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Archive For November, 2009

Interview: Doug Lowenstein's Unique View From Outside The Games Industry

November 26, 2009 4:00 PM | Simon Carless

[An interesting crosspost for Thanksgiving, here - over two years after his exit, former ESA head Doug Lowenstein tells Gamasutra's Kris Graft about the dramatic change and the "growing tolerance" he's seen in the games industry as "the gadflies and the critics" of games lose traction.]

Doug Lowenstein doesn't do many video game interviews these days. Formerly one of the most visible video game industry figureheads, the ex-president and co-founder of the Entertainment Software Association left over two years ago to help start up investment industry trade group the Private Equity Council -- an organization with no direct ties to interactive entertainment.

The relationship between Lowenstein and the games industry today represents an interesting disconnect. He founded the ESA in 1994 as the Interactive Digital Software Association -- at its inception, the IDSA was an unfurnished office occupied by a group of motivated entrepreneurs who felt the games industry was in the midst of a crisis brought on by its own expansion.

Over the next 13 years, the ESA trade body sought to organize a scattered and growing industry, taking on issues like piracy, tax incentives for game developers, the E3 Expo, First Amendment Rights, and lobbying for the interests of the games business.

Now, the group's figurehead, the man who was so involved with and supported games for so many years on professional and personal levels, barely keeps tabs on the industry.

"I read about the games industry, when there are stories in the papers about it -- the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and so forth. It's a little bit in my DNA now," he says. He's not refreshing gaming blogs every 10 seconds, or keeping a close eye on his video game RSS feeds, by any means.

But now the exec, who will be recognized in February with an Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences Lifetime Achievement award, speaks with the wisdom of an industry veteran and the fresh perspective of an outsider.

Opinion: Looking For Meaning In Games

November 26, 2009 8:00 AM | Simon Carless

[Do games lend themselves to a unique kind of meaning? Is greater meaning in games an intent problem or a design problem? Can shows like Mad Men provide an answer? Our own Chris Remo examines the issues.]

While it's tough to ever assign a running theme to an entire conference, I did feel that there was a bit of an undercurrent running though a number of the Montreal International Game Summit talks I covered, about the need to reconsider the expressive or creative possibilities of games.

Where Are We Now?

If you're reading this, you probably love games. I certainly do, but I've been thinking about what makes games important to me, versus what makes books or music or film important to me. Over the years, I have become interested in the formal and design aspects of games more than of those other forms, probably partially because my career path has resulted in me spend so much time thinking about that.

It's also undeniably rare and exciting to be here to witness the evolution of a creative form so early in its existence. The theory and creation side of games is going through much more discovery and evolution than the theory of those other forms, which is much better established and understood.

But there are still some parts of my life that games don't address very well. They do the "fun" thing well, and they frequently give me a lot to think about, but they rarely speak to me the same way a wonderful novel, film, or album does. I don't as frequently feel that I've genuinely realized something about myself or my world in the same way I do when I read Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose, watch Mad Men, or listen to The Who's Quadrophenia.

That doesn't mean I don't get creatively energized when playing games. That happens all the time, and it's great. I love it. But, at least for me, that excitement is more often related to the exploration of game design and the video game medium than it is related to broader human revelation.

GameSetLinks: Squid, Yes, Not So Mario

November 26, 2009 12:00 AM | Simon Carless

[GameSetLinks is GameSetWatch's semi-regular link round-up post, culling from hundreds of weblogs and outlets to compile the most interesting longform writing, links, and criticism on the art and culture of video games.]

As we get into the U.S. holiday, time to wander happily around the GameSetLinks once more, and this set are headed out by some interesting Xbox Live Indie Games stats - albeit only for the first week - from Squid Yes, Not So Octopus creator Oddbob. Of course, the game probably isn't overtly commercial, but nice to see numbers, anyhow...

Also hanging out in here - Frank Cifaldi on Desert Bus, the Mega64 guys find out what the past thinks of the new Mario game, 1UP on war's effect on gaming, a new issue of Game Studies, and rather more besides.

The Blob:

XNPlay: Squid Yes, Not So Octopus – Sales
"Interesting stats on a $1 XBLIG title from a reeasonably prominent indie game maker, showing that it's quite quiet in there unless you can get up the top charts."

1UP's Retro Gaming Blog : Lost Levels: How Goofy Killed Desert Bus
Frank finds the Desert Bus programmer, neat interview ensues.

He Was Always Trying to Prove Something (Magical Wasteland)
Great piece.

Mega64 » Archive » Billy & His Time Belt: Super Mario Bros.
More awesomely conceived goodness from the San Diego massif.

Rules of War: A Historical Look At How War Has Influenced Game Design from 1UP.com
'A gun, any projectile you separate from your in-game body, enhances your influence in the game world, intensifying your connection and response to it. War as game has been naturally proliferated by basic design impulses, as it was in the board games that preceded video games.'

Hardcore Gaming 101 - Blog: More TV show weirdness - Qué vida más triste
A Spanish show with a lot of quirky game-related visuals - neat.

Game Studies - Issue 0902, 2009
Aha, a new game studies issue - some interesting articles here, and not overly academic in general, either.

Team Meat Shares Super Meat Boy Boss, Danny B Music

November 25, 2009 4:00 PM | Eric Caoili

As established by Super Meat Boy's trailer (and by the original Meat Boy Flash release), the game's hero, like many other game heroes, is vulnerable to buzzsaws. Developer Team Meat fashioned a boss that preys on that weakness to moving blades: Lil Slugger, a chainsaw mech with legs, controlled by Meat Boy's arch-enemy Dr. Fetus.

The studio also debuted an equally devious music track to accompany the Forest boss, composed by Danny Baranowsky (Canabalt). You can download the boss track as an MP3 with this link. Snapshot developer Kyle Pulver liked it so much, he made a DDR version of it!

Super Meat Boy is expected to release for WiiWare and PC in the first quarter of 2010. The platformer will offer more than 300 levels, including several "retro level sets" like the stages pictured below:

Dog Ear Releases Pia-Com I, Uematsu Music Video

November 25, 2009 2:00 PM | Eric Caoili

Japanese record label Dog Ear Records, founded by Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu, put out Pia-Com this week, a collection of piano arrangements from popular Famicom games performed by pianist Keita Egusa. It isn't available to buy and download online yet, but Dog Ear's CDs typically pop up on iTunes shortly after their release.

The tunes featured on Pia-Com include selected tracks from classic titles like Elevator Action, Yie Ar Kung-Fu, Mappy, and Mother. The record label set up a site where you can sample all seven songs and watch Egusa play several of them, too. I've included the full tracklist, translated by Original Sound Version, after the break.

Dog Ear also posted a music video for the latest single from Uematsu's 10 Stories CD, "The Chef Who Used His Noodle". I had no idea the company was producing music videos for the album! Unfortunately, judging by the Youtube "view count" on the productions, it doesn't look like many other people knew, either.

COLUMN: @Play: Dreamforge's Dungeon Hack

November 25, 2009 12:00 PM |

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 around - a relatively unknown official D&D license in the genre is explored in-depth.]

Roguelike games have been around for a good while, and from the very start many of them have cribbed system rules out of the Dungeons & Dragons books. Many of Rogue's items (especially equipment) come from that game, and Nethack goes so far as to retain the idea that armor class counts down, possibly the last game still in development to retain this convention; D&D dropped that back in its third edition.

dhtitle.pngBut there is one roguelike, or close to it, that adheres to the Dungeons & Dragons rules out of necessity, because it is actually an official Second Edition AD&D computer game product! Dungeon Hack was created in 1993 by Dreamforge Intertainment, a company that developed several other official D&D games for TSR back in the days when SSI still held the license.

I mentioned way back in some of the earliest columns that Rogue's inspiration was likely the hack-and-slash play of old-school D&D mixed with the thinking (if not the actual geomorphs) behind the random dungeon generation tables in the 1st Edition AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide.

Perhaps partly due to these roots, Dungeon Hack is actually a fairly good game. It's not nearly as complex as Nethack, but that fact works in the game's favor as much as argue against it. However, some superficial aspects of the game may cause one to conclude that it does not deserve to be called by the term "roguelike."

Run'n Gun Mechas: Dracue's Gunhound

November 25, 2009 12:00 PM | Eric Caoili

I'd never heard of Gunhound before today, but I'm now adding it to my list of Christmas gifts that other people need to buy for me! Japanese developer Dracue plans to release this action-packed, 2D run'n gun for PCs on December 18th with a ¥6,090 ($69.46) disc edition and a ¥4,080 ($46.53) downloadable version.

Mecha Damashii likens the game to a spiritual sequel for Masaya's Assault Suits Leynos II on the Sega Saturn, but you can definitely see a few scenes inspired by Treasure's classic Gunstar Heroes in the trailer, too.

4Gamer, which posted a few screenshots of the title, also compares Gunhound's music to the style of Castlevania series composer Kinuyo Yamashita, which seems like an odd direction for a mech-based run'n gun but sounds sensational in the above trailer.

You can see more of Gunhound (and probably purchase the game online once its out) on Dracue's official site.

Sound Current: 'Concerto Tactics - The Music of Hiroki Kikuta and Hitoshi Sakimoto'

November 25, 2009 9:00 AM | jeriaska

[Continuing his 'Sound Current' interview series for GameSetWatch, Jeriaska sits down with the composers behind Secret Of Mana and Muramasa, among many other titles, to discuss their art and new soundtrack albums.]

Previously composers Hiroki Kikuta and Yoko Shimomura joined us for an informal interview titled "Magical Planet" on their music for Square Enix role-playing games. Their songs from Secret of Mana and Kingdom Hearts were arranged for the orchestra for September's Symphonic Fantasies concert in Cologne.

In this interview, Kikuta is joined by musician Hitoshi Sakimoto, whose music for Final Fantasy Tactics was arranged for the orchestra earlier this month in Tokyo. Sakimoto acted as sound producer on the Nintendo Wii title Muramasa: The Demon Blade, which will be receiving an original soundtrack album release from his studio Basiscape in December. The game represents a continuation of the collaboration between Sakimoto and Odin Sphere developer Vanillaware.

With Secret of Mana having recently been ported to cellphones in Japan, here the two composers share impressions of their influential Super Nintendo game compositions. The conversation delves into the processes behind more recent soundtracks as well, including CONCERTO: The Extraordinary World of Concerto Gate and Romeo x Juliet. Both scores reflect an interplay between electronic and orchestral music that has been a central theme of the musicians' careers.


[Kikuta and Sakimoto at Basiscape Studio in Tokyo]

Warning! Darius Burst DX Bundle Includes Hand Towel, Rad Shirt

November 25, 2009 8:00 AM | Eric Caoili

Realizing that most gamers won't appreciate their hands stinking of fish after battling the aquatic mech bosses in Darius Burst, Taito assembled a Japanese DX bundle for the forthcoming PSP shoot'em up with a small towel (featuring the above design) to help scrub off that smell while washing your hands.

The ¥13,765 ($157!) kit also includes a soundtrack featuring music picked from various games in the series, but most of it is from Darius Twin (SNES), which is either great or terrible, depending on your feelings for that particular title. Completionists will love it either way because Taito and Zuntata have never released a soundtrack for Darius Twin.

The highlight of the overpriced set, though, is the dark blue shirt with a wraparound boss fight between the Silver Hawk ship and the massive Iron Fossil (shown after the break). It actually outclasses King of Games's recently revealed R-Type tee and ACG's King Fossil design!

Unfortunately, all of the DX bundles will include the shirt in size "Small." Japanese online retailer Ebten, however, is selling the tee individually in Small, Medium, Large, and Extra Large sizes for ¥4,500 ($51.37). It will begin sending out the shirts on December 24th, when the game also releases.

In other Darius Burst news, Taito recently showed off the horizontal-scrolling shoot'em up on a Japanese television show, and it looks fantastic. You can't hear Zuntata's mind-meltingly awesome soundtrack like in the trailer released a few weeks ago, but it's still great stuff.

1959: Rapture's Ballroom

November 25, 2009 6:00 AM | Eric Caoili

For the third painting in its BioShock 2 artist series, which collects artwork inspired by the series' underwater city and its inhabitants, 2K Games commissioned Craig Mullins, who envisioned "what the grand ballroom must have looked like before Rapture's fall" with this work titled "1959".

Mullins is an accomplished digital painter and concept artist, having contributed to blockbuster movies like Forrest Gump and Armageddon, as well as marquee video games such as the Halo series, the Age of Empires franchise, and Fallout 3.

The past two paintings from the BioShock 2 artist series, produced by Penny Arcade illustrator Mike "Gabe" Krahulik and Invader Zim creator Jhonen Vasquez, were eventually sold as limited edition prints at expos like San Diego Comic-Con and PAX. Hopefully, this piece will receive the same treatment.

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