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Archive For December, 2006

Why Viva Pinata Is The Most Overlooked Game Of 2006

December 24, 2006 12:03 AM | Simon Carless

- No, I'm serious. Having been sent the game a few weeks back, I finally got round to sitting down with my wife and a friend and playing through Rare's latest Xbox 360 title this afternoon. Yes, I know it's had pretty good reviews, but buzz for the game in terms of online discussion has been curiously lacking - no messageboard hype that I've seen, and it apparently sold less than 40,000 copies in the States last month, following its launch on November 11th.

If you consider that Gears Of War did over a million units in less time than that, and even titles such as F.E.A.R. shifted over 100,000 copies for the month, that's pretty disappointing. And that's very wrong, because it's one of the best games for the Xbox 360 so far, and might even be a bit of a sleeper hit if Microsoft is lucky - I've seen a few smart bloggers who _have_ picked it up saying good things about it.

Of course, the demographics of Xbox 360's early adopters are likely very wrong for the kind of game that Pinata is (it's a Microsoft-funded attempt to open the console up to a wider audience as much as anything). But here, I meekly submit, are three other reasons that the game isn't making an impact with the public - bearing in mind that I've only just started playing Viva Pinata, and am still shaking off my preconceptions:

- Sorry, Rare, but your reputation among a lot of the hardcore gamers who currently own an Xbox 360 just isn't that good. Perfect Dark Zero and Kameo were both flawed attempts at X360 launch titles that probably got overrated by the press along the way, further disenchanting people who picked them up at hardware launch. And the Conker update felt pretty underwhelming - so I think that a family-oriented game done by the current Rare team just didn't appeal to a lot of people.

- As a 'playing in a sandbox'-style game, the hook for the game - which is that you build your garden in specific ways to attract pinata, is awfully difficult to communicate. This is exacerbated by the fact that there is no main character in the game, unlike titles like Harvest Moon or Animal Crossing. So the screenshots and videos of the title can't show you, because 'you' are effectively God. Nothing wrong with that, but it probably turns the game into an 'only understand it when you play it' title, which is a pretty terrible hook.

- There's a cartoon series based on Viva Pinata, of course, and it's obvious that a Pokemon-style crossover was intended here, with kids being lobbied in the TV show to attract specific pinata. Regardless of how seditious this is in terms of influencing the kiddies, there's a major difference between Pokemon and Viva Pinata. In Pokemon, after you catch the creature, you can use it to fight others - it's very direct. In Pinata, after a creature wanders onto your patch of land - attracted by your landscaping, I hasten to add - you can interact with them in a limited way, but they have a mind of their own. Do kids intrinsically get excited by this concept vs. catching things and making them fight? I'm guessing not.

So, it's odd - by being original, I feel like Rare has made Viva Pinata even less sale-able that an average family platformer would be on the Xbox 360. Which is tragic, because it's a much, much more interesting game - not the character-based Banjo Kazooie/Conker clone which I think a lot of people just presume that it is. 1UP's John Davison has a fairly impassioned review in which he argues as much, but I'm not sure how many people are listening. Are you?

[EDIT, 12/25/06 8.50am PST: A couple of people have pointed out that I probably mean 'overlooked' rather than 'underrated', because the game got some pretty good reviews - and I can see the possible confusion, so I tweaked the title, thanks.

Also, a commenter asked why you might want to get the game, given that this piece mainly deals with why other people didn't buy it. I replied: "I think it _is_ worth picking up if you like the idea of making your own garden and tailoring it to attract certain type of wee wild beasties - with cute graphics and some fun collectability elements. But if that's not your cup of tea, then fair enough!"

Finally, a friend pointed out that 1UP's 'Naughty Or Nice' holiday feature actually apologizes to Rare over its preview coverage, saying: "Sometimes the joke is on us. We're just sending you folks an apology card; we were totally wrong about Viva Piñata all of those times we said it sucked."]

Celebrity Mii Contest Cha Cha Cha

December 23, 2006 5:04 PM | Simon Carless

- Catching up with Kottke.org in my RSS round-up, I spotted the results of the site's fun Mii contest: "From over 220 entries in the Celebrity Mii Contest, the judges have selected their favorite celebrity avatar created with the Nintendo Wii."

Looks like a painfully hip Zach Braff Mii (pictured) won out: "Judge Spencer Sloan of Goldenfiddle said of this entry: "What's beautiful about this one is the truth in this piece. Yes, Braff, you're a nose and some lip. Bravo to the artist for taking a risk." Judge Jen Bekman of the Jen Bekman gallery said of the Braff: "There is this eerily human quality - I mean it really looks like him, as a person, in a weird way.""

Scroll waay down, and there's an almost surreal compilation of random figures: "Velma from Scooby Doo, Hannibal Lecter, Jack Skellington from A Nightmare Before Christmas, Dick Cheney, Tom Cruise, Hulk Hogan, Jennifer Wilbanks (aka The Runaway Bride), George Costanza, Charlie Brown, and V from V for Vendetta." Still, fun!

COLUMN: 'Cinema Pixeldiso' – The Last Starfighter

December 23, 2006 10:36 AM |

['Cinema Pixeldiso' is a bi-weekly column by Matt 'Fort90' Hawkins that takes a look at movies that are either directly based upon or are related to video games, with a focus on the obscure and the misunderstood. This week’s selection is another gem from the 80s, one that's sure to appeal to any shmups aficionado...]


Last week we looked at Tron, which featured a person forced to tap at his prowess at the arcade in a scenario that mirrors a video game, except its "for real". Pretty much the same thing here, plus its also from the 80s, and another cult classic of sorts. It's...

The Last Starfighter

Let's just dive head-first into the plot.

The film immediately opens up in a dusty old trailer park in the middle of Nowheresville. Among the assorted wacky elderly residents is young, able-bodied and free spirited Alex, who's basically Luke Skywalker: dreams of something better, primarily a chance of scenery, maybe some adventure, but is stuck where he is, forced to waste his time and talents. But when opportunity finally comes knocking...

After yet another day in which hanging with friends (and girlfriend) must take a back seat to fixing stuff around the park, Alex decides to blow some steam with yet another game of Starflighter, a sci-fi dog-fight shoot 'em up (or more commonly known by the kids today as a "shmup"). And like virtually every other video game portrayed in a movie, the graphics are unbelievably great.

Alex is pretty good at the game, but tonight, he's extra good, and once it appears that he's about to shatter the record, everyone in the park gets all excited and decides to see history happen. Though once again, virtually everyone in the park are all old people, and even though everyone reading this is perhaps an avid gamer, one has to wonder if any of us will truly give a damn about a video games, at least enough to get really excited, when we're all in our late seventies and wearing adult diapers.

Line Rider Heads To DS/Wii As Tricks Abound

December 23, 2006 4:02 AM | Simon Carless

- We've previously covered the 'physics toy' phenomenon that is Line Rider, but seems like it's time for a couple of updates to the insanely popular Flash toy.

Well, firstly, as you may have spotted, indie development studio inXile has licensed the game for a DS and Wii release, both expected to ship in Spring 2007 - it explains: "According to the title's original creator Bostjan Cadez, Line Rider is a "toy" that allows players to construct their own track filled with as many ramps, hills, and jumps as they can imagine utilizing a pencil tool. Once the player is done creating their course, they can send a virtual sledder down the route until he wipes out."

Secondly, the creator of the beautiful 'Jagged Peak Adventure', 'unconed', has created 'Urban Run' [YouTube link], the latest in his series of wonderfully designed Line Rider illustrated adventures. The game is an example of a) how physics games work really well, b) that one-man toys can make amazing games, and c) that indie studios can pick up on phenomena quickly and easily - all of these are good for the game biz! [Semi-via Waxy.]

GameSetPics: Game Company Xmas Cards

December 22, 2006 7:20 PM | Simon Carless

OK, so one of the coolest things about the game industry around Xmas time is the specially designed holiday cards, and it turns out that, between us in the CMP Game Group offices (since we run Game Developer, Gamasutra, and Game Developers Conference in our various departments), we get a lot of the particularly neat ones.

So we've taken it upon ourselves to scan in some of our personal favorites, and present them here for the entire Internet* (*or our friends who read GameSetWatch, anyhow) to see. Many thanks to Brandon Sheffield @ Game Developer and especially Jamil Moledina at Game Developers Conference for lending us their cards for the scanning process.

Cards are in alphabetical order, so we're not 'playing favorites' - here goes:

DoubleFine's card has a) totally cute artwork, and b) an extremely funny Tim Schafer-authored poem inside about how they can't talk about their next game. 'All the elves signed NDAs', indeed!

Eidos and its Crystal Dynamics office went for a fake game box, complete with exciting blockbuster info on the Xmas season, and group pictures of their offices.

Just a quick shout out for Koei, who unfortunately didn't put Gundam Musou on their Xmas card, but nonetheless showed off a wintry Dynasty Warriors character.

Namco Bandai's card is adorable because it has Pac-Man in a Santa outfit - nuff said, really. The bottom half of the card actually folds out to give you a closer look at the Tamagotchi village (Bandai's contribution) in the background.


One of two Nintendo holiday cards, with a simple keyhole type design featuring Wii players laughing it up.

The other Nintendo card has an inevitable 'Wii = We' pun on it. It's very wide, too!

The NIS Xmas card, for all you import fans - apparently the characters are from 'Soul Cradle (working title)'.

Red Octane's card weaves guitars (from its Guitar Hero franchise) and the company icon into a snowflake-style tableau.

Oddly enough, Sony's Xmas card also plays with geometric designs and Sony logos in a rather fetching fashion.

This origami paper came with one of Sony's Xmas mailing, so we thought we'd include it as a bonus.


Finally, Square Enix's card draws comparisons between December and, aha, Final Fantasy XII, for a very pure, wintry end to our round-up. This is just a selection of the cards out there, and we're going to try to add a few others from our various remote editors _and_ link to other people who are going to scan in their own cards.

[UPDATE - we added the Sony Xmas origami design in wallpaper-able sizes, at least!]

GameTap Adds 3D Ultra Mini Golf, Sam & Max Episode 2

December 22, 2006 2:04 PM | Simon Carless

- Those ever-loving PC subscription gaming freaks at GameTap have ratcheted up their PR again for the holiday season, announcing three major game launches and a special 99c pricing for the first month of service.

As the press release explains: "The highly-anticipated offerings include the premiere of "Sam & Max Episode 2 - Situation Comedy," the worldwide exclusive launch of Sierra Online's "3D Ultra Minigolf Adventures," and a first look at the final phase of the "Myst Online: Uru Live" beta, which allows subscribers to experience the game's all-new living storyline."

Though I've certainly been a vocal supporter of GameTap here at GSW, I feel like they're just reaching a critical mass where, when their excellent retro offerings get twinned with new or revitalized content like Sam & Max, Uru, and 3D Ultra Minigolf (which is due out for Xbox Live Arcade as well in early 2007, I think?), then it becomes a more compelling deal, even for the non-hardcore types. But without access to the livingroom TV, it's tricky - so we shall see!

GameSetLinks: From Mind Games To IT Crowd

December 22, 2006 7:04 AM | Simon Carless

- Ah yes - it's not quite the weekend, but there's still plenty of GameSetLinks hanging around and dogging my brain, so here they are, in a seemingly random order:

- Mateas' Brain: Over at Santa Cruz' Good Times Weekly, there's a cover story on Michael Mateas' new university course in the California surf town, suggesting of the Facade co-creator: "Someone who works in the medium of AI, attempting to apply it toward interactive drama, must have a keen understanding of linguistics, storytelling, human emotional psychology … the very topics philosophers have struggled with since the beginning of recorded time." [Via GTA.]

- Phantasy Re-Translated: You may have already spotted this on IC : "SMS Power has put up a new patch of Phantasy Star for SMS, featuring a script reworked by TheRedEye, aka [Gamasutra editor] Frank Cifaldi." Nice to see a literate community translation - not that some aren't, but hey! I'm still hoping that a fan translation will, at some point, turn up somewhere official - GameTap, Virtual Console, XBLA, I care not where! But it's a major opportunity for the biz.

- Daft Punk UMD Funk: Further to the recent comments over interesting UMDs to buy before they disappear, my old buddy Tim Koch mentioned Daft Punk's 'Interstella 5555' UMD, which is an animated music video-styled movie visually created by anime don Leiji Matsumoto - and Tim says that it's specifically listed as a Region 0 UMD on the box. Which is very neat!

- Wii Will Disney You: Over at The Hollywood Reporter, Paul Hyman has been chatting to Disney's new Wii-specific studio, and they reveal that they have also been flinging Wii controllers around: "I have to admit that our conference room has a few scars on the walls. But the fact that we can design for a new kind of controller opens us up to more than just moving joysticks and pushing buttons." Otherwise, it's just a little PR-y - but it's great that Buena Vista care enough about Wii to have a whole developer set up for it.

- The IT Crowd's Game Chops: A little behind on this, but I haven't really seen anyone talking about it on game sites - you may have heard of The IT Crowd, Graham Linehan's excellent UK Channel 4 sitcom, but you may not be aware that the Region 2-only DVD has some wonderful video game-inspired menus, including pastiches of Head Over Heels, Elite, and Manic Miner, among others. Also, the l33t-speak subtitles in the first episode have a bunch of game references, and Linehan's commentary discusses games at various points, noting: "At the moment I'm playing Shadow Of The Colossus, which I heartily recommend".

[Plus, Shynola, who did Beck's very vector graphics 'E-Pro' video and a whole bunch of other AMAZING vids like Stephen Malkmus' 'Jo Jo's Jacket' vid, with fake Westworld retro game, did The IT Crowd's credits sequence, which can only be good. UPDATE: Oh, and I almost forgot, the l33t-speak subtitles for the DVD includes "attack his weak point for massive damage", heh, and various other MMO/game geekspeak.]

8-Bit Operators Rockin, 8BP050, Beck Goodness

December 22, 2006 2:01 AM | Simon Carless

- A bit of a chiptune update, here at GSW, since there's a whole bunch of interesting stuff out there - starting with the announcement of a chiptune tribute to Kraftwerk, '8 Bit Operators', which is now actually coming out on Kraftwerk's U.S. label, Astralwerks.

The nice folks at Astralwerks sent me over an advance CD, and there's everything from NES and C64 to Amigas and beyond showcase on there, with guest vocals - some favorites for me were Role Model's Showroom Dummies (ST-00 instruments in full effect!) and 8-Bit Weapon's Spacelab (awesome cover of a more obscure track). Some of it plays a bit 'straight', but it's an effective straight, darn it.

Apparently, the tracks were actually approved personally by Kraftwerk, presumably while they were cycling across the autobahn, and the MySpace page has links for the following: "A 12” single (and digital download equivalent) will precede the CD launch and will feature Glomag’s exclusive 8-Bit Operators' mega-mix version of “Pocket Calculator” (featuring 0x7f, Bit Shifter, Bubblyfish, firestARTer, Hey Kid Nice Robot, Ladybug, M-.-n, Nullsleep, Psilodump, Random, Sidabitball, and David E Sugar) plus an exclusive version of “The Robots” by L.A.’s 8-BIT."

Elsewhere in the chiptune world, I'm delighted to note that the 8BP050 2xCD compilation has been released to buy, with the cream of the chiptune scene - this release is themed around the recent Blip Festival, but is now available for purchase. And as well as the 50 tracks on the double CD, there's an extra 20 tracks available for free download, including tracks from Chibi-Tech, Trash80, Zabutom and many other neat artists.

[An addendum to a previous post - not only is the Beck UMD for Guero pretty interesting as a video/audio medium, it has some really good chiptune remixes with custom videos, I found on further persual. These are only on the Guero bonus DVD and UMD, and include neat stuff like the video for Paza's remix of 'Girl'. Anyone wanna compile a list of where they're viewable online?]

GameSetCompetition: Karaoke Revolution, American Idol Style!

December 21, 2006 9:01 PM | Simon Carless

- Looks like it's time for another GameSetCompetition, and this one's fun if you're a reality TV show fan - or just enjoy warbling drunkenly and have England people called Simon berate you (and really, who wouldn't?)

The nice folks at Konami are giving away a T-shirt and a copy of Karaoke Revolution Presents: American Idol for PlayStation 2 plus microphone, the latest in the Karaoke Revolution series, to one lucky GSW reader, as part of a promo related to their virtual American Idol contest at MusicInEveryDirection.com (which, incidentally, is a cute catch-all URL for the Bemani games).

Basically: "Aspiring crooners in select markets across the country had the chance to try out the upcoming Karaoke Revolution Presents: American Idol video game and compete for a chance to win 2 tickets to a live taping of the American Idol television show. Over 500 contestants took the stage. 10 Finalists were chosen. But there can only be 1 Champion. Watch the finalists' performances and rate the videos to determine who will win the contest."

I had a quick look, and most of the finalists seem pitched right between William Hung and Kelly Clarkson, disappointingly - no extremes! But you can go ridicule them if you want. Here's the question:

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

Please send your answers to [email protected] any time before Thursday, December 28th 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!

[Oh, and while we're talking Bemani, I was in a GameStop retail store earlier and noticed that the U.S. version of Beatmania for PS2 is now just $29.99 new there, including the controller - which is a great price if you can find stores that still stock it. According to the clerk at my GameStop, a couple came in and bought both copies at the reduced price - damn you, obsessive Bemani couple!]

Deep Water Adventures Dive Into Borat-like Intrigue?

December 21, 2006 3:02 PM | Simon Carless

- Continuing the recent tradition of GSW highlighting unconventional or overlooked games, we just got a press release about a Russian-authored PC game: "Biart announces online sales launch for first diving simulator - Diver: Deep Water Adventures."

It's explained: "Diver: Deep Water Adventures is the unique combination of a diving simulation and an exciting arcade game. The development team, are real divers and they paid special attention to the authenticity of the diving aspect of the game. Diver: Deep Water Adventures features real diving equipment from leading world manufacturers like SCUBAPRO, Tigullio, Uwatec, Sea & Sea, Camaro, and Waterproof. Several of the game's missions are based on actual diving sites from around the world. For example, players will have the opportunity to go wreck-diving down to the "Thistlegorm" ship, which was sunk in the Red Sea during World War II."

This is pretty interesting, though the game tries to be both an "authentic diving simulator that will satisfy real divers and novices alike, and a full-fledged arcade game that will appeal to everyone" - so one wonders if it's possible/easy to do both, since the story page for the game includes references to Atlantis and the Pharoahs and suchlike, alongside the genuine sim stuff.

Still, this Strategy Informer interview with the folks who made the game is totally cute, in a Borat-ish way: "You see I am a PADI Rescue Diver myself. Occasionally, when I went on a diving resort in Hurghada, almost whole future team of “Diver” developers roomed numbers in one hotel… And so the story began. Now we often go there to relax, dive and have a rest from work."

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