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Archive For January, 2009

2009 IGF Student Showcase Winners Announced

January 21, 2009 8:00 AM | Simon Carless

[Here's the second set of IGF announcements for this year - and as always, the Student Showcase winners span an amazing variety of genres, countries, and styles - congratulations to all those honored, and thanks to everyone for entering.]

The 2009 Independent Games Festival (IGF) has announced the ten winners in the Student Showcase for its 11th annual awards, with games from three continents spanning ecological, paint-splattering and fantasy exercise games to be shown at GDC this year.

Chosen from a new record of 145 Student Showcase entries (up over 15% on last year's 125 entries), these games will go on to compete for an overall Best Student Game prize, to be awarded at the IGF Awards Ceremony on the evening of March 25th, 2009.

Some of this year's Student Showcase winners include CMU's 'active play' exercise-centered game Winds Of Orbis, quirky Danish first-person dish cleaning game Dish Washington (pictured), and ecological management puzzle game City Rain from Brazilian students.

Also honored are titles including USC's abstract painting game The Unfinished Swan and reality-manipulating German side scrolling shooter Zeit Squared:

GDResearch: iPhone Game Complexity, Genres Diversifying

January 21, 2009 12:00 AM | Simon Carless

[Our own Game Developer Research division, which includes various of us including the redoubtable Chris Remo, has debuted its first-ever research into iPhone games, suggesting lengthening production cycles and a diversification of game genres away from the still-dominant puzzle & word game sector. Yep, folks, the cute lil' iPhone is growing up - here's the details.]

Game Developer Research has revealed select results of its first ever State of iPhone Game Development report, helping to illuminate the growing but still largely undocumented iPhone and iPod Touch game software market.

While the iPhone game development market is still in its relative infancy, evidence suggests projects are becoming more ambitious and studios are becoming more sophisticated in their approach.

Select report metrics have revealed a trend towards longer development cycles for iPhone games currently in production, as follows:

Opinion: Crisis Core's Quiet Redefining Of The Gameplay Narrative Divide

January 20, 2009 4:00 PM | Simon Carless

[Developers are looking for a way to integrate narrative and gameplay effectively, and Gamasutra's Christian Nutt looks at a surprising, but -- he claims -- effective example: the slot machine-like DMW system in Square Enix's Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII for PSP.]

As I talk to developers and attend industry events, it becoming clear to me that designers and writers have a real thirst to see narrative and gameplay become more closely enmeshed in games.

Funnily enough, I played a popular game in 2008 that did an excellent job of effectively bringing these two things together, but I've rarely heard anyone discuss it in those terms.

Several people I've talked to personally have spoken highly of the way the title combines the two, but there hasn't been broad recognition, as far as I can tell.

That game is Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII, by Square Enix, for the PSP. I have a feeling that there are a couple of reasons there hasn't been more dialogue about this title.

For one, it's a PSP game, so it doesn't have the same stature as a PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360 title. For another, I don't think people outside of the fan base give the series a lot of credit these days.

I think many professionals, while recognizing the series' popularity, would be surprised to hear just how often it gets things right.

Buzzing in Your Ear: 'BREAKING: Kaz Hirai's Pants Not on Fire'

January 20, 2009 12:00 PM |

[GameSetWatch is extremely proud to debut the return - after a more than 2 year hiatus - of the column from legendary journalist Joseph 'BUZZ' Berkley. 'BUZZ' really has the measure of today's gaming market, and it's Sony's Kaz Hirai which has prompted his return from exile.]

There's been a lot of internet BUZZ over some comments that Sony Computer Entertaiment chairman Kaz Hirai made in the February 2009 issue of Official PlayStation Magazine.

For example, there's the following exchange to consider: "This is not meant in terms of numbers, or who's got the biggest install base, or who's selling most in any particular week or month, but I'd like to think that we continue official leadership in this industry."

These are comments which happen to mirror those that I made in my column of October 26th, 2006. But what Eurogamer didn't bother to cover was Kaz's refutation of the persistent claim that his pants are, in fact, on fire.

While the claim has gone unaddressed for some time, Kaz has finally deigned to deliver his own brand of PR to the situation. "These are not flames," Hirai was cited as saying, according to reliable sources. "I am not on fire. I just like having warm pants."

Kaz (pictured above, in earlier, less smoldering times) went on to explain that he was actually beta testing Sony's new Garment Heating Device, the Sony Pant & Suit Sweat Suite, or P3S.

He explained that any smoke, or appearance of a chemical reaction involving oxygen, fuel and heat resulting in the creation of light and heat were entirely within Sony's design specifications, and should not be construed as "fire", despite industry comments to the contrary.

Then, in his typical aggressive fashion, Hirai went on the offensive. "Sony's Garment Warming Device may be something of an expert level product. It's not for everyone. The Garment Warming Device offered by Microsoft may produce somewhat less ash, but the heating element tends to wear out in a year or two. These slacks will be hot nine years from now."

Hirai had less to say about Nintendo's offerings. "I think they're making glove warmers these days? What's with that?"

Finally, Kaz addressed those who criticize his pants-related comments. "You might think you know what fire is, and that there is fire on my pants. What I'm saying is, maybe you don't know what fire is? And maybe I do." He then ran off in search of cooling devices for his burning trousers, yelling: "FRIIIIIIIIIIDGE CHAAAASER!"

['Berkley's BUZZ' was a regular column from veteran game journo Joseph Berkley, whose illustrious career extends from the formation of Video Game BUZZ Monthly back in 1982 all the way to the founding of seminal teen game mag 'GameBUZZ - For Kids!' in 1992.

More recently, he was a regular columnist for much-loved late '90s game mag Big Important Thing, and the author of self-help manual: 'BUZZ Says - Less Drugs, More Games!' He has been unable to write for GSW of late, due to his demanding Managing Editor position at Official Phantom Magazine.]

COLUMN: 'Game Mag Weaseling': Mag Roundup 1/17/08

January 20, 2009 8:00 AM |

['Game Mag Weaseling' is a weekly column by Kevin Gifford which documents the history of video game magazines, from their birth in the early '80s to the current day.]

Playmeter.jpg

I had a doctoral student from Texas mail me the other day asking if I could track down any issues of RePlay and Play Meter magazines from the mid-70s until 1983 for her. She's writing a paper about the economics of the classic-era arcade industry, and she's interested in looking through all the little fine-print distributor advertisements in the back of both mags.

I'd like to help her out, but I regrettably don't have much of either publication. I used to own a fair bit of RePlay from the late 1990s, but I sold them out many years ago because the contents weren't of much interest to me -- endless pages about redemption games and Chuck E. Cheese kiddie rides and not very much you'd care about if you aren't a working operator. They are also very heavy and large, making storage a pain in the arse.

Still, both it and Play Meter (which, sadly, had most of its back-issue library destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, I hear) would be a nice resource to have available for reasons exactly like this, especially issues from the early years. If anyone has any sort of collection of either magazine, by all means let me know (kgifford at magweasel dot com) and I'll get you in contact with her -- 'ell, I'd be interested in hearing from anyone who collects either mag anyway, given that both have circs in the 5000-ish range.

Moving back to the modern era, click through to see commentary on all the mags that crossed my desk in the past fortnight. This is the first month without any EGM, sadly:

(Don't ask me when the retrospective piece I wrote for their phantom final issue will go up on 1UP, 'cos I sadly don't know. I did get paid for it, however, proving that Ziff is far nicer to its freelancers than most publishing houses that close mags. Thanks, gentlemen.)

GameSetLinks: Street Fighting, Art Boxing

January 20, 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 carry on with some GameSetLinks goodness, headed up by a great 1UP video special - and hopefully not the kind of thing there will be less of, post-UGO transition, given the costs and not always obvious returns of video content.

Also hanging out here - discussions of Sony and artsiness, indie games in New York magazine, a Proper Games profile, iPhone games sales stats (at least on the high end), and various other neatnesses.

Road to perdition:

1UP Specials: Street Fighter 4 with the Pros: News from 1UP.com
If you're going to do custom video, do it right, like this: 'We brought in three Street Fighter experts from Shoryuken.com, the community for hardcore Street Fighter players, for an hour-long video preview covering the new console characters (Gen, Sakura, Rose, Dan, Cammy), Challenge Mode, voice customization, strategies, and game mechanics.'

The Age of Indie Video Games - The All New Issue -- New York Magazine
'Unshackled from the blockbuster-or-bust mentality of the big corporations, these indie designers are ushering in a new golden age of smart, beautiful, and really weird games.'

Is Sony too artsy for its own good? - The Cut Scene - Video Game Blog by Variety on Variety.com
Completely agree, esp. if you look at investment vs. return for some of the PSN titles. Return is meant to be in prestige and hardware sales, of course, but... is it working?

Grey Alien Games » Blog Archive » Some Fantastic Indie Sales Stats!
Very useful discussion of what PC indie/casual folks can hope to make through selling their games online.

Flock and the art of downloadable game development | Technology | guardian.co.uk
Proper Games, I love the look of your game, but IMHO, you're scaled wrong in terms of project length/staff size for XBLA/PSN - the right size is 2-3 people plus contractors, I reckon. (I guess being privately funded and publisher-supported will let you get away with it, though.)

iPhone Savior: iPhone Developer Quits Day Job After 'iShoot' Hits Number One
Aha, single day iPhone sales to be #1 on store apparently confirmed: iShoot was the 'number one Top Paid App in the iTunes App Store with 16,972 downloads in one day.'

Column: Hit Self-Destruct: The Sisters

January 19, 2009 4:00 PM |

fallout3hsd.jpg['Hit Self-Destruct' is a regular new GameSetWatch column by blogger and writer Duncan Fyfe, focusing on alternative approaches to game criticism. In this inaugural edition, he dips into the English Lit paint-pot for some musings on Fallout 3.]

The protagonist of Bethesda's Fallout 3 is a cipher, a window through which to view the gameworld, so if he had a LiveJournal he would not be writing about his feelings. He'd write about the post-nuclear Wasteland, about the slaves who rallied around the Lincoln Memorial, the android who wanted to live like a human, free elections in a one-man republic, the day the ghouls crashed the gated community.

He'd write about the young girl who fell in love with a priest, the father who took shelter with his injured son in a storm drain, the downfall of Vault 106 and the rangers trapped on the hotel roof. Fallout 3 is like any other RPG insofar as the player collects experience points, gear and currency, but it's essential to the experience that they collect stories, too.

Fallout 3 is easily cross-referenced and classifiable in the modern video gaming canon. The game grew up in an Elder Scrolls household where it aspired to be Fallout, it has all the trappings of a Western RPG and the unbroken camera of Half-Life, and gameplay buzzwords cling to it: non-linear, open world, emergent. Its least likely structural resemblance, though, as per the above paragraph, is to a book of short stories. Essentially, it's Dubliners with guns.

Holding forth on Irish municipal politics in a drunken stagger, this thought probably never even crossed James Joyce's mind. There was nothing to suggest the eventual similarity in the video games of Joyce's day (older games, they would have been in black and white). Dubliners and Fallout 3 compile isolated tales about unrelated people to establish the character of a city in decline: Dublin and a fictional future Washington, respectively.

They abstain from a central unifying plot (more on Fallout's exception later): Dubliners relies on its 13 vignettes, Fallout 3 on an array of sidequests, text and environmental tableaus for players who skip all the dialogue.

Interview: Koei Goes For DS Gold With Monster Racers

January 19, 2009 8:00 AM | Simon Carless

[Here's another alternative interview from big sister site Gamasutra that you might otherwise miss - this Brandon Sheffield-conducted interview talks to Koei about their intriguing push onto the DS with the thus far low-profile sidescrolling 2D racer Monster Racers.]

Japanese-headquartered publisher and developer Koei may be known for its Dynasty Warriors, series, most recently market-expanding in Japan via the Dynasty Warriors: Gundam crossover.

That Bandai Namco team-up may have seemed an unlikely combination, but was demonstrative of a surprising market savvy on Koei's part, and the firm is now trying to expand its reach further.

Koei is at work on DS title Monster Racers [video] -- which sidescrolls when most racing games are head-on, offers four-player multiplayer in a fashion more often the territory of the PSP -- and tries to challenge Nintendo's market dominance, with strong stylistic influences of Pokémon and Mario Kart.

In this interview, Gamasutra catches up with producer Hisashi Koinuma and Koei sales and marketing manager Jarik Sikat to talk Monster Racers, from the challenges of the explosive Japanese DS market to the subtleties of the company's bold strategy:

GameSetLinks: Metaphors, Tabula, Kotick

January 19, 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.]

Starting out the week with a fresh set of GameSetLinks, and nice to see the UK Guardian go out and about to check out some of Scotland's more interesting indie developers - still a fun scene going on there, even if the alleged Crackdown 2 is so much haggis.

Also in here - the Forbes cover profile of Activision's Bobby Kotick, alongside Arc System Works analysis, another Mega64 video, Broken Toys on the adjacent history of Tabula Rasa, and more besides.

Cha cha cha:

Tag Games and the wonder of iPhone | Technology | guardian.co.uk
Really interesting discussion on what small developers can do - iPhone, XBLA, WiiWare all come up, but the volume of product coming through those must be getting crowded soon, right? It's still awesomely open.

selectbutton :: View topic - Useless Gaming Trivia: Star Control vs Little Witches
I knew about this game, but didn't know it re-used Unholy War enemies - totally weird! [Via TC]

Subatomic Brainfreeze: Talking back to Arc System Works WITH A WALL OF TEXT
Some good analysis of the recentGamasutra Arc System Works interview.

Activision's Unlikely Hero - Forbes.com
Notable because Kotick is on the cover of Forbes with a Guitar Hero axe, grinning demonically. (I believe I provided some background to the journalist for this piece, but did NOT tell him Rock Band was a 'shameless knockoff', sigh.)

Mega64 » Archive » Metaphors
On 1UP/EGM, and yes, very metaphorical (also, the dog is cute, and only acting.)

Broken Toys » Perspectives
Scott Jennings on NCSoft/Tabula Rasa and his own experiences there - just interesting from an honest inside game development perspective, really.

GameSetInterview: Sapporo de Chocobo - Joe Down Studio & The Final Fantasy Fables Soundtracks

January 18, 2009 4:00 PM | jeriaska

[Continuing the GameSetWatch-exclusive series quizzing rarely interviewed Japanese game music veterans, Jeriaska sits down with a Sapporo-based music studio, best known for creating audio for the Final Fantasy spin-off series starring the ever-fluffy Chocobo.]

The presence of the amiable yellow avian known as the "Chocobo" has been an indispensable part of the Final Fantasy series since the second title for the 8-bit Famicom console. In Final Fantasy V for the Super Famicom, the chocobo outgrew its role as a mere means of transportation, becoming a supporting character by the name of Boco.

Following suit, the mythical bird became the main protagonist for the game Chocobo's Mysterious Dungeon on the Sony Playstation. Along the way, the chocobo theme song composed by Nobuo Uematsu has been treated to practically every remix style imaginable.

Now that the character has its own Nintendo series by the name of Final Fantasy Fables, the responsibility of scoring the music of the chocobo has passed to Joe Down Studio, located in Sapporo, Hokkaido.

Previously the company has arranged Uematsu's Final Fantasy themes for the soundtracks to Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo's Dungon and Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo Tales. The latest installment has just been released in Japan, a sequel to Chocobo Tales for the Nintendo DS, developed by h.a.n.d Inc. and published by Square Enix, titled "Chocobo and the Magic Picture Book: The Witch, The Maiden and the Five Heroes."

As the DS port of Chocobo's Dungeon was making its way to store shelves in Japan's northern island, we had the chance to visit Joe Down Studio to inquire into the making of the in-progress DS title. Shoji Tomii is the representative director of Joe Down and has overseen the company since its start two decades ago. Yuzo Takahashi arranges themes from the Final Fantasy series and writes original tracks.

Composer Chiemi Takano wrote songs for Culdcept Saga (her voice can be heard on the Chocobo's Dungeon soundtrack's "Memory of a Distant Day") while Kazunori Takahara creates sound effects and contributed the voice of Bahamut to the Wii title. Their perspectives help illustrate how the music of Final Fantasy has retained its luster over the years as the chocobo has become an increasingly recognizable figure in videogames.

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