants, the Drow of DDO aren't necessarily evil ... but are still generally bogie men. Adventure parties traveling to the continent's interior do not want to meet them in the dark. Their inclusion into Dungeons and Dragons Online as a playable race is couched in phrases like 'allied with foreign-borne heroes' and 'gain the approval of the Drow tribes'. In order to unlock the Drow as a playable race, a player must first gain the favour of a number of organizations in the game's town of Stormreach. Only after a player has successfully ground a large amount of favour out of the town's patrons will they be able to create a Drow character.

My frustration with the inclusion of Drow into the game is thus threefold. Firstly the Drow, as civilization-hating xenophobes, are not a group you'd think would line up outside the gates of Stormreach to aid in the defense of the town. Worshipers of a scorpion-god named Vulkoor, they don't seem like the type that would get very worried when some fool adventurers get themselves killed robbing tombs. Their appearance, attitude, and even clothing in the game seems wildly out of step with their established role in the campaign setting. Secondly, the mechanism used to unlock the race is out and out boring. I find grinds of any kind a frustration nowadays; whether it's from cynicism or boredom I just won't sit still for a pointless grind anymore. WoW and Everquest II have proven you can have a long and enjoyable run up to max level without ever feeling like you're grinding. Titles that do less are frustrations to be avoided.

Thirdly, I view their inclusion not as a benefit to existing players, but as an obvious pandering move to attract new players. The 'dippy Drow' contingent out there is very strong. As Drizzt's Wikipedia article states, 'His popularity reaches beyond the D&D gaming community, appealing to a wide range of fantasy and science fiction fans.' Harnessing the popularity of R.A. Salvatore's character to work as a marketing engine if pure brilliance on Turbine's part; that doesn't mean I have to like it. Attracting shoulder-dragon wearing, henna-tattoo tracing gamer hippies is an admirable goal only if you're in a marketing department. The rest of us, I can assure you, want as little exposure to them as possible.

Petty? Moi?

DDO DrowThese may seem like petty concerns, and they are. If Wizards of the Coast ok'd the use of the Drow as a playable race in DDO, I'm not really in any position to argue. What this indicates to me, in the bigger picture, is Turbine's willingness to skirt the edges of canon for profit. Most dyed-in-the-wool D&D players, especially Eberron fans, have numerous complaints about the 'feel' of DDO. While it's got a lot of interesting elements to it, in many ways DDO feels nothing like Dungeons and Dragons. It only really gets the Eberron feel across through the occasional flavour text or world element; the use of the relatively unknown continent of Xen'drik removes the player from all the familiar elements of the campaign setting as it is laid out in the published books. 'Fine,' you may be saying, 'who cares if a few D&D nerds are disappointed?' True, D&D nerds are a minority in American culture ... but how many people saw the Lord of the Rings films?

The Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar is Turbine's other big project right now. Pushed back, endlessly delayed, and with precious few tidbits of information available, reaction from the MMOG community thus far has been a resounding 'meh'. Looking beyond the cynics, though, this title should be a barnburner of a title. Hung around its shoulders is the single most important, well known fantasy license you could ever hope to get your hands on. Translating the adventures of Frodo and Co. into a workable gamespace would be a challenge for anyone, given the pressures of the license. What's unnerving to me is that, with an already proven track record of abandoning the 'feel' of a setting when it becomes inconvenient, how much of Middle Earth will we recognize in LOTR Online?

You Smell Of Catass!

World of Warcraft has done phenomenally well, no doubt about it, but the massive genre is still not a well-understoood part of American society. The reputation for smelling of catass still haunts those who regularly brave persistent online spaces, be they trolls, superheroes, space pilots, or pirates. A highly successful Lord of the Rings game would go a long way towards bridging the gap between MMOG players and the general public. Being able to show your Aragorn-loving Mom what Middle Earth looks like from the inside would be a powerful experience; a flop of a game using the LOTR license could actually reverse some of the understanding that titles like WoW have managed to garner for the genre.

The shadow of the Drow, then, falls across everyone who hopes to see more people playing Massive games. Turbine was given an amazing opportunity with the Dungeons and Dragons license; the opinion from many sides is that they've squandered the chance to draw pen-and-paper players more fully into the MMOG fold. Their next big title could reach out and touch every person to see the trio of Peter Jackson films; the possibility exists that LOTR Online could go for WoW-like numbers if all the stars align. Despite that promise, I just don't see that happening. LOTR looks to be just another ho-hum fantasy knockoff. Turbine's use of the D&D and LOTR licenses is a cautionary tale for every company looking to develop a massive title, and yet another disappointment for players who just want more ways to have fun.

[Michael Zenke is also known as 'Zonk', the current editor of Slashdot Games. He has had the pleasure of writing occasional pieces for sites like Gamasutra and The Escapist. You can read more of Michael's ramblings on Massive games at the MMOG Nation blog. ]

GameSetLinks: Psy Phi, Shaka, China

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/shaka.jpg The second batch of leftover Bloglines and Google News randomness, then, and there's plenty of diversity in this linklog, from odd arcade games to Chinese cultural controversy, huzzah:

- A few weeks ago on sister site Gamasutra, we covered Sega Entertainment's plans for U.S. arcade GameWorks, in a feature which indicated the company would be spending significant money on bringing arcade games to its U.S. gaming centers. Well, lo and behold, a YouTube video turns up showing Yu Suzuki's totally bizarre touchscreen fighting game Psy Phi at the GameWorks in Schaumberg, Illinois. Maybe it's just a test version, but good to see the game in U.S. arcades. [Via NeoGAF.]

- Local paper stories about video game companies are always cute, so here's a new one - the Oshkosh Northwestern discussing new Wisconsin game developer Frozen Codebase, and has some fun quotes in it: "Why Green Bay? "Why not Green Bay?" Geisler said. "We could do this in Antarctica, but Green Bay is warmer." Actually, one of the great advantages of northeastern Wisconsin is the quality of life and low cost of living, he said. "If you live out West, you may pay $2,000 a month rent. Here you can find a pretty good place for $600 per month," Geisler said. "It's almost like a raise without costing anything."" Yay, Wisconsin!

- After I posted about slightly obscure Konami arcade machine Wartran Troopers (which, yes, included the words 'Sir, Yes Sir!' in the marquee), commenter TJ2000 pointed out the Japanese version, World Combat, as part of an excellent Japanese arcade cabinet photo set on Flickr - particularly good because it has detailed commentary on games like Sega's Shaka No Tambourine and ICBM Pachinko.

- MIT's Henry Jenkins has an excellent new blog, and covers 'National Politics within Virtual Game Worlds: The Case of China' in a recent entry, discussing "what some are describing as "the largest political protest gathering in a virtual world game ever" occurr[ing] within the Chinese Massively Multiplayer Game, Fantasy Westward Journey." It's great when people take time to gather all the facts and put things in perspective, as Jenkins and his student have done here.

Game Ads A-Go-Go: Bad Game Names to Blame

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

August, 1863. After suffering a crushing defeat in the sweltering noon-day sun near Virginia's Chidahoke River, Confederate General William T. Cornhusk Bootstrap Wallace Davidson and his regiment, the famous "Fighting Fifty-Three," were driven north of Richmond into prime enemy territory. After forty days of relentless marching and three days of brutal combat, the regiment was on the brink of starvation and collapse. Desperate for a break, the "Fifty-Three" camped in the deep and varied crevices of Salty Forge on the night of August 3rd, near the rose garden of Henrietta Farnsworth (widow of cotton magnate Larson Farnsworth). It was then that Gen. Davidson coined his famous saying: "A rose by any other name would still taste like trifled horse manure."

And so it is with games. No matter what their name, they always taste terrible. Just the other day I tried spreading a little Maki Maki San Toto Butler Smash!! on my toast and it left me retching. Below are some ads for games with absolutely terrible names, along with a brief description of how they would taste if you ate them.


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Stop Hitting Yourself

The Name: Revengers of Vengeance

What's a revenger, you ask? It's someone who revenges, silly. As in, "I'm going to revenge you!" and "Revengers Assemble!" According to the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition, a "revenger" is someone who "inflicts punishment in return for (injury or insult)." And what are the intrepid revengers in this game revenging? Why vengeance, of course, or "infliction of punishment in return for a wrong committed; retribution." So you see, revengers of vengeance seek vengeance in return for vengeance. I can think of no other conclusion than that these poor people are locked in an endless cycle of self-flagellation. That explains why it's only a one-player game where your character spends most of its time beating itself up. The self-fatality animations are especially well done.

If you play/eat this fighting game (which is "based on a true story," by the way), just be aware that "some scenes may be too intense for those who do not seek vengeance" (upon themselves). Also, I find that "Barko" and "PsyBart" are the strongest characters in the game.

This Game Would Taste Like: Wrigley's Beef-Flavored Bubble Gum


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"Here Standeth I, Lodor, Lord of All Brains."

The Name: Brain Lord

I actually own Brain Lord. The first time I ever played it, I was expecting to be amazed and astounded by the best looking giant crazy brain imagery I'd ever witnessed on a television screen. Boy, was I disappointed. Not only were there no giant crazy brains, but there were quite simply no brains at all. Man, Enix's localization team really missed the boat on this one.

I suspect that when this game was in the prototype stage, someone at Enix put the wrong label on the wrong game. As a result, there's some freaky, whacked-out Japanese shoot-em-up floating around out there featuring flying giant crazy brains called "T. Hondo's Lackluster Action-RPG."

This Game Would Taste Like: FlavorLess (TM) Brand Goatmeal


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Welcome to my Navy

The Name: Flying Nightmares

If my nightmares could fly, they'd look exactly like Harrier jump jets equipped with AGM-65E Laser Maverick missiles, AIM-9M Sidewinders, and GBU-16 1000lb laser guided bombs. No, I'm not being facetious. I'm not even being facetious about not being facetious. My nightmares could quite literally blow your ass out of the sky. That's why I never sleep.

RedWolf's Full Nightmare Armament:

MK-82 series 500lbs bombs
MK-83 series 1000lbs bombs
GBU-12 500lbs laser guided bombs
GBU-16 1000lbs laser guided bombs
AGM-65F IR Maverick missiles
AGM-65E Laser Maverick missiles
CBU-99 cluster munitions
AIM-9M Sidewinders
Lightening II targeting POD to deliver GBU-12 and GBU-16 bombs with pinpoint accuracy.

This Game Would Taste Like: Country-Fried Ass

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

August 2, 2006

Experimental Gameplay Competition Goes Dancing

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/danceit.jpg OK, so not doing _many_ standalone posts, but since Kyle Gray of the Experimental Gameplay Competition mailed us this one and it's great, let's split it out and spit it out:

"I'm just writing to tell you about the second Experimental Gameplay Competition. In our last competition, 2 students ended up with internships at THQ's Heavy Iron studios.

This time around, we're partnering with Red Octane and opening up the competition to everyone. The goal is to still get fresh faces into the industry - so the first place still gets an interview for an internship, but now people with jobs can compete for some great RO swag.

On top of that, the name of the game is to design & prototype a non-dance game for RO's Ignition Dance Pad. Is this something you guys might be interested in talking about?" Wait... yes it is!

GameSetLinks: EA, EDOC, Summer Games

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/edocl.jpg So, I finally managed to catch up with my gigantic Bloglines backlog last night, and thus - a whole load of new gaming links for you - actually, coming in two parts, since there are so many of them. Here's the first set:

- There's a well-written new Wired Magazine feature on digital console game downloads by the excellent 'Masters Of Doom' author David Kushner (whose book 'Jonny Magic and the Card Shark Kids' is all kinds of excellent, and out in paperback this month, btw!). The Wired piece notes: "Game companies earned $143 million from online console gaming in 2005, a figure JupiterResearch predicts will grow to $2 billion domestically by 2011." A fun read! [I actually contributed an (ultimately cut for space reasons!) sidebar to the article which listed the main digital download sources for games. If I can dig it out, I'll post it, but it was pretty standard stuff for GSW readers.]

- I was bitching a little phlegmatically to Chris Remo at Shacknews about why he and I were apparently the only people to actually listen to the Electronic Arts conference call after yesterday's results, and he revealed that he bothered to listen to the shareholder meeting audio, too! Apparently, it was worth it, since he let me pass along the following gems: "One shareholder asked whether, now that EA has acquired World of Warcraft, they have any plans to move into the fantasy, RPG, or MMORPG genres. Another noted that the demo reel they played was about 20 decibels too loud, and he is concerned that EA games may cause ear damage. Larry Probst replied that televisions have volume controls." Nice!

- Former Game Developer magazine editor Alex 'Crazy Hair!' Handy has followed the nice folks at 4orty 2wo Entertainment for some time, even writing a great cover story for the East Bay Express about them, so he was the person to first turn us on to EDOC Laundry, the ARG-based clothing line co-created by ilovebees type Elan Lee. ARGN.com is still covering the clothes mystery, revealing: "The scripting of the Season 1 videos remains archaic and contradictory, while continuing to impress -- with the heaviest printing block imaginable -- the overarching theme of the American Revolution in nearly every other sentence." Lots of pleasant oddness going on here, then!

- Aeropause has dug out some great game 'folk art', noting: "Joe Beuckman, a Physics student in Southern Illinois has managed to creatively marry Commodore 64 game elements with Beadwork to create some pretty cool and colourful bracelets and imagery. Remember Summer Games and Hardball for the C64? Of course you don't. Joe has taken the background audience graphics from the game Hardball and made them into a bracelet. In addition to that he's also made an art piece representing the pole vaulting aspect of Summer Games." Most pleasing.

- I think we're a bit late on this one, since some people have already called Eidos about it, but VH1 Game Break points out mobile game 'Lava Kroft', which is "about a new age woman who has an exceptional thirst for discovering some of the most intriguing and mystical treasures in the world." On the other hand, "In ‘Lava Kroft,’ mobile gamers can experience the excitement by sealing the volcano traps as quickly as possible to survive", so it looks like a version of that Wario Ware mini-game (which is, in itself, about as old as Game & Watch), but hey - horrific Lara puns make us happy!

GameSetInterview: Game Architecture Preservationist Mario Gerosa

mario_gerosa.jpgMario Gerosa is the Editor-In-Chief of Architectural Digest Italy, and has been a gamer for over 30 years. Earlier this year, he released Mondi Virtuali, a book he co-wrote with Aurélien Pfeffer about virtual worlds. Early last month, he published the Convention for the Protection of Virtual Architectural Heritage on his website. The convention details the need for the archiving of virtual architecture, particularly that of MMOs.

Amongst other things, the convention suggests starting a virtual museum, to be run by a commitee which Gerosa is in the process of setting up. GameSetWatch contacted Gerosa via email to discuss his plans, the necessity of documenting this work, and the problems involved.

(Click through to read the full feature, including plenty more info on 'virtual architecture' in games.)

Why is this convention necessary?

Because in virtual worlds we have many interesting architectures made either by programmers, either by the subscribers, and they risk to be destroyed or dismantled. It is a pity, because probably there will be no records of these architectures and few people will know them. In fact, generally, only people attending MMOGs know these buildings, but how many architectural critics know of their existence? This convention is also a way to give visibility to these new expressions of digital architecture, an important expression of the spirit of our time, valuable as the Piranesi etchings or the inventions of Sant’Elia, in a way.

What's your background as a gamer?

I love videogames. I am 43 and so you can imagine I have experienced a lot of videogames, from the arcades of the Seventies (I remember Flying Tigers) to Space Invaders, from Pong to Pac-Man. In the new era of videogames, from the Nineties, I will mention the masterworks of the saga of Myst (especially Riven), then a cult FPS like Duke Nukem, another great game, like Half-Life 2, but also the hi-tension game Fahrenheit. But also, Quake 4, F.E.A.R., The SIMS, Sim City. And naturally the MMOGs and the MMORPGs, from Entropia Universe, my favorite, to Second Life, to City of Heroes.

What's your background in architecture?

When I graduated, in 1988, I made a thesis about the imaginary places in Marcel Proust’s “A la recherche du temps perdu”. Since then, I have been studying imaginary and literary architectures. In particular, I studied literary hotels, and made an exhibition about the Grand Hotel de Balbec created by Proust. I also made a book about the architectural meaning of the houses of the “locked room murders” of John Dickson Carr. Among real life architecture, I like the creations of Zaha Hadid, Frank Gehry and Santiago Calatrava. I interviewed some of these masters, since I am editor-in chief of Architectural Digest Italy.

What inspired you to draft this convention?

The Convention for the Protection of the Architectural Heritage of Europe, stipulated in Granada, in October 1985.

You mention that virtual environments "represent valid and new aesthetical forms", but are they as aesthetically and artistically valid as "real world" environments?

There are already some interesting examples to protect, and for them it would be necessary to create new aesthetic rules of judgment, that are not necessarily the ones corresponding to real life style. But you must also consider that probably in a future not so far in these virtual worlds will begin to arrive true artists and true architects. And they will have to compare themselves with these new kind of aesthetics. If a great designer or architect will decide to make something in these worlds, he will have to change a little his style to keep everything homogeneous: you have to respect the style of these worlds, also if you enrich them with a new cultural breath.

It's interesting that you would bring up the need for new rules in relation to games - one of the issues brought up by the whole "games as art" debate is the fact that maybe we don't have the vocabulary to correctly and intelligently criticise gaming properly yet.

Yes, actually, I think we cannot think to explain architectures and art objects created in virtual worlds using categories born for the artistic expressions of real world. For example, take the strange architectures of Second Life. You can’t use for them the classical styles, from gothic to baroque, to define them. Yes, probably you can talk of postmodern architectures, but this is too general, it would mean to simplify everything. The core of the question is that we need a new vocabulary for these artistic expressions and someone has also to historicize them. In fact, I am trying to make a preliminary approach to this theme in an essay that will be published next year.

What do you envision for the "digital architecture museum" you suggest? Something like the Internet Archive?

Well, the idea of a museum fits this project, but it would have not be merely a collection of images or 3D models. I think that these architectures give their best if seen in their environment. They must live, you must see them with their inhabitants. And there is another thing: most of the videogame architectures are full of devices (hidden doors, traps, pitfalls) and if you don’t see these devices work, you don’t experience these architectures. You see just half of their personality.

Actually, have you contacted the Archive about this?

For now, I am just contacting people interested in studying this new phenomenon: university professors, art critics, architects. I am trying to build a scientific committee. In the second phase I will begin to contact the software houses.

That's going to be difficult, trying to exhibit them in a way that people are still able to experience them. I assume this is something you're going to work out with the committee?

Probably one could create some in-game movies. That way one could see how these architectures are while inhabited and how their complex devices work. Imagine how interesting would be seeing movies of old buildings, showing how they were used and practiced. And I think you will agree that you understand more of old castles seeing movies set in Middle-Age, than visiting them in reality. Not too talk about the archaeological sites. If you see Ben-Hur of if you see the TV series Rome you understand much more of these places. The same counts for the videogames architectures.

Which games do you feel are particularly relevant to this convention?

Especially the MMOGs and the MMORPGs. All, without exception.

You've mentioned FPSs like Duke 3D and Quake, but do you think the architecture in, say, RPGs has the same value, or does the mulitplayer nature of MMOs make them more valuable?

I think that we should consider as many videogames as we can, but the priority goes to the ones where there is a personal contribution of the gamer. In MMOGs people often create by themselves new architectures. In these cases the works to protect are more relevant.

One of your points contains a number of ideas regarding crossovers that would be difficult to enact, given current copyright law. Is this something you see happening in an unofficial, or homebrew arrangement, rather than a commercial one?

As I told, in the second phase I will contact the producers and see what it is possible to do.

What kind of feedback have you had from this?

From the beginning I was encouraged by eminent personalities like economist Edward Castronova (who introduced me Sam Shahrani of the Indiana University, with whom I wrote the final version of the “Convention”) and Christiane Paul from the Whitney Museum. Then the Italian press seemed to be quite interested: there was an entire page in the science supplement of La Stampa, and another interesting feature in Il Sole 24 Ore, the Italian economical newspaper. But the Convention was also reported in many blogs.

What contribution did Sam Shahrani make?

Sam was very important for this project. He has a wide experience, either as a theorist, either as a game designer, and contributed to enucleate some crucial points of the Convention.

Have you had any nominations for the committee you plan on setting up?

I have many contacts, either in Italy, either in the USA and in France, where I am a member of the OMNSH, Observatoire des mondes numériques en sciences humaines. The names will come in the next months.

How urgent do you think this is?

Very urgent. Too much virtual architecture has already disappeared forever.

From MMOs that have closed down, for example?

Here there is one of the toughest problems of the whole question. As you see, in these cases everything becomes extremely difficult. In fact, for MMOGs that have closed down one should undertake an archaeological work, trying to see if someone has kept pictures of the architectures that were hosted there. One should also find people involved in the game design, as also people who played these games. But it is very complicated. And I think that here you posed the very central question and you raised the necessity of this convention. Imagine the difference between doing this work of protection for worlds and videogames that still exist and for the ones that have been dismantled and closed down. You can’t even think!

Mattel's HyperScan (AKA Intellivision Returns?)

hyperscans.jpg You might've seen a bit of news about this - Mattel is releasing a game console for "tweens," which merges both game and card scanning phenomena into one package. Certainly on paper that sounds like something born of a marketing orgy, but I went that extra step and requested images and additional info.

Very interestingly, the sytem is CD-based, and boasts a 32 bit architecture. They haven't yet released the actual specs and chip manufacturers, but I'm promised that information once they're ready to reveal it. If you look at the system to the left, it's got some curious design. It folds, but mostly for storage. You put the CD in the left, and cards are scanned over the red light on the righthand side. Two joypad ports come standard, but a second controller is extra, indicating that these games will actually feature AI, and not just be player vs player. It's a bit complicated how these games work, but rather interesting as well.

The game is loaded via the CD, and during play, players can pause and scan upgrades/attribute changes for their character. Once they achieve victory, they can 'save' this upgraded character to a rewritable Intellicard (more on that in just a bit). The system is said to combine their rewritable card technology with "the fast-paced, button-mashing action of video games."

The first crop of games seems to include fighters, mostly. The console ships with X-Men, a controller (designed for tween-sized hands, but I'm sure we could manage), and 6 game cards, for $70. Additional controler is $20, additional game cards are 6 for $10 in randomized booster packs (aka, holy crap there's our money, as each game has 100 corresponding cards!), and there's also an Intellicard holder and console case available. I'm still a bit unclear about which cards are rewritable, all of them, or some of them? Interesting regardless.

wolverine-deathstrikes.jpg Now let's take a look at a game shot. Here you'll find an image from the X-Men game, which is quite revealing. Backgrounds and sprites are obviously prerendered, and the image sent to me was very high res (I actually shrank the supplied image by 50%). Not sure if the console itself will boast such a mighty resolution, but check out Wolverine's avatar on the left side. Pretty clean! Not sure what's up with the one on the right though. You can see each pixel in the dithering of the shadows. It looks a lot like early prerendered work on the Saturn, which is pretty intriguing.

Aside from X-Men, there will be a game based on Cartoon Network's Ben 10, which I'd presume to be a side scroller, a game for Mattel's own Interstellar Wrestling League, and Marvel Heroes will be released in November, 2006. The console itself is scheduled to launch in October. So they plan to hit the tween market which has graduated from plug and play systems, but isn't ready for dedicated consoles. I'm not entirely certain that such a demographic really exists, as a number of dedicated console games are aimed directly at the tween market, but that's neither here nor there.

Here's the really odd thing though - this is Mattel - you might remember that they created the Intellivision, which sold over 3 million units in the early days of gaming (hey, I finally made good use of this!), which was an impressive number in those days, though the VCS did dominate the market. Nowhere in the press releases or literature are they hyping this fact, or their triumphant return to the games market. That's curious enough on its own, but that they decided to name their card technology Intellicard, and then ignore their own roots, well...it's unusual! They had a peripheral called the Intellivoice, after all. I suppose there could be licensing issues with the current Intellivision Lives company, but it's also possible that nobody at Mattel remembers the time when they were on top of the game industry. There's been very little press for this thing, they might've gotten a fair bit more if they'd leveraged that!
At any rate, check out the official HyperScan site for more info. It's not got any content as of yet, but it should have some shortly. I can envision some seriously interesting applications of this, though I doubt its potential will be fully explored, as this is primarily to be a license-driven machine. Great possibility there though. Mattel should be sending me one of these things for review come august, so keep an ear open.

Cross posted from IC, where you can also grab the larger images.

GameSetLinks: ASM Games, Iwai Lecture, Half-Life Beard

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/elek.jpg Well, the second day of GameSetLinks, and I _still_ haven't even managed to start looking at my Bloglines account yet since I got back from China - expect a big link backlog rush when I finally get to that. Even so, apparently I've accumulated some half-decent links, as follows:

- Andy 'Waxy.org' Baio points out that the Assembly 2006 game development competition entries are posted, including some awesome stuff: ""Racing Pitch" controls cars by mimicking engine noise into your mic, "TattooFrenzy" draws tattoos with the PocketPC touch screen, and a free Guitar Hero clone." Looks like a FreQuency clone to us, but close enough!

- Toshio 'Electroplankton' Iwai is making an appearance at MIT on August 4th, doing his talk 'From Flipbooks to Media Art', which may be the same one he recently gave at FutureSonic in Manchester, England. If it is, you must go, since "he will present recent work such as Electroplankton for Nintendo DS and TENORI-ON, as well as his past media artworks." Yum!

- The Internet's favorite angry young man, 1UP's Luke Smith, who increasingly reminds me of a hirsute Alexei Sayle, has an interesting rant about E3 up, in which he notes: "Message control could be dictated via exactly who gets invited to these events. 'X journalist from Y publication doesn't write within our strategy? Don't invite them.'" We've had words on whether Joystiq calling random Sony execs arrogant is the best example of showing what the game press _should_ be able do, but I appreciate his concern that it's easier to be exclusive when, well, the entire event is exclusive.

- I guess this has probably wandered around online for a while, but FrankC passes along a fragment of an early Half-Life preview in magazine scan form (sorry, whichever mag that is - PC Gamer? [EDIT: The Frog says it's Next-Gen]), revealing that Gordon Freeman used to be a bug-eyed, bearded viking type who looks like he'd been shipwrecked for a couple of millenia. Can't think of very many game heroes with full-on beards, but being unconventional has never stopped Valve before...

- Kotaku's Brian Ashcraft has been hanging with Falcoon, in which the always oddly honest SNK producer/artist seems a tad melancholy: "I'm thirty. There are a lot of kids that are really into gaming. I'm getting old. You can't do this job forever," Falcoon says. "You move further and further from users and the pulse of what they are into. I need to do as much as I can right now." Is this the same in movies now, in all creative endeavors? Will we all have to retire in our thirties, like Lance Armstrong? I demand an age recount!

August 1, 2006

Letters From The Metaverse: A Good Flight Spoilt

[‘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 sport in Second Life.]

Last week I was pretty addicted to Tringo, despite the fact I thought it was of debatable worth as a game experience. I lazily thought about this week simply covering the other casino style games available to players of Second Life, which are your usual fodder; slots, blackjack and so on, but also includes games entirely new and not in any way derivative of Tringo. For example there’s Slingo (slots mixed with bingo) or Bingtris, which is bingo mixed with Tetris. Wait, what?

2006_08_01_golf.jpgI’d rather do something more wholesome than gambling, though, and what could be more wholesome than a nice round of golf?

It must say something that the two sports I’m most aware of in Second Life are golf and sailing. I like to imagine it says, “All of the denizens of Second Life might be massive sexual deviants, but they’re also WASPy as hell.” But I digress.

The Holly Kai Golf Club is, as far as I can tell, the first golf club in Second Life, and features the Ocean Nine, which is, thanks to the ease of flying in Second Life, an unusual 9-hole course played across a series of islands, so it’s a nightmare of water hazards. Golf is played using the floG! system, an object you wear that creates a HUD of a sort familiar to anyone who’s ever played a golf game. The system is however full of quirks specific to the world of Second Life. The HUD spawns the ball for you, and also spawns an aiming arrow above the ball which you must click to maneuver yourself into position to tee off.

2006_08_01_flog.jpgAt the Holly Kai Golf Club 3 hours of play costs $300 Linden (around about $1.50). This money activates your free floG! HUD, allowing you to spawn balls and aiming arrows. If you’re planning on playing a round you should probably also pick up a score card. You have to fill it in manually (!) but it does have a much needed map of each hole on it; I initially started to play the first hole without it, and realized I had absolutely no idea what direction to shoot in.

So once you’ve picked up your HUG, plunked down your money and grabbed a score card, you’re ready to get started, and I can reference that quote that the law requires any writer to use in any article about golf. Unless it’s in a golf magazine, natch. Mark Twain once said golf was a “good walk spoilt”, and when it comes to Second Life, I have to say it’s a good flight spoilt. The Holly Kai Golf Club has some lovely architecture and the islands are all very pretty in that Second Life kind of way (I’ve grown to accept bitmap trees) but the game just doesn’t stack up.

It’s disappointing, but simply a side-effect of Second Life that all those user friendly aspects of dedicated golf games aren’t there with floG!, so there is no information about how far each club hits, no automatic club selection, no automatic score card and no special interface for putting. Most of those are pretty acceptable and other aspects like course flyovers you’re perfectly within your abilities to do yourself.

2006_08_01_steely.jpgWhat isn’t so acceptable sadly is the iffy way that the floG! system works. Rotating your aim is incredibly slow, and the shot meter, something which absolutely requires precision, always seemed to continue turning for a second or so after a click. I was pretty sure it was registering my clicks at the right time (well, kind of sure) but I was never, ever satisfied with the timing. That’s a pretty damning flaw.

Worse, sadly, it’s buggy. I’ve managed to strike my ball relaxing 10 foot away from it simply by entering and exiting the aim mode and clicking various things, leaving my shot meter active. That pales into insignificance compared to the 3rd hole, where my ball entirely refused to go in no matter how many times I hit it.

I feel like I’m being quite harsh on floG!, but the fact is that there’s absolutely no reason to play golf in Second Life until the system is further developed, especially considering it costs a quite hefty $1.50 or so for 3 hours play, which you have to use in one go. Were it cheaper and without bugs I could recommend it as a nice time waster with friends, but currently seasoned golf gamers should stay away.

I think I’ll stick to PGA Tour Golf.

[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, Torontoist and Eurogamer.]

ChinaJoy: Abstract ChinaJoy Insanity

OK, this is a little tardy, but I certainly had a bunch of amusingly random pictures left over from last week's ChinaJoy visit, so figured it was time to unleash the remainder of my holiday snaps on you unsuspecting GSW folks.

So, here goes with a startling array of photographic evidence:

The scene outside the Shanghai convention center early on the relatively quiet first day - it got a LOT busier from here.


There's not a game convention left in North America where booth 'spokesmodels' are appropriate, esp now E3 is 'intimate' - but the Shanda booth at ChinaJoy is happy to make up for it.


Yes, this is EA's tactic to success in China - watermelons in unitards and posin' applehead weirdo types. $$$!


Konami's booth had new arcade machines like Cooper's 9, as well as this oddity, Wartran Troopers, a multi-screen lightgun mech shooter I hadn't seen before.


This monkey suit not only had a disturbingly bare-ass look, but a bizarre furry protuberence in the front of the suit too (not pictured, thank God!) I'm presuming this is all culturally explainable away, hopefully?

COLUMN: 'Parallax Memories' - Galaga '88

This is the lable from the HuCard['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 Namco's Shooter: Galaga '88]

In the Beginning

Time for a short history lesson: Galaxian was originally released in 1979 by Namco. Galaga, released in 1981, is its sequel. In 1984 Galaga 3 (aka Gaplus) was released, which was no where near as popular as either previous game. In 1987 another sequel to Galaga was released in arcades titled Galaga ’88. Finally in 1995 Galaga Arrangement was released as the last for the series.

Of all these games in the series, Galaga has been milked the most by Namco, even with an HD release on Xbox Live Arcade for the 360. Next to Gaplus, Galaga ‘88 is the least promoted game by Namco. In 1988 it was ported to the PC Engine then in 1990 it was localized for the Turbo Grafx as Galaga ‘90. For one reason or another it is not well known, yet is the best version to date.

Screen shots for this are hard to find and I didn't think anyone wanted me to take pictures of my TVThat is Galactic Dancing

For the time the PCE port of Galaga ’88 was damn good and captured the arcade version with little loss. Aside from some graphical downscaling, the mechanics remained in place with the general feel translating perfectly. As we all know Galaga was about managing one ship (two if you knew the trick), and two bullets on screen at a time while you traveled on the X-axis somewhere just above the bottom of the screen. Pretty much the standard formula for a single screen shooter that stared with Space Invaders - so what makes this version better than the original?

It’s damn cute – almost too damn cute. Everything from the brighter color palette and musical montage bonus stages to the eyes bugging out of the, well, bug’s head are all a good-hearted poke at their own franchise. This doesn’t mean the game is any easier than the original Galaga: it is still just as tough. If it does seem easy, the game balances itself out with the addition of dimensional warps, which are also a nice score bonus when you collect the right items.

so-o cuteBosses and Scrolling

The addition of vertical scrolling levels is easily my favorite new mechanic twist on the standard formula. While there aren’t many, they are thrown in between the standard single screen levels resulting in a nice mix-up; they also feature a boss at the end. It’s interesting to play a vertical scrolling shooter while being restrained to the bottom of the screen.

Galaga ‘88 has the most character and best gameplay of all the Galaxian games, and stands out as one of my favorite single screen shooter (with Akkanvader at the top of that short list). The game was also released as an unlockable game in the Namco Museum 50th Anniversary Collection last year for the first time in an arcade perfect form. Right now I think I am going to get back to playing the Xbox Live Arcade version of Galaga as I still have a few achievements to unlock.

[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.]

TomChick: Game Journalism's Guardian Angel

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/angry.jpg Having already complained to GameDaily.biz's Justin once about how damn many 'video game journalism sucks/how we will SAVE it' variant articles GameDaily have been running recently, I was ranting at work yesterday about Chris Buffa's latest, which I won't do the honor of linking to directly.

Of course, it's dressed up as a 'game journalism improvement manual', fortunately addressed not just to journalists, but to the whole damn world. However, QT3's TomChick has saved me the trouble of complaining vocally about it by doing so himself, huzzah!

Mr. Chick takes Buffa to task for his complaints on Entertainment Weekly's movie reviews, which I also enjoy for their, well, poise: "I've always appreciated how EW's reviews aren't nearly as low- to middle-brow as the rest of their content. Lisa Schwarzbaum and Owen Glieberman aren't just good reviewers, they're good writers. The paragraph from the Lady in the Water review is an example of context, something I'd love to see in more videogame reviews."

TomChick ends: "Context, Mr. Buffa, is one of the hallmarks of critical analysis. Is it any surprise that this fact is lost on Chris Buffa, who's taken it upon himself not only to tell us game writers how to write by parroting what he read in a Stephen King book, but also to teach us basic social skills about how PR chicks might flirt with us, but it doesn't mean we can grab their boobs?" Yes, this latter point really is what this article says - there's also a QT3 thread with some agreeable bitching in it..

[My other favorite bit from Buffa's GameDaily article itself: "I'm also a huge fan of shocking people... You'll wind up getting lots of positive and negative attention, which means that more people will be reading your stuff." Perhaps you might also consider taking your clothes off on a webcam? Or taking a major game industry figure hostage? Argh, the Fox News-ization of journalism continues.]

COMIC: 'Our Blazing Destiny' - Pokémon Series

[Our Blazing Destiny is a weekly comic by Jonathan "Persona" Kim about our society, cultural postdialectic theory, and video games. And about the post-monster training reality of a famous red-capped character.]

So, the ever-weirded out Persona has done a little more thinking about the underground world of Game Freak and Nintendo's favorite 'catch 'em all' simulator,, and has come up with the following semi-insanity:

"Thinking back on the world of Pokémon, there's really not that many civilized areas on the map. Each town usually consists of just two houses, a Pokécenter, and a mart. Between them, there's like acres of grassy knolls and dark forests and caves where little monsters linger, waiting to be abducted and brainwashed by elementary school children. Realistically, what kind of career could a person living in this world really find? Running a mart? Becoming a veterinarian? Gambling?

If anything, I assume he's working at Silph Co. He saved the president from Team Rocket attacks when he was a kid afterall. I'm sure he could've used that influence to get himself a nice, cushy job."

pokeoffice.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 awesome collective, Mecha Fetus. And if you want to see what Green's blackmail image was along with Ash's porn, come visit Persona's Livejournal!]

July 31, 2006

GameSetLinks: GB Dev, Kohler DS, Shady O'Grady!

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/defcon.jpg Here goes with the first linklog of the NEW REGIME, including such random things as Scottish game biz shenanigans, Kohler waxing lyrical on DS, and fun manuals for putative Introversion masterpieces - read on, dear GSW-er, and be informed:

- This is a bit quirky but cool - Scottishgames.biz has been set up, dealing exclusively with game-related biz issues from the fair region of Scotland. A recent post has student diary updates from the Scottish bits of the DARE To Be Digital game compo. Neat!

- FrankC points out, over on eBay UK, a Nintendo Game Boy dev kit, of which the seller claims: "I know little about this Item except that it originates from Sculptured Software (Who Later Became Probe Software, then Acclaim)". Actually, we think Sculptured was a separate U.S. entity, or something more confusing? Either way, this is a nice hunk of circuitboard.

- A press release from the ever-crazed Shrapnel Games reveals a new band contest (aka cheap soundtrack kthnx!) for the wonderfully named PC title Shady O'Grady's Rising Star, which is "a turn-based musical RPG/Sim for Windows that proves that you can still rock in America, all night, all right" - American Idol-icious! Here's more info on the game.

- Chris Kohler is subbing for Clive Thompson over at the Wired game column, and chats about cooking instruction DS titles, adding this interesting piece of commentary: "As the user base of the DS expands, both in terms of broadening demographics and sheer numbers, I have to wonder whether Japan's game industry will really need super hits for very much longer. That is to say, rather than a one-Mario-fits-all strategy, greater success might come from releasing a wide variety of games that appeal to different kinds of people." Horse... for courses!

- Finally, the nice folks at Introversion sent us a preview version of their next game Defcon today, and, apart from the booklet having the wonderful game promo URL of everybody-dies.com, the manual has some awesome Cold War style art, including the four Introversion-eers dressed up a top military brass, and some totally fun 'instructional' illustrations which are a bit reminiscent of the Portal promo video. Hooray to them for putting the fun back in manuals!

GameSetWatch: Less With The News, More With The Columns!

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/gsg.jpg So, time for some little changes on GameSetWatch. As some of you may have spotted, I (simonc) have been responsible for just about all of the non-column posts over the past 6 months, and a lot of fun it's been!

Due to my OCD-type nature, I managed to keep going with around 6-8 posts per day, even though I have plenty of other things (like running Game Developer magazine, Gamasutra, the Independent Games Festival and our new websites!) to worry about.

Well, no more - with the IGF ramping up and nothing letting up on the other fronts, I just don't have time to deal with full GSW posts for each new thing I find. However, what I'm going to do is simply revert to linklog stylee - so, in addition to the columns, you'll get a daily linklog wrap-up with text links to the cool stuff we run into online. This has the added bonus of accentuating the columns, which I think are the gems of our coverage anyhow - thanks to our great contributors! So... onward and upward!

[Talking of columns - we want more of them! If you're interested in writing a column about weekly or bi-weekly goings-on and/or your own leveling experiences in your favorite MMO (from World Of Warcraft to FFXI to City Of Heroes and beyond!), or talking about mods, machinima, dojin titles, video game soundtracks, the translation scene or anything else you're passionate about on a regular basis, then contact us and we'll set something up.]

Berkley's BUZZ: 'Wii to Receive Adult Oriented Software?'

adult_wii.jpg[GameSetWatch is extremely proud to debut this first exclusive article from veteran game journalist Joseph 'BUZZ' Berkley. 'BUZZ' really has the measure of today's youth, and his first story for us delves deep into the seamy underworld of the Big N/]

Will Nintendo's Wii be the first home console to feature an Adults Only rated game from a major publisher? And could that publisher be Nintendo itself? Will Mario finally get lucky? The Buzz has the exclusive scoop on this major development.

'Art' Exhibition? Smut Exhibition!

Sources close to The Buzz have revealed that Nintendo's Shigeru Miyamoto was recently spotted at a Modern Art exhibit which included several paintings, referred to as "classic nude studies", that focused on salacious adult oriented content. When asked why he was attending the exhibit, which included more than one portrait which literally included a woman with no clothes on, the seminal creator of the Mario series replied that he found the artwork "inspiring".

Does this mean that we can expect Super Mario Galaxy, or one of the other upcoming Wii games being worked on by Miyamoto to include Mature Themes? While there has been no official announcement from Nintendo of Japan, the Internet forums are already ablaze in controversy, since the information we have leads us inexorably to this particular conclusion.

Mario's Fall From Grace!

In general, consumers are stunned by the notion that Nintendo, long known for their adherence to a family friendly formula, would suddenly move to include nudity or sexuality, especially in one of their franchise games. Said one forum user, under the handle PwnN00bz15, "It's about time. Nintendo finally realizes that games aren't just for little kids. If the game had some guns it would finally be like Mario for grown-ups."

lsl.jpgWhat's more, another aggravated forum user, OMGpants23, ranted on this shocking development: "I can't believe that Nintendo would do this. I'm deleting all my N64 ROMs immediately, and will also return my GameCube games to GameStop at the earliest opportunity so I can trade in for those Naruto DVDs. Nintendo is irrelevent - and so are you! Pwned!"

Plumber... For Sale?

Sources speculating wildly on the basis of this original report have also intimated that Mario, who is long due a relaunch, is being retooled to be more like one of Miyamoto-san's allegedly favorite game characters - Leisure Suit Larry.

Long a fan of the lovable misadventures of the adult-rated lounge lizard, it's reputed that upcoming additions to the Mario series may include rakishly adjusted hats and salacious Liar's Dice competitions. If our sources are right, expect Mario to be looking for love in ALL the wrong places, come the launch of the Wii!

Of course, none of this is confirmed, but that shouldn't stop you from speculating. But remember, kids - Buzz knows best!

['Berkley's BUZZ' is a regular column from veteran game journo Joseph Berkley, whose illustrious career extends from the formation of Video Game BUZZ Monthly back in 1982 all the way to the founding of seminal teen game mag 'GameBUZZ - For Kids!' in 1992. More recently, he was a regular columnist for much-loved late '90s game mag Big Important Thing, and the author of self-help manual: 'BUZZ Says - Less Drugs, More Games!' His column appears regularly on GameSetWatch, and is rarely actually true.]

GameSetCompetition: SF Alpha Winners Announced!

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/sfalpha.jpg Unfortunately, I didn't manage to give out a reminder for the deadline on this GameSetCompetition, in which we were giving away three copies of the PlayStation 2 version of excellent semi-retro compilation Street Fighter Alpha Anthology, but a bunch of you remembered to enter anyhow, yay!

As the official Capcom blurb notes, the game is "...compilation of Street Fighter Alpha, Street Fighter Alpha 2, Street Fighter Alpha 2 Gold and Street Fighter Alpha 3... [and] as an added bonus the "pint-sized" Super Gem Fighter MiniMix (released on consoles as Pocket Fighter) is also included." The question was:

"Which noted Street Fighter character was added to the Alpha roster in Street Fighter Alpha II Gold, and was also portrayed by Kylie Minogue in the 'seminal' Street Fighter movie?"

The answer? Cammy, of course! Thanks again to Capcom for providing the games, and for making Street Fighter in the first place, actually. The winners, who are currently 'Doing The Locomotion' with delight, are:

Nicholas Rotondo, Jim Squires, Matt Harper.

[Also, there are still three people who haven't claimed their Metal Gear Saga DVD from a previous GSW competition - if you're on the winners' list and haven't got yours yet, then send us an email, or we'll have to give them to somebody less deserving - ourselves.]

July 30, 2006

Contact Hits Etc For Massive Etc!

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/massdam.jpg Jetlagged on my return from China and trying to get back into the swing of things (look for a mini-announcement on GameSetWatch posting frequency soon!), but in the meantime, here's a gem courtesy of Jeremy 'Toastyfrog' Parish - an awesome localization tidbit from the upcoming Grasshopper Manufacture-developed Contact for Nintendo DS.

Yes, the game says: "Try to hit his weakpoint for massive damage", and it's all totally Genji 2 E3 demo, and this has all the makings of a tragically inbred joke that everyone who gets will _adore_. Of course, we're a fan of inbreeding (duhh!), so we like it a lot.

Also, teh Parish adds to the end of his post: "Given the general sense of "Wow I've never heard of this but suddenly I am interested!" that seems to be accompanying links to this image, may I recommend you learn all about the game with the world's greatest Contact preview?" And it is!

COLUMN: 'Free Play' - Metanet Software

[’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 Metanet Software.]

"There are a lot of good games out, but at the same time there is an unsettling trend towards becoming more and more mainstream: to emulate the 'big leagues' of the video game industry. Looking at the music industry, it's depressing when the independent scene becomes a second mainstream." Metanet Software—who supplied the above quote in an interview with The Independent Gaming Source—are developers of freeware games.

Raigan Burns and Mare Sheppard, who comprise Metanet, see independent game development as an avenue for innovation and experimentation. Since they "don't owe anything to anyone," they're free to develop games that mainstream development houses might consider too risky or unprofitable.

The ninja is driven not only by a thirst for gold, but also by a physics simulation

metanet-n.png

"Sometimes you want to play a game that doesn't exist yet. So you make it, and all is well with the world again." Metanet's first release, N, most resembles single-screen action puzzle games like Lode Runner and Puchiwara No Bouken: there is gold to collect, enemies to elude, and an exit to find.

Where N differs is in the mobility of its protagonist. N stars a ninja, and where Lode Runner's stages are dense mazes in which getting from point A to point B is a puzzle, the acrobatics of N lay each stage wide open. The ninja is affected by momentum and inertia, and a measured running start and leap will allow the player to soar from one side of the screen to the other, jump up a wall and slide down the other side.

The obstacles in N are not the walls, which bend to the player's motive abilities, but the octogonal robots that patrol the corridors. There are drones which give chase, turrets that launch missiles, and mines positioned in just the right places for the ninja to brush against them. A brush is all it takes. Fortunately N mitigates the frustration of frequent deaths by animating every death. The explosion will blow the ninja to pieces, a limb might fly across a room, brush another mine, and be propelled back in the opposite direction. The most elaborate physics in the game, according to Raigan, are the ones that animate the ninja's death. Death in N is the game's second pleasure.

The stages that challenge the player are lovely to look at, combining smart two-tone visual design with devious level arrangement. In the course of revising and re-releasing the game, Metanet has created over a thousand stages. Thousands more have been created by players using Ned, the N level editor.

One day robots will reach out to the stars

metanet-robotology.png

Currently, Metanet is working on their next game—tentatively titled "Robotology"—developed in OpenGL and C++. Like Umihara Kawase, the protagonist will be able to fire and swing from a wire and use a variety of parkour-like gymnastics to navigate a Phillip K. Dick-inspired future world of robots (some comparable in size to the population of Fumito Ueda's latest release). As with N, a level editor and user-created stages will be an important part of the game.

Finally, be sure to check out...

Freeware Rebellion, a ten-minute documentary on Metanet filmed by Jim Munroe, in which Mare and Raigan talk about freeware, their favorite games, and desktop katamaris.

[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.]

GameTunnel Gets Round-Up, Uber-RSS

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/bcandy.jpg When I ran into GameTunnel and Reflexive's Russell Carroll at this year's E3, I mentioned that I couldn't find a good RSS feed to get all of the GT goodness at once. Well, ask and ye shall receive, and there's now a GameTunnel uber-RSS feed you can subscribe to to get all updates. Yay!

Thus, I also noticed that the July indie game round-up is up over at GT, and looks like the game of the month is the completely insane shooter Bullet Candy, which " is inspired by Williams classic Robotron, vertical shooters such as Treasure's Ikaruga and Capcom's Gigawing, and Jeff Minter's awesome Llamatron and Tempest 2000."

Carroll grins about the game: "This game is all about the undeniable oneness with your computer that can be had when the formula is done well and this game PULLED it off AMAZINGLY well. There are some cool graphics, especially in Minter mode, but the game is really all about the CONSTANT action that keeps you glued to the screen." Woo!

ChinaJoy: Sega's Chinese Play

More from the ChinaJoy game expo in Shanghai, and one of the more notable things about the show was a big booth from Sega, who haven't really been big in the Chinese market to date, but are apparently trying to make a play into it with a site called Segame.com - perhaps a casual portal?

Therefore, there were a bunch of casual PC versions of notable Sega titles available, including (not pictured!) Puyo Puyo and Chu Chu Rocket, but I managed to snap some pics of the following Sega-related fun:

Yes, there were plenty of Sega spokesmodels to the fore - calm down over there, Zorg.


Presumably somebody's fantasy is girls transfixed by Get Bass! ?


Also on Sega's booth, clearly the Bruce Lee penguin is the wave of the gaming future!


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