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April 7, 2007

When Does Unlockable Equal Evil, In Gaming?

- My esteemed co-worker and Austin GDC content manager Jane Pinckard has been posting quite a bit to her Game Girl Advance blog recently, and in addition to Jane's posts about heels and Guitar Hero II for X360 (yay!) and an interesting post on gender-balanced work environments.

In addition to her posts, GameGirlAdvance co-conspirator Steve Bowler just put up something interesting about unlockable content which I think is well worth discussing.

Bowler notes: "My buddy Jerry over at Penny-Arcade today discusses what I'm sure a lot of folks (myself included) get frustrated about: unlockable content. His concern is a real and valid one, and it's a tough road to hoe as a game developer. On one hand, the consumer deserves the whole product. They paid for it, they should get to play it. But on the other hand, if the player gets all the content up front, in many cases, this makes the game experience dull and unrewarding."

His conclusion? "Really, we play unlockable content every day, in every game. It's the nature of gaming. You can't fight the boss without first making it through the waves of grunts; you can't level up without first acquiring the experience points to do so; you can't just jump to the end of the game without playing the levels in order; you can't play the encore without first rocking the crowd. When unlocking content is done right, we love it, and hardly even notice it. But when it's done wrong...hooo boy. Hell hath no fury like a gamer's scorn." Thoughts?

COLUMN: 'Game Mag Weaseling': Mag Roundup 4/7/07

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


We all want something that we just can't have. Me, I want to have more time and money to source old magazines I need to complete my assorted collection runs. Does anyone have the November 1990 or April 1995 issues of AmigaWorld, for example?

Regardless, click forward for coverage of all the fine magazine that hit US shelves in the past two weeks. Everyone's abuzz about Game Informer's GTA4 cover, but it won't actually reach readers for just a little bit longer, so hang tight.

Electronic Gaming Monthly May 2007 (Podcast)


Cover: The Future of Videogames

As Dan Hsu puts it in his editorial (that part of the editorial where he isn't discussing how much Nintendo hates EGM, that is), this is the first "themed" issue of EGM ever. The theme: the future of video games, which covers almost half the editorial pages and confirms what people like me have been stating for a while: game mags are interesting when they complement the gamer lifestyle, not try to be the sole outlet for everything in the industry.

The theme centers around a 22-page piece in the middle that divides the "future" into six distinct areas -- controllers, online, TV displays, the industry, the gamers, and finally the games themselves -- and has one writer do a large-scale piece on each. The articles aren't just something some freelancers made up, either: Each one is packed with quotes from developers and other industry people, from the usual suspects (Cliffy, Warren Spector) to the more unusual (a gaggle of analysts and professors, along with David Cross and his unique take on the year 2343). One designer gets a crack at designing the future of their chosen genre (Ted Price for platformers, the Virtua Fighter guy for fighting games), and it's all oodles more interesting to read than 22 pages of previews.

Every other section of the mag, including Seanbaby and the retro bit in the back, gets the "future" treatment, too, and by and large I'd call it a success.

This is another Afterthoughts-heavy issue, with pieces on MotorStorm and God of War II. Also worth mentioning: The Forza Motorsport II ad, the first time I've seen a "smell strip" ad in a video-game magazine. It smells great.

GamePro May 2007


Cover: Heavenly Sword

After a pretty neat April issue, GamePro gets a bit back to normal with a very large PS3 preview feature in the middle and the usual rabble of previews and reviews elsewhere. Unique bits this time around include a page on Duke Nukem Forever (really, DNF delay jokes never get old, do they?) and the annual LamePro roundup...except GP cut LamePro down to a half-page advertisement of sorts, as opposed to Game Informer going four-page nutso with its April Fools stuff. (LamePro has an amusing cover redesign, too. You'd appreciate it if you saw it.)

A couple of tiny copy-editing mistakes show up here and there: one page has "April 2007" on the bottom instead of May, and an image of Team Ico's Famitsu help-wanted ad in the news section still has the massive 2ch Japanese watermarking text all over it, which makes it look pretty silly.

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


Cover: Army dude

Crysis, Company of Heroes, and the usual PC genres dominate this preview-heavy issue of GFW, along with an eight-page look at Windows Vista as a game platform. Of more interest to mag-heads: Cindy Yans, one of the people behind the already-fondly-remembered MASSIVE Magazine, contributes a few pieces to this issue, including a review of the new Broken Sword game (jeez, they made another one?) and an MMO column. I hope for more.

PC Gamer May 2007 (Podcast)


Cover: If I had to guess, Guild Wars 2

This is the quintessential PC Gamer US cover right here: enormous logo of a game that's ages away from release, a random swipe at console gamers in the corner, and some kind of inscrutable MMO giveaway (apparently you can win Paris Hilton's dog? I don't know) lining the top. Inside, there's 13 pages on Guild Wars and its sequel, four on Hellgate: London, and two on game physics -- a seemingly favorite topic amongst PCG editors, and I had no idea that the folks behind the PhysX card were still around.

PSM May 2007 (Podcast)


Cover: Devil May Cry 4

15 pages on DMC4 (including a very nice and deep interview with Hiroyuki Kobayashi), six on Turok (whoa), and eight devoted to an interview with Sony's Jack Tretton (fresh off stints in EGM and GamePro) are the main highlights here. Not a whole lot to say otherwise.

Official Xbox Magazine May 2007 (Podcast)


Cover: Project Gotham Racing 4

OXM gets all DUB and Maxim'd out this month, with six pages on PGR4 and a disk with demos of Def Jam: Icon and NBA Street Homecourt. Again, though, it's OXM that shows the most originality out of Future US's mag stable, with six pages on Xbox Live Achievements -- an inside guide to landing the most difficult ones (wave 100 in Robotron 2084? No problem!), and a guide to getting a Gamerscore of 10,000 in 30 hours. All tongue-in-cheek, all very fun to read.

Beckett Massive Online Gamer April/May 2007


Cover: Why, WoW, of course

There's a "pirates vs. ninjas MMORPG" joke on page 4 and I'm a little scared to go any further.

Game Developer April 2007


Cover: Like a deer in the headlights, so go game industry salaries this year (Plus Burger King)

I really, really, really, really wish Simon had given the Burger King games postmortem the full cover (now that would turn heads at bookstores). But GD's annual salary survey is admittedly just a bit more important to the magazine's readership, and if you're in the industry you'll be studying it carefully before your next evaluation (unless you're in QA, in which case you'll just cry over your 3rd bowl of Cup Noodles today).

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

Lars Von Trier's AI Camera Follies Illuminated

- Over at The New Gamer, they have a thoughful post on Lars Von Trier's experimental film projects, and how they might just have some reverberations in the video game world.

One of the focuses is on Von Trier's Automavision, of which it's suggested: "Now... that's really intriguing. Von Trier, in his everlasting quest to remove intentional framing & composition from his films, has taken the cameraman out of the equation all-together. Instead, a camera is placed in front of a scene and then a computer randomly selects the framing and angle for the scene. The entirety of The Boss of It All was shot using this method."

Intriguing - G. Turner continues: "As suggested by Mr. Smith's closing comment "Anybody up for a game of Halo directed by Lars Von Trier?", Automavision hints at a future time where cameras in-game aren't just patterned after object recognition and collision detection, but also take into consideration more artistic merits, such as emotional impact and more 'classical compositional' attributes, as well as being able to mathematically deal with more auteuristic visual narrative elements. To re-use the film director analogy, imagine having the choice between having say, God of War directed by Von Trier (an incongruent and edit-happy, but still somewhat understandable, mess) or say, Spielberg with loads of low-angle pseudo-tatami shots?" Of course, if it makes the game less playable, then we may have a problem...

Lexaloffle's Chocolate Castle, Rofloffle!

- Having rectified some kind of odd RSS issue I had with TIGSource, I caught up with a few days of posts and discovered the release of Lexaloffle's new puzzle game Chocolate Castle beckoning me sweetly from afar.

As Derek Yu rhapsodizes: "Joseph White’s games are always brimming with charm and atmosphere, and Chocolate Castle is no exception! Really, as soon as you see that wonderful Lexaloffle logo, you know you are in good hands. Little details, like the windows in the castle that light up as you complete stages, and the way the chocolate gets munched up and leaves crumbs, make me feel like I’ve been stuffed into the warm belly of a Taun Taun after spending hours on the cold, frozen surface of Hoth."

He continues: "Like Zen Puzzle Garden, one of Joseph’s previous games, the gameplay is simple but the puzzles can be devious. I really love the mouse control… it makes playing a breeze. The object is to click and drag chocolate (and other obstacles) around so that your animals can eat them without leaving any chocolate left. Chocolate of the same type sticks together, making your task more difficult." Alistair Wallis previously interviewed Joseph White for GSW last year, if you want more info on the man behind the myth.

Channel 10 Takes On Novint's Falcon In Half-Life 2

- We recently ran something on Microsoft's video-heavy On10 service and their GDC appearance, and I spotted that they're still posting neat tech videos from the conf, particularly this one featuring the Novint Falcon.

As the blurb explains of the haptic controller: "The award-winning Novint Falcon is the first controller that makes high-fidelity interactive three dimensional touch possible and practical for consumer computing applications. Being introduced initially as a PC game controller, the Falcon is, in essence, a small robot which lets users feel weight, shape, texture, dimension, dynamics and force effects when playing enabled games."

Blogger/video-er Tina Wood notes: "It's a bit of learning curve for shooting and such but I give you a demo of it while playing through a little known game titled Half Life 2." I've heard of that! Also recently posted - a video of Crytek's CryEngine 2, a look at the GDC XNA Challenge, and, uhh, an interview with Frank Black about his Ghost Recon soundtrack contributions. Odd!

April 6, 2007

GameWorld Opens Up Its Exhibit-y Spanish Secrets

- Videoludica has pointed out first impressions of one of the most wide-ranging game exhibitions ever mounted: "Julian Oliver of selectparks describes the opening of the superb GameWorld exhibition that has just opened at the Centro de Arte y Creación Industrial in Gijón, Spain.

They continue: "Curated by Carl Goodman, GameWorld explores video games as an art form and presents contemporary art related to video games. A must read/see.... Also, the mighty Tale-of-Tales has a virtual exhibition that can be seen here. The Centro de Arte y Creación Industrial in Gijón is the new Guggenheim."

From the selectparks piece: "You'd be right to think Gijon, Spain might seem like an unlikely place to host the largest exhibition on the field of artistic games to date. This didn't stop thousands from attending, many who flew in for the show. The great turnout was of course also due to the fact that Gameworld was just one of four concurrent exhibitions inaugurating the opening of the Laboral, the gigantic new Asturian art center (North of Spain)." Sounds absolutely awesome - more of this, please.

A Gaming Life, In Lovingly Crafted Pictures

- So, there's a new issue of Way Of The Rodent out, where-in the charmingly ramshackle UK online mag wanders through a number of random PS3 launch-related topics. But also in there is 'This Gaming Life', by Mr. Nath - which I like.

In this NGJ-y picture/caption piece, the protagonist wanders through pieces of game hardware and his recollections of what happened when he owned them, from the BBC Micro ("Only 5 at the time, my memories of BBC gaming are more swirling impressions than hard and fast recollections - the suicidal thrill of attacking a Police Station in Elite, the lurid pinks and blues of Citadel and the hypnotic rhythm of Repton's head-bobbing") to the Sega Master System ("After it had mesmerised me in the arcade, in-house R-Type felt like a proud and rare beast held captive, and discovering areas we'd never had the combination of money and skill to reach on the Black Lion cab was like trespassing on hallowed ground.")

We end up with a PlayStation 2, circa 2004 ("£500 came through from University for a prize I'd won on the Masters, and I used it to buy my own PS2, along with copies of Pro Evo 3, Ico and Rez. I hammered PES, playing 6 seasons of Master League, loved the haunting Ico, and was non-plussed by Rez"), and a career that switched from academic to a job on the UK Official PlayStation Magazine back to "a three-year PhD scholarship back in Sheffield" that paid more than the magazine job (ouch, UK journo salaries!), and an affecting story. Keep it up, WoTR.

How Trans Am Got On The Afterburner PSP Soundtrack

- Thanks to Gus Mastrapa of Looky Touchy for pointing out this gem to me - on NeoGAF, it's the story of how mathrock band Trans Am appeared on the Afterburner: Black Falcon PSP soundtrack, and it's somewhat bizarre - but we'll have to reprint the piece in (more or less) full, since it's borderline genius.

The specific post is passed on from developer Planet Moon's Trevor Grimshaw, who explains in hilarious style: "I was at my friend Jens house to watch Deadwood and I started complaining about what a load of crappy bands we had as potential game music. she says. "why don't you ask my boyfriend, he's in a band". I've never met the guy before and assume she's dating some blowhard doorman or bartender in some lame local rock band. like every other San Fransisco mission hipster. but, to be honest, I didn't know what the whole story on this character is so couldn't say for sure..."

Continuing: "She calls him on the phone and says " my friend Trevor is here, yeah, that one, he needs some music for a game he's working on do you want to talk to him? ok. " she hands me the phone. "so Jen says that you are in the music business or in a band or something" i say. "yeah i guess you could say that" he replies. " well, so, were making this video game with some jets in it, and we want some decent rocking tunes that doesn't sound like nu-metal whiny crap. we need a relatively inexpensive band that's good, but not huge so we can afford it, i don't know, someone sort of hip, but that doesn't totally suck, i mean, someone instrumental, like trans am, i guess , have you ever heard of trans am?"

"yeah" he says. Jen is looking at me with this expression on her face like I'm a huge jerk. I continue. " yeah, someone like trans am, but not trans am because nobody knows who the hell they are, i mean, they're cool but they're totally obscure. I like them, but they basically don't exist as far as mainstream music goes." Jen is now glaring at me. " i mean, besides the metaligensia record store clerks at Aquarius records and some math rock sweater nerds, who's heard of them? nobody. " "what is wrong with you!" she yells and tries to grab the phone from me "give me back the phone" "oh, do you know someone in trans am?" i ask him. "um, yeah" he says. " I'm in Trans Am".""

Payoff: "I accused him of lying, or being some session guitarist or something, or of just joining them. Jen was convinced i was just screwing with everyones head and knew it was him all along. but, no, it turns out he really was in Trans Am and is a cool guy. I stuck by my guns however and argued with Jen that, seriously, aside from a few people, no one has ever heard of them. I even made a bet that absolutely no one in my office will know who they were. I walked into work on Monday. "hey guess who we can get to do our soundtrack!" i exclaimed. " Trans Am!" the Project Lead stared blankly at me. "Who's that?"" Awesome, blossom.

Tom Chick Targets Shoot Club, Aims, Fires

- So I was obviously aware of journalist Tom Chick from his QuarterToThree.com blog/industry messageboard, as well as his excellent monthly columns in the sadly defunct Computer Games Magazine, so it's good to see him turn up at The Escapist with a new weekly 'Shoot Club' column.

Even more bizarrely, I went and looked up Tom's Wikipedia profile and found out that Tom is also an actor, and "...his best known TV roles are as Oscar's lover Gil in the US version of The Office and the hard-hitting reporter Gordon in The West Wing." Whuh? Certainly the video game journalist/actor combo is not one I'm particularly used to, but this is extremely cool. (Yes, I'm aware you all knew this already, shhh.)

Anyhow, the first Escapist column is typically smart, sardonic, and a little more about human follies than games - which is great: "Gentlemen, welcome to Shoot Club," Trevor announces. He is overweight and losing his hair, which is too long. There are Doritos in his beard. The godmode ON T-shirt is fraying. It might even stink. But he doesn't care. We're just a bunch of dudes. "The first rule of Shoot Club ..." "... is you don't talk about Shoot Club?" the new guys offers. "Heh." Trevor fixes him with something like a glare. "Actually, you should totally talk about Shoot Club. If people didn't talk about Shoot Club, guys like you wouldn't be here.""

April 5, 2007

2007 IGDA Board Member Battle... Fight!

- Of course I realize that Kaiju Big Battel is a bit more exciting in some ways, but the International Game Developers Association is just starting its 2007 IGDA board elections, so members are now being balloted on their favorite shiny game developers to join people like Epic's Mike Capps and 'game attorney' Tom Buscaglia on the IGDA board.

Some notable applicants this year include Chris Charla, who is one of Death Jr's daddies, actually, "is the director of business development at Foundation 9 Entertainment, working with teams across the company on game pitches and new IPs", and you might remember as a former EIC in the game magazine/website biz, too.

Also of a fairly high profile is Jay Moore, formerly the evangelist at GarageGames, and nowadays "...driving a new consultancy, The Strategery Group (TSG -- pronounced stru-tee-jur-ee), focused on brand and business development for talented game dev studios." We recently interviewed Moore on that subject, actually - and the other IGDA board applicants, including Dustin Clingman, Coray Seifert, and Bob Bates, are all also important community contributors, so good luck to 'em all!

GameSetLinks: The Habitrail To Heaven

- Ah yes - a little Thursday GameSetLinks action here, with a variety of cool, odd, and relatively insane parts of the gaming blogosphere concentenated together into a squelchy little whole, as follows:

- At Game Of The Blog, Joel Parker points out one of the sillier disclaimer screens in the history of video games: "Here's a warning screen that appears when you boot up the classic Habitrail Hamster Ball for the PS2. I don't remember seeing a similar screen preceding 50 Cent: Bulletproof... This game is purely fictional fun and in no way represents the proper treatment of real hamsters. Refer to our Hamster Care Guide on how to look after your hamster." How about those monkeys in balls, too?

- Electronic Arts Los Angeles' Borut Pfeifer has an excellent new developer blog, and one of the first posts deals with his thoughts on David Jaffe's canceled 'Heartland', in which he muses on how the allegedly politically charged game might have shifted perceptions: "The point is to change people’s minds. Have them pick up a shooter by the director of God of War (oooh, pretty explosions!). And be forced into situations where you have to think about political issues today. And maybe change your opinion. Or better yet, act on it. Because even if most people agree with that opinion, what are they willing to stand up and do about it? Imagine a world where a game actually inspired someone to that level of action."

- Just because it gets a little buried in other 1UP stories, I'm pointing at this week's Retro Round-Up: "Let's see: man-shaped foxes, frogs, bunnies, falcons, apes, rats and turtles. And a kid who finds himself cursed to transform into a lizard-man. Yep, Nintendo's after the DeviantArt crowd this week, peering deep into our souls and beckoning us all to get in touch with our inner fursona. All that's missing is a tender moment in which Fox McCloud gazes longingly into Sonic the Hedgehog's eyes -- but I guess that's what fanfic is for. Get writin', kids." Whatever the hell that means. Also, great Retronauts Bonus Stage devoted to Mega Man. You go, guys.

- Tip to the big game blogs - I like it when there's a bit of continuity to your news writers (ie - not 'Post by writer 1', "Post by writer 2', 'Post by writer 6'), because a little personality goes a long way, and different post 'flavors' actually go down yummy. I'm particularly enjoying the Kohler/Arendt double-act over at Game|Life right now, and Susan spotted an extended Viva Pinata commercial which particularly tickled my palate. Wait, why am I commenting on game sites in a way that makes it sound like I'm wine-tasting? Destructoid has an earthy hint of blackberry! Nurse!

- The ever-crazed PlayStation Museum has now got prototype screenshots of Blues Brothers 2000 for the PS1 - though it looks like not much actual gameplay ever got going on PlayStation: "Unfortunately, by the time the license was obtained and development started, the movie was out of the theaters. It would have been 2 years after the movie release by the time the game could be completed. The development team was shifted to focus on other PlayStation titles and Blues Brothers 2000 was dropped. Ultimately Titus decided to proceed with Blues Brothers 2000 on the Nintendo 64 and borrowed many of the ideas from the PSone design."

GameTap Adds Sega Saturn Support, Surely

- Normally we at GSW talk about 'all you can eat' PC service GameTap, but this time I wrote a story on Gamasutra about it, since: "Turner's GameTap subscription PC 'all you can eat' gaming service has now added Sega Saturn games to its service, with the debut of platform game Bug! as a special Easter-timed Easter Egg for its service."

Tip of the hat to the ever-excellent Angled Whiteboards for partly pointing this out, though I had to work out what the 'sekrit search word' was myself: "The game is currently filed as 'Insect?' as a 'secret' feature for gamers to discover within the service, which has 851 games currently available as part of its monthly subscription."

Excerpting the rest of the post, since it's all kinds of relevant: "The range of legacy titles include games for the arcade, Atari 2600, Commodore 64, Sega Dreamcast, Game Gear, Genesis, 32-X, SG-1000 and Master System, as well as the Intellivision, DOS Windows, and Neo Geo. However, the service is probably best known for partnering with developers for GameTap Originals, which include Telltale's Sam & Max episodic gaming series, Cyan Worlds' Myst Online: Uru Live, and the upcoming Galactic Command series from 3000AD's Derek Smart.

As for Bug!'s appearance on the service, the game's description explains that the debut is "...a hidden one-week sneak peek of planetary proportions", and continues: "Stay tuned for the launch of more games for the Sega Saturn later this year." Specific titles to debut from the Saturn on GameTap have not yet been revealed, but all first-party Sega games could be likely candidates for an appearance on the service. Sega-published Dreamcast games currently available for play on GameTap include Chu Chu Rocket, Crazy Taxi and Toy Commander." Neat.

Kochalka Spawned A Monster In The Shape Of A Mii

- Uhoh, word from that crazy guy James Kochalka again: "Everyday, I draw a diary comic strip and post it at AmericanElf.com. Just a little strip about something that I did that day. Today's strip is about using the Nintendo Wii to create little monster creatures."

Hey, so it is! Go to AmericanElf.com if you want more in the way of wacky sketchiness. And go check the Kochalka wayback machine by searching GameSetWatch for the various other game-related stuff he's been up to recently, including my favorite, a picture of Zelda eating Cool Ranch Doritos.

BTW, I'd just like to make a random plea to the artistic community out there - why isn't there one good, single website that sells paintings loosely or wholly based on video games? I know I Am 8-Bit is totally awesome, but you can only buy most of that stuff in a gallery once a year. I know I'd pay money for paintings of Zelda eating Cool Ranch Doritos. And I'm sure all of you agree. There, my Lazyweb request for the day.

Minter Rules Known Universe, Grazes Happily

- At the risk of linking sister site Gamasutra daily for the rest of existence, our friend Mr. Sheffield has an excellent in-depth interview with Jeff Minter posted today, quizzing the Llamasoft star on "the upcoming Space Giraffe for Xbox 360, his work ethic, his involvement with the ill-fated Nuon 'console', and his pet sheep."

One of the funniest things (and I think something I was partly responsible for helping disseminate, alongside Gary Whitta @ QT3), is the naming of Space Giraffe, his upcoming XBLA title: "Well, it just kind of stuck. It all came down to this one forum post, where there was just this one picture. I was working on this little creature, and at that stage it was just called "The Little Creature." I didn't have a name for it. Then I saw this one picture of a giraffe at a watering hole, and it looked just like my little creature standing at the side of the web."

Minter continues, loopily: "So I started this one thread in my forum called "The Space Giraffe," and posted that picture there. Within hours, all the gaming sites were reporting "Jeff Minter's new game: Space Giraffe!" At that point, why go back? Space Giraffe is memorable, and people remember it. It may be a silly name, but people remember it."

April 4, 2007

Religion & Philosophy For Gaming Dummies

- The Escapist's weekly magazine of crazy clever chaos death is discussing 'religion and philosophy in games', and while that may sound like it's going to make your head hurt, it turns out that there a few interesting contributions.

Probably one of the funnest is 'Why Christian Games Are Doomed To Fail' by Lara Crigger, which shouts to the top: "So many contemporary Christian games are unintentional self-parodies. By embracing Evangelical culture so indulgently and completely, these games are nothing but interactive stereotypes."

The gnashing continues! "Take the above-mentioned Eternal Forces. Rock stars as the messengers of the Antichrist? A faux-Pope, decked out in snazzy Catholic cardinal robes, acting as the right-hand man of evil? You can't be serious. Anyone who willingly plays this cringe-inducing balderdash should rend her PC in shame. Worse, Eternal Forces is far from alone in its self-indulgence and supercilious attitude toward its "built-in" audience. Many Christian titles address their consumers as both simpletons and suckers: Because our game includes crucifixes, you'll overlook its contrived, outrageous plotlines." Good, if inflammatory piece.

Shaun Of The Dead Action Figures Get Controller Happy

- So, I know action figures aren't that relevant to video gaming - but when it's a totally cool mini-sculpture of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost from Shaun Of The Dead, and Frost has his 'I Got Wood' T-shirt on and PlayStation controller in his hand - come on!

Looks like NECA Online have just come out with this 2-pack figure set [detailed image clickable!] from the self-styled 'rom zom com', and as those who are a fan of Pegg and Frost's previous project Spaced may recall, there are quite a few video game references dotted around their output - though mainly zombie video games like Resident Evil, of course.

Wait, fun blurb awaits: "Where would you go for shelter in the middle of a zombie plague? The nearest police station? A shopping mall? Well, if you're anything like Shaun and Ed, the unlikely heroes of Shaun of the Dead, you'd brave hordes of zombies, a miserable stepdad, and a pissed off ex-girlfriend to make it to your favorite pub, The Winchester. This March, the Shaun of the Dead: Winchester Two-Pack from NECA hits stores. Featuring a brand-new sculpt of Shaun and the first-ever figure of Ed, this set is a must for every would-be zombie-slayer out there." YAY!

King Of Kong Hits Tribeca, Nationwide In August

- So, we previously covered that video game documentary King Of Kong was picked up at Slamdance by movie studios Picturehouse and New Line - and now we get a press release that: the film "...makes its NY Premiere in the Tribeca/ESPN Sports Film Festival Program of the 2007 Tribeca Film Festival" later in April, and opens nationwide on August 17th.

Though I'm sure it won't get into all the big multiplexes, this'll definitely be the widest distributed video game documentary ever, since the HBO & New Line-co-founded Picturehouse, who now have a webpage for it, are the guys who released Guillermo Del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth in the States, among other movies. Here's how they pitch the movie in the press release: "It’s man against beast! Man against machine! And finally man against man; in this epic journey that pits two modern day gladiators against one another - in order to prove to themselves and to the hoards of world-wide believers that they are the ‘King of Kong!’"

"Picturehouse presents KING OF KONG, a new documentary directed by Seth Gordon, produced by Ed Cunningham, and featuring two of the most focused ‘athletes’ ever to be captured on film – the slick mega-star legend of the video game world, hot-sauce impresario Billy Mitchell; and the mild-mannered family-guy challenger to the crown, middle-school science teacher Steve Wiebe. These two, as well as all the other die-hard gamers vying to conquer the likes of Q*bert, Joust, Pac-Man and Donkey Kong, make KING OF KONG colorful, compelling, competitive entertainment."

The capper? "This is no wimpy spelling bee or wheelchair derby. There are no cutesy penguins here…Kong would crush them. This is rivalry, competition, enthusiasm and obsession brought to its most exemplary level!!" Our very own GSW Cinema Pixeldiso columnist Matt Hawkins will be attending the press screening of the movie at Tribeca, so we should have an early review of the doc for you pretty soon.

Who Should Be Reviewing Fl0w? Curators?

- The second post from the Tale Of Tales blog I've linked recently, this one, from the creators of art-game-happening The Endless Forest, talks about a review of fl0w, ' Games journalists and The New Games', and it's... interesting.

The slightly controversial positioning, based around a Eurogamer review of the PS3 version: "It is quite clear that Flow is not a game like most. That its focus is not on gameplay as such but on a different kind of interactive experience, an experience that inspired its title. I’m happy that games websites report on products like this because I think they are extremely important for the future of the industry. But after reading the review, I’m starting to doubt whether games journalists should be the ones doing this job."

He continues: "It’s a bit like having sports commentators criticizing a fine art exhibition. Not that I want to make a big issue about Flow being art or something. But it does seem to be designed with different purposes and require a different attitude than that of a games journalist (or a gamer for that matter). Not necessarily so these kinds of games could get better scores. But because their scores might be better motivated. Now it seems too much like judging an opera performance based on the cut of the dress of the soprano. It might be an ugly dress, but that’s hardly the point." Thoughts?

Hudson's Sit-On Trains, Caught On Tape!

- Here's what you need to know - firstly, sister site Gamasutra posted 'Hudson's Revenge - Looking Forward With The House That Bonk Built' on Monday, likely the most detailed interview on Hudson Entertainment in quite some time, thanks to editor Brandon Sheffield's notorious knowledge of Bomberman's buddies.

One particular highlight in the interview, thanks to Hudson's John Greiner: "[The hardware division] in Japan was located in a building that we created out in Hokkaido's more rural area. It was a very cool building that they did and had a train that ran though it - a train that you could actually sit on and ride. And there was a station in the building... And I saw, many times, very big executives from NEC, to Nintendo, to all the bigwigs out on this tiny little train riding, going round in circles, in and out of the building."

Anyhow, the not emo (despite what they say) Brandon just posted on Insert Credit with a triumphant follow-up: "Assembler uploaded a little video that shows the Hudson miniature train in action. If you didn't read the interview I linked [previously], that thing actually uses coal! The video stars the Pink Bomber (though that's Kabuki from Tengai Makyou that you see in the image), who has her own oldschool-catchy music video here." This is just multiple layers of awesome, really.

April 3, 2007

Rod Humble Explains His (Game) Marriage

- Over at the Arthouse Games site, there's a neat interview with Rod Humble about his experimental game The Marriage - and the first thing I spotted was Humble's interesting background, with games such as The Humans, which is almost Tail Of The Sun-esque, and predates it.

Nowadays, he's Head of The Sims Studio at EA, and is intrigued by the reactions to his distinctly arty art-game: "The amount of people who immediately understood and liked the game was larger than I had imagined, their main criticism was that they felt my explanations were unduly detailed. I stand by the decision to include the explanation however as I think it helped some folks understand my intent and I didn't think it was fair just to leave them without explanation."

He also talks about his upcoming personal experimental games, both of which sound interesting, to say the least: "The first is a game about power politics and identity, I am struggling with it. The second I started last week as I was reading some of the responses to The Marriage and the discussion of what is and isn't art. It's a game which takes as its starting point the fact that the oldest games we know are far older than the oldest music we know. So I am taking an ancient piece of music and translating its message into game rules, or at least trying to."

[Oh yeah, and Kloonigames put forward 'The Divorce', a very April 1st-themed game based on The Marriage: "The bats are of course my parents. My parents are very long and thin, so this is represented by the shape of the boxes. The ball is an unwanted child of their marriage. I was quite young when my parent’s divorced so, that is represented by the size of the ball."]

MMOG Nation: How Stuffed Animals and Penguins Clobber World of Warcraft

['MMOG Nation' is a weekly column by Michael Zenke about current events in the world of Massively Multiplayer Games. This week's column examines the growing influence of youth-oriented virtual worlds.]

WebkinzImagine the fun of a Massively Multiplayer world inhabited by adorable penguins, cute fuzzy animals, or some of those incomprehensibly popular Disney television characters. A disturbing, post-apocalyptic vision of future gaming? To hear veteran Massive designer Raph Koster talk at GDC earlier this month, that's not the future: it's the present. At the Massive Games: Past, Present, and Future panel held on Wednesday of GDC week, Koster spent much of his available talking time discussing the successes of quirky online games aimed at kids, like Club Penguin and WebKinz. You think World of Warcraft is America's most popular online world, right? Club Penguin averages 1.6 million unique users a month. WoW may have 3 million subscribers in the states, but how many log in each month? The online gaming world is changing, and the new thing is new people: kids.

Today I'm going to do a quick rundown on the future of the youth-oriented Massive game. While subscription-based fantasy titles certainly have all the headlines, non-traditional games are quietly taking over the world. The increasing popularity of these titles raises a number of contradictory issues, and I certainly don't have any easy answers. Today we'll discuss a little bit about the business aspect of the market, some of the social issues these games raise, and what these titles mean for future entries into the Massive genre. Make sure to grab your fuzzy pet on the way out the door.

Massive Markets - Smaller Users

Club Penguin SketchIf you think about it, it's actually a no-brainer. Adults play online games as a stress reliever; we come home from a long day at work and kill orcs to get our minds off of the idiosyncrasies of our workplace. Kids, though, play online games to feel empowered. Tweens, especially, feel the need for some control over their (virtual) lives. For kids old enough not to be 'babies', but not old enough to do 'teen stuff', the likes of Club Penguin must seem like an oasis in a desert of annoying siblings, homework, and after-school activities. These markets, then, are a built-in gold mine for the companies running these services. Aging kids will tire of your world after a few years, but new customers are always 'on the way up'. With only a narrow window in which to grab them, you have to have aggressive marketing, of course, and they do: the users themselves. The viral nature of these games is self-evident. If your best friend is playing this game, talking about it at school, why wouldn't you give it a look? Most titles have a freebie trial period, making it even easier for the game to get 'sticky'.

If you think Mr. Koster is overselling the importance of this trend, you should know that CNN Money would tend to agree with him. In an article posted to their site in March on the popularity of kiddie MMOGs, they mention the recent launch of a Nickelodeon-branded online space and the upcoming release of a similar Disney product. Both of these worlds will leverage the extremely popular brands that these companies have on offer, and both are (somewhat callously, and unlike Penguin) ad-driven. While this has the danger of driving away easily-annoying youths and some media-cautious parents, the dangers may be worth the reward.

Though the tie-in that WebKinz has with plush toys already makes it a 'commercial' product, the marketing of brands like 'SpongeBob' and 'Hannah Montana' is sure to tap even more of the monetary value of this tween market. According to the CNN article, there are "29 million U.S. kids ages 8 to 14, with a combined annual purchasing power of $40 billion. Nearly 90 percent of these children are now online." Aside from the over-commercialization of the young in general, the integration of virtual worlds with toys and youth-oriented products may be cause for concern among some. As consumer-driven as youth culture already is, how much worse can it be made if persistent virtual spaces become standard fare for children's toys? In response to a recently announced doll tie-in world, legendary MUD developer Richard Bartle asked 'what monster have I unleashed?' Though he certainly meant it in jest, there may well be cause for concern.

Small People, Serious Issues

Virtual Disney WorldAt the moment, though, the heavy hitters seem to have their hearts in the right place. Reading over the documentation on sites like Webkinz World or Virtual Magic Kingdom, the language seems to be focused on 'keeping kids safe' and 'ensuring a fun experience'. Several of these titles only allow constructed statements using canned words or phrases. Webkinz doesn't even allow kids to see this canned chat if your chat buddy isn't on your friends list. While any company can talk a good talk, these companies honestly do seem to be keeping online safety at the forefront. Club Penguin has a parental guide front and center on their main page. They talk up their safety standards, but don't dodge the issue either: "While the Internet has opened up an exciting new world of educational, entertainment and social opportunities, online activity does not come without risk. Our goal is to minimize that risk as much as possible and protect Club Penguin users by continually upgrading our systems and policies."

The flip side to this, of course, is the question of the rights these children have. Future titles like Nicktropolis or Cartoon Network World may not have such a focus on online safety. The goal of Nicktropolis, certainly, is likely to revolve more around commercial success via purchases, branding, and advertising than around social network development. On a higher level, in her post about Nicktropolis, Sara Grimes is down on the safety measures used by these kid-oriented titles: "You will note that -- similar to the Disney.com revamp and CBBC's planned venture -- Nickelodeon's MMOG has incorporated an array of so-called safety measures (in collaboration with the Center for Missing and Exploited Children). This aspect of the sites should not go unexamined...with DOPA-esque legislation back on the block via the recently proposed 'Protecting Children in the 21st Century Act' it will be interesting to see how children's rights and/or agency are limited in the hopes of quelling parental anxieties about online predators and bullying."

To layer another confusing element onto this discussion, there's the question of whether a title is even 'aimed' at kids in the first place. Certainly titles like WebKinz are aimed at youth culture, but what about a game like Puzzle Pirates or Habbo Hotel? Both have elements that would appeal to younger gamers; stylized graphics and some humorous elements. Certainly Daniel James has spoken of the occasional challenges of younger players, and with a game like . Habbo, at least, is intended for audiences 13 years and older, but how often do 9-12 year olds find themselves on the service? Moderation in Habbo is an ever-present possibility, allowing parents some peace of mind ... but again raising issues of privacy and personal growth for the young people using these services.

Welcome to the (Fuzzy) World of Tomorrow!

HabboPutting aside for a moment business and social issues, what does the general popularity of kiddie-oriented Massive games mean for the genre? Are there any lessons that the AAA titles can learn from these outfits? What can we expect to come of the trend towards 'a virtual world with every product'?

First and foremost, it seems fairly easy to imagine that these games are priming younger people to appreciate Massive games in general. Kids now between 10 and 12 will be looking to games like WoW or EverQuest 2 in just a few years time. Well-developed typing skills and an inherent understanding of the virtual world metaphor, as well as experience with other types of games, will make these kids savvy consumers of AAA subscription titles. Certainly the popularity of the free-to-play title RuneScape is indicative of this interest. As Mr. Koster put it at a GDC panel: WoW is the game these kids play when they have the allowance money to do so. RuneScape is what they play otherwise.

Money is going to be a major sticking point with these folks, and that's an issue that I feel will have to be addressed by subscription titles sooner rather than later. Within a few years, the newest crop of AAA players are going to find the idea of paying $15 a month for these services alien. They'll consider it an affront, their access to a virtual world a default assumption. On the flipside, they'll be completely unsurprised by the inclusion of advertising in a virtual space. They'll be comfortable with the idea of being charged on a per-item basis, and won't squawk if they have to pay a fee to get to 'extra' content. Once they are in the front door, they'll expect to be charged; they will just expect the door to be left open for them.

This open door policy is likely extended by these players' blurry understanding of what a virtual world is 'for'. While primarily Massive spaces have been platforms for games, the likes of Club Penguin definitely shave off the 'G' from MMOG. Intended as a social setting first and a location to play games second, the connection many new spaces have with specific products is easy to understand. If all you want out of your virtual world creation is a place for users to talk about your product, buy virtual items related to your product, and play games themed around your product ... compare that to the content requirements of a AAA title and things start to sound fairly straightforward.

These games and these game players are, from a realistic point of view, the future of the Massive genre. While many of us spend time talking about World of Warcraft or EverQuest 2, titles aimed at the young and vigorously technologically-savvy will be taking over the world in the background. It's going to be fascinating to watch the crash and burns, the huge successes, the increasing mainstream understanding of what virtual worlds are ... all of which will result from spaces aimed at fuzzy pets and Disney characters.

[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. ]

GDC 2007 Programmer's Challenge Geeks Out On Video

- Worth pointing out that sister site Gamasutra has made the GDC 2007 Programmer's Challenge, the uber-geeky tech quiz that was one of the highlights of this year's Game Developers Conference, available in streaming video form. It's supremely geeky stuff - and entertaining in a very offbeat way, even for non-coders.

Over to the Gama write-up: "As we explained in our GDC write-up of this panel: "Six of the industry’s most well respected programmers were brought together to form teams and answer some of the silliest video game and programming questions conceived.

Written by Jeff Roberts and Casey Muratori, who also hosted the event, questions on everything from Dijkstra’s algorithm to strangely named Gundam games garnered huge laughs from competitors Josh Adams [Epic], Brian Jacobson [Valve], Chris Hecker [Maxis/EA], Eric Malafeew [Harmonix], Jonathan Blow [Number-None], and Chris Butcher [Microsoft], as well as the audience.

As funny as the questions were, many of them communicated some of the serious hardware and software issues that exist among game industry programmers. One category of questions - “Compensation: Questions about the largeness of things (or lack thereof)” - dealt primarily with console architecture and how they never seemed to have enough memory available."

[Many thanks to Challenge MC Casey Muratori for posting the original version of this video online, to Eric Malafeew of Harmonix for encoding the video, and to Mitch Soule of RAD Game Tools for manning the camera.]"

RGCD Goes Retro CD Crazed

- Over at Gnome's Lair, the gnome himself has pointed out the neat, v.retro RGCD, a CD-based downloadable retro disc-magazine which "features tons of exquisite content covering everything from retro remakes, to game reviews, to emulators, to interviews, to excellent freeware games."

Gnome rambles endearingly: "I've always been quite of fond of diskmags, you know, and I've followed them from the dark but happy BBS ages all the way to modern offerings like the demoscene oriented Hugi and PAiN." And he's right - it's good to see a packaged standalone diskmag, incredibly anachronistic though it is. Oh, here's the download link, btw.

As the RGCD site notes: "Highlights of Issue #01 include in-depth developer interviews with the programmers behind the excellent Typhoon 2001 and Thrust Extreme (Thorsten Kuphaldt and Wiebo de Wit respectively), previews of Crownland and Sub Hunter (two awesome forthcoming 8-bit projects) and even an exclusive PC remake of an Atari ST classic. Every game featured in the magazine is also included archived on disc (along with any necessary emulation software), making RGCD your one-stop retro-gaming resource." All the games are legal, too - or as legal as clones (in some cases) get, I guess, but it's not commercial software, that's the point.

Biffo's Phil Harrison Marillion Anecdote - Yanked!

- Here's one of the oddest stories of the week - fitbabits of Evil Avatar has pointed out that "Mr. Biffo, one of Edge magazine's regular contributors, has decided to go public about his newest column being pulled from the magazine", and it's been reprinted in full on his personal blog. And it's completely wacky.

Where to start? Well, how about here, from the start of the Biffo column? "Back in February, I attended the 2007 Marillion Weekend (shut-UP), in Holland. It was basically three days of gigs, and getting really, really drunk... Mid-auction, the band’s keyboard player put an impromptu shout out to one “Phil Harrison”. Turns out that this was the Phil Harrison you and I know as the president of Sony Computer Entertainment’s Worldwide Studios. I’d heard rumours that he’s a friend of the band, and something of a fan of their music, but I hadn’t realised he was at the convention."

According to the aforementioned Paul 'Mr. Biffo' Rose: "Rather than bid, Harrison offered to auction a brand new PS3, paid for from his “own pocket”. The band’s keyboard player duly started the bidding at around 100 euros, getting a couple of incremental increases from interested – but slightly bemused – fans." And from then on, as you might have guessed, this wanders into an alleged, slightly bizarre Sony hype fiasco - though it certainly was for charity, which might have given the Edge editors second thoughts about running it. But hey - you decide!

April 2, 2007

@ Play: Storytelling, Bah!

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

For 34 weeks now we've talked about all kinds of roguelikes, including many of the major ones and a few niche cases. These are games that can attract incredibly loyal fans, not loyal, perhaps, in the dress-up-at-DragonCon style, but fans who can nudge the system of an intrinsically chaotic game like Nethack to the degree that they can maintain incredible winning streaks.

Hmm, I said nudge there. That seems oddly appropriate; the game genre that roguelikes most resembles, in a sense, is pinball. Traditional RPGs are games in which the world is laid out beforehand, every encounter planned out. Other than the very earliest of these games, there is generally a way out of any situation you can get in. This is, in fact, more or less game design law these days throughout the industry: if the player is not dead or inescapably falling towards it (like, seconds away), then there must be a way out. Although one or two may strive mightily, there is nothing to prove that a roguelike is winnable every time. Notice that all the major streaks in the list linked to above have ended months ago.

The need, in traditional computer games, to avoid inescapable situations produces certain subtle limits to their play. Most Lucasarts adventures are actually impossible to lose. Because of this, the player can mostly disregard that pesky danger sense. He won't die, he won't get a puzzle into an unsolvable state, and he won't be able to lose an item he needs to win. If an item is needed to win, but can be lost, then if there is an infinite source of them somewhere in the game (like, say, the clown in the first year of Grim Fandango telling you he'll provide as many worm balloons as you want) it's a pretty sure bet it's important somehow.

The fourth case of the original Phoenix Wright has a place where Detective Gumshoe offers you a choice of three different tools to use in searching for clues. Only one provides the necessary clue. Because of this, it's always possible to go back and try a different item if you picked incorrectly....

Can always go back? Wait a second!


That doesn't sound like it's a real choice at all! And in fact, Phoenix Wright, traditional adventure games, and many other games too like console RPGs, suffer from an absence of player choice. He may be able to roam around, but that rarely matters to the game. He may need to solve puzzles to proceed, but it's more of a choice between solving it and moving on, and not solving and being stuck. He may (in Phoenix Wright) lose a case because he's been penalized too many times, but running out of points is the only resource in the game, and the play doesn't change in any other way from losing them.

It seems to me, and feel free to debate me on this, that when you reducing the fractions all the way down thes games end up being nothing more than sophisticated versions of a "next page" prompt. If games ultimately are about the choices a player makes and their consequences, then these cannot properly be called games.

swat.pngNow, it should be said that the common definition of "game" is a little different from this, and that even under a strict definition this is not always true. There are some computer games that tell a story with branching outcomes, and the player's decisions, ultimately, determine which branch is followed. There are even games that make the "decision" a game mechanic: Ogre Battle is notorious for its "Chaos Frame" game system, where a score is kept of a number of variables, with more points usually assigned to more difficult practices (like not over-leveling your characters), and the characters who join and the ending are determined by the score.

And there are interesting things happening with Chris Crawford's Storytron, which is an algorithmic storytelling engine. In fact, if you take a roguelike as being a tool for the player to create his own adventure story, then Storytron starts to look a little (but just a little) familiar.

This is why roguelike games are especially important now. As games move further into being "interactive stories," with increasing deemphasis on "interactive," games are becoming less and less game-like. And as games increasingly take movies as their model instead of board games, puzzles, pinball, and so forth, this problem will only get worse.

For putting up with this admitted rant, here is a special bonus section: a list of games that are not roguelikes. Just pretend it's still April 1st ,folks.


Although the seminal first-person shooter may have nothing to do with roguelike games, a bit of thinking reveals surprising simularity. You fight monsters and explore from the same "world," after all, and there is a considerable amount of chaos there. But in the end the set mazes, encounters, powerups and "puzzles" mean it's really not a lot like Rogue at all. (There is one notable person trying to close the gap between the two, mind.)


It's got random maps, risk/reward encounters spread around the world, deep play and turn-based movement. You can even get an open-source variant, and you can play Middle Earth nations in that, so you can be an elf too! Surely, this must be a roguelike. But no, no: all roguelikes have dragons in them. Where are the dragons, Sid Meier? Also, Civ is a world-conquering strategy game, with no amulets Yendor in sight.


Has real-time play and no inventory system at all. But other than that, suspeciously similar. Arnold, Wichman and Toy should get around to asking Eugene Jarvis where he got the idea from.


Obviously not a roguelike, although SLASH'EM's support for SF2-like special moves (a special ability of the Monk class in that game) may fool some.


Oh, get serious.

"Objection!" image from Jeux Video. DOOM screenshot from ID Software. Civilization screenshot from Firaxis. Robotron and Street Fighter II screenshots from KLOV. Diablo 2 shot from markeddragon.com.

Links of the two-week-period:

Roguelike The Magazine, back in action and better than ever: http://magazine.roguelike.us/

Glenn Wichman, one of the three guys who created Rogue, participates in the 7 Day Roguelike Project, making one out of Javascript, saving games as browser cookies, and yes I'm about to explode just contemplating such a thing: http://www.babelsphere.com/7dayquest/game/

Game Developer Research Showcases Salary Survey

- Something that we just posted on sister site Gamasutra this morning, and I wanted to point to here - some definitive answers on game industry salaries, and the foundation of Game Developer Research to do in-depth analysis on the biz. S'not incredibly GSW-y, but myself and (especially!) Alistair Wallis have just spent a lot of time preparing the new report, so wanted to pass it on:

The editors of Gamasutra sister publication Game Developer magazine have revealed the results of its 2006 Salary Survey, calculating an average American game industry salary of $73,316, slightly down on 2005's figure of $75,039.

The core data from the 2006 survey is now available in the April 2007 issue of Game Developer magazine, being delivered to subscribers in the near future, and including information on all of the major job functions, with all the free-to-subscriber information that has been available in previous years.

According to the new survey, conducted in association with Audience Insights, the average salary in 2006 over all American game programmers was $80,886 - basically flat on the year before, thanks to an influx of entry level coders to the game business, but with significant increases for veteran programmers.

The 2006 average for artists was $65,107, again basically flat on 2005, though average salaries of experienced lead artists and animators rose the most. The game designers' average was $61,538, with salaries scaling within a $5,000 range over the last 3 years over all experience levels.

In other categories, production personnel in America had an average salary of $77,131 in 2006, Q/A's average decreased to $37,861, the average audio employee was paid $69,935, and business & legal personnel came out on top with an average $95,596 salary last year.

As for the regional variations for the survey, which polled 5,600 readers of Game Developer magazine and Gamasutra.com and attendees of Game Developers Conference, California had the top worldwide average salary for game professionals in 2006, followed by Washington, Oregon, and Georgia, with Texas rounding out the top 5.

In addition, the magazine's editors have added much more detail to this year's survey as part of a newly formed Game Developer Research division, set up by veteran writers to study the game industry in unprecedented detail, releasing an in-depth 'Game Developer Salary Report: 2004-2006' report.

This pay-to-download 75-page document, which is especially suitable for HR, business, and government professionals, includes much additionally researched information, centering on a full trend comparison for American, Canadian, and European salaries over all three years, showing how and why developer pay is changing over time.

It also adds exclusive information regional salary information (California salaries compared to Texas over all job types, for example) - plus a full run-down of the ways that staff were recruited (word of mouth vs. recruiters vs. job ads) for each job type, as well as many other specifics not analyzed in the core report."

Film Directors & Game Directors, Living Together?

- One of my favorite outlets, The New Gamer, has a new article up called 'Film Directors We Want in Games', and ranging all over the shop, but starting with this whole '300 can be criticized because it's like a video game' thing, citing John Carpenter defending it.

Blogger G. Turner notes: "In fact, ever since I read the [Carpenter] interview I've been asking myself 'Just what film directors would I like to see push out a game?' And the answer is, honestly, 'very few'. Excellent multidisciplinary artists are a rare breed, and most of those in film that have crossed over to video games have had a lackluster impact, at best."

He continues: "Most of the examples I can think of are little more than stunt-casting anyways, brought in for their name recognition and outwards flair rather than any deeper thematic values or insight. Take for instance, Metal Gear Solid: Twin Snakes, which had Versus director Ryuhei Kitamura reshaping the original game's cut-scenes."

Turner _does_ cite David Cronenberg as someone he'd like to see working in games, given Existenz - which I agree with, and would add Terry Gilliam as someone else who might make a seriously interesting game, given a chance - not that I think he cares. What do you guys think?

GameSetLinks: Zelda Montage Rosenqueen War

- A little light late Sunday/early Monday GameSetLink-age then, including the much-awaited (well, by a couple of people) latest GameSetCompetition results. Here we goeses:

- We previously reported some completely awesome Mario montage art from Dan Schoening, and he's followed it up with an OMG completely awesome Zelda mega-montage illustration over at Life Meter Comics. Three thumbs up!

- M. Bittanti over at VideoLudica points out that: "The How They Got Game research project at the Stanford Humanities Lab is organizing a series of workshops on game studies. The first two meeting will take place on April 3rd and 17th at the Stanford Humanities Lab's HQ, at Wallenberg Hall and they will feature lectures from Daniel Huebner and Jesper Juul." Neat stuff.

- Forgot to give a reminder on this one, so we didn't get as many entries as normal, but the GameSetCompetition to win GDC magnetic poetry is over, and the winners are: Zach Kamsler, Nille, EvilHayama, Poet, & Six - my favorite is Nille's: "my seriously 733t quest: combat solid metal giantenemycrab!" All pretty silly, but hey! Winners, please mail me with your snail-mail address, and we'll get the magnetic poetry out to you.

- The Indygamer blog (which has just added a couple of authors, I think), has a post about the 'favorite' Game Maker games, revealing: "This forum thread is a constantly updated list of what users of the Game Maker engine have voted to be the... most memorable Game Maker games ever made." This is another subcommunity which makes interesting, experimental games at times - worth checking out.

- We already mentioned that NIS America has announced lots of new games, but they also opened a new online shop, RosenQueen Company. Company-specific online shops are an incredibly Japanese phenomenon as far as retail goes, but I think it's a great idea for the West, too, as niche branding becomes important and the digital era rapidly encroaches. And heck, the Prinny plushie has a fun disclaimer: "Features: Removable pouch for concealing weapons; twisty googly eyes; explosive potential."

- Aw, the absolutely awesome Japanmanship blog, documenting an English artist at a Japanese video game company, has announced that it's ending, which I'm upset about, but understand. As the pseudonymous JC Barnett explains: "As I have exhausted all avenues of useful information to write about and have started leaning heavily on critical and often unfair views of Japanese life the search for new subjects has become somewhat of a chore." So there you go - don't agree with the unfair bit quite so much, but thanks for the insight, JC.

- Random Flash game link to end things out - the B3ta-affiliated Weebls-stuff blog (which makes all kinds of amusing badger-related Flash anims, normally) has launched Moon War. It's noted: "We've got a bunch of different characters in there you can choose from and it's both multiplayer online and from the same pc. You can also play by yourself which, if this was b3ta, I'd probably work into a joke about self love. But I didn't." Looks like it plays a bit like Worms/Scorched Earth with a circular planet and weird gravity stuff.

April 1, 2007

Debugging The Crunchiness Of SOE's Station Access

- Slashdot Games editor and GSW columnist Michael Zenke has posted a piece on his own MMOG Nation blog discussing the state of SOE's Station Access subscription, which just went up in price to $29.99 per month, but includes access to each SOE MMO (including the newly launched and pictured Vanguard).

Zenke notes, in particular: "The real loser here is Planetside, which has received a price hike of its own. I thought that the game should have been $5 a month when it launched. Lo these years later, it’s worth nowhere near the $15/month they’re now charging. Above and beyond that, I’d be willing to bet Planetside was that ’second mmog’ played by a number of Station Access users."

He also muses: "This is a dangerous time to be raising services like this. LOTRO’s never-ending membership is probably looking like a good deal right now. You never have to pay a monthly for the game, ever, if you fork over the equivalent of 7 months worth of Station Access." The state of subscription MMO gaming is interesting, to say the least, and I'm hoping the CMP Game Group can look at it in more detail over the next few months.

From Pachinko To Peggle, Perhaps?

- The charismatic Gamezebo has posted a piece on the making of PopCap's pachinko-like PC casual game Peggle, explaining how the rather addictive title was originally designed, in a 'Behind The Scenes' piece.

Something I appreciate is that PopCap does seem to be moving on from what I'd describe as the 'suspect concept-borrowing' of its early rise to power. They're thinking about how to make innovative casual games - most recently the entertaining Bookworm Adventures and Peggle itself - and are definitely assuming the mantle of one of the thought leaders in casual games.

This piece is also notable for a super-lengthy, perceptive comment from co-designer Brian Rothstein on his view of Peggle's design: "There were basically only two versions of the game. The first version was the one where you would aim and fire multiple balls at once and try to get the balls into holes worth various amounts of points... I proposed making some of the pegs orange instead of blue and then making the goal of the level to clear all of the orange pegs [using just one ball at a time]... This new level was very fun and replayable and I turned to Sukhbir and said tentatively, "What if this were the game?""

Defining The Elusive 'Hardcore Gamer'

- BioWare MMO designer Damion Schubert (who had the highest-rated GDC talk this year, actually) has posted at his Zen Of Design blog discussing the question of what a ‘hardcore’ gamer is vs. a casual gamer, and has some very nuanced and smart opinions.

For starters, he points out: "All successful games and genres have hardcore players and casual players", explaining: "My mom is a hardcore solitaire player. I mean, she looks at a screen with Spider on it the way that Cypher looked at the Matrix and saw blondes, brunettes and redheads. Mom just sees things I never saw as there. She has an innate sense of opportunity. When she plays, cards light up for her as if she were the main character in A Beautiful Mind. She’s damn close to being able to move the cards telepathically." Yay.

He also noteds quite correctly: "Thinking about games being just ‘casual’ holds us back", continuing: "Why? Simple - because those of us in the industry look at the Sims from the eyes of a ‘casual’ player, and as an end result, we don’t see or appreciate the depth or subtlety that is in the Sims, that appeals to the Hardcore Sims player (and by extension, why we call Will Wright a genius). If you aren’t a hardcore fan of the genre you’re building for as a designer, it’s easy to make a shallow game that fails to satisfy the hardcore fans of that genre. If you start off by saying ‘this is for a casual market’, you’re doomed before you begin." Good to see some thoughts on ways that gaming tastes can be universal.

Existence Of The Indie RPG: Confirmed!

- The handy indie Tales Of The Rampant Coyote blog has pointed to a forgotten bit of the indie scene, explaining: "In case you missed everyone-and-his-cousin announcing this earlier this week, RPG Codex ran a great interview with three indie RPG developers."

Specifically, these are "...Jason Compton, producer of The Broken Hourglass; Thomas Riegsecker, lead developer of Eschelon Book 1; and Steven Peeler, lead designer / programmer of [the pictured] Depths of Peril", and he adds: "All three games - by their screenshots - are looking pretty sharp. They don't have AAA-release $20million budget photo-realistic graphics, but the visuals are nice and professional."

What's interesting in the interview? Well, Jason of The Broken Hourglass notes of one of the unique features in his game is "the character romance", commenting: "PC/NPC romantic entanglements provide another compelling reason to fire up the game, and stay invested in it, and like the overall party/story-based game generally, what we're doing is not something the broader gaming market is being saturated with."

Chinese World Of Warcraft Players Set Up Real-Life Hunt

- In an amazing revelation worthy of 'The Most Dangerous Game', Chinese-based MMO/business blogger Bill Bishop has revealed a whole new side to the Chinese World Of Warcraft obsession, in an article named 'Chinese Players Take World of Warcraft Offline, Set Up "WOW Hunting Park"'.

Now, you may remember my ChinaJoy World Of Warcraft coverage from last year, showing just how crazy the country is about Blizzard's MMO, but this article, which was posted by Bishop on Sunday Chinese time, takes things to a whole new level: "Mine Boss Wu had become addicted to an online MMORPG game called World of Warcraft. He was the leader of a guild called Kuangzhu, which consisted of 15 other Shanxi mine owners... At one of their monthly meetings Boss Wu suggested they take World of Warcraft offline. "I have a 1000 mu plot of land, thick with trees. Why not play out our WOW exploits in real life?""

According to Bishop's amazing expose: "They met every month at Boss Wu's plot, renamed WOW Park, dressed in faux WOW attire ordered from Taobao, carrying real swords and maces they had had made at a local metal shop... As Boss Wu said, "we pay miners 30-50,000 RMB a year, and 50-100,000 RMB when they get killed. Why not offer them 250,000 RMB to let us hunt them down in our WOW Park? If they can survive the day without being killed we pay them the money, and if we catch them we pay their families."" You know, I really do wonder whether the Chinese government may ban World Of Warcraft after they find out about this.

If you enjoy reading GameSetWatch.com, you might also want to check out these UBM TechWeb Game Network sites:

Gamasutra (the 'art and business of games'.)

Game Career Guide (for student game developers.)

Indie Games (for independent game players/developers.)

Finger Gaming (news, reviews, and analysis on iPhone and iPod Touch games.)

GamerBytes (for the latest console digital download news.)

Worlds In Motion (discussing the business of online worlds.)

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