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June 21, 2008

GameSetLinks: Junking Up The Eden-ous Pixels

- Aha, GameSetLinks makes it to the weekend, and this set of ten multitudinous links is headed by some more info on Q's upcoming PixelJunk Eden, which I'm definitely looking forward to, in an abstract type way.

Also wandering around in here - a look at Introversion's Multiwinia, the Dundee game gathering that's full of Jam, a chat with Takayoshi Sato, the new Amusement magazine, and lots more carefully extracted information from 'the Internet'.

Going. For. Gold:

Siliconera » PixelJunk Eden as a testing ground for future PS3 tech
'Q Games is equipping the game with rumble, remote play, YouTube video sharing, and for the first time ever mysterious “trophies”.' Wow.

Tale of Tales » Interview with Takayoshi Sato
Sato, who we've interviewed before for Gamasutra, is really a lost genius - someone needs to set him up to direct an indie game.

GameSpy: Social Gaming Summit: Fun with People
Good to see GameSpy doing something a little off the beaten track for them.

Dobbs Challenge - Critic's Choice Part 1
Wow, these are non-winners - there were really a lot of decent hardworkin' entries to our competition in the end.

Valleywag: 'Exits: Stewart Butterfield's bizarre resignation letter to Yahoo'
The Game Neverending => Flickr => Yahoo! supremo departs in fine style. Anyone got good game biz resignation letters they wanna send me?

Dundee Game Jam #2 - "Build"
Some really interesting one-day games downloadable here by Scottish game devs and assorted strange people.

Gamasutra - Game Career Seminar Returns To 2008 E For All Show
GCG's Jill Duffy and other colleagues are putting on the educational mini-conf at E For All again this year, should be neat.

RPS Exclusive: Multiwinia Hands-on | Rock, Paper, Shotgun
The art style continues to hold up really well - stylized is the future.

The Political Scene: One Angry Man: Reporting & Essays: The New Yorker
Fascinating on Keith Olbermann, absolutely relevant to game journalism because polarized opinions are also segmenting readership here, too.

mbf tod@y: Amusement Issue 1, when EDGE meets Monocle
Ah, the very avant French game mag has launched: 'Amusement. Videogames. Interaction. Style. Inspiration.'

Interview: BioWare Vs. Sonic Chronicles - The Showdown

-[Cross-posting this from Gamasutra, because it's a readably wideranging interview from Christian Nutt on one of the most fascinating and unlikely team-ups of recent years - BioWare and Sonic The Hedgehog. Some good questions and answers on smaller team development on a high-profile product, methinks.]

As roleplaying giant BioWare entered the final stretch of development on its latest RPG epic Mass Effect, a title typical of its pedigree of sprawling fantasy/sci-fi universes, nobody could have expected its next announcement to reveal the development of a Sonic the Hedgehog title.

Straying even further from the typical BioWare formula, Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood is a Nintendo DS game - as far as one can get in the world of core gaming platforms from the company's traditional high-powered PC and console titles.

BioWare is no stranger to licensed material, with its biggest successes coming coming from the Dungeons & Dragons pantheon (Baldur's Gate, Neverwinter Nights) and Star Wars universe (Knights of the Old Republic), but unlike those properties, Sonic originated elsewhere in the video game space.

Production is now far along, and the game is set for a third quarter 2008 release. During a recent Sega event, Gamasutra sat down with Sonic Chronicles project lead Mark Darrah, discussing the significant broadening of scope the game represents for BioWare, how SCRUM and the DS' smaller required team size hearkened back to the earlier days of game development, and the requirements of dealing with a transpacific license holder.

A Shift In Style

So this is the first really console-oriented game BioWare's done in some time.

Mark Darrah: First handheld game we've done. BioWare actually did MDK 2 - I don't know if you're familiar with that - so, from an actual gameplay standpoint, that's a more console-y game than Sonic Chronicles actually is.

Because really, at its heart, Sonic Chronicles is an RPG. It's using a character with its roots in the platform style of gaming, but it's not really a platform game; it's just a game that exists within a platforming IP.

It doesn't seem all that different for BioWare, even though it's a handheld game, and a bit different in tone, and not necessarily as mature.

MD: Yeah, no, that's true. I mean, we're trying to target an E rating, so that's the first time that we've even been close to that since [T for Teen-rated] Baldur's Gate. Well I guess Neverwinter Nights was Teen.

So yeah, it's a younger target audience, it's the first time we've been on the handheld. That changes a lot of things; I mean, you have to understand that a younger demographic approaches gaming in a different way than someone that's played BioWare games for the last ten years.

The motto of BioWare is "The best story-based games." Sonic has been ridiculed recently for both the way its story has been going, and overall as a series. How do you loop that back?

MD: The interesting thing is that Sonic, when you start digging into the IP, is an immensely well-developed IP. There are comics, there are cartoons, and there is all this back-history that's been laid out. So there was an amazing amount for us to draw upon, and refer to, and pay homage to as we made the story.

I mean, I think the big thing is, we're making a storytelling game, while for most of the Sonic titles - Sonic Rush, for example - the story has to be injected between the levels, so it limits how they can tell story.

And when it comes to taking a Japanese action game series and transferring it to a Western-developed RPG, these are fairly disparate game styles.

MD: Yeah. I think we have to remember what Sonic's about, but also remember the kind of game we do, so you are trying to balance these two, and make sure they're not just constantly fighting each other on the screen. But it's actually turned out amazingly well.

Did you adapt the BioWare dialogue tool? I saw it demonstrated at Austin GDC.

MD: We're actually not using the one that was used for Mass Effect, because the Mass Effect one is really designed to do cinematic conversations.

This is moving away, because it's not really practical for us to do cinematic conversations, so we're using a version of the dialogue tool that was developed for Dragon Age, where it's able to deal with more traditional style of storytelling.

Now, Dragon Age has since layered on something like what Mass Effect has, in order to tell a much more cinematic story, but we don't need that here, so we've got a traditional BioWare-style conversation system without the additional trappings of a complicated cinematic system.

When you're putting together a team to work on this game, did you look for people internally who had familiarity with the franchise, or who had wanted to work on younger-targeted games?

MD: I've been at BioWare for a long time, eleven years. So I was looking to move on to something that was smaller teams, smaller dev cycles, and things like that. I'm really interested in the handheld, it's actually my primary gaming platform.

We actually additionally brought in some people from outside, just to break up the BioWare cycle, so we didn't just do what BioWare always does. So the team actually is a mixture of people with DS experience, people with lots of BioWare experience, people with just other console experience, just to keep it [diverse], because you're right, it is a new development experience for BioWare.

Scaling Development Down For DS

I imagine compared to ramping up to development on other platforms, DS isn't as difficult.

MD: Yeah. I mean, the hardware is challenging for someone who's done for console or PC development, just because it's got 4 megs of memory, and it's very much hardware from - if you compare it to a PC, it's like hardware from 14 years ago.

So that's a problem, because the problems are problems that we haven't had to face, as an industry, for a while in most other areas - memory fragmentation, and things like that.

But yeah, the number of things you can do is more limited, so it's a little bit easier to ramp it up, and you don't have to learn how to program a shader, for example, because you don't have shaders. It's not without its challenges, but we can ramp up a lot more quickly.

About how many people are working on the team for this game?

MD: Right now we're down a bit, because we're ramping down; the art is mostly done. So I think, right now, we're around 17. But at our peak we were actually over 30 people.

That's a lot for a portable game.

MD: That is a lot for a portable game. I've heard teams as small as six, though someone on our team who's done DS development before did have a team of 50 on a different, previous title. But that was an eight month development cycle, whereas we're going to end up being closer to fourteen.

Did you have to ramp up a relationship with Nintendo, too, to get the tools and everything?

MD: There's a lot - their development system is exposed, so if you're a licensed Nintendo developer, you have access to everything by the developed hardware right off the website - in fact, I don't even know if you need to be a licensed developer to do that.

But yeah, we do have a relationship with Nintendo. You can say, "Oh, this acts differently than I expected it to," and they can tell you, "Oh, well that's how it's supposed to act. It's explained in this document here."

You said you are primarily a handheld gamer, so you were interested in working on a handheld project. What attracted you to working on handheld projects?

MD: For me, I think one of the things was scope, because I've been in the industry a long time, and I remember when teams were 35 people, and this has let us come back to that. A lot of the angst in the industry is about how we run project management: should we be doing agile, should we be doing waterfall. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

A lot of that goes away on a smaller team, because you're getting down to the scope where one person can understand almost everything in the game, which makes for a lot more control. That's the thing that attracted me in the first place.

The other thing that I realized once we got into it is that it's actually a lot more - you're able to be a lot more experimental. Because of the bounds, because the box is much more well-defined, you're not just spending all your time trying to get the game even running.

On an Xbox 360, a lot of it is just like, "Here's our big giant list of features," and just getting that list done is going to take most of the time. On the DS, you have a little bit more time, because you've already done that, because your list is smaller.

And then that lets you just poke around and figure things out, and be more experimental, be more iterative. And that's actually not what attracted me in the first place, but it's been a really rewarding experience on the handheld since then.

It's got a 3D battle engine, and I the characters on the map are 3D but the map is 2D. Have you had trouble getting good performance out of the DS for the 3D on this game?

MD: It is a challenge, because the DS is not really primarily a 3D platform, but we limit ourselves to 3D only on single-screen, which helps a lot because there's only a single 3D engine on the DS. So performance has been a constant battle; not just for the 3D stuff, but for everything. But no, we've done OK.

What's Old Is New Again With SCRUM

When you talk about project management, did you have and did you follow a specific project management style?

MD: We're sort of using [agile development method] SCRUM now. We didn't start out with that, and I don't think we adopted it completely cleanly, because it was not something that we wanted to smoosh into the project mid-way through. Especially to people who aren't really familiar with it.

But I still think for my style of development, I think it's still the best thing that's out there. So I think we're going to try to go a little bit deeper on the next project, and see how that works.

Why did you choose to move into SCRUM, and what have you adopted as you've moved into it?

MD: In terms of what we've adopted, we do have SCRUM teams, but we haven't really adopted "planning poker" and things like that. I think that's where we've actually stumbled a little bit, the planning side. On the management side, we do daily stand-ups, and - I mean, we've got a lot of the trappings of SCRUM, but we're missing the core project management part.

The thing that really attracted me to it, that really pushed it forward for me, was just that SCRUM, in a lot of ways, was the way that development was done fifteen years ago, but it just didn't have a name. It was just, you did what you needed to do, and you got it done quickly. There was always something running. So it was that style, when the team got smaller, it just made sense to go back to something that felt like that again.

So did you do a lengthy pre-production cycle before you started the game?

MD: We sort of did. I've been on the project since July of 2006, and then until about November, it was just, I'm a lead programmer -- I was lead programmer of the project. I mean, I am lead director now, but I was lead programmer in the beginning.

So for about five months, it was just me and the original project director. There was a lot of pre-production happening then, where we were experimenting, poking around, figuring out the technology, but we've also been building tools as we went. We didn't have a completely clean tools pipeline when we went into full production -- which is pretty typical for BioWare, we're often building tools throughout production.

Again, we're talking about ramping up with DS, and building a tools pipeline for DS probably wasn't as challenging.

MD: Yeah, the interesting thing is that a lot of the RPG elements that we have are just as complicated as you'd have on a next-gen platform game. So our designer pipeline is just as complicated, or maybe 80% as complicated, where, yeah, the art pipeline is a lot simpler.

Again, yeah, you've got textures and models and animations, but you don't have shaders and vertex programs, and like 47 other different things. Bump maps. You don't have those things. So the art pipeline is a lot cleaner, a lot easier, but the design pipeline, because it's a BioWare game, is just about as complicated.

You said you're trying to be iterative, so is that more in terms of refining the dialogue, or is that the game design as well?

MD: It's everything. Yeah, it's the dialogue, the combat systems, the interfaces. Just try to get it in, get it running, and then make it better.

Dealing With An External License

Did someone at Sega approach BioWare, or was it the other way around?

MD: It's really unclear as to how that happened. Simon Jeffery, president of Sega of America, and [BioWare studio heads] Ray [Muzyka] and Greg [Zeschuk], from BioWare, know each other from Knights of the Old Republic [when Jeffery served as president of LucasArts]. No one seems to remember how it happened.

Ray's a huge Sonic fan; he has his Genesis hooked up to his giant 1080p projection screen at home. So I think it just sort of happened almost organically, from when they were just having a conversation.

Do you have to go through approvals with Sega, and does anything have to go through Japan, or is it pretty much that you're left to your own devices and milestones?

MD: No, it's Sega's IP, so they do have control over it, and we do have to get approvals from Sonic Team, which is the team that develops Sonic. So there are approvals on art, there are approvals on dialogue.

Is that a constant process over the course of the development?

MD: Yeah. We submit, and then they provide feedback; we make changes, and then they approve it, or don't approve it, as the case may be.

Did your artists at BioWare do all the 2D art, or is, to keep it consistent with other games, did you supply some of that from Sega?

MD: We were provided with a 'style guide' from Sonic Team, but all the art in the game was made by the BioWare team.

A lot of it's really convincingly Sonic-esque. You can usually tell when games have been developed in Japan or in North America. It convincingly has a Sonic feel to it, which I think is an achievement for you guys.

MD: Yeah, we've gone for a much more painterly look, so I think that helps with that. It looks like something different, but it looks "Sonicy," so I think it lets you not just look at how it's different, because it's different enough that you can look at how it's the same.

I know you can't speculate too much, but do you foresee that BioWare's going to round out the platforms you're working with, and the kind of styles you're working with, as things move forward?

MD: Yeah, we're looking into Wii and PSP as a company, as well, but nothing's been decided, and nothing's been announced. And we are, from styles of games, we are trying to broaden our portfolio. But we still have Dragon Age, which is a more traditional style of BioWare game.

Best Of Indie Games: Revisit Immortality With Sauerbraten

[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 independent PC Flash/downloadable titles released earlier this week.

These include a competition entry, one freeware FPS with single and multiplayer gameplay modes, a stylish platformer made in under three hours, plus a new release from the developer of Passage and Gravitation.

Game Pick: 'Visit' (Ted Lauterbach, freeware)
"An exploration platformer in the style of Nifflas' Knytt Stories, made for YoYo Games' Ancient Civilization competition. Solve increasingly difficult block puzzles as you attempt to retrieve a set of eight keys to reveal the secret of the temple."

Game Pick: 'Sauerbraten' (Wouter, freeware)
"A free first person shooter with support for both single and multiplayer game types. The new CTF edition which was recently released includes engine enhancements, performance improvements and the popular 'Capture the Flag' gameplay mode."

Game Pick: 'BlockOn' (cactus, freeware)
"A platformer from the IGF finalist (Clean Asia!) created in under three hours with a limited CGA palette. The game involves drawing your own path to the exit of each level, but enemies and traps are randomly placed once the design phase ends in an attempt to prevent players from reaching their goal."

Game Pick: 'Immortality' (Jason Rohrer, freeware)
"A game by Jason Rohrer in which he ponders on the concept of immortality, created for his monthly The Escapist column - the Game Design Sketchbook. As always, the resulting discussion is anything but ordinary."

In addition, a new link round-up on the site, which is updated regularly with information about the independent scene, includes updates on in-development titles including Machinarium, Crimsonland 2, Clockwork and more.

June 20, 2008

The Pini Society - Doing Game Marketing Right?

Have been meaning to write this mini-post for a little while, because it pertains to games and marketing in today's climate - and something that impressed me when it comes to getting your game noticed by the press.

Basically, emailed press releases are fine, sure, and sending random promotional items like Xbox faceplates and suchlike also gets some attention, but I was rather impressed when the following package arrived for me a few weeks back:

Basically, it was a vintage stamped envelope containing a cover letter from the 'mysterious' Pini Society, whose webpage reveals that it's an obscure brotherhood comprising "archaeologists, explorers, and adventurers [who] have traveled the world seeking... relics for centuries".

Furthermore, there was a notebook filled with press cuttings and apparently handwritten text into ancient discoveries in there - plus a wood-covered USB key stamped with the Pini Society's crest. At the time, the Pini Society's homepage didn't even have information about the game it's promoting on there, so it made it additionally mysterious.

In any case, inserting the USB key revealed a casual game themed around the alleged Society, and in due course I got a press release explaining further: "I'm contacting you today because we recently sent you a package containing a new downloadable PC game called "The Pini Society: The Remarkable Truth." The game, which was developed by Arkadium and is scheduled to launch on May 27, is designed to engage, entertain and educate new audiences about The Pini Society and some of the planet's richest archaeological discoveries over the past 200 years. I hope you'll have time to check it out and spread the word."

And the game itself is now available, and handily reviewed by Gamezebo. It actually reminds me a little of elements of Pandora's Box, absolutely Alexey Pazhitnov's most under-rated game. But as can be seen from the user reviews, it hasn't completely gelled with casual gamers.

In addition, some other demographics were a bit confused by it too. For example, the UnFiction ARG forums briefly considered it as a trailhead, before realizing it was closer to straight marketing than an actual ARG.

In addition, the editor of Archaeology.about.com reviewed the game, and has an adorable semi-scholarly fret about it:

"So, in contrast to what the site currently implies, the Pini Society has no plans to seek and excavate sites, purchase sites for preservation, or publish scholarly reports. However, the manufacturer does plan on donating 1% of their total game proceeds from 2008 to already existing historical/cultural preservation efforts. I think that's admirable, and makes the $20 a bit more worth spending. I just wish they'd say so on the webpage and not confuse the Pini Society with, say, the Archaeological Conservancy."

Along similar lines, The New Yorker recently profiled archaeologists critiquing the new Indiana Jones movie, and The Pini Society - certainly redolent of Indiana vs. the Dan Brown-ian Da Vinci Code mysteriousness - is indeed, hardly true to life - it's a fun, stylized conceit.

But the whole promotion concept had style and forethought behind it, and heck, it's made me write a whole post about it. So I guess what I'm saying is - more mysterious journals, and less Xbox 360 faceplates in game marketing might make the world a more interesting place. It also might get journalists and influencers re-engaged with marketeers - something which is increasingly a problem, given the way the Web works.

COLUMN: @ Play: Super-Rogue, Banished to the Deeper Regions

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.]

Rogue was certainly not the first CRPG. Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord probably made it out months ahead. Before then, there were interesting, relatively unknown Dungeons & Dragons-inspired games for the PLATO computer network, and which might get looked at themselves here, eventually. But Rogue's take on the basic concept adapted some aspects of Dungeons & Dragons that usually got ignored by the others. As D&D evolved, in fact, that game itself abandoned the very ideals that Rogue took to heart: discovery, player improvisation, and the amassing of tremendous piles of loot

Rogue was not a niche game at this time. It was one of the most-played games in campus timeshare computer labs, a genuine phenomenon among its audience. Rogue keeps a score list because it was designed to be played in this kind of environment, with lots of people shooting for a spot on the board; later roguelikes lost that sense of competition and community, but kept the score lists anyway. These days, unless the game is played on a public internet server like alt.org, roguelike score lists tend to fill up with the same player. Back in Rogue's heyday however, competition for the top spots could be fierce.

Soon after Rogue's original release, a number of similar games began to make the rounds of these computer labs. They were the original roguelikes, games that took inspiration from Rogue itself more than even Dungeons & Dragons. Some of these games incorporated Rogue's name in its own: XRogue, Ultra Rogue, Advanced Rogue, Super-Rogue.

srogue7.pngHistory of the Early Games

This was still a couple of years before the first modern roguelikes appeared on the scene. The first of those was Moria, a game that takes the same format as Rogue but has a more varied design. (Note: Moria actually seems like it was created contemporary with the early roguelikes, but didn't get released outside its home school for a while.) Hack and Larn, with their own changes to Rogue's core play, came years afterward. We call the newer games roguelikes, but the early games really put emphasis into that word.

That is, they tended to be very difficult, with monsters that got stronger faster than the player could improve. They had a limited number of character classes, if any at all. They had relatively simple dungeons, often plundering Rogue's three-by-three grid generation algorithm. They were generally one-way trips through the dungeon until the player found a goal item. They had dungeons of practically-infinite length, with the choice of winning or going on for higher scores figuring prominently at Amulet-depth.

And they used an item identification system identical to Rogue's, where scrolls of identify were in short supply and most items had to be discovered through trial and error. They most often used Rogue's basic items, with some extras thrown in. The new monsters and items were really what made the game; they were Rogue-with-extra-toppings.

srogue6.pngThese games are sometimes called the lost roguelikes, and the reasons for that are sad ones. This was back in the day before there was such a thing as an open-source movement. Computer programmers had already begun to look at their source code with a proprietary eye. Rogue's own developers, after some public releases (a version of Rogue is still included with some distributions of bsdgames), began guarding against further source exposures, and in fact even produced commercial versions of the game for play on home computer systems; these are the Epyx Rogue releases. What is probably a pirated version of one of these (although it identifies itself as "Public Domain") is what is now known as "PC Rogue," which these days may be the most-played (and hardest) version of the game.

How Games Become Lost

It's important here to note that Rogue may exist in a playable form now only because of those bsdgames releases and commercial games. The early roguelikes were lost because they had closed source and never got a release for home computer systems. Since they were developed solely for play on then-current, now-ancient, flavors of Unix, they couldn't really be played only by folk who owned that increasingly-esoteric flavor of hardware. Even if the source were available, it turns out they were often coded carelessly, relying on bizarre programming tricks like raw memory dumps for save functionality, making it difficult to run it on anything but the system it was made for.

As the years rolled by, it became harder and harder to get together the combination of hardware needed to play them. And if you could get the hardware, you were probably going to use it for some serious purpose, removed from the influence of playful college students.

srogue5.pngSo for a long time these games were simply forgotten. The middle-era games Moria, Larn and Hack arose, each either with public sources or with versions for systems with more longevity. The later-era roguelikes Angband and Nethack sprung from those. Then internet reared up, surprising the hell out of everyone, and roguelike games began to find audiences of players who were long done with college, or had never attended. This is where ADOM and Dungeon Crawl enter the picture. All this while, the lost roguelikes receded further back in memory, remembered by few, mentioned but rarely.

For a while there, if one searched for "rogue" on the internet, after throwing out the X-Men links, and after reading through Boudewijn Waijers' excellent roguelike homepages (for a time the only real source of information on these games on the internet), one would find a few tantalizing glimpses of the lost games, usually in the form of hint guides or FAQs socked away in the dustiest corners of FTP servers, still informing a vanished audience of enthusiasts about the best ways to conquer the lost dungeons. For a while it looked as if this sad affair would continue forever. Until....

Please Contribute Today To The Save The Umber Hulk Foundation

The Roguelike Restoration Project (currently down, it seems) remembers these old games, and has for a couple of years now attempted to revive them. For all the reasons given above, this quest they have assumed is extremely difficult. Yet they have done, for the most part, an excellent job in hunting down the sources for these games, cleaning them up, and returning them and compiled binaries available to the gaming world. One of the games they've restored is Super-Rogue, a revision of the original game that, at first, doesn't seem to change the original that much at all.

Super-Rogue has the same one-way-dive, then-return quest format that Rogue has. Like Rogue, it uses nine-sector dungeons that aren't terribly challenging to explore. And the monsters get steadily more deadly as the player gets deeper, forcing him to turn to the wide array of random magic items he finds to survive.

In many ways, Super-Rogue is easier than the original game. Its food system is a lot more lenient. Characters get hungry in proportion to the weight of the stuff they're carrying compared to maximum capacity, and as a result, it's easy to build a big food surplus in the early levels when there's not that much stuff to carry. The least useful items to carry extras of, as in most roguelikes, are weapons and armor, which are also the heaviest things. Players will usually hit maximum pack volume before the weight limit, which is also worth a nice cumulative nutrition bonus.

Just before writing this column, I had finished a game of Super-Rogue that got to level 34. When I died, I had nearly a dozen food rations in inventory, and I had gotten up to 17 at one point. Even though I wore rings, which consume extra food, through most of the game, the only time I was in serious danger of starving was when I zapped a staff that turned out to be "of food absorption."

srogue4.pngRogue may have its roots solidly in Dungeons & Dragons, but it notably only took one statistic from that game, Strength Super-Rogue also brings in Dexterity, Wisdom and Constitution, which each seem to function in the traditional, if obscure, ways. The monsters have been adjusted to account for this; many more foes have stat draining attacks than before. Rogue, in fact, only had Giant Ants (or Rattlesnakes depending on the version), poison potions and poison dart traps to drain Strength, but it seems like half the monsters in Super-Rogue can inflict stat damage. The potion of restore strength from Rogue makes its return as a magic item. Although its name is unchanged, it also seems to restore the other stats. And finally, although it takes a great while to do it, it seems that stats regenerate naturally over time.

The Vrock's In The Details

But mostly this is Rogue with a longer dungeon (the Amulet was on level 26 in Rogue), and with new monsters and items. Some highlights:

  • It is the word that makes all Nethack players cringe in fear. I fought exactly one cockatrice during the long game. Whether they have an instant-stone attack as in Hack, or are just another monster, I was unable to determine. Thank god.
  • Other monsters don't have some abilities one might presume given the game's origins in D&D. Xorns cannot travel through walls, and Vampires don't seem to drain anything. Vampires, however, are instantly killed by lit spaces, which they won't enter willingly. This makes wands and scrolls of light extremely helpful deep in the dungeon. You even get experience for vampires that die because of light, whether they're visible to you or not.
  • The first difficult enemy in the dungeon is the imp, who can sometimes slow the player temporarily on a successful hit.
  • Wands of curing heal you, and also cure bad conditions. They are almost essential equipment when Umber Hulks start showing up with their dreaded confusion gaze.
  • Rings of speed carry a plus, and that plus is the number of extra turns you get per round. Were this unchecked, it would certainly make it among the most powerful items in any roguelike. However they increase hunger a bit, and after many turns their plusses drain down to zero. If a +0 ring of speed is put on (not if it drains down to +0 from use), it seems that it becomes cursed.
  • One type of scroll teleports the player back to level 1 of the dungeon; this seems like a good thing. Another scroll "banishes you to the deeper regions," which sent me down to level 15 when the deepest I had seen was 7. I died soon after. The moral: scrolls can be a lot more treacherous here than in Rogue.
  • Rings of illumination permanently light up rooms as you enter them. A lot of the terror of the later levels of Rogue came from not being able to see more than one space in any direction. This makes the game seem a lot more fair, all by itself. (And yes, Vampires hate this item.)

Finally, if you should decide to play this game (I do recommend it), here are a few other things that might help:

  • The Z command initiates a general, omni-directional zap of a wand. To direct it in a specific direction, use the P key. I also feel I should warn you that, unlike some other games they've ported, the Roguelike Restoration Project's edition of this game does not support keypad controls. You're stuck with the vi arrangement (hjkl & yubn) for this one.
  • You begin the game with a random weapon and armor here. My level 34 run got so far, in part, because I began it with +2 plate mail. Nothing quite like starting out with the game's best armor!
  • Some later levels take the form of full-screen mazes. Expert 'hackers might quake at the mention of this, as it is widely regarded that Nethack's play gets annoying in the second half of the dungeon, where most levels are mazes, but they only show up once in a while in Super-Rogue.
  • A attraction new to the dungeon, and largely ignored by later roguelikes, is the magic pools that occasionally crop up, about one per eight-or-so dungeon levels. Items can be dipped into them with Shift-D, which seems to increase the plusses on weapons. A given pool can only be dipped into once.
  • This may be the first roguelike game in which monsters actually may decide to run away if wounded in battle. Unlike in some games, here this is actually an effective tactic for them, and they usually resume the attack only if cornered or after they've had time to heal.
  • There is now the occasional shop in the dungeon, represented by a caret. While it may seem at first like a prototype of Nethack's shops (it's a room with stuff on the floor), there seems to be no way to steal. You aren't told what items are before buying them, but upon purchase they are fully identified. Shops only remain open long enough to make a few purchases, and upon leaving the level is regenerated.
  • Healing potions grant extra maximum HP as in Rogue, but you don't have to have maximum HP to take advantage of them. They are awarded whenever the potions are drunk.
  • Sometimes multiple items, especially potions, are found in one "bundle," another presaging of a later feature.
  • As in Hack and some other modern roguelikes, player possessions are identified at the end of the game.
  • Finally.... This probably a bug, although it might be one in the RRP's implementation of the game more than the original. The player gets a healing turn every time any key is pressed. Even illegal keys that don't allow the monsters to get a turn. This means, by pressing some unused key over and over, players can get all their hit points back without danger. I did not take advantage of this in my 34-level game; if I had, I suspect I could have won without trouble.

    srogue3.pngPlaying Super-Rogue Today

    I would ordinarily include a link to the download page of the Roguelike Restoration Project, but they seem to be down at the moment. So I am including my own link to the Super-Rogue binaries, here.
    Download file(~158k)

    Unlike some other of the RRP's products, Super-Rogue on Windows still requires the Unix emulation layer Cygwin to play; make sure to get the Curses libraries in your installation. After installing Cygwin, go under (install drive):\cygwin\home\(your account name) and unzip the files there. You should then be able to more easily find them from Cygwin's bash prompt.

    As you can probably tell from the screenshots, this is a seriously old-style roguelike. It's all ASCII, it uses no extended characters in its graphics, and it doesn't use color or character attributes. It only supports vi-style keys for movement. Still, from playing it over the past couple of weeks, it seems clear to me that there is more game here than its age might imply. Super-Rogue deserves recognition in the lineage of roguelike gaming. The Roguelike Restoration Project has done us all a great service in making it, and the other lost roguelikes, playable in the 21st century.


    Extra fun for those who have read this far: a USENET post from 1996 in which the creator of Moria talks about writing it and the early history of his game.

    Next time out, in preparation for the release of its sequel, we'll be covering Success/Ninja Studio/Atlus' DS roguelike Izuna: Legend of the Unemployed Ninja. You can bet that I'll be spending most of the intervening time scrounging for screenshots.

GameSetLinks: Russian Street Fighter Doll Says 'Da!'

- Bonjour, my friends, and welcome to another fun-filled set of GameSetWatch links - headed by the news that the awesome Game Center CX series has an English-language licensor showing it at the New York Asian Film Festival. Please, obscure cable channel, pick this up?

Also wandering around in here - a cute Zangief doll (pictured), the world of the game intern, the Rock Band leaderboards analyzed, what Japanese developers tend to say, an unlove letter to Data Design, and lots more.

Scissors, paper, shark:

insert credit :: View topic - Videogames On The Big Screen At The New York Asian Film Fest
An English-subtitled version of Game Center CX, plus the Oneechambara movie, both being covered for GSW soon by our own Matt Hawkins, yay.

chewing pixels » Dodge, Block, Counter: Interviewing the Japanese
'Many Japanese staff display a politician-esque ability for question-dodging.' Indeed!

Spacetime Studios: 'How to Intern at a Game Development Studio'
'Being an intern in the gaming industry isn’t what many people think.'

Terra Nova: A New Virtual World Winter?
'Are we already seeing the early sign of a Virtual Worlds downturn that may lead to a "winter" as severe as the one in the period 2000-2003?' Probably not, depends on your definition of virtual worlds, mind you.

Terrible Video Games And Other Stuff » Blog Archive » Gaming’s Worst - Data Design Games
Including a letter to Data Design about their 'awesome' Wii titles.

The Triforce » Blog Archives » Me playing Guitar Hero in front of 30,000* people at the Isle of Wight Festival
Magic, or tragic, trend-wise? I think it's cool, but it'd be cooler if it was Rock Band, I'm such a snob.

VGChartz.com | X-Box Live Arcade Charts for 6/14/08 - Top 135 (C3 ~11.6k, F2 ~1.0k)
'I don't have solid numbers for debuts of other, early XBLA titles, but Frogger 2 has to rank somewhere near the worst ever debut.'

videogaming247 » Blog Archive » The 10 most influential games journalists in Britain today
Decent list of competents, U.S. list coming soon, too!

'The Red Cyclone' at The Way Things Are
Very adorable homemade Zangief Munny-style doll, yay.

We Can Fix That with Data / Rock Band DLC Stats
'In addition to your friends’ scores, Rock Band song leaderboards provide some interesting business data.' Good extrapolation here.

June 19, 2008

Interview: Edmund McMillen Talks Gish 2, Grey Matter, Indieocracy

[Our excellent IndieGames.com: The Weblog editor Tim W. was kind enough to conduct this interview with Gish alumnus Edmund McMillen, so we're reprinting it here, since Edmund is one of the PC indie game scene's most interesting alternative thinkers, we delightedly claim.]

Hi Edmund, how about we begin with a little introduction of yourself?

I'm Edmund McMillen, co-creator of Gish, Triachnid, Coil and a few other indie titles.

Are you working on anything else at the moment besides Gish 2?

I'm currently working on Gish 2, Triachnid 2, a game called Grey Matter with Tommy Refenes (Goo!) and a few other Flash games that are in slight limbo.

Can you explain to us what Grey Matter is about?

Sure thing, Grey Matter is basically a Robotron shooter, but the player doesn't shoot. The game is mouse-controlled and takes place inside someone's brain. It was something small me and Tommy jumped into a little while back just so we could have something we worked on together.

How much of Grey Matter is already done?

Grey Matter is pretty far along, I'd say the only thing holding it back is two (or possibly three) bugs. Could be done soon, could be done later.

Which project will you be releasing next? Is there a date attached to it?

I think Triachnid 2 will come out in a month or so. Possibly before the end of June. We hope to make it more user-friendly this time. :)

Gish and Chronic Logic

Would you consider released a discounted Bonus Maxi Combo Pak combining the joys of both Gish 2 and its predecessor?

Sure. I'd love to remake Gish 1 with the new engine (for Gish 2) and put it out just to see how it plays with Gish's new body. I might make that a personal project of mine after Gish 2 is done.

Why did you elect to make a sequel, rather than applying the same imagination to a new concept? Is it because you've run out of ideas, or because you like money?

I think there was a lot Alex and I wanted to do with Gish 1 that we couldn't do back then. And we have grown a lot. There's just so much more I want to do with Gish 2, and I've had a lot of the ideas mapped out from when Gish 1 was still in development.

Honestly we had originally started to design a game called The Book of Knots, it had a biped as the main creature you control. At that time we didn't have all the rights to Gish due to the break up of Chronic Logic, and it took a few years to get those rights back. Once we got them back I think we were both inspired to work on Gish again, so The Book of Knots kinda turned into Gish 2.

But also I'm sure knowing that Gish 1 was still a staple indie game title, it helps attract some more attention when we do finally release it. But Gish 2 will be a much different game then Gish 1.

What's up with your relationship with Chronic Logic?

I personally was never a part of Chronic Logic. I came on as a freelance artist and pitched the basic idea of Gish to Alex after working with them for a few months. Alex took the idea of a sprite-based blob and turned it into a physical one, hence Gish was born.

Alex left Chronic Logic after Gish. I left too, but I wasn't really ever a part of the team to begin with. Josiah now runs the Chronic Logic website, while Alex and I started Cryptic Sea. It took a while to get one-third of the rights to Gish back, but we finally did. We are on speaking terms with Josiah, and we still have a business relationship with him.

Questions

Has Reggie called you back yet? (in reference to the video where Edmund records himself attempting to contact the Reggienator)

Heh, a few weeks after that video went up we got a call from Nintendo. It wasn't Reggie but it was someone high up in the ranks there who wanted to talk about WiiWare, and we are still talking to him. That's about all I can say.

Our goal is to get on all consoles, and we would love to launch on Steam... I can say we are currently talking to them all, but won't have any info till we have Gish 2 further in development.

Are there any other games out there that you look at and think 'I wish I'd made that. I totally could have made that'?

Hmm.. probably Pokemon. But I wish I made Katamari. I love that idea.

Any recent indie game favorites?

Lemme think. So many games coming out now it's hard to remember them all.

I asked Raigan and Mare the same question, and they answered N.

Haah, I'd say N as well. Me and Alex played the hell out of it.

How did the portrait you did for Raigan and Mare happened?

I talked to them a lot at GDC. I drew a lot of non-game stuff then, and I thought I'd do one of them. I did one for the cover of a Matmos album, and I've also drawn the Behemoth team. They sometimes use those pics when they do interviews. But I mostly draw myself and my wife. I'm just that cool.

If Derek Yu is the George Lucas of indie game creators, what is Edmund?

I'd hate to say it but I guess I'd be more the Tim Burton of them. My work tends to be darker themed.. so I guess that fits.

Are you secretly Derek Yu?

I could be, though there are pics of us together. I feel like if I was Asian I'd look just like him. Well, that would be my goal if I was Asian - to look like Derek Yu.

If I was black I'd also try to look like Derek Yu, but that's a whole other deal...

Projects

How do you keep track of all your projects, involvements and websites?

I tried to put everything together on my old website, thisisacryforhelp.com. Everything is in .exe form though.

How do you come up with names for your games?

Names, huh.. I dunno. I never thought my games had weird names. I guess the creatures tend to have strange names. I usually just throw out words that sound like how the creature would look.

I mean that's why Gish is called Gish. Gish sounds like how I'd imagine him sounding and looking.. all gishy.

Out of everything you've released (personally or as a team), which is your favorite work?

I love Gish, but my personal fave is Coil. It means a lot to me personally and I put a lot of heart and thought into every aspect of the game.

Can you tell us the actual story of Coil?

No. The meaning is different for everyone, and I'm not going to ruin someone's personal experience by telling them that they are wrong. The game is about life and death. Everything else is left up to your own interpretation.

What's the best or most memorable feedback you've received for any of your works?

Probably "you suck, I wish you were dead". I got a lot of that back in the day. It was actually a big motivator.

Any positive ones?

Yeah. The most recent comment I got was from someone who said that Coil brought them to tears and helped them deal with the idea of death a bit more.

Can you tell us a little about the upcoming mobile version of Gish?

Ah, I didn't think many knew about that...

Might as well plug it. If I could remember everything you did, I'd ask you to plug all of them even.

Basically a programer e-mailed Alex with a prototype of Gish on the cell phone. He's a big Gish fan, and it looked really good so we basically gave him the ok to make his own version of Gish for phones. Here's the trailer.

I haven't played it yet but the game looks good, I think he did a great job. It's also fun to see my art remade in pixel form. I'm a big fan of other artists redrawing my stuff in their own style.

high res version

Gish 2

What's the progress status of Gish 2? Any updates on a scheduled release date that you're aiming for?

The goal is to get it done by the end of the year. We are still semi part-time on it now and working out the core ideas and things we want to play around with in-game.

We had originally gotten pretty far with the IGF build, but totally tossed it because the both of us felt it wasn't offering anything new. We want to do something totally fresh with Gish when it comes to theme and gameplay so we needed Gish himself to feel fresh and new to us.

We had talked about splitting him in two a while back and Alex came up with the particle body idea. We recently put up a test video of the progress of that design. So far it's looking perfect for what we want to do. Florian and I have been working on it for about a month. But as far as development goes, we are still working in all the core gameplay stuff, we have a ways to go.

Can you briefly explain the new features to be found in Gish 2?

For starters he's made of particles now, so he can be split up and get bigger or smaller. The game features a living world that is very, very large compared to Gish 1, and will contain more than five or more large dungeons with big bosses.

There will be day and night cycles, physics-based water, tons of new cool physics neatos, tons of physical cel-shaded bad guys, lots of items that will affect gameplay, collectible stuff, hidden stuff, different endings and all that. Good stuff, that's a big one. Good stuff will be found in Gish 2!

I kept thinking that you must have had at least half of these features done if you're shooting for an end-2008 release date for Gish 2..

You would be thinking wrong!

Will you be releasing any new trailers soon?

We are currently working on outdoor lighting and day night cycles, so our next trailer will show that. It will be more of a graphics test.

How large is Gish 2 compared to the first one?

The maps are about 64 times larger than Gish 1 maps, but I'm not going to be taking up all that space. It will be a lot bigger than Gish 1.

Which games influenced you most during the development of Gish and Gish 2?

With Gish one we played a ton of old school games - Mario, Pitfall!, Pac-Man. But I'd say mostly Mario. Gish 2 would be Zelda 1, Shadow of the Colossus and Ultima IV.

How have you improved the formula established in Gish 1?

Gish 1 was a play on Mario. The level progression and all that was totally Mario. Even the story was a big homage to Mario.

Gish 2 will play out more like Zelda 1. There is a focus on exploration, a living world to explore. You have a basic goal, but your goals might change depending on how you play and what you find. It will feel a lot more open-ended than Gish, and there will be a lot to discover for yourself. I am trying to capture the magic that a lot of games back in the day seemed to have.

Honestly though.. we are making Gish 2 on our own terms, and we are going to finish most of the game before we take it to consoles so they don't try to change anything big. The story in Gish is pretty dark and we would really like to do it our way before we let others get their hands on it. It's a long road we have ahead of us, but we finished Gish 1 in six months altogether.

How much will the game retail for? And is online multiplayer a possibility?

It will be $20 for the Windows XP and Vista versions. Online multiplayer is a maybe.

Will there be a demo for Gish 2? How about a Linux port?

Yes, there will be a demo and a Linux port.

What's the best way to help fund the development of Gish 2 right now?

Send us cash. hell, I dunno.. get me some freelance work. :)

I'd imagine that buying every item in the Cryptic Sea catalogue would help..

Yeah, give Blast Miner another chance.. it's good now I swear. We have like 50+ new levels and even new objects. The game is only 10 bucks too!

Also, send money to souldescen@aol.com via paypal! If you can add that, I'm sure I'll get mad cash. Asking for paypal donations always works, that's why we are all so pimped out.

high res version

COLUMN: Chewing Pixels: 'Touch Generations? Con Generations!'

- ['Chewing Pixels' is a regular GameSetWatch column written by British games journalist and producer, Simon Parkin. This latest instalment deals with Nintendo's marketing of the 'Touch Generations' series as something beyond games.]

“In every job that must be done there is an element of fun. Find the fun and… snap: the job’s a game! And every task you undertake becomes a piece of cake. A lark! A spree! It’s very clear to see: that a…spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, the medicine go dowwwn, medicine go down”

Had Mary Poppins pursued a career in game design, rather than choosing to nanny rich kids in Kensington, she’d probably be working for Nintendo right now. Her assertion that every real life task contains an ingredient of fun that, if identified and emphasized, can turn a chore into a game mightn’t be original, but never before has it been so in vogue with game developers.

Nintendo’s ‘Touch Generations’ family of titles has helped define a new gaming market space: games that mimic those real life activities most people go out of their way to avoid. Mental arithmetic, dog walking, eyesight testing, exercise and aerobics all repackaged and re-branded by Nintendo as gaming’s brave new future.

So effective has the company’s work been in mining entertainment from the mundane that their spoonful of pixel sugar could probably make a game out of pulling pubic hair from a bath plug. Come to think of it, that’s pretty much the premise of WarioWare.

Games have always mimicked real life activities; the imitation of extraordinary realities is as much the medium’s forte as the offer of escapism. Games allow players to drive a Ferrari around Nuremberg at breakneck speed, to snowboard down Mount Everest in a fearsome blizzard, to pilot an F-16 fighter jet meters above the pacific wash and to take to the war-torn streets of Basra as a grizzled marine.

They offer an interactive window into life experiences that are out of reach to most; experiences that, in real life, require years of hard work, concentrated training, extreme danger or millions of dollars investment.

There are even connections between seemingly abstract videogames and real life pursuits. Tetris requires players to put everything in its right place, the same compulsion felt by so many an obsessive-compulsive tidy-upper.

Likewise, Every Extend Extra is little more than score attack suicide bombing. From waiting tables in Diner Dash to managing sewerage systems in Sim City, games have always understood that what’s tedious in this reality can become fascinating when framed as a game.

But in all of these examples there has been an implicit understanding that the player is entering into a fantasy. Call of Duty 4 or Gran Turismo might aim for acute realism but they are never painted as anything more than make believe. You won’t become a better soldier or a faster driver through playing them.

By contrast, Nintendo’s recent thrusts towards a new ‘casual’ audience have seen the abstraction between the real and the virtual deliberately blurred. When purchasing Wii Fit, did consumers believe they were buying a video game about fitness or a genuine solution to a real weight problem?

When Nintendo took out Brain Training advertisements in Saga magazine, did the over-65 readership think this was a just slightly more convenient way to complete Sudokus or a legitimate device for staving off Alzheimer’s? The lines between game and tool have been scrubbed out and nobody has bothered to ask if the distinctions even mattered…

The distinctions mattered. Where many of Nintendo’s recent Touch Generations titles are concerned, the selling point is no longer entertainment but rather the vagaries of pseudoscience. Dr Kawashima (Brain Training) and Dr Kageyama (Maths Training) are figures that act as endorsements from the scientific community of each product, shifting Nintendo’s output from entertainment to something closer to medicine. But the science behind the sell is at best misleading, at worse, televangelical in its deceit.

For example, Big Brain Academy and Brain Training compute their players’ brain ‘age’ not through some sort of marvelous, inscrutable new video game-science. Rather, they calculate how fast the player is at finishing a number of simple tasks. The faster the player completes these tests, the younger their brain age is recorded as being. ‘This activity stimulates the prefrontal cortex’ enthuses the disembodied head of Dr Kawashima, the not-so-subtext being that, if you play his game daily, fatigued synapses will snap back to life and your mind will regain lost youth.

But, of course, the player’s ‘brain age’ reading is improved through nothing more than raw repetition. As you learn the tests and come to understand their formula, so you improve at those specific tasks, so your time to completion lessens, so your ‘Brain Age’ reduces.

It's a simple re-skin of video gaming’s first principles. It’s a ten-year-old kid playing and replaying the first level in Super Mario Bros until he reaches the conclusion through raw practice and muscle memory. It’s age-old Nintendo dressed up as something shiny and new, sold not on the premise of something that’s fun but on the basis that it’s something to heal and restore.

Brain Training can be fun, of course, but that’s not why they come. No, they come for the snake oil, the miracle cure, and end up with a shallow video game.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the joint Namco and Nintendo venture, Flash Focus: Vision Training, a game that implies it will help correct poor eyesight but which mainly consists of a series of reaction tests, those self-same mechanics videogames have employed since the dawn of their existence.

Or Face Training, a game built upon science so contentious (that is, the idea that daily facial exercises can help reduce the effects of aging) it’s yet to be announced for release anywhere outside of Japan, where ‘facening’ is a current fad.

So too with Wii Fit, a game which monitors players’ exercises with simple readouts and charts designed to inspire repeat play. Except, the overbearing presentation, the reams of menu screens and tortuous introductions to each workout mean that less than half the time spent on the balance board is time actually spent exercising. Viewed cynically, Wii Fit is a pair of expensive, Apple-esque scales that very effectively slow down your rate of exercise.

The need to frame all that is good and enjoyable about video games in a manner that is appealing and acceptable to a wider, older mainstream audience is understandable, particularly for a company who has stepped out of the hardware pursuit of graphical realism. It’s easy to argue that the Touch Generations brand is little more than a palatable re-skin of video game basics. But the language that Nintendo has chosen to sell these games is pernicious.

It might be effective marketing to play upon the modern Western human’s insecurities, selling games to people who think they’re too fat, too ugly or too stupid, but it’s a new emphasis that runs almost contrary to their previous focus. Besides, if games are now medicine shouldn’t they be subject to different kind of testing and peer group study than that offered by GameSpot and IGN?

In all of this it’s important to remember that video games are still video games. The compulsion an overweight housewife feels to improve their sit-up score in Wii Fit is the same compulsion a shmup fanatic tastes when wanting to improve his Ikaruga high score.

The demands Flash Focus: Vision Training makes of its player are similar to those required by Counter-Strike: all that’s changed is the metaphor. New metaphors are fine. That’s how we discover new fields of creativity and interest. And sometimes the new metaphors bring with them new purposes.

Perhaps, in the future, games will no longer be principally tools for fun but instead a means to a different end: weight loss, better eyesight, attractiveness or drumming. But if that’s the case, critics and consumers need a whole new set of language and approaches to understand what’s being encountered, because the whole game just changed.

GameSetNetwork: The Midweek Countdown

- Aha, time for a midweek round-up of some of the original stories we've been posting on big sister site Gamasutra, as well as other related sites such as Game Career Guide, presided over by the delightful profile of Richard Jacques (left!)

Also in here somewhere - some in-depth analysis of release rates on PSN, XBLA, and WiiWare/VC, plus the renaming/re-coverillustrating of Katamari Damacy, chats to folks from Electronic Arts and D3 (oo, Coraline!), and much more.

Here we go:

Staying In Tune: Richard Jacques On Game Music's Past, Present, And Future
"Richard Jacques is a musical icon to Sega die-hards, thanks to his work on titles like Sonic R - and in a wide-ranging chat, the composer (The Club, Mass Effect) discusses the state of game music in 2008."

Three Services, Three Stores: Analyzing XBLA, PSN and Wii Shop Channel
"Has there really been a slowdown in digital distribution for the major game consoles? In this in-depth analysis covering WiiWare, PSN, and Xbox Live Arcade, Gamasutra crunches the numbers to discover some surprising trends - graphs galore within."

In-Depth: Electronic Arts' Quigley On The State Of EA Games
"EA Games is the key 'core gamer' division for Electronic Arts, and marketing chief Mike Quigley sat down with Gamasutra to discuss his division's charter, EA's modular structure, and how the BioWare/Pandemic acquisition will keep EA from "getting our ass kicked in RPG and action"."

Sony's Danks Details PlayStation-edu Initiative
"Sony recently announced the PlayStation-edu initiative, helping students train using PS2 and PSP hardware, and Gamasutra was at the Game Education Summit to hear the company's Mark Danks explain the program fully - details within."

GCG's Game Design Challenge Results: 'Rename Katamari'
"Two weeks ago, Gamasutra's sister site GameCareerGuide.com posed this challenge to readers: rename classic Keita Takahashi-designed roll-em-up Katamari Damacy with an English language title. And the results are in!"

Sponsored Feature: Common Performance Issues in Game Programming
"In this technical article, part of Microsoft's XNA-related Gamasutra microsite, XNA Developer Connection staffer and Interplay co-founder Becky Heineman gives tips on avoiding the 'Load-Hit-Store' performance-killer when making games."

Q&A: D3 Talks New Coraline, Shaun The Sheep Deals, Strategy
"Japanese-headquartered publisher D3 has revealed plans to publish games based on Henry Selick's upcoming animated film of Neil Gaiman's Coraline, plus Aardman's Shaun the Sheep - and Gamasutra speaks with U.S. CEO Yoji Takenaka about the deal and his company's Western strategy."

June 18, 2008

Spector: 'One Hundred Hour Games Are On The Way Out'

- [So what is Warren Spector up to now, hmm? Given his tone in this Game Education Summit lecture, I think Quartermann's recent rumor that he's tackling a Mickey Mouse-starring game might not be off base. We'll see! Also, thanks to Stephen Jacobs for notes and the Kumar-Remo trifecta for knocking this piece into shape.]

How can game educators prepare their students for a place in the ever-changing games industry?

In this keynote from the Game Education Summit, held in Dallas last week, Junction Point’s Warren Spector and Disney Interactive’s Mark Meyers took a look at the issues inherent in the game biz, with Spector admitting he’s "so tired of making games about guys in black leather carrying guns."

"I graduated with electrical and biomedical engineering and I never thought I’d be in the game industry," opened Mark Meyers, now Vice President of Internal Studios at Disney Interactive. "Up until five years ago most people got into the game industry by accident!"

Meyers, who started out as an engineer before moving into design and then production, touched on changes to quality of life and demographics. "Working in game development is still a lot of hours, but it was at least eighty hours a week when I started," he said.

"Back in the day only 20% of the team members had kids and now it's more like 50%, and the whole industry is getting older, having kids, and needing those nights and weekends. We need good programs to back fill our organizations because we’re no longer our own demographic."

"Working in this industry everyone’s had their own disaster, and Sony was mine," he laughed. "EA was getting all the sports licensing, and everything kind of collapsed."

He related an anecdote speaking to team culture: "We were in this hacienda in San Diego, a crappy building where we lost power all the time, but everyone loved it. We moved to a new building with all the power we needed and everyone hated it and wanted to go back to the hacienda!"

"It's amazing what a simple thing like a move to a different building can change a studio, and I ended up moving to Disney. Disney is great because they understand a corporate culture and allow teams to keep their studio cultures even though they've been acquired."

Warren Spector, now creative director at the Disney-owned Junction Point studios, agreed. "We had a similar experience at Ion Storm when we made Deus Ex," he said. "We had a similar old rickety building we loved. We also moved to a new building which must have had the world's worst feng shui, and the culture fell apart."

"The culture is critical. I think it's even culture and team over talent at this point in my career. Find a home in a place that’s simpatico with you and make the games you like."

Disney Interactive

Continued Spector, "Building a game is as complex as making as a Hollywood movie. Do we have the right people and how do we harness creativity without crushing it? We are in a business that is both software engineer and entertainment, and we have to balance it. It used to be that you could trade off gameplay for graphics, but you can’t do that anymore."

As he has often done in the past, Spector commented on his frustration with some of the dominant tropes of video games. "I love working with Disney because I'm so tired of making games about guys in black leather carrying guns. I don’t want to make those any more," he said.

"Game costs are going to be $35-40 million, even $100 million, and the expectations are huge. You have to differentiate yourselves. One-hundred hour games are on the way out… How many of you have finished GTA? Two percent, probably. If we're spending $100 million on a game, we want you to see the last level!"

Even on the other end of the economic scale, Spector did not paint a rosy picture. "I heard people say that casual games are where to go as an indie, but you still need to differentiate yourself because that’s a really crowded field," he pointed out. "If you don’t make it on the front page you don’t get your game seen."

Shit Shots and Specialists

Meyers noted that new forms of distribution are bringing new development attitudes, which in turn bring new demands for educators. "The next console cycle may be mostly home distribution - downloadables and episodic games may be much more of the market and it means that on-line gaming and episodic content may be what you need to be teaching," he said.

"We also hear more and more about increased need for storytelling and it's almost a requirements at this point. It’s a changing dynamic. In the last year demand is going up and up."

Spector chimed in. "That’s a sea change," he said. "A couple years ago - I won’t say the name or the company - they told me, 'Warren, you are not allowed to say the word story.' What we need is students who are innovative creative thinkers who want to be part of teams that push their limit."

He stressed the importance of team members who can bring creativity to any corner of a project. "I go to Pixar a lot and they talk a lot about guys who get 'shit shots' - the scene of Remy walking across the room or something," he recalled.

"The people who say 'I don’t want to do that shit shot' last three weeks. The people who stay are the ones who can take that on and make it special. That’s what we need - people who are going to make the boring parts special. People who push boundaries - and there’s maybe 20 guys in the world who do it now."

Meyers cautioned against narrow education. "We’re getting a lot of specialists -- 'I program shaders, that’s all I do.' We don’t want that," he argued. "There are some publishers who will tell you that those specialists are what they want, but -"

"If you’re going to be a specialist, you'd better be the best in the world," quipped Spector.

How Can Educators Help Students Meet Developers' Needs?

Meyers spoke on ever-increasing development team sizes. "In the 80s, a nine-man team was standard. PS2 development was huge, with forty man teams. PS3 and 360 - in our organization, the team size is 65-90, plus a couple million dollars in outsourcing. At points in time we can have 150 people working on a title," he said.

"Before, organization was flat: one leader who communicated with everyone. In the PS2 days, lead programmers and lead artists who've never managed anyone in their life had to lead others, and they didn’t know how to have those tough conversations. Disney has a class to teach managers to have those conversations."

He called for more leadership training in development education. "Team sizes with leaders and managers have doubled, tripled, quadrupled, and needs are not being met today," Meyers went on.

"Most game developers have not had management and leadership training. For example, a lot of leaders and managers don’t understand the difference and impact between talking to people in front of other people and taking them aside. If I came to Warren and said something like that I wanted a decreased costs, compressed time frame straight away? Warren'd jump ship!"

"Processes, communication, leadership, culture, vision and team fit are all vital," he emphasized. "We have to reassess what we’re doing and what we’re tasking people with weekly."

Meyers also touched on changes to the overall development timeline, which seems pre-production take a more important role than it traditionally has had, and was sure to point out the importance of team communication.

"There’s always one guy who says 'We’re going to do it my way,'" said Meyers, who admitted as a programmer that his programmers in particular can be poor communicators. "We need educators to really hone in on people skills and styles. They still should speak their minds, but not step over the bounds. Leadership and group dynamics are tough. In the industry the chances of getting good leadership mentors are really tough."

Spector agreed. "Give students 'touchy feely' skills," he said. "How to manage creativity without killing it. Compassion, tough conversations, understanding their audience, ability to lead, how to be a part of a larger group and understanding dependencies. Don’t wait to do this at the end of the project. Do evaluations at the end of each milestone, and part of that is teamwork."

Development Education Must Adapt

Spector then laid out an overarching point about the amorphous nature of game development. "Vocational training doesn’t meet our needs," he argued. "Platforms are always changing, technology moves faster than we train, focus on concepts instead of tools. At Pixar they say you can be a world expert on one film and useless on a second."

He noted the multidisciplinary nature of game design: "Your people need to love chaos, love change. I’ve had to know how WWII planes fly, how medieval castles work. If you haven’t studied economics, you haven’t studied game design. Psychology, game design are all about reward cycles. We need people who can tell us why they love the games they do. If you can just say, 'It was fun,' you’re not getting the job. You need critical and analytical skills."

"We need people who can see what comes next," concluded Spector. "For every position I have, I get to pick and choose the best. If all you have to show me is class projects and grades, I won’t even see you. If I tell you you probably won’t get a job in the industry and that scares you, get out now. That should make you push harder!"

The Dobbs Challenge Contest Winners Announced

[GameSetWatch's sister programming mag/website Dr Dobb's Journal has been running the Dr. Dobb's Challenge game competition in association with Microsoft Visual Studio, with $10,000 in prizes for modding a Windows and Windows Mobile sample game. Here, contest organizer Mathew Kumar is kind enough to outline the winners - go check em out!]

It's been an intense few days of judging and we'd like to congratulate all of the entrants for their remarkable work in modding Dr. Dobbs Challenge into a variety of striking and very different games!

We'll be making our critic's choice of all the entrants available for download on the Dobbs Challenge website starting tomorrow, but we'd like to first announce the winners of the inaugural Dobbs Challenge, selected by our panel of judges.

Best One Button Game
Wobble Bob
(Lukasz Lesicki)

The one button category was a challenging category that entrants had to "give their all" to in the hope of winning, and although there were many amazing entries, Lukasz Lesicki's Wobble Bob came out of nowhere to win it by virtue of its unique game design. Though our judges are au fait with many different kinds of one-button game, they had never played one with a character who "wobbled" backwards and forwards allowing movement in two directions with a subtle, timing-based gameplay.

In addition, both graphics and level design offered a unified pleasant feel, and as a result Lukasz Lesicki walks away with the $1,000 prize. [Download Now!]

Best Total Conversion
Ninja Run
(Giuseppe Navarria, Rosario Milone)

Like all of the categories Best Total Conversion was hotly contested, but in the end our judges had to select Giuseppe Navarria's Ninja Run because it simply astounded them with the extent it was different from the original Dr. Dobbs Challenge. Turning a 2D single screen platformer into a cel-shaded 3D platform game (with working physics) even with the help of NVIDIA PhysX was just so unexpected that it was the winner even in the face of more complete entrants. If there was criticism to be made it would be that while the technology is there the "game" isn't complete.

As a result, many of our judges requested that we only give them the $1,000 prize on the condition that they continue to develop the title -- as they want to play it! [Download Now!]

Best Game Starring Dr Dobbs And The Defy All Challenges Crew
Dr. Dobbs Challenge Remix
(Georg Rottensteiner)

In stark contrast to the previous category, what won this category for Georg Rottensteiner was how complete he made his title. A full scrolling 2D platformer with a new setting, story and design, Georg Rottensteiner's version of Dr. Dobbs Challenge sends Dr. Dobbs inside a computer to clear out a bug infestation, in a challenging (and fun!) adventure.

Our judges were impressed with the gameplay and level design (even if they felt one hit kills on Dr. Dobbs was a little harsh) and Georg Rottensteiner receives a $1,000 prize. [Download Now!]

Best Windows Mobile Game
Dr. Dobbs Challenge Mobile
(Daniel Morillo)

Many entrants overlooked the Mobile Game category perhaps because of a perceived difficulty in developing for the hardware, but it was to Daniel Morillo's benefit that he decided to take on the challenge, as he takes home the $2,000 prize!

Our judges were surprised and delighted with Daniel Morillo's entry, as an isometric puzzle game with 3D blocks to manipulate and clever use of existing assets to create a very playable game well worth the download if you've got a Windows Mobile device (or the ability to emulate one.) [Download Now!]

Best Windows Game
Mr. Spiff's Revenge
(POW Studios)

The big prize, with $4,000 on offer, this was one of the most difficult to judge. But in the end our judges had to go for Mr. Spiff's Revenge on the basis that not only is it a clever modification of the Dr. Dobbs Challenge source, it also innovates in ways that we never expected!

Though a 2D platformer similar to the original title, the entire game is played using mouse gestures -- even movement of the titular skeleton Mr. Spiff – and while our judges took a while to get comfortable with the controls, they particularly enjoyed the gestures used to attack enemies and perform the huge, screen clearing "smart bomb" attack!

Mr. Spiff's Revenge also featured excellent new graphics that only added to the immersion. Congratulations to POW studios, which consists of Betson Thomas, Justin Varghese and Chris Lau. [Download Now!]

Congratulations again to all of our entrants and winners for taking part in the contest.

Design Lesson 101 - God of War: Chains of Olympus

God_of_War_Chains_of_Olympus_psp.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 Ready at Dawn's PSP prequel, God of War: Chains of Olympus]

The God of War series is known for its massive scale and fast paced, adrenaline fueled combat. When Sony announced a version of the series would be coming out for the PSP, many fans were worried. Luckily, the developer Ready at Dawn has done a great job of keeping all the core elements of the God of War series intact, and the series' antihero Kratos is back once again.

One of the core elements of the series has been the interactive events, where the player engages in scripted sequences by pressing buttons on the controller when prompted. Some of these sequences rely on timing (quick-time events), where one false move will force you to start over or die.

Other sequences allow you to interact at your own pace. For example, one sequence has the player make clockwise circles with the analog stick in order to pull down a statue and progress. You do not have to do this immediately, but you won't progress forward until you do so.

It seems that these events are either loved or loathed by most people. While they allow for scripted, specific events to occur within the game, the interactivity is limited to binary input (you either hit the button or you didn't). There is also the issue of the button to press appearing on the screen, something that can pull the player out of a state of sensual immersion. Even so, these events are capable of still drawing the player deeper into the narrative, thereby becoming effective plot devices.

At this point, I must mention that the remainder of this column contains a major plot spoiler for the game. Please do not continue reading if you would get upset at having major parts of the story revealed.

Design Lesson: Using interactive events at the climax of the game allows God of War: Chains of Olympus to create a closer, more emotional bond between the player and Kratos.

The set-up of the situation is rather simple, yet effective. In the first game it is revealed that Kratos unwillingly kills his own family. His entire life is spent trying to forget that atrocity. In this prequel to the first game, Kratos' family is already dead. As Kratos nears his end goal, he ends up in the underworld. There, he sees his deceased daughter, Calliope. Once reaching her, they embrace in a cutscene. Kratos promises Calliope he will never leave her again.

Kratos is told by Persephone, queen of the underworld, that if he wants to be reunited with his daughter, he must give up all of his power. At this point the player must remove the abilities, upgrades, and items from Kratos, by following a sequence of button presses that are displayed on screen.

This, in effect, makes the player feel as if he is choosing to remove his powers. This easily could have been a cutscene, but instead the designers allow the player to actually remove all of the abilities they have been working towards all game. This isn't done with just one button press. A series of prompts occur, making the entire event feel like a very deliberate choice, even if the choice doesn't actually exist in the game code.

Once the player is weakened another cutscene begins. Here, Persephone reveals to Kratos that it was all a trick and that while he weakened himself, she has set forth to destroy the entire world. At this point Kratos realizes that if he stays with his daughter Calliope, the entire world will be destroyed and his daughter with it. However, if he pursues Persephone to stop her, he will never see his daughter again and go back on his promise of never leaving her.

Just a child, Calliope hugs onto her father's leg, begging him not to leave her. There is but one choice for Kratos, unfortunately. However, again the game does not just have Kratos push away his daughter via cutscene. Instead, in-game it prompts the player to push the circle button over and over. As the player presses it, Kratos pushes his daughter further and further away from his leg.

Once he pushes her far enough away from him, she screams and latches onto his leg again. The player must once again repeat the process of pushing Kratos' crying daughter away. The sequence is repeated a third, and final time.

The emotional impact of such an event can be staggering. Kratos is a sympathetic antihero in gaming. You like him, even though he is deeply flawed and troubled. The reasons for liking him are that, deep down, he is human and has human emotions, such as love for his family.

By forcing the player push Calliope away multiple times, God of War: Chains of Olympus is able to forge a deeper, emotional bond between the player and Kratos and remind them of his humanity. Instead of the aggressive, bitter man, you see a saddened father for a moment. Kratos ceases to feel like a 2D caricature, if only for a moment.

In fact, I felt an amount of sadness pushing the crying little girl away. Soon, this sadness was replaced by anger. Anger at Persephone for making me forsake my daughter (I even thought in the first person, as if I were Kratos).

In fact, I was angry enough to make sure I beat Persephone, the game's final boss, the same night. Even though it was 2:00 in the morning, I had work the next day, I had died dozens of times, and the game forced me to watch the same cutscene every time I retried, I played for an hour to make sure I beat Persephone. I didn't want to wait until the next day. I wanted to know if Kratos would be reunited with Calliope somehow in the end. I wanted vengeance... just like Kratos did.

Both the losing of power and the pushing of Calliope away could have easily been cutscenes. By making them actually interactive, even if only on a simplistic level, God of War: Chains of Olympus creates an empathetic response to its story, during its critical climactic events. This creates a smaller gap between the player and Kratos.

When the player thinks and feels like character on screen, then there is a sense of being fully immersed. It may be impossible to ever get players to fully think like the characters on screen (at least in games with well-defined characters, and not empty avatar such as Gordon Freeman), but the closer we get the more we utilize the narrative power of this medium.

God of War: Chains of Olympus may not be ground-breaking in any way and may even be criticized for other ways it reminds the player that they are playing a game rather than being immersed in the game. However, for a short period of time it shows how to make the player feel empathy and emotion in what is otherwise thought of as a nothing more than a testosterone-fueled male power fantasy.

[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.]

GameSetLinks: A Rolling Uzi Gathers No Moss

- Ah yes, the GameSetLink-age, it does continue, and today we're starting out with Peter Travers actually devoting a lot of his Rolling Stone film column to why Grand Theft Auto is important, even to, uhh, the film column.

Of course, why games can't have their own big column in Rolling Stone every week is another issue altogether, but let's just content ourselves with checking out the other links, which include a Chicago Tribune look at the arcade industry as it is today, a pretty amusing Gamasutra job posting, and a plethora of other videos, text links, and ephemera.

Stumbling towards OK-ness:

Is Grand Theft Auto IV Actually the Best Popcorn Movie of the Summer? : Rolling Stone
This was printed over 1 and a half pages in the latest Rolling Stone - so somewhat of a big deal.

Kokoromi Collective - Cum on feel the game
Steve Swink's book cover - from meh to yay, thanks to Fez co-creator Phil Fish!

Gamasutra Jobs: Unscripted Ventures' random job ad that made me boggle
Nice job title, at least, for effect: 'Wanted: Part Patton, Part Elvis (If either were alive and fronting as a senior game executive)'

GameDaily: 'Media Coverage: The Seven Deadly Sins of Video Game Reviewing'
Ah, Mastrapa launches into the fray.

Hell's Kitchen PC casual game review: Jay is Games
As some commenters note, a CG Gordon Ramsay is seriously disturbing.

Siliconera » Origins of Agetec’s Women’s Volleyball
I wonder how this will sell in the West.

Zune gets in tune with L.A. - Los Angeles Times
Much as Nokia has a theater in New York, some interesting attempted hipster event branding for Zune.

Video arcades' last gasp -- chicagotribune.com
Well-written from an outsider's point of view - via GBGames.

Independent Creator: 'Designing Your Respawn System'
A mini-post with a really cute lolcats-y illustration (pictured) from an ex-Doublefine indie blogger I was unaware of - ta Brandonnn.

YouTube - "Green Blues" The Incredible Hulk Video Game
Industry music veteran, Captains Of The Chess Team band member (and my old co-worker) Scott Snyder goofs off with a grunge-y music video about the Hulk's new game incarnation. 'Hulk Smash', etc.

June 17, 2008

Column: Welcome to the GameSetWatch Comic - 'Welcome to the Persona 3'

['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.]

Aha, this latest GameSetWatch Comic references the Atlus-created cult PS2 title Persona 3, and for those not aware of the general conceit, here's Wikipedia explaining neatly of the RPG:

"The player uses weapons and magical abilities gained by the use of "Personas" to defeat foes in a turn-based combat system. An iconic feature of the game is the method by which the members of SEES release their Personas: by firing an Evoker, a gun-like object, at their head, which does no damage but causes sufficient emotional stress to cause the Persona to appear."

So there. Commenters, explain the other references for the unworthy/insufficiently geeky.

I choose you, Bulbasaur!

[Jonathan "Persona" Kim is a character animation student at the California Institute of the Arts. When not working on doujinshi material, he continues the Mecha Fetus revolution on the Mecha Fetus Visublog.]

Castlevania's Igarashi: '2D Is Still Somewhat Alive'

- [Considering the GameSetWatch Comic was just last week poking fun at Castlevania, thought it might be neat to reprint Christian Nutt's brand new Gamasutra interview with whip-totin' franchise overseer IGA - the Konami is designer enigmatic, wacky, but still actually likeable! We claim! Also, there's an N+ plug in here, hee. Onward.]

Veteran publisher Konami recently announced Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia, the third Nintendo DS title in the twenty-year-running action platformer series.

Following the announcement, Gamasutra sat down with series producer Koji Igarashi, who is well known to fans by his nickname IGA and who has a tendency to appear in public somewhat theatrically wearing a cowboy hat and wielding a whip.

Igarashi, who has shepherded the popular series for the past few years, touched on his outspoken passion for the 2D format, his thoughts on experimenting with the Castlevania formula, his love of Bionic Commando, and why he harbors a fear of fans yelling at him.

Obviously, you're keeping the 2D fight alive on 2D with the Nintendo DS. You said last year you're the last hope for 2D games at Konami. Tell me how that's going.

Koji Igarashi: I did that speech over a year ago, and I'm glad that 2D is still somewhat alive. It's been fun.

More than one developer that I've talked to has said that they found your speech was inspirational.

KI: I'm glad.

Did you play N+ for Xbox Live Arcade?

KI: No, I have not.

You should check that out. It's a 2D ninja action game, and I think the creators like your stuff too.

KI: I will definitely try it.

You've talked about experimenting with the series and figuring out where it's going. Are you still trying to figure out more ways the series can evolve, or are you sticking with the DS for now?

KI: This time, I announced a DS title, but I definitely want to grow the franchise. It's something I'm really focused on. You guys will probably be hearing something from me.

When I spoke to you at GameStop Expo, you talked about how linear gameplay in the PSP version [Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles] was kind of an experiment, to see if users would accept it. Did you get any feedback?

KI: I was fairly satisfied, but the PSP install base in the U.S. isn't very strong, so it wasn't a very strong step. I was satisfied. It's not something that I can jump up and down and enjoy like I do with the DS titles.

I still believe that type of game is great, and I'm still a big fan of the PSP and thought it was a great game.

What kind of feedback did you get from fans on the linear game?

KI: I didn't get too much feedback, but there were some fans who came back and said, "Oh, this is great. This is nostalgic of previous Castlevania games." That was great to hear.

We've got the 25th anniversary of the series coming up soon. Do you have any plans for when that rolls around?

KI: We're really focusing on getting this game the best I can. Before you mentioned 25 year coming up, it really didn't pop into my head. And right now, when you mentioned it, I thought of it, and I realized yeah, I've got to think of something. (laughter)

It looks like you did incorporate some feedback from the fans, like getting rid of the anime-style art and moving to an illustrated style. Castlevania is a very fan-based series. It really has passionate fans. Is that the most important audience for Castlevania?

KI: To be honest, who I listen to the most is myself. Not to sound arrogant or anything like that, but the reason why I listen to myself is because I think really deep and hard, and I feel that if I can't tell it to myself, I can't tell it to the fans.

And yeah, I definitely do listen to the fans. I don't want to release something that's boring and not fun. It's just for the fans. They wanted it. If one of my games flops, I want to basically be able to say, "Sorry. That's my fault." I don't want to say, "I wanted so badly for it to do well."

Speaking of fans, it's becoming more and more important to have community elements, like a website, forums, podcasts. Have you thought about doing any of that stuff for your fanbase?

KI: Yeah, that's definitely something I want to do, but I'm a little scared that if I do something like that, fans will always be yelling at me and things like that.

But yeah, it's definitely very important to do that kind of thing. I do see the web address, and I'm trying to fill it with fan content. [IGA points at the whip he brought as a prop.] If I whipped that around... I can't whip it around. I would, but I don't want to get arrested.

I don't know if you're familiar with Capcom's Bionic Commando. It was very popular in America for the NES, but not in Japan, so they revived it recently, and they're making a 360/PS3 version. I bring this up because they're developing it in a Western, not Japanese, studio. But the producer is working out of Japan, and I was wondering if you thought this was a potential solution to such development issues.

KI: I believe it's called something different...

Yeah, Hitler no Fukkatsu: Top Secret.

KI: To be honest, I didn't know it wasn't very popular in Japan. I loved that game, and thought it was popular in Japan. I don't think whether it matters whether the game was developed in Japan or the United States.

There's fans that love it and think it's a great game. I think it will be fine. I think that something cool developed in Japan where it's like, "It was popular in America, and I don't know why it's popular," I don't think it will succeed.

Have you considered working with foreign development teams, or do you want to keep everything developed internally at Konami?

KI: It doesn't really matter where the game is developed. I want to be involved in it. I want to know what's going on. If we did decide to develop it in the U.S., I guess I'd have to move here.

Not fly very often?

KI: Yeah. I guess I'd have to stay here.

Opinion: Boss Design - Trial & Punishment

[In this editorial, game commentator Nayan Ramachandran lays out the dynamics of a hallowed gaming convention -- the boss fight -- categorizing the various design approaches to boss fights: Metal Gear's lateral thinking, Zelda's tool-based fights, and Ninja Gaiden's mercilessly 'archaic' forfeitures.]

Western developers and media have been, for the last several years, foretelling the fall of the era of boss battles. In an industry that, in years past, was dominated by a simple level structure, the very designers of these games are turning their back on this tradition in favor of a more asymmetrical and perhaps more beneficial pattern.

Asian developers still bother to design evil and devious boss creatures for their games, sometimes spreading them through the game at a rate higher than a single one in each level. Japanese roleplaying games are famous for gauntlets of boss fights, while Capcom has become famous over the years for having players replay boss fights later in the adventure.

With all this talk of “bosses” and “level structure” though, perhaps we are alienating a portion of our readership; a portion more attuned and connected to modern Western game design than the games of my childhood. Likely after reading the last two paragraphs, a single question leaves their bewildered lips: “What is a boss?”

Your Final Boss Exam

Games in which bosses appear have levels that are usually designed like a traditional class syllabus. If you were to liken the the length of a game’s level to a semester of studying, learning the game’s boundaries and mechanics and the flaws of the enemies it throws at you, then surely the boss is the final exam for the class.

Testing the skills you’ve learned on your journey to this powerful character, as well as the powers and weapons you’ve collected over time, the boss character is meant to be a milestone of achievement for the player. It offers structure where there might not be any. It is the personification of a climax.

The actual nomenclature for this unique game design mechanic likely comes from the beat-em-up genre. Because these boss characters are much stronger than the minions that populate each level, and often attack by themselves at the end of the level, story usually dictated that they were the highest ranking member in the organization the minions belonged to.

Therefore, they were quite literally the “bosses” of the minions you had already defeated. The rest, I suppose, is history.

With that information at hand, perhaps it is time to venture into deeper water, and look more closely at the design and implementation of the boss in gaming.

Boss Patterns And Mechanics

The Japanese tradition of video game boss design has almost always found pattern based gameplay to be the most rewarding. The Pattern school of thinking is probably the most well received and the most often used, finding a home in countless games, including Castlevania, Contra, Metal Gear, Super Mario Bros., and, most notably, The Legend of Zelda.

The mechanic is simple. Either based on the environment or based on the player’s position and status, the boss character has a variety of attacks that they will perform. The player’s job is to discern the pattern from the seemingly random cacophony of action, and use the abilities and tools available to him to exploit the pattern.

Depending on the game, this structure can be rather rewarding. Some games, sadly, beat the player over the head with the mechanic required to defeat the boss, either offering overly obvious visual cues, or having the voice of the developer in the form of a sidekick telling you what exactly to do.

What becomes so unrewarding about this design is the fact that with the little intelligence the developer assumes the player has, the fight devolves into a slightly more digital incarnation of paint-by-numbers: duck here. Use the grappling hook here. Maybe you should try using this weapon.

We also land up with an entirely different problem: choice. When the game starts to remind you how you should be defeating the boss, the player isn’t rewarded for solving the encounter, nor are they rewarded for playing the way they want.

Suddenly, after mission after mission of letting the player choose what they want to do, the developer decides to stick a funnel at the end of the pipe, and force the player to defeat the boss using an exact list of instructions. Why even have a boss encounter at all?

Bosses - The Action Version

More action-oriented games, like Konami’s Metal Gear and Contra series, boss battles are still designed in terms of patterns, but the methods by which each boss is defeated is not immediately apparent. Suddenly the player is forced to do something they’ve never had to do before: use their brain.

While games like Okami and Zelda hint at a specific set of tools to be used on a boss encounter to test the player’s ability to use said tools, Contra tests a player’s decision-making skills. Not only does the player have to use a specific weapon or skill at a specific phase of the boss’ attack, but they have to choose which weapon to use.

While this offers an unprecedented amount of choice for the player, it can also create unprecedented anger and frustration. While the game may not tell the player which weapons to use, the player has no idea of knowing if a variety of weapons and strategies will be equally viable against the boss, or a single precise chain of movements and attacks is required.

How the game handles the experimentation therein becomes the main point of contention at this point. Some guys welcome experimentation and even lateral thinking to defeat a boss, even offering multiple ways to defeat the boss depending on strategy.

The Metal Gear Solid series is famous for this. Any player familiar with the famous sniper fight with The End in Metal Gear Solid 3 will likely remember the initial frustration of fighting him, the slow but methodical deduction process involves in detecting him, and finally the incredible satisfaction in reigning victorious over the aging sharpshooter.

Players could use the directional microphone, thermal goggles, The End’s parrot and a variety of other tactics and weapons. Because of the sheer variety of solutions to the fight, the game ends up being incredibly rewarding, as each player manages to arrive at their own solution without too much assistance.

The converse would be a boss fight from the recently released Ninja Gaiden II for Xbox 360. Each boss encounter has very few options for success. Bosses often come equipped with abilities that immediately and violently counter the most powerful attacks of certain weapons. Like its predecessor on the original Xbox, bosses mercilessly brutalize players for mistakes, taking off exorbitant amounts of health.

This negative reinforcement prods players to try entirely new strategies, but it also doesn’t promote changing strategies mid-battle. Often because of the excessive health loss, and the boss’ merciless attacking, players are forced to forfeit and start fresh from the beginning of the battle with a new strategy.

This hearkens back to an older style of gameplay, where retrying was the norm. It has its place, but in this day and age, it simply looks archaic when compared to more organic learning processes presented in far more forward-thinking games.

Conclusion

Bosses are not going anywhere. While developers who have yet to figure out how to properly implement them have largely given up on trying to use them, it would truly be a tragedy if the art boss design were truly lost.

Thankfully, there are still quite a few developers that know how to make them, and hopefully that rings true for a long time to come.

GameSetLinks: The Speed And The Noise

Well, time for some new GameSetLinks to usher in the new week, headed by the neat idea of having audio commentary to explain your super-speedy game speed runs - thanks for sorting that one out, Speed Demos Archive.

Also in here somewhere or other - a totally adorable (pictured) new Steve Purcell illustration on the Sam & Max tip, plus confessional games, types of testing, and 'games as poetry', indeed.

And it's on:

Speed Demos Archive: 'Audio Commentary' thread
Great idea - speed runs with commentary to you can understand how/why the ninja speed is cool.

SPUDVISION: SAM & MAX
Steve Purcell: 'My obscure bookplate, lovingly painted and aged to perfection for the Sam & Max Surfin' the Highway Limited Edition Hardcover.' Weiner Sam!

Heroine Sheik » Blog Archive » Click Me: “Video Game Sex Beyond Grand Theft Auto”
Slightly NSFW cover, discussing a new book on sex/games I wasn't aware of.

The Escapist : Immortality
"If you had an immortality pill right there in front of you, would you take it?" Jason Rohrer tries a game about it.

Nintendo's Mixed WiiWare Messages : Edge
'Because of the structure of the initiative, WiiWare developers are wholly responsible for having their titles rated, translated and legally checked for each of these regions.'

Confessional Games | The New Gamer
'Why are confessional games so scarce when the genre thrives in other mediums?'

Types of Testing | Gamelab
'I found 16 different kinds of testing that might happen all in the course of a single game's development.'

Q Entertainment's Tetsuya Mizuguchi Interview // None /// Eurogamer
Nice wide-ranging Rob Fahey interview with the Miz.

Ludus Novus :: Phyta: Games As Poetry
'This is a game about growth. Growth at the expense of all else. It’s sad and beautiful.'

Japanmanship: Futurama
JC Barnett goes all predictoid - I think he does a good job. If serious. Which it is. I think.

June 16, 2008

Column: The Game Anthropologist: Team Fortress 2: Radical Departures

TF2_Group.jpg [The Game Anthropologist chronicles Michael Walbridge's ventures into gaming communities as he reports on their inhabitants and culture. This time round, he takes a look at Valve's seminal Team Fortress 2.]

Darn FPS Kids And Their Language

It is no doubt or secret that the first person shooter genre and its communities are highly steeped in the competitive spirit. If playground basketball has its ball hogs, FPS has its kill hogs. The team, for all its necessity, can shove off. This usually isn’t considered a problem, though; it’s what we expect, right? We’re shooting at each other. FPS servers are, after all, playgrounds. A player being the Kobe Bryant of the team is the least of your worries.

In concrete life, when an adult goes to observe children in their element, the children do not act the same. Social science research is often rife with hand-wringing—“how can we study people scientifically when the object of study changes simply because of its being studied?” More than one researcher has lamented. Plunk down a random adult in the back of a high school classroom and the kids act differently. In the digital realm, though, kids don’t care that you are there.

Those who look for scapegoats blame the games. Those of us who play games have a better memory of our childhood; young males, adolescents, children are depicting animalistic humanity and lack of development while online and on Xbox Live because they’re just that: kids. While research and artistry can show us much, we don’t have to look far to see it for ourselves.

All Grown Up

In Team Fortress 2, a game which has been sold to at least 2 million people, showboating, kill-whoring, and brazen, crass insults are a rare sight (on non-modded servers with standard maps, anyway). This is puzzling for many reasons. Not only is it an FPS, it’s a quality, competitive one that is only available from Steam. (Counter Strike kids are different from Halo kids, but not in the way you would hope—many of them are hopelessly vulgar.)

Each character has a taunt for each weapon; that’s 27 animated taunts available, including the verbal ones your character automatically utters upon killing. Not to mention the fact that any time someone kills you 3 times in a row a big “NEMESIS” gets planted next to that person’s name.

When you die, the game zooms in on the person who killed you. Big fists appear over him so you can tell who keeps shoving you back to observing your teammates. Failing to get revenge? Here’s the third shot of your ass being handed to you by some kid from Iowa. But the kid says nothing. Rarely does.

To this day, I can only recall one or two times where immaturity affected gameplay. Unlike some of the communities I will profile, TF 2’s PC community (the console versions don’t have Steam or typing chat to assist in organizing and communicating, and the PC version sold better) is one I’m undoubtedly personally invested in; I’ve spent a good amount of time on all the classes, and I haven’t only played in just one or two servers.

Team Fortress 2 seems like it’s just another innovative, 9X%-review-scoring shooter, but it is an anomaly. It is a gratuitously violent game with your instruments of play being guns, explosives, and sharp and blunt objects and the target nothing but other players controlled by human beings. Yet its atmosphere can be as congenial as a puzzler. And the players are often, wouldn’t you know it, polite and helpful.

Some of the most famous and watched videos of TF 2 gameplay are tutorial videos on how to do well, not self-aggrandizing sets of sniper shots.

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Exactly why most teammates are polite, patient, and helpful in a game that is violent and wildly popular is not easily answered, but I have some good ideas. The players seem older, and this may be because of its predecessor, Team Fortress Classic, which predates TF 2 by 10 years. Someone who is 24 may remember TFC, but someone who is 15 will not. I’m not saying it’s devoid of teenagers—but there are a lot more people in their 20s and there are a lot more women on voice chat online as well, signs of a more mature audience and community.

Perhaps it is because of the medic class. Instead of the archetypical female priest or paladin (every World of Warcraft player has met one), the women more often play medic. This is a class that goes around healing characters in a genre of health pickups. Every winning team needs one. If your enemy has a medic and you don’t, bragging is thrown out the window. The medic heals almost anyone fully within 5 seconds, and everyone within 10. Oh, and maybe it’s the critical hits. No one earns those—they just come out of nowhere. And there’s really nothing a scout can do against an engineer’s fully-leveled sentry gun.

Back to that medic who just shouted I healed zee man who vill keel you--you’re dead, and you wonder where your medic is to heal you. So you tab or comma and realize there are NO medics on your team. It’s still difficult to get people to play as a medic, but someone usually switches within half a minute.

Also, when the other team wins, the enemy team gets free critical hits and 15 seconds to butcher your weaponless team. They still get points and if a third kill occurs at this time, there will still be a big fat “NEMESIS” attached to an opponent’s name.

We’re Not Kidding About The “Team” Part

The characters in Team Fortress 2 are personal avatars repeated. To see a demoman who is black, Scottish, and wears an eye patch is to see both a character and a representation. He is a character because he has personality—we know there is a hilarious story to him and not just because he has spoken of it. He is a representation because we can see 4 of him on the battle at the same time, and he is a class without a real name; he’s a demoman, and that’s it.

Nameless as they are, I’m going to suggest, that we love these characters. Each and every one of them represents our varied styles of desires to do violence. When we choose one, we are choosing a superhero suit that we can’t take off and can’t escape, unless, of course, we die and then switch classes.

And we often will switch classes. Even the most steeply curved distribution in a player’s stats will have at least one other class with a lot of space, because Team Fortress 2 gives us no choice but to be a team. Sometimes a sniper isn’t going to work.

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The only conditions of winning and losing are as a team, and the potential for each class is best seen from a holistic perspective. You can do poorly and the most you hear is “we have too many spies” or “that’s not a good spot for your sticky bombs” or “you uber’d me too early”--gentle, irritable counsel from your elders in gaming. In a game that takes place in America with an all Euro-American cast and all-American violence comes a group-centered ethic and comraderie. Are we in an Eastern culture? It’s video games, after all.

No, you’re in the army now, pyro (soldier; whatever your class). Follow orders, take responsible leadership, make yourself useful, and learn what it truly means to be part of a team and forget yourself. This is what we’ve been missing, and why those of us dedicated to TF 2 can’t take ourselves away.

Exploring Online Worlds: Gaia Online

[Over at virtual worlds site WorldsInMotion.biz, we're continuning with the Worlds In Motion Online Atlas, penned by Mathew Kumar - looking at the rapidly advancing free-to-play online game biz. This time round, it's the much advertised-on Gaia Online, and worth noting that I think it's awesome how Mr. Kumar is cutting cleanly through the hype and pointing out what works - and what doesn't - in these environments.]

Here's an overview of Gaia Online, from Gaia Interactive. Gaia Online began as a linklist for anime fans, and has since expanded hugely to feature customizable avatars, an online world with user-owned homes, virtual currency and games. Its core is still based around a huge forum (which averages a million posts a day according to some commentators), but we're taking a look at its MMO aspects.

2008_06_02_gaia.jpgName: Gaia Online
Company: Gaia Interactive
Established: February 2003
How it Works: Gaia Online is experienced on the web through a combination of html, Flash, Java and Shockwave. It requires no installation. Navigation and gameplay are accomplished via mouse and keyboard input.

2008_06_02_gaia2.jpgOverview: Gaia Online's community originally solidified around its forums, and the majority of Gaia Online users still spend most of their time there. However, the site has a massive range of other community options, with customizable avatars and home pages, an online world with towns full of user-owned homes that are just as customizable as the avatars, and games to play (with or against other members of the community).

Payment Method: Gaia Online is free to play, and earns revenue through microtransactions (users can purchase limited-edition items each month, and Gaia Cash), advertising/corporate sponsorship and licensed clothes and accessories.

Key Features:

- Unique avatar with a huge variety of dress-up options
- Customizable home and car for your avatar
- Full social network with a massive forum community
- Games to play with and against other community members
- Items can be bought, sold and traded within the community

Gaia Online: In-Depth Tour

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In our last atlas entry I was astonished by what was on offer when it came to avatar customization with WeeWorld, and I have to say I'm almost as impressed with the options in Gaia Online. Choosing an anime influence rather than South Park, the characters are bright and attractive with a fair range of skin tones, hair, eyes and mouths. The starting outfit selection is far more limited than in WeeWorld, and there's good reason for that, as the majority of "play" in Gaia Online's world is related to earning new clothes for your avatar -- and in that respect there are certainly thousands of different pieces that could be worn in almost any combination.

Once you've created your character and logged in you're given a small amount of gold to start off with (Gaia's internal currency) and left to work out what to do on your own. Now, I'm a seasoned internet user who can even manage to navigate the worst excesses of MySpace, but Gaia is instantly bewildering with its huge range of options and a start page cluttered with information that, for a new player, is confusing at best. I decided to ignore the information overload and start trying to customize my character more to my liking, as I found him rather generic.

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You can alter your character's dress from your avatar page (and in fact have a MySpace like profile page which to show them off with) but to purchase new clothes you have to hit the shops. There are a wide range of stores which sell differing styles of clothing, housewares and other objects, including some sponsored stores like MTV's "Sunset Couture". After looking for a while I realized I had nowhere near enough money to purchase anything, so decided to get my house in running order.

Though the majority of the time on Gaia Online is going to be spent on the html website, whenever you do anything such as play a game or explore the world it loads a Javascript client in a separate window. After you choose your home's style and place it somewhere in the player towns, you can visit it or place objects in it. Placing objects or visiting the home happens in separate clients, however, which can get a little confusing. The player towns themselves are vast "suburbs" with few players milling about -- like many "instanced" player towns in MMORPGs homes are more for inviting friends to (or as personal trophies) rather than an active part of play.

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After setting up my house (it comes with a set of starter furniture) and purchasing some wallpaper and a new floor (disappointingly, I like neither) I decided to purchase a car, a segment of the world that was developed as a result of sponsorship from car manufacturer Scion. I decided to ignore the option to pick up a Scion xB and go for a Possum Coupe. Cars are free to begin with, but like everything else, cosmetic upgrades cost a lot of gold.

I decided to take my unmodified car and "meet up and rally". This launches a new window where, I guess similar to real street racer culture, you park your car in front of a convenience store along with a bunch of other racers and stand around waiting for something to happen – or at least that's what I did until I realized that you're supposed to challenge other racers. Racing is a simple sort of slot car race (hold down accelerate, but slow down when you see an obstacle).

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The other games are all similarly kind of simplistic, but can be quite interesting. There are the usual kind of games (jigsaws, slots) but also a fishing mini-game that kept me playing for quite a while (mostly because it's so difficult with the starting rod and bait) and a pinball game that's pretty passable.

The 'worlds' are arguably more interesting. As seen with rallying, the way Gaia works (or can be thought of) is as a MMO where the player spends most of their time on the web, but launches an instance each time they want to explore a more traditional MMO experience, with an avatar to navigate around, other active players milling about, etc.

As a result the world isn't particularly cohesive, but it allows them a vast ability to create some wildly disparate worlds. I found myself investigating Virtual Hollywood for a short period of time, but was (surprisingly) most enamoured with the Skittles Quest world, perhaps because it had some very obvious tasks to complete -- such as being asked to watch a Skittles advertisement in the cinema to gain an object.

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The cinema is kind of cute too. Think of it as YouTube with avatars -- you can enter a room and watch even full movies(!) with up to 30 other users, who seem to spend most of their time chatting and throwing objects at the screen. It's like an unbearable Saturday matinee if you think of watching videos as a personal experience, but it'd be a great way to watch videos with other friends on other computers concurrently. And hey, I managed to win some clothes by watching the "Don't Mess With the Zohan" trailer! (Though I don't know if it was worth it, really.)

I haven't talked too much about my feelings on Gaia Online yet as I want to save that for the conclusion, but in advance of that I will say that Gaia might be the most interesting world I've seen yet in terms of culture -- it's an almost completely bonkers mish-mash of anime and corporate sponsorship spread over a willfully strange mix of MMO and social network that has an absolutely huge community. I almost don't quite know what to make of it.

Gaia Online: Conclusion

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Let's get the most important complaints out up front -- if there's one main problem I've found with Gaia Online it's that it is incredibly flaky to get working. I can't place too much blame on my end (I'm running a PC only a few months old, with all my software up to date, and running an internet connection that's proven more than acceptable for all other tasks) but Gaia Online is slow, prone to timeouts, crashes and generally feels completely unstable.

I've tried to spend as much time playing Gaia Online as possible, and I think it may simply be the case that it's just too popular. There's an average of 80,000+ people online at any one time (well, when I've been playing it) and that seems a likely reason for it to slow to a crawl even when I'm just trying to load my profile. The crashes are worse, because they tend to come when loading or closing the javascript MMO sections, which doesn't make me think the technology is up to it.

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In addition -- and this is probably because Gaia Online has been built up over such a long period of time -- the interface is unbearably bad. Trying to buy new clothes for my avatar was such an uncomfortable challenge (go to a wide array of poorly arranged shops, look at tiny versions of clothes, have to click and fiddle with to preview, etc.) that I just didn't want to do it. Doing anything in the MMO areas opened new windows that I was never sure how to close without messing things up, and there are just so many options arranged in what feels like a near random manner doing absolutely anything in Gaia was, well, unpleasant.

In fact, it feels like these are all good reasons that the majority of Gaia Online players tend to only use the forums, with their avatar about as far as they go when it comes to the MMO options. Perhaps it's simply that at the ripe old age of 26 I'm no longer young or hip enough to put up with the kind of interfaces the generally younger audience of Gaia Online are, but it was not the kind of experience that made me want to continue.

2008_06_06_gaia3.jpg

Neither did the community I found either. I'd like to restate that I spent almost no time on the forums, which seem fine (your usual sort of thing) but the community in the MMO worlds, while not as rabidly monosyllabic as those found in WeeWorld, were not particularly exciting. No obvious chatter, collaboration or even a particular air of fun was to be found anywhere I visited (other than possibly in the fishing game, for some reason) and as a result the whole thing left me flat.

From my conclusion, you'd be fair to say that I thought Gaia Online was absolutely terrible; you'd also be fair to question why it's so popular if it's as bad as I say it is – am I just missing the point? I don't think so. Gaia Online's popularity has grown from its forums, and that's where it mostly stays. The MMO aspects are good in theory at engaging the audience, but they're currently so badly implemented that it's no wonder that few players take them up on it.

However, I don't think that's particularly a problem for them from a business standpoint. Gaia Online is very successful, particularly in attracting sponsors, and their other monetization ideas, such as limited edition items for avatars, are very canny indeed. There are more than enough users willing to put up with the clunky interface and slow loading to watch adverts in the hope of getting swag for their avatar -- after all, I spent time learning about Don't Mess with the Zohan, Skittles and MTV while there – that I think it will remain very successful for them. It's just not worthy of it.

[UPDATE: We've been reliably informed by Gaia Online (and by our own tests) that the Gaia Towns, seen crashing in an image above, now loads far more often than it did before (around 99% of the time). So it's worth noting that they are trying to improve the system behind the scenes.]

Useful Links:
Gaiapedia
Gaia FAQ/Help
Gaia Forums

Missus Raroo Says: 'A Baby, A Loveseat, and the Wii: How Nintendo Helped a New Mom'

-[Missus Raroo takes the lead and brings her unique perspective on gaming to this week's Game Time With Mister Raroo column. She discusses how during her initial time as a new mother recovering from a cesarean section, the Nintendo Wii provided an unexpected source of support. The Wii proved to be more than just a way to play games. Rather, it was a way to access the world beyond the loveseat she was confined to most of the day.]

When Mister Raroo went gaga over purchasing a Wii at launch, I was a good supportive wife. I listened to all of the pre-release hype and even helped him hone down his list of games to buy at launch. Upon getting the Wii set up in our home, I participated in Mii-making and even gave some games a run.

In those early months, I attempted some Monkey Ball mini games, shot my way through a few Elebits levels, and joined in some Wii Sports and Wii Play action. Truth be told, though, I never had the urge to independently power on the Wii until after the birth of our son, when I suddenly found myself clocking more hours on the Wii than my gamer husband. I was using the Wii for everything but gaming, but I was in love with the Wii all the same.

-Prior to our son Kazuo's birth, my image of motherhood did not involve me strapped down to our little loveseat of a couch with a Wii-mote in hand. I had seen too many black and white photos of that woman with a newborn nestled in her arms, dreamily staring out at the world through a window.

I always imagined that woman must be thinking, "Ah, I have this precious new life in my arms and the world is simply amazing!" Don't get me wrong, as I find myself entering my second year of motherhood, I do find myself watching Kaz in awe all of the time and feel that being a mother is truly amazing. All the same, those first weeks after his birth were far from the idealistic image I had stored in my mind.

To begin with, the whole issue of pain was much more prominent in the experience than I had anticipated. I had always suspected that I have a low threshold for pain, and that was confirmed during labor, which I knew to expect. But the pain I experienced during my recovery was definitely not expected. Due to Kaz's "off the chart" (as his pediatrician describes) head circumference—which has consistently measured in over the 100th percentile—I ended up having a c-section.

Stubbornly, I refused to take the prescribed Vicodin for fear of turning into a Rush Limbaugh of sorts, and so I was in such extreme pain as we drove home from the hospital that every little bump in the road made me cry. Walking up the stairs to our second-floor apartment was nearly impossible, I could hardly get out of bed or sit down on a toilet, and what made me most depressed was that I couldn't even rock our new baby, change his first diapers, or give him his first baths. The only way I can explain it is that it literally felt as if all of my guts were falling out. I

-It was so bad that one afternoon I even went online and did all kinds of ridiculous searches, such as "c-section recovery AND feels like my guts are falling out." I ended up finding some Yahoo! discussion board post that claimed it's possible that doctors will just stuff all of your organs back in your body without taking the time to properly sew each layer of tissue back together. I madly tried to convince Mister Raroo that this scenario must be what had happened to me. Needless to say, during those first couple weeks after Kazuo’s arrival I was definitely not that woman in the window.

In order to cope with the limitations of my recovery, my dear Mister Raroo went into action setting up camp for me on our loveseat. He supplied me with pillows, blankets, my Boppy, and a TV tray that had everything I could possibly need: a water bottle, Kleenex, Lansinoh cream, my journal, the baby book, pens, a remote for TV, and…a Wii-mote.

This was my sole command center for at least the first month after Kaz was born. And, while I might have done more walking around if hadn't had a c-section, I think I still would've ended up spending much time sitting on that couch, because Kaz loves to eat! Even though Mister Raroo and I had attended a whole class on breastfeeding during the pregnancy, I had not fully comprehended how I would be spending the majority of my days going from one nursing section into the next without time to do much else in between.

Now, there are some talented and skilled mothers are able to multitask while nursing. I went to a "Baby-wearing" club meeting once and I met women who are able, by using a carrier, to breastfeed while doing chores, going shopping and more. Perhaps I, too, will be able to reach this next level of mastery if we have another baby, but at least the first time around, I was a total couch potato when Kaz was a newborn.

Sitting on a sofa all day long always sounds pretty easy until you find yourself stuck there against your will. I tried to busy myself by watching some television, but having freshly read plenty of parenting books, I did not want to expose our impressionable baby to the likes of Maury Pauvich, whom I had previously enjoyed watching regularly as a guilty pleasure. My saving grace, one that I would have never suspected, ended up coming in the form of the Wii.

Accessing the Web from the Wii became my way to stay in touch with the outside world. I guess I could've tried harder to use our computer, but that would have involved having to stand up, walk to the computer desk, and balance Kaz all the while. I simply didn't have the talent to hold him and type at the same time.

Surfing the Web with Wii eliminated my issues with coordination since it only requires the use of very slight motions by a single hand. Before long, I had set up all kinds of bookmarks and had become very quick at the key-at-a-time typing. I was able to check in with my Babycenter.com bulletin boards, research mastitis at Kellymom.com, order a breast pump with accessories, and more.

-My biggest complaint with the Wii’s web browser is that it wasn't very good for typing anything long, like in-depth e-mails. But, the fact that the browser works so well for watching YouTube videos more than made up for that deficiency. If you haven't watched videos of babies spitting up before, you must go and search them out now! Perhaps it's just because we're so used to the gross bodily functions of Kaz, but in any case, Mister Raroo and I thought these videos were genius.

As Kaz grew out of his newborn phase, my love affair with the Wii waned. My body started to heal and so I was able to move around more. Kaz became a more efficient eater and nursing sessions became less frequent and time consuming. I went back to work, Kaz started going to daycare, we moved out of our apartment, and we bought a new, larger couch to replace the little loveseat that I had spent all of that time camped out on.

My days now seem so different from those early weeks with Kaz and the Wii. Kaz is walking around now and getting his little hands on everything in sight. Each day is spent keeping him from torturing our cat that is too lazy to jump out of Kaz’s reach versus resting with a baby swaddled up like a warm lump in my arms. In retrospect, I suppose it's a good thing that I eliminated the likes of Maury from my viewing habits during those early days, because even my time with the Wii has indeed made a lasting impression on Kaz.

Like Pavlov's dogs, Kaz has been conditioned to instantly respond to the sound the Wii makes whenever it turns on. No matter what he is doing, he will turn towards the television screen with wide-open eyes the second that ringing goes off. Even if he's nursing, which is one of his favorite things in the world, he will unlatch with a quickness the moment he hears that sacred sound, exposing me to all parties present.

-Although I hardly ever use the Wii to surf the web anymore, Kaz continues to find new ways to love the Wii. Mister Raroo is a fanatic when it comes to keeping up with the Everybody Votes Channel and so now Kaz not only reacts to the sound of the Wii turning on, but also to the specific music which accompanies that channel. He stays glued to the screen and is mesmerized when the "Results are in" and the sea of Miis form a pie chart. It can be a little creepy at times to see how entranced he gets by these images—that he is truly so impressionable. But, I guess I'd rather have him obsessed with seeing that the "Results are in" on the Wii than via those gosh darn addicting paternity results on Maury.

Most recently, Mister Raroo and I have fallen in love with Mario Kart Wii. A game that comes along and is able to catch my interest is a rare game indeed, and so it is no small thing when I say that I have fallen in love with “Karting.” With both Mommy and Daddy role modeling a love for Mario Kart, Kaz has also developed a deep love for the game.

Even though he's at an age where it's nearly impossible for him to sit still, he will stop in his tracks to watch us race through the courses. He is not old enough to wield a controller himself, but he often grips his favorite Giggle and Go toy cars, one in each hand, when he watches us play. I like to think he pretends that he's playing alongside us, with his toy cars catching imaginary mushrooms while we're busy dodging banana peels on screen.

While I didn't instantly feel like a "mother" after Kaz was born, I do feel like I've comfortably grown into my role during this past year. I am happy to report that there have actually been those moments of stillness when I've held Kaz in my arms, and looking down at him, I've felt like I'm that woman in the black and white photo by the window. I realize now, though, that I'm also that woman who at times feels like her guts are falling out, and while I may get pummeled by winged blue shells from time to time, I can also count on coming across bright stars that allow me to get through anything in my path.

[Missus Raroo doesn't consider herself to be a "real" gamer, but between listening to her husband excitedly talk about games on a regular basis and trying her hand at a select few titles herself, she knows a thing or two about videogames. She currently serves as the co-editor-in-chief of Game Time With Mister Raroo and has been called the "heart and soul" of the zine by readers. She lives in El Cajon, CA with her husband, son, and pets. You may reach Missus Raroo at koopaboo@yahoo.com.]

June 15, 2008

COLUMN: 'Game Mag Weaseling': Mag Roundup 6/14/08

Wow, it's a hot month, isn't it, GSW readers? It's hot for me, at least. PiQ (the exciting entertainment magazine I founded and ran) has folded, and I'll have more about that next week, but I don't even have any time to enjoy the usual unemployment ritual of sitting around the couch naked and watching The View -- the freelance is piling up around me, and I'm working all weekend to fend it off. Ah well.

Anyway, let's check out all the game magazines released in the past fortnight, of which there are way too freakin' many. Don't you people realize how much all these mags weigh, publishers?! All the gas I have to use transporting them home...ugh...

Edge July 2008

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Cover: MadWorld

This is, in many ways, your typical Edge issue. You've got a feature on Alpha Protocol, the usual case of Edge doing a game preview feature a little later than GI and the results beting a little more in-depth and worth reading. You have your way-out-there alternate feature, this one on the new PlatinumGames, which has a lot of concept art, crazy visuals, photos of game developers posing in front of (or inside) silly futuristic-looking photographer studio setups, and text that's less to do about any game in particular and more about thegame industry in general.

You have a gaggle of less flashy but much more nerd-core pieces, like the one on eight old Yaroze developers who now have jobs in game outfits, or the large ad-supported subsection on the Singapore game industry, one which bulks the book size up to 164 pages (which is practically unheard of these days in America). You have the always-interesting retro stuff, this time around a look at the making of Carmageddon -- which seems to have been very much a (if you'll pardon the pun) "garage" operation, comparatively.

Great stuff as usual, and worth saving up for.

Game Informer July 2008

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Cover: Infamous

This is, in many ways, your typical GI issue. You've got a really neat front-of-the-book section with lots of industry pieces, little and big, highlighted by a piece on "why do games go bad" that ask a roundtable of devs why crap games happen. You've got a humor piece which isn't very funny. You've got a cover feature that is high on concept art and low on actual content.

For that matter, you got a cover that looks like SCE's marketing department designed it. Why does GI keep coming up with coverlines that read like Don LaFontaine should be reading them out loud to you at the newsstand? (For that matter, how many casual gamers browsing at the newsstand know what "sandbox" means?)

And while I'm whining about GI, why do they send the last issue of your subscription with a glued-on suspension notice that's impossible to remove? At least I can get some sense of schadenfreude from the fact that this month's issue is 108 pages, a low for GI and a sign than even the top of the top is having trouble retaining advertising these days.

PC Gamer July 2008 (Podcast)

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Cover: Age of Conan

I forgot to cover this issue last update. As consolation, if anyone wants to use my code to get the "Totem of the Origins" item in Age of Conan, knock yourselves out. It's BX6TPYREPKVKAKM9. But beware: "Due to its immense power, it can only be used once every 24 hours."

The cover feature attempts to portray Age of Conan as a groundbreaking event for MMO fans, and it almost convinces me, actually, thanks to the snappy, breathless way it's written throughout -- reminds me of of the MASSIVE of old.

Play June 2008

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Cover: MotorStorm: Pacific Rift

Another one I forgot to cover last time. Sorry, Play! But, man, an off-road racing game on the cover? I don't think I've seen that since the glory days of PSE2. No, the real highlight is a visit to Rare's studios and a look at all their current projects -- neat, and uncommon, since they never talk very much up there.

Play is getting rid of review scores as of this issue, which is great as far as I'm concerned -- they only exist for the purposes of marketers, console warriors, and Metacritic, so the sooner they leave the press in general the better. (I will bitterly miss the comedy of Dave Halverson rating every platform game ever 8.0 or higher, though.)

Hardcore Gamer Summer 2008

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Cover: Metal Gear Solid 4

Hardcore Gamer's got a new logo! And like the previous issue, the vast majority of the 70-page interior is devoted to the cover subject. There's 18 pages on MGS4 and MGO, and unlike the Brawl feature last ish, this one's meaty and worth reading. The feature on energy drinks and caffeine pills marketed towards gamers is pretty amusing, too, but the import feature on an import mahjong game (complete with incomprehensible tutorial) reminds me of GameGO! a bit much...

Future Goes Crazy

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Yes, Future has bankrupted me with specials this week. The 2008 PSP Yearbook is marred with glaring production errors (the Monster Kingdom review illustrated with a screen from Metal Saga; Wild Arms 5 getting a review despite not being a PSP game), but is otherwise serviceable. PC Gamer Proudly Presents the 2008 PC Builder's Bible, meanwhile, is your typical homebuilding primer -- didn't Future just put out one of these a few months ago?

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CHEATS! Volume 15 is the same as always -- lots 'n lots of pages of codes -- and the Ultimate Xbox 360 Cheat Guide is pretty much self-explanatory from the cover. I'm going to have to sell my Sega CD collection to afford all these Future specials pretty soon...

Game Developer June/July 2008

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And GD takes its yearly month-long break (so it can produce the annual Career Guide) by offering a very technically-minded My Life As A King retrospective and an interview with Grasshopper resident musician Masafumi Takada. Whew.

[Kevin Gifford breeds ferrets and runs Magweasel, a site for collectors and fans of old video-game and computer magazines. He's also worked in games media and development since 2000.]

GameSetLinks: Chaotic Cacophony Of Kunkels

Totally, totally the weekend, and in between the Spore fun we're attempting to have in the Bay Area haze - and watching some completely eviscerating Doug Stanhope stand-up - there are links to be disseminated, damn you.

Highlights? Kyle Orland poking vigorously at Qore, the return of the (pictured) grizzled game journalism originator Bill Kunkel, the Star Wars Galaxies splintering still causing intense pain, and other things that I've found, and that you might want to see.

Un deux trois:

Avant Game: Chaotic Community (UPDATED)
In ARGS, 'sandbox mode can create interesting -- and sometimes contentious -- intersections of personal gameplay style.'

GameSpot News: 'PressSpotting: Qore values'
Orland: 'A confusing hybrid of advertising and editorial that often ends up feeling more like the former than the latter.'

Clickable Culture: 'How Do Web Game Monetization Venues Compare?'
'Ryan Creighton of Untold Entertainment is doing a little experiment to compare an array of monetization venues for his Flash-based mini-game Two by Two.'

chewing pixels » ‘A Positive-Thinking Animal Who Just Keeps Going Forward’
Discussing Ecodazoo.com, "one of the best-executed ‘experience’ sites I’ve seen", Web-based 2D/3D game-ish fun.

8bitrocket: J2Games.com And The Return Of Bill Kunkel, The Game Doctor
Awesome, it's not RSS-able, sigh, but great to see the pioneering Kunkel writing online again.

Nerve Blogs - 61FPS: 'Developer Journal part 1: Beat Me Up Too'
Making an indie game, from a Nerve game blog I was unaware of - via Eegra.

In Which I try to speak honestly about history | rubenfield.com
Dan Rubenfield on possibly the most traumatic event in MMO history - the Star Wars Galaxies attempted reboot.

Good Apollo, Dear God The Internet It Burns IV: Srsly, Dude « Broken Toys
Oh, wait, more on the Rubenfield SW:G fallout.

youdiditwrong - Important announcement
'Stop saying that Spore has been in development for eons.' I stand by this - I think Spore is still one of the longest in development titles from public demo (GDC 2005, even if just a prototype) to final release.

GamerBytes - GamerBytes Adds System-Specific RSS Feeds
In case you're an XBLA or PSN (or WiiWare!)-only freak and you wanna read our new console digital download blog. Yay.

COLUMN: Quiz Me Qwik - 'Talking To Myself'

jatonhead.jpg['Quiz Me Quik' is a 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, we get a little weird.]

This column seems to be turning into some kind of weirdly self-absorbed trip down memory lane for me, at least in the introductions, though it has on occasions made its way throughout the column proper like some kind of terrible beard-stroking, sky-gazing virus.

It’s like I’ve just discovered informal first-person journalism or something, except that I’ve been writing like this for other places for a while now. Anyways, given the lack of angry comments calling me out on my egotism, I assume it’s not getting up anyone’s nose, which is lovely.

And, on the odd chance that it is – and, by extension, I am - getting up your nose, hoo boy are you going to hate me this week.

Back in early 1992, while in Mr Harris’ grade four class, I was engaged in some kind of cartooning cold war with my best friend Sam. I had created – amongst other things – a family of anthropomorphic radishes. He had created a family of anthropomorphic echidnas. And though we were best friends, we did have more than a few blow-ups: he copied me, you know?

I like to think I was ahead of my time in regards to intellectual property protection rights.

Anyways, the one thing I had going that he didn’t was a video game design document. It was, admittedly, not a finished design document, but it was better than nothing. Unfortunately, I didn’t know the first thing about programming, and nor did any of my friends, so the Jaton the Radish game never really got underway – discounting a brief, unsatisfactory, jaunt into the world of Macromedia Director later that decade.

The documents, however, survive, and have been scanned for your enjoyment in an extraordinarily painful and time consuming manner: the scrapbook I used at the time is something like A3.75 or some inconvenient measurement. As such, the scanning was done in four sections for each page, before they were all stitched together. Goddamn it.

Back to the point at hand: since this column is called Quiz Me Qwik, and not - I don’t know; Show and Tell Hour or something, I’ve decided to interview myself about the project and its influences. Narcissism ahoy!

GSW: Let’s begin at the start, and talk a little about the genesis of the character – was it intended to be a video game from the beginning?

Alistair Wallis: Firstly, don’t use the word “genesis” in that context ever again. It makes us sound like a complete bastard. Secondly, no, it wasn’t intended to be a game in the beginning. Like we said in our intro, the character – Jaton, and eventually his family – grew from a fairly simple desire to have a regular cartoon character that I could work with. If I recall correctly, I was sitting in the shelter shed one lunchtime and drew a very simple looking radish.

I intended to use the name ‘Jupiter’, but realised soon after beginning to write it out that I, in fact, had absolutely no idea how to spell the word, and decided to settle for ‘Saturn’ instead. Unfortunately, I also had no idea how to spell that properly, and the ‘S’ still looked very much like a ‘J’. So I went with Jaton.

For the most part, I would just draw pictures, or write stories using Jaton and associated characters, which I developed around the same time, or – come to think of it – even earlier. I had a character dating from 1990 called Cool Dog, which I brought back and added to the Jaton-universe, which is a pretty interesting example of the kind of retrospective use of characters that seems popular in comics, I guess. Like an anthropomorphic Watchmen, but not really like that, now that I think about it. At all.

Jaton, eventually, had a son and a wife, and possibly even a daughter, but that isn’t entirely relevant as they make no appearance in the game design, unless you count the fact that they are – presumably – frozen along with the rest of Jaton’s home country/world, Vegetable Land. He did have a number of antagonists, however, who did play an expectedly large part in the game – mostly, they were rabbits, and that sort of thing. You know, vegetables….rabbits. Makes good sense.

I did attempt a book of short comic strips after seeing my friend Sam do that very thing, but I have a feeling that he might have appropriated his ideas from existing strips like Garfield, and so I found the task of actually making up 25-30 three panel strips a little hard. It’s probably for the best that they never made it out to the general public - that is to say, my year four classmates. What I did finish wasn’t very funny.

There was also, oddly, a series of basketball cards that I did – actual NBA cards were pretty huge at that time – and photocopied at the local video store. I recall handing them out to a few friends, but I don’t remember whether or not anyone was impressed or happy or even kept them.

The actual starting date of the game, I’m not so sure about. I believe it may have been around September or August of 1992. There was, I believe, a first draft of the first level, written out waiting while my mum was doing aerobics at the gym. None of it has survived, it seems.

GSW: How much do we remember of the first draft, though?

AW: Not a great deal, really. It was written on paper from the train that runs between Adelaide and Darwin: The Ghan. My uncle was doing the design for the paper, so we had an enormously large amount of it. It only really ran out around 1999, and I believe the last thing I drew was an attempted – and aborted – portrait of a girl I had a crush on at the time.

Anyway, it’s possible that the draft was the first time the project’s trademark pens were used.

GSW: Trademark pens?

AW: I don’t know what the brands were, but the whole thing was done in ballpoint pen – about 15 different colours. There was a 10 colour pen, and a four colour one, and then just a plain red pen. It gave the whole project a pretty distinct look, in a way – I mean, it wasn’t crayon, or coloured pencil, at least.

I don’t think you can buy the pens anymore, unfortunately. Not that I’d add to it or anything, but I’d like to at least find some, because I like to take a creepy sort of comfort from the things I cherished in childhood.

GSW: What about the actual content of the first draft?

AW: Again, it’s pretty vague, but I think it only showed the first level, without any kind of enemy design; the sort of thing that appears in the actual design document.

GSW: Did the first level change at all from our first draft to the actual document?

AW: It does appear so. I remember the first draft’s level being inspired quite heavily by another game. Possibly inspired to the point of being kind of a rip-off.

GSW: What game was that?

AW: Alex Kidd in Miracle World, the built in game for the Master System II. I never had one but Sam did, and I spent a lot of time playing that game in particular, so the first draft’s level was pretty much just the first level from Alex Kidd.

jaton1sm.jpgActually, I could have had a chance to win a Master System, at some point. I applied to be on Australian kids TV game show Guess What, hosted by terrible cartoonist Andrew Fyfe, but I guess I didn’t have that x-factor they were after from contestants. My friend Matt got on there, though, and managed to win a Master System II. Bastard already had a NES and a SNES, and by actually going to the audition I missed out on that episode of Captain Planet where they swapped their rings for gloves but the gloves were evil or something. I’m not sure, since I never saw it.

GSW: Leaving aside scarring childhood memories, let’s look at the actual document for a while. Have we outlined the story at any point on here?

AW: Well, sort of. I mean, that bit down the bottom on the first page, if you click on it to zoom in. That’s pretty much it. I think, honestly, there’s something really appealing about not only the brevity of the dialogue, but also the general sense of ennui that Jaton is managing to project:

“OK. So Vegetable Land is frozen. But what can I do? Well, if I don’t save it who will?”

That’s pretty awesome. It conveys a feeling of utter weariness and helplessness in an unintentionally comical enough fashion to impress me greatly even now. The reply of Jago, the main antagonist, lacks a little in characterisation, but it makes up for it in regards to its threat of “GREAT warriors”, I think. That’s some serious shit.

GSW: It’s also a kind of cover for the game, right?

AW: It would appear that way, I guess. It’s like a back cover and front cover all rolled into one, in a way: showing the character in action poses, and also giving a few gameplay teases. It works kind of well in that respect.

GSW: And then we’ve got pages of the regular enemies: the “GREAT warriors”?

AW: Clearly, yeah. I don’t actually know where the inspiration for most of those characters came from: they never appeared in any of the other drawings.

The nuts, I believe, were from a small ornamental walnut my grandparents had on their mantel piece, and the golf ball is probably the same sort of thing, but beyond that who knows?

There’s a lot of Super Mario Bros. in there though. Things like having the enemy used as both a ground and air opponent, not to mention the fact that I had plans for a castle level at some point.

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GSW: And then we’ve got the bosses.

AW: It should be pretty obvious to anyone who had the distinct displeasure of playing Wrath of the Black Manta that I’ve ripped off Tiny from the first level of that. Sorry – I played it a few times around then and thought he was a pretty cool boss. I guess the idea for the giant golf ball is probably stolen from the Technodrome too.

The descriptions make me laugh. Most of them seem to be, “Does anything to kill you”. It’s a little redundant, considering they are bosses, but nevermind.

Water is probably the lamest name for a boss ever, just for the record.

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GSW: Shall we talk about the somewhat disturbing race stereotypes that we’ve managed to throw in there?

AW: Oh, let’s. Honestly, that’s one thing that I do feel a little embarrassed by, and while I’m pretty sure that no one is going to find the work of a nine year old particularly offensive, it’s worth noting that I am very much aware of the fact that not all Italians will throw “pizzas at you”.

Also, Sihks, in my admittedly limited experience, don’t tend to throw “knives every five seconds” and jump around.

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GSW: The “Good Stuff” seems to suggest a fairly interesting range of influences in terms of power-ups.

AW: Thank you for noticing. Yeah, there seems to be elements taken from Alex Kidd, Sonic and Mario in there, from what I can see. Eight different vehicles might be pushing it a little for a game that only seems to have 18 levels, however.

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GSW: I think it’s best if we let the level designs speak for themselves for the most part, but do you have any overarching comments you’d like to make about them?

AW: Only that I seem to have included a number of things that I particularly hate in game design: the moving platform that forces you to jump over blocks, and the “line” in level three that reverses your controls. I can’t think of anything that irritates me more than having my controls reversed.

Level four is quite clearly an indication that I must have played Shinobi sometime around then, and I’ve got no idea why I never finished anything past level five. Or, indeed, ever finished level five.

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GSW: How long did all this take to do?

AW: Probably around a year, I think. It was pretty on-again off-again, mostly because of the fact that I had no way to make the game. I’m assuming you’re asking me questions about this in a second though, so I’ll not go into too much detail here.

Suffice it to say that if I had been able to make the game, the designs would have changed quite a bit. They look really annoying to play. Also, I think I would have been more motivated to complete the design.

GSW: Do we know what happened to Sam? He moved away after the end of that year, if memory serves.

AW: That’s correct, yeah. First to Melbourne, which made it relatively easy to keep in touch, then further up the east coast to Newcastle, which is about where we lost track of him, until the wonders of the Internet age allowed me to successfully stalk him. Unfortunately, not his sister, which is a pity, because I always had a bit of a crush on her.

Turns out he’s a writer now, though not a games-related one, which is good, because otherwise the vicious rivalry would have to be rekindled. That’s also why I haven’t used his surname at all; even though that’s something I normally wouldn’t have an issue with.

If I know writers (and I like to think I do, seeing as how Simon’s introduction says I’m a journalist and all) he’d find this article pretty quickly with the constant Googling of his name that all writers indulge in, then be confused, and then probably outraged by my rampant egotism. Or our rampant egotism: I forget how this plural/singular pronoun thing is working.

GSW: Me too. We don’t draw much at all anymore, do we?

AW: Not really. Birthday cards, the odd MS Paint thread on GAF; that kind of thing.

GSW: The actual attempts to make the game: how did they go?

AW: Well, there were a few. The first was to actually make it in Hypercard. This suggests I really had no idea what Hypercard was capable of, and it turned out expectantly badly. I mean, there’s just no way to make a sidescroller in Hypercard. I made some bad adventure games later on, but that’s a whole other column.

From there, I think I considered briefly making it in Klik and Play – or whatever the name of that program was – but after using it for about two minutes I realised that it just wasn’t going to work. The program was…pretty lacking in all regards.

There was a brief idea that I could do it in Macromedia Director. Again, after using the program for a little while it became obvious that this just wasn’t going to work. On one hand, it’s not such a misguided idea when you realise that it’s more or less the precursor to Flash, but on the other hand, well, it was the precursor to Flash and couldn’t do half the things that Flash can.

GSW: There’s definitely a feeling of regret that we never produced it, then?

AW: In a sense. I mean, I wish I’d done it when I was drawing this up. I think the influences I had at that time were fitting. A few years later and it probably would have been a Secret of Mana style action RPG. I mean, that makes about as much sense as…a Sonic RPG or something.

Oh wait.

GSW: Ever think about actually producing the game for real? Even just as a nostalgic thing, maybe?

AW: I’ve thought about it, sure, but it’s not going to happen. My programming skills are not what could be described as wonderful. I spent two months learning C++ for a project that was later shelved, and none of it really sunk in.

Actually, to be fair, ‘learning’ might be the wrong word. The guy teaching me spent 90% of his time sitting on a mattress on the floor of his home office, smoking bongs and eating chocolate cheesecake right from the packet while watching Star Trek Voyager. ‘Teaching myself’ would be infinitely more accurate. To say the least, that didn’t go so well. I did get paid for the time, though.

Anyway, it’s unlikely to ever happen, barring a purchase of Multimedia Fusion 2, or learning how to use Torque Game Builder or something. I really wish that I’d learn to program at an early age, but I just had no idea how to make games, or even where to start. I’ve done interviews with people who were making games for Spectrum and things like that at the age of 12, but I really didn’t even understand the way it all fit together.

It’s like how I used to play guitar at that age by just strumming open chords: I didn’t understand what the frets did. Maybe if I knew that, then I might be able to play guitar to a reasonable degree these days, instead of being singularly one of the worst guitarists of all time. Same thing applies to my programming.

GSW: But we secretly hope that someone else will make it now, don’t we?

AW: Secretly.



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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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