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Archive For June, 2007

Rossignol Sez 'Oh My God', Thanks To Eve Online

June 24, 2007 8:02 AM | Simon Carless

- After seeing the GSW 'Oh My God' moments call to action, veteran UK journalist Jim Rossignol (PC Gamer, etc!) has posted an Eve Online-themed article called 'The Invasion' on his personal blog, explaining: "As I wrote the article there was, ongoing, one of the largest actions I’d seen in Eve at the time."

Rossignol continues regarding the article, which was going to be published in the same cancelled anthology that I wrote the 'Gospel According To Matthew Smith' piece for, explaining: "Thousands of players were involved in taking territory from a player alliance called ‘The Five’. It was a surprise attack co-ordinating huge fleets over a 48-hour period, an action which resulted in months of conflict for my home alliance. It was incredibly exciting, and even though I’d seen some huge fleet battles by that time, it was that weekend that cemented my ‘Oh my God’ feeling about events in that game."

Also, a great comment at the end of the piece by 'reformed' Eve Online subscriber Janek: "Every victory brought joy, and every defeat brought sorrow, because everything mattered. I feel genuine pride at having been a part of all my corp and its various alliances achieved, and of my own achievements, and though I may be gone, I know the effects of my actions are still felt, still ripple throughout the Eve galaxy."

GameSetLinks: June 23rd, 2007

June 24, 2007 12:04 AM | Simon Carless

- The first of a big pile of links left over from the week, then, and there's some pretty interesting bits and pieces buried in here, as follows:

- Behind The Mask: Marek at GamesLOL brings up a pretty interesting point about behind-the-scenes type coverage of games, referencing a David Jaffe blog post that "...points to good old Mario and Zelda as franchises that have retained their magic by not revealing too much about their development." Marek adds: "Although I personally enjoy seeing behind-the-scenes footage, I prefer seeing it after I’ve played the game. I think the game industry doesn’t ‘reveal’ too much, it’s just revealing things too soon." Agree? Disagree?

- Mizuguchi Vs. Gore Resolved!: Just as a follow-up to a post made a few weeks ago, the Tetsuya Mizuguchi and global warming link has been resolved - XBLArcade explains that: "Genki Rockets (aka [the band featured in Lumines with Heavenly Star]) will be performing at [the Japanese venue for] Live Earth, and Q will turn a portion of your DLC purchases into a charitable donation to combat global warming." There's a whole bunch of new downloads for Lumines on XBLA in relation to this, particularly the SOS Charity Campaign Pack: "Experience the Tokyo club scene through LUMINES! Bringing you the beats and visuals from four of the hottest DJs, artists and VJs". Though they don't integrate THAT well into the gameplay itself, I like Miz's modular approach to expansions and art styles, a bit like the Wipeout Pure expansion tracks.

- Pearce On Game/Nongames: Indie/artgame developer Tale Of Tales has another beautifully laid-out interview, this time with academic and Mermaids MMO designer Celia Pearce, which has some interesting chatter about what exactly makes up a 'game', nowadays: "In my research on the Uru diaspora, players who moved to other games after the closure of the original Uru, what I found was that they did not distinguish between Uru and something like There.com or Second Life. To them any place they went to PLAY was a game. And they often did goal-oriented things in non-game environments, and they often did non-goal oriented things in game environments."

- Hardcore Gamer Trove: Arcade Heroes points out that Hardcore Gamer Issue 25 is now out, and indeed, the page for the magazine on Hardcore Gamer's website reveals something that I'd partially forgotten - that the DoubleJump and OffBase Productions game mag, which you can also get in print version via subscription or at various retail outlets, has every issue available in PDF form. And it's still a pretty neat mag, obviously made by GameFan fans who appreciate the import-friendly, harder-edged end of the console scene.

- Baby You Can Drive My Car?: Today's high-end games getting a little bit _too_ expansive? Microsoft Casual Games' Kim Pallister thinks so and says as much in an editorial noting that you can hire an AI drive in Forza 2 to complete races for you, and NCAA 08 allows you to forward through the game using AI to play at the climax. Pallister grins: "It's interesting that in the effort to justify big budget games, 'hours of gameplay' has become this metric that's frequently used, but is not necesarily what ALL consumers want. Some, like me, want the quality without requiring the quantity. I loved that the last Tomb Raider took me like 10-12 hours to complete. I've put off playing Oblivion because I hear it's great but takes >50 hours to play." Of course, that's the whole casual vs. hardcore issue in a nutshell, but the 'AI taking over for player' trend really underlines it.

COLUMN: 'Might Have Been' - Nightshade

June 23, 2007 4:01 PM |

No, that isn't the Japanese title.[“Might Have Been” is a kinda bi-weekly column by Todd Ciolek that explores the ways in which promising games, characters, and concepts failed. This week’s edition looks at Beam Software's Nightshade, released for the NES in 1992.]

Nightshade is a strange one. At first impression, it’s very much like The Secret of Monkey Island, Leisure Suit Larry, King’s Quest and other adventure games of the ’80s, as it features a wry, semi-competent hero pointing and clicking his way through a joke-strewn world. Yet Nightshade is a little more than that. It’s also a popularity contest, a primitive fighting game, and a stunted attempt at creating a franchise.

It began as a simple idea: the higher-ups at Australia’s Beam Software wanted a “graphic adventure game that would be a whodunit,” according to Paul Kidd, Nightshade’s director, writer and lead designer. With vague orders to “fill in the details,” Kidd and the rest of the Nightshade team devised an offbeat superhero tale bearing a certain resemblance to later satires like The Tick or Mystery Men.

Not that it’s entirely cute. Nightshade’s prologue tells us that Metro City’s leading costumed hero, Vortex, was brutally murdered by a dog-headed crime lord named Sutekh, who’s since used all the local mobsters to conquer the entire region. Nightshade, an up-and-coming defender of justice, steps into this heroic vacuum with little more than a trench coat, a fedora, and a few caustic observations.

GameSetCoda: Western Dating Games & The N's 'Hook-Up'

June 23, 2007 8:01 AM | Simon Carless

- Having just posted about Western dating games, there was a comment on that post, from Kevin Cancienne (now at Area/Code) that was notable enough that it's worth its own GSW post - particularly because it reveals a free Flash game that takes cues from the Japanese norm. Kevin writes:

"I hate to pimp a former project of mine directly, but the last game I did with Thup was a Western-style dating game for "tween" cable network The N called The Hook-Up. A lot of the issues we dealt with while designing the game are directly related to some of the stuff raised here.

While not perfect -- due to the constraints of budget, time, and the online Flash game format (and possibly some overambitious goals) -- I like to think we tried to work some interesting ideas in there. We took a close look at Japanese dating game conventions, and it sounds like the Backbone guys did as well. Those games are very much about time management, which is an interesting mechanic, but as noted here, can limit the time you spend really engaging with the meat of the social issues the medium (and presumably, the audience) really wants to address.

We were also wary of the limitations of the conventional adventure game-style conversation tree format, and while The Hookup did have a bit of that, we went with the fairly insane idea of sticking a stripped-down Magic: The Gathering-style card battle in the center of the game. We ended up with what we called "Intense Conversations" -- abstracted verbal altercations in which the player got to utilize the secrets, lies, and gossip that made up the game's social economy.

I've had my eye on Brooktown High myself, but I'm PSP-free so I'm not sure I'll have a chance to give it a look. Simon, I agree that there are interesting possibilities in the idea of games exploring this kind of untraditional subject matter. I personally think there's something beautiful about using games to try to quantify the unquantifiable -- emotions, social dynamics, etc.

While I'm very cautious about idealizing the wacky subject matter of games from Japan (they're often just as guilty of cliché and slavish pandering to convention as our own), I do hope that western developers continue to loosen up and apply some of our game design and development know-how to more than just ballistics models and crime movie tropes." Great post.

GameSetFocus: EGM And The Future Of... Everything

June 23, 2007 12:03 AM | Simon Carless

- So most of the time, on the 'new' GameSetWatch, I'll be doing the multiple-link thing to lots of interesting external sites. But from time to time, we'll want to highlight an individual story that really makes a difference - and in this case, EGM's massive 'The Future Of Videogames' feature is just that story.

As is explained in the intro to the piece, reprinted on Ziff's 1UP.com portal: "We've asked experts across the industry to track the next 20 years of everything from game-design trends to the evolution of your living room. A two-decade forecast, we figure, is near-term enough to be tangible (we're staying away from silly sci-fi stuff) but far enough out to fire up your imagination."

There are seven parts in total - all well worth reading, but some of the highlights are the 'Controls' section, dealing with Emotiv's mind-activated game controller, the 'Genres' area, with Halo 3 Design Lead Jaime Griesemer suggesting: "I think you are going to see a lot of FPS games drop the "S" and start making action games from the first-person perspective that don't have guns in them. Call them FPX games", and the future of 'Players' - the inevitable future when everyone becomes a gamer.

Anyhow, the feature is worth checking out because it doesn't get too crazed when predicting the future, and it's the kind of thoughtful omnibus article that hardly anyone does on the web, because of the time and care needed to compile it. Which is a major shame. Thanks, EGM.

COLUMN: Game Collector’s Melancholy – Genesis

June 22, 2007 4:01 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 we dig through old boxes in the corner of the garage and empty out the hall closet, searching for old Sega Genesis hardware.]

High Grade Multi Purpose Intelligent Terminal

sega_logo.jpgI developed my enthusiasm for video games a little bit later than most. Although the arcade and microcomputer scene fired my imagination in the late seventies and early eighties, most of my young adult-hood was concerned with other things. I have no sugary nostalgia for Nintendo and Saturday morning cereal bowls. The Atari 2600 was something that other kids got for Christmas and were already bored with by the time I came to visit.

Instead, my first console was the Sega Genesis and it colored all of my perceptions of video games since. I was reading Count Zero (along with Mondo 2000 and every RE/Search book I could get my hands on) at the time and in my mind the Genesis’ black surface, studded with vents and ports, seemed to be the embodiment of Gibson’s Ono-Sendai deck. The Genesis hardware pointed the way toward a looming digital landscape, wild and dark in potential and made all the more dangerous by its affordability. Over time, this exhilarating rush of possibility wore off, muted by endlessly replicating cute mascot characters. As the game industry grew and Sega struggled to find its place in it, my initial feelings of hope and wonderment were underscored by a melancholy strain of defeat.

Brooktown High And The Future Of Western Dating Games

June 22, 2007 8:00 AM | Simon Carless

- So, I've been trying out Backbone and Konami's Brooktown High for PSP, even though it really hasn't been getting good reviews at all. [GameSpy's 1.5 out of 5 stars is the lowest, but the GameRankings average is a slightly awful 53%. And it's pretty clear, from the small amount of GameFAQs discussions - and the lack of a FAQ - that not too many consumers are picking it up, either.]

But it's an interesting game to be developed in the West, because it's one of only a couple of larger scale Western-developed dating games ever released. Other ones? Gameloft's Sprung for DS immediately comes to mind, and Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude sorta counts. Kinda.

And while it's not been that well received, I think Brooktown High: Senior Year is absolutely worth checking out and discussing just because it's a relationship-centric game - you know, like that Facade thing that everyone raves about?

So, the good things about the game, first. You personalize your high school character when you start the game, and the questions they ask (about favorite locations, gadgets, styles) help make your character be like... you. But it's interesting - the game encourages you to play someone like yourself - in my case, a decidedly geeky guy. And this makes your interactions with the girls in the game a little more personal.

- Brooktown High is also well-scripted, in a knowing, slightly trashy Laguna Beach-esque way. And it plays like real life _generally_ is - if you're lead geek of astronomy class, then the head cheerleader is going to require extra convincing to actually dig you. That makes you more self-conscious and careful about who you approach. And you actually care about changing your clothes in-game (so girls notice) and targeting specific people who seem to like you for who you are.

But in the end, the object of the game is to impress girls (or boys, if you choose a girl to start with) and then kiss them - and maybe even sneak a few bases beyond that. [All the 'action' is implied in abstract, comedy stock footage cut-scenes, such as red lights turning green, eventually the typical Austin Powers-esque rocket launches.] It's probably a good idea to cultivate the affections of multiple girls at once, so you actually have something to do except talk to one girl per week and then wait. So... that's a bit creepy.

And at some point, I was having a conversation with one of the girls in the game about how she fell off a bike and had to fix her shoulder, and I was impressing her with a long and detailed story about evading some crazies on my own bike, and... I had an odd moment of mental rebellion. It just felt like such a strange, un-natural thing to be doing in a video game, in an imaginary world. I felt a bit dirty, I think. (My wife said I could play, though. Please check with yours.)

- What does that say about me, or the gaming medium? I'm not sure. And it's unfortunate that the actual mechanics of Brooktown High will prohibit many players from getting much pleasure from it - as GameSpy notes: "You only get a few minutes each school week to fraternize before rushing to class, which limits the amount of time you can dedicate to meeting other students or setting up dates."

So there's a lot of rushing around in the times you should be having fun, and there are issues with characters not remembering previous conversations you've had with them - and situations where the multiple choice conversation tree makes you act like a jackass, no matter what.

And the game's interface is a bit tricky in places, and the resource and friend management not spectacularly sophisticated, despite the good-looking 3D art - the 'Art Assets' 02/2007 .ZIP on the Konami PR assets page has some nicely done renders, like math geek Meena's (above). And yes, there are guy ones in there too.

But there's something there - buried in the simplicity of logic and the complexity of interface. Check out this GameFAQs board thread for a good idea of the (slightly scary, manipulative) tactics to use with girls, and therefore the kind of interesting and odd plot threads Brooktown High uses. And I think game creators should check it out and work out what they feel when the play it. Because there aren't many games out there with... emotions in them.

- Anyhow, there was a question, as you can see from the title of this post, and I'm still going to ask it. I'm aware that Match.com is a dating game, but Brooktown High offers an even greater opportunity to represent somebody who isn't yourself with no repercussions. So - can there ever be a successful Western dating game? Or is it just too niche, too odd, too taboo, and not something people want to be doing on their own, without real people?

[BONUS: Extra reading - there's a geeky GameFAQs conversation on the roots of dating games and how Japanese ones compare to the few American ones - worth reading.]

GameSetNetwork: Tomb Raiding A Physics Funfest

June 22, 2007 12:01 AM | Simon Carless

- We really are pumping out a good deal of original content at Gamasutra, Game Career Guide, GamesOnDeck, and our various other sites and events of late (ah yeah, and The Hollywood & Games Summit is next week, too) - so here's a few of the ones that I figured you crazies might enjoy checking out:

- GameTap's Animextravaganza!: On Gama, we quizzed GameTap's Ricardo Sanchez on ReVisioned, their game-themed animation series that's starting by letting Aeon Flux's Peter Chung loose on Lara Croft. This rather neat-looking and presumably not cheap series (GameTap.com has a teaser in the videos section) is gonna have multiple arcs with other characters, too: "The second season is quite different from the first, as it will feature six different IP that share a common theme, explored and created by different creative teams. Season three is about exploring a single IP, with a single team doing a multi-part story."

- GDC China Up & Running: For all of you in the Shanghai area (or with interests in the Asian game market!) - our colleagues just opened registration for GDC China, organized in conjunction with GamePro/E For All owners IDG, and taking place August 27-29, 2007 at the Shanghai International Convention Center. Plenty of top Chinese speakers, from what I've heard, and also some interesting Western ones: "Headlining the Online Game Development and Business track is David Perry, CEO & Founder of Gameconsultants.com. Paul Steed, Co-Founder & CCO of Exigent, will address "Why Cultural Training is Crucial to Outsourcing" on the Outsourcing and Next Generation Games track." There's more info at the official site, anyhow.

- Kalman What What?: Yes, this is super duper hardcore, but we ran a feature called ' Where's the Wiimote? Using Kalman Filtering To Extract Accelerometer Data' on Gamasutra - and it's almost as complicated as the title. Anyhow, it involves using complex algorithms to get the Wiimote behaving itself, and there's a rather immortal comment in the intro, explaining the need for greater filtering: "In the bowling game I have been soundly defeated by a 7 year old. While that in and of itself is not an issue, he usually beats me by swinging his arm in a random convulsive fashion behind his back."

- Lego Of Physics!: A new Gamasutra feature, called 'Publishers And Developers, Living Together - NetDevil's Scott Brown On The New Paradigm', discusses the somewhat surprising resurgence of the Auto Assault creator, having muscled through the auto combat flop to sign the 'Lego Universe' MMO and a number of other projects. Particularly notable, when referencing their currently PhysX hardware card-exclusive Warmonger: "We’re evaluating if it makes more sense to make some of the game not require the accelerator so you can see the difference. And also, maybe get a little more exposure for the title." Is Ageia finally limping into submission, I wonder?

[Also debuting on our sites recently - a neat chat with 'Central Clancy Writer' at Ubisoft, Richard Dansky, a look at AiLive's Wiimote AI tool, as seen at the AIIDE conference at Stanford recently, and a postmortem of Carnegie Mellon's Northrop Grumman Recruitment Game over at GameCareerGuide (!), plus a slightly odd Gama opinion piece claiming that interactive DVD games are 'the next big thing' - hey, that's why it's an opinion!]

GameSetA: World Of Warcraft's 'Oh My God' Moments

June 21, 2007 4:01 PM | Simon Carless

- Well, it has to be said that the reaction to the first couple of longer posts on the 'new' GSW have been excellent, with almost 40 comments between the 'Who Are The Sex Pistols Of Gaming?' post (including some incisive comparisons from N co-creator Raigan - Rockstar are Marilyn Manson?) and the GameSetQ referencing 'Oh My God' moments (which have a mass of Metroid comments, in particular).

But I think it's the World Of Warcraft-related moments which are the most resonant - and I'm picking three of them to highlight here in a standalone post, because they each show how the massive, massively addictive online world can affect you in different ways. The third anecdote, in particular, is a killer - somewhat literally:

Joy (Michael Zenke, MMOG Nation/Slashdot): "The very first time I hit max-level with a character in a Massive game was in World of Warcraft. I was hunting Yeti in Winterspring, and I realized I was *almost* there. I FRAPsed the 'final' golden glowie, and then danced around my apartment singing."

Geeky References (Dan Amrich, Official Xbox Magazine): "WoW is full of little in-jokes that have stopped me in my tracks. In Orgrimmar, there's a guy in the Cleft of Shadows in the rogue trainer area named Zando'zan. I sat there dumbfounded; how did a Last Starfighter reference ("Interstellar hit beast!" shrieks Centauri) make it in here? Was it put here just for me?

And just last week, I suddenly came across the Lost Vikings in Uldaman. If you didn't recognize Olaf, Baelog and Eric the Swift, it didn't interrupt the game at all...but since I got the reference, it made me stop and look and, at one point, nearly get killed by getting too close to a pack of level 40 elites. I was totally elated, and that kind of subtlety -- that respect for one segment of the audience while not excluding the rest of it -- just reinforces how human game experiences can be."

Raw Emotion (Matthew Bellows, ex-WGR, Floodgate Entertainment): "Was questing near Sun Rock Retreat in WoW one night with these two other toons. One, just from the way she wrote, was clearly a girl. About 15 minutes in, she /w: "Do you like me?"

Knowing that my wife was not looking, I wrote back: "Yes. Definitely."

She wrote back: "No, seriously, because this other guy is telling me that he thinks you are fighting the way you are to show off for me."

At that point, I opened up the discussion to all three of us. We retreated to one of those little mounds in the center of the zone and talked about love, difficulties and personal issues. At one point the guy said: "I had a terrible relationship with my mom. Sometimes I get so angry about it I just punch the walls in my house."

The next night, I was in Sun Rock, turning in quests and repairing, when I saw the girl from the night before. We were chatting about the scene the night before, how weird it was, how awesome WoW was that that could happen, etc. Suddenly, she cried out, her chest exploded in blood, and a lvl 60 alliance rogue appeared behind her, ganked her with one backstab.

It was the most shocking thing I've ever experienced in a game... This girl, who was starting to be a friend, killed in front of me, her blood splashed on my face. Then the rogue one-hit me. No single player game could ever match that experience."

Game Developer Revisits EA_Spouse, Three Years On

June 21, 2007 8:04 AM | Simon Carless

- So, we at the CMP Game Group have just published the June-July 2007 issue of Game Developer magazine, and you might notice that the frowny little guy on the cover relates to the cover feature 'For Better or Worse: A Quality of Life Update'.

This Paul Hyman-penned feature (sorry, not available for free online - subscribe now and support the mag!) takes a look at the effects of EA_Spouse's call to action (and the subsequent lawsuits) regarding long working hours in the game biz. As the synopsis notes:

"In 2004, a then-anonymous letter writer, “EA_Spouse,” penned an angry and outraged treatise to the game community chiding Electronic Arts for forcing employees to work egregious amounts of overtime. In the months that followed, development studios, the IGDA, and other outspoken individuals stood up and voiced their opinion of what it means to be in this obsessively dedicated line of work, with most of them calling for industrywide change, too. Nearly three years later, has any of it stuck? Or has the call to action petered out?"

Of course, since then, EA_Spouse has 'come out' as Erin Hoffman, and she makes plenty of comments in the article about how game company cultures (and EA in particular) has changed: "From what I understand, the Los Angeles studio has made a really big turnaround, for example. I've heard mixed comments from Vancouver, and I consistently hear bad things about Tiburon." We've heard that too, judging by a brief letter received after the article debuted, and some of the feedback on the GameWatch.org forums, set up by Hoffman to help discuss the issues.

But is it fair to single out EA? Absolutely not - all major game companies have (or have had) some degree of problems with working long hours, an edgy extension of a job that can require a lot of creative dedication. But it's when working 60 or 80 or 100 hours per week becomes corporately mandated or 'tribe'-impelled and management does nothing to stop the burnout that we get into trouble.

Anyhow, the GameWatch forums, though fairly quiet nowadays, have some good discussions in general, with other companies also coming up for scrutiny and even a 'Kudos' forum calling out companies from LucasArts through EA Chicago and Destineer for their good attitude to quality of life.

And UK-based Relentless Software's David Amor, who wrote an article on this very subject for Game Developer a few months back, also popped up with an excellent, in-depth look at the problem and some possible solutions. And as we discuss the issue more, I would hope that it's only going to get better.

[Have any (anonymous, if necessary!) GSW readers had experiences with quality of life issues being addressed thanks to EA_Spouse's publicity, or has it made little difference in your neck of the woods, I wonder?]

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