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GameSetWatch.com is the alt.video game weblog and sister site of Gamasutra.com. It is dedicated to collecting curious links and media for offbeat and oft-ignored games from consoles old and new, as well as from the digital download, iOS, and indie spaces.

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Focus On: PlayStation Museum Goes Apocalyptic

June 27, 2007 6:01 PM |

- Every now and again, I like to sit back and focus on a neglected site that's doing a sterling job in some way, and this time round, it's the PlayStation Museum that I'd like to highlight, a resource that's doing a great job of somewhat obsessively finding and documenting unreleased PlayStation games.

Of course, the site also talks about released games (and was recently forced to try to liquidate its entire physical collection for unspecified reasons, though the latest update mysteriously reveals: "The director of the museum has recovered about 60% of the condition that he was stricken with a few weeks ago. This means business as usual.")

But it's the protos that are spectacular, with a particularly good Neversoft connection revealing an unreleased Ghost Rider proto and the very unreleased Exodus. Then, away from Neversoft, there's the PlayStation version of Superman, allegedly much better than the terrible N64 version, and a whole bunch more obscuro prototypes and unreleased titles.

Anyhow, the latest gem is again tangled up in Neversoft's history, and it's the original version of Bruce Willis co-starring action game Apocalypse, a title which had a pretty checkered history. It's explained: " Apocalypse started out as being developed in-house at Activision Santa Monica. The concept was to use Bruce Willis' likeness as a sidekick to the main character... After months of work, management at Activision had decided to let the team go and use an outside developer to finish the game. Scrapping the game was no option: Activision paid too much to use Bruce Willis' talent."

Thus, Neversoft stepped up: "None of the original code was used in the final version of Apocalypse, although they did use a bit of their graphics for the initial rooftops level... Another point was that focus testing has supposedly revealed that people wanted to play as Bruce, which contributed to the whole AI-sidekick thing being scrapped." There are videos of the original version of Apocalypse, too, and this is an awesome piece of gaming history, now fairly well documented (though it'd be great to hear all sides of the story, not just the Neversoft-predominant version.)

Playing Zork On... A Messageboard?

June 16, 2007 1:20 PM |

- Over at Idle Thumbs, they've just set up a 'Text Adventure' subforum, and indeed, they've set up a really neat concept - people can collaboratively play classic Z-machine text adventures on a normal messageboard, thanks to some neat coding.

As the FAQ post explains: "Our resident super computer Ziggy serves up the current move, and all you have to do is reply to the thread with the next move, such as “Go north”. Ziggy will then respond. It's basically an MMO text adventure."

Here's the current post, for Zork, and it's pretty cool how the various participants are using # comments among themselves to discuss their tactics: "Ack, no! We needed the lunch for the cyclops... Oh didn't know that. isn't there an other way past him? like telling a long story so he'll fall asleep?... We can use the sack to put on the cyclops's head." [Via Andy Baio.]

Partial Get Lamp Interviewee List Revealed

June 10, 2007 10:01 PM |

x.jpg We first mentioned Jason Scott's 'Get Lamp' text adventure documentary way back in December 2005, and work on it appears to be proceeding rather well, as a new post on his ASCII blog explains.

He notes: "Obviously, when I make a documentary, I need a lot of help. Among the help is a series of tools, ranging from the mechanical (HVX-200, piles of energy drink cans), to scripts and software. And among those scripts are little efforts that generate web pages to help me keep track of potential interviewees and completed interviews. The idea is, after the whole thing's wrapped up, I put the resultant pages up and people are very happy with the ability to see all the names and backstories and history of the interviews."

Also, this is a good, if curmudgeonly point: "I hate it when people put up documentary websites that give you crappy flash intros and 'obviously designed by an up and coming art student' pages but not a whole lot of actual researched "meat". I'm not sure why that happens a lot. Maybe people focus too much on the wrong things."

And this documentary is a vital piece of history for video games in general, so I'm delighted that Jason (whose BBS Documentary is awesome - here's a legal .torrent of the 'Art Scene' episode) is being so thorough in working on it - confirmed interviews include Steve Meretzky, Marc Blank, Scott Adams, Andrew Plotkin (who has AWESOME glasses), Richard Bartle, Don Woods, and a host of other notables.

What XOC Did After Super Mario Bros

June 4, 2007 10:35 PM |

x.jpg We've previously covered the music releases of Jason 'Xoc' Cox, who was responsible for the insanely good 'SMW' cover album for Super Mario World, and Alistair Wallis mailed me to update on several of Cox's neat new projects:

Wallis explains: "Firstly, there's Cinema 80's: Music From Nintendo Games Based On 80's Movies, which he says is made up of stuff that's been around for a while, including some of his very first game covers. It's pretty general Xoc style stuff - I must admit, I'm only really familiar with the Goonies 2 material, but it all sounds pretty cool to me."

And what else? "The weirdest thing is the NESTER BABIES stuff that he's posted. He posted one track that sounds very much the same a while ago called Sorboiramrepus, which was him doing the Mario theme backwards and with the pitch shifted waaaay up. This is 15 tracks of that. The Rush'N'Attack one, in particular, is...great? I don't know. Still, it's pretty inventive."

Wait, there's more? "He's also been doing heaps of stuff for a project called Hemostat... [which is] hard core noise. The one recorded at Disney World is very, very cool. Oh yeah, and there's a new Xoc and Heavy Friends EP on Megatwerp. Vaguely game related. There's a bit of spoken word about Gradius, of all things, and a few 8-bit sounds. It's fun." This is pretty much all awesome game music craziness.

Spacewar and the Birth of Digital Game Culture

June 1, 2007 10:00 PM |

- So, I just hinted at this, but quoting from my Slashdot submission: "Gamasutra is partnering with the IGDA's Preservation SIG to present in-depth histories of the first ten games voted into the Digital Game Canon, beginning with a history of the 1961 mainframe-based shooter Spacewar, arguably the first ever video game."

From the article: "Spacewar had a life of its own, spreading across the computer world like a benign virus. “It was the program that was run into the PDP-1 before it was shipped. It was the last thing--it was used as actually as a final test,” [co-creator J.M.] Graetz said. Because the PDP-1’s memory was composed of magnetic cores, small ferrite rings whose polarity indicated whether a bit was 1 or 0, the game stayed in memory even after the power was turned off."

Hey, that's all kinds of awesome! Graetz continues: “Core memory is non-volatile and once Spacewar was working they just shut the machine down and shipped it. So when the customer set it up and turned it on the first thing they saw was Spacewar." Sorta like the built-in Master System games, only crazier, then. Look out for plenty more in this series - next up is Civilization (complete with Sid Meier and Bruce Shelley interviews) and the obscure but seminal Star Raiders (with a Doug Neubauer interview).

Lowood Opens Up On Game Preservation

May 31, 2007 3:39 PM |

- Via How They Got Game, the Stanford University blog about game preservation and studies, they point out a relatively new Game Face interview with Henry Lowood, the curator for the history of science and technology collections at Stanford - and it's got some useful, scholarly thinking about game history in it.

I've known Henry for a while, having worked with him to set up the Internet Archive machinima collection, among other things. Most recently, he originated the Digital Game Canon concept with folks like Steve Meretzky and Warren Spector - and look out for some Gamasutra-related news on that front pretty soon which should help bring further prominence to the concept.

In any case, I think Lowood is on the money when explaining: "Well, my personal view is that the published games themselves you might think of more as the library of game culture, the books if you will, not so much as the archives. The archives to me will be other kinds of materials. And by that I mean the evidence of the processes through which these games were created and also what players do - that is, the culture around the games." In other words, you need both first-person accounts of the game's creation and evidence of people playing them and interacting with them.

He continues: "Think of a copy of EverQuest that we might have on the shelf a hundred years from now... as a player, there would be very little you would know about what happened inside that game space from just being able to run that single copy of the game [without a server]. At most you could admire the art. You could get a little bit of information about how they created characters and things like that, but there would be no concept about the social dynamics or the political negotiations, the very sort of things that happened in the social world around that game."

The Man Who Would Be Kong: Billy Mitchell Speaks

May 31, 2007 12:27 AM |

- MTV News' Stephen Totilo is off preparing for his wedding now (I know so - his out of office reply told me so!), but before he went, he pinged GSW about video game doc King Of Kong, something that we've covered extensively in the past.

Specifically, he notes: ""I suspect the [two MTV News King Of Kong stories] will be of interest to you guys, because I've attempted to set the record straight about what the film includes and what it leaves out (like an entire gaming expo where Billy Mitchell and current "DK" champ Steve Wiebe actually did both play the game -- and remember how things went differently, of course)."

And? "The main draw is that in the second of the two pieces, I've got Billy Mitchell talking about the film and what's it like to suddenly be known as a villain. This is the first time he's spoken, even though the movie's been out in festivals since January. It hits wide release in August with a dramatization from New Line to follow." Dramatization? Nice. But how much will it cost to hire the squirrels to recreate Billy Mitchell's haircut?

Holy Double Retro Round-Up, Batman!

May 30, 2007 4:17 AM |

- Delighted to note that Jeremy Parish has returned with a double-sized Retro Round-Up over at 1UP, enumerating and dissecting the various Wii, Xbox 360, and various other retro console offerings made over the past fortnight or so.

Many bonus points for one of the most succinct, lyrical descriptions of Actraiser I've seen in a while, recommending it for Wii VC along the way: "Genuinely inventive video games are hard to come by -- and apparently they're a hard sell, too, seeing as Enix's ActRaiser never really got a true sequel. It was such a simple idea, too: take the nascent "god sim" genre, a la SimCity, make it fast-paced and action-packed (shooting down monsters who try to capture your villagers), and then bookend each chapter of the game with a Rastan-like platformer."

Parish also makes a good point (referencing Actraiser) on Square Enix's alleged Virtual Console recalcitrancy: "Hopefully this is an indication of the company's intentions for VC rather than that ridiculous official statement a few weeks back about how they don't want to confuse children about how to pay for games or whatever. Fine, hoard your Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest games to be rehashed into redundancy, but set free these great niche titles that you're never going to touch again. Downloadable content is the future. And the present, really. Of the past. Er, something like that." Amen to that.

Video Games Turn Forty, Party!

May 16, 2007 3:15 AM |

- Over at 1UP, former GSW columnist Benj Edwards has just had his 'Videogames Turn 40 Years Old' feature posted, and it's an awesomely well-researched look at the history of games, drawing on his interviews with pioneers such as Ralph Baer.

The intro itself is practically lyrical: "In 1967, a bold engineer with a vision led a small team to create the world's first electronic games to use an ordinary television set as a medium. Wary of naysayers from within, the video mavericks sequestered themselves behind closed doors, and for good reason: They worked under the payroll of Sanders Associates, a giant Cold War defense contractor. As hippies on the streets of San Francisco stuck flowers in the barrels of guns, three men in snowy New Hampshire crafted the future of electronic entertainment deep in the heart of a commercial war machine. In May of 1967, the world's first videogames -- as we know them today -- made their quiet, humble entrance into the world."

In addition, Benj has posted an in-depth interview with Baer's associate Bill Harrison over at VintageComputing.com, and it's more vitally important work into the genesis of games - "The inventions of [Baer and Harrison] and a third [man], Bill Rusch, would later appear commercially as the Magnavox Odyssey console in 1972." And this was the first time Harrison has ever been interviewed about his work, making it doubly important for historical reasons.

The Rarest Atari 2600 Games... Evah!

May 13, 2007 7:33 PM |

- Was poking around the excellent Atari Age the other day, for reasons I forget, and decided to use the site's search engine to look up the absolute rarest non-prototype Atari 2600 games they list (rated '10, Unbelievably Rare'). And there's some pretty interesting results, of which these are the highlights:

- Music Machine was "...only sold in religious bookstores. It’s based on a line of Music Machine products that also included LP’s sold by Sparrow. Some collectors claim to have purchased the 2600 game in a bundle with the album, but that has never been proven." The company who made it is still a major Christian music company, too.

- Video Life is perhaps even more rare, and "...was only available to owners of Magicard, making it perhaps the rarest of all 2600 games. It was only available directly from CommaVid, who sent a letter to owners of Magicard with an offer to purchase Video Life. We believe fewer than 500 copies of Video Life were produced and there are probably many fewer still floating about today. Video Life is a version of the classic computer-based life simulator in which you create an organism and watch it grow."

- Finally, of course, there's Pepsi Invaders - the first ever anti-advergame! "Coca-Cola commissioned a game from Atari to give to their Atlanta employees. In this case, Atari redesigned Space Invaders so that you shoot the letters "P E P S I" instead of space creatures. There were 125 copies of this game made. There is no real box for this one, just a flimsy Styrofoam shell. So it isn’t really a prototype, but it wasn’t a commercially available game either. And no, Coca-Cola does not have any copies left."