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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

GameSetPic: Boom Boom Rocket's Nod To London's Skyline

July 18, 2007 2:06 PM | Simon Carless

Now here's a nice piece of randomness that's related to the Pogo.com and Bizarre Creations-developed Xbox Live Arcade title Boom Boom Rocket, and a particular piece of architecture in it.

Anyhow, as you play the game, you may have spotted a particularly weird elongated egg-shaped building as part of the skyline that you fly around while doing your rhythm action. (Try as I might, I can't find a picture or video online that shows it clearly - if anyone can, please mention it in comments!) Anyhow, as I was wandering around London last week, I spotted the very same building, or an approximation thereof:

Well known to Londoners, the building is called 30 St. Mary Axe, aka 'The Gherkin', and "..is 180 m (590 ft) tall, making it the second-tallest building in the City of London, after Tower 42, and the sixth-tallest in London as a whole." Although developers Bizarre Creations are located in the North of England, they obviously decided it would be a nice shape to reference. It really does feel a bit War Of The Worlds, incidentally, like a gigantic alien egg has landed in London. [Ta to Jon, I think he mentioned this first?]

Oh, and while we're talking about game references to, uhh, 'The Gherkin', Wikipedia also mentions: "The PlayStation 2 game The Getaway 2: Black Monday used the building as the fictional headquarters of the Skobel Group, and it is featured prominently in the game."

[UPDATE]: A tip of the hat to Edelman/Microsoft's Arne Meyer, who went above and beyond the call of duty by locating and screen-capturing the virtual building in question, as seen in Boom Boom Rocket for Xbox Live Arcade. Obviously, it's surrounded by bigger skyscrapers than the real-life version, but you get the general idea, yay:

Crawford's Storytron Zooming Towards 'Reality'

July 18, 2007 8:09 AM | Simon Carless

- Indygamer was kind enough to point out that Chris Crawford's much-fabled new Storytron system has gone Beta, albeit with some bug-hacking still in progress.

As blogger Paul Eres notes: "For those not familiar with Chris Crawford, he founded the GDC, wrote the first book on game design, and created successful games for early personal computers, the Atari 2600, and the Mac, only to eventually leave game development for the more experimental enterprise of interactive storytelling."

Eres adds: "Storytron may be difficult to understand. And, lacking a significantly sized demo storyworld it's hard for the casual observer to see what makes this engine any different from real-time multiple choice games like Masq, but I think it's something to keep an eye on or even play around with."

I think the point here is meant to be a Web 2.0-ish creation and exchange of stories in a much more fluid and complex manner, and it'll be interesting to see if it's possible, given the tortuous history of the project. Looks like many bugs are still being worked on.

Why Aren't There More Good Bad Games?

July 18, 2007 12:14 AM | Simon Carless

- Over at Wired, Clive Thompson's latest column is called 'These Games Are So Bad, It's Not Funny', and it examines a rather interesting question: "Why isn't there such a thing as "B game" -- a game so bad it's good?"

He explains: "Certainly, the phenomenon exists in every other form of entertainment. Everyone loves B movies -- films that are so atrociously acted and scripted that they become perversely enjoyable. There's also plenty of B television. (For two seasons I religiously followed Pam Anderson's show V.I.P., mostly for the odd joy of tallying up the clichés and acting so wooden it was nearly Brechtian.)"

But no such luck for games? Thompson thinks: "B games don't exist because a game isn't something you watch; it's something you do. It's impossible to distance yourself from the badness." Hm... actually, Clive, I propose that there's an equivalent, and it's the relatively playable game that has a gorgeously stereotypical concept/plot.

For me, this is particularly the case for European-developed games using American urban themes - for example, Remedy's Max Payne series and the fabled Colors for Gizmondo (which yes, we've played). Opinions?

Seattle Weekly Takes On Game Testing

July 17, 2007 4:04 PM | Simon Carless

- The alt.weekly still tends to produce some of the best longform journalism around, and the Game QA Blog is kind enough to point to a new Seattle Weekly article looking in-depth at video game testing, thanks to a reporter who signed up as a tester - and it's an awesome piece.

As the reporter explains: "The "dream job" of being a video game tester may sound like a way to get paid for doing exactly what you'd choose to do in the middle of the afternoon on your own living-room sofa, but the reality is very different. To find out how different, I spent a couple of weeks at Volt [aka VMC], a Redmond company that is the country's largest independent video game tester. Hundreds of testers work at Nintendo and Microsoft during crunch times. More than 50 smaller Seattle-area video game developers—like Surreal, Valve, and Zipper—employ anywhere from five to 20 testers each. But when it's time to contract out some of the most grunt-worthy testing tasks, companies call Volt."

So, there's no gigantic revelations in there, but some great on-the-ground info - from personal portraits of the folks involved, info on the current wages ($8.25 per hour for the lowest level VMC testers) to the swift turnover and the relatively draconian enforcement tactics of the company. Oh, and, of course, the fact that testing games really isn't that fun, a lot of the time.

Actually, we've covered testing as a route into the game biz on our GameCareerGuide.com educational site, and it's definitely an increasingly rough slog through the ranks nowadays. It's especially difficult, in my opinion, to get a leg up to development at places like VMC, where game development doesn't happen in-house. But it's possible, FWIW. Anyhow, great article.

Inside The Street Fighter/Poker Crossover

July 17, 2007 8:04 AM | Simon Carless

- The world of professional poker is fascinating at the best of times, and there's been crossover into poker from other geek worlds before - David Kushner's excellent book Jonny Magic & The Card Shark Kids is subtitled "How a Gang of Geeks Beat the Odds and Stormed Las Vegas", and deals with Magic: The Gathering players' poker success.

But now Shoryuken.com is trumpeting large that fighting game player Hevad 'Rain' Khan has made the final table at the gigantic World Series Of Poker in Las Vegas. Looks like Khan has played both fighting games and Starcraft at high levels, actually - one report indicates he was clocked playing Starcraft at 500 apm's (actions per minute), and he plays 26 tables at once in online poker.

Also, there's a great quote from Khan in an MSNBC article: "We’ve kind of found a way to mold our adolescence of thriving through video game competition into poker. So it’s competitive, but we can still be kids and we can still live our lives, kind of be animals in a way. At the same time we can make so much money that we can become independent."

Mind you, poker site Bodog thinks the video game angle is less interesting than the craziness angle: "Khan's skill is the least interesting thing about him. The real story here seems to be that Khan is insane. He recently knocked out Adam White to take the chip lead. As soon as he won the hand he screamed and put his chair on his head and said, "Do you like my new hat? Does it look good?"" Either way, there's probably some good articles/books in this.

Game Criticism - Is Scoring Accuracy A Good Thing?

July 16, 2007 4:16 PM | Simon Carless

- Over at the New York Times, Seth Schiesel asks an interesting question about game criticism, given that a UBS survey reveals the relatively unsurprising fact that "top-rated games sell a lot more copies than bad ones."

What he asks, simply enough, is that "...if you look at film and popular music, for instance, there is almost no correlation between what critics say and what the public buy" - so therefore: "Are gamers actually more discerning than consumers of other media? Or is it just that game critics have more in common with game players than film and music reviewers do with the unwashed masses? And is this good or bad for the creative health of video games?"

This is a massively complex question, well-researched by the NYT writer, and I think the most interesting part of it is this comment from Schiesel: "It is worth pointing out that the only game among last year’s Top 10 sellers with a Metacritic score less than 80 was Brain Age, the mental-exercise software from Nintendo meant to appeal to users much older than the typical gamer."

So, does it look like the 'blind spot' for game reviewers (where the audience's enjoyment far outstrips critical reception) is casual games? I rather think so - especially given that a lot of major PC casual games don't even get reviewed by the majority of critics.

The Escapist Redesigns... Closer To Reality?

July 16, 2007 8:03 AM | Simon Carless

- Time to point out some changes at The Escapist, where Julianne Greer has announced another major site redesign as part of the site's two-year anniversary - following a 2006 redesign which further de-emphasized the PDF-styled magazine layout, which never really caught on with advertisers (or enough readers to attract advertisers).

What's particularly fascinating for me is to see The Escapist's high-end print attitude to online production, complete with multiple dedicated artists and more edit/copy edit passes than we do for the magazine, hit a bit of a brick wall - here's a post from The Escapist's producer noting: "Working 'outside the box' was very difficult. We noticed it immediately in our production costs, dedicated manpower, and difficulty getting sponsors."

Given that the site is paying $250 per 1000 words for features from external contributors, has published 1 million words so far (!), and has a fairly large amount of in-house editors, art staff, etc, you can work out why the change was made. (For added reference, a recent comment by Alex Macris also reveals The Escapist's ad rates: "You can purchase a skyscraper, medium rectangle, or leaderboard for about $3-$6 per thousand views. One of the large interstitial ads costs $2,000 per issue.")

Mind you, I think parent company the Themis Group is broadly on the right track now, mixing up longer features in more web-friendly formats with news (wonder if they're still spending as much on production?) But I have to admit to being a bit irked by the borderline holier-than-thou 'we're saving the industry through our QUALITY' attitude, when The Escapist was clearly bleeding money. So what - it's 'outside the box', not needlessly extravagant? I guess they can spend their money how they want, though!

What I would love to see is more quality longform game journalism on the Web. So I'm not sure why it's easy for me to get baited by The Escapist. Possibly because there are still too many slightly pretentious, borderline rambling pieces, and too many writers allowed to get away with too much in the name of satisfying their own (often prodigous) virtuousity? And the weekly themed format is still deluging me with many similarly themed articles, when I want to read perhaps one of them.

Having said all that, I'd better end with highlighting two recent Escapist articles I enjoyed. Firstly, Jason Della Rocca does some genuine, good analysis on internal vs. external IP, although again, I find it needlessly judgmental against licensed IP, especially for someone running an industry association which should be fairly evenhanded. A good mix of licensed and original IP will ensure that major publishers don't crash and burn - see Majesco's near-death for a great example of why this is the case.

Secondly, Allen Varney is the most consistently readable and smart of all The Escapists' contributors, despite some controversy - and is at least straightforward, for pity's sake - and his interview with Magic The Gathering creator Richard Garfield is a model of well-researched rigor. Bravo, that man - more of this, please!

Dr Who Video Game? Just Say Yes!

July 16, 2007 12:09 AM | Simon Carless

- MattG at Press The Buttons is completely right when he gleefully proclaims 'What This Country Really Needs, Right Now, Is A Doctor Who Game' - and really, this is true for any country you might happen to be in at this precise moment in time.

He further explains: "I'd love to see a modern console game focusing around the Tenth Doctor (as this generation of the character is known) and his human traveling companions. The game could use a new story crafted with the aid of the show's prolific writers or re-enact memorable moments from previous episodes. Either is fine just as long as I get to face down a Dalek or dodge the Toclafane. Better yet, how about a Nintendo Wii-specific version that casts the Wii remote itself as the Doctor's trusty sonic screwdriver."

Heartily agreed - unfortunately, the show (which is currently on the Sci Fi Channel in the U.S., in the early process of its third revitalized season) just isn't big enough in North America to persuade a major player to sign up and make the game - though some lower-end PS2 games have been made just to appeal to European audiences, of course.

But I've been wondering for a while - why not consider XBLA/PSN games based on the license, if they're developed by the BBC itself or a close associate? That way, licensing costs wouldn't be prohibitive and we'd still get some kind of video game in which Daleks hover up stairs. Oh my.

GameSetNetwork: Tumultuous E3 Terribilism

July 15, 2007 4:04 PM | Simon Carless

- One more poke at the E3 coverage then, since the Gamasutra folks updated their coverage later on Friday night with some more decent exclusive stories from the whirlwind media conf in Los Angeles:

- Sony exec Peter Dille caused quite a stir by going on the offensive against Microsoft in a Gamasutra interview excerpt: "With the Xbox 360 you’ve got an inconsistent design, some have a hard drive, some don’t, and none of them have Blu-Ray, and the HD-DVD will be out of business in a matter of months. Is this a 10 year product? And by the way, it doesn’t even work." Blimey.

- We then spoke to Microsoft's Peter Moore, who obviously didn't want to get too far into the contretemps, but did note of the next-gen optical disc battle: "I was just looking at HD-DVD numbers over the weekend, and I think Toshiba may have an opinion about that... Of course, the fact that Sony has an economic interest in making sure that it’s dead is interesting. I think his comments will be read with interest by folks in the European Union, and looking at the tactics the Blu-Ray Forum has been using to ensure that retailers do things their way." Some v. interesting hints on unfair competition in here.

- Another neat story was Blizzard's Frank Pearce confirming a third title in development - apart from World Of Warcraft and Starcraft II, that is. Don't often get concrete staff numbers, either: "In terms of development staff it’s probably around 350. World of Warcraft is about 135 people, 40 for Starcraft II, 40 for team 3, our cinematics team is about 85 guys." There's rampant speculation that the third project is Diablo III and will be announced at BlizzCon, but who knows?

- Ah, and just to finish up the Gamecock weirdness, we covered their Death Of E3 funeral procession, which "...wound its way from the Santa Monica pier to Venice Beach, Calif. The procession was complete with drums, a horn section, a Chinese dragon, and masked performers on stilts." They're certainly never boring!

[Many thanks to Gamasutra staffers Brandon Sheffield and Jason Dobson for doing a fine job of chasing these up, and Brandon Boyer for co-ordinating the coverage and only losing around 50% of his hair in the process.]

COLUMN: 'Game Mag Weaseling': Mag Roundup 7/14/07

July 15, 2007 8:02 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.]

edge177.jpg

Considering that four US magazines have folded this year (or in Tips & Tricks' case, downsized into a basically automated codes mag), I'm faced with fewer titles to cover on a biweekly basis. As a result, I think it's about time I started covering the UK's Edge in these little mag roundups, since I buy it every month and there's an official US subscription distributor -- one that, depending on how the exchange rates run, actually allows colonists to buy Edge for cheaper than the Brits can get it.

At its core, Edge isn't much different from US mags. There's news and columns up front, previews and features in the middle, reviews in the rear, and screw-around stuff in the way-back (in Edge's case, dev profiles/classifieds, letters, and retro coverage). Certainly the way that it approached game coverage was revolutionary when it launched in 1993 (back when EGM was still 85% previews and strategy guides), but nowadays pretty much every US mag has taken on an Edge-style mix of serious industry newsmongering and hard-hitting game coverage.

So why is Edge worth importing? I'd argue that it's a combination of design and writing. US magazines have improved their visual look vastly over the past few years, but Edge still has a simple, clear look that makes each page immediately enticing. This, coupled with a robust page count (130 pages every issue), nice thick paper, and Edge's traditional lack of back-cover advertising, make the magazine look proud on your father's coffee table, rather than the toilet racks many game mags end up lurking around in. The text, meanwhile, is also great -- its complete and total uniformity in style (there are no bylines anywhere) means that if you can dig its intellectual, sometimes dry feel, then you're guaranteed to enjoy anything written in the mag, no matter what it's about. (I've always thought that people who think Edge is pretentious should go back and read GameFan from around 1995 forward. Now that's pretention, and without the writing talent to back it up either.)

Edge is hardly a perfect magazine. Their copy editing isn't flawless. They published a piece on Saboteur this month that extols the WWII action game's unique use of color, but does a very poor job illustrating the tricks in the accompanying screenshots (GamePro, of all mags, performs far better in its own Saboteur feature). However, there's still no other magazine out there that takes such a deliberately intellectual-yet-casual approach to game coverage, and for that alone I think it's important.

Anyway, click on to read about all the US mags of the past two weeks -- all very good mags in the own right, too, I hasten to add.

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