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Archive For September, 2007

Digital Eel Releases The Plasmaworm For Free!

September 24, 2007 12:06 AM | Simon Carless

- Got a note from Rich over at indie stalwarts Digital Eel revealing some very neat news: "Hot off the hyperwire: Digital Eel's very first game, Plasmaworm (quite possibly the coolest Snake game in the Five Galaxies), is now absolutely FREE! You get the FULL GAME plus level passwords with no strings attached."

Here's the system requirements/info for the game, which includes: "360 degree movement; in-game level, music and plasma editors; solo or 2-player co-op or deathmatch modes; guns; bosses; cosmic ducks; the works!" And here's the 2MB installer for the Windows title, yay.

There are Plasmaworm screenshots on the site, too - these are the trippy folks behind super-neat 'short' space combat game Weird Worlds, let's not forget. Oh, also, just spotted a teaser for Digital Eel's next game on their front page, 'Eat Electric Death', described as 'Tactical starship combat in your living room!' Whatever insanity that is.

Can RTS Games Work On A Console?

September 23, 2007 4:09 PM | Simon Carless

- Back to Soren Johnson's 'Designer Notes' blog, then, where he's been analyzing Ensemble's 'Halo Wars' trailer and commenting, in some detail, on how the real-time strategy game genre should be adapting to the console format.

Johnson notes of the trailer: "At the very end of the video, however, there is a tiny suggestion of just how fun an RTS could be on a console. The human side has some sort of orbiting uber-weapon they can use to wreck massive destruction on a specific target. The console interface for this system is a snap - it's simply a huge reticule. Just aim and shoot."

He continues: "Personally, I was hoping that Halo Wars would focus more on these types of interactions - ones where the player is taking advantage of the joystick interface instead of fighting it. RTS's truly need to be built from the ground up for consoles, without the expectation of controlling multiple groups of soldiers." Johnson then references Moonbase Commander, Rampart, Defense Of The Ancients and M.U.L.E. as meaningful touchpoints for those considering a console RTS.

Also useful? Jason 'loonyboi' Bergman's comment on the post, which wraps up a couple of loose ends from the existing high-profile console RTSes: "I'm deeply biased of course, but I fall into the category of people that RTSes will never, ever, ever work as well as turn-based on a console. It's not that they can't be done well...I think EA did a great job with Battle For Middle-Earth 2 (I haven't tried Command & Conquer 3 yet, but I gather it's more of the same). But in that game it felt like the only reason you couldn't pause the game and give orders is because EA made some high-level mandate that you couldn't. The game would have played better if you could."

Inside The Fiendish Zelda Economy

September 23, 2007 8:01 AM | Simon Carless

- Game developer Brett Douville has updated his Brett's Footnotes blog with an intriguing chat/rant about Zelda's money system, particularly in Twilight Princess for Wii, which he thinks is, well, broken in terms of money management and its related fetch quests, to say the least.

Douville's overall argument starts by noting: "You are frequently maxed out on money, even when you go from the kiddie wallet to the adult wallet, even when you go from the adult wallet to the ultimate wallet", but then overflows to pure annoyance when he finally saved enough and did multiple rote tasks to grab the Magic Armor, the most powerful armor in the game.

And what happens then? "The Magic Armor converts damage to a loss of money, and slowly burns through money whenever you're wearing it besides... That's right, the whole exercise of spending something like 2600 rupees (easily found, slow to amass unless you're thinking about it) was to be able to convert money to health. Something that you could do basically the first time you got an empty bottle -- by buying red potions to fill that bottle from a local vendor."

Douville continues: "Now, I didn't feel gypped -- it more felt like some sort of cosmic joke, really. I had a bit of a laugh when I got the ultimate wallet and the magic armor, only to find myself quickly penniless (rupeeless?) whenever I wore it. It came in handy really only in one circumstance, in the Cave of Trials, a 50-level dungeon of increasingly difficult combatants where there was virtually no health to be found."

So what of this? Douville goes deep for his conclusion: "I can think of two explanations for the Zelda economy in Twilight Princess. The first, and the one I want to believe, is that the designers are trying to say, "Money isn't everything. Money just gives you means to do stuff. Doing stuff is more important." The other is that it's essentially the biggest shell game I've ever participated in. Come to think of it, it's probably both."

Hm - I vote for the latter alone, because I think repetitive leveling is such an ingrained part of many Japanese games that crazed money-centric shenanigans like this are considered legitimate gameplay-extending design concepts. Which is quite possibly a hoop-jumping shame.

Sex Advice From Video Game Designers? Oh, Alright!

September 23, 2007 12:06 AM | Simon Carless

- Via Alice's Wonderland Blog, she's pointed out Nerve.com's regular 'Sex Advice From...' column, which has enlisted video game designers as agony aunts/uncles this time round - and they make an eminently sensible go of it.

Oddly enough, the people participating are listed with just first name and (in a couple of cases) website links, but they appear to be a developer at Red Fly Studios in Austin on Mushroom Men, [EDIT: ex-]Ubisoft [and now A2M!] designer Heather Kelley (already crossing sex and games with aplomb via her Lapis project), the mysterious 'Jordan' (anyone?), and Randy, who certainly appears to be ex-Looking Glass and Ion Storm designer R. Smith, judging by the snapshot.

Smith actually has the best/dumbest answer, to 'How can playing video games make me a better lover?', and it's as follows (yes, it's NSFW): "Back in the eight-bit days, we used the term "Nintendo thumb," which meant one of two things: One, you played video games until the hours and hours spent manipulating the rough edge of the D-pad gave you that unique blister that hurt so badly you could barely hold the controller anymore, but you soldiered on anyway. Two, the freakish teenage-boy ability to stimulate the A/B buttons so rapidly one's thumb only appeared as a vibrating blur, a Schrödinger's-cat possibility-field type thing. So if clits are just D-pads and A/B buttons, my entire generation should be rock-star gods in bed."

COLUMN: 'Game Mag Weaseling': Mag Roundup 9/22/07

September 22, 2007 4:08 PM |

psomuk-0709.jpg

The local B&N decided to get in a few copies of PlayStation Official Magazine UK this week, so I decided to pick up one and see what's up.

PS:OMUK (not to be confused with PlayStation 2 Official Magazine UK, which is also still in operation and comes with a PS2 demo disc) is the only mag in the world, not counting the assorted continental European versions, to include a PlayStation 3 Blu-ray demo disc with each issue. I'm sure Future must've paid Sony quite a lot of money to convince them to put together a disc just for the European marketplace, and it's not a terrible disc either -- this one includes demos of many of the really important PS3 games released so far, including Ridge Racer 7, Resistance, Genji, and so forth. Nothing hugely new (and nothing you can't find on the PSN, really), but then again "official" UK mags love to pack their discs with ancient demos, filling them up as much as possible.

What's the mag look like inside? Well, a lot like how it looks outside, in fact -- extremely light 'n airy, with nothing but white backgrounds, easy-to-read text, and the occasional bit of original clean-line art demonstrating this or that feature of a game. The content is nothing terribly special, although there's a heck of a lot of it: ten pages on Resident Evil 5 (which seems to have all been written based off the old trailer and a lot of clip art), a couple of neat features on assorted topics (Folding@home, of all things, as well as a roundtable discussion of guitar/music party games), and then the usual previews and reviews.

Will I buy it again? Not for $15, no, but compared to -- uh -- the only PlayStation-specific magazine left in the US, this is an extremely high-quality product.

Anyway, let's check out all the mags released in the past fortnight! And God, all these specials! They're driving me to the poorhouse!

When You Gotta Fret, You Gotta Fret Nice

September 22, 2007 8:02 AM | Simon Carless

- At JayIsGames, the lovely Lars Doucet has done an excellent interview with 'Fret Nice' creator Martin Bruggemann, that title that "...looks like a straightforward platforming game, but there's a big twist: instead of using the keyboard or a gamepad, you play Fret Nice with the Guitar Hero controller!"

The game (which has been out for a while, and mentioned on a few major websites) was done as part of a Scandinavian university thesis, and it really is impressive how such formality can bring rigor to the game design process, leading to smart moves like this:

"The control scheme was better fitted for a fast game play with lots of forward motion. It's sometime hard to build momentum in Fret Nice because of the clunkiness of the control scheme and therefore I tried to make it so that the player never has to stand still. This should be apparent in the level design."

Bruggemann also reveals: "I'm currently in the process of starting a game development studio with a couple of school mates. Fret Nice will be one of the games we will be working on. Visit our website for more information." All I have to say is - enough people have guitar controllers now, XBLA/PSN release for this, somebody?

Hancock: It's Machinima For Dummies, Dummy!

September 22, 2007 12:01 AM | Simon Carless

- Over at a new discovery of mine, Stranger109's machinima-centric blog, they've tracked down Hugh Hancock to quiz him on his new book 'Machinima For Dummies', apparently a fine attempt at a comprehensive machinima tome good for a range of expertise levels.

Hugh actually contributed a chapter to my 'Gaming Hacks' book for O'Reilly, and in this interview promoting his new co-authored book for Wiley, he has some good insights on the different machinima flavors, I think:

"There’s a continuum on which machinimators tend to live. At one end is “Inside Out” machinima where creators tend to make movies from with in the game.... From the other end you have people coming from the direction that I come from, which is “Outside-In”, where you have a creative person or persons looking for a way to tell stories and they see machinima as a potential tool."

Stranger109's Robert Jones has also reviewed 'Machinima For Dummies' now, noting: "Hancock and Ingram have done machinima a great service in providing the most comprehensive resource available to date. And while the inevitable Monday morning quarterbacking will take place in the forums about the Second Life snubbing and the lack of Garry’s Mod coverage, the book as a whole remains an impressive effort and will serve as a resource for machinimators for years to come."

GarageGames' Legacy? Carroll Serves, Tunnell Returns

September 21, 2007 4:04 PM | Simon Carless

- GameTunnel and Reflexive's Russell Carroll has been writing about IAC's majority acquisition of Torque Engine creator GarageGames, which we covered on Gamasutra recently from a purely factual perspective. However, Carroll expands on by looking to what it means for indie games, in his view, and it's a very interesting read..

Basically, as Gama explains: "Officials from “interactive conglomerate” IAC have announced that the company has acquired a majority of independent games developer GarageGames equity. As a result the two companies now plan to launch a new Web-based video game network named InstantAction.com, intended to offer original action titles through a standard Web browser."

Now, Carroll has some reasonably strong views on the legacy of GarageGames, a company which has certainly provided some good indie flavor and a strong, low-cost engine to many developers, but, it's true, haven't really stepped up to break-out hit status in terms of critical mass, excepting perhaps their own XBLA title Marble Blast Ultra. The crux of his argument is as follows:

"What GarageGames didn't do was fully appreciate the importance of selling games to their future. They wanted to create the technology and let the developers create the market. That didn't work. 5 Years later there is no Indie marketplace, in fact there is less of a downloadable Indie market than there was when they started.

I think in retrospect the approach would have been something like:
1 - create great technology
2 - create games on that technology
3 - create a great community driven website store to sell the games
4 - release the games on casual portals, and then later steam and gametap to maximize awareness and drive customers back to the game store
5 - publish other people's games on the game store and create great add-ons for the great games that you'd already made
6 - improve the technology
7 - make new games on that technology
8 - repeat 4-7 multiple times

(my assessment is that GG got off to a great start doing 1 and 2, skipped 3, started to do 4 and then changed directions , dabbled with 5, worked on 6, didn't deliver on 7 and was ready to try a different approach by 8)."

This is, needless to say, quite strong stuff, and it draws a very interesting response from GarageGames co-founder Jeff Tunnell in the comments to the post: "Actually, this post is way off base in many respects. I take huge exception to your casual statement that the GG Game Store was an after thought. It was a part of the plan from Day One, and, in fact, a prototype was shown at the first IGC. I met you at the first IGC. For you to claim that you are somehow the reason that we tried to sell games is a huge overstatement.

We did sell a lot of games in the game store. Marble Blast has sold over 10,000 copies from our store, and many others are in the 1,000's of sales. However, it was not enough. We could not get enough good games to keep the stream alive. In retrospect, our standards may have been too high." So... who's right?

GameSetMicroLinks: Anacondas Vs. Guitar Keith

September 21, 2007 8:02 AM | Simon Carless

- Since it's almost the weekend and these are, uh, almost last weekend's GameSetWatch links, I figure it might be sensible to whip them all out in microlink form, an actionpacked line or two at a time. Hold on for a wild ride:

- Dubious Quality points out an awesome Capcom promotional campaign: "Capcom join forces with The Centre for Fortean Zoology [CFZ] on a real life Monster Hunt to South America." Yes, "giant Anaconda specimens" are involved.

- Aeropause has posted the alleged full Guitar Hero III songlist, including "...all the songs by stage, including encore and extra songs you can buy from the store." Could be fake, could be legit - I reckon the latter.

- Matthew 'Fort90' Hawkins points out a YouTube episode of 'The Brews Brothers': "The focus of this episode is squarely on Italian programmer Simone Serra and his Atari 2600 title Lead. Lead attempts to bring the spirit of Sega's 21st century sleeper hit Rez to a thirty year old game system, and the results are astonishing!"

- Grand Text Auto has spotted that "...starting next week the GameWorld exhibition , ongoing at Laboral in Gijon, Spain, is expanding the show with Playware, adding more experimental commercial games, individual-produced games and installations. The art game list? "Armadillo Run (Peter Stock), Electroplankton (Toshio Iwai), flOw (thatgamecompany), Golf? (Chronic Logic, Detective Brand), Line Rider (Boštjan Cadež), LocoRoco (Tsutomu Kuono), mono (Binary Zoo), Neon (Jeff Minter), Okami (Clover Studios), Rez (United Game Artists), Shift (Max McGuire), Toribash (Hampa Söderström), vib-ribbon (NanaOn-Sha)"

- Gamezebo has interviewed Carla Humphrey of Last Day of Work, talking gaming roles with the co-founder of the Virtual Villagers/Fish Tycoon developer: "I mainly consider myself a co-designer on the games (the YIN to Arthur's Yang), and what I bring to this process is the 'softer touch'. I try to contribute look/feel elements that will be accessible and engaging to non-gamers."

- It's still controversial, but I liked Eurogamer's dual reviews of Space Giraffe: "Some people think it's an unfathomable load of tosh, others seem to think it's really rather splendid. So rather than provide you with one viewpoint, we looked at two contrasting opinions of Jeff Minter's Xbox Live Arcade shooter."

- The New Gamer has been checking out the local artgame world, "...as part of Chicago's summer-long series of Art of Play exhibits, the 'Come In & Play' interactive center would focus squarely on video games and system." They were faintly bemused, but oh well!

- Rock Paper Shotgun points out that Super Columbine Massacre RPG's "...creator, Danny Ledonne, trying to make sense of the whole thing has been working on a documentary called Playing Columbine for a while now, and has lobbed a rough cut of a 13 minute section online."

- Zepy over at Canned Dogs has been discussing a 'forward-thinking' Japanese book: "The newly released book “Why did the PS3 fail?” by Tane Kiyoshi directly labels the PS3 as a failure and attempts to analyze the factors which led to this current situation. The author Tane Kiyoshi is an editor for the subculture + gaming magazine Continue and originally stated that the PS3 would succeed." Huh, fait accompli already?

- Vintage Computing & Gaming has dug out the 'Keith Courage in Alpha Zones' mini comic, explaining: "In 1989, the TurboGrafx-16 made its American debut with a lackluster pack-in title, Keith Courage in Alpha Zones. Included within the Keith Courage game was an approximately 4.5″ x 4.5″, eight page mini comic book setting the story for the game."

TIGSource Brings Their B Game To The Vote

September 21, 2007 12:03 AM | Simon Carless

- We've previously trailed the competition, and now the TIGSource folks have pinged us to point out that voting is open for the 'B Game Competition' - a princely total of 29 games (one of which is a 100-game-in-1 'masterpiece'!) have been entered in the quest to find 'games that are bad in the right way'.

As TIGSource's Derek Yu explains of the 'bad games with some great personalities' competition: "Voting is subjective, of course, but you should aim to vote for the game(s) that dips the most deeply into the theme ("B-Games") and the medium (video games), with an emphasis on craft, passion, humor, originality, and entertainment value. Simple, right?"

If you want a vague starting point (written before the full set of games debuted), Indygamer points out that the Distractionware blog has posted a few of its favorites, explaining: "The overall standard is phenomenal. Practically everyone got a good grasp on the idea behind the contest and as a result, everything submitted is worth playing - be it for a cool gameplay mechanic or just a brilliant concept."

Some of those? 'Mondo Medicals', a 'cure for cancer' game including "counter-intuitive first person maze puzzles", 'The 100-in-1 Klik & Play Pirate Kart' by Team Glorious Trainwrecks Dot Com - yikes - and even 'Weißer Punkt in der Schwarzlücke', which is: "A parody of arthouse gaming! Complete with director’s commentary, trailers for upcoming releases, a gallery and a lengthy credit sequence." This, my friends, is what entertaining indie gaming is all about.

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