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November 4, 2006

COLUMN: 'Game Mag Weaseling': Mag Roundup 11/4/06

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A remarkably lean past two weeks for new game mags, as only five new issues hit my doorstep. Kind of a shame, really, since I wanted to see Games for Windows and the redesigned EGM (which I hear looks a lot like the old GMR on the inside) before today's Mag Roundup deadline came along. Ah well.

Regardless, click on to read all about the latest US game mags, including (much to my chagrin) two new Beckett titles.

PSM December 2006 (Podcast)

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Cover: PS3 launch guide (newsstand) or GTA Vice City Stories (subscriber)

I'll need to confirm this with someone who works at Future (if there was a public announcement I missed it), but it seems like PSM now makes it a regular habit of featuring different covers in its subscriber and newsstand editions.

You can see the difference in the two covers above. The sub edition is mostly art and very small coverlines (and looks much prettier), while the newsstand version has the new PS3, the RIIIIIIIIDGE RAAAAAAACER lady, screenshots of a bunch of titles, and a big number on the top-right. This doesn't look as pretty, but -- in theory, anyway -- attracts the eyes of more customers. (One of the great rules of thumb in magazine design: Printing a number on the front cover really big (e.g. "24 PS3 Games Judged!" or "1500 Codes Inside!") helps lure in bookstore browsers. It doesn't even have to be a very large number; the mere presence of a number is good enough.)

Inside: The two editions are same, and as you'd expect the emphasis is on PS3 previews, including 3 pages on Devil May Cry 4 and six going over all the titles they've been able to nab hands-on time with.

Launches like these are always tricky for long-lead-time publications to handle. Since there usually isn't debug hardware freely available to media outlets until several months after a system launch, if a mag wants to play a PS3 or Wii game, it must either visit the publisher and play it there, or beg the publisher to lend them a system along with the game. (I remember how painful it was to get reviewable GameCube games from launch until mid-2002, when Nintendo finally allowed mags and websites to buy debug consoles from them.)

As a result: If you're expecting reviews of PS3 games in this issue, you'll be disappointed. The top review is GTA: VCS, spanning five pages and billed as an exclusive -- Hardcore Gamer gave the game an equally huge feature this month which did everything short of assessing an actual score, and therein lies the difference, I suppose.

Scandal: The hot topic of this month's mail: The lack of a "swimsuit issue" this year -- something sane people are probably dancing in the streets over, but many of PSM's stalwart subscribers seem disappointed with. ("That was the one thing I was looking forward to, & you guys took it away," writes one.) As EIC Chris Slate explains, the decision came due to a lack of "new" women to draw, the fact that the feature didn't really gibe with PSM's new style, and, of course, a yearly round of complaints. Hooray for reason!

Official Xbox Magazine December 2006 (Podcast)

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Cover: Tom Clancy's Rainbow 6: Vegas

Pretty straightforward issue this time around. The first half of the mag is previews and news, mostly from X06 (Halo Wars and so on), plus six pages on RS6: Vegas.

The neat thing: Is the seven-page excerpt in the middle of the mag from Halo: Ghosts of Onyx, the fourth Halo novel and one purported to bridge the gap between the second and third games. It's neat because the last time I saw fiction in a video-game mag, it was 1989 and I was reading good ol' Captain Nintendo in Nintendo Power. Remember that bit where the NOA secretary or whomever fended off a Darknut with a letter opener? Classic adventure, I'm telling you.

Reviews: The top one is for F.E.A.R., and it sets off a largely hit-laden reviews section, with only a bit of budgetware junk (i.e. WWII Combat: Iwo Jima) scoring below 7.

The disc: Is packed this month, actually. The Vegas demo gets top billing, but Xbox 1 owners aren't left in the cold either, considering they get NFS: Carbon and Destroy All Humans 2. Stuck in the way bottom of the disc is an Xbox demo of Eragon, a game which I know is gonna be superb 'cos it's got the talented Stormfront Studios behind it, but man, I'm not touching that film with a 100-foot pole.

Computer Games December 2006

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Cover: Hellgate: London

As is usual with Computer Games, the most eye-catching section is the long feature on game trends -- in this case, the "invasion" of policians and political campaigns into games. That's not to short-sell the nine pages on Hellgate, which features Bill Roper's smilin' goateed face and a lot of dark screens. Add in the usual holiday gear guide and some reviews, and that about covers it.

CGM proves its worth: With a page about old Sierra adventure games. Though I have to disagree with Steve Bauman when he states that King's Quest is the "crown jewel of these releases". That's the sort of thing I'd say to my mother while, after everyone was in bed, I was playing through LSL3 for the 20th time.

Letters: CGM wants 'em. "We get less feedback today than we did 10 years ago," the editors write in this month's letters section, "when we had half as many readers and people who wrote in had to use snail mail instead of e-mail. (We also walked uphill to work in the snow, and we liked it.)" I can attest to the fact that mags get a lot less reader mail than you think they would. CGM also has a "Speak Out" page which is essentially an 800-word editorial from a lucky reader, so if you want your name in print and can string a sentence together, there's your ticket right there.

Beckett Massive Online Gamer October/November 2006

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Cover: World of Warcraft (as I guess it'll be for most issues)

This is the third issue of Beckett MOG. I completely missed out on Issue 2, sadly, which didn't make it to newsstands here and was out of circulation before my subscription began. If anyone reading this happens to own a copy and would let me have it for less than the $5.99 Beckett wants, let me know.

Anyway, although Issue 3 is written on the same cheapo flimsy paper stock as all the Beckett mags (why is this $5.99?!), I have to admit that the content and presentation has improved a fair bit. The mag's still text-heavy and hardcore-oriented to the extreme, but the design's improved remarkably (kinda reminds me of CGM several years ago actually) and the content seems much more information-packed than the fluffy articles of Issue 1.

MASSIVE's still the clear winner so far, though.

Beckett Spotlight: Cheat Codes December/January 2007

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Cover: The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess

Well, this is odd, eh? Being a cheat/strategy magazine and putting a game on the cover that isn't out yet and therefore cannot have a strategy guide written about it? I can't help but wonder if younger readers (or the moms who buy this mag for 'em) will be rather angry to find that no, there's no Zelda strategy in this issue after all -- just a three-page preview with no particularly new info or insights.

No, Beckett CC is purely a cheats mag, with straight-out cheat lists in the back and the usual game-mag-style features and previews up front. Strategy, schmategy. There's also a page (a new feature, maybe?) billing itself as a "video game price guide & checklist", similar to Beckett's more collector-oriented mags. Hopefully this is still in the experimental stages, though, because I really don't think Excitebike is worth between $100 and $200, or Donkey Kong Jr. $150-240. Yes, I know that certain hardcore NES collectors go insane over the shrinkwrapped stuff on eBay, but c'mon.

Saving throw: The "Xbox Games We'd Love to See" feature in the middle, which uses the XNA toolset news from X06 as an excuse to come up with such hot game ideas as Jack Thompson: Attorney at War, Curling '07, and uh Snakes on a Plane. Oh dear, this doesn't sound encouraging, does it? But really, it's kinda funny when you read it. Trust me. Please!

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

Mutilating 8-Bit Hits, The Dwell Records Way!

- Hey, look, we got a mail about a video game tribute CD, must reprint: "I’m Jon from CMH Records, and our label imprint Dwell Records. Dwell put out a CD on the 31st of last month titled “Power Up! Mutations and Mutilations of 8-Bit Hits” [MySpace link]. The album features artists paying tribute to themes from Zelda and Tetris, just to name a few."

Just checking out the MySpace-listed tracks and the official order page for the album, which has samples for all the [generally punk/indie guitar-ish] tracks, some of the highlights appear to be Twelve-Handed Men of Mars' practically Ennio Morricone-esque version of the Zelda theme [.MP3 sample] - though Doug McDiarmid (of why)'s piano version of the Marble Madness theme [.MP3 sample] is also fun.

[EDIT: Maragos points out that the Zelda theme remix is actually a nod toward Ravel's Bolero, because, as The Men Of Mars apparently also know, "originally the Zelda theme was supposed to be Bolero, but they (Nintendo) found out at the last minute that it wasn't public domain." You live and learn!]

Here’s the tracklist:

01. The Fucking Champs – The Legend of Zelda (Overworld Theme)
02. Cripple Camp – Ghosts n’ Goblins (la dolce mix)
03. Ahleuchatistas – Bad Dudes
04. Animal Style – Tetris (Music 3)
05. Cinemechanica as CONTRABAND – Contra (The Alien’s Lair)
06. Rerun – Mega Man 2 (Bubble Man)
07. Doug McDiarmid (of why?) – Marble Madness (Piano Medley)
08. Kindergarten Hazing Ritual – River City Ransom (Boss Fight)
09. Upsilon Acrux – Rush’n Attack (Stage 1/Unknown Stage)
10. Christopher Willits – Metroid, a.k.a. The Lovers of Samus Aran
11. Defensive Mode – Mega Man 2 (Metal Man)
12. Flössin – Castlevania, a.k.a. Ascelitnava
13. Twelve-Handed Men of Mars - The Legend of Zelda (Main Theme)

GameSetCompetition: Gears Of War-Gasm

- Thanks to our 'close personal friends' at Epic and Microsoft (or more specifically, the nice PR company who works with them), we've been handed 3 copies of Gears Of War for the Xbox 360 to give away on GSW.

The Clifford Bleszinski-designed title is allegedly the second most pre-ordered Xbox/Xbox 360 game of all time (or so Shane Kim has been claiming pretty recently), and it seems like it's going to be worth a blast, not least for the Unreal Engine 3 eye candy and chainsaw gun hilari-splatter.

The question to win a copy of GoW this time round is a little trickier, but you may get the hang of it if you're good at the ol' web search (or you subscribe to our magazine, 'cos you're smart):

"What mammal costume is CliffyB pictured wearing in the pic accompanying his recent Game Developer magazine interview?" [CLUE: You may find the same picture hanging around online, if you poke about.]

Please send your answers to editors@gamesetwatch.com any time before Saturday, November 11th at 12 noon PST. There will be three winners randomly picked from the correct answers, the judges' decision is final, and that's that. Have fun!

The Dean Of Takahashi Gets Unfettered

- Over at the venerable San Jose Mercury News (my hometown newspaper in my adopted U.S., by the way), key game journo Dean Takahashi has announced that he's switching up to a new position at the Merc.

He explains: "You shouldn't notice much difference, hopefully. I'm going to become a columnist at the Merc, writing tech product reviews and general tech commentary. The good thing is that the funnest part of my job -- writing this blog and podcasting with Nooch -- is still going to be part of my responsibilities. You may notice that I'll be a bit more opinionated."

[Interesting to note that Takahashi correctly identifies that you shouldn't write business/'straight' news, and then present strong opinions on the companies that you cover in separate editorials. This is pretty well accepted elsewhere in journalism, but doesn't always seem to happen in game journalism - but hopefully that'll change.]

He further notes: "I won't be writing the hard news of the games industry anymore. That job falls to Troy Wolverton, a newly hired reporter who comes to us from the Street.com. You may see news items from Troy in the paper and we'll post them on the blog as needed." Wolverton is a smart guy, so looks like the Merc's smart game reporting will continue.

amBX Ramps Up For Multi-Sensory Hilarity

You may or may not be aware of the Philips amBX line of game peripherals, which have previously been featured on sister site Gamasutra - they include colored lights, fans, and rumble pads to enhance the gaming experience.

Well, Philips' amBX division recently demonstrated their tech to the SF Chronicle, explaining: "When you play a game that's been coded for the peripherals, they work along with the story, simulating the light you have in the game. Say you're in a cave and then head into the sunlight, the lights recreate that effect of going from dark to light. Say you're in a car and you pick up speed, the fans blow in your face. Say you get shot, the lights can glow red for a second, bringing home the point that you're bleeding."

Actually, in relation to these very products (for which I think we may have a new Q&A coming up for Gamasutra soon-ish), recently got sent the second issue of amBX's rather glossy brochure magazine for its tech, amBIENT:

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...and so we scanned in the page picturing the peripherals for your edification (click through for a little more detail):

The Chron explains of the pricing on these: "Philips amBX PC Gaming Peripherals range will have four kits: a $199 starter kit, which contains a directional wall-washer light, controller unit and satellite lights; a $299 Pro-Gamer Kit, which includes a directional wall-washer light, a controller unit, satellite 2.1 speaker lights and subwoofer; a $99 Extension Kit featuring a set of desk fans and wrist rumbler. For the ultimate gamer, a $399 Premium Kit encompasses all of the above." Wacky, but hey, you never know?

[For those interested further, I found a preview of Philips' 'emerging technology' on their official website which includes amBX alongside the already implemented Ambilight effects for TVs, and uWand, for which "a simple stroke of the uWand allows users to intuitively point at a device and to scroll, select, play and move elements." Where have Wii seen that before?]

November 3, 2006

Sensible Soccer 2006 Gets 'Extreme' At GameTap

- We've previously covered the new version of Sensible Soccer, which updates the classic UK soccer franchise into 3D, but in a way that doesn't suck like Sensible Soccer 3D, huzzah!

Now, it looks like Sensible Soccer 2006 hasn't made it to U.S. retail (or at least, I can't find it in the Amazon or GameStop databases), so it's kinda cool that GameTap has stepped up, albeit by bundling the thing with more 'extreme' sports: "Turner Broadcasting’s GameTap gets vertical with the announcement of this week’s Xtreme Sports showcase. Building on its large action sports game catalog, GameTap has added PC versions of Kelly Slater’s Pro Surfer, Mat Hoffman’s Pro BMX, Snowboard Park Tycoon, and Sensible Soccer 2006, as well as the Dreamcast version of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater."

Of course, one could argue that Jon Hare and Tony Hawk have relatively little in common, but hey - it's a good way to get the title out there to the Yanks, and it's also noted: "GameTap is also announcing the addition of multiplayer capabilities to Soccer Brawl and Street Slam (aka Street Hoop), two of the network’s rare Neo Geo titles." More Neo Geo is good-o!

Grasshopper Hops Around Under Microscope

- Listen, I've subscribed to the 1UP.com features RSS so this doesn't happen again, but there's another great feature I missed - Ray Barnholt's in-depth appreciation of Grasshopper Manufacture, named 'Formula 51'.

It's especially good on Suda51's earlier work, which is less well-known in the West, including PS1 'detective adventure' The Silver: "Along with the enigmatic story, The Silver's visual style gave a preview of Grasshopper's future work. Words dance around the screen at all times, seemingly random yet logical within the story's context. The settings are often dark, always fitting for a brooding character. Even the font, large and bold, is memorable. These gimmicks made up a style GHM called "Film Window," which referred to the practice of arranging text and graphic windows in a handcrafted manner."

Barnholt is also smart to spot that Sega's Shining Soul for GBA is a Grasshopper game 'in disguise', noting: "Soul [which was pitched as a "communication RPG"] seemed to be a launching point of sorts in the future development of Contact. This title has much of the same staff, including director Akira Ueda, who also did the bulk of the background graphics." In any case, great to see this kind of expansive, levelheaded writing out there.

GDConf Staff Go Crazy, Announce Haiku Competition

- What's the first thing that you associate with Game Developers Conference 2007? It's haiku, right? Right! That's just why the GDC organizers (who sit across the hall from us, and we glower at them occasionally!) have set up 'a "Contemporary English Haiku" competition' for GDC 2007.

It's explained: "The theme of your Haiku has to be about your experiences at or in relation to the GDC", and "What you get: 1. GDC 2006 Audio Recordings CD set 2. Free annual subscription to Game Developer magazine's Digital Edition 3. Pride in knowing you're the best."

OK, we'll try first. 'GDC makes me feel fuzzy. Strange feelings in head. Like making out with Will Wright in a grain elevator'. Hm, might have been a few too many syllables, but we're pretty sure it gets the spirit of GDC across. Oh, but you can do better? Let's see you try!

Kongregate Around A New Indie Flash Game Portal?

- Just recently popped on our radar is a new indie Flash game site called Kongregate, currently in Private Alpha, and handily explained on Techcrunch as "...an alpha stage online gaming site that will let users upload games they have built, charge users for premium play or features with a one click payment system and share revenues with the site from premium payment and advertisements."

Co-creator Jim Greer, who "...has ten years of experience in the gaming industry, most recently as Technical Director for EA’s successful web gaming site Pogo.com", has a website called 'Jim On Web Games' where he's updating with info about the progress of the site - which seems like a cool idea, though I haven't checked out the games yet, due to my spam filter eating my Alpha invite, heh.

Oh, and we just noticed there's a competition, too: "Just upload a Flash game between now and December 15 and that game is automatically entered, assuming that your game follows our guidelines. (No porn and no stolen material – and definitely no stolen porn.)" Caveat emptor with rules and conditions, but seems neat - Flash game creators should go poke around, and we'll update again when the site goes public.

November 2, 2006

COLUMN: 'Cinema Pixeldiso' – Post Halloween Horror Special (part 2 of 2) - How To Make A Monster

['Cinema Pixeldiso' is a bi-weekly column by Matt 'Fort90' Hawkins that spotlights movies that are either directly based upon or are related to video games, with an emphasis on the obscure and the misunderstood. This particular installment is the second of a two-part look at couple of horror films.]

Last time we checked out Stay Alive, a film that featured a video game character crossing over to the real world and going on a bloody rampage. The film itself was rather slick, with very contemporary sensibilities (meaning that it's basically The Ring with video games), but for a variety of reasons, it misses the mark. On the otherhand, tonight's film, How To Make A Monster, despite its use of very modern elements, goes for a more 'classical' film attitude, and results are quite different.

[Click through for spooooky moooooreness!]

HOW TO MAKE A MONSTER

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The film was produced back in 2001 and is actually a remake of an older movie of the same name from 1958, which also happened to be a homage to American International Pictures, a small independent studio that produced numerous low budget, schlock classics during the 50's. Many of these are cult classics today, such as I Was a Teenage Werewolf, which the original How To Make A Monster is a pseudo-sequel of sorts.

But whereas the original had a crazed makeup artist creating monsters from actors via mind controlled makeup adhesive, the remake (which was the second in the Creature Feature line of B movie re-inventions) deals with crazed video game designers creating a different kind of monster, the virtual kind, which one must guess wasn't good enough for the rabid fan-base of the original, who all seem to hate the retelling with a passion. As one angry IMDB-er put it "Samuel Z. Arkoff [one of the founders of AIP, and to whom the film is dedicated] is turning over in his grave." Ouch.

Even if some might take offense to the new modern How To Make A Monster, but there's no reason for the hate. It's simply a fun little movie that tried to be a little different, which as far as video game movies are concerned, is totally appreciated. And not once does it lose sight of what it supposed to be, which Stay Alive certainly did.

Much like Stay Alive, How To Make A Monster starts out with footage of a game being played, which in this film is called Evilution, and the player losing. But instead of some archetypical gamer, the player is a young child from a test group, one from an entire room full, and all of them find the game's final boss most unimpressive. This sends panic throughout the game publisher's management, who sends the designers packing.

A call for some help is given out and it arrives in the form of three men: Sol, the cool black guy, who handles the A.I., Bug, the uber nerd, who does sound (played by Jason Marsden, who provides many of the voices in today's cartoons, but who has a slight cult following due to his role in the old early 90's sitcom Eerie, Indiana which was a precursor to the X-Files, but for kids), and Hardcore, a big muscular dude that handles weapons (played by Tyler Mane, whom some might recall as Sabretooth from X-Men).

Accompanying the programming trio is Peter, the hardened manager, and providing support to all four is Laura, the company's intern. They are given just four weeks to take the existing game and make improvements. A seemingly impossible task, so to help sweeten the deal, a one million dollar bonus is offered if the monster manages to draw impressive focus group scores. It's also mentioned by the company head honcho that she could care less how the money is divvied; split equally or given to just one person. At just the ten-minute mark, the movie is already far and away twenty times more enjoyable and interesting than Stay Alive was in its entire 100 minutes.

After three weeks we see the three programmers on edge and ultra competitive. Its also established early on that one of the five might be a spy for a competitive game company. At this stage of development, the men decide to hold a motion caption session, and none other than Queen of the B movies and former Penthouse Pet of the year, Julie Strain shows up. They force her to wear an extremely oddly designed suit, that has circuits and wires strewn all about, with which they can record all her movements for the game (it also requires her to be nude, hence why the geeks primarily have her to jump up and down so they can gawk at her exposed, jiggling breasts).

Just then lightning strikes the facility and all the computers are taken offline, and every bit of data is wiped out. The back-up files have to be administered, but since no one wants to burn the midnight oil for such a task, everyone engages in a deathmatch session in Evilution, with the first one down having to do the dirty deed. Sol is the first to bite the dust, and to everyone's surprise, Laura lasts the longest. The highlight of this scene of course, has to be the fact that all the bad guys look like mutated Pikachus (from Pokemon).

Afterwards Peter treats Laura to dinner and when the bright-eyed, idealistic intern who hopes to be an entrepreneur asks for some business advice, she is instead told that "Everything is a game.... you're either a winner or a big fat loser" and that the key to success is to be a ruthless monster, which for any regular movie is hardly subtle, but given the sliding scale that most video game flicks reside on, is not as bad. Meanwhile, back at the office, Sol reboots the system and witnesses the game finishing up its programming all by itself, which he attributes to his A.I. protocols, and is therefore very pleased. Unfortunately for him, the telemetry suit also comes alive and kills Sol.

The next day, both Bug and Hardcore discover the body (and the back-up disc is also missing), which results in Bug freaking out and pointing the finger at Hardcore (given that he's big dude with weapons, he appears to be a likely suspect), but Hardcore stops Bug from contacting the cops and instead suggest they continue on with the development of the game, since that million dollar bonus might be their only ticket out of game programming oblivion.

Peter and Laura arrive on the scene, forcing Bug and Hardcore to distract the two, and while this is happening, the suit merges itself with Sol's dead body. It then tries to kill Hardcore, but he manages to fend it off and take it down, but just then Bug comes in, and seeing Hardcore with a bloody axe which he used to defend himself is enough to validate Bug's initial suspicions that Hardcore was indeed Sol's murderer. During this confrontation the suit disappears, then Peter and Laura enter the scene and they too don't believe that the suit has come alive. Convinced he's nuts, they all run away and then discover that Hardcore wasn't lying when they all witness the suit take him out.

Bug then manages to piece together a theory for why everything is happening: the lightning strike must have caused the computer's wires to get crossed, and combined with the suit and Sol's AI chips, the computer is now playing the game itself but in the real world. When Peter and Laura suggest the obvious solution which is to pull the plug on the computer, Bug points out that without the back-up disc, killing the machine would also mean losing all the code up till that point.

Laura then becomes confused as to why the two guys are all of sudden not willing to save their own lives and shut the system down, which forces Bug to reveal that he really needs the money bad because he's tired of being rejected by pretty girls, such as Laura (if a film had a frustrated nerd and close female friend or coworker, the unrequited romance angle is going to rear its heads - it's practically a law). But Peter decides to listen to reason and figures on doing the right thing, with Bug in tow, with hopes of still saving the game information. At this point, the suit decides to get rid off Sol's body, but keep the head, and instead chops off Hardcore's head and incorporate his muscular frame.

The suit then decides to don various weapons and decorative pieces that belonged to Hardcore (which were used for mo-cap sessions) and next thing you know, the suit is a spitting image for the monster from the game. It should also be noted that one of the film's producers is Stan Winston, the legendary costume maker and makeup artist who's responsible for such memorable big screen entities such as the Terminator and Alien among many others, and his handiwork is more than evident here. The monster is most impressive.

While providing back-up for Bug as he figures out what wires to pull, Peter is ambushed by the monster, but is able to narrowly escape, though due to a malfunction with the ultra tight security system, the three survivors are separated. Then Laura's boyfriend shows up wondering where his girl is. It was established early on that he's a real jerk (when she checks her email that morning, it's all mails from him wondering where she is, with the conclusion that she's an unfaithful tramp). He doesn't hear their pleas for helps and simply walks away, and then we soon discover that he also beats her, which further establishes Laura's nature for being too kind hearted and being a push over, which pays off later on. (BTW, the role of the boyfriend is played by Danny Masterson, one of the guys from That 70's Show, but is not credited at all.)

Anyway, as Peter and Laura utilize the ventilation shafts to move about, Bug is confronted by the monster, who while mocking the disheveled nerd, says the line of the movie: "Scary is as scary does!" The monster than throws Bug around the kitchen area like a rag doll, and when a gas line become exposed, Bug makes the ultimate sacrifice to take both him and the monster out. In the end, Bug gets his kiss - though too bad he's dead at that point.

Unfortunately (for the remaining characters), the monster still lives, but Laura then discovers that the way to fight him is via the video game space and is able to save Peter from an untimely fate. She then discovers that the only way to beat the monster is to beat the game, though initial attempts to play via a conventional controller proves unsuccessful, which leads her to get frustrated and become somewhat hysterical, at which point Peter slaps her in the face and then she slaps him back, and Peter responds with approval "Good... I was wondering when you were going to learn." Gee, I wonder where this going! Peter then suggests a VR headset. She puts it on nervously, only prompted by assurances by Peter that he'll be by her side to and if it tries anything, the monster will have to go through him firs. But after some playtime, he's missing and the monster arrives on the scene.

Laura runs like hell and attempts to make another attempt to contact the outside world via a PDA, which Hardcore had been attempting to use previously in the film to review the security cams to see who had killed Sol. And at that very moment she sees footage of Peter stealing the back-up disc. Laura then catches up with Peter as he attempts to make his escape, with his gun drawn, and he then gives the mandatory long-winded speech about how ultimately everyone is a monster and the such. And then, the actual monster shows up and offs Peter in Mortal Kombat fashion, then the big final battle between Laura and the beast, both in the game world and the real world simultaneously ensues.

Who wins in the end? Let's just say that the new game is a hit with the focus groups, and Laura uses it to call the shots and run her own company. And by this time, she's a changed woman: no longer wide-eyed - and hopefull totally no nonsense, all business. Basically she's become.... let's all say it together: a monster.

Final Score...

Cliched? Maybe. Predictable? Perhaps. Preachy? A tad bit. But once again, it is supposed to be a homage to the low-budget and low-brow cinema classics from the 50's, which drove their message home and with little in the area of subtlety. But once more, there's that sliding scale again, so compared with other films that deal with video games, How To Build A Monster is thought-provoking powerhouse. Okay, maybe that's a bit much, but associating this movie with other lame attempts at game related cinematic fare is also a disservice to all that it accomplishes.

Unlike Stay Alive, it doesn't try so hard to be so big, bold, and hip. Instead of flash, there's substance... most of which is cheesy, no doubt, but its still built upon rock-solid sensibilities that worked fifty years ago, and it still works today. It's rather difficult to dial in the precise reason why the movie is so effective and enjoyable. The whole thing simply works. You have your clichéd characters, but unlike Stay Alive's, not a single one of them is condescending or annoying. Everyone is so totally likable and even relatable to a certain extent, thanks to the strong cast. Again, the story is nothing brilliant, but the most important thing is that its never boring (and surprisingly dense). There are also very few logic holes, and the entire mood of the film is rather relaxed; again it doesn't try so desperately hard to be so awesome.

Another primary factor behind the film's success has to be the writer/director George Huang, whose previous film was Swimming with Sharks, which also deals with a young, naive assistant dealing with the harsh realities of big business. Huang is actually a friend of Robert Rodriguez, famed indie movie director who has a definite DIY style of filmmaking, which How To Make A Monster also employs (which also gives it that homage to classics of schlock feel).

Truth be told, the movie looks like a made for TV movie (maybe because it's a made for cable movie), yet its still so much more visually interesting, as well as in other areas, than Stay Alive, which is far too slick and self-conscious for its own good. And that film was the creation of two self professed "gamers" whom one might expect would be the most qualified to tell a tale involving video games. Unlike that confusing borefest, How To Make A Monster is quite simply its own beast. To be blunt, there's really nothing like it and it deserves far more attention that it has received thus far.

[Matt Hawkins is a New York-based freelance journalist and Gamasutra contributor. He also designs games, makes comics, and does assorted “other things.” To find out more, check out Fort90.com.]

Video Games, Secret Slumber Parties, Our Kids

- Clearly, us here at GameSetWatch have nothing better to do than to set up our TiVo to watch bizarre Saturday morning kids' TV shows allegedly 'inspired' by Dance Dance Revolution, which is why the KOL Secret Slumber Party on CBS was foremost in our minds last weekend.

Specifically, it was the half-hour TV show Dance Revolution that piqued our interest, since it was announced that series creator DIC has partnered with Konami to make the show, for which a Konami representative announced: "This collaboration gives Konami an excellent opportunity to bring elements of the DDR franchise to television."

Well, as the Wikipedia entry suggests, those elements would be... basically none! The show works like a pre-teen version of 'So You Think You Can Dance?' or other dancing reality shows, with a panel critiquing exuberant dance routines that are done nowhere near DDR dance mats, and the extremely bouncy, English DJ Rick from KOL Radio presenting in a wacky, zany style - at one point, he eats salsa instead of doing the salsa!

Here's the CBS official site, which has some linked video, by the look of it - but basically, Konami/DDR isn't mentioned once in the show, apart from in the credits, which explain: "2006 DIC Entertainment Corporation Underlying property TM and (C) Konami Digital Entertainment Inc." This would be the underlying property of being able to dance in a revolutionary manner, we presume. The Dancerevolutiontv.com site has the horrific Black Eyed Peas-esque theme tune, too, and it plays WHETHER YOU LIKE IT OR NOT. [UPDATE: Oh, actually, sometimes it randomly doesn't, when it plays another song instead. Reload the page if you want your ears to specifically bleed in the 'Dance Revolution' way.]

Oddly enough, another of the 'Secret Slumber Party' shows is Horseland, which is a DIC cartoon based on a virtual pet Internet site which has plainly passed all GSW viewers by - but it shows again (here's the Wikipedia page for Horseland) how video games are infiltrating society in scary, twisted ways.

Unreal Anthology Soundtrack Is Totally... Unreal

- Some of you may have spotted that Midway has recently released Unreal Anthology for PC, a great big bundle of Unreal-ness which includes Unreal (including Return to Na Pali expansion pack), Unreal II: The Awakening, Unreal Tournament (Game of the Year Edition), and Unreal Tournament 2004 (Editors Choice Edition & Mega Bonus Pack).

Well, former Game Developer audio columnist Alexander Brandon, who has contributed to multiple Unreal titles and is now an Audio Director at Midway, passed on great info about the Unreal Anthology Soundtrack, which is included in Unreal Anthology as a separate audio CD in a somewhat 'stealth' form - bet you didn't know about it!

A bunch of the early Unreal music was in .MOD-like form (that takes me back!), and the CD itself "...features twenty three classic tracks from the Unreal franchise including hits such as “Razorback”, “Mechanism 8” and the Unreal Tournament menu theme, which has had more commercial remixes than any original game piece."

So, if you like classic or newer Unreal music, here would be the tracklisting for the whole set, which is a decent reason to pick up the Anthology - it's collectively composed by Alex Brandon, Michiel Van Den Bos, Peter Hajba, Kevin Reipl, and Andrew Sega:

Unreal-

1- Flightcastle (0:51)
2- Shared Dig (2:34)
3- Dusk Horizon (2:31)
4- Bluff Eversmoking (3:57)
5- Isotoxin (4:09)
6- Unreal Temple (Crypt) (4:12)

Unreal Addon-

1- Black Wind (3:10)

Unreal Tournament-

1- Unreal Tournament Menu (2:00)
2- Foregone Destruction (4:11)
3- Go Down (3:00)
4- Botpack Nine (4:49)
5- Mechanism Eight (6:12)
6- Skyward Fire (4:56)
7- Razorback (4:49)
8- The Course (4:28)

UT 2004

1- UTMenu Redux (4:14)
2- Ghost of Anubis (2:01)
3- Infernal Realm (1:59)
4- Assault (1:59)
5- Arena (0:53)
6- From Below (1:59)
7- Sniper Time (2:00)
8- Onslaught One (3:48)

Total- Approx 73 Minutes

Vintage Computer Festival, Cha Cha Cha!

- Oop, I was suddenly reminded that the Computer History Museum is hosting the Vintage Computer Festival 9.0 this weekend in Mountain View, California, and it's hecka retro fun.

There are even a few game-related VCF sessions, too, including 'The Story of the Fairchild Channel F Video Game System' with Jerry Lawson. "The Channel F system pioneered the cartridge based video game console and involved early attempts at software distribution via cable television. This is the story of how it all happened by the man who made it happen." Sounds neat.

There are also select Computer History Museum tours, and as someone who's been on one, I can _highly_ recommend it, since there's everything from awesome old mainframes through Enigma machines, all the way to the original CG teapot - you know the one! Also, there's some neat films showing, including BBS Documentary episodes and The Future Of Pinball. And a vendor area. So really, Bay Area-ans, make it a date?

NOM Coming To North American Cellphones, Yay

- You might have spotted this on Gamasutra the other day, but it's worth repeating - Gamevil is bringing neeto one-button cellphone game NOM to the States in the very near future.

It's explained: "Developed by Gamevil USA's parent studio in Seoul, NOM is a unique one-button title that requires players to physically rotate their phone as the character runs, leaps, and fights through multiple different stages, each littered with bottomless pits, traps, hurdles, enemies, and other obstacles."

The title, from the developers of Skipping Stone, is a bit like a Wario Ware mini-game (we've played it a bit!), and is really well tuned for cellphone play (unlike a lot of mobile games, which try to use full joypad-type controls when many handsets just aren't ergonomic enough.)

Unfortunately, the carriers aren't confirmed, but we heard a major U.S. cellphone provider will add it in the next couple of weeks, yay - here's our previous Gamevil coverage, including a link to the Nom 2 postmortem and back to Gamevil's rather endearing South Korean in-house magazine.

November 1, 2006

Gra-Gra Grand Theft Auuuto

- MTV News' brand new website redesign is, in a word, obnoxious, but that doesn't stop us linking to Stephen Totilo when he's interviewing freakin' Phil Collins about video games - specifically his cameo in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories. Awesome.

Specifically, Collins' "...taste in games tends toward more gentle fare. "I'm really soft-core," he said, rattling off kid-friendly PlayStation staples "Crash Bandicoot" and "Spyro the Dragon" as favorites. He indulged mostly in the '90s: "It was like, 9 or 10 in the morning till 6 or 7 o'clock at night. Constant playing until I got everything. I was obsessed."" Note to self: Collins is hardcore.

As for his appearance in the game (WARNING: VAGUE SPOILERS!): "Collins holds a concert in the faux-Miami Vice City and drums through his famous song "In the Air Tonight." Assassins lurk. And Vic Vance has to save the day." Then you have to rescue his wigmaker from being headhunted by Elton John, we heard.

Harmotion's Pleasing Shmup Motions

- Over at Posty's ever-genial Shoot The Core blog, he's been posting about the interesting PC indie shooter Harmotion, and how it's a 'good' time waster for him.

He explains of the game: "The backbone of the game is an online 2 player head-to-head vs. shmup, which keeps track of your stats and ranks you against other players. Everything is free, you get the full version and only need to create an account in order to fight other shmuppers. Or you can even just play the one player game, if that's what floats your boat."

Pretty sure that Harmotion, though we briefly mentioned it before, has been excessively slept-on, so everyone, let's go tango with it! (The site describes it: "Imagine a player vs. player crossover of Geometry Wars, Giga Wing, and Rez." Oo!)

Posty further details of fun tactics for the game: "Once you figure the basic formula for winning matches (grab a secondary weapon, power up the main shot, and cut the screen in half with firepower, forcing them over to the sides), the game gets a bit repetitive. However fighting each different race does require some variation of strategies, just pray you don't fight the blue ship pictured here. Harmotion is a great concept and lots of fun challenging other shmup fans online."

Three Speech - Blog Control, The Sony Way?

- So, you may have seen a news story today about an interview with Phil Harrison on the Three Speech blog, in which he reveals that there are 40 E-Distribution games currently in development for the PlayStation 3. All well and good.

But what, exactly, is Three Speech? According to the 'About' page, it "...isn't part of PlayStation, but it does get to speak to PlayStation... We bring together people who have something valid and engaging to say about gaming and digital entertainment." That's a bit vague - is the blog Sony-run or not? Well, GamesIndustry.biz's story on the interview reveals that Harrison was "...speaking to GamesIndustry.biz' Rob Fahey as part of an interview being serialised on semi-official Sony blog Three Speech."

So the interview was conducted by Fahey for Three Speech, and then GI.biz gets first reprint rights to the exclusive chat? Sorry, Eurogamer guys (who I get on well with!), but this really opens up a number of journalistic issues. It's pretty clear to me that the 'Three Speech' blog is Sony Europe's attempt to get its message out amongst the blogerati in a more nimble way than just official websites (as excellently practiced by Major Nelson and friends for Microsoft), but surely using Fahey is a bit of a suspect move?

I say this because, as a PR site which certainly appears paid for by Sony (the Three Speech domain is owned by Ramp Industry, which has done 'trendy urban' sites for Sony in the past), it's just not a good move to fake an attitude like: "People are free to say what they want here. We won’t censor content so long as this space is used constructively" - and with a pun on 'free speech' as the blog name, too.

You know, this 'free and open' is true to some limited extent, but why weren't there any difficult comparative questions asked about Xbox Live Arcade in the Harrison interview on E-Distribution? Surely the fact this is for a Sony site makes a difference? (The earlier discussion on SIXAXIS is a bit more rigorous in terms of asking tricky questions, mind you.) I'm aware that the interview was _largely_ just informational, and there are some tautological ways round this. But how about Sony just give Fahey a no-holds-barred interview with Harrison that would run in full on GI.biz, and then reprint the bits they want to? Or wouldn't that be bloglike enough?

So Harrison is free to snark away about the competition (Xbox Live Arcade), without anyone asking him questions on the business model validity of a big star like David Jaffe making a small $10-ish downloadable, almost faux-indie game with (sure, smaller, but still expensive!) in-house Sony resources. Well, that's one question I want asked - there are any number of other hard questions that could be asked, and I'm not either a Microsoft or Sony fanboy.

But overall, even if this isn't sleeping with the enemy, the odd Three Speech interactions are certainly snuggling up pretty close. If Sony is going to come out and court the Internet in a more informal way, these sites can't be 'semi-official'. You need to state your agenda, or don't come and play at all (see: Fragdolls), and journalists need to be aware of the ethical problems lying there-in, because Sony's profit motive lies above any interest in fairness on their part.

[Disclaimer: Obviously, I also edit Gamasutra, which could be considered a competitor to GamesIndustry.biz. But I like and get on well with the GI guys, and they will hopefully/presumably still talk to me after this post.]

New Games Opening Journalism Spotlight: Mexico

wiiopening.jpgFor those who didn't believe us last time, we have further proof that pictures of guys opening boxes is slowly taking over games journalism, and it is hot hot stuff folks!

Mexico-based Atomix magazine has posted an exclusive pictorial of some Mexican guys in free promo T-shirts opening a Wii. In true New Games Opening Journalism fashion, every detail of the box opening is carefully documented, including the part where a guy - the only guy without a mustache - can't help but peel back the Wii's flap and take a whiff.

guysmellswii.jpg

Also featured: a man with a woman's mustache wearing a pink Every Extend Extra shirt, people pointing at things, and that crappy longsleeve PlayStation 3 promotional shirt they gave out at a press event that I ended up tipping a bartender with.

We can't find the original source of these photos, unfortunately; they were lifted from the GameSpot-hosted blog of one Adolfo Sanchez. We don't know who Adolfo is, but judging by his latest entry, which says "Remember the best info,,and pics only here...," we're left to assume that he's a video game journalist. Perhaps the finest video game journalist our world has ever known.

Want System Shock Art? Too Bad!

- Another blast from the 'GameSetWatch brings you cool eBay auctions after they've closed' department, we spotted that someone just sold the original art from the System Shock hint book cover, blimey.

It's explained: "I did this painting several years ago for the cover of the System Shock strategies and secrets book by Bernie Yee, published by Sybex. Measures roughly 22 1/2"x 25"...depicts the player, a cyborg and shodan... has been professionally matted and framed. It hung for years in the Looking Glass office! Anyway, I'm cleaning house and ready to part with it." And so he did, for a grand total of $535.00.

[Of course, this is much better than the average eBay game art auction, which is for a printed copy of the Atari 2600 joystick patent or something almost as non-rare. Couldn't there be some kind of eBay search for _good_ stuff?]

Will Wright's Obligatory New Yorker Profile

- Yes, yes, the whole world linked it already, but The New Yorker has indeed placed Will Wright alongside recent subjects such as Bill Clinton and, uhh, bloodsucking leeches by making him the subject of a profile.

We like The New Yorker because their style guide is so insanely rigid that they use umlauts on regular English words under certain circumstances (yay!), but also we love 'em for prose like this: "For the past six years, Wright has been working on a new game, which will be released in 2007. It is anticipated with something like the interest with which writers in Paris in the early twenties awaited Joyce’s “Ulysses.”"

But the article, in addition to being in-depth and well-written, actually strays into things such as Wright's personal life and how it affects his game making - something that seems extremely relevant, but much conventional game journalism doesn't quite get to (sometimes understandable, due to corporate/PR forces, but let's try). [Oh, and any magazine which sells its back issues on a giftable hard drive is A-OK with us.]

Curse You, Pesky Game Breakers

- This one's a bit old, but hey, 1UP's labyrinthine frontpage disgorged it at us and it's good, so who cares? The site has run a feature called 'Game Breakers' which deals with "...ill-advised play mechanics [that] can stop a good game short of greatness and turn a merely unremarkable title into a remarkably bad one."

Some wonderfully grumpy examples? "Sam Fisher isn't a spy. He's a highly trained combat specialist armed with a knife, a machine gun, and grenades. So why, oh why, does he have to sneak past the enemy soldiers undetected in order to complete his missions? Why is he practically helpless to defend himself once he's inevitably discovered? And why would developers give us all those awesome weapons when we can't even use them?"

Also: "Voice chat is a wonderful invention, but it never should've have gotten anywhere near videogames. All it takes is a headset and an anonymous Internet connection to turn the average gamer into a raving, obnoxious jackass." Bring back Phantasy Star Online-style universal icon-based communication, I say!

October 31, 2006

COLUMN: 'Cinema Pixeldiso' – Halloween Horror Special (part 1 of 2) - Stay Alive

['Cinema Pixeldiso' is a bi-weekly column by Matt 'Fort90' Hawkins that spotlights movies that are either directly based upon or are related to video games, with an emphasis on the obscure and the misunderstood. This special Halloween edition is the first of a two part look at couple of horror films.]

It's that time of year again, Halloween, which means a couple of things: candy, costumes, and scary movies. And since this column is all about video game movies, how about a look at some scary video game movies? And there's a couple out there, like Silent Hill for example. But what about films that aren't simply scary because of the games they're based upon are also supposed to be? Well, a popular theme in most film dealing with video games that are not based upon one is the concept of video games coming alive, and asking what would happen if pixelated or polygonal character crossed over to the real world. And some filmmakers happen to find this idea "frightening"... two of which we'll be talking about, Stay Alive and How To Build A Monster.

[Click through for more Halloween scariness!]

STAY ALIVE

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/stayalive1.jpg

First let's take look at Stay Alive, which was released earlier this year, and was quickly washed away by the other summer blockbusters of 2006.

The film is your basic big budget Hollywood horror flick, which these days means it's a Ring clone, or at least features a number of its trademarks: lush cinematography, a gaggle of pretty looking, and totally hip young folks (despite the fact that the cast features Frankie Muniz from TV's Malcolm in the Middle, who's running neck and neck with Fred Savage as cutest male kid star that hasn't aged all that well), and even creepy undead little girls with long black hair, albeit in video game form.

The funny thing about video game movies is that when you have folks behind the scenes who are actually gamers (one of Stay Alive's consultants was CliffyB), it still manages to get much of the little things wrong. Take the opening for instance, which features scenes from the made up game Stay Alive, a survival horror action romp; the graphics are so good that they're simply unbelievable. This is inter-cut with the player "on the other side of the screen" who's one gaming stereotype piled on top of another; a hyper, yet sorta cool, nerd that drinks Red Bull. He also utters the first real-life game reference at the 3:44 mark, something about Fatal Frame, to show the audience that the filmmakers "really know what they're talking about!"

So the nerd plays the game for a bit, then dies in it. The whole experience leaves him spooked, so he wanders about the house to investigate the source of some noise, which in this case is his roommates having sex who he casually walks in on, and allowing a whole new batch of stereotypes to enter the picture (you know, promiscuous sex and all, though the inclusion of the guy wearing a pig mask is a curious addition). Soon he starts imagining that the game's bad guys are real and in his house, then next thing you know he's dead, and in the same exact manner as his character died in the game.

Enter Hutch, the film's main character, and friend of the now dead nerd. It's established very early on that this guy is also someone who knows a thing or two about games, via the Silent Hill 4 discussion between himself and his coworker/buddy (it's almost amazing how real life gaming talk can come off as so disingenuous on the silver screen). Immediately he hears of the death and then meets his dead pal's sister or something, aka the token main character's squeeze, who in turn passes along to Hutch the dead nerd's briefcase, which includes a bunch of games. He then meets up with his other friends, a pair of cool kids portrayed by of late twenty-something actors trying to act five years younger and just missing the mark.

One must admit that at this point, the filmmakers have done a wonderful job at introducing a bunch of folks that no one in the audience would mind seeing die gruesomely. It's revealed by the annoying cool kid that dead nerd (their names are seriously not important in this one) was play-testing Stay Alive, a totally hot and awesome game that anyone would kill for the chance to try out, so they all decide to honor the memory of their fallen friend by playing it. And later that evening they all gather, along with Frankie Muniz's character, who turns out to be the spastic and runty nerd that's also sensitive, as well as the coworker/buddy character from before, who joins in on the fun online, from his office.

After each person creates their virtual self in the game, and spout a number of inane lines that is supposed to further build street cred with the gamer audience (such as "Voice activated? That's next generation technology!", or "People who say size doesn't matter never played a first person shooter" which this reviewer still doesn't know what is supposed to mean, or using the Konami code to active a nude cheat), they all go about on their own adventures in the game world. After a few hours, the coworker/buddy character, who's the on edge corporate type, gets killed and everyone else decides to call it a night.

And just as the guy logs off and decides to head for home, he hears a noise... Every horror flick has its unsettling noise, such as Friday the 13th's "kill, kill, kill" whispered chant, or the electronic hum and static from the tape in the Ring. So what does Stay Alive employ? The rattling sound from a vibrating game controller. Yup.... Anyway, what killed him in the game, which is a ghastly looking woman, manifests itself in the real world and does it's thing once again.

As one might guess, that's how the rest of the movie works. The game starts picking off Hutch's friends off in real life one by one. Additional horror movie standards then begin to pop up: Hutch becomes a suspect of the deaths due to him having a relationship with each victim, his friends think he's crazy for suggesting that a video game might be responsible for murder, plus there's flashbacks to his trouble youth, this one involving fire, which you just know is going to rear its head somehow later on.

Plus the really obnoxious friend does the "He's not really dead, he's just passed out because he smokes pot!" shtick, and there's even an investigation montage, which was first popularized in Seven. Eventuall, the jerky buddy is killed, and when the cops show up for this time, one of the investigators play the game for a few minutes and dies shortly thereafter (one might imagine that the intended effect was for someone in the audience to go "lol noob"), though not before he storms a Gamestop-looking store demanding answers, which introduces yet another gaming stereotype, the annoying game store clerk. The death of the cop sends Hutch and company on the run and increases the need to find the story behind the game.

This leads them to the game's designer and they learn that his creation is based on some old Southern tale of a noblewoman known as the Blood Countess (which of course, everyone in the movie's world are already extremely familiar with) and then they consult the token crazy old lady (the film takes place in New Orleans, so the woman has a particularly thick southern accent to drive home the idea that she's been around the block and seen it all, like all crazy old ladies in horror flicks, though this one sounds a lot like Elmer Fudd) for directions on how to kill the crazy evil ghost that's manifesting itself via the video game, which in turn is manifesting itself in the real world.

Yeah, it's kind of complicated and nothing is ever properly explained (perhaps this particular bit of info was but the aforementioned Fudd-speak just made it hard to hear), but basically the Blood Countess's M.O. used to bathe in young people's blood to stay young, and now she's at it again to become flesh once more; as the movie progresses, she starts out as a polygonal computer graphic and then becomes real. And near the end, she even gets naked!

Eventually they discover that the game world and the real world are connected, such as how Malcolm drops a weapon in the game space and it manifests in the flesh. Malcolm is also the subject of another fake out; you think he dies at one point, but not really, though by the time he shows up, the viewer is either totally not going to care in the end, or those that have been trying to following along with undoubtedly be confused by the game/real world logic that apparently even the filmmakers can't get right (the whole idea of dying in the video game means death in the real world, and conversely, staying alive in the game to stay alive in real life, is literally done away with at little over the two-thirds point).

In the end, you have your main hero Hutch saving the girl and overcoming his fear of fire to do away with the countess (who goes all Chris Cunningham at the very end), but there's an avenue for the sequel that will never happen, with a total Body Snatcher-esque ending with the game store clerk placing copies of the PS2 version of Stay Alive on store shelves.

Final Score...

All in all, a fairly abysmal film. It’s not even in the "so bad it's great" category. The fact that the movie is riddled with clichés isn't such a crime, or even how the logic it goes great lengths to set up is practically thrown out the window at a certain point, since that's what one expects from virtually every horror film, even the great ones. It just happens to be so mind-meltingly boring. But the primary problems here is how, for a video game movie, its not very video game-y at all. If you're going to use clichés, be funny about it, or even just load up on them. The Blood Countess in the end was just a scary lady, nothing special.

Pretty shocking considering that, not only was CliffyB involved, but both the co-writer Matthew Peterman and fellow writer/director William Brent Bell have said in numerous interviews that they are passionate gamers and channeled everything they knew about games into the script. You honestly couldn't tell from the movie.

FYI...

The version of the film that was reviewed is the unrated director's cut, which is apparently 15 minutes longer than the theatrical version from earlier this year. Apparently what was added, aside from boobs and the pot smoking, was a character and an entirely new subplot, and its almost impossible to determine who that might be since every single character was completely expendable and insignificant.

Perhaps one important detail to keep in mind is that, despite the fact that film was released by Disney (Stay Alive was used to re-launch the long dormant Hollywood Pictures brand), they only came in after the end and handled the distribution. The film's production was entire Brent Bell and Peterman's, and the entire movie was shot in only 25 days, which is an impressive feat.

BTW...

Meanwhile, How To Make A Monster, which is much like Stay Alive since it also asks what if video game creations crossed over to the other side, and is also an independent feature, couldn't be any different. First off, it’s actually a good movie! But to find out why, as well as more about it, everyone will just have to wait till this upcoming Thursday's regularly scheduled installment of Cinema Pixeldiso. Till then, Happy Halloween!

[Matt Hawkins is a New York-based freelance journalist and Gamasutra contributor. He also designs games, makes comics, and does assorted “other things.” To find out more, check out Fort90.com.]

So You Want To Be A Game Journalist?

- So, once upon a time there was an article on GSW sister site Game Career Guide called 'So You Want to Be a Games Journalist', by UK freelancer Aaron McKenna. And it turns out that it hit a bit of a sore spot with a bunch of the more freespirited UK game journos and their international friends - not least due to an extended whinge on the very subject of game journalism that McKenna posted on Tom's Hardware earlier in 2006.

Thus, PC Gamer UK's Tim Edwards and Kieron Gillen, among others, organized a simultaneous blog-gasm of 'So You Want To Be A Games Journalist' - not entirely to have a go at McKenna, I don't think, but more to give an impression of what they think from their own perspectives. It's helpful! Soo... here's Gillen's take on the matter, explaining: "Look at the magazine you love. Realise which bits in it are tedious to do and/or a lot of work. Write something to fill that space and pitch it."

Also good is Richard Cobbett, who explains a bunch of stuff, including the very true note: "Of the hundreds upon thousands of people in the world who think 'Hey, I'd like to do that', the overwhelming majority... won't. Ever." And also Tim Edwards, who comments: "Don’t be a donkey, and you’ll probably do quite well at games journalism. Seriously." And the Triforce are being the Triforce - all gas and gaiters. But overall - good information has resulted.

RetroBlast's Motivational Arcade Posters Revealed

- We've previously covered RetroBlast's quest to find the best motivational poster (Successories-stylee) based around a classic video game image - and now we have the glorious winners, huzzah - overall victor ('Imagination'), which wins arcade controllers, gift certificates, and all other kinds of craziness, is pictured.

The original competition post says: "The arcade champions of yesterday are the lawyers, doctors, engineers, tradesmen and women, and business professionsals of today. In this capacity, most of us, at one time or another have seen the very cheesy "inspirational posters" tacked up in offices all over the world that display a supposedly motivational image and message that I suppose is intended to make us feel inspired while working in our little section of the Death Star. Frankly, I can't stand them and I know others feel the same way. These then will be the target format for our video and arcade game parody!"

So, here are all the winners and honorable mentions, then - sure, it's all a bit Photoshop Phriday, or what have you, but some of the honored mock-ups are pretty smart. Also, we like the incredibly complicated judging methods, so there.

EXCLUSIVE: LimeLife Press Kit Unwrapped, Contains Things

It was just one week ago that IGN redefined games journalism yet again by posting pictures of guys opening boxes and taking pictures of things you don't have in an exclusive pictorial of a PlayStation 3 which they very professionally defined as "hardware porn."

The vague descriptive paragraph they used was missing a few commas which we think is also part of this new journalism trend and so to be ahead of the curve we have decided to ditch commas completely for this entire post.

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Similarly we just got a package containing stuff that you probably don't have and in this exclusive pictorial we will very slowly and intricately open this nondescript FedEx package containing the moment you have all been drooling for the arrival of the press kit for LimeLife a company that makes cell phone games just for girls! Unlike IGN we will not be making porn jokes because girls are involved and if you're talking about girls and not hardware it is sexist and wrong and will get me fired. Click through for more!

[Click through for more.]

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What womanly mysteries lie behind these gaping flaps? No man can say.

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Guys we have confirmed folder. I repeat we have confirmed white folder. By this point we felt a warm glow coming from inside and knew that we were mere moments away from attaining nirvana.

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The strange cosmic rays coming from inside of the package mutated GameSetWatch editor simonc and now he can stretch his limbs like Mr. Fantastic! It was at this time that we thought the package may actually be some kind of strange mobile phone Pandora's Box but we continued anyway unthwarted in our efforts to bring you this exclusive scoop. I can think of no better way to die than for the sake of games journalism.

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Ladies and gentlemen a world exclusive first look at the insides of the LimeLife press kit. This moment will be remembered for all times just like the time that guy landed on the moon or that other time that a guy got shot in the head.

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Game Developer features editor Brandon Sheffield was particularly excited by the personal note inside from Double Forte's Barbara Gibson. To be honest I was too but I did a better job of hiding it.

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Using his stretchy powers to keep at a safe distance Simon opened the mysterious envelope marked "game" as we all sat back and drooled on ourselves in anticipation.

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Suddenly I remembered that it was my package sent to me and that clearly I should get to open it so I pushed Simon to the floor and reached for it myself. As you can see there is a brilliant and holy glow coming from this phone that has absolutely nothing to do with the camera's flash being reflected off of my awesome rhinestone cowboy hat that I stole from a Backbone party.

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My heart soared when I saw that the loaner cell phone LimeLife sent was pink because pink is Aerosmith's favorite color and also signifies that this cell phone contains games just for girls!

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We continued rifling through all of the contents of the package, finding such surprises as press releases postcards and even a business card! Simon is not wearing a silly hat in this picture which worries me. I will put it on my Christmas list.

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We're not usually this messy but I guess we got too excited. Brandon cried a little.

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Now this is more like it! Cleanliness is next to godliness and LimeLife for this one brief moment was our god.

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Exclusive closeups of the phone in action. Brandon polishes it with the tender maternal instincts that came out of all of us during this photo shoot.

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Boy that sure was fun but I don't know how cell phones work so I can't tell you any more. Stay tuned to GameSetWatch for exclusive updates on things that come in the mail that we open!

Kochalka Busts Out GBA Pocket Music FTW

- Soooo, talking of Game Boy-related audiovisual fun, we got an email from a certain James Kochalka revealing that he has "...put up a new Game Boy song in the mp3 section at AmericanElf.com" - and it's neeto.

Kochalka explains: "It's called My Chemical Sugar High. The music was created entirely on the Nintendo Game Boy using a program called Pocket Music. The song was inspired by the band My Chemical Romance, or at least by their name (and their eye make-up), because I've never actually heard any songs by that band. Anyhow, it's a song about candy and black eyes, and I'm giving away the mp3 for Halloween. Trick or treat!"

Oh, and here's the lyrics:

"My chemical sugar-high
My chemical sugar-high
My chemical sugar-high
Gave me a black eye.

My chemical sugar-high
My chemical sugar-high
My chemical sugar-high
Gave me a black eye.

My sugar depression
My candy obsession
My lollipop, wish I was dead.

My sugar depression
My candy obsession
My lollipop, wish I was dead."

[Picture via DeviantArt - and we've previously covered Mr. Kochalka's 'James Kochalka Superstar video shot on a gameboy camera by James Kochalka and edited by Pistol Stamen', for those wanting to see more Game Boy audio visual overload.]

GameSetCompetition Winner: Game Boy Camera!

- The deadline is passed, so now it's time to find out who won the Japanese Game Boy Camera in box, for all your retro several-shades-of-gray picture hilarity!

After much random finger-pointing, it was Luke Osterritter who won out, answering the question:

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

...correctly with the following statement:

"The answer is 30; not a lot, which is why I like to keep several around in case the mood strikes. :)"

Thanks to all those who entered, and thanks to a couple of people who didn't quite get it right and made us chuckle a bit (sorry, guys, but '1 megabit' is clearly not the answer, and posting the incorrect number of shots as a comment will also not make you win!)

Anyhow, I'm sure we can think of something else fun to give away again soon, so watch out for the next GameSetCompetition in due course.

October 30, 2006

Confessions Of A Clone Maker - The Aftermath!

- Over at sister site Gamasutra, we ran a slightly controversial Soapbox from John Andersen last week, named: 'Ripping Off Japan - Japanese Video Game Copyright Protection & Preservation (Or Lack Thereof)'. So we figured GSW was a good place to initially follow up some of the blog feedback.

Firstly, The Inbetween's Mike Nowak had a particularly interesting view on the article, since he was working alongside those who made some CBC Flash web games singled out by Andersen as being 'infringing' in some way (for example: "Sushi Samurai, a clever clone of Burgertime.") Nowak comments, among other things: "Now, I’m not here to argue that those CBC offerings are particularly original. They’re not. But they’re perfectly legal... Spending two thirds of an article attacking some small Flash games, while only giving a half a page mention to the more profitable, lucrative and recent clones by PopCap, hints at the author’s personal bias in the matter."

The 'personal bias' mentioned here is also referenced in some GayGamer.net comments on the same post, in which Raindog comments: "The real shame here isn’t that Flash designers are “ripping off” classic games, but that the classics haven’t become part of the cultural commons yet. Businesses like Andersen’s are really not much better than jackals coming late to the corpse."

Well, I commissioned the article, which we did present as 'Soapbox' rather than cold, hard fact, obviously. Now, I don't read John Andersen as someone who's interested in helping litigate and making scads of money. On the contrary, he comes across (at least to me!) as someone who genuinely cares about IP being respected - he's ended up advising people like G-Mode because he cares about people using their games without asking - and there are some much more egregious examples in the retro arcade game arena that he didn't directly address, I believe.

But one of the things that this controversy is already bringing up is - what really _is_ the law when it comes to IP and game ideas, exactly? For example, why does it feel like (in my mind, at least!) that Breakout is a 'genre' that can be cloned or elaborated on without so much guilt, but Puzzloop isn't? How do we encourage innovation without the innovators being immediately cloned, or is that cloning/deriving just a fact of life that actually helps the medium evolve? [This has come up before on Gamasutra, to much heated discussion.]

Anyhow, I've asked S. Gregory Boyd, who is a _nice_ game IP lawyer, to write a little piece for Gamasutra for later this week on a lawyer's view of how game concepts may or may not be protected - and I think he'll do a fairminded job. In the mean time, I asked Andersen to reply to Nowak's post, which he does after the cut - read on!

[Click through for more.]

Andersen says:

"First of all, I'd like to thank Mike Nowak for giving some constructive criticism regarding my Gamasutra piece, I really liked what he wrote, (despite the personal attacks) he brought up his own defense that I'd like to point out. He reveals the following behind the development of the CBC flash clones:

'When these games were being pitched and developed, I really wanted to create something new and fresh. Unfortunately, as always, time and money restricted that (these games were churned out, concept to live, in about a week) and we had to resort to tried and true formulas. Clones.'

Only a week to develop gaming content for the website of a national TV broadcaster? It was an insult to him and his creative ability, but like he said, the assignment had to be done. If Mr. Nowak and his fellow designers were given more time and some creative breathing room by the CBC, perhaps something new and original could have been developed. This new and original content could have been a hit, and CBC business affairs could have had a valuable property they could license out. Deadlines and pressure are nothing new in this business.

The point of my article is to get people talking, and I hope I've accomplished that. I never insulted or attacked Mr. Nowak personally, but unfortunately Mr. Nowak has attacked me, and I'll now defend myself. I want original and new content just as much as he does. I'm sure a whole room of people could debate for hours and bring up cases like Great Giana Sisters (a computer clone of Super Mario Bros. pulled from the market at the insistence of Nintendo) and pick apart the Data East cases as well.

I would like to bring forward my own reading material in this debate and that is the 1982 case of Atari, Inc. v. North American Philips Consumer Electronics Corp., 672 F.2d 607 (7th Cir. 1982), which states: The court, noting that a game is not protectible by copyright "as such," stated that video games are protectible "at least to a limited extent [insofar as] the particular form in which it is expressed provides something new or additional over the idea." Just take a look at the case and examine its court ruling.

Sushi Samurai came to my attention when a July 27th, 2006 Kotaku gaming blog began publicly exclaiming, "Burgertime with Sushi!" A Google search of Sushi Samurai and Burgertime turned up even further specific comparisons on other websites, all linking to the CBC website. Now we have a problem. G-mode sees that Burgertime, a property it owns and controls, is being devalued in public. I can assume that G-mode, a Japanese company, would like the CBC to respectfully recognize their concerns and take the game offline. This is about respect of ones work, plain and simple.

Why am I targeting flash clones developed four years ago by the CBC? To prove a point:

Mr. Nowak mentions I'm a marketer not a lawyer, he's correct, but I primarily focus on business development, and I prefer healthy business development. I do look out for my colleagues in Japan because they developed and published great games that have inspired us and continue to do so. I leave it to the legal consul of each company to work things out (hopefully to an amicable and peaceful conclusion) when matters like this arise.

From a moral standpoint I am deeply concerned about the corporate and personal animosity this clone activity creates within the industry. Public statements and litigation can ensue, resulting in ruined business development and reputations. If the CBC just happened to have an original gaming IP that was a hit, its business affairs division may encounter difficulty in finding a Japanese licensee because of its questionable clone work – it could happen. When you are not respected in Japan then you are ignored, plain and simple. Businesses can hold grudges against each other for a long time, I don't need to bring up examples or go any further. Just look at Roy Ozaki of Mitchell Corporation and the loss he's incurred with the Puzz Loop clones. That was the point I was trying to make.

In defense of my professional background, I'd like to politely correct Mr. Nowak's points:

I am quite aware of the company histories involving G-mode and Data East.

The cases involving Data East Vs. Epyx and Capcom Vs. Data East occurred around 1986 and 1993 respectively. It's unknown if each side brought forth the ruling of Atari Vs. Phillips case to the courts, but these were fighting games and the 1982 Atari Vs. Phillips decision revolved around Pac-Man versus KC Munchkin. Different genres, different styles in each case - it can all be debated back and forth.

G-mode and Data East are two completely separate business entities. Data East Corporation went bankrupt in 2003. G-mode, a mobile phone content provider established in 2000, only purchased a majority of the Data East gaming IP in 2004, while a small handful of games were acquired by Paon Corporation. I never had any business relationship with Data East and its former employees, nor have I had any business relationship with Taito. There was never a transfer of any employees, creative talent or management from Data East to G-mode. Aside from handling the Data East video game library, G-mode creates its own original game content and also licenses other gaming IP, such as Tetris, for distribution within Japan and select territories for mobile platforms.

G-mode and Taito are not releasing their own portable hardware, each company appears to have only separately licensed their games to Performance Designed Products (PDP) of Los Angeles, California. PDP is manufacturing the hardware, while G-mode and Taito are simply providing the content. I had no involvement in either deal as Mr. Nowak implies.

Finally, do others feel the current U.S. Copyright office stance on games appears vague? It appears its been written for board games rather than video games. Is a revision in order? Let's keep the discussion going. I think it's important to keep examining this issue with real history, facts, and business principles in mind, but let's keep the personal attacks to a minimum shall we?"

Metal Gear Solid Fan? Please To Be Drooling!

- Another of those periodic trawls around eBay has revealed that seller 'pyhod000' is auctioning off probably the largest Metal Gear Solid-related collection we've ever seen, including all kinds of insane rarities.

On the high end, for example, there's Metal Gear Solid wine for $499 ("A promotional item from Japan... It was handed to Konami's business partners only") and even a complete set of regular MGS trading cards from back in 1998 - which are semi-transparent and smart-looking, btw.

There's lots more promo or rare MGS stuff, so much so that we acn't really list it all. How about the MGS2 promo poster starring Gackt eh? Our favorite collectible of all of these is probably the Ape Escape 3 promo poster which spoofs Metal Gear, complete with simian-lile '...Uki?' and apes with villainous moustaches. Yay!

EGG Music Goes Obscure With Wonder Boy Creators

- Over at Hally's Vorc.org chiptune music blog points out that the Project EGG digital music store he's involved with has has started distributing a "very rare soundtrack from the unreleased arcade game "Tokeijikake no Aquario"."

He further explains: "Weston, the game company known with "Wonder Boy" series, has developed this game in 1993. It was almost completed, but never released due to the poor result of the location test. Some people say it was not a bad game at all, but 1993 was the worst year for such a "Monster Lair" style scroller as the interest to "Street Fighter II" and [similar titles] were too strong at that time..." Did anyone ever dump this for MAME emulation, I wonder?

The actual album, which is digital-only, is 1890yen ($16), though it does include remixes from popular chiptune artists Shogun, USK, and Blasterhead, which is an awesome idea. However: "Unfortunately the service doesn't accept any orderings from outside Japan. But at least you can listen to previews from all tracks." Hopefully someone will Westernize this service (maybe at slightly cheaper rates?) soon, because it'd be fun/neat to get legal goodness like this.

MC Chris KH2/RE4 Rant Gets All ViralTubed

- The clever folks at Aeropause have spotted a fun YouTube mashup starring MC Chris, also known as MC Pee Pants for those who watch Aqua Teen Hunger Force, and visualizing some audio he ranted spontaneously at the recent GameSpot After Hours event regarding Kingdom Hearts II and Resident Evil 4. And it's pretty funny, we think, bar some IM noises and misspelling. Is his voice just... like that?

"Grab the shotgun! You don't need to load it!" Etc. Anyhow, looks like the aforementioned MC Chris has a new album out, sure to be filled with geek references of all kinds, including video game ones - here's a new interview with him over at Wizard Universe, for those who'd like to geek out.

We also note that Chris' MySpace has some new tracks, including 'Kingdom Farts', which definitely has a bunch of game references in the first verse, and 'Townie', which isn't very game-related, but is really damn funky, and needs some lyric transcriptions, plz.

Defcon, With Plenty Of Delay

- Over at SiliconEra, the normally import-friendly site has returned a little closer to home, and has been quizzing Introversion's Chris Delay on the recent debut of 'everybody dies' simulator Defcon.

Delay takes pains to point out the way the title abstract things somewhat shockingly: "Quite a few gamers have commented on the way DEFCON is almost brutal in its bare, understated reporting of the facts behind global warfare. You launch a nuke, it decimates your opponent’s city and all you see is a small pop-up indicating the number of dead in one full sweep. You are entirely removed from the horrific reality of the situation and this is probably not far off from the real-life detachment of nuclear warfare."

He also notes what the company is working on next: "What we now call "The Fourth Game" was actually the game I was developing immediately after Uplink’s launch, and it was being developed side by side with Darwinia at one point. It was then put on hold while Darwinia was finished and released, and it has remained on hold while this little wargame "DEFCON" was finished." Apparently "...cunning observers of Introversion’s past would probably be able to infer roughly what we plan for the fourth game" - but we're not that clever. Anyone?

October 29, 2006

Xbox 360 Face Plates, Times A Zillion

- We noticed a couple of sites have been relinking to the somewhat spectacular Lowdown411 Xbox 360 faceplate index, which leads us to both marvel at it and wonder - how's the market for collecting Xbox 360 faceplates going?

First thing to note is that there's a surprising amount of exclusive faceplates tied to press events - for example, X05 Canada's three different maple-leaf themed faceplates (!), including " X05 Canada - Large Maple Leaf" and "X05 Canada - Small Maple Leaf w/Ring of Light". Can't see any of those listed on eBay right now, though someone is trying to sell a 16-item collection that includes a 'Launch Team' and 'X05' faceplate.

Then there's other game-specific faceplates mentioned on the site, if not eBay-available, such as a Prey-specific faceplate for example: "This was an item made in really low quantities, made solely for Human Head, 3D Realms, & Venom staff. There were some at E3 2006 on the demo units showing Prey on the show floor. They were never meant for sale or distribution." Go chase!

@ Play: Thou Art Early, But We'll Admit Thee

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

The venerable roguelike Nethack, the most popular of them all and possibly the deepest computer game ever made, is filled with a great many ways to die.

A popular spoiler some time ago was a listing of many of those ways, more than sixty of them, in which the game can end.

When a player in Nethack dies, the game prints an ASCII tombstone for him embossed with character name, cash on hand at game end, and the cause of death. This information also goes into the score list to be ranked against other players. One of the joys of playing Nethack on a multi-user system, in fact, is noting some of the unusual deaths experienced by other players and thinking to yourself at least it wasn't me that time.

[Click through for more.]

Now, it is fun to build onto the reputation of a game noted for mercilessness, to tell inverse fish stories about the times you died in an impressive manner. And Nethack indeed is not afraid to kill the player if he does something worth being killed for, or fails to protect himself from that death. The existence of cockatrices in the game is more than enough proof of that. But it can take a good amount of trial, and a whole lot of error, to learn all those situations, and some people regard this as one of the game's flaws.

For example, the first time a player encounters a giant eel may end the game, because they can wrap themselves around him and drag him into the water, killing him in two turns. Eels are an extremely dangerous opponent. But once the player knows about the danger, it turns out there's quite a lot he can do in this situation:

  • He can just use a means of taking care of the eel from afar, and since they can't leave the water that's not too difficult.
  • Or he might grease his armor, making it difficult for the eel to gain hold.
  • Or he might wear an oilskin cloak, which is similarly slippery.
  • Or he might wear an amulet of magical breathing, making drowning impossible.
  • Or he might polymorph into a monster that doesn't need to breathe.
  • Or he might bridge the water with ice using a wand of cold, since eels are harmless out of the water.
  • Or he might teleport the eel with a wand, hopefully onto dry land.
  • Or he might trap the eel in a small pool by pushing boulders into the spaces around him, creating land.
  • Or, if he's levitating, he can stop, surprising the eel and making him lose his grip.
  • Or he could just wear an amulet of life saving.

Nethack has many ways of killing players, but it also tends to have as many ways of surviving those deaths. On top of that, many of the "causes" in the game are actually caused by just one thing really: damage. Everything in Nethack that causes damage, even as little as one hit point of it, potentially has its own unique epitaph on the score list.

Because of these things, the game has a bit of a reputation among some players for being unnecessarily cruel to new players, but once you know (finally) everything there is to know they say it's actually somewhat easy. This may, indeed, be true, but keep in mind that most people take years to get to that state, of Knowing It All, and many of them have a lot of fun along the way as well, so long as they don't get too broken up about dying all the time.

Anyway, here are some of the more interesting (or at least entertaining) of the many causes of death in Nethack.

Death by Inches

Player, fell onto a sink.

One of the more back-handedly useful effects in the game is levitation, gained from wearing the appropriate ring or boots, or drinking a certain type of potion. If gained by ring or boots the effect lasts until the item is removed, and if the item in question is cursed then that's an exceptionally bad state to be in. Levitating players cannot pick up anything off the floor or go down stairs, although they can sail over water and many traps.

But there are clever ways out of many problems in Nethack, and involuntary levitation is no different. One of the ways to stop levitating is to move onto the same space as a sink. (Think about it for a second... and yes, there are kitchen sinks in this dungeon. For Nethack, it was only a matter of time.)

Players who attempt to levitate over a sink crash to the floor, and in the process (ah-ha) they take a small amount of damage. If that damage should just happen to put a player's hit points to zero or lower then they die, and the reason for death reported and saved to the score file is "fell onto a sink." Not the most notable way for a player to go, but there are worse ways....

Player, killed by an unrefrigerated sip of juice.

One of the most potent traps in Nethack for early players are the fountains scattered throughout the dungeon. You can tell when a player becomes serious about winning the game when he decides he's had enough of being killed by water demons or water moccasins, having his stuff stolen by water nymphs, dying from system shock from failed polymorphs, or drowning in created pools, and finally determines to himself that he's going to stop drinking from those damn fountains!!!

One of the possible results from drinking from a fountain is tainted water ("Perhaps it is run-off from the nearby slime mold farm?"), and when drunk—you can probably guess where this is going—it does a small amount of damage. Like with sink falls, if that puts a player into a health deficit he dies, the reaper forgoing his customary scythe in favor of that unrefrigerated sip of juice.

Player, killed by an electric chair.

Another source of random effects are thrones, which unlike fountains have enough possible good effects to make them worth the utilization risk. When a player sits on a throne the best possible result is a wish for an object. The worst result is a shock of electricity that does, you guessed it, damage.


Death by Logic

Player, killed by a scroll of genocide.

We're starting to go now from random novelties to genuine sources of peril, but this one's still pretty obscure. Scrolls of genocide eliminate all of one type of monster in the game. Blessed scrolls do the same for one whole class of monster – classes are all those monsters represented by the same character on the display, for example all "h"s. But one of those characters that represent monsters is "@", which of course represents humans and elves, and the player is also an @. Thus reading a blessed scroll and specifying @ is a very quick way to perish yourself.

Ordinarily this is just kind of a joke, as it's pretty easy, you know, to just not type a @ when asked what you want to genocide, but there is one circumstance where it can be very perilous indeed. One of Nethack's many unique features is that some items have different effects in some circumstances, like when they are blessed or cursed for example. It so happens that scrolls, when read while the player is confused, have entirely different effects from when they're read when clear-minded. Sometimes these effects are better than the normal ones (especially scrolls of taming, which become much better), but a few are worse, and worst of them all are scrolls of genocide, which automatically kill the player when read while confused. They are the primary reason it is bad idea to ID scrolls by experimentation while confused.

Player, unwisely ate the body of Pestilence.

Nethack's epitaphs are usually straight-faced. Sometimes they might seem a little pithy (like "killed by elementary physics," which comes from damage taken from throwing objects into the air and not having something hard to wear on your head), but this is the only one that actually passes judgement on the player, at least in a way other than killing him.

On the Astral Plane at the end of the game there are three specific monsters who cannot be permanently slain (at least not normally – as with almost everything, There Are Ways), three of the riders of the apocalypse, Death Pestilence and Famine. You can run them out of hit points, but that will leave their corpse on the ground and it is always just a matter of time before it becomes animate again and resumes its pursuit.

Some players, who might think themselves pretty clever, will off one of these regenerating opponents and realize that he's fought foes like that before. Trolls in Nethack are infamous for resuming the fight over and over again, coming back to life over and over, until some method of disposing of their corpse is found. The method of choice is usually eating the corpse, but doing this against those final opponents will always kill the player, regardless of almost all other circumstances. That'll learn 'em.

Player, petrified by a cockatrice.
Player, petrified by swallowing a cockatrice whole.
Player, petrified by touching a cockatrice corpse.
Player, petrified by trying to tin a cockatrice without gloves.

The lowly cockatrice is perhaps the most dangerous monster in the game. There are plenty of monsters with more hit points, who do more damage, who have special attacks, and are just bigger, but cockatrices instantly kill anyone who touches them with their bare skin, and are thus very likely to kill players unwise in their dealings with them. Even Death up on Astral Plane has to succeed in an attack against a player to deliver an instakill, but a cockatrice can kill by being attacked.

  • If the player attempts to fight a cockatrice without a weapon or wearing gloves and hits, he turns to stone.
  • If the player hears a cockatrice's hissing, there's a chance he'll begin to turn to stone slowly. There are a few ways to stop that process, but if none of them are used he is petrified that way.
  • If he attempts to pick up a dead one with his bare hands, that will also turn him to stone. (It can also be wielded, however. Applications for a wielded cockatrice corpse are left for you to imagine, but I will say that it can be, hm, useful.)
  • If he's blinded and steps on the same space as a dead cockatrice without gloves on, then, since the player can only discover what's on a space by feel in that event, he'll become a very confused-looking statue indeed.
Player, killed by a collapsing drawbridge

There aren't really that many drawbridges in the game. There are never any before the Quest (around level 12-15), and sometimes the player won't find one until the Castle, which is quite deep into the dungeon. There's always a drawbridge on the Castle level, but many times there won't be any others.

The problem with drawbridges is that, if you're standing on the space in front of one and it opens you get squished, full stop. If you're standing on one that closes or gets destroyed you'll meet a similar end, even if you can breathe water. There are so few drawbridges in the game that discovering these deaths by trial and error means the end of very good runs, so many Nethack players come to develop an irrational fear of drawbridges, even if the actual deaths themselves are rare.


Deadly Reading

Player, committed suicide.

Sounds pretty prosaic, right? Several things a player can do in Nethack can cause direct death but have their own epitaphs, so what must players do to be considered to have explicitly committed suicide? The cause is fairly obscure.

First, get a cursed scroll of teleport, or read an uncursed one while confused. Teleport scrolls usually transport the player to another spot on the current level, but if they are read while it's cursed or he's confused the player will instead be transported to another dungeon level.

Then, obtain a means of teleport control. There aren't many ways to get this, the least risky way being to find the eponymous ring. Once worn it means, when you teleport, you get to pick where you go instead of getting sent to a random location. And if you get level-teleported, you get to pick, by entering a number, which level you go to.

Yes, you can go very deep into the dungeon instantly with just the ring and one scroll if you like, and almost reach the lowest level with but two scrolls. But consider for a moment: what does it mean to go to some numbered level of a dungeon? If you go to level "1," you are one level beneath the surface. If, on the other hand, you were in the basement of a tower and you took an elevator to the first floor, you'd then be on ground level. The riddle here is: where would be the zeroth floor?

The proper answer is "nowhere," and if, when asked what level to be magically teleported to, you answer "0," the answering prompt should be more than enough warning:

Go to Nowhere. Are you sure? [ynq] (q)

If you say "y," the result is:
You scream in agony as your body begins to warp... You cease to exist. Your possessions land on the floor with a thud.

Why this lurid fate is masked on the score list with "committed suicide" is anyone's guess.

Player, teleported out of the dungeon and fell to his death.

If, to the above prompt, you answered a negative number (that is, some level above the surface):

You are now high above the clouds... Unfortunately, you don't know how to fly. You plummet a few thousand feet to your death.

If you're a monster who can fly the result is different:
You are now high above the clouds... you fly down to the ground.

Your game still ends, mind, but it's by escaping, not death. There is not really a lot of difference between the two results, you just get 10% more points and the comforting knowledge that your character can now roam the earth as a vampire lord or whatever.

Player, went to heaven prematurely.

There's yet another result if you teleport to level -10 or, uh, higher:
You arrive in heaven. "Thou art early, but we'll admit thee."

There are a good number of other neat death causes, including a couple that aren't seen too much these days, "panic," meaning Nethack encountered a seriously faulty internal state and ended the game to avoid a likely crash, and "trickery," which means the game, upon inspecting a save or temporary level file, discovered that it failed its internal consistency checks and assumes the player is cheating by modifying them.


The Most Obscure Death

First, get a means of polymorph (a certain potion will do the trick) and a ring of polymorph control. It doesn’t matter what you turn into, it just has to be something that can read.

You’ll also need a scroll of genocide. The idea is to genocide your own species while polymorphed into another type of monster. This produces the ominous message:

You feel dead inside.

Now, when you change back to normal, your game will end instantly. Of course you could remain a monster indefinitely with an amulet of unchanging. You would, indeed, have to do this to stay in the game.

But what you want to do is not keep playing. You want to quit instead, with Alt-Q, which provides one of the cooler messages in Nethack:

Player, quit while already on Charon’s boat.

Charon is, by some accounts, the boatman that ferries souls to the underworld. He is also a monster who has long been seen in Nethack’s source code but has never been actually included in the game. It seems like he has been doomed forever, along with Cerberus, on the sidelines of the monster definition array, kept away from existence by a mere comment barrier, since the days of 3.1 and before.

There are other ways to get the Charon’s boat epitaph, as noted in Google Groups message from 2003. It seems that it's possible to abort some versions of Nethack in a way that causes it to automatically save, such as ending a telnet session or hitting Ctrl-C at a [more] prompt. If the player has been taken down to zero or lower hit points by his last action, but hasn't gotten the "You die...." message yet, then upon restoring the game the player will die immediately and the Charon's boat message will be given as the cause.


Interesting causes of death are part of what make Nethack, Nethack. Even players who consider that they have no chance of winning can still at least strive for a memorable way to end their life. One of the awards at /dev/null's yearly Nethack tournament is one for most causes of death encountered during the one-month contest period. You can also play the game to win, competing against legendary players like marvin, aka Christian Bressler, who last time won thirteen games in a row to walk away with the Best of 13 trophy.

Even if you don't think you have a chance at that one, you'll still get to compete on the big top score list, and encounter bones files from other players along the way. There's still time to sign up to play at this year's tournament, beginning November 1st, at http://nethack.devnull.net/. Maybe I'll see you, or a ghost that used to be you, there.

Chi-Style Drunksaling Go Bye Bye For 2K6

- We note with chagrin that, over at The New Gamer, the final instalment of 'Chi-Style Drunksaling' for 2006 has been posted, showcasing Chicago garage/thrift gamehunting fun.

Of course, half the fun of the column is the ridiculous non-game stuff they dig up, but hey, this time: "At least this weekend bore some fruit: a not-unwelcome non-Greatest Hits copy of Final Fantasy Tactics, and I can now explore the delights of the cockroach world with Bad Mojo. Not pictured was a cheap copy of Deus Ex 1 that I found at the last second. Unlike last year, this copy actually contained the proper discs."

And, at the end, they explain: "And that appears to be the end of the 2006 'drunksaling' season. Several days following snapping these photos Chicago had its first snowfall, which usually marks the period when folks are unwilling to sit outside for hours and let strangers paw through their goods... If by any chance you missed one of our outings, feel free to trawl through the back-issues in the drunksaling archives!" Please do!

GameSetCompetition Reminder: Game Boy Camera

- The competition deadline (Monday at noon!) is almost upon us, so time for a reminder on our GameSetCompetition to win a Game Boy Camera in box, for all your retro several-shades-of-gray picture hilarity!

Also, we have to boast that the competition is so hawt this time round that we even got a semi-celebrity cartoonist/rockstar entering (hint: we wrote about his GBCam music videos recently!)

Anyhow, he didn't win just yet (he has the same chance as everyone else, tho!), and as previously mentioned, 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!

COLUMN: 'Game Mag Weaseling': Top 10 Silliest Computer Mag Covers in History

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

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This column is late as all 'eck, but there's a good reason for it. That's because I've spent the last couple hours poring over my computer-magazine collection (numbering over 2500 these days, and I'm proud to say there isn't a single PC World or Wired in it) in order to build something I've meant to create for a few days now -- The Top 10 Silliest Computer Mag Covers in History.

Now, keep in mind that when I say "silly," I don't necessarily mean "crap." I have a deep-seated love for nearly every home-computer mag from the 1970s and 80s, and it always pains me, in a way, to think about how boring the PC industry has become these days. Mag editors had real enthusiasm and ideas about the revolution they were fomenting back then. What they didn't always, however, was the top caliber in cover design. This occasionally leads to covers that, while normal-looking or even eye-catching in their day, look just plain silly in 2006. Hence, this list.

This ranking is based entirely off my own magazine collection, which is heavily geared toward the classic era of computing, so naturally it's not gonna cover every silly mag out there. If you have a magazine you think I'm missing, though, by all means leave a comment (and a picture, hopefully) and I'll cover it later.

[Click through for more.]

#10: BYTE, December 1977

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GameSetWatch has discussed Robert Tinney in the past; he drew the covers for BYTE (the first dedicated microcomputer mag) from 1976 to 1987 and came up with all sorts of exotic visual metaphors for the infant technology of the day. This cover, though, reveals one very deep similarity computer nerds of the 70s shared with modern geeks -- they are all massive pop-culture SF nuts. I can't get enough of Sulu trying to poke at a primitive dual-floppy drive system (probable cost at the time: about $1000).

Even better, the cover actually forebodes an article inside: "The Computers of Star Trek" -- a highly entertaining speculative piece written by two engineers who were such total nerds that they actually worked for the US Department of Defense.

#9: Antic, February 1989

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Antic (along with A.N.A.L.O.G. Computing) was the most widely-read US magazine devoted to the Atari 8-bit computers. Lesser known is the fact that Antic's editorial office has a magical Atari 800XL that shoots Video Toaster graphics out of the screen at the user.

The female user seems pretty happy about this, too. "Hey, Atari! Nintendo and IBM and Commodore got you down? Chill out, brah -- you've got PROGRAMMING POWER!"

#8: inCider/A+, April 1990

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A sad yet common pattern with late-era 8-bit computer mags is covers that get boring due to lack of design funds. A+'s answer: put someone's kid (I think -- I'm actually having trouble discerning this guy's age) on the cover instead. Antic's final year or so also included a disproportionate number of random kids on its covers, too. Hmm. I didn't realize computer-mag editors got married so often, much less had children.

#7: Call A.P.P.L.E., November 1984

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"Meet hotline veteran Butch Greathouse," this issue's "On the Cover" text box notes. "Butch is our daytime hotline staffer. If you need technical assistance, don't hesitate to get acquainted with him...who knows, it could be a beautiful relationship."

What the blurb doesn't discuss is why Butch is so shocked to have his Apple give him one of its boards for...Christmas? Who knows? Even the mortarboard atop the computer fails to make this cover photo's link to "Computers and Education" particularly strong.

#6: Kilobaud Microcomputing, August 1980

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Wayne Green was one of the most successful early publishers of computer mags, and multiplatform title Kilobaud was his flagship product from 1977 until 1983, when he sold the whole operation to IDG. He was based out of tiny Peterborough, New Hampshire (population: 5883), and that may explain why, despite the mag's sales success (this issue is 242 pages long), the cover art isn't quite top-class.

All right, let's be honest, it's crap. MC68000 woman looks to be about 68 years old, though, so it fits pretty well, actually.

#5: 80 Microcomputing, May 1980

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Green's other big early success was this title, a mag devoted to Tandy's TRS-80 line of PCs. This cover, however, quite possibly scared off a large number of younger computer buyers back in the day -- after all, if this was what most TRS-80 users looked like, then maybe this whole computer-revolution thing isn't quite what its cracked up to be.

I'm not going to identify the guy on the cover 'cos he still writes stuff and I'm sure he's a wonderful guy nowadays, but you couldn't personify the word "nerd" as defined in 1980 better than with this photo. Note the enormous horn-rims and the trio of scientific calculators in the background.

#4: Softalk, March 1981

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Softalk is one of the most fondly-remembered Apple II mags for its friendly voice, its software sales rankings (the first in the industry), and for its underground mentality. Issues go for tons whenever they appear on eBay, and I'm very proud to own a full set.

This issue's cover, however, would make any red-blooded male run shouting from the computer industry if Super-Nerd from 80 Micro didn't scare him off earlier. Note, once more, the blonde in the background who'd actually be rather fetching if it weren't for those enormous hornrims.

By the way, these ladies all worked for Apple Computer in 1981. The one on the far right is Jean Richardson, who was Apple's marketing manager at the time. She later moved on to Microsoft, became a vice-president, and then appeared in compu-documentary Triumph of the Nerds discussing Bill Gates' poor hygiene.

#3: Boardwatch, April 1993

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I could make another complete top-ten list with Boardwatch issues alone. Every issue seems to put one BBS sysop or another on the cover, and BBS sysops (at least those not running pirate BBSes) seemed to invariably be overweight men in their 40s.

I chose this one, tho, 'cos (a) its creative use of title fonts is divine, and (b) it's historically significant. I remember Rusty n Edie's BBS being all over the news in 1993; they were the BBS in Ohio that charged $90 a year for access and were (as the mag puts it) "the worst-kept secret in the industry" when it came to warez and scanned-in porn. But Rusty and Edie look like such nice people in their shopping-mall caricature! They wouldn't hurt a fly!

(By the way, personal request for info -- does anyone know when Boardwatch actually closed publishing? The last issue I have is from 1998 but it seems to have lasted far longer.)

#2: The Color Computer Magazine, August 1983

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The Color Computer Magazine (devoted to Tandy's Color Computer series) was another New England-based mag, this one coming from New England Publications in Camden, ME, which also put out a variety of outdoors magazines. I think being a computer hacker in Maine would do this to anybody.

#1: Timex Sinclair User, August 1983

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For someone about my age, this pretty much sums up computing in the '80s -- going to computer camp, putting your socks way up high, and wearing a propellor beanie. Nearly every issue of Timex Sinclair User (all seven of them) has an equally silly cover, but I chose this one because it struck a nerve -- I remember looking exactly like this, except I was hunched over a Commodore 64 and weighed about 100 pounds more. Sigh...memories.

Top 10 Runners-up

  • 21 years ago, Macs were giving you money. Now they cost a lot of money, and what's more, can't play games. How times change!

  • It's somehow gotten difficult for me to believe that Jaws was such a pop-culture event in America at the time, but I guess it was. Seems almost quaint nowadays.

  • Commodore 64 rag RUN reveals every office worker's inner dream: To be SuperFloppy. No, wait, that didn't come out right...

  • CP/M used to be a pretty popular operating system in America. But do you know who else used CP/M computers? Yep, that's right...

  • I love piracy-themed mag covers. The pirates on the cover always look like they're having so much fun, compared to the boring businessmen that usually take up residence there.

  • Fortunately for Commodore users, the games market took a noted upturn after this distressing cover was published.

  • Edward Gorey drew a computer-magazine cover once. Bet you didn't know that.

  • Here's an example of a cover that just gets creepier and creepier the more you stare at it.

  • The Rainbow gives us a taste of music in the year 2000. Perhaps.

  • Finally, Antic takes an early stab at attracting the financially vital furry geek marketplace. Bonus points are applied for the random flying neon letters -- now that's word processing, baby.

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



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


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