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October 28, 2006

Perplex City Gets Extra $$$ For Confusing Us

tjtj.jpg The newly renamed ARGNet has full details on Perplex City creator Mind Candy's $7 million round of funding for its unique CCG-based alternate reality shenanigans.

Alongside this announcement, it's revealed: "There is more Perplex City on the way! It is official. The second season of the popular game will be driving us mad sometime in early 2007. They also promise that there are loads of new Perplex City products in development including books, video games, and mobile content."

Also: "The UK-based company is also expanding beyond Perplex City and is currently working on a new puzzle brand that will be aimed at a younger demographic." I wonder how mainstream-translatable or even expandable the whole Perplex City thing is, given its elliptic, if fascinating nature, but I guess we'll see!

Welcome To New GSW Columnists!

tjtj.jpg Some of you may have noticed some new GameSetWatch columns rolling out this week, so I just wanted to thank the new columnists and introduce you to them individually.

- Firstly, Ollie Barder has started up the supremely geeky 'Roboto-chan' column, which "covers videogames that feature robots and the pop-cultural folklore surrounding them." UK native Mr. Barder has written for The UK Guardian and sometimes contributes to co-worker Brandon's Insert Credit, even. Also, he knows more about Super Robot Wars than we will ever - so stay tuned for bi-weekly hilarity!

- Next up, the infamous 3DOKid (who we've blogged about quite a bit thanks to his somewhat obsessive 3DO blog, yay) is writing a bi-weekly column simply called 'Beyond 3DO'. His first one talks about 'why the dreaded 'FMV adventure' is much more pleasant that you might actually guess', and we figure it's all gonna get crazier and more early '90s from there.

- There's also a rather fine new column, 'A Game Collector's Melancholy', from Jeffrey Fleming, which "follows the subtle pleasures and gnawing anxieties of video game collecting." I find it rather finely written, actually, and the first one discusses the Panzer Dragoon franchise, always pretty beloved among hardcore collectors. So, yeah, we cater to obsessives some more, so sue us.

- Finally, we're delighted to get Todd 'Kid Fenris' Ciolek on board to write 'Might Have Been', a neat new concept 'that explores the ways in which promising games, characters, and concepts failed'. I already like this column a lot, and the first one discusses the odd 'Tiny Tank', which I'd never really pegged in any way satirical, therefore didn't look at it further - perhaps one of its problems.

Anyhow, we just wanted to thank all our GameSetWatch columnists again, both the excellent regulars and the smart new guys - a lot of these folks are doing out of the goodness of their own heart (since we're running GSW pretty much as a renegade off-the-radar editor blog, we're crazy like that), so give 'em feedback and love and that type of thing. And we still have at least one more new column starting soon, so watch out for that.

[PS - Whoever it was who wanted to do a black&white Game Boy game review column, ping us again - we mailed you but haven't heard back.]

COLUMN: 'Might Have Been' - Tiny Tank

Toy Story 3: Rise of the Machines[“Might Have Been” is a bi-weekly column by Todd Ciolek that explores the ways in which promising games, characters, and concepts failed. This week’s edition looks at AndNow and Appaloosa Interactive’s Tiny Tank, released in 1999 for the Sony PlayStation.]

This is all your fault, Gex

It’s not clear when the mascot wars started. Some claim that Sonic kicked off everything in 1991, while others will tell you that the push to create marketable, kid-friendly game characters is as old as Pac-Man.

But whenever the trend started, it certainly hadn’t ended by the late ‘90s, when the success of company-defining faces like Parappa and Crash Bandicoot gave rise to a cavalcade of generic crocodiles, skateboarding skunks, clownish street kids, slingshot-wielding Dennis the Menace rip-offs, and even a cuddly version of the Jersey Devil. All were swiftly forgotten. Perhaps that’s what led AndNow and Appaloosa Interactive to mock the whole idea with an action-shooter called Tiny Tank. It was also swiftly forgotten.

Tiny Tank is, at first glance, an appealing game. In a setup that satirizes Cold War propaganda and adorable corporate-made shills, the irascible title tank becomes the mouthpiece for a military-industrial firm that eventually gives rise to an army of world-conquering war machines. The game's fake-commercial cutscenes, which recall the tone of Pixar movie previews more than the typical canned game intro, find Tiny and an off-camera announcer bickering over his public image, complete with bleeped-out swearing and corny ‘50s-style jingles.

And when the game’s first stage kicks in, it’s almost as entertaining to control Tiny. In spite of the aptly tank-like play scheme, he’s able to roll, strafe, jump, hover, and mount five different weapons at once, including smaller (and cuter) customizable mini-tanks. And, in keeping with the game's sense of satire, the soundtrack is interspersed with wryly amusing radio broadcasts from Tiny’s nemesis, Mutank.

tinytank1.jpgStill better than Steel Reign and Shellshock combined

Things don’t begin to fall apart until the second level. From there, it becomes increasingly obvious that the stage designs are standard issue, and that Tiny isn’t well suited to jumping challenges or quick evasion, both of which the game demands. Worse yet, the hardware can’t quite handle everything that AndNow and Appaloosa wanted, and the surroundings frequently explode into a mess of spastic polygons. Nor does it help that Tiny isn’t nearly as funny in the game as he is in the attached fake-ad rehearsals. Without anyone to play off of, he simply spouts a series of one-liners about Nirvana lyrics, that falling-and-not-being-able-to-get-up commercial, and other topics that were embarrassingly dated even back in 1999.

As a final blow against any long-lived popularity, Tiny Tank struggled even to arrive at stores. Though it was originally scheduled for an early 1999 release from MGM Interactive (whose efforts as a PlayStation publisher also brought us the god-awful Machine Hunter), they dropped the game and turned it over to Sony’s American branch, which tossed Tiny Tank out six months later. The game’s advertising was no help.

While the in-game Tiny is chirpy and vaguely upbeat, magazine spots saw an enraged Tiny bursting through a page while exclaiming “Who the %#&@ you callin’ tiny?!” and generally just not caring who he pissed off. Another oddity: the game was promoted with the subtitle "Up Your Arsenal," but the phrase appears nowhere on its actual packaging.

more like tiny STANKBecause tank games sell

In all fairness to some long-disbanded marketing team, Tiny was a hard sell from the start. While he stands out as an amusing reaction to the likes of Rascal and Bubsy, he could only go so far in the gaming industry. Too profane and subtle for children but too simple for older gamers, Tiny really wasn’t noticed by many, beyond the Official PlayStation Magazine critic who threatened to write a review consisting entirely of “SHUT THE &*!@ UP!” after hearing too much of Tiny’s in-game banter.

It’s hard to say how Tiny would’ve fared as a gaming icon, even if his game had been well-designed and consistently funny. Would it have merited a sequel? Would it have amassed a cult of deluded fans to gush about Tiny Tank from every angle and on every message board? Would we see Tiny Tank toys and bedsheets and board games and pencil-top erasers? Probably not, but considering how his first outing went, it’s flattering enough when someone remembers Tiny Tank at all.

[Todd Ciolek is a magazine editor in New York City.]

Better Late Than Never W/October's Indies

tjtj.jpg Well, we covered September's edition a few weeks back, but someone clued us in to the fact that we haven't mentioned GameTunnel's October 2006 Indie Game Round-Up yet - so now we are!

As is mentioned: "This month's article looks at eleven indie titles including the much anticipated Defcon, the insane adventure game Mr. Smoozles Goes Nutso and the perfectly retro Pizza Panic." Most intriguing, perhaps, is that Defcon doesn't snatch game of the month, with Russ Carroll interesting claiming that it's "an interesting game that looks a lot slicker than it plays."

Thus, it's left to Mr. Smoozles, which we covered a couple of months back, to take the overall top prize from the GameTunnel panelists, and apparently the gameplay on the overhead adventure game from BAFTA-winning game writer Steve Ince includes "...watching a cat running around with a gun trying to kill you as you try to keep the fabric of reality from being completely distorted." In which case, I'm in.

Is This The Scariest Game Mag Cover Ever?

tjtj.jpg UK game journo veteran and Gamasutra columnist Jim Rossignol has updated his personal blog with a pretty astounding regional magazine cover - and we thank him for it!

He explains plaintively: "Game magazine cover of the decade? And yes, this is the actual cover of the current version of PC Gamer on sale in Russia and Ukraine." The cover shows an intensely scary communist skull type thing, with the text 'You Are Empty: Straight Outta Kiev', and then some Cyrillic which we understand not, even though Game Developer magazine has a Russian version, yay.

All we do know is that You Are Empty is the name of a Russian developed FPS title, which includes outlandish claims on its official website like "Realistic physics engine and sophisticated AI system... Distinctive and lively characters", haw - whoa, and bizarre zombie nurses, according to the official gallery. We're scared.

October 27, 2006

Pom Pom's Bliss Island Looking Blissful On PSP

tjtj.jpg Sometimes I remember to go and look at video on the web by wandering across to Eurogamer.tv, which has a fairly agreeable, easy to use video system (albeit with ads in front of the videos, heh), and so I spotted some nice footage of Bliss Island for the PSP, a casual mini-game fest published by Codemasters.

Most interesting for geeks such as me is the fact that it's created by Pom Pom, the same folks who made Mutant Storm Reloaded, my favorite XBLA game to date, and are currently working on Mutant Storm Empire for X360 (YouTube video link looks yummy!)

Anyhow, here's the original press release for the PC downloadable version of Bliss Island - which is available for free download, albeit in limited trial version form, at places like AOL Games. Sure, it's not as hardcore as Mutant Storm, but it's still a neat indie-casual melange, and should be fun on PSP.

COLUMN: 'The Gentleman Nerd' - Why I'm Ever Vigilant In ... Carcassonne

[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.]

CarcassonneTile laying. That’s right, I said it. I’ll say it again: tile laying. That’s what I have to say to all of you tough guys out there. I play a game with little wooden guys that are nicknamed “meeples” and I lay tiles on a table to make countryside. And yes, I play the occasional game of patty cake. So what? I’m proud of my Carcassonne habit. You know why? It’s because I’ve seen the face of the meeple gods, my friends, and I laughed. I laughed right in their wooden faces. I’m the one who keeps you safe.

You see, because my friends have such extreme hatred of dice and cards (Brian), or just don’t like complex games, we’ve started bringing friendlier games into the fold. Most of my games are about killing things and cackling with glee. There are a few exceptions, like Robo-Rally, but overall, we’re pretty stabby. Since Puerto Rico and San Juan have been such a hit at the house, I decided we’d give this one a try too. It’s been surprisingly successful and not nearly as peaceful as I’d hoped.

CarcassonneThe idea behind Carcassonne is that you build cities and countryside. You do this by drawing tiles and then placing them where you can with the other tiles. These tiles are used to make up cities, roads and farms. Each tile has a place to put your little meeples so that they may make the most of their pathetic, wooden lives. They also get you points. What’s a meeple, you say? I’ll tell you. They are your wooden servants, and you must make them work.

Now, making your little guys work is pretty easy – you just put them on a piece of land, city or road that doesn’t have anyone else attached to it. That stakes your claim. Now, if it ends up connecting to something else that has people on it, then whoever has the most meeples on that feature gets all the points. If you tie, then you both get full points. Easy! Well, mostly easy. You see, there’s a touch of strategy to it, and if there’s even a touch, then that means that Brian and I are going to try to screw each other over. Oh well, there goes that “play nice” thing we had going on.

CarcassonneYou see, whenever there’s a large farmland, every completely walled city it touches is four (or sometimes five) points for whoever controls it. This can change the entire game. So, as you can imagine, most of mine and Brian’s time is spent trying to grab that freaking farm land and I usually lose this struggle because of skullduggery.

For instance, last time we played, I was the only one trying to stop the juggernaut that is Brian’s little yellow meeples. They were everywhere, man. I kept blocking him off and using towers to take them prisoner, but it was no use. I kept trying to get everyone to understand that it was only me, and my green meeples that were stopping that evil, yellow cloud from overshadowing the land. They didn’t listen. Everyone started feeling sorry for Brian. The damned fools. Luckily, I sacrificed myself so that he wouldn’t win, even though people were actually trying to HELP him. This made my wife, Sarah, the very surprised victor.

So, basically, thanks to selfless heroes like me, you people can play a nice game of Carcassonne without threat against your freedoms. You want my meeples on that wall. You NEED my meeples on that wall. Who’s your savior now, Jack?

[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.]

Oh Em Gee Best Imaginary Game Soundtracks Ever

tjtj.jpg I've known chiptune and video game musician Jake 'Virt' Kaufman for a while now, and have been an admirer of his soundtrack work, which spans all kinds of randomness, from the excellent Shantae for GBC through Legend Of Kay for PS2 and The OC and Lumines for mobile.

Anyhow, he's just set up a new portfolio site, and in typical insane style, has decided to do demo tracks for imaginary games - over 25 songs in total! And both the made-up game descriptions and the actual tracks are ridiculously awesome, too.

Examples: 'Project Alpha Scion - Space Shooter': "It is in 2395. You are last fighter from ADVANCE CARRIER GROUP DELTA. Your comrade have all been defeated by the sinister galaxy invaders Balagar Corp. If you strive to the rebuild society, you make you travel past many worlds and stop this evil fiend his plans! Let's make avengement!!"

Here's the Fire Level music from that imaginary game, and the level music from made-up 'cute puzzler' Glorp, and the title theme for '70s cop thriller Magnum Jenkins, and - heck, you get the idea. Go check it, darnit.

You've Got To Jump Button All Over Amped 3

tjtj.jpg A few months ago, we got a copy of Issue 1 of sumptuous Australian game culture mag (and vague Edge-a-like) JumpButton - and it was really nice, actually. Unfortunately, we never saw another one, and now we've worked out why.

Due to "various reasons - some business model-related and some personal - issue two was extensively developed and planned, but never made it into print", so the editors have been posting the articles on the official JumpButton website - and very good they are, too.

The one that I personally appreciate the most is a passionate defense of Amped 3 for Xbox 360, complete with interviews with the creators, who say things like: "My idea for having all of those different genres and influences in the game was influenced by just how ‘remote control’ we are as people now." Those with long memories may recall I was similarly entranced by the flop title (developer Indie Built later closed down even, aw) after the X360 launch.

But there's plenty of other good stuff which doesn't have anything to do with my own tastes on there, including an I Am 8-Bit curator diary, and I find it astounding I've only really seen this site linked one place (randomly via the semi-dormant GameCritics). Please spread the word!

October 26, 2006

A Game Collector's Melancholy: The Panzer Dragoon Franchise

['A Game Collector's Melancholy' is a bi-weekly column by Jeffrey Fleming that follows the subtle pleasures and gnawing anxieties of video game collecting. This week's column looks at the eminent Panzer Dragoon series.]

Panzer Dragoon

pd.jpg The year is 1995 and you are walking through a department store looking for the VCRs. Strolling past a Sega Saturn demo kiosk, you spot Panzer Dragoon out of the corner of your eye. Transfixed for a moment, you watch as a dragon swoops under a strange airship, spitting bolts of energy, tearing off huge chunks of metal which tumble and collide overhead just like that dream of a plane crash you had once. Even though you left all that video game stuff in the past, you couldn’t help but be fascinated. Panzer Dragoon was very different, hinting that games, instead of being relegated to the back closet of childhood, were about to become something really important.

Created by Team Andromeda, one of Sega’s newly-formed internal development groups, Panzer Dragoon was an early release for the Saturn console. A showcase for new 32-bit technology, the game featured gorgeously rendered cinemas, a lush, orchestrated soundtrack, and sweeping, dramatic camera moves afforded by the power of real-time polygon rendering. Although a short and relatively simplistic shooter, Panzer Dragoon seemed to inhabit a living environment that existed beyond the confines of the the TV screen.

Set in a post-apocalyptic future in which the planet has been rendered unrecognizable by genetically-engineered super technologies, Panzer Dragoon was a sophisticated mix of 60’s and 70’s science fiction filtered through the visual sensibilities of the French comic magazine Metal Hurlant. The world of Panzer Dragoon was dense, alien, and endlessly compelling. Acknowledging their creative debt to European illustrators, Team Andromeda commissioned Jean Giraud (Moebius) to provide image art for the Japanese release.

Panzer Dragoon II Zwei

pdzwei.jpg Panzer Dragoon was a commercial success and Team Andromeda followed with Panzer Dragoon II Zwei in 1996. Expanding on the promise of the first game, Zwei was a refinement in every sense. The game engine was enhanced to provide a smoother frame rate. The graphics were an explosion of retina sizzling color and the somber narrative was as memorable as the game play. As a shooter, Zwei was regarded as one of the finest. With elegant control and visual drama, it fully satisfied the pleasures of reflex and spectacle.

At the same time that Zwei was being developed, a smaller group within Team Andromeda began work on different game that would expand the franchise into new territory. As Zwei finished up, the entire team came together to create an unusual RPG called Panzer Dragoon Saga. It seemed strange for an action game to transition into cerebral role playing but the complex setting of Panzer Dragoon provided a rich background around which designers wove an epic tale.

Panzer Dragoon Saga

pdsagacover.jpg Panzer Dragoon Saga was a role playing game unlike any other. A work of true creativity, Saga dispensed with most of the standard fantasy tropes that defined RPGs over the years and instead dug deep into its own mythology to create an experience that was challenging and literate. Its game play was amazingly fun, eliminating much of the tedium that is associated with RPGs. The visuals were opalescent, almost fevered in their intensity, redolent of hashish and black light. A pulsing, electronic soundtrack underscored Saga’s oneiric vibe.

Unfortunately, circumstances were not kind to Panzer Dragoon Saga. By the time of its release in 1998, the market had shifted overwhelmingly in favor of Sony’s Playstation and retailers had all but abandoned the Saturn. As a result, Sega of America made little investment in the game’s release and with only 30,000 copies printed, Panzer Dragoon Saga quickly fell by the wayside. As Sega restructured in preparation for the Dreamcast, Team Andromeda dissolved and many of its staff joined new Sega groups including Smilebit, United Game Artists, and Artoon.

Panzer Dragoon Orta

pdorta.jpg Over the next few years, the torch for Panzer Dragoon was kept burning by fans and Panzer Dragoon Saga achieved cult status as the Greatest Game You’ve Never Played. Responding to the undiminished affection for Panzer Dragoon, Smilebit created a new game in 2003 called Panzer Dragoon Orta for Microsoft’s Xbox. Orta returned to the series roots as a shooter and utilized the new console’s graphic horsepower to push Panzer Dragoon’s hallucinatory imagery to its limits. As a bonus, Orta included a port of the Windows version of the first Panzer Dragoon game.

An Ancient Recording Device

Collecting the Panzer Dragoon series is relatively easy, with the exception of Saga. Panzer Dragoon and Panzer Dragoon II Zwei were both heavily marketed and sold well so copies should not be difficult to find. Panzer Dragoon is worth $20 and Zwei a bit more at $30. On the other hand, Panzer Dragoon Saga is extraordinarily difficult to acquire at a reasonable price. With its limited numbers and lofty reputation, expect to pay around $150 for Saga if you buy online. Be aware that Panzer Dragoon Saga contains four discs in a standard case, one on the spindle and three in cardboard sleeves.

With all Saturn games, the condition of the jewel case is very important as they are not replaceable. Panzer Dragoon Orta is still easily found at any place that sells used games so don’t pay more than $15. A soundtrack CD for Orta was released by Tokyo Pop although it is now out of print so search through used music outlets and expect to pay about $10. Completionists may want to seek out Panzer Dragoon for Windows PCs published by Expert Software, Inc. in 1997. This version is considered inferior and probably not worth more than $6.

I found my copy of Panzer Dragoon Saga at a used game store for $15. I tell you this not to gloat but to encourage everyone to put the legwork in and dig through the shops. Online auctions are not the only answer. Although the chains have long ceased buying used Saturn games, independent game stores can still be a good place to look.

pdjpn.jpg Across the Pacific, a wide range of Panzer Dragoon merchandise was sold including books, soundtrack CDs, and other assorted collectables. A Panzer Dragoon OAV was produced in 1996 which was brought to America by AD Vision. Sega created a children’s Panzer game for the Game Gear called Panzer Dragoon Mini in 1996. For the hardcore, Microsoft produced a limited run of 999 white Xboxes to coincide with Orta’s release in Japan. In a promising development earlier this year, Sega of Japan re-released the original Panzer Dragoon as Vol. 27 of its Sega Ages 2500 Compilation Catalog for the Sony Playstation 2. One can only hope that some day Sega will recognize the importance of the entire Panzer Dragoon series, and give this essential piece of game history the wide exposure that it deserves.

[Jeffrey Fleming is a Bay Area book dealer and writer. More of his writing on video games can be found at Tales of the Future.]

Star Trek Encounters Gets Vulcan Mind Probed

tjtj.jpg RoushiMSX's LiveJournal has cooked up a fun little mini-review of Star Trek: Encounters for PS2, which he describes as "a nice bargain bin surprise" - just out, and only $15 in some places, apparently.

He explains: "It's a pretty straightforward outer space top down 360 degree shooter (Armada, Subspace, Solar Winds, Zone 66, etc) with multisegmented but straightforward missions (fly to this point, defeat these enemies, escort this ship back, destory this minefield, etc) taking place in each of the Star Trek universes, allowing you to play as the major Starfleet ships and crews in each era. Also neat is how each series in the campaign is set up in chronological order, starting with the NX-01 and moving on through the different series."

Even for a vague Star Trek geek like myself, it sounds fun: "I'm midway through Star Trek The Original Series right now and I'm really enjoying blowing the sh*t out of the Klingons. :) I've heard some horror stories of the first Voyager mission though...so...we'll see."

However, Gamerankings reveals some poor reviews from the few who've managed to get hold of it - so maybe it's good if you can see through the murk of oddness? [Via Jiji.]

EXCLUSIVE: Vince Desi's Demented Cameo In The Postal Movie

So, we ran a Q&A with Running With Scissors' Vince Desi over on sister site Gamasutra, and when we asked him about Uwe Boll's 'Postal' movie, he revealed: "I just got back from Vancouver, I was on set for 2 weeks. I was most happy to see that the cast and crew were highly motivated."

You may have seen some pictures from the movie set posted on the marvellous Bollfans.de recently, including images of Zack Ward (Scut Farkus from 'A Christmas Story') as the self-same Postal 'hero' - it may be that the movie is a bit of a loose adaptation of the game, we're guessing.

Well, Desi also sent us pics from what appears to be his guest appearance in the film, in which he plays, uhm, a gigantic penis mascot called 'Krotchy' (tagline - 'Only my father and my priest can touch me there'), and wrestles the director himself, Uwe Boll, who is making a cameo in his own movie! [We just called Desi to confirm this, and he seemed very happy about it!]

I fail to see how this can get any sillier, so here's the pics to prove it.

Zack 'Scut Farkus' Ward and Postal creator Vince Desi



The delightfully civilized tag line for Krotchy, Desi's character in the flick.



Aand... here's the costume.



Vince, minus the head, getting ready to party hard..



Finally, Desi laying the smackdown on Boll in his Krotchy suit.

Second Life? Bah, Humbug!

tjtj.jpg Trawling Google News, I came across a gem of an anti-Second Life column from Darren Garnick of The Nashua Telegraph, clearly the leading Nashua-based newspaper that's based in Nashua, NH.

Garnick rages of the virtual world: "Clearly, I am not a visionary. Because I think Second Life is for losers who cannot achieve anything or pursue meaningful relationships in their first lives. At best, Second Life sounds like a rehab program. At worst, it is the ideal brand name for a satanic cult."

But wait, there's more: "The bizarre aspect of the game is that there is no universal objective. No bad guys to kill. No magic caves to explore. No alien invasion to repel. SL is marketed as real life in cyberspace. You can work hard, get in with the right social circles and become a Second Life mover and shaker. Or, you can dye your hair purple, get a tongue ring and whine about how this virtual society doesn’t understand you, either."

His conclusion? After an explanation of his 4-year-old son's 'virtual world' stories involving a “Kangatai” (a creature with the body of a tiger and the head of a kangaroo) and a “Tigerkang” (body of a kangaroo and the head of a tiger), he expectorates: "My biggest fear is that if I stop paying attention, my boy is going to grow up to become a Second Lifer. God forbid."

BUZZ Words: Nintendo's Fatal Success

[GameSetWatch is extremely proud to debut this latest exclusive article from veteran game journalist Joseph 'BUZZ' Berkley. 'BUZZ' really has the measure of today's gaming market, and this time, he takes on the obvious - Nintendo's big problem.]

Atari, Or Won't They?

Once upon a time, back when I was molding the fledgling game fandom to my will like a baby made of clay, the business side was simple. Atari was number one, and everyone else only sold consoles in Europe. Back then, the only arguments were about whether or not my reviews were fair, and the debate was settled by me not printing the rebuttals. Then the Japanese had to come in and disrupt everything. Now you've got a company that also makes audio speakers selling me video games, and I have to grope around like a blind man in a simile factory.

Now don't get me wrong, I love the Japanese. Nintendo saved gaming, and kept me in a job. Without them, I'd have gone back to the sign factory. And here I am, all these years later, living the dream. Thank you, all Japanese people.

Wii Won't Rock You

So now we have the Wii, Nintendo's latest foray into GLORIOUS home console gaming, and I couldn't be more excited. It's a shame the system is already doomed to wind up in the closet inside two years. You see, YOU are very stupid. You, and all the rest of us playing video games. Unless you can give yourself the completely superficial thrill of saying "Hey, you see this, doesn't it look awesome?", you'll become bored, and the Wii, which is only interesting in terms of gameplay, and I mean COME ON, will be picked up by the help and moved to the closet, along with your old mobile phones, and pot bellied pig.

As far as we're concerned, innovation that isn't graphical is essentially not innovation at all. And once those systems move into the closet, Nintendo will make consoles no more forever! Because Nintendo is going to learn what any high school kid knows - if you aren't popular, you might as well kill yourself.

Peter Moore is not the devil.
Do not confuse these men.

The Short Tail!

Now, I know what some of you are saying. You're saying, in that high pitched, nasal voice of yours, "But BUZZ! Doesn't Nintendo actually make plenty of money, despite having the smallest market share?" A few of you are saying "Buzz, isn't it true that Nintendo is making a concerted effort to broaden the business beyond the usual graphics only steps forward, and focus on a large, untapped market that has been shown to care very little about the graphics race, such as the older women of the booming casual games market?"

Some of the others are saying that "even Microsoft's Peter Moore (who, regardless of what you'll hear on SOME gaming blogs is NOT the devil, despite working in marketing) has admitted that the Wii's innovations will likely bring new, more casual users to gaming." and some of you, the especially obnoxious are saying "In fact, according to financial reports in the last two years, hasn't Nintendo, despite paralleling Sony in launches of handheld and home consoles, and a dramatically smaller market share, actually made more money than Sony?"

[These reports for Nintendo and Sony [make sure to check on the Games section specifically] are fairly straightforward, while Microsoft's still buries the Xbox's actual numbers, but the fact that at no point do they claim a profit on the project is PRETTY TELLING.]

In fact, in 2006, didn't Nintendo bring in $840,842,000, compared to Sony's Games Division's loss of $233,000,000, for a difference of over $1 billion in Nintendo's favor?" To these people I say "You obviously don't know much about business."

there is nothing silly in this picture
These are a serious people.

Mario Love You Long Time

Nintendo's problem isn't money, it's popularity. If Nintendo isn't cool, people will get all embarrassed. Take Spain for example. Nintendo has never been successful in any Spanish speaking country. Do you know why? Because there is no Spanish word for "silly". The closest word is more along the lines of "asinine". So describing Super Mario Brothers as a goofy little game where a man in a silly hat runs around hopping on turtles suddenly becomes an asinine game where a buffoon named Mario acts like a damn fool. This lack of respect is why there in no Nintendo of Mexico, and instead the products are distributed by a far classier company, Motta Internacional. Motta is a name you can trust!

Epic Conclusion, Here

The Wii will probably sell out this Christmas. It's already showing up on many of the Must Have holiday lists, because the games are "innovative" and "fun". But in the long run, people will realize that Xbox and PS3 are able to deliver an image quality that Nintendo can't hope to match, largely because they didn't try.

Nintendo may be comfortable at first, performing only as a financial success, but they may eventually see they can't hang with the big boys any more in the arena that really matters: abstract conceptions of cultural worth and the ability to visually impress aesthetically shallow men aged 16-28. Game over, man, game over!

[Note: It has been asserted that the preceding essay bears a more than passing resemblance in tone and phrase to another article, reported on by GoNintendo, by Robert Summa. Any similarites are either coincidental, the result of Summa's attempts to hack into the GameSetWatch servers and read unpublished draft's of Buzz's work, or some kind of elaborate cosmic joke.]

['Berkley's BUZZ' is a regular column from veteran game journo Joseph Berkley, whose illustrious career extends from the formation of Video Game BUZZ Monthly back in 1982 all the way to the founding of seminal teen game mag 'GameBUZZ - For Kids!' in 1992. More recently, he was a regular columnist for much-loved late '90s game mag Big Important Thing, and the author of self-help manual: 'BUZZ Says - Less Drugs, More Games!' His column appears regularly on GameSetWatch, and is rarely actually true. His birthday is February 29th, 1955. He is 51.]

Okami As A 'Tribute To Excess'

tjtj.jpg Clover may be gone, but people are still talking intelligently about the company's games - people such as G.Turner at The New Gamer, who contributes a wonderful essay called 'Okami: Gorging on Excess'.

It starts simply: "Okami is a game of excess. From its sumptuous hand-painted look to its litany of collectibles, every aspect of this adventure has been worked over and added to until it's bursting at the seems with originality and enthusiastic energy, but sadly also includes some redundancy and trivialities."

There is plenty more sumptuous, wonderfully considered prose here: "Every single weapon in the game has its own unique non-combat animations: one sword has a simple array of thorns that rotate up and down the blade, while a disc-weapon stunningly & perpetually breaks apart in a dozen pieces and then reforms itself. Okami is loaded, almost bloated, with these sort of extravagances and often is better for it, weaving in character nuances and making the world feel more fleshed out and alive."

He ends: "But when the excess doesn't add to the characters, when it doesn't showcase the story or the world design, when it just causes me to mindlessly increase quantities of items I'll never need, then I can't help but remark that not all of Okami is as rich as it could have been." Deep thinking++, eh?

October 25, 2006

Beyond 3DO: Calling Nostalgic Graphics Whores!

losteden.jpg [Having gained a mid-week day pass from his 3DO-specific blog, 3DO Kid peers down from his lofty tower and tries to convince you to buy games no sane man would conside. Fee now to explore beyond Hawkins' dream machine, he rambles incomprehensibly on... His first 'Beyond 3DO' column discusses why the dreaded 'FMV adventure' is much more pleasant that you might actually guess.]

What you find when you delve in to the sinister depths of the just-post-SNES, pre-PSX era - the 3DO, the CDi and the CD32, is that in many ways these machines were a Frankenstein’s Laboratory of game development. The results? Well amongst the ports, the Interactive Movies, the half-baked upgrades of the 16bit library and, of cause, the handful of actually decent titles, there is an oddity of a genre that has [crack of thunder] …no name!

I call them “Pre-rendered tat”. And they aren’t any good …to play… but as eye candy, perhaps worth a second glance if and only if, you happen to be a nostalgic graphics whore like me.

[Click through for more.]

How Real Is Too Real?

Like diamonds, I believe they are the fruits of an unnatural pressure. Why so? Well thanks to hindsight, I think I can guess: At around the time these game emerged, the insane power hungry P.R behemoths toiled day-and-night to over-sell the various technologies available. Meanwhile the ray-tracing obsessed masses bayed for photorealism. Even though they probably weren’t quite sure what that was.

The only thing that could happen did. Things turned ugly. Desperate even. Demand was high. Production times slow. The technology new. All the while Sony’s Playstation and Sega’s Saturn rumour mills were whipping everyone else into either a panic-attack or, if you prefer, into terminal Z-axis suicide lust.

The game developers for lesser machines were trapped. Caught then, so it seems, between a rock and hard place. They had to make beautiful 3D games on consoles not capable of running beautiful 3D games. The solution, for some at least, was simple. Pre-render the graphics on their shiny SGI machines, take advantage of the 16bit or 24bit graphics cards in the consoles and glue the whole bally thing to something that once ran badly on a Motorola 68000.

Pretty... Vacant?

After moments of toil and years of combined rendering time, eventually – they succeeded. Focusing on graphics and not on game-play however has a nasty side-effect. They forgot the golden rule; if a game is pretty but rubbish it only amounts to pretty rubbish.

…but I’m not going to dwell on that. You see considering their age, even today, these games have an undeniably beauty. A sort of majesty. The production values and the vision shine through in my opinion. Even if the execution is a little weak. These games have some of the most marvellous pre-rendered sequences the world had ever seen and these sequences in many cases are actually integrated into the game.

Alien landscapes sweep majestically by, the pre-rendered internal organs of a man slip past and the megalopolis of Tokyo spreads out before us. Also don’t forget those times when the first 3D Star Wars walkers stomp on by on-screen. In the right frame of mind, one can almost remember the hysteria surrounding these screen shots and for moment, with a wistful glint, you can be swept along by it again.

You see – an old graphics whore like me can’t let these games simply whither in the darkness. No! Such is my want; I thrust them back into the light for people to reconsider. To enjoy. To watch through once and never play again but at least offer them a second chance. The ones below also encompass the spectre of Interactive Movie, so what you also find is the grandiose graphics are married to equally grandiose yarns…

Our Glorious Examples

Lost Eden. Probably Cryo’s finest moment - only in my opinion, of course. The game engine is borrowed from Dune, a game by the same development team. A game that met with mixed reviews, I hasten to add (screenshot-heavy review link). Free of Herbert's storyline, however, Lost Eden manages to mix an imaginative and creative mythological story, with some uniquely styled graphics and a sound-track to die for. While plagued with load-times that would disrupt a tortoise’s patience, the game does exude a certain charm.

The production values are high and while calling it an interactive movie would be a stretch – calling it an interactive young-adult story book would be fair. But it’s the graphics - they are simply beautiful. The dinosaurs, the citadels, the snowy scenery, the creepy dungeons, they are all magnificent. The hand drawn and dubiously animated characters are OK, but it is the pre-rendered game sequences that make this a nostalgic graphics lover's dream, and this is why it is first on my list.

LostEden.jpg

The next I’d recommend is Creature Shock - a game by Argonaut (gallery link). It was the Doom 3 of its day. Not as smooth and playable, and despite being pre-rendered, graphically inferior but it is atmospheric. Claustrophobic in a good, unnerving way. Let down by an iffy first sequence. A sequence set in space with asteroids. And then to make matters worse, it has lousy controls. Still - the main dish of the game has you roaming caverns, shooting the living hell out of monsters. It is enjoyable! Well, to a point. Repetitive? Yes.

The game-play is trouser hem shallow, but the graphics hint at an Arthur C Clarke '2001' influence, and the story is very good. Junior cryptozoologists will enjoy roaming the maze of tunnels and witnessing Argonaut's wonderfully pre-rendered beasties. It’s worth in my opinion tracking a copy down simply to revel in the imagination – of which it has plenty. It's a game that I believe created by true fans of sci-fi with little interest in video games. Lots of vision, with no ability to execute on that vision. Perhaps given time and money… but hey - that never happened!

CreatureShock.jpg

Cyberia. A game (gallery link) that puts the chore into sudden death. Die. Repeat. Die. Repeat. Die. Repeat. It really is the Charlie Manson of video games. That aside - those that remember it, may remember that it seems to be a tribute to the film and book Firefox, and has you pinching a top secret aircraft. It is all jolly awful until you get into the air. At this point Interplay, and Xatrix seem to have achieved what no-one else ever did- except for maybe Namco and much later Nintendo.

Heck, it's an on-rails, pre-rendered shooter, that actually seems controllable, achievable and fun. And other verbs you don’t usually associate with the genre. As your craft sweeps over the targets, the pointer moves easily and the shooting is reasonably accurate. Also, when your craft turns at the end of a run you are treated to pre-rendered flyby of a very nice, very well presented, futuristic aircraft. It’s all sown together well and is as cheap as chips on eBay to buy. How could you go wrong?

Again, given a little more execution this could have been the Metal Gear Solid of its day. Instead, today, it is the moist pre-rendered graphics fantasy of 'old man rotten crotch'. That's me.

cyberia.jpg

Falling Over On Quality Street

…but they can’t all have been rubbish – can they? Erm. Well. Yes. Granted – in terms of play enjoyment, the highest level any of these pre-rendered games ever mustered was probably mediocre. Still, some are more mediocre than others. So it’s a great shame that even today on the plethora of bulletin boards and forums dedicated to retro gaming, that interest in this orphaned branch on the evolutionary tree of video games is practically non-existent.

Others of note that galloped from pre-rendered stable? Well, Novastorm. You can watch the splendid alien worlds roll impressively by for a few quid. And the urban (I can't believe I used that word) post apocalyptic graphics. Worth the money? Well – hmmm. There is no game to talk of, but the music isn't bad.

Next, I suppose? Well - you could get a copy of Microcosm and you can sit for 10 minutes and watch the delectable pre-rendered introduction. You shouldn’t trouble yourself with much more than that, though. Although armed with a cheat or FAQ you can be one of the few people on the planet to have actually witnessed the rather splendid end of level bosses Microcosm does have to offer.

An omission that some will whinge about for me not mentioning is obviously D, by Warp. It's a short-lived, cult classic sort-of survival horror - that most decent people will have played anyway. And the game was pre-rendered by a chap that went on to do Shadow of Colossus. Others may mention Hell - a pre-rendered star spangled cyber-interactive movie. That is just too slow going. …and when I say slow….geez.

Conclusion

I could go on and on.

All I'm suggesting is that people track them down. Are they games worth playing? That is debatable. It probably helps if you don’t hope for anything from the game play department. At least then you won’t be disappointed. But are they art? Stories? Experiences? Yes – undeniably. I admire the effort and the fantastic imagination. They are a small part of gaming history worth remembering, in my opinion.

[3DO Kid runs the only active 3DO blog on the internet, with the self made goal of reviewing, in one manner or another, the entire 3DO back catalogue. He's a bit crazy, really.]

Atari Action Galore At VGXPO In Philly

tjtj.jpg I believe some Game Developer staffers will be at VGXPO in Philadelphia this weekend (our associates are running a neat Game Career Seminar there), but separately of that, Atari Age has revealed some Atari-related retro goodness going on at the fun-looking consumer game show.

The explain: "Atari, Inc. has teamed up with AtariAge, AtariMuseum.com, and AtariProtos.com to bring an Atari-sponsored classic gaming booth to the VGXPO taking place on October 27-29th at the Valley Forge Convention Center near Philadelphia. At this booth you'll be able to meet and talk with Atari executives, including Chairman and Chief Creative Officer Bruno Bonnell, play and buy the latest Atari homebrew games, examine, play and learn about various prototype games, and learn more about Atari's rich past."

What's more: "Awesome Arcades will also be on hand with several of their new arcade cabinets that you can try firsthand. In addition, you'll be able to sign up to win one of 100 Atari Flashback 2 game consoles being given away! " Nice to see Atari playing nice with Atari Age and the other 'keepers of the flame', here.

Red Vs. Blue Makes Green, Haw

tjtj.jpg Another good article on The Escapist from Allen Varney, then - this one is about Red Vs. Blue's machinima triumphs, and the promise of the machinima scene in general, and includes a slightly awkward Cartoon Network vs. Rooster Teeth cost comparison at the start.

But from then on it's pretty much gold, with machinimartist Hugh Hancock noting of the group's significant fan base: "The impact of RvB on comedy machinima has been considerable, and on Halo machinima, huge... no one has really equaled Rooster Teeth's success. They're a medium-sized community on the web themselves, above, beyond and separate from the rest of the machinima scene."

There's a nice conclusion, too: "Often, by the time we hear of fortunes being made in a new way, it's already too late to get in. But in machinima, the barrier to entry remains absurdly low, the need for professionalism desperate. If you're funny or interesting, can voice-act well, and produce reliably over the medium term - and you don't quit - there's absolutely nothing blocking you from success."

Uncle Monsterface Blasts Wii Tribute Album

tjtj.jpg More important breaking Wii news, as follows: "We, Uncle Monsterface, sock puppet rock and roll extravaganza, are releasing an online album dedicated to Nintendo, set to release in tandem with the Wii... and we thought you might find such a crazy endeavor interesting." Us? Never!

Wait, let's read on: "In addition to being a bizarre sock puppet rock band, Uncle Monsterface are a bunch of Nintendo fanboys. And they're gonna prove it... Featuring the full length songs: I'm Sorry (But Your Princess Is In Another Castle); Bring Back the Eggplant Wizard (song for Gunpei Yokoi); and MIYAMOTODE,the album will also feature short songs dedicated to the land of Hyrule (Zelda) and Samus Aran (Metroid)."

It's explained: "The album will release via snocap.com as a download-only purchase with each track costing under $1." But more importantly, Uncle Monsterface have opened for Harry & The Potters, which makes them about as geek-rock as it's possible to be in this day and age - and the early MP3 sample of 'Miyamotode' indicates that we're dealing with some extremely broken minds. Make of this what you will!

October 24, 2006

COLUMN: 'Parallax Memories' – The Brawler

Final Fight CD Box['Parallax Memories' is a regular 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 Capcom and Sega's Brawlers: Final Fight and Streets of Rage!]

I can't, in this column, talk about God Hand (or any other excellent current game), so I figured I may as well discuss its roots. In the early nineties, brawlers (aka beat-'em-ups or fighters) weren't new; they were a heavily copied formula. Of all of them, two stand out as notable because they were major selling points in what was, at that time, a "next-generation" console war. These games were Streets of Rage for the Genesis (titled Bare Knuckle in Japan) and Final Fight for the SNES.

What these games had was the ability to punch, kick, and hit punks, rockers, and ne'er-do-wells in the face, and other body parts. The primal and visceral act of pummeling someone, especially a bad guy, cannot be matched by jumping on their heads or selecting from menus. Even adding a sword as a permanent weapon completely changes the feel of the attack in these games. That instinctive action of clenching your hand into a fist and tenderizing a body part can only be properly evoked by a direct button hit that brings your rage to life on the screen. Doing this to twenty-five baddies in about one minute only increases the sensation.

ffight.pngFIGHT!

Brawlers are instantly classifiable as cheesy. They're entrenched in (debatably) bad machismo action films from the eighties and late seventies, with a just hint of anime influence. No one attempts to justify why the President was captured or whether you are a bad enough dude to get him back. These are just accepted at face value and have gone into videogame (and film) history as what some people like to call "campy" or even "corny." The game puts you into the shoes of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jackie Chan, Chuck Norris, and Sonny Chiba. We’re not in high-brow territory here.

And what sets Final Fight and Streets of Rage apart is … well, honestly not that much. But they are of the best in the genre, specifically the best of that era. Both have these absolutely ridiculous stories (only heightened by the full voice acting for the Sega-developed Final Fight CD), each one synthesizing about fifteen action flicks. In Final Fight, the mayor's daughter is kidnapped by the evil gang that Mayor Haggar (who is one of the playable characters, mind you) refused to "play ball" with. Streets of Rage involves a group of vigilantes who want to take back the streets from crime that has gone so far as to corrupt even the local police.

Both games have you finding food in garbage cans, fighting punks with outrageous clothing and hairstyles, and temporarily using improvised weapons to get the job done faster. The games also shared the same amount of releases per system, a trilogy for each. There was obviously some brawler-specific competition going on between Sega and Nintendo, even if Final Fight wasn’t a Nintendo property. As the series progressed, they started to come into their own a little more. FF stayed truer to its original form and remained more closely based in reality for setting and enemies. SoR, on the other hand, grew more and more ridiculous. Though by this time these trilogies and completed, most people had already chosen their console of choice, and it was probably made based on Sonic and Mario more than Haggar and Axel.

streets_of_rage_3.gif
Let's Rock!

Slowly, games became more self-aware. They started to make fun of their earlier days, when they were still gaining health from turkeys found in back-alley garbage cans. With the introduction of 3-D, characters became "more realistic," and the Uncanny Valley began separating them further from our empathic desire to feel fist on flesh like we used to. In Final Fight and Streets of Rage, the brawler was at the top of its game; what happen to us gamers to make us stray from it?

It'd be hard to pin down what brawlers did to make people like them less; it's easier to point out what they didn’t do. When most gamers' tastes were changing with in the current and "next" generations, brawlers were short, repetitive, uninspired, clichéd, and corny. Or at least that’s what reviewers were saying they were after their receptive peak. So it's a real shame that when a company decides to bring this kind of game back and fix the genre's problems (well, not the clichéd and corny parts, but those are welcome to stay) with God Hand that many people are going to over look it, too.

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

Independent Games Summit @ GDC 2007 Announced

igf2k7.gif We just posted this up on IGF.com, and it's well worth reposting here:

"Some of you may have spotted the news on Gamasutra that the Game Developers Conference 2007 website is open for business. As part of the new offerings for 2007 is a 'mysterious' new event on the Monday and Tuesday of GDC, called the Independent Games Summit. Well, the description speaks for itself:

'Featuring lectures, postmortems and roundtables from some of the most notable independent game creators around, including many of the Independent Games Festival finalists for this year, the Independent Games Summit seeks to highlight the brightest and the best of indie development, with discussions ranging from indie game distribution methods through game design topics, guerrilla marketing concepts, student indie game discussions, and much more.'

This means that we'll have the Summit on the Monday and Tuesday (March 5th-6th, 2007), and then the Festival Pavilion itself open on the Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday of GDC (March 7th-9th), meaning an excellent few days of indie content for all. We'll be rolling out further specifics on the content and inviting people to speak over the next few weeks. If you have content suggestions/ideas, please contact us - we'd love to hear about them!

[There are also two special new GDC passes to help usher this indie era in, with the IGS Expo Pass, which'll get you into the Summit earlier in the week and then the GDC Expo/Festival area later in the week, for a pretty darn affordable $275 before Jan. 31st. The IGS Classic Pass is also available for those who want to attend all the talks at GDC proper, as well as the Summit.]"

Super Sonic Racing With Jacques, Davis

tjtj.jpg Thanks to UK PR gem Alison Beasley for relaying the VITAL UKR-relevant information!: "TJ Davis to guest at Richard Jacques gig during GameCity '06." The Iain Simons-organized event is looking pretty smart as it is, but now... wow.

It's explained: "As if it weren't enough that games music legend Richard Jacques was performing exclusively at the launch festival in Nottingham - today GameCity is ecstatic to announce a very special guest star at the event. During the candle-lit recital 'SEGA: A RETROSPECTIVE' Richard will be joined by none other than fellow music legend TJ Davis, thereby forming a collective of legends." OF LEGENDS, we tell you.

"Acclaimed vocalist TJ has worked with artists as diverse as Gary Numan, D:ream and Blur - although she is most renowned in the videogames world for her work with Richard on Sonic R and Metropolis Street Racer. TJ commented, 'I'm so excited to be able to perform with Richard at GameCity. Having performed all over the world with some of the greatest artists, it's a dream come true to finally be performing my videogame work in a 14th Century Church.'"

Here's the ridiculously classic TJ-starring 'Super Sonic Racing' [.MP3] from Sonic R (ta Super Sonic Sanctuary) - good lord, and the official R.Jacques concert page says it's only 5 quid to get in, too.

So really, I'm expecting all GSW readers in Europe to turn up and then send us reports. Except you, Zorg, we've intercepted your plans and will be sending Peter Moore in a ski mask to 'deal' with you.

MMOG Nation: Citizen Spotlight on AFK Gamer

['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 focuses on a single individual in the MMOG commentary blogosphere, a 'sidebar' column called Citizen Spotlight.]

- As an alternative to my usual commentary, this week (and again in the future) I'm going to be highlighting worthy blogs that deal with Massively Multiplayer games. While even folks not overly interested in the genre may have heard of the likes of Scott 'Lum' Jennings and Raph Koster, there is an entire ecosystem of smaller sites out there well worth investigating.

Today I'm going to highlight some of the best posts from the site AFK Gamer. Foton, the anonymous blogger behind the site, is a talented writer, a funny guy, and a very jaded game hag. Read on for links to the best of AFK Gamer, a short interview with the man himself, and a very worthwhile way to waste a Tuesday.

[Click through for more.]

AFK Who?

Foton very kindly agreed to an AIM interview, where we talked about gaming, life, and ... umm ... gaming.

Michael: Hey man, thanks for doing this.
Foton: No problem. I have to patch Burning Crusade again for the 18th time, so no rush.

Michael: What is your day job?
Foton: I'm in charge of a creative team for a design house, CPA by education and training. We do product design, marketing, and advertising. We manage the product from start to finish.
Michael: Are you married?
Foton: I'm not married, but I have been in a long-term relationship for about 10 years.
Michael: Besides writing and gaming, do you have any hobbies?
Foton: Photography. I need to start ebaying to feed that hobby. And sports, too .. I'm originally a Chicago homie. Da Cubs, Da Bears, Da Hawks.

Michael: So, how many Massive games would you say you've seriously played?
Foton: I've played MageStorm, EverQuest, Dark Age of Camelot, Shadowbane, Anarchy Online, Asheron's Call (and a little bit of 2), Star War Galaxies, and World of Warcraft.
Michael: Of them, which would you say has been your 'favorite'?
Foton: Probably WoW, althogh time has fogged my bad memories from EQ, so it's a close 2nd. Each (except Shadowbane, and the Asheron's Call games) are a favorite in their own way.
Michael: Even .... Galaxies? :)
Foton: Yeah. I played SWG before the redo's, the craft and auction system was stellar. I had a great PVP group there, too.

Michael: What got you into ... MageStorm was your first game, right?
Foton: Yeah, it was. I got into it because AOL did some promo when they added games, so I tried it out. I was about 19 at the time, before Everquest came out.
Michael: Besides the promo, what was it about Mage Storm that appealed?
Foton: Well, it was a PVP capture the flag type thing, we had a group of regular players every night (none of who I knew RL) so we had some solid rivalry.

Michael: Gotcha. And when EQ came along, the group went there so you went along?
Foton: Oh yeah. Our leader kinda guy (no guilds in those days, no formal guilds) told us all about EverQuest and how wonderful our lives would be there and what server to start on and bla bla. I remember the most exciting thing to us about EQ was that we could make unique (for its day) looking characters. In MS, there were only 4 to choose from.
Michael: This was the group you stayed with through your whole run of the game?
Foton: We stayed together up until about level 30ish, then some quit, some joined other guilds. A few guys I stuck with to max level 50.

Michael: What is it about the Massive genre that appeals to you? Your 'game hag' stories make it apparent that you find drama annoying (as anyone would) so what makes you keep playing?
Foton: That's true, it is annoying. However, it's also what's so entertaining. As long as it doesn't involve me, I get a big laugh out of it. I guess that's why i prefer multiplayer to single. People watching.

Michael: What made you start the blog?
Foton: I assumed that might be one of your questions, and when I was buying steaks today, I was trying to remember.
Foton: As I recall, the SWG guild was realizing that PVP was not going to be as fun with the impending combat redo and we knew WoW was coming, so there was a month or 2 there where I had no gaming to do. My stupid friend wouldn't let me have access to his Warcraft beta, so I just started writing some of the things I remembered from past games to while away the time until WoW. I had done some game writing prior on guild websites, the Grumpy series in SWG, bla bla, so wasn't completely foreign to me.

Michael: Once things had gotten rolling for you in the game, what made you keep writing?
Foton: I guess because I want to remember some of these things that happen to me. Some times I'll read back through old things i've written and have a chuckle myself. "Oh, I remember that douchebag! Wonder what ever happened to him?" Kinda like an /ignore list, with greater detail. :)

Michael: What would you say is your proudest moment from a Massive game? The one youll be telling the grandkids about.
Foton: Well I'd have to clean up the language for the grandkids. I guess there'd be a bunch of them, all involving game accomplishments that i didn't think we could do or took for-f'ing-ever. The bard epic in EQ took me forever, was my 2nd main. First nefarian kill in WoW, first time other SWG players complained about my pvp guild on the forums. The EQ bard epic was the first time i swore in a good way in EQ. That's probably my favorite. I felt good about that for days. Now of course, I realize it would have been better to cure cancer or write a Pulitzer novel, but hell, it was THE BARD EPIC.

Michael: On the flip side (and I know there are lots to sort from here) what was your absolute worst experience in a Massive game?
Foton: Worst game was hands down, Shadowbane. Worst moment in a game i otherwise liked. Let's see ... I was level 59 in EQ and I had to be dragged away from exp'ing for a guild raid. The F'ing dragon kills me outside Temple of Veeshan (not an uncommon experience), so i lost a lot of experience. A cleric zones out to rezz me so the exp loss isn't so bad and my corpse is bugged. Too bad for me, hours of work down the EQ drain. I petitioned a GM, the whole bit, he goes 'too bad for me' and I was livid. Threw stuff, swore, searched for my EQ CDs so i could crack them in half ... We all had many such moments in Everquest, but that was the worse one for me. I never again raided when I didn't have sufficient overage on XP so i wouldn't lose level.

Michael: Okay .... so WoW is pretty much the favorite. Why is that?
Foton: Well, World of Warcraft is the true EverQuest 2, in my opinion.
Michael: Second verse, same as the first, only better?
Foton: Yeah. A more polished EQ. The same things that bugged the shit out of us in EQ (most of them), same things we loved, nicer looking pixels.
Michael: You play Alliance, right?
Foton: yep
Michael: What race be your rogue?
Foton: Human
Michael: If I recall, you hit 60 with your first character about February of 2005. Sooo...how many 60s do you have on your account now?
Foton: I have 2 accounts, one 60 on each. other characters are various level 40ish, 30ish. The other 60 is a human priest. When we don't have enough healers to raid, I get to haul out the priest to save the day.
Michael: Do you take on a role in raids, generally?
Foton: I've made a concerted effort to avoid a leadership position, I just dont dig it. I'm happier being the comic relief when we wipe, but i do my share of yelling too.
Michael: The word from the Burning Crusade beta has been that the playing feild is going to get leveled by the new loot. Do you approve?
Foton: Yeah! I think it's good. 40 man raids should not be the future. People much prefer, and it's much easier, to raid 5 man, like DM. who doesn't love Dire Maul? 25 man, I can take. Much less admin and overhead.
Michael: You going to do some house cleaning in a few months? I think guilds are going to look pretty different this time next year.
Foton: Many in the guild are getting nervous, which I love. Maybe they'll stop whining and sucking. We're just gonna let them read the writing on the wall. Team A will get into the BC raids, everyone else can sit on the wait list. I think we'll see more guilds raiding end game with smaller numbers, which is good.

Michael: Okay ... I think that's pretty much all I had. Is there anything that you want AFK Gamer readers to know, or say to them?
Foton: Yes, to the Warcraft widows that keep commiserating on my blog in that one thread .... THIS BLOG IS ABOUT OBSESSIVE GAMING, perhaps you should commiserate elsewhere! Jesus, do they not see that irony? :)

Michael: Thanks, man. Enjoy your steaks!
Foton: Take care! Keep up the good fight.

AFK Noob

Honesty is probably one of the watchwords I'd used to describe Foton's writing style. Even though he's a vet of every game between here and UO, he's still a noob like the rest of us on day one. His first day in WoW was as memorable as it was for any of us, but his first day in Guild Wars ... that's just funny.
Foton:"Is it just me or are these maps and the radar worthless? guildanswer: I dunno, but not just you. How do I get back to town? guildanswer: INSTAPORT, click the town on map! Ok, that we know. We have thrown off the shackles of virtual travel and are loving every minute of it! Good thing I have low expectations because I can safely say … this is the most counter-intuitive game since … since AO. Not good. In fact, unless my memory has completely failed me, AO had an edge in intuitive over Guild Wars. Maybe more to follow as I attempt to accomplish something (anything!?). It’s entirely possible that I could arrive at max level in this game and STILL have no idea what I’m doing."

Learn 2 Play

As an end-game raider and a veteran of most of the big Massive titles to have been released, his advice about life as a player is always well seen. At the same time, his genuine affection for the genre never makes him come off as jaded or overly cynical ... except when he obviously is. Where another person would use endless jargon and shout 'Learn2Play' at anyone not hip to the lingo, he has thoughtfully provided tooltip assistance for many of the MMOG-specific terms used on his site. Some of his practical instructive posts include protocols on teamspeak useage, why selling assets on eBay can be disruptive if you're a guild member, and the dangers of loose lips even in Massive Games. He also has tips on how to join a guild, and why you'd want to, some of the sick thinking that can go into guild recruitment, and some of the colourful characters you'll meet once you're in. Foton's not like other teachers though: he'll tell you the truth.
Foton:"This is no time for roleplaying winky dinks. You could quest your way through a tough level, you could raid your way through, you could even roleplay for the crowd. (I thought you wanted to be done?) Just grind it out. Set up in a spawn-rich camp and kill. There is no substitute."

Make the Game Right

As an old gaming hag, of course he's going to have opinions on game mechanics. As he says 'I shouldn't have to write these down', but just the same, he asks developers to play their own game, to make a travel system that works, and to, y'know, have an actual customer service system. Beyond that, of course, as a MMOG player he's honor-bound to bitch about patch notes, and question 'The Vision'.
Foton:"Further proof that World of Warcraft is EverQuest in a shiny wrapper … take a look at a partial list of the items available in the Ahn’Qiraj instances. See the books, codices and tomes? Weee, upgraded spells and skills are buried in an instance! Hurray. Because that was such a fabulous idea in EQ, it’s bound to be just as popular in Warcraft. O_O"

AFK Reporter

Most of his posts aren't so ranty, which is one of the truly enjoyable elements of reading the site. In fact, he's more than willing to share his affection for the genre with folks who can't be on hand for big events or trends. The Gnomish Warrior protest from so long ago had Foton live and in Ironforge for the event. Likewise, he was there to share with us the laggy joy of the opening of AQ on the Medivh server.
Foton: "I listened (read) the zone chat from the natives jawing about ‘ZOMG the lag is unbelievable’, even though Cow Network News has had better ping in Medivh’s Silithus than on our home server in the instances. Whatever, maybe Medivh usually has 50 ping, because I averaged around 100 in Silithus with dozens of cows milling about so Medivh must usually have the best ping on the planet."

Hag Stories

Mostly, his posts aren't ranty or informative so much as freaking hilarious. As he himself has said, the endgame is a gold mine for comedy, and he mines that vein for all it's worth. Some of his earliest posts involved the guild drama he'd seen in his EQ days. Those days weren't pretty, with do-it-yourself porn, lying, cheating, and stealing, and dissolved marriages just some of the low points.
Foton: "Few more days pass, and one of our more industrious guildmates makes a character on our Guild Leader’s home server and does some snooping around with the /who all command. Sure enough, there he be, running around the common gathering area, auctioning off the purloined lewt, which also now includes the entire guild bank. (thanks for stopping!) As our industrious guildie put it so well and so succinctly, “Wow, he really had a lot to sell.”"

Multi-part tales are some of AFK Gamer's strongest posts. After he'd settled into WoW, he became discontent with the way of the world. So, Foton tells the tale of how he and his fellow gamers went from a guild with the consistency of cookie dough to their own outfit carved out of wood.
Foton: "What a difference a year can make. Then, we were an allied little raiding guild, dependent in many ways on our allies and they on us. Now, we are the smallest endgame raiding guild on our server, still just a bunch of scrubs, only mere weeks behind the top dogs. That could change in Naxxlerammahamma — we’ll see."

Even once he was in a solid guild, the drama didn't end. An attempted insurgency led to former guildmates sleeping with the enemy. As you'll quickly learn reading through Foton's archives, that's not the kind of thing he lets stand.
Foton: "We scheduled Ahn’Qiraj 20 for the first off-raid night of the week purposely. The guild alts and recruits needed some of the upgraded books/spells in the zone and also, there’s nothing quite like free loot to shut people up when guildchat has become a bitchfest. To prove we were serious about shutting people up with free loot, the head raidleader volunteered to run the shindig, which is usually beneath him, but this was all about restoring the guild to order."

Of course, Foton himself isn't above some ... possibly questionable in-game moments himself, with money, violence, and bad manners marring his otherwise perfect record. But then, that's to be expected. After all ... absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Foton: "About three or so years ago, I was an EverQuest guide. Hard to believe, I know: how in the world did he get through Sony’s rigorous screening? and, why in the world would he want to get through Sony’s rigorous screening? Short answers. The screening was mostly: can you type and have you printed out the 149-page Guide Manual? As to the why … I was in between hardc0re raiding guilds, I was burned out and I thought it might be interesting ... "

[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. ]

GameSetCompetition: Win A Game Boy Camera!

- Aha, it's time for the next GameSetCompetition, and this one is for something I picked up when I was in Japan for Tokyo Game Show - a pristine-ish Game Boy Camera in box, for all your retro several-shades-of-gray picture hilarity!

As you can see if you squint at the above picture (the camera is posed next to my Chinese WoW Coke bottle and various other weird things, yes), Superpotato in Osaka was blowing out Game Boy Cameras for just 200 yen (yep, under $2), so I really couldn't resist picking a couple up. Of course, I have one already (and used to do Game Boy Camera galleries like my life depended on it, until I lost the PC connection cable), so I don't need 'em - so a lucky GSW reader will inherit this one!

The question this time round is pretty simple:

"How many pictures can the Game Boy Camera hold in its titanically large 1 megabit SRAM memory?"

Please send your answers to editors@gamesetwatch.com any time before Monday, October 30th at 12 noon PST. There will be one winner randomly picked from the correct answers, the judges' decision is final, and that's that. Have fun!

October 23, 2006

COLUMN: 'A Life In Obscurity' - A Maid is Not Enough

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Our buddy Jiji ran out of stuff to post for his 'Compilation Catalog' column, so we're calling it 'A Life In Obscurity', and he'll alternate random D3 musings with compilation round-ups and other odd reviews, semi-regularly. Only on GSW! Because only we're crazy enough!]

It's a trap!It's not often that a Simple 2000 game has recognizable - or even mildly appealing - characters. More often than not, Simple 2000 characters simply represent archetypes or attempt to imitate well-known characters from full-priced games. But when a game in this series has characters that are so appealing that they make one want to ignore the overall quality of the game, it's clear that the developer has done something right. Such is the case with last August's release of Simple 2000 Series Vol. 105: The Maid Uniform and Machine Gun - and, indeed, there's a lot to ignore if one expects to have much fun with the game at all.

[Click through for more.]

D3 Publisher hired Rideon, developers of the anime-based Gunslinger Girl games, to develop this action game. Anime fans will probably recognize this game's setup right away: an android maid is sent back in time by her creator to rescue his young self from a kinky evil android, who's been sent back in time to capture the young master. Yuuki travels through eight levels set in mansions, European cities, and the countryside, fending off various robot foes, from child-sized female 'droids to big worker-bots.

You can't say that she didn't give it her best...Yuuki is charmingly animated and well-modelled, and it's pleasing to just see her running around doing her thing. She's somewhat clumsy and more than a little ditzy, so she presents a vulnerability that's almost immediately endearing. At the same time, the wide range of moves available makes her fun to watch when her player's on top of his or her game. The enemies nearly all have a very cute, rounded, and some of the larger robots recall the colorful style of the Mega Man Legends (and Tron Bonne) games.

Maid's mechanics ape Devil May Cry most noticeably, though the colorful environments and characters recall 16-bit platformers more than gothic beat-'em-ups. Yuuki carries a samurai sword in addition to the titular machine gun, and the sword can be used to carry out a few different short combo attacks. There's also a sniper rifle for slower, more powerful gun attacks, and a rocket-launcher special attack is activated by mashing L2 and R2 together. On top of that, there's a dodge that's activated with the triangle button. When it's well-timed to an enemy's attack, Yuuki dodges to one side with a flourish, and machine-gun attacks can be chained onto a dodge for a quick counterattack. Finally, there's an almost-inexplicable move called "Maid Style" that's triggered by clicking R3. It does nothing but make Yuuki pull out her broom and start cleaning, right in the middle of battle. There seems to be no purpose for it, other than to allow the player to show off a little and gain a better end-of-level rating.

The camera's never actually this close during gameplay.These ratings give Maid a good deal of its replay value. At the end of a level, the player's performance is rated in categories like damage taken, shots fired, combo count, Maid Style, and so on. High overall ratings are the requirements for most of the game's unlockables, which include new weapons and new outfits.

Unfortunately - and here's where things start to go south - Maid's just not that fun to play at a high level. Most of the depth of gameplay the developers tried to impart is just not well-developed enough to make for a fun game. If you're not trying to conserve ammunition - necessary for a high rating in the 'bullets used' category - it's easiest to just run around a level wasting everything with the machine gun. Nothing but the bosses puts up much of a fight against that approach, and even the bosses are mostly just exercises in tedium. Most enemies only present the barest of challenges. They mostly stand around waiting for the player to attack them, and they give ample warning when they intend to take offensive action. The game's unpredictable collision detection makes matters worse when player relies on the sword, and enemies take so many hits to kill with sword attacks that going for a no-bullets clear is an exercise in tedium.

aughaughaugh make it stopThe level design is about as dull as can be: the player moves from one boxy room to another, exterminating wave after of beat-'em-up-style wave of the same enemies. The fixed, rail-locked camera is about as flaky as such a camera can be. Action sometimes ends up taking place halfway offscreen, and area transitions are often pretty jarring. Between action stages are a few Silent Scope-style sniping missions that involve knocking out enemy cars and robots approaching the young master's mansion. The control in these sections is nothing short of sloppy, and there's not much substance to them at all: just aim (when the game feels like letting you take aim) and fire. Plus, they're easily the ugliest sections of this often-unattractive game. The game is very short; its eight levels can be completed in two hours or so, which makes it an ideal length for replays. This would be a boon to Maid if the game were any fun to play at a high level.

It's a shame that a character as cute as Yuuki has been wasted on a half-developed game like this. The game imparts the impression that the developers cared a lot about their creation and tried to do well with what they had, but weren't quite prepared to bring a game to completion under constraints the Simple 2000 series brings. With this series, there's always the hope that a sequel or upgrade will allow developers to turn a flawed first effort into a finished product. Better luck next time, guys.

[Trevor Wilson is a web developer, freelance game journalist, and amateur game developer who indulges his unhealthy obsession with obscure, strange, and unique video games over at his weblog, namako team.]

MSX Classics Get Wooomb-like Western Versions

- You may remember, back at TGS, we covered the chiptune concert at the D4 Enterprise booth, partly to promote the 1-chip MSX and D4's digital download services.

Well, now the company's European counterpart, Bazix, has announced the launch of a digital download platform named Woomb.net, which offers legal downloads of localized MSX titles, at prices that seem to be around 8-9 euros ($10-$11) per game - it all runs through a custom launcher, though, so I'm not sure you get get ROMs, as such.

The press release explains: "At its start, WOOMB.net already offers several titles licensed from D4 Enterprise, such as Aleste (Power Strike), the Golvellius and Hydlide series, Laydock and Zanac. "Many Japanese software producers like Compile, Microcabin and T&E Soft are enthusiastic about the network and have already joined in", says Bart Schouten of Bazix, "Our goal is to add a large selection of classic games from Europe and the USA to WOOMB.net and Amusement Center as well.""

COLUMN: 'Roboto-chan!': Fear the Final Cougar 10/23/06

['Roboto-chan!' is a fortnightly column by Ollie Barder which covers videogames that feature robots and the pop-cultural folklore surrounding them. The first column discusses how Japanese video game series Super Robot Wars actually has palpable continuity effects on the classic Japanese robots it features within it.]

Final Dancouga

We haven’t long to wait until this majestic piece of poseable plastic makes its way into retailers (in Japan). The thing is, the history behind Final Dancouga is a bit complex. Roll back to 1985 and a new super robot anime TV series is in its heyday, by the name of Choujuu Kishin Dancouga it features four mechanical animals that combine to form the eponymous Dancouga itself.

The show was different than most super robot fare, namely it being released in 1985 and not 1975 and the fact that the Dancouga didn’t appear until half way through the series (not to mention that the initial combination was a total disaster and almost resulted in the mecha’s total destruction).

Oh No, Black Wing!

The second and more controversial aspect of Dancouga was its uber upgrade. This was the Black Wing, a large and transformable plane, that ultimately was to hitch up with Dancouga and form the somewhat kickass Final Dancouga. Unfortunately towards the end of the series Alan Igor sacrificed himself and the Black Wing, leaving millions of Japanese children sitting silently aghast in front of their televisions.

As they got older, some of these children eventually went to work for a company called Banpresto and decided that it was their remit to write anime history as it bloody well should have been. Almost every instance that Dancouga has appeared in a Super Robot Wars game has resulted in the upgrade to Final Dancouga along with a menu of uniquely potent attacks, even as recently as Alpha 3 and J. To the point now that a demand for this game only version of an anime heirloom be given toy form.

Licensing is a funny beast in Japan (or in this case five transforming mechanical beasts). Super Robot Wars is a series of games that started in 1991 and was basic anime otaku wish fulfilment; place mecha from disparate series in one turn based strategy game and let them high five their way to victory. Super Robot Wars has since grown and endured off this premise and has matured into a varied and vibrant series of games.

Super Robot Geeks

The secret with this license is that each of the mecha are unique and consequently have specific attributes that can be given gameplay form. Having all the different anime series produces often hundreds of units each with vibrantly diverse attributes. In addition, knowing the anime they come from often adds to strategic planning, for instance the Ideon feeds off the destruction of its compatriots and subsequently unleashes the full horrific wrath of the Ide.

Do you knowingly sacrifice your units to awaken this horrific power or use other means to vanquish the forces of evil (consequently the Dancouga feeds of the destruction of enemy units, which is from the anime as the pilots get angrier so the Dancouga becomes more powerful, so there’s balance at work here).

Super Robot Wars also has fed itself back into the anime fold; both Mazinkaiser and Shin Getter Robo originally appeared in Super Robot Wars games before being graced with their own anime series.

Comebacks Through Robot Wars

Super Robot Wars has also acted as a catalyst for the revival of certain shows. Take Dancouga for example: you play through a game such as Alpha 3 and have the story from that series laid bare in concise chunks over the course of several stages. Follow that on with using the Cougar and laying majestic waste to a veritable robotic army and you crystallise the interest in the host work.

This then has the affect of said players going out and buying (or trying to buy, some aren't readily available these days) the series. They then go back and play the next game and understand more of the narrative references, as well as the now nuanced capabilities of that unit. Alternatively, if you're me, you buy the series and then the Soul of Chogokin toy (obviously for real world re-enactment purposes).

This wouldn't work obviously if there wasn't a palpable passion to re-create something like the Cougar in such a gameplaying context. I mean some of the 2D animation in these games is absolutely astounding and painstakingly accurate in almost all instances (it's one of the main reasons 3D Super Robot Wars games don't work that well, due to the lack of visual accuracy and finesse).

The point I suppose I have is that licensing isn’t all bad, so long as you have insightfully geeky and anime folklore obsessed enthusiasts at the helm (preferably clenched fisted cosplaying enthusiasts with a penchant for striking poses).

To finish up, it's worth pointing out that a new Dancouga series is on the way in 2007; entitled Dancouga Nova. I'm sure it won't be long until the original Cougar and the newer iteration team up in a Super Robot Wars game.

[Ollie Barder is a freelance journalist who's written for The Guardian, appeared on BBC Radio 4 and contributed to Japanese mecha artbooks. He lives at home with an ever growing collection of Japanese die-cast robot toys and a very understanding wife.]

Bartholl Talks Teutonic Game Art Shenanigans

- Over at Videoludica, looks like Matteo Bittanti has interviewed German video game artist Aram Bartholl, and it's kinda fun, if a bit overly erudite.

Bartholl explains at one point: "I want to share a story about the project "de_dust" [a large number of various sized stacked crates arranged in a cluster. All the crates are printed with the same imitation wood texture from the computer game Counter-Strike.]"

He goes on: "About a month ago I received an email from Chris Ashton, a game developer of Turtle Rock Studios, who told me that he really liked my work. The funny thing is that he was the artist who created all the textures for the map "de_dust" back in the days when the mod was developed. Isn't that amazing? The guy who digitized and photo-shopped some wood pictures into a game which became a staple for an entire generation contacts me, the person who brought these wood pixels back to the real world. In other words, the circle is now complete." It's so beautiful!

Alex Handy Sez: 'Kyne Is Guilty!'

- [Another guest post, and the first in a raggedy series of 'Alex Handy Sez' missives, in which the former Game Developer editor and current Computer Games Magazine/Massive/otherstuff contributor riffs on something or other - cos we like his crazy hair! This time, he delightedly pokes at Psygnosis' Brataccas for the Atari ST.]

"Long ago, and far away, upon the Atari ST 520 I did play. And upon this merry machine I did play Brataccas.

You are Kyne. You have been accused of a crime you did not commit. On the asteroid mining colony known as Brataccas, you have come to clear your name. You've hidden your face, and assumed a new identity to unravel the strands that conspire against you.

Miners, Cops, and Ne'er-do-wells

The colony is populated with off-duty miners, tyrannical cops, and an organized crime gang, headed by a fat man in green. The asteroid is a living entity--as you play, all of the inhabitants of the colony move freely from place to place. A simple side-view gave you a 3D map of rooms to navigate, one door at a time. And it was those doors drawn lengthwise across the background that presented a real challenge to walk through.

You see, Brataccas was controlled entirely with the 2-button mouse. In those days, (1985), the mouse was still a newcomer to the personal computer, and the Atari ST and the Amiga were equipped with them. To walk left, hold the left mouse button and slide the mouse left. To walk right, hold the left mouse button and slide it right. Simple enough, right?

Well, then you have combat, which is entirely swordplay. Right mouse button, sweeping up with the mouse draws the blade. That same button in concert with sweeps to the left and right were your swings and stabs. Both buttons could force blocks, overhead slices, and defensive ducking. Everyone was armed, and drawing your sword in a room full of otherwise innocuous bystanders could spark a fight with which ever one of them felt toughest.

- Exit... Or Kill?

The single hardest manuver to execute. however, was walking away from the player, into the background. The second room in the game offered a direct left exit, and one background exit, through which the rest of the game was located. In order to see all of this, you have to press both mouse buttons and push up while Kyne stood in front of the door. In the days of imprecise mouses, this task was actually quite difficult, since anything less than a straight line up resulted in Kyne drawing his sword and starting all sorts of trouble.

The police left you alone, provided you weren't wandering through their control rooms. Even sword fights in one of Brataccas' many bars were acceptable, as long as you didn't drop anyone worth a damn. The locals were worth a damn, and they were all red. One of them, however, wore a skull mask, and he was not. He was your window into the underworld of Brataccas. As he wandered along with the other locals from bar to bar, chit chatting along the way, you could follow him and study his habits. Eventually, the cartoon speech bubbles would be populated with enticing clues.

Eventually, the skull fellow will address you by your real name, even though you are in disguise. Follow him for longer, and you'll see that this skull fellow has dealings with a lizard-headed green man. Ssssssslash is his name, and crime is his game. Strike up a conversation with Sssssssslash and he'll take you off-base and into the literal underworld of Brataccas, where you can meet his boss. Said boss, however, had no interest in your quest whatsoever. He's a red herring, as is the entire large underworld.

To End Is Simple...

To win Brataccas, you must simply wander into the police headquarters near the start of the game. A few rooms in, the police-boss--who floats around on a Yoda-sized levitating disc sled-- has an office. In there, the papers that prove you were set-up are located. Take those papers back to the starting point transporter, and you win.

Easier said than done. The police attack on sight if you're in their base, killin' all their d00ds.

The initial setting of Brataccas is intentionally confusing. As is the manual. Whenever a plot point is revealed in the manual, a hole is left open. While the manual is nowhere to be found online, an example of these holes is: "Kyne has been framed. To learn what crime he has been accused of, turn to page 27."

Page 27 was always the location of these secrets, and when you finally turned to this mythical missive, "This page intentionally left blank." Rats!

A rare Psygnosis gem."

[Alex Handy can put bricks to sleep just by looking at them. He always votes Silly Party, knows where his towel is, and loves to go to the zoo and watch the monkeys make a'more. When he's sober, he blogs at Gism Dot Net. When he's not sober, he wanders around downtown San Francisco dancing for nickels.]

October 22, 2006

'Little Plastic Dreams' - The 1980 Coleco Catalog

1980-coleco-catalog-21.jpgJason Scott notes in his ASCII blog that he’s managed to get his hands on a 1980 Coleco retailers catalog – yup, that’s pre-Colecovision material, but there’s some pretty interesting stuff in there nonetheless.

Witness, for example, the radness of the 1979 hit TV game system Colortron, which features 4 Pong-like games – tennis, handball, hockey and what is one of only two computerised versions of jai alai. There’s also the “number one selling target game” of 1979, Telstar Marksman. The Marksman features an astonishing 6 games in 1, including skeet, target, tennis, handball, hockey and – you guessed it – the second of only two computerised versions of jai alai.

Personally, despite being non-videogame related, my highlight is GOOD PUPPY™, which the catalog notes “walks, sits, heels then barks for a reward”. As if that wasn’t enough, “when a biscuit is placed in his mouth, the air-actuated GOOD PUPPY™ appears to chew it, but the biscuit drops into a pouch below his chin for repeated use”. That's PS3 beating tech if I ever I heard it.

[edited by alistairw]

Clover's Over, So Over, Don't Want Another

okami wallpapereToyChest’s Devil’s Advocate column is dealing with the whole Clover fiasco/tragedy this week, and they’re looking at it from a refreshingly logical point of view.

“Capcom were, on the one hand, attempting to nurture originality and creativity in games, and yet on the other invested the kind of money, and expected the kind of returns, that only blockbuster titles are capable of recouping,” writes columnist Luke Plunkett. “As a result, Capcom can blame, as they put it themselves, ‘extraordinary losses’ on the decision to close Clover Studio, but in reality they have nobody to blame but themselves.”

Plunkett goes on to compare Clover to an indie film studio, suggesting that Capcom should have provided them a budget befitting their arthouse style. “Had [Shaun of the Dead] received the budget of King Kong ($200,000,000)…it would have been a colossal failure. Yet this is exactly what happened with Clover when Capcom poured big-budget money and expectations into their games.”

Finally, he suggests that the demise of the studio may well have last implications for the entire industry. “Sadly, the legacy of this failure goes beyond the mere financial implications for Capcom: by confirming other big publisher’s fears about original content, Clover’s demise may have delivered a death-knell to any lingering notions that the likes of EA may start producing some genuinely creative, original games.” Sobering.

[edited by alistairw]

Holy Crapola, Jet Set Willy Online!

robot7.jpg Those who know me probably realize I'm a bit of a gigantic Matthew Smith fan - in fact, the article I wrote for Gillen and Rossignol's sadly cancelled book dealt with some extremely wacky mods of both Manic Miner and Jet Set Willy.

Anyhow, thus I was pretty damn hyped up with TIGSource explained that there's a completely unofficial Jet Set Willy Online in development - Tim explains it's: "The only online game that I’m mildly excited about right now... [co-author] bob posted a trailer video... to whet your appetite." Absolute genius!

Bob pops up in the comments to explain more: "At the moment we’ve got 4 game types in with a few more to come. We’ve got “race to” games, where its say, first Willy in space or to The Off License. (I’m pushing for “Choirboy”, first person up The Priests Hole, but I don’t think anyone else will oblige me on that one), First to collect amount of objects, Timed games from 5 to 45 minutes and Willy Tag (my personal favourite) where one Willy starts off pink and has to taint the others with his pinkness. The survivor wins."

[Oh, and though the article I wrote for Gillen/Rossignol never came out, Tim Edwards over at PC Gamer UK saw it and asked me to do a couple of pages on my favorite JSW/MM mods, which was duly published in Issue 165 (September 2006) in the following form [PDF link] - reproduced with PCG's permission, thanks!]

GameTap Gets Spooky For Halloween

robot7.jpg PC-centric 'all you can eat' game download service GameTap just shoved me its latest PR, for its Halloween catalog additions, so figured I would pass it on - esp. since they mention that the 22nd is the last day you can sign up for their 50% off when you sign up for a year deal.

The info explains: "Broadband entertainment just got eerie! This Halloween, Turner Broadcasting’s GameTap gets into the spirit of the holiday by featuring a number of the greatest fright night franchises ever, including “Silent Hill 2: Restless Dreams” and the “Konami Collector’s Series: Castlevania & Contra""

These would be: "Silent Hill 2: Restless Dreams: As part of this decade’s most indelible survival horror series, “Silent Hill 2: Restless Dreams” contains all of the content of the original console version of “Silent Hill 2,” but with the PC extras. This includes the "Born from a Wish" scenario where players take control of Maria prior to her first appearance in the main game. Also included is a sixth ending to the main scenario and a minor feature that allows you to switch to a different film stock presentation."

Also: "Konami Collector’s Series: Castlevania & Contra: If “Silent Hill” is too mature for your taste, check out this E-rated 8 Bit collection of the first three “Castlevania” titles along with two “Contra” classics (“Contra” and “Super C”). These “Castlevania” vampire-slayer classics are filled with icons from horror literature and legends, such as Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, Medusa, and the Grim Reaper." What's more: "Additional Games: Also joining the network on Halloween is “Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Gold” (which includes the “Desert Siege” and “Island Thunder” expansions) and “Vampire Savior: The Lord of Vampire,” a timely Arcade classic from Capcom."

Obviously, GameTap is getting a bit more noticed for the Sam & Max exclusivity (a great draw!), among other things - and this new offer. For me, I think what would _really_ help them take off is if something like the Apple iTV becomes mega-popular. If they could get their service onto that with a wireless (or wired) controller, so it's super-simple to play from the living room - kaboom! Right now, even I'm drawn to the comfort of my Xbox 360 to play some of this type of content, sadly - though the PC-centric stuff works, obviously.

[Statutory disclaimer: I've been a Beta tester for GameTap for a while, and they've been kind enough to platinum sponsor the Independent Games Festival, which I'm Chairman of, this year, as part of their plan to bolster their indie content. But I post this separately of that whole fun.]

The Casual Game Wars Get Nasty?

robot7.jpg The folks at Gamezebo are very clued-in to the casual game space, and so we get a fascinating editorial named 'Crazy Competition in Casual Games', about the increasing site-exclusivity of many top titles.

Editor Joel Brodie explains: "It's no mystery that Mystery Case Files is no longer on RealArcade... The reason, according to undisclosed sources, is that RealArcade told Big Fish Games a day ago that they will no longer distribute any of their current or future titles... This follows a decision by RealArcade earlier this year not to distribute any titles from Oberon Games. Oberon, likewise, does not distribute any RealArcade titles on its network of distribution partners, including MSN Game Zone and Pogo."

Wow, so some widespread changes happening - but why? Brodie notes: "For the past two years, companies that were bitter competitors on the distribution side were the best of friends as developers. Relating this to the retail world, it would be as if Walmart were selling their branded laundry detergent at Target. It just would not happen."

He concludes of the casual game space: "The Era of Coopetition is over and the Era of Crazy Competition has begun." Press panic button now! Or not, haw.



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Gamasutra (the 'art and business of games'.)

Game Career Guide (for student game developers.)

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Finger Gaming (news, reviews, and analysis on iPhone and iPod Touch games.)

GamerBytes (for the latest console digital download news.)

Worlds In Motion (discussing the business of online worlds.)


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