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

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Archive For March, 2006

COLUMN: 'Shmup Me Up, Buttercup' - Under Defeat's Spell

March 29, 2006 3:43 PM |

ud_logo.jpg ['Shmup Me Up, Buttercup' is a bi-weekly column by Jeremiah ''Nullsleep' Johnson, dealing with the latest shoot-em-ups, or shmups, from Japan and the West, and covering the frantically cultish game genre that refuses to die, despite many bullets aimed in its direction over the years.]

G.Rev Does It Again

In the last "Shmup Me Up" I made a point of mentioning the impending release of G.Rev's new shooter for the Dreamcast, Under Defeat. Those of you who took note and picked it up probably already know what I'm about to say. This game is brilliant. So brilliant in fact that I contemplated cancelling the column this week just to get more playtime in on it. But my loss is your gain, as I've recognized the importance of making it clear that you need this game, you need it so bad.

Pretty Pretty Boom Boom

ud_ss01.jpg The first thing that strikes you about this game is how absolutely polished it is. While graphics and audio are not necessarily the most important aspects of a shooter, it certainly doesn't hurt when a game looks and sounds as good as it plays. Under Defeat is polygon-based and has enough eye candy to easily stand alongside other wonderfully designed 3D shmups such as Gradius V and Ikaruga. The environments are diverse and detailed, with little elements that really add to the experience such as trees swaying from the force of explosions and cows falling over in shock during the first stage alone. Shoot an enemy helicopter while its sliding onto the screen and it wipes out, spinning and plummeting to it's death with a satisfying boom. Larger enemies and elements of destructible scenery produce plumes of dark smoke. Your secondary weapon emits a beep when it's ready to charge up and a metallic thud when it's locked and loaded, audio cues that help you keep your eyes on the action. And you've also got the option to play through the game with the original soundtrack or the excellent arranged soundtrack. It all helps to really enhance the mood of the game and get your adrenalin pumping.

Twist and Shoot

under_defeat.jpg Fortunately, Under Defeat has some great gameplay that lives up to the promise of it's graphics. Your helicopter is outfitted with front guns and a few of the standard screen-wiping bombs for escaping those tough spots. To supplement your main shot there is a secondary gunpod that delivers additional bursts of firepower and recharges when you stop shooting. The gunpod can be equipped with one of 3 different weapons. They range from the low-powered but quick-to-recharge vulcan, to a medium-powered cannon, and finally an impressively destructive high-powered rocket with a significant blast radius. If an enemy or object is destroyed by your gunpod its point value is doubled, making its use integral to playing for score. Another nice touch is the rotation of your helicopter either slightly towards or away from the direction you're moving in. Aggressive players will likely go for the first option, while the second offers a more intuitive approach if you're more likely to be shooting at things that you're running away from.

You Can Defeat Me All Day Long

Overall Under Defeat is a dream to play, and a pleasure to look at. The gradual increase in difficulty between levels, easy to grasp scoring system and flexible gameplay make it a great choice for beginners just learning to love bullets, and plenty of fun for veterans of the genre as well. G.Rev definitely has another hit on their hands here and their continuing support for the Dreamcast has gained them quite a loyal following. So if you're looking for some hot helicopter-on-helicopter action, this is where it's at. Glad that's done with, now I need to get back to playing.

[Jeremiah Johnson is co-founder of chipmusic and computer-art collective, 8bitpeoples.com based out of New York City. Working with Game Boys and NES consoles to create music, he has been featured in various publications ranging from Wired to Vogue.]

Preview Ho Digs Up Stinky Gumballs

March 29, 2006 10:24 AM | Simon Carless

spyspy.jpg So, you may remember that GSW was on the outraged side about James Wagner Au's new 'Preview Ho' column for Kotaku, which seemed to err on the 'death squad' side of judging game journalism.

Well, ol' Waggie, we take our hat off to you, you've discovered a genuinely disturbing online game site secret - the practice of selling 'gumballs' on the front page of major sites like GameSpot and GameSpy.

As the piece explains: "Gumballs are those thumbnail screenshots you see on the front page of GameSpot, when you visit the site— clicking on these takes you to an article about the game... In the GameSpot invoice I looked at, a gumball for two weeks cost the media buyer’s client over $7000." Au's source notes: “You can purchase messaging plus units that increase the likelihood of an article about your game showing up on their front page."

Though this isn't about the quality or otherwise of the previews (and our previous comments, that we feel the vast majority of previews are unbiased, stand), this seems, at least to me, to overstep the edit/advertising boundaries. I had no idea this was going on, and we've certainly never done it for Gamasutra (we have sponsored sections, like Nokia's on the front page right now, but they are clearly delineated with a dotted line and the word 'Sponsored' in the link.)

I'm aware that the content it links to isn't sponsored, but, for example, which of the article and/or trailer links on the front page of GameSpy has been paid to be fixed in place right now? All? None? Just.. yuck. If this is going to happen, there needs to be some indication that a sponsor has paid for increased prominence.

In Oblivion, Everyday Life Is Boring

March 29, 2006 5:12 AM | Simon Carless

obliv.jpg So, Dave Long's latest column over at GamerDad raises an interesting question about overly expansive video games, specifically brought up because of Bethesda's immensely popular Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion.

Long comments of Oblivion's extremely open game style: "...for all [Oblivion's] attempt at immersing me in its world--and let me tell you, I've been super immersed--the moment I get into the main plot and see that I can simply walk away from those events with no penalty, returning whenever I like and finding that time simply stood still, that immersion goes right out the window."

Of course, there's a logical fix for this, suggested by GamerDad: "So the question becomes, what if the world did go on without you? That brings up better and more intriguing possibilities, but a whole lot of extra work for the developers and designers. Walking away from a big fight should result in some kind of good or bad outcome of that fight. Without you, the townspeople should maybe lose the battle you decided was too heated for you, thus causing bad things to happen."

Or, playing devil's advocate, is that the kind of thing that you wouldn't expect to happen in an RPG, so it shouldn't? All we know is that modern games are complicacacacated.

Braid Creator Goes Painting, Raspberrying

March 29, 2006 12:12 AM | Simon Carless

paint.jpgYou might have heard of the rather intriguing Jon Blow from his work running the Experimental Gameplay Workshop at GDC, or his former code column for Game Developer magazine.

Even if not, then you might have spotted that his rather spectacular, rather mysterious time-reversing game, Braid (actually described in print by Tom Chick for Yahoo!, for those wondering what the heck it is about!), which won the 'Innovation In Game Design' award at this year's Independent Games Festival.

No demos of Braid are available yet, but we did find a game prototypes webpage on Jon's site, including such extremely cool downloadable Windows prototypes as Painter ("There are different critics with contradictory aesthetics who judge your painting, and you try to construct things that please enough of them to get by"), and Raspberry ("The goal of this game was to explore gameplay modeled as a time-based composition (the way music is).") Go check 'em out.

COLUMN: 'Parallax Memories'- Secret of Mana

March 28, 2006 3:11 PM |

SoMhead.jpg['Parallax Memories' is a regular weekly column by Matthew Williamson, profiling classic '16-bit' games from the Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo, and other seminal '90s systems. This week's column profiles Squaresoft’s action RPG: Secret of Mana, released for the Super Nintendo in late 1993 in the U.S. and Japan, and debuting later in 1994 in Europe.]

Turned into a Moogle!

Secret of Mana is a game that started its heritage as a Final Fantasy title in the U.S. Released stateside as Final Fantasy Adventure, Seiken Densetsu for the Game Boy is the first title in the “Mana” series of games. While it never felt like a Final Fantasy game, I did enjoy it. Little did I know that it was part of its own series until my discovery on the internet years later.

Released in late 1993 for the SNES, Secret of Mana (Seiken Densetsu 2) is one of Squaresoft’s most colorful and aesthetically pleasing games. The music, created by Hiroki Kikuta, is extremely well implemented and memorable. It ranges from haunting and unsettling to exhilarating and fun, yet is always fitting for the mood and setting of each well crafted area.

1.pngA Boy, a Girl, and a Sprite

The game starts with you and your friends on a treasure hunt over a river, next to a waterfall. The sun is out and you’re without a care in the world. One wrong move and you find yourself in the river, only able to return home by taking the sword in a nearby stone and chopping your way through the forest. Unbeknown to you, these actions result in the return of all evil to the land and the leaching of Mana energy from the world.

After finding that the sword is the Sword of Mana and being exiled from your town, you decide to stop the evil forces that have arisen. On your quest you pick up a sprite that has lost its memory and a girl who is trying to find her true love.

Like a good team, even after you’ve helped them solve their problems they will stay with you. Unfortunately, the story was poorly translated, and at times is somewhat confusing, but it’s not the focus of the game anyway.

2.jpgLaunched From a Cannon

The game takes you over many different beautifully designed locations, each filled with unique enemies and tons of boss battles. The story is just a tool to make you a tourist in this lovely world.

The real joy comes from playing the game itself: mastering the use of three characters if you are playing by yourself, or learning to play well other people controlling each character in the team.

The action element lends itself quite well to the strategy of RPGs in Secret of Mana. The ability to play with more than one person is just icing on the cake. The overall package--gameplay, music, graphics and story--is not one to be missed; even if the story is a weak link.

[Matthew Williamson is the creator of The Gamer's Quarter, an independent videogame magazine focusing on first person writing. His work has been featured on MTV.com, 1up.com, Chatterbox Radio, and the Fatpixels Radio Podcast.]

XYZZY Ranks Top Text Adventures For 2005

March 28, 2006 12:12 PM | Simon Carless

r360.jpg Those good folks at Adventure Gamers have spotted an important event in the interactive fiction world that we missed - the XYZZY Award winners for 2005!

As AG points out: "Leading the pack with four of the ten awards was Jason Devlin's Vespers - a monastery-set game with multiple endings - which was also the winner of this year's Annual Interactive Fiction Competition, while group effort Beyond triumphed in the "best story" and "best individual puzzle" categories."

Personally, we kinda enjoy the idea of Tough Beans, by Sara Dee, for which, as a recent review explains: "Tough Beans does a better job of describing a day where everything just goes wrong than does Son of a...(another entry in this year’s competition). The story hints at something deeper." We like it when things go wrong! Also, apparently, points in the game [MINOR SPOILER ALERT!] "...are awarded in situations where Wendy shows some backbone, spunkiness, cleverness, etc." Which is conceptually neat.

Gamer's Quarter Debuts Issue 5

March 28, 2006 6:16 AM | Simon Carless

gq5.jpg Just before the weekend, an alert went out - there was nothing that could be done, but the new 5th issue of The Gamer's Quarter, sporting an "enormous 114 page monster of goodness" in terms of old, 'new', and busted game writing, had debuted.

It turns out you can also pre-order a print version of the issue, but for those just content to download the PDF [.ZIP], this will also work perfectly well for you.

Our favorite section is probably 'Phoenix Wright and the Turnabout Hair-Burger' by Mariel "Kinoko" Cartwright and Jonathan "Persona-Sama" Kim, another delightfully deranged comic.

But 'Not New Games Journalism Manifesto' by J. R. "Mr. Mechanical" Freeman, which talks to Kieron Gillen and Jeremy Parish (though apparently without the latter's permission to reprint), is a reasonably fun jaunt through hilarious navel-gazing, for old time's sake. We at GSW are currently practicing Fossilized Game Journalism, incidentally. The Black Belt 'Toasty' version.

Gizmondo Gets 'True GameTrailers Story'

March 28, 2006 12:15 AM | Simon Carless

gizcake.jpg Unfortunately, our extensive Gizmondo coverage has pretty much slowed to a stop, much like Stefan Eriksson's Ferrari Enzo, post-impact, but that didn't stop the MTV-owned GameTrailers site from posting a detailed video on the Gizmondo farrago that we've just spotted.

The account is particularly handy because it repurposes a lot of CNN footage from the original crash, including lots of spectacular overhead helicopter shots of the crash scene, as well as re-highlighting the mysterious 'Dietrich', whom we at GSW are still obsessed with. In any case, it's great to see a pictorial version of all that stuff we've been writing about.

[Oh, while we're here, and didn't previously get a chance to blog this, tech weblog Engadget had a geek birthday cake competition a few days back, and one of the featured cakes was a totally awesome Gizmondo-themed one, with a Ferrari cake ripped in half, a fake electricity pole, a miniature bottle of whiskey, and even a confectionary Gizmondo. NIce going!]

GameSetQ: A Brain Age For Your Parents?

March 27, 2006 6:02 PM | Simon Carless

btrain.jpg So, we thought we'd try something new, in additional to our columns and other shenanigans - a daily question to be answered by GameSetWatch readers in the comments of this lovable weblog, and in some way related to the day's gaming issues.

The very first one deals with Nintendo's Brain Age, the DS title inspired by the research of Professor Ryuta Kawashima, a prominent Japanese neuroscientist, and discussed in some depth by Satoru Iwata in last week's GDC keynote - the series has collectively sold well over 5 million copies in Japan, and comes to the U.S. next month - with some of us already toting our free GDC copies. The question is:

"Do you think your mother and/or father would appreciate playing Brain Age? In fact, will your dear parents usher in the mainstream game age by buying a DS just to play Nintendo's brain teasers, like in Japan?"

I'm totally going to cheat by making the first comment to give my own answer, but we promise not to post any other replies under ridiculous pseudonyms - all of those belong to you!

COMIC: The Multicart Project: Part Three

March 27, 2006 11:59 AM |

punchouticon.pngThe Multicart Project is a weekly comic by cartoonist Dave "Shmorky" Kelly, detailing the lives of Nintendo Entertainment System characters way past their prime, living in low-income housing and just trying to get by - check out the full comic archives so far.

In part three, Little Mac from Punch-Out sticks and moves his way into our hearts, again. Let's watch, won't we?


[Dave "Shmorky" Kelly's cartoons have appeared in all sorts of exciting internet places, such as Keenspot, Shmorky.com, and Something Awful, where he served as animator on the Doom House DVD, and is currently outputting The Flash Tub on a weekly basis. He also has an Internet Movie Database entry, which makes him more famous than you.]

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