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June 3, 2006

Zombies And Ambulances, ZOMG!

zomb.jpg Over at Namako Team, blogger Jiji has put up a review of D3 Publisher's 'The Zombie Vs. Ambulance', one of the most infamous of the Japanese budget publisher's sensationalistic titles - and notes in his intro: "The most interesting Simple 2000 titles all start with a great concept... The Zombie vs. Ambulance... has that in spades, but is a concept enough to carry a game?"

Well, we find out more: "At its core, the game takes most from Crazy Taxi and Carmageddon... This is one of the nicer-looking Simple 2000 games out there, approaching - or matching - the look of a well-crafted Dreamcast game."

But overall, it's noted: "Unfortunately, technical problems and poorly-measured pacing drag the game down.... In the end, the game is stretched so thin by this pacing that it becomes drudgework after most of the parts have been unlocked, which happened after about five hours in my experience."

[As a side note, we failed to spot that Jiji has opened an excellent linklog, which includes plenty of Jap-centric and quirky news, including stuff like news on a new Japanese stripping-based arcade fighter, we kid you not.]

Bubsy The Bobcat - Retrospectively Wrangled

bubsy.jpg The Hardcore Gaming 101 site (which doesn't have an RSS feed, as far as we can divine - otherwise we'd remember to check it more often) has just updated, with a special extended post on the history of Bubsy, the 16-bit post-Sonic/Mario bobcat and creation of Michael Berlyn.

The writer, then _really_ doesn't like the cut of Bubsy's jib: "There's a special place in hell for the people behind Bubsy the Bobcat. Not necessarily the graphics or sound guys, because they did their jobs. Not the programmers... No, the worst people involved are the people who marketed the hell out of the concept, without any regards to the final product. Bubsy is the very pinnacle of exploited soulless corporate drivel, which shouldn't be anything new...I just happen to take it personally."

Of course, Bubsy 3D is also discussed ("The Bubsy character model is one of the best looking things in the game, and this is only because it is so incredibly malformed that you can't even think something so bad looking was intentional"), but most interestingly, the pilot episode for a Bubsy cartoon is discussed and linked ("It featured Bubsy and his niece and nephew (I think), along with an armadillo, who all made guest appearances in Bubsy 2.") Scary.

Sensibility Of Soccer Demonstrated Fully

sensi.jpg Over at Insert Credit, definitely Scottish person Mathew Kumar discusses the new Sensible Soccer game, Sensible Soccer 2006, for which there is now a PC demo available.

Actually developed by a former employer of mine, Kuju Entertainment, in conjunction with key Sensi employee Jon Hare, the game has been reviewed pretty darn positively by Eurogamer, who comment: "The most charming thing about Sensible Soccer 2006 is that it's one of those rare everyman games that casual footy fans and hardcore PES-philes can embrace with equal enthusiasm."

Kumar's IC post also notes of the demo: "Top Tip: When installing, choose the language of the team that you want to play as. So french, if you want to see Zidane’s cute wee bald spot." Nice! Of course, chances of a U.S. console release for this seem a little bleak, tragically - but we can hope?

(And here's background if you're wondering what Sensible Soccer is/was - a tragically addictive top-down soccer game, especially beloved of Amiga geeks, now 3D-ized correctly.)

PS3, Wii, ASCII... Hilarity!

2ch.jpg Thanks to Chris 'C-Unit' Kohler and the Wired Game|Life blog, we have lots of classic pictures of a 2CH ASCII thread poking fun at the Wii/PS3 nexus.

As teh Kohler explains: "Kotaku points out a hilarious thread on Japanese message board 2ch in which otaku illustrate, in text-based pictures (no images allowed on 2ch), the price disparity between the PlayStation 3 and Wii. I went ahead and took snapshots of some of the better ones and put them after the jump -- Kotaku did the same thing, but their images seem all screwed up."

They're pretty much all great - though be aware that at least one may contain some ASCII bosoms - and another some Tetris blocks, which may lead to addiction, counseling, and instant death. Eh, we made that last bit up - funny Delorean gag, though - it'll be back to the future for those wacky 2CH guys, yet!

Bejeweled Zuma-Zumas To Game Show Network

bookworm.jpg The New Gamer Journal has a short post pointing out that, as their headline handily describes, 'Casual Gamers Compete for a Million on TV', and linking to a press release from the GSN U.S. cable network.

This reveals that Fun Technologies and GSN are combining to apparently televise (though details are a little vague!) the finals of "the first annual million dollar Worldwide Web Games championship", and that: "Players from around the world qualify for the championship by competing in any of three of the most popular skill-based games: Bejeweled 2, Solitaire or Zuma."

The New Gamer's G. Turner grins: "I can't help but wonder just how compelling watching Bejeweled or Solitaire from the sidelines will be. Regardless, this should be good news for casual games and developers as it always seems it's the hardcore console and PC games that get the public exposure." Also, don't forget, kids - casual games save lives!

GameTap's June Prospects, Top Ten

gtap.jpg Where would we be here at GSW without a regular update on PC subscription gaming service GameTap? Where indeed, and since the PR just went out with more info on June's offerings, it's time to poke around and see what Atlanta is bringing us in retro game goodness this month.

Unfortunately, some of this is a little vague, but here's what it says: "This month, GameTap will feature a “Sports Week” filled with great genre titles, “Import Week,” a special week devoted to one of the most iconic RPGs of all time, and “Human Freeway,” the too human original version of the Activision Atari 2600 chicken crossing the road classic “Freeway.” Stay tuned!"

The 'Human Freeway' (sometimes called Bloody Human Freeway) news is particularly interesting: Atari Age notes: "According to David Crane, he got the idea for Freeway from watching a man trying to cross Lake Shore Drive during rush-hour traffic while attending Chicago's Consumer Electronic Show." Obscurity ahoy! We think the iconic RPG week is either Phantasy Star (if 'Import' pertains to it) or Ultima (if not), but we're totally guessing.

[Oh, and on the programming front for GameTap TV, we have: "Space Ghost Coast to Coast interview with (Twin Galaxies') Billy Mitchell and (early Atari guy) Steve Bristow. Fun!]

Finally, 'May’s Top 10 Most Played List' is revealed for GameTap, and unsurprisingly, there's a whole heap of Capcom on it:

1. Street Fighter Alpha 3
2. 1942
3. Age of Wonders II: The Wizard’s Throne
4. Super Street Fighter 2: The New Challengers
5. Super Gem Fighter Mini-Mix
6. Heroes of Might and Magic IV
7. Galaga
8. Magical Drop 2
9. Sonic the Hedgehog 2
10. New Rally-X

We hear there are some major and very neat client changes coming down the pipeline for GameTap in the nearish future, too, so we'll be looking forward to seeing those roll out. Viva la retro!

Tactical Gaming Done Right?

ironsjpg An extreeeemely committed gamer named Dslyecxi has published an incredibly long article on 'Tactical Gaming Done Right', and despite extended to near-book length, generally a sign of Internet crankhood, it's actually very readable stuff.

He starts: "The main objectives of this article are to increase awareness of unique or exceptional elements that have been successfully integrated into past FPS games (with an emphasis on the tactical/realistic side of things), highlight and praise implementations of "standard" features that were done particularly well in others, and give me a platform from which I can provide commentary on the various features and options relevant to the future of the genre that I find myself so very interested in."

And on we go with a hailstorm of minutiae - for example: "When it comes to the quality of weapon ironsights and the accuracy with which they're represented, two games top my list. The first is for fully 3D sights, and the honor goes to Call of Duty 2 for having the best. The other game, or more specifically, certain addon units and mods for it, is Operation Flashpoint, which uses 2D sprites to represent the weapon sights." Lots of videos back up the commentary too - great stuff. [Via Shacknews.]

June 2, 2006

1UP's Time-Tested Classics, Halcyonized

ttested.jpg Over at 1UP, Nadia Oxford has a feature up discussing 'old favorites that have aged gracefully' - and we're not talking George Hamilton, here, rather video games that "hold the same appeal they did when they were released years ago -- and jumping in for the fortieth round is every bit as pleasurable as the first time."

The games discussed include the uber-hardcore such as the ever-popular StarCraft ("It's easily one of the harder to master games out there," agrees Alan L. of Quebec, a long-time Starcraft devotee. "It's not like the turn-based strategy games you usually find on consoles. Everything happens at once, never stopping.")

But even better, Nethack gets a mention ("It can look overwhelming at first," admits Ailen Nevan, who has been playing Nethack since 1995. "You don't have traditional graphics, so you have to know what each symbol represents. Your enemies are letters and colons, so you have to use your imagination.") It's great to see game fans humanized like this, for some weird reason.

IGN's Hotlist Is Hot, Also Hot, Additionally Hot

hotlist.jpg We got a press release from the Fox-y folks at IGN announcing the IGN Hotlist Magazine Vol.1, which apparently "counts down the hottest pin-ups in videogames -- featuring exclusive artwork and photography of gamers' favorite butt-kicking babes."

You can get both a digital edition and a limited-edition print version of the vaguely tawdry book, which apparently "will also be enjoyed by art aficionados who appreciate interactive entertainment's emergence as the dominant creative medium of the 21st century. Page after page of full-color." Oh, and bewbs - this seems similar to Play Magazine's Girls Of Gaming series, which is also offered by IGN digitally.

[For future reference, the HotList "...includes Lara Croft (Tomb Raider), Kristinna Loken (BloodRayne), Michelle Rodriguez (BloodRayne), Christy Hemme (WWE Diva), Kasumi (DOA), Torrie Wilson (WWE Diva), Trish Stratus (WWE Diva), Fara (Prince of Persia), Carmen Electra (Def Jam: Fight for NY), Rachel (Ninja Gaiden Black), Dawn Star (Jade Empire), Tala (Darkwatch), Anesthesia (Rumble Rose Series), Sgt. Clemente (Rumble Rose Series), Brooke Burke (Need for Speed Underground 2), Mileena (Mortal Kombat Series), Joanna Dark (Perfect Dark), Lil' Kim (Def Jam: Fight for NY) and more!" So there.]

The Behemoth: Indie Figure Packaging Studio?

johnbaez.jpgFor those of you who, like us, accidentally became friends with the stupid Behemoth guys (they made Alien Hominid, if you forgot), here's an update on basically everything.

First, famous guy Dan Paladin (artist), has a few things in the hopper. One is a children's book he's pitching to publishers, which I bet is totally not disturbing. Next is an upcoming CD - he makes music too, I guess! You can check out some samples, only to find out that unlike you were expecting, it's pretty good. Tracks 1 and 7 are my favorites. It's all rather chippy and kid-like.

Next, Tom Fulp's newgrounds.com has a PSP flash portal now. I can't view it from work, because it's apparently 'tasteless', but regardless, it's a great idea, and one I kept bothering him about at GDC.

Last but not least, John Baez, Behemoth boss, has actually built a vacuform machine in the office in order to package their figurines, in order to cut costs and continue their daily regimen of eating food and living in houses. They've got a little photo gallery and everything. Oh and their new game is re-debuting at the next Comic-Con, which we will probably attend, before throwing fruit at furries and running. In conclusion, hurrah! [X-post from IC!]

Retro Remakes Promote Accessibility

retror.jpg The folks who run the Retro Remakes website have announced a new competition, quite simply named: 'Retro Remakes 2006 Big Competition - Promoting Accessibility In Games.'

In other words: "You've got 3 months to make the best remake you possibly can, with over £4,000 worth of prizes up for grabs this year. So what are you waiting for?" The accessibility angle? It's explained: "We're not asking you to limit your choices, stifle your creativity - quite the opposite. We're just asking you to consider, whilst writing your game, that not everyone is of the same ability and wherever appropriate to tailor your remake accordingly."

Actually, there's a forum thread detailing this concept (also promulgated by the IGDA Accessibility SIG) with specific points: "Inaccessible controllers and inaccessible games are the bane of many disabled peoples lives. Many games have too many buttons to remember, are too fast, and have very little help to offer the player at all.Many games won’t allow people to use their favourite controllers, nor change the layout of their controls in a useful way." Shoehorning remakes and accessibility together _is_ mildly counter-intuitive, but hey, it's all for a good cause.

Hanging With Ben Sisto... In Second Life

sisto.jpg The Boston Globe has a fun little piece about hanging out with artist Ben Sisto, who is just finishing up Boston art-scene 'thing' honeypump.net, and is taking a virtual gallery online, into Second Life.

Apparently, Sisto "hopes to "...build a virtual gallery (users pay for 'parcels of land' in Second Life) and host art exhibits focusing on media and technology. Then, other users can 'teleport' their avatars to the gallery to view the work." His friend and real-life gallery owner Rebecca Gordon is skeptical of the virtual world concept as a fair comparison, though: "If you're actually telling me running a gallery in Second Life is equitable to running a gallery in real life, you're wrong."

But there's one spectre hanging over this whole enterprise - beard modeling in Second Life. "'My beard really did get huge,' Sisto says as he hovers over one of the glass squares. 'I've never seen my beard from this level'." If this is his beard, we're going to speculate that it will act as a denial of service attack if implemented in the game.

GameSetCompetition: Death Jr. Swag, Monday Deadline!

deathjrswagsm.jpg Woops, we forgot to remind people to enter the Death Jr. competition, so we've extended the deadline til Monday June 5th at noon PST, in case we have any other last-minute entries!

Here's a reminder - thanks to our friends at Backbone Entertainment, part of super-duper developer Foundation9, we have a new GameSetWatch competition giveaway, and it's rather awesome.

To help promote the new Death Jr. titles being released later this year (and Backbone's largesse in general), the lucky winner gets the pictured loot (click on the pic to enlarge!) - a Death Jr. T-shirt, a mini 'C-4 Hamster' action figure (!), and best of all, a special metal Death Jr. Case Core Coffincase.

This is a smaller version of the cases generally used by exceptionally gothy musicians as instrument-holders, with a Death Jr. plaque on the front, a beautiful red velour interior, and a copy of Death Jr. for PSP hiding inside it - along with a couple of green Death Jr. lollipops, clearly the highlight of the whole package.

So, in order to win, you need to answer the following question:

"When Death Jr. and friends appeared on the June/July 2005 issue of GSW sister publication Game Developer magazine, DJ was brandishing a scythe and pointing to a graph. What 'hilarious' joke descriptors are on the two axes of the graph?"

Please send your answers to [email protected] - deadline, as mentioned, Monday June 5th, noon PST. There will be only one winner randomly picked from the correct answers, the judges' decision is final, and the C-4 Hamster will not blow up in the mail, according to its packaging. Happy trails!

COLUMN: 'Bastards of 32-Bit' - Imadoki no Vampire: Bloody Bride

bloodyb1.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 Imadoki no Vampire: Bloody Bride for the Sony PlayStation, published by Atlus and released in Japan in 1996.]

I want to suck your blood. Wanna go out?

The dating simulation genre has long flirted with breaking into non-Japanese markets. Sure, there have been numerous RPGs in the past that have incorporated datesim elements -- Thousand Arms and the Harvest Moon series come to mind -- but the United States has yet to see a single console release of a full-on, Tokimeki Memorial-style dating simulator. Though the genre may flourish overseas, it seems that in the United States at least, dating-centric gameplay is doomed to always play a supplemental role to a larger overall experience.

Japan, on the other hand, suffers no shortage of quality dating simulators. The region still to this day sees several new dating simulators released every month, and the genre's popularity shows no sign of waning. It's this popularity that encourages datesim publishers to often include unique storylines and unusual gameplay concepts in their offerings, in attempts to make their titles stand out from the rest. Such is the case with Imadoki no Vampire: Bloody Bride, a title most accurately described as a vampire dating sim.

bloodyb2.jpgTokimeki Dracula.

To be more specific, it's a dating sim that has you playing the role of a vampire. As part of a traditional vampire coming-of-age ceremony (or something), you're charged with the task of seducing a young woman and drinking her blood. The trick comes in the seduction part; according to the Vampire Rules, any blood you drink must be given willingly. This is where the datesim elements come into play, and where your bumbling attempts at becoming Casanova Dracula begin.

In order to drink a girl's blood with her consent, you're going to have to win her heart first. This involves doing any number of things you would do in any other dating simulation, all of which are given their own unexpected twists, thanks to the fact that you must keep your identity as a vampire a secret at all times. It's easy to forget your own weaknesses, so careful planning must be made in order to avoid potential problems. At an amusement park, for example, taking your girl to the house of mirrors would lead to a small disaster. A roller coaster ride would be a much safer option. While making these decisions, you must also maintain good hygiene, keep careful tabs on other potential victims, and find enough time to stalk the streets at night. Yes, being a vampire is more than about sucking blood -- it's also about effective time management.

CTRL+F5 CTRL+F5 CTRL+F5Ladies love cool vampires.

It can be argued that most dating simulators do little to distinguish themselves from one another. Most are content to base their gameplay entirely on dialogue trees and statistics management, but Bloody Bride takes this rote formula and applies its own brand of vampiric quirk to craft an enjoyable and interesting experience.

Also of note is that there is a full English translation patch available for Bloody Bride, making the game playable from beginning to end for non-Japanese speakers. The only problems are that the English dialogue is in all caps, and that the translation is a little shaky at times, often to a humorous extent. It's hard not to laugh when your character is turned down for a date, for one thing, since his response is always an abrupt "AH!! REGRETTABLE!!" Still, the translation lends a sort of stilted charm to the game, and Bloody Bride's unique premise and storyline make it well worth a look for anyone interested in trying their hand at a vampire dating simulation.

[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.]

The Tao Of Enduro Racer, Master System Edition

enduro.gif Our friend RedWolf at VintageComputing.com has posted a very neat piece of 'the philosophy of Enduro Racer', specifically, the Sega Master System version, of which it's commented: "It’s based on a Sega arcade title of the same name, but the play style is completely different. Instead of the “behind the rider” view of the arcade, you get a 2/3 overhead view of the action."

But what RedWolf_really_ digs is the very odd ending scrolltext when you complete the game, which starts: "“Enduro” is a symbolic journey through life via the media of a race... The results are insignificant and what really counts is competing." And it only gets weirder from there on out!

Anyone got any other bizarre/cool game endings? There's an insane amount documenting on VGMuseum.com, if you want to poke around. We like hurried, dumb endings - because this post is hurried and dumb!

God Is In The Second Life Details

ecos.jpg Over at the Second Life-centric New World Notes blog, Wagner James Dio (hee!) has excellently illuminated Laukosargas Svarog's island of Svarga in the virtual world, one that's a fully functioning ecosystem in its own right.

As is explained, the island adds "...life or something like it to the verdant-looking but arid palette Linden Lab offers with its world. It begins with her artificial clouds, which are pushed along by Linden's internal wind system", and the user acting as a developer, a "two decade veteran of the UK music and game industry" who formerly worked on Black & White at Lionhead, has some other interesting comments.

Mainly, it's revealed: "Nearly all of the plant-life in this area of the sim is part of a beta test for a fully functional artificial ecology system for Second Life. Everything is actually growing and replicating by itself... Little tiny scripted bees fly between fertile flowers distributing "pollen" which contains "genes" describing the plant it belongs to" - and it goes on from there. V. neat stuff.

Hardcore Gamers, Mobile Games, Disengaged?

kook.jpg Over at mobile gaming site Modojo, they've added an interesting editorial on how hardcore gamers and mobile games intersect - more than some might think?

Editor Justin Davis argues of cellphone titles: "I'm not trying to convince mobile gaming skeptics to begin browsing their phone weekly for hot new games or to check Modojo multiple times throughout the day for the latest mobile gaming reviews, news, or media. Mobile phones will never be the primary gaming platform for many enthusiast gamers. What I am suggesting is that mobile gaming has matured, and gamers that want to be playing the most fun and most creative games out there, regardless of the platform, can no longer ignore mobile."

Of course, this is all a big tease, because the actual hardcore-friendly games will be charted on the site _next_ week (doh!) - but would anyone out there like to nominate games that the hardcore might care about on cellphones? For my part, I'd like to point out Dirge Of Cerberus: Lost Episode, which Amp'd Mobile just grabbed a 3-month exclusive for in North America - interesting stuff.

June 1, 2006

Tulse Luper - Greenaway's Gaming Folly

tulse.jpg When discussing the San Jose ZeroOne Festival and games the other day, we were considering linking to Peter Greenaway's Tulse Luper project, but frankly, we had no idea what's going on.

Well, good news - we got a press release about The Tulse Luper Journey online game, and we still have no idea what's going on! But here's the info, anyhow: "The Tulse Luper Journey is a vast, free, online multiplayer adventure based on Tulse Luper, the lead character from the ambitious cross-media project by film director Peter Greenaway. As a member of the online game community you are an investigator whose job it is to research the 92 mysterious suitcases that Tulse Luper left behind and in the process find out more about his eventful life. Each suitcase contains a unique game or a puzzle."

According to the email: "The game developers are now organising a contest. The winner will win a trip to a location of their own choice for an amount of 3000 Euros!" The Wikipedia entry on Greenaway explains his background as an experimental filmmaker and cult oddball reasonably well, so poke around as you wish in the ARG-style game.

Beckett Online Gamer Ganks Into Stores

beckettmmo.jpg We noted on sister site Gamasutra a few weeks back that sports card mag firm Beckett was launching an MMO magazine, and we just got the press release confirming this wondrous news.

Apparently, regarding Beckett Massive Online Gamer: "This bi-monthly title is on sale now across the country and is getting great buzz from game publishers, retails outlets and most importantly fans of the game. Each issue the magazine will focus on existing titles such as Worlds of Warcraft, D&D Online, Guild Wars, City of Heroes/Villains as well as previewing titles including Gods and Heroes, Warhammer, and Vanguard."

Oops, 'Worlds Of Warcraft'? Apart from that, this is an interesting development - and Beckett got out of the gate ahead of Massive Magazine, from the Computer Games Magazine folks. But one wonders how much MMO users are into going down their local Wal-Mart and buying a magazine, instead of looking online - how will content be well differentiated for print?

(For Beckett, here's how they will try it: "The inaugural issue features interviews, instance maps, questing guides, and articles on people’s interaction with various games. Future issues will address more community driven topics as well as more behind the scene elements of the massive online gaming community.")

Yourself! Fitness - A Diary To Greatness

yfitn.jpg Exergaming title Yourself! Fitness has always been one of the neater products released for console, in terms of having a different target market than your average shooter, and we just noticed a 'Personal Journals' forum section on the official site, in which you can read how people are losing weight and having fun with the game.

We happened upon Maya's Antipodean Adventure, for example, in which 'Kusanagi', an Australian woman in her '30s, discusses getting the game ("I was sad to learn that it wasn't available in Australia, but I've been known to import US & Japanese versions of DDR and I have a chipped PS2 so that wasn't going to be a problem").

Most interestingly, the care which the game has taken with social graces is particularly mentioned: "First off, I was very impressed with the tactfulness that she used when telling me that she recommended that I work towards a long term goal of weight loss, as I wasn't in the ideal weight zone for my height... The consideration was lovely, but it's OK. She wasn't telling me something I didn't already know, and I agreed wholeheartedly with her. It is nice to be asked and nice to be given the option of veto - just as you would with a personal trainer because after all (as Maya says), "it's all about you, baby!""

[A recent interview with developer Respondesign by sister site Gamasutra has plenty of other interesting feedback on the game, including this observation from CEO Jason Leighton on 'virtual trainer' Maya: 'The thing we get the most is that Maya looks Latino, but she looks Caucasian, sort of Asian. We want people to really define her the way they see her.']

Blair, Bush Terrified By Civilization IV Expansion

blair.jpg A 'little birdie' passed on to us a leaked George W. Bush and Tony Blair videocast on YouTube which proves that... the two great world leaders are going after the historical generals featured in Firaxis' Civilization IV: Warlords expansion pack, starting with Genghis Khan?

Apparently, Bush's intelligence indicates that Genghis Khan "is on the verge of upgrading his catapults to the devastating 13th Century trebuchet", and the video is just one of a string of related YouTube vids that have just been posted, showing Bush and Blair fretting about a whole bunch of deceased world leaders, from Hannibal (whom George W. is concerned may be related to Hannibal Lecter from Silence Of The Lambs), and Wang Kon (for whom we will save you the punchline!)

So, whether 'viral marketing' or enthusiastic fan video (we bet on the former, thanks to an ESRB rating at the start of the spots, and some pretty darn good voice impersonators), these are well worth pointing and poking at - even if we had no idea Sid Meier was so political!

Metal Hammer Awards Get Extreme Metal Racing!

earache13.jpg Spotted over at GI.biz' GamesPress feed - felicitous news on the previously obsessed-over Earache Extreme Metal Racing for PlayStation 2 - according to the new information: "Metro 3D Publishing are pleased to announce that they will be attending the fourth annual Metal Hammer Golden Gods awards, taking place on June 12 at London's Koko venue."

What's more: "As part of the deal, Metro 3D will premiere the Playstation 2 version of Earache Extreme Metal Racing. Music fans, guest and bands will be able to play the game as pods will be placed around the venue." Rock on! No word on whether PR offspring and game designer Sky Nash will be there in person, though apparently, the UKR chaps may turn up for some 'crack investigative reporting', if we're lucky.

And, of course, the official Extreme Metal Racing website, 6-6-06.co.uk, now has a video trailer of the game, as previously referenced, and it still looks like the gothiest, impaliest version of Mario Kart _ever_ - which we heartily approve of. Also, in case you think you've seen the '6/6/06' meme on billboards around your locality, a HeraldNet/LA Times article notes about 8 zillion products using the same date, including the new 'The Omen' movie, and, uhh, Ann Coulter's new book, "Godless." Lovely.

Cracked Rabbit Gives Ouendan Songs Some Motion

ouendan.jpg Our love for DS title Ouendan, now coming to the U.S. as Elite Beat Agents, knows (relatively) no boundaries, and thus, we were delighted to see that Cracked Rabbit Gaming has set up a website linking to all the YouTube music videos for the Ouendan songs, as performed by their original J-Pop artists.

As the author notes something we didn't actually realize: "Like many music games, the recordings in the game are sound-alikes [with one exception]).", before going on to give us a brief lesson about a few of the bands featured prominently in the game.

In particular, he notes of Morning Musume's Koi no Dance Site video: "Morning Musume is an ever changing girl j-pop band. The members change often (similar to Menudo). The current members are not the same ones seen in this video from when the song was released. If you watch the Colbert Report you may have seen a clip of some girls with meat headbands screaming at a lizard (they show it a lot)…that was them!" Woo! [Via NeoGAF.]

Mommy, I Want To Be The Drama Princess!

dprin.jpg Via IF site Grand Text Auto, there's an excellent report on a 'Drama Princess' symposium on story and games held in Brussels recently, as part of a new project by the folks behind the very odd The Endless Forest screensaver/game environment.

It's explained: "On the first day, guests were invited to play certain commercial videogames. Those games were Ico, Black & White, The Sims 2 and Animal Crossing. Facade, Catz and Soul Calibur II were available as well. And on the second day we discussed the autonomous characters in these games in a round-table format that was open to the public."

Some fascinating stuff came up, including: "During the discussion we came to a perhaps odd consensus that sophistication of “AI” seems to be reversely related to the believability of the characters. The primitive Animal Crossing creatures were far easier to accept than the complex Sims. Some people even had trouble calling The Sims autonomous because they do not seem to try to accomplish their goals but needed the player’s help with that. Also, their personalities were not considered very diverse as they all responded in the same way to the same stimuli." There's much, much more if you click through.

IGN Has It First: The Dreamcast Is Back

dcdc.jpg That's right, they're now manufacturing watch sized Dreamcasts in a secret factory in Taipei and... oh, OK, we just totally hallucinated that after downing a couple of Red Bull Sugar Free-s too quickly. What's actually happened is that, bizarrely, IGN has restarted its Sega Dreamcast section in time for the slow summer months, and are now rapidly justifying it.

Judging by the lemur saying that they're fired, and the note that their bosses "would only consent if we did it on our own free time, outside of our normal three hour IGN work day", this is not the main thrust of the site's summer programming, but there's a complete list of DC titles ready for reviewing anyhow.

One of the first to be revisited is Midway's San Francisco Rush 2049, well worth reading purely for Hilary Goldstein's extended metaphor of the year: "Playing SF Rush is like trying to score with a girl in high school. You can always take the long road if you're patient or you can try and navigate the shortcuts from first base to third. The risks are many and, more often than not, lead to some painful crashes. But it's worth it for those few times you actually make it through to the finish."

You may find that it's additionally amusing if you keep extending the metaphor into the next paragraph: "You have to know the shortcuts (which are many) and have the skill to navigate through some very tight terrain." Tight terrain? Oh my. (And yes, Hilary is a guy.)

Mizuguchi At Repose In American Splendor

miz.jpg Another Harvey Pekar reference is necessary to introduce Matt 'Fort90' Hawkins' tres droll report on the recent Gamers Nite Groove event in New York, this time centered entirely around Tetsuya Mizuguchi.

As noted on the official GNG site: "From the speed rush of sliding around turns in SEGA RALLY2 to the groove-happy addictiveness of games like REZ and LUMINES, Mizuguchi's work for Sega and now his own Q Entertainment was and is some of the best, most exciting gaming around" - and we really like the concept of the themed monthly nights the GNG crew conspires to put on - gaming culture in action.

Unfortunately, our man in NY wasn't so keen on the eventual results, commenting of the evening: "I love the idea of a regular scheduled gathering for both diehard and casual gamers to come together and get a taste of what else is out there. But that being said, last night’s event was again plagued with numerous problems." Having said that, Hawkins did have one nice thing to say: "The highlight of the entire evening was easily witnessing the Area 4’s “Running Man” [from Rez] totally in your face, 30 feet tall." Dude, nobody beats the Miz.

COLUMN: 'Game Rag Slapdown' - Nathan Smart Breaks (it) Down

I'm losing it...[The 'Game Rag Slapdown' is an exclusive bi-weekly Thursday feature written by The Game Rag's Nathan Smart that's always video game related, sometimes funny ha ha, but mostly funny hee hee (and sometimes funny, period). In this week's column, Nathan Smart muses on his feature's title and ends up with a new stand-up routine about video games.]

Here we are again with another edition of Game Rag Slapdown. I just want you to know that I did NOT come up with that. Slapdown is ALL Simonc. So, my question is what does that even mean? I’ve come up with a couple of ideas but for the true answer you’ll have to email Simonc to find out (as will I).

To me, slapdown really sounds like a wrestling term. I’m guessing that when you first read that column name, you’re thinking I’m going to be writing about the past, present and future of wrestling games. Well, you’re wrong. Although, from time to time I may delve into the future of wrestling in video games, I will NEVER* talk about the present or past of them. I don’t believe in the present and I certainly don’t believe in a history of things. The future is where my thinking lies** and so I’ll only be writing about what will happen in the future. For instance, did you know that in the future you’ll be able to plug your mind into your own head? Yeah!

Another way to look at slapdown is to read it as two separate words: slap and down. Whilst typing this in Microsoft Word, I’ve noticed that slapdown, as one word, doesn’t appear in the dictionary*** and when you look it up the program tells you to separate it. So, let’s try to figure out what the words slap and down mean (and maybe find some synonyms). Doing a quick right-click for slap gives me the word clout and a synonym for clout is influence. Doing the same for down gives me... well... less than desirable results and... so... I’ve decided to quit with this joke. Breaking up the word slapdown has produced no comedy and I’ll just save you from a bad joke.


I’ve decided in the middle of this week’s entry that there is nothing funny to say about the title Slapdown. I’ve also noticed that I haven’t really talked much about video games except referencing wrestling games just to make a stupid Dippin’ Dots joke (see double asterisk below). I think I’m supposed to focus on video games and try to find the humor in them. So, let’s do that then! Here is the best I could come up with for this week. Here are my newest video game jokes:

Have you seen that new Nintendo video game system? What’s the deal with it’s name? Wii? I mean, come on! If I wanted to play with myself, I would do it for free! And what about this new PS3? Can you believe the price? A homeless guy can feed himself for a month, but he can’t play the newest SOCOM? I mean, what is the deal with that? WHAT IS THE DEAL WITH VIDEO GAMES?

And there you have it. If you’re wondering how to read my new routine, think Seinfeld meets Dane Cook and you’ve got it. In fact, that’s going to be my new bio that will go out to comedy clubs:

“If you like relatable observations mixed with yelling and punching then you are going to love the comedy of Nathan Smart. He’s one part Seinfeld, one part Dane Cook - mixed with a little bit of sweetener to charm your mother and a lot of aggression to kick your dad’s face. If you like to laugh and get your stomach punched in, then you’ll want to come out to Nathan’s show. You won’t regret it.”

I’ll be here all week.****

*I repeat, NEVER
**this is why I only eat Dippin’ Dots
***although, I’ve just changed that with a much needed right-click and Add
****my car broke down and I’m waiting for a ride.

[Nathan Smart is a fake news writer for The Game Rag and really enjoys the benefits of it (no facts, no research, no real interviews). He also does Bobby McFerrin versions of indie rock songs with his one man group Indie Blockedappella. He thinks things are funny.]

Penny Arcade, ESRB Snuggle Happily Up

p-a.jpg Fun alt.gaming site Gamers With Jobs Press Pass has done a news item on Penny Arcade's new ad campaign for the ESRB - to explain briefly, it's "geared towards informing gamers about how the [ESRB ratings] system affects their lives." [We saw the teasers at E3, and thought they were Penny Arcade art, but didn't understand what they were for. Now we know!]

The writer of the GWJPP post, Shawn Andrich, notes: "The ESRB has made a smart move getting them involved in the process and by extension, the hundreds of thousands of PA fans", but it's the commenters who get a little saucy, with LiquidMercury asking: "I dont understand the point of the campaign. What sort of education do I need on the role of the ESRB?"

Original poster Andrich then suggests: "It’s not enough to educate parents when there’s a real danger of the government stepping in and regulating the industry. They need gamers to buy into the system and act as advocates if they want to stay in control to some degree." Ah, but does the ESRB need help doing that?

May 31, 2006

Time Extend Pokes With P.N.03

xtendpn.jpg Over at Edge Online, they've reprinted a recent 'Time Extend' magazine article on Capcom's P.N.03, and it raises some interesting questions on the neglected title.

The intro notes: "To some, poor sales are almost a guarantee of probity – a coded message that invites the initiated to come inside and get devotional. Look at Beyond Good and Evil, say, or Jet Set Radio Future: they didn’t hit the sales jackpot, but they struck a deep chord with certain players all the same. What’s odd about Capcom’s P.N.03, then, is that unlike other games that vanished at the point of retail, there are few people willing to speak up for it."

But, as with so many perverted gamers who delve deeper, there's a bold claim: "Maybe it’s because P.N.03 is awkward. Its controls make it awkward to play. Its commercial failure makes it awkward to track down in the shops. Crucially, the skewed challenge it presents makes its peculiar appeal very awkward to explain. This is a game that confounds on many fronts." Will anyone else admit to a 'peculiar' attraction to P.N.03 in public? Feel free to do so in the comments, if so.

PlayStation Museum Unearths Further Protos

bship.jpg It's been a little while since we covered the PlayStation Museum, and the site that's the "culmination of years of research and dedication to the Sony PlayStation" has been adding more neat, obscure material.

A recent exclusive is screenshots and a review of Battleship for PS1, in which you "Experience the thrill of heart pounding naval action amid the surging spray and deafening explosions of real-life combat" - an odd, unfinished and unreleased conversion, but fun to poke at.

Other obscureness which denizens of GSW may appreciate include a comparison of Slap Happy Rhythm Busters, checking out the differences between an unpublished U.S. prototype from THQ and the final Japanese version - "subtle differences like different options available, between match conversations, health bar, and more."

'God Gameth, God Bloweth Away'?

godgame.gif Poking around on Google News will only bring you pain - that, and a wonderful website article called 'The Purpose Driven Life Takers' on talk2action.org, which links Rick Warren, best selling author of The Purpose Driven Life, to the previously GSW-covered Christian RTS game series by Left Behind Games.

Talk2Action claims: "Imagine: you are a foot soldier in a paramilitary group whose purpose is to remake America as a Christian theocracy, and establish its worldly vision of the dominion of Christ over all aspects of life. You are issued high-tech military weaponry, and instructed to engage the infidel on the streets of New York City. You are on a mission - both a religious mission and a military mission -- to convert or kill Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, gays, and anyone who advocates the separation of church and state - especially moderate, mainstream Christians... you are playing a real-time strategy video game whose creators are linked to the empire of mega-church pastor Rick Warren."

Well, firstly, the game is based on the best-selling books by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, which, though we haven't read, are pretty sure that they don't advocate killing Jews and gays, even if we find them personally a bit scary. Secondly, Rick Warren doesn't really seem to have much to do with this, as the commenters note: "The international director of Rick Warren's Purpose Driven Church, Mark Carver, serves on the Advisory Board of the corporation created to develop and market the video game?!? That is some-kinda cheap guilt-by-association!"

Most of all, we don't really know what's going on - but Jack Thompson is quoted extensively (yay!), there's some GREAT illustrations, and the conclusion to the piece claims: "In the one hand, this video game is anti-American, because it endorses roving death squads engaged in faith-based violence without any regard for Constitutional law. On the other hand, the video game is anti-Christian, because it argues that the Kingdom of God can be advanced by using the methods and tools of the kingdoms of this world, namely guns and bombs." Christians, stop smiting Christians, already!

One Life Left, Radio Show Ensues

oll.gif So, we got a nice note from one of the producers of the One Life Left radio show (which also has a MySpace page, inevitably), and is, as he explains: "...professionally produced and going out on London's Resonance 104.4fm, on Monday afternoons. Our contacts allow us loads of exciting guests to talk to and the opportunity inherent has got us loads and loads of fun contributors, from (gambling) tips to cooking to lexography."

But wait, there's more: "One Life Left is scattered with brilliant regular minifeatures, including: Bedroom Oding / Odds On O'D / Professor Game & Doctor Watch / Up Up Down Down Left Right Left Right LA Start / Derek Williams' Free Market Economy / Uncle Charles, Uncle Charles: Is Gaming Cool Yet? / and more. To find out what they are, you will have to listen."

Co-presented by ex-Edge editor Ste Curran and featuring a seemingly endless parade of far too trendy glitterati guests such as Kieron Gillen (the Hunter S. Thompson manque of the NGJ set) and even 1UP Zine's Raina Lee (clearly the Kim Gordon of the video game zine world), this is clearly worth checking out. Unless you're a muppet. Are you a muppet?

MMOG Chart Upgrades To V20.0, Shows E3 Faves

wow0.jpg Good ol' SirBruce has updated his MMOG Chart again, up to v20.0 (!), and he notes of his latest additions: "This is a major update, with updated numbers for many games, most notably World of Warcraft, Eve Online, RuneScape, and most of NCSoft’s titles. I’ve also added three new MMOGs to the tracking data: Tibia, The Matrix Online, and Dungeons & Dragons Online."

The charts themselves, focusing on the rampant success of World Of WarCraft, and now with separated-out charts for Asian PCU figures, seem to be the main focus (though there are still some kinks in there with games released in both territories, like WoW and Lineage II). But we focus more on the obscure analysis - we had no idea that as of the beginning of 2006, Ultima Online "had about 130,000 subscribers worldwide, with about 70,000 of those in Japan" - more JP subscribers than Western? Wacky.

Also, SirBruce's extended E3 2006 MMO report is one of the best pieces of reportage we've seen from the show - he comments: "Picking a clear winner this year was quite difficult. Nearly all of the titles had something in particular going for them. I was also impressed by the graphics in almost every title; it seems technology and tools have progressed to the point that even a small MMOG title can have excellent graphics." Most interestingly: "The titles that fellow MMOG players seemed to be impressed with the most were Tabula Rasa, Huxley, and Age of Conan" - not what we would have guessed.

Fun Fun Fun On The Autobahn Tokio

3dbahn.jpg Continuing GSW's wish to be the only website ever to link to the 3DO Interactive Multiplayer weblog, we note a new review of uber-obscure Japan-only 3DO title Autobahn Tokio, which the blog's author claims may be a seminal early 3D racing game.

He explains: "Autobahn Tokio is actually Ridge Racer meets Gran Turismo meets Battle Gear or Initial D. After Ridge, before Polyphonic, before anyone thought an AE86 was cool there was Autobahn Tokio on the 3DO. It's red car verses yellow car, hinting towards real racing dynamics and the recognisable cars of Gran Turismo or Initial D."

Although the game itself is 'not great', apparently, "Moving onto the tracks, particular the night city one, these are undeniably Gran Turismo. The night city mode is Special Stage Route 5, the mountain route is Grand Valley Speedway and the forest route is Deep Forest Racing Way. Of cause GT didn't make it to the PS1 for another 4 years after Autobahn Tokio was released. I don't care what anyone says - they, the 3DO ones, are the originals... the circuits are fairly short but eerily familiar." Hurrah for 3DO-based conspiracy theories!

ZeroOne Makes San Jose Interactive City

rbal.jpg Since it's my hometown, I'm rather intrigued by August's ZeroOne San Jose Festival, billed as a happening that "will transform San Jose into the North American epicenter for the intersection of art and digital culture by showcasing the world's most innovative contemporary artists."

Seems pretty highbrow, but we note some game-related content of some neatness sneaking in there, especially ARG-like content for the 'Interactive City' part of ZeroOne, such as 99 Red Balloons from Jenny Marketou and Katie Salen, "a game in which players must master the art of public persuasion by convincing non-players to enter the game and play."

According to the description: "Players take on the roles of Spy Fairies, each armed with a large helium balloon and wireless camera, which record the game play as the Spy Fairies work to collect as many followers as possible before time runs out... Footage from the Spy Fairy cameras is beamed back to the game Headquarters, where the progress of each Fairy can be tracked onscreen." It's all incredibly The Prisoner, isn't it? Yay!

Avatar-Based Marketing For Profit, Profit

techw.jpg Former GSW blogger Tony Walsh has spotted an interesting new article on avatar-based marketing in the Harvard Business Review, and he likes what he sees.

Walsh comments: "The extensive article is detailed but easy to digest, leading readers new to virtual worlds (specifically, Second Life) through the basics and nuances of avatars, covering some of their current and potential relationships with marketing efforts. What most impresses me is the degree of research Hemp's apparently done, and the fact that he covers the potential for avatar-marketing failures."

The full article expands on this further, noting: "This new marketing landscape and audience come with all kinds of pitfalls. There are technology constraints. Stagecoach Island moved from the technology platform on which Second Life is built to the platform underlying Active Worlds, another virtual world. The Second Life platform required too much computer hardware capability of users, according to Collins, the Wells Fargo marketer." Definitely good to see realistic weighing-up of issues as well as advantages, here.

Sony PSP Merchandise Luxuriates In Its Own Price Tag

signa.jpg Courtesy of Game-Science, there's information on Sony's new PlayStation Signature merchandise series, some _extremely_ high-end lifestyle tie-ins.

As is explained: "In a move to push the PlayStation brand into a lifestyle brand, in which the PlayStation means something beyond games, Sony announced the release of "PlayStation Signature" lifestyle items in Japan, which includes various items for the PSP and for upscale people in general. Most of the items will be available from 14 June, at the PlayStation Square in Sony's headquarters in Tokyo."

A Japanese-language Impress Watch article has lots of pictures of the line - we particularly like the super-custom 'EMILIO PUCCI X PLAYSTATION Signature PSP Case (each one unique)', but at 33,000 yen ($294), you could buy more than one PSP for the same price.

Japanese Killer Games Get Many Zs

cero.jpg Excellent import-centric blog SiliconEra has posted about the new Z-rated game list in Japan, where the official rating system just changed: "Now there are two distinct ratings for “M” type games. A game gets a “D” rating if it’s made for gamers 17 years old and the “Z” rating is for game is for adults only (18+)."

Most interesting, though, it the list of games that now merit a Z: "Currently only a few games landed the infamous Z rating and they are: Driv3r, Max Payne, killer7, Grand Theft Auto Double Pack, Grand Theft Auto Vice City, Grand Theft Auto III, The Getaway, The Getaway: Black Monday, Berserk, Simple 2000 Vol. 61: The Oneechanbara, Simple 2000 Vol. 80: The Oneechanpuru."

Well, Western-created games really _are_ doing well on that list, aren't they? Or 'well', I guess we should say - though the disgusting Grasshopper Manufacture and the D3 folks from Japan also sneak on there - dubious congratulations go to them.

VH1 Game Break Blasts Off Into BlogSpace

vh1games.jpg First spotted this a couple of days ago, but looks like cable channel VH-1 has started the VH1 Game Break weblog, yet another video game-themed weblog to add to a long list (including, ahem, GameSetWatch itself, which is obviously waay at the top of your list, right?)

One particularly notable thing about this blog, though - it just added Jay Bibby of Jay Is Games to its blogger list, joining Village Voice columnist Harold Goldberg, so it looks to be a fairly entertainingly diverting read for alt.games and intelligent linkage fans.

The latest item of interest is a review of Russian Flash title Warp Forest from Bibby, noting that it's " a rather odd combination of action and puzzle elements that will challenge both sides of your brain." Mm, both sides of the brain.

May 30, 2006

The Joy Of Oblivion... Book Jacket Modding?

obbook.jpg Over at the Guilded Lilies weblog, there's an an excellent post on the book modding project for The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion, including an interview with modder Phoenix Amon.

The latest book mod, simply enough, is "to replace all of the 300+ in-game book jackets (that are a little ho-hum) with dynamic looking cover", and Amon, female herself, has some interesting comments about how gender may affect modding wants in games.

She suggests: "I don't think there's any type of mod that universally appeals to women rather than men, but there are probably some types that fill gaps more often noticed by women. For instance I think when NPCs in a game lack any form of personality, women will be more likely than men to be bothered by it. Mostly, though, I think mods make games more fun for individuals by allowing them to tailor their own experience."

Woah, Mama, It's Plaudits For Cooking Mama!

gth.jpg Publisher Majesco really hasn't had much to crow about recently, what with a financial meltdown precipitated by the financial flops of Psychonauts and Advent Rising - certainly nothing to justify having the company's NASDAQ symbol be 'COOL', haw.

But, on the way back to the budget bargain basement, the firm has struck a quirky chord, judging by its press release on DS game Cookin Mama's reception at E3: "Cooking Mama was awarded several honors including: "Most Innovative DS Design of E3 2006" from leading video game website IGN; and GameDaily's "Nod Award," which called Cooking Mama "a fun DS game that uses the stylus to near perfection."

The title, which was originally published by Taito in Japan, is ripe for an Iron Chef license, if you ask us: "Playing as a female chef, you have to prepare the food (slicing the vegetables, slicing the meat), then cook it on the stove. With touchscreen play, you can do things such as shake the skillet for an omelet and dip tempura in the oil." But those Alton Brown licensing fees are probably steep, so we'll settle for a decent translation, eh, Majesco?

The Fantabulous Story Of Tringo

tringo.jpg Something else we missed from last week - an excellent Clive Thompson column on Second Life/GBA's Tringo at Wired News, in which Thompson explains "the story of a game that became a hit -- inside another game."

You may have heard the story before - the game was created within Second Life, and was licensed by Donnerwood Media - it's now available for Game Boy Advance thanks to the reliably wacky budget publisher Crave Entertainment.

Thompson's conclusion contains the neatest comments,t hough: "Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of Tringo's already-kooky history, though, is that it shows a new way for games to be born. Many of today's best online games are moddable, which means players can reshape reality into something new. So why don't we actively encourage them to create new casual games? An online environment is a terrific prototyping lab: You can quickly make something, hand out copies to other players, and discover immediately whether your invention is any good."

Of course, this depends if the people playing Second Life (or any other prototyping platform) are actually demographically accurate for your final target market - but it's conceptually smart.

Gam3r 7h30ry - L33t Book Alert?

gth.jpg From last week, we spotted a post on celebrity 'coolstuff' blog BoingBoing that deals with 'an open online book from Hacker Manifesto author McKenzie Wark entitled GAM3R 7H30RY (gamer theory).

Well, that's GR3AT (great), but how does it work? Apparently: "The Institute designed a web site that would enable McKenzie to engage with readers before the book is fully cooked, to see how a larger conversation might impact its development. Each individual paragraph has its own comment stream allowing for fine-grained response to the text."

Of course, with slightly insane hypertextish-wanderings comes an incredibly highbrow section on Katamari Damacy which starts: "Sisyphus, founder of Corinth, father of Odysseus, founder of the Ismithian Games, is best known for a most cruel and unusual punishment, meted out to him by the Gods." Can you see where he's going with this? Grumpy commenter Toad claims: "Any real editor would have sooner pointed out this manuscript’s ridiculous, hopelessly obtuse, faux pretensious pandering to the video game community."

Eh, we disagree - but we _are_ the video game community. And the walrus. Also - an entire section on State Of Emergency? We just ejected our false teeth right into our afternoon tea.

Escapist Looks Into Office Space

escplay.jpg Now we're running with our new 'fast and loose' GSW style (do you like it? More posts, less OCD linkage!), we figured we could link to the latest issue of The Escapist Magazine, which deals with the game/work nexus (see 'Office Mode' in Defcon for a great recent example!)

The site's PR explains: "Have you ever gotten in trouble for playing games at work? The Escapist staff knows all too well not only the life of those who play games at work, but also those who play games for work, and the sometimes fine line between. The Escapist takes a look at how games affect life in the workplace in issue 47: “Office Space.”"

All the articles seem fun, but Cat Rambo's piece on putting MUDs on your resume is the most sharply written: "Over the next few years, this overlapping of the game and business world would occur over and over. I'd apply lessons in conflict management or negotiation I learned in MUDs to resolve situations, and the next day find myself in a management class thinking how best to use the material on the flash cards in front of me to steer my coders down a particular path." We've all kickbanned our co-workers, so we know just how that works.

Jack Black Has Lost His PSP, Uhoh

jbds.jpg Thanks to some silly promotional people, we got links to the two latest videos from Jack Black's Nacho Libre 'confessionals' - both of which co-star director Jared Hess, and actually discuss video games - here's the links - Episode 16 - 'Search for the Missing PSP' (.MOV), and Episode 17 - 'Thanksgiving' (.MOV).

Specifically, it's explained to us: "Jack Black loves video games. He does NOT love losing his beloved PSP handheld... check out this behind the scenes footage from the set of Jack's new comedy "Nacho Libre," in theaters June 16. Jack Black and director Jared Hess (Nacho Libre, Napoleon Dynamite) discuss Jack's missing PSP, how the Nintendo DS compares to the PSP, Thanksgiving food, and the Neverending Story."

Check out the 'Thanksgiving' movie, in particular, for Black explaining that his DS does not make up for losing his PSP: "That's how spoiled I am - Nintendo DS, that's all I got?", expostulates Black, before hurling his DS across the room (see picture!), and then commenting woefully: "Yesterday I actually had to read some of a book." We know, it hurts.

Nintendo Announces New "Touch Generations" Game Branding

Nintendo's Touch Generations logoAccording to our sister site, Gamasutra, Nintendo has decided to brand and in some cases re-brand more "accessible" DS games with its new "Touch Generations" label.

The company explains that the brand "will include titles that anyone can pick up and play, even with little or no experience with video games", and that the move "represents one of the many ways that Nintendo is making it easy for new demographics of people to be introduced to video games." In addition to its newer titles such as the Brain Training series, the brand will also be applied to long-time favorites Nintendogs, Tetris DS, and True Swing Tennis.

While I can understand the drive to let consumers know which games are more family-friendly, I feel this move may end up muddling a market already saturated with ESRB ratings and other age-specific warnings. So this is a Touch Generations title, does that mean an 80 year old can play alongside her grandkids? Wouldn't the ESRB "E for Everyone" label pretty much cover this?

The idea has merit, but all we have from Nintendo so far are buzzwords about demographics and "pick up and play." Only time will tell if the Touch Generations branding takes off in the US.

Iranian Students Making Anti-American War Game

In an interesting twist on an old classic, Iranian students are developing a war game featuring American military forces as the antagonists.

The game is meant to be a protest of Western involvement in Iran's nuclear development program, and focuses on US troops in Iraq. The story will be based around a "Commander Bahman" infiltrating "enemy" territory to capture Iranian nuclear scientists who have been imprisoned by the US Army.

Play It, Ltd's America's 10 Most WantedWhile the 2007-slated game is making waves for being anti-American, it's also true that we've used a lot of middle-eastern and arabic archetypes to play the "bad guys" in our war games for some time. Heck, our Army unabashedly uses a video game as a recruitment tool, and very few people are talking trash about that. While I feel that the development team may be skewing current events a bit, this is no worse than, say, Atari's Terrorist Takedown or Play It Ltd's America's 10 Most Wanted.

The point, I suppose, is that you don't get to be where the US is today without pissing some people off. We end up casting our video game "bad guys" wherever they would historically fit; for example, no one would complain if the enemies in a game about the Vietnam War were, let's say Vietnamese. Somewhere, and sadly in an increasing number of places around the world, we're the "bad guys" to someone. This game is going to be a fictional account of what would happen if America kidnapped Iranian scientists and sparked a war; it's not telling people to grab a gun and kill the nearest US Marine. It's all about context, folks.

Neverwinter Nights, Meet... Marital Problems?

nwife.jpg While poking around the NeverWinter Nights official forums in search of commentary on the apparent cutting of support for the first NWN from struggling publisher Atari, we ran into something much better - a call for help!.

Specifically, 'syrath1001' asks his fellow forumgoers: "A few weeks ago, I started noticing some changes in my wife's behavior. She just doesn't seem to be that interested in me anymore. Sure, we go out and she holds my hand, but the warmth isn't there like it used to be. We live together, so I fear this breakup might be particularly hard for me. I'm not worried about her feelings since I'm convinced she's cheating on me."

He continues, in a distressed tone: "One day, she left her MSN on. While I was playing in the first chapter of SoU, she received a message from someone I haven't noticed on her list before, saying "hey sweetie! xoxo". By the time I was able to click the box closed, I was killed in 2 shots by a kobold."

But here's the crux of Syrath's issue: "My question is this: should I stick with my pure rogue or should I multiclass some fighter levels for more survivability?" Wow, tough call! [A few replies later, Syrath reveals his solution - an excellent one!]

Zen-Ichi Gets Shoot The Core Treatment

zichi.jpg Excellent shoot-em-up weblog Shoot The Core (which is run by The Postman, who contributed a shmups section to my Gaming Hacks book, incidentally!), has posted a detailed review of Japanese PC dojin shooter Zen-Ichi.

Posty notes: "Along with some of the regular features shown in doujin shmups today such as a replay option, choice of different ships with different abilities, and a crazy scoring system, ZI also is one of the rare titles that has two player simultaneous action! That should be enough to generate interest from any shooter fan, but when you dig deeper into what Zen-Ichi has to offer, you'll find an excellent manic shmup that lures you into improving "fever mode" combos and defeating a completely EVIL final boss." Hot stuff!

The game itself is listed on the Z page of The Postman's awesome PC Shooter Database, alongside a host of other titles. Can anyone else recommend some overlooked dojin shooters?

Nuclear Security Guard Foxed By Game Addiction

npp.jpg Well, here's the dumb/amusing story of the day - according to the Associated Press: "A security guard at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant was so absorbed in playing a hand-held video game that he failed to see an inspector approach during a surprise inspection."

Bizarrely, Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Kathleen McGinty commented: "The issue is not the guard's use of the video game. The real issue is that his complete absorption in the game distracted him from noticing the repeated approach of our inspector. And that shows why this procedure needs to be changed and these video games disallowed."

Sooo... if the game had been less addictive, it would have been fine? Oh, and please suggest the games the guard could have been playing in the comments, of course, this is very important.

COLUMN: 'Parallax Memories' - Fushigi no Dungeon 2: Fuurai no Shiren

Title Screen With Tabletop Mountain['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 Chunsoft’s roguelike: Fushigi no Dungeon 2: Fuurai no Shiren]

What-like? Roguelike.

Wandering around in a world of hash marks, peroids, and number symbols may be familiar to the longtime gamers here. Entering a room and encountering the letter "D" could cause you to sweat after running though ASCII hell for days. This game would either have been Rogue itself, or a roguelike. When Enix commissioned a spinoff of the Dragon Quest series from Chunsoft, the result was a strange Super Famicom roguelike based on Torneko, the chubby shop keeper of Dragon Quest IV.

Chunsoft is a small development company - so small that they don't even have a Wikipedia entry (remedy this!). Their first game, that commission for Enix, was Torneko no Daibouken: Fushigi no Dungeon (Torneko's Great Adventure: Mysterious Dungeon ), but this article is not about the tubby salesman. This is about their first non-commissioned creation: Fushigi no Dungeon 2: Fuurai no Shiren (Mysterious Dungeon 2: Shirin the Wanderer). Released December 1995 in Japan only, Shiren uses a roguelike structure to create a hellishly difficult action role-playing hybrid.

Dungeon QuoteThe Impasse Valley

Shiren the Wanderer is firmly entrenched in Japanese culture and mythology. In a rain hat and cloak made of grass, Shiren attempts to reach the dwelling place of the Golden Condor at the summit of Tabletop Mountain, beyond Impasse Valley. He isn't the first to attempt this, and the designation “Wanderer” refers to “the men endlessly seeking this place.”

Death is a major theme of the game. Traversing the dungeons (and forests, towns, mountains, etc.) will lead to death in a multitude of manners which are all recorded on the high score chart. The game teaches you how to deal with this, or rather you slowly learn how to approach and survive the multitude of ways to die. It's notable and initially frustrating that when you die, you lose everything: money, equipment, and even your levels of experience.

There are cushions in place to dull the pain these hundreds of deaths. At certain points you can relinquish your equipment to have it return to warehouses throughout the game. There are towns where you can continuously upgrade your equipment in preparation for a run-through in the future. You can also enlist certain characters to aid you in your Wandering. And perhaps most importantly, the levels are randomly generated every time you enter them, without any of the problems that have plagued random levels from other developers (i.e. unreachable areas, impassable walls, blocked exits).

On the Bridge
A Talking Weasel

To keep playing to reach the eventual end is only the original goal. The people in the towns through which you pass remember what you did when you were there previously. While you may die and restart and die and restart, the towns keep going, and visiting them will uncover new surprises about them and their progressing stories. Eventually, you begin look forward to your returns to these towns and start to live for the journey, and not just the destination.

Unfortunately the few Chunsoft games that have made it outside of Japan have been unsuccessful. The company's games are like climbing a mountain: unless you're strong enough and smart enough, you'll fall. Picking yourself up and starting again from the bottom, and maybe reaching that next ledge, are what these games are about. The concept seems foreign to most gamers these days, who are used to having their hands held by game designers, and for whom losing all their “progress” (sad, superficial, numerical progress) is like a slap in the face.

This fall, though, Chunsoft’s Pokemon Rescue Team games are coming out in Europe and the US for both the GBA and DS. I am greatly anticipating these Chunsoft roguelikes, and recommend that you don't let their “children's game” trappings steer you away or lull you into a false sense of security.

[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.]

Defcon Office Mode - The Future Of Stealth Work Gaming?

defcon.jpg Over at FiringSquad, we spotted an interview with Introversion founder Chris Delay about the firm's upcoming PC indie title Defcon.

The absolute best thing about the interview is Delay's description of the seriously subversive Office Mode: "We're very excited by Office Mode. The basic idea is that a group of work-mates can start the game up in the morning in Office Mode, playing over their local area network."

He explains: "The game takes place entirely in real-time (you can quite easily end the world with nuclear conflict in 8 hours) and each player controls one territory, e.g. North America or Russia. You can hit the Panic key (press escape twice) which immediately removes the game from the screen and places a discreet icon in your system tray." It's like the fake spreadsheet key in those '80s PC games!

.Hack Shows You The World In Your Hands

hackgu.jpg The ever-trusty Edge Online has posted an interview with Bandai producer Uchiyama Daisuke on the new phase of the .hack PlayStation 2 'network RPG' series, and some interesting points are raised.

Daisuke comments of the 'relative' U.S. success of the game: "I always thought that, in the US, people liked simple stories like in Hollywood movies. The American hero wins at the end after a fight and save the beautiful woman or the world. I was sure that the first .hack would fail, that people in the US would find it too difficult or disorienting."

Yet he concludes: "People understood what we wanted to deliver. And in the end it sold more than 700,000 copies in the US." Of course, this was over quite a few titles, but hey, for iterations using the same engine, it really _is_ quite impressive - a sign of episodic success to come?

Sega 'Tude Extends To Horrible Clothing

sknuck.jpg The VintageComputing.com site, which is run by RedWolf of 'Game Ads A-Go Go' GSW column fame, has posted a rather fun scan of Sonic merchandise, seemingly dated to the Sonic & Knuckles era.

As RedWolf notes: "My favorite items are the “2 Dudes with Atti2udes” t-shirt and the sleeveless Sonic & Knuckles denim jacket. Real classy stuff." Stuff like this doesn't end up on eBay too often, unfortunately - or fortunately?

May 29, 2006

Costik Talks Casual Demo Upsell

drod.jpg Over at his personal weblog, Manifesto Games co-founder Greg Costikyan has interesting comments on PC casual/indie games, specifically commenting: "In general, I think a lot of developers are failing to remind downloaders enough, and therefore having fewer conversions (to paying customers) than they otherwise would."

So, we get Greg's top issues, which are actually pretty smart, and tie in well with Xbox 360 Live Arcade standards: "The first thing a player should see when he starts the demo is a screen that provides an opportunity to buy the full game, with a link directly to a purchase url... The last thing a player should see when he quits out of a demo is a full screen describing all the cool features he gets in the full game--and again, with a live link to the purchase URL." Plenty more hints if you click through.

Plucky Plok Heralds Pickford Brothers' Return

plok.gif The ever-vigilant Press The Buttons has spotted lots of new information on classic SNES platformer Plok!, thanks to the new 'Zee-3' website from the Pickford brothers, creators of Plok!, now-defunct indie developer Zed Two (Wetrix), and an insanely large amount of other games going back over 20 years.

As PTB's MattG notes: "Surprisingly, Plok's creators still own the rights to the character.  John and Ste Pickford have launched an archive of material detailing their many many games, and fortunately for Plok fans everywhere there is a special archive devoted to the little guy.  Marvel at unused concept art for future unrealized marketing endeavors, thrill at the unreleased coin-op prequel Fleapit, and hope someday for a new proper Plok adventure." Awesome stuff!

The site also has info on the Pickfords' new game, 'Naked War', which is "a fun strategic battle game for 2 players over email", and perhaps a spiritual successor to the lumpen but intriguing Future Tactics, also by the Pickfords - though in using play by email tactics, Naked War reminds of another set of famous UK brothers, the Gollops, and their title Laser Squad Nemesis.

COMIC: 'Our Blazing Destiny': Metal Gear Solid 4

[Our Blazing Destiny is a new weekly comic by Jonathan "Persona" Kim about our society, cultural postdialectic theory, and video games. But mostly the latter.]

So, as promised, we have a replacement comic for the saintly Shmorky's strip, and it's from Persona, whose work you may have spotted in The Gamer's Quarter and elsewhere. And here's Persona himself to explain the premier instalment of what we're hoping will be a lovably random enterprise:

"The first 'Our Blazing Destiny' comic features the new Metal Gear Solid 4 trailer and all the terrifying Raiden-ness that erodes up from it. I mean, did you see the size of that boy's robo-crotch now? He could take out a Metal Gear with that monster!" Ahem.

Tactical Espionage Urination!

[Jonathan "Persona" Kim is sometimes a character animation student at the California Institute of the Arts, other times a ninja illustrator, but in his heart, a true comic artist looking for his destiny in the sea of stars. His path on the torrid road of comics include a quarterly manga on The Gamer's Quarter and his website on the internet drawing hub Mechafetus.com.]

The Top Ten Game Boy Advance Games?

screwb.png Courtesy of the British Gaming Blog, there's a round-up of the top ten Game Boy Advance games ever, which seems oddly relevant at this time in history, as the writer acknowledges: "While many of you will toss your consoles aside and bring in your new DSes and PSPs to play on, there will always be those who do not forget these classic consoles and their games, but honour them."

Of course, the best thing about Game Boy Advance games is that you can play them all on the DS, and the countdown even sports some of the recent GBA titles you might have accidentally skipped, like Game Freak's under-rated Screw Breaker ("a simple play style that was easy to learn, but tough to master.")

What's possibly most interesting is a vaguely controversial overall #1 game - Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga ("mixed traditional Mario platform timing with RPG elements to provide what we think is the best.") So let's open things up to the floor - what's missing from the top ten of all-time Game Boy Advance titles, and what should _really_ be number one?

Half-Real Gets All Real Book Extracts

halfreal.jpg Game theorist Jesper Juul has posted an update on his official weblog linking to extracts from his new MIT Press book Half-Real.

As we've previously mentioned, Juul's keynote at this year's Serious Games Summit @ GDC was possibly the most listenable and practically relevant talk we've heard from anyone who could be labeled a 'game theorist', and Half-Real looks to continue that interest.

As for the name of the book, the preface explains: "A video game is half-real: we play by real rules while imagining a fictional world. We win or lose the game in the real world but we slay a dragon (for example) only in the world of the game."

And the introduction (PDF link) notes amusingly of early game regulation/censorship (in 1457, golf was banned in Scotland because "it was felt that it kept young men from practicing archery". So there.) Anyhow, go poke around, already.

May 28, 2006

Cosplay Competition To Crown 'Miss Chinajoy 2006'

cjoy.gif We've been checking out the official ChinaJoy 2006 website, for the massive and pre-eminent Chinese video game trade show being held in Shanghai from July 28th-30th, and interestingly, a button labeled '2006 Miss ChinaJoy' on the site links to an official ChinaJoy cosplay competition, with lotsa contestant pics.

The choice of a 'beauty contest' style moniker for the competition is distinctly odd. But we, at least, find this interesting because we only tend to see U.S.-set cosplay competitions, or the Japanese cosplayers hanging out at TGS or Comiket, and seeing the Chinese physicality applied to cosplay is actually a refreshing change that highlights what the rest of Asia like cosplaying (Final Fantasy titles, mainly!)

For example, this seems to be one of the leading competitors, and the whole portfolio showcases the intriguingly ethereal look of many Chinese cosplayers. [Oh, and if anyone can translate and tell us more about the competition and the winners, go right ahead.]

COLUMN: 'Game Mag Weaseling': You Brits and Your Magazines, Sheesh

['Game Mag Weaseling' is a weekly column by Kevin Gifford which documents the history of video game magazines, from their birth in the early '80s to the current day.]

One thing you should be aware of as you read this column is that the United Kingdom loves its magazines. Loves them. Especially computer and/or game mags. Pretty much every major PC or game system over the years enjoyed at least two or three monthly mags dedicated exlcusively to it in the UK, with more popular platforms like the Amiga or PlayStation getting a good six or seven at once. Even systems you never imagined anyone could write 70 or 80 pages of editorial a month on, like Philips' CD-i and Commodore's last-ditch CD32 console, got magazines in Britain. In fact, at one point in the mid-1980s, there were three consumer-targeted computer mags in the UK that published weekly -- Home Computing Weekly, Personal Computer News, and Popular Computing Weekly -- each one with its own reviews, news coverage, and type-in programs for every 8-bit computer under the sun.

The Internet's slowed down this torrent of print media down over the years, but there are still far more mags in the UK than in America -- and while the idea of any new game mag launching in the US is pretty much unthinkable at this point, new titles are still hitting UK newsstands. How can they keep this up? Simple. Since distribution costs are smaller in the UK (because it's a smaller country, of course), publishers can keep magazines at circulations that would make their US counterparts pass out and still make a profit. (The usual make-or-break circulation for a UK mag is a little less than 20,000 copies a month; meanwhile, in the US, Ziff Davis Media cancelled GameNOW in 2004 when its circ dropped to "only" 80,000.)

How easy is it for a magazine to make money in England? Here's an example. I went to the UK in the spring of 2004 to cover some game or another, and while I was there I made it a point to buy every single game magazine on the stands that month. It nearly bankrupted me. I wound up going to a single shop and spending over 70 pounds on magazines -- and that was after I decided to skip over the strategy-only titles. I wound up discarding most of them before I moved cross-country, but one I saved just because it amazed me so much that it existed at all.


This is the last issue (March 2004) of the Official UK PlayStation Magazine. What? But certainly OPM must still be publishing in the UK. And yes, you're right -- the officially PlayStation publication in Britain, more correctly called Official UK PlayStation 2 Magazine, is still coming out and is in fact the UK's top games-only magazine. This, on the other hand, was the Official UK PlayStation Magazine. As in, PlayStation One.

In the US, the Official PlayStation Magazine did the sensible thing and incorporated PS1 and PS2 coverage into one magazine. Across the pond, meanwhile, Future Publishing figured they could make a bit more money by keeping the official PS1 mag going while launching a separate official PS2 mag...this despite the fact that after 2002, there really wasn't a whole lot going on with the old PS1, except for crappy budget games, and even those petered out by '03.

So how do you fill up a 100-page magazine with virtually zero advertising with coverage for a system that's been legally dead for nearly two years? Editor-in-chief Ryan Butt's solution: Get silly. OPMUK's final issue has a whopping two reviews (for XS Junior League Soccer and Ford Truck Mania, which is given a pity score of 7/10), a few pages' worth of capsule game lists, a feature on the 108 greatest PS1 cheats, and a primer on the PlayStation 2 for all those avid magazine-reading gamers who somehow didn't know what a PlayStation 2 was by 2004. The rest of the magazine is pure fluff -- 2 pages on the editorial staff, 2 pages covering a typical month of the magazine, a spread with character art you can cut out to "make your own OPM funeral" with, and an Operation-type game where you get to pull out all the bits from erstwhile editor Dan Curley. It's all remarkably well-written and amusing, which is the really surprising thing here because the readership had to have been in the four-figures by this time.

As it turns out, Future Publishing (the biggest UK game-mag publisher around) does this sort of thing all the time. The best example I can think of offhand is Commodore Format, a mag launched in 1990 devoted to the Commodore 64 computer. Launching a C64 mag in 1990 seems silly enough already, but amazingly, the mag survived...and survived...and survived, publishing 61 issues before finally closing in October 1995. 1995! Who the hell was using a C64 in 1995?

And this is exactly why the UK magazine scene is so neat. If you can find a few thousand people interested in reading PS1 coverage long after everyone's ditched their PS1s in the closet, then you can -- and what's more, it may just support itself in the long run. In the US, magazine overheads are too high to allow anything like that. (In fact, US mags didn't really experiment at all until the Internet forced them to in the early 2000s -- good for readers, but arguably a case of too little, too late.)

[Kevin Gifford breeds ferrets and runs Magweasel, a site for collectors and fans of old video-game and computer magazines. He owns enough magazines to smother himself with should the need arise, and his secret fantasy is for someone flush with game-publisher stock options to give him a monthly stipend so he can spend a year researching their full history and finishing the site. In his "off" time he is an editor at Newtype USA magazine.]

GameTunnel Discovers Sunny May For Indies

eets.jpg Probably the only unmissable indie-related article every month is the 'Indie Game Monthly Round-Up' from GameTunnel, and - good news, the May 2006 edition is now online.

Looks like the overall game of the month is the excellent puzzler Eets, which actually recently posted its postmortem on GSW sister site Gamasutra, and received an overall 9.0 score.

Reviewer Mike Hommel commented of the title: "A really solid and original puzzle game. The emotions work out as a really interesting aspect to the puzzles, and the physics-y nature of it all makes the puzzles a little more lenient and freeform than you get in more tile-based puzzles." So yay!

Other well-rated GT titles included The Odyssey: Winds of Athena ("Instead of controlling your units, you try to steer them in the right direction by modifying their environment"), and Bone: The Great Cow Race ("...does a good job of using 3D graphics while retaining a warm Disney-ish painted look.")

Once A Journo, Now A Community Manager, Forza Edition

pplace.jpg For those wondering what former 1UP staffer and current Microsoft community manager Che Chou is working on, turns out he's the community liaison for Forza Motorsport 2, the Xbox 360 racing sequel announced at E3, and coming out this Xmas.

Thus, he's running regular weblog updates on Forzamotorsport.net, and there's some pretty interesting stuff out there - for example, a trip to local exotic car dealership Park Place, where "a quest for exotic autos and soggy wet hamburgers", always a good combination, resulted. It's actually interesting to see (as with Ivan Sulic and Hellgate London) ex-journos being hired purely to provide community support and articles for single, high-profile games - and it's pretty neat.

[Oh, and while we're here, another fun third-party Forzamotorsport.net story is a chat with PGR art director Kiki Wolfkill and fame design director Chris Novak (hey, Project Gotham Racing 3 guys - sneaking onto the Forza site!), who "barnstormed the 425-hp British exotic through 5,000 miles of American countryside" in the 2006 Tire Rack Cannonball One Lap of America - neeto.]

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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