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June 20, 2009

Gamasutra Expert Blogs: From Assembly Lines To Monkeys

In big sister site Gamasutra's weekly Best of Expert Blogs column, we showcase notable pieces of writing from members of the game development community who maintain Expert Blogs on the site.

Member Blogs -- also highlighted weekly -- can be maintained by any registered Gamasutra user, while the invitation-only Expert Blogs are written by development professionals with a wealth of experience to share.

We hope that both sections can provide useful and interesting viewpoints on our industry. For more information about the blogs, check out the official posting guidelines.

This Week's Standout Expert Blogs

Creative Assembly Lines
(Colin Anderson)

Colin Anderson with Scotland-based Denki looks at successful production systems -- from Henry Ford's assembly line to extraordinary hit-making "factories" like Pixar -- in order to find important lessons that might be applicable to game development. Is a "Creative Assembly Line" feasible?

Chatbots 102 – Postmortem
(Bruce Wilcox)

Bruce Wilcox writes up a fascinating and at times hilarious postmortem of the development of his chatterbot Suzette. For instance, when asked by a judge at the 2009 Chatterbox Awards, "What is the difference between chatbot and human?", a relatively young Suzette (she's evolved since then) replied: "A cooking style of Chinese cannibals." More great conversation and reflection within...

Art Games
(Tyler Glaiel)

This is not a new entry in the games as art debate -- instead, Closure designer Tyler Glaiel accepts that certain games can carry weighty discussions revolving around symbolism and deeper meaning. But like other forms of art, not every piece brilliant, as he admits he has a "love-hate relationship with art games. ... It's good to see people trying though."

A Simple View Of Game Story
(Jeff Spock)

Games writer Jeff Spock argues that the formula for story, in its most basic form, is relatively simple. So why do games so often screw up the story? Here, he examines some of the possible weak links.

Of Monkeys And Shiny Things
(Armando Marini)

Armando Marini, creative director at Ubisoft Montreal reveals his rule of thumb for making game development choices: "Monkeys like shiny things." Who does he liken to monkeys? Gamers. Let him explain -- it's not as offensive as it sounds.

Interview: Harmonix's Randall On Achieving Harmony With The Beatles: Rock Band

[In a neat, pocket-sized interview, Harmonix's Josh Randall tells Chris Remo about Harmonix's design approach on The Beatles: Rock Band, its three-way harmony, and why you can't have an accurate Beatles lineup in the game.]

The Beatles: Rock Band is arguably the most significant artist tie-in with a music game yet, and the top billing of the artist's name in the title reflects the uncommon weight The Beatles pull.

But it's still a Rock Band game; developer Harmonix isn't so much aiming at creating a virtual Beatles experience so much as it is attempting to continue evolving its core Rock Band experience in ways best suited to The Beatles influential oeuvre.

We sat down with Harmonix creative director and The Beatles: Rock Band project lead Josh Randall for some brief background on the game's origins and Harmonix's design approach.

Subjects discussed include the challenges of the three-way harmony mechanic, why you can't have a technically-accurate Beatles lineup in the game, and how this game furthers Harmonix's long-standing mission:

Was there some level of competition between Activision and Harmonix and MTV Games for The Beatles?

Josh Randall: I don't know. I don't actually know. [laughs]

The way it came about was actually that years ago, we had dreamed about making this game, but then it wasn't [in the works] until [we realized] Dhani Harrison was a huge fan of our game. He met with us, and then met with Apple Corps, and basically introduced us. And then from there, he sort of gave us the connections to get things going. That's how it went down.

It's funny; because you're using the standard Rock Band instrument lineup, not counting the mics, you can't actually reproduce The Beatles' configuration.

JR: Right. You would actually want three guys playing guitar and singing, and then someone playing the drums.

So do you have an internal guideline on, say, who can claim to be George or Paul or what have you?

Josh Randall: No. That was the thing that we figured out -- we didn't want do, "I'm George," or "I'm John," you know? It's just, "I'm going to play the bass track" or "I'm going to play the guitar track."

And, you know, Apple Corps and the Beatles have been totally cool with that. I think that goes along with how we do Rock Band. It's more about picking the material that you actually want to play. If you want to play the drums, you just pick the drums.

Was it a challenge to sell the three-part harmony feature to MTV Games, your publisher? That's pretty complex.

JR: No. Originally, with [Rock Band] and with all of our games, we wanted to just create the ultimate party in your living room. And whenever we play Rock Band together, there are always extra people in the room. So we thought, “What if we just have an extra mic?"

But then, we thought about it more, and we realized that a big signature part of The Beatles' music is the beautiful harmonies that they do, so let's actually turn that into a real game element.

We went through a really heavy prototyping phrase, figuring out, "Alright, how do we get multiple arrow pointers? How do you know what you're singing? How do we do the scoring?" and all of that. We did really tight iteration, where like every morning we would meet and try out the latest version and tweak it to see how it works.

Are you worried about how intimidating that could be to people who aren't familiar with singing harmony?

JR: No. At the bare minimum, you plug in three mics, and anybody can sing anything they want. It's really clear that, "Oh, the main vocal track is this color, and if I want to sing that, I can, and it's no problem." But if you want to branch out and try doing harmonies, you can.

The other thing is that we have a full training mode, much like in Rock Band, where between the tutorials and the practice mode, you can actually go in and hear a guide pitch. You can say, "I want to hear what the notes are for the main lines," or, "now I want to hear what the notes are for the harmonies."

If you just listen and practice with your own ear, you can totally pick out all the different lines and then just play. But if you can't hear those lines in the original song, we didn't want to make the game such that if you don't do harmony, you get a crappier score. That's detrimental to gameplay.

There's a bit of a progression in what you can learn from your games. You started out with Guitar Hero, and then in Rock Band you could essentially learn the basics of playing real drums, and now with this game you'll be able to learn to sing lines that are actual harmony lines to real songs.

JR: We're trying to keep it authentic. And for me, I never really sang harmony with someone before, but it just feels really good to do. And I really like that this game taught me how to do it.

I'm not that great, but the first time I sat in on a playtest session and saw three people singing in harmony together for "Here Comes the Sun," I swear I saw people tearing up at the end. Another time, I saw people hold hands -- total strangers holding hands, singing in harmony. That's what this game is all about. I really think this game has a lot of heart. We really tried to create an emotional response when you play.

That really goes back to Harmonix's stated mission of bringing the feeling of musical performance to everyone, including non-musicians.

JR: Exactly.

Best Of Indie Games: Evacuate the Kingdom

[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 Tron-like game, a browser-based platformer centered around the adventures of a dwarf, a new experimental game from Cactus, and a first-person platformer which requires switching between the shadow and 3D world frequently in order to solve tricky puzzles.

Game Pick: 'STRINGLINK' (Sasakoge, freeware)
"A challenging single-player Snake game with some nifty additions. Instead of eating dots on the screen, you earn points by changing directions when the speeding craft is hovering over a coloured tile. A 'mix of Tron and Ikaruga', as Kenta Cho notes on his Twitter page."

App Pick: 'Cube Kingdom' (Ramza3D, freeware)
"Cube Kingdom is an application that can be used to create 3D models out of blocks with the same size and dimension. Squares can be placed, erased or coloured over with just a click or two, and there are sixteen different colours that you can choose from to apply to your building blocks. A handy tool that might be useful for designing structures quickly before building them in Minecraft."

Game Pick: 'EVAC' (cactus, freeware)
"A 2D platformer consisting of only a handful of rooms to explore, created by cactus in under three hours while he was in the Netherlands to give a talk at the HKU-organized Festival of Games. The game is absolutely quirky, definitely interesting and undeniably experimental, although one should expect nothing less than the unexpected from the unnaturally prolific Swedish developer."

Game Pick: 'Shy Dwarf' (Jaromir Plachy, browser)
"Plachy Trpaslik (Czech for 'Shy Dwarf') is a short but sweet little platformer that tells the story of a small dwarf's journey into the unknown. Along the way is some simple platforming and strange sights that you'll want to experience. The whole game is nicely animated apart from the dwarf himself, which is strangely just a black blob with a hat on."

Game Pick: 'Somnia' (Cryptic Sea, freeware)
"Somnia is a 3D first-person perspective outing revolving around light and shadows. Each of the puzzles must be completed by flipping between the shadow and the 3D-world, and platforms which seem unreachable are quite easily accessed through 2D shadow platforms. When it finally clicks in exactly what you're meant to be doing, it's a moment of sheer wow-ness."

June 19, 2009

Thumb Stadium: Eight Games Using Just Three LEDs

Like the wonderful and oft-blogged Meggy Jr., Thumb Stadium is a neat handheld gaming system kit using a limited set of LEDs to display its game elements. While the Meggy Jr. is the size of a Game Boy Advance and has 64 LEDs at its disposal, though, Molten Voltage's Thumb Stadium is about half the size of a Game Boy Micro and only uses three LEDs.

With just those three LEDs, a button on each side, and a slide switch to turn the "Binary Gaming Platform" on, Thumb Stadium offers four different games, the first three of which are two-player games:

  1. ThumbWar - The object of ThumbWar is simple: press while the other player is pressing. If you do, you get a point.
  2. SlapJack - During SlapJack, Thumb Stadium randomly flashes the center LED red or green. Be the first to press when center is green and get a point. Don't press if it isn't green or the other player gets a point.
  3. Jai Alai - Center lights up ~ quickly press to "catch" your color. Press again to "throw" to the other player who has to catch on time and throw back. The time to catch gets shorter each throw.
  4. Reflexy - Reflexy is a one-player game. The object is to quickly press the button that matches the color in the center LED. You go until you miss or are too late. The time to react gets shorter each turn. After the game, your score is flashed ~ Center = x10, Red LED = x1. Press the Red Side Button three times to restart.

Molten Voltage also offers a Thumb Stadium Game Chip 2 that you can install on the mini-console with four more games (well, the last one isn't much of a game):

And if you get tired of all those games, you can also program your own with the Microchip 12F629 PIC Microcontroller, provided you're creative enough to imagine more ways to make use of the limited display.

You can find more information on Thumb Stadium, links to online retailers, and details on how to create your own games at the product's official site.

COLUMN: Chewing Pixels: 'Lest We Forget'

['Chewing Pixels' is a semi-regular GameSetWatch-exclusive column written by British games journalist and Flash game producer, Simon Parkin. Today, a wargame producer doesn't quite find the perspective he was looking for from a consulting veteran.]

“So I’d just like to start by thanking you for agreeing to help us out on this project. It’s very much appreciated by the team.”

“Well, that’s absolutely fine Mr… Mr? I'm sorry, I didn't catch your name”

“Caldwell. John Caldwell. I’m senior producer here at Eternity Games. It really is a privilege to have you here. We’re confident that the unique and personal insight you can provide us into this moment of history will prove quite invaluable to our product.”

The older man shifted a little in his seat, causing his walking stick to slide to the floor from its leaning position on the chair’s armrest with a resounding clack. “Well, I’m not sure about that Sir, but I’m quite happy to help out in any way I can. Your game is about… it’s about the war, yes? Are the kids really interested in that sort of thing these days?”

“Absolutely. And we think that by consulting some veterans we can add greatly to the verisimilitude of the experience we're creating. This kind of thing makes for an excellent back-of-the-box selling point, you know. Young people are keen to learn what it was like to serve on the frontline and games like ours offer them a unique and realistic chance to witness both the horror and the glory of the battlefield."

“Well I can’t say I especially approve of that Mr Caldwell, but anything that might help prevent a young person from going to war and having to see the things that I see is just fine by me.”

America’s Army, Full Spectrum Warrior and all the other military recruitment games flashed across Caldwell's mind for a moment. But just as he started to wonder just how many young men had been drawn to real war by way of virtual battlefields, he tore himself off that thought trail and back to the matter at hand.

"That's great, just real great. So, what can you tell me about that time? How did it feel to be a soldier in active service?"

"We were children and we should have been doing other things.

I mean that literally: we should have been elsewhere. The history books record the tactics of the distant generals, the broad brushtrokes of a war's story as it heaves and builds... and the movies, well, they wring sentimentality from the mortars and the sod, all slow motions vainglorious deaths and weeping French horns. But there in the trench, in the dust and the detail of the moment, we were children and we should have been doing other things.

“I had a stammer then, and a hairline on the cusp of retreat. The other boys would joke that my moustache looked like a sooty thumbprint. Heh, at least it did till the officers made me shave it off. My uniform hung two sizes too large from - and don’t laugh now - the clothes-horse of a body I had back then. The very model of a modern soldier I was not. Few of us were. You get the army you pay for and, as conscripts we were a sort of factory-worker class, our inexpert labour fueling war’s insatiable factories."

The veteran leaned forward in his chair and, from behind heavy eyelids, looked Caldwell straight in the eye.

“Our days were defined by constant unease. We would sit without stillness, lie without resting, sleep without recuperating. Our adrenal glands were shriveled from overuse, ears weary from the staccato rattatattat of the skies overhead, eyes salty from the dust of excavation. I was a tunneler, you see, digging under no man's land, extending the reach of our allied warren. By day I'd dig, the men behind me shoring up each new length of cavity with sweat and timber. It was dark and hard work, not really like the sort of thing they show in Hollywood or write about in the Reader's Digest. But it was important work, or so they'd tell me. During that time I lost my fingernails. Come to think of it, during that time, I lost my best friend."

At this, Caldwell straightened slightly, as if scenting something of use for the first time. "I'm sorry to hear that," he said. "How did he die?"

"He was taken into the woods 200 yards behind our lines and shot by my commanding officers."

"He was shot by our side? What for?"

"They found him sleeping while on patrol. That was a crime that carried the death penalty. We were children. We should have been doing other things."

The veteran paused to take a sip of water. His hand and demeanour remained steady. Caldwell set down his pencil and took a deep but silent breath.

After a moment the producer said: “Thank-you for the background, that’s really super. So, can you tell me a little bit about the fighting? What sort of guns did you use? Did you ever kill a man?”

"I never faced the enemy, or, at least never saw the whites of his eyes. Those who did never lived to tell the tale. You went over the top, you never came back. Obviously the war ended before it was my turn. Or perhaps I was just too useful digging to send off to die. Still, I certainly had my chance to look full into the face of death. That day the weather was without drama: there were no stormclouds or sheets of rain to backdrop my horror. The sun shone and the breeze carried with it birdsong. Nature is joyfully indifferent to man's endless altercations, you know.

"We'd been hit by mortar fire before, of course, but I'd never been so close to the aftermath. His body was flung from the crater. Though he was beyond saving when I reached him, his chest still heaved, saliva bubbling crimson at his lips with each shallow breath. In that moment I didn’t see a soldier or a hero or even a man, though he was just barely all of these. No, I saw an infant, suckling his mother's breast, he lost in her eyes, she lost in his, both oblivious to this moment towards which his life would inexorably creep. By the time an officer arrived he was staring without seeing, lost and, in a sense, I with him.

"A week later we received word the war was ended. We trudged back from our frontline, each step the waking from a dark dream. We were no longer children and we were off to do other things…

Well, Sir, I think that's about all I have for you for now."

Caldwell said nothing, instead offering a weak smile.

"So, you really think you can get some of that into your videogame?," asked the veteran, in a low and mournful voice. "Do you?"

Square Enix Brings Back Japanese Boy Band For DQIX Promotions

Square Enix has once again recruited super-popular male idol J-Pop group SMAP ("Sports Music Assemble People") for its Dragon Quest promotions, this time for Dragon Quest IX, releasing in Japan for DS on July 11th. The boy band's youngest member Shingo Katori (32! They've been around for a while!) appears in the press event above, looking very goofy biting on the game's box.

Towards the end of the clip, you'll see the actual television commercial, which features a fisherman using the game as bait to catch some SMAP members. As with SMAP's previous Dragon Quest commercials, this one is very silly. You can the group's ads for Dragon Quest VII and VIII below:

Round Up: Gamasutra Network Jobs, Week Of June 19

In this round-up, we highlight some of the notable jobs posted in big sister site Gamasutra's industry-leading game jobs section this week, including positions from Bungie, Relic Entertainment and more.

Each position posted by employers will appear on the main Gamasutra job board, and appear in the site's daily and weekly newsletters, reaching our readers directly.

It will also be cross-posted for free across its network of submarket sites, which includes content sites focused on online worlds, cellphone games, 'serious games', independent games and more.

Some of the notable jobs posted in each market area this week include:

Gamasutra.com - Game Industry Jobs

Rockstar San Diego Behavior Engineer
"Rockstar is looking at future needs and expansion of its RAGE engine and team by leveraging proven technologies created in our games as well as making key feature and optimization enhancements within all of its subsystems."

Bungie: Senior Animation Engineer
"Bungie is searching far and wide for a skilled Animation Engineer to further our ongoing quest for total world domination. We need an engineer who wields power with an iron fist in a velvet glove (and enjoys every delicious second of it).

Someone who inspires a sense of fear, awe and wonder, even with the most delicate tap of their keyboard. Someone who can and will propel our animation team to even loftier heights by bringing better tools, trinkets and techniques to bear in order to breathe life into our gaming worlds."

Relic Entertainment: Senior Console Generalist Programmer
"In this position you will work with a world class team to produce one of the most anticipated games in this arena. SpaceMarine is an Action RPG where the player becomes the ultimate defender of humanity – a mighty Space Marine- sent to stop the brutal Ork invasion of a Vital Forge World."

Kaos Studios: Multiplayer Programmer
"Along with the opportunity to live in one of the most exciting cities in the world, we create exciting titles like Frontlines: Fuel of War (PC/XBOX360) and our newest title Homefront! We also offer competitive salaries, comprehensive health benefits, and an excellent compensation package. We are always looking for talented artists, developers, and designers to join our growing team, so check out our job postings and let us know what interests you!"

WorldsInMotion - Online Games

Zynga: Sr. Project Manager
"The Sr. Product manager provides experience, direction, and measurable performance to the game design process. This position will be responsible for mapping the product roadmap, building specs on our games, and improving viral performance of the games. This position is located in Zynga’s Baltimore, Maryland office."

Tencent Boston: Animator
"Tencent Boston is seeking an experienced game animator to bust out awesome high quality animation for our upcoming AAA online title targeted to the Asian market, and eventually a worldwide audience. This position will report to the Lead Animator and work with various design and art team members to create and implement animations into the game world."

To browse hundreds of similar jobs, and for more information on searching, responding to, or posting game industry-relevant jobs to the top source for jobs in the business, please visit Gamasutra's job board now.

Classic Video Game iPhone Wallpapers

Want to celebrate your new iPhone 3G S with a tribute to games from your childhood? Or maybe you just need to outfit your older iPhone model with something fresh but fondly remembered?

There are wallpapers for that, and Michael Gaines' collection of scenes from classic video games repurposed as iPhone backgrounds should be perfect for your needs. He already has over 15 available to download, capturing moments from games like Donkey Kong, Pitfall!, Tempest, and... E.T.

If you prefer backgrounds from more recent games, Capcom admirer CurlehMustache also recently posted a batch of fanmade iPhone wallpapers for Street Fighter IV, Resident Evil 5, Monster Hunter, and more! Check out this wicked Okami background:

Sega Reveals Dual Screen Arcade Cabinet, Game

Taking a cue from the Nintendo DS's success, Sega plans to introduce a dual screen arcade cabinet in Japan. Unlike the handheld, however, this machine will feature touch panels with force feedback (the screen will shake when touches) on both screens, and a bar code reader.

The first title Sega has announced for the cabinet is Lilipri Yubi Puru Hime Chen, a female-targeted trading card-style arcade game, similar to the popular Oshare Majo: Love and Berry arcade series.

I wonder if Sega will somehow port its Love and Berry DS Collection game to this machine -- as that also featured a barcode-reading peripheral for scanning in Love and Berry cards, and it went on to sell over one million copies in Japan.

The dual screen cabinet and Lilipri Yubi Puru Hime Chen are slated to appear in Japanese arcades this Winter.

[Via Andriasang.com]

'Dobbs Challenge Deuce' Modding Contest Announces Winners

2009_06_18_thumb.jpg[We've mentioned it a couple of times on GSW, but here's the final set of winners for the Visual Studio-sponsored Silverlight game competition, Dr. Dobbs Challenge Deuce, project managed by Mathew Kumar and I for our colleagues at Dr. Dobbs/Techweb. And some v.neat Silverlight-based indie browser games resulted, actually.]

Organizers have announced the winners for Dr. Dobbs Challenge Deuce, a game modding competition from Gamasutra sister website Dr. Dobb's and Microsoft's Visual Studio, with $5,000 in prizes awarded to winners in categories including Best One Button Game, Best Total Conversion and Best Game.

The challenge asked entrants to use Microsoft Visual Studio to code a mod of the Silverlight-based Dr. Dobbs Challenge game, co-created by game developer Adam Saltsman of Semi Secret Software (Wurdle for iPhone, Fathom, Gravity Hook), and itself an in-browser playable platform game with custom level creation software.

However, for these more complete mods, winner of the Best One Button Game category was Shinguru the Ninja by Mattias Thell. Chosen by the judges as a "well accomplished one button entry" the title is a platform game that requires the use of only the space bar, through which a combination of tapping and holding players can attack, jump and wall jump. Thell received a $1,000 prize for his efforts.


Shinguru the Ninja

Best Total Conversion -- awarded to the game that takes the Dr. Dobbs Challenge Deuce core but uses it to create an entirely different game -- went to Kevin Bacha's Dot Killer, a Geometry Wars-esque multidirectional shooter, for which Bacha received $1,000.


Dot Killer

The Best Game Starring Dr. Dobbs and the Defy All Challenges Crew was declared to be Dobbs Explorer, by Georg Rottensteiner. Rottensteiner, in fact a veteran of the Dobbs Challenge as an entrant to the original contest held in 2008, won with a Zelda-like dungeon exploration game, receiving $1,000.


Dobbs Explorer

The big winner of the contest, winning best game and a $2,000 prize, was Block Rogue, developed by Stan Patton. Singled out by the judges for "going out of his way to create a new genre", Patton's title is an amalgamation of the "roguelike" genre and a block-moving puzzle game with a surprisingly deep story mode.


Block Rogue

You can freely play all of the Dr. Dobbs Challenge Deuce winning games at the Dr. Dobbs Challenge website, including excellent quality runners up such as James Paulin's Day of Ape Redux and Hermanto Kurniawan's weyoweyo. (You can also continue to create new levels for the original Silverlight-based Dobbs Challenge Deuce game, although the competition period has now ended.)

Antichrist Game Adaptation: 'Nightmare Version Of Myst'

Lars von Trier's controversial Antichrist, a horror film starring a grieving couple (Willem DaFoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg) visiting a cabin in the woods while grieving after the death of their child, will also receive a video game adaptation in the form of a first-person thriller/adventure PC game titled Eden, according to a report from Danish newspaper Politiken.dk.

Zentropa Eden Games will develop the title, headed by former Hitman series scriptwriter Morten Iversen. Iversen describes the game as "strong and very personal", "controversial", a "personal hell", and "a bit like a nightmare version of Myst. Von Trier will approve Eden's final design.

Slashfilm's translation of the Politiken article says the game will pull news clips and videos from the internet into the game universe, adjusting its action and presentation to fears that you disclose before starting the game (e.g. admitting you suffer from arachnophobia will result in articles about spiders popping up.).

Eden is still early in development but is expected to release within a year, possibly with the DVD release of Antichrist (the film debuted in Denmark last May).

GameSetLinks: Mittens Dharma... Karrotcake?

[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 we perambulate weekend-wards, time for another GameSetLinks, and this one is peculiarly and happily eclectic, starting out with a discussion of poker players who are also Magic: The Gathering experts, a trend that's been hanging out there for a while now. (Timely, too, given Magic's XBLA appearance this week.)

Also in here - character naming in games, Will Wright's perfect team, the making of MDK, the speaking of Kieron Gillen, and rather more things besides, we fear.

Refresh ext. IP:

Poker players with "Magic: The Gathering" background succeeding at WSOP - ESPN
Interesting - also see David Kushner's awesome book on the subject, of course. (Via The-Inbetween.)

Back of the Cereal Box: It’s a Secret to Everybody
Whoa, INSANELY LONG and amazing piece on character naming in video games.

Ready Up! interviews Kieron Gillen on game journalism
A rather fun interview, I fear - Gillen continues to advocate strongly for more human/personal writing about games, which is super important.

Corner Office - On Will Wright’s Team, Would You Be a Solvent, or the Glue? - Interview - NYTimes.com
'Will Wright, developer of The Sims , Spore and other computer games, says some team members are motivational glue, while others, or “solvents,” may be more disagreeable.' Heehee, not gonna say which is which of the Maxis guys I know!

Press Start to Drink: That's Not a Real Game: Videogames, Gender, and the Popular Imagination
'Ultimately, I suggest that while videogames are becoming more popular and accepted as activities for the family, women, the elderly and non-traditional gamers, the hardcore, masculine gaming community, feeling threatened, is simultaneously marginalizing, feminizing, and trivializing this new crop of casual game players and the games and systems they play.'

The Making Of: MDK | NowGamer
The NowGamer folks 'talk to ex-Shiny boss David Perry, on his genre defying 1997 classic MDK.'

June 18, 2009

In 1492, Columbus Blasted Wooly Mammoths From His Flying Ship

Announced by publisher Misawa Entertainment but never actually released due to unknown reasons, Christopher Columbus was a shoot'em up that was supposed to ship for Super Famicom in January 1993.

In this bizarre game, you play as the famous explorer as he pilots his flying ship, battling golden dragons, giant tortoises, and wooly mammoths during his quest to find gold, "free people, and restore peace."

An old issue of EGM summed up the game nicely: "While we know Columbus didn't do this, it still makes for an exciting shooter! ... This is a wild game, indeed!" I don't think it's as rad as my Fatal Frame/Uncharted Waters idea, though.

You can see a Christopher Columbus flyer from Misawa Entertainment's '92-'93 Game Catalog after the break (with a larger version at ASSEMbler Games):

Column: 'The Magic Resolution': Tricks of the Trade

magicresolution2.jpg['The Magic Resolution' is a new, bi-weekly GameSetWatch column by UK-based writer Lewis Denby, examining all facets of the experience of playing videogames. For this edition, Lewis went for lunch with Introversion.]

"How much am I allowed to swear?" asks Mark Morris. Introversion's MD has just been asked about the differences between retail and digital distribution from the perspective of an independent development company. He's silent for a few seconds, before leaning into the mic and explaining what he calls "the motherfucker scale."

"Digital distributors are lower down," he says, "but retail stores are very much at the top."

We're at Videogame Nation, a summer-long celebration of the video game industry, set among the reams of more established art forms at Manchester's Urbis gallery. Mark, along with Creative Director Chris Delay, is fielding questions from a room full of press, aspiring developers and curious members of the public. Far from the marketing-infested buzz that Leigh recently condemned, these two are brutally honest, and not afraid to discuss their industry experiences in great depth. Though I audibly squirm at a comment about the laziness of the press, it's thoroughly refreshing stuff.

Still, it's not the press they're really resentful of. "One of the services that publishers traditionally claim to offer developers is press relations," Mark tells me over paninis in a hidiously overpriced cafe later. "But if you've ever heard a publisher's PR team speaking, they would always say 'the best person to talk about your game is you.' My question is always, 'so why are we paying you?'

"Developers are completely missing a trick if they're not going directly to the press, engaging and talking and getting rid of the middlemen. My view has always been that, in business, it's best to get on the right side of people, try and be honest, and try to tell them what's going on. Have a few beers, you know? Not to sound too cynical - not just to get the contract - but because you actually get on with these people."

Introversion see honest and open communication with the press as a key critical component in development. When they showed an almost-final build of Multiwinia to PC Gamer UK, meeting for a curry afterwards led to the revelation that the magazine's staff hated the game's control system.

"We went into panic mode," says Mark. "We're launching in three weeks and we're putting in a new control system at the last minute."

"We didn't have any hesitation, though," Chris Delay explains. "What they'd told us was so obvious. So we just spent two weeks redoing it."

"We see the press as always being a critical part of what we do," says Mark. "If we hadn't had the 82% review of Uplink from PC Gamer, we couldn't have taken that review to the distributor and got our retail deal off the back of it. So it's always been important for us to provide the press with good access and good exposure in good time."

The Art of Programming

As insightful as Introversion's comments about their business outlook are, they're not the reason I was so keen to meet Mark and Chris. A fan of their work since Uplink's release in 2001, I had become increasingly aware of a certain theme running through their releases. Where more mainstream developers have continually added to their feature lists, boasting about the best new technology or the most gruesome ways in which you can decapitate an antagonist, Introversion's titles are stripped back: simple yet entirely effective, without sacrificing the core experience of becoming involved in their games.

"Chris and I were talking about this on the train on the way up," Mark tells me. "We were talking about Assassin's Creed, and the effort they put into creating those great animations. But when you've seen that animation for the tenth time, it's kind of like a mobile uncanny valley. You know that someone wouldn't climb up that exact same way ten times. They've missed, they've failed somehow: it looks good but there's something wrong with it. So our aim is not to try to simulate the real world; it's to create a self-consistent game environment that provides massive immersion for the player."

"With Darwinia, it was all about the construction of the world," says Chris. "Everything's blocky and chunky because it's a digital world. They haven't put the shading in yet."

These game environments - be it a fully three-dimensional playing field or a futuristic computer monitor - are certainly novel, and seem to exist in a world where photo-realisim does not equate to the most arresting gaming experience. If you can invest in the fiction, even if it's a fiction driven by technological limitations, you'll have a lot more fun than if you're observing the pixel-perfect realisation of something that is, quite simply, not that interesting.

Despite the publically available development diaries documenting their next release, Subversion, Introversion remain tight-lipped about what playing the game will actually involve. "I don't want to tell people what it is when it might change," says Chris. "We had a vague idea at the start of what it was going to be, but we had a much stronger idea about the kind of technology we wanted to investigate. Some people say that's a bad way to design games, but from our point of view the game design and technological design are very closely intertwined, and one kind of informs the other.

"The Darwinians are the way they are because we were working with flat-sprite technology, and the story of why they're flat sprites came later. But you wouldn't really say the Darwinians came about because we did flat technology. It's more integral than that. It's different steps that clearly fit together. The same is true of Subversion, and we wouldn't have any fears about changing the core game quite severely if we hit on something that worked really well in a different direction."

The Indie Aesthetic

There's a common school of thought that independent development is heavily focused on the artistic side of gaming, particularly in recent years. Jonathan Blow's Braid took platform narrative to new places, 2D Boy's World of Goo revelled in its hand-drawn visuals, and Tale of Tales' The Path was heavier in abstract symbolism than, well, pretty much anything. But despite the undeniably distinctive aesthetic of Introversion's work, they remain very much a programmer-led company. I was curious about their thoughts on this independent design ideology.

"I think there is an indie style," says Chris. "I mean, you can smell an indie game a mile off, can't you? The visual style is a very strong indie theme. It's innocent, almost. Things like Darwinia, or Braid, or World of Goo, or Aquaria, or anything like that - they've all got a sort of innocence to their graphics, which is brought about from technological constraints and their creativity within those constraints."

"I think there are probably a couple of components that make an indie game suddenly become noticed," adds Mark. "One of those is it has to be good, and the other is they have to finish it. I think that's a part of where that design ideology comes from, because whoever it is, if it's a small team of two or three people, I think they have to have a clear idea of the direction they're moving in. If they don't, they'll lose their way, and there's no requirement to keep going with it."

The independent style also seems to be fueled by an awareness of other media, and a self-awareness about the importance of such influences. Be it World of Goo's Burton-esque imagery, or The Path's riff of Little Red Riding Hood, this inspiration seems to drive the art and theory of a variety of low-budget releases.

It's been no secret that Defcon, Introversion's 2006 thermonuclear war game, was heavily inspired by the film WarGames. Now, three years later, code-savvy fans have been invited to create AI bots to battle against each other in the previously multiplayer universe. "It's a pretty cool idea, as it's gone full circle," says Chris. "The idea of AI bots playing Defcon against each other, endlessly simulating again and again, playing game after game until the winner's declared - it goes all the way back to the original movie."

The confidence and openness with which Introversion discuss their work is a rare treat within the games industry. Throughout my time with them, the pair bicker and disagree without a care in the world of who might be listening.

"In that talk we gave today," says Mark, "we tried to give a window into some of the challenges that Introversion faces. We don't want to stand up and pretend we've solved them all. I think the fact that there's a difference of opinion between Chris and me is what keeps the business on the straight and narrow. If we were gearing up to sell Introversion then we might want to be perceived as being a bit more cohesive and professional. But that's not what we're about. We're just about running a company and making games."

[Lewis Denby is general editor of Resolution Magazine and general freelance busybody for anyone that'll have him. Wander over to his website for more information and contact details.]

Let's Tap To Some Pink Floyd

Let's Tap is useful as more than just an application for testing the "tapping potential" for boxes and other nearby surfaces, it can also be used as a music visualizer (and as the minigame collection it was intended to be, of course)!

The Wii title includes a visualizer mode with five different options -- Fireworks, Paint, River, Ink (above), and Gem Game. As with the other modes, you lay the Wii Remote down on a flat surface and tap your fingers nearby to interact with the visualizers.

For this demonstration, SquidTV placed his Wii Remote on a box sitting on top of a speaker playing Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here". The visualizer takes a while to register the song, but before long, David Gilmour's voice swoops in to draw fish and stingrays onto the screen.

Protect Your Arcade Machines From Cheap, No-Good Kids

Chris Moore from Tokens Only recently posted some intriguing documents he stumbled across -- specifications for anti-cheat devices used with coin-operated games. Apparently, manufacturers designed a variety of these for their different coin mechanisms and coin door configurations to outsmart the criminal kids trying to play their games for free.

The pages detail "anti-penny, anti-nickel, anti-stringing, and anti-wire modifications or mechanisms" that operators could use -- protections that would've easily defeated my washer-on-a-string trick that actually worked for me a few times.

You can see the documents, including a service bulletin from Coinco and an article in Franks Crank's ("How to stop 'quarter stringing', 'penny flipping', 'nickel rolling', 'penny rolling', 'wire cheating', and coin-door banging..."), at Tokens Only.

Possible Tecmo, Koei Crossovers

As you might have heard, newly joined studios Tecmo and Koei are celebrating their merger with titles combining their respective properties, appealing to multiple fanbases with each crossover game.

While the easy assumption is that the two will mix their most popular franchises, Tecmo's Dead or Alive fighting games with Koei's hack and slash series Dynasty Warriors, I believe there's room for more creative combinations.

Here are just several examples that I've come up with from the possible dozen scenarios (Tecmo titles on the left, Koei games on the right):

Monster Rancher and G1 Jockey -- Generate and breed unique monsters by swapping out the disc with CDs, DVDs, or other game discs, train them, and then advance your career as a jockey by racing them against other monsters in this simulator.

Fatal Frame and Uncharted Waters -- Take a break from sailing the high seas, privateering, and trading goods to explore ghost ships and purify zombie pirates. The use of a camera in this 16th century title is an anachronism, but I'm sure that can be written around (Leonardo da Vinci's lost camera obscura?!).

Super Swing Golf and Dynasty Warriors -- Thousands of enemy soldiers and several army captains block your path to the green. Choose from dozens of figures from China's Three Kingdoms era and obliterate the grunts with golf clubs, while making your way to your next swing. Take care not to hit your ball into the bunkers, lest you incur the attention of Lü Bu.

Undead Knights and Gemfire -- The former hasn't even released for PSP yet, but I'd love to control an undead army in one of my favorite 16-bit strategy titles, Gemfire. I imagine that the game would take place in Ishmeria, with player managing their clan's territory and recruiting soldiers, but the turn-based battles would be replaced with real-time command over zombies.

Dead or Alive and Nobunaga's Ambition -- My only reasoning behind this incompatible match-up would be the resulting immature but amusing title, Nobunagazongas’ Ambition (credit to Drohne).

Ninja Gaiden and Inindo: Way of the Ninja -- Many forget that Koei had its own ninja game, Inindo: Way of the Ninja, an RPG for the SNES. Perhaps a team-up between Inindo and an ancestor of Ryu Hayabusa would help gamers remember Koei's hero?

Rygar and Pop Cutie! Street Fashion Simulation -- I'm not sure what Pop Cutie! could add to Rygar, but after Rygar: The Battle of Argus, I'm sure any change to the series would be welcome, even a side game in which you design and sell clothes.

I'd happily play all of these combinations, though I'm sure my video game tastes are very different than most others'...

Report: Come Out And Play -- Inside New York's Outdoor Game Festival

[Writing for us on a really neat game-related event, former GCG.com editor in chief Jill Duffy checks out New York's Come Out & Play Festival, three days of live games staged across the Big Apple with the mission of encouraging public games and play.]

Times Square, the busiest intersection in one of the busiest cities in the world, seems an unlikely place to gather to play double-dutch. The Bronx-bound 2 train isn’t the most likely venue to play the party game Mafia. But when the Come Out & Play Festival arrives in The Big Apple every year, this is how it unfolds.

Come Out & Play is a three-day festival with a mission to encourage public games and play. It comprises dozens of live games, some of which are social and interactive, some of which are theatrical, while others are sports-based or rely on gadgets, like GPS systems, iPhones, and cameras.

All the games took place in midtown Manhattan or Brooklyn and were free to play, although some require advanced registration.

The festival was founded by Peter Lee, who also was a co-founder of Gamelab, Nick Fortugno, Greg Trefry, Mattia Romeo, and Catherine Herdlick, who acted as festival director for the 2009 games. It’s been around annually since 2006, although in 2007 it took place in Amsterdam instead of New York.

I attended Come Out & Play last year, but for this year’s festival (June 12-14, 2009), I acted as one of the judges, which means I ended up personally playing—or at least closely observing—about six of the 35 games.

On Friday night, I was corralled into Neo-Cowgirl Faux Rodeo. The rodeo featured three distinct events: a bronco buck, barrel race, and hog-tie. In the bronco buck, a bed sheet was spread on the ground, and a yoga ball was positioned at one end, on the sheet.

The cowgirl rider balanced the tops of her feet on the ball while forming a plank with the rest of her body and steadying herself using two palms face down on the ground.

Rustlers then held the four corners of the sheet and shook it until the cowgirl was bucked from her “bronco,” or until she had stayed on for four whole seconds.

Another game I observed, and which was hugely popular, was Circle Rules Football, designed by Gregory Manley (actor), Andrew R. Butler (theater artists/actor/singer-songwriter), Ingrid Burrington (designer/printer/editor/writer), Scott Riehs (actor and filmmaker), Zaq Landsberg (artist), Billy Scafuri (writer and comedian), Celeste Arias (actor).

It’s essentially a ball-based game with two teams, in which the goal post is placed in the center of the field—and the field has no boundaries because the play keeps the ball toward the middle. It’s an amalgamation of soccer, volleyball, and a few other sports, only the object being hit, kicked, and fought over, is a giant yoga ball.

It didn’t hurt that this game was played near Sheep’s Meadow in scenic Central Park, where penthouse apartment buildings and famous hotels peek from above the tree line.

Circle Rules Football was named Best New Sport as well as Best in Festival at an Awards Ceremony that marked the close of Come Out & Play.

Some of the other games I tried out were Picky Sticky Pollen, a lawn game that involved players dressed like bumble bees picking up different colored balls, Train Mafia, which was very similar to the social role-playing party game Mafia except it was played on the Bronx-bound 2 train and players were either “hipsters” or “nerds” being “excluded” (Homeland Security might have unexpectedly intervened had it been “mobsters” and “assassinations” in this public space).

I also played Day in the Park, in which my team and I had to solve tangram puzzles using oversized pieces, and then complete a mini scavenger hunt in Central Park.

In speaking with festival director Catherine Herdlick and co-founder Peter Lee, I got the sense that the organizers hope to preserve the indie feel that they’ve cultivated in the weekend event.

Despite landing a few big-name sponsors this year, like Saucony, The Times Square Alliance, and Walt Disney Imagineering, they don’t want to grow the festival to be much bigger than the size it is now, Lee explained.

Fake 8-Bit Start Screens For B-Movie Games

As part of its recent "Photoshop Phriday" ritual, the Something Awful forum had its goons mocking up 8-bit start screens for schlock films, imagining an alternate reality in which video game companies avoided licensed titles based on blockbusters like E.T. and Jaws, putting their efforts towards adapting B-movies instead.

You can see over 20 mock-ups from the goons over at Something Awful, but I've also pasted two of my favorites from the bunch below. I've always wanted to play a Tombstone video game, just because Val Kilmer as Doc Holiday in the film was so damn smooth:

GameSetLinks: A Far Cry From Book Camp

[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.]

Some more links? But where? Oh yes, that's what GameSetLinks is here for, and we've got another six for your delight and delectation tonight, starting out with OXM looking at where Xbox Live Arcade is nowadays, to within several nautical miles.

Also out there - controversial game maker Paolo Pedercini and machinima, another instalment of the practically transcendental 'Phantom Of Akihabara' translation, some intriguing discussion of Far Cry 2's politics, and a gigantic Street Fighter IV tournament-related tale.

King of fightings:

Coin Opps | OXM ONLINE
Thoughtful piece on Xbox Live Arcade's notable titles and future.

Paolo's Desert of the Real - News Games: Georgia Tech Journalism & Games Project
'Today we take a slight detour from our series on editorial games to celebrate an editorial machinima of exceptional quality, produced by everyone's favorite editorial game creator: La Molleindustria's Paolo Pedercini.'

Lively Ivy » Blog Archive » Bye Mom, I’m going to Book Camp
We need more people asking non-'core' game audiences about emotional experiences they've had playing games, I think. As a reminder that they do happen.

Experience Points: Lions and Jackals: The Politics of Far Cry 2 (pt.2)
Talking about a series that the author considers 'toys with that idea of videogames as educational tools, examining the game with a political lens.'

“The Phantom of Akihabara,” Chapter 3: “Taboos” @ Magweasel
Kevin continues to translate one of the most amazing pieces of game fiction writing I've ever read.

The Grind: SoCal Edition (SF4 Training) - iPlayWinner
Crazily detailed, interesting Street Fighter IV 'professional' tournament travelogue - via Versus City.

June 17, 2009

Like Cursor*10, But With Ninjas

Here's another PSP game that snuck out in Japan while I wasn't paying attention -- Silicon Studio's Onore no Shinzuru Michi wo Yuke (loosely translated as Conquer the Road of Your Beliefs). As you can tell after a minute into this trailer, the game plays a lot like Nekogames's Cursor*10, the creative but hard to explain Flash puzzle game that has players directing a cursor around a series of stages, working with past playthroughs to find an exit for each level.

Onore no Shinzuru Michi wo Yuke replaces the cursors with ninjas, adds Ukiyo-e-style art, and also throws in enemies for the ninjas to attack together. Other than that, it's pretty much Cursor*10. That makes sense, considering Nekogames' Ishii Yoshio, who created the web game, also worked on this PSP title.

Unfortunately, no publisher has announced any plans to bring this stateside yet. But considering the nature of the game, I imagine that importers won't have much difficulty figuring out what to do in the game. You can watch Onore no Shinzuru Michi wo Yuke's stylish opening movie below:

Opinion: iPhone 3.0, Microtransactions, And Hardware Fragmentation

[As iPhone's 3.0 update debuts, Game Developer EIC Brandon Sheffield discusses Apple's recent iPhone announcements, the potential for hardware-related market fragmentation, and what microtransactions may do for the business.]

At the recent Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference 2009, which I attended, the company revealed the new iPhone 3.0 SDK, as well as the "faster" iPhone 3GS.

With the iPhone 3.0 SDK update, available today, the obvious change is the ability to add downloadable content, and indeed microtransactions. But are true microtransactions really possible? The free-to-play, pay for items model won’t technically work here, as free apps must remain free. (Though, if you sell a high-quality app for 99 cents, that’s basically free.)

On the PC, people are accustomed to paying retail console price for full-featured games, so by comparison, the free-to-play model looks quite different. But on the iPhone, where most apps range from $.99-$5.99, with no options lower than $.99, a "microtransaction" at the same price you paid for the app doesn’t look too appealing.

For many titles, the first port of call for this system will be expansions, or item packs. And that’s what we’ve seen with the first two announced titles to use the new feature.

Gameloft’s Asphalt 5 will have a new track and car pack available for $.99, and ngmoco’s Star Defense will have a new "universe," meaning several levels of gameplay, available for $2.99.

What’s interesting here is that this is much more like instantly-available DLC than it is like microtransactions. Similar to Space Invaders Get Even or Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a King, if you want to get the "full" game from the onset, you have to buy everything.

It’s not as though you’re unlocking existing content, as people do often complain about with DLC, but it is a case of buying a game piecemeal. It will be interesting to see how consumers react to this in a less high-profile (press-wise) environment. Were this happening on the Xbox 360, there would be a much larger to-do.

That said, this method has its significant merits. For some, the base game will be enough – who’s to say ngmoco wouldn’t be charging $9.99 for the "full" game, rather than the current $5.99? In that way, this might be a value to those consumers for whom the expanded experience isn’t compelling.

All this is by way of saying that the transaction model, while initially new-seeming, is actually quite familiar in the downloadable environment. It lends itself to episodic content, more than anything.

What Else is New?

Apple also announced new parental controls with the 3.0 update, which asks developers to self-rate their titles in the App store. This self-regulated system is unique for the industry, which largely uses the ESRB (which incidentally has offered to help Apple with ratings) as a regulatory and representative body.

Apple’s idea here is quite different, in that it basically assumes no responsibility for the content as a company, shifting culpability to the developer, which has its obvious upsides and downsides. And furthermore, with a 17+ rating available, this raises the question of whether "adult" content will be allowable on the app store, going forward. The addition of 17+ as a possible rating certainly suggests it.

One question in my mind is whether the new iPhone 3GS represents the beginning of market fragmentation for the device. The iPod Touch has a performance boost over the original iPhone, and the iPhone 3GS will have a boost greater than that.

The 3GS also has new features for developers to take advantage of, such as the video camera. But more important is the availability of OpenGL ES 2.0 on the 3GS, thanks to the 3GS-specific PowerVR SGX chip. Games written in OpenGL 2.0 will be more powerful, but ultimately incompatible with previous iterations of the platform, specifically the iPhone 3G and iPod Touch. That does sound like market fragmentation to me.

The idea “porting up,” which mobile developers have been so happy to leave behind, may have returned to the marketplace. It’s likely that for the time being, as Ngmoco’s Neil Young recently said, developers will create an app for the baseline, and then maximize performance on the higher units.

So what does this all mean for the future of iPhone? That’s uncertain. The platform is doing amazingly well, and the idea of better performance is always going to be appealing to developers. The question to me is not whether the market can handle the fragmentation.

There are so many games on the App Store and so many people making them that if the 3GS gets any kind of market saturation, there may be an audience for those higher-end games.

The question for me is whether developers, who have found that they can make a living off of these smaller-scale games, will be able to, or want to support multiple platforms.

More Tapping: Taito's Happy Button

In this video, Japanese video blogger Jet Daisuke is toying with a Space Invaders Happy Button machine. Manufactured by Taito last year as part of the series' 30th anniversary, the free kiosk challenge players to simply tap its big red button as many times as possible in ten seconds.

It's a lot like Hudson's Shooting Watch device, except much bigger and it plays Space Invaders sound effects. Notice that Daisuke even introduces himself in the video as Jet Meijin, a nod to Hudson's 16-shot personality Takahashi Meijin.

The Happy Button also has a score keeping track of every player's taps, adding each attempt to its grand tally. Apparently, the machine rewards you with a celebratory melody if you manage to tap the button over 100 times in ten seconds, as shown here:

Let's Tap Unboxing, Then Let's Tap On Boxes

I've been looking for an excuse to post about Let's Tap for weeks, just because its tapping gimmick is the strangest control scheme this side of the Wii Vitality sensor, and I've finally found that excuse!

Giant Bomb published a video in which the crew unpacks the minigame collection's Best Buy-specific U.S. 'special' edition, which unfortunately doesn't include the large box that came with Japanese copies and doubled as a tapping surface.

Instead, the regular U.S. version of Let's Tap has no box at all, and, as the video reveals, even the Best Buy limited edition has sullied boxart and a flimsy 'thick paper'-style tap pad. Similar to Famitsu's humorous article last year comparing how different containers performed as tapping surfaces with the game, Giant Bomb had its own box-off, bringing in increasingly ridiculous boxes.

Sega of America had its own event, testing Let's Tap with an Xbox 360, a box for the Sega Pico, an oversized mockup of Nintendo Power's NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams cover, a Master System, and more:

As I recall, sales for Let's Tap in Japan were dismal (5400 copies in its first week on shelves), which is especially unfortunate considering this was the first game out of Prope, the new studio founded last year by legendary Sega designer Yuji Naka. Hopefully, the synchronous release of Let's Catch to WiiWare this week will help Let's Tap fare better in the States.

Alien Soldier Finally Sees US Cart Release

For some reason or another, Sega never brought Treasure's Mega Drive/Genesis boss-rush shooter Alien Soldier to the U.S. in its original cart form, despite giving the game a traditional release in Europe and Japan, and making the title available in North America through its Sega Channel platform. The publisher eventually re-released the title on Wii's Virtual Console two years ago, but apparently some collectors are still upset about the lack of an NTSC physical release.

Sega-16 forumer Bratwurst reprogrammed a cartridge to play Alien Soldier on U.S. consoles, slapping appropriate art onto a box and the cart with authentic U.S. design elements. He even created a black and white manual to accompany the package. You can see more examples of Bratwurst's work below -- North American versions of Pulseman and Monster World IV (using unofficial English patches)!

GameSetInterview: Dux and Self-Publishing For Dreamcast

[In this interview conducted by GameSetWatch contributor Stace Harman, developer Hucast.net's Rene Hellwig shares his studio's challenges with self-publishing shooter DUX for Dreamcast, predictions for the PS2's potential as an open platform, and advice for other independent developers on where to start with their projects.]

As the diversity of the video game market continues to grow, It's little wonder then that some tiny independent developers have looked to forego a publishing deal altogether and have instead chosen to do things differently, even at much smaller 'homebrew'-style size and for game hardware that no longer sees development from conventional teams.

One such developer is Rene Hellwig of Hucast.net. With NG:Dev.Team, Rene and his brother Timm released the well-received Last Hope, a 2D side scrolling shooter for Neo-Geo and Sega Dreamcast. Now, a little over two years since the release of Last Hope on Dreamcast, René has just shipped DUX for Dreamcast, an unofficial non-Sega-approved release and his second side scrolling shooter.

With DUX soon to be released, what have been the biggest challenges in preparing this title for launch and what lessons from your first release, Last Hope, could you carry across to DUX?

Rene Hellwig: The biggest challenge was to get the game done, of course, and the main lesson I learned was that a publisher isn't necessary with independent Dreamcast games. Self-publishing games is pretty do-able, especially in conjunction with open-minded video game retailers. So, the important thing isn't the publisher, it's rather about the distribution side of the game in these regards.

Do you feel the retailers you’re in partnership with share your vision for DUX and independent titles in general? I spoke with Giulio Graziani of VideoGamesNewYork, and he is very enthusiastic to be distributing independently developed titles.

RH: I'm glad most of them have an open mind for independent video games, further to this some of them just as Giulio Graziani from VideoGamesNewYork and also Lee from Videogame Imports do have a vision for this kind of venture.

With Giulio [as a] distribution partner for U.S., my games can reach a broader audience, especially since DUX is going to be presented at games and anime conventions like the Anime Central and Anime Boston conventions.

Such events are a good way to reach more people, I just hope most of the anime fans know what a Dreamcast is, and in the best case, they own one or know someone that does so they’ll speak to them and say ‘Hey, I saw this cool Dreamcast game at the anime convention‘, but I'm pretty confident about this as anime and gaming fans share many interests.

Art work, sketches & story boards are perhaps obvious examples of these shared interests, how much of this concept work goes into your indie titles?

RH: Most of the sketched stuff I do finds its place in the game, however with DUX, I haven’t actually done that many sketches as I’ve tried to streamline the development process as much as possible. I know this sounds a bit odd given the extended development time for DUX, but really it’s been time spent working on other aspects of the development.

However, with my next HUCAST.net game, I already have many sketches, which is important because of the nature of the game. It's going to have a pretty methodical scoring system that needs quite a lot of balancing, but still I hope it’s going to be accessible and free enough to let the player create their own way of playing. It's meant be a bullet spray type of shooter, by the way, and like DUX, it will be developed for Dreamcast.

So you’ll be developing further titles for Dreamcast, but what about other platforms? How about PS2 in light of Sony’s recent decision to ease difficulty of the certification process for PS2 software in Europe?

RH: I’ll definitely develop more titles on Dreamcast, for sure. PS2 is interesting as well since it’s an open platform now, but I'm unsure, especially given it‘s only open for Europe. For me it's important to make my games accessible for a worldwide audience, and that's a reason why I‘d rather consider platforms like WiiWare, etc. in these terms.

Platforms like this are a step into the right direction when it comes to making a system as open as possible for independent developers, and they also offer a broad target group. However, this also means that as a developer, you are dependent on the service and a lack of a physical disc, and that's why currently, Dreamcast is the best choice for my games.

Do you envisage Sony‘s decision to remove certification as having the same effect as your ability to publish freely on Dreamcast without Sega complaining?

RH: Sega abandoned the Dreamcast and left the console market. As Sony knows there's still a market for PS2, so it makes sense for them to allow unverified games on their system.

My assumption is that they‘re also trying to get more eastern European developers to make games for PS2 to raise these low budget companies up with the hope that at least some will become capable of developing software for PS3 at some point, kind of like cutting their teeth on PS2. At the very least I don't think Sony has done this purely out of kindness, but instead it has a business purpose too.

Given Sega don't intend to do another console, they couldn't benefit much from removing certification processes for Dreamcast anyway. Even when they do with their consoles, then I'm sure it's only limited to countries like Brazil because there the Mega Drive (Sega Genesis) and maybe even Dreamcast have a market.

Actually, the Dreamcast is already an easy and pretty much open platform to develop for, and it’s well documented too. The only difference is a lack of approval form Sega, which isn't a problem for me.

The most casual of glances at Last Hope and DUX highlight some of the inspirations for these titles, the R-Type ‘Force’ weapon is an obvious one. How much do you set out to refine the ideas of 2D shooters and, perhaps, pay homage to them and how much do you attempt to create from scratch?

RH: R-Type is a classic of the strategic shooter sub-genre, so naturally Last Hope and DUX are inspired by it -- quite simply the R-Type series has set too many standards to ignore. Many people call a game which uses an R-Type force-like weapon an ‘R-Type Clone‘ but I disagree with this. In games of this kind, some sort of defence is necessary to highlight the potential for strategy.

In strategy games of any kind, you need some sort of defence, just like a knight character has a sword and a shield time and time again in various titles, but you wouldn’t claim that something like The Behemoth's Castle Crashers is a ‘Zelda clone‘ just because the protagonists have the same default weapons. With DUX, however, I just took the ideas of these kinds of games and combined them with modern standards to give a retro-like yet modern gaming experience.

To be innovative with shmups (shoot ‘em ups) isn't very easy anyhow, since it is a highly developed and sophisticated genre. Many people call Ikaruga innovative, but I see it as borrowing elements of an existing game, in this case the game of chess with its set patterns of movement and striking two-tone colour scheme, and making it a shmup. So, for me, innovation in shmups is mainly in the details.

What advice could you pass on to those who may want to get in to indie development? How do they start and what are the must-haves before starting development?

RH: Start at the beginning. Most beginners try to make a sequel to their favourite game, or they attempt too much complexity and extravagance, and in this way, they overburden themselves and then they fail. I'm sure that some of them have the ability to make good games, but often they set their expectations too high.

So, make a Space Invaders first, finish that game ,and then try to do a fan sequel to Radiant Silver Gun or somesuch. When I started out, I found that the feeling of accomplishment was more important than the quality of the product ,and this is what many beginners are unaware of or lose focus of.

Must haves are talent and a lot of time, naturally. A proper dev environment is necessary as well. On the Dreamcast, you can use the accessible KalliOS, which is pretty fine but still needs an update and bug fixing. So, the Dreamcast is a good thing when it comes to homebrew development on consoles, and I think that more independent developers should consider it.

Fresh And Creaky: Atari Graffiti

This impressive graffiti work terrorizing old folks in Preston (England) comes from UK artist NSA. The art's wild colors are dripping with vibrancy, outlined with zig-zagging shapes punctured by bullets and tangled by a creaky Atari 2600 controller's wire.

Just as interesting are the comments NSA's peers have left for him about the work -- "propper fresh", "shit the bed!!! fresh doesnt quite cut it----D O P E N E S S!", and "thats the screech of the bar being raised yo". You can see a full shot from a different angle of this "boss piece" after the break:

GameSetLinks: The Rohrer RTS Challenge

[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.]

Back once again, it appears, and of course, this round-up comes on a momentous day - the one where big sister site Gamasutra did something nobody was expecting and set up a Twitter feed. (Sarcasm aside, we're only posting the biggest stuff there, and you can see our staffers' Twitters listed in Gamasutra's friends, if you're nosy.)

Oh yes, and these links are here, too - including an interesting tidbit about (the pictured) Jason Rohrer signing with some kind of creative agency, plus discussions on 'outsider vs. insider' in games, Clint Hocking's musings, Tokyo pedestrians crossings and The World Ends With You, The Sims 3's RTS challenge, and more.

The heart truth:

Daniel Primed:: Gaming Analysis, Critique and Culture » The Torturous Taste of a Magnificent Neo-Retro Light Show (Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved)
'The combination of a uniquely apt aesthetic mixed with gameplay that constantly provides huge hits of flavour, forms Geometry Wars‘ provocative selling point.'

Rush Boom Turtle: Tom Chick's Sims 3 RTS Challenge > Tom Chick | Crispy Gamer
'The real reason this year's E3 was a terrible place for real-time strategy gamers is because it meant we couldn't be home playing the latest real-time strategy game, which was released just as E3 got underway. I'm talking, of course, about The Sims 3.'

Art Game Star Jason Rohrer Joins Ad Collective | GameCulture
I read this more as they are repping Rohrer, much as music video directors are repped, but either way, it's pretty interesting.

Click Nothing: Ethical Decision Making
Ubisoft's Clint Hocking on Manveer Heir's recent 'designing ethical dilemmas' discussion.

Charge Shot!!!: Outside vs. Inside and Issues of Protagonist Progression
'This Outsider vs. Insider question has implications larger than BioShock. It gets right to the heart of interactive storytelling.'

1UP's RPG Blog : The Monthly Grind: At Home On The Scramble Crossing
A nice, evocative piece about Tokyo and The World Ends With You.

June 16, 2009

Marvelous Teary-eyed Over Poor Wii Game Sales

In an unusually honest staff post [English translation/mention here] published on Marvelous Entertainment's Japanese blog for Little King's Story, the Tokyo-based publisher says it feels like crying over low game sales.

The post specifically points to sales for Wii titles such as No More Heroes, Rune Factory Frontier, Oboromuramasa (Muramasa: The Demon Blade), Harvest Moon: Waku Waku Animal March (Harvest Moon: Animal Parade), and Arc Rise Fantasia, the last three of which aren't releasing stateside until later this year.

According to Marvelous, the studio tried its best to foster those games despite time constraints and limited budgets, but all of them shipped very disappointing numbers. The author (who I'm presuming is managing director and Harvest Moon creator Yasuhiro Wada) admits, "I truly have teary eyes. I feel like crying."

The post goes on to say that the company's games that sell are really selling well despite the current market, remarking that the low numbers for those underperforming releases could be due to Marvelous' own failings in promoting them.

The publisher then pleads with Japanese gamers who are interested in purchasing Little King’s Story to put in preorders for the real-time strategy Wii title, as retailers will not take their game for display in their shops if the amount of preorders remains low. The title already released under joint venture Rising Star Games in Europe last April, where it has received high marks from most reviewers, and will ship under Xseed and Marvelous Entertainment USA in North America on July 21st.

Gaming blog Canned Dogs, which reported on the staff blog post, also translated details from Marvelous' recent annual report that includes a Q&A section describing the company's troubles with European price protection schemes:

Q: The effects of the economic downturn is causing retailers to run low on funds and causing game prices to drop. How does your company plan to deal with these risks?

A: We have not seen much of the effects of the economic downturn in Japan, but we have been affected greatly overseas. Especially in Europe, where the retailers drop prices without informing the maker. And they would claim the price difference from the maker later, almost as if that is the way that everything is supposed work. We’re already charging extra to cover costs for the price protection, but past late last year the prices have dropped below what can be covered by the amount, badly affecting the profits for our subsidiary in Britain. For the current financial year, we’re starting to take more money to compensate for price protection.

ARhrrrr: Augmented Reality Zombie Shooter

Contrasting the kid-friendliness of the last title we featured, Novarama's cute monster-collecting/battling PSP game Invizimals, ARhrrrr is a bloody, zombie-filled shooter for mobile camera-phones.

Developed by Georgia Tech's Augmented Environments Lab and Savannah College of Art and Design, ARhrrrr has you controlling a handset as a helicopter hovering over a town overrun with the undead. From above, you shoot at zombies to save civilians, though you'll also have to watch out for when they throw their organs at you.

One really interesting mechanic lets you lay down different colored Skittles (Yes, the candy!) on the play-space, where they will act as bombs that can be activated to affect both the zombies and civilians.

As game designer Blair MacIntyre notes, the project uses Nvidia's Tegra chip, so there is currently no commercial device that can run ARhrrrr (Tegra-based devices aren't expected to debut until later this year). So, don't set your heart on this releasing for iPhone or any other current smartphone soon!

[Via Offworld]

Nintendo, Blizzard Top Game Developer's 2nd 'Top 50 Developers' List

[Our sister publication Game Developer magazine just debuted its Top 50 Developers list as part of its latest issue, and I'm sure everyone has their own opinions, but hey - this is what their pretty darn careful calculations, weightings, and survey ended up with, go for it.]

Think Services’ Game Developer magazine and Game Developer Research division -- sister divisions to GameSetWatch and Gamasutra -- have announced a major study ranking the top 50 game development studios worldwide.

Following up on last year's inaugural study, Game Developer's Top 50 Developers 2009 combines empirical market data with a detailed survey taken by game development professionals via industry-leading website Gamasutra to create a holistic view of the top game developers using sales and reputation data.

In the countdown, also listed and detailed in the June/July 2009 issue of Game Developer magazine, Nintendo's internal Kyoto studio came out on top -- thanks in no small part to incredible sales of a healthy lineup of DS and Wii software like Wii Fit and Mario Kart Wii as well as ongoing catalogue titles like Wii Play and Brain Age.

Nintendo's incredibly strong sales and high industry reputation kept the studio on top for the second year, even as its total volume of software output shrank.

The second place went to Activision-owned developer Blizzard, based on the incredible sales success of its World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King. It was also aided by its sterling reputation scores, which eclipsed every other developer on the list.

Blizzard moved up one slot from last year in the absence of Infinity Ward, which released no games in 2008, and therefore was not eligible for this year's Top Developers list.

Rounding out the top 3 was Ubisoft's Montreal studio, which saw strong sales, increased game output, and rising review scores bring the developer up considerably from last year's #12 showing. Games like Far Cry 2, Prince of Persia, and Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six Vegas 2 drove the studio's placing.

The top 20 rankings of game development studios for the 2009 countdown, alongside some of the notable games released in 2008, are as follows:

1. Nintendo (Kyoto studio) (Mario Kart Wii, Wii Fit)
2. Blizzard Entertainment (World Of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King)
3. Ubisoft Montreal (Far Cry 2, Prince of Persia)
4. Rockstar North (Grand Theft Auto IV)
5. EA Canada (FIFA Soccer 09, NHL 09)
6. Konami (Tokyo studio) (Pro Evolution Soccer 2009, Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia)
7. Valve (Left 4 Dead)
8. Epic Games (Gears of War 2, Unreal Tournament 3 [Xbox 360])
9. Electronic Arts Tiburon (Madden NFL 09, NASCAR 09)
10. Treyarch (Call of Duty: World at War)
11. HAL Laboratory (Super Smash Bros. Brawl, Pokemon Ranger: Shadows of Almia)
12. Capcom (Osaka studio) (Devil May Cry 4, Monster Hunter Freedom Unite)
13. Traveller's Tales (LEGO Batman, LEGO Indiana Jones)
14. Bethesda Game Studios (Fallout 3)
15. Insomniac Games (Resistance 2, Ratchet & Clank Future: Quest for Booty)
16. Namco Bandai Games (Tokyo studio) (Soul Calibur IV, We Ski)
17. EA Redwood Shores (Dead Space, MySims)
18. Koei (Yokohama studio) (Romance of the Three Kingdoms XI, G1 Jockey 4 2008)
19. Kojima Productions (Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots)
20. Harmonix Music Systems (Rock Band 2)

Each game developer was first assessed by combining the top ranking games using all weekly Top 10 charts of U.S., U.K., and Japanese sales in 2008, with their number of games released and average Metacritic review scores. Only those developers with games released in calendar 2008 were eligible for inclusion.

An anonymous survey was fielded on Gamasutra asking community members to score game developers on overall reputation, as well as on the quality of direct interaction working for or with that developer where possible. The resulting report is the first and pre-eminent multi-input empirical ranking available for game development studios.

A more detailed analysis of the top 50 developers, including brief analysis and reputation responses, is available in the June/July 2009 issue of Game Developer magazine, out now and available at the magazine's website.

However, the full Top 50 Developers report, including extensive feedback, comparative charts, and statistics for all top 50 developers, as well as feedback and data for additional studios, is available via Game Developer Research's website.

(You can also see a raw list of all 50 Top Developers for this year in the research reports's table of contents.)

A Tour Through Final Fight's Mexican Boss Hack

Some of you might recall Brandon Sheffield posting about this odd PCB boss hack for Final Fight found in Mexico allowing you to select and play as the arcade beat'em-up's enemies and villains -- Rolento, Roxy (Alas and alack! No Poison!), Damnd, Bred, and Andore. The hack even provides unique special moves for each of the characters!

The videos posted for the hack back in 2007 were unfortunately very low quality, but ASSEMbler Games forumer TerryMasters put up a new collection of higher quality clips playing through the entire game.

His commentary can get annoying at some points, but he also offers useful details about other aspects of the hack, like the ability to swap characters at a couple points during the game, items that give you invincibility, and weapons being unequippable for any of the characters. You can watch the rest of the videos on TerryMasters' YouTube page.

[Via ASSEMbler Games]

Best of FingerGaming: From Real Racing to Hybrid: Eternal Whisper

[Every week, we sum up sister iPhone site FingerGaming's top news and reviews for Apple's nascent -- and increasingly exciting -- portable games platform, as written by editor in chief Danny Cowan and authors Louise Yang and Jonathan Glover.]

This week, FingerGaming highlights notable titles like Real Racing, and details the upcoming release of Hybrid: Eternal Whisper. Featured reviews for this week cover INKoming! and Emergency Dangerous.

- Interview: Gamevil USA President Kyu Lee Talks Upcoming RPG Hybrid: Eternal Whisper
"Here, Game Developer magazine editor in chief Brandon Sheffield interviews Gamevil USA's president Kyu Lee about the company's experience with the iPhone so far. Lee also reveals the first few details about Gamevil's next iPhone project, an action-RPG tentatively titled Hybrid: Eternal Whisper."

- Top Free Game App Downloads for the Week
"Paper Toss surges in popularity after recently becoming a free download, and takes the top spot in this week's chart. The Bejeweled-like Falling Gems takes second in today's rankings, as last week's chart champion Rollercoaster Rush drops to third place."

- Review: INKoming!
"INKoming! is yet another entry in the already crowded tower defense genre on the iPhone/Touch. The basis of the game this time is to protect your homework from hordes of enemies by building structures which use ink as a resource."
- Apple Reveals iPhone 3GS, Drops iPhone 3G Price to $99
"Claiming that the 'S' signifies the addition of 'speed,' Apple notes that application loading and performance will be significantly faster on the 3GS than on the 3G. Gaming performance will also be improved on the 3GS, thanks to the implementation of the OpenGL ES 2.0 standard."

- Review: Emergency Dangerous
"Players start off with two firemen to order around. Each stage consists of a multi-floored building with a couple of locked doors and other obstacles scattered on each floor and a number of people to rescue."

- Report: iPhone Sales Account for 10% of North American Mobile Games Revenue
"Screen Digest's report finds that the iPhone leads overall sales numbers across all smartphone platforms, earning more than $100 million in revenue and accounting for 10% of all mobile games sales in North America in the second half of 2008."

- Firemint's Real Racing Zooms Onto iPhone
"Boasting an impressive 3D racing engine (which won Firemint the Technical Achievement award at IGF Mobile), Real Racing features 36 selectable cars, 12 tracks, and three racing divisions."

- iPhone 3GS OpenGL ES 2.0 Support Could Splinter App Store Library
"Games developed using OpenGL ES 2.0's 3D graphics API have the potential to feature richer visuals and smoother gameplay performance. However, applications developed using the new OpenGL ES 2.0 functionality won't merely suffer a performance hit on non-3GS hardware -- they'll be entirely incompatible."

- Interview: App Treasures
"As the App Store continues to be flooded with content, visibility in the marketplace is becoming a serious problem for all but the luckiest or most resourceful of developers. App Treasures is attempting to combat this via a shared brand."

- Top Paid Game Apps for the Week
"The Sims 3 finishes at the top of the App Store sales charts for the second week in a row, fending off competition from Sally's Spa, which recently dropped in price to 99 cents."

Breadbox64: Tweeting From Your Commodore 64

Proving that the 8-bit home computer has enough life in it to handle modern web technologies, Belgian electronics engineer Johan Van den Brande has created Breadbox 64, a Twitter client for the Commodore 64 (and 128) that allows the decades-old PC to publish updates to the social micro-blogging service and also view posts from friends.

Breadbox 64 does require some modifications to the typical Commodore 64 setup, as it uses Contiki, an open-source operating system; and an MMC replay cartridge for adding ethernet capabilities to the computer. You can watch a video of the client in action below:

[Via Alinear]

COLUMN: 'Alt Space': Game 9 From Outer Space

GSW%20AS%202%20B.jpg['Alt Space' is a regular GameSetWatch-exclusive column by critic and writer Phill Cameron, discussing the relationship between the personal computer and gaming. This time he's looking at whether the availability of download-only games is allowing a new form of cheaper, lower budget games to flourish.]

As with any format, PC gaming is evolving to accommodate new business and distribution models, and as is always the case with anything new, there are those who are taking advantage of the system to create something that was not viable before.

We're seeing a new rise in obscure music thanks to the ease with which downloadable songs can be obtained, and similarly, games are starting to come out that take advantage of the fact they need very little in terms of distribution cost. These aren't the AAA titles that grace the shelves of the local games retailer, but they're far from being part of the indie scene either. They're really something entirely different.

The concept of the B-Movie may have begun when low-FX budgets forced horror and sci-fi films to be released with less than cutting edge effects, and with less than stellar scripts, but now the term more applies to those films that don't even see a cinematic release, instead being sent straight to the retailers and rental outlets.

These are the so called 'Straight-To-DVD' releases. In a similar vein, games are starting to surface that forego the retailers all together, cutting out such costs to bring something that, while it may not be run by the most powerful engine around, comes in at a reduced price, and aims at a slightly more casual experience.

Killing Floor, released last month, was a cooperative zombie shooter that ignored all pretence of realism to instead create a rather tongue-in-cheek arena game that savoured the more gruesome moments it presented with gratuitous slow motion and gore.

It was hardly aimed at the savant, but at the same time it was a cheap distraction that you could enjoy with friends. Aimed at the $20 mark (with a 25% sale on Steam before release), it was set at a tempting price that offset the usual wallet grumbles new games illicit. It was a budget game from day one.

The reviews have been mixed. Some have found it to be something enjoyable with friends, but lacking in any singleplayer worth, while others have found it to be crass to an extreme, and all but cringe-worthy. It certainly looks dated; it's running on the Unreal Tournament 2004 engine, and it's the considerably polished end result from a mod of the same game, made by a studio who started off as a modding company. Obviously it's extensive publicising on Steam helped sales, along with it's reduced price before release. The question is, however, whether it would ever be able to warrant a retail box; even for a budget title, is it worth it?

Part of why the reviews were so divisive could arguably be down to the fact that the critics didn't really know what to do with it. Here was a game that presented itself as a full game, with a similarly extensive production level, yet the game's price placed it alongside games that have been out for months and were trying to get a few more sales before they slipped off the shelves all together.

GSW%20AS%202%20C.jpgIt's important to note that these games aren't necessarily aiming to be 'B-Games'. That that is the role that they are slipping into is entirely down to the developing atmosphere, rather than any clear intention, as has been tried before, to mixed success.

There were automatic comparisons to Left 4 Dead, Valve's zombie tour de force, as both were cooperative zombie shooters with an emphasise on paying homage to classic zombie films. The problem was Valve's game was the obvious superior in content, production and story, meaning Killing Floor was always going to fall short.

The fact was, Left 4 Dead came out at $50, whereas Killing Floor was less than half the price. So, it would follow that if Killing Floor was even half the game Left 4 Dead is, then it would be worth the money you pay for it.

Such thinking is hardly productive, not least because prices fluctuate from week to week, and are only really dictated by the developer (if at all) in the immediate period after release. That new releases have stuck by a standard price for so long, with only a few minor deviations from the RRP, means anything that's noticeably cheaper on release has to be evaluated on different grounds.

Killing Floor wasn't competing with Left 4 Dead, at least not financially, so it would seem grossly unfair to compare the two when evaluating one or the other. The fact they are startlingly different games once you move beyond the obvious similarities just reinforces such thoughts.

Stalin Vs Martians, another download only game released recently, has been described by its own developers as 'actually a troll. And it really is.' Admittedly, that troll is sold at a reduced price that is almost worth it purely for the comical elements, but the nature of the game is almost inherently unfun. It's proving a point, definitely, but the joke sits firmly on the shoulders of the gamer. It's hardly high art, but then you only paid $20 for it, right?

GSW%20AS%202%20A.jpgThe analogy of B-Movies will only go so far, of course, but it's an interesting way to look at the new influx of games that exist only because it's cheaper to distribute them. Art-house darling The Path would never find a place among the shelves of the major retailers, just as you wouldn't find arthouse cinema in the same places.

Similarly, there's a limited market for these cheaper games that makes the ability to avoid producing boxed copies that much more appealing. They're cheaper to make, and, ultimately, provide more casual entertainment.

Stalin Vs Martians is funny for a while, but as you see through the wafer-thin mechanics and hear 'My name is Boris. I like you.' for the fortieth time, it starts to grate in the same way you find yourself welding a door at a snail's pace in Killing Floor, because one of your team mates has triggered a slow motion kill.

Play Mario Off, Keyboard Cat

This is far from the first video game/keyboard cat mash-up -- or the first Mario/keyboard cat remix for that matter -- but his one adds new life to the tired meme by recreating the famous t-shirt-wearing feline as an 8-bit figure, thanks to the talents of artist Jude Buffum, who we've previously featured for his video game works.

Also impressive, the music was composed as an 8-bit tune by famed micromusician Doctor Octoroc, the artist behind the fabulous 8-bit Jesus, "an album of classic Christmas songs arranged in the style of classic videogames for the Nintendo Entertainment system".

GameSetLinks: The Magic Of Conan's Mushrooms

[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.]

The end of the weekend starts here, and we're back to hand-picked links of the best interesting writing about video games online. Anywhere. Ish. Starting with a nice Bygone Bureau overview of independent games from a sorta wider cultural angle.

Other notables include the creation of Magic Carpet, working out game designers via D&D classes, some Conan O'Brien analysis silliness, and rather more items besides.

Eight twenty five:

Getting Over “Game Over”: How Indie Developers Are Making Games Into Art — The Bygone Bureau
Really nice piece on 'a movement of independent “art games” that defy what we expect from videogames' - Gravity Bone, The Graveyard, You Have To Burn The Rope creators quizzed.

ThenGamer: The Making Of Magic Carpet | NowGamer
'Like many of Bullfrog’s early releases, none of the game received any planned design.'

Moogle.net » Blog Archive » Designer: Which Class are You?
D&D + game designer = useful classifications!

Mike Darga's Game Design Blog: Learn Your Lesson and Let it Go
'Making games is really just a very elaborate metagame itself, so it's no great stretch that we should ask ourselves to learn from our mistakes.'

Patent Arcade: Conan the Mushroom King
Cute theoretical discussion of a Conan O'Brien lawsuit over his not actually that Mario-similar Tonight Show backdrop. Still...

Tor.com / Science fiction and fantasy / Blog posts / They are not welcome: IGN and District 9’s sexist contest
Oh dear. (This competition is mainly film-related, but on IGN, which is known for game-related stuff.) They've since updated the competition rules.

June 15, 2009

Keeping an Eye on Sidhe's Shatter, Hot Wheels

Sidhe Interactive's Shatter, one of my most anticipated downloadable games, unfortunately didn't receive much in-depth coverage at E3. I was worried that no one brought back any extended video for the PS3-exclusive -- the studio hasn't released any new in-game footage since the short but very promising trailer (below) unveiled back in March -- but NeoGAF's DJmizhura thankfully posted eight minutes of off-screen video from the developer's E3 booth.

At a glance, Shatter may seem like a Breakout clone with horizontal segments, but it's designed to rebuild the genre "from the ground up", much more so than Arkedo's recent attempt to do the same on the DS with Nervous Brickdown.

Players have more interaction with and control over Shatter's balls than just bouncing them off the paddle; they can pull and push the ball while it's bouncing on the field by hitting their controller's shoulder buttons. Apparently, players can clear an entire stage without ever touching the ball!

The game include shoot'em up elements, too -- players can collect power-ups, fight bosses, slow down time, execute special attacks, or even just shoot at bricks if they're feeling impatient. Another cool feature designed to add more excitement and speed to the break-a-brick formula is the ability for players to summon more balls if they feel like they can handle the added challenge.

Expected to release sometime this year, Shatter will feature ten different worlds with 90 horizontal, vertical, and even circular stages each (including the boss and bonus levels). The PSN game will also come with a fully scored soundtrack with over 90 minutes of original music.

For those of you who'd rather see Sidhe developing games more like its previous titles -- PSP/PSN/XBLA puzzle-platforming/racing game GripShift and the surprisingly fun Speed Racer tie-in for Wii (read Sidhe's informative article on playtesting the game at Gamasutra) -- fear not; the New Zealand-based company is working on another non-traditional racing game.

Based on an animated television series debuting on Cartoon Network this August, Hot Wheels: Battle Force 5 for Wii and DS will have players racing and fighting aliens from another dimensions, entering a "car battle mode" where their vehicles "transform and unleash their battle mode weaponry". Sounds a lot like another property that has a film coming out this summer...

Normally, I wouldn't be interested in anything like this, but with Sidhe behind the wheel (hur hur), I'm definitely interested! Activision will publish Hot Wheels: Battle Force 5 this fall.

GameSetInterview: Throwing A Zombie Doublesix With Mummery

[Our own Brandon Sheffield managed to speak to UK developer Doublesix's Jim Mummery a while back about PSN title Burn Zombie Burn!, a really fun zombie-smashing downloadable console title, and the piece got a little lost in the shuffle (sorry Jim/Ollie!), but we're proud to debut it here on GSW.]

Burn Zombie Burn! is a recent PlayStation Network downloadable PS3 game from the Kuju studio Doublesix, which pits players in an arena against up to and including 120 zombies simultaneously. While the main mechanic is simply destroying zombies with various weapons, setting a number of them aflame with a torch or flamethrower increases the score multiplier, and zombies destroyed thereafter are worth a much higher point value.

This is Doublesix's first large-scale game since its rebranding, and Gamasutra recently had a chat with the studio's creative director Jim Mummery about the PSN exclusive. Discussed herein, the reasons for exclusivity, the appeal of zombies, and the game's various mechanics.

Can you explain a bit about Doublesix?

JM: Doublesix is a Kuju studio. About a year and a half ago, Kuji rebranded all of its studios, gave them their own titles and specific focus. Doublesix is specifically focused on digital download games, so PSN, XBLA. We also do iPhone and PC downloads. Burn Zombie Burn! is our first big game out, and it's PSN exclusive.

I was confused about why Kuju decided to rebrand all of those things considering... Well, it seems to be happening a lot in the UK specifically. Blitz is doing it, too.

JM: Yeah. Blitz, for example, they're a single place, single entity. And Rebellion is the same; they're all very, very focused. The Kuju strategy is to have separate entities working on completely separate focuses. Brighton, obviously, is huge in the casual space. And Headstrong has obviously just come out with Overkill and is trying to carve a niche for itself in action games.

But the brief was basically to stop the studios from almost competing for work, because we'd all be going after similar styles of game, and then just wind up not only competing for the same work, but also, if somebody wants to make a game on the Wii, they'd want to go with London because they made Battalion Wars, rather than say, Surrey. So, giving them their own name and their own focus just gave them their place in the market and a niche to carve out for themselves.

With Burn Zombie Burn!, it's Sony exclusive. What was the rationale behind that?

JM: We caught onto a Sony thing that's set up to encourage developers to work for PSN. There are a number of incentives basically to get us to keep it on PSN. And Sony has been pretty good to us, and we were very happy to make it for PSN. So, it sits nicely on the console.

NPD just came out with numbers talking about the number of consoles where people play online -- though I guess this is not actually played online, it still reflects the number of people who will download things, in some way. And PS3 had about 11 to 12 percent. Are you concerned at all about that?

JM: It's interesting as well with digital download titles... If you compare all digital download titles and the amount that they're played online compared to played locally, online content in a game just doesn't seem to make a whole lot of difference to the sales. Obviously, we're local, we have two guys on a couch drinking beer, killing zombies together, so it's not really our problem on this.

PR Man: Do you think a large part of that is Blu-ray? There's a percentage of PS3 sales to people that don't buy games. Because every time you're at Best Buy or something, you have people pitching a PS3 to people who are looking at Blu-ray players.

JM: Yeah, absolutely. It's much more of a concern say on Wii and WiiWare, where obviously you have this fantastic console out there, but nobody is buying World of Goo. It's this amazing game on WiiWare, and people just aren't picking it up. Whereas the numbers on PSN and Xbox 360, they're good for us.

Burn Zombie Burn! is a very score-based game - sot a lot of games are made that way anymore. What was the consideration there?

JM: I think when we first decided for our first game as a digital download studio, we wanted to actually pick a genre that had been proven and something that had been done successfully on digital download, but bring our own stamp to it.

And there's some great score-chasing games on XBLA and PSN. You've got Stardust, you've got Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved. And, you know, we worked with Geometry Wars Galaxies on Wii/DS. We had experience in this field. We knew how to make these games. But we wanted to make something that had much more of a sense of fun to it. We wanted addictive gameplay, but we wanted people to smile while they're playing. And Burn Zombie Burn!, that's all it's about.

The reason we call them zombies, so many zombie games out now, they're all taken very seriously. We don't. We wanted to cut zombies up with chainsaws and lawnmowers; we want people to pull their brains out, send them flying across the map, make them dance. The whole game is built around addictive gameplay and a sense of fun.

There's a lot humorous animation and in this. This may sound rude to say, but I feel like, to some degree, UK game development has lost a bit of its personal character, and I think that that is one of the things that still remains.

JM: Yeah, I think development companies have gotten pretty big and focused on various things. One advantage we have being Doublesix and with a focus on digital download is that we're a relatively small studio. And we have relatively small teams. This is something that always used to exist in development.

In the old days, when you were working on PS1 or whatever, you had a small team, and that means everybody gets to input, and you get that sense of personality and a sense of character to your game.

And that's kind of what we're about. Burn Zombie Burn! is not my game, it's not Doublesix's game; it's the team's game. Most of the humor comes from the animation or the way the levels are designed. It's just everybody put in a little bit of personality, and that gives you a game with a whole lot of personality.

Looking at the various modes, it struck me that ten minutes with one mechanic -- depending on which modes -- it can be kind of a long time. Do you want to speak to that at all?

JM: We've put the developer scores up there [scores to beat as set by the developers during playtests], so we play each of these maps for an hour and a half solid, and the scripts go way beyond the scores we have. We've got the ten zombie types, the eight weapons -- we mix those up. We've got the setting zombies on fire, keeping multiplayer up, the big red button, and weapon combos. We reckon we've got enough to keep you busy for the amount of time it will take you to beat our scores and beyond.

You watched the video put out on Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved and the amount of effort people put in trying to get those scores on Retro Evolved or Stardust or any of these things. There's enough gameplay and there's enough appeal for people to dip in and out, beat their own person score. If the people that get the game love the game, yeah, we think they're going to put hours into this.

I was watching you play, and I saw there's a lot of sort of walking in circles before you actually get to the bit where you're trying to blow up a bunch of guys, once you've got your multiplier up... It's not necessarily a bad thing. It's just kind of interesting that there's this circular...

JM: Basically, we've had people play the game without ever bringing out the torch, that's the secondary weapon. And people run around and kill zombies literally for an hour, just happily taking out zombies with a shotgun, chainsaw, or the lawnmower. But if you learn how to play the game, then the first thing you want to do is run around the map with your torch out and get the multiplier up. And that's what you're talking about, that's the quick loop around the map with the torch out.

And at that point early on in the game, nothing else is burning, and so the torch literally is a free pass all the way around the map. You can just run around, set light to all those zombies. And of course, once you've set light to them, you no longer have that free pass because if you run into a burning zombie, he's going to take you out. If you run into an exploding zombie, he's going to detonate, with that torch out.

So, yeah, early on, you can just run around with that torch out, and that's the first thing you want to be doing when you know how to play the game just to get your multiplier up, get your score up, go looking for those extra pick-ups.

It can get a bit chaotic on the screen there. How many zombies are you have displayed at any given time, do you think?

JM: I can tell you exactly. We have a maximum of a 120 that we've put on screen. This is an arena-based game. There's nowhere really to run except for within the arena. And a 120 is pretty much as much as you want to get. You set those guys on fire, they're going to be moving pretty fast, and you want to find any way you can to get rid of them as quickly as you can.

And we can respawn those zombies really fast. You can wipe out every single one of those 120 zombies, and we can completely replace them inside of a couple seconds.

How long do you think -- just your personal opinion -- the zombie fascination in video games will last?

JM: Well, this is it. I was thinking about this somewhere about the 1990s, I was thinking, you know, "There are no zombie movies." Somebody is going to make a zombie movie, and you plan your own zombie movie, and then pretty much, a few years later, you get into the 2000s, there's a whole renaissance in zombie films, right? And I think everybody is probably thinking the same thing.

I think in films, zombies are cyclical. They come around, they get reinvigorated. I think in games, they're a constant. In games, zombies just represent this thing around which you can construct a game. There's no morality to them. There's no worries about racism that games are having right now. If it's a zombie and it's a pure zombie, a stupid zombie like the ones we have, they're a game mechanic. They're fodder, they're whatever you want to put in a game, however you want to deal with it.

For us, they're an excuse for jokes, humor, references to films we love, and ways to find inventive new weapons. And I think that's why... I think great games like Left 4 Dead and the Resident Evil games work because zombies work well in games. I think they're much more of a constant. I think, like other things that stick around like pick-ups and lives and everything else, zombies are a great thing to build a game around.

Additionally, they're an easy way to... If your AI is not perfect, nobody is going to complain.

JM: They're a great way to hide stupid AI, absolutely. And I think that's okay. If you're building a game, like for example, in a shooter, a twitch shooter like this with so much happening so quickly, you can have the best AI in the world.

We know the guy that did... Richard Bull, who we used to work with. He used to be at Kuju Surrey. He did the AI for Creative Assembly. And it's amazing. And it just makes the new version of Total War: Empires fantastic. But if you don't have the time and the place for that AI to do its job, then it's useless. In a twitch game like this, the AI can't be too complex. The zombies just end up doing the wrong thing or going confused. So, absolutely, we're very happy with our stupid zombies.

P.S.Triple Webcomic Localized For iPhone

P.S. Triple is a lot like the Japanese version of Tyler Rhodes' webcomic Castle Vidcons, except instead of video game consoles anthropomorphised as rival aristocrats in a medieval setting, they're represented as adorable pop idols:

"In the year of 200X, a super idol named Triple made her debut. It was her destiny to take the world by storm and continue her family's legacy. But it wasn't meant to be, and now she's struggling to make a name for herself while her agency tries to stay afloat...

P.S. Triple takes popular (and not-so-popular) game consoles and transforms them into pop stars -- they sing and act in productions that are based on real-life video games. Follow the exploits of Triple, her rivals Whee! and X-Locks, and some other players like Saygah, NESsie, and even 32-EX."

Developer Mission One is localizing the four-panel comic and has released Volume 1, which collects 40 monochrome comics and 10 color strips, on the App Store for iPhone and iPod Touch. There is also a Lite version of Volume 1, and Volume 2 is slated to come out on July 9th.

You can read several sample strips, information on the comic's idols/consoles, and also some of the changes Mission One made to make P.S. Triple's jokes relatable to Western audiences on the official P.S. Triple blog.

[Via Canned Dogs]

Sinistar Sample Compilation Album: Exec('Coward')

Exec('Coward') collects six songs from chiptune artists, each track composed with nothing but samples from Williams' 1982 arcade game Sinistar.

The musicians spliced, stretched sped up, slowed down, and altered the ripped 21 samples, which include lasers, explosions, sound FX, and of course, vocal samples.

Little Scale's "Mr. Functional" and We The Sick's "Therefore We Are Always Confident" are particularly excellent -- you should grab the free release for these two tracks alone! If you'd like to try your hand at creating your own tune with this limitation, you can also download the Sinicore Sample Pack pack from micromusic community 8bitcollective.

Test How Your PC Will Handle Street Fighter IV

With the PC edition of Street Fighter IV releasing in three weeks, Capcom has released benchmark tool that gamers can use to see how their system will handle the title with different settings and filters, finding the optimal setup for their computer.

The 400 mb (!) tool runs through several matches and a character montage, reporting the average frames per second throughout the test, as well as a letter ranking for the PC (like the screenshot above).

Japanese gaming site 4gamer.net has the benchmarking tool available for download, as does GameSpot Japan and Online Player EX. Capcom plans to offer the tool through its official Street Fighter IV site starting next week.

[Via Arcade Renaissance]

GameSetInterview: The Return Of... StarForce?

starforceguseff.jpg[Long-time GameSetWatch contributor Todd Ciolek recently caught up with the oft-maligned Russian PC game copy protection firm StarForce, as the firm claims to have changed its attitude and again courts Western firms with their tech. We're aware DRM provokes strong reactions, but hey - here's what StarForce has to say, react away.]

If you’ve heard of StarForce before, odds are it wasn’t in favorable circumstances. The Russian anti-piracy software company found itself in the spotlight early in 2006 when several websites and PC users criticized StarForce’s copy-protection measures, even stating that the software damaged computers.

StarForce’s response was a public-relations train wreck: the company threatened to sue one website, and a StarForce representative, hoping to show the importance of copy-protection, later posted links to pirate sites offering downloads of Galactic Civilizations 2. The backlash against StarForce was unflattering, to put it delicately.

StarForce laid relatively low in the Western market for years, but the company recently emerged with a new version of its anti-piracy software and perhaps a new approach to assuaging customer complaints. To see just how the company might re-establish itself, we threw some questions at Dmitry Guseff, Deputy Marketing Director at StarForce Technologies.

Many consumers in the game industry are distrustful of StarForce due to the anti-piracy software controversy that arose in 2006. Is the company doing things differently now?

After some PR problems that the company faced in 2006, we’ve considerably changed our mind towards copy protection aims. For us, the word “protection” has never been only the name of the company activity. We have always tried to offer high-quality solutions that really protect. Since StarForce was established in 1998, during several years we were constantly improving the protection reliability level to suit corporate clients’ needs as much as possible, but the end user was partly forgotten.

In 2006, company priorities were remapped. Our special End User department has been established and has the task of tracking game forums and blogs to create new technical requirements that have to be implemented into a completely new user-friendly solution. It is very important to say that overall reliability had to be kept on the highest possible level. Now, after 3 years of hard work, I may say with confidence that we managed to do it.

Why was the original StarForce anti-piracy program so invasive? How are your new programs different?

As I said above, StarForce engineers had aimed to perform at a maximum protection level. Initially protection had been developed for piracy-rampant countries such as China and Russia. No solutions available on the world market at that time could suit the needs of Russian and Chinese publishers. They simply couldn’t effectively protect. That’s why StarForce engineers were tasked to develop really tough protection for regions with very high piracy levels.

Two fundamental copy protection measurements, reliability and compatibility, are strictly connected to each other. Improvement of anti-hacking mechanisms always leads to a compatibility slide and vice-versa. Everybody remembers Ubisoft’s Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory. It held for 422 days without a piracy crack. This world record for AAA-class games is still unbeaten and no other solutions managed to make a game last longer.

To reach this goal we had to penetrate into the system pretty deep, as hackers and emulating tools do exactly the same to circumvent protection. It was fighting fire with fire. It is always weird for me to see users hate protection drivers when the Daemon Tools one also operates in Ring 0, but it is highly appreciated. The difference is that the StarForce driver is fully certified for Windows XP and Vista, passed through numerous tests inside Microsoft testlabs. Our company has gained Microsoft Certified Partner and Technological Partner levels. And I can’t say something similar about DT.

How do you balance the effectiveness of copy-protection software with the user's freedom?

Working on reliability, you should always turn towards usability and compatibility and keep the user’s comfort in mind. I may say that the core of StarForce protection hasn’t been considerably changed. That allows us to keep up the good work with reliability and cracking resistance.

We’ve removed some tricks that were most bug-capacious such as direct hardware access. Yes, StarForce still utilizes drivers but only for anti-emulating stuff. The driver has no direct access to a system’s optical drive and communicates through Windows standard drivers. As I said above, it is not possible to effectively counteract emulator programs without a protection driver installed.

Concerning user’s freedom, we’ve made a huge step towards comfortable protection usage. Every PC gamer hates an optical disc-checking process prior to game starts. The CD/DVD disc is a very delicate device, and constant checking results in scratches appearing on the disc surface that could lead to checking errors.

Moreover, the disc is the weakest link in the modern copy protection chain. It is very easy to emulate. To effectively struggle against emulators, copy protection should use drivers, but consumers hate drivers and used to claim it caused system instability, security holes and so on. Protection providers dealt with that by offering software activation methods. Such methods are absolutely impossible to emulate and very compatible. But consumers are not satisfied again. Just remember that Spore hysteria.

So we’ve got a situation where disc-based protection is intrusive due to driver presence and an activation-based one limits user rights for a limited number of activations. (For those who say that Steam is the best choice, I say that Steam is not a protection method; it is the distribution platform.) According to the modern technological level, there is no other binding method that could effectively control a license usage. It seems we are running around in circles.

But we know the solution. It’s called choice. Freedom of choice is the fundamental right of every consumer. The consumer likes to have alternatives and we offer this possibility.
In 2007, StarForce presented “Disc Free Technology” which allows you to choose between a disc-binding schema and activation one.

Once a game is launched you may choose the way the protection method checks the game’s authenticity: disc check or activation. In the first case, everything will work as usual, asking you to place the disc in the optical drive every time you want to play. In the case of activation, the user enters a serial number and forgets about boring disc validation procedures.

The most interesting thing is that the consumer may switch between launch methods whenever he or she likes. Internet connection problems? Activation server is down? Run out of activations? You are welcome to use the disc. Have disc checking problem? New operation system and protection driver incompatibility? Don’t like a protection driver presence at all? Activation solves all the problems in-house. Moreover, in case of the original disc being damaged or lost, the user may launch the game using a previously made backup.

The technology has been already tested in several Russian and Czech titles. And you know what? I’ve never read so much positive feedback about any copy protection on any consumers’ boards.

About the periodic disc check feature, I need to say that it could be switched on during the protection implementation process. For those regions where broadband connection is not widely spread, using the disc-validation procedure once every three days or once a week, for instance, seems to be a very comfortable feature.

Why do you think StarForce's new anti-piracy measures will rebuild the company's reputation?

I think that new products, excellent customer service, and the right combination between publisher and customer needs will help. We have seriously worked on our errors and offered new solutions. Now we need to receive more feedback to be able to say something specific and continue with improvements. But based on our Russian and Eastern European experiences, both publishers and customers are very delighted with our new steps.

What do you have to say to the people who complained about the older StarForce copy protection?

I understand all gamers who have ever had problems launching StarForce-protected games or even experienced system instability issues. The customer always has the right to a high-quality product and it is not their headache if it doesn’t work properly. As I said, our main goal was a hackers’-nightmare protection level. We’ve managed to do it and received a lot of enthusiastic reviews from our Russian and Chinese clients.

That gave us big confidence that the product would be quite successful in Western markets. But we didn’t fully take into consideration all of the differences between Western and Eastern consumers. After we received the first signals about system problems and hardware failures we launched massive testing work together with our partners all over the world. Not a single test confirmed that problems occurred due to StarForce protection.

As I described above, usually there is a lot of varied software installed in PCs. Most of it has its own drivers, all the hardware utilizes drivers and it’s a very complicated task to find out a bug’s source. Customers started to demand a refund, but it was necessary to be sure that the problem was due to StarForce. That is why we ran a special promotion called “Prove it!” And you know what? There was not a single call, not even from Russia!

Based on the testing research, we built up PR work more aggressive than was needed. Displeasure has risen like a storm. Being a team of high-quality technical professionals, we had been preparing to compete on technological level, but we were in a PR and marketing fight.

For those who probably aren’t satisfied with my words, I may add that StarForce has lost several big game publishers, which seriously reduced our market share in the PC games sector. Keeping in mind that copy protection and DRM are pretty important things for the game industry overall, the only thing we can do is to offer better products and services based on our past years’ experience. We do not intend to repeat our past mistakes.

What do you think is the single most important step in fighting video-game piracy?

There are many factors that could reduce game piracy. The fact that I’m still working for StarForce definitely means that one of the most important things is the technological method. Many industry specialists are sure that downloadable content could help. I may agree, but once additional content is downloaded and installed, who can be sure that the renovated game version won’t be uploaded to the torrent sites as a single download?

The most important part of any copy protection is to have a specific object for protected software binding. Without that, the copyright owner can’t be sure that the intellectual property won't be distributed through unauthorized channels. That’s why it is very important to be sure that one license equals one customer. Without appropriate technological means, developers and publishers will constantly incur a loss.

Today, most publishers implement protection during the final stages of game development. This means that the resulting protection solution is pretty weak and uncomfortable to the user. For instance, one possible way is to plan protection methods in the early stages of game development. I’d say it is better to start during the program architecture’s development stage. Only then will the final solution be highly compatible and extremely complicated to circumvent.

One of the main parts of StarForce’s scope of activity is consulting on how to organize software architecture in order to get a reliable and comfortable protection solution.
Also, I think that game pricing may considerably reduce piracy, especially for developing countries.

Why is Russia such a fertile ground for game piracy?

I think that the main factor is the huge corruption among the authorities. When you walk along the street and see a booth with pirated discs and next to it a police officer who just stands there and smokes, you might be surprised. But that salesperson pays the police officer, the police officer in turn pays the chief, and so on up to the highest authority level. In such a situation, it’s almost impossible to effectively counteract piracy because the overall system is currently based on such behavior.

In Russia, there are several non-commercial organizations that fight against piracy and get funded by publishers. They do pretty well in big cities, but the provinces are still almost uncovered.

What is your response to the companies who prefer to emphasize customer service instead of adopting copy-protection programs for their games?

You probably have Stardock CEO Brad Wardell in mind. Personally, I respect him. Not only because I’m a great fan of the Galactic Civilizations series, but also because I share his thoughts presented in The Gamer's Bill of Rights. I must say that today the StarForce solution is very close to what Mr. Wardell stands for. Three out of the ten points in the bill touch upon the copy protection and DRM issues

6.Gamers shall have the right to expect that games won't install hidden drivers or other potentially harmful software without their express consent.
9.Gamers shall have the right to demand that a single-player game not force them to be connected to the Internet every time they wish to play.
10.Gamers shall have the right that games which are installed to the hard drive shall not require a CD/DVD to remain in the drive to play.

StarForce protection has already implemented these.

Therefore, choosing the right schema for specific games and proper copy protection implementation does nothing to breach gamers’ rights and could be an additional and very effective tool against piracy.

According to various sources, Galactic Civilizations 2 sold very well even without protection. Personally, I think that it was due to consumers missing good space strategic games (there had been no such ones since Master of Orion 2 and Star Control 3). But in spite of the fact that it made good revenue for Stardock, it was, I think, a weird move not to try to get twice more.

What recent and upcoming games are using Starforce?

In Russia, most released games come with StarForce protection. The last title was Wheelman. As for international releases, we’ve protected the game Digital Combat Simulator: Black Shark. I can’t speak about upcoming games as we are under NDAs with publishers. It will be quite easy to find out once those games are released.

Brought To You By The Letter S: Sesame Street Fighter

Despite years of training under legendary martial artist Gouken, Cookie Monster Ken and his chocolate chip hadouken is no match for Big Bird Ryu's rising dragon fist, at least according to this shirt from Jinx. The entire neighborhood seems enraptured by the brawl, with even kind-hearted Elmo throwing his fists in the air. I imagine Grover letting out a guttural, primal yell -- he's never felt so alive.

Jinx's product description:

"The unforgiving streets of public television are no place for weakness: either you fight, or you die. Join the courageous young brawler Large Avian as he embarks on a rampage of revenge against the animatronic gang that killed his family and defiled his nest. Watch as our hero trashes Oswald the Grump, spells out certain doom for the Cracker Beast, and puts their calculating, blood-sucking leader down for the count. New episode every Sunday!"

On the back, the shirt continues the Street Fighter/Sesame Street mashup with the Jinx logo in the bottom left corner:

[Via Superpunch]

GameSetNetwork: Best Of The Week

Totally hurray end of weekend time, and it's evidently time to check out the top full-length features on Gamasutra, plus some bonus features of various neat kinds from sister edu site GameCareerGuide.

Highlights this time include a longform interview with the heads of Square Enix and Eidos, a history of Spacewar!, free to play MMO stat specifics, plus some definite GCG neatness - Design Challenge winners, a new Challenge, and a postmortem of that v.interesting Deux Ex TC The Nameless Mod, to boot.

Loop the loop:

Gamasutra Features

A Meaningful Collaboration: The Eidos And Square Enix Interview
"Some thought it a surprise when Japanese Final Fantasy powerhouse Square Enix acquired Western Tomb Raider publisher Eidos. But where from here? Gamasutra talks to the companies' CEOs, Yoichi Wada and Phil Rogers, to find out."

Classics Live Again: The Art of Downloadable Remakes
"Talking to developers from Backbone Entertainment (Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix), Tozai Games/Southend Interactive (R-Type Dimensions) and GRIN (Bionic Commando Rearmed), Gamasutra examines why the classic franchise update lives on, thanks to downloadable console games."

Sponsored Feature: Ocean Fog Using Direct3D 10
"In a new Intel-sponsored feature from the Visual Computing microsite, a trio of Intel engineers showcase an experiment to create an ocean and complex fog effects using Direct3D 10 and Shader Model 4.0, complete with source code and executable demo."

The History of Spacewar!: The Best Waste of Time in the History of the Universe
"In the latest in a series of Gamasutra-exclusive bonus material originally to be included in Bill Loguidice and Matt Barton's new book Vintage Games, we look at 1962's Spacewar!, one of the first and most groundbreaking games ever created, and the titles it influenced."

What Are The Rewards Of 'Free-To-Play' MMOs?
"Free to play, microtransaction-based MMOs are all the rage in the game business -- but why is there so little information on how much money they make? Gamasutra talks to principals from Metaplace, Three Rings and Lightspeed Venture Partners to reveal specific numbers."

The Story Thing: BioWare's David Gaider Speaks
"BioWare lead writer David Gaider both helped created the story and wrote the just-debuted prequel novel for the firm's key fantasy RPG Dragon Ages, and talks to Gamasutra in-depth about getting his job, BioWare's work methodology, and plans for the game."

GameCareerGuide Features

Results from Game Design Challenge: The Crisis of Credit
"In the latest Game Design Challenge, Game Career Guide's readers tackled the global credit crisis with proposed shooters, simulations, and multiplayer action games. Inside are the contest's best entries."

Postmortem: The Nameless Mod
"Working on a mod project for one of your assignments, or just to get your feet wet? Deus Ex total conversion The Nameless Mod, over 5 years in development, is one of the most esteemed out there, and this postmortem describes its genesis."

Game Design Challenge: Creating Fun Communication
"Fantasy means multiple races, global audiences mean global player bases -- bring these two ideas together by designing an engrossing and creative MMO communication system!"

June 14, 2009

COLUMN: 'Game Mag Weaseling': Mag Roundup 6/13/08

['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.]


Greetings from lovely, straight-from-the-1950s suburban Chicago! Absolutely nothing I did here has to do with game magazines, or games, or magazines, but I thought the picture was too nice to keep to myself.

For game degenerates, however, there is quite a lot to look at with this update, including one cover redesign and one enormous subscriber bonus that I had to whip out the camera to capture in its full glory.

PC Gamer July and August 2009

pcgamer-0907.jpg   pcgamer-0908.jpg

Covers: BioShock 2 and the Fresh Prince's dad starring in Left 4 Dead 2

Hooray! My PC Gamer subscription finally fixed itself (sort of -- it claims it expires in October when I just renewed it a few weeks ago), and so I got these two issues within a few days of each other. Convenient, that, because it allows me to show off one rather important difference between the two issues.

As mentioned previously, PC Gamer UK underwent an extensive redesign last month that's got its share of fans and detractors. That redesign included a brand-new logo, and -- presumably for the sake of consistency -- the US PC Gamer has taken on the new logo as well, the first logo revamp since the mag's launch in 1994. I haven't found a UK PC Gamer yet (workin' on it, trust me), but other than the logo, the US mag hasn't changed any, which makes sense considering how much new EIC Gary Steinman has shaken up the internals since taking over.

Internally, Steinman's apparent effort to eradicate plain-Jane previews from the magazine is proceeding along well. The July issue premieres "Classic Games Club," where the edtiors have a roundtable discussion over one old PC title or another (X-COM in this issue). The feature on BioShock 2 multiplayer, which you'd think is kind of an obscure topic to put on the cover, is saved by its lovely illustrations and a ton of dev quotes. The August edition, meanwhile, has a crapload of interesting junk up front (highlight: a (not) exclusive look at Virtual Hilton) and an actually-pretty-neat netbook review roundup in the middle. As usual, my only complaint is that 100 pages an issue just doesn't seem to be enough.

Edge July 2009


Cover: FIFA 10

The reflective gold cover refused to scan correctly, so instead I just took a picture of this issue of Edge complete with the awesome poster that cool subscribers like me got with it. I included a couple of ferrets for scale.

The poster is lovely, but it doesn't make up for the fact that the cover story is among the fluffiest that I've seen Edge do in a very long time. It's GI-y from start to finish -- the lack of any real in-game screenshots, the extoling of the publisher at any chance possible, and the author's odd obsession with Metacritic scores. (Metacritic's mentioned four times in the piece and once in another feature, too, despite Edge publishing an article casting doubt on the site's tabulation practices several months previous. It's clear EA's Peter Moore treats the scores pretty damn seriously, at least.)

It's what's outside the cover feature that's more interesting, as always: a news piece on the console maker's determined drive to make this generation last as long as possible; another one about the secrets of long-selling "under the radar" titles like Carnival Games; a profile of Metalocalypse's Titmouse and their foray into the game business; and a look back at ancient soccer classic Football Manager.

GamePro July 2009

gp-0907.jpg   gp-summergameguide09.jpg

Cover: BioShock 2

GP has the big console BioShock 2 hot-sclusive this month, pulling its usual MO of taking a title Game Informer revealed a while back and giving it the more extensive treatment a few months' worth of extra development allows. (Some of the content is shared with PCG's piece, including the more memorable disfigured NPC character concepts.)

GamePro has also released their Summer Game Guide seasonal, filled with previews, previews and more previews. They also borrow a page from PC Gamer's recent special and devote over 40 pages to free (or really cheap) games for your PC, console or iPhone. I didn't realize The Suffering was now free on PC. Heavens, how time files.

Nintendo Power July 2009


Cover: Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days

Pretty slow issue contentwise -- or so you'd think. But no! The cover feature (which features English-subtitled movie snaps but Japanese gameplay) is the highlight, perhaps, but the other main piece on Scribblenauts is key as well, and the Rhythm Heaven bit that follows -- complete with an interview with music guy Tsunku, who is a really big deal in Japan -- is a pretty remarkable coup, I think.

Nerds will also dig the Power Profile on Hideo Yoshizawa, whose creations (Klonoa and the NES Ninja Gaidens) are far more well-known than his name.

I would like to know what NP's secret is to finding all these interview subjects. They can't be bribing them with Wiis -- it's not like they're scarce any longer. Maybe Future just tells everyone "We're like Nintendo Dream, except American" and that's good enough for all the Japanese folks they find.

PlayStation: The Official Magazine July 2009


Cover: God of War III

Like GP above, PTOM takes a previous "world exclusive" and covers it more in depth. More interesting to some, perhaps, is "PlayStation State of the Union," a multipart series that visits assorted PS3 dev studios and checks out their culture what it's like to work there -- sort of like the back of Edge, except a little less jargon-y.

Game Developer June/July 2009


Cover: Tomb Raider Underworld

Two highlights this issue: an intensely scientific and psychology-oriented treatment of how to get players to finish your games, and the Tomb Raider postmortem. It always warms my heart to see a developer complain about having to produce and show off demos all the time for the marketing department. If I had a dime for every demo I sat down for where nobody in the room wanted to be there, I wouldn't have to write columns about video-game magazines any longer.

Beckett Massive Online Gamer July/August 2009


Cover: Champions Online

I have to admit it -- this mag is actually getting a little better. Not great, but better, from the design (which is finally getting more refined and less everything-but-the-kitchen-sink) to an article on the history of gnomes that I kind of dug. Amazing! I'd still never be reading this if it weren't for my completionist streak, but still!

[Kevin Gifford breeds ferrets and runs Magweasel, a site for collectors and fans of old video-game and computer magazines. In his spare time he does writing and translation for lots and lots of publishers and game companies.]

GameSetLinks: Scribbling Away On The Crest Of A Wave

[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.]

A rare weekend-specific GameSetLinks here, just because this is the final set of post-E3 catch-up links, and it's headed by a link from a recent highlight, Indie Gaming Bingo, showing off The Marriage's perfect 5-in-a-row. And man, I can't believe Blueberry Garden didn't produce bingo-related results.

Also in this set of links - Jesper Juul and colleague on interface vs. gameplay, the GameTunnel indie round-up, an interesting piece (spoilers, obviously) defending the Bionic Commando remake's already much-maligned ending, some more good discussion on newsgames, and quite a few things besides. Including (the pictured) Scribblenauts, just in case you missed it.

Poly gon cities:

Indie Gaming Bingo: The Marriage
'Recording the trends and breakthroughs of independent game-making with as much integrity and accuracy as possible: Through BINGO cards.'

The Ludologist » Blog Archive » Easy to Use and Incredibly Difficult: On the Mythical Border between Interface and Gameplay
'“Easy to Use and Incredibly Difficult: On the Mythical Border between Interface and Gameplay” is a paper I co-wrote with Marleigh Norton and which we presented at the Foundations of Digital Games Conference in April 2009.'

James Parker Writing Blog > About Games Writing
' Sure, once you get down to doing a piece of work that’s what it’s about, but the majority of time, certainly at the start, the focus is going to be on sales, pure and simple. If you can’t do sales, you can’t do the job and that’s a very bitter pill to swallow for a “creative” person.'

1UP's Best Games of E3 2009
Haven't really linked to other round-ups, but this one is well laid-out and helpful, so there.

May 2009 Indie Game Round Up by Game Tunnel
'This month at Game Tunnel we have two freeware games! We've recently begun coverage of freeware, if it is excellent quality, and with today's economy who can blame us?'

GAMBIT: Updates: Why I Like Stupid Game Stories.
'While I'm not about to claim the story for Bionic Commando isn't silly, I don't find it to be nearly as random or meaningless as critics have claimed.' Spoilers, obviously, but an interesting discussion.

Newsgame, or Editorial Game? - News Games: Georgia Tech Journalism & Games Project
'Basically, our suggestion is that most games called "newsgames" don't have the same intentions or goals as traditional reporting, or "the news," but rather those of the op-ed piece: to persuade; therefore, we should label these digital opinion pieces as "editorial" rather than "news." '

Kraken vs. Stegosaurus, Griffin, Jackalope, God,... - Tiny Cartridge
Just in case people haven't checked out these demos of Scribblenauts... you should.

Interview: Secret Exit On The Rise Of iPhone, Why Cellphone Games Don't Work For Indies

[Game Developer magazine EIC Brandon Sheffield took a brief trip to Finland a month or two back to check out the local game dev scene delights, and here's one of the results - an interesting, honest interview with IGF Mobile award-winners Secret Exit, who are apparently doing something for Rolando publishers NGMoco right now.]

Secret Exit is a Finnish indie game developer known for the iPhone game Zen Bound, which won the Best iPhone Game and Audio Achievement awards at this year's IGF Mobile Game Awards.

The company was formed out of the ashes of Fathammer games, a 3D-focused mobile game developer and engine provider, formed by Samuli Syvahuoko, who was formerly a Remedy (Max Payne) co-founder and subsequently set up Recoil Games (Earth No More).

Here, we spoke with Secret Exit head of studio Jani Kahrama, as well as co-founder and technical lead Jetro Lauha, both of whom worked together at Fathammer.

Lauha may be familiar to some as the creator of the freeware Dismount and Truck Dismount games from the early 2000s (and in fact, the company has a working version of Dismount on the iPhone, but hasn't decided what to do with it yet).

In recent months the company has doubled in size - from two to four - and has had breakaway success with Zen Bound that affords the company independence and the ability to work on more original IP.

Here, we discussed the Finnish game industry as it affects indies, the iPhone as a platform, and the rise and troubles of Fathammer, a Finnish game publisher and tech firm that ended up being an allegory for the high-end mobile game industry at large:

How is the Finnish development environment as an independent studio?

Jani Kahrama: For me, I think the good part about being in Finland is that you really find talent in people here. The engineers are top notch, but it's not just finding good programmers. There is plenty of talent here, engineers who are also very creative game designers, people who really can have a vision about a game and implement it. And having these kind of people in the companies is a tremendous experience.

On the other side... Not even on the other side. It's a global business to be indie, so from that end, you can be that anywhere. I guess it could be nice to be somewhere warmer and cheaper, but aside from that, Finland is fine.

Are you equally able to get stuff like TEKES funding (government funding of technology R&D, including for games) compared to larger companies?

JK: Yeah.

JL: Yeah, we are able to get TEKES funding, but there's a certain limit with the small companies or big companies they are supporting. We are kind of just on the limit. If we were just a little bit smaller, it would probably be much harder to actually get support funding because they don't support the very small companies.

Is that why it was important to double your company in size and get those two other people?

JK: Well, it was a project that facilitated recruiting people. We were just the two of us, and when we pitched the project that we got the funding for, the whole plan was to bring our headcount up by one or two people and get things rolling.

TEKES... The function of TEKES is to facilitate and help the growth of Finnish technology companies, so it wouldn't make sense for them to just throw money at single-person garage studios who would do nothing but make a single product and kind of try to get rich off that.

On Market Fragmentation

One thing a friend and I were speculating about -- Nokia is still trying to push its N-Gage platform, and Neil Young at GDC said the iPhone has changed everything. And then an IGF Mobile competition is won by a Finnish game developer (Secret Exit) and has nothing to do with Nokia. I just wonder what they must be feeling right now.

JK: Well, to be honest, I keep in touch with and I know the people who are working on the N-Gage side. They are good people, and they are doing the right things, but it's such a huge ship to turn around. It may be possible to turn it around, but how fast that happens, I don't know.

JL: It takes years.

JK: Yeah. On the personal level, I know those people and I know that they are proud of their accomplishments, and they really like the game. So, there are no hard feelings between N-Gage publishing and us as a publisher.

And certainly, we would love to be developing for a Nokia platform if they have solved the same problems as elegantly as Apple has delivered their solution. But the fact is that for the same success as the iPhone has become, you need an unfragmented platform on the hardware level. You need a good SDK.

JL: Include enough base level of hardware. It can't be some software rendering or no hardware rendering chip. And the fragmentation, it creates this awful disparity of the games, so you have to support software rendering and make everything scale to that. Any high end games use the hardware rendering, but that's a lot of cost to make it two times.

And you sort of have to develop with the lowest common denominator in mind.

JL: Exactly. And that's what makes it so awful.

JK: And the iPhone doesn't have a lowest common denominator.

JL: Yeah. It's basically the same platform. There are very small differences, like if there's vibration or speaker or something like that, which doesn't really matter at all.

JK: You could say that... I mean they are trying to solve the same problems but there are so many legacies that the hardware landscape is already so fragmented. Let's say, for example, the N73... I don't even want to know how many tens or even hundreds of millions of units this one has sold.

Still, the fact is that you still have not seen in I think two years now the N-Gage client for this handset. It's not there. They say that it's coming, but it hasn't come here in two years. So, the handsets have... Just by looking at it from the outside, two years? There's always the client on N95, N93, and N85, whatever.

The fragmentation, despite the Symbian platform being so great regarding, you know, just how much memory you have available, how you access the audio, how the keyboard works, and so forth. If Nokia itself is having problems addressing fragmentation of the handsets, how can the developer do that?


JK: I mean, that's the core element. I think I mentioned this before, but if you want to be in the mobile market... I don't consider the iPhone a mobile device, I don't. I consider it a handheld console because of the issues and how elegantly it solves them. There's only one distribution deal with a platform holder. There's only one set of hardware.

On the iPhone, you can actually work as an independent publisher, and you can own your IP. You can publish it because there are no huge challenges. If we're bringing that IP to the mobile space, and if we wanted to self-publish it, we would actually have to build the technology or hire hundreds of hourly wageworkers to port to that mass of handsets.

And we can't afford that as an indie. Then we would have to go through a publisher, the publisher would want to own the IP, and then we would be stuck in the same hand-to-mouth loop, the kind of vicious circle that many traditional mobile developers are in. Their only chance is to pitch their next project to the publisher and then work on their mouth opening strategy.

That's something we don't want to do. We want to develop our own concepts, our own ideas. We want to own them, and we want to publish them ourselves. Publishing itself is not a key issue here. We can go through a publisher, but we'll own the IP.

We'll never -- of course, never is a strong word -- we're willing to negotiate the price of an IP, but not for the price of milestone appointments. Obviously not. Having this beautiful kind of platform allows us to have independence.

If we were in mobile, we'd be stuck as sub-contractors for publishers because that's the only way you can get your products to the handsets. And that's the major difference. I only kind of pieced this together myself a short time ago when I went through this chain of thinking. And that's the reason why we don't want to be in mobile.

As people that previously worked doing 3D on mobile, which was quite a task, how have you found the iPhone hardware in terms of working with it?

JL: I think it's absolutely beautiful to work with in the API and the technical side as well. Because it's a standard API, Open GL ES, it's so easy to work with, I think.

And because the operating system is based on some Unix, even that allows me to deliver all the knowledge that I have. Just pick some code that works in Unix or Linux, and it works on iPhone as well, so mostly, it's much easier. It's one of the easiest platforms that I have ever worked with.

Do you think that it's easy to maximize the hardware and sort of get the most out of it, or are there still tricks to learn going forward?

JL: On that side, I would say that there are some barriers you have to cross first to even get the performance to an acceptable level. For example, if you don't use texture atlases, then you're quite easily finding a low FPS in a game.

And there are a few issues like that that you just have to solve and know how this hardware scales, because you may not be able to directly port some desktop code and just hope it runs well because it's probably not as great. But still from the API and everything, if you just rework the stuff a bit, it's probably going to run quite fine.

The Rise and Fall of Fathammer

With Fathammer, how did it come about that someone decided to push for 3D on mobile when the handsets weren't quite there yet?

JK: I commend Samuli Syvahuoko who founded Fathammer, for his original vision. I mean, he was right. 3D graphics would come to mobile, but... Actually, the hardware did. What happened with Fathammer was really that... The idea was that 3D would be prevalent on mobiles, mobiles would be capable of running console quality games, it would be a fragmented market, and you'd need to have middleware to solve the problem and be efficient in delivering your product.

I think the vision was good. The biggest irony, I think is not that... I mean, the handsets came. The performance was there. The handsets were totally ready for the kind of quality that we were delivering.

But what killed mobile business, the 3D on mobile back in 2003 and 2004, was that the operators were not ready to deliver that content. They were shipping 128 kilobyte Java games when were showing them, "Hey, come on. This handset can run our 10-megabyte native C++ 3D game. Look at the difference between your Java game and our game." They were like, "Yeah, we love it. It's really great. But we don't have a business model in place to support 4 megabyte or 10 megabyte downloads."

JL: Actually, either 1 or 2 megabytes were enough for a full-scale game with quality content. But they didn't want to actually fix their distribution systems for that.

So it took them like maybe two to three years until they even allowed distributing stuff like that. Even then, they were kind of reluctant to promote anything like that. So, it was just not there to actually get games to users' hands even if they could do it technically.

How did you all wind up associated with Tapwave and Gizmondo?

JK: There's no secret in that. Fathammer had their business development, the business development was looking at the horrible landscape, and Tapwave, at its time, had one of the most promising mobile gaming handsets. It was really a step above Game Boy Advance clearly.


JK: And when Gizmondo was going out, they had an Nvidia chip in there, which was a great choice for the hardware. There was a separation. Fathammer was associated with these players in the market because their model was still kind of closer to mobile than consoles.

The biggest irony in the whole history of Fathammer was that the technology curve that we had expected, the capabilities of the handsets... There was suddenly a player that kind of blew and destroyed all our expectations. That just shot through the roof. That was the PSP.

When it came out, it was almost something that we had almost kind of dreamed about, that a device like this would come out and that it would be a mobile device. But the PSP never became a mobile device on its business side. It was a very console business, console budget level platform.

And therefore, suddenly the dream device that we hoped would arrived was suddenly incompatible with the Fathammer business model. And then we couldn't support it. We had middleware, and it would have been great. But even Sony hasn't sold, really sold downloadable content for the PSP yet. Yes, if you have the latest firmware, you can download content straight from the PSP stores or PSP, but it's still...

It's not easy.

JK: I don't know. To be honest, and to my shame, I haven't even tried that. I mean, I've had it since it came out. I just gave up on it pretty much. Now that there's a new version coming out, at least if the rumors are true, and it's focusing on digital downloads, that's something that would have been wonderful for Fathammer (note: this interview was conducted prior to the announcement of the PSP Go).

But Fathammer was from 2001 to 2006. And then in fact, you'd say Fathammer compromised its vision already in 2003, 2004 pretty much. At that point, it was more trying to become a content provided versus a technology provider, mixing those two roles. It was a very complex scenario.

JL: Also, just because of the operator and distribution issues of downloadable games, it was kind of natural to team up with a hardware platform provider because we could then get some bundling deals with the hardware and perhaps through that, get the technology into the hands of our developers for example like it was with the TapWave. Because TapWave's SDK used (Fathammer's) X-Forge engine as part of it. And that was one way of getting the technology out for other developers.

Do you think that the fall of those two handheld systems... Do you think that those had any effect on taking Fathammer down?

JK: Of course, they contributed to it. Fathammer was making content for devices that never really facilitated it. And the ones that did, didn't really succeed at the time.

So again, Fathammer had a really good vision, but it was ahead of its time, and the business never really materialized, not quite in the way that was expected. And there was no way for Fathammer to adapt from kind of a high-end premium 3D mobile game provider into a Java game developer. The corporate culture -- I don't know if corporate is the right word -- but the...

The company culture?

JK: The company culture was somewhat incompatible with the idea of going the way of Ideaworks, the guys who did Tony Hawk for N-Gage. Ideaworks focused themselves as a premium developer. They were really doing just branded high-profile development and making a good business out of it, but that didn't really just... Fathammer... Yeah, the culture just didn't bend that way.

And I don't know if our business development was actually even able to negotiate the level of deals that Ideaworks was able to. I mean, as far as I understand, the budgets for Ideaworks projects were much more lucrative than the ones we were able to negotiate at the time.

If you enjoy reading GameSetWatch.com, you might also want to check out these UBM TechWeb Game Network sites:

Gamasutra (the 'art and business of games'.)

Game Career Guide (for student game developers.)

Indie Games (for independent game players/developers.)

Finger Gaming (news, reviews, and analysis on iPhone and iPod Touch games.)

GamerBytes (for the latest console digital download news.)

Worlds In Motion (discussing the business of online worlds.)

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