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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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Xbox 360

GameSetInterview: Play Dough: On Creating XBLA’s First Claymation Videogame.

December 13, 2008 4:00 PM |

[Who doesn't love Claymation? Only curmudgeons and illiterates, we think, and Simon Parkin was kind enough to sit down with Platypus creator Anthony Flack and the Tuna Technologies folks, who are doing things right by building Cletus Clay for Xbox Live Arcade and PC.]

As if creating a Metal Slug-style side-scrolling shooter starring a loudmouth hillbilly weren’t enough to distinguish his Xbox Live Arcade game from the crowd, Anthony Flack, Cletus Clay’s designer and animator, decided to build all of the game’s assets using clay.

It’s a painstaking process, crafting and posing every character, background object and frame of animation by hand. And the development has not made any easier by the fact that Flack is based in New Zealand on the other side of the world to the rest of his development team, the Sheffield-based Tuna Technologies.

GameSetWatch spoke to Anthony Flack, the game’s creator, Alex Amsel, managing Director of Tuna Technologies and Sarah Quick, one of the game’s artists, to find out how they’ve gone about this extraordinary undertaking and whether all of the painstaking effort’s been worth it.

Simon Parkin: Which came first, the game idea or the decision to make a claymation game?

Anthony Flack: I have pretty much committed myself to keep making claymation games until I feel that I’ve done it as well as I possibly could, and that’s an ambition that predates this particular game.

But actually, in this instance there was also a little game I made on the Amstrad CPC sometime in the late 80s that had an old farmer with a shotgun in it. He was going to be blasting aliens, but it was one of those half-hearted early efforts where you don’t get much further than making the main character jump around on a testbed. For some reason he came to mind again years later when I was deciding what game to do next.

Exclusive: The Xbox 360 Charity Bundle That Time Forgot

October 17, 2008 8:00 AM |

[Long-time GSW friend Joel Reed Parker from Game Of The Blog will pop in from time to time to comment for us, and this one is worth pointing out because it's about a charity game pack that has been woefully underpromoted.]

I recently picked up an Xbox 360, mainly due to the recent price drop, and also because it’s been out long enough that there are enough cheap games. X-Men: the Official Game used for $4.99? Jumper: Griffin’s Story for only 10 bucks new? I’m sold!

While searching around for other great buys, I remembered last year’s ESA Holiday Bundle, with 3 games for 30 bucks. As described by the Best Buy website, it “contains three amusing game titles: Cars, Fuzion Frenzy 2 and Open Season” and mentions that “each game provides fun challenges for players of varying skills and preferences .“

For some reason, I contacted Dan Hewitt at the ESA to see if there would be another one this year. Unfortunately, I got this response: “Joel, thanks for writing…because it is such a commitment from the ESA, publishers and participating retailers, we only sell the game pack every two years. Thus, it won't be on store shelves this holiday season.”

He also sent me a link to a press release that points out that last year’s bundle raised 2.6 million dollars for various ESA Foundation children’s charities.

Ingrained mentally to the prospect of a bundle-less holiday season, I was of course surprised to see a banner on Xbox Live promoting a “Family Game Pack”, a new Xbox 360 game bundle, this time benefiting Children’s Miracle Network (take that, ESA Foundation!).

N+ Launch Party: Toronto Developers Gone Wild

February 16, 2008 12:00 AM |

[We sent Games On Deck editor, IGF Mobile co-ordinator and Gamasutra contributor Mathew Kumar to cover the N+ for Xbox Live Arcade 'almost launch party' in his adopted hometown of Toronto, Canadia (that's how you spell it, right?) This was the torrid but awesome result.]

2008_02_15_1.jpg
N(ipples)+ Everyday Hooters

So a few weeks ago, roughly seconds after I got an invite to Metanet Software's N+ launch party at the Gladstone Hotel (which I immediately promised to go to, as I missed an earlier PR event arranged by Microsoft) I received both an IM from Simon Carless (our benevolent overlord) and an e-mail from Brandon Sheffield (Insert Credit’s not-even-vaguely benevolent overlord) asking me to go and cover it.

In what capacity, I wondered?

“I don’t know,” was the response (from one or the other) “Just write 300 words or something on it.”

So, without much of an assignment I just decided to be as sensationalistic as possible (even though GamesetWatch doesn’t pay for hits). As you’ll notice from the picture above, the N+ launch party was a night of wild debauchery! I won’t reveal the identities of the developers caught in the act of flashing us even though we asked (nay, begged) them not to, but the caption should give you some hints.

ESA Foundation Whips Up Xbox 360 Triple-Pack

November 5, 2007 12:01 AM |

- Perusing the Circuit City ad in the Sunday papers today (see, print's not dead!), I spotted a strange 3-pack of games for the Xbox 360, bundled together for just $30 - and decided to do some more investigation.

And - lo and behold, as displayed on Amazon - it's the new ESA Foundation charity bundle, with Cars, Open Season, and Fuzion Frenzy 2 for the Xbox 360 all for just $29.99, and the proceeds going to charity. Very cool. I Googled around a bit, and one or two obscure sites mentioned this a few weeks ago, but there doesn't seem to have been a press release or publicity on it yet - odd.

In any case, here's a release on the last compilation, which bundled Sony's ATV Offroad Fury 2, THQ's Splashdown: Rides Gone Wild, and EA's Need for Speed Hot Pursuit 2 for the PS2 at a $19.99 price point, and raised more than $1.5 million for charity through its North American sales in 2005 and 2006.

This time, it's THQ (Cars), Ubisoft (Open Season), and Hudson/Microsoft (Fuzion Frenzy 2) who have contributed their titles, presumably with permission from the license holders for those first two movies, and they should be applauded for offering their games up for such a good cause. (Also, being one of the few people who played through Fuzion Frenzy 2 in a bit of a masochistic, uh, frenzy, I can say that it's actually kind of fun, if you're focused on Achievements ahead of gameplay, or playing with an in-person, slightly tipsy crowd.)

The 2007 ESA Foundation beneficiaries (whom I presume are benefited by this) include Hopelab, the Federation Of American Scientists, and Web Wise Kids. It's interesting that, in addition to traditional charities, some of the grants this year are specifically related to distributing 'serious games' - both Re-Mission and Immune Attack, which educate and counsel on health-related issues. That's a smart way to help the game industry improve its image and help people at the same time, no?

Every Extend Extra Extreme... Exposed?

October 21, 2007 8:05 AM |

- The sheer diversity and attraction of titles available on Xbox Live Arcade has meant I now own 60 XBLA titles, at this point, yikes. This week saw a really interesting downloadable title from Q? Entertainment, Every Extend Extra Extreme, and The-Inbetween has a detailed, thoughtful overview of the game, which is a remixed remix (!) of Omega's dojin shooter Every Extend.

Most interestingly, the title's gameplay differs majorly from the PSP remix of the title: "Every Extend Extra Extreme takes that original game down another direction altogether. The main “unlimited” game has no tiered levels or bosses, but single stages distinguished by visual theme and music. It has that old two minute time limit but this time it throws enough “time extend” items your way to perpetually increase the game’s duration into the hours-long range."

It's concluded: "Unlike Lumines, the music here isn’t just for ambiance and atmosphere. It is integrated into the gameplay which reacts (loosely) based on the track’s BPM and rewards the player for playing along to the beat... Above all, Every Extend Extra Extreme feels to be the closest realization of that Kandinsky-inspired experience that Mizuguchi has been trying to create since Project-K(andinsky), aka. Rez." (N0wak has also done some fun long-exposure photos as part of his impressions.)

Of course, as with a number of Q? Entertainment games - for example Meteos - Miz is more 'curator' of the concept than author. But like any good label, it feels in keeping with the brand, and most of all, E4 feels complex, fully featured, and well thought-out. Also, it has insanely, ridiculously big high scores as a key part of gameplay- thumbs up!

[UPDATE: Interesting comment by Nelson, disagreeing (perhaps correctly!) with my initially happy take: "I wanted to like this game, I really did. It's kinda cool and flashy, but the gameplay is terribly unbalanced. The unlimited game is entirely repetitive; it doesn't really get any harder. There's no challenge to playing it, either, you just hit the "explode" button before your shield runs out. No dodging, no aiming. The original Every Extend was much more subtle. The shooting game R4 is a little better, but also hugely repetitive."]

Game Development: The Copper Bullet List

October 20, 2007 8:04 AM |

- Over at the descriptively named GameDevBlog, Torpex Games' Jamie Fristrom (he who is doing Schizoid for Xbox Live Arcade) has posted something called 'The Copper Bullet List' in his 'Manager In A Strange Land' series, and it's basically, uhh, a cheat sheet for making high quality video games if you're a developer, somewhat based on The Joel Test.

And top of the list, unsurprisingly, is: "The key to a succesful team: people, people, people. Try to work with people who are better than you. There's a large body of literature on how to do this - too much to go into here. But what's usually worked for us has often bordered on nepotism, working with friends and friends of friends - friends whom we know are very smart and talented." Even working in game media, as I appear to do, I agree wholeheartedly with this comment.

There are plenty of other good ones, but staying with the floaty-smart ones that will fit in one paragraph: "Keep communication open; try to involve everyone in decisions. Sometimes you'll get a lead who'll say "You went around me!" or "You went over my head!" when two others on the team talk without consulting them first - they'll want to implement a chain-of-command and make sure they're always passing messages, the hub of a game of post office. This is an attitude that must stop. People on the team need to talk, and leads should only get upset when one of their guys actually go off task for someone else without permission."

GameSetExpose: The Peculiar Success Of 'Two Worlds'

September 18, 2007 12:10 AM |

- Well, not so much as an expose as some brief doodlings from someone who doesn't particularly play the genre, perhaps, but I wanted to pick up on a particularly interesting entry in the recent NPD game charts for August in North America - specifically, Xbox 360 RPG Two Worlds, published by Southpeak, making it all the way to #13 in the all-formats countdown.

To say Two Worlds, which is a first-person/third-person title developed by Polish studio Reality Pump, is a surprise on the charts would be an understatement - with a minor publisher and relatively little overt buzz from at least my point of view, I'm not sure anyone would have guessed it'd show up in the Top 20.

But here's a great hint as to why, from the first line of the gameplay description on Wikipedia: "Two Worlds is a three-dimensional role-playing game which has often been compared to The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion." And indeed, if you Google for 'Oblivion' and 'Two Worlds', you'll see a whole heap of previews, articles, and opinions comparing the two games. It appears that Oblivion has created a whole mess of latent demand for firstish-person, open-world RPGs that even the game's expansion packs couldn't satisfy - hence fans latching onto Two Worlds.

Indeed, here in the CMP Game Group, our sales admin Gregg Silberman mentioned to me that he pre-ordered the Collector's Edition of Two Worlds (again, remind you of anything?), before cancelling when he heard that the gameplay was a tad more hack and slash than Oblivion. And indeed, critics aren't spectacularly happy with Two Worlds on the Xbox 360, with an average of 52% on Metacritic.

But that doesn't necessarily matter if there are semi-insatiable Oblivion fans out there, quite happy to start long threads comparing their favorite Bethesda-authored game series to Two Worlds. Difficult to say the exact sales for Two Worlds as a result, but it's certainly broken 100,000 on Xbox 360 by now in the States (probably edging 150,000?), and it's already topped the charts in Germany, where the PC version is also well-received.

Mind you, one of the oddest things about the surprise U.S. success of the game is that I suspect Oblivion wasn't necessarily the primary influencer in the game's development - the open-ended Gothic series seems to be one of the most influential European PC RPG series in recent years, and other people have picked up on the Gothic 3 comparison. On that front, imagine how well Gothic 3 might have done in the U.S. if they'd sorted out an Xbox 360 version?

Sounds like Gothic 4 might be coming to the Xbox 360, depending on your definition of 'current-gen' - but maybe the Oblivion geeks will have had their fill of debatably buggy Continental European open-world games by then, hm. However, Two Worlds is slightly poisoning the drinking water for everyone right now, one fears. And not saying Gothic is the premiere open-world daddy here - that title itself might well have been influenced by Daggerfall and heck, you get the general idea.

[Incidentally, I was going to go check out sales numbers on VGChartz.com, but then discovered it's the first site I've ever seen to be tagged as having malware by Google - awesome! I went and checked anyhow, and they're estimating 256,606 sales in North America so far - which I think is a bit high, but gives you the general idea.]

Inside The Space Giraffe/Ulysses Crossover

September 1, 2007 4:01 PM |

- Having just debuted his Independent Games Summit lecture video, I had a chance to go check out Jonathan Blow's blog, and there-in he has a very interesting post on Space Giraffe, dealing with the minor critical dust-up currently going on over whether Jeff Minter's new XBLA game is, uhh, any good or not - and suggesting: "Dare I say that Space Giraffe is something like the arcade game analogue of Ulysses? Is that controversial enough?"

Blow notes: "The first time I saw Space Giraffe, I didn’t realize it was an excellent game. Jeff Minter was showing it off at the Game Developer’s Conference, and it looked just like Tempest, except you could push guys off the top of the web sometimes. And Jeff kept saying it wasn’t Tempest. But he was not sufficiently able to communicate to the audience why the game was interesting."

He then explains that his opinion of the game started middling, but ratcheted up super-high: "As you proceed through the levels, the enemies not only get more numerous, faster, and more devious, but the game also pushes you deeper into the land of warped perception, and then demands that you see through that. Well, often you can’t. At first. And then you start to see the patterns, and then you break through, and then you are sailing through this batch of levels, dancing the whole time. This game is about expanding your perception. It demands that you learn to see."

My own views? I am obviously pre-identified as a Minter fan, having set up his GDC appearance in the first place. Overall, I've been enjoying Space Giraffe. I haven't played the game quite enough yet to know for _sure_ (only have the one Achievement), but my main observations are that:

- The obfuscation in terms of so much blurred craziness happening onscreen is perverse but addictive - some of the key gameplay cues could stand out a lot better. Yes, it's intentional. But it's a bold, alienating move. I think the basic game itself is harder to grok than most other Minter titles I've played, especially with the enemy-pushing angle being so key. Yet I love it, and I'm going to play it a _LOT_ more.

- I personally think the game should have launched at 800 points ($10), not 400 ($5), because its appeal is definitely hardcore gamer-specific. I'm a little concerned, looking at the high-score tables so far, that the same XX,000 people would have paid twice as much for it - and the pricing structure should have been set up a bit more like the Japanese super-niche dating titles, which deliberately price higher for a limited audience. Just my 2c.

Anyhow, Minter has spotted the Jonathan Blow post, too, and his reaction is, well, cute: "I think at this point it's all beyond me now. We've been hated and loved for it, it's the best game ever and absolute rubbish, we are great, we are evil, we're the future and the past, we are masters, we're incompetent, we are ERROR_SUCCESS and ERROR_ERROR. At least we provoked a response. I think that's good. I feel like I'm Schrodinger's cat." Meow.

Inside The Short (Bus) Gaming Revolution!

August 19, 2007 8:04 AM |

- Two of the higher-profile individual bloggers in the game biz are Newsweek's N'Gai Croal and MTV News' Stephen Totilo, of course, and their 'Vs. Mode' chat this week is full of the kind of pontification that GSW is particularly interested in - the future of 'short-session gaming'.

There is, of course, a Round 2, a Round 3, and a Round 4 to get through as well, because these guys can _talk_, but there's plenty of stuff in here that I substantially believe, especially this Totilo comment: "I like the idea that every couple of days there is a new game for me to play on the 360 or PS3 that I can download in the blink of an eye, have embedded in an easy-to-navigate menu of games, and that I can sample and judge whether I like it in just a few minutes. I feel that this is a more exciting way to be a gamer."

In addition, the dichotomy between short game styles that we love is dissected by Totilo: "As I began to think about the short games I’ve been enjoying, they all fit neatly into one of two categories. Twitch: “Meteos,” “Lumines,” “Pac-Man CE,” “Everyday Shooter,” and others all play out in rapid-fire bursts. They may start slowly in order to settle the player in, but soon enough they’re running at 100 mph. Thinking: “Picross DS,” even in its nerve-wracking multi-player mode is a thinking game and requires a sense of controlled, considered manipulation of the game." Good stuff.

Opinion: Guitar Hero '80s Is Harmonix's 'Metal Machine Music'?

August 12, 2007 8:01 AM |

- Well, OK, it's not that crazy, but I'm surprised that more people haven't been talking about the fact that Guitar Hero Encore: Rocks The '80s is totally Harmonix's contractual obligation game, following the Boston developer's split from original GH publisher RedOctane/Activision.

Really, the absolute minimum has been done to improve Guitar Hero '80s, as Wikipedia notes: "Venues from Guitar Hero II (with the exception of RedOctane Club and Stonehenge, which do not appear) have been redesigned with an 80s influence, and the interface mimics Guitar Hero II's, only with color changes (no "new" graphics were developed as far as the interface)." [Although there is an X-ed out PMRC stenciled on the gravestones in one of the levels - nice Tipper Gore reference, folks!]

In addition, there are zero (no!) bonus tracks and 30 total songs in Guitar Hero '80s, compared to 48 normal and 26 lovingly picked bonus songs in the Xbox 360 version of Guitar Hero II, often by local Boston-area bands and other cult/niche artists, many of which are actually Harmonix employees.

Of course, everyone reviewing the game has picked up on this general limpness, with mixed reviews complaining about the barebones nature of the release. I think some are thinking that this is Activision's laziness solely. But how easy would it have been to add a modicum of bonus tracks, maybe some '80s-themed axes, and change out the art for the stadiums? Really easy.

And why didn't that happen? Because, I would hazard a guess, Harmonix had already been acquired by MTV, and has been completing Guitar Hero '80s as a final contractual obligation, while simultaneously working on Rock Band. Does the Harmonix/RedOctane contract mention bonus songs or from-scratch venues or GUI? Nope. Why would they help a franchise that they largely created, but whose IP has been assumed by their publisher, who is no longer working with them on the next-gen version?

- So Harmonix did a good-enough job - it's certainly not as 'f*ck-you' as Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music, an entire double-disc LP of guitar feedback released in 1974 as his final RCA album: "Despite Reed's artistic seriousness, his decision to release Metal Machine Music as a begrudging rejoinder to his contractual obligations with RCA may be confirmed by the final sentence of Reed's liner notes which reads 'My week beats your year.' The sentence would suggest that the time Reed took to produce his recording defeated the commercial demands of his yearly contract." But GH '80s is also not what it could be - and partly on purpose, I reckon.

Now, having said all of this, me and my wife are enjoying playing Guitar Hero '80s for the random cheesed-out songs that we _do_ know. For one, it's nice to see Swiss rawk band Krokus in there (even if it's covering Sweet's distinctly '70s Ballroom Blitz), since it enables me to chant 'K-R-O-K-U-S, Krokus know my home address....' in a Half Man Half Biscuit stylee (it's a lyric from This Leaden Pall.)

But another unspoken lesson from this is - developers, be very careful about who owns your IP (also see Pandemic, THQ, and Destroy All Humans!). In fact, there's been some attempt from Activision recently to insist that RedOctane, whom they bought for $100 million-ish, aren't just useful to them because they signed the deal with Harmonix to own the Guitar Hero IP - they were/are also key to the creative success of the franchise.

Do I believe that? Not really. RedOctane hasn't had a particularly distinguished past before Guitar Hero, launching an early game rental service which had, anecdotally, absolutely terrible customer service, and doing some decent-quality DDR pads before hooking up with, uhh, the subsequently Konami-sued Roxor Games, among others, for some relatively pedestrian work. But who knows? They could have driven the heart of the franchise behind closed doors.

I still think Harmonix is the collective which made Guitar Hero what it is, though, and it must be tremendously frustrating to see your work shunted off in another direction (even if Neversoft are worthy people to take up the baton, in many ways.) Webcomic Penny Arcade is obviously fixated on this battle, as well, and Slipgate Ironworks producer 'Mystyphy' has some v.interesting industry-centric feedback on the matter, too: "As far as ATVI and the GH franchise, they should be afraid of Harmonix, MTV and EA. Typically when you spend over a hundred million dollars for an IP, you should also get the guys that made it. It was a massive business blunder to think that buying the GH name and publisher would be better than getting the developer." [Ah, and game developer Damion Schubert also asks 'Has Guitar Hero Lost Its Way?']

Well, it's probably not a massive blunder yet - the Guitar Hero franchise is still selling hundreds of thousands of its earlier iterations. But it's good to see that the original creators still have a lot of the power, here, due to strong alliances with MTV and Electronic Arts. And Harmonix's purchase price ($175 million) values the IP-less developer ahead of the IP itself. Now that's karma, eh?