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August 18, 2007

Tetris: The Grand Master - The History!

- One thing I really appreciate about GameSetWatch is that we tend to get thoughtful submissions from readers that fit the site, and this one from Hoang "PetitPrince" Pham is no exception:

"You and GSW's audience might be interested in this article I wrote discussing Tetris: The Grand Master. Originally written in French, but translated by a fellow Canadian Tetriholic, it talks about the far too unknown arcade evolution of the original Tetris, whose third sequel is still popular nowadays in Japan's game center."

He continues: "The article itself is a dissection of some of the game mechanics, how it is tailored to favors an highspeed, hardcore style of play (well, it's an arcade game, after all). It has a pretty solid community in Japan, and, despite the fact that it is legally impossible to find it outside the land of the rising sun, it also has some fans in Occident."

Indeed this version does have fans, especially at TetrisConcept.com, which I've previously mentioned on GSW - check out their TGM rotation Wiki entry to sample the hardcore, for example. And most of all, it's a shame that we'll be getting two new versions of Tetris on Xbox 360 this year in the West, but neither of them will be The Grand Master, as far as I can divine - even though it's out in Japan for X360!

On Tragic Body Issues In Online Worlds

- On Damion Schubert's entertaining Zen Of Design blog, there's a post called 'Orc Shrinkage and Heroic Asses', in which the BioWare designer discusses unexpected changes to MMO characters both old and new.

Firstly, there's what he calls 'the great shoulderpocalypse': "In a [World Of Warcraft] patch almost two months ago, Blizzard somehow shrunk the scaling on all shoulder pieces worn by orcs to a size which looks… well, almost reasonable. The reaction from the fans was quick, visceral, and seething with shock and hatred." It's amazing what tiny changes will engender in a committed fanbase, eh

Schubert goes on to note: "The lesson from all this, of course, is as old as the hills: Fuck with a player’s visual appearance against his will at your own peril. I still bear the scars of this lesson. As part of the original Meridian 59 team, we shipped a game with character art that was, not to put too fine a point on it, pretty much directly exported from Poser, a popular-but-not-very-good 3D modeling program of the era." And what happened when the (female) art director wanted to fix things up? "The horrifying thing is that every woman in the game logged in to find that, in their judgment, they had a fat ass." Wuhoh.

GameSetNetwork: From Id To Consoles In Korea

- Now, we already covered sister site Gamasutra's trip to Microsoft's GameFest earlier this week, but there's a whole bunch of other GSW-worthy content we put up this week on other CMP Game Group sites, so I thought I'd whip through it quickly - simple quotes and deks follow:

- The Tao Of Id - Kevin Cloud, Steve Nix Talk Tech, Future Of PC: "Legendary Texan developer id Software is making major plans for engine licensing with id Tech 5, and Gamasutra sat down with co-owner Kevin Cloud and biz dev director Steve Nix to discuss them alongside the future of PC gaming, DS and mobile efforts, and much more."

- Q&A: Kongregate's Greer On Funding The Flash Renaissance: "Gamasutra has been quizzing Jim Greer, co-founder and CEO of Flash gaming portal Kongregate, following the company's new round of VC funding - how are initially free Flash games meant to make significant money, what royalties does the site take, and what are 'premium developers'? Answers within..."

- The State Of Korea: Console Games: "Following his earlier look at the bustling South Korean PC gaming market, journalist Nick Rumas turns his attention to the country's console prospects, revealing exclusive data on the burgeoning nation's Sony past and... Nintendo future?"

- Q&A: Red Mile's Chester Aldridge Talks Sin City, Jackass: "In this exclusive Gamasutra Q&A, Chester Aldridge, CEO of Sausalito, California based publisher Red Mile (GripShift) details plans and expectations for the company's forthcoming Jackass: The Game, and talks collaborations with Frank Miller on its recently-signed Sin City IP."

- Edinburgh, Pt.1: Finally, at the beginning of the week, the Edinburgh International Festival had a bunch of intriguing content, and Gama had a man there covering it - from Endemol on 'virtual reality TV' through Ubisoft's Yves Guillemot waxing lyrical on a bunch of subjects, through Sony on 'Home', Linden and CCP on online worlds, and the BBC's Simon Nelson on a more 'playful' interactive vision - for starters!

- Edinburgh Vs. LazyTown?: But the most vital and exciting EIF news of the week? In the lecture from CCP CEO Hilmar Petursson, he "...explaining that the Iceland-based developer was originally founded a decade ago 'in a space that didn't really exist at the point in time,' also noting that when it was first founded it worked on Icelandic children's TV show LazyTown to fund its startup." Wow, a space-based connection to 'You Are A Pirate'? We never guessed!

August 17, 2007

Why Casual Portals Don't Work For Some

- I previously mentioned Klei Entertainment's new Jamie Cheng-helmed blog, and in the second instalment, the opinionated but always readable Eets creator talks about the 'Top 3 reasons Klei doesn’t do Casual Portals', as follows.

Firstly, he notes that 'developers take all the risk': "In this market, most developers create the game entirely on their own budget, and then ship it off to the distributors to sell. The distributors then put the game up on their site, and if it doesn’t hit certain metrics within a short time span, the game gets pulled off the front page, buried underneath hundreds of other games. You can bet the long tail is hard at work after this point, but selling a few copies here and there over a long period of time doesn’t benefit the developer — it benefits the distributor because of the volume of games. Hence, it’s in the distributor's best interest to grab as many games as possible to build their library up and fatten the long tail."

He also comments, probably most notably: "Even disregarding everything above, I believe the market goes against the greatest strength of the internet. It can be encompassed with one word: Service. The future of games, especially ones delivered over the internet, is providing not just a finished product, but a continued service."

In other words, casual games delivered over portals don't get you involved in after-sales service, your game's community, or suchlike. Cheng also admits that the Klei employees just aren't into the kind of games that are popular on portals - but is that alone the issue here, or does he have a bigger points about how casual portals work? Should more developers be trying to break out of that portal paradigm?

GameSetJob: Looking For A Game Developer Research Editor

- Now, you may recall that we were looking for a features editor for Gamasutra a couple of months back - a position happily filled by GamesRadar, GameSpy, et aliis veteran Christian Nutt, in the end - he's marauding out and about on our behalf already.

Well, this time we're back for more, since we're going to be expanding our already-successful Game Developer Research division, and we're asking the GSW public if you know anyone who loves games, but also isn't scared by a little analysis, to fill a Research Editor position that also works on Game Developer magazine. Our handy HR people put up an ad on Craigslist, so I will cite the relevant bits from it:

"The position of Research Editor is responsible for overseeing the content and editorial vision for our new product, Game Developer Research, including commissioning, editing, and publishing monthly research reports for sale. In addition, the Research Editor will work with Game Developer magazine to author and broker technical and research stories, largely based on the research.

Primary Responsibilities include:
• Working with the Product Manager of Game Developer Research to devise a full schedule of research reports, then commissioning and editing the articles for monthly debut.
• Managing the editorial budget for research.
• Ensure the research articles are correctly laid out, fact checked, and published for paid download.
• Work on the Game Developer technical and research magazine articles, including the annual Front Line Awards.
• Technical product review co-ordination (also sometimes research-related)
• Write the magazine versions of the research reports – which are anywhere from news to feature-sized."

Obviously, what we've published so far is the Salary Survey research, plus the Game Developer Census. Moving forward, we'll be doing regular research into online worlds, as well as a Top 20 Publishers research paper (greatly expanding the magazine coverage for it!) and a great deak of other interesting material - much of it never properly looked at, and with direction to be decided by whoever takes this position.

So if you think you have a careful analytical mind and great game industry knowledge - you will be commissioning and directing research, not writing it from scratch, incidentally - go ahead and apply via the official job ad email address - [email protected]. The position is full-time, with benefits, and is based in San Francisco, in what we like to call the 'Wired-Ziff-CNet Triangle', just south of Downtown. Journalists get lost in it, you know!

COLUMN: Cinema Pixeldiso: 'King of Kong - The Roundtable'


A few weeks back, I was able to check out The King Of Kong, a brand new documentary that centers on one man (an every-man, actually!) by the name of Steve Wiebe, and his attempt to nab the highest score possible in Donkey Kong, as well as the challenges he faces. Not from the game itself, which in itself is quite difficult (perhaps one of the harshest from its era) but from the one person who laid claim to the record, that being the enigma known as Billy Mitchell - one of the competitive gaming scene's most infamous figures, as well as his devoted followers.

For those who missed it, my review of it can be found here, though the bottom line was I found it to a totally fantastic and absolutely engrossing film, and easily one of the finest documentaries to be crafted on the subject of video games yet produced.

The tale it spins is a fascinating one, especially because it's "real"; what happened really happened, and the characters are actual people, though some are still very much "characters" in every sense of the word. Yet, even the best documentaries don't tell the entire story. They often simply can't due to various reasons; there's not enough time, the camera can't be everywhere, you can't bore the audience, etc. But immediately afterwards, I thought back to something that I personally witnessed that conflicted with the narrative of the story....

Without getting into too many details, because it would both spoil the movie and take too long to explain, I actually met the film's "star", Billy Mitchell (Wiebe might be the center of the story, but Mitchell is clearly the star) a few years ago in New York City at a film festival that had a video game component. He was on-hand with footage of himself playing Donkey Kong and breaking the world record. He then presented the videotape to Walter Day, head of the Twin Galaxies, the word's recognized authority of video game score keeping. Little did I know then that it would lead to doubts about a movie years later down the road.

I later explained this to my friend, MTV News' Stephen Totilo, who was also wondering about a few things, primarily stemming from his interview with one of the featured individuals from the movie, Robert Mruczek, who was the referee that verified another tape that Mitchell produced in the movie. Was it the same one that I saw in real life? There was no mention of it, and the timeline that was laid out doesn't allow for it. Both myself and Stephen decided to investigate, and in the process came up with a different timeline. The people over at Twin Galaxies, who have since day one doubted Weibe’s abilities, which is made crystal clear in the movie almost immediately, also created their own.

And then Stephen scored the ultimate coup: the first post-documentary interview with Mitchell, who, needless to say was not happy with how he was portrayed in the film, which could be best described as "the bad guy". Though it needs to be pointed out that he hadn't seen the film... and still hasn't, despite numerous attempts by the film's director and producer to make it so. Anyhow, even more places and events were brought up, which were not mentioned in the movie. And I myself began to wonder if what I enjoyed and wanted to see do well deserved such support.

The Roundtable

Yesterday morning I got the chance to sit down with Seth Gordon, the director, Ed Cunningham, the producer, and Steve Wiebe, the center of it all.

The first thing I had to ask was the reaction King of Kong has received, and the resulting controversy. And apparently, everyone who has seen the movie has loved it, or so says Ed (it is true... I have yet to encounter a negative review, at least in the press). But more importantly, it was mentioned that Walter Day, one of the major faces in the film enjoyed it immensely as well (despite the fact that his organization doesn’t really come off so well, let alone their king supreme). It would seem that those who hate it have yet to see it. Again, including Billy Mitchell himself.

When asked about how certain events took place but were not portrayed (again, I hate to be cryptic, but I want to refrain from spoilers, though what I am alluding to can be tracked down by checking out Stephen’s articles), as expected, I was told that the entire story could not be told because the cameras were not there to capture it all. Plus certain elements were ultimately not incorporated or mentioned simply because it didn't relate or effect the core narrative. But more importantly, as Seth explained "We presented what we witnessed... we presented the facts as they happened." There was no twisting of reality, as some have claimed or have been lead to believed. In fact, the ones accusing the filmmakers of such an act might in fact be doing it themselves.

Gordon and Cunningham did not set out to make Wiebe a good guy, nor did they intend to make Mitchell a bad guy. They simply presented what happened; how people acted as they did and it was simply caught on film. Though that's contrary to what Mitchell believes, who has been going around telling folks his side of story, which is largely "that’s not what happened" and "they did tell you about this…"

All three men were clearly frustrated with Mitchell’s own smear campaign, though Cunningham was the most vocal. He explained that Mitchell and his supporters have been going around telling their version of how things went down to the press, forcing Cunningham to re-state the facts. Making things especially difficult is now there’s not one version to refute but "twenty different versions, all constantly changing." Again, this I can somewhat attest to; hard facts have been difficult to track down since there are so many different takes, and few sources that could be considered. Much of it stems from Twin Galaxies themselves, but considering the shadow of doubt the film casts in terms of their reliability and credibility, you simply don’t know who to believe.

Mitchell is a person who plays games, and plays them well. Plus he’s also a puppeteer as Cunningham described him, as portrayed in the film, and his behavior leading up to its releases somewhat supports this. Yet, as frustrated as they are, those behind the film have tried their best to get into a war of words since that would be "besides the point." If anything, they want the movie to start dialogue, which is why everyone, especially Weibe, is frustrated with a direct acknowledgment of the facts presented.

In fact, Mitchell has refused to refer to Wiebe by name in interviews. Yet in the end, Wiebe still respects Mitchell, for being an excellent player. One who he wishes he could one day play against, face to face. The funny thing is that it was Mitchell’s refusal to actually play is what cemented his chief rival’s story in the first place.

Gordon explained that originally they were following many top-notch players going after high scores in a variety of games. In the beginning, he wanted a complicated narrative that went back and forth between several ace gamers, to lead to one dramatic conclusion, sort of like a video game version of Cheap, Fast, and Out of Control. The concept was to present a diverse tapestry of dynamic, and extreme, personalities with competitive gaming as their means to come to grips with reality or their demons.

Aside from Wiebe there was Donald Hayes and Abdner Ashman and many others. In fact, initially, Wiebe’s story was not much of interest, simply because, as Gordon explained "Steve was such a nice guy that he wasn’t very interesting." But when Wiebe set the highest score, which prompted two men to barge into his home and investigate the Donkey Kong board, the filmmakers' interest were piqued, and Mitchell’s reaction to the man who stole his crown sealed the deal.

It’s also worth noting that some of the “new blood” in competitive gaming were also interviewed, such as Fatal1ty, but in the end, his story was not compelling. Primarily due to his age. Since he’s relatively young, he hasn’t gone through the hardship that Weibe has gone through, which in the end not only makes him so likeable but relatable. Even if you’re still a teenager, who will you relate to more? Some hotshot gamer that has managed to use his leet skills for fame and fortune, or an everyday guy just trying to get by and be a good husband and father, who unfortunately gets sand kicked in his face? BTW, when asked if he was happy with the way he was portrayed, ”even if I do come off as a negligent father” Weibe chuckled.

At times, the film was even wider in scope. Gordon and Cunningham wanted to touch upon how pervasive video games had become in society, such as the military. An interview with Colin Powel was planned, but never happened. But in the end, it was the human story that they felt was the most interesting and worth following. With the true irony being the tale of a man who went towards video games as a source of happiness and release because as Cunnigham put it, "video games don’t judge you." Yet in the end, Wiebe found himself being constantly scrutinized by his doubters, all due to video games. In fact, at this very moment, his achievements are still being analyzed by certain people in the Twin Galaxies universes.

Yet Wiebe is not offended. If he has to prove himself, he will prove himself once again. One supposes to helps that, at the end of the day, he still loves playing Donkey Kong. And his rivalry with Mitchell has forced both men to elevate their games. Hence why later that evening, Weibe would attempt once again to break the record that Mitchell had recently set a few weekends ago.

Two quick factoids from the roundtable: the voice of KITT was at one point going to narrate the film, due to its 80’s association. Also, when asked who Weibe would like to portray him in the fictionalized re-telling of the story that is currently planned (Gordon is set to direct that as well), his answer was Mark Hamill.

The Attempt

Weibe’s attempt took place last night in Times Square, in the heart of New York City, at the Dave & Buster’s located on 42nd, between 7th and 8th Avenue. The plan was for him to make his attempt around 8:30; right next door was a final preview screening of the movie, which had begun at 7. The crowd would then be led to D&B and witness the man who’s story they had just witness attempt a happy ending before their eyes.

I arrived on the scene at exactly 7:14, knowing that Weibe was going to do a test run, so I figured it would be fun to watch him warm up. I wasn’t quite expecting him to be at the 555,100 already. Three minutes later, at 7:17, he was up to 568,200.

Seeing Weibe play Donkey Kong in person was like watching a an actor whom you’ve admired in film and television on a Broadway stage. There he was, the talent, right in front of you. And anyone who has given the original DK game a spin can tell you it takes fierce talent, as well as genuine guts, to not only trudge ahead, but be able to do so.

At 615,000 points, which was 7:22, I asked Gordon, who was trying to set the camcorder set-up to record the actual run if he thought Weibe might actually best the record (which was 1,050,200) right then and there. I was casually explained that, unfortunately, since it hadn’t been recorded from the very beginning, and no official referee was present, it couldn’t be counted… and at that precise moment, he looked at the score and went "This is the practice run? Steve’s already in the top three!"

I asked Cunningham about the machine Weibe was playing, not simply because the hardware was a primary point of controversy in King of Kong, but because in the other documentary I had seen that featured a record attempt, the game being Missile Command and the movie being High Score, the main problem there was how the game kept on shutting down. And that was due to the game’s age… many machines from the golden age of the arcade was never meant to live this long. So I wondered if a similar problem could possibly occur with Weibe and Donkey Kong.

Not at all. The machine was on loan from The Museum of Moving Images permanent collection. Apparently, when the Queens, NY based museum decided to start preserving video games’ past, they purchased a whole slew of classic gaming machines… about 300 according to Cunningham. They have five Donkey Kongs that they swap in and out (at the museum the public can play assorted classic games from over the years).

Once it hit 7:46, Weibe was already at 866,900 points. Cunningham immediately started asking questions, almost like a parent to his child. "How’s your hands?" was the most sensible. ”Do we need to go potty, Steve?” was the most humorous. ”Do you want to do a kill screen?” was the most unexpected. To that, I heard the response: ”Sure.”

Around 8:00, Weibe was near the end… literally. The kill screen was coming up. This is when Mario simply croaks out of the blue. It’s the 22nd screen, and as it was coming up, excitement was in the air. Cunningham explained to everyone in attendance, which included myself and a small handful of press, PR people, and associates, that this was the 4th only public viewing of a Donkey Kong kill screen ever to take place. He also exclaimed "You’ve got five seconds before Mario dies!"

Once the 22nd board began, Mario walked to the right, Weibe made him jump, and all of sudden, he spun around, and was simply dead. Everyone cheered. The score was 946,500.

So close, yet no cigar. But you could tell that Weibe was just enjoying himself. Not just the game, but the adulation, and that must have been nice. Eventually, after many pictures were taken and some interviews, Steve was led to the cheeseburger platter that was set for him. Soon, it was clear that the movie had been let out, because the room became packed. Much food was eaten, and a few drinks were drunk.

Around 8:45-ish, the second attempt had begun. And by 481,500… it was over. ”Made a few mistakes… but its still an average run for me.” And again, that score is well above average for you and me. Some wondered if he would give it another shot, but by 9:30, it was clear that Wiebe was done for the day. He simply wanted to rest and relax and talk to his fans (including one group that made shirts that had Steve’s face with "WieBelieve" embossed), and he deserved it.

In the end. Billy Mitchell still has his high score, but he didn’t have the journey that Steve Wiebe had. And Wiebe is more than content with where is right now. Because, as plainly stated, "Donkey Kong served its purpose."

For those interested in seeing King of Kong, it opens in New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, and Austin this weekend, and in other select markets each following weekend. It will then go nationwide sometime in September. For more information, check out the official site.

[Matt Hawkins is a New York-based freelance journalist and Gamasutra contributor. He also designs games, makes comics, and does assorted “other things.” To find out more, check out Fort90.com.]

August 16, 2007

Hocking Talks Authorship In Games, Bub!

- Well, we at GSW haven't been so keen on reporting the whole Ebert vs. Barker games as art thing, esp. because it's all a bit annoying, but fortunately, Ubisoft game design supremo Clink Hocking has saved the day with a post called 'On Authorship In Games' on his Click Nothing blog - one that takes the conversation into altogether less clammy waters.

Mind you, it still gets into some powerful definitional kung fu, as Hocking notes: "First, there is authorship in games, no matter how much we abdicate. The form of the authorship is different, and hard to understand, but no matter how much we try to abdicate it, it will always remain. It is undeniably there, and it is inextricable from the act of creating a game. Second, interacting with a work does not shape the work, it ‘only’ reveals it. Therefore, while there can be an art of expression in the way someone reveals the art, this does not necessarily diminish the art in the design of the work itself." And it gets wiggier from there.

But then, even wackier than the argument is a series of deranged posts by a 'concerned Canadian citizen' called 'insert coins' in the post's comments, who rages (in one of 10+ posts!): "Dear Clint, Tell us, as a Game Author, ::: What does we, canadian citizen, gets in return from our collective investment in your career? ::: What do you do of 35% of your salary that is STILL TODAY paid by the canadian citizen?"

He's referring to Ubisoft Montreal's tax/financial support by various parts of the Canadian government, and seemingly conflating it with game-art issues in a kerrazy fashion, but as commenter Diego notes: "Dude, you've been ranting about this since 11:40 last night. That's like 17 hours non-stop." Oh, the Internet!

COLUMN: The Aberrant Gamer: 'Hot-Button 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.]

-This column has touched before on how we gamers are a highly defensive lot. We’ve all struggled a long time to convince the uninitiated of gaming’s legitimacy, fending off accusations by tech-ignorant parent watchdog groups, censorship agencies, irate politicians and hyperbolic TV specials who have latched on to the hot new scapegoat.

Why are we so sensitive? After all, it’s not like it affects us personally if a large and stubborn percentage of society continues to misinterpret our favorite little pleasure. Nonetheless, ire en masse at the slightest provocation is the norm online. Just about everyone who follows, writes or discusses gaming on blogs, chat, forums or in online play has experienced that moment of hesitation wherein their opinion on a particular gaming issue differed from the popular sensibility and they wondered, should I say this? Everyone has experienced that zero-point when, finger hovering over the “submit” button, they weighed their desire to express a point of view against their dread at the landslide of flames and grief they’d invoke.

It’s quite likely that no individual among the plugged-in, ‘net-savvy core gaming demographic is a knee-jerk lunatic; rather, this is probably an expression of mob psychology. We’re one of the most vocal mobs in any industry – why? First, let’s take a look at some of the topics most likely to create a thousand-comment explosion of offended debate.

Are Games Art?
This question has birthed a legion of Ebert-haters around the Web, after the film critic provided his answer in the negative. Clive Barker stepped up, in proper forum-rant style, to challenge the assertion, N’Gai Croal joined the debate, and gamers were enervated. Snark abounded, the debate farming out from the largest blogs to the smallest. The ironic thing about the “Are Games Art” question is that much of the hype and debate surrounds not the answer to the question, but how fatigued most are of it. It’s a popular issue because to some, labeling the experience as “art” gives it a certain haute legitimacy. Whether or not we feel games are art, such a definition would make us defensible to outsiders; as if it could force them to treat us with the gravitas we feel we deserve.

-Games are Too Violent
The fear of censorship has been tempered into a sense of outright entitlement among many. We’re often called to account in irrational ways to defend, justify or rationalize our enjoyment of certain game themes in ways that novels and film never see. Gaming being suggested as responsible for crimes of all stripes, even when no connection is apparent, has sensitized our defense mechanisms. The suggestion from our own enclaves that some games may actually be too violent, that some games encourage desensitization to brutality, or that we should, at the very least, examine our relationship to violence in games, is usually treated as high treason.

Games are Addictive
And in truth, why shouldn’t they be? The books that stay with us are the ones we couldn’t put down – why can’t it be so for games? Yet the word “addiction” has such a negative connotation in the social lexicon – there’s an implication of the abnormal, of the damaged and the strange. When we hear about real problems that make the resounding, automatic “no, they’re not” at the very least worth reconsidering – such as, for example, the epidemic of serious life impairment on the part of MMO addicts in China, it’s often shouted down – all for the fear, perhaps, that we ourselves will be paraded as cuckoos in the town square by the uninformed.

Games are Racist
Issues of racism tend to provoke heated, passionate discussion wherever they arise. It makes sense that people’s judgments of others, or their refusal to judge, are deeply involved in their sense of self; therefore, the attack or defense of a specific viewpoint on the subject is highly personal. It’s such a hot-button topic that you can expect a firestorm when you bring it up – even if you’re merely expressing curiosity or inviting discussion. Take, for example, the tornado of comments generated by Bonnie Ruberg’s Village Voice piece about whether there might be racism involved in Resident Evil 5. That trailer made quite a lot of people uncomfortable for reasons not always easy to articulate, but even exploring the issue in the public forum was utterly verboten; many writers discussed it, but often any subtle point they may have been trying to make was buried in the din around the fact that they mentioned it at all.

Games are Sexist
As with racism, sexism enjoys high sensitivity in society in general. The issue is complicated somewhat by the fact that, at least in its earliest incarnations, gaming was an enormously male-dominated industry, from the developer to the consumer. Why women were generally disinterested in technology in the 1980s is an entirely different topic, but in the current era, the relative anonymity of the Internet makes it easy to perpetuate the myth that women don’t play video games, or they only play a certain kind of video game. Add into that the Lara Croft factor, now with increasingly sophisticated breast physics, and any assertion that games feature objectification of women – or, for that matter, unrealistic standards for men – brings with it a dragnet full of gender politics. Visible women in the industry, like Assassin’s Creed producer Jade Raymond or G4’s Morgan Webb “enjoy” instant name recognition – and as much, if not more, exceptionally vocal and vitriolic ire than fandom.

-My Console/Game Franchise is Better than Your Console/Game Franchise
It could be said that word of mouth sells far more games and game consoles than any marketing effort, especially in this increasingly connected era. Perhaps it’s because of this that the gaming community takes the constant public relations battle so personally – either they know that they’re a necessary member of a team whose success they’ve become invested in, or they enjoy the impression that they are. Either way, flag-carrying flamewars are a core element of the gaming audience, and not just on the Internet – walk in to any GameStop or similar store, and you’re bound to catch wind of some sort of debate behind the counter. All it takes to incite your own is to challenge the salesperson’s recommendation with one that you think is “better” and suddenly a customer service pro becomes a snarky bulldog.

So now we’ve identified a few of the most likely topics that set gamers off – but why the torches and pitchforks?

Firstly, the absence of face-to-face on the Internet contributes to the virulence of comments and arguments; that’s true for all online discussion and not unique to games. We don’t really know the people we’re speaking with – and as an extension, that makes it far easier to claim a closer connection than we’ve actually got to other people we don’t really know – say, the executives at Sony, or IGN’s Jessica Chobot (who’s now getting her own collectible figurine).

Second, the Internet makes it much easier to find the like-minded. Being a gamer in a non-gamer’s world can be a very lonesome experience, yet online and away from society’s eyes, we thrive. This means that the community of our peers exists online in a way that it may not necessarily in our normative lives; a fragmentation occurs, by which we blend with the squares in work, school and family by day, and then vent a backlog of unexpressed preferences and distastes as we bask in the glow of a computer screen when night falls.

It’s a rather lonely existence; a good many of us have adolescent memories of being relegated to the geek fringe, away from our cosmetics-toting or football-loving peers. That sense of isolation naturally breeds a desire for acceptance, and a resentment of the fact that we’ve a major interest that, unlike, say, reading, cooking or sports, doesn’t easily find a touchstone with the rest of society, at least as of yet. Issues like the games-as-art one are essential to gamers because many desire that recognition; the idea of art provides a useful fantasy by which we can imagine one day having our passion given the broader respect which we’ve always afforded it in our niches.

Despite the spread of casual games, virtual worlds and the rise in popularity of “geek chic” that’s made it more acceptable to admit that you’ve spent a couple hours in a digital fantasy, we still are niche. And even when the trend of making games a more faceted industry for a broader audience continues, we’ll probably retain that stigma for some time, that continual fear of being called out as hopelessly escapist, maladjusted or mentally ill – hence the intensity with which we react immediately to any classification of games as addictive, chauvinistic or provocative of violent behavior.

There’s even a backlash against the spread of casual games; it could be argued that the perhaps overzealous hostility with which very mainstream gaming efforts like Nintendo’s Wii Fit or an MMO based on Barbie dolls are met is born of resentment – you who once judged us, how dare you join us now? Like the other issues we’ve touched on, it’s an extension of the enormous personalization of gaming as a major aspect of our nature as individuals – something we’ve longed to share and are loath to change.

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

Indie Game Creators? Better Bring Your B Game!

- You just can't trust the reprobates at TIGSource, and their latest underhanded trick is to announce a new 'B Game Competition', raging until September 14th, with the object to make Clive Thompson feel silly, as far as I can make out.

As Derek Yu proclaims joyfully: "Just like cinema has its B-movies and cult cinema, video games has its B-games. They've got Ed Wood and Roger Corman, and we've got Jazzuo and MDickie. You've seen 'em, you've played 'em... we're talking about games that are bad in the right way."

And so? "By popular demand, TIGSource is sponsoring a competition to celebrate the creation of B-games! We want to see some bad games with some great personalities! Broken gameplay that works; low budget graphics that titillate the primitive and perverted parts of our brains; outrageous themes beyond the ken of normal human beings. We want to see bad games with that certain "je ne sais quois." Terrible, hilarious, sincere games that have the kind of moxie that can only come from the independent game community."

Totally awesome - the prizes are vague, but the concept is sound, and the competition was inspired by Jazzuo's own Sexy Hiking, a Game Maker game which is actually worse than it sounds on paper. If that's even possible.

August 15, 2007

GameSetHelp: Game Developer's Top 20 Publishers Needs You!

- Cross-posting this from big sister site Gamasutra, since I know a lot of people who work in the game biz read GSW as well - we're doing the Top 20 Publishers countdown again for Game Developer magazine, and need your anonymous feedback-based help!:

"The editors of Game Developer magazine are asking all game professionals to complete a brief anonymous survey which will help decide the rankings of this year's renowned 'Top 20 Publishers' feature.

For this year's fifth annual Top 20 Publishers countdown, the magazine is looking for two sets of feedback.

The first part is a reputational section, ranking and optionally commenting on all major publishers, which can be answered by all game professionals.

The second part is a section to be answered only by those professionals who have managed or participated in relationships with specific game publishers, either as employee or third-party developer. Both are part of the same survey form.

This feedback will be combined with a multitude of other statistics used to work out the ranking, including revenue, average game review percentages, and release SKU amounts, to create a new Top 20, to be revealed in the October 2007 issue of Game Developer magazine.

All of the survey feedback is completely anonymous, and this year, alongside the in-depth magazine article and information disseminated on Gamasutra.com, full, canonical data will also be available in a forthcoming report from Game Developer Research.

The Top 20 Publishers survey will remain open until Monday, August 27th. For further reference, interested parties can read last year's Top 20 Publishers countdown, which was topped by Electronic Arts, on Gamasutra."

GameSetMiniLinks: Crack Crack Crack The Egg...

- Aha, the second half of the GSW mini-links, this time wandering around between everything from scary rapping competition winners through to classic Infocom science fiction text adventures. No, really, you're welcome:

- Parappa Psychosis Taking Hold: Over at PlayStation.com, they've put up the winner of the Parappa Rap Showdown competition, and it's deeply, deeply scary: "We gave you the beat, you gave it your all. Here is the PaRappa the Rapper Chop Chop Master Onion's Rap Showdown Winner. Adam S. is going to PAX (Penny Arcade Expo) at the Washington State Convention and Trade Center in Seattle, WA, August 24, 25 and 26, 2007, with a friend." But will he still be over-enunciating?

- Selective Love For The Matrix Online?: I seem to remember that Alice pointed this out, but MMORPG.com has pointed out the SOE Fan Faire panel on The Matrix Online, showing some rather selective appreciation for one of the more neglected SOE titles: "Attendance at this panel was modest, a total of 12, rising to 15 as a few drifted in after the panel started." Really, what's the subscription numbers for keeping titles like this alive and kicking? Must be lower than we all think.

- Science Fiction Vs. Interactive Fiction: The Adventure Classic Gaming site has a fun article called 'Science fiction meets interactive fiction', starting: "Despite the diverse subject matters which these games eventually embraced, science fiction remained as the most common alternative theme explored by interactive fiction." Neat, erudite stuff.

- Games Go Graffiti: Well, not 'graffiti' - 1UP has an article called 'Taking Controllers To The Streets' which grins in the intro: "There are videogames that feature graffiti as either a gameplay mechanic or an aesthetic device to create a certain urban effect, people who do the opposite and create street art based on their favorite games, and the inevitable marketing teams who see the perceived instant cool factor of street art as a sure-shot way to get into the minds (and pockets) of a new generation of consumers." Fun piece.

- Super Columbine - The Documentary: Whatever you think of Danny LeDonne, he's a committed guy, and the UK Guardian Gamesblog has an interview with him on Super Columbine Massacre RPG and his upcoming documentary on his own game. As noted: "Ledonne has some controversial views, not just on his own game, but on its consequences and ramifications."

- The End Of Cloning: Aha, Gamezebo has an article called 'The End Of Cloning', which talks about why casual games are getting so relatively sophisticated that they're becoming unclonable. True? Not sure, but it's got a great intro paragraph: "In 1992, Francis Fukuyama wrote The End of History, in which he boldly proclaimed that with the end of the Cold War, the historical struggle between competing ideologies is over and liberal democracy has emerged as the victor."

- Gamma Bros Go For The Win: Pleased to see an interview with Pixeljam, creators of Gamma Bros, over on Planet Free Play, and I'm really happy to see Miles Tilmann's response to 'At what point did you start taking game development more seriously? ': "Probably after the release of Gamma Bros. Before then I didn't really take the whole flash gaming thing seriously, nor did I think one could make money doing it. The whole landscape seems to have dramatically changed in the past couple of years and we are happy for that. Also, going to the Game Dev Conference really charged us up about creating games for a living."

- Hard Time Creators Speaks Out: Indygamer has spotted that GameShark.com has been running some good indie interviews, recently chatting to perennial indie fringer Matt Dickie, who has made titles from wrestling to, uhh, prison sim and beyond. And he has sass: "I already censor myself quite a lot! My style is supposed to veer into Quentin Tarantino territory, but it all gets lost in translation."

In random, final links, Shoot The Core points out that Comiket 72 is coming soon, and there are all kinds of super-smart dojin titles debuting there. Yay! Oh, and David Sirlin posted the videos from his Super Street Fighter II tournament on his blog. Watch him go!

GameFest Gives Up Xbox Live Arcade Secrets

- Gamasutra's new features editor Christian Nutt has been covering GameFest in Seattle for us this week, and I just wanted to point out some particularly good Xbox Live Arcade-related Powerpoint slides that he's posted with news supremo Brandon Boyer's help this afternoon - it's by far the most solid information we've had on XBLA stats in a good while.

Unfortunately, there are no precise sales numbers, but there's overall "...predictions of 45 million downloads and more than 100 games on Xbox Live Arcade by the end of 2007, as well as a 156% average financial return over 12 months for Xbox Live Arcade titles published so far."

More to the point, there are relative usage and sales rankings on XBLA games: "Looking specifically at usage in 2007, Xbox Live Arcade has seen the most players on Konami's arcade port TMNT 1989, followed by Worms and UNO. Looking at length of session, casual games rule, with Jewel Quest, Hardwood Spades and Catan ruling the category. Finally, by minutes, card games again took top honors with UNO and Texas Hold'em, followed by Worms."

In addition: "Showing a classic long-tail trend, Coates noted that the first two months of Xbox Live Arcade titles only account for around a third of its sales, with revenues continuing to come in at a steady pace over the following year." There's also a great graph (albeit missing what the left-hand axis, damn you!) showing how overall purchases have spiked at a lower level with the launch of Arcade Wednesdays, and at a higher level still with the Castlevania/TMNT doubleheader recently. This is all much better data than we've seen before - ie, almost none! Go look at the graphs if you don't believe me.

[Also, if you want to check out the rest of our GameFest coverage, it includes the Chris Satchell keynote discussing XNA Game Studio 2.0 and other notable dev announcements, plus the Dream-Build-Play contest winners, 4 of which are coming to XBLA, alongside sessions on engaging the community and on Forza 2's community play - with more to come.]

August 14, 2007

GameSetPics: Wideload's 'Hail To The Chimp' Propaganda

As it happens, we ran an interview with Wideload founder Alex Seropian on Gamasutra yesterday, covering his upcoming Unreal Engine 3-powered 'political party game' Hail To The Chimp, among other things. So this is perfect timing to be pointing out the E3 Media Summit hand-out given to attendees by publisher Gamecock, which I scanned in over the weekend, and have made available online for the first time. Why? Because it's both bizarrely cute and oddly seditious, as follows:

As can be seen, it's a bit of a USA Today pastiche, and as our own Brandon Sheffield chatted with Seropian in the Gamasutra piece:

"Gamasutra: Is Hail to the Chimp a political statement in any way?
Alex Seropian: Sure. I mean, you're going to read into it what you want. It's all there.
Gamasutra: The monkey guy looks a lot like the caricatures that are drawn of [George] Bush.
Alex Seropian: Any similarities are completely coincidental!"

Looks like Brandon might be on the money, given the following headline and details from the fake news on the E3 handout, titled 'Master debater spanks monkey':

"The first question directed at the candidates concerned their position on global warming and the controversial, yet increasingly accepted, theory holding bovine flatulence as a major contributor. 'You know', began Crackers [the monkey], 'there are things about the environment that we don't understand. I mean, the dinosaurs died off for a reason, right, and now we're here. But was that our fault? You know what I'm talking about.'"

This section includes a political-style survey on 'a scientific survey of hit-and-run drivers' (a big deal if you're a politician who also happens to be an armadillo!), and also discusses a hippo and armadillo team-up, citing a "shared goal of ending monkey hegemony".

Seropian also adds regarding the title: "What we're doing is trying to make a game that can appeal to a huge spectrum of people, both from a gameplay and content perspective. It's something you can pick up right away, but there's also a certain amount of depth so that you can still like it after a year. The content's the same way. There's silly voice-over and stuff, and there's a news ticker, and there's little scenes with debates and interviews that we might understand but the kids might not."

Aha, some more political animal craziness from the hand-out, headlined 'Camel Accuses Airport Security Of Profiling, Calls Hump Search Humiliating': "The new security guidelines in place at airports across the animal kingdom have not been applauded by everyone. Following what he calls 'a gross invasion of my privacy', Steve Assamalam has sued Nile International airport Airport for $7.8 million."

And here's some final feedback from Seropian in the Gamasutra interview: "The reason we picked this theme is certainly influenced by the fact that we think that the sh*t that's going on right now sucks, and it's certainly on our mind. Making fun of that is a healthy thing to do. We're not necessarily trying to make a statement. None of the characters are left or right. You're not going to see a direct parody of the Cheney shooting, but you're going to draw parallels with what's going on in the world right now." This really is a uniquely strange proposition.

The 'Videogame' Fallacy: Rebutting the IGJA

vgsg_small.png[This special editorial by Benj Edwards deals with the ever-fun issue of the correct form of 'videogame' vs. 'video game' in game (or indeed, any!) journalism. GSW management would like to make it clear that they don't much care either way, but enjoy Mr. Edwards' unsolicited chutzpah on the matter. Let battle commence!]

Earlier this year, the "International Game Journalists Association" (IGJA) published its first "Videogame Journalism Style Guide." In their style guide, which is mostly a glossary of video game terms, they included an entry entitled "videogame" that reads:

The Videogame Fallacy

No doubt you've heard of "videogames" before, but perhaps in a more conventional form -- with a space between "video" and "game." The Style Guide authors' decision to firmly favor one form over the other has generated no small amount of criticism in the video game world, and for good reason. In all my travels on the Internet, I have yet to find a sound basis for their declaration. On August 3rd, 2007, the IGJA published their first official defense of the "videogame" decision on their blog in an entry titled "The Videogame Style Guide FAQ."

In this article I will rebut, point-for-point, all of the arguments put forth in the IGJA's FAQ as to why "videogame," as a term, should be preferred over "video game" in journalistic usage. During the process you'll see why the IGJA's argument (at least as written by the FAQ author) is completely arbitrary and logically bankrupt.

I captured the FAQ section entitled "Why do you say that ”videogame” is one word? Everyone knows that it should be two words" on August 11th, 2007 and have reproduced it below, in its entirety, in blockquotes and italics. My responses to each section are interspersed throughout.

Rebuttal to the IGJA

Why do you say that ”videogame” is one word? Everyone knows that it should be two words.

First off, everyone does not agree that it’s two words. Heck, not everyone even agrees that it’s either: some publications insist on calling them all “computer games,” and a few even use the hyphenated “video-game.” Many publications and gamers were using the one-word version long before we settled on that as the preferred usage. In a Joystiq poll (http://www.joystiq.com/2005/12/22/video-space-games-declared-victor), a full 45 percent of respondents preferred the one word version – far from a consensus either way.

Yes, some people also probably call them "computer games," "interactive entertainment," or even "veedjio gamirez," but that doesn't make any of them the best term for the medium. The authority of certain forms of words are not dictated by what a niche group of interested people prefer in an unscientific poll, but what the world at large actually uses and understands. So the Joystiq poll won't help; we need to survey the collective writings of mankind. At the moment, the closest tool I have at hand to help me do that is Google.

Using Google, we'll take an informal poll on the popularity of "video game" versus "videogame." As of this writing (08/11/2007), a search for the term "video game" returns 80,900,000 results, while "videogame" returns 12,000,000 results. It's a colossal understatement to say that the usage of the term "videogame" is in the minority on the Internet. Of all 92,900,000 uses of the terms "videogame" and "video game" combined (both presumably talking about the same thing), 87% use "video game," while only 13% use "videogame." Even barring all other arguments I put forward, that result alone should be reason enough to either change the IGJA's style guide entry on "videogame" to "video game," or at least list both of them as acceptable forms.

Still, of the countless editorial decisions that make up the guide, none has stirred up as much controversy as the decision to call “videogame” a single word.

Indeed. Hence this article. And there's a good reason for the controversy. The IGJA's decision to cite "videogame" to the exclusion of "video game" in their style guide is markedly amateurish. That decision serves as a telling example of why any serious journalist should approach the IGJA with suspicion, at least until its administration grows beyond its founding members.

A lot of the debate seems to stem from an interesting conflict of linguistic conventions. While most “game” terms are usually written as two words (board game, card game) most “video” terms are, according to the AP Stylebook, written as one word (videocasette, videodisc). Interestingly, there seems to be similar debate surrounding “ballgame” vs. “ball game,” with the two versions often used interchangeably in written discourse (also interestingly, “base ball” was regularly written as two words until the 1880s – now that form seems archaic).

Why not "cardgame" or "boardgame?" Those are great questions that I'll address below. I see no reason why any compound word with the term "video" in it should serve as a precedent that says "video game" should become "videogame." And using "baseball" as an example is like saying "Space Invaders" will some day become "spaceinvaders" through casual usage. Both are specific types of games. We're discussing the medium as a whole here.

A much more appropriate example would be discussing the difference and relationships between the terms "motion pictures" and "movies," "films," or "cinema." When the people who made motion pictures realized that they wanted to be taken seriously as a unique, new art form, did they declare in "The Motionpictures Style Guide" that henceforth, all motion pictures shall be known as "motionpictures?" Note that even though most people today call motion pictures "movies" or "films," the term "motion pictures" remains accurate and descriptive of the medium as a whole. There may, some day, be a new, cute term like "viddies" or "gamies" (or a serious, artsy one like "digitals" or "machinima") that takes over from "video games" in the popular lexicon, but that's no reason to either forcibly banish or contract the term "video game" now. When and where that happens is a function of the march of time and the unpredictable chaos of culture. Even then, the term "video game" will still accurately describe the medium, just as "motion picture" still accurately describes a movie.

The subject at hand is that of compound words. The logic of compound words (at least in American English, the language covered in the guide) is that you push individual words together when their meanings separately do not adequately to refer to the referent. So, “butterfly” is one word because that insect is not a kind of fly and doesn’t have much to do with butter. Following this logic, “videogame” makes more sense as one word because “video” does not really modify “game.” Instead, it is attached to create a different class of game, one distinct from the broader notion of games.

A vague interpretation of the "logic of compound words" can't justify the arbitrary and sudden unification of two words in a style guide. Compound words typically get the way they are over decades or hundreds of years of usage, not upon the decree (or the applied "logic") of a supposed authority at a single point in time. The "butterfly" example makes absolutely no sense. If video games were commonly called "butter games," then I'd understand -- heck...let's call them "buttergames" instead; I'm all for it. But in fact, the term "video" in "video game" is very descriptive and purposeful. Your claim that "video" does not modify "game" in the term "video games" is patently absurd. Video games are called what they are because they are games played using video displays. More on this below.

And that’s the nut of it. We felt that videogames were more than just a type of game. Consider, for example, that a videogame like The Sims is largely unrecognizable as a game in the classic sense. While it does have an explicit set of rules, The Sims has no explicit goals and no real sense of competition with a human or computer-controlled opponent. While it’s undeniably a “videogame,” it’s not really a “game” like Monopoly.

Here, the author argues that we should use the term "videogames" because certain games...I mean, things...like The Sims that fall within the medium's purview are not actually games. Then why not just get rid of the "games" part altogether and call them "videos?" Oh yeah; that term is already taken. We need the "game" part of the term to describe that these "things" are entertaining diversions, and we need the "video" part to show that they are dynamic and visual. Neither word is arbitrary or non-descriptive, unlike the "butter" in "butterfly."

And The Sims, by any mainstream definition I know, is indeed a game. So is Monopoly. So are Klondike solitaire, soccer, video handball, marbles, and charades. They're all played differently with different goals, technologies, tools, and accessories, but they're all still games. The explicit goal of any game, even The Sims, is to have fun while playing it. That's what makes a game, and that's all that matters.

And while we're transcending mediums with non-games, let's get back to an earlier issue: Why not "cardgame" or "boardgame" instead of "card game" or "board game"? Because, like "video game," the terms (as they currently stand) sufficiently describe what types of games we're talking about.

Following the IGJA's "videogame" logic, why call something as intricate and strategic as "Magic: the Gathering" merely a "card game?" Doesn't that insult the artistry and depth of the game play (which is leagues beyond the primitive sybology of "Go Fish" and "Old Maid")? Why not invent a new term for complex card games that neither use "cards" in a traditional, 52-card sense, nor are purely games, but also collectible works of art -- "cardgame" -- to define the new and exciting medium (in "The Cardgame Style Guide, no doubt)? I'll tell you why: because it sounds like the work of a pseudo-intellectual advocate whining to the world that card games aren't taken seriously unless the term for them is only one word long.

The whole idea of the “video” modifier has similarly turned out to be less and less accurate — the types of displays available to present videogames have grown to include everything from LCD screens and monitors to audio-only devices for the blind. Despite the ruckus, “video” no more modifies “game” in any intelligible way than “butter” does things that fly. Only together do we really know what we are talking about.

It's true that when video games were invented, they all used television (video) signals generated and sent to cathode-ray-tube-based electronic displays as output. But as electronic display technology has evolved, so has the meaning of the term "video," along with the meaning of the word "television." The term "video" is now generally understood to encompass nearly all implementations of "a series still images shown rapidly in succession to simulate motion on an electronic display," (my definition) whether it be on a CRT, LCD screen, plasma display, or fed directly into your brain through an as-yet-unknown display technology.

So the video "modifier" is neither inaccurate, nor obsolete, nor in need of revision. After all, the IGJA is still keeping "video" in "videogames" isn't it? Why include the term at all if it is vestigial and inaccurate? By your logic ("'video' no more modifies 'game' in any intelligible way than 'butter' does things that fly."), calling them "buttergames" wouldn't make any appreciable difference, since you argue that the word "video" is completely arbitrary in the term. And wait: in the last paragraph, you just argued that "game" part of the term is superfluous too. So pick a name, any name... "butterfly," "toadscenes," and "malleable guava extract" could all do the trick equally, if only everyone knew what you were talking about.

And by the way, I don't believe that many people would put games that use audio-only output devices into the category of "video games." Perhaps we should call them "audio games" ... or "audiogames" if the mood strikes.

We decided that the very act of writing a videogame style guide was a clear indication that there was something new, novel and notable about the medium – and, as such, that it deserved its own singular word to describe it. And this, as far as we can tell, is how you get words like “cupcake.” Clearly, “cup” modifies cake in a sort of obvious way. But the notion of a cupcake is distinct enough from the greater range of cakes that we created a compound word out of it. And videogames seem to be at least as important, if not more, than cupcakes.

This "new, novel, and notable" medium (that's been around since 1967, by the way) doesn't need a new word; it has a perfectly good term ("video games") that describes the most new, novel, and notable thing about it: it consists of games played on a dynamic electronic medium known as "video." They've been called "video games" by the public since at least 1971, according to Nolan Bushnell in an interview I conducted with him last March. The term, as it stands with a space squarely in the middle, is just fine as it is for the time being. And once again, the term "video" in "video games" is still as descriptive and relevant as it always has been.

I like your argument: "Video games are singular like cupcakes, therefore, they're videogames." (I'm paraphrasing.) When the singular art form of "cupcakes" becomes a medium of creative expression on par with the versatility and depth of movies, literature, and music, then, maybe, your analogy will make some sense. The word "cupcake" is over 170 years old. Do you think it got that way because a couple guys in the 1820s wrote "The Cupcake Style Guide?" It may very well be that, like the transition from "cup cake" to "cupcake" (assuming there actually was one), we are in the middle of a historical transition between "video game" as two words to "videogame" as one word. But as it stands, the usage of the latter term is still in the minority, and the declaration of its correctness is, at present, still pointless and arbitrary.

It’s also important to note that the idea of videogame as two words was never written in stone. Yes, the AP Stylebook opted for the two-word variant (see next question)but it’s worth pointing out that Europeans often use the one word version (see James Newman’s Videogames) and that much of the academic community seems to prefer ”videogame” as well. (See Ian Bogost’s MIT Press books, Persuasive Games: The Expressive Power of Videogames and Unit Operations: An Approach to Videogame Criticism as examples, and please feel free to argue with these two very bright authors.)

It doesn't matter what terms those particular academics use or how smart they are. They're still in the vast minority in their usage of "videogame" in the United States, birthplace of the video game. Also, we're talking about the American English term for "video games" here (as you said yourself earlier), not European terms, so using that as an example is irrelevant. For example, just because the French call "video games" "des jeu vidéo" doesn't mean we should call them that. They have completely different forms for a lot of words, including, among others, "jacket," "toilet," and "ballerina."

In the end, there is no official style guide police force. Your particular editor, outlet or website might prefer to use the two-word version. These are editorial decisions that, in the end, need to take place on the local level.

Exactly. So why not at least put both terms in the guide instead of ham-fistedly anointing one over the other, then desperately and unprofessionally defending your choice with weak or irrelevant justifications? The majority has spoken, and they have spoken "video games."

Just keep in mind: This decision, like all decisions behind The Videogame Style Guide were not made randomly, or lightly!

The decision to declare "videogames" just so might not be random or lightly made, but it is still ill-conceived. A thousand chimps concentrating as hard as they could on one topic could claim the same thing, but that wouldn't make their ideas more intelligent or correct -- even if they did have 3,000 years of professional video game journalism experience between them.

Why Not Call Them "Videogames"?

  1. The term as it stands (with a space) is perfectly adequate and unambiguous in modern usage, describing games played through a dynamic visual medium.
  2. "Videogame" has no distinct meaning to differentiate itself from the already existing and most widely recognized form, "video game," so the change is arbitrary. Any arbitrary change against the standard introduces unnecessary confusion.
  3. What are you trying to prove? The forced usage of the term "videogame," sans space, sounds like a sulkingly defensive attempt to make this particular entertainment medium transcend its "kiddie past" and finally be accepted by the mainstream as a full-fledged, freestanding art form. The only problem is that video games, like any other creative human endeavor, are already a serious freestanding art form in league with movies, music, theater, and literature -- and all this with the modest space in tact. You could call video games "poo on a stick" and they'd be no less artistically distinctive or impressive (But please don't, unless you want to start a fight with the "pooonastick" faction).
  4. Video games have been called "video games" since the early 1970s, and there's no good reason to stop that trend.

So hit the space bar already.

[ Benj Edwards is a freelance journalist, video game historian, and Editor-in-Chief of Vintage Computing and Gaming, a "blogazine" devoted to classic games and vintage comptuers. ]

GameSetMiniLinks: Into The Indigo, Out Of The Moshi

- Having once again accumulated too many GameSetLinks at the weekend, I'm going to blow them out 8-10 at a time until we're done, in small, but precious increments, as follows:

- Nosing Around The Fahrenheit Cage: The rather avant SelectButton has a post discussing Indigo Prophecy, aka Fahrenheit, purring: "I'm willing to look past the broken elements of a game--especially an ambitious one--to dig for an interesting experience." Some good commentary on the game (pictured above!) here.

- GameTap To Birth Daikatana, Bitchily: Former co-worker Frank points out that the GameTap forums now have a full list of upcoming titles, and lookee here for what's coming up on September 6th: John Romero's Daikatana. Robot frog alert!

- Klei Sez - Destroy Your Preconceptions!: Jamie Cheng of Klei (Eets creator!) spoke at the Indie Game Summit this year, and it's great to see he's launched a game biz blog with a clattering post about indie gaming: "I believe that there’s a huge opportunity to rethink how we develop games. By developing smarter, and destroying old preconceptions, extremely high quality games can be created with amazingly small budgets."

- Jets 'N Guns 'N Rock 'N Roll: Chris Dahlen's Save The Robot blog has a tremendously happy ode to Jets 'N Guns Gold, commenting of the Eastern European PC indie shooter: "They threw in EVERYTHING. Space pirates, viruses, aliens, wind-up mice, zombies, and beer - yeah, you have to shoot down bottles of beer - as well as every plot device in the book." [DISCLAIMER: I released the awesome chiptune-metal soundtrack to the original game for free on my net.label Monotonik.]

- Arcade Manual Heaven, Great Scott!: Jason Scott of the saintly Textfiles.com has posted something rather awesome: "If you were saying to yourself "Now, where can I browse over 1,700 arcade manuals in PDF format?", your prayers were just answered. This is over three gigabytes of manuals, schematics, and general information about arcade machines, scanned in by an anonymous army of dedicated people, and going back up to 30 years." Jason++!

- What MindCandy Did Next: After the changes at Perplex City creator MindCandy, you might be wondering what would be hotter for their investors than that? Well, WorldsInMotion spotted it: "The folks at Gizmodo tracked down [the company's] latest project: a collection of cute monsters on cell phone charms (they whirl and light up when you get a ring) who belong to the virtual world of Moshi Monsters. Each $10 pet unlocks a virtual version of itself, which users can raise and care for."

- Gauger, Eckhardt Pop Up On Destructoid: Worth mentioning because they're two of the plain weirdest editors in game blogging: sometimes Kotaku and Wired.com contributors Eliza Gauger and Florian Eckhardt (actually John Brownlee, lest we forget!) have popped up on the slightly crazed Destructoid - at least partly to plug their 'just plain weird sh*t' new venture Ectoplasmosis.com, but also to cause some surreal havoc. Post more, guys!

Oh, and two 'way-too-late' mentions to end with: you should have caught Ian Bogost on the Colbert Report, I'm hoping - and I'm still grinning about the great job he did regarding intelligent discourse in games. And the fetching tie!

We also heard about the mysterious 'Dietrich' from the Gizmondo Ferrari crash being located - but I don't think it's really Dietrich, is it, it's just the other guy from the scene? That's terribly disappointing.

August 13, 2007

Alex Handy Sez: '2007 California Extreme Roxx Out!'

[The fifth 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 the just-concluded California Extreme retro arcade show.]

St. LouisYesterday, Travis and I went to California Extreme 2007, a celebration of arcade and pinball games. Hundreds of them, to be exact. It was a great time, though the $35 entry price was a bit higher than I’d have liked… Nonetheless, a unique experience that is not available anywhere.

We begin the Flickr tour with St. Louis, a Williams pinball machine from 1949. Probably the oldest one in the building, this machine’s flippers have their backs to each other!

There were a few other machines from this era nearby, though Orbiter 1, from 1982, was wildly different. That wacky machine had ruts [EDIT: but not magnets, thanks Sparky!], making the ball waggle all over and behave very oddly. If Hawking is right about gravity, this machine is probably a great model of the fundamental physics involved.Quick Draw

Then there was Championship Fast Draw, a quick-draw gun fighting game that was more fun, by far, than any cabinet
of the 80’s gun-based shooting games. Simple premise: Two hombres line up, and cock their guns in the holster. Then the machine beeps and flashes after a random pause. First one to get the gun out, level it, and pull the trigger wins. 7 rounds come at a time. I’m good against nerds, but Travis whipped me.

The Lucky Juju was present, of course. this beautiful trailer has such a great atmosphere: 5 old pinball games and a 45 record player piping in tunes. It normally lives on Alameda Island. I really liked Mars Trek. It has a fantastic artistic flair.

Of the 80’s games on hand, Narc is probably my favorite. There are others I love more, but the statement Narc makes really hammers home the psychotic hysteria that was generated by the Reagan administration. In a day when Mortal Kombat and Night Trap hadn’t even been invented yet, Narc was the most violent game in America (Chiller not withstanding). Use your machine guns and rockets to blow up drug dealers.

There’s not one character in the game, aside from the protagonists, that aren’t meant to be killed. They’re all druggies, and they deserve to be killed! With a properly placed rocket, you can disintegrate dealers, sending their bloody heads and arms flying around the screen, and bouncing out of sight.

Punk BoxingWhen all was said and done, Travis and I played more of The Main Event than anything else. This glorified Rock’em Sock’em Robots was a hoot, and only a direct chin-shot would knock the other guy out. The metal men inside had little buttons on their chins, which made me think of the Marx Brothers…

There are a lot more pictures on my Flickr page, so go look at them!

[Thanks to Alex for this swift show report, which was originally posted on his charmingly titled Gism Butter weblog. Long may the reign of the crazy hair continue!]

UT Videogame Archive Springs Into Life

- Over at Game Girl Advance, my CMP Game Group co-worker Jane Pinckard was kind enough to talk about the University of Texas Videogame Archives project, a new project to help preserve the history of gaming that's being launched with a fundraiser at next month's Austin GDC.

The initial kick-off info reveals: "The Center for American History at The University of Texas at Austin is kicking off our new UT Videogame Archive with a party and fundraiser at Richard Garriott’s estate on Lake Austin. Don’t miss it!" Even better, auction prizes include a live auction to "Fly on the Zero G anti-gravity 727", and OK, I'm getting a bit overexcited about the party and not the project, but an Austin American-Statesman article from late last month has lots more info.

There's also a CenterPoints magazine article [PDF link] that explains the genesis of the project, which is supported by not only Origin founder Garriott (pictured!) but also Junction Point's Warren Spector and George 'The Fat Man' Sanger, among a number of others. Add this to the recent Library Of Congress grant, and it sounds like game preservation is starting to get somewhere.

What Games Can Humans Still Win?

- The excellent alt.news site Gelf Magazine, which generally doesn't have much to do with video games, has verged genuinely close to that territory with an entertaining article called 'What Games Can Humans Still Win?' that they've just posted.

As the intro explains: "Two weeks ago, a Canadian team of computer scientists announced in a paper that they had created a computer program that has solved the game of checkers (BBC). It took nearly 20 years and 50 computers to sort through the approximately 500 billion billion different checkers positions necessary to solve the game, making it the most complicated game that computers have completely figured out."

Now, the piece doesn't get all the way to 'non-solvable' or super-complex video games like, uhh, Quake, but it covers scrabble, sudoku, crossword puzzle, and other fun stuff, before ending with a taste of the future: "Schaeffer, the same man that helped solve checkers, also created a computer program to face off against two professional poker players (New York Times). While the bot system exhibited little in the way of tells, it eventually lost to the humans."

August 12, 2007

GameSetNetwork: Pirating Out The Drew

- End of a lazy-ish weekend, so it might be time to check in to the other CMP Game Group sites (including Gamasutra, WorldsInMotion.biz, and Game Career Guide), since there were a number of pretty interesting GSW-worthy stories that popped onto them towards the end of last week. As follows:

- Over at Gamasutra, there's a book extract from the newly released 'Exploiting Online Games', which has just debuted from Addison Wesley, and as we explain in the intro blurb, "...authors Gary McGraw and Greg Hoglund look at data exposure and countermeasures for macro bots in online games." It's neat to see some slightly code-centric approaches to this, though hopefully it doesn't give everyone evil ideas.

- At Game Developer Research's online worlds blog WorldsInMotion.biz (psst, here's the RSS feed), Leigh Alexander has been profiling Three Rings' long-running Yohoho! Puzzle Pirates, and I enjoyed her in-world overview, complete with lyrical invective: "The high seas spirit of the Puzzle Pirates world put the fire of adventure into my veins -- if she could work her way up, perhaps I'd be a noblewoman too, someday." There's a concluding piece on the "deceptively complex" world, and the write-up will soon be added to the Online World Atlas we're building up there.

- Which game franchise has sold 4 million copies without you, dear GSW reader, noticing? That's the Nancy Drew franchise from Her Interactive, and Gama posted an interview with Jessica Chiang about the teen sleuth, revealing, among other things: "Nancy is fluent in using the Internet on her laptop, GPS, and a cell phone - and sometimes a camera phone, depending on the game. Nancy is also environmentally responsible, oftentimes involving herself in protecting endangered wildlife such as whales and wolves." Modern little Nancy!

- This has already been discussed quite a bit, so I won't dwell on it, but the 'PR And The Game Media: How PR Shapes What You Think About Games' article posted on Gamasutra has produced some interesting reactions around the Internet - to what I think was a largely measured, not overly demonizing piece. I did think that ex-CGM editor Steve Bauman's detailed reaction on his own blog was well thought-out and interesting, and I mention a couple of relevant points in the comments to that post.

Opinion: Guitar Hero '80s Is Harmonix's 'Metal Machine Music'?

- Well, OK, it's not that crazy, but I'm surprised that more people haven't been talking about the fact that Guitar Hero Encore: Rocks The '80s is totally Harmonix's contractual obligation game, following the Boston developer's split from original GH publisher RedOctane/Activision.

Really, the absolute minimum has been done to improve Guitar Hero '80s, as Wikipedia notes: "Venues from Guitar Hero II (with the exception of RedOctane Club and Stonehenge, which do not appear) have been redesigned with an 80s influence, and the interface mimics Guitar Hero II's, only with color changes (no "new" graphics were developed as far as the interface)." [Although there is an X-ed out PMRC stenciled on the gravestones in one of the levels - nice Tipper Gore reference, folks!]

In addition, there are zero (no!) bonus tracks and 30 total songs in Guitar Hero '80s, compared to 48 normal and 26 lovingly picked bonus songs in the Xbox 360 version of Guitar Hero II, often by local Boston-area bands and other cult/niche artists, many of which are actually Harmonix employees.

Of course, everyone reviewing the game has picked up on this general limpness, with mixed reviews complaining about the barebones nature of the release. I think some are thinking that this is Activision's laziness solely. But how easy would it have been to add a modicum of bonus tracks, maybe some '80s-themed axes, and change out the art for the stadiums? Really easy.

And why didn't that happen? Because, I would hazard a guess, Harmonix had already been acquired by MTV, and has been completing Guitar Hero '80s as a final contractual obligation, while simultaneously working on Rock Band. Does the Harmonix/RedOctane contract mention bonus songs or from-scratch venues or GUI? Nope. Why would they help a franchise that they largely created, but whose IP has been assumed by their publisher, who is no longer working with them on the next-gen version?

- So Harmonix did a good-enough job - it's certainly not as 'f*ck-you' as Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music, an entire double-disc LP of guitar feedback released in 1974 as his final RCA album: "Despite Reed's artistic seriousness, his decision to release Metal Machine Music as a begrudging rejoinder to his contractual obligations with RCA may be confirmed by the final sentence of Reed's liner notes which reads 'My week beats your year.' The sentence would suggest that the time Reed took to produce his recording defeated the commercial demands of his yearly contract." But GH '80s is also not what it could be - and partly on purpose, I reckon.

Now, having said all of this, me and my wife are enjoying playing Guitar Hero '80s for the random cheesed-out songs that we _do_ know. For one, it's nice to see Swiss rawk band Krokus in there (even if it's covering Sweet's distinctly '70s Ballroom Blitz), since it enables me to chant 'K-R-O-K-U-S, Krokus know my home address....' in a Half Man Half Biscuit stylee (it's a lyric from This Leaden Pall.)

But another unspoken lesson from this is - developers, be very careful about who owns your IP (also see Pandemic, THQ, and Destroy All Humans!). In fact, there's been some attempt from Activision recently to insist that RedOctane, whom they bought for $100 million-ish, aren't just useful to them because they signed the deal with Harmonix to own the Guitar Hero IP - they were/are also key to the creative success of the franchise.

Do I believe that? Not really. RedOctane hasn't had a particularly distinguished past before Guitar Hero, launching an early game rental service which had, anecdotally, absolutely terrible customer service, and doing some decent-quality DDR pads before hooking up with, uhh, the subsequently Konami-sued Roxor Games, among others, for some relatively pedestrian work. But who knows? They could have driven the heart of the franchise behind closed doors.

I still think Harmonix is the collective which made Guitar Hero what it is, though, and it must be tremendously frustrating to see your work shunted off in another direction (even if Neversoft are worthy people to take up the baton, in many ways.) Webcomic Penny Arcade is obviously fixated on this battle, as well, and Slipgate Ironworks producer 'Mystyphy' has some v.interesting industry-centric feedback on the matter, too: "As far as ATVI and the GH franchise, they should be afraid of Harmonix, MTV and EA. Typically when you spend over a hundred million dollars for an IP, you should also get the guys that made it. It was a massive business blunder to think that buying the GH name and publisher would be better than getting the developer." [Ah, and game developer Damion Schubert also asks 'Has Guitar Hero Lost Its Way?']

Well, it's probably not a massive blunder yet - the Guitar Hero franchise is still selling hundreds of thousands of its earlier iterations. But it's good to see that the original creators still have a lot of the power, here, due to strong alliances with MTV and Electronic Arts. And Harmonix's purchase price ($175 million) values the IP-less developer ahead of the IP itself. Now that's karma, eh?

UK Press Trip Turns Into Slight Koch-Up?

- The 'deeply cool' The Triforce, which collectively encompasses UK games scenesters Simon Byron (PR), Ste Curran (developer), and Dave 'Taurus' (journalist, last name Google-able if you care), recently posted about one of the more mishap-laden video game press trips ever - actually so semi-tragic that it turned out to be rather fun?

And there's a handy synopsis which lays it all out in black and white: "A 12-hour round trip, partly conducted in a self-hire minibus that wasn’t big enough to fit everybody, driven, apparently by the UK head of Koch, to share a £25 room in a hotel that had borrowed my grandma’s furniture and which sprung a leak at breakfast, so we could sit in a submerged gazebo on a small bit of beach on the Isle of Wight in the driving wind and rain, drinking warm lager from bins full of sea water and sand." This actually sounds great!

The trip in question, organized by Koch Media, was apparently due to the fact that the firm "...has signed a deal to make videogames based on Deal or No Deal." Oh, and there's a great reference to a previous legendary (no, not Koch) UK game journo junket: "On this particular press trip, a coach load of videogame journalists was coached to Paris, by ferry, while the event organiser travelled in the speed and comfort of the Eurostar." There are then disputed allegations of broken limbs and left-behind writers!

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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