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August 19, 2006

COLUMN: 'Game Mag Weaseling': A Mere Blip on the Radar

['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.]

Simon recently ran into a few copies of Blip, the video game "magazine" put out by Marvel Comics in 1983, and he excitedly AIMed me about them, assured that he had found something I didn't have. It had been a long week, and my ego needed some assuaging, so I informed him as conceitedly as possible that no, not only have I heard of Blip, but I have all seven issues (the Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide, until fairly recently, thought there were only four).

Blip's a pretty queer mag in the gaggle of titles that launched and faded away between 1982 and 1984, from boom to bust in the game industry. Edited by Joe Claro (who wrote lots of quickie children's books for Random House all during the 1980s), the title was comic-book sized and printed on plain old comic-book stock, making it the cheapest national video-game mag ever (only a buck an issue!) but also the cheapest-looking, as screenshots and color photographs all tended to be washed out and ugly. As a result of this, Blip concentrates less on game strategy and more on "lifestyle"-type things -- comics about games, jokes, stories, and so forth.

I'd be lyin' if I said Blip was a must-read for all gamers, but then again, the mag never really had a chance to find its niche -- it launched February 1983 and published its final issue in August, thus becoming the first magazine "victim" of the Atari crash. Back issues are pretty easy to come by (if your comic shop has them, they're usually in the 25-cent boxes), so it's arguably the easiest and cheapest classic-era mag to amass a complete collection of.

Here's a quick guide to all seven issues (click through for the full rundown!)

blip-8302.jpg  blip-8303.jpg

#1 (February 1983) featured TV star Matthew Laborteaux on the cover, opening up a piece on celebrity gamers like Randall Brooks, Grant Cramer, David Wallace, Nicholas Hammond, and Bruce Boxleitner. Bruce I've heard of (he was in Tron), but the others were completely alien to me -- Matthew was apparently on Little House on the Prairie (IMDB claims he did voice work on the .hack series but doesn't mention his role), Grant and David were both regulars on The Facts of Life, Nicholas played the title role in the '70s live-action Spider-Man, and Randall (who's a girl) was playing Little Orphan Annie on Broadway at the time. "I may not ever find [a game] to compare with Space Invaders," she tells Blip, "but how could anything ever compare to bring a Broadway star, either?"

There's also a comic section featuring "Vic Video" interviewing Mario, which is the latter's first-ever appearance in comics. He later got an entire line of comics from Valiant once the NES came along.

#2 (March 1983) has Spider-Man (is that Nicholas inside the body stocking, you think?) and the Green Goblin playing Parker Bros.'s hot new Spider-Man 2600 cartridge. The feature includes tons of photos showing the guys crowding around a 13-inch TV screen in some Marvel office, ending with (for some reason) a shot of Spider-Man diving into someone's swimming pool afterwards.

In the comic section, Gobby is a little angry at this video game (maybe 'cos they used his face without permission) and crashes "the biggest trade show of the season" to beat up our hero, who's demonstrating the game to fans. Imagine having the Spider-Man at E3. The crowds would be even worse than they were in 2005.

blip-8304.jpg   blip-8305.jpg

#3 (April 1983) is sadly lacking in comics, but does have a profile of Eric Ginner and Mark Robichek, friends and fellow World Video Game Champions. Mark had the world record for Tutankham (244,920), while his pal Eric was top of the charts for Moon Patrol (573,480) "I used to spend 20 or 30 hours a week in arcades when I was in high school," Mark recalls in the article. "Even so, the games never cost me much money. I was always good, and a quarter lasted me a long time. If I spent five dollars a week, it was a lot." Man, the way games were by the early 90s, five bucks wouldn't last me an hour at the arcades.

#4 (May 1983) has a somewhat scary video-hallucination on the cover and a fanciful "exclusive Blip preview" of a possible game based on Laverne & Shirley ("Put caps on bottles! Answer ringing doorbells! Fall asleep on the couch!").

blip-8306.jpg   blip-8307.jpg

#5 (June 1983) has a cover story on video games "going Hollywood" (I think Video Games magazine had nearly the exact same cover around this time, too) and a bit on computer camps. By this time Claro is already being forced to fill excess pages with full-page comic gags.

#6 (July 1983) is the first issue to have an actual game on the cover -- Imagic's Microsurgeon, a title way ahead of its time in graphics and gameplay. The "Player of the Month" is Mike Zeck, veteran comic artist and (at the time) world record holder in Omega Race.


Finally, #7 (August 1983) features the first full-sized comic in a few issues. In it, the Incredible Hulk is smashing up the city as usual, and the cops decide to refocus his energies by giving him a game where he can smash up cities without actually causing any damage. Sweet.

Sadly, I couldn't tell you what readers got their subscriptions replaced with. Hopefully, though, it was something with a bit more speculator value to it.

[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.]

The Pocket Dream Is A... Pocket Dream!

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/drea.jpg Our favorite import store NCSX has a mammoth pictorial on the Tomy/Takara 'Pocket Dream' handheld this week, notably because they're not even stocking it due to the price (6900 yen plus mark-up would probably make it $85+?) - but it looks _really_ interesting to gamegeeks such as ourselves.

It's explained: "Tomy and Takara released a handheld gaming system on August 3 called the Pocket Dream Console. Basically a closed system with 30 built-in games and an AV port for output to television, the PDC is about the size of a Gameboy Micro. The unit runs on three AAA batteries with a 15-hour play time. The PDC also features a 2" backlit TFT screen."

The every-anonymous NCS writer notes: "After fiddling around with the games for an hour or so, NCS consensus: Decent collection but some of the games are unabashed copies while others would fit in some public domain game CD. There's a Loderunner clone with penguins and a near 1:1 copy of Taito's Puzzloop." Looks like there are some Arkanoid, Sokoban, and Bomberman clones in there too, and something where you have to "Guide a robotic horse around and eat fruit while avoiding enemies", and a Nintendogs clone, etc, etc, ad inifinitum. High japery!

GameSetAds: Joust / Masters of The Universe Atari 2600 Print Ads

From a 1984-era hardboiled DC detective comic named Nathaniel Dusk, I found some rather smart ads for Atari 2600 era games as advertisements within the comic - both Joust for the 2600, 5200, and associated Atari home computers, and Masters Of The Universe: The Power Of He-Man for the 2600 and Intellivision:


The Joust text is kinda fun ("Joust. You don't play it... you live it"), but the Masters Of The Universe text (with some really high-end screenshots from 1984, apparently from the 'Intellivision with Supergraphics') has more Rights Reserved, Trademark, and licensing *s in the text than just about any other ad I've seen.

Maybe this betrays the series' origins as a merchandising line first and a coherent universe second - sorry, MOTU fans. Both ads are neat, though - I'll try to dig out some similar vintage game ads as time goes on. [Via PopCultScanFun.]

Games On A Snake! Planes On A Game!

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/psplane.jpg Yes, 1UP are the kind of dorks who will celebrate the opening of Samuel L. Jackson's maaaahvellous Snakes On A Plane with a feature called 'Games On A Plane!', explained thus: "The portable revolution is well underway, making these perfect games... on a plane! Until Homeland Security gets all hysterical and outlaws electronic devices, anyway."

The plane playing shenanigans are split into 'Regional Flights', which names games such as Capcom Classics Remixed ("Short flights are made for short games, and when it comes to instant gratification it's hard to top the classic arcade"), all the way up to 'Flying Overseas', which marvellously names Card Fighters Clash for NGPC ("Dust off that forgotten Neo Geo Pocket Color -- Card Fighter's Clash is still one of the best and brightest card games ever created.")

And actually, probably the best thing are the witty faux-safety tips running at the bottom of each page, starting out with 'Passengers in coach class should not play Warioware Twisted', and going downhill hilariously from there. More dumb features, plz! (Elsewhere in scary Snakes-related fun, the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin has the 24-hour 'Snakes On A Day', which is the movie played over and over from midnight to midnight. Jeez.)

GameSetLinks: Madden Takes Over?

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/madden.jpg It's totally Friday, which means that it's totally the weekend. More GameSetLinks tomorrow, when there's a chance to catch up on RSS feeds, but in the meantime, here's some random randomness we ran into:

- Maddentopia On Earth: Really, there's no better thing to do that cite eToychest's report on this particular tragedy: "EA's PR agency fired off this a tasty morsel this afternoon letting us know that the little town of Madden, Mississippi – population a staggering 74 – will be celebrating “Maddenoliday” on August 22 to celebrate the release of Madden NFL 07 for the Xbox 360... Jerry Rice, Marshall Faulk and Warren Moon will be on hand to give away Xbox 360 consoles to all the residents of the village." Hurray, PR stunt!

- Locked Up: The MMO: A co-worker just pointed out the PrisonServer MMO, subtitled 'The Online Prison Game', and for which the U.S. game info explains: "Make your way from just a rookie to gang leader or boss, meet new friends and get a life while becoming stronger to gain real respect! Players unite, collaborate & fight creating their own gangs and ranks within the prison confinements. Sooner or later you'll go Player versus Player forever. You can decide when or begin your character in a forced PvP server."

- Automator-ing NBA 2K7's Soundtrack: They reprinted a little of this at GameSpot, but MP3.com has a big interview with Dan The Automator which touches on his neat-sounding custom soundtrack for 2K's upcoming NBA 2k7. The full soundtrack from the Gorillaz, Deltron, and Dr. Octagon producer looks rather awesome, to say the least: "The Automator created these tracks for many of hip-hop’s finest emcees, including Fabolous, Ghostface, E-40, Mos Def, Slim Thug and even a remix of the Tribe Called Quest Classic, 'Lyrics to Go.'"

- Civilization Burns Book: Well, OK, not _burn_, as such, but Idle Thumbs reveals the following: "British newspaper The Independent is reporting that notoriously grim Fiction / Science Fiction novelist Iain Banks has missed a writing deadline for the first time because of video game addiction... Banks’ latest book which was due in time for Christmas, will be delayed until some time next year because Banks, like many before him, fell prey to the evil of Sid Meier. "It's all because I became a serial addict of the computer game 'Civilisation' [sic]” Said Banks, “I played it for three months and then realised I hadn't done any work. In the end, I had to delete all the saved files and smash the CD. It is very unprofessional of me. I had to ask for an extension for the first time, which made me feel just like I was a student again."" Damn you, Meier!

August 18, 2006

Uber-FAQ: Um Jammer Lammy Guitars GET!

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/doublelammy.jpg So, having mentioned jealousy of Dan Amrich's Um Jammer Lammy guitars in a recent semi-unrelated post, who should email us but GamePro/Future veteran Amrich himself, who has given us a complete guide to how you can also obtain real-life versions of Lammy's guitars, if you are crazy.

So, take it away, Dan: "The kidney bean one (pictured on top) is a Fernandes Zo-3 (in the US, the model is called the Nomad; the circle on the front is a small battery-powered built-in amplifier) and the yellow one (which hits my love for replicas of fictional objects as well as my gaming pride) is the Fernandes UJL-2000. [After some other eBay-related shenanigans] I decided to get serious about finding the 2000, and with the help of a friend who spoke Japanese, I contacted Ishibashi Music in Japan. They're one of the few retailers there who do business internationally (most of the Japanese guitar shops online sell to Japan only). I told them exactly what I was looking for and--amazingly--had it in hand just four weeks later (and part of the delay was that I'd written over the new year break). If you want to drop them a line, it's [email protected]"

What's more: "The surprising thing is that these guitars are more or less novelty guitars for girls, and therefore moderately priced. Each retails for about $300 (the UJL-2000 was 26,820 yen plus another 12,000 yen for insured international shipping - Global Express Mail) and you could probably get them easily from Ishibashi. They were never released in the US. They made a PaRappa ZO-3, too. It's blue. I've been tempted. And that one's actually still listed on their site." Holy smokes, that's cool!

Finally, Dan pointed to his unsorted directory of Lammy-related guitar pics, and says he intends to build a proper shrine at some point - as he should! In the meantime, he plays the yellow Fernandes UJL-2000, in heavily modified form, in his '80s tribute band Fast Times, who are playing the Dirty Martini in SF next month, should you feel the need to gawk at a Lammy guitar in real life. Fun - and thanks to Dan for sharing!

Rabbit Snares Game Luminary Translation Site

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/arthur.jpg The ever-smart Shack News has pointed out The Rabbit Snare, a good site translating lengthy Japanese-language interviews with important game designers and random game crazies, and of which we had not heard until now!

For starters, there's 'Secrets Of The Katamari', translating an old Dengeki Online interview with Keita Takahashi in fine style, explaining of Katamari Damacy: "Specifically, I think it was going to be an action game with some driving elements in it. I thought up the King and the Prince as part of that game’s back-story. And, well, it was rejected, of course…(laughs). It’d always seemed like a waste of a good idea to me, so when we started development on Katamari Damacy, I thought it might be possible to use it this time around."

Oh yeah, and he also translated the voiceover/text for the Ultimate Ghosts N Goblins promo movie, which would have been really useful when we were watching it: "I was taking it easy, you know... I left Demonville, where I had fought for so long, and was living on my own out in a backwater town... You know…back in Demonville, I’d been busting my butt day in and day out... So I started to think that it might be nice to just loosen up and not take things so seriously." Yay, awesome.

Bob Marley... Burns His Way Onto Cellphones?

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/burnin.jpg Every now and again the GSW office gets spasmodically, tragically happy over a _particularly_ crazy cellphone game license. Last time this happened, was, of course, Lil Jon's Crunk Golf, but now we have the announcement of 'Bob Marley Burnin'' from Hudson Entertainment.

Not content with giving the world Bonk, the details page for the Hudson-developed mobile game explains: "Hey Mon! Enjoy the tropics as you play as Bob Marley in some fun mini games. This game celebrates Marley's passions, from island life, soccer, and of course, music - Reggae style! Juggle the ball in the air like a pro, and rack up combo points for hitting special power-ups. See how far you can kick a ball while timing the bounce to Marley music. It's simple yet addictive fun, all set to your favorite Marley tunes including "One Love", "Stir It Up", and "Could You Be Loved". This game is the ultimate tropical experience!"

OK, very speechless, and yes, one of the subgames is called 'Extreme Juggling'. Dude, it's extreme! Meanwhile, John Greiner, president of Hudson Entertainment explains: "Marley's ideas and beliefs are more powerful than ever, and to be able to bring his own unique culture to a new generation of people is truly an honor. We wanted to create an interactive experience that captures the Rastafarian spirit and all the elements that Marley loved, from music, to island life, and soccer." No juggle no cry?

COLUMN: ‘The Gentleman Nerd’ – Why I Love… RoboRally

[The Gentleman Nerd is a weekly column written by Jason McMaster and is dedicated to the more discerning tastes of the refined dork. Due to Jason's extreme nature, most of his columns will be subtitled 'Why I Love...' or 'Why I Hate...' - in case you were wondering.]

Most people have heard of Magic: the Gathering, the undeniably popular collectible card game from Wizards of the Coast. When it was released in 1993, Magic took the gaming world by storm and hasn’t slowed down since. I must admit that I cashed in on Magic as well by hustling people for cards at one comic shop and selling them at another. Ah, the heady days of youth.

Well, Magic isn’t the only game that its designer, Richard Garfield, made. Mostly he stayed in the CCG arena with games like Star Wars, Jyhad and Netrunner. The only games that he made that didn’t fall into that category were The Great Dalmuti and RoboRally, the latter of which is the subject of today’s column.

Rally UPRoboRally is a fairly simple game. Each player is dealt a certain number of cards with different directions or turns on them and they have to choose five that their robot will execute that turn. The point of the game is to be the first player to touch all the flags. Sounds pretty simple, right? Well, it is.

What makes the game really interesting is when you have several different people competing for the same goal and they don’t know which way anyone is going to move. The real kicker is that once you have all your cards put down in the order you’re going to move, you can’t change them. So, if someone knocks you off course, you could very well fly into a pit instead of making it to your target.

Then, on top of just programming your robot, you have to deal with the built in game mechanics and the board environment. There are walls, lasers and pits as well as conveyor belts that can throw you off track. That’s only part of the danger involved in playing ‘The Rally’.

It takes most people a while to understand the exact series of events required to play RoboRally to its fullest “jackass” potential. Most people, when they first start participating in any competitive activity, avoid direct confrontation. Everyone wants to go for the goal and the overall attitude is fairly light hearted. This all changes the second someone accidentally knocks another player off course and that player dies. Then it becomes a game about revenge. One sure fire way to keep people doing something is to encourage their competitive nature.

That’s why I use RoboRally as my gateway game. I like to get people to try something out that’s fairly simple and isn’t all that bizarre as their first time playing board games. The simple rules coupled with the sheer amount of chaos that can be caused by one collision usually keep people entertained.

Rally DOWNOnce people are playing and generally enjoying themselves, I have to tell them the horrible truth. You are one step closing to becoming a nerd. The second you begin cackling at what you made a little figurine do to another one, you’ve passed over the threshold and are ready for induction. Welcome to Thunder Dome, where Thunder is Nerd and Dome is… Dome. Never mind.

Either way, it’s a good tool to show people that things that are normally considered reprehensibly dorky and pathetic are actually quite fun if you give them a shot. I was once among the washed masses that looked down upon my smelly brethren. I was a football player, for God’s sake.

That all changed, though, and now I stalk through the night with my Ziploc bags full of game pieces, just looking for my next victim. All the cool kids are playing Puerto Rico and Ticket to Ride. Don’t you want to be cool? The first one’s free….

[Jason McMaster is a freelance writer who has written for GameSpy, Firing Squad and several other publications. He’s currently working on a few small projects and updating his blog, Lamethrower, as often as he can.]

GameSetLinks: Get Lamp, Fretting Fire No More

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/getlamp.jpgAh, yes, those games, sets, and links - a rollicking Thursday evening would be nothing without them, eh? Here we go:

- Get Lamp Gets Press: We've mentioned Jason Scott's 'Get Lamp' text adventure documentary before, and now Wired News has done a story on it, noting: "In his upcoming documentary, Scott plans to add filmed interviews of the games' early developers to the collection of archival material. Interview subjects include developers of Zork and Adventure, the first interactive work to gain a following." We've heard of those! Looking forward to the final doc, whenever it's done (probably not for a little while!)

- Zoe Flower Goes Slant Six: You may remember Zoe Flower from her Electric Playground gig or Official PlayStation Magazine column. Well, we got a rather over-hopeful PR note pitched as revealing to us: "Zoe Flower, Coolest Girl in the Video Game industry", which reveals that she's working over at Vancouver developer Slant Six Games, which is cool, and another good example of the journo => developer nexus. And there's some neat info on the developer, too: "Slant Six Games is a video game development studio located in Vancouver , BC that specializes in developing games for the PlayStation Portable (PSP) and PlayStation 3 (PS3) game consoles. Slant Six Games created the graphics rendering engine for Sony Computer Entertainment America’s (SCEA) massively popular Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror , and is currently developing a new PSP title for SCEA, scheduled to ship in late 2007. " Did not know that!

- Frets Of Fire Insano-Controller: We at GSW got a fun email today: "I'm the Games Ed on PC Format magazine UK. I've just made a USB guitar for the open source Guitar Hero clone Frets on Fire out of an old joystick and a toy axe." Uh, SUPER neato! Apparently: "Games Ed James Carey... took an Early Learning Centre toy guitar (you know, the ones that play annoying bleepy sounds) and ripped its guts out. He then stuck some guts from an old Logic 3 joystick into the body, did some wire magic and hey presto, insta-USB Guitar!" We can't make stuff, we can only buy stuff - we're not practical enough.

- Gearbox Tells Stories: Over at Gearbox, the Brothers In Arms writers have been talking about storytelling and games, and even making plenty of sense, talking about the lack of a shared experience: "In a lot of interactive mediums the story telling is much less effective when left up to the player. No one is ever truly in love, married, wounded, dead, blind, etc because the experience could vary so greatly from one game to the next. This is compounded by the fact that the player could choose to play through a second a time and have a completely different experience all together where different people are married, dead, or turned into fish." Or all of the above!

- Highway Stars, Lost Dawgs: Gamasutra and Lost Levels' FrankC is, to say the least, a rabid fan of awesome DS title Ouendan, and he's just uploaded a new Elite Beat Agents video to YouTube which shows (minus sound, sadly) a whole bunch of the 'lost doggie' animation and gameplay from the Deep Purple 'Highway Star' level of Elite Beat Agents, Inis' Western adaptation of its 'let's stick together' DS rhythm game - I think this was from Comic-Con? Someone also recorded a bunch of 'Walkie Talkie Man' from Steriogram, the only other level showcased at E3 and other events thus far. Wherefore a full song list? We're waaaiting!

August 17, 2006

GameSeteBay: Pac-Man Motion Lamp, Woot!

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/pman.jpg Cruisin' on the Internet superduperjunkyard that is eBay, we ran into the awesomeness that is a vintage Pac-Man motion lamp, yum - and it's 'only' $37 thus far.

It's explained: "You are looking at a PAC-MAN MOTION LIGHT, I think it is from the early 80's. The light is in very good condition, the pictures do not do it justice. The light is not perfect, but is very, very nice. There is a couple small slits in the black area on the side, I think this would be a very easy repair with a little tape, but it is not necessary. The light stands 13" tall, and 6" across. The logo says: 1980 Bally midway mfg. co. tm Bally mfg. co. all rights reserved."

Elsewhere on eBay, there also seem to be a bunch of people selling Pac-Man prize packages, featuring: "Black and Orange Leather Back Pack w/Clip-on Watch, Wool and Orange Leather Pac-Man Jacket Size L, Pac-Man Polo Shirt Size L, Pac-Man Fleece Throw Blanket, Pac-Man Twill Cap, Pac-Man Neon Light Umbrella", if you have a tragic lust for Pac. Which we don't, honest.

Game Ads A-Go-Go: Out-Of-Context Game Ad Illustration Face Quiz #2

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.]

Welcome back, my game ad-loving friends! I thought I'd follow up on a popular previous edition of Game Ads A-Go-Go with another exciting installment of the same thing. Just like last time, I have assembled a selection of out-of-context illustrated faces from video game magazine advertisements. On each question, you will be presented with a number of choices, only one of which is the correct answer. After you've thought hard and written down your answer (no cheating!), you can view the correct answer by clicking on each link below the question. Doing so will reveal the full ad and put the faces in context. Then see how you stack up against your so-called friends. Good luck!

Question #1


Look at the picture above. This man is...

a. Selling hotdogs at a football game
b. A cherubic baseball player with a stiffy
c. One of Santa's helper elves
d. Catching a gigantic fish without realizing it
e. Both a. and c.

Click here for the answer.

Question #2


Look at the picture above. This man is...

a. Bono from U2 getting elbowed in the face
b. A patient who just got his eyes dilated at the optometrist
c. David Copperfield's stunt double, circa 1988
d. A mysterious master of martial arts, partially obscured
e. Eating fuzzy, fuzzy wieners

Click here for the answer.

Question #3


Look at the picture above. This entity is...

a. An exciting new Disney villain
b. A flaming ping pong ball with a face
c. Estonia's national flag come alive
d. A ghost trapped in a pinball machine
e. Some fat dude in an oven

Click here for the answer.

Question #4


Look at the picture above. This man is...

a. Traveling through space and time in slow motion
b. Getting his face sucked off by the Nothing
c. Trying to remember where he put his glasses
d. A famous golfer violently swinging a club
e. A chess player on an Atari 2600 game box
f. Bleeding mustard

Click here for the answer.

Bonus Question (Extra Credit)


Look at the picture above. This man is...

a. Fighting in a karate tournament
b. Getting blasted in the face with Skittles
c. A vivid allegory of drug abuse
d. Experiencing a tingling of his spider sense
e. A happy Olympic diver

Click here for the answer.

Making the Grade

So, how well did you do? Tally up your score (one point for each correct answer), add five to that, then subtract 3.828. The resulting number you get will be completely meaningless, but you can post it on your refrigerator and feel proud.

Well, that's all for now. Until next time, this is the RedWolfster saying, "Don't forget to cry like a tiny hurt child when your momma tries to blackmail you into buying beer for her and her hairy lover."

[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. He is also a professional expert consultant in turnkey solutions to corporate feasibility stratagems.]

Skateboarding Plus Pitfall Equals... Skatefall!

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/skatefall.jpg Wow - we just got a note from artist and designer John Freeborn about his awesome new Flash game, 'Skatefall', which is, obviously enough, "a game mashup of Pitfall with skateboarding", and "inspired by Dave Crane, of course."

The info page for the free-to-play Flash game reveals: "This game has been in and out of the works for over two years. I am proud to say it is done. Skatefall!, inspired by David Crane’s Pitfall!, with 255 screens, many gold bars, silver bars and more to collect. This game also has a scoreboard, so you can see where you rank."

Playing it briefly, its 'Pitfall on wheels' game play also reminded me of Namco's Metro Cross, and we note that John has also been making Nintendo Wii icons for Mac OS X, so really, there's no excuse not to go try out his game now, right?

GameSetScans: Arcade Flyers - Sega's 'Ollie King' (2004)

[So, I just got an Epson scanner, and you'll see a random collection of paper-based ephemera (much of it not game related!) on my personal Pop Cult Scan Fun weblog. But I'll be reposting the game-related stuff here, starting with a neeto Sega arcade flyer.]

It must be said that I don't really have a spectacular collection of flyers, and most of them are from 2000 onwards - but here's a nice beginning, a stylish flyer for Sega's 2004 skateboard arcade game 'Ollie King' which isn't even on The Arcade Flyer Archive yet.


From the folks at Amusement Vision who absorbed Smilebit's staff, this seems to have been developed by the Jet Set Radio creators, and is described as follows: "A street wise skateboard action racing game set in the modern day urban jungle. Players can race up to 4 other contestants to set the record time for the course. The more stylish the skateboard tricks are preformed then the faster you go. This is the first skateboard game that concentrates more on racing and speed than special tricks."

[The game uses the Xbox-based Chihiro hardware, but it sadly never got an Xbox conversion, presumably due to it being designed specifically for the skateboard controller, as earlier titles Top Skater and Air Trix also had in differing forms.]

GameSetInterview: Tom 'Tsquared' Taylor On Gaming-Lessons

tom_taylor.jpg Tom “Tsquared” Taylor is one of the brightest stars of Major League Gaming. He’s currently aged just 18, and is already on a three year, $83,300 per year contract with the MLG – and that’s before prizes. In his most recent season with the league, Tsquared made a cool $250,000.

In 2005, he started Gaming-Lessons, a site dedicated to training those interested in improving their Halo 2 and Super Smash Bros. Melee skills. Taking the lessons are such MLG luminaries as Alfonso "Fonzi" Chartier, and 7 year old Victor "LiL Poison" De Leon III, amongst others. So far, Tsquared estimates that over 1,000 students have received lessons, which range from 15 minute one on one sessions, right up to one hour scrimmages against the best teams that MLG has to offer.

GameSetWatch contacted Tsquared via email to find out more about the site.

When did you start Gaming-Lessons?

Gaming-Lessons started in September of 2005 so it is almost 1 year old. Sundance DiGiovanni, co-founder of MLG, and I came up with the idea of Gaming-Lessons during a conversation on how to generate more competitive gamers and open up new windows and opportunities for casual gamers looking to go pro. The Gaming-Lessons website has gone through 3 versions and we are currently working on Gaming-Lessons v4 with tons more features to add.

How difficult is it to become a professional gamer?

Very difficult, it took 4 years to get where I am at now. Hopefully I can pass on a load of tips and tricks so the student can skip the 4 year process that I had to go through to make it in professional gaming.

Why is a service like this necessary?

Lessons for a video game are just like any other lesson. If you want to improve in something where lessons are offered, for example, golfing, surfing, or snowboarding, then you would jump on the chance to do so. The only difference is we have the best instructors and professional gamers in the world brought into 1 website.

What kinds of people receive lessons?

There has been much diversity amongst our customers. We have given lessons to girls and guys alike from NBA Star Richard Jefferson, 48 year old business men, a 30 year old Psychologist mother of 2, college students, and teenagers still in high school. It really shows the interest and reach of pro gaming.

What sort of people do you employ as instructors?

Only the best professional gamers in the world give lessons at Gaming-Lessons. We have 10 instructors, currently adding more to fit the demand of lessons, who aren't only the top gamers in the world but the best instructors.

How easy is it to run a service like this as a viable business?

Back when the site first started it was very difficult running it all by myself. As the website grew I started to bring in more money, which allowed me to hire staff members to take a little bit of the work load off my shoulders. We have been going strong for about a year now but it is everything but easy.

How do the lessons work?

I actually am working on a new system right now for lessons to be purchased. The way it will work is you will purchase a lesson off of www.gaming-lessons.com, after you have paid for the lesson the site will take you straight to a information sheet that asks you about your gaming history (this helps your instructor understand where you are at skill wise). After that it takes you to a calendar of dates that are available for your instructor that you purchased the lesson from, once you select your date you hop on Xbox Live and your instructor will be there waiting for you with a smile.

Why are you offering lessons for Super Smash Bros. Melee, as well as Halo 2?

Whatever games are the premiere games for the MLG circuit are the games we will give lessons for. MLG has been the leader in pro gaming for years now. They have been able to identify the most competitive and fair games, and have built strong communities around them. They are also the leader in taking pro gaming mainstream (with their TV show debuting on the USA Network this fall), which can open up more opportunities in the future.

Will you be branching out into other games in the future too?

If or when MLG changes games from Halo 2 to another or SSBM then Gaming-Lessons will also.

The site seems to depend a lot on community - do you think the competitive gaming scene is the same?

I try to offer a common ground for people who are looking to go to tournaments or meet new people who share the same passion of gaming that they do. Gaming-Lessons is everything I envisioned in the first place and more.

GameSetLinks: A Bad Day, In Ell Ayy

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/badday.jpg Yay, an evening GameSetLink-age is upon as, and thanks to friend and GameSetWatch reader Jon, we've re-laid things out a little bit with an exciting bold headline at the start of each item, which will hopefully make these linkposts a little more readable. Well, more scannable, very probably not more readable - that's impossible! Here we go:

- Bad Day LA Demo: Aeropause has the info on the PC demo of Bad Day LA, noting: "American McGee is back and he is packing his brand new game, Bad Day L.A. You play as a homeless man who must save the city of Los Angeles from horrible zombies and terrorists. Hmmm, sounds familiar. Well now you can get your hands on the demo and give it a whirl." Unfortunately, Edge really didn't like it (4/10), despite the awesome Kozyndan artwork, and McGee seems to have finished working with publisher/developer Enlight on the game already, which doesn't bode well - but go poke anyhow.

- World Of Warcraft Guild Size Musings: The much more 'thinky' than us ThinkingGames has a good post on mooted World Of Warcraft changes, particularly "the recent announcement that Blizzards ‘Burning Crusade’ will limit raid sizes to a maximum of 25 players". It's noted: "Perhaps a smaller limit to raid sizes will force a re-organisation of these social groups, narrowing the gap between hardcore and casual players. There is a counter argument that casual players have difficulty organising themselves and gearing up for even small limit instances." All very confusing, but social dynamics in MMOs are pretty damn interesting.

- Bad Songs In Games: Error Macro has a list of the worst songs ever created for video games, which has a wonderful 'not a top X list' justification: "No "top whatever" here; the Internet has too many of those and the rankings are always arbitrary anyway. The list is, however, divided into three categories. Think of them as the three circles of musical hell." Dante would be proud! Among the reviled - 'The DK Rap' from Donkey Kong 64: "I've actually heard people defend the DK Rap before by saying that it was tongue-in-cheek, and that it wasn't meant to be taken seriously. They act as if this makes it better." Apparently not!

- Blender Physics Games: TIGSource has some useful info on the Blender 3D engine's physics capabilities, noting of a new competition featuring it: "The advantage of using Blender (in addition to the whole it-being-free thing) is that the creator can model, animate and script all within the same package. None of the entrants are particularly great games, but the winner, Club Silo, is the most visually impressive Blender game project to date." Clunky, but interesting.

- Wright, Miyamoto... Burnett?: Clive Thompson's latest Wired News column has an interview with reality TV supremo Mark Burnett about game design, bizarrely enough. '"Nobody talks about it on this level, but that's what I do," said Burnett, nattily dressed in a tieless pinstriped suit. I met him at Trump International Hotel when he came through town to talk about [his new game] Gold Rush. While tweaking Survivor, he closely studied John Nash's game theory in order to better engineer the hysteria and emotional blowouts of each season's finale." We've actually previously covered reality show-related game design, outlined in a neat Skotos.net series, so it's not as crazy as it seems.

- GameTap Impressions GET!: We're not indentured servants of GameTap, honest, but The New Gamer has been trying it out, noting: "I've been skeptical of GameTap ever since it was announced. I just couldn't get over the fact that it was the spawn of the Turner Broadcasting Company." G.Turner then notes: "First impressions of the service? I'm rather taken with it. I expected a junky client that I'd have to fight tooth-and-nail with in order to perform the simplest task. I expected to have gaudy, non-game oriented ads shoved down my throat the entire time. Instead I found a surprisingly engrossing and attractive client (although it did take awhile for it to download and set itself up)." But will he pay money for it, after the trial? Stay tuned for more fun.

- Perplex-ing Board Games: We haven't heard from Eric-Jon since he covered the Perplex City 'event' in SF on Saturday, so we presume that he's been squashed and turned into pigment for the next set of trading cards. In the meantime, Ogre Cave notes that there's a Perplex City board game coming out, which "will feature fairly simple puzzles by PPC standards, Trivial Pursuit-esque gameplay (here's hoping that play on the board gets a little more fun than that), and a $40-esque price tag." What's next - a TV show? Fluffy dice? Cuddly toy?

August 16, 2006

Amount Of Fish In Dreamcast Games Enumerated

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/sonicc.jpg You know, it's on obscuro fansites that some of the most incendiary writing about games really happens - such as The Dreamcast Junkyard, which presents a list of ' Common Themes in Dreamcast-Land' which rounds up all the important Dreamcast game memes.

The best example (also because this is where we are typing from right now!) is San Francisco, described in Dreamcast form thusly: "Ah yes, the city with all those steep roads and palm trees. Firstly, we have the superb Crazy Taxi. Super Runabout, a game that plays very much like Crazy Taxi (only with more modes of transport and lousy controls) is also set there. San Francisco Rush 2049 is set in a futuristic (and somewhat void of human life) version of the place, but is still San fran none the less, and then there’s the first level in Sonic Adventure 2, which was also directly inspired by the city."

There are also _EXACTLY 7_ Dreamcast games with fish in them, and elsewhere, uhm, Michael Jackson makes an appearance ("On the Dreamcast... [Jackson] has popped up a few times in very unexpected places. He first popped up out of nowhere near the end of Space Channel 5, in which you save him from aliens so he can join your posse. In Space Channel 5: Part 2, he is part of your team from the very beginning, and has more of his trademark moves. He also begged Midway to add him to the line up of Ready to Rumble: Round 2, although I can’t really imagine him being all too tough in a real fight, to be honest.") Scaaary.

MMOG Nation: The Appeal of the Unseen

['MMOG Nation' is a regular bi-weekly column by Michael Zenke about current events in the world of Massively Multiplayer Games. This week's column is about player expectations in advance of the launch of a MMOG's launch.]

Pirate Ship Last week, I spent some quality time among my adopted people. While playing videogames may have become an accepted part of American culture in recent years, I've been doing the hard stuff (Hunt the Wumpus, table-top RPGs, even tactical wargames) for a long, long time. Indianapolis, IN was the adopted home of the nerd last week, and along with my hearty band I braved the obstacles of gamer funk and three dollar sodas for the chance to reconnect with my roots. This year, as at the last few Gen Cons, several Massive developers had their wares on display. The Burning Crusade stood cheek-to-jowl with the World of Warcraft CCG in the Upper Deck booth, while Mythic was displaying that title's illegitimate lovechild across the hall.

The MMOG I was really there to see, though, was Pirates of the Burning Sea. Pirates is an upcoming massive title that weighs more on the side of Jack Sparrow than the YoHoHo experience you're hopefully already familiar with. Once the title is out of testing, players will sail the waters of the Caribbean, accomplishing many and sundry nefarious deeds. There are three Old World nations to tweak off, a whole bunch of rum to run, and almost two dozen ships to captain. It's a yarring good time ... but it set me to thinking about the realities of a Massive game pre-launch.

With development times measured in years and half-decades instead of quarters, nothing will break your heart as badly as a crappy Massive game. Today I'm going to be talking about the inflated expectations that long MMOG development times can build, why I think Pirates has fulfilled player expectations, and what future titles can do to ensure that high hopes stay grounded in reality.

(Click through to read the full column!)

Expectation Trauma

As game development schedules and budgets grow, the trauma of failed expectations is becoming more common. Just a few years ago, though, Massive games were the only way you could be sure your hopes would be dashed if the end result didn't measure up. Star Wars Galaxies (SWG) is often trotted out as a prime example of this, and I have to grudgingly raise my hand in the SWG Anonymous support group. SWG was in development for over three years; SOE was still named Verant Interactive when the game's name was announced, if that gives you any perspective. The amount of potential the title had, the extremely long development time, and the rabid Star Wars fanbase made the resounding thud when it hit the pavement that much harder to stomach.

As much a disappointment as SWG is, what really stung for many fans was the four long years of waiting. With such a long time-span to get their hopes up, any title would have had a hard time measuring up. The problem here is not so much with the fans, unfortunately. You can't help but get excited when developers are promising you the world and some cake on the side. Every modern game title has this problem, to a greater or lesser extent. PR firms and marketing people get carried away, and push the developers up front to talk about what they're working on.

Fans and the enthusiast press take their words, usually couched in terms of 'we're not sure this is going to make it into the final game', and spin them into rock-solid promises. Who remembers when Fable was going to be the greatest RPG ever? Or when World of Warcraft was going to have 'Hero' classes and player housing? The same people the marketing folks are trying to get onboard will turn on the game, and quickly, when the feature list is much shorter on release day.

The modern MMOG industry also faces the reality that a game may be worked on for a considerable amount of time before being changed drastically or cancelled. Microsoft's Mythica had a fervent fanbase a few years ago, and the cancellation of the instancing-heavy norse fantasy left a large community with nothing to rally around. Tabula Rasa, too, had begun to attract a good-sized crowd when Garriot and Co. began their drastic revamp of the title. In an industry whose entire purpose is to foster community, the danger is ever-present that the players will feel betrayed or let down by the actions of the developing company.

Drink Up, Me Hearties, Yo Ho

The enthusiastic crowd surrounding Pirates of the Burning Sea, though, seems to have little to worry about. Pirates is a great example of a game that has followed through with its numerous claims. Seeing the demo at Gen Con, the element that came through most strongly was the freshness of the ideas these guys had developed. More than just a checklist of features, Pirates is shaping up to be a truly unique offering in the Massive space. Combat, for example, combines some of the best elements of the real-time and strategic genres. Instead of 'hit A and walk away', a pirate captain will be simultaneously piloting his craft, keeping an eye on the wind, making sure his target is within range, working to keep his target in his firing arc, and trying to stay out of the firing arcs of other ships.

It sounds complicated, but this involved situation manages to be challenging without being confusing. Likewise, the gameworld itself exhibits signs that design goals have been met. Questing and player-run businesses are already in the game, and the folks at Flying Labs' booth were happy to discuss the intricate process by which a port's national allegiance can be overthrown.

The key here is that the developers haven't made any promises they couldn't keep. Pirates has been in development for quite a while, to be sure, but as far as I can recall almost everything they've promised since the game was announced is now there in the Demo to try out.

Keeping it Real

Keeping community expectations realistic is, in my view, the key to making sure there is as little disappointment as possible when the game is finally released. As a comparison let's quickly look at Star Wars Galaxies and City of Heroes as examples of how this can be done correctly, and how this can be done badly.

SWG RiotGalaxies launched, finally, after several release dates were suggested and then missed. A badly restrictive NDA kept Beta players buttoned up until about twenty days before the game launched at retail. Player complaints flowed into the community, but by the time they were allowed to speak openly the discs were already being pressed. Fully community examination of the game effectively didn't happen until everyone was in and breaking things.

The game launched without Mounts, Vehicles, or Player Housing, three features that the community had been assured since almost the first week that the boards were up. An entire class was added to the game mere weeks before launch; Beta tester complaints centered around the fact that they were not, in fact, being allowed to test the game. The launch of Galaxies reflected the entire period of time pre-launch (and many would argue post- as well): lots of big promises with no follow-through.

City of Heroes (CoH), on the other hand, learned its lesson early. While an early version of the game was applauded by fans of the title, developers quickly realized they'd promised too much on an untested concept. So, after announced they would be making massive changes to the game, they shut their traps. Months passed with very little information coming from the Cryptic Studios mouthpieces. While the community waited they theorized and debated; what they did not do was inflate their expectations. When the information did begin to come, the phrasing was not 'this is what we plan to do', it was always 'this is what we have done, it's in the game already'. The NDA on CoH Beta testers was lifted a full seven months before the game was released to retail.

Players inside the Beta, and outside in the community at large, were able to fully examine the state of the game before the company put discs on the shelves. The beta even ended with a surprise: the Rikti invasion. The event, while a little rough around the edges, will probably go down in the annals of MMOG history as one of the most entertaining end-of-Beta moments ever. Right up there with the death of Lord British, the CoH Beta event is still talked about by players to this day; an unpromised event that was simply done, keeping player expectations low and allowing everyone to be pleasantly surprised.

The Best Policy

The combination of honesty and surprise is what future Massive titles should rely on to ensure the loyalty of their community. If you can step onto your boards and say that you have just implemented x, y, and z, the players can move forward knowing they'll see it in the final game. Don't reveal everything, of course; that's why surprise is such an essential element to success. In most Massive games, every last detail is catalogued and indexed. Offering new experiences should be what the genre is about.

The appeal of the unseen is very strong. Gamers become fans very easily: just mention a new style of PvP, or promise an interesting twist on raiding. Despite the temptation, the goal of game developers should be to manage player expectations. Don't promise what you can't deliver. If you can help it, don't promise anything at all: the marketing people may hate it but your players will love you for it. The bottom line is that games live and die on player perceptions. Promise the galaxy, and only deliver the solar system, they'll never let you live it down.

[Michael Zenke is also known as 'Zonk', the current editor of Slashdot Games. He has had the pleasure of writing occasional pieces for sites like Gamasutra and The Escapist. You can read more of Michael's ramblings on Massive games at the MMOG Nation blog. ]

Video Games, Image Problems, La La La

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/head.jpg We know it was a few days ago, but we noticed that we never really highlighted Seth Schiesel's New York Times article on the game biz, which is provocatively titled 'The Video Game Industry Has an Image Problem and Mostly Itself to Blame', and is as close to fiercely opinionated activist talk as you'll ever get from the NYT.

Talking in the context of the Ziff Davis exec summit held last week, Schiesel suggests: "Think about it. If someone asks you what you did this weekend, and you respond, “Ah, I was kind of tired and just hung out at home and watched a bunch of movies,” that’s normal. If you say, “Ah, I was kind of tired and just hung out at home and watched a bunch of sports on TV,” that’s normal. But if you say, “Ah, I was kind of tired and just hung out at home and played a bunch of video games,” that is simply not a normal adult response in most social circles." Is it in Japan, either, though?

He continues: "People in the game industry are fond of blaming the mainstream media for that reality, and it is certainly true that most media outlets treat games as a fringe activity rather than as a dynamic part of the modern entertainment landscape. But in that sense the media is only reflecting broader society’s view of games, at least in this country. As a whole, most game companies do not seem to recognize that rather than whining all the time about how misunderstood it is, the industry itself has the power to change how it is perceived."

Schiesel agrees: "Innovators like Nintendo get it", but I feel pretty underwhelmed by his claims of similar for the comic book industry: "In Japan, by contrast, it is totally normal to see middle-aged businessmen reading graphic novels in public."

Well, I guess, but they're not really 'graphic novels', and I think anyone would be remiss to directly relate this to the suggestion that game companies have in any way majorly misdealt the hand given to them. It was probably a single country-wide success - that of the Famicom/NES - which did most to make games culturally appropriate to a _slightly_ wider demographic in Japan, and casual games and other forces are swiftly bringing games to a higher level in the West. I guess that I broadly agree with Schiesel, but I think he's overplaying _his_ hand in order to make a point.

COLUMN: 'Keyboard Bashing' - Remembering The Fate of Atlantis

Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis['Keyboard Bashing' is a new GameSetWatch column by Tales of a Scorched Earth's Andrew Smale which discusses the history, present and future of PC gaming. This inaugural column looks lovingly at a classic LucasArts title.]

Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis (1992) was the seventh LucasArts game to use the venerable SCUMM engine. It fell in between Ron Gilbert's influential The Secret of Monkey Island (1990) and adventure game fan favorite Sam and Max Hit the Road (1993). It could easily be considered among the hallmarks of adventure gaming, at the peak of LucasArts' influence on the genre.

It is also the best game I have ever played.

I can install it again as if it was the first time, and still get the same enjoyment from it. I can honestly say that it's like watching a favorite movie - but a movie that actually is as good as I remember it - and enjoying every moment spent re-solving the game's challenging but intuitive puzzles and listening to the wonderfully crafted dialogue. I'd even call the whole thing "cinematic."

In game criticism's search to find itself, the term "cinematic" is thrown around quite a bit, as if it was the only way to describe a game's presentation. Combining an appealing visual aesthetic with an engaging storyline keeps the player involved, who will return to the game simply to find out what happens next. As games approach levels of visual realism only dreamed about 10 years ago - with the hardware to produce it seemingly driving the industry - has the definition of "cinematic" changed?

It has, but only unwittingly. Back when there was nothing better to compare to, computer games were often described with the same terms they are now. But looking through my old copies of Computer Gaming World and PC Gamer is downright embarrassing to see what games the descriptor was attached to. A game can be cinematic without obsessing over excessive amounts of visual detail or immaculate sound, because it's about supplying a package.

Take the mask! It's scaring away my best customers.When I first saw Raiders of the Lost Ark as a young lad, I immediately wanted to be an archaeologist. Not because I was interested in history, but because it meant I would get to travel the world searching for ancient artifacts while trying to stay one step ahead of the Bad Guys. The Fate of Atlantis recaptured this feeling. You weren't supposed to be Indy; you were following him on one of his adventures. To this day I am convinced that in the right hands, a film based on this game would feel right at home in the Indiana Jones saga - it is so in touch with the mythos.

While made up of standard adventure fare like navigating dialogue options, puzzles, and the occasional pixel hunt, each are presented to be seamless with the surrounding storyline. The opening scene involves Indy looking through the archives of Barnett College for an Atlantean artifact, which is subsequently stolen by a Nazi spy to set the game's story in motion. What follows is an introductory sequence of sorts, where Indy must get in touch with Sophia Hapgood, an old friend who will aid in the search for the truth about Atlantis. It turns out Atlantis really does exist, and its location is buried in Plato's Lost Dialogue, an ancient text that was thought a hoax. Once the Dialogue is obtained, the game presents the player with some options.

Do you partner with Sophia, and hope that she can provide some valuable insight for the remainder of the adventure? Or do you fly solo, and go against Indiana Jones tradition? Perhaps silly puzzles aren't for you, and the road to Atlantis is paved with blood and lost teeth. Each path touches on key points of the story, but take slightly different routes to get to the Lost City, some of them exposing areas only available in a particular path. Like any adventure game, you can't expect too much freedom, but the presentation of The Fate of Atlantis doesn't allow you to dwell too much on it.

The superb voice acting and the great sense of humor shared by all of LucasArts' early adventure efforts added some depth to the experience. The dialogue feels naturally constructed, and carries over well between cutscenes and when you have the option to choose what to say. The iMUSE system, which was first introduced by the version of the SCUMM engine powering this adventure, controls changes in music when the action on screen changes. The game's artwork is practical for the majority of the game - it's simply recreating the films' familiar time period. The Lost City, once found, is successfully conveyed as an ancient place that was still capable of developing technological marvels. It's all fantasy, but it's completely convincing.

Step onto the machine, Jones.Part of what made LucasArts' classic adventure games so family-friendly is that your character could never die. In The Fate of Atlantis, Indy can die. There are few ways in which this can happen, but they are situations in which death is a perfectly logical outcome. Allowing Indy to mutter "over my dead body" to his Nazi counterpart in one scene results in exactly that. Once inside Atlantis, you have to sneak by the wandering Nazi guards that have control of it. If you walk by them, it triggers a simple fist fighting mini-game that you have to win, or Indy will die. The final confrontation at the heart of Atlantis involves navigating a very intriguing amount of dialogue options, one of them resulting in Indy's death. I really felt like I had outsmarted my adversaries once I beat the game. While not essential to the story, Indy's mortality adds a sense of danger to the adventure. It's not meant to be serious, because we all know the hero isn't supposed to die. It simply mimics the nature of the films.

While the game does not chronicle the hunt for a religious artifact - the basis for every one of the films - there is still something spiritual about the quest. Sophia Hapgood is shown as a performing psychic and renowned authority on Atlantis at the beginning of the game, with her Atlantean necklace clearly her most prized possession. According to her, the necklace allows her to speak with a long dead resident of the Lost City, a talent that ends up providing a bit of assistance along the way. Sophia's belief in the power of the necklace blinds her to the truth of what really went on inside Atlantis; in a crisis of faith she realizes that there was a reason the Atlanteans didn't survive their so-called advanced civilization. Once again we are taught that some things are probably best left undisturbed.

The Fate of Atlantis provides a glimpse of what the marriage of a well-known property and good storytelling can do to a graphical adventure game's overall effectiveness. It is also an excellent example of cinematic presentation, without relying on the ultra-realistic visuals that are expected of games developed in last few years that are so arbitrarily assigned the term. Indeed, The Fate of Atlantis is an adventure game for the ages.

GameSetLinks: From Depression To Eve Elation!

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/darwi.jpg All kinds of fun random links up for GSL today, from the deepest of downs to the highest of highest, so we'd better whip them out for you, eh?:

- NeoGAF Depression GET!: Yes, we all know that NeoGAF is a den of iniquity, but following Microsoft's announcement of user-created Xbox 360 games, there was one particularly depressing reply that's worth pointing to, for its unique mix of truth and cynicism: "As someone who bought the commercial program from Garage Games and have been in the so-called 'indie game community', I can guarentee you that this move will fizzle just like the other proclaimed 'indie game revolutions'. Most indie game makers have no interest in learning the business. They want to make games for themselves. They want to make THEIR 'dream games'. I have no issue with this except watching these guys go through the highs of their 'ideas' and run smack into the wall of reality is pretty funny." And lots more!

- New Escapist Issue: Hey, the latest issue of The Escapist is up, and it's all about Ubisoft! Lots of fun stuff, and it also gets an interview with the previously GSW-featured UK Fragdoll that I Lazywebbed should be interviewed, yay. Here's the full rundown: "Feature contributor Spanner sets out to reveal the secret identity of Ubisoft in “Everywhere and Nowhere.” In “Ubisourcing” Allen Varney looks into outsourcing and how Ubisoft utilizes it more than most. Joe Blancato speaks with a former Frag Doll to find out what it was like, and why she would want to leave in “Frag Doll on Frag Dolls.” Russ Pitts examines the videogames of Tom Clancy and his formula for writing in “Red Storm Writing: The Ghost Writer Behind _Ghost Recon_.” And Jim Rossignol discusses the central character in one of Ubisoft’s more prominent games in “Green-Eyed Grrl.”"

- IGF Australian Exhibit: This will be announced on IGF.com with some nice pictures (hopefully!) in due course, but just wanted to point out to any Australians in the immediate area that the Australian Center For The Moving Image in Melbourne has an Independent Games Festival exhibition running until November which features a lot of the best titles from the 2006 IGF, playable for FREE - there's a fun essay on the IGF. Which quotes me, but don't let that worry you.

- Game Careers Books: Via some random surfing around, spotted a new book, 'Paid To Play', subtitled 'An Insider's Guide to Video Game Careers', and with illustrations by Penny Arcade. It claims: "Currently there are NO OTHER video game career guides with over 100 interviews from current, working game professionals. They are fully candid and give readers an unvarnished look inside the industry. The biggest secret? It's actually work." Out next month? Fun!

- Ewok Developer Blog?!: 1UP has a host of developer weblogs, and the funniest so far is from Wicket W. Warrick, who is plugging the forthcoming LucasArts-published Lego Star Wars II, as follows: "Wicket's friend at LucasArts just let Wicket know that LEGO Star Wars II site finally live! Yubnub! And you know how Wicket's LucasArts friend did it? With this e-mail that has Wicket both excited and a little confused." It then shows a character generator, and we're also a little excited and confused. But not furry.

- Eve Online Love-In: Over at Eurogamer, Jim Rossignol has an excellent interview with the Eve Online chaps talking about their upcoming Kali expansion, though it does expose just a bit how much the man adores Eve: "I began by asking Richardsson how it is that Eve seems to have evolved immeasurably since its launch, and yet manages to keep the core aspects of the game intact. Planetside and Star Wars Galaxies, launched at around the same time, are now comparatively messy affairs, riddled with disparate and ill-conceived elements. Eve meanwhile has carefully constructed a world of vicious PvP combat and intricate trade - ideas that were articulated from the outset and then slowly etched with detail as the game evolved." Still, if you like that type of game, it's totally true!

Zipping Along W/Comiket's Chazmungous Overview

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/higu.jpg There's a whole insane mass of news stories popped up at Insert Credit, partly thanks to our co-worker Brandon being too damn busy to approve stuff at his spare-time gig, but a highlight is Chaz's round-up of Comiket-related PC dojin games.

Some of that dojin stuff is rather smart, and Chaz has a nice overview related to the Tokyo event: "The doujin game scene is mostly fueled with shooting games, fighting games, and fiction such as visual novels and kinetic novels... The doujin market is getting more and more important in Japan and, as a logical consequence, a few circles went professional and a few games crossed the frontier between doujin and regular circulation."

He then busts out the link stick, and we shamelessly borrow it, thanks Chaz!: "Most of the important doujin games are of course released this weekend for Comiket 70, and I invite you to investigate on Tasogare Frontier's Higurashi DayBreak (based on the highly popular horror series Higurashi), Blood -Over-, Record of Rozen War Alibat, Hinokakera (version 2.01 released for C70, trial & video available), Acceleration of Suguri (sequel to the popular Suguri), AiMasu Champ! (more on that one here), the demo of Chantelise+ (by the makers of Gunners Heart) and a new patch for Subtle Style's jawdropping fighting game Akatsuki Denkou Senki." Liiiinks!

August 15, 2006

Letters from the Metaverse: Turning Japanese

[‘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 melee combat games in Second Life.]

It's something to be said for the power of numbers going up that when I logged back into Second Life after filing my last column I couldn't help myself from getting my character to level up one more time before I said goodbye to the island of Navora.

This week I fully intended to check out Numbakulla, a “sophisticated quest sim” in the vein of Riven or Myst, until I got distracted by a flashy video of samurai combat on Wager James Au’s New World Notes. As a person who enjoyed Aquire’s PS2 title Way of the Samurai, this looked promisingly similar.


Samurai Island is split up into two sections – a facsimile Edo-period Japanese town, which takes up most of the island, and small walled off area, Combat Samurai Island, where the game takes place.

2006_08_15_adult.jpgSamurai Island has to be one of the most beautiful areas in Second Life I’ve visited, with great colors, textures, and a cohesive theme. It also manages to load fast enough that blurry or missing textures don’t break the illusion too fast. What does break the illusion, of course, is the fact that like everywhere else in Second Life that’s rated mature, it’s full of sex shops. It does include a kind I’d never seen or paid attention to before – porn video stores.

This is a digression, but it’s actually a clever idea. The videos are probably cheap at $300 Linden for a day’s rental, and I can see people, or more accurately, the perverts of Second Life, stumping up the cash for this. They even had Debbie Does Dallas!

I wonder, do the adult movie studios have a Second Life presence? Can you rent videos that aren’t porn in other stores? Both, I imagine, are also good ideas.

2006_08_15_fight.jpgMoving on, however. If you walk into the combat area, you can pick up a bokken – a wooden practice sword, which allows you to see the HUD, practice blocking, and perform one attack.

It’s a nice freebie, but is limited to the point of uselessness if you want to actually spar with someone. If you decide you really want to play, you have to run off to find the one very small store at the back of the island that sells “real” swords, that come in at the not to be sniffed at price of $800 Linden, which is nearly $4!

Yikes! You might be saying, but on the Gamesetwatch expense account it goes, and Seven Kikuchiyo was standing tall with his very own blade, featuring 15 different animations/attacks and an inventory system.

Surprisingly, once you’ve got a fully working sword, it really does play a lot like the aforementioned Way of the Samurai, with the addition of a little lag and Second Life’s ridiculously unsuitable movement controls. Sparring mostly takes the form of slow battles featuring a lot of blocking, with both combatants taking their time to look for an opening to make their decisive strike, though it can get a bit scrappy at points due to lag.

2006_08_15_hud.jpgScrappy as it is, it’s very playable, and much more immediate and better integrated with Second Life than, say, Dark Life, featuring as it does a HUD and an inventory system. Sadly, of course, once you’ve learned how to fight, there really isn’t anything to do other than smash boxes and fight practice dummies unless there are other players interested in sparring, and that can be a really limiting factor.

It’s probably not the intention of the designers, but if Combat Samurai Island was expanded into a fuller RPG experience, it’s something I could imagine returning to repeatedly. As it is, yet again something full of promise in Second Life is little more than a fun , though pricey, diversion.

[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, Game Reactor (translated into Danish!), and Eurogamer.]

Aly & AJ Get All Simlish For The Sims 2: Pets

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/alyaj.jpg We already know about EA's bizarre habit of getting famous pop/rockstars to sing in fictional Sims language Simlish, thanks to The Black-Eyed Peas and, more recently, a bizarre episode from Depeche Mode, turning 'Suffer Well' into well-intentioned gibberish.

This time, it's teen pop 'sensations' Aly & AJ (no, me neither!) who are doing it, and MTV News' Stephen Totilo, clearly a teenybopper himself, explains in the subhead: "Pop sisters already knew how to speak video game language before being approached for translated 'Chemicals React.'" Apparently, the Simlish version, which MTV News has a video excerpt from, is to promote "The Sims 2: Pets", which debuts in October.

Aly commented to Monsieur Totilo: '"AJ and I are huge 'Sims' fans. When we were asked to sing the song for the 'Pets' version, we were totally stoked." Their secret weapon? "We already knew how to speak Simlish."... The girls explained that carefully listening to the "Sims" games of old had put them in a good spot by the time EA approached them to sing in a non-native tongue. "They do speak it on the actual CD-ROM [of the game]," AJ said. "If you listen closely you can figure out, 'Oh, "chemicals" would be this.' OK, this is 'chobe and ashashnah.' " (The spellchecker is once again weeping.)" Yay!

Edge Bomber Gets Haptical, Tactical

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/edgeb.jpg Just checked out the official website of 'Edge Bomber', which is "an interactive installation / a 'Pervasive Game'" created by a group of German developers that seems particularly good fun.

It's explained: "The player uses tape, stickers and scissors to create his own playground on a wall; the system grabs the scenery and creates a virtual level for our jump-n-run video game based on our game-engine "Z100". The grabbed playground is extended with items and enemies and is projected back to the original scenery. Thus a mixed media / augmented reality level is created, where our hero "ozkar" has to resist the attacks of hubert and the evil flying sausage."

There's a very neat video which shows the concept in action - somewhat like a Kirby/Yoshi-like DS title with regard to drawing on the screen, only using tape in real life!

Also, creator Susigames has an English-language projects page which reveals another recent subject, a Symbian game called, in SPECTACULARLY unfortunate fashion, '5 Glory Holes'. It's nothing to do with that - "you have to smack down as many opponents as possible for every single level" in a Whac-A-Mole stylee. Stop giggling at the back!

COLUMN: 'Parallax Memories' - Castlevania: Bloodlines

The Not as Great USA cover art['Parallax Memories' is a regular weekly column by Matthew Williamson, profiling classic '16-bit' games from the Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo, and other seminal '90s systems. This week's column profiles Konami’s 1994 game: Castlevania Bloodlines]

In the Family

The Genesis Castlevania is called Bloodlines. If you had a Mega Drive it would have been called either The New Generation (PAL) or Vampire Killer (JPN). The game is Konami’s only Castlevania title for a Sega console, and was their most original up to that time. Because the game was designed on a secondary console, Konami’s designers let their hair down and changed the standard platform-jumping, vampire-slaying, and black-and-white-horror-film formula.

Bloodlines’ story attempts to bridge a gap in the canon. Where the series previously had only a loose connection to the novel by Bram Stoker, there is now a direct connection with Dracula. The game has two selectable characters: John Morris, wielder of the Vampire Killer whip; and Eric Lecarde, wielder of the Alucarde Spear. If you are unfamiliar with the novel, Quincy Morris is the American who helps Van Helsing defeat Dracula and is killed by Gypsies during the final confrontation in Transylvania. John is the son of Quincy and a descendant of the Belmont family, and he keeps the bloodline going as owner of the Vampire Killer. Eric is his friend who seeks revenge for the death of his girlfriend. The Countess Elizabeth Bartley wants to resurrect her uncle, Dracula, and in her attempt starts World War I. (Yes, Castlevania: Bloodlines has World War I skeletons with helmets—let’s just get that out of the way.) Eric and John travel Europe to defeat her before she can resurrect Dracula.

Skeletons!European Vacation

I know that is more background than I normally give, but for a Castlevania game it’s quite unique. Many Castlevanias retell the first game, and few are set outside of Dracula’s castle. But almost all of Bloodlines takes place outside of the castle and its estate, and the level variation sets Bloodlines apart. It was one of the last action-style Castlevanias (before they became Metroidvanias), and Konami expanded greatly on what had been considered a stale formula. The levels range from an homage to the original title to a trip up the slanted Leaning Tower of Pisa. Some levels also have slight variations depending on which character you have chosen.

The largest difference from previous games is Eric Lecarde, the Spear toting sidekick. Eric is implemented very well, and makes the game both easier and slightly more challenging. His spear attack is versatile, fast, and accurate, making enemy disposal fluid and painless. In contrast, John’s whip is still the same as in previous incarnations—slow and plodding.

Bloody FranceIgavania

Bloodlines was the goriest game in the series at that time. When you whip a zombie, his upper torso is knocked off and his lower torso falls over, spilling his blood and guts. Killing a crow will leave it twitching on the ground before it disappears. The Hellhound sub-boss explodes sending blood, flesh, and gore flying everywhere. And this is only the first level. Unfortunately, if you played the European version of the game, you probably don't remember it this way. The PAL version is heavily censored, the zombies are green, there is less gore, and the pool of blood in the intro screen was changed to a pool of water.

Bloodlines symbolized change for Castlevania. Almost every aspect of the series was changed while preserving the mechanics and horror-movie feel. Three years later, two-dimensional Castlevania got another overhaul with Symphony of the Night, which was then carried on to the Gameboy Advance and into the Nintendo DS, by Koji Igarashi, the current caretaker of the series. Igarashi's next game will be a sequel to Castlevania: Bloodlines. Perhaps this means Castlevania is in need of a change once again.

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

COMIC: 'Our Blazing Destiny' - Welcome to the PokéOffice

[Our Blazing Destiny is a weekly comic by Jonathan "Persona" Kim about our society, cultural postdialectic theory, and video games. And more drama within the office of Silph Co.]

This week, Persona comments tragically (also, note, this comic is SLIGHTLY NSFW due to swearing fun and bizarre smuttiness!): "My plan to turn this comic into an all Sega comic has failed. Woe! Also, my last few comics have been drawn on an LCD monitor and I'm really noticing that it's ruining the colors on other screens. I'll return to a CRT for the next comic!"

Ash is an innocent boy despite looking at Poképorn just a comic ago!

[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, Mecha Fetus. Hm!

Boom! Boom! Driller! Attacks Our Hearts

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/booom.jpg Over at the Indie Gamer forums, there's a fun post showcasing Boom! Boom! Driller!, whose official site reveals that it's yet another of the wacky Scandinavian games showcased in the Assembly '06 game competition.

The author, Sol_HSA, explains of the title: "The game is a 2d explosive drill-mining game in the feel of lemmings or worms. Kind of... As an additional twist, I decided to add a indie music soundtrack, and managed to sign on four bands, making this game (as far as I know anyway) the world's first freely distributable game with licensed music, and also such a game with the best soundtrack ever :)"

Commenter 'whisperstorm' seems to like it, noting: "This reminds me of that hell of sand java game. The music rocks and the gameplay is great! You should make a sequel with more kinds of traps, explosions, etc." Also, we want a puppy! But the game is indeed pretty neat, as far as we can tell - go check it?

August 14, 2006

GameSetLinks: From Sega To Kiddie Loco

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/lrlrlrjpg All kinds of madness has invaded our minds on this fair Monday, although our main concern in live is whether there's going to be an Xbox Live Arcade game released this Wednesday - yes, we've seen the list, but is it actually true?

Meanwhile, there's this:

- We forgot about Segagaga Domain for a while, but in checking out this retro Sega paradise again, we note all kinds of fun scans and updates - or at least, fun if you want to find out about the Japanese DC version of NFL 2K1, for which "Sega released this and NBA2K1 in a special pack containing a in-depth rule book". Oh, and the Retro Core web video show is good stuff, too.

- We Make Money Not Art has more information on the 'SIMVeillance' art project at San Jose's ZeroOne Festival: "SIMVeillance: San Jose, by Katherine Isbister and Rainey Straus in collaboration with SIM consultant Chelsea Hash, uses surveillance cameras and the video game The Sims 2 to re-present passersby within a game environment that mirrors a "real life" public space: the Fairmont Plaza in downtown San Jose." GDC attendees will know the area well!

- The2Bears has a write-up on an awesome-looking new PC dojin shmup, as follows: "ourtesy of Danmaku Gata comes the news today of a new release by Hikoza’n-CHI X. Hikoza, developer of Warning Forever and Shooter’s Solitude, now gives us the mouse driven game Ray-Hound, coinciding with Comiket." Must get!

- Alice's Wonderland Blog has info on 3D printed World Of Warcraft avatars - this is a claimed feature for Spore, too, right? Alice moons happily: "Won't it be fantastic when you can print out and collect avatars as souvenirs of your gaming experience? I'd love to have a shelf load of avatars - Quake marine alice, Star Wars Galaxies alice, WoW alice(s), Second Life alice, Halo alice ... talk about memories ..."

- The 'From Sun Tzu to Xbox' war and games blog has some enchantingly jingoistic America's Army fan wallpapers posted - we like the one that says 'America's Army - Bad Boys - Together We Stand, An Army Of One', but you may also enjoy the one that looks like a GoldenEye loading screen. Any way up, they're there, and they exist, so there.

- Dean Takahashi at the Merc News got his 9-year-old daughter to review Loco Roco, as follows: "This game is for younger kids such as five- or six-year-olds. Older kids might not like it. The music is for two- or three-year-olds. It gets annoying with the baby singing. If you beat the level, you get a prize. I haven't beaten the whole level yet so I don't know what the prize is. I'd give this game a one out of four star rating." Youch - apparently Japan is similarly dismissive, though my money is on it doing reasonably well in the States.

- UK Resistance is making fun of IGN's UK operations announcement news post, and rightly so. Cmdr Zorg, attempting to whittle away the few friends he still has in the biz, insists: "It makes Gamesradar look good", also, haw. As someone who appears to be British and also appears to live in America, I concur - either you do properly separate European sites and MAKE SOME EFFORT (yay, Eurogamer!), or you go home.

Enough of this dodgy semi-integration of UK and US editorial, which makes almost no sense given the worldwide nature of most games, and is just to have a reason to redirect all European traffic to new ad servers so you can sell them to UK publishers. [But I guess IGN UK could 'rock the bells', having said that, tragic opening announcements notwithstanding. I'm just opposed because the reasoning behind opening it is Machiavellian, rather than editorially-led.]

- We've just mentioned this over at Gamasutra too, but GameSpot have spotted a new EA compilation for PSP that compiles a bunch of SNES and Genesis EA titles, as follows: "B.O.B.--1993--SNES and Genesis; Budokan--1990--Genesis
Desert Strike--1993--SNES and Genesis; Jungle Strike--1993--SNES and Genesis; Haunting Starring; Polterguy--1993--Genesis; Mutant League Football--1993--Genesis; Road Rash--1992--Genesis, later on 3DO; Road Rash II--1993--Genesis; Road Rash III--1995--Genesis; Syndicate--1995--SNES, 3DO, Jaguar; Ultima: The Black Gate--1994--SNES; Virtual Pinball--1993--Genesis; Wing Commander--1993--SNES; Wing Commander: The Secret Missions--1993--SNES." A pretty odd lot, but presumably they're using a Genesis emulator for most of this, and hey, beats a kick in the teeth, huh?

GameSetCompetition Reminder: Dead Rising

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/drdrd.jpg There's no time like the present for a GameSetCompetition Reminder, since our compo deadline for Dead Rising, the zombie-tastic mall-carnage-y Xbox 360 exclusive is Wednesday, August 16th at 12 noon PST

As previously mentioned, we have 5 copies of the game and 3 Dead Rising T-shirts to give away - the first 3 winners will get both the game and the T-shirt, and the next two get the game - rawk! Again, here's the question:

"In the zombie-docious movie 'Shaun Of The Dead', which Prince album _is_ considered of sufficiently bad quality to be thrown at the heads of the rapidly approaching undead?"

Please send your answers to [email protected] any time before Wednesday, August 16th at 12 noon PST. There will be five winners randomly picked from the correct answers, the judges' decision is final, and that's that. Have fun!

Parappa Artist Gets Arizona Solo Show

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/greenbl.jpg We at GSW are big fans of New York artist and Parappa co-creator Rodney Alan Greenblat - sister site Gamasutra did a pretty canonical interview with him last year about his work on the Parappa/Lammy games - and now we see he's emailed us with a new gallery show he's putting on.

Greenblat unfortunately seems like he won't be doing any more game work ("I basically decided to retire from games after the [Parappa Japanese animated] television show... For the past two years I've just been doing paintings and sculptures, redeveloping my art and ideas", he told Gama last year), and his recent exhibits have tended toward the abstract, with his new Arizona exhibition, "at Gallery Centella in Tucson Arizona, opening Friday September 15th", showcasing that further.

Further notes on the exhibit are as follows: "Rodney Alan Greenblat - "Universe" - September 15 - October 21 2006. Opening reception Friday September 15, 5-8pm. Gallery tour by the artist: Sunday September 17, 2-4pm." We especially like the 'Moon Robin' sculpture and the completely awesome 'Comet' ornament, but all of them are wonderful.

[Parappa fans jones-ing for a less abstract fix should go check out the limited-edition Um Jammer Lammy postcards, which are probably a bit cheaper than the original art.]

XYZRGB, Final Fantasy, Holography Technology?

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/holo.jpg This is somewhat, though not spectacularly game-related, but all kinds of cool - Mark DeLoura points out what "looks like a full-color hologram on a roll-up translucent film" - here's the page, showcasing Final Fantasy: Advent Children animation on a sheet of film, with LOTS more animation frames than we're used to from this kind of optical effect.

There are even better examples in the same directory - a soccer player and a Terminator II cyborg head mounted on a board, and a little poking around reveals the XYZ Imaging website, advertising "the world’s first holographic printing bureau capable of creating production ready multi-resolution, full color, reflective holograms from pure digital media."

Interestingly, this is a company recently acquired by XYZ RGB, a firm that's used extensively by the video game and film industries for super-high-res scanning, so one wonders if there will ever be any gaming crossover - would it be possible to get a screen to reproduce these effects? In the meantime, you can order your own holographic poster based on your own image via the site - with prices up to $3300, and the rendering needing to be done yourself. Anyone gonna try it?

Don't Mess With Screech's PSP Games!

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/ddiam.jpg Since it's important to cover only breaking news of paramount importance to the game biz on GSW - we spotted that Dustin Diamond almost got mugged for his PSP games - by a female fan, no less - in Omaha, Nebraska last week.

It's explained breathlessly by E!: "Dustin Diamond, the irrepressible Samuel "Screech" Powers of Saved by the Bell fame... says the unidentified fan attended his sold-out Sunday night gig and, in the wee hours of Monday, accosted him at his hotel room before trying to make off with his precious PSP videogames."

Apparently, she may have been trying to steal his gig money, and "...then, he said, "she grabs my PlayStation Portable games, said, "This will have to do," and goes running out the door. "I'm a big gamer and you don't mess with the D-man's videogames," he said." Thus, a scuffle, and then the police, and OH MY. No charges were pressed. What PSP games is Dustin into, though? Ape Escape? Lumines? I think we should be told. [EDIT: Eek, I'm informed that I used almost the same headline as IGN. Is there something I can take for that?]

August 13, 2006

You Gotta Gotta Do The Donkey Kong!

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/dothedk.jpg Matt at Press The Buttons has a little news story up pointing to Chris Kohler's 1UP article on Donkey Kong, which is rather excellent in itself.

But super duper duper excellent is PTB's pointer to a YouTube vid of early '80s show 'LiveWire', which features a concerned PTA member talking about the danger of arcade games putting your kids into massive debt (not sure the term 'Shylock' is actually allowed nowadays!), before, OH JOY, Buckner and Garcia pop up at about 5 minutes and 40 seconds into the clip, in order to rock out to 'Do The Donkey Kong'. Absolutely awesome.

Of course, there's another clip which starts with Buckner & Garcia (or is that Luke Smith on the mic? We reckon so!) rocking out to 'Pac-Man Fever'. Seriously, next time anyone has a corporate party with a sensible budget (which Sony would have, next E3, but OH WELL), hire Buckner & Garcia - we'll be all over it.

GameSetLinks: Have You Seen Your N.O.B.?

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/nob.jpg Dude, it's totally Sunday, which means it's totally time to take a wander around the blogosphere and come up with a whole bunch of fun, random links, including inevitable 3DO references up front, of course:

- Continuing our proud tradition of linking 3DO Kids, he's now posted about an obscure Sanyo title for 3DO called N.O.B., or 'Neo-Organic Bio-Form'. As he lovingly explains: "It was so big and shiny. I just had to pop it in and let it spin around. When it came up it was so big and impressive to begin with. And it was so hard too! I kept playing with it and playing with it and it just got harder and harder. Until I had to eject it." Oh dear. Anyhow, it's terrible, and you should read about it.

- 3PointD.com has pointed out that "Virtual-world services company Rivers Run Red is busy these days. Having recently announced they’d be bringing hit pop band Duran Duran to the virtual world of Second Life, the news is now that they’re bringing the metaverse back home, so to speak, by working with publisher Penguin to create a virtual version of Neal Stephenson’s sci-fi novel, Snow Crash, to be distributed in Second Life, a world largely inspired by the book." Is this cool? I'm starting to get a bit Second Life-d out, to be honest.

- Over at Broken Toys, Scott J. has rounded up the new World Of Warcraft interviews released on Friday night to collective wibbling from about 6 million WoW players. He notes: "Interestingly, although perhaps expectedly (is that a real word?), both interviews concentrate less on new content from the upcoming expansion than in news of interest to the millions of people hanging on word from WoW’s live team." And then explains it all, and it's a bit complicated, but "limiting expansion raids to 25 people" seems to be the most controversial. Have at it!

- Following controversy over a Geometry Wars clone being 'cease and desisted' (or, rather, getting a polite pre-C&D letter) from Bizarre Creations, Indy Gamer has compiled a big list of Geometry Wars clones for PC - v.useful. He notes: "Why did Bizarre Creations stop at one when there are at least ten other efforts probably infringing on their rights? It was never clarified properly as to which of GridWars designs were similar, since all the games mentioned in this article also bears some semblance to Geometry Wars." Well, now they have all the URLs in one handy place, doh!

- Planet GameCube has reviewed Cooking Mama, which will be released in the States by Majesco later this year, and explain the gameplay handily: "Actually making the dish is split up into multiple mini-games, all of which are very WarioWare-ish in nature. Using only the stylus, you’re required to complete tasks like cracking an egg over a bowl, stirring a pot, or moving the temperature slide on a stove to prevent your meal from over-heating." However, it's noted: "My main complaint about Cooking Mama is that, while the mini-games are fun at first, they’re used pretty frequently, and sometimes it’ll seem like you’re just making a different meal in a jumbled order."

- Finally, Armchair Arcade has a longish article about 'Revisiting SSI's Legendary Gold Box Games'. I never really played these, but I know that ".... It’s hard to exaggerate the kind of nostalgic reverie that these words are able to evoke in true fans of SSI’s legendary computer role-playing games (CRPGs)." In other words - instant fap time for some, quizzical looks for others - and I presume that the titles are kinda hardcore for today's market, but boy, a lot of people still love 'em.

Stross Asks: Gary Gygax, World Dictator?

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/stross.jpg Here's another interesting post from elsewhere in the blogosphere, from science fiction writer Charlie Stross, in which he suggests that the rise of gaming has all kinds of social ripples that perhaps many aren't thinking about.

Stross starts by noting: "Sad to say, the political landscape of the early to mid 21st century has already been designed -- by Gary Gygax, inventor of Dungeons and Dragons. Gary didn't realize it (D&D predates personal computing) but his somewhat addictive game transferred onto computers quite early (see also: Nethack). And then gamers demanded -- and got, as graphics horsepower arrived -- graphical versions of same... Which leads me to the key insight that: our first commercially viable multi-user virtual reality environments have been designed (and implicitly legislated) to emulate pencil-and-paper high fantasy role playing games." Sounds right!

Oddly enough, this overlaps somewhat with the recent GSW post in which I discussed how the oldest of oldskool Western RPGs influenced Japanese ones more than we might think. Anyhow, Stross is particularly interesting when he says: "An environment developed implicitly for gaming/playing, then re-purposed for acting/doing in real life, offers all sorts of interesting possibilities for behavioural traps equivalent to not understanding that location bar at the top of the browser window."

Like what? "The two general failure modes will be: (a) thinking that something is a game, when in actual fact it isn't, and (b) thinking something is real when it's just a simulation. These will also interact with a population who take longer to reach "traditional" adulthood (if they ever do so), and who therefore may engage in game-play or learning oriented behaviour inappropriately." Uhoh, Blizzard, now everyone is a perpetual kiddie, thanks to you!

IGF Main Competition Deadline - A Reminder!

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/igf2k7.gif As some of you may recall, as well as running GSW, Game Developer, Gamasutra, and balancing plates on my nose, I'm the Chairman of the Independent Games Festival, which is in its ninth year - and I'm trying to get the word out early this year about the first deadline.

As we explain on the official website: "The IGF Main Competition, a resounding success in 2006, has received a few minor tweaks (slight category name changes, a demo is mandatory to enter the Audience Award if a finalist), but continues with the $20,000 Seumas McNally Grand Prize, and multiple $2,500 awards for innovative design, audio, technical, art, and best web game. We're really looking forward to your entries, and the deadline this year is September 8, 2006 at 11:59pm PDT." Which isn't really _that_ far away, y'know?

We already have a few really sharp entries this year, and welcome a plethora of indie games into the IGF, if you guys are up for entering - from the quirkiest freeware PC titles, through shareware, downloadable, and even niche retail titles - any of you indie XBLA titles up for entering, too? We'd also love to see more web browser gamers entered this year, following the triumphant win of Fulp and Paladin's Dad 'N Me in the inaugural Best Web Game compo.

In addition, we have a Mod Competition deadline on October 13, 2006 - after a succesful first year, it's "...going even more freeform this year, and allowing mods from any game to compete - from Thief to Half-Life 2 to Oblivion to The Sims and beyond, all mods are eligible." Let's get some really obscure and cool stuff entered, huh? Also, the always popular Student Showcase has entries due November 10, 2006, and even has a Best Student Game category this year - so don't delay, enter today! We'll remind again before the first deadline.

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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