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Archive For March, 2007

Easter Eggs, Adventure, And VR Frippery

March 29, 2007 7:41 PM | Simon Carless

- Here's a new Gamasutra article which is very GSW-worthy - a 'Playing Catch Up' column featuring Adventure creator Warren Robinett, who made the first video game 'easter egg', of course - and also founded educational game firm The Learning Company, which I didn't know.

Anyhow, there's some good stuff in here: "Adventure... capitalized on the console’s success enormously well. By the end of the decade, there were around 1.8 million Atari 2600 owners, and 1 million of them were playing Robinett’s game. However, despite the incredible sales—at $25 each, no less—its creator was still on a salary of $22,000 a year, and soon decided to leave the company...

“I was tired of working, and Atari management didn't value the 2600 designers,” he says. “Boy were they stupid, because the designers all quit and started competing companies.” Years later, he notes with some enthusiasm, the company “came crashing down, like a whale dropped from a 747 at 30,000 feet”."

Later on, post game biz for Robinett, boy, there was some craziness: "In 1991, Robinett was talking with Stan Williams—a college and grad school friend who was, at the time, a chemistry professor at UCLA—in regards to a Scanning-Tunneling Microscope that had been developed by Williams and his grad students. Together, they decided that the idea of connecting the microscope to Robinett’s VR system would be “interesting”. The resulting invention was the Nanomanipulator, a VR interface that allows its user to “see, touch, and manipulate individual macromolecules”. The machine was implemented later on by Russ Taylor as a PhD thesis, who still runs the project." Nice!

COLUMN: ‘Game Collector’s Melancholy’ - Shadowrun

March 29, 2007 2:39 PM |

['A Game Collector's Melancholy' is a bi-weekly column by Jeffrey Fleming that follows the subtle pleasures and gnawing anxieties of video game collecting. This week let’s datajack the Matrix and see what we can find on Shadowrun.]

srcover4th.jpgVideo games and role playing have always been close allies. Just as Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson attempted to extend Tolkien’s world into pencil and paper games, programmers have labored to model the ritual theater of tabletop role playing sessions in software. Personal computer RPGs have seen a steady path of development over the years, from the early days of Richard Garriott’s Akalabeth to the latest visual dream in Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls series. However, in the West, console RPG efforts have been largely abandoned, surrendered to the Japanese, whose role playing aesthetics follow distinctly divergent lines. For an early snapshot of this evolution consider the three video games based on the Shadowrun license.

Shadowrun began life in 1989 as a set of tabletop role playing rules published by the FASA Corporation. The world of Shadowrun was weird mix of fantasy and sci-fi in which Tolkien-esque characters such as elves, orks, and dragons were given a serrated edge by dropping them into a near future, tech noir landscape. Magic existed alongside neural implants as “deckers” and shamanists hacked into computer networks to battle sinister transnational corporations. Life was cheap in Shadowrun and death often came quickly, whether it was by tempered steel, a 9mm Hydra-Shok, or a bolt of summoned lightning. Avoiding a potentially goofy and derivative premise, the Shadowrun game was elevated by the fevered intensity of its vicious world.

FASA was always adept at licensing its properties (in fact, the original company currently exists only as licensing rights manager, leaving the publishing and distribution of its properties to other companies) and soon enhanced the Shadowrun brand with tie-in novels and a series of unique video games, each produced by a different developer.

Uemura - Sega's Hidden Game Design Power?

March 29, 2007 9:36 AM | Simon Carless

- Over at the Daily Yomiuri, there's a cute little profile of Sega game designer Hiroshi Uemura, who, of course, "...gave birth to two mega-hit children's card-based video games, "Mushiking: The King of Beetles" for boys, and "Love and Berry Dress up and Dance!" for girls."

When I was last in Tokyo last September, these CCG-based arcade machines were _everywhere_, and there was even Love & Berry dress-up for little girls at Sega's Joypolis - and the numbers on just the arcade versions alone bear this out: ""Mushiking" has sold 420 million cards since January 2003. "Love and Berry," which substitutes fashion competitions for bug battles, has sold 240 million cards since October 2004."

There's some cute commentary on how the game was designed, too: "Uemura says the goal in designing the games was to let children and parents enjoy playing together. It was a concept adapted from past mistakes. Before "Mushiking," a cutting-edge attraction designed by the team frightened an elderly person and grandchild at a theme park. "Mushiking" was born out of reflection on that failure. Uemura said the game allows adults to use their intuition to help children with the games. "For example, when playing "Love and Berry," parents can advise children by saying, "You don't wear jeans at dance parties,' and by doing so, parents can enjoy communicating with children."" Yeah, no jeans!

The Game Boy Sound Comparison, Definitive-Like

March 29, 2007 4:37 AM | Simon Carless

- You know there are lots of different Game Boy models, of course. But do you know how their sound output varies over the multiple different DS and Game Boy SKUs? Chiptune musician Herbert Weixelbaum does, and he's created a massive, newly updated page profiling the different noises each GB makes.

He explains of this pretty cool analysis: "not only do the different game boy models sound different, if you have a look at the waveforms, you can see, that these already look very different (thin sound - thin waveform). i recorded the pulse instrument, envelope: A8, wave: pulse width 50% (square), with a pitch of C3 (which is great C, in musical terms)."

Weixelbaum's conclusion? "things like "retro feel" might or might not be of importance to you, but it is a pretty objective judgment, that the original game boy (or the original with the pro sound mod) has the best sound, while the game boy advance sp2 has the best display. if you want to use a gba program, like nanoloop 2.0, the ds lite has the best sound and display." [Via the rockin' vorc.org.]

The 'Flow' Of Pac-Man, Tetris Explained?

March 28, 2007 11:35 PM | Simon Carless

- An interesting piece over at our education sister site Game Career Guide today, dealing with the idea of creating a visual language flow for video games, with a view to understanding them better.

Author Paolo Taje explains in the intro: "My analysis... rests upon a decomposition of fundamental gameplay elements and a subsequent reconstruction within an ordered structure founded on layers. The ultimate aim of this process is to understand how game tokens, dynamics and player psychology are linked together." It's particularly intriguing when he applies it to Pac-Man and Tetris.

Taje explains of his Russian puzzle game deconstruction: "The rules of Tetris create a network of dynamics, properties and goals in the main (left) sector. First of all, you can Move your blocks in one dimension (left or right) and Rotate them by 90 degrees. Their fall can be described as a Time Limit in placing them; Play Area has instead an upper Space Limit. The foremost dynamic is Match, i.e. to position and wedge blocks, which results in Destroying one or more lines. Depending on game state, the player's goal changes from impulse to Survive, when the play area is almost full, to wish to Destroy All blocks, when the play area is filled up only halfway or less." Is this useful? I'm wondering - it could be!

COLUMN: 'Beyond Tetris' - Nemesis Factor

March 28, 2007 6:34 PM |

["Beyond Tetris" is a column from Tony "Tablesaw" Delgado about puzzle games that transcend mere abstract action and instead plunge deep into the heart of problem-solving. Today's unfortunately delayed installment looks at an overlooked handheld game: Nemesis Factor.]

Hasbro's Nemesis Factor, from its now defunct websiteIt has been a staple of the adventure game since Zork. It burst into the public consciousness in Myst. It has been recreated countless times across the internet in room-escaping Flash games. It has many forms; it has no name; it is The Machine of Unknown Purpose with Buttons You Can Press.

The Machine of Unknown Purpose with Buttons You Can Press has opened doors, revealed clues, and even turned on other Machines of Unknown Purposes with Buttons You Can Also Press. Sometimes, it has no purpose other to be solved, for points or bragging rights. But for whatever reason, the buttons must be pressed, in the right order, at the right times, without making a mistake, in order to succeed.

Perhaps you have wondered what you would do if you were confronted by The Machine of Unknown Purpose with Buttons You Can Press in real life, a physical Machine with Buttons You Can Press using your fingers instead of with a mouse or keyboard.

wonder no more. The Machine of Unknown Purpose with Buttons You Can Press exists, and its name is Nemesis Factor.

On10 Explores Emotiv, Penny Arcade, Vid-Style

March 28, 2007 12:33 PM | Simon Carless

- Apparently I haven't been keeping up with Microsoft's blog outreach, since I just spotted On10.net, a video-heavy tech and gaming blog that's funded by the Redmond giant (wait, do I get to point out my favorite Microsoft-related typo here?), and they have a number of pretty interesting videos from GDC 2007, just posted over the last few days.

I particularly wanted to point out the video showcasing Emotiv's brain-based control system, explained slightly breathlessly by Tina Wood: "Emotiv's technology is based upon interpreting the electrical activity in the human brain via EEG that looks below the individually unique outer cortex to deeper regions of the brain." It is VERY neat, though - and this is the first decent video I've seen of it.

There's also a piece chatting to the Penny Arcade folks about their Hothead-developed episodic game, and something talking to Gentle Giant Studios about their neat 3D scanning, motion capture, etc. I find the lack of clear 'this is Microsoft-funded' labeling a teensy bit meh, but the content is interesting, so hey - go poke at it. [Since I set this ready to post, they added an Xbox 360 Elite video, which is probably making them a lot more noticed, though!]

Tales Of Tales: Games Ain't The Only Interactive Art

March 28, 2007 7:31 AM | Simon Carless

- Following a recent GSW entry about the Tale of Tales guys (of Endless Forest and now The Path fame), I've been exchanging a few emails with them, and they pointed out 'Interactivity wants to be free', an interesting recent TofT blog post.

They actually quibble with Rod Humble's 'The Marriage', recognizing its positives, but arguing in part: "Interactivity is capable of so much more than games. New media artists like Lia and Dextro have been working with this for years. And while they share a formal language with Rod Humble to some extent, the work of these internationally renowned artists provokes a lot more rich and diverse emotions."

The critique continues: "Not that I am advocating any kind of puritanism in art. I don’t think laying bare the very concepts of art and limiting art to its very core is a good idea. The computer gives us a an unprecented array of media that we can all use simultaneously to express things in the most sensuous and spectacular ways ever imagined. Why limit ourselves with this wealth at our disposal?"

[Actually, one of the things I've been wrestling with is whether festivals such as the IGF should do a better job of recognizing the most experimental pieces of interactivity (such as The Endless Forest) which are not necessarily good games in a conventional playable sense, but say something or provoke emotional responses. See the Realtime Art Manifesto for more on this - it's important, I think.]

Wait, A.... Turn-Based Halo? Fakery!

March 28, 2007 2:31 AM | Simon Carless

- Those Halo.bungie.org guys find some awesome stuff sometimes - in this case a turn-based Halo mock-up machinima movie that is all kinds of silly stupid Final Fantasy aping dumbness, in a nice way.

They note: "RVideo found a fantastic video posted on the HaloGrid forums (yep, they're back) - it was done by the the guys over at Chaos Films, and it emulates a standard turn-based RPG using the Halo engine."

The HBO folks are mirroring the WMP9 version - 28.4 mb, as well as hosting their own QuickTime version - 29.8 mb. They continue: "This movie is hilarious - really well done. If you've ever played RPGs, you'll immediately connect. If you haven't, it's STILL pretty darned funny - just be glad XBL isn't like this! Can't wait for parts 2 and 3 (I'm hoping we can get higher-quality versions of all of them, from here on in)." Wow, neeto!

March GameTunnel Indie Panel Dissects Sam & Max

March 27, 2007 9:28 PM | Simon Carless

- Hoo hoo, it's time for the 'Indie Game Review Panel [March Edition]' over at rather smart indie game site GameTunnel, and this month, they ask: "If a dog and rabbit-like creature were trying to kill the President should you stop them? Is becoming President in an election-sim game really "winning?""

As a direct result of this, Sam & Max: Lincoln Must Die gets joint Game Of The Month, with Russ Carroll commenting: "This episode has some great government-al humor mixed with the puzzle randomness that makes most people shake their heads at puzzle games. Sam & Max certainly are worth the low entry price. Essentially you are getting 3 hours of fun for a bit more than a movie. Oh and did I mention the musical number-esque song done in ragtime style?"

But it shares it with Loonyland 2, which I had never heard of, and sounds really interesting - Brian Clair comments: "Loonyland 2 is another great RPG that made it into this month’s roundup. Unlike Geneforge 4, which is geared more towards hardcore role-players, Loonyland 2 takes aim at the RPG-lite crowd. There’s more action than reading in this release, but that doesn’t detract from the gameplay at all. You’ll control your avatar through a variety of quests as you fight off toys gone mad in a number of areas. As you dispatch the enemies, you’ll gain experience and go up in levels as with any RPG." Go poke it!

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