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GameSetWatch.com is the alt.video game weblog and sister site of Gamasutra.com. It is dedicated to collecting curious links and media for offbeat and oft-ignored games from consoles old and new, as well as from the digital download, iOS, and indie spaces.

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Archive For September, 2007

Game Design Essentials: The Top 20 'Open World' Games

September 27, 2007 8:12 AM | Simon Carless

- Aha - so John H's second in Gamasutra's 'Game Design Essentials' series, following '20 Difficult Games', looks at the roots and design lessons of 'open world games' - titles in which the player "is left to his own devices to explore a large world" - from Adventure through Metroid to Grand Theft Auto.

Here's something from his intro, helping to define the tricksy term: "When we discuss "open world games" in this article, or sometimes "exploration games," we mean those games where generally the player is left to his own devices to explore a large world. What all of these games share is the seeking of new, interesting regions at whatever time the player deems fit. No force forces the player's motion into new areas. There's no auto-scroll, and there are no artificial level barriers."

The whole article is a little retro game-focused, sure, but as Harris says, design mechanics are often much more clearly delineated or oddly exposed in those earlier titles - and I like his discussion of the classic Adventure on the Atari 2600: "Adventure's fun comes from the way all of its simple objects interact to produce complex behavior... carrying the sword, the bat might brush it across a dragon on his flight, killing it. This is possible because all of the objects in the game function automatically, which they have to be anyway since The Button is devoted to dropping stuff. A lot of the fun in Adventure comes from the unintended consequences of the player's actions." Chaos can be fun!

GameSetLinks: The Weekend Hangover

September 27, 2007 12:09 AM | Simon Carless

- Well, yet again, I managed to collect a decent amount of links over the weekend, but not get around to posting them until midweek, thanks to rampant levels of Gamasutra/Game Developer work. Still, since we don't do a lot of breaking news on GameSetWatch, so you guys will survive, no doubt:

- Nathan Smart, who has been known to run The Game Rag, recently started a new blog called Pre-Order Pushers with Kyle Orland and others, and it's got an interesting mandate: "Pre-order Pushers is dedicated to exposing all sorts of lies from game store employees, not just ones involving pre-orders." It's sorta Consumerist just for game stores?

- The Italian 'Hobby Media' blog has been discussing the game geek Vocaloid phenomenon in Japan, as follows: "Vocaloid is a technology and application software developed by Yamaha that enables users to synthesize authentic-sounding singing by just typing in the melody and the lyrics of a song... Vocaloid 2 singer, just released by Crypton, features the voice of Atsune Miku: a 16 years old virtual Singer." Thus, a character-based interactive anime music idol? V. Japan!

- The IEEE's Sandbox game blog has a good post from Harry Teasley on evaluating game artist showreels and resumes at his game development studio: "Put your best stuff at the beginning of the reel, don't choose crazy music to accompany it, and don't pad your reel with weak work if you feel it is too short. It's not too short: when it's long and filled with weak work interspersed with good work, I'll wonder about your judgment."

- Left over from the AM2 arcade show in Japan, Arcade Renaissance takes a look at IGS' Oriental Legends 2: "The traditional 2D side scrolling brawler stood out a bit on the show floor (in a good way), despite only a small number of machines dedicated to the game... the game is set for release on a new IGS created PGM-based hardware known as the PGM2." 2D brawlers in arcades will never expire, at least in Asia, apparently.

- Presuming most people saw it, but here's the teaser trailer for ThatGameCompany's fl0wer for PlayStation 3's PSN - and is about as cryptic as you're going to get. The only sensible YouTube comment: "Pretty neat, looks like a tech demo to me." On this front (and I'm not claiming this is necessarily the case for this title), why do most Sony first-party PSN titles have to include 'only technically possible with PS3!' claims lurking around them? In most cases, this seems like a bit of a bolt-on.

- GameDaily's second half of the 'Courting Controversy' article on the biggest game writing scandals, or "...those bits of game writing that just rub some people the wrong way", if you prefer. And yes, #1 is New Games Journalism, and this quote is amusingly grumpy: "Indeed, "new games journalism" has become a bit akin to the music industry's "hipster," in that no one knows exactly what it means but everyone has this vague idea that they don't want to be associated with it."

Finishing up with some GameSetMicroLinks, as follows:

- Russell Carroll asks: 'Is 1% Conversion Rate A Problem?' for casual games?
- The Brainy Gamer points out Tetsuya Mizuguchi's virtual Al Gore animation kicking off Live Earth's Japanese concert - didn't know it was by him!
- Jonathan Blow has been discussing landmarks in games, to good effect.
- Jarkko Laine has interviewed Petri Purho about his 'game per month' project.
- XBLArcade.com interviewed the creators of Screwjumper! about their interesting upcoming XBLA title.
- Talking of XBLA, Eurogamer has a useful round-up of the XBLA titles shown at Tokyo Game Show, including shooters galore.
- Videoludica remembers Gunpei Yokoi, close to the 10th anniversary of his sad passing.
- Gamezebo talks to Steven Zhao of Blue Tea Games about going from quirky to hidden object, with success.
- Fun-Motion points to Walaber’s Jello Car WIP - it's a... jello car!
- NCSX has a brief run-down of R-Type Tactics, now it's available in stores in Japan and still weird.

TGS' Japanese Indie Student Game Bonanza

September 26, 2007 4:02 PM | Simon Carless

- You see, GSW appreciates Wired News' Chris Kohler because he takes some time to look around Tokyo Game Show and finding things off the beaten track, and we particularly dug his look at the Japanese student games being exhibited at the show this year.

As Kohler explains: "In the outer hall of Tokyo Game Show, Japan's many game-design specialty schools recruited potential students by showing off games that current students had produced. Some of them were pretty fantastic -- especially the students at Japan Electronics College, who'd made some pretty fantastic posters for their games."

Further down, it's noted: "TGS 2007 also featured the return of an old favorite: BloWind, a GameCube game developed by students at Digital Entertainment Academy. We actually covered this here on Game|Life not long after the blog began, and it's in much better shape now. The graphics look really nice, actually. They could totally ship this for Wii if they added motion controls for the fan..." We need to hear more about Japanese student games in the West, really.

Ultima Gets Ultimate Ultima Guide, Guv'nor!

September 26, 2007 8:02 AM | Simon Carless

- So, as we reported on Gamasutra, it's the 10th anniversary of Ultima Online, the big bad voodoo daddy of graphical MMOs, and they're advertising "...a new amnesty program that invites former players back to try out the major game update, Ultima Online Kingdom Reborn, for free" - which is awesome, cos it sounds like one of those campaigns where you have to hand in guns and grenades at the police station!

And this Ultima-related celebration is good timing for The Artful Gamer's interview with Stephen Emond, who has written 'Ultima: The Ultimate Collector’s Guide', and is planning to release the book in the near future - thus far "...only three copies exist (mine, a copy I presented to Richard [Garriott] and the one auctioned off at the [recent Austin GDC] fundraiser)."

Judging by Stephen's rather amazing collection, it's going to be an essential tome for Ultima geeks, though, and as Emond notes, the Ultima series is well worth collecting: "Most game collectors would agree that Origin consistently went above and beyond when it came to packaging and contents, particularly with the Ultima series. Beautifully detailed booklets, cloth maps, and meaningful ‘trinkets’ from Ankhs to Moonstones were the norm. With most games (then and now) you’d be lucky to find that in a special collector’s edition."

COLUMN: 'Beyond Tetris' - The 7th Guest and The 11th Hour

September 26, 2007 12:03 AM |

["Beyond Tetris" is a no-longer-dormant column from Tony "Tablesaw" Delgado about puzzle games that transcend mere abstract action and instead plunge deep into the heart of problem-solving. This installment examines the high-budget puzzle collections The 7th Guest and The 11th Hour.]

It's been a while since I wrote one of these; a lot's happened in the past few months. Most importantly I've moved, with my fiancee, into the heart of Hollywood. (Not for any particular hey-let's-break-into-films reason, just because it's a nice neighborhood.) As I've been settling down to live my everyday life in an area that's idealized and vilified from around the world, I've had a lot of time to think about style and substance, puzzle and presentation. So I think it's appropriate that I restart this column with the blockbuster popcorn movie of computer puzzle games, The 7th Guest.

Guest Hosts

Robert Hirschboeck hams it up as Stauf in The 7th GuestIn 1990, Graeme Devine and Rob Landeros, two employees of Virgin Games, were thinking about Laura Palmer, viz. who killed her. They were also thinking about the board game Clue (the rights to which Virgin had acquired). But most importantly, they were thinking about CD-ROMs. Music CDs had taken over vinyl, and console manufacturers were just starting to release systems like the FM Towns Marty and the TurboGrafx CD that used CD-ROMs to hold game information. But on the PC, the CD-ROM was still mostly used for massive data storage for programs like the Microsoft Bookshelf. Landeros and Devine wanted to get ahead of the PC-gaming curve and use the power of the CD-ROM to give gamers a mystery to equal David Lynch's bizzarro serial.

Though inspired by the promise of multimedia, the pair were also keenly aware of its limitations; they didn't want to promise more than they could deliver. Landeros explained, "People get disappointed when they can't do something. Because it seems that you're saying there are endless possiblities, yet you're so restricted. So we wanted to restrict things—restrict the environment from the start." So instead of offering a wide-open puzzle space, they decided to focus on small discrete puzzles which would serve as the backbone for a mystery shown in video, music and animation. In the design spec for Guest, Devine and Landeros described a game with a structure similar to Cliff Johnson's The Fool's Errand, but with a plot that was "very strong, intricate, and full of dramatic content."

Devine and Landeros were amicably "fired" from Virgin to form their own company, Trilobyte, which would develop the game for Virgin to publish. It became The 7th Guest—and a major success. It sold more than two million copies and is credited with helping to push sales of CD-ROM drives for PCs. Today, it's hard to watch the videos without cringing at both the acting and the blocky video. But while the acting is probably the same as it ever was, the video and the 3-D pictures and animation were state-of-the-art in the early '90s. And what the game lacked in thespianism, it made up in grotesque imagery. The mansion of the demented toymaker Stauf was a playground of interactive horror. Even jaded techies wanted the game, if only to show off the Super VGA visuals.

But so far I've only talked about the "Hollywood" side of the game—the video, special effects, sales. What about the puzzles?

Game Informer Salutes 'Everyday Developer'

September 25, 2007 4:02 PM | Simon Carless

- Our very own Kevin 'Magweasel' Gifford already checked out Game Informer's October issue in his column at the weekend, but I wanted to highlight the two-page feature they have on multi-IGF prize winner Everyday Shooter, because there's a couple of points in it that are think are important for the indie scene.

The article (which is illustrated by Jon Mak holding a PC Engine controller up to a fire hydrant!) comments: "Everyday Shooter first appeared publicly at the 2006 Game Developers Conference in the Experimental Gameplay Workshop. The game garnered significant buzz and by December of that year it was nominated for the Independent Games Festival Awards and accepted as a finalist at the Slamdance festival..."

It continues: "'I went to the Independent Games Festival there [since I] always make a point of swinging by and checking out the games', recalls John Hight, director of external development at Sony Computer Entertainment America and a primary decision maker on what makes it onto the PlayStation Network. Hight tried the first stage and was struck by the artistic style of the game and the way gameplay interlaced with the music."

Negotiations ensued and, lo and behold, Everyday Shooter is a flagship PlayStation Network title now. This is important (to my mind, as IGF Chairman) because there's been plenty of indie titles identified with the IGF and other indie game festivals - but rarely is there such direct causation in the game world between a public showing of an unreleased game, and a bigger publisher/distribution mechanism picking it up. Hopefully there will be more and more indie fests where this happens.

[In other v.interesting indie news, elsewhere in the piece (and let's not forget the reach of this article - Game Informer has a rate base of 2.3 million readers nowadays), Hight reveals that 120,000 people have bought ThatGameCompany's art-game fl0w on PlayStation 3 so far - not bad for a title that's as abstract as anything sold on a console thus far.]

Space Time Play Crazy Academic World

September 25, 2007 8:03 AM | Simon Carless

- We just got sent a honest-to-gosh paper copy of this book, so it's good timing that Jesper Juul has also pointed out that "...Space Time Play is a new anthology on video games edited by Friedrich von Borries, Steffen P. Walz and Matthias Böttger" - and out this month.

Now, it does have to be said that the overview on the official site is highly 'academikwak' (and yes, that's an official term): "The richly illustrated texts in "Space Time Play" cover a wide range of gamespaces: from milestone video and computer games to virtual metropolises to digitally-overlaid physical spaces. As a comprehensive and interdisciplinary compendium, "Space Time Play" explores the architectural history of computer games and the future of ludic space."

But looking through 'Space Time Play', it's a bit more interesting than that implies - with a near-infinite amount of contributors debuting short but sometimes perceptive analyses of titles from Rogue through Kirby: Canvas Curse through Silent Hill through Elite and beyond, plus art-games and ARGs also notably featured in other vignettes. It all gets a bit weird when it lapses into "architecture and urban planning" much later in the book, but you can always rip that bit out if you want!

(Also, there's an endearingly brief essay on physics in games which has precisely two references - for Newton's 'Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica' and, uhh, George Lucas' Star Wars. That's the charm and insanity of the academic gaming scene, all in once!)

GameSetTGS: The Inevitable Aftermath

September 25, 2007 12:12 AM | Simon Carless

- You thought you were going to get away without GameSetWatch rounding up our Tokyo Game Show coverage from Gamasutra & friends, didn't you? Well, no such luck, despite vague promises not to do it, since there's a few unique write-ups I wanted to point out from last week's extravaganza in Tokyo, as follows:

- Christian Nutt's analysis of the Tokyo Game Show show floor - and, by inference, the show itself - for Gamasutra was pretty interesting, I thought: "Still, it seems like the industry is, in some sense, holding its breath at this TGS, with the PS3 still struggling to find an array of compelling software -- particularly that which will appeal to its Japanese domestic userbase... few major titles were announced, and many are still far off. The 360 is in a holding pattern in Japan. The Wii is gaining little in the way of breadth of titles, if this show is any indication. Still, the array of games here points to publishers willing to try different things to capture a fragmenting and maturing game audience."

- He's in Texas, not Tokyo, but I got Danny Cowan to super-compile the actual, honest-to-god Tokyo Game Show game announcements, since "...this year's TGS boasted relatively few game announcements of its own, as most of the convention's featured titles had previously been detailed in Famitsu and in recent press releases." He picked off some interesting stuff, from Metal Slug 7 through Populous DS and Flower (Fl0wer?) - and it was handy, at least for my addled mind, to see it all listed together.

- The subtle shading of Kaz Hirai's Sony keynote kicking off TGS was, we claim, missed by many. The real story wasn't the delay of Home, or the Dual Shock for PlayStation 3, but the fact that Hirai "...staked out a policy of improving Sony's relationship with its development and user bases, as well as stating definitively that the PS3 should be perceived first and foremost as a gaming platform." This is, after all, quite different from Ken Kutaragi's keynote at TGS 2006, which emphasized much more abstract, slightly cuckoo things.

- While we're at it, some brief interview excerpts from our TGS correspondents - Marvelous Interactive (Harvest Moon) suggesting they'll open a U.S. branch within the next two years, Factor 5's Julian Eggebrecht discussing Turrican remakes for XBLA/PSN, theoretically, and Phil Harrison suggesting there may be more custom game controllers along the lines of the Buzz and EyeToy peripherals coming to the PS2.

- Finally on the Gamasutra front, since both of the folks we sent to Japan (Brandon Sheffield and Christian Nutt) speak Japanese pretty well, I hear we have some good personal-style interviews coming up with folks like Masaya Matsuura, Tomonobu Itagaki, and some interesting Grasshopper Manufacture personnel. I'm particularly excited by Brandon's promised Kenta Cho vs. Omega vs. Jon Mak showdown - it's bullet hell heaven!

[Oh, and a couple of interesting TGS points of view from folks we know: Game Girl Advance's Jane Pinckard (recently and sadly departed from the CMP Game Group) popped up on GigaOM, suggesting 'Tokyo Game Show: A Clouded Vision In A Web 2.0 World?', and Wired News' Chris Kohler sums up, a little deflatedly, as 'Final Thoughts: Tokyo Game Show Bigger, More Irrelevant Than Ever' - though he's talking more about Nintendo than Web 2.0. But either way, people seemed a little deflated by the show.]

COLUMN: @Play: '7DRL: Seven Day Quest'

September 24, 2007 4:01 PM |

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

Other projects (specifically the Game Design Essentials series over at Gamasutra) have taken up a bit of time lately so this one's a week late, and kinda light besides. You may find it interesting, though.

We're going to start taking a look at some of the results from the 7DRL programming challenge, which asks participants to create a roguelike game in seven days or less. Many interesting games have come out of the challenge, such as personal favorite ChessRogue. This one's particularly interesting because it hews quite close to the pattern laid out by Rogue, as well it should, as it's made by one of Rogue's original creators, Glenn Wichman.

6955 Gets Some Bonus 'Points', Tokyo Style

September 24, 2007 8:03 AM | Simon Carless

- Hanging around the Kokoromi art-game posse's site, we spotted an interesting blog entry about a game culture video segment, explaining: "Jason, AKA 6955 who’s currently busy doing all the music and sound for Fez is also busy putting together this new show he’s producing for gamevideos.com."

And? "It's called Points and its slick as hell. Its about game culture, the kind of stuff you never hear enough about. Rather than go on about previews and reviews and products, Points is about the culture that was spawned and revolves around videogames. The first episode is about these 2 gamer’s bars in tokyo. Reason 9982373 to want to go to tokyo: they have bars for gamers. Definitely check it out. Its sexy and uses bolded helvetica as its font of choice. Oh, and music by 6955, too!"

6955, who is Canadian but lives in Tokyo, is a notable chipmusician, and he was also behind the recent Nintendo Museum documentary run on GameVideos.com - and which is very neat indeed. Also, look around 6955's site for stuff like his modded, circuit-bent projects, including 'Rapidfire Famicom Controller' and a host of others.

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