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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 January, 2009

Column: 'Diamond in the Rough': Making Storytelling Look Natural

January 29, 2009 8:00 AM |

l4dpcg.jpg['Diamond In The Rough' is a regularly scheduled GameSetWatch-exclusive column by Tom Cross focusing on aspects of games that stand out, for reasons good and bad. This week, Tom examines Left 4 Dead and Mass Effect, and how the former especially leads the way in a new brand of pseudo-storytelling.]

To play a video game is often to be party to a strange chorus of grunts, yelps and insults. Characters in games are designed to react to their environments with as much "realism" and responsiveness as possible.

From the unfortunate pointedly, ethnic enemies in Drake's Fortune to the pained grunts of Big Daddies, to your teammates telling you not to shoot them, all games have hundreds of snippets of sounds in the wings, waiting for you to provoke them.

Even games that feature voiceless snarling enemies can create palpable atmosphere just by including interesting, scary, or numerous enemy and character barks. A game like Doom 3 relies heavily on such mechanisms: the groans, screams, roars and screeches that your enemies produce are all the information you’ll be provided with about their nature, aside from a few introductory cutscenes and forced expositional text documents.

Of course, there are also games that trade in verbose, incredibly context-sensitive responses. In Deus Ex, leaping on a table will elicit disapproval and derision; entering the woman's bathroom will earn you a disapproving coworker for the foreseeable future.

All of these interactions are worked out within the minor conversations and comments seen in passing through the game. Likewise, enemies in Deus Ex respond to you or what you are: a dangerous, fearsome genetically modified murderer and policeman.

But Deus Ex provides these interactions alongside traditional cutscenes. Games that don’t have cutscenes have to work even harder to get mileage out of on-the-fly, in-game narrative tools, because that’s all they have. Thus, it is not surprising that the most interesting and subtly successful practicer of this trade is Valve.

Interview: On Renegade Kid's DS Moon Shot

January 29, 2009 12:00 AM | Simon Carless

[It's nice to point out some of the smaller but more intriguing console developers out there, and Austin's Renegade Kid is definitely one of those - Gamasutra editor at large Chris Remo sat down with them recently to talk about first-person space horror calamities, and here's the fun result.]

Austin-based Renegade Kid has created an unusual niche for itself in the game industry: developing system-pushing 3D first-person shooter experiences for the Nintendo DS.

Impressively, the studio has coaxed quite a bit of power out of Nintendo's blockbuster handheld. In 2007 it released the horror-themed Dementium: The Ward through Gamecock.

This month it followed up with Moon, a sci-fi first-person DS shooter set on (and within) its namesake and published by Mastiff, which has been garnering decent reviews.

Gamasutra spoke with studio co-owners Jools Watsham and Gregg Hargrove -- game director and art director, respectively -- about Moon, as well as the company's unique portfolio, the ins and outs of high-end portable development, and how counting polygons on the DS makes you better prepared to count polygons on current-gen home consoles:

Road To The IGF: Kranx's Musaic Box

January 28, 2009 4:00 PM | Simon Carless

[We're talking to this year's Independent Games Festival finalists, and this time Eric Caoili interviews KranX Productions' Alexander Porechnov about Musaic Box, a hidden object game featuring puzzles that have players arranging blocks to complete music arrangements -- nominated for the Excellence in Design and Audio awards.]

At a glance, Musaic Box's casual "hidden object" gameplay might not seem noteworthy, but closer inspection reveals a fascinating music-based puzzle component unlike anything else in the genre.

In the game, players comb their dead grandfather's home for compositions to play with his "musaic box" left behind. To render the song, however, they have to listen to and assemble its pieces on a puzzle screen.

Presented as tetrimino-esque block groups, each piece contains a snippet of a song with up to four instruments. Players have to properly arrange the pieces on the board to form the whole tune. A basic version of each song is available to guide players, as are symbols on each block corresponding to the melody's instruments and bars.

We spoke with KranX's Alexander Porechnov about Musaic Box, nominated for both Excellence in Design and Excellence in Audio awards at this year's Independent Games Festival (part of Think Services, as is this website).

Porechnov discusses how he devised the music puzzle game's mechanics, why he chose to pair that component with hidden object gameplay, and KranX's plans to produce handheld ports for Musaic Box:

GDC 2009 Announces Casual Games Summit Sessions

January 28, 2009 12:00 PM | Simon Carless

[I'm helping all the GDC Summit organizers get the word out on their market-focused mini-confs, with the aid of most excellent Think Services colleague Jen Steele, and here's one we've written up on the Casual Summit, which seems to have a pretty neat line-up of speakers from the casual game biz.]

The organizers of the Casual Games Summit at the 2009 Game Developers Conference have revealed speakers and sessions for the two-day March summit, with notables from PopCap, EA/Pogo, Oberon Media, Playfirst and more discussing the state and future of casual games.

The GDC Casual Games Summit will take place on Monday and Tuesday, March 23rd and 24th, 2009 at the Moscone Center in San Francisco as part of Game Developers Conference.

This always popular Summit returns to GDC with a broad range of topics that reflect the increasingly diversified casual games industry. CGS' theme for this year is based on the dueling business strategies from the book 'Blue Ocean Strategy', by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne.

The makers of Bejeweled, Women’s Murder Club, Build-A-Lot, Fairy Godmother Tycoon, Diner Dash and more will evaluate opportunities and challenges of the Red Ocean (established markets, audiences, and players) and the Blue Ocean (newly recognized or created markets addressing new segments) approaches in casual games:

Opinion: Controlling Fear in Game Design

January 28, 2009 8:00 AM | Simon Carless

[In this opinion piece, pseudonymous game designer Spitfire looks at using fear in game design, setting it up in opposition to the usually-desired control, and asking: "how we can use core design techniques to scare a player?"]

I’ve been putting a lot of thought into control and how successful the player feels using that control lately.

Part of it came up when I read that Epic Games' Clifford Bleszinski was allegedly thinking of doing a horror game, part of it came up when I read Jerry from Penny Arcade's short take on Dead Space (and how it’s not a horror game), and part of it is me thinking about how combat relates to horror games, or any time a game asks the player to be afraid.

The following documents my thoughts for later reference, as I’m sure a lot of folks out there have already come to these conclusions.

Fear is a tough emotion to ask our players to have, especially when it relates to gaming. Gaming is almost entirely about "success." How successful does the player feel?

Typically, if players don't feel good and successful about the game they’re playing, they’ll stop playing it. They won’t recommend it to friends. They pan it on forums and boards. So, as developers, we’ve grown accustomed to players feeling successful. It’s good for us and our industry.

We can argue that fear involves scaring the player. Things that go “boo” or jump out at the player, or are visually horrifying to look at. Those things aren’t really within the realm of design, but simply use art or a player’s own base instincts against them. In the end, these things get old, and players get conditioned against them.

GameSetLinks: Rex And Drugs And Socks And Roll

January 28, 2009 12:00 AM | Simon Carless

[GameSetLinks is GameSetWatch's daily link round-up post, culling from hundreds of weblogs and outlets to compile the most interesting longform writing, links, and criticism on the art and culture of video games.]

Time to dig out the GameSetLinks, then, and there's a host of fun stuff in here - particularly Jon Hare on the creation of Sensible Software's almost crowning, but eventually developer destroying rock and roll sim title, a story that's been told a few times - but never in this much detail.

Also in here - OXM on Community Games, silly shader mistakes, Codemasters and the Malaysian connection, some thoughts on SFII Turbo HD Remix, after the fact, and a few other things besides.

Yay hurray yay:

Independents' Day | OXM ONLINE
A good Official Xbox Magazine article about XNA Community Games.

Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo HD Remix Afterthoughts from 1UP.com
These 'afterthoughts' pieces - and there are a few more just posted in 1UP's features section - are excellent.

I Get Your Fail: The Error Party Shader
Broken games make for some wicked effects sometimes, as this cute insider blog shows.

Sex 'n' Drugs 'n' Rock 'n' Roll Article - Page 1 // Retro /// Eurogamer
A longform and off the wall look, by co-creator Jon Hare, at the game that derailed Sensible Software's career - including a download of the first half of the resulting concept album.

How Britain loses quality jobs — Bruce On Games
The Codemasters/Malaysia funding connection hasn't been much discussed, actually - interesting catch.

white on white - By Lorenzo Wang
Oh my, someone who thinks You Have To Burn The Rope is the only worthy game in the IGF this year. Bizarro world alert. (I think all the IGF finalists are equally worthy, because that's what the judges voted for, FWIW, but I know it's been controversial, and we're working to clarify things for next year.)

Interview: Mikage On Imageepoch's Speedy Growth, Console Plans

January 27, 2009 4:00 PM | Simon Carless

[In an 'off beaten track' interview -- the kind of thing we love to host on GSW -- Japanese developer Imageepoch's (Arc Rise Fantasia, Luminous Arc) charismatic president Ryoei Mikage tells Game Developer EIC Brandon Sheffield about his studio's rapid growth and console plans -- and hints at a possible "million [selling]" action RPG targeting the West.]

Though founded in just 2005, Imageepoch's development staff has already expanded to accommodate over 120 employees, split into four teams all working separately on different projects.

The Tokyo-based company has three shipped titles under its belt, all for Nintendo DS -- Sands of Destruction (coming stateside in Fall) and two Luminous Arc releases.

Imageepoch demonstrated its flourishing talents in the latter games, noticeably improving the strategy RPG's combat and presentation with the recently released sequel.

The studio also has announced two highly anticipated titles -- Arc Rise Fantasia, one of very few JRPGs exclusive to Wii; and 7th Dragon, an RPG featuring an all-star development team comprised of Etrian Odyssey director Kazuya Niinou, Phantasy Star designer and director Rieko Kodama, and venerable composer Yuzo Koshiro.

Imageepoch's charismatic president Ryoei Mikage, who also heads one of the studio's four teams, talked with us a about his studio's rapid growth and console plans -- and hints at a possible "million [selling]-class" action RPG targeting Western audiences:

Nintendo President Iwata To Keynote GDC 2009

January 27, 2009 12:00 PM | Simon Carless

[We're getting into heavy announcement time for our buddies at GDC, and here's the first keynote reveal - Nintendo boss Satoru Iwata will be turning up to discuss new dev opportunities -- and hopefully throw in a mini-ton or two for the acolytes.]

Satoru Iwata, President of Nintendo Co., Ltd. will deliver a keynote address at the 2009 Game Developers Conference, kicking off the main conference’s schedule of lectures, panel discussions and roundtables.

The address, “Discovering New Development Opportunities,” marks Iwata’s first return to the GDC keynote stage since 2006. The Game Developers Conference takes place March 23-27 at the Moscone Convention Center in San Francisco.

Being a developer himself, Iwata’s keynote lectures at the Game Developers Conference are known for inspiring other developers to think about creating games in new and different ways:

GameSetLinks: Like Miming And Writing

January 27, 2009 12:00 AM | Simon Carless

[GameSetLinks is GameSetWatch's daily link round-up post, culling from hundreds of weblogs and outlets to compile the most interesting longform writing, links, and criticism on the art and culture of video games.]

As the week rolls on, so do the GameSetLinks, starting out with a PC World feature checking out some Half-Life 2 mods created by Scandinavian students, including the (pictured) 'It's Mime Time', surely one of the oddest mods of an FPS ever.

Digging into these links, you'll also discover 1UP's epochally neat Retro Blog poking around highlights of the SNES area and coming up with polygonal rabbit star pilots, Jon Blow's sharp comments on the WGA writing awards, the slightly avant Vorpal Bunny Ranch and Versus CluClu Land both producing excellent analytical game writing, and more.

Phase bass phase bass:

Four Freaky Half-Life 2 Mods - PC World
Darren Gladstone takes the IGF Student Showcase winners as a jumping-off point and picks out and expands upon the slightly inspired DADIU titles - of which one was a finalist, but all were pretty demented.

1UP's Retro Gaming Blog : Heart on Fire: Key Moments in the 16-Bit Era - #03
Indeed, Star Fox and particularly the SuperFX chip are too often semi-forgotten, I think - not entirely sure why.

Braid » Blog Archive » About the WGA’s Video Game Writing Awards
Jonathan Blow takes on the Hollywood union's game writing awards: 'The problem is that it’s not really an award ceremony. It’s a membership drive masquerading as an award ceremony, and that’s a large part of the insult.'

Interview: Annabelle Kennedy << Attract Mode
Great interview with an up and coming indie game artist/designer. Also, I do genuinely think the indie scene may have more prominent women in creative roles (getting interviewed, etc) than AAA games, which is potentially a good sign.

Vorpal Bunny Ranch: Despite all my rage...
'Despite some people not liking the term ludonarrative dissonance, as a concept it exists in Gears of War: the game portrays you as a gruff, take-charge ex-prisoner who has to save humankind; problem is that you're doing all this while taking cover and rescuing your teammates so that you can progress in a stop-go fashion.'

Versus CluClu Land: Sweaty Delerium is the Worst Videogame Ever
This is the kind of writing about games we should see more of, odd though it is: 'So here's the thing: My hallucinatory feverishness had this distinct ludic quality.'

COLUMN: Pixel Journeys: Sugoro Quest, Smooth as Dice

January 26, 2009 4:00 PM |

Pixel Journeys thumbnail['Pixel Journeys' is a mammoth GameSetWatch-exclusive monthly column by @Play creator John Harris, discussing games with unusual design attributes that have lessons to teach modern game designers. In this column, he looks at obscure Japan-only dice-based RPG Sugoro Quest - and why not?]

sqtitle
These are the two great trends for CRPG development:

The first, focused upon by western developers, is towards greater freedom of player choice. Originating from Dungeons & Dragons, it has found fullest fruit in the Fallout games, the Elder Scrolls games, and in the roguelike games. But even the more linear RPGs usually feature some degree of player exploration and decision-making.

The second trend is towards depth of storytelling, which is the direction that most Japanese developers went. Taking more from the story tropes of D&D than its gameplay, it tends to focus more on storytelling than player decision-making.

The two branches of the tree have, in the years since 1974, grown far from each other. Eternal Sonata bears little in common with Fallout III. This month, we take a look at a game from a time when the two families weren't anywhere near so estranged.

Let's examine the unexpectedly awesome Japanese game Sugoro Quest.

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