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Archive For November, 2006

Zizzle's Pinball Sizzle Further Bedizzled

November 24, 2006 10:27 PM | Simon Carless

- Running at GameDaily.biz, but possibly reprinted from The Hollywood Reporter (not sure!), John Gaudiosi catches up with new pinball company Zizzle, who we've previously profiled here at GSW.

It's explained: "Unlike the $2,000-plus arcade pinball machines which can always be purchased for the home, Zizzle has created a pair of $300 stand-up pinball machines that feature the Hollywood license, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, and the comic book superheroes and villains of Marvel Comics. Both three-quarters sized pinball games were designed by John Popadiuk, Jr., who made some of the most famous pinball machines from Williams over the years. They stand at 4 1/2 feet tall and assemble in minutes."

What's more: "Marc Rosenberg, Chief Marketing Officer and co-founder of Zizzle, along with Roger Shifman, creator of Furby, said more pinball machines are on the way. "We're working on a new pinball game based on Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, which will be available in time for next summer's film," said Rosenberg. "Since we announced these first two games, we've been inundated with Hollywood requests to create pinball games tied to film properties."" What price a slightly more complicated Addams Family replica, hmm?

[Wow - also, Zizzle makes Zoundz, which seems entirely trippy: "Zoundz creates a fusion of self-composed music with an accompanying light show. With it, users can create musical light shows never seen before. They can create their own riffs by placing one of Zoundz pawns on an interactive “hot spot” on the sound board."]

Kenta Cho's Titanion Hustles Into View

November 24, 2006 5:15 PM | Simon Carless

- Ta to The2Bears for spotting that PC dojin/freeware shooter guru Kenta Cho has debuted his latest game, Titanion, and it looks rather peachy.

It's explained: "Titanion is a little like Galaga, with the enemies quickly flying around and into the screen in different waves. It has a nice twist, though. In Galaga your own ship could be captured, and if you got it back you added to your firepower."

What's more: "In Titanion you are the one with the capture beam, and captured ships add to your firepower (a little like in Tumiki Fighters). Graphics and sound are classic ABA, meaning abstract and very stylish. Stop reading and get the game, it’s another great offering." Quick, go download!

The Bluffer's Guide To Xbox Games

November 24, 2006 12:12 PM | Simon Carless

- Another site that I took my eye off, re: excellent features, is Eurogamer, who seem to be doing a few more in-depth pieces in addition to their customarily feisty reviews, and a recent gem is 'The Bluffer's Guide to Xbox Cult Classics'.

Kristan Reed cannily notes in the intro: "'Cult Classic' is such a dirty term. People's association with them normally extends to something really obscure that a few beardy hardcore followers insist is the Best Thing Ever, but is usually a bit too quirky, too left-field and simply not accessible to the mainstream for very solid reasons. What it should mean is 'here's a bunch of stuff that didn't sell for one reason or another, but, trust us, it's really really good.'"

Looks like a lot of the obvious stuff is jammed into Page 1, but scrolling later on, it's nice to see kind words for Battle Engine Aquila: "A gloriously chaotic mech warfare game on the Xbox that limped onto the market in early 2003. Our Rob was a big supporter of this one, and still has nice things to say about it almost four years on, especially the bits about how well it renders scenes of massed battle."

Also - something I like about Eurogamer is that it feels like their editors are long-running and knowledgable enough to contextualize games. A lot of other game reviewing or commenting sometimes feels like it's checklisted against a null background, as opposed to a rich tapestry of titles with which comparisons can be made. Does anyone know what I'm going on about here? Oh well.

[Bonus link: our boy Rossignol has a Eurogamer-hosted account of his trip to Iceland to the 2006 EVE Online Fanfest, which "hosted five hundred gamers and at least half a dozen bored-looking girlfriends in a splendid Eve-draped convention centre." Sounds delightful!]

DMCA Exemption For Game Archiving Renewed

November 24, 2006 7:12 AM | Simon Carless

- Thanks to Raph Koster for pointing out something I hadn't spotted - that the U.S. Copyright Office has again ruled on DMCA exemptions, and that classic games are getting an exemption once again.

The exact phrasing of the exemption (and there's still a separate one for dongles, too), is: "Computer programs and video games distributed in formats that have become obsolete and that require the original media or hardware as a condition of access, when circumvention is accomplished for the purpose of preservation or archival reproduction of published digital works by a library or archive."

However, as I commented in Raph's post: "The exemption is only good for libraries and archives - it doesn’t apply to your regular man on the street, I’m afraid. I helped author the original DMCA exemption (which was granted 3 years ago) with the Internet Archive in the hopes that it would help libraries make good archives of games, but many ‘dark archiving’ and redistribution problems remain, so it’s a bit rough."

The sad thing about going to the trouble of making exact digital copies of old games, of course, is that you can still only show one digital copy of that game for each physical copy you have (no redistribution is allowed). Since the game is likely to be in copyright for another 70+ years, you need to have a physical location such as a museum to show the games, unless your official archival institution wants to be shoveling your backup ROMs onto an inaccessible server for the next few decades.

If you add these facts to the reality that a lot of old software is really difficult to make exact copies of (the Software Preservation Society did some spectacular work on this, but their lead tech guy is working at Sony on PlayStation 3 now, so I'm guessing he has less time than he used to!), then you get to a tricky situation. Some institutions like Stanford University are archiving physical copies of games, to some degree, and I feel like the Computer History Museum is another good place to start - but they have much rarer mainframe/punchcard system software to worry about as well.

Anyhow , to conclude - I tried to get into this conundrum a little (both at the Internet Archive and heading up the IGDA's Software Preservation SIG for a bit), but it ends up being painstaking work on the digital preservation front that feels very intangible.

So... I think someone needs to set up a proper, permanent real-life Video Game Museum, like the Experience Music Project - ideally funded by someone very rich and understanding in a Paul Allen style (ping me if you're just that person!). Then there would be a physical base to start the digital archiving to make sure things don't get lost in the mists of time, ensuring that classic early games are preserved properly in both physical and digital forms. That's one way to do it, anyhow. But will it ever happen?

[UPDATE: JVM at Curmudgeon Gamer has an aggrieved post on this exact subject, headlined 'Abandonware *still* not legal, people', and he sums up the issues better than I, I think. Please take note and correct, Joystiq, Aeropause, and everyone who has run confused posts on this recently.]

GDC Shows Haiku Winners, Geek Of The Week

November 24, 2006 2:04 AM | Simon Carless

- Our colleagues at the Game Developers Conference have been doing some amusingly unconventional promo, starting with the recent haiku contest, and apparently, they've found a winner.

The winning entry was submitted by Jesse Schell of Carnegie Mellon / Schell Games, and is apparently:

T-Shirts and piercings
Scruffy glazed insomniacs
At last I am home!

A couple of my favorites from the 'honorable mentions', though:

Hello Golden Gate!
Despite your grandeur I miss
Original Joe’s.

Bright-shirted CA
You stopped me from getting lunch
Where is room J3?

A lot of the responses are agreeably grouchy, and still reprinted, too - which is why it's kinda fun, because the grouchiness is an important part of being a developer and turning up to GDC.

[Oh, and the GDC chaps started a Geek Of The Week post, too, headed by 1st Playable Productions' Jeb Havens, who comments of his fave games in a geekmungous style: "M.U.L.E. -- with The Incredible Machine and its descendents (Armadillo Run, etc.) at a close second." Some fun choices.]

COLUMN: ‘Game Collector’s Melancholy’ - Yasumi Matsuno

November 23, 2006 10:09 PM |

[In its twenty years of publication the Weekly Famitsu has given out only six perfect review scores. It should be noted that two of the six, Vagrant Story and Final Fantasy XII, are the work of Yasumi Matsuno, an under recognized master of game design This week's 'Game Collector's Melancholy' column looks at Matsuno's history in the game biz, highlighting each of his major games.]

The Final Fantasy?

plain6.jpgFinal Fantasy XII was a long time coming. Five grueling years of production had left the development team fractured and depleted. Halfway through, Yasumi Matsuno, the game’s director and writer was forced to step down from his duties because of alleged poor health. There were rumors of internal strife at SquareEnix and in 2005 Matsuno left the company for good. Things did not look promising for Final Fantasy XII...

The March of the Black Queen

Matsuno’s first major work was Ogre Battle: March of the Black Queen, developed for the Quest Corporation. Joining Matsuno on Ogre Battle were music composer Hitoshi Sakamoto and character designer Akihiko Yoshida, who would remain constant partners with Matsuno throughout his career. Released in Japan on the Super Famicom in 1993, Ogre Battle was a hybrid of turn-based and real-time strategy that was unusual for the complexity of its game play and story. Set in a high fantasy world of wizards and dragons the game followed the rise of a young knight who becomes an emperor. Along the way he must make a great number of practical and moral choices while micromanaging a growing army and ruling over a conquered population. All of these choices have consequences down the line and it is this aspect of the game’s design that seems to most define Matsuno’s aesthetic.

Enix brought the game to America in 1995 but in limited quantities, making it quite difficult to find. Expect to pay at least $50. In 1997 Atlus re-released the game as Ogre Battle: Limited Edition for the Playstation. The conversion was handled by Artdink who put some extra effort into upgrading the graphics although not so much that it could considered a remake. This version sells for as much as $60 and comes with memory card stickers and a fold-out chart.

[Click through for more of Matsuno's major titles.]

Mount Lucinda Green’s Equestrian Challenge!

November 23, 2006 5:02 PM | Simon Carless

- Since it's Thanksgiving, we thought we'd give thanks for PS2 equestrian titles - in this case, the North America release of Lucinda Green's Equestrian Challenge, which "delivers a true-to-life experience of the sport as well as the simulation of raising and training your own horse", apparently.

For some reason, it feels like small publishers used to be dissuaded from releasing this type of game on PS2 in the States because of SCEA's stricter approval policy - or maybe that's just in my mind. Either way, apparently: "Lucinda Green, known for winning the Badminton Horse Trials a record six times, offers her sage wisdom as a rider in this family-friendly game to help guide players through horse trials at the most prestigious international equestrian events, such as the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event."

What's more: "Players train under the tutelage of Lucinda at a beautiful country estate where they will learn the fundamentals of the equine art, which includes lessons on how to improve the mental and physical state of a horse and the rudimentary of dressage, cross country, and show jumping." Oo, beautiful country estate! Wait, this title isn't aimed at me, is it?

GameSetEbay: Silent Hill DVDs, Tekken... Laserdiscs?

November 23, 2006 12:01 PM | Simon Carless

- Haunting eBay on the verge of the holiday, I came across a couple of auctions that will likely interest GameSetWatch viewers - one for its surprisingly high price, and the other for its exceptional obscurity (and, actually, its surprisingly low price right now).

Firstly, we have the 'Silent Hill Lost Memories' DVD, which is currently going for over $160 with about 6 hours still left to go on the auction. There's a really nice review of the 2003 disc over at Monsters At Play which explains: "The disc is divided into 7 main sections, each of which explores a different aspect of the Silent Hill universe" - there are lots of obscure trailers and the full soundtracks to each of the first 3 Silent Hill games, too. Looks like this is getting pretty tricky to find!

In addition, there's a Tekken gameplay laserdisc from 1995 elsewhere on eBay, something I've never seen before. The seller notes: "A rare 1995 laserdisc from Japan produced by Namco with gameplay strategies, special moves, and character profiles for the first Tekken game. Of course all the dialogue is in Japanese, but this is very fun to watch and runs for about 70 minutes. As a bonus to the winning bidder, I will throw in a DVD-R with all of the contents of this laserdisc (so you can watch it on your DVD player)." And it's at just $5 right now - Tekken fans, go for it!

Wii Will Round Up Virtual Console Games, No?

November 23, 2006 7:08 AM | Simon Carless

- Meh, the whole world linked to it already, but Jeremy Parish's Virtual Console round-up over at 1UP.com is most excellent, and worth reading.

Ze Parish explains: "Yeah, so there are only fourteen titles current available on VC. That's not so many. The good news, of course, is that this is an issue that should resolve itself in time, as Nintendo has promised to release a dozen different titles every month. Until then, you have this handy reference guide to let you know what's worth your hard-earned Wii Points."

One title in particular that the guide may have persuaded me to pick up is Solomon's Key, of which it's opined: "An obscure Tecmo title? Well, whatever; Solomon's Key is actually pretty good, despite its atrocious graphics and annoying sound effects. Consisting of dozens of rooms, each of which is a devious puzzle, it's unflinchingly difficult and surprisingly compelling. And the VC's suspend feature means you can take a break when things start to get frustrating and jump back in once your temper has cooled."

COLUMN: 'A Life In Obscurity' - Sega Genesis Collection

November 23, 2006 2:11 AM | trevorw

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

cover scanOn the eve of the retro-bonanza promised by Nintendo's Virtual Console, Sega of America released another in a long line of retro compilations for modern consoles. This time, Sega Genesis Collection brings together titles from throughout the 16-bit console's life, with no particular series as its theme. Digital Eclipse, the western game industry's favorite studio for retro emulation, produced this package, and the development team shares most of its members with the team responsble for the excellent Capcom Classics Collection Remixed (PSP).

Mmm, Shiny Interface!

Sega Genesis Collection has a rather shiny interface that's very similar to the Capcom packs, and it includes a similar variety of game tips and trivia. There's a nice variety of unlockable bonus material here, including video interviews with Sega development staff and several of Sega's arcade games (Zaxxon, Zektor, Altered Beast, Tac/Scan, and Future Spy).

Many of the twenty-eight titles present here have shown up in previous retro compilations, and indeed, some have made multiple showings already. But there are some interesting inclusions here that are worth some attention. The arcade version of Altered Beast, never seen on consoles until now, is quite a bit more attractive and playable than the hoary old Genesis version. But let's face it: Altered Beast was never a particularly good game.

Gain... Virtua?

Gain Ground is a refreshingly tactical single-screen shooter that has the player controlling warriors from various time periods and settings, past, present and future, and rescuing hostages. Rescuees join your team and contribute their unique talents, and captured allies can be regained if you're skillful. Alex Kidd is an interesting glimpse into what Sega's character-mascot strategy was like before the abandoned the character for the more internationally-appealing Sonic. Golden Axe III was never released outside of Japan before its appearance in this package, but unfortunately it's not quite up to the level of the previous two games.

A few of the games in the package seem to be here simply as a gesture to players who suffered through them on the original console - or to pad out the title count. The completely-2D version of Virtua Fighter 2 is somewhat competent in its own right, but it's such a silly port of the original that it's hardly relevant now. Super Thunder Blade shares the same fate: who wants to play a choppy, substandard port of a 1987 arcade game? The shape-changing platformer Kid Chameleon still somehow manages to have fans, but now more than ever it's easy to see how wholly derivative of Mario it is. And Ecco Jr.? Dreary edutainment, ahoy!

Go, Gimli!Technical Pluses, Minuses

Video is mostly respectably emulated, but Digital Eclipse's usual lack of any support for these games' native resolution has once again left this writer in the lurch. They did include an option for progressive-scan, though, which will marginally help these games' appearance on HD sets. As they are, in 480i, they look swimmy, indefinite, and flickery.

Sound emulation doesn't fare much better. The music seems to be streamed off the disc to save on CPU usage, but this has caused oddities like the music in Sonic 1 and 2 not speeding up when it should. Plus, there are glitches here and there with music starting or stopping in the wrong place. Sound effects sound fine in some games and dreadful in others, but there's a general cast of inaccuracy over the whole package that will grate on you if you've played any of these games recently.

Exciting Conclusion!

Sega Genesis Collection comes off as being mostly unnecessary. Fans of Sonic and Ristar probably already own those games in previous compilations. Bonanza Bros. was in better form in Sega Classics Collection. Even Phantasy Star fans would be best advised to hold off and wait for Sega's import-only Phantasy Star Collection, as the often-pricey games have been graced with some of the most grievous sound problems in the collection. The rest of the games often go for under five dollars apiece on the used market and are more enjoyable in their original format. It's hard to recommend this collection if you're interested in it for any reason other than a quick romp down memory lane.

(For the sake of thoroughness, here's the full list of Genesis games included: Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle, Altered Beast, Comix Zone, Golden Axe I-III, Phantasy Star II-IV, Sonic the Hedgehog 1 & 2, Ecco 1, 2, and Jr., Ristar, Columns, Virtua Fighter 2, Shadow Dancer, Shinobi III, Super Thunder Blade, Bonanza Bros., Decap Attack, Kid Chameleon, Sword of Vermilion, and Vectorman 1 & 2.)

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