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August 1, 2009

Round-Up: Gamasutra Network Jobs, Week Of July 31

In our latest employment-tastic round-up, we highlight some of the notable jobs posted in big sister site Gamasutra's industry-leading game jobs section this week, including positions from 2K Boston, Sony Santa Monica, and more.

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

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

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

2K Boston: Principal Combat Designer
"2K Boston, the team that made BioShock (and also SWAT 4, Freedom Force, and System Shock 2), is looking for a talented, experienced game designer to be the driving force behind the combat experience in on our next big project, an unannounced shooter."

Demiurge Studios: Lead Animator
"Demiurge Studios is an independent game developer, located near Boston. We maintain a creative, energetic atmosphere where individual input matters. We work on high profile games and homegrown IP. We offer competitive salaries, benefits and sane working hours. We're looking for outstanding lead animators. Experience, personality and leadership are key. Strong traditional & digital animation skills required. Management experience and modeling know-how a plus. Come join our team!"

Sony Santa Monica: Producer
"Be a part of the most exciting and innovative computer entertainment in North America. Sony Computer Entertainment America (SCEA) markets the PlayStation family of products and develops, publishes, markets, and distributes software for the PS one console, PlayStation 2, PlayStation®3, and the PlayStation Portable (PSP) computer entertainment systems."

Rockstar Toronto: Game Programmer
"At Rockstar Toronto, we provide a highly creative work environment and develop some of the most respected and widely recognized titles in video games for current and next-gen consoles. Our Studio was responsible for the 2005 videogame adaptation of the cult classic film The Warriors, a critically-acclaimed return to old-school brawler gameplay on the PS2 and Xbox. Recently we have worked on ManHunt 2, Bully: The Scholarship Edition and Grand Theft Auto IV."

Other Ocean Interactive: Producer
"Other Ocean Group is seeking an experienced VIDEO GAME PRODUCER to join their new development studio in St John's, Newfoundland, Canada! St John's is rich in culture, has an active arts community, a lively night life, and an active music scene. With low crime rates, friendly neighbors, great schools, and a cost of living that offers a quality of life with no comparison, it's all too easy to call St John's "Home". Join our dynamic, and expanding team!"

Next Level Games: Network Programmer
"NLG is hiring! As the only North America developer entrusted with the Mario IP, we’ve created two top selling titles, Super Mario Strikers and Mario Strikers Charged and we’ve recently release our third Nintendo title Punch-Out!! Our current projects hit all consoles across a variety of genres. Voted the ‘Best Company to Work for in BC’, NLG has made a mark on the industry by creating a company where people can make the games they love and still have the life they want."

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

Interview: Inside The Denki Philosophy

[As it happens, Denki's Colin Andersen just posted a really neat Gamasutra Expert Blog called 'What Has The iPhone Really Changed?', and Christian Nutt also just interviewed him on his v.Scottish firm and their ever-fun alternative attitude.]

Scottish developer Denki Games has a fascinating genesis. Founded by ex-DMA Design employees, the studio did Game Boy Advance titles Denki Blocks and Go! Go! Beckham before investing for years in the digital interactive television space.

Now, though, Denki's making a return to the console space with Quarrel for Xbox Live Arcade, and in this interview, Gamasutra takes the opportunity to dig into the intriguing studio -- which since its 2000 launch, has been credited with over 180 games.

We talk to managing director Colin Anderson on the studio's history, its moves away from the DiTV space, the heritage of the Scottish development scene, and Denki's goals with Quarrel, which Anderson says features not "casual," but "player-focused" design.

Can you give me a brief history/background of the company and its founders?

Colin Anderson: Denki was set up in 2000 by some ex-DMA Design staff as a direct reaction against the technological arms-race prevalent in the games industry at the time. We wanted to get back to making snack-sized games focused on fun, instead of these pseudo-cinematic, 100 hour, interactive stories focused around technology. Back in 1999, that's all we could see looming on DMA's development horizon so it seemed like a good time to go.

It was founded by four people: Colin Anderson, who was in charge of DMA's Audio Department; Stewart Graham, who was head of DMA's Design Department; Aaron Puzey, who was one of the R&D programmers responsible for DMA's 3D games engine; and David Jones, who was the founder and Managing Director of DMA.

We were also joined soon after by Gary Penn, who had been DMA's Creative Manager and Gary Timmons, who created the iconic Lemmings animations from the first game.

The company made a couple of Game Boy Advance games but then moved to set-top boxes and mobile. Was it digital distribution (e.g. XBLA) that lured you back towards the console market? Why did you leave in the first place?

CA: We left in the first place because we realized how fundamentally broken the console games market was for any sort of game developer aspiring to create original games rather than pump out sequels or franchised product.

Interactive TV was the first platform in the world to offer game developers digital distribution with micro-payments. We could make our games available to six million people on a Friday evening, and by Monday morning when we came back in to the office we knew whether the game was a hit or not. That was in 2001. It took the console market almost another five years to get there.

We honestly expected interactive TV to be the future of gaming, and to some extent that's still the case. They had digital distribution and micro-payments; all they needed was better hardware to improve the quality of the user experience, which coming as we did from a gaming background, we expected would happen relatively quickly.

However, interactive TV had its own problems that prevented the hardware from evolving as fast as it needed to, and so those companies missed the opportunity.

Once the console manufacturers began to add networking capabilities to their new generation devices that piqued our interest, and by the time we'd actually experienced Xbox Live Arcade from a user's perspective we knew right away that it was exactly the sort of platform Denki had been waiting for. So we packed up our interactive TV projects and headed on back to console land!

Your XBLA game Quarrel is, for lack of a better word, casual-oriented. What do you think of the current potential of that audience to embrace an XBLA game like yours? Who do you see as the audience?

CA: We don't actually consider it casual-focused – we consider it player-focused. Our development process puts the player at the centre of the experience and prioritises their needs at all times. Which might sound trite because, after all, isn't that what every developer does when they're making games? Well, perhaps; but probably not in the same way we mean it.

So in terms of the "Casual" audience you describe embracing an XBLA game, we consider that a bit beside the point because we're only trying to make the best XBLA game we can, for XBLA users. Our aim is to make the best game we can for each and every platform we deliver Quarrel for, so once we start building Quarrel for platforms where users have different expectations and requirements then we'll re-interpret it accordingly.

That way we'll hopefully never get in to a situation where one audience is required to make do with the requirements of a different audience.

How many people are working at Denki right now, on how many projects? (If more than just Quarrel, what formats are you looking at for projects right now?)

CA: We have 20 people, working on two projects right now: Quarrel, and something for the Wii.

It seems to me that a faux 16-bit 2D platformer in the manner of Go! Go! Beckham could really work well on download services. Do you think that these kinds of games could appeal to the core audience?

CA: Again, we just don't think in those terms – core, casual, whatever. We make Denki Games -– that's it; and we'll leave it up to each player's own taste to decide whether it's core or casual enough, if that's important to them.

We wouldn't presume to try and prescribe what others will or won't find fun – that seems somewhat arrogant. However, having grown up loving all sorts of computer and video games our whole lives we know in great detail what we find fun ourselves, and therefore what we want in our games. We expect many of the same things we like will resonate with others, but we certainly don't presume that.

But yes, we're sure a Go! Go! Beckham! style platformer could be made in to a really fun downloadable game, regardless of platform or audience.

What kind of tools and tech do you use currently in the development of Quarrel? How important is tech to this kind of development in your view?

CA: Tech's important only in so far as it mustn't diminish the player's experience. As far as Denki is concerned technology is only an enabler, it's not an end result in and of itself. Fun is the end result – that's what's important and everything else must serve that, whether it's art, audio, technology or anything else.

We've built all the tech we're using in-house, not because we think we can do it better than the existing game engines on the market, but simply because they're usually far too complicated for what we require.

What's the plan for the company overall -– i.e. what markets and platforms do you want to stick with? Do you have thoughts on the "right size" for your shop?

CA: We'd like to get Denki to a point where it's functioning as a factory for original games -– not in any negative connotation of the word; more in the way Pixar are heading with their factory approach to original movies. The right size will be determined by the requirements of the process we establish.

As for platforms, our attitude hasn't changed since we set Denki up –- we don't care about the platform, we only care about the quality of the experience we can deliver to the user. If someone shows us an ATM or a fridge that can deliver a compelling experience for players, we'll be there!

What about your prototyping and design process? How did you arrive at the unusual combination of gameplay in Quarrel? Simple observation or experimentation?

CA: Iteration, iteration, iteration. There's no shortcuts to finding fun that we're aware of.

Did you test with a paper version of the game or move straight to development from a document?

CA: It was fully prototyped with a paper version to make sure it would be fun before anyone went anywhere near a computer, whether it was to type a document or start coding the game.

Scotland is obviously a very prominent location for game development between studios like Rockstar North and Realtime Worlds. Is there an emerging scene in Scotland...?

CA: Scotland's been the crucible of several of the UK's biggest franchises since as far back as the early 90's. Lemmings; Grand Theft Auto; Crackdown – these all have their genesis in Scotland, and Dundee in particular.

What we're beginning to see now is a second and third generation of developers emerging in Scotland, who have been through the learning process in other games companies and then established their own with the intention of doing things better. That, coupled with the visionary support from local government and academia has combined to produce something very special here. Expect to be hearing a lot more from Scottish game companies over the coming years.

In fact, the DNA of these studios all came from from DMA Design. Can you talk about that evolution?

CA: For 10 years from 1989 to 1999, DMA acted as a giant talent-magnet, pulling people from all over the world to Dundee. Once the light started to fade at DMA it was inevitable that the people who had worked there and who had become extremely skilled as a result would want to establish their own studios in the local area. The same thing has happened in many other areas of the world where large developers were based -– Sheffield, Liverpool, Guilford, etc., etc.

That's certainly what happened with Denki –- we'd learned as much as we could working at DMA, and we weren't excited by working on yet more versions of GTA, so we decided to do our own thing.

Each time a huge hit is created, there seems to be at least one team formed off the back of it. Lemmings spawned Visual Science; GTA spawned Rockstar North, Realtime Worlds and Denki; and Crackdown has already spawned Ruffian. If a new developer is the true sign of a hit game, then we'd hope to see at least one new team formed off the back of Quarrel too!

Looking at this list of games developed by Denki on Wikipedia is simply staggering – can you actually explain what constitutes a "game" in the set-top box context?

CA: The same thing that constitutes a game on any other platform -– a discrete, self-contained, purchasable product that can be played from start to finish by a user -– hopefully for the purpose entertainment!

They're designed to be entertaining for short periods, rather than to sustain long-term play, and they're probably closer to early mobile phones in terms of the type of user experience that can be delivered. But the screen resolution is considerably higher than phones, so it's possible to make something that looks really good.

The Wikipedia page suggests you're getting into Wii development. Can you comment?

CA: We're not quite ready to start talking about that yet. However, all will be revealed...

Best Of Indie Games: When Pigs Fly, It Is a Night to Remember

[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 goodies in this edition include a new Flash game from the developer of Mighty Jill Off, an offbeat physics-based platformer, a puzzle game centered around the manipulation of vector fields, an adventure game about a con man and his last job before retirement, plus a free-to-download PC version of an upcoming Xbox Live Indie Games release.

Game Pick: 'When Pigs Fly' (dessgeega, browser)
"When Pigs Fly tells the story of a pig who conveniently grows wings after falling down a hole and finding itself trapped inside a dark cave. Unfortunately the pair of wings are preventing a quick escape from the same entry point, so the only thing left to do is to explore the caverns and seek another way out."

Game Pick: 'Seven' (Makibishi Inc., browser)
"Seven is a short physics-based puzzler created by the developers of the popular adventure game Makibishi Comic, in which your quest is to restore balance to a strange planet by travelling to each of the seven stages and retrieving the stars found within. You are allowed to play the stages in any order you like, although one of the puzzles can only be solved with the use of a particular item from another level."

Game Pick: 'Disk Field' (Jeremy Appleyard, browser)
"Disk Field is a short puzzler based on manipulating vector fields to push a spinning disk through each level. It starts off nice and simple but eventually gets pretty challenging. There's also really not that much to it, yet it's still strangely compelling. Be warned that a few levels towards the end require concentration of the highest levels."

Game Pick: 'A Night To Remember' (Ethan Damschroder, freeware)
"Nathan Carter has one more big job to finish before he can take an early retirement, but his final con doesn't go exactly as planned. A Night To Remember sees Nathan plunged into a story he'd much rather not be part of. It's your typical adventure game with an interesting and sinister tale that will take around half an hour to complete."

Game Pick: 'Gum Drop Celestial Frontier' (Elbert Perez, freeware)
"Don't let the long and rather odd name put you off - this is a free-to-download PC version of Elbert Perez's upcoming Xbox Live Community Games title 'Gum Drop Celestial Frontier'. While your ship doesn't have any lasers to take on the incoming enemies, it does have the SMASH ball, which can be swung around your ship and, well, smashed into your opponents. There's also a few other different moves which can be pulled off, and many powerups to try out. The game itself feels nicely polished and well worth a look-in."

July 31, 2009

Bittersweet: R-Type Tactics II Trailer

Revealed earlier this week and garnering chuckles at every gaming site that posted the game's goofy subtitle, R-Type Tactics II: Operation Bitter Chocolate now has a Japanese trailer that you can sample -- you won't find any gameplay footage, but it's difficult to impassion gamers with clips of hex-based, turn-based strategy.

This PSP sequel to R-Type Command (as it's known in the States) will feature over 200 units -- double that of the original -- that players can manage on battle fields, as well as an increased emphasis on 3D cutscenes. Irem plans to release the game in Japan as a retail product for ¥5,040 ($53) and a digital download for ¥3,800 ($40)

There is no word yet on whether Atlus, who localized R-Type Command for North America last year, or any other publishers will deliver this box of Operation Bitter Chocolate across the Pacific.

[Via Siliconera]

COLUMN: 'Roboto-chan!': Transformers - Robots in Demise

transformers_convoy1.png['Roboto-chan!' is a GameSetWatch-exclusive column written by Ollie Barder, which covers videogames that feature robots and the pop-cultural folklore surrounding them. This column covers the more recent attempts at making a Transformers game and why the franchise has critically stalled somewhat.]

Like many of my generation, I grew up watching a lot of cartoons. One of which was Transformers and like with many shows of that era many of my childhood friends owned the toys as well. We would play Autobots and Decepticons in our respective gardens, re-enacting the aeon long struggle between mechanical good and evil. Of all the mecha franchises birthed in Japan, Transformers is one that has the greatest amount of cultural common ground in the West; there's an almost implicit understanding of how these fictional living machines operate.

Yet, for all this commonality the vast majority of the games that attempt to re-produce those afternoons of toy robot battling end up being disjointed and functionally quite fractured.

I've already covered something similar about the various Macross games, as that franchise has a very close mechanical linkage to Transformers, but the issue here isn't a technical and logistical one but a cultural one in regards to the ability of learning from what has gone before.

Before I even get started, it's worth clarifying one very important point; Transformers as we know it in the West started as a follow-on toyline from the Takara Microman range in Japan. It was originally known as Diaclone and featured the benign Cybertron robots and their evil Waruder counterparts. The main mecha designers on this were Shoji Kawamori and Kazutaka Miyatake, both of which would go onto work on Macross and steer the real robot transformation for the next quarter of a century.

Understanding that Transformers began in Japan helmed by two renowned mecha designers is crucial in untangling the subsequent awkward game mechanics used in the last decade of tie-ins. As the mecha genre of gaming has very much evolved in-line with the mythos that inspires it, whereas Transformers has existed in an almost singular manner in the West.

However this singular approach is an artificially created one borne of far less noble motivations than simple incompetence. It's a forced form of cultural ignorance stemming from an excess of pride - as the means and information to make these games better exists abroad, yet this resource has been wilfully ignored.

The following four games have been chosen to highlight this situation, as they are all third person shooters of a sort all of which trying to execute the same premise (though with wildly varying implementation, despite the forcibly standardised genre framework).

The final two entries are obviously multi-platform tie-ins but I've covered the Xbox 360 releases in case anyone is wondering.

Transformers Tataki (2003)

transformers_tataki_cover.jpgThis game was the first in the line of mecha third-person shooter games, unlike the other games, this featured the Generation One mecha and narrative. Interestingly, the developer behind this, winky soft, had quite a long history of working with mecha based franchises. They'd helmed a lot of the more challenging Super Robot Wars games for the Saturn and PlayStation (notably that of F and F Final) as well as the excellent Macross: Scrambled Valkyrie on the Super Famicom. In short, they were no stranger to the culturally bespoke rule sets the genre requires, especially in regards to transformation and how that effectively changes the game you're playing on the fly.

So whilst winky soft had the experience with the genre, they unfortunately didn't have the technical budget to deliver a shiny third person action game on the PlayStation 2. What transpired was a technically average game plagued with a fair few issues regarding the spatial effectiveness of melee combat.

That said, the transformation abilities were used extensively and sympathetically with the license, as transformation used energy and had to be deployed tactically. In addition, after extended play it was very obvious that a lot of the more restrictive elements of the game added an intended element of strategy (this was especially true of the wingmen placement).

Generally, this game doesn't review well but a lot of that is based around lack of the graphical veneer in the eyes of the Western press rather than the functional elements. This game was also never released outside of Japan, despite the extensive use of English voice overs.

Unfortunately, the remaining tie-ins get functionally worse after this.

Transformers (2004)

transformers_cover.jpgThis followed Tataki about a year later and featured mecha from the Armada series, it was developed by Melbourne House (who are now known as Krome Studios) and featured an extensive amount of publicity in the West due to its impressive game engine.

This is where a different set of issues start to surface with the games, as the focus now is more about trying to make a pedestrian third person shooter rather than a mecha game that features transforming robots.

Specifically, this game almost actively hindered the player in regards to using the transformation abilities of the mecha and instead forced the player to rely on run-and-gun shooter mechanics. There were also some very awkward platform sections later on in the game which also felt very out of place.

The game engine was very impressive but it suffered from serious framerate issues that made a lot of the more frenetic encounters actually quite nauseating. It also didn't help that the extensive use of motion blur made tracking enemies even harder. So even as a pedestrian third person shooter, it really didn't work very well.

Ultimately, the game itself was functionally pretty poor as consequence of all this. However, the graphically impressive game engine garnered a favourable following in the press and it reviewed better as a result.

Transformers: The Game (2007)

transformers_the_game_cover.jpgThis was the first of the recent movie tie-ins and developed by Traveller's Tales, the studio behind the various Lego games. The design mandate was still an obviously standardised one; in that it forced the mecha into a third-person shooter framework. However, the mistakes that Melbourne House had made weren't really acknowledged or learnt from and instead of following on from that, Traveller's Tales went down an even more open world route.

Now, that isn't necessarily a bad thing to do and actually affords greater usage of the transformation abilities of the mecha themselves, which they thankfully did, but Traveller's Tales decided to make a raft of all new mistakes regarding how the core combat played out.

In short, the camera was the biggest problem as it swayed with the mecha as it walked. This was something used quite subtly in games like Gears of War, which is most probably where the influence stemmed. Unfortunately, when you scale up the protagonists you're effectively putting a lot of leverage on the camera, so it will sway more and make most players feel quite queasy.

Initially, this wasn't an issue as the earlier mecha weren't that big. So whilst it was annoying it was hardly game breaking. However, when bigger mecha became more prevalent, such as Optimus Prime and Megatron, the camera swayed massively and coupled with the fact that by that point most of the enemies were half your size you ended up looking at the ground whilst the camera was swaying uncontrollably. Cue retching and a re-acquaintance with the contents of your stomach.

There were also some other very odd elements as well, such as the inability to transform into vehicle form mid-air as an Autobot and a lag animation delay when you started to climb up a building. The latter was very obvious during the Shockwave boss fight, where you had to effectively do a form of robot parkour to get to each area that the boss had relocated to.

Overall, this game was equally as awkward as the prior Melbourne House effort but this manifested itself in different areas of implementation. It was again as though any prior knowledge of games involving Transformers and mecha in general were wilfully ignored.

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009)

transformers_rotf_cover.jpgThe latest iteration to grace the series and, yes, a whole new raft of functional issues have plagued this game. It's clear though that Activision have more of a direct input across these film tie-ins, as there is an element of broad functional continuity between the titles but like with many publishers, they don't understand how to implement functionality in a cogent way as they're on the outside looking in often without a technical grasp of what their design requests will ultimately manifest themselves as.

Fundamentally, this game and the prior Traveller's Tales effort are quite similar - they afford similar abilities such as the robot parkour, comparable level layouts and emphasis on third person shooter functionality. Thankfully, the camera nonsense is absent but it's been thoroughly replaced by another set of bizarrely awful problems.

To transform into vehicle mode you now have to pull and hold the right trigger. This means your hand can often end up in a form of painful hand cramps over prolonged sessions. To make matters more unfortunate, to control the throttle you have to use the same trigger. So you're often in the situation of trying to reduce speed only to transform back into robot mode. This is exacerbated by the fact there is no sufficient in game messaging to telegraph how close you are to transformation.

This alone is pretty damning but on top of this some bright spark thought it worth coupling the face buttons with transformation, such as advanced jumps, so you're literally wrangling basic manoeuvres from what can only be described as a Rubix cube inspired interface (don't even get me started on the hover controls). What transpires is a game that should be fairly straightforward in terms of the rule set, after all it's pretty much a copy-and-paste third person shooter but ends up being incredibly counter intuitive in terms of its controls. More so than complex games such as Armored Core, as at least the controls are consistent and logical in relation to the game's varied rule sets.

It's worth clarifying one matter though, a few people have cited Piranha Games' involvement with this tie-in and that they're upcoming MechWarrior game will be similarly awkward. Examining the credits shows that they're involvement was purely aesthetic, not functional. So I'm at least cautiously hopeful that Piranha will do MechWarrior and Battletech proud, so long as they watch some Dougram first.

None shall stand...

Ultimately, all of these games are poor entries into the varied pantheon of mecha gaming. However, winky soft's initial entry is the one I have more sympathy for as they clearly had a much smaller budget than all the other games and that reduced their technical scope considerably. That said, if the subsequent developers had taken their head out of the robotic rectum they might have been able to learn from winky soft's unfortunate mistakes and build something better next time around. Instead, arrogance limited their scope and they ended up making all new disparate mistakes. Couple this with the fact that the third person shooter genre is so hugely oversubscribed the inability to at least get those core mechanics right is nigh on criminal.

Whilst a lot of credence is given to the technical achievements of Western development, all of which are hard earned and entirely justified I should add, when it comes to functional achievement we still need a swift anecdote from arrogant complacency and cultural myopia.

Considering the uncharacteristically discouraging tone of this entry to the column, I feel compelled to temper that by finishing off with some constructive comments on how properties like Transformers should be approached from a functional point of view in future.

  • Robots aren't people - Games like Assassin's Creed and Gears of War may initially appear a good fit for re-appropriation when it comes to a mecha game, but they're functionally very disparate approaches. The obvious and main problem is that the scale of mecha is several orders larger than that of a human, so the rule sets that define Marcus Fenix and Altaïr won't fit to a considerably larger mecha. The mechanics aren't scalable from one size to another. You'll end up with controls that a noticeable input lag and all sorts of awkward camera problems, that's just for starters. Even human sized power armour doesn't fit, as the functional parameters are exaggerated within human scale - so you end up at the opposite end of the spectrum; like trying to control a rocket powered kite. Instead of just looking at sales data in regards to an aesthetic genre match (such as a third person shooter), someone somewhere needs to make an informed decision on whether that will actually work with large fictional robots (though in most cases, they won't).
  • Make your mind up - Either make a standard third person shooter or a mecha game, don't try a bizarre halfway house of both.
  • Real world physics shouldn't be applied to imaginary objects - Mecha aren't real and break many laws of physics, even the designs that try to be plausible. Using middleware like Havok and PhysX may seem like an obvious route to take, as it often works well with games focused around human protagonists, but with mecha it just doesn't (look at what happened to Gundam Target in Sight if you don't believe me, as that extensively used PhysX). Now there is an argument for successful implementation of real world physics middleware but it needs to be discerning and sympathetic with the fictional rule sets already well established. In short, until you know a lot more about the mecha mythos in general - leave real world physics well alone.
  • What it says on the tin - If the game's title has "Transformers" written all over it, you might want to consider basing the game around a transformation mechanic and making it accessible to most gamers. Just an idea mind.

[Ollie Barder, formerly a freelance journalist, is now a senior games designer at doublesix. He also spends a sizeable amount of time playing robot games and dusting an ever growing collection of Japanese diecast robot toys.]

Shooting Game Historica 3 SP, EX Gashapon Toys

Online import shop NCSX announced a new shipment of Shooting Game Historica 3 SP, Yujin's third set from its series of gashapon toys modeled after famous shoot'em up ships.

Unlike the non-SP Shooting Game Historica 3 set that we linked last October, the six figures in this collection are boxed in "fancy cardboard containers" instead of in plastic capsules.

The SP edition also includes the Raiden mk-IIb blue model (Yujin previously shipped the Raiden mk-II in red only), and variant colors for several of the other toys. Here's the full list of the included crafts:

  • Wolf Fang - Blue armored mech which carries a blaster rifle
  • Raiden - Raiden mk-II (red) or Raiden mk-IIb (blue)
  • Soukyugurentai - S.O.Q-004 Toryu with multiple movable parts
  • Kaitei Daisensou: In the Hunt - Squat submarine designed by Irem
  • Maneuver Cepter Granada - A blue tank with moxie
  • Star Soldier - The Ceaser which features a transformable cockpit

In related gashapon news, Insert Credit spotted new unpainted models for Thunder Force V's RVR-01 Gauntlet and RVR-02B Brigandine (RVR-01 and RVR-02 Vambrace combined) from the Shooting Historica EX set, spotted at this week's Wonder Festival in Tokyo.

Manufacturer Takara Tomy A.R.T.S. hasn't announced any details on the EX set's release or pricing, but I'm sure it will pop up on NCSX eventually. Apparently, these ships are larger and more detailed than Yujin's past efforts:

[Via Insert Credit, TWComics]

Blueprints For House Of The Dead: Overkill's Packaging, Ads

As part of a case study for its promotional materials behind the title, Birmingham-based advertising/branding agency Fluid has posted dozens of preliminary designs from its work on Headstrong Games's Wii rail shooter House Of The Dead: Overkill.

In Fluid's Flickr set, you'll find art for packaging prototypes (each with a "grindhouse" feel and a corny line), logos, shirts, and the game's site. You can also look through sample two-page print ads, and drafts of the Collector’s Edition graphic novel, "Prelude To An Overkill".

Covers, logos, and shirts below!:

Rock Band Turns It Up To 11

To commemorate the 25th anniversary of mockumentary This is Spinal Tap's theatrical release, Harmonix and MTV Games are adding tracks from the parody heave metal band's recent album Back From the Dead to the Rock Band Music Store.

Released just last month, the Back From The Dead CD features "re-imagined and newly interpreted" versions of all 11 songs from the cult classic film's original soundtrack, as well as six new tracks.

The Spinal Tap songs slated to appear next week on the Rock Band Music Store for the Xbox 360, Wii, and PlayStation 3 editions of Rock Band and Rock Band 2 include the following:

  1. “(Funky) Sex Farm”
  2. “(Listen to the) Flower People (Reggae Stylee)”
  3. “ America ”
  4. “Big Bottom”
  5. “Cups and Cakes”
  6. “Gimme Some Money”
  7. “Heavy Duty”
  8. “Hell Hole”
  9. “Rock ‘n’ Roll Creation”
  10. “Stonehenge”
  11. “Tonight I’m Gonna Rock You Tonight”
The tracks will be available for purchase as part of a "Spinal Tap's Top Ten" bundle, or as individual songs on Xbox 360 and PS3.

Analysis: Why Is Dragon Quest IX So Popular?

[In this editorial, Christian Nutt explores why the Dragon Quest franchise is such a mega-hit in Japan, examining the history and appeal of one of video games' most enduring properties.]

I've set myself a strange task. I'm going to make an attempt to answer one timely question: Why the hell do Japanese people like Dragon Quest so much?

This is an obvious question, because the series is, enduringly -- since the days of the Famicom/Nintendo Entertainment System -- the most popular series in Japan. It debuted in 1986 to over a million in sales, and only got bigger from there.

Not many series of that vintage have that level of currency. It might be industry evolution in terms of audience and gameplay design.

Or it could be the fact that the way the business is run has changed so much over the years but remained more static in Japan -- the big names that helped launch it are still big names, after all. But there are few series with that heritage outside of Nintendo's first-party lineup that can make that claim.

Analyzing DQ's Popularity: By The Numbers

The latest game in the series, Dragon Quest IX: Protectors of the Starry Sky, launched this month in Japan, and has already topped three million copies sold in the country alone. Its predecessor, Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King, sold over three million copies in its home territory, but less than a million in North America.

Square Enix's other major franchise, Final Fantasy, continues to perform very well in North America. The company shipped 1.5 million copies of the most recent entry, Final Fantasy XII, in its first week on sale. After this year's E3, Final Fantasy XIII, releasing early next year in North America, clocked in at number four for overall purchase intent, according to research firm OTX.

Although it hasn't yet launched its North American PR campaign, Dragon Quest IX doesn't even show up on the purchase intent chart. When it comes to DQ, I don't think most people outside of Japan, including gamers, really understand its appeal. And that's fine, but there can be a tendency to assume there's nothing to get. It's easy to imagine that the popularity of the series is just some inexplicable culturally Japanese phenomenon that's not worth wondering about, like anime body pillows or Hard Gay.

I mean, let's look at it like this. The (debatably reliable) VGChartz pegs Dragon Quest V's sales in Japan (for the Super Famicom) at 2.79 million, which sounds reasonable to me. The DS remake of that title was Square Enix's top-selling game in its last fiscal year, selling over a million (counting Europe and North America, this time.)

And what about the last time it was re-released? Japan-only, again, it sold 1.3 million copies in two days on the PlayStation 2, in 2004. It not just sells, but it keeps selling, over and over, as it is continuously remade and rereleased.

The Japanese do love their Dragon Quest. Despite laughably bad graphics for its time and a late launch on the PlayStation several months after the PlayStation 2 arrived, Dragon Quest VII went on to sell 3.78 million copies in Japan.

If you really want to get to the heart of the game's populist appeal, this commercial, for the Japanese release of 1990's Dragon Quest IV, goes straight to it. I don't think I need to say much more.

Analyzing DQ's Popularity: The Cultural Question

I think that this portion of the discussion is both interesting and, to an extent, a red herring. It's always interesting when games cross over into full-blown cultural phenomena. And of course, it's especially interesting if you work in marketing, because you'd slit your wrists to get your hands on the special sauce that powers Dragon Quest-size popularity and dedication.

One key point of the series popularity no doubt rests in the fact that Dragon Ball creator Akira Toriyama has provided the games' art from the get-go. Series creator Yuji Horii got to know Toriyama while working on ridiculously popular boys' manga mag Shonen Jump, and roped him in. Consequently, probably thanks to Toriyama, Shonen Jump started to (and, in fact, continues to) promote Dragon Quest heavily.

This no doubt led directly to sales. The games' 8-bit heyday was concurrent with Dragon Ball's massive popularity in Japan, a phenomenon that didn't begin till the '90s in the U.S. and was completely mistimed for DQ's Western releases -- pretty much every single one. You didn't see Toriyama art on the cover of Dragon Warrior, did you?

The music has always been supplied by known composer Koichi Sugiyama. His work is well-regarded, and not just in games -- in fact, Sugiyama was 55 when DQ first hit shelves, with a background in film. The popularity of his work with DQ however, led to symphonic concerts and, thus, to the eventual boom in arranged game soundtrack CDs and live shows.

While Horii may have not been much of a name when the series began, his Port Pier Serial Murder Case game sold well and is regarded as a classic by fans. And he had to have picked up something of the art of hitmaking writing for Shonen Jump. The publication has been an enduring engine of popularity for manga/anime franchises for decades now, birthing winners like Naruto and Bleach as well as Dragon Ball.

The best Nintendo of America could do was translate the game into faux-Elizabethan English three years after its Japanese release and give it away free to Nintendo Power subscribers when nobody bought the damn thing. (Check the amusing NP scan linked here -- when your best marketing is telling people how popular a game that won't be out in English for four years is, you've got problems.) Talk about a contrast in fortunes.

This discussion is a red herring, in my opinion, because you can sit back and say, "Oh, well, Dragon Quest is popular because of marketing; because of celebrity; because it became an institution in the '80s and everybody's still lazily buying the games."

But this doesn't hold up to examination very well, at least not as the sole or primary reason for the franchise's continued success. Momentum needs to be maintained for 23 years of multi-million sellers; bad entries kill game series all the time.

It's worth nothing that the Japanese were not initially ecstatic about the idea of Dragon Quest on Nintendo DS. Even now, post-release, many players are dissatisfied. It's impossible to know how well these voices represent the majority of players -- although I guess "not very," it possibly lends some credence to the "it's just cultural" argument. But...

...It's Actually Good, Is What I'm Saying

Yes, there are cultural influences at work that did not play out at all in the West. But though I've seen willful ignorance on the part of people who should know better ("People just like crap!"), there's a gameplay side to the equation too. It can't simply be ignored with a harrumph that dismisses the series' seemingly blockheaded adherence to its 1980s roots.

After all, 53.9% of gamers polled by Japanese game bible Famitsu in 2006 didn't like the decision to move to action-based battles for the first time in the series' 20+ year history. Notably, that decision has since been reversed, and DQIX shipped as a turn-based game.

If there's one thing people who dislike Japanese RPGs can't comprehend, it's the appeal of turn-based battles. But it is enduring. I could rhapsodize about them, but I'll spare you; it's enough to acknowledge that this is something gamers actively like; it's not just a byproduct of lazy designers.

When I reviewed Dragon Quest VIII in my former life as an enthusiast critic, I think I finally hit on the series' appeal first-hand. The game is tough but, ultimately, fair. You can progress through any obstacle as long as you keep trying.

Contrary to the way huge numbers of games are designed these days -- notably including the other big RPG series, Final Fantasy -- you're not expected to pretty much keep pressing forward, always seeing new content. with DQ, you'll either have to back your way out of a dungeon (even multiple times!) to resupply and try again, or you're going to die and get sent back to town -- removing choice from the equation. The series' extremely methodical pacing suddenly makes more sense in light of this. It's the core of its accessibility.

This is how the game is deliberately designed; it's not just a relic of the past. This is something I instinctively understood and liked very much when I encountered Phantasy Star for the Sega Master System as an 11 year old in 1988. That game began my love affair with the genre, after all, and despite its extreme difficulty, I eventually beat it. This is the promise that Dragon Quest makes to the player: you will eventually win.

I'm not the only one who gets it: the redoubtable, pretty lovable, but somewhat unreliable Tokyo-based game critic and creator Tim Rogers sums up the series' evolution thus:

"The amount of philosophical maturation occurring between Dragon Quest games is potentially mind-blowing. Make no mistakes: in the video game industry, where the market research has concluded that sequels which add more shit tend to do better financially than their predecessors, it takes a certain amount of determination to convince a corporate executive that you’re going to make a leaner game, and it’s going to be better."

Dragon Quest is simple in every way. The art, provided by Toriyama's Bird Studio, is bright and iconic. The turn-based battles give players time to think, and reverse mistakes through canceling acts before committing to them (i.e. push B to cancel before you finish making all of your choices). They also allow for strategic comebacks in later rounds of combat. The game's structure -- town, field map, dungeon -- is quickly comprehensible, and compartmentalizes danger.

But there's one really big factor, something at least as important as simplicity and rewards for sticktoitiveness.

Whereas I think most Westerners don't get it, Tim gets it. Far better than I can manage, and at greater length, he spells it out in his review of Dragon Quest V. DQV is one of the games that comes up often in debates over which is the series' finest entry. I'll shamelessly steal his insight again:

"...the non-player characters are the world... the NPCs in any given Dragon Quest game are their own self-contained human beings, each painted with a single delicate brushstroke. They're as simple as a woman standing in the middle of a town who tells your hero that her son is a guard at the castle, as intermediate as a soldier at the castle saying he’s worried about his mom back home, and as complicated as a man at one end of a bar who says the woman in the red dress at the other end of the bar looks lonely: in the case of the latter, if you talk to the woman in the red dress, she says that she’s tired of men asking her if she’s lonely. There you have it: a world made of people."

"A world made of people" is not really a gameplay design that came into vogue in the U.S. until MMOs gained popularity, and in that case it means something completely different. You could probably argue that, albeit in a different way, that's what The Sims is going for, and what it achieves, and why it's so popular. Has this started to make sense yet?

1UP's Jeremy Parish, another big fan of the fifth installment, puts it like this:

"Dragon Quest V is the most moving video game I've played in ages. That might seem an unlikely claim, especially given the vintage of the material... the squashy, big-headed sprites who pantomime their way through DQV's world of lumpy polygons and goofball accents tell an arresting and affecting story that lends an actual sense of purpose to the countless battles you'll fight against all those grinning slimes."

I think this deeply humanistic facet of Dragon Quest is even less well-understood than the fact that its gameplay is both genuinely enjoyable and well-liked. Remember, in Dragon Quest IX, you're cast as a guardian angel sent to right wrongs.

So There It Is

These are games that are humanistic, accessible, populist, and driven by the power of respected and famous pop culture creators. When looked at it from that angle, is it any wonder the games are this popular? Just look at the cross section of people who picked up the latest one. Dragon Quest is a game anybody might want to play, presented in a format that's inviting. Its success as a series is both deserved and really, pretty easy to understand.

[Dragon Warrior screenshot courtesy of GameFAQs. Dragon Warrior box scan courtesy of The Video Game Museum.]

Professor Layton And The Regrettable Puzzles

It's rare to find fanmade comics for Nintendo (-published) characters that are worth your time, and these two Professor Layton scenarios from Laura Wilson seem predictable, but there's something about their punchlines that I love. Perhaps it's the characters' expressions?

These two strips and many other video game-inspired art will appear in Life Meter Volume 3, a new full color anthology from video game comic site and Livejournal community Life Meter. The site/book's editors extended their pitch deadline until next Friday, so if you'd like to see your work or comics in the anthology, read over the submission guidelines.

[Via Life Meter]

GameSetLinks: Flower, Sun, And Fame

[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.]

Managed to catch up on GameSetLinks, finally, and we're starting out with Michael Abbott's Brainy Gamer blog discussing why it feels like Suda51's output is worth considering as a body of work, as opposed to just some games that he happened to work on -- an interesting distinction.

Also in this set of links -- David Sirlin in detail about Evo challenges, UK Resistance's break for freedom, our own Kevin Gifford talks to Steve Harris about EGM's resurrection, notable irritants in MMOs, and various other things besides.

Stomp it:

The Brainy Gamer: Early Suda
'I say Flower, Sun, and Rain is certainly worth your time...but only if, like me, you're willing to accept the idea that Goichi Suda (aka Suda 51) is an artist whose oeuvre merits critical attention.'

Sirlin.net - Blog - Evolution 2009
Enjoyable discussion of the fighting game tournament from SFII HD Remix designer and EXTREMELY COMPETITIVE PERSON David Sirlin.

Chris Tolworthy - Interview - Adventure Classic Gaming
Quite obscure, but sounds interesting: 'a series of adventure games based on classic literature that are interconnected to form a larger game.'

The Fall and (Maybe) Rise of EGM from 1UP.com
'Steve Harris, founder and potential savior of America's former #1 video game mag, discusses Electronic Gaming Monthly's potential return to greatness.'

Psychochild’s Blog » MMO irritants
Totally fun list, of course, from a veteran dev.

Shiny Media - My bit part in its downfall by Gary Cutlack | The MCV Blog | MCV
UK Resistance's Zorg - in the comments section of his UKR post he also reveals how much they paid for the sites and how much he was paid, if you're nosy. And we know you are!

July 30, 2009

Sample Pages From Classic Home Video Games 1985-1988

Brett Weiss's Classic Home Video Games 1985-1988 aims to provide detailed descriptions and reviews for every U.S. released game for the NES, Atari 7800, and the Sega Master System, with publisher/developer data and an average 125-185 words dedicated to each title.

Note that the book doesn't seek to include all that information for just the games released during the years in its title, but for all of the stateside games that shipped for those three consoles during their lifetimes.

It might sound too ambitious, but this isn't the first time Weiss has taken on a project like this, as this is actually a follow-up to Weiss' last book, Classic Home Video Games 1972-1984, which served as a guide for every U.S.-released game for ColecoVision, Atari 2600, Atari 5200, Atari 7800, and a dozen other platforms.

The book's publisher McFarland has posted several pages from the 287-page book, which you can download as PDFs here. The author believes it's unlikely that you'll find copies of the book at your local shop, so your best bet is to buy direct from the publisher or from Amazon.

Classic Home Video Games 1985-1988 also includes a glossary for video game genres and terms used throughout the book, anecdotes from Weiss, and a preface from Bill “The Game Doctor” Kunkel, former executive editor of Electronic Games.

If you're waiting for a similar book that covers the generation of consoles that came after the NES, you're in luck! Weiss is currently working on a third Classic Home Video Games volume.

[Via Digital Press]

GameSetInterview: A Window Into Patrick Smith

Win%203.jpg[Continuing his GameSetWatch-specific interview series, Phill Cameron talks to Patrick Smith, creator of the beautiful Windosill, a visually stunning little web browser puzzle game -- discussing transferring art into something interactive, both in principle and practice.]

Can you explain a little about who you are and what you do?

I'm an artist who lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. My background is in traditional media — you can see my drawings and paintings here — but if your readers have seen anything of mine, it's probably Vectorpark, a collection of interactive animations that I've gradually added to over the past 7 or 8 years. I consider Windosill to be part of that body of work.

The art style in Windosill is extremely distinctive and elegantly simple. How important do you think visuals are in something like Windosill, where it may not be as interactive and mechanically driven as other games?

The visuals are very important, of course. But so are the mechanics, and the interactive elements. Each of those aspects affects the others — for example, when I design a tree, I have to keep in mind how that tree will interact with the user and with other objects, and those considerations affects how I draw it. So, I try to consider the aesthetic and functional aspects holistically.

There's something very childlike about the game, and not merely in the aesthetics; the game seems to be played out of some sort of abstract toybox. Are the childish elements intentional, and what sort of age group are you aiming at, if any?

Windosill wasn't made with any particular audience in mind, although if children enjoy it, that's great. The toy-like aspect is more intentional, but I can't really explain why it's there. Nostalgia for childhood? A suggestion that the game is really a toy? Or maybe the simple forms of toys just translate well to my 3d system.

Win%202.jpg
Being primarily an Artist, do you find it more natural to convey messages purely through visuals?

Sure, although I never think of my work as having a message. The end object IS the message, so to speak. I might have some ideas or concepts when I begin working on something, but they always change and evolve in response to the object taking shape. If you were to separate the ideas and visuals, I think you'd have to imagine it as a yin-yang relationship in which each is affected by the other.

Moving from art to making a flash game must have been an interesting transition. How did you find learning to use Flash, and making the game?

I started out using Flash using primarily as a straightforward animation tool, but I've gradually picked up programming as I've needed to. To me, really, the computer is just another tool — I might have just as easily picked up woodworking, for example, and been making wooden sculptures instead of flash games. That said, every medium has it's own qualities, and there's something uniquely satisfying about creating something that responds to your actions.

The game leaves you very much to your own devices, with the ability to manipulate different parts of the environment to eventually progress, with little help or direction from the game itself. How important do you think the element of discovery is to Windosill?

Discovery is probably the point of the game, at least the first time through. I've tried to make everything as intuitive as possible, but I also require the user to dive in and start engaging the environment in order to figure out the logic of each room.

Each of the puzzles in Windosill are very different, and not necessarily rational. Where does the inspiration for each come from?

Each room had a different source. Some are inspired by images from my own artwork, some are inspired by other artists, and still others just came to me out of the blue. But in each case I began with the idea or image of the environment before I worked out the puzzle aspect. In some ways, the task of finding (or generating) the cube to open the next door is just a pretext for encouraging the user to explore the environment.

How do you go about making sure the puzzles are enjoyable for the player?

I really just try to make them enjoyable for myself. All you can do is hope that other people will enjoy them, too.

With the exception of one of the 'scenes', the entire game is almost devoid of any other recognisable characters. Was this something you avoided intentionally? If so, is there a reason behind it?

No, I think that's just how it came out.

What projects are you looking at now? Will you stick to the more simple, flash based games like Windosill, or move onto something more complicated?

I honestly don't know. I've been trying to get back to painting and drawing for about a year now — maybe now that Windosill is finally done, I'll do that. But I'm sure I'll keep a hand in interactive work.

Win%201.jpgWindosill is a very abstract game, creating many tiny, self contained narratives within each 'scene'. Have you ever thought of doing something a little more structured and plot driven?

Sure. In the past, I've drawn comics, for example, with more-or-less linear plots. And that has it's own challenges. But there's as much structure to Windosill as to something like that — in some ways, more, because all of the possible responses by the user have to be anticipated.

It's just not a narrative structure in the traditional sense. In some ways, it's more like a painting, in the sense that all of the parts exist at once, and the job of the artist is to guide the viewer's eye — and, in the case of Windosill, the user's mouse — from place to place.

You've offered a section of the game for free in demo form, with a request for $3 to get the full version. Have you seen a high conversion rate? Has Windosill funded itself?

I'm pleased with how it's been selling, but it will take a long time to fund itself. That's pretty much what I expected, though – for now, it's nice simply to be able to make something back.

Thanks for your time.

[Phill Cameron is a regular writer at The Reticule, a PC gaming website. You can contact him here, and follow him on Twitter here.]

Japan To See Wizardry Reboot, Several New Games

Though the Wizardry franchise has been inactive in the States for most of the past decade, the first-person RPG series has seen almost 20 releases in Japan for PS2, Nintendo DS, mobiles, and other platforms. Apparently, the games' original U.S. developer Sir-Tech Software (now defunct) no longer owns the rights to the Wizardry name, having sold it off to IPM, a subsidiary of Japanese company GamePot, in 2006.

IPM recently revealed its intentions to reboot the series with even more console releases, and is currently working with hardcore game developer veterans Jun Suemi and Kenji Ito, who worked on the popular Wizardry NES ports, for the graphic design and theme music.

"The goal is to stage a renaissance for the renowned Wizardry name," says IPM producer Takeshi Iwahara, according to a Famitsu interview translated by 1UP. "There will be new titles, and two different developers are working on games for the Nintendo DS and PlayStation 3."

Gamepot also has Wizardry projects of its own, Wizardry Online for PC and a Wizardry Zeo manga, the latter shipping on September 9th in Japan. IPM and Gamepot will launch Wizardryworld.com, a website bringing all these projects together, on August 3rd.

Modder Reinvents The TurboExpress

Handheld gamers already have the TurboExpress as an official portable option for playing TurboGrafx-16/PC Engine titles (not counting the super rare and expensive PCE LT, as it's not very portable), but this homemade IntoGrafx system from UK modder Bacteria has several key differences:

  • Horizontal profile like the original Game Boy Advance, rather than the TurboExpress's vertical setup
  • Has turbo and region switches (for playing HuCards released in both the U.S. and Japan)
  • Uses a 5" PSOne screen instead of the much smaller and more problematic 2.6" TurboExpress screen
  • It's also red! Though Bacteria's system is a one-of-a-kind-handheld, he has posted instructions with pictures for those of you adventurous enough to consider creating your own.

    [Via Joystiq]

    Pac-Tron Ghost Cycles

    Melding the worlds of Pac-Man and Tron -- just in time for the recent Tron Legacy movie announcement -- this piece from Pixel Fantasy shows the hero and antagonists of Namco's classic arcade game racing across a dark field, leaving luminescent trails reminiscent of Tron's Light Cycles behind them. The art is also available as a much larger image, so you can set it as your wallpaper.

    Pixel Fantasy's other video game works, which I've added below for your enjoyment of course, include the famous Periodic Table of Controllers and his vector art of childhood weapons:

    [Via Gamefreaks]

    Opinion: On The Casual/Core Game Development Divide

    [Why aren't there more traditional developers attending casual game-specific events, like last week's Casual Connect in Seattle? In this opinion column, Divide By Zero's James Portnow warns of the peril in treating casual games like a separate industry.]

    Each year, the Casual Connect conference in Seattle takes up more space. This year it had more vendors, more lectures and more attendees than ever before. This isn’t unexpected. What surprised me is how we, the "proper" video games industry, seem not to have noticed.

    It’s not that we don’t know that "casual games" are big business: we just don’t seem to think that they’re our business, or, at the very least, we seem to think that we can enter the field of casual games without being involved with any of the companies that call themselves "casual game developers."

    Why do I say this? Because as I walked the halls of Casual Connect I realized how few people I actually knew there. This may sound ridiculous, even pretentious, but I’m sure many of you have the same problem: you can’t go two feet at GDC without running into someone you know.

    Somewhere between the parties and the lectures at Casual Connect it clicked... these are two different industries.

    Fractures

    This splitting of the industry is terrible. Not just for us, but for everyone involved.

    We can see this clearly simply by looking to the serious games industry. I try to stay involved with the serious/educational games community, because I find much of the research coming out of that sector fascinating…and the one thing that doing so has made me certain of is that there is plenty both serious and “big”(we need some term for our sector of the industry other than “the videogame industry”) games can learn from one another.

    In general, I’ve found that the serious crew could pick up a fair amount about production from “the industry,” and we in turn could learn a lot about conveying complicated ideas and addressing weighty subject matter. Learning, or at least leeching, from each other, we might be able to present games that are fun, polished and deeply meaningful (which is something neither industry does well consistently).

    If we let the casual games industry go the same way, we leave an enormous amount of money on the table. Not because of the fact that we won’t be making casual games – lots of developers specialize, making only RPGs or only racing games – but because of the knowledge we leave behind.

    We’ve seen how successful crossover hybrids can be (Puzzle Quest, Portal), and we’ve frequently acknowledged that we often have a hard time including puzzles in our games without them seeming forced or hackneyed. There are people out there who have already spent 10,000 hours thinking about these problems.

    The Split from the Other Side

    A few years ago I used to hear casual games guys talk about how they were going to revolutionize the industry, about how they were going to achieve legitimacy and be recognized as a driving force in the industry. Nobody talked about “the industry” this year.

    And why should they? They’ve got Mochi and Wild Tangent throwing parties that rival anything put on at GDC. They’ve got PopCap grabbing its own headlines and making profits on par with many of the most successful AAA games developers/publishers. They’ve got their own big ballers. They don’t need our recognition any more.

    What they do need is our knowledge. They do need much of what we bring to the table... but this year I certainly sensed that we as industries had alienated each other to some degree.

    After all those years of looking to us for support, for publishing partners and distribution channels, I got the feeling that some on the casual side of the table were quite happy to become a separate industry and to keep to themselves what they had earned.

    More Damage

    It’s more than just information exchange, there’s all sorts of advantages to having a unified industry. As a block we can do more. It sounds silly, but there are things we’re going to want to lobby for. There are things which we’ll want a unified front to address.

    The near future is going to be a complicated time, morally and legally, for the games industry. We’ve finally grown to the point where many issues have to be tackled on a national and international level (for example, digital property rights). To get the results that best suit us all we must be willing to act together and in order to act together we must rid ourselves of this imaginary divide.

    Conclusion

    I don’t ask that we all start making casual games. That would be ludicrous. I simply ask that we don’t drift so far apart as to become two separate industries.

    Right now we have no embassies and we have no envoys to the strictly casual world. There were a handful of guys from Bioware and a few of the local Games for Windows crew in attendance this last week at Casual Connect, other than that almost all of the tags came from strictly casual game companies. Almost every major developer I know of could have learnt something from that conference.

    Does this mean that everyone needs to send somebody to conferences like Casual Connect? No, but every AAA studio should have somebody in the office who has a good contact at PopCap or Zynga or WildTangent. They’ll be a day when you’ll be wanting it.

    [James Portnow is a game designer, formerly of Activision, and now at Divide by Zero Games, where he is also the founder and CCO. He received his master's degree in Entertainment Technology from Carnegie Mellon University. He can be contacted at [email protected] or JamesPortnow on Twitter for comments on this article.]

    Pixel Film: Oo.

    UK-based director duo Garth and Ginny (Garth Jones and Ginny Roberts from Tandem Films) released a new video, "Oo.", for their humorous set of Pixel Film animations, this time featuring a hungry and quick thinking crocodile, and a bit of golf. It's a short clip, less than 30 seconds, and it's an excellent demonstration of what talented animators can accomplish with just a 50x50 pixel grid.

    You can watch Garth and Ginny's previous two Pixel Films, "(?}" and "!//", both debuted at festivals and also starring blocky, darling animals below.

    Pixel Film: !//

    Pixel Film: (?}

    Gamasutra Member Blogs: From Tension-Building To Nixing 'Serious Games'

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

    Member Blogs can be maintained by any registered Gamasutra user, while invitation-only Expert Blogs -- also highlighted weekly -- are written by selected development professionals.

    Our favorite blog post of the week will earn its author a lifetime subscription to Gamasutra's sister publication, Game Developer magazine. (All magazine recipients outside of the United States or Canada will receive lifetime electronic subscriptions.)

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

    In this set of links, we look at a suggestion to can the term "serious games", actor-driven narrative, and suggestions on pacing and tension in games.

    This Week's Standout Member Blogs

    - Some Thoughts About Serious Games
    (Raymond Ortgiesen)

    Game design student Raymond Ortgiesen says that the term "serious game" is "condescending, counter-productive, and unnecessary" -- even arrogant. He's not against the concept of what have become known as "serious games", but is there a better way to describe them?

    For his effort, Raymond will receive a lifetime subscription to Gamasutra sister publication Game Developer magazine.

    - When Game Violence Forces Us To Think
    (Tom Allins)

    When virtual violence closely mirrors real-life violence, it can have have a profound effect on the player, even if only virtual lives are affected. Tom Allins takes a look at this phenomenon, using Jane's AH-64D Longbow fighter copter sim as a reference point.

    - Narrative Fueled By Actors
    (Christian Arca)

    Blogger Christian Arca examines the nuts and bolts of the narrative, particularly the role that actors play in driving the narrative. He contrasts this with plot/story-driven narrative, and explains why he thinks actor-driven narrative is the most appropriate course.

    - Tense and Tension in Games
    (Altug Isigan)

    Proper pacing and the creation of tension in a game can mean the difference between total player immersion and utter player boredom. Altug Isigan gives intriguing examples of how a designer can strike a rhythm with players, and why pacing and tension is so important.

    - Can I Be The Game Designer I Want To Be?
    (John Kolencheryl)

    Carnegie Mellon masters student John Kolencheryl looks inward to find out what kind of game designer he wants to be. It's a question that leads him along the subjects of the balance between commercial viability and pure creative freedom, and a confidence from within needed to be a good game designer in any capacity.

    July 29, 2009

    The Asteroids Movie Plot That Could Have Been

    In the early 80s, children's music record label Kid Stuff teamed up with Atari to release albums and tapes based on games like Asteroids, Super Breakout, Missile Command, and Yar's Revenge. The productions not only included theme songs for the games, but radio theatre performances.

    So, while we've spent the past month yukking it up over whatever plot Universal Studios has planned for the Asteroids movie, it turns out someone already recorded a ridiculous plot for the arcade shooter decades ago!

    Galen Hawthorne, who obtained a vinyl copy from the radio station and ripped the tracks, sent over this description taken from the back of the album's sleeve: "While on a routine mission, the Cosmic Space Patrol ship, Intrepid, is trapped in a time-warp and is rocketed into the past! It's up to Captain Jim Stanton and his computer sidekick, Chip Brain, to find their way back to safety. Blast off for adventure with Atari's Asteroids!"

    Here's the first bit from the audio drama, introducing Captain Jim Stanton and his trainee on their first mission together, exchanging small talk when disaster strikes:

    If you're too busy to listen to the entire seven minute drama, here's an excerpt from when the captain first encounters a cluster of asteroids and tries to clear the way with photon torpedoes:

    Capt. Jim: Fire torpedo one!

    ::pew::

    Capt. Jim: Look at that! We hardly made a dent in it! Fire two!

    ::pew pew::

    Capt. Jim: That was a dead hit! But instead of vaporizing, it's breaking up into smaller pieces!

    We would be lucky if the Asteroids film has a script half as awesome as this. Also, it would be a travesty if the movie didn't open with this fantastic song from the album:

    "Asteroiiiiddddds!"

    COLUMN: Design Diversions: Blame The Game, Not The Player

    [‘Design Diversions’ is a biweekly new GameSetWatch-exclusive column by Andrew Vanden Bossche. It looks at the unexpected moments when games take us behind the scenes, and the details of how game design engages us. This time, he references Metal Gear Solid 4 to discover how difficulty changes can warp gameplay]

    When we think about choice in video games, we tend to think in terms of narrative choice. Discussions surrounding the subject often revolve around the impact (or lack thereof) that the player has on the game world. This isn’t surprising; choices with an emotional component have a tendency to provoke strong reactions and when the subject is brought up they’re typically the first things we think of.

    Most of the choices in video games, however, aren’t narrative at all. They are moment to moment choices, when players decide to block instead of dodge, jump far instead of short, or turn left instead of right. There’s not a lot of intellectual debate to be had in discussing whether you should jump across a bottomless pit or into it, but the real meat of a video game lies in these choices.

    Now, once players figure out that the key is to jump over the bottomless pit, that obstacle loses a lot of its appeal as an interesting challenge. So rather than ask the player to discover a previously defined solution (such as in Space Station Pheta), games are more frequently asking players to construct their own solution from a variety of possibilities (Bioshock). From a narrative perspective there certainly isn’t much difference between flying over a pit or building a bridge over it, but having these different options allows players to exercise different skills and ways of thinking.

    With this approach to design comes the challenge of balancing these options against each other. When games provide some choices that aren’t as effective as others, they discourage players from being creative. Worse, if there’s an option so much more rewarding than the others there may be no point in doing anything else. Sometimes the wrong choice leads to a fate far worse than defeat: boredom.

    Liquid Easy

    Metal Gear Solid 4 is an interesting game in this respect because its gameplay changes wildly depending on the game’s difficulty. Increasing the difficulty causes enemies to become more perceptive, resilient, and deadly, and most of MGS4’s gameplay involves using a variety of weapons and gadgets to avoid them. There’s quite a bit of depth here for clever players to exploit, but the difficulty setting doesn’t always make this challenge lesser or greater: sometimes it removes it altogether.

    Once the game’s difficulty is set low enough, a combination of high player health and hilariously inaccurate enemies make the game’s stealth aspect seem ridiculous and unnecessary. There’s little point in avoiding enemies that can’t do anything to you. And when players learn they have more to lose standing and fighting than running to the next part of the level, the game becomes less of a tactical espionage action game and more of a headless chicken simulator.

    Lower settings of difficulty don’t just make the game easier. They allow for a completely different playstyle that is as effective as it is boring. When the enemies are incompetent and weak enough, the easiest way to deal with them is to run past them until you trigger a loading screen and cause them to forget about you. There may be an incredible array of gadgets to use, but under these circumstances the best solution is to drop them and run.

    Choosing the Impossible

    Ironically, this is a form of emergent gameplay, albeit one that encourages players to be less creative and think less critically about their surroundings. You can skip a large portion of the game doing this and since even stray bullets can be recovered from fairly easily, it’s high reward with little risk. At this point players are barely even interacting with the game. And if it isn’t intended for players to be skipping most of the game, it might be argued that they shouldn’t be able to.

    Of course, at high difficulties and under certain conditions, they can’t. As difficulty increases, combat becomes so lethal that even running from a pack of soldiers is suicide. Instead, the player has to be very clever with the tools at their disposal in order to advance.

    While higher difficulties are commonly associated with more frustration, in this case they enable the sorts of challenges that engage the player even more. At a certain threshold, when it becomes more efficient to avoid or confront enemies than run past them, the player is finally engaged with the challenge the game is designed to pose. But unless a player chooses this path of difficulty, they might as well not be playing the game (at least, not the same game).

    metalgearsolid1230678949359%20copy.pngDon’t Blame the Victim

    It’s impossible to blame players for running since they’re only doing what the game is asking of them: finding the easiest and most efficient solution to the challenge being posed. It’s what all games ask, really, although in games with player defined goals it’s the player both asking the questions and finding the answers.

    One of the biggest challenges of game design is that if you give players the opportunity to do something they despise in order to get what they want, they will almost always do it. World of Warcraft’s design team, for example, is constantly faced with the challenge of forcing their players to have fun by ensuring that the best way of doing something is the most enjoyable.

    So when players run by oblivious soldiers in Metal Gear Solid 4, it isn’t because they like it. They do it because the game all but asks them to. When one choice overwhelms all others in effectiveness, it’s no longer a choice, just like it makes no sense to jump into a bottomless pit rather than over it. Sure, a player can play on a more difficult setting to get a more full experience, but is it really okay to even give players the option of not being engaged?

    Is a Gamer Not Entitled to the Sweat of His Brow?

    Of course, this all provokes the question of why players would skip over all this content. Often, it’s because they just want to finish it, or especially in the case of Metal Gear Solid, see the narrative unfold. All kinds of gamers are interested in Metal Gear Solid’s story, and not all are necessarily highly accomplished at the game itself. Without the option of easier difficulties, a lot of fans are left out.

    Perhaps this is a question of fairness. Is it fair to deny people the opportunity to experience the story if they aren’t good at the game? It’s a hard question to answer. If someone buys the game just for the story, it’s difficult to argue that they shouldn’t be able to see it.

    But there’s no reason that the experience of the game has to be sacrificed for accessibility. Difficulty should exist as a way of crafting the experience to fit the player, not to shortcut the entire experience of the game for tangentially related rewards. A game should be an experience in and of itself.

    DVDs don’t force you to jump through hoops to keep watching them, but on the other hand, jumping through hoops is sort of the point of playing a game in the first place. Designers cannot ignore this behavior. Filmmakers have it easy; short of looking away and covering their ears, viewers can’t help but see what’s on the screen. But a videogame can be a deep experience and players will still ignore it if there’s a flaw in design that lets them. The key, of course, is to not let them.

    [Andrew Vanden Bossche is a freelance writer and student. He has a blog called Mammon Machine, which discusses videogames and obscure videogame related t-shirts, and can be reached at [email protected]]

    Left 4 Sims: When Survivors Stop Being Polite And Start Getting Real

    "They had made it. Only just, but they were alive. After battling thousands upon thousands of the infected horde, the survivors had finally reached their destination: Riverside. However, they now faced their toughest and most terrifying challenge ever: living with each other…"

    So begins Left 4 Sims, Ben Borthwick's blog project following Louis, Francis, Bill, and Zoey as they recover from fighting their way through thousands of Infected, and move into a new house together in the small town of Riverside.

    Recreated in The Sims 3, the Left 4 Dead stars are already clashing in Borthwick's first installment, with Zoey demanding her own bed, and Bill preparing salads for the group in a most unsanitary way. You can read the entire chapter here, and also download the Survivors for your own Sims 3 adventures at the game's official site.

    [Via Offworld]

    Zoonami Encouraging Gamers To Grow Vegetables

    Ahead of the European launch for casual WiiWare game Bonsai Barber -- an interesting and underappreciated title that you should really give a chance if you have 1000 spare Nintendo Points -- developer Zoonami is sending out free celery, carrot, and onion seed packets for gamers to plant in their gardens.

    It's perhaps an odd promotion but it matches with the game's concept of pruning plant and vegetable-themed characters in need of haircuts - fun!

    You won't have to win any contest or even purchase the game to obtain the packets; you need only send your name and address to [email protected] The offer is available to those of you in Europe, but if you're dying to get your hands on these ultra rare vegetable seeds, I'm sure you'll find a few on eBay not long after they're sent out.

    Best of FingerGaming: From Golvellius to Monkey Island

    [Every week, Gamasutra sums 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 covers the upcoming titles Golvellius: Valley of Doom and Pac-Man Remix, and highlights recent releases like The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition, Pinball Fantasies and Zombies vs. Sheep.

    Here's the top stories from the last seven days:

    - LucasArts Ports The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition to iPhone
    "LucasArts makes its iPhone debut today with the release of The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition, an upgraded port of the company's landmark PC point-and-click adventure title."

    - Free App Releases: Car Jack Streets, Space Ace, and More
    "This week's free releases include demo editions of Car Jack Streets and Space Ace, along with free full versions of All 51 Games Free and Axe Pogo Extreme.

    - Sega Master System RPG Golvellius: Valley of Doom Coming Soon to iPhone
    "One of the 8-bit Sega Master System's greatest offerings, the action-RPG Golvellius: Valley of Doom, will soon see new life in an iPhone port, courtesy of publisher D4 Enterprise and French retro emulation specialist DotEmu."

    - Top Free Game App Downloads for the Week
    "Dare Digital's 3D water slide simulator Waterslide Extreme tops the App Store's free app chart in its first week of release. Rope'n'Fly Lite moves up to second place after finishing seventh last week — a jump that has given the paid version a significant boost in popularity."

    - Namco Announces Apple Games Division; Pac-Man Remix to be Released This Week
    "Following up on its previous ports of Galaga and Dig Dug, Namco Bandai is readying yet another iPhone adaptation of one of its classic arcade franchises. Pac-Man Remix has been submitted to Apple for review, and will appear in the App Store later this week."

    - Top-Selling Paid Game Apps for the Week
    "The mining simulator I Dig It and rope swinging action title Rope'n'Fly lead this week's paid apps chart. Sales for Harbor Master have risen dramatically following the recent release of a new pirate-themed episode, while the conceptually similar Flight Control drops to fourth place."

    - Pinball Dreams Sequel Pinball Fantasies Hits App Store
    "Pinball Fantasies includes four tables, each with its own unique theme and layout. All tables feature remastered graphics, but are otherwise completely faithful to their original Amiga versions in terms of gameplay."

    - Studio Radiolaris Debuts Radio Flare Follow-Up Zombies vs. Sheep
    "The game's visual style is striking; all on-screen objects are rendered as cardboard cut-outs, complete with moving strings and wires. The visual detail translates well to the gameplay -- players can snipe individual limbs off of zombies, and each bullet fired leaves an appropriate mark on the painted backdrop."

    Mario Hunter Ukiyo-e Art

    Singaporean illustrator William "xiabaosg" Chua created this Ukiyo-e style piece bringing together the worlds of Super Mario Bros. and Capcom's Monster Hunter series. Bowser seems to fit into the world perfectly, more so than the T-rex in the background (perhaps that's supposed to be Yoshi?). Mario as a samurai, while not as brilliant as this, also looks great.

    This "Hunting Season" art will appear in German publisher Uber Books' upcoming Designers Games Remix -- the same book featuring the Crystal Castles tribute I mentioned last month. Looking forward to the book's release!

    [Via The Daily What]

    Interview: Rockin' Android On Bringing Japanese 'Doujin' Titles To The West

    [The doujin gaming movement has seen little exposure outside Japan, but publisher Rockin' Android's Enrique Galvez discusses his mission with new GSW writer Zoran Iovanovici -- specifically, bringing top niche Japanese indie PC titles to the West.]

    The doujin gaming scene has exploded in popularity over in its native country of Japan with an intense community of fan created games that often rival their commercial counterparts.

    If the term 'doujin gaming' sounds relatively new, it's no surprise. There's been little exposure of the movement outside of Japan. That's all about to change now that publisher Rockin' Android has hit the scene. We sat down with President and Founder Enrique Galvez at Anime Expo 09 to get the low down on how Rockin' Android is poised to inject the Western market with a heavy dose of doujin gaming.

    For a guy whose company was making its public debut at a major convention, he seemed surprisingly cool and upbeat, like a young kid anxious to show others his prized possession at show-and-tell. When I asked him if he made any special preparations for the event, his response couldn't be any more nonchalant.

    "Yeah, I drank three big glasses of rum last night," he laughed. "To be honest, at 2:30 in the morning I was still finishing up cutting the trailer reel on display at the show floor today. It's a bit rough sometimes, because it's a very independently-run company. We've only got four people at this company working day and night."

    With less than a handful of employees under him, Galvez is practically a one man wonder. As president of Rockin' Android, he has a hand in everything from foreign negotiations and play testing to localization and marketing.

    It's a type of passion and involvement that's rarely seen among company executives and it emulates the very developers of the doujin games his company seeks to publish: indie game makers who are self-taught and responsible for the programming, music, character design, and every other little nuance involved in game development.

    “They're just fans of gaming,” he explains. “They learned on their own with the software through trial and error until they finally got the confidence to build their own full game. These are regular people with full time jobs who code and design like crazy in their free time.”

    Galvez then takes a moment to prove his street cred and establish that he's well aware of what he's gotten himself into. "Back in the day, I was a correspondent and writer for Play Magazine, Gamer's Republic, and GameFan; all enthusiast magazines with an eye towards the Japanese gaming scene and they're a major influence," he explains.

    At the very least, it helps illustrate just how in tune Galvez is with the Japanese gaming scene -- enough to take a huge risk in starting a company that specializes in localizing relatively unknown doujin Japanese games for a Western market.

    "Five years ago I started noticing that [Japanese] people were making some great fan-made games. But the one thing that stuck out like a sore thumb was that they all featured licensed characters from existing properties," he says. "It stayed as a super underground scene until eventually someone said, 'hey we're actually getting pretty good at this and we're quite talented, so let's create our own original characters.' In the last three years or so there's been a slew of original content."

    "Take, for instance, mastermind ZUN over at developer Team Shanghai Alice. Their Touhou Project games all feature original characters in original games. I think he personally started a little revolution in the doujin scene. That project really opened doors for so many people and that's when I started really getting into to the scene. I've played and collected close to 300 doujin games by now.”

    Even more impressive is that he's mastered most of those games, helping him ferret out the very best. That sort of dedication doesn't come easy and it started to impact his personal life. “My girlfriend at the time was concerned. She would always ask me, 'what are you doing? You're spending so much time playing video games. I hope you do something with this.'”

    He immersed himself so deeply into the scene that he was willing to brave Comiket's crowd of 500,000 rabid otaku at the Tokyo Big Sight convention center. “I went to Comiket two years ago and it was a true eye opener. I started buying every doujin game I could get my hands on, playing them, testing them. That's when I found Suguri, our first title, and I was absolutely blown away by it. That night I found myself in a coffee shop in Tokyo and penned the outline of what would eventually become Rockin' Android.”

    It's a gutsy move, but he explains that it wasn't quite as arduous as it could have been had he never done business in Japan beforehand. "Last October I went out to Japan and started licensing games," he recalls. "I went out there without a translator, and just started calling friends of friends, did some meetings, cold called people. I was lucky I had a history of licensing and distribution in Japan because of a company I used to own called Banzai Anime."

    "Banzai Anime was actually the third anime store in Los Angeles, and this is going back 14 years ago. That's what allowed me to initially travel back and forth to Japan for business, licensing, conventions, you name it."

    When I ask if it was easier to get an audience with doujin developers than it was with major commercial developers, Galvez immediately breaks out into laughter. "I'll tell you this much: the first thing they did was test my gaming knowledge by asking me what my favorite developers and titles were," he says. "The second I mentioned Treasure (Radiant Silvergun, Gradius V, Ikaruga) and Cave (DonPachi, Ibara, Death Smiles) they instantly welcomed me as a hardcore gamer."

    "So we all related and it was great to see that our likes and dislikes were pretty much the same," Galvez continues. "This is the only reason I got these games [for localization]. For them it's not about the money. They could give a rat's ass if I threw in 50K or 100K; they just wanted their games in good hands."

    So why has it taken so long for a U.S. publisher of Japanese doujin games to crop up? "Because everyone sees it as a small niche market," says Galvez. "Even some of the doujin developers themselves were hesitant. One developer even said that they just don't see American fans playing [doujin] games. I actually had to convince them that games are a universal language and that a game can be enjoyed by anyone so long as it's fun."

    "Afterwards, they called me to say that they totally wanted to see their games in the U.S. market and thanked me for reminding them that [doujin] games can be enjoyed throughout the whole world and not just Japan. That was a really cool thing to hear them say.”

    Support from the original developer is one thing, but actually doing a game justice with solid localization is another. Despite the veneer of simplicity, many doujin games have a fair amount of text and any fan of Japanese games can attest to how a poor translation can create an overall unsettling experience and cast doubt upon the publisher and localization team.

    While Rockin' Android has a full time translator on board, it's also going about the doujin scene in a rather unique way by encouraging community participation, reaching out to hardcore gamers, and even enlisting the help of fan translators. "Our first game Suguri Perfect Edition has over 3,000 words. It might not seem like that because it's a shooter, but there's plenty of in-game story and omake (bonus material). We were fortunate in finding a fan group, an entire community, dedicated to Suguri."

    "Within that community we found a very cool girl named Sara Lene that had already started to translate these games on her own," he continues. "So we have an in-house Japanese translator who now works together with Sara on all our projects where Sara does the initial translation and our in-house translator does the final touch ups. We're so happy that we got to work with a fan because the doujin scene all comes down to independently produced, fan based content.”

    That's probably as grassroots and indie as it gets. Galvez goes on to explain why he chose Orange Juice as the first doujin developer to go after, claiming that their pedigree and their dedication to fans had a lot to do with it. “A couple of the guys at Orange Juice who do backgrounds and programming are old mainstays from Treasure. They do a lot of great work in the doujin community so we definitely wanted to work with them.”

    Fans of shmups (shoot 'em ups) who love classic arcade gaming will feel right at home with Rockin' Android's scheduled lineup of games from developer Orange Juice. It's an interesting genre to start out with, especially considering that the hardcore difficulty of arcade shmups can drive some people absolutely mad. Galvez is well aware that bullet hell shooters can be a bit overwhelming for newcomers.

    "As a player you're going to do one of two things: you're either going to look at the game and want to throw your controller because it's so difficult or you're going to want to play it over and over again to get a perfect run because it's so addicting," enthuses Galvez. Rockin' Android is hoping the latter case of addiction reaches critical mass as they come out with guns blazing, releasing no less than four titles (Suguri Perfect Edition, Qlione, Flying Red Barrel, Gundemonium Collection) in the second half of 2009 alone, all of them available at Direct-2-Drive at price points below $20.

    Fans of Japanese niche games will be particularly pleased as Rockin' Android is using a very Atlus-like approach with the release of their first game Suguri Perfect Edition by including tons of extra bonus content, an expansion pack, and two soundtracks.

    The doujin scene, however, is so much more than just shmups and Rockin' Android isn't a one-trick pony. Along with the aforementioned shmups from Orange Juice they're looking into bringing over both side-scrolling action adventure and fighting doujin games. The front page of Rockin' Android's Rockin' Android currently has a poll asking visitors what genre of doujin games they would like to see released stateside, clearly hinting at the publisher's future plans.

    Galvez didn't pull any punches when discussing the games he was going after either, listing RosenKreuzStillette, Dread Lock, Crescent Pale Mist, and Big Bang Beat as target titles. It'll be interesting to see how things work out, but the prospect of these games getting a Western release is exciting in its own right.

    It won't be an easy task introducing the doujin scene on unsuspecting western gamers, but there's a genuine enthusiasm within Rockin' Android that most gamers can relate to - that feeling of wanting to share something completely fresh and exhilarating with other gamers and friends is unparalleled.

    When Pigs Fly (And Perish 400+ Times As A Result)

    Anna "Auntie Pixelante/dessgeega" Anthropy, a familiar name here for her work on Calamity Annie and Octopounce, has a new sponsored Flash game titled When Pigs Fly now available to play for free through Newgrounds.

    In this 2D platformer, you pilot a delicate, winged piglet (represented with an adorable squealing sprite) through several dozen screens filled with spikes, lava, and other obstacles threatening to tear off your wings. Some of the screens towards the end are intensely difficult to clear, but the feeling of reward that comes after their completion matches your efforts, and the game allows you to quickly jump into another attempt after you die.

    Tim from IndieGames.com posted this When Pigs Fly speedrun below (you unlock several modes after clearing the game), and he managed to soar through in less than four minutes with only nine deaths! In my first run, I completed the game in some three hours -- I stepped away from the computer to attend to non-pig-platforming matters at some point -- with around 460 deaths, at least 200 of those suffered at the omega-shaped screen.

    GameSetLinks: The Lunar Loonies Blast Off

    [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.]

    Continuing a 'just in time' approach to GameSetLinks, this particular set is headed by a nice Benj Edwards historical piece on classic video game Lunar Lander and its birthing, as posted over on Harry McCracken's blog Technologizer (which you don't see linked much from game sites, actually.)

    Also hanging out in this link set - Magical Wasteland's magical fiction on voice sessions gone a bit awry, Jeff Minter on the history of Gridrunner (yay!), Tim Rogers rambles gloriously through Wii Sports Resort, scattering confused Mii-s in his wake, and GamesRadar/PC Gamer UK talks the rise of indie, a subject near and dear to me, of course.

    Look at you:

    Forty Years of Lunar Lander | Technologizer
    Great Benj Edwards piece (which we had to pass on, boo!) about Lunar Lander's creation, moon landing tie-in.

    Once More with Feeling (Magical Wasteland)
    I attended a panel at GDC Austin's Audio Summit once which had voice actors talking about the pain of doing these kind of dialogue sessions.

    Llamasoft Blog » A History Of… Gridrunner
    Nice history from the Yak, also revealing that the XBLA version is called Gridrunner Revolution nowadays, woo.

    Top five craziest uses of historical figures in video games - Den of Geek
    I know, a list - but a fun one, naturally topped by Eternal Sonata.

    auntie pixelante › level design lesson: the face of mars
    Another good Auntie post, this time about a really pretty obscure game that looks cute.

    Action Button Dot Net - Wii Sports Resort reviewed by Tim Rogers
    Super-entertaining, super tangential writing, as per usual: 'Wii Sports Resort is a laundry list of infuriating things that video games do, though at the same time it is a scary-hot promise of new video game playing experiences to come.'

    How indie games took on the world (and won) | GamesRadar
    Oo, great PC Gamer UK piece.

    July 28, 2009

    Tecmo Koei Turning Concert Attendees Into Zombies

    "It's 2018 - six years after a virus was released at the 2012 Olympics. Zombies dominate the earth and humankind has been mauled, torn and eaten to extinction. The problem is there's not a lot to do now that there are no humans left to rip apart... cue the first post-apocalyptic music festival curated by the undead."

    If that premise sounds up your alley, look forward to I Spit On Your Rave, an upcoming mockumentary following the fictional festival by director Chris Boyle and Film4. The filmmaker will shoot all of the movie's footage at a real event, The Big Chill music festival running August 6 - 9 in Herefordshire, England. The four-day show will feature over a hundred sets including David Byrne, Orbital, Basement Jaxx, Lamb,

    The film crew wants thousands of ticket holders to show up at the festival made up as zombies to provide material for the mockumentary and help the production potentially get into the Guinness Book of World Records for the "Most Amount of Zombies Captured on Camera". Film4 will edit and screen a short promo for the film towards the end of the festival, and release an online version aftewards.

    What does this have to do with video games? Sensing an opportunity to promote its upcoming real-time strategy PSP game Undead Knights (due early 2010), Tecmo Koei is sponsoring the event with "Zombification Stations" where attendees can receive an undead makeover for the film.

    Tecmo Koei also has hired zombies to shuffle around the festival and hand out Undead Knights Collector's Postcards, in case you want to send a brief message to your friends about how you're thinking of them and want to get together soon so you can eat their brains.

    You can find more information about I Spit On Your Rave on the movie's official site. Also, here's a silly promotional video Film4 shot showing zombies hitchhiking to get to The Big Chill:

    Sound Current: Andy Baio on Kickstarting 'Kind of Bloop'

    [Continuing our series of GameSetWatch-exclusive 'Sound Current' interviews from Jeriaska, this time he talks to former GameSetWatch guest writer, recently appointed Kickstarter CTO - and actual user of its donation-based creative service - Andy Baio about the retro game chiptune-styled jazz covers album he's commissioned.]

    Andy Baio is an independent journalist and programmer who launched the popular Yahoo!-acquired online events calendar Upcoming.org in 2003. Currently working as the CTO of Kickstarter, a funding platform for artists, designers and musicians, his most recent project is an 8-bit jazz album set to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Miles Davis's "Kind of Blue."

    "Kind of Bloop: An 8-Bit Tribute to Miles Davis" is an exercise in imagination, asking what the pioneers of jazz music might have sounded like if their medium of choice had been 8-bit game consoles. The concept struck a chord when it was casually announced on twitter, and backers who wanted a copy covered the music album's projected costs via Kickstarter within four hours.

    The participating artists are chipmusic heavyweights Ast0r (Chris J. Hampton), Disasterpeace (Rich Vreeland), Sergeeo (Sergio de Prado), Shnabubula (Samuel Ascher-Weiss) and Virt (Jake Kaufman). In this interview on the subject of the album, the project organizer described the strengths of the Kickstarter funding method and the challenges of the album's unprecedented core concept.

    Was the idea for "Kind of Bloop" inspired by the 50th anniversary of the album?

    Andy Baio: On Kickstarter you can do projects up to three months, and it ended up just kind of being serendipity, lining up the release date with the 50th anniversary.

    I’d had the idea years ago of covering the standards of bebop or cool jazz, doing “Take Five” as a chiptune, and periodically I would look to see if anybody had done chiptune jazz. Every time I would go look I would find nothing. I couldn’t believe it.

    Then on one of these rounds of searching, I actually found a track. It was part of a Japanese chiptune competition called “Famicompo.” It was John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” by this guy Sergio de Prado in Spain. I listened to it, and I thought, this shows a lot of potential. This is very cool.

    Would you say that a personal appreciation for jazz music was an important factor in your deciding to organize this album project?

    My relationship with jazz is very similar to my relationship with chiptunes. I'm an admirer and I love both genres, but I'm not an obsessive hardcore fan. That means my knowledge is limited to the popular works of both. Kind of Blue is known for being the jazz album that even those who aren’t into jazz like. It’s a perfect album.

    What was the next step in progressing forward with this idea?

    I started looking more and actually found two more examples. One was by Chris Hampton, who goes by ast0r online. He had done a bouncy tune in the rhythm of the intro to “Giant Steps.” It was a totally different approach, and it was cool to find that one too.

    I started digging through every Famicompo entry to see if anyone else had done it, and I found one more example. It was a version of John Coltrane’s cover of “My Favorite Things.” There were these three, and as far as I know those were the only three jazz covers rooted in the 8-bit era to exist up until this point.

    In working with Kickstarter, what factors helped make it possible for the idea of "Kind of Bloop" to become a reality?

    So, I’d had this idea since awhile back, and I had found these three. I had been advising at Kickstarter and thinking, what project could I do? I’m a programmer and a journalist. I thought that I could do a journalism project, but I did not really have a lot of time. I thought that instead of raising money for something that I'm doing myself, maybe it could be used for commissioning a project.

    Of the three jazz chiptunes in existence, I managed to find Chris Hampton and Sergio de Prado. After that I wanted to include my favorite chiptune artist Jake Kaufman. I'd listened to all of his compositions for at least five years, since around the time he came out with the Michael Jackson cover. He was a friend of a friend, and I decided to ask him pretty much out of the blue if he would join the project. It turns out he is a jazz fan. He then suggested Disasterpeace would be a great fit.

    How did you find Shnabubula?

    Virt recommended him to me to fill the fifth slot, so I got in touch with him. Shnabubula is an extremely talented musician. He posts these videos that are alternate reality versions of classic videogames. He will play something like the Mario water theme, only it’s not the Mario water theme. It’s reminiscent of it, but it’s different.

    What process did you go through to decide upon the compensation for the participating artists?

    I had set a $2000 goal and wanted to do it legitimately, which meant paying out royalties to the Miles Davis estate. I added it all up, figured out how much it would all cost, and said I could guarantee to pay them a certain amount if the project was successful. They all agreed and everyone came on board. We hit the $2000 goal within four hours, and now it’s up 330 backers and $6500. It’s extremely exciting.

    Are all the compositions sticking close to the source material?

    I gave them free creative rein. What it's looking like so far is that two of them are going to be faithful and three will be more interpretive riffs on the originals. What I did not want was for it to feel like “Here’s a MIDI version of Freddy Freeloader.” I wanted it to feel part of the medium.

    Do you feel that the CD will not be ready in time for the August release date?

    The mp3s are definitely going to come out that day. I'm going to do my best to try and get it in the mail by that date. If it’s not out by the 17th, it will be close.

    In terms of the cover art, how did you find someone to lend a visual complement to the musical concept of "Kind of Bloop?"

    I had tried to rework the cover myself in Photoshop, but pixel art is such a specific look. It’s not a Photoshop filter. You have to use a limited palette, with concern for every single pixel to make it look right. The constraints are tight and you have to have experience to make it look right.

    I was on a private discussion forum with creative people and a bunch of them took a pass at it. It just did not look right. Then SnackAdmiral, who had some experience with pixel art, just absolutely nailed it.

    Do you foresee this pressed release being a collector's item?

    I'm not sure if it was made clear, but because it is all cover songs and I'm trying to keep this legal, this is the only time that it is going to be on sale. As far as licensing goes, every digital download costs as much as sending out a CD, so I'm making a set number of CDs and a set number of digital downloads. Once the project has been completed, it is not going to be on sale ever again.

    Improvisation is an important component of jazz, and one that is not strongly associated with early videogame music. Was this contrast something that you had discussed in approaching the project?

    We talked about that quite a bit during development. We have an irc chatroom where occasionally we will pop in and talk about the project. They are planning on doing some solos on each other’s tracks. While that is not improvisation, it is the collaborative aspect. For improvisation, I believe Samuel is playing free on his keyboard and then using the sample set to massage the results and make them chiptunes.

    My feeling is that people who are obsessive about jazz but don’t like chiptunes are not going to love the album. They may look at it as a bastardization. To me, I still feel it’s a very worthwhile exercise. I'm fascinated with working within difficult constraints, so I was not sure if it could even be done. These guys, if anyone can do it, it’s them.

    [Images courtesy of Kickstarter. This article is available in Italian on Gamesource.it.]

    Illusion's Twist On New Forced Sex Game

    With women's group Equality Now campaigning against its games that simulate rape on virtual women, and with regulations now in place prohibiting the sale against similar titles in Japan, Rapelay developer Illusion is taking a different approach with its latest hentai game -- since it stars a male demon who submits to forced sex when defeated.

    In Yuusha Kara wa Nigerarenai (You Can't Escape From the Heroines), a group of female Dragon Quest lookalikes are chasing the player, a male demon named Maou, to drain his energy through sex and seal him away. When the heroines catch up to players, they'll fight the women off through an odd combat system that involves different and often ridiculous poses (pictured).

    When players win the battles, the game will present a consensual sex scene with a female demon, which will strengthen Maou's powers. A defeat, however, will punish players with a scene in which Maou's antagonists steal his energy and become more powerful by having sex with him.

    This seems like odd loophole exploitation by Illusion - I'm surprised that the new forced sex restrictions imposed by Japan's Ethics Organization of Computer Software (EOCS) don't take scenarios like this into account.

    [Via Sankaku Complex, HongFire]

    Quantic Dream's Cage To Keynote GDC Europe

    [Next month's GDC Europe is rapidly approaching, and here's a near-final keynote announcement -- the ever-interesting David Cage -- and a last chance for early-bird registration.]

    Quantic Dream founder and CEO David Cage will give a keynote at next month's 2009 Game Developers Conference Europe, say event organizers Think Services (also parent of this website).

    Cage, the Indigo Prophecy creator who's currently at work on the highly-anticipated Heavy Rain, will give a talk entitled "Writing Interactive Narrative for a Mature Audience." He'll focus on why mature games are necessary, what difficulties developers face in creating narrative-driven adult games, and will expose possible solutions and techniques in interactive storytelling.

    "I am excited to participate at GDC Europe and to represent France in such a well-rounded European keynote roster," he said.

    Providing a unified forum for the often-fragmented developer community in the different European countries is a large part of the goal of GDC Europe, says Frank Sliwka, vice president of European Business Development at Think Services' European Game Group. "This is our chance to show what happens in Europe, and what we have in development and services," he tells us.

    The lion's share of major publishers have their seat in either North America or Asia, says Sliwka, so the European development community has its own slate of unique needs.

    "Europe is focused so we have a lot of companies that work in the online games field," he says. "So a lot of what we want to do is give them a showcase." Sliwka says he expects some 1,500 attendees to come to GDC Europe for education, networking and learning experiences.

    All of the event's keynotes are European; the lineup includes Gameforge CEO Klaas Kersting, Remedy's Matias Myllyrinne, CCP's Hilmar Petursson and Crytek's Cevat Yerli. The latest addition to the lineup, Quantic Dream's Cage, discusses the values behind his keynote: "With the game audience maturing, we feel it's important to share visions and ideas to define how our industry should now evolve," he says. "I am convinced more than ever that the most important next gen feature is emotion. How to trigger more complex emotions is our biggest challenge in the coming years."

    Adds Sliwka: "I think it's safe to say that all GDC Europe attendees can expect an inspiring and thought provoking keynote on a topic not often addressed."

    GDC Europe is set for August 17-19 at the Cologne Congress East Center in Cologne, Germany, in conjunction with the GamesCom event. Early registration is now open and closes July 29. Interested parties can find further information at the event's official site.

    Fanmade Monkey Island 2 'Special-Uber Edition' Concept

    With LucasArts's special edition remake of the original Monkey Island now out for iPhone, Xbox 360, and iPhone, many fans are looking to a possible enhanced version for the adventure title's sequel, Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge.

    Though not an official demonstration, this 'Special-Uber Edition' video from artists Hannes Appell and Paco Vink shows what that updated sequel might look like with its background art translated into 3D. Rather than simply repainting or redrawing over the original game's artwork, this idea enhances the original scanned 2D art with a camera projection technique usually used for movie visual effects. Appell explains the technique:

    "A camera mapping method is used to create higher image fidelity and detail from the original 2D concept art. In further steps I might take this into a real-time engine (like CRYengine 2) to explore the scene.

    The technique is normally used to produce 2,5D or 3D mattepaintings out of a 2D or photo source and to speed up the production process. But hey! There is no rule against using it to enhance a normal 2D background. The original art is projected onto simple 3d geometry that is built with the original viewpoint in mind.

    If done right, even basic 3d geometry can enhance lighting mood, shadows and surface details. On top of that camera mapping opens up possibilities for animation or a conversion into a faithful 3D level or 3D scene."

    Appell adds that if LucasArts has a Maya/Photoshop workflow, the studio should have no trouble applying this technique to a possible Monkey Island 2 remake.

    [Via @IdleThumbs]

    Daring In Orange: Dragon's Lair Poster

    Dragon's Lair always seemed much better seen and not played (in my opinion), which is one of the benefits of this poster from illustrator Tom Whalen -- no need to sit through dozens of death scenes, and you get to keep your quarters. Also, the art, while distinct from Don Bluth's original animations, is marvelous.

    "I had a chance to work out the sketches for this piece on my trip to LA last week," says Whalen, "and i think the finished piece has retained some of that sun drenched 80's West Coast vibe." Another awesome touch: the text in the bottom left corner fashioned into a sword.

    This is one of several dozen works that will appear at The Autumn Society's "8-bit & Beyond" show opening at Philadelphia's Brave New Worlds comic shop on August 7th. I've included two more pieces from the video game art show below:

    "We're Gonna Need A Bigger Rucksack" by Kim Herbst

    "Mario The Plumber" by Pat Kinsella

    Krome's CEO On Running Australia's Largest Independent Studio

    [In a super-long but, I think, super-interesting interview, Christian Nutt speaks in-depth with Robert Walsh, CEO of Australia's largest independent studio, Krome (Star Wars: The Clone Wars - Republic Heroes) about the company's vision, plans, education initiatives, and more.]

    Founded in Brisbane, Australia in 1999, Krome Studios has become the largest independent game development studio in that country, as over the years, the company has grown to 400 employees through recruitment and acquisition.

    The company, which has offices in Brisbane, Adelaide, and Melbourne, now includes teams once belonging to Midway (Ratbag) and Atari (Melbourne House, Australia's oldest studio) -- also hiring staffers who were let go after the dissolution of Pandemic's Australian arm by Electronic Arts.

    The firm started out by making surfing games, apposite for an Australian studio, including Sunny Garcia Surfing in 2001, but is likely best known for its Ty the Tasmanian Tiger and its work on multiple Star Wars games for LucasArts, including the upcoming Star Wars: The Clone Wars - Republic Heroes.

    Here, we speak to CEO Robert Walsh about the company's growth, strategy, and perspectives on how it runs prototyping, outsourcing, and tech and tool development -- as well as how the company turned a personal tragedy into an educational legacy.

    I'd like to get an overview of the studio and your history. When was the studio originally founded?

    Robert Walsh: This is our 10th year anniversary, so we started in November, '99. We started with five of us, pretty small back then. Over the years, we have massively grown in size now.

    So how big is your organization in total now?

    RW: Just hit 400.

    That's very large for an independent developer.

    RW: Yeah, it is. And some of it has been natural and some of it has been acquisition. So far it has worked really well. I think this year, like everything else, we'll have a year of consolidation, stay a little bit more focused and weather out the economic storm. And, come out stronger on the other side -- which, we'll see how that plan works out.

    It seems like right now, you're concentrating a lot on work with LucasArts, doing Star Wars games. To what extent are they and other work-for-hire projects part of your plan for stability? Short-term, long-term?

    RW: No, the work for hire thing -- over the years, our studio has always been 50 percent original IP and 50 percent work for hire.

    Well, you had several Ty: The Tasmanian Tiger games.

    RW: Yeah, we had the Ty games, and the surfing stuff was original IP that we put together. We were actually working on our next Ty when we were approached by Lucas to do Force Unleashed. It was reported to the Ty team: "Do you want to finish Ty, or do you want to do Star Wars?"

    My partner, Steve [Stamatiadis], is a huge Star Wars fan, and it's not very many times in your career does that opportunity come along, so we put our hand up for it and said, "Yeah, sure." Obviously the rest is history. It's done really, really well. The SKUs have been commercially really successful.

    I'm sure I'm forgetting something, but I think in the history of Electronic Arts, Ty was the only real mascot platformer that really had any traction.

    RW: Yeah. It's one of those things that it's not a part of their stable portfolio. But EA, from moving product, they're undoubtedly one of the best in the world. They are a really, really good partner. They helped launch it. They are great to work with. There are a lot of resources there.

    We've been really fortunate over the years that most of our partners have all been really strong. If you look at everybody we've worked with, it's been EA. It's been Activision, LucasArts, Microsoft, Konami, Ubisoft, Mattel. We've always had strong people, and I think that's been really helpful. As we've grown the business, we've been working with some top tier people.

    We're a shop that gets the job done. That's been a stable of Krome. We always ship. When Force Unleashed became all consuming, now we're starting to get back into some original IP. We've got some stuff that we're putting on the plate. We're going to test in a few areas. The problem with the original IP right now I think is just the barrier to entry is so high. The cost of getting something to being totally demonstrable is in the millions of dollars.

    The Key to Developing Original IP

    Do you have a prototyping team going?

    RW: Yeah, we actually have two at the moment. Two of them are working on original IPs. One is a fair way along. We're looking at an online PSN/XBLA style experience. We've taken it to a new level where we're spending a lot more than the traditional title for that. We'll probably put $1.5 million [U.S. dollars] into that. We want to test the market for it. It's a new IP. We want to throw it out there. We want to see if we get traction on it. That team is about 20 people.

    Then we have another team of about 10 to 15 that's working on mechanics and concept at the same time. Here's some core mechanics, and what is the story that is going to roll into that? We'll rotate. We'll probably start a third one in about three months. The plan is to have two ongoing all the time. If one gets really strong traction, we'll blow that out and turn it into triple A high end next year.

    Some of the other staff will start looking at that smaller online work just to keep some of the teams going, and go to the space that we're not currently in. It helps build up our online and our community stuff, so we'll feed that into the pipeline and just come out with a portfolio of products for it. It's kind of fun. It's a little bit different in a way from what we're currently doing with our other stuff too. Some of those have really, really big teams.

    Your process of testing original IP begins internally, but do you at any point bring in gamers to evaluate it or do you rely on publisher feedback?

    RW: If it's prior to showing a publisher, we'll test it. First of all, you're right. The test is internal. Does it resonate with ourselves first? Then we go outside, because over the years we've always been a big believer in game consumers to come in and focus test.

    Then, the next stage definitely is let's focus test what we think the target demographic is and see if it resonates. We'll make changes from that. Then, once the thing gets to the publisher level, they will have also their own opinion et cetera. So, you may have to make more changes, and then they'll do the same thing. They'll put it into testing.

    Most of the major publishers now, that's the first thing they do is go out and do a focus test, get all the data, do all the matrices, give you the feedback and then you can do course corrections and take it to the next level. It's really important throughout the process of development to always put it in front of people, get feedback.

    Sometimes, as developers you are too close to it, and we can sometimes lose sight of who's the target and what do they really want, versus are we doing what they really want? I think it's always good to course correct it if you need to. The other thing is even if you don't need to course correct it, it actually confirms your choice.

    Are there limits to the effectiveness of it? The really good place to do it seems to be gameplay-focused testing -- in terms of, are people able to play the game. And of course the classic example at this point is Portal, where they just tested it over and over again, and that game is, like, perfect.

    RW: Yeah.

    But at the same time, not that gameplay is not creative, but I feel like sometimes the focus on testing can just water down...

    RW: Again, then the problem with focus testing can be you can never get enough people for it to be a proper sample. If you only test with 10 people and you've picked two that are wrong, it can really, really skew your results.

    I think it's one of those things. I think you use it as a guide. I don't think you take it as gospel, because it's really easy to get off track if you've got the wrong guys coming into the room. You're right. You can never get hundreds and hundreds, until you get beta online or something, where you get that feedback. I still think you have to trust your gut. You just take it all on board, and it's like, all right.

    I have a feeling that some games that have been really great might not have focus tested -- try to describe the concept of Portal to a bunch of 18 year olds: "Hey, there's this wacky talking computer, and it's kind of a shooter... but not..."

    RW: Exactly. And sometimes, especially with the original IP, if you are trying to do something that is different, that kind of validates it. If you can't explain it that well and people actually play it, touch it, feel it, get it, then it probably is like, "Okay, we're onto something good." Especially in the groundbreaking area, I think it's really important to get that because it makes your publisher feel warm and fuzzy as well.

    The Secret to Working With Publishers

    Now, when dealing with publishers, it's tough because people's goals are different, sometimes. Particularly, an independent developer might...

    RW: It's funny because the real challenge there is always there are so many vested parties at a publisher, that to get the stars aligned, it's not just your production team. You've got to get sales. You've got to get marketing. You've got to get focus testing of the consumer groups.

    Even to the extent that you've got to get QA. All those people have to be on board. You're right. It's a lot of moving pieces, and it's a real, real challenge.

    Again, the biggest tip for the external developers of the indies is whoever your champion is at the publisher, whether it's your producer or creative director, you need to constantly give him the tools to do his job, to allow him to manage all those different parties so there's not this huge disconnect.

    All of a sudden, marketing thought you were making an online shooter and you're making a driving game and it's like, "What?" The biggest problem is if marketing came in late and said we need this, and we didn't know and we thought we were going to get it, and you're in that boat where it's like... They're trying to move your product, you're trying to make them happy. You can sometimes put a spanner in the works.

    Again, the upside is if you have all of those things in alignment, then as a company they are going to get behind, you're going to get a better product. It's going to get in the market better. It's going to get a lot of support, and it's going to far more successful. So, that's part of the job.

    I think a lot of developers, and I think things have changed over the years, but there was this kind of perception started in the development community that the publisher was your enemy.

    But you're not powerless in the end -- they can't do it without you. There is sort of an antagonistic relationship, because it's hard to talk on the same level, right, just in terms of different perspectives.

    RW: Well, and that's the thing. With a lot of the developers that I've talked to, I've said, "One of the first things you can do from the business side is understand the publisher's business. Understand their model." And it's not that hard because most of all the good publishers are publicly traded companies. You get to see where everything is.

    So you can do your homework. And once you understand that publishing is a really, really tough business, then it kind of gives you a different insight about how you can approach it. Look at the numbers from last year, a lot of them lost money in a year when sales went up 10 percent.

    The Rebounding Economy of Entertainment

    The economy adds some additional wrinkles to the challenge of finding a concept that can compete and finding someone who's actually willing to spend on it. Is it harder?

    RW: Yeah, I think it is, but again, I think there are signs that the economy is returning. The one thing that we've seen, I believe, is that if you look at the box office numbers over the last couple of months, there's been a real strong attraction to entertainment and media.

    It's a lot cheaper to go to the movies and spend 100 bucks than it is to go to Florida or to go to Disneyland. I think games are still in that space. As people will still spend in that space, and as the economy picks up, I think we'll get that incremental spend faster than things like tourism and travel.

    If you look at Resident Evil 5, granted it's an established IP, but it sold fastest in the entire series. They announced they were approaching five million by May, and it came out in April.

    RW: Yeah, I think Force, in all SKUs, has hit six million or something. I think you're right. If people are going to spend money, they're going to spend money to stay at home. I don't know what the DVD numbers are, but I'm sure they've gone up also. I think our industry at large is in a good space to ride out the global meltdown.

    EA did a big reduction in force globally, and other publishers have lowered their studios, but they're still going to need SKUs down the road. I've heard of some talk about that potentially benefiting external studios, in the sense that the publishers are now looking to bulk up say 18 months down the road.

    RW: Yeah, that's the thing. Most publishers that I've spoken to, everybody contracted really, really fast. They cut SKUs. They cut product, and...

    Eidos, prior to the Square Enix acquisition, they cut 14 SKUs that were in works. That's ridiculous.

    RW: Yeah, for them, that's probably half their portfolio. Come 2010, 2011, those big companies still have all their overheads. Their fixed overheads. They still have buildings. They still have staff, they still have distribution networks. They still have all the channels, and the only thing that they need is good quality product to fill it. Especially '10 and '11, there have to be some massive holes in revenue forecasts right now. You're right.

    I think it's going to take a long time for a lot of the internal studios to rebuild, just because going through that bulge then purge, bulge then purge is not a good cycle. Again, that's one of the things where we have really, really strong tech and process, and again, once we get out of this, I think you're right. Independents are going to be in demand to try and help in the hunt for revenue.

    Tech Perspectives

    Do you have internal engine solutions or do you license engines?

    RW: We have an internal engine solution. Ever since we started Krome, we've always worked on our proprietary tools and technology. Right now, I think we have over 40 people that just do R&D, tools and tech, and team support.

    That's a pretty large core tech team.

    RW: Well, again, we are working across multiple platforms. Next-gen, and we're still doing some PS2 work. They support three studios, five or six titles. So, it is a big team, but we still do license in some middleware.

    I don't think anybody gets completely away from that.

    RW: No. We have our own internal physics solution, but we also use third party middleware for physics. I mean, you've got your Bink-s. You've got your FMODs. There are certain solutions that just fundamentally make sense as middleware solutions, but the core tools and tech is all proprietary.

    It's one of those things. You can be master of your own destiny. I think a pure middleware company isn't too bad because they're focused on support. If you have middleware companies that make games as well as middleware, there is a potential there that sometimes their products may come first.

    I've heard it both ways. Some people like game developers who work on middleware because they feel that they better understand the challenges, but some find that the support is lacking. Maybe people feel both at the same time.

    RW: I think for smaller studios middleware makes sense. We spend a lot of money on engine, so our engine team's bigger than some game teams. Not all people can do that. Because at the end of the day I don't think technology makes great games. Content makes great games.

    So if you're a small group focusing on content it's keen. As long as you pick the middleware solution that is right for your game, then I don't think it's a problem. If you're matching the wrong middleware, maybe, because stadium engines are different to driving.

    Do you guys outsource for art, or for any production, or do you mostly keep it inside?

    RW: I'd say we keep 90 percent inside. We do outsource. We've actually outsourced both art and code.

    I've heard so many negative things from people about outsourcing code.

    RW: Yeah and on the code front, we only use people we've worked with for a long period of time, relatively local. We make it fairly contained. So, for an example, we might take an Xbox 360 game and we might outsource the keyboard mapping for the PC. So it's more...

    Absolutely. I see what you're saying.

    RW: Yeah, I think outsourcing systems, and that sort of stuff, would be really challenging. But we have had occasions where somebody who's worked for us for a while, if they want to move on. Like, for family reasons, if they relocate or whatever, we can still work with them because they're so familiar with our architecture and stuff.

    And these days with internet speeds and with VPNs, it's relatively easy for them to do it virtually. But that's a very, very rare occasion.

    We do outsource some art, but I think [for] everybody I've spoken to, the perception of outsourcing art has fluctuated. All of the sudden it was like, "This is the future," and then it's a little more challenging than we thought.

    Then it's like, "Wow, not quite as inexpensive," because all of a sudden we're redoing the same thing three times. I've got production management. I've got flying people to and from the outsourcing company.

    One of the art guys on Mirror's Edge had to go live in China for six, eight months and actually manage the team directly. He was up for it, but not everybody's up for it.

    RW: Exactly. Yeah, when you load that overhead, your actual savings... I think from our perspective, if you don't look at outsourcing purely for a monetary perspective it's more [useful]. Can they do LODs? Is there a specific thing that allows your team more effectively on the AAA stuff?

    And, as long as you don't put it in the critical path, I think there's a place for it. I probably could be wrong, but I don't see the day where all of a sudden, we're going to outsource the whole game of art, and just have a bunch of coders sitting there and letting the art come in.

    A Tragedy Turned Around

    I'd like to talk about the scholarship you guys have recently established.

    RW: It's going to be an annual thing. We had a tragedy at work. One of our key art guys -- Ian Lovell -- was killed in a plane crash. It's probably, in all the years that I've worked in the business, the hardest thing that I've ever had to deal with. Because Krome, although we have our size, we try to run it very family. So everybody's really, really, really close. Yeah, I don't think there's anything that they can teach you that prepares you for something like that.

    He was an amazing guy. He was the art lead of the Clone Wars stuff. He spent a lot of time doing it, really passionate about it. It was just one of those things; after everything settled down afterwards, it was like, "We should do something." It's kind of like putting back. What can we do?

    We thought, "Okay, well, an art scholarship would be good." Ian's passion was animation, so we then went down the animation route. As I was talking to the school that we are partnering with on it... A tragedy shouldn't have just led to this. Good came out of it, but it's kind of a tough way to get there.

    You can't reverse something like that, but you can at least find something positive.

    RW: Yeah. And before we gave the scholarship out his mom emailed me, and she'd been going through all these school things, and all the work he did. For me, it was kind of like rebirthing Ian as this new person, because she'd gone through and relived his schooling just at this time we're about to launch this kid into his new career.

    And the thing that we've done with it is we're also offering an internship if he wants to take it. But that's not part of it. We'll support you in finishing up, and then if you want to go into film, go into film. If you want to go into FX, or if you want to go into media or creative, that's your choice. Ian was really, really passionate, so whatever your passion is. If it's games, great, you can come and work in the games industry. If it's film, we'll try and help you launch in that. It is a really good thing, but again it's a really, really tough, tough time.

    Yeah, it was freakish. When I heard, it was like, "It can't be true". It's just one of those things. But, the studio, his close group of people will always remember him at work. I was talking to Ian's partner, Sam. Because it's been really, really tough on her. She said, "It's like he's immortal now. The bastard's probably up there just laughing."

    And then, he was a Manchester United fan, so it's been his year now. Because Man United got up, so. But, like I said, some good came out of a tragedy. And we just really hope that over the years some good people come out of it, and understand what it took to get into the industry, and how good it is.

    I think that's one of the other things. All of those really, really creative and talented people can make choices. Part of their education process is, I was talking to the scholarship guy's parents, and it's like, "Games is a real career. We're not in a garage. We're not three kids anymore." I said, "This is a really, really big industry."

    And I think all these sort of things, in working with the educating people, helps. You can be [in the industry] for a long time. And you can do some really, really cool stuff. He's going to graduate and have two days off, and then he's going to come into work.

    Oh, did he elect to come to Krome?

    RW: Yeah.

    Excellent. I think some of the really intelligent studios are starting to really put a focus on working with education. Because the typical path has been letting folks get trained somewhere else and then poaching them from another studio -- not necessarily maliciously, but that was the way things worked.

    RW: Yeah, it kind of was. And I think we're definitely starting to look at interns more, and graduates. I think the biggest problem for us is because our industry is relatively young in the scheme of things, when you compare us to film and television, there's a certain mentality that it takes.

    How do you mentor somebody? We're always in that crazy [mode]: "We have to ship our games, we have to ship our games!" How do we put the right process in place to say, "Okay, you sit beside Johnny, and he's going to teach you for six months"? And you really have to have that set up, otherwise the poor kids would just come in.

    These guys are really, really busy. I think it took us some time to get mature about putting the training in place. We have a training office, and all that sort of thing. Mapping out the careers, and et cetera. That was kind of the thing that hindered it more than most, was I think, on our side, preparing them, being prepared for when they get there.

    You're talking specifically about once you hire people fresh out of university.

    RW: Yeah, fresh out of University. And so that's kind of like phase one. And the second part is, it took a long time for the industry to take us as serious as it should be.

    I know what you're talking about.

    RW: And now they are. We have to be able to affect curriculum. And part of the problem, especially at the university level, it's very, very hard to get a curriculum change. And our industry moves so fast that by the time the change comes in, we've moved on. And then we've moved on again.

    So, we have a lot of our guys do guest lectures and stuff at the local colleges and universities. And I think that's part of us becoming more integrated into it. Some of the other things we've done in the past, is we've given out tools and tech to local institutions to allow them to train up on real time stuff. So, yeah, if we don't do it... The industry is growing faster than what you can steal people from other studios can, so we actually have to get people in.

    And the other thing, too, we're starting to get more people starting to come in from visual effects and films. I mean, we've hired lighting guys from visual effects industry. We've hired character guys and that sort of stuff. So there is some cross pollination with that industry as well, whereas our stuff is getting higher and higher and higher, or I should say closer to what they're doing.

    It's kind of a trade-off. Do I want to work on Shrek's toenail, or do I want to come and do an entire character in Resident Evil? Because as glorious as some of the animation work sounds on that side, it's like everything. It's going to take a long time for you to become the lead animator at Pixar.

    So, I think you can grow your career faster in the game space than on the other side. There's always exception to that. But, yeah, it's like everything. If we don't foster new people, new creative content, be careful that things go past us.

    Fig. 8: 'Control A Bicycle Through Technical Diagram Suburbia'

    Hoping to find a sponsor, Greg "aeiowu" Wohlwend of Intuition Games (Effing Hail) posted this trailer for Fig. 8, a simple Flash title that has players navigating a bicycle through a continuous scrolling world of technical diagrams.

    Fig. 8 encourages players to finish the course with as many points as possible (riding through the entire field takes about 12 minutes, without any deaths). Avoiding sharp turns and keeping the lines from your wheels together increases your points multiplier, but crashing into one of the figures resets your score.

    Hopefully the trailer will attract a sponsor, and we'll be able to play Fig. 8 soon!

    GameSetLinks: That Top Hat Twitter Fantasy

    [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.]

    Actually, I'm struggling to get back on the GameSetLinks horse after a long weekend away (Yosemite National Park, not Comic-Con, oddly!), but luckily, there's a brace of decent links and great stories that I spontaneously bookmarked last week to pass along.

    Again, these are reasonably eclectic, but what I think they show - yet again - is that, despite a tendency for a glass half-empty attitude from some, there's a heck of a lot of good video game writing out there. I hope to continue to bring it to you, or at least highlight those pieces that you might not otherwise blast out from the bedrock of Internet words. Or something.

    Go go go:

    Crispy Gamer | @TopHatProfessor Layton and the Curious Twitter Accounts
    V.nice recounting of a cool fan-created Layton Twitter thing that a lot of people thought was Nintendo-run.

    The Making Of: Repton | Edge Online
    Wow, super-obscure UK gem's retrospective.

    Epic's Mark Rein Interview - Page 1 // Xbox 360 /// Eurogamer
    A lot of people on the Internets are digging this - as they should, because there are far too few lighthearted, humorous interviews about games. For whatever reason. Tres bon!

    An Evening With Uematsu, Final Fantasy’s Music Man | GameLife | Wired.com
    A really nicely written piece about Uematsu's recent San Francisco concert, which I actually saw very little coverage of in the game press. Bravo, Mr. Kohler.

    Retro/Grade Coming to PS3! – PlayStation.Blog
    Nice, another Independent Games Festival finalist gets a high-profile console berth, congrats to Matt Gilgenbach and friends.

    GamesIndustry.com - Newzoo International | Home
    Whoa, I know Dutch firm Newzoo, but I didn't know that they bought GamesIndustry.com and are spooling it up as a 'paid listings'-centric competitor to sites like, uhh, GamesIndustry.biz. Poor GI folks!

    Crispy Gamer | Social Games: The Industry's New Wild West
    Good piece by Goodfellow.

    July 27, 2009

    Sega's Take On Pitfall II

    GameSetWatch contributor and Magweasel.com's Kevin Gifford recently reminded readers of an arcade rarity, Sega's take on Activision's classic Pitfall II: Lost Caverns for Atari 2600. The Japanese licensed adaptation replicated the first level from the original Pitfall and the caverns from Pitfall II, but the other stages and many other elements are completely new.

    Kevin remarks, "Well, it’s sort of like Pitfall, but it plays like someone played [David Crane]’s original, told another programmer all about it in detail, and then that programmer created his own version based off that description. All the individual elements are there, but they come together to form something remarkably different."

    Sega also ported its Pitfall II adaptation to the SG-1000 (which never launched in the U.S.). You can see that port in the video below:

    Column: @Play: The Python Strikes! You Are Being Squeezed!

    Roguelike column thumbnail ['@ Play' is a monthly column by John Harris which discusses the history, present and future of the Roguelike dungeon exploring genre. This time - a discussion of using Python to make Roguelike games.]

    So let's talk a bit about Roguelike development languages.

    Traditionally, the One True Roguelike Language has been C. All of the current "major roguelikes," Nethack, Angband, ADOM and Dungeon Crawl, are either written in it or in C++. (Nethack makes use of bison and lex, and Angband used to use Lua for scripting.)

    The genre's origins on Unix systems, its ties with the curses console library, its reliance on a console in general, and the fact that when the genre got started C was basically it as far as serious programming languages go, all these things combined to identify the genre somewhat strongly with C.

    This is not as much the case now. As this year's 7DRL competition demonstrated, new roguelikes are now written in all kinds of languages, ranging from Java to MOS6510 assembly. A few were even written in Python, a language that has historically been regarded as more of a scripting language. I mean, scoff scoff, what business does a "real game" have being written in something like Python?

    [NOTE: Our column this time is concerned with matters of development and computer languages. If you're just interested in playing them, you might find this one to be somewhat dry at best, and confusing at worst. I apologize for this; try back next time and we should have a more interesting column for you.]

    Well... Python has progressed a point of nearly-unmatched flexibility. (Perl may be more flexible, but it's harder to learn. Ruby is similar in many ways.) It is a semi-compiled language; upon running, it is automatically compiled into a bytecode that is then run in an interpreted fashion. However, it also has an "immediate mode," allowing someone to test out code efficiently. These attributes combine to give it more than a little similarity to the BASICs that used to come with 8-bit computers, on which a legion of programmers, including myself, learned to smash bits together. Writing in Python is fun in a sense that is not often attached to the idea of software development.

    And yet, Python is serious news. It's available for a plethora of systems, and it's got more than one interface to SDL for high-level hardware utilization. If the Python virtual machine isn't to your liking, there are versions that have been rewritten to use the Java and .NET machines. If that's not enough, using the Psyco module you can even cause your Python program to be transparently compiled to machine code, providing amazing speed increases in most cases.

    Some time back I spent a couple of months tinkering with a roguelike engine in Python. The contents of this column are my own observations concerning Python as a roguelike language. It offers a unique set of benefits, but also a couple of surprisingly drawbacks, for use in implementing these games. I am by no means a Python expert, but I have played around with it for a while. Please give whatever weight to my impressions you deem appropriate. But it's enough for me to strongly suggest, if you're looking to get your feet wet in roguelike development, to give Python a try.

    Note: although intended for people unfamiliar with Python in general, this column is not intended to be a primer or tutorial for the language of Python. It's pretty much just an overview of interesting features and potential pitfalls. We don't even get into some of Python's more interesting general aspects, such as its enforced indentation scheme. We're focused pretty sharply on using Python for making roguelikes. There are plenty of good Python resources on the web for the Googling, though, and not a few books devoted to the subject.

    Lists

    One of the primary advantages of using a language like Python (or one of several other scripting languages) is the ubiquity of lists as a data type. If you're used to arrays from other languages, which tend to enforce all elements being of the same data type (even if those are frequently pointers) and being tricky to resize at runtime, this can seem amazing. These attributes make arrays ill-suited to being used to manage stuff like inventory and monster lists, since they typically impose a hard limit on size.

    Because of these limitations, roguelike development in C tends to be loaded to the gills with linked lists to handle space contents, inventory, monster populations, and, heaven help us, monster inventory. Linked lists are not a native type to C; the programmer has to either create and manage them himself (and I can say, from personal experience at the very least, that beginners designing such code are prone to making maddeningly elusive errors) or use an external library to handle the mechanics for you.

    If you avoid using a library, you'll end up writing a lot of utility code to maintain these lists, and expending energy to write that code, energy that comes at the cost of your enthusiasm for the project. The great majority of software projects never see completion, and part of that, I submit, is the need to write abundant utility code. C's strengths lie in its relative closeness to the metal, but that means it does little for the developer. Even common things like string handling are notoriously convoluted in C.

    Python, as a "very high-level language," handles strings like a dream, uses an efficient garbage collector, and its lists are practically a godsend. There are some difficulties with learning to use them; we'll talk about those once we get into Python's drawbacks. But most of it is a substance remarkably like gravy. What is especially cool about lists is that, unlike C's arrays, you can put any data type you want into a list's cells; they don't all have to be the same size. If you wanted, you could store a string in the first spot, an integer in the second, another entire list in the third, and so on, using them as makeshift structs. Mind, however, that Python contains robust support for classes, so there's little reason to do this.... All this is possible because, behind the scenes, Python is actually doing all the pointer juggling itself. This is not perfectly efficient, of course, but for a roguelike game the difference in speed can usually be measured in milliseconds.

    Further, lists can do lots of things easily that arrays cannot. They can easily be increased or decreased in size, arbitrary elements inserted and removed, used as stacks, operations performed on every item, copied, and reversed, and a surprising number of other things. The random module contains a method for easily shuffling the contents of a list in place. Of special interest is sorting: once your brain comes to properly grok list sorting, it'll start coming up with all kinds of nifty, unexpected uses.

    Now, granted, the tradeoff is that lists are more computationally-expensive than arrays. Python's internal algorithms are well-optimized, but it simply has more to do beneath the surface than a C array lookup would, which is basically simple pointer arithmetic. It is worth noting that fast-action games have been written in Python (for instance, popular indie game Rom Check Fail is actually written in Python using a PyCap, an interface to PopCap's game development libraries), but it is still lacking for some purposes. Roguelikes, however, are mostly turn-based, and a lot of processing behind the scenes may not produce anything more than a tenth-of-a-second pause. This makes Python, and other very-high-level languages too, potent tools for a roguelike developer.

    Dictionaries

    Nearly as cool as lists is the dictionary data type, which is analogous to Perl and Ruby's hashes. If you're not familiar with the concept, try to imagine the following. Start with an array. Then, abandon the idea that the elements in the array are in some sort of definite order; you can iterate through all the elements in the dictionary with a for loop, but there are no guarantees what order they'll be in. To compensate for this, instead of indexing the dictionary by a boring ol' integer value, you can use any immutable type in Python. That is to say, you can have an "array" that you access, not with a number, but with a string, or a float, or--of particular use to us--a pair of coordinates. Since Python refers to everything using objects, and variables just contain references to them, you can have one list of all the monsters in the level, and alongside it a dictionary that refers to the same monster objects according to their coordinates. This would make getting all the monsters in a room, or in the range of an area-effect spell, a matter of checking all coordinates in a smal range, instead of the potentially much-more-expensive route of checking every monster on the level for proximity. More importantly, the code is more elegant; elegant code is easier to read and maintain, because your brain doesn't have to context shift to whatever devious technique you made up in prior weeks to get a feature working.

    The idea of pointing these uses for hashes out is not to say you must do it this way, but to show that Python provides a strange and wonderful toolset for use. As you come to understand the things that Python makes both easy, and surprisingly fast, all kinds of clever ways to do things may present themselves to your mind.

    For beginning programmers, however, I don't think any feature of Python is more useful than its interactive shell. It's what elevates Python to the realm of old 8-bit computer programming languages, and I mean that in a good way; with a quick command, you can test out almost any code Python will compile and make sure it does what you expect, just like the old days of sloped keyboard boxes and Microsoft BASIC. This above all helps make Python fun to work with by allowing for near-instantaneous testing of prospective code.

    List Copy Troubles

    I think Python is, overall, fairly well suited to the task of serving as a roguelike development language, but there are a few gotchas one must look out for when beginning to use it as such. I mention it here because I myself was bitten by this, and it took me quite some time to overcome the issue. One of the most intractable such problems comes from one of its greatest advantages, how it treats everything as an object, with all variables, behind the scenes, serving as merely references to the data.

    This may not sound like much of a problem. Isn't that the entire point of a variable after all? But there is a secret gotcha here that will bite if you are unprepared for it! The trouble lies with Python's two classes of datatype, mutable and immutable. Simply, the data in a mutable type can be changed without changing the reference. Lists are mutable because you may change any of its contents but the identity of the list does not change: it's the same list, just modified. Imutable objects, conversely, cannot be changed without creating a new copy of the item. Python often takes care of that for you, so in many cases you don't notice there's a difference at all. In most cases, it just means that behind the scenes Python creates new copies of changed values and discards any old value that had been there. This is good because pretty much all numbers are immutable, and you never have difficulty using the += operator because Python just creates a new value to go in that spot. The most commonly encountered problems with immutable objects usually have to do with strings, which are immutable types in Python.

    But mutable objects can pose difficulties, too. The problem comes in when you make a copy of a piece of data, producing two references to the same thing. If the data is immutable then that's not much of a problem, for when one of the values is changed it'll create a new value anyway. But if you assign the same list, a mutable type, to two different variables and then change one of the elements in that list, you'll find that both lists have changed. It is possible to be profoundly screwed over by this behaviour if you're not looking for it; it looks much like the kind of stray pointer bugs that C code sometimes spawns, with values changing unexpectedly, but it's not a bug. But if you're not careful, such reference copies can spread far throughout your program. It's difficult to cause Python to make an explicit copy of a mutable object, so difficult that Python has an entire module, copy, devoted to it to making it easy.

    Yet even with this module, the problem is not always easily solved. Consider the case where you have a list of lists, a structure that roguelike authors, for reasons we'll shortly examine, often end up trying in Python. A list is just a sequence of references, referred to by number instead of, as with simple variables, name. So, a list of lists is really a list of references to lists of references! If you make an ordinary copy of such a list, you'll only end up with a shallow copy; The top-level list will be copied, but the interior list contents will all refer to the originals, and these "quantum entanglement" change bugs will persist. Heaven help you if you make a list of lists of lists, which my own code used. The copy module contains a special function for these structures, deepcopy, that ensures that every data item copied is new. The drawback is that deepcopy is relatively slow, since it does paranoid reference checking, and making lots of use of it can drag down your game.

    Lack of Built-in Multi-Dimensional List

    I mention that copy problems become bad if you make a list of lists. Why would one do such a thing? It sounds slightly obscene, doesn't it, an unholy rite of development that could conjure demon bugs. Yet Python has special need of such a data structure because... here it comes... the basic language does not contain an analogue for multi-dimensional arrays. Lists are a one-dimensional structures only. Need I remind you, roguelike dungeon levels are usually stored as two-dimensioned arrays of spaces. To simulate a grid, if you want to keep the syntax similar to C, you must use a list of lists. In code, this ends up looking like:

    dungeon = [[wall, wall, wall, wall, wall],
    [wall, stairsup, space, player, wall],
    [wall, space, monster, space, wall],
    [wall, space, treasure, stairsdown, wall],
    [wall, wall, wall, wall, wall]]

    Do you see what this list does? A single list is defined by square brackets; thus, square-brackets inside of square brackets define sublists. To read the contents of a space, for game logic purposes or to render the display, one can refer to it with:

    dungeon[y][x]

    But this scheme is vulnerable to all the copy problems mentioned above. I know of two ways to remedy this sanely: using a wrapper class around a list, and using a dictionary. The dictionary method I've described above; you just use a tuple (an immutable analogue for an array, using parentheses instead of square ones) for the coordinates. Like this:

    dictarray = {}
    # Assignment
    dictarray[(3, 3)] = "floor"
    # Recall
    print dictarray[(3, 3)]

    It's kind of a weird solution though; although it only uses up memory for the spaces you actually fill, it's a bit less efficient than an array, and if you try to access a spot that contains nothing it'll raise an exception. There are ways around this: you could access dictionaries using its get method, like so:

    dictarray.get((0, 0), "wall")

    That supplies a default value for unassigned spaces. You could also use a wrapping class like we're about to do with lists to handle default cases, and there's also a way to change Python's handling of dictionaries to avoid this problem. Those are beyond the scope of this column, but are definitely doable.

    Possibly the best tradeoff between efficiency and sane syntax is to make a new class to represent your multidimensional array. The first thing we should realize is that a multi-dimensional array is simply a one-dimensional one remapped. A 5 x 5 array is really, to the runtime, a 25-cell array with a little syntactic sugar to make it seem like something else. If we know the size of the x dimension of the array, we can easily do this math ourselves.

    listarray = ["topleft", "topmiddle", "topright",
    "middleleft", "center", "middleright", "bottomleft",
    "bottommiddle", "bottomright"]
    xsize = 3
    #
    # Retrieve cell 1, 2
    x = 1
    y = 2
    print listarray[x + y * xsize]

    This code returns "bottommiddle" as its result. C actually makes this relationship a bit more explicit, and we can do some pointer math in a way that makes sense if a raw buffer were to be used exactly like an array. But usually the compiler does this math behind the scenes. We can do it back there too, by using a wrapper class:

    import copy
    from defines import *

    # 2D array-faking helper functions
    import copy

    class TwoDArray(object):
    """
    Implemented as a list simulating an array, with extra attributes for the
    size.
    """
    def __init__(self, xextent, yextent, initialstate = 0):
    """
    To initialize, we simply store the extents and create a list of the appropriate size.
    Most of the code here should be self-explanatory.
    """
    self.xsize = xextent
    self.ysize = yextent
    arraybuild = []
    for index in range(xextent * yextent):
    arraybuild.append(copy.deepcopy(initialstate))
    self.array = arraybuild

    def checkbounds(self, x, y):
    if (x >= self.xsize) or (x < 0) or (y >= self.ysize) or (y < 0):
    return False
    else:
    return True

    def get(self, x, y):
    if self.checkbounds(x, y):
    try:
    return self.array[x + (y * self.xsize)]
    except IndexError:
    raise
    else:
    raise ValueError, "Index out of bounds:" + str(x) + "," + str(y)

    def put(self, x, y, assign):
    if self.checkbounds(x, y):
    self.array[x + (y * self.xsize)] = assign
    else:
    raise ValueError, "Index out of bounds" + str(x) + "," + str(y)

    An example of use:
    dungeon = TwoDArray(5, 5, "wall")
    for x in range(1, 4):
    for y in range(1, 4):
    TwoDArray.set(x, y, "floor")

    To recall the contents of a cell, we'd use the get method instead, providing only the coordinates as arguments. If we wanted to, we could even subclass lists and make a new access method "official," with its own syntax, but that's beyond the scope of this column and my abilities at the moment. Heh.

    There, that wasn't so bad, was it? Python is capable of performing miracles if used correctly. Notice, by the way, that many of the things I've mentioned here can also be done, in a similar way, with Ruby. It doesn't have as many built-in helper functions as Python, and those can come in handy at times, but to our perspective the languages aren't much different at all. The biggest change to this basic exposition lies in the fact that Ruby doesn't seem to have an explicit copy method, which sometimes leads to having to use strange solutions such as serializing the data with Marshal and unserializing it to make an unconnected copy.


    In other news....

    The developers of Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup have announced a tournament for the month of August under the most recent version of their game. The tournament will take place on the two semi-official Crawl public servers at and crawl.develz.org. Visit the Stone Soup home page for more information.

    There is an up-and-coming commercial iPhone roguelike called 100 Rogues. We're going to try to have an interview with project lead Keith Burgun up in a few days, but in the meantime you might have a look at their Facebook page, which offers a little more information as well as an info video of an intriguing character class....

    Countdown To Virtua Hamster

    Not to be confused with other virtual pet games that simulate the Hamster owning experience (e.g. Ubisoft's Hamsterz Life and Petz: Hamsterz 2), Virtua Hamster was a Sega Genesis 32X game that had players guiding rocket-powered hamster test pilots on mini skateboards around a maze of tubes, collecting stolen blueprints in a mad scientist's laboratory.

    According to pre-production design documents posted by former Sega game designer Eric Quakenbush, Virtua Hamster was meant to have "the look and fast paced action of Virtua Racing and Virtua Fighter combined with an amusing puzzle strategy game and an unlikely group of heroes and enemies."

    Unfortunately, the game was never released (planned for 1995), presumably due to the 32X add-on's unpopularity. Quakenbush said a British company picked up the title for a possible PC release after Sega cancelled the project, but that also never made it to market.

    Spanish Sega community Sega Saturno, however, procured a Virtua Hamster prototype for around $250 recently, and plans to post the ROM for public download this Wednesday. The site even has a countdown timer for the ROM's release.

    In the meantime, you can watch this choppy footage from the dumped prototype, which really doesn't look as exciting as the game's cover suggests. I'm not writing Virtua Hamster off just yet, though, as the pre-production notes mention a veteran hamster with a steam-powered rocket backpack, an idea so wonderful that I wouldn't mind seeing an entire movie based on the concept -- it couldn't be much worse than G-Force.

    Other intriguing Virtua Hamster characters that serve as opponents seeking to hinder test pilot:

  • a Kangaroo Rat with an Australian ‘out-back’ style rocket
  • a Mole or shrew that lurks around like Peter Lorrie
  • an armored, Armadillo-like, rodent from Brazil that chants soccer crowd anthems and yells “Goooaaal!” when he makes a point against another player
  • a Pack-Rat who will grab any object he comes across and stuff into one of his many pockets
  • and a pack of alley rats with black leather and chrome rockets
  • I'm setting an alarm clock to make sure I'm there the minute this releases.

    [Via ASSEMblerGames]

    Comic-Con Time With the Raroos: 2009 Edition (Part 5)

    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've been running daily updates from the Raroos as the convention progressed, and after the first, second, third, and fourth parts, the fifth and final segment is about Sunday.]

    Sunday, July 26: Crossing the Finish Line

    There can definitely be too much of a good thing, and Comic-Con is a prime example of that. After spending more of our waking hours at the San Diego Convention Center this past week than anywhere else, we are more than ready to bid it farewell until next year. Even though we really enjoy attending Comic-Con, it never fails that by the last day we are looking forward to its finish.

    Sunday is always Kids Day at Comic-Con, and we got in the spirit by bringing along our 10-year-old nephew, Mario. Even though we were feeling completely wiped out, it was nice to spend the day with someone who was anxious about seeing what Comic-Con had to offer. Mario was definitely looking forward to whatever adventures awaited us at the convention.

    When we first walked onto the main floor, we were right by the Bakugan booth, and Mario made a beeline for one of the demo station of the Wii game. There was already another boy playing a two-player session against himself, but he soon handed Mario the second controller and they fumbled their way through the rest of the battle. The Wii game was nothing memorable, but it was fun that at the booth you could pose for a Bakugan-themed snapshot and get a free photo printed out for each person in your group. Nice!

    Next up was the Pokémon booth, where kids were given a cute Pokéball beach ball. Mario sat down at one of the many tables to get an introductory lesson on how to play the Pokémon card game. As the tutorial went on, it was clear Mario was starting to get bored, and by the time he was done playing a round with the instructor he was ready for something else. Perhaps learning to play the Pokémon card game was a little too much like being in school!

    We headed upstairs to watch some Nickelodeon cartoon episodes that were being shown. Watching SpongeBob SquarePants with a ballroom full of kids and parents singing along to the opening theme song was quite a jolly experience! About two thirds of the way through the shows Kaz informed me he had “poops” and I had to head over to the restroom to change him. Thankfully, he calls any type of dirty diaper “poops,” and it turned out to be just a wet diaper Unfortunately, it had leaked through his pants so a change of clothes was in order.

    SpongeBob SquarePants!

    Mario had a $20 bill burning a hole in his pocket, so after the Nickelodeon screenings were over, we headed back down to the main floor so he could do a little shopping. We followed Mario’s lead, but he literally took us in circles, so we finally asked him what exactly he was looking for and helped to guide him in the right direction. After a great deal of examining the wares at the various toy booths, Mario settled upon buying a plush Kirby doll and a Transformers poster.

    Mario was interested in seeing some of the video game companies’ booths, but before we trekked across the Convention Center, we took a moment to visit our friends at the Toshwerks booth. It was there that Chris Remo and I designated as our meeting place, and we got together for a bit to say hello and have a nice chat. I think it’s safe to say Chris was just as tired out as we were!

    After parting ways with Chris, we dove back into the crowd and finally wound up near the video game booths. Mario is at the age where he is beginning to lose interest in kid-friendly games and instead is drawn toward more violent and mature fare, much to our disappointment. The days of playing Mario Kart and Mario Party with our nephew may soon be over, it seems.

    Entranced by ViolenceOf all the games on display, Mario managed to find a booth for a surround sound headphone company that was using Call of Duty 4 as its example. Mario put on a pair of headphones, picked up an Xbox 360 controller, and was soon throwing grenades and sniping enemies with frightening tenacity. Mario has had plenty of practice with the game at his cousin’s house, which made him quite a force to be feared on the battlefield.

    Truth be told, it was creeping me out that he was so entranced by the carnage, and I repeatedly tried to persuade him to go look at something else, which he had absolutely no interest in doing. Thankfully, after a while another kid wanted to play the game, so Mario had to reluctantly give up the controller. I asked him if he wanted to go look at anything else, but being disappointed that his Call of Duty 4 campaign had ended prematurely, he told me he just wanted to go home.

    Because we were so tired, we didn’t give Mario any opportunity to change his mind and quickly made our way for the exit. But even though we were feeling worn-out, there was a tiny bit of an extra spring in our steps as we walked to our car, happy to know that Comic-Con was finally over for this year. Surviving San Diego Comic-Con can be punishing, and we were ready to get home and take a load off our miserable feet.

    It’s always a little difficult to transition back to life as usual after a vacation, but in the case of an event as strenuous as Comic-Con, returning to our normal routines is actually welcomed. We love San Diego Comic-Con, but we’re glad it only comes once a year. We’ve had more than our fill of Comic-Con for this year, but I have a feeling that when next Summer rolls around, we’ll be hungry for the experience once again.

    [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].]

    New Colecovision Game: Ghost N Zombies

    Homebrew developer AtomicFe announced a new release coming to the almost 27-year-old ColecoVision. Due this Fall, Ghost N Zombies shares more than just a similar title with Capcom's Ghosts 'n Goblins, its cover also features a familiar knight! That hero is actually Arthur's father, as AtomicFe's game is an unofficial prequel:

    "Three years before Arthur defeated Astaroth in Ghost n Goblins [sic], his father Sir Raphael, returning from a trip around the world, discovered a village [with] people crying the loss of their magical "Rose". Listening only [to] his courage, Sir Raphael promised the villagers to fight Ghosts and Zombies, find the Rose, and get it back to the villagers. Thus the Quest for the Rose started."

    Ghost N Zombies will come in a 32K cartridge and will include 17 screens, 11 different kinds of enemies, and more. AtomicFe plans to sell 25 boxed copies with manuals (with another 25 possible depending on demand) for $60, and is accepting preorder requests through email. You can see several screenshots below and at AtomicFe's forum:

    [Via AtariAge]

    Stream Shatter's Soundtrack For Free

    Shatter, Sidhe Interactive's Breakout/shoot'em-up PS3 game released last week, has received positive reviews not just for its well executed update of the 30-plus-year-old brick breaking formula, but also for its superb "electro rock and retro beats" soundtrack.

    Local composer Jeramiah "Module" Ross worked closely with the studio for over a year to match the music with Shatter's visuals and themes, coming up with a sound reminiscent of "80’s new wave, stadium rock and intergalactic space rock opera."

    Sidhe has posted the soundtrack on Bandcamp, where you can stream the 13-track release for free or purchase downloads for individual songs and the entire album. It should also hit iTunes and other digital outlets soon, and a physical CD version is also planned.

    GameSetNetwork: Best Of The Week

    Rounding up the last seven days a tad later than normal, 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.

    There's actually a boatload of interesting stuff this time out, including our in-depth NPD report, a v.neat chat with the Little King's Story creator, an overview of game PR, a round-up of the Casual Connect coverage we did in association with Gamezebo, plus the latest GameCareerGuide Design Challenge results and new Challenge, wow.

    Lost in time:

    Yoshiro Kimura's Strange Journeys
    "Gamasutra sits down with Little King's Story and Chulip creator Yoshiro Kumira, a game designer with a different way of looking at the world, to discuss his titles and look at pages from his game sketchbook."

    A New Life for Arcades?
    "In an overview of the current arcade game business, industry consultant Kevin Williams examines the state of the market, probing why, although the Western arcade biz is much changed from its '80s heyday, there's still room for new products."

    Sponsored Feature: The All-Important Import Pipeline
    "In this feature, part of Intel's Visual Computing section, Rod Green discusses the creation of art pipelines for the firm's Project Offset engine/game, explaining why studios "should be aiming to sever the umbilical cord" and implement a 'common format' approach to art pipelines."

    A Circular Wall? Reformulating the Fourth Wall for Video Games
    "In this in-depth article, Conway uses games such as Max Payne, Metal Gear Solid and even Sonic The Hedgehog to discuss how video games can break boundaries to refer to the world outside the game -- and how well it works."

    Game PR and You: A Comprehensive Overview
    "The relationship between a game creator/publisher and the public is absolutely key - so what is the current landscape like, and what are the cardinal rules you should follow to raise and enhance your game's profile? Gala Networks Europe' Wera has a few suggestions."

    NPD: Behind the Numbers, June 2009
    "Gamasutra's latest analysis of NPD's U.S. console retail figures examines June's 31% sales slump in the context of the recent past, including exclusive data on the top-selling games of the year so far, music game trend analysis, and a look forward to the rest of the year."

    Round-Up: 2009 Casual Connect Conference
    "All this week, Gamasutra and casual site Gamezebo have brought you keynote and panel coverage from Seattle's Casual Connect event -- here's the highlights, from Nintendo to PopCap and beyond."

    Results from Game Design Challenge: DS Platforming Innovation
    "Since innovation has slowed down on the Nintendo DS compared to its original promise, we asked our readers to devise unique stylus-only gameplay that reawakens the system's potential -- here are the results!"

    Book Extract: Game QA & Testing - Ready, Set, Go!
    "In this book extract from Game QA & Testing, industry authors Levy and Novak gather advice from around the industry on how to get the job you're looking for to get a leg up!"

    Game Design Challenge: Rebooting The Series
    "Ready to reboot an ailing franchise? Our latest challenge puts you in charge of reimagining whatever game series you like -- and hopefully getting to the core of what makes it appealing."

    NIS Teases PSP Title, Prinny Transformations

    Disgaea series developer and publisher Nippon Ichi Software promises a new title for the PSP with a flyer announcing "Hero Transformation Project Starts".

    The advertisement features a costumed and caped figure with a big V on his belt and a bigger V across his chest (perhaps a distant relative of Viewtiful Joe?), transforming into a tank, a cat, a vehicle modeled after the company's Prinny mascot, a character with drills for hands (inconvenient for handling silverware and many other tasks, I'm sure!), and other strange forms.

    They flyer doesn't provide any more detail than the impressive spritework (as is expected from NIS), but the company's U.S. office revealed last month that its Disgaea team is working on a strategy RPG for the PSP, possibly with a PSN download. That game is expected to feature a "new type of battle system", which is par for the course with the company's SRPGs.

    [Via PSP Hyper]

    Telltale's Vanaman: 'Authorship Is Important In Any Creative Industry'

    [Our own Chris Remo is covering Comic-Con 2009 for us, and he caught up with Telltale Games designer Sean Vanaman (Sam & Max, Tales of Monkey Island) to discuss the crediting of writers and designers and why "authorship is really important in any creative industry."]

    Telltale Games is known for its unusual episodic model of game development and distribution, but its process also hinges on a specific attitude to authorship: assigning and crediting each of its episodes to a single overall writer and designer.

    That allows the company to say each of its episodes is “by” a particular person, an increasingly uncommon practice in today's era of ever-ballooning development teams.

    Designer Sean Vanaman, a Disney creative development veteran who wrote the third episode of Telltale's Wallace & Gromit's Grand Adventures as well as an upcoming episode of the recently-begun Tales of Monkey Island has strong feelings on the role of authorship in games. During Comic-Con 2009, we spoke with Vanaman to hear why he thinks it's so important.

    “For a lot of big publishers, at that level it's an ego thing,” Vanaman said. When executives see a developer who is given publicly-acknowledged authorial credit over a game, “they say, 'Oh, that person's a diva. That's why they want it to be there.'”

    “But it's not,” he argued. “If that person sits down and creates that story and that world from nothing, that credit is really important. It doesn't mean if it has a 'Written and Directed by' credit, then it's good, but authorship is really important in any creative industry.”

    The same applies even to teams larger than Telltale's, he said – at the end of the day, somebody has to take responsibility. “If you're Ken Levine -- BioShock is an achievement -- there's still a whole team of creative minds contributing, but there is a gatekeeper as to what fits in that world and what doesn't fit in that world.”

    Plus, he added, such crediting isn't just an issue of boosting somebody's personal sense of accomplishment; it drives the creator's investment in ensuring the game is as good as it can be. “It's terrifying,” he said. “If you make a $40 million game, and it takes a crap, it's a big problem.”

    “It's hard to formally put that much faith in one person; it's something the industry is not accustomed to doing,” Vanaman said, contrasting that reluctance to the film industry, which has traditionally been much more comfortable giving and even promoting authorial responsibility.

    Telltale's episodic approach goes hand in hand with its crediting approach, he explained, allowing the company to partially sidestep the larger industry's tendencies. “That risk is mitigated a lot,” he said. “If [my episode] sucks, everybody can email me and tell me, but that episode is backed up by the surrounding episodes, which I know are going to be awesome.”

    “Authorship can beget quality,” he said. “Celebrating that authorship allows it to continue. It is good to see the company value that; it makes you want to keep doing it. Every good industry that's creative at all is about the people.

    “I don't know how many times [Pixar's] Ed Catmull has said, 'It's about the people.' It is. If you make good people feel good, they're going to keep doing good stuff for you. Because you work your ass off. You don't sleep, you don't think about anything else."

    "There are times when you just don't come home, and you have to tell your girlfriend, 'I just have to be an asshole for a while, I'm sorry,' and to know your company appreciates that is great. It keeps you accountable.”

    July 26, 2009

    Comic-Con Time With the Raroos: 2009 Edition (Part 4)

    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, second, and third parts, the fourth segment is about Saturday.]

    Saturday, July 25: Running on Fumes

    We were originally planning on being at the Convention Center in plenty of time to catch a SpongeBob SquarePants panel at 10:30 am, but all the activity of the past few days has caught up with us and we opted to sleep late instead. Seeing as we were running out of energy throughout the day as it was, I think we made the right decision to let our bodies rest a bit. All in all, we felt both physically tired and a little worn out on Comic-Con in general. It is grueling.

    Our slight ennui was compounded by a couple of dud booths. I really wanted to see Scribblenauts at the Warner Bros. booth, but celebrity signings meant the booth was off limits, even though they had a demo station up and running. To top it off, the WB representatives were rather rude when I asked if I could take a quick look at Scribblenauts, so we figured they weren’t worth any more of our time and we went elsewhere.

    Sadly, we fared no better at the Mattel booth, where they had Cars toys on sale. Kaz has almost all of the main characters in his collection, but he’s missing Sarge and Sally, both of which were being sold for five dollars each. However, when we got to the front of the line we were informed we couldn’t buy a specific character, but instead would be given a random character for our five dollars. We didn’t want to waste our money since we probability wouldn’t have been able to snag Sarge or Sally without dropping a small fortune, so we told them to forget it. The day was not going well.

    Thankfully, my luck soon changed. Taking the time to try out Ignition Entertainment’s games turned my mood around and put me in high spirits. After going a round or two with the impressive-looking King of Fighters XII, I noticed Ignition’s Shane Bettenhausen walking around and introduced myself. Not only had Shane heard of GameSetWatch (hooray!), but he was more than happy to guide me through a demo of Muramasa: The Demon Blade.

    Muramasa: The Demon Blade

    I’ve been excited about Muramasa since I first saw screenshots of the game months ago, and I’m happy to report it didn’t fail to impress. Even though I especially enjoyed the art direction of developer Vanillaware’s previous game, Odin Sphere, the actual gameplay didn’t quite grab me the way I had hoped it would. Muramasa, on the other hand, seems to be everything I wanted Odin Sphere to be. It’s filled with luscious visuals that utilize a gorgeous array of colors, and its character control feels spot-on and responsive. In other words, the demo was wonderful!

    What really stands out to me about Muramasa are the numerous subtle touches littered throughout the experience, such as protagonist Kisuke periodically glancing in the player’s direction as he runs forward. I’m really anxious for the opportunity to sit down with Muramasa away from the frantic Comic-Con floor and enjoy it at my own pace in the comfort of my home. Without a doubt, Muramasa is not only my most anticipated Wii game of the year, but it’s the game I’m looking forward to the most for any system, period.

    Still, my elation at finally having some hands-on time with Muramasa wasn’t enough to fight off my exhaustion, and both Kaz and Missus Raroo were not faring much better. Kaz was not in any type of mood to walk, which meant I had to carry him around almost the entire time. Meanwhile, Missus Raroo’s morning sickness returned in full force, and at one point she was looking so miserable that a security guard asked if she needed some first aid!

    Thank goodness for the anime programming! It provides a cool, relaxing place to take a load off one’s feet for a bit. We headed into one of the rooms that was airing episodes of fairly light and family-friendly anime series, such as Ramen Fighter Miki and Clannad. We kept Kaz entertained with water and crackers, but after almost an hour he got bored and started acting silly, so we had to leave the room so as not to disturb the other audience members.

    Old School, New SchoolOne thing I noticed while sitting and watching the anime episodes is that a great deal of the audience members appeared to be at the convention alone. And, on top of that, it seemed like they were camped out for the long haul, ready to spend their whole day watching anime. That got me thinking about how Comic-Con means so many different things to different people.

    Whether it’s the old-school attendees who come to dig through stacks of vintage comics for that one last issue needed to complete their collections, or new-school attendees who couldn’t care less about comics and instead are eager to see the latest, trendiest celebrities, Comic-Con truly provides something for everyone. It’s pretty exciting to realize that there exists an event so massive and thorough that just about anyone can have something to get energized about.

    On our way to the exit we happened across a booth full of toys that had a small selection of yo-yos for sale. Inspired by one of Missus Raroo’s relatives who wowed everyone with his yo-yo skills at a recent family reunion, I’ve taken up the yo-yo a little bit, just trying to get the basics down and learn a few tricks.

    The yo-yos at the booth were all from Yomega, and the packaging revealed they were about a decade old and originally intended to be sold in Japan. I walked away with a Hyper Raider for five bucks, which was a really good deal! I tried it out on the walk back to our car and it’s got a solid feel and sleeps really well. Score!

    F*** This Tree!We also made a short pit stop at the little playground located in the “Park in the Park” at Petco Park. I had to cuss out a tree with low-hanging branches, upon one of which I hit my head really hard. Even though it hurt, I felt a little bad that I bellowed “F*** this tree!” Missus Raroo thought it was more hilarious than offensive and laughed at me, even though my head was bleeding from the collision. Ouch!

    The end of Comic-Con is in sight. We’re planning on taking our nephew along with us for the final day, so that should help to freshen up the experience a bit because we’ll be able to enjoy the it through a new set of eyes. Hopefully our nephew won’t mind too much that his aunt, uncle, and cousin will most likely be dragging their feet a little as he rushes around to take in all the new sights and sounds surrounding him.

    [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].]

    Round Up: Gamasutra Network Jobs, Week Of July 24

    In our latest employment-tastic round-up, we highlight some of the notable jobs posted in big sister site Gamasutra's industry-leading game jobs section this week, including positions from Volition, Namco and more.

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

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

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

    Gamasutra.com - Game Industry Jobs

    Day 1 Studios: Level Designer
    "Day 1 Studios believes that extraordinary individuals create extraordinary entertainment. To continue our success, we need the best and brightest designers, composers, artists and technologists to share our quest to create revolutionary games. Join us in our Chicago or Hunt Valley, MD locations."

    Vigil Games: Senior VFX Artist (Darksiders)
    "We are looking for an a highly experienced, professional Visual Effects Artist for our next gen console title. This person will work with the art director and animation lead to define the visual benchmarking and production methodology for the creation of computer-generated FX content, as well as design and create digital effects using 3rd party and proprietary tools."

    Volition: Programmer
    "Volition is one of THQ’s premier internal game development studios. We are the creators of such franchises as Saints Row, Red Faction, and the Descent/Freespace series. We have most recently released the highly successful Saints Row 2 and Red Faction Guerilla We offer a casual work environment, a comprehensive benefits package, and the opportunity to have fun solving technically challenging problems."

    Vicarious Visions/Activision: QA Manager
    "The Quality Assurance Manager is responsible for managing 5 or more videogame software projects through the Quality Assurance test process. This involves assigning and managing test leads and test teams, planning and managing the QA budget and review test plans, coordinating with the Production Management Team, and overseeing the entire test effort from beginning to end."

    WorldsInMotion - Online Games

    Ganz/Webkinz: Flash Developers
    "ARE YOU PASSIONATE ABOUT FLASH DEVELOPMENT ?? Now is your chance to join the Ganz team that has brought you such products as Webkinz and Webkinz Jr. You can be a part of developing new adventures !!"

    Namco Networks America: Game Designer - PC and Online
    "Namco Networks of America is looking for experienced game designers with the desire to create games for the ever-expanding PC casual market. The ideal candidate should possess design experience across a wide variety of game genres, and must be able to design, document, implement and tune gameplay mechanics."

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

    COLUMN: 'Game Mag Weaseling': Mag Roundup 7/25/09

    ['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.]

    hcg35.jpg

    I know I am extremely late with this news, but starting wtih the current issue, Hardcore Gamer is now an online-only publication. This brings the total number of US print mags in current circulation to a mere nine, down from about 15 back in 2004.

    This is no big surprise after the mag suddenly went seasonal in '08 and tried to sell off its brand name back in January, just as Ziff Davis Media handed its game group over to Hearst. Still, a run of 34 issues, with content as -- well -- hardcore as HGM had, on as low of a budget as they ran with, in an extremely hostile economic environment for print mags of any sort, is nothing to sniff at. I wish 'em well in the future.

    Anyway, this column (covering all the mags that have hit readers' mailboxes in the past couple weeks) is at once exciting and not-so -- there's a ton to cover, but since we're in the post-E3, pre-Xmas-rush period right now, nothing too devastating is happening in mag-land. Click on to read on.

    Official Xbox Magazine September 2009

    oxmus-0909.jpg

    Cover: BioShock 2

    Many congratulations to OXM's US edition for reaching its 100th issue, a remarkable feat for a print game mag that didn't debut until 2001 -- past the point where many gamers branded print as "dead." (Being a console mag with a demo disc helps, of course, especially when said demo disc is for Fight Night Round 4.)

    A lot of celebration is going on with this issue, from a spread with every cover ever up front to a swag contest, editor look-back and "top 100 Xbox games ever" feature further on. It's all worth reading, more so than the post-post-E3 Natal/Xbox Live news piece and the BioShock 2 feature, which looks nice but is nothing all that new or revealing in my eyes.

    PC Gamer September 2009

    pcgamer-0909.jpg

    Cover: Supreme Commander 2

    The cover does not look this ugly in real life; it uses a fluorescent orange cover for the background that my scanner refuses to replicate accurately. Apologies.

    This issue is probably the best example yet of the new direction PCG seems to be taking -- fewer boring preview features, more spreads concentrating on one interesting facet of a game, from the Monkey Island remake's graphics to the character design process for Left 4 Dead 2. I like this approach, not to mention a new retro-friendly feel seen in pieces on Civilization and Giants: Citizen Kabuto.

    The SupCom2 piece seems incredibly in-depth but remains fun to read despite its hardcore bent, mainly thanks to all the charts and sidebars and so forth.

    Nintendo Power September 2009

    np-0909.jpg

    Cover: Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers

    The cover piece is nice, playing up the fact that FFCC's concept-art team is insanely talented with a big spread of art kicking off the feature.

    It's not mentioned on the subscriber-edition cover, but the 20th-anniversary Game Boy retrospective inside is absolutely my favorite part of the mag. Covering everything from Super Mario Land and the GB Camera to the now-immortal Gulf War-toasted Game Boy, it's a great piece of construction from start to finish.

    Edge August 2009

    edge-0908.jpg

    Cover: Previews / No More Heroes: Desperate Struggle

    "The pixel art poster delivered to Edge subscribers with issue 203 proved so popular," the editors write on the opening page, "that we're looking into further subscriber-only options. If you choose to have the magazine delivered to your door, let us know what you think of this edition's exclusive cover." My opinion is that the newsstand cover looks more elegant and Edge-like, while the subscriber edition above looks more like something Hardcore Gamer Magazine would've done. Still, I like the sentiment, and I like this issue, which has a few neat nuggets among the usual (and bland) E3-recap stuff.

    Goichi Suda is suitably ridiculous in the NMH2 feature, of course, spouting off all kinds of crazy quotes that make you wonder how he ever manages to find a publisher for his work. The making-of bit for Bioforge was also really fascinating to me -- that was one of the first really successful "interactive movie" adventures, I think, and it's been terribly overlooked since its debut in 1995.

    This month's Edge is another thick one (164 pages! In August no less!) thanks to a dev-sponsored "Region Specific" section on the city of Hamburg, Germany. Most of it is of interest only to high-roller devs looking for jobs, but one piece -- a roundtable featuring 13 local devs -- offers a really unique look into the challenges that German studios big and small face, dealing with a competitive market and a less-than-game-friendly government.

    Game Informer August 2009

    gi-0908.jpg

    Cover: Rage

    I get pegged often for criticizing GI cover stories as too bland and PR-y. This isn't one of those cover stories, chiefly because -- generic "gray space marine" cover notwithstanding -- this is one hell of a unique-looking game, and id's assorted gentlemen (from John Carmack on down) aren't afraid to talk serious details about it through the entire feature. I wish they were all like this one!

    Otherwise, this is the sort of E3 recap you'd expect, the only other really special highlight being a lengthy roundtable piece on EA Partners, the publisher's ongoing drive to support smaller outside developers.

    Play August 2009

    play-0908.jpg

    Cover: Resonance of Fate

    This game (aka End of Eternity in Japan) has gotten what seems to be zero coverage in the US press. Play rectifies that and also explores an angle that other mags seem to have missed out on -- the fact that tri-Ace all but bet the house on full-on, bombastic console JRPGs this generation, even as nearly all of their contemporaries fled to the DS.

    Otherwise, this is...wait for it...an E3 recap issue.

    Retro Gamer Issue 66

    retrogamer66.jpg

    Cover: Spy Hunter

    One of the best-designed RG covers in a little while, and also one of the more thoughtful making-of pieces I've read in the mag -- I honestly never thought about Spy Hunter as a Space Invaders-style "falling attacker" game, but that was what the programmers were going for. Funny how the right visuals can change your perspective of anything.

    There's also a piece on the Sinclair QL, a computer I knew nothing about but now irrationally want in my collection.

    Beckett Massive Online Gamer September/October 2009

    beckettmog-0909.jpg

    Cover: Star Wars: The Old Republic

    PC Gamer has the world's first hands-on preview of The Old Republic this month, which sort of renders the PR-based preview in this mag moot. But the cover's fantastic, easily the best I've seen from this mag, so I can forgive them.

    Some Very Special Mags

    oxm-bigbook.jpg   gd-career09.jpg

    Future rounds out the summer one-off collection with Big Book of Xbox 360 Secrets, Volume 1 -- lots of quick game guides and other little features, which I'm assuming were collected from OXM US and/or UK and/or GamesRadar.

    Game Developer's Game Career Guide 2009 is also out; you can get it for free in digital form right now. There's far too many great features in here to mention, so just download and read it, eh?

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

    Gamasutra Member Blogs: From A Holocaust Board Game To Kid Pirates

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

    Member Blogs can be maintained by any registered Gamasutra user, while invitation-only Expert Blogs -- also highlighted weekly -- are written by selected development professionals.

    Our favorite blog post of the week will earn its author a lifetime subscription to Gamasutra's sister publication, Game Developer magazine. (All magazine recipients outside of the United States or Canada will receive lifetime electronic subscriptions.)

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

    In this set of links, we look at the grim Holocaust board game Train, how Legend Of Zelda's story timeline works, and... kid pirates?

    This Week's Standout Member Blogs

    - Reflections on Train
    (Sande Chen)

    Writer and game designer Sande Chen considers Train, the grim, symbolism-filled Holocaust-inspired board game by games industry mainstay Brenda Braithwaite. While it's a board game not intended for commercial sale (it's a one-of-one board game), it's a fascinating, artful idea that shows how a "game" can also provoke thought and emotions, as uncomfortable as they may be.

    For her effort, Sande will receive a lifetime subscription to Gamasutra sister publication Game Developer magazine.

    - Maximize Your Contract Composer's Potential by Enhancing Early Communication
    (Jesse Hopkins)

    Musical preference is highly subjective, and that inherent trait can act as the root of many difficulties between a video game composer and the game developer. Professional contract composer Jesse Hopkins explains the pitfalls of the relationship and how a musician can avoid them through proper communication.

    - Legend of Zelda has No Coherent Timeline?
    (Seth Sivak)

    Gamasutra member blogger Seth Sivak revisits a recent statement by Nintendo that shot down a fan's theory that there is some sort of coherent timeline for the events of games in the Legend of Zelda series. So if it's just the same "hero saves girl" scenario over and over again, why do players keep coming back for more?

    - The Rise Of The Handheld
    (Josh Bycer)

    Regular member blogger Josh Bycer recounts how the handheld grew from a third-tier gaming option to a platform that stands toe-to-toe with PC and home console offerings. Here, he speculates on the next step for gaming handhelds and inherent design challenges unique to platforms such as Nintendo DS and Sony PSP.

    - Buried in Plastic - Piracy and Children
    (Jon Hayward)

    After hearing a woman tell her children at a retailer, "No, I won't buy the Nintendo games, daddy will download what you want when we get home", Jon Hayward is mad as hell. There are cheap gaming options that aren't piracy -- think of the children, he implores.



    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.)