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September 16, 2006

Inside Cooking Mama's Manual

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/cmam.jpg Talking of ex-Gamasutra news editor and current Atlus localization guy Mr. N. Maragos, he's popped up at Insert Credit reviewing the manual to Cooking Mama DS in a terribly arch style.

Firstly, he loves up the credits: "Not only is it fascinating to me to see how other outfits divide up the labor, but any list of names past a certain length will yield some real winners. My favorites come from Majesco's QA division: Onix Alicea deserves (his? her?) own J-RPG, possibly by Tri-Ace, while Hunter S. Gollum evokes Tolkien gone Gonzo."

And the terrible conclusion? "Points off for the following: the paper's funky smell when you first open it up, writing "salisbury steak" in lower-case (Salisbury is a proper noun, guys!), slipping in a cryptic mention of apparent wireless multiplayer without ever really explaining how that works, and calling the freestyle cooking mode "Use Skill". (That last is an issue with the game, not the manual per se, but it's still irksome.)" Don't let it happen again!

On 'The Youth of the Mario Brothers'

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/mari0jpg Thanks to NichM, we have a link to a brilliant Japanese magazine pictorial named, simply and enticingly enough, 'The Youth Of The Mario Brothers'.

We've seen one or two of these pics scanned before, but with no explanation - however, blogger Patrick Macias sets us up the bomb: "Ok, vidiots. Not a lot of jokes here...here is some art by Goujin Ishihara (one of Japan's great pulp illustrators, 1923-1998) from an old ass issue of Famicom Tsushin magazine."

He continues: "The piece is called Mario Brothers no Seishun. "The Youth of the Mario Brothers." Don't blame me if you feel like eating a lot of hot Italian sausage afterwards..." Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear...

GameSetPics: Sega Joypolis, Pt.1

So, we started off our Tokyo sojourn in vaguely fun style with a visit to Sega's Joypolis amusement park, located in the rejuvenated harborside district of Odaiba, which also has an insane mess of kitsch and cute shops, restaurants, and miscellaneous arcades.

Joypolis itself has a bunch of arcade games in it, but mainly consists of small-scale motion rides and other semi-theme-park-ish pursuits - including 'enhanced' versions of The Lost World and House Of The Dead 4 arcade machines with extra motion effects. Anyhow, we wandered around, and here's the first part of two photo galleries looking through the park.

The entrance to Joypolis itself - it's split over three levels opposite a major shopping center in Odaiba.

The scariest Sonic mastermind picture ever. He was kinda stalking us.

Sega's Mushiking beetle CCG trading arcade game is still pretty massive in Japan, especially with smaller kids.

Sonic helps you eat sweet, sweet chocolate cake.

Yay for mangled prose - 'Speed is his glory - it's what he dose best'.

More evidence of spooky interaction between Michael Jackson and Sega - he's been scrawling on their walls!.

COLUMN: 'The Gentleman Nerd' - Why I Love... HeroQuest

[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.]

There’s no such thing as a good drunken strategy, especially if that drunk involves making mixed drinks with something that resembles varnish. That’s why I don’t use strategies. I strive to provide a more entertaining experience for all of those involved or who are following along at home, and if it requires me to get drunk as hell and converse with giants or terribly clichéd game nerds, then so be it.

When it comes to board games, everyone wants a nice girl, but sometimes only a woman of ill repute will do. These are the games that you play when you don’t want any heavy thinking; the games that you take out for a good time. In this case, the painted lady to which I refer is HeroQuest.

HeroQuestOur game night started out in the usual way. Brian came over and brought Nick with him. Scott came over shortly after, and the game began. So did the drinking. What happened next was surprising to everyone involved: we won. I don’t know if I can really explain why, but we actually finished the dungeon and got out alive. Well, we almost finished it.

You see, HeroQuest, though not very difficult to grasp, isn’t exactly the most forgiving of games. One false move and you can kill yourself and all of your friends. This is the story of one of those mistakes that didn’t end in tragedy. This is the story of how Scott became “Johnny Go-Open-Doors.”

For those of you who have never played HeroQuest, there are a couple of unwritten rules. Rule number one is that you never search for treasure when your group is engaged with monsters in the other room. Rule number two, which is the most important rule, is that you never open a door until all the other rooms are cleared and checked. Rule number two is what earned Scott his new nickname. Thus the saga begins.

It was a perilous trip, one that most men would shy away from, like a close-talker in the men’s room or a drunken dwarf with a penchant for buggery. Once in the dungeon, we started frantically searching for treasure, much like a drunken dwarf searching for, well, you know. After turning up a few gold coins we headed out into the halls to see what was shaking. We happened upon a door and opened it up. There, inside, standing next to a very sensible, walnut-colored desk, was a goblin.

HeroQuestI noticed the desk first because it struck me as curious that they have pseudo-nice furniture. You know, when I think of dungeons, Ikea isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. I imagine shackles and bats. You know, the regular. So, admittedly I was shocked by the inclusion of such quality shelving and storage units. That’s when the goblin kicked me in the head.

I jumped to my feet and took a swing at the goblin, knocking him backwards. My elf friend stabbed him and he was down, but that just cleared the way for the other two who were waiting in the room. Suddenly, we heard the foot steps. The barbarian had run down the hallway and rounded a corner. That’s when we heard the sound of a door opening and awkward silence.

See, when you open a door in HeroQuest, anything that you can see from the hall in that room is activated. So, during the middle of our first fight, JGOD as we’ll call him, ran and opened a door down the hall. This let out a seriously angry guy, who then decided to run up our asses at full speed.

Luckily for us, we survived the fight, but not without injury. The rest of the game ended up being us sneaking around the dungeon slowly, holding back JGOD and making sure I didn’t steal any furniture. Finally we made it to the door outside of the boss’ lair. After taking a quick tally of our injuries, we decided to not try the fight. However, we did want to see what he was. It was time for JGOD to shine. He booted open the door and we all started running. Now THAT’S how you leave a dungeon.

So, the moral of the story is this: even drunk dudes know that it’s better to run away and keep some gold then to get stabbed in the head repeatedly by an unspeakably violent monster.

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

September 15, 2006

Stating Our Independence, Fifthly

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/dfort.jpg Sound the alarm - Kieron Gillen has returned with another in his 'State Of Indepedence' indie game series for Eurogamer, and you may recognize a number of the excellent indie titles he is passing on to the European populace, yay.

Firstly, there's Dwarf Fortress, on which we have mused, and on which he notes: "It'll reward you not just by challenges, but by some of the strangest anecdotes you'll ever hear. I still can't believe the forum post I read about the psychotic, incredibly-skilled leather-crafting dwarf who killed one of his peers after a particularly dark mood took him. Two days later a pair of dwarf-skin boots shows up in the storeroom..."

Also hanging out in there is the Pickford Bros' v.neat play-by-email strategy title Naked War - and I apologize to them that I didn't have time to take them up on a game, but as you can see from the semi-insane testimonials, the game is _big_ among naked Scottish people and odd English types, Plus, given how much I used to adore Zub when I was 11, they can do no wrong in my eyes.

Drinking Your Dreamcast Sorrows Away

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/dcwine.jpg Poking around the nooks and crannies of eBay still brings up some genius items - witness this Sega Dreamcast wine bottle being sold starting at a princely opening bid of $1.00.

And, folks, here's the pathos: "This is a Dreamcast wine bottle from Japan, made to celebrate the release of the Dreamcast console in 1998. The wine bottle is empty, the contents have already been drunk." Yep, and the bottle marvellously says on it: "I sincerely hope you have the opportunity to enjoy both wine and Dreamcast in the near future."

Finally, this will have ended by the time you guys read this, so hopefully the listing is still there - but a Seaman plush UFO Catcher doll is more my speed when it comes to Sega-related goodies. Roll on Seaman 2, which should be revealed even as we speak, I believe?

Suda's Samurai Champloo, Prodded And Poked

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/sidetracked.jpg Following my recent critique of Suda51's Samurai Champloo: Sidetracked, it's good to see someone else probing the game from alternate perspectives - The New Gamer has a mini-article musing on the title with some aplomb.

G. Turner makes some film comparisons, suggesting the game "...has a strong director, the increasingly notorious Suda 51 (whom is most recognizable from last year's stylish & divisive Killer7), who wildly compensates for an unremarkable hack-'n-slash adaptation involving two samurais, plucked from the titular anime, whom find themselves embroiled in a land-war and end up fighting for their lives. How does he do this? By painting over the game with abrasive aural and visual elements; essentially scribbling all over the standards that come with an adaptation."

His conclusion? Though the game isn't THAT great: "Samurai Champloo: Sidetracked represents a rarity in current video games: a brash-but-cohesive audio/visual that's the director's vision. " Agreed!

[Oh, and while we're here, a Drunksaling garage sale update has also been posted at The New Gamer, containing a few gems, as per usual: "Ahh Chessmaster. Although I remember Chessmaster 2000, not his hyperactive brother Chessmaster 4000 Turbo."]

COMIC: 'Our Blazing Destiny' - Welcome to the Oregon Trail

[Our Blazing Destiny is a weekly comic by Jonathan "Persona" Kim about our society, cultural postdialectic theory, and video games. And about fording rivers and not being able to carry enough food back to the wagon.]

"My classes have started! I'll try to get the comic back on schedule next week so bear with me!

My friend had a copy of The Oregon Trail on her computer and I played it again out of nostalgia. It surprised me how easy it was to get to Oregon now that I was older and was more capable of micromanaging small virtual travellers. Maybe it was harder back when it only in green and black on the Apple II?"

I suspect their last names were Donner.

[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. A new website design that's almost finished is coming soon! Also, the link to the Gamer's Quarter has finally been fixed!]

Street Fighting, Messily, For The PC

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/sfibm.png Over at PressTheButtons, MattG has spotted an expose of Street Fighter PC conversions, and has also heroically linked to it, hurrah.

PTB notes: "Yes, Capcom's famous fighting game has been ported to just about every kind of home console. However, back when Fighter fever was enrapturing the world, Capcom licensed the game out to PC developers to create home versions for computers. Scary Crayon takes a look back at these versions as well as the various pirated variations of the game."

Sounds like Hotel Keitel's SFIBM is the bootleg winner: "Have you ever wished that, instead of hurling mere spinning energy waves at his opponents, Guile threw clones of himself? How about wishing that Ryu's regular dragon punch were replaced by a modified version that entailed him doing the move twice -- the second time while already in the air -- and then coming back down with an inverted attack? Or that Ken's fireballs zigzagged or that Chun-Li could hop forward while doing the lightning kick or that Blanka could spit little yellow birds that electrify his opponents on impact?" Uhh... yep!

September 14, 2006

Everything's For Sale On Nookbay!

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/nookbay.jpg Wait, two Animal Crossing posts in a row? Anyone would think Tom Nook had been bribing us with oranges. Anyhow, Raina Lee (of 1UP-Zine fame) has a column on VH1 Game Break which talks about the auction market for Animal Crossing in-game items.

Lee explains how there's an in-game store in the DS version of the title, and then asks: "What about the items your store doesn’t have? What if you just can’t find the Robo dresser for the rest of your Robo décor? In real life, if you really want a something, you visit an auction site. So there’s Nookbay dot com, where you buy and sell items for bells. The rarer the item, the more the bells."

She then notes: "Just like I do on Bay, I browse the most expensive items first. A Metroid -- 2 million bells... A Carte Blanche to someone’s inventory -- 500,000 bells... A Royal Crown -- 9 million bells... A Complete Mario Set – 10 million bells.. And a Red Glitched Tulip... going for a whopping 30 million bells." I thought you couldn't move the tulips after they were placed? There had better not be Nookbay scammers around!

Animal Crossing's Arwing - Free Prize Or Seditious Spam?

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/acpoo.jpg The ever-furious Tony Walsh has posted on Clickable Culture about Nintendo's in-game method of promoting Star Fox DS within the v.popular Animal Crossing: Wild World.

Though subsequently corrected that the messages from Nintendo are optional, he notes: " Players of the online-enabled town-building game Animal Crossing: Wild World received a... marketing message recently from Nintendo, the game's maker. The message was sent through the game's email system, normally used to deliver inter-player mail as well as free virtual gifts from Nintendo such as home decor and furniture. According to Animal Crossing Ahead, the message refers to the recently released Nintendo game Star Fox Command: "Dear [name], Star Fox Command stats are live! We were going to give you Slippy, but take this instead! Attached to the letter is an Arwing!"

Commenter Dezro notes: "This is a pretty benign thing IMO. No illusion-shattering graphics, nothing you can't turn off... You can even throw out the letter without opening it, and still keep the rare item they send (which is already available in the game - Nintendo didn't just have it there for the express purpose of promotion)." But even more tragically, does this break the fourth wall? Oh my.

Google - Gaming On The Edge?

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/goo.jpg Over at Edge Online, they've got a smart article on Google and its gaming incursions, discussing how Google is wandering into gaming after its acquisition of 3D modelmaking firm Sketchup.

The article explains: "SketchUp is thoroughly integrated with Google Earth, meaning models can be uploaded and placed into the real world, letting you see how your dream house would look in situ, or create a parade of giant scissor people marching down Oxford Street."

What's more: "The possibilities for ‘mash-up’ games drawn in SketchUp and situated within Google Earth is self-evidently enormous. Automatically networked, instantly recognisable, full of resonance and quickly customisable, Google Earth forms an amazingly adaptive canvas. And it plays well with another growing branch of gaming – the kind of mixed-reality game made famous by the Halo 2 promo I Love Bees. Easily able to process GPS co-ordinates, there are substantial possibilities for games where the movements of real-world people are represented by the progress of SketchUp-created avatars across Google Earth’s surface." Is there nothing the Big G won't consider taking over?

Derek Yu Goes The Little Mermaid?

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/aquaria.gif So, turns out there was a neat game in the IGF entries that most people haven't spotted yet - the Derek Yu co-created PC indie title Aquaria, which he is talking about at TIGSource.

The title, which is made by two of the people behind Jack Thompson wish fulfilment generator I'm OK, is described as "...an action-oriented, non-linear 2D side-scrolling game. Using an intuitive and fluid mouse control system, Naija can deftly swim through and explore a massive, handcrafted world that is teeming with undersea life. Along the way, she will encounter literally hundreds of different types of plants and animals and explore many ingame miles of hidden caves, lost ruins, and other strange places."

The official Aquaria site has more, including some v.interesting concepts: "In order to make the experience as engaging as possible, we created an interface that lets the player easily control Naija with just a two-button mouse. The HUD is minimal (restricted to only a minimap in the lower-right corner of the screen). In place of textual dialogue that most games rely on we used voice acting to drive the story without interrupting the gameplay." Looking forward to playing this...

Tokyo Now, Updates A Bit Later...

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/tokyogo.jpg So, you may find that GameSetWatch updates are a little slower than normal, because even as you read this, I'm off to Tokyo with my wife for a little rest and relaxation (possibly to include visiting Disney parks and Sega Joypolis, as well as actually seeing some more traditional sights, then wandering off to Osaka/Kyoto) before and after Tokyo Game Show (which I'm covering for Game Developer and Gamasutra, of course) starts next week.

Fear not, though, because I've posted GSW weirdness a couple of days in advance, and will keep things going through the pre and post-TGS period with links to our Gamasutra posts on the state of Japanese game development, any Flickr photos which have geeky game-related stuff in them, and any other posts on the blogosphere which catch our attention. And our regular columnists will still be around to 'entertain' you, yay. Have happy fun!

EA's Interns Whoop It Up

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/eaintern.jpg Still don't spot MTV News game stories as quickly as I should (this time prompted by Stephen Totilo himself!), but there's a pretty fun article on EA interns up at MTV.com right now, showcasing what Santa's little helpers do inside the Borg mothership.

It's set at EA's Redwood City offices, and notes: "Gwynne Olson-Wheeler, also 21, showed some of her intern work in a cubicle that wasn't hers — she was spending her final weeks of the summer working on a different floor, on EA's under-wraps "Simpsons" game. Meeting with her there would give away too many secrets. So instead she zapped some graphics work she did earlier in the season for "Sims 2 Pets" onto her iPod and plugged into a computer at a less-sensitive area."

But wait, there's a revelation that an obvious sequel is... obviously coming! "The room where she set up was darkened by dropped blinds, most of them dotted with spent ammunition from the floor's many Nerf gun battles. On the walls, signs addressed the staff of another under-wraps EA game: "Welcome 'Sims 3' team."" Any bets on Sims Infinity? There's also a weird DigiPen/Full Sail diss later in the article - time for some beef?

September 13, 2006

GamePaused Gets Fruity With Wii, DS

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/fruitwii.jpg This is just plain odd, but hey, they sent it to us and we're going to print it - UK company GamePaused has released the 'Two Tasty Consoles' poster series, and is telling the entire Internet about it.

The explain: "GamePaused™ loves creative gaming and so naturally GamePaused™ loves the Wii. When we first heard of Nintendo’s new console we were filled with excitement over the possibilities it could offer gamers. What with the Nintendo DS already stretching the boundaries of games the news of the Wii got us rolling. We were inspired that Nintendo was looking at games the way we were, and so we had to pay homage–and so comes two posters from GamePaused™ available from gamepaused.net."

But... how they they think of that? "As with every truly great idea it came spontaneously–during a regular lunch break–via text message ...And so we launch GamePaused™ product range in a somewhat creative fashion–just like a game." We're eagerly awaiting the Wii butter sculpture, now.

GameSetInterview: Slipstream Production's Dispraiser on Halogen cancellation

Slipstream Productions began work on Halo-themed Command and Conquer Generals mod Halogen back in early 2003. On the 8th of September, the team were asked to cease work on the project by Microsoft. “We always figured that since Halogen was such a different take on the Halo franchise, we might manage to make it without incident,” they commented on their site.

While a solid date was never set for release, the game had recently gone into a closed Beta. Various videos of the project had also been released, leading to the project gaining attention from sites well outside of the usual modding community.

We spoke to project leader and modeller Dispraiser about the project, the word from Microsoft, and the future of Slipstream.

What was Halogen? I gather it wasn’t a Halo mod.

Halogen was not a mod of Halo. The second half of its name, “gen”, comes from Command and Conquer Generals, which is a real time strategy game EA released. For those unfamiliar with mods, Halogen was a total conversion mod, meaning that we took the existing Generals engine and removed all of the art assets, then replaced them with our own models, skins and code to create what is, essentially, a new game.

How long had you been working on Halogen?

I had been working on the mod since April 2003, when it was started. Other staff is newer, but most of our hard workers have been around for at least two years.

How close to finished was it?

Halogen was actually VERY close to finished, which makes the attack by Microsoft even worse. We had begun to distribute a closed beta test, which is a pretty big indicator we were moving into balancing stages where all of the art assets are already in-game and functional, and release was just around the corner.

How many people had contributed to the game?

That depends on how much of a contribution is considered. We have many people such as Jared Hudson, Godwin and others who contributed amazing work to our soundtrack and game art, respectively. Unfortunately, they weren't regular contributors, because they had a busy lifestyle. Then, we have other staff such as SpyvSpy, Sc4, Adam Atomic and myself who have made dozens of things for the mod. I believe that Halogen has actually had at least 200 or 250 models created, counting the various scrapped units, civilian structures, and other models - that's a lot of work! In all, though, I'd say our team has hovered around nine true people who can be counted on as staff, and probably as many as a dozen occasional contributors.

Why did you start working on the game?

I don't know, honestly. It seemed like a good idea at the time, and it kinda snowballed. Originally, I was interested in sticking one or two original units in the game and adding them onto one of the existing armies, then it grew into a plan to create the entire UNSC and reskin the existing buildings in Generals to be more suiting, and then eventually just grew into creating a complete mod.

When were you told by Microsoft to stop working on the game?

September 8th. I do have to credit Bungie for their handling of the situation. The community manager asked Microsoft not to send us a Cease and Desist, and instead asked to tell us himself, so he could explain exactly what was happening rather than an army of lawyers. I have been on mods that faced the army of lawyers before, and it is much, much less friendly.

What was the reaction of your team and fans?

I was amazed at the reactions. It's amazing that our team stayed intact completely, and so far no one has given up on creating a mod of some sort. The fans are the ones who really surprised me, though. I left my computer for a few hours and came back and had dozens of AIM windows from fans, and all over the Internet things are abuzz with talk of our mod getting axed. We popped up on Slashdot's news twice, on G4's website, dozens of messaging boards and we even (finally!) got our own OneOneSe7en comic. I was really proud to see that a lot of people came out with very eloquent, well thought out arguments for Halogen, and understood what we were doing. I was a bit disappointed to see the people who instantly called us "thieves" and claimed we should've asked Bungie in the first place.

Did you expect that you would, at some point, run into legal trouble?

We had our fingers crossed that we wouldn't. We knew from the beginning that Halo IP is theirs, and that if they wanted to, they could shut us down. At first it seemed like a gamble, but as time went on and we got mentioned on more and more major Internet and print news sources, we became increasingly certain Bungie was aware of us and chose to ignore us. In an effort to create that kind of relationship with them, we always tried to do everything with the utmost respect for Bungie's property. Where other mods extract Bungie's models and hard work from the game then re-brand it as their own, we ALWAYS created our own models and skins. In the past, we have even fought with two other mods that ripped content from Halo and Halo 2. I gather Bungie understood that respect we had for their work, and was respecting our work, but then big bad Microsoft told them to get rid of us.

Where do you go from here? Is there anything that is salvageable from the game?

Oh yes. More shocking reactions from fans were emails I received "What kind of leader are you!?!" They asked what kind of leader I was to just give up after three years of work. Well, I'm the kind of leader who does fear millions of dollars of fines and jail time. Luckily, though, everyone on our team is devoted. When I posted in the staff forums about the email, the thread was titled "What now?" not "It's over" or anything of the doomed sort. Most of our models are original units, including every structure but two, and even some vehicles. In fact, some of our most popular units, the Skyhawk, Hammerhead and Firefly, are all original units that we designed. Without saying too much, I hope everyone doesn't leave and miss the real show...Definitely keep your eyes on Slipstream Productions and the ex-Halogen crew.

Gastronaut's Small Arms Extracted, Inspected

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/smallarms03.jpg Just because sister site Gamasutra runs so many darn articles recently that you might not have spotted this, we're pointing out an interview with Gastronaut Studios, creators of the upcoming Small Arms for Xbox 360 Live Arcade.

They discuss barriers to the original Xbox Live Arcade, for which they contributed Fuzzee Fever: "I think there were a lot of barriers to success with the original XBLA that more promotion couldn't have overcome. XBLA wasn't integrated into the Dashboard. Xbox Live accounts were pay only. And it was difficult to distribute the launcher disc. These problems were all fixed for the 360. The 360 also added a number of features that I didn't predict would help promote Arcade as much as they have: the Gamerscore/Achievements system and the more centralized nature of Dashboard. Of course, I really wish more people could have played Fuzzee Fever, especially the Live multiplayer."

Also notable is their approach to Achievements, which is progressive and laudable: "Xbox Live Arcade is different in this area. Our Xbox Live Arcade producer has spent a lot of time with us on designing and balancing achievements. I think that takes place with all of the Arcade games so that the achievements are really interesting. For example, I've always loved Geometry Wars' pacifism achievement, because it actually encourages you to play the game differently, at least for a short period." More pacifism in shooters, please!

Tiger's R-Zone Gives Us I-Ache

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/rzone.jpg Another great scan-related post over at Vintage Computer, and this one looks at Tiger's obscure R-Zone LCD gaming system, which I don't even recall.

RedWolf explains this insanity: "Way back in the land before time (1995), when a little ole company you might have heard of called “Nintendo” was tinkering with its worst gaming experiment ever (Virtual Boy), another company called Tiger Electronics (famous for its handheld LCD games, if you’ll recall), tried to capitalize on the hoopla surrounding Nintendo’s red-headed stepchild."

He continues: "Tiger’s answer was the R-Zone, a LCD-based gaming system that used red-tinted game cartridges and projected them onto a HUD mirror strapped over the player’s pimply forehead (see picture). An extremely uncomfortable-to-hold detached controller held the batteries, and the player plugged the cartridge — each containing its own LCD screen — into the headset. It worked very poorly, as you might imagine; but what more could you expect for $30 (US) MSRP?"

Classic Gaming Motivational Covers FTW

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/resp.jpg The folks over at RetroBlast dropped us a note about their wacky new retro competition, and since it's actually pretty geekyfun, we thought we'd pass it on to the faithful GameSetWatch readership.

It's explained: "Hey guys, James McGovern here from RetroBlast.com. I just wanted to let you know about a contest we are running this month asking readers to produce Video Game and Pinball Motivational Posters. Below you will find a link to the gallery so far, the original contest announcement, and a flickr tool that allows you to easily create your own posters."

The original post says: "The arcade champions of yesterday are the lawyers, doctors, engineers, tradesmen and women, and business professionsals of today. In this capacity, most of us, at one time or another have seen the very cheesy "inspirational posters" tacked up in offices all over the world that display a supposeldly motivational image and message that I suppose is intended to make us feel inspired while working in our little section of the Death Star. Frankly, I can't stand them and I know others feel the same way. These then will be the target format for our video and arcade game parody!" A good start is 'Respect', perhaps!

September 12, 2006

Mizuguchi Makes Us See Heavenly Stars

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/heavenly.jpg Being a bit of a synaesthesia fan, I couldn't be happier with Tetsuya Mizuguchi's output of late, what with music modes in Gunpey and the upcoming Lumines Live and Lumines II - well, now GameVideos.com has posted the 'Heavenly Star' music video from Lumines II for PSP, and it's uber-gorgeous.

I note that a recent 1UP preview explains: "One special song and video that Q producer Tetsuya Mizuguchi and the development team collaborated on is a track called "Heavenly Star." This will be a difficult skin for many people to complete, simply because the song is so insanely catchy (it sounds like a mix between Daft Punk and something off the Xanadu soundtrack) and because the video, which heartwarmingly portrays the singer as an alien from space looking for love on the planet Earth (and by "alien," we mean a beautiful young woman), is so alluring."

It continues: "The video for "Heavenly Star" was designed by renowned Japanese visual team Glamoove and was, according to Mizuguchi, inspired by the classic video "Take On Me" by the Norwegian pop group a-ha. You'll have to see "Heavenly Star" to appreciate it, but it's simply stunning." More 'Take On Me' J-Pop video pastiches, plz!

Of course, there's lots more Mielke-tastic Lumines soundtrack fanboy love over at 1UP, if you want more gushing but well-written context. [UPDATE: Ah, I see Mielke has made a lengthy blog post about the video, also identifying the song as composed by Genki Rockets.]

Letters from the Metaverse: A Second Life in Film

[‘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's film culture.]

Well, I’ve been taking a bit of a break from Second Life this week, as I’ve been incredibly busy attempting to cover the Toronto International Film Festival. Film competes regularly in my affections with videogames, and I’m usually rather fascinated by the influence of one on the other. It’s worth noting, I think, that very little of Second Life feels “filmic”, unless you think the world feels a bit like virtual reality as imagined by early 90’s films like The Lawnmower Man, which it does, a bit.

Of course, the big news that I’ve kind of missed is that there’s been a massive security breach of the Linden Labs customer database, “potentially exposing customer data including the unencrypted names and addresses, and the encrypted passwords and encrypted payment information of all Second Life users”. While this obviously is a problem, no one seems to be quite clear on how much of a problem. It’s the first time I’ve felt “unsafe” on the net, however, which isn’t really a good sign.


Ahem. That’s slightly off topic, however. The truth is that despite not being a particularly filmic experience, Second Life also holds tributes to a variety of film and TV shows the same way that it has its own Little Silent Hill. For example, only a quick teleport away is Galaxy, where you can live your Star Trek dreams until your heart is content. I didn’t know the Starfleet Academy accepted furries, but there you go, I suppose! Like most areas, the play and fun is to be had in social situations, and without it, it’s a bit sterile, as nicely designed as it is. I only think I’ve watched maybe one full episode of Star Trek ever, and that was almost entirely on the Holodeck (something to do with Sherlock Holmes?) so I can’t really comment on this too clearly, but it seems… Nice?

2006_09_12_garden.jpgI actually reallyenjoyed my trip to Nakama, however. Although just as quiet as Galaxy , this is an astoundingly (if near randomly) designed anime city featuring many aspects of anime films and TV shows. I was immediately impressed to have teleported into one of the most alive gardens I’ve seen in Second Life, with trees and plants swaying in a light breeze, but flying around and exploring the city was a pleasure, from spotting giant robots from Evangelion, through to strange and sweet little rainbow towns.

2006_09_12_eva.jpgLooking around Nakama, however, I observed that what I noted about Little Silent Hill, that “it’s like wandering a movie theme park and seeing all your favorite props and locations, just slightly out of context” is as film-like as Second Life can get. It’s too easy to bump into a prop building and shatter your illusion, rather like a boom mike falling into shot.

Having said that, were you able to get your head round the logistics of it, Second Life must be one of the most wonderful playgrounds available for those interested in creating machinima. There are enough locations on Nakama alone that could form the back drop of practically any narrative that I hope that people are exploring the potential. I guess I should find out!

[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, The Gamer's Quarter, and Eurogamer. Check out his workblog!]

Nintendo - Gotta Patent Them All!

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/pokepat.jpg Nice to see the Patent Arcade blog getting blogosphere love after we linking it last week - and we note that it's posted another Nintendo-related patent, this one for Pokemon, believe it or not.

Lawyer blogger Ross Dannenberg notes: "Nintendo describes the multi-player, portable version of its Pokemon game in this patent. In the pokemon game, each player collects and trains pokemon. When another player is encountered, the pokemon battle each other and the winner captures the loser’s pokemon. Capturing a pokemon includes transferring information about its appearance, strength, etc. to the wining player’s game machine."

He further notes: "The patent also describes a system for allowing players of different versions of the game to battle each other: Whatever information about a captured pokemon is unavailable from the old version of the game gets made up (assigned randomly) at the time of data transfer." Forgive my ignorance - is this feature used extensively in existing versions of Pokemon?

Dude, It's All About Extreme Hangman

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/exhang.jpg Forget about Halo 3, honestly - it's all about a new announcement regarding Extreme Hangman's extremely extreme mobile phone debut.

The official website has more, of course, but here's the lowdown: "Featuring a fun and animated take of the classic stick figure character we all love, EXTREME HANGMAN makes hangman come alive and asks players to save him from sudden death in a fun and furious animated free-for-all."

The hook? "Complete with dangerous environments, fierce foes, speedy multiplayer and the ever threat of certain demise, EXTREME HANGMAN asks the most from you in solving riddled tongue twisters and unknown words and phrases from categories like movies, cocktails and antonyms." Wow, antonyms! It also has mobile to PC multiplayer connectivity, which is kinda cool.

COLUMN: 'Parallax Memories' – Live A Live

SuperFami Box['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 Squaresoft’s Live A Live]

When I initially started this column I made up a list of the best games from the 16bit era, and asked some friends to make up their own. I have since thrown that out the window. Most of the games considered “best” from that time are too sterile, too safe. Most are looked at through the rosy-colored glasses of nostalgia. Great games sometimes aren’t the best: they took risks.

The results varied from good concepts and bad controls to interesting mechanics with poor presentation, but they were never perfect. Some of these are what we now refer to as ahead of their time (which is really just an excuse for why we ignored them in the first place). But what happens when one of the most routine game creators decides to go a little crazy? Live A Live.

Western TruthAfter Squaresoft had released the three (or four) games that they would be most remembered for on the Super Famicom, a quirky little title appeared in Japan, but never made it to the outside world. While the basics remained a Role Playing Game, the story is broken up into a sort of novella format. The game contains nine unique scenarios that initially have no apparent connection to each other, and have varying play mechanics.

Even though the game is broken up into different stories, the divide is greater than just the main character. The stories range from primitive man, through old west and feudal Japan, all the way to a science fiction future. The game encompasses almost every range of time that is popular with modern fiction. Because of the theme it was very easy to have different popular manga artists do the character designs and write the stories for each chapter (the most popular of which, Yoshihide Fujiwara, went on to create and illustrate the Dragon Quest manga).

To Tell a Tale

Square CaptainsI believe the stories are the focus of the game over everything else. While there is a generic grid based battle system that’s fairly malleable, but not really anything special, the combat isn’t the main focus. The battles range from a mild action to tactical RPG in style depending on the story, but never neatly fitting into any category. In one scenario, there is an arcade game called Captain Square that is designed to train you in the basics of the fight mechanics (I recommend playing “Mechanical Heart” first to get some time in training, though it is completely ignorable).

In “Mechanical Heart” the only combat for the entire level is at the very end. My small affection for robots spurred me to try this chapter first and it drove home that the game wanted to tell a story - nine of them, really. Each chapter is fairly short, and the overall game is a nice length if you have gotten to the point in your life that you can no longer devote 40+ hours to a single title.

Some of the stories are charming, others involve double crosses and revenge, and some even offer a little suspense. Often the game will leave you with little information on where to go or what to do to progress the story, but even then reflecting on the story will usually lead you to a clue.

Giant Koi!The Great Divide

Many games are lacking in the story-telling department. Even recently such developers as David Jaffe have expressed their lack of interest in story. What separates most games from film is their length, as many will require ten or more hours of your time to get a story that is paper thin and offers little reward. Compared to novels, the modern RPG doesn’t have a leg to stand on. While the time lengths involved may be similar for completing a large novel as to an RPG, the depth of characters and plot are rarely comparable.

Live A Live tries to break away, and tell an engaging story in a short amount of time. Comparable to a film, and with better quality than most RPGs (though we aren’t talking masterpiece theatre here) Live A Live will engage you for each chapter despite it’s brevity. One of the touches that I enjoyed most was in the “Mechanical Heart” chapter, where you are given the opportunity to pull a lever while the other characters are talking in an air lock compartment. The overwhelming urge to pull the lever took control and I did it; the main characters were then sucked into space and the chapter ended.

Now, again, none of these stories are amazingly written. Some are heavily influenced by pop culture, and pale in comparison to outside contemporaries. But the game tried, and it was ahead of its time. Though we haven’t seen anything quite like it (Eternal Darkness comes to mind), I don’t think it will be too long before we start to see more chapter based, story heavy, structures in games soon. The translation of the ROM was done by Gideon Zhi of Aeon Genesis, and it is an admirable job considering it was completed in about two months. Pick it up and give it a shot - it probably won’t blow you away, but it may just open your eyes.

[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.]

Xiu Xiu's Boy Soprano Sings All Game-Like

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/xiu.jpg Kinda GSW columnist RyanS seems to have posted a new music video by Xiu Xiu to GameTrailers.com, and the vid in question, 'Boy Soprano', is, as he says, "very 16 bit indeed".

You may not know Xiu Xiu, but the handy Wikipedia explanation does: "Xiu Xiu (pronounced "shoo-shoo") is an experimental indie band originally from and currently based in San Jose, California, with time often spent in Seattle, Washington. The band is the sonic brainchild of singer-songwriter Jamie Stewart, who tours and records with his one and only current bandmate, and cousin, Caralee McElroy."

Oh, hey, and there's a Spin article about the vid, too: "Based on the epic journeys of the Mario Bros. and Zelda, California eclectic indie rockers Xiu Xiu have enlisted a world class video game designer to craft the clip for "Boy Soprano" off their forthcoming album, The Air Force." Rawk.

September 11, 2006

Vulkanon Homebrew Adds Tasty Chiptunes

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/vulkanon.jpg You may remember GSW sometime columnist Jeremiah 'Nullsleep' Johnson making delighted cooing noises over Takayama Fumihiko's homebrew Game Boy Advance shooter Vulkanon a while back.

Johnson noted: "While [Fumihiko's predecessor] BulletGBA was mostly a training aid for familiarizing oneself with different bullet patterns, Vulkanon builds upon the "Shooting" side challenges found there and delves further into mini-game territory."

Well, now he's only gone and providing a Game Boy bleeptastic soundtrack to Vulkanon - the new release of v2.0 reveals: "The sound composed by Nullsleep was added... The stage composition of the barrage was adjusted, and the volume improved." We hear BulletGBA might get an aural update too - more on this breaking story soon!

2007 Independent Games Festival Entries Announced

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/igf2k7.gif In my 'copious spare time', as some of you know, I'm also the Chairman of the Independent Games Festival, and the Main Competition deadline was last Friday. We've just posted the full list of entries, and there are a total of 141, a new record.

There's some really interesting games on there, needless to say - from awesome grassroots indie titles like Armadillo Run, Golf?, Gibbage, Eets, and Everyday Shooter through higher-powered but still very much independent Xbox Live Arcade titles such as The Behemoth's Castle Crashers and frenetic racing game Mad Tracks. I think it's going to be a great year. [UPDATE: Andy Schatz has done an excellent breakdown of just a few of the more interesting entries over at Indiegamer.com.]

We've also updated the judges pretty comprehensively, adding some indie stalwarts alongside neat people like Penny Arcade's Tycho, Foundation9's Chris Charla, and even, most likely, a few people who read this very blog (yurgh!).

I will also repeat the other half of the update on IGF.com, 'cos I want modders to take notice: "The next deadline for prospective entrants is October 13, 2006 at 11:59pm PDT for the IGF Mod Competition, which is allowing mods from any game to compete - from Thief to Half-Life 2 to Oblivion to The Sims and beyond, all mods are eligible. From the entrants, we will pick Best Singleplayer FPS Mod, Best Multiplayer FPS Mod, Best RPG Mod, and Best 'Other' Mod finalists (each a $500 prize), and those winners will show at the 2007 GDC, competing for an overall $5,000 Best Mod prize." Get to it, haw!

Dwarf Fortress - Obscuro PC GOTY?

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/dfort.jpg Bill Harris at Dubious Quality is a smart cookie, so it's interesting that he's raving about practically unknown PC game 'Dwarf Fortress', calling it 'one of the most complex and demanding games I've ever played'.

He commented of the title: "Think Space Rangers 2 came out nowhere? The graphics in this game are ASCII. In 2006, that qualifies as out of nowhere. It's in alpha (although it's already far more stable and complete than most commercial releases I've played this year). And it's free. It's also one of the most imaginative, multi-layered, detailed gaming worlds I've ever seen."

A good basic description is also provided: "In simple terms, when the game begins, you have a group of seven dwarves at the base of a mountain, and your goal is to survive. And to survive successfully, you'll have establish stable sources of food and create shelter. Each of your dwarves has abilities, and they can learn new ones, and you must use their skillsets to create a sustaining environment." There's are several follow-up posts on Bill's blog with more in-depth playtesting info.

GameSetVids: Rule Of Tetris

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/ror.jpg A duo of random video-related links for a Sunday night, completely unrelated, but each rather interesting. Firstly, friend and Gamasutra colleague Jason Dobson has made a video guide to Atlus' Rule Of Rose, and it's... neeto.

He comments of it: "With Atlus' upcoming survival horror/action game Rule of Rose for the PlayStation 2 scheduled to ship next week, I figured a preview of this somewhat disturbing game would be in order. Atlus sent over the review build several weeks ago, and I can honestly say that while the game is not without its share of flaws, it is one of the most atmospheric games to come along in a good while. It's unapologetically psychotic, and is also a refreshing throw back to earlier days of PC adventure gaming." It's good to see footage with commentary like this.

Secondly, the fun Aeropause has a neat Tetris-referencing German car ad, of which it comments: "Is it just me or does it seem like there was way too much crap packed into that little car? It would probably take the average person an hour to pack a car like that." Never mind the bollocks, here's the TETRIS, man!

September 10, 2006

Welcome To Islamogaming In Action

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/islamo.jpg Reprinted from the latest issue of CGW, 1UP has posted the excellent feature 'Looking For Videogames In The Muslim World' by Ed Halter, and it's a well-researched, interesting read.

Halter notes a planned 'Commander Bahman' game in which you have to rescue an Iranian nuclear scientist kidnapped by American special forces (!), explaining: "Spiked with the tensions surrounding U.S.-Iran relations, the untitled Commander Bahman project is not the first Islamic videogame to appear in the Middle East. In fact, in the past half decade a number of projects have emerged from the Muslim world, all sharing a similar goal: to subvert the typical gaming stereotype of Arabs as bad guys by replacing the typical American or European action hero with a recognizably Muslim protagonist."

He continues: "Like many of their American counterparts, these games often base their narratives on real-life wars and battles: While Westerners replay WWII and Vietnam, they twitch through virtual recreations of the Palestinian intifada and the 1982 Israel-Lebanon war. Though relatively small, Islamogaming is also a diverse field, ranging from amateur projects by students, unabashed anti-Zionist propaganda produced by an internationally recognized terrorist organization, religious games produced to teach Islam to kids, and a set of more sober games designed to explore the complex realities of Middle Eastern history." More nuanced write-ups of adult topics, please?

Warcraft's World Spawns New Chinese Ads

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/woweee.jpg A few days ago, Julian Dibbell posted on Terra Nova about World Of Warcraft's latest Chinese TV ads, and has now updated his TN post with links to YouTube vids of the various ad segments.

He notes: "I'm posting from China, where two days ago I got into a taxi and saw, on the little TV set you get to watch in Chinese taxis sometimes, the most hallucinatory Coca-Cola commercial I have ever witnessed: We open with a vision of the hip Taiwanese girl band SHE lounging about in their slick apartment somewhere. Zoom in on a laptop sitting on the kitchen table, out of which, suddenly, emerge a big green World of Warcraft orc and his troll and Tauren sidekicks, who proceed to rampage through the apartment, raiding the fridge for Coke, then grabbing the bandmembers themselves and dragging them kicking and squealing back into the computer and the barren lands of the Horde."

Dibbell continues: "Cut to intertitle: Who will save the girls? Will it be... international hottie soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo? (Cut to CGI shot of Ronaldo kicking a gnarly looking spiked ball straight at a big green orc goalie.) Cute little punkette singing star and "Chinese Idol" winner Li Yuchun? (Seen riding to the rescue in stylish Alliance armor.) Or will it be, perhaps, the girls of SHE themselves? You decide! Go to this website and yadda yadda..." Here's the opening sequence (YouTube link), click through on the Terra Nova post for the alternate ending links.

Megaton Drama Leads To Summa Destructoid-tion

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/nukeme.jpg The merest hint of drama in the game blogosphere sends the fanboys ravenous, and if you've been keeping up, this one is a doozy - Joystiq blogger Robert Summa originally posted a teaser earlier this week about "a scoop for some important news with one of the next-generation consoles".

This led to all kinds of crazed frothing on the Internet - which pretty quickly turned to wrath when it turned out the announcement was just the IBM 'Broadway' CPU for the Wii being shipped to Nintendo, not exactly front-page news. (As for being 'a scoop', everyone on IBM's game press list, including GSW sister site Gamasutra, was offered the info under embargo - but that's a whole other issue.)

Anyhow, the aftermath of this was that original Joystiq hyper Summa ended up being fired from his contract job blogging for the AOL-owned blog (what does that pay nowadays - $15 per post or something?), and is now ensconced over at the uber-tabloid (but quite fun!) Destructoid, where he posted a rant-ish post about his Joystiq departure.

His take? "I feel Joystiq takes themselves WAY too seriously and that’s evident in their over-reaction to the fan over-reaction to my post. Was I wrong in teasing to later events? Maybe, but that’s all subjective isn’t it? And let me tell you, my purpose was not to create undue hype or bring traffic to the site. All I wanted to do was let the readers know they could come to Joystiq for the news and not some other site. Where’s the wrong in that?" Where's the wrong, guys?

James Kochalka Spreads His Game Boy Camera Wings

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/kochalka.jpg The sharp-eyed among you may already be aware that cartoonist and musician James Kochalka is a bit of a major video game fan. Well, for the video for his new single, 'Spread Your Evil Wings And Fly', he's gone and proved it (YouTube link).

Why, you say? Well, the accompanying blurb explains: "James Kochalka Superstar video shot on a gameboy camera by James Kochalka and edited by Pistol Stamen". Not sure how the transferring to PC was done - there are some very odd interference patterns on the video, actually, but that just makes it look even more lo-fi. (The author of this very post is a bit of a Game Boy Camera fan, and has an old gallery of GBCam pics up on the Web somewhere or other.)

We also noticed an older Re:Retro interview with Kochalka about games, in which he notes: "I’ve been playing games for a long, long time. I think the first video game I ever encountered was something on the big mainframe computer at the Dartmouth hospital. A couple kids from my boy scout troop got to go check it out. They also let us freeze stuff with liquid nitrogen." Wow - games _and_ liquid nitrogen? [Vid via Fort90, ta!]

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GamerBytes (for the latest console digital download news.)

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