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March 6, 2010

Interview: Radiangames' Schneider Gets Happy Happy, JoyJoy

[Veteran console developer Luke Schneider talked to our own Chris Remo about his new indie direction with Radiangames, revealing monthly Xbox Live Indie Games titles starting out with Radiangames JoyJoy.]

With his new one-man indie studio Radiangames, development veteran Luke Schneider is taking on an ambitious business model: releasing a downloadable game to Microsoft's Xbox Live Indie Games service roughly once a month.

The first, set to launch some time in May, will be Radiangames JoyJoy, a twin-stick shooter. It's a genre Schneider says has fallen into stagnancy, and he hopes to reinvigorate it with "unique visual style, fluid gameplay, and lots of customization."

Like Q-Games' PixelJunk series and Arkedo's Arkedo Series games, Schneider wants his individual releases to form a cohesive body of work.

"I hope players will come to identify Radiangames as meaning intense and satisfying action games with a unique visual style running at 60 frames per second," he told us in an interview.

Schneider brings with him over a decade of core game development experience. He served for several years at Volition, where he was most recently the lead technical designer and lead multiplayer designer on 2009's Red Faction Guerrilla.

Prior to that, he was a designer at Volition's predecessor Outrage Games for six years, during which time he worked on various titles including Descent 3.

"Microsoft has given developers an unprecedented opportunity with Xbox Live Indie Games that has thus far been underutilized," Schneider said in a statement, "and I intend to make the most of that opportunity and show the true potential of focused, professional developers and an open console platform."

Schneider has been planning his return to the indie scene for some time. He explained to Gamasutra that he briefly tried his hand at indie development with a Game Boy Advance and Xbox puzzle game in 2003, but was unable to secure a traditional publishing deal. The more decentralized nature of digital distribution, however, has created a better environment for small-scale developers.

The Xbox Live Indie Games service "lets me focus on games, rather than worry about logistics of finding publishers or negotiating with platform holders," he said. "I just get to make lots of small, awesome games as quickly as possible."

Of course, the platform has its own demands, and Schneider has put a lot of thought into those idiosyncrasies. "Like the iPhone, Xbox Live Indie Games sales are very chart-dependent," he told Gamasutra. "If you don't get your game onto the 'top downloads' or 'top rated' charts during your time in the new releases [section], your game is basically dead in terms of sales" -- making early attention paramount.

"There are other critical details that you have to get right," he added, "such as not making a multiplayer-centric game, not over-pricing, and getting the player into the fun right away."

The nature of his accelerated development plan means Schneider can adjust some factors, like pricing and release frequency, depending on early sales metrics. He expects to spend about two months developing each game, with a price point of $1 or $3.

"I know the arguments for pricing a game higher, but my wish is that people try one game in the series, and automatically buy the others from then on out and encourage others to do the same," Schneider said. "If that happens, everyone wins."

Round-Up: Gamasutra Network Jobs, Week Of March 5

In this round-up, Gamasutra highlights some of the notable jobs posted in its industry-leading game jobs section this week, including positions from Sledgehammer Games, Crystal Dynamics 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 this week include:

Activision Minneapolis: Associate Producer
"Great games start with great people. Join Activision Minneapolis to help take some of the biggest brands in the business to the next level, our portfolio includes, Bakugan, Monster Jam, Cabela's, Rapala, iCarly and many more household names. We run a flat organization where innovation, passion, personal responsibility and individual contribution are valued and rewarded appropriately. If you are a success oriented, proven high achiever, we want to hear from you."

Monolith Productions: Staff Software Engineer, Engine
"As a Senior Engine generalist you will work closely with the Game Team leads and the rest of your peers on the Core Technology Team to develop state-of-the-art runtime technology for the PS3, XBOX 360 and PC. Your domain will span the entire engine and your responsibilities will include both optimizations of current-gen systems and design and implementation of pivotal new technology for the next generation of consoles."

Rockstar North: Graphics Programmer
"Rockstar North, one of the world's leading video game developers, is a community of creative individuals from a variety of backgrounds. We are based in Scotland out of modern, spacious, purpose-built studios at the heart of Edinburgh. We develop original game titles and are proud to be the developer of the phenomenally successful Grand Theft Auto series. Rockstar North has been part of the Rockstar family since 1999."

Sledgehammer Games: TEA - Concept Artist
"Check out our brand new studio, headed up by industry veterans Glen Schofield as Vice President and GM and Michael Condrey as Vice President and COO, the leaders of the Dead Space franchise. They are joined at Sledgehammer Games by many award winning developers from across the industry. Sledgehammer Games is actively recruiting top industry talent to join their development team. Our studio based in sunny Foster City and is walking distance to plenty of restaurants and shopping, or one of our two free gyms."

Crystal Dynamics: Environment Artist
"Crystal Dynamics is an award winning, leading game studio located in the heart of San Francisco’s Bay Area. Founded in 1992, Crystal Dynamics has grown into a world class development studio by developing key franchises. Crystal Dynamics is poised to lay the groundwork for the next generation of innovative and technologically stunning projects. Want to be on the front lines of these brand new projects? We're hiring across all disciplines, apply today!"

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.

Best Of Indie Games: High-Definition Entertainment

[Every week, IndieGames.com: The Weblog co-editor Tim W. will be summing up some of the top free-to-download and commercial indie games from the last seven days 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 keyboard-bashing game, Adam Saltsman's latest effort, a vertical shooter that features only boss battles, a couple of Japanese-flavored platformers with zany characters, and Intuition Games' retro take on Cipher Prime's Auditorium.

Here's the highlights from the last seven days:

Game Pick: 'Gravity Hook HD' (Adam Atomic and Danny Baranowsky, browser)
"Adam Atomic's original Gravity Hook game has now been updated to HD, featuring artwork designed for higher screen resolutions, gameplay rebalancing, new elements, Twitter support, and remixes of the original soundtrack plus new songs by his collaboration partner Danny B."

Game Pick: 'Dinosaurs Didn't Have Keyboards' (Sophie Houlden, browser)
"Dinosaurs Didn't Have Keyboards, But If They Did, They Would Break (Like Yours is About to) is a short arcade game created by Sophie Houlden in under forty-eight hours for a mini-Ludum Dare competition. In it, you have to tap the number keys as fast as you can to help the dinosaur leap over lava pits and reach the finish line in the quickest time possible."

Game Pick: 'Vatn Squid' (Ted Lauterbach, freeware)
"Vatn Squid is a vertical shooter that features only boss battles, created by Ted Lauterbach during Game Jolt's Weekend Jam event. Players take control of a ship that can shield itself at the press of a button, and if you collect enemy bullets during this short period of invincibility your super weapon is charged up as well."

Game Pick: 'Cactus Block' (chuchino, freeware)
"In chucino's Cactus Block you play as an unnamed blue character who has to find his or her way home on a snowy winter day. Some cliffs might seem to high to climb at first, but you can place a random tile on screen as a platform to stand on or jump off. The problem with this ability is that there's an equal chance of getting a cactus instead of a brown block, which hurts the player should they come in contact with the prickly plant."

Game Pick: 'Sennyuu' (Peposoft, freeware)
"Peposoft's Sennyuu is an action platformer that features twenty stages to play, where the objective is to take out all of the enemies on screen without losing too many hearts in the process. You're armed with the same gun that the other grunts have, so it's a matter of shooting first and dodging whatever projectiles that come at you to survive."

Game Pick: 'Sushi Cat' (Joey Betz, browser)
"Sushi Cat is part Peggle, part feeding a cat. With sushi, obviously. Once the cat is dropped from the top of the screen, you have no control over where he ends up, but his bouncing and body-jiggling is almost hypnotic. The visuals and assorted reggae/japanese music give it a great vibe, too."

Game Pick: 'Houkaimura' (Peposoft, freeware)
"Houkaimura (Breaking Town) is an action platformer that plays similarly to the Ghosts 'n Goblins series, where you have to guide an eggplant-headed character through eight levels packed with enemies, traps and boss encounters. There are a large selection of weapons that you can find and collect, although players are limited to the use of just one type of weapon at any time."

Game Pick: 'Eon' (Intuition Games, browser)
"Eon is indeed a take on Cypher Prime's Auditorium, with particle manipulation used to fill containers. It's got a lovely feel to it, with the retro graphics and atmospheric soundtrack really doing it justice."

March 5, 2010

Curioser And Curioser: Malice's Unreleased PS1 Edition

With the new Alice in Wonderland film debuting in theaters across the country this weekend, PlayStation Museum published a retrospective on PS1's Malice, a 3D platformer loosely inspired by Lewis Carroll's novel, for its Cancelled PlayStation Game Of The Month (previous featured titles include Iron Man Football, QAD, and Jet Moto 2124).

Malice is special for a few reasons:

Thought it released on PS2 and Xbox, the cancelled PS1 version featured noticeable differences in storyline, graphics, design, and gameplay.
Singer and disputed Hollaback Girl Gwen Stefani was originally supposed to voice titular heroine Malice.
The game was partly to blame for developer Argonaut's closing months after its Xbox release. The company spent millions of dollars and six years developing Malice.

What makes the PS1 edition even more interesting is that PlayStation Museum, which I imagine has played a lot of unreleased PS1 titles, describes it as the "greatest game never released"! The site has some great comments about the project and Argonaut's demise from former CEO Jez San:

"I have lots of good memories of Malice. Mostly that it was a wildly overambitious idea that had a truly awesome tech demo that wowed a billion of people. ... But it got pulled around from Microsoft, and then from publisher to publisher and eventually, died a death and released on a 'B' game label.

The blame? Partly due to mismanagement on our part, partly down to some of the team who were as creative as they were egotistical, partly due to overzealous publisher involvement -- making wholesale changes that were unnecessary and unwarranted -- and partly just because it was too damn big a project to be done 'at our own risk'!

Malice definitely contributed to bringing down the company. I can't blame all our woes on one game (far from it), but it sure sucked a lot of cash out of the company (millions!) and that can't have helped."

You can read PlayStation Museum's full article on Malice, which includes a thorough breakdown on why the PS1 version was cancelled and a video comparison between the PS1 and PS2 versions. I've also embedded a clip that the site produced with samples of Gwen Stefani voicing Malice below:

Twin Galaxies Founder Walter Day Retires

Walter Day, founder of international video game scorekeeping organization Twin Galaxies, announced that he's retiring from the organization to pursue his "lifelong dream" of a music career.

Day left the oil industry in the early 1980s to open the Twin Galaxies arcade in Ottumwa, Iowa, where he established a database of arcade game high-scores (and gameplay rules for those records) that was soon regarded as the official scoreboard for competitive video games. Day also helped organize professional gaming events around the country and increase media coverage of high score attempts.

Though the Twin Galaxies arcade closed after just several years of operation, Day kept its name alive by tracking video game records and holding competitions for 28 years. The scorekeeping organization is featured prominently in several documentaries about gaming and high scores, including The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, Chasing Ghosts: Beyond the Arcade, and Frag.

Day says he's slowly removed himself from Twin Galaxies's day-to-day duties in the past several years, turning over those responsibilities to newer staff members like David Nelson, Rich Booth, Todd Rogers, Patrick Scott Patterson, and Nik Meeks.

You can hear Walter Day's comments on his retirement, the future of Twin Galaxies, and Ottumwa, Iowa's efforts to open a Video Game Hall of Fame & Museum later this year in the video interview below:

Round-Up: Gamasutra Network Jobs, Week Of March 5

In this round-up, Gamasutra highlights some of the notable jobs posted in its industry-leading game jobs section this week, including positions from Sledgehammer Games, Crystal Dynamics 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 this week include:

Activision Minneapolis: Associate Producer
"Great games start with great people. Join Activision Minneapolis to help take some of the biggest brands in the business to the next level, our portfolio includes, Bakugan, Monster Jam, Cabela's, Rapala, iCarly and many more household names. We run a flat organization where innovation, passion, personal responsibility and individual contribution are valued and rewarded appropriately. If you are a success oriented, proven high achiever, we want to hear from you."

Monolith Productions: Staff Software Engineer, Engine
"As a Senior Engine generalist you will work closely with the Game Team leads and the rest of your peers on the Core Technology Team to develop state-of-the-art runtime technology for the PS3, XBOX 360 and PC. Your domain will span the entire engine and your responsibilities will include both optimizations of current-gen systems and design and implementation of pivotal new technology for the next generation of consoles."

Rockstar North: Graphics Programmer
"Rockstar North, one of the world's leading video game developers, is a community of creative individuals from a variety of backgrounds. We are based in Scotland out of modern, spacious, purpose-built studios at the heart of Edinburgh. We develop original game titles and are proud to be the developer of the phenomenally successful Grand Theft Auto series. Rockstar North has been part of the Rockstar family since 1999."

Sledgehammer Games: TEA - Concept Artist
"Check out our brand new studio, headed up by industry veterans Glen Schofield as Vice President and GM and Michael Condrey as Vice President and COO, the leaders of the Dead Space franchise. They are joined at Sledgehammer Games by many award winning developers from across the industry. Sledgehammer Games is actively recruiting top industry talent to join their development team. Our studio based in sunny Foster City and is walking distance to plenty of restaurants and shopping, or one of our two free gyms."

Crystal Dynamics: Environment Artist
"Crystal Dynamics is an award winning, leading game studio located in the heart of San Francisco’s Bay Area. Founded in 1992, Crystal Dynamics has grown into a world class development studio by developing key franchises. Crystal Dynamics is poised to lay the groundwork for the next generation of innovative and technologically stunning projects. Want to be on the front lines of these brand new projects? We're hiring across all disciplines, apply today!"

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.

Focus On: Breakpoint 2010 - The End Of... Something?

[In the latest of an occasional series of demoscene-related posts on GameSetWatch, AteBit's Paul 'EvilPaul' Grenfell discusses the last ever installment of a seminal demo party.]


It's sad news for anyone who has ever visited it, but the German demoscene party Breakpoint is to come to an end this year. Breakpoint is the world's biggest "demoscene only" demoparty in existance.

This means that the party is aimed squarely at demosceners, and the programme of events includes only demoscene related activities, competitions and seminars. This is in contrast to the biggest combined demoparty, Assembly, which also opens it's doors each year to thousands of gamers.

The party has a reputation for producing incredibly high quality demos from its competitions, many of which go on to become nominees and winners of the prestigious Scene.org awards. Oh, did I mention that the Scene.org awards ceremony is also held annually at Breakpoint? There will certainly be a gap in the demoscene calendar next year!

Amongst a fresh wave of accusations that the demoscene is dying (don't worry, the demoscene has apparently been dying for years - it's a bit of a meme), it is perhaps unsurprising that the theme for this year's party is "Like there's no tomorrow".

Farbrausch have taken these ideas to heart and produced the invitation demo by re-hashing assets from several older demos together into one. Without looking too hard you'll find references to Farbrausch's own The Popular Demo (which won the PC demo competition at the first ever Breakpoint back in 2003) and Debris (another PC demo winner at Breakpoint 2007). Look closer and you might be able to see (and hear) a few more!

The last ever Breakpoint party will take place from the 2nd to the 5th of April in Bingen Am Rhein, Germany. More information, including some news on why there will be no more Breakpoints, can be found over at the official demo party website.

Rock Band Network Now Live With Over 100 Songs

Harmonix and MTV Games launched the Rock Band Network Music Store on Xbox 360 yesterday, allowing Rock Band fans to discover and play songs from new artists while also encouraging musicians, publishers, and record labels to directly submit and sell their own original tracks to add to the online shop.

The Rock Band Network already offers more than 100 tracks, some from recognizable indie artists like The Shins and Of Montreal. The list of available songs (full tally after the break) also includes a few tunes I'd love to try out based on their titles alone: "VP of Booty Reports" by Speck, "If Trucks Drank Beer" by Error 404, and "Goth Girls" by MC Frontalot.

Harmonix and MTV note that they have 300 artists waiting in the Rock Band Network pipeline, too, such as Flight of the Conchords ("You Don't Have To Be A Prostitute"?!), The Smashing Pumpkins, Twin Atlantic, All That Remains, Clutch, Prong, The Gaslight Anthem.

  • A Drug Against War–KMFDM
  • Angel Lust–Fake Shark-Real Zombie!
  • Another California Song–Zack Wilson
  • Arigato–Gandhi
  • Australia–The Shins
  • Backyard Buildyard–Steve and Lindley Band
  • Battles and Brotherhood–3 Inches of Blood
  • Buried Cold–Rose of Jericho
  • Burn it Down–Five Finger Death Punch
  • California–The Kimberly Trip
  • Can I Stay–Stephanie Hatfield and Hot Mess
  • Cease and Desist–The Main Drag
  • Children of December–The Slip
  • Creepy Doll–Jonathan Coulton
  • Crushed Beyond Dust–Skeletonwitch
  • Day of Mourning–Despised Icon
  • Disengage–Suicide Silence
  • Don’t Let Me Down (Slowly)–The Main Drag
  • Dove Nets–The Main Drag
  • Drunken Lullabies (Live)–Flogging Molly
  • End Quote–Full-Source
  • Even Rats–The Slip
  • Fade Away–Of Last Resort
  • Far Away from Heaven–Free Spirit
  • Fight Back–Ron Wasserman
  • For the Love of God (Live)–Steve Vai
  • Fortune–Kristin Hersh
  • Get the Hell Out of Here–Steve Vai
  • Give–The Cold Goodnight
  • Goth Girls–MC Frontalot
  • Grumpytown–Speck
  • He Sleeps in a Grove–Amberian Dawn
  • Heimdalsgate Like a Promethean Curse–of Montreal
  • Homosuperior–The Main Drag
  • Horses in Heaven–Fake Shark-Real Zombie!
  • How We’d Look On Paper–The Main Drag
  • Hyperbole–Glass Hammer
  • Icarus’ Song–Furly
  • If Not Now When–Color Theory
  • If Trucks Drank Beer–Error 404 feat. CJ Watson
  • Ikea–Jonathan Coulton
  • In Memories–Giant Target
  • Inside Out–Nick Gallant
  • It’s Good–The Humans
  • It’s Not You, It’s Everyone–Full-Source
  • Juke Joint Jezebel–KMFDM
  • Kick Some Ass ‘09–Stroke 9
  • Lady in a Blue Dress–Senses Fail
  • Lemon Juice–Scratching The Itch
  • Lilith in Libra–You Shriek
  • Limousine–Stars of Boulevard
  • Liquid Smog (StompBox Remix)–WaveGroup Feat. Becca Neun
  • Little Black Backpack ‘09–Stroke 9
  • Liverpool Judies–The Fisticuffs
  • Love During Wartime–The Main Drag
  • Mechanical Love–In This Moment
  • Megatron–The Main Drag
  • Mississippi Kite–Kristin Hersh
  • Moonboy–The Dirty Love Band
  • Nancy Drew–Pink Flag
  • No Direction–Longwave
  • No Heroes–You Shriek
  • Not My Fault–Ultra Saturday
  • Ox–Zack Wilson
  • Paper Valentines–James William Roy
  • Parhelia–Heaven Ablaze
  • Persistence of Vision–Matter in the Medium
  • Race The Hourglass–Audio Fiction
  • Red Sky At Morn–Full-Source
  • Requiem for a Dying Song–Flogging Molly
  • Rip’er–Lead the Dead
  • River of Tuoni–Amberian Dawn
  • Running for the Razors–Fake Shark-Real Zombie!
  • Rx–Wounded Soul
  • Sequestered in Memphis–The Hold Steady
  • Sestri Levante–Fake Shark-Real Zombie!
  • Sick–Bif Naked
  • Signs–Giant Target
  • Sissyfuss–Surprise Me Mr. Davis
  • Sleep On–Glass Hammer
  • Stand for Something–Skindred
  • Still There–Bojibian
  • Superhero!–Ultra Saturday
  • Survive–Lacuna Coil
  • Tadpole Search and Rescue–Chaunce DeLeon and The Fountain of Choof
  • Talk About–Dear and the Headlights
  • Talk Them Down–The Main Drag
  • Teeth, Face, Outerspace–The Main Drag
  • The Attitude Song–Steve Vai
  • The Buddy Disease–Scratching The Itch
  • The Complexity of Light–Children of Nova
  • The Future Soon–Jonathan Coulton
  • The Heist–DnA’s Evolution
  • Tongue Twister Typo–Blackmarket
  • Top Back–Alias Unknown
  • Tricky Girl–The Main Drag
  • Trippolette–Andrew Buch
  • Turn Yourself Around–Nick Gallant
  • VP of Booty Reports–Speck
  • Watch It All Go Down–Foreword
  • We Are the Best–C&O
  • Whatever Is Wrong With You–Marillion
  • What’s Your Favorite Dinosaur?–The Main Drag
  • You Got That–The Everybody
  • You’re My Everything–Scratching The Itch

New Boulder Dash Dropping On Top Of XBLA

Developer Catnip Games (unrelated to the Dutch studio behind Bullet Crave) announced that it's developing a sequel to classic action-puzzle game Boulder Dash for Xbox Live Arcade, releasing in the third quarter of 2010. The studio revealed little about the title,s ave that it will once again have players collecting diamonds, dropping rocks on enemies, and avoiding traps but will be presented in "a modern and incomparable style."

While the Boulder Dash series hasn't enjoyed high profile video game resurrections like Space Invaders or Pac-Man, it's received a few releases this millenium, including the odd Boulder Dash: Treasure Pleasure for PC, the forgettable Boulder Dash: Rocks! for DS/PSP, and most recently a remake of the original game with new graphics/features/etc. on iPhone.

I hope this image of a robot that Catnip sent over is for the game's new hero or some sort of friendly NPC; I would have trouble smashing something so cute to bits with a well-timed boulder drop.

Bit.Trip Runner Trailer Sprints Into View With A Rainbow Streak Behind It

After three games of hanging out in the background of the WiiWare series, CommanderVideo is finally the centerpiece of a Bit.Trip title, this time a rhythm-based action platformer. Gaijin Games released this first trailer for Bit.Trip Runner, and the game somehow looks even more amazing than its first screenshots.

The developer says Bit.Trip Runner will feature NES-style controls allowing CommanderVideo to jump over, slide under, and kick obstacles/enemies, all timed with the chiptune soundtrack (running is automatic). Along the way, he'll collect beats (represented as gold bars), fight robot bosses, and meet new friends -- if you watch closely, you'll see a meaty cameo.

Also, as mentioned previously, chip music group Anamanaguchi will provide a couple songs for the soundtrack. At the end of the trailer, you can hear the band's first track off Dawn Metropolis, which you can listen to for free here.

[Via @nintendaan]

This Week In Video Game Criticism: The Heavy Rain Auteurs

[We're partnering with game criticism site Critical Distance to present some of the week's most inspiring writing about the art and design of video games from commentators worldwide. This week, Ben Abraham looks at Heavy Rain, video game auteurs, and a swifter than normal Passage.]

First up this week, Michael Clarkson makes a case for the open-world Santa Destroy as a valuable and necessary part of the original No More Heroes, and it’s omission from the sequel is all the more regrettable.

Zeke Virant is a new blogger who wrote in to let us know about a piece on ‘Expanding Sound in Videogame Narratives’ which sounds a lot like the sort of thing I was into with my undergrad thesis from 2008.

Elsewhere, Justin Keverne writes about Mass Effect 2 this week in ‘Living With Your Mistakes’; Radek Koncewicz also writes about the game, describing it as ‘A few steps forward and a few steps back’.

In a longer-form piece, Kotaku goes in search of the Videogame Auteurs -- a set of people whose existence is apparently still hotly debated.

Brendan Keogh, a Brisbane based blogger writes about the old whipping-horse that is the ludology/narratology debate (or stalemate, as Keogh describes it). He suggests, ‘don't ask what narrative can do for games, but what games can do for narrative.

In a new piece on his Psychology Of Games blog, Jamie Madigan takes inspiration from Penny Arcade and asks, ‘Why do we love genres so much?’, musing: "Why are we so obsessed with cramming games into genres and slapping labels on them? Most game reviews will remark on what genre a game fits in if not declare it outright, and if a game refuses to fit properly they’ll create a new genre just for it."

Joana Caldas, writing for The Border House on Local vs Online multiplayer, has some of the best use of captioning I’ve ever seen - lots of sarcastic fun.

I’m sure by now most have heard about or watched the DICE talk given by Jesse Schell but David Sirlin had a response, wondering whether external rewards are as unanimously positive as Schell proposes. Following on from both, Dan Lawrence thinks a bit about the psychology of game design, inspired by both Schell and Sirlin's comments, in a post titled ‘behaviourist game design’.

UK-based doctoral researcher Mitu Khandaker also has something to add to the commentary/responses to Schell’s talk, extrapolating some of the previous ideas into a series of possible futures for games. Lastly for this particular discussion, Jesper Juul has some thoughts on Schells’ talk with some excellent concrete examples that problematise a future where every action is tied to some kind of external reward. Juul notes:“A famous 1973 experiment (“Undermining children’s intrinsic interest with extrinsic reward“) showed that when nursery school children consistently received external rewards for drawing, they lost interest in drawing and started drawing less.”

Also from the recent DICE conference is this piece by Brandon Sheffield covering a panel on racial diversity in games, a talk that will also be given in amended form at GDC in a few days. It’s a talk that I plan to attend.

UK newspaper The Independent has a take on Heavy Rain, comparing it to previous similar efforts in games, such as Facade, and Anthony Burch at Destructoid suggests that, in Heavy Rain’s case at least, Ebert was right.

This week Chris Dahlen made explicit the connections that Leigh Alexander has made previously, namely that games are perhaps more like music than they are like film.

In another neat piece, Kirk Hamilton wrote about open world games in ‘When the world changes’: "When it comes down to it, I guess it's pretty simple: I love it when a great game begins, and I hate it when it ends. So, I want to feel like I'm in the middle for as long as possible."

Coleen Hannon at Gamers With Jobs writes of being ‘Thumbless in Seattle’, which unfortunately involves less Tom Hanks and more disabling injuries.

Lastly, here’s a cool thing and some creative criticism for you – it’s totally possible to use more than just essays to critique games. As ‘Passage in 10 seconds’ shows, you can even use other games.

March 4, 2010

Trojan Targets WoW Authenticator Users

Blizzard's Authenticator, a device offering an extra layer of security to World of Warcraft players by generating a random code to enter when logging in, is the target of a new Windows trojan virus designed to allow hackers to access WoW accounts and steal items/gold.

The trojan finds its way onto players' computers after they install a fake version of WowMatrix AddOn Manager downloaded through sites like Cursea.com and Deadlybossmodss.com (typos of legit sites Curse.com and Deadlybossmods.com). Google advertised at least one of these sites in its sponsored link section at the top of search results for "WoWMatrix".

Once the fake add-on manager is installed, it drops a file named emcor.dll onto the user's system, which then waits for them to log into World of Warcraft. When players enters a password and authentication code, the trojan sends incorrect information to Blizzard (preventing players from logging in), and send the stolen pass/code to a hacker.

World of Warcraft players who use the authenticator can check if they're infected by running a search for the "emcor.dll" on their system -- of course, if they find this file on their computer, their account has probably been compromised for some time already. Some anti-virus software, such as Malwarebytes, already detect the trojan.

[Via Wow.com]

Celebrate Puyo Puyo Day With A Muscly Fish

Did you know that today is Puyo Puyo Day, a national holiday in Japan? If you're at work and unable to play the colorful puzzle game to honor the colorful blobs, you can still celebrate with this cheerful video produced by Sega Japan to promote the holiday.

The clip stars Puyo Puyo character, Suketoudara (Alaska Pollock), which HG101 describes as "a fish with sexy arms and legs" that loves to show off his luring limbs and dancing skills. Even if it weren't Puyo Puyo Day, seeing this video would be enough to convince me that I should be celebrating the series.

[Via Japanator]

Sound Current: 'Scoring the Digital Download - Composers on Shatter, Gravity Crash, NightSky and Proud'

[In his latest 'Sound Current' column for GameSetWatch, Jeriaska sits down with the musicians from titles and album series including Gravity Crash, Shatter, NightSky and I Am Robot And Proud to discuss the creative process behind their unique independent soundtrack work.]

According to many observers, downloadable platforms -- notably console downloadable titles, from more conventional genres through more experimental titles -- are currently showcasing some of the most exciting sound design concepts in games.

CoLD SToRAGE (aka Tim Wright) has been an innovator of videogame music since the appearance of his soundtracks for Lemmings and WipEout. In recent months he has been busy publishing the original album Project Moonbounce and the score to Just Add Water's Playstation Network title Gravity Crash.

In this roundtable discussion on composing for downloadable games, he is joined by Module (Jeramiah Ross), whose soundtrack to Shatter by Sidhe is in the running for an IGF audio award at this year's Game Developers Conference. As with CoLD SToRAGE, the New Zealand-based artist's music can be heard on Bandcamp.

Last year Chris Schlarb's music to the Niklas "Nifflas" Nygren-designed title NightSky was a finalist for the IGF Awards. The highly anticipated WiiWare title, which invites players to maneuver a rolling ball through an assortment of evocative nocturnal landscapes, is due out later this year.

Also participating in this group chat is Shaw-Han Liem, who in 2009 performed music from his solo album series I Am Robot and Proud at the Game Developers Conference. His first game soundtrack is currently in development, featured in Jonathan Mak’s top secret follow-up to Everyday Shooter. The discussion takes a look at multiple topics related to writing music for digital media, from finding the right sound for a game, to the live performance of game arrangements and the options available for distributing soundtrack albums online.

CoLD SToRAGE recently released Project Moonbounce, a music album incorporating audio signals bounced off the lunar surface, and Gravity Crash Anthems, original and arranged music from the Playstation 3 and Playstation Portable title.

How would you describe your experience working on a game soundtrack while writing an original album?

CoLD SToRAGE (Tim Wright): Having these two projects where “never the twain shall meet” was strange at times. I kind of have this multiple personality where on the one side I’m a Jean-Michel Jarre updated for the 21st century, and on the other hand I want to shun these electronic things, hit dog bowls and smash pianos.

On Moonbounce, anything that struck me as melodical or strange could be leveraged into being the theme of a track. There’s this minimalist thing going on, and on the flipside Just Add Water wanted Gravity Crash to have ‘80s-influenced computer game music, but through rose-tinted spectacles because you add so much as a child through the imagination. It’s how you would have liked the music to sound while you were playing it at the arcade in 1986.

One element that Shatter, Gravity Crash and NightSky share in common is that in each of these games, you're navigating an inanimate object on the screen. Be it a ship, a bat, or rolling ball, the player is having to identify with a thing instead of a person. Have you found that in these instances it's necessary to endow some personality on these objects through the use of the musical score?

Module (Jeramiah Ross), Shatter composer: That was essential for Shatter, having those emotional cues placed on an inanimate object. The first draft of the score was ambient and industrial, where there would be a lot of mechanical sounds. It was all a bit too serious, and we wound up scrapping everything we had been working on for the past six months. That was a bit painful, but learning that creating game soundtracks was about creating journeys was a turning point for me.

At some point we decided the bat was a teenager with an attitude. I was thinking back on The Last Starfighter and Tron, movies where teenagers are out on a mission. That gave it a voice and a cohesive relationship between each track that brought me back to Dark Side of the Moon, an album that carries a similar chord structure and ethos throughout.

Chris Schlarb, NightSky composer: I love that you mention Dark Side of the Moon. In a funny way the concept album has been reborn in the videogame medium. Prog used to be a four-letter word, you know? Back in the day a band like Genesis or Yes would be slammed for trying to tell you a story from beginning to end, but now I think that’s a requirement of a good videogame soundtrack. There should be that cohesiveness: of instrumentation, texture, arrangement and melody to serve the concept of the game in total.

Prior to composing for NightSky, Chris Schlarb released the album Twilight and Ghost Stories on the Asthmatic Kitty label.

CoLD SToRAGE: I think another thing we benefit from in games is that unless it’s a sequel, each game is a new entity in itself. You have this game called “Plonky Plinky,” and it's set in this weird world where people are made out of jelly. You need a soundtrack that will fit that. You’re not going to be judged necessarily, unless there’s a raft of jelly-based games that comes out at the same time. Many bands are happy staying where they are, or stay inside their arena so as not to lose their audience, and in many instances that straitjacket is self-imposed.

Another thing that this group shares in common is that to some extent everyone here performs music live. Shaw-Han is frequently touring, performing tracks from the I Am Robot and Proud series. What was your impression of the crowd while playing GDC in March of last year?

Shaw-Han Liem, musician I Am Robot and Proud: It was good to finally put some faces to names I knew. I’m fairly new to the world of gaming in general and indie gaming in particular, so playing at GDC was a nice introduction.

When I saw your show in Tokyo, I remember you brought out a Tenori-On and had people in the front row creating the basis to the melody of an improvised piece.

The Tenori-On is a sequencer machine that you can pitch to a particular scale, so I would start the show by bringing that little guy out into the audience. It also has a nice visual aspect to it. People can press the buttons, see the lights and hear the audio feedback. I can take that loop I get from the audience and make an improvised tune out of it. I think with electronic music there’s a degree of mystery with people: “How is what I’m seeing connected with what I’m hearing?” Starting a show like that is a nice way of making that connection with the audience.

Do you see interactivity in videogame audio as something that could be explored more fully?

Shaw-Han: Why? What have you heard? (laughs) Yeah, that’s definitely an aspect I’m interested in. I think the fact that the person listening to your music has a bunch of buttons in their hands is the unique aspect to videogame music. There’s definitely a lot of interesting things you could explore to take advantage of that unique relationship with your audience. What I can say about the game is that the visual weirdness is reflected in a musical weirdness. The question is whether that music will make sense outside of the context of the game itself.

Shaw-Han Liem has created a collection of music albums, titled "I Am Robot and Proud," which include The Catch, Grace Days, The Electricity in Your House Wants to Sing, and Uphill City.

Chris: I understand that perfectly because the way the music is used on the NightSky soundtrack, it is made up of short, ambient movements randomly selected throughout the game.

For a long time I couldn’t listen to the music outside the context of the beta version of the game because I didn’t think it made sense. The game helps to give it context. But then I ended up being asked to perform music from the game in a live setting at a music festival. For a lot of the stuff that I wrote for NightSky, and kind of my compositional style in general, I don’t use electronics. There were a few worlds where it was a stylistic requirement, but with live instruments you can happen upon these nice accidents rhythmically or melodically.

Even though the game has not been released and no one has heard it, people loved the live show. I performed it with upright bass, mandolin, vibraphone, drums and guitar. I got probably one of the most enthusiastic reactions of any live performance I’ve ever given.

CoLD SToRAGE: When people ask me if I’m a musician, I say “No, I’m a composer.” However, I did promise myself that on my fortieth birthday I would hire a venue and play live for the first time in a long time. In that case I would have to play something from WipEout, and I might also do a tongue-in-cheek reprise of one of the Lemmings tunes.

Module: You would be surprised what people relate to. Living on the road and touring gave me an appreciation of that. A lot of the live environment in a sense is like an overgrown kindergarten. Once you get an idea of what works and what doesn’t, that starts translating back into the studio recordings and compositions.

Performing game soundtracks live is particularly cool. It’s something I’d love to do more with Shatter—getting together a live band with a laser and visual show. I think that’s something that can really add to the promotion of a game and take it to another level. It's really a great time with multimedia in the digital age.

Bandcamp has become very popular among game composers as a means for making soundtracks available online. How have you found the service as as host for Gravity Crash Anthems and the Shatter soundtrack?

CoLD SToRAGE: For me it was more of an accident than a deliberate act. At the point where we were bringing Gravity Crash out, the managing director of Just Add Water sent me an email pointing me over to Jeramiah’s work on Shatter. I found the service had a really well laid out website and that it was free. The other thing is, it’s free “for now.” What the tipping point is for Bandcamp, I don’t know.

Jeramiah "Module" Ross has made his music for Sidhe's GripShift and Shatter available to stream on Bandcamp.

Module: Before we released Shatter, I was signed to a record label that wanted me to spend thousands of dollars putting out physical CDs. I decided to pull out of operating that way, because the music industry at that time was not working for me. Things were drastically changing. That was when I stumbled on Bandcampy. It makes it easy for people that are interested in your music to come along, listen to it and buy it. Bandcamp was the perfect platform for the Shatter soundtrack.

CoLD SToRAGE: They’re very proactive—if you contact them with queries or problems, they come back and they talk to you one-to-one. The other thing is it’s lossless as well. I haven’t a complaint so far, and I cannot yet see Darth Vader in the background, but I should be knocking on massive chunks of wood.

For a number of downloadable titles running on a tight budget, it appears that releasing the soundtrack can often be crucial to promoting the game.

Module: Having the stream on Bandcamp is pretty important. If people really want a album, they’re going to download it anyway, via torrent or file sharing. This makes it so you can say, “You can listen to it here for free, and if you want to support us, you can pay to own it.” You never really get a feel for an album with thirty-second clips—especially with game soundtracks, because they are reliant on there being a journey.

I think this is a good approach to digital music in general to give people a really good feel for it in advance. 9 times out of 10, if people love something they will pay for it. Otherwise, they’ll skim through it and move on to the next thing.

Do you have an idea of how you would like the soundtrack to NightSky to be made available?

I have been thinking about it since I completed the soundtrack. We’re still waiting for the game to come out to coordinate the soundtrack release with it. I like that on Bandcamp you can stream and purchase in the same place. I don’t know if any of you have had to fill out Excel spreadsheets for certain services, but it is the antithesis of what you want to have to deal with as an artist. There are enough obstacles to the creative process already.

[To learn more about Module, I Am Robot and Proud, CoLD SToRAGE and Chris Schlarb, visit their websites.]

Apple Features IGF Mobile Finalists On iPhone App Store

Apple has launched a new section on the front page of the iTunes App Store highlighting nominees and finalists in the third annual Independent Games Festival Mobile competition.

IGF Mobile, now in its third year, is a sister event to the Independent Games Festival that celebrates excellence in games for Apple's iPhone, other cellphone and smartphone operating systems (OS), Nintendo DS, Sony PlayStation Portable, and other handheld devices.

The Cupertino-based iPhone creator is prominently featuring the IGF Mobile titles at least partly because four of the five category winners in this year’s event were developed for the iPhone and iPod Touch platforms, including:

- Technical Achievement: Stair Dismount (Secret Exit)
- Audio Achievement: Lilt Line (Different Cloth)
- Achievement in Art: Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP (Superbrothers, Capy, Jim Guthrie — Unreleased)
- Best iPhone Game: Spider: The Secret of Bryce Manor (Tiger Style Games)

The Best Mobile Game Design award went to Powerhead Games’ Nintendo DSiWare title Glow Artisan, not currently available for Apple's hardware.

All category winners will compete for the $2,500 Best Mobile Game prize at the main IGF Awards, to be held next Thursday during Game Developers Conference 2010 and streamed live on GameSpot.com.

Other IGF Mobile finalists honored in Apple’s limited-timed spotlight feature, in the second year that the firm has included such a sales-boosting showcase on the front page of the App Store, include:

- Drop7 (Area/Code)
- Guerrilla Bob (Chillingo)
- Tumbledrop (Starfruit Games)
- Zombie Pizza (Appy Entertainment)

In addition, Apple also featured a number of the iPhone-specific games which received honorable mentions from the IGF Mobile judges, including the following titles:

- Aera (iChromo)
- Ancient Frog (Ancient Workshop)
- Doodle Jump (Lima Sky)
- Earth Dragon (Chaim Gingold)
- iBlast Moki (Godzilab)
- Mind Wall (Robinson Technologies)
- Minigore (Chillingo)
- Pocket God (Bolt Creative)

Each of the five IGF Mobile category winners will be playable at the IGF Pavilion on the GDC show floor from Thursday March 11th to Saturday March 13th, and a special 'IGF Mobile Showcase' session on Wednesday 10th during the GDC Mobile/Handheld Summit will include some of the creators discussing the making of the games.

More information on IGF Mobile finalists, category winners and honorable mentions across all platforms are available at the official Independent Games Festival Mobile website.

AIAS Establishes Scholarship Honoring Capcom's Mark Beaumont

The Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences (AIAS) established a new academic scholarship in honor of Mark Beaumont, who served as a board member and COO of Capcom North America and Europe before passing away suddenly on February 23, 2010 after suffering a heart attack.

The AIAS will award four $2,500 scholarships every year to students pursuing careers in interactive entertainment and attending accredited universities. The non-profit's scholarship committee will include Electronic Arts's Rich Hilleman, Interactive Entertainment's Don Daglow, Epic Games's Mike Capps, USC's Chris Swain, and Carnegie Melon's Jesse Schell.

Beaumont's laudable 28-year-history in the video game industry began at Atari in 1982, followed by management and executive roles at notable publishers such as Psygnosis, Mindscape, Data East, Activision, and Midway Games. He worked at Capcom for nearly five years, first as SVP and EVP before his promotion in April 2008 to chief operating officer.

"Never one to seek the spotlight, Mark Beaumont has been a patient and invaluable mentor to me and the hundreds of other people he has touched over the course of nearly three decades in the industry," says Christian Svensson, an AIAS board member and corporate officer/vice president of strategic planning & business development at Capcom Entertainment.

Svensson adds, "When you look at all of the games and brands he’s touched and people whose respect he has earned, I can think of no one that is more deserving of this honor than Mark."

You can make donations to the Mark Beaumont Scholarship Fund by sending checks to the AIAS Foundation/Mark Beaumont Fund 23622 Calabasas Road, Suite 220 Calabasas, CA 9130.

CarneyVale: Showtime Swings To Games for Windows Live

Another exemplary downloadable console game is making its way to PC! CarneyVale: Showtime, an Xbox Live Indie Games title that sister-sites Gamasutra and GamerBytes named the #1 release for the service in 2008, will arrive on PCs later this year thanks to an exclusive distribution contract with Games for Windows Live.

Developer by the Singapore-MIT Gambit Game Lab plans to "slightly" modify the gameplay for PC gamers and add new features like a built-in map editor for creating and sharing stages. The one-button game stars a circus acrobat swinging and flipping through stages, collecting balloons along the way.

The game beat out 350 entries to win $40,000 at Microsoft's XNA Dream-Build-Play competition in 2008 and recognized at several indie events; the 2009 Penny Arcade Expo included Carneyvale in its "Top 10 Independent Games Showcase Winners" and the 2009 Independent Games Festival selected it as a finalist for the main competition grand prize.

If you've no patience to can't wait for Microsoft Games and Gambit to release CarneyVale: Showtime on Games for Windows Life, you can download the console version right now for just 400 MS Points on Xbox Live Indie Games (free demo also available).

Sidhe Sends Shatter To Steam

New Zealand-based studio Sidhe announced plans to release Shatter, its previously PSN-exclusive modern re-imagining of Arkanoid, to PC through digital distribution platform Steam later this month.

Along with offering support for Steam achievements and leaderboards (available across Story Mode, Boss Rush, and Bonus Mode), the new edition of Shatter will offer PC-exclusive game modes like Endless Mode, Endless Co-op Multiplayer, Time Attack, and Time Attack Co-op Multiplayer.

Released last July for PlayStation 3, Shatter has you clearing bricks in vertical, horizontal, and even circular arenas. While you can bounce balls off your paddle to break those bricks, you can also push and pull the balls to guide their trajectory using the controller's shoulder buttons.

The game also offers shoot'em up elements like big boss fights, power-ups, special attacks, time slowdown, and the ability to just send a volley of shots across the stage to blast away the bricks. Sidhe designed the title so that you're rarely ever waiting for the ball to return to your paddle; you can even summon multiple balls to make stages more challenging.

Shatter's excellent "electro rock and retro beats" soundtrack, composed by Jeramiah "Module" Ross, has also picked up much attention; the game's currently a finalist for the 2010 Independent Games Festival's "Excellence in Audio" award and "Main Competition Audience" Award. You can stream the soundtrack for free or purchase it at Bandcamp.

"Bringing Shatter to new audiences has always been our goal," says Sidhe's managing director Mario Wynands. "Following the warm reception we received for the PlayStation 3 version, taking Shatter to PC on the Steam platform was a natural next step."

The Psychology Of Games: The Glitcher's Dilemma

the_prisoner.jpg[Psychologist and gamer Jamie Madigan continues his new GameSetWatch column by writing about how social dilemmas work in the world of gaming, and how designers can work to diffuse them before everybody gets glitch happy.]

Soon after its release, some players of the online first person shooter Modern Warfare 2 discovered what became known as "the javelin glitch." Someone, somewhere, somehow figured out that through a bizarre sequence of button presses you could glitch the game so that when you died in multiplayer you would explode violently and murder everyone within 30 feet of you, often resulting in a net gain in points.

It wasn't long, though, before the method for creating this glitch spread through the Internet and servers were filled with exploding nincompoops. Just to a Youtube search for "Modern Warfare javelin glitch" and you'll get hours' worth of video explaining how to do it --it wasn't a very well kept secret. In fact, it quickly got bad enough that developer Infinity Ward had to rush out a patch to fix it, presumably screaming "Ack! No! You guys, stop it!" the whole time.

But in the meantime, the javelin glitch presented players with an interesting dilemma assuming they weren't outright bent on griefing: they could either abuse the glitch to boost their own rankings and unlock new perks, or they could abstain and preserve the game's fair play. Of course, the problem is that if they abstain, someone else may abuse the glitch and dominate the match. The middle ground is when everyone glitches, but the resulting pandemonium isn't as much fun as fair play.

Let's simplify the discussion by assuming a two-player deathmatch game between two non-griefers in Modern Warfare 2. Look, I've created a table to summarize the dilemma for you! It's suitable for framing.


So what do you do? Psychologists and economists who study this kind of decision-making call it a "social dilemma." In these situations each person has what's called a "dominating" alternative where they're most likely to win (in this example, abusing the glitch) but most people REALLY want the "nondominating" alternative produced when everyone chooses to cooperate. Especially once the novelty factor wears off.

Back in the 1960s research on these kinds of dilemmas exploded and out of it came what's known as "the prisoner's dilemma," based on an anecdote about getting confessions from two prisoners held under suspicion for a bank robbery. In his book, Rational Choice in an Uncertain World Robyn Dawes summarizes the classic scenario thusly:

"Two men rob a bank. They are apprehended, but in order to obtain a conviction the district attorney needs confessions. He succeeds by proposing to each robber separately that if he confesses and his accomplice does not, he will go free and his accomplice will be sent to jail for ten years; if both confess, both will be sent to jail for five years, and if neither confesses, both will be sent to jail for one year on charges of carrying a concealed weapon. Further, the district attorney informs each man that he is proposing the same deal to his accomplice."

Another table!


What would you do? In this case, both prisoners will probably confess if they're rational about it. Why? Because each prisoner get a better (or no worse) payoff by confessing no matter what the other guy does. Prisoner A thinks, "I don't know what B is going to do, so if I confess it's the best way to keep myself from getting screwed. If he keeps quiet, I go free. If he also confesses, I get 5 years instead of 10." In other words, confessing is the only way to keep the other guy from being able to screw you over. Notice how this mirrors the javelin glitch dilemma.

Now let's take another example from the golden years of PC gaming. In the early days of Starcraft, a strategy called "Zerg rushing" emerged where at the beginning of the match players would quickly build lots of cheap Zerg units to overwhelm opponents before defenses could be constructed. Counter strategies developed for players who could manage them, but for a good chunk of the player base Starcraft became a game of seeing who could Zerg rush faster, which wasn't nearly as much fun as choosing from any other number of play styles or even races. So the dilemma was:


Again, the dominating strategy was to Zerg rush, because if you didn't and the other guy did, you lost, which was worse than any of the alternatives. This despite the fact that what you really both want is a varied, fun game. It's a design issue that still plagues strategy game developers today.

Prisoner's dilemmas and social dilemmas in general can similarly be used to illustrate the reasons for ninja looting in World of Warcraft:


Or you could apply it to "tick throwing" and "fireball trapping" techniques in fighting games. I could go on, but I think you get the idea.

What's really more interesting and useful, though, is to look at what psychology has to show us about when people DON'T choose the purely rational option of abusing a glitch or a winning but boring strategy. Generally, people are more likely to do this when:

- They know they will be playing against their opponents in the future and face retribution
- They expect to interact with their opponents outside the game
- They don't expect to remain anonymous
- They don't know how many games will be played with the same person

Under these conditions, many players will adopt a strategy where they cooperate at first (for example, they don't glitch or rush), then if the other player abuses that trust they retaliate in kind. This is known as the "tit for tat" strategy. Some researchers with way too much time on their hands even organized tournaments where people were invited to write computer programs to play iterated prisoner dilemma games, and the programs that adhered to the "tit for tat" strategy tended to do the best.

This is why things like playing with people on your friend's list, Steam community group, guild/clan, or a favorite dedicated server is good. And it's one reason why random matches between strangers or pickup groups can be infuriating. Making it easy to submit ratings to the profiles of people you just played also helps resolve these dilemmas to everyone's benefits. It's also the reason that I love the way that Halo 3 lets you remain in a lobby with the people you just played and go straight into another round with them.

People being the complicated beings they are it's not a perfect system, though. Some people are just griefers out to disrupt the game no matter what. Some people won't abuse a glitch out of a sense of honor. Some will value their ranking on a leaderboard more than a sense of fair play for any individual match. But even if none of the bulleted items above is a silver bullet, they help across large numbers of games.

References: Dawes, R. (1988). Rational Choice in an Uncertain World. Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace Publishers.

[Jamie Madigan, Ph.D. is a psychologist and gamer who explores why players and developers do what they do by studying the overlap between psychology and video games at The Psychology of Games website. He can be reached at [email protected]]

March 3, 2010

Playgirl, Artmunk Release Virtual (and Adult) Encyclopedia

Playgirl and adult game developer Artmunk (Lovechess, The Virtual Express) teamed up to release The Virtual Encyclopedia of Sex, a 3D PC/Mac game that promises "the latest insights and researched sexual techniques from authorities like Dr. Alan Manevitz and sexologist Jayme Waxman."

The Virtual Encyclopedia of Sex allows you to customize characters (hair styles, tattoos, pubic hair, etc.), direct the in-game camera to zoom in and get the perfect angle, and control your couple to completion in a variety of sexual positions. The game even has achievements that reward you with special clothes and advanced positions.

For those with limited experience in the ways of love, the game offers a sex guide and tutorial to get you started, which will probably offer more useful advice than the implausible second-hand stories your best friend in middle school relayed to you about his older brother's courtships.

You can see some very not-safe-for-work screenshots for The Virtual Encyclopedia of Sex and watch a trailer at Artmunk Games. The game is available to purchase for $29.99.

Patchwork Heroes 4-Koma Strips, Themes

Eastern Mind is continuing its crusade to promote Acquire's Patchwork Heroes (or One Million Ton Bara Bara) to Western gamers by posting another humorous comic set online; this time, though, instead of sharing a fan-made piece, EM has translated and uploaded a series of strips originally published on the PSP title's Japanese site.

The 4-koma strips feature Patchwork Heroes's charming characters, whom you can more of in this story trailer. If you're still unsure what the game's about, it has you jumping onto giant airships, rescuing prisoners, and breaking the craft apart by sawing away sections in a Qix-like fashion.

You can read the comic strips as an online mini-book here. Make sure to also check out Eastern Mind's collection of Patchwork Heroes PSP backgrounds/themes grabbed from the Japanese PSN store (examples after the break)!

Road To The IGF: Heroes Of Newerth's Laura Baker

[In the latest Road to the IGF interview with 2010 Independent Games Festival finalists, we speak with S2 Games' Laura Baker about DotA-inspired multiplayer action RPG Heroes of Newerth, a finalist in the Technical Excellence category.]

Heroes of Newerth (HoN) is a session-based multiplayer action RPG that acts as a spiritual successor to popular WarCraft III mod Defense of the Ancients -- but aims to renovate its graphics and gameplay.

Two teams of five playing as special Hero units try to destroy one another's bases. The result is a tactical team-based experience. Here, S2 Games' Laura Baker discusses the project's inspirations and the challenging balancing act between serving DotA fans and making the game accessible to those who never played it.

What is your background in making games?

S2 has always focused on competitive multiplayer titles, starting with Savage - The Battle for Newerth in 2003, followed by Savage 2 in early 2008, and ultimately followed up with our latest title, Heroes of Newerth. We're a pretty small studio that (as cliche as this sounds) likes to make the games that we enjoy playing.

What development tools did you use?

On the art side of things we use 3DS Studio Max, Adobe Photoshop, ZBrush, and I think xNormal. Our programmers pretty much just use Visual Studio 2005. The design team uses the ever-handy notepad++ to modify much of the game mechanics and hero abilities as needed. Beyond that, we haven't really used much middleware, our engine was made from scratch and most of the features and functions we needed our programmers were able to write for us.

How long did you work on the game?

About three years total, including engine development (which was shared by Savage 2). The bulk of the HoN-exclusive work has been going on for about 2 years. As for how much time remains.. well, we're getting ready to go to open beta soon, but we'll continue working on HoN for a long, long time to come.

HoN takes cues from WarCraft III mod Defense of the Ancients, right? What made you want to build on that?

Well, it comes back to making the sort of games we like to play. At S2, we played DotA in the office for a while and loved it, but couldn't help but realize how much better it could be if it only had certain bells and whistles and other improvements. We really think HoN can take the DotA-style gameplay to new heights, having not been held back by many of the limitations DotA had.

The game seems aimed for an audience of, to put it loosely, genre fans. How did you know where to innovate and where to be familiar?

The main goal was always to appeal to the DotA fans first and foremost. There's definitely a balancing act between making HoN familiar to DotA fans yet accessible to players who had never played DotA before.

We'll have a tutorial by release, which helps, but in general we innovated in ways that made sense when there was very little gameplay downside to doing so.

The art is exceptionally lovely. What considerations did you have when assembling heroes and Hellbourne that look lifelike and diverse?

The main considerations when making art in HoN are cool-factor and gameplay. Our art director Jesse Hayes is always stressing a certain style and wanting things to be exciting and cool, for lack of a better term.

Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), the human imagination isn't the only limitation here -- we are constantly making efforts to ensure that the art doesn't negatively impact the gameplay. Visuals for a spell have to be clear and precise, each hero needs to be a certain size (so they can take the same paths through the forest as other heroes), and we like to have visual feedback for nearly everything without making battles feel too cluttered.

If you could start the project over again, what would you do differently?

I don't think there are many things that we would do differently, actually. We learned a lot from developing our previous titles, and applied that knowledge to HoN's development. In a way, HoN was our "second chance" in which we got to do things a bit differently.

Were there any elements that you experimented with that just flat out didn't work with your vision?

Hm, there were a few heroes that never saw the light of day that didn't really work out. Or rather, they were re-worked until they did work out. For the most part, though, we've been lucky to be building off a concept that has already been proven with DotA, and we've had years to learn what does and doesn't work and get a really strong grasp on what we're doing, so we haven't really had any major problems.

Have you played any of the other IGF finalists? Any games you particularly enjoyed?

Unfortunately, no. We've been crunching pretty hard here lately, but I look forward to checking them out sooner or later.

What do you think of the current state of the indie scene?

I think we're getting more avenues for indie developers to get their games out there. Digital distribution has really made it possible for companies that can't afford to sell retail to still be able to sell their games. Development tools (including complete game engines) are becoming more available too.

It excites me that if someone is determined enough, they really can make a completely playable game with a pretty small budget. At the same time, huge-budget titles really make it difficult for indie developers to compete in the single-player market, I think. Huge cinematics, voice acting, and tons of play time are becoming the norm for single-player games these days, and indie companies just don't have the resources to pull off games with that type of scope.

I think indie titles have the most success as puzzle games or multiplayer-focused games. I kind of see two classes of games here: the epic 50-gigabyte single-player titles intended for hours and hours of play, and the small, accessible short-term titles (some multiplayer ones aren't so short-term). I think both classes of games have a lot to offer, and I think the added diversity is something most gamers would welcome.

[Previous 'Road To The IGF' interview subjects have included Enviro-Bear 2000 developer Justin Smith, Rocketbirds: Revolution's co-creators Sian Yue Tan and Teck Lee Tan, Vessel co-creator John Krajewski, Trauma creator Krystian Majewski, Super Meat Boy co-creators Edmund McMillen and Tommy Refenes, Sidhe's Mario Wynands, who worked on Shatter, Daniel Benmergui, creator of Today I Die, Klei Entertainment's Jamie Cheng, executive producer on Shank, Star Guard creator Loren Schmidt, Miegakure developer Marc Ten Bosch, Joe Danger creator Hello Games, Limbo partner Dino Patti, Closure's Tyler Glaiel and Jon Schubbe, and AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! -- A Reckless Disregard for Gravity's Ichiro Lambe.]

Best of FingerGaming: From Brothers in Arms 2 to Final Fantasy

[We round up the week's top news and reviews from iPhone site FingerGaming, as written by editor in chief Danny Cowan and authors Mathew Kumar and Jonathan Glover.]

This week, FingerGaming looks over the top stories of the past seven days, and covers Gameloft's World War II shooter sequel Brothers in Arms 2 and reviews Square Enix's iPhone remake of Final Fantasy.

Also in this set of links - amazing sales numbers for Plants Vs. Zombies, as well as the top free and paid download numbers from the App Store and more feedback on the 'sexy' App controversy.

Here are the top stories from the last seven days:

- Gameloft Launches World War II Shooter Sequel Brothers In Arms 2: Global Front
"Gameloft wowed early iPhone adopters with Brothers in Arms: Hour of Heroes, one of the first App Store releases to demonstrate the platform's strengths in the third-person shooter genre. Today, Gameloft releases the awaited sequel."

- Top-Grossing Game Apps: Plants vs. Zombies On Top, Brothers in Arms 2 Takes Second
"Activision's Call of Duty: World at War Zombies settles for third place after taking second last week. EA's Monopoly returns to the top ten at fourth, as Words with Friends moves up from eighth place to finish sixth."

- Square Enix's Final Fantasy I and II Now Available in App Store
"The new iPhone editions of Final Fantasy I and II boast an all-new gameplay interface, enabling players to sort through menus and target enemies in battle using the iPhone's touch screen."

- Apple Targets An Estimated 5,000 'Sexy' Apps for Deletion
"Over the weekend, Apple removed a large quantity of games and applications from the iTunes App Store, citing a sudden change in guidelines for acceptable content banning sexually suggestive material."

- Top Free Game App Downloads: Sexy's Revenge
"Apple's decision to remove all sexually suggestive material from the App Store has resulted in a sudden rise in popularity for the iPhone's few remaining sex-themed games."

- iPhone Plants vs. Zombies Earns $1M in First Nine Days
"Casual games publisher PopCap reports that the iPhone and iPod Touch version of its popular tower defense title Plants vs. Zombies has sold more than 300,000 units in its first nine days of availability, setting a new sales record for App Store debuts."

- Review: Final Fantasy
"The storyline is classic stuff, the dialog is well-translated, and the process of leveling up your characters and outfitting them with more powerful equipment will always be fun. Ultimately, though, the iPhone version's flaws just make the experience more frustrating than it should be."

- Top-Selling Paid Game Apps: Plants vs. Zombies, Gamebox Lead Daily Sales
"PopCap's Plants vs. Zombies takes the top spot in the App Store's paid app charts. Triniti Interactive's app compilation All-in-1 Gamebox again finishes at second place, as Clickgamer's recently updated Angry Birds follows at third."

- Street Fighter IV Playable Characters Revealed, Gameplay Video Released
"Street Fighter IV for the iPhone includes eight fighters -- Ryu, Ken, Chun-Li, Blanka, Guile, Dhalsim, Abel, and M. Bison. Sorry, Rufus fans."

- Opinion: iPhone Butts Drive Me Nuts
"These games aren't good for anyone. They take minimal effort to develop, contain no original content, and make an already crowded app catalog much more difficult to navigate."

Fangamer's Chrono Trigger-inspired Fashions

Initially launched as an alternative to Cafepress's dinky setup for buying well-designed Earthbound/Mother merchandise online, Fangamer has since expanded its catalog to other game universes like Metal Gear and most recently Square Enix's revered SNES RPG Chrono Trigger.

Fangamer's new Chrono Trigger-inspired gear includes a 2300: Ruined World shirt that offers "a dazzling glimpse into the desolate future". The tee is available in three different colors and even comes with a pin (see close-ups of the "belt design" after the break).

The online shop is also selling two Dark Omen Moto Jackets that look to celebrate "the fiery 1999 debut of the earth’s matroshka-nemesis"; and an Era Sticker Pack identifying your time traveler classification (Time Guru, Johnny Jetbike, Timewing, and Triple Tech).

If you're a huge Chrono Trigger nerd and won't rest until you've procured all three of those products, you can grab all three with a slight discount thanks to Fangamer's Cataclysm Combo Pack, available for both men and women.

Game Developers Choice, IGF Awards Partner With GameSpot, G4 For Coverage

[For those who sadly can't make it out to GDC next week, we've set up a live-stream of the IGF and Choice Awards for the first time in association with the folks at GameSpot, plus some G4 TV coverage of the awards - here's the info.]

Game Developers Choice and IGF Awards organizers have confirmed that next week's awards shows will be streamed live on GameSpot.com, with TV network G4 also present to capture highlights for a GDC special.

The major CBS-owned GameSpot.com website has set up a special Game Developers Conference 2010 landing page for its coverage, and will be exclusively live-streaming the awards, which take place at the Moscone Center in San Francisco on Thursday, March 11, 2010 at 6:30 pm PT.

The ceremonies kick off with the 12th Annual Independent Games Festival Awards, this year presented by indie developers Kyle Gabler (World Of Goo) and Erin Robinson (Puzzle Bots), and honoring an outstanding set of finalists from the world of independent games.

The event will give out over $40,000 in awards, including the prestigious Seumas McNally Grand Prize, the Audience Award, and the 'art game'-centric Nuovo Award, as well as exclusive videos on indie games filmed by comedy troupe Mega64.

Following the conclusion of the IGF Awards, the live stream will showcase the Game Developers Choice Awards, now in its tenth year, and the leading mainstream game awards voted on by video game creators.

With improved methodology, Special Award winners for this year's Choice Awards are selected by the 20 person-strong Game Developers Choice Awards Advisory Committee, and winners from this year's finalists are now being selected by the Game Developers Choice Awards-specific International Choice Awards Network (ICAN) -- new invitation-only group comprised of 500 leading game creators from all parts of the video game industry.

As well as the awards themselves, which span from Best Downloadable Game through craft-specific awards for Art, Audio, and Design to the much-coveted Game Of The Year award, notable figures present to receive special awards will include Valve's Gabe Newell, for the Pioneer Award, Penny Arcade's Jerry Holkins, Mike Krahulik and Robert Khoo, for the Ambassador Award, and Id's John Carmack, for the Lifetime Achievement Award.

The awards will be presented by Junction Point Studios and Disney's Warren Spector (Epic Mickey), with additional exclusive Mega64 videos, and will also be recorded by U.S. TV network G4, with highlights being included in the Game Developers Conference-specific episodes of their X-Play TV show.

Both ceremonies, which take place in North Hall, Hall D, Moscone Convention Center, are open to all Game Developers Conference 2010 pass-holders to attend in person, and more detail on the show is available at the official GDC 2010 website.

Warner Bros., Taito Negotiating For Space Invaders Film

With Universal developing a film based on Asteroids and Fox considering a Missile Command movie, Warner Bros. is looking to bring a classic arcade game to theatres too and is negotiating with Taito to secure feature rights for Space Invaders.

The film studio already has three Hollywood names to attach to the project as producers, according to a report from the Los Angeles Times: Mark Gordon (Saving Private Ryan), Jason Blum (Paranormal Activity), and Guymon Casady.

As these things tend to do, the idea of a Space Invaders film leaves so many question, like what kind of story can a scriptwriter concoct based on a cannon shooting at aliens that shuffle side-to-side before descending? Will Warner Bros. license a game adaptation of the film? And will the movie feature Rush's "Tom Sawyer" in its soundtrack?

IGF Finalist Limbo To Release On XBLA This Summer

Almost three and a half years since it first teased Limbo with a small Flash video, developer Playdead is finally ready to reveal more about its plans for the black and white platformer. The studio says it will release the game, a 2010 IGF finalist for the Technical Excellence and Excellence in Visual Art categories, through Xbox Live Arcade this summer.

"The reason for the 'radio silence' is that we have been very busy producing the game," says Playdead CEO and co-founder Dino Patti, explaining the dearth of updates since Limbo's announcement. "I'll just let you know that the reason things have taken so long is that we started from scratch and decided to make Limbo independently after talks with several publishers."

The game's creator Arnt Jensen began working with Patti on the project shortly after releasing Limbo's concept video in 2006. Their team has since grown to eight developers along with some freelancers (max size was 16 employees). With the much-anticipated game's launch nearing, Playdead says it's ready to regularly post media updates on Limbo and show off the game at next week's GDC.

[Via IGN]

COLUMN: @Play: Crawlapalooza, Part 4: Travel Functions & Play Aids

Roguelike column thumbnail ['@ Play' is a monthly column by John Harris which discusses the history, present and future of the Roguelike dungeon exploring genre. Check out previous columns for other entries in this series on breakout Roguelike variant Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup.]

One thing new players to Crawl may find dismaying is the sheer size of the dungeon. Rogue, Nethack and ADOM have dungeon levels that fit on a single screen, but Crawl's maps are much larger, many more screens in size both vertically and horizontally. They aren't as large as Angband's, but Angband has transient levels anyway; once you leave a level, it is completely forgotten and cannot be returned to, so in a sense they are disposable.

Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup's levels are big enough that they pose challenges of information management for the player. And if a player has a good enough memory to handle them, or a pad and paper for writing things down, that works well, for a while at least. The game did little to help the player to keep track of it all for a while. In fact, the addition of the Travel Patch marks the root of the Crawl code fork that would become Stone Soup. (The Travel Patch and its role in Stone Soup's origins are detailed in a post at crawl.develz.org.)Since its introduction, Crawl has acquired an amazing array of automated play aids, far beyond the call of duty and unique in the roguelike world.

O: Auto-Explore
Let's start with the first one players tend to discover, auto-explore. When this feature is first discovered it feels almost like cheating. You press a key, not evem a shifted one, and the game suddenly begins playing itself....


Between each of the above screenshots, exactly one command was given to the game, to auto-explore. The exploration took more than one turn, of course.

What happens is your character takes stock of the portions of the level not yet explored, finds the reachable unseen tile adjacent to its known area that it takes the fewest turns to reach, then pathfinds to it and tries to walk to that spot. Once he sees the target tile, he picks a new spot and tries to get to it. He continues to do this either until something interesting happens (like a possibly useful item is seen, a monster comes into view, or a trap is found) or he runs out of new territory on the current level.

He will refuse to move through traps if he considers there to be any real danger from them, and also will not cross dangerous ground or the range of particularly dangerous monsters like Oklob plants or hostile statues. Your smart little guy will automatically pick up useful objects along the way, and seems to take their acquisition as a superseding priority. He even ignores items your character cannot use, like equipment a Spriggan cannot wear, eat, or gain benefit from. In this respect, a Crawl character often knows how to play the game better than a newbie player.

Moving through Crawl's huge levels takes long enough hitting a key for every step of the way takes a lot of time, so much that, after you start using auto-explore, it rapidly becomes difficult to see living without it. And it is strange but the nature of the game subtly changes through its use. You no longer have to worry about not spotting a monster and moving too close to it; auto-explore halts the moment so much as a rat enters sight. Running down long tunnels takes less than a second instead of half a minute. It even enters unseen shops automatically so you can note inventory! It turns the game, almost, into a kind of specialized random roguelike situation generator. And yet, if you ever need to manually walk through an area, all the old roguelike methods remain available.

Shift-X: Level Search & Autotravel
If you want to get to a location you've already been quickly, try hitting Ctrl-X. This brings up an interface through which you can cursor to the location you want to go and have the game automatically pathfind to it. The same rules are in place about stopping for monsters and traps as in autoexplore.

Even better, if you hit > or < repeatedly, the game will cycle through all the down- or up-stairs you've seen in the currently-accessible region of the level, in order from closest (in turns needed to reach) to furthermost. Hitting the tab key will even cycle through shops the same way! Note, if you try this and for some reason the game doesn't want to jump to particular stairs or shops, it's probably because you've yet to find a way to that spot without leaving the current level.

Remember, Dungeon Crawl's level structure are sometimes complex, and it isn't rare for all three downstairs from a level to each lead to separate sections of the level below, and sometimes this discontinuity holds through multiple levels. If the game won't go to the spot you want, try going back upstairs and finding another way down first.

crawl5-overview3.pngCtrl-G: Level autotravel
Here is where it gets freaky. What if you've gotten to the bottom of the Lair, and realize you need to jump back to the Hive, found earlier in the game, to replenish your food stores? Crawl's levels being as large and complex as they are, the simple act of moving through all those dungeons levels could be a real chore. Wouldn't it be nice if you could just tell the game, in essence, to go to the hive, and have it take care of all the moving and route finding for you? Yeah, you probably can guess that's what it'll do.

Ctrl-G presents a list of all of the dungeon branches you've found so far in the current game along with a key letter for each. Enter the letter, then the number of the level you want to go to, and the game will start your character on his way without further input from you. It'll even find the fastest way there, and will wind through other levels if need be.

Once in a while when you do this, the game will say it doesn't know how to get there. This usually happens when you fall down a shaft from a higher level and the explored zone you're currently in doesn't yet intersect with that of the destination. Try exploring a bit more, maybe moving a level closer to your goal manually, then trying it again. If you just want to remember where a branch or shop is without travelling there, try Ctrl-O to bring up a helpful dungeon overview.

When a new feature is added to a game and, suddenly, you wonder how you ever did without it? That's a good sign that there was something wrong to begin with that you hadn't recognized. DCSS's travel options are unequaled among almost any game in terms of ease of use. They direct the player away from relatively uninteresting movement chores and focus attention on the items and monsters that make the game fun. It could be argued that some verisimilitude is lost in using them, turning the game into more of a situation generator than an integrated dungeon exploration game, but Crawl is so expansive that it arguably was a bit overdone in that regard.

Ctrl-F: Stash management
In Nethack, did you ever find an item you really wanted, but didn't want to risk going into Burdened or Stressed, so you left it there to find a good stash location for your less essential loot, but then discovered you'd forgotten where the item you wanted to pick up was?

Crawl has a solution to this kind of problem, and to my knowledge it is the only game that offers nearly so complete an item management system. The game remembers the name and location of every item you see throughout the entire game, and allows you to do a text search through them. It will provide you with a list of all the items with names containing the words you specify, and you can pick from any of the hits to begin moving there. You can search for traps, shops and shop contents this way too. With some compilations you can even use regular expressions in your search! Not only is this useful for recalling the location of that object you saw several levels back, but it can even sometimes find objects your character saw but you overlooked.

You can also set a waypoint in the dungeon with Ctrl-W then specifying a number, then travel there by hitting Ctrl-G then that number, great for getting to that stash back in Lair:1 by the most expeditious means possible.

crawl5-inventory.pngOther player helps

In addition to the question-mark help screens that all sane roguelikes provide, there are several other ways Crawl subtly helps the player to learn how to play. It contains a surprisingly helpful tutorial, for instance, not a mean feat in a game as randomly generated as Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup. New players may wonder why different items and messages are printed in different colors.

Items that are known to be bad to use (in their primary use, if they have more than one) are colored red, and useless items (like stuff you can't equip, or won't provide useable benefits) are dark gray. Artifacts show up in a brilliant white, whether identified or not; this is actually the easiest way to tell if an item is really special, since sometimes the attached adjective on an artifact is similar to one of Crawl's more-ordinary enchanted or ego adjectives. Messages, too, are color-coded by default, depending on the danger or benefit provided, or depending on their source.

This is the end of Crawlapalooza, although we may end up returning to the game fairly soon.... Next will be a fairly long-awaited article, both for me and apparently for some of you, a review of Atlus and Chun Soft's English release of Shiren the Wanderer for the Wii. See you soon.

March 2, 2010

GDC 2010 Rounds Off Indie Coverage With Indie Fund Talk, Gamma, Nuovo Sessions

Game Developers Conference organizers have confirmed the final set of independent game-specific content, including Ron Carmel on the just-debuted Indie Fund, the Gamma IV party/showcase, and the EGW-replacing Nuovo Sessions game showcase.

The newly confirmed details round off a multitude of independent game-specific content at the March 9th-13th event, held at the Moscone Center in San Francisco, including the 12th Annual Independent Games Festival -- featuring over 30 top indie games playable on the GDC Expo floor from Thursday 11th to Saturday 13th, as well as the major IGF Awards on Thursday 11th at 6.30pm.

In addition, the 4th Independent Games Summit on Tuesday 9th and Wednesday 10th has added and clarified a number of sessions, with 2D Boy's Ron Carmel kicking off the event with 'Indies and Publishers: Fixing a System That Never Worked', now confirmed to discuss the new Indie Fund organization.

Another major new panel, 'Tripping The Art Fantastic', features Spelunky creator Derek Yu, Braid artist David Hellman and Super Meat Boy co-creator Edmund McMillen discussing "how each one of these figures influences the state of game art, from hand painted epics to short form experimental Flash games."

Other previously unhighlighted Independent Games Summit lectures and panels include a trio on 'Savvy Indie Solutions to Difficult Development Problems', with Monaco's Andy Schatz, Canabalt's Adam Saltsman and Aquaria's Alec Holowka weighing in on "three unique approaches to game design" focusing on smaller as better -- alongside a number of other major lectures.

Also newly announced on Wednesday is a special GDC Mobile/Handheld session named 'IGF Mobile Showcase', with some of the category winners from the Independent Games Festival Mobile competition discussing the work behind their award-winning iPhone and Nintendo DSi titles - including Lilt Line, Glow Artisan and Spider: The Secret of Bryce Manor.

There's also a notable off-site party in the indie space, and open to all GDC attendees. In the evening of March 10th, a host of notable independent studios are banding together to present the Gamma IV One Button Event, a party featuring six 'one button games' picked from over 150 entries to Kokoromi's game challenge, plus music from Baiyon, Starpause, and more. The chosen Gamma IV games will then appear in playable form at a special Pavilion on the GDC Expo Floor from March 11th-13th.

Finally, with the Experimental Gameplay Workshop at the GDC Main Conference being cancelled at short notice, IGF co-organizers Matthew Wegner and Steve Swink have stepped in to the same time slot to present 'The Nuovo Sessions'. This is "a look at some of the new, alternative games and game concepts nominated for the Independent Games Festival's Nuovo Awards, along with prototypes and productions from like-minded individuals."

Confirmed speakers for the session include Daniel Benmergui (Today I Die), Alex Bruce (Hazard: The Journey Of Life), Ian Bogost (A Slow Year), Farbs (Captain Forever, pictured), Cactus (Tuning), Steve Swink (Shadow Physics), Ian Dallas (The Unfinished Swan), Tyler Glaiel & Jon Schubbe (Closure), Terry Cavanagh (VVVVVV), and Justin Smith (Enviro-Bear 2000), who will be showing existing titles, new prototypes, and discussing multiple ways to create video games that think different.

More information about GDC 2010 -- run by this website's parent firm -- is available on the official Game Developers Conference weblog, and the GDC Schedule Builder has a complete list of lectures for the event. Regular discounted online registration for GDC 2010 is only available until Thursday, March 4 at 1pm PT.

The 529-in-One Klik-and-Play Pirate Kart Collection

Last weekend, more than 100 people sought to create 371 PC games in 48 hours using game creation tool Klik & Play, working no more than two hours on each project. Why 371? Organizers declared a "quantity war" against Global Game Jam, which gather 1600 developers who created 370 games with a similar 48-hour deadline.

The group far exceeded that goal and produced 529 games, all of which are gathered on this "Pirate Kart 2" page at Glorious Trainwrecks. There's bound to be more than a few terrible, if not offensive titles in that tally, but with such a huge collection, there's also sure to be a lot of fun gems in there, too.

Just browsing through the selection and screenshots is entertaining; in the first three pages of the list alone, I came across titles like The Most Racist Game Ever, The Least Racist Game Ever, Pride And Prejudice: The SHMUP, Army of 2 Gears Versus the Elder Scrolls, of Passage IV: Race to the Grave (parody of Jason Rohrer's acclaimed game).

Dog Ear Launches Site For Uematsu's 10 Stories

Dog Ear Records has launched a Japanese site for 10 Stories, Nobuo Uematsu's new album filled with original songs written during the Final Fantasy composer's high school years. I've featured several of the CD's songs here before -- "The Chef Who Used His Noodle", "Coconut Castaway", and "Conga Stories" -- but this site features art and samples for 10 tracks.

Surprisingly, the site also reveals that despite the album's title, the CD will actually feature 14 tracks, two of which are bonus and "alternate version" songs. I wonder what the other two songs are? Anyway, if you listen to only one tune from the CD, make sure it's #8, "The Incredible Flying Natsuhiko"!

Dog Ear plans to release 10 Stories on March 10th, and it will likely appear on online import shops shortly afterward. You can preorder it through the U.S. iTunes store now, too!

[Via Original Sound Version]

Road To The IGF: Dejobaan's Lambe Talks AaaaaAAaAAA...!!!

[In the latest Road to the IGF interview with 2010 Independent Games Festival finalists, we speak with Dejobaan Games' Ichiro Lambe about AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! -- A Reckless Disregard for Gravity, a finalist in the Excellence In Design category.]

AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! -- A Reckless Disregard for Gravity is all about falling at high speed. Players navigate skyscrapers as they plummet, performing stunts as they go, and even confront the spectators they see on the tall buildings they pass on the way to the ground.

In this interview, developer Dejobaan Games' Ichiro Lambe talks about how BASE jumping videos inspired the project, why the team went with an abstract look for the game instead of a literal one, and about the "Spiderman Mode" that almost was.

What is your background in making games?

For children of the '70s and '80s, it seems to always start as a hobby -- TI 99/4A, Atari 800, Atari ST, and the Amiga 2000 for me. I was hooked from the time I was a kid.

I first entered the industry in 1993, before college, working to create online games back when 640k and 320x200 seemed like grand ideas. During college, I co-founded Worlds Apart Productions (now Sony Online Entertainment Denver), and in 1999, founded Dejobaan Games, LLC.

What development tools did you use?

We hacked C++ in Visual Studio 2005, used Adobe Audition for audio editing, and our 3D middleware is a German engine called 3D Gamestudio.

How did you create the sense of actually falling top-down?

I'm beginning to realize that it's all about the visual cues. Show the tops of skyscrapers, and make sure the scales (building sizes, terminal velocity) are realistic.

How long did you work on the game?

9 months -- from late December, 2008 to early September, 2009. We launched on September 3rd.

How did you come up for the concept for the game?

Dejobaan's Gameplay Architect, Dan Brainerd, sent over a YouTube video of a bunch of guys flying down the sides of mountains in ridiculously thin wingsuits. Could we translate that into an actual game? Over the course of a weekend, I took our 2004 title, Inago Rage, and twisted it into something with the BASE jumping basics. We called the prototype "Low Altitude."

You ended up with a distinctive abstract, luminous look -- what influenced the visual decisions? Why not go for a more literal-looking environment?

Oh, Leigh, you asked my favorite question! One of our tenets is to look closely at what the big studios do, then do the exact opposite. As indies, we're competing against AAAs who spend as much on a team lunch as we do on an entire game.

If we try to compete on scope, market to the same niche, or go toe to toe on graphics -- we're going to be utterly crushed. If you look at Metacritic's top five PC games of 2009, four of them have ridiculously lavish 3D graphics. The fifth is Braid. If the big guys are going hyper-realistic, then for us to create an aesthetic that gamers won't dismiss outright, we need to go hyper-unrealistic.

If you could start the project over again, what would you do differently?

We're always learning from our mistakes, so the #1 lesson for our next project is to periodically take that 30,000-foot view of things. Step back -- does the game play like we imagined it would? Are there tools we need to build or buy to make development faster? What bottlenecks can we automate? It was easy for us to get mired in details during Aaaaa!'s development, and I'd like to avoid that in the future.

Were there any elements that you experimented with that just flat out didn't work with your vision?

My favorite was something our Gameplay Architect Dan proposed, called (informally) Spiderman Mode. You could sling a rope out and swing from the floating buildings. If you used momentum right, you could swing higher and higher (just like on a schoolyard swing) to reach secret areas. It was a fun mode that kept us entertained for hours, but ultimately didn't make sense in a game about speed.

Have you played any of the other IGF finalists? Any games you particularly enjoyed?

I love Monaco, and want to have a Monaco party at my house. Andy Schatz did a great job on the game -- and he's not even done with it! Cogs is also just beautifully crafted, and Closure has a great, inventive mechanic -- it's such a simple high-concept that works so well.

What do you think of the current state of the indie scene?

It's a wonderful time filled with magic bunnies and giant robots and seven kinds of awesome. Within the past month, I've played the alpha of a former AAA guy's first independent title; I've talked shop with the head of a great new studio that's set up shop a mile away from us; and my team's received a nomination for IGF 2010.

It feels like I imagined things would when I was a kid, dreaming of a life in game development.
Thank you!

[Previous 'Road To The IGF' interview subjects have included Enviro-Bear 2000 developer Justin Smith, Rocketbirds: Revolution's co-creators Sian Yue Tan and Teck Lee Tan, Vessel co-creator John Krajewski, Trauma creator Krystian Majewski, Super Meat Boy co-creators Edmund McMillen and Tommy Refenes, Sidhe's Mario Wynands, who worked on Shatter, Daniel Benmergui, creator of Today I Die, Klei Entertainment's Jamie Cheng, executive producer on Shank, Star Guard creator Loren Schmidt, Miegakure developer Marc Ten Bosch, Joe Danger creator Hello Games, Limbo partner Dino Patti, and Closure's Tyler Glaiel and Jon Schubbe.]

Independent Game Luminaries Announce Indie Fund

Independent game stars like World Of Goo's creators, Braid's Jonathan Blow and Flower's Kellee Santiago have revealed Indie Fund, an 'angel'-style funding source for indie game makers.

According to the Fund's official website, "Indie Fund is a brand new funding source for independent developers, created by a group of successful indies looking to encourage the next generation of game developers."

The Fund was established "as a serious alternative to the traditional publisher funding model", and its aim is to support the growth of games as a medium by helping indie developers get financially independent and stay financially independent.

The current list of investors backing Indie Fund includes some of the most successful independent game creators of the last few years, as follows:

- Ron Carmel and Kyle Gabler, 2D Boy (World of Goo)
- Jonathan Blow, Number None (Braid)
- Kellee Santiago, thatgamecompany (Flower)
- Nathan Vella, Capy (Critter Crunch)
- Matthew Wegner, Flashbang Studios (Off-Road Velociraptor Safari)
- Aaron Isaksen, AppAbove Games (Armadillo Gold Rush)

The Indie Fund has already backed unnamed independent game projects, and will be announcing the name of them soon. Additional details about the need for Indie Fund and the rationale behind it will be shared at next week's Game Developers Conference, at Ron Carmel's talk during the Independent Games Summit entitled 'Indies and Publishers: Fixing a System that Never Worked.'

Alongside the announcement, we caught up with Indie Fund spokesperson and World Of Goo co-creator Carmel to discuss the announcement and its ramifications:

There are certainly a number of methods out there for developers to get funding - from Kickstarter through publisher signings. Why set up this methodology - what is it bringing to the table?

Ron Carmel: Most developers today fund their games by bootstrapping or by signing a publishing deal. In many cases, those indies that sign a publishing deal don't really need a publisher; they just need funding and can easily handle everything else themselves. Indie Fund provides the funding, but without the overhead or the loss of freedom associated with a publishing deal.

Are you going to give people money and then have no input at all into how that game is designed and then distributed? Or will you work with them on their scheduling and their marketing to make sure that they're successful?

RC: Developers have full control over their design, IP, publishing rights, etc. We collectively have a lot of experience in making high quality profitable indie games, so we will give our (hopefully) valuable feedback and advice on both design and business. But in the end, it's up to the developer to make the final call on everything.

Will you be disclosing the size of the fund at any time? Do you have a fixed amount you will fill up or are contributors adding to the fund on a case by case basis?

Ron: Indie Fund is managed and fully funded by the seven of us. We put in enough money to fund a few games a year for two or three years. If things go well and it looks like the indie scene can take in a larger investment and put it to good use, we will raise another round, probably bringing in external investors as well.

Can developers apply to the fund now - or soon? If so, how?

Ron: Actual funding has already begun, and we're also at various stages of discussing funding with several indie teams. This all happened through word of mouth within the indie community, but we will soon have a more open process for developers to apply for funding. Since this is a new experience for all of us Indie Funders we're taking things one step at a time and making sure we don't get ahead of ourselves.

Why do you think that the concept of individual prestigious named angel investors hasn't really happened in video games in the same way it has in technology, until now?

2008 was a big year for indies with a number of commercially successful releases. There was Audiosurf, then Braid, Castle Crashers, and World of Goo. This set up the two things required to make Indie Fund happen.

First, it proved that an investment in indie games can be very profitable. Second, it allowed us to raise the money from within the indie community instead of having to seek outside investors. Now that we have a few years of indie developers who have successfully self published, we can help the next round of developers who need to get their games out in a much more competitive space.

What happens to profit if the game makes back its money? And what happens to the game's IP if it doesn't?

Once the investment amount is repaid into the fund, the developer shares revenue with Indie Fund for a limited time. If a game never gets released or doesn't earn back the investment amount, well, we kiss that money goodbye.

We're not interested in owning or managing IP and we don't want to manage any kind of debt collection. We hope that the games that do well will more than make up for those that don't. The long term plan is to publicly reveal the funding terms, but we want to make sure our approach actually works before we go there.

What's the end game for this fund - do you expect to be funding 3 games a year for ever, 5 games and then you're done, etc?

Ron: I'm really glad you asked that. The end game is actually not about how many projects we fund, it's about helping games develop as a medium of expression and keeping indie games viable now that the big publishers are investing heavily in downloadable games.

Hopefully we can help keep video games from suffering the same fate as television. Kellee gave a thought-provoking talk on this subject at TEDx last year. Indie Fund alone will not accomplish all these goals, but we hope it proves to be a big step in the right direction.

BioShock 2 Designer De-Makes Arcadia For Doom 2

Now that BioShock 2 is shipped, 2K Marin's lead level designer Jean-Paul LeBreton has time to work on other projects while the studio breathes a collective sigh of relief. He isn't able to get Rapture out of his head, though, as he returned to BioShock's world for his next personal project.

Usin Slade, a modern map editor for the Doom series, the level designer re-created BioShock's Arcadia and Farmer's Market, the sections he was the primary designer on. "It’s a monster of a level, crammed full of weird little BioShock-to-Doom transmutations and symbolism," he says. "If you’re a fan of either game, I hope you enjoy it."

You can download the Arcadia WAD file (Doom 2 required), as well as read LeBreton's commentary on constructing Arcadia and the Doom de-make, at the designer's site. He's also posted a complementary design analysis of the original Doom.

American McGee Shows Off Little Red Riding Hood Concept

American McGee posted this concept image, painted by two artists from the veteran developer's Spicy Horse studio in Shanghai, on his Flickr account to share a game idea he's hoping to sell: Little Red Riding Hood with an axe thirsting for wolf blood.

"[The artwork] depicts a scene from a game concept I'll be pitching at this year's GDC," explains McGee. "If we're lucky, an interested publisher will help us move it into production. It's an idea that [Spicy Horse art director] Ken Wong and I have been toying with for years."

This isn't the first time the Alice developer has thought of featuring Red in a video game; his 2008 episodic PC game, American McGee's Grimm, featured a chapter devoted to the fairy tale character. She's also appeared in several other video games in recent years, such as The Path, Fairytale Fights, and Little Red Riding Hood's Zombie BBQ.

McGee posted uploaded another concept art image for the Little Red Riding Hood idea last month while again mentioning that the game needed a home so that Spicy Horse could build it alongside Alice 2.

[Via Super Punch]

Flipper Foldable, Contest

What with Flipper's voxel engine and boxy stages, the recent DSiWare release seems perfect for a paper foldable model. Dutch indie developer Goodbye Galaxy Games agrees and is now featuring a neat paper scene from the game created by Bryan Green (who also made these awesome Bioshock 2 models). You can download a template and instructions to make your own Flipper scene here.

Goodbye Galaxy Games is so proud of the paper foldable that it's basing a contest around it; gamers who subscribe to the studio's Twitter feed, print/fold a model, take "a kick-ass" photo of it, and then send it in are eligible to win a free boxed version of Flipper and a 2000 Nintendo Points card to buy some other DSiWare titles (my suggestions: BoxLife, PiCTOBiTS, Glow Artisan, and Escapee GO!).

For those of you who don't own a DSi or who have an imported DSi that can't buy the game because of the system's region locking, here's an opportunity to play the cute 3D puzzle platformer. If you can't be bothered to enter contests and if you have a U.S. DSi, Flipper is still available through the DSiWare shop for 500 points.

Opinion: iPhone Butts Drive Me Nuts

[Is Apple's stringent governance of its "explicit" apps unforgivable censorship, or an overreaction to a legitimate problem? Editor Danny Cowan of iPhone-focused sister site FingerGaming checks out all of the "boobs and butts" on offer in the App Store and suggests that maybe it's good riddance to many of the apps the company pulled.]

Every day, I spend a few minutes catching up with the newest applications released for the iPhone and iPod Touch, at the occasional expense of my sanity.

My daily process usually involves glazing over dozens of bland match-three puzzlers, checking out a few titles that sound halfway decent, and then — at least once a day — finding something that makes me stop and stare in slack-jawed disbelief. I may frown. I might also put my hands over my face and mutter something like “Why?”

Once, it was an app simply titled “Amazing Butts.”

“Amazing Butts features a slideshow and wallpaper of hot bottoms in a variety of outfits and poses,” its description reads.

That’s all it is. It’s a slideshow. Of butts. Don’t think that there was any sort of thought or effort put into this thing — Amazing Butts contains only a handful of non-nude, butt-centric images taken from the Internet. And it’s priced at 99 cents.

Amazing Butts’ developer has contributed over 100 applications to Apple’s crowded app catalog. The company’s lineup includes enduring classics like Amazing Redheads, Alluring Asians, Brunette Beauties, and the anticipated sequel Awesome Butts.

And Amazing Butts is not alone. Thousands of similar apps offering the exact same functionality and purpose have been submitted to the App Store, with dozens more flooding in daily over the past several months.

Thanks to Apple’s recent decision to remove all sexually suggestive content from the App Store, however, Amazing Butts is no more. If Apple has its way, you’ll never see another butt or boob in any iPhone application ever again.

But is this really such a bad thing?

According to application aggregate site AppShopper, Apple recently deleted over 5,000 apps that are exactly like Amazing Butts. After browsing the App Store’s latest updates daily for over a year, I can assure you that the majority of these deleted applications were simple slideshows of non-nude pinup images stolen from the Internet. These apps commonly fit into the “Entertainment” category.

Occasionally, a developer will get the bright idea to take a barely-clothed bottom and turn it into a sliding puzzle, so that it can sneak into the “Games” category. Gambling themes are also popular. Poker, blackjack, roulette — everything’s better with boobs and butts.

These games aren’t good for anyone. They take minimal effort to develop, contain no original content, and make an already crowded app catalog much more difficult to navigate.

Ultimately, they drag down the value of every application in the iTunes App Store. If some guy can charge 99 cents for a “game” featuring stolen butt and boob pictures from the Internet, what does that say about a brilliant indie offering available at the same price?

I will not miss Amazing Butts or its thousands of clones. Unfortunately, though, Apple’s zeal to enforce its new policy — which targets everything from bikinis to innuendo to suggestive silhouettes — has resulted in the deletion of many legitimate games and apps.

Smule’s parody action game Attack of the Zombie Bikini Babes from Outer Space was cut. So was Daisy Mae’s Alien Buffet — a twin-stick shooter that featured no nudity and only trace amounts of sexually suggestive content.

In the case of Daisy Mae’s Alien Buffet, all it took was a quick appeal on the part of developer IUGO to set things right again. The original game reappeared in the App Store a day after its deletion, unmodified. Apple currently honors the title in two different categories on the front page of the App Store, in what seems to be an implied apology.

Other developers haven’t been as lucky. Apps with more blatant instances of exposed flesh are required to resubmit to Apple following a content cleansing. This is unfortunate — Apple’s content guidelines were notoriously strict to begin with, and these new rules greatly limit the creative potential of App Store developers.

There needs to be a middle ground. Sex sells. Sex is great. Most people like sex, a lot. By all means, developers should have a right to feature exposed flesh as their games dictate.

At the same time, the existence of thousands of identical slideshow apps was insulting for everyone. Apple received a number of complaints about them, then sought to keep its customers happy in a way that many would consider an overreaction.

With any luck, Apple will recognize that sex has its place in games, and will relax its new content standards. Cult of Mac reports that Apple is considering an “explicit” category for submitted apps, presumably to serve as a content filter for adult-oriented content. Hopefully, this will resolve customer complaints, and restore the creative freedom that developers lost this week.

March 1, 2010

Serious Or Stupid? Baiyon, Lemarchand's Call For GDC Questions

Kyoto, Japan-based multimedia artist Tomohisa "Baiyon" Kuramitsu is best known for providing visual design and music for the popular Q-Games developed PSN download game PixelJunk Eden. Richard Lemarchand, meanwhile, was most recently the co-lead designer of Naughty Dog's Uncharted 2.

Together, the two creators are holding a session at GDC, next Thursday, March 11, 2010, entitled "Micro or Massive: It's Fricking Tough to Achieve a Vision."

The official description of the talk describes it as "a lively discussion on the inherent similarities of artistic endeavor, even on two projects as different in style and scope as Uncharted and PixelJunk Eden. This is a talk about artistry as much as it is about the speakers' specific games, and should prove to be a vital cross-cultural look into the nature of creativity and process in games."

In concert with that session, the creators have reached out to GameSetWatch to solicit questions from our readership. What do you want to hear from these two wildly different creative minds -- different cultures, different games, and different disciplines?

Even better, Baiyon has asked that questions be anything from stupid to serious -- whatever you want to know, just ask.

All we need you to do is to leave a response in the comments thread of this news story; Baiyon and Lemarchand will read the questions and select which will be answered during their GDC session.

What will get the gears of these two creators turning? Now's your chance to find out...

Canabalt Creators Release Gravity Hook HD

Nearly a year before they put out 2009's surprise Flash/iPhone hit Canabalt, Adam "Saltsman" Atomic and composer Danny Baranowsky worked together on another one-button game, Gravity Hook. Created in just five days, the simple but addictive Flash game had players ascending a mine by throwing a grappling hook onto floating orbs, then pulling themselves toward the orb and using their momentum to reach the next orb.

Adam and Danny have returned to the project -- their first collaboration -- to add new graphics, sound, controls, and gameplay to the game while still keeping its one-button simplicity, and released it as Gravity Hook HD. They're planning to release a paid version for iPhone and iPod Touch, but as with Canabalt, you can play the full title for free online.

I've already lost an hour to it, and it's just as habit-forming as the original. To make it even worse for fans of the original version, the two promise a special treat if you can reach the 500m mark; so, don't plan to eat dinner any time soon if that's the goal you're shooting for. Even with the changes to make the game more approachable, like cutting back on the exploding orbs, dying is still ridiculously easy in Gravity Hook HD.

A_Rival Throws Chiptune Party At GDC

Making sure the his debut album release gets the attention it deserves from the gaming community, hip hop chiptune artist A_Rival is throwing a concert/Street Fighter IV challenge/listening party for "8-Bit Pimp" during GDC at The DNA Lounge next Thursday. GDC badge holders can attend with a discounted cover charge of $5.

A_Rival's album looks to bridge "the gap between hip-hop and the burgeoning San Francisco Chiptune scene" -- you can preview two tracks, including his single "Show Me Girl" at his Bandcamp site. For those who aren't big into the "chip-hop" idea, artists like CrashFaster, ComputeHer, x|k, and Starpause will also perform live at the event.

Fighting game fansite iPlayWinner will also host a Street Fighter IV Album Challenge in which attendees can face off against A_Rival in an SFIV match to win a free album and other. You can even preorder tickets for the party and even reserve VIP service (like a boss) at the DNA Lounge's site.

In-Depth: We Make Characters That Look Like Us?

[In a panel on racial identity in games at the recent DICE Summit, attended by our own Brandon Sheffield, panelists claimed that developers make characters that look like them -- and are often unwilling to move outside of their own racial box.]

Racial diversity, both within the industry and inside games themselves, is an issue not very often addressed. At DICE, a panel that spanned disciplines and experiences tackled the issue, moderated by Kill Screen Magazine’s Jamin Brophy-Warren.

He was joined by by Manveer Heir, lead designer at Raven, Dmitri Williams, professor at USC, and Navid Khonsari, founder of iNK Stories and former director of production for Rockstar Games.

Diversity Study

By way of introduction to the topic, Dmitri Williams discussed his research into how people look in games versus how the players look in reality. The motivation was to learn about stereotypes. “Stereotypes are a natural, logical, and intelligent process,” he said. “It’s taking a small group of data and spreading it over a wider group. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s a dangerous thing.”

For the project, Williams and his researchers took all the bestselling games from 2006-2007, new at the time of the study. They allowed for weighting in terms of what people played more often, so Madden counts more than Beyblade for DS.

There was a sample of 150 games, at least 15 per platform. They recorded a half hour of gameplay from each game, and did a simple count of the characters in the game, finding 8,500 human characters. They then compared this with the U.S. census.

What they found was that white characters were overrepresented by 7%, Asians by 26%, while black characters were underrepresented by 13%, Hispanics by 78%, Native Americans by 90%, and biracial characters by 42%.

So if this doesn’t represent the U.S. population, what does it match? In the end, it seemed to match the IGDA survey of game developers in the industry, almost to the exact percentages. You make games that look like you, Williams concluded.

The Panel

So how do you get people to write about what they’re not? When Navid Khonsari was at Rockstar, they agreed that “You can’t have an Englishman and a Scot writing a story about what happens in LA,” so they did a lot of research into the culture by actually spending time there, with the types of people upon which they were basing the game.

“You need to embrace a story that’s not just going to be based on a white male,” he said, “and if you’re going to go out there and talk about other ethnicities, you need to reach out to those communities and get input.”

“In Prey, you have the Spirit Walking mechanic,” added Manveer Heir. The developers skinned it with Native American themes. “We have to find mechanics in our games that can support the kinds of characters we’re creating, so their backgrounds actually matter. Where do they come from? It could be racial, gender, or being homosexual.”

Why is it that we don’t make more adventurous characters? There’s a “giant shortage of female characters in games,” said Williams, noting that there is an 85/15 split in terms of male to female characters in games, whereas in the real world it’s about even. “How do you get people who make games about themselves to be different? Until you get those people into the industry, they’re not going to make games about themselves.”

“We can move past it,” postulated Heir, “we just have to start thinking about it. We don’t even bother throwing out new ideas for characters. We’re not thinking about what the rest of the market potentially wants. We have to encourage everyone to start thinking about it, and in the long term plans, we have to encourage more minorities to get into this industry.”

But why bother from the business side? “Part of it is there are potentially untapped markets,” said Heir. “You could certainly grow – there are a lot of black kids and Hispanic kids playing these games, and we’re probably losing them as they get older.”

“It’s really important to remember that there’s an industry beyond these borders,” said Khonsari. “There’s a potential for a lot of markets that could start consuming these games. We should recognize that there is money there, and we can’t appeal to people by putting them as victims in these games.”

Khonsari posed that developers should hire people of color to write for non-white characters, but Heir disagreed. Heir figured that if you have a good writer, they should be able to write any character. If you ask the business folks to not only take a risk on a potentially racially divisive character, and then ask for more money to hire someone new, that’s not going to fly.

Personal Thoughts

Obviously the issue is a large one, and there will be a separate GDC talk on the same issue, but in the audience myself, I couldn’t help but have some opinions. Not discussed were character creators, in which a player could potentially be any race. I spoke with Heir after the conference, and he said they only go so far – sure you can be any race, but if the content doesn’t address it, it’s not very powerful.

Still, we agreed that perhaps having a character be a certain race and not have that called out may be more progressive than focusing on it directly.

My own thoughts led to a more potent reason why we don’t have more racially diverse characters in games. If the majority of our developers are White and Asian, White people especially are trained to feel racially bland, and as though they cannot discuss racial issues without offending someone.

Thus, attempting to write a character that’s not of your race opens you up to some potential harsh criticism, and people would simply rather not take the risk, because the risk versus reward potential is very high there.

I would submit that writers should be able write characters of other races, and be confident in their work. We are much more comfortable dealing with racial issues when there’s a layer of fantasy, as is done in Mass Effect or Dragon Age.

In my personal opinion, we should see more games like Fallout 3, in which many races are represented, but the race of the character is far outweighed by how they interact with you. We don't need to deal with all of society's problems in games, but having demographics represented even just visually seems worthwhile.

Best Of GamerBytes: Darn Those Greedy Raiders

zombieupd.jpg[Every week we round up the top news and interviews of the last week from sister console digital download site GamerBytes, featuring new information about Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network, WiiWare, DSiWare and PSN Minis.]

This week we had a lot of Nintendo news from their 2010 Media Summit - X-Scape, Rotozoa, Light Trax and Metal Torrent, alongside other titles, have all been announced for release soon.

In the past seven days, there have been tons of new releases on console digital download formats, too - three quality titles on XBLA, Flight Control and Castlevania on Wii/DSiWare -- and did I mention Age Of Zombies on PSN? It's the Halfbrick-developed game I worked on the level design for - give it a shot, I hope you enjoy it!

GamerBytes Originals

Interview: Sarbakan On Lazy Raiders

Store Updates

XBLA Update - Lazy Raiders, Fret Nice, Greed Corp And Cheap Duke Nukem
NA PSN Store Update - Grandia, Age Of Zombies, Greed Corp And More
EU PSN Store Update - Age Of Zombies, Greed Corp, Blue Toad Murder Files 3
NA Nintendo Update - Flipper, Flight Control And More
EU Nintendo Update - Castlevania Rebirth, Dracula: Undead Awakening, Bird & Bombs And More

Microsoft (Xbox Live Arcade, Xbox Indies)

The Dishwasher: Vampire Smile Announced - More Blood, More
More Dishwasher coming in 2010.

XBLA Version Of Trine Now Off The Table?
Atlus drops the popular sidescroller from the Xbox 360?

Microsoft Research Developing The Path Of Go
More board games coming to the Xbox Live Arcade

Super Meat Boy Coming To XBLA
Much-awaited WiiWare title makes the cross to XBLA.

Sony (PlayStation Network, Minis)

PixelJunk Racers Going For A Second Lap
The first PixelJunk sequel?

Sam & Max Season 3 Coming To PlayStation Network
ESRB leaks the first Telltale PSN title.

Ignition Entertainment To Announce XBLA, PSN Titles Soon
Small worldwide publisher getting into the digital game business.

Nintendo (WiiWare, DSiWare)

Puffins Retail Title Splits Up For DSiWare
Those cute puffins get split up from the DS release into multiple DSi titles.

Nintendo Media Summit: X-Scape Trailer
NMS 2010: Art Style: Rotozoa Trailer
NMS 2010: Art Style: Light Trax Trailer
NMS 2010 - Metal Torrent DSiWare Trailer
A number of new trailers for DS/Wii digital titles debuted at the Nintendo Media Summit.

Kochalka, Yu, And More At Game Over 3

Giant Robot San Francisco has posted several pieces and announced participating artists from Game Over 3, its group show paying homage to "the continuous evolution of video games and their massive influence on popular culture", which opens next week (driving distance from GDC at the Moscone Center).

The show is expected to feature "a wide assortment of styles and genres provided by top artists in the fields of illustration, painting, sewing, indie comics, and video games". Game Over 3's announced contributors include Marc Johns, James Kochalka (see his Glorkian Warrior piece after the break), Derek Yu, and dozens others.

GSRF will kick off the show on the night of March 12th with an opening reception. Though Game Over III's artwork will stay on the shop's walls until April 14th, you'll want to show up early before everyone buys up the art you want dibs on. If you're unable to attend, you might still have a chance to purchase some of the works, as the store typically posts unsold pieces online.

Wiebe Looks To Capture Donkey Kong Record At GDC

Fresh off his reclaiming of the Donkey Kong Jr. world record, King of Kong star Steve Wiebe will make another attempt to re-capture the high-score for Donkey Kong from rival Billy Mitchell at next week's Game Developer Convention, thanks to bug-tracking software developer Atlassian (Jira).

"Last weekend, I watched the documentary The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters," explains Atlassian's marketing events manager Jessie Curtner. It's an awesome flick about the World Champions in the classic arcade game, Donkey Kong. ... After watching the documentary I thought, 'Wouldn't it be cool if Steve would come play Donkey Kong at [GDC]?' Well, Steve has agreed to do just that."

Wiebe will hang out at Atlassian's booth (#2132) from March 11-13th around 10AM 6PM, giving out autographs when he's not trying to beat Michell's Donkey Kong high score. If you have a copy of his new Christian music album, here's your chance to get that signed!

Borderlands, Mass Effect 2 Talks Showcased As GDC 2010 Deadline Nears

[Well, we're almost at GDC 2010, but here's some final details, since online pre-reg closes this Thursday lunchtime - though you can still buy passes onsite from my erstwhile colleagues, if you're just plain lazy.]

As Game Developers Conference 2010's online pre-registration nears its end, GDC organizers are highlighting talks on Borderlands, Mass Effect 2, and Unreal Engine 3's iPhone port, among others.

The conference, taking place from March 9th-13th at the Moscone Center in San Francisco, is closing its discounted pre-show registration at 1pm PT on Thursday, March 4th.

With nine notable Summits - spanning iPhone, social/online gaming, indie, [email protected] and beyond -- and multiple tutorials on Tuesday 9th and Wednesday 10th, followed by three days of Main Conference content from Thursday 11th through Saturday 13th, there are now more than 450 sessions in total.

The final set of highlighted sessions, including recently announced lectures and relatively unpublicized talks, include the following notables:

- In 'Where Did My Inventory Go? Refining Gameplay in Mass Effect 2', BioWare's lead gameplay designer Christina Norman "will discuss how a small vision shift lead to radical design changes in Mass Effect 2’s combat gameplay and RPG systems. Lessons learned will be presented, including the challenge of communicating gameplay changes to the existing player community."

- The audio track now includes a Rock Band Network postmortem, with Harmonix's Matthew Nordhaus and Caleb Epps discussing the creation of the still-in-Beta system which allows any musician to record and then sell their music in the Rock Band franchise, thanks to a complex user-created content pipeline.

- In the amusingly named 'Borderlands and the 11th Hour Art Style Change. Or: Kids, Don’t Try this at Home!', Gearbox's Randy Pitchford and Brian Martel will discuss, regarding the 'first successful shooter-looter', why "the company made the decision to change the art style of the game... not in the concept phase, not in preproduction, not at the midpoint, but three quarters of the way through development" -- and how the change was marshaled through.

- An iPhone Games Summit lecture called 'Bringing UE3 to Apple's iPhone Platform' sees Epic Games' Josh Adams discussing "the methods Epic used to bring a large-scale game engine over to a mobile device in only a few months time. Important points include what we had to change in Unreal Engine 3 to target the iPhone, what we were able to leverage directly, and what features we cut to overcome limitations of the hardware."

- Several signature GDC microlecture and rant sessions round off this year's show, including Uncharted 2's Richard Lemarchand leading the second GDC Microtalks session, with CMU's Jesse Schell and Denki's Gary Penn; The Indie Game Maker Rant at the Indie Games Summit, including Captain Forever's Jarrad Woods and Thatgamecompany's Robin Hunicke; and the Game Design Challenge, this year including Portal's Kim Swift and Flower's Jenova Chen and focusing on 'real-life permadeath'.

Other recently confirmed GDC 2010 talks include Civilization V and Chris Hecker lectures, plus Blizzard design, Shadow Complex and PS3 Motion Controller talks. Other notable talks have been announced on Deus Ex 3's "cyberpunk renaissance" look, Silent Hill producer Akira Yamaoka's ethos, and Batman: Arkham Asylum's art direction. Organizers also detailed a talk by Metroid creator Yoshio Sakamoto, confirmations of Peter Molyneux and Pixar lectures, and a keynote from game design legend Sid Meier (Civilization).

More information about GDC 2010 -- run by this website's parent firm -- is available on the official Game Developers Conference weblog, and the GDC Schedule Builder has a complete list of lectures for the event. Regular discounted online registration for GDC 2010 is only available until Thursday, March 4 at 1pm PT.

Flashbang Releases Raptor Safari HD Dev Build, Cataclysmic Art

Three months after the studio abandoned its 8-week development cycle and announced a follow-up to Raptor Safari, Flashbang has released a playable performance test preview for Off-Road Velociraptor Safari HD to anyone who has reserved the game. If you haven't put down money for a copy yet but still want to try the game out, you can still put in a $14.99 preorder.

This first official development build with a re-tuned vehicle physics model to adjust how the driving feels, Xbox 360 controller support on Windows/Mac, new art designed to "push the game into the next-gen category", new effects/graphics, post-processing techniques used in Flashbang's previous titles like Jetpack Brontosaurus and Blush, and more.

As a teaser for Off-Road Velociraptor Safari HD's full release later this year, the developer released the above epic image from concept artist Justin Messner (click for the full version). Poor Jetpack Brontosaurus.

GameSetNetwork: Best Of The Week

As we round up bigger stories from elsewhere on our network, here's the top full-length features of the past week on big sister 'art and business of gaming' site Gamasutra, plus our GameCareerGuide features for the week.

A number of neat things this week, including an excellent Patrick Redding interview, a designer analysis of game UIs, a chat to Visceral Games' head, a postmortem of Super Monkey Ball's iPhone sequel, as well as GameCareerGuide's latest Design Challenge winner and a new competition.

Coat an old anvil with lard:

On Changing The Shape Of Interaction
"Narrative designer Patrick Redding (Splinter Cell Conviction, Far Cry 2) discusses the techniques employed to create more complex and satisfying character interaction -- including an examination of Conviction's co-op mode, which he directed."

In The Loop: Planning for Feedback in Video Game Audio Production
"Veteran audio designer Rob Bridgett (Scarface, Prototype) here outlines how audio designers can avoid creative fatigue and deliver the most compelling audio while collaborating on large studio projects."

Postmortem: Sega/Other Ocean's Super Monkey Ball 2
"The first was an App Store sensation, but what of its sequel? Sega's associate creative director on Super Monkey Ball 2 spells out the processes that led to the creation of the second game in the series -- including all the major triumphs and mistakes."

Sponsored Feature: Do-it-yourself Game Task Scheduling
"In this sponsored technical article, part of Intel's Visual Computing section, Jerome Muffat-Meridol takes a look at Nulstein, his creation for in-game code task scheduling on multi-core processors."

Game UI Discoveries: What Players Want
"EA DICE designer Marcus Andrews examines the UIs of several recent games and picks apart what's required for both a novel and player-satisfying interface -- one that serves the needs of the game and its audience."

A Distinct Vision: Nick Earl And Visceral Games
"EA's transformed its Redwood Shores development organization into Visceral Games, committed exclusively to high-profile action titles. How does that transition work? We speak to Nick Earl, the studio's general manager, to find out."

GCG: Game Design Challenge: Romance
"In our latest Game Design Challenge, we invite competitors to try and figure out what sort of romance game might appeal to Western tastes... a task that may even be impossible!"

GCG: Student Postmortem: Devil’s Tuning Fork
"Student developers discuss the creation of Devil's Tuning Fork, in which 'some things were done right from the beginning and some things just never seemed to come together.'"

GCG: Results from Game Design Challenge: A New Vision
"Our latest challenge asked readers to re-envision a game that was too ahead of its time to be properly appreciated when it was first released; what makes the grade?"

February 28, 2010

Opinion: On BioShock 2 And Why Return Beats Renovation

[Sequels often get penalized if they don't change enough, but Gamasutra news director Leigh Alexander examines BioShock 2 to find an interesting challenge -- and opportunity -- in keeping some things the same.]

The main reservation critics and fans seem to have about the largely-acclaimed BioShock 2 is that it doesn't bring much new to the table, a conservative sequel to a game that didn't really need a sequel.

Wired's Chris Kohler said the game was "stamping on well-trod ground," and Game Informer's Andrew Reiner said the dystopia of Rapture had developed "the familiarity of a local shopping mall." The innovation of Rapture as a setting was part of what made the original BioShock so exciting, and now that players are used to it, the game loses something, some say.

Another recent release, No More Heroes 2, was also said to have been unnecessary -- director Suda51 himself has said he hadn't planned on tacking a sequel on to the story of Travis Touchdown.

Why do games that "don't need sequels" get them? The answer's obvious: the game industry's more hit-driven than ever, and it's no longer enough to make a successful game -- publishers need successful franchises. This leaves two options: conceive every game as open-ended, always setting up for a sequel, or attach sequels to games that "don't need them."

Neither sounds very appealing at first blush. But the major rush to sequelize even those titles that make solid self-contained experiences could create, by necessity, a promising shift in the way developers build worlds and innovate in them.

Although fans were quick to note that that BioShock 2 didn't feel much different from its predecessor, 2K was wise with it. The original title was so strongly received that to significantly change much about it could have been disastrous. Fans loved BioShock for its unique and deeply-realized world and the signatures that populated it: Madness, decay, philosophical frenzy, and the strange energy system governed by the eerie Little Sisters and their hulking protectors.

There's even very little room to improve on the game mechanics. They can be iterated upon, as with the welcome tweak to the hacking minigame, but BioShock's gameplay is well-established and part of its appeal. So much about the game identifies it distinctly that there isn't much that can be changed in a sequel -- there are too many elements without which it wouldn't be itself. But that's not a problem: That's a success and an opportunity.

BioShock is not just a stand-alone narrative. It's a framework. Rapture isn't the story, it's the story's housing. The lamp-eyed Little Sisters and lumbering Big Daddies aren't characters, they're elements of the visual language. Thinking about a sequel for a game with such a strong signature, it becomes clear that its key elements are signposts for the experience, and not the entirety of the experience itself.

And with the framework so distinctive and so firmly-established, there's a unique chance to evolve the expectations of gamers. Where BioShock presented one character of an only loosely-known identity with an objectivist despot as adversary, BioShock 2 presents the same sort of character and an enemy adherent to a different philosophy.

What can BioShock 3 do? It can't change Rapture's look, its citizenry, its rules or even meaningfully change the experience of interacting with the world. But it can present a new quest for self and a new philosophy to test within Rapture's mad power vacuum. In other words, it has no choice but to iterate on story and theme, and this fashion of approaching game franchises will only make gaming richer as developers get better and better at it.

It will be interesting if games start to become franchises by building a strong universe and desirable mechanics first, and then yield sequels that don't overhaul those things, rewrite the design mechanics or tack on new features where none are really needed just so gamers won't complain there's nothing new.

The result will be a new kind of sequelization. BioShock 2 returned us to Rapture in the best way possible: By simply creating a new adventure therein and a new way to look at familiar things. It's perplexing to see critics penalize a game for declining to change what they best loved about it.

COLUMN: 'Game Mag Weaseling': Mag Roundup 2/27/10

['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.]


I never miss an issue of Future UK's PC Zone. Sadly, sometimes PC Zone misses me...and, for that matter, the state of Texas entirely, it seems. I hadn't seen an issue on sale locally for months until a single copy of the Xmas '09 edition (above) popped up at the local Micro Center.

Over in Britain, Future decided as of last year to announce its magazine stable's official ABC-audited circulation figures once a year, as opposed to once every six months like before. The move put Future in line with other game-media outlets, but it also served to hide the fact (for half a year, anyway) that every mag but Edge lost readership in 2009.

The biggest loser: Sadly, none other than PC Zone -- already the lowest-circ game mag that Future released, it took a 40-percent dive down to 11,357 copies sold per month, on average. Eesh. I think Computer Gaming World had higher circulation in 1987.

And it's really a shame, I think, because the mag's consistently the one that makes me laugh the hardest and most often. It's one thing for editors to attempt to write a funny game mag -- many try, to some extent -- but it's another to do it well, and so consistently.

It's for that reason alone that I keep spending $15 an issue on this mag, something I often feel a little silly about afterwards. I suppose Future figures that the mag would go belly-up instantly if they removed the pricey DVD from the package. I can't blame them for thinking that way, either, but as their (probably) sole fan in the U.S. Gulf Coast, I will say that I wish it were cheaper. And available a little more consistently.

(The pragmatist in me wants to say 'Why doesn't Future can the print mag if it's a money-loser and have the editors try starting a humorous game blog, like Old Man Murray or something?' However, I've a feeling that Future's advertising department already has an answer to that question for me, and it wouldn't be a cheery one.)

Regardless, after a false start last week, a great many new mags have hit my mailbox now, and here's what I think of 'em:

Edge March 2010


Cover: Crysis 2

It's almost as if Edge and Game Informer swapped covers this month -- GI (below) has the artistic-looking set piece, and Edge's got the "space marine" with guns a-blazin'. The piece inside is the sort of cover story GI would do at its best, too. It's not about Crysis 2 the game so much as Crytek the company, an outfit trying to reinvent itself as a pioneer on all platforms (not just PC) with this project.

Also worth reading: The interview with Ed Fries, one of the Xbox's founding fathers, whose current play at a big business venture is...manufacturing 3D figures of people's World of Warcraft characters. Hmm.

Game Informer March 2010


Cover: L.A. Noire

This cover story was a must-read for me on a purely personal level. Not to sound sycophantic and...well, like a game journalist, but I've always been a fan of L.A. Noire director Brendan McNamara ever since I conducted a nice, long, extended interview with him for GamePro back in 2003, just before The Getaway hit America. I remember him as a huge "ideas" man, sort of like Molyneux but perhaps without as much of a big mouth, and the feature shows me that the years haven't changed him much -- it's mainly McNamara talking about how L.A. Noire is where he's really, finally making his vision come to life, unfettered by hardware restrictions or whatnot.

I'm not sure I'm 100% ready to believe him -- he said all the same things about The Getaway eight years ago, after all -- but the feature's a really fascinating peek into his mind nonetheless.

The rest of the mag is business as usual, with nothing really grabbing me in the Connect section. One exception: a nice two-page look at the legal status of the Duke Nukem franchise, complete with tons of commentary from a real-life intellectual property attorney.

Nintendo Power March 2010


Cover: Pokemon HeartGold/SoulSilver

My copy of NP was both late and fairly dinged up in the mail. It's also, sadly, bereft of really hot content -- I've the feeling most Pokemon fans already know most of what's discussed in the cover piece, since the game's been out in Japan since September and is now throughly dissected by fansites on the net.

A lot of space is also taken up by a "best games of the decade" piece which is, in my mind, a bit repetitive after the "250 reasons to love Nintendo" blowout in January.

Mark Turmell's always a great interview, though.

Retro Gamer Issue 73


Cover: The ultimate hero

RG is put in the delicate position of writing a big cover piece about the Ultimate Play the Game era of UK developer Rare without having access to Tim or Chris Stamper, the company's founders and main game designers all through those years. It's a nice little piece nonetheless, if nothing new to dyed-in-the-wool retro fans.

Much neater is a 4-page chat with 87-year-old Ralph Baer about his invention Simon, one of the biggest electronic toy fads of the early '80s.

Tips & Tricks Codebook May 2010


Cover: New Super Mario Bros. Wii

T&T continues to rock its little corner of the industry. This issue devotes large amounts of space to longform strategy guides and surprisingly little to code listings -- there's 67 pages of the former and only five of the latter. I think it's a smart move, even if it means T&T can't print that "Over 7,000 Tips!" burst on the cover any longer.

The mag's multipart poster antics continue as well. This issue's packed with part one of a New SMB poster that, when matched with its partner next issue, is claimed to span over five feet across your bedroom wall. Yow!

Game Developer February 2010



I loved the postmortem for Trials HD in this issue for two reasons: one, I love Trials HD; two, Finnish game programmers are crazy.

GamePro Spring Special Issue


Now that Future US seems to have wound down its newsstand one-off output (I don't think I've seen any specials from them since early fall), GamePro and its $4.99 seasonal are about all that's left. This issue, sadly, appears to be entirely reprint content -- previews, reviews, and a two-page snippet from BradyGames' guide to Darksiders. Ho hum. At least the cover's pretty.

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

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Indie Games (for independent game players/developers.)

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

GamerBytes (for the latest console digital download news.)

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

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