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September 23, 2006

Tingling All Over, But Not For Scientology

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/vanpool0.jpg It's worth checking out the Game|Life weblog, more than usual, even, since Chris Kohler has been doing some neat photo updates for Wired News from Tokyo.

But I particularly liked his photos from the Vanpool offices, the creators of the ultra-bizarre Zelda spin-off Tingle RPG for DS - he noted: "But I had to ask the designers: was their game really intended, as I suspected, as a parody of Scientology?"

So: "As it turns out: no, but sort of. While they didn't know what Scientology was, they said they were inspired to create the scam-a-riffic religion of Rupee Land by voodoo bullshit like fake charm pendants and healing bracelets and all that." But man, bizarre real-life Tingle-style press-on nails, too? Odd odd odd.

Atom Expands On 'NewsGaming' Mandate

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/airp.jpg  hspace= Now, we already covered the 'Airport Security' game done by Ian Bogost's Persuasive Games for Shockwave.com, but it's worth noting that this is just part of a bigger program from parent company Atom, according to a press release they sent us.

It goes like this: "Atom Entertainment, Inc. said today it has opened the first "NewsGames” channel at the fast growing online games destination AddictingGames and said it will develop dozens of new titles each year and promote the best user-generated games that mock the most popular headlines and cultural topics of the day."

Interestingly, they want to grab most of the titles for free: "Most of the content at the NewsGames channel will be harvested from user submissions. Today, users can create games just about as quickly and easily as they can shoot, edit and publish video Atom Entertainment expects to see much of the content in the NewsGames channel to come from user submissions and online gamers." Apart from Persuasive's games, of course.

So what do you get here? "Other titles in the NewsGame channel have already proven to be huge hits. The Zidane Headbutt game was an international sensation, generating almost 4 million games plays in just a few weeks online. Cheney's Fury, a game that mocked our vice presidents errant shotgun blast and has seen 1.4 million game plays, also joins the cast of games available here. And Bush Backrub, a game that lampooned the President's awkward massaging of a European head of state and has seen more than 1 million game plays, is also at the new destination." Hurray!

GameSetPics: Alt.Highlights Of TGS, Part 2

The second of what will probably be three parts in alt.TGS photos. I've tried to stray away from the most obvious stuff (everyone is taking pictures of Devil May Cry 4, after all), but who knows, this selection may be just as predictable in a 'alternative stuff' way, right?

Oh well, please to enjoy anyhow:

All fans of harmonicas and Irem should take note - mech adventure Bumpy Trot 2 was in full effect at TGS 2006.

Over at the Hudson booth, alongside a life-sized Bomberman (not pictured, doh!), there was this van entirely covered in post-it notes with sketches of Bomberman made by fans - cute idea.

A little more Hudson booth action - not quite sure who these lovely onstage ladies are.

Oh, Yoot Saito! Seaman 2: Human had a preview theater within a black monolith-type object, with the typical 'fake history' video goodness on monitor screens.

Over at the Capcom merchandising stand, they had this rather gorgeous Okami plush.

D3 fans such as Jiji will probably be delighted by the appearance of a real-life Onechanbara at the company's TGS booth. Other people too, we're guessing?

Super Mario Theme, All Funked Up?

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/fri.jpg Via a bunch of people, including Waxy, we have an interesting weblog post about a musical theme from Super Mario Bros, and how it may possibly have been 'borrowed' from an older funk record.

It's noted: "A while back, while digging through LA’s now closed Aaron’s Records, I ran across a Record from “Friendship”, and I recognized the bassists name, “Abraham Laboriel”. I remembered a buddy of mine telling me that Abe was a “sick bassist”, and at 99 cents, i couldn’t resist. So I bring my loot home, and pop it on my technics. The very first track I played is called “The Real Thing”. I was instantly floored. I couldn’t believe my ears. I was listening to a funked out version of Super Mario Brothers “Underworld” theme."

The MP3 comparing them is there on the page, and commenter 'Olli' is the most intriguing of the blog respondents: "Video games really wasn’t considered that big a deal by anyone over the age of 20 in 1985, certainly not enough to sue over musical similarities. it wasn’t uncommon in those days for vg composers to borrow parts of pop melodies for game soundtracks because there was virtually no risk involved. this is only a small bit of the melody that’s similar though... koji kondo may very well be a fan of friendship, i know he borrowed bits of songs by three suns and other space age pop bands for super mario world and yoshi’s island."

September 22, 2006

Tim Sweeney, Let Off The Leash!

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/sween.jpg Something else I worked on for Gamasutra at TGS - I was one of the only Western journalists in a CEDEC Premium talk with Epic's Tim Sweeney, and it was great to see him being honest in the Q&A, freed from perhaps over-restrictive PR shackles.

Some extracts: Sweeney "...did comment specifically on how difficult it is to program for multi-core processors and the even more complex Cell chip used in the PlayStation 3. He noted that it "takes about twice the effort and development cost to develop for a multi-threaded CPU," compared to a single-core CPU. Even more than that, according to Epic's analysis, fully exploiting the PS3 Cell chip "required about 5 times as much cost and development time than single-core.""

But it's not all bad for PS3: "While Sweeney seemed to be disquieted by the complexity of developing for Cell, he did praise Sony elsewhere in his keynote for an "enlightened business model" when it comes to online PS3 capabilities - one that will apparently allow Epic's users to create Unreal Tournament 2007 levels and content on the PC, and distribute them via the PlayStation 3." Apples for everyone!

GameSetGuide: Video Game Events in NYC

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/nycc.jpg[New GSW contributor Henry Cao is going to be writing a video game music/audio column for us in the near future, but in the meantime, he happens to have written this neat guide to upcoming game-related events in New York City, so we're reprinting here. Contact us if you'd like to do the same for your city.]

Come Out and Play Festival
When: September 22 - 24, 2006
Where: Eyebeam, 540 West 21st St.
What: From the creators of I Love Bees, PacManhattan, and more, the Come Out and Play Festival seeks to celebrate new styles of play through street and alternate reality games. The festival kicks off with a performance of Modal Kombat - a game of Mortal Kombat played by using real guitars - followed by a game of Space Invaders on the side of a building with your body as the controller. Sonic Body Pong will also make an appearance; there’s no screen - you have to use your sense of hearing to hit the ball!
Free, but many games require registration.

When: September 23, 2006 at 10 pm
Where: The Tank, 279 Church St.
What: Home to the scene of chiptunes, NYC’s latest show is headed by Nullsleep and Bit Shifter. If you’ve ever wondered why your Game Boy sounds like crap, run – don’t walk – to this show for an orgasmirific evening of bleeps and bloops.
$6 for all ages.

Wired NextFest
When: September 29, 2006 – October 1, 2006
Where: Jacob Javits Center, 655 West 34th St.
What: Alright, so this event is less about video games and more about the automatons who will one day subjugate mankind. And who cares about solar-powered cars, a glove that speaks sign language, or a digital camera that lets you see your own veins? “How am I supposed to rot my brain cells with these?” you ask. Well, you can, and look like a hamster in a cage while doing so! The VirtuSphere will be adopted by the future of arcades (heh heh. Look Beavis, I just made a dichotomy) and the military… but don’t tell Jack.
$15 for adults ($20 at the door), $12 for students, $5 for children. Adult ticket includes one-year subscription to Wired magazine.

New York-Tokyo Music Festival
When: September 30, 2006
Where: Rumsey Playfield, Central Park
What: New York-Tokyo’s annual music festival seeks to bridge Japanese and American culture with live performances by some of the best artists from both countries, but don’t let the name fool you – anime and games get the full-fledged treatment too! Featuring newly-released titles like Xenosaga III, Hot PXL, and Eureka Seven, the fun never stops (unless these games suck). Afro Samurai starring Samuel L. Jackson will also premiere; a reliable source tells me that Sam yells “I want these motherfucking ninjas off this motherfucking plane!” before every fight. Okay, not really.

8 Bit: A Documentary about Art and Videogames
When: October 7, 2006 at 8 pm and October 11, 2006 at 6 pm
Where: Museum of Modern Art, 11 West 53rd St.
What: Billed as a rockumentary of video game art, 8 Bit explores the “repository of the marvelous”, at least according to the press release. What’s that mean? It means you’re stupid unless you’re in this movie. Ohhhhhhh.
$20 for adult museum admission, $12 for student museum admission, free for children.
$10 for adult film admission, $6 for student film admission, free for children but requires ticket.


Nintendo Fusion Tour
When: October 8, 2006 at 6 pm
Where: Roseland Ballroom, 239 West 52nd St.
What: Who’s the star of this nationwide tour? Hawthorne Heights? Emery? Emo band #471? Non, monsieur. It’s the Nintendo Wii, or the “Wiiiiiiiiiiiiii!” if you’re crowd surfing while slitting your wrists. In an unrelated note, there was a guy who wore a Halo 2 T-shirt when Shigeru Miyamoto visited the Nintendo World Store, and all the Nintendo fanboys hissed at him (at Halo 2 shirt-wearing-guy, not Shigsy). Man, you guys piss me off.

Digital Life
When: October 12 – 15, 2006
Where: Jacob Javits Center, 655 West 34th St.
What: Digital Life is mainly a consumer electronics event, but it does have a respectable game division – especially if you’re up for Star Wars: Battlefront II and Dance Dance Revolution tournaments. Highlights for this year include the premiere of Final Fantasy XII and appearances by a roster of as-of-yet unnamed B-list celebrities. Highlights for last year include a black Batman, an unplayable Xbox 360, and an appearance by Carmen Electra. Holy crap, I couldn’t walk through the crowd around her. I couldn’t even see her – she might as well have been Carmen Sandiego.
$12 for adults ($15 after Oct. 12th), $8 for students ($12 after Oct. 12th).

Digital Play: Reloaded
When: Wednesday and Thursday at 11 am–5 pm, Friday at 11 am-8 pm (free after 4 pm), Saturday and Sunday at 11 am-6:30 pm
Where: Museum of the Moving Image, 35th Ave. at 36th St.
What: “Digital Play: Reloaded is organized around the theme of action in its different uses and interpretations. Music, dance, and movement-oriented video games originating in Japan constitute a shift from traditional, often violent game scenarios” is how this event’s described on its website. Here’s the summarized version: you get to play video games in a freaking museum! The bad news? There’s no “suggested donation” system (aka “show your significant other just how cheap you are”) that’s the bread and butter of other museums – you actually have to pay! Like if you were going to the movies. Except you’re not. Those Commie bastards!
$10 for adults, $7.50 for students, $5 for children ages 5-18, free for children under 5.

Honorable Mentions:

When: October 27 – 29
Where: Valley Forge Convention Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
What: I don’t know what this event’s about, but it seems to have gotten much bigger from last year; the recent cancellation of E3 is probably why. In any case, it’s close enough to NYC that it’s worth mentioning, and anything that uses Ben Franklin to promote itself is okay in my book.

GameSetPics: Alt.Highlights Of TGS, Part 1

Wow, TGS takes it out of you, and I'm sure you guys are inundated by reading all kinds of articles about the 7 zillion games exhibited on the TGS show floor. Well, I haven't even had time to catch up on other people's picks, but here's the stuff I got excited about at the 2006 Tokyo Game Show while wandering confusedly round the show floor:

You've seen it featured on GameSetWatch as a student project, but now Jenova Chen's Flow is coming to PlayStation 3 as a Sony-published game, judging by this pod at the Sony booth - congrats to him!

Not sure which I like best - the fact that there's a camouflage PSP, or the display case they put it in.

This is a fruit-covered lady demonstrating Super Monkey Ball for the Wii. Really, does it need any more explanation?

Of course, I ran into Brandon Sheffield and Tim Rogers with their tongues close to floor level while gazing delightedly upon D3's Earth Defense Forces 3 (formerly EDF X?) for Xbox 360. What chance a Western release?

After Gitaroo Man, more great rhythm games getting PSP conversions - this time, it's Parappa The Rapper, and I know it's just a straight conversion, but I'm so buying it.

Kutaragi On 'The Future Of Gaming'

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/kutaa.jpg So, I was at Tokyo Game Show all day - you'll see some pictures from it on GSW in due course, including some alternate highlights - but I did an in-depth write-up of Ken Kutaragi's Sony keynote for Gamasutra which perhaps doesn't even convey the semi-insanity of it.

Ken obviously has a grand plan around networking and shared metaverse-style information (!), yet as I noted: "But how do the two poles of a networked ecosystem and the PS3's extreme power get reconciled? Kutaragi freely admitted that the PlayStation 3 "may be called overkill" in terms of its "enormous computation power", but he explained that, over the next 2 to 3 years, "networking will live alongside packaged media."" If you understand this, please explain to us all!

Furthermore, the follow-up Q&A saw Mr. Kutaragi in even more flippant mode, particularly: "When asked about the expensive nature of the PS3, Kutaragi somewhat bizarrely claimed that in the U.S., the $499 pricing had retailers and publishers happy at "such a great function for that price", trying to paint a picture where Europe was similarly happy, and it was only Japan (where the lower-spec model is 59,800 yen ($515), and the higher-spec price up to retailers) that price came up as an issue." You should have seen the Westerners in the audience when _that_ comment came through via translation.

September 21, 2006

GameTap Grabs Classic Cyan Title & The Last Express

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/tle.gif Man, the guys at GameTap are piling on the intriguing game content for their 'all you can eat' PC subscription stylee service - they just signed up Jordan Mechner's cult 'The Last Express' and Cyan's Spelunx working on PC for the first time - info follows below from their official PR.

"Among the highlights [of the new GameTap update] is “The Last Express,” Phoenix Licensing’s debut game on GameTap. When The Last Express was originally released, it received Editor’s Choice awards from Computer Gaming World, PC Gamer, and dozens of gaming websites, as well as being awarded the “Best New Adventure and Role Playing Game” by Games Magazine. Created by Jordan Mechner, the mastermind behind the incredibly popular “Prince of Persia” series, “The Last Express” is an indelible adventure experience."

"While Cyan is best known for its “Myst” franchise - with “Myst Online: Uru Live” debuting on GameTap this holiday season and “Myst,” “Riven: The Sequel to Myst,” and “Myst III: Exile” currently available in the network – one of their past game gems is “Spelunx and the Caves of Mr. Seudo.” This is an educational game cleverly disguised as a cave exploration adventure. Previously only available for the Mac, it is now making its PC debut."

COLUMN: 'Cinema Pixeldiso' – Resurrection of the Little Match Girl

['Cinema Pixeldiso' is a new column by Matt 'Fort90' Hawkins, which takes a look at movies that are either directly based upon or are related to video games, with a focus on the obscure and the misunderstood. This week’s selection hails from South Korea and was produced in 2002.]


http://www.gamesetwatch.com/matchgirl1.gifSo most video game movies are based on video games, right? Well here's one based on... an old Christmas story by Hans Christian Anderson?

Resurrection of the Little Match Girl tells the tale of Joo, a quiet, downtrodden regular Joe who spends his time either working a crappy Chinese food delivery job, or in the arcades playing various arcade shooters - which help fuel his fantasies of blasting away all the rude customers he has to deal with. His main aspiration is to be a pro gamer like his best buddy GG. Why? Women, naturally. In one of the film’s earliest scenes features both guys having dinner with two girls, and when GG tells the ladies about the StarCraft competition he’s set to participate in, along with all the money and fame that’ll come if he nabs the top prize, both get into an argument in the bathroom over the chance to bag him. Joo on the other hand is completely cast aside.

[Click through for more.]

Then after yet another evening spent in the arcade playing a few games as well as pining over the cutie who runs the place (but who already has a boyfriend and is clearly out of his league anyway), Joo is approached by a girl selling lighters (the titular character, though modified since no one sells matches anymore in this day and age), who not only looks like the arcade girl from before but also seems totally out of it. Joo then quietly follows the Match Girl in the shadows and watches as she approaches a sailor to sell her wares, who in turn takes her back to his boat for the evening. Then the words "GAME OVER" comes across the movie screen, along with "Hint: pay attention and be careful" and "Restart (YES/NO)". We are then transported back to the scene in which Joo received the lighter, and upon closer examination he notices a phone number (which also happens to feature a logo closely resembling the one for the Sega Dreamcast). He calls the it and a voice welcomes him to Resurrection of the Little Match Girl, a game provided by "the System".

How The Game/Movie Works

Joo agrees to play and the rules are immediately laid out: the goal is to allow the girl to die from the cold by "saving" her from certain individuals that are either willing to buy a lighter from her or want her for their own nefarious purposes. Also, in the original story, the Match Girl dies while thinking of her grandmother, so in the game Joo must make the girl fall in love with him before allowing her to expire. Joo is also informed that failure means he'll be stuck in the game forever. Thus the “game” begins.

The basic thrust of the film is Joo’s attempt at “winning” the game, which mostly consists of him dealing with the assorted video game conventions and the accompanying shift in reality; early on he acquires an ID card that he uses to attain weapons and health (i.e buy food). Graphics and explanations appear often on-screen whenever a new element comes up, or if there’s a chance in status. When Joo nails his first bad guy, we see his “stats” increase.

They also pop up whenever characters are introduced, which are the other major component he has to handle (some are friends but most are foes). There’s a wide and colorful cast, which includes a lecherous old man, five bumbling hoodlums which provides the movie's primary comic relief, Odeng, the obligatory weaponry provider, and Oh Sadness, the main bad guy, who also happens to be the one who killed the Match Girl's love (explaining why she's messed up), and has since been "cursed". Each time someone appears, you get information regarding their health, strength, hit points, et-cetera, as well as a brief biographical blurb, which provides as much insight as the ones you get from the attract screens in a fighting game. Though the best of the bunch and definite highlight of the entire film has to be the gun-toting Lara, whose bio says it all: "Remember Lara Croft. But here she's a lesbian. She's powerful but mentally unstable." It should also be noted that she is actually a he; the character of Lara is portrayed by Jin Xing, a real life Chinese transsexual actor.

Stage 1

The "game" starts out pretty strong. Early on Joo pairs up with Lara who helps the Little Match Girl escape the clutches of Oh Sadness’ men, who had kidnapped her away from the aforementioned goofy gang which had previously nabbed her from the streets and were engaging in a false-molestation scenario to help set up their boss’s grand entrance, with the idea being that he would kicks their asses and “save” her from them so she would therefore fall in love with the man, who also happens to be portrayed by a poor Korean imitation of John Belushi. The whole sequence of events can only be described as “wacky”. When Lara hits the scene, it's nothing but hard-hitting business; she shoots while running (both on the ground and up the walls), sliding, doing summersaults, jumping on and off her bike (which is called “Tom Cruise”, a nod to Top Gun perhaps), and even flat out flying through the air. In Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, when people leap in the air, they defy gravity but it makes at least a little sense. Not here. And when a shot connects (which it always does; Lara’s an expert shot of course) the results are pretty gruesome, with blood flying all over the place as well; the movie doesn't pull back any punches with the outlandish action, which is all high-speed, visceral, cartoony, and, yes, very video game-like. And it’s very enjoyable to watch, especially when Joo and Lara take the showdown to a disco, where she not only shoots and jumps, but busts moves on the dance floor), in a scene where the director figuratively comes forward and says "I like the Matrix a lot and have no problems ripping it off because I LOVE BULLET TIME."

The rest of the first leg has the Little Match Girl passing out from inhaling lighter fluid, which brings upon a hallucination/flashback/music video sequence featuring her dead boyfriend singing some cheesy K-rock ballad and then getting killed by Oh Sadness. We also discover that Joo is a “virus” that the System considers a major threat, and calls upon Oh Sadness to seek out and eliminate the player. Oh Sadness in turn enlists his best agent, GG. The System is portrayed by a French man who speaks English, so his dialogue is not subtitled like the rest of the Korean dialogue, but his accent is so thick it’s impossible to make out 60% of what he's saying. And the crazy old guy who gives Joo cryptic advice, Choopung, also created the System but was “betrayed” by it, and now he wants to take it down (naturally).

Stage 2

The second “stage” begins with the Little Match Girl running around town with a gun, back to selling lighters. This time when folks say no, she just blows them away. This in turn makes her a media darling, and is dubbed the "LMG Bug" by the press. It makes one lead to believe that every denizen of the game's world knows that they aren’t real and are happy to see something screw up the system, but it’s an avenue that's never fully explored. Another scene that seems completely out of place has her storming into an orphanage where kids are used as slave labor, and killing the operators, who are so evil they bleed green blood. Unfortunately, she ends up taking a few kids out in the process. Whoops!

Later, while being swamped by her rabid fanbase of people that now are more than willing to buy lighters from her, the Match Girl gets ambushed, but uses her now perfected skills at blowing people to bits to take out the bad guys and hijack a cab, which leads to a semi-comical car chase with the film sped up like Benny Hill.

Soon there's a stand off between herself and Oh Sadness, who reveals that it wasn't he who killed her main squeeze, but the System, who ain't too happy about that revelation, so Oh Sadness is quickly snuffed while the Match Girl is finally subdued. Later we catch up with Joo who is totally weaponless and starving since he had to ditch his ID as the System was using it to track him. Joo eventually confronts Choopung who tells him to go to see Odeng, who then tells him to see Choopung again, but this time it’s the "real" Choopung, not the "game" Choopung. (I think... things get really confusing at this point). Joo also receives the Mackerel, which looks like a cheap kid's toy but is the movie/game's obligatory ultimate weapon. But it has limited firepower, so he’d better be careful!

Stage 3

End game finally begins kicks off with Joo storming the System's HQ that is a very long and costly looking action sequence with lots of stuff being blown to bits. This is the part of the movie that really begins to feel like the director’s checklist of “video-gamey” stuff to do. "Hey, our good guy is running down the hallway, shooting bad guys. Can we insert some cheesy FPS graphics here? Good." Then you have the inevitable Joo/GG confrontation where they engage in fisticuffs wearing trench coats, dodge bullets, move in slow mo, and even punch each other in a rain-soaked alleyway for no real reason. Eventually we arrive at the heart of the System, which is an all white room with crappy Matrix-gibberish computer code running down the sides of walls, along with a few grey arcade cabinets littered about.

The System says a few indistinguishable things, and a last ditch attempt to save the girl is made, but Joo is killed. Yet, he’s not really dead, because it was all just a game. So Joo gets up from his computer and continues on with his life as a lowly Chinese delivery guy.

The End

Or is it? Psyche! He had another credit, or something. And you can see where this is going... provided an overly symbolic-laden grand finale in which Joo must shoot it out with bad guys while the Match Girl runs on top of ocean waves while trying to destroy a golden moth is someone’s idea of an obvious conclusion. I'd like to think that it was a subtle reference to the game Rez, but a part of me doesn't want to give the filmmaker that much credit.

Is Resurrection of the Little Match Girl a good movie? No. Very much the opposite: the plot is completely incoherent, much of the action and violence seems completely unnecessary, all the characters are one dimensional, and it’s more or less an extremely awkward mash-up of parody, satire, and social commentary. The film tries very hard to say several things about the human condition, video gamers, and maybe our society, but all of it is very unclear. But ultimately it’s not bad in the same way that other bad video game movies are. At the very least, it’s different.

http://www.gamesetwatch.com//matchgirl8.jpgThough what makes the film truly special is that it’s practically the most embarrassing thing to come from the white-hot Korean film scene. Whereas virtually every single Korean film produced from 2000 has been a smash success in its home land, and the darling of whatever film festival it appears at elsewhere, Resurrection was a colossal disaster, and is perhaps something the entire nation might want to forget ever happened. According to New York based Subway Cinema, which was brave enough to host its US premiere (I think its safe to say that no one else had the guts or common sense to play it elsewhere), the movie was such a massive bomb that it single-handedly bankrupted all three of the companies that financed the project, which was apparently many years in the making. And it definitely looked like it cost three company’s worth of assets; the movie is visually stunning, and far more respectable than most other movies based on games, which often have shoestring budgets. At a time when most Korean directors are busy working on three films at once; Resurrection's director, Jang Sun-Woo, has yet to make another film.

Final Score…

Resurrection of the Little Match Girl may go down as a true forgotten classic in the realm of video game cinema, one that doesn’t deserve to slip away. At the very least it should be celebrated as a bad video game movie with a little bit of class, since it’s also a foreign flick, which has to count as something. And much like gender-bending Lara Croft, it needs to be seen to be believed.


Another film from Asia, from Hong Kong, which doesn’t deal with video games as heavily but has a few nice elements from them, and more importantly is a good movie, is Bio Zombie. It’s basically Dawn of the Dead, but in an urban Hong Kong shopping center, and instead of some SWAT team members, it’s just a pair of hapless VCD bootleggers fighting the undead (with skills honed via House of the Dead). The movie also happens to feature the absolute best use of a Game Boy Camera in motion picture history.

There’s also La Maquina de Bailar, the Spanish DDR movie that opens very soon. So Americans aren't the only ones looking from behind a controller for movie ideas.

[Matt Hawkins is a New York-based freelance journalist and Gamasutra contributor. He also designs games, makes comics, and does assorted “other things.” To find out more, check out Fort90.com.]

Inis Creator On Japanese Indie Game Development

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/yano.jpg Since TGS is kicking off tomorrow, GSW posts may be slowing down a bit more, but here's my latest for Gamasutra - an interview with Ouendan and Gitaroo Man co-creator Keiichi Yano, discussing how independent developers thrive in the Japanese market.

Here's some neat bits: "How about hiring to add to the team at Inis? Yano commented baldly: "Hiring is really a pain in the butt in Japan", noting that for a company like Inis, "it's very hard to get [the right] caliber of person", despite the specialized game schools operating in Japan. However, Inis is starting to attract seasoned developers to bolster its existing staff - the Inis co-founder explains: "We have the lead programmer of Final Fantasy XI on our team right now", an impressive addition to the company."

And more: "So, what's in Inis' future? The company has shown elements from an Xbox 360 technical demo on its website, and Yano confirmed that they are moving ahead, and we will "eventually" see some kind of Xbox 360 game from his company - no publisher or game details yet, though. As for other possible projects, Yano commented enthusiastically: "I want to do a Wii game, like everybody else" - but it doesn't appear that any such title is in active development." Please to enjoy!

COLUMN: 'The Gentleman Nerd' - Why I'm Seeking Revenge on... Arkham Horror

[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.]

Arkham Horror isn’t the type of game you take on without a commitment to mind alteration and abstract thought. The brain has to be limber to follow the breadcrumbs that were left by the designers throughout the rule book for this game, and we all know what limbers the mind. So, I poured myself a glass of “brain tonic” and began my work.

Arkham HorrorWhen faced with learning something that abandons the standard rule set that we’re all used to, such as smashing windows, it’s always best to throw yourself in to it head first. With that in mind, we all sat down to go over how to play the game with only a modicum of actual game knowledge. A game like Arkham Horror, when not addressed as I’ve described, is always going to take twice as long to understand and begin to enjoy, and that’s its danger. If the learning process takes too long, the more casual players become restless and irritable and you will lose them. This will not do. That brings us to the only real complaint about Arkham Horror: the rule book.

The best way to understand these rules, and find your way through the book, as we discovered, was to have a council. We made the council out of the people we had present: Brian was the sober, hardcore gamer, Scott represented the sober, casual gamer and then me, the abstract thinker. Once the stage was set, we began to play and learn the rules at a breakneck pace.

Arkham HorrorOur characters would make a movement and perform an action, followed by a flip through the instructions. Anything that wasn’t played correctly was let slide and a promise to “do it right the next time” was laid out by all in attendance. This first game took us around four hours to play and, even after having to survive the rule book, everyone had a good time. This, by all accounts, is a minor miracle for our group. So, with that in mind, we decided to include some n00bs.

Luckily for said n00bz, there is absolutely no pwnz0ring allowed except by the Ancient Ones or their followers. On the other hand, though, is the fact that Ancient Ones and their followers really enjoy pwnz0ring n00bs and those of us with sk1llz as well. Arkham Horror isn’t an easy game by any definition, and that’s AFTER you understand the rules. That’s what makes it interesting, and oddly disheartening, to play. There’s always a “bottomless pit” waiting right around the corner to whisk you directly back to go without your ten dollars or wither spell. More than once, I’ve been swept into the void because of a lousy dice roll.

Instant death aside, the gameplay is somewhat similar to other systems. You can move an amount of spaces according to your speed and you use your different stats to determine the difficulty of skill checks and to decide combat. Items and allies can be acquired by completing challenges from location cards or by purchasing them in stores. Each player has life and, of course, sanity markers. It wouldn’t be a game based on Lovecraft’s work if you didn’t lose your mind. It’s all mostly standard board game fare with a few exceptions.

Arkham HorrorOne of the more notable differences is the gates to other worlds. Each round, the locations on the board have a chance of turning into a gate to another dimension. If a player is on that space or lands on that space, they are immediately sucked through and must find their way out. Basically, the player has to be in the other dimension for at least two turns before they can leave (though there are a few exceptions to that rule). Once the player has left the alternate dimension, they can choose to close the gate, and if they use five clue tokens they can seal that area for good, which means that neither gates nor monsters can spawn there again. Which leads us to the question: what the hell are clue tokens?

Clue tokens are little items scattered around the board that represent bits and pieces of knowledge that can be used to turn a situation to your favor. For instance, you can spend a clue token to roll additional die or to close a gate. These tokens start off plentiful and then become rare later in the game when you need them the most. Hang on to your clues, people, you’re going to need them when the Ancient One comes back.

There are a couple of ways to end the game, but the most common by far is the return of an Ancient One. At the beginning of the game, when you’re selecting characters you also select or pick at random for an overall evil threat. This grizzly bastard is planning on destroying the world, and only the investigators’ sweet brand of vigilante justice will save it. You have to fight the Ancient One and send it back to wherever it came from. There’s something satisfying about blasting Cthulu back to hell with a 12 gauge pump and some holy water.

Most of the time, however, it’s not that easy. Most of the ancient ones come into the world packing a punch and the odds of survival are slim, but where’s the fun if there’s no danger? This time we lost the nun, who was devoured by some ancient evil, and then our gangster got tossed into the abyss. After all that, those of us who remained were cut down by Yog-Sothoth.

Oh, well, you can’t win them all. Hell, it’s how you get there that’s the real fun. That’s what I keep telling myself, anyway, but deep down inside I’m a torrent of rage. I’ll get you next time, you fancy bastard.

I need a drink.

[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 20, 2006

Microsoft's High Hopes In Japan?

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/mooretgs.jpg The observant among you may have spotted that I posted a new Gamasutra editorial on the Xbox 360's chances in Japan, after attending the company's pre-TGS briefing yesterday.

Some highlights: "The 90 minute briefing, helmed both by Takashi Sensui, General Manager of Xbox Japan, and in parts by an ever-ebullient Peter Moore, was intended to show that it was business as usual in terms of Microsoft's Japanese strategy. And, in many ways, the company's admirable intent is still in place - but the results are starting to show, and it simply hasn't worked so far."

And there's more: "Now, let it not be said that Microsoft aren't going about things the right way by recruiting Sakaguchi to the cause, and there is certainly good support to a certain degree from major Japanese companies including Capcom and Bandai Namco. But it looks increasingly to me, from seeing the shelves in Tokyo game stores filled with Western-created games for the first Xbox, that the company's Xbox 360 efforts are being undone by what has gone before."

My conclusion? "Moore notes that Japan is "one of the most critical regions for our business" - well, the next few months will be a final chance to get the console off life support." Aw, poor MS. More from Tokyo Game Show (which starts tomorrow!), uhh, tomorrow.

GameSetPics: Tokyo Arcade Action, Pt.2

I'm guessing you guys may be pretty bored of random Japanese arcade pics by now, but - good news - it's the last of the snaps I took this week. This final set deals with the Half-Life 2 arcade machine (yay!), other oddness, and walking the dog, arcade machine stylee (which isn't weird at all, right?) So, let's go:

Valve and Taito's Half-Life 2: Survivor is pretty weird to see in Tokyo arcades, and the gameplay itself is much different and simplified - but it's still darn cool.

One of the many card-based arcade games super-popular in Tokyo right now (they have them for baseball, tactical battling, fantasy, etc) - you need to buy cards and place them on the arcade machine to select your in-game characters.

After God knows how many iterations, Konami's Beatmania is still going strong, alongside the other Bemani titles.

Networked arcade games are increasingly popular in Japanese arcades, and this multiplayer quiz title was getting a lot of play.

Yours truly modeling a slightly older, but still highly amusing Sega arcade game in which you, yes, go walk a dog, avoiding cyclists and pacing on a treadmill. Score.

Airport Security - The Game!

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/airp.jpg  hspace= The ever-interesting Ian Bogost has posted in detail about his new 'serious game', and notes in an email to us: "My studio Persuasive Games just released a new game, in a new series of newsgames, on Shockwave.com. It's a game about airport security."

It's what? "They say the front line of the War on Terror is the airport security line. See if you’ve got what it takes to keep airline travel safe in this hysterical game of airport security. Better not let that tube of toothpaste get through your checkpoint — it could be a terrorist’s weapon against freedom (or maybe it just fights gingivitis)!"

WCG commenter Julian already digs it, commenting: "I just got back from a trip through the UK and Ireland, and the game is an accurate description of the level of confusion in air travel that results from constantly changing security rules." Social criticism and satire through games can be a powerful, neat thing.

The Biz Of Miz

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/heavenly.jpg  hspace= Edge Online has done the good thing and has reprinted an interview with Tetsuya Mizuguchi from the most recent issue of Edge Magazine, and it's got some fun stuff in it.

One of the neatest answers is comparing games and music: "Videogames are very much a firstperson experience. You are alone, facing the screen. But music has the advantage of being able to offer a firstperson experience when playing it and a thirdperson experience when you listen to it. A DJ, for instance, handles both these aspects of the music experience."

He continues: "When I started to make games using music, I had to play with these two aspects, so I used the music in the background in a thirdperson experience, but the game play itself could be compared to a DJ in action. Making music by pressing a button is an experience very close to a firstperson gaming experience." Lots more goodness within.

September 19, 2006

Another Code - A View To An Irk?

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/tracem.jpg The Functional Autonomy blog has an interesting post analyzing DS title Another Code, aka [EDIT: Uh, not Lost in Blue, duh!] Trace Memory, and comparing it to traditional adventure games.

The overall take, though? "Basic verdict: Does many tricks of old media while not playing to any of the strengths of games." Looks like this is usability-related, but some fine points are made: "# As the player, I often feel like I’m solely there to double tap in appropriate places to advance the decidedly linear action."

What's more: "# Dialogue is long winded, and interrupts the game without warning. Scripts initiate it far more often than the player, and it’s also so linear that the efforts at making it interactive are laughable... # It often won’t let you pick up items that will obviously be needed, until dialogue pertaining to the relevant puzzle has been activated and sat through." Too harsh? Some claim this is a 'hidden gem'.

Letters from the Metaverse: Sound + Fury == null;

[‘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 machinima.]

Last week I was wondering about machinima in Second Life, and this week I decided to look at it. I have to be honest; I think that machinima is almost always terrible. Much like using video games to create architecture prototypes, it works fantastically to create quick and dirty mock-ups of shots, locations or even scenes, but to create whole movies? Gosh, no thanks.

I actually went to see a whole range of machinima at this year’s Worldwide Short Film Festival in Toronto and was sorely disappointed; that the best they could find was the laughably overwrought (if technically impressive) World of Warcraft movie The Return was a bit depressing.

So, now you know about my in-built prejudices against machinima, you can probably take my opinions with a grain of salt. But! I genuinely think that with so many interesting locations in the world, hundreds of players who really have nothing better to do than be extras and built in video capturing tools, Second Life really does seem to be the ultimate “game” in which to create quick and easy machinima.

And having watched quite a few machinima shorts created in Second Life by now, I’d say that the only problem that affects Second Life’s machinima is the same that affects most others; loads of technical ability, absolutely no creative talent. As per usual, it’s like asking C++ coders to write Shakespeare. I've taken a look at a few of the best and worst.

2006_09_19_spurs.jpgSilver Bells and Golden Spurs – Probably one of the best known Machinima films from Second Life, as it’s the main one linked on the Second Life webpage, this is an amazingly impressive piece of work with a massive cast, mature camera angles and great set, let down by freaky animation (particularly the mouths) and a lame voice over. Made with the help of Linden Lab and apparently cost $555 to make, though. (The live action El Mariachi was made for only $7,000. Seriously. You could just save up.)

Second Life: Get One
- Best-of-show winner in the 2006 Second Life movie trailer contest, this is exactly the kind of thing they would pick to win. An absurdly overblown, if well edited, paean. Has a blustery voice over that'll sicken anyone who’s actually struggled against the many, many flaws of Second Life. Horrific.

Better Life – A man in a wheelchair escapes into Second Life, a “better life” in which all he seems to do is fall through the sky. Comes back to that “asking to C++ coders write Shakespeare” thing; the wheelchair is unsubtle to the point of being offensive.

2006_09_19_tour.jpgTour of the Solar System – Not a narrative, more a short educational film created by the well known Second Lifer Aimee Weber, it’s nice but I really don’t see what it gains by being machinima. Planets are usually fairly easy to create and animate in anything (Even I could probably do it in Lightwave, and it’s been years since I’ve used it). Some pretty incongruous music at points, too.

Lip Flap – An at least slightly funny, if far too self-referential (And therefore self conscious) film about a couple getting ready for a party. Has some character models perfectly representative of Second Life, too (i.e. hideous caricatures of what people think is attractive).

If you’d like to try making Machinima in Second Life, you should probably start at the Second Life page on it which includes a white paper written by Eric Call (creator of Silver Bells and Golden Spurs). It’s perhaps amusing to note that the best piece of machinima about Second Life is probably the Second Life episode of Tra5h Ta1k; it’s astoundingly true to the world.

[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, Plan B magazine, and Eurogamer. Check out his workblog, too.]

Giant Bite's One Giant Leap

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/gbite.jpg Over at the San Jose Merc News, the Buddha himself, Dean Takahashi has posted a fun little profile of developer Giant Bite, which is especially beholden to us at GSW because one of the principals, Steve Theodore, is the art columnist for Game Developer mag.

The pitch? "Hamilton Chu had what many people might consider a dream job in the video game industry. He was producer on both Halo and Halo 2. Then he left to strike out on his own. Now he's one of the four founders of Seattle-based developer Giant Bite, and he wants to do something just as big there."

Unfortunately, there's just a little bit too much vagueness here: "In fact, for now, Giant Bite is going to remain small. It isn't talking about its game. They're thinking about the consoles and the PC. The company is working on its concept. It has finished some of its demo and made it to the Leipzig conference to show it to publishers. Once it gets funded, the company plans to ramp up hiring and production." We want to know more, of course.

GameSetPics: Tokyo Arcade Action, Pt.1!

Hm, I was hoping to do a Gamasutra post about 'The State Of Japanese Arcades' today, but it's late, and honestly, I don't have a great deal of amazing insight, other than 'the Japanese love their arcade games, music, fighting, and networked CCG games are big, and there are some damn cool arcades out there', heh.

So how about I just split it out and show you some more pictures I've been taking of the myriad of arcades here in Tokyo this week? Some of this stuff is pretty standard, but hopefully you won't mind:

Sure, it's pretty standard and has even turned up in U.S. arcades, but who doesn't like seeing Namco/Nintendo's Mario Kart GP in arcades? Home conversion plz!

One of the craziest marquees of all time, I think for a sequel to the Bishi Bashi Special series, judging by the controller setup?

Well, Virtua Fighter 5 is certainly good-looking, but the interesting hook isn't just the single-player arcade machine.

Yep, this is the really interesting part - VF.TV, which was showing a network-transmitted Virtua Fighter 5 match from other sparring arcade participants elsewhere in Japan.

Dude - let's drum. Taiko No Tatsujin times infinity! Or about four, at least.

Xbox Live Arcade Makes... How Much?

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/mbu.jpg Over at his blog, Garage Games' Jeff Tunnell has been expounding in detail on XBLA financing, with some particularly interesting results.

Firstly, he notes: "Creating an XBLA game is taking most studios 6-12 months. Costs are currently ranging from $100,000 to $300,000... The industry standard arms race will quickly make the top end $300,000 budget a cheap product. Right now, I wouldn’t consider attempting to make an XBLA game with a $100,000 budget... I can’t give the exact figure, but the Marble Blast Ultra budget was at the higher end of the current budget range."

More stats? If Marble Blast Ultra hypothetically sold about 120k unites: "So, 120,000 units * $10 per unit = $1.2MM... Remember, Microsoft should make something for making this cool distribution channel available, and they do take a cut. The publicly available information on this is that the distribution fees for bringing a game to XBLA is 35-70% depending upon participation by MS, i.e. the publisher gets 30-65% of the money collected for game sales."

Therefore: "Let’s say you are a publisher or a developer that is able to fund your own development, so, a $10 game (800 Gamer Points) would net you $6.50, or 120,000 units * $6.50 per unit = $780,000." Good info, here. [Via Edge Online.]

September 18, 2006

Gizmondo's Colors - The Full Oz Experience

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/gizmenu.png We may or may not have an interview with the Colors creators up on Gamasutra soon, but in the meantime, our obsession with the game extends to GSW co-editor FrankC's semi-gonzo game semi-review over at his Lost Levels.

He explains: "Colors is a game that was made for the Gizmondo handheld device, a portable gaming system made by a company in Florida that installed floors into houses and offices. The Gizmondo was really awesome. It took five minutes to turn on, overheated all the time, and had no good games at all. It was sold exclusively by mailorder and in ten hidden mall kiosks throughout North America that required a potential customer to push a series of crates to reveal. It sold for something stupid like $400, and then the CEO of the company crashed his million dollar stolen Enzo, and then the entire company just kind of disappeared after two months."

What's more: "The Gizmondo's only killer app was Colors which, despite being a (mostly) finished game, never quite made it to the mall kiosks, because Gizmondo's distribution center forgot how to ship things. In this exclusive Lost Levels review, we take a look at Gizmondo's GTA-killer, and review it accordingly." The game is pretty... extreme, and the capsule review (with direct screenshots grabbed via a Windows-Gizmondo connection!) explains why, if it had been released, there would have been quite a lot of Thompson action, we're guessing.

Over Aveyond Window Breaks...

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/aveyond.jpg Over at GameZebo, they have an excellent interview with Amanda Fitch, in which they explain her interesting background as follows.

It's mooted: "The story of Amanda Fitch (also known as Amanda Fae) and Aveyond is as unlikely as any in casual games. A female (if you have ever been to a game conference, you will understand this is a rarity) with a college degree in English creates a role-playing game (RPG) that becomes one of the most popular casual games of 2006 so far."

What's more: "How'd she do it? The answer: by creating a RPG accessible to everyone with great depth and storyline (with over 250 pages worth, in fact!) We sat down with Amanda Fitch to discuss her unique background, the secret to the success of Aveyond, and the role of female developers in casual games."

The State Of Japanese Game Retail

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/tokret.jpg Oop, it's getting late here in Tokyo, but I just filed my first report for Gamasutra since I got here, named 'Special: The State Of Japanese Game Retail', and concerning, uhh, just that.

As I explain in the intro: "There have been plenty of articles in the past pontificating on the Japanese game market. But very few seem to have taken things down to a granular practical level, by simply analyzing what is stocked on Japanese video game store shelves, and how it differs to what we see in North America." I then try to compare the two markets, talking about Ratchet's extra Japanese eyebrows, and generally attempt to make sense. Please to enjoy!

[Meanwhile, Chris Kohler is gallivanting around Akihabara, stalking genius Taiko No Tatsujin players and taking videos of them. Why does this not surprise me?]

The Many Faces Of Kabooom!

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/kab.gif Thanks to the keen eyes of Atari Age, we've spotted that the latest issue of Retrogaming Times Monthly is online, and #28 is another (albeit badly designed!) corker.

The most fun is to be had analyzing various home versions of Kaboom!, of which it's explained: "Based on Dennis Kolbe’s Atari arcade game “Avalanche”, Activision’s Larry Kaplan struck gold with Kaboom! Adapting the same game principles to the best of the 2600’s capabilities with a cartoonish mad bomber running back and forth across the top of the screen dropping bombs."

We can practically feel Alan Hewston's pain in his review of the Atari 5200 version, too: "My first reaction was I could not find a way to control this version. Kaboom! has possibly the fastest action, demands a good degree of precision and probably requires more focus to play than any other video game ever. You simply must have a great paddle controller. There is only a joystick option and no paddle option." Ouuuch.

@ Play: Giant Eel Stories, Volume 1

Roguelike column thumbnail ['@ Play' is a bi-weekly column by John Harris which discusses the history, present and future of the Roguelike dungeon exploring genre.]

One of the best ways to learn about Nethack is from reading YAAPs ("Yet Another Ascension Posts"), descriptions of victorious games on the newsgroup rec.games.roguelike.nethack.

It may be an unusual impulse to write up a detailed report of a computer game, roguelike or not. It may be even more unusual to be interested in reading it, but it cannot be denied that they are fascinating. It is the same impulse, I believe, that causes people to want to watch speed runs. Most of them are typical wins (especially the first time someone prevails in this game infamous for its difficulty), but some are of difficult challenge, or "conduct" games. Some, such as the tale of Nightshade below, are written in the style of an actual story, with the player's character usually the protagonist.

In this first installment of Giant Eel Stories, we'll be looking at two classic victory posts of the past. Since many of you are probably not Nethack fanatics, I'll supply much of the necessary information needed to understand them, and understand why they're cool, including a brief glossary at the end of this article. All links are to the original post on Google Groups. Later Giant Eel stories may not necessarily be concerned with Nethack: these are, though.

[Click through for the full post!]

To give an account of a victorious game, it is necessary to describe things that happen during it, and the tactics the player used, so there are heavy spoilers to follow. Spoilers are much less dangerous to a roguelike game than a more typical RPG, since so much of them are randomly generated, but there are still some who want to figure out everything for themselves -- although in Nethack's case that would probably take many years. If you are one of those noble individuals, you may not want to read on.

(Oh, and giant eels are a particularly dangerous aquatic monster from Nethack's bestiary. Just so you know.)

3/20/2002: Nightshade, Chaotic Female Elven Wizard
played by nyra

One of the cooler features of Nethack is that characters can be polymorphed into the form of various other monsters in the game. When a character is polymorphed, he gains all the special abilities, and drawbacks, of that monster. Turn into a xorn and you can walk through walls, but you're too large to wear armor -- and will in fact destroy any you were wearing beforehand.

The new body assumed by the character is usually chosen randomly from the monsters in the game, but there are two exceptions to this rule. If the character has picked up a means of polymorph control somewhere in the game, usually from a worn ring, then the game will instead ask the player what new form he wants to take. Rings of Polymorph Control, thus, are excellent finds. And if a player is wearing colored dragon scales or a suit of dragon scale mail, then he will always turn into the type of dragon matching the scales: red dragon scale mail means a red dragon. The dragon scales are protected from destruction in that case.

Other than possible armor loss, polymorph is usually not that bad an affliction. While changed, the player is actually given a buffer zone of safety. If a polymorphed player runs out of hit points he doesn't die but turns back into his normal self, just a few hits shy of his maximum – meaning that polymorph can actually be an excellent source of healing. Further, after a while characters will always turn back into their normal selves, more quickly if their new body was much greater in power compared to their real form.

This is how it usually works, but in a recent version of Nethack introduced a new item: Amulets of Unchanging. A character wearing such an amulet is completely immune (and thus his armor is immune too) from polymorph effects. But more interestingly, an already-polymorphed character wearing an Amulet of Unchanging is immune from changing back. Until the amulet is removed, the character will remain, for better or worse, in his new body. The change will never expire naturally over time, and the character can remain in a cool powerful state the rest of the game if he likes. But if the character runs out of hit points he won't turn back all healed up: he'll actually die.

Now the interesting thing about Nethack polymorph is that, in the long run, the most powerful monsters in the dungeon are player classes. There are many monsters with powerful abilities, but almost all of them are rather low on hit points compared to a player, even if he's of only moderate level, and many powerful monster forms can't wear some of the most important types of armor. So although many monsters have nifty special abilities that can come in handy in special cases, including a few that cannot be obtained any other way, a permanently-polymorphed player is at a disadvantage in terms of general survivability.

But nyra was not dissuaded by this. After a traumatic, yet cool, experience in her youth, character Nightshade gained a strange aspiration for her life, even for elves: she wanted to be a black dragon. Black dragons, as far as polymorph forms go, are one of the better choices: they can fly, they have good armor class, they have more hit points than most monsters, female dragons can lay eggs and thus eventually gain an army of followers following them around, and best of all, they are the only monster in the game with a disintegration breath attack, which instantly kills, and very few monsters have disintegration-resistance.

You now know what you need to know to begin the Tale of Nightshade the Black Dragon. Have a look at the original post on Google Groups here:

2/22/2004: Ciompi259, Neutral Male Human Tourist
played by Robert Schneck

Another relatively recent addition to the game of Nethack, which has overall changed little since version 3.1 was released quite long ago, is the idea of tracked conducts.

To explain. The jeweled drinking halls of rec.games.roguelike.nethack are filled with a wide assortment of player, both newbies and old demigods alike. Some of these people have won the game many times. In fact, some are so good at the game that they actually win (make it through and ascend to demigod-status) more often than they lose (die or quit or escape -- but usually die). A few players almost never lose, if the victory percentages on public Nethack server alt.org are anything to go by: the player named "Ascension" has won twelve out of the thirteen games he's played there.

And for the most successful of these players, the game inevitably became rather dull and niggly, until they hit upon the idea of playing conduct games. That is, the player would decide on some aspects of Nethack's vast array of features to avoid using that game, and see if he could still win. Nethack is a game in which things can be done in lots of ways, but very few things are actually required to be victorious. All a player really must do to win out is gain the three essential "key" objects (the Bell of Opening, the Candelabrum of Invocation and the Book of the Dead), use 'em properly and get the Amulet of Yendor, escape the dungeon with it, then figure out a way through the five final levels to offer it on the correct High Altar on the Astral Plane. Those things are required to win. Most others, it turns out, are not.

A fairly recent version of Nethack aided this elite pastime by tracking conducts, with the game itself keeping a record of which aspects of the game the character has not used. To get a list of these, the player need only start a game and quit on the first turn:

Voluntary challenges: You went without food.  You were an atheist.  You never hit with a wielded weapon.  You were a pacifist.  You were illiterate.  You never genocided any monsters.  You never polymorphed an object.  You never changed form.  You used no wishes.

It may seem difficult to believe, even to a player with some experience with the game, but each of these has been done lots of times, and so have many combinations of them, although doing them all in one game is almost certainly impossible.

The two single challenges that are the trickiest are possibly Pacifist and Foodless. Pacifist is difficult because Nethack characters usually encounter thousands of hostile monsters during the game and the player himself cannot kill any of them, even accidentally. If the player manages to survive the monsters, one of the requirements to obtain the Bell of Opening is that the player must achieve experience level 14, and without the slaughter of monsters this is very difficult, although not impossible, to achieve.

It is Foodless, however, combined with certain other conducts, that is the subject of Robert Schneck's game. Novice players soon find out that, while it's nowhere near as bad as Rogue, it is still easy to run out of food on Nethack's early levels. Even when they learn about all the food options available to them they still often starve to death until they discover the game's panic button, Alt-P, the (p)ray command. A prayer to the gods in Nethack is always a request for aid, and if the player hasn't prayed too recently, his Luck isn't negative (not real-life luck but an invisible statistic tracked by the game), and isn't in an area warded from his influence, your deity will help you out of most predicaments you could be in if they're dire enough. Being weak from hunger (not just hungry) is one of those troubles. Although the player cannot pray for aid in the second half of the main dungeon, there are ways in Nethack to quickly get out of there to a region in which prayer works.

This method of subsistence cannot be used if the player is attempting a Foodless Atheist, who disavows all knowledge of the gods until the final sacrifice of the Amulet of Yendor is made on the Astral Plane. But there are other ways to avoid starving: a Ring of Slow Digestion decreases a player's food consumption to very low levels, though it's still not enough to enable a player to avoid starving before winning the game. Amulets of Life Saving, if worn at the moment a player expires, will bring him back to life and fill his stomach one time, then disintegrate. Players can polymorph into monsters that don't need to eat, but will always turn back to normal unless they wear an Amulet of Unchanging, which unfortunately introduces food consumption even if the player has no mouth or stomach. A polymorph-controlled player can request to turn into his own race, which will turn him into "a new man" or "a new woman," also fills his stomach, and won't even count as a polymorph to the game. That wasn't enough for Robert Schneck's character, Ciompi259, however.

The number in that name is the number of times he had to try this before he was successful. His character's epic story, that of a winning Foodless Atheist true-Polyselfless Survivor, in which he survived entirely on a Ring of Slow Digestion and the very slight nutrition provided by Potions of Fruit Juice and Water, can be read here:

Glossary of rec.games.roguelike.nethack terms:
!oGL or !GL: Potion of Gain Level
?oCharging: Scroll of Charging
/WoW: Wand of Wishing
/WoD: Wand of Digging
"oR: Amulet of Reflection
BoH: Bag of Holding
AC: Armor Class, the old Dungons & Dragons concept. Nethack may be the last game in the world to still use armor class that starts at 10 and counts down, heading past zero into negative numbers as it improves.
PYEC: Platinum Yendorian Express Card, a special artifact that can charge items indefinitely. Only Tourists can use it to its full effect, and they can always find it in their Quest dungeon.
Buc, or Blessed, Uncursed or Cursed: any item in Nethack can be any of these three statuses, with blessed items generally being better to have than cursed ones.
Mines, Sokoban, Vlad's Tower: Three branches leading off from the main dungeon, some of which it is unnecessary to visit. Sokoban is a recent addition, and has special rules.
Quest: A special dungeon branch that is different for each character class. The player must be at least level 14 to get beyond its first level.
AoY: Amulet of Yendor, the object sought in the game.
VotD: Valley of the Dead, a level deep in the dungeon.
VS: Vibrating square, an important spot very deep in the dungeon.
Wizmode: Short for Wizard Mode, a special debug mode included in some compilations of the game. Wins in Wizard Mode don't count, and scores won't be added to the score list.
Levelport: Short for "level teleport," a version of teleportation that moves the player vertically, to other dungeon levels, instead of elsewhere on the current floor.
Reverse genocide: A clever tactic to summon several of a specified type of monster.
Stash: A place the player keeps spare objects so he doesn't have to carry them around the dungeon, adding to his burdened status.
Bones: A level left behind from a prior game.
Sacrificing: Offering fresh corpses of defeated monsters on an altar, in the hopes of receiving favor and some goodies from one's deity.
Pet: A friendly monster that helps the player. Players begin with one, a cat, dog or horse, but it's possible to get more.
Artifact: Unique weapons with additional powers, some very strong and some less so.
Unique: A monster there is only one of, if killed once they never appear again (with a notable exception).
Rodney: The nickname of the Wizard of Yendor, the player's arch-foe.
Farming: Purposely creating an abundance of some monster, or infinite opportunities to kill one that revives (like riders), for player advantage. Considered an abuse by some.
Protection racket: A novel, though often foolhardy, strategy, through which a very low-level character can gain points of intrinsic armor class cheaply, although not without a fair bit of risk.
Ascension run: When the player gains the Amulet of Yendor, like in Rogue, the game becomes a race back to the surface before death strikes. Nethack makes this harder by limiting the player's ability to teleport, teleporting him back levels randomly, and sending in a certain powerful monster at intervals to harass him.
The Planes: The final levels of the game.
Riders: Three exceptionally dangerous monsters on the last level who cannot be killed permanently.
High Altars: The ultimate destinations. One of these three, chosen randomly, must be found to win the game.
YASD: Yet Another Stupid Death.

Thanks to:
Joe "Jove" Bednorz (who found and linked to ascension posts in a newsgroup message)
tg (additional links)
Roguelike Magazine (for general awesomeness, and for first coming up with the idea of a look at classic win posts)

September 17, 2006

Arcangel's Game Pop Art Gets Book

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/arcan.jpg Eager GSW readers may remember the work of Cory Arcangel, who has been producing often video game-inspired art for a few years now - here's a neat gallery of some of his work.

Anyhow, the Videoludica site, which is for the line of game criticism books curated by Matteo Bittanti, has been talking about a book featuring Arcangel and his work, and simply named 'Beige'.

[EDIT: There was some confusion here, and Bittanti has posted in comments to explain: "The monograph on Cory Arcangel is already available, and it is published by a publisher called JRP/Ringier. I bought a copy at Kid Robot in San Francisco a couple of days ago and it simply rocks tempo grande. However, I'm now working with Italian publisher Johan & Levi on various Game Art projects. The first one will be announced next week and it's pretty juicy." Neat!]

It's explained: "Arcangel, who is 27 this year, is a full-fledged member of the generation that grew up on home video games. With Beige, a collective of fellow programmers, he has embarked on a hacker'­s nostalgia trip: his return to Super Mario Brothers removes all of the action to leave a landscape of blue sky and puffy clouds; Shoot Andy Warhol is a working video game in which viewers gain points for hitting Warhol and lose them by accidentally shooting Colonel Sanders, the Pope or Flavor Flav instead."

And, lest we forget: "Arcangel'­s work was shown at the 2004 Whitney Biennial" - making him by far the video game artist most accepted into the mainstream art world. Will there be more in the future? Hopefully so.

GameSetPics: Sega Joypolis, Pt.2

Well, we already started checking out the vaguely eerie (scary Sonic! scarier Michael Jackson!), but pretty popular location that is Sega's Joypolis amusement park in Odaiba, Tokyo - so let's finish off a look at some of the other sights viewable around the arcade/park attraction. (I'll try to take some pics in some more 'normal' Japanese arcades later this week, though they sometimes have 'no photograph' rules.)

Wow - a recently released Sega driving school arcade game, apparently adapting a sim made specifically for driving schools by producer Yu Suzuki. I kid not.

A view over the balcony so you can see all of the 3 floors of the Joypolis entertainment center.

Not one, but _two_ typing action arcade games, including the infamous 'Typing Of The Dead', yay.

Attendants managing the queue for House Of The Dead 4 Special, explained on the Wikipedia page: 'The game makes use of two 100 inch screens, one in front of players and another behind, as well as a five-speaker sound system'.

My new favorite arcade machine - it's two player, features a plastic mallet, and the object is to see who can button mash the single button the most times within a time limit. Whoever loses has the mallet fall on their pinky, haw.

Sonic, waiting to be grabbed - but not inappropriately.

The little girl-centric dress-up Sega CCG arcade game Fashion Witches Love & Berry is so popular that it has a special 'dress up like Love & Berry in real life' area in Joypolis. Yikes!

Bed, Bath & Beyond - The Game?

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/bbb.gif The mysterious and possibly certifiable 'Big G' has re-appeared, with his concept for what he considers the most evil 'survival horror' game concept of all time - a video game version of being forced to shop at U.S. retail emporium Bed, Bath & Beyond.

His intro explains it well: "Hell is a popular setting for video games. From the Doom series to Devil May Cry, everyone's least favorite afterlife destination has had its share of digital representations. Let's face it – so far, the video game representations of the unimaginable horror have been lacking in authenticity. Never have I been exposed to something frightening and painful that I have had to turn the game off in order to prevent soiling myself. The typical portrayal of hell is similar to Dante's Inferno. Although it is a classic work of literature, no literary scholar is going to argue that Dante really went on a journey to hell."

It's further mused: "Relying on the Inferno's fictional imagery is a crutch that prevents game makers from creating a vision so horrifying that gamers may suffer from heart attacks. That is why I present to you my personal vision of the unspeakable evil that is hell: Bed, Bath and Beyond." What's your own vision of hell that isn't, uhh, actually inferno-like? Robot hell not counted.

COLUMN: 'Game Mag Weaseling': Famous Last Words

['Game Mag Weaseling' is a weekly column by Kevin Gifford which documents the history of video game magazines, from their birth in the early '80s to the current day.]

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"I'm in the position of building a game magazine, but whenever I look at the writers and editors around me, I can't help but feel that they really like what they're doing. They may all approach their work from different stances, but a lot of people around here try their best because they truly enjoy what they're doing...I think it's important in all aspects of life to be able to find whatever it is that you can find enjoyable."

-- Editor-in-chief Zenji Ishii in the final issue of Japanese arcade-game mag Gamest, dated September 30, 1999. The magazine's publisher filed for bankruptcy a week later, and most of Gamest's staff moved over to Enterbrain to found ARCADIA, which still publishes today.

"So, you've probably already noticed that this issue of ODCM didn't come with a demo disc. What's the deal? It's pretty simple, actually. Sega is working on developing a new way of distributing Dreamcast game demos. It's definitely a disappointment to us (and, we're sure, to you!) not be [sic] able to include the demo disc as standard...but I think you'll agree that as the console wars start to heat up this year, we all want Sega to win."

-- Editor-in-chief Chris Charla in the final issue of the Official Dreamcast Magazine (US), March/April 2001. Sega dropping Dreamcast support on January 31, 2001 (which isn't mentioned in the mag) probably had more to do with this decision on their part.

"In the three years I've been at Next Generation, I've always hoped that, one day, I'd be that guy at the front who tells you what the issue's all about. Never did I think it would be like this, though. You see, it's Sunday, I'm really tired and haggard, and I need to get this column in before the magazine ships...Honestly, though, I just had to see how Halo ended."

-- Blake Fischer enjoying his breakneck one-issue run as editor-in-chief of Next Generation before it folded with the January 2002 issue.

"It was brought to my attention via the Usenet newsgroups that another magazine took shots at editorials that say 'It's your magazine' to readers...All the other magazines can take their shots at us, but it's all vapor next to any letter from a reader who tells us we're doing a good job. And we'll keep working on making VG&CE the best for you. Thanks for reading -- and writing to -- VG&CE."

-- EIC Andy Eddy in the final issue of VideoGames & Computer Entertainment, August 1993. The magazine was drastically revised and renamed to simply VideoGames in the next issue, dropping Eddy and most of the original staff.

"A special thanks to our competitors, who despite all their flaws, mistruths, and downright empty-headedness make it that much easier for us to look good month in, month out. It's almost like we don't have to work some issues -- thanks!"

-- EIC Eric C. Mylonas in the final issue of GameFan, December 2000.

"Despite our tremendous growth and enormous popularity, the games market just might not be big enough to handle so many magazines, especially good ones."

-- EIC Tom Byron in the last issue of GameNOW, January 2004. He'd be presiding over the last issue of GMR a year later. He edits the Official US PlayStation Magazine nowadays, which as of today doesn't appear to have folded yet.

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"With the new decade rushing up to meet us, the eyes and ears of Atariland are waiting for [Atari head Jack] Tramiel to pull a white rabbit out of his hat. Tramiel has promised new equipment, dealer promotions, hardware and software improvement and overhauled marketing to make 1989 the year of the Atari resurgence. The sheer variety of Tramiel's pledges makes one wonder if any of his ideas will materialize."

-- EIC Frank Cohen in the last issue of ANALOG Computing, December 1989, one of the last mainstream magazines devoted to Atari home computers.

"My prediction is that the industry is unlikely to emerge from the doldrums for several years, but when it does it will be more knowledgeable, more secure, and better able to take the strides necessary to grow in our increasingly information-oriented society."

-- EIC David H. Ahl in the final issue of Creative Computing, December 1985. His magazine, launched in 1974, was the first devoted entirely to personal computing, and its folding was the beginning of the end for non-business-oriented general-interest PC magazines.

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"We terrorized crap games, appreciated many female figures, took over 100 pot shots at Daikatana, illegally used photographs, drank a shitload of beer, wrote 1540 folio fillers (sideways bits on each page), mentioned Pamela's breasts 18 times, insulted flappy-headed Canadians on 37 different occasions, made up at least 35 new words, insulted and/or offended pretty much every type of person on the face of the Earth, made you laugh out loud at least once an issue, and pretty much wrote whatever the hell was on our crackified, more-than-slightly-deranced, minds. More than anything, we never gave in to "The Man" and, I'll be damned if we didn't have a fucking blast."

-- EIC Mike Salmon making the most of his ability to curse in print in the last issue of PC Accelerator, June 2000.

"Out of a job again...I can't believe it! Four years ago, I ended my own newsletter because a new magazine offered me a wider forum...18 months ago, I gave it up for The Color Computer Magazine. Now here I am, out on the literary street."

-- Writer Dennis Kitsz in the last issue of The Color Computer Magazine, October 1984. The EIC of the magazine didn't mention the title's closing since Ziff Davis, who took over the magazine and immediately shut it down, didn't give him a chance -- only Kitsz had the opportunity to stick in a little text in his hardware column before the galleys went away.


"I love this dear magazine that was born so small, grew so large, and has become so small again. I am sure many of you few thousand who are still with us do as well...Weep not for The Rainbow. It forged a community of spirit. A commonness of purpose. A wonderful adventure. It was the instigator of lasting friendships. It touched us all, and we were all a part of it. It was the greatest."

-- EIC Lonnie Falk in the last issue of The Rainbow, the longest-lasting of the great 8-bit computer magazines, in May 1993.

[Kevin Gifford breeds ferrets and runs Magweasel, a site for collectors and fans of old video-game and computer magazines. He's also an editor at Newtype USA magazine.]

Interview With A Cheater

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/hizzie2.jpg Over at the super-fun Aeropause, there's what is simply described as 'An Interview With A Cheater' - someone playing Halo 2 online who can't resist cheating (by modding his Xbox, presumably).

So, Aero got him to talk about his fabulous cheating life, and boy, it's a little bit sh*tc*ck: "I play BF2 and some Counter Strike. I cheat at both but it’s hard to get away with in Counter Strike. People who play CS are such babies about that stuff. The other players are just jealous p***ys who wish they had the ability to cheat."

But wait, there's more, as he, uhm, complains about Bungie for letting him cheat and/or catching him: "Wow, I have been kicked off XBL at least 10 times, I have to be careful now because there are no more 2 month cards floating around. The people at Bungie are the worst. How can they complain about people like me. They should have built a anti-cheating engine in the game to prevent it. Its not my fault that modders cheat." Oh, Internet, what hath thou wrought?

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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