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Archive For December, 2007

Column: 'Save the Robot': Games & The Birth Of The Cool

December 18, 2007 8:00 AM |

guitar_hero_3.jpg [Save the Robot is a new, biweekly column from Chris Dahlen crafted specially for GameSetWatch, dealing with gaming as pop culture and cult media.]

Like a lot of music fans, it didn’t take me long to smell something fishy about the latest installment of the Guitar Hero empire. In Guitar Hero III, you’re still playing a cartoonish aspirant to the dream of rock ‘n roll stardom – except in this one, the scenario feels off.

In the first venue, you’re playing a party in someone’s backyard. If you rock hard enough to score an encore, you notice that the crowd is roaring, and then you look over the fence and you see – a cop car! Someone called the cops! Except they’re clapping too! You’re such a hit that even the police don’t have the heart to stop the show. The long-fought war between the pigs and the kids has finally ended.

This was the first in a series of wrong notes that left me with a clammy, phony feeling by the end of the career mode – so phony in fact, that by the time I went to hell and fought the devil in a guitar duel, I could only shrug. Yes, the game is knuckleheaded. But does anyone care?

I know I do. I love pop culture. I'm a committed, committable, always-strung-out culture junkie. Old media or new, comics, TV, books, film, and naturally, music – I need it all, constantly, and the stranger and fringier, the better. Name a film you just saw, and I’ll say the director’s older stuff was better. Tell me about a cult horror flick, and I’ll tell you the one you really need to see. And namedrop your favorite new record, and I’ll say, “Yeah – I liked that stuff better when Bowie/Reed/Eno was doing it.” Sure, I don’t always know what I’m talking about – but I sound like I do.

And that’s half the fun of pop culture: it feels exclusive, in an inclusive way. You get the thrill of catching onto something that millions of other people already knew about. It’s edgy, political and sexualized – but not in a creepy, Second Life-kinda way. It matures you and jades you. It teaches girls about boys and the other way 'round. Sometimes it just plain blows your mind.

Pop culture is "hip." And while games are great, hip is something they ain't.

GameSetLinks: Early Week Meanderings

December 18, 2007 12:01 AM | Simon Carless

- Aha, mopping up some other neat pieces of GameSetLink-age from around the Internet, there's a bunch of fun stuff in here - including a look at some Rogue-likes, as well as an interactive fiction competition from the TIGSource homies.

Also notable - some good pieces on women in the games biz and the state of machinima. Please to enjoy:

loonyblog: My top ten games of the year.
2K's Jason 'loonyboi' Bergman picks his top 2007 games - yes, including Space Giraffe!

Special Report: Crossing borders, part one - News at GameSpot
On tax credits for developers in Canada, the UK, Australia. (Via Clint Hocking)

The Brainy Gamer: In search of narrative, character, and empathy
'I'll revisit two landmark titles from two prior eras of gaming: A Mind Forever Voyaging (1985) and Planescape: Torment (1999).'

Raph’s Website » GDC Prime 2007: What We Are Missing
Secretish conference, interesting lecture.

selectbutton :: Shiren the Frotherer DS
'Shiren is a very deep, difficult and satisfying game, and there's never been anything quite like it on a console.'

The Independent Gaming Source: 'The Games of Gamma 256'
A more cogent explanation that I previously made on GSW.

Tales of the Rampant Coyote: Game Programmers Versus Game Designers
'It seems that the trick companies are using to help scale projects is put more burden on designers for creating the data, scripting solutions, and so forth'.

The Independent Gaming Source: Text the Halls: a TIGSource IF Competition
Derek and friends are bringing text adventures back back!

MTV Multiplayer » Women Working in Games
A set of excellent interviews with women in and around the game biz.

VIDEOLUDICA: 'Interview: Paul Marino at the European Machinima Film Festival 2007'
Marino knows machinima, so this is useful.

Nominations Open For 2008 Game Developers Choice Awards

December 17, 2007 4:01 PM | Simon Carless

- [It's awfully self-referential to post something that quotes, uhh, myself, but this is for a good cause. If you're a developer, go vote for your peers, like, now.]

Nominations are now being accepted for the 2008 Game Developers Choice Awards, the eighth annual presentation of the most prestigious honors in videogame development.

Awards in ten categories, including two categories new to the awards this year, for Best Downloadable Game and Best Handheld Game, will be given at a ceremony produced by CMP’s Game Developers Conference (GDC) and presented by Gamasutra.com and Game Developer Magazine, on Wednesday, February 20, 2008 at GDC.

The gala event, held in conjunction with the Independent Games Festival, will be hosted in the Esplanade Room in the South Hall of San Francisco’s Moscone Convention Center.

The nomination ballot and further details about the Choice Awards are now available online, with the categories this year including Best Audio, Best Game Design, Best Technology, Best Visual Arts, Best Writing, Best Debut Game, Best Downloadable Game, Best Handheld Game, Innovation, and Game of the Year.

“The Game Developers Choice Awards are built with the same care and editorial integrity as the Game Developers Conference itself, which means that we facilitate true and open peer based recognition of creative talent in games,” said Jamil Moledina, executive director of the Game Developers Conference. “Recently, games have become dramatically more integrated into pop culture given their diversity and portability, so this year the Choice Awards is evolving to include the well-deserving makers of the best downloadable and handheld games.”

“One of the guiding principles behind Gamasutra and Game Developer has always been to give a voice to the game development community,” said Simon Carless, publisher and editorial director of Gamasutra.com and Game Developer magazine. “We are very excited to be extending that role this year by providing developers the opportunity to nominate and vote for the best games of the year.”

To submit a nomination, please visit the official ballot page, or visit www.gamechoiceawards.com for details about the Game Developers Choice Awards. Voters must be game professionals who are registered (or register before voting) with a user account at Gamasutra.com.

The Top 5 Developers Of 2007

December 17, 2007 8:00 AM | Simon Carless

- [Also cross-posted from Gamasutra, where we'll be running these all week, and I've taken some time to pick those game developers who I feel really made a difference this year. 'Right'? There is no right. But you can think I'm wrong!]

Throughout this week and next, Gamasutra is presenting a year-end retrospective, discussing notable games, events, developers, and industry figures of 2007. This time, we give careful consideration to the game developers who have done the most to advance the art and science of gaming worldwide in 2007.

This chart may have some overlap with the 'best games' chart coming later this week, of course. But we're picking top developers for their attention to detail, grit, and willingness to push the envelope, not necessarily simply on the finished product's overall quality - though all of this year's Top 5 Developers have worked on spectacular titles.

The developers picked are the editor's choice, and for every one settled on, there are many others - from Infinity Ward through Insomniac to Nintendo EAD Tokyo and Naughty Dog - that we also greatly appreciate. Here's our line-up:

5. BioWare (Mass Effect)

While it may verge on the over-complex in some gameplay mechanics, BioWare's masterful Mass Effect feels like a genuine space opera. It has whirling emotions and a genuine story arc - so genuine, in fact, that you start to realize how basic the story in many other games is.

In addition, the character customization using Unreal Engine 3 made players even more acutely aware of their immersion in the action. And with fruits from Dragon Age to the 'mysterious' MMO still due under new taskmaster Electronic Arts, one can't help but think that the golden age of BioWare's story-driven epics has only just begun.

4. Bungie (Halo 3)

Some cynics might say that Bungie not being #1 on this list means that they've failed, given the stratospheric expectations for Halo 3. Well, hardly - the single-player game was still rapturously received. But where the newly independent developer scored, for me, was in the multiplayer immersiveness.

With social networks ravenously engulfing the rest of electronic media, the incredibly complex stat tracking and multimedia upload capabilities of Halo 3's online modes make for a world in which tracking and replaying your interactions mean as much as the gameplay itself. Games still have a long way to go on their path to social media, and Bungie blazed the trail in 2007, while quietly setting up as independent of Microsoft.

3. 2K Boston/Australia (BioShock)

Of course, the team we'd all love to call Irrational always knew that BioShock was a critical darling, but to break out to commercial success - and with such a relatively odd, highbrow setting - was a surprise to many.

But Ken Levine's team took their time and presented a carefully structured game world where morals mattered, dynamic and emergent gameplay was rife, and Daddies were Big. It may already be a 'franchise', but as an original piece of art, BioShock rocks, and 2K Boston should be proud of the iteration and perseverance in birthing it. [UPDATE: Jay Kyburz notes in comments over at Gamasutra that 2K Australia should also be honored for its role in co-developing the game. Agreed - now they are.]

2. Harmonix (Rock Band/Phase)

When a developer thrives after its signature franchise has been taken away from them - that's when you know they're destined for greatness. And Boston's Harmonix did just that with Rock Band, possibly the best multiplayer game of all time - while sneaking in officially overlooked iPod breakthrough title Phase along the way.

It's not just the pure technical execution, either. In the innards of Rock Band, you can feel the love of rock music screaming out to be heard from the developer, something that's widely agreed to be somewhat lacking in Neversoft's still competent Guitar Hero III. It's a game that makes you feel - and most often, that feeling is great. Bravo, Harmonix.

1. Valve Software (The Orange Box)

Sure, plenty of other developers shipped a great game this year. But, let's face it, how many of those developers shipped three great titles all in one year, while simultaneously owning and operating a major PC game distribution portal?

Thanks to the puzzle humor genius of Portal, the beautifully art-directed multiplayer smartness of Team Fortress 2, and the pitch-perfect storytelling and humanistic drama of Half-Life 2: Episode 2, all packaged up neatly in The Orange Box, Valve deserves Gamasutra's award for the 2007 Developer Of The Year. (Mind you, expect a Halley's Comet-style gap until they next release this many titles in 12 months!)

[Do you agree or disagree with these picks? Feel free to comment below. We'll pick the best reader comments on each list for our final retrospective, to debut on Gamasutra late this week. Already-posted lists include Top 5 Downloadable Games, Top 5 Most Affecting Characters, and Top 5 Overlooked Games, as well as Top 5 Trends.]

Column: 'Might Have Been' - Telenet Japan

December 17, 2007 12:01 AM |

[“Might Have Been” is a bi-weekly column by Todd Ciolek that explores the ways in which promising games, characters, concepts, and companies failed. This week’s edition looks at Telenet Japan, a developer and publisher in business from 1983 to 2007.]

Few Japanese game developers go out with a bang. For every studio-closing spectacle like Clover’s Okami, a dozen other companies sit idle, cranking out cell phone distractions and mahjong titles until their inevitable financial disintegration. That’s what happened to Telenet Japan this past October, when years and years of utter stagnancy finally brought down the company behind Valis (upper left), El Viento, Gaiares, Cosmic Fantasy and other not-quite-famous names of the 16-bit era.

There’s a lot to be said about Telenet, about the way they started off by making golf titles and trucking simulators in the mid-'80s, about the way they made hordes of games on Japanese computers, and about the way they spawned everything from largely forgotten developers like Glodia to Namco’s still-successful Tales series. But for those of us in the West, Telenet lived and died by the console games they made, and it’s those games that show a company perpetually just shy of something great.

Swords and Schoolgirls

Telenet was never deeply entrenched in the anime business, but they were among the first game companies to ride atop Japan’s animation industry in the bubble economy of the ‘80s. There's no better example of this than Telenet's Valis. At first a clumsy PC game released by the company's Wolf Team sub-developer in 1986, Valis took a blue-haired schoolgirl named Yuko, turned her into a bare-bellied warrior, and tossed her at a dimension of monsters in a doomed attempt to rescue her cynical friend Reiko (who may have served as commentary on the trend of Japanese schoolgirls whoring themselves out to older men for shoes and Malice Mizer ringtones).

Valis was aimed at the anime crowd from the start; the game was stocked full of vibrant animated story scenes, and Yuko herself was designed by animator Osamu Nabeshima with help from Tomokazu Tokoro (who’d later come into his own by directing such modern-day anime as Haibane Renmei, NieA_7, and Hellsing Ultimate). Strangely enough, Valis never became an anime series in its own right, even though many popular games of the early ‘90s did. The best it got was a commercial supposedly handled by future Evangelion director and self-hating anime artiste Hideaki Anno.

Today, it’s hard to tell why Valis was a hit. Yuko’s story now seems trite, and the gameplay was always generic action-platform fare nearly as stiff as old-school Castlevania. Yet Valis impressed in the ‘80s and into the following decade, largely on the strength of its cinematic scenes and alluring fantasy tropes, and it steadily grew to include three better sequels, along with a few remakes and spin-offs. Telenet shipped it to the Sega Genesis, the PC-Engine, the Super NES and even, in a best-forgotten form, the Famicom/NES. The whole thing reached its peak with Valis III (upper right), which introduced two other playable characters and a wealth of stages. Valis IV had a similar lineup, minus Yuko, but by then players were getting just a bit weary of yet another Valis game about a scantily clad girl facing yet another generic monster overlord.

GameSetLinks: General Patton Locks Things Up

December 16, 2007 4:01 PM | Simon Carless

- Still harvesting the fruits of a couple of hundred RSS feeds, and there's some pretty smart stuff hanging out there - from Patton Oswalt regretting his Spike Game Awards performance through Japanmanship on region locking.

Also hanging out there - Game Tunnel on casual games, and a new intriguing PC indie title from another former Game Developer programming columnist - Sean Barrett - another of these folks who have a brain the size of a planet (or at least a major asteroid!):

Japanmanship: The global gamer’s lot
On region locking and games.

Looky Touchy: Patton Oswalt on the Spike Game Awards: "Godawful"
'The worst thing about this show was the fact that I'm the cheap, money-grubbing asshole who agreed to do it.'

Completing Nostalgia | The New Gamer
'However, there's one aging console that features a plethora of titles that I love but never completed: the Dreamcast, the console that dragged me back into gaming!'

Grand Text Auto » Opening the Static Eye
A new static-based indie game from Sean Barrett.

2007 Casual Game of the Year by Game Tunnel
IGF finalist Snapshot Adventures is top, too.

GameDevBlog: Manager In A Strange Land: How Much Planning?
'From my anecdotal evidence, a month of planning without coding is the wrong amount. Did we need more or less?'

The Gaming Club: There is little reason to be pessimistic or cynical about the future of gaming. - By N'Gai Croal , Seth Schiesel, Chris Suellentrop, and Stephen Totilo - Slate Magazine
Intelligence, here.

Forgotten Lore » Blog Archive » Strategy Map
'If you want to design strategy games one tool in your box should be a solid grounding in military history.'

Rifftrax's Mike Nelson: 'My Prediction…? PAIN'
'The story is this: there’s a guy. You with me so far? And you shoot him out of a catapult, all right?' (Via PressTheButtons)

Confessions of an Aca/Fan: The Official Weblog of Henry Jenkins: The Future of Sandbox Games
'Are we going to get bigger worlds with shallower dynamics or smaller worlds with deeper dynamics?'

COLUMN: 'Game Mag Weaseling': PC Zone and Crazy Flight Sim People

December 16, 2007 8:01 AM |

pczone-9308.jpg   pczone-0801.jpg

A few quick notes before I sign off for Xmas and all that nonsense. First off, my review of Total PC Gaming last month (Issue 1 can now be found at most Barnes & Nobles, by the way) where I noted I haven't seen an issue of PC Zone in years attracted the attention of PC Zone's editors, who were nice enough to send a couple issues in the mail. (British PC game magazines seem to love this column for some reason. I can't complain.)

PC Zone was the first magazine in the UK devoted exclusively to games on x86 machines, debuting in April 1993 and going up against PC Format, a mag meant to cover the entirety of the home-PC marketplace but in practice mostly concentrated on games back then. Its most immediate predecessor was Zero, a multiplatform rag that was, in some ways, a spiritual successor to Your Sinclair -- all magazines known for having highly irreverent writing and building a diehard community of readers, although not necessarily being huge money-making successes (Zero died after three years). I own a few issues from PC Zone's first year that I bought off the newsstand back in the day, and in its early years, it was often a very silly magazine, with reviews taking very strange offroads and Duncan MacDonald's "Mr Cursor" column on the back page often descending into crazy nonsense.

Wikipedia tells me that the mag largely kept this tone going all through the 1990s, and indeed, even if I hadn't looked at the cover of these two latest issues, I'd be able to recognize the PC Zone influence in the pages. PC Zone is still irreverent, definitely -- regular columns include a Jackass-inspired bit where they try to break whatever game is on the demo DVD as much as possible and "Tat Zone," where they sell off the swag game companies send them on Ebay (for charity) and see how much it goes for. (A notepad with the Crysis logo on it sold for £27.07, causing PC Zone to comment that "you lot are moneyed beyond sense".)

It's not unusual for a game mag to try to be irreverent. What's unusual is the ability on editorial's part to consistently maintain this tone of irreverence across the entirety of the mag, from the cover to the reviews to the DVD coverdisc section to the little fineprint on the masthead. This is one of those few mags that I can turn to any page and any article -- even a review of some gaming mouse or another -- and rest assured that the text will be just as amusing as the big Gears of War review up front. It's a surprisingly rare accomplishment, in this age of every mag doing the exact same holiday shoppers' guides and the exact same preview features, and PC Zone really ought to be paid more attention for accomplishing it. (I can't help but think that dropping the cover DVD and lowering the £5.99 price would go a long way towards that goal.)

pcpilot-0712.jpg   cpilot-0712.jpg

In other news, PC Pilot has put out a winter special meant to introduce people to the world of flight simulation. You should be able to find it at B&N and elsewhere right now.

It might surprise some people to hear that there's not one, but two internationally distributed mags devoted exclusively to flight sims -- the bimonthly PC Pilot out of Britain, and the monthly Computer Pilot out of Australia. Both mags have been around for a while (Computer Pilot launched in 1996 and is celebrating its 100th issue next month), and both even have their individual niches that they cover. PC Pilot is the more "serious" mag of the two, concentrating on reviews of new planes, scenery packs and hardware, while CP is more about the "experience," featuring extensive reports of flights across this or that stretch of terrain and even including what I can only describe as flight-sim fanfiction -- the past three issues have chronicled the story of Dr. Betzy Wong, flight sim therapist, as she helps a hopelessly neurotic man come to terms with his family and improve his ATC and landing-approach skills. I'm not making this up.

Whenever I develop a curious interest in something, I tend to wind up picking up a magazine or two about the topic, even if I have no intention of seriously pursuing the subject. This is how I've found myself with subscriptions to everything from Make to Armchair General (which, by the way, seems to survive mostly off video-game advertising -- funny, eh?), and it's given me no lack of odd things to read about before falling asleep at night. If you've ever thought "My god, how can they fill up an entire magazine about flight sim crap?", why not pick up this month's PC Pilot and find out? At the very least, you'll satisfy your curiosity.

[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.]

2008 Experimental Gameplay Workshop Calls For Submissions

December 16, 2007 12:00 AM | Simon Carless

- Aha, got a note from Braid creator (and former Game Developer columnist!) Jon Blow about his awesomely important Game Developers Conference 2008 workshop: "We've just put up the new Call for Participation for the Experimental Gameplay Workshop 2008."

As he explains: "The Experimental Gameplay Sessions are a concentrated mini-conference that happens yearly at the GDC. In a series of short, high-density presentations, designers show their new work to an audience of peers. Designers working on strange new game designs can read more about the event, and submit their work for consideration, via the web site. The deadline for submissions is January 15, 2008."

The success stories page explains why this session has been so important to game development and GDC over the past few years. For one, Keita Takahashi showed Katamari Damacy there even before its U.S. release, and Rag Doll Kung Fu, Eye Toy AntiGrav and Darwinia were all shown or partly inspired by the Sessions/Workshop.

Oh, and in 2006 there was Braid, fl0w, and Everyday Shooter, of course, and then the not written-up 2007 Sessions had Portal and Crush. Three words needed: standing room only. So you nice indie folks, show him the goods.

GameSetNetwork: Devil May Planet, Eh?

December 15, 2007 4:02 PM | Simon Carless

- While GSW has been messing around launching T-shirt lines and posting about chiptune festivals, our big sister game business site Gamasutra has been posting all kinds of allegedly interesting content.

So, rounding up the original Gamasutra features posted this week first, from the genesis of Media Molecule to chatting to Capcom's Devil May Cry 4 producer, and following up with some of the highlights from the other major original stories we posted, there's this:

- Book Excerpt: Inside Game Design: Media Molecule
"In this exclusive book excerpt, LittleBigPlanet developers Media Molecule discuss the formation of the company, the development advantages of a small team, and the fascinating evolution of game concepts from Rag Doll Kung Fu to LittleBigPlanet."

- Rare's Viva Pinata: Giving The World Buzzlegums And Fudgehogs
"In this fascinating illustration-filled article, developer Rare explains the visual and design genesis of the Viva Pinata game franchise, from the original design document through concept sketches, mobile, PDA, and Xbox iterations to the finished Xbox 360 game."

- The Devil Laughs: A Chat With Capcom Producer Hiroyuki Kobayashi
"One of Capcom's key 2008 franchise releases will be the much-awaited Devil May Cry 4, now confirmed for both PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 - and Gamasutra talked in-depth to its producer Hiroyuki Kobayashi about multi-platform game engines, creating game worlds, and player feedback."

- Analyze This: Divining The Next Guitar Hero-Style Phenomenon
"Following the success of Guitar Hero and Rock Band, the music game genre has become a genuine phenomenon. But what previously niche genre is next? Gamasutra asks analysts from The simExchange, Creative Strategies, and Strategy Analytics..."

- Piggybacking: Gaming Across the Generation Gap
"Veteran developer Scott Nixon (SpongeBob SquarePants: Employee Of The Month), who has created kid-friendly games for over 10 years, presents a detailed, intriguing piece on the concept of 'piggybacking' - making games that 'simultaneously entertain both a child player and an adult spectator... on wholly different levels'."

Finally, here's the full rundown of the other original Gamasutra news from the week, spanning Q&As, analysis, event reports, and more: MIGS: Realtime Worlds' Wilson Talks Tense Times For Crackdown... Q&A: Tecmo's Kikuchi On Taking Rygar To Wii... GamerMetrics: Halo 'Cannibalized' Stranglehold, Xbox 360 Software Sales... Q&A: Bungie's Cotton On Forging Balance In Halo 3 DLC... Microsoft's Satchell Talks XNA 2.0, Opening Community Development... Q&A: Aspyr's Adams On Mac's Gaming Challenges... IGC: Epic's Lawyer Counsels On IP Protection... GDC 2008 Reveals EA, Spielberg's Boom Blox, Fable 2 Features... MIGS Panel Asks 'Is The Wii Really Broadening The Market?'... Q&A: Marvelous' Hashimoto Talks The 2D Renaissance... and finally, MIGS: Media Sunshine's Chandler Talks Localization From The Inside Out.

COLUMN: @Play: A Quick Look at the Nethack Sources

December 15, 2007 8:01 AM |

Roguelike column thumbnail ['@ Play' is a bi-weekly column by John Harris which discusses the history, present and future of the Roguelike dungeon exploring genre.]

There are the roguelike games that have closed source, which for the longest time included Rogue, and still includes ADOM and just about every commercial game out there. And then there are the roguelikes that are open source.

And of them all, there is one game that is particularly identified with open source. Of course, it's Nethack, which was effectively open long before it became fashionable. The game is old enough that its license, the "Nethack Public License," takes GNU Bison's as its model, not the GPL. In point of fact, Eric S. Raymond himself has contributed documentation to the game, and he mentioned it in his famous essay . It and the other open source roguelikes (Angband and Dungeon Crawl among them) offer the best hope that open source game development can work.

Development is one thing. Design is something else entirely. The model of many random people contributing patches often turns into a classic case of too many cooks. It takes a strong vision to avoid the game turning into an unplayable muddle, because it's so easy to wreck it by adding misfeatures. Computer games not only require strong software design but something else besides, and roguelikes rely on ideas that most other games abandoned long ago, that some surprising people will swear have no place in gaming. Last month David Sirlin, who possesses an excellent understanding of fighting game mechanics, made a series of blanket statements about game saving, using Dead Rising as his example, that would absolutely destroy roguelikes if applied to them. For some reason few commercial developers outside of Japan seem to get how roguelikes are supposed to work; even Blizzard's popular quasi-roguelike Diablo games didn't add permadeath until the second game, and went out of their way to say it was intended for "hardcore" players. Anyway, it succeed largely for reasons unrelated to being like rogue(6).

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