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November 24, 2007

Kotaku Flashback: Ten Years Ago

- Continuing a look at 'what Simon did at Kotaku', something I dreamed up for the week (and actually turned out quite well, I think) was a look back at the GameGeekPeeks interviews, a set of Q&As with notable designers I conducted about 10 years back for (the now defunct) VideoGameDesign.com.

So I excerpted key questions and answers from the interviews with notables from Valve, 3D Realms, LucasArts, Lionhead, etc, and then added some commentary on they held up a decade later.

In some cases, it was excellently, in others... not so much! Here's the articles - with a particularly fun quote from each interview attached:

- Ten Years Ago: Half-Life Writer Marc Laidlaw: "Right now, I'm happiest with our plans to turn the player into a real character in [Half-Life], without making a snarling asshole out of him. The player is going to be important-and not only as a target. He's going to feel he's doing things for a variety of good reasons, including sheer survival."

- Ten Years Ago: Lionhead's Peter Molyneux, Demis Hassabis: "As we have developed the new game, we have come to the shaky realization that it is very ambitious and far beyond anything any of us have attempted before... Lionhead will only work on one title at a time, and it will never get bigger that 20 people ( We are currently 8 people)."

- Ten Years Ago: 3D Realms' Scott Miller: "When Prey is released, it will have been a two year project, which for a game as ambitious as this, is not too long. Plus, unlike some games long in development, like Stonekeep and Descent to Undermountain, Prey when released will be a cutting-edge game in both gameplay and technology."

- Ten Years Ago: LucasArts' Monkey Island Duo: Jonathan Ackley "[Adventure games] can be a difficult and expensive style of game to produce, so we've seen fewer on the market recently. However, LucasArts has a long and successful tradition with the genre, and we're very fond of it here. each time out we make some alterations to the style and gameplay, so I'm expecting it to continue evolving, but at the heart of it all is always a strong sense of character and story."

Kotaku Flashback: 5 Indie Picks

- Well, there you go - I'm officially back at the helm of the good ship GameSetWatch. Thanks to Karsden for his amazing work guest editing the site in my absence. (Incidentally, I made a GSW category with just his guest posts in if you need to keep and cherish them.)

And yes, we'd love to get him to do a regular column, but we'll wait til he's recovered from marzipan poisoning before we ask him nicely. In any case, I had fun editing Kotaku this week, and the next three or four posts will round up the 'original reporting' I did there, since the volume of posts on the site means you might have missed some of it.

One of my 'original-ish' series for the week was '5 Indie Picks', in which I picked out some pay-to-download independent games which the average Kotaku reader might have missed, and then pointed at it a lot, waggling my finger:

- Pick #1 was Deadly Rooms Of Death, of which I comment "...It's like almost nothing else out there... if you like thinking and computer games (see: Portal), you will like D.R.O.D." OK, cheeky comparison, but forgivable, I hope.

- Pick #2 was Pocketwatch's Venture Arctic, a game I definitely think has been lost in the shuffle, noting that it "acts as a sort of Al Gore-ish god game, in which "...the player controls the forces of earth, sun, wind, and water to bring summer and winter to polar bears, orcas, and more..." So, Douglas Adams' 'Last Chance To See' meets Black & White, then?"

- Pick #3 was Grubby Games' Professor Fizzwizzle & The Molten Mystery, noting that "...it's logic puzzles in a cute family-friendly manner? Yep, and you just don't see this kind of thing from the mainstream any more." I also recommended their Katamari vs. Breakout fun of Fizzball in passing.

- Picks #4 and #5, made in a single post because of Thanksgiving, were Blackwell Unbound ("a classic point and click-style adventure game in the LucasArts/Sierra style" - and I just noticed the first Blackwell is in the Top 20 at Big Fish - wider success ahoy!), as well as Lexaloffle's Chocolate Castle ("a tricky sliding block puzzle game".)

Some of you guys may know these games, but hey, it bears repeating - publicity for them (and resulting sales) allows their continued existence, so anything I can do.

November 23, 2007

GameSetGuest: 'A Very Schadenfreude Christmas'

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Guten Morgen, everyone. Look at our two lovely balls down there! I suppose they are a bit big, but they are festive, no?

It is Schwartze Freitag. You must all be back from shopping for your Rock Band and Wii and plasma television and USB Singing, Dancing Billy Bass Elmo Furby. The Christmas season now truly is upon us.

Every company has its holiday traditions. For example, at Electronic Arts, they release the employees from the office on Christmas Day and allow them to play in the front driveway for several hours, which, for some, is the only exposure to sunlight they will get all year.
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Our company Christmas party is held on December 6th, St. Nicholas’ Day. Traditionally, children place their shoes out for St. Nick to fill with candy. The worst child in the house gets no candy, but instead rocks or stones in their shoes.

Here, each employee just leaves their file drawers open, as no one wishes to go home without their shoes on. Last year, Lothar (our art director) received in his drawers a copy of American McGee’s Bad Day L.A. His work has improved greatly this year, perhaps in fear of a copy of Empire Earth III.

Each year the party is much the same. Everyone drinks a lot of Glühwein and dances badly. Bruno brings his wife and also his pet miniature schnauzers. Crispin gets very weepy. Otto will demonstrate his impressive ability to burp the first 30 digits of Pi.

wookiee hugs r best If we had only wookiees, it would be more entertaining than the Star Wars Holiday Special. Every time I see Han Solo hugging a wookiee, it makes me feel the warm inside.

At our Christmas party, we also decorate the office goat (Ziggy). He does not mind! Someone has to take Ziggy home and look after him during Christmas vacation, so we draw straws. Often Ziggy eats the straws, so we have to choose numbers from a hat instead. Three years ago, Ziggy ate the hat as well, so Otto wrote a very complex random number generator.

Oddly enough, in the past three Christmases, Otto never has had to take the goat home.

Last year it snowed on our Christmas party night, and we all went out and made a huge snow sculpture in front of the office. We were quite drunk, and although we intended to make a dragon (inspired by our recent viewing of the Dungeons & Dragons movie recommended by Otto who we will never again ask for movie recommendations), it ended up looking like...a duck.

A very large, lumpy duck. We were all standing there shivering and feeling rather disappointed in ourselves and then we realized: it was the dragon from Adventure.

Truly, it was a Christmas miracle.

duck?

I have enjoyed being the guest editor for you this week. I am glad that some of you found my time here mildly amusing, even though I did not post pictures of a garden gnome dressed as Gordon Freeman or half-naked Polish women playing Halo, as they do over at Kotaku.

But now, I must get back to work. The PC games, they do not make themselves. Unless they are match-three games, in which case they pretty much do.

And so I hand you back into the excellent care of Simon Carless (it seems I had been spelling his name wrong, how embarrassment). All of us at Schadenfreude Interactive are wishing you a good holiday season: may your wookiees be warm, your dragons look like dragons, and may you find nothing bad in your drawers on Christmas morning.

-- Karsden

GameSetGuest: 'This Takes The Cake'

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Since all the other more hip, cool game sites are full of photos of Mario cupcakes, Companion Cube cookies, and pies that look like the load screen of Gunstar Heroes I thought, we here at GameSetWatch must also display our gaming confectionery skills.

Thus Ulrike (our VP of sales) made a lovely chocolate cake of which she was very proud, the top of which was decorated with a marzipan sculpture of the GameSetWatch logo creature. I do not know what this logo creature is exactly, I think it is a baby chicken in a robot battle suit. Although I do not know why a chicken would wish to fight like a robot -- perhaps the influence of Berzerk? Anyway, Ulrike brought me into the office kitchen to show this cake to me and imagine our shocksurprise when we opened the refrigerator and found THE CAKE HAD BEEN EATEN:

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Ulrike was in tears. Crispin, our intern, was also in tears (but I cannot say for sure it had anything to do with the cake, he is very emotional) I know that I did not do it – I do not like marzipan. Lothar is not in the office this week. Ziggy has no thumbs and cannot open the refrigerator. Bruno has an alibi -- he was in the library with the lead pipe.

And then Otto walked in with chocolate crumbs all down the front of his "Sith Happens" t-shirt.

How dare he? Did he think he would get away with this? I turned on him, all prepared for a Phoenix-Wright-like confrontation...

OBJECTION!

...but he confessed! He said he thought the cake was for Crispin's party. Crispin's party was yesterday. And I ask you, why would it be proper for him to eat the entire cake if it were Crispin's? Well, I suppose would not be overly upset if the cake were Crispin's. He is only an intern, after all. But that is neither there nor here!

Otto merely shrugged and went back to his compiling. Like Galactus, Otto devours all and makes no apologies.

I am so angry at him for spoiling my cake post. But there are few C++ programmers in Southern Germany, much less ones with as much experience as Otto. So this is the type of thing up with which we must put. In our dungeon, he possesses the Tenure of Vecna, which gives him a permanent Globe of Invulnerability. Still, he is horribly rude, and I wish I could slap him with Bigby's Slapping Hand.

I blame video games. He must have been playing Manhunt 2.

Or Cake Mania.

-- Karsden

GameSetNetwork: Marathon Zwei, Feeling Things Up

- Aha - a happy post-Thanksgiving to all you folks. Almost done with that fun Kotaku guest action (and will be summarizing the original material I posted over the weekend, for those who can't keep up with the 60+ posts a day the collected team whacks up over there!)

In any case, our pride and joy big sister site Gamasutra ended up posting some features over Thanksgiving, and you may find the content bucket a little empty at this joyous time of year.

So we thought it was worth rattling off a list of the notable original stories we published this week - firstly features, and then some news/interview highlights:

- Game Feel: The Secret Ingredient
"Game designer and lecturer Steve Swink takes a close look at the "overlooked phenomenon" of game feel, referencing titles such as Super Mario 64, Zuma, and Donkey Kong in his intriguing quest to work out how designers can create a smoothly controlled digital game object."

- Postmortem: Freeverse's Marathon 2: Durandal
"Developer Freeverse was the team behind the recent 'enhanced port' of classic Bungie title Marathon 2 to Xbox Live Arcade, and in this exclusive postmortem, the company's Mark Levin goes into detail on the trials and triumphs of updating a Mac classic to XBLA."

- Designing A Next-Gen Game For Sound
"In this game audio article, sound designer Rob Bridgett (Scarface: The World Is Yours) discusses the key elements of next-gen audio - and just what sounding "as good as film" means in today's increasingly sophisticated market."

- The Development Of A Continuum: Andrey Iones On TimeShift
"Saber Interactive's Vivendi-published TimeShift has a fascinating path to market - two publishers, developed on two continents, and a year of re-development after the game's original completion in 2006 - and Gamasutra chats to VP of production Andrey Iones about the title's storied history."

- All The World's A Stage: Inside Silicon Knights
"Gamasutra recently had a chance to tour Canadian developer Silicon Knights (Eternal Darkness, Too Human) - resulting in intriguing thoughts from founder Denis Dyack and other staffers on process, university recruitment, and how government subsidies can go too far."

Finally, notable original news/interviews published this week, from newest to oldest, are: Carmack, Kang Talk Id Mobile, Nintendo Love (discussing Wolfenstein mobile/DS, Orcs & Elves to Wii); Q&A: Disney Online's Goslin Talks Pirates Online (on Disney's new Depp-ish free-to-play MMO); MIT: Koster, Jenkins On 'Fan Labor', User-Generated Content (Raph and friends on how to get the fans to do work for you); Id's Carmack: World Of Warcraft The 'Train' Driving PC Gaming (Carmack on the state of PC games); MIT: Heroes, Narnia Panel Talks Transmedia Storytelling (film/game crossover thoughts with Heroes exec producer); IGDA Forum: Gamelab's Herdlick On Managing A Happy Team (happy game employees are good!); Future Play Panel Talks Self-Censorship And 'The Chilling Effect' (are developers censoring their own games?).

November 22, 2007

GameSetGuest: 'Spear And Magic Helmet'

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“Opera is when a guy gets stabbed and instead of bleeding, he sings.”
-- Ed Gardner

Oh, it is Thanksgiving, NO ONE IS READING. I am going to go play Peggle. In the meantime, here are some notes about Nachtmusik, our karaoke survival horror game released last Spring, and how it came to be. Ha ha, notes, musik, ha ha.

Nachtmusik

Lothar (our art director) is a big fan of the Japanese horror genre (The Ring, Dark Water, Silent Hill games, etc). He is a big fan of anything Japanese. It is always "kawaii" this and "desu desu desu" that. And he never stops trying to get me to watch something called Bubblegum Crisis.

Perhaps he would be more at home over at Kotaku.

On the other hand, I am a big fan of opera, particularly Wagner. But I had the idea, could not these two interests be combined in a game? I had never heard of a karaoke horror game. I’d certainly heard some karaoke horrors – Bruno, our CTO, singing America’s “Horse With No Name”, for one.

But why not? Operas, like video games, have always had a high body count.

I am now embarrassed to have a little valkyrie girl in the game, since that character (a yūrei, or Japanese ghost, as Lothar tells me) is so horribly overdone. It seems that every game must now contain a little scary girl in her pyjamas. Perhaps we could make a game with nothing but these spooky girls and call it Slumber Party Of The Damned.

Oh, I am sure such a thing it is already coming out for the Nintendo DS.

So now we had this premise, a karaoke game set in a haunted opera house, and we had two challenges -- to make a game driven by opera singing, and to also make it truly frightening.
sing for your life

We went overboard with the darkness at first. It was too dark in the game, and you could not see where you were going. To counter this, Otto (our lead programmer) made a small modification – every time your character bumped into something, there was a drum sound, with different intensity and instruments (timpani, cymbals, etc) depending on what and how hard you hit.

I thought it was an interesting idea, but it really played havoc with the score (both the musical score and the player's numeric score). Also, when testing, I fell down the stairs on one level and it sounded like a Citroën Acadiane full of ottomans and saucepan lids driving off a cliff and landing on an Alexander Calder sculpture. I was wearing headphones at the time and was deaf for three days.

Some things are clever ideas but do not make it into the final game.

Otto also designed a high-level weapon called the Pitchfork, but it was too violent. In Germany, we are not allowed to have very violent games, and apparently singing opera while running down a hallway pitchforking mutant swans was too much for the Unterhaltungssoftware Selbstkontrolle (our game ratings board). The Tannhauwitzer, thankfully, remained in. I think much of the violence in this game was made it past them, due to the game's opera theme and supposed educational nature.

If only Clive Barker's Jericho let you sing Strauss and Wagner, perhaps it would not have been banned here.

In the end, I think our Nachtmusik turned out well. There are not many opera fans who are also gamers, but even if you do not know your Aida from your Zauberflöte, you must agree it is still fun to kill things with classical music. Computerspiele ohn Strategie magazine called it "A terrifying combination of Loom, Karaoke Revolution, and Resident Evil." I could not be more proud.

Well, perhaps I would be more proud if I won a Nobel Prize or the Eurovision Song Contest. Or maybe if I went into outer space...but I will leave that to Richard Garriott.

-- Karsden

GameSetGuest: '8-Bit Geschichte'

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They say that after three days, visitors and fish both stink. But it has been four days, and I hope I do not stink, or if I do, that it is in a "tasty pickled herring salad" way and not a "low tide in the East Frisian islands" way.

I thought today it might be nice to interview my friend and co-worker Bruno Schwartzritter about a few of the early games we made. Also, I thought it would be easier than writing an entire article myself.

In the mid-eighties, when Schadenfreude Interactive was even not a augenglimmer, Bruno and I (he is now the CTO of SI) made quite a few games. They were all clones, because that is how you learn to make games in the beginning. As you learn, you evolve into making your own more original games. Well, some game developers never crawl out of the mud and grow legs. But Bruno and I have been in this business for a long time, and I feel we are at least newts by now.

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GRABUNGADUNG (1982)
Karsden: This game was Dig Dug, without the silly Fygars. Instead, they were dung beetles. But I suppose it was similar enough, since we eventually got a cease-and-desist letter from Namco, and so we made Grabungadung II, which was more like Ripoff.
Bruno: We ripped off Ripoff.
K: Basically you are the beetle and roll your dung ball around, accumulating as much dung as possible, while fending off flies and other beetles who will try to steal your ball.
Bruno: In a way it is a metaphor for life.
K:We made a coin-op version, which was very popular in Southern Germany. It was a “cocktail” arcade machine, with a large brown ninepin ball as a trackball.
Bruno: And then we did another dung beetle game, years later…because you are so fond of these dung beetles.
K: Yes, that is why we made Dung Ho!, which was a bit like Katamari Damacy.
Bruno: But much less colorful.
K: Brown is a color!

AFFENGEIST (1983)
Bruno: It means, “Monkey Ghosts”.
K: Donkey Kong, basically. With ghosts, like from Pac-Man.
Bruno: We should make a 3D version of this, it would be survival horror.
K: PETA would not like it.
Bruno: Yes, the monkeys must die to become ghosts.
K: I have no sympathy for monkeys.
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PICKELHAUBE (1984)
K: Joust – in a sense -- with a flying pickelhaube. A pickelhaube is the famous German hat with a spike on top.
Bruno: I loved this game...it was very surreal.
K: People found it too weird.
Bruno: Are flying pickelhaubes being attacked by handlebar moustaches really any weirder than knights riding ostriches?
K: Yes.

KEINE GESCHWINDIGKEITZBEGRENZUNG (1984)
K: “No Speed Limit” -- this was a Pole Position clone, obviously.
Bruno:The name did not even entirely fit on the Start screen.
K: It was a long name.
Bruno: Oddly enough, the game itself is very short.
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ERDBEEREN/ERDBEBEN (1984)
Bruno: “Strawberry Earthquakes”. It doesn't really mean anything, but it might be the name of one of those awful Japanese rock bands Lothar listens to. I guess it is no sillier than "Divine Divinity".
K: The game did at least have a strawberry in it! It was very much like Qbert. I will explain the name -- I was visiting my cousin in Mountain View, California, and we were driving from the airport. I asked his stepmother why the houses in California were all one-story with flat roofs, and she said “Because of the erdebeeren”.
Bruno: (laughs)
K: Well, her German was not very good. She meant “earthquakes” but the word for “earthquakes” is “erdebeben”. “Erdebeeren” means “strawberries”.
Bruno: "Because of the strawberries!" For a whole year you thought all people in California grew strawberries on their flat roofs.
K: I did!

Bruno: Looking back on it, these titles were not so bad. We should update some of these games and submit them to Xbox Live.
K: Oh, no, no – that would be like wrapping up an old fruitcake and giving it out as a Christmas present.
Bruno: Jeff Minter has done it.
K: Well, there is a fruitcake for you.
Bruno: Now, now -- my first game was Mutantkameleschlagen, a copy of Minter's Attack of The Mutant Camels.
K: Yes, and even so, I am still your friend.
Bruno: You null pointer.
K: I allocated you in this company, and I can de-allocate you.
Bruno: I think you had better turn the microph

COLUMN: 'The Aberrant Gamer': Meet The Family

-[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.]

If you’re a regular reader of The Aberrant Gamer, you know by now that hentai game stories tend to hinge on implausible conventions – exaggerated male fantasies that serve as a vehicle for the action. Generally, the h-game protagonist is a markedly ordinary young male of high school or college age, whose poor luck and relationship difficulties are suddenly reversed by a stroke of impossible luck, wherein he finds himself suddenly surrounded by eager beauties. Those women too, follow certain archetypes, and thus we have a formula.

In that respect, The Sagara Family is formulaic in every way; the protagonist, Yusuke, is sent by his father to board nearer to his school with a family consisting of a beautiful, youthful widow and her four equally nubile daughters. The game is billed as “the ultimate homestay fantasy,” and indeed it is – Mom wears skimpy lingerie as she swills sake late in the evening, and the youngest daughter, Ruruka, gets the urge to crawl into bed alongside Yusuke at night. By the way, she’s young enough to be considered innocent in doing so – yet, says the game, she’s 18, of course.

The first sex scene takes place between Yusuke and his host mother, Maria, not ten minutes into the story’s unfolding, once each female and her general, two-dimensional nature has been introduced. With h-game stories often comprised of rather long, elaborate narratives – essentially, the player must click, click and click through a great deal of text to get to the action – it’s not unusual to throw the first bone, so to speak, early. That the game is stereotypical and cheap is apparent – but if you’re a regular reader of the Aberrant Gamer, you know by now that there’s always something else going on.

Lock Up Your Daughters

-First, the four daughters. Eldest girl Arisa is sweet, patient and even-handed – emotionally. Physically, she’s a bit of a klutz, and her manner of spilling things everywhere softens her comparatively serious personality. The game can’t seem to make up its mind whether she’s a school nurse or a kindergarten teacher, but she enjoys spending much of her time surrounded by kids, with whom she deals with admirable kindness and patience – even during a particularly awkward scene where the oblivious kindergarteners insist on flipping her skirt up and groping her innocently.

Red-headed tomboy Sanae seems to be an age peer to Yusuke, and from the beginning, she tells him she won’t accept a male living in her house. She has a habit of being sloppy about locking her doors when she’s engaged in her dressing routines, and well-intentioned Yusuke, as a result, is always stumbling upon some awkward situation or another with the bold girl. Unforgiving and difficult, Sanae is wont to deliver a swift punch or kick to the family boarder despite his lack of ill will whenever things between them become uncomfortable. The tomboy is an h-game archetype, but so is the dominant woman, always ready with a “comic” physical beat-down whenever the nervous, retiring protagonist lad unwittingly steps on her toes.

Emiru is so shy and quiet that her own family tends to forget about her; unassuming and unassertive, she sleeps late and eats little, and her withdrawn, nonverbal personality would probably suggest some kind of mental illness if this weren’t an exaggerated fantasy game. But, of course, it is, and Emiru’s alarming degree of reservation here makes her seem both vulnerable and intriguing. Where her sisters wear their hearts on their sleeves and prance about earnestly, only Emiru’s true nature is beyond the protagonist’s reach.

Little carrot-topped Ruruka is the curious one, with a clever, savvy nature and the innocence of age that frequently excuses her inappropriate behavior. And yet, among her flighty mother and temperamental sisters, Ruruka’s the reliable one around the house, preparing everyone’s school lunches and performing the housework, and thereby creating an odd contrast between intellectual maturity and physical and emotional childishness.

Just Being Male?

-The girls’ mother, Maria, lost her husband to an illness just after her youngest daughter’s birth. “Because he wasn’t strong,” she explains, and when Yusuke is able to do things like slay bathroom cockroaches or eat several bowls of rice, it seems to please her enormously. Maria is incredibly sweet, easy-going and forgiving – the h-game definition of “maturity” that Maria embodies seems to involve awareness, understanding, and gently-amused, good-natured forgiveness of a teenage boy’s clumsy lecherousness. Should Yusuke have a new spat with Sanae or otherwise butt heads against the rules of an all-girls house, Maria is quick to forgive, to take his side and diplomatically explain the conflict away to her daughters fondly, with something to the effect of, “But, he’s just being a male.”

The game never goes any deeper, or gets any more complex than this, and one must assume the audience appreciates that – after all, games like Yume Miru Kusuri take several hours to play through, and the erotic scenes are not always frequent. With The Sagara Family, the relationships seem transparent and your path seems clear – as you will, of course, end up with one of the family’s women, it’s often apparent which option favors which female when you’re presented with a decision tree.

Tricky Sitches

More than a harem fantasy, the game actually feels quite a bit like a simulation on navigating relationships with women. Yusuke’s an alien in the Sagara household on many levels – his mother isn’t mentioned, and he has a clearly difficult relationship with his father, who never appears in the game. When the father’s mentioned, it’s with neutrality and even minor hostility. And, not uncommonly, at the game’s beginning Yusuke is a virgin, his inexperience with girls a source of consternation and confusion. And yet he must acclimate to a house full of perplexingly different women; the questions you most often have to answer to branch the story revolve around how to react to a girl’s loaded question, or balancing a desire to help the family with a desire to avoid interfering.

-It makes sense, then, that likely age-peer Sanae represents the most difficult challenge for Yusuke – she tells him numerous times she won’t accept him in her house, and whenever he attempts to get closer to her, he ends up taking a crack to the nose or a kick in the balls. Furthermore, the direst consequences often result from the best of intentions – the confusion, frustration, and alternating anger and vulnerability provide a startlingly accurate capsule to the experiences of real teenage or adolescent males regarding the inscrutable behavior and social signals of girls.

Family Sim?

The family dynamic here is certainly, primarily a device to a quick-fix fantasy – what’s better than a cute girlfriend, besides her cute mom and sisters who all love you, too? But in terms of the game’s narrative, the plot conflict hinges around Yusuke’s alienation not only in a house full of women, but in a family situation in which he struggles to be dutiful. The sexual action often takes the form of resolving the formation of emotional bonds – as if the ultimate conclusion to finally feeling one has a family is to sleep with them all. Obviously that’s not the case, but all of the game’s action to that point highlights Yusuke’s loneliness and his difficulty being an outsider searching for a way in.

Similarly, Yusuke’s position as observer in a close-knit house of fatherless girls makes the women more than simple sex objects – though they are, of course, exploited liberally in the erotic scenes. Their behavior, though difficult for Yusuke, makes a bizarre sort of sense in context. The key to choosing the most constructive answer for success with each Sagara girl lies in sensing – or attempting to sense – the girl’s actual emotional need. Sex in this game is a given, but the conflict in the gameplay revolves around a young boy learning to navigate family issues and gender relations.

The protagonist, then, is sympathetic – the player doesn’t need to be a boy during his turbulent years to step into the shoes of one. Through Yusuke, even veterans of the most successful high school wars can find a point of empathy as he struggles to make sense of the hormonal household and attempts to resolve respect and affection with unbidden, uncontrollable urges. It becomes a little clearer, in a game like The Sagara Family, how many consider even superficial hentai games to be emotionally stirring experiences. The sex is on the surface, with a whole slew of issues underneath.

[Special thanks to JList for providing us the game for review in this column—you can purchase the game or check out more NSFW screenshots at their site.]

[Leigh Alexander is the editor of Worlds in Motion and writes for Gamasutra, Destructoid, Paste, and her blog, Sexy Videogameland. She can be reached at leigh_alexander1 AT yahoo DOT com.]

November 21, 2007

GameSetGuest: 'Code Affen'

deutsche_woche.jpg I am terribly late as usual, being European, but I saw this Code Monkeys television show mentioned on Kotaku or one of those other Augenbrennanspielesiten. It has apparently been renewed for another season.

Note: I do not get the G4 channel here in Germany, but I have seen photos of Olivia Munn in a Princess Leia bikini and Blair Butler dressed as a Stormtrooper, so I feel familiar with the basic gestalt.

Code Monkeys is about two young men who work at a game company in 1980s, and their wild and supposedly humorous antics. It is animated in a pixelized style in order to “look like a video game”, says the director. Well, as my friend Bruno and I were game company employees of a sort in the 1980s, I wanted to see what this was all about, so I went to the YouTube.

code-monkeys.jpgThere I found one clip from the show in which a monkey had sexual intercourse with a woman’s head. Another episode featured a man who took off his pants and painted his genitals green. There were also several bong jokes.

This is not the kind of thing that went on at game companies in the 1980s, not in Germany at least. Many years before I founded Schadenfreude Interactive in 1995, Bruno and I ran a small game company out of his father’s garden shed. Back in these days, you programmed a game, copied it onto a floppy disk, put this disk in a plastic bag (or paper bag if you, like us, could not afford plastic) and took it to the local software-and-board-game shop where it was sold on commission.

In addition to this, Bruno and I had a fledgling business designing small runs of coin-op arcade games, mostly clones of popular American games like Joust, Qbert and Dig Dug.

We did not have any monkeys.
We did not paint any body parts green, or any other color.
We did not have any bongs.

We did dull things like write code and solder circuit boards for our arcade machine prototypes. Sometimes we would drink a little beer and talk about skiing. Old Mr. Drachenfutter next door would come over and drink a little of our beer and ask us each day what we were doing. He could not understand the new technology of course, so we would tell him something different every time he asked:

“We are making submarine vents”.
“We are sending letters to the King of England”.
“We are making animatronic teddy bears that talk”.

These silly answers made him very happy, but perhaps that was just because he was away from Mrs. Drachenfutter.

code_affen.gif

Wild game company antics were far and few between. Although one winter -- perhaps 1984 -- we were working on the Grabungadung cocktail-table prototype which we had fashioned from the bottom of a pickle barrel, and Bruno was sitting in the barrel soldering. The yard was a bit icy and suddenly the barrel slid down the hill, through the open gate and all the way down to the bottom of the strasse! Oh, the look on his face. It was to laugh, like he was riding the teacups at the Eurodisney! In my mind when I remember this the soundtrack is always “Yakety Sax” (apologies -- all I could find with the song was this video of a shrimp)

Luckily a truck finally broke his descent, but he still has the scar from the soldering iron.

Would this not make an excellent television show? I imagine this animated in vector style, so that it truly looks like a game of the time. I would like to be voiced by Rutger Hauer. Bruno, I think, would be Bruno Ganz. Hopefully we could find a part for Heidi Klum, although Mrs. Drachenfutter looked nothing like her. It is vector graphics after all, who will know the difference?

Note: That graphic on the right is only a mock-up (those green pants make me look very fat!).

I think this show would be enjoyed by small children. It would be relatively gentle and engaging, yet the adults would understand the jokes about burning EPROMS, and the vector art style would appeal to teenagers who would feel as though they were hallucinating. Thus it would work on many levels, much like the Teletubbies.

monkey_on_head.jpg

Note: I do enjoy the music of Jonathan Coulton, and so was saddened to see his "Code Monkey" song used as the theme of this lesser Code Monkeys. If he would like to write a song for our show, it would be most appreciated (if the song could have some accordion in it, all the better).

Perhaps you think a show about our company would be boring. Maybe I am just old and thus no longer amused by a monkey having its way with a woman's face, even in a cartoon. Or maybe it is just that I do not like monkeys, whether they are coding monkeys or those who only know Visual Basic. But you know what is the more funny? Real life. And there are few monkeys in real life, unless you are a zookeeper -- in which case I applaud your bravery, and I would say also, keep them away from your face.

-- Karsden

Choice Awards 2008 Announces Call For Special Nominations

- Since I know a lot of developers read GameSetWatch - especially this week, with a fellow game creator guesting - I wanted to pop on to mention the Call For Special Nominations for next year's 8th Annual Game Developers Choice Awards.

If you have heroes or people you admire in the game development community and you're a game professional, go ahead and nominate them. Info as follows:

"The 2008 Game Developers Choice Awards, the highest honors in game development acknowledging excellence in game design, will return to San Francisco for a second consecutive year on Wednesday, February 20.

Presented by CMP Technology’s Game Developers Conference (GDC) and Webby-award winning Gamasutra.com, this year’s awards feature several new categories.

Two of these - the Ambassador Award and the Pioneer Award - are now open for nominations from qualified game professionals. Nominations are also now open for the Lifetime Achievement Award - all three are available for voting on after logging on with your main Gamasutra.com user ID.

The awards ceremony, held in conjunction with the Independent Games Festival Awards, will be hosted during GDC 2008 in the Esplanade Room in the South Hall of San Francisco’s Moscone Center.

Special Awards Overview

The three special awards now open for nominations honor individuals whose achievements have made an impact on games and the game community as a whole, and not necessarily only over the past year.

The Ambassador Award honors an individual (or group of individuals) who has helped the game industry advance to a better place, either through facilitating a better game community from within, or by reaching outside the industry to be an advocate for video games to help further the art.

The Pioneer Award celebrates those individuals who developed a breakthrough technology, game concept or gameplay design at a crucial juncture in video game history, paving the way for the myriad developers who followed them. The Lifetime Achievement Award recognizes the career and achievements of a developer who has made an indelible impact on the craft of game development.

Awards Advisory Committee

The Game Developers Choice Awards voting process is overseen by the editors of Game Developer Magazine and Gamasutra.com, the leading media outlets for game industry professionals. All game professionals with a Gamasutra.com user account will be able to nominate and vote in the 2008 Choice Awards.

In addition, for the purposes of picking recipients of the Ambassador, Pioneer and Lifetime Achievement Awards following the public nominations, and to help adjudicate on the awards process in general, the editors of both outlets have set up an Advisory Committee of distinguished industry veterans.

They are: Bob Rafei (Naughty Dog), Brian Reynolds (Big Huge Games), Mark Cerny (Cerny Games), John Vechey (PopCap), Susan O'Connor (Susan O'Connor Writing Studio), Raph Koster (Areae), Julien Merceron (Eidos), Hal Barwood (Finite Arts), Clinton Keith (High Moon Studios), Ryan Lesser (Harmonix), Clint Hocking (Ubisoft) and Tommy Tallarico (Video Games Live).

Regular Awards Overview

In addition to the Ambassador, Pioneer and Lifetime Achievement Awards, Choice Awards will be given in the following categories:

• Best Audio
• Best Game Design
• Best Technology
• Best Visual Arts
• Best Writing
• Best Debut Game
• Best Downloadable Game
• Best Handheld Game
• Innovation
• Game of the Year

These particular categories will be both nominated and voted on by the development community. The call for nominations period for these categories begins December 17, 2007.

For further information and to submit a nomination for one of the three special awards through November 30, please visit the official Game Choice Awards website.

GameSetGuest: 'Crispin's Interniversary'

deutsche_woche.jpg My name is Crispin Frosch, and today, I will have been an intern at Schadenfreude Interactive for ten years.

There will be a small celebration later. Ulrike (our VP of sales) has a special cake planned. Hopefully I will not even have to stay late to make up for the time spent at my party, or the time spent writing this blog post because Karsden is busy today.

Whenever I tell someone about my job here, they are jealous -- everyone wants to work at a game company. They want to be game designers. They always tell me of the dream game* they want to make.

also Snape dies

This dream game is always an RPG about an orphaned boy who is given a special magical sword and goes out to fight an evil man and meet a wizard and rescue a princess. Sometimes the evil man turns out to be his father. Sometimes the princess is in another castle. Sometimes the wizard turns out to be gay. There is nothing wrong with this, it is just not very original, no?

These same people imagine an internship at a game company to be very exciting. You must have a big desk, a huge flat-screen monitor, and a foosball table! Most of the day must be spent tightening up the graphics on various levels and eating delicious pizza while playing Xbox.

In all reality, here is what I do:

I answer the telephones. I make coffee and tea. I take notes in meetings. I am the only one who understands the insides-workings of the projector, the facsimile, the copymachine, and Lothar’s PowerMac. I am the one to ask if they need extra toilet paper, an original copy of M.U.L.E., an explanation of an American "joke" in PC Gamer or a 3-foot glow-in-the-dark USB-cable. They always make me go to the Leipzig Game Conference because they are all too busy working, or they want to go skiing.

Indeed, my co-workers are a strange group -- they are not all the glamorous, elegant types like Jade Raymond and Cliffy Bleszinski.

Let me describe the office to you as it is right now. Someone is listening to Kraftwerk very, very loud. Karsden is trying to decide what ski sweater to wear for an interview with a magazine (right now it is down to "red with white reindeer" or "blue with yellow reindeer"). It is only a telephone interview, of course, but he always says, "Wenn Sie gut aussehen, Sie sprechen gutes". So very loud, the Kraftwerk is. When I last walked by his cubicle, I saw that Otto, our lead programmer, is making a scale replica of the Matterhorn on his desk out of mashed potatoes.

matterhorn.jpg

How did I come to be here in such a place, you might ask? Well, I have loved games since a small child, especially board games. My hero is Reiner Knizia. My mother says I was playing chess as soon as I could be trusted not to swallow the pieces, and I have been the chess champion of Ludwigshafen since I was five years old. I also am undefeated at Cooking Mama.

And I do love my job. Where else would you get to see a game grow from a mere idea to gold master -- especially when you must sleep under your desk until that gold master is burned so that you can rush it to the shipping office when it opens the next day?

Perhaps, one day, I will be a game designer. But until then, I must go – Otto needs me to get more potatoes.

-- Crispin

*My dream game? A cross between The Incredible Machine and Balance Of Power.

Bizarre Guestblogging Epidemic Reaches VintageComputing.com

- While I've been away cavorting on Kotaku, it's been great to see Karsden and his friends holding the crowd with tales of the office goat.

However, just wanted to pop back to mention a note I got from former GSW columnist and VintageComputing.com owner Benj Edwards:

"Since you're guest editing Kotaku this week, and someone is filling in for you at GSW, I figured I'd take a break and get my old friend and some-time VC&G contributor Ulaf Silchov to fill in for me at VC&G while I enjoy Thanksgiving." Ulaf's first post is certainly illuminating, isn't it?

Ulaf has been around for a while, and while I'm pretty sure he's not related to Karsden, he seems a little like an endearingly bizarro version: "PLEASE PATIENCE MY MIND THIS WEEKS, AS ULAF EDUCATE TO WRITE MORE OF THE ENGLISH LUNG WITHOUT TRANSFORMERS AND ENVISION MORE OF THE COMPUTERS IN THE GARAGE OF THE BENJ FOR MY PERSONS TO ENJOY. ALSO ULAF MIGHT TELLS THE FEW SPOOKY GHOST ESSAYS IF YOUR MIND FEELS LUCKY." Ouch, my mind!

November 20, 2007

GameSetGuest: 'Trap Door Envy'

deutsche_woche.jpgI recently watched this video on the YouTube about Richard Garriott’s house and it made me quite jealous. I did not realize how much I longed for secret rooms and hidden trap doors.

Now, I have a fine house here in Ludvigshafen, and my house is not without its own bizarre and unusual features. I have a very large linen closet that is not in a place you would ordinarily expect. I have several electrical outlets that are improperly wired.

I also have a bidet, but that is only bizarre and unusual to Americans.

All very good and well, but as the owner of a relatively successful game company, I felt my house was now somewhat lacking in comparison.

I have read that Richard Garriott wanted his house to look like a castle. We have so many castles here in the Black Forest! I would not want my house to look like a castle -- it would be like wanting your house to look like a petrol station. He calls this estate Britannia Manor, as he is called "Lord British" and rules Britannia in his Ultima games.

The only in-game name I have is for our multiplayer game Hannibal Crossing: "Legatus Liebchen", but obviously I am not called this in real life (unless you know me intimately, and perhaps have seen my linen closet). And as Legatus I do not "rule" the land in Hannibal Crossing, although I do know where the best places are to dig for fossils and what trees to shake for gold.

hannibal crossing

Still, I could design some sort of game-themed estate…but my games have been so various in theme. What would my house look like -- a submarine full of zombies? A two-story accordion? A penguin? No, I am proud of those games but they do not inspire a Traumhaus.

Lord British also has a collection of odd things in his castle: skeletons, space suits, the first edition of Lord Of The Rings, a brick from the Great Wall of China. My collection pales in the comparison. I merely have all of the League Of Extraordinary Bavarians action figures in sealed packaging and a copy of “Love At First Sting” signed by Rudolf Schenker.

Well, and also Joseph Merrick’s left femur, but I don’t even know where it is. My housekeeper sometimes is too thorough in her “organizing”…have not seen that or my second Xbox fishing controller in some time now.

everyone is just dying to visit
“My gaming life and my real life are very related to each other..." -- Richard Garriott

I find this so fascinating! But I do not live in my games. This is good, because sometimes my games crash and I would be trapped and would have to fight the MPC to get out, and I would have to do all of that with Jeff Bridges. No, I do not want to be Lord Boxleitner.

But I think very few game developers live in their games. Does Shigeru Miyamoto live in a big red mushroom? Does Will Wright shrink down very small and live in a tiny Sim house where his wife is always setting the kitchen on fire and drowning the neighbors in the pool? Does Peter Molyneux live in a house shaped like a giant angry crapping cow?

blackwhite2_cow.jpg

Of course not. But I have had dreams like that when I had too much Eisbock and oysters.

No, as a game developer in these trying times, I am happy just to have a roof over my head -- I do not care if it has anything to do with my games.

Maybe just one trap door, though, would be nice, in the linen closet.

GameSetGuest: 'Something Offal'

deutsche_woche.jpg I am so far behind in the times. I have just heard of this party that Sony held to market God of War II last May, featuring topless ladies in body paint and a headless goat on a buffet.

It is a strange industry we have, where serving food out of a dead goat on a buffet is part of your average game marketing plan.

Is a buffet really necessary to sell games, anyway? I purchased World Of Warcraft despite the fact that Blizzard never offered me a buffet. But now, every time I visit the Burning Steppes I think of those delicious tiny corn-on-a-cob and all-you-can-eat crab legs you have in America, and I feel somehow cheated.

Also, if you are going to serve a buffet of any kind you should really have a sneeze guard around it -- or Schleimschutz, as we say here. It is an issue of hygiene. I do not understand why the gaming press was not more outraged over this matter.

lol_goat.jpg

What ever happened to complimentary T-shirts? I believe the young lady on the left could use one.

Now, I have no issue with the goat being dead. I am not a vegetarian by any means (I do love my weinerschnitzel, go on, make your jokes). My family are sport hunters in the Black Forest. My father always taught me that it is all right to kill another thing, as long as you eat what you kill. This is why I had to eat my older brother’s Schneider CPC-464 after I maliciously spilled Fanta into the tape drive. Harsh discipline, you will say, but I learned an important lesson about the value of honesty and property.
esc.jpg
And I still have not passed the Escape key, but some lessons are a lifetime in coming.

We have a goat mascot in the office (Ziggy) and we have used him in marketing campaigns, but even though he can be quite annoying, we would never chop off his head and serve soup in it! I have not mentioned this God Of War II story to him. It is just as well, as he is already not a fan of David Jaffe and it will just upset him unreasonably.

Party Animal

I have nothing against buffets or parties in general. When we had our launch party for Nazgul Thunder, we served a life-size statue of the Witch King made entirely out of head cheese! Everyone showed up in costume and it was a great success, perhaps a bit too much so. Bruno and his wife (both in excellent hobbit attire) actually passed out in the restaurant lobby and things looked grim for a moment, but Otto swooped in dressed in his giant eagle costume and escorted them back to the hotel. A good sport he is. I remember when Otto first released his adventure game Beyond Zurich -- the party was legendary. You would not think that such debauchery could be done in the name of a text adventure, but then again, you do not know Otto.
ball pit
Another German game developer (who I will not name) recently threw a fun party for their Zuma clone. They had many handsome young men staffing the bar wearing no pants, only Speedos in a rainbow of Zuma-esque colors.

It reminded me of the children’s play pit at IKEA.

Failure To Launch

Unlike the Sony event, the launch parties I mention were planned with a spirit of fun -- not to push the limits and cause scandals that have nothing to do with the game. Yes, on the one hand, we should not get so upset about silly things like naked people in body paint and dead goats on a buffet. But are these things part of a growing trend? Where does it stop? After all, what stands between us and a Sony buffet where we are being served popcorn shrimp out of a real human skull?

Well, a sneeze guard, hopefully.

Let me be a tiny voice of reason. When preparing marketing plans, let us think twice about the use of dead livestock, painted women, advertisements on gravestones, babies named after a game, cosplay bungee jumping, tattooing a game logo on someone’s face, or carving your game’s title into the surface of the moon. Let us put more of our budget towards making good games, and not towards promotional pole-sitting, stripping, goldfish-swallowing, seeing how many game testers you can stuff into an BMW Isetta, or midget-KISS-impersonators on trampolines.*

Game marketers…it has been my experience that you cannot go wrong with a nice complimentary t-shirt.


* I fully expect Acclaim to announce next week a promotion in which they see how many midget Kiss impersonators, dead goats and naked game testers they can stuff into a BMW Isetta balanced on an eighty-foot pole**.

**On top of a trampoline.

2008 Worlds In Motion Summit Announces New Speakers

- Just a quick non-Karsden aside to note that we've announced some more speakers for the Worlds In Motion Summit, which is organized by GSW columnist Leigh Alexander over at sister site WorldsInMotion.biz, and is all about where games meet online worlds - a pretty important and emerging market. Here's the skinny:

"We're pleased to announce more of the speakers who'll be participating in the upcoming Worlds In Motion Summit! Nexon's Min Kim, Millions of Us' Reuben Steiger, Rmbr's Gabe Zichermann and GoPets' Erik Bethke will be joining the event; previously-revealed speakers include Areae's Raph Koster, Worldwide Biggies CTO and Nicktropolis co-creator Chris Romero, Conduit Labs' Nabeel Hyatt and Relic Labs studio head Adrian Crook.

The Summit, which is organized by the editors of WorldsInMotion.biz, will be held on Monday and Tuesday, February 18-19th 2008, as part of the 2008 Game Developers Conference. The Summit will focus on the intersection of online worlds and games, and the official description of the event is as follows:

"The Worlds in Motion Summit is a definitive event tailored for the growing number of industry professionals and Fortune 500 companies developing interactive online spaces for both entertainment and commercial purposes. Discussion forums will delve into online worlds, social gaming and media and player created activity.

These will provide insight for developers of all backgrounds into how the game industry is collectively building socialization into games and integrating personalization and player-generated content into gameplay — while widely accessible Web and networking tools are looking to the game industry for their way forward."

In addition, following its initial announcement, the inaugural Worlds In Motion Summit has announced two more speakers, and is expected to debut many more over the next few weeks. Now joining the event will be:

- Nexon's Min Kim
(Already a pioneer in areas of online socialization, personalization and microtransactions-based virtual economies in Korea, Nexon successfully brought games like MapleStory and Audition to a variety of markets around the world, including North America and Europe, and Min Kim of Nexon U.S.A. will discuss how knowing individual markets helped these titles achieve big success wherever they've gone.)

- Millions of Us' Reuben Steiger
(Millions of Us has successfully brought various music and television properties into the virtual world, most recently supporting CNN's Second Life launch, and Millions of Us CEO Reuben Steiger will be discussing how virtual worlds will play a pivotal role in the convergence of entertainment media, as formerly disparate content meets in a single online experience.)

- Rmbr's Gabe Zichermann
(Ten-year industry veteran Zichermann developed the concept for rmbr in early 2007 after realizing that he had stopped enjoying the process of dealing with his friends’ online photos, and that a game-centric approach might fix the problem. He will share his perspectives on web concepts and 2D virtual worlds as a dominant paradigm.)

- GoPets' Erik Bethke
(Author and developer Erik Bethke, CEO of GoPets.com, will discuss the tenets of user engagement, and share how taking a lesson from Richard Bartle's four gamer "types" helped grow revenue and create user engagement with his virtual pets product.)

The Summit is available to attend via several different Game Developers Conference 2008 passes, and more information is available on the Worlds In Motion Summit webpage."

November 19, 2007

GameSetGuest: 'All Squeezed Out'

deutsche_woche.jpg How do you like my graphics? Deutsche Woche = German Week. It is as your “Shark Week” on Discovery Channel but with slightly less blood in the water.

Ah, but wait until I get going!

There is an old story often quoted in blog posts and game reviews that goes, “if a shark stops moving, it dies”. When people ask me, why will there be no more sequels to your hit game Accordion Hero II? I say, because my company, Schadenfreude Interactive is like a shark. Perhaps not in a cunning predatory way, but in the way of that bus Sandra Bullock drove in Speed. The point being, we keep moving on to new things. Also, in the end we will probably all get away safely before the whole thing explodes, which is more than we can say for the employees of Microprose.

accordion_II_poster_sm.jpgYes, we did make a sequel to Accordion Hero. But only one. I am generally against sequels. I have an idea for a new game every fifteen minutes, so why make sequels? Sequels are rarely good. The thought of watching Indiana Jones 2 or Faraway, So Close again fills me with despair.

We definitely enjoyed making Accordion Hero II, and when I say that, I mean it was much less work than the first. Otto, our lead programmer, went off to visit his girlfriend in Canada and was away most of the project. Our intern, Crispin, did much of the programming (I did not even know he knew C++, and apparently neither did he, but this is what internship is all about).

I spent a lot of time playing Zuma and watching amusing cat videos on the YouTube. A cat sings, a cat flushes the commode! Ah, it is to laugh.

Indeed the project was easy, but too many sequels and licensed games (and, yes, cat videos) make your staff lazy and weak. So we can not do any more such music-controller games, although I keep getting email suggesting them: Theremin Hero. Sousaphone Hero. Cowbell Hero. Everyone is trying to make jokes and jump onto the band instrument wagon. But just because you put an instrument in front of a Hero does not mean any good will come of it. Does no one remember the issue of X-Men in which Wolverine was given a marimba?

MACHT SNIKT

We did not choose to make an accordion game because 'accordion" it is a funny word that few of you can spell. We would have made Sackbut Hero if that were the case, and that would have been a disaster. To be as a good game, a controller must be an instrument that involves much physicality. It must play a melody, not just an accompaniment.

It must have an audience and a unique culture around it. It must also not be an instrument played with the mouth, for obvious reasons of hygiene. All these things are had by the guitar and the accordion, but not the cowbell and other such nonsense.

Even if we made Accordion Hero III, what could we possibly add to it? I suppose we could go the Guitar Hero III route and put advertising in the game: Fa Sport deodorant, Bionade, Ritter chocolate bars. Of course then we must, like Guitar Hero III, add dancing strippers, sponsored by Nutella.

I am hungry all of a suddenly.

And make Polka Band? I admire Harmonix for their talent and dedication, and I am sure Rock Band is a fine game. It certainly comes in a very large box! But do you know how much it would cost us to design and manufacture a tuba controller? Let us be realistic. No, as game developers, we must not make sequels but move ever onwards and upwards, like the shark. Well, not upwards, for then the shark would leap out of the water and die, and the shark, we do not want to jump. So let us move ever onwards, like a bus.

And please stop emailing me about Accordion Hero. I have work to do.

-- Karsden

GameSetGuest: 'Who Watches The Game Set Watchers?'

[Since GSW boss Simon Carless is away guest-editing Kotaku this week, only popping in occasionally to collect the milk, GameSetWatch has its own special guest blogger.... legendary Accordion Hero creator Karsden Mörderhäschen from Schadenfreude Interactive. And you're in for a treat.]

Furcht nicht -- I, Karsden Mörderhäschen, CEO of Schadenfreude Interactive GmbH, shall be watching over you! Not in a creepy, obsessive Alan Moore’s Rorschach way, but more of a charmingly naïve and brutal Sergio Aragonés’ Groo way.

Simon Careless has kindly asked me to guest-edit while he spends the week with the clever hot-pink-and-chartreuse set over at Kotaku.

Of course I have been asked to guest-edit not because of my fine English or my intimate connections with the game industry (we are rather isolated here in the Black Forest region), but because we Germans do not traditionally celebrate Thanksgiving. We will be here at the work all week while you, our American friends, eat pie, watch parades and dare each other to drink turkey-and-mashed-potato flavored soda without vomiting (oh, look, this year there is Ham soda -- truly America is a Wunderland).

hold das picklesWe also do not traditionally hide a glass pickle on our Christmas trees. I do not know where you Americans got that idea from. If anyone would be hiding vegetables in shrubbery, it would be the Belgians.

I will, however, authenticate the existence of the traditional Gold Sh*tter. In fact, our lead programmer had one that was made to look like Richard Garriott, little fringed boots and all. It sat on his desk for many years, until it was eaten by Ziggy, our office goat (I was at first blamed, but all know I do not care for marzipan and also Ziggy afterwards smelled of almonds pleasantly, which I can say is not usual). I am not superstitious by any means, but perhaps this explains the slightly underwhelming performance of Tabula Rasa.

How we miss our little marzipan Lord British...perhaps I will have Ulrike, our VP of Sales, write a column demonstrating to us all how to make such a thing. She is very talented. She once made our CTO a birthday cake with Lara Croft on it that was rather well-received, especially the placement of the chocolate oranges.

Speaking of cake, the traditional Black Forest cake does exist, and it is delicious and moist.

the cake is a lie

Even though it is no holiday, it is a slow week here at Schadenfreude Interactive, as our artist is on vacation and the rest of us can do no better than programmer art. Ah, I can remember the days when all art was programmer art! Perhaps I will tell more to you about those early days later this week.

Unlike Kotaku readers, who are callow youth interested in only the Super Mario Galaxy and statues of anime women with removable pants, I know that GameSetWatch readers like nothing better than to hear old people talk about vector games, assembly language, how much a loaf of bread cost in 1977 and how much better Woody Allen films were then.

Although mine may indeed be the shortest reign since Lady Jane Grey or Alex Handy, I hope that it is mostly enjoyed by you. This week will be full of surprises, like an advent calendar hiding colorful but perhaps disappointingly waxy chocolates behind each tiny door.

I guarantee there will be no glass pickles.

-- Karsden

Off Down The Kotaku Brick Road, Back Friday

- As you may recall me mentioning, I'm going to be guest editing that cornucopia of every-20-minute updated gaming goodness Kotaku this week - from Monday to Friday, more precisely, with a brief break for Thanksgiving if I'm feeling particularly lazy.

Though I'll be posting over there quite a bit, I will be popping back into GameSetWatch to say hi during the week. But thanks to a joking comment by Kyle Orland, we've gone and done it - we've got a guest editor for GameSetWatch while I'm otherwise employed as a guest editor for Kotaku. It's fresh guest editors all around!

You'll see who it is in just a few hours, but all I can say is - you're in for an interesting and informative time, thanks to fascinating input from one of the leading European game developers of all time. Oh boy.

COLUMN: 'Game Mag Weaseling': PTOM: OPM But Newer?

ptom-0713.jpg

The first issue of PlayStation: The Official Magazine arrived in the mail a few days back, and since it's the first major US mag launch in a while, I thought I'd devote a full column to it.

Future Publishing's PTOM (the replacement for PSM) is grossly divided into five sections:

- System Update: The news section, encompassing a couple interviews, Blu-ray movie reviews, Adam Warren's comic (formerly on the back page), and a digest of the latest happenings. The two main bits this month are a piece on the PlayStation Eye (with Dr. Richard Marks extensively quoted) and a post-Tokyo Game Show talk with Kaz Hirai.

- Previews: Your typical magazine previews section. This one kicks off with three pages on Soul Calivur IV and continues with large looks at MGS4, Haze, Crisis Core: FFVII, and so forth. A "PlayStation Gallery" at the end fills out the section with some capsule previews.

- The feature well: The cover story on Gran Turismo 5 takes us to Polyphony Digital HQ in Japan, where Kazunori Yamauchi discusses his goals with the new game and shows off all the incredible detail going into the models. A holiday buyer's guide (titled "Holiday Buyer's Guide," which should offer some insight to its originality) is the typical game and gadget-themed Xmas gift roundup.

- Reviews: PTOM rates its games on a five-star scale with three stars set as "okay" and five signifying "exceptional" and earning the game an Editor's Choice award. No review is larger than two pages (as opposed to the multi-page cover features reviews sometimes earn in PSM and OXM), and there's a small page of hardware reviews in the rear.

- PlayStation Network: The "miscellaneous" section of PTOM, similar to the one GamePro has in the back of its book. This issue has multiplayer strategies for Warhawk (online tips will be an ongoing part of this section, it looks like), letters, and quick reviews of PSN titles. A welcome-to-the-mag piece by SCEA head Jack Tretton fills up the back page, which you can tell was written by a true PR aficionado because the name of Sony's current top console is spelled out as "PLAYSTATION®3 (PS3™)" in the article, a custom the rest of the magazine thankfully avoids.

And that's the long and short of it, basically. The mag is 132 pages, 30 of which is the AT&T cell-phone game "special advertising supplement" appearing in all Future game mags this month, so it seems safe to expect the usual book sizes and ad ratios here as in most other titles.

PTOM is about what you'd expect from a US game-mag publisher. The mag has a very clean look, making it look like a cross between EGM and Future's PlayStation Official Magazine UK, and many pages and reviews feature small captions on the sides with some random piece of trivia related to the article it's near, a nice little touch. (The mag is also about half an inch wider than PSM, although it's still got nothing on Ziff's super-wide OPM.) On the writing and coverage end, however, not a great deal has changed from the PSM days -- the text style is authoritative, if not all that excited, and it's not terribly different from the way a lot of online game sites are written.

The biggest surprise might be that the Blu-ray demo disc promised in Future's press release is not included or mentioned, something the editors confirmed on the psmonline.com blog (PTOM doesn't have its own website yet for some reason). There's some confusion in the blog comments about whether the mag will ever have a demo disc, but I'm willing to bet it'll get one as at least a special bonus once in awhile eventually. Otherwise, where's the major, killer advantage in being Official? Or is it more the case of Future saying to themselves "Well, we're the only PS mag left in America now, might as well bite the bullet and pay the licensing fee"?

It's also worth noting that the "FREE Two-Sided Poster" touted on the cover isn't quite accurate, unless it's referring to something available on newsstands only. [ADDENDUM: The newsstand PTOM does come with a real double-sided poster. Odd that it still got advertised in both the newsstand and subscriber editions, though.]

Overall, PTOM is a nice leap forward from PSM visually and undoubtedly serves the needs of its PlayStation-fan subscribers well, but those expecting something revolutionary will have to go expect somewhere else for now.

[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.]

November 18, 2007

GameSetNetwork: Winter In The Halo

- Ah, worth a brief GameSetNetwork to round up some of the neat stories from our sister sites this week - from Gamasutra through Worlds In Motion to Game Career Guide and beyond.

There's some fun stuff in here - Tom Kim's trip to Iceland and Todd McFarlane's action figure world dominance plans among them:

- The Strange History Of Gamecock's Mike Wilson (Gamasutra)
"Gamecock co-founder Mike Wilson has a vital business role in game history over the past 15 years - working at id, setting up the influential GodGames, and now running his upstart publisher (Dementium, Hail To The Chimp); in a transcript of the latest Gamasutra Podcast, he talks about his storied career and intriguing plans.

- Winter In Reykjavik: EVE Fanfest 2007 Report (Gamasutra)
"The 'sleeper hit' of the MMO business in the last few years has been space trading game EVE Online, now with 200,000 active subscribers - and Gamasutra visited the EVE Fanfest in Reykjavik, Iceland to analyze the event and talk in-depth to CCP CEO, Hilmar Pétursson."

- The Game Design Portfolio: Is There Such a Thing? (Game Career Guide)
"Artists have portfolios. Programmers have code samples. What do game designers have? Brenda Brathwaite, a game designer and professor at the Savannah College of Art and Design, names exactly what aspiring game designers should have ready in their hip pockets when looking for a job."

- - Game Design Cognition: The Bottom-Up And Top-Down Approaches by Rafael Kuhnen and Gilliard Lopes (Gamasutra)
"In this in-depth article, designers Lopes and Kuhnen look at two major approaches to video game design - from the bottom (in-game actions) up, and from the top (story) down - and discuss the pluses and minuses of creating a game with both methods."

- Toying With Games: Todd McFarlane On Halo And His MMO (Gamasutra)
"Spawn creator Todd McFarlane has lent his designs and IP to multiple games, but right now, his two major projects are 2008's Halo 3 action figures, and his co-founding of 38 Studios to produce an MMO with Curt Schilling and R.A. Salvatore - and Gamasutra sat down to discuss both with him."

- IGDA Forum: Torpex's Fristrom On How Not To Schedule A Game Project (Gamasutra)
"Why is the idea of delivering a game "on time, on budget, 90% on Game Rankings, to original spec" laughable? Addressing the recent 2007 IGDA Leadership Forum, Torpex technical director Jamie Fristrom used his experiences on Tony Hawk 2 and Spider-Man 2 to answer this and other tough questions about scheduling development."

- Analyze This: Will There Ever Be One Console To Rule Them All? (Gamasutra)
"With Denis Dyack and EA's Gerhard Florin recently calling for a single console platform, we asked analysts from Screen Digest, Wedbush Morgan, Creative Strategies and IDC if the idea is feasible, who would benefit, and whether the PC already qualifies, in Gamasutra's latest exclusive 'Analyze This' column."

Also: Q&A: Kaneva's Hannah and Klaus Talk Dance Party 3D (Worlds In Motion)... IGDA Forum: Epic's Mike Capps Talks Team Building (Gamasutra)... Q&A: Killaware's Yamao On Japan's Upstart Dev Scene (Gamasutra)... Road To The IGF: Atman's Kuriakose On His Own With Io (Gamasutra)... and lots more, check archived Gamasutra news for the lowdown.

Nexon Ramps Up MapleStory With Bizarre Advertising

- It's been notable that Korean-headquartered Nexon are really trying to break casual, free-to-play pay for items MMO MapleStory in the States. For starters, I've seen ads for the game (which was profiled very handily on sister site Worlds In Motion) on the back page of major game magazines like Game Informer in recent months.

But even more interesting are the slightly surreal filmed commercials for the game over at the official site - they've been showing on sites like IGN, but be sure to check them all out - include Pig, Snail, and Fish. Snail is particularly odd, and features a kid with snails in entirely inappropriate places.

Really, online world MapleStory is underdiscussed in gaming circles - for those don't know, and as WorldsInMotion's Leigh explains, it's "...classic MMO with some platform-style gaming elements mixed in-- it's unique in that it's a 2D sidescroller, rather than the usual three-quarter or first-person 3D environment." Sure, it's particularly popular in Asia, still, but it'll be interesting to see if it get popular in the States, given the marketing push. [Via Joel Reed Parker.]

COLUMN: 'Playfield': A Pin Of One's Own, Part One

playfield_header_tz.jpg


[Playfield is a slightly irregular column about all things pinball-related, lovingly constructed by Octopus Motor's Sparky.]

Thinking about buying a pinball machine? Here are some things to consider.

Ugh. I think that is possibly the lamest opening sentence I have ever written. So let’s just try to forget it happened, and move on, shall we?

Pinball prices have gone up in recent years, what with Ebay and the fact that these machines aren’t getting any younger. You can spend anywhere from $0 (look what we found in Grandma’s garage) to $5000+ (brand new Stern Spiderman machine), depending on the age, popularity, and condition of the machine.

If you’re just looking for a pinball because of its theme (say, you’re a fan of KISS or Dr. Who) make sure you’ve really played it enough first. I like KISS and Dr. Who, but the pinball versions? Bleah. Now, a “KISS, Tom Baker And K-9 Meet The Phantom Of The Park” pin? That I would be thrilled to own. But don’t worry too much about replay value -- as long as you take good care of a pinball machine, you can always sell it if you get bored with it.

daleks

Where Are You Going To Put It?
For some reason, some people (and by “some people” I mean "some people's wives") don’t seem to like pinball machines in the living room. I have never understood this, but I guess that’s why I’m not those people’s...wives. The average pinball machine weighs about 300 pounds and is around six feet tall, and requires floorspace of at least six feet by three feet. Does your house have lots of stairs? A pin’s legs come off and the head folds down for moving, but, as with Daleks, stairs are always a challenge.

A pinball machine should never be kept anywhere damp – it contains lots of metal that can rust and the wooden cabinet can warp. Avoid direct sunlight, too, as the pin will explode in a cloud of dust like a vampire.

Okay, I lied about the exploding, but the sun will fade paint and plastics pretty badly.

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Do you live in an apartment or have easily-annoyed neighbors? You can turn the volume down on a pin, but don’t forget that the mechanical parts -- the bumpers, flippers, and knocker -- make a lot of noise and you can’t turn those down (although you can disable the knocker).

Do you have kids and/or pets? Cats love to stand on the glass and watch the ball go around while you play. I’ve never seen a kid do that, but I’m sure it’s possible. The glass covering the playfield is safety glass, but it sure makes a mess when broken. Also, that little door in the front of the machine allows access to some high voltage wiring. Make sure you put your pinball machine somewhere you can supervise, or better yet, lock the little buggers out of.

What If It Breaks?
Although they were designed to take a lot of abuse, pinball machines do break down (just like cars), and repairs can be expensive (just like cars). But just like with cars, you can do simple repairs yourself if you have the time and know-how. What’s your do-it-yourself skill level? You might be saying to yourself, “Self, I can handle anything! I once built a Radio Shack solar windmill from a kit”.

But look (and click) upon these, ye mighty, and despair:


inside_sm_big2.jpg inside_cbl_big.jpg

Those are the mechanical workings underneath the playfield of a 1976 Williams Space Mission (EM) on the left and a 1992 Bally Creature From The Black Lagoon (digital) on the right.

It’s not quite as grim as it looks! Replacement parts and schematics are available for most pins (I’ll talk about where find them in Part Two), and there’s lots of help online, but you’ll still need some basic soldering and electronics troubleshooting skills. In general, digital pins are easier to maintain and more reliable than EMs, just because they have fewer moving parts.

Where Do You Get One?

Ebay
I’ve gotten some spare playfields and parts from Ebay, but I wouldn’t buy a whole machine there. Shipping is just too costly, and there are too many potential problems. It’s generally not a good idea to buy a pin sight unseen.

Private Owner
You can find folks selling a pin via classified ads, Craigslist, yard sales, or pinball/arcade shows -- this is how we got most of our small collection. You get a chance to really look at the pin before you buy, and usually this is the cheapest way to go if you’re willing to take a less-than-perfect machine and fix it up yourself. We bought the Creature from a fellow collector at an arcade show, and our Space Mission free from a friend of a friend who just wanted the thing out of the house. When we got there, we found out why…a cat had been using the playfield as a litterbox (it's fine now, really. In fact, it's springtime fresh).

Note: On Craigslist, make sure you’re in the “For Sale: Collectibles” section and not “Casual Encounters” if the pin you’re looking for is, say, a “High Hand”, “Rawhide”, “Earthshaker” or “Royal Flush”. I WARNED YOU.Rowsdower!

Auctions

Auctions, like SuperAuctions, can be iffy – you don’t get to look that closely at the pins, they can be pretty beat up, and you have to be ready to take it home with you. But you can get a good deal sometimes, and they’re kinda fun to just go and check out all the crazy crap. At one auction I tried to convince my husband we needed a giant 6’ gumball machine in order to make a giant 8’ Tom Servo, but for some reason he wouldn’t go for it.

I am still bitter about this.

Pinball distributor/Route operators
When we decided we wanted a Twilight Zone, we called around a few local distributors. One had a TZ that had just come back from a route and was getting shopped (shopped = routine maintenance & cleaning) to go out again, so we snapped it up just in time. We got lucky! There aren’t as many of these places around any more that deal with pins.

Retail Specialty Shop
You can buy a pinball machine from a specialty shop real-world or online. These places sell pinballs, arcade machines, jukeboxes, vintage Coke machines and other fun stuff for outfitting your rec room. Pins from these places will not just be shopped, but fully restored, and they often have warranties, technical support and service agreements. This can be expensive, but it's the easiest way to go. I've never gone this route myself, as I'm a total cheapass.

Tune in next time for PART TWO: How to check out that pin before you buy it, how to get it home safely, and some basic repair and maintenance tips.

[Yes, Sparky is still working on They Came From Hollywood. She has written for Gamasutra and Computer Games Magazine (RIP). She and her husband collect 300-pound, high voltage Fabergé eggs.]



If you enjoy reading GameSetWatch.com, you might also want to check out these UBM TechWeb Game Network sites:

Gamasutra (the 'art and business of games'.)

Game Career Guide (for student game developers.)

Indie Games (for independent game players/developers.)

Finger Gaming (news, reviews, and analysis on iPhone and iPod Touch games.)

GamerBytes (for the latest console digital download news.)

Worlds In Motion (discussing the business of online worlds.)


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