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Column: Quiz Me Qwik

COLUMN: Quiz Me Qwik - 'Much Ado About Luc Bernard'

August 18, 2008 8:00 AM |

lb1.jpg['Quiz Me Quik' is a weekly GameSetWatch column by journalist Alistair Wallis, in which he picks offbeat subjects in the game business and interviews them about their business, their perspective, and their unique view of life. This time - some opinions and an interview with controversial indie game creator Luc Bernard.]

I pretty freely admit that I laughed quite loudly when I first saw Pitchfork's review of the second album from immensely average Australian rock band Jet. You know, the one where instead of text, they just had that YouTube video of a monkey drinking its own urine?

So, I'm not sure how I can really be about to say that I find the following quote, from Destructoid's review of indie platformer Eternity's Child, to be utterly repugnant. Possibly it's an issue I have with Jet, having had the displeasure of seeing them play “before they were big”. But here we go anyway:

“Whatever you do, don't buy this game. In fact, don't even say its name, for that might give its already unholy form power.”

That's repugnant. Utterly abhorrent. I've done my fair share of criticism, for both games and music, and that's a level I've never stooped to. That's the point where it jumps from taking your responsibilities as a writer in the public sphere seriously, to attention-seeking. 'Look at how funny I am!' It's pretty much everything I find repellent about the world of video game blogging in one sentence. There's a time and place for humour writing. Not every single post needs to contain a joke. Is the audience's attention span really that infinitesimal?

To be fair, the rest of the review isn't actually badly done, per se. It raises fair points in terms of the issues the writer has with the game, but jeez. That conclusion? Just...don't. Show some respect – both for the game, and for yourself, as a writer.

Here's the problem with it – it's trivializing the work of the game's creator, Luc Bernard, and turning him into a joke in the eyes of the readers. And the readers, for the most part, want to be the bloggers. They want to be as Oscar-Wilde-witty and fabulously scathing as the people whose work they read each and every day. That's why comments exist. That's where they try and prove that they can compete.

And, here lies the level of responsibility, which seems to be completely misunderstood. Anyone can laugh, and say that they're not responsible for the comments of the community, but that's not true. You can't play the 'do as I say, not as I do' game. Especially not on the Internet, where the much reposted Penny Arcade rule of anonymity stands so true. To wit:

“Luc,” read one comment, “Go fuck yourself.”

“GO FUCK YOURSELF LUC!!” Read another. “YEAHHHH!!!”

So: the thing. Eternity's Child might not be a good game. I wouldn't know – I haven't actually played it, yet. But I respect its creator, Luc Bernard.

Respect's a good word, I think. It means, according to the first online definition I managed to wrangle up, “To recognize the worth, quality, importance, or magnitude of”.

I think Bernard's reaction to this whole thing in the aforementioned comments section could have been handled with a higher degree of professionalism. In fact, I think even taking part was a bad move.

I think placing the blame on his co-developer, Joseph, was unnecessary. I think his recent – somewhat retracted – comments in regards to quitting video games smack of over-reaction.

But, he's 22. I did some pretty stupid things, and said some pretty stupid stuff at that age. Hell, I tried to steal a pine tree once. And at least he attempted it - putting the game out, I mean, not stealing a pine tree, because that only leads to legal threats and multi-hundred dollar bills. He put something out there commercially - putting a value on his work - and you have to respect that.

'Course, I'm not saying that you have to create something of your own to be able to engage in criticism, because that's just silly. But at least show a little respect, please - at least respect the effort that went into his work.

The following is a discussion with Bernard about his work, and his behavior.

COLUMN: Quiz Me Qwik: 'Beer and Loathing With Matt Hestill'

August 13, 2008 8:00 AM |

hes1.jpg['Quiz Me Quik' is a weekly GameSetWatch column by journalist Alistair Wallis, in which he picks offbeat subjects in the game business and interviews them about their business, their perspective, and their unique view of life. This time - an enlightening chat with Matt Hestill.]

It’s been interesting reading Michael Walbridge’s series of interviews with prominent games journalists, and Simon Parkin's recent column on the same subject. It’s really given me pause to think about some of the people I admire in the field; Michael is actually interviewing a number of them.

There’s plenty of other people who I think exemplify the great things about games journalism – intelligence, an ability to think critically and a desire to move journalism past its occasional stagnancy in the mass-market commercial field. While a disappointing number of people writing about games are all too satisfied with towing a line of mediocrity, these people are pushing forward and asking, ‘Why can’t we expect more?’

Unfortunately, all of those people were too busy to talk with me, so I contacted my old acquaintance Matt Hestill instead.

You might know Matt from his blog, It’s Matt Hestill, Stupid - a surreal collection of self-obsessive rants and reviews, all written in Hestill’s somewhat underwhelming stream of consciousness style, punctuated with the odd bit of freeform poetry.

Or it was, anyway, until Hestill snapped in late January and deleted every single post because “the comments were just annoying and you people don't deserve my insight into the games industry anymore so you can all just get fucked”.

“Hey Matt,” my initial email read. “I want to interview you for GSW, man. What have you been up to since you stopped the blog? Are you even still writing? Haven’t seen anything around lately. I thought you were meant to be doing some stuff for 1Up or something.”

“Wallis,” he replied. “Busy always. Here’s the interview’s focus: I am the next evolution of games journalism. The blog was my chrysalis. I was the pupa. Shutting the blog was the pumping of the hemolymph into my wings so that I might emerge stronger and more beautiful; flowering and rocketing. Now I am the butterfly, Wallis. Soon I will fly above the caterpillars of games journalism. Skype me.”

So, it quickly emerged that Matt had recently had something of an epiphany while rereading Kieron Gillen’s reknowned New Games Journalism manifesto. And then reading everything he could find on games journalism's need for a Lester Bangs. And then reading Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. And then, the following is what transpired, immediately after connecting to Hestill via Skype.

COLUMN: Quiz Me Qwik: Locust Busts and Lancer Replicas A-Go-Go

July 29, 2008 12:00 AM |

143.JPG['Quiz Me Quik' is a weekly GameSetWatch column by journalist Alistair Wallis, in which he picks offbeat subjects in the game business and interviews them about their business, their perspective, and their unique view of life. This time - a look at sculptor Sid Garrard and Gears Of War replica company Project Triforce.]

I'm going to take a stab in the dark here, and suggest that maybe – just maybe – GameSetWatch readers aren't exactly the kind of people to require the pictured Locust bust in their respective lounge rooms. Now, that's possibly a generalization, but I'm going to run with it.

Don't get me wrong. I've got nothing against the kind of people who horde this kind of thing. I just tend to go more for the subtle approach – a couple of signed Sam and Max posters and the odd Master System box is all I've ever really gone for. And I'm thinking that maybe GameSetWatch readers have that air of refinement that would suggest they do the same.

So, I don't totally understand that side of what Sid Garrand and his company TriForce are doing with their new range of Gears of War replica equipment. 'Do I really want a whopping great lancer propped right in the middle of my coffee table?' I pondered while conducting the following interview. 'No,' I thought. 'No I do not.'

But, somewhere in the dingy depths of my CV exists a little bit of prop making. Yes, readers, that field of heather at the start of the Honda Jazz advertisement voiced by Tony Robinson? The tremendous trees? That was me. Well, some of it was me. Admittedly, that's all the experience I've got in that field, but it's a fine field none the less, and so it's the actual sculpting side of things that I really dig. It's pretty amazing work, in that regard. I don't want it anywhere near my house, but I respect the huge amount of work that has clearly gone into it.

And so, with pre-orders on offer right now – oh go on, readers, indulge yourselves! - it seemed like a great chance to talk with master sculptor Sid Garrand to find out more about the line of products available, as well as querying how easy it is not to laugh while dressing up as Marcus Fenix.

COLUMN: Quiz Me Qwik: E3 Wrap-Up With My 9 Year-Old Cousin Steven

July 19, 2008 4:00 PM |

SW1.jpg['Quiz Me Quik' is a weekly GameSetWatch column by journalist Alistair Wallis, in which he picks offbeat subjects in the game business and interviews them about their business, their perspective, and their unique view of life. This time, the inevitable E3 retrospective, from a distinctly different perspective.]

Growing up, I remember E3 being a pretty amazing, mystical event. I could never remember exactly when it was, but when it appeared in the game magazines I bought, it always meant big exciting things. Obviously, the whole event is now rather different to what it was, but it’s still a focal point for the industry, and still brings with it more than a fair share of announcements. This year was interesting – it might not have brought the games that people expected, but I think the word ‘interesting’ still more or less applies here.

But really, no one needs to read another twenty-something journalist with pretentions of grandeur prattling on about their view of the whole thing: “I really believe that this series of announcements represents a shift in the momentum of this generation of consoles in regards to the juxtaposition of core versus casual users blah blah blah”.

Especially now, a few days after it’s all over, and especially from one who sat at home in Adelaide and read about the whole thing hours after the press conferences were actually held. It’s not that I don’t care, but quite frankly, I’ve done the whole writing about E3 at 6am Australian Central Standard time thing. I’d rather just sleep.

I thought I’d spare you the systematic pseudo-intellectualised babble. After all, as I keep saying, this is Quiz Me Qwik, not Masturbatory Analytical Journo Hour, though that is a very good name for a column and I hope Simon is making a note of that somewhere so he can use it later.

Anyways, we’re going to take a look at E3 from a very different perspective. Like I said, it was a very spectacle when I was younger, and it occurred to me: it wasn’t just me, was it? Or just that era? So I asked my nine year-old cousin Steven to do me a little favour.

For the events of E3, Steven was to take note of the announcements, and at the end of the week, I would interview him to see what he thought of the whole thing. Originally, I asked him to try and stay up and watch the press conferences – generally on at around 2am ACST – but his mother suggested that might not be the most awesome idea ever, even though he was on school holidays this week.

Actually, what she really said was: ‘Alistair, he’s a nine year-old boy! Do you really think that’s a good idea? Really? Christ - honestly, Alistair, I fear for the day when you have children.’ But nevermind. I managed to work past those issues, and give Steven a call to get the inside word on whether or not E3 still really is the magical event I remember it being.

COLUMN: 'Quiz Me Qwik': The Tale Of Tale of Tales

July 15, 2008 8:00 AM |

tot.jpg['Quiz Me Quik' is a weekly GameSetWatch column by journalist Alistair Wallis, in which he picks offbeat subjects in the game business and interviews them about their business, their perspective, and their unique view of life. This time - a look into the art game world with Tale Of Tales.]

Possibly one of the more interesting things that came up during this interview with Belgium based indie development duo Tale of Tales was the idea that they are, effectively, experimental outsiders in the games industry simply because of their focus on story based, artistically motivated work.

Isn't that weird? Can you imagine what the film industry would be like if narrative works were substantially less popular than action based films?

Well, okay, maybe that's a bad example, given the films that tend to come out on top at the box office these days, but you get the point.

The studio, comprised of Auriea Harvey and Michaël Samyn, admit that this isn't even something that's occurred to them before now. In fact, they consider what they do an “extremely traditional approach”, at least from the perspective of other medium, like cinema and music.

Then again, you get the idea from talking to them that maybe they're pretty used to being the outsiders at this point. Their favourite games are all at least five years old, proof that “a certain consolidation is happening where the big game companies are happy producing braindead toys for the masses”. Indie companies, for the most part are “creating braindead toys for the cliques”. Yeah, they're probably not exactly gunning for the Christmas card list, at this point.

But what would you expect from a group whose most commercial – for lack of better word – work is The Endless Forest, an MMO where the description is “You are a deer. So are the other players. You meet each other in an endless forest on the Internet. The setting is idyllic, the atmosphere peaceful. You communicate with one another through sounds and body language”? It's a bit bonkers, but gloriously so: wonderfully, artistically so.

They've also just started writing up a blog detailing the development of their next game, The Path, due in early 2009. So, we decided to chat with Harvey and Samyn about their beginnings, their somewhat provocative views on the industry, and why teenage boys find it a complete affront to their delicate sexuality to be asked to jump around as deer.

COLUMN: Quiz Me Qwik - 'And The Orchestra Played On'

June 30, 2008 8:00 AM |

lol1.gif['Quiz Me Quik' is a weekly GameSetWatch column by journalist Alistair Wallis, in which he picks offbeat subjects in the game business and interviews them about their business, their perspective, and their unique view of life. This time, an innocent bystander and a nearby train wreck.]

Regarding the whole Limbo of the Lost fiasco, has anyone coined the term “LoLgate” for it? I don’t seem to be able to find any kinds of references to it as that around the place, so let’s see if we can’t get it to catch on. After all, it’s a pretty fair bet that people will be talking about this for some time to come – how often do you hear about something as blatantly weird as this?

On one hand, it does seem cut and dry. The independent Majestic Studios used locales from existing games for their own game, Limbo of the Lost - 3D areas translated into 2D click and point adventure backdrops, presumably by simply taking screenshots. Screenshots from games like The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, Thief: Deadly Shadows, Diablo II, Unreal Tournament 2004, Unreal Tournament 2003, Crysis, Silent Hill 4: The Room, Return to Castle Wolfenstein, World of Warcraft, Painkiller, Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines and hell, probably more too.

It’s a pretty straightforward case of plagiarism, and copyright infringement. It’s absolutely no shock that US publisher Tri Synergy pulled the game from release within days of the accusations hitting news sites and forums. Majestic recently responded themselves, calling the “notification that some alleged unauthorized copyrighted materials submitted by sources external to the development team have been found” within the game “shocking”. It’s a pretty meaningless and weak rebuttal.

But, there’s something oddly endearing about the company’s naïveté.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not trying to defend it. It just feels more dense than insidious. Even their response is amusing: “Uh…wasn’t me.” Who would honestly believe that this kind of thing would go unnoticed in 2008? It’s like Ernest Goes To Digipen or something, except that they’re British, so maybe it’s more like Carry On Game Developers.

Still, even with that dimwit appeal, you’ve got to really feel for the people wrapped up in this. Majestic will never produce another game – that’s a given. But what happens to the credibility of Tri Synergy? What happens to the credibility of composer Marko Hautamäki, who worked to produce music for the game as a freelancer, and had no knowledge of the way that the game was being developed?

Already, he’s been under fire: guilt by association. “I have seen my name mentioned in several internet discussion forums,” he noted in a recent press release, “and there has been speculation about if the game contains stolen music but so far that has not been proven one way or another.” While Hautamäki didn’t produce every piece of music used in the game, he adds that he “can 100% guarantee everything” he worked on is original, offering the files on his website for scrutiny.

In order to work through his side of the story in more detail, I contacted Hautamäki, and asked about his experiences working with Majestic, and what this could mean for the future of his career as a composer.

COLUMN: Quiz Me Qwik - 'Talking 'Bout Saito's Translation Generation'

June 22, 2008 12:00 AM |

trans1.jpg['Quiz Me Quik' is a weekly GameSetWatch column by journalist Alistair Wallis, in which he picks offbeat subjects in the game business and interviews them about their business, their perspective, and their unique view of life. This time, an eclectic Japanese game translator gets quizzed.]

If there's one thing you can take away from the previous week's column, it's that I have absolutely no idea about programming. Forgetting the fact that I also have zero knowledge of other languages aside from what I've learnt from Serge Gainsbourg, the technical implications of translating even a NES game scares the living hell out of me. Translating a PlayStation 2 game? Fergeddaboutit.

But hey, at least there are people out there who have an idea of how to work with computers beyond, you know, writing words on them and making them say “Hello World”. People like TransGen founder and webmaster Saito. He's only been translating games since February of last year, but he's already worked his way through NES dodge-ball title Honoo no Doukyuuji: Dodge Danpei and its sequel on his own, and Kakuge Yaro Fighting Game Creator along with the rest of the team.

And now TransGen is working on Namco X Capcom. And Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories remake Re:Chain of Memories. They're both PS2 games. Oh, and Saito is Spanish, so English isn't even his first language.

Some people really are overachievers, you know?

But how could I not talk to him, and ask about what TransGen does? Oh yeah, and there's also the matter of enquiring exactly how much confusion comes from the fact that the group shares a name with a (seemingly abandoned) transgendered support website. That's gotta be worth a query of two.

COLUMN: Quiz Me Qwik - 'Talking To Myself'

June 15, 2008 12:00 AM |

jatonhead.jpg['Quiz Me Quik' is a weekly GameSetWatch column by journalist Alistair Wallis, in which he picks offbeat subjects in the game business and interviews them about their business, their perspective, and their unique view of life. This time, we get a little weird.]

This column seems to be turning into some kind of weirdly self-absorbed trip down memory lane for me, at least in the introductions, though it has on occasions made its way throughout the column proper like some kind of terrible beard-stroking, sky-gazing virus.

It’s like I’ve just discovered informal first-person journalism or something, except that I’ve been writing like this for other places for a while now. Anyways, given the lack of angry comments calling me out on my egotism, I assume it’s not getting up anyone’s nose, which is lovely.

And, on the odd chance that it is – and, by extension, I am - getting up your nose, hoo boy are you going to hate me this week.

Back in early 1992, while in Mr Harris’ grade four class, I was engaged in some kind of cartooning cold war with my best friend Sam. I had created – amongst other things – a family of anthropomorphic radishes. He had created a family of anthropomorphic echidnas. And though we were best friends, we did have more than a few blow-ups: he copied me, you know?

I like to think I was ahead of my time in regards to intellectual property protection rights.

Anyways, the one thing I had going that he didn’t was a video game design document. It was, admittedly, not a finished design document, but it was better than nothing. Unfortunately, I didn’t know the first thing about programming, and nor did any of my friends, so the Jaton the Radish game never really got underway – discounting a brief, unsatisfactory, jaunt into the world of Macromedia Director later that decade.

The documents, however, survive, and have been scanned for your enjoyment in an extraordinarily painful and time consuming manner: the scrapbook I used at the time is something like A3.75 or some inconvenient measurement. As such, the scanning was done in four sections for each page, before they were all stitched together. Goddamn it.

Back to the point at hand: since this column is called Quiz Me Qwik, and not - I don’t know; Show and Tell Hour or something, I’ve decided to interview myself about the project and its influences. Narcissism ahoy!

COLUMN: Quiz Me Qwik: 'Gemini Strays Into Innocent Sin'

June 7, 2008 4:00 PM |

p21.JPG ['Quiz Me Quik' is a weekly GameSetWatch column by journalist Alistair Wallis, in which he picks offbeat subjects in the game business and interviews them about their business, their perspective, and their unique view of life. This time - a translation project for the unreleased in the West PS1 Atlus RPG Persona 2: Innocent Sin.]

It was suggested to me by Simon recently that this column could possibly be renamed, to reflect the apparent focus on hacking and translation. Oddly, while I realised that I have been conducting a number of interviews based on these subjects, it wouldn’t really have occurred to me to centre the whole column on them. I wouldn’t actually describe myself as being particularly obsessive about homebrew or fan-translations or hacked level-sets or graphics patches.

It’s actually the obsessional behaviour of the people who do these things that interests me most. Not everyone’s obsession is unhealthy, exactly – though I did have an interview request declined by a young lady who had written well over 250,000 words of Sonic fan-fiction over the past six years. Most times, it's actually really cool to see what people are spending their time doing. The amount of work put in by the people I've been talking with lately is nothing short of amazing, not to mention the level of creativity involved.

Also, to be fair, I kind of like the name Quiz Me Qwik.

Anyway, case in point: Gemini's ongoing translation of PlayStation RPG Persona 2: Innocent Sin. While the project was begun some time ago, he's only been working consistantly on it since January, and already has around 80% of the work done. That's a pretty amazing effort, but then, Gemini is pretty passionate about the game.

The Persona games started with Revelations: Persona back in 1996. The next iteration was split into two installments, Innocent Sin and Eternal Punishment, with a story that spanned both games to a degree, though the former was never released outside of Japan. Depending on who you believe, this might be because of the optional homosexual relationship that the main character can engage in, or possibly because of the story that focuses on the resurrection of Hitler. Or neither.

[UPDATE: Commenter Baines also notes another possible reason for the game not debuting in the States, something Kurt Kalata also mentioned in a 1UP article: "At the beginning, your characters band together and kill their high school principal. Sure, he's a murderous lunatic who's threatening their fellow students, but in the wake of the Columbine incident in 1999, schoolyard violence could not be taken lightly."]

In any case, while there have been multiple translation guides for the game, there's never actually been a full patch. With the first one presumably just a few months away from release, now seemed like the perfect time to chat with Gemini about the project, and his Persona fandom.

GSW: When did you first encounter the Persona series?

Gemini: Sometime near July 2001, the day my cousin bought a copy of Eternal Punishment in English. Unfortunately his copy was a bootleg with the whole debugging code still active, so it was almost impossible to play.

GSW: Weird! What kind of stuff would it do, and when did you get the chance to play through it on a normal copy?

G: It's a retail version with some more menus to do weird stuff like altering character stats in battle, explore any map - including debug rooms - watch movies, etc. It has even a neat utility to create temporary maps with the characters you want.

I played the actual retail version about two years ago, a couple months after I started getting interested in Innocent Sin.

COLUMN: Quiz Me Qwik: 'A Russian Literature Primer With Akella'

May 31, 2008 4:00 PM |

god.jpg['Quiz Me Quik' is a new weekly GameSetWatch column by journalist Alistair Wallis, in which he picks offbeat subjects in the game business and interviews them about their business, their perspective, and their unique view of life. This time, a Russian literary game adaptation is probed.]

Unfortunately, what I know about Russian literature could fit on the back of a business card. It could, in fact, fit on the back of a business card even if you were using really, really big writing and a big thick permanent marker to write it, and then had to cross out a bit and rewrite it because you'd misspelled a few of the words. I could name maybe three or four authors, but that’s about it.

I know enough to divine, though, that the Strugatsky brothers – Arkady and Boris – are pretty damned popular in the former Soviet territories. They're like, say, Noel and Liam Gallagher, if they wrote science fiction books. Oh, and if they hadn't released complete crap after their first two albums and were still regarded as masters of their craft.

Actually, the Eddings brothers would probably be a more apt comparison, come to think of it. Yeah. Maybe ignore that bit about Oasis, if you could.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Lazily using Wikipedia to fill in the gaps: "The Strugatsky brothers (Бра́тья Струга́цкие), as they are usually called, became the best-known Soviet science fiction writers with a well developed fan base. Their early work was influenced by Ivan Yefremov. Their most famous novel Piknik na obochine has been translated into English as Roadside Picnic in 1977 and was filmed by Andrei Tarkovsky under the title Stalker."]

The brothers' 1963 book Hard to be a God, dealing with "an alien humanoid world passing the phase of Middle-Ages", is one of their most popular – it's been filmed twice, once in 1989 and again this year. It's also now been made into a PC “hack 'n' slash RPG” by developer Akella.