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September 15, 2007

MC Frontalot Got Eaten By A Grue, Cool!

- We believe we've mentioned this one before, but the MC Frontalot music video for 'It Is Pitch Dark' [YouTube version] has just been released, and boy, it's a potent mix of nerdcore, deep Infocom lore, and geeked-out retro props, thanks to the lyrical mastery of Frontalot and director Jason Scott.

The YouTube video description is a good start: "Front geeked around for an evening in a basement in Massachusetts. It got filmed in HD. Then Jason Scott made a whole video out of it. The song and the video are in service of Jason's upcoming documentary about text adventures, Get Lamp, but you get to enjoy it now. Peek the cameo by Steve Meretzky."

For those wanting to read the full lyrics, there's plenty of references to classic text adventures from the charmingly mellifluous Frontalot - his official site frontpage has a link to the MP3, too:

"You are likely to be eaten by a grue.
If this predicament seems particularly cruel,
consider whose fault it could be:
not a torch or a match in your inventory.

...none of whom are too concerned about Nord & Bert,
not one of whom ever aimed a fish around the room,
trying to get it in the ear canal because doom
beset the last planet they were on, or near
the verge of a set of poetics they wouldn’t hear."

Scott's 'ASCII' blog has links to high-res versions of the video, including resolutions as high as 1280x720 (!), and he links to a bunch of other posts he made about making the video, and mentions happily: "Would I do it again? I'd be setting up the first shot before you got halfway through the request." Certainly makes me grin - go check it.

iNiS' Yano Talks Rhythm Game Madness Insanity

- Our new Features Editor Christian Nutt has settled comfortably into the wide-ranging Gama interview style, and showed as much with the new article 'Feeling The Elite Beat: Keiichi Yano On Crossing Over', posted over at Gamasutra yesterday .

In it, the Tokyo-based iNiS founder and Gitarooman, Ouendan, and Elite Beat Agents creator is quizzed about "...his work with Nintendo, the sudden rise of the rhythm game genre, and most vitally, how Japanese and American developers and technologies interact."

As we extracted in a news story, Yano has also confirmed that the company is working on an unspecified game for the Xbox 360 - which is very neat! Not quite sure what it is, mind you - as we mention, "...the company's nFactor 2 graphics engine, which is listed on iNiS' official website as being Xbox 360, PC and Wii compatible, is public knowledge" - but the slightly Pikmin-like screenshots using the engine (pictured above!) are from 2005 or so, so it's probably not that. Also, the parrot on the iNiS site needs to not squawk so much.

There are lots of other interesting questions I could reference, but randomly, here's a fun one - Yano cautioning on a possible glut of rhythm games and associated quality issues: "I'm very concerned about the quality of the music games that are coming out and will come out, because again, I do feel as though it's kind of a special genre that requires specific knowledge of music and what makes music fun. Hopefully, the games that come out that are in that genre can take advantage of all that and do all those things right, and make sure that it's a really fun experience so that the genre itself can stay strong and not have a lot of bad clutter in it." Amen to that.

GameSetLinks: Got Frag? Get Goo!

- Since it's verging upon the weekend, time to debut some of the GameSetLinks we've gradually accumulated during the week, eh?

My preferred multitasking media to be consumed in the formation of this post is 'The Three Doctors' on Netflix On Demand, which is appropriately surreal for a Friday sojourn. Anyhow, here goes:

- You may have heard that the World Series Of Video Games is canceled, but why is that, which of the three or four pro gaming circuits is this, and how does it change professional gaming? The editorially independent GotFrag.com has a neat article summing up the effect of WSVG's axing on the community, explaining: "CGS managed to steal the limelight from WSVG in 2007 and overshadowed the events they ran all over the world... Major League Gaming, parent company of GotFrag.com, also continued to be the dominant player in the console space, with EVO being the premier fighting game event and Madden tournaments largely run by EA itself. This left little room for WSVG in a crowded space of growing competitors." More coverage on the GotFrag homepage.

- Textfiles.com's Jason Scott has posted an intriguing article with an important piece of Infocom/Activision-related history - a video interview with Steve Meretzky on "the never-finished "Planetfall II: The Search for Floyd" (or Planetfall III, as it was sometimes called)." It's from an old CD-ROM cover-disc, and Scott adds: "The disc also contained a (again, only workable through the DOS program) preview of this version of Planetfall, including initial graphics and screenshots." This also has been posted online by Mr. Scott, who deserves kudos for resurrecting neat game history.

- Blatantly borrowed from a post on Petri Purho's Kloonigames blog, there's some great indie prototyping links, as he notes: "Martin (of prototyprally and Argblargs fame) has been running this interesting series of articles called: “The games that didn’t make it”. In the series he introduces some of the games that he has created in the past that were never published. He openly shares the early prototypes of these games, so you can get a pretty decent idea why he decided not to finish those games." The more failed prototypes we can see, the more we learn.

- Apparently I had completely missed this announcement, but GarageGames' IndieGamesCon is happening again next month in [EDIT: Eugene!], Oregon, and they've posted IndieGamesCon sign-up details on the GarageGames blog. Sure, the conf tends to be a bit of a Torque lovefest/developer conf rather than being indie scene-wide, but that's rather valid in its own way - and GG CEO Josh Williams mentions: "We've been a bit tight-lipped about what we're working on here in the Garage, but at IGC we plan to blow the lid off of our activities and talk about the future direction of Torque and amazing new publishing opportunities for Indies." Probably including blancmange!

- Justin 'Taintmonger' Leeper is a freelance journo, game writer, and wrestling/stuntman type all at once (impressive!), and he's posted 'Short Live the Queen! Assassin's Creed Live-Action' on YouTube - something done (a little late?) for a Ubisoft competition. It's got some grinworthy stunt choreography and amusingly iffy camerawork, and Leeper bemoans some of the hilarious user criticisms on his LJ: "Some of the things people complain about... My facial hair; I didn't have the wrist-knife apparatus brandished by the game's star; The slow (i.e. REAL-TIME) speed of the fights; The fast speed of the credits; The Queen looks like my "mom"; The set looks like it's out of Ninja Gaiden; The fact that I have all my fingers (unlike the game's star)." Yeah, lose the fingers already!

- At GameDaily BIZ, Kyle Orland is looking at 'the most controversial bits of game writing from the last few years', in two parts - so this week is #10 to #6, for those who adore their countdowns. Anyhow, many of the items will be familiar to those who hang out on GAF a bit too much, and include the oft-repeated phrase "There's probably no game journalist out there more polarizing than Tim Rogers", and also the death of the GameLife video show ("The final bit of weirdness came when one of the hosts, Andrew Rosenblum, was arrested for making threats in the wake of the Virginia Tech massacre. Now that the train wreck is over, the only question is what else to watch.")

Finishing some even more left-over, brain-expanding links on a line by line basis:

- 2D Boy posts the first World Of Goo trailer - mm, goo!
- NeoGAF points out a bunch of AM2 arcade show videos - long live arcade?
- Microsoft's Andre 'Ozymandias' Vrignaud has had his wings clipped by Microsoft for his Croal betting spree. Shame.
- [EDIT: Beijing]-based online gaming don Bill Bishop gapes at a spectacular investment success - an $8 million investment in a Chinese MMO firm being worth $250 million after 12 months!
- On10.net, a Microsoft-sponsored video blog, has a look at Microsoft Research's Donnybrook experiment, "an FPS with hundreds of other players".
- Poking at referrers, spotted that GameTunnel's Russell Carroll has started the Video Game Business & Marketing blog. Bookmark now!
- We just tipped them a wink, but Kotaku's Bashcraft has a great interview with Q-Games up. Go Junk!
- Finally, GamesRadar presents 'Pokemon Money Shots'. Oh dear. Oh dear (pictured). Oh dear.

September 14, 2007

Warren Spector's 10 Most Favorite Games... Evah!

- Now, I'm sure GameSetWatch isn't the only person reading Warren Spector's blog of late, but hey, he's posting some interesting stuff, and we're obligated to link 'interesting stuff'. His latest blog entry is called '“Hobby Games: The 100 Best” or I Love Lists', and it's about that most favored of Digg bait - the top list!

Spector explains: "I was recently asked to participate in a [pen&paper game-centric] book project called “Hobby Games: The 100 Best” from Green Ronin Publishing and edited by an old colleague from my papergame days, James Lowder."

Apparently, he picked Tikal, which I'm not so familar with, not being a BoardGameGeek, but he then goes ahead and lists his genuine video game Top 10 of all-time (alongside his top boardgames and movies!), in alphabetical order, as follows:

1. Diablo
2. Guitar Hero
3. Half Life
4. Legend of Zelda: Link to the Past
5. Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
6. Suikoden
7. Super Mario 64
8. Tetris
9. Ultima IV
10. Warcraft II
11. (Ico)
12. (Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess — okay, so I cheated and went for 12 on the videogame list. So sue me.)

There's also some fun disclaimers after it from the Spector: "I didn’t include any games I worked on. In some cases, I’ll acknowledge that there are games I think are better than some on the list (e.g., Ultima VI is, I think a way better/more fun game than Ultima IV, but U4 kind of changed my life, so U4 makes the cut and U6 doesn’t — plus, I worked on U6)." So there.

Independent Games Summit: Russell Carroll Talks Indie Marketing

-We're keeping on publishing 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 - because a lot of the content is rather intensely useful, we reckon.

The sixth 2007 Independent Games Summit lecture to go up is actually another of my personal favorites, because it's sharp, sensible, and brutally honest - it features Russell Carroll, who indie sceners probably know as the founder of GameTunnel.com, a seminal indie game site.

But Russ is also part of the casual/indie game biz himself, as marketing boss of Reflexive Entertainment, which both distributes casual games and makes its own - Wikipedia has a good list of Reflexive's own-developed titles, and their portal is also v.important for PC casual titles. Russell explains why marketing is absolutely not a dirty word - and has some great thoughts on the nature of indie games in his intro, too.

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: "Want your game to be the one everyone is talking about? Interested in increasing how many copies you've sold? Russell Carroll, who heads up marketing for Wik & The Fable Of Souls creator Reflexive, and also founded key indie game press site GameTunnel, discusses how to maximize your buzz and sales opportunities. Using and abusing the press and game portals, alternative marketing, viral marketing, press release tactics and an overview of brand design and development all will be discussed in a whirlwind thirty minute presentation that will forever change the way you market your games."

(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, Gamelab's Eric Zimmerman on 'The Casual Cash Cow', and Braid's Jon Blow on indie prototyping.)

Panzer Dragoon, In Zwei Times As Much Depth

- The irresistably enthusiastic James Mielke has apparently sauntered over to 1UP.com's bosses and insisted he do a gigantic, loving Panzer Dragoon series retrospective, and he's done a fine job of it, interviewing series creator Yukio Futatsugi and Panzer Dragoon Orta producer Takayuki Kawagoe in depth on the franchise.

Our very own Jeff Fleming did a neat mini-retrospective of the series a few months back, but this one is a little more lavish - as Mielke explains: "The reason for this unique cover story is to take a look back at this underappreciated, underbought, near-legendary series that climaxed with the release of 1998's Panzer Dragoon Saga, a game that is unlikely to ever see a port to any system, ever. Taking the DNA of Sega stablemate Space Harrier and welding it to an Empire Strikes Back-style plot, developer Team Andromeda created an epic, picturesque showdown between good and evil that would send lasting shockwaves through the fledgling 32-bit era."

The 1UP executive editor continues: "In this exposé, we go behind the scenes of the Panzer series and talk with Futatsugi (also the director of Phantom Dust) and Kawagoe about one of Sega's most beloved properties. Futatsugi, especially, has plenty of surprises to share about the development of the franchise, so dive right in and rediscover the world of Panzer Dragoon."

I particularly enjoyed the discussion of Panzer Dragoon Saga, with some fascinating comments about the issues of stress and Japanese game development 'collective responsibility' compared to discipline-based U.S. game development: "We don't have those clearly defined areas about what we do. The lines blur, so if someone is lacking in a certain area, someone working next to him feels obligated to pick up the slack, or feel obligated to do more, and is more stressed by the overall burden."

September 13, 2007

Game Developer September Issue Dissects Puzzle Quest, Saboteur

- Ah yes, worth cross-posting that the new issue of our rather educational magazine is out - and in fact, if you're a subscriber or were at Austin GDC, you will have probably picked up a copy already. Here goes:

"The September 2007 issue of Game Developer magazine, the sister print publication to Gamasutra.com, and the leading U.S. trade publication for the video game industry, has shipped to subscribers and is available from the Game Developer Digital service in both subscription and single-issue formats.

The cover feature for the September issue is 'Postmortem: Infinite Interactive’s Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords' by Steve Fawkner, and it's explained of the exclusive postmortem:

"Infinite Interactive took a leap into the console market with Puzzle Quest, after years of dedicated PC focus. The much more casual title tore up the charts, due to the incredibly long period of time the company took to polish it. CEO and lead designer Steve Fawkner takes us down the path that led these hardcore veterans to casual glory."

Another major feature for the new issue is 'Saboteur: The Will to Fight by Christopher M. Hunt and Thomas French, of which it's explained: "Pandemic’s upcoming title Saboteur uses dynamic color changes—from vibrant and full, to black and white film noir—to indicate the state of allied resistance in-game. It’s art as gameplay feature in this unique look at the design and technical challenges of an in-progress high profile title."

Finally, the September issue also looks at 'Saving the Day: Save Systems in Games', from Backbone designer David Sirlin, explained as follows: "Games are designed by designers, naturally, but they’re not designed for designers. Save systems that intentionally limit the pick up and drop enjoyment of a game unnecessarily mar the player’s experience. This case study of save systems sheds some light on what could be done better."

The issue is rounded out by the customary in-depth news, code, art, audio, and design columns from Game Developer's veteran correspondents, as well as product reviews, editorial columns, and much more.

Worldwide paper-based subscriptions to Game Developer magazine are currently available at the official magazine website, and the Game Developer Digital version of the issue is also now available, with the site offering six months and a year's subscriptions, alongside access to back issues, all for a reduced price. There is now also an opportunity to buy the digital version of September 2007's magazine as a single issue."

(Also worth noting that if you buy the digital version, you now also get access to a PDF, as well as the browser-readable version - and we're gradually extending that throughout the back catalog for subscribers over the next few weeks, with more improvements to come - yay!)

Spotlight: PixelJunk Racers, Q-Games, And PixelJunk Sequels

So, you may have spotted that Q-Games' indie title PixelJunk Racers, which appears to be something along the lines of slot-car racing for the 21st century (woo!), debuts on the PlayStation Network today. But something you may not have spotted (and I just did, thanks to Brandon Boyer!) is that there are teaser images for their next two downloadable PlayStation 3 games in the series on the Pixeljunk.jp website.

The site acts a bit strangely, and sometimes doesn't show the teaser images when you click on them (maybe it's still loading?), so I thought it would be handy to extract and label them for you, dear GSW readers:

Teaser for the second PixelJunk game - apparently somewhat Tower Defense-ish?.

The third PixelJunk game has a plant leaf as the icon - what's going on here?

Going back to PixelJunk Racers itself briefly, there's a good intro to both PixelJunk and Q-Games on the official PlayStation.Blog, written by company co-founder Dylan Cuthbert, who explains himself handily: "I decided I wanted to try and return to 2D games and use this HD clarity and resolution to re-energize the classic game play of my youth, not just Nintendo-style 2D games, but ZX Spectrum and Commodore-64 style games which were much more quirky. "

When I was at Tokyo Game Show last year, I also sat down with Cuthbert and his co-workers, discussing the small Kyoto-based indie developer's history and attitude (not to be confused with Mizuguchi's Q Entertainment, btw!) - Q-Games has previously shipped "...Starfox Command for Nintendo's DS handheld and Game Boy Advance title Digidrive, part of Nintendo's unique 'Bit Generations' retro-styled original game series", and Cuthbert was one of the creators of the original SNES Starfox in association with Nintendo while working at Argonaut Software in the UK.

Lastly, I wanted to mention that Dylan and the Q-Games folks have entered the self-funded PixelJunk Racers into the Independent Games Festival this year, making it the first-ever PSN game to enter. This also means that there will be some fierce PSN vs. XBLA vs. PC indie competition in this year's contest (not that target platform really matters, but hey, it makes everything a bit more exciting, right?) More on the full IGF entry list after the October 1st deadline...

IEEE Spectrum Births 'The Sandbox'

- So, there's a new game blog in town from a slightly unconventional source - IEEE Spectrum, which is the magazine/website of the gigantic professional tech association, has started 'The Sandbox', a site in which "David Kushner, Rob Garfield, and Harry Teasley blog about the latest in gaming."

It's an interesting mix of writers, actually - I remember Teasley's name from the original Half-Life, and as he blogs in his intro: "The highlights [of the] games I've worked on are Civilization, Doom PSX, Half-Life, and most recently, Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar. The lowlights would be... hmmm, probably Double Dragon V, and Dr Floyd's Desktop Toys." Good/youch. And Garfield is a joint academic/gamer with some neat perspectives.

But maybe the most interesting blogger on board is David Kushner, who wrote the excellent Masters Of Doom, as well as a recent Wired article on the cyberstalking of Linkin Park's Chester Bennington (!) that I thought was absolutely riveting - albeit not game-related. In any case, he's been extracting John Carmack interviews from his book, as well as commenting on 'The Dawn of eToys'. Overall, the blog is all just a _little_ pedestrian thus far, mind you, but bookmarkable nonetheless.

COLUMN: 'The Aberrant Gamer': Childhood Sweetheart

-[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.]

It was the eighties, and our eight-bit protagonists didn't give us too much to chew on. Who they were, why they were, wasn't deeply explained, and didn't really need to be. The elaborate discussions of character and story we're fond of (or sick of) today would've been ludicrous, infeasible. And yet, somehow, there was room for one of the most arresting character revelations of all time, one that goes down in generally accepted history as one of gaming's most singular moments.

Samus Aran undressed, and a generation fell to its knees.

This 1UP article documents our twenty-year relationship with the silent hunter in far more detail than this column has space to address, but it doesn't answer the question of why. Metroid is a space action game with aliens and pirates, not a psychological essay in character development; the drama revolves around the alien threat, the treacherous terrain, the ubiquitous destruction countdowns - less on the story of the girl at its center. You get more personal information from a generic townsperson NPC in any RPG than silent Samus has offered us in two decades. And yet, perhaps to spite the relative lack of information, fans prize her more dearly than all of the other more gratuitously rendered, more vocal, more revealing (in every sense) game females we've been offered since - Samus is more beloved than most male heroes, too.

Miracle of miracles - could a woman in full-body armor and a helmet be sexier than all the rest? Could it be we don't need breast physics to fall in love?

Perhaps the idea of "falling in love" is a little too rich for the blood of some when we're talking about video game characters. But surely it's a very real idea to others; countless fansites still exist, after all, for characters from games that have been out for so long that those who were in middle school when they played them are working adults now. Zelda, Aeris, Lara. Ghaleon.

-With love, of course, comes sexual fascination; you'll get an entirely different set of image results from Google if you turn off the default "safe search" when entering these names. Video game porn is as common as video games, from the sophisticated doujinshi drawn by Japanese professionals to the obscenely deformed, pencil-on-lined-paper atrocities drawn by artists who (hopefully) can't be older than young teens. That it's possible to find porn of anything and everything is one of the "rules of the internet," after all, and so erotic designs of Samus Aran certainly exist in plentitude. But there's a certain reverence reserved for the Chozo daughter, an uncommon hesitance to portray her with all manner of unimaginable objects in her orifices - more hesitance, at least, than that with which the girls of Soul Calibur are treated.

Could it be because the almost ever-present Varia suit leaves so much to the imagination that a single portrayal of Samus in flagrante is difficult to pin down? Maybe it's that, without some element of the suit (and it must be tough to draw) she's somewhat more difficult to recognize - after all, despite her imposing height, she looks pretty much like an unremarkably-featured woman -- thereby defeating the purpose of portraying her that way? Any explanation is possible, but the one I'd prefer is that it's respect, after all these years, for the solidly reliable, fearless hunter who couldn't resist rescuing a baby Metroid in one of the most significant glimpses we've gotten into her nature - maternal.

-There are any number of reasons why porn of video game characters is such a boom on the internet. Simple brain chemistry dictates that if we see a human being - or even something we feel is one, like a game character - in front of our eyes often enough, our brains will start to recognize it as a friend, which means we personalize it and develop affection for it. Sexualization is a rational next step. Games also let us step outside ourselves; one of the many reasons they're appealing is that we can live in a do-anything universe (it's safe to disagree with most politicians and say those of us who enjoy GTA are not at all likely to commit auto theft and robbery anytime in our lives); therefore, undressing the characters is a logical extension that, not given the opportunity to do so within the game, we take into our own hands.

Once in a while I check the recent keywords that have led people to my blog, Sexy Videogameland, in my stat counter. Samus is a popular search- but her name is rarely paired with baser words; instead, her fans appear to be looking for those classic Samus glimpses, as if they were altars to her significance. People are crazy about Samus' relatively revealing Smash Bros. pictures - even the usually-jaded games media isn't immune, as Kotaku's Michael McWhertor admits to being so preoccupied with Miss Aran's hind end he missed the E3 revelation of Solid Snake in that game last year. Lately, though, the clear favorite search has been for Persona 3 hentai. The older, sexier upperclassman Mitsuru Kirijo isn't nearly as popular as the vaguely obnoxious, stubborn Yukari Takeba; in other words, it's safe to make the assertion that people are more interested in pornography of less likeable characters, rather than those they love.

-And love Samus, we do in spades. In Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, the latest installment of Samus' adventures, we still don't hear her speak - decisively, that's for the best, since after so many years of creating her identity individually in our minds, nearly every Metroid fan would be let down somehow. In fact, the 1UP article quotes fans who suggest we've already seen too much as it is, like Victorian prudes protecting a noblewoman.

She's not gonna get naked - you can quit holding your breath. But Prime 3 is played from her first-person perspective; looking at her eyes reflected on the inside of the helmet's visor almost feels intimate. It's about as close as you can be to getting inside Samus Aran's Varia suit - after twenty years, that's good enough.

[Leigh Alexander is the editor of Worlds in Motion and writes for Destructoid, Paste, Gamasutra and her blog, Sexy Videogameland. She can be reached at leigh_alexander1 AT yahoo DOT com.]

September 12, 2007

GameSetNetwork: Habbo Vs. IGF Vs. Bogost - Attack!

- Aha, time to update the GameSetNetwork with what's been happening on Gamasutra and all the CMP Game Group's other sites so far this week.

I particularly wanted to note a 'Question Of The Week' on Gamasutra that may be right up the alley of some GSW readers, but there's also Ian Bogost discussing Resistance: Fall Of Man's churchly duties, where tribes will migrate after World Of Warcraft, and some new IGF judges for this year, as follows:

- Question Of The Week: World Of Warcraft Vs. Habbo? (Gamasutra)
The "Question Of The Week" feature, an industry-related question to be answered by professional game developers reading this site, is following up last week's Austin GDC event by asking what high-end MMO World Of Warcraft can learn from Web-based social world Habbo, and vice versa.

- Persuasive Games: The Reverence Of Resistance (Gamasutra)
In his regular Gamasutra column, writer, game designer, and Colbert Report guest Ian Bogost examines the recent controversy over Resistance: Fall Of Man's use of Manchester Cathedral, suggesting Insomniac's PS3 game is actually "steeped in reverence for the cathedral and the church, rather than desecration."

- AGDC: Bateman Reveals The 'Temperament Theory' (Gamasutra)
At last week's Austin Game Developers Conference, veteran designer Chris Bateman spoke in the Writing Track on improving the player experience through gauging and designing for their personality, citing games from Metroid Prime through his own Discworld Noir.

- - IGF Confirms New Judges For 10th Annual Competition (Gamasutra/IGF)
The organizers of the Independent Games Festival have announced the new judges for this year's 10th annual IGF competition, including high-profile indie creators such as Derek Yu (Aquaria) and Don Wurster (Small Arms), and notable journalists such as Newsweek's N'Gai Croal and MTV News' Stephen Totilo.

- The Academics Speak: Is There Life After World Of Warcraft? (Gamasutra)
Are MMO populations 'tribal', and if so, what's the next tribal shift after World of Warcraft? In this exclusive Gamasutra feature, academics including MIT's Henry Jenkins and Ludium's Edward Castronova discuss the fascinating future of online worlds.

- Ask the Experts: 'The Advantages and Disadvantages of Game School' (Game Career Guide)
In this new installment of the advice column on GameCareerGuide.com, Jill Duffy answers one reader's question about the benefits and drawbacks of going to a game development-specific institution.

- WIGI Report: Dona Bailey, BioWare, SOE Talk Diversity (Gamasutra)
Gamasutra attended the recent WIGI (Women In Games International) event in Austin, and presents a full report, with Centipede creator Dona Bailey keynoting with tips for women in the industry today, and figures from Sony Online, BioWare, and Midway discussing diversity.

Midway Designers Analyze Bully's (Lack Of?) Appeal

- Am still enjoying the Surreal Game Design blog, which is one of the first times a major developer/publisher (Surreal is a Midway division) has set up a group-contributed, game design-specific weblog. A recent post analyzes the game design of Rockstar's Bully, as part of a discussion across all Midway studio creative directors.

Their starting point is an interesting one: "We really, really wanted to like [Bully], but only played a few hours before giving up. Since it was blessed with many high reviews (the Gamerankings score settled at around 87%), we were left wondering… “What were we missing?” Senior types like Harvey Smith (of Blacksite: Area 51) and Simon Woodroffe of Midway Newcastle (Creative Director of Wheelman, and designer of Simon The Sorceror!) then weigh in on design topics related to the oddly controversial title.

As well as 'Board school culture' and 'Class attendence', here's another point on Bully's game design made by Surreal's Patrick Lipo that made him a tad skeptical of the game: "While it was generally done for laughs, the characters you deal with early on are all complete losers… You have to help the nerd to the bathroom so that he doesn’t wet himself, you date the ugliest girl in school… your only “friend” is a totally unappealing jerk. In the end, this was enough of a turnoff that I just stopped playing." What do you folks think?

IGF Winner Braid Confirmed For Xbox Live Arcade

- Just wanted to put this up quickly, since Microsoft put out the press release overnight announcing titles ahead of next week's Tokyo Game Show, and right at the bottom of the announcement, in the Xbox Live Arcade section, is official confirmation that Jon Blow's IGF winner Braid is coming to XBLA early next year. (There's also some other notable XBLA announcements in the release, as covered by Gamasutra, including Mizuguchi's Rez getting a re-release for the service.)

Here's the paragraph officially announcing it: ""Braid" (Number None Inc.). Arriving in early 2008 on Xbox LIVE Arcade, "Braid" is a platformer/puzzle game. The player journeys across seven worlds to rescue a princess; in each world, time behaves in its own peculiar way. The player must cleverly manipulate the flow of time to solve puzzles. "Braid" aims to provide a mind-expanding, filler-free experience."

Good news, I think - console would have been my preferred way to play the game, since it's a twisted Mario-ish 2D platformer at its root, so I'm glad it's finally going to debut in the next few months - it's been a while since it won the Innovation In Design Award at the 2006 IGF (for which, disclaimer, I am Chairman.)

For the two GSW readers who haven't seen it in action, there's a demo of the current PC version in Jon's Independent Games Summit lecture we recently posted in video form - skip to 15.10 in the video to see it. Hopefully it won't get overhyped before it debuts, but it's a genuinely interesting, neat game.

COLUMN: ' Play Evolution' - Team Fortress Classic

Dear God this was a long time ago.[“Play Evolution” is a bi-weekly column by James Lantz that discusses the changes that games undergo after their release, from little developer patches to huge gameplay revelations, and everything in between. This week: the life and death of Team Fortress Classic.]

The evolution of Team Fortress Classic is one of the strangest I’ve ever seen. It was so sudden and so decisive that it, quite literally, divided the player community into two halves. As the community played quasi-intellectual tug-of-war, individuals began to take sides and the game itself began to change - every server began to branch off into its own set of rules and restrictions. Most of these are still explicit, but some became unwritten and, to this day, are laid carelessly about the fringes of the game, the final nail in Team Fortress Classic’s long-suffering coffin.

Team Fortress began as a Quake mod in 1996. Based on the Quake engine, it was an incredibly fast paced CTF game based around movement exploits: bunny hopping, rocket jumping – all that fun stuff. It developed a small but devoted following, but only a few people followed it to its next iteration in the form of a slow paced Half-Life mod called Team Fortress Classic, three years later.

Team Fortress Classic caught fire, both as a competitive and a casual game. The draw of CTF is universal, and the meticulous setup of offense and defense adds a fresh layer of strategy to what is otherwise a pretty plain variation on Team Deathmatch. As the competitive players began to explore the limits of the game they found it warm, fleshy, and pleasantly yielding. For awhile, everything was roses and unicorns and happy springtime elves.

Look at them! Look how happy they are.

At some point, the competitive players rediscovered a familiar exploit – bunny hopping – and the evolution of Team Fortress took a sudden leap. Now, bunny hopping refers to a lot of different things in a lot of different games. In many games, bunny hopping simply requires you to mash your spacebar key as quickly as humanly possible and watch as your character hops up and down erratically like a foaming idiot – but this is not the kind of bunny hopping Team Fortress classic has. In Team Fortress Classic, bunny hopping requires a complex series of deft mouse movements that takes a few days to learn, and many more to master. However, bunny hopping allows you to travel almost twice as quickly across the map, as long as you know where you’re going and don’t hit anything.

In a split second, the game changed completely. Bunny hopping gave skilled players an impossibly large edge over unskilled players. Players who memorized the map and knew how to bunny hop were unstoppable. However, the game remained balanced, albeit fast paced and hectic. At the competitive level, the game flourished and continued to evolve around bunny hopping, returning to its fast paced roots from a different and refreshing angle. However, at the casual level, the game suffered. Bunny hopping was difficult to learn, and bunny hopping players had such an advantage over other players that it began to drive new players away.

As fewer and fewer players joined the game, the community became divided. Some players argued that bunny hopping was a necessary evolution in the game, that it made it more interesting and that it was the only way the competitive game could evolve, all of which was true. Other players argued that it was too hard to learn, and that it was driving away new players, and that was true too. As the community divided, casual servers made up their own rules, disallowing bunny hopping and other forms of movement exploits. Meanwhile, the competitive league began to shrink due to the lack of new blood. Eventually, the casual community, having actively restricted the evolution of the game, grew stagnant, and Team Fortress Classic became a ghost town with a few dedicated followers. Its own evolution had destroyed it.

It looks so wrong, but it feels oh so right. What went wrong? Occasionally the player community decides that a certain change imbalances the game ([EDIT: Akuma] in Street Fighter) and restricts it. However, it is usually the competitive community who dictates this change, not the casual community. When the casual players decided to restrict bunny hopping, the competitive players let it run free, and it became the very heart and soul of high level play. It was true - bunny hopping did not imbalance the game, and it was a key point in the evolution of the game’s strategy - but the player base couldn’t handle it.

When the casual community isolated themselves from bunny hopping, they isolated themselves from any high level play and, thusly, the evolution of the game as a whole. Each server was its own tiny world parked within the greater lot of Team Fortress Classic. To play on a different server meant learning the game all over again, and so, with a crippling lack of new strategy and a daunting multitude of restrictions, the casual community drew its dying breath. The competetive community continued on in small, nomadic groups - but the game is a ghost of its former self.

Although I’m usually against developer involvement and I prefer to see how a game evolves on its own, the learning curve of a game is pretty important. If a technique creates a chasm so large that the casual community just ignores the game at a competetive level, the evolution of the game is brought to a screeching halt. All the new strategies are meaningless to the casual community, and all the casual players are useless to the competetive community. The learning curve had to be fixed. In Team Fortress Classic, that gap between the skilled players and the new players, though necessary in all games, was just too daunting, and it ultimately scared away all the players that it needed to stay alive.

[James Lantz is a starving writer whose idea of proper viral marketing is to blurt out "Psychonauts!" every other sentence. He also writes a blog, of course.]

September 11, 2007

GameSetLinks: Polybius Overtakes Our Minds?

- As is often happening nowadays, I'm piling up GameSetLinks so efficiently that I need to spit them out in a couple of discrete lumps. This set deals with high-brow interviews, CIA arcade game abductions, and all kinds of other craziness:

- New blog The Brainy Gamer (stop boasting, there!) has posted a swift interview with gaming academic Mark J. P. Wolf, who has written a number of earlier books about the video game medium, and is soon debuting 'The Video Game Explosion: A History from PONG to PlayStation and Beyond'. Wolf talks about the state of game studies, and also offers some randomly fun 'playing now' game tips: "I would actually recommend some older games from the 1970s or 1980s, games like First Star's Spy vs Spy, or M.U.L.E."

- GSW has been semi-obsessed with Polybius for a good while now - it's a mythical early '80s arcade machine that was allegedly an experimental creation (including horrible side effects) of the 'men in black' - so thanks to TIGSource for pointing out that some crazy people have recreated the 'urban legend': "This game really did kind of screw up my vision after a few playthroughs, so I would strongly suggest playing in moderation." On that very front, Erin Mehlos did a great Polybius illustration (pictured above) for Gamasutra.com a while back - one we toyed with putting on a T-shirt.

- Both interesting and completely random is Virtual Pets Blog's history of Dream Pets and Dakin - game-related because Sega Toys licenses the new Dream Pets, physical/plush and virtual pets are increasingly tied (see Webkinz!), and the timeline and overall history is very readable: "Due to the prominent influence of Dream Pets on today’s virtual pets, we decided to trace their history and try to fill in the blanks. It reads like a movie script with several highs and lows, an earthquake, a tragic plane crash, bankruptcies, acquisitions, and a suicide. Through much of it, one man, Robert Solomon, played the leading role."

- GameTap's editorial section needs an RSS feed, still, but I managed to find a thought-provoking piece on 'Violence In Media' by Ready At Dawn's Ru Weerasuriya, in which "...the mind behind games both warm and fuzzy (Daxter) and violent and brutal (God of War: Chains of Olympus) has some strong opinions about censorship in the industry." Some snappy rhetoric: "Is there violence in games? Yes. But do games engender violence? No. Ignorance does."

- Jesper Juul is kind enough to point out the launch of a new gaming academic journal, Eludamos, and there's all kinds of craziness in there. For example: 'Electroplankton revisited: A Meta-Review' from Martin Pichlmair, which says amusing stuff like: "Electroplankton should be regarded as an art game by all standards, if only because it is a game designed by an artist." Lots more in there, for those who want to see what academics are talking about in games nowadays.

- Both Brandon (at Insert Credit) and John (at 3PointD) pointed this out, a conversation with Nintendo's Satoru Iwata set up by Shigesato Itoi, who, you may know is best known in the game world as the creator of Earthbound. It's handily translated into English, too, and it's all very arch and oblique, e.g. this, from Iwata: "It's about the relation between the creator and the customer. The king isn't the creator. He's the customer."

- Arcade Renaissance has handily spotted the first footage of Japanese arcade shooter Illvelo, commenting: "With the location test this weekend, the first video footage of Milestone's new game, a cel-shaded shooter have hit the web. After Karous and its dynamic blacks and whites, the artists at the company look as though they wanted to expand back into the bright colors and odd surroundings that were present in Radirgy." And lo, this looks pretty adorable.

- An (indirect) update to a previous GSW post has Dan Amrich of Official Xbox Magazine commenting to the reaction to his 2/10 Space Giraffe review on his Bunnyears.net blog, and I think he justifies his point of view in a fair manner: "I really do stand by my review. Space Giraffe is unique, which is to be applauded, but hostile to the player, which is not. It took a while to understand the game — really, even after taking the tutorial twice and fiddling with the game for a week, the game simply didn’t give me the feedback I needed to learn how to play it. And once I did get a bead on it, I didn’t like it for all the reasons stated in the magazine."

Eve Online's Economist Goes Mineral Mad

- You may recall that Icelandic space MMO EVE Online appointed an official in-world economist, Dr. Eyjo Gudmundsson, a few months back - here's his first post on their official site, promising he'll monitor inflation and trading and "...publish economic information to the EVE-Online community."

Well, earlier last week, Dr. Eyjo duly published his first in-world analysis, and it's stacked with the kind of complex graphs and charts that would make a lot of MMO developers/geeks drool. One notable thing upfront is that current subscription numbers for EVE are revealed: "EVE Online's population has increased by 0.9% per week since launch, currently residing at 190.000 paid subscriptions and nearly 40.000 active trial accounts which are disregarded from these economic studies."

The conclusion mentions that there will be an economic newsletter, the first of a quarterly series, published before Fanfest 2007 in November, and also reveals surprisingly real world-esque trends: "Overall trade quantity and volume has increased dramatically over the last 3 years and the price of minerals has fallen considerably due to increased mining efficiency through better tactics and improved technology. The price formation has also improved showing that price difference between regions is becoming minimal in Empire space and reflects only the time value of moving minerals in low sec. However, smaller population and the risk of piracy in zero-zero space results in less efficient markets with low volumes and great fluctuations in prices given an arbitrage trade opportunity for the brave entrepreneur." [Via Clickable Culture.]

Game Developer Announces Front Line Awards Call For Submissions

- Now, I heard a nasty rumor that some of you GameSetWatch readers are actually in the game biz (!), so I thought I'd point out something we just posted on Gamasutra, which is actually about Game Developer magazine's call for submissions for its 10th annual game tools awards. If you use a game tool that you really enjoy, make sure you suggest it to us! Info is below:

"The editors of Game Developer magazine have announced that nominations for the historic 10th Annual Front Line Awards, continuing the magazine's tradition of honoring excellence and innovation in tools for game development, are now open.

Game Developer magazine accepts nominations from the game development community for its annual Front Line Awards during a fixed nomination period.

The Front Line Awards, highly regarded in the industry, are the only major awards to honor the year's best development hardware and software for programming, art, audio, hardware, books, game engines, and game components.

While a great many considerations go into determining a winner, innovation is the real name of the game. Products are nominated in all categories by the readers of Game Developer magazine and Gamasutra, and will be judged by select game professionals from a list of all nominations put forward.

Nominations are open from September 10th, 2007, through October 9th, 2007, to all new products and new versions of products related to game development released between September 1, 2006, and August 31, 2007 (betas are not eligible). Front Line Award finalists will be announced in the December 2007 issue and winners will be announced in the January 2008 issue of Game Developer.

To go nominate a piece of hardware, book, or game engine - whether a satisfied user or a creator of that product - please visit the 10th Annual Front Line Awards website and fill in the supplied form."

September 10, 2007

COLUMN: 'Might Have Been' - Chester Field

Guys, at least put a waterfall or something on your title screen. Zelda's going to eat you alive.[“Might Have Been” is a bi-weekly column by Todd Ciolek that explores the ways in which promising games, characters, and concepts failed. This week’s edition looks at Vic Tokai's Chester Field, released for the Famicom in 1987 and the Commodore 64 in 1989.]

Nintendo would never have another year quite like 1987. The NES had just broken through the anti-videogame bias that lingered in the American public after that Great Atari Crash of ’83, and the Sega Master System provided only token resistance in the console market. Nintendo would become an even bigger cultural icon in the years to come, but 1987 saw the NES truly realizing its potential, and a limited software library meant that any game more promising than, say, Chubby Cherub had a shot at becoming a cult favorite.

Chester Field never had that shot, but it came close. An action-RPG released for the Famicom that June, it was among Vic Tokai’s first console games, and it was set to lead the company’s first wave of NES titles in the U.S, even landing ad space in those Fun Club Newsletters that predated the marketing wonder of Nintendo Power. Yet Vic Tokai inexplicably backed off later that year, and their localized Chester Field vanished from release schedules just when it would have mattered most.

Chester Field Episode II: Attack of the Furries.Fantasy Island

Chester Field’s title screen gives way to an introduction surprisingly elaborate for an early NES game: when the king of Guldred is murdered by General Guemon, a loyal knight named Gazem flees for the island of Chester Field with the deposed queen and her daughter Karen. Along the way, Guemon’s forces attack their ship, kill the queen, abduct Karen, and leave Gazem to die. The fatally wounded knight washes up on the shores of Chester Field and lives just long enough to sum up the plot for a young man named Kein. Our hero immediately sets out to rescue the princess, because there’s not much else to do on an island with only a few dozen people.

At least Chester Field’s scarce residents are all shopkeepers, village elders, and other fairly useful villagers. In each of the game’s eight levels, they offer numerous weapon upgrades and items, and the game progresses surprisingly fast; Kein can pick up a mace, the game’s other major weapon, on the first level. And though the story’s a routine save-the-princess yarn, there’s a twist or two, such as when the game’s second-to-last boss is apparently revealed to be that very princess.

Chester Field’s origins are also curious. The game’s story is introduced as “Episode II,” but there’s no record of a previous chapter in Vic Tokai’s catalog, and though its advertising sports the manga-style art common to most Japanese RPGs of its day, it doesn’t seem to be tied to any novel, comic, or other license. Perhaps it’s just trying to be like Star Wars. Or Xenogears.

Well, I'm just exploring this dungeon and HOLY SHIT A SNAKE THAT I DIDN'T EVEN SEE THANK YOU BAD PALETTE DESIGN.Better than Kid Icarus, anyway

Beyond its basic plot and marginal curiosities, Chester Field is a side-scrolling action-RPG through and through. Kein’s moves start out no flashier than an upward stab, but the items he’ll gather let him fire projectiles from his sword, jump higher and use three different types of spell. And if Kein’s sometimes awkward to control, he’s also rather quick for an early NES hero.

Of course, the game’s over two decades old and looks it. The monster designs and scenery are dated by simple graphics, and the enemies often blend in with the backgrounds. This is first-generation NES stuff, and the visuals wouldn’t have impressed even back in 1987, aside from some animated character portraits.

Chester Field is, however, rather complex for a mid-‘80s RPG. Each of the eight stages includes both a straightforward overworld section and a labyrinth, along with several bosses and hidden items in each level. There’s even a relatively simple password system to keep track of power-ups.

OH GOD THEY'RE IN MY MOUTH.Poor programming becomes gameplay

Not that Chester Field is easy. Or fair. Its enemies and level designs are unforgiving, and the game almost seems to delight in misleading you. Case in point: the first thing Kein sees on the opening level is a beached shipwreck, but any players who venture inside will find Kein ill-equipped to handle it. Instead, he’s meant to hack through other areas of the first stage, level up, and then head inside the ship. An even bigger challenge in Chester Field lies in finding all of the bosses and earning special items, one of which is essential to finishing the game.

Yet things are made easier in ways the designers never intended. Even decent first-generation NES games had disguised glitches, but they crop up so often in Chester Field that even pausing the game messes things up slightly. Un-pause it, and you’ll find that all power-ups and enemy projectiles have disappeared from the screen. If you crouch and hit pause, Kein will actually fall through the floor in the sections of some mazes, thus making them a lot easier.

Madam, I am OFFENDED at your proposition as I am a hero of good moral character and also six Metal short.'80s childhoods that never were

Yes, Chester Field is a buggy, bizarrely difficulty little game, but it’s strangely compelling in its primitive way. There’s a scrappy feel to the quest's progression, and a catchy beat in the soundtrack, even if it loses its majestic appeal after a few stages of repetition. This would’ve been a solid diversion, a good chaser just after you’d finished The Legend of Zelda and before better games came along.

Better games did, of course. By the end of the decade, Chester Field had been trounced in every way by similar action-RPGs, including Faxanadu, Battle of Olympus, Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, and SNK’s still-amazing Crystalis. Vic Tokai, after balking at releasing the NES game for unknown reasons, ported a translated version to the Commodore 64 in 1989. No one cared, and Vic Tokai went on to make other games and cancel a few of them, including Lost Mission and the enjoyable Secret Ties. Vic Tokai is a strange study.

And Chester Field is a sad one. Though its time may have passed twenty years ago, at least it had a time, unlike large clumps of the thousand-odd games in the NES library, and it’s unfortunate that Vic Tokai’s humble epic couldn’t charm impressionable kids to the point where their adult versions would defend it on message boards decades later. Chester Field may not deserve more than a short, retroactively nostalgic glance today, but it deserved a fighting chance all those years ago.

[Todd Ciolek is a magazine editor in New York City and will be disappointed if no one protests his remark about Kid Icarus.]

GameTap Indies Launches With Blast Miner, Morning's Wrath

- Over at unofficial but rather fun GameTap blog Angled Whiteboards, their latest game announcement post reveals: "Today we launch our first titles under the GameTap Indies banner: Blast Miner and Morning’s Wrath."

GameTap Indies was originally announced back in February, and was part of the PC gaming service's sponsorship of the Independent Games Festival [DISCLAIMER: for which I am Chairman]. And actually, Blast Miner was one of the special IGF prizewinners that got a $5,000 advance against appearing on the service, which is cool. And GameTap has a GameTap Indies submission form now, too, for those who want to put their titles forward.

When discussing these new titles, Angled Whiteboards' xamount comments: "I’ve dipped into the fantastic Blast Miner a bit — it’s got a deceptively steeper learning curve than the “falling Tetris-shaped blocks” appearance would lead you to believe. The floaty, wacky physics are definitely a change of pace. And is the first time that a puzzler like this has allowed you to float dropped blocks back UP to reposition them?" Looking forward to seeing more indie titles appearing on the service v.soon.

COLUMN: GameSetVideo Treasures: 'Dreamworks' Neverhood EPK'

- Preserving video game-related material for posterity is something that the folks at the San Francisco-based Internet Archive are committed to, alongside digital preservation of all kinds of other material, and it's something I've been helping them with for a few years now.

In particular, there are some good, active video-related collections as part of the Game Videos collection at the Archive right now - particularly the Speed Runs collection, which is run by the Speed Demos Archive, and the Machinima collection, run by Stanford University. The other collections have been semi-dormant for a while - but thanks to some help from new IGDA Preservation SIG volunteer Andrew Armstrong, there's some new goodness being uploaded.

I'm going to try to highlight various interesting, rare, or videos hosted on the Archive every week or so, starting with Dreamworks' EPK for 'The Neverhood' (click through to download) - and as noted: "Electronic Press Kit includes making of, Steven Spielberg [and Doug TenNapel] interviews, much fascinating/unseen behind the scenes material" for the cult 1996 Claymation adventure game. It's also important because, since it comes from before the Internet video streaming boom, a lot of EPK-style video from this period isn't available on anything apart from videotape.

This video actually originally came from Stewart Cheifet's collection - he's an Archive staffer who presented Computer Chronicles and Net Cafe for many years. Click below to go to the Archive page where you can stream or download the movie (I tried embedding, but Movable Type didn't like it, for some reason - better safe than sorry!)

Incidentally, why should we care about the Internet Archive keeping copies of these videos, when YouTube or Google Video or any number of other sites have videos available too? A couple of reasons - firstly, there are high-quality downloadable version of the media available, not just sometimes grainy streaming versions - but then, some sites such as GameTrailers do that too. But secondly, the Archive is a non-profit, and it's not going to ditch any of its old content or do commercially motivated things to it - it's just going to keep it and preserve it.

[A couple of other neat Internet Archive projects in other media I want to highlight - current projects with the Prelinger Library include adding to the Prelinger Archive ephemeral movie collection by digitizing some neat ephemeral books/magazines, adding to a gigantic book digitization project. I also like the new Center For Home Movies collection - more interesting stuff that would otherwise get lost. In addition, coming up, NASA has agreed a deal with the Internet Archive "...to scan, archive and manage the agency's vast collection of photographs, historic film and video" for free access. Awesome.]

September 9, 2007

The Rodent Pays Tribute To The Ocean

- Crazed UK-based game webazine Way Of The Rodent recently added their latest ramshackle Issue - #86, called 'Caribbean Queen', and I particularly wanted to highlight their tribute to UK software 'legends' Ocean Software - who were eventually subsumed into the Infogrames monolith, but rocked things for about 15 years from their Manchester, England HQ.

Of course, it's filled with informal language and odd slang, but I quite enjoy this intro, for starters: "In my This Gaming Life two months ago, I made a claim that was in retrospect difficult to substantiate. I dared to suggest that Mankind's greatest accomplishment, his longest lasting legacy, was to have successfully converted Taito's coin op Chase HQ to the ZX Spectrum." A detailed analysis of the reasons that Ocean (sometimes maligned at the time) actually rocked ensues.

Ocean were probably best known to Europeans, of course, but their Wikipedia page explains things further: "Ocean were famous for often buying the rights to make video games from different movie and television franchises. Many license games combined several styles for example featuring platform action and car driving." Mm, Batman: The Movie for Amiga was a particular favorite of mine.

COLUMN: 'Game Mag Weaseling': Mag Roundup 9/8/07

No time to lose, let's get right to the highlight of the newsstand over the past two weeks:

PCXL Fall 2007

pcxl.jpg

Cover: The Frag Dolls

As Simon mentioned earlier this week, PCXL is a one-off from Future that, while not a clone of the old PC Accelerator (1998-2000), at least tries to recreate the spirit of the old magazine. The book is roughly divided into six sections:

- Gear, pages of gadgets and other gamer-type merchandise, the great majority of which is from ThinkGeek.com
- Trends, the "feature well" of sorts that includes bits on game-related cons, how to run a LAN party, gaming tattoos, and other stuff that'd be at home in the front end of EGM or GFW
- Game Faces, the interview section that's mostly dominated by the Frag Dolls (Ubisoft's team of competitive-gaming hotties) but also includes a bit on the CGS gaming league and a humorous look back at PC Gamer's Nov. 2000 "Game Gods" issue, the one that identified Stevie Case as a shining light of the PC scene's future
- Games & Tech, the previews and hardware section
- The Internets, a few quick one-off bits on net trends and wacky online stuff
- Popular Culture, bits on comics, movies and action figures

Add in a few columns from ex-PCXL staff about the old magazine and the current state of gaming, and you've got your brand-new, 100-page PCXL. It's all well designed, and the text ain't bad, which makes this a very neat (and very unique) one-off. Would I want to see a regular publication like this? I don't think so, and I doubt Future does, either. It's been proven several times by this point that throwing girls into a game magazine in an attempt to snag a broader audience actually serves to narrow it instead. Kicking off the magazine with unadorned, catalog-like pages of gadget photos is also really uninteresting.

Perhaps looming the largest, though, is the fact that the mag PCXL looks closest to in terms of design and general tone is Stuff, the US edition of which is closing with its October '07 issue. If Dennis couldn't keep Stuff going, then I doubt Future could do it with PCXL in this newsstand environment, either.

Electronic Gaming Monthly October 2007 (Podcast)

egm-0710.jpg

Cover: Silent Hill 5

Pretty strong (easily GI-caliber) preview issue this month, with Silent Hill 5 leading and EA's NFL Tour and Ubisoft's Lost following close behind. They're all seriously good articles, and it more than makes up for the usual very old E3 coverage toward the middle. EGM also has arguably the biggest coverage of The King of Kong, the Donkey Kong high-score documentary, and the article inside serves as a neat follow-up to the film as it explains why Billy Mitchell got a bum rap (though I've met him in real life and his "game face" is pretty damn intense, I have to admit).

Game Informer September 2007

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Cover: Borderlands

I really don't like this cover. The coverline is "5-second Hollywood pitch" PR-speak and doesn't tell me anything interesting about the game; why it's exciting and why I should want to read all about it right now. The choice of art features the same sort of pseudo-futuristic army dudes that seem to populate every developer's pet project over the past year or so, and it's also all blurred for a speed effect that doesn't really work. (There are a couple of art pieces in the article itself that could've worked better, including one with an Autoduel-style car and some wyverns that'd match the "Diablo meets Mad Max" line perfectly.) If you're reviewing Bioshock or have exclusive hands-on coverage of Killzone 2, why not make one of those the main subject instead? Both admittedly have the same "buff rugged armored dude" look as Borderlands, kinda, but at least Killzone 2 has those easily-recognizable enemies.

Despite all this, the internal article is really neat, thanks to a ton of colorful screens/renders/character art and the always entertaining Randy Pitchford and his gang at Gearbox commenting. The same goes for Killzone 2, which GI wisely portrays in a "payback for all the crap they got over the E3 '05 showing" manner and rounds out with a bunch of lovely screens.

GI's E3 coverage is also the most solid of the mags I've seen, concentrating extensively on hardware and presentations in lieu of software, although there's plenty of pages on that too. At this point, I'd say GI's position as the most industry-oriented consumer games mag in the US is pretty well solidified -- and for good reason.

GamePro October 2007

gpl2-0710.jpg

Cover: Grand Theft Auto IV

I got a letter the other day stating that GamePro is withdrawing its EX subscription program, which bundled newsstand extras and special bonus items with each subscriber issue. In place of it they're extending subscriptions. Why're they doing this? Because the newsstand GamePro is losing all the posters and stuff, too: "We've decided to focus on that's IN the magazine, and that will continue to be the BEST reviews of the HOTTEST new games," and so on and so forth. I didn't think that anyone really liked collecting all that extra stuff, anyway.

A pretty solid issue, although nothing stands out too much in the eye of the hardened gamer. I really enjoy how their art design has solidified over the past few months. I think the GTA IV article has some new screens, but I don't keep up with GTA media the way many folks do so I could be wrong.

Edge October 2007

edge-0710.jpg

Cover: Super Mario Galaxy

My subscription to Edge has finally commenced (though I got two copies for some reason, will need to bring that up with the distributor on Monday), so I'm skipping September and going right to the very latest issue, one which heavy on the industry stuff even by Edge standards. Up front is a pretty big interview with John Carmack discussing his company's strategy for the current multi-platform marketplace, followed by the Guild Wars guy defending Guild Wars and coverage of BlizzCon and two different UK developer expos.

One of the many subtle differences between Edge and other magazines is that they don't mind slagging off a game in the previews, or "Hype," section. Here's a few excerpts from their full-page Spider-Man: Friend or Foe preview: "[A lack of variety] is the most fundamental problem with Friend or Doe, and it ruins the experience. Scores of indistinguishable opponents may have been inevitable many moons ago, but they're not now... The levels shown aren't pieces of inspired design... It could be claimed that Spider-Man: FOF is being designed for children and should be treated as such. And yet that presumes that children are undiscerning, and that any content produced for them can be simply cranked out, but cross-generational appeal is a balancing act the comics have managed for 40 years, so there's no excuse there." Of course, a game has to be really terrible to get this treatment -- other titles, like Fable 2 and Tecmo's Project Rygar, are handled a little more amicably.

You'll probably also note the extensive dev-oriented coverage, once more. This is really hammered home if you subscribe to Edge -- subscribers get a mass of extra game-school and "how to get into games" literature with every issue, which I'm sure must help out the mag's bottom line a great deal.

Games for Windows: The Official Magazine September 2007 (Podcast)

gfw-0709.jpg

Cover: World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King

This is the fifth WOW cover in four years for CGW/GFW, as Jeff Green admits in his letter, but at least it's a pretty feature, and it's accompanied by a few neat side articles on online gaming -- one on stories (with endings) in MMOs, and another on "editorial video games" made by Persuasive Games. Otherwise, the usual gang of previews and reviews, but at least GFW doesn't preview anything and everything.

Xbox 360 Cheat Guide Volume 6

oxm-cheatguide6.jpg

Yep, it's another Future cheat special. Nothing much to say about it, other than it suggests readers consult GamesRadar.com for full walkthroughs of certain games (like Lost Planet), and if I wanted to do that, then why would I be buying a mag like the first place, is what I'm wondering.

[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.]

Why Arcade Culture Is Definitively... The Best?

- Sometimes unfairly ignored (partly because it lacks a public RSS feed!), Alex Kierkegaard's Insomnia.ac blends reviews of new Japanese arcade machines with direct, sometimes caustic editorials on a variety of gaming subjects, and Alex pinged me to point out his relatively recent editorial on 'Arcade Culture', which starts out with a Baudrillard quote and spirals rapidly off from there.

Now, remember, Alex lives in Japan, where the arcade scene is still putting out a fair amount of new titles, and his opening gambit is provocative, to say the least: "The starting point of this essay then -- and make of it what you will -- is the observation that games released in the arcades are of a much higher quality, on average, than games released for the home console market."

He continues: "In other words, if you decided to walk into an arcade today blindfolded, and spend the evening playing the first game you bumped into (having taken off the blindfold first, yeah), chances are you'd have a lot more fun than if you spent the same amount of time playing something picked at random off the shelves of your local game retailer."

Even if he does needlessly trash the rest of the game biz, Kierkegaard's slightly crazed views seem almost Utopian: "So this is how the arcades work: a highly competitive and transparent environment, experienced players, no magazines, no clueless reviewers, practically non-existent marketing budgets -- and what do you get? Good games and players who are capable of appreciating them."

Well, here's the problem, in my view - a lot of new arcade games, particularly Japanese fighting games and shooters, are tuned for the ultra-hardcore gamer. The game developers and distributors are interested in extracting tens of dollars each from a few punters, not a couple of bucks each from lots of punters. This means that the arcade scene is, and will remain, gloriously insular. So it's a niche of a niche - albeit one that produces some genuinely interesting and complex gameplay. But that doesn't make it any better than casual DS games or XBLA titles or, say, Halo 3 - just different.



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