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Archive For October, 2007

GameSetPlaying: What Games Are Grabbing Your Attention?

October 28, 2007 4:02 PM | Simon Carless

- Haven't done one of these in a while, so with the peak gaming season in full swing (and lots more releases still coming down the pipe!), I'll point out some games I've been playing, and then hand it over to you good GSW readers:

- Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools Of Destruction (Insomniac/Sony, PS3)
Insomniac's Ratchet & Clank Future (currently 2nd on the PS3 Metacritic charts) may be the gem of the PlayStation 3's holiday season in terms of exclusives. Playing it with a friend yesterday, a few things were notable - the smooth, super-tuned gameplay, the surprisingly deep weapon upgrade paths, the beautifully done cut-scene narratives, and graphics which I personally think are the best on the PlayStation 3 so far. The gameplay is, of course, not dissimilar to the other Ratchet games, but don't overlook it because of that, for pity's sake.

- Portal (Valve, Xbox 360)
You know, we're all a bit bored of people raving about Portal at this point. But nonetheless, I've been playing it, and I wanted to comment on why I personally enjoy it. First: it's bite-sized in a smart, artificially constructed way, which makes it incredibly easy to pick up and put down. Second: it trains my brain and I feel genuinely pleased with myself when I work out puzzle solutions. Third: although dexterity is required, it's less constant, stress-filled violence than carefully orchestrated event chains. So, what - Portal is a 'casual', 'brain training', 'non-violent' kind of game? Mm, smells of zeitgeist.

- Various Xbox Live Arcade Games (Various, Xbox 360)
My latest OCD-related XBLA task is to get 3 Achievements on all the Xbox Live Arcade games I own. This is surprisingly fun, given that there are actually very few complete duds on XBLA (the only game I've paid for and then deleted in pique is Wing Commander Arena.) Anyhow, going alphabetically to fill in the gaps has caused me to re-evaluate 3D Ultra Minigolf Adventures, which is a lot more fun multiple times round, and also grab the Super Soviet Missile Mastar achievement in Alien Hominid HD. Oh, and I still can't stop playing Track & Field, oddly.

So there you go. But I'm also horribly behind on the seasonal rush, with stuff like Beautiful Katamari, Eye Of Judgment, and Exit for XBLA stacked up to play - and with a pre-ordered Guitar Hero III for Xbox 360 awaiting me at the store later today. How about you, GSW reader? What titles, new or old, have you been playing over the last couple of weeks, and... why?

Gaming & Libraries: The Juggernaut Continues

October 28, 2007 8:06 AM | Simon Carless

- GSW has referenced Jenny Levine's 'The Shifted Librarian' weblog before, since she's one of the foremost proponents of the librarian and public library as a forward-thinking media space where, yes, games can be played collectively or checked out (as opposed to just somewhere that books are kept and facts looked up). She's just posted a couple of very relevant posts, too - firstly one discussing Mark Engelbrecht and Martin House from the Public Library of Charlotte Mecklenburg County.

Why so? They "...received a $69,000 LSTA grant to study gaming for adults last year. There’s a reason we talk so much about the kids and the teenagers when it comes to gaming in libraries, but we can’t forget that there are valid gaming services for 20somethings, 30somethings, families, parents, boomers, seniors, and pretty much everyone else who enjoys games." In relation to that, Martin House's blog has started posting results, underlining some of the new library thinking - that "...providing programs and events for simple entertainment makes the library a place to be."

Secondly, Jenny links to and comments on a new 'gaming in libraries' article from the Dallas Morning News, noting that the piece was mainly positive, but sadly, it was also: "Yet another newspaper story that lets someone (this time a professor at the University of Maryland) get away with sweeping generalizations about gaming. Melanie Killen claims, “a vast majority of the games have negative content and the consequences can be destructive, including increased impulsivity, aggressive behavior and shorter attention spans,” without providing any proof at all." Hey, even 'mild-mannered' (yes, stereotypes!) librarians get pretty upset about this kind of thing.

COLUMN: 'Game Mag Weaseling': Screw Circulation!

October 28, 2007 12:01 AM |

gp-0207.jpg   gp-0406.jpg

There was an interesting article written the other day by Rebecca McPheters, who used to be the publisher for Child, Fitness, and assorted other mainstream magazines. What she had to write about is something that game magazine publishers have had to wrestle with for much of the 21st century -- circulation (the number of copies you distribute every mont) is actually a pretty crap way to measure how many readers you have.

"Because the strength of a print brand is in its ability to generate audience -- and stronger brands tend to produce more readers-per-copy than brands that are less strong -- circulation-based pricing has done more than any other single factor to reduce the range and quality of print options available to advertisers... Our current circulation-based system has both reduced advertising revenues and increased circulation costs. It has put print into a dangerous downward spiral as consumers increasingly expect to receive media content for free and yet magazines' advertising pricing is predicated on a paid circulation model." (my emphasis)

In other words, Rebecca's saying that maintaining a large circulation (and charging advertisers based on that circulation, independent of whether there are real pairs of eyes to back that up) shouldn't be first priority for magazines anymore. To back that up, she brings up the MRI -- Mediamark Research and Intelligence, a surveying firm that releases readership data for magazines. This data includes something called the "readers-per-copy" for a magazine, showing how much a mag gets passed around or how many people take a look at any given issue, whether passing it around friends, picking it up at the dentist's waiting room, or just browsing through it on the newsstand. Comparing the MRIs with the circulation figures, Rebecca notes in the article that "overall audience has increased by 2%, while circulation has declined by 7%" in the past decade.

What do MRI's stats look like? You can download a sample off the net, which includes a couple of game mags on it. For the spring of 2007, MRI said that Electronic Gaming Monthly had a total adult audience of 3,441,000 people, about 3 million men and the rest women. GamePro had 3,836,000 people in its audience, while Game Informer cleaned up with 5,039,000 audience members. Note that Game Informer's MRI audience is "only" about 68% larger than EGM's, despite having over four times the paid circulation. If you put enough credence to the MRI's numbers, it means that GameStop is spending a lot of money printing, mailing, and distributing those two million-odd copies of GI each month, yet not being as efficient in attracting an audience with those printed copies as EGM and GamePro is.

Which begs the next question: How realistic are the MRI's figures, and how much do advertisers care about them? Judging by GI's current position as the game mag with the most ad pages in the US (and also the one with the most non-game-related advertising), it doesn't seem like ad buyers consider them a heck of a lot when making their decisions. GamePro boasted about its MRI figures on the cover between 2002 and 2006 (you can see two examples of that above), but dropped it since many folks ina nd out of the industry assumed the "three million readers" claim was a fabrication or massaged number, somehow.

Still, if Rebecca has it right in her article, GamePro -- and, really, a lot of game mags -- might have the right idea. It's little secret that many mags (not just in games) have lost a ton of circulation over the past handful of years. However, an increasing number of publishers are arguing that the treadmill of keeping circulation up only serves as a needless expense that doesn't do anything for the audience or the bottom line. So perhaps we'll see a trend unfold over the next little while of game mags dropping circs and telling advertisers not to worry -- the eyes are still there, they just read the product differently than before.

[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.]

The Duke Nukem Forever Of Machinima Released!

October 27, 2007 4:02 PM | Simon Carless

- OK, that title is totally harsh, but it got your attention, right? Hugh Hancock was kind enough to send us a note on the final, long-awaited release of his machinima movie: "We've just released the feature-length cut of BloodSpell - re-shot, re-edited and with 10 minutes of new footage (after we decided the old footage sucked) online under Creative Commons."

Wait, there's more, according to Hugh: "BloodSpell has been four years (and one month) in the making. It's a "punk fantasy" adventure story, about a world where some people are infected with magic in their blood. When that blood is spilled, the magic comes out, to harm or heal... We've got epic battles across clifftops, gladiatorial fights with enormous monsters, cockney guardian demons, love, family and all that good stuff."

BloodSpell itself runs 84 minutes long, and was made in Neverwinter Nights, interestingly - I'm guessing it's the most ambitious machinima ever made in that engine. There are also a bunch of (ever so slightly spoiler-y) screenshots over at the BloodSpell LJ blog, which also includes all kinds of press for the movie. Neeto.

GameSetNetwork: Awesome Posts, Good Job!

October 27, 2007 8:02 AM | Simon Carless

-Aha, time for a 'trying not to be too annoying' GameSetNetwork update with some of our top originally reported stories from this week's line-up at our big sister website, Gamasutra.com.

There's a few interesting, allegedly awesome things nestled in here, such as a fun retrospective of the Commodore 64's gaming goodness, as well as Daniel 'Lost Garden' Cook's latest design article, the Cell chip co-creator explaining the method behind his madness, and quite a few more, as follows:

- A History of Gaming Platforms: The Commodore 64
"Gamasutra's first in a new monthly series sees game historians Loguidice and Barton debut an extremely in-depth history of gaming and creativity on the Commodore 64, from Archon to Maniac Mansion and beyond."

- Constructing Artificial Emotions: A Design Experiment
"Veteran game designer Daniel Cook follows up his much-discussed 'Chemistry Of Game Design' essay with a new, fascinating in-depth game design article discussing how to create emotions through games, from stimulus to biofeedback."

- Shaping Your Community: What Films Did, Games Must Do
"With The Lord of the Rings film trilogy, Peter Jackson did so to great effect, and Gamasutra looks at how Bungie's Halo 3 and Sony's PlayStation Blog are harnessing the same power - to give people 'relationships... with their entertainment idols.'"

- Road To The IGF: Fret Nice Takes Guitar Hero Controller Platforming
"Continuing Gamasutra’s ‘Road to the IGF’ feature, which profiles and interviews Independent Games Festival 2008 entrants, we talk to Bits & Pieces Interactive's Mårten Brüggemann, developer of Fret Nice, about his musical platformer designed for a guitar controller."

- Q&A: IBM's Kahle Talks Cell, PlayStation 3 Dev Complexity
"Following a recent panel on gaming hardware, Gamasutra spoke exclusively with James A. Kahle, IBM Fellow and the lead architect for the PlayStation 3's Cell chip, discussing the chip's genesis and recent questions over its ease of use for game programming."

- - GameCity: Frontier's Braben On Next-Gen Storytelling
"How can games become a truly mainstream medium? It's all in the story, says Frontier founder and Elite creator David Braben, who used examples from his forthcoming political thriller The Outsider to show the company's new devices for pulling players in with greater empathy and emotion."

- Q&A: The State Of Nintendo In 2007
"As Nintendo re-organizes, setting up new offices and riding the success of the Wii and DS, where do they go from here? Gamasutra quizzed Nintendo PR manager Eric Walter about new hires (including Konami's Mark Franklin), the Wii Zapper, the state of M-rated games on Nintendo platforms, and how WiiWare is progressing..."

- Language Is A Virus: A Talk With Pandemic's Tom Abernathy
"In this in-depth interview, Pandemic Studios’ senior writer/designer Tom Abernathy talks about writing for games such as the Destroy All Humans! series, the genesis of the studio's upcoming Saboteur, and... the surprising connection between Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca and Pamela Anderson in Barb Wire?"

- Road To The IGF: Global Conflicts: Palestine's Egenfeldt-Nielsen
"Beginning Gamasutra’s ‘Road to the IGF’ feature, which profiles and interviews Independent Games Festival 2008 entrants, we talk to Serious Games Interactive's Simon Egenfeldt-Nielsen, developer of Global Conflicts: Palestine about his serious game with a serious topic."

- Clearing the Haze: Rob Yescombe On Writing For An FPS
"Narrative is increasingly important in games, but in-house writers are still something of a scarcity - which is why Gamasutra sat down with Free Radical's Rob Yescombe, one of those, and writer for PS3-exclusive shooter Haze -- to discuss writing, politics, and motivation."

COLUMN: 'The Aberrant Gamer': Dracula's Girls

October 27, 2007 12:04 AM | Leigh Alexander

-[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.]

There are some twenty games in the Castlevania family released in the U.S., and the series is relatively simple thematically in comparison to some of its other long-standing contemporaries. The premise from one game to the next is generally simple, and yet the series is beloved for a certain flair. Even in its more primitive days, it added atmosphere and a certain sense of dread thanks to several key elements that repeat in most, if not all, of the titles in the quintessential gothic horror franchise.

For example, the resurrection of a dark lord along with his avatar, a castle so grim and dread it almost seems a living thing, is the usual fashion. It’s usually a safe bet these days that a Castlevania game will likely feature Legion as a boss, that fleshy orb swathed in an army of shambling corpses. One can expect to find oneself in a chapel in the Catholic style, and probably in a clock tower, too. A veritable menu of gourmet comfort foods, from pasta to sushi, is inexplicably dropped by ghostly creatures of myth. Most of all, the majority of the games share monsters in common, and a brush with Death is usually king among these.

But it’s Castlevania’s cruder beasts who are most responsible for its style – even in the earliest eras of the most basic sidescrollers, the elaborate, haunted bestiary set the game apart. Many a button-mashing eighties baby who stayed up late exploring the infested annals of Dracula’s castle found himself unable to sleep, wondering at the creepy, cursed history of those gruesome monsters that was explained in more detail – often one or two unsettling sentences – in the bestiaries of later titles, a cast of characters that, in large part, survives numerous revamps to return, reviled and welcomed, in Castlevaniatitles to date.

Some of those monsters just happen to be really, really cute chicks.

What To Do If You Don't Have A Game Designer

October 26, 2007 4:03 PM | Simon Carless

- Over at game developer blog Intelligent Artifice, Jurie Horneman has been discussing the possibly tricky question for larger console/PC game teams: 'What to do if you don’t have a game designer on your team?', if you're making a game. Other than getting one, of course.

Horneman then breaks things down handily: "If you can’t have a full-time game designer on your team, you can still make sure game design happens. What counts is that the job gets done. Having a full-time game designer is typically the best solution for this, but producing a game is all about knowing what your risks are, where to allocate resources (whether that be the team’s, or your own) and how to make the best of situations that are not ideal, because situations are never ideal, and the best is the enemy of the good."

He also cautions, near the end: "If there is no clear responsibility for game design, there’s a good chance it won’t happen. Values won’t get tested and tweaked, decisions won’t be documented and communicated. The lack of a game designer is probably not the only problem in your project, so there will be stress and urgency. Under these conditions, people will focus on their own areas of responsibility, because that is so much safer. The worst case occurs when player entertainment is no longer the focus of development. Every feature or asset is ticked off, but nobody cares anymore whether the game is fun." And indeed, that can happen. Thoughts?

GameSetInvestigation: The Guitar Hero Patent Mystery

October 26, 2007 1:45 PM | Simon Carless

- Actually, this started out as a GameSetWatch-specific story, but as I dug further, it ended up being interesting and mainstream industry relevant-enough enough that we ran it on Gamasutra this morning. Nonetheless, we'll reprint it here and then I'll give you some bonus commentary, how's that?

"On the eve of Guitar Hero III's launch, Gamasutra has discovered patents listed on the game's loading screen that reveal an agreement between Activision and Konami over Guitar Freaks gameplay patents, as well as prior patents apparently purchased by Activision to bolster its legal position.

Issues around game mechanic and design-related patents have become significant in recent years, with Gamasutra recently investigating a Midway-owned patent over 'ghost racers' in driving games that has been licensed by several major games.

In this case, the multiple patents listed by Activision in Guitar Hero III's software (on the Official Xbox Magazine demo version) are also viewable on its official 'privacy policy page', with the note: "Covered by one or more of the following patents."

GameSpot Overseer's New Vision Via... Maxim?

October 26, 2007 8:02 AM | Simon Carless

- So, this is absolutely not GSW being snarky (well, OK, just a bit), but we were simultaneously fascinated and Spock-like eyebrow-ed to note, as part of CNET's financial results debuting today, that the parent company of GameSpot put out the following announcement:

"CNET Networks announced today that Stephen Colvin, former president and chief executive officer of Dennis Publishing, publisher of Maxim, Stuff and Blender magazines, is joining the company as executive vice president. Colvin will be dedicated to overseeing the company’s entertainment and lifestyle properties, which include leading brands such as GameSpot, TV.com, MP3.com, CHOW, and UrbanBaby... During his time at Dennis Publishing, Colvin was responsible for the creation and launch of numerous publications, including Maxim magazine, which has grown to be the best selling men’s lifestyle magazine in the U.S. and the world."

Here's the internal memo announcing the change, among others. I guess overall this is a good organizational move, and you know, Maxim.com's video game section really isn't that bad, but it's sometimes bizarre to me how the bite-sized, not particularly challenging journalism and babe galleries that Maxim and Stuff espouse could be waved as a flag to usher in a brave new age for CNet.

Having said that, Blender's a pretty good magazine, and Dennis Publishing started up Your Sinclair in the '80s, so that's pretty much a 'Get Out Of Jail Free' card there. So maybe I should ease up a little. But I'd be interested to see if there are any attempts to 'sex up' GameSpot in its future, in terms of getting it to appeal to a more mainstream male audience. That's certainly how Dennis Publishing evolved from a computer magazine publisher in the '90s, at least - and other folks seem to have a similar idea, eh?

COLUMN: HDR Knowledge - 'Review Ratings Philosophy and Perfect Games'

October 26, 2007 12:04 AM |

['HDR Knowledge' is a regular column written by Japan-based Nayan Ramachandran that chronicles his thoughts and wishes for the future of the gaming industry. This week is a probing look at game reviews, and what truly makes a perfect 10.]

By now readers should not be confused that HDRL does not offer letter or number grades with its game reviews. Not only does it inherently carry with it the ability compare disparate titles, but it also forces some to skip the review entirely and check the score.

02.jpg This problem is two fold: not only do many then miss out on our exquisite writing, but often times, readers will never really know why a game received an 8, 9 or 10. One of NeoGAF's long running gags in review threads usually amounts to "So Game α is better than Game β?" or "It's still not as good as Jade Empire!"

IGN's review of Jade Empire is specifically very touchy, because the site, in recent years, has changed the scale by which they review games. The number system itself has not changed, but the level of scrutiny they apply to any game review has heightened, often to the point of rating a game too low to assuage accusations that the site's staff threw 8's and 9's at any game that was generally well built and fun. Now, their scoring makes little sense as staff and guard has changed. Game scores of the past mean very little after significant changes in rating protocol occur, which trivializes one of the most popular purposes of review scores.

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