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GameSetWatch.com is the alt.video game weblog and sister site of Gamasutra.com. It is dedicated to collecting curious links and media for offbeat and oft-ignored games from consoles old and new, as well as from the digital download, iOS, and indie spaces.

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Archive For April, 2007

COLUMN: 'Game Mag Weaseling': Where Have You Gone, Mr. Dreamcast?

April 28, 2007 6:17 PM |

['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.]

Any regular reader of GameSetWatch knows about Simon and I's infatuation (some would call it obsession) with Mr. Dreamcast. Easily the most charming name for a game magazine ever conceived (with Japan's Beep running a close second), Mr. DC is a fairly obscure publication even in its home country of Britain, publishing only two issues before disappearing -- but I was lucky enough to pick up the second issue from a UK fan who sent it along to me with some other magazines.

mrdreamcast2.jpg

Mr. DC (which is the name of the blue swirly thing on the top left corner of the cover) was published by Magical Media, an outfit run by longtime UK computer/gear-mag writer and publisher Simon Rockman. Simon hired a handful of people away from Future Publishing to found the mag, including editor Caspar Field, who (up to that time) was running DC-UK, Future's Dreamcast title.

Field and Rockman answered questions from UK computer-trade title CTW back before the launch in 2000, a time when the DC's fortunes were already slipping and the idea of not just a new DC mag, but a kid-oriented DC mag, was seen as a little daft:

"I think the key difference with Dreamcast is that it’s been launched at £199, and I think they’ll be announcing definite UK price cuts at E3. We just felt it was good to be in the market early and to see if we could challenge some of that received wisdom, I guess. Certainly the feedback we’ve been getting from readers and from kids has been fantastic.

Everyone’s been growing up and wanting to make magazines like DC-UK and [Official Dreamcast Magazine] that are aimed at 25-30 year-olds [...] when you talk to any games player about playing games in their youth, you forget how passionate you were about it then. That’s really, I think, forgotten, that kind of passion –- I think even I’d forgotten it -– and I hope we can tap into it."

So what does Mr. Dreamcast have in store for the potential reader? A lot of color and bright screenshots, for one. The issue starts out with a wealth of large previews, all done up in that classic old Future style where the text is kind of divided into three or four of what you'd normall call sidebars. "Club zone" occupies the mid-part of the magazine; it's filled with strategies, reader art, crosswords, a regular two-page column on the Neo Geo Pocket Color scene, and even a long sidebar that explains 60hz television modes to the young audience.

The mag's rounded out by the reviews section, with games rated out of 25 in graphics, sound, control, and "ideas," added up to a total score out of 100. There's also four pages titled "Your shout," which is probably the most original part of the mag -- a jury of 16 gamers (aged 11 to 15) play a game and state their opinions on it, complete with lots of pix of excited kids around the TV. (Almost no one liked Chu Chu Rocket, shamefully enough.)

It's really a nice little 84-page magazine for its audience, but as Field himself commented the last time Mr. DC was mentioned here, it was likely in the wrong place at the wrong time. "Myself, Craig, Jon and Camilla were proud of Mr. Dreamcast," he wrote. "It was for kids, it was written 'to a level', but it was packed with more info and less condescending-bollocks than any other kids' games magazine at the time [...] And by the way, we sold 12,000 copies of issue one... So it can't have been all that shit... Can it? Maybe it was just the free waterpistol..."

Still, I commend Caspar and his crew for giving us the magazine with, at the very least, the most whimsical name in all of history. Thank you!

[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.]

Kohler Sez: PlayStation 3 Meets Digital Future, Drops Ball?

April 28, 2007 1:15 PM | Simon Carless

- We don't normally link to much 'mainstream' next-gen video game coverage here, but over at Game | Life, Chris Kohler's recent editorial on Sony's online infrastructure is too important to pass up.

He particularly references the 'playing PS1 games on PS3' debacle, commenting: "In short, everything's screwed up everywhere. The thing that would make me actually want to download more PSone games arrives four months late -- and, surprise, only applies to one-fifth of the content. The catalog is embarrassingly poor."

Even worse than that: "In Japan, Sony actually seems to be embracing Long Tail to a greater extent than Nintendo, loading the service up with niche games from small publishers... But in the US, they have added one (1) third-party game despite the fact that third-party games were inarguably the primary reason to own a PSone in the first place."

I agree completely, and it's emblematic of a larger issue - Sony's lack of third-party relations/infrastructure in the West for both PS1-style 'classic' digital downloads and for XBLA-style indie games is a travesty, with closely held partners and an only _just_ emerging set of Sony-funded digital-download titles lagging far behind their competitors (Nintendo on the retro side, and the much more 'free' Xbox Live Arcade on the indie side).

In fact, the May 2007 issue of Game Developer magazine (out soon, cover postmortem is Konami's Elebits for Wii) finds me talking about this exact issue, compared to XBLA's relative success - how Sony and Nintendo not making contemporary indie game digital downloads easy/possible is messing things up for indie console developers, who can then only address fractions of the potential market. And it's the consumer who ultimately ends up with the short straw.

Game Developer Wins 2007 Maggie Award

April 28, 2007 8:10 AM | Simon Carless

- In a recent post, I was talking about what we should do to award game journalism, and in the comments, I noted: "I actually feel that a lot of the better, looser game writing out there would be less well recognized by formal aggregations of (largely print) journalists. Having said that, we got Game Developer and Gamasutra nominated in the definitely non game-journalist centric Maggie Awards, so I'm not against that type of thing."

Well, myself and the other editors zoomed down to Los Angeles last night for the 56th Annual Maggie Awards Banquet, and the April 2006 issue of Game Developer (which featured a postmortem of Ubisoft's King Kong game, our regular/canonical salary survey, and an interview with Will Wright, among other things) won the Maggie Award for Best Magazine (Computers/Trade).

Our competitors were fellow CMP pub Network Computing, the independent Microsoft-themed mag Redmond Channel Partner, the embedded-specific RTC Magazine, and our former colleagues at Technology & Learning, so it's good to see a game-centric pub triumph in a much more IT-led category - at least, it is for us!

If you look at the finalists, it's interesting to see just who is sticking around in the print space nowadays - there were web-specific awards at the Maggies, too, but it's definitely a print-biased association. Some sectors, such as health and beauty pubs and regional magazines based in affluent areas, seem to be thriving. Others seem a little more challenged in this increasingly Internet-specific age - especially if they don't already have a strong web presence.

But fortunately we have Gamasutra and Game Developer to synergize each other (something that will be happening a lot more in the next few months, if you'll excuse the buzzwords), and I'd like to thank Jill Duffy, Brandon Sheffield, and Cliff Scorso and everyone else at the CMP Game Group for their amazing work on the mag. Onward!

Thinking Outside The Chocobox

April 28, 2007 3:12 AM | Simon Carless

- I still feel like 1UP is the only one of the major consumer game sites which puts any personality into their features (a lot of 'Top X lists' rule the day elsewhere), and here's another one - James Mielke's new piece 'Thinking Outside The Chocobox', looking at the box cover for Square Enix's Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo Tales.

Now, having said that, Square Enix's Patrick Cervantes does say some pretty obvious stuff: "Knowing that our target for this title would be much younger and less familiar with the iconic chocobo character, we needed to show more about the game that would appeal to the new "younger" users as well as longtime fans who are up to date with current trends."

But turns out obvious is probably right, in this case, and it's particularly interesting to see some alternate, rejected box designs on the second page of the article - it's pretty rare to see these. Mielke also makes the point that "...some of the actual in-game elements, like the adamantoise/cactuar race on the mountain, actually made it on the cover", which is actually good news for all - there's been a few too many cases recently of box covers being very dissonant from content - ahem, Ubisoft.

Gameslol Covers Game Books, LOL!

April 27, 2007 10:09 PM | Simon Carless

- Longtime online game journalist Marek Bronstring (he co-founded Idle Thumbs, you see!) has his own blog called Gameslol, and I particularly appreciated a recent entry about 'Books on game design, creativity & marketing'.

In some ways, the later entries (on marketing and 'other media') are more interesting, but let's stick to the games stuff - Bronstring firstly appreciates Salen & Zimmerman's Rules Of Play, which is, "...as far as I am aware, the most solid theoretical framework for understanding games and game design. It’s a pretty epic textbook, but it’s absolutely worth digesting." He also gives nods to the Rouse and Adams/Rollings game design books, which I would also concur with.

There's also a hearty recommendation for a Valve opus: "Most gaming coffee table art books are disappointing, but not Half-Life 2: Raising the Bar. Valve shows how their sausage is made, revealing countless early prototypes, concepts and ideas that for some reason never made it into the final game. At times you can clearly picture multiple alternate versions of Half-Life 2 (some of them horrible, some of them great)."

[Random note: I kept Marek's Amazon referrer in these URLs, because he originally wrote the recommendations, and I thought that was fair. There was an interesting weblog post recently about the etiquette of removing and/or changing Amazon associate codes when you're quoting other sites - bonus points for anyone who can remember where it is, because I certainly can't.]

GameTunnel's April Reveals Sam & Max, Wonderland

April 27, 2007 5:09 PM | Simon Carless

- Aha! Good news for all, since the GameTunnel Indie Game Review Panel for April has convened, surveying a world in which "...Sam & Max return for another take on reality, Virtual Villagers find some lost children, and Hard Time lets you play as a criminal...in jail where you belong!"

Top title of the month is Episode 5, 'Reality 2.0' of Sam & Max's Season 1 from Telltale, and new reviewer Caspian Prince (!) explains: "This outrageously polished, funny, intriguing point-and-click adventure is just plain brilliant fun (provided, of course, you enjoy point-and-click adventure games). Actually even if you don't think you do, you'll probably think Sam and Max: Reality 2.0 is just such a laugh and so well executed that you'll want to buy it anyway either for yourself or for your kids."

However, the second-placed game, Wonderland Adventures, is as or more interesting since it's much less well-known, and Russell Carroll explains: "For anyone who loves logic puzzles, like those found in the dungeons of Zelda, Wonderland is your game. The graphics are a vast improvement over previous versions, and though they are still pretty primitive 3D, they don't take away from the fun adventure of the game at all."

GameSetReminder: Austin GDC Call For Submissions Ending

April 27, 2007 12:04 PM | Simon Carless

- I'm not totally sure this has percolated out into the community, and I know a bunch of GSW readers are in the game biz, so wanted to point out that the Austin Game Developers Conference call for papers closes on Monday, April 30th - this is the successor to the Austin Game Conference which is now run by my colleagues in the CMP Game Group, of course.

The Game Developer/Gamasutra edit team was just doing some brainstorming with the Austin content director Jane Pinckard about our 'blue sky' list of invitees yesterday, and I think the MMO/online game crowd will be excited about a lot of the possibilities there - but we need great submissions too, so if you're in the online, writing, or audio spaces, read below (story passed on from Gamasutra), and make it so - fun 'People's Choice' track idea, too!:

"The event, which will take place September 5-7, 2007 at the Austin Convention Center in Austin, Texas, is the new incarnation of the Austin Game Conference, and abstracts can be put forward at the official Austin GDC submission page.

The topics which a prospective speaker can address must fall within one of the event's established tracks - for MMOs/online games (with four sub-tracks for business and management, community and marketing, design, and technlogy and services), as well as audio for games and writing for games.

In addition, the event will include a new People's Choice track featuring the sessions community members want to see most, and all proposals that do not fit into one of the other three tracks will be offered for voting on the People's Choice voting website. The deadline for submissions is Monday, April 30, 2007.

In addition to these four main tracks, Austin GDC will also feature a Game Career Seminar for students and job-changers researching entry into the game industry, and a Career Fair for experienced game developers seeking new job opportunities.

More information, including session content, speaker guidelines, registration information, and sales opportunities for the conference can be found on the official Austin GDC website."

Barwood, Falstein Shimmy Up To Mata Hari

April 27, 2007 8:09 AM | Simon Carless

- This one's quirky, but worth highlighting because it has a couple of GSW-beloved game design veterans front and center on it - and it's an adventure game, to boot! It's Mata Hari, "...a classic point & click PC adventure game" based on the life of the "legendary dancer and spy". In that order?

Anyhow here's the fun bit: "Story and game design of Mata Hari will be created by the industry veterans Hal Barwood (“Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis”; LucasArts) and Noah Falstein (u.a. “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”; LucasArts). Hanover-based studio 4Head Studio is developing the game. dtp entertainment will publish Mata Hari worldwide under the ANACONDA label, with a Q1 2008 release date set for Germany, Switzerland and Austria."

Of these smart folks, Barwood, a LucasArts veteran who's now struck out on his own (though is largely semi-retired, I believe), is actually a college friend of George Lucas who worked on the script for Close Encounters Of The Third Kind and produced/co-wrote the movie Dragonslayer before working on a whole heap of classic LucasArts games - he's also a great asset to Game Developer magazine, because he produces detailed critiques of each issue for us.

Falstein is similarly neat, being a veteran game designer who started out working on Sinistar and Koronis Rift, also worked on a classic Indiana Jones adventure title, and has written the design column ('Game Shui', nowadays) for us on Game Developer for the last few years. Both are elder statesmen who, I think, are most interesting working on the story-heavy, protocol-heavy adventure games for which they were both famous at various times, so I'm definitely looking forward to this title.

Flood's Sean Cooper Spills His Guts

April 27, 2007 3:06 AM | Simon Carless

- We just covered him on GSW because of this feature, so it seems only fair to link it to - Alistair Wallis' latest Playing Catch-Up talks to Bullfrog and EA veteran Sean Cooper about his game career, from early title Flood through Dungeon Keeper II and on to his indie Flash games.

The making of the classic Syndicate is a key part of the retrospective, and it's interesting to hear the relative chaos of its development: "“It was just, ‘How about some guys with guns causing absolute mayhem?’ then, ‘Okay, let's do it!’” he laughs. “The design evolved from that: no documentation. ‘Let's just try some stuff and see how it all fits together’.” The development was similarly unorthodox, with Cooper and friends playing multiplayer games, and working out problems in the design from there."

He also talks about how he will ever make significant money from games like Boxhead, which are free to play: "“Free?” he exclaims in mock surprise. “Nothing is free really, but to the consumer it is. Microtransactions are something I'm looking into; if people really love the game and want a lot more, then they can simply expanded their game cheaply or expensively depending on how far they want to go. A bit like the arcades use to be. I never felt ripped of from putting £1 into an arcade machine. So, yes, other platforms and a wider audience would be great, if it is kept affordable for the consumer.”"

GameSetPics: Honeycomb Beat's Breakfast Goodness!

April 26, 2007 10:01 PM | Simon Carless

Sure, we at GSW get sent some strange promotional items from time to time, but this latest one - which came in a larger box filled with packing, and mystified us, soon sorted itself out as a cereal-based tribute to a recently released Hudson game for the Nintendo DS:

So this would be a custom breakfast food box for DS puzzle title Honeycomb Beat, in which you "...Solve puzzles by clicking on honeycomb tiles to match their color to the playfield." Actually, Konami/Hudson already sent us the game a few weeks back, but their authentic-looking cereal packaging is neat - and it really has honeycomb cereal inside (Post brand, for those intrigued).

Uhoh. Our dachshund Rollo has discovered the secret wrapped inside the mystery, like Charlton Heston in Soylent Green. Yep - 'Honeycomb Beat is EDIIIIIIIBLE!'.

OK, that's great. You can step away from the box, we've finished modeling it now, Rollo. Rollo? Rollo? (Frenzied crunching noises ensue.)

[Oh yeah, so this reminds me - if you'd like to send GSW relevant and/or weird stuff (games, books, CDs, promo stuff), here's our snail-mail address: GameSetWatch, c/o Simon Carless, CMP Game Group, 600 Harrison Street, San Francisco, CA 94107. And editors@gamesetwatch.com get us, too. You know what to do!]

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