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August 12, 2006

Dare You Enter... The Stupid Room?

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/tubadv.gif On the Internet, the ever-dangerous SomethingAwful is a verdant source of netculture, often game-related (such as their support of the Mega64 folks, for one), so their latest 'Flash Tub' from former GSW-cartoonist Shmorky, a game named 'The Stupid Room', is the latest shenanigan to debut.

'The Stupid Room' is a 'Choose Your Own Adventure'-style game with highly ironic voiceover and scary text/graphics adventure type occurrences, and now FrankC recommended it to us, we also noticed that TIGSource linked to it a coupla days back.

They claim that it's a "...kinda-fun adventure game that features some not-too-annoying voiceovers and some decent video game references. Two very mediocre thumbs sideways!" Well, video game humor being on the tricky side, we liked it a bit more than that - apparently there are a whole bunch of endings and even overcomplicated secrets enclosed, huzzah. So go poke around, now.

COLUMN: 'Game Mag Weaseling': Mag Roundup 8/12/06

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With the arrival in yesterday's mail of Electronic Gaming Monthly issue 5 (the 1990 buyer's guide issue), I've achieved an important milestone for any game-mag collector -- a full run of all 207 issues of (possibly, arguably, you never know, it might be) the greatest console magazine of all time. I was so proud that I couldn't help but take a picture.

They say that EGM enjoyed national distribution from the beginning and had a circulation of 64,000 by 1991, but honestly, the first 20 or so issues are damned hard to find these days. Issue 5, in particular, I've been relentlessly pursuing for literally years -- Ziff Davis doesn't even have a copy (not that I was gonna steal it from them) and I literally know only two other people who do have one, neither of which were about to give it up. I finally found one available for trade last week, though, and while I gave up a ton for it (and am not particularly fond of the condition it's in), I'm extremely happy to have EGM done and over with. Now to tackle Game Informer, which I'm sure will be even more painful.

Going back to the modern age, a total of eight game mags hit the stands in the past two weeks, two of which have Shaun Alexander on the cover. Find out which (and a lot of other interesting things besides) by clicking through.

Electronic Gaming Monthly September 2006 (Podcast)

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I know I completed the set and everything, but I have to admit that I don't have much to comment on with Issue 207 here. There's a crew-cut space marine on the cover, but I'm willing to forgive it 'cos the game it's for, Bioware's Mass Effect, looks superb. The main preview feature this time around is "Tough Guys", covering badarses like Tony Montana, the Sopranos, and that guy from Yakuza -- all rated with the "Thompsonometer," with one Jack Thompson head being benign and five being the subject of a guest appearance on Hannity & Colmes.

The big draw this month: Might be the reviews section, which is the liveliest in several months -- not only are there some actual good games on the block this month, but the disparity in ratings between reviewers can get pretty dramatic in certain games. Deep Labyrinth gets everything from 2.0 to 7.5, for example.

I keep on forgetting: To mention Seanbaby's two pages in the back, which are also the funniest he's been in a while as he tackles games set in a postapocalyptic world that was supposed to happen around now -- for example, Revolution X, where the new world order comes along and outlaws music (and also Aerosmith) on November 11, 1996.

PSM September 2006 (Podcast)

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You can tell there was a whole lotta nuthin' going on around PSM Towers when it came time to put this issue to print. I can feel their pain, definitely -- the PS3 is ostensibly coming out three months from now, but there still isn't much to cover about it yet, and in the meantime the PS2 review lineup is getting downright laughable (this issue came out before Valkyrie Profile 2 or Okami was available; they both got reviews in EGM).

The result: This is the most random-filler-laden issue of PSM I've ever seen, arguably more so than later issues of Amiga Power and other late British mags. Features include two pages on the future viability of the PS2, a spread speculating on the PS3's online interface, and full pages on Metal Gear fan favorite Meryl Silverburg and a bikini-laden Japanese PSP commercial. There's even four pages on Pelican's TiltForce 2 pad -- a PS1 controller released in 1999, but dredged up in an attempt to fill space see how tilt functionality could affect a wide variety of future PS3 games.

The cover: is Resistance: Fall of Man, the Insomniac game that many say looks better than Gears of War. There's 12 pages of coverage on it, including 4 devoted to an interview with company head and all-around nice guy Ted Price.

Nintendo Power September 2006

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This issue of NP feels remarkably thick, and that's thanks to two things: a big pamphlet-like ad for Nintendo's Touch Generations lineup, and an insert Pokemon comic (part 1 of 6) to celebrate Mystery Dungeon. The poster this month is also a beaut -- it's for Rocket Slime and I'm seriously debating the merits of putting it on the wall. I'm at the point in my life where it really doesn't behoove to put video-game posters on the wall any longer, but...

The cover: Is for the Wii Rayman, which doesn't say much new but succeeds in making me (a) much more excited for the game (b) a massive Michel Ancel fanboy. Seriously, he's a nutter.

There's also: A big preview of Red Steel, but seriously, with this game, mag previews are becoming a case of fool me once, fool me twice...

NP-only interviews this month: Include Takeshi Horinouchi (Mega Man ZX) and Nobuyuki Inoue (Magical Starsign)

I just noticed: that Nintendo Power and EGM now have the same number of issues (207) under their belt. EGM's gonna have to put out another "holiday" issue like they did in 2004 to get ahead again.

Tips & Tricks September 2006

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Tips & Tricks may have the highest number of regular features of any game mag today. It's getting almost Famitsu-like in size. In this issue, we have 2-page spreads on: game figures/toys; game-based anime and cartoons; gear; Mega Man; game-based comics; games on film (making its debut this month); Final Fantasy; mobile gaming; online gaming; sports games; Halo 2; classic game collecting; and finally Japan news. That's 13 columns, and it almost guarantees that no matter what game you wanted tips on, there's got to be something here to strike your fancy.

Naruto update: T&T was nice enough to follow up on last month's Naruto: Ultimate Ninja strategy, in which the editor ran out of time to finish the game's final challenge of playing through over 18,000 matches. This month it's revealed that your reward for doing this is...an S-rank certificate screen. Wooo.

Computer Games September 2006

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CGM has it pretty rough these days. It skipped its August issue (the last ish was "July/August", similar to what Game Developer does and what CGW did a year ago); the beta test access code for MMORPG Vanguard in the June issue became useless after the game got delayed (and switched publishers); and Donna Collins wrote in to the letters section to express her disgust at June's feature on sex-oriented games ("I will be filling as many complaints against your company as humanly possible").

The cover subject is Sid Meier's Railroads!, and it's a great excuse for CGM to pick Meier's mind on all sorts of things, including lost 3DO classic CPU Bach ("CPU Bach...umm...is a piece of software... that creates music... somewhat in the style of Bach").

Also worth noting: A very nice introductory feature on EVE Online. If this is what Massive magazine (still due out September) is going to be like, my hopes are definitely up.

I noticed: That the console-game coverage is almost gone from the mag. There used to be several pages on it, but this issue there's only one roundup-type article. Maybe it's been gone for a while and I hadn't noticed, but man, that didn't last too quickly.

GamePro September 2006

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GamePro's "real" cover this month is a hot world-exclusive on Tecmo's DOA Xtreme Beach Volleyball 2. However, I seem to be getting the Level-2 edition of GamePro about two weeks before the regular edition, so instead the cover's a big heaping bowl of Shaun Alexander in my face. Thanks, Best Buy.

Regardless, DOAX2 is a surprise cover for GamePro in my eyes -- especially considering Wataru Maruyama, ex-GamePro staff and a man who was obsessed with the first DOAX, left the magazine years ago. As you'd expect, the six-page feature is packed with ladies, and while the game really doesn't look all that different, I'm sure Team Ninja fans won't mind much. There's also a hot-sclusive on Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam for the Wii.

Top Itagaki quote: "[With] a game like this, you have to respect your characters and show love for them...you want to capture the girls in a natural environment, acting the way they'd really act. If you were to show a naked girl jumping on a trampoline...it's obvious they'd been forced to do that. It loses any sense of sexuality that it could possibly have had."

Strangely familiar: A preview feature that covers violent, crime-oriented games, headed up by John Woo's Stranglehold. Each game is rated one to four bullets based on the level of carnage. Funny how EGM came up with basically the same preview-feature theme this month...and even most of the games covered are the same, although GamePro's got more of a movie theme going. Great preview editors think alike, obviously.

Beckett Spotlight: Sports Video Gamer

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I know I've spent the past few months trashing everything Beckett prints, but I'm letting up with this latest one-off 'cos it's actually pretty good if you can ignore the molecule-thin paper. For one, most of it's written by video-game freelancers, IGN folks, and the editors of Beckett's assorted sports mags, so it's all people who (at the very least) have picked up a controller and/or football once in their lives. For another, it's filled with quick little features that're fun to read even for a non-hardcore sports freak myself. Chief among them are IGN Sports editor-in-chief Jon Robinson's six-page overview of the the history of sports games (from Atari 2600 Football to Blitz: The League); a similar history of the Madden franchise; and an utterly enormous litany of articles on Madden strategy, Madden websites, Madden team profiles, Madden this, and Madden that. If you're a year-in-year-out Madden buyer, I can absolutely see the worth in buying this mag.

The best feature of all: Four pages of quotes from NFL players about video games and playing as themselves in Madden. Reggie Bush admits to being a Tecmo Bowl man, while Jacksonville QB Byron Leftwich whines about his stellar speed rating of 48 ("Even the long snapper is faster than me").

Game eveloper August 2006

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And, of course, I'd be remiss if I didn't start covering this mag -- I never could find it at any local newsstand, but my subscription has finally started up, so all's well again.

I have to admit that I'm running out of time and this just arrived in the mail a couple minutes ago, so I can't cover the more techy articles in much depth right now. There's a postmortem on Tomb Raider: Legend and an interview with Masaya Matsuura, so it can't all be bad.

Stubbs The Zombie, Meet... Operating Table!

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/jan06.jpg Now, we don't always reference sister site Gamasutra here, partly because we presume that you already read it (plug!), but yesterday's feature is totally worth mentioning - a postmortem of Wideload's Stubbs The Zombie from Bungie co-founder Alex Seropian.

The piece was originally printed in the January 2006 issue of Game Developer magazine, and Seropian notes: "To be an independent developer in the current climate of publisher consolidation and rising costs seemed impossible, but somehow Wideload was created. I challenged myself to create a company with a set of commandments essential to my personal and professional happiness."

They are: "First Commandment: We shall establish our game’s creative direction... Second commandment: We shall own our intellectual property... Third commandment: We shall not let a third party determine our success, such as the publisher who’s doing (or not doing) the marketing, or the funding source (likely a publisher) making demands that are not in-line with our goals... Fourth Commandment: We shall have a small manageable team. We don’t want 50 employees making one game over three years in house (we want low overhead), and we don’t want to suffer the churn of ramping up and down for projects." Lots, lots more neatness if you click through.

GameSetInterview: Spencer Putt On Zelda For TI-83+ Graphical Calculators

zelda_rainfinall.gifThe TI-83 series of graphical calculators from Texas Instruments was first released in 1996, and was the first in the TI series to support assembly language. It was later superseded by the TI-83+ in 1999, which included a flash ROM. The calculator is probably best known to anyone who took – or is in the process of taking – a high level maths in secondary school.

Spencer Putt has been programming games for the TI-83+ for a number of years. His first public release was a port of Harvest Moon in 2004 – an astounding effort, considering that most people familiar with the unit wouldn’t have played anything more complex than Lemonade Stand. In early July he announced his latest project would be a Zelda game, complete with accelerating scrolling camera, rain effects, and wavy camera effects (for lack of better term).

GameSetWatch spoke to Putt via email about his interest in the TI-83+, and exactly how you make a Zelda game for it.

What's your background with programming?

I started off with TI-BASIC in middle school, moved to JavaScript when I was into web development, then to C (not understanding it), to z80 assembly, then back to C (really understanding it this time around). I've been writing games since I started programming.

What is your fascination with the TI-83?

I never had gaming consoles growing up, so when I saw that my brother's calculator had games, it just stuck in the back of my mind, lingering. Poisoning my thoughts.

What inspired you to attempt converting Zelda and Harvest Moon for the TI-83?

Harvest Moon for SNES and N64, and any and all Zelda games. Link's Awakening is a true testament to what can be done on a limited system. Ocarina of Time is simply the best game of all time. My goal was to recreate the feel of the games on this crappy little system that every student has.

Is the Zelda you're working on a conversion of any game in particular?

Nope. Though I'm using the Link from Link's Awakening (and if you've seen some of the videos, many other characters as well), all of the tiles are new, the dungeons and puzzles are new, and story is new.

How is this possible on a TI-83+? My understanding has always been; the more your try and do graphically, the slower it's going to be, but the videos suggested things were moving exceptionally smoothly - especially the camera movement, which was amazing.

zelda_witches.gifYes, it is programmed for the lowest common denominator: the black [standard] TI-83+. Most people have dabbled in the built in TI-BASIC, which gives them an impression that the calculator is slow. While it's astounding that TI has made such a complete language on such a weak device, when you get down to the assembly level things are a lot faster. The video you saw was recorded on an emulator, a copy of a TI-83+ running on a computer. The game will run faster on the real calculator.

Well, that said, what problems have you encountered?

Managing an assembly project this large has been difficult. I'll go a few months and totally forget how a particular section of the game works. It's currently hovering around 25,000 lines separated into 30 some files
As the project got bigger, the assembler most people use began to slow down, it took around 10 seconds to build the project. It was getting the point where it was annoying waiting to test, since sometimes I'd only change a byte or two between assemblies. I wrote a new assembler which can build the project in far less than a second.

What advantages does the system have?

Unlike programming for a PC, with a calculator you have complete control over the system. Any code that runs while Zelda is open is mine. It makes errors easy to track down because you know whose fault it is.
Of course, the biggest advantage is audience. Even if it is just middle schoolers, a lot of people will play this.

What exactly is inside the TI-83+?

The black edition has a 6 MHz Zilog Z80 CPU, 32k of RAM and a 96x64 pixel B&W LCD display. There's also 512k flash, of which Zelda uses 64k, or four pages.

How do you go about writing a game for the TI-83+?

zelda_wavy.gif It isn't hard! I encourage anyone interested to get started -- it's a very cheap hobby. I write in symbol machine code, known as z80 assembly language. An assembler converts it straight to binary that the processor understands, unlike higher level languages, like Java, which filters down through several levels before being run by the processor. While assembly language is more difficult to grasp at first, it becomes so straight forward that it’s very easy to write.

How far into the process of producing the game are you?

I'm in the scenario stage. Dungeon and story work is all that's left, with the game well over half complete. I've been working on in gradually over the…holy hell...past two and a half years. I won't stop until it no longer entertains me.

August 11, 2006

Why Eastern RPGs Are Actually Western?

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/ffxxi.jpgOver at Armchair Arcade, there's a reasonably interesting post named 'Kawaisa!: A Naive Glance at Western and Eastern RPGs', which looks at how RPGs have evolved differently on different sides of the Pacific.

Author Matt Barton has a relatively simple thesis: "In short, what I see when I compare games like Pool of Radiance and Dragon Quest, or Neverwinter Nights and Final Fantasy, is a great cultural rift. It seems to me that folks who grew up playing Japanese games on their NES and later SNES systems probably developed an affinity for Japanese style art and themes that have created a sort of "East/West divide" right here in the US." In other words, some Western players love JRPGs, and others (presumably the 'D20' types?) love Western RPGs.

But I think the evolution of the RPG is actually a lot more complicated and interesting than that. The fact is that, despite the sometimes adorable graphics, the play systems in Japanese RPGs seem much more heavily influenced by the old, old-school Western computer RPG, particularly the Henk Rogers-designed JRPG grandaddy Black Onyx, which was tremendously influential even on the creators of Final Fantasy.

In addition, we've previously mentioned JRPGs being influenced by the early '80s-originated Western-sourced Wizardry series, which is still popular in Japan, and shows the hardcore turn-based grinding battle system which is the core of many a Japanese role-playing game in today's market. Meanwhile, the Western RPG, such that it still exists, has evolved into the supple story-based automation seen in many a BioWare title - the roots seem significantly more blurred across multiple genres.

So what are we trying to say here? Mainly that you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, and that despite distinctive anime or manga-influenced visuals, the clearest evolution from the roots of the Western role-playing game genre is, I'd argue, in today's Dragon Quest or Final Fantasy, and not in the genre-blurring West itself, where the RPG is practically an orphan genre at this point.

COLUMN: 'Bastards of 32-Bit' - Tail of the Sun

tailofthesun1.jpg['Bastards of 32-Bit' is a weekly column by Danny Cowan that focuses on overlooked, underrated, and inexplicable titles from the era of the PlayStation, Saturn, and Nintendo 64. This week's column covers Tail of the Sun for the Sony PlayStation, published by Artdink and released in the United States in April 1997.]

Wild, pure, simple crap.

Artdink is no stranger to this site, having been responsible for some of gaming's more interesting efforts during its 13-year reign as publisher of niche titles. For all the innovation and fresh ideas present in Artdink's games, however, there's no denying that many of these titles are acquired tastes at best, and can be actively unlikable at worst.

Tail of the Sun is one of Artdink's hardest games to defend. It's not for everyone, and what little enjoyment you'll glean from it will likely be of the ironic variety. If you can appreciate the comedy inherent in watching a narcoleptic caveman being mauled to death when he falls asleep during a fight with a mammoth, however, Tail of the Sun could be worth your time.

tailofthesun2.jpgBetter living through baked goods.

Back in the prehistoric era, there apparently wasn't much to do other than eat, sleep, and die. Consequently, this is what you'll spend the bulk of your time doing in Tail of the Sun. Controlling one member of a growing tribe of cavemen at a time, you'll venture out into the chunky polygonal landscape in search of nourishing cookies scattered throughout the land, in order to feed your hungry family back home.

Yes, cookies. In one of Tail of the Sun's more bizarre twists, a core element of gameplay involves the collecting and eating of cookies -- all of which were officially licensed from a Japanese bakery and rendered with a loving attention to detail, according to an in-game advertisement. These cookies, when eaten, will enhance the abilities of all of your tribesmen, allowing them to hit harder, run faster, and swim for more than a few seconds without drowning.

Once your tribe becomes strong enough to travel to the far north without dropping dead of exhaustion halfway, so begins your search for mammoth tusks. By hunting down the mammoths of the north and slapping them until they explode, your caveman can gather their tusks and begin to construct a tower, with the goal being to build it high enough to reach the sun.

It's unlikely you'll get to this point, however, as the game's glacial pace is all but an immediate turn-off, and is a problem that's only compounded by your character's habit of falling asleep at any given moment. This will lead to cheap deaths that are somehow hilarious in their tragedy; there's nothing that can be done to prevent your character from drowning after he falls asleep while swimming, so why not laugh about the futility of it all?

This is the most exciting screenshot I could find out of the 100 or so I took.Oh look it's a mammotZZZZZZZ

As one of the few living and sane humans who has ever played Tail of the Sun to completion (look, I was a bored teenager who would rent damn near anything during the PlayStation era so long as it was new, all right?), I can say that the ending is totally worth it. The game features multiple endings depending on how well you accomplished your goals; the one I received was a surrealistic description of how my tribe eventually murdered and cannibalized itself into extinction. I guess spending much of the game beating my tribesmen to death out of boredom wasn't such a good idea after all.

While Tail of the Sun may have just barely been entertaining enough to finish back upon its first release, it's difficult to imagine anyone having the patience to do so nowadays. The long load times, lulling atmosphere, and real-time sleep simulation all do their part to make the game as off-putting as possible. Still, it could be fun with the right group of friends. Try seeing what happens when you let your caveman fall asleep at the top of a mountain sometime. It's good stuff!

[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.]

Herzog Zwei Or Bust!

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/thrift.jpg You guys probably read Chris Kohler's Game|Life blog over at Wired News (newly acquired by Wired Magazine ubercompany Conde Nast, incidentally, after a long period of website/printmag separation, so the power of Wired is back in one company's hands, muhahaha), so you'll know about his latest San Francisco thrift store escapades.

As for 'the art of thrifting', chez Kohler, he helpfully explains: "Technically it's not as if I am just ridiculously lucky or anything. It's kind of down to two factors: 1) I do not, technically speaking, have a job; 2) I know what is and is not valuable."

His haul? "There aren't that many Sega Master System games that are worth a lot of cash -- even the sought-after Phantasy Star isn't worth more than $40 or so -- but Golvellius: Valley of Doom is in the upper tier. Apparently it's a quirky but fun Zelda clone, with a bug that resets the game if you buy a certain weapon. Hot!"

What's more: "Zaxxon's Motherbase 2000 is much harder to track down than Space Squadron or whatever it's called, I can't be arsed to scroll up and look, but it sucks. Herzog Zwei, meanwhile, not only does not suck but is the rarest game in this pile. Whoo." C'mon, Chris, Herzog Zwei is the FATHER OF SOMETHING OR OTHER. That must count for something!

[Anyhow, Kohler's post was also useful because the comments alerted me to the fact that Dan Amrich, aka Dan Elektro for those GamePro fans (and nowadays over at Future U.S.), has a new weblog up, in which he's apparently considering making a random quote generator for classic things said by Andy Eddy's wife. This, folks, is what happens when you're a game journalist for too long, and I, for one, like it a lot. Also, he has two Um Jammer Lammy guitars, and I'm still jealous.]

COLUMN: 'A Life In Obscurity' - August D3 Publisher Monthly

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Our buddy Jiji ran out of stuff to post for his 'Compilation Catalog' column, so we're calling it 'A Life In Obscurity', and he'll alternate random D3 musings with compilation round-ups and other odd reviews, bi-weekly. Only on GSW! Because only we're crazy enough!]

Japanese budget publisher D3 haven't slacked off during these hot summer months: they've kept up a steady flow of information on new titles, and they've ticked off some of the entries on their busy release schedule. Let's get started!

Simple Series

• The Japan Special Forces has received its own dedicated site, with some gameplay footage and screenshots. It might end up being a bit stiff - and limited, of course - but as the game's closest precedent in the budget-tactical-shooter genre is probably the Special Ops series for PSone, the bar is set very, very low. GAME Watch has a preview.

The Escaped Prisoner• While Vingt-et-un Systems does their take on a reduced Rainbow Six, Tamsoft trying their hand at the style put forth by Grand Theft Auto. Vol. 110: The Escaped Prisoner puts the player in the shoes of Alex Turner, wrongly imprisoned and newly escaped, who has ten hours to prove his innocence. The player must evade police and mobsters in a freely-traversable metropolis known as "Los City" (the name likely being responsible for Play-Asia's "Escape from Los Angeles" listing) while searching for evidence to clear his name. Rakuten has a cover image and more screenshots. True to the usual conventions of this genre, vehicles can be stolen, and the game's CERO D rating and red splotchy warning seem to indicate that there will be plenty of violence and gore to go with the game's hard-boiled atmosphere. Tamsoft aren't known to be one of D3's better developers, but this one might be worth keeping an eye on (for the wrong reasons, possibly). It's due out October 12.

The Maid Uniform & Machine Gun has just hit stores, and - somewhat surprisingly - Weekly Famitsu has only seen fit to give it a score of 16 out of 40. That might be enough to throw just about anybody off the scent, but there's still something so charming about its design and characters that it begs to be given a chance. Here's a video to help you make up your mind, in any case, as well as a feature at ITmedia and NCS's notes on the game. NeoGAFfer Lyte Edge had some negative things to say about it, though, so caution might indeed be warranted. Developer Rideon put up an official site for their game this week, but strangely it disappeared within a day. Did they violate one of the stipulations in their contract with D3?

The Let's Make a Robot!, just released, is looking like it's going to be the highlight of this summer's lineup, having received a - surprisingly high, for a D3 game - score of 25 out of 40 from Famitsu. National Console Support lays the game bare in their game notes.

• Our friend (indeed, everybody's friend!) duckroll picked up The Earth Defense Force Tactics, and has posted some...semi-positive impressions! Apparently, despite its wretchedly lazy presentation and painful battle scenes, it's actually a competent hex-based strategy game. It just happens to look a lot like a Genesis game. You can see a demonstration of both aspects of the game in this YouTubed video: part one, part two. You'll probably have to switch off all of the battle scenes and find your way in with very low expectations, but there may be some fun to be had.

The Dokodemo Gal Mahjong
• Just announced is a PSP version of the rather well-executed mahjong-against-girls game Love Mahjong 2. Called Simple 2500 Series Portable: The Dokodemo Gal Mahjong, this version of the game is not far removed from its predecessor, but the featured girls have had their attributes made even more pleasing to the eye. Their facial features have been made more rounded and cute, too, which is probably a concession to the portable medium. And if you're still not sure what this game's all about, well, take a look at that cover. This one is scheduled for release on October 26.

• Japanese Simple fansite MO-GOS has compiled the results of a poll on the best and worst Simple 2000 releases yet this year. The top picks this time are The Genshijin (38 votes), The Investigator (DS, 33 votes), The Oneechanpon (15 votes), The Zombie vs. Ambulance (14 votes), and The Anywhere Mystery (7 votes). The least-liked were The Men's Machine Gun Platform (no surprise there - 55 votes), The Oneechanpon (Oneechanbara games often show up in both rankings - 10 votes), The Pirate (7 votes), The Right-Brain Drill (D3's half-hearted attempt to cash in on the brain-training craze - 2 votes), and The Tennis (PSP - 2 votes).

• Finally, if you're like this writer and have always wanted to see the majority of D3's titles at a higher resolution than that at which they can be seen on D3's site, GAME Watch has just the thing for you. They've put up a listing of every Simple-series game released for the PS2, complete with high-res screenshots and cover scans.

Full-Priced Titles

Oneechanbara X
• The first of D3's long-awaited Xbox 360 titles has gained its own website. Oneechanbara X seems to be returning to the red-on-red-on-red gore found in the original Oneechanbara, rather than that pinkish hue featured in Oneechanbara 2. This one's probably due for a CERO Z rating (which restricts sales of the game to customers 18 and up), the same rating Oneechanbara and Oneechamploo retroactively received. (Oneechanbara 2 and Oneechanpon ended up CERO D (17+). It's a fine line, apparently.) There's not much else to see on the site except for Tamsoft's experiments with pixel shaders and the same sorts of environment seen in the first two games (plus upgrades). We'll have to wait a little longer to see video footage of THE DEVIL EVOLUTION HUMAN.

[Trevor Wilson is a web developer and amateur game developer who indulges his unhealthy obsession with obscure, strange, and unique video games over at his weblog, namako team.]

GameSetLinks: From Virtual Villagers To Pillar Killer

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/pillar.png OK, so last night's GameSetLinks was just a little bit mammoth, and we're also being deluged by entries for the Dead Rising competition, unsurprisingly (you sick, zombie-loving freaks!), so let's try to kick back with a slightly more relaxed edition for a Thursday evening:

- Casual site GameZebo (which is good, and doesn't seem to get much love, sadly) has a neat interview with Arthur Humphrey of Last Day Of Work Software, explaining: "If there is a "Cinderella" story in casual games, it would be Last Day of Work ("LDW"). Starting with handheld games, LDW have launched not one, but two PC casual game hits, Fish Tycoon and Virtual Villagers, in the past year. And no one can accuse LDW of creating clones. Fish Tycoon and Virtual Villagers are both based on LDW's proprietary real-time game environment, so the game plays even when you are not there." V. cool, and a fun read.

- We've got the ever-tall Eric-Jon Waugh covering the big Perplex City event in San Francisco for Gamasutra this weekend, in what must be the climax to the CCG-funded ARG title thus far, but in the meantime, sniffing around eBay for trading cards (don't ask!), we noticed a rare Perplex City card going for a large wad of cash - that's right, the "Special Edition Perplex City #P01 A Call From the Past" is at $190 right now with 14 hours to go, wow. Read the Wikipedia entry for Perplex City if you're confused - cos it's pretty mystifying at times.

- Virtual world Second Life has announced it is closing down many of its forums, explaining: "When Second Life first opened we at Linden believed that it was important to support a web-based, asynchronous community, and so the SL forums were born... However, they require significant maintenance and we have been working on developing other communication channels that will be as useful, informative and conversational (more on that below). In addition, Resident-run blogs and forums have mushroomed, offering a wealth of discussion choices." Wait, I feel a Mary J. Blige reference coming on...no more drama?

- Yay, TIGSource, yay, posted another great link, yay, discussing ' Somewhere Beyond Cassette 50', which is a website collecting the worst games on the internet. Derek Yu notes: "The site actually brings up the question “what makes a game good or bad?” Because some of the games featured, like Pillar Killer (a game where you kill pillars), are more amusing than a lot of legitimate shareware titles out there. And free, to boot! So I guess, like for movies, there is a point where games become so bad they are good." Is Pillar Killer a sequel to Driller Killer?

August 10, 2006

Sega Births Genesis Collection, World Gapes

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/ristar.jpg You may have seen this on a few other sites, but 1UP has written it up in super-cute style with nice screenshots and everything, and first-ish - the full info on Sega's Genesis Collection for PS2 and PSP, due out later this year, and sporting 30 pretty darn cool classic titles.

1UP's Sam Kennedy notes of the titles: "There are the games that birthed franchises that live on today -- Sonic the Hedgehog, Shinobi, Phantasy Star, and Golden Axe (which will see a sequel on PS3 and 360) -- but also the greats that have for one reason or another long been forgotten -- Vectorman, Sword of Vermillion, Comix Zone, or Alex Kidd. There's also a lot of great history to many games found in the collection."

Like what? "One of the titles, Ristar, was once planned to be the next Sonic the Hedgehog-style success story for Sega (in fact, the idea for the character Ristar actually predated Sonic -- he evolved from the character designs of what Sonic was originally to be: a rabbit). Unfortunately, the game never achieved such success, but it's interesting to now play the game that was once supposed to be the next Sonic." Also, it's nice when that character doesn't own an Uzi and rotating rims!

World Of Warcraft - When Games Take Over?

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/wowoo.jpg Tom Coates, who 'thinks up neat stuff for Yahoo!' and is a long-time weblogging figure of note with his Plasticbag.org site, has posted a particularly interesting post on reaching Level 60 on World Of Warcraft, querying, well, the basic make-up of why we play games.

He notes: "I've started wondering whether a game could still be considered good if you want to play it a lot but at the same time resent the time that it takes from you. What if you find it boring but still somehow can't put it down. Can you love and hate a game at the same time and still call it 'fun'? Can a game be a narcotic, or a guilty secret or an addiction? Can it be a fruitless activity without value that still feels good?"

His conclusion: "Apparently you can get a character on World of Warcraft to level sixty in about three months of consistent after-work play. Personally, my experience has taken me three times that length of time, and has been squeezed around long hours on work projects and more travelling than I've ever done before.... Let me put it this way - while I feel no massive compromise to my life is occurring now, while my relationship with the game is merely grudging at the moment, I can imagine coming to hate the game and yet still wanting to play it. Is that an extraordinary statement?"

In fact, Coates is genuinely concerned that "we as a culture [could be] starting to construct toys that are too effective and end up hurting people", and that exact issue continues to be a source of fascination, to me and everyone associated with the game biz, no doubt. [Via Andy.]

GP2X Gets Game Editor, Huzzah!

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/gp2x.jpg We've covered GP2X-related material before, checking out a bunch of homebrew for Game Park's latest handheld (and one of the two follow-ups to the GP32, confusingly enough!), and now Brazilian game creation software Game Editor is helping things along with a promise to make a GP2X version of their software.

They write to us: "Due [to] users and industry requests, Game Editor developers will release a new version of Game Editor engine for the GP2X console. With this addition, Game Editor will be the only tool that generate games for a wide range of platforms including Windows, Linux, Pocket PC / Windows Mobile, Smartphones and the GP2X console."

Oh, and they also note: "The new engine will be released before the GP2X game contest deadline", citing a Game-Editor.com thread discussing the conversion. Prizes aren't bad for the GP2X competition, too, including a $5,000 first prize - hopefully we'll see some original game designs and not just clones, though!

GameSetLinks: Eno, Otakon, Geometry Wars

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/dotzelda.jpg There seem to be ever-more interesting links popping up from day to day, but hey - I'm learning about the man opossum while watching Mega64, so it's as good a time as ever to teach you about the educative stuff I ran into today:

- Over at the Rocky Mountain News, Kotaku's Brian Crecente has a more detailed write-up on Rockstar's Bully than previously seen. Actually, we at Gamasutra received an email from the delightful Jack Thompson today after our brief Bully news story, CC-ed to Anderson Cooper, among other people. Apparently Crecente got some Thompson lovemail too, and also a rare Terry Donovan quote in his article: "I think if the entertainment industry had always chosen the path of least resistance, I think we would have missed out on some incredible films, a load of life-altering records and a host of books that changed literature forever." Rockstar execs on the record? Amazing.

- This is just a leetle bit on the self-centered side, but it's undeniably fun to hear about James Mielke's interactions with Kenji Eno with regard to favorite music albums, etc. "The fun thing about Eno and I, is that despite the six year span between when I was last able to have a good conversation with him, it feels like no time has passed at all. And what's even curiouser is that we're both only children, and were born within two months of each other." Maybe interlocking horoscopes are in order? Some good overall music recommendations in here tho - YMO and Ultramarine, for starters.

- Following a GSW post yesterday about PopCap's multiplayer service ceasing, we see Aggro Me got a follow-up from the PopCappers, noting: "Unfortunately, the economics for the small (but devoted!) user base simply don’t support significant upgrades to these games." Still, a well thought-out explanation, even if it's a little bit sad.

- Dean Takahashi is sorta video game journalism's Droopy, I think, and he's got a pretty good write-up on Electronic Arts and original IP. This is a little cheeky, tho, from EA's Frank Gibeau: "We just decided to zig when the rest of the industry is zagging... We are getting radically more selective in choosing licenses for video games. You could argue it's risky, but you could also say that the time of the licenses has passed.'' But didn't you zag before when some other companies zigged with regard to _more_ licenses? Either way...

- Matt 'Fort90' Hawkins made it out to anime convention extraodinatire Otakon, and has put up a series of two posts showcasing a massive bunch of cool game-related cosplayers from the show. Is it our imagination, or has the infusion of female-friendly manga and anime into the mainstream in the U.S. meant that North American cosplayers are looking a whole more... normal nowadays? Not that we're saying... you know, we're not saying that. Also - Zelda & Link-themed Day Of The Tentacle cosplay? Oh. Em. Gee!

- Game academic baiting isn't yet an Olympic sport, but Grand Text Auto is certainly upset with The Escapist's article on the issue, commenting: "Either the editors are desperate for material, or have a worrisome misunderstanding of how academic study operates. So much for the idea of well-informed journalism. (Note, my primary gig is not as an academic, so this shouldn’t be interpreted as a defensive statement.)" Eh - the post is vaguely defensive, but it's also vaguely correct, so it all works out.

- Ah yes, something from sister site Gamasutra! Sometimes people don't notice Jim Rossignol's new 'A Journalistic Bent' column, and the latest one is a pretty constructive column about game writing. Of course, we said game writing whinging was verboten, but hopefully Rossignol is a tad more positive, noting: "Perhaps as people learn to deal with greater and greater volumes of information the truly versatile games writer will appear - one for whom all of play is informed by everything else in life."

- The2Bears has spotted that Bizarre Creations is cease and desisting PC clones of its delightful Geometry Wars Reloaded, commenting: "We’re beginning to feel the effects of the Geometry Wars clones on our sales via Microsoft now and are beginning a process to begin to more robustly protect our copyright and intellectual property." Personally, I think that's fair enough - the clones are pretty darn exact. Others may not concur, of course.

- Kotaku spotted a fun CliffyB interview conducted by his older brother at a Gears Of War fansite- including totally amusing questions such as: "You were quite the hellraiser as a kid as I probably kept you from killing yourself with stupid stunts on several occasions. Do you think that your personality helped you develop an "edge" which translates to games?" It's the spiky hair and the MTV appearances driving Tim Sweeney's sports car too fast, man! Also fun: " I suppose you don't remember you and I working our way through Contra together, do you?" Definitely a close relationship between interviewer and interviewee, there.

- Heisei Democracy has a creator spotlight on 'doujin game developers’ duo Momo Pax', including "details (and exclusive screenshots!) from their upcoming STG/ADV hybrid Soft Landing." Nice - a shooter and a visual novel all at once, and being developed by Western dojin-heads in Seattle and Australia respectively? We definitely approve. [Via T2B.]

August 9, 2006

Addison-Wesley Says: WoW Hacking, Rah Rah Rah?

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/wow0.jpg Thought this was, to say the least, interesting - book publisher Addison-Wesley Professional has announced a book named 'Exploiting Online Games: How to Break Multi-User Computer Games' - well, OK, that's the link to the pre-release 'condensed' version PDF, but the book itself will debut in 2007.

So, what's it all about? "Written by two of the security industry’s premiere authorities, Greg Hoglund, founder of www.rootkit.com, and Dr. Gary McGraw, CTO Cigital, Inc., Cheating Online Games sheds light onto the multi-billion dollar, high stakes online gaming industry, and explores ethical issues surrounding piracy, cheating, and corporate measures to stop both."

Apparently: "Readers learn how a program designed for one game, World of Warcraft, keeps watch of your game-play by scanning your computer for open processes and mails the information it collects back to its creator, Blizzard Entertainment. The authors demonstrate how to run a program named “The Governor” to keep watch of the watchers and know exactly what Blizzard Entertainment is doing on your computer."

So it's not clear to me, since I've seen the preview PDF and it mainly deals with finding out what World Of Warcraft is doing to your machine - by the title of this book, will the final version advocate actually 'breaking' MMOs, by creating exploits to cheat in various ways? If so, isn't that rather... unnecessary? Why would a book publisher advocate cheating or breaking multi-user games when it affects other users, too? Or is this all ethically justified because Blizzard is spying on us? Answers on a postcard, please!

GameSetCompetition: Dead Rising Giveaway!

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/drdrd.jpg Yes, yes, it's time for another GameSetCompetition, and this time, thanks to our buddies at Capcom again, it's the game pretty much the entire world has been waiting for: Dead Rising, the zombie-tastic mall-carnage-y Xbox 360 exclusive that has _absolutely nothing_ to do with George Romero, as the box notes sternly!

And here's the official Xbox.com website's story: "Dead Rising follows the harrowing tale of Frank West, an overly zealous freelance photojournalist on a hunt for the scoop of a lifetime. In pursuit of a juicy lead, he makes his way to a small suburban town only to find that it has become overrun by zombies. He escapes to the local shopping mall, thinking it will be a bastion of safety, but it turns out to be anything but." Damn those overly zealous photo journalists!

Anyhow, we have 5 copies of the game and 3 Dead Rising T-shirts to give away - the first 3 winners will get both the game and the T-shirt, and the next two get the game - rawk! Here's the question:

"In the zombie-docious movie 'Shaun Of The Dead', which Prince album _is_ considered of sufficiently bad quality to be thrown at the heads of the rapidly approaching undead?"

Please send your answers to editors@gamesetwatch.com any time before Wednesday, August 16th at 12 noon PST. There will be five winners randomly picked from the correct answers, the judges' decision is final, and that's that. Have fun!

COLUMN: 'The Gentleman Nerd' - Why I Hate... Board Games

[The Gentleman Nerd is a weekly column written by Jason McMaster and is dedicated to the more discerning tastes of the refined dork. Due to Jason's extreme nature, most of his columns will be subtitled 'Why I Love...' or 'Why I Hate...' - in case you were wondering.]

Well, it’s a little more complicated than that. I love board games, but absolutely hate collecting them. Wait, no, it’s not that either because I actually love collecting them. What the hell am I talking about? Maybe I should start from the beginning.

BAMI’ve always been a sucker for games and puzzles, but my obsession with figurines and cardboard didn’t happen until I was in my late teens. I moved out of my home and into an apartment with one of my friends. He worked at a comic book shop that held Warhammer tournaments, and offered to teach me how to play 40k. That’s where it all began.

In my younger days, I had quite a large collection of Games Workshop games. From Tyranid Attack to Talisman, I had them all and their respective expansions. Then ‘The Great Board Game Disaster of 99’ happened. I had moved to another apartment and left my collection at a friends place for safe keeping. While I was getting my place set up, he was evicted and they ‘cleaned’ his apartment. For those of you who don’t know, ‘cleaned’ actually means ‘we threw everything into the dumpster because you are a low life’. I was notably depressed. So much that I didn’t start collecting board games again until a couple of years ago.

I started off slow by purchasing a few social games that everyone knows before ramping up to my old, eccentric ways. I don’t think that I’d even planned on starting up again, but I found my old Space Hulk box and started getting the itch to collect again. There are two places to go when you need your board game fix: eBay and Board Game Geeks. Oddly enough, these are also the two places you go when you want your wife to call you a nerd and get mad at you.

Gloom and doom!So, the first game I look up on eBay is Talisman. That was a mistake. The board game that I had (3rd edition with all the expansions) now costs well over 200 dollars for the base boxed set. I immediately feel that same nausea that I felt back in 1999. Not only had all of my games been thrown away, but most of them are now worth at least five times the amount of money that I bought them for. You see, while I took my hiatus, most of the games I really liked went out of print. Now, we’re getting to the part of board games that I hate: the complete lack of game stability.

That’s not to say that there aren’t other collectibles that are the same way, but with board games it seems worse. If you find a game you like, you had better purchase it and any expansions it has immediately because it may be gone tomorrow. Let’s just take a quick look at Talisman as an example. There were three different versions of Talisman and two had different expansions. Same thing goes for Robo Rally, Cosmic Encounter and any number of other games out there. Even though this is frustrating, it’s not even the worst part.

I recently purchased Cosmic Encounter from a friend’s comic shop in my hometown. After my wife and I got back home, I opened it up to discover that one of the templates is missing. Normally I wouldn’t think this is a problem, but boy was I wrong this time. I began my replacement piece quest by trying to contact Hasbro. Hasbro sent me to Wizards of the Coast who, in turn, sent me to a random board game retailer. The retailer never responded to my inquiries, so I then started emailing enthusiasts and hobby shop owners. No one could help me. I’ve basically come to the conclusion that I’ll have to make my own. What a nightmare for an obsessive like me.

Stupid, stupid green pieceReally, much like all of my other hobbies, it’s a love/hate relationship. I take great pleasure from tracking down and acquiring cool games, but the obsessive nerd in me can never rest because there will always be a game out there that I don’t own. Maybe one day, when I shuffle off this mortal coil, I’ll find sweet repose. Until then, however, if you have the green planet template for the Avalon Hill Cosmic Encounter, drop me a line.

[Jason McMaster is a freelance writer who has written for GameSpy, Firing Squad and several other publications. He’s currently working on a few small projects and updating his blog, Lamethrower, as often as he can.]

OMG, Cryptic Sea's 'Blast Miner' Hits Like A Bomb

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/bminer.jpg Rely on TIGSource to dig out some of the cooler indie games around - they've now spotted the return of some indie greats, and they note: "I was wondering what artist/game designer Edmund McMillan was up to after finishing Gish. Apparently he ran off with a few Chronic Logic members to start up Cryptic Sea."

Derek Yu claims: "Their first game, Blast Miner, looks pretty lackluster for someone with an imagination like Edmund’s. I mean… it’s Tetris, right? With physics and stuff. I dunno." Well, I disagree lots, check out the video - I'm excited to play this, esp. if it ever got on Xbox Live Arcade (please?) - oh, and the weird non-physics-like effects in the vid are when the blocks are being manipulated by the player, btw.

The boy Yu also notes: "On the other hand, project number two – Book of Knots – sounds freaking awesome and I wish they’d stop working on Blast Miner and get going on that! C’mon now!" Well, we'd like them both at the same time, but hey, we don't think Cryptic Sea can reverse time just yet.

GameSetLinks: CGW, Drunksailing, Bloboats

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/mega64v2.jpg Well, there's a wonderful amount of game-related randomness in the world today. And I'm currently kicking back and watching Mega64 Version 2, which is basically the best video game skit show evah, and has a fun animated intro sequence from former GSW cartoonist Shmorky, to boot! Anyway, on with the liinks, hey?

- They weren't really getting much traction, but GamesRadar are starting to run some fun-ish features, starting with a look back at E3, year by year: "To celebrate the relatively short - but always raucously enjoyable - lifespan of the show, we look back and remember why, for one week every year, gaming was directly in the spotlight of the world's media and E3 was one of the most exciting places to be on the entire planet." It's like a VH1 show! Lists! Stuff!

- Talking of goodbyes, the ever-irascible Greg Costikyan has a barbed au revoir to CGW, which includes the claim: "What I do blame Ziff for, however, is the sequel: essentially, they turned CGW into an inferior imitation of PC Games, with a lickspittle attitude toward the publishers, a desperate and ill-fated attempt to be fanboy hip, and a tolerance of sheer bad writing." If Greg ever offered any paintings for sale, they'd probably have just the one stroke!

- Dude, The New Gamer! Dude, the latest Drunksailing garage sale archives, in which they have a LESSON: "We try to only buy what we need, or at least really really want. As a result, if there's an item we're hemming about we're much more likely to not buy it instead of wasting money, energy and space by picking it up. Regardless, even I realize that a $20 Xbox, even one sans-cabling, really should have been purchased." All consoles must be consumed?

- Another 'Dude!'-worthy site, Fun-Motion, has posted a review of Assembly '06-released game Bloboats, in which: "Bloboats is a boat racing game in which the objective is to reach the goal as fast as possible, at least faster than your friend does." The FM guys note: "Despite these simple mechanics, I found Bloboats a lot of fun to play. The mechanic had a nice toy feeling to it, and was decently controllable."

- 1UP still do _our kinda features_, and one of those is named '8-Bit Lit', and discusses when "Scholastic Books released the Worlds of Power series -- books based on popular third-party Nintendo Entertainment System games". In fact: "F.X. Nine is the pen name of Seth Godin, the best-selling author of Free Prize Inside and Purple Cow, and the founder of Yoyodyne, an Internet-based direct marketing company" - and he talks about it here!

- GameDaily's Chris Buffa got a bit of a beating regarding his game journalism articles, and fortunately, he has the self-described 'Final Word', so we don't have to worry about anyone ever talking about it again. Except us. Anyhow: "For whatever reason, some journalists think that I'm specifically talking about them, and in response to this they've lashed out and called me all sorts of names. Perhaps they're insecure, or maybe...just maybe, they realize that they're no good." Wow. Also, in the comments, he notes very happily: "Things will be looking up tho, particularly for us." We heard that GameDaily's new office is built completely out of reconstituted CDs, so that must be it!

- Silicon Era has some very nice commentary on visits to a couple of Tokyo stores selling arcade boards, Mak Japan and G-Front. I've been to Mak, and it's kinda fun, if _incredibly_ gamecollectorkwak, as the poster notes: "if I was asked to give a reason for all the time I’ve spent in these joints, despite the fact I can hardly afford to buy anything, this is what I’d say: There’s just something endlessly fascinating about a store that sells games which you were not meant to own."

- We actually got a link to a petition about this sent to us at Gamasutra, but it should be noted: PopCap is closing down its multiplayer legacy games, reveals Aggro Me, and some people are a bit upset: "Psychobabble is not nearly as well known a game as Bejeweled. But it's crazy fun. You join a room of 8-12 people. When a round begins, you are presented with a bunch of different words, loosely connected in meaning to the theme of the round. It looks kind of like those magnetic poetry fridge magnets that were popular for a while. You pick words and attempt to make an entertaining sentence from them." There are some alternatives online, mind you, but community, etc.

- Bunch Of Nerds has gone super-nerdy on the forthcoming Dreamcast watch, and it's passed on: "Coming September 2006 will be this lovely diecast Sega Dreamcast branded watch, featuring the shape of the console which pops open to reveal an analog timepiece. The item will no doubt be extremely limited edition and much cheaper in the Asian market. Those who can afford such trinkets can place a pre-order over at importers Play-Asia for a limited time and $130us plus shipping."

August 8, 2006

Getting A Call From N64 Kid's Aunt

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/n64kid.jpg Yes, that Nintendo 64 kid. I was minding my own business in the office, when I got a call from a nice lady who asked if I knew the Nintendo 64 kid. I said I did. She say she's his aunt. Conversation from there:

N64 kid's aunt: So his video has gotten something like 2.5 million views since it went up, and his myspace gets over 70,000 hits daily, and there are tons of parodies over on YMTD...

very confused brandon: I believe it!

N64ka: So this is kind of a shot in the dark, but do you know if anyone would be interested in making a game about it?

vcb: Like...a videogame? I don't see how...

N64ka: Well if you look at those YMTD things, a lot of them use game art, and seem very game-like.

vcb: I mean, to be perfectly honest, it's just an internet fad.

N64ka: Oh, I know.

vcb: And games need to be a little more...sophisticated than that.

N64ka: Sophisticated...right.

vcb: You might be able to get someone to make a flash game about it or something, but someone would probably only want to do that for fun.

N64ka: Do you know anyone who would want to?

vcb: I can't say I do, personally. You could try Newgrounds, they do a lot of flash work over there.

N64ka: Oh, newgrounds...that's like the name of my favorite radio program in los angeles. New Grounds on KCRW.

vcb:...well alright!

And that was basically it. He's selling his N64 on ebay right now, so if you want to put up a joke bid with your shell ebay account along with the others (it's past $1,000 now), now's your chance. Apparently he's 17 and into skate videos. Or something. Also, if you're raring to go with N64 kid flash ideas, just drop a line to his aunt. If you can find her, given that I don't remember her name or number or anything. Or you can just send them to me.

If I hadn't been so taken aback, I might've asked for an interview. Or, say, been funny and interesting so that this conversation would actually have been worth typing out. Regardless, that's what happened, and it blew my mind right out of my head. Thanks for reading.

[This is a repost from Brandon's ever excellent Insert Credit - and since I've now seen at least one person think we were stealing these posts, an explanation! Brandon is an editor here at Game Developer magazine, but obviously, he also founded IC, the premiere obscure dojin site on the WWWWW!

So - sometimes when he posts cool stuff in his lunch-hour over there, and since we're sorta the semi-official 'editor-blog' of the CMP Game Group folks, we repost it on GameSetWatch too. Also, we look over his shoulder and whip him to make him go faster. That is all!]

Letters From the Metaverse: My Dark Life

[‘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 RPGs in Second Life.]

I remember reading a short post Gamesetwatch’s dear journo-chum Kieron Gillen once made on his workblog, in which he stated “Gaming’s dark secret: Occasionally it’s enough to see a number getting bigger.”

2006_08_08_backpack.jpgWhen it comes down to it, it’s true. There’s absolutely no other reason that I can explain why this morning when I logged into Second Life just to get a few more shots of Dark Life, the (get your head around this) “MMORPG within an MMORPG” that I’d find my self watching my character hit rats for another couple of hours, tidily dragging me over my deadline for this article and then some. Indeed, you might find it a bit hard to believe, but he’s actually doing it right now while I write this article. I’m just occasionally clicking back to the Second Life window, running him back to the shrine to heal, and then running him back to fight rats.

It’s all because of that bloody Givan dagger.

You see, I’d started Dark Life shortly after my disastrous attempt at golfing, and decided that perhaps sports weren’t the way to go in Second Life – after all, they represent something we understand perfectly well in real life, and therefore have pretty far to fall. My only experience as a medieval warrior comes from video games, so this seemed to be a likely positive game experience in Second Life.

2006_08_08_action.jpgDarkLife is set on the Island of Navora, a small plot of land with a town, a swamp, and other stereotypical RPG areas. When you arrive you must purchase a backpack, which costs $498 Linen (around $2), and a basic sword and shield which cost a nominal $1 Linden each. Once you own these things you are perfectly able to go adventuring around the island of Navora – as long as you’re prepared to begin the hard slog of leveling.

DarkLife is not a sophisticated RPG. It features no quests, and perhaps due to the realities of being inside Second Life and featuring many autonomous monsters it’s one of the laggiest areas I’ve visited so far. It therefore features a very simplistic, turn based combat model. Interestingly, and something that makes the game feel a bit like a throwback to the Multi-User Dungeons of old, is that the majority of commands are performed using the chat window. So to cast a spell, say a heal spell, you say ‘magic heal’. To check how much gold you have you type ‘gold’. It can lead to a fair amount of cross chatter.

2006_08_08_action2.jpgWhen I began playing DarkLife, even with its beta status, I wasn’t particularly impressed. Much like FloG! Golf system, the price you pay seems entirely too high for something that isn’t particularly polished or even finished. In Dark Life it stings even worse, as even though in-game items such as weapons and spells are purchased using gold, each item also requires a payment of $50 Linden.

So, to get yourself entirely kitted out with new weapons and armor it’ll cost you several hundred Linden, and therefore realistically several dollars each time you upgrade. I could see a month of DarkLife costing me $10 dollars, and while the price might be comparable to a month of World of Warcraft, there’s really no comparison in content. And for those of you taking issue with my comparison, there really isn’t any comparison in content to a free Roguelike, either.

But sometimes, it’s enough to see a number getting bigger. I can’t complain about the other players – there aren’t many, but they’re pleasant, and generous. After several unrewarding hours killing rats with the basic sword, this morning (unasked) another player gave me 1000 gold, which I instantly invested in a Givan dagger, only to find that my stats weren’t high enough to use it. And so I spent yet more hours killing rats and watching my numbers go up, and strangely, I enjoyed it, and enjoyed it even more when my new dagger allowed me to venture out into the swamps and begin to kill dragonflies.

If you’re a Second Life devotee with lots of money to burn from your full account it’s a nice timewaster. But I can’t recommend anyone else pay to play a beta.

[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.]

COLUMN: 'Parallax Memories' - Cho Aniki

Cho Aniki Cover image['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 Masaya’s 1992 Shooter: Cho Aniki]

Not Homosexual

If you know of Cho Aniki, you probably know of it as that bizarre “flaming homosexual” shooter. While the bizarre part is correct, the gay part is at best something that you proclaimed on your own, or that you heard someone else say. Nothing in the game is directly homosexual in nature, although Freud might find your assumption intersing.

The title of the game translates roughly into Super Big Brother (no relation to 1984), referring to Sampson and Adon, who are only support characters for the first title. The playable characters are the celestial Edaten and Benten of Hindu and Japanese mythology. What the two sets of characters have in common is beyond me and my very limited Japanese knowledge. I don’t think that really matters because the unique atmosphere of the game still comes across even if the message doesn’t.

Elvis LIVES!Atlas Flexed

The game plays like just about every side scrolling shooter available at the time. The two characters are only slightly different in their charge attack, and both have a screen clearing bomb. The level design is fairly empty and the colors are mostly dark. Despite all of this the standard design and gameplay elements are well put-together, even if they don’t really offer anything that you haven’t already seen a dozens times. So then, why play it?

Giant chess pieces in space. Elvis space ships. Two muscle-bound brothers pruning flowers from their heads. Those are the biggest reasons. The sprites and graphics defy the imagination. Each level is broken up into three or four sections, each with unique bosses in them, and even the tamest are still challenging. This game, which has you soaring through a cityscape or into outer space with original and hilarious enemies at every turn, is the epitome of imaginative thinking in a stale genre.

I'm too sexy for my... most everythingFlex for Me

The music also separates this game from the pack. Written by Koji Hayama, the soundtrack is perfectly haunting, and at times beautiful. The juxtaposition of the exceptionally strange characters with phantasmagorical choral music just adds to the feeling of unease that the game creates. The flat-out gorgeous music itself was so popular the soundtrack actually outsold the game.

Cho Aniki is hard to properly evaluate outside of our knee-jerk reactions to it. The controls are somewhat clunky by today’s standards, and the bullet patterns are pretty tame. But you can’t find this type of experience anywhere else. And if you think that large men in Speedos, posing with oiled up bodies and rippling muscles is gay, well I know a governor who has a bone to pick with you.

[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.]

Mario In MySpace Expores Zelda's Relationships

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/zelrel.jpg Oo, look, we got email! - although it was actually sent to sister site Gamasutra, which crosslinked to GSW on this story, and that's close enough: "I'm Asterios Kokkinos, the co-creator of "Mario in Myspace" and I just wanted to thank you for covering our interview in SiliconEra the other week."

But wait, there's more from the self-described "McDonald's eating, car-payment-making LA comedians", as follows: "We're launching a new series of shorts today entitled, "The Legend of Zelda's Relationships" - here's a link to the YouTube site."

So we linked it, and 'lo, it was the protagonists of the extremely cheesy Zelda cartoon arguing about... oh, just go and watch it, we actually think it's funnier than most stuff that's posted on YouTube. And it doesn't have the Numa Numa Dance or related bands anywhere near it, which is more than can be said for youuuuu, Tetsuya Mizuguchi! Shame on you!

GameSetLinks: Shmups, GamePro TV, ASM Results

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/kog.jpg Man, keeping up in this herky-jerky world of linkapalooza is a hassle at times - I'm not even up to date with today's latest feeds. But hey, I've got a set of fun, random links for GSW, so by George, you get them:

- A while back, there was apparently an awesome documentary on shmups on French TV channel 'gameone' (which has been the source of some other good docs, like a Metal Slug one, if memory serves?), and it's been translated into English and hosted by IkarugaFan. Scroll down for the translation in text form - there's some really insightful Japanese guys chatting, for example: "I talked a bit with the staff that made the very first Gradius. And this is what they told me: They did a lot of tries before they fixed the design of the ship. They did at least 100 different versions. And among all of them, there was a ship that left a light trace behind him when he moves. It was from an evolution of this concept that was born the options system."

- Just found the interesting UK site Thinking Games, and it's got an interesting post on the line between games and 'non-games', which initially notes: "Even notable indie productions like ‘N’, ‘Tumiki Fighters’ or ‘Cave Story’ have easily definable genre identities. The visual styles and slight gameplay twists make them unique, but their core mechanics are far from original", before going on to suggest that it's titles that are almost not actually games which advance the game genre the most.

- We previously referenced the games from the Assembly 2006 demo-party in Finland, and now all the party productions are released, alongside the full results text - as well as the games, lots of cool graphics demos, retro bleep music, and pixelated graphics up the wazoo here.

- More hilarious and fun video - SiliconEra has posted GamePro TV Episode 3 up on YouTube, noting: "On this episode are: SWAT: S.C.A.T. - NES, Super Mario World - SNES, Bonk’s Revenge - TG16, Play Action Football - NES... Ask The Pros: StarTropics - NES... Pro Review: Mega Man IV - NES... Inside Info: Top 10 NES Video Game Rentals Feb. 1992 - Blockbuster Video, Final Fight (Ending) - SNES, Medieval History - Check your local library!... 16 Bit Hits: Joe Montana Sports Talk Football - Genesis." Wow - 1992 never looked so beautiful, huh? Here's a good informational page on the show at NESPlayer.com.

- Tokyo design/art type Jean Snow has posted about The King Of Games T-shirts, which are the horrendously expensive Nintendo-licensed Japanese design tees - Jean notes: "Oh man, I am so in love with all the tees from The King of Games — a brand that creates cool remixes of Nintendo properties — and I am so getting the 20th anniversary Legend of Zelda tee!" Though it is 4800 yen, ouchie.

- Finally, though I posted my pics of ChinaJoy, I realized there are probably some MUCH better ones on Flickr - and lo and behold, this pic of a disgruntled Chinese Mario from last year's event proves it. Also notable - the best ChinaJoy-flagged pics by interest, and one particularly good gallery overall. Go browse, young padowan!

August 7, 2006

GameTap Goes Ninja, Gets Into Space Combat

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/gtap.jpg You knows we wouldn't be anywhere without regular GameTap updates, even if they seem to send us lots of different emails, each with unique info, and so here's some of the latest fun stuff about the PC 'all you can eat' download service and the geek-friendly game content it's added.

Firstly, stuff that happened during July: "GameTap announced Konami as a new partner alongside adding 8 of their games, including Frogger, Contra Hard Corps, Castlevania: Bloodlines and Time Pilot. We also celebrated “Capcom Week II” with more worthy additions from the publisher’s popular roster of games, such as Final Fight, Mega Man: The Power Battle, and Mega Man 2: The Power Fighters." We knew some of that!

But also, there's new hotness: "This month, GameTap will feature a “Ninja Week” to honor games featuring this stealth assassin, so watch your back for more than a half dozen new ninja additions to the GameTap library. We will also have a week devoted to “Space Combat” with a dozen new games that are out of this world." It's all a bit vague, but we'll check later to see if any of the specific titles have been added to the 'Coming Soon' section of the client. [UPDATE: Next week's stuff is now listed, including titles such as Top Hunter for Neo Geo, Tumblepop for arcade, and even Alex Kidd: The Lost Stars (scroll down!) for arcade. Man, obscurity!]

Also, we just got an 'added this week' info mail, including "Bust-A-Move Again™ (Puzzle Bobble™ 2) (Arcade)... Section Z (Arcade)... Andro Dunos (Arcade)...Battle Circuit (Arcade)... Where in the U.S.A. is Carmen Sandiego? (PC-WIN)" Also: "Hint for next time: You say, "Die By The Sword." We say, "Live By The Controller!" Nice, obscure CPS2 arcade titles and sword-fighting craziness, all at once!

COMIC: 'Our Blazing Destiny' - Classic Sega games

[Our Blazing Destiny is a weekly comic by Jonathan "Persona" Kim about our society, cultural postdialectic theory, and video games. And about spaceships that sprout legs and walk when they contact the floor.]

Here's the latest insanity from our man in a straitjacket Persona: "I secretly plan on turning this weekly comic into a giant Sega orgy. This is my first covert step towards achieving my wonderful yet nefarious dream/scheme. Mwah ha ha!"

fzonecomic.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. Drop by the forum and say hello!

COLUMN: 'Free Play' - ece4co

[’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 ece4co.]

ece4co’s website shares its clean, simple presentation with the games it contains. Most of the games on the site, originally developed in Shockwave, use a two-shade palette with finely-detailed sprites that some might find reminiscent of early Mac games. These games, presented in rounded windows in cool gradations of cyan, are Yoshio Ishii's "Neko" games.

Cats in trouble

ece4co-nekoclaw.png

Each game places the same big-headed kitten in a different, perilous situation, and requires a different play mechanic to get it to safety. In Fura-Fura Neko you balance the kitten at the end of a stick with the mouse, trying to reach the end of a barb-wire maze with both the cat and your hand unhurt. In Ito-Neko you drag the mouse to draw a platform that will keep the cat out of the water. And the glorious Nekotama has you dropping giant cat heads into pachinko machines, trying to land one in every marked pipe.

My favorites are Xananeko and its sequel, single-screen tributes to Falcom’s Xanadu series. Armed with shield and oversized sword, the feline hero explores magnificently detailed pixel dungeons fighting monsters (by bumping against them classic Xanadu-style), collecting gold, finding treasures and buying upgrades.

The Neko games caught the attention of laptop manufacturer Toshiba, who commissioned Yoshio Ishii to develop some advergames for their website. They starred impromptu Toshiba mascot Tobby the dog, his ladyfriend Jelly and rival Bull, and were mostly reskinnings of Neko games. There were a few original games, though, including Tobby Room 1048—a platforming adventure in which Tobby searches a hotel for explosives—and a snowball fight game in full color for the first time. Unfortunately, these are no longer available on Toshiba's site, but can be found elsewhere on the internet—try running a search for "tobby".

No-neko adventures

ece4co-rayspline.png

Besides the Neko and Tobby games, ece4co has developed a number of other games in Shockwave and Flash. Rayspline is a beautiful 3D shooter patterned after United Game Artists’ Rez, where the player is encouraged to lock on to as many moving targets as possible before firing. The game features Darius-like branching paths through 21 stages, each of which contains a large, pretty boss that probably wouldn't seem out of place in UGA's game. Other shooters include the gloriously huge-pixelled Cellblast games, no longer hosted on ece4co's site (but, again, available to a crafty websearcher).

The most recent project on the ece4co site consists of a collection of shooters clearly inspired by Geometry Wars. Each a variant with a slightly different objective, the games use the mouse for both moving and aiming--surprisingly effectively.

Finally, be sure to check out...

Neko-Kaitai Iseki Tanken, an oppressive, almost melancholy game of quiet underwater cave exploration starring a kitten with a snorkel.

[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.]

Newsweek On Japanese Arcade Action

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/japarc.jpg It's always interesting to see mainstream coverage on on video game-related matters, of course, and over at Newsweek, Brad Stone has a new article called 'Inside Japan's Addictive Arcades', which explains why Japanese arcades live on, still.

Stone notes: "There are 9,500 arcades in the country with more than 445,000 game machines made by Japanese companies like Namco and Capcom, says Masumi Akagi, publisher of Japan's Game Publisher magazine. In the U.S. of course, the story is much different—arcades are a rapidly dying breed with only about 3,000 in operation down from 10,000 a decade ago."

He concludes, after referencing a game of Tekken 5: Dark Resurrection he played: "So this is what we are missing in America, with our arcades abandoned by the big entertainment and game companies and converted into Baby Gaps. Japan's "quarter kids" have grown up and are still having fun... Yet there's evidence that the country is ambivalent about its arcades. Japan is facing a looming demographic nightmare." Lots of messages, here, a little confusing, but overall excellently written. [Via Jean Snow.]

BUZZReviews: Quadrun for the Atari 2600 VCS

Quadrun1.png[GameSetWatch is extremely proud to debut this premier review from veteran game journalist Joseph 'BUZZ' Berkley. 'BUZZ' has decided to branch out and invent a COMPLETELY ORIGINAL method of reviewing games. And by golly, it's going to debut right here, and right now.]

Even though I invented video game review scoring back in 1983, I've never been totally satisfied with the system. While Famitsu (and EGM by extension) have been happy as 'pigs in sh*t' using the same format they stole from Game Buzz Monthly back in the mid-eighties, I've been a constant innovator - always seeking the most accurate and concise method for reducing a complex personal experience to a single, almost meaningless numerical representation.

Well - you GameSetWatch readers are in for a treat, because I think I've finally found 'Le Holy Grail' of video game reviewing. The NEW Buzz-O-Meter reviews games based on the principles that really matter to today's hardcore gamer. To wit:

"How does owning this game affect my status in the insular and marginalized world of the video game fan?"

And with that, I bring you the first BUZZReview: Atari's classic title Quadrun for the 2600 VCS.

--

Visuals
Quadrun suffers a little in the 'visuals' category, because it didn't come in a box. You'll have it up on your shelf, with the rest of your 2600 collection, all boxed (at least a few sealed, if you're serious) and you'll likely have this game sitting in a Ziploc bag. It takes the refined eye of a serious collector to realize this IS the complete packaging for the title.

And that's not just any Ziploc bag: it's the original Ziploc bag that the game arrived in when it was shipped to Atari Club members who mail ordered the game back in the early '80s. The game was never available in stores. Genuinely striking. For a real Atari fan, this is truly a beautiful sight, and far better than any onscreen graphics could ever display.

Therefore, it gets: Visual BUZZ: 7

--

Audio
As one of only two Atari 2600 games with simulated voice, Quadrun is very collectible. This is, in itself, something that makes any self-respecting collector sweat profusely.

Naturally, this means: Audio BUZZ: 9

--

Quadrun2.pngGamePlay
Obviously, the point of Quadrun isn't so much to play it, as to have it. Rather than someone else not playing the game, you get to not play the game, assuming you can find a copy. The delight is in knowing that you have a copy of this particularly rare Atari 2600 game that you're not playing, as opposed to all the people who don't have the game that aren't playing it.

Put it this way: Imagine the feeling of choosing to not play the game, especially a game so rare. Very few people have ever had legitimate copies of Quadrun to not play, and having your very own copy to not play is a sensation like no other. Excepting any games that are considered rarer by the official Atari 2600 collecting literature, of course.

Due to these intense sensations, we'll have to go for: GamePlay BUZZ: 10

--

Conclusion

Though ostensibly a true 'lost classic' of video games, it's argued by some that Quadrun is more 'lost' than 'classic'. But then, isn't being lost, and therefore rare, MUCH, MUCH more important than just being classic? After all, Super Mario Bros. is a "classic", and The Buzz now uses Mario Bros. NES carts (with a 'beautifully' photocopied frontispiece) as his BUSINESS CARDS. That's right, they're so common that I'm dropping them like quatloos in Triskelion, bitch.

Quadrun is more like owning a piece of history that is, sure, less important, but definitely more obscure. And isn't obscurity the reason we love games in the first place? Damn right.

For all these reasons, we have reached a decision: Final BUZZ: $350!

['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 true. His love is real, but he is not.]

August 6, 2006

GSW Housekeeping: Column/Editor Updates

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/gsg.jpg You may have spotted some new columns popping up at GameSetWatch, after my recent call for columnists, so I though I'd just thank the new guys - and indeed, all our other columnists for laboring hard to give you their own perspectives.

- Firstly, thanks to Michael 'Zonk' Zenke, who you may know from being my successor as editor of Slashdot Games, for volunteering to extend his own blog into a bi-weekly column on the state of MMOs - MMOG Nation. I already know much more about elves than I ever thought possible, and we've only run one column so far!

- Also, we're very excited about John Harris' @ Play, which is absolutely the only regular column on the Internet about Rogue-like games. So far, we've had some pretty intense conversation about how "all orange potions will be the same type, and the same goes for all cloudy ones, for milky ones, and even plaid ones", and that's clearly just the start of the hilarity.

- And yes, even though some of you may doubt his credentials, we'll be seeing more news _and_ reviews from the 'Berkley's BUZZ' column, even after the veteran journalist's epic scoop regarding AO content on the Nintendo Wii was derided by some Nintendo fans who, quite frankly, should know better. We hear he's going to be reviewing a classic video game next, and the BUZZ is that it's going to be rather spectacular - we can't wait!

- There's been a few other items that have been shuffled around - we're moving 'The Gaijin Restoration' on to the 'irregular' list, since column creator Ryans has been plenty busy working on 'cool stuff' for G4 recently, and there will be at least one more columnist starting in the next few days. Oh, and before we forget, MANY thanks to GameSetInterview supremo AlistairW for his excellent work recently - it's not a column, as such, but his interviews do rawk insanely.

[Incidentally, many of our columnists subsist on a diet that consists almost entirely of your praise and goodwill, as well as some oversized T-shirts from us, since GSW is more of a weirdo alt.gaming blog than the NEXT BIG INTERNET THING - we're never really going to make much money running columns about Rogue-likes, are we? So make sure you give 'em some nice feedback.]

@ Play: An Introduction To Some Rogue-s

Rogue Clone IV ['@ Play' is a bi-weekly column by John Harris which discusses the history, present and future of the Roguelike dungeon exploring genre..]

Before we kick off this column on the niche-but-awesome genre of roguelike games, it should help to define what is meant by that term.

Roguelikes are dungeon-exploration computer games, patterned after their classic namesake Rogue, and set in a randomly-generated world. They are known for their tremendous difficulty, unpredictability, permanent character death, and the large number of methods they use to inflict that death. They were most popular in college computer labs in the 80s, and while they never achieved widespread success, the genre nevertheless persists to this day, and its dedicated cadre of devotees will argue night and day that these are the greatest computer games ever made.

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

Just in case it isn't obvious by now: I am one of those devotees.

"Is that a computer game or bad ASCII art?"

From one perspective, the roguelikes are throwbacks. Here is a class of games, not really mainstream but not obscure either, that have largely resisted modernization. While it might be difficult for someone looking at Colossal Cave to connect it with being of the same kind as, say, Telltale’s recent Bone games, roguelikes, by and large, look the same as they always have.

Although two of the three major roguelike games have color graphic modes, they also retain their classic ASCII mode, and practically all other computer roguelikes use an ordinary text console window as its sole display. Nethack has inspired a number of attempts to give it fairly modern graphics, yet possibly the most-played form of the game even now, twenty years after it came into being, is on public telnet servers with hundreds of players, not tremendously different in appearance from Rogue itself back upon its release in 1980.

TTY NethackBut while there is an air of the Neanderthal surrounding these games, they've survived for so long because, even after all that time, they're still so startlingly modern. Since Rogue was created, the grand parade of computer games is supposed to have advanced in every respect. Their graphics now approach the point where they are indistinguishable from reality. So it is damning indeed that most of them are not more interesting to play than an old terminal game that has barely changed in 26 years.

"But it helped me last time!"

Perhaps the best explanation for roguelike longevity arises from the fact that they are randomly created each game. Every play, the dungeon levels are generated anew, so the player must again explore the mazes in order to make progress. But these days this isn’t as innovative as it once was, as a good number of other games have featured random dungeons since then. Many of them were directly inspired by Rogue or one of its descendents. Diablo, one of the biggest software success stories on the past ten years, remains quite popular. And yet in almost all cases, those games reveal only a glimmer of understanding of what makes Rogue so interesting.

Instead of random dungeons, the defining feature of the roguelikes is likely that the items generated during the game are also randomly selected, and their appearance is scrambled each game. That is to say, when you find an unknown potion lying on the floor of the dungeon, you don’t know at first what it will do when you drink it. One game it might heal you, the next it may rob your character of sight making you easy prey for wandering monsters.

Diablo 2 - image from neoseeker.comThat by itself isn’t so interesting, but what is is that the appearance of the various items in the game is consistent within that character's life, so all orange potions will be the same type, and the same goes for all cloudy ones, for milky ones, and even plaid ones. The game’s interface recognizes this too, so that if you drink a blue-green potion and get healed, all blue-green potions will be automatically renamed "potions of healing." Some of these items are less obvious in their effects (what the hell is ‘makes you feel warm all over’ supposed to mean?), so for them the game will ask the player what he thinks the item did, and will then use that name until the player can find a better one. Discovering items through experimentation, in this way, is an important process in any real roguelike, and its lack is what prevents Diablo, for all its admirable traits, from being as good.

Part hack and slash, part scientific method

All the potions and scrolls in Rogue, and most of its descendants, work that way: the player drinks or reads the item, it is used up, and its effect upon the world is described as well as the player’s character can see. But there is usually one type of item, the scroll of Identify, that will infallibly name an object. Since some items are so subtle in their workings that the player is unlikely to ever figure out their use through trial and error, Identify scrolls are valuable treasures. But the player can only ID things he’s carrying at the time the scroll is read, and he can only pick which item is to be ID'd, not pick the effect. If you’re dying to discover which potion is extra healing, only chance can bring that knowledge to you.

There are other types of random items in Rogue too, which are even more difficult to figure out. Rings have subtle effects that are very challenging to discover through observation, and wands are dangerous to play around with. Even in a winning game it is unlikely that the player will see all the items that can be generated, let alone figure out what they all do. While there are plenty of other things to like about Rogue and its descendants, in the end it is this need to discover the game world anew every time that makes them fascinating. In a roguelike, the monsters are just one facet of a dangerous game world ready to do you in on a moment's notice, and sometimes the beasties are less likely to end a game than the player's stuff itself.

In the coming months, we’ll be investigating many of the most interesting aspects of this venerable and challenging genre. We’ll take a look at the most popular games, and many lesser-known ones too. We’ll take a tour through the strange and exciting world of user-created Nethack patches. We’ll investigate the phenomenon of the popular Japanese series Fushigi no Dungeon, the closest that roguelikes have come to mainstream gaming anywhere. We’ll even dip into the vaults to investigate some of the almost-forgotten games that used to be played late into the night on college campuses, but are now all but lost to history.

We’ll do all this and much more, so be sure to come back in two weeks. Look for the guy waiting by the downstairs, whistling for his dog.

Adventures On eBay: Pikachu VW Beetle Alert!

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/pika.jpg Since I have a habit of trawling random eBay auction at odd times of the weekend, I came across a bit of a gem just now - someone is selling one of the Pikachu-branded Volkswagen Beetle, as you may have seen promoting Nintendo and The Pokemon Company's ubiquitous Pokemon at some point in the late '90s or early '00s.

Looks like a number of these were given away at various times - we easily found a pic of a Pokemon 2000 version that was shown at the movie's premiere, and also found a pic in this great CNN article, in which child psychiatrist John Lochridge "...worries that Pokemon's creators and marketers deliberately set out to create a fantasy world so compelling that children would quickly become obsessed. "What seems to be happening is that the kids are brainwashed," he said." Pika? Piiiiiiika!

In any case, this particular "1998 Pokemon Pikachu VW New Beetle" has "trunk modified with tv & game system & speakers", presumably an [EDIT: GameCube, ack, Sunday morning!], and it's revealed: "This car is a lot of fun and attracts a lot of attention. We bought this car from the person who won it from Nintendo. We are selling because we are getting ready to have a baby and need something larger than this car."

Baby in, Pikachu out! It's $3,050.00 so far with 5 days to go. Oh, and if you look carefully in the pic above, the car appears to be dressed up for St Patrick's Day, and is sporting a tiny Irish hat. Classy.



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