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January 7, 2006

The Art Of Upsetting Video Game Developers

thinkerr.jpg Matt Sakey's latest 'Culture Clash' column for the IGDA is on the oft, oft, oft-discussed throwaway Roger Ebert comments about video games not being art.

The article naturally concludes that games, like any other creative medium, have artistic elements to them, but also contains the following somewhat flamebait-ish section:

"The fact that the art evolved later has led to the misconception that there is no artistic value in games – something many developers hold to today, limiting their creative potential. Dubious creativity has repeatedly threatened the business. There are industry people who refuse to accept the idea that games are art, to the point of finding that suggestion personally insulting. Others, like industry albatross Rockstar, believe in the art but, perversely, spend their days struggling to abase the medium."

Why would game developers self-consciously rule art out of the games they create? Why does Rockstar's choice of subject matter 'abase the medium' in any way? And why does a non-developer have a column on the IGDA website accusing developers of lacking creativity, even in an offhanded way?

Apparently, it's an angry Saturday here at GameSetWatch, but sometimes it seems like that those picking at problems dysfunctionally from the inside do far more harm than the Roger Eberts of this world (also see: the debate on video game journalism.)

Puzzloop or Zuma, Diner Dash Or Roller Rush?

dinerroller.jpg One of the more controversial aspects of the recent casual game boom has been 'the clone wars'. And no, we're not talking Count Dooku, but rather, certain simple game designs that seem unduly influenced by other, earlier games, but are still extremely popular, because the casual game-playing public don't know who created it first.

For example, PopCap's Zuma is one of the most popular casual games of all time, but it's being challenged in the download charts by both MumboJumbo's somewhat different Luxor, and by recently Big Fish-acquired French developer FunPause's Atlantis, which even goes as far as to put 'Luxor' and 'Zuma' in its homepage's HTML keywords.

But, while PopCap's James Gwertzman comments in a recent interview of Zuma's success in 2004: "We were all very excited about it, but it's 2005 and there have been a ton of very obvious Zuma clones", we have to ask - how about Mitchell's 1998 title Puzzloop for arcades, also known as Ballistic for PSX in the States? The game's basic design seems identical to Zuma.

There was even some talk of Mitchell, which has released a PC version of Puzzloop, taking PopCap to court over the issue, though neither company has ever made public statements about it. But wherever the first version of that game originated, it's clear that, as Gwertzman comments: "Making clones of existing games isn't as profitable as it used to be."

Yet, it's 2006 and it's still going on, and the most egregious yet is ToyBox Games' Roller Rush. It's not only such a blatant copy of gameLab's Diner Dash that it hurts, and it's already in the Top 10 on Yahoo! Games, ahead of Diner Dash, showing that clones can be just as financially successful in the short term.

So here's the real question - who's going to be the first to sue, as Namco did with Pac-Man clones, over a casual game concept? Maybe many of these ideas are too simple to be copyrighted, but something feels just a little over-ripe in casual games right now regarding game clones.

2005's Picks For The Serious RPG Otaku

romancing.jpg Import fansite RPGFan has its review of the top RPG titles of 2005 online, and, alongside some brief non-RPG picks, there are plenty of obscure and interesting games mentioned by a plethora of otaku-esque editors.

For example, Neal Chandran cites a couple of Hirameki International's PC games recently mentioned on GameSetWatch, noting of the English-localized Ever17 that it's "a fresh take on the love adventure genre with often intellectually stimulating storylines."

Elsewhere, Patrick Gann makes a perhaps controversial choice of Square Enix's oft-debated, oft-maligned Romancing SaGa, commenting: "I know that this title did not appeal to every gamer out there, but for me, this game is really something incredible." For further, surprisingly positive perspective on the title, Jiji at NamakoTeam has a detailed analysis of the game, noting of the PS2 title's controversial charms: "Romancing SaGa is a completely player-motivated game. The only fixed point shared by the game's playable scenarios is the final boss." So you'd better be committed, then.

SilverFin Breaks Water, Takes Bond Mobile

silverfin.jpg GamesPress' feed on biz site GamesIndustry.biz has news of Player One's mobile game licensing of 'Young Bond'. As the release eplains: "Licensed by Young Bond rights' owner Ian Fleming Publications Limited, "Young Bond - SilverFin" the game takes a look at an embryonic spy just embarking on a life of espionage which ultimately leads to his vocation as MI6's top secret agent."

Despite the potentially cheesy-sounding concept (you were thinking of James Bond Jr., weren't you?), the Young Bond books are written by English comedian/writer Charlie Higson, and there's a a great series of interviews with him over at MI6.co.uk which show that he's trying to make the teen-aimed novels well thought-out and interesting. Whether the mobile game, developed by 'Bluetooth Biplanes' developer Morpheme, will be shaken and not stirred, we'll no doubt find out soon.

January 6, 2006

Meet The Blind Kombat Swordsman

brice.jpg The folks at the iGames gaming LAN center firm have passed on the news that: "Brice Mellen, the blind videogamer who burst onto the scene this past summer, will be taking on all challengers in a special Mortal Kombat [specifically Mortal Kombat: Deception?] competition at iGames member center DogTags [in Lincoln, Nebraska on Sunday, Jan 8th from 1 to 3pm] in preparation for his first trip to Japan, where he will take on some of Japan’s best players as part of a special for Nippon TV’s Power of Memory, Part III."

The DogTags gaming center website has a page all about Brice, and, according to iGames: "Blind since birth due to Leber’s disease, Brice has been playing games since he was 6 years old. It was difficult going at first, but as with everything else Brice does, he kept at it until he memorized the commands and audio cues in his favorite games until he became the master he is today. Brice has appeared on NBC’s Today Show and G4’s Attack of the Show, in addition to being featured in the Associated Press, USA Today, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times and thousands of other outlets around the world."

8-Bit Gets New Show, Book

8bit.jpg The folks over at annual art show and collective I Am 8-Bit have revamped their official website, adding the news that there will be a brand new I Am 8-Bit exhibition at Gallery Nineteen Eighty Eight in Los Angeles from April 18 through May 19 2006. For those in town for E3 2006, from May 10-12, this should provide an opportunity to check out the awesome art - there's a big gallery of pictures from last year's exhibition over at Fort90.com.

In addition, the site also mentions Chronicle Books' 'I Am 8-bit' artbook, out this March, and described thusly: "Pac-Man. Frogger. Super Mario Bros. These classic videogames are burned into the collective consciousness of an entire generation, thanks to countless hours spent at pizza parlors and bowling alleys across the country. Now artists such as Gary Baseman, Tim Biskup, and Ashley Wood put their memories to paper, canvas, and wood to create original works of art inspired by the art of the videogame." Sounds like fun on a bun!

Gun & The Two Minute Rule

gun.jpg The New Gamer's latest update deals with storytelling and Neversoft's new Wild West title Gun, which has swung quickly into the 'flawed but interesting' pigeonhole for most who have played it.

Writer G. Turner points out: "From varmit-hunting with Ned to being ambushed by Indians the absolute moment you exit the town boundaries, Gun is a halting, stop/start experience. There's no build-up, no tension, no excitement, just scenes where you're shooting and scenes where you're on the cusp of being shot at."

Nonetheless, the game has some interesting reviews, despite its definite problems, and we're hoping that a forthcoming Game Developer postmortem should reveal more about the original console IP's genesis, even if the game wasn't a Tony Hawk-ish slam dunk.

But Turner's conclusion is positively stark: "While a hail of bullets will keep most users glued to their controller, what's the point of a Western motif for your game if it fails to include uniquely or optimally Western devices?... There's a lot to fight for in the West, but sadly it's all glossed over in favor of making sure the audience is stimulated beyond thought."

The Arcade Is Dead?

ddr.jpg I'm drawn to IDG's editor weblogs sometimes because, well, they're a strange mix of the articulate and the inarticulate.

This is, again, the case in (GamePro editor) LongHairedOffender's post about the U.S. arcade scene, in which he reaches wondrous levels of rage: "Americans play videogames for one reason and for one reason only, to kick ass. It doesn't matter if you're crushing skulls in the fighting arena or on the football field. Being a virtual DJ, riding a horse (not into battle), and playing other violence-free games is not enough to draw people into arcades. Gaming isn't about having family-friendly fun it's about indulging in man's carnal desires."

And, to be clear, there's one particular company to blame: "And then Konami drove the nail through the heart of coin operated gaming... The abomination of videogaming known as DDR served as an outlet for wannabe Travoltas to flail around wildly and quickly made the house of tank simulators and street fighting a haven for lamos." Uh, yeah, damn you for widening the arcade market, DDR!

January 5, 2006

Life In Mono

mono.jpg The GameCrits website continues to pick and elegantly criticize some interesting and alternative games, and its latest post is regarding Mono, an intriguing free-to-download PC title which is described on its homepage as "part Asteroids... part Robotron... part Paint Shop Pro."

The critique on GameCrits suggests "As a game, I think Mono derives as much of an influence from simple ramping difficulty puzzlers such as Tetris as it does from the more obvious top-down shooter genre. I think it succeeds at least partially for this reason", and also notes: "Visually, Mono uses simple abstractions to represent the on-screen happenings. This seems to be a growing mini genre within the world of shmups, including other titles such as rRootage and noiz2sa. " Definitely worth checking out.

Are You Ready To Rock, UPN31?

Even after the past month of critical gushing, if you're still left unconvinced of Guitar Hero's unparalleled power to transform even the most mild-mannered into strutting and posing exhibitionists, the Harmonix team has just posted, via their MySpace page, conclusive video proof.

Witness in stunned disbelief as the news studios of Sacramento's UPN31 succumb to the blazing guitar licks, headbanging, devil-horning, hollering their approval and generally falling all over themselves for resident "Game Guy" Scott Fera's pre-Christmas coverage of the game.

We could spend an hour outlining precisely why Guitar Hero is good, but it's easier to point and say, well, there's why Guitar Hero is good.

Televised Gaming Coming to DIRECTV

nintendogTV.jpgAmerican digital television network DIRECTV will feature video game tournament coverage on its upcoming "Massive Gaming League" planned for launch this year. According to an official announcement by DIRECTV Inc., the League will use "new technology" allowing in-game cameras to capture the action, which will be presented like a traditional sporting event. Additionally, "Stories of the competitors will be told via interviews and features, complemented with coverage of their exploits in actual competition," meaning that American star gamers may soon enjoy a similar status to their exalted Asian counterparts. So far no games have been announced as the subject of competitive coverage, but I'm looking forward to a no-holds-barred cage-match of Nintendogs. Two dogs enter, one dog leaves!

Dandy Dungeon Needs Food Badly

dandy.gif The recently launched VintageComputing site comes up trumps again with a retrospective of Atari Program Exchange game Dandy Dungeon, which was "a 1983 release... written by then-MIT-student John Palevich."

The game is particularly interesting becase - well, we'll let VintageComputing explain: "At first glance, [Dandy Dungeon] appears to be a Gauntlet clone with primitive graphics (the Gauntlet of which I speak is the 1985 Atari Games arcade release), but it turns out that Gauntlet, not Dandy, is the clone."

Indeed, the Wikipedia page for Gauntlet backs this up, as does the AtariProtos.com article on follow-up Dark Chambers which notes: "Ed Logg created his arcade mega hit Gauntlet, using Dandy as inspiration. John was none too happy about this and planned to file a lawsuit, but later settled out of court (rumor has it he received a free Gauntlet machine)." Nonetheless, the VintageComputing article goes on to explain how Logg was inspired by but actually improved Dandy Dungeon's gameplay - so, a happy ending for all, then?

Civ IV Nails Mods To Church Door

gandhi.jpg Another very pertinent TomChick news post over at QuarterToThree reveals that Civilization IV modding has got well under way, with the delightful news of "a mod that adds Protestantism as a religion founded by the first civ to research the new Luther's Reformation tech." But that's not all: "Unlike all the other boring religions, Protestantism gives its founding city 5x trade and culture production. That's because everybody wants to visit the Protestants and they love their stuff."

Meanwhile, over on the Apolyton forums for fan site Civilization4.net, we have users called 'FuzzyBunny' asking Civ IV religion-related questions which start out with the wonderfully surreal: "At the moment, I'm the founder of all the major religions..." Forget about 'Hot Coffee', wait 'til The 700 Club gets hold of this firecracker!

[And, yes, Martin Luther looks a bit Indian in the picture accompanying this post, but it was the best we could do on short notice.]

Unrated DVDs, Rated Games, Hot Heads

bandcamp.jpg Freelance journalist and Gamasutra news editor Nich Maragos has a particularly interesting post on his personal weblog as a reaction to recent stories over more U.S. States attempting to implement anti-game legislation.

Maragos points out with regard to the movie biz: "There’s a new trend in DVD marketing where the home video edition of the movie is the “unrated” version. There were three such titles in the new releases section that I looked at - The 40-Year-Old Virgin got an unrated DVD last month, and this week saw two new ones for The Wedding Crashers and Dark Water." He continues: "I don’t really care that this is happening in itself... what I do care about is how little concern or commentary this has garnered from the same people bent on government regulation of the game industry.... Doesn’t it concern any of those lawmakers even a little that Hollywood is talking out of both sides of its mouth when it comes to content regulation?"

The conclusion? "A common argument from the weary Doug Lowenstein of the Entertainment Software Association when fighting these ridiculous anti-game bills is that it imposes a measure of government enforcement on games that no other form of media enjoys. The unrated DVD craze shows how right he is." Of course, the usual suspects are still raising somewhat of a stink about unrated DVDs, too - a recent Family Media Guide article, for example. But Maragos' point is still provocative and pertinent.

January 4, 2006

Watch Out For Cop-Man, Waka Waka?

copman.gif The website of Brazilian/Norwegian mobile game developer Microways shows details on a number of amusingly 'familiar' games. Sure, there's 'Kingo Kongo', which may or may not remind you of a certain Nintendo classic, and cheekily and half-assedly flips the scenario, since "the purpose is to help Kingo save his family who has been imprisoned by an evil hunter."

But even better, there's Cop-Man, in which the 'nothing like Pac-Man' entity is helping 'move' some money, but "the ghosts of former security employees will do their best to make you into a happy little jailbird as soon as possible." Wow, so it's all about betrayal, death, and redemption? Take that, Indigo Prophecy. Oh, and Cop-Man 3D is also absolutely nothing like Pac-Mania, just to get things straight. Oddly, the games seem very professionally coded, even the ones 'borrowing' from Game & Watch, so it's a shame the gameplay couldn't be a little more... original? [Via normalroach.]

Toastyfrog's Katamari Magnacy

katafridge.jpg Over at the personal weblog of 1UP's Features Editor Jeremy 'Toastyfrog' Parish, there's a new post showing off the somewhat adorable Katamari Damacy fridge magnets constructed by his sister over the holiday period.

As Jeremy points out: "My sister made me [the magnets] for my birthday last year -- the King of All Cosmos, the hapless Prince and half a dozen of his royal cousins, all depicted with loving care via the woefully underappreciated medium of Shrinky-Dinks... Imagine my surprise when I visited my sister's apartment over the Christmas break and discovered she's been holding out on me. At some point she made herself a complete set of cousins."

However as Toasty quips, quite apart from the extra We Love Katamari relatives: "I tried telling her about the eight new royal cousins in the PSP game but for some reason she clamped her hands over her ears and shouted 'LA LA LA NOT LISTENING.'"

Wandering Around Korea, Aimfully

sta.jpg Jim Rossignol, who is a regular Gamasutra columnist as well as a veteran PC Gamer UK writer, has posted a copy of his recent PC Gamer article, 'Sex, Fame and PC Baangs: How the Orient plays host to PC gaming’s strangest culture', on his weblog.

It's fascinating stuff, and is marvellously specific on the extent of South Korea's obsession with gaming culture, to wit: "There are five cable channels devoted to games and one of those just to RTS titles like Starcraft. Recorded and edited bouts of top-level Starcraft matches accounts for viewing figures in the millions, taking up 1% of all the TV watched in Korea. There are two weekly newspapers and three four-hundred page monthly glossies that cater just to PC gaming. There are 26,000 gaming cafes in Korea, which make $6 billion a year from tens of thousands of visiting gamers."

On that subject, we note, via this Blizzard Insider page that there's even a book called 'Starcnomics', "an academic look at the positive effects StarCraft has had on the Korean economy." So... only Blizzard can save us from the housing bust by providing WoW virtual housing for us all? This is clearly only logical conclusion.

Philips Entertains With Entertaible

entertaible.jpg Over at sister site Gamasutra, we've just posted a news story about Philips' Entertaible, a hybrid gaming technology which continues the company's interest in the area following its recent announcements regarding its amBX 'ambient gaming technology'.

The Entertaible, currently just at a concept stage, "...comprises a 30-inch horizontal LCD, sophisticated touch screen-based multi-object position detection, and all supporting control electronics, and, according to the firm, "...allows the players to engage in a new class of electronic game which combines the features of computer gaming, such as dynamic playing fields and gaming levels, with the social interaction and tangible playing pieces, such as pawns and dies, of traditional board games.""

There are also hi-res pictures of the current Entertaible set-up on Philips' site - perhaps our universal dream of board games as exciting as the Star Trek 3D chess set is closer than we think?

Enter The Corn Field

cornfield.jpg We're referencing GSW contributor weblogs again, but over at Clickable Culture, TonyW has a great post on the 'hidden prison' in virtual world Second Life.

According to Tony: "Dubbed the "The Corn Field," the moonlit environment contains only rows of corn, two television sets, an aging tractor and a one-way teleport terminal allowing no escape. It exists as an alternative to standard disciplinary measures, which traditionally prevent access to Second Life completely."

SL player Nimrod Yaffle, recently imprisoned in the area for unspecified transgressions, seemed relatively unimpressed: "Yaffle was disappointed at the "insanely slow" pace of the tractor, and bored by the only channel available on the televisions--a presentation of the 1940 film "Boy in Court," about a troubled teenager on probation trying to avoid a life of crime." That industrial film is available for download as part of the Prelinger Collection over at the non-profit Internet Archive, for the curious, even if Yaffle wasn't 'scared straight' by it just yet.

MMOs Get All Mata Hari With Micropayments

swgdance.jpg For whatever reason, sometimes Paul Hyman's game columns for the Hollywood Reporter get a little lost in the shuffle, and this excellent pre-Christmas article on new business models for MMOGs is another comprehensive piece from the veteran author (who also writes for GameSetWatch sister publication Game Developer magazine regularly.)

In particular, Hyman covers Chinese company Shanda's shift from subscription to 'free to play, pay for items' on its older MMOs, with Shanda's Donglei Zhou commenting: "Instead of hanging around and waiting for these older games to lose more and more users, we proactively changed the revenue model and, as a result, expect the user base to pick up again as we attract users away from the competition."

In addition, SOE's John Smedley talks about the unspecified Western online game his company plans to launch in the near future using the same model, commenting: "The goal here is to just give the game away, invite the gamers in, and get them playing... And then, as they get further and further into the game, start saying things like, 'Hey, here's something you can buy if you'd like. Interested?"

So... "I heard shoving is worse than pushing, But I'd rather know a shover than a pusher, 'Cos a pusher's a jerk"? OK, OK, we'll try not to quote De La Soul again in an MMO-related post.

January 3, 2006

Microsoft's Xbox 360 Casual Gamble

mutantstorm.jpg Josh Korr of Florida newspaper The St. Petersburg Times kindly wrote in to point out that the paper recently started its own video game weblog, joining mainstream newspapers such as the San Jose Mercury News and the UK Guardian in the (buzzword alert!) 'game-specific blogosphere'.

Korr recently added some intriguing commentary on Microsoft's Xbox Live online service, referencing recent WSJ and NYT pieces on the service. He particularly suggests that Xbox Live Arcade and other 'casual' services may be far more important to the Xbox 360's online success than some might suggest: "If growing the installed base for the Xbox 360 is based on growing the number of casual and new gamers who buy the system, Microsoft won't get a 25-50 percent Xbox Live subscriber rate if the main reason to go online remains to play deathmatches." We'd love to analyze too, but we're too busy playing Mutant Storm Reloaded.

Beck UMD Competition Winner!

guero.jpg Our competition giving away a copy of Beck's Guero UMD special edition has now finished, yay! Our question was:

"Which UK collective directed the video game-like music video for Beck's E-Pro from the Guero album?"

The answer, of course, was Shynola, who have also recently been responsible for the awesome 'Guide' graphics in the Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy movie.

The randomly picked winner was Andy Johnson - congrats, Andy, you'll be getting your UMD over the next few days! Look out for more GameSetWatch competitions in the near future, some of them even including items you'd want to own.

Nintendo Goes (Pure) Gold

I love GOOOOOOLD In order to commemerate little else than cross-branding and pure gold lust, Nintendo of Japan and the Mitsubishi Materials Corporation have joined forces to release a set of pure gold Nintendo playing cards. Presumably honoring Nintendo's corporate roots in the playing card business, the deck of 54, nearly indistinguishable from any other brand of playing cards save their Famicom hue, will ship within the month to precious metal enthusiasts who like Nintendo logos.

Retailing at 425,250 yen (about $3600 USD), you'll probably have to limit yourself to one or two sets. Look for them at your locally owned MMC subsidiary retail outlet or the Shinsyu Golden Castle.

US Air Force Seeks Space War Simulator

TIEfighter.jpgDefense Tech has discovered that the US Air Force is looking at game technology to provide space combat training for its stalwart pilots. According to an official Air Force call for proposals, the effort is intended to help develop "counter space tactics, techniques, and procedures..." with an emphasis on four key tasks: "detect, identify, track, and disrupt activities from space vehicles."

The game, to be developed for multiple players, will incorporate 3D models representing both space and ground units, and involve live command and control information. Is a war in space is imminent? If so, which country will be piloting the X-Wings and which the TIE fighters?

Game Of The Year Of The Game

exit.jpg A couple of days ago, we thought we'd finished out 'Best Games of 2005' listings. But of course, we didn't. So here's some more. First off, Scott 'Lum The Mad' Jennings offers up his Top 10 new games of 2005, excluding MMOs, and throws some decidedly alternate choices in there, including Mercenaries ("It’s Grand Theft Auto: North Korea and that’s all you need to know") and Hearts Of Iron II ("I played this more than any game has a right to be played.")

Secondly, casual game don JayIsGames has released his Top 20 webgames for 2005, and there are all sorts of neat titles, including the incredibly addictive Nanaca Crash ("an action game remake of the Yetisports penguin tossing games of 2004"), and the distinctly weird Kingdom Of Loathing ("a turn-based, text adventure RPG with a self-mocking twist.")

Finally, a couple of leftovers - Japanese-dwelling GameSetWatch friend Jason and Nihongonauts has posted his top five games of 2005, interestingly headed by Taito's 2D puzzle-action title Exit for PSP, which is due out in the West this February from Ubisoft. And in a 'Top X of 2005' update, SomethingAwful's Zack Parsons completes his 'worst game journalism evah' piece by attempting to eviscerate Insert Credit terror, Next-Gen.biz contributor and general Internet controversy Tim Rogers.

Alpha Dream's Homebrew DS Hilarity

alphads.jpg Sharp-witted folks on the Gaming-Age forums have pointed to a Japanese-language interview with Alpha Dream, the developers of Mario & Luigi: Partners In Time for DS, via the Official Nintendo Online Magazine website. [Here's a particularly mangled translation via Altavista.]

Fortunately, the particularly choice part of the interview is visual - a snapshot of Alpha Dream's 'development DS' which the team concocted before the real Nintendo DS hardware was available. As they explain: "The っ which 2 is attached to the top and bottom being able to connect GBA with the け て communication cable, because the っ which means 4 being the button, it is, you attached the controller of the super Family Computer, it is, (laughing)." Hah - well, I guess that doesn't explain it too well - but it's a SNES controller plus two Game Boy Advances connected with a link cable, and it's absolutely priceless.

January 2, 2006

Yearly Quarterlies Arch Eyebrows Archly

cod2.jpg The front page of disorderly messageboard hang-out QuarterToThree has news of journalist TomChick's 'Quarterlies' Awards for 2005, described thus: "For the 2005 Quarterlies, I took each game's score from Gamerankings and Metacritic, weighed them according to the 7-9 scale, entered them into an Excel spreadsheet and arranged the list from top to bottom, adjusting them by fun factor and innovation. Then I deleted the file and made a list of my ten favorite games, as well as my choices for most disappointing and most surprising."

We won't spoil the entire thing for you, but a particularly interesting pick is Call Of Duty 2 for 'Most Surprising Game of 2005', as Mr. Chick notes of Activision and Infinity Ward's WWII shooter: "Call of Duty 2 is a perfect storm of noise, effects, scripting, and flexibility that manages to balance it all just right. It hasn’t been done this well in a long time." And it's true - CoD2 is definitely one of the most refreshing titles couched in conventional flesh this year.

Wizard DS Japes From Japan

swiz.jpg Here's a riddle for you - which Western-originated franchise is now arguably more popular in Japan than in the West? Why, that would be the Wizardry RPG series, which "was created by Andrew Greenberg and Robert Woodhead of Sir-Tech" back in 1980 while students at Cornell University.

Amazingly, the series, which made it through 8 PC iterations plus several spinoffs in the U.S., is still very much alive in Japan - as the Wikipedia page for WIzardry notes: "The popularity of Wizardry in Japan led to the making of an anime OVA (direct-to-video animation), and several original console sequels, spinoffs, and ports. Most have not been released in the US." In fact, the latest in the series, Starfish's Wizardry Asterisk for the Nintendo DS, was released last week in Japan.

Looking back, one of the most recent console versions of the series, Wizardry: Tale Of The Forsaken Land for PS2, did get a limited North American release in 2001 thanks to Atlus, and has a definite cult following for its oldschool RPG leanings. As for Wizardry Asterisk, Starfish's Japanese homepage for the game isn't that helpful, but a preview from The Magic Box offers up some neat screenshots of the game - think anyone will pick this up for Western release?

Attack Of The 50ft MMOSVG!

spend.jpg Over at MMO blog Terra Nova, Ren Reynolds has posted a fairly exhaustive round-up of all the sex-related MMOs due in 2006.

As he explains: "For those with better things to do than keep up with MMO acronym variants: the terms MMOEG (MMO Erotic Games) and MMOVSG (MMO Virtual Sex Games) are used pretty much interchangeably for a genre of multi-player online game that gives primacy to some aspect of sex or sexuality", and he then lists a number of (NSFW!) links that most notably include Spend The Night, the higher-profile erotic MMO to be launched this year by LA-based Republik Games.

Interesting, Reynolds then asks: "Commercially the question that I think hangs over these games (like a dildo of Damocles one might say) is: What’s the point?", suggesting that "...the problem that these MMOs face is that if cyber-sex interests you there is no shortage of [non-MMO] ways to explore it." Busted.

A Fond Farewell To Follin

solstice.jpg We're not entirely sure how long it's been up, but the front page of seminal game musician Tim Follin's website has a note from him officially announcing his retirement from video game music. He explains: "The games industry has offered me a slow and irregular trickle of work over the last ten years or so, that has caused me a great deal of distress and illness... It is thus... that I bid it farewell, as I embark on a new and, God willing, financially stable career in television advertising."

Though Follin is glad to be going, devotees of his amazing music output, such as the guys over at The Follin Drome fansite, are going to be pretty upset. A recent Follin interview at Gamasutra revealed his frustration with the game industry, despite his amazing early NES score to Solstice and his more recent classic soundtracks such as Ecco the Dolphin: Defender of the Future, commenting: "It’s getting to the point now where I’d rather be doing anything other than writing music – anything that pays as much for the same amount of work, that is!" Darn. Follin's last completed project will be Lemmings for PSP, then, and we're sad, too.

January 1, 2006

The Lists At The End Of The 2005 Game Universe

stranger.jpg Are we bored of end of year awards now? Probably, but let's cast our eye over the final few. Firstly, Eurogamer has been running its Top 50 for the year, with plenty of insightful commentary from the whole crew. The top title was announced today, and even if it's not out til February in Europe, Tim Schafer is likely delighted.

Elsewhere, fellow GSW-er GeekOnStun has released his 2005 Video Game Awards, and there are 5 joint games of the year, all superduperspecial. Oh, and much kudos for awarding Takashi Iizuka of Sonic Team the 'Best Smile Under Difficult Circumstances' - dude, Shadow, ouch.

Finally, we never specifically mentioned here, but a number of GameSetWatch editors and colleagues have posted their Top 3 games of the year over at Gamasutra. Among others, Brandon Sheffield waxes lyrical about obscure homebrew and arcade titles (surprise!), Frank Cifaldi plumps for a few choice cuts, Simon Carless (that's me!) digs on a little Katamari, and Brandon Boyer loves up the neglected Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath.

Vorc Ranks 2005's Chiptune Highs

ymck.jpg Japanese-based video game and 'chiptune' music site Vorc has released its 'VGM or Chiptunes of the Year Awards' for 2005, and the Best Record Of The Year goes to the "elegant vocal + NES-pop style" of the previously GameSetWatch-mentioned YMCK and their 'Family Racing' album.

In addition, the Game Boy-utilizing "blip pop" of David E. Sugar gets him the Best Artist Of The Year award, and the ever-reliable 8BitPeoples come away with Label Of The Year. It's also worth reading previous year's round-ups for some perspective, but this year, Vorc editor Hally notes that "the number of chip/lo-fi musicians is rapidly increasing", but some knowledge of the historical chiptune scene is being lost: "[in the] next year or so, 'generation gap' might surface as a key word."

Rummaging Inside The Rumble Box

rumble2.jpg Having stumbled across the newly launched Gamecrits website, we note that they've just put up a critique/review of free PC indie title Rumble Box, which is an IGF 'Innovation In Design' finalist.

Though waxing overlyrical in spots, there's some useful criticism ("My primary complaint about this title is a mechanical one. It’s difficult to control... The camera swings around, while the controls remain fixed"), before a happy conclusion is reached: "Much like [previously Gamecrits-reviewed title] Rag Doll Kung Fu, this title is an outstanding example of what independent game development can aspire to be. It’s small and simple, while being unique and stylishly executed."

Live, Mobile College Girls

college.jpg Well, it's the New Year, but mobile games are getting any less silly. Late in December, Touchlink Mobile released details on its 'College Girls' cellphone game [pixel-ish NSFW], which apparently "proved a great success in Russian market, [and] is coming out in English, Polish, Czech and Greek."

In the game, the player "...has to learn 20 sexual positions... [and] walks around the dormitory, meeting sexy inhabitants, making love to them and they teach him the secrets of sex." Oh, and Robert Mueller, the General Sales Manager of Touchlink Mobile said: “The key factors ensuring the success of College Girls are everlasting demand for adult content and exciting gameplay of the application. Personally I am still having a lot of fun playing this game." We bet you are, Robert.

[Also, Touchlink have an (unintentional?) eye for the hilarious cellphone game title - for example, Trivial Chicken, Forest For Mist, Sphere Rollers.]

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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