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April 14, 2007

TV Station Manager? Sure, No Problem!

- Got a press release which reveals a new independent PC game with a neat twist on the 'Tycoon' paradigm: "Winter Wolves Games has just released their new PC/Mac downloadable simulation game called TV Station Manager. The game lets you take control of a small independent television station about to go bankrupt."

So how does that work? "The player must buy or sell rights to display various programs from 16 different categories ["from Action to Gossip, Documentary to Kids"], manage exclusive advertising deals, and arrange everything on a weekly schedule. Success or failure depends on matching programs with the proper audience and advertisers."

Oh wait, there's more: "If you're not satisfied about the current market offer for TV programs, make your own TV Show with the "Production Studio" ! Choose which actor/actresses will take part, decide the plot, the setting, and produce your own masterpiece!" Ah, nice, one of the possible stars is called 'Miggo Vortensen'! It's all a bit like The Movies vs. normal sim games, but simpler and indie-er, I guess?

Female Video Game Characters We Can Respect?

- The UK girl-oriented gadget site Shiny Shiny has just posted a 'Top ten list of female video-game characters you should idolise' - and that appears to be in a more positive fashion than your average countdown.

Blogger Katherine Hannaford notes: "Whatever happened to having some nice wholesome girl-next-door type characters to idolise, that you can happily play a game featuring the vixen infront of your Dad, and not fear an embarassing pants-tent episode?... I've put together a list of who I think deserves to be on the Shiny Shiny Top Ten List Of Gaming Vixens who aren't just featured for their 34-24-34 ratio and ability to knock out a vertically-challenged man with a simple quiver of the lady-lumps." Fair enough!

Here's one pick I especially liked, in theory: "2.) Carla Valenti from Fahrenheit/Indigo Prophecy - the NYPD officer is incredibly committed to her job, to the point of experiencing panic attacks. Wielding a weapon, she is a tough-talking woman who yearns for a private life, instead pouring all her waking hours into her job - the modern careerwoman."

But of course, Carla's presumably male inventors made her pose, virtually speaking, for Playboy in 2005, negating her carefully empowered game character in all manner of ways, and re-proving the whole point Shiny Shiny was making to start with - doh! [Via Wonderland.]

Patton Oswalt Knows About Warren Robinett!

- A cute little post over at VH1 Game Break interviews Patton Oswalt about his role in Pixar's Ratatouille - and the stand-up comedian, geek, and 'King Of Queens' regular is quite a gamer.

To wit: "When we spoke, Oswalt expressed enthusiasm – to put it mildly – about gaming in general and several games in particular. In fact, he said he’d gotten rid of all his games for his own protection (he kept his PSP, though). “I can’t do anything if I have them around,” Oswalt told me. “Gears of War would take over my life. That hand-held footage? And if you have the controller that vibrates?” His eyes widened."

And wow, he can reference semi-obscure retro gaming legends: "I asked whether he had any fond memories of playing games as a kid. Did he ever! “I had the Atari 2600, and we used to play the Adventure game, the one by Warren Robinett. I remember when we found that hidden room! I thought I was Don DeLillo with the Kennedy assassination.”" DeLillo! Robinett! You rock, Oswalt.

Awarding Game Journalism - What Should We Do?

- Kyle Orland's latest GameDaily column discusses Intent Media's new UK-based Games Media Awards, and he's done a good job of summing up an event which I'm, to put it politely, a bit uncomfortable about.

My quizzical looks are particularly because Intent's Stuart Dinsey explained that "...he'd like to get votes from "all the leading companies" in the games industry, probably by asking PR representatives to consult with their colleagues and place a vote to represent the company as a whole... Dinsey said they might consider letting members of the press vote and that the final voting panel would likely be some mixture of industry and press."

Enter a NGJ czar with some pithy comments: "But the mere specter of industry voting was enough to give some members of the press pause about the awards. "The games industry are the last people who should be voting for awards in games journalism," said British game freelancer Kieron Gillen. "It's a bit like the prisoners voting for who's their favourite prison guard." Gillen said he worries that the industry voting will make the award one "you wouldn't want to win.... because it's basically shorthand for 'Lapdog of the year award.'""

As Orland notes of the largely UK-specific awards: "Hard hitting critiques and investigative journalism are unlikely to be rewarded by the companies that work so hard to generate positive coverage and keep secrets until they're ready to be announced." So... what to do about the lack of game journalism awards judged exclusively by peers? Anyone want to start some, separately of the companies we work for? Not that we probably have time, doh.

[A possibility - I note the IGJA has some commentary on this very 'game journalism awards' issue, although they are probably giving me hideous looks over my attempted style guide critique. But hey, I just found a good defence of the guide on Games.net, so it's possible I'm just wrong/grumpy on that one. Anyhow, IGJA, take the lead on the whole journo awards thing, and I promise to behave in the future!]

How, Why Games Got Really Simple

- Somewhat obscure indie blog Too Normal, which is run by Puffbomb creator Mike Kasprzak, has a nice post on 'simplification' as a movement for video game.

He explains in an intro: "I think [simplicity is] an important direction and discussion for game design. Sure, as a gamer, I can handle complicated control schemes. I’ve done my time and held my own in hotkey crazy RTS’s, twitch FPS’s, and I can be pretty menacing in Tony Hawk. But most of these games aren’t getting any easier. I don’t even care to finish Tony Hawk’s Project 8, or the Underground games, because the things you need to do at the end are ridiculous."

Continuing: "It’s almost like the game industry hard-on for 3D graphics and difficulty is starting to calm its ass down. Actually, what happened instead was the polar opposite distinctly emerged. Casual games. Short, easy games you can play for hours, if they so compel you... The Wii happened too. The secret theoretical solution to FPS’s on the console." These are good points, elegantly phrased - accessibility is key to the future of the game biz.

April 13, 2007

Llopis Believes In The Power Of Two

- One of the most affable, smart and helpful game developers we've been lucky enough to work with for Game Developer magazine and GDC is Noel Llopis, who runs the Games From Within blog and was most recently at High Moon Studios as a tech lead.

Anyhow, the latest Games From Within blog update reveals of the MechAssault and Darkwatch veteran: "Charles Nicholson and I decided to take the plunge and create our own game development company: Power of Two Games. So I finally get the chance to follow the dream I've had for a long time!" And there's a new Power Of Two Games website/blog so everyone can keep up with his new indie start.

The 'About' page explains: "We strongly believe that two passionate people in a garage (or closet) can make great games even in this day of multi-million game projects. So we put our money where our mouths are, quit our nice and secure jobs, and decided to embark in this crazy, wild ride." And the first entry is super cute: "Noel is all too proud of stealing (!!) his new monitor stand. Somewhere in the greater San Diego area, two children are lost, cold, and slowly starving because they don't have their Yellow Pages." Subscribe to their RSS and follow the ride!

MMOG Nation Citizen Spotlight: Aggro Me

['MMOG Nation' is a weekly column by Michael Zenke about current events in the world of Massively Multiplayer Games. This week's column focuses on the blogging efforts of an EverQuest 2 player.]

Aggro MeWorld of Warcraft's MMOG-glossary lists the definition of 'Aggro' as "This means the monsters are mad at you and you've 'activated' them to attack you. They are now in the motion of trying to reach and attack you." That fairly accurately sums up the writings on the blog Aggro Me, a now mostly-retired site that focused almost solely on the EverQuest 2 title developed by Sony Online Entertainment.

While for the most part his commentary ran to the esoterica of EQ2 patch notes and a weekly humor column, he was also fairly well known for some inflamatory statements made in the heat of the blogging moment. In particular, his scathing dismissal of the Penny Arcade comic early last year garnered a lot of attention on forums around the Internet. He also vigorously decried the concept of the SOE Station Exchange when it was originally launched, and expended a good deal of effort in examining its flaws and shortcomings.

Aggro was kind enough to answer a few questions for us, and so today we have a look behind the screen at the gent who has (for good or ill) done a fair bit of aggroing of his own in the last two years. We had a chance to talk about his past with Massive games, the reason his blog has been so quiet of late, and I've got a plethora of links to some of the best content the Aggro Me site has to offer. Read on for a look at a focused blogger, who has never been afraid to let you know about that chip on his shoulder.

Aggro Who?

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?

Aggro:I’m an attorney and I work at a prestigious (read: intensely stressful) law firm in midtown Manhattan. A lifetime New Yorker, I currently reside on the Upper East Side. I am in a serious relationship (you can figure out the time it started by reading my blog and seeing where the daily posts dropped off). That’s cut down on my writing and gaming a bit, but, as Shakespeare once said, “Love is the phat-est lewt of all.”

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

Aggro: Fantasy is a common theme in my hobbies as I enjoy reading fantasy novels (stay tuned for a fantasy novel review blog) and playing fantasy sports. I do occasionally zone outside the apartment to complete the typical NYC quests like getting reservations at a hot restaurant before midnight, finding a play or musical to buff my cultural stats, and conducting raids on area museums. I’m not a huge console player but my PS2 is the only place I can find good SRPG’s (Disgaea 2 currently) and rock out with Guitar Hero 2. I have yet to take the next-gen plunge but I do own a DS (great) and a PSP (horrid). I definitely do a lot of PC gaming, although these days it’s usually more casual games. I find it’s the casual, independent games that often have the most innovative and interesting design.

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

Aggro: I’m so hardcore that at the same time I’m answering this question I’m leading two separate high level raids for fabled drops by dual-boxing (on an Amiga and Atari ST I’ve hacked to run Vanguard). My actual preferred play style is semi-casual play with a static group. But I have ranged the gamut from being part of a hardcore raiding guild to casual soloing, so it really depends. I find it mirrors life: It’s good to be alone sometimes, but you get bored (soloing); parties are fun but you don’t want go to one every night especially since there’s always one or two annoying people there (raiding); and in the end the best thing is to share some good times with a group of friends (static single groups).

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

Aggro: I played some BBS door games back in the day like Legend of the Red Dragon and messed around in a few MUD’s. But I was a total noob when it came to real MMOG’s until relatively recently. I tried Everquest but never had the time to really get into it. City of Heroes was the first MMOG I spent significant time with. Its amazing character creator and streamlined play served as a great introduction to the MMOG world. I consider CoH/CoV a perfect first MMOG for people new to the genre. Anyway, that’s when the love affair started and I’ve since played every major MMOG release and many minor ones. I’ll try any MMOG once, no matter how horrible it looks.

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

Aggro: I’m going to have to go with Fantasy General by SSI, because I’ve never really stopped playing it. It’s fun and intuitive to pick up and play but has an incredible depth of strategy. The replayability is almost endless and the choral music is my favorite game music to date. I was so into my first single-player campaign that I renamed every single unit and the game had such a lasting impression on me that I still remember some of those names. I’m currently running Sorceress Mordra through the third continent and after all these years, I still have a lot to learn about Fantasy General. Runners-up are Heroes of Might and Magic and Shining Force.

Least favorite is trickier. I don’t mind games that are hilariously bad. For example, I actually spent a decent amount of time playing the awful MMOG “Prison Server” and I had a good time doing it. Doom III is probably the most recent game I finished and absolutely hated. The Movies was probably the biggest disappointment to me in recent memory. I hate Myst-clones or any pixel-hunting game. If you’re only talking about MMOG’s then EQII is definitely my favorite. There are so many bad ones but I found DDO to be especially repulsive.

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?
Well, a lot of my favorite memories spring from trying to grief my friends. Just the other night I managed to annoy them in Planetside by piling up vehicles near a ramp in the training area. That gave me great pleasure.

Aggro: I have some wonderful memories from PvP. I used to have an EQII guild named Aggroculture on Nagafen and we would schedule wars with the Brownie Troop guild from EQII Daily (home of the EQII Daily Podcast). Those were always a hilariously good time. But probably the most memorable experience I’ve had is slaying Darathar with my first EQII guild. It was a long, fantastic quest culminating in a return to the Isle I had first started on at Level 1. The fight was dramatic and challenging and the reward was amazing. It was wonderful to accomplish such a difficult goal with people who had become friends.

Michael: Conversely, do you have a bad memory that's tainted your experiences with Massive games in general? A horrible group, or something like that?

Aggro: I love horrible groups, because they give me ideas for humor columns. My worst memories in an MMOG are probably technical issues. I remember there was a named in Zek my group and I fought for literally forty-five minutes in the early days of EQII. The server went down when he had just a sliver of health left. It’s also incredibly annoying to have the server go down in the middle of a raid and be faced with a lockout timer.

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

Aggro: When I was younger I asked one of my friends, “If you could live in a world with wizards and dragons and be a hero, would you do it?” The answer for both of us was: in a second. Massive games let me pretty much live out that dream while still pursuing a career and enjoying non-digital relationships. MMOG’s are simply the most entertaining thing in existence. What keeps me playing is always the people I group with and the bonds I form in a game’s community.

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

Aggro: I actually had an idea for a novel related to MMOG’s. The protagonist had a blog named “Aggro Me.” I decided to create the “faux-blog” as preparation. Of course, the novel never made it past the first chapter, and, meanwhile, Aggro Me has hundreds of lengthy posts. I discovered just how much I loved MMOG’s and just how much I loved blogging. When thinking of a name, the first step was eliminating the MMOG slang already used in other blog titles. I really wanted a name with an aggressive connotation and it actually does fit my play style. I just aggro-ed an entire zone in Vanguard last night, culminating in a gigantic train. And when I play a DPS class, it’s only a matter of time before I give in to my overnuking urges.

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

Aggro: It’s really the fact that I get so passionate about these games that if I didn’t write down the things in my head, I’d probably explode. I also love getting comments on my posts and I’ve met so many great people through the site and its forums, some of who I group with regularly in MMOG’s.

Michael: You seem so well-rounded, both in and out of gaming. What got you hooked into Red Dragon and the BBS games?

Aggro: I just loved the whole BBS thing. I remember that incomparable sound when your modem connected; I remember poring over the phone book to see which 516 area codes would still be billed as local from my 718 zone; and I remember having to send away by regular mail for a password to one BBS and the excitement I felt when I received a return mailing. The amount of time you could spend on certain BBS’s was originally limited by a timer. Then one day I came across a game which allowed you to gamble your time allotment and win additional time. I was completely hooked. From there on I sought out and loved any BBS game.

Michael: Your appreciation for EverQuest 2 is obvious to anyone who has read your blog for a bit. What about SOE's flagship has kept you hooked when others have fallen by the wayside. You said EQ never really grabbed you, so it's not the nostalgia some players feel. What keeps you in Norrath?

Aggro: EQII is just a good game that has gotten markedly better since I started my blog. The community of players is the most wonderful I have seen. I’ve also gotten the chance to meet some of the EQII team and they’re truly a bunch of passionate, intelligent people.

Michael: Your discussion of writing outside of your blog is interesting. What drives you to write things like your 'Aggro Me'-protagonist novel? Are you working on anything right now?

Aggro: I just love to write. Nothing else gives me that feeling of flow, of complete focus, enjoyment and passion. I’m currently working on a detailed script for a (non-existent) SRPG/wargame called Res Aciei. It’s intended to marry strategic play with a strong, involving story. Additionally, I’m working on a list of concepts for an artist friend of mine who wants to submit his comics for publication but needs an original idea. So I’m creating the backstories, settings and characters for him to choose from. I’m pretty sure neither of those projects will actually come to fruition. But it’s the journey I love. People tend to dismiss daydreaming and fantasizing in our culture as somehow worthless or even reprehensible. I think it’s an awesome time.

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

Aggro: I love you

Smells Like Froglok? Or Maybe SOE.

The primary focus of the site, then, is EQ2. As you can imagine, this means Aggro offers up a fair bit of kvetching about the minutia of EverQuest 2's systems. There was his two part discussion of update 24, notes from testing update 18, and some extremely harsh commentary on update 17. Most of the time, though, Aggro focuses on higher level conversations. He has notes from the releases of the Kingdom of Sky and Desert of Flames expansions, and his discussion of the Frostfell Event was part of the reason I started playing the game in the first place.

This high-level focus extends to the EQ2's sister titles as well, and general commentary on Sony Online Entertainment in general. Aggro's talked about SOE's digital download service, the all-access pass, GM services, and future SOE MMOG development. He's also had some very specific words to offer on the recently released Vanguard: Saga of Heroes. For some interesting comparison of 'then and now', it's worth looking back to Aggro's debate with the blogger Quylein the Mage about the title from last summer.

One specific issue that Aggro has focused on since it was originally announced is the SOE Station Exchange. From his first angry initial reaction recent discussion of the white paper, Aggro has been one of the loudest decryers of institutionalized RMT. He commented on the service as it morphed from their initial announcement, being honest about what they were amending in the face of public pressure, and then wrapped up the first year of trading with an insightful look from a player's point of view. I still find his initial reaction to be the most interesting:

"Being relatively new to MMORPG's I don't have the built up ill will towards SOE that some do. I have often given them the benefit of the doubt when more experienced players have not. I gave them kind of a free pass on the Froglok nonsense. I have been willing to accept their mistruths and missteps and have always tried to take everything in a light and humorous way. But not today. Not on this day.For years I have listened to SOE and other MMORPG companies vilify IGE and the secondary market to the point where they have become the devils that cause all that is evil and wrong with online gaming. Whether this is true or not is a matter for another debate. But now I know why SOE was bashing IGE. Not as an enemy, you see, but as a competitor."

You've Got Your Funny, And Over Here Your FanFaire

More than any other blogger, though, Aggro has made an effort to keep conversation light. Every week during his heyday of posting, Aggro made sure to put up a Friday humor feature themed around EQ2. Some of them, like EQ pick-up lines and 'player types' ... strain the definition of humour a bit. Luckily, he's a pretty funny guy, and more often then not there was some goodness in his weekly offerings. My personal favorites include the MMOLympics ("Pick-up Group Survival: One contestant at a time groups with five randomly chosen group members. How long can each contestant survive the horror?"), Looking for Group 'Advertisements' ("Group LFM: Hot wood elves only."), and Rejected Expansion Ideas (Mogloks: Let's tell players there is a new race in the Expansion called the Mogloks, waiting to be unlocked and that all they need to do is finish some quest. Eventually we'll finish the art, character design and animation for this race and then announce it.)

Some other excellent Friday features include EQ2 glossary terms I and II, some EQ-themed limericks, and Everquest 2 Motivational Posters.

I usually find posts made while traveling to be some of the most interesting writing a blogger can do. It should be no surprise, then, that some of my favorite Aggro posts were made 'on the road'. He went to last year's FanFaire event (the annual EverQuest get-together), as well as the SOE Community Summit for 2005, and wrote extensively about both experiences. The now two-years old Community Summit is especially interesting to read through, as it gives a snapshot of the game less than a year after the game had launched. His FanFaire coverage is even more in-depth, offering up details on changes to PvP and Tradeskilling, many of which we've now seen implimented in the game. There, again, it's great to look back at what the future was going to hold and compare it to the here-and-now of EverQuest 2.

"'Polished' is a word often associated with WoW. And no, I'm not saying 'OMG EQII copies WOW lol.' But maybe recent times in the MMO world have shown that the general market prefers polished content even at the cost of lack of new content on a timely basis. Now, I'm not saying SOE is going to mirror Blizzard, who I'm sure is going to be releasing an expansion sometime this decade. But they do seem to be moving a bit more to the "polished" model which is something I think both the game designers and players will appreciate. However, I think you will still see SOE continue to push new content on a rapid basis, as today's Live Update shows. That pace may just be slowed from a sprint to a run."

At the end of the day, it's always great to read someone who is passionate about a specific topic talking about something he loves. That kind of enthusiasm is something that I think everyone responds to ... whether positively or negatively. Aggro may not be posting regularly anymore, but his body of work stands as a testament to what many people see as the 'other' big Western MMOG. Even if EQ2 hasn't captured the imagination of millions, it can still arouse the passion of one man. And that, that is nothing to sneeze at.

[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. ]

What Harvard Did Next About Games

- Venerable university newspaper The Harvard Crimson recently posted an article about the expansion of game studies and societies at Harvard, explaining: "The newly-formed Harvard Interactive Media Group (HIMG) is trying to spur a new way for undergrads to connect to each other, largely by connecting them to the [game] machines they love."

The most interesting thing about it, though, is the Harvard Interactive Media Group, which will publish a magazine called the Review, "...featuring articles by students, professors from Harvard and other universities, and prominent figures in the gaming industry and other relevant fields, the first issue is scheduled to appear in late April. With a projected circulation of about 5,000, the Review aims to bring interactive media to a wider audience. "

The contributor's list is pretty impressive, since it includes a lot of the more prominent gaming academics, from Henry Jenkins through Edward Castronova to Jim Gee, and even sneaks in the ineffable Peter Molyneux. Looking forward to getting a copy of this somehow (or maybe even extracting some bits, with their permission!), since print magazine manifestations of this kind of thinking are relatively rare. [Via The-Inbetween.]

A Visit To See The Protomen, NYC-Style

- Matthew 'Fort90' Hawkins has a new weblog entry up discussing a visit to see Mega Man tribute band The Protomen in NYC, and it actually sounds like the band are trying some interesting things in their quest to 'interpret' the Capcom classic.

Matthew explains: "They basically have this quasi-rock opera based upon the Mega Man mythos... So the Protomen conveys this whole story, or at least the underlining themes, I think, via various songs, while also somewhat focusing on the human element. While the rest of the band plays rock music, all decked out in black and red southern threads, as well as some silver face-paint, the leader singer switches between Mega Man and Proto Man when addressing the audience, like some sort of pep rally. And at the end, it culminates with a confrontation between the brothers."

Ah, i see there's an interview with The Protomen over at GamerHelp.com, in which they handily explain: " Put simply, Sandy, the story of Megaman is allegorical to every epic war. Look at the facts: Megaman is Blue. Protoman is Red. Now look deeper, Sandy. Deeper...DEEPER! Pepsi Vs. Coca-Cola. Democrat Vs. Republican. Obi Wan Vs. Darth Vader. Rocky vs. Ivan Drago. White Castle Vs. Krystal. Un-oxygenated Blood Vs. Oxygenated Blood. Goodwill Vs. Salvation Army. Blue Coats Vs. Red Coats. Captain D's Vs. Red Lobster. Wal-Mart Vs. Target. Dominos Vs. Pizza Hut. Crips Vs. Bloods. Hall Vs. Oates." Wait, that makes no sense. Oh well. There's some MP3s up, too.

How Shoot 'Em Ups Affect (Or Don't) Your Kids

- Over at Wired.com, Clive Thompson's recent 'Games Without Frontiers' column is named 'You Grew Up Playing Shoot'em-Up Games. Why Can't Your Kids?', and he has a bit of a dilemma.

Specifically: "Gamers like me have spent years railing against ill-informed parents and politicians who've blamed games for making kids violent, unimaginative, fat or worse. But now we're in a weird position: We're the first generation that is young enough to have grown up playing games, but old enough to have kids. So it turns out that, whoops, now we've got to make sober calls about what sort of entertainment is good or bad for our children. And what, precisely, are we deciding?"

There's one particularly interesting perspective in there: "Chris Anderson, my uber-boss -- the editor in chief of Wired magazine and lead editor on Geekdad -- suggested a even more intriguing strategy: the "Lego Rule." The Lego Company, it seems, has a policy of not producing toys that replicate 20th century weapons. "You can have swords, and you can have laser guns in space, but no actual 20th century guns," Anderson says. So his four children can play games like Halo, since it contains only futuristic, fantasy war, where you're killing only green- or blue-blooded aliens. The same goes for Roman swordplay titles. "But it clearly walls off Grand Theft Auto.""

April 12, 2007

Game Informer's GameStop Bundling - Stratospheric!

- The St. Paul Business Journal has a new article up discussing circulation gains for Game Informer magazine, the U.S. video game mag which is bundled by GameStop with its 'loyalty card' for secondhand purchases (and is also available for standalone purchase/subscription), and which keeps shooting up in circulation numbers.

The article reveals: "The video game magazine, which has its offices in the Minneapolis warehouse district, said its rate base guarantee -- or the circulation level it can promise advertisers -- has increased from 1.8 million in 2006, to at least 2.3 million for 2007." The magazine's associate publisher says it's largely down to next-gen consoles, and then concedes: "Subscription sales through the magazine's partnership with retailer GameStop have also risen."

Well, of course, GameStop actually owns Game Informer Magazine, and I'd wager cash money that pretty much the entirity of that circ increase is down to the favorable subscription deal at GameStop (a year's sub is basically free when buy just a few secondhand games, since you get a 10% discount on used games and they put that toward the $15 subscription/card price).

Nonetheless, as Kevin Gifford has been commenting recently in his column, the Game Informer folks have been using some of that high-circ freedom to run some good quality features and analyses of the game scene, from Columbine RPG analyses to higher-end interviews. Their review scores may skew a little high at times, but the Minneapolis kids are alright with us!

GameTap Confirms Panzer Dragoon, Zwei For Service

- Here's another of these cross-posted Gamasutra stories on GameTap that I worked out thanks to the Angled Whiteboards folks - and working at home on Thursdays, so having access to the GameTap client easily! As I wrote over at Gama:

"Following the recent news that Turner's GameTap subscription PC 'all you can eat' gaming service has now added Sega Saturn games, the company has confirmed the seminal Panzer Dragoon and Panzer Dragoon Zwei as forthcoming titles.

Alongside the official launch of platform game Bug! today, the 'Coming Soon' page within the GameTap PC client now lists the Saturn versions of both the classic Team Andromeda-developed on-rails shooters. No specific arrival date has yet been given for the titles.

Gamasutra sister weblog GameSetWatch has recently published a detailed history of the Panzer Dragoon series, with writer J. Fleming noting of the first game in the series, released in 1995: "Set in a post-apocalyptic future in which the planet has been rendered unrecognizable by genetically-engineered super technologies, Panzer Dragoon was a sophisticated mix of 60’s and 70’s science fiction filtered through the visual sensibilities of the French comic magazine Metal Hurlant."

As for the second game: "Panzer Dragoon was a commercial success and Team Andromeda followed with Panzer Dragoon II Zwei in 1996. Expanding on the promise of the first game, Zwei was a refinement in every sense. The game engine was enhanced to provide a smoother frame rate. The graphics were an explosion of retina sizzling color and the somber narrative was as memorable as the game play. As a shooter, Zwei was regarded as one of the finest. With elegant control and visual drama, it fully satisfied the pleasures of reflex and spectacle."

Although at least one [EDIT: Ta, RoushiMSX!] of these titles have appeared in little-known converted PC versions around the time of the original release, sources close to GameTap have confirmed that the titles are indeed running in a Sega Saturn emulator, rather than simply the PC SKU."

COLUMN: Game Collector's Melancholy - NIS America

[‘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.]

Mary.jpgRecently Nippon Ichi Software America announced their line-up of new releases as well as some big developments for their online store. To find out more, I posted a few questions by email to Jack Niida, marketing manager of NIS America and Mitsu Hiraoka, vice president of NIS America Online Business Development.

NIS America announced a slew of new titles including GrimGrimoire and Soul Nomad & the World Eaters for the PS2 as well as Disgaea and Dragoneer’s Aria for the PSP. Those, along with the upcoming Atelier Iris 3: Grand Phantasm and Aedis Eclipse: Generation of Chaos represent a fairly busy release schedule. Do you expect to continue to move at that pace and are Sony’s PS2 and PSP the target platforms for the foreseeable future?

Jack Niida: We’re setting a good pace for now. It’s a busier release schedule than our norm, but the localization process is going well. Unless something drastically goes wrong, we won’t make any adjustments to our release schedule. That being said, the 2nd half of the year will be quieter than the first half, with fewer releases scheduled.

For a long time, NIS America has been releasing titles for the PS2 and PSP, so some people might think we are solely dedicated to Sony, but that is not true. Our goal is to provide quality games and services to all game fans, and looking ahead, there are several platforms that can help us reach out to a broader audience and gamers can expect surprises from us. Of course, we will also continue to work closely with Sony, providing great games for PS2/PS3/PSP users as well.

Tell me a bit about the new face of your online store at www.RosenQueen.com.

Mitsu Hiraoka: 2 years have passed since the opening of the NISA online store. During these past 2 years, we have been connecting with the media at press events, and also through our daily PR work, and we have communicated with our fans, receiving encouraging voices. However, at the same time our fans have voiced their concerns as well. Every year, in the month of July we hold a booth at Anime Expo to have an opportunity to meet with our fans. We also hold various contests that prove to be an important opportunity for fan interaction. Through these various activities, we have always contemplated on the “value” that we can provide for our customers. We came to realize that it is always important to increase game quality, but it is also equally important to provide a value that can offer a truly rich gaming environment. NISA is not the only company that is thinking about value. If we can provide fine products from these companies to our customers for their satisfaction, it will be very meaningful.

RQ_logo.jpgThe RosenQueen Company is taken from an item shop within a video game series by Nippon Ichi Software called Marl’s Kingdom. Etoile Rosenqueen, the rival of Marl’s Kingdom’s main character, is the representative of the RosenQueen Company.
As I mentioned in the previous section, it became necessary to create a vendor that isn’t specifically named after NISA, in order to provide non-NISA related products. However, at the same time, it is necessary to carry on the spirit of NISA. And RosenQueen fulfills both requirements.

People enjoy the fictional part of video games, so we’re hoping people will enjoy the fictional setting of the vendor as well. Initially we will provide game related products that NISA is good at dealing with. But, eventually we would like to move forward with various other products and services, since even Disgaea is turning into an anime.

Now, even the cocky Etoile cannot live without the help of our customers. Therefore, like the NISA online store, we would like to provide products and services that the customers will enjoy.

I notice that you are making certain titles from XSEED Games and Atlus USA available through RosenQueen. What is the relationship between NIS America and those publishers?

Mitsu Hiraoka: From a business sense, our relationship will be as “publisher” and “vendor”. You might suspect that we, as a publisher, are in competition, but as I mentioned before, providing high quality products and services will benefit the customer the most. As a publisher, we acknowledge each other and increase our quality through competition. However, as a retailer we have a mutual relationship with those publishers to provide true value to our customers.

I was extremely pleased with the deluxe packaging that you gave Ar Tonelico – Melody of Elemia. Can we look forward to more premium editions? What are the economics of special boxed editions? Do you see less profit because of the printing costs? Are they more difficult to get on the shelves of retailers?

artonelico.jpgJack Niida: Judging cost effectiveness on a bonus item for video games is always a difficult task. What it comes down to is cost-benefit, customer interest, affordability, and future impact. If we believe that the added bonus would not gather enough numbers to cover the total cost we would pull the plug. However, if there are additional positive impacts by releasing a similar, yet smaller bonus feature that costs less for customer satisfaction, we may do so. There is no single specific recipe for a successful bonus campaign, but through our past campaign data and experience we have a fairly good picture of the outcome.

Placing special edition packages could be a challenge in itself, depending on the retailer. Few are flexible enough to work with these large size displays. However, there are retailers that are very cooperative and we really appreciate it. For our future titles, we would like to provide similar special editions packages.

On the subject of Ar Tonelico, one of the unique aspects of that title was its incorporation of Visual Novel elements. Although a popular genre in Japan, American game reviewers seemed to have trouble wrapping their heads around the idea. Is the U.S. ready for Visual Novels?

Jack Niida: There is no denying that visual novels are still a foreign game style. However, feedback from players was positive, so we believe there is at least an increase in interest. In general, we found that those with positive feedback are fans of anime or manga, so their understandings of the Japanese gaming culture perhaps helped embrace the new style. With all the increased interest though, we have yet to determine whether or not a full visual novel game will succeed in the states. Perhaps we should test the waters with some of our Japanese titles.

With the upcoming Atelier Iris 3: Grand Phantasm you are making the soundtrack available separately through RosenQueen. Is it imported from Japan or are you establishing a US music publishing division?

ai3.jpgJack Niida: We are not importing the soundtrack, but not necessarily establishing a music publishing division either. The music source is provided from the Japanese developer, so we would re-master, create new package, and manufacture them on a small scale. Nothing extraordinary is done, but like I mentioned earlier, our goal is to provide quality games and services to our game fans, so we try to do our best to bring what they wish for.

Finally, I am very intrigued by Hayarigami. With the popularity of Japanese horror films and games is there a possibility that Hayarigami or its sequel may see a US release?

Jack Niida: With the increased popularity in Japanese horror films, there is certainly a chance. Our only concern is the game play style. Hayarigami is a full visual novel style game and unlike Ar tonelico it does not have any traditional RPG features, like combat and adventure. So, we are still a bit hesitant to release this game. However, if there is enough demand we will definitely try to bring the game over.

Many thanks to NIS America.

Images: © 2007 NIS America. All Rights Reserved

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

The History Of CRPGs: Some Extra Perspective?

- Yesterday, we put up Matt Barton's awesome 'History Of The CRPG, Part III' on Gamasutra - 19,000 words of insanely knowledgable specifics on the PC RPG scene of the last 10 years, and we thank him profusely for it. Following on from there, the smart 'Tales Of The Rampant Coyote' blog has posted some handy analysis/perspective on the piece.

The, uhh, Coyote is particularly good when he looks at what this history means for the future of the genre, given that pure RPGs don't get the billing they used to: "I would hope that we're only at another dip in the road. With the amazing success of the Elder Scrolls series (and the somewhat more distant success of Diablo II still resonating years later), interest by publishers in RPGs remains high. But publishers, leery of the enormous expense of making RPGs compared to other games - seem to focus on cutting the wrong things to keep things on budget. Maybe not the wrong things from a short-term, "let's make this as profitable as possible" perspective. After all, we gamers are having fun - which is the whole point - and the games are making money. But I feel they are painting themselves into a corner in the long term."

So what now? "I think in some ways, we DO need to go backwards. I think there were a lot of possibilities suggested out by some of the games discussed in this series of articles that were only partially explored. Maybe it was because of the lack of technology to pull it off, or maybe it was just a running out of steam. But I see lots of uncharted territory out there to be explored." Do you think pure PC-style RPGs need a boost? And if so, how?

The Future Of Fair, Balanced Game Editorial

- Pleased to see other personalities thinking about the nature of game journalism, and Slashdot Games' and MMOG Nation's Michael Zenke has just written an extremely interesting piece on 'opinions' and the game press, citing a Raph Koster piece about Time Magazine's redesign.

Specifically, Koster suggests: "The days of letting facts be reported without comment seems to be dwindling… and while it opens up lots of questions about whether we’ll ever see truly unbiased reporting, it does mean that perhaps less facts will pass by unexamined. And that would be a good thing."

Zenke notes: "In the gaming news space (the focus of my professional and private efforts for more than a year now), this has resulted in a very mixed bag. Unbiased reporting is far and away the preferred method of news consumption among the gaming hardcore. Sites like Kotaku and Destructoid fuel the interests of their readers with a little bit of personality to go with their crunchy news nougat. (It’s a lot like Fox News, actually, though I like Brian Crecente a hell of a lot more than Sean Hannity.)"

There's a whole bunch more great analysis in there, but as Mr. Zenke notes - we just have to deal with this sea change by adjusting our personal habits to whatever style of information suits us: "To get a little GitS on you, if we’re going to be swimming in an ever-deeper ’sea of information’ we need to get used to it. Twenty years ago my parents lived in a comparative desert, waiting days just to find out what had happened in their own back yard. Whether you choose to stay in the shallow end of the pool and tread water with IGN and Fox News or head out and risk getting bitten by sources like Destructoid or Wonkette, at least you’re swimming."

(Of course, this also means that I have the right to whine about the water quality, but it doesn't mean that anybody will fix it, because - let's face it - there's nobody 'in charge'. Fair enough!)

April 11, 2007

52 Gaming Similes To Describe Your Relationship

- Over at GamesOnDeck editor Mathew Kumar's personal blog, he's penned a fun new piece, '52 Gaming Similes To Describe Your Relationship', in which he and his girlfriend pick some choice verbiage to describe interpersonal relate-y fun!

I'm just going to excerpt the first 5, but you will get the general idea - it's actually witty and sly, despite the fact that list articles are often annoying and pointless (see previous post - totally joking - kinda - maybe!):

"Our relationship is like…

1. Killer 7. I don’t understand what you’re saying, and I don’t even know who I am any more.
2. Resident Evil 4. I’m protecting you from all the world’s evils, and you won’t even let me look at your pants.
3. Super Mario Kart. I’m sabotaging the progress of others to reach the rainbow road.
4. Tetris. Shit keeps piling up.
5. Bust A Move. You keep bursting my bubble." Haw!

[Hijacking this post for a sec to talk about his non-leisure time stuff, Mr. Kumar recently edited up the first part of an interview with Trip Hawkins over on GoD, as written by The Gamer's Quarter's Matthew Williamson. It's quite entertaining, and the final bit is up tomorrow - go sister mobile site go!]

Top 10 Most Influential Amiga Games? OK!

- I don't generally have a chance to write any articles for people outside of the whole Gamasutra/GameSetWatch/Game Developer nexus, but when the folks at Wired.com asked me to write a piece on the 'Top 10 Most Influential Amiga Games', I mean - how could I resist?

It's actually a gallery with pictures of the best Amiga games of all time, in my humble opinion (with screenshots from Hall Of Light), along with some extended captions - but they ended up having to cut my extended intro to fit into the space provided, so I thought - with Wired's kind permission - that I would put the extended one here. Amiga nostalgia alert - it was my weapon of choice from 1988 to 1996 or so, at least!

"In the 22 years since it was unveiled by Andy Warhol at the Lincoln Center in New York, the Commodore Amiga computer has arguably birthed more breakthrough multimedia creative efforts than any other, being a vital pre-PC tool for everything from art through video, CG, professional audio and video games.

As just one example, much of the CG for J. Michael Straczynski's groundbreaking sci-fi show Babylon 5 was created on Amigas, and Wallace & Gromit-creating studio Aardman Animations used the Amiga for stop motion image capturing at one point in its history. And even in the early years of the 21st century, thanks to admirers in the retro gaming scenes and associated art and 'demo-scene' worlds, the Amiga still has a large fanbase.

For one, Warhol's Amiga-constructed painted digital film 'You Are The One' was rescued and restored, showing with a custom soundtrack for a single day (due to "threatened legal action tied to estate disputes and to its pending seizure") at the Detroit Museum Of New Art in 2006

Commodore's computer was clearly a useful tool to Warhol - in an interview with Amiga World magazine in 1986, Warhol commented of the Amiga: "The thing I like the most about doing this kind of art on the Amiga is that it looks like my work."

More recently still, the MindCandy DVD featuring a multitude of Amiga 'demos' (executable programs that functioned as works of art and showed off the audiovisual capabilities of the system) has just been released, and is available at MindCandyDVD.com. Showing off the unique power of the system, the DVD "covers fifteen years of demo evolution with thirty of the best Amiga demos created." In addition, the impressive demos all used real-time effects, including some of the earliest real-time 3D vector graphics on any home computer, and even some texture-mapped models and real-time procedural effects that prefigured their use in many video games.

But separately of the demos, video games themselves were one of the most vibrant creative scenes on the Amiga, and many of the games created back then for the computer were a major influence on today's gaming genres. The Amiga's heyday for games was in the late '80s and early '90s, when its custom chipset and advanced (for the time) audiovisuals led to sumptuous 2D titles in a variety of styles, and even some basic 3D games, from standout creators such as The Bitmap Brothers, DMA Design, Sensible Software, Cinemaware, and more.

Many of these games are still relevant today. For example, Microsoft's X06 European press event saw the announcement that Amiga classic Sensible Soccer would be coming to the Xbox Live Arcade service for the Xbox 360, complete with custom online leagues playable over Xbox Live. And multiple game franchises created for the Amiga have gone on to bigger and brighter things. So let's look at some of the most creative entries in the game canon for one of the all-time most creative machines."

So there you go - check out the full Wired.com gallery and my vaguely pithy comments, and feel free to agree/disagree about what I left out and why the hell It Came From The Desert! isn't there, etc, etc.

COLUMN: 'Roboto-chan!': Redesigning the Barrel

['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 one designer who has taken the concept of real robots to their zenith.]

steel_battalion_quasar1.jpgAbout seven years ago I stumbled across some interesting designs within the pages of Newtype. I used to buy Newtype semi-regularly, mainly for my Five Star Stories fix but also because the magazine often held host to some pretty interesting stuff.

The designs that caught my eye were from a soon to be serialised novel by the name of For the Barrel and they were, quite frankly, utterly revolutionary. You see, For the Barrel was a re-imagination of the original Gundam series, except with a far greater emphasis on realism. The designwork was consequently unnervingly palpable.

A few years later, Capcom announced a truly bizarre mecha game on the original Xbox. It would have a monstrous bespoke controller covered in a myriad of happy flashing buttons. Naturally, the mecha designs needed to look the part especially with such a high emphasis on realism for the game.

The common link between the two is a man by the name of Junji Okubo and it’s about time his effect on mecha design and the future of gaming was covered.

In some ways saying that For the Barrel merely re-wrote the original Gundam sells it more than a little bit short. Considering that Yoshikazu Yasuhiko, one of the founding fathers of the original Gundam along with Yoshiyuki Tomino, has approached his Gundam The Origin manga with more than a little trepidation only shows the magnitude of the undertaking for outsiders.

forthebarrel_newtype1.jpgFor the Barrel didn’t just re-write Gundam it approached every aspect of its setting and re-examined its implementation. From the psychological make-up of the characters to the technology used to power their machines of war. The latter being pertinent in light of what Gundam has done for the real robot mythos.

When I interviewed Okubo a few years ago, he made a very interesting observation in regards to mecha design. He used a word to describe contemporary mecha, that of keren. The word originates from kabuki and means “playing to the gallery”, and is basically regarded as indicating excessive theatrics.

In the context of mecha, Okubo was referring to the crazy nonsense of Getta Robo’s gattai sequence, as the three craft impossibly morph into one another. Real robots eschewed this emphasis on keren and were consequently more palpable. However, real robots were born from supers and they retained a certain amount of vestigial keren.

izmojuki_industrial_divinities1.jpgOkubo’s approach to mecha design is, for all intents and purposes, keren free. The results are some of the most realistic looking mecha designs to date and unsurprisingly with such a great emphasis on realism games like Steel Battalion were possible. From a functional standpoint, the designwork framed the gameplay.

Okubo recently had a book published, entitled Izmojuki Industrial Divinities it contained a lot of his designs for Steel Battalion (including concept sketches) as well as his other non-game work. Apart from the artwork, the book also contains several CG renders of his designs photoshopped into real world locations (similar to Katoki's work on Gundam Fix). This only emphasizes the quality of the design in terms of its real robot focus. They look like machinery that's already part of our daily lives or at least very soon will be.

I mentioned in a previous column how Ryosuke Takahashi's approach to making mecha functional tools in a narrative context has had a noticeable effect on Japanese mecha games. Whilst Takahashi has the right approach, Okubo's designs are the pinnacle in terms of that approach's execution.

okubo_design1.jpgYou see, whilst Okubo is striving for realism in his designs he acknowledges the history that pre-dates that. He made comparisons to his designwork being chimaeran. Multiple facets from the history of mecha coalescing into a form that supersedes its inspiration. This is something that a lot of Western mecha games could learn from, in aiming for realism you need to be aware of the history of fantasy that enshrouds mecha in Japan.

Whilst Okubo has tried to minimise the amount of keren in his mecha designs, he is still in awe of the work that was done on Dunbine and Galient. Two series that embody the fantastical element of Japanese storytelling and consequently have a high degree of keren in their mecha designs.

Real robots were a reaction to the supers and in turn took part of that with them. In making mecha more real, the framework of supers is still apparent though more in its refined and selective absence. The point here is that, Okubo's skill and insight comes from a cultural and historical understanding of mecha. Something that paid untold dividends in the creation and development of Steel Battalion. Maybe it's time that the games industry outside of Japan cottoned onto that.

[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.]

Game Center CX Hyper Insane Guide GET!

- Oo, look, a missive from Ray Barnholt with a rather gorgeous announcement: "recently completed a project for my personal site, Crunk Games: an episode guide to the popular Japanese show Game Center CX. I'm not sure what else I can say about it that I haven't in the article itself or on my 1UP blog, but basically I'd love for the show to get more exposure."

I've seen this show available on DVD when I've been in Tokyo, but I never quite picked it up. Now that seems like a folly, as Ray explains: "Japan has given us a few television gems over the years. A lot of memorable anime series, sure, but a fair share of live action programming as well (what, you want me to make a list?). But for the country that redefined "game culture," not a lot of interesting game-related programming has come through. Can we blame them? Just like the rest of the world, most of the video game stuff that’s been produced are kids shows, a TV news story every so often or, these days, nerdy Famitsu DVD segments — nothing really, truly memorable."

"Game Center CX is different. It’s comedic, dramatic, even a bit mental, but altogether it’s an unforgettable show about what sounds like a forgettable concept: a guy trying to beat old Nintendo games. I was late to the party when I saw it, but once I did, I had to see all of it. After that, I decided I had to share it the best way I could, and this episode guide is the result. You could call it "spoiling," but I’ll gladly risk that if I can get anyone else to find it and love it as I have." A bit of a cultural phenomenon, and an awesome write-up.

April 10, 2007

Top Ten Worst Games Ever, (c) Fort90

- Over at MTV News, Stephen Totilo has been profiling GSW columnist and wacky NY guy Matt 'Fort90' Hawkins - or, more precisely, his ""best" worst-games list of all time."

You may have read this on Matthew's blog already, but the write-up makes it a tad more fun: "His inspiration? "I'm a big fan of wrestling managers who like pissing off the audience." You don't have to remember Captain Lou Albano or Brother Love to know what Hawkins means. Just check his list, which he presented two weeks ago at the I-CON science-fiction and fantasy festival in Stony Brook, New York. His 10 — well, 11, counting a two-way tie for first place — includes favorites "World of Warcraft," multiple "Grand Theft Auto" titles, the "Madden" series and even a "Final Fantasy" game. He wanted to get booed, at least by some."

Actually, this statement fully captures the nuances of Mr. Fort90's personality, as Harvey Pekar-esque as he ever is: "Hawkins never wanted to go after the easy topics. "There's a lot of games out there that I vehemently despise and hate, but they're popular. And I guess that's how it is for anything. Everybody knows 'that album sucks' or 'that book is horrible, but it is so popular that it drives me nuts,' and it lowers the bar for everyone." The games on his list aren't necessarily incompetently made, in his mind. They are worse: They are bad influences."

2007 Webby Awards - Your Gamasutra Needs You!

- So, those with keen memories may recall that Gamasutra won the 2006 'Game-Related' Webby Award, which meant I had to go to New York and try not to humiliate myself in front of Rob Corddry and an assembled audience of cognoscenti - which I successfully did! Nice to be honored in the 'Oscars Of The Internet', too.

Well, Gamasutra entered again this year, and we are again a Webby Award finalist for 2007, yay. As we note: "Other nominees in the 'Games-Related' category this year are CNET Networks' GameSpot and AOL's GameDaily, as well as the official websites for LucasArts' LEGO Star Wars II and Thrillville."

What's more: The Webby Awards are presented by the International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences, a global organization with over 500 members including internet 'founding father' Vinton Cerf, R/GA's Chief Bob Greenberg, Simpsons creator Matt Groening, The Huffington Post's Arianna Huffington, and film producer Harvey Weinstein. Winners will be announced on May 1st and honored at The 11th Annual Webby Awards on June 5 at Cipriani Wall Street in New York City. The gala event will once again hosted by former Daily Show correspondent Rob Corddry, and will showcase award winners delivering their famous five-word acceptance speeches."

But here's the important bit, and it's so important that I'm going to bold it: "In addition to the main Webby Awards, which are determined by the The International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences, there is also the People's Voice Awards, in which interested readers can vote for Gamasutra in an all audience-determined category, presented alongside the main award." So quick, go tell your friends and make your voice heard in the wilderness of wild untamed website fun.

COLUMN: 'Beyond Tetris' - DROD: The City Beneath

["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 revisits an earlier topic with the release of Deadly Rooms of Death: The City Beneath.]

A cutscene battle between aumtliches and stalwarts, two new puzzle elements in DROD 3.0

I didn't want this to happen. It was only a few months ago that I first wrote about Deadly Rooms of Death, and I didn't think I'd be writing about it again for at least a few months. My plan last weekend was to get The 7th Guest running again, so I could write about that today. But instead, in an oddly phrased announcement, Erik Hermansen and Caravel Games released DROD 3.0, or The City Beneath. And that's when my time disappeared.

The game was released on April 1 (which somewhat accounts for the logic-puzzle phrasing of the announcement), exactly two years after DROD 2.0, Journey to Rooted Hold. The downloadable game can be purchased for $20, with a CD version promised in the future. As with JtRH, there is also a demo which can be used to create and solve level sets (called holds). Caravel Games has not yet set up a page with links to the demo, so we'll link them here: Windows demo, Mac demo, and Linux demo.

A Kinder, Gentler DROD

A swordless Beethro enters The City Beneath and talks with some of its residents

The most one of the biggest changes in The City Beneath comes shortly into the game, when Beethro reaches the Gate of Sheathing. Past this point, he is told, he will have to put away his Really Big Sword. And when he does, he enters into the titular underground city. It's bright, filled with people, looking vaguely like any town in a generic RPG. This sprawling level is a hub for the story. And though there's little smiting to be done, there's plenty of scripted events and cutscenes to discover while finding your way to the next dungeon level. But though the levels are more spread out geographically, the plot remains linear, and you won't be able to move to the next puzzle level until you've completed the one you're in.

DROD 3.0 aims to give a higher level of polish with alpha-layer effects, like weather and dynamic lighting. These deliberately have no effect on the puzzles of the game, but definitely make it a sight prettier. The scripting has also been revamped, and it allows you to create levels where the player is a character other than Beethro (The City Beneath includes a level where you play one of the NPCs that first appeared in Journey to Rooted Hold). And the game now allows honest-to-goodness cutscenes. In previous games, story events could be ignored as desired, but The City Beneath wrests control from the player to choreograph detailed non-interactive cutscenes. It's used well in the game, but it still feels inelegant compared to the control offered to the player in previous games.

On the other hand, the voice acting for these cutscenes is excellent, perhaps surprisingly so, given their origin. Late last year, Caravel Games held a contest where forum members were asked to record themselves reading lines for specific characters. From the winners and runners up of this "Grand Audition," Caravel pulled together a diverse cast of characters to supplement the already-established roles.

A Dastadlier, Deviouser DROD

An early room with mirrors, the left half is done sokoban-style, the right half requires DROD-specific block movementAside from the cosmetic and story-driven changes, the newest version of DROD adds a staggering number of game elements. For some reason, the best list of new elements is currently at Wikipedia. I'd love to go over them all here, but there are just too many of them, and all of them are hard to describe without examples. Every puzzle level introduces a new aspect of the game, and nearly all of the rooms of that level are dedicated to puzzles that rely on that monster or object. When you meet adders (a new type of snake), you can expect to kill several of them on that level. When you see your first speed potion (which lets you take two moves for the monsters' one), expect to be doing a lot of running.

And the elements have been well chosen to fill a number of interesting puzzle functions; take mirrors, introduced realtively early in the game. These can be pushed around by Beethro's body, but they can also be pushed around with his sword. And if you're not carefull, you can attack the mirror with your sword so that you break it completely. Further, it can be used to reflect the line of sight of creatures like evil eyes, who only attack after they see Beethro. Caravel could have easily made a simple block that is only moved in sokoban-esque formations (and, indeed, there is already a sokoban hold in progress, using room designs by David W. Skinner), but in The City Beneath, the mirror puzzles still manage to avoid simplified block pushing. Similarly, though the new platforms often have to be moved like a sliding-block puzzle, because Beethro always has to stay on top of the moving platofrm, the blocks can't be moved in the obvious ways.

But what's been most maddening about The City Beneath is its difficulty. It's hard, of course, but because the elements of the puzzle keep changing, it doesn't rise up to the same level of insanity as many of the later levels in Rooted Hold, which used a more reserved set of puzzle parts. As a result, the entire game is pitched at the level of frustration that keeps you hacking away at the problem instead of turning away and taking a break. You can sit down for a few before eating lunch, and when you check the time, you'll see that you've been playing so long you've skipped lunch and dinner.

Start Delving

A difficult early room featuring the new deadly briars The demo linked above includes several story portions of the game, but only two levels of puzzles. The game starts slowly, showcasing scripting and effects. Veterans of DROD may find it rather unsatisfying, the game doesn't reach its groove of difficulty until a few levels after the demo ends. Presumably that's just a ploy to get the devoted to actually buy the game. If you haven't got the funds, I'm sure that there will be some user-made holds with 3.0 elements soon, but the y'll take some time to come down the pipeline. On the other hand, newcomers to DROD will probably find the demo levels rather inviting. The game includes some on-the-spot tutorials to get newbies up to speed with the developments of the game (the behavior and strategies for basic monsters like roaches and goblins), but the game still gets complicated. I would still recommend that newcomers to the series start with King Dugan's Dungeon or Journey to Rooted Hold, or even the recent "Smitemaster's Selection" Smitemastery 101.

According to the CaravelNet statistics (which can be a bit unreliable), I'm about four-fifths through the game, and I've encountered all of the new elements I've seen in the level editor. But despite spending every spare moment this week (and a few moments that I really couldn't spare) I'm still not finished. Even writing this article is difficult because I just know that I have a way to beat the new level of rock giants (a huge new monster that takes up four spaces). Hopefully, the end is in sight, because I don't know how many more sleepless nights I can afford to lose.

[Tony Delgado is a member of the National Puzzlers' League, and a solver and creater of puzzles of all sorts. Other than his work as the copy chief for The Gamer's Quarter, he finds his job unsatisfying and is open to career-change suggestions.]

Momgamer Takes On Anti-Game Media Rhetoric

- At GamerDad, there's a particularly interesting article from Colleen Hannon entitled 'Mainstream Media and Videogame Studies', and subtitled: "Do Violent Videogames really make kids violent? Momgamer takes an in-depth look at how the media interprets the data."

Obviously this is a mother who's very knowledgable about the subject, but it's certainly an aggressive piece that charges the mainstream media with over-frequent hyperbole: "If you are a game-aware parent and you care about your kids see and hear, it's a real fight to get straight answers. And if you're in the industry yourself you get angry when they publish these things. Like when you're interviewed for an article then totally ignored for a sensationalist piece of crap that makes people think strangers and child predators can get to your child via their Nintendo DS in a public place."

A worthy conclusion: "Those think tanks, lawyers, doctors, and politicians are right about one thing. Our children's well-being is at stake. But we need the truth. We need real facts, and we need them now so we can have wise rules about media consumption in our homes. And along with that truth, this web of lies and ambitions cannot continue to drive our public policy."

Totally Cute Guitar Hero Comic? OK, Then!

- Over at my favorite LJ feed from the Lifemeter Comics folks, they're previewing their upcoming mini-comic with some awesome new art, including a totally not-official Guitar Hero one-page black&white strip that rather rocks (sorry, metal-s).

This one was "Written and drawn by Jacob Chabot", and there's also a new Dragon Quest b&w comic, too: "This great DragonQuest comic comes from new Lifemeter contributor, Lamar Abrams. Make sure you check out his site as well as his self-published comic, Remake."

As for when this is coming out in actual paper form - not so sure! But the folks tease in an earlier post: "If you enjoyed the first Lifemeter Mini, you're going to go nuts this summer. Patience is a virtue!" OK, kids!

April 9, 2007

Logler's First Casual Game Awards Go Off... Casually

- Got an email from the Logler.com folks noting that their first annual Casual Game Awards are now online, "...based on the Global Top 10 results for the first 52 weeks."

As they explain: "Every week starting from end of March 2006 we publish Casual Games Global Top 10 on Logler.com (more info about CGG Top 10 can be found here). Our weekly Top 10 is based on sales/popularity data from 16 major casual portals and shows what is hot in casual games space." So it's actually reasonably empirical - up to a degree! The overall winner (branded as 'Best', though it's presumably 'highest selling' too) is Cake Mania from Sandlot.

Particularly interesting, too, is an attempt to rank by game subgenre by number of games entering the Top 10: "1. match3... 2 - time management... 3 - hidden object and card & board... 4 - sim... 5 - shoot3 (aka marble popper)... 6 - adventure... 7 - object inlay (aka brain teaser) and word". Some of these are a bit 'cryptic', but it turns out that if you rank by # of weeks on the charts (much more sensible!), 'hidden object' games like Mystery Case Files: Prime Suspects win out, followed by 'time management' Diner Dash-esque games like Cake Mania and sim games like Virtual Villagers. Fascinating stuff.

COLUMN: 'Parallax Memories' – Questions

wiivc.jpg ['Parallax Memories' is a (not-so) regular column by Matthew Williamson, profiling classic '16-bit' games from the Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo, and other seminal '90s systems. This week's column asks where you want the column to go?]

What excuse can I make up for the tardiness of this column? I really can't think of too good of one, so I'll just pretend like I've been busy. To add insult to injury, if you're one of those three people who've been looking forward to the column's return, well, this isn't even a proper column!

Honestly, I'm looking for some help and perspective from the readership here. Great sites are built on their community, and this one is no different.

Since my last column something huge has happen: the Wii came out. Now the Virtual Console has shifted the way I was going to look at this column. Since Nintendo now feeds its users new 16 bit (and other) era games I'm not sure if I should continue to look at the games of the early nineties in a general perspective, or focus in on what has recently appeared on the Virtual Console.

Now, there's no way I could buy everything that comes out (nor would I want to), and I wouldn't be doing any kind of standard review on them. I would just continue the column as it's been going but just limit the content to recent or overall virtual console releases with the occasional distraction.

So if you have any input on what direction you would like to this column go, let me know in the comment field.

[Matthew Williamson is the creator of The Gamer’s Quarter, an independent videogame magazine focusing on first person writing. His work has been featured on MTV.com, 1up.com, Chatterbox Radio, and the Fatpixels Radio Podcast.]

Enter... The God Of War 2 Backlash?

- So one would expect there to be a bit of negative feedback, but imagine my surprise when two negative-leaning reviews of God Of War 2 wandered along in the self-same weekend. Blimey. Firstly, we have the New Gamer's D.Riley looking quizzical, and noting: "God of War is a game that is very technically proficient, but has no heart. Its combat system is lackluster, its enemies are generic, and its story is barely even there."

His capper? "The rub is that God of War suffers from the same colossal flaw its predecessor did. It sets the bar amazingly high in its opening moments and never gets back to that high point. Would it have been a better game if they'd placed the Colossus battle at the end? Maybe, but that'd only be addressing one of the myriad of problems that stops this game from being 'great' and makes it a more solid 'average'."

What's more, Andrew Toups has a smack at the game over at ActionButton.net, commenting: "Yes, God of War 2 has meticulously rendered backdrops, skillful, inspired art direction, sweeping, breathtaking vistas, a dramatic, cinematic score, cleverly designed stage layouts, and setpiece after memorable setpiece. No, none of this matters. At the end of the day, God of War 2, though thoroughly well-designed, well-intentioned, and near impeccably well-put together, is an abject failure of videogame. The fact that it has been a success — both critically and commercially — is simple evidence of the sorry state of the medium." Grumps? Or successful spotters of prime overhyping? Let the jury decide!

GameSetAnnounce: Gamasutra Features Editor Position Open

- Many of you may recall that Frank 'Lost Levels' Cifaldi is features editor over at big sister site Gamasutra. Well, tragically, that ain't so any more, because Frank is leaving (sniff!) in a couple of weeks to take up a job in Atlanta as Editorial Manager at our fave crazed PC subscription game download service GameTap.

Our proposed GameTap news boycott vengeance has sadly been cancelled after someone told us we can't really do that (nuts! S'ok, GameTap, we still like you), but that leaves us with a position to fill as Gamasutra.com features editor.

This position is full-time with benefits, based out of our San Francisco office (2nd and Harrison, South Of Market), and basically consists of being 'thought leader' for our eclectic blend of technical, trend-based, business, and historical articles which have helped make us the most successful B2B game website by any metric (revenue, traffic, reputation), including a recent Webby Award win and an appearance in the UK Guardian's 'Top 100 Websites' list.

Here's the official blurb, for those who are interested: "Major responsibilities include 'owning' the feature schedule on Gamasutra, by managing the vision of the features section of the site; planning, commissioning and scheduling longform features to run daily; editing and laying out (or contracting out the layout of) those features when they are submitted; managing payment and the budget for Gamasutra features. Additional responsibilities include helping out with posting and editing of Gamasutra's news on occasion (if other parties are not available); reporter duties, including event coverage and interviews; miscellaneous other website tasks."

If you're interested, please send over a quick note and a copy of your resume to us at [email protected]. We promise to keep all applicants confidential, obviously, and we may have additional newly-created positions becoming available soon, too, so your application will also be considered for those. Have at it.

A Deconstruction Of Stay Alive

- Oddly enough, easily one of the most-commented GameSetWatch posts to date has been about the preview disc for video game-themed horror flick Stay Alive, and actually, Matthew 'Cinema Pixeldiso' Hawkins made a in-depth review of the film for us late last year.

Well, now it's UK game journo Richard Cobbett's turn, and he has all kinds of fun tearing it to bits, for example: "Really Annoying Brother makes an incomprehensible reference to Quirky Girl having ‘body karate’, to which Goth Chick announces “Anyone who says size doesn’t matter never played a third person shooter.” I have no idea what that’s supposed to mean. Sure, yeah, it’s a penis reference, but if we’re going to do game gags about sexual characteristics, shouldn’t it be something like ‘wrapped round a hot rocket launcher’ or ‘had to wear a bra built to transport baby elephants’. Third person shooter? That’s nonsense, movie!"

Wait, you want more sarcasm? "A bloodsoaked, Bible style book floats onto the screen, and opens up to reveal the ‘Prayer of Elizabeth’ - a bit of generic Goth prose that doesn’t respond to any controls. Yes, the movie has crashed. Oh, wait. Sorry. Quirky Girl suggests that they might have to read it out loud, like the half-hour opening crawl from the Alone in the Dark movie. “No way,” Irritating Brat tells her. “That’s next generation technology!” I wonder who’s going to tell Konami, which released Lifeline three years earlier." It's an enjoyable tearing to bits - so please to enjoy.

GameSetLinks: From Gibbage To Super Stardust HD

- Not really sure that all of these are GameSetLinks along - some are more interesting still than that - but I choose to lump them altogether, because it's Sunday night, and I'd love to dispose of them all at once, so here we go:

- Dan Marshall, creator of the wacky indie 2D game Gibbage, has converted the Gibbage.co.uk website into an indie game portal, and notes: "The trouble with the independent games industry is that, all said and done, there’s very little money in it" - very true. So: "From now on, every penny of profit this site gains will be plugged directly into funding future independent game projects." A laudable concept, and let's hope he helps the indies out with this new redesign - there's not that many pure indie portals out there yet.

- Fun-Motion has revealed a new editor for cult physics game Ski Stunt Simulator, explaining: "In case you haven’t been following the comments thread on the Ski Stunt Extreme page: Sean McTuble just released a new integrated version of his editor. His new bundle, SkiStuntST, includes a new category of levels. He’s included two of his levels, which are great, and the third level is linked to the export path of the bundled editor." The release is mirrored on the above links - which is nice.

- I don't really think anybody besides GameSpot readers are talking about their new streaming video show, Indievelopment, which chronicles the development of a game called Black Powder, Red Earth. The company is called Echelon Software, and according to their blog: "We've all shipped software in the past. Phil and Altay have shipped games for Disney, including one you can play at the Disneyland in Florida called "Ride the Comics". Most recently Altay and myself produced several iterations of the Paltalk video chat client as well as redesigning their social network."

- Videoludica is doing great at spotting new game books, and points out 'Reset: Changing the Way We Look at Video Game' from Rusel DeMaria, described thusly: "In Reset: Changing the Way We Look at Video Games, gaming journalist, bestselling author, and concerned parent Rusel DeMaria examines the pervasive myths and stereotypes about video games, turns them around and reveals another face: their potential to promote positive personal and social change." Sounds a bit like Everything Bad Is Good For You just for games, then. Also, Rusel is a super-nice guy.

- A very juicy MMO-related rumor via Bill Bishop: "Towards the end of last week, the Chinese press starting running stories that EA was going to license FIFA Online to The9 and pay about USD $200M for a 19% stake in The9. One reporter claimed to have confirmed that The9's CEO Zhu Jun was now in Los Angeles (EA's headquarters are in Redwood City, CA.)" Questionable, but Bishop was on the money very early about the Mythic/EA deal, and EA is having all kinds of troubles getting licensed to debut FIFA in China, by the look of it, soo....

- I saw this and then forgot to link it, but Grand Text Auto handily reminds me - Kenta Cho's Japanese freeware shooter L.A.2 is now out in Flash form - and it "repurposes the Game of Life as a shooter - you shoot “gliders” into the self-generating and attacking grid around you." As usual, some awesome abstract shmup action by one of the genre's masters.

- Hey, a good-looking third-party PS3 downloadable game that ticks a few indie boxes? My gosh, 1UP points out Super Stardust HD (pictured), an update of an Amiga title from a developer with an interesting background: "With 12 years under its belt, the Helsinki based Housemarque has been around longer than both of those, making hardcore shoot 'em ups like Stardust and The Reap on Amiga and PC. In the last few years, Housemarque has done work on TransWorld Snowboarding for Atari and helped program part of Guerrilla's Killzone: Liberation." Looking forward to this.

April 8, 2007

The Top 10 Video Game... Resurrections?

- Slyly themed to go live around Easter time, but largely bereft of Jesus-ian references (apart from a side reference to "some Christian complications sure to earn me a bumper crop of e-mail"), 1UP's Scott Sharkey is counting down 'The Top 10 Videogame Resurrections', subtitled the 'deaths that didn't stick'. Ohmy. Some vague spoilers within, obviously.

Sharkey's charming writing livens up a completely ridiculous countdown, with particular note given to Dracula in the Castlevania series: "Dracula's died and come back so often it barely counts. They've done this song and dance so many times they started setting the games in the future because they're down to one weekend in 1470 where the guy was actually dead for more than a couple minutes."

Also a fun read - Sephiroth from Final Fantasy: "At some point Square is going to have to come to grips with the fact that if they keep bringing him out in spin-offs/prequels/whatever, they're going to run out of ways to remix "One-Winged Angel." Opera is good. Electric guitar is pretty OK. But eventually they're going to be down to ukulele and a kid with a kazoo, or a washboard and a saw." Hey, if XOC did it, we'd be into that!

New Mario Merchandise Times Infinity

- An update earlier this week from import superstars NCSX [whom we are financially unrelated to] brought all kinds of new Mario merchandise with it, from toys through cushions and beyond - all manufactured for the Japanese market only, of course, but grabbable on import.

I particularly like the cool (but largely sold out) cushions: "Banpresto continues their flood of Nintendo products with fluffy cushions inspired by New Super Mario Bros. A red-capped Mushroom, a toothy Goomba, and a Star Coin are featured in the collection. Each cushion measures 31cm or 12.20" in length and are approximately 2" thick. Sit on one and rest in comfort knowing that a familiar Mario icon supports your weighty girth with all of its might. Stack all three on top of each other and you'll have something that looks like an egg (star), tomato (mushroom), and hamburger (Goomba's the meat) sandwich."

Also fun/odd though, this puzzle: "Anyone who's played Super Monkey Ball will take to [Mario Bros:] Crystal Maze like a fish to water. By using the red joystick/lever located at the bottom of the game, players tilt the play board to move three metal marbles (one at a time) from the START area at the bottom of the board to the GOAL located at the upper left corner of the board. It's pretty challenging due to the convoluted and tight-spaced maze one has to maneuver through."

GameSetPlaying: Week Of April 8th Edition

- Starting up a new little thing on (each or alternate) Sundays here, whereby I talk about some of the games I've been playing this week and what I thought of them - and then I encourage erstwhile GSW readers to do the same. Here we go:

- Jetpac Refueled (Rare/Microsoft, Xbox 360 Live Arcade)
Now, this one may be because I'm British, was born in 1975, and my first computer was a Sinclair ZX Spectrum - therefore making Rare's early Ultimate Play The Game output some of the key games I played growing up. But at 400 points ($5), and with an accurate retro mode and fun, extremely challenging 'Refueled' mode, this cross between Defender and Joust is an incredibly fun short-term blaster. Definitely in my Top 3 XBLA titles so far (though some co-workers just can't stand it).

- Puzzle Quest (Infinite Interactive/D3, PSP)
There's obviously been a lot of buzz for this title - though Infinite Interactive's webpage misreads a Gamasutra chart citing Amazon.com a bit, I still think it's going to be a notable sleeper hit - and I've only just got started with the game. But... what an awesome idea! I can't decide whether a 'match 3' puzzler mashed up with a hardcore fantasy RPG is an accidental perversion or a genius breakthrough. But adding RPG progression and leveling to the puzzle genre - in a much more meaningful way than Popcap's Bookworm Adventures - makes the game fiendishly addictive.

- Sonic & The Secret Rings (Sonic Team/Sega, Wii)
Just rented this one, but yes, echoing some of the reviewers - this is definitely the first Sonic game I've enjoyed in quite a long time. The Wii-specific controls are fun, though they do suffer from a lot of the issues motion controllers have when expecting extreme precision (you have to break acceleration/tilt thresholds to trigger movements, I think, which is just subtly different from direct button-pressing actions.) The biggest issue with the game is that Sonic moves so damn fast, and the base levels are pretty long, so you can sorta tell (at least in my mind) that they ran out of content quite quickly, and mixed things up with lots of 'challenge' levels, some of which can be contrived and a bit obnoxious.

Other things at I least touched this week - Konami/Hudson's Honeycomb Beat for DS (clever, slightly brain-hurting puzzler), Konami's Arcade Hits for DS (completely bizarre, super-detailed emulation specifics and options, some decent emulation of obscure titles), Ubisoft Montreal's TMNT for Xbox 360 (Prince of Turtle! I kinda like this, though I shouldn't - mainly it's for the easy Achievement Points, I fear.) What have you guys been playing, and (optional!) how did you like them?

Speed Running Res Evil... In Invisible Mode?

- Catching up with the fun at the Speed Demos Archive, there are all kinds of interesting new runs posted, but I'd particularly like to concentrate on the news page and this info: "Those unfamiliar with the remake of Resident Evil for the GameCube may not realise that it's possible to unlock an "invisible mode", where zombies and other enemies are not visible to the player." And somebody has speed run it? Blimey.

The page blurb is quite illuminating for the 1 hour, 36 minute run from David Stierle: "You will see a four-segmented Speed Run of Resident Evil: Remake on hard mode including "Invisible Enemy". It would be too boring to show you the same run only on hard mode, that's why I decided to run it additionally on Invisible Enemy. It makes the boss fights much harder; especially you don't have auto-aim. You get also less ammunition, less defence weapons and only two attacks of a zombie can kill you."

He continues: "There are only two very annoying situations in my run which could be done much better: * First situation: I have never done this mistake. While running upstairs where the two hunters are, the first one jumped in front of me and attacked me. Then the second hunter came and also attacked me. I got about four or five hits. Very annoying. * Second situation: The Underground where I... meet Liza. I missed the lever (very stupid for a "runner") and got hit about two-three times. Also very annoying." Still, I would have been lost after the first room with invisible foes.

The Red Star: A History In Covers

- Over at LJ, Kidfenris has a fun little post looking at the history of PS2 title The Red Star by box covers, seeing as the comic book-based shooter has been so hideously delayed. And it starts adorably: "I'm playing The Red Star demo. I still live in Ohio. And Acclaim is still in business."

Mr. Fenris continues: "It impresses me. I'm aware of the nicely illustrated and unsubtly allegorical comic on which it was based, but the game really sells me by marrying two old-fashioned gaming staples: shooting enemy soldiers and beating the crap out of legions of street punks.... A few weeks later, Acclaim goes under, and amid all the gloating of now-grown ‘80s children still bitter over Total Recall for the NES, some choose to mourn the fact that the company's gone to the grave with what might have been its best game in years."

But wait! The game lives again - maybe? Fenris notes: "I'm checking ebgames.com every month to see when The Red Star is coming out. And it’s always the next month. Always. But the new cover suggests that someone's doing something somewhere with regard to the game. Even if Makita's going to catch her death of cold." The latest, of course, is that the PS2 version of the title will come out in about 10 days. But apparently it's been like that for a good while anyhow. Doh. Good luck, The Red Star!

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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