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GameSetWatch.com is the alt.video game weblog and sister site of Gamasutra.com. It is dedicated to collecting curious links and media for offbeat and oft-ignored games from consoles old and new, as well as from the digital download, iOS, and indie spaces.

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Archive For November, 2006

@ Play: Hack Hacks

November 27, 2006 1:05 AM |

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.]

/dev/null's annual Nethack tournament is, as I type this, winding its way towards concluding another successful year. While there have not been a good many surprises this time out (Christian "marvin" Bressler has already won Best of 13 again), there has been a fairly substantial surprise in the game itself.

One of the things that Nethack makes possible, and /dev/null takes advantage of in their contests, is for game administrators to provide customized games for their players. The level description files that Nethack uses to generate levels are separate from the game executable, and can be compiled separately from the main game without even invalidating old saves. The source code itself is also open, freely available on nethack.org, which over the years has made possible Nethack's handful of variants, including Slash'EM. One might think that a game in which all its secrets are laid bare in the source code would provide no surprises for a player, and it is true that the source itself is the primary Nethack spoiler, but since the source is not always easy to read, and much of the game is randomly generated anyway, this doesn't tend to ruin the game. (In fact, if anything, only spoiled players ever seem to win at Nethack....)

So what /dev/null has done is implement a "challenge," a patch to the game that is added each year to the source of their version of the game to mix the game up for long-time players. (There is an option to play without it as well.) This was begun last year, with an appropriately far-reaching mood set by asking players to go over to popular webgame Kingdom of Loathing, which includes a special theme area as an homage to Nethack, and complete a quest there. This year's challenge is entirely in-game, adding new monsters and items and a special procedure to be undergone concerning them.

[Click through for more.]

Gamasutra Weekly Round-Up, Nov. 26th

November 26, 2006 8:14 PM | Simon Carless

- Once again, seems like a good opportunity to peruse interesting Gamasutra columns and news for this week (with a bonus feature link added, this time!). So let's do that, eh, since Gama is the big brother site we actually run to make a living and suchlike?

- Q&A: Nurve's LaMothe On The Hydra Console: "Nurve Networks has announced the Hydra Game Console, a multi-processor DIY 'edutainment platform' that plays classic game clones and is designed for budding console coders to program directly onto - we talk to Nurve's Andre LaMothe about this enterprising new educational console." This is wacky stuff!

- Playing Catch Up: Night Trap's Rob Fulop: "Today's Playing Catch-Up column talks to Imagic co-founder and co-creator of the infamous '90s FMV title Night Trap, Rob Fulop, who suggests that the controversy over the title "had nothing to do with the actual game, it was simply politics"." Hey, this got linked on GamePolitics, that was cool!

- FBI, NCSoft Close Down Unauthorized Lineage II Servers: "FBI agents, working in conjunction with officials from MMO firm NCsoft, have closed down L2Extreme, a free website alleged to be providing "fraudulent service" by running unauthorized Lineage II servers. [UPDATE: Comments added from the FBI agent assigned to the case.]" As people at work will attest, I was very excited to talk to the FBI this week - possibly too excited. I did promise him that I wouldn't print his phone number, though.

- Converging: An Interview With Henry Jenkins: "In this extensive Gamasutra interview, we talk with MIT professor and author Henry Jenkins on the 'games as art' debate, Second Life's contribution to participatory culture, and how games are like bits of fur and silk in our desk drawers." Gonna link this cos it debuted on Thanksgiving, so you'd better not have missed it!

There's also a bunch of other fun stuff, particularly in the Gamasutra features, but just go poke around a bit, we know you round here, we won't give you the hard sell!

Why Are There No Prestige Games?

November 26, 2006 3:04 PM | Simon Carless

- Over on his blog, Manifesto Games' Greg Costikyan has a very interesting post called 'Why Are There No Prestige Games?', which raises a number of questions - which I will now ramble upon at length.

After referencing games like Clover Studios' Okami and Doublefine's Psychonauts, Costikyan references alleged comparisons in the film and book industries, and concludes: "Wouldn't we all--the industry and gamers alike--be better served by businesses which understand that, sure, the bottom line is the end game--but that there are multiple routes to the goal, and that sales alone are not the sole measure of a game's value?"

A couple of comments on this. Firstly, as I mention in the comments, Psychonauts ended up costing a pretty spectacular $14 million, which makes it the equivalent of a big-budget action flick at current-gen prices. But more to the point - I don't think it was pegged as a 'prestige' project, and nor was Okami. They're simply games that aspired to make money, didn't, and ended up having creative leanings that make them beloved at a later date. And that's true of a lot of cinematic classics, too.

More to the point, I don't think that publishers necessarily derive corporate goodwill from releasing games that may not be entirely commercial, at this point - people differentiate the developer from the publishing entity. So in pure hard profit terms, I just don't think the concept of 'prestige titles' exists. Companies have to plan to make a profit on each game they make.

Having said that, though, I think that services such as Xbox Live Arcade present a great opportunity, on the much lower end of the development budget, to make 'prestige' and riskier projects. Right now it appears pretty easy to sell 50,000 copies of a new $10 game on Xbox Live Arcade, which is about $250,000 going back to the developer. So if you can spend less than that on the game, and perhaps also release it on PC, then there's a definite opportunity - but right now, only for 3 or 4 person developers. But as the big aggregators grow for indie games (and they will!), we've got plenty to look forward to.

Hopefully the PS3 and Wii download services will work the same way, in time, as well as some bigger PC aggregators for non-casual or borderline-casual titles - and I honestly believe that we're entering a golden age of indiedom this way, not by big publishers trying to derive some kind of overall halo from funding loss-leading 'prestige' titles. (Even the arthouse divisions of major movie studios tend to make money by having a very few breakout hits and overall low development costs, as I understand it. Major console titles like Psychonauts and Okami are just too complex and expensive to work under that model.)

GameSetScans: Marvel's Marvel-ous Early '90s Video Games

November 26, 2006 10:09 AM | Simon Carless

[I recently got an Epson scanner, and you'll see a random collection of paper-based ephemera (much of it not game related!) on my personal Pop Cult Scan Fun weblog. But I'll be reposting the game-related stuff here, and here's another example.]

There's morer new potential scans to put up soon - they're piling up on top of my scanner as we speak - but here's something fun from a 1993 issue of Marvel in-house promo comic Marvel Age which relates to both comics and video games.

Specifically, it's a two page article about how Marvel's comic book characters were flowing freely (often without much quality control!) onto the Sega Genesis, Nintendo Game Boy and SNES, and even the Sega Game Gear back in the early '90s - but it starts off with pre-release info on Capcom's 'Punisher/Nick Fury coin-op video game' for arcades.

    

There's a couple of interesting points for extreme video game geeks here - not least that the CPS2 title was eventually released as The Punisher, even though it still has Nick Fury in it too - presumably the name was changed to focus on the one, more famous character. You can also see the full, larger version of the Henry Flint art used for the arcade machine's header title art.

On the second page, there's discussion of the "rapidly expanding CD-ROM field", with pictures from The Amazing Spider-Man Vs. The Kingpin for Sega CD, which was indeed released: "The game also added two new levels, extra combat moves, the ability to collect reproductions of famous Spider-Man comic books issues, and an original musical score by the Mr. Big rock band." Woo!

There's also mention of an Acclaim version of Spider-Man for the Game Boy (which may be 'Invasion Of The Spider-Slayers on the Wikipedia list, I think?), and the U.S. Gold iteration of The Incredible Hulk for the Genesis - both of which were typically mundane cartridge-based superhero titles, I'm afraid. Still, The Punisher is pretty good!

COLUMN: 'Might Have Been' - Wurm

November 26, 2006 5:04 AM |

Disclaimer: the pink dinosaur is Asmik's mascot and does not appear in Wurm. So don't get your hopes up.[“Might Have Been” is a bi-weekly column by Todd Ciolek that explores the ways in which promising games, characters, and concepts failed. This week’s edition looks at Asmik and Sofel's Wurm, released in 1991 for the Nintendo Entertainment System.]

Wurm: Journey to the Center of the Earth belongs to that oft-ignored subset of NES games that try to be several different things at once. There’s a reason this field is oft-ignored: from The Adventures of Bayou Billy to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, most multi-genre NES titles are tepid and clumsy. But that didn't stop Wurm from trying.

In the purest sense, Wurm began with Vic Tokai’s Golgo 13: Top Secret Episode. A 1988 NES adaptation of Takao Saito’s manga, Golgo 13 mixed side-scrolling action with first-person shooting and several other play styles in a decidedly awkward manner (indeed, the game’s now remembered mostly for slipping a sex scene past Nintendo’s censors). The following year, two Vic Tokai developers, Hiroshi Kazama and Shouichi Yoshikawa, declined to work on the next Golgo title, The Mafat Conspiracy, and instead turned to a lesser-known publisher called Sofel. There, they set to work on a genre-mixing game that was entirely their own. Wurm was that game.

[Click through for more!]

Squishy, Physic-y Starfishy Approaches!

November 26, 2006 12:08 AM | Simon Carless

- Physics game blog Fun-Motion has collared its latest physics game victim and it's student title Squishy The Starfish, described as "a 2D side-scrolling environmental puzzle game."

However, it's noted (and this is something I feel of a lot of physics-based games, actually!): "While Squishy the Starfish does bring a nice twist to the genre with the five-armed starfish treatment, a swinging physics game is nothing new. The real test of a swinging game lies in the controls, though. It’s dangerous territory as a designer; the line between “novel” and “frustrating” is awfully thin. Squishy does a good job addressing some of the problems of a multi-rope swinging mechanic with its mouse-only controls."

A conclusion? In this case: "Squishy is a solid implementation of a slick concept for a physics game. It’s a little unpolished, probably due to the time constraints of being a student project, but it’s a great student project. Hell, I’d hire them."

COLUMN: 'Game Mag Weaseling': The Lost Art of the Newsletter

November 25, 2006 7:04 PM |

['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.]

It's post-Thanksgiving in the US and I'm sure everyone's still feeling too sick to move, so I thought I'd spend this weekend with less text for you to read and more pictures for you to look at.

This week I want to talk about newsletters, a concept that's likely completely alien to people who began their game careers anytime after the SNES. During the classic era, and especially during the NES years, free newsletters were a common way for third-party software makers to build a mailing list and advertise directly to consumers. The Nintendo Fun Club News started out as a newsletter in 1986 before ballooning into Nintendo Power two years later, and Atari Age is one that still attracts big bucks whenever issues appear on eBay.

Lesser coveted are the NES-era company newsletters, of which there were approximately a billion. Nearly all the top NES licensees (and quite a few of the smaller ones) had some form of newsletter, ranging from low-budget to what amounted to mini-versions of Nintendo Power. Let's take a look at a few I have in the file cabinet...

[Click through for more.]

Medal Of Honor, From Renderware To Unreal Engine

November 25, 2006 2:08 PM | Simon Carless

- One of the more surprising stories I've written on Gamasutra over the previous few months was the news, purposefully released late on a Friday in August, that Electronic Arts was licensing Unreal Engine 3 for "several next-generation titles that are currently under development."

As I wrote at the time: "The brief announcement states that EA "employs a variety of engines, tools and technologies to best serve the needs of each game and development team", but raises interesting issues regarding the Criterion-authored Renderware engine, purchased by EA in 2004 alongside the Burnout developer, and its intended global EA rollout."

Immediately subsequent to that, analyst PJ McNealy put out a research note claiming that the new next-gen Medal Of Honor title, named Medal Of Honor: Airborne and in development at Electronic Arts Los Angeles, had switched to UE3, though EA apparently wasn't commenting on specific games at the time.

Well, preparing a news story for Gama earlier this week, I spotted that, on Gnomon Online's instructor page, Bil Leeman - [EDIT: VFX Animator, thanks commenter!], EA Los Angeles, is working on MoH: Airborne and is teaching... Unreal Editor 3. Aha! And actually, a little Googling later, it turns out that a late October GameSpot preview of the game confirms: "The team at EA LA is using a "heavily modified" version of Unreal Engine 3 to create Airborne."

Now, why is this a big deal? Well, in the February 2006 issue of Game Informer magazine, which had the big unveiling of MoH: Airborne, commented at the time (sorry for scan linkage): "This was our first glimpse of Medal Of Honor Airborne - a video combining running interactive game software and target footage exhibiting Renderware on the PlayStation 3."

So it definitely seems like (and please correct me if you know otherwise!) the Medal Of Honor next-gen team had to change engines midstream when Renderware didn't come up to scratch for developing a AAA-wannabe World War II FPS. Given that EA or Criterion doesn't really seem to have a flagship next-gen title demonstrating Renderware, it may be that the engine team is significantly behind UE3's technology curve - further cementing Unreal's position as leading next-gen game engine.

It's going be interesting, frankly, to see whether EA ever mentions the Renderware name in public again with regard to it being a core company strength - I'm betting not, even if elements of the engine end up getting used in some internal technology. Indeed, the recent EA press reelease touting their PS3 titles mentions the 'bleeding-edge Frostbite game engine' for Battlefield: Bad Company, but doesn't even reference Renderware for Criterion's Burnout 5, which is obviously using upgraded elements of that engine.

Don't get me wrong, this isn't a complete disaster overall for EA, but it shows the difficulty of implementing a company-wide game engine when your game genres are so diverse, and a lot of the tech used for current-gen is already heavily entwined within existing game engines. And for Medal Of Honor: Airborne (and possibly other games that were significantly in development with Renderware before being switched to UE3), it may be a big deal simply because it's horrendously tricky to change your entire technology base after you start core development.

As EA's John Buchanan commented at TGS 2005, when it was revealed that Electronic Arts Los Angeles was on 'the cutting edge' of the RenderWare implementation: "For the most part, the understanding is that we want to get ready to innovate and experiment, and in order to do that, we need to stop wasting time by re-inventing a rendering or animation engine." Well, woops - but in some ways the switching of Medal Of Honor to UE3 can be seen as vindication of that statement - just not using an engine that's actually owned by EA. Ouch.

Minna No... Curling?

November 25, 2006 9:04 AM | Simon Carless

- Over at knowledgable import store NCSX, they have a write-up of a pretty funny Japanese DS title - the newly released Minna No Curling, which takes the ice-based precision sport kicking and screaming onto Nintendo's handheld.

NCSX handily explains: "The "sport" of Curling may be compared to bowling but instead of a ball and nine pins, the thrower shoves a flat-bottomed stone across a field of ice towards the vicinity of a target. Once thrown, teammates vigorously brush the path in front of the stone to guide it into the house. The intention is to affect the movement and spin of the stone by polishing the ice so that the stone glides into the intended area. Virtual curling follows the basic procedures of real curling and NDS gamers get to control everything from the launch of the stone to the brushing of the ice."

Oh, and apparently: "The Japan Curling Association gave their stamp of approval to the game." Seems like the Japanese sometimes make games on _very_ niche sports (see: a marathon running game for the PS2 - though it's possible that the latter is a bit more popular in Japan, just as track and field sports seem significantly more popular in the UK than in the United States.)

[And as an aside - NCSX have a plethora of pictures for the Dreamcast watch, which is already out of stock at the shop, and for which it's explained: "A silver-colored DC console shell houses the timepiece with a lid that flips upwards by pressing the "eject" button on the lower left side of the console." Pure decadence!]

GameSetCompetition: Sumo Omni Winner!

November 25, 2006 3:27 AM | Simon Carless

- We finally got round to perusing the entrants for the deluxe Sumo Omni beanbag chair competition, in what proved to be one of our most popular contests ever (almost 100 entries!), and we now have our randomly picked winner.

So congrats to Jonathan Brodsky, who wins what looks like a very comfortable bean bag indeed - we're officially jealous! Thanks again to the folks at Sumo Lounge for giving it away, too. For those who couldn't get it, here's the answer:

Q: "Which popular '80s Epyx video game had you manipulating a much smaller bean bag to score points?"
A: California Games

But I'm sure you all knew that, right? Again, felicitations to our winner, and look out for another GSW competition in the very near future, hopefully once again featuring something that you actually care about winning, like this time around!

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