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About GameSetWatch

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

Alex Handy Sez: 'Whither The Game Beta?'

July 25, 2007 12:02 AM | Simon Carless

- [The fifth in a ragged series of 'Alex Handy Sez' missives, in which the former Game Developer editor and current Gamasutra contributor riffs on something or other, focuses on the evolution of Beta versions of video games.]

For game collectors, the skies are only getting brighter. But for us journalists and some lucky collectors, there is a potentially collectible item that poses us with a quandary: What of the betas?

Let me lay the ground work here. The NES collectible market is exploding. The Atari market already proved that prototype cartridges and unreleased games are the biggest bread winners for hardcore collectors such as Frank and myself. This is understandable, as unreleased games are only around in small quantities. Smaller quantity, higher demand. Higher demand, higher prices.

For the games industry of the 70's and 80's, prototypes came in the form of big cabinets with no marquees, bare circuit boards with handwritten notes, and blank cartridges with crude nametags. Therefore, it's easy ascertain the veracity of a proposed historical artifact. Sure, I could go down to the ACCRC and pull out some old circuit-board and write "Radarscope" on it, then pawn it off on an idiot on eBay. But if any of these items comes to Sotheby's in 2084, a historian trained in the ways of Electronics could easily tell if the pin-outs were properly aligned for the equipment of the day, or if the chips are all correct, or if the cartridge has the right handwriting on it.

Point is, fakes are easier to spot in the the prototype and beta market of the early videogame period. And I have yet to see anyone offering up floppies and claiming they contain beta code for Super Mario Brothers. [EDITOR'S NOTE: Although, as Lost Levels points out, there are certainly bootleg NES carts semi-masquerading as Betas nowadays, boo!]

But in the 90's, we begin to get into a tricky spot for the beta/prototype market. With the advent of the laser-read-disc systems, we're seeing 0-barrier-to-entry fraud potential. Instead of having to construct a crude NES game from assembly then loading it onto dummy hardware, Playstation fraudsters could easily burn something onto a blank CD, then scrawl "jumpingflash release candidate 1" on it.

Fraud, however, is not my key bugaboo for the post cartridge beta/prototype/unreleased market. It is the overall effect that such potential illegitimacy has on the market for beta software as collectible. Uncertainty aside, we're now in an era when the collectability of pre-release software rapidly descends to zero due to the artifact being basically nothing but bits.

I bring all of this up because I have, in my possession, some juicy betas of years past. Working at games magazines means you'll get a hold of preview builds. Sometimes the companies want them back. Sometimes they don't. You can't sell them on eBay before, during, or immediately after the game comes on sale, as that is illegal, and most companies claim ownership of the discs in perpetuity. So you hold onto them, thinking that some day, it will be something similar to an animation cell, or a prop from a famous movie.

So what happens in the Xbox Live era? When all these systems are offering games up as a subscription service, like GameTap, what then? Are betas done for? Will anyone burn this stuff to discs any more?

And this says nothing about the actual market for the hardware on which games were built. Many years ago, working at the ACCRC (A computer recycling Center), I had the misfortune of condemning an SGI workstation to death. This workstation had come in from Electronic Arts, where, I was told, it had been used to do some of the art work for the Road Rash series. Now, that computer has been recycled. Good for the environment. But what would it have been worth at auction in 50 years?

What does the future collectible market hold for these items? Was the Dreamcast the last collectable Beta-viable platform? Is the physical entity the collectable, or is the code a part of it? What about the hardware? If so, then is there any point to archiving historic game code, or historic machines? And, my god, man! Where would we put it all!?

America's Army, The... Arcade Machine?

July 24, 2007 4:02 PM | Simon Carless

- Arcade Renaissance has passed along the interesting news that U.S. Government-sponsored shooter America's Army is now getting an arcade version, as part of a partnership with arcade game publisher Global VR.

According to the official press release: "Working hand-in-hand with U.S. Army Subject Matter Experts and with the full cooperation of units of the U.S. Army, the coin-operated AMERICA'S ARMY is a realistic and engaging game centered on exciting training exercises, and includes a significant amount of authentic Army videos and other information designed to immerse the player in the Army culture."

Looks like the Unreal Engine-utilizing game is probably an enhanced/tweaked lightgun-using version of the PC title, and the game's producer Mike Kruse comments: “AMERICA'S ARMY is an arcade style training game based on actual Army training exercises designed to challenge Soldiers to hone their skills. Players are rewarded for teamwork, proper use of the Rules of Engagement, accuracy, and target identification... Being a veteran myself, I can honestly report that AMERICA'S ARMY is a highly authentic depiction of Army training exercises and the Army's unique organizational culture…down to the drill sergeant who is constantly by your side to bring out the best performance from each player.” SIR YES SIR!

De La Pena Exposes Those Pesky Code Monkeys

July 24, 2007 8:04 AM | Simon Carless

- Over at the Kevin Smith-funded pop culture site Quick Stop Entertainment, I spotted a fun interview with Adam De La Pena discussing his G4 animated series Code Monkeys, as previously discussed on GSW.

Actually, that last GameSetWatch post even provoked a comment from Schadenfreude Interactive's Karsden, who insisted: "Note to Hollywood: We at Schadenfreude Interactive would like to get our own television show. I would like to be played by Rutger Hauer, although he is perhaps a little old." Which is possibly funnier than the interview, but not to derail things too badly...

Anyhow, I haven't watched Code Monkeys, and the Gamasutra piece on it saw our own Jane Pinckard highly not impressed with the promotion blurb, but De La Pena does at least seem like a game geek in the piece, which is endearing:

"Dave Jaffe couldn’t have been nicer. Dave literally said, “Oh, I think I have time on Saturday…I don’t know if I can do it Saturday…” The last e-mail he sent me was, “I think I’ll be in town on Saturday.” I was just working on Saturday with my friend and he just shows up and says, “Want to record now?” Uh, yeah, great, thanks for coming…Steve Wozniak was relatively easy, the Red Vs. Blue guys…they’ve been great. I mean, we’re going to have a lot of other guest stars but those are the real guest stars for us. We’re more about going after the video game designers than we are going after Molly Ringwald." Can anyone report on the quality of the show?

@Play: 'A Journey to Table Mountain, Part 1'

July 24, 2007 12:03 AM |

Roguelike column thumbnail ['@ Play' is a bi-weekly column by John Harris which discusses the history, present and future of the Roguelike dungeon exploring genre.]

Last time, we showed some scenes from the SNES Torneko Mysterious Dungeon. The screenshots came from multiple games, but I think they illustrated what the game is like nicely. This time we're going to do the same thing with Shiren the Wanderer, the second Mysterious Dungeon game, and still a high point of the series. But this isn't a pieced-together narrative from multiple games. Everything you are about to see happened in one game, and a long one at that. Think of it as being like Let's Play, but with more death!

Actually, as an experiment I started a new file and started playing from scratch to see how far I could get. I didn't have the benefit of upgraded towns, or the "helpers" you can eventually earn. I didn't have the benefit of Staves of Bufoo, an extremely useful item that not only instakills arbitrary foes but turns it into meat you can gain special powers from. And most importantly, I didn't have the use of the equipment from my cleared game; when you win, you get to keep the things you won with, making the next game much easier if you choose to use them.

TIGSource Finds Indie Goodness In Slaps, Real Lives

July 23, 2007 4:02 PM | Simon Carless

- While I attempt to select pearls from swine across the entire gamut of gaming, Derek and his compadres at The Independent Gaming Source are still doing a formidable job for solely indie games, and there's a couple of new games they've pointed out that I'm particularly taken by.

Firstly, there's info on 'Rose And Camelia', a Japanese doujin title of some craziness - as pointed out: "What can I say about Rose and Camelia other than that it’s a girl-slapping game from the creators of La Mulana!... I love how insanely creepy and awesome your opponents get as you get further. The general theme / atmosphere of this one is spot on." Awesome.

Secondly, we have info on the decidedly different 'Real Lives', which is "...a “life simulator” that puts you in the shoes of someone, somewhere in the world. Who you are, where you’re born, and to who are based on real life statistics, as well as the random events that may happen to you." Derek adds: "The game, as simple as it is, is incredibly compelling, and very sobering. In my first game, I was quite fortunate, having been born in a middle class family in Slovakia. I died at age 61 of rheumatoid arthritis as a well-to-do police captain with three healthy daughters."

[Oh, and just to prove how buzzworthy indie gaming is getting - there's a Yahoo! article on indie games that was actually the lead story on the front page of Yahoo.com on Sunday - both tipsters and my wife spotted that one, so thanks to, uhh, both of them!]

Sirlin's Playing To Win, Reading For Free

July 23, 2007 8:04 AM | Simon Carless

- We've previously printed an extract from game designer David Sirlin's excellent (and just slightly surreal) self help/competitive gaming book 'Playing To Win' on Gamasutra, so it's great to see that he's now made the entire thing available for free, according to a post on his site.

Sirlin explains: "It might be a good idea to link to the Playing to Win Index in the beginner section of whatever gaming community you're a part of. I know how tiring it can be to say all that stuff over and over to new (or old!) players, which is why I wrote it down in the first place." And the psychological and motivational threads in the book are indeed very well expressed for those wanting to get very good at a particular game, sport, or part or life.

Still, as he also notes: "Yes, it's all free. If you find it helpful or interesting, I hope you'll either leave a donation and/or buy a physical copy of the book, too. Writing a book--even a short one--is hard and time-consuming. If you got any value out of it and you take that extra step to support my efforts we'll call it a fair trade and it will give me some encouragement to write another book." Will that one be about Playing To Lose? [Via tipster and IC both at once!]

Chronicle Books To Chronicle (!) Mega Man, Street Fighter

July 23, 2007 12:04 AM | Simon Carless

- Happened to be reading the Chronicle Books blog today, and noticed a new post discussing their planned collaboration with Capcom to do detail histories of the Street Fighter and Mega Man franchises in book form in Fall 2008 - neat!

These folks also put out the 'I Am 8-Bit' book, and as assistant editor Matt Robinson explains: "It just so happens that both the Mega Man and Street Fighter franchises celebrated their twentieth anniversaries in 2007, so we’re publishing a compact “complete history” of each in Fall 2008. From napkin-scrawled idea to production to million-selling success, both series’ histories will be told in extreme detail in original text and interviews with the developers, animators, and other industry folks. We’re going to pack in tons of art, too–early concept stuff as well as memorable character sprites."

He adds: "My favorite part may be the package itself, though–these are going to be paperbacks, but they’ll come in a [pictured] partial slipcase that looks like an original Nintendo cartridge sleeve. When I first saw the sample book concept pictured here, I felt like I was transported back to 1989!" Haha, pretty neat - though obviously a bit more relevant for Mega Man than for Street Fighter, which really started in the arcade. Still, I'm sure they will work that out - and it's good to see more book publishers getting excited about games.

Little Computer People - The EP, Not The Game!

July 22, 2007 4:08 PM | Simon Carless

- Nope, not the classic David Crane co-designed game that preceded The Sims - rather, it's The New Gamer checking out Anthony Rother's chiptune/electro EP called 'Little Computer People - The Remixes', and it's notable because of the retro computer visual content on the disc - which they've handily put up on YouTube.

As G.Turner notes of what's exciting: "It's definitely not the videos that come with the package, as they're slightly hokey (as you can see below – especially the Rother remix, although it's one of the better executed 'video remixes' I've seen). No, what I appreciate more than [this] is the Commodore 64-specific demo included on the disc."

Mm? "The demo is based on chiptune artisan Tero's contribution, the aptly named 'Tero's C64 Remix', and it serves mostly as a self-promotional piece for Rother's Psi49Net label, flashing the latest catalogue titles [YouTube link] and contact details to Tero's beat. And while the scaled and rotated pixel art that accompanies it is mildly pointless, it's still a much more imaginative effort than just slapping a few flyers and stickers into the CD case!"

[Oh, and this new 'Chiptunesday' effort by The New Gamer, which promises to "...take a look at a piece of music that's derived at least portions of its sound from video games" every Tuesday, has also covered the Game Boy-composed Klangstabil EP called 'Sprite Storage Format'. Neat.]

COLUMN: 'Game Mag Weaseling': Me And My Pamphlet

July 22, 2007 8:06 AM |

['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.]

egm.jpg

In the picture above, you can see all 12 issues EGM published in 1994 (left) compared to the magazine's twelve 2006 issues (right; multi-cover variations omitted). You can just ignore that pizza box in the background, if you don't mind.

In pretty much every net discussion on game mags, the first thing someone always mentions is "EGM used to be 400 pages! Now it's a pamphlet!" I think it'd be useful to explain why, since the answer's a lot more complex than "mags aren't popular anymore. (In fact, EGM's circulation today is about double what it was when it produced its largest-size issues in 1994-95, to say nothing of Game Informer.)

One of the many problems facing game mags these days -- and, by extension, tech-oriented mags in general -- is advertising. Namely, not much of it. As a very general rule, magazines need advertising to survive far more than they need readership. Companies try to bolster the readership of their magazines (via cheap subscriptions, free bonuses, distribution to dentists' waiting rooms, and so forth) mainly so they can attract advertisers.

Having lots of readers is a good thing, of course, but when you factor in all the postage and printing costs (and, if you're an "official" magazine, licensing fees) on top of editors' salaries and all that, the $14.95 you're paying for a subscription probably isn't covering the actual cost of getting those 12 issues to your mailbox.

However, advertisers have become more and more aware over the past decade that there's way more audience on the net than off it. That's where their ad money's been going, at a consistently accelerating rate -- across all industries, online advertising is an industry that grosses over $17 billion a year these days. The result? Game magazines get fewer advertisements, which means they have to cut out pages from each issues, which means fewer pages of content.

Game mags in the US used to consistently average over 160 pages. Four years ago, that average fell to 120. Now? All the game-mag issues dated August 2007 are 100 pages except for Game Informer, which manages 112 thanks to some non-endemic advertising form Honda and Old Spice. (This, despite the fact that the price of many mags has gone up by a dollar even as they lost 20 pages.)

The problem's even worse with vanilla computer mags, which lack the dedicated, hardcore, and (most important) money-spending readership most game mags enjoy. That's partly why PC Magazine lost 38.8% of its ad pages between March '06 and March '07, one of several issues that prompted long-time EIC Jim Louderback to step down a few days back. If you're some crazy software or hardware startup, there's not much point in advertising in PC -- it's much easier to build up buzz online and capitalize on that instead of paying out X thousand dollars in the hope that someone doesn't flip right past you.

The other problem? Arguably it's the post office. They keep on raising rates! It's terrible! So magazine publishers respond by using lighter paper -- and lighter paper is smaller, thinner paper. I mentioned this last week, but EGM (among other mags) doesn't use anywhere near the quality of paper stock their 1994 issues featured, and that's a major reason why magazines seem thin nowadays -- even if EGM was 400 pages today, the mag would still be thinner than a 400-page issue from ten years ago.

That, in a nutshell, is why mags seem like pamphlets nowadays. It's also part of the reason why launching a new game mag right now seems like such a ludicrous idea. Umm... straining to end this column on a positive note... hmm, hmm, hmm...

[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.]

Kokoromi Gets Experimental, Canadian, Profiled

July 22, 2007 12:04 AM | Simon Carless

- Last year, we covered the Canadian collective called Kokoromi, which put on a neat experimental gamefest during the Montreal Game Summit last year - the games are viewable and mainly downloadable at their GAMMA page.

Anyhow, my esteemed CMP Game Group co-worker Jane Pinckard has pointed out, on her Game Girl Advance weblog, that Kokoromi is profiled in This Magazine this month - it's noted in the piece: "Interested participants are mostly people who work for the big developers but crave a more creative outlet. The group aims to help people develop their talents outside the nine-to-five world."

And, as Jane explains: "What I love about Kokoromi is that they explore the notion that games can be used to make art - that they are a medium for self-expression; and by that I don't mean projects like the excellent iam8bit, in which games are evoked in the service of more traditional visual arts; I mean that the gameplay itself is treated as a potential artform - that interactivity is key to the experience." Indeed - wonder if there's something coming up for Montreal this year? [UPDATE: Kokoromi's 'Fish' says in the comments: "gamma256 coming late November! details coming soon."]

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