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Archive For August, 2006

It's Visiting Day - On PSP!

August 28, 2006 4:24 PM | Simon Carless

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

August 28, 2006 12:10 PM | Simon Carless

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

August 28, 2006 7:29 AM | Simon Carless

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!

August 28, 2006 3:17 AM | Simon Carless

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 11:15 PM | Simon Carless

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

August 27, 2006 7:01 PM | Simon Carless

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

August 27, 2006 3:01 PM |

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

August 27, 2006 10:41 AM | Simon Carless

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

August 27, 2006 5:18 AM | Simon Carless

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!

August 27, 2006 1:14 AM | Simon Carless

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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