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July 1, 2006

COLUMN: 'Game Mag Weaseling': Mag Roundup 7/1/06

['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.]


Time for a roundup of all the new mags of the past two weeks. This time around I cover the new issues of Game Informer, PSM, OXM, Computer Gaming World, and PC Gamer, along with one brand-new launch. I've decided with Simon that I'll cover "new" mags and "old" mags on alternating weeks, so you can expect a roundup similar to this one every two weeks from here on in.

With all the bags of money I receive for this column (seriously, it's not every day you are Fedexed a heavy, unwieldy bag with a big "$" on it) I've successfully taken out subscriptions to every US game mag in...erm...well, the US. The trouble is, they take forever to kick in, since most magazine clearing-houses are based in Iowa and they carry the bulk mail around there on smelly brown Highland cattle. So, sadly, I don't have the new Nintendo Power yet, even though it's right there on their own homepage. Next time, I swear it.

(Click through to read the full column, including synopses of the above-mentioned magazines.)

Game Informer July 2006

This is the first time I get to cover "the world's #1 computer & video game magazine" in this column, so I want to start by pointing out the top reason why everyone should have a subscription to Game Informer, even if they hate GameStop. That reason is the GISpy page. Seriously, what kind of brilliant idea was this? Take a page of the magazine each month and fill it with pics of the editorial staff posing with (a) B-grade celebrities, (b) developers from game companies, (c) PR people from game companies, and/or (d) editors from other magazines if nothing else is available.

Since this is the E3 issue, you get a bit of everything in this GISpy: Clint Eastwood pretending to give a flip about his Dirty Harry game; American Idol reject Ace Young with utterly dejected-looking senior editor Matt Helgeson; fellow editor Matthew Kato with utterly dejected-looking programmer John Carmack; and, of course, Shigeru Miyamoto dressed in a T-shirt and smiling like an idiot while shaking hands with Steven Spielberg -- creating "a vortex of geek fandom that nearly consumed the entire LA Convention Center," as GI puts it.

Their big E3 feature is text-heavy and pretty much what you'd expect, with interviews with all the same bigwigs EGM covered in their E3 issue. GI is the only mag to take Carmack up on what he was at E3 to talk about, spending a page interviewing him about how awesome cell-phone games are. The best quote from it all -- Kojima's "I acknowledge that we have already lost [to overseas developers]" -- is already all over the net, and as many have noted, it makes sense considering that Kojima's games are basically "US-developed" by every notable standard except the geographical one.

Forgettable: Need for Speed Carbon, GI's hot-sclusive of the month. If I had a wee for every preview feature I've read that talks about how big EA is and how they're really, really going to change gaming with their latest title in Series X, I'd need a boat to float out of the john. (An honest admission: I've written two myself in the past.)

Computer Gaming World July 2006

One or two EGM podcasts ago, Shane noted that doing a cover for a military-themed game is difficult because they all look the same. CGW is forced to tackle the problem headfirst in Issue 264, which has Splinter Cell: Double Agent on the cover. To be honest, I think some other art may been more suitable here -- Sam Fisher looks like some random bald dude at first, and it took several glances before I even realized that's a gun he's brandishing in his hand.

Top features: Oh, there's tons of them this month. The front news story is a 3-page feature on love in MMORPGs, complete with bitter tales of getting dumped for a dirty German and a Las Vegas wedding guarded by stormtroopers. There are interviews with Warren Spector, that "NOW FUCKING HIT THIS MOB!! HARD!!" guy from WOW, and a guy who runs a combination CounterStrike/girl model website. The Tom vs. Bruce (where two men compete against each other on the same game over a month) is on Oblivion, and it's funny. Even the cover feature isn't bad, as it talks about Ubisoft's mysterious Shanghai offices almost as much as the game.

Hey Ziff: Put the dod-durn subscriber label in the dod-durn subscriber label space next time, please. Thanks.

PC Gamer August 2006

The cover this month is on Half-Life 2: Episode 2, where things like a new vehicle (a two-man go-kart made from scrap metal) and a new monster (the leggy Hunter) are introduced. As opposed to CGW (which hardly did any E3-labeled coverage whatsoever), the rest of the mag is flush with showfloor previews, which may or may not be interesting depending on how psyched you are for all the RPGs and crazy European RTSes out there.

Notable: Both CGW and PC Gamer cover the new PhysX cards, meant to create dazzling showcases of boxes falling in orderly fashion without weighing down your CPU. CGW gives it not much more than a passing glance, but PCG gives is a full page treatment, even though both mags admit that there isn't much use for one right now. PCG also gives a page to a device that lets you connect three monitors together into a single virtual screen -- lovely if you, you know, have three screens laying around.

PSM August 2006

PSM does the E3 blowout with enormous screenshots all over the place, another huge bit on the PS3 controller, and not a whole lot of spin around that list price and lack of standout games. Particularly notable is one page that compares screenshots from Xbox 360 launch title Call of Duty 2, PS3 launch title Resistance: Fall of Man, and 360 "second generation" title Gears of War. Perhaps it's a consequence of the screenshots chosen to illustrate the sidebar, but if it's any indication, then the next generation of games is going to be brown. Very, very brown. With a lot of muzzle flashes.

Also amusing: Reader comments on PSM's redesign. "I don't feel like I have to hide my PSM from my roommates anymore," writes Holly Jasper of Iowa. I do like the bright, simple cover schemes they've thrown at us the past few months -- it looks unique and pleasing to the eye, even as it throws a ton of coverlines at you.

Official Xbox Magazine August 2006

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think this is the first issue of OXM where the disc is for Xbox 360 only. It's an all-right one, too, with hi-def trailers of Halo 3, Fable 2, Call of Duty 3, Shadowrun, and all the other E3 biggies. Demos are lighter, though, including Lost Planet, PDZ, and FIFA World Cup '06 (hurrah France, I hate you no more).

Otherwise: It's all E3, baby, including a frame-by-frame analysis of the Halo 3 trailer that is so obsessive, even those people on the teamxbox forums might be a little wary of the editors' mental state right now. There's also a preview of the upcoming Halo graphic novel, which uses Japanese-language sound effects (and not particularly accurate ones, either) for some reason.

Despite all the E3 360 love: The reviews section has one 360 game, one Live Arcade title (good ol' Uno), and nine "Xbox 1" games.

Beckett Massive Online Gamer June/July 2006

Well, here it is, I suppose -- America's first regular magazine devoted exclusively to MMORPGs, beating Massive Magazine to the stands by a few months. The content is, well, not very good. It seems to be targetting gamers who have played one or two MMO's but want some help really getting into them, but I'm not sure packing a mag full of confusing, jargon-packed how-to features is the best way to do that. But if you're a hardcore nerd, no worries here! You got your huge WoW centerfold poster, your auction price guide, and, of course, your pages o' bad fantasy fanart (from all the hottest DeviantArt creators, of course). The coup de grace: a feature titled "Jay & Cat: Keeping the battles out of the bedroom and inside the game" that's illustrated by what I can only call erotic tauren furry art. The spread makes me laugh out loud every time I turn to it. Run to the bookstore and check it out yourself. It's absolutely worth the gas money.

Sample news story: "Scientists in Japan recently created floating bursts of light in three-dimensional shapes using a special laser beam technology. Researcher Tatsumi Kimura of Japan's Regional Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology shows us how these laser beams can create a cylinder shape of glowing plasma emissions that light up in the air. It truly is an amazing sight! Can you just imagine how this will affect the future of video and computer gaming? We can see it now... Your [sic] battling large beasts in mid-air as your warrior swings his mighty sword and slices his opponent to pieces. Images of light... are flying everywhere! And, we're sure Star Trek fans are thinking Holodeck!!!"

And on the next page: A badly JPEG-compressed picture of a Sony 30-day game card with the Ebay photo hosting service's watermark on it.

A Vampyre Story, Risen From The Grave

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/vampyre.jpg Adventure Gamers is kind enough to point out that Autumn Moon's PC adventure game 'A Vampyre Story' has got a reprieve, thanks to "a publisher agreement to bring the comic adventure to PC."

Autumn Moon itself is founded by two LucasArts veterans, Bill Tiller and Dave Harris, and so is (much like TellTale Games) somewhat of a revelatory symbol for those who wants to see the PC graphic adventure continue in the commercial world - the game's gallery is certainly rather wonderful.

Though the title has been on hiatus for a good while now, the story notes: "Although AME is keeping the identity of the publisher quiet for now, CEO Bill Tiller has confirmed that the new publisher has worldwide rights to the game, and the funding allows the team to begin full-time production. The small California-based developer plans to increase staff in the coming months to accommodate the increased workload." Late 2007 release, possibly? That'll do nicely.

Cloning Clyde Supremos Talk XBLA

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/clcl.jpg Our favourite Xbox 360-related info, listing, and points-whoring site Achieve360Points also does interviews from time to time, and has added a neat conversation with NinjaBee's Brent Fox and John Nielson, the folks behind both Outpost Kaloki X for Xbox 360 Live Arcade and the forthcoming Cloning Clyde for the same platform.

The duo note the amount of work put into multiplayer (as well as traditional singleplayer!) for the forthcoming "zany side-scrolling platformer" in which you "Play as a variety of mutant Clydes, each with unique abilities, including Chicken-Clyde, Frog-Clyde, Sheep-Clyde, and more", explaining: "We spent months figuring out how multiplayer would work, and implementing it all is definitely why the game has taken as long as it has to come out. The two modes are competitive, and co-op... As an added bonus, your cooperative gameplay doesn’t go uncounted, it is added to the stats you achieve in single-player mode."

In addition, they're bullish on XBLA's future (as we are!), commenting: "We have BIG plans for Xbox Live Arcade. This is such a great platform! There are no official announcements yet but I can say that we aren't working on anything similar to Outpost Kaloki X or Cloning Clyde. Every game we release will only be better than the previous."

Bit Generations, GBA, Cha Cha Cha!

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/bit04.jpg Over at the ever-beautiful Insert Credit, GSW columnist Jiji has posted noting the official Japanese website for bit Generations, "Nintendo's upcoming series of experimental GBA titles".

As the Jijster notes: "There you'll find new screenshots, play descriptions, and videos - along with some cracking good chiptunes - of both waves of titles, currently scheduled for release in Japan on July 13 and July 27 for 2000 yen apiece. All of the titles in this series feature abstract and colorful visuals meshed with simple, yet original, styles of play."

Other interesting info from the post: "Nintendo haven't made any noise about a possible US release, but most of the titles already have ESRB ratings assigned, so, we'll see... While it's said that most of the games are being developed by skip Ltd., who are best known for Giftpia and Chibi Robo, the developer responsible for Digidrive seems to be Q-Games, which was founded by Starfox's [co-]creator Dylan Cuthbert."

[Randomly enough, I accidentally IM-ed Cuthbert the other week while out in New York for the Webbys, thanks to an errant Mac IM prog which insisted on re-adding all my ancient contacts - in the ensuing ruckus, he mentioned that his firm is also in the midst of finishing out Starfox DS - neeto.]

Extreme Earache Metal Demo Alert!

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/earach.jpg Gus Mastrapa over at Looky Touchy has written up brief impressions of the Earache Extreme Metal Racing demo for PC - and you guys know we're all obsessed with this game, obviously.

Mastrapa explains: "The game I imagined in my head was wicked. Spiked tire treads tore through the writhing entrails of doomed souls. Satan loomed over us in the blood-red sky, taking the the form of a spectral goat. The dark one rained pestilance on my fellow racers as we fired guided missiles fueled by pure hatred while the deepest recesses of hades echoed with the fury of Deicide. That and I imagined that the game would be fun."

Unfortunately... not so much: "I'm sure teenager Sky Nash, who cooked up the game concept, had something similar in mind. It's a shame the product of her goth-addled imagination wound up being so dang sluggish and sloppy. Vehicles handle like Sisyphus' stone and their attacks trigger so slowly that they seem only coincidentally related to your button presses." Aw... maybe if we all sell our souls, everything will magically play better?

Madison, WI - Center Of The Gaming Universe!

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/preyband.jpg No, really! Firstly, the weekly Madison Isthmus profiles the local band posters turning up in X360/PC title Prey, thanks to the developers being local music-scene stalwarts.

The article explains: "Madison's music scene has received props from another video game. Prey, an alien abduction-themed first-person shooter set to be released for PCs and XBox 360 in early July, is the product of Madison-based Human Head Studios. The game features logos and concert fliers of several Madison bands in its first level, set in an Oklahoma roadhouse. This comes on the heels of last winter's release of Guitar Hero, the PS2 game that features a gig poster by Little Friends of Printmaking in its level-selection screen." See, Guitar Hero, too? Madison is so where it's at.

What's more: "Human Head staff artist Eli Quinn, who worked on the environmental textures and 3D modeling, is responsible for the nod. Quinn plays guitar and sings for Dirgus and Spitoon and plays drums for Officer Steve. Two of Human Head's owners, moreover, are members of Groovulous Glove. The Droids' note closes with thanks for Quinn and the studios: "To say that it is extremely kind of them to give a nod to the local music scene in such a high profile game is an understatement." Local color is cool!

The Making Of Grand Theft Auto

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/gtaa.jpg At Edge-Online, they've reprinted another of the 'Making Of...' articles from Edge magazine, this one dealing with the first, overhead-view Grand Theft Auto for the PlayStation.

The intro explains the selflessness of the Scot: "Talking to those that worked for DMA Design [now Rockstar North] back in the late ’90s it’s difficult to get anyone to claim significant credit for themselves, although they’re generous with praise for others. Development of Grand Theft Auto, or Race’n’Chase as it was originally known before a clash with a Matchbox slot-car racer forced a change, was collaborative and often tempestuous, and as a consequence it’s extremely difficult to pin down the specific turning points, even for those who were there at the time."

Also notable and well-phrased, from the conclusion: "GTA is often seen as inventing the sandbox genre, but in truth it built upon a strong heritage of arcade and freeform games. Even the game’s trademark carjacking had been seen in Hunter and Mercenary before that. Its unique achievement was to take the best from what had gone before and fuse it together with ambition, skill and incredible attention to detail."

June 30, 2006

Everything You Know About Community Management Is Wrong

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/scock.jpg At the ever-fun Broken Toys, long-time MMO observer Scott 'Lum The Mad' Jennings is discussing community relations, as sparked by an Aeropause article which claims: "The World of Warcraft forums are a good place to go if you’re feeling pretty good about life, and you decide you need that attitude adjusted."

Jennings notes that: "Stardock and Penny Arcade (huh? When was Tycho’s last patch?) are held up as paragons of successful community management, mainly from getting rid of the middle man." He then goes on to basically suggest that comparing the most rabid MMO-playing fan to the kind of relatively relaxed people who play games via TotalGaming.net or read comics at Penny Arcade is probably gently unfair - something we tend to agree with.

He concludes: "MMOs are special. MMO communities are special. They require a special, deft hybrid form of public relations, rapid response, and disinterested ombudsman. That is what an online community relations team SHOULD be. Whether or not it is in practice can be an issue. But if you feel that your game isn’t giving you enough feedback on what you find important, it isn’t because community relations is an inherently bad idea; it’s because that team specifically is falling down on its job."

Mutant Storm Empire Looms Into Majestic View

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/msempire.jpg Handy media-ish news site Xboxyde has just posted a heap of screenshots from Mutant Storm Empire, the Xbox 360 Live Arcade sequel to one of our favorite games of the past few months, PomPom's Mutant Storm Reloaded - and oh my, it's salivatin' time.

The pictures clearly show scrolling levels (as opposed to the single-screen mayhem of Mutant Storm Reloaded), as well as simultaneous multiplayer (likely/hopefully across Xbox Live!), and there are all kinds of weird beasties such as octopi, fish, and gigantic spaceship turret madness crazies sprawled all over the place - yay! As commenters note, it has elements of PomPom's previous PC title Space Tripper in it too.

Looks like the pics originated in the PomPom Games official forum, where staffer Mike links to hi-res screens, explaining: "Theres a bunch of shots in this directory. Alot of em are in the current 360gamer mag. Some of them are a bit old tho, so certain beasties and stuff have change. Still, its close enough! " Yes, it is - this may be our most-awaited X360 title of the year, now, cos we're weird like that.

GameSetCompetition: Metal Gear Saga DVD Winners!

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/mgssaga.jpg Many thanks to all who entered our recent competition to win Metal Gear Saga Vol. 1 on DVD - and thanks again to Konami for providing the DVDs for us to give away! We had a record amount of entries (way over 100!), and the following people have emerged victorious:

Alex Bailey, Brett Dunst, Edmond Tran, Jesse Farrell, Justin Tremont, Michael Teague, Pheener, Ryan Schreyer, Steven Randolph, Tyler Rowe

For those wondering what the actual answer was (hopefully, you used your memory to find it, rather than a Google trawl - good news is that only one person actually got it wrong!):

"Q: In Konami's original Metal Gear Solid, what CODEC frequency is used to contact Meryl Silverburgh?
A: 140.15"

This explains why Frank's hint for the original question was 'back of the case!', of course, since, as Wikipedia explains: "Early in the game, the Codec frequency for Meryl (140.15) can only be found on the back of the game's box or jewel case. This was initially commissioned in an effort to curb piracy, as without contacting Meryl, the player cannot progress in the game. However, this trick could be side-tracked (possibly for those who lost their case) by calling Campbell via Codec five times in a row (or by doing it the slow way and running through each possible frequency until she answers)."

Also mentioned, and something I didn't know, actually: "This puzzle is not original to Metal Gear Solid however, as its predecessor Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake on the MSX2 also required the player to look behind the game's packaging [EDIT: FrankC says it's a sekrit code in the manual and Wikipedia is WRONG WRONG!] when Campbell changes frequency number." Congrats again to the winners!

Trip Hawkins: Back Off, Bing Gordon, I'm The Daddy!

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/triph.jpg One of our favorite avuncular game journos, Paul Hyman, has a conducted a HollywoodReporter.com interview with Digital Chocolate's Trip Hawkins, who is notable, of course, as the EA founder and 3DO's big bad daddy, and the piece starts with a hilarious interchange about Bing Gordon's status as EA 'co-founder'.

Hawkins notes, not unvitriocally: "Just a quick aside ... there's been some confusion these last few years because (chief creative officer) Bing Gordon over at EA has taken to publicly calling himself the co-founder of EA. That seems to have confused people. I'm the founder -- period, end of story. Bing was the seventh employee that we hired and he started working for EA about six months after I incorporated it. So he was a little late to be a co-founder and to create the illusion now that we founded the company together."

We seem to remember that Hawkins has written in to Gamasutra before to correct stories along these lines, and am amused to see him still at it. Away from this sideshow, his views on mobile gaming are pretty interesting too - he's very anti-license, and claims: "Games need to be designed for cell phones, not converted from other platforms", also noting: "By the time those brands map over to a mobile phone, so much is lost in the translation. Do you think the gamer is going to continue to buy mobile games when all they get is second-rate versions of what the brands are supposed to be about?"

Fist Of North Star Arcade Endings Summarized

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/fatalko.jpg A truly gargantuan, random post on Matt 'Fort90' Hawkins' weblog clues us in to a YouTube video featuring all the Fist Of The North Star endings - very neat for those who haven't seen much of the Arc System Works 2D arcade fighter.

Arc, of course, are the chaps behind the Guilty Gear series, thus 'Hokuto No Ken', as it's known in Japan, has some seriously lush 2D art, and this compilation of finishing moves is a delight to behold, even if it isn't announced for any home systems (we're dreaming of an Xbox 360 online-playable release alongside Senko No Ronde Rev. X - at least, in our 'people care about Microsoft in Japan' dreams!)

Anyhow, Matt has some fun commentary on the fatalities: "Truth be told, most are lame, but a few are funny, like one where you just basically rip the clothes off a woman, another where you play a woman who tries to shoot something with a crossbow but ends up hitting the opponent in the face (for some Dick Cheney action), along with a weird Sears portrait studio-esque floating head in the background, and the final one where I think someone decided to jump off a cliff and slit his wrist at the same time. Plus the over-dramatic music adds to the funny."

COLUMN: 'Bastards of 32-Bit' - Death Tank Zwei

deathtank1.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 Death Tank Zwei, a hidden game found within Duke Nukem 3D for the Sega Saturn, published by Sega and released in the United States in 1997.]

Minigame as star attraction.

There are rarities, there are obscurities, and then there's Death Tank Zwei. Death Tank Zwei can't be bought, nor can it be downloaded. Its mere existence is not known to many, and earning the right to play it involves following a precise set of instructions, none of which are at all obvious or even hinted at. As elusive as it may be, however, Death Tank Zwei is easily the Saturn's best multiplayer game, outclassing even Guardian Heroes and the legendary 10-player Saturn Bomberman.

To play Death Tank Zwei, you'll first need to own copies of the Sega Saturn ports of Duke Nukem 3D and Quake. Boot up Quake, then create a save file in your Saturn's internal memory. Then start up Duke 3D and Death Tank Zwei should be accessible on the main menu.

Alternately, Death Tank Zwei can be unlocked by playing through Duke Nukem 3D and destroying every single toilet in the entire game.

Yeah, you're probably going to want to go with the save file method.

deathtank2.jpgNuts to your dated FPSes!

It's definitely worth the trouble, though, as Death Tank Zwei is one of the most fun multiplayer games available on any platform. Think Scorched Earth with up to seven players and you've got the basic gist of it. Unlike Worms and other Scorched Earth-alikes, however, Death Tank Zwei is not turn-based, and allows for every player to move and shoot at all times. The gameplay is more fast-paced and frenzied as a result, which makes an excellent pick-up-and-play party game.

All action takes place on a single screen, where up to seven player-controlled tanks are initially dropped onto a randomly-generated battleground. This terrain will change as the battle unfolds, as player shots will quickly blow away large chunks of the field. Players have access to a number of weapons, each of which have their own tactical uses and strengths, and all of which can be purchased with points earned by destroying opponents in previous rounds.

There would be more players in these shots but SOMEONE had to go and take his multitaps back to Florida!Death Tank! Death Tank! Death Tank!

This all may sound taxing at first, but Death Tank Zwei is beautifully simple in concept. The game is built on a foundation of quick multiplayer action -- there's no storyline, or even a single-player mode. The object is simply to humiliate up to six of your friends with your superior aiming skills. Or, failing that, your ability to stockpile weapons. Nothing beats hoarding an arsenal for several turns in anticipation for that one round where you'll suddenly use a combination of airstrikes, nukes, and Death's Heads to destroy your opponents before they even realize that the game has started.

Death Tank Zwei may at first glance appear to be nothing more than a throwaway minigame, but it contains all sorts of little touches that show that it was a labor of love. The occasional intrusion of rule variations like Blitz Rounds keep gameplay sessions fresh for extended periods of time, and the game even goes so far as to keep track of win/loss statistics for dozens of player profiles via the Saturn's internal battery. Hell, the title screen features its own thrash-metal theme song! With vocals! You can almost feel how bored the game's programmers must have been during the development of Duke Nukem 3D.

Really, if you're at all into multiplayer games, there are none I'd recommend higher than Death Tank Zwei. It was a hit at my last party, and I can see myself playing it for hours at a time with the right crowd. Just make sure you have plenty of jumpjet fuel on hand for when you call in the airstrikes.

[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.]

On... Cricket-Based AIDS Safety Cellphone Games?!

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/cricket.jpg Sister site Serious Games Source posted such an odd story yesterday that we felt we had to pass it on - the announcement of a cricket-based AIDS awareness cellphone game for India.

It's explained: "The report noted that one of the games, Demons XI and Safety XI, is a “cricket-based game involving balls in the form of condoms, faithful partners, information on HIV and the symbolic AIDS red ribbon.” In order to win the game, a player must avoid “googlies and doosra balls - unsafe sex, infected blood transfusions, infected syringes and the company of bad friends.”"

So: "'The games will educate mobile subscribers and create awareness while reducing stigma and discrimination,' noted Hilmi Quraishi, ZMQ's chief technology officer. Other similarly themed games released by ZMQ include Ribbon Chase, Messenger, and Quiz with Babu." AIDS is indeed a major problem in India, so it's good to see someone trying to do something about it, but packaging AIDS and cricket makes us boggle a lot. Still, good for them - no weirder than Puyo Puyo and AIDS, right?

GameTap Peeks At Lord British's Crossbow Collection

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/rgarr.jpg If it's 4pm in Bangkok, it must be time for a GameTap update on GSW, and since this one involved Richard 'Lord British' Garriott, whose medieval tunics are the talk of any party at which he arrives (and again, isn't really covered too much elsewhere), we must relate it in some detail!

We briefly noted the upcoming Ultima Week on the site, but now it is upon us, uhoh. It's explained: "To celebrate and honor this amazing series of titles, GameTap is giving serious ‘props’ by hosting ‘Ultima Week.’ As a special treat for GameTap subscribers, Ultima’s creator Richard “Lord British” Garriott will be adding his own personal touch to many of the activities taking place on GameTap including:

- A “Tapped In” documentary on Richard Garriott and the Ultima Franchise
- An exclusive tour of his castle, including a look at the bones in the basement and his crossbow collection
- Each time a subscriber loads an Ultima game, Richard will provide a personal introduction about that specific title
- The latest trailer for Tabula Rasa, the... MMO game being developed by Richard Garriott and NCSoft, with an exclusive behind the scenes sneak peek at the game in development.
- Then in July, Richard will occupy the hot seat and go a round with everyone’s favorite ghost host on Space Ghost Coast to Coast

Oh, and just to confirm - the featured games available for play are: "Ultima™ 1, Ultima™ II - The Revenge of the Enchantress, Ultima™ III - Exodus, Ultima™ IV - Quest of the Avatar, Ultima™ V - Warriors of Destiny." No titles in the series later than Ultima V just yet, but I'm sure (ok, not _sure_) if everyone is good, the weird spinoffs and later sequels may eventually make it to the GameTap summer wonderland, yay. Anyhow, there's the scoop.

June 29, 2006

Cool Hunting Concludes '8-Bit Gods' Video Series

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/mdenardo.jpg A few weeks ago, we spotted one of the video entries in Cool Hunting's '8-Bit' series, profiling bleeptastic music creators who often use Game Boy and NES consoles to create their goodness.

Well, the concluding part of the video series has recently been posted, in which they "discuss the sampling processes of artists who re-imagine the possibilities of lo-fi technology", talking to Mike Rosenthal, Experimental Music Curator at the NYC performance space 'The Tank', and Montgomery Knott, director of MonkeytownHQ.

The previous entries (selectable on the menu on the left) are one-on-one artist interviews, with a recent highlight including a chat with Mark DeNardo, who "incorporates electronic sequences from both his Gameboy and PSP into deeply soulful and original folk songs" - he also talks about his music for the Gamma Bros game, which we recently covered. Also interviewed are Bit Shifter, noteNdo, and Nullsleep!

GameTunnel Tunnels Its Way Into June Titles

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/wearth.jpg So, if Game Tunnel was a lady, we think it'd be a really comely, intelligent lady, because its end of month indie game round-ups are _just that good_. And the latest round-up, for June 2006 is no exception.

This time, the coveted 'Game Of The Month' goes to the long, long-delayed Wild Earth, for which GT editor Russell Carroll explains: "I've been waiting for Wild Earth since it won the 'Game of the Year' at the 2003 IGF... Playing as a photo-journalist in the beautiful African landscape is a lot of fun for my scientific senses. Players will learn as they play watching their photos turn into the images used in the magazine stories created within the game. This game is a such wonderful simulation that it seems a shame that it is often compared to Pokemon Snap." Sounds neat, though Mike Hommel comments that "the FPS gameplay is too complex for the broad market this should be for."

Also getting a Gold Award is the oft-GSW discussed Armadillo Run, for which Carroll comments: "If you miss out on this one due to the screenshots not looking that pretty you don't deserve the chance to play it. This physics sim is a blast with lots of options to make your own contraptions." However, more than one of the reviewers question whether it's a real armadillo in the game or just "a basketball". Clearly, it's an armadillo, because games never lie to us.

Gamerbytes Woofs Its Way Into Existence

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/gbytes.jpg Well, whaddya know? GameSetWatch has a brand new sibling, in the form of user-submitted game news site Gamerbytes, which 'soft launched' today, whatever 'soft launched' means.

Anyhow, it's "a new community site designed to link you to the best game related stories and content on the web", or so it says on the tin - and it has a cute dog logo, and basically, you can submit any video game-related story you like, and then your peers will vote it up and down. Right now, it only takes 2 votes to get onto the front page, so if you want to post your own stories to the site and you have a willing friend, please feel welcome to start gaming the system immediately!

And yes, we know you've probably seen this idea somewhere before (the site is based on the Pligg code, incidentally!), but that doesn't mean to say we can't attract a different set of people for a game-specific version of these 'power to the people' Web-centric sites. Also, the logo has a dog in it! So go poke at it a bit and submit some neat stuff, quick.

Canada's Mario Canstruction Exposed!

mariocan2s.jpg As we reported yesterday, relayed on from the Canadian newswires, the wondrous news debuted that "Nintendo of Canada and Canstruction [are] to build world's largest metal Super Mario in Dundas Square" in Toronto.

Wha? It's explained: "On June 29 Nintendo of Canada and Canstruction invite you to experience the world's largest Super Mario structure made entirely of canned goods. Come see this charitable event and unique tribute to Super Mario in recognition of Nintendo DS game New Super Mario Bros. becoming the fastest-selling video game in Canada."

Well, GSW reader Duane Brown actually bothered to turn up and take a couple of pictures of the wondrous canned Mario (thanks!), and we present them above and below! We can just about make out that the pipe is made of coffee, and Mario's braces of canned tuna - we leave it to you to figure out the rest.


Of course, we'd like to point out that this is _real_ investigative journalism at work here - we're waiting for our Pulitzer! Where is it?!

Profiling 'Luigi's Coin Quest', Hacksterpieced

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/hackster.jpg We still love Vintage Computing's 'Hacksterpiece Theater' segments, and the latest one is up now, discussing the absolutely excellent NES ROM hack Luigi's Coin Quest from DahrkDaiz.

It's explained: "Shortly after completing his 2004 magnum opus, Mario Adventure, DahrkDaiz got straight to work on a totally new hack of Super Mario Bros. 3 which would feature Luigi in the starring role, eschewing the usual Mario vehicle cliché. Luigi’s Coin Quest, as it would be titled, would have numerous similarities with his previous SMB3 hack, but would greatly improve upon them. Over the next eight months, only one world of this epic project would be finished. And yet, despite being incomplete, the resulting work is one of the most sophisticated and highly playable examples of sheer technical mastery in the field of NES game hacking that the gaming world has never seen".

What's more: "The object of Luigi’s Coin Quest is to find a special coin in each level. Every stage has at least one rounded switch block that looks similar to the “!” switch blocks in Super Mario World. Hitting this switch will reveal the coin somewhere in the level, which you then have to find and collect to end the stage. The original idea for the game’s structure was that “boss fights” with the Koopa Kids would end each world. You’d then enter a warp pipe in the overworld — completing another extended transitional level in the process — and when you came out, you’d be at a new world map with new levels." Neeeet!

COLUMN: 'Game Rag Slapdown' - An Open Apology

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). This week, Nathan Smart apologizes on behalf of the entire video game community for its role in this year's E3 over-attendance debacle.]

I keep having to tell people about my trip to E3 and with each telling I am asked if it was as fun as it sounds. Of course, I say that it wasn't - just like every other person that has gone to E3 has told me. It really stinks to have to admit that they are right because I imagined E3 as video game utopia.

The main reason everyone says it stinks is because of the sheer amount of people. I like people and so that didn't seem like an issue - that is, until I started my 3-day-wait-in-line experience at the LA Convention Center. I'm no stranger to waiting in line (I mean, I live about an hour away from Cedar Point) but my feet have never hurt more.

I was always angry at the "big guys" for being mad that the "little guys" got to go to E3 - but now I understand their anger. I am one of these little guys - people that don't really make a living writing about games or people that make a living writing about video games but still suck at it. I really do feel sorry for the main guys and I'm here to apologize on behalf of all my little brothers and sisters.

Nothing says "I'm sorry" like the phrase "I'm sorry" so here you go:

I'm sorry.

Now, with the apology out of the way, let's get to the people who I'm speaking for:

-Kid whose business parents got her in
-Japanese person whose fashion sense got him in
-NGage Booth
-Bloggy Bloggerton and his Video Game Round-Up Gang (all 20 of them)
-Family Guy fan who snuck into meet Adam West and quote pop culture reference after pop culture reference after pop culture reference after unfunny script joke
-Guy recording phone message from Charles Martinet
-Charles Martinet
-WoW fan who just couldn't wait to add 5 more minutes to his 100 hours of play time
-GameSetWatch columnist

Again, we're all very sorry that we ruin your E3 experience every year. We hope that you will forgive us and allow us some time to adjust to our E3-less future. We may relapse and show up next year.

[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.]

Shooter Making For Dummies

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/gglad.jpg Haven't linked to Postman's Shoot The Core shmup page for a good while, so is great to see he has a new weblog post about 'Shooter Making For Dummies', presumably endangering himself with possible lawsuits from the 'For Dummies' book guys, haw.

He notes: "Luckily there are a handful of shmup level editors that can make creating levels in shmups easy enough for simpletons like us to tackle it. These SLE's are few and far between, but I feel that creators who took the time to release such tools to the public should be acknowledged", and goes on to discuss tools such as Dezaemon Construction Kit ("These spanned many consoles from Super Nintendo to Sega Saturn, however were never released in the US. Therefore creating a game can be very difficult without understanding what exactly is going on".)

But he reveals: "My favorite of the bunch, and the only one I've spend some actual time with making levels, Galactic Gladiator Level Editor. After reading some simple directions, the GGLE makes it very easy for you to make some killer scenarios for the Gladiator game." Hey, fun DIY shmup action for all!

VGCharts Sheds Light On Mysterious Sales

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/vgcharts.jpg On the cavernous morass that is NeoGAF, one of the commenters has revealed a new website that he's been working on - the intriguing VGCharts.org, which attempts to compile worldwide game sales data into one place, and is doing a pretty neat job (for North America and Japan, at least).

Now, Japanese charts have always been publically disclosed by Media Create, as far as we know, so being able to easily list the top 10 for 15th October 1995 in Japan (Tokimeki Memorial: Forever With You is number one, FWIW!) is insanely awesome.

However, it's slightly unclear where the U.S. monthly charts (such as this one for January 2005) are coming from. If it's a fresh-compiled source, then there should be no problems, but if it's in any way related to the annoyingly proprietary NPD Group data, then it's not clear how long the site will be up. Which is most irksome, cos having good, trackable sales data for the game biz in a public place would be a giant boon for all. Go go VGCharts!

June 28, 2006

Cave Story Music Remix Project Debuts

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/cavestory.png So, we've previously covered the extremely cultish PC dojin title Cave Story, as produced by Daisuke 'Pixel' Amaya.

Well, now a bunch of remix-loving fans have created a double album of Cave Story music remixes based on Pixel's original songs for the game, and ending up with 22 music tracks plus a bonus track, a result of which the Cave Story LJ fanlisting reveals that Pixel commented: "Each track thrilled me and made me smile, and every one of them impressed me. Are these professionals? I'm so glad now that I made that game. ... I feel very fortunate." Hurray!

There's plenty of love on the official forums, too, though if you don't dig OCRemix-style guitars and synths VG mixxy styles, this may not be your cup of tea, but some dig it a lot: "These tracks are awesome, and have totally rekindled my love for Cave Story. I clearly have some favorites, mostly due to the fact that some of the originals are better than others, but in terms of quality of mixing, all of you did a fantastic job." [Via Indygamer.]

Dead Man's Tale Unearths 42 Entertainment

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/dmtale.jpg One of the few GSW semi-obsessions (along with Gizmondo and Gametap) is innovative ARG-totin' firm 4orty 2wo Entertainment, so we're pleased to note a new ARGN.com news story announcing their latest project, an IM-centered puzzle game promoting the Johnny Depp-tastic Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest.

ARGN explains: "Dead Man's Tale has led us to raise the Jolly Roger and lose ourselves in the world of Billy Bones, through the magic of Microsoft's Windows Live Messenger software. A promotion for the upcoming movie Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, the IM-based game allows you to add Billy as a friend, and starting a conversation with the skeletal character moves you further into the story with text scripts and fun games and puzzles that load within the messenger window."

What's more, they've now uncovered an article at ad site Adotas confirming the webgame/IM hybrid, which sounds like fascinating stuff: "Live Messenger allows users to play a game or open an activity in one window while having a conversation in another, creating a relationship between the activity and conversation. In Dead Man’s Tale, one aspect utilizing this feature allows players to man the ship and beat enemies with cannon fire. One player assumes the role of the lookout while a second controls the cannon, all while being at their own separate computers. Other puzzles actually pit players against each other."

Reminder: Metal Gear Saga DVD GameSetCompetition Deadline

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/mgssaga.jpg A reminder, in case you missed last week's pretty darn deranged announcement, courtesy of Frank, which revealed our latest excellent GameSetCompetition, thanks to our friends at Konami and Kojima Productions, we're gonna repeat it, along with the deadline:

"Would YOU like to own a brand new, slightly bloodstained copy of Metal Gear Saga: Volume 1 on DVD? Of course you would! Here's how. Simply answer the following bit of videogame trivia:

In Konami's original Metal Gear Solid, what CODEC frequency is used to contact Meryl Silverburgh? (hint: back of the case!)

Please send your answers to [email protected] any time before Friday, June 30th at 12 noon PST. There will be ten winners randomly picked from the correct answers, the judges' decision is final, so don't give me no guff. You wouldn't want Secret Agent Ai Ai knocking on your door, now would you?"

Super Mario Canstruction Menaces Toronto

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/mscary.jpg Don't say we don't bring you all the big stories here at GSW. The latest, as released over the Canadian newswires, is that "Nintendo of Canada and Canstruction to build world's largest metal Super Mario in Dundas Square" in Toronto.

Wha? It's explained: "On June 29 Nintendo of Canada and Canstruction invite you to experience the world's largest Super Mario structure made entirely of canned goods. Come see this charitable event and unique tribute to Super Mario in recognition of Nintendo DS game New Super Mario Bros. becoming the fastest-selling video game in Canada."

But wait, there's more: "Consisting of more than 4,000 cans, weighing 2,600 lbs and reaching close to 10-feet high, the Super Mario structure will contain cans specifically selected for their colour to best replicate the Nintendo video game icon, as designed by Canstruction architects. All food used in the structure will be donated to the Daily Bread Food Bank." Whoa, and check out the Canstruction event winners from 2005 - Jaws and the tornado are awesome! Toronto-ites, please go take pics and mail them to us!

On 'Counter-Strike, India Style'

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/eleph.jpg Over at Wired News, they've added a fun article about the rise of online gaming in India, discussing how perhaps China isn't the only place to look for in order to see a video game boom.

Though it also includes a horrific typo in one of the first paragraphs: "Those leading the charge aren't shy to admit that the elephant has a dragon in its sites", the article frames overall game growth in terms of competitive gaming: "Tangible progress will be marked by the first Indian participation in the Electronic Sports World Cup, which kicks off June 30 in Paris. Earlier this month, 162 regional qualifiers from nine Indian cities came to New Delhi -- including 8-year-old Rohan Karir, a TrackMania prodigy -- to compete for 10 tickets to Paris and a shot at some of the $400,000 ESWC prize money."

It goes on to note: "According to a report released last month by the San Francisco consulting firm Pearl Research, which focuses on gaming trends in Asia, the Indian online games market will exceed $200 million in 2010... "India is basically where China was in 2001," says Allison Luong, Pearl's managing director. "That's when China's games market started to develop and an online games culture started to form."" It's still small potatoes, but hey, it's interesting potatoes.

COLUMN: 'Compilation Catalog' - Sega Ages 2500: Space Harrier II

Cover Image['Compilation Catalog' is a regular biweekly analysis of retro remakes and compilations old and new. This entry's subject is Sega Ages 2500 Vol. 20: Space Harrier II - Space Harrier Complete Collection, released in 2005 for the Playstation 2.]

The first iteration of Sega's current series of retro remakes weren't exactly warmly received. The results of a partnership with budget-development specialists D3 Publisher, the remakes produced by the joint publishing effort 3D AGES under the Sega Ages 2500 series ranged from somewhat presentable to downright ugly, with gameplay that was sometimes robust and enjoyable and other times absolutely reprehensible. In 2005, Sega rebooted Sega Ages 2500 with a new focus on faithful ports and emulations of classics coupled with presentation that represents the cream of the retro-compilation crop. One of the first franchises to receive the new treatment was Space Harrier, in Space Harrier II: Space Harrier Complete Collection.

Welcome to the Fantasy Zone

sharrier-01.jpgThe original Space Harrier has already received its own entry in the Sega Ages 2500 series (which can also be found in Sega Classics Collection), so in this volume, it's Space Harrier II (the Genesis sequel) that nominally has the limelight. But really, it's almost as if Sega's using Space Harrier II as a minor excuse to release a perfect port of the original Space Harrier on this particular collection, as an apology for the first, coolly-received remake. And perfect it is: it's just as fast and smooth as the original groundbreaking rail-shooter, with no glitches or inaccuracies in its conversion.

It's easy to see why the game is so well-loved to this day, with its blinding speed and classic tunes, and it holds up extremely well (even if you don't care for scaling sprites - shame on you!) And for only the second time ever, Space Harrier supports analog control. The original arcade game sported a full-sized aircraft-style joystick that allowed for precise control and aiming, but no console version of the game since - aside from the Sega Ages version that was released for the Saturn - has supported anything but digital D-pad controls. Here, Space Harrier supports the analog sticks present on the Dual Shock and Dual Shock 2 controllers, as well as two of Hori's USB flight sticks (break out your limited-edition copies of Ace Combat 5!).

Space Harrier SMS
Also accounted for here are the Sega Master System and Game Gear conversions of the arcade game. Both of these are as limited as you might imagine, given the 8-bit hardware they run on. Both struggle along valiantly at roughly half or quarter the speed of the original and are full of messily-converted graphics and sparse level layouts. have tunes that are pretty faithful to the original's soundtrack, though those in the Game Gear version sound a good deal fresher. To access the Game Gear version of the game, by the way, hold right on the D-pad while the cursor's on the version-select option in the game-select menu.

Get Ready

Space Harrier II
Space Harrier II, originally meant to display the young Genesis's muscle in comparison with arcade hardware of the time, doesn't hold up nearly as well today as its older brother. It carries forward Space Harrier's famous infinite horizon well enough, but as the Genesis had no built-in scaling hardware, all the scaling here is faked. Each of the game's objects was captured at several different levels of zoom and stored in ROM for display at given intervals, giving a mild - but very choppy - simulation of scaling.

Choppy as well is the Harrier's movements: moving him across the screen makes him jump between a set of fixed positions, instead of having him move smoothly as in the original game. All of this makes the game seem as if it's running at about fifteen frames per second or so. Naturally, this isn't the best state for any aspiring action game to be in, let alone the descendant of one as speedy as Space Harrier. That, coupled with the comparatively lackluster soundtrack and level designs, leave this one feeling fairly uninspired.


The third headlining title here is Space Harrier 3D, a Master System game that made use of a rather dodgy-looking pair of goggles that had lens-shutter mechanism that, coupled with a flickery game display, created a 3D effect. That potentially headache-inducing mechanism isn't available here (thankfully?), because it simply wouldn't make much sense to include it, given the current selection of 3D-compatible goggles for PS2. Rather, this version of Space Harrier 3D has a mode that uses the old red/blue 3D effect instead.

You'll have to break out the scissors and glue if you don't already have a pair of those cardboard goggles, though. Packaged in with the game is a little envelope that contains sheets of red and blue cellophane, along with a pattern and instructions for cutting out and assembling a pair of 3D glasses. Thankfully, for those of us who don't want to go through the trouble, there's an option to switch off the 3D mode entirely. (And it's worth noting that there's a hidden mode that replicates the original's flickering, as well as an option that lets you use the same glasses you'd use to view stereogram images. Just hold right on the control pad while on the "3D Type" option.)

Space Harrier 3DOf course, stripping away the gimmick leaves you with an original Space Harrier sequel that's not much more advanced than the original Master System Space Harrier. It's competent for the hardware, though, even if it's inherited the Genesis version's choppy player movement. And what's with the TIE Fighters? An extra bonus for fans of the US version, though, is emulated support for the FM-synthesis module that was only released for the Japanese Sega Mark III system. Anybody who's only heard the original Master System version's reedy tones will be in for a treat.

You're Doing Great

And since presentation is the name of the game here, no effort has been spared in making each version of each game present here as faithful as possible. The emulation (or conversion, whichever the case) is absolutely rock-solid in each case, and all of the original options and cheats for the old games are present. There's a gallery for each game with sound effects, music, and printed material included. The original Space Harrier has its promotional flyers, while the other games have their cover art and manuals - from both the Japanese and overseas versions of the games - scanned at a quality so crystal-clear and a resolution so huge that you can zoom in and read every word. Space Harrier's gallery also includes an expert superplay of the game, along with the option for the player to record and play back play sessions.

There's no lack of video options available: each game can be displayed in an interlaced and scaled mode, in progressive-scan, or pixel-perfect in its native resolution (termed '240p' here). This latter option is something that's missing from nearly every major retro-compilation that's released these days, and the lack of it leaves the vast majority of all those classics looking blurry, shimmery, and limp. Such is not the case here. And in the game's manual, there are interviews with and comments (all in Japanese, of course) from Japanese journalists and members of the original Space Harrier development team, including Yu Suzuki.

This package, along with the even-more-excellent Gunstar Heroes Treasure Box, represents the standard that all retro-compilations should be measured by. Even though there are "only" five games present here for your (roughly) $25, this package shows that care and respect for classics like Space Harrier and how they're presented can go a long way, even in the face of the ever-decreasing, technology-driven perceived value of games like these.

[Trevor Wilson is a web developer and amateur game developer who indulges his unhealthy obsession with obscure, strange, and unique video games over at his weblog, namako team.]

EVE Online Tournament To Be Streamed

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/eveo.jpg Former GSW blogger Tony Walsh has some excellent new information about space-based MMO Eve Online holding a large-scale video/audio streaming event to showcase some in-world tournaments taking place next month.

Walsh explains: "CCP, maker of the popular, massively multiplayer sci-fi game EVE Online, has announced that it will be broadcasting live audio and video programs across the `net from its offices between July 14 and 23, 2006. The broadcast coincides with a planned tournament, allowing viewers to see and hear all 95 matches with commentary. A high and low quality video stream will be provided, as well as an audio-only stream for those who prefer it."

He also notes: "Planned features include a tour of the CCP offices, information about the company's in-house magazine (which pays writers with in-game cash), and live interviews with CCP developers." CCP have been one of the most pro-active MMO firms in terms of stimulating in-game community, especially since they've managed to keep with one gigantic shard for in-game world use, and this looks like another good community-building event from them.

Fantasy Westward Journey Creator Goes East

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/fwest.jpg Former Marketwatch founder and current Chinese MMO don Bill Bishop continues to blog pointedly about the Chinese game market, and his latest post relays the interesting information that "Kingsoft has hired away Xu Bo, lead designer of Fantasy Westward Journey, and several core members of his development team."

Of course, this is partly interesting because most of us have no idea which MMOs are big in China (yes, apart from WoW!), but apparently, Netease's Fantasy Westward Journey and its sequel are two of the largest, numbering in the high hundreds of thousands of simultaneous users (!), and powering a lot of Chinese firm Netease's growth.

Bishop adds: "I'm not sure how much this matters for Netease long-term. I doubt this new Kingsoft game will be ready before 2008, and Fantasy Westward Journey shows no signs of slowing down (think Lineage and NCSoft and you realize Netease could live for years on just this one game). Netease does appear to be having issues with its long-awaited 3D game Tianxia." Again, somewhat over our heads, but fascinating just for the on-the-ground insight.

June 27, 2006

Advent Rising Comic, What They Did Next

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/advrise.jpg Thanks to a post over at FiringSquad, we get to find out what the folks behind the lofty but ultimately a bit clunky Advent Rising (particularly the Mustard brothers!) have been doing since they left previous company GlyphX Games.

Apparently: "The game is called Empire and its universe will actually be revealed first in a novel of the same name by noted science fiction author Orson Scott Card. The novel, due for release in late Novemeber, takes place in the near future with a second American Civil War raging. FiringSquad contacted Chair Entertainment for more info on the game and a represenative told us that the Empire game will be an Unreal Engine 3 first person shooter and that the Empire universe is their creation. Orson Scott Card elected to write the novel based on Chair's ideas and will have a large hand in developing the storyline for the game."

More than that, we were very surprised to note that a comic book based on Advent Rising is still being produced, even after the game flopped and helped contribute to the near-downfall of publisher Majesco. The final issue of the 5-part miniseries looks like it's just been released, though. Anyone check it out?

Dangerous Dave 2, Devilishly Dissected

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/ddave.png Apparently twistedly 'inspired' by sister site Gamasutra's game postmortems, a new site Gawd's Museum of Dissected Games, has been set up to take games apart from a hacker perspective - a 'postmortem' by dissection via an unrelated party!

The first of these is for John Carmack and John Romero's PC shareware platformer Dangerous Dave 2, for which it's explained: "If you have never played dave2, you may think that this is yet another platformer in the favor of Command Keen; well, if you have played it, you know it’s closer to the Doom frenchise. Master Tom Hall designed this game for Softdisk’s Gamer’s Edge disk right after leaving Softdisk and founding id. With Adrian Carmack on the graphics, the game featured so much gore (for pixelated graphics, of course) that some of it had to be removed."

Thus, 'Gawd' explains how he took the game's files apart to extract all of the sprite data, even including the programs he used to do so, and concluding: "As I mentioned earlier, I am passionate about making a new Dave episode. There are actually 7 other Dangerous Dave games, but nobody speaks of them. I am talking about a game that is featuring Dave’s cold personality, with Metal Slug-like levels and Castlevania-like bosses, and of course Paul Robertson’s mighty Pirate Baby’s Cabana Battle Street Fighter 2006-like body count and blood-sprinklers." Woo, blood-sprinklers!

The History Of Phantagram's Kingdom

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/nnn.jpg Always nice to see mainstream media coverage of video game industry notables, esp. outside the U.S., and there's a nice Korea Herald profile of Phantagram's Sang-youn Lee just posted which does exactly that.

The surprisingly honest piece explains what happened to Phantagram after the first Kingdom Under Fire title came out - which was pretty messy: "Through venture capital and corporate investments, the company's management was taken over by CJ, one of the country's conglomerates. The takeover did not bear fruit; instead, the company was in disarray. Then, Kim Taek-jin, CEO of NCsoft, stepped in and bought the company, but Lee revealed of that deal: "I was so naive. Kim just wanted us to help make Lineage III. He offered very good compensations including stocks to me, but I felt I was cheated. So I gave up the NCsoft stocks worth tens of billions of won and left out."

It also reveals how Phantagram came back from the dead: "When Lee walked out of NCsoft in late 2003 and tried to rebuild Phantagram which was in tatters, he had a place to depend on - Blueside. When NCsoft took over the company, there were around 200 Phantagram employees, but many of Lee's core developers quit when the company was merged into NCsoft and formed a new company, Blueside... Now, Phantagram draws up a broad blueprint for game development and directs the entire process. Blueside takes care of actual development through former Phantagram engineers. Such efficient cooperative work system has helped develop [Xbox 360 title Ninety-Nine Nights] in a short period of time, Lee said." A very neat history of the man and the company.

Mystery Science PlayStation Underground 3000

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/mst3k.jpg Those lovable chaps at the 'Seconds Out, Round One!' weblog Kotaku have spotted a Mystery Science Theater clip from the PlayStation Underground disc posted on YouTube - here's the direct YouTube link, for those who want to see 'related videos', etc.

Kotakblogger Brian Ashcraft notes: "Host Mike and 'bots Crow and Tom Servo snark on shoddy TV spots and shoddier graphics. My favorite exchange: 'Like Crash Bandicoot and Jet Mato.' 'It's Moto. Jet Mato is your laxative!" Also worth noting that this encoding emanated from the MST3K Digital Archive Project, who apparently rescue all kinds of extra shows nowadays (uhh, Let's Bowl?!)

Anyhow, MST3K is certainly a semi-obsession of ours, so go check out the Satellite News website, go buy some of the Rhino-packaged MST3K box sets (they were surprisingly cheap last time we checked!), and then kick back with this neat little obscurity, which also includes a bunch of 'behind the scene' footage from the show at the end of the clip.

Writing Up Trilby's Notes

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/tntn.gif Poking around some ill-reached corner of the Internet, we spotted, via RoushiMSX's LiveJournal, that new (&free!) graphic/text adventure Trilby's Notes has debuted, from the same folks at Fully Ramblomatic who've made a bunch of the top freeware adventure games of the past couple of years - and that's right, you read it correctly, 'graphics/text adventure'!

RoushiMSX's full post on the game explains: "Trilby's Notes is out! The game is a direct sequel to 5 Days a Stranger and an interquel between 5DaS and 7 Days a Skeptic, so make sure you brush up before you play it :) The parser interface is a nice throwback to the classic adventure games from Sierra and the writing is flat out fantastic. Thus far the graphics have been among the best Yahtzee has done yet, with some really nice looking backgrounds and pretty good animation."

The creator, the great Yahtzee himself, explains re: the text bit: "Don't hit me. I made it use a text parser for several reasons: (A) because the game is presented as Trilby's written account of the event, so typing commands feels like you're typing up the document or something, (B) as an homage to the AGI and SCI0 Sierra games of yesteryear, and (C) because I've never done a text parser game with AGS before. I had my testers try out the parser exhaustively so hopefully it's somewhat intuitive."

COLUMN: 'Parallax Memories' – Sonic & Knuckles

LOCKED AND LOADED!['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 SEGA’s locked-on: Sonic & Knuckles.]

More Than Just Blast Processing

Last week was Sonic the Hedgehog’s 15th Birthday. You all knew that though, right? Well, I guess that makes it late for a party, but let’s have one anyways! The original Sonic the Hedgehog was released for the Genesis in June 1991; its star was to be the mascot for the new Sega, and he ascended to the status of pop icon. Since I’ve already talked about how one of the initial designs for Sonic ended up, and I assume that most of you already know the original game with passionate familiarity (if not the original will be released for the GBA later this year), I’m skipping ahead a bit.

In the winter of 1994, no longer a child, I was purchasing my own games, but money was pretty tight. I heavily debated which game would be worth the most for my money. I was bombarded with television advertisements for a game that promised to give me not only one game, but also allow you to attach other game cartridges which would expand their play as well: Sonic & Knuckles. Initially I was going to hold off for Christmas and hope to get it from a loving family member, but I caved in—I must be weak against advertising or have a soft spot for midgets.

The O.G. Logo? Who can say? Where is Tails? What is an echidna? These questions answered next week!Locked On

Back then, I was not as knowledgeable in games, so I didn’t know what went into the creation of Sonic & Knuckles. I just knew that I could play as that flying ... what was he? Oh yeah, an echidna. Initially, Sonic the Hedgehog 3 was to be twice as long as it was when released. To get a game out on schedule, the second half of Sonic 3 was cut out, and the first half was polished into a final product. The other half was then completed and also turned into a standalone game, Sonic & Knuckles, released with lock-on technology. The top of the Sonic & Knuckles cartridge would lift open and you could then “lock-on” the Sonic 3 cartridge on top to create the complete game.

When the two games were combined, and upon completion of Sonic 3, you move right into the levels on the Sonic & Knuckles cartridge. The rivals become friends and team up to stop the real enemy: Dr. Robotnik. As further evidence, the stage select shows inaccessible levels in Sonic 3 that were later included in S&K, and if you look at the sound test you can even listen to music from those levels. With the two games locked together, the vision is finally completed and many new things can be found, including mini-games, more bosses, side stories, more saves, additional music, changed icons, new forms, and more emeralds.

Don't touch the red jems... balls... err, spheres
Blue Bonus

As I said, the lock-on technology promised more than just one game; you could now also play as Knuckles in Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (which was bundled in with many Genesis systems and is probably one of the most common games for the system). Unlike Sonic 3, however, Sonic 2 was not initially designed for use with the red spiky-haired mammal. This makes many parts more difficult, if not exceptionally frustrating. Still, the ability to completely explore every inch of a game that I thought I knew inside out made up for this.

Curious as I was, and even though it was not mentioned anywhere, I figured I would attempt to play Sonic the Hedgehog 1 using lock-on technology. It didn’t work, but I was treated to one of the mini-games from Sonic & Knuckles: the blue-sphere game. Sonic 1 will allow you to play though all 134,217,728 possible random combinations of the blue-sphere game if you have the mental capacity to do so. Experimenting with other games leads only to single blue-sphere levels.

The only negative thing about Sonic & Knuckles was that it was the first purchase of a Genesis game I made which had a cardboard box. Sonic and Knuckles gave me much more than any game had previously offered from a single purchase, and because of this, no Sonic game released since has been anywhere near as important to me. Hopefully Sonic Team can deliver sometime in the future, but so far they have been largely unsuccessful.

(EDITOR'S NOTE: As you might remember us recently reporting, Turner's GameTap service for PC just added officially licensed versions of Sega's Sonic The Hedgehog, Sonic 2, and Sonic 3 with the lock-on technology, if you want to see what MattW is talking about in this column without digging out your Genesis. UPDATE: Commenter JohnH points out: "Sonic Mega Collection has included games that account for all the "lock-on" configurations, including using Sonic 1 to play Blue Sphere, so that's probably the best way to experience them, since Mega Collection is the same price as two months of Gametap.' Good man!)

[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.]

Jagwired Gets Wired On Atari Jaguar

jagcolor.jpg Once again, AtariAge comes up trumps, with a new post revealing that issue #6 of Atari Jaguar-related zine Jagwired is now available in PDF form.

The official Jagwired site explains: "Jagwire Magazine will be printed every 2 - 3 months and will cover the Atari Jaguar and Lynx gaming platforms. The magazine will have all the latest news, game tips and cheats, event coverage, reader feedback, new game and hardware coverage, interviews, and stories from fellow game collectors."

Looks like the download site for the PDF is a bit slow, but Jagwired itself is a fun 45-page zine trawl through Jaguar fandom, including some amazing custom-molded Jaguar cart casings - it's noted: "No two cartridges are the same as each one is hand made; the production rate is a massive 3 a day maximum! Each cart is then allowed to harden a further 3 days whilst on a former of its opposite half, to make sure the fit is perfect."

What's more: "Some games naturally lend themselves to a specific color scheme – Doom for example Orange and red, Iron Soldier Blue, Alien v Predator Purple, and Bubsy Yellow are just some that have been suggested. But in the end, the only limit is your imagination!" There are also some neat pics of a purple sparkly Jaguar cart case (hah!) - fanboy overload.

Second Life Gets ZeroOne Art Exhibit

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/cornfield.jpg We've previously discussed San Jose's ZeroOne art/interactive festival a couple of times, and now Alice at the Wonderland blog points out a Second Life-related art exhibit being shown as part of the event.

More specifically, the 'New West' themed exhibit will be shown at the San Jose Museum Of Art (we've been there, it's nice!) from August 7th to 13th. Here's the portentous-ish concept beyond the show: "The theme “New West” is highlights ISEA06’s location in San Jose, and both celebrates and critiques the western United States as a symbol of the pioneering spirit in design and technological innovation. Second Life, a player-created “metaverse,” or open-ended persistent online virtual world, is very much like a “new west,” with equal measures of innovation, resourcefulness, chaos, experimentation, lawlessness, and entrepreneurialism."

Like the New West, huh? So it's a bit like Deadwood, only with more girly goth raver costumes - oh, and the brothels have more furries and adult babies in them? Pshaw. Oh, which reminds us, we grabbed someone to write our Second Life column (the very Scottish-Canadian Mathew Kumar, who you may have seen writing for Eurogamer recently), so watch out for his missives from the 'New West' in the near future. And no, we're not going to stop using that bloody cornfield picture, either.

GameSetQ: Xbox Live Arcade Retro Picks?

smtv.png So, we thought it was time we resurrected the GameSetQ feature ("a daily question to be answered by GameSetWatch readers in the comments of this lovable weblog, and in some way related to the day's gaming issues"), because we were thinking about Xbox Live Arcade, and retro game remakes, and, well...

One of the things we like the best about XBLA for Xbox 360 are the retro remakes that you can pick up for $5 or so, from Smash TV to Gauntlet and beyond - the Wikipedia Xbox Live Arcade page has a full list of the upcoming ones, as announced at E3, though God knows when they're actually arriving. They include, from Midway, Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3, Paperboy, Defender, Cyberball, Root Beer Tapper; and from Namco, Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man, Rally-X, Dig Dug, Galaga; from Sega, Sonic The Hedgehog; from Konami, Contra, Super Contra, Frogger, Time Pilot, Scramble, Track & Field. Phew, that's a lot! But.. it's not enough for us! The question is:

"If you could pick any arcade game to appear on Xbox Live Arcade for the $5 download price, what would it be? It needs to be an original (non-licensed) title, because otherwise everyone will pick Dungeons & Dragons: Shadow Over Mystara, and that's never going to happen."

Answers below - and if we get enough people voting for the same games, we can set up an online petition and then Microsoft are SURE to take notice, because all online petitions ever made are guaranteed to be successful! We know it!

June 26, 2006

Nerdcore Hiphop, Video Games, And You!

rtorr.jpg So, you guys like a little nerdcore hiphop, right? It's that geeky, often game-referencing melange of high pitched (generally white) voices and staccato (generally beepy and/or ironic) beats, and the Rhyme Torrents website has posted the freely distributable 4xCD Nerdcore Hip-Hop compilation album, including a bunch of those game-related tracks.

We actually asked Jason Gortician, who compiled the excellent compilation, to rank his favorite video game-referencing songs, and it went like this: "1. The Posse Track [.MP3 link]. It has several game-related verses, including Ham-STAR's Final Fantasy run-down, and ZeroBitRate's verse dedicated to his FPS skills and how he's going to win at GenCom. Plus it's 16 minutes long with 13 MCs, and I managed to work the VIC-20, Amiga 600 and BeOS into my verse. ; )"

Next up: "2. "The Last Fantasy" [.MP3] by Benjamin Bear. This is about his brother-in-law dissolving his marriage due to his wife's deep involvement with Final Fantasy XI. A true story, more or less, and equal parts 'street' and 'geek'. Clever, that."

Finally: "3. "Lo-Fi AllStars" by MechP. It seems the NES is the game system of choice for many nerdcore hip-hop heads. I suspect this is generational. MechP astounds by making a track that is old school in feel and spirit, by invoking misty-eyed nostalgia over this much-beloved system while at the same time giving the nod to hip-hop's origins."

Also, we love Jason, cos he compiled us links to the game-related material: "To save you the trouble, allowing you to cut right to the chase, here are what I think are most of the game-related tracks: Disc 1: White Warrior, Interlude
Zombie Panic, Legendary Rhymes, The Last Fantasy, RPG, Emulation Station... Disc 2: Kung-Fu Is My Mom, Penny Arcade, Lo-Fi All-Stars... Disc 3: Black Market OC Remix (the last verse, mainly. Boffo), Joystickin'... Disc 4: WoW, Arkanoid, Saving Throw, Nerdcore For Life." We here at GSW say - please to download and spread and tell all.

Luke Smith New Hulk, Luke Smith Smaaaash!

lsmithola.jpg So, one of 1UP's newest employees, Luke Smith, who handles news for them, has been causing all kinds of media havoc with his post on Square Enix's hilarious embargo attempts on the already Japanese-released Valkyrie Profile 2.

He was man enough to paste the entire email from the Squeenix crazies, which explained: "The following areas are embargoed until the corresponding dates: * 6.23.2006 - Dipan, Dipan Castle, Royal Underground Path, Kythena Plains, Coriander, Sedberg Mountain Runes, Turgen Mine, Vilnore; * 6.30.2006 - Ancient Forest, Audola Temple on the Lake, Kalstad, Surts Volcano Caverns", and so on.

Of course, you just know that the Japanese game media (where posting mag scans can get you convicted in court, last we heard!) would follow this type of thing slavishly, but Smith is right to comment of this particular request: "Information that exists in the public domain cannot, should not and most importantly won't be relegated to silence. Ultimately doing so flies in the face of the very people you and your company need (especially with VP2) to attract -- gamers."

Arguably even more interesting is another recent blog post by Agent Smith, this one discussing why: ""No Comment" is PR's attempt to brush of the pursuit of information -- which, more than rewriting press releases, should be the onus of responsibility for News Editors". He then goes on to explain how he played hardball with one particular Q&A in which "the developer had [only] answered three or four of the questions from a 20+ question list we sent over". It's pleasing to see a world where the journalists exercise a little control over the PR people, not vice versa, and where people care enough about news to make a stand. Let's keep it up, hip hip!

COMIC: 'Our Blazing Destiny': Pokémon series

[Our Blazing Destiny is a new weekly comic by Jonathan "Persona" Kim about our society, cultural postdialectic theory, and video games. And monsters you pocket and then send out to die on the battlefield.]

Well, here's the latest piece of obtuseness from our regular Monday GameSetComic. This time, weekly cartoonist Persona explains: "This comic isn't about anything at all, really." And hey - it isn't!


[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. He'll also be attending Anime Expo this year at the Artist Alley selling a doujinshi about Haruhi Suzumiya and Phoenix Wright! Strange!]

It's More Fun To Compute! (Magazine)

compute.jpg The ever-indispensible AtariAge has updated, revealing that a set of new issues of vintage computer programming/game mag Compute! are online, thanks to AtariMagazines.com curator Kevin Savetz.

Not just scanned pages, apparently, "the full text of 21 additional issues of Compute! magazine have been put online. This includes the magazine's first issue (Fall 1979), several issues from the period 1981 through 1983, and then others from 1989 through 1990. Compute! was published from 1979 through September 1994, covering every major computer platform (including Atari computers) until it became a PC-only publication in May 1988. Thus far, the full text of 44 issues of Compute! is available at AtariMagazines.com."

Even better, I did a follow-up email to check with Kevin, since he says on his site that he "has received permission from the magazines' publishers to make the material available on the Internet for free", and it certainly seems like he really asked the rights-holders and they said yes (he's a little vague about this so that they don't get lots of people bothering them) - so it's great to see authorized online resources like this.

[Heck, anything that has Player-Missile Graphics with the ATARI Personal Computer System by Chris Crawford, reprinted from the January 1981 issue, is good with us! Also great: Are Computers A Home Appliance? by Fred D'lanazio, from 1984. Go poke around some!]

Ed Boon On Getting Into The Game Biz

edboon.jpg Over at former Shiny co-founder David Perry's site, he's posted a fun Q&A with Mortal Kombat co-creator Ed Boon about getting into the video game industry.

Boon has advice on talking to your mother (yes, _your_ mother!) on why games is a good career: "I would probably try to educate her on the fact that the videogame business is an industry that is bigger than the movie business. I'm guessing that your mother still thinks that videogames are kids-stuff and doesn't take a career in games too serious. I'd probably draw some comparisons in terms of revenue generated by big game titles (GTA) that made more money than most movies ever did."

He also discusses his first ever interview: "I clearly remember my first interview at Williams Electronics in 1986. A guy named Bill Pfutzenreuter was asking me what games I liked playing and I said "Defender, Robotron, Missile Command, Joust". His response was "oh yea, I programmed Joust. I really though he was joking and said "get outta here" and he said "no, really, I did." I was floored as that was the first time I was talking to someone who had made such an impact on what I wanted to do for a living. I still have a hard time with the idea of someone thinking of me in that way." Fatality-ality-ality!

BreakQuest's Felicitious Creator Quizzed

breakq.gif A while ago, we were pretty obsessed with gorgeously physics-enhanced PC Breakout variant BreakQuest, so it's great to see that Fun-Motion has put up an interview with BreakQuest creator Fèlix Casablancas.

He explains of the concept behind the title: "I always liked breakout games, but I wanted one were you could feel in control so I thought about it and got the idea that a physics engine plus ‘advanced’ geometry (spline like bumper) would do it. There are too many breakout games out there so without this innovation I wouldn’t have done another one."

Again, there's some interesting comments regarding Felix's next game, which also reveals that BreakQuest was perhaps just a little hardcore for casual game portals: "You’re right, the next game is a color-matching game, but the matching rules and the board are different than anything you’ve seen (at least I haven’t seen anything like that), think portals will like this one better than BreakQuest. After this one is made I think I’ll get back to arcade games, probably with physics. About a BreakQuest sequel, maybe in the long term but don’t really know."

COLUMN: 'Free Play' - babarageo

[’Free Play’ is a new, regular weekly column by Ancil Anthropy about freely downloadable video games, and the people who make them. This week’s column profiles excellent Japanese 'doujin' PC Flash game website babarageo.]

The first thing you see when you visit babarageo is a game—a tiny shooting game, just fifty pixels tall. Move the ship with your mouse, dodge bullets, left click to fire, shoot enemies. At 1000 points the image below the game will change to something different. Maybe it’ll look like a screen from Dig Dug. Maybe if you click the cherries, your tiny ship will get a new weapon.

This game serves as the banner of doujin developer babara’s website. In a small way it’s every game on the site: simple gameplay, charming pixels, and nods to older games that reward the player who picks up on them. And it’s in Flash, seamlessly integrated into babara’s frontpage.

Kill ghosts, challenge skeletons


babara’s influences are reflected in the population of babarageo - tiny tributes to Dragon Quest, Wizardry, Game & Watch-style LCD games. My friend Tim W. pointed out Great Kung Fu G on his blog—less a remake than a reinvention of Irem’s Jackie Chan title Kung Fu Master. In babara’s Flash version, enemies march toward the player to be swatted away by left-click combos, and dragon-headed bosses announce themselves with haughty laughter before striding onto the screen.

A less scoring-oriented title is Xenoraider, a kind of abridged Legend of Zelda. Xeno fights monsters, rescues fairies, and fetches items for bearded elders in a quest for a lost princess. Our hero swings a huge sword, but enemies do no damage—an acknowledgement that in contemporary Zelda games battles exist more to pace the game than challenge the player. Xenoraider’s solution is elusive.

Thousands of battleships


Other games take advantage of the fact that they’re on the internet — Dezao stars a tiny figure in a red cap who runs and jumps, collects coins and avoids enemies. The coins, enemies and pits are all positioned by visitors to the site: the game includes an editor which allows anyone to design a stage and add it to the game. There isn’t much room for fancy design in an auto-scrolling game with three lanes and only three objects, though. But Dezao wasn’t babara’s last experiment with user-created content.

Boschvos is a manic shooter to which anyone can contribute an enemy space fortress, bristling with lasers and cannons to fire at the player. The game currently boasts a fleet of over 350,000 user-made warships. Poking through them (the database seems glitchy—you may have to hold RIGHT until you reach playable stages) reveals gunboats shaped like boats and moons and Doraemon. I found a laser-armed fish that made me think of Darius. Other battleships are composed of a single weaponless tile, floating in space. And others are rigged to explode at a single shot.

The surprising part is that they’re all very playable. I don’t think I’ve encountered a design that seemed impossible to beat. And of course you can browse and skip through the entire fleet with the arrow keys. There are incentives for destroying enemy ships, though-though the ship you start with can’t pick up power-ups, victories unlock additional ships that can, each equipped with a different weapon.

Finally, be sure to check out...

...Robodome, a game of hefty robot combat that’s mostly about manuevering your stodgy bot to get a shot at your opponent.

[Ancil Anthropy is a game developer and space invader. She fills dessgeega.com with lots of good stuff and writes for a bunch of places, including The Gamer’s Quarter and The Independent Gaming Source.]

June 25, 2006

deadOtaku Comes To Life, Profiles Wonderswan

wslogo.png The relatively unknown to us deadOtaku blog, devoted to "covering esoteric extremities of Japanese popular culture", recently added an excellent multipage overview of the Bandai Wonderswan handheld, and we dig it.

As the intro explains: "In a time when few dared to challenge Nintendo's Pokemon-fueled dominance of the handheld console market, Bandai released a challenger to Nintendo's throne: Wonderswan. It was affordable, had a wide range of titles and supported by Bandai's own extensive anime-licenses and looked like it might have a chance competing against the Nintendo Game Boy despite it being a difficult uphill battle."

But it's the succinct software profiles that are particularly good, such as the ever-droolworthy Judgement Silversword ("Inspired by the classic shooter Radiant Silvergun, Judgement SIlversword was the last game to be released on the Wonderswan. Originally developed as an amateur game using the Wonderswan development WonderWitch, Judgement Silversword was later released as an professional game... [it] is perhaps the most rare and sought after game on the Wonderswan, still fetching prices of over $100 on eBay.") [Via Wonderswan.co.uk]

Kohler Loose In Japan - Call Authorities

mario45.jpg Intrepid Wired News columnist Chris Kohler has marauded his way across to Tokyo, where he's blogging furiously and visually on game-related matters, and there's already some fun stuff up there - for one, a tip on the 'Best Video Game Store In Japan', apparently Mandarake Galaxy.

Kohler notes: "Besides being great for finding extremely rare games at very reasonable prices -- this is where I got a 64DD and all the launch games for about $250; note that I said "reasonable", not "cheap" -- Mandarake Galaxy also had some of the lowest prices and best availability of more recent games." Also revealed: "The soundtrack recording to Super Mario Bros., on a 45. Very few things make me as holy-cow as this did." Woot!

Also fun - an Xbox 360-related blog post in which it's noted of the general lack of enthusiasm for the hardware in Japan: "What this store did to advertise the fact that they had an Xbox 360 in stock was to take the original faded-ass display box for the Xbox and slap a label on it saying that they had Xbox 360s in the back." Youch.

Mashing On Some Rehearsal Joypads

tromhero.jpg Over at We Make Money Not Art, they have a really fun post documenting an experimental music artgame named Rehearsal Joypads, and based around Bemani-style music game concepts.

The post explains: "In Rehearsal Joypads, the usual controller interface of video game controllers has been replaced by that of a musical instrument. Intended as a product to help learn a specific skill needed to play a real instrument, they have been designed as motivational aids for beginner musicians facing the problems associated with not practicing enough."

It continues: "Rules of the accompanying video game: play your part correctly (as dictated by the coloured lines scrolling past), and the brass band stays in time and together; play it wrong and they drop their instruments, walking off in disgust. By playing the game repeatedly, the fledgling musician could get the fundamental patterns for scales, arpeggios and so on 'into the fingers' before playing the same thing on their real instrument." Neat, but obviously Guitar Hero-esque, too - looks like Trombone Hero is already up and running, then!

The DS Has No Place To Hide

noplace.png Actually, we think this has been out for a little bit, but thanks to The2Bears, we just spotted it - a multi-game homebrew DS title called 'No Place To Hide', which has even been updated to use local WiFi despite being entirely fan-coded - impressive!

The official 'About Page', which subtitles the game '10 mini-games for scorers', explains somewhat non-English-ly of the title: "Avoid all objects/characters to do the best time!
In the 5th game, you will touch the "ship" for avoid asteroids! In the 6th game, you will move jesus for avoid arrows.In the last level, you should use keys to move the boat and avoid helicopters :p"

Wait, Jesus _and_ helicopters in the same game? We're sold! And as The2Bears notes, the game "...is a great little package of 10 mini games for the Nintendo DS. It even has a shmup-like dodging game. With wifi working as well it shows the continuing improvement of the DS Homebrew scene."

Hey, Hey, Quakecon's Happy 2006 Days

quake2.jpg It's been a tiny bit late being announced, but it's delightful to see that QuakeCon 2006 has finally been announced, after "some unexpected issues locking in the dates and location".

But, it's revealed: "Don’t worry, we’re still bringing you another kick-ass QuakeCon event, and it’s already right around the corner - August 3 – 6 in Dallas, TX at the Hilton Anatole Hotel in their Trinity Exhibition Center... With about 1,800 BYOC spots, QuakeCon 2006 will be a bit more exclusive than it has been the last couple of years, but we hope people will enjoy the more personal touch this year." Highlights include: "...high-stakes tournaments, workshops, exhibitors, the BYOC Area, parties, and the public’s first chance to play Enemy Territory: Quake Wars."

We also noted (linked from the comments) an interview with QuakeCon tournament director Nate, who reveals of the 'fun' _not_ to be had at QuakeCon, in terms of the least fun (volunteer!) positions: "SECURITY! The security crew, BY FAR, has the most thankless job at the event. They spend hours upon hours on their feet, checking bags, protecting areas, and keeping us all safe. Do they get thanked? Nope - they get yelled at by drunks at the door." And inebriated FPS players are far worse than soused MMO geeks!

No Great Video Game Critics, Yet, Redux?

hungit.jpg Continuing on from the discussion on Chuck Klosterman's game criticism article, there's actually a good, detailed piece by veteran journalist John Scalzi, discussing the ever-complex issue of games, criticism, and game criticism.

Lots of good points here, but here's just one: "The current generation of video game reviewers are primarily reviewers, not critics. Which is to say that the reviews are aimed at telling readers whether a game's play is worth shelling out $50 for, and not about the cultural and aesthetic context of the game and why it is significant in that regard."

However, he continues: "This is not a problem. Reviewing tends to be thought of as the idiot cousin of criticism, but as someone who has done both, I reject this interpretation, because it's jackass stupid. Reviewing a game with an eye toward its playability, the enjoyment it gives to the consumer, and its simple overall fun factor is entirely valid." Yes! Smart!

Aha Taiken Spots The Difference On PSP

photops.jpg Back to the wry world of importers NCSX, and the most interesting game listed in one of this week's main updates is Nou ni Kaikan: Aha Taiken for PSP from Sega, an obviously Brain Age-inspired piece of 'spot the difference' fun.

It's explained: "Sega teamed up with Kenichiro Mogi from the Sony Computer Science Research Lab to create a brain game which focuses on photographs and the differences in them. Professor Mogi is a specialist in brain science who's research centers on the relationship between the physical brain and the perception of the mind. For example, one may be prompted to stare at a photograph and then another photograph that's nearly identical to the first one. Point out the very subtle difference in the second photograph and prove that your brain power generates enough electricity to power a hamster wheel."

In fact, there's a whole heap of Where's Waldo type challenges hanging out in the UMD: "The software includes over a 100 exercises and over 4000 crisp photos which feature disparate themes and locations for a wide variety of subject matter to test perception." Wonder if Sega will bring this one to the States? We're guessing yes.

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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