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

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Archive For July, 2008

Interview: KingsIsle's Coleman On Turning Tween With Wizard101

July 22, 2008 8:00 AM | Simon Carless

- [How do you go from a gothic past to a teen oriented future? KingsIsle development head Todd Coleman tells big sister site Gamasutra how key team members behind traditional MMO Shadowbane ended up creating their forthcoming teen-wizard MMO Wizard101, and the differences between designing for kids and hardcore gamers.]

First announced in May, KingsIsle's forthcoming Wizard101 MMO is a fantasy-based 3D virtual world targeted at teens and 'tweens, where players take on the roles of wizard apprentices at the Ravenwood School of Magical Arts.

In it, players can customize their wizard character's outfits and accessories, play arcade-game inspired puzzles and mini-games, adopt magical pets, and learn from seven different schools of magic, with a heavy PVP focus on collectible cards used for card duels alongside and against other players.

Interestingly, the core of KingsIsle staff has roots not in traditional children's entertainment, but in the much darker 2003 Ubisoft MMO Shadowbane, something which development head Todd Coleman told Gamasutra could be explained by the team's more family-oriented mindset, so many years from their first post-college roles.

In this interview, Coleman takes us through inception of the game as a true card-game MMO, rather than an MMO with a card game attached, its Yu-Gi-Oh! and Final Fantasy inspiration, and how designing for teens differs from designing for an older, more hardcore set of gamers.

So KingsIsle has people with a lot of experience on MMOs in the past, particularly Shadowbane.

TC: Yeah, I was on Shadowbane.

Is [Id and Ion Storm co-founder] Tom Hall still there?

TC: Tom runs the other project, so we have two MMOs in development. I run one, and Tom runs the other. Mine just happens to be first, so I'm sure at some point you'll get to talk to Tom about his.

Right now, Tom is also helping me by playing Wizard. His wife and him are a little bit addicted to it. I think he might be a little mad at me right now, because I think I nerfed his character last week.

KingsIsle is a really different and unique culture, because we have the sensibilities of a startup but the resources of a much larger company. A lot of that is because our founder, Elie Akilian, had such a strong and dynamic background in the telecom software space. It's a very different startup story than you'll hear from a traditional game publisher.

Opinion: When Should Games Say Goodbye?

July 22, 2008 12:00 AM | Simon Carless

- [In this opinion piece, game commentator Duncan Fyfe takes a look at how and when games end - citing titles from BioShock to Portal and beyond to ask how to set expectations and deliver on them for game endings.]

In video games, the ones that tell the player a long, linear story, the ending is usually an uncertain proposition. Prose and film teach an audience to expect three-act structures and considered pacing in storytelling.

Instead, games have what Warren Spector calls the second-act problem; where act one is the intro movie, act three is the outro movie, and in between is the game.

Games are structured less like a novel and more like an anthology; an arbitrary number of assembled vignettes, thematically united in post-production. A collection of missions and quests that exist because one designer had a cool idea for a boat chase sequence and another designer had an awesome idea for a stealth mission. It's a problem of pacing, and it relates directly to the presupposed need for games to have fifteen-hour narratives.

I think this issue is compounded by another: players don't know how long a game is. You can hold a novel in your hands and feel the weight of the pages. An album has its track listing printed on the back.

GameSetLinks: That Monday Magic

July 21, 2008 4:00 PM | Simon Carless

Yeehaw, time for GameSetLinks, and we're still rounding up some miscellaneous E3 links (towards the bottom), but hey, nothing wrong with that if it's neat.

Some of the other highlights in there - 'massively singleplayer' as a genre, my random GameTap tips, the new skool Zombie Cow Studios, and downloadable Spore prototypes. Yay.

Out to lunch:

Orbus Gameworks: 'Character Blogging and Metrics'
On Dungeon Runner's automated in-game character blogging.

gameslol » Blog Archive » Massively singleplayer: a real genre?
Discussing the neat concept of "...singleplayer games that are played by lots of people simultaneously."

Game Tycoon » Blog Archive » Designing for Older Gamers
Expanding on the recent Gamasutra article on this very subject.

Spore.com: Downloadable Spore prototypes
Featuring 'Particleman', in which you can: '...play with physics controls to create different kinds of gravitational simulations.' Via ErrorMacro.

realtimecollisiondetection.net - the blog » Salary of a game programmer (artist, designer, or producer)
Absolutely excellent post on ways to tell what people are paid - disclaimer, includes Game Developer salary survey info, which I help compile. Not clear if H1-B info is accurate tho - see comments.

Play in Community Spotlight - Celebrity Picks - Simon Carless and other games on GameTap.com
Me and other games! My picks for my favorite GameTap titles, from Sensible Soccer through The Last Express.

Zombie Cow Studios
The folks behind indie neatness Gibbage are back with a super-quirky free adventure game and some other indie titles.

Nihilistic Software - 'New Game Teaser'
Hey, I never noticed this before - upcoming downloadable PC zombie game from Nihilistic?

Wired Gallery: 'At E3, Insiders Thrive as Booth Babes Go Extinct'
Shuttle bus bliss!

pushing buttons...: My E3, Come Back!
A paean to the classic days from an ex-God Of War designer.

GLS: 'Embedding Social Activist Principles In Game Design'

July 21, 2008 8:00 AM | Simon Carless

-[Finishing up the Games, Learning and Society coverage masterminded for GSW by The Brainy Gamer's Michael Abbott, this last one is an intriguing one from Mary Flanagan of the Values At Play project - thanks again to him for covering this intriguing social/educational gaming conf.]

Speaking at a Games, Learning, and Society Conference workshop entitled “Values at Play: Tools for Activist Game Design,” Dr. Mary Flanagan, an associate professor at Hunter College's Software Art and Culture department, argued that every game design decision and feature can potentially have and convey social, moral, and political content.

Flanagan directs Hunter College's Tiltfactor game research lab and is the creator of The Adventures of Josie True, the 'first internet adventure game for girls' - created in 1999. She also co-founded Rapunsel (pictured), a research project to teach girls programming. Flanagan is devoted to developing games and software that create “rewarding, compelling, and socially-responsible interactions, with a focus on inventive game design for social change.”

She believes designers must intervene in the earliest stages of game design to consider how games can embody social activist principles. “The idea is to embed human values or human principles into design processes.”

GameSetNetwork: The Week In Features

July 21, 2008 12:00 AM | Simon Carless

Well, we've covered all of the E3 news on GSW, of course, but during the course of the week, we actually posted a bunch of neat features on Gamasutra, so would like to mention them briefly here.

[Oh, and also E3-related and worth mentioning - our 'console digital download' site GamerBytes, under editor Ryan Langley, has been doing a sterling job of rounding up the E3 announcements for XBLA, PSN, and WiiWare - here's one example, go check out the site if you haven't been.]

Anyhow, here's the Gama feature links for the week:

Redefining Game Narrative: Ubisoft's Patrick Redding On Far Cry 2
"Ubisoft Montreal's Far Cry 2 has one of the most ambitious open-ended, emergent game narratives ever - and Gamasutra talks to its guardian, Patrick Redding, about just how he can pull it off."

Surviving High School: A Mobile Survivor Story
"How do you succeed with original IP in the license-heavy cellphone game biz? Vivendi's Palley discusses the trials and tribulations of creating Surviving High School, which has sold over 10 million downloadable 'episodes' since launch."

Measuring Responsiveness in Video Games
"Neversoft co-founder Mick West follows up his previous responsiveness article with a cunning how-to about using a digital camera to track 'controller lag' - benchmarking games from GTA through Heavenly Sword along the way."

Top 10 Pitfalls Using Scrum Methodology for Video Game Development
"Industry veteran Miller looks at the leading Agile methodology for game development, suggesting the ten top pitfalls - and ways to overcome them - for those using Scrum to manage a video game project."

PlatinumGames: Shaking Up Japanese Games
"Rising from the ashes of Okami creator Clover Studio, principals from PlatinumGames talk to Gamasutra about its Sega deal, the state of the Japanese game biz, and its plans to "create games that have a worldwide appeal"."

[Want to get RSSed-up with all Think Services' game sites? Quick list goes like this: GameSetWatch's RSS (editor.blog), IndieGames' RSS (indie.games), WorldsInMotion's RSS (online.worlds), GamerBytes' RSS (console.downloads), GamesOnDeck's RSS (mobile.games), Gamasutra's RSS (main.site), and GameCareerGuide's RSS (edu.news).]

COLUMN: 'Game Mag Weaseling': Mag Roundup 7/19/08

July 20, 2008 4:00 PM |

Busy days abound in magazine land...just not in the U.S. right now (I only have four mags to cover in this installment).

First off, I was delighted to find a store nearby that stocks UK mag PC Zone, so I bought another copy. Very nice, very funny, and (like I said the last time I mentioned it) I wish they'd drop the DVD because I can't justify $15 per issue. Total PC Gaming is still around, too (on issue 8 right now), and it's still consistently high quality.

So is Retro Gamer, which put out Volume 2 of the Retro Gamer Collection recently (I think it's Barnes & Noble exclusive around these parts). At $25 it's pricey, but it's quite a nice compilation of old RG stuff nonetheless and will look tremendously chic on your coffee table, assuming you've cleared out the Dr. Pepper cans and pizza boxes from the surface.

In America, though, not much going on right now besides Future Anime, a one-off anime/poster magazine put out by America's biggest game-mag company that came out of nowhere into stands this week. That's a little off-topic for this column, but here's coverage on the rest of the new US (ok, and one Brit) game mags...

Edge August 2008

edge-0808.jpg

Cover: DC Universe Online

Between the giant cover story featuring a universally-popular pop-culture icon and the eight pages of Cliff Bleszinski talking about himself (not to mention the opening piece on iPhone 3G gaming which was out of date before the date of publication), you might be excused for thinking that this month's Edge is actually a copy of Electronic Gaming Monthly in disguise -- except, you know, larger and covering lots of Brit stuff for some reason.

Not that I am complaining much, because Cliffy is a hunky dreamboat and there's a very neat and compelling story behind DCU Online -- Sony Online Entertainment's Austin studio trying to take what they learned from Star Wars Galaxies (the Edge piece says that "subscriptions are stable and the community is largely happy" with SWG, which seems to contradict all given evidence) and produce a more exciting MMO with this pop-culture license.

For ubernerds the highlight this month is undoubtedly "This is how you make successful games," a retrospective on Segagaga with Tez Okano, the producer (there seems to be some net confusion on his last name, but it's definitely Okano, not Okada). It's a great little piece that portrays the game's creation and the massive changes going on in Sega all around it. Okano is a relentlessly interesting guy, and I wish him luck on Thunder Force VI, which he's working on right now...and speaking of somewhat obscure old devs, there's a similar "reminisce" piece just a few pages later starring John Romero, in which it's revealed that he got married to a Romanian lady he met on the Internet in 2003! Woo!

GameSetLinks: Poppenkast And Break And Spin

July 20, 2008 8:00 AM | Simon Carless

It's the GameSetLinks o' the weekend, starting out with TIGSource's tribute to The Poppenkast, one of the neater cliques out there in indie game land.

What it represents is the tip of the iceberg regarding user-created content - in the sense that - arguably - what games really need are tools to allow artists to spontaneously create content without a lot of hard graft. And tools like Game Maker and Adventure Game Studio are starting to birth amazing pockets of creativity.

Onwards to the links:

The Independent Gaming Source: 'Poppenkast: 3 Hours to Fame'
Derek is right on the money here with The Poppenkast being dynamic, exciting, and underappreciated. Not sure about the beards, tho!

1UP: 'Little Kids, Big Business'
Even 1UP jumping on the free to play worlds express, conceptually.

Top Travel Spots For Game Fans - Forbes.com
'Gamers should make natural adventurers. So, given a $1,500 budget for a game-related vacation, where would they go?' Cute concept, at least.

Eegra: The Shindigger's Digest - THE FINAL COUNTDOWN
Interesting indie-style game competition entries over at ze Eeegra - screenshots only so far.

Contemporary Arcade Coffee Tables :: surface tension ::
Very stylish (pictured) - if $6000+ dollars and UK-only, youch - via ArcadeHeroes.

GameTrailers.com - Duke Nukem Trilogy -E3 2008: Explosive Trailer
Redefining silly.

Kotaku: 'Major Minor's Majestic March E3 Trailer'
One of the few highlights of E3 for the alternative crowd.

auntie pixelante › super chuck norris bros.
'there’s something really compelling about the way super chuck norris bros. allows you to knock enemies out of the 2d plane and destroy previously-intangible background objects; to violate rules of super mario bros.'

ARGNet: Superstruct: (Re)Building Our Future
More McGoniweirdness!

Penny Arcade! - It's Just Like Being There
In case you're not a reader - pretty damn incisive on E3.

'Portal: Still Alive' Explained

July 20, 2008 12:00 AM | Simon Carless

- [Our Editor At Large Chris Remo has returned from Los Angeles in one piece, and he posted something E3-related on his own blog that's a) informative to fans of GlaDOS and b) worth reprinting here, if you like . So I asked nicely, and here it is.]

There is much confusion over what exactly Portal: Still Alive, an upcoming Xbox Live Arcade release of Valve’s excellent platformer-thing, is. After all, it was announced amazingly vaguely during Microsoft’s E3 press conference, and there was little followup. So I asked Valve’s Doug Lombardi, and he explained it to me.

Portal: Still Alive is a standalone version of the original Portal that can be purchased through Xbox Live Marketplace. In addition to Portal itself, it will include a number of levels that are not part of the game’s story, and do not feature story-related elements such as GLaDOS voiceover.

The game is exclusive to Live Arcade, at least for a while, but PC players can get basically the same experience right now anyway. Here’s why.

You may have seen Portal: The Flash Version, a clever Flash-based tribute to Valve’s game. You are slightly less likely to have seen the Portal: The Flash Version MapPack, which recursively ports the Flash game’s levels to Portal itself.

Still Alive’s bonus content consists of 360-certified versions of the levels from that pack. So if you’re a PC Portal owner who, like me, was feeling excluded by Still Alive’s bonus content, fear not: you get to play that content first, and for free.

COLUMN: Quiz Me Qwik: E3 Wrap-Up With My 9 Year-Old Cousin Steven

July 19, 2008 4:00 PM |

SW1.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, the inevitable E3 retrospective, from a distinctly different perspective.]

Growing up, I remember E3 being a pretty amazing, mystical event. I could never remember exactly when it was, but when it appeared in the game magazines I bought, it always meant big exciting things. Obviously, the whole event is now rather different to what it was, but it’s still a focal point for the industry, and still brings with it more than a fair share of announcements. This year was interesting – it might not have brought the games that people expected, but I think the word ‘interesting’ still more or less applies here.

But really, no one needs to read another twenty-something journalist with pretentions of grandeur prattling on about their view of the whole thing: “I really believe that this series of announcements represents a shift in the momentum of this generation of consoles in regards to the juxtaposition of core versus casual users blah blah blah”.

Especially now, a few days after it’s all over, and especially from one who sat at home in Adelaide and read about the whole thing hours after the press conferences were actually held. It’s not that I don’t care, but quite frankly, I’ve done the whole writing about E3 at 6am Australian Central Standard time thing. I’d rather just sleep.

I thought I’d spare you the systematic pseudo-intellectualised babble. After all, as I keep saying, this is Quiz Me Qwik, not Masturbatory Analytical Journo Hour, though that is a very good name for a column and I hope Simon is making a note of that somewhere so he can use it later.

Anyways, we’re going to take a look at E3 from a very different perspective. Like I said, it was a very spectacle when I was younger, and it occurred to me: it wasn’t just me, was it? Or just that era? So I asked my nine year-old cousin Steven to do me a little favour.

For the events of E3, Steven was to take note of the announcements, and at the end of the week, I would interview him to see what he thought of the whole thing. Originally, I asked him to try and stay up and watch the press conferences – generally on at around 2am ACST – but his mother suggested that might not be the most awesome idea ever, even though he was on school holidays this week.

Actually, what she really said was: ‘Alistair, he’s a nine year-old boy! Do you really think that’s a good idea? Really? Christ - honestly, Alistair, I fear for the day when you have children.’ But nevermind. I managed to work past those issues, and give Steven a call to get the inside word on whether or not E3 still really is the magical event I remember it being.

Best Of Indie Games: The Gods Of Independent Gaming

July 19, 2008 8:00 AM | Tim W.

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

This week on 'Best Of Indie Games', we take a look at some of the top independent PC Flash/downloadable titles released over this last week.

The goodies in this latest version include a unique platformer featuring imaginative use of cadavers, a casual card game, and three different simulation games which allow the player to exercise near god-like powers over a population of dwarves, planet Earth, and the universe itself.

Game Pick: 'Deaths' (Jesse Venbrux, freeware)
"A 2D experimental platformer by the developer of Execution and Karoshi 2, where the last fifty failed attempts by players from all around the world will be loaded and displayed as cadavers in various parts of the current stage you're in."

Game Pick: 'Pandemic 2' (Dark Realm Studios, browser)
"In Pandemic 2, players are given the chance to exercise god-like powers in deciding how to mutate a certain disease while trying to annihilate mankind in the process. This is achieved by spending evolution points on disease symptoms, resistance or transmission methods to increase the chance and rate of infection."

Game Pick: 'Dwarf Fortress' (Tarn Adams, freeware)
"The latest version of this well-regarded single-player fantasy game has debuted - for those not in the know, you get to control a dwarven outpost or an adventurer, in a persistent world that is randomly generated with distinct civilizations, dozens of towns, hundreds of caves and regions with various wildlife."

Game Pick: 'Universe Sandbox' (Dan Dixon, commercial indie - demo available)
"A physics and particle simulator that simulates applied gravity to planetary bodies. This educational toy for Windows-based computers can run scale simulations of our solar system while giving you the power to control gravity, time and everything in it."

Game Pick: 'Loot' (Casey Sillito, freeware)
"A casual card game set in a dungeon, in which players are to equip themselves with a deck consisting of potions or spells procured from the rooms they've explored."

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