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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 February, 2009

COLUMN: Chewing Pixels: 'Video Game Critic Slain Over 7/10 Review'

February 20, 2009 4:00 PM |

['Chewing Pixels' is a regular GameSetWatch-exclusive column written by British games journalist and producer, Simon Parkin. This time, a surprising press release sheds light on a dangerous profession.]


Video Game Critic Killed Over 7/10 Review

A white, male video game reviewer has been murdered at his home in South London.

Charlie Drummond, a 30-year-old print and web journalist, was hacked to death by between 12 and 20 members of the gaming forum New-Gaf in his bedroom on Saturday morning.

According to police, his attackers had become riled at a review Drummond had written of the, at the time unreleased, videogame, Gears of Killzone 2, a product which the writer valued at 7/10 in a review printed in the Wedge Magazine two weeks ago.

A friend and fellow journalist told the BBC that Drummond’s killers had carved a 7/10 into his forehead using a DS stylus, a reference to the value judgment that apparently led to his demise.

While most of Drummond’s attackers are at large, one man, known at this point only by his online handle ‘Dutka-Fan’, handed himself in to a police station on Sunday morning. The police are yet to issue a statement, however one officer confirmed to the BBC the suspect had “not played the game in question yet”.

A discussion thread on New-Gaf, which ran to 60 pages prior to Drummond’s killing, was filled with expressions of dismay from forum members who accused the writer of “indulging [his] massive ego in an underhanded attempt at getting attention”, arguing that Drummond should “not be allowed to do things like this” and, in reference to the score he awarded the game, elliptically claiming: “This...is...a...lie.”

Best Of GamerBytes: Flower, Noby, Death Tank, Oh My

February 20, 2009 12:00 PM | Simon Carless

deathtankyeahyeahyeah1.jpg[Every week, sister site GamerBytes' editor Ryan Langley passes along the top console digital download news tidbits from the past 7 days, including brand new game announcements and scoops through the world of Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network and WiiWare.]

This week, gamers can finally check out Death Tank on Xbox Live Arcade. Despite the 1200 Microsoft points ($15) it may cost you, those interested in checking it out before buying should know that the demo includes free online play for Gold users.

This is a whole hour's worth of free online multiplayer to try out, and needs to happen more for downloadable console demos - and it helps that it's a great game.

Last week, the PlayStation Network got Flower, and this week, users can check out Noby Noby Boy. Even the creators aren't quite sure what sort of monster they've created this time.

Finally, WiiWare users can download Evasive Space, a space shooter where you... do not shoot. If you're a fan of Geometry Wars' passive mode you might want to give this a shot.

Here are the top stories of the week:

Column: 'The Interactive Palette' - Puzzle Design in the Myst Series

February 20, 2009 8:00 AM |

Riven's golden dome['The Interactive Palette' is a biweekly GameSetWatch-exclusive column by Gregory Weir that examines the tools and techniques of the digital games trade with a focus on games as art, using a single game as an example. This time - a look at puzzle design in the Myst series.]

Puzzle. The word has many different meanings in the context of video games. The term "puzzle game" can refer to a game in the mold of Tetris; there are many shaped or colored blocks or jewels or bubbles that must be cleared by manipulating them within a time limit. In this context, the "puzzle" tests the player's coordination and reaction time.

However, the word "puzzle" is also commonly used in a broader and more conventional context to describe an intellectual obstacle in any video game. When the developers of Half-Life 2 break up the shooting-and-driving gameplay to have the player assemble a makeshift ladder, that's a puzzle. So are the ubiquitous sliding-block puzzles of Zelda infamy. In these cases, puzzles are intended to serve as pacing devices, allowing a moment to relax and think in the middle of all the killing.

However, there are categories of video games where the game is entirely composed of puzzles. One group is games like Chip's Challenge, 3D Logic, or Portal, which all present a sequence of similar puzzles differing only in complexity and scale. However, to the true puzzle connoisseur, the height of the art is to be found in the adventure game.

The Monkey Island series, the Infocom interactive fiction games, and escape-the-room games portray worlds in which puzzles are a fact of life. The developers try, with various degrees of success, to incorporate puzzles seamlessly into the game world, so that players can inhabit a character who thinks her way around difficulties rather than shooting her way through them.

In the adventure game category, few games are more maligned than Cyan Worlds' Myst series. Spanning five single-player games and one repeatedly-resurrected online game, Uru, the Myst series is often blamed for bringing about the death of the adventure game. It popularized the concept of a silent, faceless protagonist exploring an uninhabited game world, and led to a myriad of copycat games where the atmosphere was spooky but the puzzles were arbitrary and banal. These concepts were anathema to fans of the character depth and humor of the Sierra and LucasArts adventures.

However, it really is the puzzle-solving where the Myst series shines. By looking at the best (and worst!) puzzles of the series, we can gain an understanding of how to construct truly compelling intellectual challenges. For a puzzle to be effective, it must be three things: fair, novel, and integrated.

DICE 09: Capcom's Takeuchi On The Challenges Of Aiming West

February 20, 2009 12:00 AM | Simon Carless

[While you'll also find Gamasutra stories on DICE talks like Dave Perry's and John Riccitiello's, we're just printing the longer-form, less business-y stuff here - and this Capcom talk, written up by Brandon Sheffield, hits a lot of the right buttons re: intriguing cultural questions.]

Jun Takeuchi, creative director at Capcom and producer of Resident Evil 5 and Lost Planet, opened DICE's first full day of programming with a keynote intended to tackle the issue of global game development and Capcom’s recent success in the Western market.

But in effect, he wound up making a better case for why Japanese game companies are not succeeding in the West.

"Maybe it’s strange for a Japanese person like me to be speaking to you," he began at the Gamasutra-attended talk during the Las Vegas business summit, "but I want to tell you a bit about how it’s like for us in Japan just now."

Takeuchi frequently punctuated his talk with similar kinds of casual and perhaps somewhat unconscious remarks, which ensured the audience got the idea that Japan is different from America.

"Japanese people, when they come to a place like [America], have a very unique feeling," said Takeuchi, presenting a slide representing Japan's perception of the West. "The first thing I feel when I come here is ‘wow, you’re all not Japanese.’ This is of course down to Japan being an isolated island country for many years."

While he delivered his comment as a half-joke, the comment about Japan’s isolation is valid, and is a point of "differentness" to which he kept referring during his talk.

But the harsh realities of the game market do not escape the company. "When I look at the games world market right now," he said, "I have no choice but to admit that Japan is a small part of that market."

GDC 2009 Adds Noby Noby, Level 5, Left 4 Dead Talks

February 19, 2009 4:00 PM | Simon Carless

[In honor of Noby Noby Boy's PSN debut, I specially wanted to highlight these new GDC talks because I was surprised and delighted to see Keita Takahashi pop up at the last minute - and I'm wondering if Level-5 will discuss their Ghibli game in any detail, yum.]

Organizers of next month's Game Developers Conference have revealed major new talks from Keita Takahashi on Noby Noby Boy, Valve's Michael Booth on Left 4 Dead, and Level-5's Akihiro Hino, on Professor Layton and his firm's other titles.

A high-profile late addition to the program for the San Francisco-based developer event, Katamari Damacy creator Keita Takahashi will present a talk called 'All About Noby Noby Boy', discussing his supremely quirky new PlayStation Network title. Attendees are promised that "This class will be a refreshing change of pace."

Also newly confirmed is 'From Counter-Strike to Left 4 Dead: Creating Replayable Cooperative Experiences' from Valve's Michael Booth. As the description explains: "This session will review the high-level design of Left 4 Dead, how it evolved from Counter-Strike, and the importance of procedural systems such as the AI Director in creating replayable and compelling cooperative experiences."

Finally, in one of the firm's first-ever Western conference appearances, Level-5's Yasuhiro Akasaka will speak alongside company president Akihiro Hino on 'Level-5’s Techniques to Producing a Hit Game — From Professor Layton to Inazuma Eleven and The Another World'.

The studio is noted for games spanning Dark Cloud through Dragon Quest VIII. More recently, its acclaimed Professor Layton DS puzzle game series and move into self-publishing in Japan is notable, with upcoming titles including Studio Ghibli co-operation The Another World.

Game Developers Conference 2009 takes place at the Moscone Center from March 23rd to 27th, and more information on the event and registration is available at the official GDC website.

DICE 09: Valve's Newell On 'Using Your Customer Base To Reach New Customers'

February 19, 2009 12:00 PM | Simon Carless

[My colleagues Chris Remo and Brandon Sheffield are at the DICE Summit in Las Vegas right now, and Gamasutra has our full coverage, of course. But I thought we should run the most thought-provoking write-ups here, starting with Remo's write-up of Gabe Newell's excellent opening lecture.]

Kicking off DICE 2009, Valve co-founder Gabe Newell discussed a theme central to his company’s success: entertainment as a service.

“The old way was using intermediaries,” Newell said, in a lecture attended by Gamasutra as the Las Vegas game business event.

“The product would be sold through retailers or other intermediaries. …You were really focused on spending three years to build value for your customers to get through the friction of the retail experience.”

When you focus on entertainment as a service, on the other hand, “you will use your customer base to reach new customers, and your focus is much more about providing ongoing value to your customers – maybe every three weeks, or even more often than that.”

The internet is fundamentally changing the medium, says Newell, and the new model affects all parts of the business.

“There are songs that are dusty, sitting in the back catalogue, and by putting a service layer on top of it – some level of interactivity – those very same songs become very profitable all over again,” he says, pointing to games like Rock Band and Guitar Hero as ways of making existing media “vibrant again.”

Q&A: Facade's Stern Reveals Touch Pets Dogs For iPhone

February 19, 2009 8:00 AM | Simon Carless

[Originally published on Gamasutra but with distinct GSW relevance, not least because Facade creator Andrew Stern is trying to bring some really interesting design aspects back to those darn cute virtual pet games, here's a Christian Nutt-conducted interview about Touch Pets Dogs.]

Rolando publisher ngmoco and Stumptown Game Machine have announced the spring 2009 release of Touch Pets Dogs for the iPhone -- a networked virtual pets game, and the first product from the Portland, Oregon studio, founded by Andrew Stern.

This game marks the reemergence of Stern into the world of virtual pets, a field he was at the foundation of, with the creation of the Petz PC CD-ROM franchise on PCs in the '90s while at PF Magic.

The Petz franchise has successfully been resurrected (largely in name only) by Ubisoft following the success of Nintendo's title Nintendogs. But Stern is also known for the narrative experiment Façade, and is promising that this iPhone title be significantly more interesting than your average virtual pet game.

In addition to the predictable touch interaction with an adorable cartoon puppy, the game features advanced AI simulation and social networking features that make it a more interesting proposition.

Thus, Gamasutra used a detailed demo at ngmoco's San Francisco offices as a chance to talk with Stern, who is the director of Stumptown Game Machine and is designing the game and working as an AI behavior engineer on the project.

Also present was Karlo Kilayko, the game's producer at Stumptown, and subjects discussed include the foundation of this new developer, the game itself, the state of virtual pets and AI simulation in games, player agency in AI-driven games, and more.

Best Of Indie Games: 5 Indie Games of Uniqueness

February 19, 2009 12:00 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 delights in this edition include a simple yet polished space-based RTS, a small but atmospheric maze game, an arcade game which features a talking moon, an action RPG in which you're supposed to beat in thirty seconds, and a mod for a new release from last year's IGF finalist in the Seumas McNally Grand Prize category.

Game Pick: 'The Space Game' (Casual Collective, browser)
"A space-based RTS which involves building up a mining base while holding back enemies. It's simple but very polished, with a number of different modes to choose from and a variety of baddies who are always on the offensive."

Game Pick: 'Where' (Mike Inel, freeware)
"Where is a small but atmospheric maze game created by in under three days, and apparently 3D glasses can actually be used while playing for that added effect as well. There is an actual way to reach your intended destination, although you will have to figure out the solution to a puzzle or two in order to get there."

Game Pick: 'Classic Night' (Akarolls, freeware)
"A strategy game with arcade elements, where players are asked to help a talking moon grow brighter by constructing utilities or buildings which give off light. Light from flowers and structures can then be collected as the main resource for upgrades or new constructions."

Game Pick: '30 Second Hero' (UUE, freeware)
"An action RPG consisting of really short battles that require no interaction, as players race against the clock to save the kingdom from an evil wizard's wrath. As indicated by the title, you only have thirty seconds to level up your character sufficiently for the final battle, although additional time can be bought if you have enough gold to cover the cost of your purchase."

Game Pick: '4 Minutes and 33 Seconds of Uniqueness' (Petri Purho & friends, freeware)
"An extremely strange yet unique invention by which the user loaded the 'game' and then simply sat and watched a bar fill up. If anyone else in the world booted the program up while you were 'playing', it would quit and you had lost. If, however, you managed to last the entire time as the sole user, you win... Now Jonathan Basseri has created a tracker so players can follow exactly who is 'winning' at any time."

Opinion: The Evolution Of Indie

February 18, 2009 4:00 PM | Simon Carless

[Have independent games finally "come of age"? Venture Arctic creator and indie veteran Andy Schatz looks at the recent history of the scene to examine why this decade is "defined by the rise of the casual game and the subsequent birth of the modern indie game."]

We always knew "indie" meant something. But no one could ever define what it was.

With the success of high-wattage Independent Games Festival winners, the divorce of the casual gaming market from the indie gaming market, and the continued commoditization of free-to-play flash games, the beast has finally emerged from the mud. It has become clear what indie games are.

How has indie games distribution evolved, and how has it shaped the content and helped to finally define what indie means as a genre of game? Let's discuss.

The 80s were defined by the golden age of computer games, the rise of the console, and the apex of the arcade. The 90s will probably be remembered best for the move to 3D. And it is becoming clear that the 2000s are defined by the rise of the casual game and the subsequent birth of the modern indie game.

Idle Thumbs: A Gamer's Songbook - 'A Letter To Edge'

February 18, 2009 12:00 PM | Simon Carless

[Have been enjoying my Gamasutra colleague Chris Remo's Idle Thumbs leisure-time podcast of late, and especially the game-related songs he's been doing for it, so I thought it might be nice to showcase a couple of the highlights here. And here's a brand-new, fresh one.]

For the latest installment highlighting songs from the Idle Thumbs podcast, we're looking at the song 'A Letter To Edge', from Idle Thumbs 19: "Citizen Killzone". As Mr. Remo is away covering DICE in beautiful Las Vegas, I thought I'd explain briefly what you need to know:

- The UK's Edge magazine re-published (via Edge Online) a review of Guerrilla's Killzone 2 for PlayStation 3 in which they assigned it a score of 7 out of 10.

- Over at PSXExtreme.com (bear with me, here!), one Ben Dutka published an editorial called 'Edge Killzone 2 Review: A Disservice To Game Consumers'.

- Among the gems within the PSXExtreme critique, which refuses to link to the Edge review: "[The score] is assigning a numerical value to a game that basically says, "it's good, but there are better titles out there for your money." This...is...a...lie. That's right, a lie."

- Oh, and also: "We're not saying everyone is going to enjoy KZ2, but this review is akin to saying something similar about "The Godfather II" or "Citizen Kane."

As a result, Chris composed a charming ditty on this very subject. The song and podcast can both be downloaded directly from the official site. The lyrics (and download link) are as follows:

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