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May 17, 2008

GameSetLinks: The Tao Of The Rochdale Balrog

- Ambling into the GameSetWeekend, we're proud to debut some new GameSetLinks - starting off with some more discussions from the makers of 'Grand Theft Childhood' on the new instalment in the series - at least from a theoretical standpoint!

Elsewhere in this particular parcel of joy - Gnome's Lair talks to a gloriously homebrew adventure game veteran, Boing Boing Gadgets busts out a neat exergaming history, and we learn something useful from Nordic Game, fermentation-wise.

Ready, set, gone:

Grand Theft Childhood Author Weighs in on GTA IV — Open Education
'This is strikingly similar to the concerns over and editorials against comic books, radio, gangster films and—back in the late 19th century—the evil influence of paperback novels on teenage girls.'

the random Gnomes' random Lair: 'a few gnomish questions / The Balrog of Zenobi'
'Zenobi Software, the Rochdale Balrog, the Cat and the Cockroach were responsible for over two hundred excellent -nay, classic- ZX Spectrum text-adventures' - interview ensues, the Zenobi site also worth checking for awesome British text adventure oddness!

GameTap : [Playlist of the Week] - Randy Pitchford
Gearbox's Pitchfork (haha!) digs uber-cult Mechner title The Last Express, intriguingly.

Don't fear the Mutant photoblogs Ste Curran at Nordic Game
...featuring an important equation!

auntie pixelante › change ain’t cheap
Dessgeega and Guildhall@SMU part ways, due to design differences - some interesting discussions in the comments about 'grinding' on traditional games vs. alternatives.

From Atari Joyboard to Wii Fit: 25 years of "exergaming" - Boing Boing Gadgets
Nice - quite similar (but more web-specific!) to Noah Falstein's recent Games For Health Conf lecture! Via der Waxometer!

Space Invaders 360 @ZKM Besucherfest [Update] | toblux blog a.k.a. toblog
Neat art alert: 'Space Invaders 360 is a tribute to the ’70s and ’80s where a good video game didn’t need a 3D-Shader or a 256bit rendering-pipeline to spend hours of joy and fun.'

Last Exit Magazine « Love in Game-space
Aw, Animal Crossing - via The-Inbetween.

Origin Systems - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Didn't know that Britt Daniel (lead singer of Spoon) used to work as a composer for Origin - wacky.

Twitter / N'Gai Croal: 14:59 Watch: Recognized by ...
Journalist or... celebrajournalist? Ascending into Keighley-space!

Quiz Me Quik: 'NeoDS - 100 Meg (Portable) Shock!'

NeoDS1.jpg['Quiz Me Quik' is a new weekly GameSetWatch column by journalist Alistair Wallis, in which he picks offbeat subjects in the game business and interviews them about their business, their perspective, and their unique view of life. This time, an examination of Nintendo's portable system running a much more heavyweight vintage console.]

There’s kind of a weird mythical nature to the Neo Geo – in my mind, at the very least. I think it applies to other people, though, simply because of the price associated with the console throughout its lifetime: US$649 at launch, with games going for $200 or more.

And as time has gone on, it hasn’t got much better. Games for the system – rare ones, that is – have a tendency to go for over $1,000 on eBay. I’ve always thought of it as a highly regarded system, though it’s obviously one that was never hugely successful in a commercial sense.

I’ve only played one – only even seen one – in the wild once, and that was at an import store on Melbourne’s notoriously expensive Toorak Rd. I can’t remember what I played, as I think I was about 12 at the time. I know it had grenades in it, but that really doesn’t narrow it down for the Neo Geo, does it?

I do remember the controller, though; that thing was super sturdy, and really a joy to use. And I think that I knew from reading GamePro that it was a far more powerful machine than what I was used to (although given I was used to a 286 at the time, that’s not saying much).

And now Neo Geo games are playable on DS, with Ben Ingram’s NeoDS emulator, which has just been released, and is currently at version 0.1.0. It's funny how quickly technology moves. I've just replayed Monkey Island 2 on my mobile, for example. That game wouldn't even run on my 286 growing up.

Naturally, there’s a few bugs with it right now, but that makes for some interesting discussion – how many people really know about the processes involved in writing emulation software, and how to deal with strange issues? There’s no better time, then, to actually talk with Ben and ask about the emulator as he works to iron out the bugs and implement new features.

GSW: What made you think, initially, that the DS would be powerful enough to support a Neo Geo emulator?

Ben Ingram: I didn't know if it would work initially, but looking at the Neo Geo specs, it seemed like if I can stream data fast enough, everything else would be doable. So I gave it a shot.

GSW: What made you want to play Neo Geo games on the DS?

BI: I have always gotten a kick out of emulators running on embedded systems. I'm not the world's biggest Neo Geo fan, but I do have fond memories of playing Metal Slug at the local arcade. And it hadn't been done yet, so the opening was there.

GSW: How did you start with the emulation? I'm curious about the order that you use when writing an emulator - what's the first thing you do?

BI: First I got the cyclone CPU core compiling with devkitPro, and hooked up a very simple disassembler, where I could step through and watch the CPU execute instructions. I wrote some initial memory handlers in C, and a quick and dirty ROM converter in C#, and loaded up the Neo Geo bios.

Once I had verified that [68K interpreter] Cyclone was in fact executing the bios instructions properly, I added a very slow and limited software renderer, and then kept adding memory handlers and fixing bugs until the bios logo appeared.

At this point, I started adding all the graphics caching code, audio code, and optimizations. And here we are.

GSW: Did you work on the emulator alone for the whole development?

BI: Yes, although I use Cyclone for M68k emulation, and DrZ80 for Z80 emulation, which are written by finaldave and Reesy respectively.

GSW: What were the first games you managed to get working?

BI: Metal Slug 2 was the first game I loaded – and which is ironically broken in the first release. Samurai Showdown 2, Metal Slug 1, and Last Blade 2 were some of the next. Basically, games that I like.

GSW: How do you go about fixing issues?

BI: I haven't had much luck getting NeoDS running in any DS emulators, so I've done all development on the real hardware. There are lots and lots of ASSERTs in the code, and there is also a debug log that is disabled in the release version. This is a crude way to debug, but it's worked so far. Starting with working CPU cores has also helped a lot.

NeoDS1.jpgI learned to program on TI calculators that didn't have any debugging available, so working without a debugger has some amount of twisted nostalgia for me.

GSW: Were there any really unexpected game-specific issues that cropped up?

BI: A few games have audio drivers that are very picky about the timing between the two CPUs. The Shock Troopers games both are like this. I'm sure there are others as well.

The Neo Geo video hardware has a few quirks that don't make much sense to me, but that some games take advantage of. Luckily there is plenty of reference source code for Neo Geo video.

Overall though, the NeoGeo is a remarkably straight forward system.

GSW: What's stopping you from emulating FM sound effectively at the moment?

BI: FM sound is complicated and expensive to emulate. It's also not used extensively by many NeoGeo games. My feeling is it can probably be squeezed onto the arm7 core, next to the Z80 interpreter. But I think the Z80 core will need to be optimized some for this to work. I know that [Mega Drive/ Genesis emulator] jEnesisDS emulates 6 FM channels on the ARM7, but it runs the Z80 on the ARM9. The Neo Geo only has 4 FM channels, but it will definitely be tight.

GSW: And what's the problem with raster effects?

BI: The Neo Geo graphics hardware is different than most other 2D console hardware. It doesn't have dedicated 2D tile layers. Instead, it can render lots of strips of 16x16 sprites. NeoDS renders each sprite as a textured quad with the DS 3D hardware. To make raster effects work, the screen needs to be draw in sections as the hardware triggers hblank interrupts.

NeoDS could do this in theory, but the DS can only handle around 1500 quads per frame. Most games that use raster effects change per scanline, and this would create too many quads for the DS to handle.

So in order to get raster effects, I think a different approach must be used. The DS can render far less 2d sprites than the NeoGeo, but DS sprites could be swapped by a hblank handler. If you can load in enough new sprites on each scanline, you would be able to render as many sprites as needed, and get raster effects as well. DS sprites can only address half the VRAM of quads though, which would cause games to thrash the file system even more. It might even be possible to detect large clumps of NeoGeo sprites and map them onto DS background layers.

All of this is likely to be slower than textured quads though, and most NeoGeo games run fine the way it is now. You'd also lose the nice screen scaling by going with the 2d hardware. So this is not something that's likely to change anytime soon.

GSW: What are the timings that are causing problems at the moment?

BI: There's the audio issue that I've already mentioned. Some games may be having trouble because hblank interrupts aren't really implemented at the moment. And a few games don't work and I don't know why, so I can only assume that there are a few issues left that I haven't figured out.

GSW: Have you learnt anything interesting about the DS during the time working on the emulator? Is it more or less powerful and flexible than expected?

BI: Memory latency is very important on the DS - and most other platforms it seems. I've learned ARM assembly, but that's not really DS specific. There's a lot of neat stuff the DS 3D hardware can do, but NeoDS doesn't make use of most of it.

GSW: How possible is your goal to include wi-fi multiplayer in future builds? Have you had any luck at all with testing this outside of the released version?

BI: I think the only way to do multiplayer is to swap key presses, and syncronize both systems every frame. I don't know much about the DS wireless latency, and I certainly haven't tried anything yet, so I'm not sure how slow this would be. Also, I'd have to squeeze the wireless driver onto the arm7, next to the z80 core, and maybe the FM emulator. Not going to be easy. But - almost? - all Neo Geo games support two players, so I think it's worth trying at some point.

GSW: How does the conversion software work, and why is it necessary?

BI: Neo Geo ROMs are traditionally zip compressed. NeoDS needs to stream data from the flash card in real time, so decompression is not feasible. So the first reason for conversion is to remove the zip compression, and pack everything in the zip file together into a single file.

Many Neo Geo games are also encrypted and scrambled, and it's better to deal with this on the PC rather than the DS. The converter itself is basically a stripped down version of the MAME ROM loading code. It loads the ROM into memory just like MAME, but then writes the converted data into a file. This is why only MAME compatible ROMs are supported.

GSW: How many downloads would you estimate there have been so far? Do you think there are people that will be buying flash carts just for this?

BI: I really have no way to track this, but the response has been great so far. There are far too many forum posts for me to keep track of. My feeling is that most people who are excited by NeoDS are already fans of portable emulation, so they probably already have flash cards. If anyone wants to prove me wrong, feel free!

GSW: Are you involved in other areas of DS homebrew at all? How healthy do you think the scene is?

BI: My only other public release besides NeoDS is gb68k, which is a Game Boy emulator for TI graphing calculators. I'm certainly interested in other types of homebrew, and have several partially finished games for a variety of platforms. Emulators are easier for me to finish than games it seems.

From what I can tell, the DS homebrew scene itself is pretty strong. There are cool apps like Colors and PocketPhysics, being actively developed, along with other nice emulators like jEnesisDS. QuakeDS 1 and 2 are also really cool.

The DS is a really fun platform to work with. I still think it has a lot of unrealized potential.

GSW: How do people in the scene interact with you because of NeoDS - do you find that you've become a kind of trouble-shooter for some people?

BI: It's actually been pretty nice. Most forums where people are discussing NeoDS seems to have plenty of people who have figured it out, and are willing to help others. The same goes for the Google group I set up. I haven't felt too overwhelmed with questions.

GSW: And what kinds of feedback are you getting from those people?

BI: There has been a lot of feedback - more than I was expecting - and it has been really positive. Obviously there are things that don't work, and things that don't work particularly well, but even when reporting problems, people seem to be very polite. It's certainly made things nicer for me.

Best Of Indie Games: Evolutionary Games

[Every week, IndieGames.com: The Weblog editor Tim W. will be summing up some of the top free-to-download and commercial indie games from the last seven days, as well as any notable features on his sister 'state of indie' weblog.]

This week on 'Best Of Indie Games', we take a look at some of the top titles released earlier this week - including new games from two IGF finalists, a puzzler, an arena shooter, an action game and a little something from the developer of Passage.

Game Pick: 'Evolution Shmup' (Kloonigames, browser)
"A new experimental project by the developer of IGF finalist Crayon Physics Deluxe, in which players are invited to participate in creating the perfect shooter, by tracking the amount of time that a player spends on each random iteration of a new game. Every refresh creates a different result, using elements from versions of Evolution Shmup which players have spent the most time on."

Game Pick: 'Debrysis' (OUEO factory, freeware)
"An arena shooter with fancy graphics, destructive weapons, power-ups and lots of explosions. Comes with an online high score table. This freeware title uses a combination of both keyboard and mouse for its Geometry Wars-style controls."

Game Pick: 'Kryzta' (cactus, freeware)
"A new action game from IGF finalist cactus (Clean Asia!), created in under six hours. In Kryzta, players have to direct shots from enemies toward each other to damage them, thus generating small units to collect for points."

Game Pick: 'Putty Puzzle' (Kevin Glass, browser)
"A charming puzzler with brightly-colored blobs of putty to play around with... the objective of Putty Puzzle is to shift the correct coloured blocks and rest them on marked areas in each screen, achieved by breaking up and merging blobs of putty piece by piece."

Game Pick: 'Crazy Bound 2' (CraftM, freeware)
"An action game in the style of Nifflas' Within a Deep Forest, in which players have to guide a bouncing object past obstacles and dangers placed haphazardly in the underground caverns."

Game Pick: 'Police Brutality' (Jason Rohrer, freeware)
"Jason Rohrer's new game, created for his monthly Escapist column - the Game Design Sketchbook. In the words of Passage creator Rohrer: 'Police Brutality is a game about fear, collective motivation, ad hoc organizing, self-sacrifice, and non-violence. First and foremost, though, it's a game about shouting.'"

May 16, 2008

COLUMN: @Play: Roguelikes And OD&D

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

As you may have figured out by now, roguelikes are one of my favorite types of computer games. It's not that I hate other kinds of games, or even other RPGs. But roguelikes, good ones at least, provide essential gaming nutrients unavailable nearly anywhere else. They're games of skill instead of patience, which is rare for CRPGs. They are difficult but, once one knows how to play, often fair. And they and are set in a world of wonder and amazement balanced by great danger.

The possibilities there seem endless. You could play Rogue a hundred times and not experience two games that are similar to each other. You could play Nethack or ADOM for years and still encounter a new aspect of the game from time to time. Dungeon Crawl is more than just a game: it is dozens of games, each class and race playing surprisingly differently from the others. Just being a roguelike doesn't make a game good, of course, but the best are among the greatest games ever made.

I believe that, someday, eventually, the tide will turn in the public perception of roguelike games, or at least the core ideas that drive them. This is not due to any magical quality bestowed by turn-based movement or grid-based game worlds, which are a superficial determination of roguelikeness but doesn't get to what makes them interesting. No, one plays a roguelike to explore an unknown world, relying on uncertain resources, figuring the rules out along the way, and learning the underlying logic of the game. And of course, when people start talking about procedural content generation, they are unknowingly calling upon the ancient monster-deities of the Dungeons of Doom.

But these ideas did not originate with roguelikes. It must be remembered that approximately half of what makes roguelikes interesting as computer games was invented years before, in a pen-and-paper game created back when teletype machines roamed the earth.

That roguelike feeling

The soul of the roguelike, as I've mentioned before, was born in Dungeons & Dragons. But not a version one could recognize from reading any of the recent editions, 4e, 3.5 or 3rd. Neither can they be seen in 2nd edition AD&D, which is largely where it was abandoned. But it didn't originate from 1st edition either, or the "classic" books edited by Holmes, Moldvay or Cook. To find their source, whence sprung the ideas in their purest form, one must go back to Original Dungeons & Dragons, a game that the Internets are now calling "OD&D."

It is a style of game that, in the aftermath of the death of Gary Gygax but before then too, has become reexamined in recent months on sites throughout the internet. Tried, and found to be awesome.

Given that many of its players are still alive, it is somewhat shocking just how much about it must be rediscovered. It is sometimes forgotten that that game, originally, had a strong, explicit setting, one that will seem familiar to any roguelike player. The word "Dungeon" in the title of the game refers to what is now termed a megadungeon. It is not just the place where the orcs terrorizing town are hiding out, or where the drow base their assaults on the surface world, or where the mind flayers sit and brood.

It is where all these things happen, but is much more than any of those things. It is a huge space, stretching far down into the earth, its depths unplumbed, its age and origin beyond mortal knowledge. It is an archetypal setting, a meta-place.

odd1.jpg It is a world, as in underworld, to itself. While it makes more internal sense than those thrown-together roguelike worlds, still, its reasons for being are not really logical ones. Why does that dragon guard the pile of gold? Where do all these coins and magic items come from?

Why was all the bad magic stuff made; did anyone really think a sword -1, cursed would be useful enough to craft? The game provided answers, of a sort, to these questions. Respectively: dragons like treasure; deceased adventurers; and they were made by insane, prankster wizards.

Seriously, prankster wizards.

With respect to the memory of Gary Gygax, these are not good reasons. For D&D's origins, they didn't have to be. This is because Dungeons & Dragons grew out of an earlier game Gygax worked on called Chainmail, a form of miniatures wargame concerning itself with medieval combat. Now, wargames are not quite games in the same sense as Monopoly or Bridge. The ethic here is, paradoxically, not to win at all costs. It is to enact pretend battles, and bring to them enough statistical rigor so that the participants can see the outcome as definitive.

The goal of a wargame is to play the game itself, and see which side should win. The fun is had in the playing and fighting more than success, and certainly not to gain power and see one's self as some variation on the theme of badass. There are enough things that can instantly kill any old-school D&D character, regardless of level, that the term "healthy paranoia" takes on a special aptness. Characters die often, but are quick to roll up and largely interchangable, which is good, because the more work you put into making one the worse you'll feel when he kicks the bucket. Need I even remind you of the similarities here to a certain familiar type of computer game?

One might take this, also, to explain why roguelikes don't have stories to speak of. OD&D characters usually adventured without a motivation more complex than amassing treasure.
But this isn't really true of either game; narrative, after all, is inescapable. The things that happen to the character may be random strings of events, without reason, but human beings tend to perceive these strings as narrative.

"Storytelling" in roguelikes

Important events that make the game easier or harder get remembered and the rest of the game is viewed in their light. Finding a two-handed sword makes all monsters easier to kill. Finding a ring of slow digestion means hunger becomes much less of a problem, while wearing a ring of regeneration makes death from wounds less dangerous but starvation much more likely. A character might find an amulet vs. poison, then ironically die to poison despite it. It might be coincidence that strings these things together, but if there's enough random stuff going on, coincidences tend to happen.

The result of these things is that it's typically much more interesting to hear either an OD&D or a roguelike player talk about a favorite adventure than a player of more recent D&D, or those of modern CRPGs. The stories that fantasy writers come up with do not usually compare with the experiences of a sufficiently deep roguelike. There can be no goth-posing in a world where the monsters have so much over the players. No one is trying to tell a story during an OD&D game, and thus, the stories that do come have no affectation.

Don't believe me? Don't take my word for it. Check out the Shiren threads at NeoGAF and Gamespite. Dip into the archives of rec.games.roguelike.nethack and rec.games.roguelike.adom, searching those groups for the term "YASD". People have more fun dying in roguelike games than most folk have winning "traditional" CRPGs.

This is the same reason people obsess over The Sims, really. Human minds search for patterns in series of random events, recognizing them as narratives, and in attempting to explain them subconsciously attribute thought processes to the actors. This is the root of superstition, some would say of religion too, and it's why roguelikes don't lack for stories. What they lack are pre-written stories.

[Image from The Acaeum.]

Platinum's Madworld, Infinite Line, Bayonetta: The Transcript

- [GSW's Brandon Sheffield was at the PlatinumGames/Sega kickoff bash the other day, and so he was kind enough to grab an entire audio recording of the presentation. We have interviews with all the primary players coming up - but in the meantime, thanks to Matt 'Fort90' Hawkins' transcription power, here's what everyone said - Kamiya's comments are particularly interesting.]

As we've just reported, Sega has officially announced a four-game deal with PlatinumGames, the group made up of former Capcom alum behind Okami, Devil May Cry, and God Hand.

The line-up will include ultraviolent Wii title Madworld, DS space exploration RPG Infinite Line, next-gen action title Bayonetta, and one unannounced title in the works from Resident Evil and God Hand creator Shinji Mikami.

Gamasutra attended the Sega/PlatinumGames showcase in San Francisco, and, following our earlier more brief report, we now bring you the full transcript of the presentation from Sega U.S. president Simon Jeffery, Platinum CEO Tatsuya Minami, producer Atsushi Inaba, and the creators of each of the three showcased titles:

Simon Jeffery - The Sega Angle

Simon Jeffery: These guys are some of the most talented, some of the most respected guys in the entire gaming business. Their portfolio is incredible, they're revered, they're almost worshipped in some parts of the game community. We're truly honored to have been working with them.

Let me talk a little bit about where Sega is right now. The last three years or so of Sega has spent an enormous effort revitalizing its business -- changing its strategies, completely embracing the life as a multi-platform publisher instead of a hardware company.

In 2004, in North America, we were barely struggling to be a top twenty publisher. This year, we're third and number six, pretty much every month, and its going to get better and better. We think one of the best years, maybe THE best year of our entire history lies ahead of us.

We've got games for kids and families, we've got a completely reinvented Sonic. We've got movie licenses that are really strong -- a huge hit with Iron Man, thank you Marvel, and, also, we've got hardcore games, games with a core audience. We have a really diverse, balanced portfolio.

On the Wii, and the DS, we are the leading non-first party publisher. We've sold globally over five million units of Mario and Sonic. We truly believe that the Wii is far more than just a causal game platform that everyone is talking about. The Wii has more than that. There's millions and millions of Wiis, its the most in-demand hardware system out there. So we have titles that will turn the Wii gaming world on its head.

I want to pass things over now to what you're all really here for, so I want to hand you over, introduce you to, the man, the president, and CEO of Platinum Games, Minami-san.

Tatsuya Minami - The Company

Tatsuya Minami: Hello everyone, I am Tatsuya Minami from Platinum Games. I am very happy and excited to be able to announce this partnership here today, for the very first time. My company has not been around very long, but we have a mission to create unique and very special kinds of games. We would like our games to create happiness and joy and excitement to people and gamers across the globe.

A lot of people have said, that the development companies in Japan, how do they [indiscernible], but we are different. We would like people of the world, once again, to play high quality, Japanese games.

To realize this dream, we have been looking for a good partner. That's when we met Sega. Sega had the courage to allow us to make these unique and exciting titles. Sega has a very well-known worldwide brand. Also important is that their headquarters are located in Tokyo, and they have branch offices throughout the world. As a Japanese developer, that has allowed us a high level of communication with our partner. We feel that Sega is the perfect partner for us.

Today we will be talking about three different titles. Each of these titles have different styles and uses different hardware. Each one is unique. There is a fourth title, that we cannot announce just yet. The director on this title is Shinji Mikami. And while we can't speak about it today, we hope that we can share it with you in the near future.

With Sega as our partner, we hope that we can bring all our original, unique titles to the Western market, in particular America. So here we'd actually like to show you the titles, but before the presentation, we'd like to call Atsushi Inaba to the stage.

- Atsushi Inaba - The Producer

Atsushi Inaba: My name is Atsushi Inaba and I am excited to be here, and to be working with Sega. We've kind of been in hiding for a while, so we hope no one has been too worried about us. But we've been working diligently on games. We can actually show you three of those games we've been working on.

These are all exciting, very unique types of games that we feel represent our true loves. Today we've actually brought three of the directors with us, and they will be explaining in detail the projects.

While two of developers are Platinum employees, one of them is from a different company called Nude Maker. The person from Nude Maker actually worked with me on Steel Battalion -- I was the producer and he was the director. And just as in that case, we will be working with external developers on many titles, looking forward.

Now I would like to call up the game director, Hideki Kamiya. To be honest, I did not want to bring him with me. But he insisted. So ladies and gentlemen, Hideki Kamiya.

Hideki Kamiya - Bayonetta

Hideki Kamiya: Hi. I am Hideki Kamiya. I am here to introduce to you to my latest creation, a return to the action genre. Seven years ago, I created Devil May Cry. Many of you have said it kick-started the action genre into 3D.

But did it really? Have action games really progressed past what we accomplished seven years ago? I don't believe they have. We as creators have squandered an opportunity to make things better, smoother, more intense, more engaging.

That is why I have come back to 3D action. It is time to make good on promises of seven years ago. And I think we are the only team who can do it. The era of style and action is over. Today, we take action to its climax. Ladies and gentlemen, Bayonetta.

Bayonetta is actually the name of the main character, and she is a witch that has been reborn into modern times. Using her powers and abilities, she does battles with angels of the world. The battle between angels and witches is what sets the tension of this world.

As you saw clips of it in the trailer, not only does she kick and punch and have two guns in her hands, she actually has guns on her feet. While it would take some training, any human could probably put guns on their hands and feet and fight, but since she is a witch, its given her more abilities.

Unfortunately, we cannot talk about those abilities today. The development is going along very smoothly, so we should be able to show more in the near future. We hope that your imaginations runs wild with the possibilities. Thank you very much!

Hifumi Kouno - Infinite Line

Hifumi Kouno: Hello everyone, I am the director and game designer over at Nude Maker, Hifumi Kouno. And while our company is called Nude Maker, I decided to come clothed today. The title I would like to speak to you about is Infinite Line [top picture], a title that is heavily influenced by Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End. This is a science fiction RPG. Players will become captain of their own ship and travel the cosmos, just like Captain Kirk of Star Trek.

There are two key concepts in this title. The first concept is a highly customizable spaceship. We have very intelligent mecha designers working on the designs of these spaceships, we have prepared over 150 differently designed models.

The innards of these spaceships are build modularly, so you can place the bridge, the engineering room, and the control room as you see fit. We wanted to create a large and expansive world. Players can play a deep and engaging story that takes place across two entire galaxies. In playing through the story, across vast space, the player will discover what it means to be human in this vast emptiness.

And while the DS is a very small machine, we have managed to fit a vast and expansive world into this very small machine. Unfortunately we are only able to show you these placeholder images. Actually, back home in our studio, we have prepared graphics that will blow you away, you will never believe we can get these on the DS.

Inaba: Now let me introduce the director of Madworld [second picture], Shigenori Nishikawa. Nishikawa has worked on Dino Crisis 2, the Resident Evil remake, and Resident Evil 4. Sorry, I forgot Dino Crisis 3. I think he'd like to forget that one, too.

Shigenori Nishikawa - Madworld

Shigenori Nishikawa: I wish I could forget Dino Crisis 3. Hello everyone, I'm Shigenori Nishikawa, and I'm the director of Madworld. Madworld is made of two key concepts. The first key concept within Madworld is the stark, black and white graphics. This is to further emphasize the violence, as presented by the stark red blood.

And the other key concept that we didn't want to create a game that was depraved or perverse, but rather, feature comical, over the top violence so that anyone would enjoy it. [laughs]

Madworld, even as a producer, is a new challenge for me. As was mentioned earlier, we didn't want to produce a dark and perverse game, but one that was over-the-top and comical. We felt that the Wii was missing this exact type of game in its lineup, so we felt that this would be a perfect fit.

GameSetLinks: Consoles? Controlled By Controllers!

- Hurrah, a good chunk of GameSetLinks for the almost-weekend, and there's a whole bunch of neat stuff in here - starting with some interesting diagrams of the history of console controllers.

Also in here - some more commentary on Guitar Hero IV and the Devecka patents, a good set of WiiWare articles, me whining about the spelling of Grand Theft Auto IV's lead character, and much more!

Avant and avast:

the-inbetween.com [ Revisionist Gaming History ]
'I like this illustration showing the (incomplete) history of videogame console controllers.' Me also - from a MoMA exhibition.

Game Informer snags first pic of Guitar Hero IV drums - Joystiq
Most interestingly, the GI article (scan, sorry!) specifically mentions the Devecka patents that I uncovered last October. Iiiiinteresting.

Nintendo Taps U.S. Talent in Search of WiiWare Hits | Game | Life from Wired.com
Good summing up of pluses, minuses of WiiWare to date for indies.

Niko Bellic is a Serbian name? - Yahoo! Answers
The spelling of the GTA IV protagonist's name really bothers me - I think it should be Niko Belic, it looks 'wrong' to me with two 'l's. Anyone else? Bueller?

Kotaku: 'Rumor Smash: SNK USA Is So Not Closing Down'
This SNK Japan quote is hilariously, deliciously unfiltered.

chewing pixels » A Cautionary Tale for the Young Games Writer
Some addition commentary by Simon Parkin on his recent GSW column (if you scroll down) that's worth reading: 'This is no industry for old men.'

Sightseeing in Liberty City - a set on Flickr
'A side by side comparison of a photo tour in New York City and Liberty City.'

pixelate environment - Mr. Bounce Trailer
The 'Understanding Games' guys are preparing a pretty trippy physics-y Arkanoid-style Flash game for Kongregate.

Wired's WiiWare Launch Guide | Game | Life from Wired.com
Kudos again to Kohler for going the extra mile and giving useful game impressions.

GameSpot News: 'PressSpotting: Rockin' out with MTV's Stephen Totilo'
Heartily agreed on the comments about journalists going into development.

May 15, 2008

Interview: Terminal Reality? Ain't Afraid Of No Ghosts

- [Another GSW-worthy interview originally available on big sis site Gamasutra - this one has our Editor At Large Chris Remo chatting to the creators of the brand-new Ghostbusters game, discussing their new, allegedly middleware-in-the-making engine, plus cats and dogs living together, etcetera. Good stuff!]

A little over a year ago, Slovenian developer Zootfly made a big splash with gameplay videos of an in-development game based on Ivan Reitman's classic film Ghostbusters - then made an even bigger splash when it was revealed the game was an unlicensed prototype.

In late 2007, Ghostbusters fans were re-energized by Vivendi's announcement that an official game was in development by Texas-based Terminal Reality for a fall 2008 release on nearly all major platforms.

During a recent Vivendi event, we sat down with Terminal Reality co-founder and president Mark Randel to discuss Ghostbusters: The Video Game.

He spoke in-depth on how the franchise was chosen, Terminal Reality's internal tech and the PlayStation 3, engine licensing plans, working with the original film's writers - and how ZootFly's short-lived project helped out.

So, how did you guys get involved with this property? It's a sequel, right? It's not a remake. Or, not an adaptation.

Mark Randel: Ghostbusters: The Video Game is a continuation of the Ghostbusters franchise. The first movie came out in 1984, by Harold Ramis and Dan Aykroyd, then they did the second one in 1989, and Ghostbusters: The Video Game takes place in 1991, and continues the story of the Ghostbusters.

How we got involved in this game is kind of a long story. Two and a half years ago, we were pitching an original game IP and shopping it to various publishers, and we showed up in Sierra's office to show them the game we were pitching at the time, and they said, "How about Ghostbusters?"

And we were like, "What?" They said, "No, no, hear us out. We did focus tests about video game properties, and license properties, and we're trying to figure out what we think would be an idea that would be a very popular idea. And we did tests, and consistently, Ghostbusters was near or at the top of the list."

Just the Ghostbusters icon alone, they found in their sampling, was the number two most recognized icon in the world, the ghost with the slash through it, the number one being Coca-Cola.

What kind of tests were these? Who were they testing?

MR: They were focus-testing video game audiences, people 18 to 48 years old. And they eventually expanded their tests, 13 to 60, and found out that people pretty much all ages know the Ghostbusters property, and like it or love it.

So, of course, we weren't skeptical about the Ghostbusters property at all; we all grew up on it, and we loved it too. And we were thinking, "Will this thing sell?" And the data showed, clearly, this was a great idea whose time has come.

So, we worked on a prototype for Ghostbusters for about nine months, and then got it green-lit for production, and have been working on it for about two and a half years now.

Was that prototype based at all on the project you were pitching before?

MR: Not at all. We're using the technology, which was our brand new Infernal Engine for next generation consoles, which we were working on. The Infernal Engine is an internal game engine that we use to make games.

We were fortunate enough enough to be seeded by Sony with PlayStation 3 hardware, probably six to nine months before launch. We had the big giant boxes that were alpha hardware, and we got the specs on the system, and realized they're doing parallel processing in a vastly different way than PCs and Xbox 360s were headed.

With the general-purpose processing, they had very specific helper units called SPUs, so when we were designing our engine, we designed it for PlayStation 3 in mind first. And that type of model, to design an engine for co-processing, was also a different way. It was different way, but we could also take that model, and take it back to the Xbox 360, take it back to the PC, and it also worked.

So if you're working on an engine, and you were using a general purpose computer model, you would not be able to make a PlayStation 3 game run very well. However, if you were working out using the SPU model from the PlayStation 3, you could make it work very fast, and you could make the other platforms work fast as well. So that's what we took advantage of in the Infernal Engine.

That's almost like having the PS3 as the lead system for your actual engine tech itself, which ends up working better when taken the other way rather than vice versa.

MR: Yes, absolutely. So, in 2000, 2001, when PlayStation 2 came out, we made a conscious decision to also do that for PlayStation 2; we knew that if we mastered the PlayStation 2 technology, it would be easier to go back to the Xbox and PC at that time. So we made another gamble on Sony, and it definitely paid off. We were now able to be fast on all three platforms.

Do you find there are any particular tasks in the engine that are particularly suited to [that parallel] structure?

MR: Yes, absolutely. Velocity - that's the name of our internal physics engine that we wrote - Velocity is very well suited to be run in parallel on PlayStation 3. We're one of the few physics engines that runs about 96 to 98 percent on the SPUs only, with very little intervention from the main processor, so physics is a very good algorithm that can be run in parallel; in this case we can run on five SPUs in parallel.

On the PlayStation 3 you get six SPUs, so we run one for the sound, to continually mix Dolby Digital 5.1 signal - and we have lots of sounds in the game, trust me - so we really beat that SPU hard.

And we have, also, a lot of physics in the game, too, so we beat the other processors pretty hard. Physics is definitely one thing we do that can be done massively in parallel. Collision detection can be done totally in parallel. And if you're very clever, you can also put your physics solver in parallel, on SPUs, so it's a perfect item for that.

Another thing we use for parallel programming is skeletal blending. Typically, in previous generation games, you have just canned animation, you have one animation frame saved, and basically you play it back, because you don't have enough power to do animation blending.

With the PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360 of course, in parallel programming you can let the other processors run your animation system, and you can do multiple layers of skeletal blending. So we're doing animated skeletal blending, facial animation, lip-syncing, everything in co-processor mode on PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360 as well, so we can free up the main game thread to run the game logic and AI.

That's where most of our programmers work. It's on the main game thread, where not everybody may be experts in low-level SPU programming, but they're experts in AI, they're experts in graphics or what have you, or gameplay programming. So we give them something they're really familiar with, but give them a lot to use, a lot more resources than other platforms.

Are you guys planning on licensing this out at all?

MR: Oh, absolutely. We are already licensing our technology out to a bunch of developers, kind of on a pilot program, and then after Ghostbusters, we're going to start licensing, and a bigger approach to open up wide to a bigger audience.

Doing anything else internally with it yet? Any other projects?

MR: Uh, yeah, nothing I can discuss right now.

So, what is the involvement with - I mean, there are actual guys, Aykroyd and Murray, I think, and Ramis is involved in this. What is their involvement exactly? I think Ramis was co-writing?

MR: Yeah. Harold Ramis is co-writing the script. And Dan Aykroyd is really the main guy behind the script and the equipment in the Ghostbusters video game. He's been a really big facilitator, helping bring all of the parties together.

Multiple people own the Ghostbusters intellectual property, so he's been a really big facilitator in getting everybody together, getting Harold and the other guys back to discuss it, and bringing him onto the project and working on the script, and making sure the game is [on track].

Ghostbusters has a very serious tone, and that's something that Dan pointed out to us when we were making the game. The comedy is funny because the characters are very serious about what they do, and then they have deadpan comedic timing. And we just would not have that without Dan's involvement.

Plus he's been really helpful in coming up with and naming all the equipment in the game, so all of the story, the characters, the equipment you use in the game - we hate to say 'weapons', because they're more than just weapons - is directly created by the original creators of the Ghostbusters franchise.

So do they actually give you artwork for that? Or do they work with your artists?

MR: They work with our artists, pretty much coming up with the overall story, and we come up with the areas. We wanted the game to be in New York, so we came up with kind of the areas that we wanted to have the gameplay, and Dan and Harold have come up with the names of the creatures, the story, what people are saying, what dialogue happens, who says what, how things are going to be timed - pretty much the script of the video game.

It's kind of like the script of the movie, except it's about three times as large. And the characters - Dan was really insistent, and Harold also was really insistent, on having a female heroine in the game, and some of these Hollywood elements that video game creators don't always think about.

So they're very, very involved with the story and characters of the game.

As far as you're aware, was it just a complete coincidence that ZootFly was making their - whatever it was - their prototype, or demo, of a Ghostbusters game?

MR: Actually, ZootFly helped us a lot. When we originally were working on Ghostbusters, probably six to nine months before ZootFly came out with their demo, that was actually before we were green-lit into production.

And when the executives at Sierra saw the reaction to the ZootFly game, they immediately knew that we would have a hit on their hands, and they immediately green-lit the full game. So, indirectly, ZootFly really helped us get out game green-lit.

Huh. Have you talked with them at all?

MR: No, I haven't, but I wish to say, "Thanks!" I wish them the best of luck.

Do you have any contingency plan in the game for if the players cross the beams?

MR: Well, since in the single-player game you're playing as a fifth Ghostbuster, the AI Ghostbusters are smart enough not to cross the streams with you. Obviously there might be a chance in the multiplayer game, where you'll be able to cross the streams with a buddy that you're playing with.

So, if you really want to end your game, I guess you could cross your streams. And there may be a moment in the single-player game where you'll have to cross the streams, and that'll force you to do that, to make a complete protonic reversal, but I don't know.

I think ending the game and sucking everything in, completely blowing up existence as we know it is something that most video game players don't want to do.

Opinion: Game Development Needs More 'Share And Share Alike'

- [In this editorial, originally published in Game Developer magazine's May 2008 issue, editor Brandon Sheffield calls for more open sharing of technology and tools, pointing to Insomniac's 'Nocturnal Initiative' as a notable step in the right direction.]

Insomniac announced its Nocturnal Initiative to create "an open collection of libraries and utilities for addressing common challenges in game development" back at GDC, adding to its existing Insomniac R&D page, and both are really quite important concepts.

Sharing techniques and technology can only make the industry as a whole stronger, especially now that graphics are coming to a bit of a plateau – or are at least aren’t as much of a talking point for the marketing folks.

I’ve long maintained that a lack of sharing is one of the big elements that has held the Japanese game industry back technologically, and the more we do share, the better the development experience becomes.

We’ll probably never get to a place where game development tools are truly standardized, but a common knowledge base is a good start in terms of getting everyone on the same page.

Raison d’Etre

This idea of sharing is the main reason why Game Developer, Gamasutra (and Game Developers Conference, in fact) exists. They are meant to help working developers share insights so that they may do their jobs better.

But every so often, I get the occasional off-the-cuff comment from someone regarding a feeling that the publications cater much more to the student and aspirational crowd, versus the working professional.

It can be difficult for us to tell – we’re not working in the trenches. But if this is indeed the case, the failure is shared. We rely on submissions from industry folks, and if everything we’re getting is indeed ‘too kiddy,’ then that will certainly be reflected in the content.

It’s very interesting to see what happens when I turn the tables on that statement and ask the developer in question to write something good and appropriate for us, as they often feel as though they have nothing to contribute.

What’s worse though, is when nobody speaks up. Quite often in our industry there are ‘perceptions’ of things, or unspoken rules and standards that are followed.

Most developers accept crunch time as an inevitability. When CEOs talk, their words are often shrouded in rhetoric. This is true of most industries, but ours is supposed to be rather straightforward and personable.

A particularly painful trend is that most developers won’t fire someone who’s doing a bad job. Mediocre developers are allowed to languish in their positions, mis-manage teams, and drift from company to company because they worked on a successful game, and because nobody wants to speak ill of anyone else in this often-incestuous industry. Speaking up and telling the truth is an incredibly crucial kind of sharing.

This is also why what Insomniac is doing is so important. The company is sharing good, pertinent information (granted, it partly concerns the PlayStation 3, but that’s a major pain point for lots of folks out there).

Exposing Common Ground

No matter what ulterior motive they may possibly have, they’re doing a lot of work for everyone’s benefit. That’s what we need more of. If, in fact, Ubisoft, Naughty Dog, 2K Boston, Blizzard, or Bungie were to open up this directly in a public space, imagine how much learning could be gleaned!

Game Developer and Gamasutra are meant to be vehicles for this sort of thing. A blog, a company website, or developer forums are also appropriate venues, but a single hub of information would be the most efficient as a resource.

We may not be there yet, but it’s one of the closest things to a database of collective game development knowledge out there. It will only function that way if people are willing to share their experiences, their technology, their business practices, and their ideas.

We need to stop all solving the same problems. Granted, each game has specific solutions, but with a springboard of what’s worked in the past, couldn’t you get going a lot quicker?

So with that in mind, I’d encourage anyone reading this to think about what you might have to contribute to the community.

Something that would actually help other developers who might be facing problems you’ve faced – or even problems you’re facing and working out currently.

If you send the articles to us - or just send the links to us to mention in our news, as we did for Insomniac - we’ll make sure they get seen. We’ll all be better for it.

[For your information, those wanting to contribute to Game Developer magazine can contact editors@gdmag.com - and Gamasutra's news and features editors can be contacted at news@gamasutra.com and features@gamasutra.com respectively.]

Austin GDC, 'IGF Presents' To Showcase Local Indies

- So, you may have spotted a just-debuted announcement about Austin GDC 2008 opening its registration - in there is the revelation that "an Independent Games Festival (IGF) showcase" will be part of the September 15-17th 2008 show.

However, that's all the information we've released thus far, so I wanted to explain in more detail and offer an informal call for submissions to this IGF Showcase. It will be significantly different from the traditional Independent Games Festival competition, summit and finalist exhibition that we hold every February/March at Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. (Though it will be similar in that each picked game will be showcased in a special IGF booth, with free all-access show passes for the developers.)

Basically, we decided that the event doesn't necessarily need another worldwide indie showcase - especially as the Independent Games Festival at GDC does that on such a large scale already, and will always be our flagship event (call for submissions for IGF 2009 will be up in the next 4-6 weeks, by the way!)

In addition, the Texas/Southern game scene has such a rich and interesting tapestry, from Origin Systems to Gamecock Media Group and beyond, and we wanted to honor that by doing a special 'IGF Presents' and picking some 'local flavor' in terms of interesting startups, indies, and game creators from Austin and beyond.

So that's just what we are doing! This won't be a fully-fledged 'competition' as such, but the IGF organizers will work with some of our trusted advisors to pick a select amount of Texas/Southern indie game creators to showcase in a special IGF booth at the event. We've already been making semi-discreet enquiries and have a list of possible indies to choose from, but we're definitely open to more suggestions.

So, if you're a Southern developer (we don't yet have a precise geographical boundary - use common sense!) who would like to be showcased at the IGF in Austin in September - and bearing in mind you'll need to turn up in person and show your game to the assorted publishers, developers, and luminati in attendance, of course - then please email chairman@igf.com with the following information:

- Name/location of developer & URL of official webpage/full contact details.
- What's the game and what's its platform? Brief description, please.
- Can you provide us with links to screenshots, movies, or a playable version of your title?
- A few words about what makes you 'indie', in whatever abstracted form that phrase is valid nowadays.

We're looking for all kinds of neat independently produced games - both professional and student, PC and potentially console/handheld, offline and online - so feel free to contact us on or before June 15th with your suggestions, and we'll start announcing 'IGF Presents' showcase games soon.

World of Warcraft Exposed: The Lore of the Horde

['World of Warcraft Exposed' is a weekly column by Michael Zenke about the culture and experience of the globe's biggest online game phenomenon, the ten million subscriber-strong World of Warcraft. This week's final column (more about this in the outro!) looks at the stories behind five of the game's character races.]

hordies.jpgWorld of Warcraft's lore is an organic thing. It changes and twists with every new patch, book, or card game expansion Blizzard releases. The stories behind each of the player races, though, have remained largely static.

Each of the lengthy tales detailing how the races came to be sets up a theme that players can experience as they play through the game.

Today, following up on the guide to the lore of the Alliance, we'll explore those themes for the races that make up the might Horde: the Blood Elves, the Undead Forsaken, the Tauren, the Orcs, and the Trolls.

The Blood Elves

At one point, not too very long ago, the Blood Elves fit one of the standard fantasy tropes: porcilein-skinned, pointy eared mages, wise because of their years and dedicated to goodness and Light. Then came the Scourge, an army of undead monsters lead by the Death Knight Arthas. They burned, slaughtered, and defiled the ancient homeland of the High Elves.

That act had many consequences. It shattered the resolve of one of the Human Alliances staunchest allies. The destruction of the ancient Sunwell artifact left a people without purpose, and a deep hunger in their soul. And it left Sylvana Windrunner, a hero to her people, trapped in a mockery of unlife.

hordies.jpgOne powerful mage refused to allow his people to be destroyed. Prince Kael'thas Sunstrider sought out powerful allies to shore up his people, a group he dubbed the "Blood Elves" because of their violent past. With something like 90% of his races slaughtered, Sunstrider wasn't very picky in choosing allies. Ilidan Stormrage, the demon-tainted Night Elf that rules the Outlands, ended up offering Kael exactly what he wanted. As a result, an army of Blood Elves aids Ilidan in his rule of that hellish dimension.

The Blood Elves that find themselves adventuring through Azeroth are a different group. Realizing that Kael'thas has gone astray, the elves of Silvermoon have pledged themselves to the light and to their new allies in the Horde. Low-level Blood Elves work to fight the undead still on their doorstep, and many have hopes of laying low Kael'thas himself, a figure they see as contrary to their racial destiny.

The Forsaken

The events surrounding the "Frozen Throne" expansion to WarCraft 3 depict a number of events that would set the stage for World of Warcraft. One of those was the weakening of the Lich King's power at the hands of Ilidan Stormrage. The Lich King, leader of the Scourge, had controlled the entire undead army through his iron will. With their psychic link lessened, many undead regained a measure of sentience. One such hero was the aforementioned Sylvanas Windrunner, raised by Arthas as an undead Banshee.

Windrunner tore free of the Lich King's power, and rallied many other independent undead to her cause. Calling her new people "Forsaken", she and her allies took control of the former human kingdom of Lordaeron. Dwelling in the subterranean areas of the city, they are now allied (purely for convenience) with the member races of the Horde.

Early adventures will see Forsaken characters learning of their tragic history, and coming to understand the deadly plague that spawned them. The undead are far and away the most overtly 'evil' character race in the game; a particular early quest chain involves poisoning dwarven captives, turning them into mindless slavering ghouls.

The Tauren

hordies.jpgBy contrast, this race of beastmen are almost certainly the most purely "good" race you'll find in Warcraft's morally ambiguous world. A deeply spiritual people, they led nomadic lives on the plains of Mulgore for thousands of years, only recently settling into vast tent-city encampments.

These cities were only made possible by allying with the Trolls and Orcs of the Eastern Kingdoms, newly arrived in Kalimdor after fleeing from the Human Alliance. Together, the new Horde drove back the centaurs that had driven the Tauren almost to exctinction, and worked together during the cataclysmic battle with the demons and undead.

Today, almost all Tauren tribes swear allegiance to Cairne Bloodhoof, the leader of their proud people. In return for their assistance, Cairne's race has taught the Horde their shamanistic ways - a return to roots for both the Orcs and the Darkspear trolls. Tauren quests at low level revolve around a deep connection to nature, exploring the grasslands of Mulgore and ridding the Tauren people of the Quillboar threat.

The Orcs

The racial leaders of the Horde, the once-peaceful Orcs of Dreanor are now known throughout Azeroth as proud and vicious warriors. Hailing from the same dimension as the mystical Draenei, the Orcs were brainwashed and dominated by the horrors of the demonic Burning Legion. Led by the duped and deluded leaders of their clans, the Orcs would throw themselves time and again into battle as the Legion attempted to gain entrance to Azeroth proper.

hordies.jpgThe Third War's climactic battle between the demons, the Horde, and the Alliance was the final chapter in the race's enslavement. Now the leaders of a might force, the Orcs seek only to ensure their lands are secured against threats from without and within. Early Orc quests deal with both of these elements, subduing the harsh lands of Kalimdor while defending Orgrimaar from the machinations of the ever-present demon-worshipers.

The Trolls

As with the Gnomes on the Alliance side, the Darkspear Trolls have precious little modern backstory. In the dim history of Azeroth's past, the Trolls were the dominant form of life on the planet. They warred with the insectoid Aqiri, dominated the huge central continent of the world, and (it's rumored) even gave rise to the Night Elf race. Their two vast civilizations flourished, but were eventually dashed apart by systematic wars with the elves.

Today the trolls are little more than savages, with most being villains squatting in their ruined cities. The Darkspear are the exception, having allied with the Orc chieftain Thrall during the Second War.

Now the Darkspear share the land of Durotar with their Orcish brethren, dreaming of a better tomorrow. Though Trolls start in the same area as Orcs, soon after the new player experience ends characters are directed to a trollish village by the sea. There, players can take place in a series of threads that explores Trollish culture and mores.

['World of Warcraft Exposed' is going to close up shop in favor of some more general commentary on games and the games industry from the aweeeesome Michael Zenke. Look for The Z-Axis starting next week, folks!]

GameSetNetwork: The Midweek Flyover

- Blimey, we're getting so many updates over at Gamasutra and associated sites that I've decided to split the weekly round-up in twain for now - at least until this conglomeration of interesting developer shows finishes getting written up.

This time round, all of our features thus far are pretty neat - with the 'quality of life' piece by Paul Human already getting a lot of Internet chatter, the Square Enix WiiWare interview (with bonus questions by 1UP's Parish, ta!) and the Ernest Adams difficulty level piece all getting quite a bit of interest.

Also laced in there is coverage from a swathe of development-specific shows happening this and last week - including more Games For Health from Baltimore, the start of our Nordic Game write-ups from Malmo, Sweden (with notes provided by RPS' own Jim Rossignol), and even some specifics from the MMO-centric ION Conference in Seattle - and an EA Games write-up heralding the start of a bunch of San Fran-based press days, too.

Without further ado:

The Designer's Notebook: Difficulty Modes and Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment
"In Ernest Adams' latest Gamasutra column, he digs into difficulty levels in games, interestingly suggesting that player-set difficulty might be preferable to the imagined utopia of pure dynamic difficulty settings."

Quality Of Life? Does Anyone Still Give A Damn?
"How have 'quality of life' issues in the game industry improved since EA_Spouse's letter in late 2004? Gamasutra talks to the IGDA's Jason Della Rocca and the Spouse (Erin Hoffman) herself to analyze progress so far."

Content Kings: Square Enix's Shiraishi And Tsuchida On WiiWare And Risk
"WiiWare's flagship Western launch title may be (the pictured above) Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a King, and Gamasutra talks in-depth to co-creators Fumiaki Shiraishi and Toshihiro Tsuchida on building the city-building sim for Nintendo's download service."

Nordic Game Panelists Teach The Art Of The Deal
"How tough is it out there for an independent developer? Still not easy, with many major publishers still pushing "nonsensical, borderline-illegal contracts," said one panelist at the Nordic Game Conference, but execs from Epic, Microsoft, and Capcom gave sage advice for up-and-comers to learn the art of the deal."

Q&A: Firefly's Bradbury Waves PC Flag With Crusader, Dungeon
"For nearly a decade, Firefly Studios has been catering to PC-based historical RTS fans, and now, its teamed up with indie publisher Gamecock for Stronghold Crusader Extreme and the fantasy dungeon-crawler Dungeon Hero. Designer Simon Bradbury speaks to Gamasutra on the state of PC gaming and both titles."

ION Panelists Wonder 'Can We Create A Truly Global MMO?'
"With gameplay styles that still seem worlds apart, can the East and the West come together to create a truly global MMO? An ION Game Conference panel suggested changes could be on the way, though the differences are deep-rooted, as even the concept of 'Eastern' style play was hard to pin down - full coverage within."

Analysis: Did Electronic Arts' Showcase Spring It Forward?
"Electronic Arts' EA Games label held its first "EA Spring Break" event in San Francisco this week - and Gamasutra was there to speak to developers on how Riccitiello's 'new EA' is changing things, and analyze the buoyancy of the division for the rest of 2008."

Nordic: TT Games' Smith Talks Serving Children Better With Lego
""Children were badly served by the games they were being given," said TT Games head Jonathan Smith at the Nordic Game conference, explaining how TT made a difference in the genre with its Lego-themed titles, using actual play sessions with children over general focus tests, and the principle of the 'springy path'."

ION Panel Advises 'Design Games With Gold Farmers In Mind'
"When creating your MMO, design with gold farmers in mind, advised a panel at the 2008 ION Game Conference, who suggested that black market conversions are unavoidable, and that developers should take advantage of that inevitability from the start."

Games For Health: Noah Falstein On Exergaming History
"During this year's Games For Health conference, longtime game designer and consultant Noah Falstein (Sinistar) spoke on the history of exergaming, a segment that has recently seen great gains in exposure with Dance Dance Revolution but which has been a part of gaming (see: the NES Power Pad) for decades."

May 14, 2008

Interview: Seropian On The State Of The Union For Indies

- [This Brandon Sheffield-conducted interview, also just posted on big sister site Gamasutra, is a fun trawl through the current opus of the Stubbs creators, who are some of the most interesting low-footprint independent console developers out there, actually.]

Wideload Games founder and former Bungie founder/president Alex Seropian created his Chicago-based developer in 2003, firstly working on cult Xbox title Stubbs The Zombie - of which a Seropian-penned postmortem can be read on Gamasutra.

More recently, he's been working on unconventional politically-themed Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 party game Hail To The Chimp for publisher Gamecock, and browser-playable title Cyclomite for the IAC-backed GarageGames project InstantAction.com, as part of the firm's Wideload Shorts digital download division.

In this wide-ranging chat, Gamasutra sat down with Seropian to talk about the state of the market for indies, as well as the company's current output - ranging from browser games to Unreal Engine 3-backed PS3 titles, somewhat uniquely.

How is Wideload Shorts going?

Alex Seropian: It’s going great. We actually spent the last six months building that team out, so we’ve got five people in that team now, and that’s what we consider to be the full team for the downloadable games. They’ve just put out the first one, Cyclomite, which is available on InstantAction.com.

Are they working on one project at a time or multiple projects simultaneously?

AS: We actually have a bunch of potential projects that get designed on paper. We have, I think, a pretty cool creative process with the company. It isn’t necessarily aligned along team boundaries. For instance, Cyclomite was designed by somebody on the console team, and anyone on the Shorts team could contribute ideas to whatever the next console game might be.

We do this creative process as a regular part of our business. We have four games that we want to make on the Shorts side, and we have the capacity to do one at a time right now – but we like that business so much that we’re now building a second team, with Scott Corley. He runs the Shorts side of the business. He had his own company called Red Mercury for a while, doing mobile games.

Did you have to hire more people? Is Wideload a larger company now?

AS: A little bit. We’re twenty-five now. When we shipped Stubbs we were twelve, so in that time we’ve kind of doubled-up in size. We’re still pretty small, I think, and we still have the same small vibe, you know, the same model. The whole idea is to have this small core team that can leverage outside partners. We’re still doing that.

Is it necessary to do that for the Shorts, or is that all in-house?

AS: The idea is that, on the Shorts side, they work in a very similar way that we do as well. The projects inherently have less content in them. In fact, we consider the really good designs to be ones that can be extended programatically, rather than by piling a whole ton of content on. From that perspective, they inherently do less out-sourcing, but they’re equipped to work the same way that the console team is.

Do you foresee it being a larger part of your business in the future, or is console still going to be as important?

AS: Well, the way I look at it now is that it’s a really nice balance, where we have these longer projects that are bigger in scope, bigger in budgets, and then we have shorter projects at the same time, shorter budgets, shorter scope. We express our creativity more quickly and in a more varied fashion.

I think it’s a nice risk balance. I can only imagine that the downloadable game space is going to continue to grow a lot. I don’t for sure what’s going to happen, but we are really excited about the downloadable game space and that’s why we’re building that second team, so we’ll in a pretty good position to be able to address that market.

You're capitalizing on the future?

AS: Yes, that’s a good way to put it. Hey, pretend I said that.

A lot of people have said that they don’t think retail’s going to go away, but it seems that people are just afraid of retail. It seems that’s a big reason why they say it’s not going away, because they don’t want to make them mad. It’s not going to go away any time soon, but it's hard to see why anyone would want to keep it around from the developer side.

AS: Well, I think one thing that’s probably a factor is that for a long time the industry’s operated under a specific pricing and margin model, where it’s actually got even more lucrative with Xbox 360 and PS3 games retailing for sixty bucks or more. There’s just a certain scope to that kind of business that changes when you’re selling games for ten bucks. I think it’s kind of a good thing.

What's good about it?

AS: That there’s a market for games that cost ten dollars. It just wasn’t practical before. With more people playing games, and people who grew up with games are now having kids, they’re playing, their kids are playing, it’s just like -- duh, the market’s going to get bigger. You saw what happened with music – there’s no reason why we can’t be selling games online at equal or greater volumes than we could be selling them at retail.

There’s also no used game market in downloadable, which is helpful to developers actually getting paid.

AS: Right, and if a rental market develops there, there will be a revenue stream, which right now, there isn’t, really.

Hail to the Chimp's graphical style has somewhat significantly, especially in the background, since you last showed it. There’s all this sketching stuff going on in the background. Why were those changes made?

AS: That was a distant evolutionary step on the road to achieving the visual design goal we have for the game. When we started, we licensed the Unreal Engine, looked around and said, “Gee, look at all these people licensing this engine, we want to stand out.” Everyone was doing this hyper-realistic, photo-real stuff, and we wanted to go the opposite direction.

There’s a lot of graphical power there, so we didn’t want to just make a toon-shaded, cel-shaded game. Instead we came up with this idea that’s kind of like paper cut-out stop-motion, but it’s still 3D. We’re projecting our textures onto the models in a way that makes them look flat, because they have outlines around them, and the texture’s not actually wrapped around the model -- it’s projected in a 2D plane, basically.

The shading’s all done as though it was drawn with a pencil in real-time, that’s how the lighting and the shading works. The difference that you see now as opposed to six months ago or nine months ago is a refinement and polishing of that look.

Was Unreal Engine 3 necessary to make this game? Couldn't you have made your own engine for that?

AS: Our licensing an engine is core to our model, just like out-sourcing is, because we don’t want to spend four or five years creating tech. We start with licensing an engine.

The Unreal Engine was a really good idea for us, because not only does it provide horsepower for achieving a unique graphical look, as well as all the physics and real world stuff we’re using in this game, but it also has a really good tool chain and pipeline.

Since we work with so many people outside of our office, it’s really important for us to be able to extend our tool chain so they can act like a team member. Having something that’s really user-friendly and robust on the content side is a big help for us.

It still feels, though, like Hail To The Chimp could be a downloadable game, aside from the fact that it’s got so many extras. Do you think the retail market can support this type of game in the large scale?

AS: Thankfully that answer has already been provided, because we’ve already presold quite a few copies. There’s definitely the interest from retail. It’s priced at $39.99, which puts it in a good place, and this kind of game, the party-style brawler, is kind of absent from the market right now. There isn’t really anything on 360 or PS3 that’s like it.

From that perspective I think there’s a great opportunity for us to sell a lot of copies of the game. The thing that I find interesting about that comment is that, for me personally, and Wideload in general, we’re very interested in making games that revolve around an interesting game mechanic – a simple game mechanic, but an interesting one that can be really polished and have a lot of production value.

We're not necessarily, though, wanting to make an 80 hour linear game with more cut-scenes than game. That’s where, right now, it’s kind of hard to find that spot in the market to support that kind of game.

It seems a lot of people’s impression of Hail to the Chimp is that “here’s a game that has a lot of production value like a retail game, but has maybe this easy user experience that you associate with a smaller type of game.”

You might think, "oh, I can play this for ten minutes at a time and it doesn’t seem like an 80 hour game" -- although I assure you there’s over 80 hours of fun in there. I see the point, and that’s something I hope is going to change about the downloadable space.

Microsoft has decided and dictated to the industry – so far – here’s what a downloadable game means: it’s five, ten dollars, and it’s this much scope, which means there’s not much a publisher is going to pay a developer to make it, which means there’s not much content to go in there. Starting with parameters like game budget, it has dictated a certain style of gameplay, and there’s no reason that type of gameplay can’t work in a bigger game.

If you look at Portal, there’s an example of a very cool but simple idea that was done really well, and I think you’d pay nineteen bucks for that, or more. There’s no reason that has to be five dollars or ten dollars – but it has to be, if it’s going to be on Live Arcade because that’s the model that works.

Sony’s trying to do something different, and we’ll see if Microsoft’s going to change. The other parameter they slap on there is volume-size. That’s something that we’ve actually found a little frustrating. There really isn’t a middle space, which I think there’s actually a market for it, that’s kind of under-served.

WiiWare may be a little different.

AS: They have a strict file-size limit too, right?

Definitely. It seems the XBLA market, for example, is becoming very retail-like. A lot more of the games coming out now have to be backed by Capcom or EA in order to get out there quickly. Is that your impression? It seems like it’s very quickly ramped up from being pure indies to being very publisher-dominated.

AS: I don’t think anybody should fool themselves that digital distribution is this holy grail of freaky indie development, because, no matter what, where there’s a lot of money to be made, people are going to be trying to take the money.

That especially includes the distributors like Microsoft, who owns that platform. There’s no reason to believe that they won’t exert their leverage and profit potential the same way that Wal-Mart or GameStop does on the retail side. The only difference is that you’re not shipping physical boxes around, so there’s less inventory risk – which just makes it better for the distributor, right?

One could argue, from that perspective, that digital distribution is worse for the indie developer. So far it’s been a great opportunity to make smaller budget games that supports indie development.

In the long run you could argue that once one of these channels – or maybe all three channels: Sony, Microsoft or Nintendo – if that’s all you have, in a certain sense it becomes less competitive, and worse for the independent developer.

We’ll see. So far it’s been all good times, but if it happens where they’re making more money on the stuff they’re shipping over Live than retail games, then I think you’re going to see the same squeeze happen.

Where do you think is the better space? Do you think PC is the better place for that kind of stuff?

AS: Hard to say. Right now, PC is nice because it’s completely open and completely unregulated. But because of that, you lose the marketing consolidation that you get out of an XBLA.

That’s one thing that we’re really excited about with the [GarageGames-created] Instant Action platform, because it’s trying to bring that kind of focus and experience that you might get on something like Live Arcade to the PC. Something where you can meet up with your friends and they’ve got accounts and you can invite them into games and that kind of stuff. We’ll see if that kind of thing works.

It seems that web portals are the equivalent of consoles on the web in terms of consolidation or marketing and that kind of thing, but it's not clear if they’re as successful.

AS: I don’t think so, because the kind of experience that you get on most of the portals are like Flash game experiences, where there’s a limit to the production value you can get to, and the kind of experience that you can have. Instant Action’s different: those aren’t Flash games and you can get real DirectX code games and have that kind of experience. That will be a good test. If that works and takes off, then I think that could be a really good thing.

Do your downloadable games have a publisher?

AS: We would consider GarageGames to be our distributor, publishing partner, basically.

Do you foresee a situation where the industry doesn't have to work with a publisher?

AS: Yeah, I think it’s definitely possible these days to be making games with money that doesn’t come from a publisher. People are doing it and this industry’s attractive enough to investors – or even having projects that have the scope and budgets that developers may be able to self-fund.

Our model, though is that we want to take the creative risk and work with somebody who can bring value to what we do – get it out there, market it, and even help us refine our game to address what the market wants.

Not just on the money side, though, also the need for a publisher to distribute.

AS: You mean to make the game and put it up on Live Arcade themselves and even get it into a store? I think it’s really difficult for a developer to make boxed product at retail.

That’s what Bungie was doing before we got acquired, and it’s really chewing off three risks at once, because you’re doing the development, which is risky, you’re doing the marketing and publishing, which is risky, and then you’re building inventory, which is not just risky but really expensive.

That seems really hard, but I think it’s certainly possible for developers to become publishers in the sense that they’re getting their stuff out, self-funding it and getting it out on Steam or Live Arcade – or the iPhone right now.

COLUMN: 'Jump Button': Best Joke Ever — Game Boy Musicians Alex Yabsley aka Dot.AY and Thomas Gilmore aka Ten Thousand Freemen & Their Families

-[Jump Button is a bi-weekly column by Drew Taylor, written specially for GameSetWatch, that focuses on the art and substance of video game culture. This week – the second in a series of interviews that explores Australia's emerging 8-bit music scene.]

Part of me wants to protest.

After all these years, this isn't how I imagined it. Not like this. It's too much, too fast, and I can't take it all in properly...

And then somehow, this: I'm standing outside, in the cold, after midnight, down some skinny, Melbourne city back street. Half-drunk whisky sour in a cocktail glass. A freaking cocktail glass!

Holding this drink, with these people around me, I feel like a dick. It doesn't help that I want to be back inside the bar, listening, experiencing, ordering a drink that comes in a real glass. But my instincts tell me: stay, this is more important, these two in front of me are the white rabbits that will lead me to the promised 8-bit underground.

I'm so close now; so close I can feel the lo-tek fanboy in me rising. Stealing my games journo cool.

For the past three years I've been looking for a chance--any chance--to experience a live chip tune gig in Australia. And, now, in a single night, I've not only heard Tyson Hopprich rip it up Sid DJ-style at the local premiere of Marcin Romocki's 8 Bit documentary, but I've just spent the last two hours watching a line-up of the best blip artists in Australia detonate the 8-bomb like they'd been set on fire.

-Thirty minutes later and I'm standing here, out in the cold, MP3 voice recorder pointed at Game Boy musicians Alex Yabsley aka Dot.AY, and Thomas Gilmore aka Ten Thousand Freemen & Their Families. Double proof of Australia's emerging 8-bit music scene.

A scene that, in some part at least, is intent on looking at the genre through Corey Worthington sunglasses.

'I like to think that we try and be different [to the rest of the world],' says 22-year-old Alex, philosophical expression on his face.

Tom, from Sydney, three years younger than Alex, cutting in with:

'I'm going to be right out there and say that I think we take it less seriously than the rest of the world.'

Adding controversially: 'It's a practical joke that we can get gigs playing Game Boys, really. But you saw tonight; the Australians in the audience that were watching [Marcin's documentary] were asking about the humor in it, and I don't think they realize that the Americans they were watching, there wasn't any humor. They're dead serious about it.

'It's like stupid rock scenes that have come up here [in Australia] that people seem to take really seriously, and they don't realize that they started out as a joke. They started out to be joyful; not to be really, really serious. [Remembering those beginnings, what a scene started out as], that's how you make people enjoy themselves.'

-Tom's the talker. Confident, dry-witted. James Bond as an indie kid, martini voice to match. There's no surprise that photos of good-looking girls appear on the 'special people' section of his personal website. Nor that the ability to lead and inspire is seemingly written all over him.

But if Tom is Daniel Craig in a pair of blue jeans and kicks, Alex is the very definition of nerd-geek cool. Decked out in a green, mecha t-shirt and with long, insect-like arms that wave about when he talks, he looks like he could have just stepped off the set of a Wired magazine cover shoot. Talent hangs on him like an aura, making him attractive in ways that undoubtedly piss off athletes and gym junkies alike.

These here, they're just two of the new poster boys of the local 8-bit scene. Game Boy purists who can turn a bar into a living game console. Into an alcohol-fuelled swirlwind of Ninty nostalgia and blipcore carnage.

Not that it began this way for either of them.

'When I first started making Game Boy music it was actually before I knew that Game Boy music existed,' says Tom. 'I found out about [the program] Nanoloop [when I was trawling around looking for game ROMs] and started playing with the demos, messing around with it. I'd never heard any of it before.

'I thought i was doing something new,' he adds, 'which was hilarious. But I suppose I was in Australia, and there was no scene here. A couple of guys in Melbourne, a couple in Perth, but living in Sydney... nothing. I started off making crappy minimalist tech, stuff like that, and it just sort of flowed on.'

-'The angle I came at it from,' says the Brisbane-based Alex, 'was high art experimental audio installations at Uni. But I just got sick of it. It was so deep that I ended up having no fun making it. So I started doing lots of stuff that tried to incorporate noise in a fun, dancey way. And that just slowly lead to the Game Boy stuff, which made complete sense as soon as I found it. It was exactly what I was looking for.

'My course was a Bachelor of Music Technology,' volunteers Alex, 'So I did my thesis on chip tunes...'

'I've read it and it doesn't suck!' interjects Tom supportingly.

'...and I got to talk to Bit Shifter and all those guys. The most interesting thing that came out of it all, talking to them, was the differences that the software makes. It kind of leads you when you're composing chip tunes. You choose one for a certain kind of application or sound,' says Alex.

'Speaking of, I'm a big fan of Bit Shifter,' admits Tom, taking the conversation more towards personal influences. 'He's the best in the Nanoloop scene. He's the only person that doesn't rave about himself and hes kind of not... well, he's not like me and uses a kick every beat. He's more about what he doesn't play than what he does, which is a really, really clever way of playing and why he can get away with using just one Game Boy.

'Some of the English guys are really good, too. Like sabrepulse, rest in peace. He quit recently...'

'He quit music,' pips in Alex sarcastically, a wild gesture with his arms. 'Who quits music?'

'But he's kind of liked by everyone,' continues Tom, 'which, I'm not sure if that's why I like him or not. I guess thats why I've heard of him.

'There's a couple of guys that no-one's heard of, though; a couple of guys on my label (Glitch City) that are really, really good. They have an eighth of the fans that these guys have and yet they're the guys that changed the way I listen to chip music.

-'I'm going to name one: Pixl Crushr. I think he's 17 and he just owns. I released my first EP, which I look back on now and go, “Wow, I really sucked in minimal tech”. But he wrote these really innocent melodies and then threw me to where he first started. His favorite 8-bit thing was i-cactus, and it's kind of this really innocent, not-trying-to-be-dance music. It really changed my opinion of where chip music can go.

'There are two guys in Melbourne that aren't going to come to any of the shows [we're doing in pubs and bars] because they're under 18. One of them has built up a pretty big fan base on 8-Bit Collective: Raptorface, he's amazing. As is this other guy from North Melbourne called Derris-Kharlan.

You can grab all their music off the internet, says Tom, but 'you've got to go to shows to “get it”', to really understand the scene. And to know what it's like to play.

'Any time you play [live] people dig it,' says Tom. 'Even if you suck it's like, “Game Boys, that's fucken' cool!” And if they're drunk, its even cooler.”

'I think I speak for both Tom and I when I say we started off doing this for the fun of it, and the gigs come as secondary,' says Alex.

'[What we get out of it is] a barrel of laughs. but no money,' admits Tom. 'We got asked to play this after party and i think we're going to make 40 bucks for playing it. Essentially, we get paid nothing to play. I played for free last night, in Sydney, and I'm down with that.'

Alex chiming in with: 'But we've got more free drinks than we know what to do with!'

Tom now, a few minutes later, our glasses confiscated because we're not quite on the premises, not inside. Tom talking about their involvement in the scene, why they do it.

-'I know it will sound like a complete wank,' says Tom, 'but right at the moment I'm selling blank [ROM] cartridges at so close to cost price that it hurts. All of the [Australians] who have bought them from America get so torn apart about cost. I'm trying to get the programs (such as LSDJ) out to people—who own them, of course. I'm not trying to break any laws. I'm just trying to make the scene a bit bigger. easier to get into. Thats why we're running [our blog] GameBoyAustralia, just trying to promote it.'

'So we can go out to shows and see guys play!' adds Alex. 'So we don't have to play the [gigs] ourselves.'

'Yeah,' agrees Tom. 'So we don't have to play at every 8-bit show we go to!'

Alex, adding as an afterthought, 'I would love to get some international acts out here.'

What Alex is talking about is exposure. The chance to see more, experience more. Play with new and different artists, and trade methodologies. But more than that: expand the scene; create that “big thing” that truly kicks off the scene in Australia.

'You know,' says Tom dryly, giant grin on his face, 'I'm pretty sure [that big thing] is going to be me!'

Before adding: 'I don't know. I'm just hoping it doesn't turn into one of those shit house indie trends that are cool for 15 minutes, Because it's been going on for ages everywhere else and it's still alive, and I'm just hoping it's not a fad here. I'm hoping it picks up slowly. The more slowly it picks up the more solid the fan base will be, and there will be people who won't forget about it because it becomes cool.'

-'I don't think in its pure form it's ever gong to become mainstream,' confesses Alex. 'It's an alternative genre. The main thing will be that there's just an 8-bit club night somewhere.'

Tom thinking bigger again now, more in context with the global scene.

'I'm just waiting for the day that the Australian scene is taken seriously,' he says. 'By the Americans, particularly, because they seem to think they're heaps better than us. I've posted thousands of posts on various 8-bit forums all over the internet, and basically no-one cares about Australia, it's not taken seriously.'

For a brief moment the three of us are silent, melancholic. The joke with the heartfelt punchline. Then Alex, with:

'I think it's about our whole amount of release. the amount of tunes we release,' he says pragmatically. 'It's just down to [the fact that the US has a] bigger population, playing more shows. Thats what its down to.'

[Drew Taylor works in the games industry in Australia and writes video game culture articles for various magazines. Tragically, he is rhythmically deficient to the point where games such as Gitaroo Man Lives! and Rock Band can become digital tools of torture.]

Reminder: One Month Left To Enter The Dobbs Challenge

- GameSetWatch sister site Dr Dobb's Journal has announced that The Dobbs Challenge, a $10,000 prize competition for the best games produced by modding a Dr. Dobbs Challenge game, is to close in less than one month's time on June 13th. Categories still open for entry include Best Windows Game, with a $4,000 prize, and Best Windows Mobile Game, with a $2,000 prize.

Other categories still open include Best One Button Game ($1,000), Best Game Starring Dr Dobbs And The Defy All Challenges Crew ($1,000), and Best Total Conversion ($1,000) -- for making something that's completely different in genre/style from the original Dr. Dobbs Challenge, but still keeps 'collect Visual Studio icons' as the mechanic and starts from the same codebase.

The contest organizers have already awarded their first prize, for The Dobbs First Month Challenge ($1,000) which closed on April 14th - from a set of challengers that are downloadable for potential entrants to check out.

The First Month Challenge prize went to entrant Punkle for his One Button/Total Conversion mod Dobbs Derby, which turned the original platform game Dr. Dobbs Challenge into a slot car racer with all new graphics -- including a particle system.

To participate, interested parties can firstly download the specially created 'Dr. Dobb's Challenge' games for either Windows and Windows Mobile. Then they can win from a remaining prize pool of $9,000 by modifying the games using a trial version of Visual Studio 2008, in association with competition sponsor Microsoft.

"The Dobbs game did so much out of the box," said First Month Challenge winner Punkle. "I was surprised how flexible it was and that it let me make a totally different game quite so quickly."

Full source code and art for the games are freely provided for programmers and artists to 'mod' the results and win prizes, and all you need to know to participate is available on the official website.

GameSetLinks: The Art Of Street Gears

- Ah yes, some midweek GameSetLink-age fun - and this time, we have a massive span, from the California Extreme arcade show announce to some more of David Hellman's wonderful (pictured) sketch-style art for XBLA title Braid.

Also in here - Joel Reed Parker compiling game box art as only he knows best, in order to make a point about the amount of Nintendo DS and Wii game clones out there right now.

Sometimes I think there's somebody using a cover art generator to produce subtly variant game boxes directly into my local Target store! (Not that this is VERY different to most other media, but hey.)

Anyhow, you want links:

Gism Butter » Blog Archive » California Extreme 2008 Scheduled
Roll on July.

ARGNet: An Emergen-C at Holomove
Microsoft-related ARG of some kind?

Functional Autonomy » Blog Archive » Compulsion, Cheating and Transliteracy
'There’s often now a medium and a means that will cater to your exact ability and interest level on a given thing without demanding more of you.'

gamebunny » Blog Archive » Street Gears: Rollerblade MMO
'Gala Networks Europe and NFlavor Corp. (makers of RAPPELZ) have announced their latest free-to-play MMO... are you ready for STREET GEARS - the extreme rollerblading MMO?'

GameOfTheBlog.com: How could the DS market possibly be in danger of an 'Atari Crash'?
Heh, Joel compiles the DS brain, crossword games, cover montage stylee.

DESIGNER NOTES » Blog Archive » Risk: Black Ops
Soren Johnson on an update of the classic version: 'Risk is a funny game. Almost everyone who is a gamer of some sort has played it, but almost no one continues to play it.'

David Hellman » Blog Archive » The Art of Braid, Part VIII: Tim’s House
'Home serves several functions, and as a result was a complex and interesting area to design.'

The Cut Scene - Video Game Blog by Variety: THQ sold $1 billion of Nickelodeon games? We've known that for three months
Fair comment - sometimes it's difficult to recall what has been announced, but that's no excuse.

Welcome to Special Round: 'Pinball Week Episode 2.5 - Williams Promo Videos'
Oo, lots of cheesy promos for classic Lawlor pins.

Technology Review: Biologists Enlist Online Gamers
'Players of a new game will design HIV vaccines and other proteins.' Via Wonderland.

May 13, 2008

Design Lesson 101 - Rez HD

rezcover.jpg ['Design Lesson 101' is a regular column by Raven game designer Manveer Heir. The challenge is to play a game from start to completion - and learn something about game design in the process. This week we take a look at Rez HD, a port for Xbox Live Arcade of the Dreamcast rail shooter.]

On the surface, Rez is nothing more than a simple on-rails shooter. You cannot control your avatar, only what you shoot. The levels are finite, the enemies predictable, and the mechanics simple.

However, the developers (headed by original designer Tetsuya Mizuguchi) have utilized a number of visual, aural, and tactile elements in the game to create a surreal experience that can often defy explanation. This is an experience that goes beyond just pure gameplay.

Design Lesson: It is possible to layer and intertwine simple aesthetics with each other in order to create a more engaging player experience.

Before I start talking about the game, I feel it's important, more than most games, to have some understanding of what this game is like. If you have not played it, check out this video on YouTube or any of the other videos of the game available. It doesn't replace actually playing the game, but at least you'll understand the game on a basic level.

The aural component is possibly the most significant of the three senses stimulated by the game. Each level of Rez is based around a trance music track. At the start of a level, a very basic beat is established. As you work further into each level, the music itself becomes more and more complex. The basic beat always exists, but now there are additional phrases of music that are more up-tempo and fast paced, ultimately creating the final musical track of the level.

By actually starting with a simple beat and adding additional layers to the music itself, the game is able to draw the player into its world gradually. As the music intensity increases, so does the intensity of the gameplay itself. It feels natural, never jarring, and it's something I didn't fully notice until after I started thinking about what really made Rez work as a game.

What Rez does next with the audio is where it becomes interesting. There aren't any specific sound effects in the game, at least not in the traditional sense. Rather, the sounds meld into the music itself, with synthesized sounds playing as you shoot that fit the surrounding music and feel like a part of the track.

The player, as a result, feels as if he is affecting the music along with the gameplay, rather than the music being ancillary. This draws the player further into the game, and makes the sound and gameplay feel as one cohesive, intertwined unit, instead of separate entities.

Rez1.jpg The visuals use the sound as a jumping-off point to add to the player experience. Rez uses a very colorful, but geometrically simple visual style. The game seems to be made up of simple lines and polygons, so it wouldn't seem there is all that much to be entranced by.

In actuality, the entire world is in-sync with the audio of the game; the player avatar throbs with the same beat of the music; the background of the world flashes and changes colors according to the musical beat as well. Couple this with the colorful explosions, reminiscent of audio visualization algorithms, and you get a very stimulating, yet relaxing experience.

The game also uses the rumble of the controller to add a final, tactile, layer to the entire experience. As the player creates havoc on screen, the controller rumble matches the game, giving another feedback loop to the player's senses. Controller rumble is fairly standard of games, but Rez goes one step further.

It offers “trance vibration”, which on the Xbox Live Arcade version of the game is realized by using additional controllers (There was a separate USB peripheral for this in previous versions of the game). These additional controllers will vibrate with the musical track and other sounds (thus also the visuals) of the game itself, rather than just player actions.

Multiple controllers in trance vibration mode create more unique sensations, as different controllers are used to vibrate at different times. The impact of the vibration of the controllers ties the aural and visual components together. You begin to feel the gameplay that occurs on screen.

While other games stimulate these three senses, Rez is unique in the way it truly intertwines and layers them together. The concept of seeing the music exists in the game. While playing the game, I ended up “zoning out”. I would not thinking about what I was doing, but rather I just played.

The feedback from the game is such that it drove me into a further state of calm and meditation, rather than anxiety and alertness (something many games do). I often found my own physical surroundings disappearing as my conscious mind became one with the game.

This made me ultimately have a very different experience than I have had with most games. Most games involve actively thinking, processing, and decision making. That didn't feel like the case in Rez. I was certainly still performing these actions, but I wasn't thinking about them, rather I was just doing them. I was in the zone. This is ultimately what was engaging about the game.

It's extremely difficult to discuss a game such as this, due to its cerebral nature, but I hope I've made a good first step. I'd love to hear anyone's thoughts on Rez and how its elements work together to create a unique, engaging player experience. Being able to discuss a game such as this is important to gain more understanding of game design, and I feel I've only scratched the surface with my limited time thus far with the game.

I can say, almost assuredly, that I will play Rez numerous more times over the years, not only to have fun and zone out, but to further understand what makes the game work so well. So much here is difficult to discuss without playing the game, so I'd make the recommendation to check it out, if you can, and see how it makes you feel.

Rez has opened my eyes to better ways to intertwine aural, visual, and tactile elements together to draw the player further into the game world. Often we treat these as complementary, separate elements in games, but that clearly does not have to be the case.

[Manveer Heir is currently a game designer at Raven Software. He updates his design blog, Design Rampage, regularly. He is interested in thoughtful critique and commentary on the gaming industry.]

Column: Welcome to the GameSetWatch Comic - 'Welcome to the Megaman Solid'

['Welcome to the GameSetWatch Comic' is, once again, a weekly comic by Jonathan "Persona" Kim about the continuing adventures of our society, cultural postdialectic theory, and video games.]

Following his triumphant comeback comic, Persona again graces us with his 'unique' worldview. This time, it's the classic Mega Man franchise, but seen through a distinctly Kojima-esque lens. Snaaaake!

[Also, bonus marks for anyone who uses the comments to explain the comic to the less lore-intensive among beloved GSW readers.]

I'm you! I'm your prototype!!

[Jonathan "Persona" Kim is a 3rd year character animation student at the California Institute of the Arts. When not working on cute low poly models, he posts stuff on the Mecha Fetus Visublog.]

GameSetLinks: Milk & Cheese Smash Game Biz

- Hurray, time to spool out more GameSetLinks, headed by an interesting report on the state of the game biz in New York - at least partly affected by those horrid Manhattan rents, heehee.

Elsewhere - some awesome demoparty videos, the Thatgamecompany folks making a neat Variety list, a completely unnecessary but still awesome Milk & Cheese cartoon strip (as a blatant attempt to get someone to do a M&C game), the inevitable Forumwarz mention, and much mooore.

Cheese smaaaaash:

Center for an Urban Future: New York
...has a new report (see linked PDF) on New York and the video game biz, which is pretty interesting and well-researched.

Funware’s threat to the traditional video game industry » VentureBeat
'Call it Funware. That’s the name for applications with game-like mechanics and game-like behavior that really aren’t traditional video games.'

Satori: Joining GreenScreen Interactive
Former GDMag EIC Mark DeLoura signs up with the new publisher, neat.

MySpace.com - Dark Horse Presents - new Evan Dorkin Milk & Cheese mini-comic
I simply mention this (furry ridicule aside) because someone needs to commission a Telltale Sam & Max-style episodic Milk & Cheese game, like, yesterday. If not the day before.

defective yeti: Computer Games I Have Known And Loved
A random and smart non-game blogger picks interesting stuff - Skyrates and ForumWarz, for example.

The Shifted Librarian » Present at GLLS2008!
'We’ve opened the Call for Presenters for the 2008 ALA TechSource Gaming, Learning, and Libraries Symposium which will take place on November 2-4, 2008, in the Chicago area.'

ASCII by Jason Scott: Blockparty: The Competitions and Awards
The U.S. demoparty gets an amazing video compilation.

Kellee Santiago and Jenova Chen - 10 Innovators to Watch - Variety
Awesome, the ThatGameCompany folks make Variety's 'people to watch in entertainment' list.

The Pros of Cons (GAMBIT)
'Bottom line: no one is happy when someone tries to give a lecture on a roller coaster.' Great piece - the GDC folks are well aware and reacting to this.

May 12, 2008

Games For Health: Neils Clark On Moving Beyond 'Game Addiction'

-[The inestimable Kyle Orland was kind enough to attend the Games For Health conference in Baltimore late last week for Gamasutra & friends, and took a lot of fascinating lecture notes we're writing up - here's our buddy Neils Clark discussing game addiction, for starters.]

Following his latest Gamasutra feature on the subject, writer and researcher Neils Clark spoke at the ongoing Games for Health conference in Baltimore on game addiction.

In his talk at the conference, he covered the perceived problems, a run-down on why people might get addicted, and some proactive measures that developers can use to combat addictive behavior in the future.

"You could say that game addiction is all a joke... or at least based on one," said Clark. In 1995, he explained, internet addiction disorder (IAD) became "official," and that eight item criteria written 13 years ago is now the standard for online game addiction understanding.

The Problem

Clark pointed out that there's no differentiation in many studies between adults and children, though pathologies differ between children and adults, saying that studies in the future need to realize this.

Games aren't without problems, he admitted, adding that most in the audience probably knows someone who has 'problems' with World of Warcraft now and again, but says the way we understand those problems currently is really 'interim.'

That's a good word for the situation, said Clark, one that can be used with medical people to explain that the debate on the subject between what happens in a game and whether the IAD criteria really measure it hasn't been settled, and keeps the conversation dynamic.

The Elements

Clark broke down three key elements to help understand what exactly makes up game addiction. The first of these was 'immersion' - "the way the brain handles taking in the experience of the game itself."

"When I put my mom and her brain in front of a game like [BioWare's Star Wars RPG Knights of the Old Republic], her brain has no idea how to process that. Her brain shuts down," he said. But, put her in front of Solitaire, Clark continued, and the immersion is much more slick.

The second of Clark's elements was 'culture,' or how the world works, as he referenced Tolkien on the brain's ability to get sucked into literature, on how amazing stories create texture that hold us in worlds that exist only in our minds.

These secondary worlds have different structures and a culture all their own, and, he said, researchers need to look at how these two worlds relate when they study addiction. For instance, in Korea there's a real-world concept known as Wang-tta -- which roughly translates to the concept of the 'low man on gaming totem pole' -- which might explain play habits, pulling Korean gamers in more deftly than elsewhere.

Finally, Clark said his third element was "simply how people interact with games" -- is gaming pathological, he wondered, and really causing a problem, or are players just having fun?

Does immersion actually cause time loss, he asked, or just part of getting locked into the world because of friendships, culture, and various other things people get out of playing the game?

People don't go into [virtual world] Whyville for nefarious reasons, said Clark - instead they have friends, agency, validation, and in-game rewards. When people study that interaction, they get a clearer idea of why a player goes into any given game. Researchers, he said, should create a model for how a patient is interacting with a game.

The Real World Relationship

Pathologies tend to affect both the primary and in-game worlds, continued Clark. For instance, insomnia in the real world could be correlated with obsessive level grinding in World of Warcraft. Play that meets the definition of 'internet addiction disorder' isn't necessarily pathological excess, as the IAD-type definition conflates healthy with therapeutic or harmless uses.

A preoccupation with a game like World of Warcraft isn't necessarily bad, said Clark. People have in-game friendships and real-world pressures, and taking away games might take away the good things that go with it. Researchers, he suggested, "need a more robust way of looking at the problem."

The Solutions

So what can developers do to combat the problem? Clark said they should be more pro-active, by providing functional tools that help people monitor their own play, send timed messages to remind players to 'go do real world stuff,' or employ voluntary lock-out systems.

In the long term, the industry needs a critical design discussion to talk about how immersion, culture, and interactions come together to cause this perceived addiction, Clark suggested. The Sims developers have been talking about immersion in their game for years, for instance, and the desire to make sure it's not harmful.

At the same time, Clark concluded, researchers need to connect with each other and work together to ensure they're up on the latest research, and "move outside the internet addiction criteria to get a handle on what's actually happening." The current criteria are attractive, with a simple checklist to figure out an addiction "percentage," but the real problem, said Clark, is much harder.

Chewing Pixels: 'A Cautionary Tale for the Young Games Writer'

- ['Chewing Pixels' is a new GameSetWatch column written by British games journalist and producer, Simon Parkin in which he explains what you should think about video games - or in this case, game journalism - and why.]

Charlie was a gamer who decided he would write
(not fair: Charlie was a writer who chose games for his insight)
Calloused thumbs
Filled with twitch
Muscle memory
Now to earn a living from his (2nd) favourite teenage hobby.
A critic,
A reviewer
This is how he'd spend his days;
Ten hours, then a judgment, then the promo to ebay.
First came his blog,
Then their website,
Then his words in national print.
Then reactions, reader comments
Critic critics?! Narcissist.

Charlie was quite brilliant
His prose tight and rare
His words perspicacious
His final judgments fair.

But Charlie was a drop in a tidal wave of choices
His commentary discarded
For more forgiving voices.
Still, he reasoned in his head, with marked maturity:
“I'll reduce game writing’s volume but raise its fidelity”

He learned the PR names and faces
And they flew him to exotic places
And when it came to score their games
He softened words and heightened praise
(Not beyond reasonability,
And not so much to kill integrity
But just enough to keep them sweet
And secure the next first class Boeing seat).

- For by this time Charlie knew
The scores were mostly useless
And the readers mostly clueless
Drunk
On the half-truths of marketing
Whose debunking
They absolutely didn’t want to read.
For games are dreams of better places
(Doubly so when they've familiar faces)
And expectations must be met:
To play the game, game writers learn
The scores are quite preset.

For a while
It worked out
Till he married and chose to breed:
Ten pence a word a family will not feed.

So he worked
Ten times harder,
So he aged
Ten times faster
And sooner or later the games bored him:
Ten a week, not one would floor or awe him

Every one seemed quite the same
Shades of principles arcane:

For every one that mattered some
A hundred thousand mattered none

And Charlie learned the final lesson
In his hackery descension
The more you cover and the less you play,
The more you earn and the less you pay

So it was that Charlie joined
Ever growing company;
Those whose seeds of talent and ability
Were choked by cloying weeds
Of Grim,
Necessity.

[DISCLAIMER: This piece was written by a still youngish games writer who would like it made known that it absolutely doesn't take one to know one. Suitably foreboding illustrations thumbnailed from Arthur Rackham.]

GameSetLinks: Rock The Action, Rogers And Out

- Time to start the week with some more GameSetLink-age, and one of the higlighted neatnesses is Tim Rogers' signature verbose review of Rock Band, which, of course, he has some pretty strong opinions on.

I did like his point, though - with Rogers a self-avowed messy guitar player, that playing real instruments can allow you to be caught in the act of "Not Doing It Right, and feeling good anyway" - something that the 'fail' mechanics of Rock Band don't let you do.

I have a feeling that the next iteration of Rock Band will do something about that, though - both from the creation and freeform angles - and I'm looking forward to it. And in the mean time, I'm actually very happy to be the rat in the drooling Pavlovian button press cage, to mix a few too many metaphors.

Anyhow, lots more in here - dig in, won't you?

Game-Ism: 'The Ludonarrative Process'
'Ludonarrative is what makes games unique. They have both a gameplay element and a story element, to one degree or another.'

press the ACTION BUTTON!!: Rock Band review
Tim Rogers let loose on virtual rock music, with phrase-shredding solo-ing - also see GTA IV review fun.

The Escapist : Jason Rohrer's Game Design Sketchbook: 'Police Brutality'
Downloadable indie game sketch fun: 'Police Brutality is a game about fear, collective motivation, ad hoc organizing, self-sacrifice, and non-violence. First and foremost, though, it's a game about shouting.'

Crispy Gamer: 'Thought/Process: Building Better Wor(l)ds'
'So far, playing Grand Theft Auto IV reminds me of a lucid dream' - Crispy Gamer gets all meta.

YouTube - Melon Dezign - Human Target (1992)
Going back over the best DemoDVD Amiga demos for an upcoming mini-demo party - seriously, how far ahead were Melon to do this awesome design/code combo, in real-time, in 1992?

Looney Tunes: Cartoon Concerto: Eidos Kikizo Interview, April 2008
'Some will make comparisons with Elite Beat and Osu, based on the visuals alone, but once you play the game you'll see how the mechanics of input are quite different from those games.' Via Packratshow.

Surfer Girl Reviewed Star Wars: Dernier
The mysterious Surfer Girl signs off for the last time, apparently.

the-inbetween.com [ Crystal Castles vs Creative Commons ]
Hip Toronto chiptune band doing lots of sample/image borrowing without permission, sigh.

YouTube - ROCK BAND... hates me
Probably an audio/video sync issue, as a commenter says, but also some kind of larger message, obviously! Via Waxy.

Play This Thing! | Game Studies Is Good For You
More Escapist 'game academics suck' fallout, this time from Costik.

May 11, 2008

COLUMN: 'Game Mag Weaseling': I'm a TV Gamer!

tvgamer01sum830001.jpg   tvgamer0185001.jpg

Mort, one of the kind and dedicated folks at zzap64.co.uk, has finished scanning yet another complete run of an old British game magazine. This time around it's TV Gamer, an obscure title that has the honor of being the UK's first mag devoted entirely to game consoles...or that was the original idea, anyway.

Launched in the summer of 1983 by London-based Boytonbrook Ltd., TV Gamer began as a quarterly buyer's guide for the 2600, Intellivision, Colecovision, and so forth, its pages filled to the brim with capsule game reviews and tiny little black-and-white screenshots.

This lasted three issues before the title expanded to a full-on monthly in March 1984, adding a slew of features on arcades, portable games, and computers. In this incarnation the mag took on a noticeable resemblance to Electronic Games, the US title that pioneered game mags worldwide -- both shared an affinity for long, text-heavy articles adorned with lots of original artwork and surprisingly few screenshots for a mag covering such a visual medium.

The formula was there for TV Gamer, but the audience arguably wasn't. Consoles were largely seen as a luxury item in the UK back then; for most gamers, the hot platform was the cheap, versatile Sinclair ZX Spectrum, which launched in 1982 and was easily Britain's number-one "game system" by 1984, the year TV Gamer ramped up to monthly printing.

The mag responded by upping its computer content, but by then it was too late, as the audience was used to consulting other mags for that sort of coverage. Eventually TV Gamer merged with multiplatform mag Big K (itself a very obscure title) before closing entirely with the March 1985 issue.

It reportedly took Mort a good three years to track down all of TV Gamer, even though the thing only lasted 14 issues. Funny, it feels like it's taken at least that long for me to find any issues of JoyStik, much less the whole set...but regardless, if you'd like to know how the UK handled console game coverage during the "golden years" of gaming, you could do far worse than to order the DVD from Mort or track down the scans on the net somewhere.

[Kevin Gifford breeds ferrets and runs Magweasel, a site for collectors and fans of old video-game and computer magazines. He's also executive editor at PiQ magazine.]

Opinion: 'All Grown Up: A Gamer Comes to Grips With Adulthood'

- [In this GameSetWatch opinion piece, we're delighted to welcome veteran game zine writer Mister Raroo, who mailed us because he wanted to talk about how games figure into your life when... your life changes. And we really appreciate his honesty in documenting a change that is affecting so many long-time 'hardcore' gamers.]

On Becoming An “Adult”

I don’t think I really became a bona-fide “adult” until a couple years ago when I hit 30. Sure, I’d been living what would appear to be an adult life long before that. I was married, working full time, paying rent on time, and generally being a responsible member of the community.

But, at the same time, I wasn’t taking things too seriously. My days basically consisted of going to work during the day, spending time with my wife in the evening, and playing videogames late into the night. I bought so many games that the clerks at my local Gamestop not only knew me by name, but could usually guess what new release I was walking into the store to buy and have it ready for me before I even got to the counter.

I wasn’t really giving any deep thought to becoming more financially responsible, having kids, or doing much beyond living in the present. I was happy and I wasn’t in a rush for things to change. In a lot of ways, I was being selfish. In that sense, I don’t think I was really an “adult.” But at the time, I feared true adulthood would mean sacrificing the lifestyle I was accustomed to, and in terms of videogames, I thought it would spell the end of that hobby.

Yet for some reason, I started changing my outlook around the time I turned 30. Maybe it was the fact that 30 sounded “old,” or maybe it was just coincidental and everything simply came together for me at that period in my life. Whatever the reason, I started thinking about buying a home, starting a family, and doing more with my expendable income than spending it on videogame after videogame.

I went though a huge personal transformation, something many individuals in my peer group are currently facing. It is this change in my life, moving away from being just a self-centered consumer and focusing instead on living beyond the current moment, that I consider the point in which I became an “adult.”

In just a couple years my wife and I welcomed a son into our lives, bought our first home, and began putting any extra money we had into personal savings, retirement plans, and college savings plans. It turns out, however, that my fear of giving up my gaming hobby was unfounded.

I’m still very much enjoying videogames, though my habits have changed quite a bit. That said, I’m happy to report that it is definitely possible for one to enjoy games while still being a genuine “adult."

- Overcome By Fear

I have a friend who is currently an expectant father. He, too, is experiencing many of the emotions I had also felt regarding giving up one’s beloved hobbies. Recently my friend expressed his concern to me that he’d no longer be able to play video games once the baby arrives. I think the fears he has about becoming a parent are very common to anyone in that position, regardless of what their specific interests are.

Gamers worry about not being able to play video games, just like golfers might worry about not having time for golf or authors might worry about not having time to write. No matter your pleasure or passion, I think everyone goes through a phase where they worry that the baby on the horizon will throw a wrench in their plans. Any first-time expectant parent knows their lives will be different once the baby arrives, but nobody can be prepared for what life as a new parent is like until they are in the thick of it.

Becoming a parent is an exciting and wonderful thing, but unless you’re a deadbeat, it will certainly change your life forever. When my wife was pregnant, I started thinking about all the things that would be different once the baby arrived.

Any plans we made would now have to be altered to include the baby, and we would have to give up some parts of our lifestyle. No longer would we be able to sleep in as long as we wanted on the weekends, for example. Heck, sleeping in general would likely be something that we’d sacrifice once we had a newborn in our home. It didn’t help that I was assaulted with horror stories from just about everyone I knew.

They’d tell me that once I became a father, I wouldn’t have the time or money to spend on frivolous hobbies. Their words would haunt me and make me feel sad whenever I played videogames. I felt as if I was spending time with an old friend I knew had only a short time left to live. “Well, I guess this is it,” I’d think as I ran Mario though his paces. “It’s been nice knowing you, good buddy.”

I felt guilty and selfish that I was so worried about having to give up my gamer lifestyle, but it had been my favorite hobby since I was a kid and I couldn’t imagine a life without video games. Still, I bit the bullet and prepared myself for what I figured was the inevitable.

In Search of Proof

When my son Kazuo was born, I was a changed man. From the first time I first laid eyes on Kaz, it was true love. I was overcome with happiness and was excited about the new and interesting experiences that fatherhood would bring. But, all the same, I still had lingering regrets that my life as a gamer was over.

While my wife was pregnant, I had shared my fears with her and she just smiled and sweetly assured me that it was unrealistic to think that I would have to give up my video game hobby. Parents still have lives of their own, of course. But, at the same time, she was quick to point out that my habits would definitely have to change. To me, that sounded like she was saying, “You’re right. You won’t be able to play videogames when you’re a father.”

Almost laughably, I went out of my way to prove to myself that I could still enjoy videogames as a new dad. I brought my Nintendo DS to the hospital and tried to find any spare moment to play it. Whenever Kaz was asleep, out came the DS and I told myself, “Hey, no problem! I can still play games like I used to!”

Of course, I should’ve been using those spare moments to catch up on sleep, and before long I was exhausted. But that didn’t stop my efforts. After we brought Kaz home, I’d grab the Xbox 360 controller and play some games the moment he fell asleep.

I’ve never been the type of person that put playing videogames ahead of spending time with family (even before fatherhood I usually only played games after my wife was asleep), and I certainly never played while Kaz was awake, but I definitely denied myself a great deal of much-needed sleep in exchange for the “proof” that I had the ability to still play games as a dad. In short, I was being an idiot, but I was worried that if I didn’t find ways to fit gaming into my days, I’d lose that part of my life forever.

-Getting Realistic and Finding a Happy Medium

I love being a dad and I felt it was the right fit for me from the moment Kaz was born and I held him in my arms. In spite of the fact that I was unrealistically trying to wedge gaming into my life as a new parent, I was most of all enjoying all the new experiences that came with fatherhood.

At the same time, the first month was absolutely crazy and my wife and I were constantly in survival mode. Even the few minutes here and there I was initially able to find for gaming quickly vanished and soon I was scrambling just to make it through each day. It seemed like Kaz needed a diaper change almost immediately after we got finished putting on the last one. In addition, the little guy was constantly hungry and didn’t seem to want to sleep unless it was at the most inconvenient time possible!

It got to the point where we were so exhausted we couldn’t think straight, and any spare moment was dedicated to closing our eyes and attempting to catch a few winks, if only for a couple minutes at a time. My wife and I even started arguing more frequently, which we rarely do. Heck, she even swore at me, with the “f” word, no less, which is a huge deal for a woman with a high aversion to profanity! It goes without saying that I was much too tired to worry about the gaming I wasn’t doing, and I figured my hobby was gone forever.

It turns out, I was being overdramatic. Things became surprisingly easier as my son got just a couple months older. That’s not to say that being a parent is a cakewalk, but we went from being in frazzled survival mode to having a more stable and manageable routine.

The newborn phase was exceptionally difficult, but before long Kaz got in tune with the patterns of life in his new family. He needed his diaper changed less often, didn’t want to eat on a constant basis, and actually started sleeping for more than an hour or two at a time. It seemed like when we weren’t looking, my wife and I suddenly had a little bit of room to breathe.

That meant that not only could we catch up on sleep, but from time to time I could actually sit down and play games without sacrificing time spent with my family. I was able to play video games again in a way that was realistic and responsible.

I’ve assured my expectant father friend that he need not worry. He won’t have to give up his favorite hobbies once he becomes a father. He will have to make some changes, though. No longer do I have spare income to buy games like I used to. The bulk of the money I used to spend on games is now going to pay for our mortgage, college savings, groceries, gas, and all the other things that come with being a homeowner and parent.

In short, I have “adult” expenses that account for the majority of my paycheck. When it comes to buying new games, I budget well ahead of time, wait until the games hit bargain bins, or even just rent instead of buy. In addition, being a parent means I can’t play video games on a whim like I used to.

Most of my gaming comes during my commutes to and from work (don’t worry, I take public transportation!), during my lunch break, and right before bed. I’ve also “found” time by spending less time on the Internet, not watching live TV, and generally being more efficient in how I plan my day. Smart use of my time means I not only get to enjoy the full benefits of being a father and husband, but I have ample spare time left to play video games.

In retrospect, it was silly of me to be so worried that being an “adult” meant I wouldn’t be able to play videogames. I believe that part of my maturation into what I consider to be real adulthood came in the form of learning to juggle all the new “adult” responsibilities I’ve taken on with the hobbies I’ve always held dear, most notably gaming.

Thinking back to when I was growing up, my parents kept up with their hobbies just the same as I do now. My mom has always been an avid reader whereas my dad loves jogging, and I can vividly remember both of them pursuing their favorite pastimes on a daily basis while still keeping up with their parental and familial duties. I’m sure Kaz has already become accustomed to seeing me play videogames, but he’s also used to me giving him baths, getting him dressed for daycare, and reading to him.

And, as he grows older, I have a feeling Kaz and I will share many fun times playing video games together. My priorities may have shifted and both the free time and money I have to spend on gaming has decreased, but I’m happy to report that I can enjoy playing videogames while still tacking the new challenges and adventures that my life as an actual “adult” has brought.

[Mister Raroo is a happy husband, proud father, full-time public library employee, and active gamer. He has contributed writing to The Gamer’s Quarter, Gaslampball.com, the now-defunct Pocket Games magazine, and his favorite gaming website of all time, Sector: Neo Geo Pocket . He and his wife have also self-published their own gaming fanzine, Game Time With Mister Raroo. He currently lives in El Cajon, CA with his family and many pets. You may reach Mister Raroo at mister.raroo@gmail.com.]

GameSetLinks: Laidlaw's Heavy Metal Meltdown

- Whee, time for some weekend GameSetLink-age, headed by a peek into Marc 'Head Headcrab' Laidlaw's blog for news on an exciting movie project he's involved in - yes, that's him on the left from a few years back, not Gordon Freeman.

Also hanging out in there - the Mercury News' Antonucci being sniffy about GTA IV's story, an interesting Gamecock-related ARG, and GameSpy riffing off Bill Fulton's Gamasutra article on online gaming idiots - pshaw.

Therefore, onward:

Not So Few Monstrosities » Blog Archive » Heavy Metal Mystery
Whoa, Valve's main Half-Life story guy Marc Laidlaw has written one of the segments to David Fincher's new Heavy Metal animated movie? Extreeemely cool.

auntie pixelante › not kids anymore
'the average player and consumer of games is no longer a child, it’s the adult who was that child playing nes games on a small, fuzzy tv.'

YouTube - Pioneer's 2008 Montage Video for its plasma TVs/AV receivers
Including Pandemic's Carey Chico as one of the auteurs, alongside cinematographers, etc - always good to see games equally rated as a visual artform.

GameTap Indies homepage
The subscription/ad supported service now has a homepage for their indie content - yay.

YouTube - 'Cup Of Brown Joy' - Elemental
Via RPS, and totally irrelevant to games - except I mailed Kyle Gray about it, since his semi-sekrit EA DS game is totally about tea-drinking British colonials. He dug it.

GameSpy: Toxicity in Our City
'Xbox Live becoming unpleasant for newcomers? But how could this be?!' Riffing off Bill Fulton's recent Gamasutra article.

Interview: Metanet - Independent Minds : Next Generation/Edge
'[By coder/noncoder metrics] Introversion is screwed. They’re the Sex Pistols of gaming? They’re the Sex Pistols if there was one Johnny Rotten with four Malcolm McLarens.' Ooo... SNAP!

ARGNet: Velvet Assassin Sent Us Alternate Reality Gaming Gold
About "...Gamecock Media Group's new alternate reality game promoting Velvet Assassin, a stealth action game coming soon to XBox360s and PCs."

Accidental Scientist: How to Build Team Morale & Cohesion by Goofing Off
As practiced at Surreal: 'It's also great for getting information on the team's status in a way that isn't formalized, allowing you to fix problems before they become real issues.'

'The non-existent GTA IV story' - San Jose Mercury News
Nooch: 'It’s as clear now as it was from the start that the game is devoid of a meaningful narrative.'



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

Game Career Guide (for student game developers.)

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

GamerBytes (for the latest console digital download news.)

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


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