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GameSetWatch.com is the alt.video game weblog and sister site of Gamasutra.com. It is dedicated to collecting curious links and media for offbeat and oft-ignored games from consoles old and new, as well as from the digital download, iOS, and indie spaces.

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Archive For May, 2008

GameSetPics: Arcade Infinity, The Most Japanese Arcade In America

May 25, 2008 4:00 PM | Simon Carless

So, as mentioned, I took a brief sojourn to Los Angeles earlier this week, and one of the things that I managed to do whilst there was make it out to Rowland Heights' Arcade Infinity. It's a small video game arcade that's way out to the East of the city in the sprawling suburbs, but was nonetheless worth the pilgrimage for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, Arcade Infinity was actually the company that I bought my Sega Aero City Japanese arcade cabinet from on eBay a good few years ago. Here's a picture of a slightly busted-up one, if you're not sure what they're like.

Basically, half-height sitdown Japanese cabinets are much more home and JAMMA board-swapping friendly (and have surprisingly large monitors!) compared to the normal Western paradigm - though the normal U.S. cabinets have a little more nostalgia attached, perhaps.

Anyhow, I digress! I believe that Arcade Infinity don't sell cabinets any more - or perhaps not in such numbers - but I'd heard from my co-worker and Insert Credit supremo Brandon Sheffield that the arcade was possibly the best in the U.S. for import-only music and fighting games. So I wandered over there to see, and was rewarded with a couple of happy firsts.

So here's the outside of the arcade - it's up a floor in what must be the most Japanese-specific shopping mall I've ever been to on U.S. soil, complete with Japanese language neon signs and delicious European-Japanese style pastries (always one of my favorite parts of going to Tokyo!)

COLUMN: 'Game Mag Weaseling': Brit-Pops

May 25, 2008 8:00 AM |

Well, it's summertime once again -- great for barbecuing and replacing air conditioning units, but never very good for US game mags, especially now that the advertising market has bottomed out across the board for dead-tree publications.

Still, that doesn't mean the newsstand can be completely avoided until October. There's always England to the rescue.

cvggta.jpg

Two new Brit-mags on the stands right now caught my attention this week. The first is CVG Presents, a new project that, if I'm not mistaken, marks the first time the Computer & Video Games name has seen print since CVG's original closing in 2004.

This special 178-page history of the Grand Theft Auto series kicks off what's set to be a bimonthly series of CVG Presents mags, each devoted to a single subject much like Future US's recent newsstand-only mags devoted to Halo and Metal Gear Solid.

This mag isn't quite as impressively printed as the specials published on the Edge label between '06 and '07 (lacking the coffee-table qualities of that stuff), but it's still a great piece of work.

Pages of textless art are not what you'll find here -- it's utterly packed with top moments from the games, top pop-culture references, soundtrack retrospectives, reviews from old Future magazines, interviews from old Future magazines (including one with a positively cherubic Dan Houser from 1999), and boundless amounts of trivia from the series' decade-long history. It's huge, clever, and totally worth the $12.

retrogamer50.jpg

Speaking of things that are $12, the fiftieth issue of Retro Gamer fits the bill nicely, too. To celebrate their 50th cumulative issue, the editors have done the expected thing and turned their regular "making of" spotlight to the early years of the magazine, when it started as a 2004 one-off and managed to survive low sales, nonexistent freelancer wages and the bankruptcy of its original publisher to be the robust monthly it is today.

Between physical issues and the classy DVD set Imagine Publishing sells on their website, I have every issue of Retro Gamer and buy it every month off the newsstand. I frankly thought their first couple years were positively atrocious and a waste of a great opportunity, but since the publisher shift it's been a wholly new magazine, one that treats its beat with more professionalism, dazzle, and pure enthusiasm than any previous English-language effort.

Where they used to just talk about games much like any old schmo with a blog could, now they get seriously in-depth with every feature they publish, interviewing old devs and illustrating each page profusely.

It's consistently wonderful, and the only complaint I have is that there's no point in any American publisher doing a similar magazine -- given current magazine economics, there's simply no way we could do better than this and make it solvent.

[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.]

GameSetNetwork: The Weekend Jaunt

May 25, 2008 12:00 AM | Simon Carless

- Time to finish rounding up some of the original stories on big sister site Gamasutra and related sites during the week, for your delectation - headed by David Sirlin's entertaining deconstruction of the Kongai CCG he designed for Kongregate.com.

Also in here - Atari's Phil Harrison being exceedingly on-topic, some really fun historical stuff towards the end of the Roger Hector chat, World Of Warcraft's 'corrupted blood' research, and much more.

Ready, steady, cook:

An Achievement-Centered Online CCG? Designing Kongai
"In this in-depth design article, game designer and balancer (Street Fighter II HD Remix) David Sirlin explains his methodology in designing intriguing achievement-based 'metagame' CCG Kongai for Flash game site Kongregate."

Q&A: Phil Harrison On Why Atari Is Softening Its Hardcore Focus
"During a recent Alone in the Dark event, Gamasutra sat down with recently-appointed Infogrames president Phil Harrison to discuss what the game means for the company - and why it may be one of the last hardcore, single-player titles publisher Atari releases."

Q&A: Kuju America's Kavanagh Talks Launch, Wii Debut
"UK-based Kuju Entertainment (Battalion Wars) recently opened a new San Francisco studio - Gamasutra talks to studio head John Kavanagh about the expansion, his biz history, and Kuju America's first title, a mysterious Wii conversion of an arcade title."

EA, WildTangent, uWink Talk Lessons From Asia, New Revenue Streams
"At a recent panel at Wedbush Morgan's Management Access Conference, panelists including EA's Kathy Vrabeck and Atari founder Nolan Bushnell tackled wide-ranging industry issues, from lessons learned from Asian mobile successes, to targeting and monetizing games in ways other than being asked to "pay $60 or go to hell.""

A Veteran With Character: Roger Hector Speaks
"Namco VP of development Roger Hector is overseeing the new U.S. development teams for the veteran Japanese publisher, and discusses Afro Samurai, original IP, and his fascinating industry history in this Gamasutra interview."

Q&A: CDV's Kroll On 'Games For Windows' Effectiveness
"Just how valuable is the Games For Windows initiative to publishers? Gamasutra talks with Mario Kroll, marketing director for publisher CDV (Sacred 2: Fallen Angel), who says that while the branding is an important consumer tool, its effectiveness at ensuring compatibility is still in question."

GFH: The Real Life Lessons Of WoW's Corrupted Blood
"What can WoW's 'Corrupted Blood' pandemic teach researchers about real world disease control? In a fascinating session at the recent Games For Health conference, Tufts' Nina Fefferman, Ph.D compared in-game behavior to real-life counterparts and said she'd like to use more virtual world players as her 'guinea pigs.'"

Q&A: Creating Intrigue In Prototype's Open Worlds
"In this in-depth Q&A, Gamasutra talks with Radical senior producer Tim Bennison to see what the developer hopes to contribute to the open-world genre and storytelling with its forthcoming Prototype, the challenges in creating sandbox games, and why pitching such a project is nearly as hard as developing it."

Microsoft's Kim: 'Our Competitors Don’t Recognize The Importance Of Relationships'
"As part of a wide-ranging opening keynote at the ongoing Vancouver International Games Summit, Microsoft Game Studios head Shane Kim contended that the company had an advantage with third parties because "our competitors don’t recognize the importance of relationships" - plus, more on working with Rare, Bungie and Japanese developers."

Opinion: Why EA, The Industry Shouldn't Rely On Metacritic

May 24, 2008 4:00 PM | Simon Carless

- [In this in-depth opinion piece, industry veteran and former Eidos president Keith Boesky looks at Electronic Arts' decision to stop giving quarterly guidance and focus on quality in its games, suggesting that the oft-used Metacritic industry benchmark is "indicative of neither quality nor sales".]

It looks like Wall Street wasn't as excited by John Riccitiello's Jerry Maguire moment as I was. EA's stock is down over 10 percent since the announcement [that it would no longer give quarterly guidance, and would instead focus on longer-term product review based around quality benchmarks].

The daily stock price is not the be all end all, and every CEO will tell you they do not let the stock price dictate corporate decisions, but stock hits make access to capital harder, making things like purchases of Take Two relatively more expensive. The decline is probably more attributable to the losses disclosed on last week's earning call, or the expiration of the Take Two tender offer, but the announcement of no quarterly guidance coupled with likely delays did not help.

I say “likely delays” even though Riccitiello was very specific about products slipping from a quarter but staying in the fiscal year. Spore in the first quarter of 2009 would still be a fiscal 2008 release.

The point I highlighted in my earlier weblog post was the commitment to quality against a backstop of the objectively measurable deliverable. Wall Street loves predictability. The game business hardly has any. EA committed to improve quality and endeavored to provide a measure for improvement [with Riccitiello recently promising in a February analyst meeting to raise its average Metacritic score to 80].

At first blush, to me at least, Metacritic made sense. I always knew the numbers were kind of squishy, but it kind of made sense. Higher critical scores mean higher quality, and like I said above, companies are not managed to stock price. Well... they are not managed to daily stock price, but they are managed to maximize shareholder value, or long term stock price.

Before we become the only form of entertainment in history to allow critics to influence the creative process, let's consider the source. A Metacritic score is not a valid measure because it is indicative of neither quality or sales.

GameSetLinks: A Crop Off The Old Block

May 24, 2008 8:00 AM | Simon Carless

- Swinging happily into the long weekend, a look at a typically diverse (yes, OK, random) set of GameSetLinks - headed by Andrew Glassner's special language for describing crop circles (his 'Morphs, Mallards and Montages' book is awesome, by the way, even if Ernest Adams perhaps correctly doesn't rate his book on storytelling.)

Elsewhere in this crop (haha!) of links - JC Barnett on controllers and accessibility, plus Quiet Babylon on the oft-poked games and drugs metaphor and a 'call to arms' for designers from Steve Gaynor at Fullbright.

Here be links:

Crop: Andrew Glassner's Crop Circle Language
I feel like there should be some game-related implementation of this language - Lazyweb request!

Grand Text Auto - Nideffer and Szeto's WTF?!
'I’ve just played my first few minutes of Robert Nideffer and Alex Szeto's new indie/art game, WTF?! ' Whoa - a Flash WoW academipastiche?

Japanmanship: Bar to Entry
'I don't think it was so much the social stigma of geekery that stopped so many 'normal people' from playing games so much as the increasingly disastrously designed control inputs.'

GameOfTheBlog.com: Shirtless and alone In space with only a politically questionable arcade game to keep you occupied...
A Whac-A-Mole game called... '"Bin Laden Basher"'?

Fullbright: Call to Arms 2008
'Fullbright proposes a public thought experiment; a decentralized game design symposium; a call for new takes on interactive expression.'

Lithium Leaf: 'Pixel Gets Presents From Cave Story Fans'
The Cave Story fancommunity awards its idol.

Insert Credit: Tatsunoko Vs. Capcom Screens
Yay, more 3D polygon, 2D plane fighting crossover yumminess.

Richard Cobbett: 'Gaming's Next Big Controversy?'
'Character creation in Age of Conan.' Wuh-oh.

So, the Difference Between Game and Drug Designers is? | Quiet Babylon
'We have a funny relationship with addictiveness in this industry.'

selectparks - Homo Ludens Ludens Follow Up.
Linking to good round-ups of an interesting in-progress Spanish game-art exhibition you might have missed hearing about.

Quiz Me Quik: Editing New Super Mario Bros With Treeki

May 24, 2008 12:00 AM |

treeki.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, a thirteen-year-old whiz hacks up New Super Mario Bros for DS.]

“Back when I was 12 or so,” sang New York singer songwriter Jeffrey Lewis in his song Back When I Was 4, “I swear to god, I never felt so low. Everyone but me was making out and eating cookies.” I wasn't making out or eating cookies much myself, though I did play spin the bottle earlier that year at my friend Rob's party, and kissed Julia Mildenhall once on the mouth; no tongue.

But I wasn't feeling terribly low, either: I’d just bought my SNES and was playing my way through Zelda, Donkey Kong Country and Secret of Mana.

I can’t speak for whether or not he was eating cookies and making out at age 12, but hacker and programmer Treeki was already well into development of his New Super Mario Bros. level editor in 2007. Almost a year later, and he's gone through two released versions of the editor, and made progress into a third version, though he notes it's not likely to see release any time soon.

Oddly, there hasn't been the glut of levelsets you'd expect from a release like this. In fact, aside from an unfinished Super Mario Bros. remake, and a few uncompleted trial levels by unmotivated individuals, there have barely been any. So, hey, if you're reading this: why not give it a go?

I for one would love to see some interesting hacks out there; even with eight worlds, NSMB really felt over and done with much too quickly, and the multitude of cool Super Mario World hacks show there are some really creative minds in the hacking community.

That's not exactly why we decided to talk to Treeki about the editor, though - after all, he admits he “wouldn't recommend” people even bother with it. It's more to do with, well: how many 13 year olds do you know who are putting together projects like that?

Best Of Indie Games: Jetpacks and Thrusters

May 23, 2008 4:00 PM | Tim W.

[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 Flashbang Studios, cactus, the new development team Umlautgames - and one of the highlights from the latest DigiPen student projects made available for download.

Game Pick: 'Jetpack Brontosaurus' (Flashbang Studios, browser)
"A browser game featuring dinosaurs and jetpacks. Currently in alpha testing stage, Jetpack Brontosaurus is a follow-up to the popular Off-Road Velociraptor Safari and Flashbang Studios' third Unity game release."

Game Pick: 'Precision' (cactus, freeware)
"A new week, a new game from cactus. Precision is an action game which involves timing your jumps, collecting green bottles and descending ladders. Expect to spend anything from a minute to half an hour on completing all seven levels."

Game Pick: 'Hollow Point' (Digipen, freeware)
"One of the many Digipen student projects made available for download this week, Hollow Point is a top-down shooter which plays like a combination of Gauntlet and Smash TV. The game sports decent 3D graphics, well-balanced difficulty, a wide selection of weapons and even comes bundled with a level editor."

Game Pick: '6 Differences' (Case, browser)
"A sequel to the Case's spot the difference game 5 Differences, where pictures come alive with all sorts of animation or movement. The objective is to find half a dozen discrepancies in each pair of photos."

Game Pick: 'Thrustburst' (Umlautgames, freeware)
"A remake of an old arcade game which involves navigating treacherous caverns by activating your thrusters in short spurts. A good debut effort from the new development team Umlautgames."

Column: Chewing Pixels: '11th Hour Reviews: PR’s Dirty Little Game'

May 23, 2008 8:00 AM |

- ['Chewing Pixels' is a regular GameSetWatch column written by British games journalist and producer, Simon Parkin. This time - an intriguing discussion of how limited access to Rockstar's Grand Theft Auto IV may have affected its initial reception.]

Judgments cast before they'd been adequately weighed; words sold before they’d been properly valued; shallow opinions that should have been presented as the first word in a conversation but were dropped with the clacking gavel pound of a conclusion. Yeah, every writer has regrets.

Four weeks ago in this publication I referred to Grand Theft Auto IV’s depiction of immigrants as being more nuanced and sympathetic than that demonstrated by the exquisite Baltimore-set television drama, The Wire.

The exact words were: “[Niko Bellic’s] portrayal should do more to warm viewers to illegal immigrants than any of the (nevertheless awesome) characters in, say, the culturally-acclaimed TV series, The Wire.”

While it seems like a harmless enough statement it was an idiotic comparison considering the heavyweight dramatic nature of the television series and the shits-and-giggles, tongue-in-cheek parody of the videogame.

But what’s really nagged and irritated over the following weeks is that, with a little distance and perspective, the bold proclamation was so obviously made, like so many from within our industry, with the aim of elevating videogames to the respectability of more established (read: accepted) media via bald association.

The opinion piece was written following a short weekend's playing of the game just prior to its release and, as I’ve played on through the rest of the story, the fault lines in that specific claim have become ever more apparent. While I adore the slow pacing of the first few hours, the way Nico starts off on the straight and narrow and is dragged into the shadows of the American Dream by forces of poverty and necessity, the game soon enough swings into full adolescent-posing-as-adult narrative fizz.

There’s nothing particularly unusual or wrong with that, especially when sat alongside Hollywood’s output, but claiming it has anything particularly meaningful to say about the immigration issue is stretching the game beyond its purpose.

More interesting than this whiny narcissism are the forces that brought about my (and ten thousand other professional) snap judgments of the game.

GameSetLinks: Bring The War, Bring The... What?

May 23, 2008 12:00 AM | Simon Carless

- Woo with the GameSetLinks - headed by a new indie title that's all kinds of Jeff Minter-esque - in only the best and silliest ways, naturellement.

Also in this set of link-out goodness, trawled from all over the place for your pleasure - some interesting discussion of how No More Heroes' violence is changed for the Japanese version, affecting its impact, and a look at an awesome retro computer game book - hurrayzor.

Onward to the links:

the2bears.com - War Twat
The Minter movement in sweary psychedelic shooters gets another acolyte!

UK:RESISTANCE: LEXICON ENTERTAINMENT ANNOUNCES IMMINENT SELF-DESTRUCTION OF VIDEO GAMES INDUSTRY
More DS brain games? 'Surely the games world can only take so much of this sort of horrendous onslaught before it mutates and starts eating its own babies?'

Xemu's Long-Winded Game Industry Ramblings :: Reaper Creeper
Another industry dev recommends Square Enix's 'The World Ends With You' - hearing it's one of the most leftfield and interesting 'mainstream' releases in a good while.

Write the Game: Writing a Kick-Ass Script 3: The Meat and Potatoes
Fun series on making good game script.

You Are Lose!: Violence In 'No More Heroes' - Blood-Free Japan
About censorship in the Japanese SKU: 'As the bosses and their deaths grow more outlandish and complex, the Japanese version remains uncertain and, well, a little awkward.'

Anonymity's redeeming quality - schlaghund's playground
'While the diplomatic metagame is an ever-present reality in the analog world (at least among my circle of friends), the digital one possesses a saving grace - anonymity.'

Vintage Computing and Gaming | Archive - Polaroid Instant Video Games
'What you're seeing is not a hallucination. It is neither the result of partial head trauma, nor an accidental intrusion from an alternate dimension.'

mbf tod@y: Usborne Guide To Computer And Video Games
'A glorious exercise in retrofuturism.'

Habitat Chronicles: Lucasfilm's Habitat Promotional Video
'In 1986, the following promotional video for Lucasfilm's Habitat - the first graphical virtual world with the first avatars - was released.'

Phosphor Dot Fossils: The DVD now available | Armchair Arcade
'Phosphor Dot Fossils is an audiovisual celebration of the evolution and innovation of arcade games, home video games and computer games.'

Opinion: Why Artificial Scarcity Could Boost Digital Game Downloads

May 22, 2008 4:00 PM | Simon Carless

- [In this thought-provoking opinion piece, industry commentator Matt Matthews suggests that artificial scarcity of digital games - only making them available for limited times - could be a way to get the public excited about games.]

The Problem with Infinite Shelf Space

Years ago Qwest produced a memorable television commercial of a bored hotel clerk telling a guest that each room had access to "every movie ever made, in any language, any time, day or night."

As color television was to the radio audience of the 1920s, so was this commercial's promise to the generation of dialup Internet users.

For the record, we still don't have all those movies on demand. However, the video game world is expanding its online offerings every day and we're beginning to get a taste of what it might be like to browse through "every game ever made, in any language, any time day or night".

From Xbox Live Marketplace to GameTap to the PlayStation Store to Steam to the Wii virtual console, a staggering number of video games are available to consumers at the click of a button. (For the sake of a cleaner discussion, let's put aside the seamy world of ROMs and emulators.)

Observers of the on-demand gaming world took note when the creators of N+ colorfully observed that Microsoft's Xbox Live Arcade offers "a hundred games, and they're all shit." This isn't just a problem for developers; consumers have to wade through all that "shit" to find a game worth playing.

Prior to those comments, Gamasutra's Simon Carless argued that downloadable game prices cut developer margins too short. Obviously less money is a serious problem for developers (no mystery there) but raising the prices will incur the wrath of consumers who've become conditioned to expect cheaper games.

The problem, in a nutshell is this: An infinitely long tail gluts the market, confounds the consumer, and commoditizes developers. And that's why I'd propose a new strategy for making games available online: artificial scarcity.

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