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Archive For October, 2007

Library Of Congress Snuggles Games Some More

October 22, 2007 4:03 PM | Simon Carless

- Over at Kotaku, they have a neat multi-interview feature called 'The Library of Congress Loves Video Games', discussing some of the preservation efforts that the Library recent announced funding for - something we've recently covered here on GameSetWatch - but not with nice, meatspace interviews!

It's noted of the LoC, which has surprisingly large amount of ephemera already - including 100,000 comic books, thanks to copyright filings (!): "While their collection [of video games] is currently small, only encompassing around 2,000 titles that are 100% the result of copyright deposits (as opposed to formal acquisitions or donations), they aren't yet ready to collect more." The Cabrinety Collection at Stanford still outguns this, but it's the Library Of Congress funding that matters right now.

Also noted later in the article: "Research libraries will absolutely need the support of commercial video game publishers to archive their work. Whether it's to help create metadata (companies provide information on everything from the engine they used to their plotline) or just supplying access to those precious IPs, the commercial aid is not an option, it's a necessity."

I think this is _broadly_ true, but companies often have very little time or financial motivation to help out - and with the DMCA exemption, I believe you can archive anyhow, despite what the piece says.

But, as I found when working on some of this for the Internet Archive, it's the data around the game (videos, experiences, development info) which is possibly as/more important than the end result itself, which is often well-preserved in digital form (in gigantic, less than legal BitTorrents!) anyhow. This is what the LoC grant (and new folks like the University of Texas) are often preserving - development materials, experiential data, and so on - a great step in the right direction.

Reminder: IGF Mobile Entries Due October 26th

October 22, 2007 8:01 AM | Simon Carless

- Wanted to pass this one along since the deadline is near, and it's a great opportunity to stand out if you have a handheld game and are an indie - we're especially hoping for some innovative DS homebrew and original IP cellphone titles, so send them along if you got 'em:

"The organizers of the new IGF Mobile event, which is open to innovative indie cellphone, DS, PSP and other handheld titles, is reminding of an October 26th deadline to be considered for the $20,000 in prizes to be awarded at Game Developers Conference 2008 next February.

Submissions for the event are open at the official IGF Mobile website through the end of Friday, October 26, and winners of the event will be recognized with multiple prizes at the IGF Mobile ceremony, taking place during the GDC Mobile event at Game Developers Conference on February 19, 2008. The event will run parallel to the main IGF competition, which retains its $50,000 prize pool and current categories.

IGF Mobile has launched with NVIDIA, creator of the GoForce family of GPUs for handheld devices, as the Founding and Platinum Sponsor. In keeping with the company’s philosophy of encouraging and fostering new technology innovation, NVIDIA is particularly supporting the ‘Innovation in Augmented Design’ category as part of its sponsorship. The prize specifically honors mobile games that were developed using GPS, camera, motion sensing, and WiFi elements, along with other unique and differentiating features.

This $2,000 prize will be awarded in addition to other $2,000 prizes for Innovation in Mobile Game Design, Audio Achievement, Technical Achievement, and Achievement in Art. Finally, the title named Best Game of IGF Mobile will receive a $10,000 Grand Prize. IGF Mobile will also feature all finalist games in playable form within a special pavilion on the Game Developers Conference 2008 show floor, alongside the main IGF Pavilion, on February 20-22, 2008.

A statement from the organizers of the event on the official website explains: "We believe that there are great, innovative indie games out there which use the unique advantages of handheld hardware, from Gamevil's Nom and Skipping Stone for cellphones through DS games such as 5th Cell's Drawn To Life or even group games such as Pac-Manhattan, and we're delighted to set up a new awards to help honor titles such as these."

The Independent Games Festival itself was established in 1998 by the CMP Game Group to encourage innovation in game development and to recognize the best independent game developers, much the way that the Sundance Film Festival honors the independent film community.

The creation of IGF Mobile, for which additional sponsorship placements are still available, is the Game Group’s direct response to the maturing of the mobile and handheld game industry, and the desire to similarly recognize and reward those driving the advancement of the space."

Alex Handy Sez: 'Welcome To The Hardcore MMO Holocaust'

October 22, 2007 12:02 AM | Simon Carless

- [The sixth in a ragged series of 'Alex Handy Sez' missives, in which the former Game Developer editor and current Gamasutra contributor riffs on something or other, focuses on his dismal predictions for the current subscription-based MMO crop.]

Last week was a brutal time for fantasy MMOs. It all began with Yahtzee's preview of Tabula Rasa, Richard Garriott's MMO magnum opus. Naturally, Mr. Zero Punctuation presented the game as being somewhat lame. But in hindsight, that's the nicest possible outcome for the title, as its in-development cohorts have been dropping like flies, lately.

Take Perpetual's Gods and Heroes. It was basically WoW, but everyone could have up to 8 pets at a time. Based on Roman and Greek mythology, it was just another fantasy game where you start out fighting skeletons, rats, and wolves with toggle-based attacks. Woop-di-do! Is it any wonder this title has been all but canceled? Just when Perpetual was about to open up its Beta to outsiders, they shelved the whole world, in favor of concentrating on the Star Trek MMO which they've gotten the license for.

Meanwhile, Electronic Arts' troubles in the MMO world continue with the halting of the Warhammer Online beta. I actually pestered the EA folks for admission into this beta so that I could write it up for a new British PC gaming magazine. But I was abruptly told that they'd get back to me each time.

I saw this game at an EA Editors' Day a year or so ago, and the thing that struck me the most about it was how much it appeared influenced by WoW. OK, it's a game about humans and orcs and elves all trying to kill each other, and the real goal is to rebuild Dark Age of Camelot in the WoW model: PvP uber alles. But if you're saddled with a license that looks so much like all the other fantasy games out there, you really can't go using symbols and gameplay ideas without modifying them just a little.

When I got my hands on this one, the first thing I saw was the orc I was controlling. The second thing I saw was a shaman-like character off in the distance, near a tent, with a yellow exclamation point over his head. When I talked to him, I got a quest, and it turned into a hollow question mark. Then I had to go talk to another guy with an exclamation point in order to complete my quest. Then, I headed outside and found.... wolves, rats, spiders, and skeletons. Sigh...

Is it really so hard to come up with good new ideas in MMOs? This is the 1983 of MMOs, it would seem: the hardcore, subscription-based MMO market is flooded with 'me-too' titles, and even the forthcoming games in the pipeline are seemingly utter crap of the same variety.

The real draw of these games is the social aspect - people play WoW with their friends. Playing alone is boring. So why can't someone take the social aspect and make it more important? Rather than just slathering EverQuest with a new coat of paint and polygons, why can't we have MMOs that are focused entirely on the social interaction and cooperation? Right now, the most we get in this reguard is the party system, and the ability to cast buffs or healing spells on one another. Sure, it's fun and it works now, but it really doesn't feel fresh in any way.

At least Blizzard realized when it began that if it kept the initial design and features somewhat sparse, it could add complexity later. That's why they have a low level cap and so few races and classes. Unlike Vanguard, a game with so many combinations of character classes and races that it's tough to figure out what the point of any of them are - and is another doomed fantasy MMO... where does the future lie for this genre?

Good Game Designer - Have A Jammie Dodger!

October 21, 2007 4:02 PM | Simon Carless

- You have likely heard of Ernest Adams' No Twinkie Database, based off his regular Gamasutra columns - but JC Barnett over at the Japanmanship blog has decided to switch things up with 'Good game designer! Have a Jammie Dodger!' - based on the awesome UK biccie.

Mr. Barnett explains: "Inspired by the “Good Ideas” series of posts on the Mainly About Games blog, I decided I too will actively try and look at some of the good design decisions that I wish more companies would pick up on (read: steal)." Some of the notables include 'Commentary', 'Full-power Replays', and, of course, 'Portal'.

One of the smartest ideas in there is 'Achievement Tracking': "Whereas most games simply say things like “win 1000 consecutive games on-line” or “play 100 hours straight without accessing the pause menu” so far I’ve only seen Test Drive [Unlimited] offer you a detailed overview of how far you’ve actually gone towards achieving these goals." I agree - would love to see this on a few more games - being a bit of an admitted Achievement junkie.

Every Extend Extra Extreme... Exposed?

October 21, 2007 8:05 AM | Simon Carless

- The sheer diversity and attraction of titles available on Xbox Live Arcade has meant I now own 60 XBLA titles, at this point, yikes. This week saw a really interesting downloadable title from Q? Entertainment, Every Extend Extra Extreme, and The-Inbetween has a detailed, thoughtful overview of the game, which is a remixed remix (!) of Omega's dojin shooter Every Extend.

Most interestingly, the title's gameplay differs majorly from the PSP remix of the title: "Every Extend Extra Extreme takes that original game down another direction altogether. The main “unlimited” game has no tiered levels or bosses, but single stages distinguished by visual theme and music. It has that old two minute time limit but this time it throws enough “time extend” items your way to perpetually increase the game’s duration into the hours-long range."

It's concluded: "Unlike Lumines, the music here isn’t just for ambiance and atmosphere. It is integrated into the gameplay which reacts (loosely) based on the track’s BPM and rewards the player for playing along to the beat... Above all, Every Extend Extra Extreme feels to be the closest realization of that Kandinsky-inspired experience that Mizuguchi has been trying to create since Project-K(andinsky), aka. Rez." (N0wak has also done some fun long-exposure photos as part of his impressions.)

Of course, as with a number of Q? Entertainment games - for example Meteos - Miz is more 'curator' of the concept than author. But like any good label, it feels in keeping with the brand, and most of all, E4 feels complex, fully featured, and well thought-out. Also, it has insanely, ridiculously big high scores as a key part of gameplay- thumbs up!

[UPDATE: Interesting comment by Nelson, disagreeing (perhaps correctly!) with my initially happy take: "I wanted to like this game, I really did. It's kinda cool and flashy, but the gameplay is terribly unbalanced. The unlimited game is entirely repetitive; it doesn't really get any harder. There's no challenge to playing it, either, you just hit the "explode" button before your shield runs out. No dodging, no aiming. The original Every Extend was much more subtle. The shooting game R4 is a little better, but also hugely repetitive."]

COLUMN: 'Game Mag Weaseling': Mag Roundup 10/20/07

October 21, 2007 12:04 AM |

japanese.jpg

Man, is there anyone out there in the US who has bothered to collect more Japanese magazines than me?

I'm running out of shelf space in the "study," so I finally decided to move the brunt of the Famitsus into the closet, since I refer to them the least these days. So now they lie in storage, waiting patiently for the day when I get a hankering to find out what review score they gave to F-Zero or Terranigma. Someday.

Anyway, we're rapidly approaching the holiday season in magazine-land, and already we're seeing some mags up their page counts rather dramatically. This particular update is a little light after the monster one last week, but it's only going to get more interesting from here on out...

GameSetNetwork: The G For Grammar Expo

October 20, 2007 4:02 PM | Simon Carless

- Time to round up some of the original reporting we did on the CMP Game Group's big sister site Gamasutra this week, for the edification of GSW readers.

Actually, some interesting stuff has come up, from Raph Koster getting agreeably abstract about 'game grammar' to WBIE's super-powered future, all the way to our impressions of E For All. Please to enjoy:

- Defining Games: Raph Koster's Game Grammar
"Areae president Raph Koster is perhaps best known as a designer of Ultima Online and the previous CCO of Sony Online Entertainment, and in this in-depth Gamasutra interview, he discusses his views on 'game grammar', the uniting of MMOs and online worlds, and the software patent problem."

- Q&A: Warner Bros' Ryan Talks Expansion, Acquisition, Superheroes
"Following its $500 million game fund deal, Gamasutra has been talking with Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment senior vice president Samantha Ryan about the firm's new Seattle publishing office, developer acquisition plans, and the "pretty safe" assumption that the DC Comics owner will be making more superhero games."

- Impressions: Inside The 2007 E For All Expo
"Dubbed for some time as the legitimate successor to the spectacle that was pre-2007 E3, IDG's E for All has begun, and Gamasutra's Brandon Sheffield is on hand to present his day-one impressions of the Los Angeles-based consumer event, from publisher to consumer attendance."

- - Postmortem: Black Rock Studios' MotoGP'07
"In this Gamasutra-exclusive postmortem, David Jefferies of UK-based Black Rock Studios (formerly known as Climax Racing) follows up last year's postmortem of MotoGP'06 with an honest look at this year's Xbox 360 racing title, covering optimization, frontend, crowd systems and more."

- Survey: Code Outsourcing Rising Despite High Vendor Turnover
"According to a new Amritt Ventures report, while coding and QA outsourcing is on the rise, 27 percent of developers have fired three or more outsourcing vendors over the past year. Gamasutra talked to Amritt's Gunjan Bagla to learn what more can be done to better foster overseas relationships."

- Q&A: Iain Simons On Building A Better GameCity
"How do you create a gaming event without a focus on playing games? The same way you hold a book festival without sitting around reading books, says GameCity director Iain Simons, who explains how this year's Oct. 24-28th Nottingham event will again see a broader focus on experiencing games as culture."

Game Development: The Copper Bullet List

October 20, 2007 8:04 AM | Simon Carless

- Over at the descriptively named GameDevBlog, Torpex Games' Jamie Fristrom (he who is doing Schizoid for Xbox Live Arcade) has posted something called 'The Copper Bullet List' in his 'Manager In A Strange Land' series, and it's basically, uhh, a cheat sheet for making high quality video games if you're a developer, somewhat based on The Joel Test.

And top of the list, unsurprisingly, is: "The key to a succesful team: people, people, people. Try to work with people who are better than you. There's a large body of literature on how to do this - too much to go into here. But what's usually worked for us has often bordered on nepotism, working with friends and friends of friends - friends whom we know are very smart and talented." Even working in game media, as I appear to do, I agree wholeheartedly with this comment.

There are plenty of other good ones, but staying with the floaty-smart ones that will fit in one paragraph: "Keep communication open; try to involve everyone in decisions. Sometimes you'll get a lead who'll say "You went around me!" or "You went over my head!" when two others on the team talk without consulting them first - they'll want to implement a chain-of-command and make sure they're always passing messages, the hub of a game of post office. This is an attitude that must stop. People on the team need to talk, and leads should only get upset when one of their guys actually go off task for someone else without permission."

GameSetLinks: Brutal Star... Lemmyverse?

October 20, 2007 12:04 AM | Simon Carless

- Yeek, Friday evening deserves some extremely, more averagely than normal random links, and indeed, this is what ye shall receive, GameSetWatch readers. I bring you... hellfire:

- Those cunning chaps at XBLArcade.com have spotted that Reflexive's next XBLA title will be Axiom: Overdrive, thanks to some 'internet Matlocking': "Yet another discovery I made while browsing the IGF entries was the identity of Reflexive Entertainment's next XBLA game. Reflexive was responsible for the game Ricochet Lost Worlds on the original Xbox version of XBLA and also for Wik: Fable of Souls (a personal favorite)." There's a screenshot up, too (pictured above), and it looks agreeably bonkers.

- Am presuming that you have all checked out the Brutal Legend trailer by now. If you have not, do so now. A word of wisdom from creator Tim Schafer on the Double Fine announce page: "Growing up in a small town, looking at the same old things every day--the kids you know in school, the teachers, the streets, your room—you start to wonder, “Is this really all there is?” And Heavy Metal, just like fantasy, science fiction, and video games, says, “No. There are worlds out there that you can’t even imagine.”"

- A little more synchronicity here - Kyle Orland's 'Media Coverage' column discusses the ethics of freebies in game journalism: "Also, I know game T-shirts are a staple here, but please, please, PLEASE don't wear them to official reporting events." And Matt at Curmudgeon Gamer weighs in too: "Research in human behavior has shown that even small gifts and ones without restrictions can influence actions without being tied to explicit demands." So journalists, please move to your airtight containers, starting... now!

- Over at Canada.com, they have an intelligent news story about the rise of indie games, referencing the IGF and IndieGames.com (ok, that's why I noticed), but also contributing bare truth such as: "Without nail-biting over marketability and bottom lines, [the indie scene is] an environment where real art can be made. Of course, it's also an environment where real crap can be - and usually is - made; such is the nature of all human creative activity." Yay crap!

- Lovably eccentric game site editor awards continue to flow in James Mielke's direction (for weblog posts like this, if nothing else), and now I see that he's been working with Sega to set up a special 1UP.com Platinum Cup on Phantasy Star Universe, which has a special page on the official PSU website and everything. Though I have a soft spot for the Rappy (especially poached with a side salad), this is perhaps going too far. Oh wait, here's the best bit: "'Talk to hal in the club on the third floor of the GUARDIANS Colony to go to the Items Trading Post, and see Shane Bettenhausen from 1Up.com! There you can exchange Rappy feathers for various items." Does this mean Shane has to go on sabbatical to do all that manual item exchange labor?

- Finally, I know that the Big Daddies from BioShock are the signature gaming 'villain' of the moment, at least from an art direction standpoint, but we at GSW think we've found an even scarier post-apocalyptic antagonist - and one that's ripe for a game of its own. Look at the evil stare! He's clearly steeling himself to cause havoc on a global scale! (On second thoughts, he's probably already penciled in for the next Disaster Report sequel anyhow.)

GameSetComment: Inside The GDC 2008 Advisory Board

October 19, 2007 4:08 PM | Simon Carless

- So, many of you may be aware that Game Developers Conference (which my colleagues in the CMP Game Group run every year) has an advisory board - and a pretty impressive set of industry folks are on it, too, from Maxis' Chris Hecker through Blizzard's Rob Pardo to Microsoft's Laura Fryer and Cerny Games' Mark Cerny.

But what isn't discussed too much - other than Dave Perry taking some pictures of last year's meeting, and it being mentioned in interviews - is that the GDC Advisory Board is an incredibly active, conscientious and smart set of people, who take a hands-on role in working out what lectures appear at GDC every year. In fact, multiple board members individually rate each of the (hundreds of) submitted lectures ahead of helping to pick them, and there are lengthy in-person meetings each year to decide what appears at the Conference.

On Thursday, I had the chance to go and hang out with the Advisory Board as part of their annual meeting in the Bay Area, as they looked in detail at the Design Track and other parts of next year's GDC, after having previously met and then rated the submissions. Though the lecture statuses are obviously confidential and in-progress right now (I believe the first set of accepted lectures will be appearing on the GDC site in the next couple of weeks), I was struck by how thoughtful, careful, and empirical the process of picking lectures is.

- In particular, the Board takes a really deliberate, holistic view of the submissions. Attendee ratings for multiple previous Game Developers Conference speeches by the same speaker are taken into account when thinking about this year's submissions, and Advisory Board members are assigned individual outreach to any speakers who have an awesome concept that might need some more presentation or focus tweaking. And I think the result is a diverse and practical set of lectures.

Now, this isn't just meant to be a 'rah rah' post saying how wonderful the GDC is. But when you get senior folks from Microsoft, Sony, Blizzard, EA, Ubisoft, Square Enix and more sitting down together and working out what lectures the community should hear in an egalitarian way - I don't think this is really done anywhere else.

And where these members - for which there are several new folks this year - are not even being remotely precious about whether those lectures are from their own company or not - only worrying about whether the GDC attendee would appreciate them - then that's good news, abstractly. (Also, they kindly let me interject occasionally - which is nice. Also, they had Haagen-Dazs ice-cream.)

Anyhow, look out for the first GDC 2008 lecture approvals in the near-ish future - and there's some pretty droolworthy stuff in there. (Pics from GDC 2007 advisory board, thanks Dave!)

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