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May 19, 2007

On Board Games And Portable Heroes

- There's an excellent editorial over at HDRLying called 'Board Games and Portable Heroes: Gaming Accessibility and Ease of Entry in the Modern World' which talks about how games need to change for the modern gamer's time availability.

There's nothing that's that new here in the intro, though it's explained eloquently: "With age, comes heaping responsibility, and diminishing free time. I spend an excess of 8-10 hours at work. Many times I have no time to play games at night time after work, either because social responsibility calls, or I merely feel too drained from the day`s events to undertake a long play session."

But there is an interesting variant for commuting on public transport: "Since I moved to Japan, I began taking the train to work instead of driving, which left me with at least 45 minutes each day with little to do but admire the scenery. Then, at work, I find myself with a couple hours of rest time on my hands, yet again having little to do. Just a few short weeks after taking the job, I found myself bringing a DS to work each day, playing RPGs and long sprawling adventures with little hesitation." So... should game companies analyze commuting trends in different countries to decide what type of portable games to design?

The Most Powerful Person In The World

- Got an interesting note from Australian machinima/short movie maker Thuyen Nguyen: "Thought you might be interested in a short film I just completed. About a month ago, I read what seemed to be daily reports of the "games are bad" variety. As a gamer, I disagree, of course. But why is that?"

He continues: "Thus, I put my feelings about what games mean to me into a 5-minute film [called 'The Most Powerful Person In The World' - YouTube Link, Archive.org link.]. To my knowledge, there hasn't been a "love letter" like this before. It's quite "artsy", but I hope you enjoy it nevertheless."

And, you know - I did enjoy it, even if the concept of fan-made videos cutting up game segments tends to fill me with dread. But it seems to have a little soul and thought behind it, with an 'inspiration' credit to pensive art-film 'Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait', a loping idm soundtrack by Finnish musician & Monotonik-releasing buddy Lackluster, and some of my favorite moments from games collaged artfully. I guess when games can have memorable collages like this, we know we're getting somewhere with the artform, hm?

[For those wanting to know more about Nguyen, there's a mini-profile of his work up on the MachinimOz site, specifically discussing some of the machinima he's made using The Sims, such as 'An Unfair War'.]

COLUMN: 'Game Mag Weaseling': Mag Roundup 5/19/07

['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.]

Before kicking off, I thought it'd be a good idea to discuss the rumors that Nintendo Power is closing, first reported by IGN.

The rumor seemed to come as a pretty big surprise to the rest of the industry, even with the recent unclear state of which Nintendo of America sections are moving to which new area of the US from Redmond. However, everyone I've contacted who'd be in a position to know what's up with NP isn't saying anything -- a "no comment" state of affairs, where you'd think that folks would be denying it up and down if things were sailing along smoothly over at NP.

I don't have any evidence to back up the following claim, but I think this indicates that NP is either folding or could theoretically be turning into a Wii channel. The latter option makes absolutely perfect sense to me personally, the more I think about it. NOA and NP produce the exact same content they're producing now, except they charge 200 Wii Points or whatever for every fortnight's update. Their overhead's drastically reduced (no postage, no printing costs), and their target audience -- remember the teenage male "fanboys" discussed in NP's own media guide? -- is served on a more direct and personal basis.

With OPM dead in the US and off sharply in the UK thanks to a lack of cover disc (and OXM rapidly reinventing itself thanks to a 360 coverdisc not being that big a deal to Internet-ready households), an elves-leaving-Rivendell type exodus to online seems like the ideal next evolution for "official" publications. Nothing is going to compare to Nintendo Power as a magazine, but would Nintendo Power the Wii channel have access to a wider audience and potentially be useful to far more people than "fanboys"? I hope so.

You can hear me pontificate more on this subject tomorrow when Episode 30 of the Player One Podcast is uploaded. I'm on there as a special guest, and in addition to Nintendo Power's situation, I'll be discussing the modern state of magazines, great old mags, how I managed to pack over 6000 issues and three ferrets into a single room, and much more. Listen, you!

Until then, click forward for a rundown of all the game mags of the past two weeks.

Game Informer June 2007


Cover: Army dude

All of a sudden, Game Informer has an influx of non-endemic advertising -- Old Spice, Honda, three branches of the US military, Ball Park Franks, and (as always) gold ol' Bowflex. Apparently GI's readers are a lot more patriotic (and have far more stupendous abs) than I envisioned them.

Assuming that these are not complimentary (i.e. free) ads of some sort, then GI's marketing department is certainly earning their keep, especially considering how much higher GI's ad rates are over the rest of the game-mag pack. It all helps to make this month's issue 132 pages long, 20 more than last month and bucking the "summer of discontent" thinning-out trend that the industry traditionally faces. Hope they keep it up -- I know that all tech mags face the same issues these days, but having such an enormous, billion-dollar business covered by dinky little 100-page mags just seems wrong.

Connect (the news section) is utterly fascinating as usual. There's a two-page feature on the "uncanny valley" of game graphics, a concept I'm amazed that any consumer game mag besides Edge would try to tackle, along with a seven-page T&T-style roundtable that attempts to answer "the big questions" -- is PC gaming dead, has Sony already lost, can anyone make good Wii games besides Nintendo, and so forth. I'm tempted to say "forget it" to any other US mag's news section at this point because now that Computer Games/MASSIVE is gone, GI does it so much better than anyone else that it's not even close.

The features I'm not quite so ecstasic about. Call of Duty 4 and Square's The Last Remnant are the main ones, and after reading them both, I think GI dropped the ball on the cover choice. A marine shoot-em-up franchise changing venues from one hackneyed, played-it-a-million-times European location to a hackneyed, played-it-a-thousand-times Middle East location is not news. Square's first serious, full-budget original franchise in years, complete with a ton of interesting quotes from the game's Japanese director, is definitely news -- and it also makes for one of GI's better-written features in recent memory. Besides, what's the point of putting a brand name on a cover if you can't even really make out anything on the picture that goes with it?

Smaller features on Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Conviction (which looks exactly like an episode of 24, they aren't trying to hide it) and random-Codemasters-title-of-the-week Rise of the Argonauts round out the feature well. The reviews are fine as always, unless you like Pokemon, in which case maybe you're better off not opening this issue at all. You've been warned.

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


Cover: World of Warcraft

Not much is happening in PC games right now, apparently, so what the hey, how about 13 pages out of a 102-page magazine devoted to World of Warcraft? This would normally be disaster for a casual reader (as anyone who's picked up a copy of Beckett Massive Online Gamer knows), but this piece is written by Sean Molloy, who I still think is the best writer in all of video games media (and who would probably be very embarrassed if I brought up his GamePro "persona" at this point, so I won't), and his 13 pages are half deep look into the Blizzard offices in Irvine, half trivia about the game and its developers. It's all great to read and easily worthy of the good name GFW's building up for itself in the realm of features.

For the more hardcore among us, there's exclusive coverage of Flagship's Mythos and a dev profile of the crazy Russians behind IL-2 Sturmovik. For the not-so-hardcore, there's an interview with Peter Moore that continues to make him look as evil-incarnate as he possibly can. I don't remember him having that look at Sega, I dunno...

Game Developer May 2007


Cover: Elebits

Awwwwww. This would be great cover art for Nintendo Dream or some other hardcore-oriented Japanese mag, but it looks positively lovely when juxtaposed with GD's simple cover look. The internal illustrations inside the Elebits postmortem are quite endearing, too, not to mention Shingo Mukaitoge's text.

Beckett Spotlight: Cheat Codes June/July 2007


Cover: Super Paper Mario

This magazine has no ads. At all. The back cover is an "alternate" cover of sorts with God of War II on it. That's pretty rough.

But I don't care about that, because this issue kicks off Video Gamer Spotlight, a page devoted to interviewing one of Cheat Codes' readers that reminds me of the goofier days of Nintendo Power's letters section. The first subject is Marcellus Swint, a 19-year-old Philadelphian who works for FYE as their "resident know-it-all" and lists Sonic Adventure as his favorite game of all time ("I'll admit that the series has hit its inevitable rocky period, but I remain steady and true to the Blue Blur").

I'd love to scan the picture that Marcellus Swint sent into the magazine, but I think I'll save it for the next big natural disaster or terror attack, because I'm sure we'll all need a good laugh then.

Ultimate Videogame Codebook (CHEATS!) Volume 12


Look out, it's another Future special! This one has PS3 and Wii cheats, I hear, nestled somewhere among its 320 pages!

I feel like such a tool for buying these sometimes, but I just can't resist CHEATS! in big block letters for some reason. Ah well.

[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.]

Kudos Gets Its Own Rock Legend

- Over at the indie game love-in that is Gibbage, they've revealed a bunch of info about Kudos: Rock Legend, the PC 'life sim' strategy game follow up that continues the GSW-mentioned title by means of LOUD ROCK MUSIC and star-making shenanigans. Neat!

Explaining the game, creator Cliff Harris sez: "Kudos: Rock Legend casts the player as the singer in a band. You can choose your avatar from some presets, before putting together a backing band made up of up to 5 members... Each musician has their own attributes - ability, motivation personality etc. Some are articulate (great for interviews) some are photogenic, some are lazy, pessimistic, egotistical etc. Some are destructive and can cause damage backstage and smash up instruments."

What's more: "You write songs by slotting together different song ideas in a minigame, and you can ‘unlock’ more ideas through seeing rival bands, playing great gigs or listening to CDs." Oh yeah, and: "The game's music was sung specially by Julianne Regan, who was the singer for All About Eve, all those years ago." OK, you would think that would be on the shoegaze/folk-y end of rawwwk, but it's an awesome get for an indie music game, don't you think? I guess Regan's collaborative project Jules Et Jim does music for a few games, actually - neat.

Game Developer May Issue Ambushes Elebits

- Hey, it's that time of month again where we debut a new issue of Game Developer magazine, our adorable print offspring, and there's some pretty neat stuff in here - especially the Elebits postmortem from Shingo Mukaitoge, since it's awesome to get a Japanese perspective on development for the Wii. Here goes:

"The May 2007 issue of Game Developer magazine, the sister print publication to Gamasutra.com, and the leading U.S. trade publication for the video game industry, has shipped to subscribers and is available from the Game Developer Digital service in both subscription and single-issue formats.

The cover feature for the May issue is a postmortem for Konami's Wii-exclusive title Elebits, and is described as follows:

"With an almost reverse-Katamari Damacy aesthetic, in which the player throws objects in various environments while searching for creatures, Elebits is Konami’s latest original IP for Wii. Producer Shingo Mukaitoge gives an uncommonly straightforward assessment of the ups and downs of working with a constrained hardware — and more importantly, in a short development cycle."

The May issue of the magazine also includes a themed 'Professional Career Guide' section within it, headlined by Paul Hyman's 'Moving On Up' feature, which talks to multiple game professionals about how to get ahead, and is described as follows: "A career move doesn’t always involve leaving a company. Developers have a bounty of choices within reach, from changing job titles to moving to a different studio within the same company. But the decision isn’t always entirely in one’s own hands."

The major technical feature for the issue is 'Collada: Content Development Using An Open Standard', in which the open-source file interchange format is discussed by one of its primary creators at Sony: "Collada is a free to use standard that allows developers to share files across multiple applications in order to improve workflow. In this technical article, Rémi Arnaud and Kathleen Maher reveal Collada’s roots and practical application."

The issue is rounded out by the customary in-depth news, code, art, audio, and design columns from Game Developer's veteran correspondents, as well as product reviews and editorial columns.

Worldwide paper-based subscriptions to Game Developer magazine are currently available at the official magazine website, and the Game Developer Digital version of the issue is also now available, with the site offering six months and a year's subscriptions, alongside access to back issues, all for a reduced price.

There is now also an opportunity to buy the digital version of May 2007's magazine as a single issue. Newsstand copies of the magazine are now available at North American outlets including Barnes & Noble and other specialty bookstores."

May 18, 2007

Ubisoft Big Ups The Hiphop Chess Federation

- Got a press release here about the Hip-Hop Chess Federation and Ubisoft, and really - isn't that enough to run the press release info about it? The event it's promoting is tomorrow, too - here goes: "Today the Hip-Hop Chess Federation (HHCF) announced that Ubisoft, one of the world’s largest video game publishers has been added to the list of donors for the Hip-Hop, Chess and Life Strategy Tournament held at the Omega Boys/Girls Club in San Francisco, CA on May 19, 2007, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m."

"“I am grateful and honored that industry leaders like Ubisoft have extended a helping hand to the HHCF. They have been consistent in creating games that are not only visually exciting, but mentally uplifting.” says HHCF co-founder Adisa Banjoko. Ubisoft, creators of hit video game titles like Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell®, has donated hundreds of its top-selling Chessmaster® X games to provide to participants of the HHCF tournament." Is Chessmaster X a bit like Terminator X?

What's more: "HHCF programs include a variety of different activities including: chess lessons combined with life strategies coaching, general public vs. entertainers chess tournaments, star-studded grudge matches and more... Participants in the Hip-Hop, Chess & Life Strategies Exhibition include Chessmaster spokesperson and chess phenomenon Josh Waitzkin, platinum recording artist RZA of Wu-Tang Clan, award-winning film director Kevin Epps, DJ QBert and countless others." Here's an AllHipHop.com story about the summit - it's all a bit Sun Tzu, really.

Analyzing The Pets Of World Of Warcraft

- Via Nelson Minar's Del.icio.us, he points out the awesome World Of Warcraft Small Pets guide at Warcraftpets.com - and I call the site awesome because I don't play World Of Warcraft (unopened box sitting above my monitor right now!), but I'm still fascinated by what is effectively an Audubon book for WoW.

As is explained on the page: "WarcraftPets.com is your guide to all 71 vanity pets (also known as noncombat pets, minipets, trophy pets, and critter pets). Use the pet filters to sort this list by binding, faction, source, or rarity."

Some of my favorite critters that I was amused by while browsing include the 'adorable' cockroach, of which site owner Breanni says: "While roaches repulse most people, this one is pretty neat. When you’re on the move, he flies behind, landing whenever you come to a halt."

Or, even better, Peanut the mini-elephant: "This pet is chosen among three vanity pets as a reward after completing a chain of Children's Week quests that begin in Outland... Collecting all three pets on the same character is possible (over the course of three years) since the quests are repeatable each year." Oh, jeez, discussing collecting characters over three years? That sums up how crazily addictive WoW is, I suspect, which is why my retail box is staying unopened for now.

Do You Have A Degree In Eugeneology?

- That, my friends, is the question that all the cool kids are asking themselves today, since sister site Gamasutra just published 'Eugeneology: An Interview with Eugene Jarvis', with the Defender and Robotron creator discussing "...his work at Raw Thrills, controversy over Target: Terror, and the XBLA legacy of his twitch game trailblazing."

There's some neat insight in there on today's arcade scene, with Jarvis explaining of projects at Raw Thrills such as The Fast & The Furious: "Our budget ranges from two to four million dollars typically for an arcade game... that includes software, hardware, special interface boards, mechanical engineering for controls, and even the plastic mold. People want to see a new-looking game, so you have to put new plastic mold on where you sit and on the control panels. It's kind of a style-conscious business."

Also, when asked about the Robotron influence on some of the top Xbox Live Arcade titles, and whether he'd consider going there, Jarvis explains: "We have [considered Xbox Live Arcade], and it's something we've been tossing around and would like to get involved in. We've just been so booked up on doing real arcade games that we haven't had the chance yet, but we hope that maybe some day we'll have some of our arcade releases show up on Xbox Live." We can but hope!

World's Greatest Shmup Player Competition Debuts

- At the shooter oasis that is Shoot The Core, Posty has revealed the first annual World's Greatest Shmup Player Tournament, which "...will be held on June 9th and 10th as part of the Midwest Gaming Classic at The Olympia Resort Center in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin." Dude, Oconomowoc!

Anyhow, this actually sounds like fun: "This tournament, co-sponsored by Twin Galaxies, Shoot The Core and the GOAT Store, LLC, will be held to declare the best overall shmup (or "shoot em up") player in the world! [The tournament] combines many of the best games in the genre into a unique challenge designed to put the skills of players to the test in a way which has never been attempted in a traditional video game tournament."

The only slightly odd thing, as far as I can see, is the organizers won't tell you what games are being prepared, beforehand - so you basically have to 'know' all shooters to some degree, a rough task when a lot of them are fairly memorization-based! But if you can master them, that's why you're the World's Greatest, I guess.

[There's more info on the Midwest Gaming Classic events available, incidentally - the Midwest Pinball Tournament is also taking place there, and yes, there are women's and kids' versions of the shooter tournament too. Wacky.]

GameSetQ: Overlooked Last-Gen System Exclusives?

- There's a certain, slightly obsessive breed of person who wants to explore some of the less-traveled roads of console gaming. I fear that I'm one, and I know that Joel Reed Parker is, judging by his new Game Of The Blog post, which runs down some of the Xbox and Gamecube game exclusives that you probably weren't thinking very hard about.

He notes by way of introduction: "Notable titles I've found so far: Tork, Cel Damage, Whacked (all Xbox) and two for the Gamecube: Universal Studios Theme Park (more on that one another day) and Chibi-Robo (Holy shit! I'm actually playing a well-made game!)." And boy, Universal Studios for GameCube is a story unto itself - both myself and co-workers seem to have independently played it and adored its terrible gameplay.

Anyhow, Joel has a pretty good list if you click through, but feel free to either add titles to it, comment on some of the titles on it, or add some PS2 exclusives. What we're really asking, as he points out in the comments, is system-exclusive last-gen titles which are 'interesting', but not God Of War-size obvious - for Xbox, PlayStation 2, or GameCube. What are they, and why are they worth looking at and/or laughing at? That's your GameSetQ for the week!

May 17, 2007

Change Your Animal Crossing Town, Make The Fun!

- The blog of the terrifically bearded game scholar Henry Jenkins has just posted a thesis extract focusing on 'modding' Animal Crossing, as written by his student Kristina Drzaic, and as he notes: "This passage is interesting in part because of the way she brings together an analysis of game mechanics with a discussion of the grassroots fan culture surrounding the game."

Kristina explains of the game: "No Animal Crossing village looks like any other. For instance, gamers Filip and Zvonimir Sola transformed their village into an ethnically Croatian one. They made their animals wear Croatian colors, designed a Croatian flag, and made their animals speak Croatian phases, (certainly a modification the programmers never imagined.) In contrast, gamers Will, Neil, Nic and Dan Secor, in their village "E" caused all the animal villagers to wear naked human clothing. This modification effectively transformed the village into a nudist colony, another unsanctioned alteration within the game."

It's a little dryly described, but I get what she's saying - you give the players enough latitude to 'create their own fun', effectively: "Fundamentally, the creation of player made secrets sustains Animal Crossing as a game. In effect, the rule modifications function as self-created attractions. Game play is maintained through the attraction of secrets and the display inherent in perceived subversion. The game has no narrative and no end, instead the player jumps randomly from self-made attraction to attraction. In essence, Animal Crossing is an endless jolt of surprise or (if you will) a video game of player-generated secret attractions."

Playing Catch-Up With Jane Jensen

- Over at big sister site Gamasutra, Alistair Wallis has completed his latest 'Playing Catch-Up' column, this time talking to adventure game notable Jane Jensen, creator and designer of Sierra’s Gabriel Knight series.

There's some interesting notes on the behind-the-scenes genesis of the Gabriel Knight franchise itself: "“At the time, [Sierra co-founder] Ken Williams was like, ‘Well, I’m a little disappointed in this idea - I wish you’d come up with something lighter and more cheerful. No one wants to play something dark and depressing on the computer. But I guess we’ll let you go ahead’. That was pretty nerve-wracking,” Jensen comments. “I worried that he was right, that it would flop.”"

Jensen also has interesting, and I think very possible, plans for the adventure genre in casual games, which is getting more and more expansive in terms of game design possibilities recently: "“Long term,” she considers, “I really would like to see adventure games in the casual gaming space. We should be able to sell a million units of a good adventure game - not just mine but any good adventure. That’s what I’d like to see.”"

World Without Oil ARG Making People... Think?

- Just received a note from Jane McGonigal about her ARG World Without Oil, and it's well worth re-iterating and checking out the work towards a solution on Unfiction.com, because it's a pretty interesting project - it was mentioned in passing when GSW covered the SF Weekly article on Jane, but we didn't really focus on it.

Jane explains that World Without Oil is "...funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and it’s the first alternate reality game to harness the collective intelligence of gamers to address a real world problem (oil dependence!)... In the first two weeks, we’ve had 1500 people from around the world (including soldiers in Iraq!) contribute original content to the game (videos, photos, web comics, blog posts, etc.) and over 35,000 people play."

What I found particularly notable is that there's an Unfiction messageboard thread which isn't directly solving the problems of the ARG - but rather, talking about the issues of alternative power, with commentary like this: "Until we build more nuclear, hydroelectric, geothermal, solar, wind, wave, etc. power generation facilities, fuel-cells are not the answer to our problems." So people are thinking about the problem - which is the entire point of this exercise.

MySpace Picks Up Gavin/Rubin's Web 2.0 Firm?

- So, blimey - no sooner did I post about Naughty Dog co-founders Rubin and Gavin's new project, then commenter 'Hanford' points out a TechCrunch article that MySpace looks to be buying the Web 2.0-style tech company, which "allows users to create slide shows using video, photos, text and effects/transitions" directly in their web browser.

As TC's Michael Arrington notes: "Flektor has a killer team of founders, Jason Rubin and Andy Gavin, who previously co-founded game developer Naughty Dog (Crash Bandicoot and Jak [&] Daxter) and were acquired by Sony Computer Entertainment in 2000. Rubin and Gavin have leveraged their experience with gaming to create an awesome user experience at Flektor. Also, Flektor is custom code built on Flex, whereas Photobucket’s competing offering is built with Adobe’s tools. If Adobe decided to compete directly in this space, MySpace will be in a better position owning their own code."

He continues: "The acquisition also makes sense from a strategic standpoint. MySpace has massive distribution as the largest site on the Internet. Photobucket brings storage to the table, and the Flektor team looks to be able to create awesome tools for users to create content. The three services actually fit together nicely." This is not officially confirmed by MySpace or Flektor yet, but TechCrunch is generally on the money - congrats to Rubin and Gavin if so!

May 16, 2007

COLUMN: 'The Aberrant Gamer': Welcome to the Jungle

[The Aberrant Gamer is a new column 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.]

- The H-Game genre is a peculiar one; many people have played at least one cracked title traded furtively over message boards, and they're easier to find on torrent sites than many mainstream ROMs-- yet they're almost never openly discussed.

Recently, though, H-Game discussion's begun spreading like venereal disease, piquing the curiosity of the uninitiated and leading to some inevitable questions-- are these really just sex games, or is there more to the story?

Though The Aberrant Gamer will examine individual titles in further detail (as Sexy Videogameland has done with Kana: Little Sister and with Nocturnal Illusions), an over-arching truth emerges as a commonality among all of these decidedly bizarre titles-- there's always something else going on.

Some of these games make an earnest attempt at the romantic-- even if their vision of romance resembles that of a fifteen year old boy (give flowers, receive sex marathon). These "dating sims" can be all the more haunting in that respect-- it feels a little uncomfortable, a little greasy-handed, to nobly woo a sweet-faced high-school girl in a game that you play-- let's be frank-- to get off.

- On the opposite end of the spectrum, H-Games can feature elaborately complex, often dark storylines-- sometimes a flimsy smokescreen that seems designed to forgive sexual situations that would raise the eyebrows of some criminal psychologists, and at other times a downright suspension of reality, making the entire masturbatory experience seem downright surreal.

Whatever the device, H-Games inevitably evoke some reaction other than plain old arousal-- you might laugh at them, you might feel like a creep, you might be rather offended (yeah, since we gamers are so sensitive to ambiguously-aged anime chicks). Or, as with Kana: Little Sister, you might even get a little choked up. Far from being simply a more interactive alternative to plain ol' porn, the H-Game is definitely its own animal.

Among other issues, The Aberrant Gamer will review these games regularly, and welcomes your tips and suggestions about the strangest, best, worst and silliest Hentai titles you've seen-- and anything else sexy, creepy, twisted and clinically aberrant in the gaming world. More to come, so keep your eyes peeled and send me your tips!

[Leigh Alexander is a blogger at her Sexy Videogameland site and reviewer for outlets including Paste Magazine. She can be reached at leigh_alexander1 AT yahoo DOT com.]

Game-A-Vision Bursts Onto The Game Development Scene

- Definitely appreciate a good 'ol spoof, and just got a press release which I was pretty sure was not completely legit - and indeed, a good Googling reveals that the company, Game-A-Vision, is, according to the Wikipedia page, "...a fictional video game publisher to be featured in an upcoming animated series from G4. The company appears to produce games in the "old school" style, but with a decidedly warped sensiblity."

Here's the meat of the press release: "Put away the 20-sided die, fold up the Monopoly board and get ready for a new type of game – a "Video" game! Gameavision is leading the 8-bit revolution with two new electronic games, "CrossWalk" and "Bar Fight." Feel the heat of crossing the street! Get drunk and fight like an honest American! Gameavision even has a homepage on The World Wide Web and it's already generating substantial buzz on the internet and on industry web logs...You can even play versions of our best-selling games like " 2 Card Monte" and " Hang Man.""

Also pretty 'interesting' - their company bio: "Based in Sunnyvale, CA, Gameavision has been a creator of fine interactive entertainment for over 25 years. Gameavision rose to supremacy with its early hits like "Hobo Killer" which rivaled the profits of other early arcade games "Galaga" and "Centipede"." Uhm, 'Hobo Killer'? Oh kaaay.

[Oh, and there's an initial press release from G4 last year about this project: "G4... has signed a deal with writer-director-actor Adam de la Peña (“Minoriteam,” “I’m With Busey,” “The Man Show”) for a half-hour animated pilot set in the freewheeling world of 1980s video-game programmers. The series will be produced in Los Angeles by de la Peña’s company, Monkey Wrangler."]

Scientology Pwned Creator Quizzed By Police

- We previously mentioned the distinctly eyebrow-raising student game 'Scientology Pwned' - and look, there's been a comment on that GSW post since I last checked it:

"The next case of a killed Scientologist might be traced right back to this site, stirring up hatred and murder. Think about it."

True or not, Derek at TIGSource has a new update revealing: "Zi-Xiao Liang, creator of Scientology PWNED, has informed me that his game (in which you blow away the faithful followers of Xenu) was the target of local police, who are making him change the name of the game."

There's an IGDA forums thread from Liang in which he explains: "I got a call from Detective Chris Kiriakopoulos from the Hamilton Central Police Station's Hate Crime Unit/Intelligence Branch [and then Liang visited the police station for questioning].... we play Q&A for a while regarding my background. Kiriakopoulous begins by asserting my game borders a hate crime. So I spend a while convincing him: a) my game is not motivated by hate b) I had neither the intention nor the capacity to carry out attacks against scientologists c) scientology is not a religion in canada. d) the game is not solicited and therefore I'm not actively advocating anything."

He continues: "A reoccurring question Kiriakopoulous kept asking was "Given that your game has offended people, what do you plan to do?" To which I initially responded "nothing" since I was under the impression offending people isn't a hate crime. He didn't like that answer too much.... anyways, in the end he 'suggested' I change the name of the game to something which made no reference to Scientology. He didn't mind me keeping the sprites, bullets, blood etc." Interesting, to say the least - again, I don't know that the game has a particularly sophisticated social message, but there are potent freedom of speech issues in there.

An Analysis Of The Game Product Lifecycle

- Many of you may be fans of Daniel Cook and his Lost Garden blog, so we're delighted to note that we've got him to write some features for Gamasutra, and the first, called 'The Circle of Life: An Analysis of the Game Product Lifecycle', is now online.

Cook starts by explaining: "In 1994, encyclopedic game site MobyGames lists that 20 graphic adventure games were released. By 2002, the number of titles had plummeted to 3. The halcyon days of the graphic adventure genre are now long past and many of its descendants are relegated to a niche status in the modern gaming market."

He continues: "This is all part of a much broader trend. Genres can be treated like product categories that evolve through a predictable series of life cycle stages. They rise in popularity and then decline. Along the way, both the needs of your users and the competitive dynamics of the market shift quite dramatically. Understanding the genre lifecycle trends can help you strategically position your game design for an improved shot at success." All this is well-supported with graphs, too - blimey!

Video Games Turn Forty, Party!

- Over at 1UP, former GSW columnist Benj Edwards has just had his 'Videogames Turn 40 Years Old' feature posted, and it's an awesomely well-researched look at the history of games, drawing on his interviews with pioneers such as Ralph Baer.

The intro itself is practically lyrical: "In 1967, a bold engineer with a vision led a small team to create the world's first electronic games to use an ordinary television set as a medium. Wary of naysayers from within, the video mavericks sequestered themselves behind closed doors, and for good reason: They worked under the payroll of Sanders Associates, a giant Cold War defense contractor. As hippies on the streets of San Francisco stuck flowers in the barrels of guns, three men in snowy New Hampshire crafted the future of electronic entertainment deep in the heart of a commercial war machine. In May of 1967, the world's first videogames -- as we know them today -- made their quiet, humble entrance into the world."

In addition, Benj has posted an in-depth interview with Baer's associate Bill Harrison over at VintageComputing.com, and it's more vitally important work into the genesis of games - "The inventions of [Baer and Harrison] and a third [man], Bill Rusch, would later appear commercially as the Magnavox Odyssey console in 1972." And this was the first time Harrison has ever been interviewed about his work, making it doubly important for historical reasons.

May 15, 2007

The Top 1 Game License You Never Thought You'd See

- Gamezebo has pointed out what may be my favorite license announcement so far in 2007 - casual game firm Tikgames has debuted 'Merriam Webster's Spell-Jam', capitalizing on the word games craze with yes, an official endorsement from the dictionary giant.

Here's the info - though the Big Fish Games page for the game has a horrible typo which I am going to bold, and which is highly ironic for a spelling game: "Spelling has never been this much fun! Improve youre word prowess and prepare to be the next Spelling Bee Champion! Get the whole family in on the exciting action with a Multiplayer game. With 3 exciting game modes to choose from and thousands of words to spell, Merriam Webster's Spell-Jam has something for everyone."

Why is this cool? Well, little did the creator of the dictionary know that almost 200 years later, casual video games would be licensing his name to popularize their spelling bee titles! Next up - a strong entry into the field from Funk and Wagnalls, perhaps?

COLUMN: 'Parallax Memories' – Captain Novolin

Captain Novolin ['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 the not so fabulous Captain Novolin for the SNES.]

Captain Novolin is a game with the lofty goal of teaching people about diabetes. It was developed by Sculptured Software (developers of such stunning games as: Raid Over Moscow and Chavez 2), published by Raya Systems in 1992 on the Super Nintendo, and funded by Novo Nordisk. Diabetes is a disease in which the beta cells of the pancreas are unable to produce insulin to prevent hyperglycemia (high blood sugar).

This disease affects at least 171 million people world wide, and it's estimated that one of three Americans born after 2000 will develop diabetes. Taking on such a prospect in the early age of gaming would probably have been thought of as commendable.

I guess that this game could be categorized as a "serious game," though it would be better defined as edutainment because it only uses the game as an excuse to teach people something. Captain Novolin isn't as effective a game that, oh say, Oregon Trail is (where I first learned what diphtheria was) because it's not really all that interesting to play.

Unfortunately the game really isn't all that serious either. In this insane world Captain Novolin, the only super hero available to stop the evil Blubberman and rescue the Mayor, has diabetes. Great super villains know how best to exploit the weakness of a super hero, and like Lex Luthor using kryptonite on Superman, Blubberman turns all his henchmen into junk food. At least with Captain Novolin there's something to be said for learning about the human condition of living with diabetes through the metaphor of gameplay.

Captain NovolinSerious, totally. Captain Novolin taught me that having diabetes is hard. You can look and act like a normal person but in reality there are all kinds of evil foods out there which want to kill you. Getting by from day to day and only eating small amounts of prescribed foods will allow you to survive from meal to meal. Between meals and throughout the day you must meticulously check the status of your insulin and sugar levels. Life itself is divided up into meals and nothing else.

Having diabetes means that even making a normal trip through town will get you accosted by food that will kill you. Not only will this food attempt to attack you, but it will also jump and move in strange manners on the street or in the water. Luckily a doctor will state what is edible for your main meals and you can find these items sparingly among the terrible temptations of junk food.

Captain NovolinOK, now I'm serious, honestly.

The game is divided up into meals levels where the Captain has to stay alive (a difficult task), and also keep his blood sugar levels in check by eating doctor prescribed foods. Preceding each level the doctors will tell the player about the disease and they will also have to monitor the Captain's levels. This even includes taking a shot of insulin if needed.

When the Captain goes out to fight evil (more on that later) he can pick up proper snacks and icons which will give the player more information about diabetes. This information will later be used in an evil quiz in which the player will be harmed for answering incorrectly.

Being that Captain Novolin is a super hero begs the question, what are his super powers? Can he leap over tall buildings? Shoot flames from his finger tips? Lift cars over his head and throw them like insects? Nope, none of these. His trade off for having diabetes must be that he lost any hope of having a real super power. Perhaps this happens in a radioactive waste accident which also created Blubberman, who knows. The Captain is possibly the worst super hero ever: he can only attack when holding down while in mid-air.

This leaves the player open to attacks from all kinds of junk food and eventually death from high blood sugar. It's all the harder on the player because the enemies move in erratic patterns that range from hard to dodge, to impossible. Top it all off with a character sprite that fills up close to 1/3 the damned screen and you'll spend most of the game angry, not educated.

Captain Novolin has taught me, most importantly, that you cannot beat diabetes. Even if you're a super hero and you can save the Mayor, in the end you still have to check your blood sugar levels. Hopefully you can learn from me and never ever, ever, play Captain Novolin. Seriously.

[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.]

The Acid Test: QA as a Bridge to a Game Career

- Over at our sister education site Game Career Guide, the ever-handy Alistair Wallis has taken a look at a once-fabled path into the game industry, in a new feature called 'The Acid Test: QA as a Bridge to a Game Career'.

As he notes in the intro: "It's certainly a common idea within the games industry that those who start in quality assurance are headed for a career well past that one post; possibly even a career in a popular field like design or production. But can QA staff and testers make their way up the ladder in the way people think?"

There are mixed responses, of course, from professionals at studios ranging from Toys For Bob (Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam) through Evolution (MotorStorm), but it's true that QA can be a good leg up if you're in the right place at the right time - something many of the respondents do acknowledge.

Zachary Slater of the Game QA Blog has likely some of the more depressing feedback in the piece - at least for those who care about game testing for game testing's sake: "QA could be a worthwhile career path for console and computer games if only it were treated and respected as such It isn't... and probably won't be. Game developers and publishers seem to regard QA as an unfortunate expense required in the development process. It is a problem for anyone who wants to actually focus on it that they won't be respected for doing so."

Inside The Game Mechanics Of Peacemaker

- Commercially released serious game Peacemaker, which simulates the Israel-Palestine conflict, seems to have been getting a new round of publicity as of late, and over at Plush Apocalypse, Borut Pfeifer has made an extremely detailed post critiquing the game, with a lot of interesting insight.

He particularly notes that the game is, well, realistically difficult: "On my playthroughs I typically get ousted by lack of public support, even if I’m making progress towards peace or world opinion of me is high. The game does a great job of pointing out how overconstrained the problem is. As Israeli leader you can have people signing petitions to take down security walls, but the army may just refuse to do it. Settlers may ignore your order to freeze construction of settlements. You can spend money on domestic social or economic initiatives, but that earns the criticism of the hawkish parts of the government."

But Pfeifer seems to be saying, in some ways, that a realistic portrayal makes for a depressing, if well-crafted game: "So naturally, while you the game leaves you with a picture of how screwed the situation is, it also highlights the hopelessness of it. I mean, you already feel powerless as a regular person to do anything, but when most of your choices as a leader don’t really do anything either, you realize both leaders are also sort of powerless to do anything effective about it."

[Oh, and here's an interesting aside on the official Peacemaker blog, after the creators received a letter from the Nobel Foundation, which "...was a “warning/cease and desist letter” for using the Nobel medal as part of our game. As it turns out - the Nobel foundation owns trademark registrations and the letter claims that we “take unfair advantage of their intellectual property rights, in a way that is detrimental to the distinctive and repute of this trademark”." They had to remove the reference, sadly.]

Village Voice Gets Cybersex-y With Heroine Sheik

- Ah, here's a note from freelance game writer Bonnie Ruberg, who wrote the Koster/Hocking interviews that just ran on Gamasutra: "Just wanted to send you a friendly heads up about a new column I started last week with The Village Voice which I thought you might tickle your fancy. It's called "Click Me," and it's all about cybersex, with an emphasis on sex in virtual worlds."

She continues: "The first piece is just an introduction (with some amusingly unsexy girl-on-girl tidbits), but there will be sex stories, Q&A's, even cybersex how-to guides. The Voice also bought up my blog, Heroine Sheik, so I'm going to be posting about games and sex and culture every day now." Having seen the formidable amount of referrers Gamasutra gets from the IGDA's Sex In Games weblog, I'm not surprised that the Village Voice has hopped on this particular train.

And indeed there is much new posting on Heroine Sheik, with a recent blog post discussing Dan Savage's advice on whether 'cheating in Second Life' is really cheating - to which a comment by 'Moo' is likely the most existential ever posted on a sex-related blog post: "We are our own interpreters of the world. It’s not about being “right” or “wrong”. Things simply *are*." Blimey, now we feel all zen.

May 14, 2007

Angels And Devils Make The Best Game Scores?

- Was turned on to James Wallis' COPE blog thanks to Jim Rossignol's most recent 'Blogged Out' column for Gamasutra, and there's a fascinating recent entry discussing an alternate scoring system for games.

Specifically: "Since the days of yore video-game magazines have given games a numerical rating. Often it’s out of ten or out of one hundred. Sometimes it has cute star-based systems and breaks things down by different categories. Whatever the system, they all suck..."

He continues: "Back when I was editing Crazynet we picked up a reviewing system from our French sibling Micro Dingo, which we twisted onto its back, made it cry, “Mon oncle!” and got Gabe from Penny Arcade to draw us some icons for it. Each item reviewed received 0-3 angels and 0-3 devils. Angels meant good points, devils meant bad points. So three angels and two devils meant “This is very good, but contains quite a lot that will make you throw things across the room. Worth checking out if you have a high tolerance.” A review that got no angels and no devils meant “This is completely unexceptional in every way.”

So what happened? "It transpired that nobody except me understood this system. But hey, icons by Gabe." This is actually a really interesting and valid idea. It's just borderline insane and unintuitive! Wallis then spirals off into further big thinking: "What video games need isn’t numeric ratings, or me trying to get cute. What they need are Michelin stars." Wait, I thought we established that game scores needed to be 7 or 8?

Hocking Explores Video Game Exploration

- Our more or less final GDC-conducted interview is up on big sister site Gamasutra today, and it's an interestingly detailed chat with Ubisoft's Clint Hocking, quizzing the Splinter Cell supremo about "...his influences, what we can learn from Oblivion, and how to create great games through "different flavors" of player exploration."

Hocking is an provocative thinker, and in the chat, he talks in particular on the advantages of the sandbox: "Spacial exploration isn't mandatory. It's not required in any game. It's a certain play style and a certain type of player who's interested in playing in that way. There are ways to design to support that well and ways to do it badly. I think it's pretty clear which games do it well. Grand Theft Auto, Oblivion, they make players who might not even be that kind of player become interested in the act of self-motivated exploration."

So what makes it worth finding new places in the world? Hocking has an answer: "Well, I talked a lot about exploration games needing to provide ubiquitous, low-value rewards. Oblivion, like I said, does that really well with alchemical ingredients. But what I didn't talk about, and I intentionally left it off to the side, was this idea that one of the things I did in Oblivion was I went to places just to get beautiful panoramas. I went to the highest mountain I could find just to see how far I could see. I went all the way to the sea at the bottom of the world just to see the sunset."

"Literally, I left my controller there and drank a beer while the sun set. There is no reward for that. It was just wanting to see what the game did and how it worked. So there is this other kind of reward which is just the feeling of this openness and seeing how rich the simulation is, which is something you can’t usually do in games."

Video Games And... Australia's Colonial History?

- Randomly stumbled across the proceedings of last year's Unaustralia Conference in Canberra, which is the Cultural Studies Association of Australia's annual conference, since you ask - and there's one particular submitted paper of interest to GSW readers and video game geeks - weird ones - alike.

That would be 'Virtual Unaustralia: Videogames and Australia’s Colonial History' [.PDF link] by Thomas H. Apperley (University of Melbourne), and it explores "...how two games – Europa Universalis II (Paradox Interactive, 2001) and Victoria: Empire Under the Sun (Paradox Interactive, 2002) – represent a specific moment: the colonization of Australia." The author explores the setup, historical, background, and many possible outcomes of the games, including making Australia a Brazilian colony (!) in one of his playthroughs.

The most interesting parts of the paper point out how the virtual geography in the nation-building game coincides with real-life feelings: "For example, one fan forum, Vojska.net, based in Croatia, has advocated serious changes to the map of the Balkans in Europa Universalis II, to have provinces boundaries drawn in a historically authentic manner. In this case the community also produced their own map, which they distributed as a ‘mod’ for the game, allowing other players to play in what they considered a more historically realistic geography of the region."

Putting real-life locations in fictional games can be fraught with real-life politics, of course - and Paradox Interactive has run into this in the past, with the Chinese government banning strategy game Hearts Of Iron "...for 'distorting historical facts' in describing Manchuria, West Xinjiang, and Tibet as independent sovereign countries within the game."

But 'changing history' by using real countries is half the entertainment of these games - and I'd hate to see restrictive regimes put a kibosh on good ol' Risk-style fun. So long may the fictional colonization of Australia (Unaustralia?) continue! God save the Queen!

The Conundrum: Rayman's Vs. Rabbid Name Change

- GameSetWatch only deals with the most important issues in video games today - and the burning question for this Monday is - why is Rayman Raving Rabbids called that, when the original French name is so subtly different?

I noticed this when Ubisoft sent over some promo notepaper which had the French name for the game, Rayman Contre Les Lapins Cretins, which my schoolboy French translates as 'Rayman Vs. The Crazy Rabbits'. Actually, I think 'cretins' is a little closer to mentally subnormal, aka the politically incorrect 'retarded', isn't it? There's a definition of the English word which claims its derivation: "French crétin, from French dialectal, deformed and mentally retarded person found in certain Alpine valleys."

In any case, the weird thing about the English language title is that it's not 'Rayman Vs. The Raving Rabbids' - the antagonists are just described in a title run-on. Though there's meant to be a colon after the Rayman, I guess, but it doesn't show up in the English game logo. And, of course, it was decided that plain old 'rabbits' wouldn't cut it, so the reference to the 'rabbits' being 'rabid' was added - hence 'rabbid'. Or that's how I read it. The French-language site has some good puns too - one of the options is labeled 'Lapinvasion', hah.

In conclusion - there's really no conclusion. I just thought it was an interesting example of a title being slightly rethought when it changed languages. Possibly much more interesting is this question - did Michel Ancel completely disavow himself from this game?

As the Wikipedia entry notes: "On April 5, 2006, Ubisoft announced Ancel was leading the development of the fourth game in the Rayman series, Rayman Raving Rabbids, for the Nintendo Wii. The game began production in early 2005 and was released on November 15 2006 for the launch of the Wii. However, Ancel was notably absent from the project after its E3 announcement, and he has made no public appearances regarding the game after the development team switched focus from a free-roaming platformer to the final minigames format shortly after E3." So what happened? And what's he doing now?

Reunion Digs Way Out Of Bit Hell

- Game designer Mike Bithell pinged me about this a few days ago, but I forgot to post it until Gnome reminded me - ah, and now I see that TIGSource has reviewed it, too - 'it' being Mike's new Flash game Reunion.

Derek Yu at TIGSource is a bit on the fence about the game: "In the game, you control a sleeping boy by leading him with fireflies. Even though I really dig the concept, in practice it ends up being rather unwieldy. The worst part is that every time you fall into a pit or otherwise go off the path, the wind sends you back to the beginning of the level."

However, I really loved the interactive intro, and this is from the same person who created the previously GSW-mentioned Visiting Day homebrew title for PSP, and it's totally free, too - so that's good news all round. Maybe a candidate for Kongregate uploading to get a higher profile, Mike?

May 13, 2007

The Rarest Atari 2600 Games... Evah!

- Was poking around the excellent Atari Age the other day, for reasons I forget, and decided to use the site's search engine to look up the absolute rarest non-prototype Atari 2600 games they list (rated '10, Unbelievably Rare'). And there's some pretty interesting results, of which these are the highlights:

- Music Machine was "...only sold in religious bookstores. It’s based on a line of Music Machine products that also included LP’s sold by Sparrow. Some collectors claim to have purchased the 2600 game in a bundle with the album, but that has never been proven." The company who made it is still a major Christian music company, too.

- Video Life is perhaps even more rare, and "...was only available to owners of Magicard, making it perhaps the rarest of all 2600 games. It was only available directly from CommaVid, who sent a letter to owners of Magicard with an offer to purchase Video Life. We believe fewer than 500 copies of Video Life were produced and there are probably many fewer still floating about today. Video Life is a version of the classic computer-based life simulator in which you create an organism and watch it grow."

- Finally, of course, there's Pepsi Invaders - the first ever anti-advergame! "Coca-Cola commissioned a game from Atari to give to their Atlanta employees. In this case, Atari redesigned Space Invaders so that you shoot the letters "P E P S I" instead of space creatures. There were 125 copies of this game made. There is no real box for this one, just a flimsy Styrofoam shell. So it isn’t really a prototype, but it wasn’t a commercially available game either. And no, Coca-Cola does not have any copies left."

Welcome To The New Space Order

- When I was in Tokyo for TGS last year, one of the most notable things was the complexity of some of the arcade games - here's a blurry pic of one of them, which was a complex battle sim using CCG cards recognized by the arcade cabinet, far beyond beetle or horseracing sims in complexity.

So, the Arcade Heroes blog has pointed out Namco Bandai's New Space Order, another one of those complex Japan-only arcade titles, and they note: "This game was briefly mentioned in reports that came out of AOU 2007 and it raised a few eyebrows by featuring a sit-down arcade cabinet that included a keyboard and mouse, much like CounterStrike NEO."

They continue: "Well Namco Bandai has an official site dedicated to the game, replete with screenshots, videos and even linkage to a subsite that features a series of Flash anime videos that tell an interactive story about the game."

Interestingly, a Highway Games-hosted report about AOU, actually sourced from The Stinger Report, notes: "The game was displayed as a networked Satellite Terminal (ST) space combat MMOG game - using the same cabinet layout as the Counter Strike NEO game with ten connected terminals and a central display and card dispenser, the product able to update LEDZONE facilities with a new game package. The success of the LEDZONE franchise recently reflected in NBG financials."

Hm, I couldn't find info on Ledzone's success in NBG's numbers - can anyone point to them? - but interested parties should check out the Gamasutra report on 'The Localization of Counter-Strike in Japan' which deals with the setup of the awesome-looking custom Ledzone net cafes to host Counter-Strike Neo. This was genuinely innovative work on Namco's part, I think.

[UPDATE - Ah, and I see YouTube has the New Space Order intro movie, which can only be described as 'attractively apocalyptic', as well as a shaky-cam filmed AOU trailer, which shows a bit of the gameplay near the end.]

Smokin'! Tobacco, The ESRB, And Game Ratings

- Sparked by the MPAA taking tobacco use into account when rating movies, Matt Matthews at Curmudgeon Gamer has done an analysis of ESRB ratings for tobacco-including games, asking the question: "Does smoking of tobacco get a game rated at least a T? Or maybe even M?"

Matthews' basic factual conclusion? "The 141 games which refer to tobacco or show use of tobacco break down as: * 29 rated E * 18 rated E10+ * 91 rated T * 3 rated M." Comparing, he explains: "75% of movies with even a fleeting glimpse of smoking were given R ratings -- and thereby limited in theory to people who were 17 years of age or older. By comparison, only 3 out of 141, or 2.1%, of games with any mention or use of tobacco were given an M rating, the rating that most closely approximates the MPAA's R rating."

So what, are youth are being led astray horribly by these depictions and/or references - which are two very different things, of course? Matthews highlights: "The PlayStation 3 game Calling all Cars, released just this week, has the "Alcohol and Tobacco Reference" descriptor and is rated E."

I'm presuming that this descriptor isn't related to the people who made the game (Jaffe-ton, OMG!), so I'd love to know - what are all the references in these E-rated games - Calling All Cars and others - and how oblique are they? Is it more common in Japanese games (Metal Slug pictured above, for obvious reasons!)? Yes, this is a Lazyweb research request. It's odd, because I'm pretty sure kids don't want to smoke because of games.

Into The Future With Wumpus 2000

- Over at Dessgeega's blog, there's an extremely illuminating look at the odd 'Hunt The Wumpus'-inspired interactive fiction piece, Wumpus 2000 - which I suspect is the kind of experimental text adventure which can influence wider game design concepts from its odd niche.

Dess explains: "wumpus 2000, perhaps, owes less to contemporary interactive fiction than it does to “roguelike” titles. the game is set in a randomly-built network of caves, seeded with tools, weapons, and enemies who wander the tunnels on their own agendas. as in any roguelike, survival depends largely on knowing the rules of the cave: how to identify safe drinking water, how to raise the protagonist’s strength."

Particularly cool? The game _forces_ you to go oldskool and whip out pen and paper, since Geegs notes that the game's "...first and most important rule is: you must draw a map (and the underline is not mine). in a graphical roguelike the dungeon map materializes on-screen as the player explores it; in wumpus 2000, all that’s available at any given time is a description of the player’s present location - the range of the protagonist’s vision - and the numbers that correspond to adjacent, visited rooms (and on the game’s hardest difficulty, not even these numbers are shown)."

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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