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September 2, 2006

LonelyGirl15 - ARG, Or Just Angsty?

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/15girl.jpg This has been percolating round the blogosphere (eek!) in general, but ARGN has an excellent summary of possible 'alternate reality game' LonelyGirl15 - well, ARG, or prank, or advertising campaign, or something?

ARGN explains: "The white-hot spark of a YouTube user named LonelyGirl15 has set the dry timber of the summer internet community ablaze. Ostensibly the video blog of a teenaged American girl named Bree, the 23 videos posted so far have chronicled a budding romance with a boy named Daniel, but there's a twist: Bree's family is very religious, she is home-schooled, and she has pledged a "purity bond" with her father."

It generally gets odder from there on out, and there's been plenty of detailed speculation into the phenomenon, which isn't a 'video game', by any stretch of the imagination - but is a great example of interactive storytelling using the Internet, which is why we're linking to it - besides which we tend to cover ARGs, and this may yet be one. Or not.

COLUMN: 'Game Mag Weaseling': PSE Update

['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.]

pse2-0308.jpg   pse-0605.jpg

Back in June I wrote about PSE, a U.S. PlayStation magazine that ran for over a decade under assorted names and through all sorts of ups and downs. Recently I was fortunate enough to get some more mail from Mark Androvich, who worked for the mag since 1998 and was its last editor-in-chief. He was very nice to me considering all the nasty things I said about his magazine (though, to be fair, most of PSE's later woes weren't really anything that the editorial department was at fault for), and with his permission, here's a small interview that answers some of the questions I had behind PSE/PSExtreme's business.

Q: PSE getting distributed as part of Prima is, as noted in the article, a supposition. So was it the case that Dimension handled all of its own distribution for its whole history? What sort of distribution was available to the magazine after EB/GameStop fell out of the picture?

MA: Here is my understanding of the Prima deal; I was a freelance writer at the time and wasn't specifically involved, other than writing guides for Prima. Initially, Dimension Publishing created its own strategy guides in competition with both Prima, Brady, Millennium, and whomever else was out there. As a PlayStation-exclusive magazine, we had a good relationship with SCEA and were able to secure strategy-guide rights to many of their first-party franchises. We also had a good relationship with Eidos, and worked on their Tomb Raider guides (among others). So, that's what we could offer Prima. At the same time, Prima had better distribution of their guides, which is what they offered us. I do not believe that Prima ever distributed our magazine to retailers. There was some cross-promotion involved (guides had blow cards [subscription cards] for the magazine IIRC, or vice-versa; SCEA games had advertisements for our guide in the jewelcase, etc.) but that was about it.

For the debut of the PS2, Prima did print our PlayStation 2 "launch guide"--it looks like a Prima Guide with a PSE2 logo cover. I've seen it in three versions--normal, with a Toys R Us exclusive logo on the cover, and with a redesigned cover/interior for Target stores.

I know we had at least 2 distributors over the years; maybe more. I don't know what happened, because I used to be able to find PS Extreme everywhere (book sellers, game specialty stores, and even grocery stores) but then our distribution dwindled to the point that I wouldn't have been able to find it if I wanted to.

Q: As I noted, PSE stopped offering subscriptions for a while before folding. Was it the case that PSE continued publishing until 2006 primarily to fulfill outstanding subscriptions? Were they all fulfilled, or were refunds given out, or?

MA: To the best of my knowledge, the June 2005 issue was the last to contain the subscription blow cards. In April of 2005, we had changed the name of the magazine back to PSE, but the blowcards still said PSE2 on them. That was one reason we stopped including them -- we needed to print new ones. At the same time, advertising revenues were down, most game companies were losing money, and most gaming magazines were in the red. We had long discussions about our future, which included options such as becoming a multi-platform magazine or an online-only resource. It seemed inappropriate to continue soliciting subscriptions during this time, but Dimension cut costs to the point that we were able to continue publishing nonetheless.

I don't think our publisher would have continued publishing PSE for another year merely to fulfill outstanding subscriptions, but if he did, I wouldn't fault him for doing so. If I were the subscriber, I'd want to receive the magazine until the end of my subscription rather than receiving something else, or nothing else. I have no idea if, in fact, they were all fulfilled or if refunds were given out. The only "subscribers" I ever dealt with were the PR people, who immediately called to ask why they didn't receive an issue in May/June.

Q: Do you have any idea of circulation figures throughout the magazine's history?"

MA: Not at the moment...At one point, I saw rough circulation figures, but that was back in 1998 and again in 2000 when we were making the switch from PS Extreme to PSE2. I don't believe we ever had an official circulation audit.

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As if I had enough trouble collecting PSExtreme, Androvich also reminded me of Dimension's other magazine projects, which I'm similarly short on in my collection. Q64 I was familiar with, but I forgot all about VooDoo, a PC game/tech mag officially sponsored by 3Dfx during their heyday. My work's never going to be done, I just know it...

[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.]

Trackmania Goes 1K, 2K, 3K, Mindboggling K

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/trackm.jpg Shamelessly yoinked from GeekOnStun before it can be posted on Kotaku (or has it been posted already?), GameTrailers has the completely awesome ''1K Project II' Trackmania movie, which must be watched immediately.

As is explained, the video consists of "1000 separate replays from the same track combined into one using Trackmania's powerful replay editor... End result is 1000 cars racing at the same time :D" And by God, when it gets going, it looks amazing.

In addition, a quick search reveals the first ever 1K Project movie hosted on YouTube - also neat - and look, there's the 3K project on YouTube too, and there's a large amount of other Trackmania vids on YouTube, too - we hear it's 'big in Europe'.

Insani Visual Novels In The Alltogether

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/omgg.jpg I thought we'd covered visual novel translation site Insani.org before, but can't find a link - no matter! Anyhow, the site just completed al|together 2006, a group translation project for multiple freeware Japanese 'visual novels' for PC - the list of completed games is on the front page of insani.org

These is absolutely excellent work, because there are all manner of great Japanese dojin circles doing visual novels (think 'often romance-related interactive text adventure stories'), largely unknown in the West - translated highlights include Iinstant Death! Panda Samurai', which has a pretty cute art style, and the complex-looking 'At Summer's End' ("At summer's end, we change our grades; the season changes into autumn; the leaves change color; but what of our friendships and our loves?")

Likely the most interesting to you crazies will be 'OMGWTFOTL', though, of which it's explained: "Now, finally, the lunatic novel game which received enthusiastic applause from ... an incredibly small number of rabid Japanese fans ... comes to invade the English-speaking world! This piece will have you going OMG, WTF, and OTL all at once -- and as such it is entirely not appropriate for those under the age of 18 or those with delicate sensibilities. Consider: at different times, it features things like tentacle beast rape, kamikaze suicide attacks, and clubbing baby bears to death with crowbars." That's all you need to know! [Semi-via Fort90.]

COLUMN: 'Bastards of 32-Bit' - Pinball on Saturn

satpin1.jpg"['Bastards of 32-Bit' is a tri-weekly column by Danny Cowan that focuses on overlooked, underrated, and inexplicable titles from the era of the PlayStation, Saturn, and Nintendo 64. This week's column covers several pinball titles for the Sega Saturn, all of which were released between 1995 and 1996.]

Saturn Silverball

Despite its popularity in the 8-bit and 16-bit eras, the video pinball genre has suffered a steep decline in recent years. This is likely a direct result of the declining availability of real pinball tables in arcades, which are also slowly dying out. Though pinball is kept on life support thanks to the efforts of sole surviving table manufacturer Stern, few video game publishers seem interested in releasing pinball simulations in this day and age, outside of budget-priced compilations like Pinball Hall of Fame and the rare oddball title like Flipnic.

It's a shame that the genre died when it did, as the 32-bit era saw some of the best video pinball titles of all time. The Sega Saturn in particular was, perhaps, the last console to offer truly great and original takes on the genre. Only a few ever saw U.S. release, but import-savvy pinball fans should stay on the lookout for these Sega Saturn exclusives, some of which are among the genre's finest moments.

Last Gladiators / Necronomicon

Last Gladiators, along with its Japan-only sequel Necronomicon, are arguably the greatest pinball simulations to ever be released on any platform. All tables in both games are very well crafted, with special attention paid to detail and realism. The action plays out from an angled viewpoint, giving a good view of the entire table at once, with dot matrix-styled animations and announcements relegated to temporary windows that are always placed in such a way as to never block the player's view of the playfield. In short, they're both great sims that eliminate many of the technical problems usually associated the genre.

What really sets these titles apart, though, is the fact that they are metal to the max. The games are characterized by their symphonic heavy metal soundtracks (Necronomicon even features two songs written by John Petrucci, of the progressive metal group Dream Theater) and all-too-serious narration that runs in the background during gameplay. The table art fits the theme too, featuring all manner of bearded wizards and long-haired gladiator types.

This may sound cheesy, but in practice, all of these elements work together to make a game that's really exciting to play, in addition to being unintentionally hilarious at times. The guitar-heavy soundtrack, combined with the constant stream of loud sound effects and overwrought voice samples, create the same kind of noisy, kinetic life that a real pinball machine has. As a result, Last Gladiators and Necronomicon manage to successfully recreate the feel of playing an actual pinball table, as opposed to playing a simulation of a table's mechanics -- an achievement that few sims have ever accomplished.

satpin2.jpgKyuutenkai: Fantastic Pinball

Developed by Technosoft (the company responsible for porting the fantasy-themed pinball title Devil's Crush to the Sega Genesis as Dragon's Fury), Kyuutenkai: Fantastic Pinball was not exactly designed with accurate simulation in mind. Kyuutenkai plays almost exactly like an entry in Naxat Soft's Crush series, in fact, complete with "living" bumpers, wandering enemies, and bonus rounds that take place outside of the main table.

Kyuutenkai introduces a few new features not found in the Crush games, however. The game allows you to pick between three characters before the plunger is pulled, all of whom have their own attributes that affect how the game is played. The pinball itself can also be powered up, allowing it to hit enemies and obstacles for greater damage. These improvements make for great additions to the Crush formula, and give the game much-needed depth and longevity.

Kyuutenkai has a few quirks related to physics and difficulty (it's damn hard!), but it remains a great throwback to the realism-be-damned video pinball games of days past. The overly anime look may be off-putting initially, but brave your way past all the gigantic eyeballs and squeaky voices and you'll find a worthy successor of Naxat Soft's 16-bit efforts.

oh god why won't the screen stop movBLARGFFThe Pinball Ghetto

The Saturn also played host to at least two more pinball titles -- Hyper 3D Pinball and Pro Pinball: The Web -- both of which were released in the United States in 1996. Pro Pinball, while a decent enough simulation, fails to duplicate the aggressive energy of Last Gladiators, and suffers for only featuring one playable table. Sequels to Pro Pinball were later released on the PlayStation, but unfortunately, all of them also feature the same lethargic gameplay that plagues The Web.

On the other hand, Hyper 3D Pinball features multiple tables, but the tradeoff is that they all suck badly. By default, the game is played from a top-down view that nauseatingly shifts the camera around constantly, much in the style of shovelware PlayStation tragedies like KISS Pinball and Austin Powers Pinball. Other camera angles don't fare much better, as the graphics, sound, and physics in all of the tables are embarrassingly lame, making Hyper 3D Pinball in no way redeemable.

But hey, Last Gladiators alone is more than enough to make a Sega Saturn owner forget about these disappointments. Though the genre may be all but dead today, Last Gladiators and Necronomicon continue to reign as the kings of pinball simulation. It's simply unfortunate that there won't be many other challengers to the throne.

[Danny Cowan is a freelance writer hailing from Austin, Texas. He has contributed feature articles to Lost Levels Online and 1up.com, and his writing appears monthly in Hardcore Gamer Magazine.]

Retro Remakes, Accessible Titles?

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/Accessible_Game_Switch.jpg We conducted an interview with Barrie Ellis of OneSwitch on accessible gaming a whle back, documenting his admirable aims to "provide information on assistive technology for moderately to severely disabled gamers."

Now he writes (via AlistairW) to point out that the Retro Remakes competition, which encompasses both remakes of classic titles and an attempt to create a library of accessible games, has completed its entry phase and is in the judging process.

It's explained: "73 games have made it, with more to follow. There's some wonderful games in there, and some not so wonderful. Now the judging commences, for which I need your help... So, what do you think of these games? Do you think they are accessible? How could they be improved?" Have at it!

September 1, 2006

GameSetInterview: David Kazim on GO3 Electronic Expo 2007

go3.jpgWith the restructuring of E3 a few months back, there seems to be a lot of pressure to find the “next E3”. Fortunately, GO3 Electronic Expo 2007, run by Davlei Corporation, isn’t trying that for that label. The gaming expo, which will be held in Perth, Western Australia from the 30th of March to the 1st of April, is geared towards helping the Australian market. “With the serious down sizing of E3, it has opened the door to more localized events,” Event Manager David Kazim notes. “And with Australia being one of the leading markets in the world for game development and consumption we should be hosting an expo for the Australasian region”. Not that he’s suggesting the event will be on a small scale though: “There are only three events of this magnitude in the world Tokyo, Korea and of course E3,” Kazim says.

GameSetWatch contacted Kazim via email to ask about the event, and what it holds in store for the Australian games industry.

What does GO3 offer that eGames & Entertainment Expo in Melbourne and GAME1 in Sydney and Melbourne doesn't?

GO3 is a trade and consumer event with an international focus. Our aim is to provide a space for Australian developers & associated companies to network with key companies from overseas markets to develop new ideas and long term export opportunities. GO3 also includes an International Conference; we are bringing some big names here to Australia in order to foster development of our industry.

Why was Perth chosen for the event?

In order to develop an international skew to the GO3 expo we needed to pick a location that was accessible to everyone. Perth is the western gateway to Australia, readily accessible by all Australian and New Zealand based companies but also accessible to international business. Western Australia is within close proximity to many major Asian cities, making it the most easily accessed Australian capital from South East Asia (a major base for some of the worlds leading electronic hardware and software developers). But perhaps best of all, Perth is one of the most beautiful cities in the world to visit and relax in for a few days after a busy conference and expo.

Do you think the event will become as vital to publishers, developers and media as something like Tokyo Games Show or Game Developers Conference?

The industry in Australia has grown enormously in recent times and we now have some of the most talented publishers and developers in the world right here in our backyard. Any major forum that promotes this talent and gives them a base on which to develop worldwide opportunities has to be vital to the future of our local industry.

Do you feel that there's room for an Australian show within the gaming calendar?

GO3 is attending & exhibiting at both the Tokyo & Korea show with assistance from the Australian Government to meet with overseas Publishers. We have already been talking with the shows organizers on ways we can collaborate in the future and with the downsizing of E3 a major opportunity exists for the south-east Asian region to own and control this aspect of the industry.

What events will be at the expo?

GO3 LAN
March 31st until 1st April- nonstop…
The expo will feature a dedicated LAN area, where more than 600 people will compete in non-stop gaming competitions. Spectators will be able to watch the action up close or on the big screens. The event will be run in conjunction with an International Professional Gaming League, coordinated by WA LAN.

Nullarbor Demoparty & Game Development
Nullarbor is a demoparty and game development competition combined. It is an event designed to bring together a community of Australian programmers, designers, artists and musicians to promote interactive technologies and a form of electronic art called demos.

Do you expect the event to highlight aspects of the Australian games industry that worldwide media might not be aware of?

We are working very hard to bring some of Australia’s leading industry experts to the event to broaden the knowledge base of our local industry but also update the international industry on how we are leading the charge in Australia. I am very confident in the list we are putting together and you will just need to keep an eye on our website for future announcements.

What guest speakers are currently in consideration for the expo?

Of course Nvidia, the presenters of the conference will be sending a big team, their VP of GPU sales Roy Taylor will be heading up a team. We are in final negotiations with many top speakers We won’t announce yet the special guest we will be flying in But it is very exciting to be bringing him to Australia…

Are there many publishers or developers who have confirmed their appearance at GO3?

We are in daily contact with the leading publishers and developers in Australia and abroad. I am thrilled to say that we have had a positive response from so many key people and they are putting together their plans to be in Perth in March 2007. We will soon be announcing a list of key sponsors, speakers and support partners who have committed to making this event the key international industry expo for Australasia.

Minter Goes For 400 Points, Visualizer Add-Ons

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/spacegir.jpg We've previously commented on Jeff Minter's new Xbox 360 Live Arcade, which may or may not be called Space Giraffe, but whatever its moniker, XBLArcade.com spotted some new details that the great Yak has been spilling on his blog.

Firstly, there's the price: "Nah, this is going to be cheap as chips, 400 MS notes and it'll be all yours :)" So that's just 5 of your Earth dollars, then - a good deal! There's also good news on add-ons for Minter's own sound-to-light 'Neon' software that's built into the Xbox 360 itself.

Minter explains: "You'll also get new Neon effects supporting the webcam input as unlockables. That's to make up for the fact that MS stiffed me on doing a proper new version of Neon to truly support the cam, and instead have done some half-assed thing where they just superimpose some cam effect layers over existing Neon. I figure that was a bit rude, so I'll put some proper cam-Neon stuff in the new game by way of schooling };-)." Wow, camera-activated psychedelia? Count us in.

GameTunnel Tunnels Its Way Into Virtual Print

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/gametun.jpg We liked Russ Carroll's indie game site GameTunnel already, but now he's decided to launch a PDF magazine about indie games, also called GameTunnel, with his fellow editors.

It's explained happily: "This magazine sprang from the hard work of many people who volunteered their time to make it happen. We love games and enjoy playing all types of games. However, there is a special place in our hearts for the small Independent Game developer and the passion that they put into their games. Like punk music from back in the day independent games can sometimes be a little raw, but it's always a worthwhile experience."

To be honest, there's all kinds of good things in here, some of which is website crossover, and some of which isn't - an interview with the Gibbage creator, a review of Wild Earth, some smart editorials and columns, and so on. It's always a little odd to have PDF magazines available when the hard copies (printed on our substandard printers) won't look as nice as a webpage, but looks like GameTunnel does an admirable job of creating the content, at least.

COLUMN: 'The Gentleman Nerd' - Why I’m kind of “meh” about… Twilight Imperium

[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.]

Twilight ImperiumSo there I am, standing in my foyer with a glass of Everclear and Pepsi in my hand, speaking to a giant. It was one of those moments where you’re not sure if it’s the alcohol that’s making you see things or if you’re actually talking to a man who had to stoop to enter your house. Luckily for me, this one didn’t want to grind my bones to make his bread. Well, not in a literal sense.

After taking in this frankly bizarre sight, I noticed that he carried two things in his hands: a cooler full of Smirnoff Ice and a copy of Twilight Imperium. This giant was here to drink malt liquors and engage in intergalactic combat with me and my friends. My vision quickly becoming muddled by my drink, I mustered an enthusiastic “Tally ho!” before heading to the dining room.

What happens next is what Brian and I both agree is the best part of any new board game: setting up the board. I don’t know what’s so entertaining about placing cardboard, cards and plastic markers in a certain order on a table, but it always make me smile. Maybe it has something to do with my Culinary degree. Every chef instructor’s mantra is “mis en place,” which means “setting in place,” and it’s the action of placing all of your ingredients where they belong for quick access and efficient use. After a few years of hearing that statement, being made to define that statement and working in a restaurant named after that statement, you start living that statement.

As a side note, there are several types of board gamers, and you’re never really sure which one you’ve got until you can observe their habits in their natural setting. The new guy was a fidgeter. That means that whenever someone sets down a drink within a certain radius of the game, the fidgeter must move it. This can lead to a little unintentional ballet of sorts. I set down a drink, he picks it up and moves it and then I drink from it and set it down again. Round and round they go.

Twilight ImperiumOnce the game was set up and the square dance was over, our large friend started to explain the rules. Now, you’d think that drinking would inhibit my ability to understand the complex workings of Twilight Imperium, and maybe it would were I a lesser man, but luckily I’m a master of inebriated gaming. After listening to the rules for a few minutes I piped up and made the comparison to Master of Orion 2, and I think that rings true. This is basically Master of Orion 2 in the form of a board game. I’ll demonstrate by a quick explanation of the rules.

The game is set up so that the objective planet, Mecatol Rex, is in the center. After that planet is set up, each player takes turns placing the hexes around it in a circular manner. Once all the hexes are placed you begin the game. The game basically consists of conquering planets, which give you bonuses to research and money. Sound familiar? Even better, there’s a tech tree and the tech has requirements that must be fulfilled before you can buy other techs. These techs allow you to build bigger and better ships and improve your planets. This will help you along your way towards getting the most victory points and achieving your secret objectives.

Once the parallel to Master of Orion 2 was drawn, I completely grasped the game. The problem, however, is that I was the only new player who had ever played Master of Orion 2. Without a frame of reference, or some background in this basic style of game, the rules for Twilight Imperium are extremely daunting. That’s not to say that it isn’t good or fun, but it’s just quite a bit to take in all at once. In fact, it was so much to take in that our first game only made it to turn three and that took about six hours. Not exactly what we were expecting where we started at 8.

Twilight ImperiumSo, at around 2 A.M., we had to call it quits. Who knew that giants had bed times? Everyone helped pack up the game and I bid them all good night. Sarah had already gone to bed for the night and the house was quiet. It was just me and the cats.

After everyone left, I sat in my dining room table, reading over the rules for Runebound and thinking about that night’s gaming. Other than the fact that I really like the board and the pieces, I wasn’t too sure if I really enjoyed the experience. Most things are subjective, of course, and under different circumstances I think I would have enjoyed myself more. The rules and inner-workings of the game are pretty intriguing, if not dense. I know for a fact that we’ll play the game again, and I hope to have a better time then.

As I turned off all the lights in our house and headed up to bed, a thought kept coming back to me. “Who had driven to my house? Was it the giant or was it Brian?” I couldn’t imagine what it would have been like if it had been Brian. He has a small car.

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

'Show Us Your Frogger'? Uhm?

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/fmoped.jpg Oh, Konami, what hast thou wrought? The 'Show Us Your Frogger' contest, that's what, and it's really nothing like it sounds.

A helpful email explains: "Calling all Frogger fans! To help us celebrate Frogger's 25th Anniversary, we want to see your inner Frog. Send us a photo of yourself doing or wearing something that represents Frogger to be entered to win a Frogger scooter and helmet."

Wait, there's more: "Entries will be posted for voting on the Frogger 25th Anniversary site during the six weeks beginning on September 11th. Weekly winners will face off against each other in a final vote to determine who will win the Grand Prize package." However, it's worth noting, in the official rules: "Any entries that are deemed in poor taste (for example, those featuring nudity, foul language or crude gestures) will be disqualified."

Nudity aside, how are the majority of the entries into this competition not going to involve breaking multiple road safety rules? I guess maybe if they involve taunting crocodiles or breaking your ankle on a log? We love you Konami, but this can only end in tears. [We got the email too, but thanks to SiliconEra for the moped pic!]

August 31, 2006

Zombie City Tactics Go Crazy Fun Time

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/zom.jpg [This is cross-posted from Insert Credit, where I very occasionally turn up to post something that Brandon said he was going to post but didn't. Like this one!]

IC regular Professor Scissors has posted the full version of Zombie City Tactics, his game which he describes as "a turn-based strategy game about outsmarting and defeating massively superior enemy forces... perhaps!" Sure, the art is a little programmer-y, but the gameplay is present and correct, so you should check it out.

Also, the good Prof says: "If you want to you can also mention that I am looking for brave warriors to be artists and musicians and stuff for my next project", which appears to be Zombie City Survivors, which "is going to take some elements from Zombie City Tactics, Fire Emblem, Resident Evil, and an obscure freeware Gameboy Color demo called Hungry are the Dead." Sounds yummy.

Harry Potter Obsessives Quiz EA Developers!

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/hpslash.jpg I know a few other sites have covered HPANA's account of rabid Harry Potter fans visiting Electronic Arts to find out about the game version of Harry Potter & The Order of The Phoenix - but they've completely missed the sheer hilarious rabidity of the fans in question.

Says Charlotte, a forum moderator at Harry Potter fansite Immeritus: "'It had been mentioned to me that [EA] were HP fans and, although I thought they'd probably read the books and seen the films, I was sceptical that they'd have the same kind of knowledge and enthusiasm as we do (the kind that comes from analyzing a single sentence to several pages of discussion).'" Yes, several pages!

It gets better, really: "The team working on the OotP game (currently about 85 people) are all sorted into houses and they sit in those houses for regular meetings. Points are won for individual houses and collected in jars, and there's even a sorting ceremony whenever a new member joins the team!"

What if you don't like Harry Potter? Is there some way you can opt out? Is this an HR-related matter? Is your house fined for crash bugs you cause? Honestly, screw Will Wright's 'cells', we hear this is the new game development organization method EA is aiming for.

Game Ads A-Go-Go: Games You've Never Heard Of

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

While thumbing through old video game magazines, it's inevitable to find ads for some games that you've never even heard of. But I have done one better: I have found ads for games that nobody has ever heard of. That's right; no human being living on Earth knows that these games exist (Don't even bother to challenge me, because I don't count undead zombies as "human beings living on Earth"). In fact, these games are so obscure that they don't even "exist" in a traditional sense -- they occupy a slippery, hazy nether region of space: half here, half there, phasing in and out of our reality and into worlds unknown. Which brings us to the all-important question: if a game falls in a forest, and nobody is there to play it, does it make a sound?


Absolutely Not Derivative in Any Way

Ok, so you're creating a new video game, but the "creating" part is just too hard. What should you do? Not to fear; you can pull a time-tested maneuver that game developers continue to use today: simply combine disparate elements of established pop culture and forcefully cram them into the most popular game genre of the time. Before you now lies only one result of that very popular practice: Socket. One part Plucky Duck from Tiny Toons, and one part Sonic the Hedgehog, Socket is a bad dude with a tude just itchin' to be rude. Did I mention that he's blue and can run really fast?

As far as ridiculous obscure games go, this one takes the cake, freezes it with liquid nitrogen, and smashes it with a sledgehammer. Then eats it.


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Slip Slip Slippin' Through Tiieeeiiime

I have absolutely no idea what this game is about; I've never played it. But if I were to guess from the ad's imagery, it's probably about an insectoid alien robot with a gun who forces you to travel through time, blowing enemies away, to work off your intergalactic bar tab. Sounds kinda like Contra, but shitty.


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Vasteely Dan: The Impossible Game

Just about every game for the TG-16 Turbo CD platform is obscure, mostly because only around 5-6 living, breathing, non-zombie humans own a Turbo CD unit. But this game (like the others, I might add), is not even listed on MobyGames -- that wonderful oracle of gaming knowledge -- so there's no telling what really goes on inside its twisted code. The very fact that this game purports to combine "arcade action" and "intense strategy" sounds a little suspicious to me. That's like combining the words "slow" and "fast" into a new unspeakably self-contradictory word that brings the universe to a halt and makes every atom in your body vaporize simultaneously. It's almost as if this "game" was a practical joke by the Japanese on the western video game market. "Ha ha! Lazy Americans will be so mind-boggled, their heads will explode!" Well...consider my head exploded.

But if what this ad says about the game is actually true, then humanity has a long way to go before we're ready to wield such awesome, concentrated power in a single video game. It's best to seal it away in a deep, lead-lined vault and mark it "Do Not Open 'Til 3264." Maybe then we'll finally be ready as a species to play the marvel of gaming that is Vasteel.


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

Miss Peach World Surfaces, Waving Jolly Roger

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/misspeach.jpg GSW and Gamasutra editor FrankC is a man of obscure game KNOWLEDGE, since he founded Lost Levels and is often to be seen drooling over a particularly obscure prototype - so we squealed when he pointed out a copy of 'Miss Peach World' for Famicom/NES, created by Hacker International, on Yahoo! Japan Auctions.

Of course, when Googling for information on the game, the very first result is a page about the game from TSR, aka GSW's very own Kevin 'Mag Weasel' Gifford - showing that we know a scarily large amount of people with extremely obscure knowledge, perhaps. Frank already told us that the title, which is obviously Mario-aping in its artwork, is "a hack of Menace Beach, a Color Dreams game", and Kevin has more: "Oh no, it's Menace Beach! With Color Dreams' original cart, its rerelease in Sunday Funday and its rererelease in the Maxi-15 multicart, what may be the worst "made with pride in the USA" game ever now may be the most rereleased NES game ever!"

Kevin notes: "The only changes in this game are graphic ones. Although Hacker laid the Princess upon our eyes in the label, the game itself doesn't feature her. Instead it seems that Marilyn Monroe has quit her day job of being dead and joined the Skateboard Police to become a "Super LA Cop", along the way defeating kung-fu dudes, guys in T-shirts and the sumo wrestlers from the original game." And yes, the distinctly unlicensed game has got naked pixelated ladies in it, and actually has little/nothing graphical or gameplay connections with Mario, despite the cover art. Nuff said, really.

COMIC: 'Our Blazing Destiny' - Tamagotchi!

[Our Blazing Destiny is a weekly comic by Jonathan "Persona" Kim about our society, cultural postdialectic theory, and video games. And about little black and white pixel animals that poop and die.]

Here's Persona to update us on whatever the heck this week's column is about: "Sorry guys, I was really late with this comic! To compensate, it's really, really long!

You see, I went up to the mountains to train with the yaoi priestesses like I mentioned last week, but when I got there they made me pass through thirteen trials in order to gain access to the scroll of all whispy knowledge. I was able to clear the first thirteen or so with no problem but the 'Jam your p****s into a giant bear' trial had me really stumped. I eventually realized something was wrong when all the priestesses kept on giggling when I asked them what a 'p****s' was. It turned out all the priestesses were actually just some furry perverts renting out a shack in the woods with no knowledge at all over the ancient techniques of the whispy lines!!

The whole ordeal left an unsatisfying taste in my mouth so I tied them all up on to the trees surrounding the area and covered them with honey. As I heard the snorts of bears approaching, I ignited the priestesses' temple in the all-erasing flames of justice with an explosive technique I learned from the Great Otter of the South Sea: mix pure water with two parts acorn jelly and dandelion roots and light. As I looked back to the site, a sereneness passed over me and I realized an important lesson: don't check Craig's list for secrets of the ancient arts."

In reality I just had trouble procuring financial aid for my school year.

[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. His adventurous soul will never die!

Dead Rising's Groundhog Day-ness Explored

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/drdrd.jpg Over at Wired News, columnist Clive Thompson has an excellent column about Dead Rising's save system, explaining both the problem and some alternate views on why, perhaps, there shouldn't be a solution.

Thompson explains the basic problem well: "In Dead Rising, you're trapped in a Romero-like mall, trying to complete dozens of mini missions to unearth the mystery behind the ghoulish invasion... You've only got one Save slot, and the save points -- the places where you can save your progress to return to if you die later on -- are few and far between. The upshot is you're always walking on eggs."

But then, an IM friend points out an interesting question to Thompson: "If I'd been able to save the game whenever I wanted, would the game have been easier -- or just more boring? He was right. Save mechanisms are key to the emotional stakes in a game." So, is he playing devil's advocate by pointing out that a lot of the game's edginess is _created_ by not being able to save anywhere you like, or is he right, and this is actually a good thing for suspense in a zombie game?

COLUMN: MMOG Nation - 'Resurrecting EverQuest'

['MMOG Nation' is a regular bi-weekly column by Michael Zenke about current events in the world of Massively Multiplayer Games. This week's column is about the 'relaunch' of the game EverQuest.]

SS DungeonNot too long ago, my feelings about Sony Online's Everquest (EQ) were mostly frustration and disappointment. Despite its position as a genre-defining title, the release of EverQuest 2 signaled to me that Sony Online Entertainment (SOE) was no longer going to be focusing on the game. My assumption was that, with a shinier and more solo-friendly big brother around that the original would fall by the wayside. After a time I even began to become frustrated by the fact that Sony kept releasing expansions for the game. I felt that they were leading EQ players on, that they were short-changing EQ2, and that they were pouring effort into a no longer relevant title. I can now say categorically that I was wrong.

I recently had the opportunity to take a tour of the upcoming expansion, Serpent's Spine, with EQ Lead Designer Travis McGeathy. I've seen the light. Today I'm going to look at EverQuest's past, the reason for my reversal of opinion, and where the game is going. Finally, I'll talk about why I think the direction Everquest is headed (and the revamp of Ultima Online) signals nothing but good things for the future of Massive gaming.

(Click through to read the full column!)

It Worked Out Okay

From everything that I've heard, the creators of EverQuest were quite nervous when they began taking applications for the game's Beta. Ultima was fairly successful, but a 3D graphical online world was not yet a proven concept. There was some fear that people wouldn't 'get it', that their years of hard work would end in frustration and commercial failure. Seven years later, and on the cusp of the release of the twelfth expansion for the game, I thinkit's fair to say that EverQuest has done alright. It hasn't always been a smooth ride, to be sure. Conflicts between the designers and players over class balance, zone population and itemization, and high level encounters are legendary. There's been a lot of negative press about the MMOG genre in general, and a lot of that has focused on EQ because of its recognizable name. There's even some reality to that press, with EverQuest's level-focused gameplay leading to sites like EQWidows and the burgeoning RMT market.

Despite that, while UO and Meridian 59 can claim earlier launch dates Everquest is in many ways the template on which most modern fantasy MMOGs have been based. Looking at MMOGChart.com, though, it's easy to see that the age of Everquest's primacy is over. From a height of about 550,000 subscribers in the summer of 2004, the game now has less than half of that number logging in to play. Newer games have come along, learning from the lore of EverQuest. The globe-spanning phenomenon that is World of Warcraft would almost certainly not exist if many of its designers hadn't cut their teeth doing corpse runs, raiding Nagafen, or getting keyed for the Planes. EverQuest 2 is doing fairly respectably as well, with a 'spiritual' sequel also planned in the form of Brad McQuaid's Vanguard. As nice as it must be to know that your game spurred such creative works, SOE has to be disappointed with where EQ's numbers are now.

Hence my frustration and confusion: Why continue a service that is losing players? Why prop up a game world that seems to have offered its all? Today, I have the answers I was looking for last week. On Monday EQ's lead designer casually mentioned to me that over the last seven years something like five million people have played EQ. Just about the number of people living in my home state of Wisconsin have trod the earth in Norrath. That seemed like an impressive but mostly anecdotal figure at the start of my tour of the Serpent's Spine expansion; by the end of that experience I came to realize it meant far, far more.

EverQuest Redux

New Orc ModelYou see, Serpent's Spine is nothing less that a relaunch of EverQuest. Sony Online isn't couching it in those terms, but the players understand what's going on. Referring to it as 'EverQuest 1.5', there is a lot of excitement among current players and lapsed veterans about a new way to experience EQ. Looking at their falling subscription numbers, SOE isn't trying to 'take on' World of Warcraft. Instead, they've made an expansion that focuses on what EverQuest has always really been about: the players. Essentially, Serpent's Spine is a game within the game. The Serpent's Spine mountains enclose a huge swath of territory, and the expansion explores those zones for the first time. Though technically a home to the new player race (the Drakkin) all players creating a new character can make their way to Crescent Reach, the city zone in the new area. From there, characters can move out into the new adventuring zones. A player can level a character from 1 all the way to the new cap of 75 entirely within the zones including in Serpent's Spine. SOE hopes that, by providing a clear quest path incorporating all of the innovations and upgrades the game has received since launch, players will be able to experience the best of what EQ has to offer.

Though this may seem like they're short shrifting the mountains of content in the rest of Norrath, the goal is more to guide than force. McGeathy seemed to believe that older players will return for the new adventure path, but would stray at appropriate levels to revisit favorite zones and quests. Thus, they're making returning players the focus of the expansion. Even distanced from the game, this focus gives old players a very definite idea of what they should be doing at each level. "I'm level 20, so I should be adventuring on the Moors." Beyond that, a player can go exploring in the wider world of Norrath, always knowing the more focused content of the new expansion will be awaiting their return. Even within the 'focused' adventure path, there's some variation. At the higher levels there is a split between two totally disparate quest lines. You'll be able to follow clues to the home of the last intelligent giant race, or work against a crazed half-dragon and his mighty armies. Interesting stuff, in the grand tradition of EQ.

This focus on the players, rather than shiny new features or systems, is what sets Serpent's Spine apart. SOE seems finally to have come around to the idea that they should be spending time and effort on the players. Everything in this new expansion touches on or fleshes out what has come before. There was no wasted time developing new technologies that might look good on the back of a box, but that players might not enjoy. The goal, then, has always been about allowing the players to have a good time. Ie: what games are always supposed to be about.

It's Not Rocket Science

For me, it's frustrating that such a simple idea has to be something of a watershed. Most MMOG expansions are excuses to include new technology, prettier graphics, and increased difficulty. By putting boxes on the shelves people are reminded that your game exists, and you hopefully get some new players. By upping the difficulty at the high end, you hope to retain your current crop of end-game players. Serpent's Spine is a digital download -only love letter to the lapsed Everquest player, with no ulterior motives attached. That new commitment to the community they've created is incredibly refreshing. Ultima Online, too, appears to be looking to reintroduce old players by giving the game a fresh look. Both of these titles, pillars on which the modern MMOG industry is built, have finally come to a place where player satisfaction is #1 on their list of goals.

Perhaps this is a natural evolution of any Massive game, should it survive long enough. Once they're past the hype of features, graphics, and subscription numbers, designers and producers can finally focus on the people that make the hype worthwhile. If so, I think it says great things about the future of the Massive genre. Though there will be always games that fall out of favour and are shut down, some games can live on long after uninformed observers think they should be put out on the ice. More than just 'bread and circuses', by trying to reintroduce past players to Everquest SOE is recapturing great memories, reconnecting old friends, and perhaps rubbing some of the cynicism off of otherwise very jaded MMOG veterans.

Diamond SpringsAt the end of the day it's nice to see a product that reaffirms we we already know about Massive games. What makes them special isn't the technology, the graphics, the press, the number of people playing, or the number of hours you've played. What makes them special is the way that we play them: together. A reality where a 40 year old housewife and a 16 year old schoolkid hook up with a 30-something programmer to slay a dragon is unique. For ignoring market pressures and staying true to the ideals of the genre, I can't help but salute a company that's willing to make sure that reality stays fresh even for people that aren't paying it anymore.

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

August 30, 2006

It's All Bout P_Nutz, The Computer-Hacking Ape

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/goodgame.jpgWe just got a totally amusing press release regarding a new Australian TV show about games - it's called 'Good Game', and the official website for it has a highlights reel that shows its firm grasp of yoof culture!

The PR handily explains: "Hosted by Junglist (Jeremy Ray) and Kapowski (Michael Makowski), Good Game is filmed in the Den of Gaming (DOG); a gamers’ paradise fitted out with just about every gaming device ever invented and complemented by a huge plasma screen – every gamers’ dream screen! Junglist and Kapowski are supported each week by Dr Daneel, Good Game’s technical wizard, and P_Nutz, the computer-hacking ape."

Dude, P_Nutz! Wait, there's more: "Junglist first picked up a controller at the age of six and has been a passionate gamer ever since. Until recently he ran a successful Counter-Strike: Source team. Junglist now trains younger gamers in online sportsmanship as well as war-gaming tactics. Kapowski started gaming at the age of five. At the age of 13 he built his first computer to satisfy his love of gaming. Dr Daneel (Miles Tulett) built his first computer at the age of eight and hasn’t stopped. He recently won two major competitions for computer design. Dr Daneel is currently studying and plans to embark on a career in computer design." But is Dr Daneel really a doctor?

Schadenfreude, Wielding The NovaHammer

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/schaden.gif You guys know how much we love articles from German developer Schadenfreude Interactive (Cthulhu Karts, Accordion Hero, Grand Theft Ottoman) on sister site Gamasutra - well, there's a new one named 'Copy Protection Racket' online, and it's just... yaaay.

The piece "discusses how to find appropriate copy protection for your game, from dongles through 'scratch 'n sniff' to startling modern Russian methods", and starts out: "Lothar (our art director) came to me one day with a problem. Ordinarily he would go to our chief technical officer, Bruno, with these things, but Bruno was away attending the Beard & Mustache World Championship in Berlin (just attending, not competing – my mother can grow more of a mustache than Bruno can). Anyway, Lothar had found copies of our games available for download on BitTorrent."

Thus, the Germans venture deep into the PC copy protection world, discovering Russian firm, uhh, NovaHammer: "NovaHammer’s CEO Sergei Glazunov arrived with three hulking assistants in matching black Members Only jackets and sunglasses. They declined to take them off (the jackets or the glasses). Mr. Glazunov introduced the men as Dmitri Karamazov, his brother Dmitri, and his other brother Dmitri. We offered them coffee cake, and since it was just after 10 am, beer. I began by asking them a little bit about their business. “We protect your things. That is our business. Protection.” “My things?” I asked. “But we make computer games.” “Oh, of course. We can protect those too.”"

We're sure those NovaHammer guys remind us of someone, we just can't put our fingers on it...

Got Manifesto? Get Worm!

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/plasmaw.jpg We totally adore the beardy weirdy guys over at Digital Eel - heck, their very own Rich Carlson is the only IGF winner I've ever spoken to at GDC while that person was strumming a tiny banjo - isn't that recommendation enough?

Anyhow, they have great news, in association with Greg Costikyan and the Manifesto Games chaps: "To celebrate their upcoming and highly anticipated launch, Manifesto Games is offering Plasmaworm for free! Yep, you heard right, and not the demo but the whole darn Digital Eel FULL VERSION!"

But wait, there's more! "How can they/we do this, you ask? Because Manifesto Games is dangerous and Digital Eel is insane. Only dangerously insane people would make such an insanely dangerous game available to unsuspecting gamers in this way! Note that this offer only lasts until September 15th, so be sure to head on over to Manifesto and check out the pre-launch shenanigans, ASAP."

Other than that, if you haven't checked out Digital Eel's weird-ass 'short' space game Weird Worlds: Return To Infinite Space, please do so immediately, if not sooner - Kieron Gillen got pretty addicted to the IGF winner earlier this year, as did a non-game biz friend of mine, and its borderline surreal Star Trek-ish randomized explorations are tragically enticing. That is all!

Stonewall Penitentiary Leaps Into 3D

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Jozef Purdes, late of the Independent Adventuring blog, and DIY Games before that, will be writing a column for us on graphical/text adventures in the future - but in the meantime, he'll pop up from time to time with well-informed posts on adventure games such as this one!]

Christopher Brendel, the maker of Lifestream and Shady Brook, has recently announced a delay in his new game, Stonewall Penitentiary. Aside of the fact that independent games are not often delayed (actually, they may be, but since most of them have a “When it’s done” release date, nobody notices), it was surprising to learn the reason for the delay: a switch from 2D to 3D.

2D and 3D are very vague concepts in adventure gaming, and some – including me – don’t fully agree with Brendel’s definition of the terms. Originally, the game was designed to support a first-person view. To move around, you used the arrow keys or clicked with your mouse when the cursor changed into a directional arrow. The scene was redrawn, and you suddenly found yourself elsewhere. This interface was used in the author’s previous two games, as well as such independent adventures like Dark Fall and the Delaware St. John series. Brendel considers this to be a 2D view.

After applying the new 3D engine, the player will be able to move freely around the environment, also in a first-person look. This interface is typical for modern first-person shooters, and it combines mouse and keyboard controls. I personally would call both views 3D or - more appropriately - first-person, and leave the number of dimensions out. But that’s just me; I considered Dungeon Master and Eye of the Beholder to be 3D as well…


Brendel paid close attention to alleviating adventure gamers’ biggest fear: that with the change of the interface he’d also introduce action elements. There are still plenty of adventure gamers, such as me, who prefer solving complex mathematical puzzles involving Base-4 and Base-12 alien numerical systems to fighting a dragon in a real-time sequence. The author also wrote that he didn’t feel the game felt right with the old interface. This is an author’s prerogative, and I fully respect it.

The announcement provoked some interesting reactions. The loudest response was a complaint about using both hands to play an adventure game. I feel the pain, too. Being able to eat a hotdog or hold a glass of beer while attaching cat hair to my character’s face in a game is vastly superior to a seamless first-person world. Others compared the new interface to that used in Dreamfall, and this was reason enough for them to reject the game. On the other hand, the ability to fully explore the environment was listed as a positive element.

I personally see the new interface as a mixed blessing. I don’t mind involving both of my hands in controlling the game. However, I am afraid the game’s graphical presentation will suffer. Using a seamless view means no hand-drawn backgrounds. Typically, this view requires computer-generated textures, even though hand-drawn (and repetitive) textures are also common. Still, keeping to reasonable hardware requirements may force the author to design objects and backgrounds to appear very flat and unrealistic. The good news is, as was mentioned by others, that this interface would allow players to explore the environment in a much larger detail. Considering that the game takes place in a prison, I can already imagine finding important clues and items under the bed or on the back side of a poster. That is, of course, as long as the author decides to remain family friendly and doesn’t hide these items in the prisoners’ orifices.

College Girls Need Love, Too

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/college.jpg It pleases us greatly that sarcastic cellphone game site QuicklyBored exists, having only found out about it recently, and we noted with interest their NSFW review of 'College Girls', a terrible chauvinistic mobile game we covered back in January.

To explain again: "The point of the game is to walk around trying to have sex with girls and learn new positions. If you learn 20 positions you become a “good lover.” In order to get a girl in bed you have to make contact with them. Once you’ve made contact, a status bar comes up and if you do it repeatedly, then your status bar will fill. I guess this is supposed to simulate the necessary dialogue needed to get a girl to sleep with you. At this point it becomes obvious that you’re playing a game developed by nerds who have never slept with a girl before."

But here's the best bit: "You have to say about three words to the girl and then she gives you the option to sleep with her. If you have some protection then you can follow her to her room and proceed to do the humana-humana. Sometimes you have to bring her a present, like a Bryan Adams disc set (no joke)." Wait, so it's _actually_ and specifically Bryan Adams? Wow. Also, that's not how we spell humana. Maybe that's just us.

[If you want to know what a sarcastic cellphone game site actually digs, in an unrelated review, QB raves about Time Crisis 3D, believe it or not, explaining: "Time Crisis 3D has the innovative user interface that we’ve been looking for. The screen is divided into 9 squares that correspond to the number pad on the phone. When an enemy appears in one of these quadrants, pressing the corresponding button will automatically shoot them." Neat idea!]

GameSetInterview: Twin Galaxies' Walter Day

walter_day3.jpg Walter Day has been running Twin Galaxies since mid-1981. On the 9th of February the next year, Day launched the Twin Galaxies National Scoreboard – a collection of gaming records gathered by Day from over 100 arcades over a period of 4 months. Twin Galaxies quickly became acknowledged as the world authority on game scores. The next year, on January 9th, in conjunction with ABC-TV, Twin Galaxies held the world’s first videogame championship in Day’s arcade in Ottumwa, Iowa. Following this, he put together, and captained, the US National Video Game Team, who challenged Italy and Japan, and toured Europe.

Day was also contacted by the Guinness Book of World Records to work as assistant-editor of the videogame scores section of the 1984-1986 editions. By 1985, Day and Twin Galaxies had been featured in LIFE magazine, Marvel Comics, the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Stern Magazine, the Washington Post and had nearly 100 TV appearances.

In 1998, Twin Galaxies released the first edition of the Twin Galaxies' Official Video Game & Pinball Book of World Records - a 984 page compilation of 12,416 records dating back to 1981. For their 25th year, they plan to release the second edition, a three-volume set, which will feature console and PC gaming. Twin Galaxies also continues to contribute to the Guinness Book of World Records, with 68 records in the book’s new videogame section.

GameSetWatch spoke to Walter Day via email about the history of Twin Galaxies, and what it represents now.

How did you become interested in videogames?

I was an oil broker in 1980 and I began work on a book called Day’s Who’s Who in the Petroleum Industry. After some weeks working on biographies, my partner said: “I can't work anymore on this stuff, I have to go play Space Invaders.”
So, of course, I had no idea what Space Invaders was so he took me along to a major arcade in Houston, TX, where I became addicted to Space Invaders. Then, I became addicted to Pac-Man and then Centipede. Today, I don’t play because Twin Galaxies takes up all my time.

What are your favourite games?

The three mentioned above plus Galaxian, Make Trax, Crazy Taxi and Tutankham.

Have you ever been tempted to try for a record of your own?

I once held the world record on Make Trax, back in 1982.

Your site says of the scoreboards beginnings that "Day's real passion was to visit as many video game arcades as possible and record the high scores he found on each game" - what started your passion for recording game scores?

I was fascinated with the pursuit of excellence, as manifested in the video game player. I wanted to excel. So, to do this, I sought out the best of the best players to learn their tricks. This was the birth of the scoreboard.

What was it like to be recognised as the worldwide "official" record keepers of scores back in the early days, and how does it feel for that to have continued?

It was overwhelming in the beginning because I would be interviewed everyday from some city around the world. Everybody was going for records back then. It was a very big deal. Now, it’s more quiet and easier to handle. But still very popular.

Are there any records that stand out as particularly impressive for you?

Nobody will ever beat the records on the classic Pole Position [67,310 posted by Les Lagier on the 11th of June, 2004] or Crystal Castles [910,722 posted by Frank Seay on the same date]; they may actually be maxed out.

How were the early days of Twin Galaxies different to now?

I can breathe now, not as much pressure.

Do you feel like you played a part in bringing gaming into the professional arena?

The entire Twin Galaxies family of players and referees are responsible for planting a seed that is now coming to fruition everywhere. Many leagues, many contests, many champions – they all had their spiritual roots in what Twin Galaxies started 25 years ago.

How do you feel about gaming these days, as opposed to when you began?

It’s getting exciting. There wasn’t money available back then. The modern prize structure is making the activity become a legitimate sport.

How do you feel about emulator, or tool assisted, speedruns?

Emulators are fine. They are not mixed with original game systems, however: treated as separate. Speed-runs have breathed life back into games that had faded from the public eye.

Where do you see professional gaming going in the next five years?

Many, many leagues. Many, many contests. And a return to high-score based games in a big way.

Finally, what can we expect from the new edition of Twin Galaxies' Official Video Game & Pinball Book of World Records?

The book is so big that it is splitting into 3 companion volumes, each being 740-pages in length. The volumes are:

1. Arcade
2. Console
3. PC-Gaming

August 29, 2006

Chinese MMO Valentines, Allakhazam Distancing

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/vday.jpg A couple of neat China-related things I'm gonna smoosh into one post, so there. Firstly, sister site Gamasutra recently debuted a new column named 'The China Angle', which is written by the excellent Shang Koo from Pacific Epoch, and is probably the finest English-language column on the Chinese game market (in a rather small field, but nonetheless!)

Anyhow, the second column is up, and is fascinating because it deals with Chinese MMO companies making money via the third Valentine's Day this year (!) in China: "Activities for this week include special Valentine's Day quests, virtual roses and presents, and in-game weddings... Virtual weddings are cash cows for online game companies. The wedding itself can take several hours, making it the perfect activity for China's predominantly pay by the hour online game industry. Many companies also charge for virtual wedding dresses and flowers." Wow.

Though this would probably make more sense as a Gamasutra follow-up, there's nowhere sensible to put it - so on GSW it will go! After our recent article on IGE, who are China-sourcing item/gold traders of some repute, the owner of Allakhazam.com has chimed in on his website's relation to IGE, given that as item-sellers, IGE are reviled by a lot of his readership:

"Maybe it is just semantics, but I don't consider us owned by IGE. The initial sale of the company was done through IGE, but it was done as part of a larger deal that included a large influx of cash from a group of prominant institutional investors, which was meant to form a new, larger and more diverse corporation with zam as one of several divisions... The sale took place 6 months ago and I can say uncategorically that not one time has anyone dictated to me what to do with the new network. I have had 100% autonomy in every decision regarding Zam.com." Interesting!

The Office Cellphone Game Gets Tanned

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/officegames.jpg We only reprint, as you know, the most important stuff here, so here goes: "NBC’s the Office brought home the coveted “Best Comedy Series” award at last night’s Emmy Awards. The drinks and short-codes flowed at the official “Office” after-party—where guests were treated to complementary downloads of NBC’s the Office Games mobile phone game."

There's more: "Stylish cigarette girls demoed the 6 mini-games and distributed downloads. NBC’s the Office Games is available on Verizon, Cingular & Amp’d Mobile and will be coming to T-Mobile & Sprint in September. The mini-games include, Waste-paper basket ball, Paper football, Chair races, Stack-o-files, Office golf and Paper war—everything you’d expect from a game inspired by this award winning, tongue -in-cheek comedy!" We're really just printing this cos of the horrific 'cigarette girls' outfits, and Steve Carell looking tanned and confused.

[IGN has reviewed the game, which was formally a non-licensed title called 'Office Games', noting: "Sadly, having played both the before- and after-license editions of the games, the addition of the Office crew does very little to boost the concept above the level of mediocre. The only things that connect the game to the television show are some renaming conventions, the constant appearance of tiny character portraits quoting appropriate dialogue, and the redesign of the "goalie" in the paper football game to look like Pam, the receptionist. Otherwise, the game is still an uneven assembly of a few good games and some downright dull ones."]

Letters From The Metaverse: Living in a Ghost Town

[‘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 Second Life as a game development platform.]

This week I’ve been talking to ghosts.

There’s been an unusual bug that has appeared, at least for me, in the most recent version of Second Life; version 1.12. Occasionally other Second Life residents don’t appear, and I’m left holding conversations with only ghosts. They’re not completely anonymous; I know their names but nothing else. It hammers home, in a way, how important the avatar, the chosen form of another person, is to understanding them. As it is, I’m left only with what they said, no sense of who they were.

You see, I’ve been struggling with Second Life, recently. Not using it; I’ve been struggling with what my expectations were, based on the Linden’s efficient PR machine, and what I’ve found when I’ve been in world. I don’t want to turn this into a list of complaints, but when you hear of a thriving online world that’s not only a sterling example of free market capitalism but also the creative sandbox of our dreams, it’s not hard to find yourself disillusioned. Last week I explored a lovingly created island, Numbakulla, and was so utterly turned off buy the reality of the way Second Life forced my character to interact with it.

But the ghosts have told me I’m not the first to feel this way.

2006_08_29_primmies.jpgThe first thing the ghosts told me about was an article by Thomas Robinson on the Black Library. In the article, Thomas laments the death of Primmies, his Second Life game. The winner of a game development contest held by the Lindens and judged with the help of Doug Church, and what killed it? The very next patch to Second Life! It’s actually a rather beautiful article, if a little complex with jargon. The following discussion on the Blackbored is almost as essential, with Thomas Robinson hammering home his point, that Second Life is a failure as a development platform.

The ghosts linked me to a fairly recent post on the Second Life forums. The Second Life forums, not only soon to be closed, are only readable to people with Second Life Accounts. One well known member of the community, Clubside Granville, takes such umbrage at the closure of the forum that he literally leaves Second Life in the post. He has far more reasons to leave than that, and can’t resist scathing comments like “In the end there is nothing to do here if you are not into creating or want something more than a crippled version of IRC in a 3D world”, and states “Second Life runs under five year old physics technology on a platform it was never fully developed for at the time, using a highly inefficient and poorly designed scripting model.”

2006_08_29_chums.jpgThe most depressing thing about this, the ghosts confided, was that Clubside wasn’t just a naysayer. He was trying to accurately point out the flaws for the good of Second Life. For example, they said, he, and a team of individuals, decided to try and create the FPS “SL Conquest” after discovering a Linden sponsored banner ad which stated “Last week I created a multi-player FPS in Second Life... ...This week I'm charging people money to play it.” Clubside himself explained “The goal was to demonstrate the difficulty in implementing this very basic banner ad's premise, both because of technology limitations and cost. It's hard to charge someone for something they can essentially play for free, and it's hard to get people to develop in a system where people aren't ultimately interested because the content can't be compelling owing to those same technology limitations.”

2006_08_29_copter.jpgI visited Carnage Island, the remaining home of SL Conquest. Given a pistol by the nearest passing furry in camo gear, I took part in yes, a comically broken FPS experience. Carnage Island is without game balancing (the aforementioned furry attacking me with a helicopter seconds after he gave me a pop gun) and hampered by the slow character movement, jerky animation and weird collision detection of Second Life. The game does, at least, have random spawn locations, but when you consider that a plus point you’re probably getting desperate.

The last time I logged into Second Life it seemed to have more ghosts than ever.

Maybe one day I’ll be one of them.

[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, Broken Pencil, and Eurogamer. He's just started a workblog. Why don't you visit it if you want to find out more?]

Gamephera Catches Onto Space Invaders

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/sp800.jpg The New Gamer continues to do some marvellous stuff, the latest thing being a scan of the Space Invaders Atari 400/800 manual, as part of a 'Gamephemera' series.

They note: "Exquisitely detailed, the cover (illustrated by Bob Flemate, an Atari graphic designer) is stunning. I love the rigid rows of aliens marching towards the station, as well as the flourish of their lasers colliding with the mountainous embankment. Sure, it's a bit hyperbolic considering the simple game it's meant to visually describe, but it's still very impressive and terribly gripping."

But: "The rest of the manual is pretty scant. I mean, it's Space Invaders - there's not much that needs to be documented. However, my favorite part of the manual has to be the 'Space Invaders Games Matrix', which details the various changes in the 12 different types of Space Invaders game modes." Haw. And yes, there's a PDF you can grab.

Tactical Gaming Successfully Infiltrated

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/ironsi.jpg We linked to the smart Dslyecxi's uber-gigantor-post on tactical shooters a few weeks back, and now he's come up with a neat update referencing the UT2004 mod 'Infiltration' - we'll paste you what he says!

"Shortly after publishing my "Tactical Gaming Done Right" article, I received a good number of e-mails urging me to check out certain games that I hadn't covered. The game that was most heavily cited, time and time again, was an Unreal Tournament mod called "Infiltration" that I had never seriously played before. Wanting to be as thorough as possible, and mindful that I would likely do follow-up articles in the future on this topic, I went ahead and dug out my UT CDs to see what all the fuss was about."

He continues: "Here we are, a few months later, and I can now clearly see that not having had Infiltration in the original article was a gross oversight on my part. I must plead ignorance for having neglected it. From what I can see now, Infiltration must be considered as the mother of all tactical realism games - or at least the first to implement a vast number of what at the time were brand new concepts. That Infiltration so solidly implements so many features that had never seriously been seen before in the genre is a tribute to the skill and vision of the developers." So there - realism lovers should probably go read this article now. [Via Shack News.]

COLUMN: 'Parallax Memories' – The B-Fighters

And then there was blood['Parallax Memories' is a regular weekly column by Matthew Williamson, profiling classic '16-bit' games from the Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo, and other seminal '90s systems. This week's column profiles some not-so-great fighting games]

Mortal Kombat

You can lie to yourself all you want, but it’s a fact that many of the fighting games for the Genesis and Super Nintendo were terrible and, at best, gimmicky. Others were only poor ports of good arcade games. For the sake of simplicity I am just going to focus on the Genesis and try stay away from honestly good fighting games. Looking back on the 90’s and it’s fighting game line up compared to now, we are really only slightly better off with girls that kick high.

It is probably best to begin with what started a trend of mediocre fighting games with style over substance: Mortal Kombat. The release of this game on home consoles was probably one of the largest videogame-related media events since The Wizard was released. Videogame critics were quick to speak up about how this trash would ruin our children. Because of the "realistic" violence Joe Lieberman was brought into the forefront as an upholder of public morality. I’m pretty sure that all it did was sell more games.

Using digitized people and borrowing many elements from the seminal Street Fighter II, Mortal Kombat won its way into many people’s hearts with excessive and unrealistic gore. Blood would glob out of the characters with as little as a slap to the face. Heads could be rent from their torso, spinal column included. It was fantastic. The Genesis port was fairly competent and faithful to the original: I played it to death. Though the controversy over the game caused the game to be released without blood there was a code for the Genesis version which would unlock it, a code almost as infamous as the Konami Code.

For the record I turned out to be fairly balanced person and have never once tried to reproduce an act in the game other than for comedic effect.

prage.gifPrimal Rage

Atari followed suit shortly thereafter with Primal Rage. The game pitted Draconian gods against each other for the control of Urth. Rather than use live-action digitized humans this game went with clay figures. PR feels just as cheesy as MK does and goes even further for an attempt to gross out - or play up to - immature audiences. You fight to a gory death while occasionally gobbling up or tossing human worshipers at your feet. The brutality ranged from stabbings to crushing, and one of the gods could even melt the flesh off enemies with acidic urine in his "golden shower" fatality.

On the Genesis the game lost little of its “charm.” As to be expected from a port to an under-powered system the game doesn’t look or sound as nice as the original. But aside from a few missing combos (for no apparent reason) the rest of the game is pretty much intact: even all the censored items which were removed from the SNES version. Yet Primal Rage is not the end of these inadequate games.

Eternal Champions

Eternal Champions was the first game for the Genesis where I finally thought I had an excuse to buy a 6-button controller. I spent a good amount of my time playing vs. fighting games in the arcades, so I didn’t need a 6-button controller for Street Fighter II (nor a copy of the game itself really), but Eternal Champions was something new, and ultimately even more of the same.

echamptions.gifBuying into the hype I got the game and the controller but shortly thereafter gave up on fighting games in general for a while. While EC was a decent game and controlled well it was just jumping on the bandwagon of overly violent games. The only unique quality of the game is the “overkills” (stage specific fatalities), but even that had been in other games, just not to the same extent. Seeing these overkills usually involved trying to find them with your friends. You have to have an opponent land on the ground in a very specific spot when they die. Sometimes it was fairly obvious where this was to happen, where others it was nearly impossible to land right. The overkills ranged from drive-by shootings to chest explosions resulting in the outpouring of bowels.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed these games a lot when they came out. I would spend many summer days and weekend hours playing the games with friends. Many times my friends would come over and I would end up playing while they went off to go fishing, or what ever it was that normal kids ended up doing. But they just don’t hold up well at all.

When I started to collect arcade cabinets for my game room a few years back I managed to get a Primal Rage cabinet exceptionally cheap. I tried to rekindle the love for these b-movie games with some friends. We made a party of sorts out of it: pizza, beer, and women (well, my wife at the least). After a good hour (or less) of laughs and drunken hilarity the thrill wore off, the games showed just what they were: bad. In a half-hearted attempt to see if the console ports were somehow better than the arcade originals I revisited many of my favorites (with other baddies not mentioned such as TMNT:Tournament Fighter and Cyborg Justice). The experiment was a failure and, in retrospect, I find it hard to believe that we thought of these as looking real or even close at one point. The memories remain and the fight goes on. 2D fighters are all but extinct now and many of these games are the reason why. Strangely enough Mortal Kombat is coming up on its possible "final game," I can only hope that really is true.

[Matthew Williamson is the creator of The Gamer’s Quarter, an independent videogame magazine focusing on first person writing. His work has been featured on MTV.com, 1up.com, Chatterbox Radio, and the Fatpixels Radio Podcast.]

August 28, 2006

MPC 1000 Gets Pong, World Rejoices

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/mpcmpc.jpg One of my favorite blogs that normally has nothing to do with video games, vintage synth geekout zone Music Thing, has just updated with news of a Pong hack for the MPC1000 sampler, wow.

As the Wikipedia page for the MPC series explains: "Akai MPCs (originally MIDI Production Center, now Music Production Center) are a popular and well respected series of electronic musical instruments originally designed by Roger Linn and produced by the Japanese company Akai from 1988 onwards."

Apparently, some Japanese hackers, named 'Japanese Jenius', or JJ for short, have done this _alleged_ non-hoax: "The unofficial OS has given the MPC1000 most of the functions of the more expensive MPC2500, and more. JJ are planning to sell a finalised version for $35, which will - apparently - include this version of Pong..." Yay, Pong for tea, pong for everything!

It's Visiting Day - On PSP!

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/visiit.jpg Over at Gnome's Lair, the aforementioned Gnome has an excellent post about Mike Bithell's freeware PSP/PC title Visiting Day, which is a seriously fun super-simple indie title.

He explains: "Visiting Day, Mike Bithell's soon to be released freeware PSP game (already mentioned here), has moved to BETA stage. And a publicly playable BETA it is. Weird thing though... it's a PSP game currently playable on the PC (& Mac). Still, it will definitely give you a good idea of what to expect: a refreshingly simple, innovative, beautiful and intuitive game."

Trying it out briefly, it's a series of mini-games, of which the first is a little like a Wario Ware mini-game meets the EyeToy mini-game where you have to keep the soccer ball aloft, with super-fast Shen Mue-style button pressing mixed in, and has an endearingly cute art style, too. Then there's another one with tentacles and shooting, and another with tentacles and running and someone called Simon (yay!), so.. seriously, this is a v.neat indie title, we'd love to see a 50-mini-game version sold commercially on PSP.

'Creepy' Sega Cat Pops Up on eBay

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/segacat.gif Of course, Sega make other things than video games, and messing around on eBay, we notice a reduced-price auction for one of the oddest in recently memory - Sega's 'Near Me' life-sized cat robot, so hideous that the auction seller actually describes it as 'creepy' while _still trying to sell it_. (It's going for $200, half of its original price of $400.)

The auction explains, somewhat vaguely: "Near Me - Robotic Android Cat by SEGA NEW IN BOX HOM-1000... Near me that has a pretty face like a real cat, Can take various poses with the real movement by 15 parts and 7 different sensors, There are two colors ; one is the white version, another one is the grey version (American short hair) Grey color version is also available, Please check my auction!"

The official Sega Toys 'Near Me' website has plenty more, but you will learn all you need to know from this demo video of the robot cat, which is so far in the Uncanny Valley, it may never get out again. Of course, if you're particularly goth and are in the market for a zombie cat...

Binary Picture Show Takes Over

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/bpss.jpg Here's an interesting and random email we got about the Binary Picture Show machinima videocast, and we shall reprint it while pointing at it.

It's explained: "'Gaming News with Lady Mainframe' – the unique weekly online news show is finally back with a second series after a huge overhaul to its appearance as well as its format. 'Lady Mainframe', the show's virtual presenter, has received a much needed graphical renovatation, and now presents weekly games sales charts, as well as the latest word in games and technology."

The site has full download links, and notes: "To open the new series we have an eight minute show highlighting a few noisemakers from the Leipzig GC, and the usual rundown of other cool news events of the week, including 'Resevoir Dogs', 'Marvel Ultimate Alliance', 'Hospital Tycoon', 'Just Cause', and more. Of course the biggest change is in Lady Mainframe herself who's had a bit of an identity change." Someone needs to YouTube this for easier watching, we think - but it's not unpromising?

Casual Gamers - The JIG Is Up!

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/jigame.jpg Over at super-smart casual game blog Jay is Games, they've got the games from their first Flash puzzle game design competition up - and there's all sorts of fun stuff.

As for the first set of entries, there's some pretty neat stuff in there - Wulfo raves: "Wow, every single one of those games was unbelievably brilliant. I assumed that they were all going to be simple Bejeweled rip-offs or something like that, but every single was highly original and enjoyable. Sigil of Binding was really enjoyable and I was really surprised that a (brilliant) new edition of Submachine was submitted."

The second batch of entries also has plenty of highlights, with Erico Monteiro providing a neat summing-up of these games in the comments: "All puzzles are neat.. I particularly enjoy those with sound puzzles, but the best here I guess is GATEWAY, nice set of puzzles, excellent atmosphere that somehow reminds me of GROW."

August 27, 2006

RYAN DRUMMOND MUST VOICE SONIC AGAIN

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/sonicy.jpg Poking around GameSetInterview-er Alistair Wallis' Little Mathletics site, we found this amazing interview with Alex Prins-Stairs about 'saving' Sonic The Hedgehog (both the cartoon and the games) from 4Kids' voice actors - even pinning petitions to telegraph poles to make his point!

Here's some rhetoric in action from Prins-Stairs: "My main complaints are the 4Kids voices of Sonic, Cream, Vector, Rouge and Charmy as are in the opinions of others I have met as well. Sonic’s old voice actor Ryan Drummond gave Sonic personality and attitude. He made Sonic sound excited when needed and serious when needed as does his Japanese voice actor Junichi Kanemaru. While with Jason Griffith from 4Kids Entertainment, he hardly gives Sonic any emotion."

But wait, it gets worse: "With Cream the Rabbit, originally I was not able to tell the differences between her game voice actor Sarah Wulfeck and her 4Kids voice actress Rebecca Handler (known as “Rebecca Honig” when voicing Cream) until I played Sonic Battle... She makes Cream sound very high pitched and screechy making her very irritating and very hard to understand." I'm sure that Commander Zorg has something to say about this!

Edge Yanks Out All The Stops

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/edgeo.jpg Even though they're technically some kind of competitor (or bits of them are!), we're still naturally fans of Future's UK print pub Edge magazine, and it sounds like they've managed to set up a new subscription deal of interest to American readers.

They explain: "For those looking to subscribe from the USA, we're announcing a new service allowing you to pay direct in dollars. This link will take you through to our new partnership with International Media Services, allowing you to buy a one-year, two-year, or quarterly subscription."

It turns out to be $75 for a year, and a little less for two years - quite a lot cheaper than previously: "Representing a 28% saving on the cover price, and delivered direct to your door, the deal also includes a free gift of your choice from one of three limited edition Edge T-shirts."

Of course, this is still at least twice as much as the most expensive U.S mag subscriptions, even Official PS2 and Xbox Magazines with the disc (and don't forget to use eBay for the non-disc U.S. subscriptions for even cheaper prices!) but you pays your money, you takes your choice, eh?

COLUMN: 'Keyboard Bashing' - Abuse: The Lost Shooter

Crack dot Com's Abuse['Keyboard Bashing' is a new GameSetWatch column by Tales of a Scorched Earth's Andrew Smale which discusses the history, present and future of PC gaming.]

Crack dot Com's one and only published game was Abuse (1995), which was released to hype that called it "the Doom of platform games". Combining the precision aiming available to first-person shooters that use the mouse and the jumping and climbing puzzles familiar to platform games, its darkened atmosphere and dedication to fast-paced action garnered a page in PC gaming history. But was it for the right reasons?

Crack dot Com was founded by programmers Dave Taylor (formerly of id Software) and Jonathan Clark. The demo, while essentially a beta of the unfinished game, provided network play and an easy to use level editor in the package. The mouse and keyboard control scheme was enough to get people talking - what seemed like an odd combination for a platformer ensured the game would at least be talked about. The company found a publisher in Origin Systems shortly before they were absorbed by Electronic Arts, and the game was made available to the masses in 1995.

Linux had not reached the levels of acceptance it's at now, and the game was released for DOS and Linux concurrently making it the first published game to take this approach. The game's source code would be handed off for free two years later under the GPL. Crack dot Com disbanded in 1998 after going bankrupt, making all of the assets for what would have been their next game available to whoever wanted to download them. With no hope for an official sequel, Abuse would be relegated to PC gaming cult status.

Hm. These creatures look familiar. Except they're red.The premise of Abuse is that you are a wrongfully incarcerated man looking to escape a prison facility that has been conducting biological experiments on its residents. It's up to you to fight your way out, battling an assortment of alien creatures, robots and automated weapons. The influence of the Predator and Aliens films on the player character and enemy design is completely obvious. The game's environment was similarly inspired by these science-fiction landmarks. Though it's not like we hadn't seen run and gun platforming before: Turrican (1990) and Duke Nukem (1991) had already shown us the side scrolling key, switch and door hunt while blasting away at waves of monsters. Had the features of Abuse stopped there it would have been dismissed as an also-ran, at a time when the reigning genres of PC gaming were still being defined.

It was the controls that secured the place of Abuse in PC gaming history. It marked an evolution of the control scheme for the side scrolling platformer. No longer were you limited to shooting up, down or at an awkward angle while running - the "freelook" available through using the mouse allowed complete control over the player's aim. What's more, you could actually run one way and shoot in the other - perfect for those overwhelming firefights in Abuse's many darkened corridors. Also similar to the FPS standard was the focus on weapon acquisition: Abuse had a large arsenal of weapons available, modeled after their first-person counterparts - including a lightsaber-like laser sword. So what happened to this sub-genre? Was it simply an isolated case of experimentation before the rise of the graphically intensive first-person shooter?

Examining the mechanics of the first person shooter since its ascent to PC gaming's most prevalent genre, it has shown no real maturation beyond the formulaic hallway navigating run and gun switch hunt. Instead, the genre has developed in terms of presentation: better graphics, better sound, more epic setpieces and cutscenes. The basic principles have stayed the same: kill anything that moves.

This increasing reliance on graphical fidelity made "gimmicky" side-scrolling shooters almost unnecessary, or something that would be better suited for console gaming. With Abuse, its potential for genre trailblazing on the PC was basically a matter of timing. The highly modifiable Doom was still on everyone's mind, and the fully 3D engine of Quake was just around the corner.

Beautiful low-res explosions.The view offered by Abuse made jumping puzzles easy, providing a logical challenge to progressing through a level. Its assortment of powerups (such as the Jetpack) added some flair to getting past these obstacles. Ironically, jumping puzzles remain a staple of most FPS games, despite their impracticality.

Most importantly, Abuse lacked an identity. Focusing on the control scheme only avoided the fact that it wasn't much more than what was offered by the standard shooter. This prevented long-term association with the title from the PC gaming community. What would you even call the game? A precision-shooter-platformer? Abuse was beyond categorization, and as such probably contributed to its lack of success in inspiring any followers aside from the hardcore fans that aimed to create a full-fledged sequel.

Abuse showed what a first-person shooter would be like as a side-scrolling platformer, but despite its critical acclaim failed to produce any notable descendents. Abuse would end up as one of those games we all played, and remember well, but ends up more of a title you mention when working towards something else. Abuse would be absorbed by the pages of PC gaming history, a victim of the constantly changing tastes of gamers and the company that produced both a cult classic and one-hit wonder.

Editor's Note: Since the release of the game's source code, there have been numerous projects started to revisit it either through creating a sequel or simply porting it to modern-day PCs. The original DOS game can be found on many abandonware sites (such as The Underdogs), while Win32 versions are available via the fRABs (Free Abuse) project, or Jeremy Scott's port. I have had more luck getting the DOS version to work, because the aspect ratio of the Win32 version doesn't work very well with modern hi-resolution monitors.

Swarming All Over Swarm Racer

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/swar.jpg The only website whose logo has a joystick with some spectacles on it, TIGSource, has updated with info on a new Lexaloffle-designed game named 'Swarm Racer', from the same folks who created the v.endearing 'Zen Puzzle Garden'.

As the official description explains: "What do you get if you cross a hive of pixelated bees with a remote controlled car and put them in a plasmatronic dream? Who knows. While you're thinking about it, why not play Swarm Racer? It's a new type of racing game." There's even both a Mac and PC download of the shareware title, of which Derek Yu notes: "It’s a simple idea that is executed just perfectly. My only qualm is that there aren’t enough levels, although trying to get on the online leaderboards extends the life of this game some."

Also, how's this for TIGSource's fevered overture to the developer's entire output? "The[ir] games are just so earnest and polished. Playing one is like putting on your favorite sweater and having some tea and a scone on a blustery fall afternoon. It’s like what I imagine New Zealand to be like. Or maybe getting nuzzled by a unicorn." Honestly, just get a room, you guys! Then again, Swarm Racer rocks, so I may have to join you.

Old Man Murray - Making Portal Hilaaarious

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/omm.jpg Game Informer has a new interview with Valve's Doug Lombardi online, and in it, he reveals that the Old Man Murray writing team are back together at Valve and working on the previously GSW-mentioned Portal - explaining why the Portal trailer was actually pretty damn funny.

Portal itself, as we pointed out, "is a great 'rags to riches' story (OK, maybe mild wealth!), since, as we mentioned in our Gamasutra report: the "spatial portal dropping concept, using a gun for placement... is based on IGF Student Showcase winning title Narbacular Drop."

Valve's Lombardi discusses the process of hiring the Narbacular Drop developers, and also reveals: "The writing for that is being done by Chet [Faliszek] and Erik [Wolpaw] who used to be Old Man Murray. They’re at Valve now and one of their first projects they’ve been tasked with is to do the writing for Portal. So if you were a fan of Old Man Murray you’re going to be a fan of that voice in Portal because it’s the same wry cynicism."

Chet has been at Valve for a while in some technical role, we thought (?), and Erik previously worked on Psychonauts for Double Fine before hopping on board the Valve train, and we'd like to point out a couple of things - firstly, that Valve hires some great writers _as_ pure writers (Marc Laidlaw being the other great example), and secondly, that OMM was more influential than they might have ever imagined on the game biz, given their elevated state of sarcasm at any given point.

Paging Doctor Hauzer, Doctor Hauzer!

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/hauzer.jpg For me, at least, the singlemindedness in the face of obscurity of the 3DO Interactive Multiplayer blog makes it the best single-format game blog around - and now they've unearthed an interesting rarity, Riverhillsoft's Japan-only survival horror title 'Doctor Hauzer'.

Poking around elsewhere online, there's an ancient text-only review which explains it well: "Anyone playing Doctor Hauzer on the 3DO is likely to experience a distinct sense of deja vu. One of the first batch of japanese - developed 3DO games to be released in Japan, Dr Hauzer bear an uncanny resemblance to Alone In The Dark from Gallic developers Infogrammes - in fact, the similarities between the two games are so pronounced that Dr Hauzer could almost pass of as part of the Alone In The Dark series itself." (It's worth noting that there's no actual combat, though!)

We also found another handy review on a 3DO website, about the only other documentation on this 1994-era title - and 3DOkid sums things up nicely: "To call it “scary” would be a push, perhaps mildly creepy is better phrase but it does belong in the survival horror genre – just about. At the end-of-the-day Dr Hauzer is clearly another rung on the ladder that was ascending to Resident Evil and perhaps worth investigating for that alone."



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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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