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Archive For August, 2006

Stonewall Penitentiary Leaps Into 3D

August 30, 2006 8:02 AM |

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Jozef Purdes, late of the Independent Adventuring blog, and DIY Games before that, will be writing a column for us on graphical/text adventures in the future - but in the meantime, he'll pop up from time to time with well-informed posts on adventure games such as this one!]

Christopher Brendel, the maker of Lifestream and Shady Brook, has recently announced a delay in his new game, Stonewall Penitentiary. Aside of the fact that independent games are not often delayed (actually, they may be, but since most of them have a “When it’s done” release date, nobody notices), it was surprising to learn the reason for the delay: a switch from 2D to 3D.

2D and 3D are very vague concepts in adventure gaming, and some – including me – don’t fully agree with Brendel’s definition of the terms. Originally, the game was designed to support a first-person view. To move around, you used the arrow keys or clicked with your mouse when the cursor changed into a directional arrow. The scene was redrawn, and you suddenly found yourself elsewhere. This interface was used in the author’s previous two games, as well as such independent adventures like Dark Fall and the Delaware St. John series. Brendel considers this to be a 2D view.

After applying the new 3D engine, the player will be able to move freely around the environment, also in a first-person look. This interface is typical for modern first-person shooters, and it combines mouse and keyboard controls. I personally would call both views 3D or - more appropriately - first-person, and leave the number of dimensions out. But that’s just me; I considered Dungeon Master and Eye of the Beholder to be 3D as well…

Brendel paid close attention to alleviating adventure gamers’ biggest fear: that with the change of the interface he’d also introduce action elements. There are still plenty of adventure gamers, such as me, who prefer solving complex mathematical puzzles involving Base-4 and Base-12 alien numerical systems to fighting a dragon in a real-time sequence. The author also wrote that he didn’t feel the game felt right with the old interface. This is an author’s prerogative, and I fully respect it.

The announcement provoked some interesting reactions. The loudest response was a complaint about using both hands to play an adventure game. I feel the pain, too. Being able to eat a hotdog or hold a glass of beer while attaching cat hair to my character’s face in a game is vastly superior to a seamless first-person world. Others compared the new interface to that used in Dreamfall, and this was reason enough for them to reject the game. On the other hand, the ability to fully explore the environment was listed as a positive element.

I personally see the new interface as a mixed blessing. I don’t mind involving both of my hands in controlling the game. However, I am afraid the game’s graphical presentation will suffer. Using a seamless view means no hand-drawn backgrounds. Typically, this view requires computer-generated textures, even though hand-drawn (and repetitive) textures are also common. Still, keeping to reasonable hardware requirements may force the author to design objects and backgrounds to appear very flat and unrealistic. The good news is, as was mentioned by others, that this interface would allow players to explore the environment in a much larger detail. Considering that the game takes place in a prison, I can already imagine finding important clues and items under the bed or on the back side of a poster. That is, of course, as long as the author decides to remain family friendly and doesn’t hide these items in the prisoners’ orifices.

College Girls Need Love, Too

August 30, 2006 4:02 AM | Simon Carless

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/college.jpg It pleases us greatly that sarcastic cellphone game site QuicklyBored exists, having only found out about it recently, and we noted with interest their NSFW review of 'College Girls', a terrible chauvinistic mobile game we covered back in January.

To explain again: "The point of the game is to walk around trying to have sex with girls and learn new positions. If you learn 20 positions you become a “good lover.” In order to get a girl in bed you have to make contact with them. Once you’ve made contact, a status bar comes up and if you do it repeatedly, then your status bar will fill. I guess this is supposed to simulate the necessary dialogue needed to get a girl to sleep with you. At this point it becomes obvious that you’re playing a game developed by nerds who have never slept with a girl before."

But here's the best bit: "You have to say about three words to the girl and then she gives you the option to sleep with her. If you have some protection then you can follow her to her room and proceed to do the humana-humana. Sometimes you have to bring her a present, like a Bryan Adams disc set (no joke)." Wait, so it's _actually_ and specifically Bryan Adams? Wow. Also, that's not how we spell humana. Maybe that's just us.

[If you want to know what a sarcastic cellphone game site actually digs, in an unrelated review, QB raves about Time Crisis 3D, believe it or not, explaining: "Time Crisis 3D has the innovative user interface that we’ve been looking for. The screen is divided into 9 squares that correspond to the number pad on the phone. When an enemy appears in one of these quadrants, pressing the corresponding button will automatically shoot them." Neat idea!]

GameSetInterview: Twin Galaxies' Walter Day

August 30, 2006 12:14 AM |

walter_day3.jpg Walter Day has been running Twin Galaxies since mid-1981. On the 9th of February the next year, Day launched the Twin Galaxies National Scoreboard – a collection of gaming records gathered by Day from over 100 arcades over a period of 4 months. Twin Galaxies quickly became acknowledged as the world authority on game scores. The next year, on January 9th, in conjunction with ABC-TV, Twin Galaxies held the world’s first videogame championship in Day’s arcade in Ottumwa, Iowa. Following this, he put together, and captained, the US National Video Game Team, who challenged Italy and Japan, and toured Europe.

Day was also contacted by the Guinness Book of World Records to work as assistant-editor of the videogame scores section of the 1984-1986 editions. By 1985, Day and Twin Galaxies had been featured in LIFE magazine, Marvel Comics, the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Stern Magazine, the Washington Post and had nearly 100 TV appearances.

In 1998, Twin Galaxies released the first edition of the Twin Galaxies' Official Video Game & Pinball Book of World Records - a 984 page compilation of 12,416 records dating back to 1981. For their 25th year, they plan to release the second edition, a three-volume set, which will feature console and PC gaming. Twin Galaxies also continues to contribute to the Guinness Book of World Records, with 68 records in the book’s new videogame section.

GameSetWatch spoke to Walter Day via email about the history of Twin Galaxies, and what it represents now.

How did you become interested in videogames?

I was an oil broker in 1980 and I began work on a book called Day’s Who’s Who in the Petroleum Industry. After some weeks working on biographies, my partner said: “I can't work anymore on this stuff, I have to go play Space Invaders.”
So, of course, I had no idea what Space Invaders was so he took me along to a major arcade in Houston, TX, where I became addicted to Space Invaders. Then, I became addicted to Pac-Man and then Centipede. Today, I don’t play because Twin Galaxies takes up all my time.

What are your favourite games?

The three mentioned above plus Galaxian, Make Trax, Crazy Taxi and Tutankham.

Have you ever been tempted to try for a record of your own?

I once held the world record on Make Trax, back in 1982.

Your site says of the scoreboards beginnings that "Day's real passion was to visit as many video game arcades as possible and record the high scores he found on each game" - what started your passion for recording game scores?

I was fascinated with the pursuit of excellence, as manifested in the video game player. I wanted to excel. So, to do this, I sought out the best of the best players to learn their tricks. This was the birth of the scoreboard.

What was it like to be recognised as the worldwide "official" record keepers of scores back in the early days, and how does it feel for that to have continued?

It was overwhelming in the beginning because I would be interviewed everyday from some city around the world. Everybody was going for records back then. It was a very big deal. Now, it’s more quiet and easier to handle. But still very popular.

Are there any records that stand out as particularly impressive for you?

Nobody will ever beat the records on the classic Pole Position [67,310 posted by Les Lagier on the 11th of June, 2004] or Crystal Castles [910,722 posted by Frank Seay on the same date]; they may actually be maxed out.

How were the early days of Twin Galaxies different to now?

I can breathe now, not as much pressure.

Do you feel like you played a part in bringing gaming into the professional arena?

The entire Twin Galaxies family of players and referees are responsible for planting a seed that is now coming to fruition everywhere. Many leagues, many contests, many champions – they all had their spiritual roots in what Twin Galaxies started 25 years ago.

How do you feel about gaming these days, as opposed to when you began?

It’s getting exciting. There wasn’t money available back then. The modern prize structure is making the activity become a legitimate sport.

How do you feel about emulator, or tool assisted, speedruns?

Emulators are fine. They are not mixed with original game systems, however: treated as separate. Speed-runs have breathed life back into games that had faded from the public eye.

Where do you see professional gaming going in the next five years?

Many, many leagues. Many, many contests. And a return to high-score based games in a big way.

Finally, what can we expect from the new edition of Twin Galaxies' Official Video Game & Pinball Book of World Records?

The book is so big that it is splitting into 3 companion volumes, each being 740-pages in length. The volumes are:

1. Arcade
2. Console
3. PC-Gaming

Chinese MMO Valentines, Allakhazam Distancing

August 29, 2006 8:10 PM | Simon Carless

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/vday.jpg A couple of neat China-related things I'm gonna smoosh into one post, so there. Firstly, sister site Gamasutra recently debuted a new column named 'The China Angle', which is written by the excellent Shang Koo from Pacific Epoch, and is probably the finest English-language column on the Chinese game market (in a rather small field, but nonetheless!)

Anyhow, the second column is up, and is fascinating because it deals with Chinese MMO companies making money via the third Valentine's Day this year (!) in China: "Activities for this week include special Valentine's Day quests, virtual roses and presents, and in-game weddings... Virtual weddings are cash cows for online game companies. The wedding itself can take several hours, making it the perfect activity for China's predominantly pay by the hour online game industry. Many companies also charge for virtual wedding dresses and flowers." Wow.

Though this would probably make more sense as a Gamasutra follow-up, there's nowhere sensible to put it - so on GSW it will go! After our recent article on IGE, who are China-sourcing item/gold traders of some repute, the owner of Allakhazam.com has chimed in on his website's relation to IGE, given that as item-sellers, IGE are reviled by a lot of his readership:

"Maybe it is just semantics, but I don't consider us owned by IGE. The initial sale of the company was done through IGE, but it was done as part of a larger deal that included a large influx of cash from a group of prominant institutional investors, which was meant to form a new, larger and more diverse corporation with zam as one of several divisions... The sale took place 6 months ago and I can say uncategorically that not one time has anyone dictated to me what to do with the new network. I have had 100% autonomy in every decision regarding Zam.com." Interesting!

The Office Cellphone Game Gets Tanned

August 29, 2006 4:00 PM | Simon Carless

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/officegames.jpg We only reprint, as you know, the most important stuff here, so here goes: "NBC’s the Office brought home the coveted “Best Comedy Series” award at last night’s Emmy Awards. The drinks and short-codes flowed at the official “Office” after-party—where guests were treated to complementary downloads of NBC’s the Office Games mobile phone game."

There's more: "Stylish cigarette girls demoed the 6 mini-games and distributed downloads. NBC’s the Office Games is available on Verizon, Cingular & Amp’d Mobile and will be coming to T-Mobile & Sprint in September. The mini-games include, Waste-paper basket ball, Paper football, Chair races, Stack-o-files, Office golf and Paper war—everything you’d expect from a game inspired by this award winning, tongue -in-cheek comedy!" We're really just printing this cos of the horrific 'cigarette girls' outfits, and Steve Carell looking tanned and confused.

[IGN has reviewed the game, which was formally a non-licensed title called 'Office Games', noting: "Sadly, having played both the before- and after-license editions of the games, the addition of the Office crew does very little to boost the concept above the level of mediocre. The only things that connect the game to the television show are some renaming conventions, the constant appearance of tiny character portraits quoting appropriate dialogue, and the redesign of the "goalie" in the paper football game to look like Pam, the receptionist. Otherwise, the game is still an uneven assembly of a few good games and some downright dull ones."]

Letters From The Metaverse: Living in a Ghost Town

August 29, 2006 12:20 PM |

[‘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 Second Life as a game development platform.]

This week I’ve been talking to ghosts.

There’s been an unusual bug that has appeared, at least for me, in the most recent version of Second Life; version 1.12. Occasionally other Second Life residents don’t appear, and I’m left holding conversations with only ghosts. They’re not completely anonymous; I know their names but nothing else. It hammers home, in a way, how important the avatar, the chosen form of another person, is to understanding them. As it is, I’m left only with what they said, no sense of who they were.

You see, I’ve been struggling with Second Life, recently. Not using it; I’ve been struggling with what my expectations were, based on the Linden’s efficient PR machine, and what I’ve found when I’ve been in world. I don’t want to turn this into a list of complaints, but when you hear of a thriving online world that’s not only a sterling example of free market capitalism but also the creative sandbox of our dreams, it’s not hard to find yourself disillusioned. Last week I explored a lovingly created island, Numbakulla, and was so utterly turned off buy the reality of the way Second Life forced my character to interact with it.

But the ghosts have told me I’m not the first to feel this way.

2006_08_29_primmies.jpgThe first thing the ghosts told me about was an article by Thomas Robinson on the Black Library. In the article, Thomas laments the death of Primmies, his Second Life game. The winner of a game development contest held by the Lindens and judged with the help of Doug Church, and what killed it? The very next patch to Second Life! It’s actually a rather beautiful article, if a little complex with jargon. The following discussion on the Blackbored is almost as essential, with Thomas Robinson hammering home his point, that Second Life is a failure as a development platform.

The ghosts linked me to a fairly recent post on the Second Life forums. The Second Life forums, not only soon to be closed, are only readable to people with Second Life Accounts. One well known member of the community, Clubside Granville, takes such umbrage at the closure of the forum that he literally leaves Second Life in the post. He has far more reasons to leave than that, and can’t resist scathing comments like “In the end there is nothing to do here if you are not into creating or want something more than a crippled version of IRC in a 3D world”, and states “Second Life runs under five year old physics technology on a platform it was never fully developed for at the time, using a highly inefficient and poorly designed scripting model.”

2006_08_29_chums.jpgThe most depressing thing about this, the ghosts confided, was that Clubside wasn’t just a naysayer. He was trying to accurately point out the flaws for the good of Second Life. For example, they said, he, and a team of individuals, decided to try and create the FPS “SL Conquest” after discovering a Linden sponsored banner ad which stated “Last week I created a multi-player FPS in Second Life... ...This week I'm charging people money to play it.” Clubside himself explained “The goal was to demonstrate the difficulty in implementing this very basic banner ad's premise, both because of technology limitations and cost. It's hard to charge someone for something they can essentially play for free, and it's hard to get people to develop in a system where people aren't ultimately interested because the content can't be compelling owing to those same technology limitations.”

2006_08_29_copter.jpgI visited Carnage Island, the remaining home of SL Conquest. Given a pistol by the nearest passing furry in camo gear, I took part in yes, a comically broken FPS experience. Carnage Island is without game balancing (the aforementioned furry attacking me with a helicopter seconds after he gave me a pop gun) and hampered by the slow character movement, jerky animation and weird collision detection of Second Life. The game does, at least, have random spawn locations, but when you consider that a plus point you’re probably getting desperate.

The last time I logged into Second Life it seemed to have more ghosts than ever.

Maybe one day I’ll be one of them.

[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, Broken Pencil, and Eurogamer. He's just started a workblog. Why don't you visit it if you want to find out more?]

Gamephera Catches Onto Space Invaders

August 29, 2006 8:15 AM | Simon Carless

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/sp800.jpg The New Gamer continues to do some marvellous stuff, the latest thing being a scan of the Space Invaders Atari 400/800 manual, as part of a 'Gamephemera' series.

They note: "Exquisitely detailed, the cover (illustrated by Bob Flemate, an Atari graphic designer) is stunning. I love the rigid rows of aliens marching towards the station, as well as the flourish of their lasers colliding with the mountainous embankment. Sure, it's a bit hyperbolic considering the simple game it's meant to visually describe, but it's still very impressive and terribly gripping."

But: "The rest of the manual is pretty scant. I mean, it's Space Invaders - there's not much that needs to be documented. However, my favorite part of the manual has to be the 'Space Invaders Games Matrix', which details the various changes in the 12 different types of Space Invaders game modes." Haw. And yes, there's a PDF you can grab.

Tactical Gaming Successfully Infiltrated

August 29, 2006 4:19 AM | Simon Carless

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/ironsi.jpg We linked to the smart Dslyecxi's uber-gigantor-post on tactical shooters a few weeks back, and now he's come up with a neat update referencing the UT2004 mod 'Infiltration' - we'll paste you what he says!

"Shortly after publishing my "Tactical Gaming Done Right" article, I received a good number of e-mails urging me to check out certain games that I hadn't covered. The game that was most heavily cited, time and time again, was an Unreal Tournament mod called "Infiltration" that I had never seriously played before. Wanting to be as thorough as possible, and mindful that I would likely do follow-up articles in the future on this topic, I went ahead and dug out my UT CDs to see what all the fuss was about."

He continues: "Here we are, a few months later, and I can now clearly see that not having had Infiltration in the original article was a gross oversight on my part. I must plead ignorance for having neglected it. From what I can see now, Infiltration must be considered as the mother of all tactical realism games - or at least the first to implement a vast number of what at the time were brand new concepts. That Infiltration so solidly implements so many features that had never seriously been seen before in the genre is a tribute to the skill and vision of the developers." So there - realism lovers should probably go read this article now. [Via Shack News.]

COLUMN: 'Parallax Memories' – The B-Fighters

August 29, 2006 12:21 AM |

And then there was blood['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 some not-so-great fighting games]

Mortal Kombat

You can lie to yourself all you want, but it’s a fact that many of the fighting games for the Genesis and Super Nintendo were terrible and, at best, gimmicky. Others were only poor ports of good arcade games. For the sake of simplicity I am just going to focus on the Genesis and try stay away from honestly good fighting games. Looking back on the 90’s and it’s fighting game line up compared to now, we are really only slightly better off with girls that kick high.

It is probably best to begin with what started a trend of mediocre fighting games with style over substance: Mortal Kombat. The release of this game on home consoles was probably one of the largest videogame-related media events since The Wizard was released. Videogame critics were quick to speak up about how this trash would ruin our children. Because of the "realistic" violence Joe Lieberman was brought into the forefront as an upholder of public morality. I’m pretty sure that all it did was sell more games.

Using digitized people and borrowing many elements from the seminal Street Fighter II, Mortal Kombat won its way into many people’s hearts with excessive and unrealistic gore. Blood would glob out of the characters with as little as a slap to the face. Heads could be rent from their torso, spinal column included. It was fantastic. The Genesis port was fairly competent and faithful to the original: I played it to death. Though the controversy over the game caused the game to be released without blood there was a code for the Genesis version which would unlock it, a code almost as infamous as the Konami Code.

For the record I turned out to be fairly balanced person and have never once tried to reproduce an act in the game other than for comedic effect.

prage.gifPrimal Rage

Atari followed suit shortly thereafter with Primal Rage. The game pitted Draconian gods against each other for the control of Urth. Rather than use live-action digitized humans this game went with clay figures. PR feels just as cheesy as MK does and goes even further for an attempt to gross out - or play up to - immature audiences. You fight to a gory death while occasionally gobbling up or tossing human worshipers at your feet. The brutality ranged from stabbings to crushing, and one of the gods could even melt the flesh off enemies with acidic urine in his "golden shower" fatality.

On the Genesis the game lost little of its “charm.” As to be expected from a port to an under-powered system the game doesn’t look or sound as nice as the original. But aside from a few missing combos (for no apparent reason) the rest of the game is pretty much intact: even all the censored items which were removed from the SNES version. Yet Primal Rage is not the end of these inadequate games.

Eternal Champions

Eternal Champions was the first game for the Genesis where I finally thought I had an excuse to buy a 6-button controller. I spent a good amount of my time playing vs. fighting games in the arcades, so I didn’t need a 6-button controller for Street Fighter II (nor a copy of the game itself really), but Eternal Champions was something new, and ultimately even more of the same.

echamptions.gifBuying into the hype I got the game and the controller but shortly thereafter gave up on fighting games in general for a while. While EC was a decent game and controlled well it was just jumping on the bandwagon of overly violent games. The only unique quality of the game is the “overkills” (stage specific fatalities), but even that had been in other games, just not to the same extent. Seeing these overkills usually involved trying to find them with your friends. You have to have an opponent land on the ground in a very specific spot when they die. Sometimes it was fairly obvious where this was to happen, where others it was nearly impossible to land right. The overkills ranged from drive-by shootings to chest explosions resulting in the outpouring of bowels.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed these games a lot when they came out. I would spend many summer days and weekend hours playing the games with friends. Many times my friends would come over and I would end up playing while they went off to go fishing, or what ever it was that normal kids ended up doing. But they just don’t hold up well at all.

When I started to collect arcade cabinets for my game room a few years back I managed to get a Primal Rage cabinet exceptionally cheap. I tried to rekindle the love for these b-movie games with some friends. We made a party of sorts out of it: pizza, beer, and women (well, my wife at the least). After a good hour (or less) of laughs and drunken hilarity the thrill wore off, the games showed just what they were: bad. In a half-hearted attempt to see if the console ports were somehow better than the arcade originals I revisited many of my favorites (with other baddies not mentioned such as TMNT:Tournament Fighter and Cyborg Justice). The experiment was a failure and, in retrospect, I find it hard to believe that we thought of these as looking real or even close at one point. The memories remain and the fight goes on. 2D fighters are all but extinct now and many of these games are the reason why. Strangely enough Mortal Kombat is coming up on its possible "final game," I can only hope that really is true.

[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.]

MPC 1000 Gets Pong, World Rejoices

August 28, 2006 8:14 PM | Simon Carless

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/mpcmpc.jpg One of my favorite blogs that normally has nothing to do with video games, vintage synth geekout zone Music Thing, has just updated with news of a Pong hack for the MPC1000 sampler, wow.

As the Wikipedia page for the MPC series explains: "Akai MPCs (originally MIDI Production Center, now Music Production Center) are a popular and well respected series of electronic musical instruments originally designed by Roger Linn and produced by the Japanese company Akai from 1988 onwards."

Apparently, some Japanese hackers, named 'Japanese Jenius', or JJ for short, have done this _alleged_ non-hoax: "The unofficial OS has given the MPC1000 most of the functions of the more expensive MPC2500, and more. JJ are planning to sell a finalised version for $35, which will - apparently - include this version of Pong..." Yay, Pong for tea, pong for everything!

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