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Archive For May, 2007

How A Virtual World Inventor Blew Up Second Life

May 27, 2007 11:35 AM | Simon Carless

- Habitat Chronicles is the blog of virtual world pioneers Chip Morningstar and Randy Farmer, creators of the '80s LucasArts virtual world of the same name, which you can see screenshots of here, and of which even my boss' boss is apparently now aware of, thanks to the virtual world 'micturation'.

Anyhow, Farmer has just posted a new entry entitled 'Second Life History: The Jessie Massacre', and in which he admits to griefing the early Beta Second Life world for 'testing' purposes. He explains: "I'd been working with the object spawning directives in the scripting language. I'd also discovered that I could make an object very small (less than an inch in diameter), and very transparent (virtually invisible)."

And so? "It struck on me that I could make a weapon of mass destruction and do it very cheaply. It worked like this: a tiny invisible floating grenade that would explode into dozens of invisible tiny fragments flying outward spherically at maximum velocity and doing maximum damage and then immediately teleport itself to another random location in the simulator. It would be undetectable, unstoppable, and lethal: The perfect killing machine. It could only be stopped by me shouting the keyword: STOP!"

Lots of tiny objects released, and the result was rampant slowdown weirdness death, of course - this has happened in SL in various variations quite a few times since, I believe.

And what happened in the end to this possibly first-ever outbreak, according to Farmer? "It turned out that my grenades were too small and invisible. Though they were now inert I couldn't find them to remove them. In effect, they were a dormant virus in Jessie. So, I filed a bug report: "Unable to select small, invisible objects." The in next day or two there was a patch to the client to "show transparency" so that it would be possible for me to see them, select them, and delete them - which I promptly did. But the legend remains."

ACMI's Stuckey Talks Best Of IGF Exhibition

May 27, 2007 6:30 AM | Simon Carless

- Over at major Australian newspaper The Age's 'Screen Play' blog, they've interviewed ACMI's Helen Stuckey about the Melbourne-based exhibition of 'The Best Of The Independent Games Festival 2007' which opens early next week, and which we've previously mentioned.

Some excellent points are made about the rise of indie games (pictured: Ball Of Bastards), thanks to publicity around the launch of the exhibition: "Ms Stuckey says low budgets are a major challenge, but independent developers often overcome hurdles "with creativity and ingenuity to produce games with interesting gameplay and smart ideas". The biggest problem can be finding an audience. "(Fortunately), a growing focus on digital distribution has really helped the indies become more available and easier to find. Xbox Live Arcade has also introduced many people to independent games such as Wik and Alien Hominid.""

And, as I've said before (and bias as the Chairman of the IGF notwithstanding), it's nice to see someone in a position of power at a cultural institution pushing games as a valid art form with multiple different exhibits - the previous Melbourne House and Sonic exhibitions also looked to be excellent: "Ms Stuckey says her aims for the [Australian Center For The Moving Image's] Games Lab include exploring different areas of game culture and the history of games, engaging visitors to think critically about games within a cultural context, raising awareness about Australia's game creators, and focusing on the inherent creativity of games and players."

2007 TO Jam Hurls Itself To Debut Games

May 27, 2007 1:25 AM | Simon Carless

- Blocking briefly from your memory the horrendous attempted pun in the title, you might be interested to know that the top titles from the 2nd Annual Toronto Indie Game Jam are now available for download on the official site, and include People's Choice Gold winner XIQ, recently mentioned on GSW, but a number of other neat titles.

Event co-organizer Rob Segal explains breathlessly to us: "TO Jam 2 was recently held in Toronto from May 4-6, 2007... Filled with the creative power known only to Torontonians (and its surrounding areas) 62 select few intrepid warriors ventured out into the depths of their minds and souls to achieve the pinnacle of game development greatness." And that would include People's Choice Silver winner Benny Hinn's Bible Blast For Cash, methinks.

In that title, which references the televangelist, you're exhorted to: "Touch believers for easy cash! Cause as much carnage for cash as you can before facing off with the devil! Don't let him take your money!" Woh boy. Other winners and entrants posted thus far, all freely downloadable, include Quiver, in which "...you feel like you're in a deep, dark forest battling zombies", and Trishade Aduro, a shooter with a same-color chaining mechanism. Keep up the experiments, guys.

COLUMN: 'Might Have Been' - Super Baseball 2020

May 26, 2007 8:21 PM |

Once again, Street Fighter II ruined everything.[“Might Have Been” is a bi-weekly column by Todd Ciolek that explores the ways in which promising games, characters, and concepts failed. This week’s edition looks at SNK's Super Baseball 2020, released for the Neo-Geo in 1991.]

In the years just before sports games came to be dominated by authentic rosters, realistic visuals and the terrifying visage of John Madden, there briefly flourished a school of titles that looked to the athletes of the future. Simultaneously cynical about human nature and optimistic about technology, they envisioned worlds where the public was entertained by brutal robot linesmen and exploding soccer balls.

Few of these games made a mark; Mutant League Football remains a cult favorite and Bill Laimbeer’s Combat Basketball may live forever in infamy, but no one really remembers Namco’s Powerball, Sofel’s Klash Ball or Bitts and Triffix’s odd Space Football.

SNK’s Super Baseball 2020, however, is better known, partly because it’s a Neo Geo game. Specifically, it's a Neo Geo game that hit 1991, just when SNK was ferociously promoting the system as real competition for the Super NES and Genesis. That idea met with a quick death, but SNK’s marketing attempts won Super Baseball 2020 the sort of attention paid only to a new console’s first wave.

Game Developer Wants Your Audio Opinions!

May 26, 2007 3:15 PM | Simon Carless

- So audio columnist for Game Developer magazine, LucasArts staff composer/music supervisor Jesse Harlin, is asking the public at large about game sound for his August 2007 column, and he needs you to fill in a poll on that very subject.

Questions asked include asking us plebs whether: "I have played a game where the sound effects were absolutely necessary in order to complete the game", and indeed: "For Xbox and Xbox 360 users: I have used the Xbox's Custom Soundtrack feature to put my own music into a game." Looks like you can see the current results, too - and they're pretty interesting thus far. So go ahead and vote some more, dear GSW readers.

[Also, if you want to know more about Harlin, he's got an entry in the Wookieepedia, I just found out, which reveals, among other things: "For Republic Commando, Harlin created the Star Wars language 'Ancient Mandalorian,' which later became the basis for Karen Traviss's Mando'a." Oh, Star Wars.]

Juul's Tile Matching Theories Lead To... Tile Matching Game!

May 26, 2007 10:11 AM | Simon Carless

- Look see, no sooner had we linked up Jesper Juul's excellent history of 'match 3' puzzle games, than he admits that he's just released a PC casual game, 'High Seas - The Family Fortune', which he co-designed and programmed, and is based at least partly on what he learned researching the article.

Here's an overview of the game, in which you play disaffected traveler Tricia McDormand, using her father's treasure map: "With the map in hand, players join Tricia as she sails the seven seas in search of the mysterious family fortune. In order to power Tricia’s ship, players must drag rows of jewels and align them by shape or color - and receive big bonuses for aligning by shape and color."

Juul particularly notes of the title: "Yes! It is a matching tile game, but with some radical twists!... Physics model: You can interact with all tiles on the screen, all the time... No waiting for tiles to fall. Free interaction without making matches... Match on shape or color... Developed story (!): Tricia travels the world following her grandma’s map in search of the Family Fortune." Seems like it mixes things up in an enticing way - anyone had a chance to play it and would like to comment on whether it evolves the genre at all?

The Existential Malaise Of The Japanese Arcade

May 26, 2007 5:12 AM | Simon Carless

- Sometimes, I think that GSW commenters cock a snook a little unfairly at 'powerhouse game blog' Kotaku - and while I agree that the informedness of its contributors varies, like any organ, I really enjoyed the newly posted, Brian Ashcraft-penned feature 'Sex, Gambling, But Not Games in Japanese Arcade Hell' - as a work of photojournalism, as well as a downtrodden ramble through the dysfunctional Japanese psyche.

Why? It has fluid writing like this: "A row of taxis lines up across from the New Shinbashi Building, not the Shin Shinbashi Building. An old lady is laying in the street, and I can hear the rhythmic siren of an ambulance. Businessmen in ill-fitting suits move in transit from work to bars, and a gaggle of young girls wearing thigh-highs and mini-skirts cluster near the doorway, putting on eye liner and talking on cell phones."

And it has depressing, neon-flecked prose like this: "An old man sits down in flannel, stuffs a coin in and begins playing. His fingernails are dirty, and I write down the game's title: Cherry. Bonus. IV... Another Konami banner tells me that "Wing" has mahjong — Along with Virtua Fighter and Tekken. The game cabinets are deserted, and salarymen sit hunched over, lighting cigarettes, putting them out, lighting them again. They don't notice me." So it works. More fatalistic urban decay in video game blogs, please.

Worship At The Temple Of The Roguelike

May 26, 2007 12:09 AM | Simon Carless

- GSW is definitely a fan of Rogue-likes, as can be seen by an entire column devoted to the subject, courtesy of John Harris - and no doubt he'll be delighted to learn of the brand new 'Temple Of The Roguelike' blog, dedicated to the dungeon crawler in all its many-tentacled forms.

Quite apart from alerting us to wackiness like the latest version of Gearhead 2, "...the roguelike game of inertia space mechafighting and random plots", the new site has a rather good interview with Glenn Wichman, one of the creators (alongside Michael Toy and others) of the original and much-cloned Rogue.

Wichman reveals one particularly good reason why Rogue-likes are still interesting today - the random factor, still spectacularly underexploited in mainstream games: "IMHO, The quintessential feature of a Roguelike is that the computer creates a world for you to explore. The adventure has to be different every time, and the game has to be capable of surprising even its creators." [Via TIGSource.]

Persuasive Games In The NYT... As Editorial? Whoa

May 25, 2007 7:06 PM | Simon Carless

- We briefly mentioned this at Gamasutra, but it needs some underlining - Ian Bogost's Persuasive Games has announced a partnerhip with the New York Times "...in which they will be publishing newsgames we create on their op-ed page, as editorial content, not just as games."

As Bogost notes: "This is unprecedented, and at the risk of tooting my own horn, I think it represents another important shift in videogames as a medium. This is news/editorial in videogame form, rather than videogames trying to make news fun." [There's more on this whole subject from a recent Creative Loafing Atlanta story featuring Bogost and his fellow Georgia Tech issue-based gamers - and a snarky IGF judging reference!]

Of course, the only barrier for entry for this project is that you have to be a paid TimesSelect subscriber to play the game in question, 'Food Import Folly', detailed on the Persuasive Games page as having the player "...protect the country from contaminants in foreign food imports using extremely limited resources." But Persuasive has plenty of other games, including the 'Arcade Wire' ones for Shockwave, that are free to play.

Karaoke Revelation: Subscription Music in Games

May 25, 2007 2:03 PM | Simon Carless

- Over at new-to-GSW blog Microscopiq, they have an interesting discussion on music, karaoke, and gaming which points out, thanks to insight gained from a Korean karaoke bar in New York, that having timed subscription access to massive amounts of songs might actually be more fun that individually grabbing Guitar Hero 2 mini-song packs, for example.

The blog notes: "Recently, for instance, Karaoke Revolution creators Harmonix started selling song packs for Guitar Hero 2. You buy it, you own it, but only 3 songs at a time and you can’t pick and choose. While it’s a cool idea (and one I’ve been dying for since Frequency), this is one place where subscription could do better."

Why so? "That’s because on karaoke night having bunches of songs at your fingertips for an evening beats the shit out of owning a few songs forever. Variety bests longevity. Of course, licensing fees, bandwidth, and content creation cost are issues here. Still, I’d pay a nice sum to get a few hours with a library of downloadable songs for a Karaoke Revolution party, or even a monthly fee to have that access always. Would you?"

Heck, I'd probably pay $10 a month for a multi-hundred song Guitar Hero 2 library that included all kinds of randomness. But I suspect it makes much less financial sense to the companies involved, sadly. Yet Microscopiq notes: "While Steve Jobs clearly has a point that people want to own their music (85% market share can’t be wrong), the same may not hold true in gaming." It's debatable!

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