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Archive For December, 2006

Buggy Saints Row - The Musical!

December 29, 2006 9:41 AM | Simon Carless

- Aha, post of the year alert! This is wending its way swiftly around the blogosphere, but Cabel Sasser (who you might know as the guy who makes those awesome Katamari Damacy T-shirts) has just posted 'Buggy Saints Row - The Musical', an unbelievably awesome musical video tribute to THQ's chart-topping GTA clone.

Cabel explains: "A number of months ago, during the pre-Wii game drought, I partook in a little game cassette called Saints Row. Saints Row (plot: shoot stuff) was a pretty average game by any measure — for starters, it was literally, down to almost every detail, an exact clone of Grand Theft Auto. (I couldn't believe Rockstar didn't K.C. Munchkin all over their faces.) Saints Row does, to its credit, have better graphics, a pretty good script, an amusing character creator, and better targeting (for better shooting people in the face)."

But wait: "It also has some bugs. The world's most awesome bugs... So many bugs that I would keep my digital camera on hand while I played the game. And every time I came across a bug — and I came across a whole lot of them — I'd take a short video. For a long time now, I've wanted to share these bug videos with you, but I wasn't convinced they were quite funny enough. They needed a hot comedy injection, a little something to tie it all together. And then it hit me: musical theatre." The results are super duper awesome! [Via InBetween.]

Why Mars Sucks In Google Earth

December 29, 2006 3:26 AM | Simon Carless

- In this relatively quiet week, worth pointing out another Gamasutra article of interest to GSW-ers - that would be 'Mars Sucks - Can Games Fly on Google Earth?', a piece written by some Intel engineers about making games using Google's 3D satellite imaging app.

The team explains: "Google Earth is a standalone application; it is not web browser based like most of Google’s other tools. Google Earth also makes use of 3D hardware acceleration and is thus quite fast and responsive on a modern PC. There are a few games available for Google Earth such as “Find Skull Island” and EarthContest. These and other existing games we found all require switching back and forth between a web browser window and Google Earth. Our goal was to develop a game with all the action inside a single window, similar to a traditional video game, leading to a more immersive and responsive experience."

Unfortunately, the game itself is a little, uhm, basic: "We decided to overlay an image of a Martian craft cockpit over the Google Earth window and let the standard Google Earth controls handle moving around the globe. In the cockpit, players see a sequence of clues about the location of each Martian invader... when the player stops with a Martian craft in his sights, firing begins automatically." But hey, all the source code is provided, so you can play around yourself.

The most interesting part, though? "As we write this, rumors are that Google is planning to release an application programming interface (API) for Google Earth, and we hope that will indeed happen soon. That step would really unleash the potential for building games and other applications over Google Earth. With the API release, we are hoping to find it’s much easier to display text on the screen and handle mouse events." Will game building get a lot easier in the app real soon? We shall see!

The Firesign Theatre's Interactive Ramblings

December 28, 2006 10:01 PM | Simon Carless

- Back when I worked in game development, a co-worker of mine (hi Mini-Lee!) at the Accolade/Infogrames offices in San Jose was a bit of a major fan of The Firesign Theater, a very surreal foursome who produced radio shows and albums starting in the '70s with a "free-flowing, stream of consciousness style" - here's an example MP3 from 'I Think We're All Bozos On This Bus', to give you a vague idea.

Anyhow, I was reading the Goldmine Comedy Record Price Guide the other day, for some reason, and there was mention of the troupe's 1985 album 'Eat Or Be Eaten', in which "the framing device of this album is a character stuck in an interactive videogame." Interesting!

In fact, a history of the Firesign Theater posted at Disinformation.com reveals: "In 1985 The Firesign Theatre was approached by Phillips to write two demonstration games for their new CD Interactive machines. Eat Or Be Eaten, was recorded as a 99 track demo and the accompanying graphics made but the actual finished project was never published commercially. Danger In Dreamland, a Nick Danger Hollywood studio back-lot murder mystery game, was written but not recorded. Eat Or Be Eaten (1985) was salvaged and released as the first CD with subcode graphics." Since the actual Philips CD-I was released in 1991, this must have been something to do with the making of the CD-I format in 1986?

But that's not all! Elsewhere, there's some mention that Firesign's movie The Case of the Missing Yolk (1983) was originally meant to be the world's first 'interactive video' with the help of an unnamed Japanese company and Michael Nesmith's Pacific Arts Video - I presume it would have been like Dragon's Lair?

[Also noted in Firesign FAQs: "The trio worked with Mattel's Intellivision wing in the development of interactive video games" in 1982, and further explained: "The remaining Firesigners also provided voices for some of Mattel's Intellivison games, including Bomb Squad and B52 Bomber."]

In fact, the Firesign Theater seem to have been stymied in many major game projects they produced, except one masterminded by founding member Phil Proctor, who mentioned this in a 1995 interview: a CD-ROM that is "a comedic take on some of the more popular adventure-style games that have been out on the market for the last year or two." And, wait for it - it was Pyst, with John Goodman, the Myst-aping CD-ROM parody. VERY odd.

Anyhow, Proctor's Wikipedia entry reveals that he's been infiltrating games in a different way of recent - as a voice actor, since he "did two voices in the GameCube video Game Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem, and on the Playstation 2's Dark Chronicle. He is the voice of Hakese and Monkey White in the Ape Escape series... Recently, his voice was featured in the video game Dead Rising, as the character Russell Barnaby." So there.

GameSetCompetition: Karaoke Revolution American Idol Winner

December 28, 2006 4:01 PM | Simon Carless

- Time for the results of our most recent GameSetCompetition, which dared to dabble in the arcana of Simon Cowell's loopy trouser heights and Randy Jackson's 'Yeah, dawg'-isms.

More specifically, Konami were giving away a T-shirt and a copy of Karaoke Revolution Presents: American Idol for PlayStation 2 plus microphone to one lucky GSW reader, as part of a promo related to their virtual American Idol contest at MusicInEveryDirection.com.

The lucky victor this time is Joe Fourhman, who was one of a few to correctly identify the publisher of the previous American Idol game, as follows:

Q: "Which UK-headquartered publisher published the (sorry, not actually very good!) previous video game based on American Idol?"
A: Codemasters.

Thanks to all who played this time, even if the reality TV vs. GameSetWatch overlap in the Venn diagram isn't particularly large. We'll try to give away something much geekier next time, like Yu Suzuki's nose hair or similar.

King Of Games' Magical Sound T-Shirt

December 28, 2006 10:34 AM | Simon Carless

- Yay for GeekOnStun, since they've spotted some great new King Of Games Japanese T-shirts, including Out Run and Fantasy Zone - and they're awesome.

Of course, this means that they get overexcited: "In light of this VERY IMPORTANT NEWS we sent an excited e-mail to the English speaking person at The King of Games asking if they'll sell these on the online shop! And they wrote back! And they said... THEY SAID! THEY'RE TALKING! TO SEGA OF AMERICA! AND MAYBE! THEY'LL! SELL! THEM! IN! AMERICA! *!!!!!*""

It's also noted, in over-enthusiastic hyper-UKR style: "# They're both 5040 yen which is about $43 according to Google and also a BARGAIN # They'll both be open for ordering on January 7 but JUST for from KOG in Japanese (but Shop 33 also carries Get Ready after a while)."

GameSetLinks: Wii Like To Super Swing

December 28, 2006 4:19 AM | Simon Carless

- Ah yes, a little more GameSetLink-age for the post-holiday period, led by Tom Chick's look into a little swinging Wii golf action:

- Super Swing It!: I've seen some wildly diverging reviews for it already, but the Wii version of Pang-Ya/Albatross 18, Super Swing Golf, came out earlier this month, and over at QT3, Tom Chick has a much more positive take on it, linking to his Yahoo! review and commenting: "But Super Swing Golf does enough things better than Mario or Hot Shots Golf that it's currently my golf game of choice. With the Wii swinging, it's a great party game with more personality than Wii Sports' golf and more gameplay than the wretched Super Monkey Ball's take on golf." Looks like it may be worth picking up.

- Christmas Carded: Better late than never, my fellow Gamasutra news editor Jason Dobson updated eToychest with a few game company Christmas cards, including several that we didn't scan in during our own round-up Particularly goofy? "Capcom's rather humorous card shows that the company's obsession with the undead extends even to this festive season", heh - and there are also Atlus, Microsoft, and other fun cards.

- Pocket Aces: UK site Pocket Gamer has picked its Top 50 Mobile Games for 2006, and we're linking to it (and not the 50 billion other countdowns!) because it actually showcases cellphone games that a) look neat, and b) that we were unaware of. And the top 4 titles are all original IP, actually. The Pocket Gamers comment: "From action-adventures to puzzlers to racers, just about every genre had one or two standout titles to download" - and we're vaguely excited to play a few of them.

- Three Dream Rings Office: Over at Puzzle Pirates and Bang Howdy creator Three Rings Design, they're having a teensy office remodel - as spectacularly showcased by interior design firm Because We Can, who are masterminded. Wait, can we get offices like this, NOW? I think this was first discussed in Daniel James' new Letter From The Captain post on PuzzlePirates.com - his personal update at TheFloggingWillContinue (heh!) reveals his Burning Man project and all the cool game confs he visited this year.

- Second Life Gullibility Syndrome: Clay Shirky is going fairly postal on Second Life media hype at a revitalized Valleywag, and his latest post takes allegedly 'lazy' media types to task for swallowing Linden's definition of 'Resident': "The basic trick is to make it hard to remember that Linden's definition of Resident has nothing to do with the plain meaning of the word resident. My dictionary says a resident is a person who lives somewhere permanently or on a long term basis. Linden's definition of Residents, however, has nothing to do with users at all -- it measures signups for an avatar." Plenty more reasonably justified grump if you click through, m'dears - didn't Chuck D have something to say about this whole issue?

Jenkins Takes On Zimmerman, Indie Style

December 27, 2006 10:01 PM | Simon Carless

- Blogger, media theorist and man about town Henry Jenkins has posted an interview with Gamelab's Eric Zimmerman (here's the second part) discussing the indie gaming nexus.

For starters, Zimmerman makes a good point about defining indie games (or rather, not defining them!): "To me it is less important to define exactly what independent games are and instead figure out how to create innovative games that expand the boundaries of digital games, a form of culture that is only a few decades old and still has vast spaces for experimentation and invention."

He also discusses the innovative project-based funding Gamelab is trying, interestingly noting: "It has been difficult to find project-based investors, however. My feeling is that in 10 or 15 years, when there are enough wealthy people that believe games are an important cultural form, we'll see a boom in independent games. Right now, however, the people that invest in independent film aren't gamers and don't see the glamour or importance of games."

Feature: 'Gizmondo - Inside The Eye Of The Tiger'

December 27, 2006 2:05 PM | Simon Carless

- So, here's the first of the GameSetWatch 'holiday special' articles, and it's a kinda interesting one. The first thing to note is that it's out of date - it was originally written in January 2005, and never published. And, well, it's an investigative article written by me about Gizmondo, the now-famed Ferrari-crashing, money-squandering handheld company.

But because it goes into unprecedented detail about the financial history of the company, I think it's worth publishing. In fact, it goes into somewhat ridiculous, almost 10,000-word long detail, which is one of the reasons that it was never published. But let's give you some context here - when in Gizmondo's history was this published, and why didn't it make it out at the time?

- Firstly, at the beginning of 2005, the much-hyped Gizmondo handheld console had allegedly just 'launched' in the UK (there was an official announcement that it would debut in October 2004), but nobody could actually find significant amounts of them in stores. That in itself was odd, and I was increasingly surprised that big companies like Microsoft Game Studios were signing deals with Gizmondo and were apparently happy to be associated with them, apparently without researching the company's history or plans.

In addition, the major acquisition of console developer Warthog by Gizmondo had just happened in November 2004, and hype was at an all-time high. But I could already tell there was something pretty suspicious about the company - making big announcement launches and then not getting product out into the marketplace is a major faux pas, for starters, and so I dug into Gizmondo and Tiger Telematics' history all the way back to the early '90s, by using SEC filings.

Unfortunately, I didn't have any sources within Gizmondo, so the resulting analysis was highly dense and financial, and, I thought, too speculative to post on Gamasutra. I actually considered punting it over to GameSpot, because I felt like investigative reports weren't our forte at Gama, and Curt Feldman agreed to publish an edited version, but the sheer amount of factchecking needed ended up meaning that the article never debuted.

- So the report ended up languishing on my hard drive for two years - although I did keep Gizmondo's financials foremost in my sights through 2005, and broke a number of the stories on the company, such as its purchase of Isis Models to "provide marketing support and arrangements for Gizmondo", and even its ownership of a racehorse - a chestnut colt named Gizmondo. Where is Gizmondo now, I wonder?

Later in 2005, I was one of the first people to report Gizmondo's major confirmed losses for the first time, including the extraordinary payments to figures like Stefan Eriksson and Carl Freer, disclosures that ended up with their resignations and then, in pretty short time, the company's bankruptcy in January 2006.

Obviously, it was Eriksson's Ferrari crash in April 2006 which really brought the media in full force, and I ended up getting called by someone from the New York Times and someone pitching a story to Esquire at various points over Gizmondo's history, just because I've written a lot about them. But I do wonder - would things have been different if I'd published this piece? Would any later investors have been dissuaded?

But the fact is that most of the deals were done at this point, and the main reason this piece wasn't published at the time was that all it really added up to was: 'Gizmondo sure has a bit of a shady past, and some of the financial scrapes they're currently getting into aren't so pretty'. I do point out that the 'reputable GPS company' that Gizmondo is hiding behind is reasonably obviously not a going concern, but that in itself isn't a smoking gun.

Also, some of the figures from early in Gizmondo's history, such as former Tiger CEO A.J. Nassar, seem to have actually bowed out entirely by 2002 or so, meaning that a bunch of the early history I give is, sure, shady, but it doesn't directly relate to the Gizmondo/Tiger Telematics management team which masterminded the 'launch' and subsequent crash. But there's still a strong narrative of the company's history in here which goes into more detail than any published article so far, I believe. So - here goes.

GameSetLinks: Look At My Winterbells!

December 27, 2006 7:01 AM | Simon Carless

- Aha, there's still a fair amount of random GameSetLink-age hanging around even after Christmas day is come and gone, and this is the first of two parts in which I'll be rounding up my holiday link trawling. Watch out for a couple of special articles on GSW in the next few days, too, dug out of who knows where!

- Italian GameWhat?: Matteo Bittanti continues to dig up some good, random stuff, and this post is no exception: "A pungent satire of the videogame press by Cristiano Bonora aka Dingo Stylish and his team (Half Moon and Round Kiss), 100% Made in Milan (r). GameShit ("One magazine to shit them all") is a new brilliant online video series about the ultimate game mag, GameShit. The videos - available in both English and Italian - will appeal to those who have a deep knowledge of the inner workings of the game press world."

- Sam & Max's Terrible Two-s: Well, not _terrible_ as in awful, but The New Gamer has handily reviewed Sam & Max Episode 2 - 'Situation: Comedy', which is out now on GameTap, indicating that, while it's still plenty of fun: "The episode as a whole feels much smaller and more cramped than the first. Apart from a few small errands, the bulk of the episode takes place in the four-room television studio, which isn't necessarily bad, but the game's scale has definitely been taken down a notch." Still: "Despite these problems, Situation Comedy is well-worth its $9 price tag (at least, when it hits Telltale's website in January) or GameTap membership, and as long as they're able to bring me a few hours of entertainment once a month, it'll feel worth it." [UPDATE: Ah, we have a Critical Reception reviews round-up for the game on Gamasutra today!]

- Christmas Is... Oh!: I accidentally delayed this one til after Christmas Day itself, but hey - SelectButton has a round-up of some fun free Xmas games, and yes, it's got the Xmas Metal Gear Solid pastiche, but it also has something that just winter-themed, yay: "Flash game superstar Orisinal has a newish game up called Winterbells. Like his best games it features simple mouse-based mechanics with addictive gameplay. Bells fall from the starry winter night sky. Mouse movements control the rabbit and left clicking makes him jump. Landing on a bell will boost you higher allowing to reach more bells. The higher up into the sky you can reach, the better score you can get. Like all of Orisinal's games it features relaxing music and lovely artwork. "

- Jay Is Voting Time: The lovely Jay at casual game powerhouse JayIsGames pinged me to mention that his site's best casual/Flash game of 2006 polls are now open, and ready for ze voting by ze general public: "We'll be taking your votes for the next several days up until the dawning of the new year when we present the very best in casual gameplay that we enjoyed throughout 2006. Play along or just browse through the nominations and relive those cherished moments from the year." So even if you're lazy at voting, there's tonnes of neat casual games to try. Yay.

Classic Arcade Magazine Reviews Break Out

December 27, 2006 12:18 AM | Simon Carless

- Over at Finnish-headquartered arcade megasite Solvalou.com, they've been adding reviews of arcade machines from consumer game mags, something that used to happen quite a bit 'back in the day', esp. in Europe.

There's some really fun stuff in here, like A.C.E's review of the ATEI 1990 show, including "reviews for Ameri Darts, Beast Busters, Final Fight and Shadow Dancer." In some ways, it's weird to consider that Final Fight is already 16 years old - is anyone out there feeling ancient already?

Or, alternatively, a Sinclair User report from 1992 which includes "reviews for B.O.T.T.S., Captain America, Captain Commando, Gun Baron, Mad Dog McCree, Spiderman, Starblade, Steel Talons, Super High Impact, Terminator 2 and Vendetta." Awesome to see arcade games drooled about from an era when they really did impress more than home systems [Via Jiji.]

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