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Archive For March, 2007

COLUMN: 'Game Mag Weaseling': The Bluffer's Guide to Britmags

March 31, 2007 10:14 PM |

['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.]

edge173.jpg   360gamer22.jpg

From the best to the worst, this week's GMW is all about the game mag scene in the United Kingdom, which has taken a beating in recent years but still outclasses the US in terms of sheer quantity. Read on and discover what's worth throwing out the big bucks for and what's got to be avoided at all costs...

Where Rockstar Went... Wrong?

March 31, 2007 5:10 PM | Simon Carless

- I'm aware that the whole world has gone Grand Theft Auto IV crazy, but just wanted to make sure everyone found this David Kushner-written piece for Wired on 'The Road to Ruin: How Grand Theft Auto Hit the Skids'.

It's been referred in a couple of places (such as Planet Grand Theft Auto) that the article is a 'hit piece' against the company. And while I don't think that's entirely true, I didn't find this piece very satisfying - despite the smart guys who helped put it together. The reason? Rockstar's insane levels of secrecy. The only interviews with the co-founders are from 2002-ish, and I would say that Wired were pretty unsuccessful at finding anyone with any insight into the inner workings of the company.

Obviously, with Take-Two getting taken over by activist shareholders this week, the entire future of Rockstar as a division could be in the balance. But with the insane amount of hype around GTA IV, can anyone afford to mess with the Housers?

[And what - no mention of David Jones in the piece? For me, though he left before the height of the franchise, he's just as key to Rockstar's success by perfecting the initial GTA gameplay, to go alongside the Housers' keenly refined (and sometimes slightly 'overcrafted', for me) sense of brand and style.]

COLUMN: 'Cinema Pixeldiso' – High Score

March 31, 2007 12:08 PM |

['Cinema Pixeldiso' is a semi-regular column by Matt 'Fort90' Hawkins that takes a look at movies that are either directly based upon or are related to video games, with a focus on the obscure and the misunderstood. This week’s selection is a documentary that chronicles a world record attempt.]


This is the story of man vs machine. The machine in question is the arcade classic Missile Command, and the man is Bill Carlton, an average run-of-the-mill kind of guy.

High Score

Its perhaps safe to say that when most people hear about some expert game player, or at least someone who is obsessed with video games, they immediately make assumptions: among other traits, this person more than likely has zero friends, let alone a girlfriend, is perhaps unemployed, has poor hygiene, and maybe even "talks funny". But not Bill. He has a decent job, friends, even a girlfriend, who may not understand Bill's obsession but is nonetheless supportive.

He's not some ball of angst like many diehard gamers but instead a rather charming, laid-back, and even genuinely funny guy. So as we follow along his quest to attain the record for highest score ever, instead of wincing whenever Bill hits a stumbling block, we, the viewers are actually sympathetic and even hopeful for his success. Though its Bill's apparent normalcy that makes his obsession all the more intriguing and perplexing, since one must ask: what's a normal guy like that doing stuff like this?

Rogers Hits The Action Button, Minds Dissolve

March 31, 2007 7:04 AM | Simon Carless

- First there was Insert Credit, which is still going, of course, and then the forums sheared off in a 'giant glacier falling into the sea' stylee and formed SelectButton, and now, it seems, Tim Rogers and some like-minded folkses have set up ActionButton.net.

The site, it appears, is "...a kind of web-log website thing about videogames. Our mission is basically to review videogames. Our reviews, between 800 and 1200 words in length each, can and will employ wordplay trickery and sometimes actual, absolute anger." Sounds fair enough to me.

Obviously, hanging out close to RogersSpace(TM) means that there will be disgruntled people trying to poke holes in this effort - to which I would say, check out Eric-Jon Waugh's Donkey Kong 3 review - "It’s been said that each of us only has one tune to play; all we ever do is change the way we play it. It’s also been said that Donkey Kong and Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto’s tune originates in his personal hobbies, filtered through a love of Japanese and Western fairy tales. The Legend of Zelda has its roots in the fields and caves behind Miyamoto’s childhood home. Pikmin comes from Miyamoto’s garden. And Donkey Kong 3 is based on the premise that it is fun to spray DDT up a gorilla’s asshole. While being attacked by bees."

Or, if you will, peruse Tim's review of Crackdown: "Jumping and bouncing and shooting. Oddly colored sky. Really weighty vehicle physics. Industrial, angry, mediocre soundtrack that, if little else, communicates the feeling of two or three pounds of cocaine sprinting through your futuristic bloodstream as you hurtle toward the next guy the boss says needs to stop living right now. The game’s got atmosphere, and it loves it."

Bottom line - this is great writing, even through the self-conscious metacommentary which tends to characterize Rogers and some of his compatriots. But that's what makes it readable, for me - context and a little lightness of tone. Imagine if video game reviews weren't something you had to read through in order to work out if you wanted to spend your money on a game? That'd be ActionButton, then - and only a very few other sites out there manage that.

GameSetLinks: Wizards, Irving Berlin, Grimoires

March 31, 2007 2:00 AM | Simon Carless

- Ah yes, a little something for the weekend, Sir? In the form of these slightly insane left-over GSW-worth links, of course. Some of the most important of which are as follows:

- MTV's Stephen Totilo and Newsweek's N'Gai Croal have discovered the art of conversation, and seem determined to make us suffer for it. Hence the 'me-vs.-n'gai: The "God of War II" debate - Endless Gaming Conversation' article, as it's charmingly called on Stephen's own site. As he notes: "Below you will find the entire exchange N'Gai Croal and I had about "God of War II" over the past month and published over the past week. It runs a mere 12,329 words." Turns out it's fun and readable, though, like those Tom Vs. Bruce articles from CGW or other suitably charismatic double-acts. I look forward to them conspiring to drop a piano down some stairs next.

- Do you remember the video game poetry book 'Blue Wizard Is About To Die' from Seth 'Fingers' Flynn Barkan? Well, it was released a couple of years back, and it turns out it's really good. Anyhow, I just found out why he's called 'Fingers' - here's Barkan playing 'How Deep Is the Ocean (How High Is the Sky)' by Irving Berlin on YouTube, very creditably. Again, like the Marc Laidlaw post the other day, this is just someone somewhat involved in games doing something else cool, so to hell with ya, I'm linking it. [Via Frank.]

- GamesOnDeck editor Mathew Kumar also hoity-toits around at the Torontoist (ugh, too many vowels!), and he's pointed out some kind of crazy Nintendo Canada painted-Wii competition. "So, with the Wii on everyone’s lips but in almost noone’s shopping carts (what with it selling out the minute new stock arrives) your best bet to get your hands on one might be Nintendo’s new sweepstakes The Art of Wii. Held in conjunction with Magic Pony, you can win one of six unique hand-painted Nintendo Wiis, with the first four decorated by Gary Taxali, Hoi-An Tang, punk group illScarlett and (our favourite, possibly because it’s the most video-gamey) Arnold Tsang of Udon Entertainment."

- That grumpy Grassroots Gamemaster guy posted something called 'Dead Game Designers Society'. I do like his point a bit more this time, since it's about games making you care: "Why? Why make the game? And therefore, why play it? Why playing it will make you feel alive! Unless you ask why - and ask that not within the confined context of gaming, but out in the open context of human experience... Unless you ask why, and speak on those terms, you won't have a goddamn clue how to make anything fun. How to make it really compelling."

- This is really a bit biz-like for GSW, but I like linking to Paul Hyman's Hollywood Reporter pieces, so there. This time, he's talking about the rise of outsourcing in video game art, and this quote is probably the choicest, from Foundation9's Craig Rundels: "It can cost me maybe $7,000 to get a high-end character created domestically or $5,500 in Russia. But, if I go to China, it runs me closer to $4,000 without sacrificing quality. That's per character. And many video games have lots of characters in them." Scary? Mebbe.

- The adorably tiny NIS America just had their E3-replacing press event, and lo and behold, they announced a bunch of new import RPG-style games, including Grim Grimoire for June, Dragoneer's Aria for July, and Soul Nomad & The World Eaters (great name!) for August. I was going to try to work out what the hell each of those was, but Shacknews' Chris Remo did a great job of it already, so go check his comments. He also notes: "A company executive strongly hinted that Nippon Ichi is moving into Wii and Nintendo DS development." Goodie.

VMC Game Labs' Pixel, Vega - Saving The Day!

March 30, 2007 8:55 PM | Simon Carless

- Ye gods, look what Frank IM-ed to me just now: "Showcasing the vibrant world of game testing, VMC Game Labs launches a new Web comic today that puts games testers in the starring role."

So, this is all about good QA practices, right? Well... "Pixel and Vega, a pair of fictional, futuristic game testers from VMC Game Labs, are transported into a three-part series, VMC Game Labs: Rules of Engagement, which premieres online [.PDF link] this week."

What do you get, then? Well, medieval knights being pursued by Ethernet cables, ridiculously proportioned smokin' game tester babes in cyberpunk outfits, and an almost Liefield-ian sense of attention to detail, complete with some wacky virtual world NPC conversations and evil bug-infested trolls to tickle your fancy in the finale. I'm not sure this would actually make me want to use VMC for TRC testing on my console game, which is one of the things they do - but it certainly makes me want to point at them, and I guess that was the point of this particular insanity?

[UPDATE: Commenter CPinard suggests: "I'd wager that the comic is to recruit, not to get companies to contract with them" - good point, I hadn't thought of that - and then points to an interesting messageboard thread that has attracted kinds of vitriol from workers. Fun!]

Arcade Flyer Archives To Go Novelty Crazy

March 30, 2007 3:52 PM | Simon Carless

- Got an email note from the ArcadeFlyers.com folks, who are doing a sterling job: "After seven years of cataloging coin-op video game flyers, The Arcade Flyer Archive (TAFA) is pleased to announce the imminent launch of two new flyer archives... in May 2007."

Really? Wossat? "The pinball flyer archive will include electromechanical, solid state, bingo, video pinball and pinball redemption. The arcade and amusement game flyer archive will include an even wider assortment of game types, including pitch n' bat, rifle, bowler, novelty, driver, wall, 16mm film and other electromechanical and novelty coin-op equipment. The three flyer archives will be independently catalogued."

What's more: "To support this effort, The Arcade Flyer Archive recently purchased over 10,000 coin-op flyers from Tim Ferrante, former owner and publisher of GameRoom magazine. These paper assets will provide the core collection for the new archives as well as keep the video game flyer archive growing steadily. In order to help fund the expansion of TAFA's operations, original duplicates of flyers will eventually be sold on eBay under the seller name 'Dphower'."

This is totally good news for preserving digital copies of important paper documents and ephemera like this - and ArcadeFlyers has been busy on the regular arcade stuff recently - for example an awesome Atari Game Booth flyer from 1978, and totally cute stuff like this Bonk's Adventure flyer from Western distributor Kaneko.

Exclusive: Anecdotes From The Megatree

March 30, 2007 10:50 AM | Simon Carless

- Some of you may recall that I'm a bit of a Manic Miner/Jet Set Willy fan - read that essay for a bit of Matthew Smith context if you're hazy on that particular niche of '80s psychedelic platforming wonder.

So it was great when I was chatting via email (about another topic) to Westwood Studios/EA veteran Steve Wetherill the other day, and checked out his softography to realize that yes, he worked on both Manic Miner and Jet Set Willy for the Amstrad CPC, before becoming a key figure at Odin Computer Graphics of Nodes Of Yesod fame. Yes, 'fame', stop looking at me weird over there.

Anyhow, nowadays Steve has his own little mobile game company, Uztek Games, who did EA Air Hockey for cellphones (which I believe I've played and enjoyed, actually) - and also owns and operates a vineyard, so there. But he was kind enough to give me some recollections on interacting with Matthew Smith and his experiences alongside Matthew on the fabled 'lost' Miner Willy game, 'The Megatree', as follows:

"My very first job in the games biz was as a programmer @ Software Projects - that would have been in 1984. My first project, working with another coder called Derrick Rowson, was to port [Manic Miner] to the Amstrad CPC. This was the first "in house" conversion of MM that SP had done. I did see Matthew from time to time, but JSW shipped at around the time I started @ SP, so Matthew was in "burnt out" mode.

In any case, Matthew lived in Birkenhead and the SP office was in Woolton in Liverpool, and Matthew worked from his house, so he did not have regular cause to be in the office. It's strange too why we were not given access to the Manic Miner source code. We disassembled the Spectrum version to create the Amstrad version.

After MM, Derrick & I ported [Jet Set Willy]. Again, no source code was forthcoming (and I know this because it took forever to get the stairs/ramps to work the same way as the Speccy version). We went a little crazy with the JSW port though, and we ended up more than doubling the number of rooms. In effect, we were the very first JSW modders (though, we also wrote most the game from scratch too since we had no source code). I left SP to go to Odin once JSW for the Amstrad was done, but the canny folks @ SP saw an opportunity, and so Derrick then ported the Amstrad game back to the Spectrum where it was released as Jet Set Willy 2 - that game is basically identical to the Amstrad version we'd made. Here are some comments I made on the topic of JSW2 last year.

Matthew used to go to some of the same drinking spots as I did (I was living in Birkenhead while I worked @ SP) and I remember Matthew showing up at least once to the Birkenhead rock club "Stairways" wearing his toga, so the toga thing is definitely true.

When the powers that be @ SP (Alan & Tommy) decided that a new Willy game was needed, they setup Matthew, Marc Dawson (C64 coder - now Marc Wilding running Illusions in the Czech republic) and Stuart Fotheringham (artist) in my house (the house where I lived - it actually belonged to Software Projects) on Holt Road in Birkenhead so that they could develop "The Megatree" away from "distractions". Matthew was to design, Marc was to code, Stoo to do the art. I'd leave for work each morning, and various members of the team would be in the house, planning the game.

I'd return in the evening and various members of the team would be @ the house .. planning the game. And so it went on for a couple of months until it became clear that nothing was really happening. I do remember a demo of some little trees dancing around a big tree, or something of that nature. I don't think there was ever anything really playable. It is a long time ago though. :)"

[EDITOR'S NOTE: There's lots more info on The Megatree at GTW64, including disc images, for what it's worth, backing up Steve's recollections nicely.]

Nick Hornby, You Have Your Own Casual Game!

March 30, 2007 5:47 AM | Simon Carless

- Now here's a kinda unmissable pitch for a game: "Sortasoft today announced the immediate availability of their new [PC] action/puzzle game Retro Records. See what it takes to run a record store in the era of iPods and digital downloads!" Yep, it's totally a Nick Hornby casual game simulator, circa High Fidelity.

Here's the exact blurb: "In Retro Records, you have inherited a disorderly record store and must rummage through classic vinyl albums to prepare them for sale. Retro Records blends simple and addictive gameplay with indie record store aesthetics. As players collect more albums, they unlock turntables, gold and platinum records, and other upgrades. Players also get to take a breather once in a while and test their memory in bonus rounds. It's fast paced analog action with a funky soundtrack to groove to...just don't break too many records!"

What's more: "Retro Records features over 200 classic jazz, rock, hip hop, reggae, country, classical, techno and disco records. With the help of Oliver, the record store clerk, players can collect over 20 unique rare records to show off on their store shelves. If you want to personalize your store, Customize Albums mode allows you to add any of your own favorite classic albums [using Amazon.com and a Listmania account!]."

Anyhow, there's a free demo of Retro Records available, but I caught up with Sortasoft's indie creator Joshua DeBonis, and asked him a couple of slightly flippant questions about it:

Q: Are you hoping that the Nick Hornby-style obsessive record collectors will play this game?

A: Sure I am, but I'm not trying to specifically target that crowd. Everybody loves music, so I'm aiming for a wide audience! People who grew up with records are nostalgic about them, and the younger post-vinyl crowd is intrigued.

Q: 2. Are you one yourself?

A: I love music, and I do have a modest record collection, but I'm certainly not obsessive. I just buy records that I want to listen to. If anything, I'm the opposite. Usually I just leave my albums lying around in complete disarray. Every couple of months I have to spend a few hours putting everything back in the correct jackets. This "activity" was definitely a major inspiration for the game.

Q: What's the top 3 favorite stupidly collectible records that you own?

A: I only own one stupidly collectible record, and your audience should appreciate this... which is a 7" of De La Soul featuring Parappa the Rapper doing "I Gotta Believe".

So my other two are just a couple of my favorite records. You can find both of these in the game.

Go by Dexter Gordon
Dexter Gordon has been a huge influence on me musically (as a tenor saxophonist). I've studied this record inside and out, and at least at one time I could play along with the entire thing note for note.

Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd
Aside from being wonderful to listen to, this was the first record I ever bought. It also reminds me of my older brother who introduced me to Pink Floyd.

Q: 4. A lot of casual games seem to be female-aimed nowadays, yours is... the inverse! How come?

A: I just make games that I personally want to play. However I've found that women seem to enjoy Retro Records as much as men. My girlfriend loves the game, or at least she did until I made her playtest it for the 400th time.

Australians Give Good Game, Apparently

March 30, 2007 12:43 AM | Simon Carless

- Got a random PR email, as often happens, but hey, it's about a video game TV show that's streamable online, even if it is a bit 'yoof' and Australian: "Good Game, the show by gamers for gamers, returns to ABC2 on Tuesday 27 March at 8.30pm and [in freely streamable form] to ABC Online... Hosted by Junglist (Jeremy Ray) and new presenter Bajo (Steven O'Donnell), Good Game will continue to bring gamers the latest in news and events, top gaming tips, reviews and interviews. "

Actually, this doesn't sound so bad: "In the first episode, Good Game meets a true gaming God, Supreme Commander's Chris Taylor, one of the few game developers who gets his name on the front of the box. In the wake of the Australian launch of the PS3, the team reviews the launch title, Resistance: Fall of Man, and meets its creator Ted Price."

In addition: "Good Game also takes an in-depth look at the meteoric rise of the Massively Multi-player Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG). With some games boasting player numbers larger than many small countries and with at least eight new MMO's due for release in 2007, Good Game looks at why these games are so popular and the impact they are having on the rest of the gaming community." So there you go. They have streamable video segments from the previous series, too - and even if it's just on Aussie digital TV - hey, it's on TV!

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