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July 7, 2007

GameSetPics: British Gaming 'Gems', Part 1

Well, not sure if you would consider all of these games and sights to be gems, but the dedicated video game aficianado knows that there are some European-only games, covers, and oddities that you won't see in North America - so here, in three variably interesting installments, are some of the things I ran into in South London today:

It's pretty unlikely that Little Britain: The Game will ever come out in the States - and, in fact, it's got absolutely terrible reviews - but the actual TV show that it's based on can be scabrously funny at times.

Here's another one that hasn't made it to the U.S. - and might not ever. The game has had an interesting history, too, originally being made as the last title from Core Design before Rebellion bought the assets and the developer. Eurogamer don't think it's very good though, also lecturing on the differences between free running and parkour.

We'll look at a whole rack of magazines later, but it's interesting to note that Future's Official PlayStation 3 Magazine actually has a packed-in Blu-Ray disc in the UK - pretty surprising if youre used to the Yank game market, given that the U.S. Official PlayStation Magazine has closed down. Demos on the disc include Ninja Gaiden Sigma, Ridge Racer 7, and Motorstorm - so nothing too exciting, esp. compared to digitally downloadable versions.

The Game Boy Advance version of The Behemoth's IGF award-winning Alien Hominid, developed by Tuna Technologies, has only been released in Europe and Australia. Oh, hey, and the Sensible Software veteran Stoo Cambridge worked on the conversion, too - neat. That's all for now - more randomness soon.

On Kongregate And The Future Of Indie Gaming

- Over at his always solid Hollywood Reporter column, Paul Hyman has been discussing indie game site Kongregate.com, with comments on the neat Flash game portal from the site's founder Jim Greer, Manifesto's Greg Costikyan, and myself.

While I love the site, I'm cited expressing a little skepticism on long-time monetization for the site: "I don't know how much Kongregate.com is making from ads... but, for the developers who supply the content, I'm pretty certain that revenue is pretty incremental compared to what one might make selling individual games at $20 a pop. From an independent game advocate's point of view, I do wonder whether giving away games for free will ever make people enough money to live on."

However, don't get me wrong, for game makers who just want to have fun, get noticed in the biz, and make personal art - and those who want to make free Flash games that might turn people on to other paid games - Kongregate (alongside Newgrounds) have a great, swift, easy YouTube-ish angle that encourages a massive variety of games.

In addition Kongregate is looking at alternate monetization ideas, including micro-transactions, according to Greer ("We're considering working with our best developers to create exclusive games for us... which may include a few free maps and then we'd charge $2 or $3 to unlock an additional 10 maps.") This is a really interesting angle to make things even more viable, I think.

What Makes You Tick? Great Indie Adventure Games

- Those LucasArts loons at The International House Of Mojo have been kind enough to point out a great-looking new freeware PC graphical adventure called 'What Makes You Tick?.

As the 'About' page handily explains: "“What Makes You Tick?” is a freeware adventure game by Matt Kempke, that was created using the LASSIE Engine. WMYT is a homage to the classic adventure games like “Monkey Island”, “Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis” or “The Dig”, but still it tells its very own story in its very own style. The game was developed over one and a half years and finally released in May 2007."

There's a neat interview with Matt on the Lassie site too - and it seems like the adventure is fairly refreshingly highbrow, in a PD-borrowing stylee: "The game was inspired by "The Sandman" ("Der Sandmann"), a story written in 1817 by ETA Hoffman. The basic idea that always fascinated me about the story was later changed in the game, but some names and motives remain." Nice art, too.

July 6, 2007

GameSetNetwork: From Suda To Runescape

- Still wandering around the United Kingdom on holiday, here (look for some fun game-related posts on that in due course), but my compadres at the CMP Game Group are still working hard, ahead of next week's E3 insanity, and here's a few highlights from this week's posts:

- Suda Talks Design: Brandon Sheffield has an exceptional interview with Suda51 up as a feature today, and there's some interesting discussion from the Grasshopper Manufacture head guy on the challenges of 'open' games in there: "When there's a high degree of freedom, people will eventually get tired of being free. You lose the sense of having a goal. It's a given that there's a story, a purpose in life. In the same way, without a storyline, the player gradually loses his or her meaning of existence in that created space. I think this is somewhat close to reality."

- Worlds In Motion Hits Runescape: Our new online worlds blog WorldsInMotion.biz seems to be starting off really well, and Leigh has added to the Online World Atlas by covering Jagex's browser-based MMO Runescape, which recently reached 1 million subscribers - incredibly impressive for its low profile. And she notes, despitea somewhat clunky reputation: "One of the most charming things about RuneScape is its overt wholesomeness. It's a world ruled by kindly NPC wizards and friendly milliners, with sheep that say "Baa!" and resources you can pick freely."

- Chili Con... Carnage?: Also recently posted is a fun postmortem for Deadline Games' Chili Con Carnage, an over-the-top PSP title that's somewhat based on earlier PS2 game Total Overdose. My favorite bit: "As a funny side note I can tell you that the team was so dedicated that once when I came back from vacation they had made an entirely Danish version of the game, complete with voiceovers and whatnot, all in their own time. They had had so much fun doing it that the whole experience was a great morale booster. Unfortunately the Danish version didn’t make it into the final game as the QA time needed wasn’t scheduled and budgeted for."

- Santiago Feels the Fl0w: Another smaller Q&A at Gamasutra chats to Thatgamecompany's Kellee Santiago on a multitude of topics, including some interesting insight into what they're doing next: "We get some royalties off of it, but we're in a three-game deal with Sony for PlayStation Network. In that way, no, we don't see a direct impact, because we already have two more games lined up for them. But they tell me it's the number one PlayStation Network game right now."

Sega GameWorks Gets Sassy With 'Ctrl Alt Eat'

- Honestly, nobody else runs Sega GameWorks press releases any more, so we might as well, if only to make Zorg happy. The bad news? The release is de-emphasizing the game playing and emphasizing the food choices. Oh well! Here goes:

"Sega Entertainment USA, Inc. is ready to compete in the casual dining arena. The company, which operates five different restaurant concepts nationally inside its GameWorks chain of entertainment locations, is confident that their restaurants can compete with other casual dining establishments."

"“We determined our stake in casual dining was not sharp enough,” said Ben Kitay, President / COO of Sega Entertainment USA Inc., “We needed to elevate the dining experience, let more people know about it, and deliver unmatched quality and guest service.” The company is now positioning the chain with “Hungry For More”. “You have to remember why we are doing this” said Kitay, “while we have never really been just an arcade, we haven’t really fully leveraged our restaurant strength. We have great food product and no one knows about it!” The positioning implies food, but Kitay listened to the obvious consumer trend – “Consumers want more from life, more from their every day, and more from their entertainment and dining experience – we have that!”"

Wait, there's more! "In January, GameWorks tested an internal program called “Sauce It To Me”. Featuring 13 new menu items with signature sauces, guests were able to choose a number of items that fit their taste profile. “We have had a great response”, said Pat Hart, Senior Vice President, Operations. “You see it in a number of casual dining chains, and there is a reason for that. We are all giving guests the power to choose, the power to decide. They like that power. They are more in control of their dining experience, and with our environment and entertainment experience, we provide more.”"

And: "Next up for the Sega Entertainment chain, “Ctrl Alt Eat”, a lunch program to be tested in California beginning July 2nd. The program is targeted at lunch professionals and will feature a menu that is entirely new to the GameWorks brand, designed to “restart” the consumer’s day... the menu will feature Panini’s, grilled sandwiches, noodle bowls and salads. The items were constructed to meet the needs of today’s lunch market - fast, healthy and re-nourishing. After the initial test period, GameWorks will launch the program in the remaining 12 venues across the United States."

“Ctrl-Alt-EAT is a new avenue for us to compete in the lunch business. Traditionally, we have always done the majority of our business on weekends,” Manny stated. “The food on this menu is incredible. Business professionals looking for a fast, healthy and unique menu will find it at our restaurants.”

Finally: "This push in to the casual dining segment at the restaurants within GameWorks is just the start for Sega Entertainment. In July, SEUI will unveil their new concept, World Sports Grille. Opening first in Detroit, Michigan inside GameWorks at the Great Lakes Crossing Mall, and then in August, downtown Seattle GameWorks, the World Sports Grille is poised to be a home run for adults, families and sports fans alike. “We wanted to create the ultimate sports grille”, Kitay said. “We will have games from around the world and games from around the block – with the best food and entertainment you can’t find anywhere else."

So... more emphasis on sports bar, and less on arcade, despite some rebirthing hints based around Mushiking and Love & Berry last year, then. Though to be fair, sister firm Sega Amusements USA is still pushing the arcade product to North America - including Love & Berry, though I've never seen it in an American location. Anyone? That's the way the cookie crumbles!

Ten Reasons Why Computer Games Are Not Games

- Michael Samyn at art-gamer firm Tale Of Tales is a gifted rhetoricist (if, indeed, that's a word!), and a recent thought-provoking screed from him on the Tale Of Tales Blog is named 'Ten reasons why computer games are not games' - so yes, it's kind of a list article, but bear with us.

Samyn explains: "Computer game is a misnomer. Sure, historically computer games have been electronic renderings of game concepts. And certainly a lot of developers of interactive entertainment insist on exploring game design as the basis of their work. That’s all very interesting, but in the mean time, computer games have evolved into a medium of their own."

In fact, he argues: "So rather than dwelling on the things that computer games have in common with traditional games, we, at Tale of Tales, prefer to explore what is different about them, what makes computer games unique. We believe that only the exploitation of these unique properties will lead to the maturity of the medium."

There then follow a bunch of interesting concepts - I'll pick just one, 'Players as authors', and you can click through to read the rest and start the inevitable argument: "Traditional games have strict rules. Because of this strictness, you can predict all possible outcomes of any game, based solely on analysis of the rules. Computer games, on the other hand, are much less predictable. While many of them still contain rules (although their strictness is fading with each generation), these rules tend to create options rather than diminish them. So much so that a player can play a game in ways that surprise even its creator."

July 5, 2007

Reviving Adventures? HDR Lying Is On The Case!

- Over at HDR Lying, there's a smart new editorial called 'Missing Adventure: A case for the revival of the adventure genre', which makes some very cogent points about the genre, starting out:

"There’s no question that the adventure genre needs to make a return, and this may be the best time for its revival. Gyakuten Saiban is increasing in popularity, and the impending release of the third and fourth installments as well as titles like Hotel Dusk and Lost in Blue on DS might be exactly what the genre needs in this critical time. What can the industry to facilitate the genre’s revival? It might be more complicated than we think."

In fact, Phoenix Wright is where blogger Nayan Ramachandran is pinning his hopes, as he purrs: "If we were to use past games as examples of where to take the genre, what better place to look than at the most successful modern adventure game: Gyakuten Saiban? While the game is a murder mystery like many, the game takes the unique attorney stance, making the game unique in its own right. Why not set games in unusual environments, like hospitals, or schools? Additionally, offer gameplay that is not necessarily a murder mystery, or even a mystery of any kind. Such change is just crazy enough to work."

For me, I think there's an important point somewhere in the maze that some of the old adventure game was simply a narrative-driven game - and that's been integrated into today's action adventure games, from Half-Life 2 to Tomb Raider and beyond. In other words, the adventure game was a building block to making more mature narrative in any of today's games. And actually, I find Phoenix Wright rather frustratingly trial and error in places, which is exactly the issue that adventure games of old had. Opinions?

Dance Dance Revolution... Not So Interactive DVD Game?

- Joel Reed Parker's Game Of The Blog is beloved to me because he has a very similar sense of the weird to me when it comes to games, and a recent round-up post unearths a gem, the Dance Dance Revolution DVD game.

As he points out gleefully: "When showing this to a friend, he was sadly optimistic, saying that DVD technology could handle a game of DDR using the remote to enter the steps. When I showed him a review that stated "The 2 mats that go with this game do NOT attach to anything that scores you - they just go on the floor by themselves." and "it's a little like step aerobics on a flat surface", I think a little piece inside of him died."

Parker also just posted a guide to the 'PD' movies inside The Darkness, since the game "...contains full length movies, music videos and cartoons that play on the televisions throughout the game." And, as a commenter rightly points out, imho: "Except the [Sonny Chiba] Street Fighter stuff is probably not public domain regardless of cheap DVD companies treating it as such. If I was putting out a high profile videogame, I wouldn't risk it."

The Aberrant Gamer: 'The Maid's Story: Control Issues'

[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.]

-When we think of Hentai games, we usually think of traditional “bishoujo” dating sims, the click-through stories with occasional plot branches and interruptions for a few still sexual images. The range beyond that is somewhat limited, largely because attempts to introduce other game elements often feel misplaced or awkward. There are simplistic strip poker-style card games, with progressively undressed women in the background, and more than a few fighting games that—except for the ability to punch off your female opponent’s clothing, possibly some erotic CG as a reward for victory—play pretty much like any 2D brawler.

The dialogue-tree story format is so prevalent because it’s safe, but it turns many off to the genre. Hard for people to sit through verbose text box after text box, automatically clicking, during what’s supposed to be their—let’s call it “intimate leisure time.” These games are often called simulators, but with a limited number of choices and possible outcomes, and almost entirely static imagery, the player becomes more a passive viewer than a real-time orchestrator of any actual action—so it’s somewhat of a misnomer.

But what if a sex game really were a sim? What would it look like if the player had flexible objectives, a variety of elements to manage at once—and complete control?

One man, three young girls, plus sex, plus total control. The game’s called The Maid’s Story (JAST USA 1997), and depending on your point of view, it’s either very hot, or utterly creepy.

It’s not uncommon for Hentai game stories to begin with a sudden stroke of implausible luck—a sorority has just moved into your apartment house, or you’ve suddenly awoken from a strange dream to find yourself the only man in a land of nymphomaniacs. The Maid’s Story doesn’t break any ground here—you play a student down on his luck, suddenly given the opportunity to take charge of a training school for maids.

Teaching then how to scrub under the toilet rim and white-glove testing their furniture polishing? Not so much. The game takes great liberty with the definition of “maid,” skewing, predictably, toward the fetishistic. These gals aren’t just learning to become fastidious domestics, but must receive training in “night service” also—hands-on sex ed with a dose of humility instruction so heaping it’s more like humiliation.

-You’re responsible for three new students—Hitomi, the clumsy blonde, Sanae, the bratty redhead, and Azusa, the raven-haired sophisticate whose endowments could have rescued the Titanic. You manage their schedule, decide what they’ll learn each day, and can either encourage or scold them as they go about their daily business. During the day, you can observe and interact with your trainees in a cross-section view of the house, and watch their statistics. When night falls, you choose a girl for a little alone time, during which you get a close-up view and some options to choose from as you perform some one-on-one instruction in her bedroom duties.

Like any training-raising sim, the girls—and the household chores—have stats to consider. Whether you praise or scold a girl, or whether you buy her gifts, affects her fondness for you, and the girls can tire out—particularly if your night service was too arduous or you attempted to force her to do something too ambitious for her current level of expertise.

-Bizarrely, all the girls have entered your instructional program of their own accord—Hitomi aspires to become an excellent maid, and Azusa actually ran away from home. Sanae has rationalized that your ministrations will train her to become a better wife. Everyone’s aware of what they’re getting into, and everyone’s consenting—no problem, right?

It’s not quite that simple. In many cases, the more you treat the girls as objects, the better they’ll like you and the more available they’ll become. The gifts you can buy them range from the charming—like sweets—to the obscene; embarrassing devices you can use on them during night service, for example. Some of the things you can do sexually—and must do, if you want to train them successfully—are unusually left-of-center even for this genre, faintly unsettling when you consider that while the game toes the line by claiming all the girls are 18, Hitomi looks like a young teen and Sanae—whose options for advanced night service are especially degrading-- looks very nearly child-like.

Moreover, as the in-game days progress, you and your girls will eventually receive visitors—usually distasteful-looking businessman types ready to test out the maids’ skills. If your maid is not well-trained, she’ll bungle the service. Given that they’re so unfortunately sweet-looking, the sight of one of your trusting trainees weeping with tea spilled all over her is heartbreakingly gratuitous. One potential visitor is your lascivious, gold-digging blonde ex-girlfriend, Itsuki, who will "vent her jealousy” on the new little ladies in your life.

-If you’ve taken care with your maids, at the end of the game (you’ve got 90 in-game days) one of the maids will, of course, become the love of your life. Though you can also get back together with cruel Itsuki, depending on some of your choices, receiving the love of a girl you’ve consistently abused, demeaned and forced is actually a common convention in h-games. Perhaps it’s not so surprising; fans of certain schools of S&M will tell you that, between consenting individuals, that sort of dynamic is erotic, even fun, and helps to deepen an emotional bond. But the power game in The Maid’s Story extends beyond sex.

When you look at it a little deeper, the wish fulfillment seems to be not in the sex act, but in the player’s status. A down-on-his-luck nobody suddenly becomes the ultimate authority in a house of difficult girls, and his ex-girlfriend comes scraping back for attention. Not one, but three girls now look to you to decide what kind of woman they’ll be. It’s an empowering vengeance act, these unusually fierce taboos and this rather callous humiliation; a forcible re-assertion of power by a man over four (including Itsuki) opaque, manipulative women.

And, as a sim, it’s not too bad. It’s actually rather challenging and involved, sexual interaction aside. And realistic, too—if the girls don’t do laundry, they’ll have to go without clothing. If they don’t cook, they starve, as spiders take up residence in your kitchen. With all this detail (even in a decade-old game), it’s quite easy to feel like you really are the man in control of this entire operation. And that’s exactly the point.

[Leigh Alexander is the editor of Worlds in Motion and writes for Destructoid, Paste, and her blog, Sexy Videogameland. She can be reached at leigh_alexander1 AT yahoo DOT com.]

July 4, 2007

IGF Finalist Switchball Bounds Out Of Gates, To XBLA?

- Thanks to GSW reader Joachim Froholt for tipping us the wink that previous IGF finalist "...Switchball has finally been released for the PC." He references the blurb for the Marble Blast vs. Marble Madness-ish title from Swedish developers Atomic Elbow:

"Today Atomic Elbow's first title Switchball was Released! The game is now available for download. The game won the Swedish Game Awards 2005 and has been nominated for IGF 2006 in the technical excellence class. We hope you enjoy playing the game as much as we've enjoyed developing it since the project started in tiny Kramfors 2004."

And indeed, the PC version is published by Sierra Online, and our tipster points out, from an XBLArcade.com post, that the game has been rated for Xbox 360 by the German USK ratings board, and thus, an XBLA version seems very likely - esp. because Sierra has picked up a bunch of Xbox Live Arcade titles from independent developers recently (and "the PC-version has Xbox-like achievements").

Froholt concludes: "This game is really awesome, with some of the most gorgeous graphics I've ever seen [YouTube PC trailer] and great physics. It's not getting any publicity, though (kind of typical with PC-releases, sadly, the moment it's announced for the XBLA everyone will probably start talking about it)". He's right, sadly, but honestly, XBLA is such a great congregation point for easy download and play on your TV of games like this, which aren't particularly suited for mouse and keyboard. Still, we're talking about the PC version now! Kinda!

Producers Of The Round Table Say 'Ni' To Scheduling

- We've linked the Gameproducer.net website here on GSW a few times, so I'm really delighted with the first Gamasutra feature in collaboration with them, a multi-person Q&A named 'Producers Of The Round Table - Practical Scheduling For Games'.

GP.net's Juuso Hietalahti helped us round up some really top-notch game producers, including Robbie Edwards, Senior Producer at Red Storm Entertainment/Ubisoft, Peter O'Brien, Producer at Bizarre Creations, Harvard Bonin, Senior Producer last at Electronic Arts, Adrian Crook, Producer at Relic Entertainment, and Frank Rogan, Producer at Gas Powered Games - and we asked them some detailed and practical questions about how exactly you complete game projects on time and on budget.

Again, not to toot our own horn, I think this level of detail and granularity on the game production process is rarely discussed in public, for example Frank Rogan on the tricky issue of task dependencies (the artist can't place X objects in levels because the code hasn't finished Y tool in time): "Dependencies are best dealt with by forward-looking and planning in the pre-production phase. Problems with dependencies are usually the result of communication breakdowns, which is why functional teams exist in the first place – each team has representatives from different disciplines, to bird dog those issues before they become problems."

There's another few thousand words in greater depth than this, so go check it out if you want more insight into just what goes into the making of today's bigger-budget console and PC titles - and it turns out there's an awful lot, as increasingly complexity makes laser-like task planning vital.

Kloonigames Vs. The Amazing Flying Brothers

- [NOTE: GSW is actually 'on holiday' starting with this post, but all this means is that you'll see the esoteric links spread out a bit as I post a few days ahead at a time - and less in-depth posts. Unless I get bored! Expect normal service to resume July 19th or so.]

Pretty much every freeware PC game that Petri Purho makes over at Kloonigames is worth covering, and following the much-drooled over Crayon Physics, he's now debuted The Amazing Flying Brothers, in which logically enough, "...You play as the infamous flying brothers as they try to perform the flying trapeze act."

Interestingly, this is a basically a one-button game (though it uses the mouse button as well), and as Petri explains: "Only left mouse button is needed. Click it to release your grip. Try to aim for the other swing. Hold left mouse button down to accelerate or to slow down. If you press down, when going down you’ll accelerate. If you press down when going up, you’ll slow down."

Some good comments, both positive and negative, from 'Graham J' in the comments: "The ridiculous bonuses were great as usual. I realize you want to shy away from this, but I love it, in any game. Rolling bonuses have always made me happy.... Too many times I felt like I “almost made it”. Obviously, falling is a big part of this game, but I’d say 1 out of 2 falls, I felt like I planned the jump right, and JUST MISSED. Perhaps if there was a slight gravity towards the beams, or something? Or if he had longer arms?" Whatever the case, for $0, this is a good deal.

July 3, 2007

Wanted: LA, Seattle, Regional, Korean Gamasutra Correspondents?

- So, although our two-time Webby Award winning site Gamasutra is certainly one of the most diverse game websites in terms of amount of correspondents (I'm guessing we have easily 30+ different writers contributing each month), we still have a couple of holes in our portfolio of regional correspondents - maybe GameSetWatch readers or their friends can help out? Here's what we're after:

- There are sometimes press events and smaller conferences in Los Angeles that we don't have time to send our full-time folks (located in San Francisco and Chicago) to. Would be nice to have someone L.A. based we could ping under these circumstances.

- Ditto for Seattle, for example for the upcoming Casual Connect Seattle conference, which we'd love to get someone to cover. But most of our in-house correspondents will be shellshocked, following the close combat experience that will be the E3 Media Summit - thus we turn to you!

- If there are other regional conferences which you happen to be close to, then feel free to ping us at the relevant time. For example, Portland natives, we genuinely would like to cover the Christian Game Developers Conference, but we probably wouldn't send someone up there just to do it. We also might want some help for the Montreal Game Summit this year. (We have New York, Austin, and San Diego _fairly_ well covered.)

- Finally, a couple of long-time wants. Firstly, we've never been able to find an English-speaking journalist based in South Korea who can write eloquently about the game scene over there. We'd want at least a couple of features and maybe regular dispatches, since the ecosystem there is absolutely fascinating. Secondly, we've had mixed luck in grabbing a regular Japanese correspondent, especially one who has press contacts and time to interview Japanese developers (though we have decent coverage from our Japanese-speaking staffers like Brandon Sheffield, when we let him out of his cage!)

We're really looking for people who've written professionally before, and can provide a couple of examples of their writing - ideally in the game space, though knowledge of games is all that really matters here. Punctuality and succinctness are also very important - WiFi and laptops rule the day in today's scoop-heavy society. All of these opportunities are on a freelance, event by event basic, obviously. Send all pitches via [email protected] and we'll pass it on from there, eh?

Weirdness: Tumiki Fighters, BSD, And Majesco?

- So you may have heard that Majesco is releasing Wii-exclusive title Blast Works, a Budcat Creations-developed product which, as we noted on Gamasutra, is "...a port of Kenta Cho's PC side-scrolling shooter Tumiki Fighters", a great free title from one of the dojin shooter masters.

But what's really odd is that the original Majesco press release for the title completely fails to mention Cho or Tumiki Fighters anywhere. The2Bears has a follow-up post on this which helps explain just why, translating a Japanese-language post on Kenta Cho's weblog as follows:

"Looks like Majesco’s press release is out. Earlier, Majesco and Budcat asked whether it was okay to port Tumiki Fighters to the Wii, and since there should be something in the BSD License about replying ‘feel free to do as you please’, it looks like they’re really going to push through with it…"

So, this is... strange, to say the least. BSD licenses, as Wikipedia explains, "...have few restrictions compared to other free software licenses such as the GNU GPL or even the default restrictions provided by copyright, putting it relatively closer to the public domain." And that's what Tumiki Fighters was released under.

Therefore, it looks like technically, Majesco and Budcat only have to adhere to these rules to release a new version of Cho's game on Wii: "Redistributions in binary form must reproduce the [a] copyright notice, this list of conditions and the following disclaimer in the documentation and/or other materials provided with the distribution... Neither the name of the nor the names of its contributors may be used to endorse or promote products derived from this software without specific prior written permission."

Presumably this last reason is why Kenta Cho's name is nowhere to be seen on the Majesco release. In another recent interview with Generation Gamerz, Cho confirms: "I'd received an offer of porting TUMIKI Fighters to Wii from Majesco and Budcat and I replied [they could] feel free to use it under the BSD license." So he was definitely aware of this impending conversion.

Anyhow, while Majesco don't have to mention Cho, and he may not want any money or input into this Wii version, I personally think it would be only fair if his name was somewhere in the credits - 'Based on an original concept by...', or similar. I submitted some questions to Majesco through their PR agency to see if they intend to do this, and will update this post with any comments from them.

[UPDATE: Interestingly, Majesco's press release on its E3 line-up specifically states that Blast Works is "...developed by Budcat Creations and based on the popular Tumiki Fighters online game." Good to see them crediting it. In addition, Majesco's PR rep replied to my questioning: "We actually won't be accommodating interviewing for Blast Works until the game ships this fall."]

Kuju's Chemistry Lets Us Play Bunsen and Beaker

So, my old employer Kuju Entertainment, best known for games like Battalion Wars for Gamecube and Crush for PSP, has been rebranding its various UK studios under slightly wacky new names, in order to better describe and differentiate the kind of games they make. And it's an interesting idea.

Actually, I remember some earlier branding efforts in the late '90s, when the company was called Simis - at one point, Glass Ghost was an alternate name for the company, actually. Anyhow, earlier this year, Crush developer Kuju Brighton became Zoe Mode, a personification of a casual/mainstream oriented, innovative worldview, or just a girl with her tongue sticking out, depending on who you believe.

And just the other week, Kuju Sheffield morphed into Chemistry, a new, kinda techy brand - the owners announced that they were "...at the same time giving the studio more autonomy as it specializes in games created using Epic’s Unreal Engine." And the folks at Kuju sent us something fun to celebrate the rebranding:

In the immortal words of Rolf Harris - can you tell what it is yet?

Yep, it's a volumetric flask with the Chemistry logo/URL on it.

Studio and/or image rebranding like this is something that fellow UK developer Blitz Games has also been experimenting with - they created the Volatile Games division to get away from their family-friendly image, in order to do titles such as (the not very well-received, woops!) Reservoir Dogs. In Kuju's case, it's a bit cleaner, though - branding each studio separately as a specialist in a particular technology or game style.

Anyhow, I believe Jon Jordan is going to be interviewing the Chemistry folks for his Euro Vision Gamasutra column in the near future, so it'll be interesting to see what they think about the name change. In the meantime, Photoshop fiends can feel free to try to undistort the reflection of me in the Chemistry [EDIT: volumetric flask, thanks maybecca!] to work out whether I have any clothes on.

July 2, 2007

2007 Independent Games Summit: Telltale Talks Episodic Gaming

- We've previously run two of these videos - Matt Wegner on physics and the Gastronaut-ies (!) on 'Small Arms' for XBLA, but we're continuing to put online key lectures from the Independent Games Summit, the IGF-affiliated event that took place for the first time at Game Developers Conference 2007 at the Moscone Center in San Francisco, on March 5th and 6th, 2007. (We'll do the Summit again in 2008.)

So we're putting video of the 2007 Independent Games Summit online "for free, in the spirit of sharing, and to help the indie community understand and better itself", and the third IGS 2007 lecture to go up is Dave Grossman & Kevin Bruner of Telltale Games (you know, the Sam & Max guys!), discussing 'Episodic Gaming For Indies'. Here's a direct Google Video link for the lecture, plus a downloadable .MP4 version and an embedded version:

Lots of good stuff in this one, particularly regarding how on earth you can really release a six-part episodic game in monthly chunks - without getting your schedules wrapped round your neck and expiring. Also, I enjoy Dave Grossman's abstract wit. Whatever that means!

Here's the original session description: "Telltale's CTO and design lead talk about their experiences as an indie developing the Sam & Max and Bone series as PC episodic titles, explaining what the company learnt and what other indies should know about the pros and cons of episodic gaming."

Casual Game Cloning - Inside A Successful Experiment

- Via firstly Kim Pallister and secondly Jim Greer comes a fascinating post by the creator of 'Generic Defense Game', a free Flash game that's currently available on Kongregate.com, and is spectacularly popular.

The premise that creator PsychoGoldfish started with is fascinating: "The experiment was to create a game in a genre that has been completely over-saturated with carbon copy games, and distribute it to see how much money and popularity I could exploit from it. I wanted a game that would both mock this type of game, but would also make no pretenses at being original in any way. And so the concept of ‘generic’ defense game was born."

And it was scarily successful - a front page Digg, featured on all the major casual Flash game sites, etc. But PsychoGoldfish is worried about what his experiment shows: "Today, everyone from high-school kids to seasoned veterans, are whipping off generic games (not just in the defense genre) because the big commercial sites will dish out $500 or so, for pretty much anything that works (and even some things that don’t)."

He continues: "The casual players tend to stick to these commercialized sites, because they brand all the games they sponsor to the degree that the players feel these sites are where all the games are coming from. For many casual players… these are the only sites they check for new games. This is great for these sites, as they build strong user bases, and stronger revenue streams. This is good for the developers because they can earn sponsorships without having to put fourth a great deal of effort. This is bad for the industry because the quality content is being buried by the quantity content."

Interestingly, PsychoGoldfish compares the current situation to the death of the Atari in the early '80s - allegedly overwhelmed by a gigantic batch of mediocre titles - and charges: "This experiment has completely validated that it pays more to make a bunch of generic games, then it does to push the envelope."

Of course, it's interesting that the Defense genre, for which there are now a whole heap of games, was directly 'inspired' by an existing Warcraft III mod, which itself had progenitors in Starcraft, I've been told - others may have a better lineage that this. Whatever the case, Defense games are the equivalent of the new Diner Dash for the free Flash-game community, and it's startling to see the results, with clones being so darn easy to make.

Announcing Our New Online Worlds Blog, WorldsInMotion.biz

- This is the project we've been keeping under wraps for a couple of weeks, and can now reveal - the CMP Game Group is delighted to announce the launch of online worlds blog WorldsInMotion.biz, a Game Developer Research-related venture that's going to look at where games, interaction, and multiplayer worlds meet online.

The weblog, which is being run by Gamasutra and GameSetWatch writer Leigh Alexander, has been set up because "...the staff at Game Developer Research will be launching multiple reports on the state and future of online worlds over the next few months." The blog will report on virtual worlds as we compile information on this increasingly important market.

So why does it matter? Isn't that Second Life awfully overhyped? What gamers care about those dinky little online play applications? Well, I think a recent Gamasutra interview with Raph Koster explains a lot of the reason why we should care, as follows:

"Consider the statistics. Webkinz, 2.5 million uniques in December; you buy a plush toy. Runescape: we still don't think of Runescape as being part of our industry, but it's probably the most popular MMO in the world, more popular than WoW. Toontown is up to more than 2.5 million uniques now. We never talk about Toontown because it's web deployed. Then of course there’s was Club Penguin, with 4.5 million uniques in December alone...When you compare the numbers, all of those are larger than the number two MMO in the western world, every single one of them. So yeah, I think people are missing something."

So we'll be covering the rapidly expanding area where games and online worlds interact, and we've also set up an Online World Atlas where we'll be profiling a lot of these Web apps that game industry folks may not be so familiar with.

What do they do? How do they work? So far we've looked at Club Penguin and at the longstanding Habbo Hotel (check out the Transformers ads in the 'Target Lounge' for an example of big brands at work there), and we'll be covering about two more worlds per week for as long as it takes to bring everyone up to date. Oh, and here's the WorldsInMotion.biz RSS feed, for the lazy.

July 1, 2007

Game Developers And Overtime: The Inner Bits

- Not sure whether this was directly inspired by GSW's recent post about EA_Spouse and the new Game Developer magazine, but the 'Inner Bits' blog, written by an anonymous game developer, has posted three detailed posts on the state of overtime in today's game business.

The first Inner Bits post takes a perhaps overly bleak, but somewhat realistic look at the problem: "The immediate and obvious reason for this reprehensible practice comes from the fact that businesses suffer no direct cost associated to it... Arguing that unpaid overtime is morally wrong is inherently futile in a capitalistic world. Video game companies are in the business to generate profit and please shareholders."

Moving on, the second post is entitled 'Overtime: The Employer Perspective', and hammers the point home further: "Ideally, management will bring a game in on time, on-target feature wise, with no amount of overtime. Although most industry veterans know that this ideal is rarely achieved, we argue that in order for the industry to truly mature, this ideal needs to become the industry standard, the rule rather than the exception."

Finally, a third post named 'Why We Don't Fight Back' lays it out in black and white, concluding: "So, who is to blame? Companies are guilty of using shady moral tactics to squeeze as much work from employees, but at the end of the day, employees are effectively responsible for their own wellbeing, and the hours they choose to work." All very thought-provoking.

GameSetLinks: July 1st, 2007

- Advance warning - you may find GSW slowing down a little bit next week, starting around Wednesday, since I'm off on holiday to my native England and then Finland/Estonia (and no, I'm not going to see Remedy, we're just going there for fun to hang with the Moomins.) In the mean time, here's a full set of link weirdness:

Avatar Alter Egos, In Book Form: The U.S. version of the 'Alter Ego' book is out - and it presents "...the phenomenon of the contemporary avatar - the virtual characters gamers choose and design to engage in 3D worlds online... Portraits of gamers from the United States, Europe, China, and Korea (including leading figures of the gaming world) are paired with digital images of their alter egos." Unlikeliest real-life avatar alter ego pictured above.

- GameTappity-Tap Revelations: It was pointed out to me this week that SomethingAwful's 'GameTap Megathread' is the best single informational location for what's going on at Turner's 'all you can eat' subscription site. And yes, they added Cyan's The Manhole this week, as well as the continuing golden shower of Neo Geo goodness. Also, our former colleague Frank Cifaldi hinted at some new titles in a very... Frank-ish way on the GameTap forums. Yay.

- A Little More RePlay: Gamasutra news/layout guy Jason Dobson picked up some RePlay magazines in the same eBay batch I did, and has done a fun feature analyzing the ones he got over at Snackbar Games, covering a multitude of topics concerning the arcade game biz back in 1987. And honestly, could that PlayChoice 10 ad be any cooler?

- Game Journalist? It's Not An E3!: Not that I mention things just because Kyle Orland tells me, but the IGJA's Not An E3 party is absolutely not taking place on July 10th, and journalists who want to hang out and talk smack and non-smack about the new-style E3 festivities should absolutely not not turn up. Oh, I guess that's turn up! The last one had both Dean Takahashi and Brian Crecente in attendance, and no black holes swallowed up LA, so that's a mark of its quality.

- Seriously... Games?: I believe Ian Bogost is going to address this article in his next column for Gama, but Slate ran a story called 'The Trouble With Serious Video Games' this week, and it makes the interesting point: "In taking the fun out of video games, companies like Persuasive make them less alluring to people who love games and more alluring to people who don't. Your boss, for example." Games with social messages aren't always meant to be Bejeweled-style addictive, of course, but...

- Virt Hits Contra 4 Running: I've known Jake 'Virt' Kaufman from way back in .MOD scene days, so it's awesome to hear his virtuoso game music insanity paying off - he's doing the soundtrack to Contra 4, working with his old buddies at Wayforward, with whom he did the Shantae GBC soundtrack. Considering his skill at updating old NES-style tunes (as showcased at the IGF finalists party at GDC this year), this is likely to be sublimeness personified. [EDIT: Ah, Kotaku points out some in-game footage, with music, even, in a 1UP preview.]

- Lazyweb: Kennedy Vs. Darwinia: Having recently been introduced to the 'genius' of Kennedy's 'Your Mama' video, which, yes, has an absolutely terrible Halo machinima version, too, I realized that the ridiculous disco ball virtual landscape in the official video (starts at about 0:50) looks quite a lot like Introversion's Darwinia. So c'mon, Introversion, modders, somebody, do a version of Darwinia starring Kennedy. You can replace the little green stick men with, uhhhm, MILFs. Wow, what an awful Lazyweb request - let's draw a veil over this entire post, quick.

COLUMN: 'Game Mag Weaseling': Mag Roundup 6/30/07

['Game Mag Weaseling' is a weekly column by Kevin Gifford which covers video game magazines from the late '70s all the way up to right now - this week's column clarifies shutdown specifics for Tips & Tricks magazine and offers a new possibility for the takeover of Nintendo Power's publishing rights.]


As has been widely reported online, Larry Flynt Publishing's Tips & Tricks is shutting down... at least, in the form we have it now. According to the staffers I talked to, September will be the last issue of the 13-year-old title; however, LFP will continue to publish T&T Codebooks in a bimonthly format for as long as they're profitable. All of T&T's editors have been laid off, but some will continue to work on the Codebooks as freelancers.

The sudden-but-not-all-that-unexpected closure of T&T apparently stems from a drop in sales and ad revenue over the past few months, a trend that recent incremental redesigns and new features weren't able to reverse. It marks the fourth US game-mag folding in six months after OPM, Computer Games and Beckett Spotlight: Cheat Codes (yes, I count that as a magazine), with little sign of new launches happening anytime soon.

Recently I've wondered if the greatest threat facing video-game print media isn't rising costs, the Internet, or a jaded readership. Instead, it may be the magazines' own sense of momentum, and the resulting reluctance on the publishers' end to make major changes, lest the gamble fails to pay off. I know T&T's staff over the years to be a smart and talented lot, but I wonder if T&T is a good example of this.

It's been clear for almost a decade now that online was where people will go for video-game help, but the magazine didn't make an honest, all-out effort to revamp itself until last year. I don't think that's because the editors were lazy bums -- I'm sure they wanted to chuck the old T&T and put as much stuff as they could into whatever new title resulted. Instead, I think Mr. Flynt and the other publishing highers-up didn't want change because change brings the unfamiliar, and it's hard to write a sales projection based on the unfamilar.

Ultimately, it should serve as warning to other publications that failing to adapt to the times will be the doom of your title. Sometimes I wonder if the British approach to game mags -- lots of new titles instead of just a few, all with runs of over 100 issues -- is healthier, serving to keep ideas fresh in the industry. But that's speculation for another time.

In the meantime, click on to read all about the new US mags of the past two weeks.

Nintendo Power August 2007


Cover: Soul Calibur Legends

An interesting parallel to T&T's fate is the hot rumor going around town these days about Nintendo Power's future. If word can be trusted (and lord knows that no one ever spreads unsubstantiated lies in the video-game business), Prima Games is the main candidate for taking up the NP name these days. I don't know how the magazine would fit into that rumor; presumably Prima's chief interests would lie in being the official publisher of all Nintendo's strategy guides. Further news as events warrant, I suppose.

Anyway, this month's Soul Calibur Legends features is long, text-heavy, and rather Game Informer-like in style, which is novel to find in Nintendo Power. The rest of the magazine isn't too exciting, it being a pretty slow period for Wii stuff right now, though there are interviews aplenty as always (including with Itagaki, the Contra 4 folks and Eiji Aonuma. Also, holy cow, the Contra 4 poster is awesome. It's very obvious that whoever drew it took their cues from 80s-era US game-cover art; anyone around back then will crack a smile when they see this.

Play July 2007


Cover: Naruto: Rise of a Ninja

Here's a cover that is right up Play's alley, and they run with the game for what seems like eight hundred pages, all filled with exciting art and screenshots of the little orange guy running around and jumping on trees. In classic Play fashion, it's followed soon after by a page on Looney Tunes: Acme Arsenal, something you most assuredly won't find anywhere else.

One thing I found odd: why two pages on Sony Gamer's Day and one on Tecmo's press event? Those things happened ages ago and online media covered them just fine. At least the spread on the StarCraft II Seoul event had some nice pictures and commentary.

PC Gamer August 2007 (Podcast)


Cover: StarCraft II

I love the coverlines on this issue. "What You Won't Find Online". "Think you can't return opened games? WRONG!" That's classic Future stuff there, and I like it.

But the first question that comes to mind: From a late-June standpoint, why should we care what PC Gamer thought about StarCraft II back in mid-May? Mainly, it seems to be some new screens and an exhaustive description of all the units and such announced so far, as well as extensive developer commentary. It's a nice read, but two other pieces caught my interest more: a new column by Richard Garriott about the idea of MMOs hitting the mainstream, and the "return opened games" piece by EIC Greg Vederman. (It involves complaining about the in-game EULAs, and it meets with mild to moderate success depending on the company.)

PSM August 2007 (Podcast)


Cover: The Darkness

Can't say I care much about the cover subject, but two features inside -- one on PSP hacking, the other pitting three writers against each other to get the best PS2 used-game lot for $100 -- seems to indicate PSM following in the footsteps of OXM and doing more original theme-based features.

[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.]

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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