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Archive For December, 2010

The Psychology of Games: Those Darn Game Of The Year Debates

December 31, 2010 12:00 PM |

goty_brain.jpg[Continuing his regular GameSetWatch column, psychologist and gamer Jamie Madigan looks at the psychological biases and quirks that may rear their head during those interminable Game of the Year debates.]

Ah, late December. The time when the gaming press gets its members together and tries to convince each other that one awesome game is more awesome than other awesome games –also known as the Game of the Year Awards.

When I worked as part of the creative team on GameSpy.com we would lock ourselves in a conference room and argue literally for hours about the minutia surrounding every big title released that year in order to generate our awards. I’m also listening attentively to the GotY content over on GiantBomb.com, which is dedicating a full week of multi-hour podcasts to the raw debates that generated its lists.

These podcasts are interesting to me because I keep seeing well established psychological phenomenon coming up, but almost as interesting is when a psychological quirk doesn’t manifest itself because the guys seem to be aware of its danger to the process and have taken steps to avoid it. So in this post I present my list of 2010's Top 5 Biases That Affect 2010 Game of the Year Discussions. Sponsored by Crest Whitening Tooth Strips (not really):

Super Mario 64 No-Star Speedrun Is Nuts

December 31, 2010 10:00 AM | Eric Caoili

If you've already decided that you must watch a playthrough of Super Mario 64 but don't want to spend the last day of 2010 chained to your computer for hours, her is an astounding, tool-assisted "0 Star" speedrun of the N64 game that will rush you through to the end in five minutes and five seconds, or 18274 frames (minus the intro and end animations).

The speedrun takes advantage of game-breaking glitches and BLJ (backwards long jumping) tricks to save frames, like this pause technique:

"Normally, you can only press the A button fifteen times per second because the game runs at thirty frames per second. If you had thirty continuous A frames, you'd just be holding A down, not tapping it. However, if you pause while pressing the A' button, you are given an opportunity on the next frame to release the A button.

You can follow that by repressing it when it's not paused (therefore letting you BLJ the equivalent of thirty times per second). This is useful when you need more speed to travel a long distance. It isn't as helpful as it seems as it takes three extra frames to do a Pause BLJ. In order to save time you need the extra speed to save at least 3 frames."

The forward jump kick trick is also impressive:
"While Mario is recovering after a forward movement (dive, long jump, etc.), you can hold the A button prior to landing, and on the frame you land, press the B button with the analog stick at ^54 or less (on the TAS Input Plugin), you will do a jump kick. The trick is that it maintains all of the same speed from before the landing.

You can also apply this when moving backwards (such as after a BLJ), by holding A before you are in the running animation, and then pressing B. This causes Mario to do a jump kick and retain the same speed. This is useful for crossing long gaps and covering large distances."

You can read a full dissection of the speedrun by its authors at TASVideos.

Best Of Indie Games: Rush the Castle, But Mind the Wall

December 31, 2010 12:00 AM | Tim W.

[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 delights in this edition include a reworked Ludum Dare competition entry for mobile devices, a side-scrolling runner which originated from a Sony ad, a simple but cute puzzler about a boy who had fallen off the moon, and a co-op twin-stick shooter for up to four players on the same couch.

Here's the highlights from the last seven days:

Game Pick: 'Lame Castle' (Be-Rad Entertainment, browser)
"Lame Castle is a side-scrolling runner about kicking chickens, jumping over rocks and popping bouncy castles. Along the way there are plenty of opportunities to grab bonus points. It starts off a little slow, but once the chicken-kicking, treasure-smashing and barn-running are all in full flow, it's pretty satisfying stuff."

Game Pick: 'Fallen From the Moon' (Gamystar, browser)
"Fallen From the Moon is a simple but cute puzzler about a boy who has fallen off the Moon, and now must past a series of obstacles to get back home again. Over a number of screens, you are tasked with clicking objects in order to clear pathways."

Game Pick: 'Score Rush' (Xona Games, commercial indie)
"Score Rush is a 1-4 player co-op twin-stick shooter, with plenty of bullets and flashy colours. It doesn't do anything particularly new or clever, but there's no denying that it's an absolute blast, especially if you can get three friends round to play."

Game Pick: 'Mind Wall' (Seth Robinson, commercial indie)
"Originally released as a Ludum Dare competition entry for Windows and Mac, Mind Wall is a 3D puzzler in which you have to create holes of the correct sizes on walls for the yellow blocks to pass through. The advancing yellow block cannot be turned or rotated to fit into the opening, and players are only allowed to remove a small square piece from every wall."

Game Pick: 'Starfare' (Freemotion Studios, freeware)
"Starfare is a space RTS with lots of pew-pewing and resource gathering. After Earth runs out of resources and everyone goes a little crazy on each other, the nations take to space and start grabbing everything they can up there instead."

Indie iPhone Holiday Sale Raises $25K, Canabalt Now Open Source

December 30, 2010 4:00 PM | Eric Caoili

Developer Semi Secret announced that the Indie iPhone Holiday Sale, the recent Christmas promotion discounting a six independent and celebrated iOS titles to $0.99 each, has so far raised over $25,000 for the Child's Play charity -- the sale lasts for a couple more days, too, so you can still buy Canabalt, Ellis, Drop7, Solipskier, Spider, and Osmos real cheap!!

To celebrate this milestone, Semi Secret has made Canabalt's source open and available, allowing curious developers to download and tinker with the game's code, graphics, sound effects, music, and Flixel for iOS. The code is taken from the game's latest version, which includes optimizations for 60 FPS performance on iPad/iPhone 4 and proper retina support.

The studio's Adam "Atomic" Saltsman posted the following with the announcement:

"Canabalt has been a crazy ride for us. It's helped keep the lights on and pay for our health insurance, and allowed us to take the kind of risks that indie devs love to take. But, in the spirit of the Humble Indie Bundle, the holidays, and a (likely) bout of temporary insanity, it's time to open our trenchcoat and show everybody what we've got going on under there!

DISCLAIMER: We wanted to offer our condolences to everyone who downloads this and goes poking around in there. This was a rushed Flash game, ported, in a rush, to the iPhone, before iPads or iPhone4s even existed. We try very hard to stay up to date and do good work, but we're just two dudes -- it's possible if not likely that some of the way we do things is not ideal or optimal."

Saltsman also shared some interesting stats for Canabalt, revealing that the game has so far sold over 225,000 copies! You can download Canabalt's source and read more about its release at Semi Secret's site.

The Best Of 2010: Top 5 Facebook Social Games

December 30, 2010 12:00 PM | Simon Carless

[In this round-up of the year's top Facebook titles, sister site Worlds in Motion's editor Eric Caoili examines the social games that've broken away from the practice of relying on virality tricks to attract users, instead focusing on depth and engaging gameplay.]

For the social game leaders who've built their empires on social network Facebook's platform and the backs of its users (which accounts for pretty much all of them, although iOS is an increasing force here!), 2010 was just as much a tumultuous year as it was a prosperous one.

The giants in the industry, like Zynga and Disney/Playdom, grew not only their total audience sizes but also their headcounts and coffers, opening and acquiring a myriad of studios around the world -- expansions funded by the hundreds of millions of dollars raised from investors wanting a piece of this flourishing market.

It wasn't an easy year for the titles that relied heavily on viral channels for their inflated user base numbers, though.

Facebook sent a message to developers with changes it implemented in March: the social network would not stand for spam-like tactics that many games relied on to attract and retain players.

After Facebook limited the application "notification spam" that aggravated its users but benefited social games looking for fast/cheap growth, many of the site's most popular games lost millions of users.

Zynga's FarmVille, the biggest Facebook app for most of the year, dropped from its peak of 84 million monthly active users to now 57 million, according to AppData.

Since then, more developers have espoused the idea that their titles need to focus on compelling gameplay and metrics-based design, rather than virality tricks, to succeed. It's an approach that many social gamers, especially those new to gaming and now looking for more depth in Facebook's offerings, surely appreciate.

Here are our picks for the top five social network games featured on Facebook and exemplifying that trend:

Babycastles Hatches A Secret Animal Plan For New Year's Eve

December 30, 2010 10:00 AM | Eric Caoili

If you're in or near New York City and looking for something to do tomorrow night (it's not like there's anything big planned for New Year's Eve there), indie games arcade Babycastles is holding one last event: a "Live Action Multi-New Year Espionage & Dancing Game" called Secret Animal Plan.

The game was designed by Diner Dash designer Nicholas Fortugno in collaboration with Babycastles' Kunal Gupta and Showpaper's Joseph Ahearn. The event will run from 10PM to 6AM, allowing attendees to hop in the game anytime and possibly win copies of We Love Katamari signed by Keita Takahashi.

Secret Animal Plan's ;premise:

"The game involves tribes of Alligators, Snakes, Zebras, Foxes, & Black Labradors, closely guarding a secret nefarious or benevolent plan for the year of 2011. To play the game, the player can visit a Game Master, who divinates an animal identity & secret plan for the player in exchange for his or her (anonymous) personal secret plan for 2011.

The game play involves a mix of predator-prey relationships, espionage, animal role playing, and themed cooperative dance-offs in collaboration with bands & djs performing that night (including GDFX, who composes indie game soundtracks especially for Mark Essen)."

Babycastles' arcade cabinets, which currently features past award-winners curated by IndieCade (including VVVVVV, N+) will also be playable throughout the night. You can RSVP and find more information for the event on its Facebook page.

Cthulhu Saves the World Releases On XBLIG Today

December 30, 2010 6:00 AM | Eric Caoili

Zeboyd Games, developer of much recommended parody RPG Breath of Death VII: The Beginning (which ended up selling over 40,000 copies), announced the release of another retro-styled title, Cthulhu Saves the World, to Xbox Live Indie Games today. The studio calls it "an epic 6-10 hour journey of redemption, romance, and insanity".

In Cthulhu Saves the World, players take on the role of H. P. Lovecraft's tentacled creature: "Cthuhu was all set to plunge the world into insanity and destruction when his powers were sealed by a mysterious sorcerer. The only way for him to break the curse is to become a true hero. Save the world to destroy it!"

The 16-bit-esque turn-based RPG features 720p visuals, comic book-style cutscenes an insanity system that lets you "inflict insanity on your opponents for fun and profit", three difficulty levels,  seven playable creatures (over 20 "multi-character unite techniques), three bonus modes, and more.

Cthulhu Saves the World is one of more than a dozen games featured in the Indie Games Winter Uprising, a promotion for quality Xbox Live Indie Games that recently received a spotlightfrom Xbox Dashboard!

This Week In Video Game Criticism: Holiday Links Special

December 30, 2010 12:00 AM | Simon Carless

[This week, our partnership with game criticism site Critical Distance brings us a fresh roundup of holiday links compiled by Ben Abraham, spanning Shigeru Miyamoto through hating Steam during the holidays.]

It’s the holiday season, and as such, I have a healthy dose of links for us to gorge on! No context for these ones, author and titles only – consider it an end-of-year clearing house post.

We’ll be back full force in early January. Thanks to everyone for reading, and thanks to all the great bloggers and writers out there for providing us with such great material to link to. Here's what we've dug out for this week:

- Rob Zacny for his personal blog – ‘Playing Optimally’.

- The Escapist’s Extra Credits – ‘Narrative Mechanics’.

- Evan Jones at Gamasutra blogs – ‘Breaking Down (the Idea of) the Locked Door

- Gus Mastrapa at Joystick Division – ‘Gamers are Sheep’.

- Jeff Jackson at GameLanguage – ‘Will Defending the Homefront Mean Being Anti-Asian?

- Nick Dinicola at PopMatters – ‘Gaming and Politics’.

Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers' Fan-Translation Trailer

December 29, 2010 2:00 PM | Eric Caoili

Originally released in 1997 for the Sega Saturn, Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers is the sequel to Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner (also never released in the West) and a dark RPG that Hardcore Gaming 101 describes as "like .hack but without all of the extraneous nonsense".

I've mostly heard great things about its mix of occult and hacker themes, but apparently Sony turned Atlus down when the developer/publisher sought to localize Soul Hackers' PS1 re-release years ago. Fan translation group Devil Hackers, which also released the Persona 2: Innocent Sin English patch, is working to fix that!

The team started working on the Soul Hackers PS1 translation last year and have just released a trailer showing off its progress. It hasn't announced an expected released date, but one of its members shared some info about what he's working on while making sure to trash TOSE's work on the port:

2011 Independent Games Festival Announces Excellence in Design Jury

December 29, 2010 12:00 PM | Simon Carless

Organizers of the 2011 Independent Games Festival are pleased to announce the jury panel that will determine the finalists and winner of its Excellence in Design award, a category which seeks to highlight the innovation and quality of the underlying blueprint of each entered game -- component parts like its mechanic design, level design, and difficulty balancing.

Prior finalists and winners of the IGF Excellence in Design Award have included 2D Boy's cartoon construction puzzler World of Goo, KranX's music construction puzzler Musaic Box, and Pocketwatch Games' abstracted multiplayer heist game Monaco.

This year, the jury will receive recommendations from the wider body of over 150 IGF Main Competition judges (itself including notable former IGF winners, finalists and indie game notables including Justin Smith, Ben Ruiz, Eric Zimmerman and Wiley Wiggins) as they consider the merits of each of the five finalists and eventual award winner.

The jury consists of the following:

- Dylan Cuthbert (co-founder and designer at Q-Games, creators of the PixelJunk series of games.)
- George Fan (designer of games including Plants Vs. Zombies and the IGF award winning Insaniquarium.)
- Kyle Gray (designer of Henry Hatsworth in the Puzzling Adventure, co-founder Tomorrow Corporation and Experimental Gameplay Project.)
- Robin Hunicke (designer and producer on games including MySims & Boom Blox, currently working on Journey at thatgamecompany.)
- Gary Penn (creative head at Denki, designer on games including Grand Theft Auto, Crackdown, Quarrel & Denki Blocks.)
- Kris Piotrowski (co-founder & creative director at Capy, creators of games including Critter Crunch, Might and Magic: Clash of Heroes.)
- Petri Purho (designer of the IGF award winning Crayon Physics Deluxe.)
- Margaret Robertson (former editor of Edge Magazine and consultant, now designer and development director at Hide&Seek)
- Adam Saltsman (co-founder of Semi Secret Software, creators of Wurdle, Gravity Hook HD & Canabalt.)
- Andy Schatz (founder of Pocketwatch Games, creators of the IGF nominated Wildlife Tycoon: Venture Africa and the IGF award winning Monaco.)
- Mare Sheppard (co-founder of Metanet Software, creators of N.)
- Randy Smith (co-owner and designer at Tiger Style, creators of Spider: The Secret of Bryce Manor, former designer on the Thief series.)

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