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Opinion: The Future Of UMDs? UMDmother Knows!

July 29, 2007 8:04 AM |

- [This week, we ran an interview with Peter Dille on Gamasutra which included the Sony exec defending the UMD format, particularly commenting: "When we launched, there was a proliferation of UMD content [from the major studios], and it wasn't the best strategic fit with the demographic."

We subsequently received an email and a FedEx package from 'UMDmother', whose sons started Silver Platter, aka UMDLab, which called itself "the indie UMD label" and sold a variety of titles, including skateboard, snowboarding, and wrestling UMDs.

Looks like the label is basically dormant now, and the aforementioned 'UMDmother' is selling the current inventory via methods such as eBay. She feels strongly that, if it weren't for the glut of movies unsuitable for normal PSP players, UMD could have been something more than it currently is. And sure, this letter is in some ways a sales pitch, but it's also an impassioned and not completely implausible call for another look at UMDs. So we thought we'd reprint it here on GameSetWatch.]

"Your July 24, 2007 article with Sony's Peter Dille, defending the UMD, was brought to my attention because I am, officially, the First UMDmother.

My sons and their best friend, all industry professionals started a company 2 years ago whose philosophy was, and still is, consistent with what Peter Dille described in this article. They produced, acquired, and designed UMD videos with the PSP consumer in mind, and with the diverse abilities of the device in mind (we also have a unique infinity scroll menu), and sold them at prices that made sense. They have an extensive library of videos, with bonus footage, which unfortunately, even with a national distribution deal signed, never received the respect that they deserved.

The highest rated UMD on IGN.com's website (it's the first title you will see in bold when clicking on editors choice under UMD) is our DC Video UMD. Not from a major studio and never shown in a movie theater; it is a skateboarding video from DC Shoes that also won Best UMD at the 2006 Entertainment Media Expo DVD Awards. For that award we beat out Sin City, Wedding Crashers and the Ali G Show. . While awards and accolades are great, this company was started to bring the highest quality video content available to the PSP consumer.

Because of the early demise of the UMD movie, this company, with all of its awards was never able to get off the ground. I, a 56 year old suburban housewife and now UMDmother, found herself with an inventory of the highest rated UMD videos on the market and decided that I would, and could, sell them all.

And guess what?…Peter was right…there is a demand for these UMD videos produced with the PSP consumer in mind. I sell them on the internet, I sell to gamers, I sell to skateboarders, new school skiers, snowboarders, jiu jitsu enthusiasts. I sell to mothers as gifts, I sell to deployed US military personal.

I sell to their families living on US bases who send them overseas. I have sent our titles around the world (by the way, our UMDs are region free…we even thought that through.) I sell regularly in Canada, the UK and Australia as well as Germany, France, Finland, Spain, Switzerland, Slovakia, Russia, Sweden, Denmark, The Netherlands and Malta just to name a few.

The backlash from the glut of overpriced and inappropriate UMD movies released scared away any potential retailer before our UMDs could achieve market penetration. As the gamer consumer became insulted with the content and price of movies offered on UMD, retailers wanted nothing to do with UMD movies. What I am getting at is that I know we have exactly what the PSP owner is looking for.

I am appealing to you to get our titles the attention they deserve. Our UMDs are the perfect example of what can be done when the PSP demographic, and the PSP's many available applications are taken into consideration in the development of a UMD.

Peter Dille was clear what he thinks about the future of UMDs. It looks to me like our titles and his vision are one and the same; a perfect match. What we need now is for Sony to see their vision realized in our UMDs and give us a fighting chance."

Brooktown High And The Future Of Western Dating Games

June 22, 2007 8:00 AM |

- So, I've been trying out Backbone and Konami's Brooktown High for PSP, even though it really hasn't been getting good reviews at all. [GameSpy's 1.5 out of 5 stars is the lowest, but the GameRankings average is a slightly awful 53%. And it's pretty clear, from the small amount of GameFAQs discussions - and the lack of a FAQ - that not too many consumers are picking it up, either.]

But it's an interesting game to be developed in the West, because it's one of only a couple of larger scale Western-developed dating games ever released. Other ones? Gameloft's Sprung for DS immediately comes to mind, and Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude sorta counts. Kinda.

And while it's not been that well received, I think Brooktown High: Senior Year is absolutely worth checking out and discussing just because it's a relationship-centric game - you know, like that Facade thing that everyone raves about?

So, the good things about the game, first. You personalize your high school character when you start the game, and the questions they ask (about favorite locations, gadgets, styles) help make your character be like... you. But it's interesting - the game encourages you to play someone like yourself - in my case, a decidedly geeky guy. And this makes your interactions with the girls in the game a little more personal.

- Brooktown High is also well-scripted, in a knowing, slightly trashy Laguna Beach-esque way. And it plays like real life _generally_ is - if you're lead geek of astronomy class, then the head cheerleader is going to require extra convincing to actually dig you. That makes you more self-conscious and careful about who you approach. And you actually care about changing your clothes in-game (so girls notice) and targeting specific people who seem to like you for who you are.

But in the end, the object of the game is to impress girls (or boys, if you choose a girl to start with) and then kiss them - and maybe even sneak a few bases beyond that. [All the 'action' is implied in abstract, comedy stock footage cut-scenes, such as red lights turning green, eventually the typical Austin Powers-esque rocket launches.] It's probably a good idea to cultivate the affections of multiple girls at once, so you actually have something to do except talk to one girl per week and then wait. So... that's a bit creepy.

And at some point, I was having a conversation with one of the girls in the game about how she fell off a bike and had to fix her shoulder, and I was impressing her with a long and detailed story about evading some crazies on my own bike, and... I had an odd moment of mental rebellion. It just felt like such a strange, un-natural thing to be doing in a video game, in an imaginary world. I felt a bit dirty, I think. (My wife said I could play, though. Please check with yours.)

- What does that say about me, or the gaming medium? I'm not sure. And it's unfortunate that the actual mechanics of Brooktown High will prohibit many players from getting much pleasure from it - as GameSpy notes: "You only get a few minutes each school week to fraternize before rushing to class, which limits the amount of time you can dedicate to meeting other students or setting up dates."

So there's a lot of rushing around in the times you should be having fun, and there are issues with characters not remembering previous conversations you've had with them - and situations where the multiple choice conversation tree makes you act like a jackass, no matter what.

And the game's interface is a bit tricky in places, and the resource and friend management not spectacularly sophisticated, despite the good-looking 3D art - the 'Art Assets' 02/2007 .ZIP on the Konami PR assets page has some nicely done renders, like math geek Meena's (above). And yes, there are guy ones in there too.

But there's something there - buried in the simplicity of logic and the complexity of interface. Check out this GameFAQs board thread for a good idea of the (slightly scary, manipulative) tactics to use with girls, and therefore the kind of interesting and odd plot threads Brooktown High uses. And I think game creators should check it out and work out what they feel when the play it. Because there aren't many games out there with... emotions in them.

- Anyhow, there was a question, as you can see from the title of this post, and I'm still going to ask it. I'm aware that Match.com is a dating game, but Brooktown High offers an even greater opportunity to represent somebody who isn't yourself with no repercussions. So - can there ever be a successful Western dating game? Or is it just too niche, too odd, too taboo, and not something people want to be doing on their own, without real people?

[BONUS: Extra reading - there's a geeky GameFAQs conversation on the roots of dating games and how Japanese ones compare to the few American ones - worth reading.]

How Everybody's Golf PSP Really Uses GPS

June 2, 2007 3:05 AM |

- So the GPS-enabled version of Everybody's Golf (aka Minna No Golf) for PlayStation Portable just came out in Japan, and NCSX has the details - but what I found fascinating was the way it uses the PSP's GPS add-on.

For some reason, I presumed that the game would use GPS in its gameplay somehow, but no - it's much more bizarre than that! The game does "...double duty as a digital caddy if you're actually at a golf course in Japan. PSP owners living in Japan armed with the GPS Receiver and a copy of the game can visit one of 31 golf courses in Chiba Prefecture and play real golf with a virtual caddy."

So, in fact, it's just a completely different 'real-life golf helper' app which has nothing to do with play - other than happening to use the same courses that the actual game is played on. NCSX continues: "The game package includes two UMDs - the first UMD contains recreations of golf courses that are located in southern Chiba while the second UMD hosts courses from northern Chiba... For players who utilize the virtual caddy GPS function of the software, the distance to a hole may be calculated in real time to determine which club to use."

I guess it's an interesting concept, but it's a bit bizarre overall - I want some actual everyday uses of GPS without going to particular golf courses in Chiba. I wonder how much uptake in revenue those courses are gonna see from having a video game version available to entice keen golfers?

How Trans Am Got On The Afterburner PSP Soundtrack

April 6, 2007 9:04 AM |

- Thanks to Gus Mastrapa of Looky Touchy for pointing out this gem to me - on NeoGAF, it's the story of how mathrock band Trans Am appeared on the Afterburner: Black Falcon PSP soundtrack, and it's somewhat bizarre - but we'll have to reprint the piece in (more or less) full, since it's borderline genius.

The specific post is passed on from developer Planet Moon's Trevor Grimshaw, who explains in hilarious style: "I was at my friend Jens house to watch Deadwood and I started complaining about what a load of crappy bands we had as potential game music. she says. "why don't you ask my boyfriend, he's in a band". I've never met the guy before and assume she's dating some blowhard doorman or bartender in some lame local rock band. like every other San Fransisco mission hipster. but, to be honest, I didn't know what the whole story on this character is so couldn't say for sure..."

Continuing: "She calls him on the phone and says " my friend Trevor is here, yeah, that one, he needs some music for a game he's working on do you want to talk to him? ok. " she hands me the phone. "so Jen says that you are in the music business or in a band or something" i say. "yeah i guess you could say that" he replies. " well, so, were making this video game with some jets in it, and we want some decent rocking tunes that doesn't sound like nu-metal whiny crap. we need a relatively inexpensive band that's good, but not huge so we can afford it, i don't know, someone sort of hip, but that doesn't totally suck, i mean, someone instrumental, like trans am, i guess , have you ever heard of trans am?"

"yeah" he says. Jen is looking at me with this expression on her face like I'm a huge jerk. I continue. " yeah, someone like trans am, but not trans am because nobody knows who the hell they are, i mean, they're cool but they're totally obscure. I like them, but they basically don't exist as far as mainstream music goes." Jen is now glaring at me. " i mean, besides the metaligensia record store clerks at Aquarius records and some math rock sweater nerds, who's heard of them? nobody. " "what is wrong with you!" she yells and tries to grab the phone from me "give me back the phone" "oh, do you know someone in trans am?" i ask him. "um, yeah" he says. " I'm in Trans Am".""

Payoff: "I accused him of lying, or being some session guitarist or something, or of just joining them. Jen was convinced i was just screwing with everyones head and knew it was him all along. but, no, it turns out he really was in Trans Am and is a cool guy. I stuck by my guns however and argued with Jen that, seriously, aside from a few people, no one has ever heard of them. I even made a bet that absolutely no one in my office will know who they were. I walked into work on Monday. "hey guess who we can get to do our soundtrack!" i exclaimed. " Trans Am!" the Project Lead stared blankly at me. "Who's that?"" Awesome, blossom.

The Future Of The PSP

March 24, 2007 11:07 PM |

- There, I knew subscribing to IGN's all-articles feed would bear fruit in the end - they've just debuted 'The Future Of The PlayStation Portable', describing, in handy hyperbolic terms: 'Over a dozen of the top developers tell us in a huge anniversary blow-out.'

The intro article is a bit, well, over-apologetic for the format, ("Hell, the Nintendo Ds is the best-selling game system of this new generation, period -- nothing stands up to it as competition. But just because Nintendo is winning, does that mean that Sony has lost?"), but the interviews are well thought-out, and there's some firm sense talked in the Planet Moon chat, for one: "The PSP needs to have a digital game distribution system. It's perfect for it and it will liberate the device in many ways."

Q's Tetsuya Mizuguchi has what I think is the best response, though: "While the PSP may have lost a bit of steam over the last year - especially when compared to the DS - we're hopeful that it will continue to provide quality entertainment for current and future users. There's still this image of PSP being mainly a "portable game device" rather than a multimedia entertainment device - that is, including myself, as I don't use the PSP other than to play games - so I'm looking forward to how the other possibilities and uses of the PSP will be promoted including the connectivity between PS3 and the recently announced Home. Now, if only it came with a hard drive..."

It's... The Future Of The HUD Circus

March 16, 2007 8:39 AM |

- The rather beautifully named High Dynamic Range Lying weblog recently posted an in-depth post named 'Clean and Simple: What’s the future of the Heads-Up Display?', and I thought it was well worth linking to.

The intro? "HUDs have remained unchanged since the days of the Nintendo Entertainment System, but that isn’t to say that some games didn’t boldly attempt to change the way we look at HUDs, and have paved the way for what could be the future of information display in video games. What have we done right in the past? What have been the failures? Where do we go from here? HDRL hopes to answer that, with a touch of optimistic speculation, and a pinch of nostalgic golf clapping."

There are then some fun analyses of conventional or unconventional HUD systems, with a nod to one of the most 'interesting' ones: "Say what you will about the failure of Trespasser, the PC-only First Person Shooter based on the world of Jurassic Park, but the game was rife with unique ideas (albeit poorly executed). Player health was represented by a heart-shaped tattoo on the player`s breast. When players started to lose health, they would look down at themselves. While the mechanic was a step in the right direction, the sad part was that players had to constantly look down to check health, which disrupted gameplay to a large extent." [Semi-via Jiji.]

Iga Iga Cha Cha Cha Iga PSP Cha Cha Iga

March 15, 2007 2:39 AM |

- Over at GamesRadar, Christian Nutt has a fun interview with Castlevania mastermind IGA which is notable because it asks some spectacularly nerdy but very relevant questions about the upcoming Castlevania compilation for PSP and the future of the franchise.

The Konami supremo explains of the title: "The basic concept of delivering this title over PSP is to deliver Rondo of Blood that was never released in the States - not Symphony of the Night. Many of the gamers in the US, or outside Japan, tend to think that SOTN is one of the Castlevania titles that made a drastic change to the series. But personally speaking, I think Rondo of Blood was the title that actually started branching out from the past Castlevania series."

It's also interesting to see him tackling the lack of simple level-based gameplay in recent Castlevanias, which he apparently yearns for: "Another reason I brought Rondo of Blood to PSP this time was to test case with the consumers if they would accept the linear type of game. Because, obviously, the linear type of game is not mainstream level design in the current industry. From my end, my keyword to the game creation was "longevity." How gamers could last the gameplay and play it over and over again. So I really want to hear the consumer reaction to the linear type and see if it would fit for the future Castlevania series." Neat stuff.

BBC Pokes At PSP Hacking Cabal

February 27, 2007 8:05 AM |

- Actually, I first saw this on the 'Pho list' for music folks, but it's awfully game-ish - a new BBC News article on the latest PSP homebrew cracking efforts, and absolutely adorable because of the careful explanation and hacker unveiling tactics.

It's explained of the key PSP hackers: "Fanjita - real name David Court - is very different from the popular hacker stereotype of the socially inept teenaged geek working all night in his bedroom. A married man of 34, he is an accomplished professional programmer who writes server software for large telecommunications companies for a living. He spends an hour or two a night hacking PSP software in his Edinburgh home, and is also a martial arts enthusiast." So there!

But wait: "Dark Alex fits much more comfortably into the hacker mould. A student from Spain, his hacker moniker derives from his real name, Alejandro, and a liking for all things gothic, he says. His interests are Japanese Manga comics and cats, but PSP hacking is his main hobby." Japanese Manga comics and cats, huh? I'm guessing he must be a big 2ch fan, then.

Rainbow Islands Goes... Hurdy Gurdy?

February 14, 2007 4:09 AM |

- Now, I knew that a new version of Rainbow Islands was coming out for PSP - it's coming out in Europe in a couple of weeks, for one - but a new NCSX post reveals the true oddness of the packaging/story for the Japanese version, called 'New Rainbow Islands: Hurdy Gurdy Daibouken!'

As NCSX explains: "Bubby and Bobby don decidedly South American garb and wield instruments in a new game of Rainbow throwing proportions... Across the Rainbow Islands worlds, creatures are being changed into other guises while a record company executive peers at the carnage through binoculars." Uhm, WHAT?

I'm not really sure what weird ethnic stereotypes the developers are going after here, since the hurdy gurdy is almost a Eastern European instrument - it's all a bit It's A Small World! There's also some odd gameplay going on:

"A pseudo 3D stage design where foreground, midground, and background may be traveled between by hopping on a moving platform that shuttles between the depths... Due to the concept of three distinct "levels" in every stage, enemies that appear in the midground can't be attacked if you're standing in the foreground although they might appear very close."

UMD Movies: The New 8-Track, Start Collecting Now!

December 11, 2006 11:55 AM |

- Well, I jest in the title, of course - but if you're a collector of PSP-related memorabilia, it's probably time to start checking out eBay, because as studios slow down and basically stop releasing UMD discs - the handy UMD release list at The Digital Bits shows only a handful of new Sony-published movies coming out - so, as stores and retailers clear their decks over the next few months, there's likely to be both bargains and rarities galore.

Personally, the thing I get most excited about is great audio/video synchronization, because I use my PSP both to listen to MP3s and to watch movies/play games while commuting, so I finally managed to pick up the Beck 'Guero' special edition UMD which we gave away on GameSetWatch last December - only $5 plus shipping from eBay, too.

The UMD includes "all the audio tracks from the 8-bit retro game-ish influenced album, special video art by D-Fuse for each track, and seven music videos", and it makes me wish that album-specific goodness like the Super Furry Animals' Rings Around The World and Phantom Power DVDs would come to UMD - something which they are clearly not, hah.

But in any case, I've previously mentioned that Dr. Who's first season is apparently out - although I can only find references to it for UK release, so maybe the U.S. release was pulled? What is definitely out is two Family Guy box sets (the first one is still decently priced on DeepDiscountDVD), an Entourage box set, and a bunch of Adult Swim UMDs, for starters. So I think if you're a bit of a geek, you might want to start picking some of these up now, before they get scarce - and feel free to ping us if you see any good UMD sales?