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April 28, 2007

Game Market Dominance Through... Charity?

- Over at HDRLying, there's an intriguing new editorial entitled 'Giving Back: Market Dominance through Charity', and it posits that the more freebies or pseudo-freebies given out through 'philanthropic marketing', the more beloved a game company may become.

Prime example? Club Nintendo in Japan, he says: "The genius in Club Nintendo is two fold: not only are all products on the site (including figures, Nintendo Music CDs, and even games) exclusive to Club Nintendo, but members that gain a certain number of points over the course of a year are made Platinum Members. Platinum members then choose a free gift from a list at the end of the year, which is then sent to them, free of charge."

The Sony Game Advisory Panel is also mentioned, which is "...an invitation only network that allows Sony gamers to post their game collections, blog about their thoughts on gaming, participate in pivotal gaming surveys, and more. The whole idea is made to make the gamer feel special; to make them feel as if they have the ability to change the course of game development. Who knows? Maybe they actually do." So how about it? Can you 'buy' loyalty through programs like this?

COLUMN: 'Game Mag Weaseling': Where Have You Gone, Mr. Dreamcast?

['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.]

Any regular reader of GameSetWatch knows about Simon and I's infatuation (some would call it obsession) with Mr. Dreamcast. Easily the most charming name for a game magazine ever conceived (with Japan's Beep running a close second), Mr. DC is a fairly obscure publication even in its home country of Britain, publishing only two issues before disappearing -- but I was lucky enough to pick up the second issue from a UK fan who sent it along to me with some other magazines.


Mr. DC (which is the name of the blue swirly thing on the top left corner of the cover) was published by Magical Media, an outfit run by longtime UK computer/gear-mag writer and publisher Simon Rockman. Simon hired a handful of people away from Future Publishing to found the mag, including editor Caspar Field, who (up to that time) was running DC-UK, Future's Dreamcast title.

Field and Rockman answered questions from UK computer-trade title CTW back before the launch in 2000, a time when the DC's fortunes were already slipping and the idea of not just a new DC mag, but a kid-oriented DC mag, was seen as a little daft:

"I think the key difference with Dreamcast is that it’s been launched at £199, and I think they’ll be announcing definite UK price cuts at E3. We just felt it was good to be in the market early and to see if we could challenge some of that received wisdom, I guess. Certainly the feedback we’ve been getting from readers and from kids has been fantastic.

Everyone’s been growing up and wanting to make magazines like DC-UK and [Official Dreamcast Magazine] that are aimed at 25-30 year-olds [...] when you talk to any games player about playing games in their youth, you forget how passionate you were about it then. That’s really, I think, forgotten, that kind of passion –- I think even I’d forgotten it -– and I hope we can tap into it."

So what does Mr. Dreamcast have in store for the potential reader? A lot of color and bright screenshots, for one. The issue starts out with a wealth of large previews, all done up in that classic old Future style where the text is kind of divided into three or four of what you'd normall call sidebars. "Club zone" occupies the mid-part of the magazine; it's filled with strategies, reader art, crosswords, a regular two-page column on the Neo Geo Pocket Color scene, and even a long sidebar that explains 60hz television modes to the young audience.

The mag's rounded out by the reviews section, with games rated out of 25 in graphics, sound, control, and "ideas," added up to a total score out of 100. There's also four pages titled "Your shout," which is probably the most original part of the mag -- a jury of 16 gamers (aged 11 to 15) play a game and state their opinions on it, complete with lots of pix of excited kids around the TV. (Almost no one liked Chu Chu Rocket, shamefully enough.)

It's really a nice little 84-page magazine for its audience, but as Field himself commented the last time Mr. DC was mentioned here, it was likely in the wrong place at the wrong time. "Myself, Craig, Jon and Camilla were proud of Mr. Dreamcast," he wrote. "It was for kids, it was written 'to a level', but it was packed with more info and less condescending-bollocks than any other kids' games magazine at the time [...] And by the way, we sold 12,000 copies of issue one... So it can't have been all that shit... Can it? Maybe it was just the free waterpistol..."

Still, I commend Caspar and his crew for giving us the magazine with, at the very least, the most whimsical name in all of history. Thank you!

[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.]

Kohler Sez: PlayStation 3 Meets Digital Future, Drops Ball?

- We don't normally link to much 'mainstream' next-gen video game coverage here, but over at Game | Life, Chris Kohler's recent editorial on Sony's online infrastructure is too important to pass up.

He particularly references the 'playing PS1 games on PS3' debacle, commenting: "In short, everything's screwed up everywhere. The thing that would make me actually want to download more PSone games arrives four months late -- and, surprise, only applies to one-fifth of the content. The catalog is embarrassingly poor."

Even worse than that: "In Japan, Sony actually seems to be embracing Long Tail to a greater extent than Nintendo, loading the service up with niche games from small publishers... But in the US, they have added one (1) third-party game despite the fact that third-party games were inarguably the primary reason to own a PSone in the first place."

I agree completely, and it's emblematic of a larger issue - Sony's lack of third-party relations/infrastructure in the West for both PS1-style 'classic' digital downloads and for XBLA-style indie games is a travesty, with closely held partners and an only _just_ emerging set of Sony-funded digital-download titles lagging far behind their competitors (Nintendo on the retro side, and the much more 'free' Xbox Live Arcade on the indie side).

In fact, the May 2007 issue of Game Developer magazine (out soon, cover postmortem is Konami's Elebits for Wii) finds me talking about this exact issue, compared to XBLA's relative success - how Sony and Nintendo not making contemporary indie game digital downloads easy/possible is messing things up for indie console developers, who can then only address fractions of the potential market. And it's the consumer who ultimately ends up with the short straw.

Game Developer Wins 2007 Maggie Award

- In a recent post, I was talking about what we should do to award game journalism, and in the comments, I noted: "I actually feel that a lot of the better, looser game writing out there would be less well recognized by formal aggregations of (largely print) journalists. Having said that, we got Game Developer and Gamasutra nominated in the definitely non game-journalist centric Maggie Awards, so I'm not against that type of thing."

Well, myself and the other editors zoomed down to Los Angeles last night for the 56th Annual Maggie Awards Banquet, and the April 2006 issue of Game Developer (which featured a postmortem of Ubisoft's King Kong game, our regular/canonical salary survey, and an interview with Will Wright, among other things) won the Maggie Award for Best Magazine (Computers/Trade).

Our competitors were fellow CMP pub Network Computing, the independent Microsoft-themed mag Redmond Channel Partner, the embedded-specific RTC Magazine, and our former colleagues at Technology & Learning, so it's good to see a game-centric pub triumph in a much more IT-led category - at least, it is for us!

If you look at the finalists, it's interesting to see just who is sticking around in the print space nowadays - there were web-specific awards at the Maggies, too, but it's definitely a print-biased association. Some sectors, such as health and beauty pubs and regional magazines based in affluent areas, seem to be thriving. Others seem a little more challenged in this increasingly Internet-specific age - especially if they don't already have a strong web presence.

But fortunately we have Gamasutra and Game Developer to synergize each other (something that will be happening a lot more in the next few months, if you'll excuse the buzzwords), and I'd like to thank Jill Duffy, Brandon Sheffield, and Cliff Scorso and everyone else at the CMP Game Group for their amazing work on the mag. Onward!

Thinking Outside The Chocobox

- I still feel like 1UP is the only one of the major consumer game sites which puts any personality into their features (a lot of 'Top X lists' rule the day elsewhere), and here's another one - James Mielke's new piece 'Thinking Outside The Chocobox', looking at the box cover for Square Enix's Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo Tales.

Now, having said that, Square Enix's Patrick Cervantes does say some pretty obvious stuff: "Knowing that our target for this title would be much younger and less familiar with the iconic chocobo character, we needed to show more about the game that would appeal to the new "younger" users as well as longtime fans who are up to date with current trends."

But turns out obvious is probably right, in this case, and it's particularly interesting to see some alternate, rejected box designs on the second page of the article - it's pretty rare to see these. Mielke also makes the point that "...some of the actual in-game elements, like the adamantoise/cactuar race on the mountain, actually made it on the cover", which is actually good news for all - there's been a few too many cases recently of box covers being very dissonant from content - ahem, Ubisoft.

April 27, 2007

Gameslol Covers Game Books, LOL!

- Longtime online game journalist Marek Bronstring (he co-founded Idle Thumbs, you see!) has his own blog called Gameslol, and I particularly appreciated a recent entry about 'Books on game design, creativity & marketing'.

In some ways, the later entries (on marketing and 'other media') are more interesting, but let's stick to the games stuff - Bronstring firstly appreciates Salen & Zimmerman's Rules Of Play, which is, "...as far as I am aware, the most solid theoretical framework for understanding games and game design. It’s a pretty epic textbook, but it’s absolutely worth digesting." He also gives nods to the Rouse and Adams/Rollings game design books, which I would also concur with.

There's also a hearty recommendation for a Valve opus: "Most gaming coffee table art books are disappointing, but not Half-Life 2: Raising the Bar. Valve shows how their sausage is made, revealing countless early prototypes, concepts and ideas that for some reason never made it into the final game. At times you can clearly picture multiple alternate versions of Half-Life 2 (some of them horrible, some of them great)."

[Random note: I kept Marek's Amazon referrer in these URLs, because he originally wrote the recommendations, and I thought that was fair. There was an interesting weblog post recently about the etiquette of removing and/or changing Amazon associate codes when you're quoting other sites - bonus points for anyone who can remember where it is, because I certainly can't.]

GameTunnel's April Reveals Sam & Max, Wonderland

- Aha! Good news for all, since the GameTunnel Indie Game Review Panel for April has convened, surveying a world in which "...Sam & Max return for another take on reality, Virtual Villagers find some lost children, and Hard Time lets you play as a criminal...in jail where you belong!"

Top title of the month is Episode 5, 'Reality 2.0' of Sam & Max's Season 1 from Telltale, and new reviewer Caspian Prince (!) explains: "This outrageously polished, funny, intriguing point-and-click adventure is just plain brilliant fun (provided, of course, you enjoy point-and-click adventure games). Actually even if you don't think you do, you'll probably think Sam and Max: Reality 2.0 is just such a laugh and so well executed that you'll want to buy it anyway either for yourself or for your kids."

However, the second-placed game, Wonderland Adventures, is as or more interesting since it's much less well-known, and Russell Carroll explains: "For anyone who loves logic puzzles, like those found in the dungeons of Zelda, Wonderland is your game. The graphics are a vast improvement over previous versions, and though they are still pretty primitive 3D, they don't take away from the fun adventure of the game at all."

GameSetReminder: Austin GDC Call For Submissions Ending

- I'm not totally sure this has percolated out into the community, and I know a bunch of GSW readers are in the game biz, so wanted to point out that the Austin Game Developers Conference call for papers closes on Monday, April 30th - this is the successor to the Austin Game Conference which is now run by my colleagues in the CMP Game Group, of course.

The Game Developer/Gamasutra edit team was just doing some brainstorming with the Austin content director Jane Pinckard about our 'blue sky' list of invitees yesterday, and I think the MMO/online game crowd will be excited about a lot of the possibilities there - but we need great submissions too, so if you're in the online, writing, or audio spaces, read below (story passed on from Gamasutra), and make it so - fun 'People's Choice' track idea, too!:

"The event, which will take place September 5-7, 2007 at the Austin Convention Center in Austin, Texas, is the new incarnation of the Austin Game Conference, and abstracts can be put forward at the official Austin GDC submission page.

The topics which a prospective speaker can address must fall within one of the event's established tracks - for MMOs/online games (with four sub-tracks for business and management, community and marketing, design, and technlogy and services), as well as audio for games and writing for games.

In addition, the event will include a new People's Choice track featuring the sessions community members want to see most, and all proposals that do not fit into one of the other three tracks will be offered for voting on the People's Choice voting website. The deadline for submissions is Monday, April 30, 2007.

In addition to these four main tracks, Austin GDC will also feature a Game Career Seminar for students and job-changers researching entry into the game industry, and a Career Fair for experienced game developers seeking new job opportunities.

More information, including session content, speaker guidelines, registration information, and sales opportunities for the conference can be found on the official Austin GDC website."

Barwood, Falstein Shimmy Up To Mata Hari

- This one's quirky, but worth highlighting because it has a couple of GSW-beloved game design veterans front and center on it - and it's an adventure game, to boot! It's Mata Hari, "...a classic point & click PC adventure game" based on the life of the "legendary dancer and spy". In that order?

Anyhow here's the fun bit: "Story and game design of Mata Hari will be created by the industry veterans Hal Barwood (“Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis”; LucasArts) and Noah Falstein (u.a. “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”; LucasArts). Hanover-based studio 4Head Studio is developing the game. dtp entertainment will publish Mata Hari worldwide under the ANACONDA label, with a Q1 2008 release date set for Germany, Switzerland and Austria."

Of these smart folks, Barwood, a LucasArts veteran who's now struck out on his own (though is largely semi-retired, I believe), is actually a college friend of George Lucas who worked on the script for Close Encounters Of The Third Kind and produced/co-wrote the movie Dragonslayer before working on a whole heap of classic LucasArts games - he's also a great asset to Game Developer magazine, because he produces detailed critiques of each issue for us.

Falstein is similarly neat, being a veteran game designer who started out working on Sinistar and Koronis Rift, also worked on a classic Indiana Jones adventure title, and has written the design column ('Game Shui', nowadays) for us on Game Developer for the last few years. Both are elder statesmen who, I think, are most interesting working on the story-heavy, protocol-heavy adventure games for which they were both famous at various times, so I'm definitely looking forward to this title.

Flood's Sean Cooper Spills His Guts

- We just covered him on GSW because of this feature, so it seems only fair to link it to - Alistair Wallis' latest Playing Catch-Up talks to Bullfrog and EA veteran Sean Cooper about his game career, from early title Flood through Dungeon Keeper II and on to his indie Flash games.

The making of the classic Syndicate is a key part of the retrospective, and it's interesting to hear the relative chaos of its development: "“It was just, ‘How about some guys with guns causing absolute mayhem?’ then, ‘Okay, let's do it!’” he laughs. “The design evolved from that: no documentation. ‘Let's just try some stuff and see how it all fits together’.” The development was similarly unorthodox, with Cooper and friends playing multiplayer games, and working out problems in the design from there."

He also talks about how he will ever make significant money from games like Boxhead, which are free to play: "“Free?” he exclaims in mock surprise. “Nothing is free really, but to the consumer it is. Microtransactions are something I'm looking into; if people really love the game and want a lot more, then they can simply expanded their game cheaply or expensively depending on how far they want to go. A bit like the arcades use to be. I never felt ripped of from putting £1 into an arcade machine. So, yes, other platforms and a wider audience would be great, if it is kept affordable for the consumer.”"

April 26, 2007

GameSetPics: Honeycomb Beat's Breakfast Goodness!

Sure, we at GSW get sent some strange promotional items from time to time, but this latest one - which came in a larger box filled with packing, and mystified us, soon sorted itself out as a cereal-based tribute to a recently released Hudson game for the Nintendo DS:

So this would be a custom breakfast food box for DS puzzle title Honeycomb Beat, in which you "...Solve puzzles by clicking on honeycomb tiles to match their color to the playfield." Actually, Konami/Hudson already sent us the game a few weeks back, but their authentic-looking cereal packaging is neat - and it really has honeycomb cereal inside (Post brand, for those intrigued).

Uhoh. Our dachshund Rollo has discovered the secret wrapped inside the mystery, like Charlton Heston in Soylent Green. Yep - 'Honeycomb Beat is EDIIIIIIIBLE!'.

OK, that's great. You can step away from the box, we've finished modeling it now, Rollo. Rollo? Rollo? (Frenzied crunching noises ensue.)

[Oh yeah, so this reminds me - if you'd like to send GSW relevant and/or weird stuff (games, books, CDs, promo stuff), here's our snail-mail address: GameSetWatch, c/o Simon Carless, CMP Game Group, 600 Harrison Street, San Francisco, CA 94107. And [email protected] get us, too. You know what to do!]

Mega Man 2600 - The Saga Begins!

- We only just pointed out the full gallery for the I Am 8-Bit game art show in Los Angeles, but longtime GSW buddy Ryan has just posted footage of Mega Man 2600, a game made especially for the show, over on GameTrailers.com.

Comments are already semi-slavering for the bizarro Atari 2600 'tribute' version of the Capcom classic - with significant changed-up gameplay: "That's awesome. And it actually resembles Mega Man 1! I so want to try this out soon. I'm guessing you hold up for jumps and press the joystick button to shoot, right? Still cool."

Anyhow, I can't really find much other information on Mega Man 2600 - who programmed it? Is there going to be a homebrew release? Is there a webpage anywhere with more information on it? I look to you, kind GSW commenters, to find the answer.

[EDIT: The GameTrailers folks have passed on the name of the author, David Galloway, who also co-wrote recent Atari 2600 homebrew title BliP Football, described thusly: "Faithfully mimicked in appearance, audio and gameplay, BLiP Football recreates the experience of playing the original electronic football [released in 1977]."

COLUMN: Game Collector's Melancholy - Clock Tower

[‘A Game Collector’s Melancholy’ is a bi-weekly column by Jeffrey Fleming that follows the subtle pleasures and gnawing anxieties of video game collecting. This week we take a look at the Clock Tower series. Games loved by some, hated by a few, and ignored by most.]

I’ve always had special fondness for horror themed video games. Perhaps because horror game designers show a greater cultural awareness and are more willing to incorporate influences from other media into their work. Most video games seem to be influenced by other video games but horror is a genre with a distinct literary and cinematic heritage that is quite separate from the world of Mario.

The First Fear

clocktower0.jpgMost people know of the Clock Tower games on the PlayStation, but the series actually began on the Super Famicom. Created in 1995 by Human Entertainment, Clock Tower told the story of a teenage girl named Jennifer who was orphaned under mysterious circumstances. She and her friends from the orphanage are sent to live with a wealthy family whose gothic mansion lies isolated in the mountains of Norway. Upon arriving at the mansion things quickly turn sinister and Jennifer’s friends are murdered one by one in a variety of cruel ways.

Clock Tower resembled a point and click adventure but undermined the measured puzzle solving with a wicked twist. Periodically, a maniacal killer called the Scissorman burst into the scene and began chasing Jennifer. With no means of fighting back, she could only flee from Scissorman and hopefully find a safe place to conceal herself until the pursuer moved on. It was a unique style of play that called to mind frantic games of hide and seek or the desperate flights of nightmare.

Visually, the designers of Clock Tower had a particular love for the films of Dario Argento with Suspiria and Phenomena being major points of reference. One of the first murder scenes that Jennifer witnesses is a recreation of the brutal first ten minutes of Suspiria, including an earnest attempt at imitating Goblin’s crazed soundtrack on the Famicom’s sound chip. The game also gave a nod to William Peter Blatty’s Legion (filmed as Exorcist III) as Scissorman wielded an enormous pair of autopsy shears.

Clock Tower was later ported to the PlayStation under the title Clock Tower ~The First Fear~ and versions were also made for Windows 95, and the Wonderswan. However, none of these made it the United States.

Clock Tower and Clock Tower II

clocktower1.jpgHuman returned to Clock Tower in 1997, this time producing a sequel for the PlayStation. After defeating the Scissorman, Jennifer is sent to a mental hospital to recover from the trauma. Predictably, it is not long before dead bodies begin to show up and the Scissorman is on the loose again. Showing the influence of Koji Suzuki’s 1991 novel Ringu, Clock Tower hints at dark rumors and morbid urban myths.

clocktower2.jpgHuman quickly followed up with Clock Tower Ghost Head, which came to America in 1999 under the title Clock Tower II: The Struggle Within. This time the events of the game take place in Osaka (changed to California in the U.S. version) and follow a new girl named Alyssa. Like Jennifer in the previous games, Alyssa is an orphan whose heritage is a mystery. However, she suffers from a split personality disorder and harbors a murderous male alter ego. Many of the puzzles in Clock Tower II revolve around manifesting one personality or the other to progress through the game.

Although Clock Tower and Clock Tower II sported rudimentary polygon graphics, they retained the point and click mechanics of the first Famicom game. This resulted in a slow, lethargic pace that was perhaps more frustrating than frightening. But they were distinctive and there was nothing else quite like them on the market.

The first Clock Tower game was published for America in 1997 by ASCII Entertainment, which later became Agetec. Somewhat rare, Clock Tower sells for around $25. According to Agetec’s web site, copies of Clock Tower II are still available new for $29.99.

Clock Tower 3

clocktower3.jpgDespite the modest success of the Clock Tower games and other well-regarded titles like Fire Pro Wrestling, Remote Control Dandy, and Vanguard Bandits, Human Entertainment hit hard times and closed shop in 1999. The Clock Tower series lay dormant for a number of years until Sunsoft picked it up in 2003.

In Clock Tower 3 Alyssa is a teenager whose mother is kidnapped by an evil figure called the Dark Gentleman. In searching for her missing parent, Alyssa discovers that she can psychically project herself into the past where she must defeat a series of twisted serial killers before confronting the Dark Gentleman’s corrupt plan. Along the way, Alyssa can help put the tormented spirits of murder victims to rest by uncovering the circumstances of their deaths.

Given a much needed visual overhaul for the PlayStation 2, Clock Tower 3 moved at a faster pace than the earlier games, dispensing with the point and click interface and giving the player direct control over Alyssa. The series’ focus on hiding from danger remained, although it sometimes seemed aggravatingly impossible to give pursuers the slip.

Something that went largely unnoticed was Clock Tower 3’s lengthy cut-scenes that were directed by Kinji Fukasaku, one of Japan’s great (and sadly, late) subversive film directors. Fukasaku had a long history in the motion picture industry, having directed the epic Yakuza series Battles Without Honor or Humanity and the delirious Green Slime. He was the co-director of Tora! Tora! Tora! and worked with Yukio Mishima on Black Lizard. Fukasaku’s confrontational spirit was undiminished by age and his last film was the anarchic Battle Royal, released in 2000.

It seemed to me that Clock Tower 3 could have been a very appealing game for teenage girls. It had all the elements of a Richard Peck novel. A plucky female protagonist with mysterious psychic powers and a gothic romance setting that was spooky but not really all that scary. Also, the idea of helping ghosts find their peace was actually kind of sweet. If only the game wasn’t so malicious and violent, a virtual charnel house of vigorous, gory mayhem. But I suppose that was to be expected with Fukasaku’s involvement. After all, his hard, unsentimental style paved the way for bloody knuckled hipster/critical darlings like Takeshi Kitano and Takashi Miike.

Published in America by Capcom, Clock Tower 3 is still available new from GameQuestDirect for $14.99.

Haunting Ground

haunting_ground.jpgIn 2005, Capcom developed and published Haunting Ground for the PlayStation 2. Although technically not a Clock Tower game, Haunting Ground was obviously intended as a new entry in the series. The basic Clock Tower elements are all present. An orphaned young woman is trapped in a madman’s castle and stalked by crazed pursuers. She has no real defenses and finding clever hiding spots is the only way to shake her tormentors off her trail. New this time is a White Shepard that accompanies her nightmare journey. The dog is a loyal companion that can help uncover clues, warn of danger, and fight off attackers with his vicious bite.

Haunting Ground is unusual from other games in that it is absolutely saturated with alchemical imagery. Every element of the game carries a trace of the opus circulatorium, both subtle and obvious. Game designers have often sprinkled bits of esoterica into their works to add some exotic flavor, like naming a character Sephiroth, or scanning in some Robert Fludd drawings for background art. But Haunting Ground’s entire vocabulary is a study in alchemy. To give you an example, one tricky puzzle had me stumped until I found the solution, not in a FAQ or a strategy guide, but between the pages of Paracelsus: Selected Writings. Haunting Ground makes a serious commitment to its aesthetics that is exceptional.

Out of print, Haunting Ground can be found online for around $20.

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

I Am 8-Bit 2007 - The Full Gallery Shaboodle!

- May be a bit behind the curve on this one, but I-Mockery has posted a full gallery from the newest I Am 8-Bit art show in Los Angeles, showcasing some of the neatest-looking video game-inspired art to grace gallery walls since, uhm, the last I Am 8-Bit show.

The intro explains: "I know a lot of people have been waiting to see the all of the amazing 80's video game inspired artwork from the 2007 "I Am 8-Bit" show at Gallery 1988. Well, for those of you who didn't get to attend the opening reception here in Los Angeles, you're in luck. We took over a hundred photos of the show so you can check out most of the classic game creations that were on display."

However, it warns: "You'll have to excuse the odd angles we had to take the photos at sometimes... it was insanely crowded in there and we weren't about to shove people out of the way just to get a perfectly centered photo."

Actually, most stuff is well shot, and, in discussing this with a friend over IM, we agree that this year's show is basically 'more of the same', but pretty darn GOOD 'more of the same' that we'd be highly tempted to buy to hang on our wall, in most cases - though there's a bit too much Mario and Pac-Man, in general.

[Oh, and the official site notes that game company sponsors include Capcom and Foundation 9 (plus CMP's PR agency of record 47 Communications!), so thanks for supporting great art, youz guyzes.]

Why Gameplay Is A... Dirty Word!

- Oh, semantics! We just got a note from Alex of previously GSW-linked site Insomni.ac, and he explains to us: "I recently wrote a little piece on my website about why the word 'gameplay' is stupid and why I think we should all stop using it."

Not saying I agree, or disagree, or have even thought about it that much, but... heeere's Alex's controversial thesis: "By far the biggest problem with the word gameplay is that it's too all-encompassing to be of any use. When you say "this game has bad gameplay" you are not really giving me any more useful information than if you had simply said "this is a bad game". Besides, it seems that different people have different ideas of what gameplay is supposed to be -- there is nothing like a widely-accepted definition (check also: dictionaries). So the term has come to basically mean: "I cannot be troubled to specify what I like or don't like about this game"."

Conclusion? "In the end, sloppy use of words promotes sloppy thinking, and before you know it you are sprouting nonsense like "The most important part of a game is the gameplay". If this sentence doesn't sound dumb to you it's because you've been brainwashed from seeing it in print a billion times. For perspective, this is just as pointless as saying "The most important part of a movie is the moviewatch"."

April 25, 2007

Made In Japan: Western Perspectives On Japanese Game Development

- Over at big sister site Gamasutra, today's main feature is called 'Made In Japan: Western Perspectives On Japanese Game Development', and Ryan Winterhalter has done a pretty good job of summing up how Japanese development is just handled differently, with the help of a few special guests.

Here's the overview: "How do best practices in the Japanese game industry differ from the West? Expatriates Gregg Tavares (LocoRoco), Dylan Cuthbert (StarFox), and the pseudonymous JC Barnett discuss what they've learned - and what we can all learn - about game development in Japan."

Absolutely unmissable is Dylan Cuthbert's summing up of game development culture throughout the world - and having worked in 2 of the 3, I have to say he's spot on regarding those:

“The UK is a pub culture - people like to doss and arse about a lot, but they are very good and very skilled at their jobs - when they do them.”

“The US is a corporate culture, everyone is a cog in the machine, even in a smaller company, so there is far less responsibility towards the company and its finances and people assume that they should have the best wage, best equipment, best software, best everything, even if they don't use them. That said, they have great responsibility to the work itself and there are some extremely clever and diligent people there. Corporate politics, gossip and rivalries can get a bit too much.”

“The Japanese games development culture is still slightly "salaryman", everyone kind of avoids responsibility by remaining quiet but they persevere by themselves until they get the product done. Unfortunately, this lack of sharing is hurting the technical development of the games industry here in Japan. The Japanese never give up until all the details are in place and they try and leave nothing haphazard or rough-edged, or oozappa (in Japanese).”

Bring The Hobbit To The Stock Exchange Closing!

- Mr. Sheffield forwarded me a Midway PR email which contains links to some of the most uncomfortable video footage displayed in public in recent years: "Executives and guests from Midway Games Inc. visited the New York Stock Exchange on Tues., April 24 to celebrate the launch of its latest video game, "The Lord of the Rings Online"."

Oh yeah? "To celebrate this special occasion, CEO David Zucker rang The Closing Bell." And here's the video evidence that he did [.ASX link] Unfortunately, there seems to be a tiny little hobbit standing to his left, and then 'Gandalf' just to the side of him. 'Gandalf' is bopping his stick up and down in delight as Zucker alternately rings a bell and slams a mallet into the desk, in a Phoenix Wright courtroom stylee. Guys, this is pretty surreal! [The accompanying image has been blurred to protect the innocent!]

Oh, and over at MMOG Nation, the ever-online Michael Zenke has been talking about Lord Of The Rings Online on its launch day, and he has some neat conclusions: "It may seem to you like I put most of the core of the game under ‘like’, some fluff under ‘love, and some serious problems at the bottom. You’d be right. I didn’t shell out $199 for a lifetime membership because I don’t think I’m ever going to play the game that much. By biting the bullet when I did I can stick to the $9.99 membership and get my jollies at a lower cost."

Quality Vs. Scope In Game Development

- Jamie Fristrom, who once upon a time did 'Manager In A Strange Land' as a column for Gamasutra, has published a new 'MIATS' column on his weblog, named 'Quality vs. Scope', and it's as perceptive as ever.

He explains: ""Scope" is a fancy project manager word for "Size." I don't know why I use it. I guess to look fancy. You've heard that expression: "Cheap, fast, or good: pick two." (Or, as the guys from Id put it at the last DICE: "Cheap, fast, or good: pick *one*.") Well, there's a variable missing from that equation. What we really should be saying, is: "Cheap, fast, good, or big: pick three." Or, better still: "Cheap, fast, good, or big: prioritize them and find a balance you're happy with.""

Fristrom also has some interesting musings on this general issue of working out "...when you're doing something that's going to improve quality, or if you're just making the game bigger at the expense of quality" - which is much trickier than it might seem!

He concludes: "If this all seems obvious, I have to ask - why does choosing size over quality seem so epidemic in our industry? Maybe it's the schedule - it's easy to write down an estimate for how long it will take to "Get Snowblower Mode In"; it's not so easy to estimate how long it will take to "Get framerate to 60" or "Smooth out player experience.""

Gamenauts Casually Float Off Into Space

- Really enjoying how Gamezebo is taking the time to profile some of the leading casual game creators - the latest is an interview with Stanley Adrianus from Gamenauts, the creators of recent hit title Burger Rush, a game that's, yes, Diner Dash-y on the surface, but 'match 3'-like in its core, an interesting mashed-up concept.

He explains exactly how it came about: "In the case of Burger Rush, there were a couple of starting points - the first is that being a fan of obscure Japanese cooking games, I had wanted to create a game about food and cooking for a long time. The second is that at Gamenauts, we're particularly fond of merging 2 different genres together. In fact [previous Gamenauts title and non-hit] Spacebound itself is also a melding of 2 different games, although not as obvious as Burger Rush."

He also talks about why Burger Rush has hit the sales mark, but Spacebound didn't: "For our first title, I think we suffered that same problem that plagued many new game developers: Notunderstandingourtargetaudience-itis. The players who liked Spacebound the most are typically fans of console and handheld puzzle games, and not the mainstream casual games audience. This was a valuable lesson for us and we shifted our focus and attention squarely on the "casual moms" as the target audience for our next game." Neat stuff.

UK Resistance Show Us How Real Interviewing Is Done

- The only true journalism on the Internet belongs to the increasingly lunatic Zorg and friends at UK Resistance, for whom the PlayStation 3's European launch has been a mind-shattering experience that's turned the site into a boggling variation on faux-Sony bashing that's basically... Sony bashing!

Actually, I think this has led some people to get confused about the site's satirical origins (or at least, satirical mid-life crisis), so it's good to see an interview with Sumo Digital about Virtua Tennis 3 which is asking all the wrong questions in just the right way.

For example: "Why is it that some games are glitchy and rubbish on Xbox Live, but others are really smooth? Surely developers should all enable 'Really Smooth Mode' by default?" Or... "Isn't it sad what's happened to Sonic The Hedgehog recently?" Or especially: "Finally, can you say something controversial, so we can make it the headline and get loads of traffic from Digg? Say something like "PS3 isn't as good as Xbox 360" or "Wii is just a Gamecube with a rubbish controller"." Which Sumo refuses to do, the rotters.

April 24, 2007

Katamari Damacy Mobile - Demystified, Innit?

- Over at our sister mobile game site Games On Deck, the lovely Mathew Kumar has got out his journalist deerstalker and tracked down specifics on the announcement of Katamari Damacy Mobile, a currently Japanese-only cellphone version of the franchise.

Sounds like a pretty interesting title, because you actually tilt your phone to roll the Katamari: "Namco Bandai has announced Katamari Damacy Mobile, a fully 3D cellphone title featuring motion sensitive controls... The game is currently only confirmed for Japanese release, and will come pre-bundled with the iMode FOMA P904i phone. It will also be made available through download at the Bandai Namco Games Japanese web portal, starting this June."

What's more: "The motion sensitive controls are to be provided by Gesturetek's Eyemobile Engine (as previously discussed in a Games On Deck Q&A) which allows movement to be sensed through use of the in-built camera featured on many phones. It doesn't require that the phone have any dedicated hardware [other than the camera!] to sense motion."

[Oh, and a Japan-only release of a 2D mobile version of Katamari is also mentioned, which I'm not sure I realized existed. Neat - let's keep piling up more Katamari information on GSW until we've created a big aggregated pile of it!]

Physics Give Me Sumotori Dreams

- Matthew Wegner's Fun-Motion has updated with news of a brand new demo-scene impelled physics game for PC, called Sumotori Dreams [87kb ZIP download link], and which looks like lots of stumbly fun to me.

Wait, 87k? As explained: "Sumotori Dreams is a small demoscene game created by Peter Sotesz for the Breakpoint 2007 96k game competition (it took first). The premise is simple: two self-balancing physics rigs face off in a sumo ring. The first rig to fall over loses. The implementation is simple but satisfying, and is well supported by solid physics, decent lighting, and good camera work."

Wegner concludes of the free-to-download game: "Sumotori is awfully impressive - self-balancing bipeds are a very difficult domain, even in the scope of “serious” research. Granted, a video game can tweak the rules of physics where a physical robot cannot, but it’s still a great achievement. I’d love to see Peter keep tweaking the physics to massage the gameplay to a more advanced state, but even now Sumotori is a fun party game." The demo-scene wins again!

GameCareerGuide.com Launches Forums, Marc Mencher Q&A

- A quick cross-post, then, to mention that we've set up some brand new discussion forums over at education site Game Career Guide, and for those who want to get into the game biz, we're hoping they will become a throbbing hive of information - or at least real people who aren't spambots! You get added Marc Mencher, too. Here's the info:

"Gamasutra's game education sister site GameCareerGuide.com has launched new forums to facilitate the discussion of topics related to getting into the game industry, game career paths, game education, and game studies. Readers are encouraged to create accounts, specialize their profiles with avatars, and start up conversations.

As apart of the new forum kickoff, game career specialist Marc Mencher of GameRecruiter.com is appearing as a guest poster to answer questions from forum users.

Mencher is a specialist in game industry careers who previously worked for such game companies as Spectrum Holobyte, Microprose, and 3DO, and is the author of “Get In The Game!” - an instructional book on careers in the video games industry. He has been an Executive Producer on several games, and is also a curriculum advisor to colleges offering game development degrees.

To register and jump into a discussion, interested parties can visit the new Game Career Guide Forums area. Please note that the forums currently require a new user login, separate from existing Gamasutra/Gamasutra Jobs registration."

COLUMN: 'Roboto-chan!': Super Ultimate Power

['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 the animated series Ideon on the future of gaming.]

ideon_waveleader1.jpgIt’s safe to say that ninjas are suitably potent. In the aeon old conflict with their natural adversaries, the eyepatch wearing pirates, ninjas have a distinct advantage due to their ability to channel real ultimate power. However, much like with mecha, you have two sides to ultimate power; real and super.

To commemorate my final entry into the Roboto-chan pantheon, I feel it necessary to cover the arbiter of super ultimate power and its effect on gaming as a whole. For those who are concerned about my imminent departure, fear ye not! Similar to the super robot shows from the 70’s, I have sourced a plucky replacement with hot blooded fists of justice. He will pilot the column with equal skill and insight (think Hot Rod rather Ultra Magnus in terms of competence). Naturally, as of the column's next edition he shall light our darkest hour.

Anyway, on with my final contribution to the column...

ideon_full1.jpgShortly after Tomino helmed the original Gundam series, he ventured into somewhat uncharted territory. It’s safe to say that he had, and still has, a certain disdain for super robots. He originally directed the first Raideen, only to leave half way through due to a disenchantment with the whole super robot ethos. Gundam was realistic reaction to that.

Gundam was a turning point for mecha but that wasn’t enough for Tomino. Instead, he merged the newly formed real robot genre with a force of epically super proportions. The series was called Ideon and its influence can still be felt quarter of a century later.

For all intents and purposes, Ideon was a real robot show. It had a very clearly defined set of physical rules. Machines took damage, people died. It was very much a continuation of what Gundam started. With one major difference; the eponymous mecha Ideon was very much a super robot.

Admittedly, it’s super qualities were hidden from view to begin with. The gattai and henkei sequences weren’t crazy and the Ideon did take damage. However, the Ideon was the arbiter of a terrifying source of power and over the course of the story it became clear that this power was equitable to that of a God.

The Ideon had multiple weapons, one of which were a pair of beam swords that emanated from the hands. They had various levels of strength but the one that people remember is that of their ability to cut a planet in half. What’s more, the swords were one of the weaker weapons at the Ideon’s disposal. The simply dreadful Wave Leader Cannon could destroy sections of a galactic arm quite easily. The Ideon wasn’t your normal super.

What made series so special was the contrast between the realistic stance of the show’s background and the deified nature of the Ideon itself. It grounded the truly horrifying omnipotence of the signature mecha and amplified the sense that you were in the grasp of something that was considerably larger than meagre the confines of the television.

Despite all of Ideon's incredibly destructive weapons, it's final act in the film Be Invoked, which brought the narrative to a distinctive close, was to essentially re-boot the universe. You can't really top that.

ideon_alpha3_1.jpgWhich brings me onto Ideon's significance in terms of gaming. If we approach a game as a rule set with an objective, how do you impart a functional allegory of Ideon's awesome magnifence? Naturally, many have tried and obviously fallen short.

Two Super Robot Wars games attempted the feat of mapping Ideon to a game. The first, F Final on the Saturn, approached its power with a deferred reverance. It was incredibly difficult to unlock the power of Ide without either losing all of your units or seeing the destruction of the Ideon itself. Like in the anime, the Ideon responds to the destruction of its allies or if it sustains substantial damage. So getting the unfettered wrath of the mecha at your disposable was a Herculean task (only exacerbated by the stringent tactics required on the part of the player).

The second attempt was more recent, Alpha 3 offered the Ideon but instead took another approach; give the player as much power as possible. Utilising the Ideon's menu of weapons was a fairly simple affair compared to that of F Final, stringent tactics weren't present for starters and gaining access to the Ide required far fewer of your allies to dive onto their swords.

Still, neither game really encapsulated the sense of potency. Considering that both games offered an insane map based attack, it still can't really approach the annihilation of the universe.

This brings me onto my final point; mecha games are the attempted embodiment of the anime that inspired their existence. When something like Ideon exists as a conceptual benchmark, how do you approach that in design terms? Can it even be really done?

Personally, I'm glad that impossible inspiration such as this exists. It forces games creators to chase after an elusive and difficult objective, something that has defined the mecha genre of gaming throughout the years and one I hope will continue to do so for many more to come.

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

La La, La La Katamari Wallpaper-y!

- Thanks to Tale Of Tales' Auriea Harvey for pointing out that there's a Flickr account which is posting all the official Katamari Damacy wallpapers that were available on the Namco Japan website at various points.

As is noted: "The Katamari wallpapers were taken from the official Namco Katamari Damacy website before it was taken down. I have/will posted the ENTIRE wallpaper collection (82 total) that was ever offered by Namco!" There's been 57 posted so far - some of my favorites include this almost folk art-esque entry, as well as a slightly surreal red carpet-pushing effort, and, uhm, Namco's office building (as seen on the Japanese cover of We Love Katamari) making another appearance.

Now, with Namco announcing Beautiful Katamari, a "...next-gen version for PS3 and Xbox 360 featuring online multiplayer modes and downloadable content expansions", will the series flow to new heights, or hang out as a bit of a pale pseudo-sequel, as the PSP version (the first without Keita Takahashi) did? We can only hope.

April 23, 2007

Toribash Adds Virtual Limb Transactions

- Now this is the kind of press release I appreciated, since it's headed: "Toribash adds virtual market for blood, body parts and user created content." Uh, what? Well: "The online fighting game Toribash now has a active virtual marketplace. The most popular items are custom head textures and the talented Photoshop artists creating them are already the richest members of the community."

We've previously covered the extreme oddness of IGF 2007 finalist Toribash, and this just about takes the cake: "If buying heads is not your thing perhaps some Vampire or Acid Blood from the blood shop is just what your Tori Fighter needs... The market place also has a Clan Story shop, first five stories are free and the merchant promise to tweak the stories until you are happy with them. Signatures, rotating heads, secret Toribash moves are other what to appears to be popular commodities."

What's more: "The ingame currency is called ToriCredits and are earned by winning matches or deposited using premium SMS." I notice the official Toribash community is getting pretty crowded now - '2765 Posts in 7403 Topics by 3376 Members' - so it's good to see an indie title take off online and get a good micro-community going. Here's a couple of new YouTube videos of uber-carnage, too.

Game Informer's McNamara Talks Print Pluses

- I'm sometimes surprised at just who reads GameSetWatch, and Kevin Gifford's latest Game Mag Weaseling column has just turned up a most interesting comment from Game Informer EIC Andy McNamara.

To remind you, Mr. Gifford praised the front news and analysis section of Game Informer, but was a tad disapproving over the longform previews of Grand Theft Auto IV and the new 2K Sports football title, noting: "Both articles are interesting if you are interested in the game in question in the first place. They are glorified feature lists enhanced with developer quotes and insulated by hundreds of words of filler."

McNamara says a little more than this, but here's the meat of it: "I fail to see how getting world exclusive content that you can't get anywhere else isn't offering our readers something unique and worth the price of a magazine.

We also work very hard to make sure that those 16 to 20 pages of previews have as much unique content as possible, including many exclusive details and screens that aren't available online (I would say about 60 to 80% on average). Our reader feedback has always shown great support for our cover stories and features.

Saying that the magazine isn't completing its goal because the previews will be online months later seems an unfair judgment. By that same logic you would say those online sites shouldn't do the previews because Game Informer did it months before."

Kevin also weighs in, and indeed, here's the crux of his reply: "Speaking as a reader and a guy who loves print media and wants to see it stay as relevant as possible, once the next big exclusive reveal comes around, the way I'd like to see it approached is "All right, I have some screens and some features I'm allowed to talk about -- now what can I do to make the 6-8 pages I need to fill honestly interesting, to the point where people would want to read the feature even if they didn't care at all about the game/genre it was talking about?""

I have to say that I agree with Mr. Gifford here - I was disappointed in the GTA IV preview because it felt so 'managed' from the Rockstar end. It's clear that a very small amount of information was made available besides the screenshots, so there was nowhere to go from an actual reporting point of view.

Having said that, as Kevin also notes, I feel that Game Informer is building a strong base of well-researched, well-thought out pieces outside of the previews and reviews coverage, where they don't have to play ball with restrictive PR/marketing types. Which is great - they could sit on their laurels thanks to the subscription base they've built up, and they're certainly not. So it's just a question of getting Rockstar to play ball, eh? (As if!)

What Game Design Can Learn From 300

- Ubisoft's game design supremo Clint Hocking has posted an excellent new in-depth blog post called 'Hollywood’s Bloody Ballet – What Game Design Can Learn From 300', and it's a dense, meaty read.

I can't really do it justice by excerpts, but here's a key couple of paragraphs for a taster: "If 300 proves that filmmaking is ultimately, at its core, about low-level visual storytelling, and that the lofty high-level plotting of a movie, while often important, is simply not central to a film, then there can be no real or meaningful convergence between the two mediums."

He continues: "Music is about the low level sequencing of tones. Cooking is about the low level blending flavors. Film is about the low level sequencing of images. Games are about the low level interaction between player and system... Saying that games can learn from film and vice versa – while not entirely untrue – is only as true as saying convergence between cooking and ballet would make ballet taste better and would make meals better express the beauty of the human form. Ridiculous."

[On this subject, actually, the whole convergence thing is being discussed by the 2nd Hollywood and Games Summit, being organized by my compatriots in the CMP Game Group alongside The Hollywood Reporter for later in June. There's some pretty interesting speakers announced thus far, including Jordan Mechner of Prince Of Persia fame, and TMNT director Kevin Munroe, plus Heroes exec producer Jesse Alexander. Not plugging - it's just relevant.]

Sucked Into The Undertow For XBLA

- Via XBLArcade, news of an IGN preview revealing Xbox Live Arcade title Undertow from Chair Entertainment, and it's a 2D underwater multiplayer shooter from the creators of Advent Rising. Blimey.

According to IGN, the gameplay of the title" ...is best described as Geometry Wars meets Battlefield. Movement is mapped to one analog stick with attack on the other. Shots come in a constant stream a la Geometry Wars and depth charges can be activated with the pull of a trigger... The goal is to destroy your enemies and take control of their bases, with victory coming from a similar system to the flag and ticket system Battlefield is famous for."

A glance at Chair Entertainment's website reveals that their other projects include work with Orson Scott Card on Empire, "...a chilling look at a near future scenario of a new American Civil War. Chair is now simultaneously developing a feature film, and a future comic book series and video game all inspired by that same universe."

(Some may recall that the Mustard brothers worked on Advent Rising with Scott Card, hence the continuing connection. In the meantime, good to see an underwater 2D shooter for XBLA - continuing the proud tradition of In The Hunt by other means!)

Kohler Takes Up Baton For Responsible Game Blogging

- I'm absolutely delighted to see Wired News' Chris Kohler make a post about an untrue Square Enix news story that's recently been splashed across a bunch of major blogs - from Joystiq to Destructoid and beyond, with a complete lack of fact-checking when passing on the report.

All together, now - 'Responsible game blogging does not absolve you from factchecking!' I don't care who you are: If you're paid to blog, and fresh news comes your way, you should go find the primary source to make sure the story is true before posting it. It's as simple as that.

As Kohler notes of the claims (of a major change in Square Enix's business model!): "First off, a cursory examination of Square Enix's Japanese web page reveals absolutely no news stories, site updates, press releases, or investor relations updates regarding a shift in platform strategy." And I also noticed that an earlier version of this same story made it to the front page of Digg, with only a limited amount of complaints from commenters.

Anyhow, I've been accused of anti-blog bias before, since I also have a bee in my bonnet about this type of thing, so I think I have to be quite clear here. The problem is people not doing their homework before posting a story - and would be true whether it was the case on Gamasutra, or GameSpot, or any outlet for news about games.

In other words, it's not a game blogger thing, or a game journalist thing - it's an information thing. Everyone makes mistakes - heck, I made one earlier today when trying to divine the company affiliation of a LJ poster - but some are more fundamental and in larger arenas than others. Now if you'll excuse me, you'll find me down the pub, in the corner with Kohler, scowling at the other patrons, quaffing snakebite and black, and grumbling to ourselves under our breath.

April 22, 2007

Wanna Be In The Star Wars Galaxies Wrecking Crew?

- Michael over at MMOG Nation points out something interesting going on in SOE's MMO title Star Wars Galaxies - the opportunity for players to act as in-game demolition experts, thanks to an overproliferation of abandoned player housing.

It's explained: "If your account has been inactive since April 17, 2006, any of the following structures on your account will be CONDEMNED, marked as abandoned and demolished beginning June 5, 2007: Houses, Harvesters, Factories, Player Associations.... Starting on June 5, 2007, those structures that have not been reclaimed will be marked as abandoned."

So what? Well: "An abandoned structure will then be subject to demolition by your fellow citizens. Citizens will be rewarded for each structure demolished... For each successful destruction of an abandoned structure, you will recieve one reward point. Reward points are redeemable at the Luck Despot for cool in-game items that you can use to decorate your own structures."

Not sure if this is tragic or incredibly clever - likely a combination of the both - but Michael notes: "The obvious reason to do this is to clear out the worlds a bit in anticipation of a server merge... Player housing is (I imagine) one of the stickiest wickets to tackle when it comes to considering bringing SWG player together."

Girls, Girls, Girls - We Want 'Em For Their Mage Staffs!

- Over at the LiveJournal of 'Bonuspoints', there's a neat/depressing story about evaluating games for publishing which shows the kind of issues with content developed by (possibly foreign) nerds, for nerds that can often dog low-budget games - both in terms of cheesiness and misogyny, unfortunately.

It's explained: "Among the numerous titles we received today was a Crazy Taxi clone. Upon selecting ‘New Game’, we were greeted with the game’s default character: a very large, muscular man wearing a kilt and brandishing a wrench. This was certainly not what we expected to see, and the three of us got a decent chuckle out of it. Stranger still was the next character who appeared to be a female mage complete with revealing ‘robes’ and a metal staff. Again, we laughed.

Sadly, the following two characters (a stereotypical Pakistani cab driver and a prostitute) were nowhere near as entertaining as the first two. Clicking the ‘Next’ arrow brought us back to the default character and thus crushed our hopes for further wackiness. Having made up my mind to vote for the most ridiculously out of place character however, I was quick to inform my coworkers of whom I felt they should select.

Me: “Come on guys, you have to pick the mage!”
Coworkers: “Wait, who? There was a mage?”
Me: “Yeah, the girl with the staff!”
Coworkers: “Ummmm, Nick? That’s not a staff.”

Upon taking a closer look I realized that what she was holding onto was actually a pole. It was at that moment that the rest of the details clicked into place and my error became crystal clear. I had just taken a stripper to be a female spell caster."

Oh dear - let's draw a veil over that whole incident, shall we? There's also another postby the same author discussing and explaining an interesting PC puzzle game called DNA - there's a demo if you click through, looks worth a peek! [EDIT: Apparently, the LJ author doesn't work for 5th Cell, though, as I previously guessed - apologies for confusion.]

Starting Things Up In Game Journalism

- The latest Media Coverage column over at GameDaily has Kyle Orland discussing how to become a game journalist, and he interviews a bunch of professionals about it, including Gamasutra Podcast producer Tom Kim - I appreciate well-crafted articles with multiple points of view like this.

Here's a couple of key paragraphs: "But there are always other outlets, right? Some think the explosion of games writing on the Internet and mainstream publications has made it easier than ever to break into the field these days. "There are a lot more outlets for videogame writers now," Wired's [Chris] Baker said. "There may be tons of competition to write for EGM and GameDaily, but your hometown newspaper may be open to pitches.""

An interesting quote from IGN's Peer Schneider, also - he thinks that breaking in to game journalism today is harder because games are "more than just the little brother of the movie biz. ... Even though the means of publishing things online have become more accessible thanks to video-sharing sites and blogs, it's tougher for a hopeful candidate to stand out as games and entertainment journalism are now much more in the public eye."

Superman N64's Unholy Spawn For.... PlayStation?

- The curator of the PlayStation Museum pinged me to point out that he's now posted full details on the Superman game for the PlayStation 1 - an unreleased title that was going to be published by Titus (creators of the infamous N64 version.)

As is explained: " In 1998, BlueSky Software began working with French developer Titus to bring Superman, based on the WB animated series, to the PlayStation. At that time Titus had almost finished work on the N64 version of the game in France with their own team. Originally, the plan was to take the N64 game and port it over to the PlayStation. All that was to be done was to take the art and reformat it to run in a PlayStation engine. Then the Superman N64 game was released. One reviewer stated" "This game exists for the sole purpose of firmly establishing the bottom of the barrel”."

So what happened? The game was extensively redesigned, but it's claimed: "Unfortunately the license from Warner Brothers had expired. Essentially, Superman continued to be developed with no assistance from DC comics or Warner Brothers. The plan was to surprise everybody with a finished product." Wait, was this really the plan?

Anyhow: "After almost 2 years of development, Superman reached a milestone: it received approval for release from Sony and issued a product code of SLUS-00712. Many retail outlets were accepting pre-orders for the game and advertisements were created... By the time the game was completed, Titus was unable to secure the license. Superman for the PlayStation was officially laid to rest." There's video linked on the page, too, and the Museum folks claim that it's actually quite a playable game.

But, uh - I think you can tell that this wasn't completely licensor-approved: "Superman is littered with secret codes in the game such as clearing kryptonite or showing coordinates. There are even codes to select a level, language, or start a demo. But the one Easter egg that shows the developer has a sense of humor is the ability to change the splash screen to a picture of Lois Lane ripping her shirt off revealing her bra and the words "Keep your shirt on.""

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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