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Xbox 360

Xbox Live Arcade: The Coming (Minor) Storm

August 11, 2007 8:05 AM |

- Over at XBLArcade.com, they're keeping us way up to date with upcoming Xbox Live Arcade shenanigans, and firstly, they echo the recent XBLA 'coming soon' announcements, including "Ecco the Dolphin, Hexic 2, and War World all coming out this month", plus "...GEON: Emotions, Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords, [the pictured] Space Giraffe, Streets of Rage 2, and Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo HD Remix all arriving "in the coming weeks"."

The site has also linked to screenshots for a bunch of the titles, over at Xbox 360 Fanboy - probably one of the games that you will have seen the least of is pics of War World, developed by Australia's Third Wave Games, and a pretty interesting robot shooter.

Finally, XBLArcade points out a new ESRB rating for Screwjumper!, which may or may not be a Valusoft-published title by a small Wisconsin developer that was entered into the IGF last year, but which the team are going to some trouble to cover up now. But the Internet, she cannot erase everything! Anyhow, looking forward to Screwjumper!, 'whoever' it's by. [Ta to 1UP for previously referenced Space Giraffe pic!]

Opinion: XBLA Certification? Jeff Minter Has Had Enough! Fair?

August 1, 2007 8:04 AM |

- If you haven't been reading Jeff Minter's Livejournal recently (and you probably haven't, unless you like sheep gazing happily at a clearish blue sky!), then you won't have spotted his extended, increasingly manic posts about the complicated nature of Xbox 360 Live Arcade certification - which Space Giraffe is currently somewhere near the end of.

The Problem

Particularly notable is a recent post called 'Limbo part infinity', in which Minter takes us through the multiple stages of getting your game approved (Australian ratings were slowing things down, though that's now fixed!), and his partner Giles notes in the comments: "Even after months and months of all this 'crap' we still are in a phase where theoretically "things could still go wrong and get a rejection" so as you can imagine the situation here is well explosive."

Minter further complains: "Why this process isn't just handled in the one interactive phase I have no idea; all I can see is that it adds two more weeks of f*cked up stress to a process that has been more than drawn out and absolutely excruciating, and I really don't know what I'd do if they kicked us back; I think I'd be heading for nervous breakdown territory right there. I used to tell how final test on T2K for Atari was the most stressful thing I'd ever done in the biz. I now wholeheartedly rescind that. Final test at Atari was a holiday, it was a finite process with an end that occurred in just a few weeks."

Looking back to doublecheck how long it's been (pressure can warp the mind!), looks like it's been about 9 weeks thus far in the various post-'code complete' submission stages, which certainly feels like a good while for me for a submission which appears to have been reasonably clean thus far - as I recall (from my deep dark past in development), a single clean submission for the PlayStation 1 was multiples less than that.

In fact, the Microsoft blogger breakfast I attended at GDC discussed some of the frustrations back in March - but that was when content was flowing much less well. Actually, I don't think the approval process has got a lot easier, I just think the XBLA team shoving lots more content through the pipe and the point at which 'approval' starts is much earlier than normal.

The Factors

Here are the things (anecdotally) I believe are contributing to make XBLA cert take a good while:

- Multiple country ratings board approvals (I'd forgotten about this until Minter brought it up, but there's at least the [EDIT: Thanks to commenters for some updates here!] ESRB (America), the USK (Germany), PEGI (pan-European), CERO (in Japan) and the BBFC (England, if over a certain ratings threshold), and others. Each of these needs to individually rate an XBLA title, which is timeconsuming to do and co-ordinate.

- As I noted in the original GDC post (though I don't think this applies to Space Giraffe): "The significant amounts of network-specific testing needed end up taking large amounts of time, because there can be some significant bugs in there. This is something that the Small Arms team mentioned (in their IGS postmortem lecture) as particularly problematic for them, because you can have any combination of AI, same-machine, and online players jousting together in their game."

- In general, indie studios doing games don't always/often have their own in-depth testing facilities, unlike publishers. This presumably means that more pre-'submission' testing is being done directly with Microsoft, as opposed to the old style of game submission, where you made sure the game was completely clean before submitting.

- Localization and checking in multiple languages, both European and in many cases Japanese, can be a massive burden even for small games - both co-ordinating the translators on your end and checking the results with testers on the Microsoft end. This is particularly true for indie/self-published games, where you may be using volunteers or contractors for much of the localization specifics.

- The resettable nature of the final submission process: as Jamie Fristrom mentions when discussing upcoming XBLA title Schizoid: "Coming up later is the certification or TRC - the "technical requirements checklist" - all the console manufacturers do this. And games that have network play have much more elaborate requirements than ones that don't. It takes two weeks to get through cert - and if you fail, it resets. You have to take another two weeks." This isn't that different to conventional TRC standards from Microsoft, Sony, Nintendo, though.

So, I seem to remember Chris Satchell pointing the finger just a little bit at developers too at the GDC blogger roundtables, and I was a bit skeptical. But now I note, for example, NinjaBee's Steve Taylor commenting on Band Of Bugs: "To take some responsibility for this (as opposed to claiming it's Microsoft's fault): we certainly thought we were closer to done than we really were. I have to say that including a level editor has not made the final stages very easy!" So there you have it - go light on the Microsoft tarring and feathering, eh?

I believe (and again, please correct me, if it's allowed under NDAs) that part of submitting an Xbox Live Arcade game involves a certain amount of mandatory Microsoft-overseen game testing that you must pay for as the title's developer. Therefore, most indies are likely to leave the majority of their external testing (besides unpaid beta testers, etc) to this part of the project, for obvious cost reasons.

In addition, as we've seen, XBLA developers often announce when their game has _entered_ the final cert/testing phase, and since people are preconditioned to think of this as a 'going gold' type event, they will tend to presume they'll see the game on XBLA 2-4 weeks later. When it's actually more like 8-12 weeks, because there's maybe 2-3 weeks of testing, and then the ratings submission paperwork, then some overlap while all the ratings are grabbed, and THEN a 2 week submission process which can be failed and restarted.

Conclusion

So... six of one and half a dozen of the other - and it's the radical transparency which is really an issue in some ways, alongside the often necessary rigors (and yes, sometimes irksome bureaucracy!) of launching a game worldwide. Of course, this is all a major reason for XBLA indies to sign up with a publisher, and pay them to deal with all the submission, ratings, and localization stress.

But at that point, a lot of the indie advantages in terms of actually getting paid competitively are lost. *sigh*. Someone should set up a not-for-profit service bureau to help all those poor XBLA self-publishers not lose their mind, really. Still, let's all look at Katamari Ramacy 'til we feel better, eh?

OXM Digital To Vault Onto Xbox Live

July 26, 2007 12:04 AM |

- So, we at GSW just got delivered the September 2007 issue of Future's Official Xbox Magazine, and sure, there's a Beautiful Katamari demo on the cover-disc, but the big, major, extremely significant news is in Francesca Reyes' Letter From The Editor for the month.

Remember when our own Kevin Gifford suggested that Nintendo Power get its own Wii Channel? Well, that hasn't happened for the Wii, but Reyes reveals something rather similar for the Xbox 360: "Sometime late this month (July) we're kicking off a project on Xbox Live Marketplace called OXM Digital... Think of it as a digital digest of our mag, but with lots of exclusive interactive content, including gamer pics, themes, videos, galleries... stuff we can't do in print."

But there's more, and I suspect this bit will be the most interesting and controversial element: "And yes, OXM Digital also sports exclusive demos. Yes, demos." Reyes goes on: "Its cost? A pithy 200 Microsoft Points ($2.50)." There's lots more info about it from Senior Editor Dan Amrich in an Xbox.com forum post (scroll down), and he explains of the concept that there will be exclusive demos alongside the videos, themes, gamer pictures, etc:

"If you're a disc person, you get your disc as you always have, and the demo in question will be on there. If you are a Marketplace person, you get your download. It's whichever version works better for you, but you don't have to miss out when we get exclusive demos like Katamari Damacy or Eternal Sonata or whatever. (Corporate hat on: I cannot confirm any specific demos that will appear in OXM Digital at this time. OXMD #1 is close to release but not there yet.)"

[In the mag, Reyes goes on to explain what the OXM Digital deal means for print subscribers: "But as a reader of OXM, you're already paying money for the magazine and the disc, right? Well fear not: You'll still receive all those demos we run on OXM Digital on the disc. So if you're not on Live or choose not to use your MS Points on OXM Digital (though the suits upstairs will probably kill me for saying that) we'll still take care of you with the OXM disc."]

So what of this? I quite like the idea of having more 'exclusive' gamer pictures, etc - I've been using the Beautiful Katamari one that I unlocked off a previous OXM disc for a little while now. And compiling Future's professionally done videos, themes, and screenshot galleries for a not gigantic fee all seems reasonably sensible.

But I'm pretty sure the concept of exclusive retail game demos which even Xbox Live Gold members have to pay for - despite the fact that they're online somewhere - is going to cause a fair bit of ruckus. Still, it depends - if they were demos of titles that you wouldn't see in the U.S. otherwise (which OXM has done before with the Zegapain games) - or maybe even XNA titles (I seem to remember Sony did a similar limited-distribution thing with Yaroze games on discs in the past) then it might be more palatable - just hypothesizing here, though!

[UPDATE: The inevitable NeoGAF thread about this is actually rather positive, and Ryan from OXM pops in as well, noting: "Anyway, glad to hear most of you guys are optimistic about this. Yes, we'll have exclusive demos attached to OXMD (whether they or timed or not will be sorted out on a case-by-case basis, but odds are they'll be timed exclusives just as they've been on the OXM disc), but we're actually pretty excited about the "magazine" content as well. It's got embedded HD video on every page (in HD), themes and gamer pics for download, etc."

He adds: "In fact, my favorite part of issue #1 is the video version of our July issue's Gears of War "Epic Journey" feature, where we accompanied and filmed the Nightmare Armor Studios guys as they drove to Epic to surprise Mark Rein, CliffyB, and co. with the first replica Gears armor. If/when you download it after it goes up, that feature will be the kind of thing we'll be aiming for on a regular basis."]

IGF Finalist Switchball Bounds Out Of Gates, To XBLA?

July 4, 2007 4:01 PM |

- Thanks to GSW reader Joachim Froholt for tipping us the wink that previous IGF finalist "...Switchball has finally been released for the PC." He references the blurb for the Marble Blast vs. Marble Madness-ish title from Swedish developers Atomic Elbow:

"Today Atomic Elbow's first title Switchball was Released! The game is now available for download. The game won the Swedish Game Awards 2005 and has been nominated for IGF 2006 in the technical excellence class. We hope you enjoy playing the game as much as we've enjoyed developing it since the project started in tiny Kramfors 2004."

And indeed, the PC version is published by Sierra Online, and our tipster points out, from an XBLArcade.com post, that the game has been rated for Xbox 360 by the German USK ratings board, and thus, an XBLA version seems very likely - esp. because Sierra has picked up a bunch of Xbox Live Arcade titles from independent developers recently (and "the PC-version has Xbox-like achievements").

Froholt concludes: "This game is really awesome, with some of the most gorgeous graphics I've ever seen [YouTube PC trailer] and great physics. It's not getting any publicity, though (kind of typical with PC-releases, sadly, the moment it's announced for the XBLA everyone will probably start talking about it)". He's right, sadly, but honestly, XBLA is such a great congregation point for easy download and play on your TV of games like this, which aren't particularly suited for mouse and keyboard. Still, we're talking about the PC version now! Kinda!

Pac-Man CE, XBLA Leaderboards, & Polite Asian Gamers

June 30, 2007 4:01 PM |

- So, I've been playing some more of the absolutely marvellous Pac-Man Championship Edition, which is possibly my favorite classic arcade remake ever, thanks to some really well thought-out extra maps and modes and cleverly enhanced art.

Anyhow, I ventured onto the leaderboard to find out that a gamer named 'Cosin45' had scored 619,790 in the 'main' mode that the Pac-Man World Champion was decided on, way above the 420,000-ish for the other contenders. Odd - so I checked out the guy's profile, and his description, it turns out, is 'UnintendedCEScorByBug'. Aww.

So it turns out that Japanese X360-owning Cosin45 must have accidentally triggered a bug that whacked his score up really high (though he's obviously a good player too - he's got 200/200 Achievement points for the title). Looking around, there's a thread on the Twin Galaxies forums discussing this exact piece of cuteness - and poster PERodgers2003 also spotted: "Yesterday, it read something to the effect that he achieved that score on the Extra 3 mode. I hope MS can remove that score without clearing the entire leaderboard!" I know some Microsoft folks read GSW - any chance of tweaking the bugged-up score, btw?

I just thought this was a great study in how nice/polite most gamers actually are, as well as communication by unexpected means. Cosin45 correctly guessed that most people would be checking his profile because of the Pac-Man CE high score, and gave them updates on it by switching out his description text multiple times. Neat.

[And while you're reading, Zotmeister has a lengthy description of why Pac-Man CE rocks on the Twin Galaxies forum, starting: "It is to the original Pac-Man what the Tetris the Grand Master series is to the early Tetris games", and going into plenty more detail about the nuances of the switched-up, almost delicate, still high score-centric gameplay.]

GameSetPics: Wing Commander Arena's 'StarSoldier' Magazine

June 26, 2007 4:00 AM |

Like us here at GSW, Mr. Crecente over at Kotaku got hold of StarSoldier Magazine, January 2701 issue - apparently beamed from the future by Electronic Arts, who are advertising the upcoming Xbox Live Arcade multiplayer shooter Wing Commander Arena with this promotional device, sent to the press today.

But the swarthy piratical cove ended up scanning in some the instruction and info pages, so I thought I'd go in another direction and feature some of the odder pages in the 60-page mag, which was obviously compiled by someone with a hardcore love for Wing Commander lore - way beyond my limited knowledge. Seriously.

So here goes (click through for bigger scan, and there are lots more neat pages I didn't have time to scan, sorry folks):

The cover of the magazine - this isn't just an instruction manual.

This one I know! Tom 'Biff' Wilson grins from the cover of 'Maniac' Marshall's autobiography.

Douglas Aerospace are important Wing Commander spaceship builders - hence the ad.

Ah, classifieds, and all kinds of insanely obscure Wing Commander references.

The back cover of the mag, and the Privateer protagonist is still in trouble!

While initial buzz on Wing Commander Arena was mixed, partly thanks to it being a reimagining of the series as a 2D multiplayer shooter - when a lot of fans were burning for something in 3D, of course - it's really great to see documents like this going above and beyond in making the world real. Let's hope the game matches the attention to detail shown here!

[UPDATE: The nice folks at Wing Commander News have a massive thread about these scans which explains a lot of the Wing Commander canon references far better than I am able, not having a PhD on the subject. And they're rather excited, yay.]

Natsume To Debut Omega Five On XBLA

June 11, 2007 3:10 AM |

x.jpg Not quite sure how this one made it onto the Internet in such a roundabout way, but XBLArcade points to information on Natsume-developed XBLA shooter Omega Five, which has a bunch of screenshots available over at French site Xbox Gazette.

As XBLArcade notes of the Xbox 360 downloadable title, allegedly due later this year: "It seems to be a side-scrolling 2D style shooter but with 3D elements. Machine translation of the page is pretty rough, but apparently the hook of the game will be enemies emerging from the 3D background and not just from the top and bottom of the screen like most side-scrolling shooters." Looks like it's being published by Hudson, who are shortly bringing us Bomberman Live, of course.

Over at the ever-hardcore Shmups forum, they've greeted the title with mild interest, with Necronom lamenting: "I must say I'm dissapointed with XBLA lately. Minter's Space Giraffe and the next Mutant Storm are cool and all but still no word about Ikaruga, Raiden IV or a new Geometry Wars. At the same time PSN gets stuff like R-Type Delta and Super Stardust HD - definitely less titles but the ones that are available are high quality stuff already."

[At this point, I got confused about the R-Type Delta reference, and then found out it's available on the Japanese PSN store for download to the PS3/PSP, though you have to go through all kinds of complex machinations to get a valid credit-card payment system/address to buy things from it. C'mon, Sony, get your Western store updated with some more interesting games like R-Type Delta!]

Rooster Teeth Sez: Call 1-800-Magic Today!

June 7, 2007 4:51 PM |

x.jpg One of the things I've starting to find, just posting 5 times per day on GameSetWatch in my 'leisure time', is that other eager blogs are hours ahead on some of the fun stuff I want to post.

But oh well - I'm presuming you guys come here for the 'quality', not the 'quantity', so I'll spit it out anyhow - a new Microsoft PR reveals: "Our friends at Rooster Teeth have put together their own informational video and support line for “Shadowrun,” which can be seen at Shadowrun.com, Xbox Live Marketplace, Xbox.com and http://www.1-800-MAGIC.com/

That's right, the folks who created Red Vs. Blue are back, and I have to say that their other promotional machinima series (for The Sims 2 and F.E.A.R. respectively) have been pretty darn great, but not that buzzed about outside their (gigantic and rather neat) community. So I'll be interested to see how this one - which starts with an awesome tech support problem with a jammed gun - goes down.

Looks like Rooster Teeth's page for the series is down right now [4pm PST], but you can check it out on Shadowrun.com, which has some kind of age entry attached to it, or - and possibly easier - embedded in this Kotaku post. Like Mega64, this feels natural to me, even when tangentially advertising a product - so let's have more advertising like it.

Viva Pinata: Crime Of A Mache Nation

June 5, 2007 7:05 PM |

x.jpg Causing more havoc than a meandering bull elephant, Eric-Jon Waugh has returned to sister site Game Career Guide with his design analysis column aimed at students, and this time he's semi-demolishing Rare's Xbox 360 exclusive Viva Pinata, a game you may remember I quite like, in a piece called 'Crime of a Mâché Nation: The Condescension of Viva Piñata'.

And it's spellbinding writing, imho, as he doesn't just get mad, he gets even: "Viva Piñata was supposed to be Microsoft's mainstream breakthrough and Rare's return to form after years of... well, Star Fox Adventures. More than that, it was supposed to be the game that showed why Microsoft paid so much money for Rare, almost five years ago now. The problem is, the game wasn't really meant to carry all this weight. At its core, this is a modest, intimate, and difficult game - difficult in the sense that, despite its charm, it's more exclusive than it is inclusive."

Well, maybe that's just some opening snark. How about the ending paragraph, about 3000 words later? Surely that's a little more pleasant? Let's see... "So what have we learned today? One: stop sucking Shigeru Miyamoto's toes. Two: don't talk down to children. Three: never waste your audience's time." Youch. These are the words of a man grievously wronged by adorable fur-shaded mascots.

The Halo 3 Beta Is Your Kind Of Poison, Statisticians!

June 3, 2007 4:28 AM |

perplex.jpg No doubt a lot of you have been sampling the Halo 3 Beta at some point over the last couple of weeks, but Pitchfork and Onion A.V. Club game writer Chris Dahlen points out something smart on his Save The Robot blog - the gameplay is fine, but it's the Internet-posted stat aggregation on Bungie.net that's almost more exciting to him.

Dahlen notes that "...the thing that fascinates me most about it aren’t the new controls or the grav lift or the high-def graphics, but the fact that every statistic from every match I’ve ever played can be found at the Bungie site."

Indeed, it's almost freakish that a random game I played a few weeks back is captured in detail, even down to average life and 'best spree' stats - and yes, I'm really not very good at the game, so enough snickering from the peanut gallery. But my goodness (or not) is available for perusal in perpetuity. And Bungie.net is just where the statistics rabbithole starts, my friend.

In particular, the unofficial Stats Reloaded has executed some even more hardcore Halo 3 stats crunching, with the help of the information made available by Microsoft to any third-party web app who wants it - look at the mass of data available for 'ChipGM', the current top player on the Statsreloaded leaderboards, for example. Blimey.