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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 August, 2007

Halo 3: When ARGs Go... Almost Right?

August 31, 2007 4:02 PM | Simon Carless

- So, ARGNet is still the place to go to learn about bizarre cross-media Alternate Reality Games, and it has a particularly interesting new piece up analyzing the creation and slight unraveling of the Halo 3 ARG, or "spiral marketing campaign", as it seems to be better dubbed.

Rather than going full-out this time, some of the mysterious elements to the marketing for the game were explained in an internal Microsoft article posted on the Unfiction forums. As ARGN notes: "The article reveals that Iris was developed by "more than 50 people from 20 Microsoft teams [who] contributed time, coding expertise, and industry contacts." The attempt was ultimately to provide a grand marketing scheme incurring little cost while attaining "critical mass" -- defined in the article as getting "interview requests from The Wall Street Journal"."

However, it's clear that the ARG-ers were a little skeptical, given the class act the ARG had to follow: "Strictly speaking, given the resources used to produce the campaign and the costs (or lack thereof) incurred, Iris may be considered an impressive success. However, if one includes the overall sentiment of the demographic that was actually actively playing or following Iris, one might say that their reach had exceeded their grasp. They seem to have ignored (or miscalculated) an inherent factor in the kind of campaign they were hoping to produce - most players had expectations, whether misplaced or not, of another I Love Bees."

There are also some fascinating accounts of problems with Halo fans swarming the puzzles, such as: "A paperboy with a user account on Bungie.net leaked the content of the Best Buy ad circular before the papers hit the newsstands." (The article reveals that the site was found prematurely and was still being tested, and that the response from the game designers was to slow people down with a countdown.)" Or: "During episode one, an executive e-mail sent to employees leaked to game bloggers, and parts of an internal Q&A document were inadvertently distributed with a press release."

Anyhow, it does seem like there were some pretty big, neat and interesting moving parts in the campaign, even if it didn't mesh completely in the end, particularly because planning executionally for so many intermeshing puzzles, campaigns and hints is terribly difficult - the Halo 3 Iris Wiki has lots more info. [via Clickable Culture.]

Heaven 2 Ocean Birthed From Dare To Be Digital

August 31, 2007 8:04 AM | Simon Carless

- Got a neat little note from Kieran McCabe a few days back that's worth passing on: "Just saw a mention of Dare Protoplay on the frontpage and decided I'd get in touch. I was on the Republic of Ireland team (zerO.One), we made a 2D platform puzzle game called Heaven 2 Ocean wherein you controlled a drop of water by tilting the world. Also, you can turn into ice and steam."

Aha, most interesting - the game, which was one of the 12 student titles entered into the UK-centric Dare To Be Digital competition is downloadable from the website [.ZIP link], and there's also a fun, now-concluded developer blog about the experience of making Heaven 2 Ocean into some kind of reality.

Looking further into the student competition, there are even video diaries on the Dare To Be Digital site itself - each viewable and rateable per week for each of the teams entering. Blimey! Here's the text diary link, and here's the full list of winners - though I think you need to register to access the full 2007 game showcase? That's a tad annoying.

2007 Independent Games Summit: Jon Blow On Indie Prototyping

August 31, 2007 12:02 AM | Simon Carless

- So here on GSW, we're continuing to publish videos from this year's Independent Games Summit, which took place at Game Developers Conference 2007 last March as part of the Independent Games Festival.

The latest and fifth 2007 Independent Games Summit lecture to go up is from Jonathan Blow, creator of 2006 IGF Design Innovation award winner Braid, and pretty watchable, as Blow takes us through the theory and practice behind several fascinating game prototypes, many also available on his website. These include a gestural spellcasting 2D and 3D game prototype, so-called Oracle Billiards (which is playing pool when you can see where all the balls will end up, thanks to the fact that 'Newtonian physics is easy'!), and a detailed demo of Braid itself - which starts at 15.10 into the lecture.

The lecture ends with a demo of a painting game where you must reproduce Old Masters and create new art, and get rated on them by art critics, crafting the pics to appeal to their tastes. Overall, it's just one of the most watchable demonstrations of intriguing design ideas I've seen in a long time.

[Oh, and you'll possibly want to skip to 01.45 into the video when you watch, since there's a not quite brief enough intro featuring me (!) telling people to fill in ratings cards and turn off cellphones. If anyone wants to cut this off and re-upload, feel free.]

Here's a direct Google Video link for the lecture, plus a higher-res downloadable .MP4 version and an embedded version:

Here's the original session description: "Former Game Developer magazine code columnist and 2006 IGF Design Innovation winner Jonathan Blow, the creator of innovative time-manipulating platform title Braid, discusses the deliberate methodology behind his indie game prototyping. He shows how he conceives, develops, and tests out indie concepts in playable form, and discusses how you know when a prototype is working, and where to take it from there, demonstrating multiple in-development prototypes (including Braid) along the way."

(Other IGS 2007 videos posted so far are Matt Wegner on physics, alongside the Gastronaut founders on 'Small Arms' for XBLA, the Telltale folks on Sam & Max/episodic gaming, and Gamelab's Eric Zimmerman on 'The Casual Cash Cow'.)

GameSetNetwork: From Wii To God To Animals

August 30, 2007 4:05 PM | Simon Carless

- Uhoh, there's been a great deal of good stuff posted on CMP Game Group-run GameSetWatch sister sites such as Gamasutra, Worlds In Motion, and Game Career Guide, as well as Games On Deck while I've been blogging about dubstep and EA Monopoly, so I would be remiss if I didn't take you through it swiftly. Here goes:

- 'Analyze This: Are Game Publishers Late To The (Wii and DS) Game?' (Gamasutra): "In the latest 'Analyze This' feature, we asked notable game analysts from IDC, Wedbush Morgan and GamerMetrics to name the publishers have capitalized the best - and fared the worst - following the swift rise of Nintendo's Wii and DS consoles to the top of the game hardware charts."

- 'Q & A: Nexon's Min Kim on KartRider, MapleStory and Things to Come' (WorldsInMotion.biz): "A giant in multiplayer gaming in the East, Nexon’s accessible-to-all MMOs have garnered considerable success here in the US. Worlds in Motion recently visited the singular, stylish sidescrolling MapleStory world, and we have the upcoming American launch of the multiplayer racing game KartRider to look forward too, too. Already one of the top-selling online games in the world on the heels of its success in the Asian market with millions of users, rumor has it that we could see an open beta in America as soon as early October."

- 'From God To Cock: Mike Wilson On GameCock's Publishing Party' (Gamasutra.com): "Mike Wilson exudes flamboyance, and after the success and then acquisition of publisher Gathering Of Developers (G.O.D), he's back with Austin-based 'big indie' publisher Gamecock. But what's the idiosyncratic company's developer-centric philosophy and artistic drive all about? Gamasutra finds out within."

- 'GDC China: Glu Mobile’s Future of Mobile Gaming' (Games On Deck): "The Game Developer Conference China included a mobile track, highlighting the importance of the mobile games industry within China. Kim Daniel Arthur, CTO of Glu Mobile's Asia-Pacific operations discussed "The Future of Mobile Gaming" on stage in Shanghai, looking at current and upcoming trends and technologies... "The future mobile games distribution will also change, getting to be rich and flexible," Arthur suggested, "probably based on game communities. Flexible in the sense, for example, of billing methods, using things like episodic content, in-game billing and pay-per-play schemes.""

- 'The Original Gaming Bug: Centipede Creator Dona Bailey' (Gamasutra.com): "Dona Bailey, creator of 1980 arcade classic Centipede at Atari, was a trailblazer -- the only female software engineer at the company during its early peak. Now an educator, she's set to deliver the keynote for the Women in Games International Conference -- and Gamasutra caught up with her to speak about the past and future of women in games in this exclusive interview."

- 'From Intern to Artist: How Diane Stevenson Broke Into the Game Industry' (GameCareerGuide.com): "One day, budding art student Diane Stevenson found herself at an internship fair talking to a representative from Large Animal Games. More than a year later, she’s a permanent fixture on the team. Find out how she made the jump from intern to employed artist, and what she’s up to now."

IGF Mobile Awards Announced, Submissions Open

August 30, 2007 8:00 AM | Simon Carless

-So, we just announced this over at Gamasutra, and I wanted to reprint the news and then provide some 'color commentary' at the end of the announcement here on GSW:

"The organizers of the Independent Games Festival have announced a sister event for the handheld game industry, IGF Mobile, with entries open for innovative indie cellphone, DS, PSP and other handheld titles, and $20,000 in prizes to be awarded at GDC 2008 next February.

Submissions for the event are open at the official IGF Mobile website through Friday, October 26, and winners of the event will be recognized with multiple prizes at the IGF Mobile ceremony, taking place during the GDC Mobile event at Game Developers Conference on February 19, 2008. The event will run parallel to the main IGF competition, which retains its $50,000 prize pool and current categories.

IGF Mobile is launching with NVIDIA, creator of the GoForce family of GPUs for handheld devices, as the Founding and Platinum Sponsor. In keeping with the company’s philosophy of encouraging and fostering new technology innovation, NVIDIA is particularly supporting the ‘Innovation in Augmented Design’ category as part of its sponsorship. The prize specifically honors mobile games that were developed using GPS, camera, motion sensing, and WiFi elements, along with other unique and differentiating features.

This $2,000 prize will be awarded in addition to other $2,000 prizes for Innovation in Mobile Game Design, Audio Achievement, Technical Achievement, and Achievement in Art. Finally, the title named Best Game of IGF Mobile will receive a $10,000 Grand Prize. IGF Mobile will also feature all finalist games in playable form within a special pavilion on the Game Developers Conference 2008 show floor, alongside the main IGF Pavilion, on February 20-22, 2008.

A statement from the organizers of the event on the official website explains: "We believe that there are great, innovative indie games out there which use the unique advantages of handheld hardware, from Gamevil's Nom and Skipping Stone for cellphones through DS games such as 5th Cell's Drawn To Life or even group games such as Pac-Manhattan, and we're delighted to set up a new awards to help honor titles such as these.""

So, elaborating on the paragraph above - there are two or three angles from which this sister IGF competition should be good for indie developers. Firstly, there really are some great overlooked cellphone games out there - from developers like Capybara Games and others - which these awards should highlight in the context of GDC and the Independent Games Festival. Secondly, there's the DS, PSP and other handhelds angle - and there are plenty of prototypes or homebrew-like games out there which deserve honoring - heck, maybe that Shantae DS title I was drooling over the other day will enter.

Finally - and this is the particularly interesting 'augmented' angle - there are all kinds of cool game design things you can do if you have a handheld device and other add-ons such as GPS, a camera, Internet connectivity and so on.

A few examples from games big and small - Final Fantasy: Before Crisis for cellphones had a camera-based materia collecting feature, in which: "The goal is to photograph something that contains the predefined colors that will produce new materia. For example, photographing something that is predominantly red will yield a Fire materia." Awesome idea. Elsewhere, there's other neat concepts like the solar sensor in Konami's Boktai and even Gizmondo's (!) augmented reality project, using the camera and overlaying computer-generated art based on a grid.

Encouraging innovative projects like these - which actually take advantage of the fact that you're holding the game device and carrying it around - is why Nvidia signed up to be a multi-year sponsor and help give out the money to deserving games - who knows, maybe games like these will be created just so they can enter IGF Mobile in subsequent years? Hopefully so!

The Aberrant Gamer: 'Choose Your Own Adventure'

August 30, 2007 12:14 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.]

In last week’s column, we discussed BioShock’s Little Sisters as part of a legacy of creepy, ambiguous little girls in survival-horror who highlight our dark sides with their innocence and shame us by letting us see ourselves through the eyes of a child – even if those eyes are a pair of eerie orange headlamps. Mention the Little Sisters, though, and the question’s bound to come up: Harvest or rescue?

Whichever your pleasure, chances are BioShock fans (and those who are damn sick of hearing about it) have heard or participated in a discussion to that effect at some point over the past week. And in those discussions, chances are someone’s raised the issue of choice in games; that very issue came up in the comments on my last column. As I mentioned last week, I have heard in my colleagues’ work, in emails I’ve received and in various discussions lately – whether about BioShock or other games, such as in the comments of my recent column on Persona 3 – that thus far, what we’ve been offered in terms of "choices" from gaming often tend to amount to little more than what one reader called a “cost-benefit analysis”. In other words, since the impact of our choices is limited to a statistical benefit or penalty (with perhaps a different ending tacked on), any moral or emotional decision presented to us can be reduced to a technicality.

In a recent article at Sexy Videogameland, however, I explained why I feel that the immersive, richly-realized environment of BioShock makes the moral issue very much a choice[spoiler-free link], in that it very greatly alters how it feels to play the game. The sensation of having a choice, an impact, comes from my relationship to the game, a connection that I actively choose to make whenever a game is fleshed-out enough to make it possible. If you aren’t particularly absorbed in or affected by the experience of playing BioShock, or any other game, chances are you’re calculating cost and benefit rather than feeling anything significant changing for you, either.

“Choice in games” is the new Holy Grail, it seems. In the comments on the article I just mentioned, one reader raised PC games like Fallout and Baldur’s Gate as his ideal example of how a game should handle choice. When applied to console gaming or a single-player closed story, though, they become less possible because of the lack of open-endedness, real-time dynamics, or other players. But what would real, definitive branching in games, real gratification for decision-making, look like? And could it be that – of all things – Hentai games know something we don’t?

The Eight Greatest Mistakes In Game Design

August 29, 2007 4:04 PM | Simon Carless

- So, you might know Soren Johnson for being the lead designer of Civilization IV at Firaxis - and you may also remember that he recently joined EA/Maxis to join the admirable brain trust working on Will Wright's Spore.

Most recently, on his Designer-Notes blog, he's been discussing the eight greatest mistakes in game design - that's the first part with four of them, there's also a second part, which I had to wait for before posting this, curses.

In any case, fine mistakes they are - including 'Hard-core game conventions' in Part 1 (No, not PAX, but: "One of the most common pitfalls for a game designer is to fear that the game is not hard enough. This fear often leads to hard-core game conventions, like restrictive save systems and unlockable content, that only put roadblocks in the way of the mainstream gamer who is just looking to have a good time.")

Probably the most controversial is 'Putting Story In The Wrong Places' in Part 2, which starts out like this: "I still want to make my point, though. I don't like story in games. I don't like the boring cut-scenes. I don't like the stereotyped characters. I don't like the plots that I have no control over (and, sorry, the Bioware you-are-either-God-or-Satan twists count too). I especially don't like it when games stop me from fast-forwarding through the crappy dialogue (I'm looking at you, Japan). But what I really hate is when a story gets stuck somewhere it really doesn't belong. Like in a strategy game." Read and gesticulate wildly, go on!

[An aside - it would be worth doing a little employee map on the sheer amount of hyper-intelligent eggheads employed at Maxis nowadays - it really is the Google of developers in terms of attracting brilliant minds, from Chris Hecker to Chaim Gingold and beyond.]

Opinion: Burial, Hyperdub, And Crackle In Games

August 29, 2007 8:04 AM | Simon Carless

- Been meaning to post this one for a while, though it's more about a feeling than anything explicitly tangible. Nonetheless, I'll try to explain. It starts with me discovering, and absolutely adoring, the self-titled 'dubstep' music album by Burial, on South London electronic music label Hyperdub.

As the release info for the album explains: "Burial explores a tangential, parallel dimension of the growing sound of dubstep. Burial’s parallel dimension sounds set in a near future South London underwater. You can never tell if the crackle is the burning static off pirate radio transmissions, or the tropical downpour of the submerged city outside the window." And that's the key - the static, the fizz, the grit inherent in this exceptional downtempo electronic music.

The extremely mysterious Burial was interviewed on the Blackdown blog early last year, and, while also revealing his entire output is done in sound editing tool Soundforge (!), we get his comment on how and why he uses obfuscating static so much in his recordings:

"Pirate radio crackle, vinyl crackle – I like. But most of all I like rain. Fire. I’ve got recordings of rain and fire crackle that would put most electronica producers to shame they’re so f*cking heavy. That crackle sits over my drums, hides the space between them. When I started making music I could see through it and I was disappointed because it destroyed the mystery for a bit. But when I chuck crackle over it, it hides it under layers, it’s no longer mine. And you get a feel of a real environment."

In fact, this mini audio-clip of Burial track 'Distant Lights' [.M3U] shows this well - other clips are at the bottom of the Blackdown interview, and Burial's entire output is available on Emusic.com with samples, if you want to purchase it, as I did. And maybe it's because I grew up in South London and empathize with the dark feelings, the pre-D&B jungle roots of this sound, I'm particularly enchanted with it. But it leads to a whole other question about what GameSetWatch is about - where's the 'crackle' in games?

What I'm talking about is simple - why aren't more game creators using filters, dirt, and chaos - even on more abstract games - to create more sinister and emotion-provoking kinds of ambience? Why can't there be more grit in games? I'm not talking about the dirt in Motorstorm that (while nonetheless cool) hangs out beneath your wheels - and I'm not talking about photorealistic textures at all. The lo-fi nature of Burial's sound is testament to the fact that less sophisticated solutions can be just as beguiling.

Oddly, I think Japanese creators have come the closest to understanding why grime and chaos is so important - and possibly, it was the texture memory limitations of the PlayStation 2 that partially pushed them into it. Both Konami's Silent Hill series and Fumito Ueda's recently GSW-discussed ICO/Shadow Of The Colossus seem to grok that key to an evocative, memorable game world is a color palette that isn't necessarily rainbow-colored, and a certain level of analog imperfection. These worlds aren't sharp and digital, and that's why we love them.

However, taking it a level more psychedelic, I think that pure digital chaos works too in games - particularly with games such as Xbox Live Arcade's Mutant Storm Reloaded, which shimmers with morphing and echoing shapes and color shifts, even after the player dies, and even the upcoming Everyday Shooter, which shifts chaos and blurriness into simultaneous visual and audio realms. It's still crackle, it's just a more uniquely game-like variation on the theme. And it gives games echo, and emotional resonance, and personal artistic value. So creators, think about adding some crackle to your games. I'd like that, at least.

Knytt Stories Makes Triumphant Debut

August 29, 2007 12:04 AM | Simon Carless

- A bunch of people are shouting about this, but TIGSource says it best, yay: "Knytt Stories and a lunar eclipse in one night? Surely it’s a subtle sign from the Universe that this is something special."

From the official site: "Knytt Stories doesn't have a specific plot. Instead, each level is its own little adventure. A level called 'The Machine' is included with the game, where you have to stop a machine that draws the life out of the planet." Wow, weirder and weirder - we ran a preview of the game just 3 days ago, lest you forget.

Anyhow, Lim-Dul is already salivating on TIGSource: "Holy macaroni! This game is AWESOME! That is - all of Nifflas’ games are but this one upped the ante yet again. All the small details, the wonderful music, the smooth controls, the overall design… AND there are 9 additional worlds ready to be downloaded already!" Dominic White adds: "Isn’t it a GOOD thing that the moment you beat the game, there’s already another nine (four by Nifflas, five by his beta testers) stories waiting for you?" Indie madness!

Bozon On WayForward's, Uhh, Way Forward

August 28, 2007 4:04 PM | Simon Carless

- Regular GSW readers may recall that smallish portable developer WayForward, the folks behind Shantae and the upcoming Contra IV, are particularly appreciated by us for their nimble, smartly drawn, intelligent takes on classic gaming. So it's cool that MTV News' Stephen Totilo chatted to WayForward creative director Matt Bozon last week, touching on a multitude of neat stuff.

Particularly, there's info on the notably semi-awful Pictochat-duplicating Ping Pals: "In mid-2004 the publisher THQ came to WayForward with a DS idea. THQ had licensed artwork from the makers of the hit online Korean game "MapleStory" and wanted to use the art for a DS instant-messaging program called "Ping Pals."" And yes, THQ knew that it was a bit useless and wanted it anyhow, in, uh, 5 weeks for DS launch!

Also v. interesting for Shantae fanboys: "Inspired by the DS announcement, the team assembled a 13-page treatment for a "Shantae: Risky Waters" DS game. The game had players rafting in 3-D on the DS' top screen while simultaneously controlling a bird on the bottom screen that was flying over a 2-D version of the river. Another phase of the game had the player digging caves in the bottom screen, while characters battled on the upper screen. They pitched it around, but no publisher took them up on the offer." Aw.

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