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Archive For July, 2007

COLUMN: 'Game Mag Weaseling': Mag Roundup 7/28/07

July 28, 2007 8:04 AM |

bluedragon.jpg

One of the more hum'rous editorial mistakes in recent memory arrived last week in the August issue of Play magazine, where the table-of-contents page inadvertently uses the exact same artwork (in the exact same configuration) as the advertisement right next to it. Den-chan is just as confused about it as I am.

A question that's often thrown around magazine circles is how aware the editorial department is of the advertising that's placed in each issue of the title they work on. The answer is a firm, unequivocal "it depends." Namely, it depends on the magazine in question, the way the publisher and editor-in-chief run it, and so on. In my particular case,

I'm dimly aware of the advertisers for the issue of Newtype USA I'm working on, but that's not because I'm actively searching for that info -- it's because we deal with generally the same advertisers month in and month out, so I can predict what stuff they'll be advertising each month with relative ease. That knowledge has never influenced what I write about in the mag itself, because I'm an ethical professional with a responsibility to my readers, and furthermore we're located too far away from all the game publishers to go to any of their junkets.

So how did a gaffe like this get into Play? I'm not too sure, to be honest. Any number of things could've happened -- maybe the ad was a really, really late addition and no one thought to check where it was located. But it's just a small, amusing thing in what's otherwise a superb issue, so hopefully no one at Play will be too angry at me for pointing it out.

But that's not the top story in this roundup -- not when there's eleven new US magazines to catch up on this time around. Click on for the complete spread!

Gamestar Mechanic To Steampunk Up Learning

July 28, 2007 12:04 AM | Simon Carless

- Terribly late on this one, but Clickable Culture's Tony Walsh has a good post explaining the upcoming Gamestar Mechanic, "...a game designed to teach game design skills within a steampunk-inspired game world", and notable because it's funded by the giant MacArthur charitable foundation as part of a larger five-year, $50 million digital media and learning initiative.

As Walsh explains: "Aimed at young people, the project is a collaboration between Gamelab (New York) and the Games, Learning, and Society Group (University of Wisconsin-Madison). Project leads include James Paul Gee (author, What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy), as well as Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman (authors, Rules of Play)."

There's now an awesome directory of Gamestar Mechanic-related posts on the MacArthur Foundation site, including (the pictured) Katie Salen overviewing the entire concept, explaining: "Gamestar Mechanic is a different kind of massively multiplayer online game experience. Players do not just take part in a game that was made for them. Instead, they create their own games to play and share, all within a larger MMO experience. The core audience is junior high school and high school students, a demographic proven to be captivated by online media creation." Really looking forward to this.

Escaping The Game Review Nightmare

July 27, 2007 4:04 PM | Simon Carless

- Really enjoy the pointed posts on Dan Amrich (ex-GamePro, current Official Xbox Magazine)'s Bunnyears.net blog, and the latest discusses The Escapist's recent game journalism issue, which I also found a little enduringly whiny in some parts - though overall thought-provoking, which can only be a good thing?.

It discusses the ever-sharp of tongue Penny Arcade savaging a GamesRadar review, a review assigned by Amrich, who suggests: "If there’s one problem out there I don’t feel I can fix, it’s the audience misinterpreting the nature of the medium. Reviews are not telling you what to think; they’re giving you what you need to think for yourself. It’s why city buses don’t run the Indy 500, folks: They were built for an extremely different purpose."

And how did Penny Arcade's Mike Krahulik make his grievous error? "By his own admission, Mike hasn’t built up that relationship with any reviewer or outlet, let alone GamesRadar or Cameron as an individual writer…and he’s not reading the review for consumer purchasing “buy/no buy” advice. He’s reading the review for personal validation. He already bought the game; the review he read after buying it isn’t something he agrees with, so it’s wrong." By jove, I think the cove has a point! Or does he?

GameSetNetwork: Go Naked With Elite Beats

July 27, 2007 8:01 AM | Simon Carless

- Aha, a spare moment, and so let's take a proper look at a few of the articles posted on GameSetWatch's sister sites over the past few days - from the normal to the Naked Brothers Band. Henceforth, onward:

- We've linked to JC Barnett's now sadly defunct Japanmanship blog a good few times on GSW, so I'm delighted to say we've run the 'Working In Japanese Game Development: The Facts' feature on Gamasutra yesterday, and as we explain, "...pseudonymous Japan-based game creator JC Barnett looks at exactly how Western developers can enter Japanese game development, with tips on how to apply, visas, savings, language prerequisites, and more."

- Our education site Game Career Guide recently put up a piece called 'Rhythm Games: Simplicity and Mass Appeal', which does a decent job of running down the genre, from Guitar Hero through Ouendan and many more - though as comments on a Sexy Videogameland post note, it skirts the original Bemani title, Beatmania. Those self same comments also remind me of a post on Elite Beat Agents and emotion that I will make... soon!

- Over at WorldsInMotion.biz, our Game Developer Research-affiliated online worlds blog run by Leigh Alexander, the Online World Atlas has now expanding significantly, with some new entries including one on Nickelodeon's Nicktropolis and Disney's Toontown, both much more potent and relevant to the game biz than you might think. Or maybe you do think they're important, in which case... good!

- Oh, and worth mentioning too is the Total Pro Golf 2 indie postmortem on Gamasutra - as we commented: "Smaller indie developers are creating more and more intriguing games, and in this Gamasutra postmortem, we learn about the creation of Wolverine Studios' sim-heavy Total Pro Golf 2 for PC, discussing both the triumphs and pitfalls faced by creator Gary Gorski while creating the community-aided title." It's a neat, ultraniche game, too.

GameSetPics: European Follies, The Final Countdown

July 27, 2007 12:05 AM | Simon Carless

So there was a Part 1, a Part 2 , and logically enough, Part 3, and now, rather a long time after I made it back to the States, it's time to present a final look at some of the odd and/or cool and/or fun European video games I encountered in the wilds of British (and Finnish!) retail. As follows:

The Atari-published PSP mini-game title Hot Pixel has been out in Europe for a while, and is coming to the States in September - but apparently with not nearly such a nice pixel-art cover as the Euro version, judging by the current Amazon.com box art. Eurogamer say that it's "...almost precisely Wario Ware, but without quite so much wit or charm" - but I'm still interested.


In my recent E3 round-up, I pointed out the two varieties of Buzz games finally coming to the States later this year, but as you can see, the UK already has four of them shelved very prominently in this GAME store. Actually, as the Wikipedia page explains, there's six been released already, and they're encompassing both quiz games (for the adults) and party games (for the kids). Awesome stuff, SCEE.


Nothing too out of the ordinary here, but for Magweasel fans and those wondering what game mags look like in the UK, they're still shelved prominently in many game stores, they're mainly distributed news-stand style (as opposed to the States, where more are done via often cheap subscriptions), and they've got ridiculous amounts of packed-in freebies up the wazoo. Of course, the economics are better if you can charge UKP10 ($20) for a special issue, like Edge recently did for their '100 Best Games' - but then, you have to compete with 8 zillion other puffed-up tree extracts which sell marginally decreasing amounts.


A, just a quick word on this Sega soccer sim, 'Let's Make A Soccer Team', which I think is cute because it's clearly never coming out in the States, and the title is, I believe, a literal-ish translation of the longstanding Japanese game's name. Of course, sports sims are much more popular in general in Europe, and especially soccer sims, thanks to Championship Manager, but they don't seem to have adapted too well to the rise of the console generation - diminishing returns, perhaps?


The absolute piece de resistance of the trip, I snapped this picture in Helsinki, where eating reindeer is common, it's awfully expensive for American travelers (damn you, dollar!), and a good time was had by all. This is Singstar Legendat, the Finnish-specific version of Singstar Legends, and the MobyGames profile for the game notes handily: "In Finland, this Singstar game has a different tracklisting than the regular one and half of the songs are Finnish ones, which have international hits amongst them as well, such as HIM, Rasmus and Lordi." Dude, Lordi - I even found Lordi vanilla cola on our Finnish jaunt, so you know they're 'big'. And hereby ends our European lesson.

When Gaming Headlines Go Bad - Reuters Edition

July 26, 2007 4:01 PM | Simon Carless

- Was flicking through Google News this morning, as many fellow journos do, I'm sure, and I saw a really interesting headline - a Reuters article saying 'Microsoft cuts Xbox 360 price to $179 in US' - look, here's a screenshot if you don't believe me.

Anyhow, as you may know, the price cut was actually for the Xbox 360's add-on HD-DVD player - and with those five free movies, too, it's actually kinda tempting. But anyhow, I just thought it was interesting that in a rush to put something up, even the mighty Reuters can goof and get the headline majorly wrong.

More interestingly, in the days of RSS, it's somewhat difficult to remove the erroneous headline from Google News, even if you can change it on your own site. (Does someone different write the headline to the actual story for some of these news agency pieces? Seem to remember something odd along those lines.)

Anyhow, the original article that the headline links to has actually been removed altogether, except for a headline that prominently notes 'CORRECTED' next to it. But there's a new article posted which fixes the headline to the somewhat more correct: 'Microsoft cuts Xbox DVD player to $179'. Hurray! But imagine if the X360 really had gone down to $179? Blimey. [Pic courtesy Reuters.]

The Aberrant Gamer: 'Sympathy for the Devil'

July 26, 2007 8:08 AM | Leigh Alexander

-[The Aberrant Gamer is a weekly, somewhat NSFW column by Leigh Alexander, dedicated to the kinks and quirks we gamers tend to keep under our hats-- those predilections and peccadilloes less commonly discussed in conventional media. NOTE: This week's column analyzes a game's plot from beginning to end; be advised it contains spoilers for those who've never played it.]

After last week’s look at symbolism in Silent Hill 2, a lot of feedback asked AG to look similarly at other Silent Hill games, and the most popular request was AG’s take on Silent Hill 4. It’s my pleasure to oblige— please keep the requests coming!

Silent Hill 4: The Room is generally considered the least popular of the series among fans. Let’s consider why this should (and shouldn’t) be the case—and, of course, we’ll visit all the deliciously twisted elements of aberrant psychology that make the Silent Hill series so compelling.

The town of Silent Hill is almost a character in and of itself in each game in the series. It advances to enshroud each protagonist—always an individual on the point of emotional crisis—in a sort of Biblical purgatory, a transient, flexible reality that calls them to account for past sins. And yet, throughout the course of the series it becomes evident that the town is more than a mirror for others; it’s got its own native history, the dark tale of a morbid cult whose disciples abused children, performed occult rituals, and disregarded the fabric of reality. We learn a little more about the over-arching story of the mysterious town in each game, and perhaps no greater quantity of history is revealed in any previous game than in Silent Hill 4.

That can only be a good thing, right?

OXM Digital To Vault Onto Xbox Live

July 26, 2007 12:04 AM | Simon Carless

- So, we at GSW just got delivered the September 2007 issue of Future's Official Xbox Magazine, and sure, there's a Beautiful Katamari demo on the cover-disc, but the big, major, extremely significant news is in Francesca Reyes' Letter From The Editor for the month.

Remember when our own Kevin Gifford suggested that Nintendo Power get its own Wii Channel? Well, that hasn't happened for the Wii, but Reyes reveals something rather similar for the Xbox 360: "Sometime late this month (July) we're kicking off a project on Xbox Live Marketplace called OXM Digital... Think of it as a digital digest of our mag, but with lots of exclusive interactive content, including gamer pics, themes, videos, galleries... stuff we can't do in print."

But there's more, and I suspect this bit will be the most interesting and controversial element: "And yes, OXM Digital also sports exclusive demos. Yes, demos." Reyes goes on: "Its cost? A pithy 200 Microsoft Points ($2.50)." There's lots more info about it from Senior Editor Dan Amrich in an Xbox.com forum post (scroll down), and he explains of the concept that there will be exclusive demos alongside the videos, themes, gamer pictures, etc:

"If you're a disc person, you get your disc as you always have, and the demo in question will be on there. If you are a Marketplace person, you get your download. It's whichever version works better for you, but you don't have to miss out when we get exclusive demos like Katamari Damacy or Eternal Sonata or whatever. (Corporate hat on: I cannot confirm any specific demos that will appear in OXM Digital at this time. OXMD #1 is close to release but not there yet.)"

[In the mag, Reyes goes on to explain what the OXM Digital deal means for print subscribers: "But as a reader of OXM, you're already paying money for the magazine and the disc, right? Well fear not: You'll still receive all those demos we run on OXM Digital on the disc. So if you're not on Live or choose not to use your MS Points on OXM Digital (though the suits upstairs will probably kill me for saying that) we'll still take care of you with the OXM disc."]

So what of this? I quite like the idea of having more 'exclusive' gamer pictures, etc - I've been using the Beautiful Katamari one that I unlocked off a previous OXM disc for a little while now. And compiling Future's professionally done videos, themes, and screenshot galleries for a not gigantic fee all seems reasonably sensible.

But I'm pretty sure the concept of exclusive retail game demos which even Xbox Live Gold members have to pay for - despite the fact that they're online somewhere - is going to cause a fair bit of ruckus. Still, it depends - if they were demos of titles that you wouldn't see in the U.S. otherwise (which OXM has done before with the Zegapain games) - or maybe even XNA titles (I seem to remember Sony did a similar limited-distribution thing with Yaroze games on discs in the past) then it might be more palatable - just hypothesizing here, though!

[UPDATE: The inevitable NeoGAF thread about this is actually rather positive, and Ryan from OXM pops in as well, noting: "Anyway, glad to hear most of you guys are optimistic about this. Yes, we'll have exclusive demos attached to OXMD (whether they or timed or not will be sorted out on a case-by-case basis, but odds are they'll be timed exclusives just as they've been on the OXM disc), but we're actually pretty excited about the "magazine" content as well. It's got embedded HD video on every page (in HD), themes and gamer pics for download, etc."

He adds: "In fact, my favorite part of issue #1 is the video version of our July issue's Gears of War "Epic Journey" feature, where we accompanied and filmed the Nightmare Armor Studios guys as they drove to Epic to surprise Mark Rein, CliffyB, and co. with the first replica Gears armor. If/when you download it after it goes up, that feature will be the kind of thing we'll be aiming for on a regular basis."]

GameSetNetwork: Mechner's The Prince Of Los Angeles

July 25, 2007 4:06 PM | Simon Carless

- Oop, this week has been hectic and I'm missing all kinds of chances to link other good stuff on Gamasutra, and Worlds In Motion, and Games On Deck, and all the other CMP Game Group sites, but here's one I wanted to do quickly - the interview with Prince Of Persia creator Jordan Mechner that we ran today on Gamasutra.

Mechner is quite fully immersed in Hollywood now, working on a Prince Of Persia movie with Jerry Bruckheimer, and he has some really interesting views on writing: "I think writing is really more of a collaborative effort, too, than what people get credit for, especially in Hollywood. The bigger question is: what is the story? What's the world of the movie, or the game? The writer's most important job -- more important than writing and choosing words and scene description -- is to provide the vision of what the thing is. It's a rare project in video games where the writer is the person who provides that vision of what this game is: why is this going to be fun to play? What's the player's experience going to be? What's the universe?"

He adds: "I think on games, the writer's role on a particular project can really vary from being almost like the old silent film writers. In silent films, they thought the writer's job was to write the words that go on the title cards. The job of actually deciding what happens in the movie was not done by the writer. It was done by the director, or the actors." So what - game writers are the Keystone Kops?

Indigo Prophecy - Where Gameplay Meets Story

July 25, 2007 8:02 AM | Simon Carless

- Those wacky folks at Grand Text Auto have been discussing the narrative in Indigo Prophecy, talking rather cogently about "...the relationship between gameplay and story" - there's also a second post with even more considered discussion and feedback on narrative.

Noah Wardrip-Fruin talks about David Cage's ideas in creating the intriguingly cult title: "Cage’s goals might be considered a less-risky version of the “interactive drama” vision that guides Façade: the gameplay can change the story in significant ways, but the system ensures the story retains an essential shape and pacing. In other words, the story becomes playable, rather than something that happens between moments of play."

And the end of the second post, he suggests: "The designers may want to create a moody, mysterious experience; a chaotic, free-for-all experience; an open, exploratory experience; or a tense, action-packed experience. In any case, what the game makes playable should be the elements that contribute to such an experience. The opening of Indigo Prophecy was largely like this. I await the story-focused game that continues as strongly as IP started." Thoughts?

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