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December 1, 2007

GameSetNetwork: Now With Highlights Included!

- Actually, we already linked a number of the neat Gamasutra articles posted this week - including the Mark Rein interview and Ernest Adams on ten years of games, among others.

But there are a few more neat original pieces appearing on GSW's big sister site this week - and we will now guide you through them, starting out with features and ending with original news/Q&A highlights:

ESRB Rating Distributions ...And What They Tell Us
"In a fascinating new article, Gamasutra presents graphs and analysis of ESRB ratings across all games for major consoles. Does the Wii's family-friendly reputation hold up in ratings? What rating of games proliferated towards the end of the Xbox's life? Answers within..."

Persuasive Games: Video Game Zen
"So many video games are frantic, twitch-based experiences - so how about the inverse? Columnist Ian Bogost explores the history and possibilities for meditative, relaxing game titles, from Harvest Moon's gardening through the fingertip sensor-using Wild Divine."

Event Recap: Final Fantasy XI Fan Festival 2007
"Square Enix's multi-platform MMO Final Fantasy XI is still going strong, with 500,000 subscribers worldwide, five years after its 2002 debut - and Gamasutra was at the FFXI Anaheim fanfest to interview the Japanese developers and present a comprehensive festival round-up."

Secondly, the other notable original news/interviews published this week, from newest to oldest, are: IGC: Double Fusion's Bellamy Breaks Down In-Game Ads (their ad-supported version of FarCry was _too_ popular?)... GDC 2008 Debuts Summit Speaker Details (more subsummit info for Feb.)... Opinion: 'Cloning Created The Casual Game Business' (Russell Carroll cuts loose)... Road to the IGF: Heaven2Ocean's Water Drop Aims For The Sea (water dropping around)... Q&A: Time Crisis 4 Producer On The Return Of The Gun Game (asking for more GunCon 3 games from other publishers)... Road To The IGF: From Doodling To Kingdom Elemental Tactics (hurray for tacticking!)... Eidos Announces Deus Ex 3, Talks New Montreal Studio (French Canadian cyberpunk).

[Ah yeah, and let's round up the Montreal Game Summit write-ups we didn't mention earlier in the week, as follows: MIGS 2007: Flagship's Thompson On Finding Agility In The Random (different results are good!)... MIGS: First Details On Thatgamecompany's Flower Debut (abstract, goodness)... MIGS 2007: David Perry's Lessons On Free-To-Play From His Year 'Off' (getting increasingly wacky)... MIGS 2007: Spore's Hecker On AI, Photorealism (more on this one next week, if we can decode Hecker-speak)... MIGS 2007: God of War's Inciting Force - O'Connor On Writing For Games (God Of War vs. Gladiator).]

Big Box, Dr. Blob Both Set Free From The Eel

- Only recently, we mentioned that Seattle-area indie studio Digital Eel has released Plasmaworm for free. And now there's more free goodness:: "Just in time to stuff into your virtual holiday stockings, Digital Eel hereby declares that Big Box of Blox and Dr. Blob's Organism are now FREE!"

"How can this be, you ask? Because it's that time of year when everyone should be thinking about sharing, absolutely, and we want to show our gratitude to gamers (you know who you are) for supporting us --but also because free stuff is fun! The best part is yet to come. This applies to BOTH the Mac and PC versions of these games!"

"Big Box of Blox is Digital Eel's first attempt to skewer the matching game genre (something we seem to like to do from time to time, ahem*), with five different game variants, eye-popping art by Phosphorous and one of Digital Eel's more bizarre sound productions. You don't want to miss this one, especially for free! So, as we say: "Enter the Asylum, visit the Mushroom King and spin the Wheels of Fortune with Digital Eel's Big Box of Blox!""

"The IGF double award winning Dr. Blob's Organism is a frenetic shoot 'em up based on John Conway's Game of Life. Players blast feisty one-celled organisms as they try to escape from a petri dish. Each level in the game introduces new powerups and more dangerous organisms with special abilities. Playing this game, you will learn to fear the word mitosis even as you get sucked in by the visuals, music (lots of tracks!), lightning-fast gameplay, and moist and squishy sound effects."

COLUMN: 'Game Mag Weaseling': The Nuttiest Computer Magazine Ever

hcm.jpg

Here's a complete collection I'm proud of, and I think justifiably so, too -- a complete run of 99'er/99'er Home Computer/Home Computer Magazine, a title that ran from 1981 to 1985 and had one of the loopiest histories I've ever seen in classic computer mag-dom.

99'er, launched in the late spring of 1981, was the only nationally-distributed magazine in the US devoted to Texas Instruments' TI-99/4A, a full-scale computer system that captured a pretty significant chunk of the PC market for much of its early life. (These days, it's known chiefly these days, if at all, for being the first home computer with a 16-bit processor.) It was a pretty eccentric computer, with lots of murky circuitry under the hood and very little public documentation at first, and 99'er was just as quirky from the get-go. It was edited and published by Gary M. Kaplan, a Eugene, OR-based entrepreneur who enjoyed peppering his magazine with long, drawn-out editorials about the computer, the marketplace, and anything else that struck his fancy. (He's not the Gary S. Kaplan who was arrested for offshore-betting shenanigans last year, by the way.)

Gary's magazine experienced its heyday from late 1982 to '83, when 99'er was published monthly and its pages were packed with dozens of teeny-tiny advertisments from garage-based software outlets across America. Like most PC mags of the time, its primary focus was on BASIC program listings, with some software coverage and tutorial content rounding out the book. Trouble began in October 1983, when TI announced the cancellation of the 99/4A series and 99'er abruptly disappeared. It was relaunched in early 1984 as Home Computer Magazine, a book which continued TI99 coverage but also include stuff for Apple, Commodore and IBM systems, making it a multiplatform magazine in an increasingly crowded marketplace.

The magazine begins to achieve legendary status in my mind starting in mid-1984. That's when Home Computer abruptly stops carrying any form of outside advertising, lauding itself by calling it an "unprecedented move" that "will set the standard for editorial quality, integrity, and readability for the entire industry." Kaplan's motives may not have been entirely noble here, however -- the move coincided with the settlement of several lawsuits filed by advertisers who claimed 99'er misled them about the magazine's circulation. (Kaplan simultaneously launched Home Computer Digest in September 1984, a subscription-only supplement to Home Computer Magazine that did include ads.)

Home Computer continued in this fashion until late 1985, when the magazine abruptly went under again. No word was issued from Eugent until April 1986, when subscribers received a letter stating that HCM had folded and their subscriptions would be fulfilled by Home Computer Journal, a new magazine that came with a disk of software. The catch: Each issue of HCJ was valued at $25, meaning that that company could mail a single issue out and immediately settle all outstanding subscriptions, no matter how long. Many customers complained to the US Postal Service about this, but only a few allegedly received any monetary reimbursement. (HCJ itself lasted four issues before closing.)

So in short: crazy publication history, nutty editorial team, tons of goofiness between the pages. What more could you ask for out of an early-80s computer mag?

[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 30, 2007

GameSetMicroLinks: Friday Festivities

- Ah yes, it's almost the weekend, which can only be a good thing. And to accompany that division bell sounding to pipe us homewards, what better than links about weird PSP games, maximum 'feelies' with Japanese PC game bundles, and why Ratchet & Clank PS3 is nice?

Also, there's some completely obscure early PC game action and the Shakespeare-based virtual world, Arden, is finally upon us. Don't say we didn't warn you when we went all Star Trek holodeck on you:

Impressions: That One Crazy PSP Dungeon Game | Game | Life from Wired.com
Interesting sounding dungeon management game.

Tale of Tales» Blog Archive » Good games, bad games, ugly games
Some really, really interesting comments on this subject - reality is ugly.

Machinima Spotlight: The Snow Witch « Stranger 109
Interesting Sims 2 machinima review.

Terra Nova: Two Releases: Arden I and Exodus
Edward Castronova's Shakespeare-themed game space is available.

The Independent Gaming Source: Gamma256 Games Announced
The allstar low-pixel games entered in Kokoromi's Montreal-based competition.

Akihabara Channel » Eternal Fantasy Package
A $120 Japanese PC game package with crazy amounts of 'feelies'.

Armchair Arcade: Revenge of the Panasonic JR-200U Personal Computer (JR200, JR 200 U) (1983)) - PART 1
Wow, neat piece of game history I didn't know about.

Lost Levels Online: Previously-Unreleased NES Game Now For Sale
An isometric 3D title called Airball - interesting.

POV - A Producer's Point of View: Final Impressions ~ Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction
Activision exec producer Stuart Roch loves the game, and explains precisely why - good read.

Mark Dobratz - Interview - Adventure Classic Gaming
Great interview with Producer/Project Manager of Myst Online: Uru Live at Cyan Worlds

Opinion: Numerals, Game Reviews, And The Game Media

-[This special editorial from GameSetWatch columnist and NewType USA editor (and former game journalist) Kevin Gifford deals with the game journalism-related news you probably haven't missed.]

There's been a remarkable amount of net buzz about the firing of GameSpot senior editor Jeff Gerstmann, allegedly because he was too unkind to Eidos marquee game Kane & Lynch. Nerd rage on forums worldwide was immediate and swift, particularly on NeoGAF where all manner of theories -- ranging from the reasonably plausible to the patently absurd -- have been thrown around. My old boss Sam Kennedy of 1UP pointed out that CNET's recent hiring of Stephen Colvin, ex-CEO of Dennis Publishing (publisher of Maxim and the late Stuff), as overseer of GameSpot might have something to do with it, which sounds reasonable enough to me.

Perhaps CNET was looking for someone less uber-nerd Gerstmann-y and more hip and Adam Sessler-like to be GameSpot's most public face, and the K&L controversy was the straw that broke the camel's back. (GameSpot itself has issued a statement attempting to defuse such talk.)

This is all speculation, however, and it misses the real underlying cause of all this. Game publishers, nearly all of whom these days are multi-million-dollar corporations with shareholders and Wall Street analysts breathing down their necks harder than their gamer audience, don't care what Jeff Gerstmann or any reviewer has to say about their games. They care about the score, the Metacritic average, and it's been that way ever since the Internet became the primary vehicle for game media. In other words, game publishers keep a cozy relationship with game media so their scores can be maximized on an unrelated website whose owner "has largely stopped playing" video games.

It's the same way with a lot of gamers, too -- they endlessly argue about scores, about Jeff's 8.8 for Zelda and about Fran from IGN's 7.9 for Mario Kart: Double Dash. And now that the Internet's largely shattered the notion that a professional game-media writer is somehow more qualified to bring judgement upon a new release than V3GETA80051 down at GameFAQs, the obsession with scores has become game media's undoing. Text, videos, podcasts, whatever -- nobody cares about any of it except that decimal number at the end of the review. And game writers' realization of this has made them lazy.

Scoring games in reviews is hardly new, of course, nor was it always a menace to good game writing. Magazines were doing it as early as 1982, and many early media outlets (including Japan's Famicom Tsushin/Famitsu, the US's Electronic Gaming Monthly, and Britain's CRASH and Zzap!64) built their reputations first and foremost on their review systems. But on the Internet, everybody's a critic. The time lag, especially in the PC market, between a game's release and the professionally-written reviews means that online users are often one's first resource in making game-buying decisions.

Official forums, megathreads on general game boards -- if a reader checks these places out and sees a lot of other people having fun, he'll be tempted to join in. If he sees lots of bitching and moaning, he'll be dissuaded. (Portal is a classic example of a game driven almost entirely by online buzz. People were drawing pornographic Weighted Companion Cube fanart before the first "professional" reviews were posted.)

This glut of accessible opinion, in addition to magnifying the power of word-of-mouth in game advertising, means that the pro mags and sites don't have a monopoly over gamers' minds any longer. How have they dealt with this? They've taken measures, but none of them have really benefited gamers. Some sites started padding out their reviews in exasperating detail, largely rendering them unreadable. Others invested heavily in video reviews which often say more about the reviewer than the game they're reviewing. (Many forumites have pointed out that Jeff's video review that started this whole controversy features gameplay from only one scene in all of Kane & Lynch. This is hardly the only video review I've seen like this, and I'm sure most of you would agree.)

Moreover, the presence of review scores and Metacritic's handling of them have irrevocably altered the audience's expectations of game media. Fifteen years ago, a magazine like Dave Halverson's Diehard Game Fan was seen as unique, quirky, and fun because it covered lots of import games, enthusiastically wrote about them in a way that gamers identified with, and -- oh yes -- gave many of them very high scores. Today, Play Magazine is seen by many as biased, retarded, and utterly hopeless simply because Halverson's high scores for most platform games skew the Metacritic curve oddly. I am not saying that Metacritic is evil -- at its best, it can emphasize some odd scoring anomalies worth discussing, such as PC Gamer US's exclusive review of Hellgate: London ranking 19 points above the average.

But many outlets have failed to stir up any reader interest in the text behind the review, or the overall atmosphere of the mag or website they're exploring -- instead, readers increasingly care exclusively about the score, so they can praise and/or whine about it online. Entire game-media outlets have been, and are defined by, the numerals they publish...instead of, you know, how fun they are to read.

The Internet has largely made the job title "critic" redundant. The problem is that no one at most game mags and websites got the memo. Until they do -- until they realize that it's their content that defines them, and not their scores -- they'll have to be content with being abused by publishers and their readership for the rest of their existences.

Opinion: '20 Underused Game Mechanics'

-[We've linked Andrew Doull, who runs the Ascii Dreams weblog and develops the Roguelike game Unangband a few times on GSW recently, after he previously helped us cover the Edinburgh Interactive Festival for Gamasutra. In this guest editorial, he considers what game mechanics just aren't utilized enough in video games today.]

In the spirit of everyone else doing '20 game clichés we thought we'd repeat for you' lists at the moment, I've written a 20 under-used game mechanics list that'll hopefully at least give you some game design suggestions. No pictures - I don't want to pad out the reading time unnecessarily.

1. Asymmetric Co-op
: The game has a playable co-op mode, but the second player has different abilities from the first. Whether it's collecting star fragments, shooting colour drops or rising out of the ground to bust heads, allowing a second player to drop in for some lighter entertainment without needing the l33t skillz of the main gamer in the room is a sure-fire winner.

Idea from: Wizball. Druid. Super Mario Galaxy.

2. Bad-Ass Boss Fight: You want to know how tough the bad guy is? Play as him, before you fight him. Then you can really justify your inability to beat him.

Idea from: Marvel Nemesis: The Rise of the Imperfects.

3. Design Your Own: Design the dungeon, then play through it. You can't blame anyone else for the problems with the architecture.

Idea from: Dungeon Maker: Hunting Ground.
Who raved about it: Clive Thompson in Wired Magazine.

4. Not Re-Using Mini-bosses: You've all had those games when you get to the mini-boss, and have to pull out the stops to beat them. Then, on the next level, the same mini-boss is back. Multiple times. The idea is as old as Ghosts'n'Goblins. Well here's another idea. Don't.

Idea from: Darwinia.
Who raved about it: Kieren Gillon in Eurogamer.

5. Letting You Fight Fights You're Intended to Lose: You've been betrayed by Athena and shrunk back from god-like dimensions to normal size. Then Zeus sucks the rest of your power out of you by tricking you into channelling it into a sword. You're left weak and bleeding, unable to even move faster than a stagger. And still you have to fight.

Idea from: God of War II.
Who raved about it:
N'Gai Croal in the inaugural Vs mode discussion.

6. Interactive Cut-Scenes (But not Quick Time Events): If you're going to be stuck in cut-scenes telling part of the story, you may as well make them interactive. And I'm not talking about hiding unimplemented game-play behind a Quick Time Event - I'm talking about looking down Eva's top in Metal Gear Solid 3, or completely changing the outcome of the final cut scene in Soul Calibur.

Idea from: Soul Calibur.

7. Breaking the Fourth Wall: Whether it was showing you the Game Over screen prematurely, or telling you that you've been playing long enough, there's not enough games that break the fourth wall and talk to you the player, as opposed to the character you're playing. Or for that matter, deceive gamers about which character they'll end up playing.

Idea from: Metal Gear Solid 2.
Who raved about it: Tim Rogers in "dreaming in an empty room"

8. Moving the Controller: And if there was one way to really break the fourth wall, it was for a computer game to reach out and cause your controller to move without you touching it. A heart-stopping moment for many a game-player. Not enough games make you look on the jewel case for clues these days either.

Idea from: Metal Gear Solid.
Who raved about it: Practically everyone who played the game.

9. Upwards Preference: Get the player to look up early in the game. Use it to figure out whether they prefer regular or inverted mouse-look. It's not a hard thing to do. So why do so few games do it? (I know this is an Xbox console setting now. Hiding the option elsewhere in the user interface still doesn't solve it though.)

Idea from: King Kong.

10. Vengeance is Mine: First you sneak past them, then you kill them. It could be a Tyrannosaurus Rex in King Kong, or a gang of Outlaws in Call of Juarez. The opportunity to turn the tables and lay the smack down is not one to be missed.

Idea from: Call of Juarez.
Who raved about it: Kieron Gillen in Eurogamer.

11. Seeing the Consequences: Re-encountering the same scene as from a different point of view suddenly gives you a whole new perspective on events. Half-Life gives you the opportunity to go back to the Xen teleport chamber in both expansions, while Fahrenheit and Call of Juarez allow you to see the same scenes as both the pursued and the pursuers.

Idea from: Fahrenheit.
Who raved about it: Michael Filby from Jolt.co.uk.

12. Setting the Environment on Fire:
Sure, physics engines are great. And destructible environments will be 'teh next-gen' as soon as they catch technology up with the likes of X-Com. And you can set fire to enemies in lots of games. But nothing goes better with marshmallows than watching half a hillside go up in smoke from a single match. Games should bring the pyromaniac out in all of us. There needs to be more first-person shooters in burning buildings as well.

Idea from: King Kong.
Who raved about it: Kristan Reed in Eurogamer.

13. Playing with Scale: There's nothing quite like scaling tall buildings, crushing people beneath your feet and watching the screaming multitudes fleeing in front of you. Psychonauts? King Kong? Katamari Darmacy? The end of God of War? Pick one - they're all good at it. The re-use of the sword level in God of War is a particular standout - arguably one of the best level designs ever.

Idea from: Katamari Damacy
Who raved about it: Tom Bramwell in Eurogamer.


14. Better Level Themes: You've played games with the lava level. The ice level. The sewer level. Well how about a game with the Milkman level? The disco level. The Escher level. The Meat Circus level. Welcome to Psychonauts.

Idea from: Psychonauts.
Who raved about it: Yahtzee throws down the praise and back-hands you.

15. Designing the Level to Let You Use Your Toys: Bridge littered with the debris of cars moved into make-shift blockades. Check. Concrete barriers behind which terrorists are cowering. Check. An M203 grenade launcher and enough ammunition to take all of them out. Check. Survival horrors and low ammunition be damned. If you give me something shiny, I want to be able to play with it to my hearts content. Shame on those games that give you sniper rifles without suitable draw distances, or rocket launchers in twisty corridors.

Idea from: Black.
Who raved about it: Kristan Reed in Eurogamer.


16. Adding Things to Photographs: The photograph collection mechanic has been used well - arguably over-used in some games. But the photographs tend to turn up - well, just like you took them. What you really want is a game where the photos you take, and the resulting pictures have disparate elements - ghosts in the background, missing objects, weird aliens like in They Live. It could be a whole mechanic in itself, but sadly, just a nice Easter egg in the example below.

Idea from: Metal Gear Solid 2.

17. Economy of Design: Stop using a game-mechanic when it stops being interesting. We've played with the toys - it's time to put them back in the pram and move on. The whole of Portal is an exercise in economy of design - once you've learnt how to do something, you're only ever asked a few times to expand on it. I mean, the weighted companion cube appears on one freakin' level and already has its own fan clubs. So is some of the mechanics in Half-Life 2 - in particular the pheropod.

Idea from: Portal
Who raved about it: Every game journalist this year.

18. Annotating Maps: The in-game map - an abused and reviled mechanic if there ever was one. The only way to pep it up is to let you draw on it like you used to as a kid. And if you're really lucky, mum will let you put in the oven afterwards so it can curl up and look, like, really old...

Idea from: Zelda: The Phantom Hour-Glass.
Who raved about it: Tom Bramwell in Eurogamer.

19. Telling the End of the Story First: Kratos stands at the edge of a cliff. He is heavy with despair. He slumps forward, taking a final step and tumbling into the abyss towards the rocks below. Sure, they cheated in the end with a deus ex machina. But you want to find out how such a kick-ass character wanted to top himself. Hell, build a game where you're forced to fail a scenario, go back three years earlier, and then have to replay the events, with additional information that'll help you beat it the second time around.

Idea from: God of War.
Who raved about it: Kristan Reed in Eurogamer.

20. Falling Action / Playable Denouement: You've saved the world. Just seen the biggest explosion ever. Fled out of the castle as it crumbles around you. And the credits roll. Well, howabout for once, let you actually enjoy the moment. Kratos gets to run up to the steps to Mount Olympus. Call of Duty 4 goes all slow-mo on you. Grand Theft Auto - well, it never gets dull.

Idea from: Grand Theft Auto.
Who raved about it: Stephen Totilo in MTV Multiplayer.

Pre-IGF Hype: Metanet, Jon Mak Talk Indie Fun

- Well, one of the reasons that it's been a bit quiet here this week is that I've been helping Matthew Wegner and Steve Swink with Independent Games Festival organizing and judging, and thereby error-resolving and checking a whole heckload of the Main Competition games - since we announce the finalists on Monday.

This is going to be excellent news, since over 170 entrants is a lot to take in, so it'll nice to be focus in on some of the titles that the judges have found particularly interesting. In the meantime, over at IndyGamer, Tim has interviewed Raigan and Mare from Metanet, and also checked in with Everyday Shooter's Jon Mak (pictured looking slightly Christ-like above), and their wide-ranging interviews touch on their own projects, plus their views on IGF entries (the Metanet folks are judges this year, Jon is not.)

Firstly, here's what the Metanetters think: "Last year, Raigan spent all of October doing nothing but playing IGF games.. I think 80 or 90 were judged. This year... is tough because there are no big 'stand outs' but many 'very good' games.. for instance: Gish 2, World of Goo, Cortex Command, Clean Asia, and Crayon Physics. Also, Raigan played DROD and Polychromatic Funk Monkey WAYY too long."

As for the Mak-ster: "I don't think I'd have the time to judge all those entries, and who am I to judge anyway?... Anyway, Crayon Physics looks hawt.. I saw the video of him playing it on a Tablet PC.. geez I'm jealous on so many levels. Clean Asia was one I mentioned earlier. Fez was insane, but they have to put guns in it, and lots of babes. Fish is going to hate me for that. I did play Battleships Forever. That game... man, I needed a roll of toilet paper next to me while playing it. It's like, a teenage boy's wet dream.."

Interesting! How do those picks tie up with the actual finalists? Don't ask me - there's still some last-minute voting going on! Also, it's secret. Check back on Monday and I guess we'll find out.

November 29, 2007

Game Developer's 2007 Front Line Award Finalists Announced

- Aha, over at Game Developer we've just announced the Front Line Award finalists for this year - important awards for game tool manufacturers. As noted below, the winners will be announced in the January issue, and the magazine's cover is always a mash-up between the postmortem and the award.

In previous years, my favorite is Stubbs The Zombie trying to eat an award, though The Sims 2 characters catfighting was also a fine one. We have something v.neat lined up for January 2008's cover too - more info as soon as I can spill it:

"The editors of CMP's Game Developer magazine have named the finalists for the 2007 Front Line Awards, the magazine’s tenth annual evaluation of the year’s best game-making tools in the categories of programming, art, audio, game engine, middleware, and books.

Game Developer’s mission for more than ten years has been to provide game developers with information, news, and articles that pertain directly to them. The Front Line Awards are an official way of recognizing one specific aspect of the industry: the tools that developers need to do their jobs.

Each year, Game Developer looks at the powerful lineup of new products and new releases of favorite tools, from game engines to books, and selects the top five in six different categories. After a comprehensive judging process, one winner is chosen in each category. Front Line Award recipients represent the most innovative, user-friendly, and useful products from behind the scenes of the world’s best video games.

The finalists by category are as follows:

Engine

CryEngine 2, Crytek
Gamebryo 2.3, Emergent
Hero Engine, Simutronics Corporation
Unreal Engine 3, Epic
Vision Game Engine, Trinigy GmbH

Books

Game Design: From Blue Sky to Green Light, Deborah Todd, AK Peters
Game Writing Handbook, Rafael Chandler, Charles River Media
GPU Gems 3, ed. Hubert Nguyen, Addison-Wesley Professional
Second Person, ed. Pat Harrigan and Noah Wardrip-Fruin, MIT Press
XNA Unleashed, Chad Carter, Sams

Middleware

Euphoria, Natural Motion
Gameface Studio, Anark
Havok Complete, Havok
Kynapse, Kynogon
PathEngine SDK, PathEngine

Programming/Production

Hansoft 5.0, Hansoft AB
NVIDIA PerfHUD 5, NVIDIA Corporation
Perforce 2007.2, Perforce Software
ReplayDIRECTOR, Replay Solutions
XNA Game Studio Express, Microsoft

Art

3ds Max 9, Autodesk
modo 301, Luxology
Mudbox 1.06, Autodesk/Skymatter
Softimage XSI 6.01, Softimage
Zbrush 3.1, Pixologic

Audio

Fmod, Firelight Technologies Pty, Ltd.
Miles Sound System, RAD Game Tools, Inc.
Vivox Precision Audio, Vivox, Inc.
Voice-O-Matic, Di-O-Matic, Inc.
Wwise 2007.2, Audiokinetic

The final award winners, plus one inductee to the Front Line Awards Hall of Fame chosen for its outstanding contribution to the game development industry for five years or more, will be announced in the January 2008 issue of Game Developer, available to subscribers in early January."

GameSetMicroLinks: Thursday Thoughts

- Hey, Thursday, how's it going? What's that, you say? You'd like a bunch of random links ranging from odd Chocolate Castle-related eating contents to spot-on blog posts on Tabula Rasa?

Oh wait, and a new rumor about where Bioshock 2 is being deployed. Sure, it's a bit showy for us, but we can oblige. Here goes:

Margaret Robertson's Lookspring » Onomatoplaya
'I intend to be the first person in the world to exhaustively catalogue all the games in the world you can play while doing what you’re doing in the game.'

Hey Game Developers, WTF? from 1UP.com
Sharkey obnoxiously points out things that are wrong with games. Adorable.

Japanmanship: Best of the West
Awesome piece on Western game design's success (or lack of) in Japan.

richardcobbett.co.uk > Richard's Online Journal > Tabula Rasa
'It’s a deeply bizarre game, broken on so very many levels, yet strangely compelling, almost despite itself.'

z a c k h i w i l l e r » On Lists
Discussing Ernest Adams' Gamasutra '10 years of games' articles and some new picks.

Merc News blog: The Madness of Randy Stude and the triumph of the PC gaming platform
A good (Dean) Takahashi piece on Intel's beliefs, and the reality, of PC gaming.

...on pampers, programming & pitching manure: Kim leaves Microsoft
Microsoft game biz personage Kim Pallister is off... somewhere. Smart guy!

Braid » Blog Archive » Preview videos will probably happen.
'I have concocted a plan wherein we produce augmented gameplay videos… not just scenes from the game, but also tied to some narration conveying ideas that would be interesting in their own right. ' This will be interesting when it happens!

Arthouse Games: Interview w/Fez's Phil Fish
Another one of the new breed of 'personal', stylish indie games.

The Common Sense Gamer » When the Boys go to Harvard
'Large money and big expectations mean a change of focus on what made MMOs great in the first place.'

Hollywood Reporter: 'Differing perspectives on licensing IPs for casual games'
Specifically referencing Beanbag, who have picked up I Love Lucy, among other things, heh.

GameAlmighty.com - Nothing is Perfect
'I haven't made any official tabulation, but I suspect this year has seen more perfect scores for imperfect games than ever before.' Whinefest!

Surfer Girl Reviews Star Wars: Disaster: Your Irrational Behavior is BioShocking
Suggesting that the Bioshock sequel will be made in the Bay Area by a new 2K studio, per a new Gamasutra job posting. Scuttlebutt is a bit vicious, but the actual studio info looks on the money.

Counter-Opinion: Why The Orange Box's Name Is Alright

- [Luckily enough, following Russell Carroll's recent opinion piece about the naming of The Orange Box, we got another response, from Creative Traction's Duane Brown, in which the PR pro and Gamasutra writer thinks the game is named just fine. Our questions and his answers below.]

Did Valve impede sales of The Orange Box by calling it... The Orange Box?

Overall, I don’t think they impeded sales by calling it The Orange Box. The biggest part was making sure they got across what was coming in The Orange Box because you aren’t just getting one game, but 5 games including Portal, which I’ve been looking forward to from day one. The game rises high on a Google search and Valve’s games tend to lean more towards the “hardcore” gamer then say Nintendogs, which is something more for the mainstream.

Is this too confusing a name?

No, not at all. The name is perfect on a couple levels because 1) It’s not something similar to a past or present game coming out. 2) We won’t have a preconceived notion of what the game is about by the name.

When you look at GameRevolution's article on the worst video game names, you see that The Orange Box is pretty good overall, particularly because of the two points above. Plus, some of those names on the list make you want to think of something else.

Do you think the naming of the release helps endear it to a) the hardcore gamer or b) the more mainstream gamer, or both?

I think Valve was going after the hardcore audience, no matter how you look at it. So appealing to them was a given from the start. The only game in The Orange Box that could have appealed to a more mainstream audience was Portal, because of the puzzle/strategy aspect of the game. Sure, Valve would love to get more then their core audience buying the game, but whether that happens or not remains to be seen.

What would you have called this compilation, if you'd have had complete free rein?

Since you are getting 5 games that span 3 franchises, you can’t or at least you shouldn’t call The Orange Box by one of the franchise names. What they are actually getting might confuse people who don’t read full articles or press releases. With a lot of the game names in The Orange Box having to do with a sequel, I might call it “The Second Level”. A Google search proves this could be marketable/brandable from a gaming perspective. Some might say it’s close to Second Life, but only the market can determine that.

November 28, 2007

GameSetOuch: Rein Headline Puns We Missed

- So, we posted a in-depth, rambunctious Mark Rein interview on Gamasutra earlier today, discussing subjects like Home's interaction with Unreal Tournament 3 on PlayStation 3 and whether there's a distinctive 'look' to UE3 games (we think there might be, in a nice way.)

But I realize that we missed a cardinal opportunity - to make ridiculous puns in the article title. Sure, it's called 'The Unreal Man: Mark Rein Speaks', but it could have been so much more silly, given that 'rein' is replaceable with 'rain' and 'reign' for groanworthy purposes.

Brainstorming, this is what the editors and me (OK, mainly me, I have nothing better to do) came up with:

- Purple Rein (illustrated with a picture of an enraged Epic VP shaking his fist.)
- Reindrops Keep Falling On My Head
- Rein Of Blood/Rein Of Terror (some kind of backlit horror tableau?)
- Here Comes The Rein Again (Unreal Engine is so ubiquitous!)
- Rein Man (More savant than idiot!)
- Reining It In
- Insane In The Rein (just forget we ever suggested that one.)

Oh dear. We promise we're not picking on Mark - in fact, he's one of the smartest guys in the biz, and I'm glad that previous run-ins with the press haven't changed the Epic VP's lovably outspoken nature. We just need our headline fun! Thanks for understanding, feel free to chip in.

COLUMN: 'The Aberrant Gamer': Are The Kids Alright?

-[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.]

Combine the veil of anonymity with the community elements the internet supports and you’ve often got a vocal mob. Far from being an exception, gamers are perhaps a case-in-point – off the top of your head, can you think of any other discussion topic, aside perhaps from American politics, that incites such a firestorm? An earlier Aberrant Gamer column took a look at the “hot-button issues” in the gaming community, examining those topics most likely to bunch gamer panties, and theorized that lingering social misconceptions and the fact that we still feel mostly alone in our world despite advances in networked gaming and an increasingly broader audience contributed largely to our defensive attitude and quick rise to anger.

One of the “hot-button issues” Aberrant Gamer highlighted in the past was our often unjust scrutiny at the hands of mainstream media, complete with accusations of violence, maladjustment, addiction and anti-social behavior. We’ve had to defend our favorite hobby from this kind of malign almost since its inception. We’re innocent.

Or, we were. Lately, many have found themselves asking whether, as our own society with its own set of norms and behavioral standards, gamers are approaching – if not already crossed – a line from the justifiably passionate into the alarmingly vitriolic. As certain kinds of gamer behavior, mainly online, reaches a fever pitch, many of us have found it increasingly difficult to take a defensive stance. It’s becoming harder not to ask certain questions about ourselves.

Are we crueler than we were years ago? And have we, as a society, become unhealthy?

This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things

-To find evidence that ought to encourage the gaming community to think twice, one need look back less than a month in recent history. Many of us have fought stereotypes of sexism and a fixation on sex for years. In other words, the old chestnut is that gamers – and games themselves – alternately exclude and objectify females. Such things cannot be entirely disproven, and both attitudes about sex and those regarding gender relations will probably be the topic of debate for quite some time in the game community, as they will likely be for human society as a whole for generations to come. That we have begun to have these dialogues is a sign, perhaps, that we are a sustainable audience, our own healthy community. And you’d think, with all these discussions, that perhaps some progress would have been made – after all, the fact that it remains an issue indicates that a good portion of gamers, if not the majority, have progressive, inclusive and constructive views on the subject.

And then, a certain webcomic crops up in response to a certain game and its producer, and somehow it sets us back to an era when games didn’t even exist. The issue doesn’t warrant any more attention than it’s already gotten, and many have expressed outrage eloquently enough, so I won’t add to it. But that particular Jade Raymond Incident was, to many, the culmination of some very subversive, very virulent attitudes into an overt act of hostility. It wasn’t simply an insult to Ms. Raymond, or to women in games; it was an insult to us all by association.

You could say that the incident was an anomalous act by a single rogue perpetrator, but couldn’t a community of the just and dignified have silenced the offender if we all shared unanimous solidarity against such behavior? Moreover, would the perpetrator have created such a thing if he or she didn’t feel there was an audience who would embrace his message? More shameful than the fact that such an image was created and propagated was the fact that an unfortunately significant percentage of our population, while condemning the image itself, said that Ms. Raymond deserved the attacks. Despite being completely unfamiliar with the capacity to which she was involved in the game and reducing her, essentially, to a spokesmodel, the opinion that she had manipulated people with her looks and deserved, along with the game developers who had made Assassin’s Creed, such harsh retribution was astoundingly prevalent.

-Men will fixate on pretty women, and probably sexualize them, privately if not publicly. It’s a basic fact of human relations, and it probably will never change, and that fact in itself is no source of shame. But the potency of the hatred that showed itself like a wound on the face of our community was stunning, and I challenge anyone to argue that this incident can be overlooked without begging serious examination of our community and the messages we share amongst ourselves.

And sadly, the Jade Raymond debacle – of which, I remind, the offending webcomic was a culmination and not a beginning, as she’d already been receiving inappropriate and unfair judgment – is not the only incident that begs us to examine our culture.

Just about as nauseating is a video, only a few days old, created by a young gay man to demonstrate the way that fellow Halo 3 players spoke to and treated him because he indicated his sexual orientation in his gamertag. Obviously, in a game like Halo, players can couple verbal attacks with actual ones; the individual who was victimized in this particular situation told GayGamer.net that not only was he verbally abused, but his teammates turned on him and shot him. “You know Jesus hates you,” one attacker said. “I hope you die and burn in hell,” said another. The rest of the comments are so vulgar as to be unprintable.

One doesn’t need to watch the video to know that there are still issues of homophobia and hatred in society as a whole, but that people would use a video game as a vehicle to attack someone – and that they would do so in such a virulently hateful way – is saddening. It’s normal to feel competitive, to trash-talk, even to feel determined to take out your fellow opponent. But this is just sick.

Where Did You Learn That?

The one thread that ties all of us together in this is the fact that we love video games. Did games teach us to be so combative? Did they teach us to be violent, to attack without warning? Is the advent of networked gaming blurring the line between real people and video game characters? Can we be sure that, over time, games are not making of us reactionaries, reflexive, desensitized to human consequences? Have we killed one too many realistic CGI humans?

You positive?

Independent game designer Jonathan Blow (Braid), speaking recently at the Montreal Games Summit (covered by GameSetWatch’s big sister Gamasutra with contribution from this column’s author) asserted that we do learn, on an emotional level, from games, and suggested that perhaps gamers are not learning the right things. “My concern is that games designers of today lack discernment when we think about whether games are good or bad,” he said. “If players play it and report they’re having fun, we say, 'hey that’s a good game.' If not, we say, 'they don’t understand it.'”

-He continued that the normal modus operandi in game design is to foster player engagement through the use of “scheduled rewards.” For example, the mechanics of playing World of Warcraft are repetitive and not in and of themselves complex, but players loyally repeat the same behaviors because the rewards – the better sword, the better mount, the higher level – keep players engaged on a basic level. While this factor alone is not necessarily a bad thing, Blow noted that these sort of rewards, which may very well gratify the brain on a neurological level, can be divided into two categories: “Some are like foods that are naturally beneficial and can increase your life, but some are like drugs," he said.

Continued Blow, "As game designers, we don’t know how to make food, so we resort to drugs all the time.” His conclusion, then, is that the cultural backlash from gamers toward games – the difficulty of pleasing the audience, their strong reaction when a game disappoints them – might be due to the fact that they’re undernourished, so to speak, forced to engage through rewards rather than sustainable, gratifying emotional experiences. And since, as Blow stressed, all games teach, the result just might be some incorrect learning on our part.

This column does not assert that games themselves are – or are not – the cause of this apparent escalation in hostile, unstable behavior in our community. And it is an overall behavioral trend; two extreme incidents are are demonstrated here as examples, but take a glance at review archives alone and there’s almost guaranteed to be, in the comment threads, a reaction to a reviewer’s opinion that seems unnecessarily venomous, excessively upset. And nor does this column levy accusations against all of us as a whole; it’s most likely that this encroaching trend of apparent hardening, of an increase in cruelty in our audience, is attributable to a vocal minority even as the majority numbers of healthy individuals who simply enjoy gaming continues to grow. It’s also important to note the positives that have come out of gaming communities online – friends supporting each other through difficult times, game-inspired charity organizations and events.

And yet. I once made the rather unpopular assertion that we must examine game violence and resolve our relationship with it in order to be justified in defending ourselves against the knee-jerk, sensationalized accusations of the mainstream media, politicians and TV psychologists using us to get attention. Unpopular though it may be, I offer that perhaps we ought to examine ourselves some more. What are we learning from games, from our anonymous online communities, and from our relationships with one another?

[All images are William Hogarth's "Four Stages of Cruelty" and were nicked from Tate.org.uk.]

[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.]

GameSetMicroLinks: From Ultima IV To Slate Rock

- Aha, gonna try to keep up with this daily, regarding the whole random links thing - there's a lot of good content out there in the gaming blogosphere of recent.

Anyhow, today's GameSetMicroLinks include a nice tip sent to me by the GameTap folks on a retrospective, some odd LiveJournal links that probably only I care about, and real rockers trying out Rock Band, as follows:

GameTap: Retrospective: Ultima IV
Ah, back in the Lord British days.

sardius_ LJ: 'DS goin nuts'
Danny goes searching for odd DS games - check out the 'Spanish For Everyone' videos and... marvel.

Points - Blog Archive - Episode 02 online!
Interviewing Dylan Cuthbert on Super FX chip fun for GameVideos.com - approve!

GDC News Blog - 'Director's Cut'
Jamil Moledina's new blog as Game Developers Conference head honcho - neet.

Sleater-Kinney's guitarist tests out Rock Band. - By Carrie Brownstein - Slate Magazine
Thoughtful, piquant article alert.

KidFenris' LJ: 'Outrage Trigger'
Complaining about Douglas Coupland's JPod picking a certain video game as a character's favorite. Deliciously, needlessly hardcore - thumbs up.

GameSetQ: The Unpurchased, The Unopened - Confess!

- Keeping up the random GameSetQs, it's confession time for all you penitent GameSetWatch readers. As you might have spotted, the past couple of months have brought a veritable whirlwind of quality game titles - for the DS, PS3, PSP, Wii, Xbox 360, PC, PlayStation 2, and augh, too much interactive entertainment to process. And there's niggling lust and caution underlying that mass of games.

Not so carefully analyzing, I've come to the conclusion that there are two types of games that are making us feel guilty right now - the games that we should have bought, but haven't got round to yet, and those that we picked up, but haven't even booted up yet. Let's call them The Unpurchased and The Unopened, eh?

So, my confession - The Unpurchased for me includes both Super Mario Galaxy and Link's Crossbow Training, both of which I intend to pick up as soon as humanly possible, but I just haven't got to yet. Sorry, Reggie. As for The Unopened, the prime culprit for me is Uncharted, which has got buried under a mass of titles - but DDR Hottest Party and Scene It? are also in that bucket right now.

And shazam, I give the floor to you, mes petits chou-fleurs. What games constitute The Unpurchased and The Unopened for you, in the year of the Minter 2007? Extra marks for admitting the embarrassing, but the pedestrian will also suffice, naturally.

November 27, 2007

Gamasutra Goes To Montreal, Writes Up Neat Stuff

- So, both news editor Brandon Boyer and special correspondent Mathew Kumar have wandered off to the Montreal International Game Summit, which has some pretty interesting keynotes and lectures this year.

We've gone the extra mile at big sister site Gamasutra by getting full in-person notes on the major lectures, and then having editors back here write them up properly. This means that we get a couple of thousand words and in-depth coverage of the talks, rather than simply edited highlights.

Thus, from the first day, here are the key talks from Nintendo, Retro Studios, and, uhh, J. Blow Esq.:

- MIGS 2007: Retro Studios On The Journey Of Metroid Prime
"At the 2007 Montreal Games Summit, Retro Studios president and CEO Michael Kelbaugh discussed the Metroid Prime arc of the classic Nintendo franchise, highlighting challenges faced by the team - from the trilogy's 3D debut, to incorporating Wii functionality with Metroid Prime 3: Corruption."

- MIGS 2007: Nintendo's Koizumi On The Path From Garden To Galaxy
"In his 2007 Montreal Games Summit opening keynote attended by Gamasutra, veteran Nintendo game developer Yoshiaki Koizumi discussed the path taken from Super Mario 64 to Super Mario Galaxy, growing into the 3D space, and the challenges, inspiration and successes along the way - comprehensive write-up within."

- MIGS 2007: Jonathan Blow On The 'WoW Drug', Meaningful Games
"At the 2007 Montreal Games Summit, Jonathan Blow, creator of 2006 IGF Design Innovation award winner Braid, addressed the subtle assumptions that underlie the modern game development process - sharply criticizing World Of Warcraft and BioShock to illustrate how games can be more meaningful experiences."

GameSetMicroLinks: The Best Of The Left

- Spooling out the final set of new and older links that were dogging us, there's all kinds of fun in this set of GameSetWatch goodness.

These include the neverending Desert Bus ride and 2D Boy Goo-ing things up for all of us, as well as hilarity from those weirdoes at Soup Du Jour, plus Guitar Hero's audio artist controversy:

Desert Bus for Hope
Former Gama editor Frank Cifaldi's unearthing led inexorably to this - and it's awesome.

Review: Why Assassin's Creed Fails | Game | Life from Wired.com
This is the kind of incisive opinion I want to see on a game, not a 'review'. Bravo.

The Independent Gaming Source: 2D Boy Interview
Great interview about breaking out and trying 'that indie thing' with World Of Goo.

TIGSource Forums: 'Chiptunes'
This is a good recommendation thread, if you like the bleep.

Digital Eel: Soup du Jour
From the 'Weird Worlds' crazies: 'Soup du Jour is a matching game like no other, with rubbery physics, stretchy sound effects and rule-breaking gameplay.'

Video Games Business & Marketing: Paying the Messenger...er distributor
'Viral marketing is really hard. There are very few products that are viral. Expecting your product to be viral is probably not the best approach.'

- Elder Game: MMO game development - Picking Fun Game Verbs
'New verbs can make anything feel fresh. Want to make yet another fantasy MMO? No problem - just make sure it has lots of fresh new verbs!'

MetroActive.com | Guitar Hero Controversy
Very interesting - this is front page of my local San Jose free paper, discussing alleged underpaying of vocalists for Guitar Hero II soundalikes.A bit isolated, but intriguing?

So, you want to be an ARCADE champion? - Blog Archive - Game 23: Armored Car (Stern 1981)
This poor guy is STILL going through MAME alphabetically. He's crazy.

UK:RESISTANCE: OH SEGA :(
Re: Sega releasing another Brain Age clone, and listing all the others: 'We're okay with you doing this sort of thing, as long as all the profits it makes are reinvested in starting up the hardware division again.'

'Headcase' Flash game reviewed - Jay is Games
'Set in a world of lush pixel art where gravity is fickle and your head is huge, you play a superhero dream-avatar (yes, that's about right) with a big 'up' arrow on your helmet.'

Opinion: Is 'The Orange Box' Name Holding Valve Back?

- [In the first of a new series, GameSetWatch contacted a couple of our friends in game marketing and PR with a potentially explosive notion we've been mulling over.

Valve's 'The Orange Box' is an amazing package, but we still didn't 'get' why it was called that. Does it do the games any favors with a less informed mainstream audience to be released under that name?

One of the people we contacted, Reflexive marketing director Russell Carroll (Wik, Ricochet series) had some strong, similar personal opinions about it - so we're happy to let him rip in this guest opinion piece.]

"First off I'll disqualify myself by saying that Reflexive doesn't make FPS games or even 3rd-person shooters. I don't have any experience with that specific genre or in trying to reach that segment of the market.

That said, The Orange Box was a critical darling from a popular genre whose sales (at least in the US) are struggling to match the rave reviews. (NPD for October had the game at 6th with ~240,000 units, around 200,000 less units than Halo 3 second month of sales and 1000 units behind Wii Play) [EDIT: To be clear, Russell is referencing the Xbox 360 version here, not the PC retail/digital sales or the PlayStation 3 version.]

It's a marketer's job to make the connection between the product and the audience and it would seem that The Orange Box is a fantastic package struggling to find its audience.

I think the biggest issue with The Orange Box, the number of included games, is also its biggest strength. I think that the problem with the package is that it lacks any strong identity. It's a mash-up of different brands that instead of trying to take advantage of the strength of any one of those brands creates a new brand without any value at all.

The game doesn't come across like 'The White Album' - it comes across as a confusion of messages without any one central point. While it is great show of confidence for Portal to get equal billing (the middle 1/3 of the box cover) with Half-Life, what does that say to gamers about what Valve thinks of the included Half-Life 2 content? (Which, notably, is 60% of the package)

The confusion fire is further stoked by the compilation aspect. Compilation discs are reserved for budget software that is bundled together because none is good enough to stand on its own. The Orange Box is certainly not budget and doesn't fit into the mold created, which means that a mental shift has to be made in the mind of the consumer. Valve has to redefine how people perceive a compilation of games from budget to blockbuster. Redefining long-standing perceptions isn't something to be taken lightly. The question could be posed "Does calling it 'The Orange Box' help to do this?"

I don't think so.

In hindsight, if I were involved I'd have focused on the existing brand strength of Half-Life and built off of that. Ideally I think the package needed to be broken down into multiple packages. With all the games together, it's hard to get past the natural feeling that none of them could stand on their own. It would have been very interesting to release all the games on XBLA as separate downloadable games that together added up to $60. Though we wouldn't have had any NPD numbers to discuss that way, I think the individual sales would have trumped the sales seen from the compilation.

If the opportunity to break it up into two-three different packages weren't available and I had to put all my eggs into one box, I'd call it after the strongest brand available. In this case that brand is certainly Half-Life. I'm not sure exactly what I'd call it, perhaps something like:

Half-Life: Uncut. Unleashed.

My goal would be to focus on a core of the package and try to get a strong message out to buyers about a single brand and let the additional content feel like amazing extras. I'd want the audience to know that this package is hard-core and that everything previous to it was somehow deficient.

While The Orange Box title does give the consumer a single message, I think it lacks identity and devalues the Half-Life brand through both bundling and avoiding use of the Half-Life name."

Blip Festival - The Full Line-Up For Chiptuning In NY

- Not much to say here except - this is the full line-up, and if you're on the East Coast and you don't check this out, then you are truly not enjoying life:

"The Blip Festival 2007, a four-day [New York-based] celebration of music and art made with vintage video game and home computing equipment, today announced its full schedule of events, screenings and workshops celebrating chiptune culture in all its many forms.

With nightly concerts, weekend screenings and workshops, and a group gallery show “B I T M A P: as good as new” presented in association with the festival at Williamsburg’s vertexList Gallery, The Blip Festival 2007 [held from November 29th to December 2nd, 2007] brings together the biggest names in the field of low-bit art and music for an opportunity to be seen and heard in the epicenter of the creative world.

Among the featured artists who will be showcasing their skills on Game Boys, Ataris, Commodore 64s and other old school gear are Tokyo-based 6955, the Netherlands' Gijs Gieskes, and New York's very own Bit Shifter and Nullsleep. In addition, daytime workshops, held on Saturday and Sunday, December 1 & 2, include such topics as “Break the Circle and Become an Atari DJ” and “Pixel Pushing the PPU: An Introduction to NES Graphics.”

[NOTE FROM SIMON: Chiptune fanatics - some of the top artists I've spotted which the press release didn't mention include Neil Voss, Virt, Japan's Hally, Germany's awesome Bodenstandig 2000, 6955, gwEM, and the spectacular Blasterhead. And that's just for starters!]

The Blip Festival 2007 will also present the world premiere of 8-BIT Generation, a new documentary about low-bit art and chiptune music, and the influence videogame culture has had on an entire generation of artists. Directed by Lionel Brouet, who will be present at the screening and will introduce the film, 8-Bit Generation features punk godfather and former Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren, Role Model (Sweden) Lo-bat (Belgium), Relax Beat (France), and The Wild Strawberries (China).

Among the festival’s related events, vertexList Gallery is presenting “B I T M A P: as good as new,” a group exhibition celebrating the history of the digital image, the aesthetics of early computing, and early videogame consoles, featuring Cory Arcangel, Chris Ashley, Eteam, Kimberly Hart, Tom Moody, and many, many more.

For more information, including a complete schedule of events, visit http://www.blipfestival.org/schedule.html."

November 26, 2007

GameSetMicroLinks: Delicious, Delightful Leftovers

- Was doing a lot of prospecting of MicroLinks for my Kotaku guest stint last week, so will be rolling out some of the neat leftover elements from it on GameSetWatch over the next couple of days.

Among the highlights this time is new video of Cecropia's innovative, sadly canned arcade game The Act, Japanmanship on developer burnout, incredibly geeky TRS-80 RPG playthrough, and lots more, yay:

Ascii Dreams - a Roguelike Developer's Diary: Why do games (still) have levels?
'So in this era of multi-megabyte and gigabyte memory and fast access storage devices why do we continue to have games that are dominated by the level structure, be they commercial (Halo 3, Portal, Team Fortress 2), independent (Darwinia) and amateur (Nethack, Angband)."

Teaching Takes Time - Warren Spector's blog
Spector's course at the University Of Texas sounds neeto.

Japanmanship: The Big Dipper
'There is a well-documented problem with longevity amongst game industry careerists.'

Insomnia | Reviews | Atomiswave | The King of Fighters XI
'Taking into account all the above, KOF XI is clearly for the new-schoolers in KOF.'

Worthy Representation: Informing and Empowering Parents of Gamers ¬´ High Dynamic Range Lying
'It is encouraging to see sites springing up that aim to bridge the gap between industry know-it-alls and parents out of the loop.'

Idle Thumbs: Every Extend Extra Extreme: It's in the Game (or How I Learned to Forget About Feedback Loops and Switch-Off
'E4 demands the player understand and embrace the symbiotic relationship between music, light and game play.'

Fullbright: Length
'A straightforward post today: the games I play are just too long.'

- I <3 you Portal. - Chris' MySpace Blog
Another neat Chris Avellone (Obsidian designer) cartoon.

An intimate discussion with Will Wright. | Laura Foy | Channel 10
Fascinating no matter what.

Interview with Arlen Ritchie, Moola's CEO - Business & Games: The Blog
'Basically, you play your pennies against other players in one of the mini-games available and try to climb the advertournament's ladder.'

Gates of Delirium Live - Post 8 | Armchair Arcade
yakumo9275's (Stu) ongoing "Gates of Delirium Live" recounting of his play through this obscure Computer Role Playing Game for the Radio Shack TRS-80 Color Computer.

The Act Part 2 - Physical movement sequence ¬´ Arcade Heroes
Video from the super-rare mood-controlling arcade machine 'The Act'.

Flickr: TIM ROGERS SMASH SAN FRANCISCO!
Why were we not informed by Homeland Security?

The Designer's Notebook: Ten Years Of Great Games

- To celebrate Gamasutra's long-running 'The Designer's Notebook' column turning ten this month, veteran game lecturer/designer Ernest Adams has been highlighting the games of the last decade that "showed great imagination, contained important innovations, or left a lasting legacy" - from Starcraft to Rock Band.

Needless to say, this is quite fun and educative - Ernest is always readable - so here's a random bit I enjoyed, a mini-analysis of The Sims:

"The Sims wasn't supposed to work. A game about people living in suburbia, doing perfectly ordinary jobs? A game about buying furniture? A game inspired by A Pattern Language, a book for architecture geeks? It just goes to show you that not all players like to be entertained the same way, and there's more to video games than adrenaline. The Sims established the age of user-created content by letting people take screenshots, caption them, and assemble the result into stories that they could upload for other people to read. Modding had long preceded The Sims, of course, but this was different -- it was easy and required no tools. The Sims' legacy is huge."

Anyhow, there's plenty more in the article itself, in a kind of retrospective-y fashion, as you would expect. I can't spot anything too controversial in there, in terms of missing titles - but feel free to disagree in comment form.

GameSetQ: Rock Band Vs. Guitar Hero - The Final Reckoning

- Now, we've covered this question before, but now Harmonix's Rock Band and Neversoft's Guitar Hero III have been out long enough, we can talk about it.

For the record, the Xbox 360 version of Guitar Hero III has an 8.5 pro reviewer average and a 7.4 user average on Metacritic. Rock Band for Xbox 360, on the other hand, has a 9.4 pro reviewer average and a 9.0 user average.

I was trying to think how to vocalize my thoughts on GH III and Rock Band - both of which I've been playing a lot, and both of which are going to be smash hits this holiday season - and I think I worked it out.

Here's my comparative review of the two titles - using lyrics from songs featured in each:

- Guitar Hero III:
Poison ft. Bret Michaels - 'Talk Dirty To Me'.

"At the drive-in
In the old man's Ford
behind the bushes
until I'm screamin' for more
Down the basement
lock the cellar door
And baby
Talk dirty to me."

- Rock Band:
The Who - 'Won't Get Fooled Again'

"I'll tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution
Smile and grin at the change all around me
Pick up my guitar and play
Just like yesterday
Then I'll get on my knees and pray
We don't get fooled again."

So - which of the two makes you rock? Which makes you roll your eyes? And which would you recommend to others? And most interestingly, which franchise do you think will be dominant next year, and the year after - what will the public respond to? The GameSetQ is in session, folks.

November 25, 2007

Kotaku Flashback: Game Inspirations

- Continuing to round up 'things I did on my winter holiday' at Kotaku, I decided to poll some of the high-profile game developers on the Advisory Committee for the Game Developers Choice Awards, and ask what games really influenced and inspired them, early in their life/career.

There were some pretty interesting choices from the respondents, which included folks from Ubisoft, Eidos, Big Huge Games, and High Moon - here are the resulting mini-Q&As:

- Game Inspirations: Clint Hocking, Ubisoft: "The first game that ever really inspired me was Broderbund's Lode Runner on the Commodore Vic 20. Not only was Lode Runner a fantastic and innovative game for the time, but it had a powerful and easy-to-use level editor, with usability and functionality on par with the best level editors released today - almost 25 years later."

- Game Inspirations: Brian Reynolds, Big Huge Games: "What was the first video game you were ever inspired by, growing up? The "Original Adventure" (also known in later years as the Colossal Cave Adventure -- you know, the bird and the snake and XYZZY)... [I played it] at my father's office in about 1979. He worked at a defense contractor and would take me to work on the weekends sometimes when he was in an overtime crunch."

- Game Inspirations: Clinton Keith, High Moon: "[I was inspired by] Star Raiders for the Atari 800... To this day I prefer "sandbox" style games, especially those that are online. These are truly larger worlds in that the game evolves with the experience of the other players over long periods of time. This influenced my very first game Midtown Madness."

- Game Inspirations: Julien Merceron, Eidos: "I think the one that really shown me the wide potential of this media & art form is Square Enix's Final Fantasy VII. It was both showing how far we are from where this industry will take us, and showing some components that will become crucial in the future: storyline, characters, emotions, collaborative & team experience, and plurality of activities & roles for the player in a game."

COLUMN: 'Game Mag Weaseling': Mag Roundup 11/24/07

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A couple of developments in PC game mags occurred recently that're more related than you'd expect at first glance. First, Imagine Publishing's Total PC Gaming debuted on British newsstands this month with a print run of 40,000, becoming the first computer games magazine to launch over there in many, many years (over a decade, maybe?). Editor-in-chief (and, apparently, Game Mag Weaseling fan) Dave Harfield was nice enough to send me a copy of Issue 1 in the mail for review.

Visually and stylistically, TPCG doesn't stray too far from the Brit-mag norm. You've got bright, long reviews and previews done up with a clean, white background and featuring all sorts of little extra gubbins on the side -- spec discussions, development status, how the game looks at different detail levels (a neat addition), and so on. Reviews are scored out of ten and seem by-and-large forgiving so far, with only one game -- sleep-inducing Taiwanese MMORPG Bounty Bay Online, which gets a 2 -- scoring below the "average" mark. Hardware reviews get a lot of page space in this mag, too, signifying a dedication to covering the after-market modding marketplace with a fervor you don't see in print too often.

TPCG's innovations include:

- No disc. US mags mostly shed their discs a couple years ago, but the British PC mags still sport them. This one drops them for obvious reasons (you can get it all on the Internet! Duh!) and is subsequently two pounds cheaper than PC Gamer's UK edition, despite its larger page count and book size.

- A dedicated MMO section. GFW and PC Gamer US both have regular MMO coverage, but TPCG features 20 pages of it in its own "sub-magazine" after the reviews well. "MMO Worlds" reminds me a lot of the MASSIVE of old -- it's intelligent writing about MMOs present and future, with this month's installment mainly devoted to the Tabula Rasa launch. These 20 pages alone are already better than anything Beckett Massive Online Gamer's done.

- A dedicated retro section. Classic game coverage has served fellow Imagine mags Retro Gamer and GamesTM exceedingly well. TPCG's "Redux" section includes bits on System Shock 2, Duke Nukem 3D, Amiga emulators, and Portal, the 1986 Activision game that invented the "visual novel" genre eight years before the Japanese popularized it. A great start, I'd say, especially considering how many obscure old PC releases are out there waiting for someone to discover them.

Speaking from what experience I have with Britmags (I have yet to see an issue of PC Zone), I'd say TPCG is among, if not the best UK PC mag already. It's big, nicely written, dedicated, and never too boring. I'd love to see something like it over here, but given the American mag industry's situation these days, I'm sure it'd never happen without extensive modifications.

TPCG is also notable for featuring the work of Lara Crigger and Kelly Wand, both of which used to contribute to Computer Games magazine. There was pretty extensive online talk that CGM and sister mag MMO Games (formerly MASSIVE) were going to relaunch in some way sooner or later, but sadly, the idea seems dead in the water now -- this month's issue of Games for Windows includes a notice (reproduced above) that old CGM subscribers will receive GFW for the outstanding remainder of their term. Having been both a CGM and MMO Games subscriber, my GFW subscription now extends into late 2009. Brilliant! It's sad to see CGM go permanently, but with all the main contributors to the mag having moved on to bigger and better things, the party was definitely over long before Ziff bought up the subscription list.

After that lengthy intro, let's move right into the US mags of the past two weeks. Click onward for more!

Games for Windows: The Official Magazine December 2007 (Podcast)

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Cover: Top 10 PC Games of 2008!

The cover story is nice enough, encompassing a collection of previews (some with dev quotes) and a look at some hyped-up games that missed their 2007 release target, but the highlight of this issue is undoubtedly "Beyond the Box," a collection of interviews with Gabe Newell and assorted product leads for every game in The Orange Box. Killer, killer reading material in there. There's a neat piece on modern interactive fiction, and Tom & Bruce is also funnier than usual, covering a World in Conflict map set in a modern, wintry suburban tableau.

A letter this month from "Will C." made me take note -- he's an old-timer who's a little miffed at how the magazine has changed:

"I would like [Computer Gaming World founder] Russell Sipe to start up a new PC gaming magazine. I remember who I used to be able to read CGW in public without being embarrassed... I know PC games always strived to become mainstream, but I always hoped we could set an example. Now it's just another example of pop culture appealing to the lowest common denominator. To sell. Make money."

GFW's response: "Someone from the Cretaceous Period called looking for you the other day. I think she said her name was Scorpia." Awww! I love letters like this -- CGW used to be packed with them, making it the most snippy, passive-aggressive letters section I've seen in any magazine.

Game Informer December 2007

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Cover: Ghostbusters

GI has been Vivendi's good friend many a time this year, and this hot-sclusive is only the latest bust-out the publisher's collaborated with the magazine about. The feature's quite nice, featuring a lot of nice screens that should be immediately familiar to anyone who's watched the movie. The text is the usual sort of "Here's what the developers showed us, how about that?!!" style, but Dan Aykroyd (who's co-writing the script) gets interviewed, which is brill.

The Connect news section goes on until page 72 this month, mainly thanks to a very large holiday buyer's guide, a bunch of news pieces, and a few Edge-like bits on game development (the art of Little Big Planet, a bit by the head of Spark Unlimited about the lack of talent nurturing in the game industry, and so on).

Edge December 2007

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Cover: The PS3 strikes back

The cover story is nothing devastating -- basically a look at the present and future of the PS3 as a game medium, built around an interview with SCE Europe director Ray Maguire. It's not even the lead story between the covers, either -- that's reserved for bits on Hironobu Sakaguchi discussing what he's attempting to do with Lost Odyssey, and a first look on The Path, a Belgian-born game retelling of Little Red Riding Hood that looks weird, Euro, and otherwise ludicrously unsellable. For review-score nerds, the big story is undoubtedly the 10 Edge gives The Orange Box, calling it "brilliant" and "almost overwhelming in its depth".

This issue debuts another new columnist: Randy Smith, EA LA game designer and a guy chiefly known for his work on the three Thief games. His beat is on the game design process, and he kicks off with a general piece on the status of design which is quite nice. Mister Biffo still has his column, which I'd normally whine about, but he's actually pretty interesting this time around, talking about British broadcaster ITV's leader Michael Grade and his opinion that video games exist in a "moral vacuum".

Edge comes with one supplement this month: a 36-page look at the Scandinavian game industry, including studio profiles, roundtable interviews, a piece on how the old demo scene led to the game scene of today, and even a handy guide on what to expect if you get a job in the Nordic lands.

Also worth noting: This issue of Edge has a full-page ad for whiskey in it. Damn! Is this the first time this has happened in game mags?

Electronic Gaming Monthly Holiday 2007 (Podcast)

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Cover: Games overload!

This issue of EGM is only 102 pages, leading me to wonder if the mag's sales department took a very early holiday break of their own while the editors toiled on. Game Informer's December issue is 172 pages; even OXM's holiday edition is 124, though admittedly with that damn 30-page cell-phone game supplement attached to it.

Still, I can't complain too much, given that EGM knows how to fill what pages it's allowed to print on. Their holiday buyer's guide is the only print-mag one I've seen so far that attempts to shake up the formula at all -- it divides its coverage into type of gamers (retro nuts, Halo 3 nuts) and offers four gift suggestions ranging from "best buddy" to "enemy". For the game who loves BioShock, you can give him a trip to Jules' Undersea Lodge... or you can give him a copy of Pipe Dream, the boring PC puzzler that one of BioShock's minigames was based on. That sort of thing. It's funny, and it also recognizes that nobody actually uses these guides anyway, so why not make it something worth reading?

The "Games Overload" coverline is the theme of the rest of the issue, including the reviews section and a preview feature covering 2007 games that wound up slipping into 2008. Manhunt 2 receives an average score of 5.33, even though Shoe defends it against the spineless ESRB in his editorial.

Official Xbox Magazine Holiday 2007 (Podcast)

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Cover: Rock Band

The Culdcept Saga demo this month is what I'm after, but I'm weird that way -- textwise, the highlight is the six-page Rock Band review, as well as a Halo 3 online survival guide (including a piece by old editor and Bungie writer Frank O'Connor that neatly wraps up the project in his eyes). Otherwise, curse that stupid cell-phone advertising supplement. Arrr.

Hardcore Gamer December 2007

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Cover: Super Mario Galaxy

HGM devotes eight pages to reviewing SMG this month, something both EGM and GI avoided -- EGM said it didn't make its way into the office in time for a review, but hey, maybe HGM's lower distribution gives it a quicker turnaround time, or something. Either way, it's a nice-looking piece that ends with a perfect score, of course.

[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.]



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