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December 17, 2005

MIT Gets A Mario Hack

mitbanner.jpg Via normalroach, we have pictures of a Mario-related hack perpetrated at MIT this week, a smaller version of a hack in the grand tradition of previous hacks that have included the Vannavar Shrubbery room, 'One Ring To Rule The Dome', and even an R2D2 dome hack.

This time round, there were Mario characters dotted all the way round 'Little Dome', vines, chasms, a pipe spewing out Mario, and even a scientific Mario high score table. And, as the documentee notes: "Unfortunately, one of the coolest parts of the hack was impossible to capture with a photograph. As I walked into Lobby 7, camera in hand, ready to document the hell out of MITMarioWorld, I was met with...music. The Mario theme was resonating throughout Lobby 7." Fun, half-baked stuff.

Tennis For Two, Anyone?

tennis.jpg Ron 'Grumpy Gamer' Gilbert points to a Brookhaven National Laboratory page entitled 'The First Video Game', which documents "employee William Higinbotham, speculating that he may have invented the first video game, with his tennis game of 1958." Indeed, Wikipedia has an entry for Higinbotham's pre-Magnavox patent 'Tennis For Two', devised to run on an oscilloscope after the scientist considered that "...it might liven up the place to have a game that people could play, and which would convey the message that our scientific endeavors have relevance for society."

In fact, according to the webpage: "Tennis For Two was part of the division's exhibit for two years, and it turned out to be a real crowd pleaser. The oscilloscope display in 1958 was only five inches in diameter. The next year saw some improvements: a bigger tube ten or 15 inches in diameter was used, and players had a choice of tennis on the moon, with low gravity, or on Jupiter, with high gravity."

So, even in 1959, gamers had to be upgrading their TV sets and playing sequels, huh? For those interested in trying it out, there's even a Tennis For Two Simulator available.

Robotron Comes To X360 Live, Twitch Gamers Rejoice

robo.jpg Over at his blog, Larry 'Major Nelson' Hryb, the “Xbox Live Director of Programming” at Microsoft, has announced that Robotron 2084 is now available for download on the Xbox 360's Xbox Live Arcade service. The details page on Xbox.com explains handily of the Eugene Jarvis designed classic arcade title: "In Robotron: 2084, only you and a single family of clones remain. If mankind is to survive, you must destroy the Grunts, Brains, Enforcers, and Tanks—but avoid the indestructible Hulks at all cost. Can you withstand wave after wave of android invasion and rescue Mommy, Daddy, and Mikey … before it’s too late?" And, of course, two-player co-op is available, as well as networked high-scores. Darn, Xbox Live Arcade is getting tempting for fans of the frenetic multi-directional firefight, huh? (Though some purists claim that Robotron got a little mangled in translation.)

Double DS Dragon Ninja Coding

dslair.jpg Those cunning homebrew coders are always coming up with new goodness, and a Nintendo DS conversion of Dragon's Lair, 'DSLair', is the latest 'innovation'. It only plays the first 4 levels thus far, but the guys at Caimans Technologies are obviously having fun seeing how they can use their video codec to replicate the classic laser-disc game.

Of course, the folks over at Digital Leisure still own the official license to the Dragon's Lair series, which they have made available on 'Xbox 360-compatible' DVDs. Oh, and as a side note, the company has also recently added Thayer's Quest, another early laserdisc game, for DVD players. And apparently, game censorship was big in Thayer's Quest, even back in 1985, especially when speech synthesizers were involved.

December 16, 2005

Langrisser and Risser and Risser?

lang.jpg English import-friendly site NTSC-UK has put up a new feature analyzing the somewhat obscure Langrisser SRPG series in some detail.

As the author explains: "The first title, produced for the Sega Megadrive by NCS/Masaya in the early nineties, was picked up and renamed Warsong for US release by the now defunct Treco. Unfortunately it was virtually ignored by the gaming public, sealing the fate of the series in the West. In Japan, Langrisser was a massive success and went on to spawn sequels across multiple formats until the development team finally splintered in the late nineties." If you weren't educated, consider yourself so now.

New York's True Crime Tour, Explored

truecrimenyc.jpg This week's copy of wordy U.S. magazine The New Yorker has an interesting article featuring tour guides checking out Activision's True Crime: New York City by running around the virtual map.

The shocking expose reveals: "The guides noticed more peculiarities. Somehow, practically every statue in the city - George M. Cohan, in Duffy Square; the Maine Memorial, in Columbus Circle; Hans Christian Andersen, in Central Park—seemed to have become George Washington being sworn in on the steps of Federal Hall. The only place the guides couldn’t find him was on the steps of Federal Hall, because Federal Hall itself was missing." Oh, instancing, how dare you take away our fairy tale? In addition: "A quick check identified additional absentee landmarks, including the Apollo Theatre, the Intrepid, and New Jersey. (True Crime’s Battery Park City has fabulous views of the open ocean.)" Score!

Enter The Magic Of Barry Hatter

barryhatter.jpg A little birdie just pointed out that a new era in interactive entertainment will start this month, with the PAL launch of 'Barry Hatter: The Sorceror's Broomstick' for the PlayStation 2. Previously flying way, way under the radar (using magical measures), Scott Sharkey at 1UP has provided one of the only online previews, in which he notes: "I have absolutely no idea who Barry Hatter is, but I'm sure he has a difficult life. He's probably a very different person from that other kid, with his own distinct wants, dreams, and desires." The ever-reliable Frazer Nash Communications in the UK has the full box art and screens for Barry Hatter, which is developed by Rise Of The Robots favorites Data Design Interactive, and published by Metro3D. And, as the original announcement of the game explains, you can: "Fight for magical supremacy in the thrilling 'Orb Domination' levels and see who is the most skilled with a broomstick! Swipe the orbs from your opponents to claim a breath-taking victory." Absolutely nothing like Quidditch, then? Feel free to rate the chances of SCEA approving this one.

Games Are Forever (Cue Shirley Bassey)

diamond.jpg Game Tycoon's David Edery weighs in on the debate over pre-owned games with a well-reasoned contribution to the discussion, in which he suggests: "People feel entitled to buy and sell used goods. If game publishers clamp down on the practice, they risk offending the mass market in the same way that music publishers managed to."

But it's a comment by 'Ivy' which compresses the problem away from its coal base, as it's suggested: "Diamonds are one example of durable physical goods with no aftermarket, which is almost entirely due to a brilliant (heh) advertising campaign by De Beers in the 1930s that imbued the gems with high emotional value that prevented reselling them. If publishers manage to create a similar non-tangible value around games, the problem will be solved."

So there - we just have to figure out a way to make games impossible to part with, they'll be... impossible to part with. [Yes, we know the above picture is an _emerald_, but it's all we could find on short notice.]

The Kids Wanna Be Sedated

guit.jpg One of the success stories, at least in terms of buzz, for this holiday gaming season is Harmonix and RedOctane's Guitar Hero, which we've covered previously here on GameSetWatch. But a new MTV News article on the game has a couple of little tidbits that are too delicious not to excerpt.

In particular, Harmonix's Greg LoPiccolo considered The Ramones' 'I Wanna Be Sedated' as a song he was "morally obligated" to put in the game, explaining:"Lots of 10- and 12-year-old kids are going to buy this game. It's our mission to make sure they learn about music they might not otherwise hear about."

In addition, the game's producer "...said the sound producers went to great lengths to make the recordings accurate. When they read that the fluctuations in Ozzy Osbourne's voice on Black Sabbath's "Iron Man" were created by having the singer perform from the other side of a spinning metal fan, they tracked down the same model fan through Craig's List and re-created the vocal effect." Not just sound-a-like, but fan-a-like, then? Impressive.

December 15, 2005

4orty 2wo Fascination Grips America, Again

ilb.jpg CNET News' John Borland has posted a profile of novelist turned ARG creator Sean Stewart, one of the key personnel at 4orty 2wo Entertainment, creators of The Beast, Ilovebees, Last Call Poker, et al. (Incidentally, 42's site now has case study info for MSNFound, probably the least virally successful of their campaigns, but still interesting.)

A particularly lyrical part of Borland's well-written piece discusses Stewart's partnership with Elan Lee and Jordan Weisman in fashioning the success of the company: "What Stewart has done is give this young genre its most distinctive voice: literate, infused with a noirish poetry, and rich in the character typically lost in conventional video games. "We all three have a background in game design, but all three of us are even more committed to eliciting an emotional response," Stewart said. "The things that make us happiest are the moments of real emotion, where the story grabs you.""

Writing The Machinima Reader

rvb.jpgIf you've got a flair for writing and an understanding of the art, science or culture of Machinima, you may consider pitching an essay to Henry Lowood (Stanford U) and Michael Nitsche (Georgia Tech), editors of the forthcoming tome "The Machinima Reader." The Reader will focus on Machinima through a variety of lenses intended to appeal to academics, artists and critics alike.

"In a repetition of early cinema's history," write the editors in their call for papers, "many of Machinima's milestones are formulated as mixtures of artistic expression and technical achievements...Consequently, we are looking for essays that address a range of topics." The editors currently seek 500-word abstracts exploring such topics as culture, technology, communities, and art--you've got until April 3, 2006 to submit. Full details and contact information are in the above Stanford Humanities Lab link.

Edge's Scores, Preserved For Posterity

EDG157.jpg UK 'parish magazine' and respected game publication Edge has put a database of its review scores online, allowing interested geeks to find listings from all 157 issues and 1873 reviews ever printed in the magazine. According to official stats, 6.6 is the average score, and there's even a platform charts where you can see that the SNES is the best-rated platform of all time in terms of those with >15 Edge-reviewed games, with 24 reviews averaging 7.2.

Of course, the _actual_ best-rated platform of all time is DVD add-on oddity the Nuon, with precisely 1 game scoring an average of 9 - Jeff Minter's insane Tempest 3000, of course. The Amiga CD32 does pretty well too, with Captive II: Liberation the single CD32 review, and rated 8. Feel free to spend a few hours combing the score listings (which unfortunately don't come with any associated review text), and complaining about why ICO only got 8, whether Gran Turismo deserved a 10, etc, etc, ad infinitum.

Virtua Fighter Eyetoy done right

vfesco.jpg Esco, an amateur martial arts actor who's done mocap and voices for Devil May Cry 3, has put up a very nice feature on Higher Voltage about the Virtua Fighter Eyetoy. VF Eyetoy is one of the games that comes on the Sega Superstars disc, and according to Esco, the most enjoyable. He tested the limits of the Eyetoy's ability to register by using real (often gravity-defying) martial arts. As Esco says: "Virtua Fighter can be great fun, great exercise, even great therapy, all depending on how much energy you put into it. If it's not fun, that's YOUR fault."

Previously, he did a nice feature on the Neo Geo Pocket Color, which is similarly gonzo-yet-organized, and goes through a number of games, with original screens of each. Is Esco the mark a new breed of fit 'outsider' game journalist? Time will - or will not - tell.

Katamari iPod-y?

kipod.jpg Those fun fellows over at the Katamari Damacy Livejournal community get all excited at a single mention of the King Of The Cosmos or his friends. So, after they went all wiggy over the new Katamari T-shirts, we went and checked out their recent discussions, and noted their discovery of a new iPod speaker system which looks exactly, but exactly like The King Of The Cosmos.

Is this really, as a commenter suggests, "Second Cousin iRoll?!" If so, the group has also done some Katamari Damacy iPod ad icons for excitable LJ types. Seems like Katamari love will go on for ever, no?

On Olle Hemmendorff's Zombiegrinder 60000

zombieg.jpg Ultra-trendy U.S. magazine (and associated record label) Vice has put up an extremely insane Flash game on its website, in the form of 'Olle Hemmendorff's Zombiegrinder 60000'. It's basically a depraved grindcore-soundtracked running shooter, and it's suggested that the music be turned up to ear-bleeding levels before playing.

This crazed title was spotted by NGJ sinister keiretsu instigator Kieron Gillen, who commented of it that it's like "...if Rez were made by people who preferred That Scene In Scanners over pretty dolphins." To which other commenters claim gleefully: "great game. especially when it helps proliferate the sadly moribund 15 second death metal beatdown." Mmm, death metal beatdown.

December 14, 2005

It's Movies... For Gamers!

fowlkill.jpg Occasionally, we at GameSetWatch get sucked into the world of slightly terrible press releases trying to cash in on video games, and such an item turned up via Marketwire this week, to whit: "Endavo Media and Communications, Inc. announced today the launch of its newest web-based community, Movies4Gamers (www.movies4gamers.com). Movies4Gamers, or M4G, will serve as an entertainment portal for the rapidly growing population of video game enthusiasts that will be marketed through various online, multiplayer gaming portals and industry media."

Well, sounds promising - maybe some G4-style content, right? Well... "Endavo also announced today it has signed a second agreement with Action Cat Entertainment LLC, a David Heavener company, to promote and offer specific action-thriller films from his content library to M4G members." What would that include? Perhaps classy new movies such as Fowl Kill (tagline: 'Birds of a feather, kill together'), PsychoWeeneee, or maybe the sci-fi comedy Amazon Women From Outer Space (which apparently has Worf in it?) Even better: "Initially, each Action Cat movie is expected to be offered at a price of $2.95." Sounds like perfect gamer-friendly fare - sign me up for a dozen!

My My Katamari Fashion!

We Heart Official (yeah! official!) Katamari Damacy t-shirts are yours for the buying, thanks to the fine people at Panic. The team has worked closely with Keita Takahashi and Namco Japan in designing seven fashionable options that won't embarrass you when out-of-doors. Folks outside of Korea, Japan, the United States, and something called "Canada" are unfortunately out of luck (Psst! Have your American friend buy you one for Christmas!), but the rest of us can snag one for $24.95 USD (Cheap!).

What are you waiting for? The initial print run is low, and you might have to wait a while for the next batch. Hurry up and get all seven before it's too late!

[UPDATE - 1.12pm PST : We asked Cabel from Panic about how the project came about and here's what he had to say, read on for more!]

Who was involved at Panic on the project?

Two people.

First, there's me, Cabel Sasser, co-founder of Panic. I designed and built the Goods website and all of our previous shirts, and I dearly love gaming.

Then there's Nobuhiro "Noby" Hasegawa, our lone but amazing guy in Japan, who was responsible for (literally) translating my crazy ideas, and being the total connection between myself and Namco.

How did you initiate this project with Takahashi and Namco?

Believe it or not, we called them. Seriously. I think I e-mailed Noby on a whim and said "We should totally make Katamari shirts", so he called them up, and had booked a meeting a few days later. That was amazing step number one.

Then, our request for licensing got approved. That was amazing step number two (although we didn't know how amazing at the time -- it turns out he had never approved any license request, ever, except for the game soundtrack).

Finally, when Takahashi told us he'd design the shirts himself -- I was expecting a packet of assets that I'd turn into designs -- I pretty much crapped myself.

A lot of people are wondering "Why Panic, the Mac Software Company"? From our side, it's easy -- we love games, and being able to run off and make cool t-shirts for fun is part of the joy of running your own business. As long as it doesn't bankrupt you. :) From the Namco side, it's interesting -- Takahashi really wanted to challenge the idea of a game shirt, and he didn't think that would be possible with a "normal" company. He selected us because he liked our style, and approach, but also because Panic and Takahashi were both outsiders in this project. Panic is a software company somehow making t-shirts. Takahashi is an artist/sculptor somehow making games. In his mind, it was a combination that could likely really make his ideas come to fruition. I think he was right!

What was the design process like? How involved were the corporate/branding types at Namco? What kind of direction did the team provide to you?

The design process took a long time, but that's just largely because everyone was busy with other things! To be fair, it also took me a while before I "got" what Takahashi was trying to do -- I was stuck on making the cute, super-pop kind of gaming t-shirts he didn't really like, but he was trying to be both fashionable and connected to the Katamari world. So, there was some back-and-forth there. But amazingly, there was no corporate input into the designs at all -- they gave Takahashi total free reign. There was an official licensing guy on the corporate end to make sure, you know, the copyright was in the correct place, the contract looked good, etc. But it was Takahashi's show, which was wonderful.

What was the Panic philosophy on videogame t-shirt design? What do you like or dislike about what else is currently available?

Videogame shirts, in mainstream America at least, are terrible. There are a few positive examples to the contrary, but they're rare. I think there's a bit of growing up that has to be done there, people need to realize that it's not just 15 year old boys who truly love playing video games anymore. You've got adult gamers -- why does that always sound so awkward? -- people who are acutely aware of good design, people who are fashionable, huge groups of people who love off-beat cult games and not just jockathon sports games, people who love the games they grew up with. It seems an obvious combination.

The nostalgic ones really kill me, because you could do so much. I don't understand how you can take something we all love -- say, Zelda -- put some awesome pixelated Zelda imagery on a shirt, and then sit back and go, "You know what? Something's not right. This shirt needs COMEDY! Let's make it say 'DON'T MAKE ME GET ALL ZELDA ON YOU!'. Wow, now THAT'S a shirt!".

No shirt in the history of time has ever made anyone smart laugh. You didn't need the clever slogan. The images speak for themselves, even as amazing conversation starters -- "Hey, is that the magic whistle from Zelda? Remember that awesome music it played?"

Maybe subtle gaming tie-in is a tough sell, but I'm certain there's a crowd for it. We'll see with these Katamari shrts, I guess!

What's next? Will you be working with Namco on non-Katamari properties or future Katamari games?

Great question. We're definitely going to keep in contact with Namco. If these shirts do well, maybe there might even be a "Series 2" -- I'd love to see that happen. While this is really just an experiment for us -- licensed shirts! -- we'll go where the awesome winds may take us. :)

Creative Labs Makes Id Quake

quake4.jpg Creative Labs' Sound Blaster website has a new interview with Zachary Quarles, Senior Sound Designer/Music Composer at Raven Software regarding the audio for id/Raven's Quake IV, and commenting on how Creative Labs helped out with multiple parts of the audio for this Doom 3 engine game, particularly mentioning: "EAX Advanced HD takes advantage of all of the reverb environments and low-pass occlusion elements of the game."

While Creative Labs clearly do make excellent product, the interview doesn't seem to mention anywhere that Creative Labs reached an agreement with id software in late 2004 to use EAX Advanced HD 3D audio for future Doom 3 licences. This agreement was mandated by Creative Labs, based on Creative's holding of a software patent for shadowing techniques which id co-founder and engine programmer John Carmack had separately implemented into that game's engine, apparently unaware of the patent.

At that time, John Carmack commented on the contentious software patent issue: "The patent situation well and truly sucks. We were prepared to use a two-pass algorithm that gave equivalent results at a speed hit, but we negotiated the deal with Creative so that we were able to use the zfail method without having to actually pay any cash." Seems like a rather unfortunate way to get this tech into Doom 3 engine titles, but apparently, nobody minds talking about the results - so maybe it doesn't matter?

Celebrate Christmas With Carnage

Elveslogo2036.jpgThis Christmas may be the bloodiest yet if Santa's crazed elves have their way. Luckily, eight mighty reindeer are on hand to stomp the crap out of the wee folk. In the tabletop game "Elves Under Hoof," ultra-violent video games have turned Santa's workers into mindless zombies (although if you believe Henry Jenkins, this would never happen in real life).

One can only assume the game demonstrates how Rudolph's red nose glowed bright with burning rage during scenarios such as "Saving Private Reindeer," or "E-Day." Elves Under Hoof involves a hex-based map grid and tiny paper counters representing such essential holiday items as cookies and grenades. It is available as low-cost PDF download through the web site of its maker, Dan Verssen Games.

Easter Bunny's Little Gaming Surprises

cheese.jpg The folks at 1UP have reprinted an EGM story regarding some of the coolest Easter Eggs in your favorite video games. Games cited include the obvious (Super Mario Bros), but also some less remarked-on extras, including the following for Rare's original N64 version of Perfect Dark: "Rare stashed a single wedge of cheese in almost every level of the main game. The wedges serve no purpose: You can't kill 'em, can't eat 'em-they're just there to find if you're paying close enough attention."

"'They were from a background [artist] who had finished all of his work but had too much time on his hands,' says Rare Designer Chris Tilston." Mm, cheese! Aw, but no room for the first-ever Easter Egg, as seen in the Atari 2600 classic Adventure? There's lots more info on Easter Eggs from the rather handy Eeggs.com video game page.

The Game Rag, Making With The Funny

gamerag.jpg Kyle Orland over at Video Game Media Watch has posted an interview with game humor site owner Nathan Smart, who has just started a satirical website named The Game Rag, which features stories such as 'SpikeTV Awards Xbox 360 With Lifetime Achievement Award', or even 'Gamestop, EB Games Merge, Employees Doubly Stupid'.

As well as talking about how he comes up with articles, Nathan comments a little on the state of video game journalism, making some intriguing comments: "I don’t think the bigger sites cover the culture of gaming enough. 1UP does a really good job of it, I think, with their features and the community they have set up there (minus the freakin’ clutter of information - I swear, I’ve NEVER needed that much info on one page). IGN, on the other hand, is all business."

December 13, 2005

EGM, GamePro In Ugly Bitchfest Shocker?

hsu.jpg Unfortunately, we don't check IDG's Games.net website that often, otherwise we would have come across Chris Cook's charged editorial on 'The Blame Game' sooner. The editorial addresses a piece by Ziff Davis' Dan 'Shoe' Hsu in the latest issue of EGM Magazine, in which 'Shoe' makes non-specific charges that U.S. gaming magazines and websites have been getting publisher advertising in return for exclusive and/or favorable coverage, commenting: "Those guys can kiss my ass . . . We've never been and never will be beholden to any outside party. If we miss out on some coverage...well, too bad--ultimately, they're punishing their own customers (you guys), not us."

In return, Games.net and GamePro's Chris 'Johnnyk' Cook counters: "It's how you react to this situation that says the most about your journalistic integrity. This is hardly a new problem, or one that's unique to EGM, so Hsu's observations come off as more vindictive than insightful", and the editorial's feedback section gets even more heated. 'Shoe' turns up to add a little cloak and dagger: "My sources told me this information under the conditions that I don't reveal their names or the parties in question, because it could get them fired", and GamePro's Funky Zealot also makes an appearance to get a little sassier still: "The problem with Hsu's piece is that it's essentially a generalization that bashes all competitors. If you're disappointed that Chris didn't call or write, I'm sure those mysterious pubs in question are disappointed that you didn't call or write, either. You've basically trashed all other pubs while having absolutely nothing to show for it."

Obviously, it's not clear who Dan was referring to (Future Publishing's titles and Game Informer are the other major U.S. print publications), but the end result of this particular entanglement? Nobody comes out looking that good.

'The A-Z Of Cool [Brit] Computer Games'

coolcomp.jpg Over here at GameSetWatch, we just got a copy of new gaming book The A-Z Of Cool Computer Games, as published by very British publisher Allison & Busby, and it's, well, a very British book about classic video games, with a couple of pages covering each entry in categories like classic games, hardware, 'social mores', and paraphenalia.

Since yours truly is British, and grew up in the eras of the Sinclair Spectrum and Commodore Amiga, a title whose glossy photo pages start with a picture of Carrier Command and continue by showing Daley Thompson's Decathlon is great by me.

The author, Jack Railton, whose real name is Jack Kibble-White, is a co-founder of cult UK TV website TV Cream, and certainly knows his nostalgia - from the BBC Micro to Knight Lore. Perhaps it's a little self-indulgent and a tad unfocused, but it's a fun, entertaining book for UK natives, and those wanting to investigate where UK tastes differed from American in the nascent days of the game biz.

Machinima, Starring... Tommy Lee?

tommy.jpg A recent press release from Nvidia and Yahoo! has revealed that machinima music videos are the 'new freshness', following the high profile of MTV2's Video Mods. In this unrelated debut, it's explained: "Yahoo! Artist Mods showcases today's coolest music video artists using digitized models of the artists, stage sets, and instruments. To become "virtual directors," with control over backgrounds, lighting, and camera angles, users can download the ModMaker rendering engine from the Nvidia nZone Web site. Once a new video is finished, users can replay their creation and share it with a friend by email.."

The official Yahoo! Artist Mods page has more info, plus a link to the first two artists, Tommy Lee's "Good Times" and The Disturbed's "Just Stop". Yep, you too can "...check out the animated Tommy Lee as he travels in a Chevy HHR from city streets to the beach and back again" - and try to spot the advertising plug cunningly hidden in that previous description.

Working Designs, 1986-2005

Punch punch punch! A post on the publisher's official forum last night has confirmed speculation that, finally, Working Designs is dead. Head "know-it-all" Vic Ireland said, "There's no easy way to say it, so I just will. Working Designs is gone. All the staff has been laid off and the office is closed and has been for some time." The company's current project, a localization of Konami's Bouken Jidai Katsugeki: Goemon for the PlayStation 2, will not see release in North America.

Formed as an accounting software developer in 1986, the company soon moved into the videogame space, localizing a number of TurboGrafx-16 titles such as Parasol Stars and Cadash. WD was known for its smart, often humorous, translations of Japanese RPG's (Lunar, Alundra, Growlanser), and for a brief period, a run of shooters, as well as its distinct packaging and pre-order promotional goods.

Ireland was often outspoken about the difficulties that faced the niche publisher. Interviews and newsgroup postings about approval roadblocks at the American division of Sony Computer Entertainment and his distaste for certain former Sega executives made for entertaining reading. We wish him and the rest of the company the best of luck in their future ventures.

Final Fantasy XI For Xbox 360 - Tired, Not Wired?

ffxi.jpg Or even expired? IGN's reliable Japanese correspondent Anoop Gantayat has posted a lengthy discussion regarding Final Fantasy XI for Xbox 360, and lists a litany of issues, errors, and possible turn-offs based on his playing of the Japanese beta version. He explains of the complex log-in process: "Each time you want to play FFXI, you have to start up the Play Online browser. When you stick in your FFXI disk, Play Online is what automatically starts up, not FFXI. Get into the browser, and you need to log in. The browser prompts you to connect to your Xbox Live account -- silver or gold -- if you haven't done so already. Then, you need to select Final Fantasy XI from the list of games (the rest of the titles are for the PS2 and PC) and click through a couple of start-up messages, and at long last you can play."

This alone doesn't sound good, but Gantayat hammers a couple more nails in the coffin of the Xbox 360 SKU, noting: "In still shots, the game may look like it's been improved some over the PS2 title, but in motion, the changes don't make for a particularly attractive X360 showcase. The biggest culprit is frame rate, with the game chugging to keep up with large-scale environments and the large number of potential players, just like it did on the PS2. Character models and environmental detail are also too low for a reasonable next generation title." Ouch. Roll on a next-gen FFXIII MMO?

Sam, Max Risen From The Dead

sandm.gif The fine fellows at TellTale Games, ex-LucasArts veterans and responsible for the indie 'Bone: Out From Boneville' PC adventure title, have teamed up with Steve Purcell and released the first Sam 'N Max online comic strip. This felicitous event is to help commemorate the forthcoming Sam 'N Max game titles, of which TellTale comment that "... the agreement [with Purcell] is wide ranging, so you will likely see content in expected (interactive PC game in 2006) and un-expected places (a garish tattoo on Grandma’s neck?)"

In fact, TellTale have also just added limited edition Sam 'N Max art prints and a T-shirt, both of which are pretty gorgeous for fans of the tearaway duo, first immortalized in game form in the classic LucasArts adventure. A recent Purcell interview at Gamasutra has more on the history of the dog-rabbit-chimera's creator.

December 12, 2005

'Game Doctor' Bill Kunkel Is In The House

kunkel.jpg Sister site Gamasutra has just updated with an in-depth interview with 'Game Doctor' Bill Kunkel, catching up with the co-founder of 'Electronic Games', the world's first consumer magazine dedicated entirely to video games.

Kunkel has some great things to say on the early days of the industry, particularly his note that the arcade business "got suckered into laserdisc games", helping bring on 1984's video game crash, but is even more caustic on today's market, commenting: "The Xbox 360, to me...it's a very questionable system and a very questionable idea. I say, let these system have ten years, let developers find all the little tricks. It's like if you're a painter, and they give you a million more colors to paint with every three years. 'But I need time to experiment with all these colors!' you might say. No. The canvas keeps getting bigger, and ideas are getting smaller. There are so many sequels, and so few new ideas."" Also - get off his lawn!

Clash Of The Indie Journalism Heavweights

diyg.jpg A recent longform interview over at indie game website TIGSource has that site's editor, Derek Yu, chatting with long-time indie advocate Greg Micek of DIYGames about his history reviewing and covering independent games, and just why his Mini (license plate DIY INDI!) burst into flames quite so spectacularly.

Micek is particularly hopeful when looking at the future of independent gaming, commenting: "It’s changed in the sense that the overall quality of the titles have increased, even the clones are better for the most part. It seems like titles are less likely to be cancelled, but that might just be that developers are less open about products that are early in their life cycle. Indie gaming as a whole has started to creep its way to more and more gamers, which has broadened the audience. Back then it seemed like it was mostly developers and starry at-home moms playing the games. These days the gamers represent a much richer spectrum of the game playing public, in my opinion at least." Amen to that.

Halo Goes Unofficially 2D

haloZero.jpgEver feel like today's first-person shooters have one dimension too many? Perhaps the answer to your dreams is the infringeworthy "Halo Zero," a 2D platformer made by a team of French indie developers in homage to the popular Xbox shooter series Halo.

Halo Zero has yoinked the main 3D visuals of the original game series and re-interpreted them for platform-style play, simplifying tactics into an up/down, left/right dance appealling to nostalgia-wallowing retro gamers... or those who haven't upgraded their PC since the 1990s. Although the project is non-commercial, I'd be shocked if it wasn't shut down soon. Get your download while you can, or at the very least, check out Halo Zero's interesting screen-shots.

rRootage Goes Homebrew PSP

rrootage.jpg The Japanese freeware shoot-em-up developer Kenta Cho is much-loved for his supremely abstract, frantic PC shooters such as Torus Trooper or Gunroar. Now, an earlier piece of Cho greatness, rRootage, has been converted to the PSP as homebrew software, thanks to Mrbrown - there's more information on the PS2Dev Forums.

You'll obviously need an earlier version of the Sony handheld's BIOS to run the game, though - in fact, it apparently even still has issues for those with a V2.00 bios, though these are being worked out. There have previously been PSP ports of Cho's excellent abstract shooter Noiz2sa, but this adds even further to the frantic handheld goodness.

Convergence? We Say Boo Sucks!

psx.jpg Daniel Cook of the Lost Garden weblog has previously got plenty of kudos for his uber-detailed Nintendogs critique, among others, and his latest opus is an extremely detailed analysis of convergence and video games. Cook explains in his intro: "We are entering the mythical land of game consoles as convergence devices... The dream of big media conglomerates and technologists seems to finally be coming to fruition. Just imagine: a single box that does everything... Yet most attempts at forcing convergence of disparate devices fails. A few geeks buy into the hype, but consumers tend to ignore mutants like PSX and other technological monstrosities."

Probably one of the best take-aways: "So when you heard Microsoft and Sony marketoids blathering on about super technology and cool things you can do with the convergence of all media, you are right to dismiss it as hot air. They are simply filling time until a developer creates a great product that uses their platform." Right? Cynical? Dead wrong? Opinions welcome.

December 11, 2005

Crazy Westerners Loose In Tokyo, Again

xjp.jpg Handy Hong Kong-based online game store Lik-Sang has published a massive Xbox 360 Japanese launch report, and cutely introduces the video/text festooned piece with: "Tim Rogers, who braved the cold and went on "36 hours without sleep mode" again for the occasion, reported a situation that fits with what we all came to expect: there wasn't such a big of a party going on and it was incomparable with crazy release days that Japan is known for when it comes to a new PlayStation, a new Nintendo system or even a new Dragon Quest or Final Fantasy opus." Take a deep breath!

There's a little more justification, though: "One might point out that this is not journalism in the traditional sense of the word, but it still paints a realistic picture of the "no rush" that surrounded the Xbox 360 appearance on the Japanese market. And then again Tim Rogers doesn't want to be called a "journalist" anyway, he just wants to be rockstar ;) You hear that, world - a rockstar!" The full 4,000+ words of rockstarularity is on the Lik-Sang forums, for the intrigued.

2006 IGF Main Competition Finalists Announced

darwinia.jpg Our sister website, Gamasutra, has full details on the 2006 Independent Games Festival finalists, as follows:

"Following a record total of 118 entries, competition was especially fierce, but the forty IGF judges, picked from mainstream and indie game creation and journalism circles, have singled out... the finalists for this year's $20,000 Seumas McNally Grand Prize include Introversion's cult action-strategy title Darwinia, Ankama's French strategy-RPG MMO Dofus, Grubby Games' fiendish puzzle platform game Professor Fizzwizzle, Digital Eel's innovative 'short' space exploration title Weird Worlds: Return To Infinite Space, and Pocketwatch Games' ecosystem-building title Wildlife Tycoon: Venture Africa."

It continues: "Also notable are the finalists for the Innovation In Game Design award, which include the aforementioned Darwinia alongside block-stacking fighter Rumble Box, single-button game Strange Attractors, time-bending platform title Braid, and story-led adventure The Witch's Yarn." There's more info and a full finalist listing at the official IGF website - many, many good indie games included.

'A Postcard From Bullet Hell' With Cameras

cherry.jpg Over at indie game developer weblog Inverted Castle, there's an informative post about Team Shanghai Alice, the Japanese 'dojin' PC game developers renowned for games such as Perfect Cherry Blossom, which explains more about the developer's latest title.

The post notes: "[Zun's] newest game, Shoot the Bullet, takes things in a completely different direction. Unlike every other vertical-scrolling shooter, you have no gun; your only weapon is a camera. 'Buzzing' charges it up, and you take pictures with it to either clear the bullet hell around you, or damage the enemy. Every picture you take of the enemy is 'tacked' to the game's border, and once you take a set number the enemy is defeated. The game is still in development, so only a gameplay video exists so far, but playable demos are available for all of his other games here." Neat stuff indeed - the Shanghai Alice fansite Shrine Maiden has lots more good info.

Zelda Pins, And More


I love Sundays. I've spent most of today on the sofa in my cowgirl jammies, with half an eye on Battlestar Galactica (season one, DVD, second viewing), and the luxury of time to rummage the internet. Today's finds are many and glorious, from plastic canvas arcade kits for the gaming Barbie, to these lovely Zelda pins, sold on eBay by "Princess Peach". And the best bit? Princess Peach actually dresses up as Princess Peach!

She also sells Super Mario giftwrap tape, a Luigi mobile charm, and Super Mario sticking plasters. Amongst many other grand things. The perfect christmas stocking-stuffer shop!

Gizmondo - A Little Hit And Myth?

hitmythl.jpg Although its recent executive shenanigans have led many to believe that handheld Gizmondo game system isn't necessary in the best of health, there's still game development for the Giz going on in the U.S. This comes in the shape of Hit & Myth, a pop-culture filled, tongue in cheek action title in development at Gizmondo Studios Texas, further described on the homepage of senior designer Wynne McLaughlin.

The developer, formerly Fever Pitch and Warthog Texas before the change, rents an old theater as its office, and has lots of fun switching out the marquee, according to an Austin Metroblogging post from early this year. Screenshots of Hit & Myth itself reveal that humor is certainly intended to be a central part of the game. Howver, Viridian, another developer on the game, recently commented that the game is "kind of in limbo". But, since new previews are now popping up, we can presume it may debut pretty soon - perhaps an obscure title to watch for?

If you enjoy reading GameSetWatch.com, you might also want to check out these UBM TechWeb Game Network sites:

Gamasutra (the 'art and business of games'.)

Game Career Guide (for student game developers.)

Indie Games (for independent game players/developers.)

Finger Gaming (news, reviews, and analysis on iPhone and iPod Touch games.)

GamerBytes (for the latest console digital download news.)

Worlds In Motion (discussing the business of online worlds.)

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