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June 16, 2007

Finding Nemo At Three Rings' Offices

- We've briefly mentioned it before, but Wired News has now posted some awesomely in-depth pics of Three Rings' office in San Francisco, showcasing the awesome-o office design from the Puzzle Pirates/Bang! Howdy folks.

As the intro notes: "From the outside, the offices of San Francisco game company Three Rings Design look like any small game studio, but the building's bowels are leagues from ordinary. The company's loft, in the trendy South of Market district, has been painstakingly outfitted to resemble The Nautilus from Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. The offices have an attacking octopus couch, a secret lounge hidden behind a bookcase, captain's quarters and a steampunk bike rack, plus a ton of other Victorian details."

[BONUS: Random fact - when Three Rings boss Daniel James last visited the CMP Game Group digs here in SF, he spotted that my office window could see directly into his office window - albeit from a couple of blocks away. Now I can't see it at all, thanks to a posh new skyscraper being erected in between the two. So no more Rear Window shenanigans for me, then!]

Playing Zork On... A Messageboard?

- Over at Idle Thumbs, they've just set up a 'Text Adventure' subforum, and indeed, they've set up a really neat concept - people can collaboratively play classic Z-machine text adventures on a normal messageboard, thanks to some neat coding.

As the FAQ post explains: "Our resident super computer Ziggy serves up the current move, and all you have to do is reply to the thread with the next move, such as “Go north”. Ziggy will then respond. It's basically an MMO text adventure."

Here's the current post, for Zork, and it's pretty cool how the various participants are using # comments among themselves to discuss their tactics: "Ack, no! We needed the lunch for the cyclops... Oh didn't know that. isn't there an other way past him? like telling a long story so he'll fall asleep?... We can use the sack to put on the cyclops's head." [Via Andy Baio.]

How Killing People With My Dad Improved Our Relationship

- Since it's Father's Day this Sunday, we kinda blew things out on Gamasutra yesterday with two notable features. The first finished up talking to game developers about their kids, revealing that Sid Meier likes rawking out with his 16-year-old son ("Right now, we're playing Guitar Hero II which is just an incredible, fun game. ")

But the other feature, by veteran game animator Erik Van Pelt, is called 'How Killing People With My Dad Improved Our Relationship', and it's a neat look at why family dynamics can actually be enhanced by games, as opposed to politicians' sometimes lazy claims that they're the "...social evil of choice to rally against in brandishing their family values."

Van Pelt particularly notes: "I am the kind of person that when I find something I enjoy I like to share it with friends, especially if it makes the experience more enjoyable for me. Video games are no different. It’s just more enjoyable to play with people you know and like than strangers who often don’t even speak the same language and sometimes can be just plain offensive. Additionally, it is unquestionably much more enjoyable to own bragging rights over friends and family." Totally pwned.

World's Greatest Shmupper Officially Crowned

- Posty passes on his in-depth report on the recent Midwest Gaming Classic, where they officially crowned the previously GSW-mentioned 'World's Greatest Shmup Player', and it sounds like a pretty intense shooter game experience was had by all.

He notes of the 'contest to end all contests' for shooter fans: "There were five games in the qualifying round: 1943 (PS2 Capcom Classics), Fire Shark (Genesis), River Raid (Atari 2600), Radiant Silvergun (Saturn), and Parodius (Snes import). $5 got you one play on any game, and $10 got you three plays on any games. The highest scoring player for each game received the most tournament points, and the top nine players advanced to the official tournament."

Of course, Posty advanced to the finals, and reveals: "With the pressure on, the games are now: Aerofighters (Snes), Demon Attack (Atari 2600), Blazing Lasers (Turbografx 16), Raiden 3 (ps2), and Mega SWIV (Genesis)." This was the third set of games played (!), and the competition seems to have been spectacularly hardcore all round - the wonderfully named 'DJ Incompetent' won out. Oh, and here's a wonderfully geeky sidenote: "By now the event is running very late since Blazing Lasers is holding everyone up. We actually had to procure a handheld Turbografx console so the final two competitors could play at once!"

June 15, 2007

2008 Independent Games Festival Gets Started

- Though the press release on this is coming next week, just wanted to point out that the official Independent Games Festival website has been updated to open submission for 2008, and here's the rather neat new info revealing what's happening this year:

"The IGF is pleased to announce that we're opening up submissions for the historic 10th Annual Independent Games Festival, for which the awards will be handed out in February 2008 at Game Developers Conference.

The 2008 IGF Main Competition will again be open to all independent developers to submit their games - whether it be on PC, console digital download, Web browser, or other more exotic formats. The prizes again total nearly $50,000, with a $20,000 Seumas McNally Grand Prize, and the deadline to enter the Main Competition is Monday, October 1st 2007.

The 2008 IGF Student Competition will once again award the best student games, and this year will also include student 'mods' to existing games. As a result, the number of Student Showcase winners has been increased to 12. The deadline to enter the Student Competition is Monday, October 15th, 2007. [The 2008 IGF Mod Competition will not be taking place for GDC 2008, though we still very much appreciate the work of the mod community (hence the inclusion of mods in the student category), and are considering further competitions for this sector.]

In addition, the IGF is pleased to announce that it has appointed Matthew Wegner and Steve Swink as joint Content Directors for the Independent Games Festival, to help shepherd the expansion of the increasingly successful IGF. Matthew and Steve collectively helped organize the successful Independent Games Summit at GDC 2007, and together work at the multiple IGF finalist and 2005 IGF Project Goldmaster award-winning Flashbang Studios (they’ve retired from IGF competition to help run the festival.) Simon Carless will also continue in his role as IGF Chairman, but with significant help from the dynamic duo.

If indie developers out there have any queries about the competition this year, please don't hesitate to contact us with your questions, suggestions, or concerns - the IGF staff can be reached collectively at the [email protected] email address." Awesome stuff, I hope - really looking forward to this year's competition.

Game Magazines And Their Punt Ratio

- OK, I mean punt as in passing around from person to person, which is probably a bizarre English monstrosity that nobody will understand, but GameDaily.biz has an excellent 'Media Coverage' round-up article which touches on video game mags and exactly how many people read them.

As Kyle Orland notes: "The Audit Bureau of Circulation does a pretty good job of estimating how many actual copies of a magazine get out into the market each month. But that's only part of the story. To get the full measure of a magazine's impact, you have to look at how many people read the magazine by borrowing it from a friend, browsing it in a waiting room, picking it up from a gym's magazine rack, and so forth. MediaMark Research's Survey of the American Consumer uses in-home interviews to generate an estimate of that pass-around rate, and the results show just how little circulation matters to a game magazine's actual reach."

How so? Well: "Game Informer's massive 315 percent lead over its nearest competitor in circulation falls to a paltry 18 percent lead when you look at readership. The magazine bringing up second place changes too -- while Electronic Gaming Monthly is the second most-circulated game mag, in readership it falls to fourth behind the Official Xbox Magazine and GamePro (a fact the latter magazine was quick to trumpet)." Lots more interesting stats (and some other fun story round-ups) if you click through, guv'nor. [Thanks for pic, Jason Scott!]

Arcade Games, From Start To Finish

- There's been a few of these 'whole experience'-themed gaming blogs recently - Blogging Ultima, for one - and The2Bears was nice enough to point out another, in the form of the 'So You Want To Be An Arcade Champion?' blog, which has just started up.

It's explained: "Rockwaldo’s going to go through [the Twin Galaxies official arcade record book], it’s laid out in alphabetical order, and play over 4000 arcade games on MAME. He’ll see just how feasible it is to get the record, he’ll give his impressions of the games, and generally have a lot of fun."

As you'd expect, a bunch of the games are pretty obscure, such as Sega's '005', from 1982 ("Keeping with the age old 80’s arcade tradition the game makes absolutely no attempt at explaining to you what to do at any stage - crazytown"), but moving on to more obvious stuff such as, say, 1943: The Battle Of Midway [EDIT: Yes, I put '1984' before. HAH!] ("DON’T crash into bigger planes - really, it’s not a good idea. I did, and my energy bar pretty much disappeared from full to nowt immediately.") Anyone wanna bet which letter he can get to?

GameTap Sneaks Psychonauts, Promises Snowblind

- Everyone's favorite obscure unofficial GameTap UI blog Angled Whiteboards has updated with this week's premium additions to the 'all you can eat' download service, also now in various slightly odd 'free' versions on GameTap.com, and it turns out subscribers get a Schafer-tastic treat.

Yep, looks like Double Fine's Psychonauts is now available for play, along with Metal Slug 3 and King Of Fighters 97, but blogger Xamount is more obsessed with Twinkle Star Sprites, which is multiplayer playable on the service: "What a brilliant game this is. A shmup with two-player puzzle game conventions? YES PLEASE. I didn’t even know I wanted a puzzle game/shmup mashup (mashmup?) until Twinkle Star Sprites."

Meanwhile, a quick peek at upcoming games reveals that, alongside all the various Neo Geo games that GSW already mentioned, a couple of vaguely interesting Eidos-published PC SKUs are wandering along in an un-named time frame, in the form of the originally Deus Ex-monikered Project: Snowblind and Rebellion's very 2000AD-licensed (well, they own the mag, of course!) Rogue Trooper.

June 14, 2007

Why Microsoft Cares About Global Warming

- You know, it's an interesting point - does Microsoft care because it's the right thing to do right now, or do they care because they really believe? Either way, it works, and Gamasutra covered the fourth annual Games For Change conference in New York this week, which is building up quite a head of steam, and talked to Microsoft's Jeff Bell about their Xbox 360 Games for Change Challenge.

The competition itself, which begins this August "...challenges university students around the world to design a game around the theme of global warming... Students will design their entries using Microsoft’s XNA Game Studio Express, and the winners, announced next August in Paris, will receive cash prizes and the opportunity to present their games to Microsoft’s games management team for possible inclusion as a download on Xbox Live Arcade."

And Bell makes some good points: "We wanted to use XNA Express, which is a free download, as a slow but steady move towards democratization of our gaming industry. We wanted to focus with Games for Change on something that was dealing with an issue or challenge of the real world, and we chose the environment, because it’s such a large issue in popular culture right now." So it _is_ a little of both, it turns out - and it's really none the worse for that. You rock, Al Gore.

Celebrity Byte Nabs Curt Schilling, Other Famous Folk

- Have to be honest, I often forget to check out the Yahoo! Video Games site, because it runs a mix of repurposed content (from GameSpot) and original material, and I've never quite found an 'original features/columns' RSS on the site. Anyhow, I wandered back to find a neat 'Celebrity Byte' Q&A with Curt Schilling, quizzing the Red Sox pitcher about his gaming predilections.

He notes: "I like military simulations. I've been hooked on Rome: Total War and the expansion pack -- I've been playing that a lot. I'm a guy gamer. I pick one and I stick with it until I'm done with it and then I move on to something else" - but obviously, it's his MMO interest (with 38 Studios, the former Green Monster Games) that he's best known for: "I got started with Ultima Online. That was my first real online game and then I went to EverQuest and have been with EverQuest ever since. I've played some of the other ones on and off, but EverQuest is the one I stuck with."

Writer John Gaudiosi, who does a lot of work for The Hollywood Reporter and is a nifty hand with the celebrity gaming connections, also has interviews with Tobey Maguire (who likes Knights Of The Old Republic!), Battlestar Galactica's Tricia Helfer (who appears in games, but isn't so into them), and Entourage's Jerry Ferrara, decidedly a gamer ("...although it's not the manliest game in the world, Cooking Mama is very, very entertaining.") Nice layouts, too.

Life Meter Print Anthology Brings The Indie Comic Flavor

- The rather awesome Life Meter Comics posse have just confirmed a second Life Meter print anthology will be debuting at the MoCCA Art Fest in NYC on June 23rd, "...following the success of last year’s mini-comic that sold out by the second day of the MoCCA Art Festival."

Obviously on the highly 'unofficial' fanfic/doujinshi tip - they haven't sought licenses for any of the characters portrayed inside - "...this new collection will feature over 100 pages of videogame-inspired comic strips and cartoon art from an impressive range of comic artists and animators. This graphic novel-length anthology includes an 11-page MEGA MAN story by Matt Loux, the Harvey Award-nominated creator of Side Scrollers from Oni Press; a shoujo manga take on The LEGEND OF ZELDA by TokyoPop artist Queenie Chan (The Dreaming); and a gorgeous cover inspired by the cult favorite game NIGHTS INTO DREAMS by Flight artist, Bannister."

There's also a Parappa The Rapper strip by Corey Barba (Nickelodeon Magazine), which would likely be worth the price of entry for me alone, as a bit of a rabid Parappa fan - but here's just the start of the rest of the stories: "METROID by Joel Carroll (Flight)... GUITAR HERO by Jacob Chabot (Mighty Skullboy Army)... DOUBLE DRAGON by Debbie Huey (Bumper Boy)... SPY HUNTER by John Green (Teen Boat)... LINK’S AWAKENING by Dave Roman (Astronaut Elementary)... JET SET RADIO by Miguel Sternberg (back cover artist for Scott Pilgrim 4)." Indie comic madness, and well worth perusing. [Ta for tip, Fort90, who provides the 'Afterword'.]

Can Games Teach You Ethics? Fight!

- Over at Backbone designer David Sirlin's blog, there's a powerfully good conversation going on centered around the concept 'Can Games Teach Ethics?', and Sirlin's statement: "I think they definitely can, but my colleague Frank Lantz argued that I have it wrong."

This is probably a bit difficult to summarize in two paragraphs, but here's a try, using some liberal quoting, first from Sirlin's argument: "Imagine a game vaguely like Oblivion, a 3D world where you control a character who can visit towns, talks to people, pick locks, and fight... After we’ve established conventions (it’s usually wrong to steal) and shown some exceptions (sometimes in unusual circumstances, it’s wrong *not* to steal), then we can cook up a bunch of really gray areas where most people will disagree."

And how about Area/Code's Lantz (who co-created the entirely neat A&E Soprano's Game Connection web/life game, btw)? "He says that one or the other is true: your in-game decisions about ethics have in-game consequences (meaning they manipulate various stats) or they don’t. If they do, then no matter how clever your situations, the player will really just try to “game” the system... And if your decisions *don’t* affect any stats or gamestate, then they are meaningless and that doesn’t teach much either." So.. who wins here? Join the conversation here or on Sirlin.net, please!

Why Casual Games Should Kill The 60 Minute Trial

- I always eagerly await Vinny Carrella's Gamezebo casual game columns, and his latest is called 'Kill the 60 Minute Trial', and advocates plaintively: "We shouldn't have to buy a subscription in order to get a game for less than $19.99, we should get games for $9.99 across the board, and the way to do this is to sell games to 100% of the downloading audience, and the way to do that is to get rid of the 60 minute free trial."

Wow, many big ideas combined at once here! Carrella goes on to suggest: "The consumer doesn't need a free trial, what she/he needs to help make a buying decision is honest marketing, better online demos and more press coverage in the form of reviews and editorials. That's how it works in the industry known as core gaming, where games are marketed and promoted and demonstrated and reviewed and talked about, so that by the time the consumer gets to EB or Best Buy he knows what he's buying."

You know, I like the cut of Vinny's jib here, but the point of casual gamers tends to be that they don't check preview/review sites (like Gamezebo!) to work out what to buy before they buy it - though maybe the biz needs to change that? It is true that a lot of cloning is presumably based on the fact that consumers are not well educated as to who originated the concept or who did it 'best' - but we can't force them to, of course.

Carrella concludes: "I'm not an expert on business models, but I'll tell you, long before I was in the games business I was a game player and then a game developer, and as a game player I don't feel that I should have to download a twenty, thirty or even fifty megabyte file in order to find out whether or not a game is good enough to spend twenty dollars on it." This Flash demo point is a good one, I think, and the article is worth checking out just for the excellent comments.

June 13, 2007

Persuasive Games: Designing For Tragedy?

- Over at big sister site Gamasutra, university professor and newsgame creator Ian Bogost has posted a carefully thought-out column about the Virginia Tech tragedy, how the existing Flash game based on it sells gaming short, and whether a worthy interactive narrative could (or should) ever be made about those tragic events.

In fact, Bogost charges: "If V-Tech Rampage offers an example of an unsophisticated, negligent take on the tragedy, what would a thoughtful, conscientious one look like? This question cannot afford to remain hypothetical any longer. So I hereby issue a challenge to the videogame industry: to create a videogame about the Virginia Tech tragedy. One worthy of reflection. One that captures the event’s despair as well as much as its brutality. One that the public can respect even if it makes them uncomfortable."

He continues, referencing GamePolitics' Dennis McCauley, who has previously denounced the arguably _slightly_ better thought-out Super Columbine Massacre RPG: "I challenge the industry to do better than the homebrew hacks McCauley would have us banish. I want a proper game, in a box, in the store, just like United 93 and Elephant and Munich share shelf space with Con Air and Bad Boys and Coyote Ugly." So... can it be done? And should it be done?

[UPDATE: Dennis McCauley posted in comments to note that he's put a riposte to Bogost up on GamePolitics, with a lot more interesting points, including: "I don’t get Bogost’s point about “supporting the medium.” Sure, I like games - like ‘em a lot. I’ve been gaming for a long time. Does that mean a game - any game - should get my support just because it’s a game?"]

Evil Keyloggers Hack World Of Warcraft Admins

- Over at WOW Insider, they've got an interesting post noting that World Of Warcraft admins were posting 'keylogger' links to the official WoW forums last night, after their accounts were compromised by unknown hackers.

The site's Elizabeth Wachowski notes: "As I personally thought the whole thing was a photoshop hoax until I read Tyren's comment, "Folks, we're definitely dealing with the issue at hand with the greatest amount of speed and care. We always appreciate our community's support when it comes to alerting us about key loggers on the forums and we hope you'll continue to do so. This is a good chance to remind our players to always check a URL before clicking on it." It sounds like Blizzard is taking this seriously. Eyonix later noted that he kind of enjoyed banning his coworkers."

[Incidentally, on the whole WoW hacking front, there's a really interesting potential story in the allegations that GameRankings.com was hacked back in March and a keylogger trojan to steal World Of Warcraft accounts inserted into the page code. I could never get anyone from CNet to call me back and confirm/deny the reports, but there are a few independent accounts of it happening, and the site was down for a long time just after that - though it's back up again now. So - consider it an urban legend, for now?]

COLUMN: The Aberrant Gamer - 'Touchy Subjects'

[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.]

-The gaming audience is notable for being as much a cultural network as it is a simple community of consumers—as such, we tend to be highly interested in previews as much as we are in experiences currently available.

And we tend to be just as interested in reading and discussing games we may never even get to play—whether that’s because development houses have no plans to publish a title in our home country, or because the game itself is vaporware that might never actually materialize, no matter how interested we are in it.

As such, it’s not unusual for Japan-only titles to light up the discussion boards and blogs—as an extension, our community grapevine often goes miles toward selling imports. As an example, the Japan-only Ouendan games are enormously popular with the Western audience—rather than direct ports, however, we have Elite Beat Agents, where the music and cultural references are less specific to Japan. As I understand, those cultural references that might not have translated well were the reason for making a game very similar to Ouendan rather than simply translating it—nonetheless, my experience with other gamers suggests to me that a direct translation, say, of the recent Ouendan 2 would sell very well here, on the heels of the popularity of the original Ouendan and EBA both.

In other words, a game without English language, and as culturally foreign as you please, can still generate a lot of buzz on our shores. Certainly, some Japan-only titles never so much as create a blip on our radar; it takes a certain special something to generate high levels of interest and regular coverage around a game we’ll probably have limited-to-no actual exposure to.

A certain, special something—like the ability to feel up high school girls.

-So it is with Doki Doki Majo Shinpan, a new Japanese DS game whose title could translate to “Heartthrob Witch Trial.” The basic idea’s simple and cheap—you’re a young boy tasked by an archangel to discover which among your classmates are witches, an obligation you can only fulfill, of course, by touching them, thus raising their heart rate (“doki doki,” essentially, is onomatopoeia for the bump-bump of a heartbeat). How getting your nubile classmates into a pulse-pounding lather determines their witch-hood or lack thereof is unclear—and nobody cares.

Those watching the “witch-toucher” closely point hopefully to a new English website as evidence that SNK might release the game on other shores. As to gameplay, the site advises: “So thoroughgoing touching, stares in the face, just do everything and use all techniques you have to investigate. Well, sometimes you have to remember to smile to them or maybe use some goods you have.”

-The screenshots show pictures of stunned adolescents in short skirts, with a panel of icons including a hand, a finger, eyes and lips superimposed for the player’s use—it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out why the audience is so interested in tearing away the fragile membrane of mystery and getting into this game. Using some goods they have, no doubt.

Other facets of gameplay include a fairly standard “search mode”—players will “hang around the school-yard, school-grounds, and downtown, searching for the information and evidence of witches.” The screenshots show titillating desk-searching gameplay, and of course, dialogue with each Technicolor-haired pixie.

And when a likely suspect has been located? Well, it’s time, of course, to do the witch-check palpation-for-palpitation. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy—hence the “Magic Battle Mode.” Apparently the potential witches won’t all be so easily touched (you think?)—“so sometimes necessary to resort to violence.”

Doki Doki Majo Shinpan has all of the structural hallmarks of a dyed-in-the-wool Hentai game—panoply of lovely potential victims, done-to-death high school exploration mechanic, and familiar mini-game of sorts, often used as a device to make the player work for the real action. It's even got the reluctant participant who must sometimes be coerced. The protagonist’s familiarly characterized as “a little perverse and proud to be a bad boy.” And regardless of the game’s story, he’s advised to “make witches submit in the name of justice.”

-Aside from the obvious, there may be other reasons why Doki Doki Majo Shinpan has raised so much interest in the community. One of them is the notable revelation that one of the “suspects” is a boy. A pretty, effeminate, hospitalized boy, but nonetheless male. This is an extreme rarity in the genre of H-gaming and “relationship sims” alike. The only H-game I’ve personally seen where your protagonist may have sexual contact with a man is the X-Change series, wherein as I discussed in a previous column, your body has become that of a female.

An overt Hentai game—specifically, one with sex scenes—probably wouldn’t enjoy this same cult curiosity in our audience. Logical inference suggests that this is because we’ve seen so many of them before, largely (perhaps unfairly) as a subject of ridicule or embarrassment. Another reason? Perhaps it’s a case where the suggestion of sexuality is more compelling than an openly exploitive H-game.

Comparisons are often made when discussing Japanese versus Western culture, and the general perception seems to be that social norms are much more rigid, numerous and specific in the East. On the other hand, perhaps it’s because of this perceived restrictiveness that the outlets for expression of aberrance are, in kind, more numerous and extreme. As an example, cartoons shown to children in Japan often have to be edited for supposed propriety before being aired here in the States.

The manifold “deviant” sexual niches of Japan are often sources of fascination, morbid curiosity and humor here—things like tentacle rape and breast bondage are often held up as examples, albeit extreme ones, of apparent sociological differences between Japan and the West. Upskirt shots of girls who appear to be underage would be broadly censored from any facet of the American consumer market—but Japanese geeks can get it in just about any entertainment medium they like.

-So Doki Doki Majo Shinpan becomes appealing to us on more than one level. First, it’s foreign kink that flouts our own norms, providing molestation-lite of underage girls—and yet avoids somewhat stereotypical extremes that would make the average gamer more uncomfortable with expressing curiosity. For example, it may feel more acceptable to some in the gaming audience to admit they’d like to try loli-groping in Doki Doki Majo Shinpan than it’d be to admit (to themselves and to others) they were interested in, say, RapeLay, a graphic and by most standards disturbing subway rape simulator.

Finally, it’s a game that we have months to wonder whether we’ll see on our shores. It’s a valid suspicion that many in the audience would be much more reticent about their interest in this game if it was actually available to purchase—after all, how would you feel ringing it up at GameStop?

My bet’s on no port, English website or not. Look at the bright-and-sunny box art—if parents can be dense enough to grab more forbidding-looking games for their inappropriately-aged kids, you can imagine how many weekend dads will try and bring home a pink-haired cartoon witch to their elementary-school daughters. It looks like a kids’ game, and that’s dangerous. Moreover, most of the depicted characters are jailbait-age—that’s to say, even somewhat progressively-minded people probably won’t refrain from taking issue with stroking the inner thighs of a 14-year-old cheerleader with a stylus—even if the translation takes the usual, transparent step of boldly identifying all the petite members of a junior high school class as 18 years of age.

Frequently, censorship or social umbrage deprives certain audiences of the opportunity to actually experience something revolutionary. Try as I might, I can’t identify any particular deep and abiding reason why we must insist on experiencing Doki Doki Majo Shinpan.

Then again, it’s high school girls, plus touch screen, plus short skirts. What better reason do you need?

[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. Thanks to Dengeki Online for screenshots used in this column.]

MMO Guild Gets Own, Largely Non-Hagiographic Book

- Promise not to post too many Gamasutra links in a row, but our big sister site did post something GSW-worthy yesterday - an extract from the upcoming book 'Legend Of The Syndicate', which "...looks at the history of one of the biggest MMO guilds of all time from the perspective of its members."

The book, which will be published by Avari Press and is written by Sean Stalzer, the founder of the guild, which has been running since 1996 (!). The full book is excellent, actually, and much less of a vanity piece than you might reasonably expect, and even the extracts have some excellent historical information in them - here's a couple of paragraphs about the early days of MMO pioneer Ultima Online: "There were two basic types of monsters in that early test: orcs and skeletons. Players could kill each other but since the community was so small and there was really nowhere to hide, large groups of 20 or 30 players would form up and hunt down the offenders."

"It is interesting to note that in hindsight that was actually a bad thing because it incorrectly formed the impression in early MMO developer’s minds that “player justice” would be sufficient to curtail anti-social play. However, in a world as massive as UO is, there were so many places to hide and so many players to try and track down that player justice was, and still is, an abysmal failure. There has to be an automated set of game mechanics to assist players. That lesson is still being learned in some gaming worlds, today." Lessons!

Alex Handy Sez: 'Mac Gaming? Hah!'

- [The fourth in a ragged series of 'Alex Handy Sez' missives, in which the former Game Developer editor and current Gamasutra contributor riffs on something or other, focuses on Apple's WWDC gaming splash - thanks to Engadget for the 'John Hodgman as Steve Jobs' pic!]

So EA and id are on board the Apple train. When it comes down to it, though, this news is just a bunch of fluff. We've been here before. I've been here before. Waaaaaaaay back in 1999, id was right there at MacWorld, with Carmack talking about how rad the OS was, and demanding that a multi-button mouse arrive. And this was Mac OS 9!

People applauded. Those, like myself, who covered the Macintosh gaming world for a living saw a bright future ahead. EA wasn't there, but Activision was, and Aspyr was bringing Madden to the Mac anyway. MacSoft was bringing Unreal Tournament over, and StarCraft was still on the Mac, and still kicking ass.

And then, nothing happened. There was a little while there when Mac game companies were expanding, and the best PC to Mac game porting house, Westlake Interactive, was barely able to keep up with all the demand for its services. Elsewhere, Lane Roathe's latest games company was floundering in its attempts to bring Half-Life onto the Mac. Oh, and don't forget that Jason Whong was eating bugs for Ambrosia!

By 2001, the brief flash that was the Mac game boom was gone. It was mostly reduced to a dull roar, as Apple's former three-person game developer relations team dwindled and was reduced to Fishman alone. The rest of the world moved on. If anything, the Macintosh games rush of 1999 was a result of the dearth of new consoles at the time. This is the same era in which the Phantom was beginning to take shape and the Dreamcast was king, after all.

So, back during those heady days, I was flown down to Santa Monica to get a glimpse of Quake 3 at Activision headquarters. And when I arrived, I wasn't the only Mac guy there. Chris Breen, the old man on the mountain of Mac game coverage was there too, as were a handful of other folks. I don't know if Breen was sucked in by the hype, but I certainly was. I genuinely believed, at the time, that the Mac could still do it. But, as most recovered Mac junkies will tell you, eventually the shine wears off.

Of course, this time around, the processors in the Macs and in the PCs are the same. Unfortunately, I don't see that helping so much. You see, last time we did all this, the fight was over 3D hardware and acceleration libraries. OpenGL was all over the Mac, and all up in SGI's shit. 3DFX was making cards for the Mac as well as the PC: Voodoo 3's and 5's could work in either, and they sent me about three cards to prove it.

But in the end, 3DFX died out, and OpenGL seems to have been relegated to a secondary seat on most popular Windows games. Direct X and Direct 3D have both taken up a large portion of the market, and neither of those APIs have ever been translated well to the Mac. Back in '99, even, I remember many a company asking me if I knew anyone who could translate DirectX games to the Mac platform. They'd have beaten a path to that fellow's door, if he had existed.

In the end, there's not much call for gaming on the Mac. Casual games are all over the Web, and are thus cross platform. WoW has been out for the Mac for years now, too. In truth, the PC gaming world is only getting more hardcore, and with hardware as cheap as it is these days, you can buy yerself a new PC for less than a Playstation 3.

Oooooooor, you can do what I do, and just use BootCamp to run Windows XP on yer Mac. It's the only way I have the hardware to run Company of Heroes!

June 12, 2007

A 'Stay Alive' Game? GSW Commenters Say Yes!

x.jpg Of course, it helps that we're the #1 Google result for the phrase, but we are still getting an average of one comment per day on our February 2006 post about video game movie 'Stay Alive' - and all of them are desperately hoping that the Frankie Muniz-starring horror flick has a real video game associated with it.

Here's part of the plotline from the Wikipedia page for the game, to give you a taster of it: "Back in reality, video game tester Loomis Crowley (Milo Ventimiglia) plays a new video game. He looks at the TV screen in shock, over what he just played. He picks up the phone and calls his gamer friend Hutch MacNeil (Jon Foster). Hutch answers, and Loomis tells him that there is a new survival horror game called Stay Alive. The game is unheard of and the origins of the game are unknown. Hutch says he will be over in a little while."

So basically, it's a survival horror version of Polybius, starring 'The Blood Countess', and all kinds of commenters of varying literacy are desperate to get their hands on the actual video game, which comes to life and kills various shrieking protagonists in the movie.

Which doesn't exist, unfortunately - though one commenter does point out a Yahoo Video Games post, explaining that movie co-creators William Brent Bell and Matthew Peterman and Epic's Cliff Bleszinski "...created a game design document for a Stay Alive game. While the game only exists as CGI in the movie, which was done by Pixel Liberation Front, the team does have a real game design document that they can use for a second film."

Anyhow, it's notable that the commenters start up just after the DVD release of the movie in September 2006 - and despite some GSW friends being convinced it was a viral marketing attempt by the studio, looking at the IP addresses, it clearly isn't - especially as it's still going on, way after the DVD launch. Commenter 'jeremy' is even claiming: "the preview of the game will be at attack of the show [at] E3 in july", and it'll be out in January 2008. True? Probably not, but some enterprising publisher should totally adapt obscure Japanese survival horror game and grab the license, judging by the amount of random interest in such a game.

Pardo, Game Creators And Their Delighted Offspring

x.jpg So we posted the first part of a 'Father's Day Special' article over at Gamasutra, smartly compiled by Brenda Brathwaite for us - and it's got Blizzard's Rob Pardo (World Of Warcraft) and Big Rooster's Tim Gerritsen (Prey) talking about how being a father has changed the way they do business and make games.

There's a cute pic of Pardo with his 7-year-old daughter (a level 54 warlock!), and he notes: "Playing games with my daughter is great because it really allows me to see what is fundamentally fun about game mechanics. For example, when she was only 5 years old, she would just jump off buildings over and over and collect lots of different outfits for her character. I generally have more of an "achiever" mentality when I play games, and playing with my daughter really helps give me a more rounded perspective towards games."

Alice at Wonderland Blog noticed it, too - commenting: "It's really cute that the only difference in their setup there is that Rob has a traditional corporate gel wristmat, and his daughter has a cartoony (winnie the pooh?) mat. Bet she kicks her dad's ass in pvp."

A Top 10 That Includes SkyNET? How Odd

x.jpg We gots countdown articles comings out of our ears here, but I enjoyed Li Kuo's look at 'Top 10 PC Games We'd Like to See Remastered' over at GameSpy, because he delves into a few forgotten titles. (Actually, most of the countdown articles I've liked recently have been PC ones, for some strange reason - maybe because games get forgotten easier on PC?)

Anyhow, one intriguing title I'd forgotten about - Bethesda's Terminator-licensed SkyNET: "SkyNET's multiplayer mode had vehicles and vast outdoor areas as well as indoor close-quarters combat six years before Battlefield 1942 showed up. What I really liked about it was that in multiplayer mode you could play as a Terminator... how cool is that? I'd love to see what this game would look like with a nice graphics update and some touches to incorporate modern gameplay elements beyond its initial deathmatch and team deathmatch offering."

Also, and this is a great pick that might genuinely do well as a remake, I think - Wasteland: "I'm a sucker for post-apocalyptic settings, and Wasteland is considered by many to be the grand-daddy of them all. This role-playing game inspired the likes of Fallout and was developed by Interplay back in the late 1980s. It's not much to look at now, but the storyline had you and your band of buddies exploring the wasteland left after a nuclear third world war. The storyline was fantastic, featuring great characters and an array of crazy mutants and plenty of weaponry with which to deal with them."

Mega64 Reveals 'Greatest Hits' DVD, Juarez Visit

x.jpg Regular GSW readers may recall that we're big fans of San Diego game video pranksters Mega64 - a little bit of our rah rah may actually have contributed to their appearances at the Game Developers Choice Awards and that fateful Miyamoto team-up, actually.

Anyhow, there's all kinds of fresh news on their site, in particular: "Today we are proud to announce Mega64's brand new DVD- "Mega64 Time!" This 2-Disc DVD set is a compilation of the best of Mega64's most random skits ever. You get one disc of Mega64 classic clips, never-before-seen videos from the past, convention antics, behind the scenes footage, and more! On top of that, you get a disc of every single video game ad ever made by Mega64, with bonus features and commentary on all of it." Whoa - it's on sale July 26th, just in time for Comicon.

[Also they note: "During that weekend in San Diego, we will be holding a Mega64 premiere screening at the La Jolla Landmark Theater- Friday, July 27th at 9:30PM! Meet the cast and crew of Mega64 and see the world premiere of two brand new full-length Mega64 episodes, new skits, and old favorites up on the silver screen!"]

And finally, if you haven't been checking their latest Internet-posted videos recently, there's a couple of new ones for Ubisoft's (ahem, Polish-developed) Western shooter Call Of Juarez - I particularly like the 'Cowpokez' skit because it's irredeemably, intentionally horrible. But maybe that's just me.

June 11, 2007

Inside Raw Danger's 'Aryan Utopia'

x.jpg Over at Namakoteam, Trevor 'Jiji' Wilson has been pointing out much weirdness regarding the Western release of a new Irem PS2 title, as follows: "Just as with Agetec's previous release of Disaster Report (aka Zettai Zetsumei Toshi), the publisher is attempting to make Raw Danger more palatable to US audiences."

How so? "They've done this by changing location and character names to be non-Japanese, and have made both of the main characters blonde. But it seems that their fiddling has caused some possibly unexpected results [YouTube link]." Hah! As he notes: "It looks to me like they've modified one or two hair textures that are actually used for most of the characters onscreen as a memory-saving measure. So by making the main character blonde, they've made... everybody else blonde."

But on the other hand, Jiji says: "I'm of the opinion that measures like the ones Agetec has taken with localizing this series amount to going a little too far, but this is just hilarious. But then again, the above video is from last February, so there's a possibility things have been tweaked since this build." He's also been monitoring the changing ESRB rating, shifted down from a M to a T. Wow, and the cover is all kinds of wacky too.

Anyhow, the first Disaster Report was pretty interesting in its puzzle-y passivity, if not an amazing game - we'll see how this one (which is apparently based around the aftermath of a tsunami, as opposed to an earthquake in the first title) fares when it comes out.

[UPDATE: Game Of The Blog has been doing some extra research, revealing a possible $19.99 price point at EB, but: "Release date is today but you can't actually order it yet. A call to local stores says that it's in the computer as being out, but no one has any copies. I would have pre-ordered this and have been trying to for months, but they never had it listed."]

GameKeyboard Promises To Revolutionize Game Biz

x.jpg We get our fair share of 'interesting' people calling in to the Gamasutra/Game Developer offices, mainly because we have our phone numbers listed in public. And the latest of these would be the inventor who's started GameKeyboard.com, and is looking to license his patented (or patent pending, not quite sure) use of directional keys to: "Play any PC Video Game or Control any Object in 3 Dimensions using only 4 keys on the Game Keyboard."

You may be a greater man than I if you fully understand how this differs from the controls used in normal games, so let's extract a random part of his rather text-worthy (Brandon says it looks like today's Penny Arcade cartoon) explanation: "Activating the cursor up [▲] key followed by the cursor down [▼] key accelerates forward, followed by the cursor left [◄] key accelerates forward and leftward, and deactivating the cursor left [◄] key continues forward acceleration."

And here's one of his earlier patents, for those interested in having their brains warped a little bit more. It's for, uhm: "Multiple methods of using only two sensors to control the state of an object in a one dimensional environment, a two dimensional environment or a three dimensional environment. A method of using only two sensors to control the state of an object in a secondary mode and edit data in a third mode. A method of using only two sensors to edit changes. A method of using only two sensors to control the state of an object in graphic arts programs. A method of using only two sensors to control the state of an object in two states, three states, four states, eight states, ten states or fourteen states. A method of using only two sensors to increase or decrease control of an object." C'mon, someone, tell me what this all means!

GameSniped - eBay The Easy Way For Game Rarities?

x.jpg Little slow on the uptake, here, but GameSniped is a fairly new site that does a great job of rounding up all the obscure, weird, and otherwise neat eBay video game rarities - lots of prototype hardware, software and merchandising - with new items listed daily.

The current highlight for oddness seems to be Sony Playstation Game Development Props, described as, uhh, follows: "This item was utilized in the Research and Development of making gaming character’s clothing appear more realistic. We took photos and digitized the gloves with our latest technology to capture the realism of the individual costumes for characters in War Games such as Socom and KillZone. These are also real Men’s Black Leather King Arms Motorcycle Gloves." So they're... gloves! OK!

And, whoa, this is the scariest Mario plush toy ever - "Here is another needlefelted artwork piece by Poorlulu of stabby critters fame. I absolutely have become addicted to needle felting. Needle felting is a very time consuming art process of stabbing wool roving a kazillion times with a very sharp barbed needle until the wool firms up and allows itself to be sculpted, it's very rewarding to see the process of wool resembling candy floss turn into the unique one of a kind toys/art pieces." Looks like Mario has been stabbed a lot, too - he's anemic and upsetting!

Danger... Game Dudes In Distress!

x.jpg Another of those cleverly themed 1UP features that I appreciate went up last week, and it's called 'Dudes In Distress', and deals with - well, lemme excerpt the rather wonderfully florid intro to give you an idea:

"With a zest of victimization, a few teaspoons of imminent homicide, and a bottle of aged bondage, you can bake a delicious cake of distress. From the bare Andromeda to the bored Mary Jane, womankind has supplied the majority of tales of helpless persecution. And from the days since the scantly clad Princess Daphne pranced into arcade halls, videogames have been enjoying their quota of damsels in distress."

So? "The response's been to create heroines of equal stature to their male counterparts, androgynous body armor included. However, searching the other side of the submissive coin unveils quite a collection of memorable men in misery, from the icons to the fleeting sacrificial lambs."

Add a ridiculous picture of Snake in a fairy castle and some descriptions of Haggar's almost Tom Of Finland-like predicaments, and you get to a feature I genuinely enjoyed, actually - and I hope you do, too. (Writer Charles Hartley is Tim Rogers' newscaster, too. Odd!)

Natsume To Debut Omega Five On XBLA

x.jpg Not quite sure how this one made it onto the Internet in such a roundabout way, but XBLArcade points to information on Natsume-developed XBLA shooter Omega Five, which has a bunch of screenshots available over at French site Xbox Gazette.

As XBLArcade notes of the Xbox 360 downloadable title, allegedly due later this year: "It seems to be a side-scrolling 2D style shooter but with 3D elements. Machine translation of the page is pretty rough, but apparently the hook of the game will be enemies emerging from the 3D background and not just from the top and bottom of the screen like most side-scrolling shooters." Looks like it's being published by Hudson, who are shortly bringing us Bomberman Live, of course.

Over at the ever-hardcore Shmups forum, they've greeted the title with mild interest, with Necronom lamenting: "I must say I'm dissapointed with XBLA lately. Minter's Space Giraffe and the next Mutant Storm are cool and all but still no word about Ikaruga, Raiden IV or a new Geometry Wars. At the same time PSN gets stuff like R-Type Delta and Super Stardust HD - definitely less titles but the ones that are available are high quality stuff already."

[At this point, I got confused about the R-Type Delta reference, and then found out it's available on the Japanese PSN store for download to the PS3/PSP, though you have to go through all kinds of complex machinations to get a valid credit-card payment system/address to buy things from it. C'mon, Sony, get your Western store updated with some more interesting games like R-Type Delta!]

June 10, 2007

Partial Get Lamp Interviewee List Revealed

x.jpg We first mentioned Jason Scott's 'Get Lamp' text adventure documentary way back in December 2005, and work on it appears to be proceeding rather well, as a new post on his ASCII blog explains.

He notes: "Obviously, when I make a documentary, I need a lot of help. Among the help is a series of tools, ranging from the mechanical (HVX-200, piles of energy drink cans), to scripts and software. And among those scripts are little efforts that generate web pages to help me keep track of potential interviewees and completed interviews. The idea is, after the whole thing's wrapped up, I put the resultant pages up and people are very happy with the ability to see all the names and backstories and history of the interviews."

Also, this is a good, if curmudgeonly point: "I hate it when people put up documentary websites that give you crappy flash intros and 'obviously designed by an up and coming art student' pages but not a whole lot of actual researched "meat". I'm not sure why that happens a lot. Maybe people focus too much on the wrong things."

And this documentary is a vital piece of history for video games in general, so I'm delighted that Jason (whose BBS Documentary is awesome - here's a legal .torrent of the 'Art Scene' episode) is being so thorough in working on it - confirmed interviews include Steve Meretzky, Marc Blank, Scott Adams, Andrew Plotkin (who has AWESOME glasses), Richard Bartle, Don Woods, and a host of other notables.

A Final Fantasy Gunblade... For Your Desk?

x.jpg Import store NCSX is good at laying out the latest weird Japanese game/toy imports, and it's just posted lots of pictures of the Square Enix Master Arms collectibles, which are "...scaled replicas of recognizable weapons from Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts."

They've gone a little watermark-happy on their extremely useful photos of the just-received replica mini-weapons, which are "Cerberus (15cm length or 5.90" long)... [not pictured, here's a close-up of] Keyblade (18cm length or 7.08" long)... Seifer's Gunblade (26cm length or 10.23" long)... Squall's Gunblade (23cm length or 9.05" long)."

They also handily note, for those worried (or keen!) to exploit the weapon angle: "The blades on the two Gunblades are made of a metal alloy but don't have sharp edges. Run your fingers underneath them and you won't be bleeding afterwards. The points of the blades are sharp however and we don't recommend making stabbing motions when you're holding either Gunblade. Someone could feel threatened." Anyhow - not a gigantic Final Fantasy fan, but these are beautifully designed.

Newsweek Gives GSW A Little Indie Game Love

x.jpg Mentioned this to Derek at TIGSource the other day, and he's saved me the trouble of scanning it in, yay - both GameSetWatch and TIGSource, as well as Wired's Game|Life are mentioned in the print edition of Newsweek this week, in the 'Blogwatch' section of the gigantic print entity.

Here's the online version of Blogwatch, which preserves the precise links that the weekly newspaper (circulation 3.16 million!) was referencing: "Looking for a smart take on small, casual games to pass the time? Blog.wired.com/games, gamesetwatch.com and tigsource.com do a good job of surveying the landscape and highlighting some winners."

I'm glad Newsweek thinks we pick out some neat games, but that does remind me that we're only currently categorizing by format (such as PC), and not by game type (casual, indie, etc), so it may be time to look at Movable Type's implementation of tags and start putting those in place, for those who JUST want to look at our indie/casual game recommendations. Oh well, onward and upward!

Why Game Reviews Are Important... In Aggregate

x.jpg Kyle Orland continues to do an 'I can't tell you how much better' job of GameDaily's 'Media Coverage' column than its predecessor, following the retirement of the previous, lamely anonymous 'Mr. Media Coverage', presumably to yell at kids to get off his lawn - and his latest column looks at the importance of game reviews in today's media climate.

He starts out by noting: "In fact, the world of game reviews is so imperfect that even massive critical consensus on a title often has little to no impact on a game's popularity or cultural impact... It's enough to lead review writers to the brink of an existential crisis. Is anyone even listening to our advice? Does what we write have any effect on the market at large? What good are reviews, anyway?"

And then, some people have some opinions! Slashdot's Michael Zenke: "Game reviews are only useful in reinforcing a pre-existing decision to buy. They're useful to the publisher as a means of confirming a gamer's interest in a game. As far as swaying opinions, I don't really think so." Tips & Tricks Editor-in-Chief Bill Kunkel: "There are damned few reviewers whose opinion carry much weight... When a review is used to hype a game, the author of the review is rarely mentioned, just the magazine or site."

Some people, like Game Informer's Andy Reiner, seem to think that reviewers can still be a big deal, and that the reviewing Ebert will still come upon us. But as the piece points out elsewhere, the Penny Arcade-teers may, informally, be close to zeitgeist fingerers on game impressions and resulting sales already. And thanks to Metacritic and other sites, it's consensus that rules nowadays, not individuals.

[Oh, and random thing I found out while reading the article and checking the interviewee info - AmpedNews is now called Gamer 2.0, after splitting from parent company WiredLabs, and seems to mainly be offering feeds and video from other sites, but with original reviews and features, and more allegedly coming soon. On that name - we'll see what happens when Web 2.0 falls hideously out of fashion as a phrase in about 18 months on that one, mm?]

Muzzy Lane, Ferguson Make Alternate History Happen

x.jpg It's actually from a couple of weeks back, but I completely missed Clive Thompson's recent 'Games Without Frontiers' column at Wired News called 'Why a Famous Counterfactual Historian Loves Making History With Games' - but with much less clunky rhetoric than the title!

The piece talks about Niall Ferguson, "...a well-known economic historian at Harvard, and a champion of "counterfactual thinking," or the re-imagining of major historical events", and his hookup with Muzzy Lane Software to make, as they describe it, "...a new series of video games addressing modern global conflicts" and applying 'what if' scenarios.

Apparently: "Due out in 2008, [the new game] will model modern, real-world conflicts such as Iraq, Afghanistan and the nuclear confrontation with Iran" - so basically, a slightly less tabloid version of what Kuma Reality Games has been doing, and with a little more academic rigor attached? Sounds like a fascinating idea, and another chance to power up the serious games community and show that games can make you think, a la Peacemaker.

[Also worth noting - Thompson's most recent column compares the Victorian satire Flatland to Super Paper Mario and Crush, arguing: "Games are a superb environment for experimenting with new perceptual takes on geometry and physics. Designers craft these worlds from scratch, after all; they don't have to obey normal laws of reality. Yet... [games] rarely stray from simple, basic reality." Best game column anywhere? I think so, kids.]

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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