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June 2, 2007

Perplex City Team Depart, ARG On Hold

perplex.jpg Surprising news from the world of Alternate Reality Games, then, as the official Perplex City site has revealed that the second season of Mind Candy's groundbreaking, puzzle card-monetized ARG is on longer-term, unspecified hiatus - ARGN has more commentary, noting that "...Story Team members Adrian Hon, Andrea Phillips, David Varela and Naomi Alderman, as well as COO Dan Hon, have all left the company within the last 48 hours."

I first read about this on Dan Hon's blog, where he's collected his own and links to other people's comments on this. Adrian Hon also points out in a comment in his blog: "It is Mind Candy’s hope that they will bring back the ARG in the future. However, the facts for now are that all of the story team has left Mind Candy, and Perplex City Season 2 is not coming out any time soon. The cards are going to continue being sold and supported; they’re all designed and we already have some copies of wave 2 in the office."

Just why this happened is a bit vague, of course - but I could venture a couple of guesses. Firstly, if you can buy puzzle cards in packs and and solve them online for points, and that's fairly addictive on its own, why include potentially expensive ARG elements to the game as well? Helicopters don't come cheap.

In addition, Mind Candy received $7 million in funding in late 2006, and it's mentioned that "...the funding comes in advance of a major expansion of new products to be announced in early 2007 including the development of its second major puzzle brand aimed at a younger demographic." Is Perplex City a little bit hardcore and obscure to be mass market, as it stands? Probably so - the Wikipedia page mentions that: "As of September 26, 2006, some 682,425 cards have been marked as solved on the Perplex City leaderboard, with 45,215 players registered." In the grand scheme of things, that's not THAT many.

In any case, there's a fascinating subculture built up around the game - for example, check out this misprints and rarities page for the cards - and some rare Season 1 cards are still going for as high as $400 on eBay. So hopefully the game will continue in some way - and congrats to everyone involved, even those now leaving Mind Candy, on blazing the way.

COLUMN: 'Game Mag Weaseling': Mag Roundup 6/2/07

['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.]

I have to admit, I'm late for something that I really need to be out the door for, and so let's waste no time and get right to covering all the lovely US mags that have hit stands in the past fortnight. It's the summer of our discontent in terms of page counts (and Nintendo Power's future is still pretty darn murky), but there are some highlights here and there...

Electronic Gaming Monthly July 2007 (Podcast)


Cover: BioShock

The cover does nothing for me (the art's just too small; it's barely bigger than the EGM logo), but the contents are quite nice this month. The main previews are all games done by Game Informer earlier (GTA4, Splinter Cell: Conviction), but EGM treats them better. The GTA4 feature attempts to match publicly-released screenshots with their real-life counterparts, which is a brilliant idea and one of those wonderful only-a-print-mag-can-do-this articles that I wish I saw more of. BioShock goes as detailed as possible on the internal game process, which is pretty nice to read even though this is one of those games where still screens can only portray so much of the experience.

There's also a great deal of new little columns and side bits here and there, from a business column written by ex-freelancer Scott Steinberg to an Onion-style point/counterpoint between Sonic and Amy regarding the former's ring obsession.

Nintendo Power July 2007


Cover: Resident Evil games

This magazine deserves more attention than usual, chiefly thanks to the uncertain future of Nintendo Power itself (covered extensively here and elsewhere), but really there isn't much extremely new to discuss about the contents this month. This is, for better or for worse, your typical issue of NP -- lots of very early previews, a couple of heavily-compartmentalized features, and a handful of interviews with developer folk that never seem to talk to the rest of the gaming media. Ah, and let's not forget about silly fanart, either.

Official Xbox Magazine July 2007 (Podcast)


Cover: Unreal Tournament III

This issue of OXM reads like a love letter to Mark Rein, mostly -- six pages on UT3 that heavily quote him, and then five more pages on a bunch of crazy dudes who build a squadron-load of Gears of War armor and make a pilgrimage to Epic's North Carolina offices. Pretty neat stuff, actually. The highlight to a certain contingent of gamers, however, may be the piece in the way back about the Xbox 360's presence as a proverbial set-top box in the American household...which would have been boring if it weren't for the fact Tim Schafer wrote it.

Armored Core 4 and Monster Madness lead up the disc, along with yet more building of random stuff in OXM: Universe land. [NOTE FROM SIMON: Also, the bonus for playing through all the demos on the disc is some exclusive Beautiful Katamari gamer pictures, which are King-tastic. Rawk.]

Tips & Tricks July 2007


Cover: Shadowrun

T&T loves Shadowrun, kicking off the mag with a three-page developer visit and continuing with a five-page strategy this month. The lifestyle section is hardcore as ever, with the WoW column featuring a bit on "The Personalities of World of Warcraft" which is far more amusing than anything I've read in Beckett MOG. (It's also illustrated by a Rick Bieniek, whom I'm guessing is Chris' son or half-brother or long-lost cousin. Family connections can get you anywhere in games media! :wink:)

Play June 2007

play-0706-2.jpg   play-0706.jpg

Cover: Hellboy or Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles

Play has another unannounced two-cover month, and looking at the two scans above, I'm sure most of us will agree on which cover we'd like to see in our mailboxes. Sadly, I got the Hellboy one, so I had to visit the bookstore for the other. (Mr. Halverson seems to really like Hellboy, what with making the guy one of the covers for the latest issue of Rocket as well.)

The Castlevania cover touts an interview that "no Castlevania fan will want to miss," and while that may be overstating it a bit, IGA is always engaging and there's four pages of him in here talking about making a 2D game in 3D-space, as well as brain training and Odin Sphere.

PC Gamer July 2007 (Podcast)


Cover: Penny Arcade Adventures

PC Gamer has five covers this month, and it's just my luck that I got the ugliest one of the lot in my mailbox. Traditionally, magazine publishers have tried to avoid covers with a lot of green in them, but I hate yellow a lot more than green, myself.

This is immaterial, however, because the article inside on PAA is actually pretty darn nice, designed up in a unique manner and extremely enticing to read, although the game itself...well, it's difficult to say at this point. Still, I applaud PCG for getting out of the "giant logo" and/or "bald space marine" run of covers.

PSM July 2007 (Podcast)


Cover: Top 50 Games

What? It's the dead of summer? No hot games to discuss? Ahhhh! Time to break out the "giant preview feature" trump card! And so it is this month, with the previews cavalcade led up by GTA4, Riddick, and a heck of a lot of teeny-tiny other games.

If the Future mags all seem bigger to you this month, by the way, don't be alarmed -- it's just the cell-phone game advertising section making its biannual comeback.

2007 PSP Yearbook


Yep, a compilation of every PSP game reviewed in PSM. Nothing else. Buy it if, you know, you missed the reviews the first time.

Hardcore Gamer June 2007


This issue (number 24) marks the second anniversary of Hardcore Gamer's launch, and I do have to commend them for making this far, because I sincerely doubt anyone inside the industry thought the mag would do anything but go horribly belly-up the way GameGO! did. It's carved out a niche for itself, being both "hardcore" but also not so hardcore that advertisers are scared off -- a tough balance, if you think about it.

Top thing to watch for this month: "Growing Together," a loosely-themed feature about hacking up consoles and Wii-motes to do things the hardware makers never intended. The PS3 George Foreman grill, for example. Mmmm.

Beckett Massive Online Gamer June/July 2007


Cover: LOTR Online

Just like sister publication Beckett Spotlight: Cheat Codes, MOG now has a "flip cover" in the back, a fancy way of admitting that they couldn't find any advertisers interested in buying a spot on the back cover. The logo's also undergone a very subtle redesign, basically making the word "GAMER" larger than ever.

Tons of dev interviews lurk inside, as well as an interesting LOTR Online review -- they gave it to three people (a newbie, a hardcore MMO nut, and a "Tolkien enthusiast") and had each of them write a page on their thoughts. I kind of wish I saw this more often. It's a common complaint that EGM's multiple reviews are often not much different from each other, after all.

There's also an extensive strategy guide for Flyff (Fly For Fun), a game that people apparently spent thousands of dollars on in hilarious/tragic ways.

[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.]

Codemasters' DiRT Invades Your Flickr

- Over at The-Inbetween, there's a somewhat aggrieved post explaining that Codemasters has been promoting upcoming racing game DiRT using Flickr, and in a pretty obnoxious way, too.

In fact, the blogger was already a fan of the franchise: "The Colin McRae series of rally racing games are probably my favourite non-arcade racers... The next-gen incarnation of the series is something that I’ve been looking for, in spite of the series’ name change to the bland four-letter word title “DiRT.”"

But then: "This morning I receive a message in my Flickr inbox: “You are Dirty1CMD’s newest contact!” Nice! I go and check out his photo stream and what do I see? Nothing but screen shots of DiRT. I check the profile: "This site has been set up to showcase images from the new Colin McRae Dirt game. All the game images are from XBOX360 so far. PS3 shots will be added as soon as they are approved. I’ve not added anybody as a contact who wasn’t into Rally, cars or Videogames. Sorry if anybody feels like they’ve been spammed. I’ve tried to be subtle.""

So, the conclusion from The-Inbetween: "Hey, I’m all for using Flickr to show your screenshots and to build a small community around your site, just don’t be spamming me about it — and yes, a mere “contact add” is spam when it’s coming, unsolicited, straight from Codemasters’ ad wizards." Indeed!

Two Words - ANewLanguage ForGameCriticism

- Wired News' Kris Cohler points to an Annalee Newitz post on 'No Language for Video Games?' at Underwire, another site in the voluminously labyrinthine Wired.com blog network of doom. And, y'know, it might be a little bit 'why can't games do X'? for some GSW readers, but let's excerpt anyhow:

"Video game designers have hit a brick wall where storytelling elements seem unable to evolve as pleasingly as graphics do. Last week I interviewed game designer and firsttime novelist Austin Grossman about this... and we talked about how videogames still can't beat old-fashioned novels when it comes to compelling stories. As a longtime fan of the novel, and only a sporadic player of video games, I have always thought that I would get into video games more if they could just do whatever it is that novels do for me."

Newitz claims: "The problem is that we're still coming up with accurate ways to describe video game "stories." This sounds a little nuts until you consider that it wasn't until the 1940s – roughly 45 years after the first films were shown publicly – that critics and filmmakers fully realized the potentials of this new medium. A French film magazine, Cahiers du Cinema, brought to 1950s audiences a whole new vocabulary for talking about film, including the idea of a mise en scene, which refers to the design composition of a particular shot."

Well, I personally think this is funny because a VP here at CMP has tried comparing Game Developer (or a possible further direction for the magazine) to Cahiers du Cinema for a few years now - whether rightly or wrongly. I think I somewhat disagree with Newitz - I'm not sure it's nomenclature or cohesive criticism that is the problem. It's just that stories are sometimes not what makes gameplay fun, and actually, a lot of compelling games don't need stories - which isn't really true for novels, right?

(Or maybe gamers are missing the point entirely by assuming that, and the right story will make a vital difference to the medium. You can go round and round on this whole subject for a while.)

How Everybody's Golf PSP Really Uses GPS

- So the GPS-enabled version of Everybody's Golf (aka Minna No Golf) for PlayStation Portable just came out in Japan, and NCSX has the details - but what I found fascinating was the way it uses the PSP's GPS add-on.

For some reason, I presumed that the game would use GPS in its gameplay somehow, but no - it's much more bizarre than that! The game does "...double duty as a digital caddy if you're actually at a golf course in Japan. PSP owners living in Japan armed with the GPS Receiver and a copy of the game can visit one of 31 golf courses in Chiba Prefecture and play real golf with a virtual caddy."

So, in fact, it's just a completely different 'real-life golf helper' app which has nothing to do with play - other than happening to use the same courses that the actual game is played on. NCSX continues: "The game package includes two UMDs - the first UMD contains recreations of golf courses that are located in southern Chiba while the second UMD hosts courses from northern Chiba... For players who utilize the virtual caddy GPS function of the software, the distance to a hole may be calculated in real time to determine which club to use."

I guess it's an interesting concept, but it's a bit bizarre overall - I want some actual everyday uses of GPS without going to particular golf courses in Chiba. I wonder how much uptake in revenue those courses are gonna see from having a video game version available to entice keen golfers?

June 1, 2007

Spacewar and the Birth of Digital Game Culture

- So, I just hinted at this, but quoting from my Slashdot submission: "Gamasutra is partnering with the IGDA's Preservation SIG to present in-depth histories of the first ten games voted into the Digital Game Canon, beginning with a history of the 1961 mainframe-based shooter Spacewar, arguably the first ever video game."

From the article: "Spacewar had a life of its own, spreading across the computer world like a benign virus. “It was the program that was run into the PDP-1 before it was shipped. It was the last thing--it was used as actually as a final test,” [co-creator J.M.] Graetz said. Because the PDP-1’s memory was composed of magnetic cores, small ferrite rings whose polarity indicated whether a bit was 1 or 0, the game stayed in memory even after the power was turned off."

Hey, that's all kinds of awesome! Graetz continues: “Core memory is non-volatile and once Spacewar was working they just shut the machine down and shipped it. So when the customer set it up and turned it on the first thing they saw was Spacewar." Sorta like the built-in Master System games, only crazier, then. Look out for plenty more in this series - next up is Civilization (complete with Sid Meier and Bruce Shelley interviews) and the obscure but seminal Star Raiders (with a Doug Neubauer interview).

California Extreme Hits August With Awesomeness

- We've previously covered the awesome, fan-run California Extreme classic arcade and pinball show, and Arcade Heroes has revealed the latest info on this year's event, which is going off in just a couple of months.

As they note: "The event will be taking place on August 11-12th at the Parkside Hall in San Jose, California. Those who are able to go to the event can expect to find a huge selection of both video arcades and pins (last year featured more than 400 games on free play; click here for a partial list of games that are confirmed to be there this year) and if you have your own games and the means to travel with them, you can take them to the event!"

I've previously listed some of the awesome and incredibly rare titles that are brought by collectors in recent years - and AtariGames.com has posted lots of pictures from last year's turn-out for those interesting in ogling some more. And look, here's three generations bonding over the potentially arm-snapping Panic Park, yay. Basically, if you're in the Bay Area, and you love arcade/pinball machines, you can't miss this show - it simply isn't allowed.

Guilty Gear Creators Make Battle Fantastic

- It's a sad thing that the 2D fighting game is quite unwell in the West - and I'm not really sure why - possibly because $60 is just too much to pay for niche imports, and retail games that sell for $20-$30 (a better price point for many import fighters) and are low-profile just won't make their money back easily.

[Although having said that, newer Guilty Gear titles are rumored to be getting a U.S. release soon through Aksys, and Fatal Fury: Battle Archives Vol. 1 just got confirmed for PS2 by SNK. UPDATE: Also, KOF XI and Neo Geo Battle Coliseum are coming to the States, ta for heads-up Corey.]

Anyhow, the latest intriguing Japanese arcade fighter (likely to come to consoles in some fashion, too) is Arc System Works' Battle Fantasia, and HDRLying has a good overview of the game, which is made by the Guilty Gear creators.

What's particularly interesting: "Battle Fantasia is a vastly different game from ASW’s offerings in the past. The is far slower than the likes of Guilty Gear, and far cuter than either Hokuto no Ken or Guilty Gear. Also unlike the two, Battle Fantasia is entirely polygonal. Much like Capcom’s shortlived Street Fighter EX series, Battle Fantasia acts like a regular 2D fighter, despite its polygonal graphics." So fighting on a 2D plane with 3D art - neat.

Looking around online, Insomnia.ac did a brief preview of the arcade test late last year, and on YouTube, a Japanese user has a bunch of videos of the game in action - though they're a bit blurry. Also, hardcore fighting game blog 'Super Nohoho Fighter II X' has been translating the controls and manual, which are both complex and interesting - though as always, their complexity is a bit of a barrier to entry for the non-hardcore.

COLUMN: The RePlay Files: Rampage's Original Stylings

[New column 'The RePlay Files' will reprint classic features and news stories from seminal arcade/amusement trade journal RePlay Magazine, with the kind permission of the magazine's creators - check out their website for info about subscriptions, news, and the contents of the latest issue. This initial batch of three articles kicks off with a feature on the launch of Bally's Rampage, from the August 1986 issue of RePlay, including photos and info available online for the first time.]

Bally Readies Choice Entertainment Line-Up

Such was the wild day at Bally Midway when execs and designers put down their tools and camped it up for our readers to launch their equally zany (but appeal-packed) new 3-player upright suitably called Rampage.

Company execs like President Maury Ferchen, Sales VP Steve Blattspieler and Sales Manager Dick Konopa (plus other staffers like Barbara Seifert and John Flakne) had a ball watching the design team don costumes and strike poses evoking the characters and actions on the Rampage scene. Spirits were up, up, up and as Ferchen said: “We’ve waited a long time for a piece like this!”

For want of more adroit descriptions, Rampage is like “Godzilla meets the Three Stooges.” It’s a “Saturday Morning TV cartoon adventure” starring George (the gorilla), Lizzie (the lizard) and Ralph (the wolf) who, with the active guidance of game players, proceed to bash just about every city in North America to smithereens in search of food.


Letting down their hair (plus whiskers and fangs), the costumed ‘Rampage’ designers mug it up for the camera in celebration of their new Bally Midway attraction. Included in that fearsome bunch are Mike Bartlow, Jim Belt, Sharon Perry, Jeff Nauman and Brian Colin.

With insatiable appetites, the three literally go from Peoria to Plano (and 83 cities in between) reducing each cityscape to rubble by punching through walls while avoiding a host of adversaries and other dangers to keep alive and keep up the mayhem.

No mercy in the sales department as Ralph Wolf and George Gorilla pay an unexpected and rather violent call on Blattspieler, who’s attacking back with his favorite weapon – the phone.

The game offers the continuous action feature as players inject successive quarters to keep their individual character alive and bashing just as it’s about to get zonked. And this need for an additional quarter and then another one comes up (on average for a decent player) every two minutes, 45 seconds, so those quarters really add up. (Novices will have to drop additional coins a heck of a lot quicker until they come up to speed.)

There’s a mob of things to do besides wreck real estate, of course, but that’s where most players begin, and you learn these as you go along. Since it’s a three-player, Bally says that new players often get an introduction from those already at the upright and that the learning curve is quick (e.g. a fellow player can tell you to avoid grabbing the toaster since that means electrocution).

Designers Jeff Nauman and Brian Colin join Bally Midway execs Maury Ferchen (left) and Steve Blattspieler by their new 3-player upright. Humorously dubbed “Godzilla meets the Three Stooges” by RePlay, the unit begins shipping to distributors middle of the month.

Bally Midway’s design team under leader Jeff Nauman has been programming Rampage since last January at the Franklin Park, Ill. Shop and has injected a lot of skill into the attraction that players will pick up on as they go along. But even at first blush (first bash?), the friendly but ferocious destruction is more than enough to keep the crowd happy.

By punching the “jump” and “punch” buttons and using the 8-way joystick, the idea is to grab food (for points), spit out “poison” and generally avoid harm. Godzilla himself couldn’t imagine such a field-day in his wildest dreams (and you can bet Godzilla has some wild dreams). You could write a small book about all the madness in this piece (oh yes, there’s a train crash in there too) but right now, let’s simply say Bally Midway could have a boomer here and do a ton of business.

“We’ve tested it and we’re proud to say Rampage is a record-breaker,” noted Blattspieler. “It looks like most operators will recover their investment faster with this than on any dedicated video in recent memory,” he added. “The ‘Join the Action’ buy-in feature is put to full use. Players want to see what comes next or they want to keep up with better players. There are 768 different screens in this but it will take a lot of hours of play before even the best video aficionado can get through the whole entire course,” he stated.

Bringing new meaning to the phrase “dishpan hands”, Sales Manager Dick Konopa gets into the spirit of Bally Midway ‘Rampage’ day.

Bally Midway is proud that the whole package was designed and built at their suburban Chicago plant. Production models will begin shipping to dealers mid-August and the firm is actually saying the piece could take its place next to the likes of Space Invaders, Pac-Man and Spy Hunter in the “Midway Hall of Fame.”

Why Indies Can't Thrive On Consoles

- Now, you don't see these too often from me (mainly due to time constraints, rather than lack of opinions), but big sister site Gamasutra just posted a new editorial from me named 'Opinion: Why Indies Can't Thrive On Consoles', originally published in the May 2007 issue of Game Developer magazine.

I'm going to extract just enough of this so you can get the idea - please go over and read the remainder to get a better idea. But I'm talking about downloadable, self-financed indie console games here:

"Imagine the following unlikely scenario: the movie theaters of America are divided into three groups, each of which requires a different aspect ratio and delivery format for any movie showing in it. Perhaps the three different formats don’t actually encourage easy conversion between them. Just think what a chilling effect that would have on some filmmakers who wanted a shot at showing their independent movies nationwide."

"Sure, independent filmmakers might be able to do fairly well with only one-third of the American market at their disposal, but what if a certain target market just wasn’t able to get to a theater that played the right movie format for the film they wanted to see? Let’s say only a third of all art house movie chains were actually equipped to show that film. This scenario would force independent filmmakers to have much smaller budgets for their films since their chances of success are drastically reduced by 66 percent. Wouldn’t it make more sense to have the movie available everywhere?"

Wha, movies? "The ham-fisted point I’m trying to make is that the same chilling effect is currently happening with downloadable games for consoles. While Microsoft has a clear outreach channel for independent games with Xbox Live Arcade, the company hasn’t been working with Sony or Nintendo to create standards so that those games are available to PlayStation 3 and Wii owners."

The crux? "In my view, an independent game studio should be able to make a downloadable game for the Xbox 360, sell 50,000 copies at $10 each, convert it to PlayStation 3 and sell 50,000 more copies at the same price, and do the same on Nintendo’s Wii. The incremental conversion costs should theoretically be much less than the cost of developing the game from scratch. This would all contribute to a much more viable downloadable games scene."

Maybe I'm being a little bit optimistic in thinking that the major players would ever 'work together' - but I was hoping that they would at least have similarly open approval processes and make it easy for self-published indies to get their games out on console. Right now, it's even a bit borderline whether XBLA is _that_ easy to get onto for a self-published independent, and the other two systems are even worse. Which is a major shame.

May 31, 2007

Van Lierop Curses Out Xbox Live Achievements

- 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

- 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

- 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

- 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

- 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?

May 30, 2007

Capybara Ratchets Up The... Pillowfighting?

- 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'

[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?

- The X-Change H-game trilogy (US distribution by Peach Princess) allows you to do exactly that. All three games revolve around the misadventures of Takuya Aihara, a limp-wristed high school kid who’s constantly being bullied by his female friends, of which he’s got no shortage. Jocks make him anxious, and gym is far from his best subject. He struggles to relate to the girls in his life, many of whom have inspired private crushes. What’s a poor guy to do?

In the exposition of each game, Takuya has some kind of science lab accident that results in him being turned into a girl. The sexual ramifications of such a switch on a game meant to be played by men are fairly clear, and as long as you get sexy CG, it doesn’t really matter which half of a male-female couple is you, if it means you also get lesbian scenes.

Far more interesting is the idea of getting to experience relationships (of all types) from the perspective of both genders. The girls who exploit male Takuya’s weaknesses in the fashion that only high school girls can suddenly convene compassionately to orient “the new girl”; close friends of Takuya who are aware of his change can’t hide their curiosity about his new form.

-As for Takuya, his initial priority is returning to normal; it's the story's central conflict, with the all-important incidental sexual encounters peppered along the way. As time passes, though, he seems to become more comfortable as a girl. He now has a humbling effect on the very types of males he’d been inclined to avoid, and even the girls who know his secret and still treat him nastily have become less intimidating. It’s an interesting experience on many levels to see not only Takuya's change, but how you as a player relate to the other characters differently depending on his gender, how your sexual ideas of them change—and, over-arching, how your relationship with your protagonist can evolve.

In addition, all the X-Change games operate on the traditional basic dialogue tree that results in multiple endings depending on your choices. You have the option of returning to manhood, perhaps in part to further cultivate a romantic relationship begun in your female incarnation. Or you can decide you enjoy being a girl, and stay that way forever.

Playing these games is weirdly liberating—especially given the backdrop of high-school era strained male-female relationships, of which pretty much everyone with a pulse has dubious memories. And it’s the sort of singular experience that only a Hentai game could provide—after all, sex (in both senses of the word) lies firmly entrenched at the core of the human psyche.

(NOTE: There are actually 4 games under the X-Change umbrella; the fourth, Yin-Yang! X-Change Alternative was never Anglicized [EDIT: It actually was; thanks, Alice]. Additionally, the third installment of the series underwent some considerable censorship for the English-language release; see these fan reactions on the Peach Princess BBS to see what was changed and how upset true H-game connoisseurs got about it.)

[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.]

Eve Online Drama! Scandal! Horror! SA Goons!

- 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!

- 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.

May 29, 2007

Kuma War - Invading Iran, Exploding Our Hearts?

- 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.

Blogging Ultima, Step By Step...

- Via all kinds of people, including GBGames, comes a link to the fairly new (well, it started in February 2007) 'Blogging Ultima' weblog, which explains itself as follows:

"The purpose is to blog the experience of playing the now-defunct Ultima series by Origin Systems (plus a few other names here and there) from beginning to end. I will be including all the non-remake spin-offs that I am aware of, under the theory of 'If I'm gonna do it, might as well go all the way.' I am not blogging as if I am a character in the game, or giving reviews. I'm going to write about the process of playing, the annoying things, the fun things, and the assorted mental musings that arise from any long-term activity." He's up to Ultima VII already, and there's all kinds of interesting commentary along the way.

Related to this very idea, GBGames comments of extending the concept: "The existence of Blogging Ultima led me to think about similar blogs. What about a blog for the Wizardry series? The Prince of Persia games? Even Leisure Suit Larry or King’s Quest games would probably make for an interesting story for someone to play today." Yesh, please make all of the above.

Mutant Storm Empire For XBLA: Anticipation... Rising!

- So, XBLArcade.com has been checking out ESRB ratings again for Xbox 360 Live Arcade games - the existence of which tends to mean that games are forthcoming for North American release - and it's noted:

"Continuing in a trend that must be giving Microsoft PR ulcers, they have rated [four] more XBLA titles... [that] were already known about, but the fact that they are now rated means the titles should be released "soon"-ish."

Among those are SNK's Fatal Fury Special (interesting because at one point, Greg Canessa was claiming that it was going to be an Asia-only title, for some odd reason) and Atari's Tempest (the original vector version, presumably without too much Minter-esque psychedelia) - but the big deal is Mutant Storm Empire, a title I've been drooling about in public for a year now.

As I noted wayback: "The pictures clearly show scrolling levels (as opposed to the single-screen mayhem of Mutant Storm Reloaded), as well as simultaneous multiplayer (likely/hopefully across Xbox Live!), and there are all kinds of weird beasties such as octopi, fish, and gigantic spaceship turret madness crazies sprawled all over the place - yay!" I'm speculating that making Bliss Island slowed down the PomPom folks, but I really do hope that Empire dawns soon.

Halloween Harry/Alien Carnage Debuts As Freeware

- Veteran game creator and Krome co-founder John Passfield mentioned his Passfield Games blog in a recent GSW comment, and now I note that it's revealed a neat thing: "In collaboration with 3DRealms we've released Halloween Harry/Alien Carnage as freeware today!"

As Passfield explains: "Halloween Harry, the tough as nails marine from Alien Carnage, is 22 years old this year. He was the star of a game I wrote on the Australian Microbee computer system and released commercially in 1985. I was still in high school at the time and was super excited to have sold my second computer game (the first was called "Chilly Willy", a clone of the classic arcade game, Pengo)."

He also follows up with a post called 'Halloween Harry/Alien Carnage - what might have been!', explaining: "Of course there was a direct sequel called Zombie Wars released in 1996, but before that we kicked around a number of other ideas for games to put Harry in. Often times we mocked up prototypes to test out ideas - from Sidewinder Sally (a Harry spin off) to Halloween Harry: Undead (a 3D multi-player game) to the potentially very cool Lunch Break Commandos", which was "...designed as a "casual" game you could play during your lunch break", way back when. Early casual game idea alert!

Chalk - The Next Indie Game Love Object?

- This one's all over the indie airwaves, but I'll pick where I happened to see it first, which is on Dessgeega's blog - as she explains: "Joakim Sandburg’s Chalk has the sensibility of a shooter and the spirit of a ds title: the game is mouse-controlled, and revolves around drawing lines with left clicks while navigating with right."

Over at The2Bears, they're also raving about the game, explaining further: "Gameplay revolves around moving your character (right mouse button moves you to the cursor or ‘WASD‘) while drawing lines of “chalk” on the screen. There are certain elements that are eliminated by drawing between their points (they might have 2, 3, or more). Other enemies are killed by drawing a point back from a purple bullet to them. There’s more, plus bonuses and bosses to fight."

Finally, TIGSource has a linked YouTube gameplay video inside its entry, which is handy if you want to see what it looks like without downloading, with commenter AdamAtomic noting: "The boss fights especially are totally friggin sweet. I agree, This game could live happily on the DS I think!" Quick, publishers that are reading - go snap it up?

May 28, 2007

GameSetJapan: Vicious Microbe Wars Hit The DS

- Import store NCSX continues to reveal some fascinating and fairly obscure DS games coming out of Japan, and the latest is called 'Kurikin: Nano Island Story', and is, we kid you not, a microbial life combat game, apparently created by Media Kite.

NCSX explains of the title: "Wee beasties are on the rampage and it's your prerogative to make sure they are marshaled properly to destroy other wee beasties. In the early missions, players control masses of nano creatures known as "kin" that look like dispersions of dust on the touch screen. The top display features a magnified examination of the kin, some of which look like paramecium while others look like clams with movable shells. To send the beasties into war, scribble a circle around them and then swish the stylus in a direction to mobilize them against enemy forces. "

What's more, you have to watch the solution you're swimming in to get an idea of battle tactics, apparently: "Similar to actual microbial life forms, the kin in the game are affected by temperatures and PH level. Some kin do better in warmer temperatures than others while an alkaline PH may lower the viability of certain kin." This is probably a bit quirky for Western release, but that's a shame, because it sounds pretty intriguing.

The State Of The Introversion, Probed Fully

- Over at Eurogamer, they've posted a new Kieron Gillen-penned interview with Introversion's Chris Delay, discussing the history and shape of the UK indie firm's 'bedroom programmer'-tastic titles.

And indeed, here's a good summing up from Delay on that very subject: "Comparing DEFCON to our other games is difficult. Uplink is rugged and buggy and ugly and still sells more than Darwinia every day. Darwinia is our oddball second album, our very own love letter to the Amiga and the soul of great videogames, and the game I'm most proud of. DEFCON is a relatively simple multiplayer game idea and I think that's probably the key to its success."

There's also some fun discussion on what the previously GSW-mentioned Subversion is - and the conclusion is that... nobody knows: "We can understand that everyone wants to know what it is, but we just can't say. If someone had access to all the source code and all the design documents for Subversion, and had listened in on the last month's telephone conversations between the directors, they still wouldn't know what the game was going to be about. It's experimentation. I think part of the problem is that people can't quite believe it still exists in the games industry, and no longer recognise it when they see it."

GameSetInvestigation: The GameSpy Column Files

- Poking around on GameSpy, which I think is somewhat neglected by the blogosphere nowadays, I spotted that there's a regularly updated columns section which doesn't get noticed or linked to that often, despite having some good content enjoyed by GameSpy regulars. Anyhow, here's the column-specific RSS for those wanting to keep an eye on it - and there's actually some fun stuff in here.

Looks like the 'GameSpy North' office in the Bay Area has been getting some new personnel of late, with journalists hired from Ziff Davis and Future, among other outlets - though there are still GameSpy edit folks working in the Southern California offices, of course - a recent 'What We're Playing' column reveals that ex-G4-er Li Kuo and veteran Sal "Sluggo" Accardo are still hanging in there, for example. Listing some of the intriguing columns randomly:

- After OPM closed down, Thierry 'Scooter' Nguyen hopped across to GameSpy, and has a regular column, 'First Person Scooter', which I'm finding pretty entertaining. In one of the recent instalments, he admits, with a hangdog fanboy wink: "These days, while I still enjoy the likes of BioWare, Blizzard, Monolith and Valve, my tastes have gone a little more casual. To wit, I have a new favorite developer: PopCap Games."

- Andy Mahood has been running modding column Modify for a loong time (we're up to #42), and I believe I've linked to it once or twice in the past. Anyhow, it's still a good read, and the latest column takes a look at some of the mods that won a recent FilePlanet contest centered around F.E.A.R. - other columns span flight titles through FPSes to racing games and beyond.

- 'Dream Game' is a new column by former GamesRadar editor Gabe Graziani, and the latest one talks to the folks at Realtime Worlds and Crystal Dynamics about gameplay features and control tweaks to make the best-ever action game, like, ever. Oh, and along the way, he explains handily: "I don't think I'm going out on a limb when I state that every game would be better with either a grappling hook or a jet pack."

- Sure, the ol' 'play against the editors' thing is hardly new, but the 'Spy Hunter' columns write them up in a pretty fun way - with videos sometimes, to boot! The latest looks at Halo 3 Beta carnage, and includes the longest 'disclaimer' sentence evah: "Possible reasons for bootage include but are not limited to: an inordinate amount of swearing or other forms of epithets relating to sexual orientation or mental disability (if you can't make it through a match without dropping an f-bomb or calling someone an r-tard, mute your mic), unsportsmanlike conduct (gloating or otherwise insulting other players - especially team-killing in games that allow that sort of thing) and anything that might generally make you come off as a jackass." Bravo!

On Game Design On The Web - Redux!

- We covered the web software acting like video games meme just the other week, and now, Kevnull.com has posted an in-depth critique called 'Iminlikewithyou and Game Design in the Web'.

This is a little abstract to explain, but the currently invite-only dating-ish website works like this: "Iilwy is based on “games” each person creates. Players use the in game point system to “bid” on games. The top 5 bidders at the end of the game are eligible to be picked as the winner by the game owner and the winner and game owner are subsequently contacts who can contact each other through the site messaging system."

The blogger, Kevin Cheng, is impressed with the concept: "Iilwy’s game system is actually a great system for meeting and filtering new people well beyond just the dating realm. In this case, a barrier that makes doing something harder is desired and very deliberate in its design." So how about that - couldn't this kind of thing be set up in an MMO, as well, with creative challenges between players awarded as an explicit game feature? Or is it already? Looking outside conventional games for game design is looking increasingly interesting. [Via Waxy.]

May 27, 2007

GameSetPlaying: May 27th, 2007 Edition

- Woops, it's been a while since I did one of these, but nonetheless - I'm going to talk about the games that I've been checking out recently, and then I'll open the floor for GSW readers to do the same in the comments. Here goes:

- WarTech: Senko No Ronde (G-Rev/Ubisoft, Xbox 360)
Though it's had a pretty low profile thus far, and $60 is certainly quite a lot to ask for a Japanese arcade shooter/fighter conversion, what I've played of Senko No Ronde so far has impressed me - it's a really artful mix of bullet-heavy shooting and one on one combat. Reviews have gravitated significantly, with 1UP's 5/10 getting some interesting and heated commentary over at Zerochan's LJ [Ta Xian!] - I like Eurogamer's review, which gave it 8/10, a lot more. But it's definitely a very niche title, and the pricing is a bit questionable. But hey, I bought it.

- Parappa The Rapper (NanaOnSha/Sony, PSP)
Probably a title that should be released on the PlayStation Store as a downloadable PS1 title, really, but the native PSP version was available on Play-Asia for $17.99 the other week, and I couldn't resist. This version comes out here in July, and there's a lack of extras - though there are apparently downloadable remixes in the U.S. version - how do you get to them in the Asian version, if they exist, anyone? But c'mon - even without them, you get widescreen, old school Master Onion action - what is there not to love?

- The Red Star (XS Games, PlayStation 2)
This has been a stupendously long time in the making, but having rented The Red Star for PS2 from GameFly, I can say that it's an awesome throwback to classic early '90s Capcom brawlers, taking the Christian Gossett comic book license and melding it into something that feels like Strider for a new age, with extra 3D and style galore. See, Acclaim's demise eventually spat out something wholesome! Oh, and it's revealed of the game on Wikipedia: "A projectile weapon used by the character Maya Antares is named the "Davbrentsky AKA4U." This is a reference to the UK comedy television series The Office, which features a character played by actor Ricky Gervais named David Brent, who speaks a line ending with the phrase "...AKA, for you.""

Other things I've been checking out? Just got Brooktown High: Senior Year for PSP, so will be trying that this week. And a quick perusal of my Xbox 360 GamerCard, which has just topped 6,000, will reveal bits of the ugly truth (yep, I just completed TMNT. Absolve me, Lord!), and some slightly better XBLA tastes, hopefully - still pluggin' away on Jetpac Refuelled and Lumines Live, and have been using Boom Boom Rocket's Visualization Mode as a background during soirees. Yikes, socialization outside friends lists? I'll try not to let it happen again. What have you been playing this week?

COLUMN: 'Game Mag Weaseling': ABC Show and Tell, Nintendo Power Licensing

['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.]


To begin with show-and-tell this week, I'd like to show you a typical ABC pink sheet, the document which advertisers rely on to give them an accurate picture of a magazine's circulation details.

The Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC) is an organization that gauges and measures circulation, readership, and audience information for magazines, newspapers, and other publications. There are multiple ABCs around the world; the American ABC was founded in 1914 and is based in Schaumberg, IL, with offices in New York and Toronto. It's funded with fees from its members, mainly comprised of media companies, advertisers, and some universities.

Generally speaking, the ABC audits a magazine by first receiving a stated circulation number from the magazine's publisher, then comparing that number with records from retailers, wholesalers, and other links in the magazine distribution chain. ABC publishes its results every six months to members, but a full auditing process can take up to nine months for each six-month period, by which time the situation of the magazine being audited may have changed greatly.

In order to provide timelier numbers, the ABC takes the figures submitted by magazines at the end of each six-month period and publishes them as "pink sheets" without any extra auditing. These pink sheets are available two to three months after the reporting period. (If a pink-sheet figure turns out to be too much higher than what the ABC finds with its audit, the publisher may be warned and eventually have its membership revoked for repeat offenses.)

Game publishers are not required to report ABC-audited circulation figures to the general public. Instead they report their own figures -- usually in the form of "rate base," or the average sell-through figure they guarantee to their advertisers. Also, due to the expense involved, most general-interest magazines in America do not apply for an ABC audit unless their circulation is around 125,000 copies or greater. Once a magazine reaches its point, it usually raises its ad rates to the point where outside confirmation of their sales figures becomes vital. As a result of this, most of the "second tier" of game magazines (such as Play or the Beckett titles) do not have ABC-audited figures, offering their own figures to advertisers instead.

I've redacted any identifying information of the magazine in this particular pink sheet, but I thought you'd be interested in having a look at how the front page of such a report is set up anyway.


And now I'd like you to tell me something -- what's up with Nintendo of America such that they want to "license" out Nintendo Power and keep it a print magazine? This, according to Perrin Kaplan in an interview published at Game Informer. I mean, Ziff's allegedly been trying to sell its mag-heavy portfolio for ages with little success, right? Are you telling me that a company's more interested in licensing Nintendo Power than one of several mags which sell more than that? Crazy!

I'll refrain from further comment until I hear the whole story, but if the mag's moving, then I do feel pretty bad for one new editor up at NP, who got laid off at the Official PlayStation Magazine, moved to Redmond for the NP job a few months ago, and may be facing another difficult decision right now...

[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.]

How A Virtual World Inventor Blew Up Second Life

- Habitat Chronicles is the blog of virtual world pioneers Chip Morningstar and Randy Farmer, creators of the '80s LucasArts virtual world of the same name, which you can see screenshots of here, and of which even my boss' boss is apparently now aware of, thanks to the virtual world 'micturation'.

Anyhow, Farmer has just posted a new entry entitled 'Second Life History: The Jessie Massacre', and in which he admits to griefing the early Beta Second Life world for 'testing' purposes. He explains: "I'd been working with the object spawning directives in the scripting language. I'd also discovered that I could make an object very small (less than an inch in diameter), and very transparent (virtually invisible)."

And so? "It struck on me that I could make a weapon of mass destruction and do it very cheaply. It worked like this: a tiny invisible floating grenade that would explode into dozens of invisible tiny fragments flying outward spherically at maximum velocity and doing maximum damage and then immediately teleport itself to another random location in the simulator. It would be undetectable, unstoppable, and lethal: The perfect killing machine. It could only be stopped by me shouting the keyword: STOP!"

Lots of tiny objects released, and the result was rampant slowdown weirdness death, of course - this has happened in SL in various variations quite a few times since, I believe.

And what happened in the end to this possibly first-ever outbreak, according to Farmer? "It turned out that my grenades were too small and invisible. Though they were now inert I couldn't find them to remove them. In effect, they were a dormant virus in Jessie. So, I filed a bug report: "Unable to select small, invisible objects." The in next day or two there was a patch to the client to "show transparency" so that it would be possible for me to see them, select them, and delete them - which I promptly did. But the legend remains."

ACMI's Stuckey Talks Best Of IGF Exhibition

- Over at major Australian newspaper The Age's 'Screen Play' blog, they've interviewed ACMI's Helen Stuckey about the Melbourne-based exhibition of 'The Best Of The Independent Games Festival 2007' which opens early next week, and which we've previously mentioned.

Some excellent points are made about the rise of indie games (pictured: Ball Of Bastards), thanks to publicity around the launch of the exhibition: "Ms Stuckey says low budgets are a major challenge, but independent developers often overcome hurdles "with creativity and ingenuity to produce games with interesting gameplay and smart ideas". The biggest problem can be finding an audience. "(Fortunately), a growing focus on digital distribution has really helped the indies become more available and easier to find. Xbox Live Arcade has also introduced many people to independent games such as Wik and Alien Hominid.""

And, as I've said before (and bias as the Chairman of the IGF notwithstanding), it's nice to see someone in a position of power at a cultural institution pushing games as a valid art form with multiple different exhibits - the previous Melbourne House and Sonic exhibitions also looked to be excellent: "Ms Stuckey says her aims for the [Australian Center For The Moving Image's] Games Lab include exploring different areas of game culture and the history of games, engaging visitors to think critically about games within a cultural context, raising awareness about Australia's game creators, and focusing on the inherent creativity of games and players."

2007 TO Jam Hurls Itself To Debut Games

- Blocking briefly from your memory the horrendous attempted pun in the title, you might be interested to know that the top titles from the 2nd Annual Toronto Indie Game Jam are now available for download on the official site, and include People's Choice Gold winner XIQ, recently mentioned on GSW, but a number of other neat titles.

Event co-organizer Rob Segal explains breathlessly to us: "TO Jam 2 was recently held in Toronto from May 4-6, 2007... Filled with the creative power known only to Torontonians (and its surrounding areas) 62 select few intrepid warriors ventured out into the depths of their minds and souls to achieve the pinnacle of game development greatness." And that would include People's Choice Silver winner Benny Hinn's Bible Blast For Cash, methinks.

In that title, which references the televangelist, you're exhorted to: "Touch believers for easy cash! Cause as much carnage for cash as you can before facing off with the devil! Don't let him take your money!" Woh boy. Other winners and entrants posted thus far, all freely downloadable, include Quiver, in which "...you feel like you're in a deep, dark forest battling zombies", and Trishade Aduro, a shooter with a same-color chaining mechanism. Keep up the experiments, guys.

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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