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Archive For September, 2007

Opinion: Signature Devices/Graffiti - Fax Spam + Press Release Frenzy = ?

September 17, 2007 8:04 AM | Simon Carless

Now, here's an interesting one. We do still get 'archaic' faxes from time to time at GameSetWatch and the CMP Game Group - sometimes the odd press release, sometimes indignant ones from Jack Thompson (more on this soon!), and recently, and most intriguingly, a 'junk fax' strenuously inciting us to buy Signature Devices' stock.

Now, why would you guys care about this? Well, Signature Devices, despite the generic tech company name, is almost entirely a game developer and publisher, sometimes under the Graffiti Entertainment name. Gamasutra has covered Graffiti in the past - the company "...is perhaps most recognized as the publisher of Neko Entertainment's multiplatform budget release Crazy Frog Racer and Sabarasa Entertainment's Mazes of Fate for the Game Boy Advance."

Here's the fax, which includes one of those delightfully fake handwritten notes on it - let's go from there:

A lot of similar text to the junk fax appears in this 'Wall Street News Alert's "stocks to watch"' listing from February, tipping the company alongside Microsoft and Netflix, and which claims: "The company has a long list of noteworthy PC and Xbox game credits including "SAMURAI SHODOWN V" for Xbox, "King of Fighters '94 Rebout" for Xbox, "Far Cry" and "Medal of Honor - Pacific Assault," and many others."

Those last two are, needless to say, not games wholly developed by Signature Devices - the junk fax itself says that the firm 'did the 3D engineering' for those two last titles, and the 'the' is stretching things too - as the company's Far Cry page reveals that it did DX7 fallback and optimizations and shader work. But the company is indeed listed on the credits - though it's only under 'Performance Consulting & Support', which is pretty far from 'did the 3D engineering for'. They are credited separately and non-specifically (under their own company title) for Medal Of Honor, mind you.

You will also note in the disclosure below the stock website's tips: "WSCF has been compensated Fourteen Thousand Dollars for coverage of Signature Devices, Inc. (PINKSHEETS: SDVI), by a third party (Alex Consulting Inc.), who is non-affiliated and may hold a significant position in the stock, for services provided including dissemination of company information in this release." Nice that they disclose it, but you can see what's going on here.

In any case, many of the company's press releases seem to be stoking the fire, with such non-events as the announcement of 'negotiations' with undisclosed parties and even better, under the headline 'Royalty Streams Fuel Growth for Potential Explosive Returns for Signature Devices, Inc' - yes, there may be royalties in the firm's much-starred future!

Interestingly, the firm also boasts that it won a lawsuit against SNK recently, with General Counsel Philip Kramer commenting gleefully: "In the end we received tens of thousands of dollars from SNK to settle the lawsuit. We could have taken this further, but were willing to settle early and have a clean slate with no more pending litigation." Nothing like a sore winner, huh? Presumably this is regarding the SNK-licensed Xbox titles.

Now, a couple of clarifications here - we're not saying that Signature Devices is necessarily a bad game publisher and developer or intrinsically terrible people. But it does rather seem like at least a few shadowy figures are trying to get people to buy Signature Devices stock based on slightly hyped-up claims - and the company is putting out enough press releases to drown a few kittens in order to support that. So let's see what happens next, huh?

Arcade's AM2 Show - The Renaissance Coverage

September 17, 2007 12:04 AM | Simon Carless

- The other day, I was bemoaning the relative lack of Western coverage for the Japanese AM2 arcade show (although my co-worker Brandon Sheffield did post some video links on Insert Credit). But now, catching up on RSS feeds, I find that Arcade Renaissance has a gigantic mess of reports from the 45th Amusement Show, well worth scrolling around and checking out.

One handy uber-guide is the Amusement Journal's most popular games from the show, which reveals: "Expectedly, Tekken 6 took the top spot on Day 1 and Day 2 of the event, but was surprisingly beat out on Day 3 by Deathsmiles. A lot of this can probably be attributed to the Day 3 lines that Tekken 6 was experiencing, which at one point was said to have reached about a 3-4 hour wait just to get some hands on time with the title."

A separate post points out shakycam vids of Tekken 6 in action, including bloated new character Bob, and there's also hands-on impressions of Sega Race TV, as well as a Deathsmile dance number at the Cave booth promoting the new arcade shooter, and a crazy amount of Japanese links on the show. Bravo, Sir.

COLUMN: GameSetVideo Treasures - 'Making Of Ultima X'

September 16, 2007 4:04 PM | Simon Carless

Last week, we started the GameSetVideo Treasures column, highlighting important historical game-related videos on the Internet Archive's Game Videos collection, which I set up and help out with, and this week we're going to highlight a new addition that's a good 'might have been' for Ultima fans.

Archive contributor Andrew Armstrong dug this one out (with permission from the good folks at FileShack), and it's the 'Ultima X: Odyssey Making Of Video' from 2003.

Of course, Wikipedia has plenty more on the game's genesis, which "...was the first Ultima game developed after series creator Richard Garriott left Origin, and is the second Ultima-based MMORPG to be cancelled (Ultima Worlds Online: Origin — Ultima Online 2 — was cancelled in 2001)".

For those intrigued, you can click on the picture below to get to download and streaming links on the Archive.org site:

The video's description explains that this is "...a "making of" video for Ultima X: Odyssey (by Origin Systems). The video was released September 26th 2003, and is notably important due to the game being cancelled - Origin was disbanded by EA in Feburary 2004, and this was the last game the company ever worked on... The video contains interviews with Daniel Campbell (QA Lead), Rick Hall (Senior Producer), Jonathan Hanna (Lead Designer), Jonathan Lecraft (Designer), Andy Dombroski (Lead World Builder), and Kevin Saffel (Client Programmer)... interspersed with footage and concept art."

Also worth mentioning, from the Wikipedia page: "Drawing from the single-player Ultima games, Ultima X: Odyssey was to use the established Virtues of Ultima in addition to skills, experience points and levels. Players would be able to practice in the eight Virtues (Compassion, Honesty, Honor, Humility, Justice, Sacrifice, Spirituality, and Valor) and eventually reach the maximum level with it."

[Of course, there are copies of this trailer in a good few places - not claiming that we are 'saving the only copy' or something. But it's good that we can get a version of this and many other rare videos onto Archive.org in a reasonably high-quality version - preserved with multiple file mirrors and redundancy by a non-profit.]

EVE Online: The Bears and the Rat

September 16, 2007 8:04 AM | Simon Carless

- Under the faithful editorial leadership of Chris Remo, veteran game site Shacknews has been positively resurgent of late, and I particularly liked the new feature 'EVE Online: The Bears and the Rat', written by Nick Breckon, and the second in a series of features analyzing the exquisite skullduggery at work in CCP's PC MMO.

It's allusive, positively Clancy-esque stuff: "In September of 2006, a historic meeting between officials of EVE Online's player-run corporations took place. Red Alliance, the notorious Russian organization, reached out to offer a partnership with the equally-infamous GoonSwarm. For the first time, the traditionally straightforward Russians were using the olive branch, actively seeking a major ally through diplomatic means--and Westerners at that."

Breckon continues: "Of course, it's not surprising that the American leadership of GoonSwarm rejected the initial offer. Separated by both practical and cultural divisions, the two organizations had never before spoken--and in a throwback to the Cold War, it would take some convincing before the Americans could trust an alliance known for being even more ruthless than they."

I do believe that EVE Online is the online world that has most accurately modeled real-life geopolitical machinations at this point - though feel free to disagree?

COLUMN: 'Game Mag Weaseling': The Junior Computer

September 16, 2007 12:04 AM |

jr-8405.jpg   pcjr-8402.jpg

If anyone remembers the IBM PCjr today, it's as a major market failure and as one of the computer industry's greatest examples of hubris coming to bite a company in the arse. Originally announced in 1983 and launching in March 1984, the PCjr ("PC Junior") was IBM's first attempt to market a computer for the home -- a system that was kinda-sorta compatible with the more business-targeted IBM PC, with enhanced three-voice sound and 16-color 320x200-pixel graphics.

Heavily rumored for months before its official announcement, the PCjr was presumed by many industry wags to do the same for IBM in the home market what the original PC did for the business sector -- i.e., allow the companay to completely dominate it. It's easy to forget, but this really was the general opinion of much of the industry in early 1984 -- you could say that Apple's January '84 Macintosh Super Bowl ad was appreciated more by the general public than by people who drew their salary in computers at the time. The magazine biz was no different, as two different magazines debuted on US newsstands before the PCjr was even available for purchase: PCjr. from Ziff Davis, and jr from Wayne Green Publications, later CW Communications. (Only one Mac mag -- IDG's Macworld -- debuted with Apple's computer.)

For Ziff, launching PCjr. was an easy decision. Even by that point, PC was their most successful magazine ever -- purchased in 1982, ballooning up to 500 then 600 pages within half a year's time, and becoming the de facto outlet for advertising and commentary on IBM computers. IBM was now launching a home computer, and undoubtedly it'd be a huge success, so Ziff went in on the ground floor, debuting its mag in February 1984 with a surprisingly large 176-page book. Everything about PCjr.'s look exudes professionalism, from the in-depth writing (with largely the same adult and business-oriented outlook as the original PC) to the art-laden and remarkably colorful graphic design. It's a fun mag to read, in other words, and it's obvious from the start that Ziff put a ton of money into producing it.

jr, on the other hand, is kind of an odd duck. Launched in May 1984 just before Wayne Green sold his New Hampshire computer-mag empire off to IDG, jr is written from a serious beginner's perspective, more so than any other non-kiddy computer magazine I've seen from this era (yes, including Family Computing). Every term is exhaustively defined (from "RAM" to "word processor"), and the editorial team's target seems to be people who have never touched a computer in their life before, much less the PCjr machine itself. This leads to a lot of neat original art and photography showing off the PCjr's innards and how computers work in general, but it's not the most interesting thing to read through.

jr-8409.jpg   pc-8411.jpg

Both PCjr. and jr are decent enough mags in their own right, but at the risk of being blunt, they were charged with the task of taking a turd and polishing it all over again, month after month. There were a number of hardware issues on the machine, including a lack of easy expandability and a frustrating wireless keyboard that was impossible to touch-type on. Even the entry-level PCjr model (which lacked a disk drive and was largely useless for anything except running game/productivity cartridges) cost $669 sans monitor, less than an Apple II but far more than the Commodore 64 or an Atari computer, both companies in the midst of a debilitating price war that drove other 8-bit PCs out of the market.

IBM redesigned the PCjr in late 1984 with a new keyboard and better expansion abilities, but it was too late in the public's eye. There was never a mass audience for the PCjr, which means few companies were interested in making products exclusively for it, which means ad dollars plummeted for both PCjr. and jr over 1984. I can't confirm exactly when both mags ended, but the last jr I have is September '84 and the final PCjr. is dated November, and both are later than any date I can find on the Internet, so I'll say they're both final issues and leave it at that. Even as book sizes shriveled toward the end, though, both mags maintained a surprisingly high level of writing and illustration. It's a surprise, in fact, as most computer mags show a pretty marked quality decline once it's plain the subject platform has no marketplace.

The really interesting thing about all this is that funneling cash toward PCjr. instead of a Macintosh magazine in early '84 arguably cost Ziff dearly for the rest of the decade. IDG's Macworld had that computer all to itself for almost 14 months before Ziff finally launched MacUser in 1985 -- and even that was a UK license deal, not an original project. MacUser was successful enough, but always played second fiddle to Macworld's lead in the marketplace before getting closed down and merged with its rival in 1997. If Ziff launched a Mac mag first, the tables may've been turned...

[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.]

MC Frontalot Got Eaten By A Grue, Cool!

September 15, 2007 4:02 PM | Simon Carless

- 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

September 15, 2007 8:04 AM | Simon Carless

- 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!

September 15, 2007 12:09 AM | Simon Carless

- 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.

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

September 14, 2007 4:02 PM | Simon Carless

- 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

September 14, 2007 8:01 AM | Simon Carless

-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.)

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