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Archive For October, 2006

Is This The Scariest Game Mag Cover Ever?

October 28, 2006 12:01 AM | Simon Carless

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

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

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

Pom Pom's Bliss Island Looking Blissful On PSP

October 27, 2006 7:01 PM | Simon Carless

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

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

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

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

October 27, 2006 2:01 PM |

[The Gentleman Nerd is a weekly column written by Jason McMaster and is dedicated to the more discerning tastes of the refined dork. Due to Jason's extreme nature, most of his columns will be subtitled 'Why I Love...' or 'Why I Hate...' - in case you were wondering.]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Jason McMaster is a freelance writer who has written for Gamasutra, GameSpy and several other publications. He’s currently working on a few small projects and updating his blog, Lamethrower, as often as he can.]

Oh Em Gee Best Imaginary Game Soundtracks Ever

October 27, 2006 9:04 AM | Simon Carless

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

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

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

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

You've Got To Jump Button All Over Amped 3

October 27, 2006 4:01 AM | Simon Carless

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

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

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

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

A Game Collector's Melancholy: The Panzer Dragoon Franchise

October 26, 2006 11:34 PM |

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

Panzer Dragoon

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

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

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

Panzer Dragoon II Zwei

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

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

Panzer Dragoon Saga

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

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

Panzer Dragoon Orta

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

An Ancient Recording Device

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

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

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

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

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

Star Trek Encounters Gets Vulcan Mind Probed

October 26, 2006 7:30 PM | Simon Carless

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

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

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

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

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

October 26, 2006 3:34 PM | Simon Carless

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

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

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

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

Zack 'Scut Farkus' Ward and Postal creator Vince Desi

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

Aand... here's the costume.

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

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

Second Life? Bah, Humbug!

October 26, 2006 9:51 AM | Simon Carless

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

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

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

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

BUZZ Words: Nintendo's Fatal Success

October 26, 2006 7:20 AM |

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

Atari, Or Won't They?

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

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

Wii Won't Rock You

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

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

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

The Short Tail!

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

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

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

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

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

Mario Love You Long Time

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

Epic Conclusion, Here

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

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

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

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

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