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September 9, 2006

COLUMN: ‘Game Mag Weaseling’: Mag Roundup 9/9/06

['Game Mag Weaseling' is a weekly column by Kevin Gifford which covers video game magazines from the late '70s all the way up to right now.]

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Boy, I wish it was cooler outside so I could take my ferrets out, but no, it has to rain all day and be all smelly like a rainforest. So instead, I'm going to walk you through all fourteen game magazines that have hit stores in the past two weeks. One per day! The autumn one-off rush is most definitely upon us...

[Click through for the full column.]

Electronic Gaming Monthly October 2006 (Podcast)

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Cover: Guitar Hero II

The cover for this month's EGM (as touted in the September issue) was meant to be a big, boffo exclusive on Spider-Man 3 for all next-gen systems, but apparently it fell through -- as EIC Dan Hsu puts it in the editorial, "you'll have to ask movie director Sam Raimi why he's such a jerk and pulled our story at the last minute." Ouch!

Still, the eight pages that Raimi snatched from EGM are now devoted to the most intense coverage RedOctane's little game that could has gotten in a game mag yet, and it's a neat bit of visual design, too -- done up like a headbanger's high-school notebook, all filled up in the margins with heavy-metal doodles. An extremely well-written article, too, as all the producers and developers come off like real nice guys who made it big doing what they love. The only real "exclusive" tie-in here is the unveiling of 12 new tracks in the game, from "Heart-shaped Box" and "Tonight I'm Gonna Rock You Tonight" to my personal favorite, The Police's "Message in a Bottle".

Bigger previews: Include Phantasy Star Universe, Resistance: Fall of Man, Kevin Gifford favorite Rayman: Raving Rabbids, and a Marvel vs. DC showdown of comic-book games.

Much more exciting: Are developer postmorterms on Dead Rising and Okami, as well as spreads on "the world's most dangerous gamers" (ie. cyberathletes) and the top 10 queerest characters in games. I'm glad Raphael Sorel made it on there, but Zangief? Come on! Since when is being 100% man such a sin?

Computer Gaming World October 2006 (Podcast)

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Cover: Space marine :(

Forget about that cover for a moment. The real draw of this issue of CGW is two consecutive articles that cover politics in games in two different lights -- one's about peacenik griefing in America's Army, and the other is about the gaming scene, such as it exists, in the Middle East. Both are quite awesome and merit reading even if you don't care two ways about PC games. In fact, the two pieces exemplify why I like CGW more than any other computer mag right now -- it's doing everything a magazine needs in order to be unique in modern times, and I think it's doing a great job of it.

Five new inductees: Are welcomed into CGW's Hall of Fame in this issue: Star Control II, Ultima Online, Sierra's The Incredible Machine, Freedom Force, and Mr. Warren Spector himself. StarCon2 and TIM's inductions prove that 1992 was the best year ever for PC gaming.

Cover tit for tat: In the Crysis feature that most of the midsection is devoted to, Crytek artist Michael Khaimzon laments CGW's first Crysis cover in March '06, calling it "Charlie Sheen with a leaf blower" and saying "I'm going going to kill this artist if I find him". I dunno about that. To me, the only difference between that cover and this one is that the space marine looks less like Dolph Lundgren and more like The Guyver.

Official PlayStation Magazine October 2006 (Podcast)

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Cover: Burnout 5 (pictured) or Army of Two (not pictured because of too many space marines)

Again, the cover subject is secondary to the real theme of this month's OPM -- to paraphrase everyone's favorite pudgy CEO, developers, developers, developers, developers. The top selling point is the spread on page 38 where EIC Tom Byron rounds up two vice presidents at EA and makes them respond to six common EA complaints culled from his weblog and the mag's message boards -- you know, they rush games, they're afraid to take risks, they made Catwoman, etc. Top response from one of them: "The games get better every year. And that's why people keep buying them every year." I know three Madden-hating reviewers over on EGM who'd disagree with that...

The feature moves on to the two coverboy games, with a focus on their respective dev houses, then continues with the usual sort of game-mag previews before concluding with a piece on the future of indies.

The disc: Has a new demo of Okami and a repeat of Lego Star Wars II, just in case you missed it last month.

Cutest page: The "OPM Kids Roundup", a collection of four reviews (Monster House, The Barnyard, Over the Hedge and One Piece: Pirates' Carnival) decorated with the most darling, Lisa Frank-ish art of a bunny holding his/her bunnylings. Kudos to Karen Chu, the artist -- and also to Chris Kohler for landing the Lois Lane-caliber assignment of reviewing every single game on the page.

PSM October 2006 (Podcast)

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Cover: Final Fantasy XII

This month's PSM doesn't just have FFXII on the cover -- the issue practically is FFXII, since it's dominated by a fourteen-page review of Square's top game of the year. It's the first US (and presumably English-language) review of the game, and while it's early as hell (coming a good two months before the game hits stores), there's no denying that it covers the game in all sorts of depth. It's practically IGN-like, in fact, except with the benefit of nicer-looking page design. The final verdict: 9.5, which is coincidentally the same score Okami gets in its own two-page review.

The review: Also sets up Square Enix Circle, a new subsection of the News space that covers everything you'd care to know about the RPG makers. This month, Kaiser Hwang spends three pages talking to Kakuko Obinata (the game's "public relations manager") about FFXIII.

Official Xbox Magazine October 2006 (Podcast)

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Cover: Tony Hawk looking somewhat "board" (kah hah hah, that killed 'em in the Borscht Belt) in his new game, Project 8

Dan Amrich oughta be right at home writing the cover feature this month on Tony Hawk's Project 8 -- if I recall, he wrote every Tony Hawk cover feature that GamePro did, too, and I think they did all of them until Game Informer scored the Underground scoop. The game looks great in the screenshots, and series nuts are bound to enjoy the well-learned depth Dan gets into in the text. Newsstand issues also come with a page of Project 8 stickers, suitable for slapping on your board or dog.

The disc: Definitely beats OPM's for fanboy excitement -- this time around you get F.E.A.R., Prey, and Lego Star Wars II. A demo of Japanese 360 roboshooter Zegapain XOR is unlockable, and you also get an on-screen index of every OXM review score ever. A superb package overall.

In other news: Microsoft is still purchasing two-page ad spreads for Perfect Dark Zero. Sony wasn't even that persistent with the Jak games.

GamePro October 2006

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Cover: Call of Duty 3 (regular), World of Warcraft :( (Level-2 edition)

I get the Level-2 edition of GamePro super-early, so unfortunately I can't give you the Call of Duty 3 cover right now. Sorry. (The L2 cover is especially lame because Beckett Massive Online Gamer (remember them?) used the exact same art for their cover a couple of months ago. I really wish there was some sort of new editorial content in the L2 mag besides a worse cover. It was especially bad last month, when hapless Best Buy customers got a football dude on their GamePros instead of a bunch of bikini babes.)

Getting back to the subject: The CoD3 story is long and does a great job of pushing the game, especially the Wii version's subtleties. The other exclusives are a preview of Justice League Heroes and a review of Naruto: Clash of Ninja 2, which I'm playing right now for Newtype USA, actually.

There's also: A quick preview feature on 17 Xbox 360 games titled "17 Reasons The Xbox 360 Plays The Winning Hand." With Halo 3, sure, but with Gundam Mobile Ops and yet more WWE games?

A perfect 5.0: Is given to Okami and the 360 version of Madden. I think GamePro's gotten a lot stingier on the 5.0s in the past year or so...although the result of this seems to be a lot of games getting 4.5 or 4.75 instead.

Nintendo Power October 2006

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Cover: Final Fantasy III

I don't know what it is (maybe it's that I don't slavishly read Matt Casamassina online), but every issue of Nintendo Power seems to bring me a new surprise. For this one it's: Hey, Pit's model in Super Smash Bros. Brawl looks pretty awesome. And: Hey, so does Lunar Knights (which is the centerfold-poster subject this month).

And: Wow, two pages on hairstyles in Animal Crossing DS (complete with strategic conversation flowchart) has never been more excitingly written.

Interviews this month: Hiromichi Tanaka and Nobuo Uematsu (FF3), Marcus Iremonger (CoD3, now that's a Teutonic last name if I ever heard one), Katsura Hashino and Daisuke Kanada (Trauma Center: Second Opinion), and Kensuke Yoshitomi (Lunar Knights). Extra bonus: John Schappert, another EA VP, for a feature on the company's Wii support.

Tips & Tricks October 2006

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Cover: LEGO Star Wars II

T&T has the newest editorial column in game mags (just debuted around half a year ago, if I recall), but it may also have one of the most honest. This month, the editors discuss the Reader Art Gallery that used to grace the bottom of the tips pages. This gallery printed pretty much anything readers sent in, and since T&T's most ardent letter-writers are often on the lower end of the age scale, this resulted in (as the editorial puts it) "a lot of crazy bad art, some of it by little kids who could barely hold a crayon and had their parents write our address on the envelopes they sent in".

You couldn't deny this was true, and neither could the members of a focus group who felt embarrassed to read a magazine that seemed to cater to the kiddies with this section. So T&T dropped it entirely...but with mounds of readers asking for it back, it's been reinstated inside the letters section. And, as you guessed, most of it is from kids, with a couple drawn on lined paper and one which I'm totally unable to recognize what it's supposed to be.

"If it seems like the majority of our letters and artwork come from kids," the editors continue, "it's only because younger readers will always be more excited about corresponding with video-game magazines than adults who play Madden once a week with their buddies." True enough -- my own magazine gets a lot of fan art, after all, from young'uns presumably looking for someone who will appreciate their traced Magic Marker drawing of Kirara for what it is.

Hardcore folks: Will enjoy this month's Collector's Closet, the neatest in a while. One page is devoted to the spaceship on the box of 2600 game Star Voyager, a model kept by the programmer in his attic. The other: A massive collage of game T-shirts, including some I really wish I had (Zoop, Gex, "Sony PlayStation Launch Team"? Sign me up).

Beckett Spotlight: Cheat Codes October/November 2006

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Cover: LEGO Star Wars II (some more)

Well, dog my cats! It looks like Cheat Codes has ramped up to a full bimonthly schedule, and I can even subscribe to it now. Massive Online Gamer is getting the same treatment starting with Issue 2, so I guess I gotta shell out for a subscription to both now. My postman hates me already, but for GameSetWatch, anything...

Breaking the monotony of codes in this issue are interviews with LEGO II producer David Perkinson (where he jokingly lets the cat out of the bag on his next big project, LEGO Willow) and the four lead producers on the Madden games (current gen, next gen, DS and PSP respectively).

Overall the mag is beginning to look like GamePro from a time gone by -- really text heavy and packed with lots and lots of random tips.

Two complaints: One, they reprinted the "Diary of a Sports Gamer" feature from last month's Beckett Sports Gamer one-off to fill space. Two, they accidentally used the same subhead and infobox for both LEGO II and Madden 07. Did you know Madden is now developed by Traveller's Tales and LucasArts apparently took over the NFL license? Smooth business deal there, George!

Unofficial PS3 Launch Handbook

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Future, I curse thy name this month, for you literally have seven or eight one-off specials on the racks and my wallet canna take much more of this.

This first one: From the editors of PSM, arrives at a bit of an odd time -- a lot about the PS3 and its launch remains up in the air, something you can surmise from the fact that there's only one game ad in this issue (for NBA 2K7). As a result, there's very little concrete on the system itself to be found here -- in fact, if you subscribe to PSM, you'd be a right fool to buy this, 'cos nearly 100 percent of the content (including the interview with FFXIII's PR lady I mentioned above) is borrowed wholesale from its pages.

Wot a rip! Worst $10 I ever spent (after Patriotic Pinball)!

Interesting thought: Do you think Future will be distributing more of these than Sony will have PS3s in America during the launch window?

Ultimate Xbox Buyer's Guide 2006

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OXM's one-off of the moment does a better job of hiding its content recycling, setting off with a top-20 for Christmas buyers and continuing with large (and, I think, original) features on 360 accessories, video gear and Live Arcade titles.

Funniest bit: The full-page preview of Grand Theft Auto 4 that consists of about 100 words of text and the GTA4 logo splashed over 75% of the page.

PC Gamer Proudly Presents Ultimate How-Tos For Gamers!

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For the most part, this appears to be a compilation of the hardware section of the past year's worth of PC Gamers, with a few quick game previews and bits from Maximum PC thrown on top. This isn't as bad as PSM's PS3 one-off effort, though -- at least this is useful info that can be used as a reference and won't go immediately out of date once the PS3 launches.

Code Vault Powered by BradyGames Fall 2006

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Cover: World of Warcraft (again?!)

I'm throwing the "Powered by BradyGames" into the title here because over half the mag now is reprints from Brady strategy guides. In fact, the whole mag is little more than an ad for Brady nowadays, and I can't help but feel a little sad for it, because I was a member of the team that tried to revitalize Code Vault when it went monthly in 2003. There was some neat original stuff in those monthly issues (strategies straight from the devs, wacky sidebars all over the tips page, a monthly spread on budget crap that I think features some of my most inspired writing), but it didn't help the sales, and CV went back to a quarterly in around 18 months.

Darn that Tips & Tricks! It was just too powerful for us. Ah well. Sorry to get derailed.

Ultimate Videogame Codebook (aka CHEATS!) Volume 10

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You've probably seen these shrinkwrapped books in the stands before. Well, I actually bought it this time around, and I have to admit, they weren't lying on the cover. This book is nothin' but cheats...320 pages of them, in fact, from cover to cover.

The book may not get a whole lot of use in this house, but if anyone were willing to drop the other nine in my lap to complete the collection, well, I wouldn't refuse...

[Kevin Gifford breeds ferrets and runs Magweasel, a site for collectors and fans of old video-game and computer magazines. He's also an editor at Newtype USA magazine.]

Nom 2 Postmortem Takes Us To Spaaaace

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/nom2.jpg We mentioned Gamevil's awesome in-house mag a few weeks back, and thus, it's probably good that we refer you to the Gamasutra postmortem of the company's Nom 2, which we just published.

There's a companion postmortem for the original Nom in September's Game Developer magazine, but this postmortem is for Gamevil's "innovative 'one-button' cellphone title Nom 2, part of a series from the Skipping Stone developer which is a significant hit in the company's native South Korea", and "makes the player to rotate their phone to keep up with the action, and also allows the sending of user messages into outer space."

Outer space?! Yep: "Users can send messages to outer space by playing Nom 2. In order to send a message, the user has to clear all the stages and the story of Nom 2. After the user clears the last stage the user will see the ending of the game and will meet an existing creature (alien). Following that, there will be a short conversation between the characters about the importance of eternal love, and after that point the user may type in a message that is desired... Users will type in messages into the 16x16 box, where they can arrange dots and write or draw whatever they want. The message is then converted into binary bytes and sent to a server, and stored for months until other messages are ready."

What then: "Once ready, these messages will be sent to a NSAU (Ukraine Space Agency) satellite, which is the world’s second largest satellite, having a diameter of 70m. The messages will be sent to outer space using this satellite. This will serve the hope of mobile game users by sending their dreams to outer space. Isn’t that a great experience?" And the gameplay is pretty darn fun in an insane phone-rotating one button way, too. Mind you, I don't know which carriers yet have the game available in the States - anyone?

Pac-Man Salt Shaker Shenanigans?

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/napkinpacman.jpg Of course, it doesn't exist in real life, but the Ironic Sans blog has posted a great Pac-Man related merchandising idea, which perhaps, we don't know, could herald Namco's rise as the Ikea of the 21th century?

It's noted: "I’ve had this design floating around my head for the past few days", before the actual concept: "Pac-Man napkin holder with Ghost salt and pepper shakers", is revealed.

Certainly, Pac-Man is so iconic that it's great to mess with the designs for illustrative purposes - the Pac-Man themed cover of Game Developer mag that Derek Yu drew a few months ago is a great example - they even gave us the exact canonical RGB color values of all the ghosts, which was pretty cool. (Sorry, can't remember them!)

That's Cooking On DS, Mama!

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/cmama2.jpg Over at Game Informer Online, they have some excellent hands-on impressions of Cooking Mama DS, which are very informative on why we should care, somewhat, about the Majesco-published DS cooking import.

It's explained: "Cooking Mama begins with absolutely no setup whatsoever. In fact, there isn’t really a story to be found in the game at all. You just select a recipe and start cooking. Players will start out with only a few dishes to choose from and then unlock new ones as they complete meals. All in all, the game has 76 different meals to make with a stunning variety of cuisines. Create tasty chow like fried chicken, rice dishes, pizza, sandwiches, spaghetti, dumplings, curry, kebabs, udon noodles, soup, shrimp, and even ramen."

However, it's also noted: "As far as complaints go, I really wish Cooking Mama had some sort of wacky story to go along with it. Who the hell is Mama and why am I making all of this food? We’ll never know, apparently. Trauma Center could have been just a bunch of surgery mini-games, but because the creators tied in some doctor drama, the game has a fair share of character that you can latch onto. What if you worked at a restaurant and a busload of kids came in and you had to make 15 cheeseburgers in two minutes? It could be cool." Close... but no celery?

Capcom Classics 2 Gets Pro SFII Tutorials

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/ssf2t.jpg Wandering around the Internet the other day, we checked out David Sirlin's website, principally because the Backbone Entertainment producer and EVO fighting game championship co-organizer put out his 'Playing To Win' book extract on Gamasutra this week.

But, poking around on his blog, we also found a v.informative post about Capcom Classics Collection 2, for which some great attention to detail is being lavished. We already kinda knew that "In addition to the original version of Quiz and Dragons, there is also a revised version (basically a 21st game) that has all-new trivia questions about Capcom history and games." Which rocks.

In addition, though: "The game also features almost 30 minutes of tutorial videos on Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo. Special thanks to ST player NKI for his help performing moves and combos and in editing. The videos start by explaining and demonstrating the concept of controlling space, the central concept of Street Fighter. They go on to explain everything from how to perform a fireball to 2in1s, meaty attacks, reversals, and even advanced concepts like “button up” reversals, “piano” inputs, and safe jumps." This is extremely awesome - more of these great extras in retro re-releases, plz!

Left Behind Hypes, Investors Falter?

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/left-behind.jpg We've previously covered the Christian-themed RTS Left Behind: Eternal Forces, and are now being bombarded with enthusiastic press releases ranting about the game's release.

Apparently: "More than 10,000 retail locations are expected to carry LEFT BEHIND: Eternal Forces... Additionally, inspirational book stores across the nation have also indicated strong interest based upon the success of the LEFT BEHIND novel series." So this is an announcement that the game is _going_ to be popular? Riiight! But there may be some explanation for this optimism.

Over at Marketwatch, there's a 'Stupid Investment Of The Week' article by Chuck Jaffe dealing with, wait for it, Left Behind Games' publicly traded shares. He notes: "Two weeks ago, the stock more than doubled over five days. Next month, the company will start selling its new product. Sometime thereafter, management is expecting to start reaping big profits. It all adds up to the reason why the broker is suggesting you buy in now. But in the case of Left Behind Games, a California company about to release a video game based on a popular faith-related book series, what's being sold is a Stupid Investment of the Week."

Why so? Well: "Left Behind has spent more than $12 million in operating expenses since 2002 and has no revenues to show for it. The net loss was more than $2.6 million for the most recent calendar quarter and 60% of the firm's working capital was spent over the last 12 months... Even when the product hits shelves, it will be months before the average investor can draw any conclusion about whether the plan, which sounds so promising, has a real chance for success." Agreed - Left Behind may be nice folks, but investing based on this single make-or-break product would be pretty dangerous. Man, it must be tough being a Christian investor when stocks like these are around.

September 8, 2006

Les Seules Show The U.S. Scandinavian Spunk

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/seules.jpg Hm - we're not really bored of random, glamorous Scandinavian girl gaming teams yet, so let's pass on this particular gem: "LES SEULES, the internationally acclaimed and cutting-edge group of female gaming champions, announced today the launch of their world tour with their first United States stops in New York City, Las Vegas and Los Angeles."

My God, their official website is incredibly high-end Flash bollocks, and Alice has blogged about them before, but there's more: "Champions of the most popular online game 'Counter-Strike, ' played by more than 100 million people worldwide, LES SEULES will be revamped into the best-trained and focused team in a male-dominated gaming world during their tour. "PLAY US" is the first-ever documentary series to concentrate on the life experiences of gamers rather than the games they play. Their tour spans across several continents and visits ten international cities. In addition to their domestic stops, the team will visit Tokyo, Shenzhen (China), Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Berlin, Paris and London. "

Anyhow: "LES SEULES will be making public appearances for gaming aficionados at the following U.S. locations: NEW YORK CITY : Thursday, September 7, 4pm, The News Cafe, 107 University Place... LAS VEGAS : Tuesday, September 12, 4:30pm, The Aladdin Resort & Casino... LOS ANGELES: Sunday, September 17, 10am, Cyber Java, 7080 Hollywood Boulevard." Oops, we missed the first one, but if any GSW-ers make it to the other ones, perhaps you could check in. We presume they won't be holding real guns in their personal appearances, though.

COMIC: 'Our Blazing Destiny' - Revenge of the PokéOffice

[Our Blazing Destiny is a weekly comic by Jonathan "Persona" Kim about our society, cultural postdialectic theory, and video games. And fulfilling childhood dreams of global domination stemming from a massive inferiority complex as well as massive guilt from having incestual feelings for one's sister.]

Wait, heeeeere's Persona: "Sorry for being so late again, guys. My school started this week and I had a bit of trouble moving in and procuring an internet connection and business of that sort. My schedule seems kind of busy this year so from here on out I'll probably make the comics just in grayscale or something simple like that. I hope you enjoyed all the beautiful colors! (Oh, and try to ignore that typo in box 4.)"

Lobbyist digivolve to... CONGRESSMON!!

[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. He's also currently suffering from loan problems and other financial difficulties related to school. Make sure to never to send your kids to art school if you want to have some money in your pocket to retire!

Why 'Samurai Champloo: Sidetracked' Rocks In '06

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/sidetracked.jpg So, it's true, we at GSW do have a bit of a man-crush on Killer 7 developer Grasshopper Manufacture's airy, crazed approach to game design - for example, we were recently remarking hopefully on their latest Japanese release, Blood+: One Night Kiss.

Well, I finally got round to picking up a copy of the Namco Bandai published Samurai Champloo: Sidetracked for PlayStation 2, the only Grasshopper Manufacture game available in the U.S. right now apart from Killer 7 itself (the company's survival horror title Michigan got a European release thanks to 505 Game Street), and, well - Sidetracked has the absolute best, most stylish hack 'n slash combat system I've seen.

Don't write this game off just because it's an anime license - sure, this was clearly a straightforward work-for-hire job for Grasshopper, but, if you can grok the combat system, the game becomes plain awesome. Let's try a basic explanation - you have just two attack buttons, and have to match simple combos (displayed at the top of the screen, variable from level to level), also timing them to the hiphop soundtrack - you can change soundtracks to change up which combos are displayed.

If you can end a specific combo at the right time - say, heavy, heavy, light, light, where there's a red box around the final 'light', then you get to 'Hyper Mode' (screen goes red, you can go crazy for a bit).There's also a whole separate 'Tate Mode' if you max out your attack 'Tension Gauge' and hit an enemy with stars over his head, which allows you to button mash a specific button to slice and dice the enemy as a countdown occurs.

If you can get 100 slashes in _that_ initial 'Tate Mode' time limit, then you get to 'Trance Mode', where you get a silhouetted dojo-style mini-game to destroy more enemies and rack up a bigger bonus. In addition to _that_, there are special 'QTE'-style Counter Attack and Technique Counter moves for when enemies attack you. It's gorgeously multifaceted.

Now, here's the issue - the word on the street is that overall, Sidetracked gets pretty repetitive over time (despite having some awesomely crazy stages, mini-games, and characters), and I'm not sure I've played long enough to hit that wall. You probably don't even have to master all these intricacies to complete the game - you can just button mash in general to get through it in one piece. So, plenty of down sides, too.

But I think about this complex, clever combat play style being applied to games like Dynasty Warriors or Ninety-Nine Nights, and I drool. And most of all, Grasshopper Manufacture's riff on the standard licensed anime game drek is clever, stylish, and joyful - and that's why Samurai Champloo: Sidetracked will be one of the overlooked video games of 2006, at least for those of us with miniscule attention spans who like short, sharp bursts of hyper-stylized action to make up their action games.

Sid Meier, Will Wright GONE WILD!

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/simwill.jpg Little more than a post of randomness, let's try to shoehorn two bits of greatness into one cogent set of paragraphs here. Firstly, my favorite game review line of the year so far, from the October 2006 issue of Computer Games Magazine.

It's actually written by Kelly Wand, who is reviewing CSI: 3 Dimensions Of Murder by Telltale, and who explains helpfully: "The game offers an appealing variety of scenarios. One set in the videogame industry involves a game designer who lives in his car and puts scorpions in the beds of his colleagues, which is obviously inspred by Sid Meier." Bravo, Sir.

Secondly, Jeremy Parish has added a fun blog post in which he notes: "So it appears that Will Wright, or at least a poorly-drawn caricature of him, will be working in an advisory role for players in Sim City 3000 for DS. Or as Kohler puts it, he'll be playing the part of Dr. Kawashima." So that's two evil (or just evil-looking) digitized game developers in one day, yikes!

NRA Gun Club, The Video Game

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/nrag.jpg Apparently, this was originally showcased back at E3, but an announcement just went out that Crave has grabbed the NRA license for a National Rifle Association-themed PS2 game named 'NRA Gun Club'.

According to the really darn exciting description: "This target shooter allows gamers to enter the shooting range, steady their nerves, and take aim at the bull's-eye and score in a wide variety of competitive environments." Yep, no people, no hijackers, no aliens - just responsible marksmanship, as befits the NRA's levelheaded executive. Or something.

GameSpy has a mini preview, for the intrigued, and WorthPlaying has some more screens.

We'll end with a gorgeously downplayed quote from Mike Marcellin, Managing Director of the National Rifle Association: "In keeping with the NRA mission, this game tests marksmanship in a sporting environment and emphasizes responsible use of firearms. This is a fun and exciting game, challenging all ages and all levels of firearms proficiency." Apparently no Charlton Heston cameo, mind you.

COLUMN: 'The Gentleman Nerd' - Why I Love... Dungeon Twister

[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.]

Dungeon TwisterI have the kind of day schedule that allows me to spend copious amounts of time helling through the internet at unsafe speeds. I won’t usually censor myself for the sake of others outside of not playing the role of digital ne’er do well, leering through a smoke filled room at some chippie trying to send herself through school. This gives me quite a bit of leeway, and so I use it… to look up board games. One day, while cruising through Board Game Geek, I stumbled upon something called “Dungeon Twister.”

What the hell is a Dungeon Twister? It sounds like you’ll need a spinner and some elf ears, but the box isn’t even remotely big enough for that. The only other kind of twister I can think of, other than the kind that tear-ass across Kansas from time to time, is of the Texas titty variety. I can’t imagine a boxed game coming with instructions on what to do to a man’s useless mammaries while my friends have him held down on the floor. Besides, I have people that do that for me. So, what is it? I had to know, so I ordered it. As it turns out, it’s one of the more inventive board games to come around in quite some time.

Dungeon TwisterThere are plenty of new ideas in the world of board gaming. In fact, it’s hard to find a game that isn’t doing at least SOMETHING that’s out of the ordinary. What’s interesting, however, is when you find a game that manages to cobble together a concept that’s completely bizarre and yet is still playable. That’s exactly what Dungeon Twister does. It takes a pretty odd concept and makes it work. I guess that’s most easily demonstrated by a quick look at the rules and how an average game goes.

First of all, the players set up the board as illustrated by my lovely, under exposed picture to the side over there. The game board sections are shuffled up and placed in the illustrated fashion. Each player then takes his team icons and, behind the screen, places them face down on either side of the starting board. Each side has a number of tokens that represent characters and items, once the player chooses his starting team, the rest of the tokens are placed upon the board face down. Once the starting team for each player is revealed, the game begins.

The basic idea behind Dungeon Twister is that both players have a set amount of cards that have Action Point amounts that range from two to five printed on them. Each player uses all of his Action Point cards and then they start over. In fact, all the cards in Dungeon Twister recycle with the exception of a few attack and jump cards. Each player plays his Action Point card and then uses those points to either move his characters, attack another player, reveal a section of the dungeon or turn a piece of the board. That last bit will take a little explaining.

Dungeon TwisterYou see, each tile in the dungeon has a gear on it, and on that gear is a number and an arrow. If you move your character to that section of the board and spend an Action Point, you can rotate the board piece a quarter turn. Now, somewhere in the dungeon is another piece that corresponds to the number on that gear. You can also move this piece by a quarter turn in the direction indicated by the arrow on that section. This is what makes Dungeon Twister interesting. You can manipulate far off sides of the dungeon to try and stop your opponent from scoring by moving his pieces off the opposite side of the board. Of course, he can do the same to you.

There are no dice and absolutely no luck involved, this game relies entirely on strategy. I’ve heard to Dungeon Twister referred to as a “crazy” version of chess, but that’s a little too narrow of a view for it. Sure, each of the pieces has a special ability and movement capability, but that’s where the similarities end. It’s hard to define or categorize. The only randomization I can think of in this game is the placement of the dungeon tiles, and there are only eight of those.

Dungeon Twister is a game of skill in a world dominated by chance. For that reason alone, it stands out as a game that should be tried. Beyond that, however, is the fact that it’s a well designed game with a low entry cost for two to four players (with the expansion). I know I’ve spoken to a few people that have trouble finding people to play games with, so here’s your chance as it only requires one other person. Sally forth.

[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.]

September 7, 2006

GameTap Dates Sam 'N Max, Ninja-s About

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/gtap.jpg Oop, time to go poke a bit at PC all-you-can-eat service GameTap again, since they've sent out some new info on their latest game titles - we covered the preliminary announcement a couple of weeks back, but now they've got specific.

Well, firstly, here's the really important news: "GameTap subscribers will get exclusive 15-day access to all "Sam & Max" episodes, beginning with the debut of the first episode on October 17th, 2006." Woo, only 6 weeks to new dog and rabbit action? [EDIT: Exit stage left, pursued by BEAR!] Count us in. The first episode involves "a group of former child stars [that] have become involved in nefarious deeds", and there's also new animated machinima "shorts" in production.

But elsewhere, he's the specifics for the themed weeks GameTap has been holding recently: "Space Combat Week: More than a dozen space invading games were released to commemorate the day we defeated the aliens. Among them were PC titles such as Battlecruiser Millennium, Descent II, Descent III, Descent: Freespace, Homeworld Cataclysm, Homeworld, O.R.B. (Off World Resource Base), Star Fury, Universal Combat Gold, as well as Star Ship and Star Voyager (New Star Voyager) for the Atari 2600 system."

What else? Well, Sports Week and Adventure Week are later this month, but we just had: "Ninja Week: The art of lurking in the shadows is finally given respect with this collection of games devoted to the art of stealth combat. Highlights include Ganryu, Kizuna Encounter: Super Tag Battle, Ninja Combat, Ninja Commando, Ragnagard, Sengoku, Sengoku , World Heroes and World Heroes Perfect." Yay for Ninja Commando, indeed. Now, as we've howled a zillion times before, get this onto Xbox 360! We'll pay $20 a month, easy.

Super Metroid Redesign Hacks Up The House

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/metrede.jpg The folks at Vintage Computing have posted their latest 'Hacksterpiece Theater', "a regular column devoted to fun, odd, and interesting retro game hacks", and this one is devoted to the 'Super Metroid Redesign' hack for the SNES.

As he explains: "Super Metroid Redesign is exactly as its title says: a complete redesign of Super Metroid. It has a completely new world map, some new items, physics changes, and a few other new features." Looks like hacker Drewseph has gone to a lot of trouble to make a new version of the awesome SNES title - fun.

The best bit is probably Drewseph bothering to justify his changes in terms of series canon: "Something that always bothered me has been the horribly slow falling speed in this game. Every time I jumped I felt like I was wasting time waiting to land on the ground. My reason for changing it is backed up by a Pirate data in Metroid Prime that states Zebes total mass nearly equivalent to Tallon VI." Oh, well that's OK then!

Joseph 'Buzz' Berkley Presents: Rumor Roundup!

[GameSetWatch is extremely proud to debut this latest scoop from veteran game journalist Joseph 'BUZZ' Berkley. Not content with pioneering the video game journalism scene as we know it, he's getting down and dirty with the latest HOT video game rumors, laying them to rest once and all - no namby-bamby 'BOGUS' or 'NOT BOGUS' guessing here, since Buzz is the original font of knowledge, and we're not talking Times New Roman, OK?]

RUMOR: With the PS3 right around the corner, Microsoft will be launching a third SKU for the Xbox 360. In a move that will shock many, rather than dropping their prices, they will have a more expensive model to attract the Idiot With Too Much Money demographic. This model will come with the HD-DVD add-on, and an even more gigantic hard drive. They might also throw on some gold or something. Anything to drive up the price.
VERDICT: Raising your price to give a sense of exclusivity and class is a time-tested sales technique. It worked for Lexus.
VERY LIKELY!

RUMOR: The Nintendo Wii will be released on November 15th, plus or minus 45 days, and might be as cheap as $175, but possibly more. Probably not less, though.
VERDICT: Based on all the confused and apparently ill-informed guessing from publishers and merchants, as well as the details Nintendo themselves have slipped, we’re able to nail the Wii release info down pretty firmly. You can bank on it!
VERY LIKELY!

it's entirely true.
RUMOR: Dead Rising is the best game on Xbox 360.
VERDICT: This is totally true.
SURE THING!

RUMOR: The PS3 will be shipping without an HDMI cable.
VERDICT: It turns out Sony had an official announcement about this before we were able to go to press with our Buzz Rumor Roundup. Still, it was pretty cool that I knew this two days ago!
SURE THING!

RUMOR: NintendOWNZ!
VERDICT: As a general rule, Nintendo invests in other companies without purchasing them outright. RARE, for example, was largely held by Nintendo, but was never a wholly owned subsidiary. However, they did buy Retro Studios.
IN A SENSE!

RUMOR: The PS3 is being delayed not because of problems with the Blu-ray laser, but because the aptly named Cell processor is based on illegal Stem Cell technology.
VERDICT: This rumor doesn’t really make any sense, since the PS3’s processor has been seen by dozens of people, and it’s repeatedly said that the architecture is very similar to eight of the hyperthreaded vector engines from the PS2 running in serially beautiful parallel. However, when we contacted Sony for comment, they refused to deny the rumor. You know what we say, here at the Buzz Rumor Roundup: “Not saying ‘No’ is a lot like ‘Yes.’”
POSSIBLY!

PS4?RUMOR: The PS4 will require surgery in order to install the Optic Nerve Upload Server, or ONUS, which will send display images directly to the extrastriate cortical areas of the brain.
VERDICT: For the last time: NO. I don’t know how this rumor was started, but it’s simply absurd. Any direct access to a users nerve system will be done near the base of the spine. It’s a far less intrusive surgery, and the results allow the game to send signals to all areas of the brain, rather than tacking simple video stream into the optic nerve.
NO CHANCE!

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

The Evolution Of Story, Guv'nor

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/s!n.jpg I'm trying not to feel faint, but Matt Sakey has posted another IGDA 'Culture Clash' column that I pretty much agree with - named 'The Next Level', and discussing 'the evolution of story'.

Sakey notes, fairly sagely: "No one would disagree that for every mature, involved Sacrifice there are at least a dozen trite Sin Episodes [pictured!]. We're still a long way from reaching the ideal deep-to-shallow equilibrium. But it's an organic process. And remember that not everything needs to be deep. Sometimes you want a puddle."

He concludes, drawing parallels to other media sometimes unfairly bashed: "I discounted anime because I found it hard to believe that I'd be able or willing to look past the stuff that irritated me, but Elfen Lied had lots of that and I did see past it. It's similarly easy to discount the potential narrative power of gaming, because we're still so close to the simplistic roots from which every narrative medium springs."

(But of course, the real answer to improving video games is to listen to your publisher - ta Jurie!)

Highbrow Magazine Notices Video Games

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/nyorker.jpg Since I also have a subscription to the rag in question, I noticed this too, but JVM at Curmudgeon Gamer actually bothered to scan it - the New Yorker's latest cover has video game references on it, blimey.

JVM notes: "My wife brought me the latest New Yorker magazine (dated Sept. 4, 2006) while I was waiting for my CT scan on Friday, and I was amused by the cover. The cartoon shows a kid walking to school and a color map of the various sections of his brain. Nestled alongside Algebra (yay, Math!) and Manga and Scarlett Johansson are PS3 (i.e. PlayStation 3) and Counter-Strike. Here is the relevant part of the image, since I couldn't find the cover online anywhere.":

Needless to say, the New Yorker doesn't tend to have many article related to video games - though it did have an excellent feature-length piece on medicinal leeches a few back, and is actually much less pretentious and a better font of genuinely interesting journalism than you might think - though it does insist on spelling co-operate with an umlaut, and covers modern dance in more detail than Game Informer. Oh, and JVM also notes: "Further on in the magazine (p. 74) is a cartoon featuring a Game Boy Advance (not the SP)." Wow!

Japanmanship Talks Gaijin In Japan

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/sb2.jpg Thanks to the v.mysterious V.Miller for writing in to point out a blip on his 'blog radar': "...an artist under the pseudonym JC Barnett has been writing about the realities of working as a Westerner in the Japanese game industry."

He notes: "The recent post about how game companies make a quick mint by releasing hentai games under different labels is interesting", and indeed it is: "I can guarantee you have played regular games by a large company that have under a different banner cashed in on the easy hentai market, or the “sticky yen” as I call it."

Barnett continues: "And why not? It is very easy money. I was once shown, by a lamenting boss, a new release of a hentai mahjongg game. Imagine it: a simple mahjongg structure would require one or two programmers at most... One such game, for PC, retails for as much as 8,000 Yen (approx. US$70, 55EU). Considering handheld games are about 3 to 4 thousand (US$25-35, 20-25EU) and console games 5 to 6 thousand (US$45-50, 35-40EU) that is a pretty decent profit margin considering the vastly lower budgets and shorter schedules compared to “real” games."

(Hey, if non-pr0n indie games cost that much here, we'd have a much more vibrant indie scene - though, to play devil's advocate to Barnett, a few Japanese hentai titles are actually quite technically advanced, such as the randomly pictured Sexy Beach 2, which G4 has previous lavished attention creepily on. Mainly, though - not so much.)

September 6, 2006

VG Pocket Gets Taito, Data East Crazy

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/caplet.jpg Those with a medium-term memory (not many?) may recall that we gave away a VGPocket handheld a few weeks back - well, now we notice the company has partnered with Taito and G-Mode for new handhelds, a rather fun prospect.

The new handheld is called the 'Caplet', apparently "because it comes with the recommendation to “use daily as needed.”" (ugh, kill me now!), but it "comes loaded with 35 fun 16-bit arcade game favorites, including Space Invaders and Bust-A-Move from Taito, and Burger Time from G-mode, among many more", for a recommended retail price of $39.99. (Oh, and G-Mode is the holder of the Data East back catalog, for those looking confused.)

However, the official VGPocket site reveals that, rather than being packed with a bunch of classic Taito titles like we'd hoped, it's literally only those 3 licensed titles appearing on the machine, alongside a bunch of more generic titles - unless 'Craig The Caterpillar' is a lost Data East classic we're not aware of. Oh, and 'Bubble Blaster' looks suspiciously like another title that PopCap should consider suing over just before Mitchell sues them - or something. But hey - all's fair in retro game repackaging and war. And it's got Sudoku.

What Every Parent Needs To Know About Video Games

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/abanes.jpg Both a proof and the final version of this book have been sitting on my desk for a while, but now I've finally got to recommending it - Richard Abanes' new book, 'What Every Parent Needs To Know About Video Games', is a surprisingly excellent overview of the state of games, aimed at perhaps the key demographic behind a lot of the 'games are evil' confusion that seems to swirl regularly.

When the front cover says that the book is by 'the author of The Truth Behind The Da Vinci Code', this may not fill you with hope for wisdom, but Abanes is both a gamer and a keen industry watcher (he mentions in the book that he plays Eve Online, and also references game biz influencers like CNN's Chris Morris deftly), and his well-annotated basic guide, though only just over 100 pages long, has one of the most balanced explanations I've seen for how parents should handle games.

In fact, a key passage is entitled: "Using Common Sense", and notes simply and baldly: "Video games are not inherently evil, destructive, or lacking in positive benefits". The final chapter is a list of recommended family-friendly games by the author, which goes beyond the obvious (Nintendogs) into the bold but fair (City Of Heroes) - though it does nod to Christian games, too, as befitting Abanes' previous work on religion and the Christian-friendly publisher. But overall, if people like Richard are writing sane books on video games and parenting, I'm beginning to feel a little better about how games are perceived by the world.

Well Kumar Wants To Be The Queen

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/kumarblood.jpg Ugh, that's really an unnecessary and tragic Train reference. In any case, over at co-worker Brandon's site Inert Credit (haha!), GSW columnist M. Kumar (recently to be seen wandering around Second Life looking confused!) has posted an in-depth article on his trip to Virginia to check out a bunch of simulation studios.

Kumar is, well, pretty funny: "In Washington Dulles I am greeted by a stony-faced gentleman, in my memories played by James Coburn, one of the members of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership. As we zoom along freeways, a decoration I’ll become accustomed to while in Virginia, he acquaints himself with me and the fact I’m a videogame journalist, a status that I still imagine is liable to get me chucked off the tour and somehow arrested for traveling under false pretences."

Well, he doesn't, and we actually learn some neat stuff about how Under The Knife for DS compares to an incredibly expensive 'serious game' that was designed for surgery training. You can tell this is New Games Journalism because it has footnotes (kidding, kidding!), but let's go along for the ride anyhow, huh?

Atari Keychains - Less Than Meets The Eye?

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/akeych.gif Armchair Arcade has a fun post about various 'scene'-related dramas around Atari's retro hardware reissues, in which they explain why Atari's keychain plug 'n play devices are back to the tragic in terms of Atari 2600 emulation.

The post notes: "While this is hardly breaking news, it's been interesting to follow some of the drama around the "Atari 2600 Plug 'N Play Keychain" series from "Basic Fun". The first part of the drama involves the company's falling out with engineer Curt Vendel, most famous for being the lead on the "Atari Flashback" and "Atari Flashback 2.0" products, and launching "Awesome Arcades"."

The piece continues: "The second and more relevant part of the drama involves the simple fact that these products, amazing form factor and low price aside ($15 each), are awful simulations, seemingly ignoring all the progress made over the past few years in TV Game quality (in fact, reverting back to the NES-on-a-chip of the first Flashback, which has been proven unable to properly simulate Atari 2600 games!)." Wow, scene drama all the way to the bank! Talking of which, the Atari Flashback 2 console is pretty cheap now, and may be worth buying for hacking reasons.

Half-Life 2 Developer Commentary Illuminated

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/hl2ep1.jpg Over at Andy Baio's Waxy.org, he's posted an in-depth look at Half-Life 2's in-game Developer Commentary system, which has been relatively uncommented on and he's very tickled by.

He explains: "Each bit of audio is a "commentary node," a little floating speech icon that can be activated by aiming at it and hitting the "use" button. The dialogue then plays, with additional information about who's speaking and the length of the clip."

However, Baio also notes: "Most of the game's 115 nodes are audio only, pointing out interesting tidbits about the scene you're currently in, such as the visual design, character dialogue, or gameplay... But a few commentary nodes do much more, taking over the player's view to show them something hidden or entirely new. I've captured video from some of my favorites." Some excellent videos follow!

His conclusion? "Sadly, according to Valve's game statistics, only 15% of players have ever turned it on. So, try it out and help raise that number (it's buried in the audio options). I really hope this feature becomes more popular in new games, or even as special edition reissues for older games. Hearing the original developers discuss, in context, games like Ico, Deus Ex, or (gasp!) Day of the Tentacle would be a dream."

Heartily agreed - oh yeah, and I just thought of another commentary example - The Adventures Of Fatman 2D adventure, which I helped host in CC-licensed form on Archive.org and LegalTorrents, also has a developer commentary for each game location. Neeto!

GameSetInterview: DELTAHEAD's James Howell on SegaGaga translation

segagaga_howell.jpgJames Howell is the head editor and business manager of the recently-formed DELTAHEAD Translation Group. The group have recently worked on translating Konami's ShowMaybe? Magazine/pamphlet for E3 2006, and the continuing translation of Hideo Kojima’s official HIDEOBLOG.

Even more recently, Howell has announced on his own blog that DELTAHEAD have started work on a translation patch for Sega’s SegaGaga - a cult title that regular readers of GameSetWatch will no doubt be more than familiar with. For those who came in late, however, the 2001 Dreamcast swan song was a “Sega simulator” that referenced not only Sega’s own financial trouble, but also hundreds of their own characters. Unfortunately, since the game never made it to Western markets the only hope til now has been translation FAQs for anyone wanting to play the game. So DELTAHEAD’s translation is like a public service, really – though it’s certainly not aimed at the emulation kids. “The idea is that you'd make a backup copy of your Japanese copy of SegaGaga, add our patch to the backup, burn the patched backup on a CD-ROM disc, and play the English language version on your Dreamcast,” explains Howell.

GameSetWatch contacted Howell via email to talk about DELTAHEAD, and working on the SegaGaga translation.

What was the thought behind starting DELTAHEAD?

DELTAHEAD attained its status as an LLC (a Limited Liability Company) after a string of chance meetings, fortuitous circumstances, and hard work. I had met our Redactor, Jerel Smith, several years earlier through our mutual interest in the Metal Gear Solid series. I later met our Head Translator, Yoshiko Hayashida, while I wrote my plot analysis of the Capcom game killer7. She had contacted me to offer her translation of a companion book to the game, Hand-in-killer7.
We started working together and decided to make the translation into good quality public domain material. She sent me her translations, and I edited them for clarity. Jerel started helping both of us, and we figured that we had a good thing going. After our public domain translation of Hand-in-killer7, we kept with it, got an offer we couldn’t refuse, and later registered as an LLC with the state of South Carolina.
I realized that—with a few exceptions—the videogames industry has matured in most ways except in its attention to sophisticated language. I’m not even talking about bad translations that actually mislead players, like Final Fantasy VII’s gem, “Attack while the tail is up!” A reviewer might downgrade a game because it has polygon clipping, but bad English can get brushed aside or even coddled for its novelty.
DELTAHEAD’s ideals respond to this problem. We want to encourage a proportionate maturity in the videogames industry; we want the quality of English writing to become as important as the integrity of a game’s physics engine. I think that the task needs writers with an eye for originality, along with a classical grounding in the English language—its novels, plays, and (most importantly) poems. The Japanese games industry really needs to see translators who want to do more than “get the point across.” It needs people who love English as a literary language.
Recent games (like killer7 and Katamari Damacy) show a greater attention to these qualities. Players can see the games’ characters reflected in the language. DELTAHEAD recognizes that unless the games industry seriously invests in better English writing, we’re going to have exposition that reads like episode summaries from TV Guide, along with characters as well-written as Final Fantasy VII’s Barrett, who was one mohawk shy of a Mr. T clone. That sort of work becomes nothing short of embarrassing alongside graphics as stunning as we’ve seen in store for the next-gen consoles.

Are any games that you think handled their translations particularly well?

I'm glad you asked this. I don't want to appear as though we overlook the really good localization work in the industry.
Atlus does really solid work. Jerel vouches for the quality of the Shin Megami Tensei games. I've played their versions of Nippon Ichi's games, and those are great. Lesser talents might have fallen back upon tongue-in-cheek Engrish to make the dialogue funny, but they smoothly conveyed the charm of Disgaea. Comedy's hard to write, and it's doubly hard to translate. They deserve praise for doing that well.
Ben Judd of Capcom and Ryan Payton of Kojima Productions do excellent work. They're native English speakers who know how to run a professional show, and their hard work markedly improves their studios' games. I also respect the work of Scott Dolph, Hideo Kojima's international manager prior to the formation of Kojima Productions.
Proof of the quality of their work lies in how memorable characters from the Metal Gear Solid and Devil May Cry games are. English language players understand what's exciting about those games as well as Japanese players do. These guys have fresh perspectives on localization that more inward-gazing factions of the Japanese game industry desperately need. They know good writing when they see it, and they hunt that strong, final product.
Mediocre localization makes a game technically playable; good localization makes a game pleasurable; excellent localization makes a game pleasurable and conveys its original personality to its second audience. Payton, Judd, and Atlus have great results to show for their hard work, and those results make their attitudes worth emulating.

What level of understanding do you have of Japanese?

I recognize the phonetic alphabets—hiragana and katakana—and I can pick up very basic sentence structures. Beyond that, I’m wholly dependent upon the talents and skills of Jerel and Yoshiko. I have spent much time familiarizing myself with Japanese culture and history, however, which improves my comprehension of more idiosyncratic Japanese meanings.
I’d like to add a bit more about my associates’ skills to assure everyone that we’re no ramshackle group. Yoshiko was born and raised in Japan’s Kansai region. She left for America as a young woman and later moved to France (where she presently lives). She’s fluent in Japanese, English, and French. Her global experience, native intimacy with Japan, and enviable work ethic make her an ideal Head Translator. Jerel is bilingual and lives in California. He has both concrete and abstract linguistic interests, and—to be frank—he’s goddamn brilliant.
I’d probably shoot anyone who tried to steal these folks from me, or at least load the firing chamber slowly to give them time to run. I couldn’t ask for a better crew.

How many people are working with you?

In addition to DELTAHEAD’s usual staff, we have had the programming talents of Mr. Patrick Smith for our current public domain SegaGaga translation patch.
Patrick has been wonderful to work with. He’s currently in college, so his available time for work on SegaGaga has slimmed. Nonetheless, he still always gives a quick answer if I’m confused by some Dreamcast code nestled in the text. He’s been patient and considerate in light of our absent programming skills, and we’re grateful for his time. The SegaGaga translation project isn’t possible without his curiosity and enthusiasm.

What projects are DELTAHEAD working on now?

We’re handling the English translation patch for SegaGaga as well as revising our public domain translation of Hand-in-killer7. We’ve had one year of professional experience since we touched it, so we’re revisiting it to improve its accuracy, clarity, and writing quality.

How far do you see the company going? Would you like the company to move into games translation on a full-time basis?

During the most recent session of DELTAHEAD’s corporate minutes, we agreed to invest funds into the world’s first bilingual dog. Market analysis suggests that our best decision will be a large, sable Labrador retriever named Furaipan—Japanese for “Skillet.” I am using all my cut-throat jockeying skills to ensure that Jerel and Yoshiko take full possession of Furaipan’s fore and hindquarters, thereby leaving me wholly in charge of company petting without handling either (1) feeding or (2) the regrettable consequences of feeding.
We’d also like to get work localizing console games. It’s a tough field to break into, especially since we’re not physically in Japan. Large corporations like INTAC have a pretty strong presence with people in charge of translation outsourcing, so smaller companies have to work harder to get attention from Japanese studios looking for an NTSC market.
None of this deters us, though. Most success depends upon proving your worth when the opportunity arises. Providence is nothing if not coquettish, and work like SegaGaga keeps us flirting. We’ll meet the moment when serious attention comes our way.

Why have you decided to translate SegaGaga?

Beyond the fact that it helps raise awareness of our work within the videogames community, we wanted to give something useful to the English language audience. We see nothing wrong with occasional pro bono work, so long as we think it satisfies a real need. Rational self-interest and philanthropy don’t live too far apart in my mind, since the same level of passion drives each.

Where do you think the fascination with the game comes from?

SegaGaga has a strong appeal as an industry inside joke. It may be one of the few games that work as a satire of the videogames industry. I’ve even heard that Sega had to recall the initial release of SegaGaga because both the logo and corporate head of Dogma (Sega’s rival in the game) bore too much resemblance to the PSX logo and the head of Sony.
It’s also a one-of-a-kind piece of videogame history. Sega was one of the first companies forcing Nintendo to compete for the early console market. They’ve got a long-standing presence in the industry, and the brand name alone evokes a horde of memories for veterans on the scene. The Dreamcast’s demise broke a lot of hearts, and SegaGaga strikes me as Sega’s way to bid farewell to their old heft in the business—at least for now.

How did you first encounter it?

An old friend introduced me to the game a long time ago. I didn’t pay much attention to it at the time, and I only encountered it again when Patrick posted about SegaGaga’s final boss fight on InsertCredit’s forums.

Do you think it's something that you could recommend to someone not well versed in Sega history? To someone who hasn't played it - like me - it seems like something that might go over the heads of a lot of gamers - particularly Western ones.

SegaGaga definitely belongs in the hands of industry vets and Sega fanatics, though I don’t think it stands well as a game without its references. It’s not bad by any means—it just doesn’t do much original in the terms of the genres featured in it. In fact, it’s ironic that the game addresses a futuristic, fictional stagnation in Sega’s creative output, and it also features unremarkable gameplay in its RPG and shooter segments. Maybe the irony is intentional, but the game succeeds precisely because it takes full advantage of Sega’s presence in the industry.
With that said, the references are executed well enough to please Sega acolytes as well as folks who only read about Alex Kidd in magazines while they played the NES at home. A lightweight Sega fan may not understand that SegaGaga’s CEO, Hitomajiri, alludes to the actual Sega executive Shoichiro Iramajiri, but that material is there for the faithful.
The real test for players’ attention will come from the business sim portion of the game. Besides the fact that the genre doesn’t properly exist in the West (outside of perhaps some of the early Sim- games), the main rewards come through Sega references. If a player doesn’t see the comedy in spending half his budget to develop Super Wonderboy in the year 2025—resulting in a net gain of 5% of the market—he’ll likely need to get through the business sim on curiosity alone.

What problems are you running into?

Our main obstacles have been the lack of a half-width font and the difficulty of getting the Japanese text into readable scripts without the Dreamcast code. I have to go through each file and manually format them into legibility. That means hours of zombifying text highlighting, deletion, inserting carriage returns, and so on. I try to make the best of the work and use it to improve my recognition of kana syllables.

September 5, 2006

Trampolines, Physics, Somersaults, Oh My!

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/tramp.jpg Thanks to Tim 'Walaber' Fitzrandolph for mailing us about his most interesting new PC title: "I have created a game called "Walaber's Trampoline", which is a 3D trampoline simulation game, where the player controls an athlete jumping on a trampoline, performing gymnastics maneuvers."

He claims, somewhat loopily: "The game has a "Tony Hawk" vibe to it, which I think is obvious in the official game trailer hosted on YouTube", also noting: "The game features realistic trampoline and crash physics, and multiple game modes that give it a polish and depth beyond many freeware sports games."

The game uses the Newton Game Dynamics system for physics, and the official description sketches out: "Utilizing an unique control scheme using only 7 buttons, players can perform almost every move possible on the trampoline- including multiple flips and twists in different positions." It's actually a pretty cool alt.gaming idea, and we look forward to experimenting with it - if we were less politically correct, we'd suggest a Man Show license might be in order.

Star Fox Patent Probed, Revealed

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/sf0x.jpg We'd almost forgotten about Ross Dannenberg's fun Patent Arcade website, and have almost forgiven him and his colleague for suggesting that everything in the world ever should be patented (we jest!), so we can link to his new Nintendo-related patent analysis which deals with Star Fox, oddly enough.

He explains: "Remember StarFox? I do (I'm getting old). The '179 patent describes a number of gameplay aspects of a video game in the StarFox series. As the patent correctly professes, I always enjoyed the ability to select the level I played, instead of having to sequentially move through each level every time I started the game. Allowing the player to replay a level without resetting the game the player avoids being “burdened with unwanted labor, thereby losing his interest in the game or having a burdensome feeling….”"

Of course, some may find it a little seditious that Nintendo is trying to (and succeeding in!) patenting the concept of "a plurality of different courses through which a player can successively advance by successfully completing a current one of said plurality of courses" - basically, a branching level structure that you can play in any order. But they have, so kudos to Mr. Dannenberg for explaining it.

Letters from the Metaverse: The Littlest Pyramid Head

[‘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's gamer culture.]

For some reason in the past week in Second Life my internet connection has been dropping packets like crazy, making coverage near impossible. That is, of course, not necessarily Second Life’s fault; it’s no better or worse at dealing with adverse network connections than anything else, and as much as I’d love to make a disparaging remark about how it doesn’t match up to World of Warcraft, having never played WOW, I can’t. Having said that, there are reports that the recent update is causing some major lag, so Second Life could be contributing to it, though I’m certain it’s not the root of the problem.

Network issues or not, I’m giving up on exploring the games in Second Life, because it’s become finally utterly and completely apparent that the games in Second Life are either absurdly primitive, depressingly broken, or sexual in nature. The latter, of course, not really requiring much in the way of HUDs, statistical systems or even really custom animations; a filthy mind seem to be enough.

It might be very hard to play a game within Second Life, but it doesn’t mean that the people who use Second Life aren’t gamers, and though they’ve perhaps learned to keep the activity of gaming separate from Second Life, they still bring their culture with them.

2006_09_05_lsh.jpg
Little Silent Hill, for example. It's a strange experience; slap bang in the middle of some busy areas yet masked in a thick, strange fog, it’s a not entirely faithful recreation of everyone’s favourite small town horror. Complaining that it’s not entirely faithful, though, is a bit like complaining your local Chinatown isn’t exactly like Beijing. When you wander the streets of Little Silent Hill, entirely safe (well, apart from "griefers", who are running fairly rampant recently) there’s still that creeping fear, even if it's a bit like wandering a movie theme park and seeing all your favourite props and locations, just slightly out of context.

2006_09_05_ph.jpgThere’s the occasionally jarring moment; I don’t think I ever saw any neon signs in Silent Hill advertising porn magazines, but that’s Second Life for you.

The quirks of the engine also lead to some interesting fudges to get the atmosphere right; the fog appears to be giant semi-transparent polygons, but I’m not a coder so I can’t be sure. The fog does appear inside enclosed areas, however it’s done.

It’s nonetheless an interesting area to visit, and much like a movie set theme park they’ve got a nice range of merchandise, with my particular favourite being the “so darn cute!” mini pyramid head avatar – the stuff of my tiniest nightmares.

Using Second Life as a convenient way to go on sight-seeing tours of imaginary places is a nice way to waste some time, but it really only left me hungering only to revisit the "real" Silent Hill.

[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, The Gamer's Quarter, and Eurogamer. Check out his workblog!]

Coleco's Monstrosity Hurts Our Fingers

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/colec.jpg Leave it to VintageComputing's RedWolf to dig up one of those peripherals that we'd all tried to block out - the ColecoVision Super Action Controller, yikes.

RW notes: "And you thought video game controllers were over-complicated these days; this one requires five (slightly-pudgy child) hands just to use it properly. Take a look at this bad boy: four trigger buttons on the pistol-like grip (one per finger), twelve buttons in the overlay-friendly numeric keypad matrix on top, a one-dimensional “speed roller” wheel near the back, and an extremely flaccid red-knobbed joystick crowning it all."

He rants on: "Combine this with the futuristic look of a gaudy black space gauntlet that literally engulfs your hand, and you’ve got the ColecoVision Super Action Controller. This marvel of controlling technology came in sets of two with a “Super Action Game” included — in my case, “Super Action Baseball.” I’m lucky enough to have a pair essentially “new in box,” so I grabbed these scans off the box itself." We've all got a dozen!

Eno's Flupon World Weirds Us Out, Again

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/flupon.jpg The 3DO Interactive Multiplayer blog is getting waaaay into bat country of late, and has managed to pick up another super-obscure Kenji Eno oddity, named Flupon World.

He starts, very reasonably: "Eno Kenji was (is?) the Geoff Minter of Japan. They both have a weird animal fetish. They both make freakishly addictive games. They both try and tie music and gaming. With varying degree’s of success I might add. And of cause – they are to the casual observer both three-parts to the wind. Separated only by 6,000 miles, a gene-pool and language (unless Geoff speaks Japanese of cause) – practically twins other than that."

And the actual game (which doesn't seem listed on WARP's Wikipedia page)? "The whole disc can fairly described thus: If anyone remembers the PD (Public Domain) disks you could get for the Atari ST and the Commodore Amiga by ordering from the back of the official magazines or perhaps the efforts generated by the guy labouring away on Net Yaroze (PS1 home DEV kit) then that is what we have here. Flupon World is a collection of simple games. None of them really shine, in fact the high light for me was the “Warp Rap” song but you can while away a lazy afternoon with the contents." Weeeird.

September 4, 2006

An Atari 2600 OS, Nolan's 7800 Special

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/2600-os.jpg We seem to be heading into an entirely retro set of posts here, but what they hey - former GSW columnist RyanS passes on a YouTube movie of an Atari 2600 OS, as posted (but not created!) by Paul Slocum.

Slocum notes: "demo video of awesome Atari 2600 homebrew made by Dragnerok X. I'm moving the cursor around, and the Pong game is playable." It's a pretty fun idea, and people are already pitching in with ideas to extend it, so we'll see where it gets to - more info in this AtariAge post.

Meanwhile, visiting the AtariAge forums brings up an entirely unrelated post on the Nolan Bushnell signature series Atari 7800 - wow. The explanation: " A few years ago, we were contracted to assist in the production of NEW Atari 7800 units. They were to be emblazoned with Nolan Bushnell's signature (Nolan Bushnell founded Atari back in the 70's, if you don't know who he is), a large Atari logo on the front of the case, and "Signature Series" over on the right. Unfortunately, this project never entered production, and very few of these 7800's were built."

Eugene Jarvis Gives Us Video-Based Thrills

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/jarvis.jpg Robotron and Defender creator Eugene Jarvis always seems like a pretty happy, goodnatured guy, and RetroBlast! has spotted more evidence of this, in the form of a video interview conducted with Coin-Op.TV.

It's noted: "Legendary game designer Eugene Jarvis interviewed! Jarvis speaks on both his classic creations like Robotron, Defender and Smash TV as well as his new company Raw Thrills Inc. Catch insider tips and hints on some of his classic games!"

As for what Mr. Jarvis has been up to recently, don't forget this recent GSW post, noting new arcade games such as The Fast And The Furious: Super Bikes. Oh, and further proof of his influence - we saw Crank yesterday, and there was an awfully Robotron-like (?) boot-up effect in the 8-bit intro sequence, heh. (Though we could SWEAR there was some guy playing Berzerk in a limo halfway through, so maybe that was the reference they were going for.)

Like They Say, Foxes On A Plane!

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/starf9x.jpg It appears to be Labor Day in North America, and while we're luxuriating and not, uhh, laboring, we were highly amused by eToychest's latest ' Schwag Attack!' column, named 'Foxes On A Plane'.

As eToy-er and Gamasutra news guy Jason Dobson notes: "While I put the finishing touches on our late (but oh so delicious) Star Fox Command review, I thought I'd share some of the goodies Nintendo was kind enough to send along with the game. I know I've said this before, but Nintendo PR is creative, and nowhere is this more evident than in their video game schwag. Be it chocolate or hamster food, we've seen all manner of goods arrive at our office stamped with the Nintendo seal of approval."

He continues: "However, Star Fox Command's arrival marked the first time we have ever been sent a barf bag. Yes, in celebration of the game's release, Nintendo sent over an appropriately labeled Star Fox air sickness bag, and accompanying Star Fox Command bags of dry roasted nuts. I suppose if playing on the Nintendo DS ever gets too nauseating, I now have the tools for the job."

Tingle's Rupee Land Probed Mysteriously

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/tingo.jpg Over at Game|Life, Chris Kohler has presented impressions of Tingle's Rupee Land, the insane new DS title from Nintendo starring the very scary Zelda incidental character

The Wikipedia page on the character is hilarious: "Tingle is a short, paunchy 35-year-old man who is obsessed with "forest fairies" and dresses up in a green costume which slightly resembles that of the main character, Link" - but, as Kohler notes, in the game it's just as crazed: "Old Man Rupee tells you how to achieve your dream of going to Rupee Land, a land of plenty where you don't have to work, can eat all the food you want, and will be surrounded by beautiful women."

Kohler notes entirely sensibly: "I'm a little surprised that Tingle, who prances around in green tights and pointy green hat, wants to be surrounded by beautiful women, but I think that scene is honestly supposed to be ironic", and concludes: "It's a fun game thus far. It's not exactly packed with jokes -- the comedy just comes from the fact that it's all just so weird." A North American release is presumably pretty damn unlikely, though you never know.

Architecture For Dummies, SL Style?

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/vrea.jpg Over at the official Second Life website, there's a new issue of the 'Second Opinion' newsletter (yep, new for September, tho the URL date is August!), and it has an interesting article on an architectural firm using SL for demonstrations.

A lot of Second Life-related marketing/promo stuff seems very contrived, but if this company is doing things right, it's absolutely genuine and smart: "We had a client, for example, who really wanted a small house. We tried to explain that it was a little too small and that he’d need more space to be comfortable. But the client held fast to the idea of small. So we built the house in Second Life exactly as he wanted it, and then we walked through it with him."

In other SL-related news, following Mathew Kumar's recent 'Letters From The Metaverse' column profiling game 'Numbakulla', and which has received a pretty vociferous response over at AOL-owned Second Life Insider from co-creator Caliandris Pendragon.

She suggests: "I'm a little fed up with people who can't be bothered to acclimatise properly coming in world and then being negative about the ways in which Second Life is deficient when compared with their favourite RPG/MMORG/FPS etc." Well, one of the reasons that we set up Mathew's column is to really independently evaluate some of the SL projects from a measured outsider's point of view - which is what I believe he did, and the SL Insider commenters seem (at least vaguely!) to agree with.

September 3, 2006

Blood: One Night Kiss - Sudasational?

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/onk.jpg We obviously follow Killer 7 creator Suda51's games - we recently linked to an Edge interview with him, and the new September issue of Game Developer magazine also quizzes him on his gravedigging past (!)

In any case, Grasshopper Manufacture's new game, Blood+: One Night Kiss, was released last week in Japan, and NCSX has plenty of details, noting: "One Night Kiss is a full blown action game where the player has full control over Saya and at times, Aoyoma. ONK plays similarly to the earlier Blood+ in one respect however where sequence events require matching button presses to enact a kill or action. The new Blood+ is directed by Goichi Suda who transplants the stark and stunning art style of Killer 7 to the Blood franchise. Dark walls, deep shadows, and chiaroscuro throughout the world are the order of the day."

Matt 'Fort90' Hawkins also passes on some links from the game, noting: "Here’s the just launched homepage of Blood: One Night Kiss, that new Killer 7-looking game from its creators. And there’s a movie section that has a few commercials, as well as footage from a pair of boss encounters (at least, thus far)." Some initial impressions (relayed by Hawkins) have been potentially discouraging, but we'll see, huh?

Stepping Selection, Permanent Mental Scars

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/gbust.jpg Yay! Through a series of coincidences and the reading of Fort90's blog, we noticed that GSW columnist DannyC, aka Sardius, has posted the videos from terrible PS2 dance title Stepping Selection on his LiveJournal - well, he's posted the _links_ there, the videos are on YouTube, but you know how it goes.

Sardius notes: "My favorites are Ghostbusters, My Sharona, and Surfin' USA. Also Footloose, because it totally sounds like he's saying COME ON BEFORE WE CRAP" - but really, they're all awesome." I agree - Surfin' USA is a hoot for starters.

If you need to start with one, though, then try 'Ghostbusters', which comes complete with odious small children dancing around pointlessly with cartoon ghosts - and is actually one of the more professionally produced of all the videos, disturbingly enough - here's more info on Stepping Selection, which was a very early Jaleco-published Japan-only PS2 release.

Welcome To Sensoooorama

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/sensor.jpg Perhaps this isn't quite a _video game_, but it certainly looks the part - the Athanasius Kircher Society website (!) have details on Morton Heilig's 'Sensorama' device, patented in 1962.

The Kircher website cites a study which explains that Sensorama was "...an immersive 3-D virtual reality motorbike ride, in a form factor resembling an arcade game. Heilig saw Sensorama as the future of cinema, an immersive experience, complete with nine different fans to simulate the wind blowing on the user’s face, vibrating seat (to simulate driving over cobblestones), and the aromas of jasmine and hibiscus as the driver passed a flower garden, or the smell of baking pizza as one passed by an Italian restaurant in Brooklyn."

The pictured Sensorama machine clearly has motorbike controls, though I'm not sure if they were interactive - reminds a little of a Power Drift machine! Also noted: "In addition to the motorcycle film, Heilig created several other works for the Sensorama including, “Belly Dancer,” “Dune Buggy,” “Helicopter,” “A Date with Sabina,” and the provocatively titled, “I’m a Coca Cola Bottle." C'mon, world, you already gave us Pepsi Man, aren't you just being cruel now?

Awful Art, At Affordable Prices!

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/ballo.jpg You may recall our interview with insane game box art parodist Handré de Jager, a few months back, and now he pings us to tell us you can buy prints of his art over at SomethingAwful's Awful Mart.

Mr. de Jager notes: " There are two pics [from the original series] that are not yet available on Awful Mart... namely Bomberman and Mario", but - good news - there are two newer pieces of art that we didn't cover in our original posts, and they're both as supremely, wonderfully disturbing as usual.

These are Balloon Fight ("A war is being fought in the night sky. A man of incredible party-balloon-piloting skills must protect us from an army of wicked, masked men who are equally proficient in the air"), and Platform Hero, which is based on former GSW cartoonist and SomethingAwful mega-goon Shmorky's parody Flash cartoon series. Jesus Christ, that latter one is scary.

@ Play: Rogue and its Inspiration

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

I apologize for the fairly dry reading last time, but now hopefully now you'll all able to actually play these things, should you at some point develop the urge to try them. So now that we've gotten some of the basics out of the way, allow me to say a few words on behalf of the second roguelike game ever made: Rogue itself.

I say it's the second, yes. The first one wasn't a computer game at all. It was the random dungeon rules published as Appendix A in the back of the Dungeon Master's Guide, way back in the first edition of Dungeons & Dragons. Ultimately, the play experience that roguelikes seek to duplicate is that of a hack-and-slash roleplaying game, like those improvised sessions of D&D, and most of them are steeped in it. Hack-and-slash has come under a lot of criticism as lacking in story and character development, but a well-designed game of the type brings much more to the table than just the killing of monsters. (Click through for more.)

Foundations of the Dungeon

The first edition D&D books contained, within their poorly-organized pages, all the information a sharp DM with a dozen bookmarks needed to improvise such a game. What room is behind this door? Roll dice to find out. Is there a trap inside? Roll for it, and which trap it is. Are there monsters, and if so what are they? Roll on the appropriate level tables. What treasure is found? Tumble those bones. There are even tables that can be used, if the DM decides, to determine what kind of decoration is on the walls. r

Cover of D&D DMG 1st Edition, scavenged from Wikipedia The book admits that random determination is not usually the best way to play the game, but there is still a certain charm to those chaotic games. What made this interesting to players is that there are so many strange obstacles, and so many magic items with which to overcome them, that each game will have a wildly different character, and with good players and a better DM, many items can be put to use in such ingenious ways that there are actually not a lot of situations that cannot be overcome in some way. At its core, roguelike games seek to replicate that kind of play.

Since player ingenuity matters for so much, the developer must not shirk from the challenge of taking into account the unusual uses players might find for things. Nethack’s infamous devteam is so good at this that rec.games.roguelike.nethack has a abbreviation for it: TDTTOE, which stands for The DevTeam Thinks Of Everything. Even the more combat-oriented roguelikes, such as Angband, tend to have some element of this.

But I'm getting off the subject. It's time to settle some misconceptions, and of the many there are in the mainstream gaming press about roguelikes, the most serious have to do with Rogue itself.

But It's So Hard

There are still many things that Rogue does better than any other game, even its descendants. Although its days of ruling the computer lab are long over, people will likely still be playing Rogue twenty years from now. While it has been around for well over two decades, there are still many interesting things about it -- even when compared to other roguelikes.

Unlike many other random games that grant the player some static benefits to make up for the capriciousness of the Fates, Rogue doesn't do much to blunt the spiked edges of its random number generator. In a game of indefinite length, it's just a matter of time before there occurs a situation the player is ill-prepared to survive. The longer you live, the more likely you will die. Because of this, a properly-played game of Rogue is always a seach for treasure carried out at break-neck speed, where every move counts, where both ruthless monsters and the player's limited food supply drive a continual thirst for more loot. A game of Rogue that is not won as rapidly as possible is probably lost. (Well, games are probably lost in any case....)

The primary reasons players must be loot-happy are the 26 monsters from A to Z, the bloodthirsty residents of the Dungeons of Doom. Many of them are quite unwise to face in melee combat, no matter what level you may be. Most RPGs are balanced so that the player grows in power, through level gains and equipment, at roughly the same rate as the monsters' stats improve, so that he faces a constant level of challenge throughout. In a few games the player actually grows in power faster, especially if he's been building up his experience level and doing subquests for better equipment, so that at times final bosses sometimes seem easier than ordinary monsters faced early on.

The Subterranean Arms Race: MAD (Mutually Assured Dragons)

Distinguishing Rogue from these games, including other roguelikes, is that its monsters increase in power faster than the player improves. The player begins the game stronger that most of his opponents, but the average experience and equipment gain of the player on a given level is not enough to keep up with the increase in monster power. As the game continues this difference builds up, until near the end many monsters can wipe out a player in three, or even two, turns. Even if you were to take his time to build experience (and your food supply means you can't), you'll still be unlikely to survive fights deeper in the dungeon by merely pounding away at foes. While many RPGs almost seem like you could progress by taping down the 'A' button, it is impossible to win at Rogue by playing in a mindless manner. The high strength of monsters late in the game demands that players must learn to flee, or perish.

Even the weaker monsters pose serious dangers, some of them draining strength, armor, and even maximum hit points when they strike. To an experienced Rogueist, it is priceless to behold the look on the face of a console RPG fan playing and discovering that, when a Rattlesnake drains the player's strength, or an Aquator strikes and lowers his defense by one, that those penalties do not go away after the fight, but accumulate until a means is found to overcome them.

In addition to the controls, this is another reason Rogue is quite formidable to new players. As with random 1st edition D&D sessions, the game is not impossible only because of the great usefulness of some of its treasure. A single scroll of scare monster, properly utilized, can allow a player to safely destroy any number of foes.* A single zap from a wand of slow monster can allow even weak characters to destroy a Troll without risk. A scroll of genocide eliminates one entire species of the player's choice from the world, potentially taking care of all Dragons without even having to see one. So useful are some of the things that may be found just lying on the dungeon floor that in other games they would seem unbalanced. Here, they're just right.

These factors contribute to place Rogue, even after all the years since its creation, among the most difficult roleplaying games ever made. Although most other random games take greater steps to decrease the sharp-edged chaos of their dungeons, at their core they all deal with the same issues: how much loot to give out, how fast do the monsters get tougher, and how rapidly must the player explore? Rogue's answers to these questions are a lot less conservative than players are used to.

Some versions of Rogue rank among the hardest winnable computer games ever made, so hard that many play for score, with no expectation of victory. The following statement is astounding enough to risk a descent into boldface type: Rogue is much more difficult than its successor, Nethack. Nethack has a reputation as a player killer, but it also contains great helps if you know how to use them. Once one is aware of the true dangers, risks and resources in both games, it is obvious that Rogue is harder. In Nethack almost every game can be won, but in Rogue possible victory is never guaranteed.

Unavoidably this means Rogue is a less fair game, as a good percentage of games ultimately cannot be won even with perfect play... but that fact doesn't dissuade people from playing Solitaire, either.

This, at last, concludes out introductory look at Rogue. Next time, we have a look at the most popular player activity besides playing the games: telling stories about them.

* After the cliffhanger last time, I can at least spill the beans concerning scrolls of scare monster: to use one properly, one should not read it, but rather stand upon it....

Why Game Tester Guide Sucks In '06

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/paidgames.JPG One of the most-commented-on articles in GameSetWatch history has been this discussion about GameTesterGuide.com back in March, pointing out the website which asks: "How Would you Like to Get Paid $9 - $80 an Hour to Play Video Games?", and then charges you $35 for the privilege.

It's pretty clear that the site hasn't got most people video game industry jobs (though one or two people seemed to get a refund, oddly). Whatever the specifics, the site is certainly on the suspect side, since, as a commenter points out, full-time tester jobs only start at $9.50 per hour for THQ, so claiming up to $80 per hour just for testing is pretty dodgy - quite apart from the fact that very little 'freelance' testing takes place, and you shouldn't have to pay to receive information on it.

Anyhow, we noticed that the site is still paying for Google text ads, and also has an affiliate program set up to lure more people, but its site has been redesigned to remove Alex Lum as the named 'lucky tester' - perhaps because GSW's last post comes up first in a Google search for Alex Lum, hah! Now, there's a new tester, 'Matt Lankford' from Minnesota, who gasps: "Video games are my passion, and I have always dreamed of making a living doing it. I just can't believe that it came true."

Of course, the example check he proudly shows for 'Game Testing- Game Glitches' is from a company called 'Lumco, LLC', and the person signing it appears to be... Alex Lum? Oh dear. Poking around on the site reveals older example game testing checks that are clearly FROM Alex Lum to Alex Lum, and the company in that last check seems to be located in Holden, NC (not very good use of black marks in Photoshop!), so sleuths are welcome to find out more.

In addition, looks like Lum has very similar sites about getting paid for surveys, such as PaidSurveyNetwork.net and a host of more complex websites, but Game Tester Guide, due to its semi-plausibility, is probably one of the better revenue sites for him, unfortunately. In any case, feel free to post more about your experiences with GameTesterGuide.com here, and perhaps we'll shoot to the top of the Google rankings again and warn more people off a potentially inadvisable payment.



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