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Archive For February, 2007

Welker's Curious George Game Outtakes, Yum

February 28, 2007 7:28 PM | Simon Carless

- The brand new 'Game Of The Blog' blog is coming up trumps already, as it's posted some awesome bonus video from, of all things, the Curious George video game.

As blogger Joel reveals: "In the recent Curious George platformer by Namco based on the 2006 film (probably the last feature length cel animated film that will ever be made) the requisite collectible is, of course, bananas. Collecting at a certain percentage of these per level unlocks videos and hats(!) in the gift shop. These are then paid for with "curious points" which are are garnered by interacting with certain objects, usually resulting in George f*cking shit up as he is well known for."

He continues, grinning happily: "Most of the videos to be unlocked are clips from the film that are interspersed throughout the game to aid the plot, but there are also 6 clips of voice actors recording lines for the game. it's interesting to see, but each is really only good for one viewing as it's a bit repetitive watching them say each line 5 times. The best clip is of Frank Welker(who is closing in on 600 IMDb credits) making monkey noises for two and a half straight minutes, as seen below." Completely awesome, and all from the voice of Futurama's Nibbler and a zillion more.

Australian GamePro Ditches As Print Malaise Wafts Down Under

February 28, 2007 2:22 PM | Simon Carless

- One of my newly found favorite regional blogs, The Age's Screen Play blog, has commented on new Australian game magazine sales numbers, revealing along the way that: "IDG last week closed Australian GamePro magazine, leaving only one Australian multiformat games magazine left in the market: Next Publishing's 15-year-old veteran warhorse Hyper."

It's noted: "Australian GamePro joins an increasingly long list of gaming magazines axed in the past few years, including Australian editions of Edge, Play, GamesTM, XBM and PC Games Addict... PC Powerplay is now the only Australian gaming magazine remaining that submits to an official ABC audit, so it is fair to surmise that it would be Australia's highest selling games publication. Yet it now has circulation of just 20,000 copies, a nine per cent fall in the past six months."

We've also previously mapped the print-magazine curve in the U.S., and indeed, things aren't looking that much better in the UK, excepting mags such as Edge which make a prestige differentiation effort.

This is all hardly surprising, perhaps, but Jason Hill's final Screen Play comment is on the money for all regions, even though it applies to his: "The few remaining Australian gaming magazines are going to have to triple their efforts to provide readers with compelling, original and in-depth Australian content if they are going to remain relevant in the face of fierce competition from free, web-based competitors."

An Introduction To The Game Developer's Life

February 28, 2007 9:23 AM | Simon Carless

- Of course, vanity Googling (or in this case, Technorati-ing) is tediously common in the game journalism biz, and doing so the other day for Gamasutra references, I came across an excellent personal view of life in the game industry from Ian Christy, who is a Senior Game Designer for Radical Entertainment in Vancouver, and most recently worked on Scarface: The World Is Yours.

Christy is refreshingly honest in general, commenting of his current vocation: "As a level designer, I’m merging my background as an artist, my interests in game mechanics and spatial compositions, my educational background in iconography, communication, story telling, social interactions, and architecture. I hope to make my own games someday; for now I help make other people’s games better."

I particularly like the initial part of his reply on advice for those wanting to get into the biz: "Diversify your foundational knowledge and skills as much as you can that you might better step comfortably outside the proverbial box. Art, literature, culture foreign and domestic, economics, history, film, theater, sports, science, etc. Anything and everything can add to the mix, and I’m always shocked when some obscure bit of info stuck away in my noggin ends up being the very thing that inspires a solution or alternative to a problem that’d seemed otherwise intellectually insurmountable."

Why is this important? Well, wider cultural knowledge is vital to the game industry evolving - a point Warren Spector makes in an interview we'll be putting up on Gama next week, incidentally - because your media diet will radically affect the kind of art you make in your game life. Even if it does involve Al Pacino's little friend!

Style Guide? Does Game Journalism Need A Style Guide?

February 28, 2007 4:19 AM | Simon Carless

- So, there's this new Videogame Style Guide and Reference book, right? And I actually know and like the folks behind it - David Thomas of the IGJA is a tremendously smart, affable guy - though I'm a bit scared of his new moustache, I think. Kyle Orland has matured into a very smart journo for Joystiq and others - heck we even used him for a neat Capcom interview last week. And Scott Steinberg, setting aside his habit of billing himself "gaming's most prolific journalist", is obviously a smart enough person.

But I don't see the point of a universal style guide for games, and here's why - at the root, I find the whole concept of superdetailed style guides simply overkill. To be honest, I think these gigantic overarching glossaries in general are a dying breed. They're old media, they're tremendously overformal, and they're not even interactive. Unless you're managing a gigantic staff writing formal articles up the wazoo (perhaps at GameSpot and IGN), I don't believe they're particularly useful for game journalism.

Now, having said that, we do, somewhere, have an official style guide for Game Developer magazine - which extends to Gamasutra. But it's simply never referred to - everyone who works on the mag has a pretty damn clear of what is what. And it comes down to some key points that don't even need a one-page document to summarize:

- You need to know how to spell proper names of gaming devices and agree to override exceptionally dumb custom naming when necessary. For example, we can remember that it's Xbox, PlayStation, and Game Boy, respectively. Those are, honestly, about the only difficult ones, unless you count the fact that you're meant to call it Nintendo's Wii instead of the Nintendo Wii, and I think that's ridiculous enough to over-rule. Ditto for companies who insist you use all caps for their product name. So that's that.

- You need to have consensus on a couple of key points which are genuinely style-related and marginally game-specific. For regular day to day Gamasutra reporting, it's that game names are in italics, companies are always 'it' rather than 'they', and we spell it 'video game', not 'videogame' - this in itself a hilarious source of controversy! Oh, and we make sure that dates are always done in the same way. Those are honestly all the major points that I can recall we run into on a daily basis.

Now, admittedly I'm not a J-school grad, rather a reformed game developer and a History B.A. But I just think we have far more important things to worry about in today's fluid Web world regarding sourcing and plain good writing for game journalism than to spend our time on detailed style guides that nobody will read. And I find it a little irksome that the trio's intro to the style guide raises the specter of the inebriated, busted state of game journalism, YET AGAIN, over the right spelling of Xbox: "When it comes to presenting a consistent vocabulary, videogame journalism is sloppy at best. At worst, it's a complete mess." OMG CALL THE JOURNALISM POLICE!

As a slightly annoyed kiss-off, from the blurb page: "The Videogame Style Guide and Reference Manual contains all the tools you need to realize a distinguished career in game journalism, or go from enthusiast to editor today!" C'mon, could you be any more 'Make Money Fast' about it? I respect the spirit of the idea, and the people behind it, but the whole thing just seems to be wading in the shallows outside the reality of game journalism, to me. Dammit... I just realized that I'm probably not going to be approved for my free eBook copy any more, am I?

GameTap Announces Indie Label, Award

February 27, 2007 11:15 PM | Simon Carless

- So it's starting to get close to GDC, and because I'm organizing a couple of parts of it (the Independent Games Summit and the Independent Games Festival), as well as helping out my Gamasutra compadres with a little bit of editorial coverage, I'm starting to run into a bit of a blog timecrunch. But I will do my best to keep going with snappy anecdotes and a few pictures through GDC week!

In the meantime, over at Gamasutra there's a story on GameTap's launching of its 'Indies' label, with the associated, multi-game GameTap Indie Award being given out at the IGF Awards next Wednesday night, and I have to say that I'm delighted that they're getting indies on board with the service. Obviously, I'm crossing streams a bit here (being a blogger, as well as Chairman of the IGF, which GameTap is helping to sponsor), but I do believe that announcements like this will help the indie scene to evolve in many positive ways.

Here's the announcement, in concatenated form: "Turner Broadcasting System has announced GameTap Indies, a new marketing and distribution program designed to introduce independent games to subscribers of its GameTap 'all you can eat' PC gaming service.... GameTap has further thrown its support behind independent game development by sponsoring its new “GameTap Indie Award”, to be presented at the 2007 Independent Games Festival Awards.... One award recipient will receive a $10,000 advance after signing a five year [non-exclusive] distribution deal to be a part of the new GameTap Indies label, while the two additional recipients will each receive a $5,000 advance after signing the same five year distribution deal to be part of the label."

The thing I'm excited about here is that bigger companies such as Turner are starting to see indie games as an important part of their strategy. The same is undoubtedly true of the hardware manufacturers, from Microsoft through Sony and Nintendo, given the buzz around titles from fl0w through Castle Crashers and beyond, and I'm sure will we be discussing this more at IGS in the distributors panel.

But think of a future where you can make an indie game of your choice - and a real, innovative, experimental game to boot - and then license it to single or multiple services on PC and console for tangible returns, making it possible for talented folks to quit their day jobs and just make independent games instead. XBLA started the process, and Manifesto, Sony, Valve, GameTap, and soon Nintendo are continuing what I firmly believe is the birth of the indie game scene as a viable business medium and rapidly rising art form.

One Life Left Radio Show Needs Fridge Help!

February 27, 2007 6:12 PM | Simon Carless

- So, we previously ran a story on the neat 'One Life Left' radio show/podcast, run by ex-Edge editor Ste Curran and associates. Ste actually works some of the time over at Kuju Entertainment (where I also used to hang out in the late '90s), and I think was one of the folks behind the sadly disappeared Traxion?

Anyhow, Ste comments of the UK-based show: "We've gone from... Season One to a strong, confident Season Two, sort of; Resonance FM love us and we've been moved to a primetime Monday evening slot... we're having fun, and our podcast audience continues to grow and send us odd competition entries and things (one of them has just speculatively sent us in a song about Xbox Live Arcade for a competition we haven't even run)." Yay!

However, he also notes: "Resonance is publically funded, ie it relies on an Arts Council grant and donations from the public to keep to going. It's on a funding drive at the moment, and thus... the One Life Left team are auctioning off gaming items. Why? Because Resonance FM is publicly funded and advert-free, relying on donations from listeners to keep broadcasting. And what’s an auction? It’s a donation with a prize."

And, speak of the devil, here's the auctions page. Look, there's a Football Manager fridge! UK GSW readers, you know what to do. (You can also just plain donate from that page, too, if you don't want a Football Manager fridge. Which you clearly do.)

COLUMN: 'Roboto-chan!': Rebuilding Virtual On

February 27, 2007 1:09 PM | Ollie Barder

['Roboto-chan!' is a fortnightly column by Ollie Barder which covers videogames that feature robots and the pop-cultural folklore surrounding them. This week's column covers the foibles of owning an arcade gaming classic (all photos were taken prior to cleaning, just in case you are curious) and special thanks to Saur and Trevor for their fearless assistance in the rebuilding.]

vo_cab_11.jpgA few years ago I managed to acquire a Virtual On arcade cabinet. One of the slightly more difficult aspects of owning an arcade machine is that you sometimes have to move it around. Considering that this particular cabinet weighs nearly half a ton and is pretty sizeable, it doesn't exactly travel well.

Basically, to get the machine anywhere means it has to be completely disassembled and then rebuilt in its new abode. Two weeks ago, some friends and I did just that.

More after the jump...

BBC Pokes At PSP Hacking Cabal

February 27, 2007 8:05 AM | Simon Carless

- Actually, I first saw this on the 'Pho list' for music folks, but it's awfully game-ish - a new BBC News article on the latest PSP homebrew cracking efforts, and absolutely adorable because of the careful explanation and hacker unveiling tactics.

It's explained of the key PSP hackers: "Fanjita - real name David Court - is very different from the popular hacker stereotype of the socially inept teenaged geek working all night in his bedroom. A married man of 34, he is an accomplished professional programmer who writes server software for large telecommunications companies for a living. He spends an hour or two a night hacking PSP software in his Edinburgh home, and is also a martial arts enthusiast." So there!

But wait: "Dark Alex fits much more comfortably into the hacker mould. A student from Spain, his hacker moniker derives from his real name, Alejandro, and a liking for all things gothic, he says. His interests are Japanese Manga comics and cats, but PSP hacking is his main hobby." Japanese Manga comics and cats, huh? I'm guessing he must be a big 2ch fan, then.

Game Developer February Issue Brings The Resistance

February 27, 2007 3:04 AM | Simon Carless

- We showed you the faux version of the cover, and now the real thing is here - we announced over at big sister site Gamasutra that the February 2007 issue of Game Developer magazine is here, and here's the neat stuff that's in it:

"The cover feature for the February 2007 issue is an exclusive postmortem of Insomniac's key PlayStation 3 launch title Resistance: Fall Of Man by the company's Marcus Smith, described as follows:

"Insomniac is known more for its stylized character-based games than its first-person shooters, but Resistance: Fall of Man is in fact a return to the company’s roots — the first game the studio ever made was an FPS. Herein, project manager Marcus Smith shares with us the boons and difficulties of creating an original IP on a brand new console at launch, as well as why they want to set the next game in Tahiti."

The February issue also includes an in-depth technical article called 'Scrum Rising', of which it's explained: "Scrum is an agile development methodology which can save your studio a substantial amount of crunch time, headache, botched plans, and disorganized employees — or so says High Moon’s Clinton Keith. Scrum may not be right for everyone, but after reading this article, you should know if it’s right for you and yours."

Another major feature, alongside the editor preview of next week's Game Developers Conference, is an exclusive interview with Junction Point's founder Warren Spector, described as follows: "As the creative mind behind Deus Ex, Warren Spector is in a keen position to talk about dynamic story and gameplay. In this exclusive interview, the game designer discusses the state of game writing, before expounding on his dream game."

The issue is rounded out by the customary in-depth news, code, art, audio, and design columns from Game Developer's veteran correspondents, as well as product reviews and game art features.

Worldwide paper-based subscriptions to Game Developer magazine are currently available at the official magazine website, and the Game Developer Digital version of the issue is also now available, with the site offering six months and a year's subscriptions, alongside access to back issues, all for a reduced price. There is now also an opportunity to buy the digital version of February 2007's magazine as a single issue. Newsstand copies of the magazine are now available at North American outlets including Barnes & Noble and other specialty bookstores."

Opinion: Phil Harrison, Hath I Wronged You?

February 26, 2007 10:01 PM | Simon Carless

- So, I spotted over on N'Gai Croal's blog that he has a new interview with Sony's Phil Harrison up, and it's interesting to me because Harrison specifically calls out a piece I wrote for Gamasutra reporting on his GDC Europe Q&A in 2005 as being somewhat misleading. So... I will investigate!

Part 1: The Allegation

Harrison particularly says: "You put something on your blog about how comments from videogame executives can come back to haunt them. Of all the things I've said--and there are plenty of things should come back to haunt me--what you quoted was not one of them. The quote in question actually came from the GDC Europe interview that I did onstage with [Game Developers Conference director] Jamil Moledina a couple of years back. He was asking my view on Microsoft's two SKU strategy."

"The point that I made, which was not clearly reported in the Gamasutra piece [that Level Up cited], was that Microsoft had introduced two SKUs, they were effectively two different products: one with a hard drive and one without. And that while I wasn't going to talk about our particular SKU strategy at that time, whatever strategy we would adopt would not confuse developers and publishers, because the underlying platform would be with the hard drive in every machine. So I stand by what I said."

Part 2: The Gamasutra Story

So, what did I originally report in that GDCE 2005 piece for Gamasutra? Here's a direct citation from my article: "When discussing whether he would ever consider multiple launch bundles of the PlayStation 3, as the Xbox 360 has now confirmed, Harrison was relatively caustic, commenting: "Are there two versions of the Xbox that people want to buy? Consumers don't know which one to buy, developers don't know which one to make games for, and retailers don't know which one to stock. We wouldn't take that strategy.""

Part 3: The GamesIndustry.biz Story

Just in case I was wildly off-base, I decided to compare this to other reports at the time, and came up with this GamesIndustry.biz report from Ellie Gibson, which quotes Harrison in the following way:

"Speaking at the European Game Developers' Conference in London today, when asked if Sony might follow in the Redwood [uhm, surely Redmond?] giant's footsteps [and release two SKUs] the VP of studios replied: "Unlikely." "Are there two versions of the Xbox 360 that people want to buy, is my question," he continued. "I don't know." "This is my personal view, not my corporate view, but when I look at those formats, I think it just confuses the audience. They don't know which one to buy, developers don't know which one to create for, and retailers don't know which one to stock." "So I think we wouldn't take that strategy. We wouldn't create confusion," he concluded."

Part 4: Context And Fact

Now, it looks like the two set of quotes differ slightly in terms of bridging words - which isn't great, and I'm obviously not sure who is completely accurate, but I guess is what can happen in the heat of the quoting moment. But you can clearly see the two primary reports have identical information in them. And I certainly stand by the way that I reported Harrison's comments, besides some bridging '...'-s that are missing.

Now, having said that, a lot of this is about context. It is certainly true that Harrison could have then gone on to explain how Sony might still make multiple SKUs. And GamesIndustry.biz does cite the Sony VP's immediate follow-on comments, as follows:

"Harrison did go on to suggest that consumers will have a variety of options to choose from in the longer term. "There have been various versions and variants of PlayStations in the past - some run through the hardware and some through the software, and that's worked pretty well for us, offering different value propositions to the consumer... Exactly what we do with the launch? Too early to tell.""

OK, well does that put things in a different light? Perhaps marginally, though it is vague, and it really does _not_ get his point across well. In fact, the GamesIndustry.biz piece is headlined: "GDCE: Sony "unlikely" to offer two versions of PS3, says Harrison." So Ellie also apparently got the wrong impression from Phil. And more importantly, most of the times that this quote is brought up as anti-PS3 fodder, the GamesIndustry.biz article (which includes that alleged greater context) is cited - for example, on PC Vs. Console, or on the ever-scabrous Ram Raider.

So, Phil's defense, it seems, is that he knew that the company was considering two SKUs with differing hard drives at that time, but in his own words, "whatever strategy we would adopt would not confuse developers and publishers, because the underlying platform would be with the hard drive in every machine." But if you can't explain that bit, you can't come out so strongly against multiple Xbox 360 SKUs, because you can't explicitly explain how your multiple PlayStation 3 SKUs will be different.

Part 5: On Selective Quoting

But selective quoting is a massive issue in the media today, and I'm not saying that the journalist doesn't have to keep a very careful eye on this. Oddly enough, I had a long discussion with Epic's Mark Rein about this after his remarks at GDCE 2006, specifically the sarcastic: "Sony says the next generation starts when they say so - bullshit!" This was picked up by all manner of people as being a bombastic declamation when, as he rightly points out, and Gamasutra attempted to communicate in its first-person version of the speech, it was a humorous quip with an edge of typically Rein-esque sarcasm. But he said it - and things you say can be presented in isolation and used against you.

Perhaps the greatest example of this is the controversy over Pope Benedict XVI's speech touching on Islam, in which Benedict cited the expression of the views of the Byzantine emperor Manuel II Palaiologos by quoting: "Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached." Benedict did not claim to think this - only cited it in relation to what the Vatican claims was a "clear and radical rejection of the religious motivation for violence, from whatever side it may come". I would argue that the quote is significantly (but not entirely) less potent as a cited historical document, but highly charged when presented in isolation, without the formal University of Regensburg lecture background.

Part 6: The Messy Truth

Now, you'll notice that I'm not claiming that Phil Harrison is God's agent on Earth at this point. But I am claiming that Harrison's comments were more unclear than perhaps he remembers, and in order not to be selectively quoted (slightly, and I would argue legitimately, by me, in the course of summarizing a long lecture, and even further by others for more subjective reasons) on the problem of multiple SKUs, he needs to think carefully before he goes on the attack.

If you say something, even given caveats before or after the fact, then you've said it. Harrison is right, though - his comments weren't an all-out boner. But given the context, they certainly aren't a slam dunk, either.

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