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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 August, 2008

GameSetLinks: A GTI Club Sandwich, Please

August 23, 2008 12:00 AM | Simon Carless

- Time for some weekend-ish GameSetLinks, headed by Ryan at sister site GamerBytes kindly pointing out what's probably the announcement of GC in Leipzig so far for me - that GTI Club is due out for PS3 digital download later this year. It's a beloved, if obscure mid-'90s arcade favorite for me, so kudos to whoever decided to dig it out.

Also hanging out in here somewhere - some preposterous deconstruction of the even more preposterous Red Alert 3 trailer, MSNBC on layoffs in the game biz (aw), the tremendous Magnetic Shaving Derby, odd Lithuanian console games you haven't noticed, and lots more besides.

Set to stun:

GamerBytes - GTI Club+ Coming To PlayStation Network
Wow, this is a cult classic arcade game particularly beloved of Europeans, so MUCH kudos to whoever decided to bring it back for PSN.

Red Alert 3 Trailer Analysis: “War and Boobs” | Rock, Paper, Shotgun
Leigh and Gillen are the Sonny and Cher of live-action trailer criticism.

Jeremy's 1UP Blog: Famicom 25th, Part 25: The podcasted finale
Megaton in podcast form, with Kohler, our own Nutt, Parish and others rhapsodizing x100. PS - I had a ZX Spectrum.

Going to Space? First Stop: Eight Months of Grueling Training in Russia's Star City
Great Kushner article on Richard 'Lord British' Garriott's run into space.

Super Colossal » Componetry
Intriguing, an Australian architecture office blogging about Braid's component-based level construction and comparing to buildings.

Pink slips in the Teflon-coated games biz - On the Level- msnbc.com
Interesting piece on the recent layoffs, despite a quote from me.

IndieGames.com - The Weblog - Magnetic Shaving Derby (nyarlu labs)
Awesome DS homebrew: 'The objective of Magnetic Shaving Derby is simple - attract the razor using the magnet as you attempt to make a clean shave without incurring any injuries.'

Agetec's product page for 'Fading Shadows'
Whoa, some kind of abstract Lithuanian (!) PSP fantasy puzzle game. Interesting. It just came out, too. Also for PS2 by the same folks - Falling Stars - also looks v.intriguing.

MTV Multiplayer » If Video Game Boxes Gave Credit, They’d Look Like This…
Alllmost, but DVDs don't do this, right? Would make a lot more sense on the back of the box, not the front.

Joystick Division: Video Game News, Views and Reviews - CHUCK NORRIS: Unboxing porn?
Gameloft is _really_ doing a Chuck Norris game?

Interview: Red 5's Paper-RPG Duo On The MMO Persistence Revolution

August 22, 2008 4:00 PM | Simon Carless

-[Well, this is interesting - longtime GSW friend and MMO fiend Michael Zenke has been talking to some of the folks at Red 5 - recipient of almost $20 million in VC to make what is presumably meant to be a WoW-beating MMO - and they have some interesting, high-level thoughts about persistent online worlds. Can they pull it off? We'll see!]

Ed Stark and Dave Williams are veterans of the tabletop gaming industry. Between the two they’ve had a hand in publishing major revamps of pen and paper roleplaying systems, popular trading card games, and a number of board games.

Between the two they've had a hand in the revamp of Dungeons and Dragons to the 3.0 rule set, the Legend of the Five Rings RPG, the West End Star Wars Roleplaying game, and numerous card- and board- games.

Last year they joined the still-running-silent, VC-backed MMO developer Red 5, based out of Orange County, California - the World Of Warcraft veteran-founded company has been in existence since 2005, has $18.5 million in backing from Benchmark Capital and Sierra Ventures, and most recently announced former Oracle exec Michael Weingartner joining the firm as VP of engineering.

Since they signed up for the team, Stark and Williams have had the chance to realize some pretty far-out development dreams. Namely - bringing a sense of the tabletop gaming world to the grinding, sometime-soulless world of MMOs.

With the Red 5 title still very much under wraps, they still wanted the opportunity to speak on the subject of developer vision. Specifically, they wanted to address the two concepts of persistence and community, two of the core ideas around which MMOs have coalesced in the past. The level of persistence the Red 5 developers are talking about, though, seems entirely different from the average massively multiplayer game.

Though they weren’t able to provide any substantive promises, Stark and Williams offered a bold vision of an MMO shaped and molded by its players. The concept is of a game world built up of communities that reinforce each other and explore their own goals -- in short, an MMO much more like a vibrant pen and paper campaign than the usual static landscape.

Column: 'Homer In Silicon': Narrative vs Fiction

August 22, 2008 8:00 AM |

dinerdashScreen1.jpg['Homer in Silicon' is a biweekly GameSetWatch column by Emily Short. It looks at storytelling and narrative in games of all flavors, including the casual, indie, and obscurely hobbyist.]

I play a fair number of casual games, and I'm interested in story-telling, so I was intrigued by Mathew Kumar's recent Gamasutra article about the state of the casual games industry, particularly this bit, from John Welch at Playfirst:

"At PlayFirst we introduced character and narrative to our games -- we obsessed on meta-structural devices such as story development and even simple-sounding aspects like map screens and expert levels, all in service of answering the player's question, 'Why am I doing this?' which wasn't being answered by abstract match-3 games."

"Our consumers could say, 'Oh, I'm solving this level to help Flo fix up her restaurant and become a successful entrepreneur.' The ability to nurture our consumers' connection to the characters and provide them with a clear sense of objective through storylines has proven very powerful," he continued.

This made my eyelids twitch.

I would love it if casual games took more seriously the kinds of stories they can tell, and the ways in which casual-game types of interaction might be narratively interesting. To do that, though, they need not to kid themselves about what constitutes a narrative.

The plot arc of almost all the Dash games -- and the majority of time management games of all brands -- is essentially the same: an entrepreneur in the burgeoning field of (waitressing/dog grooming/wedding planning/dairy farming) gets a break-through opportunity at a (restaurant/pet salon/catering business/farm). Through hard work and perseverance, the entrepreneur does well enough to expand the business over and upgrade her own talents and equipment, until she (it's always a she) reaches some zenith of business acumen. Then the game ends.

(One caveat: as so often, the original in this field is considerably better than most of the follow-ons, and the first Diner Dash does have a more interesting ending than average. The developers of the sequels also seem to have conveniently ignored the surprise outcome of the original because it's somewhat difficult to build on.)

GameSetLinks: The Pink Floyd Of Video Games

August 22, 2008 12:00 AM | Simon Carless

- Ah yes, the inevitable return of GameSetLinks, headed out by a chat with a Nintendo Power supremo, and closely followed by a totally gorgeous Crystal Castles retro artifact - I'd actually like to see a Crystal Castles clothing line, if you could, Internet?

Also hanging out in here - scaling your game design scope, another look at a pretty avant-garde indie title, and the obvious question that nobody has asked - who's the Pink Floyd of gaming? (It's not in the same sense as the article asks it, but clear it's Minter minter minter minterminterminter...)

Sheepie go baa:

Crispy Gamer - Column: Press Pass: An Interview With Nintendo Power's Chris Slate
Orland's PressSpotting on GameSpot gets moved to Crispy Gamer under a new name.

Proscribed Word of the Month: Narrative (Magical Wasteland)
'For the following month, anyone writing or speaking about video games who uses the word “narrative” will be administered a mild electric shock to the temples.'

Vintage 1984 Atari Crystal Castles Display unused - eBay (item 150283849842 end time Sep-14-08 19:13:27 PDT)
Completely awesome - via GameSniped.

Randy Balma: Municipal Abortionist < Multimedia | PopMatters
'Randy Balma: Municipal Abortionist is a prime example of a game experimenting and pushing the boundaries of the video game world with no concerns about explaining itself or fitting into any simple niche.'

Resource Quest: hidden treasures in Sierra’s adventure games - Feature - Adventure Classic Gaming
'There is always the possibility of discovering an unused background, animation or sound file, or even just an interesting little comment made by a programmer in a script.'

:: Temple of the Roguelike - Roguelike News, Reviews, Interviews and Information :: » Blog Archive » First International Roguelike Development Conference: Berlin 2008
More international ASCII-based game summits, plz!

Press release: 'ScreenBurn at SXSW Invites Hopeful Designers to Enter Game Design Competition'
Not playable games, just ideas, which is... a little meh, for me.

Welcome to Jake World: 'Scaling your game design scope'
'The initial scope was too great, how do you scale it without compromising on the initial design?'

Love-de-links - the blog
An excellent Lovedelic fan-blog, dedicated to one of the most avant Japanese console developers - via Lovedelic Life.

The Ludologist » Blog Archive » Games to try to Hate. (What is the Pink Floyd of video games?)
'What is the Pink Floyd of video games? (You don’t have to really hate it, just bring out your inner punk!)'

COLUMN: 'The Aberrant Gamer - Uncanny Valley Of The Dolls'

August 21, 2008 4:00 PM | Leigh Alexander

-[Back after a few months' hiatus, The Aberrant Gamer is happy to return as a biweekly, sometimes NSFW column by Leigh Alexander, dedicated to the kinks and quirks we gamers tend to keep under our hats – those predilections and peccadilloes less commonly discussed in conventional media.]

"Make her boobs bigger," someone says.

"No, no," I argue. "She needs to be petite. We’re going lolicon-style."

"How is a lolicon-style girl supposed to kick ass?"

I know, I know, but I’ve got this entire set of "kitty" clothes, and fuzzy ears, and am I really going to put them on an Amazon woman? Actually, that might be kind of cool. So I take her – my creation – and I make her a little bit taller and more muscular, and then I put the little ribbon and bell around her neck.

"It looks stupid," I decide, scrolling, overwhelmed, through plate armor and fishnets that might be more appropriate. My woman-in-progress gives me a challenging look, blinks patiently, turns her head a little from side to side while I decide what she will look like.

She should be more tan, she should wear high boots, and, okay, her boobs should be bigger. Tweak, tweak, tweak, and -- "She’s hot," my Soulcalibur IV co-pilot approves.

She is, I realize, when I give her a test run up against a bluish zombie Mitsurugi. I chose her voice and the way she poses, I gave her Tira’s big bladed ring (my proposal), and now I make her fight as if she’s dancing. She’s cool, she’s hot, she kicks ass.

And I made her.

In-Depth: Inside The Music Game Player Census

August 21, 2008 12:00 PM | Simon Carless

- A new survey of Guitar Hero and Rock Band players by Brown University ethnomusicologist Kiri Miller has revealed some fascinating trends, including the fact that 76% of the players bought music they heard in the game, and 69% often play in multiplayer modes.

The initial results from Miller, who has previously written on the subject for GameSetWatch and has given permission for the stats to be reprinted here, were first revealed on her 'Guitar Hero Research' weblog.

She explained: "As of this writing I have received 414 responses. Survey respondents were self-selecting; most heard about the survey through recruitment messages posted on several high-traffic online messageboards devoted specifically to these game"

However, even given this, Miller noted that "...the content and range of the qualitative responses in the surveys does seem to match the range of perspectives I have encountered through other research channels."

Some of the highlights of the research to date on these 'core' players of music games reveal:

- 88% male, 11% female, 1% intergender/trans/other
- 60% aged 21 or younger, 23% aged 22-30, 17% over 30
- 100% have played some version of Guitar Hero; 37% have also played Rock Band
- 93% own some version of Guitar Hero; 25% own both Guitar Hero and Rock Band
- 45% typically play for 1-2 hours at a time
- 16% usually play at the “easy” or “medium” difficulty levels; 19% at “hard”; 64% at “expert”
- 76% have used “practice mode” (which breaks songs down into short sections that can be drilled at slower tempos)
- 57% often play with other people watching; 69% often play in a multiplayer mode
- only 41% reported having much prior familiarity with ≥ 50% of the songs included in the games
- 79% stated that the games increased their appreciation for new songs/genres; 76% had added new music to their listening collections because of the games
- 73% had experience playing an instrument; 49% (of all respondents) had experience playing guitar; 32% had played in a band; 14% regularly performed music in public
- 34% reported feeling creative during gameplay

Miller noted as part of her weblog post: "While I must re-emphasize the caveat that these statistics are not necessarily representative of all players, it does seem important that nearly three-quarters of respondents had played an instrument -- particularly given that respondents were recruited primarily from gamer discussion boards (as opposed to some more specifically music-oriented population)."

She concluded: "This fact stands in intriguing tension with the mission statement often repeated in media interviews with Harmonix designers: “to give that awesome feeling [of performing music] to people who aren't musicians, who would never get to have it”."

Humor: 'Excerpts From Development Books That Never Were'

August 21, 2008 8:00 AM | Simon Carless

[Veteran, possibly pseudonymous game developer Matthew Wasteland writes the 'Arrested Development' humor column for Game Developer magazine, and we're now reprinting his best insights on GameSetWatch. This delightful installment includes several useful excerpts from nonexistent game development tomes.]

Making Money With GameCube Ports: A Fast And Easy Guide To The Wealth You've Always Wanted!

Making Money With GameCube PortsFirst of all, you'll need to get yourself one or more "Dolphin" developer kits, which are the devices that are used to create GameCube games. I've had some success finding these in local landfills, but your luck may vary depending on location (I live in San Rafael, California).

Sometimes you see them for sale on Craigslist by a developer's divorced wife or estranged parent, who doesn't know what it is, and you can nab it for cheap. Ask to see it first, of course; you'll know it's a real Dolphin because it has a picture of a dolphin, along with an emergency-eject lever on the front. Hopefully you will never have to pull that!

Once you've secured yourself one of these boxes, you can start the porting process. Even if you've never programmed so much as your VCR before, you shouldn't be frightened at the prospect of doing a port to GameCube. The unique architecture makes it easy! Non-unified RAM keeps things simple, because you won't have to worry about all of the memory at once. The small, 1.5GB discs mean there's a lot less data to load and process.

If you're still afraid, consider this: A famous game industry technologist recently pointed out in reverse that GameCubes are essentially one-half of a Wii -- which means that they are about twice as easy to program! And I don't know if you've played any Wii games lately, but come on. How hard could those have been?

At some point during the process, the publisher will call to see how things are going. Tell them everything is fine.

GameSetNetwork: Best Of The Mid-Week Madness

August 21, 2008 12:00 AM | Simon Carless

-Good grief, it's Wednesday again - and so time to wander sedately around the array of neat features, interviews and write-ups from big sister site Gamasutra and elsewhere - with some standout neatness headed by a much-debated Ernest Adams feature on the 'tao of game design'.

Also in here - a neat piece on technical artists, a chat with Ubisoft Montreal's CEO, developers on user-generated content, and the world of Chinese gaming cafes, plus lots of GCDC coverage from ze Leipzig, among many others.

Yesh yesh yesh:

Gamasutra Features

The Designer's Notebook: The Tao of Game Design
"What's the point of designing games? Veteran educator and designer Ernest Adams examines fun, enjoyment, and personal fulfillment to reveal the key, uplifting tenets of game creation."

The Code/Art Divide: How Technical Artists Bridge The Gap
"In this intriguing technical article, originally published in Game Developer magazine, Volition's Jason Hayes discusses how the Saints Row franchise developer integrates the technical artist into its development pipeline."

Building Believable Worlds: Yannis Mallat On Production At Ubisoft
"With Ubisoft Montreal now housing 2000 employees, Gamasutra sits down with CEO Yannis Mallat to discuss managing the unique studio and its breadth of development, from Far Cry 2 through My Weight Loss Coach."

Gamasutra, Other Originals

The Anti-Auteurs: Developers Speak On User-Generated Content
"User-generated content, particularly on the PC, is here to stay, whether developers planned for it or not -- and representatives from Three Rings, inXile, ACES Studio and Obsidian have been talking about "how to work within the sweet spot" on user-generated levels, quests, and environments."

GCDC: Epic's Capps On Designing The 'New, Better, More' Gears 2
"Epic president Mike Capps discusses at GCDC his company's most ambitious sequel yet in Gears of War 2, talking franchise-building with the original and breaking down the design team's "new, better, more" sequel philosophy.

Devs: Ease Of Development Rules, Outsourcing On Rise
"Game Developer Research has released new data from its 'State Of Development' survey of almost 2,000 creators, revealing ease of development as the most important factor for making games on a platform, and the fact that nearly half of all developers are outsourcing in some way."

Epic's Capps Talks People Can Fly, Epic China Growth
"Gamasutra spoke to Epic president Mike Capps, following the EA Partners deal, to discuss the Epic-owned "little 'studio that could'" People Can Fly and Chair Entertainment, revealing new stats on the now 130 person-strong Epic Games China."

GCDC: What Determines Developer Acquisition Values?
"Consolidation's the norm these days, but acquisition values vary widely -- why was Shiny worth $47 million to Atari, while Black Box only set EA back significantly less? Interactive business strategist Dan Lee Rogers explains just what determines a studio's value to an acquirer, and key rules for studios aiming to sell."

In-Depth: Inside China's Gaming Cafes
"Chinese Internet cafés are surprisingly important to the nation's online game market, according to a new survey - and Gamasutra talks to Niko Partners' Lisa Hanson about the popularity of Western games in the café, the male-female player ratio, and more."

GCDC: Connors On Telltale's Episodic Move To Consoles
"As episodic content pioneers Telltale Games move their 'TV-style' format to the console for the first time with Strong Bad, CEO and co-founder Dan Connors talks at GCDC in Leipzig about the strengths episodic is accustomed to enjoying on PC that make consoles more challenging."

Design Lesson 101 - Braid

August 20, 2008 4:00 PM |

braid.jpg['Design Lesson 101' is a regular column by game designer Manveer Heir. The goal 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 Jonathan Blow's critically acclaimed platform-puzzler, Braid, available on Xbox Live Arcade]

In 1977, the Atari 2600 was launched with a joystick that had a grand total of one button to use. Today, the Xbox 360 has sixteen buttons on their controller. In other words, about every two years we get another button on our controllers.

This increase in interface complexity is the result of increased game complexity. Games have added features such as fully 3D environments, complex dialog trees, and crouch-jumping in recent years. Often in these games, the mechanics are layered on top of each other to create a greater challenge. Moving in a first-person game is simple. Shooting in a first-person game is simple. Moving and shooting at the same time, at a target that is also moving and shooting, is not.

So, it's refreshing when a game comes along that not only goes back to a classic genre that is under-represented in current games, but also keeps its unique game mechanics separate, rather than running them together until the game can only be controlled by an interface as obtuse as the Xbox 360 controller.

Braid is such a game.

Opinion: Video Games And The Graphics Plateau

August 20, 2008 8:00 AM | Simon Carless

- [In this editorial, originally printed in Game Developer magazine and already causing much debate on online messageboards, editor-in-chief Brandon Sheffield questions whether oft-theorized "graphics plateau" has already occurred, as supported by the continued success of graphically modest systems such as Wii and PlayStation 2.]

Developers and journalists alike have talked about the inevitable point past which graphics do not matter, and the focus turns to gameplay. The question I pose to you is -- has that already happened? Were we just not listening?

I was considering this when confronted with a few facts from Japan, firstly. The most popular “modern” consoles there are the DS, the Wii, and the PSP. None of these consoles have the graphics push of the big boys, as we know.

Further, Koei recently released Dynasty Warriors 6, “exclusively” for PS3, but due to fan reaction, subsequently ported it to PS2. Atlus is still releasing its largest product, Persona 4, on the PS2.

In the U.S., the DS is doing famously, the Wii has sold like gangbusters, and PSP hardware (though perhaps not official software) is doing quite well. The PS2 still has the largest installed base in the country. Now, does that mean the Xbox 360 and PS3 are doomed? Certainly not. But I propose the possibility that PS2 and Wii-level graphics were and are enough for the average gamer.

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