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July 25, 2009

In-Depth: Xbox Live Arcade Sales Analysis, June 2009

[Courtesy of sister console downloadable site GamerBytes, Ryan Langley examines June 2009's Xbox Live Arcade debuts, from Magic: The Gathering to Wolfenstein 3D and beyond, to find out what soared and what faltered last month - really important, interesting data.]

The Xbox Live Arcade continues to grow each month, and June was no different. Fifteen titles made their way to the Xbox 360's digital download service, more than any other month in its history. It was filled with old classics, new titles, and games to fit into almost every genre available on the marketplace.

But this influx of many -- perhaps too many -- games comes as a cost. A much expanded catalogue means games don’t get a chance to stand on their own merits, and instead they swiftly fall off the recent release list.

We look at two different sources for our analysis – the weekly top 10 list released by Larry Hyrb on MajorNelson.com, and, when applicable, the online Leaderboards included in every title. We see what appears to have done well, what hasn’t, and what publishers and developers can do to perform better in the marketplace.

Note that due to the Electronic Entertainment Expo, as well as Larry Hryb's trip to Iraq, two weeks of data were never disclosed. (We'll do what we can to bridge this by using Leaderboard data.)

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The Sega Classics Collection

June 11th marked the release of 6 new games in the Sega Vintage Collection - 4 Genesis and 2 arcade titles. This is more titles than we’ve ever seen in a week, but it’s also a clear example that too many titles at once can cause sales stagnation.

The best-selling of them was Sonic 3, with over 30,500 players on the Leaderboards in the sales period -- not surprising if you consider the previous two Sonic games being some of the best-selling XBLA titles.

The other Genesis titles didn’t fare nearly as well. Gunstar Heroes had over 9,000 players on the Normal setting, Comix Zone has over 8,700 players, and Phantasy Star II, the first complete RPG on XBLA, had only 5,100 players.

For the two arcade titles, Altered Beast had over 12,500 players for the month and Shinobi had over 7,100 players. As a point of interest, both Arcade titles have the most players on the custom leaderboard instead of the "normal" and "hard" settings. This means that players instantly changed the amount of health and number of continues, when both games already feature unlimited lives.

Due to this and to the difficulty of calculating overlap, the overall sales numbers for these two titles could be a fair amount higher than leaderboard stats indicate.

Releasing six games at once means that some aren’t going to sell as well as they could, but as the top 10 list suggests, only Sonic 3 was able to live past the first week of release. Gunstar Heroes, Phantasy Star II and Comix Zone are all considered great Genesis games, but were clearly overshadowed by its release.

Streets Of Rage 2 and Golden Axe, released well over two years ago, currently both show over 125,000 players on their leaderboards. However, that was over a long period of time; the weekly leaderboard show an average of 600-700 players each week. If many of those are new owners, the games continue to have a healthy life.

The choices for classics may have also been a little misguided. Shinobi isn’t really known for its Arcade original, but for its Genesis sequels, and Altered Beast is known mostly for how poorly it has aged. Other Sega classics, such as Ristar, Vectorman, or other Treasure titles would have fared much better -- perhaps these are coming soon.

(Of course, if it was cheap for Sega to develop many XBLA conversions at once, it may still be a good financial move to release lots of them at once.)

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(I’d also like to mention that the new Sega Vintage collection had some of the worst box art for XBLA games in a long time. The Japanese versions use box art from their region, as you can see in the above examples, and it’s strange that they used the American box art for Phantasy Star II when they have a far better option. The Japanese artwork is almost all in English, and I’m sure they could have done far better for the awful Shinobi box.)

salesdroplitz.pngDrip Dropz

The first Xbox Live Arcade game published by Atlus was Droplitz, a new puzzle game that involves lining up rotatable pipelines in order to get them all to reach the bottom of the screen. The game appears to have garnered some great reviews, but -- like Gel: Set and Match and Yosumin Live before it -- has done quite poorly. The game did not hit the Top 10 in its first week of release, and at the end of the charting period had just over 2,000 players on the Leaderboards. Droplitz had a similar fate on the PlayStation Network.

There have been quite a few puzzle or puzzle action games over the last few months. Lode Runner, Arkanoid, Puzzle Quest Galactrix, and the aforementioned Gel and Yosumin, despite being drastically different, have all done poorly. They’ve achieved good to great reviews and still have been unable to find an audience.

It was just a few years ago when puzzle games were relegated to digital download or handheld systems. Now, with the advent of the iPhone, are we no longer willing to pay more than one, two or even five dollars for a puzzle game? Is there just no market for this kind of game on the Xbox 360? Or is it that some of these games are poorly marketed?

The last puzzle game to do well was Peggle, but that title had a lot of hype from the previous versions. Droplitz has been getting some great reviews but simply the idea of it being a puzzle game appears to be keeping a lot of people away.

Many people also believe that Droplitz has a lot in common with the old windows title Pipe Dream, but outside of the general theme they are nothing alike. With 0D Beat Drop and Puzzlegeddon on their way next year, even if they’re considered quality titles, I can see both having a hard time on the marketplace.

rocketriotsales.pngMultiplayer Mayhem

Three multiplayer-centric titles came out during June: Cellfactor: Psychokinetic Wars, an online multiplayer first person shooter, Worms 2: Armageddon, the sequel to the evergreen Worms title already available, and Rocket Riot, a cartoony, side scrolling air battler that involves people with no legs.

CellFactor was released alongside Wolfenstein 3D. However, the Major Nelson blog never mentioned its release. Many video game websites get XBLA updates directly from this website, so it was largely ignored by blogs. While we do not have the top 10 list for the first two weeks of its sales, it was still able to hold onto seventh place in its third week and so we expect it did fairly well.

The game currently has over 8,500 players on its ranked leaderboards, but in most cases, ranked boards are far lower than the number of players that participate in player matches, which could be double the amount but are not counted.

Rocket Riot had similar problems, as it was also not announced for release by the Major Nelson blog or the Microsoft weekly press release. It was released alongside two other titles, and received good buzz and reviews, but has not sold particularly well thus far. As of the end of June there were 8,000 players on the leaderboards and it had only hit the 10th spot on its opening week.

Worms 2: Armageddon only had a week of sales for the month, but was able to accrue over 12,000 players on its leaderboards in its first week, which is a decent start. Interestingly, it appears to have had no effect on the original Worms XBLA, which continued to be in 7th place in the week its sequel was released.

kof98sales.pngFighting Fit

Next, in what appears to be a bit of a misstep, two classic SNK fighters were released in June, both within two weeks of each other. This appears to be a classic case of publishers not having control over release dates on Xbox Live Arcade. In the retail space I would expect that no publisher would release two similar titles within such a short lifespan -– one kills the sales of the other. As such, Garou: Mark Of The Wolves could have sold more, had The King Of Fighters ’98 Ultimate Match not been on its tail.

For the two weeks of its release, Garou had 12,000 players listed on the Arcade mode Leaderboards, while The King Of Fighters ’98 had over 16,000 players on its own. Garou is the least known of the two, but we still believe it would have done better with larger spacing.

Walking The Planes

One of the surprise hits of the month was Magic: The Gathering, a digital recreation of the popular trading card game. It was developed by Stainless Games, whose previous XBLA releases include the Atari remakes -- which have been hugely variable in quality and reception. But it appears that, with a decent development schedule, they were able to pull off a well-received game this time.

The game was able to stay very high on Major Nelson's top 10, and has well over 39,000 players on its two-player online leaderboards. Even without counting those who have not played the game online, it still beats every other newly released title for the month.

Saving the World

While all the titles we’ve discussed have been $10 or less, Telltale Games' Sam & Max Save The World broke that barrier. Initially released as six episodes on PC back in 2006 as Sam & Max Season One, Telltale released the whole season on XBLA in one package for 1600 Microsoft Points, or $20. The game still retails for $30 on Steam, so this is quite a bargain.

The game appears to have sold over 10,000 copies after three weeks of release, according to leaderboards. It’s not much, but considering the number of games released this month coupled with the price, it has done far better than a lot of other games out there. The real test will be how well Sam & Max Season 2 and the rest of the Wallace & Gromit episodes do later this year.

wolfsales.pngHitler’s Return

Wolfenstein 3D was released during E3, and was split into two versions – one in the US with a 200MB HD video of the new game attached, and one released everywhere else without it. The leaderboards are only showing 7,000 players, while all other evidence suggests its sales should be closer to 15,000-17,000. Its resurgence in the fourth week of the month seems to suggest better sales than the leaderboards currently show.

Regardless, at 400 Microsoft Points and with a well known IP behind it, Wolfenstein will continue to sell well -– perhaps not as well as Doom before it, but it will get a good second wind once the new Wolfenstein game is released.

Extreme Fever

PopCap’s Peggle gracefully dropped out of the Top 10 after 15 weeks of being on sale. According to the Adventure Leaderboards, the game is currently sitting just shy of 200,000 players. Meanwhile Castle Crashers, UNO, the original Worms and TMNT have all made their continued return to the Top 10. A surprise return of Mega Man 9 occurred on the week of June 22nd, as it was finally released in Japan after being a WiiWare exclusive.

Looking forward, July looks to be a huge month for the Xbox Live Arcade. Not only is it the beginning of the Summer of Arcade, but it includes titles like Battlefield 1943 and The Secret Of Monkey Island, which by all accounts have done tremendously well, even tracking them partway through the month.

[We would like to thank Larry Hryb at MajorNelson.com and the Xbox Live team for releasing the Top 10 lists of each week through the web, and well as Kuroyume, Domino Theory, Grecco, PeakingLegoman, and Jickle for their help with collecting Leaderboard data.]

Comic-Con Time With the Raroos: 2009 Edition (Part 3)

Comic-Con Time With the Raroos[GameSetWatch has sent GameSetWatch columnist Mister Raroo and his family to San Diego Comic-Con to report on their adventures there. We'll be running daily updates from the Raroos as the convention progresses, and after the first and second parts, the third segment is about Friday.]

Friday, July 24: Quite a Contrast

The great thing about attending every day of Comic-Con is that it helps me fall into the type of “vacation mode” that I enjoyed as a kid during the Summer months away from school. We woke up when we were ready to wake up, took our time getting ready to go, and headed over to the Convention Center at our own pace.

Today we brought Kaz and decided to experiment by not taking along a stroller. Even though that meant a great part of the day was spent with a nearly-40 pound weight riding upon my shoulders, it beat trying to navigate a stroller through the daunting crowds. I think it’s safe to say we’ll be going stroller-less for the remainder of the convention.

Not-So-Wonderful WomanOn the walk from our car to the Convention Center, we stopped off for a bite to eat. Kaz and I polished off an especially decadent hot fudge sundae. I couldn’t believe how much ice cream my little son ate, not to mention the fact that he let us know he still wanted more by chanting “Ice Cream! Ice Cream!” when the bowl was empty. But we figured he had more than enough sugar and made our way to the Convention Center.

Even though I praised the creativity of many of the costumed attendees in yesterday’s update, I witnessed a couple outfits today that made me realize that some people are better off in street clothes. Whether it was a Klingon with “cameltoe” or Wonder Woman with a not-so-wonderful rear end, there were plenty of examples of sights I didn’t ask to see. I wasn’t the only one in disapproval, either, as I overheard someone behind me make a comment about Wonder Woman to the effect of, “Man, I hope that doesn’t fly around in an invisible plane.”

I also overheard a comment directed towards us when we were in line for the Capcom Fighting Games panel: “It’s sad when people bring kids to Comic-Con.” I think that while some attendees might drag their kids along to what they want to see, most long-time Comic-Con goers who enter parenthood are more excited about sharing the experience with their kids than anything else.

In fact, a great deal of the activities of our day revolved around what Kaz was interested in. We scoured booths for toy cars, we rode the escalator up and down, and we stopped to have pictures taken with Patrick Star and Pikachu. Having Kaz with us meant we missed out on many of the panels we would otherwise have been interested in attending, but we also had a better time spending the day with him than if we went by ourselves.

The Raroos and Patrick

One of my favorite moments of the day is when we ducked into one of the rooms showing anime and caught a random episode of Lucky Star The episode’s plot was particularly fitting because it revolved around the main characters attending a comic convention. However, we felt a little out of place as most of the audience members were laughing at every little joke and even singing along to the show’s theme song. Still, it was a lot of fun.

We decided to call it a day in the late afternoon so that we could make it home in time to get ready for Missus Raroo’s mom’s retirement karaoke bash. We witnessed three things that really took the wind out of our sails and killed a lot of the good energy we had built up from our time at Comic-Con.

Blissfully UnawareFirst, we saw a father loudly swearing at his wife and calling her a “f***ing bitch” multiple times in front of their two sons. The saddest part was seeing the boys, who were decked out in costumes for Comic-Con, quietly walking along behind their parents. It made me feel even more grateful for the lovely little family I have.

Second, the area of downtown San Diego where we parked our car had exploded into what was essentially a homeless village at some point during the day. Nobody messed with us as we walked by and in fact a few individuals even commented on how cute Kaz was. But it was a reminder of the stark contrast between the economic gluttony of what was happening at the Convention Center only a few blocks away and the social bankruptcy right before us.

Finally, on our drive home, we witnessed a terrible car crash on the freeway, just a couple lanes over from us. When I looked into my rearview mirror to see what we had narrowly missed, I caught a glimpse of Kaz snoozing in his carseat, blissfully unaware of the chaos that had just happened. On the rest of the drive home I felt quite shaken, but I also felt blessed for all the wonderful things I have in my life.

[Mister Raroo is a happy husband, proud father, full-time public library employee, and active gamer. He currently lives in El Cajon, CA with his family and many pets. In addition to writing for GameSetWatch, Mister Raroo irregularly writes content for his blog, Moments. You may reach Mister Raroo at [email protected].]

Best Of Indie Games: With A Little Help From My Friends

[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 2D platform game with 3D graphics, two adventure games about spirits and ghosts, and a Flash game created with Adam Atomic's flixel framework.

Other highlights include an exploration platformer in which you play an agile fox, a game that involves gathering a group of friends for your birthday party, and a new score-based arcade game from Adult Swim.

Game Pick: 'Trine' (Frozenbyte, commercial indie - demo available)
"The concept of Trine goes something like this: A wizard, a thief and a warrior are stuck together by forces unknown, and set out on a quest to find means of separating themselves. You would need to switch between characters with different abilities frequently, in order to defeat enemies and get the better of platforming-based puzzles in this game."

Game Pick: 'The Blackwell Convergence' (Wadjet Eye Games, commercial indie - demo available)
"The story in The Blackwell Convergence follows Rosangela Blackwell, a spirit medium, and her ghostly guide Joey Mallone as they attempt to locate wandering souls and help them find peace. Players take control of Rosa and Joey, both with their unique abilities, in an attempt to piece together exactly what has happened to each ghost they find and set about easing them into the light."

Game Pick: 'Wonder Bounce' (Robert Lupinek, browser)
"Darthlupi's first foray into the world of Flash game development, where you play an apprentice named Ishmoo whose soul was separated from his body in an accident. Lost souls will try and possess the lifeless body of our protagonist lying on the floor, but you can keep them at bay by using the ancient art of Wonder Bounce learnt from the scroll that placed him in this situation in the first place."

Game Pick: 'William and Sly' (Lucas Paakh, browser)
"William and Sly is the story of one fox's journey around a vast landscape, and it's wonderfully charming and peaceful. The playing field is absolutely huge and takes a good amount of time to just run across. There's also tons of hidden pathways under the ground too, so be prepared to do quite a bit of exploration here."

Game Pick: 'Tanaka's Friendly Adventure' (Bento Smile, freeware)
"Something of a mix between Passage and Polkadot, Tanaka's Friendly Adventure is a charming little exploration game that involves gathering a group of friends to attend the titular character's birthday party celebration. There's no time limit to rush you into doing anything, and the adventure can be replayed as many times as you want."

Game Pick: 'Floater' (Adult Swim, browser)
"A score-based satirical arcade game created by This is Pop, where the objective is to prod a body down the river with a stick as quickly as you can before time runs out. Since you have no direct control over the corpse, points are scored by inflicting injuries such as burns, bruises, and animal bites on it."

Game Pick: 'Heed' (Ben Chandler, freeware)
"A short adventure game developed with the reliable AGS engine, where you assume control over an unnamed protagonist who is searching for the purpose of his existence. There's not a lot of puzzles in this release, and none of them are particularly difficult, although the game has been structured in such a way that you would only find the interesting ones in the second half of your adventure."

July 24, 2009

Lunar Tunes: Tim Wright Releases Project Moonbounce

Video game composer Tim "CoLD SToRAGE" Wright -- whose name you'll recognize from the soundtrack credits of games like Lemmings, Wipeout, and most recently Gravity Crash for PS3 -- has a new and ambitious project that bounces music off the Moon via large radio dishes in the UK and Norway, then incorporates the returning signal (arriving three seconds later) into a musical recording.

"This project brings together my love of music and astronomy," said Wright. "I'm also a fully licenced radio amateur, so I've been aware of EME ( Earth-Moon-Earth ) principals for some time... but it only came to me as an idea to marry up the two very recently."

Released with the 40th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing, the Project Moonbounce album features 17 tracks composed in this manner. You can purchase the album and listen to a medley here.

Game Developer Debuts Free 2009 Game Career Guide Issue

[The Game Developer magazine folks have debuted the free digital version of their Career Guide for 2009/2010, which you'll find in physical form at a bunch of public and trade game shows - and online right now! Lots of good indie-focused content this year, too...]

For the second year running, Game Developer’s annual Game Career Guide, a special edition magazine devoted to helping aspiring video game creators and guided by the editors of the industry-leading Game Developer magazine, is being given away for free.

The special magazine - part of Think Services, as is this website - is now available as a digital version, with both web-readable and PDF downloadable versions to choose from.

The 2009 issue builds on the success of last year’s edition, which had over 30,000 physical copies distributed worldwide at major video game public and trade shows, and gathered 383,000 online page views from over 34,000 people -- plus thousands of downloads.

The Game Career Guide issue includes a version of Game Developer's famed salary report for entry-level jobs in video game development.

It also includes numerous articles with tips on both breaking in and sustaining a long-term career in the industry - with former or current staffers from LucasArts, Activision, Electronic Arts, Double Fine Productions, and Neversoft Entertainment all contributing.

Also included in the 2009 edition is a postmortem of notable student game Akrasia, lessons from the Artsy Games Incubator, and a look at low-cost game engines for do-it-yourself independent and graduate creators.

“The new generation of game school graduates is coming out more inventive and artistically inclined than much of what you see in traditional game development,” said Brandon Sheffield, editor-in-chief of Game Developer magazine.

“It seems like projects along the lines of Cloud, Narbacular Drop, Tag, The Unfinished Swan, and others, are getting to be more prevalent. As the indie community thrives on its own, schools that can provide a context and theory for game development prove to be cranking out some really inspired students."

"This year, Game Developer production editor Jeffrey Fleming and I decided to focus more on the indie/do it yourself model of game making. School can give you to the tools, but ultimately you have to get down to making something if you want to have a place in this industry. We hope that this guide will help people along that path,” he added.

Other highlights of the 2009 magazine include an interview with veteran independent game creator Guillherme Stutz Tows, the top 10 games of the indie movement, and an index of more than 100 colleges and universities offering programs and degrees in game related studies.

The Game Career Guide is now available for digital download, and physical versions of the magazine will be available for free at notable game-related events over the next few months. These include SIGGRAPH, GDC Austin, GDC Europe, Game Developers Conference 2010, and a major distribution push at Seattle's Penny Arcade Expo in September.

Bang Back: The Pinball Movie Trailer

Everyone loves a good comeback film, so you might enjoy this "rough" trailer for Bang Back: The Pinball Movie even if you've no interest in competitive pinball play.

There's very little information (e.g. director, anticipated screenings) about the documentary outside of this clip, so all that's essentially known so far is it follows pinball personality Rick Stetta's (1992 Professional and Amateur Pinball Association tournament winner) return to the competitive pinball scene.

The film's title, Bang Back, refers to a really slick pinball technique (shown below) in which you can knock a ball dropping down an outlane back into play.

Free State Pinball Association's co-founder and vice president Dave Stewart described the trick back in 1993:

"If the ball is heading down the right outlane, hold up the right flipper. When the ball is below the flipper, hit the metal lockdown bar quickly, hard, slightly upward, and sligtly to the left, immediately below where the ball is. The ball which was travelling towards the drain will change directions from the hit, and travel diagonally upwards instead, towards the playfield above the left flipper.

Once the ball is above the left flipper, you flip, and the ball is back in play. Since you want to hit towards the left, it is often easier (at least for me) to cross your hands: hold the right flipper with your left hand, and hit the bar with your right hand. ...

The trick to the bang back is not to hit as hard as you can. The timing, direction of the hit, and force acceleration are the most important. You must hit the ball at just the right time. You must make sure you hit up and to the left. And you want to hit the machine 'quickly', not 'hard', so that the force is 'instantaneous' instead of being spread out over a quarter second or so."

Judging by some of the newsgroup postings I've read about the trick, Stetta and others taught it to interested players over 15 years ago, who in turn passed on their knowledge with instructions posted online.

To be honest, I'm not too familiar with Stetta myself, but it's very entertaining to watch his movements while playing. Others agree apparently and have posted videos remixing his pinball gyrations. Very silly stuff!

[Via The Pinball Blog]

NECA's Street Fighter Figures At SDCC

Along with its BioShock 2, Gears of War, and Army of Two collections, toy manufacturer NECA (National Entertainment Collectibles Association) is showing off an adorable set of license-pending prototype figures for Street Fighter at San Diego Comic-Con.

Ryu looks too focused on maintaining his serious expression to notice what's going on behind him, but I love E. Honda's posed welcoming arms, like he's ushering you into his bath house, where he'll hundred hand slap you once your guard's down. The Blanka figure is great, too, looking more cute than the feral, brutish creature you see in the actual games:

Anamanaguchi, Starscream Announce U.S. Tour

Chiptune groups Anamanaguchi and Starscream, who I've mentioned here enough times for you to be familiar with by now, announced a month-long Summer tour that will take the bands across the country, from New York City to Seattle (with 15+ stops at smaller cities like Dayton and Richmond in between), starting August 6th.

Starscream, a "two-piece, just-graduated-high-school hurricane of Game Boy and drums" will only play during the first half of the tour, but visualists Paris Treantafeles and Outpt will join Anamanaguchi for the second half. You can find more information, including planned cities/dates, at Anamanaguchi's special tour site designed by noted pixel artist David Mauro.

Column: 'Homer In Silicon': The Coming Apocalypse

['Homer in Silicon' is a biweekly GameSetWatch-exclusive column by Emily Short. It looks at storytelling and narrative in games of all flavors, including the casual, indie, and obscurely hobbyist. This week she looks at Super Energy Apocalypse Recycled.]

Super Energy Apocalypse Recycled is part persuasive game, part resource management toy, part tower defense sequence, and part zombie survival horror story. By day, you can build farms, factories, power plants, recycling centers -- and gun emplacements; by night, waves of zombies sweep the land. Your defenses work only as long as you have sufficient energy to power them. To make matters worse, zombies feed and gain power from eating trash and breathing smog.

Lars Doucet wrote Super Energy Apocalypse for a Jay Is Games contest, and then -- with the support and assistance of the Houston Advanced Research Center -- revised it to incorporate the best available real-world figures about the environmental concerns represented in the game. It is thus in the unusual position of having been optimized once from the perspective of player entertainment and once from the perspective of education about energy issues.

The result is mixed but curiously compelling. If you are anything like me, when you encounter a game with both campaign and sandbox modes, you start with the campaign -- which seems to be the intention and the right choice here. The story is present in part to explain the otherwise rather odd background of the simulation. The narrative structure is constrained and straightforward but well-written, with a few chilling reversals of fortune and some sinister dialogue that reminded me of GlaDOS. (This was probably intentional, and is only reinforced by the Portal-esque song at the end of the game.)

In fact, for the duration of the campaign, I felt that the story had rather the upper hand over gameplay: not only are level goals and constraints dictated by the needs of the narrative, but there are times when the player is confronted by overwhelming odds -- or unexpectedly easy battles -- simply because the story demands it.

On the whole, I found that approach refreshing. The story combines a number of cliches of survival horror, but it still manages to surprise from time to time, and I enjoyed playing through it. I think the campaign could have been better balanced in a few places to allow the gameplay better to reinforce the emotional weight of the story, but overall it works.

But the story is really only the beginning of the experience, and this is where SEAR diverges from many of the story-oriented games I have looked at here in the past. Its ten levels pass quickly, and are fairly easy to defeat (though they have their heart-pounding moments when the zombies mass over the horizon). The really challenging decisions come when you start in on sandbox mode and try to meet various challenges.

This is where the game's educational aspect comes to the fore, as well. During the campaign, it's easy to be too focused on the level goals to have time to study the tradeoffs in going with one form of energy over another. In sandbox mode, there's more opportunity to compare and contrast the values of different energy cycles. The result is somewhat instructive, though at times the interface made it a little unclear how much energy different options consume (and how often), or how much pollution they produce how often; so it was not always easy to know what to make of this process.

Because of the subject matter, SEAR invites comparison on the one hand with Electrocity and on the other with Oiligarchy.

Electrocity is a serene, placid exploration of energy resource options that at least tries to be unbiased (though such claims should always be regarded with healthy cynicism); Oiligarchy a morbidly funny tale about how oil companies are destroying the world, with only a thin veneer of procedural gameplay over the top.

Electrocity performs its educational function a bit more clearly -- I found it easier to assess pros and cons of different power sources using it -- but at the same time it dodges some problematic issues; for instance, it doesn't deal with some of the negative implications of nuclear waste management. SEAR deals with this a bit more directly, by making nuclear plants produce a special kind of waste that needs to be stored separately and then guarded against zombie incursion, because it is extra-effective at making the zombies large and mean. In my playthroughs I quickly found that the nuclear waste was more trouble than I wanted to deal with, and tended to go for geothermal plants wherever possible instead. Like Electrocity, though, SEAR makes it clear that some energy options depend on local geology, so not all maps feature the vents required to build a geothermal plant.

SEAR.pngOiligarchy takes on a few problems that SEAR does not, such as the fact that oil wells eventually dry up and give out, but on the whole its approach is so polemical that it is difficult to take seriously, and the procedural aspects make it extremely hard for the player to avoid one cataclysmic outcome or another. As I've argued elsewhere, Oiligarchy is not really fair about the way it lays its arguments out.

It is more interested in telling a story of greed and corruption than in allowing the player the freedom to explore the ramifications of a simulation (even a rigged one). SEAR avoids such overt propaganda, and, like Electrocity, allows the player to draw his own conclusions about what power sources are likely to be most successful in the long term.

There is another portion of the environmentalism debate that none of these three games really deals with directly. Namely, granting that pollution is undesirable, what exactly are the long term effects of different kinds and quantities? Are nuclear waste barrels (stored as securely as we can manage) more of a problem than tons and tons of CO2 emissions? How serious are the risks of nuclear meltdown, and how do we factor that in? Is ethanol production worth giving up food-producing land? How resilient is the planetary weather system, anyway, and are there tipping points that will push us all towards irremediable disaster?

We can guess the answers to some of these questions, but only to some of them, which makes it hard to build a plausible simulation. Electrocity mostly dodges the question by making all pollution categorically a bad thing that lowers one's popularity with the citizens (and the use of nuclear power makes them especially irate, which I suppose is its way of handling the question of radioactive waste). Oiligarchy simulates a peak oil effect but doesn't look into the pollution side of things much at all, except in the form of narrated effects imposed from outside the procedural realm.

SEAR... well, SEAR takes this whole bundle of dire outcomes and labels it "zombies". If you make too much nuclear waste, the zombies will eat it, then kill you. If you produce too much smog, the zombies will breathe it, then kill you. Zombies stand in for the combined destructive power of famine, flood, disease, hurricane, forest fires, the absence of clean water, carcinogens, and radiation poisoning, not to mention human warfare in response to scarcity -- anything and everything that might result from too profligate a treatment of our natural resources.

This is very silly, but I also found it refreshingly honest at a psychological level. It seemed to me that the game was saying: we know something about what produces pollution, and about the pros and cons of various energy solutions. That part, we can optimize. We know a lot less about what happens once that pollution is released into the environment, especially when it comes to the long term effects and our ability to mitigate the worst repercussions. Instead of certainty, we have apprehensions and fears.

In trying to do so many different things at once, SEAR falls short of doing any of them perfectly. Its campaign narrative is fun and engaging, but could in spots be better integrated with game play. The weapon placement aspect of play lacks the sophistication of most dedicated tower-defense scenarios. The resource-management is occasionally a little hard to follow from the interface.

And yet it's oddly compelling. It's neither pure pedagogy nor pure propaganda. The blend of fiction and simulation, goofy fantasy and grounded research somehow convey the muddled ways we talk and think about climate change. We want science to provide a solution -- ideally one that doesn't require too great a lifestyle sacrifice -- but we respond to dire threat with our lizard brains.

That's a switch I found myself making over and over during the day/night cycle of SEAR: I started each day laying out resources with the best planning I could, but as the sunlight waned, I stopped building research labs and started placing guns.

[Emily Short is an interactive fiction author and part of the team behind Inform 7, a language for IF creation. She also maintains a blog on interactive fiction and related topics. She can be reached at emshort AT mindspring DOT com.]

Tapout Shirts For Iron Fist Tournament's Fighters, Players

Mixed martial arts clothing company Tapout and mixed martial arts video game Tekken are teaming up for a co-branding partnership that will see five pieces of Tapout apparel included as customization options in Tekken 6 (releasing to Xbox 360, PSP, and PS3 this Fall).

In addition to enabling players to outfit Ling Xiaoyu with a shirt advertising a huge, pink Tapout logo, the agreement will also bring five real-life Tekken 6-branded Tapout shirts to Tapout's network of specialty retailers and its site this September.

"Tekken 6 and Tapout fans share a deep-rooted passion for the mixed-martial-arts lifestyle," says Makoto Iwai, EVP and COO of Tekken series publisher Namco Bandai Games America Inc. "This partnership will bring TapouT’s signature style into the world of Tekken, giving new experiences to video game enthusiasts and MMA fans alike."

More photos of the in-game shirts below and in Namco Bandai's Tapout Flickr set:

GameSetLinks: The Jump Button Savio(u)r

[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.]

Tending towards the even more random than normal, this set of GameSetLinks, the almost-weekend ones, is headed by David Thomas firing off a rather spiky epistle about developers and used games that's sure to get some people fuming - which is probably the point.

Yet also in this supreme melange is a look at an Australian TV show on game bloggers versus journalists, or something, a good discussion on girl gamers and stereotyping, another piquant 1UP feature - this time on betrayal in games - and an odd but fun Eurogamer piece about '90s artificial life game Creatures (incidentally, why aren't there more artificial life games?) and AI.

Michael and Michael:

Crispy Gamer | Fair Trade: The Simple Economics of Why Game Developers Should Shut Up About Used Games, Part 2
Incendiary, sure, but worth reading.

Interactive fiction, from birth through precocious adolescence: a conversation with Jimmy Maher - Feature - Adventure Classic Gaming
Wide-ranging, slightly strange, interesting Interactive Fiction interview.

Fullbright: The three R's
'In the context of a fiction-based video game, I've found that three principles should be applied when considering each design decision you're presented with.'

Daniel Primed:: Gaming Analysis, Critique and Culture » Good Game ‘Rei: The Blogosphere’ Dissection
'The key problem with Tracey’s feature was that its predominate angle (online bloggers vs print media journalists) pigeonholed the blogging and print media mediums respectively.'

Gamine Expedition: Ridiculous Life Lessons for Silly Girls
'I'm happy to see that along with the recent influx of a new (though arguably somewhat recycled) batch of "girl games" (a.k.a. pink games), the debates about girl games, girls and games and the space for girls within gaming culture are all being actively reinvigorated in a great collection of reviews, articles, discussion pieces and forums.'

Saviour Machine Interview - Page 1 // PC /// Eurogamer
An odd little interview on AI with the creator of Creatures' artificial intelligence.

Jump Button » Blog Archive » L1V3S
From former GSW columnist Drew Taylor, and looking very interesting: 'L1V3S (thirteen lives) will be a collection of thirteen original short stories. Each story will focus on one character–one life–that is somehow connected to the world of video games.'

Fear and Mistrust in Videogames from 1UP.com
'Lying, backstabbing, and a brief history of videogame bastardry.'

July 23, 2009

Comic-Con Time With the Raroos: 2009 Edition (Part 2)

Comic-Con Time With the Raroos[GameSetWatch has sent GameSetWatch columnist Mister Raroo and his family to San Diego Comic-Con to report on their adventures there. We'll be running daily updates from the Raroos as the convention progresses, and after the first part, the second segment is about Thursday.]

Thursday, July 23: Game Day

Thursdays are traditionally the slowest day at Comic-Con, but it seems tradition has been kicked to the curb because it was still pretty busy! Thankfully, the show floor was significantly less crowded thanks to all the panels and events taking place throughout the day. We decided to focus on checking out as many video games as we could manage.

Our son Kaz normally goes to daycare on Thursdays, and we decided we might be more efficient if let him go to “school” as usual and we headed to Comic-Con without him. While it was much easier to navigate from booth to booth, we found ourselves missing our little boy throughout the day and plan on taking with us him for the remainder of the convention.

Honestly, there weren’t that many games that really grabbed my attention off the bat. After strolling through Sony’s, Capcom’s, and EA’s booths, I was not feeling very inspired to push my way through the swarms of bodies to try out any of the demos. I attempted to speak with some of the press representatives at the various game company booths but just about all of them didn’t seem to know very much about the titles on display.

Thinking of KazI was about to give up hope on even trying out any games at all when I spotted Bayonetta at the Sega booth and made my way through the crowd to give it a look. I don’t know if I’m too enthralled with the character design, but it seems like a nice, snappy action game. However, it was another game tucked away in the corner of the Sega booth that really got me excited: Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing.

I wish Kaz had been there to see the game because he would’ve been filled with glee. He loves Mario Kart and Sega Superstars Tennis, and with Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing developer Sumo Digital really seems to have combined the best of both words. I was taken aback at just how fun the game was as well as the level of polish it already seems to have, and I can’t wait until its release next year, which should be just in time for Kaz’s third birthday.

I also had fun giving Katamari Forever in Namco’s booth a whirl. Other than having some new stages and graphical filters, it really doesn’t push the Katamari formula forward, but I’m fine with that. Perhaps more entertaining than the game was sneaking peeks at the people trying out We Cheer 2 a couple demo stations down. One lady was really getting into it and was swinging her arms so wildly that she almost hit some poor guy standing behind her.

Before heading out for lunch we took a quick walk by some of our favorite comic publishers’ booths. Jeffrey Brown was at the Top Shelf booth signing copies of his books and we purchased the only one we didn’t already own, Funny Misshapen Body. I asked him about if he played video games and he professed that he is a Super Smash Bros. addict but has to keep it locked away otherwise he wouldn’t be able to stop playing!

After an unexpectedly decent lunch of Indian food purchased at the nearby shopping mall, we trekked through the heat to the Westin Hotel to take a gander at Konami’s games. The hotel concierge provided us with incorrect suite information, and we spent a good deal of time making phone calls and simply wandering around, trying to figure out where to go.

That's Jessica...At one point we decided to rest for a few moments in the hotel’s lobby and overheard some hilarity from a group of “hot chicks” with IGN t-shirts on. One of them was explaining how when you are Jessica Chobot’s “handler” you have to let any nearby people in the crowd know that she is important. “That’s Jessica, she’s a celebrity.” We also noticed that apparently cleanliness is not a part of IGN company policy, because they left in their wake empty Starbucks cups, used napkins, and freebie comics that had been hastily thumbed-through.

Eventually we found our way to Konami’s suite and had a chance to relax with some pizza slices, soda, and games. I was particularly interested in having a chance to try out Silent Hill: Shattered Memories because producer Tomm Hulett was one of the first subscribers to the Game Time With Mister Raroo print zine! He also snuck a “Raroo” reference into Steambot Chronicles when he localized it for Atlus!

However, as much as I thought Silent Hill seemed like a really great reimagining of the original game, it was an unassuming little DS game called WireWay that really charmed the pants of Missus Raroo and me. WireWay’s gameplay was simple yet effective: guide a cute little creature through a series of levels by catapulting him between rubber band-like wires. WireWay is the type of game that will be released with little to no fanfare, be overlooked by just about everyone, but will put a smile on the face of anyone who happens to play it.

We spent the rest of the day wandering the aisles at Comic-Con and just going wherever our tired feet led us. Missus Raroo’s pregnancy fatigue caught up with her and before we made our way to our car she needed to have a break by sitting down in the main hallway. That gave us a good opportunity to people-watch and we were really impressed with some of the costumes attendees had fashioned for themselves. I find Comic-Con so hot and tiring that I can’t imagine wearing a costume on top of the discomfort I’m already experiencing, but I’ve really got to hand it to the imaginations of many of the attendees.

Comic-Con Costumes

When we got home our feet and legs were sore and stiff, but Kaz said he wanted to go swimming and it is almost impossible to say no to his cute little requests. Thankfully, taking a dip in the pool was the perfect way to wash away our fatigue… not to mention the sweaty and sticky film on our bodies from walking around such a crowded convention hall. We spent the rest of the evening relaxing and doing some preliminary planning for our return to Comic-Con the next day.

[Mister Raroo is a happy husband, proud father, full-time public library employee, and active gamer. He currently lives in El Cajon, CA with his family and many pets. In addition to writing for GameSetWatch, Mister Raroo irregularly writes content for his blog, Moments. You may reach Mister Raroo at [email protected].]

Geometry Wars: Arcade Evolved

Not content to play Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved with a gamepad and a TV screen or computer monitor like all the other peasants, Australian arcade fan Liam gave the retro-styled shooter a proper home with a "retro styled cabinet and control scheme”.

This machine features two top-fire joysticks (Robotron style controls with one for movement and the other for shooting), a 20 inch CT monitor, a perspect cutout of a ship with green neon lights, and a Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved marquee with white neon lights.

Liam put the one-of-a-kind cabinet up for auction last week, but it's unfortunately already sold, with the winning bid at $255 AUD ($209 US). So if you want one of these, you'll have to make your own!

[Via Just One More Game]

Sound Current: 'The Ancient and Contemporary Music of Sega's Yakuza Kenzan!'

[In his latest interview with Japanese game composers for GameSetWatch, Jeriaska talks to the folks behind the music for the Yakuza spin-off series for PlayStation 3 that, somewhat fascinatingly, moves Sega's mobster-based action game to 17th century Japan.]

While tremendously popular in Japan, Sega's Yakuza games have proven difficult to localize for Western audiences. When the series shifted its focus to the legendary 17th century swordsman Miyamoto Musashi for Ryū ga Gotoku Kenzan!, the cultural gap for those in English-language regions only widened.

More accessible is the game's soundtrack, composed of an intense mix of rock music and antique instruments. In this interview with five of the sound designers responsible for the title's musical score and sound effects, we hear about the audio strategies underlying the Yakuza series' period piece.

Currently at work on the next installment in the series for the Playstation 3, Sega composer Hidenori Shoji joins us to discuss how his songs for the game broke new ground for the company's popular franchise. Also contributing to the discussion is Hideki Sakamoto, director of the sound studio Noisycroak. The composer previously spoke with us during a sound design interview on his involvement in the original soundtrack to Castlevania Judgement.

Three members of Sakamoto's company add their perspectives on the making of sound for Kenzan. Hiroyoshi Kato has written electronic dance music for the Dance Dance Revolution games and was responsible for the themes for the samurai story's minigames. Keisuke Itou has just recently released his first solo soundtrack, for a Sony PSP detective title called Diamond and the Sound of a Gunshot.

He composed music for the courtesan scenes in Kenzan. Tsuyoshi Yukawa has written sound effects for the Yakuza series beginning with the second installment and offers his personal experience creating audio effects to ground the drama in its historical time period.


Videogame composers Hiroyoshi Kato and Hideki Sakamoto

How did you react to the idea of the Yakuza series being transported to the 17th century? Did you think it was a good idea at the time?

Hidenori Shoji: At first I thought it was a joke. I was like, Are you kidding?

What considerations did you have in your approach to the music for this change of setting, seeing as it was to retain thematic ties to the previously existing Yakuza titles?

Shoji: Considering this was a historical drama, at first there was the question of what to do about the soundtrack. How would it feature traditional Japanese instruments, since the concept was "Miyamoto Musashi meets Kazuma Kiryuu"?

In the end, strict historical accuracy was not the number one priority. The final line is that it's entertainment. We gave ourselves license to make contemporary rock styles the basis of the soundtrack.

Shoji-san, your song "TAKUMI" appears first in Yakuza Kenzan and has since been arranged for other games in the series. How did this music track first come about?

Shoji: During the training sequences in this game series, there is a character name Komaki that appears. If you play Yakuza 1 and 2, you will notice that there is not a specific track of music dedicated to these scenes. Training took place outside of the main storyline, and since it was an extra feature, there was not a specific music track for it.

However, in Kenzan, you are compelled to do some serious training in order to proceed through the game, so we decided to pump some extra energy into these scenes by dedicating a specific music track. After Kenzan this song was carried over into Yakuza 3 and became specific to the character of Komaki, receiving a unique arrangement. It's kind of like the "theme of Komaki."

Sakamoto-san, could you tell us a little about yourself and your sound design studio Noisycroak?

Hideki Sakamoto I'm Hideki Sakamoto, director of Noisycroak. For Kenzan our company was primarily responsible for composing for the cutscenes. Previously we have written videogame music for Echochrome and Holy Invasion of Privacy, Badman.

When was Noisycroak first established?

The company was created in March of 2004, so it has been a little over five years since we got started. Back when I was a freelance composer, I received the impression that it was necessary to belong to a company if I wanted to find work. For the first two years I was the only employee.

Has writing videogame music been something that you have known you wanted to do professionally for some time?

Well, I began playing the piano when I was four, and later on I started transcribing music that I liked. As for games, I was playing those back in elementary school, around the time of the NES boom. Even before that there was the Epoch Cassette Vision and the Game & Watch. I loved games as a little kid.

It was rare for boys to practice piano at that age. As a result I found I received some bullying for it at school. Anyway, one day before music class I started playing some melodies from popular games on the piano. All of a sudden, those same kids were treating me like I was a superhero.

Before class began, everyone would gather around me and chant: "Play it! Play it!" Then I would sit down at the piano and play music from Zelda, Mario, and Dragon Quest. Finally someone would shout, "Teacher's coming!" and all the kids would run back to their desks.

When did you first start writing game music professionally?

I started composing music in junior high. My parents bought me a computer and I started fooling around with MML. I would sit there with a big grin on my face, listening to the FM sound source, just having fun. When I was 23, I started professionally, writing music for a PC game.

How many people currently work at Noisycroak?

Right now there are three full time workers, two part-time employees and about ten composers writing music.

Are you planning any special events

We do have an event planned where we will gather a group of composers for a discussion, sitting around this table here. We are planning on recording the proceedings, taking some photos and all of it will be up on the Noisycroak website in July. The musicians currently scheduled to attend are Shoji-san, Itou-san, Takenobu Mitsuyoshi, Nobuyoshi Sano, Shinji Hosoe of Super Sweep, Masato Koda of Monster Hunter, Yasunori Mitsuda of Chrono Trigger, and Takayuki Nakamura of Brainstorm Co., Ltd. We have sent out a call for questions from listeners and we will all be fielding those questions.

How did it come about that Noisycroak participated in the making of the soundtrack to Sega's Yakuza 2?

This goes back to when I wrote music for Super Monkey Ball for the Wii. I was a big fan of Yakuza for the Playstation 2. Someone heard about it and they asked me to join the staff on Yakuza 2.

When it came time for Kenzan, what kind of musical ideas were you interested in introducing to the game?

We had all sorts of ideas at first. We were thinking about rap and hip-hop. However, when it came time to actually write the soundtrack, Noisycroak was placed in charge of the cutscenes. Most of our songs took place during the cinematics, so our thought was that game players would be thrown unless Japanese-style orchestral appeared during those scenes.

There you can hear shamisen and tsuzumi. There were several sequences where within the scene characters are playing musical instruments in the background. Because the music had to match what was being portrayed onscreen, those were the toughest spots to score. You hear taiko drums and shakuhachi, instruments that are recognizable elements of traditional Japanese music.

Kato-san, how would you describe the minigames found in Kenzan?

Hiroyoshi Kato: The three or four minigames that I wrote music for are traditional Japanese pastimes, including a form of bowling.

What sort of music did you feel was appropriate for these scenes?

All said, the modern installments of the Yakuza series cover a lot of musical ground, which changes dramatically depending on the requirements of the particular scene.

There are serious moments and there are jokes. To that effect the minigames are a bit comical in their anachronistic use of ancient instruments.

Have you been interested in games since way back?

In elementary school, I played games often. My story is similar to Sakamoto-san's. I began collecting soundtracks and joined a band in high school, while on the side I was writing electronic music.

At first I kind of blocked out videogame music as a creative influence. I was following the record companies, writing popular styles of dance music. Gradually, lyrics found their way into videogame music and much of the gap between pop and VGM closed. That was around the time that I began work at Noisycroak.

What did you find particularly interesting about working on the Kenzan project?

In terms of the soundtrack to Kenzan, I did not want to become preoccupied by the historical setting. At some point previously contemporary and traditional instruments were in opposition, and hearing them together was felt to be a mismatch. However, today if you listen to a lot of international dance music it's not all that uncommon to hear the Japanese instruments and influences incorporated.


Keisuke Itou and Hidenori Shoji

Itou-san, could you tell us a little about yourself and your work for Noisycroak?

I am Noisycroak composer Keisuke Itou. Previously in my work as a videogame composer, I have written music for Yakuza Kenzan, Yakuza 3, Pokémon Mystery Dungeon and a game called Shinobido: Way of the Ninja.

In terms of my participation in the soundtrack to Kenzan, I wrote the themes for the Yumejiya and Azumiya tea house locations.

Just what is the purpose of these establishments? Historically, there once was a place called "Gion" located in Kyoto in which this manner of business thrived. To put it simply, this was a place where patrons were entertained by women.

My songs appear during the courtesan scenes. Of course if you look at the contemporary Yakuza series, much of it takes place at hostess clubs. Historically these two locations have served a similar purpose, as far as business establishments go.

The scenes I am describing are less about eroticism than luxury. Namely, this is the luxury of receiving the attention of desirable women. The music in Kenzan retains the atmosphere of the hostess club scenes taking place in the modern installments of the series, but with the added element of traditional music.

Do you have a particular interest in traditional Japanese music?

I would say that I do. For instance, there is traditional court music featuring instruments like the hichiriki [a double reed Japanese flute] and shō [a free reed musical instrument]. "Mai" is an ancient form of musical performance, composed of playing instruments plus ceremonial dance. This combination is the foundation of the Noh plays, an ancient cultural institution of Japan. This is a personal interest of mine.

I might add that most of the music for Kenzan's cutscenes was by us at Noisycroak. I was in charge of composing for many of them, though they are not included in the soundtrack album. The music is meant to be a natural fit for the in-game cinematics, which I hope might be enjoyable to those that play the game.

Yukawa-san, how have you gone about writing sound effects for Yakuza Kenzan, and has the process been particularly different from your work on previous installments?

In looking at the sound effects I wrote for Yakuza 2, the game takes place in modern times, so I was recording the noises of cars passing, the types of sounds you are used to hearing in everyday life. In Kenzan, the historical setting is completely different, so I had to think more about what kinds of sounds you were likely to hear in those particular circumstances.

What sorts of effects are required for these scenes?

In terms of my work on the sound effects, if you look for instance at Yakuza 2 you are hearing the sounds of conversations taking place outside of buildings in the city. For Kenzan scenes take place in the woods. I had to think about what kind of atmosphere would be needed to match that setting.

Was any particular research required?

I watched a number of historical dramas looking for clues to the sound design. Among my favorite personalities in the Yakuza series is a bumbling character named Akimoto. He appeared in the first game and has persisted throughout the series.

In Kenzan, you discover that he is routinely deceived by the courtesans. They succeed in emptying his pockets. Considering the emotional impact of those scenes, I put extra effort into the sound effects in the desire to aid in their expression.

Shoji: In terms of the seasonal variation in Kenzan, the birds you hear singing change depending on the time of year. For insance, in spring you can hear the cuckoo.

Yukawa: Yes, regarding which species of birds inhabited the woods in that particular time period in Japanese history, I did research on the web in order to find out. You know, it's not something most people who play the game are not going to pay specific attention to. This kind of attention to minute details is strictly for the purposes of my own enjoyment.


Nobuooo 7.09: Forbidden Kenzan from Jeriaska on Vimeo.

[Interview conducted by Jeriaska. Translation by Kaoru Bertrand. This article is available in Italian on Gamesource.it and in Japanese on the Noisycroak website. Ryū ga Gotoku Kenzan! Original Soundtrack can be imported from Amazon.co.jp. Images courtesy of Sega, Wave Master and Noisycroak.]

Monster Hunter Fan Makes Working Gunlance, Terrorizes Cup Stacks

Appreciated by Monster Hunter players with more defensive play styles, Gunlances are huge, combining -- as one might expect -- a lance and a gun, then pairing that hybrid with a heavy shield. It's the sort of awesome-looking weapon that already seems unwieldy in a video game, and would be completely impractical in the real world.

This Japanese gamer, however, didn't let that thought dissuade him from making his own working Gunlance, which can even fire shells! Apparently there aren't many dragons flying around for him to test his newly crafted weapon on, so he had to settle for attacking cardboard boxes and stacks of styrofoam cups.

[Via Sp0rsk]

Smoking Has Its Benefits: Pac-Man Zippos

Namco Bandai has a lot planned for Pac-Man's 30th anniversary next year, including a new game helmed by Sonic the Hedgehog co-creator Hirokazu Yasuhara and I presume tons of merchandise, like this set of branded lighters.

The company's subsidiary Banpresto will begin selling these Pac-Man Zippos in Japan this November for around $110. I almost wish I smoked just so I carry around my favorite of the three, Dot Pac-Man -- the way it reveals a ghost in Pac-Man's stomach when you flip the top open is excellent.

[Via CrunchGear]

Best of FingerGaming: From Worms to Zombies & Me

[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 reviews Mecho Wars and Sentinel 2, and highlights recent releases like Worms, Power Pros Touch, and Zombies & Me.

Here's the top stories for the week from the world of iPhone games:

- Review: Mecho Wars
"While the story isn't anything to write home about, Mecho Wars offers iPhone owners a way to play Advance Wars on their system, even if it isn't the official thing."

- EA Launches iPhone Subsidiary 8lb Gorilla with Zombies & Me
"Electronic Arts announced the formation of 8lb Gorilla, a development studio focused on the development of low-cost, casual-oriented iPhone games. 8lb Gorilla's first title, Zombies & Me, is now available for purchase at the iTunes App Store."

- This Week's App Sale Roundup
"This week brings a variety of notable discounted titles, including Gamevil's action-RPG Zenonia, Elecorn's terrain-deforming 3D shooter Caster, and Gameloft's sugary sweet time management sim Chocolate Shop Frenzy."

- Team17 Ports Turn-Based Artillery Classic Worms to iPhone
"Worms arrives on the iPhone complete with its goofy cast of worm characters and a variety of outlandish weapons. Players can expect to lob banana bombs and deploy exploding sheep using a new control scheme specially designed for the iPhone's touch screen."

- iPhone Resident Evil 4 Update: U.S. Release Due Soon
"After the minor debacle that was Resident Evil 4's premature Japanese release earlier this week, Capcom has announced that a real, final release will make its way to the App Store in Japan at the end of this month, with a U.S. version debuting 'shortly thereafter.'"

- Top Free Game App Downloads for the Week
"Assassin's Creed: Altair's Chronicles tops Apple's free app charts for the second week in a row, and the paid version continues to see boosted sales as a result. Newcomer Wooden Labyrinth 3D Free ranks in at second place this week, as Tic Tac Toe Free joins the chart at third place."

- Edge Removed from App Store, Again; Lite Version Released
"Just when it seemed that Edge's long-running legal battle had finally cooled, developer Mobigame has been dealt yet another critical blow. Its acclaimed puzzler Edge has again been removed from the App Store."

- Review: Sentinel 2: Earth Defense
"Earth is once again under attack by alien life forms. What's a human to do? Build towers to defend it, of course. Sentinel 2: Earth Defense is Origin8's latest entry in the already crowded tower defense genre, but what a praiseworthy entry it is."

- Konami's Flagship Baseball Sim Franchise Hits iPhone with Power Pros Touch
"Today, Konami debuts the first iPhone entry in its Powerful Pro Yakyuu series, Power Pros Touch. Though it lacks the MLB licensing of recent console releases, Konami promises that the iPhone edition features much of the same gameplay that has made the series a compelling play over the past 15 years."

- Taito Announces Space Invaders Infinity Gene for iPhone
"Taito plans to continue its support for the iPhone platform with Space Invaders Infinity Gene, a fast-paced shooter that combines the series' classic aesthetic with a variety of new challenges."

- Top-Selling Paid Game Apps for the Week
"Robot Super Brain's tilt-based block breaking title GloBall rises up to take the top spot in this week's paid app chart. Last week's winner Hero of Sparta drops to fourth, as Flight Control and StoneLoops! move up to finish at second and third place."

Skinners Add Kratos, Gandhi, And Duke Nukem To SFIV

Since discovering that characters in the PC edition of Street Fighter IV are reskinnable, the game's community has put out dozens of new costumes for players to download (Note: online opponents cannot see your modified characters).

Unsurprisingly, you can already find a wealth of Naruto costumes and Cammy/Chun-Li nude hacks, but there are also many impressive skins that bring real life and fictional characters that Capcom never intended to include in its game, such as Duke Nukem and Fat Bastard from the Austin Power films in the video above.

The Shoryuken forums has a thread providing instructions and resources on changing your SFIV characters, as well as a repository of custom skins released so far. Here's a small collection of the ones I found most interesting below:

Balrog as Doraemon:

Blanka as ThunderCat's Lionel:

Cammy as Batman's Harley Quinn:

Dhalsim as Mahatma Gandhi:

Rufus as an Incredibles superhero:

Sagat as God of War's Kratos:

Zangief as Mr. T:

Comic-Con Time With the Raroos: The 2009 Edition (Part 1)

Comic-Con Time With the Raroos[GameSetWatch has -- in a startling journalistic feat -- sent GameSetWatch columnist Mister Raroo and his family to San Diego Comic-Con to report on their adventures there. We'll be running daily updates from the Raroos as the convention progresses, and the first segment is about Preview Night.]


Wednesday, July 22: Not-So-Exclusive Engagement

There was once a time not very long when San Diego Comic-Con’s Preview Night was a much different affair than what it is today. Even just a few years ago, it was possible to navigate the aisles and not bump into other people at every other step. Booths were free from massive lines and it felt like a truly exclusive affair.

Those days are a long gone. Comic-Con’s main floor may actually be busier on Preview Night than on any other day due to the fact that there are no panels or events to attend, so wandering the aisles and checking out the booths is the only thing to do. With so many people packed into one place, it didn’t take long before the Exhibit Hall felt like a sauna.

Without a doubt, one of the most hectic areas of the entire show floor was the store at Capcom’s booth. Attendees were anxious to spend money on goodies, and Capcom was all too happy to rake in the cash. I promised JC from Tiny Cartridge that I’d pick him up a ServBot keychain, and I’m glad to say I came away successful. But it was quite a memorable battle!

This is F***ing Terrible!

For whatever reason, Capcom decided not to have buyers form a line, and instead let everyone crowd up to the counter and push their way ahead of one of each other in a wild effort to be helped. I literally got elbowed out of the way by some overzealous guy hoping to buy a Mad Catz fighting stick.

When he found out they’d already sold out, all I could think was “Ha ha!” Seriously, though, it felt like I was caught in a mosh pit, and at one point I turned to Missus Raroo and exclaimed, “THIS IS F***ING TERRIBLE!”

My annoyance was not all Capcom’s fault, to be honest. Part of the blame falls upon a Comic-Con representative named Guido who couldn’t figure out how to print out a pass for my son Kaz. The initial press line was smooth and efficient, but I had to go to a second line to get Kaz’s pass, which is where I encountered Guido. He kept blaming “the computer” for not working correctly and was nervously laughing and shaking his head in befuddlement at the monitor.

As anyone who’s ever assisted in tech support knows, anytime “the computer” is fingered as the culprit, the actual fault usually lies with the ineptitude of the operator. It took Guido almost half an hour to issue Kaz a simple Child’s Pass, and by that point my blood pressure was higher than it should’ve been. Thankfully Kaz was in good humor and waited as patiently as anyone could expect from a two year old, and he was handsomely rewarded for his behavior later.

Kaz's loot Honestly, it was almost an evening of debauchery for my little son. His two favorite movies as of late have been Cars and My Neighbor Totoro, and we purchased him a toy car in the form of DJ from Cars as well as an adorable little Totoro doll.

We also treated Kaz to a small Slurpee on the trek back to our car, and he was singing the whole ride home about DJ, Totoro, and the yummy “juice” he got to drink.

It’s worth pointing out that Missus Raroo is 10 weeks pregnant and has been suffering from terrible nausea and fatigue. I was amazed at how well she did given the stuffy, crowded environment of Comic-Con. Unfortunately, on the walk back to our car she started feeling really sick and eventually began throwing up. We almost made it home before her nausea struck again and she got terribly ill in the car. After a quick shower, she went right to bed and slept soundly all night long.

[Mister Raroo is a happy husband, proud father, full-time public library employee, and active gamer. He currently lives in El Cajon, CA with his family and many pets. In addition to writing for GameSetWatch, Mister Raroo irregularly writes content for his blog, Moments. You may reach Mister Raroo at [email protected].]

Game Developer's 2009 Top 20 Publishers Survey Calls for Votes

[Our buddies at Game Developer mag, led by Brandon Sheffield, need some help from developers filling out their reputation and 'direct working relationship' survey about the top game publishers for the Top 20 Publishers survey this year. Fill it in, wontcha?]

Game Developer magazine has opened the 2009 edition of its Top 20 Publishers survey, which helps to rank the best video game publishers in the industry.

Developers are asked to complete the brief survey, offering both first-hand and third party perceptions of retail publishers, which will determine this year's ranking, alongside other data such as revenue, number of releases, and average review score.

This is the seventh annual Top 20 Publishers countdown, which Nintendo has won two years in a row. With the publishing industry constantly in flux, with lots of recent closures and mergers, this latest list is certain to be an interesting one (though this data does pertain to the calendar year 2008, so publishers like Midway still remain).

The full survey is in two parts. The first part is a reputational section, where all participants can anonymously rank and, optionally, comment on all major publishers.

The second part focuses on those game industry professionals who have managed or participated in relationships with specific publishers, either as employees or as third-party developers. Both are part of the same survey form.

All of the survey feedback is completely anonymous, and results will be revealed in depth in the October 2009 issue of Game Developer magazine (and later on Gamasutra), which will also contain a sidebar on digital distribution-oriented publishers. Full, canonical data will also be available in a forthcoming report from Game Developer Research.

Step Up Your Game(SetWatch) With More Custom Trainers

Since our post last week on his custom sneakers featuring video game characters, Daniel "Brass Monki" Reese has put up over a dozen new shoe designs, and even shared a mock-up with us that shows off GameSetWatch's astronaut and color scheme. I take back everything I said about women not fancying guys with these trainers; I imagine you'd be the talk of the town with this particular pair.

While you can commission Reese to create and send you any of the concepts posted on his site, he also plans to sell his kicks using Big Cartel, an online shop platform for independent artists. He will have only five of his designs available through the store, so he has set up a poll for fans who want to vote on which sneakers should be included.

GameSetLinks: Looming In The Darkness

[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.]

Hurray for GameSetLinks - which are, this time, headed out by an interesting game design-related post by Mike Darga on diminishing returns (for gaming.) Which are what you're getting from reading yet another GameSetLink intro from me, ha ha!

But seriously - other notable links this time round include Zomby's Street Fighter rave goodness, the making of LucasArts' awesome Loom, an engaging Cliff Bleszinski interview, a look at Daniel Cook's new Flash game, courtesy of JayIsGames, and other shenanigans besides.

Man of many mysteries:

Mike Darga's Game Design Blog: Glossary: Diminishing Returns
'Every rewarding activity can be expressed as an efficiency, and every efficiency is subject to diminishing returns of some sort. Diminishing returns come into play very often both for those creating a game and those playing it.'

Bunni: how we first met - at Jay is Games
Lost Garden author Daniel Cook's new Flash-based online game looks pretty interesting.

Nerd Music's Tumblelog - Zomby
'Zomby’s “Where were U in ‘92” album is a modern throw-back to the ecstasy fueled rave days of the early 90s' - including Street Fighter II references, woo.

ThenGamer: The Making Of Loom | NowGamer
'‘Professor’ Brian Moriarty reveals how a love of ballet scores led to the creation of a musical masterpiece that has so far yet to be surpassed.'

Indie | Community Games Roundup - 14/07/09 | Resolution | Diverse commentary on videogames
Another good round-up - including a title that 'highlights what Community Games probably should be: an avenue for indie developers to craft short, sweet and well-executed titles that simply couldn’t exist on any other console service.'

25 Years After Tetris, the Russians Are Back | Newsweek Technology | Newsweek.com
This is a slightly iffy article angle, imho, essentially trying to argue a trend around a single press event at the Russian consulate. But shout at me if I'm wrong!

The Disgraceful Marketing of Train2Game < newretro.org
Extremely interesting - UK trade association-backed training scheme for games makes some fairly generous promises. (Also, they sued Google for indexing criticisms of them? Seriously?) [UPDATE: Alex Amsel has added a post after talking to the company, with some more (qualified) commentary.]

Hello, My Name Is Cliff | OXM ONLINE
Nice, intelligent interview that was a big feature in the recent OXM US.

July 22, 2009

World of Warcraft TCG Invokes Power of Grayskull

Like the MMORPG, Upper Deck's trading card game for World of Warcraft includes several references to TV shows and pop culture in its art and flavor text, with its recently released expansion Fields of Honor being no exception.

The two cards above are clearly inspired by He-Man/Masters of the Universe, modeling Adam Eternum after Prince Adam of Eternia, and Keldor the Lost after He-Man's arch-enemy Skeletor. The former card even adapts He-Man's famous transformation catchphrase into "By the power of Greybeard, I have the power!"

[Via Superpunch]

Peru To Host Tales Of Play, Adventures Of The Unexpected

Starting tomorrow, the Centro Fundación Telefónica cultural center in Lima, Peru will hold an exhibit on fantasy worlds and gaming territories titled "Video Games: Tales of Play, Adventures of the Unexpected". The show will run until October 4th and looks to introduce "new perspectives for the worlds we inhabit, the experiences we share, and the ways we are being influenced."

The pieces and games in the exhibit seek to question the expectations we may have from typical games, as well as the roles and rules we've come accustomed to. They also hope to focus less on competition, scores, and other common motivators, instead eliciting excitement in players through "new play tactics and behaviors that are being encouraged within game environments".

You might recognize some of the participating independent artists and games such as Tale of Tales' The Path and thatgamecompany's Flower, but I've outlined a few interactive experiences below that you might be unfamiliar with. Some of these are nuts!

The Girlfriend Experience by Martin Butler:

"The Girlfriend experience is a multiplayer game allowing you to enter into a real-life person and use this person as an avatar. However, the available avatars are real people too, so in order to win their trust and have them perform special tasks, you first need to get to know them and find out what is possible. If you are rude they will probably cancel your playtime."

Amagatana by Yuichiro Katsumoto:

"Amagatana is an umbrella for enjoying a blissful walk after a rain. After the sky clears up and the umbrella has served its purpose, we often swing around our umbrellas on a whim. By augmenting such motions with the sounds of clashing swords, AMAGATANA transforms scenes of everyday city life (i.e. The walk home from a train station) into subjective game-like arenas.

Amagatana classifies the user’s actions into 3 levels, using accelerometer data obtained while the umbrella is still and while in motion. In addition, AMAGATANA also recognizes 5 “Special Moves”, that are invoked through specific double-articulated sequences of the aforementioned levels."

The Night Journey by Bill Viola & USC EA Game Innovation Lab:

"The Night Journey is a video game/art project based on the universal story of an individual mystic's journey toward enlightenment.

Visual inspiration for The Night Journey is drawn from the prior works of Bill Viola. Narrative inspiration comes from the lives and writings of great historical figures including: Rumi, the 13th century Islamic poet and mystic; Ryokan, the 18th century Zen Buddhist poet; St. John of the Cross, the 16th century Spanish mystic and poet; and Plotinus, the 3rd century philosopher. The interactive design attempts to evoke in the player's mind a sense of the archetypal journey of enlightenment through the "mechanics" of the game experience - i.e. the choices and actions of the player during the game.

The player's voyage through The Night Journey takes them through a poetic landscape, a space that has more reflective and spiritual qualities than geographical ones. The core mechanic in the game is the act of traveling and reflecting rather than reaching certain destinations - the trip along a path of enlightenment."

levelhead by Julian Oliver:

"levelHead uses a hand-held solid-plastic cube as its only interface. On-screen it appears each face of the cube contains a little room, each of which are logically connected by doors.

In one of these rooms is a character. By tilting the cube the player directs this character from room to room in an effort to find the exit.

Some doors lead nowhere and will send the character back to the room they started in, a trick designed to challenge the player's spatial memory. Which doors belong to which rooms?"

You can find more information on the show, which is curated by Daphne Dragona, at Centro Fundación Telefónica's site (Spanish).

Interview: Magic: The Gathering Creator Garfield To Launch Free-To-Play Game

[An interesting collaboration, this - big sister site Gamasutra's Christian Nutt talks to legendary Magic: The Gathering creator Richard Garfield about his collaboration with Mind Control (Oasis) to create microtransaction based strategy game Mind Twist for iPhone and Facebook.]

Mind Control Software and Richard Garfield, board and card game design legend and creator of the seminal Magic: The Gathering collectible card game, have announced a collaboration to produce Mind Twist.

This title, for which only a teaser website exists thus far, is a head-to-head, free-to-play strategy game to be delivered to iPhone as an app and Facebook via Flash, and supported by microtransaction purchases of player-controlled armies.

Garfield and Magic alumnus Skaff Elias have also joined Mind Control's advisory board, promising future collaborations with the developer on other products.

The Way of Mind Twist

"I'm looking for games that are playable by a wide audience, fairly fast, a good amount of luck, a good amount of strategy, and something that feels more like a paper game but was still made with a computer," Garfield tells us, describing Mind Twist and his move towards digital gaming.

"I'm trying to make the game more broadly accessible than a trading card game," says Garfield. "TCGs are often very intimidating because constructing decks is a difficult task. The competition in the area is such that players know that they're potentially getting into something that is very complicated and very expensive."

Garfield says the game will feature versus battles that take approximately 10 minutes to complete. Instead of individual cards, players will buy pre-constructed armies that offer some customization, akin to buying pre-constructed Magic decks. He describes the game as "very expandable".

Garfield also says that this approach should "minimize" the advantage rich players could gain in Magic, because you can't select specific units and create whole armies; in Magic, any specific card, no matter how rare, could be used in any player-created deck. The strategy is preserved between those with a big and small budget, he says, because "I don't have the weight of my 50 purchases behind me; I just have that one deck, and my [personal] experience."

However, Garfield sees the potential for deep strategy all the same. "I want people to, when they play, not feel like they have to invest as much time and energy as they do with Magic, but still have the same game play depth that Magic might have, and the expandability." He describes Mind Twist as having "less of an arms race, less of a learning curve" than his popular creation.

The game, of course will offer a free army to get the player started, but if he becomes enamored with it, he can purchase more -- including any army he sees an opponent using. "If you like the game -- that's our job -- then you will be interested in getting more of these [armies] and increasing the breadth of strategies you can bring to bear," says Garfield.

Of course, purchasing optional armies implies a microtransaction model, but Garfield is quick to point out a nuance: "'Microtransaction' is accurate, but it's not as 'micro' as many games. We haven't pinned down exactly what [cost] it's going to be, but what I'd like to see is something more chunky than microtransactions, because you're buying the analogue of a [Magic] deck."

The Tech Solution

Mind Twist is being developed by Mind Control Software (IGF winners with Oasis, Vector City Racers), which has collaborated with Garfield in the past. The game is being built on its Orbital Game Platform, which will interface the two versions of the game which will be launched -- iPhone app and Flash app delivered via Facebook -- for competitive, realtime cross-platform play.

That may not be the end of Mind Control's ambitions, however. Andrew Leker, CEO and founder, says, "We can really port anywhere the market says we can port. There's no limitations to the platform we can be on given the nature of the games and the technology."

Possible platforms Mind Twist may travel to in the future include PlayStation Network, PSP, or DSi, for example, though these are all undecided at present. The Orbital Game Platform client-server architecture is such that "once the server components are built, given the nature of the games... They can be played anywhere," says Leker. 



"We spend our own money on Richard's games," says Leker. "To be able to work with the giant in this field... It's just an extraordinary opportunity. We're a good partner for [Garfield and Elias] because we've got the tech and we've worked with them before."



The game is currently in development, but according to Leker, launch may not so far off. "We're building the prototype; it's playable right now. We continue tuning it for the two initial platforms, we get the online multiplayer running... We play it and play it and play it, add the right content and game design. We have to build out the server infrastructure." Time to launch? "Probably in the neighborhood of at least six months."

Notes on Design From a Card Master

Of course, comparisons with Magic the Gathering are inevitable. As noted above, they're not all favorable, but Garfield says he is very mindful of the potential for problems in finding an audience that can enjoy the game.

"We're hoping the casual players will not be motivated to buy an insane number of decks," says Garfield, "but the hardcore player will be motivated to because more decks [i.e. armies] is more fun. And our tournament environment... We'll have arenas which will rotate every couple of weeks or month, and they'll naturally have strategic advantages or disadvantages for certain decks." 


When it comes to Garfield's experience with Mind Control and his previous work in computer games, it's clear that Garfield finds the difference significant.

"I've done consulting and some game design with Microsoft and EA and a bunch of other big companies, on both nontraditional products and some traditional products. And one of the things that is really often lacking in computer game design is a real appreciation and ability to do extensive playtesting."

"Just the product development cycle, getting the things programmed, takes so long, and quality suffers," says Garfield. However, The experience of developing Mind Twist, which was prototyped with a paper game, is "much more like paper games." With paper games like Magic, Garfield feels, playtesting "takes a much bigger proportion of time... And I think computer games could benefit from that."

Terrorists Targeting Hidden Object Games With 'Bomb Squad: NY'

Casual game publisher Merscom has announced a new "hidden object adventure game" with a bit of a hard edge - at least compared to a lot of PC casual 'hidden object' games where you're searching for umbrellas in antique stores, or similar fripperies.

Specifically, the company explains: "In Bomb Squad: NY the player teams with Detective Steve Lanoce, an actual NYPD Bomb Squad detective who received the Medal of Valor for his bravery on 9/11. The player also receives clues from another real hero, Steve’s bomb sniffing labrador retriever, Duke."

(For more info on Lanoce and Duke, the former is interviewed by Glenn Close on FetchDog.com, after the two were introduced on the set of TV show Damages.)

Scheduled to launch for PCs in September, Bomb Squad: NY has players training Duke to improve his bomb locating skills, evacuating civilians from threatened areas, hunting down suspicious items, and disarming bombs. They'll also explore blast locations to find clues that will lead them to the terrorists behind the bombings.

And, of course, no press release would be complete without a money quote: "Bomb Squad: NY is an opportunity to take the police procedural so popular on TV to the next level," said Lloyd Melnick, Merscom's Chief Customer Officer. "Only in the gaming sector can the player actually interact with the characters, and more significantly, interact with real heroes like Detective Lanoce. That's something that NCIS or Criminal Minds could never match."

2009 GDC Austin Gets Blizzard Keynote On 'The Universe Of WoW'

[Congratulations to my GDC Austin colleagues for landing pretty much the biggest fish of all to keynote their show this year - the folks who make World Of Warcraft. Looking forward to seeing what they say - and don't forget about the iPhone and Indie Games Summits there too, which I'm co-programming.]

GDC Austin organizers have confirmed the first of the Sept. 15-18 event's keynotes, with Blizzard co-founder Frank Pearce and World Of Warcraft production director J. Allen Brack discussing operating challenges and lessons in "The Universe Of World Of Warcraft".

In the joint keynote, Pearce, executive vice president of product development and co-founder of Blizzard Entertainment, and J. Allen Brack, the production director on Blizzard Entertainment's World of Warcraft, will talk about the ongoing challenges involved with operating one of the world's most popular subscription-based MMORPGs.

After more than four years in development, World of Warcraft was released in 2004 and since that time has grown into a global phenomenon, in addition to garnering critical praise from reviewers and gamers worldwide.

Pearce is well-placed to discuss the game, being one of the original co-founders of Blizzard in 1991, and having worked on classic Blizzard Entertainment titles including Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness, Diablo, StarCraft, Diablo II and Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos. He's also overseeing Starcraft II's production.

Brack is responsible "for coordinating the efforts of the game's development team as it creates new content to keep the experience fresh and exciting for the global audience of World of Warcraft players, and previously worked at Sony Online on Star Wars Galaxies and at Origin on the Wing Commander franchise. At Blizzard, he helped created WoW expansion pack The Burning Crusade, and currently manages the production of patches and expansions from their initial conception through their release.

Pearce and Brack's joint keynote address will "specifically discuss the steps taken to create this online world, and the hard work and team coordination necessary to keep that world engaging and rewarding over its lifetime."

"World of Warcraft continues to attract more and more subscribers year after year and has changed perceptions of what online gaming can achieve," says Izora De Lillard, event director at Think Services Game Group. "An exploration of Blizzard Entertainment's enduring success in the online gaming space offers important lessons for all connected game developers interested in developing the next great MMO, casual game, or virtual world."

Presented by Think Services (also owner of Gamasutra), GDC Austin returns with three days of main conference content focused on connected games, including online games, virtual worlds, and social networking game play; and four two-day summits, including the Game Writers, Game Audio, iPhone Games and Independent Games Summits.

The event takes place at the Austin Convention Center in Austin, Texas September 15-18, 2009, and early registration deadlines end soon - more information is available on the official GDC Austin website.

Possible Concept Art From Backbone's Mirror's Edge Wii Demo

Looking to expand DICE's first-person platformer Mirror's Edge beyond the Xbox 360, PC, and PS3, publisher Electronic Arts asked Backbone Entertainment (Monster Lab, Rock Band Unplugged) to create a demo for a possible Wii version of the game last Fall, according to a report from Unseen64. At least one former Backbone employee's resume confirms that the studio worked on such a project.

These two pieces of concept art uncovered by Unseen64 are purported to be for that Wii prototype, revealing what appears to be a new cel-shaded approach to the game's already distinctive graphics; of course, Backbone could have restricted this look to the concept art, not extending it to the actual demo.

The developer hasn't revealed whether it's working to bring a full Wii version to market or if EA shelved the idea, but apparently portable versions of Mirror's Edge for PSP and DS were also pitched.

Column: 'The Magic Resolution': How Do You Start The Revolution?

developgsw.jpg['The Magic Resolution' is a bi-weekly GameSetWatch column by UK-based writer Lewis Denby, examining all facets of the experience of playing video games. This time: the UK's Develop Conference provides a backdrop to consider what's really important about video games.]

Like many game developers, design students and press-folk, I spent a sizable portion of last week being forcibly thrust into Brighton's Metropole Hotel by what I'm sure were some of the most powerful seafront winds known to mankind. It's probably a good job, though, since I had a ticket to the Develop Conference, and that's where it was taking place.

On the first night, at the Icebreaker Drinks that break approximately no ice, I'm approached by a developer. He's spotted my press badge, and asks me what my angle is. I'm stumped. This is a reasonably new gig for me, and I'm probably still wide-eyed enough to think I don't need an angle.

I find myself regurgitating something I've used for a while: I look at the experiential side of playing video games. The things development isn't really concerned with. The stuff beyond the game. Understandably, the conversation moves swiftly on to drinking and beach parties.

The first day of the conference proper. Jammed into the most unreasonably small press office in existence, I type from the floor about thatgamecompany's Jenova Chen's eye-opening presentation of Flower's development. A glance at my Twitter feed shows an obscene amount of people doing the same thing. The headlines of each story are markedly different. They all have an angle. What's mine?

Evening rolls around, and I find myself enjoying a slightly gloopy Chinese meal with Gamasutra writer Mathew Kumar, everywhere-in-the-world writer Kieron Gillen, and a game design student whom I only remember by his internet tag, Larington. Conversation turns to Larington's ideas for the future. He wants to create the next big thing in large-scale, online shooting. It's an ambitious project, and Kumar asks him for a more concise pitch. "PlanetSide, but better," he says.

We muse over it and decide it's probably not the strongest vision. But it's an angle. Everyone has an angle, except for poor little me.

Too quickly, the final day of the conference is here. By this point, even walking there and before everyone's badges are on, you can tell who's who. The designers look casually-smart, with their suit jackets flowing over untucked shirts and jeans. Those involved in hard-development notch it up, tucking their tops in and masking their eyes with shades. The students appear eager, on the prowl for industry veterans with whom to vigorously network. The journalists just look hungover.

Predictably, I end up sitting in a lecture entitled 'Video Games as the Eighth Art'. On the podium is Denis Dyack, designer of Eternal Darkness and, more recently, Too Human. He's talking about the ways in which video game designers and developers can push their craft as an art form through careful methodology, rather than aspiring to what he considers the all-too-common "rock star lifestyle".

He starts talking about film theory. The term "Eighth Art" is extrapolated from an early film theorist's description of that medium as the seventh art, so it's an obvious comparison to make, even if it's one that's rapidly ageing. Dyack thinks the way forward is to speak the language of film. He also thinks that the way forward "isn't in gameplay."

I'm unsure what to think. Firstly, though examining games from a filmic perspective certainly yields interesting results, it seems odd to neglect approaches intrinsic to this medium. Secondly, the way forward "isn't in gameplay"? What does that even mean?

And then I realize. In amongst all the talk of digital distribution and whether the market's declining and what the industry's next big angles are, the big topic of the conference has essentially boiled down to story versus gameplay. Story's a tangible thing - it is, in essence, what happens. But this "gameplay" lark that's been bandied around so heavily is far too abstract to be useful.

I think back to other talks I've been to, and, yes, I'm definitely right. It's all been "story this, gameplay that." We're being taken over by an obscene buzz word that's completely undermining what should be convincing, thorough, nuanced arguments.

It needs to stop. So, finally, I have my angle.

Each year, Develop hosts something called the Opinion Jam. It's an informal session at the end of the conference, where all the attendees file into a room, grab a complementary beer, and have the opportunity to deliver a two-minute rant to the masses. I had my angle; I needed a platform. This was it.

I deliver my rant. It bombs. The Opinion Jam is judged by audience vote. I get a few in my favour, but the majority of the room disagrees. Perhaps it's just that people find "gameplay" to be an adequately specific term. Perhaps it's that I nervously and hungoverly ramble for far too long before running out of time and quickly blabbing my point. I suspect it may be the latter, so here's what I was trying to say.

Across the two days of Develop, I met an abundance of people with a lot to say. Many work in highly specific areas of game design and development, the areas we probably don't even consider when we judge the final product. If we do consider them, it's only within the realms of a much broader section of the experience. The section we call "gameplay".

Our unquestioning acceptance of the term leads to a diminished understanding in how games actually work. Dyack was right when he said the most affecting games are often developed with a keen eye for meticulous detail and methodology, and it's this detail to which we need to pay attention.

Doing so will make some big steps into our comprehension of how these streams of code and reams of assets flow from our television screens and computer monitors, and make something happen in our minds that engrosses us, invigorates us, even moves us.

But we can only pay this much attention if we know how to describe what we're talking about. And while ever we're content with scoring the gameplay a seven out of ten, or even saying "the gameplay was brutal" or other such vagueisms, we're only placing obstacles in front of ourselves.

The Opinion Jam ends. IGDA founder Ernest Adams deservedly wins with an excellent speech on the low quality of writing and acting in video games. As we file into the bar to drink away our headaches, a man approaches me. The man I met at the Icebreaker Drinks.

"So you think we need to adopt a new vernacular in order to understand our hobby more?" he asks.

I say yeah. I guess I do.

"There's your angle," he says. "Start the revolution."

[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.]

Most Impressive Ryu Footage Outside Of A Daigo Match

Adding onto our excellent coverage of fighting game event EVO 2009 by Michael Walbridge yesterday, NeoGAF member Majestros designed, implemented, recorded, and posted this collection of Ryu combos from more than a dozen Street Fighter games.

Compiling all of these combos is impressive enough -- Majestros worked on the production from last October to this July, finishing it just in time to premiere the video at EVO 2009 -- but the slick transitions between the different games/combos is compelling enough to keep you watching the entire clip even if you're not interested in the character or series.

While this tool-assisted video employed ASCII PAD V Pro programmable controllers to "bypass the limitations of manual execution", note that no cheats, hacks, or game-altering devices were used to create these combos.

Majestros was also behind the Guile Exhibition video from EVO 2007 and other Street Fighter videos famous within the community. You can watch all of those and download the Ryu Exhibition movie from the media section of his site.

GameSetLinks: Sisters Versus Zombies

[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.]

Racking up the links as the week progresses, GameSetLinks this time starts out with a rather sweet tale about how playing games helps two members of a family relate -- exactly the kind of humanistic writing that we hope gets done more and more recently, as people realize that games are a social tool as well as a high-score magnet.

Also in this set - Eurogamer folks on embargo fun, Raph Koster points out a 'build your own board game' site of note, James Silva on why you should give Xbox Live Indie Games a good shake, some more 'Gaming Made Me', narrative and gameplay have a good old ruckus yet again, and more.

Slow dive:

Plants vs. Zombies– a Tale of Two Sisters « Play as Life
A touching story about human relationships compared and enhanced through games.

QBlog: 'Meanwhile, Back in 1976'
'I wonder what ghastly stereotypes in bad wigs German magazines use when advertising conferences in the UK? Or maybe they don't think this kind of embarrassing sexism/racism is just a bit of fun like MCV seems to?'

Raph’s Website » The Game Crafter: Cafepress for board games!
This has been all over the place, thanks to Raph for reminding me to link it: 'The short form: CafePress for board game designers.'

The RAM Raider: Eurogamer Editor Tom Bramwell On Embargos
Maximum respect to Eurogamer/Bramwell for trying to talk through this super-thorny review issue.

Retro Interview - Javier Maldonado on Masq | The Reticule
Masq is a primitive, really odd, but compelling story engine type thing - a good review here. (Also notable because it was 'discovered' by the press.)

Gaming Made Me - The Quixotic Engineer
Continuing the 'Gaming Made Me' RPS series on Matthew Gallant's site: 'What’s interesting about the series is the contrast between how unremarkable many of these games are in a larger sense and how important they are on a personal level.'

A word about Xbox Live Community Games/Indie Games « Ska Studios
Some counterspin here from Dishwasher dev James Silva, and I kiiinda agree: 'Quit complaining. XBLCG is a great platform, but it’s not a magical money generator (unless you make yet-another-massage-game). Just making a game does not guarantee you success and wealth and fame and happiness, but putting that game out on XBLCG definitely gives you a sweet head start.'

The Play’s the Thing « Spectre Collie
Great summing up of the Twitter design kerfuffle over Denis Dyack's Develop talk: 'If you put the narrative in front of the gameplay, you are no longer making a game. You’re making a movie.'

July 21, 2009

National Center for the History of Electronic Games Launches Blog

Rochester, New York's National Center for the History of Electronic Games (NCHEG) announced the launch of its CHEGheads Blog, a regularly updated section to the organization's existing site.

The blog is maintained by the NCHEG's core staff of three and promises "conversations, commentaries, and insights about the past, present, and future of electronic games."

Right now on the site, you can find posts like a debate on "graphic violence a motivator for game players", thoughts on on-demand gaming platform OnLive, and an account of playing Table Tennis on a Brown Box against video game legend Ralph Baer.

Located in the Strong National Museum of Play (which also houses the National Toy Hall of Fame), NCHEG is devoted to collecting, studying, and interpreting video games and ways they're changing how people play, learn, and connect with each other.

The center's collection includes over 15,000 items, including console/handheld/arcade/PC games, packaging and advertising, game-inspired consumer products, historical records, and other related artifacts and documents.

You can find more information on NCHEG, its staff, the extent of its collections, and its exhibits at the center's official site.

The Game Anthropologist: EVO 2009 --You Just Don't Know

evo.jpg['The Game Anthropologist' is Michael Walbridge's GameSetWatch-exclusive column about communities built around gaming. He was in attendance for his first EVO fighting game tournament in Vegas this weekend and now realizes why, prior to his attendance, he just didn't know.]

“I think they’re having some sort of Dungeons and Dragons convention,” a dumpy man in his 40s muttered to his wife.

I’m walking past the line to join a table of fighting mates at the Sao Paolo café inside the Rio in Vegas, where the Evolution Championship Series is being held. It’s the biggest fighting game tournament in the U.S., perhaps the world. It is about ten years old, and 2009 is the biggest yet with over 1,000 participants, largely due to the success of Street Fighter IV.

Within an hour, half of what we call Team Utah will need to report for the initial pools for Street Fighter IV, the event’s biggest game. Andy is the most responsible for coordinating Utah competition, and the discussion always centers around his comments. One of the most notable players in his pool is Phatsaqs, considered the best Rose player in the U.S. “What’s her armor breaker again?” Andy asks.

“Soul drill,” one of us says. “Soul spiral. It’s the quarter circle move,” another says simultaneously.

Andy nods. He would later go on to win three matches and almost get out of the pools and into semifinals. His second loss would be to Phatsaqs, a knuckle biter that would go to the third round of the third match, with low health remaining.

I don’t realize people don’t lend sticks and don’t have a PS3 stick, so I go without registering to play. I know I’m going to write on this, so I distract myself by talking to others, asking questions. “Is there a noticeable difference between this year’s EVO and the EVOs of previous years?” I ask someone.

“Yes,” he replies. “There’s a ----ton more people this time.”

There indeed are a lot, and not just your D+D types, either. The mix of white, black, Hispanic, and Asian players seems so even it doesn’t seem like anyone is a minority anymore. And also unlike most game-centered events, long hair, tattoos, piercings, and muscles (that’s real muscles, not in-game ones) abound. There aren’t very many overweight people. The view down the wall makes the players at over 2 dozen monitors look like a NASA crew. Each station has a dozen or two people crowding around, players waiting to hear their names be called, supporters not wanting to miss the match of a friend.

evo.jpgThere’s a slight amount of variety in things to do, but not much. Namco Bandai has a handful of TVs where players can play the unreleased Tekken 6, and Capcom has a setup for Marvel vs. Capcom 2 and Tatsunoko vs. Capcom. In the corner are freeplay machines for very old Japanese fighting games, some of which I’ve never seen. Aksys has Blazblue signery and a small tournament, which manages to draw and maintain a small crowd for an entire day and a half.

Few conventions or events are so singular in purpose. The only thing to do here is watch people play fighting games, unless you sign up and play yourself, and even there most people don’t play more than five matches. People come all over the world just to compete and watch people play; the champion of SoulCalibur IV came from France, two of the Street Fighter IV players are from Japan, and players come from every region of the U.S. and Canada.

More than anything, EVO is American and big. EVO has the most players, the most setups, the most games, a big screen, a big cash prize, a big crowd, and big attention. 23,000 viewers watched the live feed.

While much of EVO is recorded (and then sold on DVD and IGN Insider), EVO attendees often rebuke Internet comments with the now popular catch phrase “You just don’t know” to emphasize the difference between watching the matches on the computer and seeing them live. (It is used so often that it is often shortened to YJDK).

Day two features opening pools for some other games and matches on the big screen. It’s easily the slowest day of the event. Day three features a changed setup; Capcom and Namco Bandai still have their demo booths (which are later taken down), and the entire room is filled with chairs. The less popular games go through their finals; the chairs are not filled at the beginning of the day but as the day progresses the games, they fill up. At day’s end, the convention hall at the Rio is filled with people who are sitting, and then people who are standing.

Street Fighter IV is introduced with a video montage that alternates between brief game moments and text describing the difficulty and mastery of painting. (Guilty Gear had been compared to cooking, SoulCalibur IV to a musical instrument, and Street Fighter II: HD Remix to wine tasting.)

Then there was a special interview conducted by famous players Mike Ross and Mike Watson. They sought out Tomo Ohira, a player whose name is still whispered in forums and YouTube comments. He had played all variations of Street Fighter II, “retiring” at age 17 in 1994. He was so good that he won over 100 California tournaments, losing only 4 matches and going on to star in a tips and tricks video.

He had no idea what is going on the fighting world, and spoke plainly about his experiences. Much of what he spoke of survives. Toward the end of the interview, Watson asks, “Out of everything you’ve gained or lost from Street Fighter, what do you think you might miss the most since you retired?”

evo.jpgOhira hesitates briefly, and only to consider how to word it. “Just the competition, the competition and the camaraderie; you know, hanging out with all the guys, being friendly with everyone and rivals at the same time.” Mid sentence, clapping begins gradually, and then becomes sustained and respectful, the way it does when a famous public figure says something inspiring. It is the only time when the cheering is unanimously on the same page. The next shot is in slow-motion—Tomo puts a t-shirt on over his current shirt. The t-shirt is black with white text in Japanese and English. The English says “You just don’t know,” the “YOU” much larger and in caps.

Then, finals. Eight people are left. It seems that Sanford or Ed Ma may get to finals, but it goes as expected; Justin Wong, widely regarded as the best Street Fighter in America, comes from losers to meet Daigo “the Beast” Umehara in the grand finals. This is a match with significant history behind it. Wong lost 4 rounds in a row to Daigo at the GameStop tournament in San Francisco earlier this year. Before that, he had lost to Daigo at EVO 2004 in the biggest finals for Street Fighter III: Third Strike; the match was so amazing it has been viewed over a million times on YouTube since. The cash prize for first and second place is approximately seven and two thousand dollars.

Wong had already lost to Daigo earlier, two matches to zero, where Wong had used Abel. Wong had used Rufus in the Gamestop tournament and found that Daigo understood the match extremely well. Coming from losers, he used Abel again, losing the first game. Wong then switched to Balrog, the first time in a major public setting anyone has seen Wong use that character. Wong loses one match but wins three, winning one of his needed sets.

The next match is another best three out of five. Unlike the people who will browse the match list, we do not know who will win. One of two amazing things will happen: either Daigo Umehara will prove once again how much of a legend he is, further cementing his status as the best Street Fighter player the world has seen, or Justin Wong will finally best Daigo, proving that he isn’t just Daigo’s peer anymore, but an equal. An American would have bested the best Japanese player when it counted.

evo.jpgIt gets to the fifth game in the final match. Balrog is a dangerous character. They have been playing a lot of “footsies”, fighting slang for throwing out lots of safe crouching attacks from a distance in order to chip away with no risk. Each has made a few mistakes in decisions as well as execution. The pressure is intense. Over a thousand people are in the immediate audience, with thousands more watching online.

Toward the end of the first round, where both are low on life but Daigo is ahead, Wong uses one of Balrog’s quick dashing punches from close-range, which would take 2 hits to stop in less than a second. But Daigo’s incredible reflexes produce a quick two-hit combo, taking the round. In the second, Wong is cautiously aggressive; he gets a couple of sweeps, knocking Daigo’s Ryu on the ground. Wong has hardly been touched, while Daigo has just over half his life. Then, during one of Wong’s advances, Daigo does a crouching kick into a super fireball, a very difficult move to pull off, especially without it being blocked. That puts Daigo in the lead.

He then gets aggressive, getting in a throw and a few miscellaneous hits. Daigo has the lead and retreats to the corner, throwing well timed fireballs. Wong advances, because he has to. He gets in a couple of dash punches, but Daigo still has a much better lead. Justin uses an EX dash punch again, figuring it is close and safe and that Daigo can only do 2 hits in response so many times. He is wrong. He has one hit left. He goes for the rare jump in. Daigo responds in time, jumping in the air, his foot meeting Balrog’s chest. Daigo is again the champ of EVO, solidly unbeaten by Wong or anyone else from America.

Whoever anyone was rooting for, the crowd goes nuts. Everyone stands. There is shouting, there is clapping. We all hoped to get up there, but most of us knew we hadn’t the slightest chance. We’ve waited for this moment through 8 hours of lesser fights. With the exception of Wong and his closest friends, together we cheer.

Together we are all the justly and fairly defeated, comrades and rivals, hanging out with all the guys. This the last moment of only three days in the year where we can be at the world’s arcade, a unicorn of a thing. You just don’t know.

[Thanks to the official Evo Championship Flickr for the photos in this article.]

Massively Multiplayer Jumping: Infinite 8-Bit Platformer

Game developer Chris McCormick posted this trailer for one of his game's he's porting to OSX and Windows from Debian GNU/Linux, Infinite 8-Bit Platformer. He notes the game is "heartily unoptimised", so its framerate appears low in the video.

Originally created as a GameJam entry last May, Infinite 8-Bit Platformer has no shooting or killing elements; it's all running, jumping, collecting, and editing levels/portals/items with the in-game editor.

McCormick envisions the game as a massively multiplayer experience, with players running into other people jumping around, chatting and trading with each other -- though he hasn't implemented these features yet.

"So basically I was hoping that if enough people used the game enough, we'd end up with a massive, social, network connected platformer which you could explore for hours and hours, always finding new and interesting things, places, and people," he explains. "Maybe I'll finish it one day, we'll see."

[Via Dutycycle]

Man on a Mission: Trailer For Garriott's Space Documentary

Already a game designer and an astronaut, Ultima-creator Richard Garriott is adding another title to his belt, movie star. Film company Beef and Pie put together a documentary following Garriott's adventure last October as he became the first second-generation American astronaut, titled Man on a Mission.

Beef and Pie premiered a rough cut of the film last night (presumably in Austin), according to Origin Systems veteran Harvey Smith. The company hasn't announced plans for future screenings, but they did release a trailer for the documentary earlier this month, which you can see above, promising a mix of interviews, televised appearances, cosmonaut training footage, and more.

GDC 2010 Opens Call For Submissions, Adds Advisory Board Members

[My colleagues who run Game Developers Conference have announced that you should submit your lecture abstracts for GDC 2010 now, huzzah - and since I'm a GDC Advisory Board member nowadays, too, I have to look stern and remind you as well.]

The call for submissions for the 2010 Game Developers Conference has opened and will be available through August 14th, for those game developers and businesspeople wanting to submit simple abstracts.

The pre-eminent annual conference dedicated to the art, science and business of games -- presented by Think Services, a division of United Business Media -- returns to San Francisco's Moscone Convention Center March 9th - 13th, 2010. Session proposals can be submitted via the official GDC 2010 Call For Papers website.

This year, the GDC is continuing its successful three-phase submission system, introduced in 2008, easing the initial entry process and thereby allowing the submitter to have ample time to expand on their session proposal if selected to advance to phase two.

The simplified first-phase of the call for submissions reduces the entry form to session focus and attendee takeaway, along with basics such as biographical information and speaking experience. The GDC advisory board - consisting of industry-leading figures - will review phase one submissions and determine who will proceed to phase two, at which point submitters will be asked to prepare a complete presentation plan.

In the third phase of the process, the advisory board will review the presentation plans and make the final cut. To read more regarding the submission phases, visit the official submission site. Guidelines for submissions can be found at the submission FAQ site.

Tracks at GDC 2010 include Audio, Business and Management, Game Design, Production, Programming and Visual Arts. Session formats this year include 20- and 60-minute lectures, panels, roundtables, one- or two-day tutorials and poster sessions.

For further information and to begin the submission process, please visit the official GDC 2010 Call For Papers website.

In addition, GDC organizers have also announced the addition of Ubisoft Creative Director Clint Hocking and Epic Games President Michael Capps to the Game Developers Conference advisory board, which guides the direction of the show, rates GDC lecture submissions and coaches prospective speakers.

Hocking, during his eight year tenure at Ubisoft, has worked as level designer, game designer, script writer and creative director on top titles including the original Splinter Cell, Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory and Far Cry 2. Capps is president of Epic Games, makers of the hit titles Unreal and the Gears of War franchise.

The duo join existing GDC Advisory Board members which include major game industry notables such as Maxis' Chris Hecker, Blizzard's Rob Pardo, Warner Bros' Laura Fryer, Bungie's Chris Butcher, Cerny Games' Mark Cerny, and Eidos' Julien Merceron.

Doctor Octoroc's 3D Bead Sprites

Levi "Doctor Octoroc" Buffum, whose nickname you should recognize from the 8-Bit Jesus chiptune album and the recent 8-Bit Keyboard Cat collaboration with his brother Jude, has created dozens of 3D bead sprites based on video games and consoles, the latest of which -- a Gunner Bot from the Metal Slug series crafted with nearly 4,300 beads -- you can see above.

He's created similar 3D sprites for Gradius' Vic Viper, a couple F-Zero hovercars, Blaster Master's SOPHIA, and more. You can see two of Doctor Octoroc's pieces below, and many more in his 3D bead sprites' Flickr set.

Column: 'Tokyo Beat': Street Fighter Club's First Rule

['Tokyo Beat' is a new, bi-weekly GameSetWatch-exclusive column by writer Ryan Winterhalter, focusing on expressions of game culture in Japan. This time, he checks out a venue for some of the more hardcore Street Fighter players in Tokyo.]

Shinjuku Sports Land: Shibuya Branch is not your typical arcade. Located in one of Tokyo’s biggest shopping and clubbing spots, it’s a place where you can find a game of Street Fighter or King of Fighters at almost anytime. Whether it’s geeks hanging out all night, couples on a date, or club kids taking a breather between venues, someone is always at Sports Land. Despite or maybe because of, the range of players, competition can be fierce.

“Oh man, you better bring your A-game when you come to Sports Land,” one Shibuya club goer told me. To be sure, other arcades around the city have a tougher reputations, but Sports Land is no slouch. It’s not the skill of the players, however, that make Sports Land notable.

On most nights, the place is populated by random strangers grabbing a few rounds in between train transfers on their commute but on Thursdays, the crowd changes. The place starts to look like an amateur sports club. Something like a bowling or softball league in America. Everyone here knows everyone else.

It’s a typical Thursday night and I’m making my way towards “Street Fighter Freeplay” at Sports Land. For 300 yen (about three dollars) I’ll be able play Street Fighter from 7:30 until 11:00. I’m distracted by the pungent stench of sewage that seems to permeate Shibuya whenever the seasons change and I walk right past the arcade without realizing it.

Seeing McDonalds and the Shibuya landmark store “Condom-mania,” I realize I’ve gone too far. Turning around, I find it this time, and head downstairs. The arcade is small, but it has managed to pack in at least one cabinet of every currently popular fighting game, plus a few classics for good measure.

“Evening Ryan, 300 yen.” the portly, baby-faced manager of the arcade, respectfully referred to as Tencho-San (manager), says as he holds out his hand. He’s got a lot of people to keep track of and he doesn’t want any freeloaders getting any free rounds. As I dig thorough my pockets for change, he tells me, “You missed out yesterday, Justin was here.”

He is referring to top American Street Fighter IV player, Justin Wong, apparently in town for a big international tournament. “Really?” I ask. “How’d he do?”

“He won,” Tencho-San says, taking my money. As I said, the players here aren’t slouches, but there’s always a bigger fish.

As the evening continues, the crowd grows. Salarymen and students, Japanese and foreign, they all come, not just to play Street Fighter, but for a sense of community. Everyone seems to know each other and they chat among themselves. As players wait for their turn at one of the three machines, they cheer and tease the those who are playing.

Most of the non-Japanese have never seen a place like this before. Marty Grant, a Montana native and exchange student to Sophia University, says he comes here to “Experience the arcade culture.” Another exchange student, Samuel Rosenius from Sweden, looks around with interest and says, “We don’t have any arcades in Sweden,”

Two networked machines host most of the matches. A final machine stands adjacent to the other two; the English speakers in the room call it the noob machine. Apparently this machine is reserved for those who have yet to earn enough Battle Points(BP) on their cards.

Cards are used to store information and player data in SFIV. With your card, you can carry your record anywhere. Those with more than 13,000 BP can’t play on the noob machine... I have 200 or so. I spend the evening taking turns with a young lady who is apparently here with her boyfriend and a player who is just under the maximum BP allowed.

In between rounds, I chat with other players, sneak outside, grab some dinner at Burger King with a few others, and get lectured on how to really play Street Fighter. Everyone seems to be at ease. This is a place to come and relax.

Before moving to Tokyo I had never seen an arcade as packed and lively and at first, it seemed to be a completely alien environment. When I ask other foreign players about their take on the arcade, they also think the place is unique.

The more I spend here, however, the more I see how normal the community at Sports Land really is. The way these regulars pal around reminds me of the circle of CCG players that used to hang out in my college dorm, or the dart leagues that various members of my family competed in back home.

The online social aspects of gaming have dominated the discussion of games for a long time. For a few years, in the late nineties it looked as if multi-player games were going to be solely played on the internet. In the years that have followed, thanks in great part to the success of games like Smash Brothers and Halo, local multiplayer games flourished in a renaissance of sorts.

For the past fifteen years the internet has allowed social gaming on a massive scale, while local multiplayer has allowed for more intimate social experiences. However, the middle ground, where dozens of players come together to play and socialize is still relatively rare.

Outside of small LAN parties and local tournaments (relatively rare occasions, at least when compared to something weekly like SF IV freeplay), there aren’t many events that work on that scale in North America or Europe. Sports Land provides that middle ground. It’s a place to hang out with friends, relax after work, and be part of a community with like minded people.

[Ryan Winterhalter is a freelance writer in Tokyo. He can be reached at Rwinterhalter AT gmail.com]

Konami To Announce Metalocalypse: Dethgame

Konami plans to formally announce a downloadable PS3 and Xbox 360 game based on Adult Swim's humorous heavy metal animated series Metalocalypse at this week's San Diego Comic-Con

Show creator Brendon Small is working with Konami to produce Metalocalypse: Dethgame. I wonder how involved Titmouse, the animation studio behind the show, are in the project, considering that it launched a game development branch (Doctor Zomba, Seven Haunted Seas) earlier this year.

The game will feature music from the show's fictional heavy metal band Dethklok but will not center on the cartoon's stars. Instead, players will follow a group of roadies fighting in service to the band. Metalocalypse: Dethgame. Apparently, there were difficulties with adapting Dethklok to a video game setting.

“The first idea was we make the band merciless and murderous but that doesn’t work on the show,” said Small, according to a report from the Wall Street Journal. "Our show is really about five narcissistic super-celebrities who can’t open the door by themselves."

The Metalocalypse creator also commented on the rising popularity of heavy metal video games, what with EA planning to release Brutal Legend this year. "If you’re an investor in some genre of music, I’d say metal is a good bet," he said.

GameSetLinks: A Six-Part Worst Nostalgia Audit

[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.]

Tuesday has rolled on, and we start out this set of carefully picked GameSetLinks with a look at Ben Mattes of Ubisoft Montreal, and some useful, hard-fought lessons about how you might be an effective AAA game producer, perhaps.

Also here - the striking oddness of Maestro! Jump in Music, the worst video game systems of all time, a delving into Charlie Brooker's world, some heartfelt thoughts about writing about games, XBLA sales, growing up through video games, and other things, too.

Not so clear:

toomuchimagination: Life as a Videogame Producer - Part I
Prince Of Persia producer Ben Mattes on evolving to a producer role.

Valuable Games » Blog Archive » US Deputy CTO Beth Noveck on gaming and open governance
Didn't know that White House staffer Beth Noveck founded the State Of Play conferences - useful gaming insider for us, huh?

Eight minutes of Maestro! Jump in Music. The... - Tiny Cartridge - Nintendo DS & DSi News, Media, Videos, Imports, Homebrew, & Retro Junk
Re: '[fairly unknown DS title] Maestro! Jump in Music... Around the 1:20 mark, you’ll wonder where this music-based platformer has been all your life.'

Xbox Live Arcade Sales, Top20 June 2009 - VGChartz
Impossible to find among VGChartz news clutter, these stats (with plenty of caveats) are pretty good, generally, and worth checking out.

Vintage Computing and Gaming | Archive » The 10 Worst Video Game Systems of All Time
'Just yesterday, PC World published my slide-filled list of The 10 Worst Video Game Systems of All Time on their site. You might not agree with the list, but that’s almost the point — who agrees with Internet top 10 lists anyway?'

Crummy: Nostlagiaudit, Part II
A kinda personal history of playing games: 'Previously on Nostalgiaudit, I explained how I got hooked on electronic simulations of impossible scenarios, and how I was eventually given specialized hardware to feed that addiction. This time around, I take a look at the aftermath, and then give a detailed analysis of the years I lost to the NES.'

Charlie Brooker's Screenwipe best bits | Owen Van Spall | Culture | guardian.co.uk
As you may or may not know, UK satirist/commentator Brooker used to be a games journalist (on PC Zone, among others), and I think a lot of his points about TV actually are worth considering in the context of games. Plus, it's all a bit delish.

Hit Self-Destruct: A Trilogy In Six Parts
Lots if interesting people (among them a number of Gamasutra/GSW writers and contributors) talk about writing about games. Woo.

July 20, 2009

Brazilian Show Intro Features Familiar Characters

This opening animation for Brazilian show Bom Dia & Companhia doesn't just pay homage to popular scenes from films like Mission Impossible and Raiders of the Lost Ark (not sure why that guy is naked in the reenactment), it also bears more than a close resemblance to the character designs of a certain Media Molecule series (the studio's only series, in fact).

Even without any stitching/zippers and colored dull green, the characters are unmistakably Sackboys. Even the logo's presentation looks like something ripped from LittleBigPlanet!

[Via NeoGAF]

Column: 'Lingua Franca' – Memberships, Hierarchy and Lore of the Gorons

goron.png['Lingua Franca' is a biweekly GameSetWatch-exclusive column by Daniel Johnson which discusses the relationship between language, culture and video games. This time he explores the cultural pedagogy of the Goron tribe in the Legend Of Zelda series.]

Video games, as simulations, have the ability to transfer skills to the player through interaction within the game world. Serious games, games designed to educate real-life skills, are a burgeoning industry. These games often serve to raise awareness on key issues or teach tangible skills such as operation of machinery or safety guidelines. Culture-related skills, such as proficiency in intercultural communication, language acquisition and understanding of cultural beliefs and practices demand interaction and experimentation if they are to be fully acquired. It's the reason why so many second language learners go overseas to study.

This makes a simulated experience such as video games all the more appropriate form of pedagogy for such a field of education. However, attainment of culture skills for practical purposes (communicating in a foreign context, for instance) requires extensive amounts of interaction, over a prolonged period of time in a variety of different circumstances, often to such extent of production that would exceed most serious games.

That's not to say that serious games cannot, and have not achieved such success here before -- particularly when they concentrate on discrete areas of education -- but rather, we can also learn a lot about cultural-based education through non-educational flavoured video games.

This is where the installment-based nature of many entertainment-minded video game franchises step in. Both real-life and manufactured societies inhabit rather extensive franchises including Oddworld, Metal Gear Solid, Grand Theft Auto, Warcraft and The Legend of Zelda, where the player must engage with or is already an active member of a cultural membership in the game. These games subconsciously familiarize the player with cross-cultural communication, set cultural practices, and various linguistic and cultural norms as a method of play. In fact, acquiring such skills often acts as the necessary means to not just complete but to fully understand the game, its world and narrative.

Team this with extensive gameplay over a series of iterations (think hundreds of hours, in some instances) and the lasting pedagogical effect on the player is enormous. Furthermore, as either series evolves, taking on new situations, from fresh and/or different perspectives, the understanding of the cultures increase and expound, building upon the base knowledge and skill systems.

All this yip-yap means nothing without hard proof, which is why I want to magnify this idea (of how video games transfer ever-changing cultural skills to players over a series of iterations) with some analysis over the next few columns.

Today I begin with The Legend of Zelda series, looking at the Goron tribe and the way the series instigates issues of cultural membership, hierarchical systems and practices, and how this knowledge base is angled and built upon in successive games.

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

Ocarina of Time first debuted the Goron tribe into the Zelda canon. The Gorons were introduced as a group of mountain-dwelling, rock-eating creatures who mined Death Mountain for their food supply. Ocarina of Time established the core foundations in which players would come to understand this society. Their ability to recklessly roll around, the constant use of the title “brother” to represent kinship, their reliance on the natural earth and the leader-based hierarchical structure are all made apparent in their debut.

zelda-oot-goron-designs.jpg

Patriarch Leadership System

The Gorons are probably the most prominent non-human culture in the Zelda franchise and Ocarina of Time uses them well as a narrative tool to exchange cultural issues and norms. The first example of such normalities is the indigenous social hierarchy which the Goron's adopt through their patriarch Darunia. By interacting with Darunia and the situations he creates, the player gains a conscious understanding of the influence that patriarchs have over their communities, as acquiring the trust of Darunia is pivotal to game progression. If Link doesn't reason with the patriarch, then he is not acting within the best interests of the tribe.

Darunia is the gatekeeper of the Spiritual Stone of Fire which Link is hoping to obtain. The player must query around for possible hints as to how to win over the Goron patriarch who'd previously dismissed the young boy. Once Link pleasures Daurina with music from his ocarina – making way for a spectacular dance scene, where Darunia busts a move or two – the leader trusts the boy and enlists him to free Dodongo's Cavern of Gannondorf's evil creatures in exchange for the stone. Darunia's influence over the gameplay signifies his role as the leader of a society in which Link must cooperate with. The other Gorons regard Darunia as their leader and although they have the best intentions of the young visitor, they cannot aid him in his quest if their patriarch does not abide.

Tribal Legend

Later, Link returns to Goron City in the future to learn from Darunia's son that in the time passing, Gannondorf had imprisoned the tribe away in the Fire Temple, and threatened to feed them to the evil fire dragon Volvagia. The Goron speaks of ancient tribal lore where, thrown into a similar situation, a legendary Goron saved the tribe by defeating the menacing Volvagia with the Megaton hammer. Link sets out to save the Gorons, acquiring the megaton hammer in the process and reenacting the legend, immortalizing himself within the Goron society.

Nintendo uses Darunia's son's historical anecdote as a guideline, a sort of hint as to how the player can defeat Volgia and what completing such a task will implicate for the culture. On defeating Volgia, Link becomes a legend in the same vein as the one in the Goron lore. He is seen as an icon among the members of the tribe. Their appreciation flows into their dialogues where Link is considered a “brother” of the Gorons. The mountainous people also hug him too. This sub-plot highlights how folk stories passed down through the generations cultivate a lore which is very dear to the root of the culture. These stories create a cultural base in which other norms are derived from. One might say that in this instance, by fulfilling this prophecy (of sorts), Link has become the new patriarch of the Gorons.

Ingroup-Outgroup Memberships

Through the aforementioned events, Ocarina of Time timelines how Link begins as an outsider of the Goron membership, originally dismissed by the leader, yet through his trials becomes a member of the tribe – a true “brother”. While initially the Gorons are friendly with Link (the contrast isn't as stark as say Twilight Princess), upon saving the tribe for a second time, he is raised above mere mortal status. Cultural memberships as a thematic aren't so prominent in Ocarina of Time relative to the other titles, but it's worth mentioning the way he integrates into their society nonetheless.

The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask

Majora's Mask's overall angle of the Zelda universe is much darker than its predecessors. For the Goron race this largely results in the inclusion of some rather macabre character designs which expand from Ocarina of Time's neutrality. The cast of Gorons also tend to be a little more eccentric while the narrative rather bleak too, in that regard. Otherwise, Majora's Mask's biggest draw is the ability for Link to become a member of the tribe, allowing him to sit in on as well as be involved with ingroup activities and dramas. It's a much more intimate angle on the culture, touching on themes like parenthood, identity and survival.

zelda-oot-goron-designs.jpg

Identity Switching

Majora's Mask portrays much richer focus on memberships as the mask mechanic illustrates. Basically, Link can obtain various masks throughout the game, several of which transform him into the various races inhabiting Termina; the Zoras, Dekus and Gorons. What this mechanic does is allow Link to switch on the fly between ingroup and outgroup membership of the respective cultures, changing his interplay with each. This gives players the opportunity to observe first-hand how it feels to be treated as either one of the races within the game. Termina's residents don't have four sets of speech for the respective races, but rather, the speech is tied to the gameplay and narrative.

For instance, at the beginning of the game, Link is transformed into a Deku scrub and struck in Clock Town. His appearance as a deku scrub causes the towns people to stigmatize him and treat him with contempt; reflected by their speech and reaction to his presence. After Link transfers back into human (Hylian) form, he is treated as a regular young boy. On the flipside, because of his Deku appearance, Link is seen as an ingroup member of the Deku tribe, rather than an foreigner, which in turn gives him certain privileges. This underlying rift between the races runs throughout the game, highlighted by the use of masks. The pedagogy here is obvious, Majora's Mask is a play ground of experimentation with cultural identities.

Narrative Intimacy Via Ingroup Membership

What this iteration does over the previous is allow the player to grow their familiarity with the more intimate themes surrounding the culture. As an ingroup member, the Goron-related parts of the narrative are centred around the ingroup happenings of the Goron tribe. For example, the separation of the disenabled father Goron Elder and his son Baby Goron, which itself is a tragedy for the disheartened elder and a drama for the regular community who have to put up with the baby's incessant crying.

Link obtains his mask through the spirit of Darmani, a legendary Goron hero who embodies the mask. When Link wears the mask he adopts Darmani's appearance and abilities and is treated by the Gorons as a Darmani himself - they believe him to have never passed away. Through your interplay with the characters (who are stunned to see their tribal hero return (nulled somewhat by the snow storm)) Darmani's legacy is made clear to the player.

Movement and Abilities

Playing as the Goron, hurtling around in their rolled up state or using their menacing strength, also allows the player to understand how these attributes character the race differently from the Zoras and Dekus. Furthermore, Majora's Mask features Goron races which are another cultural practice, specific to the community.

Alternative Conditions

In Majora's Mask's tale of imminent doom, the Goron tribe reside in the north of Termina, in the Snowhead area. In recent times the Snowhead landscape has been plagued with heavy snow fall (funnily enough), transforming the usually warm landscape into a snowy freezer. This sudden shift in temperature cripples the residing Goron community who cannot bear the icy conditions. These circumstances places a familiar culture in an atypical situation, fleshing out the race's lack of resistance of the cold.

Character Designs

Majora's Mask naturally expands the original character design which now encompass more characterized creatures, including the Goron Elder and Baby Goron. Link himself, as Darmani, sports a much more elaborate design including hair, armlets and boots. This paves the way for Twilight Princess which takes a more substantial leap in this department.

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess

Twilight Princess adopts some of Majora's Mask's ideals while introducing a handful of its own. Perhaps most significant is that Link –for the first time -- must attack the creatures who are initially hostile towards him. Twilight Princess also extends on the cross-cultural exchanges of Majora's Mask where Gorons try to set up shop in Castle Town. One of the groups is very successful with their hot spring water stand, another (a small family) is relegated to an unattractive backstage of the town, while a third raise money to fund another store. Lastly, sumo-wrestling and fist-fighting are introduced as sports which the elders want passed down to the younger generation.

zelda-tp-goron-designs.jpg

Character Expansion

Twilight Princess further adds to the Goron's original design, colouring them with tribal markings and a lighter skin tone, layering their backs with white hair and in some instances including more artificial elements such as metal guards and frames. Particularly the four elders: Gorons Gor Coron, Gor Ebizo, Gor Liggs and Gor Amoto all feature erratic variations from the original design. Gor Liggs is the most striking as he's covered almost completely in markings. Gor Ebizo is incredibly frail and withered -- yet barmy -- while Gor Amoto is remarkably short. The greater visual disparity between different members of the race (because let's face it, they were all copy and pasted in Ocarina of Time) is more telling of their roles within the culture itself. Dangoro, with his large metal frames establishes the ore mining of which Twilight Princess' Gorons undertake. Gor Ebizo and Gor Amoto are obviously tribal elders (ie. they look old) and Darbus's flattop haircut, menacing size and chiseled arm hair (fur?) showcase him as the tribal patriarch.

Another Take on Memberships

Twilight Princess has a much more aggressive take on memberships. Unlike in the other two examples where Gorons are normally friendly creatures, they initially act very hostile towards Link attempting to keep him away from Spectacle Rock; their area of residence, perched above Kakariko Village. Link must first acquire the iron boots and use them in his ascent, combating with Gorons along the way.

Once he reaches the top, he is challenged by Gor Coron in a friendly match of sumo-wrestling, once defeating him he wins the trust of the elder and respect of the tribe. Again, the series explores ingroup/outgroup relations and the tribal leadership structure, but in a slightly different light. The leadership is a little more elaborate this time. Rather than having a single leader, the tribe is governed by four elders and Darbus, the patriarch. The interplay between elders is also expanded, with Link sumo-wrestling with one and meeting the rest in the Goron Mines who each give Link a piece of key. Later a few of the elders integrate into Kakariko Village.

Culture-specific Produce and Trading

Along with sumo-wrestling, Twilight Princess features hot springs and hot spring water quite prominently. Once the hostility is calmed at Spectacle Rock, Gorons and even Zoras come to the famous hot springs for relaxation. In Castle Town, hot spring water is popular among residents who que into the streets, awaiting a serve. Hot Spring water is a staple of Goron life and exists only in their territory, yet they capture and exchange the resource among the different societies. It's a culture specific product which is merchandized as such.

Conclusion

Through each of the three core iterations we can observe how each title layers our understanding of the Goron culture by continually expanding the norms of the society as well as providing different angles to interface with them. The two traditional titles; Ocarina of Time and Twilight Princess generally focus on the outgroup activities (Link is a foreigner after all), with either title providing a different means on entering the ingroup society. Majora's Mask avoids this and centres its narrative firmly within the ingroup, explicating ingroup affairs. We also see the culture continually be reinvented through evolving visual design, narratives and gameplay scenarios.

[Daniel Johnson spends too many late nights conversing Mandarin to friends in Shanghai. He studies language and culture, and shares most of his video game musings on his blog at danielprimed.com]

Final EVO2K9 Matches: Justin Wong vs Daigo Umehara

If this Justin Wong vs Daigo Umehara match-up sounds familiar to you, it could be because of their recent bout at the GameStop Street Fighter IV National Tournament last April, but most likely you recognize the names from their much-linked and unforgettable EVO 2004 round.

Japanese professional gamer Daigo was victorious over his American rival in both encounters, so many were eager to see if Wong would be able to reverse his fortunes when the two met again at the Street Fighter IV grand finals at EVO 2009, taking place in Las Vegas over the weekend.

I won't spoil the winner, but you can watch the video captured from Ustream.TV's live coverage for the final eight minutes of their match and of the show. Notice that the footage starts with the third fight in a best out of five match, with the score tied 1-1. Umehara is playing as Ryu, while Wong, who began the match with Abel, switched to Balrog for the rest of the bout.

Several great photographs shot by Terry Ng during their match:

Ryan "gootecks" Gutierrez, who you might remember from the I Got Next documentary, also had an interesting interview with the champion afterwards:

Boon: NBA Rejected Mortal Kombat Easter Egg Court

Mortal Kombat co-creator Ed Boon uncovered yet another lost art piece from the series' history, a Mortal Kombat-themed basketball court intended as an Easter egg for one of Midway's NBA Jam and Hangtime home console ports.

"... the NBA said no," Boon lamented on his Twitter account. "The spine held up the backboard. The skull was the hoop, and the flesh head was the basketball. Would've been fun!"

Considering the heightened ESRB rating that these Mortal Kombat details would have acquired, it's understandable why the NBA declined the offer. I'm sure parents would not have appreciated seeing their kids dribbling fleshy heads (though it doesn't sound even half as violent as some of the acts in the Mutant League sports series games).

[Via 1UP]

8-Bit Weezer Tribute Album Delivers On Rad Concept

I expected The 8-bit Album, Pterodactyl Squad's compilation Weezer tribute album, to be great just on the strength of the artists slated to contribute -- Tugboat, PDF Format, I Fight Dragons, and many other well-regarded figures in the chiptune scene.

But the quality of this free release is a surprise; it's one of the finest compilations I've heard in recent memory. Anamanaguchi, producing a rare song with vocals, totally kills "Holiday". Unicorn Dream Attack, a new favorite of mine, captures that same early 90s alternative rock feel "Jamie" exuded on the DGC Rarities album.

And Bit Shifter's take on "The World Has Turned And Left Me Here" alone is worth the download. You can download individual songs or grab the whole album from Pterodactyl Squad's site.

[Thanks, Paul!]

Interview: Gray, Gabler On Experimental Gameplay Project's Return

[The Experimental Gameplay Project, a key element in indie games' evolution, has returned, and I chatted (with write-up help from Chris Remo!) with co-founders Kyle Gray (Henry Hatsworth) and Kyle Gabler (World of Goo) about their plans.]

The Experimental Gameplay Project, by which lone developers would create seven-day game prototypes around common themes, was born at Carnegie Mellon University and featured creators who went on to become crucial figures in the modern indie scene.

Now, the project, which featured -- among other things -- Tower Of Goo, the original prototype for 2D Boy's World Of Goo, has returned, with participation by several of its original members as well as new ones.

The roster is an all-star list of indie notables: Professor Hatsworth designer Kyle Gray, World of Goo co-creator Kyle Gabler (who, as mentioned, built that game's predecessor in the original EGP), Maxis engineer Shalin Shodhan, Crayon Physics creator Petri Purho, and World of Goo programmer Allan Blomquist.

Following the announcement that the project would return, Gamasutra sat down with Kyle Gabler and Kyle Gray, both of whom were involved in the original incarnation, to discuss what led to the reboot, its future plans, and development beyond the core group:

Why restart Experimental Gameplay Project? What do you hope to learn from running the site? Are you having fun yet?

Kyle Gray: As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to reboot the site. There were just too many things that conspired to eat up my free time, like relationships, games, making a living -- you know, all the unessential stuff.

It's also great to be back in the prototyping mindset. Banging out a game in seven days is horribly fun, whereas the last two months of alpha are just plain horrible.

Now that I have more time to devote to the site, I'd love to use it to discover more indie developers. Our old site was rather chaotic -- at times it was hard to tell if the game you were downloading was a title by some awesome up-and-coming one-man game-making brigade or some company using EGP to advertise its crappy shooter.

With our new, improved site I'm really hoping we'll find more people like Petri or [Jonathan] "Cactus" [Soderstrom] -- and one way to do that is by grabbing the best people we know and forcing them to battle to the death in a no-holds bar game making competition!

Kyle Gabler: It's easy to lose touch with reality when working on the same thing for months and months. I'm hoping the small periodic projects will force us and other indie devs to remain nimble and creative, always forcing ourselves to readjust and ask ourselves, "What do people REALLY want to play with?"

The original EGP, alongside a number of other projects, was quite influential in promulgating rapid prototyping as a way to devise high-quality indie titles.

Are you going to be tempted to spin off any of these projects into larger games?

Kyle Gray: Let's hope so! If just one of these prototypes makes it into a full-fledged game, then it's further proof that the system works. But if that doesn't happen, it'll at least make for good practice and a great distraction from making commercial titles.

Kyle Gabler: In IGF 2008, all but one of the winners began as a small prototype! It would be sad, though, if unscrupulous dev houses turn all of our creators' prototypes into 99-cent [iPhone] App Store clones.

Is there a regular set of participants every month, and how do you decide which "guest stars" to add to the line-up?

Kyle Gray: At this point we're made up of a core team of five guys, but a few friends have already contacted us to participate in next month's round. I'm also hoping visitors will participate by sending us their own games. Wouldn't that be a great way to discover new guest stars?

Kyle Gabler: Yeah. Our site has been up for less than a week and we're surprised how many user-submitted games we've already received without even asking for them! I think we'll officially open it up, and solicit user submissions every month as well, and probably post a roundup of the best user games submitted, in addition to the "core" team's games.

Why don't more high-profile creators try releasing fun themed mini-games for free?

Kyle Gray: Probably because of "time" or "budget" or other such constraints. That or maybe their legal departments are ultra-conservative. I couldn't imagine having to check trademarks or copyrights every time I release a crappy seven-day prototype. Luckily, it's a well-known fact that indies are broke. Otherwise, I'd probably have to be more cautious like the big boys.

Kyle Gabler: Lots of amazing indie devs release small games for free constantly. Just browse through TIGSource, Indie Games, Jay is Games, or Offworld any day of the week!

I think more of them need to recognize their own potential and think about turning their well-received free games into more high-profile console games so more people outside the indie scene can play them.

Tell us a funny thing that happened during the making of your first EGP game.

Kyle Gray: Man -- it hurts to think that far back.

The first EGP game I made was a competitive two-man title called Opposites Attract. Not only did I not know how to use Flash, but I didn't know how to make art either! The whole thing looks and sounds pretty crappy.

It was also one of the first times I can recall ever having to use math or physics in my life. I remember franticly searching online for the proper equations. It really makes me wish I'd started making games in high school.

As bad as that was, it was nothing compared to the next round, "Springs." Kyle made the awesome Tower of Goo while I turned out that stinker Feedin' Frenzy. It was a step up in graphics, but the whole game was busted.

I remember Shalin and Kyle trying to explain spring physics to me, but it broke my head. So, as a result, I try to stay away from all but the most basic physics.

Kyle Gabler: Kyle Gray got us all addicted to coffee. And flavored vodka. After a few weeks making games, we were feeling sucked dry of creative juice, so we went to a children's science museum for inspiration and played with all the toys, like the wall made of pins that you can stick your hands or face into and a 3D mold of your body parts comes out on the other side.

We forgot that kids are covered in snot and urine and germs, and we all got really sick from sticking our face in science.

Invader Zim Creator, 2K Introduce BioShock 2 Artist Series

Recognizing the draw that BioShock's distinctive atmosphere and character designs has on artists, 2K Games announced its BioShock 2 artist series, a collection of works from several artists inspired by the underwater city of Rapture and its inhabitants. 2K will show off the pieces in the coming months.

The first revealed painting is "The Sisters" (completed version below) by Jhonen Vasquez, creator of Invader Zim and Johnny the Homicidal Maniac. Vasquez posted a detailed article on the piece's creation with early sketches, and plans to sign a limited edition of 500 prints at the BioShock 2 booth in this weekend's San Diego Comic-Con.

GameSetLinks: The Glass Half-Full Incubator

[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 bumper set of GameSetLinks this week, then, with the Artsy Game Incubator birthing more neatness, courtesy of those smart Toronto indie artists and game developers (and both!) Would be nice to see more worldwide outposts of this, in addition to the Montreal one that's apparently upcoming.

Also up in here - NPR on video games, fun BT Electroplankton-y music manipulating iPhone apps, Lords Of Midnight, nice things about game journalism, and a plethora of other things to poke and divine at.

Hanging on a star:

VGPC: What One Tweet and One Link Can Do
Talks about the Nintendo World Championships cart purchase story - first linked to by me - and its travel around the Internet. Stats-wise, looks like we are trendsetters rather than traffic-drivers, ahem.

Press Pass: Top 10 Good Things the Internet Has Brought to Game Journalism > Kyle Orland > 7/16/2009 9:05 AM | Crispy Gamer
I like it! I think I was a bit irked by the original glass half-empty article, and didn't link it, tsk.

Artsy Games Incubator » Games
A bunch of new games from artists, looking very neat, too - Alpinist, heh.

On 'The Path,' Everything A Big Bad Wolf Could Want : NPR
Yay for Heather Chaplin's thoughtful NPR pieces about video games.

[TOOL-TOY] Remix on your iPhone with BT & Sonik Architects' Sonifi
Strictly speaking not a game, but quite Electroplankton-like in its real-time manipulation fun. Helps if you are a BT fan (which I am.)

Fort90 Journal » Best Smile: Samus Aran
Now that Nickelodeon mag died (aw!), Matthew Hawkins shows off some fun video game-themed pieces he wrote for the kids mag.

The Making Of: Lords Of Midnight | Edge Online
A pretty obscure game outside Europe, but quite an interesting and important one.

MTV Multiplayer » Blog Archive » Indie Game Challenge - The ProAm Of Game Development
'Another interesting limitation is that the entries can't exceed 4 hours in length from start to finish. "For games that have an end," Olin specifies.' Not sure if this is a misquote, but that's a bit... odd.

July 19, 2009

Develop 2009: Matsuura Urges Thinking Beyond Rhythm-Action For Music Games

[This'll be our last xpost from our Develop Conference coverage, courtesy of Simon Parkin, and thanks to both him and Mathew Kumar for covering the idea-rich UK dev conf for us - more coverage in Gamasutra news, if you want to poke around.]

We've only scratched the surface of what is possible in music games, said NanaOn-Sha president Masaya Matsuura in a spirited talk delivered at Brighton's Develop Conference.

Matsuura, who is widely credited with inventing the rhythm-action genre with his PlayStation title PaRappa the Rapper, challenged creatives in this booming genre to expand their horizons.

"Music is no longer something to be consumed passively," he said, "but instead something in which we can all have a active role.

"Since time immemorial, music has been used to turn the act of praying and worship in to a communal act," said Matsuura. "It’s always been something that has spread virally, so it’s perfectly natural that we have come to experience music today through communal rhythm games."

"And yet artistic expression and creativity in rhythm games is still in its infancy. I hope that by working and thinking together we have the chance to stretch the possibilities of tomorrow."

Matsuura expressed excitement at how, thanks to Guitar Hero and Rock Band, music games are expanding this young genre. "As we entered the new century, the production of rhythm games has boomed, [mirroring] the music industry’s boom in the 1980s," he said. "The result is that more and more creators have been pushed into indie development, one of the best indicators of rhythm gaming’s rich potential."

"However, if we look closely at the developments that have been made in the relationships between music and games in terms of social networking and all of the other forms of technology and expression, we have hardly touched the possibilities that are now open to us."

Matsuura explained how it has become a personal mission of his to "nurture the wonderful potential of this sub industry." However, he feels as though the rhythm-action label, which came to prevalence following the success of PaRappa, is too restrictive.

"In the beginning, my idea was to make the rhythm elements of music into a game experience with PaRappa the Rapper," said Matsuura. "But both in that game and in my previous titles, my aims have been more wide-ranging. In PaRappa we also looked at ad lib and call and response, while in UmJammer Lammy, I wanted to examine dividing playtime between multiple players."

Matsuura then explained that Vib Ribbon’s systemic theme was to generate game data from any music, while its sequel, Mojib-ribbon, sought to create game data from any lyrics.

"In Musika, [NanaOn-Sha’s first iPod game] we tried generating game data from ID3 metadata, while, in our most recent game, Major Minor’s Majestic March, we allowed the player to play with the tempo of music, as well as its rhythm. These are just some of the early steps we’ve been taking in trying to expand music gaming beyond ‘Rhythm Action’."

Matsuura also expressed dismay at how restricted music games have been in their choice of musical genres. "I would be so happy to see a game based around traditional Japanese music, or one featuring Buddhist prayers or chanting," he said.

"Rock Band: The Beatles will fulfill the dreams of many rock fans. But what about fans of other musical styles? Why not give players the chance to conduct the London Philharmonic, for example?"

Beyond diversifying the use of musical genre, Matsuura challenged music game makers to also investigate other game genres in which to make music interactive. "Why not create an open world game that allows players to use of hundreds of musical objects to make impromptu music?"

"Publishers might say these experiences would be too niche. But you only need look at a game like Wii Music to see that creating a game designed to appeal to everybody is not always a guaranteed success."

GameSetNetwork: Best Of The Week

Rounding up the last seven days, it's time to recap the top full-length features and news of the past week on big sister site Gamasutra, plus extra features and Game Design Challenge goodness from fellow edu site GameCareerGuide.

Some highlights here - the in-depth Ken Levine interview about 2K Boston's studio culture that's been getting a lot of notice, plus Ignition interviews, designing combat zones, the history of Defender, game design education, the sandbox game genre explored, Matt Matthews on PSP's digital rush, and more.

Lemmings go:

Ken Levine on Studio Culture: From Looking Glass to 2K Boston
"In a major new interview, BioShock creator Ken Levine talks to Gamasutra about staffing up 2K Boston for his "substantially more ambitious" next project, studio culture, philosophy, and more."

The History and Theory of Sandbox Gameplay
"In this in-depth Gamasutra analysis, game professional Breslin examines the history and current state of the 'sandbox game', looking at modern games like Grand Theft Auto IV and Spore to see how they fulfill the concept of unlimited, unfettered creativity."

Anatomy of a Combat Zone
"In this detailed design article, Blue Castle (Dead Rising 2) level design director Bridge examines how you design memorable, tactical combat areas for first/third-person shooter games."

The History of Defender: The Joys of Difficult Games
"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 examine Eugene Jarvis' devious but delightful 1980 arcade game Defender and its descendants."

Lighting The Ignition: Jumping From Niche to Triple-A?
"In an in-depth interview, the principals behind fast-growing publisher Ignition Entertainment, backed by Indian Bollywood media giant UTV, explains its current import-centered (Muramasa, King Of Fighters) business plan and hints at publishing plans that center on multiple triple-A games aimed at North American audiences."

Teaching Game Design: Problems in Educating the Next Generation
"Masters student Prinke explores current trends in education in the field of digital game design and details the problems involved in trying to marry academics with entertainment."

Sponsored Feature: How to be a Game Designer Right Now
"In a new LA Film School-sponsored Game Career Guide feature, faculty member Michael Dawson discusses great entry paths into elementary game design, from paper designing to simple 2D game creation tools."

Analysis: The Great PSP Software Rush of 2009
"As PSP Go's launch approaches, Sony is making a massive PlayStation Store-based digital distribution push -- and Gamasutra examines the shift, alongside exclusive stats on the top PSP downloads via PSN."

COLUMN: 'Game Mag Weaseling': The Storage Blues

['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.]

P1030282.jpg    P1030682.jpg

Hey, magazine collectors! (Or, for that matter, any other kind of game-junk collector!) How are your storage solutions looking these days?

Myself, I am almost out of space. I'm not acquiring much old stuff the way I used to, but given that I subscribe to everything available in the US, magazines have a tendency to pile up over the months whether I want them to or not.

As a result, all the shelves in my ferret room/office/magazine library (above, left) are full up. No further admittance allowed. There's no more room for shelves, and I don't want to fill the entire room full of shelving like some university library, because (a) the ferrets would be annoyed and climb all over it (b) I still have a little (just a little) self-respect.

To cope with this, I've taken the magazines I use the least in my personal reading -- the thousand-ish Japanese volumes from the PlayStation era onward, and the most recent US/UK mags after I'm done reading and covering them in this column -- and put them into a spare, unfinished closet. The J-mags are stacked, while the modern English-language titles get neatly organized in banker boxes along the wall. Up on the shelves are doubles, and as you can see, I've got a lot of doubles accumulated. They'll find a loving home somewhere, I'm sure...but I've yet to figure out where.

It being a hot, sultry weekend in Houston and me finding myself waiting around for the AC repairman to arrive, I'd like to close up this week's column early and turn over this topic to you -- especially those of you with crazy collections. How do you store your stuff? Are you finding physical storage space becoming a problem? Have you ever wondered "Oh God, what am I gonna do with all this when I move?"

[Kevin Gifford breeds ferrets and runs Magweasel, a really cool weblog about games and Japan and "the industry" and things. In his spare time he does writing and translation for lots and lots of publishers and game companies.]



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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