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Archive For October, 2007

Keita Takahashi's Playground? It's Real, Folks!

October 31, 2007 4:01 PM | Simon Carless

- OK, so this has been reported a bit already, but over at Gamasutra, the jetsetting Brandon Boyer wrote up Keita Takahashi's GameCity keynote speech today, in which he mainly discussed his upcoming PS3 game Nobi Nobi Boy. But it's worth pointing out this part:

"[Takahashi] used Google Earth to show the audience his childhood home, his current apartment building, and the Namco Bandai headquarters, then double-clicked a Nottingham bookmark and let the application slowly zoom out and pan to the UK. Here, he showed photos of a local park site, where he revealed that he had been commissioned to design a new playground – oft cited as what he might like to do following his game design career."

So yeah - after famously commenting in the past that he might want to make a play area, looks like Iain Simons and the folks at GameCity have hooked it up for the Namco Bandai game designer. Here's what Takahashi wanted to make at the time, playground-wise: "One that's soft, and with lots of big blocky shapes, and a place [kids] can't really get hurt - very colorful - where kids can roll around and be free. But it's probably okay if they occasionally get hurt too."

Anyhow, GSW has an exclusive picture (maybe!) of the unmodified playground he's 'pimping out', direct from his GameCity lecture:

Also worth noting on the Nobi Nobi Boy front, as we said at the end of the Gamasutra piece: "Part of Takahashi's presentation demonstrating Nobi Nobi Boy was filmed by an audience member, and is available for viewing via Gamersyde.com, providing more insight into his relatively abstract concepts." Thanks to the NeoGAF massif for digging this video up - the evolution of Takahashi's new 'game' is v.interesting. And insane, of course.

Improving The Console Downloadable Game Biz

October 31, 2007 8:01 AM | Simon Carless

- Over at his Klei Entertainment blog, Eets creator Jamie Cheng has an excellent post called 'Improving the Console Downloadable Games Business', which gets into an area that's particularly important for independent developers in today's market.

This is a particularly interesting listed factor - 'More focus on instant play value': "Even though I understand Microsoft and Sony’s strategy of promoting their download offerings as a source of creative and “new” types of games, I somehow feel they’re doing at the expense of certain potential. New styles of play on an old interface (the controller) often necessitates a learning curve, and this learning curve creates a barrier for customers. Instead, I think they should be focusing on games that are instantly fun — exactly as Microsoft’s name calls for — consumers want arcade games!"

A possibly controversial one, too, is 'Less focus on retro games and advergaming': "Let’s be honest — when you download a game that’s twenty years old, you had great memories of it and are expecting to be thrust back into the nostalgia. Instead, the game is incredibly difficult, and man do the graphics suck. When your new downloads page is filled with these offerings, or poor quality advergames, you’re going to be skeptical about coming back to try new games; you may even miss that great original indie title you’ve been waiting for. In a nutshell — the poor quality games are drowning out and hurting the very games that the platforms are trying to push." Read the full post for more context (and some Virtual Console praise), but I'm not sure I agree - anyone?

COLUMN: 'Play Evolution': Single-Player Games - Wait, What? Single-Player Games?

October 31, 2007 12:02 AM |

I remember this one.[“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: single-player games can evolve as well!]

When we talk about the evolution of a game, we usually think about a competitive multiplayer game, like Counter-Strike or Starcraft. However, a game does not have to be multiplayer or competitive to evolve. Single-player games evolve too, although it’s harder to see it.

The most obvious example of evolution in single-player games is the speed-running community. In order for a game to evolve, it needs a goal for players to work towards; something that players can get better at. Since most games are fairly trivial to complete, this goal cannot simply be to win, as it is in most multiplayer games. The speed-running community establishes a clear goal: to win as quickly as possible.

Even this goal, which seems relatively simple, inspires incredible evolution in single-player games, although some games take to it better than others. Super Mario 64, for example, has one of the largest speed-running communities around, because speed-running Super Mario 64 is incredibly deep. To complete the game you need to collect [EDIT: 70 out of 120 possible stars] in the game, (although there is a small speed-running niche that does all 120 star completions) so the first step for any speed-runner is to map out their path.

In some games, this is relatively trivial and is just a matter of choosing the fastest route on a map. However, a Super Mario 64 speed-runner has to decide exactly which 70 stars they can get in the fastest amount of time. Not only that, but each level has seven stars in it, making it worth it to stay in the level for a few extra stars to avoid travel time, even if those stars are harder to get.

GDC 2008 Lectures Announced - The Sims 3, Halo 3, 'Mystery' Harmonix Project?

October 30, 2007 4:02 PM | Simon Carless

- This is a quick cross-post from Gamasutra, since my colleagues at GDC have blasted out the first set of lectures for next year's event, and there's some pretty interesting stuff in there.

Quite apart from The Sims 3 and lots of Halo 3 technical lectures, I wonder what that 'mysterious' Harmonix project is? Here goes:

"The Game Developers Conference 2008 organizers have announced an initial session list for the February 2008 event, with highlights including the Harmonix team (Guitar Hero, Rock Band) discussing its second project, Ken Levine on BioShock's story, and in-depth lectures on Halo 3, Crysis, Drake's Fortune, The Sims 3 and more.

GDC 2008, which is run by the CMP Game Group (as is Gamasutra.com) will take place at San Francisco’s Moscone Convention Center February 18 – 22, 2008. The conference is divided into multiple tracks, and an initial set of over 100 lectures for these tracks have been announced, with many more additions to come. Some of the highlights thus far include:

GameSetWatch And Kotaku: It's Freaky Friday!

October 30, 2007 12:03 PM | Simon Carless

- The real question, of course, is whether GameSetWatch is Jodie Foster or Lindsay Lohan, but it would be remiss of me not to mention that over at Kotaku, Brian Crecente has revealed that I'll be guest editing the site for a week next month, while he's swanning around in Australia pretending to be Tina Turner in Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome.

The other two guest Kotaku editors, who will be taking the first two weeks in November, will be Game Head's (and GameSlice's, if you go back that far!) Geoff Keighley, and Water Cooler Games' Ian Bogost, who famously survived trial by Colbert while rocking the squarest tie knot I've seen in some time. I believe I'll be posting my trifles on Kotaku from November 19th-23rd, and I promise to keep GSW ticking over during that time nonetheless.

Why would this insanity happen, you might ask? Well, firstly, the Kotaku firehose is rather mighty nowadays, and I think I'll enjoy training it on some worthy, possibly neglected sites in the indie, alternative, and developer game blog worlds. And secondly, I get to write bedtime stories to Kotaku's Japanese editor Brian Ashcraft? Who could possibly pass up the chance to whisper sweet nothings to the composer of Bittersweet Symphony? So there you go!

Independent Games Summit: Valve's Kim Swift - 'From Narbacular Drop To Portal'

October 30, 2007 8:02 AM | Simon Carless

-Here on GSW, we're proud to present the latest video from this year's Independent Games Summit, which took place at Game Developers Conference 2007 last March as part of the Independent Games Festival.

The ninth lecture is from Valve's Kim Swift, a key member of the team that was one of the Independent Game Festival's 2006 Student Showcase honorees with Narbacular Drop, and went on to be hired by the Half-Life creator as a team and complete the critically acclaimed Portal, which recently shipped as part of Valve's The Orange Box.

Swift's lecture is aimed somewhat to the student independent developer, explaining how the Portal team successfully transitioned from working as a student team at DigiPen to a professional one at Valve, but also discusses some of the influences behind the FPS puzzle title in both its incarnations, explaining the evolution of gameplay as it was re-imagined on the Source engine.

Therefore, 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: "In this lecture, the team which made IGF Student Showcase winner Narbacular Drop talk about the making of the innovative title, tips for student developers, how the entire team got picked up by Valve to make Portal using the Source Engine, and exactly how they've transitioned from student indie creators to continued innovation at the home of Half-Life."

(Other IGS 2007 videos posted so far are Daniel James discussing indie MMOs, and an indie innovation panel w/Mak, Blow, Chen, Gabler, Swink, plus 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, as well as Russell Carroll on 'indie marketing'.)

Federal Reserve Of Boston Exhibition Focuses On Games

October 30, 2007 12:03 AM | Simon Carless

- I believe these guys called us at Game Developer when they were preparing this exhibition, and it's great to see that they've sorted it out: "The Federal Reserve Bank of Boston’s Economic Adventure Gallery is hosting an engaging, interactive exhibit on the history of video games this fall. “Video Games Evolve: A Brief History from Spacewar! to MMORPGs” examines the video-game industry’s roots, which are firmly planted in New England. The exhibit, which is free, runs though January."

New England? Games? The press release explains: "The gaming revolution began across the Charles River at MIT, where the first non-commercial interactive video game, “Spacewar!”, was born in 1962. About a decade later, Magnavox released the first commercial video-game console, “Odyssey,” which was created by New Hampshire resident Ralph Baer. In addition to enjoying a “Spacewar!” simulation, visitors can examine an enlarged reproduction of Baer’s prototype notes, as well as an early Odyssey console."

What's more: "If guests are interested in a more hands-on experience, they can play classic 1980 arcade games like “Donkey Kong,” “Ms. Pac Man,” “Frogger” or “Space Invaders.” In addition to being able to play these games for free, visitors can admire the sleek fiberglass console of “Computer Space,” an early 1970s arcade game. The exhibit also offers a look at the evolution of the home-gaming console, a timeline of video-game history, and an in-depth look at the motion-capture process (a key animation tool in modern video-game production). The Guildhall at Southern Methodist University, a leading education center for digital-game development, loaned several three-dimensional sculptures of creatures that were used to develop animations."

Finally: "In addition to examining the past, the exhibit also offers an enticing look at modern-day games, including “Star Wars Galaxies,” the “Immune Attack” educational game, the virtual reality of “Second Life,” and massive, multi-player online role-playing games (MMORPGs) like “World of Warcraft.” The exhibit is part of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston’s Economic Adventure, an interactive educational designed to teach middle- and high-school students how New England’s improved living standards are reliant upon innovation, which leads to advances in productivity. The exhibit is open from Monday through Friday, from 1:00-4:00pm." The more video games are treated seriously by exhibits like this, the more they are legitimized as a cultural form.

Excuse Me, Your Cut-Scene Is... In My Game?

October 29, 2007 4:02 PM | Simon Carless

- Game designer Sam Beirne has posted an interesting design-related missive on his 'It Burns' site - called 'Excuse me, your cutscene is in my game', and discussing how story could be, should be, and is integrated into video games.

ArenaNet's Beirne explains: "My problem with story generally stems from the inclusion of non-interactive cutscenes throughout the course of character driven games. Bullet points on the back of a box like, “over 120 minutes of mind-blowing cinematic sequences,” scare me off before I can even crack the wrapper. When I sit down to play a game, I’d actually like to play something. Cutscenes feel like watching someone else play. So, when a cutscene starts rolling I generally can’t help but sigh wondering when it will be my turn again."

He then shows videos from Metal Gear Solid and Splinter Cell, contrasting ways of handling narrative's inclusion in games, and concluding by noting: "While some developers cling desperately to static narratives and cutscenes, I am pleased to see that many games, like the soon to be released Assassin’s Creed, are making progress towards more robust simulations. Cutscenes won’t be eradicated from games anytime soon, but their ultimate removal is certainly a goal worth pursuing."

The Tall Stump Wins Out At CGDC 4

October 29, 2007 8:02 AM | Simon Carless

- Catching up on this week's RSS feeds (and also semi-prompted via Waxy), it has been revealed that the Casual Game Development Competition 4 results are out - we previously mentioned this when it was in progress.

The overall winner is 'The Tall Stump', which is profiled on JayIsGames, and it's "...an action platformer that feels like an adventure game laced with short puzzles. As you travel through the game you find strange items and learn to use them in even stranger circumstances, all in the name of working your way deeper into the stump."

Also notable - the game is "...created by three talented individuals who form Team MAW — Adam Wilkinson (Australia), Alex May (US) and Handre DeJager (South Africa)." A name rings a bell there - you may recall that we interviewed DeJager about his awesomely bizarre faux game covers last year. Neat!

GameSetMicroLinks: Extreme Eclectica Edition

October 29, 2007 12:08 AM | Simon Carless

- Aha, so this late-weekend version of our 'microlinks' rundown actually compiles things found before even looking at the video game site RSS feeds. So there's some tangential, but interesting stuff later on in here - interesting non-game material that I find is still posted on my own personal 'ffwd' linklog from time to time, btw. Here goes:

- UK Green Wing scriptwriter James Henry had nice things to say about games as a medium on his 'Blue Cat' blog, and points out that the top 3 titles at his local game store are "...an art deco-themed playable critique of Ayn Rand-style Objectivism... an incredibly odd puzzle game that requires you to bend 3D space with a special gun... [and] a Japanese roleplaying adventure set entirely within a dreamworld generated by Frédéric Chopin." He then grins: "Coming up with ideas for computer games is starting to look like the most fun it's possible to have." Renaissance, folks!

- American McGee has a fun blog post on his game development company trip to the Yellow Mountain, with his largely Chinese workers at the Shanghai-based Spicy Horse, working on American McGee's Grimm. Teambuilding ahoy!

- The 'Weebl's Stuff' Flash comic has a special episode featuring Weebl hanging out with Weighted Companion Cube. Looks like they're having fun! Here's more info on Weebl & Bob, which has been a Flash strip for a few years now, and aired on MTV in the UK.

- Over at the 'Vinyl Abuse' action figure blog, they've spotted some nice game-related art: "The super talented Mr Jay Smith has created some wonderously cool Legend of Zelda themed wallpapers to celebrate his love for the new Nintendo DS game ‘The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass’, a mighty fine game indeed!"

- At Bit-Tech, they have a round-up of Independent Games Festival 2008 entries, explaining: "...we’ll be looking at the line-up for this year's festival and giving our opinions on some of the 170+ games which stand out to our trained eyes. Which are the ones to watch and why? Which developers have brains of coding gold and which ones have just ripped off Pong again?"

- Jenn Frank's 1UP blog has been discussing surreal '80s video game movie 'Arcade Attack', and the weirdest bit is hosted (fair use kinda? hm!) on GameVideos: "It's like The Ring crossed with Ghostbusters or something. And then, all the animated pinball characters from earlier in the documentary are suddenly busting up through the glass of the pinball machines, rallying and ready to fight off the 'Video Invaders.'" Neat, though.

- Techno music writer/artist Philip Sherburne has been picking albums for digital re-release on Anthology Recordings, but it's interesting because of the music label itself, "...the world’s first ever all digital reissue label, its goal to provide an online outlet for rare and out-of-print music of all eras, genres and cultures." Services like the Virtual Console and GameTap are starting to tap into this for games, but the game space still has a massive way to go, and here's an interesting comparison point. Can't wait.

- Clive Thompson's recent(-ish) Wired News column on games had a fun jaunt through Portal's physics possibilities - we know the obvious raves, but here's a thought: "Think how weird a Mario racing game would be if you could shoot portals that wreak havoc on the racetrack?" Actually, I think I would hate that.

- Publishers Weekly's 'The Beat' comics blog has been ruminating on the Radiohead album and comics ramifications, and Heidi MacDonald comments: "When you note that the nets are starting to offer TV on the web it’s been obvious for some time that sooner or later everyone in the video entertainment biz is going to go to digital downloading." She then suggests comics and digital downloading might be a bigger steal in 2008. Random thought - how about digital comics for sale on XBLA/PSN? That might be neat.

- Tokyo art magazine type Jean Snow points out Brian Ashcraft's work for the latest Wired magazine, as he "...writes up comedian Shinya Arino and his popular videogame-related TV show GAME CENTER CX... Wired.com also includes a look at the set."

- Save The Robot's Chris Dahlen has pointed out "...Virginia Heffernan, who I believe was the NYT TV critic, has started a transmedia column blog called The Medium... She doesn’t start by wheeling out Henry Jenkins. She doesn’t talk about web comics or MMORPG. And she never mentions The Matrix. In other words, it’s a transmedia column for non-geeks - and I think it’ll work really well."

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