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Archive For March, 2007

The Right To Baer Games

March 25, 2007 2:09 PM | Simon Carless

- Over at sister site Gamasutra, Benj Edwards (himself a former GSW columnist) has written up 'The Right to Baer Games - An Interview with Ralph Baer, the Father of Video Games', one of the more deliciously cranky interviews we've collectively run in a while.

Talking about developing the first game hardware in the '60s (ahead of the Magnavox Odyssey, which debuted in 1972), Baer explained: ""Quit screwing around with that." That was the question that was asked by my boss, who was the executive VP for quite a few years. I was asked that question many times: "Are you still screwing around with that stuff, Baer?" And I'd smile and say nothing, right?"

Considering Baer's patents are probably a key part of his lasting fame/success, he's quite dismissive of the whole patent process, too: "...You look at the patents, and three out of four are garbage. Especially since it's so easy to do patent searches on the web; it's very easy. You look at that stuff: one piece of crap after another. How the hell did that ever get in there and clog up the system to where stuff that should have really been handled in an expeditious manner didn't make it through the damn office for three years or even longer? That's problem number one."

Localization, Story, And Characterization

March 25, 2007 9:12 AM | Simon Carless

- At 1UP, Nadia Oxford has written an new in-depth feature named 'Tragicomic', which deals with lots of things, but most of them orbiting around a central point: "Is it possible that we might someday get our fill of good stories through games instead of novels?"

Basically, I think this piece is about how to get stories working better in games, thus the intro: "A polished, edited novel is a story in one its purest forms. By comparison, the stories in videogames tend to be overly dramatic, full of clichés, and plagued with plot holes. The difference in quality can be pinned on several factors, including localization, cultural differences between Japan and America, and the need to balance story and gameplay.... But that doesn't mean game stories are unable to draw in players. Nor do game scripts with original ideas, characters, and careful localization go amiss."

It interviews one or two great people, too: "John Zakour is a humor and science-fiction writer brought on by Frogware to localize 80 Days, a PC adaptation of the famous Jules Verne novel Around the World in Eighty Days. "I took a lot of humor from my old novels and put it in the game," Zakour says. "Some people loved it and called it the funniest game of all time. Others hated it. It's really difficult to take dialog in translated English and make it funny while being constrained by what the characters are doing. Still, I love the challenge."" Scattered, but intriguing.

COLUMN: 'Game Mag Weaseling': Mag Roundup 3/24/07

March 25, 2007 4:08 AM |

['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.]


Oh, there are just so many magazines!

This installment of Mag Roundup is absolutely enormous, thanks to a sudden spate of strategy specials. It's also quite an important one, since it marks the closing of one magazine (MMO Games, formerly MASSIVE) and the launch of a new one (Beckett's eSports).

I recently went crazy with my credit card and bought all the Britmags I could find locally, so you can look forward to me tackling the British game-mag industry next week. For now, though, let's have a look at all the US game mags on the newsstand right now...

The Future Of The PSP

March 24, 2007 11:07 PM | Simon Carless

- There, I knew subscribing to IGN's all-articles feed would bear fruit in the end - they've just debuted 'The Future Of The PlayStation Portable', describing, in handy hyperbolic terms: 'Over a dozen of the top developers tell us in a huge anniversary blow-out.'

The intro article is a bit, well, over-apologetic for the format, ("Hell, the Nintendo Ds is the best-selling game system of this new generation, period -- nothing stands up to it as competition. But just because Nintendo is winning, does that mean that Sony has lost?"), but the interviews are well thought-out, and there's some firm sense talked in the Planet Moon chat, for one: "The PSP needs to have a digital game distribution system. It's perfect for it and it will liberate the device in many ways."

Q's Tetsuya Mizuguchi has what I think is the best response, though: "While the PSP may have lost a bit of steam over the last year - especially when compared to the DS - we're hopeful that it will continue to provide quality entertainment for current and future users. There's still this image of PSP being mainly a "portable game device" rather than a multimedia entertainment device - that is, including myself, as I don't use the PSP other than to play games - so I'm looking forward to how the other possibilities and uses of the PSP will be promoted including the connectivity between PS3 and the recently announced Home. Now, if only it came with a hard drive..."

Packaging The East For The West

March 24, 2007 6:05 PM | Simon Carless

- The HDR Lying blog has another interesting, if a little meandering piece, named 'The Essential Worldwide Success: Packaging the East for the West', and it talks specifically about the suitability (or not) of Koei and Bandai's Gundam Musou for PlayStation 3 for launch outside Japan.

In the way of an intro, it's noted: "In a time where games are becoming more and more expensive to produce, and profit margins are shrinking, more and more companies are starting to look at creating a global product. Ryan Payton’s hire at Kojima Productions was a step to get a more global perspective on their series, including the ever popular Metal Gear Solid." But how does Gundam Musou fit in?

As noted: "For the Japanese gaming market, the amalgamation of Gundam and Musou is a no brainer. The game is a mix of the most popular action series in Japan, and the biggest animated franchise phenomenon in Japanese history, on a single Bluray disc." But in the States, as Dynasty Warriors, it's just not such a big deal. So, it's asked: "With no Musou name in the West, how does Namco Bandai name Gundam Musou?"

Hm? "Does Namco Bandai make their connection to Koei public, and call the game Gundam Warriors? They could sever the connection entirely, and instead ride on the Gundam alone, going with something close to, but likely more original than, Gundam Battlefront. With a change like that, they lose the cache that the Musou name would give them, but in the United States, that might not matter at all." This is one example, of course, of a continuing cultural battle to get universally popular video games across multiple regions - but it's an interesting one.

Grand Theft Auto IV Teaser... Teased?

March 24, 2007 1:03 PM | Simon Carless

- Over at Rob 'Xemu' Fermier's blog, the Ensemble Studios staffer points out a 30-minute TV advert teaser for the Grand Theft Auto IV trailer, which "...ran on the FX network in the wee hours [on Thursday]" - yep, a full half-hour of just a repetitive countdown message. Wonder how much that cost?

Xemu notes: "I think Rockstar's approach here of using TV even at this early stage makes a lot of sense given the wide target audience of the game. Having a countdown via off-hour TV spots is pretty intriguing and may lead some people to the web based version of the same (which is all the information reallly in the ad)... But the levels of recursion here are pretty astounding."

Right! "This is promotion (TV) for the promotion (web) for the promotion (trailer) of a game. Of course, I found out about this through a fansite which adds a fourth level... then I guess this is sort of promotion of that, so now it's a fifth level..." And this one is the 6th! Anyhow, Planet Grand Theft Auto has up-to-the-minute gossip, noting: "The first GTA4 trailer releases on March 29 at 6:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time", and, indeed: "Grand Theft Auto IV releases on October 16, 2007 in North America for PS3 and XBOX 360."

Our Art Director Can Beat Up Your Art Director!

March 24, 2007 8:01 AM | Simon Carless

- The latest required Game Developer magazine-related viewing over at YouTube is, of course, '2007 Disneyland Martial Arts Festival Sport Jujitsu' - specifically 'Cliff -vs- Pat. 200lbs and Up Division'. What? Oh yeah, this would be the magazine's art director Cliff Scorso kicking some ass (and getting a gold medal!) in his weight division at a regional championship!

I don't really understand how this whole Jujitsu thing works, so Brandon explained it to me in IM: "The reason the fight keeps stopping is because the guy kept complaining he couldn't see when Cliff hit him in the face... but you're allowed to do that." What's more: 'So, the yellow flag means a round is over. And that guy apparently has a good stand up game, but didn't get to use it because Cliff kept throwing him."

So, seriously, any magazines out there - is your art director more hardcore than Monsieur Scorso? Because we challenge, on his behalf, and not actually bothering to ask him - yours against ours in mortal combat. Also, we're going to be a bit more careful about asking for front cover changes in the future, just in case he grabs us and throws us again the cube wall in a fit of pique. (Only he wouldn't, he's lovely, hah!)

'Halo Effect' Book PopCults Up The Phenom

March 24, 2007 2:55 AM | Simon Carless

- Just got sent a copy of a pretty interesting book, 'Halo Effect: An Unauthorized Look at the Most Successful Video Game of All Time', which is described as "...examining the Halo phenomenon from every angle... from profiling the greatest Halo player who ever lived to providing a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the wildly popular, virtual-reality Halo movies." [I think they mean machinima!]

Anyhow, slightly vague intro aside, there are a number of fun essays in this anthology, from Smart Pop Books, who have also published a similar tome about World Of Warcraft. For one, NGJ czar Kieron Gillen has a piece called 'Planetary Objects In The Rear View Mirror' about how interest in Halo grew during the game's construction, positing: "There was a time no one outside of Bungie cared about Halo. Or if they did, they cared for no reason at all. Or the wrong reason."

Even neater, Kevin R Grazier, apparently the science advisor to Battlestar Galactica (the new one, not the chrome '80s one!) contributes 'Halo Science 101', including calculations in the differences in velocity rates for water in a waterfall in normal gravity vs. on a Halo, and lots more insane planetary calculations based on the Halo mythos. Finally, the ever-lovable Dean Takahashi contributes 'The Making Of Halo and Halo 2 And The Birth Of The Xbox 360', which seems typically well-researched and handy.

I think this is a bit more factual than theoretical, compared to some of the other famous books by the same company - but I've tended to highlight the more game writer/science-y stuff, and there's definitely some 'heavy thinking' in some of the essays, too. Overall, it's a fun concept, and Halo fans would do well to check it out.

COLUMN: 'Arcade Obscurities' - Sega's Dark Edge

March 23, 2007 9:53 PM |

Screenshot [Arcade Obscurities is a bi-weekly column by Solvalou.com's Arttu Ylärakkola, probing some of the most interesting and obscure arcade games yet to be covered in the geek gaming press, thanks to Arttu's JAMMA board collection, and our insatiable quest for knowledge. This fifth column looks at Sega's obscure 1993 3D-'ish' fighting game Dark Edge.]

Back in the day, Sega was known for its powerful arcade hardware. What this meant in the late '80s and early '90s was that the hardware was good at sprite scaling and rotation. When Sega released Rad Mobile in 1990, its state-of-the-art pseudo-3D graphics were powered by the new System 32 hardware. While driving games come and go, there's one obscurity on System 32 that never was seen outside Japan: a fighting game called Dark Edge.

The game's background from the official flyer: "In the 25th Century, the human beings are allowed to live in the unified world controlled by the ultra-large computer. Those tough people who got out of their control now seem to be battling for the sake of their ambitions and desires. Even that battling, however, is controlled and the super-fighter is destined to fall a victim to an assassin sent by the ultra-large computer. Down the assassin and destroy the computer. Regain the future of the human beings, and fight for your aspirations."

In Casual Games... Why Spy?

March 23, 2007 4:50 PM | Simon Carless

- Possibly my favorite column in all of gaming website-land is Vinny Carrella's semi-regular article series for casual site Gamezebo, and his latest discusses why games like the iSpy-esque Mysteryville and Mystery Case Files series continue to enjoy such immense popularity among casual gamers.

Carrella explains: "Based on what I know (intuitively not scientifically) about the behavior of mature gamers - what they want and what they gravitate towards - these find-the-needle-in-the-haystack 'mystery' games are the tip of an iceberg I saw looming in the icy waters of the gaming ocean more than 15 years ago.... Searching for your lost car keys can be an agonizing and frustrating experience. But if someone were to hide your car keys and then tell you that they were somewhere on your desk, it becomes a game, especially if they give you clues."

Thus: "The same [principle] is at work in games like Mystery Case Files. We are shown an image and told that somewhere within that image are several items. The more we find, the more we trust that we're not being duped and if the game is well-designed we'll spend hours searching for what we know must be there. There is an innate sense of empowerment in this activity, an affirming satisfaction that our powers of perception are indeed strong. Such games pose no risk of failure and offer us the pleasure of finding hidden things under conditions where the stakes are low. That appeals directly to our primal primate perception; which many believe evolved to find brightly colored fruit amongst the dense foliage of the forest canopy." Awesome writing.

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