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Column: Quiz Me Qwik

Quiz Me Quik: Editing New Super Mario Bros With Treeki

May 24, 2008 12:00 AM |

treeki.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 thirteen-year-old whiz hacks up New Super Mario Bros for DS.]

“Back when I was 12 or so,” sang New York singer songwriter Jeffrey Lewis in his song Back When I Was 4, “I swear to god, I never felt so low. Everyone but me was making out and eating cookies.” I wasn't making out or eating cookies much myself, though I did play spin the bottle earlier that year at my friend Rob's party, and kissed Julia Mildenhall once on the mouth; no tongue.

But I wasn't feeling terribly low, either: I’d just bought my SNES and was playing my way through Zelda, Donkey Kong Country and Secret of Mana.

I can’t speak for whether or not he was eating cookies and making out at age 12, but hacker and programmer Treeki was already well into development of his New Super Mario Bros. level editor in 2007. Almost a year later, and he's gone through two released versions of the editor, and made progress into a third version, though he notes it's not likely to see release any time soon.

Oddly, there hasn't been the glut of levelsets you'd expect from a release like this. In fact, aside from an unfinished Super Mario Bros. remake, and a few uncompleted trial levels by unmotivated individuals, there have barely been any. So, hey, if you're reading this: why not give it a go?

I for one would love to see some interesting hacks out there; even with eight worlds, NSMB really felt over and done with much too quickly, and the multitude of cool Super Mario World hacks show there are some really creative minds in the hacking community.

That's not exactly why we decided to talk to Treeki about the editor, though - after all, he admits he “wouldn't recommend” people even bother with it. It's more to do with, well: how many 13 year olds do you know who are putting together projects like that?

Quiz Me Quik: 'NeoDS - 100 Meg (Portable) Shock!'

May 17, 2008 8:00 AM |

NeoDS1.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, an examination of Nintendo's portable system running a much more heavyweight vintage console.]

There’s kind of a weird mythical nature to the Neo Geo – in my mind, at the very least. I think it applies to other people, though, simply because of the price associated with the console throughout its lifetime: US$649 at launch, with games going for $200 or more.

And as time has gone on, it hasn’t got much better. Games for the system – rare ones, that is – have a tendency to go for over $1,000 on eBay. I’ve always thought of it as a highly regarded system, though it’s obviously one that was never hugely successful in a commercial sense.

I’ve only played one – only even seen one – in the wild once, and that was at an import store on Melbourne’s notoriously expensive Toorak Rd. I can’t remember what I played, as I think I was about 12 at the time. I know it had grenades in it, but that really doesn’t narrow it down for the Neo Geo, does it?

I do remember the controller, though; that thing was super sturdy, and really a joy to use. And I think that I knew from reading GamePro that it was a far more powerful machine than what I was used to (although given I was used to a 286 at the time, that’s not saying much).

And now Neo Geo games are playable on DS, with Ben Ingram’s NeoDS emulator, which has just been released, and is currently at version 0.1.0. It's funny how quickly technology moves. I've just replayed Monkey Island 2 on my mobile, for example. That game wouldn't even run on my 286 growing up.

Naturally, there’s a few bugs with it right now, but that makes for some interesting discussion – how many people really know about the processes involved in writing emulation software, and how to deal with strange issues? There’s no better time, then, to actually talk with Ben and ask about the emulator as he works to iron out the bugs and implement new features.

GSW: What made you think, initially, that the DS would be powerful enough to support a Neo Geo emulator?

Ben Ingram: I didn't know if it would work initially, but looking at the Neo Geo specs, it seemed like if I can stream data fast enough, everything else would be doable. So I gave it a shot.

COLUMN: Quiz Me Qwik - 'The State Of... Linux Gaming?'

May 10, 2008 12:00 AM |

-['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, we have a look at the history and state of gaming on the world's most famous free operating system.]

It would be interesting to find out exactly how many people have switched to Linux since the release of Windows Vista. Not a big percentage of PC users, sure, but it’s probably a number worth taking notice of.

Personally, I loaded Ubuntu onto my laptop just a month after buying it – Vista’s sluggish operation got to be a little too irritating. And boy is the difference noticeable, too; Ubuntu might actually be the fastest OS I’ve ever experienced in terms of basic operation.

There are drawbacks, of course. Open Office is a fine counterpoint to Microsoft Office, and The GIMP is a great Photoshop alternative, but the gaming side is predictably lacking. I can play all the fantastic Kenta Cho freeware shooters, but…no Warning Forever? Tragic.

Of course, I’m not putting down the whole scene - I’m far from a Linux gaming authority. That’s why I thought now might be a good time to have a chat with Bob Zimbinksi, who has run the Linux Gaming Tome for around nine years now. He denies being an authority either, unfortunately, as he’s stepped back from the day-to-day workings of the site a little over the past few years. “Answering your questions has made me realize just how removed from Linux gaming I am these days,” he smiles. “Don't mistake me for an authority on modern Linux gaming. I'm a guy with a Macbook Pro and an Xbox 360. Sorry!”

Err, so…maybe that says something about Linux gaming, eh? Not that Zimbinski doesn’t still have some interesting things to say about the history of the site, and where Linux gaming has been in the past, of course. More importantly, he’s got an explanation as to why he’s moved away from Linux, and whether or not commercial gaming has a home on an operating system that thrives on a base of free software.

GSW: When did you first start using Linux, and what attracted you to it?

Bob Zimbinski: I started using Linux in the mid-90's, maybe 1994 or 1995. At the time, the notion of a Unix system on my desktop seemed pretty radical to me. I'd used Unix at work and school, and it was exciting to have free reign over an entire system, especially considering what a hands-on project administering a Linux system was in those days.

Upon getting my first Slackware system up and running, I resolved to use Linux exclusively for my computing environment.

GSW: What were your first experiences with Linux gaming?

BZ: I've always been a video game nerd, so it was important to me to see how much gaming I could do on this new system. I remember how exciting it was to get Doom running fullscreen - [graphics library] svgalib was a monster that I'm sure nobody misses today. I was also quite taken by Maelstrom, a Linux port of a slick Asteroids clone for the Mac.

Quiz Me Qwik: Card Fighting With Flavor

May 4, 2008 4:00 PM |

cfc2.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, we talk to the translator of a classic handheld card battler.]

I’m really quite atrociously bad at competitive card games. I missed the whole Magic explosion growing up, and while I admit that I did get into the Pokemon cartoon to a degree that could be considered mildly inappropriate for someone at university, I didn’t even touch the collectable card thing. So, yes, part of it is simply that I have very little interest in it, but it doesn’t excuse how mind-blowingly bad I’ve appeared to be the few times I’ve tried video game based card games.

I was, for example, invited to the Kongregate Kongai card game beta to go along with the interview I did with Jim Greer and David Sirlin which appeared a couple of days back. I had to admit to Jim that I really can’t say whether or not the game is any good, because I suck so viciously at it. Mildly embarrassing stuff.

But enough about my shortcomings. It’s obvious that there is a real interest in card games, especially when they happen to revolve around a premise as blatantly awesome as SNK Vs. Capcom: Card Fighter’s Clash. Characters from the most beloved fighting games series around in super deformed appearance, with cards! Even I can recognise the appeal in that.

There are currently three games in the series – two for the Neo Geo Pocket Color, and a more recent one for the DS. The first game proved reasonably popular as far as niche titles go, but the second was never released outside of Japan. And the less said about the DS effort the better. So, a translation project, helmed by one Flavor, was started in late 2001, and finally – after a number of roadblocks and pauses – completed in March.

To celebrate what is a pretty mammoth effort, we talked with Flavor about all the goings-on regarding the project, and received some astoundingly in-depth answers about topics such as his Card Fighter’s Clash fandom, why it’s all taken so long, and why the Lost Church is now a Rooster Church.

Quiz Me Qwik: [Insert Joke About Fishing For Overfishing Activism]

April 28, 2008 8:00 AM |

-['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, we examine an activist Flash game cautioning against overfishing.]

Aside from Ecco the Dolphin, it’s kind of hard to think of any other games that have you playing as a sea creature. EVO: Search for Eden? Did you play as a fish in that? I really can’t remember. In fact, it’s entirely possible that I never played it, and only know about it because I saw an ad in GamePro.

Anyway, we can add another game to that list now: Pew Environment Group’s Flash title Ocean Survivor. It’s a little more on the serious side than Ecco, however, with about 100% less Vortex Queen and more of a focus on the actual realities of the sea. “Pollution, habitat destruction, mismanagement and overfishing have impoverished our ocean resources,” says the game’s website, “and have caused more than 90% of the world's large fish, including tuna, swordfish and marlin to disappear from our oceans.”

It’s overfishing that’s the game’s real concern, though. Your bluefin tuna swims through a 2D ocean, avoiding nets and hooks of various kinds – the game details the destructive impact of each if you manage to hook or net yourself.

Of course, to hook the public in, there’s the high score table, which currently sits around the 300,000 mark. I’ve only managed about 80,000 so far, which makes me feel like a complete failure of a fish, but I guess that’s life.

We had a chat to project lead Joseph Gordon about the game, and – more importantly – about whether the high score grabbing public will actually learn from the game and take the chance to sign the petition.

COLUMN: Quiz Me Qwik - 'Being (Pranked By) Michael Trewartha'

April 19, 2008 8:00 AM |

-['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... we go a little off the rails.]

I’ve become mildly fascinated with this little mystery lately. It’s a FAQ detailing the ‘programmers door’; an un-openable feature of the designers ending of Chrono Cross. According to the FAQ, there’s a lot of really weird things that can happen in that ending, if certain conditions are met. But, of course, it’s random whether or not they will be met, and so results may vary.

The overwhelming cynic in me suggests pretty much immediately that this is complete crap. It’s entertaining crap, at least, and seems to have enough basis on what really happens in the game to be believable for some people, but crap all the same.

But then, some people – especially younger gamers – will believe anything. I’m not talking about the EGM Sheng Long prank style stuff so much as simple playground stories. Things like the hidden level on the island above the Top Secret Area in Mario World; hidden characters in Wrath of the Black Manta, and so on. Stories that are products of a time when technology hadn’t quite caught up with the imaginations of nine year olds yet.

There are two examples that stand out for me. When I was younger, I only really had a 286 for games; we did have an Atari 2600, but it was pretty well broken by the end of 1988. Most of the games played on said 286 were “gifts” from a friend of my sister, and didn’t come with any documentation. Therefore, I had little idea of how to actually play them, and so when my friend Michael Trewartha told me in year four that he knew how to get further in two particular titles that had stumped me, I was all ears.

In a way, that’s something infinitely more insidious than April Fool’s jokes in magazines. That’s taking advantage of the trusting innocence of someone who doesn’t even know how to play the game. That’s not making up tales about how you found a secret ending for Double Dragon II which involves the evil clone end boss turning into a two headed dragon – it’s deliberately misleading someone looking for help in a basic sense.

And so, I tracked down Trewartha to ask about this gross displacement of trust, and to fish for an apology that should have occurred 16 odd years ago.

Quiz Me Qwik: Boštjan Čadež Talks Line Rider

April 5, 2008 4:02 PM |

linerider.gif['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 - Line Rider creator Boštjan Čadež.]

There would have to be a fairly large percentage of people who've played Line Rider who first experienced it through YouTube videos. It's a pretty amazing sight – the rider swooping and diving through intricately created courses, coming close to peril on oh-so-many occasions, but always pulling through and continuing on his epic journey. And then you try it yourself and realise that – eep – it's a lot harder to put something like that together than you'd think.

That's really testament to the versatility of Line Rider, though. It is an amazingly simple idea – like all the best innovations – but it allows people to create their own unique vision and have fun with it, even if you're not able to recreate level 1-1 from Super Mario Bros.

It's going to be interesting to see what inXile can do with the game on a commercial level. Will it be as compelling with the knowledge that you're actually having to shell out money to play this on your Wii or DS? The issue of value in games has been gone over again and again, so I'll leave it well alone here, but how do you create value in a game that effectively lets you control just a pencil and eraser?

It could even be that it goes too far in trying to create value in the game, of course. Maybe people will pick it up and sigh, 'Jeez...I remember the good old days, when Line Rider didn't even have an eraser'. Only time, sales figures and the collective whining of forum users across the Internet will tell, I suppose.

With the game's release only a few months away, it seemed like a perfect time to talk to the creator of the Flash toy, Boštjan Čadež, and ask about the history of Line Rider, and his experiences with inXile in putting together its future. Oh, and also about whether the little sledding dude has a name.

Quiz Me Qwik: Forumwarz' Robin Ward On Launching A Net.Culture Game

March 29, 2008 8:00 AM |

forumwarz.jpg['Quiz Me Quik' is a new weekly GameSetWatch column by journalist Alistair Wallis, in which he picks offbeat subject in the game business and interviews them about their business, their perspective, and their unique view of life. This time - the wonderfully odd Web-based net.culture pastiche Forumwarz.]

Browser based game Forumwarz has done a pretty good job of drawing the attention of those who spend their time wallowing in Net culture. Small wonder, really: t's a sharp parody of the many negatives and positives out there, from furries to Boing Boing and 4chan, all wrapped up in a slick self-contained imitation of the web.

There's Sentrillion, the Google-alike search engine, sTalk and Tubmail, the Gmail and Gmail Chat equivalents. Kind of like a more sophisticated version of the front-end to PS2 RPG .hack, except that it's actually fun to play. Oh, and it's all rather funny too.

Then there's the gameplay, a sort of turn-based RPG style that sees players using various methods of annoyance to take down forums, depending on their class. It's bra shots and descriptions of sexual experiences for Camwhores, whining about parents and self-mutilation for Emo Kids and spoilers and “yo momma” jokes for Trolls. Maybe it's just an instilled obsession with level grinding, but it really is quite addictive.

GameSetWatch posted an interview with Robin “Evil Trout” Ward – developer Zombie Crotch Productions' only full time employee – a few weeks after the game's release.

With a little water under the bridge, and the second episode of story content on the way, we figured that now would be a good time to catch up with him and see what the reaction to the game has been like, and how it's affected the way the game's development is continuing:

Quiz Me Quik: 'The Czech Bus Game Powerhouse'

March 21, 2008 8:00 AM |

-['Quiz Me Quik' is a new weekly GameSetWatch column by journalist Alistair Wallis, in which he picks offbeat subject in the game business and interviews them about their business, their perspective, and their unique view of life. First up - the Czech Republic's SCS on their odd success with... truck/bus driving sims?]

There's a few things that make game developer SCS Software a tiny bit different: firstly, the company's based in the Czech Republic, making it one of a relatively small band developing out of that country. But more unlikely still, there's the focus on trucking games - an odd niche genre, to be sure, but one that's proved pretty surprisingly lucrative for SCS.

The company formed back in 1997, and released Rocky Mountain Trophy Hunter III in 2000. For years before that, though – before SCS was officially formed, even – the group worked on an engine: Prism3D. 2002 saw the release of Hard Truck: 18 Wheels of Steel, the first of five Wheels of Steel games from SCS.

The company's latest title, Bus Driver was released late last year. It's fairly self explanatory kind of game, described amusingly by The Escapist as “the bus driving simulator that lets you drive a bus” - here's a demo video from YouTube, surprisingly reminiscent of Japanese regulation-heavy titles like 'Densha De Go' for trains.

So sure, there's a bit more to it than, say, Desert Bus, and while it's received criticism from some that it's watered down the, uhh, 'level of simulation' expected from SCS, reviews have generally been positive.

More recently, the game was picked up by publisher Meridian4 for retail release in the US and Australia in May, and that's how we got to speak to SCS Software CEO Pavel Sebor about the company, its history, and about the unlikely success of Bus Driver