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GameSetWatch.com is the alt.video game weblog and sister site of Gamasutra.com. It is dedicated to collecting curious links and media for offbeat and oft-ignored games from consoles old and new, as well as from the digital download, iOS, and indie spaces.

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Archive For May, 2007

Van Lierop Curses Out Xbox Live Achievements

May 31, 2007 8:42 PM | Simon Carless

- Here's a thought-provoking discussion - over on the IGDA forums, Raphael Van Lierop (formerly at Relic, now working for 3D Realms) has been discussing Xbox Live Achievements, and he offers a very contrary view to a lot of enthusiasts of the system - myself included.

Lierop concedes: "I have many friends who LOVE achievements. They love the bragging rights, they love being able to compare achievements they obtained to other people, they love the idea of continuously revisiting a game in order to collect every last little achievement no matter how mundane or tiny or ridiculous or how far out of the realm or 'normal' gameplay they are required to go to obtain it."

But he suggests: "Personally, I dislike them...a lot. I find they are changing the way we play games, and the focus of the games we play, and make. I feel that games should be crafted to have enough intrinsic reward, that a secondary external reward system should not be required... was it really necessary for us to go back to the old 'High Score' system from the days of arcade games? I would have hoped that the gameplay and immersiveness of the 'next gen' gaming experience would have been enough reward, and that we wouldn't have had to fall back on cheap gimmicks."

This is a pretty interesting point of view, and I don't totally disagree with it - I myself have been known to do some pretty stupid things in Xbox 360 games just in order to get 10 Achievement Points - often things that aren't really the point of the game. But if it's enjoyable, and you can still play the game as originally intended and get points for that - who's really hurt? [Via Dearest Cope.rnic.us.]

Lowood Opens Up On Game Preservation

May 31, 2007 3:39 PM | Simon Carless

- Via How They Got Game, the Stanford University blog about game preservation and studies, they point out a relatively new Game Face interview with Henry Lowood, the curator for the history of science and technology collections at Stanford - and it's got some useful, scholarly thinking about game history in it.

I've known Henry for a while, having worked with him to set up the Internet Archive machinima collection, among other things. Most recently, he originated the Digital Game Canon concept with folks like Steve Meretzky and Warren Spector - and look out for some Gamasutra-related news on that front pretty soon which should help bring further prominence to the concept.

In any case, I think Lowood is on the money when explaining: "Well, my personal view is that the published games themselves you might think of more as the library of game culture, the books if you will, not so much as the archives. The archives to me will be other kinds of materials. And by that I mean the evidence of the processes through which these games were created and also what players do - that is, the culture around the games." In other words, you need both first-person accounts of the game's creation and evidence of people playing them and interacting with them.

He continues: "Think of a copy of EverQuest that we might have on the shelf a hundred years from now... as a player, there would be very little you would know about what happened inside that game space from just being able to run that single copy of the game [without a server]. At most you could admire the art. You could get a little bit of information about how they created characters and things like that, but there would be no concept about the social dynamics or the political negotiations, the very sort of things that happened in the social world around that game."

Mr. Biffo Quizzes Unwary Punters On Splinter Cell

May 31, 2007 10:34 AM | Simon Carless

- The quite frankly bonkers UK game 'web-a-zine' Way Of The Rodent has just released Issue 84, which seems to be themed around crap British summers and have a review of The Red Star in it (both positive things!), but there is a highlight, oh yes.

This would be an extract from Mr. Biffo's new book 'Confessions Of A Chatroom Freak', in which the TV scriptwriter, former Digitiser game writer and Edge columnist says stupid things to stupid people using the Internet. Yes, we've all seen this done before, but it's still funny - and in this case, video game relevant, though there are some mentally disturbing pictures of Biffo at various points further down the transcript, for the easily scared:

"LoopyLisa21f: What's your favourite game?
YELLODEVIL46: splinter cell
LoopyLisa21f: Splinter Cell? Is that the game where you have to crawl in and out of pipes, and cough mouthfuls of feathers at passers-by?
YELLODEVIL46: are u sexy
LoopyLisa21f: I don't think I can judge whether I'm sexy or not. That’s for my father to decide.
YELLODEVIL46: can i see a pic please
LoopyLisa21f: You can when I find one. What would you like a pic of?
LoopyLisa21f: I've got a pic of a puffin if you’d like that.
LoopyLisa21f: His name is Peans.
LoopyLisa21f: Puffin Peter Peans. I call him “Triple-P” for short. I keep him in my purse for luck."

Artificial Intelligence In The Uncanny Valley

May 31, 2007 5:30 AM | Simon Carless

- Worth pointing out, over at sister site Gamasutra - the just-posted feature called 'Uncanny AI: Artificial Intelligence In The Uncanny Valley', which looks at the almost-realistic theory of strange CG humans from a behavior point of view, too.

How so? Well, author David Hayward makes some great, lyrical points on why AI can just be... scary: "There's a small minority of people who are consistently strange in particular ways. You've probably met a few of them. Human though they are, interaction with them doesn't follow the usual dance of eye contact, facial expressions, intonations, gestures, conversational beats, and so forth. For most, it can be disconcerting to interact with such people. Often, it's not their fault, but even so the most extreme of them can seem spooky, and are sometimes half jokingly referred to as monstrous or robotic."

Ah yes, those people! Hayward continues: "I don't mean to pick on them as a group; nearly all of us dip into such behavior sometimes, perhaps when we're upset, out of sorts, or drunk. Relative and variable as our social skills are, AI is nowhere near such a sophisticated level of interactive ability. It is, however, robotic. Monstrous and sometimes unintentionally comedic; the intersection of broken AI and spooky people is coming."

The Man Who Would Be Kong: Billy Mitchell Speaks

May 31, 2007 12:27 AM | Simon Carless

- MTV News' Stephen Totilo is off preparing for his wedding now (I know so - his out of office reply told me so!), but before he went, he pinged GSW about video game doc King Of Kong, something that we've covered extensively in the past.

Specifically, he notes: ""I suspect the [two MTV News King Of Kong stories] will be of interest to you guys, because I've attempted to set the record straight about what the film includes and what it leaves out (like an entire gaming expo where Billy Mitchell and current "DK" champ Steve Wiebe actually did both play the game -- and remember how things went differently, of course)."

And? "The main draw is that in the second of the two pieces, I've got Billy Mitchell talking about the film and what's it like to suddenly be known as a villain. This is the first time he's spoken, even though the movie's been out in festivals since January. It hits wide release in August with a dramatization from New Line to follow." Dramatization? Nice. But how much will it cost to hire the squirrels to recreate Billy Mitchell's haircut?

Capybara Ratchets Up The... Pillowfighting?

May 30, 2007 7:24 PM | Simon Carless

- Over at sister cellphone gaming site GamesOnDeck, the folks at Canadian mobile developer Capybara Games have conducted a suitably irreverent postmortem of Pillowfight, the possibly ironic game which apparently started from a one-sentence quip: "Here's an amazing idea: Let's make a pillow fighting game starring total babes!"

So, uhm, they did - and the results were surprisingly non-cheesy: "Pillowfight was recently reviewed on both IGN and on Mobilegamefaqs, receiving the IGN Editors Choice Award and the Mobilegamefaqs Gold Award respectively, proving that titles with sexy subject matter don't have to be devoid of great gaming experiences."

But there's good game design behind all the feathers, too - witness this smart approach to the genre on cellphones: "Because of the extreme control limitations every mobile game faces, it was clear to us that trying to emulate arcade-style fighting would just lead us to an over-bloated and clunky experience. We really wanted to avoid that, so designer Matt Repetski and the team decided try to create something that was more akin to Mike Tyson's Punch Out than it was to Street Fighter. By focusing on a very simple move set, our game became much more about timing and reading the opponent's attack pattern, instead of cumbersome movement and complex button inputs." Aha!

COLUMN: The Aberrant Gamer: 'X-Change: Switch Hitting'

May 30, 2007 2:21 PM | Leigh Alexander

[The Aberrant Gamer is a weekly, somewhat NSFW column by Leigh Alexander, dedicated to the kinks and quirks we gamers tend to keep under our hats-- those predilections and peccadilloes less commonly discussed in conventional media. Hentai gaming, fantasy fanfics, twisted psychology and notes from the dark side-- we'll expose, discuss and enjoy the delicious underbelly of our beloved gaming universe.]

-Hentai games offer the opportunity to experience things that can’t be experienced in any other kind of game. You probably think I’m referring to the sex—and you’re right, but not in the way you might be thinking.

The protagonist’s gender in any kind of game varies depending on a number of factors— necessary relationship to plot devices, or relevance to a specific audience, for example. Sometimes we get a female hero just because a chick looks better kicking butt in scanty clothes. Largely, though, female gamers are used to identifying as a man in the majority of games; similarly, males playing as gorgeous girls are far more likely to objectify their protagonist than to identify intimately with her. Plenty of games allow you to choose the gender of your player character—offering generalized dialogue and little more than a different sprite, perhaps a few other tweaks here and there. It's not a perfect science.

In any of these cases, a degree of separation, a glass wall, is interposed between the player and the character for whose fate they are responsible, between the player and his total immersion in the experience. That’s not to say that you and your protagonist need to have gametes in common to create a satisfying suspension of disbelief; personally, the game characters to whom I’ve best related have happened to be males, since relationship relies on a variety of factors, most of them subjective, with gender being minor among these.

But can you think of any other game that actually allows you to swap genders during the game—and moreover, uses this transient gender identity as a plot device?

Eve Online Drama! Scandal! Horror! SA Goons!

May 30, 2007 9:19 AM | Simon Carless

- The interesting thing about MMO games is that they enable humans to interact, with all the normal disagreements, controversy, and possible scheming which go with that - wonderfully evidenced in Scott Jennings' post on the latest Eve Online shenanigans at Broken Toys.

As Jennings notes: "In an astoundingly detailed (with many screenshots of internal tools and emails), vehement and visceral news posting, CCP’s internal affairs posts a detailed journal of their investigation, which concluded: Goonfleet deliberately attacked Eve Online... It’s not every day an MMO declares war on a huge segment of their own community. Then again, Eve is pretty damn hardcore."

As he goes on to note: "PvP games are serious business. You have the hardest of the hardest core, looking for every advantage possible. And Eve is the hardest of the hardcore PvP game out there. If you’re working on a game with a PvP component, there’s a lot to learn from all this in how to run your own game - and how not to." Which certainly makes it unmissable from an external observer's point of view - there's an almost Al Swearengen level of Machiavellian interplay in this and previous dust-ups which make it fascinating to watch, whoever is right.

Holy Double Retro Round-Up, Batman!

May 30, 2007 4:17 AM | Simon Carless

- Delighted to note that Jeremy Parish has returned with a double-sized Retro Round-Up over at 1UP, enumerating and dissecting the various Wii, Xbox 360, and various other retro console offerings made over the past fortnight or so.

Many bonus points for one of the most succinct, lyrical descriptions of Actraiser I've seen in a while, recommending it for Wii VC along the way: "Genuinely inventive video games are hard to come by -- and apparently they're a hard sell, too, seeing as Enix's ActRaiser never really got a true sequel. It was such a simple idea, too: take the nascent "god sim" genre, a la SimCity, make it fast-paced and action-packed (shooting down monsters who try to capture your villagers), and then bookend each chapter of the game with a Rastan-like platformer."

Parish also makes a good point (referencing Actraiser) on Square Enix's alleged Virtual Console recalcitrancy: "Hopefully this is an indication of the company's intentions for VC rather than that ridiculous official statement a few weeks back about how they don't want to confuse children about how to pay for games or whatever. Fine, hoard your Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest games to be rehashed into redundancy, but set free these great niche titles that you're never going to touch again. Downloadable content is the future. And the present, really. Of the past. Er, something like that." Amen to that.

Kuma War - Invading Iran, Exploding Our Hearts?

May 29, 2007 11:14 PM | Simon Carless

- You know, I'm never sure what to think of the folks at Kuma Reality Games, since they mix advergaming, sometimes sensational political games, and History Channel tie-ups in one rather odd episodic whole - and fortunately, Alistair Wallis has quizzed CEO Keith Halper over at sister site Gamasutra to give me some extra perspective.

There's certainly some borderline rubbish in there ("A year after release, the Schick DinoHunters ads have become part of the fiber of the Internet"), and here's a particularly interesting section: "By far the strongest reaction we’ve ever had was our “Assault on Iran.” It was our first “future-speculative” episode, created to explore how the US might deal with an Iranian nuclear weapons program. It was written in reaction to President Bush’s statement that “all options were on the table.” We as Americans wanted to know what those options were so we convened a panel of experts and produced a game based on one likely scenario."

Oh really? And then what happened? "When we initially released the episode, there was a lot of discussion as to whether or not we were right, and whether such speculation was inherently immoral. We expected that... In the end, there were hundreds of thousands of downloads in Iran. We were denounced by name in the newspaper controlled by the supreme Ayatollah as a possible precursor to real US policy."

Halper claims that this "...speaks to the great power of real-time video games as a storytelling medium. We put Iranian and American gamers face to face, playing and talking together in a virtual space in a way that still eludes our real-world politicians." But, you know - is it possible that, like the John Kerry swift boat level, it's just a bit of a troll/attention grabber, with no real social point made? Or is that an unfair characterization? I'm rather unsure - comments welcome.

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