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June 9, 2007

Video Game News Sites - The Canonical Word!

- The blog Error Macro has been, for a fair few months now, one of the neater daily-summarized game link blogs around. But unfortunately, the author has decided to give his intensive RSS-ing a rest, as he explains in Part 1 of his 'Guide To Video Game News Sites', his parting present to his readers.

He explains as follows: "Since January of 2006, I've been sifting through a selection of about 40 game news websites each day, five days a week, sorting the crap from the only-kind-of-crap and posting the results in what I hoped was some kind of helpful, condensed form... In the next few articles I'll lay out all the sites I've used for Error Macro, and hopefully you'll find some combination that works for you without having to check 15 different places every day."

The already-mentioned first post looks at 'the heavyweights', from 'Mommy & Daddy' GameSpot and IGN through 'The Boys' of Joystiq and Kotaku and 'The Weird Uncle' of 1UP, also mentioning our sister site Gamasutra along the way. The second post "...includes lesser known and slightly more specialized sites, as well as the guys who do nothing but point to everybody else", and finally, the third post "...pick[s] up on little side stories and commentary on smaller sites."

Don't know if it's fair for me to say that 'Ermac' at Error Macro is 'right', since he says somewhat nice things about the sites that I help run. But I think he's spent a long time looking at each news source, and I agree with just about everything he says. I particularly like it that he has trouble 'encapsulating' GameSetWatch: "Like Insert Credit, it's a lot of off-the-beaten-path type content, with a focus on the industry and game design instead of weird Japanese crap. If you like Gamasutra, you'll probably like this. That's the best summary I can come up with." Yep, we're impossible to describe - that's our main selling point!

COLUMN: 'Game Mag Weaseling': Armored Bald Space Marine Dudes Must Be Stopped

['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.]

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I know I'm running the risk of sounding like a game-industry version of Andy Rooney here, but am I the only one who's utterly sick of sneering armored soldier types on the covers of video-game magazines? It looks like the same cover over and over and over again, because they're all set up the exact same way -- vaguely threatening futuristic fighting man, either armored or skinheaded, looking directly at you.

Can you really call it "cover design" to have a character from whatever flavor of "space marine" game it is this month in your face like this, when it's quickly turning into a major cliche? (And before anyone says it, yes, I know Bioshock and Fallout 3 are not set in space. I'm exaggerating to prove a point about the general design trend here.)

Of course, I know why this trend's taking place. In terms of shifting issues on the newsstand, it's common design sense. There are several rules of thumb used by art directors at nearly every commercial magazine, outlined most neatly in a 2002 article from Folio, a magazine devoted to the magazine industry. These include:

- Your logo is your primary selling point, so make it prominent and don't obscure it unless your name is as recognizable as Time or National Geographic. (EGM used to let game art overrun their logo all the time, but the title's been completely unobscured in every issue since their last redesign. Game Informer and Play often color their logos to make them "transparent" over the cover art.)

- The cover image should be unique, bold, uncluttered, and taking up as much of the cover as possible. If there's a person on the cover, he/she should be making eye contact with the reader (fashion/lad-mags routinely Photoshop their model pics to accentuate this).

- Coverlines (the text on the cover that advertises what's inside) should play second fiddle to the art. They should make the reader want to see what's inside. Coverlines with numbers in them ("2000+ Game Codes") are easy to write, easy to understand and suggest "value" to the reader. They don't even have to be particularly big numbers -- "12 Page Sports Spectacular," for example, or "60 autographed Penny Arcade goodies". (GamePro used to fill every available space with coverlines, but they've laid off of them in recent years.)

- The top three inches across the top of the cover are the most important, because often the rest of the cover's obscured by other mags on the newsstand. Pretty much every game mag has coverlines above the logo to deal with this; corner snipes (a diagonal coverline in the top-left corner) are hallmarks of 70s/80s cover design, but you still see them now and then.

As you can see, angry space marines seem to satisfy that second rule rather well. They're mean, they're edgy, they stand out, and they're usually looking right at you on the magazine rack. But design choices get played out fast if everyone uses them all the time. There's the Great Pro Wrestling Epidemic of 1998-2000, for example, not to mention a certain run in the mid-1990s when EGM did 8 fighting-game covers in the space of 12 issues. Neither are known as wonderful times for game mags.

I'm hoping that I'm not just being a crusty curmudgeon and there really are other people at least somewhat annoyed by this. I love Games for Windows magazine dearly, but since its debut last December, five out of seven GFW issues so far have had anonymous army dudes of some sort on the cover -- and one of the others was WoW, which isn't exactly an original cover either. It's gotta stop!

(This brings up the question of what I like in game mag covers, which I'll cover next time.)

[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.]

Evo East Brings The Fighting Showdown Noise

x.jpg Seems a shame that the fighting game competition community doesn't get much coverage outside its niche - and the Evo East regional qualifiers just happened, so Empire Arcadia was there with an in-depth report on the event that's worth checking out to get an idea of the scene nowadays.

As they note: "Fighting game enthusiasts from all over the east coast came together and competed for qualifying seeds to Evolution World 2007 Fighting Game Championship Series. This time the roster had two new additions in Virtua Fighter 5 and Super Smash Brothers Melee." The normal titles are Capcom Vs. SNK 2, Super Street Fighter 2: Turbo, Marvel Vs. Capcom 2, Street Fighter 3: Third Strike, Guilty Gear XX Slash, and Tekken 5 - here are the qualifiers, actually.

Anyhow, there's a few event videos of Evo East up on YouTube - though some are from last year, when Dead Or Alive 4 was apparently included - but there's a shakycam of the Super Smash Bros Melee final which makes the game look like a hardcore fighter, when I always played it like a button masher - pretty insane. And here's some Marvel Vs. Capcom 2 action which shows that the high-level players move at speeds which make my nose bleed. Oh, and they have the Daigo full-parry vid on the Evo about page, too. Fun. [Via Shoryuken.]

Missile Mastar Comes Alive... In Soviet Russia!

x.jpg OK, so it's not actually Super Soviet Missile Mastar, but Wired has an awesome article/gallery up called 'Soviet-Era Arcade Games Crawl Out of Their Cold War Graves', in which they reveal: "From the late '70s to the early '90s, Soviet military factories produced some 70 different video game models. Based largely (and crudely) on early Japanese designs, the games were distributed -- in the words of one military manual -- for the purposes of "entertainment and active leisure, as well as the development of visual-estimation abilities.""

And so? "Production of the games ceased with the collapse of communism, and as Nintendo consoles and PCs flooded the former Soviet states, the old arcade games were either destroyed or disappeared into warehouses and basements. It was mostly out of nostalgia that four friends at Moscow State Technical University began scouring the country to rescue these old games. So far they have located 32 of them and are doing their best to bring them back to life. "

Of course, it's the gallery of the extensive, largely previously unseen collection which is the hyper-awesome part of the article - there are games like Konek-Gorbunok, apparently "...the Soviet Zelda, full of castles, princesses and deep dark forests" - and my God, some of the arcade machines look so amazingly retro, I just may explode.

June 8, 2007

Opinion: Lord Of The Rings, RMT, & Jaffe's Jam Jowling

x.jpg Thanks to Sharkey for pointing out his new 1UP article quizzing Turbine's Jeff Steefel about 'real money trading' comments, since a recent Eurogamer interview, referenced on Joystiq as 'LotRO Producer Says Real Money for Game Items is the Future', ignited the Internet into a frenzy of ululating.

Sharkey quite correctly points out: "Weirdly, none of the quotes, when stripped out of the articles, seemed to be saying anything definitive about the future of anything, let alone in regards to The Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar. And shoehorning a publisher-sanctioned RMT (Real Money Transfer) setup into Lord of the Rings seemed pretty out of character against conversations I'd had with Jeff just a couple weeks before."

[For the record, the closest to a 'money' quote in the Eurogamer interview is: "We all know that something will happen in the next two to five years to business models in general, so we're paying attention to what's going on; watching what's going on with Sony Station whose servers support and manage this."]

So what, is this spin control? Steefel explains: "I think the part of the conversation that could be interpreted out of context is the acknowledgment that we are also businesspeople who have to kind of look at the direction the industry's going and understand that there's a large secondary market out there that's not helpful to our game. But it's happening. And it's a behavior that we need to understand, not a behavior that we want to provide in our game."

So who's in the 'wrong' here? The issue seems to be that bloggers and journalists alike can bring increasing focus to isolated comments, with increasingly spiraling editorializing reinforcing the point - though, Games.net, I'm slightly disturbed by your comment that: "Hmm, I find it kind of funny that he says they don't support fold farming." Now I have an image in my mind of gigantic sweaty guys in basements growing things in their body flaps!

The problem, if it exists, seems to be quotes presented in isolation, and opinions expressed alongside those quotes. Say, for example, David Jaffe randomly comments during breakfast at GDC: "You know, I really dig honey, but I'm not the biggest fan of jam" - and I overhear and post it on a blog alongside a couple of paragraphs about how he is completely right and jam is sticky and difficult to spread.

After that, the blog commenters chip in too, condemning him - and then the California Grown campaign posts a public statement asking him to rescind his slurs, which could potentially put the California Strawberry Commission out of business. Jaffe is then forced to apologize and make a commercial in which he eagerly promotes California strawberries, possibly while dressed in a strawberry suit.

(Obviously, David Jaffe has not, in this case, condemned fruit preserves, but I'm just illustrating why the public's need for drama and the websites' need for hits, alongside the power of the Internet to both anonymously allow extreme opinions and swiftly allow rumor and gossip and mounting 'opinion flow' to spread, meaning that context is swiftly removed and hysteria ensues.)

Survival Horror For DS Infiltrated By Renegade Kid

x.jpg Just posted at sister site Gamasutra today, an intriguing interview with Austin-based indie DS developers Renegade Kid, which has just signed to publisher Gamecock with a very interesting-looking 3D survival horror game, Dementium: The Ward.

It really does seem like they're doing neat things with the hardware, as co-founder Jools Watsham (obviously adept with the ol' assembly language from old school days!) explains: "One thing that is really interesting are the dynamic lights, which fade off into and out of certain areas, particularly with the flashlight, which offers a great contrast. There is also this idea of fog, which adds a degree of atmosphere. We have some nice moody lights in there as well. Talking about the flashlight, we were amazed when we got that working... you can really light up enemy characters. It's all dynamic."

Watsham's comments also show handsomely how the rise of the DS helps the rise of the indie developer (albeit a higher-end indie developer than just a 'bedroom programmer', perhaps): "Generally speaking, the average DS game can be created by a team of 4 to 8 people. This of course depends on your timeline for the game, or how ambitious it is... We have 3 core staff and 5 outsourced. The thing to remember is that those outsourced members didn't come on until about half way or third of the way into the project."

Games That Are Worse Than Forbes Corporate Warrior

x.jpg Normally, I find 'Worst Games Of All Time' lists a little tedious - generally because they pick obviously bad games like Superman 64 (though I guess that's the point?) or are just plain unimaginative. But I did enjoy PC Gamer UK's 'Must NOT Buy' feature over at C&VG.com, since it mentioned some titles that I'd hoped were sandblasted from my brain.

In particular, I was enchanted by Forbes Corporate Warrior, for which it's lamented: ""Business is War!" is the tagline, but they mean it a lot more literally than you'd think. Set in a series of flat, grey rooms, it's your job to beat your competitors by shooting customers with one of numerous business-themed weapons, including Ad Blasters, Price Bombs, Marketing Missiles, Head Hunters or Takeover Torpedoes. No, we're not joking and, judging by the complete lack of humour or irony, neither were the developers."

Yet a game did beat this out for inanity, according to PCG, and that would be Plumbers Don't Wear Ties, of course: "Put simply, your goal is to get the imaginatively named John and Jane into bed together. Put more complicatedly, it's your job to get them into bed together by looking at amateur photography, listening to terrible voiceovers and making occasional choices that steer the direction of the narrative. That these choices are few and far between is actually a relief, given that each one only leads to more moronic, insulting, sexist drivel, now with the added knowledge that you caused it." You can tell the writer has played the game, and is actually, mentally scarred by it - now that's my kind of bad game.

Professor Fizzwizzle At Center Of Molten Mystery

x.jpg A tiny indie that I sometimes think doesn't get enough play is Grubby Games, a two-man shop that's released two Independent Games Festival finalists (the Incredible Machine-like Professor Fizzwizzle and Breakout vs. Katamari concoction Fizzball) to date.

Anyhow, they've now mailed GSW to reveal the official launch of "...a logic puzzler of volcanic proportions: Professor Fizzwizzle and the Molten Mystery" - for Windows, Mac, and Linux, to boot. It's explained: "While on a well deserved vacation, Professor Fizzwizzle's investigation of a strange volcano has landed him in a hot spot of trouble. Now it's up to you to master exciting new gadgets, outwit the Bat-Bots, and vanquish a truly cunning villain!"

This time there's over 210 levels in three different difficulty levels, and neat concepts to help the occasionally frustrating 'trial and error' gameplay of some of these logic puzzlers: "Stuck on a level? Just use the "Show Solution" option to watch a walk-through. Made a false move? The multiple-level "undo" feature will come to your rescue. Find the action too fast? Adjust the game speed and play at your own pace." There's also a full level editor with the ability to share levels online, and I personally appreciate any game with a socially awkward-looking, white-haired scientist as its protagonist - XBLA version, plz!

Game Producers Hit The Round Table

x.jpg Over at the reassuringly eclectric GameProducer.net, site owner Juuso has posted the first 'Producers of the Round Table' article, called 'Breaking Into The Industry', in which he quizzes game producers about interesting and/or relevant topics - and has managed to grab folks from Red Storm, Bizarre Creations, Electronic Arts, Relic, and Stainless Games for this introductory chat about careers.

Getting to be a producer is actually one of the least obvious career paths in the game biz, and EA's Harvard Bonin makes some practical points about game producing that I think it's worth repeating: "In my view, there are 3 essential components of the producer role. Business. Execution. Vision. Getting a degree in business is very helpful. For me, I ended up getting my MBA, which has helped me greatly when managing the day to day and franchise operations surrounding a project. Producers need to think of their projects as a business unit itself... Yes, its an artistic love - but producers can’t let that feeling get in the way of making sound business decisions."

In related news, it looks like sister site Gamasutra is going to be running at least some of the upcoming 'Producers Of The Round Table' articles as a monthly series in association with GameProducer.net, because production/management is still one of the least talked-about areas of game development, and it's absolutely, vitally important. So if you're a game producer reading GSW, and you'd like to be included on these roundtable discussions going forward - with topics likely to include things like scheduling, milestones, team morale, and any number of other things - then email Juuso and we'll add you to the rotating list of experts. Or 'experts', if you prefer!

June 7, 2007

MMOG Data - Carrying On MMOG Chart's Flame?

x.jpg This has been floating around for a little while, but since they've now published their first update, thought it might be time to look further at MMOGData.com, a new website for tracked subscriber info on the MMO market, set up by ex-Codemasters Online exec Phil 'Vortal' White in the UK.

As Phil says: "Lots of people have used the awesome www.mmogchart.com for information on the MMOG market which was created and maintained by SirBruce for many years, however since 2006 SirBruce has not updated the site. I thought this was a great shame and I have tried to contact SirBruce many times over the last 2 months... but just could not get hold of [him] so I have decided to create a new site and continue his work."

I've had the same problem with SirBruce, unfortunately, who is a bit of a flighty chap - still hoping to do some work with this data for Game Developer Research, but the 'ownership' is even more confusing now. But hey, it's been dug out and there's been an attempt made to augment it, and whoa look at World Of Warcraft go! - which continues to be the main message! [Via Zenke, Koster.]

Rooster Teeth Sez: Call 1-800-Magic Today!

x.jpg One of the things I've starting to find, just posting 5 times per day on GameSetWatch in my 'leisure time', is that other eager blogs are hours ahead on some of the fun stuff I want to post.

But oh well - I'm presuming you guys come here for the 'quality', not the 'quantity', so I'll spit it out anyhow - a new Microsoft PR reveals: "Our friends at Rooster Teeth have put together their own informational video and support line for “Shadowrun,” which can be seen at Shadowrun.com, Xbox Live Marketplace, Xbox.com and http://www.1-800-MAGIC.com/

That's right, the folks who created Red Vs. Blue are back, and I have to say that their other promotional machinima series (for The Sims 2 and F.E.A.R. respectively) have been pretty darn great, but not that buzzed about outside their (gigantic and rather neat) community. So I'll be interested to see how this one - which starts with an awesome tech support problem with a jammed gun - goes down.

Looks like Rooster Teeth's page for the series is down right now [4pm PST], but you can check it out on Shadowrun.com, which has some kind of age entry attached to it, or - and possibly easier - embedded in this Kotaku post. Like Mega64, this feels natural to me, even when tangentially advertising a product - so let's have more advertising like it.

Kochalka Jams With Electroplankton Frenzy

x.jpg Aha, it's another note from cartoonist, musician, and definite cult figure James Kochalka, with some game-related content in it: "The new Kochalka Podcast is up, and it's so epic we had to break it into two giant parts (see below). This might be of special interest to you for one special reason... The podcast theme song was recorded by having the James Kochalka Superstar band jam live on top of me playing Electroplankton for the Nintendo DS." Yep, pretty nonsensical, but there's definitely some Electro-twinkling going on!

"Both Kochalka Podcast #2 Part One and Kochalka Podcast #2 Part Two begin with different versions of this Electroplankton themed theme song. I like to combine my interest in video games with my interests in art and comics and music as much as possible... I'll attach a Electroplankton drawing I did back when the game first came out."

And so he did - click on the pic in top left for the big, cute version. Not denying this is all over the place, but I think it's nice to see people who aren't just game designers (Kochalka's extremely deranged song "Hockey Monkey", "...recorded with the band The Zambonis, is the theme song for the Fox TV series The Loop", Wikipedia reminds us) getting excited about games.

What Happens After A Game Ends? Nothing

x.jpg The folks at The New Gamer have been musing on life after completing Puzzle Quest - or rather more specifically, life trudging around the game world purgatory after the final boss has been defeated in the super-addictive title.

Writer G. Turner explains of the DS version: "The credits roll, and you continue on, searching for some real closure, a real battle or some sort of finality to the tale. And then you end up in my predicament: Endlessly roaming the monster-strewn lands, clinging to arbitrary landmarks like level numbers, town capture counts, et-cetera – constantly marching across the landscape looking for something of substance... I keep hoping that, finally, my character will have some complete and utter impact on the lands, that all those I've interacted in will pronounce the lands free of evil, free of conflict and that they can finally live their lives in peace."

Wow, this sounds like a downright karmic bummer: "I don't like putting down games because of apathy or attrition. I much prefer doing so because the game knows better. The creators draw a line in the sand and say 'You won't get much more from here on out. It's time to let go.' But Puzzle Quest instead simply piled on side-quests and menial objectives, hinting at something more, something that might bring the lands together or weave all of the subplots together in a brilliant final scene, or even simply transform the map in some manner." Instead we're somewhere, out there...

Massive Au-splosion Devastates Game Industry

x.jpg The other day, I received a bit of an unfortunate pitch from the folks at GarageGames' game social networking site Great Games Experiment - unfortunate because it included as its centerpiece a reference to Wagner James Au's latest GigaOm editorial, called 'Game Business and its Crisis of Attention', as an attempt to show how 'stagnant' the game biz is.

Actually, I respect what GGX is doing to try to unite gamers and developers, a lot. But regular GSW readers may remember that I've gone on a few Au hunts before, as his relentlessly negative posturing metaphorically flags down the game media, the mainstream game biz, and pretty much anything not Second Life-related, and riddles it full of rhetorical holes. So the email sent me off deep into the Au zone.

Then again, there's a lot in the piece I agree with. The broadening of the game market into the casual mass-market, 'few minutes a day' players and onto web browser-playable games is an absolutely key trend. But it's the 'glass half empty', Au-trocious commentary like this that drives me crazy - apparently 'the game industry' will "...keep ignoring non-traditional gamers, Web 2.0, and the user-created revolution, assuming like Hollywood that their core product has enough global appeal to get them through the latest media revolution." So business as usual, just like EA just announced, then.

And furthermore, no - because Kongregate (whose Jim Greer posts in the comments) is the game industry too. And all the veterans setting up neat indie studios for digitally distributed games are part of the game industry. And besides, which, with the Hollywood comparisons - hello, Pirates Of The Caribbean, Spider-Man, ka-ching? There's room in here for a few blockbusters too - alongside a welcome widening of the market and (hopefully!) bigger opportunities for the little guy.

Also delighted to note that Next-Gen's Colin Campbell weighs in with some salient points on his blog: "Monday morning quarterbacking at its best can be seen in his assertion that EA’s slowness in grasping Wii’s importance is prima facie evidence of an industry unable to grasp innovation. Nothing to do then, with Nintendo’s previously piss-poor performance as a third party revenue generator."

So yeah - it's partly Au's nihilism that gets me down, but it's partly a resolute lack of constructive criticism - currently in its sixth glorious year. If you can't be excited for the future of games in ALL forms, from social environment Flash crossovers to big-budget Xbox 360 shooters (and it's clear that even the 'big' companies will adapt to add all of these to their portfolios), then - ack, just don't say anything at all.

June 6, 2007

Everyone's Perfect Action Game, Part Deux

x.jpg Over at GameSpy, they've posted the second in the 'Dream Game' column series, discussing "...what a couple of developers had to say about some of the most popular action games in history" - specifically using Ninja Gaiden's Yousuke Hayashi and God Of War II's Cory Barlog as a stepping-off point to talk about vital features that all great action games have to get right.

During the piece, GameSpy's Gabe Graziani discusses variety of combat moves as particularly vital, though he does choose a bit of a repetitive fighting game to prove his point: "The reason that an action game needs to have combos implemented into the combat system is that you have to keep the "action" that we're continually engaging in fresh and exciting. I mean, Double Dragon II is a great game, but a part of that is because you occasionally get to knee dudes in the face instead of just punching them -- because if all you had to do was punch, it would get old pretty quick."

He also discusses contextual actions with some maturity: "Some games are already doing this sort of thing, in fact, the upcoming Tenchu Z gives you a variety of extermination options once you've grabbed a renegade samurai by the throat. A slightly more popular franchise from which to draw an example could be Splinter Cell: Double Agent, where super spy Sam Fisher can elect to interrogate foes once he has them in a choke hold. Still, both of these examples are from a similar but different genre of stealth games... [but] contextual actions have already stealthily infiltrated many games without us even noticing." This is an odd angle for a column, but I like it precisely because it's alternative.

COLUMN: The Top 5 Aberrant Alt.Costumes

[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.]

-Long-form console games demand a lot from us—tens of hours, blood, sweat and tears—and often, that’s what’s required just to finish the major story arc. The perfectionist gamer compelled to meticulously unlock, collect and complete every subquest, minigame and secret in some of today’s titles might be an example of aberrant psychology all on his own. I mean, don’t you wonder what the person who ranks Foxhound, gets straight S in Dante Must Die mode, consistently ties up 100% completion—and writes dead-serious 200-page FAQs about it, complete with ASCII diagrams—is like in real life?

We’ve all been like that at least once, though—for me, hours and hours of Chocobo Hot-and-Cold come to mind. But the consistently-obsessive completionist is an aberrant gamer for a future column. Today we’ll talk about the majority of us, and what keeps us pushing through the epics—especially as the core audience matures and has, it seems, increasingly diminishing time to pour into long, long games and all the little extras they often require to produce the most satisfying endings or end-of-game evaluation results.

In fact, it seems there’s very little these days that can motivate us to work our way down a task list of minutiae necessary to gain some reward not essential to simply finishing the game. These days, lots of people don’t care about getting every Piece of Heart, for example—but there is one reward that’s worth innumerable detours, time, and sleepless nights. Only one prize is always in fashion—the almighty flesh-baring, exploitive, jaw-dropping Alternate Costume.

The Alternate Costume is the ultimate act of video game completion, usually achievable either at the very end of a game or as a bonus incentive for a New Game Plus mode. Often, the alternate costume is completely implausible—it’s something totally out-of-character, like BDSM gear for a mannerly maiden, or completely impractical, like a silly mascot costume to be worn in a dead-serious gorefest.

The pressure’s off. You’ve won, game’s over, your duty to the characters satisfied. Now, the only way to sever the fatiguing cord of empathy connecting you to a character with whom you’ve shared goals, trials, tribulations and objectives for some sixty hours is to turn them into pure eye-candy. As a monument to this cathartic ritual, The Aberrant Gamer rounds up five of the most memorable alternate costumes in console gaming epics.

5. “Blue Virgin” – Cornelia, Shadow Hearts 2
This pretty, short-skirt-and-petticoat number is worn by a fighting marionette—not, technically, a character herself, but an adorable companion to a character who uses her as a weapon (and, eerily enough, an avatar for his late daughter). It’s memorable because it’s a copy of major heroine Alice’s dress in the original Shadow Hearts. The dress, which also allows Cornelia to perform Alice’s ultimate spell, offers a full-on rear view panty shot during the animation—a marionette wearing white undies that have a bunny on the butt is more than worthy of this list. Even more worthy is Cornelia’s “Beautiful Fool” costume—if you can call it a costume—which was cut from both the European and American releases of this game (check it out here and see why).

-4. “Octopus” – Jennifer, Rule of Rose
Rule of Rose came under fire and was excluded from release in UK for its depictions of children as victims of violence and implied sexuality. Most gamers, though, found its visuals and story more compelling than offensive, because it stopped short of being overtly exploitive. Finish the game, though, and tremulous teen Jennifer can be clad in a fetishistic nurse look, gothic Lolita ensemble, and weirdest of all, a bizarrely realistic giant octopus costume, tentacles and all, with a giant frozen tuna as a weapon. Even companion dog Brown gets a crab makeover.

-3. “Texas Cowgirl” – Fiona, Haunting Ground
Yow. Haunting Ground’s Fiona has one of the most gratuitously-rendered bodies outside of the fighting genre, and her giddyap-cowgirl ensemble is pretty eye-popping, featuring a teeny bikini and crotchless chaps. Not that Fiona’s other post-game costume changes are exactly demure. The appropriately titled “Illegal in Some States” outfit sends Fiona high-stepping in full dominatrix regalia—when I say “plunging neckline,” I mean more like a… belly line, with thigh-high boots and a bullwhip for a weapon. Just as blush-inducing is the Surgical Gown, wherein the survival-horror heroine wears little more than a very short, bloodstained tee and vulnerable-looking bare feet.

2. “Pop Sensation” – Ashley Graham, Resident Evil 4
Leon!! Help me, Leon! Help her shut up, maybe. While many gamers would like to put Ashley in her other costume—a full suit of knight armor—and slam the visor shut, it’s fun to see blond Ashley in a skin-tight white pantsuit à la Britney Spears. The major cleavage makes that part where you have to have her crawl under tables a lot more bearable. Probably won’t help her get Leon’s attention, though. And speaking of Leon-- while I’m limiting this top five to typical exploitation of sexy chicks, I’d be remiss if I failed to mention that he looks pretty sexy slingin’ the Chicago Typewriter in his alternate “mafia” costume, too.

-1. “Princess Heart” – Heather Morris, Silent Hill 3
Complete with glittering, over-the-top and spot-on mahou-shojo “henshin scene”, this space-age Sailor Moon riff is equal parts funny, sexy and totally ridiculous—and speaks for itself. It’s amazing how much less scary Silent Hill 3’s Insane Cancers are when you’re wearing this, whacking them with a magical girl power wand—and true-to-form attack animation.

So go get those costumes! If you can, twirl the character models around in Gallery mode and see if you can peek up this or down that. Don’t worry. Everybody's done it. It’s the gamer’s goodbye, our way of saying, “well, it’s been fun, Babe. Now let me see some tail.”

(Thanks to Zone of the Gamers and Costume GET!, both of which were resources for this column.)

[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.]

Vicarious Visions Do The Right Thing Re: Game Legislation

x.jpg The recent New York State legislation which threatens "to make the sale or rental of games with mature themes to minors a felony, punishable with time in jail" is another unfortunate piece of state-based interference, and it's great to see the Bala brothers of the Activision-owned Vicarious Visions tackling it head-on, in a new editorial posted in the Albany Times Union.

They explain: "As the co-founders and managers of Vicarious Visions, a local video game development studio, we are deeply troubled by the prospect of New York enacting legislation that would treat video games differently from other protected, creative expression. Just like movies, books, photographs, music and other forms of art and entertainment, video games are fully protected speech under the U.S. Constitution."

Overall, they note: "Given New York's pressing economic needs, it can ill afford to spend money enacting and then having to defend this proposal... Today, we have 148 full-time and 30 part-time employees, and are continuing to expand. We have worked hard to keep strong, creative "home grown" talent here in New York, rather than having them leave for places like California and Florida that are aggressively pursuing game development and production." In other words, it's disappointing to have your home State doing this when you're one of the standard-bearers for game development in the area - more public statements like these, please.

Establishing A Beachhead In A Crowded Genre

x.jpg Just posted over on Gamasutra is Harmonix designer Chris Canfield's new feature, 'Establishing A Beachhead In A Crowded Genre', and it's pretty much deals with an obvious, but vital theme for developers: "How do you make a game that will stand out apart from countless other similar titles?"

His first point seems excellent - you should "gut the key elements of the design", and he references a game that does just that: "Removing these old structures changes the player’s experience. Probably the best example of "strip and add" success is Wii Sports. As traditional mainstream tennis games go, Wii Sports is poorly lacking. There is no ball selection, no racket selection, no character selection, no arena selection, no stats to power up... even player control of the character was removed from the formula. Ultimately, this lets the player concentrate exclusively on the unique new aspect of racket control, and allows them to play it in a different context."

Further on, another smart one: "Add a signature to the design of your game", described thus: "The equivalent of a set piece for an entire game is a signature element, and more than anything else this establishes your creative beachhead. This is the one memorable, intriguing element that both grips them emotionally and sets you apart from the rest. Think of this as the image for the early Spider Man movies of Spidey up alone on a pole flying the American flag... This succinctly encompassed the solidarity and morality of the character, and set an indelible stamp in the minds of the viewers. Early on in development, most teams already have one or two ideas about what will grip their players."

Do You Want Games For Lunch?

x.jpg Sometime Joystiq columnist and VGMWatch escapee Kyle Orland pinged me about his dangerous new project, 'Games For Lunch', which seems to do - exactly what it says on the tin: "Games for Lunch is a playlog. Every day I play one game for an hour and blog about my experience. At the end, I review the game based on the only real criteria that matters to me: Do I want to keep playing?"

Sure, he gets reflexively a tad defensive in the initial FAQ, responding to the imagined slight 'This isn't really a fair way to review games' by noting: "You're right, playing a game for just an hour really isn't fair to the game as a whole. Still, I feel that with the vast majority of games, you've seen most of what the game has to offer after an hour." And you know, that's not a horrific statement. [OR IS IT?]

Anyhow, the first content post is for the Halo 3 Beta, and he echoes what I've pretty much found so far: "It occurs to me that the other people playing this game in the middle of the day probably have enough free time to put in a lot more practice than I have. Thus I rationalize yet another crappy performance."

Overall, the game gets a 'maybe' for longer-term play just because: "I can't see myself putting in the hours to actually become good enough to hold my own at multiplayer." Hey, Bungie/Microsoft, can't you create a playpen for us malco-ordinated kiddies?

June 5, 2007

Viva Pinata: Crime Of A Mache Nation

x.jpg Causing more havoc than a meandering bull elephant, Eric-Jon Waugh has returned to sister site Game Career Guide with his design analysis column aimed at students, and this time he's semi-demolishing Rare's Xbox 360 exclusive Viva Pinata, a game you may remember I quite like, in a piece called 'Crime of a Mâché Nation: The Condescension of Viva Piñata'.

And it's spellbinding writing, imho, as he doesn't just get mad, he gets even: "Viva Piñata was supposed to be Microsoft's mainstream breakthrough and Rare's return to form after years of... well, Star Fox Adventures. More than that, it was supposed to be the game that showed why Microsoft paid so much money for Rare, almost five years ago now. The problem is, the game wasn't really meant to carry all this weight. At its core, this is a modest, intimate, and difficult game - difficult in the sense that, despite its charm, it's more exclusive than it is inclusive."

Well, maybe that's just some opening snark. How about the ending paragraph, about 3000 words later? Surely that's a little more pleasant? Let's see... "So what have we learned today? One: stop sucking Shigeru Miyamoto's toes. Two: don't talk down to children. Three: never waste your audience's time." Youch. These are the words of a man grievously wronged by adorable fur-shaded mascots.

@ Play: Spoiled for Options

Roguelike column thumbnail ['@ Play' is a bi-weekly column by John Harris which discusses the history, present and future of the Roguelike dungeon exploring genre.]

One of the happiest things that can happen to a player in Nethack is being granted a wish. Wishes are one of those things that distinguish roguelike games like Nethack and ADOM from the vast category of lesser RPGs. Imagine if a Final Fantasy VI player were able to wish for the most powerful weapons in the game from relatively early on? That these two games now only allow this, but are not irretrievably broken because of it, speaks volumes about the care that was taken in putting their supposedly-chaotic designs together.

In ADOM the player can only wish for non-artifact objects, but in Nethack, a wish can give the player nearly anything, including artifacts and even one quest artifact per game. The only object types that can't be wished for in Nethack are your role's own quest artifact, and the four objects required to win, one of which being the Amulet of Yendor itself. But obtaining a wish is not easy, and knowing what to wish for is not obvious.

The ways you can get a wish in Nethack involve fountains or thrones (both very unlikely, and are highly dangerous to low-level characters), magic lamps (quite uncommon and it requires special equipment to maximize the chance of a wish), smoky potions (same as lamps, but much rarer) and wands of wishing (the least common item in the game). All these methods are rare, unintuitive, and/or dangerous enough to a new player that many people go for months without realizing that such things as wishes are even in the game.

But eventually, a player drinking from random fountains, generally an unwise move, lucks out and summons a water demon, who is grateful for release and grants him a wish. What to wish for?

The Question With No Right Answer? Well Actually...

NetHack___The_Sceptre_Of_Might_by_calamarain.jpgA new player has never had a wish before. He may be able to piece together for himself that he is supposed to ask for, that is type in the name of, an object. Most early Nethack players, again, have probably not seen even half the ordinary stuff that can be generated in a game, even less often identified that stuff, and has probably not ever seen a single artifact. It is a case where the player does not even know what is in the game, so he won't know what he can ask for.

As he puts more time into the game he'll find more items, that eventually he might acquire some objective understanding of how they help his game. Among the most useful items are speed boots, but compared to Stormbringer or an amulet of life saving their effect isn't very flashy. He may even figure out for himself that he can wish for items with a specified enchantment, erosion-resistance, or blessed/cursed status, all at once. Of course, the only opportunity he could have to find out that works is at a wish prompt, and even with obsessive play it can be days or even weeks between those for a typical low-level Nethack player.

Now, let me skip ahead to the end of this train of discovery, and note that the destination is a spoiler, so try to skip past the rest of this paragraph if you care about such things. The best item to wish for, for 90% of Nethack characters, is blessed +2 gray dragon scale mail.

This one item, obtained and worn, will suddenly make most characters about three times more survivable.

  • It will give him a negative armor class all by itself (dragon scale mail is the best type of armor) so monsters hit less often and do less damage when they do.
  • It's extremely light so it won't weigh him down like plate mail.
  • It's not made of metal so it won't inhibit spellcasting.
  • It doesn't burn, corrode or rust.
  • It even confers magic resistance, immediately ending the game-ruining effects of level-teleport and polymorph traps, nullifing the effects of wands of striking, magic missile, and death, and making the player immune to the worst monster spells: Destroy Armor and Finger of Death.

Dragon scale mail is never found randomly in the dungeon, but must otherwise be made from dragon scales of the right color (infrequently dropped by the eponymous monster) and then a scroll of Enchant Armor must be spent to make it, so the chances are slim that a character will find one eventually anyway. And yet, this item is not even an artifact. Dragon scale mail is so useful that all Nethack characters not specifically looking for a extra challenge win the game with it on their backs; even for those 10% of characters for whom gray dragon scale mail is not the best choice it is only because they already have or can infallibly obtain another source of magic resistance. For them, silver dragon scale mail is recommended.

(Spoiler end.)

"So It's Great, but I'm Still Not Sold...."

Nethack___The_Longbow_of_Diana_by_calamarain.jpgA character who obtains this thing is suddenly in a position to make excellent progress in the game. The Gnomish Mines change from being a ravening slayer of innocent players to almost a playground. It stops short of being a guarantee of survival (especially if the player doesn't have poison resistance), but it has a profound effect. Finding out about dragon scale mail is as major a step towards becoming a Nethack expert as discovering what's safe to eat, figuring out when to use the #pray command, learning about sacrificing at altars, piecing together how to make and use holy water, and noting how to pay for intrinsic protection. All of these things make a Nethack character that more likely to live through a general crisis, but none of these things is too terribly obvious to someone making his first trip into the Dungeons of Doom. It is possible to win without knowing any of this, but realistically, that's territory for experts, not the average 'hacker.

This brings us around to the point, which has to do with the relationship between roguelike games and spoilers. There are many players of more mass-market computer games who would never think of tackling a new adventure from the likes of Blizzard, Square/Enix, Nintendo or Rockstar without a strategy guide at the ready. Many experienced players, like myself for instance, scoff at this. We know that computer games are now many times easier than they were in the old days, and we defeated enough in that dusty era to easily give us the confidence we need to power through Final Tales of DeityGlobe 3: The Enfastening.

But with roguelike games... with these...

The Guiltless Confession

It is not so much that I am "admitting" to having read practically every spoiler about the game of Nethack ever written. It's that the purpose of spoilers for these games seems to be something different, not just in scale but in nature, than it is for other games. One cannot really "admit" anything, because winning the game all but implies being spoiled. While people do win at Nethack without being spoiled (they didn't write themselves, anyway) it is surpassingly rare.

Nethack_Yendorian_Express_Card_by_calamarain.jpgYet the game is chaotic enough that knowing all there is to know about it does not mean automatic survival. In fact, just having the information means nothing unless you have digested it, sorted it out in your head and turned it into a plan of attack. Reading the spoilers for such games doesn't ruin them, it is the barrier of entry to success.

Now some people complain, with some justice it cannot be denied, about this state of affairs, and it has lead to the creation and development of an entire class of roguelikes that prides itself on not requiring a master's degree in the game in order to win. But it is worth examining how this situation came about, and how it is that, to a great degree, the situation is fundamentally unavoidable.

"My Valkyrie Puts All Her Skill Points Into 'Google Lore'!"

The first roguelike game was, of course, Rogue, which was a much harder game than any modern example of the breed while having not nearly as much to learn as any of them. A rogue can be killed through pure bad luck. Even an expert player will die many times before he wins. There is a balance in a game between the share of the difficulty that comes from lack of knowledge and that which comes from the game environment. Rogue's balance is tilted far over in favor of environment.

For this kind of game, the chances of winning can be measured as a very low percentage of games, but knowing certain facts about the monsters, the dungeon or how the items work could raise that by a couple of percentage points each. In the early history of Rogue, the game was played mostly in university computer rooms, whether the received wisdom of the game was passed orally, then through the use of text files like the Rogue's Vade-Mecum.

Nethack_Master_Key_of_Thievery_by_calamarain.jpgNethack's evolution has filled the game with progressively more ways to ease its difficulty curve, so that the balance is far on the side of knowledge. For a well-informed player the game is much easier, and there is a well-known set of hint files relating to the game dating back to version 3.0, called the WCST Spoilers, widely read at the time. The game is famous for "being fair," that is, providing ways out of almost all situations. This implies that it is the player's fault if he dies, but there is a downside; if there is a way out of every situation, then a perfectly knowledgeable player will be able to survive any situation. But the important thing to understand about this is that there is no middle ground; if the game is going to remain a challenge (and the game's score-based premise means it must be), and not an action game, then a balance must be found between the two poles: pure chaos with no guarantees of survival, or complete survivability to a sufficiently determined, that is to say spoiled, player.

This means that people who expect to be able to win if they play well will come to see reading the spoilers as necessary to play. Spoilers are not required to win at Nethack, but the trail goes on for years without them. You can discover that dragon scale mail exists, that gray dragon scale mail provides magic resistance, that magic resistance is an essential attribute to have, and then piece together that a first wish should be spent on it over time, slowly, over the course of dozens of individual incidents spread across many hundreds of games, eventually forging the essential fact in your head through research independent of the efforts of others. Or, you can spend ten minutes reading it here.

What's it going to be?

Thanks to Roger "calamarain" Barnett for the renders of the Nethack quest artifacts. His roguelike webcomic, "Angband – Tales from the Pit," can be seen at this address: http://angband.calamarain.net/

The Lord Of The Rings Online That Wasn't

x.jpg While most of us know about The Lord Of The Rings Online - at least, the version that just launched - Joe Ludwig, who is nowadays Director of Development at Flying Lab Software on the upcoming MMO Pirates Of The Burning Sea, has been talking about Sierra's attempt to do Middle Earth Online back in 1998-2000 or so.

That aborted version was actually the one that Puzzle Pirates creator Daniel James worked on at Yosemite Entertainment - one of the reasons his company is called Three Rings, of course, but I'm getting off on a tangent here. Anyhoo, Ludwig's latest Tolkien Online-related post discusses an absolutely bizarre twist on the whole thing, which happened during GDC 2001 and a random dinner meeting at Denny's.

Ludwig explains: "We got to talking about about games we had worked on, and when I mentioned Middle-Earth Online, one of these guys got an excited look on his face. His name was David Michael, and he was a founder at Samu Games. Samu had a game out called Artifact, which is a 2D online strategy game. It seems that about a year earlier, in the spring of 2000, Sierra had approached Samu Games about doing a version of Artifact [which people are still playing, blimey] with the Middle-Earth license. They paid for Samu to add a few new features to their game and reskin it with hobbits and elves so they could show it off as Middle-Earth Online."

Wha? "It seems that the licensing agreement between the Tolkien people and Sierra specified certain milestones at which Sierra had to show forward progress on Middle-Earth Online. One of these milestones was in 2000 and they needed to show something to Tolkien’s estate or they would lose the license. They laid off the entire Middle-Earth team in the fall of 1999, so they obviously had nothing internal to show, but by throwing a few hundred thousand dollars at Samu Games, they could get their hands on an online game set in Middle-Earth." Don't know if that figure is accurate, of course, but it's still an interesting claim in a tortuous history for Tolkien's property in the MMO space.

Charlie's Angels - The Game - The Debacle

x.jpg Over at Game Of The Blog, the nutty Joel Reed Parker continues to defile himself in the name of crappy game playing, and he's taken a good, hard play through Charlie's Angels for GameCube just to really stick the oar in.

Parker explains: "I can usually find some enjoyment in a bad game but after a the first two hours, the final two I had to endure to finish it were pure punishment. Well, at least it makes for a good story." But then he wanders off and finds "a [completely different] download-only PC title, Charlie's Angels: Angel X", which I have to admit that I've never heard of - here's a trial version.

He explains: "The strangest thing about it is that it's a point and click brawler. The control is described as comparable to Diablo or Baldurs' Gate... playing through the first level of Angel X doesn't really make me want to. I really couldn't see it being entertaining at all, especially at 20 bucks. While I have to admit that it's amusing that there are Nestea Cool trucks and vending machines outside of the ancient Chinese training dojo-type place and a Sony-Ericsson Kyocera phone onscreen at all times but again, 20 bucks? This game should be free." Ouch, more badness for the girls.

June 4, 2007

What XOC Did After Super Mario Bros

x.jpg We've previously covered the music releases of Jason 'Xoc' Cox, who was responsible for the insanely good 'SMW' cover album for Super Mario World, and Alistair Wallis mailed me to update on several of Cox's neat new projects:

Wallis explains: "Firstly, there's Cinema 80's: Music From Nintendo Games Based On 80's Movies, which he says is made up of stuff that's been around for a while, including some of his very first game covers. It's pretty general Xoc style stuff - I must admit, I'm only really familiar with the Goonies 2 material, but it all sounds pretty cool to me."

And what else? "The weirdest thing is the NESTER BABIES stuff that he's posted. He posted one track that sounds very much the same a while ago called Sorboiramrepus, which was him doing the Mario theme backwards and with the pitch shifted waaaay up. This is 15 tracks of that. The Rush'N'Attack one, in particular, is...great? I don't know. Still, it's pretty inventive."

Wait, there's more? "He's also been doing heaps of stuff for a project called Hemostat... [which is] hard core noise. The one recorded at Disney World is very, very cool. Oh yeah, and there's a new Xoc and Heavy Friends EP on Megatwerp. Vaguely game related. There's a bit of spoken word about Gradius, of all things, and a few 8-bit sounds. It's fun." This is pretty much all awesome game music craziness.

Putting The Agatha Christie Into Adventure Games

x.jpg Over at the Adventure Classic Gaming site, they've interviewed AWE Production's Scott Nixon on creating recent PC adventure games Agatha Christie: And Then There Were None and Agatha Christie: Murder on the Orient Express.

Nixon, who recently wrote a Gamasutra article entitled 'Bring Out Your Dead! Can Nintendo Breathe New Life into Adventure Games?', is the definition of an adventure game developer, having worked on graphic adventures for a fair few years now, and is obviously enthusiastic about the material, talking here about the use of David Suchet as the voice of Hercule Poirot in Murder on the Orient Express:

"Everyone involved in the project had that question at the forefront of their minds from the word go. Suchet has become so intertwined with Poirot that it is, at this point, hard to imagine someone else taking over without being constantly compared to him. It was a Catch-22, because you worry about someone coming in and doing a Suchet impression instead of a unique rendition of Poirot, yet the more the voice strays from Suchet’s version, the more people will wish it was Suchet doing it! Mike Adams (Producer at The Adventure Company) was very keen on getting Suchet on board and really worked at it."

Kloonigames Strays Into Crayon Physics

x.jpg We've linked Petri Purho's 'made in a week' Kloonigames freeware titles before, most recently the politically-themed 'Daydreaming in the Oval Office', but his latest attempt is 'Crayon', a title in which "...you play with crayons and physics."

He explains of the downloadable title, simply enough: "The goal of the game is to move the red ball so that it collects the stars. You can cause the red ball to move by drawing physical objects... With left mouse button you can draw and with right you can remove objects."

The game appears to be a whole heap of fun, and has already received some notable praise in the comments from folks like EA's Rod Humble (creator of The Marriage, which Purho spoofed in The Divorce), and longtime experimental gameplay mainstay and horrifically smart guy Chris Hecker, who's currently working on Spore.

Actually, Hecker's comments are particularly notable for me because they're smart and analytical in a constructive way - something we try to get IGF judges to do (and sometimes succeed!): "I didn’t realize you could draw a single line at first, and I think it was slightly incrementally more fun that way, trying to draw thin boxes with the mouse. It added a little bit of a really subtle dexterity action component to the puzzles on some of the levels, trying to hurry but still draw a thin box. Not too much to be frustrating, but enough that it’s interesting, and it makes long thin boxes more difficult to make, which is a kinda cool feedback loop since they’re “more powerful” in some sense."

The State Of Video Games In Libraries

x.jpg The Shifted Librarian's Jenny Levine is probably the key advocate for public libraries using video games, and she's summed up recent interviews/discussions on her blog - including a new Escapist piece called 'Dewey Decimals And Dance Dance Revolution' which sums up the movement nicely.

Citing from the piece: "According to [gaming librarian Eli Neiburger], "One kid told us videogames are gateway drugs for libraries." Now he gives presentations and holds sample tournaments for librarians across the country. He's one of about a dozen crusaders who see videogames as a way of attracting kids, especially teenagers, to the library."

Also revealed, a documentary called 'If You're Not Gaming, You're Losing' - linked in multiple parts from that link - it's created by a Dutch library chain called DOK, which "...is on a mission to become the world´s most modern library", and created the piece to help explain why games are part of the public knowledge-base in a similar way to, say, books. Though with more cow-throwing.

GameTap Blasts Free Games, Lite Player, Deluxe 3.0 Client

x.jpg So, this was the week that subscription gaming service GameTap rolled out a whole boatload of changes - as Angled Whiteboards explains: "Begin by launching GameTap and upgrading it to the Deluxe [Version 3.0] Player. You’ll obviously need it to access today’s superfun batch of games. But the update also introduces a number of anticipated new game discovery features, enhanced search, publishable playlists, AND the handy new Lite Player." (A Joystiq interview talks more about the changes and plans.)

So you can now play a number of games for free, using the Lite Player, over on GameTap.com, even if you're not a subscriber - these include Metal Slug, Tomb Raider Legend, Joust, and even Uru Live, though the website is still going through some teething trouble with slowish downloads and so on, last I checked.

It's a bit of a weird hybrid - sorta a website front end, but still using a PC downloadable with emulation to play the games - and is still pretty 'Beta' in many ways. Lots of new features, too - there's digital purchases now available for a whole bunch of games, along with lots of GameTap TV now viewable for free. Not sure if it's up there on the site, but I was watching (in the Deluxe Player) a GameTap TV mini-doc on the Sega SG-1000 that had unbelievably high production quality, and kinda epitomizes the GameTap experience for me right now - cool, but still rather random.

Still, a glance at the 'Coming Soon' tab in the Deluxe Player reveals confirmation of a bunch of interesting GSW-relevant stuff on the continuing GameTap monthly subscription service, including Clockwork Knight (undated) and Golden Axe: The Duel (6/14) for the Sega Saturn, the entire set of King Of Fighters games through KOF 2003 rolling up through August 23rd, Last Blade 1 and 2 appearing in July, and Twinkle Star Sprites with multiplayer capabilities arriving on June 5th. It may be scattershot, but it's enticingly so for game geeks like us, eh?

June 3, 2007

Metanet Lets Us Peek Behind Robotology Curtain

x.jpg Raigan and Mare from Metanet Software, creators of the IGF Audience Award-winning (and pictured) N, are some of the more interesting and sometimes outspoken indie creators around - check out Jim Munroe's 'Freeware Rebellion' mini-doc starring the duo if you want to know more - the N community is spectacularly large nowadays.

So, it's recently been revealed that N+ is coming to Xbox Live Arcade (with help from Eets creators Klei) and DS/PSP (via Atari and Silverbirch Studios) - and now Metanet has started an official blog to discuss their next game, the 'mysterious' Robotology.

There are two posts explaining 'the story thus far', in which it's explained that: "The high-level direction for the game was “Umihara Kawase + parkour”, in a world where the environment was not just static platforms, but moving, mechanized, segmented “robots”." There's even an old prototype shown - but apparently, the game has changed massively since then. Really looking forward to what's spat out of the Metanet maw.

[Also well worth reading on the Metablog - a somewhat spectacular rant about casual games: "This is an industry which openly acknowledges the fact that requiring the player to grasp the concept of right-clicking will alienate the majority of users. Is catering to such a market charitable, or is it exploitative?... Just because there’s money in it doesn’t mean that it’s morally or ethically right. If we continue to pander to the barely-game-literate, how will they ever become more literate?"]

Game Design's Evolution, From Warshaw To Now

x.jpg Earlier in the week on GSW's sister education site Game Career Guide, veteran Crystal Dynamics game designer Jason Weesner was nice enough to post the next in his series on video game design, called, rather iteratively, 'On Game Design: The Designer' - and I think it's worth pointing to, since I'm not sure many people spotted it.

Weesner has been making games for 15+ years now, and this piece, for students and those wanting to get into the biz, is particularly good because it chats to industry originators like Howard Scott Warshaw, "a fantastic example of the early "proto-designer" whose role encompassed all facets of game's development", but also has Weesner explaining how formulating ideas for game design really happen when making games such as Tomb Raider Legend.

He explains: "Troy Mashburn, a senior designer at Crystal Dynamics, came up with the concept of the tea time. Tea time gets its name from the time of day that it takes place (usually around 3) and the presence of either hot tea or hot chocolate. Basically, tea time is a session (formal or informal) intended for the exploration of a specific idea. The format is roughly the same as a round table with scope being added to support the discussion topic."

To what end? "For example, the group could discuss different ways in which a jump could be used: object avoidance (variations on jump over or out of the way), object interaction (jump on to activate), jump traversal (interesting ways of using the jump to move around an environment), jump attack (the classic butt bounce), etc. The goal of the tea time is to walk away from the meeting with a laundry list of ideas at a brainstorm level which will later be filtered and refined to drive a feature."

The 50 Weirdest Moments In PC Gaming

x.jpg UK games and tech journo Richard Cobbett has posted to his blog pointing out some new self-penned goodness: "Time for a new addition to the Article Library - the Cirque du Strange (aka The 50 Weirdest Moments In PC Gaming). I actually wrote this one [for PC Gamer UK] about a year ago... and now it’s online, containing such stories as the time Lara Croft met a SWAT team in real life, the Unrighteous Bible of the gaming world, the naughtiest tattoo ever, some of the weirdest names in gaming, and a couple of its lamest puzzles."

A couple of highlights, perhaps: "There’s a big market for glitched Bibles, such as the Unrighteous Bible of 1653, which asked ‘Know ye not that the unrighteous shall inherit the Earth’. Not a million miles from the Caesar III manual, which on page 210 described the Medium Statue you can buy for your city as ‘Administration; Prosperity rating up to 75%.what the hell is this shit”. And you thought it was only you that got confused."

Also, and I think this write-up is phrased better than the actual event: "One of the many beautiful moments in Vampire: The Masquerade: Bloodlines - picking the insane Malkavian clan for your character completely changes the game’s dialogue into a mix of psychotic dementia and lucid insight far beyond the other possible character choices. It even afflicts your pet ghoul, a college girl called Heather, who takes to your blood like the finest drug, until the two of you are nattering like true psychotics, and the world is that much crazier."

The Halo 3 Beta Is Your Kind Of Poison, Statisticians!

perplex.jpg No doubt a lot of you have been sampling the Halo 3 Beta at some point over the last couple of weeks, but Pitchfork and Onion A.V. Club game writer Chris Dahlen points out something smart on his Save The Robot blog - the gameplay is fine, but it's the Internet-posted stat aggregation on Bungie.net that's almost more exciting to him.

Dahlen notes that "...the thing that fascinates me most about it aren’t the new controls or the grav lift or the high-def graphics, but the fact that every statistic from every match I’ve ever played can be found at the Bungie site."

Indeed, it's almost freakish that a random game I played a few weeks back is captured in detail, even down to average life and 'best spree' stats - and yes, I'm really not very good at the game, so enough snickering from the peanut gallery. But my goodness (or not) is available for perusal in perpetuity. And Bungie.net is just where the statistics rabbithole starts, my friend.

In particular, the unofficial Stats Reloaded has executed some even more hardcore Halo 3 stats crunching, with the help of the information made available by Microsoft to any third-party web app who wants it - look at the mass of data available for 'ChipGM', the current top player on the Statsreloaded leaderboards, for example. Blimey.

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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