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May 5, 2007

COLUMN: 'Game Mag Weaseling': Mag Roundup 3/24/07

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


Hah! Even Nintendo Power admits it in their media kit! It's true!

And with that bit of silliness out of the way, click on to read all about the US magazines that have hit newsstands in the past two weeks. I've got a long update this week, but I suppose you could say I had a lot on my mind...

Nintendo Power June 2007


Cover: NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams

The old mixes with the new in this issue, as per usual. On the one hand, you have all the really early first-look Wii/DS previews that you'd expect from Nintendo Power -- a news section packed with games I never heard of before, a cover feature on Wii NiGHTS that would have been hot-sclusive if it weren't for that darn Swedish magazine, an interview with Tomonobu Itagaki (yet another "no way would you see that in Nintendo Power" moment there) and three pages on Space Station Tycoon that actually make the game look kinda interesting.

There's also a new section, Power Profiles, that interviews game designers about the creative process. Mr. Miyamoto is the first entry, of course, and two pages of Mr. Miyamoto is always quotable as all get-out.

The old Nintendo comes out (besides NP's usual custom of calling Japanese people "Mr. [last name]," even where "Mr." would be omitted with Western names) in "Wii Welcome You," an advertising pamphlet that comes included with the subscriber edition. Wii Welcome You won't be news to NP subscribers, since it serves mainly as an introduction to the Wii and all its abilities, but it's worth taking a peek at just for the internal art -- it's nothing but drawings of creepy-looking Miis (we're talking 80s box-art creepy here).

Official Xbox Magazine June 2007 (Podcast)


Cover: My Beautiful Katamari

Despite my initial impression, OXM has put several Japanese games on the cover of the magazine before, most recently Lost Planet. But this is certainly the most Japanese-y OXM cover ever, and the imagery undoubtedly makes for a better cover than The Darkness, the other big preview inside. (I mean, it's so dark, and besides, PSM already has a no-name FPS on its cover this month.) The editors spend 7 pages discussing things with localization man Lindsay Gray, then three more going over the rest of the 360's upcoming Japan lineup. It's quite nice.

The rest of the features aren't quite as hot as Katamari, though -- they include a bit on the Xbox dashboard and the team behind it, as well as an except from the (yawn) Mass Effect prequel novel (zzz).

Two neat little bits in this particular issue for magazine buffs. First off, OXM takes a page to print 698 Xbox Live tags -- all the people who got 16,000 OXM Points by going through every single OXM disc in the past year-and-a-half before they reset the scores for OXM Universe, which gave me flashbacks to Next Generation printing their entire subscriber list over several months in 1998. The second is in the letters section, where a reader notes that four of the past five issues have had review covers and lambasts OXM for it ("The whole point of a cover story is to give us new info about a new game that is coming out"). Sounds like the letter writer would be happier subscribing to Game Informer...

And speaking of that disc, I hope you like baseball, because MLB 2K7 (along with a buggy-arse Star Trek: Legacy demo that takes three minutes to load) is the main highlight.

Tips & Tricks June 2007


Cover: Command & Conquer 3

EIC Bill Kunkel notes something that I realized a few months ago in this month's editor column -- the so-called "lifestyle content" (i.e. all of T&T's columns) now take up as much of the mag as the tips and the tricks. "We believe that our readers are fascinated by the lifestyle of gaming, from movies and music to action figures and animation," he writes. "We look at gaming from the point of view that anyone who enjoys playing video games will also have a natural curiosity about, and affinity for, other components of the game culture."

The "lifestyle" section of T&T stands at 33 pages and at least 14 sections (some aren't in there every month), and like Kunkel says, there really is something in there for everyone. I read Collector's Closet every month, of course (it's been in 68 straight issues; I wonder how well a special one-off compilation of past columns would sell?) and usually steal a glance at Japan Report, Sports Desk and the toy/gear sections; otherwise I at least look at the pictures on all the rest, including the bits on animation, game music, World of Warcraft, and (making its debut this issue) downloadable console content.

I think it's all neat stuff, and with such a variety of content to stare at each month, I would make the argument that T&T is more "hardcore" these days than, say, a certain magazine with "Hardcore" in the title. But then that old problem crops up -- would someone who wants Tips and/or Tricks care about this? Or, for that matter, would they care about strategy for a PC game (I think that's the first time a PC game went on the cover)?

I like the "lifestyle" approach a great deal; it's just that, as someone who doesn't care about reading print strategy guides, I sometimes wish the whole mag was "lifestyle". In fact, I think such a mag in 100-page format would be pretty darn close to the game-mag idea I had a couple months ago. I know I'm just dreaming here, but I think that'd be utterly radical.

Play May 2007


Cover: Odin Sphere

Has there ever been a game better suited to Play's cover than this one? Halverson and crew give us a 10-page blowout on Odin, including a dev interview and a review closing with a perfect 10-out-of-10 score. It's almost like a collector's keepsake; that's how lovingly created this little feature was. Great reading by Play standards.

There's also a four-page preview of the new Crash game, and that, in its own special way, is also something you'd only find in Play these days. Still, you can't help but smile at some of the things the devs say in the piece, discussing Crash's internal motivations and such.

Play Japan seems to be getting bigger by the month. It's nine pages in May, kicking off with three on Gundam Musou. Hardcore Gamer covers Japan games extensively, but the writing's a lot better here.

GamePro June 2007


Cover: "The new Tony Hawk game" (I guess there's no name yet)

GamePro used to be the King of All Tony Hawk Covers. I think every title got on the cover in an unchallenged streak of thrash until Activision jumped ship and gave T.H.U.G. to Game Informer in 2003. GP gives the new game a two-cover special-edition treatment this month, with eight pages (including probably the nicest lead-in spread I've ever seen in GP) and interviews with Hawk and Neversoft devs.

I'm noticing a definite upgrade in the visual look of GamePro in this issue. Maybe I hadn't been paying attention earlier, but there's a ton of original art in this one, including a nice, original piece setting up a not-so-original "33 essential handheld games" feature. A more interesting feature premise: "21 Ways to Die!", a look at fatalities through the years. Awesome stuff there -- it tries to treat its content seriously, but when the list is dominated by games from the mid-90s blood-n-guts boom, you can't help but laugh your arse off at it.

PSM June 2007 (Podcast)


Cover: Pissed Off Army Guy (POAG)

Some sad-ish news here that I forgot to mention for months on end -- after a 10-year run that began with Issue One, Chris Slate has left the EIC job at PSM to head up Future's Special Projects section. His replacement: Rob Smith, another Future veteran who's had stints running both OXM and PC Gamer.

I'm hoping that Smith joining the PSM crew portends changes for the mag, because I think it could use a touch-up or two. I know I picked on Game Informer's preview features earlier, but I can't remember the last time I read anything very tangible in a PSM cover story, either. They suffer from "nothing you can't do online" syndrome, except often they're longer than the equivalent GI cover feature, so it's even more noticeable. That'd be fine if the rest of the mag was fun to read, but PSM is almost all straight-on news, previews and reviews, with very little diversion in between. I know PSM wasn't like that before, so how about messing with the formula a bit, Mr. Smith?

PC Gamer June 2007 (Podcast)


Cover: LOTR Online

For the second issue in a row, PC Gamer pulls the old "Buy this mag and get some free MMO crap" rabbit out of the hat. It's getting to be old fast (not to mention something that Computer Games magazine did a lot near the end), but I'll forgive them because through the stock previews/reviews, there's still a mess of interesting genre columns, not to mention at least one eye-opening news piece a month (this time around, a bit on professional video-game instructors).

[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.]

Ellis Talks Castlevania Animated Movie

- Aha, I see - via WarrenEllis.com, that the Transmetropolitan creator is up and running blogging at the official Castlevania: Dracula's Curse website, talking about some of the choices he's making in scripting the direct-to-DVD animated adaption of Konami's classic game franchise.

The animation is being produced by Project 51 (also involved in "...a series of animated shorts based on the hit video game series Ape Escape", according to their 'About' page!), and Ellis typically sets things up with some sass: "The film is, of course, set in Wallachia in 1476. We’ve worked with Koji Igarashi to get the film solidly inside the Castlevania timeline, and he’s approved everything I came up with, including some new embroidering to the timeline."

He explains, grinning: "To make it work as a film, I had to introduce new backstory, and I went through five drafts of the premise and three of the full outline to get the material where IGA wanted it. He remains absolutely passionate about Castlevania. After eight rewrites of pre-production material, I remain absolutely passionate about beating the crap out of IGA in a dark alleyway one day."

Ah yeah, and there's this 'bombshell', which Ellis subsequently gets almost apologetic ("No, you’re not getting it... We want to do three films.") on behalf of: "Sypha Belnades is in the film... Grant DaNasty is not." Fair enough!

Second Life Gets Age, Identity Verification

- Over at Clickable Culture, Tony Walsh has been discussing the new age and identity verification system for Second Life, which may actually be a big deal, given the amount of adult content strewn all over the virtual world.

Walsh notes: "According to an official blog posting, users who do not pay a fee to verify their age will be restricted from accessing Mature-rated areas of the virtual world. These areas will be identified by virtual land owners, who Linden Lab says "are morally and legally responsible for the content displayed and the behavior taking place on their land."

Walsh's analysis is on the money: "This is a major move for Linden Lab, with major ramifications for Second Life residents, who up until this point have been enjoying a combination of Wild West meets Roman Orgy meets Sesame Street since 2003... Later this month, a cold, dry Second Life experience will replace the old, sloppy, Burning Man-style Second Life experience... And while adult content in "safe" areas will never go away, at least Linden Lab has washed its hands of the entire, sordid mess."

Why Prey Makes Sense On... Cellphones?

- So over on sister mobile game site GamesOnDeck, there's a new interview with SkyZone's Chief Publishing Officer Bob Shireman which is interesting because it discusses the firm's conversion of 3D Realms/Human Head's Prey for cellphones - a project that on the surface, seems ridiculously high-end.

However, he comments: "Prey is a complicated PC game and staying true to that product while acknowledging the limitations was quite a challenge. Ensuring playability is first and foremost our goal and once we make a game that is fun, then we focus on bringing the key elements from the PC and console title to mobile. With Prey for mobile, the Deathwalk sequence is intact but changed slightly to fit the form factor."

Shireman also makes an interesting claim of cellphone titles: "You very seldom hear, "It was a great title on the Xbox, PlayStation, PC but the mobile version sucked" when reading about 3D titles nowadays. Of course it's a different experience. Of course it isn't as aurally or visually rich. Consumers get it. Given that, they still want it to be fun, engaging, and re-playable."

[Oh yeah, and on the mobile front, sometime GSW columnist Matthew 'Fort90' Hawkins has started pro-blogging for mobile site Zedge, and he just posted a neat editorial in two parts called 'Cell Phones: Yet Another Ellis Island For Gamers?' Notably, consumers nowadays "...just want some a quick burst of fun, and both the Wii and cell phones are providing it, though one is doing a better job than the other."]

A Tribute To Retro Core, Now Departed

- We've linked him a few times before, but it's time for a final link, because Yakumo's excellent Retro Core classic Japanese gaming videocast is now coming to an end, with Volume 32: The Final being, uhm, the final one featuring game footage and sardonic English commentary.

As Yakumo further explains on The Gamer's Quarter: "I just no longer have the time to produce the show anymore now that I've become a father. Still, it's been a great 3 years and within that Time Retro Core has covered over 390 games... In the final volume of Retro Core we take a look at the PC Engine and its games."

He continues: "There are many PC Engine games that are also featured on the Mega Drive. Retro Core compare 4 of them side by side, as well as taking a look at some of my personal favorite games in my collection. As well as that we've got Japanese game ads and the following games..." Big list follows, random selection is, well, these: "PC Engine - Ninja Spirits... PC Engine - Pop'n Twinbee... PC Engine Super CD - Psychic Storm... PC Engine Arcade CD - World Heroes 2." Nice!

May 4, 2007

EA/Pogo & Rosie - The Future Of Entertainment!

- Here's one of the wackier charity endorsements in casual gaming of late, as an EA press release reveals that Pogo.com "...has teamed up with talk show host and philanthropist Rosie O’Donnell to launch their newest charitable program ‘Pogo Cares Benefiting Rosie’s For All Kids Foundation’."

Like, how? "Players are invited to participate in several online events at Pogo.com. The first event in the Pogo Cares program is the “Play & Chat with Rosie Sweepstakes” where anyone who plays “Tumble Bees” between May 17th and May 23rd will automatically be entered into a random drawing for a chance to win an opportunity to play and chat live with Rosie O’Donnell during the month of June."

But the most notable bit is that Rosie is talking up games, commenting: “I played a lot of videogames as a kid and now I am an avid Club Pogo member and have been for quite awhile. I play Word Whomp, Tumble Bees, Poppit! Squelchies, Qwerty, and World Class Solitaire – I like to mix it up. I’m online almost every night! It is a great way to relax and stay in touch with people out of state. There is a grandmother in Kansas that I play with … she has no idea who I am. We talk for hours about her grandkids and her latest projects. I love it!” High-profile game advocates are good for the biz, whoever they are.

Are We Ready For The Fluffiest Game Ever?

- Another fun bit of indie randomness that looks worth supporting: "KarjaSoft releases Sheeplings, a thrilling mix of puzzle solving and sheepherding action" - there are screenshots and a movie on the official site for those who want to see it in action.

Ah, really? "As Windsor the sheepdog you must protect and guide your flock toward the final goal: the sheep-jumping competition in Woolyville. Armed with only your bark you will face ravenous wolves and eagles, sheep-napping bandits, logic puzzles, stubborn sheep, hidden powerups and much more."

What's more: "Sheeplings is designed to provide fun for the whole family. The casual and non-violent gameplay is suitable for kids, but adults will also find themselves challenged by more than 80 wool-raising levels divided into three quests. Sheeplings also features an innovative unlocking scheme that lets you tackle the levels in any order you want." This type of v. alternative title, basically made by 2 people, is the kind of thing that makes me grin - nice mouse control, too!

Woz Speaks On His Gaming History

- Random fact of the day - I actually live down here in San Jose right next to a street called Woz Way, which is, of course, named after Apple Computer co-founder and all-round tech geek demi-god Steve Wozniak.

Anyhow, over at Gamasutra today, Benj Edwards has managed to grab a rare interview with Woz about video games, since, as it's pointed out: "Wozniak... has also left his footprint in gaming history, having developed the initial prototype for classic Atari game Breakout in 1975 before founding Apple Computer."

Most notably, when asked: 'How did the existence of video games influence you personally as an engineer and computer designer?', Woz replied: "Extremely. Totally, for the Apple II. As a matter of fact, it was those four days that I did at Atari doing Breakout that really influenced the Apple II, to make it as special as it was. I saw hints of color. It was fake color with Mylar color overlays on a screen. I saw hints of color on a screen at Atari those nights, and I thought, "How gorgeous that looks." That was when I was very sleepy, and an idea popped in my head for generating color on American TVs with a $1 part." And the rest is history.

In The Mountains Of Terrible Violin Playing

- You may remember we raved about it a few months back - or at least the concept - and now it appears that PC 'Holmes vs. Cthulhu' adventure Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened has debuted, and Rampant Coyote has added some first impressions of the Frogwares-developed title.

As the Coyote explains: "The game opens with Watson in his bed (without covers - no wonder he's got a sleep disorder) having nightmares about cults and monstrous horrors. Obviously, the dude has been through some rough stuff and has lost a few sanity points dealing with Cthulhu Mythos. Those of us who have played the Call of Cthulhu RPG know what's going on here. Anyway, he wakes up, and then you hear his mental dialog about how this all began."

There's actually a handy Adventure Gamers review which also expounds upon the game, and is a little disappointed by the lack of hardcore mythos: "Unfortunately, it seems that most game designers have only heard of one of Lovecraft's stories, The Call of Cthulhu, which tells of a group of demented people trying to raise Cthulhu, a squid-like being of tremendous power currently dreaming at the bottom of the sea — again, The Awakened is no different. As matter of fact, the mock-Lovecraft elements are so weak that the group Holmes is trailing could have been worshipping Ogoun Badagris or the Flying Spaghetti Monster without requiring much change to the plot."

Still, apart from the fact that it apparently uses StarForce (UCK!), it seems like a not completely horrible title, with Coyote noting: "It's not a high-budget, "AAA" game by any stretch. Fortunately, I'm not a AAA snob. Assuming I can figure out what Sherlock's hang-up is, I'm liking the game so far. There's detail where it's important, particularly in the clues, reports, and documents that Holmes acquires during the course of the game."

Blumenmacht Takes Flower Power To Psychedeliatown

- Got a note from author Urs Regli (yeah, I believe that's his real name - he's Swiss!) about his very neat-looking PC indie title Blumenmacht, "...a unique mixture of shoot'em up and memory game play. The nonviolent game comes with a colourful flower power theme and is controlled only with the mouse."

Ah, and here's a YouTube video of Blumenmacht. So what's it about? Uhm, well: "In Blumenmacht Ballerinas are joining a flowerpower pogo dance. You are in control of the Ballerina who takes the leading part. She is the Prima Ballerina. To win a dance your Prima Ballerina has to throw flowers at the other Ballerinas until they are all happy. They try to do the same with your Prima Ballerina. But if they succeed and your Prima Ballerina is happy, you lost the dance."

Urs continues of the project, which has a GameDev.net blog: "To become a successful Blumenmacht player you need your imagination. Two examples illustrate this challenge: 1) As you can take control of each Ballerina, there are no real enemies in Blumenmacht. Fleeing from a more talented Ballerina is actually a bad idea. Just turn the tables! Left click her and take control of her. Now the advantage is on your side. 2) After you stopped time with a right mouse click, catch a Ballerina (hold left mouse key) and move her through flowers to make her happy. This would be as if Neo would move his opponents through bullets while time is slowed down in the matrix. In Blumenmacht this is called "blossom time"." Unique stuff!

May 3, 2007

Alien Hominid's Adorably DIY Trophies Handed Out

- Aha, look what we got from John Baez: "Independent game and toy developer The Behemoth announced today the first shipment of exclusive handmade trophies honoring the top players of Alien Hominid HD on Xbox Live Arcade". And more to the point, there's a special 'making of' page showing how the trophies were constructed.

Why is this cool? Because physical objects are still completely awesome for awards/special editions, even though XBLA-stylee digital downloads work awesome for delivering games. And what other game developer would have a paragraph like this on their site?

"At first we thought we could laser engrave the base, but we could not find anyone who had a laser with a spindle in the San Diego area... Thank goodness Al Gore invented the internet, otherwise we'd all still be living in caves. After a fairly short web search our solution became apparent...use photo etching for the base!"

It's explained on The Behemoth's homepage: "If you're not certain how to enter our competition, it's simple! First make sure you have a Xbox 360, then you need to log-on to the Xbox Live Arcade service and download Alien Hominid HD (only 800 Microsoft Points!) Finally, you need to be the top scorer in any of theese three categories: Alien Hominid HD (Main Game - Hard Difficulty), All You Can Eat (Weekly Ranked Match), PDA Games (Monthly Ranked Match)." More info on the Alien Hominid leaderboard page, of course.

The Pros and Cons Of Gamemaking

- Over at MSNBC, they've done an in-depth story on game industry salaries, at least partly based on the 2007 Game Developer magazine Salary Survey that we ended up creating for the April 2007 issue of the magazine.

The piece has an interesting, if odd angle - why is $73,000 (the average salary for a game developer in 2006) actually fair? "That sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? These folks aren’t saving lives or even doing your taxes. So why would the typical game developer — whose average age is somewhere between 31 and 35 — make twice as much as the average social worker?"

Oh, wait, here's why: “Because the industry as a whole makes a lot of money,” says Matthew Tateishi, a San Francisco-based game designer with nearly 13 years of experience. “And for the most part, a lot of that gets passed on to the employees.”" This is partly true, and then of course: "But if you think game-makers spend all day playing “Quake,” think again. This is a fast-paced, competitive business with inflexible ship dates and punishing hours."

[Also, Game Developer's Jill Duffy, who was quoted in the piece, would like to give a shout out to Audience Insights' Kevin O'Neill, who, despite the credit to her in the piece, was actually the person who conducted the survey and crunched the numbers, before she whipped it into shape and made it contextual and cool-looking. Yay.]

Descend Swirling Into The DS Maelstrom

- Over at The2Bears, they've spotted a cool piece of DS homebrew, called Maelstrom DS, and clearly an abstract 3D tribute to classic arcade title Tempest.

Excerpting from the tech information: "Much of the code for MaelstromDS is the same as that in the original GBA version, the major change being that the DS has 3D hardware built in, and therefore there is no need for the code to transform the scene into 2D lines. Additionally, the view can be moved by touching and dragging the screen."

What's more: "Finally, the transparency of the outside of the tunnel is achieved by drawing the tunnel twice. Once with the polygons set to solid and the front faces drawn, then with the polygons set to half transparent and the back faces drawn. This is necessary because the DS cannot correctly handle multiple transparent polygons drawn on top of each other." Cute tech information, fun title!

Deux Doujin Fighters Rule Ze Day

- The world of Japanese 'dojin' PC fan games is still pretty awesome, and in the maze of visual novels and shooters, there are also some pretty interesting 2D fighting games popping up from time to time. So here are a couple that I just noticed!

Firstly, Subatomic Brainfreeze has video of "the new doujin fighting game Big Bang Beat", and it's noted of the crazed title: "So far, so good. Imagine Guilty Gear on fast-forward with Hokuto no Ken's dash-canceling taken to a ridiculous extreme. This shit is absolutely spastic.. I've been playing training mode late into the night." Looks like SelectButton has a thread with more info, including a link to the trial version.

Also recently frontpaged on SelectButton is Akatsuki Blitzkampf [YouTube trailer link], which is "...a fighting game by independent Japanese group Subtle Style. Inspired mostly by old-school games such as the King of Fighters, Street Fighter and Samurai Shodown, Blitzkampf seems to be set in some sort of alternate reality that still features Nazi influence (possibly during WW2). It has a very distinctive style to it, and although the very nature of the subject matter is somewhat controversial, the game itself is worth looking into for its wealth of options and gameplay, among which are a 2 on 2 simultaneous battle mode, netplay, and what seems to be some sort of mode that involves a die."

[UPDATE: Aha, Subatomic Brainfreeze noticed my link and did a proper hands-on with Big Bang Beat, commenting: "The graphics are pretty nice, as you've seen. The resolution of the sprites is low, but the detail is excellent, and the game manages to look extremely flashy (YouTube link) regardless. The speed of play is really fast: maybe it's just because I've been playing so much Arcana [Heart], but this game is jarringly fast. It feels faster than even Guilty Gear."]

May 2, 2007

GameTap Expands Playground, Not All Convinced

- You probably saw the multiple recent GameTap announcements that the Turner-owned PC service will be broadening with "a free to play, ad-supported version of the service launching May 31st, and a new digital retail storefront debuting with Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Anniversary", among other things.

But I noted more detail from a couple of fronts - firstly, Angled Whiteboards added some feature set info, explaining that some of the new service-wide features will include "...user ratings, related games, user profiles and avatars, forums, enhanced search, shared playlists, quick game launch, and more." Oh, and this is the first time I've seen the King of Fighters series stealth-confirmed for network play, too.

On the other hand, and to present an intriguing contrary view, I note that Microsoft Casual Games biz dev guy Kim Pallister has posted a short note on the changes, commenting: "This announcement today that Gametap is adding more types of content (current release PC titles), and more business models (ad-supported/free, paid download) to its already wide mix of offerings... I don't believe it's going to help."

Pallister suggests: "As I've said before, I think their problem is that they don't offer a clear best-of-breed, 100% complete solution to any one customer need. Just many things, none of them well." Is Pallister, who is somewhat involved in XBLA, right? I'm not really sure - I know that I just bought a Media Center PC for my living-room partially so I can play GameTap with a wireless X360 controller, but I also know that I'm certainly way into the hardcore gamer niche who might be charmed by some of GameTap's more eclectic offerings. YMMV!

[Oh yeah, and for those of you who miss Gamasutra features editor Frank Cifaldi, who recent left to join the GameTap rabble, he's already turned up on GameTappers.net hinting slyly: "Tomb Raider Anniversary and Tomb Raider Legend are not the only great Eidos games coming soon to GameTap. In fact, peering into the Looking Glass, you'll find another great game that might Steal your free time away very soon." Gorsh!]

Come On Barbie Girls, In A Virtual World

- Over at Futurelab's Business & Games blog, Ilya Vedrashko has been discussing Mattel's brand-new virtual world, Barbie Girls, explaining that it "will allow children to create their own virtual characters, design their own room and try on clothes at a cyber mall."

He cites an Associated Press piece on the site, which just launched, and notes: "I barely squeezed in for a moment (the site was so overcrowded it wasn't accepting new people all morning). The experience is pretty straightforward; it's somewhere in the neighborhood of Kaneva, Coke Studios and Virtual Laguna Beach but more pink."

Oh yeah, and here's the really scary bit (devices pictured above!), from a Reuters piece: "On Thursday, Mattel unveiled Barbie Girls, four-and-a-half-inch tall MP3 players designed to look like dolls. The devices turn into live characters at BarbieGirls.com, a new Web site where girls can interact with one other in a manner reminiscent of Second Life, the virtual world for adults." So though they're not compulsory to play on BarbieGirls.com, looks like having the MP3 players will get you special unlocks in-world, etc.Wow.

Square Enix Localizer Talks Tricky Verbiage

- Over at Square Haven, they have a pretty decent interview with freelance Square localizer Alexander O. Smith, whose "...projects for Square include Vagrant Story, Final Fantasy X and Final Fantasy XII. We touched base with Alex to learn more about his career in the game industry, and his most recent projects adapting Square Enix games for the English-language market."

There's some interesting and sophisticated talk about localizing the uber-cult classic Vagrant Story: "Usually the goal with any game at the beginning is to make it not suck in the time you are given. That said, I think every Japanese game has an inner English game hidden away, and once you start to find it, it sets its own bar and the goal then becomes to meet those expectations, again within the constraints of time available. Vagrant Story was one of those rare projects that was just screaming to be in English from the moment it was made, so the bar, though high, was very clear."

Also, holy crap, we get into some otaku territory with a discussion about Final Fantasy X (mild spoilers here!): "Oh, and one thing I've already seen in print from an interview with Nojima, so I know it's okay to talk about: yes, I specifically went to Nojima ahead of time to discuss the pros and cons of translating Yuna's last line to Tidus from "arigatou" to "I love you." I've actually written a whole article about that decision for a Japanese literary magazine, Subaru, if anyone cares to look it up. I think it's a great example of translating a cultural context, like I mentioned above." [Via Jiji.]

'Halo Science 101' Goes A Little Mad Scientist

- Some GSW readers may remember that I mini-reviewed the 'Halo Effect' book a few weeks back, and in there I mentioned that "Kevin R Grazier, apparently the science advisor to Battlestar Galactica... contributes 'Halo Science 101', including... lots more insane planetary calculations based on the Halo mythos."

Well, delighted to say that the folks at Smart Pop Books have allowed us to reprint the 'Halo Science 101' article in full on Gamasutra, and it's extremely fun frippery:

"The Halo universe, detailed in the video games, novels, and upcoming movie, is a richly detailed one and lends itself well to such musings. An entire book could be written about the science and physics, both explicit and implied, within the Halo universe, but with only a little scientific knowledge we can have a lot of fun simply musing about a spinning ringed megastructure—suspended between a planet and its moon—that doubles as a research facility and a superweapon."

More random examples from Mars space scientist (!) Grazier: "A 5,000 kilometer radius [for a Halo] would yield a circumference of roughly 31,400 kilometers. If the Halos had a width-to-radius ratio similar to that of Niven’s Ringworld, they would be approximately 5.37 kilometers wide. They are significantly wider, though, at 320 kilometers. The Halos, then, would have a surface area of 10 million square kilometers— slightly larger than the surface area of Canada, and approximately 2 percent of the surface area of Earth."

[UPDATE: Ahem, text updated - the publishers somehow gave us a pre-production version of the article with a honking great decimal point error in it. This is now fixed, and I only lost about half my sanity doing so, hurray.]

Can Luke's Love Build A Bridge?

- Kudos to Brian Crecente for sitting down with former 1UP staffer Luke Smith to talk about his transition to a media guy over at Bungie, creator of some game called Halo 3 - which you may have heard of.

I've chatted to Luke a bunch about his transition, and I think it totally makes sense for him, but it certainly does clash a little with some of his more idealistic concepts about the purity of game journalism. So here's where it gets interesting: "Instead Luke hopes he will be doing something that he thinks will bridge the gap between journalism and PR, something that cuts out the middle man and gets the information straight to the gamers."

Smith is quoted as saying: "You see these developers who can bridge the gap between fans and the development community... I think there is a really rich opportunity for someone to come in and tell the stories that people want to know. I think there is a very interesting potential shift about how people are going to cover and get information about games. Right now you have four bridges between developer and reader: Developer to pr, to journalist to reader. This could get rid of those middle two bridges."

The closest thing I can think of to this concept thus far has been Wagner James Au's New World Notes, which essentially was Au being paid by Linden Labs to be an 'embedded journalist' within Second Life itself - though I believe NWN is an independent entity now. And Second Life was a bit easier to be independent in because the users create and interact with the world, and the software is largely a 'shell'.

So what Smith is essentially saying is that developers are fairly 'pure', spin-wise, so he wants to come in there and facilitate the direct make-out session between developers and readers, without all that marketing-mandated 'buy this game now' nonsense. Is it possible? No idea, but it'll be fun to watch him try, and one would imagine that Bungie will have the quality games to make this type of thing 'easier', if it works that way?

May 1, 2007

Gamasutra Wins 2nd Consecutive Webby Award

- Not content with just winning a Maggie Award for Game Developer last Friday, the team here at Gamasutra awoke this morning to find out that we won a Webby too, and for the second year running, too.

This time, our Chicago-based news editor Brandon Boyer is the lucky personage who will be charged with turning up and delivering a witty 5-word speech (and not getting laughed at by Rob Corddry!), after my semi-successful attempt last year, yay - here's the full info on the win cross-posted from Gama itself:

"Gamasutra is pleased to announce that, after winning a Webby last year, it has once again been victorious at the 11th Annual Webby Awards in the 'Games-Related' category, a significant achievement for the CMP Game Group-run site in the competition that the New York Times calls 'the Oscars of the Internet'.

Other nominees in the 'Games-Related' category this year were CNET Networks' GameSpot (which picked up the 'People's Voice' public-voted section of the awards) and AOL's GameDaily, as well as the official websites for LucasArts' LEGO Star Wars II and Thrillville.

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 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, with David Bowie and the founders of YouTube winning special achievement awards."

Opinion: On The 'Evils' Of The God Of War II Event

gow2.jpg[In this editorial, Game Developer and Insert Credit's Brandon Sheffield has a brief little rant at the controversy over a goat, some cooked innards, and Kratos. Is it all a little bit silly? He thinks so!]

The recent fervor over the Sony event for God of War II strikes me as nothing short of ridiculous. As you may recall, naysayers objected to the presence of a semi-decapitated goat, from which you could eat pre-prepared goat meat, and girls whose breasts were painted, with no extra covering.

I myself am a vegetarian - I know what meat is and where it comes from. Do you? What is the difference between a dead goat on a table, and a pot of goat stew? Hamburgers are served at many game events - nobody experiences outrage. Is it upsetting to know where your food comes from? Is that the problem?

Sony purchased this goat from a butcher shop - they did absolutely no wrong. It riles me to ridiculous levels that people would decry this, then turn around and get some fried chicken or something of that nature - no less barbaric, and in fact arguably quite a bit worse, since you're completely removed from the slaughtering process - you don't even know what you're getting.

Then there's the 'topless' girls bit. I see practically no difference between girls with painted breasts and girls in skin-tight costumes, which you see, again, at nearly every game event. Unless you're some sort of staunch prude who finds the human body offensive, girls who are paid to walk around topless are hardly different from girls paid to walk around in fitted clothing - both are there specifically to be ogled by (theoretically) drooling games press.

To me, Sony's approach was very honest and real. And it strikes me that people complaining about this, and not game industry events in general, is complete hypocrisy. Is it embarrassing to be faced with breasts and gore in reality? We try to defend it in games, don't we? Is this direct approach more offensive because it shows us who we really are?

Certainly that was not Sony's intention, that's a bit too postmodern, but it's clearly the result. Meat is meat. Girls paid to be stared at are girls paid to be stared at. If you can't deal with it, either grow up, or move to a safer society, if you can find one. Good luck.

Why Animal Crossing Is Shenmue Without The Plot!

- So, we've started a new feature over at our GameCareerGuide.com educational site, which includes analysis of the design of major titles from interesting folks. The first one is an in-depth analysis of Animal Crossing: Wild World for the DS from the saintly (and just slightly crazy) Eric-Jon Waugh.

It's actually called 'Ambition And Compulsory Design In Animal Crossing', and here's a brief extract: "Animal Crossing is sort of an anti-game - if by "game" we're talking about a goal-oriented production where you collect 100% of the allotted trinkets before blowing up the last boss real good. Or if we're thinking of a sandbox, where the player is left unsupervised to conduct middle school science experiments with a game's reality. Neither is this a "god game", where you're given an omnipotent and omniscient overview of a certain scenario - resulting in a sort of a sandbox through a telescope."

"The best way I can think of to explain Animal Crossing, strictly in modern videogame terms, is Shenmue without the plot. This isn't a minor distinction, though the reasons aren't as straightforward as they sound. In Shenmue the plot serves as a vague MacGuffin, creating a cognitive dissonance in the player between what knowledge of videogame law and the protagonist's sense of honor (a fun parallel, that) compels the player to do, and what alternative paths the gameworld thrusts before the player." The full piece is lots more 'wacky' fun along those lines!

COLUMN: 'Parallax Memories' – On the Ball

OtB1.bmp ['Parallax Memories' is a (trying to be more) 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 features legendary developer Taito’s On the Ball for the SNES.]

Mode 7 has always reminded me of early CGI in film: it looks crappy a few years later and it's a noticeable gimmick at the time of release. Sometimes it's not so bad, or even a forgivable experiment for the time, but mostly Mode 7 seemed like a complete waste in the games that used it. Recently replaying games like Contra III and Final Fantasy 6 (3 for the SNES) just solidifies this feeling for me. On the Ball has possibly one of the best uses of this gimmick, though.

After constant (read also: incessant) prodding from a friend that I should play On the Ball I finally caved in and bought it around the time that I started this column. It's the home equivalent of the arcade title Cameltry, developed by Taito. The SNES version was released in November of 1992, some three years after the arcade counterpart.


When I first popped the game into my SNES I was greeted with a training course that got me indoctrinated quickly. The game is very abstract, considering that it could be summed up by saying that you guide a ball through a course with obstacles.

It's more than just that, though, it's a physics game all about momentum and trajectory (though, that's too simple on the other end of the scale). The closest I could come to accurately describing the game is that it's like taking a pachinko machine and spinning it freely to try to navigate the ball through a maze.

The ball is constantly falling and the player is always rotating. Sitting still will run out the ongoing clock and make later levels nearly impossible to finish. That's the key - to be constantly turning, twisting, and navigating the world around the ball. The player isn't doing much with the ball outside of making it jump or go faster: he's keeping the the ball's momentum by controlling the outside forces.

I kept playing the game for a while when I first got it. I really enjoyed the challenge and arcade format of the game, but slowly the feeling set in. The feeling is much like sitting in a room with paint drying for too long: nausea. So ultimately I can't play this game that I enjoy so much, because after about fifteen to twenty minutes I want to return my last meal from my stomach to a porcelain dish.


On par with the times, On the Ball is a bit of a downgrade from the Taito F2 arcade board hardware that Cameltry ran on in both the video and audio department. The music retains a unique and otherworldly quality, while the sound effects are suitable if not a bit bland. The visuals aren't honestly that bad, but this can mainly be chalked up to their general simplicity. It works well on the SNES even if it has an abstract quality from the previous generation.

Aside from some minor downgrades, the game did receive something far more important in the upgrade department: rather than the 20 levels for the arcade, the SNES port has 100. It makes the game much more suitable for home play, while also expanding on the already excellent level design and challenge of all the original levels.

On the Ball (well more specifically Cameltry) received a sequel on the DS titled Mawashite Koron. The game is mostly the same mechanically, with the addition of touch screen controls and a very abuseable damage button. Surprisingly the game is listed on the Nintendo US website and also has an ESRB rating. Unfortunately I doubt it will ever actually get released.

Some people consider Kororinpa (subtitled Marble Mania in the US) for the Wii a spiritual sequel to the Cameltry series in 3D, and it just so happens to also be very excellent. And just in case you've been living under a rock and really love On the Ball, the U.S. is going to finally get the Taito Legends 2 collection on the PS2, which will contain the original arcade Cameltry, this month.

[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, Entdepot, and the Fatpixels Radio Podcast.]

TAFA Adds Pinball, Redemption Game Flyers

- We previously posted about this, but now the ArcadeFlyers.com folks, have passed on the good news - the new parts of their massive archive, covering other arcade equipment, are now online.

Here's the specifics with links:"The pinball flyer archive includes electromechanical, solid state, bingo, video pinball and pinball redemption. The arcade and amusement game flyer archive includes an even wider assortment of game types, including pitch n' bat, rifle, bowler, novelty, driver, wall, 16mm film and other electromechanical and novelty coin-op equipment."

Thus far: "Over the last six weeks we scanned 400 flyers each for the new archives, and this is just the beginning! In the coming months you can expect to see 50 to 100 new flyers each month so check back often!" There's already some awesome material up there, from Gottlieb's Jungle Queen pinball machine to Sega's dubiously themed 'Cut The Cheese' redemption machine. Or no redemption, depending on who you're talking to.

Shanda's Chinese Power Up Circumvents Anti-Addiction Law

- Now here's a wacky tale via Bill Bishop's 'Billsdue' blog - he explains how Chinese MMO publisher Shanda has been circumventing anti-addiction laws by selling power-ups which negate the 'power-down' effects the government has mandated after you play for too long. Wow!

Here's the full info on PC MMO Magical Land, as translated by Danwei.org: "However, the reporter discovered in the course of investigation that after the fifth hour, the majority of players did not elect to go offline and rest; rather, they chose to use a "1.5 experience boost card" tool in the game. After using it, their characters could continue playing without regard for the anti-addiction system, and gameplay experience and rewards would return to normal.

It is notable that this tool is not visible on the official website. Because Shanda has set up the market for gaming equipment in nearly 1G worth of client space, people who are not players of that game cannot readily discover it. As a result, most people only know that the game is testing out an "Online gaming anti-addiction system" but are unaware of its actual effects." So Shanda makes players pay (with real money!) for this power-up - most cunning/dodgy.

April 30, 2007

Playfirst's Chocolatier Woos Us With Chocs

- Always looking for a fun PR angle around here, and Diner Dash publisher Playfirst has provided one by sending us a special 'Chocolatier'-branded gourmet chocolate bar and 'golden ticket' (containing a free press-only download link for the game) to promote their upcoming PC casual chocolate-making tycoon game (!) of the same name.

Not much info on the web yet apart from the aforementioned Gamezebo preview (I think the press releases hit tomorrow!), but from that: "Fans of Tradewinds will be pleased to hear that Chocolatier has a lot in common with that swashbuckling franchise, except that instead of being a freewheeling privateer, you're a budding chocolate baron who gets to travel around the world collecting exotic ingredients, turning them into delectable treats, and then selling the chocolaty creations at local boutiques."

How does that work, then? Sounds like shades of Ghirardelli, and I'm really starting to like some of the creativity in new-school casual games: "You start off in San Francisco, where you create a name and customized logo for your business. Then, Evangeline Baumeister introduces you to the art of chocolate making based on the recipes of her ancestors. You'll start with only one factory and a handful of recipes, which are all that remain of the Baumeister fortune. It's up to you to make some cash, re-open the factories, and most importantly hunt down all the lost family recipes."

[UPDATE: Aha, the official Chocolatier page is open on PlayFirst's website, including a downloadable trial version of the game. "Do you have what it takes to conquer the world through chocolate?" Dunno, I like eating it though!]

2007 Game Developers Choice Voting - Deconstructed

- Over at the UK Guardian Gamesblog, editor Aleks Krotoski has been talking about "the findings from the data fiddling [she's] been doing with the International Game Developers Association's Game Developers Choice Awards nominations from 2007".

This most recently manifested itself in a post about regional variations in the 'Best Game' nomination voting, which Gears Of War actually won for after the finalists were decided, for those with a rusty memory.

The whole concept, courtesy Aleks: "I was curious about the cultural differences (and similarities) between the countries who voted when it came to what was perceived as worthy of gongs for Best Game, Game Design, Visual Arts, Innovation, Audio, Writing, Technology and Character Design, and whether there were any trends which emerged."

So, she digs in to the Best Game to find out what countries liked what: "As a reminder, the five games which were nominated by the most countries for this year's GDCA awards were:

Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (10 countries)
Gears of War (7 countries)
Company of Heroes (6 countries)
Elder Scrolls: Oblivion (8 countries)
Guitar Hero 2 (4 countries)."

This is pretty neat, and there's a series of other results in previous posts, including a look at the overall presentation given at the Women In Games Conference in Newport, all worth checking out too.

No Gay Dwarf Marriage In Middle Earth?

- So, Salon.com has just posted an article entitled 'Why can't gay dwarves get married in Middle-earth?', and subtitled: 'Video games have been ahead of the real world in accepting same-sex marriage. Why doesn't a new online "Lord of the Rings" game allow it?'

So, is the piece a useful half-elf or a bit of a cave troll? It's actually an extremely well-researched, well thought-out piece which touches on a lot of the relevant issues regarding LGBT-relevant content in games, and even gets Rockstar on the hook to talk about the same-sex kissing in Bully:

"Rodney Walker, a spokesman for Rockstar, says the Rockstar team thinks of their games not like films, with static storylines, but as worlds that allow players to make their own choices, and Rockstar tries to shut down as few of those choices as possible. "If you're planning to take a vacation to California, you don't say to yourself, 'Where am I not going?'" Walker says. "When people talk about what's allowed in a video game, it's not about permission, it's about experience ... The thing that's so exciting about video games, which is why we think the medium is so popular right now, is because ... you can have an actual individual experience.""

Anyhow, apparently the reason why they're not allowing single-sex marriage in The Lord Of The Rings Online is to do with squirrel color: "When fans complained on the message board about an erroneous squirrel color, Turbine promptly corrected the mistake. Turbine had released a screen shot of a forest scene featuring a gray squirrel, but Tolkien once wrote in a letter that he hated gray squirrels." Jeez, that Tolkien, what a squirrel bigot! Uhm, OK, this isn't the exact reason, but it's an extension of the authenticity/Middle Earth argument, so it all flows along similar slightly cuckoo lines, apparently.

Why Pogo Island Is An Interesting Exercise In Connectivity

- A relatively unheralded Nintendo DS release of recent weeks has been EA's multi-game puzzle title Pogo Island, in which you can "... Hone your skills at five classic Pogo games, including Poppit!, Word Whomp, Squelchies, Tri-Peaks Solitaire, and Phlinx."

The 'Pogo' of which this speaks is EA's tremendously successful casual game website - as I speak (8.10pm PST on a Sunday night) there's allegedly 261,000 people online), and, though the game itself is on the average side, featuring basic-looking DS versions of the Puzzle Bobble and Bookworm-style titles which are a big hit on Pogo - the points-based connectivity is very interesting.

As the IGN review notes: "For those who use Pogo.com, EA added a pretty cool ability to upload earned tokens from within the adventure to your [Pogo] account using the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection service. This function links the DS game with the Web-based network in a limited fashion, but if you're always on Pogo.com trying to earn tokens to enter their weekly cash drawings, this is a nice way to bulk up your odds of winning the prize money."

Of course, the game itself isn't that hot, and none of the titles even have online multiplayer connectivity. But the idea of earning points on your handheld to do something on the web (or away from your DS), with information transfer via DS Wi-Fi, seems like a potent one - and for hardcore Pogo addicts, that alone may be enough to get them to go and buy EA's product. More of this, plz!

GameSetLinks: Ah Ha Ha, It's Raiden 3 Hilarity!

- So it's totally Sunday night, and here's a compendium of odd, amusing, or otherwise interesting video game links from around the Web, starting with the following:

- Over at Shoot The Core, Posty has heard about some unfortunate issues with Raiden 3, the PS2 shooter that's newly released in the States: "Japanese games swap the functions of the "x" and "o" buttons - so "o" is used to confirm a selection on a menu screen, and "x" is used to go back. 99% of the time, developers Americanize this setup when translating a game for US release - not the case in Raiden 3. [Posty's local game] store had all three copies of Raiden 3 returned becuase "the game locked up on the memory card setup screen, and wouldn't progress any farther."" But it was actually that you have to press circle, and there's no prompt. DOH!

- Over at Sokay.net, they have a postmortem of Flash game 'Little Loki Escapes from Hell', and it's an interesting analysis: "Little Loki Escapes from Hell, which I developed at Liquid Generation, was my first experience developing a reflex based platformer game. It was the result of a bit of brainstorming and a good deal of freedom during the calm storm between projects. It was the type of project I’d been wanting to develop for a while and I dived in. I invite you to read about a story of its development." Calm storm? Hee!

- There was a week's worth of Hellgate London previews/related articles on 1UP last week, but I particularly liked a retro look at Diablo, Diablo II, and the Lord Of Destruction expansion pack, and they're notably big on the third of these: "Bought by millions and played by a good portion of them to this day, Lord of Destruction redefines staying power, a trait few would have predicted this game would have when it was released almost six years ago"

- Retro history alert! Steve Wetherill has posted a page about classic '80s UK developer Odin Computer Graphics, where he worked before moving out to Vegas to do the Westwood/Command & Conquer thing, and there's some awesome unanswered questions there: "* What is Lindsey from reception’s last name? * What is Dave, the original Nodes of Yesod programmer’s last name? * What the heck [does] PLOD mean (Dougie?) * Did we miss anybody/any games?"

- How important are single-issue sales of Game Informer to GameStop, as opposed to the normal 'trade in games, get a subscription' dealio? Well, according to Xemu, not very: "I had to argue with the clerk at the local Gamestop for almost 20 minutes to convince him to sell me a single copy of Game Informer (the one with GTA IV on it, natch). You'd think I asked him to let me walk off with my pockets full of stolen merchandise. I'm sure it was not a useful investment of my time compared to just paying for the subscription to Game Informer, which seems to be what they are hard wired to provide instead. But it was the princple of the thing. It galled me that they were insisting I could only get the magazine with the subscription, which I knew to be patently false. It took the guy calls to three other Gamestops before he could figure out how to do it."

April 29, 2007

Everybody's Talking About DS Style

- So, Square Enix is releasing this new line of software called 'DS Style' in Japan, with lots of mainstream Touch Generations-type content like 'Why Not Listen to Classical Music on the DS' (pictured - from Ouendan creators Inis, no less!), 'Flower Blooming DS: Gardening Life', and 'DS Yoga Lessons: You Can Start Today'. Blimey.

Anyhow, SiliconEra's Spencer Yip went and asked some online game writers about this very concept, and Game Developer's own Brandon Sheffield is the first quoted personage: "This is Square-Enix’s entry for a demographic that Nintendo lured into games for the first time. That being non-traditional gamers, the likes of the elderly, housewives, and people of that nature. I don’t like to call these ‘non-games’, because that that doesn’t describe what they are, it described what they’re not. These dry roasted peanuts I have on my desk are also non-games."

Spencer also chips in: "Like everyone else I think these are going to sell well in Japan too. I’m really not sure how a DS travel guide would sell in North America, but Square-Enix’s classical music program might be worth localizing. Maybe Square-Enix could team up with a University and use it as a supplementary learning aid. Either way I want to see it come over since Inis is behind it." Yessir!

When Is A Game Blog Not A True Game Blog?

- When it's a game blog that pirates its content, of course. I'd been aware for a while (by checking Technorati, and from a couple of tip-offs) that there's at least one blog out there which just reprints GameSetWatch posts wholesale, but I was horrified to find out this weekend that several commenters/authors have started posting in these fake blogs, because they don't know where the story originated.

Specifically, Pro Game News, which also reprints content from Joystiq and Xbox 360 Fanboy, is the worst offender - I found GSW story subject William Volk commenting on the ProGameNews version of his story, as did Psychochild recently, ack! This is very not cool.

Another offender is TheGamerBlog.com - and sure, they just repost wholesale from RSS feeds, and I guess we should be flattered that they like GSW enough to nick our stuff, but enough is enough. Other bloggers should probably check those sites to see if they need to take action.

I've taken the first step of contacting the offending domain owners through their WHOIS contact info, and if I don't hear back soon, I'll presumably take it to the next step (ISP abuse contact and/or lawyers). [Also I'm hoping that this post gets reposted on the offending sites, which will be most amusing!]

[UPDATE: Aha, this post indeed makes it to the front page of ProGameNews. PGN, 'You are a pirate!'. Looking forward to hearing from you. As for TheGamerBlog, they wrote back pretty quickly, commenting: "TheGamerBlog has killed the autoblog feature. We were unaware this wordpress plugin was doing something wrong."

Looks like they're talking about a plugin by Elliott Back which is referenced here, it's called 'Autoblog', and it's explained: "This plugin is potentially dangerous: it converts xml into Wordpress posts. It could be used to run an aggregator site, or it might be used by spammers to push high-profit keywords into their blogs." Great!

And to be clear - 'reblogging' by referencing another site and linking to it is part of weblogs (see the Eyebeam reBlog or any linklog) but these automated scrapers - which both of the above mentioned blogs clearly are - are unfortunately lame attempts to make money from Google Adwords, etc, by just plain stealing content.]

The Return Of Speedball: Part Deux

- Was vaguely aware of news of another remake of classic Amiga futuristic sports title Speedball, but didn't know how far along it was until Kieron Gillen popped his bobbly little head up and previewed the new Speedball 2 PC remake for Eurogamer.

Ever-specific, Gillen provides "...two main impressions: 1) It's not Speedball 2 yet, in terms of polished playability. The player's speeds are slightly misjudged. The sliding tackle doesn't slide enough. The sense of HARD COLLISIONS BETWEEN STEEL-ARMOURED MEN isn't quite there. 2) I couldn't stop playing it."

Of course, the Bitmap Brothers really have fallen by the wayside a bit since the original, and there's been at least one slightly unfortunate remake. There's a nod to this in the preview, discussing the new Parisian developers: "You may remember Kylotonn from Ironstorm and Bet On Soldier, the first-person shooters. Which, at least for me, is a strong mark against them. Faith is more restored by the presence of The Bitmap Brothers' Mike Montgomery, who's supervising development." So.... we'll see, eh?

Muscling In On The Gangs Of GDC

- Probably the least reported-on event by the media at this year's Game Developer's Conference was the 'Gangs Of GDC' real-life game, created by NY game developer Gamelab (Diner Dash, Arcadia), and described by them as "the world’s first... massively multiplayer mobile phone fighting game or MMMPFG" - so we got them to write a postmortem of it for Gamasutra.

Co-creators Gregory Trefry and Mattia Romeo explain the general notion in the intro: "The theme was that rival gangs such as the Match Three Boyz and the MMOFOs are vying for control of the GDC by fighting over three neighborhoods scattered throughout the conference center. Each neighborhood consisted of a large flat-screen display set up in a high traffic area of the conference showing a grid of nine blocks."

Continuing: "Players would dial up a number [using their cellphone] displayed on the TV, and be immediately placed on one of the blocks where they would either fight any rivals that were on the block or else flip the block over to their gang’s control. When fights occurred players resolved them through a simple rock-paper-scissors game... every five minutes each neighborhood would be scored and the gang that controlled the most blocks in a neighborhood would gain points for each block they controlled."

It's a really neat idea, and as always, I definitely appreciate the effort the Gamelab folks put in, in order to "...provide our fellow developers with a chance to interact with each other while diverting themselves from the whirlwind of activity that is the GDC." A lot of people are likely too busy to even play, but I know that those who do really get into it, and it's another part of the slightly eclectic GDC flavor, I reckon.

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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