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Archive For September, 2006

COLUMN: 'The Gentleman Nerd' - Why I'm Seeking Revenge on... Arkham Horror

September 21, 2006 12:10 AM |

[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.]

Arkham Horror isn’t the type of game you take on without a commitment to mind alteration and abstract thought. The brain has to be limber to follow the breadcrumbs that were left by the designers throughout the rule book for this game, and we all know what limbers the mind. So, I poured myself a glass of “brain tonic” and began my work.

Arkham HorrorWhen faced with learning something that abandons the standard rule set that we’re all used to, such as smashing windows, it’s always best to throw yourself in to it head first. With that in mind, we all sat down to go over how to play the game with only a modicum of actual game knowledge. A game like Arkham Horror, when not addressed as I’ve described, is always going to take twice as long to understand and begin to enjoy, and that’s its danger. If the learning process takes too long, the more casual players become restless and irritable and you will lose them. This will not do. That brings us to the only real complaint about Arkham Horror: the rule book.

The best way to understand these rules, and find your way through the book, as we discovered, was to have a council. We made the council out of the people we had present: Brian was the sober, hardcore gamer, Scott represented the sober, casual gamer and then me, the abstract thinker. Once the stage was set, we began to play and learn the rules at a breakneck pace.

Arkham HorrorOur characters would make a movement and perform an action, followed by a flip through the instructions. Anything that wasn’t played correctly was let slide and a promise to “do it right the next time” was laid out by all in attendance. This first game took us around four hours to play and, even after having to survive the rule book, everyone had a good time. This, by all accounts, is a minor miracle for our group. So, with that in mind, we decided to include some n00bs.

Luckily for said n00bz, there is absolutely no pwnz0ring allowed except by the Ancient Ones or their followers. On the other hand, though, is the fact that Ancient Ones and their followers really enjoy pwnz0ring n00bs and those of us with sk1llz as well. Arkham Horror isn’t an easy game by any definition, and that’s AFTER you understand the rules. That’s what makes it interesting, and oddly disheartening, to play. There’s always a “bottomless pit” waiting right around the corner to whisk you directly back to go without your ten dollars or wither spell. More than once, I’ve been swept into the void because of a lousy dice roll.

Instant death aside, the gameplay is somewhat similar to other systems. You can move an amount of spaces according to your speed and you use your different stats to determine the difficulty of skill checks and to decide combat. Items and allies can be acquired by completing challenges from location cards or by purchasing them in stores. Each player has life and, of course, sanity markers. It wouldn’t be a game based on Lovecraft’s work if you didn’t lose your mind. It’s all mostly standard board game fare with a few exceptions.

Arkham HorrorOne of the more notable differences is the gates to other worlds. Each round, the locations on the board have a chance of turning into a gate to another dimension. If a player is on that space or lands on that space, they are immediately sucked through and must find their way out. Basically, the player has to be in the other dimension for at least two turns before they can leave (though there are a few exceptions to that rule). Once the player has left the alternate dimension, they can choose to close the gate, and if they use five clue tokens they can seal that area for good, which means that neither gates nor monsters can spawn there again. Which leads us to the question: what the hell are clue tokens?

Clue tokens are little items scattered around the board that represent bits and pieces of knowledge that can be used to turn a situation to your favor. For instance, you can spend a clue token to roll additional die or to close a gate. These tokens start off plentiful and then become rare later in the game when you need them the most. Hang on to your clues, people, you’re going to need them when the Ancient One comes back.

There are a couple of ways to end the game, but the most common by far is the return of an Ancient One. At the beginning of the game, when you’re selecting characters you also select or pick at random for an overall evil threat. This grizzly bastard is planning on destroying the world, and only the investigators’ sweet brand of vigilante justice will save it. You have to fight the Ancient One and send it back to wherever it came from. There’s something satisfying about blasting Cthulu back to hell with a 12 gauge pump and some holy water.

Most of the time, however, it’s not that easy. Most of the ancient ones come into the world packing a punch and the odds of survival are slim, but where’s the fun if there’s no danger? This time we lost the nun, who was devoured by some ancient evil, and then our gangster got tossed into the abyss. After all that, those of us who remained were cut down by Yog-Sothoth.

Oh, well, you can’t win them all. Hell, it’s how you get there that’s the real fun. That’s what I keep telling myself, anyway, but deep down inside I’m a torrent of rage. I’ll get you next time, you fancy bastard.

I need a drink.

[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.]

Microsoft's High Hopes In Japan?

September 20, 2006 7:15 PM | Simon Carless

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/mooretgs.jpg The observant among you may have spotted that I posted a new Gamasutra editorial on the Xbox 360's chances in Japan, after attending the company's pre-TGS briefing yesterday.

Some highlights: "The 90 minute briefing, helmed both by Takashi Sensui, General Manager of Xbox Japan, and in parts by an ever-ebullient Peter Moore, was intended to show that it was business as usual in terms of Microsoft's Japanese strategy. And, in many ways, the company's admirable intent is still in place - but the results are starting to show, and it simply hasn't worked so far."

And there's more: "Now, let it not be said that Microsoft aren't going about things the right way by recruiting Sakaguchi to the cause, and there is certainly good support to a certain degree from major Japanese companies including Capcom and Bandai Namco. But it looks increasingly to me, from seeing the shelves in Tokyo game stores filled with Western-created games for the first Xbox, that the company's Xbox 360 efforts are being undone by what has gone before."

My conclusion? "Moore notes that Japan is "one of the most critical regions for our business" - well, the next few months will be a final chance to get the console off life support." Aw, poor MS. More from Tokyo Game Show (which starts tomorrow!), uhh, tomorrow.

GameSetPics: Tokyo Arcade Action, Pt.2

September 20, 2006 2:14 PM | Simon Carless

I'm guessing you guys may be pretty bored of random Japanese arcade pics by now, but - good news - it's the last of the snaps I took this week. This final set deals with the Half-Life 2 arcade machine (yay!), other oddness, and walking the dog, arcade machine stylee (which isn't weird at all, right?) So, let's go:

Valve and Taito's Half-Life 2: Survivor is pretty weird to see in Tokyo arcades, and the gameplay itself is much different and simplified - but it's still darn cool.

One of the many card-based arcade games super-popular in Tokyo right now (they have them for baseball, tactical battling, fantasy, etc) - you need to buy cards and place them on the arcade machine to select your in-game characters.

After God knows how many iterations, Konami's Beatmania is still going strong, alongside the other Bemani titles.

Networked arcade games are increasingly popular in Japanese arcades, and this multiplayer quiz title was getting a lot of play.

Yours truly modeling a slightly older, but still highly amusing Sega arcade game in which you, yes, go walk a dog, avoiding cyclists and pacing on a treadmill. Score.

Airport Security - The Game!

September 20, 2006 9:20 AM | Simon Carless

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/airp.jpg  hspace= The ever-interesting Ian Bogost has posted in detail about his new 'serious game', and notes in an email to us: "My studio Persuasive Games just released a new game, in a new series of newsgames, on Shockwave.com. It's a game about airport security."

It's what? "They say the front line of the War on Terror is the airport security line. See if you’ve got what it takes to keep airline travel safe in this hysterical game of airport security. Better not let that tube of toothpaste get through your checkpoint — it could be a terrorist’s weapon against freedom (or maybe it just fights gingivitis)!"

WCG commenter Julian already digs it, commenting: "I just got back from a trip through the UK and Ireland, and the game is an accurate description of the level of confusion in air travel that results from constantly changing security rules." Social criticism and satire through games can be a powerful, neat thing.

The Biz Of Miz

September 20, 2006 4:16 AM | Simon Carless

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/heavenly.jpg  hspace= Edge Online has done the good thing and has reprinted an interview with Tetsuya Mizuguchi from the most recent issue of Edge Magazine, and it's got some fun stuff in it.

One of the neatest answers is comparing games and music: "Videogames are very much a firstperson experience. You are alone, facing the screen. But music has the advantage of being able to offer a firstperson experience when playing it and a thirdperson experience when you listen to it. A DJ, for instance, handles both these aspects of the music experience."

He continues: "When I started to make games using music, I had to play with these two aspects, so I used the music in the background in a thirdperson experience, but the game play itself could be compared to a DJ in action. Making music by pressing a button is an experience very close to a firstperson gaming experience." Lots more goodness within.

Another Code - A View To An Irk?

September 19, 2006 11:10 PM | Simon Carless

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/tracem.jpg The Functional Autonomy blog has an interesting post analyzing DS title Another Code, aka [EDIT: Uh, not Lost in Blue, duh!] Trace Memory, and comparing it to traditional adventure games.

The overall take, though? "Basic verdict: Does many tricks of old media while not playing to any of the strengths of games." Looks like this is usability-related, but some fine points are made: "# As the player, I often feel like I’m solely there to double tap in appropriate places to advance the decidedly linear action."

What's more: "# Dialogue is long winded, and interrupts the game without warning. Scripts initiate it far more often than the player, and it’s also so linear that the efforts at making it interactive are laughable... # It often won’t let you pick up items that will obviously be needed, until dialogue pertaining to the relevant puzzle has been activated and sat through." Too harsh? Some claim this is a 'hidden gem'.

Letters from the Metaverse: Sound + Fury == null;

September 19, 2006 6:16 PM |

[‘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 machinima.]

Last week I was wondering about machinima in Second Life, and this week I decided to look at it. I have to be honest; I think that machinima is almost always terrible. Much like using video games to create architecture prototypes, it works fantastically to create quick and dirty mock-ups of shots, locations or even scenes, but to create whole movies? Gosh, no thanks.

I actually went to see a whole range of machinima at this year’s Worldwide Short Film Festival in Toronto and was sorely disappointed; that the best they could find was the laughably overwrought (if technically impressive) World of Warcraft movie The Return was a bit depressing.

So, now you know about my in-built prejudices against machinima, you can probably take my opinions with a grain of salt. But! I genuinely think that with so many interesting locations in the world, hundreds of players who really have nothing better to do than be extras and built in video capturing tools, Second Life really does seem to be the ultimate “game” in which to create quick and easy machinima.

And having watched quite a few machinima shorts created in Second Life by now, I’d say that the only problem that affects Second Life’s machinima is the same that affects most others; loads of technical ability, absolutely no creative talent. As per usual, it’s like asking C++ coders to write Shakespeare. I've taken a look at a few of the best and worst.

2006_09_19_spurs.jpgSilver Bells and Golden Spurs – Probably one of the best known Machinima films from Second Life, as it’s the main one linked on the Second Life webpage, this is an amazingly impressive piece of work with a massive cast, mature camera angles and great set, let down by freaky animation (particularly the mouths) and a lame voice over. Made with the help of Linden Lab and apparently cost $555 to make, though. (The live action El Mariachi was made for only $7,000. Seriously. You could just save up.)

Second Life: Get One
- Best-of-show winner in the 2006 Second Life movie trailer contest, this is exactly the kind of thing they would pick to win. An absurdly overblown, if well edited, paean. Has a blustery voice over that'll sicken anyone who’s actually struggled against the many, many flaws of Second Life. Horrific.

Better Life – A man in a wheelchair escapes into Second Life, a “better life” in which all he seems to do is fall through the sky. Comes back to that “asking to C++ coders write Shakespeare” thing; the wheelchair is unsubtle to the point of being offensive.

2006_09_19_tour.jpgTour of the Solar System – Not a narrative, more a short educational film created by the well known Second Lifer Aimee Weber, it’s nice but I really don’t see what it gains by being machinima. Planets are usually fairly easy to create and animate in anything (Even I could probably do it in Lightwave, and it’s been years since I’ve used it). Some pretty incongruous music at points, too.

Lip Flap – An at least slightly funny, if far too self-referential (And therefore self conscious) film about a couple getting ready for a party. Has some character models perfectly representative of Second Life, too (i.e. hideous caricatures of what people think is attractive).

If you’d like to try making Machinima in Second Life, you should probably start at the Second Life page on it which includes a white paper written by Eric Call (creator of Silver Bells and Golden Spurs). It’s perhaps amusing to note that the best piece of machinima about Second Life is probably the Second Life episode of Tra5h Ta1k; it’s astoundingly true to the world.

[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, Plan B magazine, and Eurogamer. Check out his workblog, too.]

Giant Bite's One Giant Leap

September 19, 2006 1:14 PM | Simon Carless

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/gbite.jpg Over at the San Jose Merc News, the Buddha himself, Dean Takahashi has posted a fun little profile of developer Giant Bite, which is especially beholden to us at GSW because one of the principals, Steve Theodore, is the art columnist for Game Developer mag.

The pitch? "Hamilton Chu had what many people might consider a dream job in the video game industry. He was producer on both Halo and Halo 2. Then he left to strike out on his own. Now he's one of the four founders of Seattle-based developer Giant Bite, and he wants to do something just as big there."

Unfortunately, there's just a little bit too much vagueness here: "In fact, for now, Giant Bite is going to remain small. It isn't talking about its game. They're thinking about the consoles and the PC. The company is working on its concept. It has finished some of its demo and made it to the Leipzig conference to show it to publishers. Once it gets funded, the company plans to ramp up hiring and production." We want to know more, of course.

GameSetPics: Tokyo Arcade Action, Pt.1!

September 19, 2006 8:15 AM | Simon Carless

Hm, I was hoping to do a Gamasutra post about 'The State Of Japanese Arcades' today, but it's late, and honestly, I don't have a great deal of amazing insight, other than 'the Japanese love their arcade games, music, fighting, and networked CCG games are big, and there are some damn cool arcades out there', heh.

So how about I just split it out and show you some more pictures I've been taking of the myriad of arcades here in Tokyo this week? Some of this stuff is pretty standard, but hopefully you won't mind:

Sure, it's pretty standard and has even turned up in U.S. arcades, but who doesn't like seeing Namco/Nintendo's Mario Kart GP in arcades? Home conversion plz!

One of the craziest marquees of all time, I think for a sequel to the Bishi Bashi Special series, judging by the controller setup?

Well, Virtua Fighter 5 is certainly good-looking, but the interesting hook isn't just the single-player arcade machine.

Yep, this is the really interesting part - VF.TV, which was showing a network-transmitted Virtua Fighter 5 match from other sparring arcade participants elsewhere in Japan.

Dude - let's drum. Taiko No Tatsujin times infinity! Or about four, at least.

Xbox Live Arcade Makes... How Much?

September 19, 2006 3:15 AM | Simon Carless

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/mbu.jpg Over at his blog, Garage Games' Jeff Tunnell has been expounding in detail on XBLA financing, with some particularly interesting results.

Firstly, he notes: "Creating an XBLA game is taking most studios 6-12 months. Costs are currently ranging from $100,000 to $300,000... The industry standard arms race will quickly make the top end $300,000 budget a cheap product. Right now, I wouldn’t consider attempting to make an XBLA game with a $100,000 budget... I can’t give the exact figure, but the Marble Blast Ultra budget was at the higher end of the current budget range."

More stats? If Marble Blast Ultra hypothetically sold about 120k unites: "So, 120,000 units * $10 per unit = $1.2MM... Remember, Microsoft should make something for making this cool distribution channel available, and they do take a cut. The publicly available information on this is that the distribution fees for bringing a game to XBLA is 35-70% depending upon participation by MS, i.e. the publisher gets 30-65% of the money collected for game sales."

Therefore: "Let’s say you are a publisher or a developer that is able to fund your own development, so, a $10 game (800 Gamer Points) would net you $6.50, or 120,000 units * $6.50 per unit = $780,000." Good info, here. [Via Edge Online.]

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