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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 July, 2007

JayIsGames Pumps Up The 'Replay' Value

July 31, 2007 4:03 PM | Simon Carless

- Delighted to see that free Flash game site JayIsGames has posted the winners of its 3rd Casual Gameplay Design Competition, and it's a fine crop of freely playable titles overall, made to a 'replay' theme - the overall winner is 'Gimme Friction Baby' by Wouter Visser.

The general explanation of 'Gimme Friction Baby' is that the game is "...an unusual and unique strategy game of skill based on a very simple idea. The "replay" theme in this game is good old replay value: a challenging game with addictive qualities that will have you coming back to it time and time again." If I can be slightly less vague, the title is sorta a friction-based Puzzle Bobble involving cannoning expanding, numerically decreasing numbered balls off each other. Wow, was that less vague?

Actually, there's some interesting controversy of whether the concept of replay should be integral to the game design of the winner, or whether the game should just be very 'replayable' - ambiguous, to be sure. But what's clear to me is that JayIsGames continues to attract some of the most beautifully designed Flash games around (the last competition, based on the 'Grow' game concept, also heralded some great titles). Long may it continue. [Semi-via Waxy.]

GameSetLinks: Eyes Blur, Pac-Man Dines

July 31, 2007 8:04 AM | Simon Carless

- Wow, it's been pretty darn busy for me since I got back from holiday, so only now do I get a chance to do some GameSetLinks - interesting but quirkier links that we didn't want to blow up to a full post here on GameSetWatch, but are absolutely awesome in their own right. And they are:

- Pac-Man CE, Long Exposure Version: Over at The-Inbetween.com, there's a great post with long-exposure pictures of Pac-Man Championship Edition for XBLA, and as Mike Nowak notes: "I think most of them were six second exposures. Maybe ten. And yes, as I mention on the Flickr page, the idea for these is totally borrowed from Rosemarie Fiore’s long exposures." And you know, I really like the results.

- Worst. Mag Covers. Evah: GSW's very own Kevin 'Magweasel' Gifford just wrote a fun post for IDG's Games.net rounding up the worst game mag covers ever, and since he's the don of the history of the genre, he comes up with neato, scary-ish stuff: "The twelve game-mag covers you're about to see feature the worst of the worst, the most terrifying things to ever stalk the racks. Proceed on at your own peril!"

- Deltahead's MGS2 Critique: The very 'intense' folks at Deltahead, who are still working on the Segagaga Dreamcast translation, it appears, have posted 'Driving Off the Map: A Formal Analysis of Metal Gear Solid 2', and the lyrical preface is a warm, happy, slightly obsessive place to start: "My friends breathed loudly on the floor and couch, growing stubble and dreaming. The blinds cut morning into boards of light that stacked through cold cigar smoke. If games like MGS2 were possible, I decided, then the medium was worth rediscovering."

- Gamelab Debates Wii Fit: The smart New York game designers at Gamelab (y'know, Diner Dash!) have launched a brand new company website (for which I can't find an RSS feed, ack), but as an example of the fun, readable content, two employees debate Nintendo's Wii Fit, with K. Thor Jensen commenting: "I understand that the 'lifestyle software' trend is birthed in Japan and may seem Japan-centric, but the unexpected side effect of that movement is that it's working here and it's working elsewhere." Great read.

- Super Mario: GameJew's Opera: The perceptive Dessgeega has been critiquing a fun new project: "jonathan mann’s (gamejew) super mario opera adds lyrics - voice - to the koji kondo melodies we’ve heard many times, giving us an existentialist drama about a simple man, a worker and lover, drawn by forces he cannot control toward the right side of the screen. mario’s overalls seem big on the skinny mann; his mario, who had been prepared to live out his days in peace with the princess, is ill at ease with the role that is forced upon him: hero, killer. even as he becomes increasingly aware of his place in an endlessly recurring cycle of violence."

- My Nineteenth Nervous Brickdown: The New Gamer has done some enchanting impressions of odd, obscure new DS title Nervous Brickdown, as follows: "I was skeptical that anyone could pull off a 'modern' interpretation of a Breakout/paddle-and-ball game that was engaging and original but, thanks to a litany of uniquely themed levels and an interesting mishmash of mechanics, they managed to do so in spades!" Some good theoretical comments on how the two screens interact, too.

- Area/Code Goes Shark Running: The charming Alice @ Wonderland Blog has pointed out new webgame Sharkrunners, made for Discovery Channel's Shark Week by Area/Code, and "...a persistent game of oceanic exploration and high stakes shark research. Players take on the role of marine biologists who seek to learn as much as possible about sharks through advanced observation techniques. In the game, players control their ships, but the sharks are controlled by real-world white sharks with GPS units attached to their fins." Intriguing game design, to say the least.

The History Of Activision

July 31, 2007 12:04 AM | Simon Carless

- Over at big sister website Gamasutra, sometime GSW columnist J.Fleming has posted an in-depth history of major publisher Activision - and, as the intro notes, the massive company now in charge of franchises from Guitar Hero to Tony Hawk and beyond: "...started with just four game developers leaving Atari in 1979."

Co-founder and Pitfall! creator David Crane gave an extensive interview for the piece, noting of just why the initial four Activision founders departed Atari: "A memo was circulated from the marketing department showing the prior year’s cartridge sales, broken down by game as a percentage of sales. The intent of the memo was to alert the game development staff to what types of games were selling well."

He continued: “This memo backfired however, as it demonstrated the value of the game designer individually. Video game design in those days was a one-man process with one person doing the creative design, the storyboards, the graphics, the music, the sound effects, every line of programming, and final play testing. So when I saw a memo that the games for which I was 100 percent responsible had generated over $20 million in revenues, I was one of the people wondering why I was working in complete anonymity for a $20,000 salary." Oh boy.

The UK Guardian On Dying In Games

July 30, 2007 4:01 PM | Simon Carless

- Matteo Bittanti is kind enough to point out a new UK Guardian article discussing 'Why Do We Have To Die In Games?' - a thoughtprovoking, if slightly odd question.

Here's some notable parts: "But where's the fun in endlessly replaying a level? Gamers are unequivocal: "Dying gives a game meaning", say posters on the PC Advisor forums. Markus Montola, a researcher at Tampere University in Finland, takes this further: "You have a motivation - to avoid being annoyed by dying. Motivation is what makes the game meaningful.""

What's more: "Pete Hines - vice-president at Bethesda, the developer behind the role-playing game Oblivion and its expansion pack, Shivering Isles - agrees. "Having your character die or fail is important because your actions have to have some meaning in the game, and to you... But is the death of your character the right way to give a game meaning? Peter Molyneux of Lionhead, the developer of Fable, Black & White and The Movies, says: "A fight has to cost the player something, or it loses its meaning. Previously, that cost was time and tedium [in replaying a level]. But is that the right cost?""

Molyneux goes on to suggest that we should rethink death: "Have you ever seen a film where the hero dies and dies again? The tension in an action film almost always comes from hammering a hero so hard that he almost dies - and then he leaps back up." Not entirely sure how this fits into gameplay - but it's good to see a mainstream newspaper getting so far into interesting game theory issues - the Guardian has always been fairly well-advanced that way, what with its Gamesblog.

Opinion: Sony's Worst PSN Enemy? PS1 Conversion Sloth!

July 30, 2007 8:03 AM | Simon Carless

- Now, this isn't a new subject, but it's one that is worth returning to - what on Earth is Sony doing with bringing PlayStation 1 games to the PS3's PlayStation Store in the West? As can be seen from the Wikipedia list, there's still a terribly sparse collection of PS1 re-releases - with only a couple of non-Sony titles available, and no regular schedule.

This has been particularly bothering me because I noticed SiliconEra has covered the latest Japanese batch of PS1 releases on PSN, posted at the end of July, and look - 14 new games, including Armored Core, King's Field, Wild Arms, the Jumping Flash sequel Robbit Mon Dieu, and more. That's 14 in one month - from a whole host of different publishers.

The month before that? There were 19 PlayStation 1 games on the Japanese PSN, including SNK titles such as Metal Slug and The King of Fighters '99, the awesomely abstract Sony title Depth, XI/Devil Dice, and others. And they have a nice monthly groove down for making a big chunk of titles available - not as cool as weekly, but it's a good start.

Anyhow, as the Japanese have spotted, having the PSN-downloadable games playable on both the PSP and PS3 for one low price ($5.99) is tremendously good for consumers. Plus, it's a really easy way for third-party companies to monetize their back catalog, because practically all they have to do is hand over the original game - emulation does the rest.

So sure, I can understand that licensed titles might be a bit trickier, but Sony - what is going on here? The only explanation I can see is that SCEJ is organized and has personnel in place to license and put out the material, and SCEA and SCEE aren't. And why? From what I've heard off the record and seen on the record, not having a central office/organization for its online endeavors has hurt Sony significantly. There are multiple overlapping offices working on various elements of Sony's online network and software, from SOE through Sony Santa Monica to Foster City and beyond.

In some ways, collaboration is tremendous, but I think a great example of how Sony's structure is leading to oddness is Sony Online licensing 6 Midway titles for PSN. Uh, why not just get Midway to do them itself, like it does for XBLA? My view is that it's because jurisdiction was unclear, and the outward-facing nature of the PlayStation Network just wasn't there in January 2007. And it'd better be there soon, and Sony had better be talking to third-party publishers about PS1 downloadable games right now, otherwise a major digital distribution advantage is rapidly being lost.

Video Games: The Danger Of The Free

July 30, 2007 12:04 AM | Simon Carless

- Over at his blog, Microsoft's Kim Pallister has posted an opinion piece called 'What should World of Warcraft and David Copperfield both fear?'. Apparently, that's "...someone giving away what they charge for, and tanking their business in the process" - and the piece rambles its way to some interesting insights on what's happening.

As Pallister notes: "At Casual Connect this year, there was a lot of talk about the big media companies (e.g. MTV/Viacom) coming into the space. What I don't think people grokked though, is that not only will they come in and compete for the same customers, but they may completely upset the apple cart in an effort to get those gamers interested in their IP (and thus watching the shows, buying the dolls, eating up all the Hollywood soup and washing it down with a sugary, fizzy dose of free-to-play branded MMO."

He concludes: "So the thought exercise for you (as I try to bring this in for a landing), is what do you do when your competitor's business model suddenly is "free"?" And indeed, this is the great wonder and the great potential issue on the Web and for, really, any non-console platforms.

Given that casual games are, indeed, relatively cheap to make compared to AAA-style PS3/Xbox 360 games, don't you think it's possible that many of the mainstream will get their 'fill' of games from the free Flash-based ones? Won't this be even more true as companies turn to games and virtual worlds to advertise and cross-market their products? It's certainly an interesting potential dilemma for the game biz - and one not enough people are thinking about.

Mr. Robot Gets Kotaku Game Club Treatment

July 29, 2007 4:02 PM | Simon Carless

- You may remember that I mentioned I'd helped pick some worthy indie titles for Kotaku's new concept, Game Club, where yep, in-depth group discussion of intriguing games are made, and Brian Crecente is indeed Oprah. Anyhow, the first Game Club Beta has been announced, and it's for Moonpod's excellent indie title Mr. Robot.

There are actually a series of posts on Kotaku going through what's happening - as is explained: "The Game Club is going to be conducted via the Internets, meaning, sadly, we won't all be meeting in Fahey's living room over coffee and crumpets to discuss the latest Game Club game. Instead, we will be meeting both on Kotaku and in our Campfire room, which is sorta like a giant chat room." There will then be a complex series of tubes and some liveblogging going on, apparently - first meeting to be next Thursday.

Oh, and there's also a good bonus: "If you do decide to join in the club [and buy the game], use the discount code: gameclub for a 40 percent discount. Make sure to enter the code in the bottom right field of the first screen." I almost think that's more of a discount than the Moonpod folks needed to offer, but hey, whatever works!

What is great about this (from my point of view) is that we're seeing indie titles included in large-scale game website discussion without the typical 'but look, the indie scene!' disclaimer - this is parity at work. And Moonpod sell a heap of copies of their title, I hope. Of course, until GameSpot, IGN, and 1UP set up indie sections or at least start reviewing games like Mr. Robot alongside their other titles, I won't be happy, but this is a tremendous step in the right direction. Kudos, Kotaku.

Opinion: The Future Of UMDs? UMDmother Knows!

July 29, 2007 8:04 AM | Simon Carless

- [This week, we ran an interview with Peter Dille on Gamasutra which included the Sony exec defending the UMD format, particularly commenting: "When we launched, there was a proliferation of UMD content [from the major studios], and it wasn't the best strategic fit with the demographic."

We subsequently received an email and a FedEx package from 'UMDmother', whose sons started Silver Platter, aka UMDLab, which called itself "the indie UMD label" and sold a variety of titles, including skateboard, snowboarding, and wrestling UMDs.

Looks like the label is basically dormant now, and the aforementioned 'UMDmother' is selling the current inventory via methods such as eBay. She feels strongly that, if it weren't for the glut of movies unsuitable for normal PSP players, UMD could have been something more than it currently is. And sure, this letter is in some ways a sales pitch, but it's also an impassioned and not completely implausible call for another look at UMDs. So we thought we'd reprint it here on GameSetWatch.]

"Your July 24, 2007 article with Sony's Peter Dille, defending the UMD, was brought to my attention because I am, officially, the First UMDmother.

My sons and their best friend, all industry professionals started a company 2 years ago whose philosophy was, and still is, consistent with what Peter Dille described in this article. They produced, acquired, and designed UMD videos with the PSP consumer in mind, and with the diverse abilities of the device in mind (we also have a unique infinity scroll menu), and sold them at prices that made sense. They have an extensive library of videos, with bonus footage, which unfortunately, even with a national distribution deal signed, never received the respect that they deserved.

The highest rated UMD on IGN.com's website (it's the first title you will see in bold when clicking on editors choice under UMD) is our DC Video UMD. Not from a major studio and never shown in a movie theater; it is a skateboarding video from DC Shoes that also won Best UMD at the 2006 Entertainment Media Expo DVD Awards. For that award we beat out Sin City, Wedding Crashers and the Ali G Show. . While awards and accolades are great, this company was started to bring the highest quality video content available to the PSP consumer.

Because of the early demise of the UMD movie, this company, with all of its awards was never able to get off the ground. I, a 56 year old suburban housewife and now UMDmother, found herself with an inventory of the highest rated UMD videos on the market and decided that I would, and could, sell them all.

And guess what?…Peter was right…there is a demand for these UMD videos produced with the PSP consumer in mind. I sell them on the internet, I sell to gamers, I sell to skateboarders, new school skiers, snowboarders, jiu jitsu enthusiasts. I sell to mothers as gifts, I sell to deployed US military personal.

I sell to their families living on US bases who send them overseas. I have sent our titles around the world (by the way, our UMDs are region free…we even thought that through.) I sell regularly in Canada, the UK and Australia as well as Germany, France, Finland, Spain, Switzerland, Slovakia, Russia, Sweden, Denmark, The Netherlands and Malta just to name a few.

The backlash from the glut of overpriced and inappropriate UMD movies released scared away any potential retailer before our UMDs could achieve market penetration. As the gamer consumer became insulted with the content and price of movies offered on UMD, retailers wanted nothing to do with UMD movies. What I am getting at is that I know we have exactly what the PSP owner is looking for.

I am appealing to you to get our titles the attention they deserve. Our UMDs are the perfect example of what can be done when the PSP demographic, and the PSP's many available applications are taken into consideration in the development of a UMD.

Peter Dille was clear what he thinks about the future of UMDs. It looks to me like our titles and his vision are one and the same; a perfect match. What we need now is for Sony to see their vision realized in our UMDs and give us a fighting chance."

Who Is The Real King Of Kong?

July 29, 2007 12:04 AM | Simon Carless

- GameSetWatch has been all over classic game doc King Of Kong since it was signed at Sundance this year, even bringing retro-hungry readers an early review of the movie, which charts the intense Donkey Kong high score rivalry between Steve Wiebe and Billy Mitchell, back in April.

The doc, which opens nationwide on August 17th, and for which there's now a 2 minute-trailer available on Apple.com, has now got a dramatic coda, since, as MTV's Stephen Totilo explains, there's a new Donkey Kong world champion, and - yes, it's still one of the movie protagonists.

MTV News' story says who that is, of course, but if you want to keep the suspense going until you watch the movie (you can deduce who was the DK World Champion in the doc from who is the champion now, if you're being cunning), then don't click through.

All I'll say is that the new champ "...made his record run two weeks ago at an unlikely venue: the '80s-themed annual meeting of the Florida Association of Mortgage Brokers in Orlando, Florida." Groovy! And there's "$10,000 to anyone who breaks his new record at the Classic Gaming Expo this weekend in Las Vegas", so who knows, it could all change again?

Why You Should Subscribe To The Stinger Report!

July 28, 2007 4:02 PM | Simon Carless

- My delightful colleague Brandon Sheffield has been known to extol this person's moustache virtues over at Insert Credit, but just wanted to mention that enjoyably wacky UK journo/consultant Kevin Williams now offers his The Stringer Report arcade trade newsletter for free - and here's a couple of reasons why you should subscribe immediately, if not sooner.

Firstly, we recently covered new arcade game Target Toss Pro, and Stinger notes in his latest Report: "Seen at ASI'07 the product was in uncharted waters regarding UK let alone European acceptance. [Incredible Technologies] had been advised that the connotations of the original name 'Target Toss Pro: Bags' may have different means in the UK... The Oxford English Dictionary has ‘tosser’ – defined as a term of contempt or abuse for a person; a ‘jerk’, established in 1977, and so resident in most European obscenity-checker email blockers." HAH.

The other comment in the Report which (slightly unintentionally) made me 'lol' was the following: "The Japanese factories were also represented by SEGA Amusement Europe, with a UK production cabinet of '2 Spicy' (LindBergh Red) - looking nearly identical to the Asian original cabinet aside from stronger cash box protection."

Those polite Japanese are a lot less likely to, uhm, try to pry open arcade machines, aren't they? Anyhow, The Stinger Report (previously subscription only) is much more relevant to arcade biz types, but it's good to see arcade coverage from the trade end.

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