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October 21, 2006

COLUMN: 'Game Mag Weaseling': Mag Roundup 10/21/06

['Game Mag Weaseling' is a weekly column by Kevin Gifford which covers video game magazines from the late '70s all the way up to right now.]


This doesn't have much to do with game mags per se, but I thought I'd update you on the status of my collection. Since I got paid for some freelance work I did long ago, I splurged a bit and bought a couple of historically important items I've been lusting after for a while. First up, there's the January 1975 issue of Popular Electronics, the issue that introduced the Altair 8800 (the first really useful and successful home computer) to the world. I got this as part of a package that also included a practically mint-condition issue of "Radio & Television News" from 1952, which has enough awesome advertising to be worth a column all to itself. (Both mags were from Ziff Davis Publishing, by the way.)

Second up is Computer Lib/Dream Machines, a seminal, Whole Earth Catalog-style book from 1974 that takes a counterculture approach to the computer industry and successfully predicted such technologies as hypertext, versatile home machines, and a worldwide information network freely accessible by anyone. This printing dates from 1978 (my birth year), and I guess I'm not the only one who thinks the book is kinda neat, because the bidding on eBay went up to a figure I'm a little embarrassed to admit. (You can go search for it if you're really curious. I ain't telling.)

Enough bragging for now, though -- let's take a look at all the game mags that hit US store shelves in the past two weeks. The biggest surprise this month: Apparently nobody's reviewing Bully or GTA: Vice City Stories early. Did Rockstar turn everyone down, or was it the other way around?

[Click here to read further.]

Computer Gaming World November 2006 (Podcast)


Cover: Alan Wake

As discussed at length last week, this issue of CGW is special for several reasons, the chief one being that this is the last issue ever of the longest-running game mag still alive. Snif. Sure, it'll be back next month (as Games for Windows: The Offical Magazine) with the same staff and largely the same content, but it still feels like the end of an era somehow.

CGW's staff obviously realized this, because they took eight pages out of the last issue for a final, ultimate retrospective on the past 25 years of publication. It consists of two parts -- a spread of 18 covers that defined their era (from Ultima IV to The Sims), and four essays from the four past (and current) editors of CGW: Russell Sipe, Johnny Wilson, George Jones and Jeff Green. All four are absolute must-reads if you're interested in CGW's tumultuous history (and yes, it was pretty tumultuous, especially in the pre-Ziff era). It's not until you go through them when you realize that while CGW was a pretty low-key mag for much of its existence, it was still one of the few constants in an industry that changed wildly not just from year to year, but month to month.

Retrospective features are easy to write and fun to read, but it's rare to find one with as much depth as this one.

As for the rest of the magazine: To be honest, I think the Alan Wake cover looks a little busy and lifeless -- it may have been better to stick to a single shot, like the picture in the table-of-contents page with Alan framed by a beautiful sunset. Still, the feature's quite nice, all written in a crazy first-person perspective as "Alan" discovers a car accident, finds himself in Helsinki, and runs into the kind folks at Remedy Entertainment. Interesting features always beat boring features.

News pieces include a bit about the necessity of violence in video games, as well as a feature on Chinese gaming and outsourcing that has possibly the best symbolic insert illustration I've ever seen -- a bald eagle looking somewhat concerned as it presides over a nest with two baby Asian dragons inside.

The letters section: Is a huge treat this month, as some people took the feature two months ago about the Middle East game-development scene the wrong way. "Never before have I been so motivated to express my extreme disappointment with a magazine as I am today," fumes one. "I don't think you know your target audience very well. Either that, or you've officially and openly joined the political left," whines another. This issue is nostalgic enough as is, but all this rage on the letters page also harkens back to another age -- a time 15 years ago when readers would (sometimes literally) curse off CGW about anything and anything that bothered them about the mag.

There is also a letter from a "Jack Kahn" who starts out by claiming "I am not a furry" then spends about 500 words telling CGW to stop picking on the furry community. Mm hmm.

Electronic Gaming Monthly November 2006 (Podcast)

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Cover: Some army dudes (x2)

This month's EGM is also something of a turning point, as the mag readies a large-scale redesign for the December issue. Kind of a shame, really -- I'm going to miss that really weird curly "T" in the font they use now for coverlines.

The November issue offers a choice of covers depending on which species of Gears of War hominid you'd prefer to see curb-stomped -- human for mamby-pamby environmentalists, or Locust for real American men. The feature inside goes for 14 (!) pages as Shoe visits Epic and gets his arse handed to him by Cliffy. While the screenshots are as gray and dark as you'd imagine, the designers got around this by including a bunch of spiffy time-lapse photo sequences that effectively show off the game's visceral graphics in action.

Other exclusive bits: Include a preview of Sony and Factor 5's Lair and some new info snippets from Heavenly Sword.

That coverline: You know, the one up top that says "How one kid got a videogame job by being good...at videogames". EGM's got a history of occasionally printing offbeat coverlines like this (I still remember the "PEE TO PLAY" cover from 2003), and this one is pimping a spread on Andy Gentile, a designer on the Tony Hawk games who got his job by living out the teenage dream of beating the developers in online THPS3, then getting hired as a beta tester for the summer at age 16.

The back cover: May be a first for EGM, because while it is a game ad, it's for a PC game -- namely, free Korean MMO MapleStory. Nexon didn't put ads for MS in CGW or PC Gamer this month, so you have to wonder why they were so eager to get on the back cover of a mag that'd never ever cover their game in a million years.

Hater of the Month: Jennifer Tsao for her 3.5 (Touch Detective) and two 6.5s (Magical Starsign and Pokemon Mystery Dungeon).

Game Informer November 2006


Cover: Dark Sector

Do you remember Dark Sector? No? Well, does the two-year-old headline "Indie developer announces first game for Xbox 2 and PlayStation 3!" ring any bells? Yes, it's that game -- and developer Digital Extremes has convinced D3 Publisher that they're still all the business, although the game's still not due out until fall 2007.

The 10-page feature is far more interesting than you'd expect because it devotes so much time to the project's history -- everything from the initial 2004 announcement to the shift in visual design that delayed the game to near-oblivion. There's a lot of backstory behind this feature that makes it fun to read, but personally I was most impressed by the hero's weapon, which looks exactly like the Glaive from top '80s fantasy flick Krull. Right on!

GI News: The best news section in game mags kicks off with 12 pages on the Tokyo Game Show (compared to Jack in EGM), covering all the top hits and making liberal use of Cooper Black (my favorite font!) in the headlines for some reason. It continues with a spread on "the top 10 cult classics of the 21st century" (Shenmue #1? Psssht! Please!) and bits on the art behind God of War and THQ's business practices. GI also has a Gears of War spread of its own, this offering only four pics and a whole lotta CliffyB quotes.

PC Gamer December 2006 (Podcast)


Cover: Medieval II: Total War

Merry Christmas, I guess! The "December" issue of PCG is all about Medieval II -- a game I will freely admit to not giving two bits of a sow's ear about, but if you do, you'll probably dig the seven-page review treatment it gets this month.

Review surprises: PCG really loves Just Cause, giving it 93% and calling it "the James Bond action-fest for the PC that we've been craving." It seemed like the console outlets were a lot rougher on the game. Not so lucky is Bad Day LA, which gets 20%. (CGW's review had better quotes, though. Example: "Bad Day's idea of social commentary would elude even the Farrelly brothers."

Strategy surprises: In a suspiciously GamePro-like move, this issue has a six-page except from Prima's official Battlefield 2142 strategy guide, a bet of pseudo-advertorial that seems so out of place in PCG that they don't even mention the section in the table of contents.

Similarly out of place: An interview with Hilary Duff (?!) for The Sims 2: Pets. Jeez, I better check to make sure I'm not reading GamePro by mistake.

Essential reading?: The news piece on Goozex, an online game-trading site that aims to take the place of retailers who no longer buy back used PC games.

Play November 2006


Cover: Lunar Knights (not pictured) or Army dude

Play hasn't shown up on newsstands yet, so I don't have both covers at the moment. I'm definitely going to track down the Lunar Knights issue, though, and not just because I worked on the game's localization -- this title (which only the most hardcore of Nbots seem to care about at the moment) has a ton of neat art behind it, and that's more than enough for Play to make a crackin' good feature out of. The Crackdown feature's a lot more subdued but no less visually interesting. Play has a knack for extracting the most vibrant screenshots out of developers -- I bet they'd manage to make even Gears of War look colorful.

TGS: Play's got arguably the nicest-looking coverage out of all the mags, although the 10-page feature is primarily a screenshot gallery.

Odd pt. 1: An advertorial spread for Final Fantasy V Advance that looks almost exactly like a typical Play spread. You wouldn't notice unless you took a close second look at it.

Do you like posters, son?: This month must be Play's poster issue or something, 'cos there're five of them inside -- one each for GTA:VCS, Medieval II, Xenosaga III, Warhammer: Mark of Chaos and .hack//G.U.

GamePro November 2006

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Cover: One of three sweaty men or the erudite, charming Tracy McGrady (Level-2 edition)

GamePro is available now on newsstands, but if you think I'm gonna shell out for all three covers of a wrestling game, man, you've got several hundred other thinks comin'. (The other covers are John Cena and Triple H, if you're keeping tabs.)

Features: This issue is list-heavy, to say the least -- top 20 cool missions in GTA:LCS (yes, LCS, not VCS); top 50 memorable game moments (#1 is "Aeris dies"? Psssht! Please!); and top 20 quests in Oblivion. There's also a PS3 buyer's guide that spends a page discussing how much you'll get burned by taxes on the system depending on where you live. Erm, thanks? I dunno, I'm pretty sure most consumers are pretty aware of what the sales tax is where they live, but...

Odd pt. 2: There's a Final Fantasy XII preview when every other mag (including Hardcore Gamer and -- yes -- Newtype USA) is reviewing it this month.

Hardcore Gamer November 2006


Cover: Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories

Now this is a bit of a surprise. You'd think every other magazine but Hardcore Gamer would be falling over themselves to have a Rockstar title (either VCS or Bully) on the cover this month, but here it is on HCG alone -- and in a special crazy color-embossed printing, too. The feature is actually pretty cool too, coming complete with a "fan" interview with the associate producer where all the questions are posed by (I'm guessing) forum posters.

Odd pt. 3: Hardcore Gamer hardcore hates on FFXII in their review, giving it 4 out of 5, but the strange thing is that nothing really bad is said about the game other than the pedestrian story. Huh.

[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.]

Japanmanship Tackles The Japanese/Western Conundrum

robot7.jpg The most enjoyable Japanmanship blog, which chronicles a Western game developer hanging out in Japan, and he's posted about the differences between games in the two regions - as he says: "There is a law that states anyone with a blog... must, pro bono publico, write an editorial" on the matter.

I particularly appreciate this: "Often weird little games like Tokyo Bus Driver or Densha de Go appear in Japan and are looked upon as examples of whacky creativity. They’re not, though; they’re simple wish fulfillment games. Becoming a train driver is still regarded as a dream job by many children (and fathers with unfulfilled dreams)."

The conclusion reached? "I’d say that as a developer you can and should put in certain elements to attract other markets but if you plan to make a fully Japanese game it will be difficult, though not impossible." So, yep, a certain amount of mutual exclusivity here.

GameSetInterview: Shael Riley on I, Mario

i_mario_box.jpgI, Mario is the brainchild of Shael Riley, a New York office temp and musician, who has previously contributed tracks to OC ReMix. The “game” is an overtly realistic re-imagining of Super Mario Bros., which Riley originally wrote up on the OC ReMix forums “just for jollies, really”.

The concept proved so popular that it quickly became the most viewed thread on the forums, and a Yahoo! group was formed to facilitate further discussion of ideas. More recently, an I, Mario wiki has been started.

Riley has since left the project to others, though. “There's a Wiki now?” he says when asked about the latest development. “I didn't even know!”

However, he seems flattered that the project is continuing, noting that he feels like he “tapped into a common fantasy, completely incidentally” when he write his initial proposal.

He’s also playing “a big show” with nerdcore favourites MC Frontalot and Optimus Rhyme on Saturday October 21st – that’s tonight - at Crash Mansion in said New York City, for anyone able to get along.

We contacted Riley via email to ask about I, Mario’s beginnings, and his feelings on where it’s going now.

Where did the idea for I, Mario come from?

I'd been playing a lot of Resident Evil: Outbreak in 2003 and 2004, and one day it dawned on me that the primary distinction between a horror game like Resident Evil and an action game like Super Mario Bros. was each game's treatment of violence; that is to say, the more realistic a game's treatment of violence, the more horrific the game is.

While their treatments are diametrically opposed, with Resident Evil: Outbreak allowing your character to become crippled, crawling on the ground and slowly dying while remaining playable, and Super Mario Bros. responding to your character's presumable immolation as he is engulfed by a swinging chain of flames by either shrinking him, while keeping his body otherwise intact, or changing him into a little sort of jumping pretzel who falls comically off the bottom of the screen. Both games place players in an environment in which every encountered creature's intention is to assault and kill the player's character; the thing that makes the games so different, regarding matters of theme and mood, is each game's respective treatment of violence.

To illustrate this, I did an imagery-heavy write-up of a version of Super Mario Bros. that gave violence a realistic treatment.

i_mario_bowser.gifWhy work on something like this?

I never intended, and still do not intend, to ever actually work on developing a game from the write-up, though several enthusiastic parties have taken it upon themselves to do just that, and I'm flattered that they're trying to give my idea form.

How well does a realistic re-imagination of Mario work, do you think?

I think it works very well. We have surreal horror games--Silent Hill, FEAR--set in other-worldly realms, or not-normally-accessible parts of our world that are populated primarily, if not entirely, by nightmarish aliens possessed with a single-minded desire to attack and kill your character. I think that's pretty similar to the mushroom kingdom. Imagine going through world 1-1 in 3D third-person, with Mario and his opponents depicted as realistic creatures that breathe, bleed and scream when harmed?

The consequences of stomping on a turtle change form Mario bouncing triumphantly off the thing's back, while its head and feet disappear sheepishly into its shell, to Mario grunting and he strives to drive his foot through bone and cartilage, while the turtle thrashes and screams, ground underneath the work-booted heel of the weighty plumber.

How would you describe the mood of I, Mario?

Abject, alien terror. The original game establishes a setting that cannot be reasoned with, a place in which the first, last and only recourse of our displaced hero is lethal force, administered by his bare hands, or feet, as the case may be. If the only consequences of that force are a tinkly sound effect and a few thousand points, then that's all well and good, but what happens when violence, and the world's inhabitants, are treated realistically.

Killing becomes no casual course of action, and weighs on the character's--and the player's--conscience. The same goes for being killed; I don't think we want to see Mario slowly lapse into a coma after a hammer brother cracks the back of his skull open.

How could gameplay be different to that of regular Mario games?

I'd want players to feel every blow, so I'd propose a system that allows for specialized ways of attacking each foe. For example, after rising your foot to stomp on a koopa trooper, you might rotate an analog stick while the controller vibrates to grind your foot through the unlucky tortoise's skull. If you don't do it fast enough or with the right amount of force or rhythm, the koopa could shake you off and deliver horrible lacerations to you with its teeth, while you're prone. An emphasis would have to be taken off of jumping, I'm afraid, as a realistic tone should be established; gameplay would reflect that tone.

It seems that the question of how Mario reaches the Mushroom Kingdom is one of the more difficult ones to figure out – what ideas are being suggested?

It's been a long time since I've kept up with the plans of the several development groups who are, or were, planning to make I, Mario into a game, so I really couldn't tell you. In the early game design documents that appeared on the original thread in the OverClocked ReMix forums, I believe Mario was washed down a pipe in the New York City sewer system, while working during a torrential downpour.

i_mario_luigi.jpgWhat are your favourite elements of the concept so far?

I'm happy to see the enthusiasm that a realistic treatment of Mario evokes in so many people. I think this has to do with our deep-seeded love of Mario, established in our childhoods, clashing with our having become considerably more jaded adults. By coming our adult understanding of the world with our childhood wonder, we're able to experience Mario in a whole new way: as a surreal, if whimsical, masochistically enjoyable nightmare.

What have been your favourite pieces of concept art so far?

There have been so many! I'm sure I haven't seen all of them at this point, but I remember seeing a drawing of Princess Peach Toadstool with her dress torn, her face bruised, and her shoulder raked by a five-pronged claw, after she'd been captured by Bowser. I think that really captures the essence of the concept; a kidnapping, performed by physically overpowering the victim, as is presumably the case in Bowser's kidnapping of the Princess, is a horrifying thing with physical and emotional consequences that long outlast its victims rescue, if a rescue is performed at all.

Games As Art - A Manifesto?

robot7.jpg The indie-loving folks at PC online store/community Manifesto Games have announced a fascinating-sounding IRC chat sponsored by them, and taking place next Wednesday.

It's explained: "We all love games, but it hard enough to agree on what makes a good game without bringing art into the discussion. And yet, that's just what Manifesto Games will do this coming Wednesday, October 25 at 6:00 PM PST. The newly launched, maverick independent game site will host and sponsor a panel discussion on video and computer games and their relationship to art."

But who's jawing about it? "Panelists include influential author Henry Jenkins, Danish academic Jesper Juul and game designer Eric Zimmerman, and the chat can be accessed at IRC.freenode.net, at the channel #gamesandart. It's also "...expected to be the first in a series of IRC panels Manifesto Games plans to offer" - looking forward to more!

Age Of Conan's Throne - Lost Or Stolen?

robot7.jpg For some reason, I was poking around Ragnar Tornquist's blog the other day (he being the creator of notable Funcom games including The Longest Journey and Dreamfall), and spotted a v.fun eBay auction reference.

Believe it or not, Funcom marketing, back in September, were auctioning off Conan's gigantic ceremonial throne, created to promote the company's forthcoming single-player/MMO hybrid Age Of Conan - starting bid just $500, though at 1400 pounds, including crates, it might be a little pricey to ship!

They explain the item: "The official “Age of Conan” throne, created and designed by McFarlane Toys –fashioned after their KING CONAN OF AQUILONIA, deluxe boxed set. The throne made it’s debut at the 2005 E3 convention in Los Angeles and has been on display around the world to promote Funcom’s upcoming game “Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures”.

In any case, the tragedy appears to have been that the auction was finished prematurely with no winner: "The seller ended this listing early because the item was lost or broken." Do you think Funcom lost the throne behind the couch, or did Arnold Schwarzenegger slip in and make them an offer they couldn't refuse?

October 20, 2006

Wired's Second Life Idyll Revealed

robot7.jpg We just got a note from Wired's games editor Chris Baker, explaining: "Wired just unveiled our presence inside of Second Life: From 4-7 pm PST this Saturday [tomorrow], we'll be hosting an open house at our presence in the game."

What's more, there's musical accompaniment: "Mike Relm, The Kleptones and Planet Boelex will be spinning. Please stop by before you head out for the evening! (If you're east of California, just cancel your plans and sit at home in front of the computer!)" [Full disclosure - Planet Boelex records for my CC-licensed online label Monotonik, and I helped set up this peculiarly virtual gig for him]

Oh, and the article explains: "You will notice that our virtual offices bear a striking resemblance to the innards of a computer. You'll probably wonder whether our brick-and-mortar offices also resemble circuit boards and have gigantic serial ports sticking out the back. In fact, no, our real world habitat is much more quotidian – a cubicle is a cubicle is a cubicle. But when we commissioned the highly inventive virtual architects at Millions of Us to create the Second Life Wired Offices, we figured, why let Newtonian physics get in our way?"

Fun, though I wonder what people will think of this in 10 years - true metaverse predecessor or forgotten backwater?

COLUMN: 'Cinema Pixeldiso' – Super Mario Movie(s)

['Cinema Pixeldiso' is a bi-weekly column by Matt 'Fort90' Hawkins that spotlights movies that are either directly based upon or are related to video games, with an emphasis on the obscure and the misunderstood. This week looks at two very different approaches toward the same subject matter, Super Mario Brothers.]

Previously Cinema Pixeldiso featured 8 BIT, a documentary that focused on artists who used video games as a source of inspiration, and even tools. One such individual was Cory Arcangel who takes NES cartridges and alters the information printed on them; the one example that most people are familiar with that he's most famous for is Super Mario Clouds in which all the information in a copy of Super Mario Bros was erased with the exception of the clouds, and was also featured in the documentary.

But a similar piece that wasn't highlighted was Super Mario Movie, in which Cory along with several artists hacked a SMB cart to produce a 15-minute movie using just the original assets from the game to tell a story. And what exactly is this tale? Arcangel described it as: "Mario's world [as it's] falling apart. Like Mad Max, but in 8bits."

[Click through for more on molto Marios - including handy screencaps!]



The "movie" features Mario traversing his familiar fantastical haunts, but things are indeed falling apart, with all the graphics and even the sounds messed up. Everything is meant to illustrate a video game world that’s deteriorating due to age (and the result is not that different from booting up an old NES game that needs to be removed from the system and blown in). Events are loosely tied together via broken game speak, reminiscent of the good old days or bad translations.

At a certain point, Mario comes across a blue Goomba (btw, it’s worth noting that Mario is actually sporting his brother’s colors at times) and is taken to... a rave. The true highlight of the movie, the rave scene isn't brilliant due to the concept but in its execution; the action is a bit hard to describe, though I will say it's more Pong than Mushroom Kingdom (with a tinge of Yars' Revenge), and Mario being merged with some other game, one that is relatively primitive, is rather fascinating on a historical and metaphysical level, and makes wonder of Mario's place in "the order of things", though its not known if Arcangel and his crew went for such a statement on purpose. The important thing to know is that the piece does an excellent job of playing with and adding some meaning behind one’s conceptions of “messed up” graphics, with the most effective moment behind the long pause in the action at a certain point, which makes wonder if the game had crashed (perhaps it almost did for real).

But is Cory Arcangel the first person to play with the notion of who and what Mario is, and on such an experimental level? No! That honor goes to Annabel Jankel and Rocky Morton, the directors of the live action Super Mario Bros movie from 1993.

Mario Movie #2: SUPER MARIO BROS


Hailing from the UK and backgrounds from the music videos (as well as work on the Max Headroom show), both directors sought to create something out of nothing, or at least from something solid from that which seemed too flimsy to be a premise of a live action movie. That being the "story" of a pair of plumbers that stumble across a magical land called the Mushroom Kingdom in which they must rescue a member of its royalty from the clutches of a large dragon-type bad guy. Ultimately, a literal translation might not have been the best course of action; after-all, millions of kids across the world had no problems with the premise as they played the game. But instead Jankel and Morton decided to stick their necks out and attempt something different, something daring. With the end result is one of the biggest embarrassments, as well as the very first, in the hallowed hall of movies based on a video game.

The live action movie starts off with an explanation of how dinosaurs ruled the earth 65 million years ago, until a meteor arrived and seemingly wiped them all out. But in reality the impact created a parallel dimension in which the surviving dinosaurs evolved in a similar fashion as apes did on our earth. It then immediate cuts to a rainy evening in Brooklyn 20 some odd years ago and a woman dropping off a basket at the front steps of the church. Nuns take it inside and they discover an egg enclosed, which immediately begins to hatch, with a human baby emerging in the end. All that in just the first four minutes (and twenty five seconds) of the movie!

We then skip towards present day and are introduced to the Mario Brothers, a pair of down to earth Brooklynite plumbers that are barely scrapping by, primarily due to the shenanigans of the dirty businessman Anthony Scapelli, who also happens to be giving Daisy, a rather young and cute female archeologist a difficult time. It isn't long before one of the Mario Brothers, Luigi, encounters Daisy and is instantly smitten, so they go out on a double date with Luigi's brother Mario and his lady friend Daniella. The evening goes well, so Daisy takes Luigi to the site where she's excavating for a new breed of dinosaur bones when Scapelli's men appear and attempt to ruin the site. Mario is called in, and both and Luigi are able to fix the damaged pipes, but in comes Iggy and Spike, two bumbling hooligans who are obviously out of towners that kidnap Daisy (who also just previously kidnapped Daniella as well). The Mario Brother naturally gives chase, which takes them to a foreign city in the aforementioned alternate dimension populated by people that are evolved from dinosaurs.

It's not long before we discover that the entire place is run by Koopa, who's also the guy that's behind Daisy's kidnapping, since she's apparently a princess; Daisy, who grew up an orphan with no knowledge of her family, is actually the daughter of the former rulers of this land, and she also holds a key or sorts, that being a shard of crystal from the meteorite that caused the splitting of the dimension all those millions of years ago. Besides being the only object Daisy has from her unknown past, if reunited with the meteor, the shard would merge the two dimensions, which Koopa aims to do, along with taking over the mammals' world. And thus the rest of the movie follows the Mario Brother as they try and get Dasiy back as well as deal with the brave new world of dinosaur folk. For the most part they all look like regular, everyday people from our Earth, unless they are "de-evolved" into an earlier, more primitive (as well as more dim-witted) state of being by Koopa, which he uses as a means of crowd control. It's actually how he amasses his army; each soldier is known as a Goomba (so they are not evil mushrooms like in the video game, just big dumb dinos in the movie).

Everything is rather weird, confusing, and sloppy. Yet it's all so oddly compelling and never boring. The re-envisioned Mushroom Kingdom feels just like Mad Max (much like Cory Archangel's stab at fleshing out the Mario-verse), with a bit of Blade Runner and Big Trouble in Little China thrown in. Aside from the rather boring and out of place car chases and disco dance scenes, there's numerous references to the games, along with many creative liberties, some of which are rather cute, even amazing, at least looking back, and some just plain make zero sense.

The strongest part of the entire effort is the cast. Bob Hoskins plays Mario Mario and John Leguizamo plays Luigi Mario (yes, this was the first official attempt to confront the fact that Mario is both a first and last name for the famous brothers, and no, there's no real explanation given), and both do a fairly good job with the material they are given. Hoskins basically reprises his Eddie Valiant character from Who Framed Roger Rabbit as someone who's gruff but lovable, and Leguizamo is more than adequate as a the happy go lucky kid that has a lot of faith and just wants his girlfriend back. But the real star is Dennis Hopper as Koopa, who is also basically doing the same character from a previous movie, which in Hopper's case is Blue Velvet, but more PG-13 than R, along with a dose of bad dinosaur jokes.

Another new to aspect to a familar character is how Koopa is a clean freak and germ-phobic; the entire city is run by mold and fungus (it is the Mushroom Kingdom after-all), which is actually the King of the Mushroom Kingdom, but highly devolved. Later on, he becomes a man again, and is portrayed by... Lance Hendriksen! Mojo Nixon plays the part of Toad, whom Mario players might recall as the tiny little mushroom guy. Here he's a folk guitarist that gets transmogrified into a simpleminded Goomba. And Samantha Mathis is also fairly serviceable as Princess Daisy... again, given the wonkiness of the script, one can't expect too much, though the scene in which she is reunited with her dad in fungus form is rather heartwarming.

But some might be wondering, what's with Princess Daisy? Why not Princess Toadstool/Peach? It is funny how the filmmakers, or scriptwriters, or Nintendo, or whomever decided to go with Daisy (which educated Mario fans know as "the other princess" from Super Mario Land, who's from Sarasaland, not the Mushroom Kingdom) and have her be the love interest for Luigi, especially since only recently has Nintendo made them an item of sorts. There's also a scene in which Mario has to slide down an icy tube, which is also somewhat reminiscent of Mario 64, but again, that could just be another coincidence. But anyway, why also is Mario's girlfriend Daniella, and not, say, Pauline, which was his original girl from Donkey Kong?

And yet there's enough sly in-jokes and references to prove that the filmmakers were familiar with the source material, such as how when Mario and Luigi first try to operate a hijacked car, the screen is exactly what Mac users are used to when booting up a machine that cannot find its system folder, but in this case its a block with a question mark in it. Or how all the bad guys basically shoot fireballs. Or their de-evolution cannons are simply re-painted Super Scopes. Or how the stompers, which are the super powered boots that allow the Mario Brothers to jump great heights and distances use cartridges that look like Bullet Bills. So maybe the filmmakers were indeed just throwing things into a large pot all-random like after-all... though Bob-Ombs do appear in the movie much like they do in the games.

Yet again, there's Yoshi. One primary reason why Super Mario Bros was such a failure is that it was supposed to be a kid's movie, but it really wasn't. Take Yoshi for example: in the video games he's a totally lovable and very cartoony looking dino that you just want to hug. But in the movie he's very realistic looking, and at times scary. The first time you see Daisy together with Yoshi on-screen, you will swear that he was going to bite her hand off at any moment.

Plus there's other little things, such as how when Mario tries to free all the other women who were kidnapped from Mario's dimension, including his girlfriend, one of the girls is seen with a cigarette in her mouth in practically every since shot. Not to mention the whole thing just gets weirder and weirder by the end. Another prime example is near then end when Mario and Koopa are temporarily sent to Brooklyn and Koopa de-evolves Scapelli, which leads to the movie's best line: Hopper saying with happiness: "Monkey!" This is immediately after Koopa's girlfriend, who earlier was almost eaten by Yoshi and retaliated by stabbing him in the neck, is violently electrocuted and killed (and not too long before that, the Mojo Nixon Goomba is set ablaze by his dimwitted brethren). Plus Koopa's HQ, which is supposed to look like the World Trade Center buildings but destroyed, which in this post 9/11 world is rather eerie.

Final Score...

So is the live action Super Mario Bros movie good? The answer is not really, but much like another Cinema Pixeldiso featured film, Resurrection of the Little Match Girl, it's a bad movie that also happens to be pretty interesting, with bits of genius shining through. And just as valid an artistic statement as the hacked Super Mario Movie in a certain sense, just not as understood. Maybe. In the end, the world is just find with two attempts at creating a film from the Marioverse. Though the world also might be in the need for at least one featuring the fantastic world of Dig Dug...

[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.]

World's Oldest Competitive Gamer Passes On

robot7.jpg Twin Galaxies is reporting the rather sad news that Doris Self, the 'world's oldest competitive gamer', has passed away at the age of 81 following an auto accident.

According to the obit: "Doris first gained notoriety in 1983 when she achieved a world record score of 1,112,300 points on the classic arcade game Q*Bert during Twin Galaxies' 1983 Video Game Masters Tournament, an event that was conducted for the Guinness Book of World Records. She was 58 years old then, the oldest person up to that time to capture a video game world title"

What's more: "To Doris, Q*Bert was more than just a game; it was therapy. According to Ann Ennis, Doris' sister, Doris would play Q*Bert five nights per week from 1-3:00 AM in the morning as an alternative to taking pills for sleeping. And, on the last night of her life, it was no different. Ann Ennis heard Doris playing for hours, practicing into the night." In her final years, she was chasing the regaining of her Q*Bert world crown, but sadly didn't quite make it, aw - but sounds like she had a real blast trying. [Via RetroBlast.]

Japanese IC Arcade Cards Take Off

robot7.jpg Semi-via the mercurial Jiji, we ran into the Insomnia.ac Japanese game blog, which is delightfully well-written and geeky (looks like the blogger is a SiliconEra contributor.)

In any case, one particular post, on Japanese arcade IC cards, is particularly informative/fun - it's noted: "Now covering arcade gaming in Japan means IC cards, and lots of 'em. Since Sega demonstrated how useful (and lucrative) they can be with Virtua Fighter 4, the cards have been steadily increasing in popularity among developers, to the point where now roughly half the new games support them."

A big load of cards, for "Ghost Squad, Virtua Fighter 5, Wangan Midnight: Maximum Tune 2, Half-Life 2: Survivor, Tekken 5: Dark Resurrection, Mario Kart Arcade GP and Power Smash 3" are then shown, and it's explained: "The cards may not be revolutionary, but they have now become essential to the arcade industry, because the new games are built from the ground up to take advantage of them. How exactly they go about doing that in large part determines the extent of each game's success or failure." Also check the blog's other entries for some good shmup location tests, etc.

Infuriating Dreamcast Games? We Got 'Em!

robot7.jpg Another of our favorite niche blogs, The Dreamcast Junkyard, has posted a list of the 10 most infuriating Dreamcast games ever, and it's filled with delectable, succulent frustration of all varieties.

Right up there at #2 is 4 Wheel Thunder from Midway: "As an arcade racer, 4 Wheel Thunder ticks all the right boxes. Awesome visuals, wank rock soundtrack, bouncy controls, nitro boosts, hills, jumps, shortcuts - it's all here; but therein lies the reason behind 4WT's ascent to the penultimate spot in this run down of the most blood-vessel busting Dreamcast software: the reliance on short-cuts and nitro boosts in order to win." Aha!

But the absolute top frustration, and no doubt the source of some 'OMG' type noises from some, is Soul Calibur, and it's explained: "No matter how good you think you are at Soul Calibur, someone who has never even seen a Dreamcast before can shuffle along, pick up a pad...AND KICK YOUR ARSE! AAAAARGH!" You know - I do believe that this man is right. Much love!

October 19, 2006

Some Random Tidbits From PS3 Gamer Day

robot7.jpg The observant among you may have noticed that I was liveblogging the PlayStation 3 Gamer's Day over at Gamasutra earlier, and I've even just posted an opinion piece on Sony's showing there - relatively rare for me, since I prefer not to post thinkpieces unless they're actually, uhh, called for.

Anyhow, I know that you really don't care about the actual events, and want to know some really irrelevant things that happened while I was there, so let's get straight to that:

- Just before the press conference itself started, there was a call over the PA for a Lexus with the numberplate 'Factor5' to be moved by the owner, because it was blocking something and would be towed otherwise. Just because you make neat-looking PS3 dragon games like Lair, it doesn't mean you can flaunt the rules of parking, Julian Eggebrecht. Oh, how we laughed!

- The pre-conference buffet-style lunch, which was at the W Hotel in downtown San Francisco, was notable for having both normal and sugar-free Red Bull (hey, they're detail-oriented!), and some of the most expensive looking bottled water we've ever seen - it's Voss Water, and Wikipedia explains that it's "a brand of artesian water marketed towards hotels, restaurants, and clubs that cater to the upper class." And unwashed game journos!

- There was an amusing security guard on the second floor landing at the PS3 event itself (which was divided up into three separate floors at a screening-type space in SF) who seemed to think it was necessary for him to direct attendees, traffic cop style, despite the fact he was largely blocking the passageway and confusing people who thought he was telling them they couldn't go upstairs. He also accused someone serving drinks of talking to herself, which may or may not have been true.

- We're not doing impressions of games, because everyone else is. (Fl0w pictured, though!)

Oh, also, we left a bit early to go write editorials, but there is indeed a musical guest this evening. Someone said it was Ludacris. Someone else said it was Prince, but that was Chris Kohler and he was just starting a pointless but potentially self-amusing rumor. When someone finds out who it was (we're pretty sure not Jay-Z and Linkin Park, as used in the presentation), I'm sure they will update the post or otherwise go crazy. Maybe it was the landing-blocking security guard and his hair metal band?

COLUMN: 'The Gentleman Nerd' - Why I Need to Play Some More ... World of Warcraft

[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.]

World of WarcraftThere’s a certain level of self-loathing that’s required to start playing a board game based on a MMOG based on a strategy game that borrows heavily from a board game that also borrows heavily from a table top RPG. The kind of loathing required is the kind that a sheltered life… or a serious rum bender… can breed. Luckily, I have plenty of that type of loathing. I enjoyed playing the board game so much, in fact, that I want to play it again. The only problem is finding other players.

In my youth, other than playing football and mailbox-baseball, I was also very obsessed with computer and board games. My step-brother and I spent many hours with our graph paper and a copy of Bard’s Tale. So, when Warcraft came out, I purchased it because it reminded me of Warhammer. Little did I know I’d be purchasing the first step in one of the most successful franchises in video game history, or that I’d be playing a board game based on this game’s story while living in an old, creaky house in the mid-west. Then again, back in those days, I thought I was going to be a famous archaeologist. Shows what I know.

World of WarcraftBefore I get into the actual game, let me say this first: the World of Warcraft board game takes for-FREAKING-ever to set up. I’ve never seen a game that has this many plastic figurines and specific cards per class. It’s out of control. Each class has two decks of cards - that’s not to mention the items they can win or find, the store and the events. This game is rather card-heavy.

So, once you’ve set up, it’s time to play… or at least try to play. You see, we had one player quit before we started the first turn because the game seemed too hard. Then we had a couple of other players (not me this time, so HAH) get too drunk to really comprehend the rules. Player number four was more interested in making the demon figurines hump each other. Finally, that left me and Brian. We tried valiantly to play, but without the other players, it loses it's charm.

World of WarcraftI think the biggest thing that this game has going against it is that it’s very busy. I can accept the cards, and the figs, and the quest cards. I can accept all of that, but man, the dice rolling system is intense. There are dice for every occasion in festive Christmas colors. You roll these dice like you’re trying to win the car on the Price is Right and pray to God that you get enough successes. I know that when I roll those dice, I’m clawed into my chair, wailing “OH LORD JESUS, IF YOU LOVE ME, DON’T LET THIS BASTARD MURLOCK TAKE MY LIFE AWAY!” That’s when it hit me. That’s when I finally realized that I must have my message heard. I must talk in depth about the randomization in WoW.

So, as mentioned before, there are different colors for the dice. There’s red, green and blue. Now, I don’t remember what does what, exactly, but I do remember that one is armor, one is magic and one is melee. So, you roll all these dice against a monster’s target number. Anything higher than the number is a success. Now, you split your successes out to whether it was armor, melee or magic. They then get sorted into different circles. I also think there’s a spot for an animatronics gnome reading Dio lyrics from a dusty tome, but I’m not sure.

Once we’ve got defense, melee and magic put into our circles, we then consider our special abilities and we can then “spot” a certain number to use our extra powers. Spotting a number is, well, you just kind of point at a number and go “THERE’S ONE.” So, the action of looking at a dice can sometimes trigger your character’s special attacks. I just want that to be clear.

World of WarcraftAnyway, back to the dice rolling. Once you have calculated your successes, and placed your markers in the appropriate circles, then it’s the enemies’ turn. The enemy then rolls all of their dice and subtracts it from yours. The balance is the damage either taken or given. I honestly think that, with the exception of Arkham Horror, this is the hardest to explain and understand concept in board gaming history. This game makes Twilight Imperium look like Chutes & Ladders.

Needless to say, by the end of the first combat, no one was paying attention. Brian and I played out a few more turns, but what can you do when your bitchin’ Orc Warrior decides to go play Zuma instead. We packed the game up and decided that we’d play again when everyone was sober and wanted to be there.

Still waiting.

[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.]

Make Way For The Tetris-Oh-Vee!

robot7.jpg Since I'm sure you guys all watch MTV's TRL a lot, you'll be pleased to know that gritty sarf London grime star Lady Sovereign is currently at #1 on the countdown with her debut single for Def Jam, 'Love Me Or Hate Me'.

You can basically think of Sov ('Make way for the S O V' is her clarion call, and don't you forget it!) as a sarcastic, tiny female version of Eminem - or that's how the new video is making her look. But the reason it's mentioned here is that the vid for 'Love Me Or Hate Me' (YouTube link, NSFW-ish swearing) features such a bleeptastic beat, courtesy of NYC producer Dr. Luke, that the video director has dumped Tetris blocks into the bridging parts of the vid. Lady Sov is gradually built up of these self-same Tetris blocks, and then dances around saying cheeky stuff - yay.

[Oh, and bonus terrible Tetris soundtrack-related fun while we're here - while I couldn't find the original music vid, I found a Final Fantasy vs. Dr. Spin fan video on YouTube, and, HANG ON, wait a minute, the BBC has a RealPlayer clip of the terrible novelty techno song (which Andrew Lloyd-Webber executive produced) being performed on Top Of The Pops, complete with dancers in Tetris uniforms. YAY!]

2007 IGF Modding Entries Revealed, Yay

oilgod.jpg Little bit of a Gamasutra cross-post here, but it's all about neat IGF mods, so you'll let us do that, right? "The organizers of the 2007 Independent Games Festival have revealed record entries into the IGF Modding Competition this year, spanning mods to game titles from Half-Life 2 and Civilization IV through Max Payne and even Heavy Metal: FAKK 2.

The Modding Competition, which became part of the IGF competition last year, was opened up to allow mods from any game this year, and over 35 resulting entries include notable mods such as DungeonDoom for Doom 3, Darkness over Daggerford for Neverwinter Nights, Scourge of The Lich Father for Morrowind, and many more.

The winners in the four initial categories: Best Singleplayer FPS Mod, Best Multiplayer FPS Mod, Best RPG Mod, and Best 'Other' Mod will be announced on December 18th, and will see awards of $500 each. Each will be a finalist for an overall 'Best Mod' award, which will take home a $5000 prize at the Independent Games Festival Awards, held during Game Developers Conference in San Francisco in March 2007." The entries this year have been really interesting, actually.

What's more: "After the main 2007 IGF Competition (created by the CMP Game Group, as is Gamasutra.com) garnered a record 141 entries vying for the $20,000 Seumas McNally Grand Prize, the next deadline for prospective entrants is November 10, 2006 at 11:59pm PDT for the IGF Student Competition.

In the Student category, there will be 10 'Student Showcase' winners for the leading games ($500 travel stipend) announced in January 2007, all of whom will exhibit on the IGF Pavilion at GDC. In addition, for the first time this year, an overall 'Best Student Game' ($2,500 cash prize) will be awarded. Those interested further can visit the IGF's submission site for more guidelines and specifics about the competition."

October 18, 2006

Seriously, Can You Be An Oil God?

oilgod.jpg That lovable newsgaming rascal Ian Bogost has mailed us to reveal: "My studio Persuasive Games has released Oil God, the latest game in the ongoing Arcade Wire series of newsgames, published by Addicting Games and Shockwave.com."

What's going on here, then? "You are an Oil God! Wreak havoc on the world's oil supplies by unleashing war and disaster. Bend governments and economies to your will to alter trade practices. Your goal? Double consumer gasoline prices in five years using whatever means necessary: start wars, overthrow leaders, spawn natural disasters — even beckon the assistance of extra-terrestrial overlords. The game explores the relationship between gas prices, geopolitics, and oil profits." Fun stuff.

Oh yeah, we should also point out that we've recruited Bogost and his Watercooler Games compatriot Gonzalo Frasca to write columns for our Serious Games Source website. Bogost's most recent column talks about Darfur Is Dying, comparing some of the gameplay to E.T for the Atari 2600 (!), and Frasca just put one up discussing the Zidane headbutt Flash game, and why it shows games can be important even when they're not that fun. Go check 'em.

Gizmondo Exec Skips Plea Bargain, Denies Dietrich

robot7.jpg Wait, an opportunity to use a picture of the crashed Gizmondo Ferrari Enzo again? Excellent! According to ABC 7 News in Los Angeles, the trial of Stefan Eriksson will commence later this week, but the real news is about Dietrich.

You guys remember Dietrich, right? He was the alleged driver of the car which, supercharged on loot from the tragically failed handheld, smashed into a pole on the Pacific Coast Highway at about 8 zillion miles an hour. Well, now, according to ABC News: "[Eriksson] initially told investigators that he was not driving the car, but later admitted that he had been behind the wheel. The two misdemeanor DUI counts stem from that crash."

Wait, so does this mean that Dietrich was in the passenger seat? Or just standing at the side of the road watching? We refuse to believe that he doesn't exist. Maybe Eriksson was talking to Dietrich on the phone and Dietrich was telling him how fast to drive? Must be something like that.

Anyhow, the AP further notes that there's been a trial delay, and the reason was: "A witness from a British lending institution "was in a horrible accident and was unable to travel right now."" Uck, hopefully no conspiracy here, and that's not funny, so we can't make any more Gizmondo jokes related to it.

On Audio Commentaries, Totilacious RSS Feeds

robot7.jpg Over at MTV News, the ever-smart Stephen Totilo has a new feature about audio commentaries in games up, and it has some interesting words from Valve on HL2's commentary goals.

It's explained of Half-Life 2: Episode 1, as 15% of you who've played the game probably know: "Some of the commentary nodes in "Episode One" show off the unique abilities of gaming technology. Activating one balloon whips the camera around to focus on the action being described. Another balloon cues up certain animations that are being discussed."

But there's scoop on upcoming making-of goals: "Johnson said Valve is hoping to improve the commentary system for next year's "Episode Two" with a feature that allows players to view multiple iterations of an in-game object or character as commentary plays, so gamers can see how things literally changed shape during the course of development. They're also hoping to support their commentary system in multiplayer matches of "Episode Two" companion product "Team Fortress 2."

[Also, if you'd like to just read Totilo's MTV News game stories and filter out the GameSpot-syndicated stories and the other randomness, he's set up a new blog that links to his own stories. Which I personally find useful, since it has RSS!]

G4 Invades Bushnell's uWink, Survives

robot7.jpg Looks like the folks at G4 took a jaunt over to Nolan Bushnell's new uWink restaurant in Woodland Hills, California the other day, catching the 'restaurant of the future' on opening day.

As they explain: "Alissa Bushnell--who is Nolan's daughter, by the way, and one of the first testers of Pong, so as a videogame-head, you should bown down and kiss her feet--assured us her restaurant is not a cyber cafe full of Counter Strike players. "All the games are casual. None takes longer than 2-3 minutes to play.""

We covered this a little bit the other day, but it's good to get some hands-on info: "Probably the application for all this tech that I was most intrigued with was the group trivia. Table-runners light up with different colors, creating teams who then compete in casual games. Very, very cool." Neat idea - sounds like there will be some more of these opening soon in California.

2006 AMOA Show Afterburners Things Up

robot7.jpg It's tragic, but people kinda forget to cover arcade game show in the U.S. nowadays. But not RetroBlast!, fortunately, which has a nice write-up of the 2006 AMOA show in Las Vegas up on its site.

There's even some arcade stuff in here we haven't really seen before "Sega had one of the larger booths with some fancy games on display. I had a chance to sit inside the jeep/cockpit of the game ‘Let’s Go Jungle’ which had two machine guns mounted inside and allowed for players to storm their way through the jungle fighting off hoards of bugs and other monsters as the camera panned and swished through the forest." Oo, look, ArcadeFlyers has a flyer scan of it with lots more info.

Also noted: "Before wrapping up at the Sega booth I got a look at the new ‘After Burner’ game. The original ‘After Burner’ sit-down game was one of my favorites as a kid." Haven't seen this in the wild yet, but System16 has some pics of the game, which is called After Burner Climax (something UK Resistance has already made a joke about, we're pretty sure, or we dreamt it.)

October 17, 2006

GameSetCompetition: Ultimate Ghosts 'N Goblins PSP Winners!

ghostngob.jpg You may remember last week's GSW competition to win Capcom's somewhat controversial PSP title Ultimate Ghosts 'N Goblins, a title that I'm still excited to play (when I have a chance!), despite some radically opposing reviews.

Well, Jeremy 'Toastyfrog' Parish gets two thumbs up from us for actually entering the competition, after his 1UP.com review of the game (also for other Ziff outlets) made people actually RIOT ON THE STREETS. His reason for needing a copy of the game?
"Please let me win! I need something I can set fire to." No luck, Parish, the random finger of winningness hasn't picked you, so there will be no UMD bonfire today.

But these lucky fellows did indeed win the game, and have to promise not to burn it: James Dernak (also known as Dernak The Destroyer Of Worlds), Matt Harper (who has a really silly email address), and Chris Lops (does he walk Lops-sided?)

Incidentally, here's the Q and A for the terminally non-geeky:

Q: "What slightly insane, pig and pink hair-inclusive PlayStation platform game series did Tokuro Fujiwara mastermind after leaving Capcom and before returning to captain the latest Ghosts 'N Goblins title?"
A: Tomba (or Tombi in Europe, thanks pedants!)

Costco: The New Video Arcade Hangout?

robot7.jpg [This is a special GSW guest post by John Andersen, who has written some neat arcade-related features for Gamasutra, and passes along this fun tidbit. Ta!]

Have a longing to play Asteroids, Burgertime, Space Invaders or Street Fighter II CE just as you did in your local arcade back in the day? If so, the Chicago Gaming Company has a new consumer product on sale exclusively at Costco in North America, complete with authentic arcade controls (and even a trackball as well!). It's for the classic arcade game enthusiast, and right in time for the holidays. You don't even need any quarters or tokens to demo it either.

Ultimate Arcade 2 (here's a game flyer) has shipped to Costco Wholesale Club locations across the nation. It showcases 100 playable games exclusively licensed from Atari, Capcom, Exidy, G-mode (owners of the Data East library), Irem, and Taito for play on the unit. Although this toy for grown-ups has quite the grown-up price ($1995.00), it's a pretty good bargain considering this is a 300 pound quality constructed cabinet standing 70 inches tall, holding a 23" viewable monitor, with 100 playable arcade game classics, some of which haven't been available for years (Moon Patrol anyone?).

Other UA2 games worth mentioning are Cobra Command from Data East (G-mode), Kung-Fu Master from Irem, Joust from Midway, Bubble Bobble from Taito among many others. Click here to look at the unit and full list of games. Some may mistake UA2 for something that should belong in an arcade, but this machine is intended for homes and commercial use is not allowed since the coin door is permanently deactivated, so make some space in that gameroom of yours.

Ultimate Arcade 2 is a follow-up to the first Costco exclusive Ultimate Arcade product released in the 4th quarter of 2005. Ultimate Arcade 2 will soon be available for order online from Costco.com, however its predecessor is still available for home delivery on the site. A vice-president at Chicago Gaming Company promises there is more to come as new game licenses are being signed up for future arcade products. We'll certainly keep an eye and ear out, meanwhile we'll be heading down to our local Costco for a little Elevator Action and some bulk-buy pizza rolls.

Toribash's Freak Fights - Video Carnage Exposed!

robot7.jpg Hey, we got a note from Hampa, the creator of Toribash: "We have now released version 2.1 with ingame ranking, belt gradings and streak counters. So now you can earn yourself a Black Belt in Toribash :)"

He continues: "We have also put together a multi player promo video named "Freak Fights", a term used on the servers to describe an online match that is extra gory."

As we mentioned, the game is now pay-to-play, but the blockbuster video certainly makes us think about paying - and if we were ragdoll decapitation freaks, we'd have whipped out the plastic already, of course.

Bonjour OK, Mr. Robot!

robot7.jpg Indie mainstay GameTunnel has just posted a fun interview with Mr. Robot co-creator Nick Tipping, discussing the upcoming "platform hopping, adventure battling, and even RPG alternate-mode-ing" indie title with the co-founder of Starscape developers Moonpod Games.

These guys are some of the sharpest indie development ninjas we've seen, as evidenced by the following: "The great thing about the Mr. Robot back end, is its 'building block' system for creating levels. We use it like a gameplay laboratory; if something comes out of a brainstorming session then we can rapidly test it out and see if it's actually fun. It's a bit like having a playground of lego sets in a game engine environment. As for ideas we've prototyped by their nature they are quite hard to quantify (otherwise we wouldn't need to prototype them)."

Tipping concludes: "But we've tested out various gameplay from physics based puzzles (but where the physics are a completely invented set of rules from another dimension!) to turn based dungeon rpgs (mainly testing a bizarre battle system Mark came up with) and my personal favourite: a game that looks on the surface a bit like gauntlet, but is more akin to games like paradroid and quazzatron and mixes time based puzzles directly into the action." Damn, I guess all these ideas won't make it into the final game, but the title (due out before Xmas on PC) sounds very intriguing.

Reflexive Gets Poetic With Casual Games

ric0.gif The guys at Reflexive Games, who both operate a casual game portal and make neeto titles such as Wik: The Fable Of Souls, have a wacky blog on their site, and I just noticed they've been making up limericks around casual games - which is funny!

For example, for Mystery Case Files: Huntsville, we have: "This room is full of many things, Though the owner is not a king, Each item I find, Helps me solve the crime; If only I could spy the ring." Wait, that's terrible! But it gets even worse, with a song pastiche for Ricochet surely the only Beatles ripoff ode to a Breakout clone we've heard... ever.

Altogether now:

(to the music of The Beatles' Yesterday)

I first spied you in the month of May,
Now I think about you everyday,
Oh, I won't leave my Ricochet.

My ball has gotten away from me,
Flown past my paddle and ceased to be,
Oh, Ricochet come back to me."

A commenter also boasts: "I once did something like this, only it was an ode to the Nintendo 64 to the tune of the Beatles song "When I'm 64"" Ugh, this is all raaaather painful, in a deliciously masochistic way.

October 16, 2006

PS3 E-Distribution - First Games Revealed

robot7.jpg The wizards over at NeoGAF have spotted some screenshots and info on PS3 e-distribution titles, apparently released somewhat inadvertently ahead of Sony's PS3 press day in San Francisco this Thursday, and there's some neat XBLA-like stuff on there.

In terms of first-party titles, there's Blast Factor, which "brings together “old school” and “new school” arcade action" in a way not unreminiscent of titles such as Geometry Wars - also profiled is the previously mentioned fl0w, and there are screenshots for Go Sudoku (heh, continuing Sudoku's takeover of the woorld!), Lemmings 2 (yay, classic puzzle suicide action!), and the as yet completely undocumented Swizzleblock.

Also listed for PS3 e-distribution: third-party titles including Gripshift (Sidhe's under-rated PSP title coming to PS3), and the relatively unknown Crash Carnage Chaos and Wheel of Fortune (OK, we can guess what that last one is!) Anyhow, it's nice to finally know what PS3 will initially have for digital downloads.

GameSetInterview: Constance Steinkuehler on MMOs as Third Places

steinkuehler.jpgThe term “third place” refers to a social surrounding other than the home or workplace. The article Where Everybody Knows Your (Screen) Name: Online Games as "Third Places", which stems from a joint study by Constance Steinkuehler, assistant professor in Curriculum & Instruction at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Dmitri Williams, assistant professor in the Speech Communication Department at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign seeks to debunk the myth of videogaming as a wholly anti-social form of entertainment. To most gamers, though, this seemed entirely obvious, and the study was dismissed by many as redundant.

However, the other side of that is that when the article was published in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication in July, it was viewed as revelatory by mainstream media outlets like CNN. “Despite copious amounts of data to support it, the claim that online games are not anti-social but the opposite is apparently novel to many people,” says Steinkuehler.

The bulk of the article is a comparison of the properties of MMOs as compared to the characteristics of third places, as defined by sociologist Ray Oldenburg. This includes frameworks like whether “conversation is a main focus of activity in which playfulness and wit are collectively valued”, that the places are “easy to access and are accommodating to those who frequent them” and that the places can function as a “home away from home”. Seemingly, the only framework that MMOs don’t fit into is that third places must be “characteristically homely and without pretension”. However, the article notes that while “the visual form of MMO environments does not fit Oldenburg's criterion…the social function of those environments does”.

We contacted Steinkuehler via email to ask about the article, the reactions to it from gamers, and the social validity of MMOs as third places.

[Click through for the full interview.]

What were your findings in Where Everybody Knows Your (Screen) Name: Online Games as "Third Places"?

Our general findings were that:

(a) Massively multiplayer online games (MMOs) function as third places for informal sociability, much like classic taverns, etc. do.
(b) They facilitate participants' "bridging social capital" -- the kind of friendships that are more casual than family and friends but that tend to expose a person to diversity.

In other words, MMOs are thoroughly social and have great potential to foster exposure to diversity.

Can you describe the concept of a third place?

Sure! A third place is a place beyond work and home where a person can go for informal social exchange. Think: Cheers, the bar, or European coffee shops.

What were your initial thoughts heading into this research? You make mention of Putnam's theories of "bowling alone" [which “suggests that media are displacing crucial civic and social institutions”] - was this something you considered accurate?

This work was borne out of a paper I originally wrote for a journal in Sweden. In it, I wanted to address how it is that American youth face a very different climate than their European counterparts, and how things like gaming are vilified by a largely-ignorant media & public while, in fact, they can be quite productive. Oldenburg actually states that games are not legitimate social interaction, that "sitting in a room at computer screens playing videogames is not a third place." However, he was utterly unaware of what people were actually doing behind the screen. Once you take a look at what folks are doing in, say, World of Warcraft, you realize that Oldenburg's original statement is actually inaccurate.

On that subject, a lot of gamers seem to have the had the reaction that the results were rather obvious.

Yes, the findings, at least the version presented all over the news, is very obvious -- to anyone with at least a rudimentary understanding of or experience with games, at least. I find it ironic that, out of all the research I've done on MMOs on cognition & literacy, its this piece the media finds such an interest. I think it just points to the incredible disconnect between gamers and a non-gaming but vocal public. For what its worth, the paper was rejected from the first American journal we submitted to, then had massive revisions for the second journal as one of the reviewers felt we were clearly biased and ignoring "all the research" showing how games were bad influences, bred anti-social behavior, what have you.

What was the thought behind the choices of games detailed in the article? Why not study something like World of Warcraft, or Second Life - both of which have bigger user bases than the games in the article?

It takes some time to do research and finally publish the outcomes. When this research was originally done, WoW wasn't even released. And your statement on SL is wrong: Lineage I & II was, until WoW the single best selling title globally with over 4 million people playing it. SL doesn't have those kind of numbers. WoW does, obviously, and that's what I study now. But, at the time of this research, it just wasn't out yet. I don't know what Dmitri picked Asheron's Call, but I picked Lineage because it was the biggest game globally.

What was your methodology for the article?

This is outlined in the paper. We combined findings from two massive studies: My work, which was a 2+ year online cognitive ethnography of Lineage I & II, and Dmitri's work, which was a massive media effects study.

What was the level of collaboration between yourself and Dmitri Williams on the article?

I originally wrote a small invited piece on "MMOGs at third places" for a journal in Sweden. I sent it to my good colleague Dmitri as I had cited some of his work in it. He really liked the theoretical framework I was offering and suggested we collaborate on a piece for a journal here in the states. So, we co-authored from there. He and I have worked together for years, and have gamed together online quite a bit, so it was a natural collaboration.

Do you think there is a risk of MMOs taking over from traditional third places for some gamers? You mention the idea of a third place being a "home away from home", but do you think there is the risk of this being taken too far?

For a very rare handful of folks, there will be problems. But, then, for a handful of folks there are always problems. Look at the workaholics in America and you'll see my point. Research shows that playing such games is not replacing time with family or out socialising with RL friends; it’s mostly replacing television viewing. Dmitri has some great stats on this.

One of the points where your article moved away from the research of Oldenburg was with the idea of a third place being having a "low profile". Did you initially see this as a problem in your research?

Well, the spirit of low profile -- that the context can't be a pretentious one -- still holds, but the requirement that the visual context needs to be plain or homely just doesn't work out as well online, where there are lots of visually fabulous "places" to hang out (like Lineage II towns, for example, or the Barrens in WoW) that are still, well, homely in a certain way, certainly not the equivalent to an opera house IRL or something.

Do you think MMOs are as valid socially as third places as "real life" ones?

Yes, of course. Many of my academic colleagues I only know online. Does that mean they’re somehow "less" colleagues than others? Or less real? Not at all. I think it’s only an older generation that didn't grow up online that worries about such things. Some things you need physical contact for, like contact sports and sex. Other things you don't, like running a 5-man in Stratholme and sharing a good laugh over you spectacular wipe there.

Finally, do you consider yourself a gamer?

God yes.

Elite Beat Agents - The Tracklisting!

fsaab.jpg Of course, this is way too BREAKING not to post - Wired.com's Game|Life has got the complete Elite Beat Agents DS tracklisting up, and it's pretty darn interesting!

Keiichi Yano told Game|Life of the announcement: "The concept for song selection was this - the roaring songs you would want to hear if you went to a college frat party... I used to play in bands like that, and when the whole crowd is jumping up and down to your tunes...this is the essence of our selections."

I'm not sure I was expecting them to go that way, and there are certainly some cheesy tracks on here - but I like it! Here's the full skinny:

1. Walkie Talkie Man - Steriogram
2. ABC - Jackson Five
3. Sk8er Boi - Avril Lavigne
4. I Was Born to Love You - Queen
5. Rock This Town - Stray Cats
6. Highway Star - Deep Purple
7. Y.M.C.A. - Village People
8. September - Earth, Wind and Fire
9. Canned Heat - Jamiroquai
10. Material Girl - Madonna
11. La La - Ashlee Simpson
12. You're the Inspiration - Chicago
13. Survivor - Destiny's Child
14. Without a Fight - Hoobastank
15. Believe - Cher
16. Let's Dance - David Bowie
17. Jumpin Jack Flash - Rolling Stones
18. Makes No Difference - Sum 41
19. The Anthem - Good Charlotte

Also noted: "Where the hell is "Livin' La Vida Loca"? A fair question. Near as I can figure, the song was dropped from the game." When I spoke to Yano at TGS, he confirmed that the track wasn't in the game any more - maybe Ricky Martin got greedy? We shall never know!

Poking At... Flight Sim 2004 Mods?

fsaab.jpg Unfortunately somewhat reduced in importance from its heights, GameSpy still puts out some useful editorial - and sometimes some plain odd editorial, as evidenced by their latest 'Modify' mods column, talking about mods for Flight Sim 2004.

Witness: "Blu-Sky Mine Productions' latest Saab 2000 passenger plane is one of the sweetest Flight Sim 2004 aircraft add-ons I've seen in a long time. Not all that surprising really; the New Zealand-based development team, headed up by Dan Mitchell, is one of the most respected FlightSim 2004 freeware aircraft builders around."

I just find it fascinating (and even a bit laudable!) to have a mainstream game site covering this type of thing: "Released to great fanfare late last year, version 1.0 of the Saab 2000 (since updated to version 1.1) bleeds craftsmanship... Bonus features include a proper pushback tug for backing out of jetway ramps, animated passenger and cargo doors, passenger airstairs, and even some wheel chocks, flagging tape and cones for extended parking stints (unfortunately, the wheel chocks don't actually work, so you'll still need to apply the parking brake)." Hah.

COLUMN: 'A Life In Obscurity' - D3 Does Cavemen Right: The Genshijin

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Our buddy Jiji ran out of stuff to post for his 'Compilation Catalog' column, so we're calling it 'A Life In Obscurity', and he'll alternate random D3 musings with compilation round-ups and other odd reviews, semi-regularly. Only on GSW! Because only we're crazy enough!]

Mammoth!What makes a successful Simple 2000 Series game? Sometimes it's a collision of original elements that have been refined over several games, often on other publishers' dimes. Sometimes it's a mere port or remake of a game that's previously found success as a full-priced release. The well-executed, original, non-franchise title is a rarity among the rare good games in D3 Publisher's catalog. However, the necessary alignment of heavenly bodies seems to have been just right for the release of developer Vingt-et-un Systems' April release, Simple 2000 Series Vol. 99: The Genshijin, or The Primitive Man.

[Click through for the full article.]

Caveman - Not Ninja!

The Genshijin (to date, released only for the Japanese PS2) can best be described as a combination of Nintendo's real-time-strategy-explorer Pikmin and Artdink's bizarro caveman-sim Tail of the Sun. As the game begins, you control a diminutive monkey living in a small monkey-village. Your monkey is ever-so-slightly bigger than the rest of the monkeys in his tribe, and therefore is able to boss other monkeys around and lead them on sorties into the great wilderness outside. The monkeys in the boss's party follow him in formation and act on the commands he gives. They can pick up food and artifacts, attack wild beasts with their monkey-fists, and work together to surmount obstacles (which are usually great slabs of rock that serve as gates between areas).

There are five levels through which to guide your troops, and each is full of interesting obstacles and set-pieces. You'll only have access to one level at first, of course, but you can return to any level at any time, and each level has initially-inaccessible goodies that you can retrieve if you return with better equipment. There's a nice variety of enemies to be seen (and killed), and while it's clear that each of a few different monster types has been recycled into several different enemies, differences in behavior and sound effects ensure that the creatures stay interesting to fight throughout the game.

Menu!Monkey Plus Plus Plus

As the game progresses, you can add more monkeys to your party, and each level's reward is a technological breakthrough that makes previously inaccessible terrain navigable. More monkeys means larger items can be picked up, since most items require more than one monkey to transport. Plus, dangerous animals can be felled more quickly. As you bring back larger and more rare items, the village grows in size, and new types of buildings become available.

There are three types of materials to be collected out in the wilderness - wood, stone, and metal - and each contributes to the construction of certain structures. Among the many available to build, there's an item shop, gyms (charmingly misspelled "Jim" in-game) for training your troops, a workshop where you can combine items to gain rare restoratives, and a cemetery that keeps count of the citizens you've sacrificed to the cause.

Each technological advancement pushes your tribe up the evolutionary ladder, from monkeys to apes to Neanderthals, and eventually to the titular primitive men. As your species becomes smarter, it gains access to weapons of increasing sophistication, like axes, spears, and eventually bows. No matter how advanced your tribe gets, though, each member retains that same charming scowl.

Language Barrier... Critical?

The language barrier is somewhat high here, as all the game's menus are presented in Japanese, and there's a large helping of flavor text included. Thankfully, though, there's nothing necessary to succeed at the game that can't be figured out pretty easily just by playing. Items are all represented by distinct and cute models and artwork, and the iconified, context-sensitive controls are intuitive. The Genshijin may not have inherited Pikmin's layered complexity of mechanics, but does avoid Tail of the Sun's obtuse nature. Here's a tip for the Japanese-illiterate, however: make sure you follow each material's development path to its end before completing the game. Otherwise you'll end up with the game's bad ending (which is not altogether unpleasant, if you've got a dark sense of humor).

T-rex!The game's control and animation are both smooth and attractive. One could be forgiven for mistaking the game for something other than a Simple 2000 budget release. Enemies are pleasantly rounded and cartoony, and the scowling tribesmen have a funny way of running and an amusing little dance that make it clear that more effort was spent on presentation here than in most Simple 2000 titles.

The constraints of the game's budget make themselves felt most noticeably here in the game's engine - whose poor image quality the game shares with The Zombie vs. Ambulance - and in late-game troop mechanics. The poor cavemen do their best to follow their leader, but when there are fifteen or more party members in formation, it's almost inevitable that a few of them get caught on scenery and left behind. Their pathfinding routines don't seem to be well-developed, either, so keeping that many of them together often involves some babysitting.


The Genshijin will take the average player ten to twelve hours to complete. That's extremely generous for a Simple 2000 title, especially when so little of that time is spent in the repetitive, looped structure that's so common to games in this series. D3's developers often have a hard time balancing their budget between engine development, character animation, and level design, and so they often fill their games with experience to earn and upgrades to buy, leaving the player forever grinding away. The way The Genshijin offers so much playtime while avoiding this pitfall so deftly - and supplying a series of original, interesting challenges instead - is amazing. This is one of those 'lightning in a bottle' examples of a D3 project gone almost completely right.

[Trevor Wilson is a web developer, freelance game journalist, and amateur game developer who indulges his unhealthy obsession with obscure, strange, and unique video games over at his weblog, namako team.]

October 15, 2006

Tandy CoCo's Dungeons Of Daggorath?

dung9.png Armchair Arcade is ratcheting up the geek to Warp 9 or so with a neat review of DynaMicro's The Dungeons of Daggorath for the Tandy CoCo, circa 1982 - pretty sure we didn't have these in the UK, so it's fun to read about them.

Matt Barton explains: "Essentially, DoD is a game in the tradition of first-person "D&D" games in the vein of Richard Garriot's Akalabeth (1980, Apple II) and Sir-Tech's Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord (1981, Apple II)", and continues: "I must say that I'm impressed with the title--and can easily see why the game has managed to retain such a devoted cult following that's lasted nearly a quarter of a century. So, what makes the game so great? What I want to talk about here are three features--the immensity of the game world, the intensity of the action, and the creative use of sound."

The most impressive thing: "As I mentioned at the start of this review, the DoD fan community is still going strong. There's even an official discussion board and Wiki for the game. Folks who don't want to muck about with a CoCo emulator can download an enhanced PC Port, and there has even been an effort to get the game working in a Web Browser (Note: I wasn't able to get the browser version to work)."

Kablooey! Blast Miner Gets Demo

bminer.jpg We've previously reported on the storied heritage of Cryptic Sea's 'Blast Miner' - a physics-based indie puzzle game from some of the folks who created the awesome Gish.

Well, now the official site has added a public demo of the title, complete with a slightly pithy public FAQ ('Q: So this is just a Tetris rip-off, right? A: Play the demo. Q: ? A: Play the demo.), and you can already buy the full game as well - hopefully they get good distribution for the game as well as doing the own-selling thing.

Also, I shall repeat what I said last time: "Check out the demo video - I'm excited to play this, esp. if it ever got on Xbox Live Arcade (please?) - oh, and the weird non-physics-like effects in the vid are when the blocks are being manipulated by the player, btw." [Via IndyGamer.]

@ Play: ToeJam & Earl, The Roguelike That's Not An RPG

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.]

As a special treat to our readers, this column contains.... screenshots!

Out in the distant reaches of interstellar space lies the appropriately-named planet of Funkotron, a world somewhat allied with the philosophy of George Clinton. One day a teenage Funkotronian, the red, three-legged, besneakered, cap-and-medallion-wearing ToeJam, out on a space jaunt in his Righteous Rapmaster Rocketship, allowed his friend Earl to drive it through the asteroid belt of a certain backwater solar system.

tjetitle.gifEarl wasn't a very good driver. They crashed.

When everything came to rest they found their ship smashed into ten pieces, scattered throughout 25 regions of the most unfunky planet in the galaxy, with a wide array of alien-hating natives out for their hides. The name of the planet: Earth.

[Click through for the full article.]

This tale sets up one of the finest console games ever produced, Greg Johnson and Mark Voorsanger's ToeJam & Earl for the Sega Genesis. Although I consider it a roguelike (which is why we're covering it here), it's entertaining for other reasons than just that. It has an awesome sense of humor, music fully worthy of the game's premise, wildly imaginative enemies, and terrific graphics considering the platform. And it is the best two-player co-operative game that exists anywhere. It's slated to be one of the early releases for Wii's Virtual Console feature, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

That Evil Dentist Wouldn't Be Laughing If I Had A Sword

tje1.gifThe game upsets many of the more commonly-held notions of what a roguelike should be, and I'm not just talking about graphics here. Players are barely capable of attacking the enemies! Without a suitable present at hand there is no way to harm the Earthlings, and even with an offensive item (Tomatoes or Slingshot) most of the opposition is so dangerous to be around that unless the player has a lake or gap to stand behind it's wisest to just run. None of the traditional rewards for defeating an opponent are here either: points and experience levels (or "ranks" in this game) are instead earned through exploration and opening presents.

Aww, You Got Me Rocket Skates For Christmas

tje2.gifPresents are the game's random item class. A present that shares the same wrapping paper as another in the game will always contain the same effect. Many of them have excellent enemy evasion or distraction potential, with some (Super Hi-Tops) easier to use than others (Rosebushes), but again, getting real use out of them requires the player find out what they are first. There are fewer always-bad items in TJ&E than most roguelikes, but those there are are very bad. "Total Bummer!" causes a player to lose one life, regardless of his health, yet it's not the worst of the lot. That distinction goes to the devious Randomizer, which scrambles the identity of all the presents.

tje3.gifThe first game of ToeJam & Earl I almost won, on which I got to level 22 (of 25) and had more than enough resources to see me through the end, was ruined by a Randomizer. The implications it holds for the player's game make the tremendous "orchestra hit" noise that plays upon opening a Randomizer among the most dreaded sound effects in video games. The Randomizer even randomizes itself, so it's possible to recover from it, then hit it again, and again. The only way to find out what a Randomizer is ahead of time is to get it identified, or ID the other 25 types of present first and then guess its identity through elimination. This process is made more difficult due to the only source of identification in the game being the infrequently-appearing Carrot Wise Men, who charge a lot for their services.

The Dual Ghandis of Funk

tje4.gifTJ&E is an unusually pacifist game for its class. Avoiding Earthling attack is the key skill of the game, and it's made more difficult due to the alien pair's slow walking speed. The trick to survival lies in realizing that many of the faster Earthlings tend to attack in straight lines, so they can often be avoided through a series of sidesteps. The consequences for failure are harsh though, and it's not uncommon to take multiple hits from a late-game enemy, like Lawnmower Guys, Boogie Men or (worst of all!) Phantom Ice Cream Trucks, and lose a life even if the player was at full health before. But even weak enemies can quickly slaughter the player if he is unwise in his movements near them. Successful ToeJam & Earl players have learned that hostiles should be given as wide a berth as possible.

tje6.gifThe most instructive thing about ToeJam & Earl's rogue-likeness, in the end, is the absence of almost all elements that trace back to Dungeons & Dragons. Most roguelikes have D&D accoutrements, equipment, attribute scores, spellcasting, and so forth, sufficiently ingrained in their being that it seems almost nonsensical to think one need not be a roleplaying game at all, yet ToeJam & Earl has none of these things.

Other than money, presents are the only collectable in the game. The best advantages a player can get out of one are an instant promotion or an extra life, useful to be sure, but far from obtaining Greyswandir, or Ringil. There are no items (other than Randomizers) with the power to change the nature of the game. Because players cannot find armor or weapons that provide lasting bonuses, there is not a whole lot a player can do, over time, to improve his state other than collecting more presents and getting them identified, but the game's balance takes that into consideration. It would be just barely survivable with no items at all, so with presents added to the mix the game moves into a mortal realm of challenge.

But Is It A Roguelike?: Point By Point

tje7.gifSo with all those differences, what is it that even qualifies ToeJam & Earl as being a roguelike in the first place? The tremendous difficulty, randomized world, permanent death (players may have extra lives, but running out is easy and there is no way to continue so "lives" are more like a special kind of health), plentiful monsters with attacks that can mess up the player in ways other than damage, emphasis on survival in a hostile environment through canny use of limited resources, and above all that process of discovery, those are the things that make TJ&E more like Rogue than many games that define themselves by that quality.

What ToeJam & Earl is is an outlier case, a game that defines what it means to be roguelike, not through all the things it has, but from the things it doesn't:

  • It's not turn-based. But: you can always pause the game to think of your next move, and the action isn't all that fast paced, so in this case the action doesn't interfere with game in which some thought is required to progress.
  • It's not a one-player-only game. But: its two-player co-op mode is so well-integrated with the roguelike play structure that, should someone finally make a true multiplayer roguelike work, they'll probably do it after studying
    TJ&E. Players near each other both get the points and effects (good and bad) from presents, and can share health and lives too, but they can also mess each other up and race to get the good stuff on each level.
  • It's not a roleplaying game. Players gain points and ranks, but they don't really gain anything that could be called statistics. But: there is little in the way of combat either, and players do gain maximum health, and once in a while an extra life, as they earn promotions.
  • It does have unknown items and randomly-generated player resources, but it does not, interestingly, have an item that identifies stuff. But: there is a character who identifies things, and he charges enough so that it is a serious decision whether to buy knowledge or risk Bummers and Randomizers to gain it through present-opening.
  • It's not ASCII. But: neither is Shiren the Wanderer.

The Triumph of Sir Nose*

ToeJam & Earl had two sequels, but neither game is quite the equal of the original, and in both cases it is due to the degree they stray from the roguelike formula. The second game, Panic on Funkotron, has incredibly vivid and imaginative artwork and ingenious platformer gameplay, and if it hadn't been the sequel to such an interesting game it would be remembered as one of the highlights of the Genesis. As for the third game, Mission to Earth for X-box... while it does have some roguelike aspects, they are severely hampered by the fact that the game defaults to fixed worlds, and it starts out with all objects identified: item scrambling only occurs due to the attacks of a certain enemy. (It has a couple of other major flaws too, likely due to publisher meddling, but they are beyond the focus of this column. I'll just say "Poochie" and trust you'll get my point.) Both of these games have the original's sense of humor, but neither works the act of discovery into its gameplay nearly as well as the first did.

Greg Johnson talks about the game, mentioning Rogue in the process, in an interview he did with Sega-16 last year. It's available at http://sega-16.com/Interview-%20Greg%20Johnson.php.


Well, that's six columns behind us! If there are any of you who think a column on roguelike games would rapidly run out of material, then think again. Next time, we'll talk about death and life (but mostly death) in the Dungeons of Doom, in a recounting of the rarest, coolest, and most condescending causes of sudden mortality to be found in Nethack, so be sure to come back in two weeks. Look for that guy under the tree, opening boxes, looking for Icarus Wings.

* If you get that "Sir Nose" reference you are probably much cooler than I am.

2007 IGF Entrants Probed, Prodded, Spindled

evda.jpg Over at sister site Gamasutra, the ever-ready Alistair Wallis has been conducting a bunch of neat interviews with Independent Games Festival entrants for this year [disclaimer: I'm the IGF Chairman, but you knew that anyhow], and I realized I hadn't pointed them out on GSW - so now I am!

Most recently, Alistair has quizzed Jonathan Mak on Everyday Shooter, which is, fascinatingly, something "...like a compilation album, made up of different shooters inspired by anything from games like Warning Forever and Every Extend to the film Porco Rosso".

Before that, lots more innovative indie interviews - Prairie Games on the MMO Minions Of Mirth, Vision Videogames on SpaceStationSim, Stephen Taylor on the swirly Plasma Pong, Klei Entertainment discussing smart puzzler Eets, Pixeljam chatting about Gamma Bros, and Dan Marshall ruminating on Gibbage. Yay.

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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