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September 30, 2006

COMIC: 'Our Blazing Destiny' - Pokemon Mystery Dungeon & NEW Sonic the Hedgehog

[Our Blazing Destiny is a weekly comic by Jonathan "Persona" Kim about our society, cultural postdialectic theory, and video games. And about mocking classic literature and about new games that spit on my childhood hero and make me cry.]

Here's Persona double-dealing the goods: "Sorry guys, school work is piling up already on me! It's only like the third week of classes and already we're animating things for homework like Thumper from Bambi saying, 'I triple dog dare ya!'. Anyway, to make up for the comic I didn't put up last week, I made two for this entry!

"The first comic deals with Pokemon Mystery Dungeon, a Chun Soft mysterious dungeon game where you, a human, has been transformed into a Pokemon and recruit other Pokemon to help you traverse the various randomly generated dungeons. The story and illustrations are pretty cute and I like how the game asks you random questions about your morality that determines your Pokemon persona. They should implement that feature into the actual Pokemon games to determine your starter!"

My name is Gregor.


"This second comic is about the new Sonic the Hedgehog game entitled Sonic the Hedgehog for PS3 and Xbox360. I really like Sonic but the way Sonic Team has been handling his games as of late makes me cry. The slipshod glitches of the new game is harkening back to Adventure 1 falling-through-hoops-and-going-straight-through-the-ground-like mess-ups. Not only that, shouldn't the levels be designed better by now? The on-rails, hopping on to random animals/objects to travel around, running and getting sucker-hit by an enemy you can't see style design still doesn't capture any sense of speed and doesn't even live up to the amazing level design of the original Genesis games. And worst of all: why are the Chao gone? Having a small Tamagotchi-like animal that I could raise on the VMU and plug back into the game was the only reason why I kept going back and playing the games on the Dreamcast!

Anyway, in the recently released Tokyo Game Show trailers for the game, there are snips of FMV segments where Sonic seduces a young princess and carries her off in his arms. This wouldn't be that bad except Sonic positively looks like a guy in an animal mascot suit as he grabs the princess by the hand. It's really creepy. In the trailer they also milk the Sonic 2 ending song, 'Sweet Sweet Sweet' by Dreams Come True, in a 'come on guys, this is SO totally a Sonic game' nod. So basically, the team working on the game is so insecure about this Sonic title that they need to name it after the original game AND use the original song just to get a reaction out of people. It's totally Sonical!"

Fancy having a go at it, Princess?

[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 (which just came out with a new issue a week ago!) and his website on the awesome collective Mecha Fetus. A new website design is going to be put up pretty soon! And check out the forum; they're having a "Make your own dating sim" contest complete with help on how to use programs to make them!]

A Mystery: Who Made Maniac Moons?

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/manmoon.jpg We've been asked by the folks at The PlayStation Museum to help solve a little mystery for them - which of course, we'll be able to do, right? It concerns the developer of the mysterious PlayStation 1 prototype 'Maniac Moons'.

The page explains: "Maniac Moons is a shooter game complete with 20 levels. The graphics are sharp and colorful. The animation is very smooth with very little draw-in. Your craft has access to various weapons including a bomb which when it explodes causes a jaw-dropping wave-ripple effect on the terrain. There are two different crafts to choose from. The game even features a playable two player dogfight. There is absolutely no programmer, developer, nor publisher information on the disc or in the code. The source of the prototype claims that it was obtained from an Acclaim bankruptcy auction."

If you know who made it, then contact the PlayStation Museum curator, of course. Also, elsewhere on the completely interesting but naturally borderline obsessive PSMuseum website, there are also lots of interesting videos of prototypes/unreleased titles on the website's YouTube page, including a video from the cancelled Titan AE for PlayStation 1 - hey, it's got colored lighting, at least!

Playing Catch-Up Plays Giger-Up

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/darks.jpg Over at sister site Gamasutra, the 'Playing Catch-Up' column, formerly staffed by Frank Cifaldi to excellent effect, is back under the auspices of Alistair Wallis, and the first speaks to Mike Dawson, lead designer on classic PC H.R. Giger-licensed adventure game Darkseed.

Some fun/scary stuff in here: “The president of Cyberdreams made a shrewd move,” says Dawson. “In order to differentiate the small company from more established developers, he attached a high profile artist to each title – not only to use their art, but to leverage their celebrity. He also paid Giger cash. Lots of cash.”

“By the way,” he adds. “Giger is truly a dark artist. I visited him in Zurich and the stuff you see in the movie Alien is toned down from his original work. What else? He had a shrunken head just sitting on his desk. And, when he gave us a tour of his place, he casually referred to one room as the place where his ex-lover had killed herself.” Oh kaaay.

COLUMN: 'The Gentleman Nerd' - Why I Don't Remember ... Runebound

[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.]

RuneboundThe only kind of problems that you need to worry about are the ones you didn’t create. There’s a world full of hapless bastards that will fall into your traps, if you set them correctly, and provide you with hours of free entertainment. Hell, you don’t even have to know that you caused the problem to enjoy it. That brings me to Runebound.

I had wanted a new game to kick around, so we headed down to mall to look at their game shop. I regretted it immediately because malls, other than being a beacon for the insipid and dull, are full of things that are just begging to be smashed. It takes all of my willpower to not take a baseball bat to the limitless kiosks that have popped up selling cell phones and coffee mugs featuring dog pictures. The only way to get through it is to keep your head down and focus on your goal. My wife refers to my walking style as “soldiering.” I never liked that description.

Once I reach the game store, I was pretty pleased to discover that they have a very nice selection. What’s less nice is discovering that they’ve marked everything up to twenty percent more than any other store. The copy of HeroScape they had in the store was priced at sixty dollars, when you could go down to the Wal-Mart two miles away and buy it for forty. However, after braving the mall, I wasn’t going to go home empty-handed, even if it meant that I had to take an upswing to the jewels for it. Though notoriously generous, I have problems spending money. I’ve stood in a store for hours staring at something, deciding if it was worth it.

RuneboundYou know, there are certain types of people that wear their lifestyle. I’m not one of them, thankfully, but you can easily spot the ones who are. There are certain types, of course, but the easiest to spot is the geek. The geek is not only comfortable in his or her habitat, but is absolutely not self-conscious in the outer world as well. That’s why so many chubby people have ponytails. When I looked back to the counter of the game store, I saw the geek to end all geeks. Chubby, shoulders and glasses covered in dandruff, wearing the most impressive mullet/ponytail combo that the world has ever seen.

You could smell his distaste for us as we entered the store. It was fifteen minutes ‘til closing time and this man was ready for the booster draft. I had to think quick. The least ludicrous priced game was Runebound; it was actually marked at the MSRP. I’d been hearing good things about it, so I decided to go ahead and buy it. We quickly headed home. I had some serious drinking to do.

There’s something inherently wrong with letting the guy who’s drinking the moonshine read the directions. I’m quite capable of reading game instructions and teaching others how to play, but I’m usually sober when I do that part. After chugging down a few mason jars of magic, I wasn’t in any position to tell people what rule does what, but I was nominated so what the hell could I do? I’ll tell you what I could do, I could belligerently shout out orders to those who didn’t have the fortitude to take control of a situation. That’s what led to the incident.

You see, Runebound comes with two ten sided dice. I didn’t think much about it, so I threw one back in the box. “It’s a friggin’ back up dice”, I slurred to myself, “who the hell needs a back up D10?” I had seen nothing in the rules that said it needed two, so I just set it aside. After Brian had taken care of his usual game stopping habits, we began to play.

RuneboundThe idea behind Runebound is that you’re out to kill this Dragon Lord guy… or something. There are expansions that add more cards and quests, but I don’t have those. So, you go around the board, getting encounter cards and collecting experience to level up. Eventually you kill that rat bastard and its all money, baby. You see, you have to kill a monster to get the experience counter to trade in for stat upgrades. That’s where the incident comes in.

We were all starting out, stomping around the board and attacking the easy monsters. Well, this would have been great had the monsters been actually easy. We had been playing for about an hour and a half when we noticed that we had sure been dying a lot. Everyone had been dying a lot. On occasion, Voge would ask if we were supposed to use that other die. Hell no, I said, that would make the game way too easy. Eventually he grabbed the book away from me and read the bottom of page two. That’s the page that says you‘re supposed to use both dice. Everyone stared at me.

That’s why you should never let the drunk guy read the instructions.

[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 29, 2006

Early '80s Arcade Music Spinoffs Explored

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/craz3.jpg Via WaxyLinks, a fun WFMU entry profiling a bunch of early '80s video game craze cash-in soundtracks, many of them rather crazed.

The blogger notes: "I enjoy the background music/video game combination so much that I decided to rename all of my cheesy Euro-disco and New Wave and Glam and Classic Rock. It is now, according to my iTunes, "Atari Music". Of course, I wasn't the first to think of this. Why, during the early 80s there was already such a genre...and it all revolved around quickie albums released to cash in on the booming video game craze."

Among the highlights: "Curtis Hoard, an "Atari champion finalist" (whatever that means), recorded Conquer the Video Craze, a spoken word album describing how to play the hot arcade games in detail. The excellent Dinosaur Gardens blog did a good job digging up a bit of information about this album, and also posted the whole thing for download."

MMOG Nation: 'When is a Game Not A Game?'

['MMOG Nation' is a regular bi-weekly column by Michael Zenke about current events in the world of Massively Multiplayer Games. This week's column is about the "world vs. game" debate in Massive design, and how that applies to Star Wars Galaxies.]

Trials of Obi-Wan CombatA rose by any other name may not smell as sweet, but most Massively Multiplayer titles available right now are games, whether they like it or not. Spaces like Second Life aside, there are very few 'virtual worlds' out there that can legitimately claim the title. In my mind, that's a good thing; we refer to them as Massively Multiplayer Online Games, MMOGs, or MMORPGs, for a reason. The example I point to most often when discussing this topic is Sony Online's Star Wars Galaxies (SWG). I'm harsh on the game for many reasons, but at the root of the problem is the fundamental question of identity. Galaxies launched trying to be a world, when what all the people logging in were looking for was a game. Today I'm going to talk about how SWG launched differing from more game-oriented and successful MMOGs, how the recent changes to the game illustrate the need for 'gamey-ness' in a Massive space, and why the concept of a 'virtual world' is inherently flawed in the first place.

[Click through for more...]

Cue Titles, Cue Music ... Now What?

Galaxies launched in 2003 with a unique vision of what a Massively Multiplayer Game could be. Imaginative elements like fully-customizable player housing, non-combat dancing and crafting tasks, and the ability to create your character's own hybrid profession set it apart from the class-based MUD-derived games that had come before it. These elements were in many ways as successful as they were brilliant. The problem came from the context in which they were set: an attempt at a virtual world.

Players logging in within the first few months, especially those who hadn't been following the Beta testing process, were blown away by the experience. It seemed, in those heady first encounters, that almost anything was possible in the world crafted by SOE and LucasArts. Eventually, when it became apparent that reality did not meet those initial expectations, players became frustrated. The randomly generated missions were repetitive and meaningless. With no ships, mounts, or vehicles, travel was a chore. The world was beautiful, making your character exactly what you wanted was personally satisfying, but there just wasn't all that much to do.

The conflict between game concept and player expectation was a basic one: players thought they were logging on to play a game, while the designers had been busying themselves building a world. In the world we live in, no one crafts entertaining opportunities for our personal enjoyment or provides a tutorial mode. Likewise, Star Wars Galaxies at launch was a harsh experience. A title that had set out to pare down elements of grinding by design, had instead released with little more than meaningless grind to offer.

The realization of the problem was swift, though, and content immediately began flooding into the game. 'Dungeons', modes of travel, player cities, and eventually the space expansion stemmed the tide of customers leaving the game. The fundamental problem remained, though: the designers had built a world for a community that just wanted to play a game.

I've Outrun Imperial Ships, Not the Local Bulk Cruisers Mind You

Fighting in SpaaaaaaceThe changes wrought last year to 'correct' this fundamental flaw were far-reaching and unmistakable. SOE set out to unmake what they had made, and transform SWG from a niche world into a mainstream game. One of the core changes was the addition of traditional levels. Pre-existing characters were translated from the skill-based system used in the original game, and pigeonholed into one of a few formal classes. Tradesmen and dancers remained as playable options, stripped of any combat abilities they may have once had. Those that enjoyed crafting, though, saw the writing on the wall: this was a game now, and in Massively Multiplayer Games you kill stuff for XP.

These changes, for better or worse, are a clear message from Sony Online about the role of SWG in the marketplace. Galaxies, as a world, didn't work. The most recent changes speak to this increased focus. By making SWG a game, they've applied meaning to elements that previously had none. For example, 'Smuggler' was a profession you could aspire to, both in the original version of the game and after the more recent changes. With the 'world' approach in mind, though, Smuggler characters were inaptly named. In point of fact, they had nothing to smuggle. The most recent game update finally corrects this, by introducing a smuggling system complete with challenges and rewards. Smuggler characters can now earn faction with an Underworld group, obtain contraband which must be moved to other locations, and can be tracked both by NPC assailants and player Bounty Hunters.

The lesson here is that because Massive spaces don't work as worlds, applied meaning is key to understanding a character's role. Where a character could be in the Smuggler class, he didn't actually do anything that would indicate that he was a Smuggler. He didn't actually smuggle anything. The only thing setting a 'Smuggler' apart from other ranged combat classes was his ability to sell things from his inventory anywhere in the game. Looking at SWG through the lens of a game it's clear that to be a Smuggler a character needs to perform certain activities. It seems like a simple statement; in other games, it would seem ludicrous to call a class 'Warrior' if they had no facility for combat. In the 'world' mindset, though, the meaning of a character comes from the player and not the world.

As high-minded as that may be, it's just not a feasible requirement in a medium that is primarily a commercial form of entertainment. Players need direction, focus, and boundaries, new players especially. Forcing a player completely new to the world of Massively Multiplayer games to decide what a Smuggler does can only lead to confusion. They did, it did, and players left the game as a result.

An Aside

It may seem like I have been encouraged by the Smuggler changes, and that would be correct. It may then be surmised my attitude towards the New Game Experience is a positive one. This could not be further from the truth. By changing the game so rapidly and essentially without SWG community involvement, Sony has proven that it is willing to sacrifice goodwill and trust in order to make a quick buck. While the community they were fostering was certainly unhappy at times, it was a community. Small or large, for better or worse, Star Wars Galaxies was the game they were playing. If that community had been consulted before implementing the changes wrought by the NGE, the SOE folks may have found significant devotion to the gameplay they were considering heaving out with the bathwater.

By wrenching the title into a new shape, by discarding the edicts of the original gameplay experience, Sony was effectively saying that it didn't care for the community it had created. It wanted a new one, with a greater interest in twitch gaming, a more mainstream audience which would hopefully boost sales and subscription numbers.

It's 23:25, Do You Know Where Your Meat Body Is?

Old School CombatThis, in the end, is why the 'World vs. Game' argument is meaningless. Norrath, Azeroth, Tattoine, Paragon City: all have physicality only insofar as their data flows across networks and is rendered by graphical processors. There's no there there. What sets Everquest's Norrath apart from the beautiful enivrons of Oblivion's Tamriel is the community of people playing the game.

Despite some wide-eyed hopes and theories to the contrary, the term 'Virtual World' is inherently contradictory. A virtual space may indeed have definition, and substance. I'm even willing to believe that it has meaning, insofar as it's given meaning by the real people that interact with it. What a virtual space cannot be, however, is a world. 'World' is defined by dictionary.com a number of ways: 'a planet', 'a class of people', 'a sphere or domain'. What I think users of the term 'virtual world' are aiming for is 'any period, state, or sphere of existence'. The key word here is 'existence'. By definition, Massive spaces have no substance to them. They do not exist.

This is why Star Wars Galaxies and World of Warcraft, in the end, are no more worlds than the communal chat program Habbo Hotel. The 'world' of Azeroth ceases to exist every Tuesday for a few hours while Blizzard messes with the servers. The community that forms around the game, that exists outside of the boundaries of corporate control, that's the real world of the game. The countless forums, fansites, and machinima creations are the marks that Azeroth has left on reality, and those are the concrete elements we should point to when we talk about 'Virtual Worlds'.

Second Life, in fact, is probably one of the few online spaces that can truly claim to be a world, by virtue of the inherent meaning of the individual. Like in Galaxies at launch, Second Life doesn't make you try to have fun. There are no quests in SL, no classes, no xp bar. What sets Second Life apart from Galaxies is that you can make long-term changes to the environment. Making your mark on the space like this, leaving a legacy beyond your community involvement, is fundamental to the world concept.

Even then, Second Life only exists as long as the power is on. Ask the players of Earth and Beyond, Asheron's Call 2, or even the infant community that formed around Mythica. Massive Games are powerful experiences, and they should be enjoyed while they can. Thanks to the realities of business, the whims of players, and the pressures of an industry, Massive Games are fleeting and fluid; the castle in the air only lasts so long.

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

10th Anniversary, Super-Smooth Mario 64 Speed Run!

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/m64an.jpg Our friends over at the Speed Demos Archive have released a special new speed run, as they explain: "Peter 'Dragorn' Branam-Lefkove has been working for many months on an improved Single-segment 100% run of Super Mario 64."

They continue: "By complete coincidence, the run is now ready to post during the same week as the 10-year anniversary of the release of Mario 64 and the Nintendo 64 itself in North America. So, celebrate one of Mario's birthdays by watching Peter's very impressive 2:09:40 run, available in six different flavors."

There are some notes on the Mario 64 page itself (scroll down!): "You'll notice early on that I seldom collect stars in the order in which the level presents them; this might seem random, but there's usually a method to the madness. Sometimes, it's necessary for strategic purposes; for example, in Snowman's Land, it's necessary to complete "Inside the Igloo" before "Snowman's Big Head" because I activate the cannon in the former star. Barring those restrictions, I also usually like to mix up easy stars and more difficult ones; that is, I like to use the easy stars as recovery periods between more difficult ones."

BYTE Cover Artist Gets Quizzed

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/rtinney.jpg Those VintageComputing.com chaps are at it again, and have posted an excellent interview with BYTE Magazine cover artists Robert Tinney, which OK, isn't _completely_ game-related, but is absolutely awesome anyhow.

As is noted: "As cover artist for over eighty issues of BYTE magazine — microcomputing’s first and finest major publication — and as one of the first men to illustrate topics related to the fledgling field of personal computers, he near single-handedly shaped the popular visual idiom of what computers were, could be, and would be for the for a whole generation of microcomputer enthusiasts."

As Tinney himself comments: "Magritte and Escher are two of my favorite artists, and fans have noticed their influence in many of the BYTE designs." I'd certainly love to own some originals of these.

September 28, 2006

Game Ads A-Go-Go: Fighting Game Teaser Ads

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

This column was started back in March as a noble experiment into seeing whether I could say dumb things about video game advertisements with any sort of regularity. I'm sorry to say that I have failed miserably, as my commentary was almost always thoughtful, enlightened, and filled with rare insight, while typically leading toward the factual-analytical end of the bullshit continuum. However, this time -- in my last Game Ads A-Go-Go Column -- I promise that I will not fail you.

Why no more Game Ads A-Go-Go? Because this is my 16th entry in this series and I feel that it's time to move on to something fresh. It's been tons of fun, and I've really enjoyed writing for you, so don't be surprised if you see another RedWolf column on GSW soon about something actually serious, like analyzing structural motifs in Shigeru Miyamoto's fibrous navel lint (scientists have recently found that there's a surprising amount of stuff in that weird Japanese hole). Or, perhaps, I was thinking of doing a Jason Scott fan column. But in the mean time -- if you miss me -- you can always find me over at Vintage Computing and Gaming.

For now, however, we'll be looking at fighting game teaser ads! Prepare Yourself.


Not Actually Evil, Just Bad

The moral of this ad is simple: you can't tease someone with something that no one wants. So don't be pretentious enough to try it with Double Dragon V -- quite possibly one of the worst games of all time.

I would write more, but Shredder here has got them evil googly eyes that always make me nervous, even if in a facetious space-filler-writing kind of way. Besides, the people at TradeWest could have learned a lot from the following company...

---


A Little Bit Better

Now this is a game that many, many people wanted to play, even if it was the 15th minimally-changed version of a title released only three years earlier. Not since the likes of Mega Man have we seen such a case of sequel diarrhea. Coming Next Year: Super Street Fighter II Turbo Hyper Fighting Byzantine Champion Edition 2 Mini Puzzle Pals III.

Despite Capcom's "Adam, Prince of Eternia"-like attempt to act tough here, this ad still pales in comparison to our next contender...

---


Kome Kloser to the Kloset

Prepare Yourself to Kave into Kravings for Kombat (or for Kellogg's Krusty Killer Kobs of Korn). Ahem...I mean, only one out of the six ads above was not kreated by Midway, the master of all Teaser ads. But they all have to do with one thing: Qombat. Mortal Qombat, that is, the greatest fighting game series of part-time.

So let's see...we've got Mortal Qombat, Mortal Qombat Trading Qards, Mortal Qombat CD, Mortal Qombat II, a Mortal Qombat II (and Super Sleet Fighter II) rip-off controller, and another Mortal Qombat II. It took me forever to scan these ads because they were literally about 8 feet long by 11 feet wide, and I had to enlist the help of an entire Gnome brigade to carry the scanner across the pages.

This just in: after some careful checking, it seems that my measurements in the last page-size estimate might have been slightly inaccurate, but nonetheless, scanning the ads was still quite a chore since I am only four inches tall. It took me about three days to finish the task, and in the middle of day two, the elves (gnomes...whatever) went on strike over low wages. After that, it was up to me and my well-trained miniature oxen team (dragging a plough-like makeshift scanning device constructed of bits of scrap aluminum) to finish the job. But thank God we did, or else this kolumn would not be possible.

So by now, you've probably guessed that I don't actually have much to say about these ads, except for the fact that three out of six of them involve an electrostatic atmospheric disturbance known as lightning. Four out of six involve a circular dragon logo that some have rumored to not actually be an ancient Chinese fertility symbol. But I definitely don't believe them, because I've had seven immaculately-conceived butt-kids since 1992 thanks to repeatedly playing this game series. And three out of six ads involve the declaration "Prepare Yourself," but I have always been confused about this, as two of the six clearly state that "Nothing, NOTHING, Can Prepare You." So to find the true meaning behind this apparent set of mixed messages, we have to combine the two into "Nothing, NOTHING, Can Prepare You Yourself," which -- I think -- was the slogan for Mortal Qombat 3. That's probably why it didn't sell as well as the first two.

So until we meet again, live long and prosper, my friends. Thanks for reading, and have a great day.

---

[RedWolf is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Vintage Computing and Gaming, a regularly updated "blogazine" that covers collecting, playing, and hacking vintage computing and gaming devices. He has been collecting vintage computers and game systems for over 13 years. Have you ever chewed so much bubble gum that it makes your whole jaw and neck hurt? Well, he just did.]

A Delighted Welcome For RRRRPG?

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/rrrrrpg.gifVia the ever wonderful TIGSource comes news of a couple of new projects from Alan Gordon; the man behind Zi. Vertical is currently unfinished, but is still oddly mesmerising – so far, the only aim is to climb as high as possible in a tower using a grappling hook.

More interesting, and making more of an splash, is RRRRRPG, which is, for all intents and purposes, like Final Fantasy but without the flashy graphics, music, plot, or characterisation.

As TIGSource note, it’s like “the purest distillation of the JRPG” - all that remains is the fighting and levelling, though you do get to choose between three classes of triangles to make up your party, and there is the ability to upgrade your equipment. Gordon summarises the game’s aim as simply to “kill some shapes, then defeat the Circle God. That's it.” At under 500K, it’s pretty much begging to be ported to mobile phones.

“Frankly,” Gordon writes on his blog. “I have no idea how this manages to be fun, but it does!” Just watch out for those spinning grey pentagons.

[edited by alistairw]

We'd Like To Say Hi To Mr. Dreamcast

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/mr_dreamcast_cover.jpgObsessive Dreamcast blog The Dreamcast Junkyard recently took a look back at the UK magazines that focused on the console. Amongst them, Dreamcast - The Official Dreamcast Magazine, Dreamcast Monthly, DC-UK, Dreamcast Magazine and, finally, the very oddly titled Mr. Dreamcast.

“I only ever saw this monstrosity once,” notes blogger Tomleecee. “And only bought it on that solitary occasion because I was facing a long and boring bus journey. It was clearly aimed at the younger end of the market as this particular issue came complete with a Fur Fighters water pistol and prose that wouldn't seem out of place in a Puddle Lane Ladybird book.”

A quick hunt around reveals that the mag was edited by former DC-UK editor Caspar Field, who had previously been deputy editor at EDGE, and later went on to produce Argonaut’s Xbox watercraft racer Carve.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like it lasted very long – “A case of drowning a retarded puppy to put the little fucker out of its misery, methinks,” suggests Tomleecee.

Still, best magazine name ever, for sure. Mr. Wii, anyone?

[edited by alistairw]

NCSX Import Store Goes Blogtastic

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/chocobo_magic_book_plush.jpgImport store National Console Support , who’ve been at it since “spring or summer of 1989”, have just started a blog detailing their day to day sales and incoming stock, and it’s a pretty interesting read.

Aside from being a good way to get a hold of – and keep up with – import titles, there’s plenty of game related merchandise to spend your hard earned cash on. Of course, there’s the regulation very, very creepy DOA 3D breast mousepads, and even-creepier life size cushions and towels, but it’s evened out with some slightly less anti-social stuff too.

Still on cushions, there’s these Mario themed ones, or, even cooler, this Mario coin block that actually makes a noise when you hit it. Joy!

Personally, though, I’ve got my heart set on the pictured Chocobo plush, which ties in to the upcoming DS title Chocobo and the Magical Picturebook - which also has the most hypnotically entertaining website ever.

Just thinking about holding that toy while looking at the site makes my bitter black heart melt. Awwww.

[edited by alistairw]

September 27, 2006

Nintendo Love... By Fax

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/you_complete_me.jpgGaming related romance is nothing new these days – hell, half of you are probably thinking about how best to get that feisty level 46 Night Elf on WOW to give you her number even while reading this. VH1’s Raina Lee posts about her own heart-warming story of gaming love, from 15 years ago:

“The year was 1991. His name was Chris, he was 15. His most attractive quality was that he was some kind of Nintendo Tournament champ. Chris responded to my posting on whether or not it was possible to play US CD games on a Japanese PC engine console. He not only knew the answer (yes, they were interchangeable), but in his first email uttered these sexy words: “I think gameplay is more important than graphics!” At 14, I believed I had found my soulmate.”

Their relationship continued via fax, hitting all the important topics – “why Vanilla Ice sucked, Beverly Hills 90210” - but came to an unfortunate end at the hands of her parents: “They took away my letters and forbade me to ever contact him.”

But is there a happy ending still on its way? “I found the curly fax paper years later,” she concludes. “And I wonder if Chris is still out there playing import games.” Anyone know this mystery man?

[edited by alistairw, picture via 4 color rebellion]


The State Of The Japanese Game Biz Round-Up

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/cuthb.jpg OK, I'm seriously out of time and brainjuice, but over at Gamasutra, we've just posted the complete set of my Japan-related game articles that I wrote over the past 10 days - traveling back to the States now.

The final report is an interview with Q Games' Dylan Cuthbert (Star Fox DS), who "...discusses a number of fascinating topics, including his company's work with both Nintendo and Sony, defeating the 'salaryman' ethic, and how foreign developers operate in Japan."

Particularly interesting: "Q Games was working with Sony in its early years "developing technology for an online MMO", including much use of generative landscapes and fractal-style constructed worlds... Cuthbert and compatriots immediately responded to a technology comparison with Will Wright's Spore, noting: "We developed a lot of that same technology." However, after Sony decided they wanted the tech to make a platform shift to PlayStation 2, Cuthbert decided to decline the offer and halt the project."

The Mythical 40-Hour Gamer

tomb_raider_legend.jpgThere’s an intriguing piece up on Wired News at the moment by Collision Detection blogger Clive Thompson, who asks: “Who the heck actually finishes a story-based game in 40 hours? Who are these mythical 40-hour gamers?”

Interesting question – Clive’s frustration comes from the fact that he picked up a copy of Eidos’ Tomb Raider: Legend under the impression that he was about to play a 40 hour game. Not so, he says.

“I plugged away at the game whenever I could squeeze an hour away from my day job and my family. All told, I spent far more than 40 hours -- but still only got two-thirds through. At some point, I sadly realized I just couldn't afford any more time. I've got a life to lead: Books to read, a day job, my infant son to hang out with, other games beckoning. That's why I've collected a shockingly large mausoleum of unfinished games over the years.”

Clive also asks whether the only solution is going to be a split in the way games are developed, in order to please those hard-core types who whinge about recent releases being too short, and “soft-core” gamers who just want a couple of hours of fun here and there.

I can’t help but sympathise – as much as Final Fantasy XII’s impending release excites me, I’m not sure that another 83 hour slog is what I really need to be doing with my life. Aside from arguably having better things to do, the guilt after spending that long on the previous one was pretty damned tangible.

[edited by alistairw]

Trippy, Trippy, Game, Game

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/galap.jpg Over at VintageComputing.com, they have a fun feature on 'Trippy Computer Games', checking out some of the odder oddities out there, from the CD-ROM era and before.

One I was rather unaware of was Midway/Time Warner's Endorfun, of which the creator explains: "The music in Endorfun contains subliminal messages designed to help you feel good about yourself and the world around you, to help you enhance your state of well-being and personal abilities. In addition, after every time you play, a positive message appears on the screen to reinforce these thoughts…" I feel better already!

Also mentioned, and something I remember, was Galapagos, which "...starts off with the intriguing supposition that the main character (Mendel, a four-legged spider-like robot) cannot be directly controlled by the player. Rather, the player can only interact with the environment, and allow Mendel to form its own conclusions about cause and effect." Needless to say, hilarity ensued!

September 26, 2006

COLUMN: 'Parallax Memories' – Popful Mail

SuperFami Box['Parallax Memories' is a regular weekly column by Matthew Williamson, profiling classic '16-bit' games from the Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo, and other seminal '90s systems. This week's column profiles Falcom's Popful Mail]

Funny story. Once I associated the company name Working Designs completely with Japanese Style RPGs. The first time I heard about Popful Mail it was introduced to me as that “new game from Working Designs,” and my brain instantly came up with an RPG about a mail delivery service. Warning: This game involves no delivering or receiving of any mail. I was so wrong it hurts. Popful Mail is the main character’s name. It is obviously just some kind of mammary joke, and this time it wasn’t Vic Ireland making it.

popful-tg16.pngReady for Delivery

While there were many version of Popful on many systems the only version of the game to get released in the US was for the Sega CD. The game was originally developed by Falcom, who is most well known for their Ys series of games. The first version of the game was released for the PC-8801, a Japanese home computer. That version's style of the game was ported over to the PCE Duo. They were released in '91 and '94 respectively. These versions of the game play most like Wanderer’s From Ys and the Xanadu series of games (which weren’t released in the US, but Faxanadu, which was loosely related to it, was).

The next version of the game was for the Sega CD and released in 1994 as well. This version was programmed by Sega instead of Falcom and the game takes a major turn in the gameplay department. This is also the version that Working Designs brought over to the US. No longer playing like “bumper-car Zelda 2” the game is much more like a traditional platformer. The story is mostly the same as the original games, and the structure and levels are very similar, but because of the new play method you have much more control over your actions and thus the entire game feels quite different.

popful-segacd.pngLater in 1994, Falcom tried their hand at a similar task to what Sega accomplished by turning Popful Mail into a more traditional platformer for the Super Famicom. This version, unfortunately, is the weakest of the lot. The controls aren’t quite right, the response of the enemies is a little off, and overall the game has been reorganized. While the story remains mostly the same it doesn’t have the impact of the Duo and SCD versions. Perhaps I’m getting a little ahead of myself though, so let’s digress back to some basic explanations.

Nut's a Crackin'

The game is a light-hearted tale of a bounty hunter getting into many misadventures. The story follows a pretty clichéd and silly plot that sees the hero team up with a couple of outcast characters while chasing enemies like Nuts Cracker and Muttonhead. All versions of the game have full motion cutscenes, but as you could guess the CD format of the Duo and SCD opens those up to voice acting. Also, considering that the cutscenes were all done using in engine sprites and sounds, it is a very impressive technical feat when seen it in motion. While the SCD cutscenes can’t produce as many colors it still does an excellent job in the delivery.

popful-snes.pngAll the games are good in their own right, but I prefer the Sega CD version. The US version is even a slightly different version than the MegaCD version in Japan. While Vic and company are up to their normal tricks of loose localization within the story, the Working Designs team also decided that the game was too easy in its original form. Now only three hits will kill you and the amount of invincibility you have after receiving a blow is quite short. While they may have made it a little more difficult than necessary it is a nice compromise from the fairly easy difficulty of the Japanese version.

Popful Mail was a very successful series in Japan. The game went on to spawn a large amount of followers with quite a few doujinshi being released for the series. Popful also received a five part series of radio dramas titled “Paradise.” These went as far as to write in an alternate realm where there is an evil/dark version of all the characters in the original game, and many other silly clichéd fantasy story elements. If you haven’t played any of the Popful Mail games I recommend that you track them down. I promise that you won’t be delivering mail or navigating menus.

[Matthew Williamson is the creator of The Gamer’s Quarter (which just had a new issue released!), an independent videogame magazine focusing on first person writing. His work has been featured on MTV.com, 1up.com, Chatterbox Radio, and the Fatpixels Radio Podcast.]

GameTunnel Looks Into Indie September

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/gumboy.jpgDelighted to note that GameTunnel has its September 2006 Independent Games monthly round-up online, and yet again, it's a pretty darn smart one.

It's explained: "This month's article looks at twelve indie titles including Styrateg, a game that blends both Strategy and RPG, the retro-styled beat-em-up Beats of Rage II, and Gumboy Crazy Adventures, a game that reminds one of amazing Gish in both its quality and extremely unique gameplay."

Overall 'game of month' winner is the aforementioned Gumboy Crazy Adventures, though it does so on the basis of some seriously split marks - a 6, a 10, and a 'can't get working'! The generally reliable Russell Carroll raves, though: "Though somewhat similar to Gish (in the way that LocoRoco is similar to Gish) this game has a bounty of inventive innovation from its visually impressive and original theme to its 'keep you on your toes' and constantly changing gameplay (just remember to bring a joystick)."

GameSetTokyo: Article Round-Up, TGS Pics Part 3

OK, last set of pics from Tokyo Game Show, since it finished about 2 days ago (hey, I'm going as fast as I can, here!) But before I do, I just wanted to point at my two recent Gamasutra write-ups on the Japanese game market, since I'm fast approaching the end of my time in Japan.

Just posted is 'Special: 8-4's Ricciardi On The State Of Japanese Gaming', in which I go through the Japanese game biz situation with smart guy and ex-EGM editor. Probably a notable section would be:

"Sony's big hope LocoRoco, which even had an associated hardware bundle, "didn't sell nearly as well as I think it should have" in Japan, Ricciardi notes - a sentiment many observers agree with. He continues: "That shows there's a problem with the PSP... [LocoRoco] is clearly an A caliber game, but because there's so much stuff that people aren't interested in, it got lost in a cloud of crummy games. I don't know how they're going to get around that."

Also posted yesterday, a chat with Microsoft's XBLA supremo Greg Canessa in which he "explained the future of the Xbox 360 digital download service, including the concept of an 'Imports' area on XBLA to highlight the best foreign-territory titles." As you guys may recall, I'm a little of an XBLA fanboy at times, so it was nice to quiz Greg on how the service could be improved, since we already know what it's doing right.

Oh, so those straggling pics, or at least the highlights:

As i note in the Flickr caption: 'The less appropriate the product for Japan, the less clothes on the models' - this is for Turbine's 'Dungeons & Dragons Online'.


Sakaguchi's 'Blue Dragon' itself, resplendent in sculpted form at the Microsoft TGS booth.


At the Tecmo merchandise booth, the models were, uh, modeling special hug pillows which I presume were Dead Or Alive-themed. I remember there being controversy about similar merchandise before - and it's still creeeepy.


To end up, where would we be without some genuine TGS Final Fantasy cosplayers? These guys are decent, too - and check out the reflected zombie photographer hordes in the window behind them. Over and out.

When Will The Eno 3DO Insanity Stop?

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/mh2.jpg We've covered the insane and obscure Japanese 3DO games by Kenji Eno's Warp a bunch of times before, thanks to 3DOKid unearthing them - now he's discovered 'Old Man Hunter: Mahjong', which is similarly crazed.

3DOKid explains: "How about today's conceptual mental circus, where even having played it, I can't quite see what any member of the Warp team was thinking. Well perhaps other than: "Hee Hee, I wonder if we can get away with this?"... A Super Hero, who is called Old Man Hunter, flies about saving young short-skirted traditional Anime styled Japanese school girls from dirty old men by playing and hopefully beating them at Mahjong."

Of course, the game's morals are pretty ambiguous: "Was Warp showing its disgust and perhaps showing its solidarity with the girls? Was Warp trying to attract the female Japanese gamer? Or just perhaps drawing attention to the problem? What were they thinking and why do it like this? Yet the girls depicted in the game could well be accused by some as being the root of the actual problem. The skirts. The flashes of knickers. The long legs. Like I said, curved ball." Weirdness abounds.

September 25, 2006

Gamer's Quarter Issues Seventh Dispatch!

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/gq7.jpg Well, lookee what we've got here - news of a new issue for the ever-fun PDF-styled magazine (which also has a hardcopy available for ordering), The Gamer's Quarter.

Boss man and sometime GSW columnist ShaperMC explains: "The Gamer's Quarter is quarterly journal dedicated to printing personal, insightful and introspective videogame writing. We've just finished The Gamer's Quarter Issue #7 and it is now available for download."

What's more: "Within the 107 pages of Issue #7 you'll find 22 articles covering various Mario games, the Final Fantasy series, Dead Rising, the Japan-only Bit Generations series of GBA games, a series of Haiku about Dragon Warrior VII, and much, much more! You'll also find gobs of original artwork, including a unique look at the modern videogame store and an absolutely insane cover by Indianapolis artist Max Martin!" As always, this is well worth checking out

Seaman 2 Digs Out Peking Man

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/seamantwo.jpg I know we already mentioned Seaman 2 briefly, but it's been pointed out that 1UP has some more information on the PS2 game, including screenshots of the awesome faux-documentary introducing it.

It's explained: "The premise in Seaman 2 remains largely the same -- you're still supposed to interact with a virtual pet -- except that this time around your creature is basically a mini neanderthal man. As the story goes, a species of these prehistoric mini-men were found to have lived in Peking China. A company in Moscow took their bones and created a factory to clone them and mass produce them as pets. 3,000 of them have been created so far. You're one of the lucky first to have one of them."

What's more: "The game was introduced in the form of an infomercial from the Russian company selling these men. A salesmen pitches you on buying one of these pets and shows how it could enrich your life." Completely awesome - and let's not forget that this marketing style actually helped make the first Seaman into a significant success in Japan - can it work again?

GameSetPics: TGS Chiptune Concert

Ah, a break before the final 'normal' Tokyo Game Show pics go up, since I managed to snap a couple of pictures of a special mini-chiptune concert at TGS, as part of the D4 Enterprise booth, and featuring, as is noted: "BEEP-BOY, DRM, hally and YMCK."

D4 (not to be confused with D3!) is an interesting company which deals mainly in digital distribution of retro Japanese gaming, particularly the MSX (though they also distribute Compile's RPGs and strategy titles for PC digitally, for example). Hally (who works there!) notes: "The first two performers play also as the demonstrators of 1-chip MSX, the brand new FPGA-based MSX compatible machine which will be released soon in Japan."

Here's what I managed to spot:

I believe this is BEEP-BOY, who sung and played (computer) keyboard like no tomorrow - he was followed by DRM, who played an awesome, awesomely loud 808 State cover version and then demonstrated the 1-chip MSX sound chip's capabilities.


The final live chiptune act was the uber-catchy YMCK, who are certainly the only chip-pop group to have a .S pixel sculpture made in their honor. And their music videos are uniformly awesome, too, esp. the 'Magical 8-Bit Tour' one.

[UPDATE: I uploaded about 20 seconds of video of DRM's performance as part of this TGS chiptune showcase to Google Video - sorry, this is all the video I got!]

GameSetInterview: Lexaloffle's Joseph White

swarm_racer.jpg Joseph White is the founder of Lexaloffle, a New Zealand based indie developer responsible for titles like Neko Puzzle, Zen Puzzle Garden and the recent Swarm Racer.

“What is it about Lexaloffle games that I love so much?” Queried Derek Yu on TIGSource at the time of Swarm Racer’s release. “Everything about them is so endearing, from the cute graphics and music to the easy-to-understand (but hard to master) gameplay. The games are just so earnest and polished. Playing one is like putting on your favorite sweater and having some tea and a scone on a blustery fall afternoon. It’s like what I imagine New Zealand to be like. Or maybe getting nuzzled by a unicorn.”

Quite a write up, certainly, but “earnest and polished” is pretty much a spot on description of Lexaloffle’s games. The bit about the “favourite sweater” isn’t too far off either – these are games with soul.

We got in touch with White via email to discuss Lexaloffle’s history and its future.

When did you start developing games?

I started out making ASCII games on a BBC Micro when I was about 10 years old. At that time I was trying to reproduce games I had seen in arcades like Moon Patrol and Elevator Action. I was happy just to get an ASCII guy with slashes for limbs running around though.

Where do you take inspiration from for your games?

All kinds of places. I think the most interesting design ideas come from things which have nothing to do with games. But in general if I want to think about games, I like listening to chip music and looking at pixel art.

I assume the idea for Zen Puzzle Garden came from things outside of games?

Yes. Originally the game was about placing objects in a garden so that they satisfied a set of rules. Trees must not be in line with each other, a stone lantern must have space around it etc. It was similar to the 8 queens on a chessboard problem. I couldn't get the rules of the puzzle to agree nicely with the theme though, and it eventually evolved into the Zen Garden idea. Once I had that theme it fell into place much more easily, because I wanted to do some kind of geometric puzzle, and raking lines in sand is perfect for that.

Zen Puzzle Garden, in particular, has had an amazing response – how does that feel?

It feels great. It's very satisfying to produce something that people can enjoy, and also it means that I can probably keep on doing what I love.

What kind of reactions have you had to your other games?

The only other Lexaloffle game which has been out for a while is Neko Puzzle. It did well as a cell phone game in China, but as a desktop game I think it mostly piggy-backs off Zen. More recently, Swarm Racer seems to be gathering a decent following. It was just a quick game for fun, but it's had such an appreciative response so far it makes me wonder why I spend so much time working on epic projects.

neko_puzzle.jpgHow did Neko Puzzle get released as a cell phone game in China?

I was doing some work with a company in Wellington which had contacts in China. We teamed up and made several ports in Java which they liked and licensed to a Chinese network. It was nice to see Neko reach its natural habitat - that game was really asking to be put on a cell phone.

What can we expect from the upcoming game, Jasper's Journeys?

Jasper was originally released in 1998 for DOS, so you can track down the old demo and find out! It's basically a mishmash of things we like about old fashioned platform games. Secrets inside secrets, quirky creature behaviour, frantic bullet dodging and a lot of leaping around. That sort of thing.

Why are you remaking it?

The DOS version didn't get around much, so it seemed worth giving Jasper a second chance. The new version is much slicker and will run nicely on modern operating systems, so hopefully it will reach a wider audience this time around.

How do you go about developing a title for Lexaloffle?

I tend to quickly prototype ideas as they occur to me, so at any one time I'll have about a dozen games bubbling away. Once I become sufficiently excited about one of them, I'll promote it to the pool of games that I work on regularly (currently Chocolate Castle, Jasper's Journeys, and one unannounced game). From then on it's just a lot of pixelling, coding, map designing, play testing and tweaking in no particular order. I think it's good to have a number of projects going on at once so that ideas can sort of cross-pollinate between them, and I can rotate around them if I need a break. The downside is that the ratio between released and unreleased games isn't so great.

What's Chocolate Castle?

It's a puzzle game which involves shifting blocks of chocolate around so that little animals can eat them. It sounds cute, but really it's a platform for designing mean puzzles.

Where does the name Lexaloffle come from?

I found it in a pile of old notes I was flipping through around the same time I needed to come up with a name for the company. I don't know what I was thinking when I wrote it down, but I liked the way it sounded. I was about to go with 'Modern Monster' or 'Yellow Rocket', so I was happy to get away from that whole [adjective] [noun] thing.

zen_puzzle.jpgGiven that you're distributing the games as shareware, do you get many people upgrading to the full versions?

In general about 1%-2%. It depends on the type of traffic coming through. People coming from a niche puzzle game site are more likely to buy the games than a stampede of download.com visitors, for example.

What made you decide to produce games for Mac as well?

Basically because I could, and because I like Macs. My games don't need much in the way of platform-specific code because I do most of the graphics in software. As long as I have a screen to blit to, a controller, and some sound, I'm happy. It's much easier to get exposure in the Mac world too. A good percentage of my customers are Mac users.

I notice you're offering discounts to schools that purchase your titles - have you had many takers on this?

Only a handful. After I heard back from a couple of teachers who were using the games to develop problem solving skills, I liked the idea and wanted to encourage it. I haven't done anything to target schools beyond that though.

Do you consider your games educational software?

Not really. It's not something I set out to do, but a lot of puzzle games are educational by nature just because…well…they're puzzles.

Finally, I almost forgot to ask about the awesome music in Swarm Racer. Who's the artist who does it, and how did you get involved with them?

The title music was written by Laszlo Vincze - also know as Vincenzo. He put out a great music disk called Emerald Box (with his demo group at the time Conspiracy), and later when I was working on Swarm Racer, one of the tracks sprang to mind as a perfect title tune. He kindly provided a copy of it that I could use, which made me very happy. It's just so damn funky.

Montreal Indies - Say Hello To Kokoromi!

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/gamma0.jpg Another email to GSW worth reprinting, from some Montreal-based game developers looking to do the indie thing for fun: "My Montreal colleagues and I have formed a group here to promote experimental gameplay, and games as art, called Kokoromi ("experiment" in Japanese)."

It's explained: "For our first project, we're throwing an event called GAMMA (Game Art Montreal), to be held during the Montreal International Game Summit and the Festival Arcadia. Our goal is to publicly showcase the potential of indie and "small games" as an artistic and cultural medium. And we'd like you to be a part of it!

"During the next two months, you are invited to develop a small PC game that responds to a particular design challenge (which I'll explain in a sec). In early November, we'll debut all the finished games at a city-wide social event (aka insane dance party) to coincide with the two consecutive Montreal conferences."

The folks behind GAMMA, which include Heather Kelley, Phil Fish, and Damien Di Fede, explain:"You are invited to create a game that translates a live audio stream into realtime game elements and gameplay. At the GAMMA event, the live music (DJs, bands) will be fed into the games to trigger the game content, and the partygoers will play the games live on large screens. Thus, gamers as VJs!" Interested parties can go to the GAMMA forums to say hi and sign up - we look forward to seeing the results of this boogiedown.

September 24, 2006

Toribash Gets Pay-To-Play Update

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/toribash.jpg We featured info on the unique turn-based physics fighter Toribash a few weeks back, and now developer Nok writes to GSW to note that the first pay-to-play version, 2.0, has been released.

As he explains: "Toribash is a turn-based fighting game. Create your own martial arts movies in single player sandbox mode, or join the competition in the multiplayer modes. Focus is on tactics rather than reaction and button mashing. The game features physics, full dismemberment, decapitation and comic style blood... Windows, Mac and Linux Clients are available."

Now, whenever a game switches from free to pay, it's going to be a bit controversial (v2.0 costs $20 right now, and will eventually cost $25), but there's a demo available, and apparently the server fees alone for the free version of the game have been significant, so we wish Toribash luck. Actually, this would be an awesome XBLA/PS3 online title, if anyone is listening.

GameScapes Sweep Across Italy

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/st3rn.jpg You may recall a confused but corrected post about a book on Cory Arcangel's game art we posted a few days back - well, here's the newly released info on a new book and exhibition also featuring him.

Matteo Bittanti's Videoludica site now explains: "GameSpaces. The Landscapes of Videogames is a group show featuring works by some of the most celebrated artists working with digital games: Cory Arcangel, Mauro Ceolin, Jon Haddock, Eddo Stern, and Carlo Zanni. The exhibition will open on October 12, 2006 in Monza, near Milan."

It continues: "Included in the exhibition are a video installation by Cory Arcangel, "Super Mario Movie" (2004), a series of paintings by Mauro Ceolin from the "SolidLandscapes" (2004-) series, Carlo Zanni's interactive installation "Average Shoeveler" (2004), Eddo Stern's neo-medieval installation "Fort Paladin: America's Army" (2003) and the entire series of Jon Haddock's seminal "Screenshots" (1999). Most of these artworks have never been presented in Italy before."

What's more: "Johan & Levi is publishing the GameSpaces catalog which features new commentary texts by Rosanna Pavoni, Matteo Bittanti, and Domenico Quaranta." Neat - a little more mainstream acceptance for game art, eh?

UK Resistance Rises, Wikipedia's Lair Falls

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/lairir.jpg Ever the Sony-baiters, UK Resistance has been pointing out the CG => realtime Lair difference, and then suggesting: "HOW YOU CAN HELP: Please vandalise the game's Wikipedia entry accordingly."

Naturally, some choice, evil vandalism occurred, including the revelation: "Premium will ship with 30 dragons but the Basic edition will ship with no dragons. One of the main features of the online package will be the option to purchase extra dragons via 'sonsactions'."

Also a BIG SURPRISE: "Lair is a upcoming game being developed by Factor 5 and published through Sony Computer Entertainment America for the Sony PlayStation 3 video game console. It uses the Wii controller's tilt functions for movement within the game." Y'know, vandalizing Wikipedia isn't big or clever, but this is tragically funny nonetheless.

COLUMN: ‘Game Mag Weaseling’: Mag Roundup 9/23/06

['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.]

If I'm any later submitting this it will no longer be Saturday, so let's drop the pleasantries (and the ferret pix) and get right down to business. [EDITOR'S NOTE: Since I'm still in Japan and on weird hours, it wasn't Saturday by the time this was published! But just wanted to praise Kevin on the amazing job he's doing with these round-ups. I feel like I learn things, and often useful things, too! Yay.]

Every other week, I cover all the game magazines that hit US shelves, complete with cover images and commentary I almost always regret on Sunday morning. Click on to, er, read on...

[Click through for the full column!]

Game Informer October 2006

gi-0610.jpg

Cover: Devil May Cry 4

Again, I don't care nearly as much about the cover story (which is looooooooong and not even a "World Exclusive" this time around) as I do about the news section, which continues to kick all sorts of ass. As far as I can tell, GI is the only magazine (besides Game Developer, of course) that regularly concentrates on serious industry news these days -- hell, if GameWeek or MCV US were like this back in the day, they might have actually survived.

I say all this because the top piece in Connect this time around is "Communications Breakdown," an investigative report (complete with sources speaking on condition of anonymity and everything) about how the culture of Japanese publishers often makes life difficult for their US branches. This is the sort of thing that Dean Takahashi might write, and I think any Japanese-major thinking about getting into games should read it.

Also: EIC Andy The Game Dandy McNamara writes the longest of the "E3 is dead" editorials in game mag-dom, and one of the only that goes beyond the whole "No more babes NOOOOOOOOOOO" humorous vibe and explains why it's a very good thing for the industry.

Classic: Is all about System Shock 2 this issue, complete with tons of commentary from Ken Levine. It's enough, in fact, to make me wish there was a SS2 Special Edition with Levine commenting on stuff as you play. (Why hasn't anyone done this with a game that I give a flip about? Huh?)

PC Gamer November 2006 (Podcast)

pcgamer-0611.jpg

Cover: Guild Wars: Nightfall

PCG has inneresting news of their own this month by going inside a Chinese gold farm and publishing photos of their immaculate offices and crappy youth-hostel-like worker dormitories. The news section doesn't last long, however, since there's 11 pages of Guild Wars: Nightfall coverage that takes up most of the magazine's midsection. (Buying this issue entitles you to a free quest and "mini pet" in the game, if such things are important to you. I'll give you my access key if you can find me 2001-era issues of Gamers' Republic. Reply below. Thanks.)

Nearing the holidays: Due to Future's breakneck 13-issues-a-year cycle, we're already into the November issues in September, and as such PCG is getting a little thicker. There still aren't too many games to review quite yet, however, and as a result most of the "Guide" section this month is previews -- everything from Battlefield 2142 and Shadowrun to Company of Heroes and the Left Behind RTS.

The have and have nots: As in the previous issues, the reviews are mostly of pretty crap games -- the highest scorer (space strategy game Sword of the Stars) gets 89%, but it's tempered by scores like 20% for Big Oil and 18% for shooter World War II Combat: Iwo Jima ("a waste of disk space and shelf space").

Computer Gaming World October 2006 (Podcast)

cgw-0610.jpg

Cover: Team Fortress 2, part of a larger Valve piece that includes Portal and HL2E2

EIC Jeff Green confirms that this is the next-to-last issue of CGW -- starting in December, Games For Windows: The Official Magazine will be gracing our bookshelves, hopefully with great success. "It's an acknowledgment that PC gaming is here to stay, that it matters, and that it deserves its own official magazine," he writes in the editorial.

The main interview this time around: is with Epic's Mark Rein, a man who isn't afraid to say what's on his mind (especially if it's about anything that isn't utterly hardcore, such as the Wii). In this talk he picks some more on episodic content ("This is not an Epic interest thing. This is me, worried about the state of developers who think that they can survive by doing something crazy"), but his main reserve of venom is reserved for Intel, who he says pushed integrated-graphics solutions on cheap PCs that essentially render them unable to play modern games. "For some reason," he says, "they've decided an $800 PC shouldn't be as capable as a $300 game console." Considering I'm typing this on a $400 Fry's laptop, I'd reckon he's about right.

Best quote: From a thought piece on the state of AI in games comes this pull quote from Warren Spector: "I don't know if cheating AI will always be necessary, but it certainly seems to be necessary now."

PSM November 2006 (Podcast)

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Cover: Skate or Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories

My Future magazine subscriptions finally kicked in this week (after I ordered them back in May, goddamn clearing houses mblgrmbl), and apparently just in the nick of time, since I haven't seen the Skate cover anywhere besides the newsstand. This is kind of funny since the top feature/preview inside the mag is neither Skate nor GTA:VCS -- instead it's EA's Def Jam 3 (working title), which gets eight pages of Kaiser Hwang text and pics of two impossibly well-detailed gangsters beating each other up silly. (PSM's designers smartly printed EA's art huge, although you can't help but notice that it's the same two dudes in every dang screen.)

And what's more: GTA:VCS's four pages of extra content (interview with studio head, sample missions) is pretty hot, too. PSM certainly has no lack of cover choices this month.

Amusing note: Def Jam 3 gets more pages than PSM's entire Fall Game Preview 2006, which only takes up six. That's, like, the opposite of EGM's approach.

Inserted in this issue: Is a set of coupons from Circuit City, somewhat similar to GamePro's Level-2 stuff. It's in OXM, too, and trying to take the insert out in one piece will cause the magazine to disintegrate, so don't try it.

Official Xbox Magazine November 2006 (Podcast)

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Cover: Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Double Agent

A somewhat lean month overall for coverage, compared to Future's other mags. The top page-grabber is a start-to-finish hands on with Double Agent -- I can't help but wonder what writer Paul Curthoys will have further to say in the review. If you bought this issue off the newsstand, you also get a Splinter Cell calendar. A staff "where are they now" piece reveals that old Game Players standby Dan Egger has passed the bar in Mississippi.

For magazine dorks: The top feature this month, as always, is the OXM fifth-anniversary blowout. All the usual bits you'd expect in such a feature are here, from the commented timeline of covers to a photolog of great moments in Xbox history, from Peter Moore's tattoos to that time Muhammad Ali showed up at the E3 conference. (Wait, were those both at the same event, or am I getting my years mixed up? I'm so old...)

On the disc: Is Dead Rising, in case you were too lazy to download it, as well as LOTR Battle for Middle-Earth II and some Project 8 stuff.

Scarface: Hey, remember Scarface? Scarface made the cover of EGM at one point; can you believe that? The game's coming out soon, and OXM devoted the most pages to it out of any mag this month -- an entir spread devoted to Ryan McCaffrey slagging off the story, controls, missions, the whole bit. It scores 4.5 out of 10, a shade lower than PSM's 5.0. (PSM only gave the game a couple paragraphs, which I suppose you could interpret as an even more devastating diss.)

Play Magazine October 2006

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Cover: The Darkness

I haven't heard of The Darkness before now, but I really should have -- it's the newest from Starbreeze, makers of The Chronicles of Riddick, the game that kept legions of Xbox fanboys from committing hara-kiri during one dry-as-a-bone summer long ago.

If this were a Future or Ziff cover feature, you can bet the screenshots would occupy entire pages, but you know that ain't the way Play rolls. Screens are kept demure, and in their place, there's all sorts of Brady-text and dev/creator interviews. It's killer.

Best-of Series: This month's spread is on adventure, and once again, you've got a neato page of art from Dany Orizio. His Chinese comic-book-ish takes on Ico and Amaterasu are mega-rad.

Only in Play: Will you see a full-spread review of Legend of Spyro: A New Beginning. Not that I'm complaining, mind. Dave likes it a lot, by the way.

Trainspotters Alert: Someone forgot to fill out a pull quote in a preview of Resistance: Fall of Man. The result: a very large piece of text on the page that reads, and I quote, "Xxxxxxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxx xxxxx xxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxx xxx xxxxxxxx x xxxxxxxxx xx xxxxx xxxxxx xx xxxx..." All mags flub now and again, but this is the first one from Play I ever recall. At least they didn't commit the error their forefather GameFan did and use the dummy text to talk about how wild and woolly those Japanese folks are.

Girls of Anime Volume 1

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This isn't strictly games, no, but it's from Play Magazine all the same and is the follow-up to their three past yearly "Girls of Gaming" specials, so I'll give it a blurb here. Yes, it's anime chixxx all over your face for 100 or so pages -- and if you're feeling particularly ribald, you can download the mature-content Digital Edition from Play's website right now. Oh my.

Hardcore Gamer October 2006

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Cover: Destroy All Humans! 2

I didn't think DAH!2 would get a cover, but HCG came through in the cluth. I like the expression on that hippy lady's face.

Features this month: On horror games and machinima. Oh, and there's some rad Awesome Possum fanart in the back. Why can't Newtype get cool art like that? It's all boring ol' InuYasha instead. Janet Jennings, if you're reading this, send some of your Awesome to us too, OK?

Game Developer September 2006

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Simon Carless (ie. my boss) says the other really intelligent thing about E3's death in his editorial this month: it's bad for the rank-and-file developers who can't "get a comprehensive snapshot of the state of game development" any longer.

For the layman: You'll want to read the cover interview with Alexey Pajitnov, where he talks about everything from trying to start a development company in the USSR to how those YouTube Tetris: The Grand Master videos aren't that impressive. There's also a pretty comprehensive piece on the "state of the industry" in PC games, as well as another interview with Goichi Suda and a postmortem on NOM, a crazy cell-phone game I kinda wish I could play.


[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.]



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