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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

Opinion: E3 2007 - The Games You Should Care About

July 21, 2007 4:04 PM | Simon Carless

- Well, perhaps I can't be canonical about this, but since I was out of the country for E3, I just went through the 1200+ videos (!) in the GameTrailers.com E3 section, trying to tease out some of the lesser-seen titles and events - and/or those games which make a lot more sense in video, as opposed to screenshot form! There really was both quality and diversity at this year's show, even if there weren't as many genuine reveals as previous large-scale E3 events.

Anyhow, here's the 10 or so of E3 videos that made me stop and think a little - bear in mind that they're filtered through GSW's normal indie/unconventional angles, though, and it's not like we're hating on the obviously 'accomplished' blockbusters like Halo 3, Heavenly Sword, or Mass Effect:

- Sony's Patapon for PSP, a 2D sidescrolling action-strategy title, is another one of the highly unconventional but intriguing titles that SCEJ seems to produce on a regular basis, seemingly unfettered from commercial worries somewhere within the heart of the beast. Great Flash-style art, too.

- Nintendo's Wii Fit for Wii (that's an in-person demo, also see the official trailer) is obvious, but continues Nintendo's trend of finding naturalistic ways to control onscreen action. And they've done it again - the concept makes a lot more sense when you see people playing and enjoying it (or faux-enjoying it, in the case of the official trailer!)

- - Q Games' Pixeljunk Racers for PS3 we've already mentioned, but the gameplay trailer for the top-down Championship Sprint-style PSN game gives a much better hint as to the gameplay, which I _think_ is based around lane-changing and acceleration rather than steering. If so, neat idea from Dylan Cuthbert and those other Japanese mavericks.

- Relentless/Sony's Buzz! The Mega Quiz for PS2 is the first in Sony's smash European quiz series to have a planned debut in the States - as GameStop has both it and Buzz Jr. Jungle Party scheduled for an October release in North America. But honestly, SCEA, haven't you dropped the ball a bit titanically here? All of SCEE's casually oriented PS2 games (SingStar, Buzz) could have been much more forcefully localized and released in the States months/years ago - and now Microsoft is debuting Scene It? with packed-in controllers that look awfully Buzz-like. Doh.

- SCEJ's Echochrome for PS3/PSP (below) is another powerfully interesting title from Sony Japan, this time for PSP and PlayStation Network, and concentrating on using visual illusions to create puzzle gameplay, not a million miles away from the Super Paper Mario/Crush paradigm. The Escher-esque art and inspiration is alluring, and it's another example of how Sony is doing great first/second party work from a quirkier point of view.

- - 5th Cell/THQ's Drawn To Life for DS has been shown for a while, but I got a much better sense of it from this trailer. And it's... I'm not sure, interesting but ultimately a little disappointing for me, since I thought that the drawing elements were a little better integrated into gameplay. As it is, it's exciting to have created the main character through a neat art package, but it's largely cosmetic, and the actual gameplay seems a little 'generic SNES platformer'. Still, we'll see!

- EA LA/Electronic Arts' Blocks for Wii is the first fruit of the much-publicized Steven Spielberg collaboration, and while it's not the one everyone is waiting for (the Doug Church collaboration that's trying for true emotional depth), it's an... interesting concept that doesn't immediately scream 'from the guy who bought you Jaws!' Either Spielberg's detachment from the game business has helped him come up with something original, or it's going to be a bit of an oddity - and I'm not convinced by the visual presentation, thus far. Still, I'm interested.

Finally, one of the things that stirred me the most of the videos wasn't actual game footage, but Steven Van Zandt's appearance to discuss Harmonix's Rock Band, for which he is serving as the Chair for the Advisory Board for song choice. Van Zandt is a trailblazer for rock music of any era through his Underground Garage radio show, quite apart from his history with Springsteen, of course. His comments are notable because he's a genuine fan and expert who talks eloquently about why the Guitar Hero/Rock Band movement is great for the music biz, as well as gamers. I think he's right, since I'm excited to buy the playable version of Who's Next, for example, even though I would probably never purchase the album standalone. Sorry, Neversoft, but how much cooler is that than Slash?

[Ah, and not to leave them out, here's three bonus trailers for games that I care about, but you all know about Namco's Beautiful Katamari for Xbox 360, still interesting enough sans Takahashi, Jon Mak's Everyday Shooter for PS3, and Blue Tongue/THQ's De Blob for Wii, as adapted from the IGF Student Showcase winner with some aplomb.]

Controlling The Future With New Game Styles

July 21, 2007 8:03 AM | Simon Carless

- I keep returning to the positively baleful-looking Nayan Ramachandran's blog HDR Lying, and his latest excellent editorial, from the Japanese-based school teacher and gaming acolyte, is called 'Controlling the Future: Touching the Game Space in the Coming Generation'.

The introduction explains: "The fight to create the new innovative control method for the future of video games has never been so heated as it is right now. With Nintendo introducing the DS in 2005 [EDIT: As noted by JVM in the comments, Holiday 2004 in most territories], and then the Wii in last year’s final months, developers are starting to wrap their heads around new ways to control and interact with the games they create."

However, as Nayan goes on to note: "The dangerous future we face is one that’s already starting the rear its ugly head. Companies see the success of the Wii, and port Playstation 2 and PSP games to the console, slap on gimmicky gestural control, and push it into the market. Others make games for the DS, and instead of designing the game with the DS’ capabilities in mind, add useless second screen functionality, or touch screen control that either does not fully work, or is completely unnecessary."

A fair comment indeed - anyone got good examples of hideously stuck-on gestural/stylus controls for Nintendo format games?

Robotology Gives Us Game Physics 101 Tutorial

July 21, 2007 12:04 AM | Simon Carless

- The folks at N creator Metanet Software have been posting some absolutely fascinating, uber-technical blog pieces recently, and the latest is an in-depth look at creating the physics for their upcoming title Robotology, posted in two parts.

It's explained of their plans to create a suitable complex physics system for their indie title: "Thankfully, Mare came up with a fantastic plan: rather than scrambling about randomly, we would make a list of technologies which were known to solve the problems we were facing, and then systematically try to implement each one until we found something that worked. If nothing worked, we would revise our design to fit with whatever our technology could handle. The genius of this plan, amazingly, was that it was a plan: a nice, simple recipe for accomplishing a goal."

You should be aware that it then goes into insane detail about different ways to set up game physics solvers, but come on, the second post has insane paragraphs like this: "The point is, “Jakobsen + Stick-Based Rigid Bodies + SomeFantasticMagicGoesHere” was an oft-pursued, ever-elusive goal around here, which led to a few successes; aside from Jamie’s method, we also had some success implementing an alternate method of collision response (the method in (1a) only works for triangles, not for sticks) based on an obscure thesis written by Jeroen Wagenaar — who worked with Jakobsen on his method." What's not to like?

The Chemistry Of Game Design

July 20, 2007 4:01 PM | Simon Carless

- So, I contacted Daniel Cook of the excellent Lost Garden blog a few weeks back and asked him if he'd start writing for Gamasutra, and the second fruit of his labor, called 'The Chemistry Of Game Design' is up now.

Cook, who has previously worked with Epic Games, Anark and Microsoft, also contributed 'The Circle of Life: An Analysis of the Game Product Lifecycle' to us a few weeks back, and this new article has a fascinating hook:

"Every time I sit down with a finely crafted title such as Tetris or Super Mario Brothers, I catch hints of a concise and clearly defined structure behind the gameplay. It is my belief that a highly mechanical and predictable heart, built on the foundation of basic human psychology, beats at the core of every single successful game. What would happen if we codified those systems and turned them into a practical technique for designing games?"

Cook goes on to suggest a concept of 'skill chains', strung together to understand better how a player interacts with a game, concluding: "As a tool, I’ve found that skill chain diagrams dramatically improve my understanding of how a game works, where it fails and where there are clear opportunities for improvement." So... how scientific should game design get?

Takahashi's New Game Stretches Into View

July 20, 2007 8:02 AM | Simon Carless

- I believe I was somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean when this was announced, so excuse the slowness, but Keita Takahashi's new PS3 game, Nobi Nobi Boy, has been revealed, and... well, we know almost nothing about the new one from the Katamari Damacy dapper don, hurrah!

As Kotaku's [EDIT: Michael McWhertor, woops!] notes: "The game, which is loosely translated at "Stretchy Stretchy Boy" or machine translated as "Unrestricted Boy", doesn't have a release date, nor did Namco Bandai reveal the game's genre. Given Takahashi's creativity, I'm going to assume that Nobi Nobi Boy will probably not adhere to any currently known genre."

Another report on the title, which was revealed at Sony's PlayStation Premiere event, comes from GameSpot, which notes: "The game is apparently still in its early stages of development, but the audience was shown a concept video where a very long and squiggly, green caterpillar-like character wriggled around very naturally through the screen for 30 seconds. [Namco Bandai exec] Unozawa explained that Takahashi has been thinking about the Nobinobi Boy game concept for the past two years, but it couldn't have become a reality without the physics calculation capabilities of the PS3." I'm intrigued already - though I wish they'd stop flogging the 'physics only possible with the Cell!' angle just a tad.

GameSetHelp: Anyone Attending Develop, Leipzig?

July 20, 2007 12:07 AM | Simon Carless

- Well, the last call for Gamasutra correspondents went spectacularly well, since we got a Korean writer, Japan-based developer, and some Casual Connect coverage out of it. So it's time for another call for help, this one European-based.

There's a couple of conferences coming up that we will be getting some coverage at, thanks to our European columnist Jon Jordan, but we could do with further write-ups from (especially notes from sessions that we shape into articles!)

These are next week's Develop Conference in Brighton, and August's GCDC event in Leipzig, which runs alongside the Games Convention there. Oh, and EIEF, come to that. You can get a press pass if you cover for us, obviously.

You don't have to be a super skilled writer, necessarily, to help us out (though full write-ups are glady accepted to!) - just an efficient notetaker who can email us in decent time, and send over decent summaries and quotes from the main sessions. Rewards for interested parties include magazine subscriptions, actual cash money, and, if you're really lucky, a Gizmondo poster featuring Colors. Mail us at editors@gamesetwatch.com if you can help out.

Weather? It's In The Game!

July 19, 2007 4:00 PM | Simon Carless

- Unlikely press releases are a staple of GameSetWatch, of course, and here's both an odd and cute one: "Yesterday was the highly anticipated release of NCAA Football ’08 by EA Sports--- and now the game play is more realistic than ever thanks to The Weather Channel Interactive."

Oh yeah? "As you consider a product review or update your coverage of this release, you should note that the latest version of this college football video game uses up to the minute information from The Weather Channel Interactive (TWCI) to reflect accurate, real-time weather conditions at NCAA stadiums."

"For instance, if a winter storm threatens the Northeast, the Eagles of Boston College will play through the snow. Hurricane threatens Florida? See how the Gators field goal kicker deals with 50 mph winds. Through a deal with EA Sports, the sporting division of Electronic Arts, The Weather Channel will provide real-time weather to the game via the Internet."

That's actually kinda fun. Here's more specifics: "TWCI provides a custom weather data feed to EA Sports for each stadium location. Every time a player with a live Internet connection loads a new game, they have the option to choose real-time weather from TWCI. The video game will then use the current conditions at the selected stadium to create the weather experience for that game." I think lots more games would benefit from real-time weather - suggestions?

Column: The Aberrant Gamer - 'Sundering the Mind'

July 19, 2007 8:04 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.]

Konami’s survival-horror bacchanal Silent Hill 2 relies on dynamics of aberrant psychology as its most pivotal element. All of the Silent Hill games do, to some extent—but entering the mind of a man in his own private Hell has never been so stark, so unsettling, or so delightful as it is with protagonist James Sunderland. We’re introduced to James in the opening, when he receives a letter from his deceased wife, Mary—supposedly dead of fatal illness three years prior, summoning him to the town of Silent Hill, where she’ll be waiting in their “special place”, a hotel room where they once vacationed together.

Of course, this is illogical. The town of Silent Hill, its crumbling borders preventing escape, its evolving scenery defying reason, plays the role of a biblical Limbo in these games; the protagonists are inserted into the disorienting nightmare to confront symbols of their inner darkness. Mary’s impossible invitation, then—via a letter whose writing grows fainter, fading as the story progresses—is more of an invitation from James’ subconscious to explore the events of his past. We know—though we hope against hope—that Mary just can’t really be waiting for us in Silent Hill.

But could James, who feels himself a grieving widower, truthfully be a mercy killer? Or is it something even worse?

The History Of (Meier's Own Brand Of) Civilization

July 19, 2007 12:03 AM | Simon Carless

- Something incredibly GSW-able over at big sister site Gamasutra is Benj Edwards' comprehensive history of classic Microprose strategy game Civilization, which is the latest in the series profiling the Digital Game Canon titles, and spoke in depth to both Sid Meier and Bruce Shelley about the seminal title.

As Edwards notes in his intro: "Few games are as addictively fun and as infinitely re-playable as Civilization, a turn-based historical strategy game where a player single-handedly guides the development of a civilization over the course of millennia, from the stone age to the space age... Civilization's designer, Sid Meier, somehow distilled, condensed, and codified the rules of humanity's post-agriculture development into a three-megabyte IBM PC computer game, with shockingly good results."

And actually, due to a slight layout error, you also get a separate in-depth Sid Meier interview within the same article (it was meant to be a separate feature for a later date, woops!), with some further excellent historical information, including this on the genesis and germination of Civilization itself:

"I think we were really impressed with Railroad Tycoon, how you could have a game that included an economic component -- actually building something, actually operating the trains, and some competition with other rail barons. We were ready to try a game that combined a lot of different pieces in an interesting way: the diplomacy, the economics, the military, and the building. Putting all that together was, I think, really where the fun of Civilization appeared. You were doing all these different things, and you felt you were this great leader."

Why Has Dungeon Maker Slipped Your Mind?

July 18, 2007 4:03 PM | Simon Carless

- Over at the Game Design Advance blog, which is actually an NYU class weblog, apparently, there's a long, fun post extolling PSP game Dungeon Maker: Hunting Ground, which sneaked out late last month to mixed reviews and almost total obscurity, but looks like it's worth checking out.

He explains of the XSeed-published title: "Have there been any other games which involve building your own levels, piece-by-piece, and then stalking through them yourself to hunt for monsters and treasures, Gauntlet-style? I think not. Sure, there’s been titles like Molyneux’s Dungeon Keeper which allowed players to design levels and attract bait NPCs, but they didn’t allow you to actually jump in and roam around those levels yourself." [Feel free to point some out now, of course.]

He also has some interesting comments about how Grand Theft Auto could benefit from the game's concepts (!): "After riding along with Dungeon Maker for a month, I think that the Rockstar people could learn a lesson or two from this game, albeit in small ways– if you’re going to build a criminal empire, after all, wouldn’t it be fun to actually build a few things for real? I mean, you’re in organized crime, for crying out loud!... Crime can be a big boost to a city’s economy (just look at Miami in the 80’s), so wouldn’t it be interesting if you could try to legitimize yourself as a kind of Donald Trump and erect skyscrapers across the landscape?"

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