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August 26, 2006

COLUMN: ‘Game Mag Weaseling’: Mag Roundup 8/26/06

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

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It took two man-days of work and I think I threw out my back, but a long-overdue task is finally completed -- I have inventoried my magazine collection, more or less.

Why haven't I done this now? Well, because it's a hell of a lot of boring work. I mean, I knew generally what I have and don't have in my head, but actually going through every mag in the collection to amass physical proof is a pretty dull job -- one highlit with the occasional exciting discovery (I am only five issues away from completing my collection of 99'er, an extremely obscure and haphazardly-published computer magazine), but still pretty dull overall.

Still, I have completed it, and now I can pin a few numbers on my hobby. All told, I own 1989 video-game magazines and 2049 computer/PC game mags, for a grand total of 4038 issues. This doesn't count a lot of things, though -- I didn't bother tabulating the British and foreign-language mags, and individual issues with multiple "collector's edition" covers count as one. I also haven't counted up my list of duplicates, which is growing worrisomely large; I'll list that up tomorrow so I can hopefully get some more trading action going on.

Regardless, 4038 is a very large number, about 1000 more than I was expecting. Even so, I'm still lacking in many areas -- I need a lot more issues of PC Gamer and Game Informer, for example. In due time, however.

If you're interested in looking at exactly what I have, here are Excel files of my video-game mags and my computer mags. If you see a title in the lists that you'd like me to talk about in this column, by all means comment or email me.

Anyway, enough horn blowing -- it's time to check out all the game mags released in the US for the past fortnight. Click on below to see the whole spread.

One thing of note if you're reading all the mags that I do: Atlus has a half dozen or so advertisements for Ring of Rose running this month, each in a different magazine. That's the first I've heard of someone doing that, and while it'd take someone like...well, me to appreciate it, appreciate it I definitely do. The one on the back cover of Play (and in Game Informer) is my personal favorite, though Hardcore Gamer's is rad too.

Game Informer September 2006

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Cover: Bully

This magazine wins the Top Cover Design Sweepstakes for this month, hands down. It's especially surprising because covers based on Rockstar titles are usually boring as all 'ell. However, the true identity of the game kind of got leaked out with Rockstar's online trailer before the mag was released, which puts the "World Exclusive" status of it into some question. But the details inside! While the article is in the usual looooooooong Game Informer style, it succeeds in pushing Bully as a really innovative game and makes me hugely excited for it, even though careful analysis of the meticulously-crafted screenshots reveal that the engine still suffers from a bit of that GTA floppy-arm syndrome.

The other feature: Is for Battlefield: Bad Company, the new DICE/EA console game. This features a big pic of a bald Marine on the front page and I'm therefore not quite so interested in it.

Inneresting: GI's 8.5 review for Xenosaga III, which is quite a bit happier with the game than many other players (and myself) were. They're also a bunch of Yakuza hatars, giving it a 6.

Connect: Magazine-dom's best news section is also exciting as ever, especially thanks to the two-page feature on game localization -- a topic near and dear to my heart. Several folks are interviewed from Nintendo, Square Enix and Atlus, all three of whom absolutely know their stuff in this area.

Odd: A full-page advertisement for Bowflex. I heard that GI raised their ad rates lately to more closely reflect their circulation; until now, they had been charging around the same rates as other mags despite having triple the circulation. Maybe they're making more of an effort now to nab non-endemic advertising as a result.

Official PlayStation Magazine September 2006 (Podcast)

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Cover: Original illustration from Stuntkid (in newsstand editions, this is completely covered by the polybag with illustrations of LocoRoco, Yakuza, etc.)

OPM's continued timely coverage of PS3 controllers continues unabated in this month's Hype section, which kicks off with an interview with Immersion prez Vic "We're not charging a premium for this" Viegas. The cover feature is your typical Ziff-ish preview-a-rama article, and (IMO) not all that noteworthy.

The top interview subject this month is Amy Hennig -- 17-year game veteran, producer of the Legacy of Kain games, and now working on Untitled Naughty Dog Game. I haven't seen this month's CGW yet, but barring a dark-horse miracle from them, this is the best interview of the month. This is a lady who has a ton of neat stories (her first title as designer was Michael Jordan: Chaos in the Windy City) and a ton of intelligent crap to say about game design.

The disc: Is Lego Star Wars II and nothing else of major note.

The review system: Has changed subtly for the second time in half a year. Six months ago the mag went from the "discs/dots/stars/whatevers" system to a straight score out of 5.0; now, in an apparent move to synchronize with 1UP and EGM, they're going for the plain ol' score-out-of-10 system. The first game reviewed under this system is an "exclusive" dossier (even though I got EGM's review in the mail first) on Okami. It got 9/10, as well as a 1-page interview with Atsushi Inaba. I want that Amaterasu plush on his desk.

In the back: Is a smart feature on a topic that's immediately appealing for me as a lover in obscurity: A look at the estimated 30,000 people who still play EverQuest Online Adventures. Lord, this game was still running? I literally had no idea. I had to review the expansion to that years ago, and it was the most painful experience of my life.

PC Gamer October 2006 (Podcast)

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Cover: Some army dude

There isn't a great deal to say about PCG this month. That's partly because there isn't much going on with PC games right this very moment, but it's also due to a fair bit of laziness behind the production of this issue. It seems like the majority of the previews (including over half of the pieces in the "RTS Revolution" feature advertised on the cover) are 100% based around plain-jane, online-site-style interviews with random developers -- which is good enough when readers can discuss it in realtime on an online site's forums, but not when there's no one else there to point out why this chat is interesting.

It's also a slow month for reviews, with the top scorers all being RTSes and wagonloads of games getting under 50%.

And another thing: The typo and misplaced-caption count shot into overdrive this issue.

One highlight, though: The interview with Anshe Chung, who banks over $150,000 a year by selling imaginary real estate on Second Life, is pretty interesting. She seems like such a cold, business-like lady.

Oh, and another thing too: The binding on this issue is already falling apart on me. This happened with last month's Official Xbox Magazine, too. Who prints Future's mags?

GamePro September 2006

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Cover: Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball 2

I covered the Level-2 version of this issue last time (the inside content is largely the same), but I just wanted to post up the "real" cover since you really can't go wrong with Tecmo-ladies on the front like this...

...unless, of course, you cover up part of their bodies with a box-out for the comic book packed inside. Boo. This comic commemorates Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures (the upcoming MMO), and it's a full-sized one-off, with two stories of blood and/or lust for you to lust after.

Hardcore Gamer September 2006

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Cover: Disgaea 2

It's the usual full-page GameFan-style preview-review hijinx for HCG this month. It's nice to see Mr. Wolfinger back to drawing the cover. I still think that we could do with magazine covers having a more uniform art style from month to month...but maybe that's just the old fuddy-duddy in me speaking out.

There's a good eight pages of Disgaea 2 review and strategy here, which is great. (Nine, actually, if you count the scrapbook-style page of scary cosplay in the back. Urgh.)

Standout features: Include a piece on game music (written by Daniel Kayser of Gametrailers and a spread filled with suggestions for your next game party, including such winners as Soul Calibur III with fishing controllers and a new take on Halo Warthog destruction derbies.


Official PlayStation Magazine September 2006 (Podcast)

Play September 2006

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Cover: Just Cause and Gods & Heroes: Rome Rising

Play decided to have two unrelated covers this month, a decision that reminds me of the glory days of GMR and Xbox Nation. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think this is the first time a PC game has received a Play cover, and both titles get long, extensive reviews. My favorite feature, though, is once again on Rayman: Raving Rabbids -- I can't get enough of the look of this game.

Kicking off this month: Is a "Best-of series" (their capitalization). This is a two-page spread where Page 1 is some original art and Page 2 is a checklist of top games in a certain genre, designed up to look something you're supposed to clip out and keep somewhere for safekeeping. Dave Halverson covers platformers this month, with separate lists for 3D, 2D and 8-bit titles. Kind of smart-looking, and while it sounds pedestrian in text, in practice it's fun to read and I look forward to future installments. (#1 for the 8-bits is Ghosts 'n Goblins, which makes me worry about Halverson a great deal.)

Top review: Is the Bit Generations lineup, the first time I've seen a mag so much as mention 'em in print. Play devotes a spread to them which is, of course, superbly designed.

Tips & Tricks 2006 Video-Game Codebook Special Zombie Edition

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Cover: Dead Rising

Tips & Tricks puts out two Codebooks a year; one in May and one in October. The October Codebook hit my mailbox a couple days ago, which is pretty darn early for an October cover (assuming you aren’t a Future mag with their wacky 13-issues-per-year publishing schedule).

These codebooks are essentially long lists of codes printed on poor paper stock; the cover feature is a four-page (small by T&T standards) piece on Dead Rising. Another four pages of cheat codes from “zombie games” followed, and then it’s off to the codes for about 80 straight pages.

But to finish off: T&T has thrown in seven pages of “pencil puzzles”, Picross-type jobbies where you fill in dots on a grid to build pictures of video game characters. These timekillers were a mainstay of T&T’s nether regions for several years, but were dropped from the mag in 2004 -- to the extreme anguish and dismay of readers, it seems. “It’s hard to believe that it’s been exactly two years since they disappeared from the pages of our monthly magazine,” says the editorial, “and that during those two years, many of you never stopped writing letters and asking for them to be reinstated. Thanks for keeping the faith!” Some people really, really love their pencil puzzles, it seems.

[Kevin Gifford breeds ferrets and runs Magweasel, a site for collectors and fans of old video-game and computer magazines. He owns enough magazines to smother himself with should the need arise, and his secret fantasy is for someone flush with game-publisher stock options to give him a monthly stipend so he can spend a year researching their full history and finishing the site. In his "off" time he is an editor at Newtype USA magazine.]

Rocket Slime, Platypus Boss

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/sliime.jpg Over at 1UP, J.Parish has posted an extremely readable preview of Squenix's Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime, which includes an interview with the game's director Yoshiki Watabe.

Of the action-adventure almost Zelda-like DS game's insane name, Watabe explains: "One of the biggest things we were worried about was the image of a slime. In Japan, [the smiling Dragon Quest monster] is what people think of when they hear 'slime,' but in the West if you'd never played Dragon Quest you'd think slime was just a blob."

He continues: "We wanted to give the idea that he's more solid than just a pool of bubbles and that he can actually snap around like a slingshot. That's why we gave him the name Rocket. The juxtaposition of 'rocket' and 'slime' makes you think, 'Well, why did they call it that?' and when you see the game you realize right away that he shoots around like a rocket."" Don't get it, but I love the justification.

And really, when the plot for the game is like this, who cares? "Rocket's mission is to rescue 100 of his slime friends from the Plob, a mafia-like mob of platypuses whose rank is determined by the number of tails they wear. The lowest ranks wear a single tail, while the Plobfather himself wears seven." I'm actually sold - there's relatively few good DS games in this genre (the multi-tail platypus boss one, of course!), for some weird reason.

Nancy Drew's Secrets Can Kill!

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/75th.jpg We seem to be linking to Matt Barton's Armchair Arcade posts quite a lot recently - but hey, they're fun, and the latest is a massive overview of Her Interactive's Nancy Drew series, shining a light on some games that aren't really talked about by most video game sites, uhh, ever.

Barton notes: "First, a few admissions. I'm addicted to Her Interactive's Nancy Drew adventure game series, even though it's ostensibly intended for girls aged 10-15. I've played through every one of them up to the 13th game, Danger by Design, and intend to grab that one soon. The reasons why I like the game are simple: They're extremely well-designed, full of colorful characters and wit, and highly playable. They basically take everything that's fun about graphical adventure games and strip out the junk that makes most of them so frustrating."

Then there's a little 'girl gamers don't like pink!' ranting (though to be fair, one of GSW's female co-workers was salivating over the pink DS Lite yesterday), and a handy conclusion: "As far as acquiring these delightful games, I'd recommend starting with Dreamcatcher's 75th Anniversary Collection, which includes the first five games as well as a Nancy Drew novel." Though it's not quite the same game style, it's notable how the Mystery Case Files series is insanely popular as PC casual games, too - the whodunnit is back, baby.

Shock! Drunksaling Finds Current-Gen Console Games!

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/gaaames.jpg Yes, yes, we've been following The New Gamer's 'Drunksaling' garage sale pictorials for a while now, but in the latest, they actually found some Xbox and PlayStation 2 games, a rarity in a world (in a woorrrrld!) where crappy FMV PC titles are much more the norm.

G. Turner drools: "Delicious modern games. There was a portly fellow eyeing them right in front of me, but just as he opened his mouth to ask the proprietor how much they were, I jumped right in and beat him to the punch! They were certainly worth the two bucks he was asking." I bet that portly fellow reads GameSetWatch. Or maybe just Fark.

Other highlights include some ancient handhelds, disturbing old books, overpriced strategy guides, and pretty much anything else you would expect to find when poking around weird-smelling old places. Worth noting: "Time for our local Village thrift store! Yes, these are the folks who scream & shout whenever I photograph anything in their store, which is why this copy of Space Quest 4 was photo'ed in the car." We love the Roger Wilco paparazzi!

Senko No Video Gorgeous-ity For X360

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/senk.jpg The ever-reliable Fort90 points out the first 10 minutes of Senko No Ronde X for Xbox 360 in video form, posted over at gigantic video site Xboxyde.

Writer BlimBlim explains: "Senko no Ronde Rev X. is the second japanese Xbox 360 game I get to play this week-end... This game is a strange but interesting mix of a fighting game and a "Bullet Hell" Shoot'em Up, and at first it's really confusing. But after a few minutes everything starts to make sense and it get really enjoyable."

He continues: "The game system is quite simple: A for boosts, X for simple attacks, Y for special attack (guided projectiles, or temporary power ups for the simple attack), B for the secondary attack (bullet hell, mines...), right trigger for the shield and the lest trigger for the mega attack. It doesn't take more than a minute to get used to the controls, as expected from an arcade game. This is a really enjoyable but of course quite limited in scope title, old school gamers should love it." But the question is - who's bringing it to the States? Atlus? D3? Ubisoft? Mastiff? Aaaaanyone?

Second Life Gets Official Guidebook

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/cornfield.jpg Mark Wallace's 3PointD.com has a post revealing that there's an official Second Life guidebook being released in hardcopy form this December.

The blog notes: Due out in mid-December, the Sybex-published volume “explores in detail every aspect of Second Life’s rich and multilayered virtual world, explains how it works, and offers a wealth of information and practical advice for all Second Life residents.” The book was written by Michael Rymaszewski, who in the past has penned official guides to such popular video games as Age of Empires III, Zoo Tycoon 2, Rise of Nations and others."

Further commentary: "On first blush it seems an odd choice, since game guides usually focus on getting from start to finish as easily as possible and uncovering hidden corners of the game in question. But Catherine Smith at Linden Lab tells me that it was the publisher who approached the company about doing an official guide. In addition, “LL has had lots of input into the content, the look and feel and the writing of the book,” she says." I'm presuming the adult areas will be studiously avoided, mind you.

August 25, 2006

Power Leveling - A Little Like Daycare?

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/index_carless_lg.jpg OK, a little cross-promotion here, since the first feature I've written for Gamasutra since returning from China is up. It's called 'IGE: Inside The MMO Trading Machine', and it talks to the COO of the world's largest MMO item/gold trading company. I actually chatted to him while I was in Shanghai, but it's taken a while to get the piece (which is a rare on-the-record statement from the often shadowy company) properly written up.

I've previously written on GSW about the wackiness that is power leveling (go give your WoW character to a 'babysitter' who levels it up for you!), and IGE clearly have their eye on this market: "[IGE COO James] Clarke also noted that, in pure economic terms, paying people to level your character is "a market which tends toward commoditization." Of course, those handing over their character have "a high degree of sensitivity" to what's happening to their virtual avatar - the COO quipped: "It's almost like day care... you'd be amazed how much they check in.""

The controversy over who own in-game items also continues to rage - Blizzard claims: "The World of Warcraft Terms of Use clearly states that all of the content in World of Warcraft is the property of Blizzard, and Blizzard does not allow "in game" items to be sold for real money." However, IGE claims: "We very much stand behind the concept of in-game property being owned by the players" - meaning, of course, it can be sold and traded to others.

Of course, in-game gold farmers are arguably ruining the fun for many by camping, and they sell things on to IGE, no matter whether they're 'officially' allowed to pass on items or not. But people pay for these items, and to level up easily, and so the cycle continues, at least until there are definitive legal challenges to item selling in or outside the U.S. But these are challenges that, even if there are possible, will be confusing enough that they might go against the MMO firms? Fun all round!

Academy Awards Warn Us - Don't Game About!

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/oscar.jpg Here's a fun bit of Gamasutra-related hilarity - a little earlier this week, our UK news editor David Jenkins posted a [since edited] news story about a new Japanese game award show, and compared it to the Academy Awards in the news title - or rather, cited a GameSpot article which translated a Japanese media report which quotes someone as comparing it to the Academy Awards.

Anyhow, we got a very polite email this afternoon from a legal-type person: "I am writing on behalf of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. As you will no doubt be aware, the Academy annually presents an Award of Merit statuette, commonly known as the OSCAR, to people who make outstanding contributions to the motion picture industry... As a result of the long and continuous use of the Academy Marks in conjunction with the granting of awards, the Academy has gained valuable goodwill and strong recognition in these trademark in the U.S. and worldwide."

So what was wrong? "A Gamasutra article... has recently come to our attention. The headline reads [well, it did before we edited it!] "Japan Plans 'Game Academy Awards'." It refers to the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry plans to create an award for the country’s video games industry. Regardless of whether or not this ACADEMY AWARDS reference was derived from an outside news source, it is nonetheless concerning to the Academy. We consider the use of the ACADEMY AWARDS name in Gamasutra's headline as damaging to our rights by tending to dilute the ACADEMY AWARDS mark's unique identification with the Academy or incorrectly implying these awards are in some way connected with or endorsed by the Academy."

So yes, they asked us to change the headline. It's an old story, the change doesn't break the meaning in any way, and we didn't really feel like arguing with Uncle Oscar, so we did. Here's our reply: "Well, I find this one a bit of a puzzler, because as you rightly note, the original comparison was made not by us, but by the Japanese newspaper the Yomiuri Shinbun, whom we are merely citing. Nonetheless, we're tickled that you noticed, somewhat understand your point, and we're happy to amend the article, which we have already done." Has this post made you see the Oscars differently? If so, the Academy's lawyers have done their job!

Manifesto Successfully Manifests Itself

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/manif.jpg Greg Costikyan and Johnny Wilson's somewhat-vaunted Manifesto Games indie game portal is now open for a 'Beta' version, and it's, well, not unreasonable-looking!

There's the amusingly-named Dispatch From The Central Committee weblog, which is "something equivalent to "Outgoing Mail"; it's where Manifesto's management and employees will post about our plans, our thoughts, and what's going on with the company", and a whole bunch of games to check out, the featured choice right now being IGF finalist Mudcraft.

One notable thing is the good-quality descriptions: "Dune II, WarCraft, Command & Conquer, Age of Empires, and Empire Earth--real-time strategy games have always been about warfare and conquest, right? How could you possibly do a peaceful RTS?... Mudcraft is no high-end high-poly high-budget high-def extravaganza; it's a simple, pleasant, goofy, fun little art game that engages you and brings you back for one level more. And yes, you come to care a good deal more about the mud people than you do about, say, the minutely-detailed soldiers of a big-budget RTS title." This type of rhetoric makes me want to care, amusing communist allegories aside.

Retrogaming Times Exposes Pac-Man Shame

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/hackem.png The good people at Atari Age handily pointed the way to the August 2006 issue of the Retrogaming Times, which features a whole bunch of quirky articles in a pseudo-newletter stylee, yaaay.

This particularly includes a neat article on attempts to redeem Pac-Man on the 2600, with the intro: "Many people have claimed that the official Atari 2600 version of Pac-Man, programmed by Tod Frye, was responsible for the beginning of the end of Atari’s market dominance before the crash. This most anticipated home version was, to some, the most disappointing. I’m not here to debate the merit of those claims. What I am here to discuss is another effect that 2600 Pac-Man has been responsible for: inspiring some of the best hackers to provide the 2600 playing community with something that it has always lacked, a decent arcade conversion of one of the most beloved games in video game history."

The absolute best? "The programmers at Ebivision were determined to show the world that an extremely accurate port of Pac-Man could be done for the Atari 2600, and in only 4K of ROM. They started programming the game from scratch, and planned on releasing the result commercially. But since we live in a world of litigation, Ebivision was concerned that Namco or other copyright holders would attempt to sue them for their efforts, so they decided to convert the game in to something Pac-Man-ish and named it Pesco. Nukey Shay decided to take what they had released and convert it BACK in to Pac-Man."

Thus, we get Hack 'Em, and Pac-Man's ghosts (haw!) are finally laid to rest. Lots more fun articles in the Retrogaming Monthly too, all endearingly obsessive.

COLUMN: 'The Gentleman Nerd' - Why I Love... Puerto Rico

[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.]

I am, usually, not so fond of economy games. In fact, I’m what most people would call a fan of killing stuff. Unless something is blowing up or I get to remove a piece from the board, then I’m not really into it. That’s why I approached Puerto Rico with a fair bit of skepticism.

Puerto RicoOn the surface, Puerto Rico appears to be a boring, counter-based game. That notion carries on throughout opening up the box for the first time. Oh boy, a ton of cardboard squares and circular counters. I wasn’t particularly excited about playing this game at all. The only thing I knew about the game is that it’s the highest rated game on Board Game Geek, and my friend Brian wouldn’t shut up about it. So, I gave in to the pressure and we set up the board. I must admit that when you set up all the pieces, it looks completely baffling and dense. Then we started playing.

Have you ever had a moment in your life where, after struggling with something, it all makes perfect sense, and that realization happens in a second’s time? It’s happened several times for me throughout my life. The first experience I can remember like that is when I was a kid and my dad bought me the full version of Quick Basic for my birthday.

Puerto RicoMy dad began programming in the seventies and I wanted to follow suit. So, I would sit in my room on my 8086 and try to figure out how to program stuff in BASICA. I eventually lost interest in it, and had forgotten all about programming until I received that gift. I’m not sure if it was just that I was older, or that I had access to more helpful documentation, but it all just started making sense. I completely understood the logic. That’s what happened with Puerto Rico.

My initial shock wore off and the game started making perfect sense. Each of the gameplay mechanics manages to be clever but not too complex, and there’s only one way to interpret any of the rules. The game’s layout is no-frills and concise, but for Puerto Rico, that works. In other words, I’m very pleased to say that all of my initial reactions were dead wrong. Puerto Rico is one of the strongest board games I’ve every played.

Puerto RicoLet’s take a quick look at how the game plays. On each turn, you choose a role card. These role cards decide who is what for the rest of the round. Once the round has ended, the role cards go back into the center and can be chosen again. These different roles allow for different actions, and whoever chooses that role gets a bonus to that action. The actions vary, but mostly have to do with the production of goods, purchasing of buildings and manning of farms. The game continues until all of the victory points have been given out, someone fills up their building spots or all of the workers are gone. Whoever ends the games with the most victory points wins. It’s a very easy game disguised as a complex one.

What the instructions don’t tell you, however, is that the real fun in Puerto Rico is screwing your friends over. There’s nothing better than taking the last farm that your friend needs and not even manning it. There’s this look that people get when they realize that you just took something from them just because you can. It’s like manna from heaven. Who ever thought that human suffering could be so fulfilling?

That’s why I love Puerto Rico.

[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.]

Final Fantasy III Price Gouging, Impressions

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/dsffiii.jpg Square's much-awaited Final Fantasy III remake for Nintendo DS was released in Japan this week, and NCSX has impressions of the game alongside some startling prices for the DS hardware FFIII bundle.

The site reveals: "Speculative vendors got gouge-happy again this week and shot for the stars by boosting the price of the FFIII DS bundle to ¥41,921 or US$362.22. Against our advisement, customers still confirmed their preorders and we are shipping those orders today. Everyone who confirmed as of 5:55PM EST yesterday will ship this afternoon." Yep, so almost $400, and a bunch of people still paid up - youch.

It's further noted: "We are aware of sizable supplies of the FFIII DS Lite Bundle being hoarded by traders. If sellers can't get their asking price within the next week or two, lofty valuations will get dumped as the speculative froth dies down. We've seen it many times before and we'll see it again in the future." Oh, and IGN has impressions of the game, too, for the interested - looks like it could be a big DS hit in the West, too.

August 24, 2006

I Can Be Your Idol Master, Baby

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/idol.jpg Over at Insert Credit, Brendan Lee has posted an excellent feature on playing and adoring Japanese arcade game he Idol M@ster, which is coming to the Xbox 360 in Japan pretty soon too, it was recently announced.

Lee explains the cost of failure all too well: "You can see that she's not going to make it, a few games back. You're keeping up with all of the various statistical meter-o-trons and reading her fanmail, and things are going along reasonably well, and then it all goes to hell, rather sharply and suddenly, and she starts failing audition after audition, and you can see her slipping away, and they don't just fade the screen black on you and flash the Game Over, no, you've got to keep slotting the coins just to keep her from being in a state of limbo, to give you both some f*cking closure on the thing . . . Then it's too late. Then the Last Concert begins."

He notes of the endgame: "Deep pockets or no, it gets harder and harder and harder as the game goes on. There's a time limit to get to the next level, and the game keeps counting down the weeks on you, and sooner or later the Director of your talent company lets you know that he's tired of dumping money into your sorry ass, and then you start the worst game of The Idol M@ster that you will ever play."

Sega has networked the game, so you play to make The Idol M@ster leaderboard, too, alongside people who've "always got full ninja regalia or Taiko no Tatsujin outfits or other full item sets that you need to spend hundreds of thousands of yen to get." This article make me want to play the game. But judging by the despair, maybe I shouldn't go there?

Jeff Minter's Space Giraffe Is Here!

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/spacegir.jpg We don't much like linking to the lovely chaps at QT3, because they're nice private guys who don't like the entire Internet turning up at their door (though they let Sparky post, apparently!), but Gary Whitta gives us no choice, by linking to [NFSW for language!] pictures of Jeff Minter's XBLA title Space Giraffe, without revealing which of the Yak's 8 billion blogs/messageboards it came from.

As is explained: "Many of you will be familiar with Jeff Minter, author of such 8-bit classics as Gridrunner, Trip-a-Tron, Mama Llama, Hover Bovver, Iridis Alpha and Meta-Galactic Llamas Battle at the Edge of Time. And of course Tempest 2000 for the Atari Jaguar. Most recently he co-authored the Xbox 360 music visualizer. Well, he's just posted some screenshots from his latest game, Space Giraffe, due to be released on Xbox Live Arcade later this year."

And why, pray, do the screens have swearwords all over them? Commenter 'Naked' explains: "Yak (Jeff Minter) uses the foul language to prevent sites like IGN posting shots like this (essentially WIP/Tech Test images he posts on his blog/forum) as "exclusive shots of Jeff Minter's new game" when they're not exactly representative of everything he's going for. It happened on Unity, leading to a bunch of silliness, so now he throws in some NSFW language as a (tongue in cheek) safeguard." Also, the dummy score is Pi - v.clever.

Wicki! Wicki! DJ Optical Mouse Fun

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/wick.jpg Over at the recently relaunched Playthrough blog, they've posted up a link to the awesome (but sadly not playable online) turntable-controlled Flash game 'Wicki Wicki', as co-created by Swedish design student Patrik Berg.

As Playthrough notes: "24 year old student of design, Patrik Berg created a brilliant prototype for a musical video game named Wicki! Wicki! where the player ’scratches’ along to various electronica and hip-hop tracks using a special turntable peripheral."

It continues: "To create the peripheral, Berg merely refinished an old Technics turntable, mounting an optical mouse as a pickup, which was then hacked to be controlled by a PC running a Flash game developed by Berg and his school team. So far only used in a school competition, this is definitely a fun little game for those budding DJs out there who are tired of scratching up their record collections."

Reminds a bit of Sega's Crackin' DJ, which actually used a turntable properly, unlike the still-fun Beatmania - though I guess this probably doesn't measure the length of the scratch, so it's more like Beatmania in that sense? Brain... cloudy!

WTF? Work Time Fun Details Unearthed

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/baito2.jpg SiliconEra has the most detailed gameplay info I've seen so far (not that I've been looking!) for D3's WTF for PSP, which we've previously covered in-depth under Japanese title Baito Hell 2000.

Among the mini-games: "In Private Number players take a stab and guessing a girl’s phone number out of the blue. When the game starts her profile tells what she likes and the four numbers used in her phone number. If you’re on the right the track she will give you signs like “Bingo” or act surprised. If you have the right number, but in the wrong place she’ll give a different sign. The faster you guess her number the more money you’ll earn. Also after you guess her number you can “call” the girl."

Also, uhh, 'Restaurant Bill Splitter': "One of the most useful tools in WTF, the restaurant bill splitter asks for the amount of money on the check and how many in the party to split the bill with. Then it divides the bill evenly or you can set it in “gentleman mode” so all the ladies pay less for the meal." Yes, this game is crazy - and reportedly not actually that great.

Indie August Round-Up Reaches DevastationZone

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/devz.jpg Yay, it's the latest GameTunnel indie game round-up for August, and it's revealed: "This month's article looks at ten indie titles including the perhaps Katamari inspired freeware game The Blob, Kudos, from the same mind as last year's amazing Democracy, as well as DevastationZone Troopers, a 3rd person shooter that lets you redefine your landscape with your weapons."

Top marks go to DevastationZone Troopers, of which Seth Robinson comments: "This game has you running around shooting robots in generic looking levels. It plays like a gorgeous 3D Crimsonland. You collect cash to upgrade your weaponry and by the end you're a virtual tank clearing a swath of glowing death through not only the enemies, but walls and dirt as well. Anything that might slow down the action has been removed - you aren't damaged by explosions, you never get lost, and a good offense is always the best defense. It's simple. It's primal. It's fun."

Also doing well is Kudos, which we've mentioned here before - Brian Clair likes it just about the most, noting that it's "a nice indie-take on the success of the Sims-dominant life-simulation genre that’s become so popular. While not graphics heavy like the Maxis franchise, Kudos proves to be just as addictive without so much meaningless fluff thrown in."

GameSetLinks - Splat Splat Revolution

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/discnat.jpg Oh my, a whole batch of fresh randomness for this fragrant Wednesday night - many of which you may not even have SEEN before. Links are crazy like that! Here we go:

- Gunpey Synth Fun? - the ever-observant Jiji notes that, if you go to the official Gunpey-R for Nintendo DS site and choose the bottom link (never mind that it's in Japanese!), you'll see a demo for 'Pico Pico Machine', where you "can create music in your own style" - it seems to be an entire extra Electroplankton-esque synth music creator built in to Q Entertainment's new puzzle remake? We LIKE!

- Splat Splat Revolution: Indygamer is still digging up the gems - witness a new post on Extermination Disco Nation, which is " a sample project by Kyle Gabler, developer of Super Tummy Bubble and Tower of Goo. Not much of a game but it does demonstrate the use of a dance pad very well. Controls are mapped to the QWEASD keys while pressing 3 skips the instructions." Yep, basically - step on things with the dance mat!

- Digidrive Test Drive: Still somewhat fascinated by the GBA Bit Generations titles, and over at Silicon Era, Spencer Yip has tried out Digidrive in some detail, explaining: "Of the intentionally-simplistic bit Generations titles, DigiDrive has been said to be the most complex, that it just has to ‘click’: suddenly, players confused by the minimalist (and all-Japanese) fold-out manual and a demo totally undemonstrative of the game’s true capabilities, who have then found terrible fortune with FAQs (this could be me)… suddenly, they just ‘get it’. So, in its dissimilarity from just about everything, DigiDrive is not for the easily-frustrated or faint-of-heart." Sound neeto.

- Spin, Mutilate, Recycle: Over at Vintage Computing, they've posted the ominous-sound 'Eric’s Look at Recycled PC Game Ideas', and it's full of hiiilarious anecdotes. Like: "In my first year of college (1992), I started dating a lovely young woman — as compassionate and non-violent a person as you could ever hope to meet. She wasn’t much of a computer geek, but… well, nobody’s perfect. One weekend we made a trip to see my parents, and my dad showed her this new game that he was hooked on: Wolfenstein 3D." It goes on to talk about the evolution of game styles, not dads playing Wolf3D, but nothing's perfect!

August 23, 2006

Buzz Investigates: PlayStation 3's 120 FPS Subliminal Messages?

HypnoPS3.jpg[GameSetWatch is extremely proud to debut this latest scoop from veteran game journalist Joseph 'BUZZ' Berkley. Not content with pioneering the video game journalism scene as we know it, he's now getting next-gen, presenting an EXCLUSIVE SCOOP on the PlayStation 3's hitherto unpublicized extra features.]

It’s been over a year since Ken Kutaragi announced that PS3 games would be able to run at a stable 120 FPS. While some might assume it was an empty marketing claim that simply doubled the current industry standard of 60 FPS, Kutaragi stood strong. Never mind that even the newest HDTVs cap out at around 60hz - some day in the future these TVs would exist, and the PS3, despite being a few decades old at that point, would be ready.

However, the human eye can only process input with an upper limit of around 75hz. Now, if Mr. Kutagari’s claims were just meaningless hyperbole designed to create a new bullet point for arguments about which hardware has the biggest numbers, one could assume that he didn’t realize this. But since we know from personal experience that he’s a serious man, Buzz Investigates asks: what are the other 45 frames for? They’re going by too quickly to be perceived consciously, but our minds will process them and mull them over subconsciously.

After speaking to sources so secret that it’s possible they don’t even exist, we’ve found no reason not to post this unsubstantiated speculation. After all, none of my sources could tell me for sure the PS3 wasn’t designed with so-called 'brainwashing' in mind. And not being told “no” is a lot like being told... well, you know how cutting-edge journalism works, right?

What does this mean for consumers? At its most innocuous, the relatively harmless: subliminal advertising. In fact, this method of advertising would likely be legal! The developer would simply add a notice to the End User License Agreement, which you never read anyway. It could be as simple as a notice that the User understands that the game contains advertising, with no mention of the fact that it will be delivered through the will-dominating method of Really Quick Images Flashing on a Screen, or RQIFS. These RQIFS-es could even be updated with new, possibly fast-food related ad campaigns using the PS3’s online capabilities. Could this be the entire reason that no concrete details about the service have been announced? The Buzz thinks so!

There is currently an alternate theory spreading across the Internet that, rather than planning to force the gamers of the world to obey their every whim, Sony will be looking toward the PlayStation 4, in around 10 years, to release some kind of Optic Nerve Clamp, somewhat like the scientific documentary Inner Space, that would allow the system to send video signals directly to the extrastriate cortical areas of the brain.

Obviously, this is wishful thinking at its best. If Sony is going do anything with Optic Nerve Clamps for PlayStation 4, it’s going to involve totalitarian mind control via altered perception. In the mean time, consider your mind altered, Buzz-style.

luciddream.jpgNEXT TIME: Buzz Investigates asks the hard questions. Does Peter Moore not know what lucid dreaming is, or do all his lucid dreams feature people with distressingly unrealistic facial movements?

['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. If he did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.]

Two Guys... With Guns!

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/cabelblog.jpg Over at his personal weblog, Cabel Sasser (who makes those darling Katamari Damacy T-shirts as part of his company Panic), has posted a fun call-to arms named 'The State of American Videogames' ("As illustrated by the last three covers of EGM").

He comments: "Are you like me? Do you yearn for American games to reach the diversity of other American mass media, like, for example, movies? Right now I can go to a movie theatre and see a quirky indie comedy about a dysfunctional family, or a ridiculous action epic about snakes (that happen to be on a plane), or a screwball comedy about NASCAR racers and baby Jesus, or a documentary about global warming, or a terrible animated film about farm animals, etc. etc... But if I step into Electronics Boutique, these days I can pretty much only buy "Two Guys With Guns"."

Ending up, Sasser muses: "The thing is, while it's really easy for me to sit here and implore all game developers to try new things (yay blogging!) — and, to be fair, many developers are, like Telltale Games, Keita Takahashi, the Xbox Live Arcade, etc. — I have to wonder: are there simply not enough gamers, non 15-year-old male gamers I guess, to financially support new and different gaming styles?" Well, aren't there? [Via Wonderland.]

GameSetInterview: Martin Bell On Carrier Command Remake

CC_Turrets1.jpgRealtime Games Software Ltd.’s Carrier Command was released in 1988 for the Amiga, Atari ST, PC, ZX Spectrum, Apple Macintosh, Commodore 64 and Amstrad CPC. The game is, more or less, a cross between an aircraft carrier simulator, and a real time strategy game, where the goal is to pilot the carrier around an archipelago of 64 islands in an attempt to colonise them before your adversaries carrier does. Apparently, there’s some sort of story about scientists making the two carriers, and one of them falling into the hands of terrorists, but it’s not really important.

The most amazing thing about Carrier Command at the time of its release was the ability to pilot different vehicles stored in the carrier: WALRUSes, the amphibious assault vehicles, and MANTAs, airborne attack planes. Plus, it was all rendered in glorious filled-in vector 3D and looked slick as anything.

Then there was the depth of gameplay – islands were through a supply network that needed to be taken in to account when colonising and attacking, enemy islands could be defended by autonomous drones, and the enemy was a hell of a lot faster than your ship. If you can get past the look of it, it stands up remarkably well, even now.

In January of 2003, Martin Bell decided to start work on a remake of the game, and started a workblog to document his progress, commenting in his first entry:

“Decide to finally get arse in gear and learn 3D graphics that I 'always wanted to learn'. Find that DirectX LPHURTSMYHEAD with SILLYUPPERCASEHORRIBLENESS, and decide to take the 'true and righteous' OpenGL path ;) Oh, and also decide on rather ambitious first project.”

Three and a half years later, he’s still going. GameSetWatch contacted him via email to find out how things are progressing, and to talk about how awesome the original was.

What inspired you to start work on the game?

Ever since reading the Amiga reviews and thinking 'what an amazing concept!' I've been kind of unhealthily obsessed with the game. At that time the Amiga & ST were out of my price range by a long way (£399 for an Amiga 500!), which probably only added to it's aura in my eyes. Around the early eighties, there were a series of magazines (I forget the name) that showed state-of-the-art renders of (probably really simple) geometry in 3D that just amazed me. A few years ago I decided to get my head down and finally learn how to create such 3D worlds. Carrier Command was the obvious engine for doing so. It also coincided with the birth of my son, so I was in an umm...productive frame of mind.

Did you ever play the sequel, Battle Command? I hear it was pretty bad.

I briefly played it on the Amiga - it looked quite nice (parachuting tanks!), but was a step back from CC in many ways - not really worthy of the title sequel. Off topic a bit I was influenced by Armourgeddon about the same time - really cool game but needed discipline to play it properly (a bit like CC really).

carrier_command_original.gifWhat is your experience with the original title?

I originally played the Spectrum 128 version first, which was an amazing achievement on such a diminutive machine. While pared down a little, some of the gameplay aspects were actually more refined than the original 16-bit versions, which was nice. When I finally bought an Amiga, CC followed soon after... the name Thermopylae will always remind me of a great battle I had, which confirmed my thoughts that the game was way ahead of its time.

It seems like you've had a few restarts on the project - did you realise the game was going to be so difficult to make when you started on it?

I knew there'd be difficulties - not being at all familiar with 3D mathematics was the main stumbling block. I've not actually re-started the project, just had to re-think some of the design decisions I never really made or thought about enough in the first place. Design is an iterative process though; the code is in a much better state as a result. My programming and software engineering skills have improved during the course of managing such a large project - it would have failed before now otherwise. The hardest thing to handle has been a few periods of self burn-out, where I was simply doing too much. I'd sit there willing myself to code something up but my mind was refusing to think straight - swamped with CC overload. While such fervour is probably required to see this project through to completion, it was ending up counter-productive. Just recently I've been amazingly productive by taking this into account and having more time out.

Early on, it seemed a lot of the problems on the project were related to your attempts at perfection in terms of collision detection and accurate damage representation - and especially physics modelling.

Yes my knowledge was severely lacking in those areas, hence the eventual decision to 'outsource' physics & collision to 3rd party engines. I suppose I do tend too much towards perfectionism sometimes, which can be a good and bad thing. Accurate damage representation is a personal bugbear. As I say on my site, this is a chance to put my code where my mouth is. It's safe to say that without the internet at this point, the project would have faltered badly. Thanks to a few key people and game development resources (mainly gamedev.net and the gdAlgorithms mailing list) I managed to finally get things done.

The whole project seems like it's been a huge learning experience for you - has this been one of the enjoyable aspects?

Oh yes - the learning was the main aim of the project really (that and try to get a job in the games industry, which it succeeded in doing). The old cliché surfaces - I wish I'd paid more attention at school – but nothing can beat ones own personal interest as a driving force for learning. There have been hard times, but I don't think I was ever going to give up - I'm too stubborn really. I've learnt to leave my code in a good state at the end of each day though!

Where are you working?

I'm currently working for Bizarre Creations - they of Project Gotham Racing fame. Xbox 360 stuff at the moment - quite similar to PC dev as it turns out.

Have you run into many problems that you didn't see coming? That is, are there things in the original game that you expected to be easy to include or emulate, but have turned out to be more difficult?

The original game used some clever mechanics to compensate for lack of processing power at the time. I don't have that luxury with today's gaming expectations. So really the main problems have arisen from bringing the thing more up to date. Proper islands (not squares!), physics, random world generation are the things that spring to mind. I can't comment on the AI yet though - that should be a challenge! I want to get the game mechanics as stable as I can before starting on the AI though.

On the other hand, have there been things that you've found easier to implement than you expected?

Umm no, can't think of any... I didn't really start with a preconception of how hard or easy it would be - I just began.

You had someone else helping with the modelling a while back; are they still on the project, or is it back to just you?

That's kind of ongoing, though he's busy with a lot of other projects. The code will take a lot longer than the models I suspect.

CC_BuoyancyForces01.jpgWhat's keeping you occupied with the game right now?

I've had some problems integrating the physics engine - I've just ditched the buoyancy functionality and implemented my own instead, which works much better for me.
Just checked out the state of fragment shaders again as I periodically do - they progress so fast I've been leaving graphical bits to the end. I'm also looking at writing some music too - it'll be strings and classical sounding judging by what I've come up with so far - trying for a Williams Fantasia theme without sounding too similar.

How is the AI coming along?

Funny you should ask - it's just beginning now with the Island defence AI taking shape. Not strictly AI I know, but it falls into that category nowadays. I have a large document with ideas for the main campaign AI - just have to organise them into something coherent for the next step.

A few years back you commented that you knew why the original game paused while travelling between islands, but you never actually explained why.

Ah yes, I believe that due to floating point limitations, the islands were separate 'localities' and all game entities were transferred to a new locality when travelling between the islands. I could be wrong though...

Finally, and I know you probably dread this question, but when can we expect to see the finished product?

I don't think it'll ever be finished! No really, I can see myself improving and adding things to it long after any kind of formal release. As to the question you really want answering, I'm not sure. The development has proceeded in bursts of inspiration followed by slower periods, also depending on my RL situation. If pressed, I'd say my milestones are:

(a) Alpha: Get the game playable by a single player + Island defence AI + graphics improvements (i.e. everything but the enemy Carrier).
(b) Beta: Get in the enemy carrier + campaign management AI.
(c) Possible: Networking?

I'd hope to make the alpha stage by the end of this year, but my predictions before now have been somewhat optimistic!

A networked game of Carrier Command would be pretty amazing.

Networking is firmly in the 'possibility' category, though given enough time...

Fleafall Frumples Itself Out For Free

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/fleafall.jpg TIGSource points out that the formerly pay-to-play indie PC title Fleafall is now free, and can be downloaded for gratis from its official website.

Derek Yu notes of the title: "Fleafall is a pretty fun little action game where you play a flea competing against other fleas in a variety of orb-collecting challenges. It supports multiplayer via Internet or LAN." [The game was co-written by Berbank Green, who did an excellent article for Gamasutra on one-button games last year, actually.]

Berbank himself pops into the comments to sigh: "FleaFall was never really completed in that there was so much more we (myself and Francis) wanted to do with it, but time and money didn’t allow. What I released I thought was a pretty good game and planned to add to it once the money started coming in. It never did." Aw - well you should all give it some love now, at least?

GoldenPalace Helps Uwe Boll Fight, Fight, Fight

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/uwe.boll.jpg You know what? Uwe Boll makes for some damn good stories, and GoldenPalace.com's official press release revealing that it is sponsoring his showdown with critics of his video game-based movies, calling it 'GoldenPalace.com Presents Raging Boll', is really, dunno, icing on cake?

The PR handily explains: "Uwe Boll, the German filmmaker best known for several video game based films like 'Alone in the Dark', 'House of the Dead', 'BloodRayne' & 'In The Name of The King: A Dungeon Siege Tale', is considered by many critics to be one of the world's worst filmmakers. His movies, however, have made him more money than his critics will earn in several lifetimes."

It continues: "After receiving a slew of horrid reviews for his latest film BloodRayne earlier this year, Boll was incensed and did what any successful filmmaker would do -- challenged his detractors to a boxing match to knock some sense into them and settle the score." Challengers include "Richard "Lowtax" Kyanka from Lee's Summit, Missouri, Webmaster /CEO for Something Awful... Jeff Sneider from Los Angeles, California, Journalist for Ain't It Cool News", and a number of folks we haven't heard of.

What, no video game critics stepped up? I'm sure you guys knocked Mr. Boll as bad as the film folks and Something Awful-ites. Oh well - we're guessing Uwe may be pretty mean with a boxing glove, otherwise he wouldn't have suggested it, so watch out, Lowtax!

[Oh yeah, and worth pointing out GoldenPalace's heritage: "GoldenPalace.com has devised some of the most exciting and outrageous advertising campaigns in the past few years. Items such as the Virgin Mary Grilled Cheese Sandwich, Britney Spears' Pregnancy Test, and William Shatner's Kidney Stone have garnered extensive worldwide media attention for the casino." Marvellous!]

August 22, 2006

GameSetCompetition: Dead Rising Winners!

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/drdrd.jpg OK, apologies for the delay, but the GameSetCompetition winners for our Dead Rising contest are finally upon us, and gorging happily on the flesh of the living, while stopping occasionally to boot up their X360 and stare at the lovely graphics.

So the first 3 winners, who will get both Capcom's Xbox 360-exclusive Dead Rising and a Dead Rising T-shirt, are:

Paul Palmer, John Guerrero, Tim Hunter (not the Books Of Magic one!)

The next 2 winners, who will just get the game, and will have to find their own clothing, are:

Alex Brock, Henry Kropf

As for the answer to the question, for anyone who didn't get it right or have a clue, it was as follows:

Q: "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?"
A: The Batman soundtrack

There we go - more exciting GameSetCompetitions, hopefully again for something you will care about winning, coming soon! Watch the bat-phone!

Letters From the Metaverse: Numb Skull

[‘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 adventure games in Second Life.]

Oh Second Life. We’ve had some interesting times, you and me, over the past 8 weeks we’ve been together. Mostly, I must admit, I’ve been complaining about the games I’ve played with you. “Too glitchy!” I’d think, bemoaning a lack of polish, or “Not user friendly!” I’d sigh, wishing for a better interface with the world the game was trying to present to me. I’m beginning to think I’ve been a little too harsh on all of those bedroom coders and Second Life architects. You see, maybe it’s not them. It’s you.

2006_08_22_arrival.jpg
Now don’t get me wrong, here. I think Second Life is interesting, and it’s certainly getting around – I noticed this week that Warren Ellis (creator of comic series Transmetropolitan, and many more greats, including the superb recent Desolation Jones) has begun blogging about it, and there was a big convention or something last week? But I’m coming to the conclusion that Second Life is almost completely unsuitable for any kind of games other than the simplest (by which I mean board games, or Tringo variants) until there are some major upgrades, because I’ve never been quite as frustrated in Second Life as I have been trying to play “The Pot Healer’s Adventure” on the island of Numbakulla.

2006_08_22_village.jpgNumbakulla is the adventure “sim” that is (kind of) supposed to be a Second Life version of Myst or Riven – a gentle mystery that you must unfold while exploring the island.

It’s set up quite wonderfully – when you teleport to the island you find yourself stood in front of a ship wreck, and can grab the notebook object required to play, and (if you choose) wear some game specific clothing. From that point on you begin exploring, anywhere or anyhow you wish, picking up objects such as keys, and using them in other areas.

The Pot Healer’s adventure relies quite heavily on “tooltips” (those small pieces of information you see when you hover your cursor over something) as otherwise you’d never have any idea what was of use, and it has a nice collection of notes and text fragments scattered around the island to help you unravel the plot, which is admittedly still somewhat obscure to me now.

The island is incredibly nice and well constructed (visually, at least). There are flaws, here and there (the odd spelling mistake, and so on) but by and large it does feel harsh to blame the problems I experienced on the creators, but the unfortunate fact is, however, that a litany of errors simply made me give up in frustration.

2006_08_22_ship.jpgTo list only a few, climbing any stairs or high slopes looks ridiculous as my character bobbles about, bashing into them until he miraculously manages to glitch himself over them. There’s a waterfall that there is no escape from. Second Life seems to allow the ability to ‘sit down’ on doors and warp through them; I did this by accident, actually, and found myself trapped inside a boulder. It’s just all so glitchy and ruinous, that compared to the cold, immaculate (and in my case, alienating) perfection of Riven or Myst, the illusion is completely destroyed by my regular battles with the interface and Numbakulla’s battles with the engine.

The plus side, of course, is that in this case, it’s free, and if you take a ride around the island on the flying ship you can see it all without having to deal with the glitchy movement of your character. If you can put up with it, however, Numbakulla does seem to feature an in-depth (if a little obscure) adventure that is probably better played in a group.

[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, Game Reactor (translated into Danish!), and Eurogamer. He's just started a workblog. Why don't you visit it if you want to find out more?]

GameSetLinks: Weekend Leftovers, Innit?

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/toribash.jpg Wow, OK, it's Tuesday afternoon and a bunch of these links are actually left over from THE WEEKEND, which shows how busy it's been getting in the GSW/Gamasutra offices this week - but there's light at the end of the tunnel, and it comes in the form of the following posts:

- Toribash, Factory Pinball Physics: Our favorite physics blog, Fun Motion, has posted a couple of excellent new entries - on wacky humanoid-as-pinball physics game Factory Pinball, and for turn-based physics fighting game Toribash, of which it's raved: "Although newer titles are incorporating motion blending and even including layers of physics simulation, the underlying motion is still keyframe based. Toribash does away with keyframes entirely, and the results are fantastic." And it does look super-smart, too.

- Segagaga, Translated?: So, this is interesting - the 1UP blog for James Howell, who has a recently founded company providing game translation services (looks like their completed work so far is mainly translating Hideo Kojima's blog and other related Kojima Productions material), indicated that he's working on a fan translation of Sega's awesome 'Sega simulation' for DC, Segagaga. He indicates: "My translation group and I have teamed up with a really good guy who goes by SixFortyFive on the InsertCredit.com boards, and we're working on an English patch for the Japanese game. The idea is that you'd make a backup copy of your Japanese copy of Segagaga, add our patch to the backup, burn the patched backup on a CD-ROM disc, and play the English language version on your Dreamcast." Definitely a game many would like to see playable in English [Via Fort90.]

- Idolmaster Mini-game Smut: OK, we're so behind with the Indygamer blog, it's ridiculous - Tim W. is really showing how much indie content there is out there (a LOT!). But here's a random piece of oddness, a dojin Idolmaster (unofficial!) Wario Ware-esque title, of which he reveals: "There's a trial version playable through your browser, but unfortunately carries a limitation of three minigames. One requires the player to arrange cards with pictures of girls in their swimwear, in the order of the largest cup to the smallest starting with the left position." Oh dear.

- GameSpot's Curves Explored: I really wish I hadn't written that subhead as some kind of terrible segue. Anyhow, Metafuture has done insane amounts of number-crunching on GameSpots review stats, revealing: "You might notice is how certain scores tend to not be represented in the expected curve. In particular notice how no matter which console platform you look at, it seems particularly difficult to score a 7.7 or a 7.8." And other fun stuff. Obviously there's a global 7.7 conspiracy going on here.

- Iwai Iwai Iwai: Eek, did I forget to link a Toshio Iwai interview? Cubed3 has an excellent in-depth chat with the Electroplankton creator, and we don't see why we shouldn't link it. Most interestingly, discussing the decision to have no save capability (curses!), one of the reasons cited: "The first reason is that I wanted players to enjoy Electroplankton extemporarily [externally?] and viscerally, and I thought if the save function was added, the software would become more like a tool." Aw.

- GameTappity Tap Tap: We got the August GameTap newsletter, and here's a few rather non-specific highlights, alongside news that Descent 2, Descent 3, and Descent Freespace are all appearing on the service. Next week is: "Strategy First Week: Prepare to wage some epic battles and build some burgeoning empires with next week's deep, strategic suite of games." Then: 8/31 - "Ninja Week: GameTap's been infiltrated by these stealthy martial artists and they're coming after you! Karate Chop!" Then: 9/14 - "Sports Week: Golf, Soccer, Bowling, Snowboarding, Fishing, Paintball, Tennis, and did we hear someone say something about Tony Hawk?" Finally: 9/21 "Adventure Week: Get set to embark on a journey for strange new worlds and solve some brain-bending puzzles with this week's complement of adventure titles." All a bit vague, GameTap, we want GAME NAMES!

COMIC: 'Our Blazing Destiny' - Animal Crossing!!

[Our Blazing Destiny is a weekly comic by Jonathan "Persona" Kim about our society, cultural postdialectic theory, and video games. And about lovesick dramas between little super-deformed animal people and little super-deformed people-people.]

This week, Persona's words of wisdom are as follows: "I liked Animal Crossing better on the Gamecube than on the DS for some reason. I think there was something nice about leaving messages behind for a theoretical other player to see, presumably someone that lived in the same house and could access the game anytime. Of course, in my case, there was no other player so I was leaving clues behind for no one, except for occasional asshole friends who would come and chop all my trees down and bury mounds of trash everywhere.

I originally had in mind a more wispy color style for this comic but then soon realized that I didn't really know how to color like that. I think I should go up to the mountains and rededicate myself to learning how to draw wispy lines and delicate colors from women living in rock cabins who draw yaoi doujinshi while fighting bears and eating salmon!"

It is a game about animals and people mating in the forest! Get it??

[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. Excitement is burning!

Dude, We're Totally Lost In Thargoid Space

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/elite.jpg Honestly, Armchair Arcade, did you think you could talk about what a great game Ian Bell and and David Braben's Elite is and not have us link to it? Clearly, this was never going to fly.

Matt Barton notes: "If you were lucky enough to play Elite back in the mid 80s, you'll probably remember just how big this game felt. You literally had whole galaxies on a floppy disk, just waiting for your Cobra to make that hyperjump to them. There were suns and planets and moons, and an almost infinite expanse of unexplored territory."

He continues: "Of course, to some extent, all this size is merely an illusion. It's becomes pretty obvious that the near infinite number of planets is achieved by algorithms. Planet names might be randomly generated, as are their types of governments, populations, and exports. It's a pattern familiar to folks who grew up playing games like ROGUE and HACK, "role-playing games" that traded linear storylines for replayability."

Right, but as he points out: "Elite was and remains a masterpiece because of its grand vision, bold ambitions, and utterly uncompromising emphasis on building the player's own competence." In other words, Elite. Is. Hardcore.

The Words Of Shodan

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/shodan.jpg That terrible oik and New Game Journalism pater familias Kieron Gillen (yes, yes, his Phonogram comic is out now via Image) has posted an explanatory link to what he describes as 'the hefty 4000 word feature I wrote about SHODAN from System Shock 2' for PC Gamer UK. And it is!

Thus, we get things like this: "Shodan is, as far as videogames go, an original. Most games fiction is hopelessly derivative. System Shock, and Shodan especially, was /hopefully/ derivative. She’s taken from some obvious sources – 2001’s HAL primarily - but she’s something else, something more and something unique. She’s more than just a gender-switched HAL, and it’s a disservice to treat her as such. She’s, essentially, a pulp villainess."

There's also some nice comparisons of the first game and the sequel: "While the first System Shock opened the game with her in complete control and a petty little God in her own floating world, just a few days before the beginning of the story of System Shock 2, she didn’t even exist." The full feature looks really nice when laid out, FWIW, and is the kind of thing it's delightful to see magazines running, honestly. [Also, a shiny round penny for whoever gets the terrible Commodore Amiga-related game pun in the post title.]

Na Na Na-Na, Pac-A-Rally Damacy?

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/katakart.jpg Now, we're not saying that Keita Takahashi is having a little weep into his morning cornflakes, but the franchise-ation of Katamari Damacy continues, with news via eToychest that there will be a special Katamari Damacy track in the upcoming Pac-Man Rally.

The 'Chesters note: "The track, titled 'King’s Kourse', will feature not only a cameo by the King of All Cosmos himself as he watches the race from the horizon, but also a pair of roaming katamari that patrol the track and try to squash racers as they pass! Plus, with previous confirmation that the Prince is to be a playable racer in the game, this latest news is proof positive that Namco does not need Keita Takahashi to suckle from his teat."

Oops, we missed the Katamari kart / Pac-Rally announcement, but that's probably for the best, after the distinctly disappointing Katamari PSP. I guess when you have a good thing going, it's always tempting to run and run with it?

August 21, 2006

Bee TV Busts Down Hudson's Doors

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/beetv.jpg There's definitely something in Hudson Entertainment's water recently, as can be concluded by the recent Bob Marley deal, and now they're going further off the edge with the revelation of 'Bee TV Episode 1', a videocast starring Hudsonites.

There's a Google Video streaming version up for maximum fun, and it's explained: "So you wanna know what we've got cookin'? How about an office visit to Konami! In our debut episode we discuss everything from Rengoku 2 to Bomberman Act: Zero to eating burgers?! Guaranteed to bring lots of laughs, this is the Hudson crew at its finest!"

We particularly like the Bee TV logo sequence, which involves both Bomberman and Bonk messing with the Hudsonsoft logo in evil manners - but there's also fun inside the videocast, which seems to have the Hudson crew comparing fast food to help promote BurgerTime for cellphones. The next Game Life, only with actual people, not bizarrely molded puppets? Almost certainly.

Dungeon Siege 2's Self-Promotional Japes

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/ds2e.jpg Vedrashko's 'Brands In Games' blog points to something we'd missed - an Ars Technica article noting the Dungeon Siege 2 expansion's promotional hilarity.

It's revealed: "In Dungeon Siege 2: Broken World, our forum goer Scero found an NPC that told him about the Dungeon Siege PSP game and offered him a code for it, as well as saying the PSP game had a code for items in the game he was playing." And a related screenshot is procured!

The Ars Technica guys get all shakey-fisty-y about this, ranting: "Way to help us suspend disbelief. Even worse, this "ad" was voiced by the character. Wanting to advertise in a game is fine, but I think this is kind of sick; characters in games should not try to talk to you about other games the developers want you to buy. I've just put Broken World in my "do not buy or play" folder."

So do you guys care about this? Is it fair game in a world where branding is increasingly important, or is it EVIL cross-promotional in a world GONE MAD? Inquiring minds want to know.

Second Life Character Looks Like Real-Life Counterpart!

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/slcc.jpg Over at Kotaku, Wagner James Au has a fun write-up from last weekend's Second Life Community Convention, in which he imparts the amazing news that somebody in Second Life actually looks like their avatar.

He notes: "The first time I met Nethermind Bliss, she was a woman with fire engine red hair, WWI flying ace goggles, and Wolverine wrist claws. The next time I met her was last weekend at the Second Life Community Convention in San Francisco, so this time, the meeting was in-person, and she was more or less the same, just flesh-based. (Though she still had the goggles and claws.)"

We also got Mark Wallace to cover Mitch Kapor's keynote over at Gamasutra, which was pretty interesting stuff - but what I find most fascinating right now is how Mathew Kumar's GSW column on Second Life is presenting a much more unvarnished view of the world from a newbie. Who is 'right'? Everyone!

A Day In The Life Of Video Games

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/dogg.jpg So, the ever-shmuppy Postman, whom you may know from Shoot The Core, has co-founded a new blog called A Day In The Life Of Video Games with a co-worker.

He explains of it: "Myself and my friend work in a small mom+pop type game store, and lots of crazy/funny stuff happens almost daily. I told him we should blog about it, he started the project so naturally I joined in." Yay - now, mind you, none of this is explicitly hilarious, but it does give a good insight into the kind of issues the average video game store runs into.

They're well illustrated in the 'Don't hustle a hustler' post, which shows a fun little scam in action: "There's a demo PS2 running in the store, and at the time we had Need For Speed Underground playing. A guy comes in with a NFSU box, and says the disc is missing (this is a variation of scam #1). He says it must be the one in the demo [console], and we forgot to give it to him. So I check the receipt first, and it lists a NFS game... [but] it's not the Underground one listed, it's Hot Pursuit or something. DING, my scammer sense is tingling. "Check the demo [console], man, just give me the disc from there, you guys must have forgot...."

The coup de grace? "Lemme tell you the feeling I had next was close to an orgazism when I got to tell the guy "THE PS2 DEMO SET HAS A HARD DRIVE AND THE GAMES RUN FROM THAT!" This guy just got PWNED! and just walked out of the store." PWNED, I tell joo!

Gamevil's Magazine Of Mobile Game Genius

GameSetWatch sister website Gamasutra (and the GSW folks in general!) have been somewhat enchanted by the South Korean cellphone game company Gamevil (pronounced Game-Ville, not Game-Evil, incidentally!), who you may probably best know from the addictive one-button mobile game Skipping Stone, but also make the totally awesome screen-rotating Nom, a subject of a postmortem in the next issue of Game Developer - with a Nom 2 postmortem to appear on Gamasutra.

Anyhow, because we've been talking to them quite a lot, now they're moving into the U.S. market (here's a short interview with them Brandon conducted at E3), we got added to what is essentially their internal company newsletter, but also sent out to mobile phone carriers/distributors, the media, and select consumers who buy their games in South Korea.

It's monthly (!), 64 pages long (!!), and gorgeously laid out (!!!), making it pretty crazy for what is kinda Gamevil's outward-facing company rag - the company's Kyu Lee explained to us: "We try to bind the customers to increase the brand loyalty through this media. It has been a good method to educate the customers, and make the word of mouth spread out."

Of course, the darn thing is all in Korean, but that doesn't stop us showing you a couple of the pages that we scanned in quickly (hope you don't mind, Gamevil folks!), just to show the kind of neatness they're up to - this is actually a really good idea for developer loyalty from multiple points of view, if it makes any financial sense, hah:

    

The cover - featuring Skipping Stone, I think - and the birthdays/Gamevillains (!) special awards for company employees!

    

Yes, a PC adventure game Gamevil employee review (cool!), plus wacky phonecam pics from Gamevil's messageboards!

To end up, thanks to the Gamevil U.S. guys for translating the full table of contents to an average issue, listed below:

10 : GAMEVIL Note : Birthdays, New Employees, Monthly Gamevilians (Award given to monthly best employees)
11 : GAMEVIL In the Media : News
12-13 : New Employee interview
14-15 : In depth interview with existing employee
16-17 : Interview with Famous people (in the industry or celebrity)
19 : Famous dining places
20-21 : Monthly Theme
22-23 : In depth on GAMEVIL games
24 : Column on the Mobile Game Industry
25 : Recommended Books
26 : Global Topics
27 : New Phones
28 : New Terms (WCDMA) for introduction to people who don’t know much about mobile games
29 : Cartoon
30-31 : Focused Articles on Events etc.
32 : Awards Won
33 : Mobile Game Review (non-GAMEVIL games)
34-35 : In depth on GAMEVIL games
36-37 : Game vs Game : Comparison on games (usually non-mobile games)
38 : Game Theatre : In depth review on GAMEVIL games from GAMEVIL Mania (GAMEVIL Fan Group)
39 : GAMEVIL Graphic Design
40 : Pictures within GAMEVIL
41 : Pictures from GAMEVIL Mania
42-43 : Interview with Customer (Mobile Gamer)
44 : Talk About (anything)
45 : Top Ranker Interview on a particular GAMEVIL game
46-47 : Visiting Schools by GAMEVIL Mania
48-49 : Interview with GAMEVIL Mania
50-51 : Interview on the Road (random popular places)
52 : Quiz (We give prizes to winners)
53 : Epilogue

Yep, so it's agreed - all game companies should do big monthly magazines like this to increase community. Foundation 9, Double Fine, BioWare, Obsidian we're looking at you! You clearly all have lots of time to do it!

August 20, 2006

Drunksaling Hits The Move-Away Jackpot

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/scram.jpg Delighted to note that The New Gamer folks are back with their latest round of 'Chi-Style Drunksaling, trawling Chicago's garage sales for the best in gaming goodness - only this time, they're cheating, 'cos a garagesaling friend of their is leaving town, and bequeathing his best stuff to them.

They explain that the aforementioned Dave "... was trawling the local thrift stores for finds years before unitdaisy and I even me", and that: "We had agreed to help him move what he wasn't taking with him to his storage unit and, in turn, he was off-loading much of what he no longer wanted to us." Sounds like a good deal to us!

Choice parts of the swag includes "An early Sears-published Pong set", as well as the best prize of all, "a huge binder stuffed full of computer game manuals and documentation. While it mostly includes Atari 400 game documentation, there are a number of other interesting game manuals and literature" - as they note, including the docs for Chris Crawford's Scram, "based around a scram, or emergency shutdown of a nuclear reactor."

GameSetLinks: The Gaming Power Of Christ Compels You

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/xian.jpg S-s-Sunday is upon us, and therefore, it's only fitting that we should kick off today's GameSetLinks round-up with a little bit of religion in your gaming:

- Birthing Jesus: The Game!: Thanks to USA Religious News for passing on an important press release, revealing: "For those who still labor under the misconception that Christian video games are boring, expensive and uncool "Faith Explorer" has arrived just in the nick of time!" That's right: "Faith Explorer takes some of the most inspirational Bible stories from both the Old and New Testaments and creates a 3D environment that pulls kids actively into the story. Stories include Jesus on the Road to Emmaus, Noah and the Ark, Moses and Pharaoh, and the Birth of Jesus. Players solve puzzles and avoid adversaries (always non-lethal!) as they explore the location and events of a particular story." Hurray, please suggest control schemes for playing the Birth Of Jesus.

- France, Center Of The Lumines World: GSW and Game Developer co-editor Brandon is gallivanting around Europe on holiday, and posting about it at Insert Credit, including this piece of fun: "I went to the Centre George Pompidou museum, which had some decent exhibits, and a pink room occupied by flowing silk (billowing with air from accompanying wall-mounted fans), and a giant red high-heeled shoe. But that's not the point. The point is, I saw the series of paintings you see [pictured here], by françois morellet, born 1926. Check out the identifying card here. The card says that this is a series of six (I didn't capture them all) variations of repeating black and white squares based on the even multiplications of the number pi. But really it's just the only combinations you can make with those squares. And really, it's freaking Lumines. Awesome (and frankly, maybe where he got the idea?)."

- Ultima Online, Prettied Up: Good ol' Kotaku has spotted that "massively multiplayer online role playing game Ultima Online will see a considerable graphics overhaul and a reworked UI" in 2007, apparently under the name Ultima Online: Kingdom Reborn. The official blurb notes: "We are completely re-building the Ultima Online client with new graphics and a new easier-to-use interface... It is an in-place upgrade. That means you will be able to keep your characters, items, houses and everything else you've earned over the past nine years... We are committed to maintaining extremely low system specs. They will be higher than what UO launched with in 1997, but will still be far lower than almost any other MMORPG on the market."

- Blizzard Pwnt At Gen Con: Another fun post from Broken Toys, spotting that World Of Warcraft players mounted a semi-mock protest, holding up signs such as 'No Lag On Rag' and 'WTB (Lag-Free Server) PST' in front of the Blizzard booth at Gen Con. Apparently, the lag they're protesting is a genuine issue, even if their method of protesting was pretty sarcastic/amusing. As Scott notes: "I’m sure the community people present were vastly amused."

- Bay Area Arcade Sale Alert!: Since it's the Bay Area, and all, the prices will probably be a little horrible on some of this kit, but RetroBlast has spotted a massive arcade auction going down in Emeryville (right near that massive Ikea, for local types!) this Wednesday. As noted: "Escapade! Arcade located at 6001 Shellmound Street, Emeryville, California" is closing and "has had a policy of updating and renewing their inventory which has allowed them to consistently offer the latest and greatest arcade equipment year in and year out is now closing their doors. This will be your only chance to bid, at Live Auction, on these incredible video games and pinball machines." It all goes down this Wednesday, August 23rd.

We Heard That MMOs Are Pure Evil

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/wowoo.jpg Over at Scott 'Lum' Jennings' blog Broken Toys, he has a new post named 'Today’s Clueless Mass Media MMO Story Brought To You By The Washington Post', which does... exactly what it says on the tin.

Scott notes a particularly odd WaPo claim: "Several of the MMO researchers interviewed for this story pointed out that many game companies employ psychologists who analyze the games and suggest ways to make them easier to play over long stretches of time", commenting: "Um, OK. I don’t know of any psychologists employed by an MMO company for that purpose (or at all, actually). Maybe they’re kept in dungeons. When the topic comes up around me, I keep trying to explain that we’re not nearly that bright, and simply try to write up our D&D campaign from high school, over and over again. No one ever believes me."

There's some very interesting discussion in the comments by 'Pander', who wrote a university paper on Internet/MMO addiction, and extracts the key points from his paper, very worth reprinting: "For a myriad of reasons, including empowerment, anonymity, and escapism, there are some people who turn to the Internet to fulfill their lives instead of real world activities, such as spending time with friends or family, or working at school or a job. These people develop a compulsion to use the Internet, and find themselves suffering from the same symptoms and engaging in the same patterns as those who are addicted to other items, such as drugs or alcohol."

It does us no good to pretend that addiction isn't a problem with MMOs, or the Internet, or any pleasurable and potentially escapist task. But at the same time, most MMO companies aren't hiring psychologists to help them hook youngsters ever more clinically. And, to be fair, the WaPo article does have a number of counter-arguments: "According to tvturnoff.org, Americans spend an average of 28 hours a week watching television, a fact that has yet to spawn a bevy of dependence clinics." So it's not all demonizing here.

But as a final point on this - I was highly disappointed to note that the Online Gamers Anonymous site, whose spokesperson Elizabeth Woolley, quoted in the article, has certainly had a heartbreaking experience with MMOs, has an almost entirely Christian twelve-step program for kicking online games, including: "Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out." Let's go with sensible secular discussion, and not muscle God into this, shall we?

@ Play: What the hell does Q do again?

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

This week, we are going to talk about something very basic, yet of vital importance to getting involved with these games -- hopefully including some of you. Whenever I've attempted to explain them, by far the most frequent barrier I've encountered in transferring my own enthusiasm to other people is not, as one may think, the graphics, the difficulty, or permanent death. Almost every time, the primary reason initiates find to categorize roguelikes as Other-People-Things is the control scheme.

(By the way, if you'd like to play along at home, I suggest beginning with one of the modern ports of Rogue. Rogue Clone IV and the Roguelike Restoration Project's conversion of Rogue 5.4 are among the foremost DOS/Windows versions. Debian Linux users can get it from the package bsdgames-nonfree. ClassicRogue is a port with a couple of extra features and both Windows and Linux binaries. You can also get Rogue for Java, the Sega Dreamcast, Game Boy Advance, and the Infocom zMachine!)

As noted last time, roguelike games haven't changed much in their presentation since the days of playing on dumb terminals in college computer labs. There were no mice or joysticks on those systems. Many of 'em didn't have a numeric keypad, and some had no cursor keys.

What they did have, I'm sorry to say, was vi.

[Click through to read the full '@ Play' column!]

Behold the wonders of vi

VIM for Win32

*

vi is an infamous Unix text editor, in which lots of different keys do many different things. I know I'm gonna catch it from some people for dissing it, and it's certainly great for some things, but I don't think anyone can claim it's easy to pick up. Back in the days when lab students were the primary players of computer games, it could be counted on that many players would know vi, so it was natural to use its cursor movement system as the basis for Rogue's interface. Its legacy persists in Nethack to this day, although it and all the other major roguelike games tend to default to using a number pad for movement.

Also like vi, there are special keypresses for everything, and it is not a trivial matter to learn them all. And again, just like with vi, it does turn out to be an excellent interface when you know the keys. Many people still use and even swear at by vi's descendants. If you want to read a scroll, you don't fumble around with icons and menus, you just press R then the letter of the scroll in your inventory.

This is probably the thing that prevents most people from learning these games today. While most computer games take pains to simplify their interfaces as much as possible, to an initiate it may seem like Rogue and its progeny go out of their way to make things hard for the player. In Nethack, some keys do as many as four different things: pressing P (p)ays your bill in a shop, holding Shift and pressing P lets you (p)ut on an accessory such as a ring or an amulet, holding Ctrl and hitting P displays (p)revious pages of the message buffer, and Alt-P (p)rays to the gods for aid. It is true that these keys are all listed out, twice, in the game's help files, but who wants to run to Help every time he wants to have a meal or open a chest?

News (or rather, Keys) You Can Use

Since most of these games are based, to some degree, on Rogue, the commands of that game tend to have precedence over any new ones introduced, so learning those will take a player quite far. Learn those keys, and the whole genre opens up to you. And the commands Rogue has tend to follow a logic that makes them easy to remember: press W to (w)ield something, press E to (e)at, and so on.

Here, then, as a tutorial intended to get you playing these games instead of just reading about them, are the important keys of Rogue. All you need to win that game are on this list, and a few others besides. Other games will almost certainly have more than this, but these are usually the most commonly-used commands in those games too, so you can generally learn the others as you go along.

Movement: HJKL and YUBN (or number pad)
H and L go left and right, while J and K are for up and down. Y, U, B and N are used to travel diagonally if possible. But take my advice and stick with the numpad.

(Matt Matthews of Curmudgeon Gamer informs me that using J and K as up and down keys also works in Gmail and Google Reader! vi's roots are set deep indeed...)

Combat: same as movement
In most roguelikes, you attack a monster by merely attempting to walk into it. This is more than just a convenience. When a character is confused, that state of mind is represented by randomizing some of his moves, which could result in unintended attacks under this system.

> (Shift-period): Travel downstairs
< (Shift-comma): Travel upstairs

When standing over a staircase, these are the commands used to go to the next/previous dungeon level. In Rogue the upstairs and downstairs are on the same spot, but in most other games they are usually located in different rooms on the level. Nethack uses these keys as a general way to indicate down and up as directions.

(comma): Pick something up off the floor
Your character will automatically pick a thing up when moving into its space, but there are times when this doesn't happen, like when that feature is turned off or your inventory is full when you moved there. Pressing comma is an explicit request to grab loot at your feet.

(period) : Rest a turn
S: Search for things

These two commands are almost identical in apparent function. Both will pass exactly one turn, and neither will usually print any message on the screen. The only difference between them is that the period key will increase the chance that you'll regain some hit points that turn, and the S key will silently check all eight spaces around your character for hidden doors or traps. There's no guarantee that you'll find anything hidden even if it is there to find, so S is usually pressed several times in a row to reduce the chance that something has been missed.

Space bar: Clear [more] prompts
When a message appears that's longer than the width of the screen, press Space to see the rest. Simple.

Esc: Cancel a command.
If you hit a key that you suspect you'll regret, so long as you haven't specified an inventory item yet you can usually abort the command without penalty. Just press Escape.

Shift-S: Save the game
Shift-Q: Quit the game

These are both Shifted commands to reduce the chance that they're hit accidentally, and they both further ask if you're sure. Remember, if you Quit, you can’t go back to your last save! Saving the game in a roguelike always ends the current session, and restoring it later (usually by entering your saved character at the name prompt) will delete the save file.

I: Inventory
This is a very important command to remember. It not only prints out all the objects your character is carrying, but the letters assigned to each of them, which are used in all object request prompts. Most commands that require an item to act upon will offer a list of appropriate items if you press a particular key (either asterisk or ? depending), and there is nothing wrong with relying upon this feature, but if you happen to remember the letter you can just press it and save a step. Asking for a list of your inventory never spends a turn: it is a “free action.”

D: Drop (an item)
The Drop command asks you for an inventory letter, then drops the object you picked. Good for dumping useless or bad stuff.

C: Call (an item)
If you think you know what an item is, you don't have to wait for the game to name it for you. You can name it yourself with the Call command.

Shift-D: Discoveries
This lists everything you've conclusively learned the identity of, or Called, in your current game. It is worth noting that, in Nethack, this command is mapped to the backslash key instead.

Q: quaff (that is to say, drink, applies to potion)
R: read (a scroll)
These commands use up the object specified. After use the object is gone, leaving behind only its effects upon either you or the rest of the world.

W: wield (an item, usually weapons)
Shift-W: wear (armor)
Shift-T: take off (armor)
Shift-P: put on (rings)
Shift-R: remove (rings)

In a console RPG all these would probably be grouped into a single Equip command, but there are reasons to keep them separate. For example, you can actually wield any object in your inventory, not just weapons. This can be useful depending on what game you're playing. Since you can wear up to two rings, the ring commands will ask you which hand is to be (un)adorned.

T: Throw (an item, usually missile weapons)
Z: Zap (a wand)

These commands first ask for a direction to throw or zap in, then the object to throw or zap. You can throw anything, but since most thrown objects carry a risk of being destroyed it's best to only throw things like darts. Note that arrows do more damage when thrown if you're wielding a bow, and bolts do much more damage if you're wielding a crossbow. Zapping a wand will expend some of its power, and if the wand is out of magic nothing will happen (or, if it’s the impish Wand of Nothing).

Ctrl-P: Previous message
Sometimes messages get accidentally flipped past before you can read them. Holding Ctrl and pressing P repeatedly will flip back through the last few displayed. Note that some versions of Rogue may use different keys for this, such as F4.


either * or ? (asterisk or question-mark): List appropriate things from an inventory prompt
Pressing this (varies between games but usually one of the two) at any prompt that requests an inventory item will give you a list of things carried that are obviously relevant. If you press it after a (r)ead command, you’ll get a list of scrolls, but after a (q)uaff command the game will list potions instead.
The asterisk list is sometimes presented automatically, without you having to ask. Sometimes, the list is misleading. Several items in Rogue may be used in ways that aren't obvious at first, and the item prompts will not give away the secret. If you want to, say, throw an item that is not commonly thought of as suitable for throwing, you can specify its inventory letter even if it's not listed on the asterisk list. This isn’t used all that often, but is very helpful in specific circumstances.

You're probably wondering about those items that are used in special ways! Well you're in luck, for here follows a complete list of all the items with clever uses -- but no, wait, it seems I'm out of space. Maybe next time!

Need For Speed Arrows Into Real-Life

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/speedarr.jpg Art blog We May Money Not Art has ventured into the game space once again, with a post discussing a forthcoming German art installation which seeks to imitate a graphical pecularity that normally appears only within virtual racing games.

WWMNA explains: "Speed, by Aram Bartholl, is one of those projects that bring virtual game elements right on to the street. Bartholl aims to install the big flashing arrows from the computer game Need for Speed Underground 2 to real space."

Apparently: "The installation will be realized in September 14 to 17 at Bohnestrasse, in Bremen (Germany - other artists participating to the show). The 4, 24m high arrows are animated like in the game in three steps. In total there will be 9 arrows but only 3 at a time will be visible." Crazy stuff.



If you enjoy reading GameSetWatch.com, you might also want to check out these UBM TechWeb Game Network sites:

Gamasutra (the 'art and business of games'.)

Game Career Guide (for student game developers.)

Indie Games (for independent game players/developers.)

Finger Gaming (news, reviews, and analysis on iPhone and iPod Touch games.)

GamerBytes (for the latest console digital download news.)

Worlds In Motion (discussing the business of online worlds.)


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