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July 22, 2006

PlayFirst Diner Dashes To Success

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/ddash.jpg Over at casual site GameZebo, they've added a neat interview with Kenny Dinkin of PlayFirst, chatting to the producer at the California-headquartered casual game publisher/developer.

The most interesting part of the interview, for me, is the fact that the sequel to the Gamelab-developed casual game smash hit Diner Dash (PlayFirst's major slamdunk thus far!) wasn't actually done by Gamelab: "We were really lucky to partner with Gamelab on the first Diner Dash game, so the foundation for a great franchise was built when we took on doing the next one internally at our PlayFirst studio." In fact, it sounds like Gamelab didn't retain any of the IP to Diner Dash - not something I'm very used to when it comes to casual games - but not completely crazy, or anything. Just... surprising..

Dinkin has some great comments on some of the best casual game makers, too: "I respect what Patrick Wylie at Big Fish has done with the Mystery Case Files series. There's an attention to narrative immersion, and of course a really compelling (but simple and accessible) mechanic there. I also admire the games that are coming out of Sandlot Games. Tradewinds is a personal favorite."

He ends: " Mostly, I like to see developers that are taking new risks on gameplay and narrative - whether it's games like Q-Beez 2 or Fish Tycoon. Best of all, we have seen some amazing concepts from small indie developers, both from within the PlayFirst circle and from new groups. Check out Professor Fizzwizzle or Pirate Poppers to see what I mean."

COLUMN: 'Game Mag Weaseling': Unraveling Game Players

['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.]

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For a magazine collector, there few greater challenges than trying to collect all the assorted mags and one-offs with the Game Players name on them. Why? Complexity. Signal Research (the Greensboro, NC-based publisher behind the Game Players name) was the first company to get a Nintendo-specific magazine out on newsstands in the summer of 1988 -- Nintendo Power was still subscription-only at the time, and the other mags were still a few months or so away. They tried to make the Game Players name a universal brand for kids, and along those lines they put out a dizzying array of magazines, specials, books, videotapes, and other merchandise.

The resulting output dwarfs that of any other publisher at the time, and yet the early era of Game Players titles (up to around 1995) is really, really hard to find nowadays. Looking at the mags today, the reason behind this is pretty easy to deduct -- the paper's cheap, the visual design is boring, and the screenshots are tiny and lack detail. About the only thing GP had going for it was that it (a) covered unlicensed games aggressively (b) wasn't afraid to spoil endings in strategy guides, which sounds evil but was really a breath of fresh air considering how hard a lot of NES games were.

Myself, I'm at the point where I only have a few holes to fill before completing my collection (with the exception of their PC games magazine), and that took me a couple of years and more money than I'd like to admit. If you'd like to try collecting them yourself, here's a quick tour of what to look for. (Click through to read the full column.)

Signal Research was founded in 1988 by Robert Lock, the former publisher of COMPUTE!, who set up the outfit in the same town as his old company. Game Players was the flagship title of the outfit, and much like early issues of Electronic Gaming Monthly, it was heavily text-oriented with only a few screenshots and other art. This gave it an extremely bland look that was improved upon only slightly in later issues, making it look outdated compared to the competition in 1991. This led to the curious situation of Game Players (the alleged flagship magazine) being outsold by its Nintendo sub-magazine, Game Players Nintendo Guide.

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Nintendo Guide got its start in 1988 with two separate titles: Game Player's Nintendo Buyer's Guide, and Game Player's Nintendo Strategy Guide. The exact timeline of these publications is sketchy, as publishing dates generally do not appear in Signal magazines until late 1989. However, judging by advertisements and editorial coverage, it seems that Signal began with a one-off Buyer's Guide sometime in the early summer of 1988, then launched both Buyer's Guide and Strategy Guide as regular publications just a month or two later.

Until early 1989, Buyer's Guide and Strategy Guide were separate magazines, with Buyer's Guide coming out semiannually and Strategy Guide coming out quarterly for a total of six issues per year. (In practice, however, both magazines had a fairly haphazard schedule until mid-1989.) The former offered capsule reviews of hundreds of NES games, while the latter was filled with in-depth strategies. After three (?) Buyer's Guide issues, the two magazines were officially merged in the spring of 1989 and became a single magazine, Game Player's Strategy Guide to Nintendo Games. (One more buyer's guide, the Game Player's Buyer's Guide to Nintendo, was published in October 1989, but this was counted as a regular issue of Strategy Guide.)

In terms of coverage, the magazine's early issues were very close to the Nintendo Power of the era, with heavy emphasis on strategy and very little critical coverage of games or industry news. With the launch of the SNES in 1991, the magazine's name was edited down to Game Players Nintendo Guide (no apostrophe) and adopted fuller reviews, features, and numerical ratings for games.

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In 1990, Signal followed up the success of Nintendo Guide with a few other platform-specific mags. The first one I have is Game Player's Strategy Guide to Game Boy Games, which worked pretty much the same as Nintendo Guide and lasted (I believe) only six issues.

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Fall 1990 saw the launch of Game Player's Strategy Guide to Sega Games, a Genesis-specific publication. Structurally it was the exact same as Game Players Nintendo Guide. The main emphasis was on strategy and cheats, although reviews were published in the rear of the magazine. These reviews began to be numerically scored in mid-1992 in a redesign to bring it up-to-date with the rest of the mags in GP Publications' stable.

Its main competition on the stands was Mega Play, and that competition often became heated -- editor-in-chief Firme pointed out in one editorial that it was the "real" number-one independent Sega magazine and that it knew its readers "don't want a screenshot and a paragraph on every Mega Drive game in Japan". While its screenshots were lower-quality than Mega Play's and its coverage generally more outdated, it was the clear winner in feature stories and strategy.

In addition, there was also Game Player's Sports for Kids, a non-video-game mag devoted to sports and aimed at a pre-teen reading audience. I've never seen one of these mags, but I'd love to get my hands on a sample. If you got any issues, let me know.

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Finally, there was Game Player's PC Buyer's Guide, which later became Game Player's PC Entertainment. This magazine apparently started up in 1989 right alongside Nintendo Guide, but I'll be damned if I can find any examples from that early on in the run -- all of my issues are towards the end of the run, just before Future bought the publisher and changed the magazine to become the US edition of PC Gamer. But now I'm getting ahead of myself.

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In October 1991, Signal defaulted on a loan from one of its venture-capital investors, thanks to over-optimistic sales expectations, mounting printing costs, and the 1991 recession. The company made a last-ditch attempt to save itself by canceling three titles (Sports for Kids, Game Boy Guide, and Game Players itself), but this didn't stave off its creditors, and it was officially foreclosed in February 1992.

This means that the October 1991 issue of Game Players (which, ironically, is a redesign-launch issue) is the last known edition of the first era of the mag. A November 1991 issue was almost certainly completed, but it is unknown whether it was actually published.

The Game Players multiplatform title was resurrected in 1993 with the merging of Game Players Nintendo Guide and Game Players Sega Guide, the two surviving magazines of Signal Research, which was bought out by its creditors in 1992 and renamed GP Publications. The two magazines were continued mainly so the creditors could find a buyer for them, and they found it in Chris Anderson, founder of Future Publishing in Britain. Searching for an entry into the US magazine market, Anderson bought GP in 1993, eventually leaving the UK to work at GP full time and moving the outfit to Burlingame, CA.

Under his guidance (which had already began with the Nintendo and Sega mags), Game Players became a far more professional and well-written magazine. Writers like Chris Slate, Jeff Lundrigan, Mike Salmon, and Bill Donohue turned GP into a reader-oriented magazine filled with offbeat and engaging humor -- a very UK-like product in the US marketplace.

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This new Game Players was renamed Ultra Game Players in 1996 following a redesign, then renamed once more to Game Buyer in 1998. This final redesign was fairly drastic and launched in a last-ditch attempt to save the magazine -- by this time, PSM and PC Gamer were much better sellers for the publisher, and it was obvious that UGP would never compete with the GamePros and EGMs of the time as it was.

However, Game Buyer aimed for an "authoritative review resource" bent, trying to outclass EGM with exhaustive reviews of nearly everything under the sun. Even in 1998, the audience for this sort of reference magazine was satisfied with web sites -- and the remaining non-online readership was satisfied with EGM's multi-reviewer system over Game Buyer's over-designed approach.

More importantly, however, Game Buyer was the successor of a magazine that built a cult following through its sense of humor and extraordinary level of reader participation. Game Buyer had neither, and as a result, its alienated audience became a perpetual machine of bad word-of-mouth for the mag -- just like what had happened to VideoGames magazine, although that title lasted a great deal longer.

Strapped for sales, Imagine slashed the title's newsstand price to $1.99 in Issue 3, making the mag cheaper than even Mexican publications but guaranteeing that the operation would never sustain itself in the long term. Issue 4 was the last, and Imagine closed the magazine without any notice in the final number. Subscribers received Next Generation starting with the November 1998 issue, and most of the staff moved on to other magazines or Imagine projects. (It can be argued that the old Game Players spirit lives on in most Future publications -- especially PSM, which has been packed with GP alumni since practically its inception.)

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

Iwai's Futuresonic Keynote, Captured

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/elek.jpg We previously ran a note about Electroplankton creator Toshio Iwai appearing at the Manchester-based Futuresonic festival, and UK site PixelSumo has now posted some neat, but shakycam video of the event.

It's explained (unfortunately, there's not video of the entire event!): "Toshio began talking about his childhood and obvious early inspiration. First he showed books that were bought for him as a young child, one of insects and one about the science of light, sound and heat. At the age of 9 or 10, his mother said he would get no more toys. Instead she gave him materials (paper craft etc) and he started using his imagination to make his own toys and games."

Moving on from there: "He liked to combine old media with new technologies. His zoetropes were fantastic, the 3D model collaboration with a film maker made my jaw drop. A series of these were created, more detail soon. On to the musical applications, he discussed how for his moving films he could never compose music through lack of understanding traditional score. A mechanical toy music box allowed him to punch holes in the paper, feed it through to create a tune, making a very visual way of creating sound." Makes total sense, given what he creates now! [Via Edge-Online.]

Bubble Bobble In Bat Den Sex Shop Shock

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/bubbobob.jpg We haven't returned to the Life Meter Comics website for a while, and they've updated with a totally great new Bubble Bobble image from one of their roster of video game-lovin' artists.

As they note: "Looks like Bub (Bub is green, Bob is blue) is hitting the soap, again! This piece, titled "Drink Soap", is the second from artist Matthieu Beaulieu and is also the second Bubble Bobble drawing!" Dude, that's some hardcore soap abuse.

There's also another recent entry with a neat picture of Princess Peach from Ashleigh "Py" Firth, and of which it's commented: "It's about darn time Peach is doing the buttkicking and saving the day." Also fun.

Rhythm Tengoku Sambas Further Into Our Hearts

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/tengo.jpg We've previously covered the announcement of Game Boy Advance title Rhythm Tengoku, which is indeed created by the Wario Ware designers, and looks like an awesome 2D rhythm mini-game blast, yaaay.

Well, now GamesAreFun has spotted more Internet-available information on the title, explaining: "The official homepage for Rhythm Tengoku, a new rhythm title from the makers of WarioWare, has updated with a number of commercials for the title, as well as a gameplay video."

Also spotted is a video of "the staff learning about rhythm prior to the game's development", and commenter TheHawk speaks much truth when he notes: "t certainly looks like it has that WarioWare randomness. It's that randomness that always made me laugh as I played. I think I'd like to try this one." Here's hoping Nintendo brings it Westward, ho!

Softening Up For The Carebear Capers

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/carebear.jpg Recently refocused blog site eToychest (which is overseen by current Gamasutra news contributor Jason Dobson) has posted a neat Chris Chester-authored editorial called 'Strategic Thinking: The Carebear Capers'.

In the intro, Chester explains, in case you forgot: "A reference to the American Greetings Care Bears property, a group of lovable, huggable teddy bears living in the clouds that can shoot beams of happiness out of their stomachs... the term carebear has come to refer to players of a given game who are less pre-disposed to fighting and player-versus-player combat than their fellow gamers."

The crux of the argument seems to be that strategy games, and particular RTSes, need more ways to co-operate in multiplayer modes: "There are any number of games one can imagine where players can be put in a cooperative scenario against an AI opponent and forced to utilize that unique level of stimulating communication only really possible with multiple players at the table. Supporting and engaging one another, I think that, given the right approach, a game based upon these sorts of cooperative encounters would be well-received by the general public."

Also, there's an _absolutely hilarious_ anonymous comment appended to the post: "It seems to me that coop games can be the gateway drug for the huge untapped market of "girls who date gamer guys." You can call me a "carebear" all you want, but at the end of the day I get to play video games and get laid." What, both at once?

July 21, 2006

The Great Disney Genesis Conspiracy

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/dizbox.jpg Don't say we don't break the absolutely hottest next-gen news here at GameSetWatch, thanks to tipsters like Sander Van De Vegte, who has provided us with the following red-hot image of classic Sega Megadrive/Genesis box art, and the following explanation:

"While sitting at the dining table, I looked at some Sega Megadrive covers and saw a funny resemblance. It's probably not very newsworthy, but maybe you like to see it anyway." Well, apparently it's newsworthy enough to make front page news here!

Basically, De Vegte's hypothesis is that there was a global conspiracy to subvert the cause of justice and brainwash the world's kids with deliberate placement of Disney icons in SUSPICIOUS POSES and... oh, OK, he's just spotted that a bunch of the Genesis game covers had very similar hero, enemy, and sidekick layouts. But we like it, so we're bally well posting it.

Yodeling Down Twin Kingdom Valley

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/twinking.jpg Edge Online has been reprinting articles from the latest August 2006 issue of Edge Magazine once again, and the piece on the making of obscure BBC Micro text adventure Twin Kingdom Valley.

The game (which has a good Wikipedia entry) sounds pretty, well, spaced-out: "Twin Kingdom Valley gave you room to wander and wonder. Hall not only provided space to explore – and with 175 locations, increased to 190 for the C64 version, there was much to see – he actively encouraged you to roam and revisit. The inspirational moment when you drink from the magical waters and the ‘secret of concealed doors’ is revealed to you, the first time you stumble upon a gorilla, or when you naïvely put a lit lamp in your holdall and watch in horror as it’s engulfed in flame… the valley is full of surprises."

A commenter also points out that there's an official domain for the game, dedicated to "an extended version of this classic text & graphics adventure game for your mobile phone & pda" - everything old is new again!

GameSetCompetition: Win Street Fighter Alpha Anthology!

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/sfalpha.jpg Yay, so it's time for another GameSetCompetition of the highest order, and, thanks to the folks at Capcom, we're now giving away three copies of the PlayStation 2 version of excellent semi-retro compilation Street Fighter Alpha Anthology, which brings together the post-SF II evolution of the classic fighting game franchise.

As the official Capcom blurb notes, the game is "...compilation of Street Fighter Alpha, Street Fighter Alpha 2, Street Fighter Alpha 2 Gold and Street Fighter Alpha 3... [and] as an added bonus the "pint-sized" Super Gem Fighter MiniMix (released on consoles as Pocket Fighter) is also included."

So, the question, for the purposes of this competition, is:

"Which noted Street Fighter character was added to the Alpha roster in Street Fighter Alpha II Gold, and was also portrayed by Kylie Minogue in the 'seminal' Street Fighter movie?"

Please send your answers to [email protected] any time before Friday, July 28th at 12 noon PST. There will be only one winner randomly picked from the correct answers, the judges' decision is final, and that's that. Have fun!

COLUMN: 'Bastards of 32-Bit' - Sin and Punishment

sinandpunishment1.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 Tsumi to Batsu: Chikyu no Keishousha (Sin and Punishment: Successor of the Earth) for the Nintendo 64, published by Nintendo and released in Japan in November 2000.]

Glass Soldier

It's really difficult to evaluate a Treasure-developed game based on its merits alone, without Treasure's fans getting in the way of things. The company has produced several titles of varying quality over the years, but Treasure loyalists will insist that every single one of them is gaming gold. They'll argue that Stretch Panic is worthy of being featured on a magazine cover, for instance, and some would even go so far as to say that Advance Guardian Heroes has redeeming qualities.

Conversely, Treasure detractors will tell you that all of the company's titles are overrated, and that none of them are worth playing. Yes, this includes Radiant Silvergun. It always includes Radiant Silvergun.

Both parties do an equally good job of making one question whether it's okay to enjoy Treasure's games. Does liking Sin and Punishment make me a mindless Treasure fanboy drone? Man, I sure hope it doesn't.

sinandpunishment2.jpgAnd now, a 5000-word tribute to Buster's Bad Dream.

The majority of Sin and Punishment plays like an updated version of Cabal or Nam-1975. Your character is able to shoot, jump, dash, and move left and right along a limited 2D plane while the game automatically guides you between destinations. Shooting comes in two flavors: lock-on bullets that are the key to defeating enemies who move around a lot, and a gun that requires manual aiming, but also fires more powerful shots.

Sin and Punishment sticks to the standard rail-based shooter formula most of the time, but some of the more interesting moments come when the game breaks away from what is to be expected from the genre. In its final moments, Sin and Punishment abandons its run-and-gun gameplay for a level that plays like a side-scrolling platformer, and the multiple bosses in every level offer their own surprises in terms of strategy requirements.

GET BONUS!Rakugaki Showtime more like BEST GAME EVER

Its gameplay may be fast and fun, but Sin and Punishment has not gone without its share of criticism. Much has been made of its lack of difficulty and short length, sometimes in reviews that complain about the game being easy when it's played on the easy difficulty setting. In reality, the title is actually a fair bit longer than the average shooter; most playthroughs will take about an hour or so. As with most shooters, the appeal in Sin and Punishment comes not in grinding through the game by dying repeatedly and abusing the generous checkpoint system, but in finessing through the waves of enemies and using as few continues as possible.

Sin and Punishment was at one time considered for release in the United States, but the waning popularity of the Nintendo 64 in 2000 ensured that the title never left Japan. Rumors have suggested that Sin and Punishment will be a part of the Nintendo Wii's download service, however, so the game could very well find new life with the next generation of consoles. Treasure fans, your frothing demand should increase with haste.

[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.]

Sam 'N Max Make Date With CGW

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/samnmax2.jpg GSW co-editor Frankc is actually at Comic-Con right now on assignment for Gamasutra, and while helping him pick some questions to ask the folks at Telltale Games, who are working on the new Sam 'N Max game, I came across some extremely neat new art.

Specifically, CGW magazine's [EDIT: August!] issue has Sam 'N Max gracing the front (doesn't look like the article is online yet), and it's revealed that it's "...Telltale's first cover story and the first big coverage of Sam & Max: Season 1, so we're all pretty stoked. The nine page article includes snippets from interviews with Dave Bogan, Dave Grossman, Brendan, and Steve, insight into the game design process, and some never-before-seen art from the first Sam & Max episode. Not to mention a hand-painted Steve Purcell original on the cover!" Holy awesome!

There are also a whole bunch of user-made Sam 'N Max comics - and, though a number of the top-rated ones are astoundingly bad (I can vouch for this - I read them!), a bit further down the list, there are some particularly apposite gems in the vernacular of the bear and the bunny. Though the less said about 'Sam & Max & the Wii', the better, right?

[UPDATE: Thanks to Emily from Telltale Games for commenting and pointing out it's the August 2006 issue of CGW, not July (it's on sale next week), and also that Dave Grossman (the co-designer of the new Sam 'N Max) wrote the user-made comic I liked - so this perhaps bodes well for the game itself, no?]

Mega64 Version 2 Hits Online Shelves, Badoink

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/mega64v2.jpg I realize that sometimes, GameSetWatch may come across as a little, well, overwhelmingly positive about the crazy alt.gaming world in which we try to live. But, if you will, raise this post way, way above the previous positiveness, since the Mega64 Season 2 DVD is out now, and the San Diego-based former cable access game skit japesters have done it again.

There's actually a final Season 2 trailer up on YouTube which only hints at some of the fun to be had within - we saw a bunch of the sketches when we were helping pick the ones used in this year's Game Developer Choice Awards (and yes, that led to Sony Japan "asking to use the Ico skit for the upcoming Japanese re-release of Shadow of the Colossus!"), but from Burger Time ('Hell no!') to Luigi's Mansion, Donkey Konga and beyond, they're pretty much priceless.

Of course, we're waiting for our Season 2 DVD to ship, just like you should be, and it'll be interesting to see how the actual _story_ bits inbetween the public-interaction skits have improved from the first season - in this MTV interview, Dr. Poque explains the actual show premise: "It's about a video-game console called the Mega64 that makes video games come alive inside your brain, and each one of our videos is an experiment from it." But really, with a soundtrack that includes The Aquabats and Freezepop, you can't go wrong, we claim.

WiFiCasino Portable Gaming Device To Hit Vegas?

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/wificas.jpg Las Vegas is, of course, a popular holiday destination, as well as the location for the next Rainbow Six title, much to the chagrin of the Mayor, and we've heard that many people enjoy gambling there - some of them even video game fans!

So it was only natural that the GS2 next-generation wireless handheld gaming unit, part of the hopefully soon-to-be Nevada State-ratified WiFiCasino system. Apparently: "The GS2 model introduced today features a 6-inch screen and is the largest GS2 model, while other models feature 4-inch and 3-inch screens. The design of all GS2 models include a portion of Diamond I's patent-pending biometric security technology, specifically its finger-print security technology." Totally Mission Impossible.

Probably the most interesting part of the release, which is light on what the system actually _looks_ like (picture to the left is a MobileMag mock-up), is the mention of "the passage of Nevada Law AB471, which authorizes the use of mobile communication devices for gaming in public areas in Nevada casinos". So you won't even need to sit down at a slot machine or a bar, soon - you can just wander around idly gambling!

"Our GS2 is sleek and offers a great way to play Texas Hold 'em or video slots," said David Loflin, Diamond I's president and CEO. "The GS2 represents the future of gaming and will appeal to the video-game generation, the generation coming of age in the casinos," Mr. Loflin added. [Looks like this same company hit the news last year too, btw, though this is a new announcement.]

July 20, 2006

D3 Attempts An Escape From LA

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/japansf.jpg Regular GSW columnist Jiji has also been keeping up with D3 Publisher's hilarious Japanese shenanigans on his weblog, and the July D3 Monthly update is now online, hurray, chronicling the latest games from the Japanese ultra-budget publisher.

There's definitely some geekout exclusive info in here: "A full-color booklet with information regarding D3's upcoming releases - the June edition of it, that is - leaked to the net, and I made a PDF out of it. It's 3MB, so beware the download time and/or the Acrobat loading time. It's got information on and images of The Maid Uniform & Machine Gun, The Let's Make a Robot, and a new kanji quiz game for PSP." Aha, The Maid Uniform!

But here's the excitement: "Retailer release lists have yielded a couple of upcoming titles, one of which should be familiar to many. Vol. 109 is The Taxi 2, the sequel to one of Tamsoft's (apparently) better titles, while Vol. 110 is...The Escape From Los Angeles. What can this be? A faux eyepatched Kurt Russell dispatching street punks and grinding up experience levels while using an ambulance to escape from a hilariously inaccurate L.A.? We'll see." Indeeeed! [Above screenshot is from D3's 'The Japan Special Forces', btw.]

Inside The Blob-A-Mari Fantasy

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/blobob.jpg The ever-reliable TIGSource has pointed out awesome PC freeware indie title The Blob, "a game about painting a city with a rolling, growing ball of paint."

As the very Dutch creators explain: "The game was a school project for an outside client. The station area of the city of Utrecht in The Netherlands is getting a thorough face-lift, as the station and many buildings around it are being rebuilt. Our task was to make a game that plays in the station area as it will be ten years from now, so that while playing, the audience is informed about what is going to happen."

The gameplay stylings are also ably explained by Brien from TIGSource: "It reminds me of (here it comes) Katamari Damacy and to a lesser extent of Mario Sunshine. I can’t believe I just wrote that. You must be sick of inane Katamari comparisons." Well, we can deal.

Flat Out Rag Doll Punch Up, Quick Stat!

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/fo2.jpg Over at the physics game blog Fun-Motion, they've done the surprising and actually added a review for a commercial console/PC game, wacky racing smash-em-up FlatOut 2 from Finnish developer Bugbear.

As Matt explains: "It’s rare that I review AAA retail games, or driving games, but Bugbear Entertainment’s Flat Out 2 is too remarkable to pass on any mention. I was a huge fan of the first title. It delivered very well-tuned driving physics in a standard race mode, as well as ragdoll-based minigames. FlatOut 2 takes the same formula—solid vehicle physics, an insane amount of object interaction on the track, and ragdoll minigames—and embellishes it with amazing production values. The result is worth talking about."

What we loved in the first FlatOut title were the minigames, of course, and it's explained: "FlatOut 2 has 8 minigames, from the high jump to soccer to curling. The core of these minigames is selecting the angle of launch, but you can also direct your ragdoll driver midair to fine-tune your intended landing. The minigames have a very Dismount-like or demoscene-ish feel to them (which makes sense, since roughly a quarter of Bugbear’s employees have demoscene backgrounds, and their business development director is one of the main organizers of Assembly)". Nice - there's an accompanying video, and the 'stone skipping' mini-game where you actually hurl a person looks particularly fun.

Game Ads A-Go-Go: A Serious, Frank Discussion on Overcomplicated Ads

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

After writing too many funny and highly entertaining columns in succession and attracting many admirers (*ahem*), I thought I would try as hard as I could to make this column not funny at all. Therefore, I will be discussing the following overcomplicated and poorly-designed ads as seriously and humorlessly as possible.

Baseball So Real, It's Really Complicated


Some people would find this supremely overcomplicated, screenshot-filled sports game ad hilarious. But let me tell you something, mister: sports game ads are no laughing matter. Two-hundred innocent children died in the making of this very game. So the next time you snicker at an ad like this, remember that you're doing it at the expense of a dead child who has been robbed of life before his time by the evil slave-drivers at Tecmo.



I know what you're thinking: "Man, I really wish I could eat some tasty Froot Loops right now." But how on Earth can you think of food at a time like this? Can't you see that innocent children all over the world are starving to death because they don't even have one scrap of dirt to eat? Can't you get off your butt for one minute and at least send a couple boxes of Super Blasto-Frosties over to China?

What? I heard that, you heartless bastard.

The Ultimate Scoring Machine


Why are you wasting your time looking at useless old ads right now anyway? You should be out in the real world saving innocent children from constant exploitation.

Can't you get your priorities straight? There you are, stocking your cushy, plush-walled game room with thousands of dollars worth of "video games" every year, when children all around the world can't even earn one dollar from making air-filled tennis shoes to buy a single marble to play with. There's only one thing to do about this: you should sell your entire video game collection and buy some marbles for the kids. In fact, sell everything you have and donate the money to somebody else, because you're too selfish. Oh, I hear your whining -- "But I need food, shelter, clothing, a car, a house...a private jumbo jet!" Well Blah Blah Blah! You don't really need those things.

The starving children of the world do.

Get Your Kicks on the Go!

Oh, and one more thing -- I'm not done with you yet. See the ad above? Well, the heartless, brutal, innocent-child killer featured in this ad should definitely not be admired or glorified in an ad for an obvious murder simulator / soccer game. Depressed that his football career was all washed up, Kimmler Dietrich ran down a line of twenty dirt-eating children last year in Baden Baden. Oh, the brutality. The cruelty. The heartlessness. I also heard that he's a godless, devil-worshipping homo-erotic lesbian bisexual abortionist sinner that doesn't even go to church to repent for his blatent blasphemy. Knowing his history, I guess I shouldn't be surprised. Will somebody please help me kill him?


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

The Behemoth - Rude, Uncouth 'Castle Crashers'

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/castcrash.jpg We obviously heart Alien Hominid creators The Behemoth - we've had 'em on the cover of Game Developer magazine, for one. So we're delighted to see that they're showing their new game, Castle Crashers, at Comic-Con, and have confirmed it as an Xbox 360 Live Arcade title.

An earlier version of the game showed last year, but there's now an official website revealing the game's name and that you can "play with up to three friends and discover mind-boggling magic and mystery", woo! Plus, the nice folks at Xboxyde have created a streaming version of the trailer - the one of the official site is ridiculously large.

So, apart from this immediately becoming our most-wanted XBLA title, as someone on NeoGAF pointed out, check out this GameVideos.com footage of the first level and stick around til the end for video of the 'All You Can Quaff' mini-game - yep, it's a button masher which approximates multiplayer medieval feasting, just like Las Vegas buffets of today! Thank you, The Behemoth! [UPDATE: Hey, this Game Informer interview says Alien Hominid is coming to XBLA too later this year - neat!]

Wagner James Au Talks SL, Smack

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/jau.jpg Over at artblog We Make Money Not Art, chief blogger Regine has interviewed Wagner James Au, aka Hamlet Linden, on his time within virtual world Second Life, both as in-house and now freelance world chronicler.

We've had the odd tangle with Au in the past, but he is eminently sensible on the issue of 'virtual world marketing': "The biggest challenge is to create an interactive, sustainable marketing experience that has an actual value to virtual world players. Otherwise, they'll just ignore it. We're fast approaching the end of this kind of marketing's novelty value, so it's not enough for big companies to slap together an online world presence and expect users and the mainstream media to take notice."

When talking about gold farming, however, Au makes an interesting distinction between real-world mapping game economies (like Second Life's) and those using money in other more abstract ways, suggesting that "...traditional game developers are very retrograde and hypocritical about the matter, designing their fantasy worlds with an internal economy-- i.e., a system for handling supply and demand of scarce resources-- then getting offended when many of their players treat it as such."

He also adds: "Game designers may get smart enough to take a clue from Second Life, creating an economy where genuine production of value is rewarded with real money, but really, I doubt it. The hyper-competitive game industry is always tottering on the brink of disaster, and to expect any kind of deep innovation from the giant media/software corporations that own most of the big online game publishers is pretty far-fetched."

Not sure I really 'get' this - isn't there a Second Life lawsuit pending over 'gaming the system' - effectively exploiting the game world in ways not unlike gold farming? Also, if it was financially viable for them to do so (due to gameplay structure), wouldn't people just gold farm the heck out of SL, too? That's not an economic-related constraint, to my mind. Questions, questions!

The Sea Is Burning - Darn Pirates!

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/bsea.jpg Over at FiringSquad, there's an interview about forthcoming PC MMO Pirates of the Burning Sea, and I _love_ it that it starts with an explanation of why pirates are so cool in the first place.

Producer John Tynes explains: "Even in the days of real piracy, the pirate life was attractive to many sailors. Given that navy ships could impress them for years of service, the fact that pirate ships tended to be very democratic was appealing. Journalists and authors soon romanticized them further, conjuring up a life of freedom and adventure." Those darn journalists!

Anyhow, this MMO, which has been in Beta since December but is still fairly low profile, looks pretty darn interesting, and Tynes also illuminates on overcoming development issues of note: "We had to solve a lot of problems: real-time vehicular movement and combat was the biggest. It took us almost two years of constant iteration on those systems before we got to a point where we were happy. The technical issues weren't the biggest hurdles at all -- it was really just finding a way to make naval combat fast and fun without overwhelming the player with complexity." Also, arr harrrr!

GameTap Confirms Multiplayer, CN Gets MMO

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/gtap.jpg As you may have spotted, other sites (yes, including our sibling Gamasutra) are reporting on a truckload of new GameTap content announced today, "including multiplayer gameplay, instant messaging, and multiple streaming animation series on GameTap TV, including exclusive titles."

It's noted: "Among those games given new multiplayer features include classics such as Burger Time, Galaga, Zaxxon, and Pac-Man. Initial head-to-head games include such games as King of the Monsters, 1941: Counter Attack and Bust-A-Move."

Also, alongside a tonne of existing Cartoon Network animation for streaming, the new show Computer Lab, "produced by GameTap and Soup2Nuts, the creators of Adult Swim’s "Home Movies", and chronicles the lives of the denizens of an all night computer lab at the University of State College." We want a GameTap/Sony deal for PS3, we've decided - not having this stuff easily available in front of our TVs is killing us.

Oh, also Turner-related and announced today: "Cartoon Network has announced that it is developing its first massively multi-player online game (MMOG) in a partnership with a Seoul, South Korea-based Grigon Entertainment (Seal Online). According to the company, The Cartoon Network MMOG will launch in North America in Spring 2008 and specifically target the kids' interactive gaming market, presumably in a similar way to titles such as Disney's ToonTown Online." Good luck to 'em - certainly an interesting move.

July 19, 2006

GameSetInterview: Adventure International's Scott Adams

Adventureland-VC_menu.gifScott Adams has been working with computers since the late 60s, and was introduced to Crowther and Woods’ Colossal Cave Adventure in the late 70s. Following this, he began working on a similar game, despite the fact that Colossal Caves ran on a mainframe and used 300K of memory, to a 16K Radio Shack TRS-80 Model I. This game was Adventureland, the first text adventure on a personal computer, and is widely regarded to be the first commercially released text adventure.

Adams went on to set up Adventure International, which released the fourteen games in the Scott Adams Adventure series, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai and three games in the Questprobe series, the first Marvel Comics licensed videogames. Additionally, the company opened a UK subsidiary named AdventureSoft UK and released games from other developers, including the Mysterious Adventures, and Fighting Fantasy series.

At its peak in 1983 to 1984, the company employed around 50 people, but went bankrupt in 1985 – a fact that Adams attributes to an industry downturn. He has continued to work as a programmer in a non-gaming field, though released Return to Pirates Island 2 in August of 2000. He is currently working on a new title based on the Old Testament of the Bible - The Inheritance: SAGA Bible Adventure #1.

GameSetWatch contacted Adams via email to talk about Adventure International, working with Marvel, and his continuing enthusiasm for videogames. (Click through to read the full interview.)

What's your background with computers?

I started working with computer in high school back in the late 60s. The state of Florida decided to try an experiment and put one mainframe terminal in a chosen high school. It was North Miami Senior High and it was the math department that got the terminal. When I found out about it I purchased a programming manual from the University of Miami and proceeded to start teaching myself to program.

This worked out well as I was originally scheduled to go into medicine but found I loved computers. I have been a professional programmer ever since.

When did you first encounter Colossal Cave Adventure?

I was working at Stromberg Carlson in Lake Mary Florida when the IT department got a copy of Colossal Caves for the DEC mainframe. I spent a week coming in before work and staying late to play it. This was around 1977/78 or so.

Other pieces I've read that either interview or quote you seem to suggest that you considered Adventure to be a genre all to itself at the time.

Actually it would really be Interactive Fiction that is the true genre. There is still quite a following in these type games today.

Have you seen any of the current IF development systems?

I saw a printout for INFORM once. Looked like it used up and entire pine tree! I did not actually read it though. Just saw the printout.

What inspired you to attempt to write Adventureland?

I had a TRS-80 model I at the time and wanted to write a game that would utilize Basic Strings. I had mostly worked in assembler and FORTRAN up to this time and to have a language that incorporated text was a novel idea. After playing Colossal Caves I decided I wanted to do something similar for the little home computer.

What problems did you run into trying to create a game for a 16k TRS-80 in a style that you'd previously only seen running on a mainframe using 300K of space?

Obviously I wasn't going to get Colossal Caves to fit in such a tiny memory. My first order of business was to design my own adventure language and then write a compiler and interpreter for it. Then I was able to actually start writing my game. I never saw the source code for Colossal Caves so my solution was totally unique.

How long did Adventureland take to write, all up?

About a month for the first version that was playable.

How long before you began on your second game?

Was about 2 months later I think.

The commercial sale of Adventureland all began with a small advertisement. Where was the ad printed?

It's been a long time, I think it may have been in Softside magazine but I am not sure.

From there, how did you go about starting Adventure International?

Well the first game was really the start of the company. My first real order though was from a fellow by the name of Manual Garcia who was the manager of a Radio Shack in the Chicago area. He ordered 50 tapes. I tried to sell them to him at retail and he had to explain wholesale pricing to me! Needless to say it took awhile to create those 50 tapes one by one on my TRS-80!

What motivated you to begin selling the game?

I always enjoyed small entrepreneurial enterprises. When I was a kid I had lemonade stands, joke stands and a slot car racing business.

Was it a steep learning curve to go from not knowing about wholesale prices to being heavily involved in the financial side of a business?

Not really, as the business grew I learned as I went.

How did the release of Infocom's Zork change the way that you looked at your business?

By the time Infocom came along we had been in business for some time. They were targeting the new disk drive machines like Commodore 64 while we where still supporting the cassette based units.

So you never really felt in competition with them?

Sure there was competition as we both were selling similar type games. They had bigger bankroll though and were doing things like using a DEC mainframe as their development machine. I was still using the end user computers as the development environment!

Was the competition part of what inspired you to push the technology forward, going from a two word parser to full sentences, or was this something that you had intended to work on from the start?

I was always trying new things. Ever adventure game I wrote would add at least one new thing that I had not done in a previous version. So the eventual translation to full sentence was a given.

What about the move from text based to graphical adventures? Was this simply to try and keep up with the marketplace?

Pictures were a fun challenge that I had to try. Plus it gave a better demo than the plain text games. In reality the text games are far more deep, as folks paint a better picture in their mind then what the computer can show.

Were the graphics your work?

I hired artists.

You said back in the 80s that you wrote your games as text only, was this an effort to secure a larger piece of the gaming market?

Well originally there were no graphical computers! Text was really the only option on the limited machines that first came out.

How many games were produced by Adventure International?

There was a total of 14 in the Scott Adams Adventure series, and 4 in the licensed series - Buckaroo Banzai, Spiderman, Hulk and The Fantastic Four.

Were the Marvel Questprobe games originally released as text-only games?

No Questprobe was always graphics with the underlying text. Note all my adventures could be played with the graphics off if wanted. The game never depended on them.

So there were three games in the series - Spider-Man, The Hulk, and The Fantastic Four (Human Torch and The Thing)?

Correct. There was supposed be a full series of a dozen games, but the company went out of business before this was completed.

Oh, so you'd licensed further characters from Marvel?

I had rights to use their entire character set.

What was it like to work with Marvel, back in those days?

It was a great privilege to work with the Marvel writers and artists. Jim Shooter was the editor in chief at the time and I really looked up to him. In fact since he was soooo taallll EVERYONE looked up to him!

How did you begin working with Marvel?

Joe Calamari who was vice president of Marvel at the time contacted us. He was real big about trying to get the characters licensed in different areas and thought we would be the best fit for home computer games.

How did you go about writing the games? Did you work with anyone at the company to get the characters right?

This was just before the first Marvel Universe series came out. It outlined ever character ever done by Marvel in a set of comic books. They gave me a pre-release copy of the set and I sat down and read the whole thing. Also while I was doing this series I had them subscribe me to every comic book they were making and every month I read the entire stack!

Why was the second Fantastic Four game never released, despite having a release date?

The game was never written. Only the one with the first two characters.

What led to the bankruptcy of Adventure International?

There was a tremendous downturn in the industry at the time. You might remember the $1,000 TI99/4a selling for $50. AI did not have deep enough pockets to survive.

Following that, what happened with the copyrights of the games you'd developed?

The licensed characters reverted back to the licensee such as Marvel and Paramount etc. Eventually my original games came back to me.

What have you developed since then? I know there's been Return to Pirate's Island 2, but were there any in between?

Nope that was it.

What can you tell me about your newest project, The Inheritance: SAGA Bible Adventure #1?

I have the prologue done and have not worked much on it in the last few years. Just in the last month have I picked it up again.

As someone who was working with stories in games at their purest level, do you think the focus on storytelling has shifted for the worse?

Well I have to say that the story lines in Oblivion are totally outstanding. To me the absolute best role play/adventure game out there right now is Elder Scrolls: Oblivion. It was the first game to get me always from EverQuest 2 in a long time!

How did you feel about the popularity of the adventure genre in the 90s, and its current demise – or hiatus, hopefully?

I don't play adventure type games myself currently. Other games tend to hold my interest more.

Are you playing mostly MMOs, or is there something else holding your interest too?

It is varied. By far most of my gaming time is in EverQuest 2 but currently I am also playing the following games:

Oblivion (Xbox 360)
King Kong (Xbox 360)
Halo 1 and 2 (Xbox)
Titan Quest (PC)
Sims 2 (Nintendo DS)
Animal Crossing (DS)
Lord of the Rings: 7th Age (GBA on the DS)
Metroid Prime Pinball (DS)

It’s interesting that you’re such a fan of MMOs, considering your comments from the mid 80s:

"Fantastic Four Part I will be a two player adventure - either two people can play, or one person can play, playing both roles. I can see down the road to a time when fifty players will be playing one adventure."

Guess my estimate was a bit low!

Do these games feel like what you had envisioned back when you said that? Is this what attracts you to them?

In many cases they do, but in general MOGs are more about character advancement then story telling. There are some great stories in the MOGS but in general that is not what is attracting people.

Zidane Headbutt Gets Game Middleware Retread

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/zid.jpg So, we got a note from game tools company NaturalMotion: "I thought you might be interested in watching this humorous simulation of the infamous Zidane headbutt [YouTube link] which was created using endorphin, NaturalMotion’s award-winning 3D animation software." And we were!

I guess that the simulation, which sorta uses AI-aided animation technology with realistic physics plugged in, if you can describe it like that, 'proves' that Materazzi didn't dive - which is kinda obvious from the original video, but hey - it's fun! Incidentally, a real-time version of this tech is being used in the next Indiana Jones game.

There's also a thread in the NaturalMotion forums which includes the scene file so anyone can recreate it, and some amusing banter: "On materazzi, why did you have to keep the walk animation going throughout the entire timeline? As soon as he gets the headbutt, he obviously won't try to walk anymore, the simulation taking over from the walk cycle..." I also would not try to walk if someone headbutted me off my feet! [Via Nich.]

Oli Frey ZZAPs and CRASHes Back In Book Form

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/frey.jpg For any slightly older readers (OK, not _that_ old!) who grew up in Britain in the 1980s, you may remember the seminal early video game mags from Newsfield, including CRASH for ZX Spectrum and sister mag Zzap!64 for Commodore 64, often sporting very distinctive painted cover art.

Well, the fairly new book publisher Thalamus Publishing (which, yes, keen-eyed folks, has the same logo as the Newsfield-related former game publisher Thalamus, and involves a number of the Newsfield co-founders), has recently published The Fantasy Art of Oliver Frey, showcasing the main behind that self-same, often awesome cover art.

As the book blurb explains: "Frey worked on some of Britain’s greatest comic institutions — the Fleetway War Picture Library, Dan Dare in Eagle, and The Trigan Empire in Look & Learn, as well as his celebrated 1930s-style opening sequence for the film Superman — The Movie. But for an entire generation of boys in the 1980s, it is Frey’s exuberant art on the covers of cult computer games magazines that came to express the sheer excitement of the games they played." Here's a full CRASH cover gallery, if you want to get a basic idea of his rather fun style - haw, Solar Jetman!

Valve's Portal Gets Narbacularly Dropped

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/narb.jpg Something you may have seen spread more or less all over the Interweb is this very neat trailer for Valve's 'Portal' game (YouTube link), which will be bundled with Half-Life 2: Episode 2 when it ships next year, and adds fiendish spatial portal puzzles to the Source Engine.

But it's also worth pointing out that this is a great 'rags to riches' story (OK, maybe mild wealth!), since, as we mentioned in our Gamasutra report: the "spatial portal dropping concept, using a gun for placement... is based on IGF Student Showcase winning title Narbacular Drop (FilePlanet download link, the official site is down), which was previously reported to be in the process of being re-imagined in the Source Engine, with the help of its original creators."

We also ran a Q&A with the DigiPen student developers on Gama earlier this year, and it's great to see an originally indie-created title like this causing more buzz than all the other games at the Electronic Arts Press Day - doesn't that say something for small teams and originality? [Oh yeah - also, Team Fortress 2 - awesome art style.]

Iwai's SNES Sound Fantasy, Lost Forever?

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/sbox.jpg A particularly pointless discussion on the Lost Levels forums led me to another interesting Toshio Iwai-related project (yes, we've mentioned him a lot recently) - this time unreleased SNES title Sound Fantasy.

It's explained: "Sound Fantasy, [which was] due to arrive in a larger game box (the size similar to the EarthBound’ or Mario Paint boxes), was to come packed in with the SNES mouse and mouse pad. Developed by Nintendo, this interesting-looking title was probably scheduled to be released early 1992 (around Mario Paint, which debuted on May 12th of that year), but obviously Mario Paint was the one released."

The Wikipedia entry for the game has more: "Toshio Iwai eventually went on to convert his work into the PC game SimTunes in 1996, and many of the unreleased gameplay elements of Sound Fantasy can be found there. In April 2005, to celebrate the Japanese launch of Toshio Iwai's latest work, Electroplankton for the Nintendo DS, Nintendo opened an exhibit at Tokyo's Harajuku Station to focus on the new game and on Iwai himself. Nintendo made available for persual the box art and manual for Sound Fantasy, but the "lost game" was not made playable there."

It's also suggested: "Those who appreciate Iwai's work, however, hope that someday the completed game will be made available for download via the Nintendo Wii's Virtual Console service." Yes!

Bit Generations' GBA Showdown

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/bit04.jpg The extremely useful Neologasm DSBlog has updated, not on DS, but the GBA Bit Generations games, explaining in detail of them:

"The first three bit Generations retro casual games are out now in Japan. Get Dialhex, the puzzle color-dropping game; Dotstream, the Tron-cycle-ish race game; or Boundish, a multimode Pong clone. You can see the “trailer” movie for the whole series over here (click where it says “7.5 MB” to load)."

The blog also notes: "If you'd rather wait for a US release, they are already ESRB rated, as the “Digideluxe” series, but a date hasn't been announced yet."

In addition, probably the best thing about the post is a handy English-language review of the Bit Generations series thus far by Ben Grundy (also one of the first posts we've seen on Six Apart's new Vox blogging system!), which comments: "The first thing that struck me about both these games was the clean, simple design. Its essentially effective and yet deceptively beautiful. Combine this with quite possibly the most perfectly matching soundtrack ever created and you have a retro gaming experience that leaves you feeling like you've just discovered something on the cutting edge."

Game/Play In The UK!

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/giantjoy.jpg Over at Grand Text Auto, they've successfully spotted the newly launched Game/Play UK exhibition, described as "a networked national touring exhibition focusing on the rhetorical constructs game and play", but actually far more interesting than that academikwak explanation implies!

GTA notes: "With a dozen or so pieces in total, the show has four installations alongside Mary [Flanagan's giant joystick exhibit, pictured] including “Fluffy Tamagotchi (teddy bear material, Chicco toy TV set, 25 year old BBC microcomputer and some sensors), which can sing, wave its arms around and shit blue turds.”" Uhh... nice!

Also: "There are seven screen-based works — three online and four in the gallery, including... The Endless Forest from Tale of Tales, a funky second-person shooter by Julian Oliver, and your and my favorite digital marital arts game." Wait, is that marital arts or martial arts? Inquiring minds want to know...

July 18, 2006

Ar Harrrr, Pirates O' Caribbean Pinball Ahoy!

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/potca.jpg Yo ho ho! All manner of piratical jibber jabber! Over at RetroBlast!, they have the news that Stern is launching a new Pirates Of The Caribbean pinball machine, continuing a run of neat-looking pins from the sole mass-market manufacturer left in the pinball construction biz.

It's revealed: "The goal of Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean pinball is to go on a pirate adventure to defeat Davy Jones, Jack’s nemesis in Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean/Dead Man’s Chest.... Two former Williams’ developers designed Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean, game designer Dennis Nordman and rules designer/software engineer Dwight Sullivan." Oo, Dennis Nordman - White Water still rocks.

And just listen to the features: "A mechanical pirate ship that the player strikes with the pinball. With each hit, the ship lowers its sails and eventually sinks into the playfield, thus revealing a shot into the Kraken’s mouth... A mechanical treasures chest, the Dead Man’s Chest, through which the player can shoot the ball... A map compass comprised of playfield inserts that shows the player each feature they need to finish." The excellent Pinball News has lots of close-up pictures of the machine too, for those interesting in ogling some more.

Kenta Cho Locks Us In A Dngn

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/dngn.jpg We've previously covered Japanese dojin shooter semi-God Kenta Cho a few times, of course, and the great Independent Gaming blog (whose new slogan is 'Next Week's News, Today!', haw!), has dished on a new Cho production.

As they explain: "Kenta Cho has a new game out! Well, perhaps just a light show. His latest experiment is called Dngn. (requires Flash Player version 9)."

We checked it out briefly, and it looks even more surreal than his usual stuff - even the control descriptions have a degree of Dada to them ("Fire / Change a firing interval * Left Click Change a firing direction * Mouse Wheel (not works on Firefox) / Arrow L,R." So have at it!

Crazy Swiss Re-Enact Space Invaders With Seating Charts

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/spinv.jpg The New Gamer's journal has pointed out a rather fun art project, the GAMEOVER video series from Swiss artist Guillaume Reymond, involving, yes, people with colored sweatshirts moving around theater seating, each acting as a pixel in a retro game.

TNG's G.Turner: "In this case, it's Pong and Space Invaders recreated frame-by-frame in a large auditorium, using people as pixels. The Pong video is OK, but the Space Invaders video is a must-see."

The MetaFilter comments on this artiness are also fun, with commenter YHBC criticizing the Space Invaders strategy: "Lame. Everyone knows that the first thing you do in SI is blast away the bunkers yourself, so as to get direct shots at the approaching invaders. And if that strategy were to mean mass carnage and wholesale human destruction from flinging people up a couple rows, again and again, atop their stunned and helpless compatriots; well, so much the better."

Letters from the Metaverse: Take Shelter

[‘Letters from the Metaverse’ is a regular weekly column by Mathew Kumar about his adventures in the massively multiplayer online world of Second Life. This week’s column covers some 'newbie' areas.]

Teleporting For Fun, Profit

Well, after buying myself some sweet duds last week I was actually at loss for what to do. And as a newbie in the world, this is a pretty easy situation to find yourself in – you get yourself all dressed up and have no idea where to go.

2006_07_18_castle.jpgThe first idea to get out of your head is the most obvious one – to just randomly teleport places and see what happens. This probably isn’t such a good idea, as you’re just asking for trouble.

Making that decision I found myself on more than one island of ill-repute, and I don’t think I’m quite ready to talk about the trauma I experienced teleporting somewhere only to find myself trapped in a cage by a huge muscular goth. Let me just say I’d noticed he was already dragging around two naked slaves on a chain and I decided he didn’t need a third.

A Different Kind Of Orienting

As a newbie, it’s much safer to stick to areas where people are going to be a bit friendlier to you. The first thing I found, actually, on my quite random travels, was an area advertising Orientation Castle, which is worth stopping by if you’ve managed to forget how to do anything in the world. It’s not particularly clearer than Orientation Island (and frankly, probably less helpful to navigate) but at least it’s there, and wonderfully under populated. It’ll send you off to a Help Island, too. But if you are (as I am) past trying to find out how to do things and you’re looking for things to do, one excellent place to start off is The Shelter.

2006_07_18_dancing.jpgGimme Shelter!

A fairly well known area in the world of Second Life, it’s the first ‘club’ in the world I decided to visit. Now, as a Scot, clubbing to me means drinking too much alcohol while standing in a dark room full of people where music blares too loud for anyone to hear anyone else, before buying a kebab and then making a quick stop off in an alleyway to sick up said kebab and alcohol.

Naturally this isn’t an experience that can be easily replicated in the world of Second Life. For one, no matter how loud you turn the music up you can still ‘hear’ what everyone’s saying.

You could recreate the real club experience by getting really drunk at home, I guess, which makes your typing worse, but despite not really feeling like a club the shelter is a nice example of a clean, friendly area in Second Life, though, it is in a Mature plot of land, which means, as per usual, there’s a ‘Sexoporium’ about two doors away.

When I arrived people were just dancing away and chatting, and who was I not to join in? There are also piles of free stuff at the door, there are regular events, and if you want to learn of other places to go or people to see, plenty of people are willing to help.

Yadni's Hunks Of Stuff

It’s there that I learned of Yadni’s Junkyard, for example, which is absolutely chock a block with free stuff (or stuff which costs only $1 Linden, which is nothing, really). This is a nice place to go to pick up either new clothes, new stuff to have fun with (Weapons! Vehicles!)

Or, indeed, plenty of free builder tools if you’ve decided you want to take an active role in creating new objects, animations or clothes. Personally I’m too lazy to even work out how to switch my animations from ‘jerky cripple’ to something half decent, but to each his own!

NEXT WEEK: I get banned for using my free watermelon gun to fire watermelons at passers by, because I’m too scared to go to any areas where people might fire back (or force me into BSDM servitude).

[Mathew Kumar is a freelance journalist who’s dabbled in MMORPGs, but is too cheap/strong willed to play past a free trial. He got his break with Insert Credit, and his work has been featured in publications as diverse as The Globe and Mail, Twitch Film, and Eurogamer.]

2006 Machinima Festival Roars Into View

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/panics.jpg Former GSW editor TonyW has put a most informative post on the 2006 Machinima Festival up on his Clickable Culture blog, noting that "the Academy of Machinima Arts & Sciences (AMAS) has announced that the 2006 Machinima Festival and the 2006 Machinima Awards will take place on November 4 and 5, 2006."

What's more: "According to AMAS, the two-day event "will include screenings of Machinima films, Q&A with machinimators, special presentations, and seminars about Machinima production techniques... The hosting venue, the Museum of the Moving Image (www.movingimage.us), will provide an excellent location once again, with its diverse collection and exhibitions of motion picture, television, and digital arts."

Tony then goes on the mention: "I'm personally rooting for BloodSpell, a feature-length machinima project made in 3 years using BioWare's Aurora Toolset (used for the game Neverwinter Nights)."

Well, from our point of view, the favorite machinima we've seen in the past 12 months is maybe the oddest and funniest all at once - PANICS from the guys at Rooster Teeth Productions (Red Vs. Blue), which "is a comic science fiction mini-series created by Rooster Teeth Productions... produced at the request of Monolith Productions as apart of a tie-in with the Director's Edition of the video game F.E.A.R." Hope it wins big.

[EDIT: Nuts, apparently commenter FritzMeaning notes: "PANICS took the Mackie for Machinima Screenwriting last year. Not sure if they would be in contention this year." So they actually already won in 2005, thereby either vindicating me or making me look uninformed - take your pick!]

Compile Puyo Pops Back To Life, Kinda

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/takor.jpg Over at Insert Credit, the often-obscure Recap has unearthed a piece of neatness - news on a Compile semi-resurrection as part of a division of Japanese developer Idea Factory.

The Wikipedia entry for Compile explains: "COMPILE was a Japanese video game company founded in 1983. Founded by Masamitsu Niitani (otherwise simply known as 'Moo'), they were responsible for developing some of the most colourful and popular action and puzzle games ever made, including their signature franchise, Puyo Puyo."

Well, as Recap notes: "It's quite interesting that Idea Factory recently formed up a brand-new group (yeah, yet another one) with the name 'Compile Heart', whose first work was the Japanese localization of the Korean RPG Astonishia Story, in its PSP incarnation. More surprisingly, the company's logo bears a clear resemblance to that of the old Compile."

He continues: "Yesterday we learned that it's indeed related to the legendary Puyo Puyo maker (which, you can say, currently carries the name 'Aiky'), and is developing an arcade game (no less) called 'Takoron' which will be based on the Puyo Puyo formula and it's being supervised by Puyo Puyo's creator Moo Niitani." So Compile isn't formally back, as such, since Sega still owns the Puyo Puyo rights, but it's sorta kinda back in spirit, woo.

Maragos Reveals Atlus' Black, Black Heart

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/nich.jpg OK, he doesn't really, but official 'nicest guy we know' Nich Maragos has been interviewed over at 4 Color Rebellion on his current job as Atlus localization editor - he was formerly a staffer at The GIA (never etc.), 1UP, and a long-time news editor for our sister site Gamasutra.

Nich says some pretty darn smart things on the art of translation, noting: "The simple fact that Japanese grammar, word order, and phrasing is very different from English means you have to edit a lot to avoid sounding stilted. Then, too, Japanese has words that we don’t, and we have words that they don’t, so sometimes you have to make a best approximation rather than avoid a long, unwieldy phrase. I wouldn’t say that I change things “to appeal to a Western audience” because I don’t go around changing “sake” to “beer” in Devil Summoner or that kind of nonsense."

He also has some dead on advice for those wanting to get into the biz: "If you want to work in games and you don’t now, either become a tester or start making mods for Neverwinter Nights or your FPS of choice. If you want to be a journalist, start a fansite. The way to get paid to do something, in my experience, is to be paid little to nothing to do exactly that for a long time first. If you really love the work, then you’d do it anyway; the industry has no room for people who wouldn’t literally give everything they have to be an editor, or designer, or journalist, or artist, or any position you could name."

COMIC: 'Our Blazing Destiny' - Shenmue~

[Our Blazing Destiny is a weekly comic by Jonathan "Persona" Kim about our society, cultural postdialectic theory, and video games. And avenging your father's death by collecting capsule toys and drinking soda.]

"Ryo Hazuki is my role model in life. Girl problems? Be completely baffled yet expressionless and then make a note to apologize later while never following up on it. Searching for tattoo parlors? Gossip with the local ladies, kick a soccer ball, and raise a kitten or two. Avenging your father's death? Ignore his last words ('Keep friends close!'), leave everything behind, and go on an international vengeance trip that ultimately lands you in the middle of nowhere, rescuing deers from rivers while accompanied by random ethnic girls."


[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 awesome collective, Mechafetus.com. Visit and take a look at the new Oekaki board!]

July 17, 2006

Segagaga Movies Are Rather... Gaga

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/karn.jpg The latest post by Matt 'Fort90' Hawkins points to the impressive set of Segagaga videos uploaded by user Sixfortyfive on YouTube, revealing more on the cult DC title than you might have previously known.

For those who don't know the game, the HG101 review of the title explains it pretty well: "The concept behind the game isn't too far from reality - Sega is in DEEP trouble, having lost all but 3% of the world marketplace share to the insidious Dogma Corporation. In order to save the company, the president initiates the super secret plan Segagaga, wherein they pull some random kids off the street, put them in charge of the company, and hope they put the company back on the track to success. Naturally, you're one of those kids."

Matt linked to the YouTube Segagaga vids with commentary - very handy! His comments are as follows: "- an ad for the Dogma (that’s the evil company you compete against, whose logo looks remarkably like Sony Computer Entertainment’s) system, the Pyramid; - chapter 8 part 1 (somehow, Shining Force CD is involved… I guess you create it in the game?); - chapter 8 part 2 (this one’s battle heavy and features many special moves with elements borrowed from other Sega titles, like After Burner, Space Harrier, and other stuff); - chapter 8 part 3 (make sure to check out the surprise guest star at the end); - chapter 9 (basically the same stuff from before, just in one vid); - ending and closing credits (you just gotta love that Fantasy Zone ship)." Awesome!

Ayrton Senna Vrooms His Way Into Mobile Games

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/senninha.jpg For those (especially Europeans and South Americans, most likely) who remember the late, legendary Brazilian Grand Prix driver Ayrton Senna, we just got a press release indicating that "Meantime Mobile Creations, a company of mobile entertainment, and the Ayrton Senna Institute have closed a partnership to create exclusive contents for mobile phones".

But it's not just Ayrton Senna's likeness that Meantime gets - oh no, it's Senninha, too, the cutesy cartoon version of Ayrton Senna, who appears in licensed kids' products, and of the cellphone games: "The two first games are to be launched this month: _Ayrton Senna -_ _Pole Position_, which simulates a battle for the front grid, and _Senninha Racing_, that takes the character’s gang for a kart racing." The Ayrton Senna Institute webpage has more on the charitable foundation behind Senna's legacy.

Also, a quick look over at Meantime Games' official website reveals that the Brazilian company is big on licensing hometown heroes, since they also publish Ronaldinho Total Control, themed around the Brazilian soccer player: "You’ll need to prove that you are indeed the World's best football player! Try Ronaldinho’s shoes, be quick and stay put in order to get the timing to keep the ball bouncing." Keep it up!

Oblivion Book Mod Skins Itself Alive

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/obbook.jpg Over at Guilded Lilies they've spotted that the Oblivion Book Jacket Mod is complete and has been officially released, yay.

We previously commented on this unique mod, which aims to "to replace all of the 300+ in-game book jackets [in the PC version of Bethesda's RPG]... with dynamic looking covers". At 92mb for the high-res version, it's bigger than a lot of Web-downloadable games, and just for making some in-game books look nice - but glorious things often aren't small, of course.

As for what's happening next, modder Phoenix Amon proclaims: "I do want to relax and play the game a bit. I've been asked to contribute books to a few mods in progress and to make covers for those Morrowind and Daggerfall books added by mods. For the Morrowind books, I want to try creating new meshes to fit my old textures rather than doing the textures again." A bookbinder's work is never done!

GameSetInterview: Richard Meurling On 'Homebrew' Zelda Mobile

zeldamobile_screen.gifRichard Meurling has been working on Zelda Mobile - a homebrew, unofficial fan remake of the NES title The Legend of Zelda for mobile phones using the pseudo cell shaded graphics style of the GBA's Minish Cap - for just over a year.

The second demo for the game was released at the end of June, and while it’s far from a finished product, it’s a good indication of where the project is headed. It features the first three of the game’s dungeons, a large overworld section, and an extraordinarily irritating attack sound that one imagines will be replaced prior to the final version.

Meurling intends to release a third demo with updated graphics in three months time – he intends this to be the final one before the full version of the homebrew remake. GameSetWatch contacted Meurling via email to talk about the game, and the advantages and disadvantages of creating the title for the mobile phone format.

What inspired the project?

About a year ago I was working on a MMORPG, and we got the idea of making a smaller version of the game which you could download and play offline. So I made a small javaME game engine, later the MMO was put on hold. But I still wanted to put the engine to some use. That is when Zelda Mobile was born. Zelda is one of my favorite games ever, so it was sort of natural to do a remake of it.

What experience do you have in programming?

Actually I don't have much experience with java at all. This is probably my first major java app.

But I have about 12 years of programming experience, and right now I am working full time as a c# developer (non-game related). I love creating games, and have done so for many years, mostly proof of concepts and test engines, which I almost never release.

What kind of restrictions do you face with the mobile format?

Oh, there are a ton of restrictions. The most annoying are the memory limitation and the slow graphics, this game was tested on my Sony Ericsson T610 and that phone can only have about 150k graphics loaded at same time. First we'll need a drawing buffer, without it there would be no smooth scrolling. 256x176x2 (16-bit pixels) that is about 90k. That leaves us with about 60k of free video memory where we can put our sprites. What I am trying to say is that I found it difficult to find the right mix of speed and memory usage.

Other limitations are that every phone maker and every phone is different in terms of memory, screen size, input controls and speed.

What advantages are there?

The things I like with java and cell phones is that it is free to develop, it is/was free to download Sun one studio 4ME (mobile edition) and the emulators are free from most big phone makers, I use Sony Ericsson emulators and documentation cause I feel that they stick to the standard more than most other phone companies. One of the biggest advantages is that most people got a cell phone these days. And of course it is portable and I love handhelds (I’m currently doing some home brew for the PSP too). But in terms of performance, and memory there really are none.

Are the graphics all your own work, or are they sprite rips from Minish Cap?

Most of it is rippped from Minish Cap, and some of it is from BS Zelda. I am not good at making my own sprites. But some of it is my own work. As much as I hate stealing other peoples work, I could never have made any thing this good looking myself without doing so...

You've talked about the next demo being improved even further graphically - what can we expect to see in that?

I am testing a few things that I would like to add, alpha blended fog and light and few more alpha effects. Hopefully more animated tiles and larger monsters. The screenshot above is an example of what you could expect.

There are some limitations to this, it might be very slow on some phones, therefore I am going to provide 2 versions with and without alpha functions.

I gather demo 3 will also be the final one before the full release - how much extra work is that going to be?

The code is almost complete, so for the most part it is map making for dungeons 4, 5 and 6. The media player class also needs some major work, now it does not detect the hardware of the phone properly, it just assumes there is support for 2 simultaneous streams. All the midp2 phones I tested on had this, but from the feedback I have gotten I can clearly see that is not the case.

Will the final release be a faithful remake of the first Zelda, or can we expect additions?

After playing later Zelda games, I don't know if I can be true to the original, there are just too many fun things missing. One thing I really missed in Zelda is a town.

But I intend to make people recognize most of the game, and all secrets in the original will be included in some way. And did anyone EVER take the potion instead of the heart?

Will the work you've done for the project allow you to create new environments? Does it function as a game engine?

Zelda Mobile is a complete game engine, if you where to load a map with different settings it could be a side scrolling adventure. I have tried to keep most of the settings in the map files. The only limit is that it has to be 2D (and you'd probably have do add some code for new weapons, special AI and stuff like that).

The most useful thing I wrote for this project is resource management class, I'll try to explain...

All resources in the game are managed by class which keeps track of what is loaded and what is safe to release. If for example a monster needs a sprite which is currently not in memory, the class loads it and feeds it to the monster class (if it gets an out-of-memory exception doing so, it tries to release all unused sprites and load the monster sprite again, if that fails that monster is skipped). This is useful for phones with lots of memory, cause it only releases resources when it needs the memory, after playing a while everything is probably cached. And on phones with smaller memory it always fills it up to the max.

From Souptoys To Indie Nuts, For Free

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/stoys.jpg Physics blog Fun-Motion has an important update about a neat physics toy, explaining: "Souptoys Toybox, the physics-based desktop toy software, has been released for free."

Matt Wegner continues: "It’s unclear if this is a permanent change, though, as the announcement is “While we continue to develop it, we have decided to make the Toybox free for everyone to play with and enjoy.” My guess would be the core package will stay free and addon toys will be available for purchase."

F-M has previously reviewed the package, explaining: "Basically, Toybox is a collection of 60 different physics contraptions: Levers, balls, balloons, catapult, and so on. The application is a desktop toy in the sense that it doesn’t go full screen or have its own primary window. Instead, the toys have their own transparency and fit into the normal Windows drawing order." Neato.

Dead Rising Encourages Gourmet Eating

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/deadr.jpg We've previously remarked on the forthcoming Dead Rising for Xbox 360, which we lovingly described as "Keiji Inafune and Capcom's semi-comical zombie holocaust".

Well, now Achieve360Points has a full list of achievements for the game, and they're.. awesome! Let's try, for example: "Gourmet - TYPE: 1 Play REQ: Eat all types of food available in the mall", or "Costume Party - TYPE: 1 Play REQ: Place novelty masks on at least 10 zombies."

Some of the more bizarre achievements seem positively survivalist: "7 Day Survivor - TYPE: 1 Play REQ: Survive for at least 7 days", or even the insanest of them all: "Zombie Genocider - TYPE: 1 Play REQ: Defeat at least 53,594 zombies." Apparently, that number is the total population of the town, as shown in the intro - one would imagine it might take a while to knock that many off!

COLUMN: 'Free Play' - iteration GAMES

[’Free Play’ is a regular weekly column by Ancil Anthropy about freely downloadable video games, and the people who make them. This week’s column profiles iteration GAMES.]

In 1999, Mark Overmars—professor of game and media technology at Utrecht University—began developing a program called Game Maker. Now in its sixth iteration, Game Maker is a software package designed to simplify PC game development—referred to as "middleware", it allows developers to create games in a straightforward drag-and-drop environment without having to deal with serious coding.

Jph Wacheski discovered Game Maker while searching for a way to make games without having to learn C++, and over the last few years has been releasing Game Maker "experiments" under the name iteration GAMES. Prior to creating games, Jph was "deeply devoted to" designing sounds and creating music with the Buzz synthesizer, and Jph's experience working with audio shows in the sound design of iteration's games.

The games—sadly Windows-only, due to Game Maker's reliance on DirectX—are evocative of the arcade experience, combining Minter-like screen effects and staticky bursts of audio to create an effect that oscillates between hypnotic and unsettling. These games have a presence, and you're never quite sure whether it's playing with you or against you.

Remember when we used to play?


Iteration's "experiments" (all downloadable from the front page of the site) draw from a library of older arcade games, sometimes literally. Joust 3 applies the mechanics, characters and sprites of Midway's original series to new scrolling stages. Sub Atomic began development as a remake of Taito's Electric Yo-yo, and the first three stages of that remake have to be played before the new game will be unlocked. And there's 100 Invaders, which begins as a straightforward Space Invaders game (using sprites designed by another Game Maker developer, Graham Lackey), until the ghosts of invaders you've slain return to haunt you.

But perhaps the most impressive remake is Wizard of Wor Remix, an expansive recreation of Midway's maze shooter. The labyrinths in the remix are larger and more tangled, with passages that admit players but not bullets. Players can use a new charging teleport ability, and an AI will step in to control player two if there's only one person at the keyboard. But the most compelling addition is the harsh new audio: the static-heavy laughter and mocking taunts suit Midway's dark arena crawl perfectly.

Survive long enough to get the high score.

Lock-On, with its downtempo background music and drum-like sound effects, is closer to the "hypnotic" end of the spectrum. The player and enemies drift on the blue-grey screen like lilies on a pond. Laughter accompanies a miss in this game, but it sounds like a chuckle, an invitation to play another game.

The goal is to clear each stage of enemies. A forward shot fires in the direction and speed the player is moving, but the lock-on shot is more reliable, sending a homing missile toward the nearest enemy. When destroyed, some enemies leave pick-ups behind. As in Joust, if the pick-ups aren't collected quickly, they'll transform into new, more dangerous enemies. Collecting enough will provide a color change and greater firepower. As stages progress, the wind that blows on the pond becomes more severe, and the enemies more numerous.


Finally, be sure to check out...

Seeds, an "artificial life" sandbox that the player is free to fill with various lifeforms that transform the screen into a living kaleidoscope.

[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.]

July 16, 2006

Consolevania Busts Out Indie Special

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/consolev.jpg Over at Kieron Gillen's blog, he's quite rightly pointed out a highlight from the new Consolevania game-related video show, named 'Independents Day', and showcasing a whole caboodle of Scottish wit.

Gillen rhapsodizes: "25 minutes into it, nu-skool journalist Kevin Leddins, yet again, says it best: “Indie games are love. Pure love. But what is love? The great Philosophers did not know. Neither did Haddaway.” I’m moved." And with coverage of a crapload of great indie titles, from the Pickford Bros' awesome-looking Naked War through IGF faves like Narbacular Drop, there's plenty to love.

For those not aware of Consolevania, the Wikipedia entry handily explains: "Consolevania is a video games TV show created by First Person Shooters Productions and filmed in and around Glasgow, Scotland. It is notable as one of very few online TV shows to make the leap onto broadcast TV, as the show videoGaiden." More to the point, this episode has absolutely _the_ best Jaz Rignall-related Turin Shroud joke ever. No, really.

Every Extend Extra PC Demo Extended To Fans

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/omega-e2.png Over at 1UP.com, they've noted that a PC demo of Every Extend Extra has been released, noting: "Even though Sony was distributing a PSP demo of Q Entertainment's latest at E3, you'll have to make due... for the time being."

Also, some handy extra info from 1UP commenter Aggies11: "The official page mentions the demo/trial, but does not host it. It's hosted on other sites. The official has a links section to those sites to download the demo. After perusing many of those unintelligible pages, I was able to dig out this link. That should allow you to download the trial. Good luck with that, and see if you can decipher/figure it out."

For those interested in learning more about the game, originally a Japanese dojin title, Ancil's Anthropy's recent 'Free Play' column talks about the history of creator Omega, who has hooked up with Q's Tetsuya Mizuguchi to make the PSP version - yum, much Japanese indie goodness.

Drunksaling Epidemic In Chicago, Again

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/fester.jpg If you're The New Gamer website, then the garage/thrift store hunting never ends, and the 'Chi-Style Drunksaling: Vol. 5.3 - Family Matters' edition is up now - we previously covered these guys' thrift game stylings.

This time, the depressing intro starts: "According to the classifieds, this week looked not-so-promising. In fact, there was a distinct lack of electronics in all of the week's listed sales, with the exception of one sale far, far, far out west in the outskirts of 'Chicagoland', in an area that neighbors Chicago but is much too far to be considered part of the city-proper. Yeah, we aren't driving that far for anything less than a guaranteed Turbo-Grafx 16."

But find stuff they did: "Buried away in this desk was a complete NES and a number of games, including Castlevania III, Zelda 2, Bubble Bobble, Ghosts 'n Goblins. Of particular interest was a copy of Fester's Quest, which also came with a dog-eared copy of Nintendo Power opened to a walkthrough for Fester's." All were grabbed for $20, and let me just say that the Bay Area is abysmal for sales like this, thanks to the surfeit of video game geeks cruising for bargains, damn them.

GameSetQ: Terrible, Terrible Guilty Pleasures?

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/stuntm.jpg Having written a story for Gamasutra earlier this week about Infogrames selling UK developer Reflections to Ubisoft, along with the Driver franchise - having previously sold the Stuntman franchise to THQ, I was sufficiently embarrassed by enjoying one of the above titles to set a new GameSetQ.

The question for you good people out there in Internet-land is, simply enough:

"What video game have you enjoyed playing more than any reviewer ever suggested that you would - perhaps more than you should have if you were actually sane?"

In other words, I'm talking about games with clunky game mechanics, poor execution, and otherwise dubious merits, but nonetheless, you couldn't stop playing through them. For me, Stuntman was that title - it turns out I enjoy the hardcore 'trial and error' gameplay of the title, even though it meant tens of frustrating retries to get stunts _just perfect_ and complete the level. Go figure. What's your weakness?

Used Game Store Attacks Tokyo

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/gsho.jpg Australian blogger Jamie Sam (which is actually two people, but I digress), has put up a little expose of sorts. Seems there's a massive used game store in the gumyo area of togane, southeast of tokyo, off the togane or keiyoo lines. Images of the stops before and after right here.

The store, the front of which you can see here, is massive. He claims it looks like an adult shop from the outside, but I say it looks more like a right-wing nationalist organization's headquarters - the type that rides around in vans yelling pro-japan slogans from the bullhorn on top.

Just look at all this famicom disc system software, or this older hardware. Trouble is, though this place is absolutely huge, and looks quite impressive, the hardware prices all look a bit high, which could bode ill for getting nice deals there. Though the SFC Square Enix RPG collection looks alright at 5,000 yen (bottom right, includes the FFs and DQs), round about here you'll feel you shouldn't be paying 2,480 yen for Tales of Phantasia.

That said, there are simply rows and rows of the stuff, so this might well be a place to check out if you're in the area. [Original post by bsheffield, X-posted from IC with permission and lurve!]

Shoot The Bullet, Wake The Shmup?

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/stb.jpg Over at shmup weblog Shoot The Core, the ever amiable Posty has a handy review of Zun's latest PC dojin title, Shoot The Bullet, a title in which "...the premise is to take the best photograph (screenshot) of the boss that you can while dodging the bullet storm headed your way."

The mechanic is fascinating, and Posty explains: "Knowing when to sacrifice player speed for camera charge is a KEY factor in beating some of the levels, and the player must not only make quick judgements to dodge bullets, but also to know when to use this feature. Zun has also found a way to revive his Tohou series while keeping the same signature components that bring his fans back."

In way of a conclusion, it's noted: "Lets face it, Perfect Cherry Blossom, Embodiment of Scarlet Devil and Imperishable Night [all well-documented on shrinemaiden.com] are all practically the same game.....not that that's a bad thing, but the formula was getting stale. STB is a nice change of pace that I would put in a sub-genre all its own." Good stuff.

Got Kudos? Get A Life!

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/kudos.gif Cool news via newish blog A Bunch Of Nerds, discussing intriguing indie 'sim life'-style game Kudos, for which the official website has lots more info on the PC-specific 'game of social relationships and choices'.

As is explained: "Kudos is a turn-based life-simulator title for the PC (at the moment) created by ex-Lionhead Games AI programmer Cliff Harris, who also was behind the much acclaimed political-sim title Democracy. In the game, players create their sim (almost a mini-game in itself!), decide where they work, who their friends should be, what they do to relax in their spare (game)time and many other activities."

The game "...explores gameplay that other mainstream games ignore, allowing the player the freedom to do everything from watch television, to raising pets, to being an alcoholic starting drunken brawls with sims they don’t quite care for. Kudos to Cliffski for again releasing a solid and entertaining title and proving yet again that indie games market is emerging as both a viable and high quality alternative to mainstream gaming." It's also a genre that very few indie games explore, which is why my interest is personally piqued.

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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