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March 10, 2007

COLUMN: 'Game Mag Weaseling': Mag Roundup 3/10/07

['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.]

We're getting into the April issues, and already most magazines are at their smallest for the year, around 100 pages for most titles. This means that (for many mags) most space gets taken up by humdrum game previews and reviews, and pages used to give the magazine some sense of personal touch tend to get short shrift. It's always a drag, but some mags (particularly GamePro and OXM) are learning how to deal with the restrictions pretty well, I think.

This mag contraction made me give a little more thought on what kind of magazine I'd run in my wildest dreams, and I'd like to lay out my proposal to the GameSetWatch-reading audience next week, but for now, click on for a rundown of all the game mags to hit shelves and/or mailboxes in the past fortnight.

Electronic Gaming Monthly April 2007 (Podcast)


Cover: Ratchet & Clank Future

EGM this month kicks off with a page-sized photo of Peter Moore staring at you. Things can only go up from there, though, and the ensuing interview (coming a year after a similar one in 2006) is the sort of hard-hitting, entertaining stuff that EGM is beginning to make a name for itself with in my mind. There's another interview later on with David Jaffe, once again talking about Calling All Cars and cursin' up a storm, and a quick 3-pager on the console-game scene in a selection of foreign countries is kinda neat.

Otherwise: This issue of EGM plays it pretty straight, and you're more likely to pick it up for all the exclusive coverage in it -- R&C, Spider-Man 3, Mushroom Kingdom Hearts (ho ho ho) and so forth. There's also a roundup preview feature covering Wii games that features some downright scary photography -- I heartily recommend going out of your way to look at it.

Nintendo Power April 2007


Cover: MySims

NP is its usual treasure trove of first-looks this month, with six pages on MySims (which looks so darn cheery, I want to eat its little heart out...wait, that didn't come out right), five on Sega's Alien Syndrome, and little pieces on all manner of hitherto-unknown Wii and DS projects. Again, though, this issue's mainly about games, without much truly wacky going on in the writing...unless you count the letters section, which seems to have grown to four pages, a fact I enjoy greatly.

GamePro April 2007

gp-0704.jpg   gpl2-0704.jpg

Cover: Burnout 5, Guitar Hero II (Level-2 edition)

Well, GP is a pleasant surprise this month. This is the most packed issue of GamePro I've seen in a long time, and the editors seem to put it all together with ease, with only one or two noticeable blemishes (previewing God of War II when EGM's reviewing it this month, for example). The two main game features (the new Burnout and Bizarre Developments' The Club) are still kinda text heavy, but it's interesting text, filled with hum'rous sidebars and developers saying non-trivial things for a change.

What's more, I'm beginning to see the appeal of the "Opening Shots," the few pages up front which is nothing but really big game screenshots. When the screens are really cool, then the pages are incredibly eye-catching, and things work really well this month with a big shot of The Darkness where you're blowing some guy's head away. The "Spawn Point" news section is neat this month (main highlight being a young'un-friendly piece on what it's like to work at EA Tiburon -- wow, they got ping-pong tables and free video games!), and the feature-length interview with jack Tretton, while covering the same territory as EGM's last month, still entertains with its more "fun" approach.

All in all, this is the first issue of GP to really excite me in ages, and I'm glad the redesign seems to be re-energizing the editorial staff a fair bit. Keep it up!

Games for Windows: The Official Magazine April 2007 (Podcast)


Cover: Unreal Tournament 3

This is the prettiest issue of GFW yet. The old Xbox Nation vibe is extremely strong in the design this time around, right down to the monotonized game-designer headshots and wildly experimental visual illustrations for each feature. I loves it.

The content ain't so bad either. Besides the games on the cover, there's a piece on professional online griefers (seriously?!!) and "Love + Hate," one of those roundups where the editors ask a bunch of game industry types what they like and dislike about their business. Brad McQuaid complains about long working hours, for example, and Warren Spector gets a whole page to go over all his loves and hates (mostly hate, doled out to everything from money to publishers and bad storylines).

Side note: This issue of GFW features the first advertorial page I've seen (on space RPG Genesis Rising) that actually included a by-line from a real person -- in this case, Scott Steinberg, which makes me wonder if the topic of advertorial-ing gets covered in the videogame writing style guide he co-authored.

cbmComputer Games April 2007


Cover: Huxley, I guess? It's not immediately obvious with all those big-sized coverlines if you don't know the game in the first place.

CGM CGMs away as only CGM can this month, giving out the preview/review game features but seemingly devoting most of its efforts to the news-y pieces, this time devoted to in-game advertising, cheaters vs. cheater-killers, and the legend -- nay, myth -- of Derek Smart. (If you haven't heard of him, read CGM, it's quite funny.)

Beckett Spotlight: Cheat Codes Issue #16


Cover: Wario Ware: Smooth Moves

And Beckett Becketts away as only Beckett can this month, too, reviewing two-month-old games and not having any paid advertising pages. I'm impressed at how they do it at times.

[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.]

Parappa Creator Goes On Japanese Tour

- Oops, I originally got this before GDC, but I've only just had time to dig it out - but it's still worth posting, I reckon. Basically, PaRappa The Rapper character designer Rodney Greenblat (see the excellent Gamasutra interview by Matt Hawkins for more info on him) has a new Japanese multi-gallery show and tour featuring his awesome abstract paintings, with the prints buyable at his online store - and I'm printing the details below.

"Art Print Japan, one of the largest fine art print publishers in Japan, with a chain of over 50 galleries is proud to announce "ELEMENTAL: New Prints and Works on Paper by Rodney Alan Greenblat." The multi location exhibition includes 15 limited edition ultra high quality ink jet prints based on paintings and drawings from 2005 and 2006, and over 40 original pastel drawings and watercolors. The show will also include some new limited edition products such as postcard sets and stationary.

A full color catalog will be published in conjunction with the show. The artist will tour Japan making stops at 10 of the gallery locations.

Schedule of personal appearances by the artist:
March 2007
9 - Shimizu, Shizuoka Prefecture
10 - Osaka, Takashimaya Department Store
11 - Kyoto, Takashimaya Department Store
16 - Chiba - SOGO Loft Department Store
17 - Koriyama, Fukushima
18 - Tokyo , Tachikawa
21 - Nagoya, Takashimaya Department Store
23 - Utsunomiya, Toghigi Prefecture TOBU
24 - Tokyo, Shinjuku - Takashimaya Department Store
25 - Yokohama Takashimaya Department Store

The show can be previewed at the artist's website. A small number of the signed artist's proof prints are available for sale on the site."

GDC: Game Developers Conference 2007, The Videos

- OK, so I lied - it wasn't the last GDC post. This is because I decided to check YouTube for all the GDC-related video uploads that happened during the conference, and I thought it would be handy to put all the obvious ones in one place. Plus there's one I should mention first!

- GameSpot has full video of the IGF Awards and Choice Awards, including all the goodness that happened on the night. I think I acquitted myself decently- though I must remember not to stare at the autocue quite so intently next time, heh, since I'm tall and it makes my eyes look a tad hooded. But overall, can't tell you how many compliments we got about this awards in terms of entertainment value and overall quality. Yay!

Elsewhere, here's a descending-in-popularity list of the most-posted YouTube videos relating to the conf:

- The new Super Mario Galaxy trailer is definitely the most-uploaded to YouTube, and with reason. It's sad Nintendo couldn't show a little more dungarees, but this glimpse is awesome, and it's out in 2007.

- Then there's Media Molecule's LittleBigPlanet for PlayStation 3 - did anyone notice the MM-related hint in the GDC preview? Hm? Hmm? Anyhow, here's the demo video, and there's also a level construction video and an online sharing video. So I say, go go Alex 'Statix' Evans, Mark Healey, and friends - we did an IGS session about physics games, and this is a big validation of the genre.

- After that, there would be PlayStation Home for PlayStation 3, the virtual world that starts Beta-testing next month. I'm actually reasonably interested in this - it's not that I don't think virtual worlds can't be fun (after all, this _is_ just a slightly bigger version of the lobby in Phantasy Star Online!), but I do think that Second Life's slightly overhyped status has made me slightly allergic to them. I suspect stuff like this and Three Rings' Whirled will be the equivalent of a hayfever tablet for the genre. Maybe.

- To end with some randomness - a new Tabula Rasa trailer brings Richard Garriott's MMO closer to Starship Troopers than I had previously thought, and there are some neat Joystiq-uploaded vids on YouTube which include looks at the XNA competition going on in the North Hall lobby, as well as a peek at IGF Student Showcase finalist The Blob. Much appreciated, guys!

GDC: It All Ends With An IC Flare Out

- This is quite possibly the last GDC post for now - but it would be remiss of me not to point out that we used most of the Insert Credit homeboys for our Gamasutra GDC 2007 coverage, including the near-mythical Eric-Jon Waugh, the very Uematsu-ish Vincent Diamante, and of course, Game Developer's very own Brandon Sheffield.

Anyhow, we have ridiculous amounts of Gamasutra write-ups from them (and more coming next week), with the latest including Q's Shuji Utsumi on the company's history, a full write-up of the Experimental Gameplay Workshop, and lots besides - but there are a couple of Insert Credit side-posts that are worth pointing at.

Firstly, Vince just posted a little compilation of his favorite GDC photos, and there are some corkers in there - I really like the Sheffield/Crecente B&W lurve, for one, as well as the candid of Alexey Pajitnov. Honestly, Vince is a bit of a triple threat, having also composed the music for Jenova Chen's Cloud, and being a pretty decent writer, too.

But Brandon also posted some fun stuff on IC during GDC week, including pics of The Behemoth's XBLA trophies for Castle Crashers, as well as info on Studio Nocturne's Housewife Superstar for DS, as shown at Game Connection (is the Dame Edna reference coincidental? I'm presuming so!)

There are also some extra bits on Studio Nocturne's other games, including "Makeup Diva... quite a nice idea, in which you play as an aspiring makeup artist to the stars" - hope these get picked up for some kind of real DS release, because they're a bit adorable.

GDC: Microsoft Blogger Breakfast, Rewind!

- Ahem - so I have to admit that Microsoft was nice enough to invite me to their GDC blogger breakfast (thanks Arne and friends!), and then I completely ran out of time to post about it here on GSW.

But I did have enough time to dash off a story for Gamasutra about the big news - that "Microsoft and Bungie Studios are currently planning two different episodic gaming series for Xbox 360 with Lord Of The Rings director Peter Jackson" - the first set in the Halo universe.

Now, we knew some of this already - just not the episodic bit - but I feel a bit cheeky in going ahead and posting it on Gamasutra when they recruited me for my GameSetWatch 'skillz'. But I did ask the question which resulted in this news, and I'm further making up for it now by posting some more highlights from the breakfast.

Well, firstly, over at Major Nelson's site, there's actually a full audio recording of the breakfast. Actually, I didn't realize it was being recorded, possibly because I came in late, so I'm glad I didn't swear too much - though I did complain about somebody hating Paperboy, I think. Destructoid has a link to the video, too, and Gamerscore Blog has a bunch of pictures of the whole thing.

Anyhow, here's some interesting bits:

- Here's the one I already wrote up, but hey, worth mentioning again - Shane Kim confirmed that Microsoft and Bungie Studios are currently planning two different episodic gaming series for Xbox 360 with Lord Of The Rings director Peter Jackson, commenting: "Our deal with Peter is not about a film guy who wants to make video games". He also revealed of the Jackson/Bungie collaboration: "We're in the design phase now", continuing: "The first series will be set in the Halo universe."

- I did ask Chris Satchell a question directly related to my 'Why Partnernet Is A PR Nightmare' post, and he indicated that "The best thing we can do is keep educating" on why journalists shouldn't be leaking Partnernet info. He also suggested that "there is a huge amount of [technical/financial] overhead" regarding my vague suggestion to set up a separate 'Pressnet' - which is probably true! It was also mentioned that Microsoft employees have been asked not to play their work-related XBL accounts at home - which is apparently how achievements get leaked sometimes when an unreleased game has been played on a public player profile?

- Probably the greatest amount of sour apples in the room were regarding the Xbox Live Arcade release schedule. Shane Kim fully agreed that Microsoft has "...created some expectations that we haven't been great on delivering on". But there was some slight fudging, I believe, on exactly why that was - and some vague finger-pointing at developers for underestimating the amount of time it would take to get through XBLA certification. All I can tell you from talking to XBLA teams at GDC is that certification is often taking at least twice as long as the 3 months that Microsoft originally estimated.

I believe these delays are due to two issues - firstly, the large amount of localization, which is time-consuming for small teams - many games ship simultaneously in up to 8 languages. Secondly, the significant amounts of network-specific testing needed end up taking large amounts of time, because there can be some significant bugs in there. This is something that the Small Arms team mentioned (in their IGS postmortem lecture) as particularly problematic for them, because you can have any combination of AI, same-machine, and online players jousting together in their game. So I'm gonna say it's both parties' 'faults' in some way - and it's a bit crazy that XBLA cert is taking time multiples of retail cert right now.

- Finally, talking about Microsoft's strategy going forward, Kim specifically cited "...the success of Nintendo with the Wii in a certain customer segment", citing that he needs to do better. It's good to see honesty when it comes to that type of thing, and Microsoft's candor that they need to do better at creating a family audience is good to see. They particularly talked about Viva Pinata in that context, of course - Kim confirmed: "You're going to see us do more with that franchise." And so they should!

March 9, 2007

GDC: Frank's Best Game Ever!

- Over at GDC today, there was a special 'Pitch Your Game Idea' as part of Game Career Seminar in the expo hall, and Frank 'Lost Levels/Gama' Cifaldi had literally the BEST IDEA EVER, and he's going to read it to me now. It goes as follows:

"This is based on the old wives' tale of swallowing spiders - 'Did you know in your sleep every year you swallow ten spiders?' I started thinking - why would spiders want to go into someone's mouth? And it occurred to me that this would be a pretty cool game. And the title of my game is: 'Oh My God, Spiders In My Mouth'."

"The way it works is, every level you are a spider and the idea is that you have to get into somebody's mouth". (At this point in the pitch in the editor room Vincent Diamante admits that it happened to him! As the mouth, not the spider.) But basically you have to build a Rube Goldberg-style machine to get into someone's mouth. It's inspired by Mousetrap, the board game, and the early levels of Katamari Damacy where you are tiny."

I point out that it's a bit like Mr. Mosquito with spiders. Frank agrees. We then wonder why we wrote this. And Frank suggests a victory dance, inside the appropriate orifice - like The King in Sneak King doing his flourishing. Cha cha cha!

GDC Update: It's Ouendan and Hell Is Hot!

-Returning to some of our Gamasutra GDC coverage, I finally got round to reading Frank Cifaldi's excellent write-up of "From 'Ouendan!' to 'HELP!': Inside the Elite Beat Agents" - Keiichi Yano's talk about "the developer history that lead to last year's release of Nintendo's hit rhythm game for the Nintendo DS."

Was this cool? Well, damn, let's start with this fact: "With him were two fully-dressed ouendan - Japanese male cheerleaders - who occasionally cheered him on, a la the original game's premise."

What's more: "Yano showed the prototype video presentation he used to pitch Ouendan. The video looked, more or less, like the final game: a scenario played out on the DS's top screen, and on the bottom screen, the ouendan cheered people into overcoming adversity. The song, Morning Musume's "Koi no Dance Site," would be used in the final game. The stage premise, involving a crowd trying to physically prevent a train from hitting a watery-eyed puppy stuck on its tracks, did not." Ouch!

Finally, on the Ouendan sequel - Moero! Nekketsu Rhythm Damashi - Osu! Tatake! Ouendan 2. "Loosely," said Yano, "that translates to 'Burn! Hot-Blooded Rhythm Soul.'": "Two screenshots were shown, clearly showing that the new cheer squad are playable characters. These shots depicted a level scenario in which a businessman has purchased too many shoes, and has to unload them somehow. His desperation takes him as far as outer space, where he tries to sell shoes to alien creatures." Wuhoh, the whole office is so buying this.

March 8, 2007

GDC Update: More Highlights, More Highlights

- Well, it's Thursday of GDC week and people are really starting to slow down now - I had an IGF-related interview this morning which included double-digit yawns by both interviewer and interviewee, I think. But hey, there's plenty of things still going on, so let's compile a few from the Gamasutra GDC 2007 coverage and elsewhere:

- Miyamoto's keynote speech was cute but necessarily free of announcements, due to Nintendo's share selling blackout window, it appears. One thing that I'm beginning to wonder - are Iwata and Miyamoto really that witty, or does Bill Trinen (or others) end up punching up the English translation of the speeches quite a bit? He may be the secret weapon behind Nintendo's charismatic GDC keynotes of late.

- Hidden gem of the show? We'll have more on this soon, but Emotiv Systems' launch, headed by ex-Xbox evangelist Ed Fries, is - according to Gama's Brandon Boyer - a real and extremely interesting set of technology. What does it do? Why, it's "...a helmet which can detect dozens of thoughts and emotions and correspond them to specific in-game actions." It's multi-million dollar funded, and it allegedly actually works. We'll see, huh?

- Brandon Sheffield chatted to Microsoft's Shane Kim, and being an extreme Japanophile, teased some fun Japanese-specific info out of him: "Gamasutra also pressed for the specific corporate whereabouts of Panzer Dragoon series director Yukio Futatsugi, who also released Phantom Dust to critical acclaim on the original Xbox. To this, Shane Kim replied, "Mr. Futatsugi is working closely with Mr. Sakaguchi on his projects. As an MGS Japan employee, he's working closely on those projects, since those are the big things we're working on in Japan.""

Heck, there's lots lots lots lots more (Koji Kondo, Final Fantasy XII, Media Molecule (pictured), Game Design Challenge, Ouendan, Warren Spector) over at the Gamasutra GDC 2007 page. Please to enjoy!

GDC Update: IGF Award Winners Announced!

- Wow, the IGF Awards (and Choice Awards!) were a whirlwind of wonder tonight. There was a real marriage proposal (and acceptance!) from some of the Toblo folks, a fake marriage proposal from Everyday Shooter's awesome Jon Mak, and a grand prize victory for Bit-Blot's completely wonderful Aquaria - and smiles all round!

[UPDATE: TIGSource has a post with some nice comments and links to the Kotaku and the Joystiq liveblogging of the awards, with lots more pics/details!.]

Full press release follows:

"Bit Blot's dreamlike 2D underwater adventure game Aquaria won top honors, collecting the $20,000 Seumas McNally Grand Prize for Best Independent Game, at the 2007 Independent Games Festival (IGF) Awards.

The winners were announced tonight at the 9th Annual IGF Awards ceremony, hosted by the Game Developers Conference (GDC) at the Moscone Convention Center in San Francisco.

The IGF awards have been described as the Sundance Festival of the videogame industry, and offer both global exposure and over $50,000 in cash prizes to the lucky winners. Other major award recipients included Queasy Games' abstract shoot-em-up, Everyday Shooter, which grabbed the awards for Design Innovation and Excellence In Audio, upcoming Xbox 360 Live Arcade title Castle Crashers, which won for Excellence In Visual Art, Three Rings' online title Bang! Howdy, which came out on top in the Technical Excellence category, and stylish Flash-based point-and-click puzzle adventure Samorost 2, which triumphed in the Best Web Game category.

There were two other notable Main Competition awards given out on the night -- the Audience Award, adjudicated from public voting at major consumer game website GameSpot, was won by The Behemoth's Castle Crashers, and IGF Platinum Sponsor GameTap gave out $20,000 in advances for indie games to appear on its PC subscription download service, as part of its special GameTap Indie Award - with Everyday Shooter getting a $10,000 advance and $5,000 advances going to Cryptic Sea's Blast Miner and Naked Sky Entertainment's RoboBlitz.

In addition, the IGF Student Showcase recognized ten student-designed games and, for the first time ever, awarded a $2,500 Best Student Game prize. The award went to DigiPen Institute of Technology's fast-paced capture the flag game, Toblo.

The IGF Mod Competition, now in its second year, celebrated the best amateur mods of existing videogames with a new $5,000 award for Best Mod Game. Cut Corner Company Productions took home the Best Mod award for Weekday Warrior, their corporate office adventure mod for Half-Life 2, also the Best Singleplayer FPS Mod."

March 7, 2007

GDC Update: We All Become Silhouettes

- Well, crap, looks like the crazy GDC week finally got on top of me, and I have to slow down my GameSetWatch posting until I arrive at the other end of the rainbow of GDC flavors.

Nonetheless, over at Gamasutra, the GDC 2007 live coverage is still blasting on without me, and Vincent Diamante has been doing lots more great write-ups from the Independent Games Summit, including Jon Blow's session on indie prototyping that just about blew my tiny mind, as well as the 'Gatekeepers Of Indie Distribution' panel with Microsoft, Sony, GameTap, and friends.

The rest of the Independent Games Summit went very well, with all kinds of positive feedback - I'm sure we'll do it again in some form. Sadly, David Jaffe couldn't make the last panel (we're speculating a Kratos impersonator abducted him), but we substituted the ever-strident Eric Zimmerman, who contributed to a really funny, opinionated panel on the future of independent games, alongside Derek Yu, Greg Costikyan, and Introversion's Mark Morris. Plenty of views were aired!

This evening, there were plenty of Sony briefings, East Meets West (or East Vs. West!) parties, and IGDA get-togethers, but I was hanging out at/co-hosting a Flashbang Studios and IGF-sponsored get together for IGF judges, IGS speakers, and IGF finalists - just a small thing, but it went off amazingly, complete with a Virt live chiptune set.

Before I wander to bed (wait, did I book a 7.30am breakfast meeting? In what state of mind was I when I did this?), wanted to mention that Vincent has been taking some great GDC pictures and posting them to his Flickr account. Pictured - Vince's former USC colleague and Cloud/fl0w creator Jenova Chen, in some kind of stark profile.

March 6, 2007

@ Play: Before Learning to Walk, One Must First Crawl

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.]

I figured what I should do before writing an article on Dungeon Crawl was sit down and give it a good shot at playing it. It has a tremendous reputation for difficulty, though, so my hopes were not high. So I was as surprised as anyone then, after what I estimate are 30 or so games, that I managed to get to the very deepest level of the game, Level 5 of the Realm of Zot.

I started out, as in most of my games of Dungeon Crawl, as a Hill Dwarf Fighter. I had heard that the more “dedicated” characters in Dungeon Crawl, the ones who are capable of doing one thing but doing it very well, are easier to play than jack-of-all-trades like Humans (no racial bonuses) and Wanderers (the “General Studies” class of the game). Since Hill Dwarves are very good fighters, with excellent Strength, but they don't have annoying drawbacks like Trolls' increased hunger, and Fighters are traditionally straight-forward, whack 'em from up close types who can take a few hits before dying, I fixated upon that combination. It seems like a good match, and this time it took me up to the very threshold of winning.

What follow are my observations on getting so far in a game after so little time. This is a very long installment, even compared to the usual, and I apologize for that. I have tried to distill most of what I've learned in playing this game. Some of this was gleaned from spoilers, and some is just hard-won discovery. Use, or ignore, it as you wish.

Shrek Ain't Too Happy To See Me

All Crawl characters, even the strong, straight-forward ones, have points early in their lives where they have to play carefully to survive. Early exploring is dangerous in Crawl, even more so than ADOM, because the game likes to throw in the occasional tough newbie-killer. Fortunately, fighting the likes of soldier ants and mumaks in Nethack left me well-prepared for this kind of thing.

Of all the newbie-killers, ogres are the worst, who can appear on level four or maybe even earlier, and will kill weak characters without ceremony. Ogres are an interesting monster because, besides their high HP and abnormally huge attack strength, they are otherwise completely average. They can wear no armor, their weapon does lots of damage but is almost never branded (that is, carry a special ability). Most importantly, they have no distance attacks, and are of only normal speed.

crawlogre.gifThus the best tactic to use against ogres is to use the loop technique (described last time), to trade blows with the ogre until he is capable of killing you with one more hit, then run away around a loop until hit points have regenerated enough to continue the fight. The problem with this tactic is that it is vulnerable to interference from other monsters. It relies on being able to infallibly move away from the ogre, so a monster that wanders up from the other direction can force the player to kill it, or move around it, instead of escape from the ogre.

But there are other techniques that can be applied to ultra-strong opponents, and some of them take advantage of those intruders. If a rat is between you and an ogre, it is best to let the rat live, since his attacks will barely dent your armor, and if you escape up the stairs, the rat will follow but the ogre will be stuck on the prior level. These kinds of tactics aid the player in other roguelikes, but Dungeon Crawl makes them essential for survival.

More Early Bullies of the Dungeon

Snakes (not small snakes, but plain snakes) are another problem, since they're probably faster than you at the start so you can't effectively use the loop trick, and they can poison you before you get resistance. The poison will wear off after a short while, but if you get to low hit points before it does it may be worth it to drink unknown potions hoping for healing (which restore pitifully few hit points but always cure poison, sickness and other conditions like that). If you don't know what healing is yet, it is the most common potion early in the dungeon, so try drinking first the potion type you have the most of.

A bit deeper you'll encounter orc priests (run until you're out of sight to lure 'em close then kill from adjacent), centaurs (similar, but you can use other monsters to block their shots) and invisible stalkers, which move like bats but you can't see them, and they do a lot of damage. Stalkers generally require that you run to the nearest corridor then shoot down it. They don't have a lot of HP, but they are hard to hit unless you can narrow down their location.

crawljelly.gifThe last kind of troublesome early monster are jellies, which are usually a bit slower than you, but other than that can be very dangerous monsters. When you attack them, or they attack you, they can corrode weapons and armor, permanently reducing its plus, unless you're wearing a means of protection or the item in question is an artifact. Worse, they feed on items laying on the ground, and if they happen upon such things they not only destroy it but often spawn more jellies in the process! Their slowness makes the loop tactic very effective against them, over time, but be sure to pick a loop that has no litter on the floor or you'll soon be facing a corridor full of capital 'J's. Because of their corrosion attribute, often darts are the best way to handle them for non-magic users: run along the loop until they're a space away, then chuck one back with the 'f' key. It'll take a long time but eventually, if you've picked up enough darts, you'll destroy the obnoxious little sandwich spread. Alternatively you can use a wand charge or two.

Once in a while you'll happen upon one of Crawl's unique monsters, who are usually '@'s with a name. Most of them are not a big threat, but watch out for Sigmund early in the game, for he's a spellcaster who merits using centaur strategy to get out of the range of his deadly magic darts. Also beware of "player ghosts," who have the relative name and power of a prior character who died in the game. They are usually very strong, but can often be taken out the same way as ogres.

Roadmap to Monsterland

Crawl's dungeon structure is special, even among roguelikes, because it's non-demanding nature. See, Angband and Rogue have only a single dungeon branch, Nethack has multiple branches but requires players venture into many of them (especially the Quest and Vlad's Tower) to obtain the items needed to reach the Amulet, and ADOM has a very complex quest that forces players to wander through many different dungeons. Crawl, on the other hand, has lots of branches but leaves it up to the player which he explores.

The entry to the Realm of Zot, the last area of the game, is blocked unless players can find three "runes," found at the end of certain branches. It doesn't matter which runes, of around 16 to be collected, that he finds, but he needs at least three. Each branch poses a different kind of challenge, and different characters, even sometimes those of the same race and class, will find an easier time in some places than others.

One quirk of Crawl's dungeons is that they're often not simply connected: each level usually has multiple up- and down- stairs, each leading to a different staircase on the next level. Sometimes you'll even go down some stairs to find out the area you find doesn't itself have a staircase down! If you get stuck like this, sometimes you can search the walls to find a secret door (again, the 's' key searches the eight spaces around you for traps and doors), but usually the best thing to do is go back up the stairs and find another way down. Later on, you can use a means of teleport or digging to get out of those situations. Note that rock staircases, which you find from time to time, are special; they take you to a random stair on the next level, so going down one then up will effectively take you to a different place.

Tips for Identification, Conservation, Mastication and Eradication

Crawls items are randomly scrambled, like Rogue's and Nethack's, but unlike those games they are generally not too dangerous to discover by testing them out. The worst potions you can find are generally mutation (which can be good or bad), poison or strong poison (cure that with a healing potion), or degeneration (which can drain stats; cure it with potions of restore ability, which are not rare). The worst scroll is usually immolation, but it can be used by the canny to attack monsters if you don't care about losing some hit points. Armor in Crawl is identified simply by putting on, although that exposes you to curses. Basic weapon brands (things like poisoned weapons, draining weapon, etc.) types are revealed by wielding it, but the weapon's plusses require using it for a while to figure them out. Many player hoard lots of armor and weapons, along with scrolls of remove curse, so that they can wear- and wield-ID them all at once.

Crawl definitely takes after Rogue in its food system, which functions as a kind of timer. Bread rations and meat rations are the best common food, and generally you'll find enough, as well as other miscellaneous food, to survive in the early dungeon. This food never spoils, but just chowing down on those can be a bad idea; this kind of good food is typically only generated upon first entering a dungeon level, so if you do a lot of backtracking through levels you might find yourself going hungry. Plus, some of the later dungeon branches have little or no food in them.

The solution is to dissect the corpses of monsters you kill (press Shift-D while standing over one), then eat the resulting chunks, which provide not a lot of nutrition but the idea isn't to live off of them but to have them keep you going, so you can conserve the good food for emergencies or late in the game. Some food is poisonous, and some can even mutate you, plus sometimes it'll just randomly make you sick (use healing potions, again, to cure that), but unlike Nethack and ADOM, no monster corpse will provide you with special permanent abilities just from eating them. Most races won't eat raw chunks, however, unless they're already hungry unless they're wearing an amulet of the gourmand. And never eat food if it's started to spoil. And one more 'and': you can't dissect corpses without a bladed weapon handy, although the game will ask you if you want to switch if you have one available. If you can make it to the Hive you'll can scavenge a large supply of food that doesn't spoil, enough to easily last the rest of the game.

crawlchart.gifSeventh Floor: Housewares, Home Appliances, Customer Service, and Geryon, Gatekeeper of Hell

Sometimes you'll find a yellow staircase. Standing on one will tell you that it leads to a special dungeon branch, and which it goes to. Eventually you'll have to go into some of them to get runes, but it's usually a good idea to look up what they are in a spoiler list (like this one) to get a sense of whether your character can survive there. Summarized, they are:

ECUMENICAL TEMPLE: There are no monsters generated here, but there are lots of altars, one devoted to each of Crawl's gods. By using the 'p' key to pray on one, you can convert to the religion of that god. Each god has certain things he expects of worshipers, and special abilities he provides to faithful followers. Like the dungeon branches, and again, against the popular perception that Crawl doesn't require spoilers to play, the only real way to make a good decision as to which, if any, to follow is to read a spoiler page. This is a good one. My suggestion is to go with Okawaru at first, since he's fairly easy-going. He only really hates it when friendly monsters die, and it's easy to please him by simply praying while killing monsters, and also dissecting them while praying. Eventally he bestows the power to haste one's self, which can come in handy both in combat and escape.

ORCISH MINES: Lots of orcs, who are relatively weak but it is easy to get surrounded by them, there are priests and wizards scattered through them who can attack from a distance, and the level structure makes it difficult to force enemies through bottlenecks in the layout, which help the player by forcing opponents to attack him one at a time. The mines do not contain a rune.

In my game, I found Orcish splint mail of magic resistance there, which became my main armor for the game. It is often better to find artifact armor use that, because it cannot be damaged by monsters, but it also can't be enchanted beyond its starting pluses. They also can have special powers that are difficult to acquire otherwise, especially in the case of randarts, randomly-determined artifacts that are different every game. It is possible to get many necessary resistances taken care of at once with a single randart, if the player is lucky enough to find one, but because they are few equipment guarantees in Crawl it is possible to be undone by a failure to find a good one.

In my game the ultimate cause of death was from fire shots from a pair of Orbs of Fire in a wide-open area, with me only having one level of fire resistance. If I had worn two sources at once their shots would have been much more survivable, and with three they would have been barely a threat at all. But one only has so many equipment slots, and so much that can be carried at once, so one usually has to make hard choices about whether to have one kind of resistance or another at a given moment, or use other equipment like rings of slaying instead. But a single lucky artifact can take the place of several pieces of armor or jewelry, if it is generated and the player manages to have it identified so he'll know it has special powers.

ELVEN HALLS: Lots of magic users here. Players must have one or more sources of magic resistance to have any chance here, but there are many demon summoners on the lowest level, and demons can be strong melee opponents. There is lots of equipment on the lowest level, but no rune.

Magic users in Crawl can be tricky opponents because of the power of magic in that game. The most dire spell around is one that banishes the player to the Abyss, a horrible place filled with demons and difficult to escape from. Fortunately that didn't happen to me in the Elven Halls, although it did later on....

LAIR: This is perhaps the easiest dungeon branch of the game, for almost all the monsters here are ordinary animal-types. Near the bottom strong foes like death yaks may be found, but there are no magic users. The Lair has no rune of its own, but it has three branches itself, two of them having guaranteed runes and the other having a great chance of one. Best of all however, the Lair is a great place to gain experience without much risk.

SNAKE PIT: I got my first rune here. Its primary foes are nagas, which have strong poison attacks, but having just a single level of poison resistance was enough to combat that. Guarding the rune are a small army of nagas, some of them spellcasters, but there is a one-space-width corridor leading from it. A character standing at one end of that can shoot wands of fire, cold or lightning down it to take care of many nagas queued up along it in relative comfort.

SWAMP: I got my second rune from here. It's a series of wide-open levels with lots of water. Falling into deep water can be very dangerous so it is bad to get confused here, and the Swamp Drakes that infest the area have a confusion gas breath attack. Shallow water, while not instantly fatal, slows the player down and makes it difficult to fight back. Poison resistance is also important to have here due to the Swamp Dragons that live in the Swamp's deeper levels. The hydras that live here should be defeated, by the way, with a blunt weapon like a mace, instead of a bladed one like a sword. Just trust me on this.

SLIME PITS: The last branch off from the Lair, and where I eventually got my third rune. It is a very dangerous area for unprepared players. While I took care of the Snake Pit and the Swamp at around level 13-14, I was level 22 when I finally worked up the courage to tackle the Slime Pits. (For comparison's sake, the highest experience level the player can reach is 27.) Equipment damage is frequent unless the player has items to guard against that. I did, yet I still ended up with a couple of plusses taken off my armor while there.

The most annoying thing about getting runes here is that they are random here, not guarenteed, and if they are present they are inside one of four chambers on the deepest level that have undiggable walls, and can only be entered by teleportation. I found not a single source of teleport control through the whole game, and I eventually had to get the rune by wearing a ring of teleport and evoking it many times, until I finally managed to get into a rune-bearing chamber.

HIVE: Another place it is unwise to enter without poison resistance, but once the player has it and is strong enough to take care of multiple bees at once, this is an easy place. There is lots of food here, in the form of honeycombs and royal jellies, so players who can clear this place out and manage their food consumption carefully will be able to worry a lot less about starvation. Unfortunately, there is no rune here.

VAULTS: The first truly challenging area, there's always a rune here but it's in the extremely dangerous last floor, which I was scared to visit. Dungeon levels here are strange: each floor is a wide-open plain with lots of rectangular rooms around it, some of them with doors leading inside and some without. Those doors are essential fixtures, since they are the only bottlenecks to be found there. Combat is often against several foes at once because of that.

CRYPT: Found branching off the Vaults, there is no rune here but I was strong enough by then that I wasn't in much danger, either. Undead are very common there, including the feared skeletal warriors, but they weren't much of a problem for me by that time.

TOMB: A very interesting place branching off from the Crypt. The primary monster here are mummies, which have a very special attribute: if you kill one, they bestow a curse upon you. The curses range from just having stuff cursed (easy to counter with a scroll of remove curse) to rotting for a short while (which removes maximum hit points!) to being sent to the Abyss. The only way to safely handle mummies is to summon or charm other monsters so they take care of them for you, but as a very unmagical dwarf who relied on wands for that kind of thing, this was not easy for me. I left the Tomb after only a few hundred turns, and didn't return.

HALL OF BLADES: A one-level branch from the Vaults, the only monsters here are possessed weapons. Once a weapon is “killed” it falls to the ground and can be used, but while it is “alive” the player will have to face all the effects the weapon possesses. I was banished to the Abyss twice here, once by a morningstar of distortion, and again, once I got back and killed it, by wielding that same weapon. After that, I dropped it in the Abyss and didn't look back.

ABYSS: And what of the Abyss itself? It is effectively its own dungeon branch, but always random. If you leave and return it'll be different, and it doesn't "map out" as you explore it either. The level even wrap around, making it difficult to come up with a good exploration strategy. Attempting to teleport here will just send you to a new area of the Abyss. There is always an exit portal in it somewhere, but meanwhile every kind of demon is trying to kill you, and many of them have strange abilities like intelligence draining, and summoning in still more demons. While there are lots of random walls around to hide behind, it's also easy to get caught in a dead end. It is possible for even low-level characters to get sent there on rare occasions, who die quickly unless they do lots of running, and use teleport scrolls to get out of tight spots. Rarely, runes are found in the Abyss, but going there on purpose to look for them is often unwise.

HELL: Hell has five sections, four of which available by killing Geryon in its entry level and blowing his horn. Each of the other areas has a rune to be found, but a few close calls deeper in convinced me to go look in the Slime Pits for the last one I needed. Mostly, this place is a whole bunch of demons supplying a whole lot of hurt, but at least it's not “instanced” like the Abyss is. One rune is in each of its four branches.

PANDEMONIUM: The third and last of the “underworlds” in Dungeon Crawl, it's like the Abyss in that it's random, tough and hard to escape from (even harder in fact, since most Pandemonium areas only have portals to other areas), and like Hell in that it's mappable. Or at least, so I read. I didn't go there in this game, and I suspect that was a good choice on my part. Several runes can be found randomly here.

REALM OF ZOT: The other branches are, to a degree, optional, but once enough runes are found all players must come here, which is a series of five tough, random areas. My game ended here, on the fifth and last level, just one screen away from the Orb of Zot, goal of the game. I kind of expected it might.

But I know why I died, and next time there, I won't. That's what playing roguelikes is about.

Dungeon Crawl
Old site: Linley's Dungeon Crawl
Current development site: Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup
Much discussion on the game can be found on the Usenet group rec.games.roguelike.misc. (Google Groups link. Client link.)
You can play Dungeon Crawl over telnet using PuTTY, but be sure to set the application keypad setting to Nethack.
Information for the map was obtained from this spoiler page.

GDC Update: Minter, Innovation, Sedation

- So, day one of Game Developers Conference is already over - and I'm hoping that you're reading up on Gamasutra's live GDC coverage to get the full lowdown - as ably co-ordinated by my colleagues Frank Cifaldi and Brandon Boyer. But in the meantime, here's a couple of personal perspectives on GDC so far.

[Now, please note that I've been MC-ing and co-ordinating the Independent Games Summit all day, of course, so my experiences have mainly been limited to that!]

But I've been having a whole heap of fun there, and Jeff Minter's keynote was definitely top of my list for the day - the Inquirer has a few more pics of his slides, and a note that one of the Space Giraffe levels was called 'Stargate Basingstoke', yay. There was another one that had 'yiffing' in the title and a disturbing furry-related 'just say no' picture rotating around in the background. Oh, Yak!

Also good and really impassioned was the Innovation in Indie Games panel, and I was touched by how much the panelists, who included fl0w's Jenova Chen and Braid's Jonathan Blow, really believed in games for personal expression. Everyday Shooter's Jon Mak had some great takeaways, too, and told the audience: "Don't innovate, go home, play a bunch of games, figure out which ones you like, and make a game based on that.” Interesting.

Though I'm obviously a bit biased, a whole bunch other of the panels seemed on the money, from John Baez's 'Indie MBA' to Daniel James' smart romp through making an indie MMO, which included such candor as his company's monthly revenues for the past 2 or 3 years plotted against employee costs (I hope someone took a picture of that!) I'm also hoping that some video recordings will be available online later for key IGS sessions, so will keep you guys on the Interweb updated about that.

Other than that, it was a quiet evening for shindigs, with just the Microsoft Casual Games reception in Moscone West, the AMD-sponsored GDC Mobile reception at the Thirsty Bear (see previous article!), and a small but perfectly formed Telltale party close to Union Square catching my attention. Probably good, since it's only going to get crazier from here on out. More updates tomorrow!

Alex Handy Sez: 'Mobile Spiked GDC Sex Toys'

- [The third in a ragged series of 'Alex Handy Sez' missives, in which the former Game Developer editor and current Computer Games Magazine/Massive/otherstuff contributor riffs on something or other, focuses on something odd and drunken at GDC. Nope, we have no idea either.]

"So, I spent this evening wandering through wall-to-wall party-goers at this year's GDC pre-conference events. These folks included CTOs for Army training, French developer/publisher relations specialists, and most importantly, cell phone game developers.

This whole sordid affair began in a room filled with mobile devs ranking innovative phone games. The attendees were given free beer, and plastic hand-clapping devices that relieved them of the task of clapping in appreciation. Needless to say, the event was awash in drunken clapping, as though someone had given too much sake to the entire cast of Karate Kid 2.

But the Thirsty Bear party, sponsored by AMD, was where the real polling took place. As I wandered, drunken, through the crowd, I took an informal poll: Java or Brew?

Long story short: Java won. But no fewer than three of the developers polled took the opportunity to liken mobile development to choosing a spiked dildo, with which to be f*cked. Some choice quotes, all anonymous, as everyone had a beer, and journalists frown on quoting drunk people:

"BREW has the better platform, but [I choose] Java."

"Neither. Native." This answer was given by two different masochistic bastards who felt it was easier to develop in native assembly than to touch any of the language-specific platforms.

"Both." Of course, this fellow was behind a Moscow-based development out-sourcing group. He categorized his team as the creame-de-la-creame of out-sourcing shops. Sure, you can go with India, he said, but my developers are the equivalent of MIT educated folks. Of course, his company is more expensive....

"Java. It's open!" Everyone who cited Java was influenced by the openness of the platform, versus Qualcomm's BREW, which is essentially not open.

Note to Sun Microsystems: Only one person, all night, said that JavaME being open source mattered. One fellow did profess faith to RMS, but he couldn't name anything that GPL'ing ME would accomplish. Oh, and not one person had a clue what MSA was, despite my own writings about it.

The only other category of answers was Symbian. I took this to mean that many devs in Europe don't care about language: only OS-Layer Support. Soon, it will all be this way, as the Windows Mobile devs have foretold.

March 5, 2007

GamesOnDeck Launches For Mobile Madness!

- So GameSetWatch and Gamasutra has another sister website, hurray - and this one is dealing with the increasingly interesting cellphone game biz - here's the full rundown, with quote from, uh, me:

"CMP Technology's Game Group, organizer of the industry-leading Game Developers Conference (GDC) and creator of the Webby Award-winning Gamasutra.com, has launched GamesOnDeck.com, a website aiming to be the mobile game industry's leading source of news, features and job listings.

An expansion of the already successful mobile industry coverage on Gamasutra, GamesOnDeck.com, edited by Mathew Kumar, publishes daily news and twice-weekly features on the cutting edge of the mobile game industry, giving due attention to the fast-growing sector.

The first features to appear on GamesOnDeck give unprecedented insight into Nokia's new plans for its N-Gage mobile gaming platform, including an interview with Nokia's Gregg Sauter about the company's plans for the device, as well as an editorial from the company's Mark Ollila suggesting: "Forget the console wars. The real innovation lies with mobile."

The site complements the CMP family of products which also includes the celebrated annual conference for mobile game developers, GDC Mobile, the 2007 edition of which opens today at San Francisco's Moscone Center. GDC Mobile 2007 will feature more than 50 sessions, keynotes by Digital Chocolate's Trip Hawkins and PeopleJam's Robert Tercek and the Mobile Game Innovation Hunt, a competition which gives developers and publishers the opportunity to pitch their most innovative game to a panel of expert judges and the audience for a chance to win unique prizes.

"The CMP Game Group is always looking to support the videogame industry with editorial publications and websites of the highest quality," said Simon Carless, editorial director, CMP Game Group. "With the evolution of our GDC Mobile conference proving the rapid speed at which the mobile game industry is maturing, a site dedicated to the segment like GamesOnDeck.com felt like a logical and necessary addition to our product suite.""

Fawlty Towers In... Counter-Strike?

- Gnome's Lair points out one of the most mindblowing things I've seen in a while - someone's made a Fawlty Towers map for Counter-Strike Source, Valve's terrorist-heavy FPS of decidedly John Cleese-light action.

Here's what he says: "There are some admittedly rare moments in gaming, when I and the whole of gnomedom really feel that good taste is still alive. Barely perhaps, but definitely alive. Playing Fahrenheit and Beyond Good and Evil were such moments."

But: "Seeing Counter-Strike: Source get a Fawlty Towers map was the latest. Ahh, what a brilliant idea, ain't it? And, John Cleese, what a star, eh? Polly what have you done with my hotel, eh? Stay here is nice, eh? Anyway. Get the map here and be a happy punter." Bloody Harold Wilson!

2D Boy Birthing World Of Goo

- Physics game site Fun-Motion has pointed out that "Kyle Gabler, of Experimental Gameplay Project and Tower of Goo fame, recently left his job at Maxis to start up an indie studio with Ron Carmel. The new company is 2D Boy, and they just announced their first of three games: World of Goo."

Gabler is actually on one of the Independent Games Summit panels today, so I guess it's possible that we'll find out more then. If not, their 2D Boy FAQ certainly has a few more oblique references, such as commenting on World Of Goo's release: " It will take longer than a week to make, and less than a year. We plan to be done in early summer 07. Kyle is a paranoid perfectionist and a control freak, so it will be out when it is stunning and beautiful. :)"

Overall, I dig the game plan a lot: "2D Boy is a brave new indie game studio based in San Francisco, making games the old fashioned way - a team of two, no money, and a whole lot of "love". Our goal is to make games that everyone can play, with gameplay nobody has seen before." Go, guys, go!

Let's Play Games, And Talk About Them

- Those creative reprobates at SomethingAwful have branched off some of their forum goings-on to its own 'walkthrough' website, Let's Play, and it's got some really fun stuff on it.

For example, there's a Mixed Up Mother Goose walkthrough in the style of Sin City, with grainy black and white screenshots: "She was mixed up. Mixed up in something she couldn't handle. Something serious. There was only one person who could help her. That person was me... I hadn't had any business in a long time. Not since my last case. Three died that night, and blood from two of them was on my hands."

A little less out there, but more informative, would be a Dungeon Explorer walkthrough, obviously written before the game debuted on Wii, but useful anyhow: "Oh yes, my fellow Hudson fans, the time has come for Dungeon Explorer to be released upon the world -- for real this time, not on a console that only myself and about 10 other people (7 of them Japanese) actually owned. That's right. Sometime in the coming weeks, Nintendo and Hudson will release this classic dungeon crawler on the Virtual Console. And it will be worth it." [Via Frank.]

March 4, 2007

The Top 10 Shooter Remakes Of 2006

- The frankly awesome Indygamer has just listed its Top 10 shooter remakes for 2006, PC indie game stylee, cutely described as "Ten of the best freeware remakes from last year which involve firing shots at foreign objects."

One highlight is the retro-looking Counterclockwise ("Essentially Tron in 3D, this remake puts you in a ship that leaves a trail during flight. Your basic objective is to destroy enemy chasers, either by shooting at them or using the EMPs supplied.")

Another very interesting one is (the pictured) Gravitron: "The creator of Prototype and Xain'D Sleena returns with a brand new shooter entitled Gravitron, though this one requires a little more tact as it is actually based on Thrust. Instead of transporting pods into the skies you now have to destroy reactors while saving any spacemen wandering on the surface of the planet."

When News Stories Come Around, Go Around

- The sourcing of news stories is coming up a lot recently, and Official Xbox Magazine's Dan Amrich has an interesting post on an Xbox 360-playing robot, something originally reported in OXM and gradually radiating from there - it hopped online in a more major way via a BBC article.

He notes: "I’d wager that the BBC saw that post (or a copy of that post from one of the aggregators that pinged the site back when they picked it up) or possibly saw a copy of OXM US, and created their story the following week. But — there’s no way to put this without making it sound arrogant — we had the story first, and the internet, assuming print is dead, didn’t notice."

But that in itself is not Amrich's issue. He continues: "My objection is that the bulk of the interwebs sourced the BBC and did no further research. The BBC did not link to David’s site, so none of the stories that source the BBC list David’s site. Certainly, seeing the YouTube video or the creator’s detailed webpage would be considered a newsworthy link in this story? (The original blogger thought so.)"

His conclusion? "But they’re nowhere in the bulk of online coverage. That means nobody actually did any work; they just came up with a few pithy comments (one site offered moral objections and linked to a story on game sweatshops, but never actually found this other data) and shuffled the facts around, borrowed the same photo, and reposted the same info, only smaller."

Well, I've just quoted him and added some pithy comments, so I fear I'm part of the problem. One thing I will note is that, if OXM had a larger website (yes, I know about GamesRadar, not that) and posted some newsworthy things from the print mag to coincide with the issue every month, that should help. We're considering adding a little more actual Game Developer content to the official site, after an impending redesign, for just that reason. That doesn't stop the quote and quip mentality, though.

On 'Patronizing The Player' With Ease

- Tony Walsh has a well thought-out post over at Clickable Culture discussing whether 'game designers [are] going too far in rewarding players', and citing multiple possible examples of the above.

Firstly, he notes: "I was paging through last month's issue of Game Developer Magazine recently, and in a postmortem for Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam, found that the game had been designed to go easy on the player: "[I]n the name of making the game more accessible to a broader audience, we made it much more difficult to fall...we gave the players a much friendlier outcome..." writes Toys for Bob lead designer Toby Shadt. "Don't take players out of the action for too long; don't make them feel bad about themselves..." I absolutely agree with keeping players engaged, but not with shielding players from failure."

But Walsh worries: "Children are being taught that "everybody wins," and seem to be sheltered from competitive activities. In the real world, hardly anybody wins, let alone you or your kids. I see over-rewarding, over-patronizing games in the same light as non-competitive "we are all special" school-system doctrine." So... are we going too easy on our gaming subjects?

Lost Levels Takes On Hard Driving, More!

- Co-worker Frank, who is doing a sterling job arranging our upcoming Gamasutra coverage of next week's GDC, has also been posting some new stories of unreleased games over at his v.fun site, Lost Levels.

The front page itself explains: "While browsing through the Mean Machines Archive today, I stumbled on something pretty unexpected: the first screenshots I’ve ever seen of Hard Drivin’ for the NES, Tengen’s unreleased port of Atari’s driving simulator-turned-arcade racing game!"

In addition, the forums have an overview of a guest review of Time Diver: Eon Man, which reveals: "Time Diver was an action platformer for the NES, scheduled to be released by Taito in February of 1993. I'm not saying the game is bad, mind you; just generic. It could easily be a dozen other games, and at least seven of those would be Ninja Gaiden. It's a simple five level sprint through every cliche of the NES era, and I can only assume that this sameness made Taito question the title's sales potential." Well-researched and wacky.

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