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March 17, 2007

Jack Bauer's Cellphone Shenanigans, Call For GoD Help

- Over at GSW's new sister mobile biz site GamesOnDeck, we've just posted a two-part postmortem to I-play's cellphone game 24: Agent Down, and the Big Blue Bubble-developed game is definitely one of the more creative mobile titles in the West of recent, being a sequel to a previous BAFTA-winning title.

Among other points, there's some interesting comments about the constraints of cellphone gaming: "It was crucial to give our players as much content as possible in an application which most players do not realize is oftentimes smaller than a single page of a word document (i.e. under 300k of memory) to fit onto their mobile device. For 24: Agent Down we had 243k (max) to 60k (minimum)." Looks like the final game got reviewed decently, anyhow.

While I'm here and you guys are listening, myself and Mathew Kumar of GamesOnDeck are looking for regional correspondents, especially in Japan and Korea, but also in Europe, to weigh in on the regional mobile game scenes (which are _very_ different) on a regular basis. Anyone here into writing and plays cellphone games, or could do at a stretch? Then mail us at GSW and we'll pass it on!

PBS Explores The Making Of Imagic

- At AtariAge, they've been kind enough to point out some awesome retro TV additions to YouTube, in the form of a "...an episode of Enterprise (the 80s PBS business show, not the Star Trek spin-off) hosted by veteran CBS correspondant Eric Sevareid."

As is explained: "This particular episode (looks like it was aired in 1983 by my estimate) was all about Imagic. It featured the four founding members talking about the business, current and future projects, and in part follows the development and release cycle of Atlantis throughought 1982 -- from design, prototyping, playtesting, finishing, the CES '82 debut and the following months." Here's Part 1 - Atari Age has links to the other two parts.

What's more: "Some great inside shots of Imagic are shown, along with some great early and mid-stage Atlantis pre-prototype shots, scenes from the CES show, production line shots, financial stats on the company including the press conference announcing their plans to be the first video game company to issue an IPO, and so on. Really fascinating stuff and some rare glimpses into the inner world of a game company of the 80s." Great stuff.

Left Behind Games Tenuously Clutching At Asian Straws

- You may recall that we've covered the Christian game publisher/developer Left Behind Games before - most recently for pasting defensive comments all over anyone's blog which has mentioned their allegedly terrible Christian RTS based on the best-selling series of Rapture-themed books. Sigh.

Anyhow, the latest indignity comes in the form of a Christian Post article about the game, titled 'Left Behind Games to Reach Out to Asia Ahead of Olympics'. In it, the reporter Kevin Jackson summarizes huffily: "The gamemakers are marketing the title as a nonviolent alternative to help Asians better communicate with Westerners - a premise that many Christians would agree is false."

I know there's controversy within the Christian community about the game, and I'm not sure Jackson has quite done his homework here: "Left Behind: Eternal Forces is a real-time strategy game, much like the popular World of Warcraft"? Oops. But overall, the Christian Post looks correctly quizzical at some pretty ridiculous statements in the piece: "[Left Behind Games' sales consultant] Chiu also noted the prospect of success in Asia in his statement. He said: “With the movie The Da Vinci Code doing phenomenally in Asia, the game Eternal Forces would be very well received"" Oh... kay.

Left Behind Games is not, it appears, doing too well, despite the controversy - its first post-launch financial results revealed a $4.1 million loss for the quarter in which the game was launched - ouch. And if they're sending out press releases like 'Left Behind Games Concludes First Transaction in Australia', I'm not sure things are looking much better.

On the other hand, they have licensed Big Huge Games' RTS engine for the next (post-expansion) game in the Left Behind series, so one would imagine that would help clear up the gameplay issues a little bit - the Rise Of Nations series is purdy. But considering they only announced the license in November 2006, it'll take a while for the game based on it to come down the pipe. Maybe the real Rapture will help the company to profitability? [Via J-Dob.]

Perpetuating Game Naming Stereotypes For Fun/Profit

- A few weeks ago at work, Game Developer managing editor Jill Duffy set, as a culmination to a series of fiendishly difficult grammar-related whiteboard challenges, a somewhat easier task - the editors of Gamasutra and Game Developer magazine were to come up with the most stereotypical video game name... evah.

So here's what we came up with, following several multi-minute bouts with tortured artist syndrome and intense head-fist interface thinking:

Simon 'GameSetWatch' Carless
(Game Developer/Gamasutra EIC)
"Quaternion: The Beige-ning"

Frank 'Lost Levels' Cifaldi
(Gamasutra features editor)
"WWII: World War II"

Jill 'Jilly' Duffy
(Game Developer managing editor)
"Ubisoft's Tom Clancy's Call Of Duty: Revenge Of Duty"

Brandon 'Insert Credit' Sheffield
(Game Developer features editor)
"Pauly Shore's XTREME Nude Wakeboarding II: The Awakening"

Also, we have a late entry via IM from Jason 'Gama news guy' Dobson, submitting the tortured "Final Fantasy VII: The Black Gate: Part Two". Anyhow - this isn't really a competition right now, since the winner was already decided at a little Sneak King-playing drinks party here at the CMP Game Group (it was Cifaldi, damn him!), but feel free to suggest your own stereotypical game titles in the comments!

March 16, 2007

GameSetLinks: It's A Fluke That I Gesundheit-ed

- As is often the case during the week, I've been accumulating a bunch of links that are a little bit too minor to post as standalone posts, but are nonetheless worth pointing and gawking at. So a slow Friday afternoon allows me to write some of those up, as follows:

- Let's start with something completely random. Poking around video aggregation/rating site VideoSift, it was neat to see the Wipeout-themed music video for Fluke's 'Atom Bomb' getting linked and appreciated. As the Wikipedia page notes: "Originally formed for the soundtrack to the Wipeout 2097 video game the track reached #20 in the UK music charts and brought Fluke their first non-club mainstream single." Fluke's output in general is excellent, a bit Underworld-y, and used in lots of movies/movie trailers, and I still heart The Designers Republic for the art stylings, so... there you go.

- Pocketwatch Games founder Andy Schatz, who presented the Independent Games Festival Awards for us this year, is a totally wonderful guy and a vital member of the indie community, so it was great to see him post a history of his company on his Qatfish.com indie blog aggregator site. He explains at the end: " I wanted to describe what it means to be an “Indie” game developer, and what, in my opinion, game development SHOULD be about. I never got my MBA, but I still plan to change the world." With neat, ecofriendly indie games like Venture Arctic (pictured), he's on the right track.

- We already talked about the new Katamari Damacy T-shirts, but missed out on Cabel Sasser's blog post about visiting Keita Takahashi in Japan to work out this new batch. A key passage: "First off, more Katamari Damacy games are coming! The games are no longer being worked on by Takahashi ("We Love Katamari", the sequel, was as far as he wanted to take it), but Namco is soldiering on without him, and I'm still very excited about what's to come. Look for some new Katamari titles possibly as soon as later this year. So, Takahashi is now working on something totally new. What is this new video game project? What platform is it on? When can we see it? Sadly, I can't say. But, as with all things Takahashi, it's safe to say you'll be surprised, confused, and delighted." Yay! Also, Cabel's dad invented Dr. Who stew for Subway. Nuff said.

- The GDC recaps are all dead and buried, but I thought Snarfed.org's round-up of the event was particularly nicely done as a karmic overview: "The overriding theme this year can be summed up in three words: YouTube for games. Everyone was chasing full-speed after the user-generated content bandwagon. The big three platforms all had their official stories, and lots of others were clamoring to tell theirs too." Lots more handy Game Developers Conference 2007 analysis inside - hey, maybe we should have done something like this!

- Via Boyer and Fort90 and various others, a demo version of Gesundheit! is now available, one of the wackiest and most offbeat Adventure Game Studio-created games I've seen: "In "Gesundheit!", you're a little green pig who sneezes yummy snot, and you use your tasty nasal discharges to lead monsters into traps, all while trying to avoid being eaten. For the graphics, I'm scanning scratchboard drawings and doing 2D animation with a lovely 3D program, anim8or." Aso, as the author explains: "It's basically an old-school action-puzzle type thing." Great art, too.

- I think the first bit of this already got linked on some 'big boy blogs', but Joel Parker at GameOfTheBlog got some abstruse swag from Rockstar in exchange for signing over his cheekily registered Manhunt3.com domain to them. There's some controversy over whether it's 'ransom' or 'bounty' (ar harr!), but there's now a picture of the Rockstar mug he got and OH LOOK HE SAID 'RANSOM' IN THAT POST, so I win. In your face, Parker!

- I'd forgotten about Wataru Maruyama's Costume GET! blog until its appearance on Jiji's blogroll jolted my memory again, but it's on the ol' RSS feed now, so don't everyone fret. In any case, this late February post reveals some obviously dodgy Dead Or Alive 10th Anniversary books that show plenty of the non-costumes showcased in that series of games. More importantly, it reminded me that the Okami artbook is coming out in the States in July, thanks to Udon, who help operate Capcom Comics - and also released the Street Fighter: Eternal Challenge artbook in the West - which I don't think got nearly enough press. Neat, anyhow.

Race, Games, Tolkien, And Headaches

- Digging this one out before the weekend hits, Clive Thompson's excellent Wired News column has taken on a pretty touchy subject - race in RPG games, under the title 'Playing The Master Race', and explaining: "it suddenly hits me that this is a really weird, yet central part of online gaming: obsessing about your racial identity and appearance."

This was in relevance to an MMO based on a certain Oxford don's imaginary world, of course: "When I log into the beta of the new Lord of the Rings game, the first thing I do is pick my race. I decide I'm going to be a dwarf: stolid, not so great with magic, but a superb brawler. The idea of being a slightly hotheaded man of the earth appeals to me. And pretty soon I'm engrossed in the task of trying out various big, honking noses."

And yes, it gets odder: "Races inside games often seem to reflect, in a creepy way, some of our most regrettable biases about race in real life. For example, when World of Warcraft first came out, players were amused, stunned or both to discover that the evil trolls spoke in ... Jamaican accents. Aaron Delwiche, a game academic at Trinity University, asked his student Beth Cox to analyze all the "emotes" in World of Warcraft -- the spoken greetings or hand gestures Blizzard pre-programmed into each race. She found that Trolls were "disproportionately more likely to make violent or sexual statements," Delwiche notes." I have enough trouble spelling Tolkien, let alone ruminating on things like this.

Guitar Hero II Going Green, Not Going Gold!

- So I got a press release earlier today about a game that's about to appear in stores, and something caught my eye: "Get ready to crank up the speakers once again, as Activision’s Guitar Hero II prepares for its highly anticipated world tour onto next-gen videogame consoles by announcing it has gone green, and is now ready for production on the Microsoft Xbox 360."

Wait - gone _green_? When I worked in the industry, though this was admittedly 4 or 5 years ago now, 'gone gold' was always the standard, and it's still being used in press commentary even now. However, 'gone gold' does confuse people sometimes because they think of it like a gold or platinum record - something to do with sales, as opposed to the gold master that gets shipped for duplication.

Anyhow, I pinged RedOctane's Bryan Lam on this very question, since he helped craft the press release, and he kindly replied, explaining that 'gone green' is "...Microsoft’s version of going gold, and we felt it was appropriate to use the term “gone green” to highlight our initial efforts to bring the Guitar Hero franchise onto the Xbox 360 and other next-gen platforms. Not to mention, it's also St. Patty's Day coming up! The phrase isn’t often used within the enthusiast press, though it’s an acknowledged term within the industry."

In fact, yep, a Google search for the term reveals that pretty much only RedOctane and Activision have come out in favor of talking in public about this new term - presumably Microsoft's reference that the game is getting a green light to be manufactured [EDIT: Also because lots of X360-related things are green!], and doing away with the concept that you're burning a gold-colored CDR or whatever - which makes sense. But how far can 'gone green' go as a phrase? I, for one, welcome our new green overlords.

It's... The Future Of The HUD Circus

- The rather beautifully named High Dynamic Range Lying weblog recently posted an in-depth post named 'Clean and Simple: What’s the future of the Heads-Up Display?', and I thought it was well worth linking to.

The intro? "HUDs have remained unchanged since the days of the Nintendo Entertainment System, but that isn’t to say that some games didn’t boldly attempt to change the way we look at HUDs, and have paved the way for what could be the future of information display in video games. What have we done right in the past? What have been the failures? Where do we go from here? HDRL hopes to answer that, with a touch of optimistic speculation, and a pinch of nostalgic golf clapping."

There are then some fun analyses of conventional or unconventional HUD systems, with a nod to one of the most 'interesting' ones: "Say what you will about the failure of Trespasser, the PC-only First Person Shooter based on the world of Jurassic Park, but the game was rife with unique ideas (albeit poorly executed). Player health was represented by a heart-shaped tattoo on the player`s breast. When players started to lose health, they would look down at themselves. While the mechanic was a step in the right direction, the sad part was that players had to constantly look down to check health, which disrupted gameplay to a large extent." [Semi-via Jiji.]

Minter's Google Talk Grazes Onto Video

- When I managed to get Jeff Minter to come over to keynote the Independent Games Summit the other week, I was delighted to hear that he also got invited to speak at Google. Turns out the subsequent 'Google Tech Talk' has been posted on Google Video for free, and provides 61 minutes of Yak goodness.

There's a nice abstract: "Jeff "Yak" Minter has been developing video games from the Sinclair Spectrum era on up through the present day. If you were alive in the 8-bit years, you've probably played one of his games: Llamatron, Attack of the Mutant Camels, Gridrunner and Idris Alpha were among the better-known ones. If you were one of the 30 people to buy an Atari Jaguar, you probably bought his "Tempest 2000" and "Defender 2000" cartridges." More than 30!

Finally: "And if you own an Xbox 360, you've also seen his work: the built-in music visualizer is his creation. His current project is an XBox Live Arcade game temporarily titled "Space Giraffe", which is an attempt to bring the classic Atari game Tempest into the next-gen era." The whole video is basically the same as his Independent Games Summit keynote, and also includes multiple camera angles and emulator demos as he wanders through his awesome back catalogue, so - unmissable! [Via Boyer.]

March 15, 2007

COLUMN: ‘Game Collector’s Melancholy’ - Shenmue

['A Game Collector's Melancholy' is a bi-weekly column by Jeffrey Fleming that follows the subtle pleasures and gnawing anxieties of video game collecting. This week we take a look at the epic, and lamentably unfinished Shenmue series.]

shenmue.jpgWe had been hearing about Shenmue for years before it was released. First there were rumors that Yu Suzuki was working on a Virtua Fighter RPG for the Saturn. As the director of Sega’s AM2 division, Suzuki had been responsible for some of the company’s most exciting arcade titles. Space Harrier, Hang-On, Out Run, Virtua Cop, and the epochal Virtua Fighter series were all the work of Suzuki and his AM2 team, so the idea of a new title for home consoles was very intriguing.

As more information trickled out of Japan, VF RPG became known as Project Berkley and development moved to Sega’s new generation of hardware. No one knew what Project Berkley was except that it would big, different, and amazing. As Katana became Dreamcast, Project Berkley was given the official title of Shenmue. Suzuki called the game a F.R.E.E. RPG, which stood for Full Reactive Eyes Entertainment and it would feature Q.T.E. or Quick Timer Events. No one could figure out what he meant by that either. After years of development and a budget estimated at 20 million, possibly as high as 70 million, the first chapter of Shenmue was released for the Dreamcast in 2000 to critical acclaim and consumer indifference.

Chapter 1: Yokosuka

shenmuescreen.jpgShenmue started off full of drama and intrigue, a sort of kung-fu revenge tale crossed with a Hardy Boys mystery. However, once the narrative was set up, you found yourself strangely free, wandering the back streets of urban Japan with little pressure to accomplish anything except to slowly settle into the game’s minutely detailed world.

At first, Shenmue’s open ended structure was startling, so different from most other goal oriented video games. The casual pace of Shenmue allowed you the time to linger over trivialities and follow whatever whim came along. You could spend all day at the arcade playing Hang-On or map the locations of every vending machine, sampling each flavor of soda as you drifted about. The designers sweated the details as much as was technically possible and constructed a solid environment textured with the patina of life. The Japan depicted in Shenmue was working class, a landscape of cheap fluorescent lights, water stained ceiling tiles, and chipped concrete. Not the high tech wonderland of Western imagination, but a Japan that was closer to the way it really is; old and slightly rundown, worn at the edges by the shuffle of people going about their lives.

However, pushing against the walls of the game you began to understand the limits of its artificial world. Along with the freedom that Shenmue seemed to promise, came the creeping realization that you were an actor in its drama and that you must eventually take the stage and play your part.

As a game Shenmue largely succeeded. The fighting was satisfying, with many opportunities to teach bullies the values of humility and respect. How you fought was up to you, whether you wanted to go deep into fancy combo moves or just button mash your way to victory, either approach was valid. Shenmue’s climactic running battle will always be one of my most pleasurable video game memories.

Other aspects of the game could be tedious, particularly in the second half when you were required to go work everyday. It was certainly a strange experience to come home from my real job and then punch the clock in Shenmue. The Simon Says/Dragon’s Lair-like Quick Timer Events were sometimes frustrating. Still, I was always surprised by the game’s ability to reengage me with some interesting twist just as my attention began to flag.

Shenmue was released in America in November of 2000. It shipped with two booklets and four GD-ROMs and included a supplemental Passport disc. It can still be acquired new from Game Quest Direct for $29.99. Sega also released a limited edition of Shenmue that added a music CD of jukebox tunes from the game. The LE version goes for around $35 at online auctions. Collectors might also want to seek out the 1998 Japanese release of Virtua Fighter 3tb which included a second disc called Project Berkley that had an interview with Yu Suzuki along with a teaser for Shenmue.

Chapter 2: Hong Kong

shenmue2screen.jpgSega of America broke my heart with Shenmue II. The game was set to be released in the Fall of 2001 and my calendar was marked. I couldn’t wait to return to its world. Then Sega abruptly walked away from the Dreamcast and made the last minute decision to cancel Shenmue II’s U.S. release. The game was shuffled back into development to create an Xbox version that wouldn’t be ready for another year.

Sega had done a lot to alienate its fans over the years but pulling Shenmue II was more than I could take. I could not understand how Sega came to its decision to publish the sequel on a different system whose user base would likely have no prior awareness or interest in Shenmue. My only comfort was the thrill of schadenfreude when I later saw massive quantities of Sega’s Xbox efforts (including Shenmue II) end up in deeply discounted bargain bins.

shenmue2.jpgThe Xbox version of Shenmue II finally made it to America in the Fall of 2002. It had slightly enhanced graphics and an English dub as well as a few other tweaks and add-ons. It also included a 90 minute DVD version of Shenmue that was produced using cut-scenes and in-game footage. Shenmue II for Xbox can still be purchased new from Game Quest Direct for $14.99. The game has also been recently added to the Xbox 360 backwards compatibility list.

Although Shenmue II was canceled for U.S. Dreamcast market, Europe squeaked by, getting the game late in 2001. The European version retained the original Japanese language voice-overs and provided English subtitles. It shipped in an impressive looking package of two double disc Euro style jewel cases along with four duplicate manuals and a slipcover. The European version can be found at auction for around $45.

Chapter 3....

The Shenmue story was supposed to be told over 16 chapters but so far little has come of it. A multiplayer online version of Shenmue was announced for Asia in 2004 but the partnership between Sega and the game’s Korean developer JC Entertainment dissolved in a lawsuit. Supposedly work continues on the MMORPG but no English version is planned.

Many of Shenmue’s advancements have become part of the established vocabulary of game design. Quick Timer Events were seamlessly incorporated into Resident Evil 4 and Tomb Raider: Legend and the idea provides the game play foundation of Indigo Prophecy. Some have described Sega’s Yakuza as Shenmue without a humorless eunuch as its main character.

There are rumors that a completed version of the Shenmue saga which condenses the later chapters is being developed for one of the new generation of consoles but considering the series’ low sales, I don’t have much confidence in Sega’s commitment to finishing it.

[Jeffrey Fleming is an East Bay writer. To read more, please visit Tales of the Future.]

Accordion Hero II, Nachtmusik Welcome Careful Drivers

- It's totally tragic that Computer Games Magazine has apparently closed down, and even more so because I'd just got the April 2007 issue which included the regular spoof game ads from our friends and sometime Gamasutra columnists from Schadenfreude Interactive.

This time round, the two ads were for Accordion Hero II (the sequel to the seminal!), and a brand new game called Nachtmusik, and information and screenshots of both titles are available on the official Schadenfreude homepage. As for Accordion Hero II, apparently, it's: Everything you loved in the first game, but more of it, ja? Features a new Practice mode, and 65 new songs including: * Leichtensteiner Polka, Traditional * The Bowling King, Those Darn Accordions * Can't Touch This, M.C. Hammer * Ya Ya Wunderbar, Frankie Yankovic * Pictures of Matchstick Men, Status Quo * In Heaven There Is No Beer, Traditional * Ride The Lightning, Metallica." Damn!

And the brand new Nachtmusik is "...a karaoke survival horror game. Yes, we have combined our love of karaoke with our love of German opera and our love for running around ruined, ichor-spattered hallways wielding a bloody candlestick or sawed-off shotgun while being pursued relentlessly by ghosts and mutants. I do not think there is another karaoke survival horror game in the world! There may well be a good reason for this, but such things have never stopped us before." This is oddly reminiscent of the actually real IGF Student Showcase winner Opera Slinger, hilariously.

Game Career Guide Brings The Triple Threat

- Realized that I haven't linked GSW sister educational site Game Career Guide here recently, and it's just put out a series of features (here's the RSS feed, subscribe now!) that are both interesting and relevant to a bunch of GameSetWatch readers, I reckon. They go as follows:

- We've just posted a feature called 'What Game Companies Want From Graduates' by Alistair Wallis which chats to senior HR folks from EA, Insomniac Games, and THQ, with EA's Colleen McCreary saying: "Our concern with for-profit institutions is that students may not learn the fundamental the tools for understanding and solving complex issues... We are most likely to hire someone who has a BFA or MFA from a traditional art college and a BS, MS, or PhD in Computer Science for our entry level artist and software engineer positions."

- There's also been a couple of interesting postmortems from IGF Student Showcase Winners posted recently - there's one for Sungkyunkwan University's Rooms, which is a really interesting abstract puzzle game, and also DigiPen's eventual best Student Game winner Toblo - plenty of insight in there.

- Another couple of random features of late which are worth checking - a round-up of the Game Career Seminar at GDC, with a fair bit of educational insight, and also 'Academics For Game Designers', in which: "Michael McCoy, a game designer with twelve years of professional experience who now teaches Level Design at The Guildhall at SMU, offers advice about school and course options for aspiring game designers."

Fair Trade Shaking Hands With Machinima

- A note from Hugh Hancock of Strange Company, then: "Just thought you might be interested to know that our "Fair Game" Machinima ads we just completed, advertising Fair Trade practises, seem to be going a bit viral!"

He continues: "We've produced two spots. One, made in The Sims 2, was shown at the Scottish Parliament, of all places. The other one, made in World of Warcraft, hit #1 most linked Film and Animation video on YouTube over the weekend, and has sparked off debate about Fair Trade ethics on World of Warcraft sites all over the place."

There's more info on the official FairGame machinima site, which explains: "Many people will be aware of the crushing inequalities and exploitation of Third-World farmers by First-World corporations, particularly that centered on the raw foodstuffs for coffee, chocolate and similar products. We wanted to use the medium of computer games to talk about these problems and suggest Fair Trade as an alternative."

Iga Iga Cha Cha Cha Iga PSP Cha Cha Iga

- Over at GamesRadar, Christian Nutt has a fun interview with Castlevania mastermind IGA which is notable because it asks some spectacularly nerdy but very relevant questions about the upcoming Castlevania compilation for PSP and the future of the franchise.

The Konami supremo explains of the title: "The basic concept of delivering this title over PSP is to deliver Rondo of Blood that was never released in the States - not Symphony of the Night. Many of the gamers in the US, or outside Japan, tend to think that SOTN is one of the Castlevania titles that made a drastic change to the series. But personally speaking, I think Rondo of Blood was the title that actually started branching out from the past Castlevania series."

It's also interesting to see him tackling the lack of simple level-based gameplay in recent Castlevanias, which he apparently yearns for: "Another reason I brought Rondo of Blood to PSP this time was to test case with the consumers if they would accept the linear type of game. Because, obviously, the linear type of game is not mainstream level design in the current industry. From my end, my keyword to the game creation was "longevity." How gamers could last the gameplay and play it over and over again. So I really want to hear the consumer reaction to the linear type and see if it would fit for the future Castlevania series." Neat stuff.

March 14, 2007

Casual Games, Imitation, Flattery, Scandal

- Over at his regular Hollywood Reporter column, Paul Hyman has been discussing the topic of casual game 'cloning', which you may recall has been the subject of some controversy on Gamasutra, GameSetWatch, and every other damn casual game discussion ever.

Hyman claims: "Recently, chatter within the Casual Games SIG of the International Game Developers Association heated up when developers proposed that copyrighting their work was the only way to prevent what has happened to such games as "Tetris" and "Bejeweled."" Of course, a lot of people (probably including me) believe that any kind of patent or legal securing of game concepts can be a terrible idea - there's been a recent Gamasutra article about that too from David Sirlin.

This is probably the most interesting bit: "But, in [his] posting to the Casual Games SIG's "Casual Games Digest," Kim Pallister, business development manager at Microsoft Casual Games, notes that MSN Games has taken a stand on clones. "Granted, it's a bit of a 'soft shoe' stance, but it's something," says Pallister. MSN Games' games acceptance criteria states that "Games that mimic other titles may receive additional scrutiny."

Pallister continues: "We understand that most games draw upon many elements of their predecessors... That being said, MSN Games has received games that were transparently obvious copies of popular casual game titles. Since these clones typically have very little new of value to add, we may opt to not accept such a title for distribution."" First time I've seen anyone in the casual biz even mention this in public - though maybe I haven't been looking hard enough.

Okie Dokie It's Bill Kunkel!

- A final pre-GDC floater (ew!), Kyle Orland over at GameDaily's 'Media Coverage' column actually posted a neat interview with veteran video game mag editor Bill Kunkel a couple of weeks back, and it's well worth a trawl through.

The intro explains: "Bill Kunkel is unquestionably the grandfather of video game journalism. After writing the first regular game review column for Video magazine in the late '70s, he helped start the first American consumer magazine for gaming, Electronic Games, in 1981. Kunkel has meandered a bit since those days, writing for comics and wrestling magazines, and even working as a game developer and design consultant for a time. But he's always come back to game journalism, bouncing between a variety of print and online outlets before recently becoming the editor-in-chief of Tips & Tricks magazine starting with the January 2007 issue."

Anyhow, Kunkel has some good quotes all round (and I wonder if he can bring Tips & Tricks back from the brink?), but here's a particularly interesting one: "Once the Internet got established, basically magazines started dying because so much of game journalism had become about news – the signing, the specs for the next generation system that hasn't come out in Japan yet. That kind of obsession – everything here is kind of OK and boring, but everything that's coming is infinitely more exciting – when you get readers conditioned to think that's what it's all about, magazines don't stand a chance in hell against the Internet."

When Game Rumors, Plagiarism Gets Dugg

- Since I've been known to get on the ol' hobby horse about the specter of 'terrible Internet reporting', I was very pleased to see that Official Xbox Magazine's Dan Amrich has done exactly the same thing in discussing 'alleged GamePro bribery' over an earlier review of Supreme Commander, as reported by the extremely dubious 'Game World Network' and then rocketed onto Digg.

You may recall a previous 'Anatomy Of A Rumor' report which also fingered GWN as being, to be blunt, absolutely terrible excuses for game journalists, and it looks like they're at it again. This time, they accused GamePro Australia of taking a bribe for giving Supreme Commander a 50% score, based on - wait for it - some crazy on the GameSpot forums spreading a hoax. Then they submitted it to Digg, where you will note that it's got to 1027 Diggs, despite being completely untrue.

Dan does a fine job of taking apart the chain of events that caused this lameness to occur (though perhaps the Craig Charles reference is pushing it a bit, even if I know what he means). But I wanted to point out the absolutely terrible plagiarism that GWN is using to get other front-page Diggs, such as this one about God Of War today.

Sure, that news is (more or less, vaguely) true - but look, GWN's coverage of the event by Richard Manley is in no way a complete cut and paste of 1UP's live event coverage, including identical quotes and the SAME ACTUAL PICTURES. Though they did draw a red arrow in one of them, so I guess that's OK.

Mind you, these were the folks who were 'liveblogging' the Japanese Wii press conference by watching an archived Japanese investor conference from a few months earlier by mistake. And their GDC Phil Harrison keynote 'liveblog' consisted of them reading Eurogamer's liveblog and repasting the quotes. So they were liveblogging Eurogamer's liveblog! Seriously.

But hey, it's the Internet, there's really little concept of reputation when it comes to putting stories onto aggregators like Digg - you can just keep submitting whatever you like, and the public will pick up on it if the headline is sensational enough. Wisdom of crowds at work! And my augmented rant is done. But really, GWN, please shuffle off this mortal coil, already?

Vanguard Developers Shake Hands With Painful Honesty

- Over at Lum's ever-perceptive Broken Toys, there's a post recounting the post-launch fallout over PC MMO Vanguard: Saga Of Heroes, in which, as Lum charmingly puts it: "Brad McQuaid leaves the Sigil fallout shelter and sees his shadow, which means six more months of crunch patching." Yep, it appears the game did ship with a few bugs in place.

McQuaid is incredibly honest about financial realities in his comments, though: "We had to agree to a launch date, or there would be no money to continue. This was unfortunate, but we will and are recovering. This game was expensive — probably second only to WoW, although WoW cost more than double. I don’t want to sound jealous, although I probably am to some degree to be honest, but Blizzard put $80M into development."

Blimey, carry on? "No one else is willing or able to do that. Not Microsoft, not Sony. EA perhaps, and they’re now back in the MMOG business with the Mythic acquisition (but at the time we started Sigil, they were still in a lot of pain over Sims Online, which is rumored to have been around $25-30M — so at the time they were not interested in a game like Vanguard. And certainly not smaller publishers — they definitely don’t have that kind of money." It's unclear how well Vanguard subscriptions are doing, but it certainly has a bit of a 'hardcore' rep currently. And a VERY frank maker!

COLUMN: 'Roboto-chan!': Welcome to the Circus

['Roboto-chan!' is a fortnightly column by Ollie Barder which covers videogames that feature robots and the pop-cultural folklore surrounding them. This week's column covers the effect of two Japanese animators on mecha gaming.]

itano_circus1.jpgWhen people look at mecha games, outside of Japan, they often overlook the main sources of influence. After all, from a pop-cultural standpoint Japan is literally immersed in mecha. From anime to manga, mecha is all pervasive and has been around for over half a century.

There are consequently two very important figures in anime that have inadvertently shaped the last twenty years of mecha gaming and will continue to do so for a good long while to come. And so we shall talk about them!

Many may know of Yoshiyuki Tomino’s Gundam saga and it is often regarded as a canon influence for mecha games. However, Gundam is a far more general catalyst when it came to the real robot phenomenon. It merely showed that mecha were fragile and where piloted by actual human beings (rather than feral posers with unkempt hair). Yet, the finer details in Gundam were often brushed over or even worse given fudged physics (Minovsky particles for instance).

There are two other people that gave greater definition to mecha, not only from a technical standpoint but also a kinetic one.

Ryosuke Takahashi

ryosuke_takahashi1.jpgVery much the foil to Tomino, Takahashi approached real robots as something that could almost be created within the context of present day technology. As such the design work and the subsequent realistic treatment of said designs gave the rest of the narrative a more believable and subtle edge.

Take the cult classic Aoki Ryusei SPT Layzner, very near the beginning of this epic yet deeply poignant series the protagonist Eiji is faced with a major problem. After stealing the prototype super powered tracer (or SPT) Layzner from the Grados invading forces, he’s now faced with the need to re-fuel. He thus waits amongst the ruins of a military base on Mars with barely enough fuel remaining for simple movement; in the hope another SPT will search the ruins for him.

He switches all his systems off, so as not to broadcast his position and waits. Faintly in the distance you hear the noise of another SPT walking slowly in Eiji’s direction. For a moment you share Eiji’s terror of not knowing where the enemy will appear, after all his radar has been turned off. Eventually the enemy SPT comes within range and it’s clear he can’t see the Layzner. Eiji quickly strikes and uses his remaining fuel in an attempt to cripple the enemy SPT without destroying it (thus removing his chance at re-fuelling). The elation that you share with Eiji as he succeeds within such a strict rule set is almost palpable.

layzner_vmax1.jpgThe important point about Takahashi’s focus on technical veracity is that defines a very distinct rule set for the characters to work within. Compared to Tomino’s more freeform approach, Takahashi’s is far more suited to gaming and helped switch on several developers within the Japanese games industry that mecha could be treated as something with finite resources (with From Software being relevant in this instance, especially with their vocal admiration of Takahashi’s animated works).

Takahashi’s approach to mecha isn’t wholly intentional either; more that his main desire is to portray people and the events surrounding them in a gritty and believable manner. The mecha fall very much into the background of the work and are treated more as tools rather than anything spiritual in significance. Admittedly, in many instances, Takahashi’s animated works often hold titles named after the eponymous mecha (such as Layzner and Galient) but that’s more of a marketing decision really.

Ichiro Itano

ichiro_itano1.jpgItano is an interesting chap, he worked on the original Gundam movies and has been pretty much joined at the mechanical hip ever since. Unlike Takahashi, Itano has a more specific skill set in regards to animation. Whilst Itano has sat in the director's chair more than once his trademark is more action orientated. If you've watched much anime, especially anything from Macross, then you'll be familiar with glorious dogfights and beautifully animated volleys of missiles, as their vapor trails arc across the sky like hyperactive gossamers.

This aerial ballet has a name and one that venerates its creator, called the Itano Circus it has in many ways defined the capabilities of animated mecha. Like a beacon of possibility, other animators and games developers have looked to Itano for inspiration. Whilst Takahashi gave credence to mecha, Itano made their movement almost aspirational. A good example of what I'm talking about is illustrated here, here and here (with a downloadable version here).

eureka_seven_nirvash1.jpgNow, one of the big problems developers face when dealing with Itano's work is that to look at it's an amazing spectacle. However, the characters within the anime are often legends in terms of piloting skill. When you transfer an approximation of those controls to a gangly teenager, it doesn't always work out. A good example of what I'm talking about is that of the various Eureka 7 games. Eureka 7 is basically the anime Stanislaw Lem would have wrote if he ever had a penchant for transforming mecha that surf through the sky. The anime created a unique rule set to allow the mecha, called LFO's, ride invisible energy waves whilst airborne. The problem is that this rule set wasn't really explained that clearly and subsequently that let the animators off the leash in terms of the aerial combat sequences.

Visually, said dogfights are literally jawdropping in their audacity but transferring that into gameplay form isn't really manageable short of some kind of neural interface. Which is why Itano's legacy is aspirational to developers. They see the Nirvash swooping through streams of missiles and want to afford a similar visceral thrill to the player (after all, many developers want to be the riding the trapar waves themselves).

A powerful dichotomy...

These two figures in Japanese animation capture two almost diametrically opposite aspects of mecha that developers strive for; a fixed rule set to denote a level of realism and the ability to dodge missiles whilst striking multiple poses. It's this dichotomy that has produced games like Zone of Enders, Armored Core, Virtual On and a slew of others. Whilst Takahashi's and Itano's influence are by no means overt, most developers cite their respect for these animators on a particularly common basis and their subsequent games often bely a level of admiration that's hard to ignore. Both gentlemen are still busy creating new animated works however and their influence will continue to be felt in games for a long time to come.

[Ollie Barder is a freelance journalist who's written for The Guardian, appeared on BBC Radio 4 and contributed to Japanese mecha artbooks. He lives at home with an ever growing collection of Japanese die-cast robot toys and a very understanding wife.]

March 13, 2007

Panic Adds Furry, Shiny Katamari Shirts

- A suspiciously alert Brandon Boyer has just pointed out to me that, by Isis and Osiris, there are some brand-new Katamari Damacy T-shirts available on Cabel Sasser's Panic.com, and they're completely completely awesome.

All you really need to know is that the new designs are labeled either 'shiny' or 'fuzzy', in many cases, and they have all kinds of great abstractions to them. Also, if you click through on each shirt and go to the last picture, you'll see Keita Takahashi's comments on each, for example for the Castle one: "I let my mind wander with this one. I wanted a romantic shirt, and as a result, I think the shirt turned out wonderful... It's a castle, and it's gold, so I really want Hollywood celebrities to wear this shirt."

Or the Rolling one: "Panic is always telling me, "no more curve balls! How about a straight-forward Katamari shirt?" Since Panic agreed to produce the Gold Castle image, I created this one in return. This is our classic give-and-take.... Since we're pretty used to seeing this kind of Katamari image, I think this shirt might be the most popular. That's good news, but it's also a little regrettable." Hah!

Computer Games Magazine Visits Extinct-town, Aw

- Though you may have noted this over at Gamasutra, just wanted to register my sadness that Computer Games Magazine and Massive Magazine are closing down, apparently partly due to parent company TheGlobe.com losing a lawsuit over some alleged MySpace spamming they were doing (yikes).

I'm sure Mr. Gifford will follow up further in a Mag Weasel-ing, but here's part of the Gamasutra story on the events, which leave me annoyed because CGM was my favorite U.S. print mag in terms of editorial content. It's possible that someone else will pick up the torch and acquire the mags? I certainly hope so:

"Independent sources, both via an un-named publisher dealing with the magazines and from industry messageboard QT3, have revealed that U.S. print publication Computer Games Magazine and its sister MMO-centric Massive magazine have apparently been shut down by publisher TheGlobe.com.

Computer Games Magazine, regarded as the second oldest PC focused monthly magazine in circulation after Computer Gaming World, was first launched in 1988 as British gaming magazine Games International. The magazine later evolved over several iterations, firstly as Strategy Plus, and then later Computer Games: Strategy Plus, before adopting its most current title.

In March 2006, the staff of Computer Games Magazine announced the creation of a spinoff publication called Massive, which focused on massively multiplayer online titles such as World of WarCraft and PlanetSide. The magazine was distinguished in that each issue would feature MMO demos... the first issue of the magazine was released on September 19, 2006, and its proper quarterly run began in January this year."

MMOG Nation: Citizen Spotlight on Van Hemlock

['MMOG Nation' is a weekly column by Michael Zenke about current events in the world of Massively Multiplayer Games. This week's column is a look behind the scenes at the MMOG blog Van Hemlock.]

Van HemlockSelf-styled as a 'virtual monster hunter', the author behind the site Van Hemlock offers up a regular dose of simple, honest game criticism. Other sites might see posts go up more often, but when Hemlock speaks it's almost always a good idea to listen. This wandering gamer has been posting for a little over two years now, and in that time has weighed on on everything from World of Warcraft to the depths of Eve Online's space.

Speaking directly and with little pretension, it's helpful to use Hemlock as a measuring stick for the interestingness of a game; if he doesn't have much to say on a particular title, odds are good there just isn't much there worth talking about. Hemlock was kind enough to sit down for a virtual chat, and I have some links to pass out touching on the major themes of his site. Read on for a look behind the scenes with this well-read and highly observant blogger.

Soon To Be Featured In A Major Motion Picture

Michael: If you don't mind my asking, what is your home life like? Do you have any children? A spouse/girlfriend? What's your day job?

Hemlock: In a lot of ways, I am the stereotypical gaming slob - single, no kids, live to play, etc. Computer games, well, MMOs in particular, have pretty much consumed my life at this point and I probably ought to get out more. In my defence though, I don't live in a basement - my mother's or otherwise - and in fact live in a second floor apartment, whose mortgage is probably enough Real Life Responsibility for me, I think. I also don't like Cheetoes or Mountain Dew, which are hard to find in the UK anyway - Wotsits and Tizer are the nearest UK equivalent, I suspect. My day job is as a Graphic Designer for an electronic engineering company - brochures, websites, exhibitions stands, that sort of thing, although it's not something I'm passionate enough about to want to do at home as well, hence the austere look of the blog!

Michael: Do you have any hobbies outside of Massive gaming? Do you do any more traditional PC/console gaming?

Hemlock: I've always been fascinated with computer games from a very early age, starting with a Sinclair Spectrum in the late eighties and progressively upgrading from there. Lonely childhood in a remote country location, a somewhat indifferent father, and being a bit of a dreamer all made those little 8-bit action games very compelling. Nowadays I almost exclusively play online MMOs, although a friend lent me his Xbox 1 not so long ago (He got a 360 so it became somewhat surplus), so have been trying to get into 'sofa gaming' a bit, with various sucess. Quite enjoyed Knights of the Old Republic, Deus Ex 2 and whatever Burnout game is on that thing. The whole car-crashing for points prizes and prestige is a lot of quick fun, but on the whole, I don't think I'm a console gamer really - not immersive enough, and I'm not really a 'drop-in type' of gamer anymore. Plus my huge gnarled claws aren't as good with a controller as a mouse and keyboard! As for other hobbies, I'm quite getting into the EVE CCG with a couple of friends, although I think that only counts as 'outside Massive gaming' on a technicality. I used to be a bit of an outdoors adventure sports type, it's been quite a long time since I've been rock climbing or caving - I'm probably getting old. I'm 31, by the way.

Michael: How would you characterize your experience with Massive games? Do you consider yourself more casual or 'hardcore'? Ever done any raiding?

Hemlock: In a word, 'nomadic'. I'm a hard-core gamer with respect to the genre, but terribly casual with any specific title. I suspect it's just because I've played so many of them now that none of them can quite monopolise my attention span. I don't think I have ADHD as such - it's just I tend to get to a point in an MMO where I can tick a mental box - 'understand how *that* works' - and then get restless and want to poke about new things. It's much better in these post-WoW days, where the levelling is just about fast enough to keep up with my attention span, but it used to be awful around 2000, when broken-glass grinding was the norm, and I'd end up very frustrated in most games, having to redo the same types of experience over and over, before being allowed to see new ones. As you can imagine, I'm an *extremely* 'Explorer' Bartle Test type. I also tend to solo far more than is reasonable or normal in a massively *multiplayer* game, and am still try to work out why.

Michael: How many MMOGs have you played? What was your first game?

Hemlock: Whoosh...around twenty, I think. Pretty much every western MMO there's ever been, with a few notable exceptions; City of Heroes and Dark Age of Camelot are two I feel I ought to have tried, but never quite got round to. Horizons, Auto Assault and Dungeons and Dragons Online, less so. My first MMO was actually the barely heard of Cyro/Vibes Mankind - mostly a kind of massive space based RTS. Very bewildering and very broken, which I think gave me a prophetic and accurate first impression of the genre as a whole. The first one I'd seriously count though, is EverQuest. After a few weeks on a regular server, I got it into my head that full-on, no-rules open PvP server would be somehow honourable, interesting and a suitable challenge for my gaming talents. The next two years scarred me and made me a lot more of a cynical, bitter gamer than I was, and I'm glad Rallos Zek has been server-merged out of existence, frankly. I tend to avoid PvP nowadays - not worth the stress. Mind you - I do love Planetside. It's probably more about the consequences of PvP, rather than the act itself, for me.

Michael: City of Heroes is one of those games that a lot of MMOG nerds have notched in their belt as a matter of course. Was there anything in specific that kept you away, or was it just an accident of timing? What's kept you from checking it out recently?

Hemlock: I think it's just me, rather than CoH/V. Heard a lot of good things about it; light-hearted and casual fun in spandex and all. I just never went through a Comic Book phase when growing up, so the whole Superhero thing mostly passed me by. I was probably obsessing about another game at the time, and now, it's finding the time. I probably will have a look some day though - just need to get bored and storm out of one of my curent games first! Must admit though, I hated Freedom Force, so that might have put me off a bit.

Michael: What would you consider your favorite game? Your least favorite?

Hemlock: Difficult. My impressions of games vary a lot depending how near or close I am to them at the time - very flambouyant love-hate cycles for most of them, I'd say. I think for me, a favourite game is one that I'll keep returning to over and over; I'm going to quit them all, sooner or later, but some I never come back to again, apart from the odd week here and there to see how it's doing. You probably want names really, don't you? At this very moment, I'm liking Guild Wars: Nightfall the most, I think, although it infuriates me in almost equal measure with it's hectic nature and somewhat unpredictable combat. In general though, I'm increasingly drawn to MMOs that do things a bit differently - Planetside, EVE Online, Guild Wars, etc. Stuff that isn't EQ/AO/WoW/EQ2, although I still usually have at least one Level Quest on the go too.

Least favourite is easier - played a lot of train-wrecks in my time. Shadowbane deserves a mention, although probably not for the usual reasons - ultra harsh PvP brutality, etc. It just seemed too empty. And didn't perform very well on my PC, despite it's obviously apparent age. Neocron 2 for the sheer unpleasantness of it's playerbase - very offputting, which is a shame... the world itself was very interesting. Call me superficial, but I never did get my head around the 2D sprites of Ultima Online either. The very worst online game I've ever played though, is Mimesis Online, a game I've never seen mentioned anywhere else. It's possible I dreamed it, but I'm far too traumatised to go into details here. I'd have trouble pointing at a recent title though - a lot of current titles are bland, certainly, but rarely awful.

Michael: To follow up with that, do you have a favorite memory from a Massive game? I like to call it 'something you'll tell your grandkids about.' Anything like that?

Hemlock: Probably the Star Wars: Galaxies town I had a part in building on a fresh server. I think there's Ranterbury Tale about it somewhere in my archives, but basically, a whole series of unlikely coincidences caused some kind of gaming 'alignment', and for a few months a whole group of us managed to create a real and geniune 'community' like I'd not sen anywhere else in my travels. It wasn't guilds or cliques, just a whole load of individual players spontaneously pulling together to make the game work pretty much as it must have been designed by some starry-eyed SOE/Lucasarts dev. All very utopian, and good while it lasted. I'm generally quite distrustful of the whole 'Guild' structure, especially in games where raid loot is better than soloable stuff - guilds become more like temping agencies than anything else - short term contracts, in exchange for a particular kind of payment, so it was nice to see that there can be another way.

Michael: Conversely, do you have a bad memory that's tainted your experiences with Massive games in general?

Hemlock: Well, I don't mind crazy pickup group antics so much - you get to the point where it just becomes funny in spite of the wipes, smacktalk, etc. My Ranterbury Tales feature thing is pretty much typical of my attitude toward it all these days - no such thing as a Bad Group, only Good Comedy Material! In terms of darker and more damaging experiences, I'd have to go with my years on Rallos Zek. I know 'Emo' isn't very fashionable these days, but I really do think spending so much of my spare time in such a viciously paranoia-riddled and spiteful environment damaged me, over the longer term, and could be one of the reasons I'm so inclined to solo so much. As a result of it all, I'm quite distrustful of others online, even in worlds where it's physically impossible for them to attack me, and worse still, some of it leaked out into my perceptions of Real Life. When you start to see what human beings could be like if there were no laws or police or repercussions, it makes you start to believe that the only reason people don't gank each other 'RL', is that they aren't sure enough in their ability to get away with it. Vastly out of proportion I know, and I expect much of my problems with Rallos were just me taking it all *far* too seriously. I think I'm mostly cured nowadays though!

Michael: What is it about Massive games that appeals to you? What makes you keep playing these great big beautiful games?

Hemlock: Good question. I sometimes think my entire blog has just been me groping at some kind of answer to this myself. I'm not terribly social, solo by default and generally expect the worst from group or guild work. I guess it's the 'Alone Together' thing the brain-folk at Terra Nova talk about now and then. Even though I'm unlikely to interact with very many of the other players, just seeing the zone-chat and knowing that 3000 or so other people are in there too gives it a vital pulse, I think. Also, having a game it's unlikely I'll complete, no matter how obsessively I play, is good too. I have a lot of singleplayer games I've loved to bits for the 20 hours of gameplay they offered, and then never touched again, having 'won' them. Doesn't happen so much in MMOs, I find.

Michael: What made you start a blog in the first place? How did you decide on a name?

Hemlock:Mostly imitation and seeing other MMO bloggers at it. Back then I was much more angry about MMO shortcomings and seeing stuff like Lum the Mad was great; "We don't have to just sit there and take this stuff? Power to the people!" Kill Ten Rats and Tobold were big influences too, I think. After a little while I settled down a bit and just start treating it as a kind of online diary, mostly for my own benefit, that other MMO gamers might find interesting or helpful, rather than a one-man crusade to get my classes buffed and everything else nerfed.

The name was thought up in a hurry after my previous, and not nearly as successful general blog had to be 'dissapearred' after I somewhat naievely said some rather foolish things about my RL employer. I kept the job, just about, but any further blogging would have to be purely game related, and under a new, secret name. All just as well really. I always think a good blog has a focus that it should keep to, other than the blogger him or herself, otherwise you run the risk of being a bit self-indulgent. I picked MMOs, something I spend an awful lot of time either playing, or thinking about anyway.

I'd just been watching the Hugh Jackman action romp 'Van Helsing' at the time, and the whole generic monster hunting thing seemed to fit, although I gave up on the silly 'in character' bits very early on. I am not, not have ever been, Dutch!

Michael: What keeps you going, writing on the site?

Hemlock:Boredom at work, mostly. No, partly it's because I just need to write something about it all, even if it is just for my own amusement; I'm so self-absorbed that sometimes I go back through my older posts and read through them - they make me chuckle at least, so part of their purpose is served. Also it's nice to be a bit of an expert in *something* and I don't really have any other field of more worthwhile or meaningful expertise, so if I do have to write something, it's important I write about something I know. Self justification of sorts, perhaps? Plus I do particularly like being a 'cross-game' blogger, talking about all sorts of MMOs from post to post - with any luck, someone who came to me looking for World of Warcraft tips or whatever, might go away and try something they wouldn't have otherwise thought of, like Planetside or Second Life. I like the sponaeity of it all too...I often won't have a clue what to write about until I've sat down and gone through my RSS thingey. There's always something a bit bizzare or odd going on in the MMO-O-Sphere though!

Michael: I definitely share your wanderlust in Massive games, and I've always wondered what it was about the genre that inspires that kind of attitude. What is it about understanding a game that makes us need to move on, do you think? Conversely, for games like Planetside (which you've talked about a bit recently), what keeps you grounded for a time?

Hemlock:I think it's about the variety of it all for me. Different *kinds* of experiences, within the various games. Seeing and trying new and unexpected things. Certainly there might be a difference in specific choreography for different end-game raid bosses and what have you, but I sort of consider the whole end-game finished, once I've been on enough particular raids for the novelty of raiding itself to wear off. Same with crafting, or exploring. You make enough 'Mediocre Swords' and you pretty much know how making 'Outstanding Swords' will be. Planetside is a bit of an odd one though - the overall gameplay is very samey over the long term, but no two base captures ever go quite the same way - each situation is slightly different. Human opponents do keep things interesting - I just wish I could get over my fear of material loss enough to enjoy PvP in other games. Plus the war stories are fun - you don't tend to come away from the average goblin bashing session with quite that level of annecdote.

Michael: Your EVE CCG posts are highly entertaining. What other non-computer based games do you enjoy? Any previous experiences with CCGs, board games, pen and paper games?

Hemlock:Well, I'm passing familiar with Magic: The Gathering, although generally only play with the cards of others. The whole marketing model for collectible card games is a bit sinister for my liking, and it's a bit of an exercise in self-discipline not to go out and spend hundreds of pounds on booster pack trade displays, just to find that one crucial rare card. I've dabbled a bit in the various Games Workshop tabletop wargames too (very excited to see Warhammer 40K MMO annouced!), and of course, various incarntations of D&D, AD&D, ADHD&D, etc. Still, looking back at those 1980s rulebooks from today, it seems obvious that they were just MMOs, that the computers hadn't been invented for yet. I've dabbled in a lot, but keep coming back to the PC - nothing else quite has that draw for me.

Michael: Is there anything that you'd like to say to your site's readers? Anything you'd like them to know in specific?

Hemlock: Yes, please be more specific when entering keywords into Google, otherwise you'll just keep ending up at some bizzarre online gaming blog written by a wannbe hack who thinks having a large vocabulary is the same thing as being intellectual! Also - I haven't played Project Entropia in years, and was only there for a week even then - please find your own websites to hang out at!

Chaucer and Inexpensive Seating

Pulling a page from the works of great English literature, Van Hemlock's most well-known series of articles is the Ranterbury Tales. Each consists of a flashback to a specific gaming moment in Hemlock's 'Traveling Matt' life, and is a great place to get a feel for his writing style. He mentioned The Pioneer's Tale above, the story of his time homesteading in Star Wars Galaxies. Additional posts guaranteed to entertain are The Babysitter's Tale (the first), The Fellowship's Tale (in which Hemlock reminds himself why he solos), and The Banqueter's Tale (my current favorite).

"From the little raid window, I could tell that we had only three healers between us all, only two fighters, one scout (me), and six mage types, ranging from the Ever Cool Warlock, through to some of the more obscure practitioners of arcane arts, conjurers, illusionists, wizards, you name it, they were there. Was like Vegas, really...I'm sure I even saw Penn and Teller at the back somewhere, but it all got a bit confusing to be honest. That's DPS covered then, I thought, and not for the first time, wished I was a priest of some sort."

The Cheap Seats, another Hemlock post series, makes an effort to provide high-level observations of low-level gameplay. Specifically, it's a collection of 14-day trial impressions of a number of games. It's also one of the regular series he's updated the least, and is definitely something I hope is returned to in the future. In the meantime, you can check out his rationale for the project, as well as his impressions of Ryzom, Puzzle Pirates, and Shadowbane.

"My real main problem with the game though, is that your little half-vampire, or demon-kin, or whatever, is born into the world, and beyond being given the somewhat lofty and abstract goal of ‘Crush Your Enemies’, ‘Claim A Throne’ and ‘Rule The World’, is basically left to it. For the raw newbie, this is a bit too far on the ‘open ended gameplay’ scale, and you have to entertain yourself. I could find no quests, missions, discernable NPC factions or back-story, and only the vaguest hints about what life was like on The Mainland, and how, and who, I could help. There was no tutorial, no greeter, nothing; not even the customary explanatory note in my inventory – “Hail, Soandso! Orcs killed your parents! Go talk to Quest_NPC_1 who can help you start a new life!”…that sort of thing."

Firsthand Accounts of Monster-Slaying (Virtually)

The bulk of Hemlock's other posts concentrate on his day-to-day activities in whatever title he happens to be playing at the moment. While there are certainly posts about World of Warcraft and EVE Online if you're inclined towards those games, at the moment he's concentrating on Planetside and Guild Wars. I've particularly enjoyed Hemlock's discussion of his regular group in Guild Wars, the 'Tuesday Noob Club'.

"Last night saw us help a man find his lost wedding ring, stolen by harpies. We provided armed security for a delicate mining operation in a quarry. We helped 'control' the population of the above harpies -mostly by going on a bit of a rampage in their breeding grounds - the mothers were not happy, but then I've never met a good-humoured harpy in any game! We helped a chef put together a banquet, made mostly out of various types of monster gunk - rather him than me. All while pushing forward into new and unknown lands, on our way to deal with the next step of the Primary Quest, which at the moment seems to be focussed on containing a sudden outbreak of undead. Grrr...pesky undead! One life is never enough, is it? Ohhhhhh noooooo."

[Michael Zenke is also known as 'Zonk', the current editor of Slashdot Games. He has had the pleasure of writing occasional pieces for sites like Gamasutra and The Escapist. You can read more of Michael's ramblings on Massive games at the MMOG Nation blog. ]

Woah, It's Totally Kenka Banchou 2!

-Now, we have people like Geek on Stun to remind us of the true greatness of Spike's school gang supremacy PS2 title Kenka Banchou: "We fell in love with this game the second we saw eye-beams being exchanged between our pompadoured hero and some sorry punk who can't handle a little intimidation."

Well, good news for tall haircut fans! NCSX's blog points out that Kenka Banchou 2: Full Throttle for PlayStation 2 is now out in Japan, after some surprising semi-success for the first title: "Spike went on to sell 157,000 copies of the game without much of an advertising budget or any name recognition."

Anyhow: "Fast forward two years and Yasuo's still around but no longer the hero. A young buck named Tomoya has entered the world and must earn his own badge of yankii honor. By using the mighty menchi beam to initiate encounters and fists to beat down packs of ruffians, the new protagonist slowly gains street cred, repute, and the adoration of lowly gangsters throughout the hood." Lots more info on the NCSX page - dammit, someone pick this up for the West already.

Vivendi, Warren Spector, and Game Developer

- So, since this has been floating around for a bit, I thought it was time to clarify, politely. Gamesindustry.biz ran an interview excerpt with Warren Spector today in which he reveals he has not signed a deal with Vivendi, as previously reported.

In fact, with regard to a Vivendi/Junction Point deal, Spector told GI: "If you want a scoop, that actually is not true. I'm not exactly sure where that came from. So you're the first person to hear that." Which is now true, apparently, but GI's Patrick Garratt also took a jab at the online sites (including ComputerAndVideoGames.com) who originally reported the Vivendi signing story, referencing a Game Developer magazine feature which had Spector saying: "Luckily Vivendi seems to get it."

Garratt comments: "Many sites ostensibly grabbed the wrong end of the stick, and proclaimed a Junction Point game to be signed to Vivendi." Well, to be fair to them, I'm presuming that Garratt has not seen the February 2007 issue of Game Developer, which specifically says: "On the occasion of Junction Point's new creative deal with Vivendi Games, Game Developer spoke to Spector about his new studio, his stance on MMOs... writing in games, and dynamic storytelling."

In other words, Vivendi and Spector came to us, and we did an interview with them for the February issue of the magazine, which was meant to be timed around the announcement of the deal. And we were waiting for the embargo to lift so we can run the announcement and the interview online and, well... nothing happened. Then several sites picked up the announcement from the magazine, but there's still been no confirmation.

So, I guess my point is - I suppose the deal could still happen. If Spector is denying it, then maybe it won't. But this is the first time in my editorship of the magazine that someone has given us a story which turns out not to be true - so I was hoping that Warren would say: "Actually, that information came out a little prematurely, and it turns out the deal has not been concluded", rather than, say: "I'm not exactly sure where that came from."

Anyhow, the full and extremely interesting Warren Spector +interview (minus the Vivendi references) is available on Gamasutra now. So not all is lost. But still, guys - please sign deals before doing the press on them?

March 12, 2007

COLUMN: 'Beyond Tetris' - The Tower of Hanoi

["Beyond Tetris" is a column from Tony "Tablesaw" Delgado about puzzle games that transcend mere abstract action and instead plunge deep into the heart of problem-solving. This installment looks at an old and widely reviled videogame cliché: the Tower of Hanoi.]

An animation displaying the solution of three-disk Tower of Hanoi, created by Andre Karwath and distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.5 License

I think it's safe to assume that anyone reading this blog has played a fair share of videogames. It is therefore safe to assume that you have seen the Tower of Hanoi at least once. And I'd also wager good money that you're sick of it. Frankly, I'm sick of it. I play too many puzzle and adventure games to have to deal with hoary mechanical exercises like this. But it does have an interesting history, which may give you some perspective on how it came to be such a cliché.

The End of the World as We Know It

In 1882, a mechanical puzzle appeared in Paris called "La Tour D'Hanoï," or "The Tower of Hanoi." It had three pegs, eight disks, and an instruction booklet telling of the game's history in China, Japan and Tonkin (northern Vietnam), where the disks were porcelain instead of wood. (An English translation by Paul K. Stockmeyer is available.) It also included the legend of "Indian Brahmins" who played the game with sixty-four disks of gold, in the belief that when the tower is completely moved, the universe will end.

The cover of the original Tower of Hanoi, scanned by James Dalgety of the Puzzle Museum
All of this was a lie, or at the very leastmisleading advertising. The credited inventor "Professor N. Claus (De Siam)" was merely a pseudonym for "E. Lucas (D'Amiens)," the mathemetician Édouard Lucas. Previously, he had developed a method that could be used to verify if Mersenne numbers were prime, and in 1876, he verified that 2127-1 was prime. (This number would be the largest known prime until 1951 and the age of computers). In 1880, he published the solution to the Baguenaudier or Chinese Rings puzzle. Both of these achievements will be important.

The Tower of Hanoi was a relatively popular mathematical curiosity; it was reproduced many times under different names (as can be seen in this collection at James Dalgety's Puzzle Museum). It also appeared outside of a physical form. Sam Loyd discussed the Tower in his Cyclopedia of Puzzles in 1914. It was mentioned in Martin Gardner's Scientific American column in 1957, and in Eric Frank Russell's science-fiction story "Now Inhale" in 1959. But these textual appearances weren't related to actually carrying out the mechanics of the puzzle, instead, they focused on the surprising math behind the device.

Gray Areas

The original French instruction booklet aims at giving players a look at how exponents work, specifically powers of two. The Tower of Hanoi is a very compact device, even as the number of disks increases. But the number of moves required for each grows massive quickly. In fact, the sixty-four–disk tower described in the "legend" is revealed to require 18,446,744,073,709,551,615 moves, which would take, as noted by Lucas, more than five billion centuries. To help explain why, Lucas includes a chart of the minimum moves required for different disks: for 2 disks, it would take 3 moves; for 3 disks, 7 moves; for 4 disks, 15 moves; all the way up to 8 disks requiring 255 moves.

To the modern computer-savvy individual, that last pair should look familiar; in the age of bits and bytes, binary numbers are much more commonly recognizable. And in fact, the minimum number of moves for the Tower of Hanoi with n disks is 2n-1, which is also the maximum decimal value of an n-digit binary number. So, the Tower of Hanoi replicates the Mersenne numbers that Lucas had been studying. Understanding the link between the mechanical movements of the Tower and the powers of two was the main point of the exercise; and the process of mechanically moving the disks (which includes moving the disks in more or less the same order, doubling the amount of work for every added level) gave solvers a way to see how the process worked.

A three-bit Gray code shown in rotary form; these rotaries have many practical applications including satellites
Specifically, the Tower of Hanoi models a reflected binary code, also known as a Gray Code. In a Gray code, only one binary digit is changed from one number to the next. Moreover, if you look at a list of Gray code numbers (like the ones on the Wikipedia page), you'll see that all of the digits in the first are reflected in the second half of the list. (Imagine folding the list over in half, and the ones and zeroes will match up.) Because of the way the Tower of Hanoi requires duplicating your work, the reflective nature of the Gray code is a map to solving. Look again at the solution for a four-disk Tower at Mathworld, and compare it to the four-bit Gray code at Wikipedia. The number in the solution is the same as the position of the digit that changes in the Gray code.

Gray codes are used in many scientific fields, but they're also the basis for several puzzles, including Spin Out and The Brain Puzzler. It's also the basis of the Baguenaudier puzzle that Lucas had solved a few years before. But as Jaap Scherphuis notes, the puzzles are all very simple. "In any position there are at most two possible moves, the equivalent of going up or down the list of Gray code numbers. If you never take back a move, you will always go on until you reach the end/beginning of the list."

After all of this, we've discovered that the mathematical interest behind the Tower of Hanoi make it unpleasant to actually complete; the only "interesting" move is the first one. So how come it's everywhere?

Death by Computer

In addition to the mathematical intricacies noted above, the solving of the Tower of Hanoi has some interesting things to say about an important aspect of computer programming: recursion. So the Tower of Hanoi went from being a mathematical curiosity to a programming exercise. Miroslav Kolar has a page that deals extensively with solving algorithms for the Tower of Hanoi, and Amit Singh has a simliar, but less serious collection. Jack Beidler, a CS professor at the University of Scranton, has a page showing how the recursive algorithm works in simpler terms. This explains how the mathematical curiosity was introduced to the new computer programmers, and why, to this day, there remain far too many small stand-alone programs that replicate the puzzle.

The Tower of Bozbar from Zork Zero; screenshot taken from Mobygames.I don't know precisely when the Tower made the jump from computing class assignment to videogame, but the most notable implementation was in Zork Zero: The Revenge of Megaboz in 1988. In the '90s, it appeared in the kid-oriented educational puzzlers The Island of Doctor Brain and The Secret Island of Dr. Quandry. It also appeared in the adventure game The Legend of Kyrandia: Hand of Fate and in the role-playing game Ultima VIII: Pagan. Things started getting weirder when it showed up in the god game Black and White. And I don't even want to count the number of second-rate text and graphic adventure games where it shows up (and I did consider trying). Of course, before all of these, a Tower solver was written for the word-processing game program Emacs.

One of the most egregious examples was in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic where a four disk Tower was made needlessly tiresome by a difficult-to-understand menu and penalties id you accidentally put a large disk on top of a smaller one. It inspired Peterb to write at Tea Leaves that the Tower of Hanoi was the "lava level" of puzzles:

If Towers of Hanoi is in your game, you should just eliminate it and instead put a big sign in your environment that reads "I am completely out of ideas." Word to the wise: if Emacs ships with a module that solves the puzzle you're putting in your game, that's a good sign that the puzzle isn't actually any fun. So am I saying that it's never legitimate to include a classic oldie like Towers of Hanoi in your game? Well, yes. I am.
And I must agree. As I said in my introduction, I'm pretty sure that you've solved the Tower of Hanoi at some point in your gaming life. But I also imagine that most of the stuff in this article—the mathemetical surprises that make the Tower interesting—are new to you. Because unlike Lucas's original puzzle, the videogame implementations don't encourage you to learn anything; they're just gruntwork to click through. Hopefully, now, the next time you see the it hamfistedly hacked into a videogame, you won't hate the Tower of Hanoi, you'll merely hate the game designer who didn't understand why it isn't fun to play.

[Tony Delgado is a member of the National Puzzlers' League, and a solver and creater of puzzles of all sorts. He also works as the copy chief of The Gamer's Quarter, which just published its eighth issue.]

Mega64 Meets Their Maker, Kinda

- Currently spreading all over the Internet in quite short order, Internet video japesters Mega64 have posted their special Game Developers Conference-shot Super Mario Bros. skit, in which they jump around the Moscone Center in SF and meet... somebody special!

This skit was produced while Mega64 was at GDC last week, and appeared in the Game Developers Choice Awards, to some serious guffawing - if you look closer in that video, you'll also see clips from their Super Mario Bros 3, A Boy And His Blob (!) and Feel The Magic videos (iloveyouiloveyouiloveyouiloveyouiloveyou.)

I also got a chance to see Mega64's Rocco at the IGF Pavilion at some point last week, and I think I embarrassed him slightly by praising him in borderline fanboy fashion. Nonetheless, as can be seen from previous GSW entries going slightly nana over the unique blend of Jackass-ery and dumb fun, those guys rule. [Also, NeoGAF is making animated GIFs, which is a surefine sign that it's a hit.]

Way Of The Rodent Quizzes Owen Rubin

- My preternaturally sensitive RSS reader has discerned that there's a new Way Of The Rodent issue up, and the sometimes unfairly ignored, very British webmag has an excellent chat with Owen Rubin front and center of the issue.

Why have you heard of Owen Rubin, then? He explains of the classic titles he made for Nolan Bushnell at Atari: "There is a long list. Some made it, some did not. Ones you may have heard of include Major Havoc, Space Duel, Triple Hunt and Sky Diver. Oh and I wrote the routine for the volcano in Battlezone!"

Internal politics are also dealt with: "The biggest problem with Atari was their management. Keep in mind that Atari was a bunch of 20 something young engineers, some becoming managers with no training at all. It was full of college friends hiring friends who had these little cliques, and seldom did any of them know how to really manage, or care. Plus Atari offered no training, and had no role models really. I would not play the politics, so I was never given a higher management position even after 9 years, one of the reasons I left. Man, the stories I could tell about bad management at Atari." Interesting.

An Introduction To Doujin Shmups

- Not content with winning the IGF Grand Prize, Aquaria's Derek Yu has edited a spectacularly good Postman-written guide to Japanese 'doujin' shooters over at TIGSource - and it's really good to see a comprehensive English-language genre intro to the beautiful subgenre.

There's a neat 'multiple rungs of ladder' analogy to show the five sets of doujin shooter quality bars, with the top two being described as follows: "These titles come from developers that are small enough to still be considered doujin, but with larger teams and more resources then the weekend coder who just whipped up a shooter in a few months. Many of these titles have a high enough production value to be distributed at events such as Comiket, a haven for doujin shmup fans."

The top run? "After playing one of these babies, you are either instantly hooked on the genre or so sickened by the insane bullet patterns that you will never play another danmaku game again. Steel Saviour has some incredible visuals, and it's hard to believe that games from Shanghai Alice (Embodiment of Scarlet Devil, Imperishible Night) are mainly the work of one person (the aforementioned Zun). And Kamui, from Siter Skain, still stands as one of my favorite doujin shmups of all time." Awesome guide.

GameSetLinks: Tekken vs. Daft Punk vs. DS Guitar

- Right at the end of GDC week, there are quite a few random, semi-random, and entirely random Web posts, both about Game Developers Conference and not, that have occurred over the course of these 7 days. So here they are:

- There's nothing like a little rivalry, and over at 1UP, James Mielke compares Tekken and Virtua Fighter in a very much Vs. style, raging: "Where Virtua Fighter has gone, Tekken has always followed (and occasionally surpassed). In this feature we're going to break down each series in a number of critical categories and evaluate who comes out on top, determine who exactly is the winner, declare who is the champion of them all." You do that!

- I never ran into Gus Mastrapa at GDC (hi Gus!), but he made a cute post on the music used before/during the GDC keynotes, noting that Daft Punk "...was played at both of the convention's major keynotes. Just prior to Phil Harrison's talk Sony staged some emergent gameplay -- a soccer match played with inflatable soccer balls. The song "Around the World" looped as the audience batted the huge balls toward their respective goals. Before Shigeru Miyamoto's keynote today Nintendo looped a handful of Daft Punk songs from Discovery." Also: "In semi-related keynote music news, the creators of Little Big Planet played a good part of the Go! Team's debut record Thunder, Lightning, Strike during their presentation."

- Some good ol' eBay randomness - I was looking for a new watch this weekend, and ran into a big auction of Beatmania-branded watches, all sealed. Apparently, "They Vibrate, they have an alarm, and they blink!", though I'm still trying to work out whether they're ugly or G-Shock-ish gimmicky fun from the grainy picture. Anyhow, for $10 including shipping, even with needing new batteries, y'know, it's worth a quizzical look.

- N'Gai Croal ended up posting a couple of non-GDC-specific exclusives into his blog this week, and he revealed that Ubisoft is publishing Jam Sessions for the DS, a conversion of the previously GSW-mentioned and extremely clever DS guitar sim 'M-06', in the West this June. Yay. He also added a fascinating chat with Jam Sessions designer Seth Delackner - turns out he's a Westerner working at Tokyo game developer Plato and has plenty of intriguing things to say.

- A couple of other fragmented things of note from GDC. Firstly, game designer David Sirlin has some really thoughtful write-ups of Wed/Thu/Fri's events (from his perspective) on his weblog. Secondly, Dan Tabar of Data Realms has a whole bunch of GDC photos up, with quite a bit of sightseeing, but notable because it has the first pics I've seen of Virt playing out at the IGF party. Rawk.

- Finally, Gillen points out the awesome cover to a Swedish game magazine, commenting: "Oskar Skog drops me a mail, showing the cover art for the second issue of +N, which he’s the editor of... I share, and am slightly nostalgic for the days when magazines all actually commissioned unique works of art for their covers. This one’s the handywork of one Kamekichi." I approve.

March 11, 2007

Why Consoles Aren't Getting iTunes-y Enough

- Something that got posted during GDC week and roundly not linked was Chris Kohler's Wired News article, 'An ITunes for Games? Not Yet', which makes some good points on the whole digidist issue for consoles.

Here's the basic gist: "In reality, and quite ironically, the number of full-blown, disc-based games on retail shelves dwarfs the online offerings for two of the consoles. Microsoft's Xbox 360 has amassed a library of more than 160 game discs since its November 2005 launch, but only 45 downloadable titles are on the Xbox Live Arcade service. On the PlayStation 3, there are 21 games on Blu-ray disc, but only eight in Sony's online store... Only on Nintendo's Wii does the downloadable catalog outnumber the retail one: 56 to 35. The company's secret: recycling."

Interestingly, he gets a stat for Xbox Live Arcade development budgets from Microsoft's Chris Early - $250,000 and $450,000. In addition Nintendo's George Harrison "...also floated the intriguing possibility that Nintendo might start releasing classic Japanese games that never made it to the United States." Kohler's overall thesis is that not doing straight re-releases of classic titles is a big wasted opportunity for everyone. And I think I agree, as long as the straight emulated versions can be segregated and priced sensibly.

A Yank In Carol Vorderman's Sudoku Court

- Over at Game Of The Blog, the radiant Joel Reed Parker has been exploring Carol Vorderman's Sudoku, a game you may recall that I previously commented was weird since "...nobody actually knows who she is in the States."

Parker does a good job at poking at a maze of attributions: "Secret Stash Games, the only company listed on the US cover, is almost a complete mystery... The [main] notable mention is in a review of Chili Con Carnage on a 1up journal... From looking at the WHOIS info for www.secretstashgames.com(currently not being used!) the registrar is Eidos so I'm guessing that it must me some sort of imprint company." That sounds correct - and it's a bit like Fresh Games, if people remember that.

GOTB has a follow-up post named, somewhat helpfully, 'The First Hour Of Carol Vorderman's Sudoku', and he notes: "I haven't played that much sudoku beyond the easy level puzzles so the 30 minutes of video tutorials describing various techniques at each difficulty level were fairly insightful. Unfortunately they didn't letterbox them for a 4:3 ratio from the original PSP versions and they are vertically stretched." Still, it's... sudoku!

Game Covers Women Want To See

- Another neat leftover from before GDC - over at Guilded Lilies, blogger L Laughy has a post called 'Game Covers Women Want To See', and which makes some pretty good points.

In particular, she comments: "I would like to discuss two covers from RPGs for the PC that have good inclusive box art. Below are images from Dungeon Siege and the DS Legends of Aranna expansion pack. Both covers are pretty much the same, but it was the first Dungeon Siege box that got me interested in playing the game and had me looking forward to the later expansion of the game."

Why so? "This cover art works for me primarily because it shows a female character that isn't objectified, but instead looks capable and ready to get things accomplished in the game world. The expression on her face is confident and self-assured, with a dash of sass in her wry smile." Anyone else want to reference surprisingly universal game covers? I'm actually quite impressed by this one, given the subject matter.

IGF 2007 Coverage, All Over The Place

- Seeing as I'm Chairman of the IGF, I thought I'd troll around and find what other coverage of last week's events at Game Developers Conference were hanging out on the web. And there's some pretty fun stuff actually, as follows (oh, and pic is from Vince's excellent collection, once again):

- Over at the San Jose Mercury News, the serene Dean Takahashi has a nice story on Everyday Shooter's Jon Mak, with a nice wry take on Mak's sharp attitude: "Mak won three awards tonight. He learned about computers by repairing them in his father’s shop while growing up. Now all of his work is paying off with “Everyday Shooter,” a music-based shooter game that his agent — yes, agent, Warren Currell of Sherpa Games — says is a combo of Rez-meets-Lumines-meets-Geometry Wars."

- Heather Chaplin has filed a report for NPR's All Things Considered discussing the IGF and Independent Games Summit, with the intro explaining: "The independent game developers tackle subjects you'd expect to find in serious cinema: a marriage in crisis, democracy, a rabbi questioning his faith. Commentator Heather Chaplin is at the conference, and she says that the development of an independent games movement is a sign that the industry might be growing up." I think the humanistic angle is a good one to take for NPR, though I will say that the IGF finalists are not, honestly, filled with social messages.

- I thought this was heartening: IGN did a nice write-up of the IGF winners, complete with some extra commentary on each game, such as Samorost 2: "every bit as visually stunning as its predecessor, and just as minimalist in its design and mouse-based control." The piece concludes: "A quick glance at a few of the above titles (which were selected from 275 entries overall) shows just how vital the indie gaming scene is right now."

- And Maw This! has a nice write-up of Day 1 of the IGS, including personal insights into Jeff Minter's reality distortion field: "All this really built up nicely to what Jeff felt games could do well, they could put players into “the zone”. His preference for abstract games stemmed from this goal - it doesn’t matter what things in the game represent, because you can have goals and achieve things (like getting points) without needing to be in a representive virtual reality. The blocks you shoot could be just blocks, the triangles don’t need to represent doggies or anything." Yes, no doggies!

- Finally, a couple of random other things - Xbox 360 Fanboy (a Joystiq/AOL spinoff joint) has hands-on with Band Of Bugs and with Castle Crashers from the IGF Pavilion, and Spong (of all sites!) has a write-up of some IGS content, though they got confused and thought it was IGDA-related. Also, I now realize that basically all of the UK journalists and basically none of the US journalists at GDC turned up for the Minter keynote - which is kinda cute! I forget sometimes that not all Yanks worship Minter as we Brits do.

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'.)

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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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