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February 24, 2007

COLUMN: 'Game Mag Weaseling': Mag Roundup 2/24/07

['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.]

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I figured I should mention that in addition to the magweasels that hang out in my magazine room, I have also added a magdog to my house. So say hello to Smith -- who was sleeping in a most indecent position on my bed this afternoon, so I decided to cover him up using this copy of The Top 100 Videogames, distributed by GamesTM and Retro Gamer's Imagine Publishing.

This one-off is available now at Barnes & Noble stores, but I'd recommend against buying it. In fact, this is just about the worst case of buyer's remorse I've experienced in recent memory, short of that Bowflex I bought off of the Game Informer ad last month. This is just a collection of the top 100 games reviewed in the five-year history of GamesTM -- not of all time or anything -- so it's really just a compilation of old GamesTM magazine content, with a very small 2007 preview section in the back.

All this, once again, for $30 in the US. Thirty dollars! Oh, why didn't I bother thumbing through this before buying it? The UK price is £12.99, and I think gamers get gypped with this special issue on both sides of the pond. (For sake of comparison, Edge's FILE special issues cost £8 in the UK and $12.99 in the US, which actually beats the current dollar-pound exchange rate to the point where Americans pay less for it than the Brits. Plus, FILE is interesting reading.)

Anyway, it's been a slow couple weeks for US magazines, but click on to see what's new in the world of print publications...

Game Informer March 2007

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Cover: Star Wars: The Force Unleashed

I just realized that I rarely ever talk about the World Exclusive features inside Game Informer that their covers frequently tout. That's because the great majority of the features are devoted to games that are months and sometimes over a year away, and as a result the content is mostly the standard developer interview, with lots of meandering speculation on the game's internals, concept art, and screenshots that are obviously not honest-to-goodness screen grabs, no matter how much the captions claim it's so. That's the impression I got from this month's Star Wars feature, as well as their other feature on Nihilistic's new Conan game; they seem almost designed to be scanned, summarized, and discussed on web forums instead of actually read.

GI is hardly the only offender with this sort of thing (Games for Windows' The Crossing feature was largely the same way a month ago), but it could be argued that they're the most obvious one, since their cover choices are so frequently centered around games due out far way into the far future.

As usual, Connect is the real highlight here, kicking off by devoting two pages to Super Columbine Massacre RPG! (arguably the most popular RPG Maker add-on ever created) and even interviewing creator (and, imo, attention grubber of Anna Nicole proportions) Danny Ledonne. It continues with eight pages on Gamecock, the reboot of the old Gathering of Developers, which is a surprise to me since they're ages away from having anything extremely concrete to show and the founders seem to be saying pretty much the exact same lines they gave when GOD was founded -- but, hey, it's a newsmaker anyway, and it's fascinating reading. (Play, by comparison, devotes half a page to the same stuff, and PC Gamer hasn't printed anything on them as of the April '07 issue.)

One thing I can't stop wondering about, by the way: Why does Bowflex advertise in Game Informer but no other game magazine in the US? Are Game Informer's readers more obese than readers of other mags?

Play March 2007

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Cover: Bullet Witch

A relatively obscure (and, really, pretty average) Japanese 360 game gets front billing in Play this month, with custom cover art by Dany Oriz and a 10-page spread that includes a review, an interview with the devs at Cavia, and a couple pages of Girls of Gaming type cheesecake. More interesting is the four pages on Calling all Cars, mainly composed of David Jaffe talking about all sorts of nonsense and being his usual interesting self.

The great majority of this issue seems to be reviews, and Play Japan both makes another return and is actually pretty interesting, although a screenshot in the Seiken Densetsu 4 review still has a big fat DengekiOnline.com watermark on it. If you're reviewing it anyway, guys, take your own dod-durn screenshots!

PC Gamer March 2007 & April 2007 (Podcast)

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Cover: Supreme Commander, Command & Conquer 3

I seem to get PC Gamers in pairs for some reason -- nothing in the mail for six weeks, and then two in the space of half a month. Both are pretty similar externally, featuring world-exclusive reviews on the cover and up-front in the mag (SupCom gets 91%, C&C3 90%). March is the annual awards issue, and for a change, the awards feature is actually well-designed and interesting to look at apart from the awards themselves, using an extremely art-heavy approach and keeping the text very tight. April, meanwhile, is mostly previews, and also includes the usual yearly cell-phone supplement -- which seems to have some bugs in it, since some pages are duplicated elsewhere in my copy of the magazine.

Hardcore Gamer March 2007

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Cover: God of War II

HCG continues to do its own thing in the realm of game mags, devoting features to online-game site Skillground and MAGfest, a four-day game convention with the look-n-feel of an anime convention -- or maybe a furry convention, judging by some of the cosplay pics inside.

Game Developer February 2007

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Cover: Resistance: Fall of Man

And, of course, I'd be remiss if I missed GD! This is the Game Developers Conference preview issue, and as such the mag's quite a bit thicker than usual, filled with full-page help-wanted ads from publishers and developers the world over. Neat to look through, and there's a Warren Spector interview as well -- he's sort of the anti-David Jaffe, and he's just as interesting to read.

[Kevin Gifford breeds ferrets and runs Magweasel, a site for collectors and fans of old video-game and computer magazines. He's also an editor at Newtype USA magazine.]

On The Golden Age Of CRPGs

- We do link the lovely folks at Armchair Arcade here on GSW sometimes, and thanks to a deal with AA's Matt Barton, we've published 'The History of Computer Role-Playing Games Part 2: The Golden Age (1985-1993)' over on Gamasutra.

Barton particularly notes: "Nowadays, it's all too easy to look at games like The Bard's Tale, Quest of the Avatar, Bane of the Cosmic Forge, The Pool of Radiance, Wasteland, or even Dungeon Master and wonder what all the fuss was about. Nevertheless, these are the games that led directly to the modern CRPG, and no one who enjoys the latest Elder Scrolls, Diablo, or Dungeon Siege should fail to doff his cap to Wizard's Crown and Alternate Reality."

Honestly, I think that Barton knows more about this subject matter than almost anyone out there - we also reprinted Part 1, about CRPGs from 1980 to 1983, which originally ran on Armchair Arcade, and we're planning to publish at least one more article from him in the near future, on the "Platinum Age," which "...will cover all classics I promised above and many more like Baldur's Gate and The Elder Scrolls, as well as Diablo and Planescape: Torment."

Oh My, Shmorky's Furious Famicom Faggot

- You may remember I was talking about neat game-related subcultures that don't get talked about much in the 'mainstream' of game blogging - citing Newgrounds.com as a prime example of youth gone wrong in the most adorable ways.

Well, another is the ever-vitriolic SomethingAwful, and I was alerted to the recent awesomeness going on at SA's 'The Flash Tub', courtesy of longtime SA goon (and at one point official GameSetWatch cartoonist) Dave 'Shmorky' Kelly.

What you should know - there's a tremendously 'popular' YouTube uploader who calls himself 'Angry Nintendo Nerd', and swigs from beer while swearing in a reasonably funny/unnecessary fashion about slightly borderline NES games - here's his take on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, for one.

Thus, in Shmorky's messed-up world, we have Furious Famicom Faggot (that link is for Part 1 of the 7-part series - the rest are viewable from the Flash Tub homepage.) According to various other notes I've seen hanging out online, there's also a bit of Seanbaby and GameLife referencing in there. There is also an AWESOME Charles Dickens / Dizzy joke in one of the episodes. No lie.

My personal favorite is Episode 4, dealing with Megaman II, and includes the line: "My doctor told me to stay away from playing Megaman, because it would give me FUN cancer", as well as massive amounts of incoherent, sarcastic rage, and a terrible improvised song over the end credits. Oh yeah, and swearing. Well, it works for me. More interestingly, the later episodes get more and more surreal, as somehow the FFF gets 'sucked into the game', with a bizarre denouement in Episode 7 - watch all the way through for the 'story', though, kids. [Ta for link, Mr. Cifaldi!]

Game Of The Blog Of The Game Blog

- Thanks to Frank for pointing out that the often pseudonym-ed Packratshow has a new weblog, 'Game Of The Blog', and it's an uncommonly smart ramble through the kind of areas that GSW likes talking about.

Taking two posts randomly, there's a really fun post about 'Gamers becoming a target audience?', which points out a new housing development which says on the signs advertising it: 'Foodies, Activists, Gamers, Techies - You belong Here.' It's noted: "I could blather on about how inane the whole thing is ([in the overall random list of people] they want chocoholics and attorneys but no doctors?) but the interesting part is that the advertisers actively targeting gamers. It may be a horribly misguided attempt, but it's nice to see the that the gaming community can be thought of as an actual consumer segment."

Elsewhere, there's a nice little overview of Chulip, which notes of the extremely odd, GameStop-exclusive PS2 title: "The plot, script, character design, and art are all very unique but when you strip all of that away, Chulip is brutally unforgiving adventure game. So brutal in fact, that the instruction booklet seems to(I only quickly glanced through it) contain complete solutions to when and how each underground dweller needs to be kissed." There's other fun stuff if you scroll back a few posts, and we'll post more from this site soon, no doubt!

GameDaily Puts GamePro Under The Microscope

- Sometimes it feels like our very own Kevin Gifford's 'Mag Weaseling' column is the only web-based effort actually talking about video game print magazines, so it's good to see Kyle Orland reviewing the new redesign of GamePro in his latest GameDaily column.

Count Orland's intro tries to bring an even-handed approach to a sometimes maligned publication: "Even though gamers as a group have gotten older, there's still room for a magazine that caters to younger gamers. Still, for old fans, it's hard not to feel that the magazine has failed to grow with the gaming audience. With the content and design overhaul in this issue, GamePro had a good chance to break out of its youth-oriented niche and find some cross-demographic appeal. Did it succeed? Let's find out."

Our own Mr. Gifford is an ex-GamePro editor, so suggested some redesign ideas and commented on the actual issue himself, and overall, I think Orland's consensus doesn't stray too far from ze Weasel's, as the GameDaily piece concludes: "You can dress it up, but you can't take it anywhere. The new GamePro matches the old in being light on substance and heavy on editorial that reads like ad copy. Some relatively interesting reviews aren't enough to save a magazine that feels like it's still trapped in its '90s heyday."

February 23, 2007

Arctic Thunder Poker Mash-Up Indie Insanity!

- Got a note from Manifesto Games about a pretty odd/intriguing new PC indie title: "Arctic Stud Poker Run is not your father's poker game. In fact, it's more like the biathlon of the game world, except instead of skiing and shooting, you chase people and things on high-speed vehicles, fire automatic weapons, and play poker. OK, so maybe it's more like combining Super Mario Kart with snowmobiles and poker. Whatever. It's fun. It's fast. It's poker, only different in the middle."

It's also noted: "The game's designers, Brian Colin and Jeff Nauman, are legendary old-school arcade game creators with credits that include Star Trek Voyager and Pigskin 621 AD. Arctic Stud is their first indie game. Brian explains their move to independent game development by saying: "For us, it's always been all about the game. We've had great clients who have given us amazing artistic freedom, but it's still not the same as following your own ideas to their eventual conclusion.""

Cute - there's a fun behind-the-scenes segment from cheesy local Chicago news (hah!) on developer Game Refuge's website - and of course, these guys designed Rampage, which is much more famous. And they're Midway Chicago veterans, and this feels oddly like Arctic Thunder with added poker action, which is pretty funny. I'm guessing that at one point they were thinking of making an arcade machine out of it?

COLUMN: 'Cinema Pixeldiso' – Avalon

['Cinema Pixeldiso' is (supposed to be) 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 a foreign co-production that tells a familiar tale a bit better than most.]

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First off, Cinema Pixediso is back after a brief hiatus! So it's time once again to take a look at video game as viewed and depicted on the silver screen, most of which you've probably never heard off. And some for good reason...

For for this particular installment, we once look elsewhere in the world... actually, two foreign lands. Avalon, produced in 2001. It’s both an Asian and European production. The movie was produced and directed by the Japanese; the director, Mamoru Oshii, is actually well known in certain circles, that being those who follow anime (among other things, Oshii was the man behind the groundbreaking Ghost In The Shell). But the rest of the film was co-produced and filmed in Poland. Plus the entire cast is Polish as well, with all the dialogue spoken in their native tongue.

Though what really sets it apart from the rest of the pack from others is how, for a video game movie, its decidedly un-video game-y for the most part. Often, the best films of its kind will make you forget that they are even about games in the first place. Not sure what that says about the medium... perhaps its because the best filmmakers can touch upon conventions without exploiting them and relying on cliches (unless its intentional, of course). But that's an point of view that might be best reserved for another time...

Avalon

Right off the back, the story does seem admitted quite clichéd. In the future, the young are sick and tired of the harsh realities of everyday life, so they all turn towards a VR war simulator called Avalon. This highly popular game happens to be outlawed, in large part due to its extreme addictive quality; those that get in too deep become lobotomized for the rest of their lives. These poor saps are called the Unreturned. But playing well definitely has its rewards, and not just in game; expert players can cash in their earnings for actual currency and make a living.

Enter Ash, the star of the story and one of the game's top players. The film kicks off in the middle of the game, with players facing off against each other with guns a blazin' and tanks a blown' up, in a wartorn environment that looks like any wartorn city in the Communist bloc. The action looks very real, but the explosions are made fake-looking on purpose since, after all, the graphics can't be that good. And when folks are killed, they turn into pixelized dust. Again, its just a game.

Everything is presented in a sepia tone, and the action in the beginning, with all the military vehicles and armed troops roaming crowded city streets, reminds one of the first trailer for Metal Gear Solid 4 - one also has to wonder if Hideo Kojima ever saw this movie...

Anyhow, Ash is a total badass, one-woman army, easily taking out less skilled players (one has to wonder what the Polish equivalent of the term "noob" is) and even taking down a futuristic looking helicopter single-handily to win the level. We are then transported to the real world, where we meet the real Ash... with just a game helmet on and her undies. Naturally, to play Avalon, one must be in their underwear (much like today with any video game, really).

A Gamer's Life

But outside, she's no less of a badass, nor is she any different than her in-game's persona (and her world doesn't look any different either, with everything still looking sepia). Ash is a solo player; most players work in teams; its explained early on that the forces behind the game strongly encourage team play because solos are harder to keep track and "make them nervous". But not her, at least when we meet her; Ash has no interest in working with others because she used to, with Team Wizard, the greatest team of them all - til they broke up of course.

Aside of being a virtual army of one, Ash's life is pretty boring. She lives my herself in a studio apartment, though she does have a pet dog. When she's not playing, she's just at home, sitting around, reading books, and maybe checking email (naturally, there's nothing good). Or she's out buying groceries, riding mass transit. Because Ash makes her living playing the game, Avalon is basically her job, and she appears to treat it as such, with seemingly very little excitement or passion. Though this boring lifestyle is far from ugly; the movie is absolutely gorgeous. Every frame, every shot is wondrously illustrated. Ultimately, the movie does feel like a slick music video, but at least its a good looking slick music video.

Anyway, everything is business as usual for Ash, until her blood begins to boil once she notices another player making waves, whom she even believes is taunting her.

She tries to get info on this new, hot-shot player, but is unable to, which makes him an obsession of hers, and the impetus to push harder, be better, to surpass him. Around this point of the story, Ash runs into Stunner, one of her old teammates from the back in the day. They have lunch, and he bums come cash off of her, but also reveals some info on another ex-teammate, Murphy. She learns that he became yet another poor soul who never came back from the game, primarily from chasing a special character that no one knows the real deal about. Some say she's an Easter Egg, others believe her to be a glitch. She's a little girl, known as the Ghost, that's the gateway to a super, secret level, one that's impossibly hard, but also worth a jillion points if completed - one that Murphy reached but failed.

Naturally, we next begin to see bits and pieces from the past via flashback form, of when Ash apparently dropped the ball for the team, ending their legendary run. Meanwhile, back in the real world, using her new acquired info, she finds info on "The Nine Sisters", who invite her to the game grid for a chat. And along the way, the Game Master, who is the head administrator or AI or whatever that runs the show and communicates to Ash (and who appears to be a grizzled, drunk clergy man) tells her to stay alert...

Even Better Than The Real Thing

Ash ignores this warning, which she really shouldn't have, since it was an ambush after all. Before being blasted to bits, she is forced her to call for a reset and be booted out the game, which aside from making her throw up, is highly embarrassing for any player, especially for one of her caliber. After this, she decides to rest up by making a nice home cooked meal for her dog. The entire sequence is so calm and serene... and something you just don't see in any video game movie. Amidst all the action and drama, having Ash take a step back to realize and appreciate the simple pleasures in life, that which cannot be found in a video game, but also not just stating it but showing it in fine detail is something unprecedented in the annals of video game cinema. Unfortunately, the dog is nowhere to be found once his meal is ready.

Shortly afterwards, Ash runs into Stunner once again, who convinces her to buy him another meal. He reveals more info on the Ghost, specifically the means of spotting her, but as interested as she is, Ash can't help but be distracted by his eating that is expressed via a bizarre, yet exquisitely shot sequence that's 30 solid seconds of extreme close-ups of him shoving eggs and sausage into his mouth.


Stunner explains that the Ghost only appears when a Bishop, a certain class in the game, is present, and a high level one at that (that's what Murphy was, btw). Ash is a Warrior, also a high level player, and could switch classes, but points would be lost in the transition, so it wouldn't work. But later that evening, wouldn't you know, the expert player that's been bugging the hell out of Ash, who also happens to be a bishop, as well as a man of the cloth in real life, shows up at her place! He reminds her of that fateful day when things fell apart, and she proposes they form a team, which he agrees to.

On her way to play, Ash gets further warnings about not going too far, and as expected, questions are also raised as to what she'll do when she gets to where she wants, as well as what is real is and what is not. And once in the game, Ash finds out that the super Bishop is actually the caretaker of Avalon and wants her to join in, plus the film gets even poses even more philosophical questions. It isn't long before Ash finally encounters the Ghost, and is propelled to the special stage.

Here, Ash's mission is to track down an Unreturned player and eliminate him from the game. This special part of the game is called "Class Real" and it’s real all right; aside from having better color, the game even features actual product placement. Just like in those EA games!

Final Score

Okay, so aside from various clichéd aspects, it’s also pretty predictable. Gee, any guesses who the Unreturned that Ash has to snuff might be? Also, what about her missing dog? Yet despite all these flaws, the movie is still like no other video game movies out there. Primarily because it just feels so genuine. Though the (compared to most others) sophisticated manner in which it is delivered certainly helps. Once again, it simply looks like a million bucks, with top-notch cinematography and art design, and true sense of care and cohesion (even if some visual elements look Matrix-y, which btw is not one of this particular reviewer's favorite films, but given when it came out, its somewhat forgivable). Also worth noting is the excellent music. Plus the acting is simply stellar.

These are real actors... with a real story, and real music, and real art design. In the end, the movie just feels real, and legit, and you can't say that about a lot of films that deal with such material, unfortunately. Which is why when it tries to do the whole "is this real or not?" angle, its not totally laughable.

Anyway, here's another movie that you probably haven't seen but most definitely should.

[Matt Hawkins is a New York-based freelance journalist and Gamasutra contributor. He also designs games, makes comics, and does assorted “other things.” To find out more, check out Fort90.com.]

Big Huge Catan Xbox Live Arcade Dreams

- It's nice to see the bigger blogs doing regular columns (even if they scroll off the page so quickly due to the amount of posts!), and Joystiq's Scott Jon Siegel pinged me about his 'Off The Grid' interview with Brian Reynolds about Big Huge Games' Xbox 360 Live Arcade board game conversion Catan.

One thing I particularly like is that Reynolds cares a lot about the subject matter here: "I've been a big fan of Settlers of Catan (and the games of Klaus Teuber in general) for years. In fact I have a 1st place trophy for Settlers of Catan from our regional Maryland tournament, and the fact that I'd played the game at the tournament level was definitely a help in doing the A.I. It's funny, but if anything working on Catan Live has gotten me even more into playing the game."

He also revealed how the project came into being: "It was actually Microsoft who approached us – last spring I had no idea the project possibility even existed, but Microsoft was looking for developers to bring "Euro" board games to XBLA, and they came to us early in the process. Obviously once we knew about the project we were very excited." Great interview, and I'm very much looking forward to the game, which may hit as early as next month.

Into The Time Maelstrom With Jon Blow

- We've already established that Jason Rohrer from Arthouse Games is a big of a big Braid fanboy, but his interview with Braid creator Jon Blow is handy because it lets Blow talk about the complex and interesting influences behind the game.

This bit is particularly thought-provoking: "I'm on a few mailing lists for game designers; some time later, on one of those, a discussion arose about Prince of Persia: Sands of Time and Blinx: The Time Sweeper. Both of these games provide the ability for the player to rewind events, like rewinding a movie in a VCR. One aspect of the discussion was that both these games used rewinding as a gimmick---your ability to use it was limited for when you collected power-ups or whatever. A very opinionated friend of mine, Casey Muratori, said that all games should give you the ability to rewind without limitation. In a lot of games we already effectively have that---the ability to save anywhere and then reload that save point -- it's just a much, much more inconvenient interface."

Blow continues: "This was a controversial position, because if players can just rewind any time they want, then consequence and tension seem to go out the window. So there was this big argument with everyone taking a different position. Nobody actually tried implementing the unlimited-rewind in a game, which in retrospect seems kind of weird (but not too weird, because the people on the list tend to be pretty busy.)" So that's what Blow did, x10, in his game, which will be released eventually at some point, haha!

British Film Institute Books Top 100 Games

- The ever-erudite UK Guardian Gamesblog has pointed out that there's a new video game-related book from the British Film Institute, called simply '100 Videogames'.

Guardian blogger Keith Stuart notes that the book is written by Iain Simons (who organises the Nottingham GameCity festival) and James Newman, and "...does pretty much what the title suggests it will - looks at 100 videogames and explains what makes each one important. In the foreward the authors point out that this is not a book about the 100 best videogames - instead they've gone for interesting and innovative titles from the last 30-odd years."

He continues: "It's a very decent selection, taking in the obvious (Asteroids, Doom, Final Fantasy VII) and the not-so-obvious - stuff like browser-based titles Hapland and SissyFight. Each game gets a short essay examining its strengths and contributions to the medium. I've spotted a few factual errors (Cannon Fodder is twice listed as a 1983 title - just a decade out there, lads), but that's part of the fun with these books." Sounds neat! They'd better have Jet Set Willy and/or Manic Miner in there, incidentally, or there will be trouble.

February 22, 2007

Programming The 2600 With Batari Basic!

- Just to prove that the most ancient of game consoles never die, Atari Age has revealed that a new Basic-style programming language has been released... for the Atari 2600!

The front page of the site explains: "After 18 months of development, Fred Quimby has announced the official release of batari Basic! Aside from enhanced stability and flexibility, this release introduces many new features that should help programmers write better games. batari Basic (bB) is a BASIC-like language for creating Atari 2600 games."

What's more: "It is a compiled language and the compiler runs on a computer, but it creates a binary file that can be run on an Atari 2600 emulator or used to make a cartridge that will operate on a real Atari 2600. Versions are available for Windows/MS-DOS, Mac OS X, and Linux. To learn more please visit the new batari Basic website, and you can discuss this new version in our batari Basic Forum."

Retro Round-Up Courtmartials G.I. Joe

- Well, time to link to the latest Retro Round-Up at 1UP again, because it's just that time of the week and we're just that kind of retro-loving old nostalgia geeks. Sadly.

There's the obvious Virtual Console reviews and shenanigans, thumbs down-ing Legend Of Kage, and noting of Donkey Kong Country: "A shallow and derivative platformer that was bland a decade ago and hasn't improved with age... It's no Mario, but it's charming enough in its own clumsy way." My wife is a major, major fan of this game, incidentally, mainly for the nostalgia value, so we've downloaded it already and she's shaming me by pointing out things to do in the first level that I have no clue about.

[Oh, Lazyweb feature request, 1UP - one big page with all the Virtual Console reviews listed alphabetically? I needed that the other night when I was puzzling on how to spend my remaining Wii points, and sassy capsule reviews are a great way to Siskel and Ebert your way through download choices.]

But the highlight of Retro Round-Up for me is, once again, the Retronauts Bonus Stage video, in which the G.I. Joe series of games are deconstructed, and there's swearing, and knowledge of Cobra Strike for the 2600, and these are two things that I have very little damn knowledge of. So really - bring your Snake Eyes lust here, and worship at St. Joe's altar - 22,000 other people have, thus far.

Suda 51 Has Lovechild With Eric Chahi

- There _are_ some useful interviews and features from time to time on IGN, but I tend to miss them due to the site's somewhat tortuous SKU-split design and cross-posting shenanigans. However, a recent IGN interview with Suda 51 about Wii title No More Heroes has some neat points that are worth looking into.

Firstly, it's extremely interesting that Suda's first-mentioned gaming influence (and I believe he's cited this before) is a Western developer and a Western game: "My favorite game is Out of this World [aka Another World]. I was shocked and impressed by the game by Erick [sic] Chahi. My favorite movie is Paris, Texas. I was very moved by this movie, and that feeling still remains today." Incidentally, IGN, it's Eric Chahi - no extra K.

Also worth noting is Suda's sign-off regarding 'No More Heroes', which stars a Johnny Knoxville-style Japanese anime okaku (!): "We are tuning up No More Heroes to be simple and comfortable, but exciting and refreshing as a game. The game has a unique sense of humor and I hope fans will be excited about and look forward to it. I'll also try my best to make No More Heroes as violent, or even more violent than Manhunt 2!" I see sarcasm in here somewhere!

Does Australia Need An R Rating For Games?

- Just spotted that Aussie newspaper The Age has a video game specific blog, Screen Play, and it has a number of interesting Australian-related game posts on it, which seem to get pretty fierce commentary from the blog's readers.

In particular, there's a post about Australia's lack of a R rating for games, which notes: "The games industry has been actively lobbying State and Federal Governments for the introduction of an R18+ game classification for several years, but new statistics show the majority of Australians believe classification is irrelevant."

It continues: "The Interactive Australia 2007 report found 62 per cent of respondents in game-playing households said game ratings have no influence on their decision to purchase or hire a game, and a further 16 per cent said it only had "a little" influence." Well, from a U.S. and ESRB perspective, those stats probably sound... bad, if you think Aussie consumers are anything like American ones with regard to taking notice of ratings.

[Here's a Gamasutra piece discussing the Reservoir Dogs game's banning in the territory, which talks about the ratings gaps some more: "Due to a quirk in Australia's classification system, it is impossible for game titles to be rated MA18+, a mature rating which can be applied to games, meaning that games in Australia can either be rated MA15+ or banned entirely. In recent months, this topic has come under more intense discussion in Australia, Electronic Frontiers Australia renewing the call for a MA18+ rating to be instituted, since Australia is one of the only major Western countries not to allow 'adult' classification of games."]

February 21, 2007

GameSpot News Pontificates On Lowenstein

- So, GameSpot News actually has a special news blog, now, though they haven't updated it since last week, but I thought it was interesting to see informal opinions from the generally formal site.

In particular, Brendan Sinclair's comments on Doug Lowenstein's departure are interesting and on the money: "If Take-Two wants to make a fortune off Grand Theft Auto and rattle cages with controversial content, it should be willing to stand up and explain what possible artistic value their games have when overprotective and out-of-touch legislators come knocking. It shouldn't just make a mess and expect the ESA to deal with the entire cleanup." [We just ran industry reaction to Lowenstein on Gamasutra regarding this, btw.]

But, there's caution on whether the game press should shut out Jack Thompson: "The gaming media could ignore the man entirely, and I'm convinced he'd still be plenty happy with the attention he received from the mainstream press, concerned parents, and legislators. Thompson constantly resurfaces in opposition to the industry and is taken seriously (at least for a time) by parent watchdog groups and politicians. That makes him a threat to the industry's interests, and as a result, that makes some of his actions newsworthy."

'Gaymers: Not A Simple Word'

- Over at GSW sister educational site Game Career Guide, there's an interesting little feature called 'Gaymers: Not a Simple Word', which points out: "“Gamer,” like “reader,” can encompass a diversity of people, from casual gamers to import gamers to cyberathletes (“Gamer”)."

It continues: "In fact, new variations of the word continue to pop up in various gaming circles. “Gaymer,” one such variation, is used to describe lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered (LGBT) gamers. While the origin of “gaymer” is hard to pinpoint, it’s clear that the term has garnered some attention. Many embrace it for its sense of community; others decry it as exclusionary."

Why so? "In a recent online discussion, some LGBT people expressed their discomfort with “gaymer.” After all, it does construct a straight-gay binary that leaves no room for in-between space, fluidity, or alternate identities. The potential for exclusion is great. Furthermore, “gaymer” is also used derogatorily. UrbanDictionary.com, a site dedicated to slang, lists five definitions for “gaymer” and three of them reveal that it’s meant as an insult. It’s no surprise then that some people dislike “gaymer.”" It's an intriguing discussion, FWIW.

Opinion: 'Gamecock and Other Schemes'

- [GSW just got handed an interesting opinion piece on the newly announced Gamecock from new anony-game blogger 'Grassroots Gamemaster', He explains of his anonymity: "Naturally, I must protect my identity and the location of my Secret Gamemastering Treefort - lest evil-doers attack me..." - but does appear to be a professional game designer. And he has some thought-provoking things to say about why splitting games up into a film-like 'individual creator' business model is the way to go, even for perceived 'indies' like Gamecock.]

"Maybe you've heard about Gamecock - the new publisher that is going to focus on an unmet need - getting indie games out there. Their entry into the world of game publishing is sorely needed. Well...

I appreciate Gamecock's entry into this business but, you know what, in a way they are still playing yesterday's game. They say we all need to lighten up. I say we need to grow up. I laud their courage to jump into the fray, but I don't need to be talked to like a teenage kid who needs sugar pops to convince him to eat his vegetables. I am a game designer who just wants a square deal. Talk to me straight. All this jumping around says to me you aren't entirely convinced of what you're doing. If you're self-confident you don't need a chicken suit.

The main question I want to ask is this: How is this Gamecock business model coming to terms with the reality of outsourcing and the complexity of game development and production today? You honestly think an indie game developer can do all and be all like it could in the 8-bit days? You need to come to terms with the reality on the ground now; and that is outsourcing."

"People don't understand outsourcing. They think it's primarily about sending work to China to get it done cheaper. Wrong! It's about growing up. It's about being professional. It's about deepening your view of design, and that means going off and pursuing a thing to its farthest ends, even if that means we must leave others behind. When we were kids we built tree forts and played the Three Musketeers and swore we would never leave each other and that we would live in the same neighbourhood and go to the same school forever. And we made games like that - as if we were really playing in a playground. (That's understandable. They're games after all...)

Well, reality check. Games are too complex now, the game audience too sophisticated, the possibilities of the medium fracturing into too many complex offshoots. Design needs to follow suit. (Why do you think they complain about how dreary games have become?) People who make games need to specialize because the challenge of making the individual parts simply requires too much expertise. And the challenge of doing something new needs the fire, dedication and evangelizing that only individuals can bring. That's what outsourcing is about. I mean do you honestly think you can support both game developer stability and innovation. Come on? Innovation has always been financially risky. If you want to be part of a company that is stable and lives forever make a service company and hire yourself out to others. If you want to design innovative new games, design them - but don't expect a smooth ride of it. Any team will always want stability. If you want to explore, you have to strike out for the wilderness - in very small, agile groups, or even on your own. That is what the next generation of designers must be prepared to do.

Maybe you watched the TV show "America's Got Talent". If so you would remember a telling moment when one of the judges told one musician that he was brilliant, but his musical partner (who was his brother) was medium-good at best and if he wanted to be serious about his career he needed to strike out on his own. Naturally, the musician didn't want to hear that - he loved his brother. But do you understand the need to sacrifice? This is what people need to do if they want to bring something to its fullest, strongest potential. They need to sacrifice, including the collective mentality.

Frank Capra said he knew of no great work of art created by committee. Michael Caine expressed the idea that the more decision-makers there are on a team, the higher the chance of something getting messed up. Any coder or engineer can tell you - the more working parts that need to interact, the higher the chance the design will be flawed. It's the same thing with game design. If a talented designer drafts a breathtakingly original design, the more people he has to sell (including teammembers in today's finance-prototyping-out-of-your-own-pocket indie dev model), the more likely it will go wrong, or not get off the ground to begin with.

I specialized. I am a game designer now. That's all I do. I write design docs and I work on improving design for other companies. I contribute to games what they need. I see that the teams I often work with are all very insular, very "group-think" and collectivist - but I am not constrained to this. This means when everyone in the team says "yes yes yes" to a stupid idea just to follow suit - just to not get in the bad books of the others - I will be the lone guy who says "no, this sucks". Because I can be the bad guy. But that's okay. I'm not paid to be liked, I'm paid to do quality work. I specialize in certain types of games. I work for different companies. I move from game to game. Because I am professional. I follow the games, not the companies. Some companies do different kinds of games with the same team. I do different companies and teams but focussing on certain types of games. People talk about hiring me and the first thing I ask is "what is the game we are talking about". They find it an alien question, but to me it's the 600-pound gorilla in the room they never manage to talk about.

When you want to hire designers, that should be the first thing to ask: Does this game fit this designer? People talk about design as if it is a factory position; as if it's one-size-fits-all. It has become that way in the big studios. And you wonder why so much dreck is produced. When I talk to recruiting game companies today they say they want to hire you to work for a company permanently. I reply that if anyone claims they are a really good game designer, why would they sign up to work for one company permanently? Such a designer will not cares what game title comes down the pipe, they will always see it as churning out pulp by formula.

I say if you are looking for a hot game designer why do you think this person would tolerate sitting still and sacrificing their vision to stay as part of a team? Static with whatever the team could consensually agree on. I means its nice to have friends but why wouldn't that person follow their vision wherever it took them?

I say that you have two issues here: production company quality and game design quality. A good production company IS a team. But a good designer is fundamentally an individual voice. Has to be. The two are mutually exclusive. The needs of the production company versus the needs of the design. Why? Because its plain conflict of interest. Because there will be a moment of disagreement between these elements, as there is between the needs of a building's architect and the needs of the construction company. At that moment, the team player will sacrifice their vision (which means it never was a vision in the true sense of the word) to go with the flow; the dedicated professional will uphold the fidelity of their vision (this also includes facing financiers who are rigidly married to deadlines, even at the expense of good work and burning out the production team). Mature professionals understand this, and can work around it. They negotiate. Immature people act like high school students and gossip destructively when someone isolates themselves.

To be honest, I don't give a good gawdamn about making a game company with a static roster of members and a static roster of games in the pipeline (say, 10 titles, all basically the same...). On the other hand, I care totally about making good games. A good game can live forever. Game companies, on the other hand, come and go. Again: growing up and facing the coffee. You either focus on making games or a game company. Today, if you want to be in a solid stable company, make one that provides services. Or become a marketing hub for various games external to you (which is what a publisher is; and, hate it as you may, they are a lot more stable than the developers). If you want to make games, though, welcome to the frontlines. Here's a helmet, keep your head down. There's no stability in it. At the indie level each game is effectively its own company. That's the reality. Even if the team bullheadedly says, "No. *This time* we'll make the awesome new game AND achieve financial stability." I don't think so. You're in a dream world.

Here's another idol to slay. Don't tell me that your game development company is full of people who have good ideas for games. So what? You can walk onto any film set, walk up to the microphone operator or the lighting person and ask them if they have a good idea for a movie. Odds are they'll say yes. So what are you doing being a factory worker? Why are you working on other people's product if you have such a shit hot idea? They'll say to pay the bills, but if you push them I sure you'll agree that hot idea has languished on their hard drive for years, collecting cobwebs. I could ask this of anybody in a game development company with a proverbial "great idea for a game". Why aren't you pursuing your great game idea? Either you really, deep deep deep down, don't believe in your idea, or you're just in it for the money and the steady gig. Or both. There's nothing wrong with wanting a steady gig, but realize that's what you want. If you have vision and passion, you will do what passionate visionaries do: lay it on the line. Risk failure. As GK Chesterton said, if you don't want to risk failure - if you absolutely have to succeed - you have to come late for the battle, once its half over, so you can be on the winning side. If you want to be a visionary, you have to be prepared to fight for seemingly unwinnable causes. Such as that new design everyone says won't work.

Gamecock this is what I think you should do. Package game projects. Focus on incubating game designs, not fledgling game companies. Take in the individual designs at the early level with the fewest number of people attached to them. The fewer the better. Stripped down small teams, like special forces units advancing far into hostile and dangerous territory. Let someone or a few people come to you with a design. Like they say in the film biz, focus on the script first. You can make a bad film from a good script, but you can't make a good film from a bad script. Same with design. Then develop the design with that tiny two or three person team, until it works. Let him/her/them make a tiny little prototype for you - even if its just a small flash game, or a pen-and-paper/board game you can play out on a table in your boardroom; just to test out core ideas - and work on the design design design! You'd be surprised at how much design bang you can get out of this, for absolutely miniscule buck. And if you get a design you like, but can't produce it now, nothing is lost. Put it into storage. Patience, young Jedi.

But if the design flies, package it! Attach a good technology solution: a programming company and a good engine license. Attach a good art production company; and a good QA company. These external players will all contribute to the design of course (in fact, they now hold significant creative power in their decision to endorse or not endorse a given project); but they will also have the stability that comes from being external and focussed on the work they do best, and on their own prosperity (their survival not tied to any particular game concept that may or may not fly). And on the other side, now the design is not constrained to an internal one-size-fits-all technology or art solution the way it must when you are game-company- rather than game-design-focussed. Alfred Hitchcock knew that 75% of his work as a director wasn't in the work he did on the set: it was in casting. Same here.

It amazes me that game companies actually think that the art director who worked out so well on their horror game will have the same feel for their upcoming military game. Hey! Pay attention to casting! A technology or art person or solution that was good for a horror shooter is not necessarily good for a military RTS or what have you. It might be a tiny little difference, but professionals focus on tiny little differences (as they all add up). Let the designer focus on what they are good at: developing an original game concept, writing it up as a design document, and then working with the team for the duration of the game as an individual, professional voice.

When production is over, let everyone exit, but in a way that they gain from the benefits of the IP that is created. This means, as before, let the game be its own company. You can negotiate residuals, license fees and so forth from there. But don't tie me to this team or this company. Again, I am design-focussed, not game-company focussed. I have 5 or 10 other game designs I am working on, and though, yes I like the guys in this team, I'm sorry but I also need to advance my designs, and these guys might not be right for this other design ("not right" is NOT to say that they aren't good; it's just that this other design might require a different feel or approach). That's the real nature of creative vision. It can't be - or shouldn't be - caged. Come to terms with that. The revolutionary things in life always broke the mould.

The focus of true game design is not fitting into a genre. That is formula design. Rather it is in creating new genres. That is a mysterious and risky thing. You claim to want to make these original games. Well, let's make them then."

Top 20 Free Adventure Games Of 2006

- Recently posted on the invaluable Indygamer blog, a list of the Top 20 freeware adventure games from 2006, listing all kinds of interesting AGS and other-style adventure games from this fascinating niche community.

A couple of highlights: #1 is Duty & Beyond: "Your 'quest' in Duty and Beyond is simply to deliver a pizza. But who knew that the adventure would take you on an epic journey across several exotic locations in search of the mysterious customer. Simply a winner in the content category, with multiple endings to achieve depending on your final score. Fans of classic LucasArts games (especially Maniac Mansion) will love this one to bits."

Also v. interesting, Automation: "Automation is a winner of the first One Room One Week Competition, in which all entries are small games made in a relatively short period. The story is centered around a bloke who met an accident while transporting a rather expensive droid, and must attempt to recover his experiment back in one piece or risk losing his job." Many good games in here!

GameTappers, Patrolling Nightly For Classic Games

- Thanks to RoushiMSX's LJ post on the new site, I'm pointed to GameTappers.net, which is a new unofficial messageboard for geeked-out users of Turner's GameTap service.

Now, disclaimer, as you may recall, GameTap is sponsoring the IGF, which I help run, but I'm a bit of a fan of GT completely separately of that, so it's nice to see people getting down and dirty and chatting about hidden gems on the service, from Hoyle Card Games to Jagged Alliance 2 and beyond, blimey.

[Incidentally, the aforementioned RoushiMSX has been getting all excited about Interstate '76 appearing on GameTap, noting: "The game has aged pretty well, and the version on GameTap is the version with D3D and textures on the terrain. Sadly, it's locked at 640x480, but after playing for a few minutes it won't bother you none. The game is still incredibly fun to play a decade after it came out, though there's a few little things you should be aware of going in." And then he lists them!]

February 20, 2007

Play With Fire's Design Document Published

- You know how you don't often see actual, real game design documents available for public viewing? Well, over on Gamasutra, we've managed to post the original design doc for 'Play With Fire', the previously GSW-mentioned puzzle title that's now being published by Manifesto Games.

It's interesting because the design overview (while it's not perfect, f'sure') is pretty similar to the kind of design docs I used to write, in terms of encapsulating the game both from a pitching and practical point of view - and Play With Fire (aka Fireball/Hidama) is, after all, intriguingly abstract - has anyone played it much? What do you think?

Here's the overview: "The player controls a ball of fire, and traverses a landscape made of blocks of different materials. As the player sets fire to these blocks, they grow hotter, and can set fire to more and more different types of blocks. The fireball the player controls can also rise up in height and the hotter the player gets, the higher they can jump in this fashion."

Handy Sez: 'Gamix Is Crazy Stuff!'

- [Yay, a guest post, and the second in a raggedy series of 'Alex Handy Sez' missives, in which the former Game Developer editor and current Computer Games Magazine/Massive/otherstuff contributor riffs on something or other - cos we like his crazy hair!]

"Hey guys! Guess what! There's a new game console!

Stop laughing. This isn't an investment scam, and it's not another bothersome phone that you talk into sideways. There really is a potentially viable fourth party at the table. And you probably already own it.

Gamix is an open hardware specification, that amounts to a 2-year-old Windows PC. 1.8 Ghz, 512 MBs of RAM, 128 MB graphics card, and a USB thumb drive for saved games.

See, you already have one, don't you?

So, Gamix's hardware also calls for a software requirement as well: each game disc is a bootable Linux environment. So, while there's no Direct X, there is SDL, OpenGL, and all that cool open source game development stuff... Hey, Gamix ain't perfect.

Development environment issues, aside, Gamix games themselves are the draw here. You buy a Gamix game, pop it in your Windows PC, and reboot the machine. Then, bam, it boots up behaving like a regular game console: nothing but the game.

I inherited a stack of these blue DVD-boxed games from a certain magazine editor that hates hearing about Linux games. Many of them are staid old Linux classics, like SuperTux, NeverPutt, and Lost Labyrinth. But some of the others here, I'd never heard of. NoGravity is a nifty space combat game that's causing me to pilfer a joystick from the ACCRC "free shelf" this afternoon. Elsewhere on the docket is Kiki the Nano Bot, which seems a little buggy on first glance, but is certainly a new take on the platformer genre.

Like all open source software, there are still bugs and kinks and generally bizarre things going on all over. But you've got to admire the approach here. But the spark is here. As it says on Gamix's Web site, software sales incur no royalties for the use of the Gamix logo. Hardware sales include $1 per unit distributed. That's a distribution model developers can get behind. When you think about it, this is just a return to the days of the Apple II or Commodore 64: those systems booted right into their games, afterall.

I think this is just about the best way possible to distribute an indie game at conferences, yard sales, out of the back of a Volvo, or wherever the underground, grass-roots stuff starts.And remember, as my friend Andre LaMothe is fond of pointing out, you can sell games as impulse items in grocery stores and bargain bins. Mom and pop still play MahJong and Solitaire. As most lInux games are GPL, you could make a killing boxing up and selling the things. Unscrupulous? Only if you don't compensate the lead developers!"

ACME's Xbox-Modding Halfway House Strangeness

-Over at Gamasutra, we ran a story on video game piracy back in January 2006: "Two Hollywood video game store owners and a third man who were charged in December for allegedly pirating video games and installing them on modified Microsoft Corp. Xbox consoles were indicted on Thursday, according to the United States Attorney's Office in Los Angeles."

Well, now LAist has a post about one of the convicted, Jason Jones, who "...was pinched by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, who raided his store wearing full body armor and brandishing shotguns because Jones was suspected of selling “modded” Microsoft Xboxes that played pirated games."

He got 6 months of probation, and "His current home is The Vinewood, a Hollywood halfway house for federal cons about to transition back to civilian life", and apparently, his fellow probationees are a bunch of bank robbers: "There’s one other white collar guy. He’s in here for medical fraud. An Armenian dude."

Jones further explains: "I’m running an antique store on La Brea until I get out, then I’ll go back to video games. I can’t be involved in video games because that’s my crime. Everyone in the house is allowed a television and a Playstation except me! They consider that a part of my crime, like I’m gonna be in a halfway house modding Playstations." This is... deeply strange. [Via Stay Free!, though Looky Touchy had it too.]

Gamers Quarter Issue 8, Ahoy!

- Hey, just got a relevant email, passing it on: "The Gamer's Quarter is quarterly journal dedicated to printing personal, insightful, and introspective videogame writing. We've just finished The Gamer's Quarter Issue #8 and it is now available for download at The Gamer's Quarter website in PDF form."

What's more: "Hard copies are more book than magazine, and at $5 plus shipping each issue is an incredible value available for pre-order at our store: http://shop.gamersquarter.com/." One suspects these will be nice and collectable in a few months/years. For ultrageeks.

The contets? "Within the 77 pages of Issue #8 you'll find 18 articles covering Capcom games, special Tokyo Game Show coverage, The Secret of Mana, Metroid II, Wii Line antics, Rule of Rose, a guest appearance from the writer of Game Time With Mister Raroo, and much, much more! You'll also find tons of original artwork, including a CAPcomic and a very blue cover by Toronto artist Benjamin Rivers!"

Click through for the full line-up for the issue! It's one of the smartest alternative looks at game culture around, I say.

On the Grand Master's Stage - Ancil Anthropy
Strider - ARC
"The fires, the ambushes, the explosions are the translucent hand of the developers directing you...to the next scene in the script."

Goading 'n Gouging - Matthew Williamson
Ghouls 'n Goblins series
"The love of his life, the princess Prin-Prin, was stolen from him while they were having a picnic, he wearing nothing but his boxers. Arthur, like a bizarre videogame Orpheus, must journey into the Ghoul Realm to save her."

That Spiky-Haired Lawyer is All Talk - Jeremy Penner
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - NDS
"The only verb worth anything in the Phoenix Wright games is 'talk.'"

Shinji Mikami and the Lost Art of Game Design - Jonathan Simpson
Resident Evil - PS1; P.N. 03, Resident Evil 4 - NGC; God Hand - PS2
"[Capcom] produces excellent skill-based games at a time when many studios are content to churn out simplistic stories dribbling out as a succession of multimedia scenes to reward a player's Pavlovian responses."

Secrets and Save Points - Heather Campbell
Secret of Mana - SNES
"I need to learn to forgive. To move on. To erase my save points and start over."

Giving Up the Ghost by J.R. Freeman
Metroid II: Return of Samus - NGB
"During those moments in New Mexico when the summer sun would call to mind memories of nuclear tests and the fallout radiation that surely still lingered in the air, there was Samus."

I Came Wearing a Full Suit of Armour But I Left Wearing Only My Pants - James Harvey
Comic
"I'm sorry but I just don't feel that way about you."

Militia II is Machinima by Steven Schkolne
Militia II - AVI
"It was this combination of lush boredom and perfect cinematography that, about five minutes in, first forced my mind to compare this machinima with other grand attention-span opuses, Matthew Barney's The Cremaster Cycle and Kubrick's 2001."

Mega Microcosms by Ancil Anthropy
Warioware series
"This has been your Gamer's Quarter podcast."

Persona Visits the Wii Line by Jonathan Kim
An Illustrated Campout for the Wii
"As it soared through the air like a neon UFO, a sprinkler in the parking lot suddenly exploded."

Christmas Morning at the Leukemia Ward by Brendan Lee
Tokyo Game Show 2006
"For the briefest of moments I was in love, and somewhere in the dark recesses of my mind I started to hum the familiar tune that had lulled me to this tiny island in the first place."

A Retrospective Survival Guide to Tokyo Game Show - Rudie Overton
With Extra-Special Blue Dragon Preview
"My badly proportioned Mardi Gras robot will be, must be, the true hero of Blue Dragon."

You've Won a Prize! - Tim McGowan
Deplayability
"Give me Silent Hill Candy Land."

Knee-Deep in Legend - J.R. Freeman
Doom - PC
"You are huge! That means you have huge guts!!"

Killing Dad and Getting it Right - Justin Boley
Shadow Hearts - PS2
"The constant threat of Game Over in Yuri's father is a symbol of the fear that drive otaku to live their lives in games and porn and message boards--the unshakable belief that, even within the comforting environment of an RPG, they'd have no hope of emotional survival if the next random encounter was their dad."

The Sound of Horns and Motors - M. O'Connor
Fallout series
"The end in Interplay's Fallout comes with a bang, a classic theme lifted in equal parts from the 1950s and 1980s American understandings of what nuclear power meant to the world: giant mushroom clouds."

The Punch Line - Ancil Anthropy.
Rule of Rose - PS2
"'And bad girls need to be punished, don't they?' You are prompted to respond by selecting 'yes' or 'no.'"

Untold Tales of the Arcade - Francesco-Alessio Ursini
Killing Dragons Has Never Been So Much Fun!
"The best part for me was my uncle playing it in every single moment of his freedom, cursing all possible divine entities in the world and menacing any kids who dared to ask for change while he was busy playing."

Why Game? - Mister Raroo
Reason #7: Why Not!?
"Dear Non-Gamers of the World: Greetings!"

Balanced Worlds Try Chinese Approach

- Nice to see completely original reporting from blogs, with Kotaku's story about new Chinese-headquartered developer Balanced Worlds, founded by two ex-Insomniac developers who "decided to pack their bags, depart Insomniac and form their own studio".

Not quite sure whether they're going for original from-scratch console titles or just insourcing art/code elements from Western studios, with Chris Pfeiffer commenting: "US game companies will be increasingly focused on 'iteration time'. The lower the time it takes to test, modify, improve, test...the less expensive games will be to create... there is no doubt in my mind that successful US/Japanese game companies will have to heavily rely on outsourcing large portions of their games to companies like us".

When I checked out the Chinese game biz last year, it was clear that outsourcing from the West - and to a minor extent, original game creation for the West - is very swiftly on the rise in China, since artists there can produce modeling/texturing work of a similar quality at salaries of closer to $5,000 per year. And programming and QA is rapidly getting big for outsourcing, too.

The establishment of Epic China and this latest announcement is just another example of the trend - and notable names like American McGee and Paul Steed are also making for Shanghai. Look for the Western-centric game scene out there to only get denser and more interesting over time - and the native game biz also continues to be fascinating, as our 'China Angle' column at Gama regularly examines.

February 19, 2007

Japanese Game Company Naming, Demystified

- Another excellent post on the Japanmanship blog deals with naming reasons behind major Japanese game companies, and rightly points out: "In Europe and America game companies, especially recently, like to go for, what I call, the “double-barrel comedy misfire”; i.e. vaguely naughty or silly names that mean nothing and are often instantly forgotten; things like “Mollusk Pants” or “Simian Nuts”."

He continues: "The Japanese, with a few notable exceptions, take their naming a little more seriously, and though there can be occasions for hilarious Engrish and more recently pretentious and sometimes misused Latin, their motives are often pure." Some of the obvious but well-explained ones include Capcom: "Capsule Computers, another good example of the Japanese desire to cut words short."

But a cute one I didn't know - Sega's Overworks division: "Previously Sega’s AM7 team they took on the name “Overworks” after their boss Mr. Oba, which sounds pretty much identical to the Japanese pronunciation of “over”. I wonder if he intended to advertise the working conditions so openly."

Also, Koei! "The old “splice two names together” trick perpetrated by Kou Shibusawa and Eiji Fukuzawa; except, of course, these people don’t exist and the name is simply a joke anagram of Keio University where husband and wife founders Yoichi and Keiko Erikawa studied." Hah - rawk - lots more if you click through.

@ Play: Tips For Travel In Gridland

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.]

While there are around a half-dozen major roguelikes, and dozens of minor ones, there are a good number of attributes they all share. They almost all focus on exploration of a regular grid with spaces blocked by walls and doors, and with opposing characters who also travel through the grid through mostly the same mechanism as the player. Sometimes either side may find objects with which to aid them in their goal, or they may have innate abilities that help them, but they all tend to follow the pattern laid down in that ancient game, Rogue.

Because of this, there is a basic body of information that can help players play any roguelike they may find. This week then, we present a travel guide, a document that may aid you in your journey no matter where you might end up, whether it be the Dungeons of Doom, the Mazes of Morgoth, or the Caverns of Chaos, any alliterative complex of rooms, items and monsters you might find--in short, any place worth being.

Remember: always find out the dollar-to-zorkmid exchange rate before embarking.

Click to get a better look at screenshots.

About Diagonals

There are some interesting consequences of moving around a grid-based game world. Most roguelikes allow players to move diagonally at the same cost as orthogonally, and some even allow for free movement through diagonal gaps in walls. But monsters can do the same thing, and are usually a lot more comfortable with the idea than a human player might be.

An example of this is in order. Many games have crinkled passages, with sharp edges that don't actually need to be traveled through. This is very common in Nethack, but applies to almost all roguelikes.

diagonalexample.pngNote that this Nethack corridor (see left) looks as if it's a zig-zag, but in fact, you can just go straight down it diagonally. While these passages are most common in that game, this is a property of all the major dungeons other than Rogue's.

Since the monsters take frequent advantage, of this, it is not uncommon to get struck when turning a corner if one doesn't cut it.

In this scene from Dungeon Crawl (see below), the player is escaping from a small horde of monsters. When he take the corner, however, instead of cutting it like he should, he goes into the corner space. As a result, the rat gets a free attack when he tries to move out of the corner. If the monster was something nasty, like an ogre, and he were low on hit points, that could be a fatal mistake.

cornerexample.png About Doors

One of the most underutilized terrain features to be found in a roguelike dungeon is the lowly door. Even for experienced players, it is difficult to get past the subconscious impression that they are an obstacle to be overcome, instead of a resource to be utilized.

First, how to get through locked doors. Games in which doors can be locked, especially Nethack and ADOM, typically provide some way to get by them without needing a key. These games do it by providing a 'k'ick command for breaking them down, usually setting off any traps in the process. It also destroys the door, which makes it impossible to use tactically.

Doors are a problem because they block player exploration and fleeing, but they're an advantage because one can can close them block the approach of an enemy. If the enemy is intelligent this won't help much, since he'll just open it again, but for monsters with no hands it is an impassible barrier. And if you can lock that door, with a key or a locking spell, it will deter 95% of humanoid opponents as well.

Nethack has some idiosyncrasies regarding doors that should be mentioned. Unlike the other games, an open door in Nethack is not tactically the same as an empty space. In another of its holdovers from Rogue, neither players nor monsters can move into or out of door spaces diagonally, but attacks can be made diagonally both too and from those spaces.

Dealing With Missile Users And Spellcasters

Here's another little problem. This character is in a bit of a pickle in that he he wants to go forward, but that will put him in a wide-open area, where the centaur can shoot at him wherever he goes.

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It can be very difficult to survive a situation like this if the player doesn't have some means of distance attack himself, and even then, centaurs are strong and fast, so players are usually at a disadvantage here.

The proper solution to these kinds of situations is to get behind a corner as soon as possible. Missile firers and spellcasters cannot attack what they can't see, so by getting yourself out of line-of-sight, one forces his enemy to close the distance. Once the monster has gotten close enough to see the player again, he's either in melee range or close enough that the player can reach him in one turn, and in many cases strong distance-attack monsters are pitifully weak up close. Even if it's not weak, at the very least the player has a chance of destroying the threat now, instead of just getting hit by it over and over.

Another tactic that sometimes works is to get another monster between you and the foe. In ADOM in particular, missile users will not fire if there is another monster between it and the player, even if it's weak sauce, so it'll fall back to generic monster behavior: approaching the player, even though it'll be in great danger in that position. Once it's a space away, the player can kill the nearby monster, then quickly approach and slay the archer.

This tactic does not work in Nethack, for its monsters have no love for one another, but another trick, again the result of having Rogue as a direct ancestor, does. Just like the player, Nethack monsters can only fire missiles, zap wands, or breathe whatever in the eight compass-point directions, so a tricky player can almost always safely maneuver closer to an archer or wand-user by making canny use of diagonal movement, to ensure that each turn he is either adjacent (for smacking purposes), or a safe knight's move away from the foe.

Digression: It is interesting to note that this aspect of Nethack's universe is surely intentional, because some monsters are known to take advantage of it. Try getting a unicorn lined up for a shot in a room some time and you'll see what I mean.

Dealing With Wand Users

gnomedoom.pngWands are a subclass of missile weapons that are special because they are much stronger, including instant death in some cases, can sometimes have unusual effects, and because their charges are typically limited.

The textbook example of roguelike unfairness is when a Nethack gnome, a weak monster in plentiful numbers early in the dungeon, through some divine prank finds a wand of death. While it seems these death-dispensing tools are never generated right the hands of a gnome, it is possible that he found such a wand lying on the dungeon floor. Since a player cannot ordinarily see the inventory of monsters, and certainly can't without being in the space next to it, he'll have no prior clue that the monster, out of thousands, has suddenly become a opponent worthy of respect until the fatal zap.

In most games the only thing a player can really do is use missile tactics to lure the monster close then melee him; some games this means he'll only use hand-to-hand attacks, while in the others he'll at least cause him to spend some of his turns trying to whack you. But, once again, Rogue and Nethack have a weird complication here. Attack ray wands in those games have the special property of being reflective, bouncing off of walls, potentially to hit the creature that fired it, meaning, provided you survive, the enemy has an excellent chance of killing himself with the beam intended for you.

About Speed

There are two ways that speed is handled by roguelike games: player-centric, and world-centric.

Player-centric speed was what Rogue used, and many roguelikes go through a period early in their development where they use it because it's simpler to implement. Under this scheme, all monster actions occur relative to moves the player makes. A fast monster might get an extra turn every other move the player makes, or even two moves to the player's one, while a slow monster loses turns on occasion. This way, all monster speeds must roughly match up to multiples of the player's speed, which makes effects like Haste spells or speed potions very predictable. There was a trick in Rogue, that still works in some games which use more complex speed systems, where if the player drunk a potion of speed he could kill almost any monster safely, by getting into a flee-hit-flee-hit pattern; that way, the monster's turn would always be wasted in chasing the player, while the player could both run and hit on his turns.

More recently the vogue has been world-centric schemes, where there is what amounts to an invisible world-clock according to which both the player and monsters get their turns scheduled. This way, an actor's speed is measured in ticks, after every so many of which he gets an action. Under this system there can be monsters who are only slightly faster or slower than the players, and sometimes some randomization is even thrown in to make it harder to safely abuse.

Escape, Regeneration and Loops

loopexample.pngRoguelikes present a random, hostile world in which time is rarely on the player's side. In general, turns wasted will come back to haunt the player, by attracting monsters, depleting food, or plain old opportunity cost. But there are still times when the player may want to see some time pass.

It is a convention of roguelike games that characters heal much more rapidly than they would in real life, or even in a Dungeons & Dragons realm. With the exception of ADOM (which has notoriously slow healing rates unless the player takes measures), the passage of a couple hundred turns is all a body needs to go from death's doorstep to prime condition. Even this can be sped up by using the Rest key (usually period) instead of moving around or doing something, or by putting on a ring of regeneration. Yet in most of these games, monsters heal nowhere near as quickly as players, if at all.

The safest place, often, to pass healing time is on a different dungeon level. If you can get to the stairs with at least one space between you and a monster, you can escape any foe. Even if monsters are adjacent to you when you take the stairs, certain species don't follow. Time usually does not pass for monsters when you're off the level, but some, like Dungeon Crawl, try to fake time by those monsters when you re-enter the floor.

Finally, some games, Rogue itself chief among them, reach a point eventually where the player simply cannot hope to kill the monsters. There are occaisions, in these games, when it comes time to hang up one's sword, and just sprint for the goal. The end of games of Rogue, especially PC Rogue, is most times just such a mad rush for the Amulet, and then a hasty retreat: exit, screaming all the way, stage up.

Remember: he who fights and runs away, lives to flee another day.

Game Lawsuits, From Here to Timbuktu

- Wandering over to Ross Dannenburg's Patent Arcade blog, we note that they've updated their gigantic Video Game Lawsuit list, adding more summaries to what is already the most impressive list of its kinda on the Internet.

There are some brand new lawsuits too, but I found myself going over some old lawsuits which I'm not sure have been picked up on too much yet, for example Capcom v. Data East (N.D. Cal. 1994), in which: "Capcom filed a motion for preliminary injunction to enjoin Data East from distributing the video game “Fighter's History,” which Capcom alleges infringes upon its copyrights for the “Street Fighter II” series of video games" - and which was denied!

Also neat is Ahn v. Midway (N.D. Ill 1997), in which: "Plaintiff Malecki modeled the character Sonja Blade for MK (see above screenshot). Plaintiff Ahn modeled the character Shang Tsung in the coin-operated version of MKII, while plaintiff Zamiar modeled for three characters, Kitana, Mileena, and Jade, all of whom appeared in MKII."

They basically claimed that, since they were motion captured doing particular moves: "The crux of the plaintiffs’ argument with respect to copyright infringement was that each plaintiff was a joint author of both MK and MKII, and defendants therefore owed an accounting to each plaintiff."

Turns out not so much - "In analyzing the plaintiffs contributions, the court stated that “it is apparent to the court, in viewing videotapes of the actual games, that the superhuman gyrations and leaps high into the air of the characters, including plaintiffs' characters, are fanciful products of the imaginations of the creators of the source codes.”" This is fascinating stuff.

GameSetLinks: Aggregating The Weekend News

- Well, OK, not just the weekend news, rather all kinds of random tidbits we've been storing up over the past few days, but there's plenty of neat stuff in here for the gaming cognoscenti:

- MMO veteran Damion Schubert has pointed out Daniel James giving out "some pretty hard numbers about Three Rings, which are interesting" - and indeed they are, since the cited Red Herring article reveals: "As silly as it may sound, Puzzle Pirates has been a surprise hit with 2 million registered users, 30,000 of whom have signed up as subscribers—worth a tidy $3.3 million in revenue last year for Three Rings." Don't often see hard numbers like this for indie MMOs.

- Via Jiji, a GameFaqs post translating a French revelation about the Metal Slug Anthology series - specifically: "Where it begins to be funny it's that the roms used to emulate Metal Slug 5 are in reality those from the first dump released on the net, it means the bootleg dump! Yes you've read right, SNKP has used bootleg roms with the watermarked Vx and a P1 which has bankswitches." Wacky stuff.

- 1UP's latest Retro Round-up column has all the usual good Virtual Console, Xbox Live Arcade, and so on smartness, and the bonus video is especially fun: "In this week's Bonus Stage, journey back to the dim and distant era of September 2006 when 1UP skipped out of Tokyo Game Show to meet up with Wired's Chris Kohler to comb through the wonders of Akihabara, Japan's highly specialized nerd district."

- Adventure Classic Gaming has an excellent interview with Jonathan Boakes, the UK native who "single-handedly produced and published commercially the adventure hit game Dark Fall: The Journal", and appears to be a bit of a Renaissance man all round - looks like the game is a surprisingly well-adored re-imagining of those '90s CD-ROM adventures, too - so a niche well worth looking into.

- MMO blog Aggro Me has detailed impressions of Sigil's MMO Vanguard: Saga Of Heroes, and his comments on the game are, even to a MMO neophyte like me, interesting - he criticizes a LOT, but then ends with: "The reality is that Vanguard is the first fantasy MMO worth wasting my time in since EQII and WoW launched. And that's been a while... Even though it's unfinished and I don't agree with some of the decisions made, the fact is that you can be online playing Vanguard right now."

- Over at YouTube, the latest Line Rider video to get feted by all is 'LineRider "Discarded" A Line Rider Short by TechDawg': "This track contained 13,028 lines, yet is only around 2 minutes in length... This movie, "Discarded", the 7th Line Rider Short released by TechDawg, includes the song 'Hero' (feat. Josey Scott) by Chad Kroeger." So, the Chad Kroeger bit is unfortunate, heh, but as Kottke and others note, some of the design is majestic - particularly when it loops around the same jump multiple times at multiple velocities.

- Jason 'Textfiles.com' Scott has a great post about Peter Hirschberg, who is "...true modern renaissance man, combining art, programming, and industrial design. His style is impeccable and pervades all his work, and at various times he has lit up my online life with his craft and creation." And if that sounds a bit gross, check out his history - from Vectro Dream through RetroCade to LEDHEAD, all the way to his superdupercool basement arcade, pictured therein.

- Finally, Grand Text Auto has an extended post called 'Some Joe Schmo Was First to Experience True Interactive Drama', and including some fun comparisons of reality, interactive, wackiness: "But — it turns out that a satirical reality TV show has gone the furthest towards fully enacting this vision of interactive drama, at least once, for a single real person." Anyhow, it's very entertaining, and it's kinda sorta about ARGs and games. So I linked it!

The Face Of Doom

- Matteo Bittanti's v.useful Videoludica has just posted news of Damiano Colacito's "Face of Doom" art exhibit, as projected onto the ruins of the Hotel Europa in Sarajevo as part of an art exhibit.

Bittanti explains: ""Face of Doom" opened the XXIII International Festival of Sarajevo. The once majestic hotel was heavily damaged during the civil war. The "Face of Doom" video shows the changing states of Flyn, also known as "The DoomGuy". As the energy level decreases from 100% to 14%, Flyn's expression becomes increasingly tormented and anguished, a metaphor for a city that suffered so much destruction during the war."

He continues: "Luckily for Flyn, the video ends with the energy level restored to 100%. Flyn, like Sarajevo itself, is the proverbial phoenix that rises from its ashes. "Face of Doom" is an itinerant project that will evolve and change in the upcoming weeks." And Colacito is interviewed, revealing his pitch: "The projection of an health-bar in a public space of Sarajevo transforms the simple display of an energy level of the player immersed in a videogame into the symbol of a collective health status." Sure, it's a little artsy, but it's also kinda smart.

February 18, 2007

Perplex City: How The Cube Was Found

- My favorite Alternate Reality Game site, ARGN.com, has updated with an absolutely fascinating article on how the Perplex City cube was found, written by... the guy who found it.

We covered the story over at Gamasutra, noting: "The ARG asked participants to follow numerous clues in the search for the "Receda Cube" and win the prize of $200,000, and according to Mind Candy, over the last two years, Perplex City had been played by more than 50,000 registered individuals from 92 countries."

And honestly, the first-person narrative from winner Andy Darley is incredibly readable, and it starts like this: "I'd like to say the reason I found the Cube was because I solved all the meta puzzles, cracked the number strings, and have all the answers. Alas, no. None of us did. As far as I'm aware, the reason all of us who were involved in the endgame found ourselves in Rockingham Forest is because cjr22 and Chippy nailed the amorphous blobs as being the Jurassic strata, which led by a series of inevitable steps to the Jurassic Way and the red kite centre on Forestry Commission land at Fineshade Wood." And yeah, Mr. Amrich, it's a little bit Masquerade.

GameDev.net Goes IGF Interview Crazy

- Wandering over to game programming dev site GameDev.net, I spotted their multitude of interviews with 2007 Independent Games Festival finalists - it's great to see them going to the trouble to find and chat to most of the final 20 or so. [Obvious disclaimer: I'm the Chairman of the IGF, but you knew that.]

Anyhow, any number of the pieces are informative, but to pick a couple of random examples: Armadillo Run's Peter Stock talks about his inspirations:

"One of my friends showed me a couple of physics-based games back in 2001 and I really liked the idea of using physics as part of a game's gameplay. It seemed pretty novel and it can make the gameplay less linear and more freeform. The first game we found was Stair Dismount, which is great fun - all from just pushing a rag-doll man down a flight of stairs. We later found Bridge Builder, which we also spent a lot of time playing. I'd say that these two games helped me come up with the idea - combining the 2D design-test concept of Bridge Builder with some dynamics."

Also, the Armada Online chaps discuss the project's history, as follows: "My name is Mark Jordan. A long time ago Roger Fang and I made a game called Armada for the Dreamcast. We recently acquired the rights to our old game, and started EvStream in early 2005 to make Armada Online... Armada DC is a 4 player action game."

"Armada Online drives more like an RTS, though you are still controlling just one ship, and you can hold down the mouse button to continuously move, make tight turns, and dodge. Both were about exploring the universe and fighting biomechanical aliens, and both owe a lot to Starflight, but Armada DC skewed more toward Gauntlet, and Armada Online is closer to the core feel of Starflight."

COLUMN: 'Game Mag Weaseling': The Bluffer's Guide to Famitsu's Competition

['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.]

famimaga1.jpg   famimaga2.jpg

Following up my guide a little while back on the history of Famitsu (Japan's largest game magazine), I thought I could expand on the subject a little bit by covering some of the competition Enterbrain's title has faced since its inception in 1986. That's what I thought I'd do, anyway, but the sheer number of titles was too much for me. So I'm sticking only to multiplatform and Famicom-specific mags for this little overview -- the number of platform-specific mags published after 1992, when the Dengeki brand was launched, is just discombobulatingly large.

famimaga1.jpg   famimaga2.jpg

Family Computer Magazine (ファミリーコンピュータMagazine) was published by Tokuma Shoten starting in July 1985, meaning it predates Famitsu by about 10 months. It started out as a monthly, but later switched to twice a month as the 8-bit NES boom swept across Japan. "Famimaga" was the de-facto official Nintendo magazine of the mid-to-late 1980s -- Tokuma editors helped with the launch of the American Nintendo Power and even wrote the instruction manuals for some of Nintendo's games. (Indeed, early Nintendo Power issues look a lot like the 1986-1989 era of Famimaga if you compare them.)

Back in the Famicom days, Famitsu and Famimaga were essentially neck-and-neck in terms of circulation -- Famitsu was seen as the best mag for up-to-date news and reviews, while Famimaga was the king of strategy guides, often offering a free bonus strategy booklet with each issue the way many UK mags do nowadays. Every issue also included tons of "Ultra Techniques" (i.e. cheat codes), which always included at least one completely fake and outrageous code -- nude codes, that sort of thing -- partly for the amusement of readers and partly to prevent other mags from being tempted to steal codes.

Famitsu gradually began to pull out ahead of Famimaga sales-wise in the early 1990s, and the difference was night and day by 1997, when Tokuma divided the title into two mags: Famitsu clone Famimaga Weekly and N64 mag Famimaga 64. The weekly mag was shut down within half a year, and Famimaga 64 followed soon after. At least a few of the title's old staff still work at Nintendo Dream magazine.

marukatu1.jpg   marukatu2.jpg

Marukatsu Famicom (マル勝ファミコン) was published by Kadokawa Shoten starting in March 1986, kicking off right from the start with two issues a month. It was pretty much like the Famitsu of the era, and its name changed to Marukatsu Super Famicom in November 1990. It had a mascot named Manto-Inu (Japanese for "caped dog").

In October 1994, Marukatsu Super Famicom's entire staff quit en masse, jumped ship to Media Works, and launched Dengeki Super Famicom the following month. The reasons for this jump are complex and worth an entire column of its own, but regardless, it left Kadokawa with no staff to create a magazine with, and they wound up freelancing all of it out, meaning that nearly all of its regular columns, running manga, and so forth were suddenly canceled. This naturally annoyed readers and circulation plummeted, but the mag soldiered on until 1996, when it was split into two separate titles (Game Walker and Marukatsu Game Shounen) that both closed in 1997.

hisshou1.jpg   hisshou2.jpg

Famicom Hisshoubon (ファミコン必勝本, "Famicom Victory Book") was published by JICC starting March 1986, a magazine version of a popular series of Famicom strategy guides. The mag started out with a low circulation, but thanks to a series of articles exploring "World 9" and other secret worlds in Super Mario Brothers (all accessed via assorted console-frying techniques like removing cartridges while leaving the system on) helped the mag rocket in popularity, and it soon moved to twice-monthly publishing.

"Hippon," as the title got abbreviated to, was not entirely unlike VideoGames & Computer Entertainment in style -- while trying to appeal to all ages, the mag was best known for featuring a writing stable packed with talented freelancers (including, once again, Pokemon creator Satoshi Tajiri) and devoting massive amounts of space to games ignored in other mags, such as the Wizardry series.

hippon1.jpg   hippon2.jpg

The name of the mag changed to Hippon Super! in 1991, following a move to make the title multiplatform. The resemblance to VG&CE grew only stronger during this era, as the reviews section grew and gave out some of the most opinionated and harsh reviews ever seen in mass-market game print -- positively scandalous by Japanese game-mag standards. Readership dwindled, however, and the mag went N64-specific in 1995 and further morphed into a bimonthly strategy-only mag in 1997, neither to very much good effect.

haoh1.jpg   haoh2.jpg

HAOH (覇王, later Haoh Magazine) was published by Kodansha between 1993 and 1997. It mainly concentrated on the 16-bit consoles, and these days it's less known for its game coverage and more for the magazine covers, which were drawn by Katsuhiro Otomo, Kia Asamiya and a bevy of other well-known manga artists on a round-robin basis.

beep1.jpg   beep2.jpg

Beep is...well, it's a very strange magazine. I don't think there's ever been anything quite like it, although the Newsfield mags of the mid-80s (CRASH, Zzap!64, etc) come close. Launched by Softbank in late 1984, Beep was one of the first truly multiplatform game mags in Japan, and even as Famicom-specific titles sprouted up like weeds in 1986, Beep kept an extremely unique style of its own going, concentrating on weird columns and even weirder "theme" features.

The mag was a major sponsor of the idea of game music being a real genre of audio entertainment, even including free flexi-disc game soundtracks with some issues. (It was also edited exclusively by hopeless Sega fanboys, but that's neither here nor there.)

Beep, if you count all its various incarnations, is the longest-running console mag in Japan -- it changed names over the years to Beep! Megadrive, then Sega Saturn Magazine, then Dreamcast Magazine, then Dorimaga, and then Ge-Maga, its current title.

highscore.jpg   gameboy.jpg

Finally, here are a couple also-rans. High Score (left) launched in March 1986 alongside Hippon and Marukatsu and never found much popularity -- it actually stopped publishing for a time in 1987 thanks to a lawsuit with Enix, and finally closed for good in 1990. Meanwhile, Game Boy (right) launched in 1985, four years before Nintendo used the name for their portable system. Why the publisher didn't have a cow over this is something of a mystery to me, but they kept on publishing as Game Boy all the way to 1994, when they changed names to Power Gamer! before closing in '95.

[Kevin Gifford breeds ferrets and runs Magweasel, a site for collectors and fans of old video-game and computer magazines. He's also an editor at Newtype USA magazine.]

Goes Together Like Horse And Carriage!

- Over at 1UP, they've posted a new feature called 'All's Fair In Love And Games', themed to Valentine's Day, and attempting to reassure all and sundry that game players can be ready for love too.

The intro explains: "For many gamers, Valentine's Day is the most reviled holiday of the year. Some are resigned to the idea that the perfect gamer-guy or -girl doesn't exist. Others simply assume that love and videogames can't mix. The thought of combining romance with videogames, after all, conjures up some overreported myth, complete with visions of nagging, sullen harpies, or of relationships done in by the horror of MMORPG infidelity... But for many couples, a shared passion for gaming is what brought them together in the first place."

There's also a particularly choice quote from college student Stef, whose "...idea of romantic gaming is admittedly unconventional: "I'm not the sappy type, but my fondest memories of my boyfriend and me together is two winters ago when Resident Evil 4 was released," she remembers. "I used to drive out to his dorm and watch him blow Ganados' heads off and suplex zombies while we were snuggled up."" Aw!



If you enjoy reading GameSetWatch.com, you might also want to check out these UBM TechWeb Game Network sites:

Gamasutra (the 'art and business of games'.)

Game Career Guide (for student game developers.)

Indie Games (for independent game players/developers.)

Finger Gaming (news, reviews, and analysis on iPhone and iPod Touch games.)

GamerBytes (for the latest console digital download news.)

Worlds In Motion (discussing the business of online worlds.)


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