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April 15, 2006

Final Fantasy's Potion Motion

ffd.jpg We pretty much adore the off-handed import game commentary from the NCSX folks, and were amused to see that they've now imported the regular Final Fantasy XII potion drinks, which apparently come in supermarket 6 packs, following delivery of the totally sumptuous limited-edition versions last week - pretty ornate stuff.

We were especially tickled by the following description for the regular version: "The glass bottles are packaged six per retainer but the cardboard holder is so flimsy that anyone attempting to lift up a sixpack from the top will end up losing all four of the outlying bottles. A dropped bottle also explodes into tiny shards of very sharp glass as NCS discovered earlier this morning..."

As for the taste itself, eloquence is again provided: "First impression: apple juice. Or is it Kool-Aid? No, make that sugared water infused with a tangy bite that hits your tongue with a tart explosion of flavor which slowly dissipates as the liquid washes down your throat. A loose approximation of the flavor is Arizona Green Tea in those fanciful green bottles." If you're hankering for more FFXII drink fun, there's a good Flickr gallery from a fan who ordered an entire premium box (!), and YouTube has a copy of the amusing Japanese commercial for the Suntory-produced beverage.

Casual Games Get Worldwide Top 10

cakem.jpg Via Phil Steinmeyer, a pointer to a new casual game weblog, Logler, that is trying to do a canonical PC casual game top 10, which is "based on data of top 15 major casual games portals".

It's pretty interesting to see the results of the second chart, which has Sandlot's Cake Mania, another title spawned from the Diner Dash school, albeit much more elegantly than Roller Rush, firmly atop the rankings.

The people at Logler have also compiled a list of the major casual game portals, which, oddly enough, I can't recall anyone else having done before. Thus, with more 'professional' casual game review sites like Gamezebo, and the continuing RealArcade sales stats available at Game-Sales-Charts, there's a lot more discussion and ranking of casual titles lately, it appears - a good thing.

Pick Up A Pokemelon Today

ポケ.jpg Nintendo and its various franchises are a steady predictable in Japanese supermarkets and convenience stores, with everyone from Hamtaro chocolate to Pokemon gummies. Now, the company is expanding that to train stations too.

According to Famitsu, Nintendo is teaming up to use Suica (Japanese link), the ubiquitous electronic money card, with their Pokemon centers and various other outlets throughout Japan. Children will be able to use their cards to buy Pokemon merchandise, challenge others in games right on the spot, win prizes, and participate in events like the annual summer JR Train Line Pokemon Stamp Rally (it's only a matter of time before its as traditional as the tea ceremony). The article even shows an example of Pokemon/Suica slot machines, proving its never too early to teach your kids the value of gambling.

This is terribly handy, you see, because Suica is wonderful. Named because they are Super Urban Intelligent Cards, as a play on the word for watermelon in Japanese, at thousands of kiosks and these guys update your account instantaneously by simply being near them and in your pocket. Lately, they've been combined with a new technology in cellphones that allows you the ultimate convenience of simply walking through a train gate with your cellphone in your pocket to instantly deduct trainfare wherever you go.

Combined, these two technologies can buy everything you'd want in the legion of vending machines and stores that crop up around the heavy business of train stations. Thus, in yet another way, Nintendo increasingly becomes a part of Japanese lifestyle.

The Land Of The Rising Fun

rfun.jpg We haven't been ignoring 1UP this week - we've just been waiting until their excellent, week-long 'Rising Fun' cover feature is entirely online so that we can, like, link to it.

The six-feature combo is "a tribute to [abstract Japanese] games: sometimes nonsensical, but as entertaining as anything to come from western minds", and uber-frog Jeremy Parish burbles on: "Whether it's the Earthbound-esque post-modernism of Contact or Odama's completely ludicrous combination of pinball, real-time strategy, and feudal Japan, the five games we're highlighting this week are as entertaining as they are strange."

Also good news: getting a v.fun interview on the delightfully weird kissing sim Chulip, and a super-smart interview with the Loco Roco folks - talking of which, we only just found out that American-in-Japan Greggman is the lead programmer for it. Also, bonus article on Devil Summoner's controversial past - great stuff, 1UPers.

GDC's Nintendo Keynote, Game Developer Perspectives

nkeyn.jpg Yes, yes, we know it's a little while after the show, but there's still some interesting GDC-related videos and reports wandering out there onto the wide world of the Interweb. In particular, Ziff's GameVideos.com has just posted direct-feed video from Satoru Iwata's Nintendo keynote - not the whole thing, just highlights, but for those who didn't make it, it's good to see actual video excerpts from a sly, funny speech.

Elsewhere, various post-GDC threads on messageboards have posted to a couple of good GDC wrap-up articles by pro game developers. Kyle Wilson, who works at Day 1 Studios, posted an excellent round-up of his GDC experiences on his GameArchitect website, noting: "GDC 2006, in San Jose, was my fifth GDC. They're all starting to run together at this point, and this year's GDC was, as always, huge, frustrating, inspirational, boring, fascinating and exhausting in random measure." He may have also given Iwata a cold, so N-fans, please hunt him down immediately.

In addition, High Moon staffer, GDC advisory board member and all-round nice guy Noel Llopis has posted his own impressions of GDC 2006, with some particularly good observations: "One pattern I noticed in this year's GDC is that, for technical talks, the more general the talk, the more I enjoyed it. As soon as they got bogged down in details, they became much less effective. A lot of it has to do with the dry nature of the topics, and the fact that I can get all those details from a well-written paper. On the other hand, the more general talks (advanced prototyping, Will's keynote, or the God of War one) were all very motivational and inspirational."

[Oh, and some good potential gossip in here - God Of War lead designer David Jaffe and lead programmer Tim Moss had dueling lectures at the show, and Wilson claims that "Tim Moss walked out of Jaffe's talk", which dealt with the tremendous pressures inherent in a freeform vs. carefully planned-out approach to game design. And why those two are The Odd Couple, presumably.]

April 14, 2006

Atelier: Grand Profit

puniher.jpgWhile bicycle riding, have you ever thought, "I really need a helmet to scare away girls?" Well, Japanese game developer Gust has just the merchandise for you. You can even get hers and his t-shirts designed make you look the part of the hero. And when you get slapped by the ladies, no problem, Gust's got your back with slime-branded bath salts designed to melt those cares away with hot water. That's not all!

At night, use your very own talking fairy to console you. With recordable messages, you can even make it say, "I'm the only one who loves you just as much as mom does!" As many small gaming companies do, such as Nippon Ichi, Gust offers a wide variety of overpriced merchandise to their hardcore to help them stay in business and produce all those fantastic-looking 2D games.

Just who is Gust, though? Their employees show up to work in furry hats and baggy pantaloons, playing pan flutes, lutes and bagpipes to their computers until a game pops out. Their office is a forest treehouse called Salburg (Japanese language link) where they frolic with the kind animals on lunch breaks.

Okay, Gust is known for making vibrant and unique, yet extremely soft and sweet console RPGs, usually of very high quality. They perhaps got off on the wrong foot with American gamers when their first game to reach these shores, Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana was a calculated, by-the-numbers, mediocre RPG, having little of the individuality of their earlier titles. Luckily, they seem to be having a renaissance of sorts. Their January release in collaboration with Banpresto, Ar Tonelico (Japanese language link), an opera-singing battle maiden apocalyptic floating tower psychological dungeon hack, has left gamers effusive with praise for the title.

Better yet, their Atelier series of alchemy and shop-keeping PlayStation 2 RPGs seems to be getting back on the right track. The newest, Atelier Iris: Grand Fantasm, splits the narrative into two sides. On one side, there is Iris Fortner who runs the shop and does alchemy, making items. On the other side, there's a member of a mercenary group named Edge Vanhite who goes out on missions. These missions take our hero to the Ancient Grimoire Castle, a very Castlevania-esque beauty, as well as a variety of other worlds, whose exploration Gust claims is a return to the non-linear and open-ended style of the earlier titles. Edge always has a time limit in these other worlds before he must return to Ze Meles, a huge city where Iris concentrates on running that shop. The game will also bring back an emphasis on the more interesting alchemy shop part, and includes what looks to be a very cool class system based on fusing with spirits found in the wild.

The official site has a pretty nice movie (Japanese language link) up for those who are curious. The game is scheduled to be released June 29th in Japan and will come packaged with nightingale feathers, chocolate and fluffy bunnies. Honest. [Oh, and the 2005 release Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana 2 is due out in the States in the near future, too.]

COLUMN: 'Bastards of 32-Bit' - Devil Dice

devildice1.jpg['Bastards of 32-Bit' is a weekly column by Danny Cowan that focuses on overlooked, underrated, and inexplicable titles from the era of the PlayStation, Saturn, and Nintendo 64. This week's column covers the THQ-published puzzle title Devil Dice for the Sony PlayStation, released in the U.S. in June 1998.]

Alea Jacta Est!

It takes a spark of inspiration and not a small amount of luck for a homebrew title to cross over into the mainstream. There aren't many games that have successfully done so in the past, and the stories behind attempted releases like Drymouth and Cave Story's PSP port give some indication of the peril that small-time developers face when trusting their work to publishers.

Devil Dice is one of the lucky homebrew titles that possessed both the necessary creative energy and the good fortune to avoid exploitation by an unscrupulous publisher. Initially programmed using nothing more than the Net Yaroze consumer development toolkit, Devil Dice so impressed Sony that the result was eventually a commercially-released game, followed by a number of sequels, the newest of which was recently released for the PSP. Despite two domestic releases, however, the Devil Dice series remains an obscurity in the United States.

devildice2.jpg(It means "The die is cast!")

As with the best puzzle games, Devil Dice's gameplay is simple in premise, but full of nuance. You control a little devil who runs around a playfield where dice spawn underfoot. In an attempt to stop the onslaught of dice, you can move them around by either pushing them or rolling them into other dice of the same top face number. Once you push together a set amount of dice determined by top face (two connected dice with a top face of two, six with a top face of six, etc.), the dice glow and start to sink back into the ground. It's at this point that you have the opportunity to eliminate more dice by rolling or pushing dice of the same top face into the sinking set. This is where the game's combo system comes into play, with further matches rewarded with more points.

Devil Dice contains a number of variations upon the main game, including the requisite puzzle mode -- where screens must be cleared in a certain number of moves -- and various flavors of multiplayer. Devil Dice can be played competitively with up to five people at a time, but the cooperative two-player mode is even more engrossing. Together, two players can set up chains and combos to mutual benefit, and can perform time-saving moves that aren't possible with a single player. Few puzzle games encourage cooperation rather than competition, and this mode alone provides plenty of reason for replay.

Hey, the game quoted Caesar, not me.(Julius Caesar said that.)

As fun as Devil Dice may be, its gameplay is surpassed in every way by the Japan-only sequel XI Jumbo. XI Jumbo expands upon the original's cooperative two-player mode, and also introduces the ability to jump and flip dice, adding a whole new element of strategy to the Devil Dice formula.

XI Jumbo was later followed by XI Go for the PlayStation 2, which found an American release under the title Bombastic. Bombastic features a quest mode and new exploding dice, but these innovations ultimately add little to the core gameplay. Fortunately, Bombastic includes the original Devil Dice and XI Jumbo gameplay modes as unlockable bonuses, both of which retain their great cooperative play modes.

Devil Dice may have never found its audience in the United States as it did in Japan, but Bombastic remains one of the best puzzle titles to be released on the PS2, and fans of cooperative gameplay owe it to themselves to check the series out.

[Danny Cowan is a freelance writer hailing from Austin, Texas. He has contributed feature articles to Lost Levels Online and 1up.com, and his writing appears monthly in Hardcore Gamer Magazine.]

Killing Bunnies (In Lineage II) For Fun, Profit

bunnies.jpg Via a reinvigorated FiringSquad comes the somewhat bizarre news that NCSoft's PC MMO Lineage II is providing helpless bunnies to slaughter as part of its Easter celebrations. How delightfully horrible.

As the write-up notes of the special MMO event: "The bunny event will last a week [from April 14th to 20th] and will allow players not just to kill lots of cute rabbits but in doing so "receive experience boosts and an occasional skill point scroll."" There's more info on the spurious game back story over at GameZone.

Personally, we prefer the Easter-related quests in Sega's Phantasy Star Online: Blue Burst, which are much less viciously cuddly, and in which: "Players will now have the chance to hunt Egg Rappies and Easter Eggs." The cheeky folks at PSO-World also point out: "The Easter theme will remain up until April 25th. In the meantime, do not try to pilfer Easter Eggs from the lobby decorations!"

Virt Takes On Katamari & Friends, Chiptune Style

virt.jpg Earlier in the month, our 'Cherish The Chips' columnist Nullsleep provided an ebullient review of the NYC PulseWave chiptune concert that included game musician and VGMix founder Virt among its number.

Well, Virt's now updated his weblog with most of the music played at PulseWave, and oh my word, it rocks hard. For starters, there's an absolutely awesome Katamari Damacy cover version [.MP3] done in NES + VRC6 sound chip stylee, and even better, an excellent Korg Oasys FM synthesis track, Blast Off Again [.MP3], apparently a sequel to a track on his epochally good 'FX 2' music disc (released on this poster's Monotonik net.label).

But even neater still is a NES + VOPM track called FX3 Preview [.MP3], in which all kinds of insane retro shapes are thrown. Possibly the chiptune release of the year so far, and it's just a dump of some in-progress live tracks - we fear for our children if Virt, who currently works for Gameloft on cellphone soundtracks, ever gets it together to release an album.

Game Room Magazine Adds PDF Freebie

grjpg Neat news - we note that the arcade, pinball, and jukebox trade/collector magazine GameRoom, which has actually been around since 1988, has just added a PDF download of the March 2006 issue as a sample to its site.

The issue includes fun and games such as pinball designer Steve Ritchie discussing the latest Stern pinball machine, World Poker Tour, and it's interesting that he was at first concerned about the project: "I feared that we would have to overlay a set of poker rules over another set of pinball rules, and sometimes people are confused by the pinball rules alone", continuing that it "just wasn’t a high-impact theme."

There's also a very fun column from Dave Ellis, who runs DavesClassicArcade.com. In fact, you can see the total cost of his collection on his website - a princely $9369.67, including the fact that "...when determining how much a game actually costs, you have to figure in all of the ancillary things like shipping/transportation, sales tax, auction fees, and restoration parts and materials." Go, Dave!

April 13, 2006

He's A Renegade Beekeeper... With Amnesia!

whiteboard.jpg Words cannot express how much we adore Schadenfreude Interactive, the perky German creators of Accordion Hero, and their new 'Schadenfreudian Slips' column for sister site Gamasutra deals with the vital issue of pitching your video game to a publisher.

Among the surprisingly useful tips are 'Present your design, and yourself, in a professional manner' ("I can reasonably assure you that Sid Meier does not smell like a barrel of unwashed socks - please do not tell me if this is otherwise, as it would crush all of my dreams"), as well as 'Think it all the way through' ("Amateur game designers do not risk quite as much bodily harm as amateur parachute designers, but both can be expected to produce horribly messy flops.")

But most importantly, the German wunderkinds note that you should 'Have an original idea', ruminating: "Shakespeare said “there is nothing new under the sun”. Mein Gott, I am so very, very tired of that quote. But it is true...I cannot tell you how many times we have heard these very same pitches: ...it's like The Oregon Trail, but with zombies ...it's like Ninja Gaiden, but with pirates ...it's like Pirates!, but with ninjas ...it's like Chubby Gristle for the Amiga, but with zombies, pirates, and ninjas." Hey, us too!

Nintendo R&D1 Show Their Warez

rd1.jpg The ever-lovin' Kikizo, a UK site that often concentrates on in-depth Japanese game developer interviews (Sega a specialty!), has landed a rare chat with Nintendo's R&D1 team, also described in the piece as the 'Wario Ware All-Star Team'.

The team includes Metroid supremo Yoshio Sakamoto, who comments of the game's concept (originally birthed from the N64DD tool Polygon Studio): "...we got the idea of using Wario and the other characters because we couldn't think of anyone else who would be best for the role. Wario is always doing stupid things and is really idiotic, so we thought him and the rest of the characters would be best for the game."

Kikizo also get in one of the funnier questions asked recently: "Weren't you afraid of someone hurting themselves on the train while playing [tilt sensor enabled] MaWaRu [Wario Ware: Twisted]?", to which the reply was "That's why on all Nintendo games they have warning labels, and in MaWaRu we also put a warning label in the game in case something bad happens. We hope that everyone doesn't hurt themselves on the platform... I hope that people don't hurt themselves in the train either!"

Game Ads A-Go-Go: The Dirty Mind of a Gamer

vcg_logo_gsw.jpg['Game Ads A-Go-Go' is a bi-weekly column by Vintage Computing and Gaming's RedWolf that showcases good, bad, strange, funny, and interesting classic video game-related advertisements, most of which are taken from his massive classic game magazine collection.]

Your favorite wannabe snarky ad commentator is back, except this time without the snarky comments. "What?!" you say, "RedWolf, have you gone completely insane?" The short answer to that question is, "yes," but I'll explain.

Everybody knows that going way out of your way to turn an ordinary situation into some form of sexual innuendo is absolutely hilarious. There are people out there in the world whose sole method of communication is through sexual innuendo. We've done it to ourselves culturally by refusing to address sex directly, so all of a sudden anything could be a code word for a sexual act. This week I'll be taking a look at ads that are oozing with sexual potential. All that's left is to fill in your own commentary using your own dirty mind. Nothing I could write could be more entertaining than that. So let's quit jerking around and do it already.

Just Beat It


This is only one half of a two-page "World Blockbuster Game Championships" ad. But it's enough.

Jingle Ballz


This one has some intentional non-sexual innuendo, and yet it works so well for our topic.

He's on a Joy Ride Too


I'm not even touching this one.

If You Like it Hard and Fast



[RedWolf is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Vintage Computing and Gaming, a regularly updated "blogazine" that covers collecting, playing, and hacking vintage computing and gaming devices. He has been collecting vintage computers and game systems for over 13 years.]

Hirameki Spills On Visual Novel Shenanigans

anima.jpg We continue to track the previously mentioned Hirameki International, one of the few companies localizing dating-centric Japanese visual novels for the West, and their latest appearance is in an interview with Hirameki's Shinichi Shimura over at Anime Advanced.

Some interesting details involve discussions on how risque title Animamundi: Dark Alchemist would be rated by the ESRB: "Because the game footage submitted was insufficient, we were unable to have the game reviewed in time for NYCC. We are aiming for a rating of “Mature,” and all of us at Hirameki have put in a lot of effort to make sure that happens. I know that some fans have been worrying about Animamundi: Dark Alchemist being rated “AO,” but I don’t think that will be the case." (It turns out to have been rated M, post-interview).

Also touched on is Hirameki's switch from Dragon's Lair style DVD 'interactive movies' to all-PC titles for its visual novels: "It is very difficult to develop DVD games, and there are few companies that are capable of doing so. In addition, Hirameki’s direction as a company has changed quite a bit since we first announced those games, and at the moment we don’t have any plans to release them, either as DVD games or PC games." Nice to see these niches well served with other titles, nonetheless.

Kill. Your. Television.

kyourtv.jpg We've previously covered the mysterious Ancil 'Dessgeega' Anthropy, and now a GSW reader writes in to point out a new PC game named 'Kill Your Television', created for free distribution by the aforementioned Ms. Geega.

The rather deliciously post-modern twitch shmup, which uses sounds and music from the classic Disposable Heroes Of Hiphoprisy track, has the following simple concept: "televisions are invading your mental space, bringing racism, sexism, the beauty standard, jingoism, lies, commercialism, and manufactured consent. if they reach your dot you're done!"

So, it's a green and black shooter with some interesting combo-style effects after you turn the televisions off: "exploding tvs can hit other tvs... to create big chains! the more you chain, the more points you get!" It's all very Xbox Live Arcade meets vector monitors meets Robotron meets Crystal Quest in heck. And we like it - one of the better uses of Game Maker thus far, at least!

April 12, 2006

COLUMN: 'Shmup Me Up, Buttercup' - Don't Shoot Shoot Shoot That Gun At Me

anti-shmup.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.]

Lay Down Your Arms

There was an interesting discussion a little while back on the Shmups forums about certain shooters that seemed to emphasize a pacifist approach to gameplay through the mechanics of their scoring systems. To put it plainly, if you wanted to go for the high scores in these games, you would be better off just not shooting. After all, at their most basic level shmups require only two actions from the player — shooting and dodging. And with bullet dodging arguably being the more defining aspect of the genre, it was inevitable that some games would take the non-shooting concept to its ultimate end.

Photo Shoot in Touhou Boots

bullet.jpg One such game is ZUN's Shoot the Bullet, a doujin "photography game" originally released at Comiket69 for the PC. The game consists of a series of boss battles featuring characters from the Touhou universe. To say there isn't any shooting involved in this game would be a lie, but its an entirely different type of shooting here. Amidst the frantic dodging of your opponent's bullet patterns, you are not expected to return fire but instead to photograph them. There are only two action buttons used in the game, one to slow your character's movement for more precise manuevering and another to take pictures.

Holding the photo button down allows you to move the crosshairs closer to the target while time is slowed down, the tradeoff being that the size of the frame shrinks, the longer that you hold the button. Between shots there is a period of time you must wait for your camera to recharge. Once you have successfully taken a certain number of pictures of your opponent, they will be defeated. Its a very unique concept, with the title's gameplay requiring many of the same skills needed for more traditional shmups, but with a definite twist.

Every Preconception Blown Away

extend.jpg Another anti-shmup with a twist is the brilliantly conceived Every Extend. This freeware doujin game was first released back in 2004, and there is an updated PSP port planned for commercial release this year (apparently not in time to beat the homebrew DS port though). So what is so different about Every Extend? Well, it takes the concept that dying is bad, and totally obliterates it.

Here, blowing yourself up is the primary gameplay mechanic, and everything else revolves around timing this action perfectly. Indeed, the "quick manual" for this game contains the extremely brief explanation of "blow up self to involve enemies," and lists the only controls as "move" and "blow up self." This is truly elegant game design. Clarifying the previous explanation slightly, the goal of Every Extend is to blow yourself up at key moments in order to set off chain reactions of explosions that take out as many enemies as possible. The longer the chain, the more points you score towards getting a life extend to make up for that one you just threw away.

There are also 3 types of items: green capsules that give points, yellow ones that extend your remaining time, and red "quicken" items that increase the amount of enemies and the speed at which they move. In the end, you're left with a game where you're working to get as many enemies on-screen at once as possible just so you can kill yourself in the midst of them. It doesn't get much further from conventional shmup gameplay than that. But somehow, Every Extend manages to be instantly addictive and a lot of fun as it indulges in its individuality.

Should I Shoot Or Should I Go Now?

So, is this the future of shmups? Shooting games without the shooting? Probably not. But these games serve as testaments to the fact that there is still plenty of room left for new ideas in this genre, new directions yet to be explored. So take it easy, give them a chance and give your trigger finger a rest for a while.

Research on the Black Curtain

2764.gifIf you think about all the times you've seen Game Over or some such message on your television or monitor, it's surprising how little attention its been given in the academic games world. The Japan chapter of the International Game Developers Association (Japanese-language link) recently pointed out that Glocom International University's Research on Game Design and Narrative (RGN) is researching the many expressions of death in video games with an end to provoking new, broader expressions. The RGN reported their first findings in an event that took place on April 9th - there's some confusingly translated English-language info (possibly better than nothing!) on GameStudy.org.

According to Otsuka Eiji, critic and novelist, who has written such books as Creation of the Character Novel, "At the realization that movies, manga, mysteries and the like can only treat a person's death symbolically, when related to groping toward the reality of death, I cannot but think that games--and novel-like games that use game language as a starting point--have not put forth more than a poor effort."

So what's Otsuka's solution? He proposes to rigorously analyze the current expressions of death within games, so that critical vocabulary can be developed to encourage a new viewpoint from which to think about and express the great beyond. At the Critique of Games site (Japanese-language link), which offers numerous databases of info from their research, you can see how games from Final Fantasy and Secret of Mana to GTA3 and Mario have been classified.

They are described in such categories as how life is represented in the game, the written expressions, if any, when characters kill or are killed, the way death is dealt with in the game mechanics and how the game represents blood, bodily harm and bodies. Maybe we can train all those supposed video game kids who are 'alleged' to be ready to launch violent attacks any day now to get into a career of death research?

Tribal Trouble Gets Sales-Specific

tt.jpg The ever-excellent Game Producer weblog has added one of its regular sales stats posts for indie titles, and this time it's for indie RTS and IGF finalist Tribal Trouble.

The stats reveal income of around $60,000 for the relatively low-profile game, which did also have some Danish and German retail sales, alongside conversion rates of Windows: 0.8%, Mac OS X: 2.8%, and Linux: 1.1% for around 100,000 downloaded demos from Tribal Trouble's website - all very interesting stats, especially for those trying to get into the somewhat packed casual/indie game world. The problem here, obviously, is that 4 full-time + 2 freelance developers worked on the game for 2 and a half years, so the return thus far is rather low.

Developer Sune Nielsen also reveals: "We have gotten a lot of downloads by being on the front page of java.com, and on their games page. Other than that, the press releases and the many online and hard copy reviews have generated the remaining downloads. We tried out banners at a few sites, but they didn’t convert enough. The IGF nomination also gave us quite a lot of good publicity."

Square Enix's Wada and Japanese Game Management

wada.jpg There's an odd little article in the WSJ's College Journal which basically outlines why Square Enix president Yoichi Wada never got an MBA, or went to a business school. Well, actually, it does more than that, since at the time of his graduation, there were only three business schools in the nation. There are lots of little interesting bits of info peppered throughout the article, such as Wada's wrangling of an investment from Sony, which I hadn't seen explicitly stated (though maybe it was), and the fact that most managers in Japan aren't actually trained for it, but are rewarded based more on loyalty to the company.

An excerpt from the article states that: "The typical Japanese approach is illustrated by Toyota, which despite being the subject of countless business-school case studies, has only three MBAs among its 26 highest-ranking executives." Rather crazy.

It goes on to map Wada's rise from a lowly door-to-door bonds salesman to his current position as president of one of the most influential game companies (for better or worse) around. " So is there anything Mr. Wada would have learned in an American MBA program that he couldn't get on the job? 'Yes,' the Japanese executive replies instantly: 'English.'" Thanks to our old pal Scott Mollett for picking this up!

Jousting Up The Toughest Gun

toughest.jpg The Kansas City Star has published a totally fun article on the recent 'The Toughest Gun in Dodge City' classic arcade tournament in Florida, as co-organized by Twin Galaxies, which has lots more coverage on its website.

The intro itself hints at forbidden youth: "Today, Steve Sanders is a trial attorney from Kansas City. A middle-aged married guy with four sons. A Sunday school teacher. When he was 18, though, he was the king of the arcade. Growing up in Clinton, Mo., Sanders held the world’s best scores in games such as Pac-Man and Donkey Kong."

Unfortunately, Sanders' Joust performance in Florida only yielded "the second-highest score in the world", not enough to get him into the Guinness World Records book (whose odd picks for records we've semi-ridiculed before.) But, it turns out, Abdner Ashman broke the world Ms. Pac-Man record as he scored "933,580 with no extra Boards as he finishes with 133 screens", and he'll sneak into the record books, waka waka. Now that's some creamy retro goodness!

April 11, 2006

COLUMN: 'Parallax Memories' - Ninja Masters

NMasterTop.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 SNK and ADK’s 2D fighter for the Neo Geo: Ninja Masters]

Master to No One

In and out of arcades before anyone noticed, Ninja Masters is one of ADK's best games for the Neo Geo. Released on home cartridge in late June '96, and for the Neo CD in late September ‘96, this historical-fiction based weapons fighter can easily be viewed as the predecessor to the Last Blade series.

I first encountered the game through chance. I was trying to get a copy of Samurai Shodown 2 for the Neo Geo, and the cheapest way was buying in quantity. So along with the deal came 3 Count Bout and Ninja Masters. Although not my intent, I ended up playing more than a healthy amount of Ninja Masters. After asking around I found I was not alone in my ignorance of the game.

ninjamasshot5.pngA Rag-Tag Bunch

Set in Japan’s Sengoku period, this game’s plot demonizes the ruler Oda Nobunaga. Making a pact with a demon, Nobunaga and his assistant--the feminine teenage male Ranmaru--attempt to achieve their ambition of ruling Japan. 10 warriors are tied by fate to the evil ruler as he tries to overtake Japan.

As set forth by Street Fighter, a rivalry between main characters is demanded for 2D fighters to be successful: at least that seems to be the common misperception. Sasuke and Kamui--the main characters--came from the same clan and attended the same ninja school. Upon their return from school Sasuke leaves the clan in an attempt to stop Nobunaga, and Kamui is sent after him to give him an "honorable death." The other characters are involved with the plot for various reason: dreams, riches, spirits, alcoholism, or just a bounty.

nm4.jpgThe Smell of Blood

The game suffers from what are known as dial-a-combos. Precision and skill take a back seat to the pre-determined amount of possible combos (one character has a 24 hit attack in only 5 button presses). So for tournaments, this game is right out.

But as for messing around with a few friends, this game is perfect. Most characters have stances with and without weapons and a variety of moves for both. Each character is highly varied from the others, barring the main characters of course.

The fighters all have smaller than average sprites (similar to King of Fighters) and they are all well animated. Nice little touches are hidden in all the characters moves, like Karasu who uses his Japanese namesake (“crow”) as a weapon. The backgrounds and music, while not very detailed, work fittingly together to set the desolate and bleak atmosphere.

Standing next to its kin--Samurai Shodown and Last Blade--Ninja Masters pales. This is not so much a fault of the game as it is a credit to the other series named. Compared to its contemporaries in the arcades, this game stood above many wanna-be knock offs.

[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.]

Hover Bovver Gets The Hollywood Treatment

hover.jpg Over at Jeff Minter's YakYak.org forums, they've done gone and spotted one of the most inspired game to movie license deals ever, since "Consolevania, the online videogame review and comedy show that spawned the BBC TV series “videoGaiden,” is pleased to announce that the show has acquired the exclusive movie rights to Jeff Minter’s classic game “Hover Bovver.”"

According to the press release, "The movie will go into pre-production in May 2006", and there's an extremely detailed description of the 1983 Commodore 64 game, in which "Gordon Bennet has borrowed the neighbor's Air-Mo lawnmower. Mow your way through as many of the 16 lawns as you can before the pursuing neighbor retrieves his mower." We're predicting more salivating (bovine) fans than the Halo movie adaptation.

The press release also has a deliciously PR-lite quote from Robert Florence of Consolevania: “We’re delighted to have finally secured the rights to this property. It has always been a dream of mine to bring that loveable lawnmower-stealing rogue Gordon Bennet to the big screen, and I relish the challenge ahead.” Absolutely no idea what's going on here, and we love it.

An Escapist's View Of Games And Storytelling

lounge.jpg For whatever reason, we don't really link The Escapist enough on GSW. We think maybe it's because each issue of the 'web magazine' feels more like a magazine than a website. Or something? But we've been reading The Escapist Lounge too, and a recent post about Jordan Mechner and storytelling on there caught our eye.

Blogger Will Hindmarch segues off a Jordan Mechner anecdote to ask the question: "Is exposition storytelling?", continuing: "How much essential exposition in video games gets lost because designers feel the need to obfuscate it with theatrics? I mean, that brief brutish primer on the Dagger in Sands never bothered me when I actually played the game; it told me what I needed to know, then went on its way. But how many games have we played where we got stuck because we weren't sure what we were supposed to be doing in this level or that?"

Hindmarch suggests: "The magnificent Grim Fandango was a headache for me because I was so often unsure just what the hell Manny was supposed to be doing half the time. (The environment in Grim Fandango was well worth wandering through, but my point remains.)" So... where's the balance between over-literal explanation and delightfully unguided exploration? And which games do this particularly well?

A Defective Yeti's Board Game Recommendations

frodo.jpg When I used to edit Slashdot Games back 'in the day', we used to try to cover a smattering of the latest board game stories alongside the typical video game jazzola, with the excellent OgreCave.com being one frequent source.

This time, however, it's not ogres, but yetis providing board game goodness, with Defective Yeti's new guide to the best two-player board games of today and tomooooorow. The number one pick is Lost Cities ("...a very clever (and remarkably fun) rummy variant, which makes immediately accessible to non-gamers. The rules can be explained in three minutes, an entire game takes about thirty. Plus, chicks dig it.") And it has an online version, which makes it technically GSW-able!

Also heavily recommended is Lord Of The Rings: The Confrontation, also reviewed by the Yeti in fine fettle ("The atmosphere of the epic is recreated by the game: Light seems doomed from the get-go, and most victories by the good guys are Pyrrhic in nature. In the last game I played, for example, I threw Sam to the wolves -- the Wargs, actually -- so that Frodo could move one more step towards Mordor.") How delightfully evil!

April 10, 2006

We Love Katamari, But Really Quickly

katadog.jpg We've been friends with the guys at the Speed Demos Archive ever since we helped them get a mirror set up on the Internet Archive for their great, non-emulator cheatin' dashes through popular games.

One of the latest to be hosted is a host of speed runs from Namco's We Love Katamari, with every single level sporting a video. The project's Tom Batchelor comments: "One of the things that make We Love Katamari so good is that there are so many ways to play it. There are a lot of stages, like Campfire and Sumo, that are probably not meant to be speed-run, but that are very good for speed-running nonetheless."

He continues, rhpasodically: "So if you've played the game a lot, gotten every cousin and present, gotten all 2900+ items, rolled up the King and the roses, gotten most of the super-clears (or all), etc. etc., and you want a new way to play it, you can try speed-running stages like Sumo and Campfire. I recommend it." And so do we!

Comic: The Multicart Project: Part Five

Oh, Death BreathThe 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.


[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.]

Kenta Cho Moves In With Val And Rick

vrvr.jpg Holy crap, lost Kenta Cho game alert! We've previously covered Cho's much-adored PC freeware shooters such as Mu-Cade, and Tim W. at IndyGamer has now uncovered a previously obscure Cho game, Val and Rick, which is downloadable, but not linked from Cho's site.

The2Bears has further analysis of the game, which is spread with Cho's blessing, explaining: "VR is very interesting, as it deviates from the graphic style we’ve come to appreciate. The graphics are sprite based rather than vector based. As Tim observed, the game seems to share an early Gunroar engine, and certainly shares many of the gameplay mechanics."

In fact, the 2Bears conclusion is practically maudlin: "I’m not sure why this game has been “forgotten”, but it’s a shame it sort of has been. It already shows off as a great game, and promises interesting things to come if tweaked and finished. Very enjoyable." But... now it's unforgotten, huzzah.

Hidden Warship Gunner 2, Crouching Fun

warship.jpg Since we're fans of the slept-on (witness us trying to upsell Beatmania the other week), we're pleased that Ben '222B' Turner has taken the opportunity to discuss Koei's pretty much ignored Warship Gunner 2 for PS2, just released in the U.S. to zero fanfare, over at his LJ.

As Ben explains of the publisher: "The name Koei conjures images of uninteresting political warfare sims, elderly but gentlemanly Japanese execs at overly formal TGS parties, and one vs. many hack 'n slash tedium", but raves: "I was unaware that from time to time they published games made directly by God... God being Micro Cabin, in this case."

Why so fun? "Like the Dreamcast's underrated Record of Lodoss War, Warship Gunner 2 is a game that encourages you to try to break it, offering you the tools, if you have the dedication, to build yourself up into an indestructible god of the sea that can lord over the game's timid AI fleets and navies." Pretty hardcore stuff, but there are fans on the GameFAQs messageboard with lots of info, if you want to jump on board.

April 9, 2006

Gizmondo Catastrophe Update Number 371981

enzo.jpg We note solemnly that ex-ombudsman Kyle at VGMWatch has issued a blanket call for less coverage on the Gizmondo Ferrari ferrago, noting: "I can’t help but feel that now it’s time to move on." Well, we agree completely, which is why it's time for another post about it!

First, and most importantly, ex-Gizmondo exec and Ferrari crashee Stefan Eriksson has been arrested "on suspicion of grand theft", as "authorities also placed an immigration hold on him", following weeks of investigation and extremely sarcastic press statements by the Los Angeles police. Finally.

This comes as Gizmondo partner Carl Freer has received a writ for more than UKP500,000 from London law firm Manches for unpaid services - and the same UK Mail on Sunday article notes of Eriksson's red Enzo, blank Enzo, and Mercedes McLaren SLR: "Reliable sources in Britain say all three cars are being claimed by financial institutions - Bank of Scotland, Lombard and Yorkshire Bank - that leased the vehicles to Gizmondo. The company's total bill for leasing cars in 2005 amounted to UKP2 million."

Finally, the San Francisco Chronicle gets in on the gawking with a good overview article which mentions a most recent wrinkle not covered by GSW: "Several weeks ago, police in Beverly Hills stopped Eriksson's wife, Nicole Persson, 33, and discovered that she had no driver's license and that the Mercedes McLaren had no U.S. registration." So.... things not really going so well in the Gizmondo camp, then. We promise to never speak of this again!

COLUMN - The Gaijin Restoration - Vib Ribbon

Label Art Work["I often import games from abroad and play them. On such occasions, my imagination is sometimes stimulated more as I don't understand the language.” – Fumito Ueda, creator of Ico and Shadow of the Colossus. 'The Gaijin Restoration' is a weekly examination of underappreciated Eastern games that never cross to Western shores. This week's title is NaNaOn-Sha and SCEI's Vib Ribbon, alongside a quick look at its spiritual sequels, Mojob-Ribbon and Vib Ripple. It was released in 1999 for the PlayStation.]

The Lure of Vectors
Flash has changed the Internet. From intros to the ubiquitous skip intro button, lively animation has been twisting and tweening over CAT5 for years now. The power of pure unadulterated math and a coordinate grid has given rise to quick, crisp, scalable, if simplistic animation. Games, too, were once ruled by the vector graphics. Even today, if you chance upon an Asteroids machine or score a Vectrex on eBay, you can see the cause for appreciation of the elastic, monochromatic dancing light rotating, scaling and glowing on the screen. Shooting an asteroid and watching a diminishing trail of light following your bullet still gives mild heart palpitations, and Mine Storm's explosions have been known to make some tear up.

vibThe Masaya Matsuura-designed Vib Ribbon embraces the vector decor for a tandem arrangement: all the graphics are being created procedurally, and the seed of that procedure is generated from music CDs the player puts in. Thus, the game has to load its entire program set into RAM, where textures and the like gobble resources like Pac-Man in a ball pit.

Through this restriction, an amazing kinetic art is made. Our little spastic rabbit friend reminds me of Fiver, of Watership Down fame, caught in a constant shaking seizure, with a dash of Roger Rabbit bravado. (No cross-dressing Bugs in sight.) The music derived landscape is just as frantic, with shifting pits flipping into towers and an impossible circumference that brings forth images of the Little Prince's B612 asteroid, (which hopefully survived the onslaught of Asteroids...)

The Only Truly Interactive System is a Pacemaker

vibSo, Vib Ribbon lets you put in your favorite music (or use the supplied J-pop tracks from Laugh & Beats which, at the very least, are deserving of a listen and a laugh, as their name implies), generates levels based on amplitude, bass levels, and whatnot. All of those visualizations plugins for your favorite software media player work on the same principle, and it's nothing particularly new. Atari sold, or attempted to sell, light glasses in the early 80s, and it has been Jeff Minter's vocation for awhile. Vib Ribbon brought an implied level of interactivity. However, I see interactivity as a two way street. While the music plays out and the player attempt to navigate that killer bass line, the player isn't affecting the music. To be fair, successful navigation gives little bleeps, but they aren't fit to the tempo like the chord shooting of Otocky. And failure will stop the song, but this simple binary operation is as complex as a flowchart and hardly qualifies as an immerse interactive experience.

A Discouraged Magellan

no alt textDespite my meta-critique above, Vib Ribbon is a charming game, much like Matsuura's predecessors in the Parappa The Rapper series. While the Gaijin Restoration looks at games that didn't cross the oceans, Vib Ribbon made its way to the UK, and even at a discounted price, but alas, like a reluctant Magellan, never made it to the new world.

Some spiritual sequels were produced for Japan: Mojib-Ribbon, which featured such innovation as uploadable rap lyrics, but remains an exclusive pleasure as it requires writing Kanji with analogue stick, with all the stroke, order and penmanship needed to succeed in the competitive cram schools of japan. In other words, not import friendly. I've yet to get my hands on Vib Ripple, which allows you to upload digital pictures and explore them, but the colorized graphics, while well done, don't have the feeling, of taking guilty joy in the obsolete and the stark.

Anyone interested in Ribbon family should check out the following: the Vib Ribbon opening which is both adorable as well as informative, the Mojib-Ribbon opening which is tantalizing and the mirror of the old GIA Vib Ribbon worship page, with mp3 downloads and more video. And for good measure but bearing no relation, another Japanese ribbon game, the king of one button games, SFCave.

[Ryan Stevens is the associate producer on the various Cinematech shows on G4TV, which showcases many of the games written about here. He's been known to do the collaborative blog thing at That's Plenty.]

Welcome To The Museum Of PlayStation

m96.jpg A webpage we've been keeping an eye on for a while now is the PlayStationMuseum.com site, listed as "the culmination of years of research and dedication to the Sony PlayStation", and so we figured it was time to introduce it to you, dear GSW readers.

Definitely the work of an extreme fan, the site is really trying to be DreamcastHistory.com for the PS1 set, and already has shots and info on some pretty neat obscurities, including a Men In Black-themed all-black PS1, information on the cancelled PlayStation version of Baldur's Gate, and even pics and info on the famously canned Madden '96.

Elsewhere on the site, there's an in-depth look at PS1 dev hardware, including a crazily large amount of accumulated silicon, with the PlayStation JAMMA board dev kit the one thing that the site's owner is particularly looking for - certified obscurities abound!

Sexy Soccer Sets Infospace's Agenda

ssoc.jpg So, it appears that the CTIA Wireless mobile trade show happened this week, though not much notable mobile game news made it out there into the gaming press.

However, mobile trade site MoCoNews.net did bother to grab a picture of "a full page cover ad in the latest issue of a trade magazine" from mobile game firm Infospace, featuring, uhh, Sexy Soccer ("3 challenging tasks... 3 beautiful girls"), particularly relevant because of this year's soccer World Cup.

The site also points to a relevant Guardian Gamesblog post mentioning the title alongside soccer streaking sim Flitzer (which we, uhh, also referenced recently), and quoting Informa analyst Stuart Dredge as noting of the Euro mobile game market: "This summer, every developer and their dog is planning to release a mobile football game to tie in with the world cup. And realistically, most operators are going to promote FIFA, Real Football and maybe a couple of others. So Infospace and Handygames are actually being quite clever in ignoring realistic simulation in favour of boobs and bums."

But of course, this is from the novelty-impelled mobile game biz that brought us Lil Jon's Crunk Golf and Brady Bunch Kung Fu, to name but two leading contenders. So, either ridiculousness like this means the big mobile game crash is coming, or that companies have successfully identified the game-related origin of a certain PT Barnum saying. [Though actually, we kinda want to play Crunk Golf!]

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.)

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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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