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August 25, 2007

COLUMN: 'Game Mag Weaseling': Mag Roundup 8/25/07


I got a bit of free spending money a week or two ago after being paid for some freelance, so I decided to use some of it to complete my collection of 2600. This is no arduous feat, since every issue (dating all the way back to January 1984) is available for purchase on their website.

If you're at all interested in the topic of underground computer activity and its history, I think you should definitely make this (admittedly kinda pricey) purchase. The mag has never been the flashiest, but ever since its inception it's always been about half serious hardware/software issues and half civil disobedience. I can't get enough of its rhetoric, and I hope it'll continue to defy death in the current magazine marketplace.

By the way, the ferret in the picture is one I've been fostering lately. Her name's Princess (blecch), she is almost seven years old, and she'd like to have a home. Why not contact Forever Homes Wanted Ferret Rescue if you're in Houston? I bet she'd be happy to hear if you did.

Anyway, click on to read all about the game magazines of the past couple weeks. This month marks most mags' "E3 issues," which for me are consistently the most boring editions of the year these days (it's all been on the internet for a month, I mean duh magazine editors), so not much commentary from me this time.

PSM October 2007 (Podcast)


Cover: Unreal Tournament 3

E3 stuff occupies the front part of this issue, with Unreal Tournament 3 (and, by extension, Unreal Engine 3 as shown on the PS3) taking center stage. PSM undertakes every effort to make it look as lovely as possible, and they generally succeed -- a bit easier just because of how colorful the game is compared to Gears. There are some interviews with Kojima and Ted price in the midsection's news section, and then reviews, and then letters, and that's about it.

But it's the reviews that take center stage -- or, at least, have so far on the net. When there are two first-party PS3 exclusives to review and a Naruto PSP title takes Game of the Month, you know you're gonna find trouble online. And that's just what happens this month, as Randy Nelson calls Lair "an average shooter" and Tom Holoien says that Warhawk "doesn't hold up as the quality game we all wanted it to be" and gives it the same rating another reviewer chooses for Dynasty Warriors: Gundam. Pretty rough, but by everything I've heard, they aren't giving out such criticism just to stir the pot. I can't sait to see the responses in next month's mail.

And I fully expect PSM will hear it from the readers. After all, in this month's "Hot Topic," two of them point out that PSM's August review of The Darkness includes a screenshot from the Xbox 360 version. Oops! As EIC Rob Smith explains, his hands were tied becuase he wanted to show off a certain bit from the game, but since he can't take screenshots from a PS3 (unlike the 360), he had no choice but to use a 360 screengrab. He pledges never to put a 360 screen into PSM again, but I definitely empathize with his pain -- it's such a pain to get very good-looking screenshots of your own from non-Microsoft consoles.

Official Xbox Magazine October 2007 (Podcast)


Cover: Halo 3

As usual, PSM is all about the previews and OXM is all about the special features. This time around, as if by magic after I mentioned their lack of coverage a few installments ago, they do a front-page piece on the broken-360 epidemic. It's lovingly-designed, includes quotes from Peter Moore and Shane Kim, and even includes all the warranty-busting tricks the Internet's come up with so far. There's also a small bit on Halo 3 (small compared to EGM's coverage, anyway) which has a few character profiles, the old "7 things you didn't know about game" gambit, and a few other neat bits and bobs.

Otherwise, the brunt of the mag is E3 previews and reviews, and unlike PSM and their dilemma, OXM has no lack of good games to review this month, with XBLA title Undertow getting a 9.0 and Jeff Minter's Space Giraffe getting 2.0, which is the way things should be (Minter's a much better Edge columnist than game designer, it's time to admit to it). There's also a note of apology for the lack of a BioShock review, which I presume means someone got an exclusive on it this month -- but who? The only candidate I can think of is Game Informer, but they aren't the sort to care much about exclusive reviews -- and besides, they already world-exclusive-previewed the game months ago.

The disc has Blue Dragon on it, btw. That's lurvely.

PC Gamer October 2007 (Podcast)


Cover: Far Cry 2

Out of all the Future mags, I can always count on PC Gamer to deliver something off the wall for me -- and it delivers this month with a front-end piece on the Championship Gaming Series, a pro game league that has drafts and "combines" and franchises and everything. K-razy.

The mag's Far Cry 2 feature is also a breath of fresh air. For once, the feature is not all enormous screenshots and vague text; it's all unadorned gameplay description with the screens taking second fiddle throughout. Otherwise, it's all reviews, E3 previews, and Richard Garriott discussing why MMORPG combat sucks.

Play September 2007


Cover: Heavenly Sword

It's worth noting here that Issue 4 of Rocket, Dave Halverson's movie/anime/music media mag, will be the last. After that it'll be replaced with a revival of Geek Monthly, a hiatused gadget/lifestyle mag (kinda like Ziff Davis's failed Sync) that Dave's Fusion Publishing has worked out some kind of distribution agreement with. A 32-page issue of Geek is bundled with the last Rocket -- which, by the way, is only 64 pages long and has virtually no advertising pages. As you'd expect from the title, Geek will resume monthly publication in September.

Play is on much firmer ground, though, and they're still as much Play as they've always been. This Heavenly Sword feature is reportedly the first one to allow for hands-on gameplay. The thing I like the most about Play features is there's no endless droning -- this only devotes a couple pages to the hands-on gameplay, then spends the next few spreads talking to the assorted dev leads about their baby, which is a lot more interesting than getting quotes from anonymous white dudes you've never heard of before.

After that, E3 previews and reviews.

Nintendo Power October 2007


Cover: Super Mario Galaxy

NP keeps soldiering along without any official update to its fate. This issue is pretty much all-E3 all the time, with Miyamoto's E3 showing of Super Mario Galaxy up front and lots of previews around it. Other pieces are on Battalion Wars 2, Metroid Prime 3 (a little concept-art sampling), and Looney Tunes: Duck Amuck, which I am now officially psyched for thanks to Nintendo Power doing a feature on it.

Admittedly "all-E3" is a bit of an exaggeration -- there's an interview with Toru Iwatani, another with Inafune, and there's also a retro "Classified Info" covering codes for all the Virtual Console games. Cute.

(The perennial "You Found The Ocarina!" advertisement now has some crazy, vaguely Midna-ish visual-kei goth girl hawking the things. It's pretty scary.)

Hardcore Gamer September 2007


Cover: Legendary: The Box

E3, E3, E3...the main innovation being Legendary's cover apperance over all other options. HGM's zagging where everyone else zigged, plainly, and it's funny the way the feature's written, describing how the crew got more and more enthused about the game as E3 wore on. Otherwise, E3. Did I mention E3?

[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.]

Jason Rubin On Life After Naughty Dog

- Apologies for being a little link-heavy and opinion-light in recent days, btw - a very busy 2008 budgeting season and a trip with my folks to San Diego are slowing me down.

But hey, that just means that I get to parcel out more neat GSW-worthy Gamasutra links to you, and the latest is the in-depth piece 'Naughty Dog, New Tricks: An Interview With Jason Rubin', just posted yesterday.

As we noted in the intro: "You might know Jason Rubin for his co-founding role at Los Angeles developer Naughty Dog, creator of the Crash Bandicoot and Jak & Daxter series, but the developer, who largely left the industry after amicably departing Naughty Dog a couple of years back, is currently involved in a number of new projects. These include his Web 2.0-styled slideshow/transition-enabling website Flektor (which was created with his Naughty Dog co-founder Andy Gavin, and has just been acquired by MySpace) and his new IP, comic book and reported 'multimedia project' Iron and the Maiden."

This interview is based on a Comic-Con follow-up that Brandon Sheffield did, after we had lunch with Rubin a couple of months back, and there's plenty of notable material in there (yes, including more on the Metallica game!) - we particularly extracted Rubin's comments on next-gen hardware:

"I would much rather have a console that’s 30% weaker and have three times as many of them in the first year sold, so your game reaches a broader audience, and you can be a little bit more aggressive with your budgets up front and things like that. I don’t think it’s about technology. It’s about entertainment."

Time To Go Delving Inside Knytt Stories?

- The fun indie Mentisworks blog has been discussing the upcoming PC indie title Knytt Stories, which is actually due out in just 6 days, and is much awaited by fans of Nifflas' other games - abstract but almost folk-art evocative in turn - such as Knytt and Within A Deep Forest.

Michael from Mentisworks has grabbed a preview copy of Knytt Stories, and provides an interesting analysis, first noting: "The most prevalent design element which I see in all of Nifflas' games is minimalism. This does tend to come in varying degrees, but each title that he produces seems to follow the old adage of "less is more." Knytt Stories continues in this vein in all aspects as much as its predecessor, and that is in no small part a contributing factor to its success."

His conclusion? "The fewer preconceptions you can bring with you the better. Not because your expectations will not be fulfilled, but because this game is a different experience than much of your standard gaming fare. Come to Knytt Stories relaxed. Come to it as you would come to an old friend you have not seen for years, and it will treat you well. If you can manage to do all this, it is unlikely that you will be disappointed." Six days, folks.

August 24, 2007

Game Design Essentials: 20 Difficult Games

- Over at Gamasutra, the ever-handy John Harris has just delivered 'Game Design Essentials: 20 Difficult Games', the first in a series of, yes, list articles - but list articles that find some interesting angles and provide concrete design lessons for game professionals. Or that's the idea!

As he notes in the intro: "Certainly, difficulty in a video game must be handled carefully. Nothing attracts the ire of those fickle game bloggers quite like them getting their asses handed to them by a game. And it is possible to make a game arbitrarily difficult without too much effort."

I won't give away the full contents of the list (which already made front page on Digg and hopelessly broke our site briefly as a result), but here's a salient disclaimer: "Take note, although some of the hardest games ever made are on this list, it is by no means a list of the absolute hardest games. That’s why it includes Mischief Makers before Alien Storm; not because the latter game isn’t harder, but because Mischief Makers’ difficulty is particularly instructive. Of course, both of them pale before the terrible majesty of Sinistar." So go poke and disagree noisily, already.

Mapping User Patterns In Quake III, Halo 3

- Funnily enough, this post started with a much more low-profile reference, with new metrics tools company Orbus Gameworks discussing their example Quake III visualization software, and there are all kinds of interesting visuals linked there-in.

It's explained of the upgraded version: "The important thing we added was a heat map based on where players spend time on the map. The opacity of each green square represents, for the area it covers on the map, how much time was spent in that square by the players. So you get a good sense of how much of your level content is actually used. It also revealed things about certain levels, such as areas where there is high traffic but very few kills tend to occur."

Oddly enough, I was then reading the latest issue of Wired Magazine, and the excellent cover story on Halo 3, by Clive Thompson, talks about many similar kinds of metrics analysis being used in Bungie's much-awaited Xbox 360 title, for example: "In early tests, players wandered lost around the Jungle level: Colored dots showing player location at five-second intervals (each color is a new time stamp) were scattered randomly. So Bungie fixed the terrain to keep players from backtracking." Synchronicity at work!

Game Developer's 2007 Game Career Guide Gets... Jeff!

- Just spotted that Jeff Ward, former Bethesda and current Orbus Gameworks staffer, has posted his additional Top Ten Tips on his Jeff On Games weblog "...that I wish I had known just coming out of college and looking for a game job."

This is actually an extension of his tips for those wanting to get into the game biz, as printed in the new Game Developer 2007 Career Guide magazine special, which I realize we forgot to mention on GameSetWatch - and will do so now by extracting the Gamasutra story about it:

"The special 2007 Game Career Guide issue of Game Developer magazine, the sister U.S. print publication to Gamasutra, is now available for paid digital download and on news-stand, including a wealth of exclusive articles and listings on paths into the video game industry.

A digital version of the issue is available for download at the official Game Developer magazine site. In addition, copies of the Game Career Guide will also be available at the CMP Game Group's and other affiliated events over the next few months, starting with next month's Austin GDC show.

As well as the canonical Game School Directory, a list of major North American schools with game development classes, detailed columns explain different types of game schools, run down the 2006 Game Developer Salary Survey, and a guide of the top industry events, associations, and other major features.

In addition, the major feature articles in the Career Guide are as follows: 'Top 10 Tips', by Jeff Ward, Tom Carroll, Michel Kripalani, Toby Schadt, and Stuart Roch: "Ten things things you need to know right now to prepare you for life as a video game programmer, modeler, animator, designer, or producer. Undecided? These tips do more than just guide—they also shed light on the personality profiles of each profession so you can ask yourself where you’ll fit in best."

The postmortem for the issue is as follows: 'Student Postmortem: P.H.L.O.P.' by Brian Kircher, Chance Lyon, and Thanh Nguyen: "Physics Has Limitless Observable Possibilities! Okay, maybe the title of this game doesn’t exactly make you want to jump out of your seat and shoot some zombies, but you can’t knock the team that built it. Three DigiPen students share what went right and what went wrong in creating this physics-based puzzle game."

Another major feature is 'Is Modding Useful?', by Alistair Wallis: "Once upon a time you had an idea for a video game. You said, “I just have to make this!” And so you did. You drew up some design documents. You doodled on the back of your checkbook. And one day, with the help of a few friends, it all came together when you realized you could morph an existing game engine into your very own dream game. Was it all just fun and games, or is it possible to claim that experience on your resume? Can you get a job if you’ve only ever developed mods?"

Finally, there's 'A Day In the Life' by Andrew Zaferakis, Ben Lichius, and Ben Schneider: "Taxicab Confessions? How about Developer Diaries? If you’ve ever wondered what a game developer actually does each day at work, here’s your chance to find out. We asked three pros to take notes on a typical day and put together a journal of what happened. In this exclusive article, take a peek at what goes on inside three studios."

The Game Developer 2007 Game Career Guide issue is available for digital purchase in Game Developer's interactive digital format now - and is also available in physical format at major North American bookstores and magazine sellers."

August 23, 2007

Kokoromi In Gamma 256 Abstraction Shock!

- Aha, a brand new competition has been announced by Montreal art-game collective Kokoromi, and it's all about making low-resolution games, as follows: "Between now and November 1st, 2007, you have 70 days to create a game with the smallest and/or most irregular aspect ratio you can dream up. And then on November 28th, we’re throwing a giant party for your game, in Montreal. It is gamma 256."

And it's pretty neat, really - the results will be shown at an [EDIT: official closing party!] for the Montreal International Games Summit, and there's only two rules: "1. Your game’s resolution absolutely may not exceed 256×256 pixels maximum. 2. Your game must run on Windows XP and use an xbox360 controller." Straightforward enough, eh?

In addition, there are questions and answers already on whether 'blown-up' entries will be allowed: "The idea is that the games will be blown up to fill up big projector screens all over the venue. So yes, your “in-game pixel” may actually be 64 pixels on screen. BUT, you can't have smooth 1 pixel scrolling or rotations or things like that." So there. Looking forward to lots of horribly blocky entries - in a nice way.

COLUMN: The Aberrant Gamer: 'Suffer the Little Children'

[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. NOTE: No BioShock spoilers whatsoever beyond discussion of exposition; Leigh's twisted, but humane.]

-This week, legions of souls were pulled down into Rapture. The ruined utopia built on – and decimated by – vanity, greed and madness is compelling for many reasons; hauntingly vivid environments, unprecedented physics, and an unsettlingly lifelike quality in the smallest of aspects, in each little discarded artifact of a society torn open by excess and obsession, hiding in the fringes of their broken world.

One of the things that makes BioShock so compelling, ironically, is its humanity, a funny thing to think of when it’s so immediately evident just how far from humanity Rapture’s citizens have strayed. But it’s the objectivity of that distance that really gives one pause; though they’ve long since made fatal strides from the path of sanity, we can see behind each blood-smudged mask and spliced body, can hear in each broken moan and tortured whisper, the ghosts of who they used to be – ghosts that look quite a lot like us.

It makes sense; it’s very clear in the environmental storytelling how a tweak became an overhaul, how a paradise became Hell – rooted, as such extremes always are, in a very moderate wish. What if we could repair those traits which cause us suffering? Scientists, doctors and therapists, dieticians, cosmetologists and engineers endeavor to that end even in our real-world lives today. What if there wasn’t necessarily something wrong with us, but we just wished to be a little more beautiful, a little stronger, a little more resilient?

Hey, Little Sister, Who's Your Superman?

The Tibetan Buddhists believe that this constant material quest for “self-improvement”, such as it is in this context, is the root of all human misery, and perhaps they’re on to something. It’s a juvenile, self-centered way of thinking – and yet we all do it, and we have since we were children. What child has not played superhero at some time, what child has not dreamed of escaping the confines of their physical lives in some way – to fly, to fight evil, to read minds?

Indeed, even as babies this craving for “more” is a biological instinct. The urge to crawl becomes a desire to stand, as little hands put everything into the mouth to see if it can be eaten. As they grow into toddlers, they begin to test the limits of their environment in other ways, sometimes inexplicably knocking objects down, throwing them, or intentionally displeasing their parents in order to learn consequences, to learn where the limits may be defied – and raging, inconsolable, when their small age makes the rules unbreakable. We as humans carry that anger towards a rule-bound world with us all the rest of our lives; the fury we felt when sleep stole our playtime, when we could only jump so high, when Mother and Father said “no.”

It can be said, then, that the eventual creation and subsequent destruction of Rapture is an inevitability for mankind, that BioShock’s world is neither fantasy nor hypothesis, but portent. The sense of deep dread one experiences playing the game, the revulsion, the strange blend of pity and disgust arises from the humiliation and the fear we feel at seeing our own selves advanced to this eventuality.

The clarity of issues like these (along with really, really good-looking water) are part of what generated such a healthy helping of advance buzz for BioShock. Gamers will be discussing what makes for truly compelling story in games until the end of Rapture, but one certain factor is that we’re transfixed by stories in which we can see ourselves. In the din of anticipation for the game, however, a single element rose to the forefront again and again, in screenshots, interviews and discussions.

It wasn’t, “Wow, those splicers remind me of myself.” It was, “My god – look at that creepy little girl.”

-Hey, Little Sister -- Shotgun

There are many delicious “firsts” in BioShock, as with any game; the first taste of Andrew Ryan’s determinist manifesto, the first glimpse of the aquatic city, the first thrust of an EVE hypo. But one would be hard-pressed to name any of these more arresting than the first glimpse of a Little Sister, the first haunting strains of her playground voice. The first sight of her using that giant, gruesome needle to do her grim gathering.

It’s not unusual to see small, saucer-eyed children as conventions in the horror genre; in fact, it’s common. Young girls in particular make very good devices in survival-horror video games, either as archetypes of feminine vulnerability (for who needs you more than a damsel-in-distress except a little damsel?) or as strange aggressors, all the more fearsome for their innocuous appearance. The genre of BioShock is already the subject of much debate, but for the topics discussed here, it cleaves rather closely alongside survival-horror story elements.

The Little Sisters are preceded by a long list of girl-children in that genre. The desperate circumstances of Resident Evil 2 were accentuated with the pivotal appearance of Sherry Birkin, whose helplessness served to heighten the fear – and emotionalize the stakes. Of note was her child-like physicality when under the player’s control, the juvenile, vulnerable unease with which she climbed over too-tall obstacles and scrabbled through the dark.

The Silent Hill series, too, couldn’t do without its children – Cheryl Mason and Alessa Gillespie were the catalysts of the entire series’ events, and even in the canonically divergent Silent Hill 2, the mysteriously antagonistic Laura taunts the protagonist, unaffected neither by his guilt, his shame, nor the ghosts of the world. In another survival-horror title, Fatal Frame 2, a pair of twins are drawn into a nightmarish plot as they investigate the brutal religious sacrifice of orphan twin children before them.

-Rule of Rose drew fire (and was prohibited from a UK release) for its use of children as aggressors – juvenile perpetrators of near-sociopathic crimes on one another, as well as some faint strains of sexualizing them. In all of the above examples, though, it was the appearance of the children that made the game truly frightening. Sherry, Laura, Alessa, Diana – all of them are both powerful -- because they motivate all of the game’s action, and appear to know things the protagonists do not -- and ambiguous, because their presence is as dangerous as it is useful. The same can be said for the Little Sisters.

Another factor the Little Sisters share with their fellow survival-horror girls is the evocation of pity. Sherry loses her father in more ways than one; Laura seems an orphan, alone. The children of Rule of Rose are all unfortunate; the inhabitants of a degenerate orphanage, they’ve nothing to wear but dirty clothing and nothing to play with but sharp things and dead animals. Often, the children are physically distressed – note the pale flesh and dirty feet and knees of the Little Sisters – as if to highlight this vulnerability of theirs, to bring it into sharper contrast with their ambiguous (or outright dangerous) nature.

As might be expected, video games have historically been slightly awkward, slightly uncomfortable handling little girls in short skirts. Though Sherry, Laura, the children of Rule of Rose and all the others may come to harm – in some of the examples, perhaps fatal harm – it is never the fault of the player, nor is it through any direct action of his. In Rule of Rose, for example, the lovely bully Diana and her young cronies are primary antagonists – but the player does not physically confront them, combating instead the dangerous and neglectful adults who have led all of the children to their present circumstances. As for Laura, it’s unclear whether she’s a real child or a hallucinated avatar, a symbol of innocence rather than a fact.

It's a Nice Day to Start Again

Similarly, the Little Sisters are symbols of what was once Rapture’s innocence. “Someone took a precious baby girl and turned her into a monster,” Atlas explains in the game’s exposition, as the Little Sister obliviously goes about her squishy business, singing to herself and to her hulking, silent protector. The splicers do retain eerie reminders on their person of the humans they used to be – a certain fashion of dress they must have once preferred, a party mask for a festivity – but as deformed as they’ve become, and with their faces obscured, there’s a measure of separation. The Little Sisters still look, for the most part, like human children, and they move and speak like them, too.

-Never before BioShock, though, has the player had such control over the child’s fate. Though some are arguing whether the choice to harvest the Little Sisters for ADAM or not is truly a “choice”, no one can say that the nature and manner of her life versus her death is not within the player’s jurisdiction.

How does it feel to destroy her? What does it make you?

The Little Sisters’ innocence is the last bastion of humanity for Rapture; the last anchor the twisted populace has to a time when they were still all right. The time when they made a child’s wish – what if I could be a little bigger, a little more than what I am? And now, the player might become a victim of that same little wish. It starts out innocently enough; can you resist the temptation for stronger, better, more that helps us grow from infants to adults – and that helped the blood-mad splicers go from human to something horribly other, that might now help you look at a little girl as something to be 'harvested'? It may be too late for the splicers, whom you’re about to electrocute, burn, freeze and smash. Perhaps not so for the Little Sisters, and thus for yourself – that’s up to you.

[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, and begs your forgiveness for the Billy Idol lyrics; she just couldn't help it.]

Robertson Waxes Lyrical On Vibri Goodness

- Matteo Bittanti was kind enough to point out that former Edge editor (and current 'journo about town') Margaret Robertson is updating her 'Downtime' blog with neat material about games - most recently a post about Masaya Matsuura's Vib Ribbon series of games.

She notes: "You'll probably remember Vibri - the angular rabbit that did rhythm gymnastics to your CD collection [in Vib Ribbon.] You probably won't remember Mojibri - the big-trousered gent who did rapping calligraphy in Mojib Ribbon, or Vibri's elastic return when she bounced all over your digital photos in Vip Ripple."

And then continues by ruminating of the titles: "So are they a trilogy at all? Or just three unrelated games from someone too lazy to think up a new naming convention? Absolutely. What Matsuura does is use the familiar to make the unfamiliar more palatable."

Also, Robertson is writing semi-regular game editorials for BBC News, and the latest takes an entertainingly perverse look at why games aren't always about socializing: " That image - of the lone figure hunched over a keyboard, curtains drawn against the intrusions of the afternoon sun, typing in vowel-less code to total strangers and peeing in a bottle to reduce time away from the screen - will persist, and it will persist because it's accurate." Good show!

August 22, 2007

GameSetHelp: Shanghai-Based Readers, GDC China Coverage?

- Firstly, thanks to those readers who responded to our previous call for help on attending far-off game conferences and reporting for Gamasutra - we got help with both Leipzig and Edinburgh coverage from GameSetWatch readers, and we thank you guys heartily for it. But now, we have a tougher assignment - next week's GDC China event in Shanghai!

Our original freelancer who was covering the inaugural event had to drop out at short notice, so we are looking for someone in Shanghai who was going (and/or is interested) and can spare some time from August 27th-29th to send us notes from some of the major and minor lectures.

This first GDC China event, which is co-organized by CMP and IDG, has keynotes by folks from Epic China and Sony Online, and a whole heap of interesting lectures, all of which are also available in English, even if the source language is not originally that.

Anyhow, our Group Director Kathy Schoback (formerly of Sega and Ageia, among others!) is going and will be helping us with some notes, but obviously, asking your boss to be a journalist for you is a tad embarassing, so we'd love some more help there - please contact us if you are attending and can pass along raw notes from sessions. (Payment in mag subscriptions/dollars will be provided.)

Intuition Games And The Indie Bootstrapping Matrix

- Randomly found via Technorati, new indie startup Intuition has made a detailed post on "...the options out there for bootstrapping a game company with no games in its portfolio."

It's now thinking that Kongregate might be the way to spool things up, but there's a great diagram laying everything out in the post, and they believe: "Based on these, we thought that the cell at coordinates [PC, Web Browser] was the best option for bootstrapping, because it's relatively easy to develop for, the cost is low, and the barrier to entry is low. The only downside is that it's risky; who knows what the sales will be, and it's not a well-established way to make a living."

The team, which also has an official website, is now working on both pitches for Adult Swim's game section, and also a pitch for a funded Kongregate Flash game, so we'll see how it all ends up for them. Apparently some of the Adult Swim pitches involved a clay dinosaur with a football helmet - and a rocket launcher - so it sounds like they are along the right lines! For, uh, insanity.

GameSetLinks: Get Lamp? Got A Clue!

- Some post-weekend GameSetLinks, then, and there's some interesting stuff hanging out there - not least a brief teaser of a documentary that I'm very much looking forward to:

- Getting Lamp!: Jason Scott has been working on his multi-part text adventure documentary Get Lamp for some time now, and he's just posted a teaser trailer for the doc on his ASCII blog. The full HD version, which also "...shows a number of interviewees (Steve Meretzky, Austin Seraphin, Nick Montfort, Brendan Desilets)", is available on the official site. This is vital recorded history - very much looking forward to the final doc.

- Ellis Winds Up Castlevania Fanboys: The ever-bombastic Warren Ellis has posted an excerpt from his Castlevania animated movie draft on its official blog - and, well, Ellis' ridiculous new book, Crooked Little Vein, has a dustjacket blurb by cyberpunk don William Gibson which simply says: "Stop it, you're scaring me". Similar for this extract, which is a) probably not a wind-up b) bodes well for stupid fun.

- Dare To Be... Digital!: Nokia Design's Matt 'Blackbelt' Jones has posted discussing last week's Edinburgh Festival and games, and particularly commenting: "Just before I had to go to the airport I skipped out of the last session and kidnapped a couple of colleagues to visit the Dare Protoplay event, where young teams of games creators were showing playable demos of their efforts - I guess a bit like the indie games jam." Jones suggested that the winning games from Dare To Be Digital, a UK-organized student game competition, might actually be more exciting than EIF itself - so it's worth some poking.

- Grand Text Auto - The Exhibit: Those art-university-game reprobates at Grand Text Auto have announced that they have an exhibition all of their own at the Beall Center for Art + Technology at the University of California, Irvine, starting in October. The full exhibit includes some fun art-game craziness, in particular: "Michael and Andrew will not only be showing their Façade - they will be providing us with an AR (augmented reality) version of this interactive drama."

- Tougeki 2D Fighting Insanity: Over at Subatomic Brainfreeze, they've handily posted annotated YouTube links to the recent Tougeki 2D fighting game championship in Japan - which is popular enough that it's streamed by top Japanese game magazine Famitsu! It's got sentences in it like: "Instead of killing ST, Hyper SF2 has only made it stronger. This match is Super Turbo (X) version Chun-Li vs. Champion Edition (Dash) Bison." If you understand this, you may like it!

- When Edge Ran Out Of Room?: The UK's latest game magazine ABC subscription numbers came out last week, and there was one particularly eye-opening stat in there: "Multi-format magazine Edge, which recently has shown trend-defying increases, this time fell from 35,145 to 30,021 copies sold per month." This somewhat blows the concept that quality, in-depth game magazine reporting can buck the circulation-dive trend, doesn't it? For those interested, here's the full ABC chart - with 6,329 copies of each mag distributed outside the UK, and 1,606 non-UK subscriptions, for those wondering how the international breakdown runs nowadays.

August 21, 2007

Rejoice, For Rock Paper Shotgun Is Birthed!

- Wow, some good news in the world of PC online game journalism, as a bunch of reprobates - including Kieron Gillen, Jim Rossignol, John Walker and Alec Meer - have launched Rock Paper Shotgun, a new PC-specific blog site that looks to showcase writing from some of the most interesting UK-centric PC game journos. (And heck, it's great to see someone coming out and saying they want to write just about PC, for a change.)

Here's the press release on Gillen's blog explaining handily that the site "...aims to cover everything from the latest breaking stories about the biggest games to esoterica from the format’s obscurest peninsulas, and its fresh and lively daily updates site will entertain while invigorating your PC gaming spirits."

Thus far, in among some playful banter, they've got a rather neat Ken Levine interview about Bioshock, which starts with a good, acute impression of the stakes that the game is playing for: "Levine’s a fascinating figure – articulate, driven, passionate. And, no, I don’t want to have sex with him. (Denial’s not pretty – Ed) It’s worth stressing how this interview came about. Levine – a major developer – mailed me for no other reason than that he wanted to talk. No-one does that."

Gillen continues of Levine: "He’s played the PR machine on Bioshock enormously hard, clearly very aware of the enormous stakes he’s playing for. And he is, in a real, fundamental way. Levine sold the company he co-founded in order to get this game done." But - spoiler - there's going to be a happy ending, isn't there? Hopefully for Rock Paper Shotgun, too! RSS it now-ish!

Japanese Game Development: The Other Side Of The Rainbow

- We recently pointed out that pseudonymous Japan-based game creator JC Barnett (ex of Japanmanship) was nice enough to write up 'Working In Japanese Game Development: The Facts' for us at Gamasutra.

Well, we've just posted the second article, subtitled 'The Other Side Of The Rainbow' over at Gama, in which Barnett "...explains a little more in detail the various roles you could apply for and some general insights into the development culture", talking as a Westerner currently employed at a Japanese video game developer.

Barnett sums up the (intriguingly slightly different) job types in Japanese game development, noting: "As you can see, most roles only differ cosmetically from Western job titles. If you have a decent amount of experience in game development in the West there is absolutely no reason you won’t be able to do your job in Japan with equal gusto. It’s only some of the cultural thinking and ways of doing things that can cough up some problems, but with a little patience these can be overcome or accepted."

After running down some honest but, as far as I can see, pretty fair impressions of the creative but in some ways hemmed-in Japanese game biz, he concludes, somewhat more happily: "I am acutely alive to the fact I may have painted working in Japanese game development slightly more negative than is ultimately called for. Sure, working in Japan isn’t all rosy, but with the right mindset you can get some things out of it. As I never tire of saying, Japan is a pretty decent place to live and even with the low salaries in the game industry you can, if you’re a prudent spender, live comfortably enough. For the focused applicant there is a real chance to be working on those games you love and that possibly drove you to Japan in the first place."

[PS - while we're talking about crazy but detailed Gama features, we just a couple of minutes ago posted the slightly insane, 13,000-word 'Breaking Down Breakout: System And Level Design For Breakout-style Games', of which it's explained: "How much is there to learn about Breakout-style brick-bustin' games? A heck of a lot, according to LEGO Bricktopia level designer Nelson, who has written possibly the definitive genre overview for Gamasutra, complete with design specifics, interviews, and much more." This is too much bricking for one man!]

COLUMN: @Play: 'Fei's Problems'

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

To wrap up our discussion of Shiren the Wanderer (here's Part 1 and Part 2), let's have a quick look at one of the more interesting parts of the game, the series of puzzle dungeons called Fei's Problems. In the starting town there is a building that contains a shopkeeper-looking guy called Fei, who's constructed a series of 50 non-random single dungeon levels he wants you to attempt.

Most of these dungeons are arranged so that there's only one way out of the situation presented. Some of them rely on obscure aspects of the game rules. Because of this, they serve as an excellent step-by-step tutorial for learning how to play the game. Only one can be tried on each "life," but they yield helpful items, occasionally very nice ones. The screenshots illustrate the solutions to three early, and very simple, problems, but later on they get quite diabolical. For example: there's one that relies on the fact that, if you're standing on money without having picked it up, it can be accessed using the Floor command and thrown at monsters for high damage!

But as far as deviousness goes the last problem tops it easily....

fp1.pngIn addition to Fei's Problems, there are three "bonus dungeons" in the game, each with subtly different item generation qualities and monsters. The first starts the player out with a Bufoo's Cleaver weapon, which often turns killed monsters into meat, but contains less normal equipment than usual. Monster meat is a fairly powerful item, which lets you both turn yourself into a monster, or turn other monsters into its type. (Facing a Sky Dragon? Just chuck a Mamul Meat at it.) The second bonus dungeon gives the player a Trapper Bracer, which makes him immune to traps but causes monsters to be affected by them.

The last bonus dungeon becomes available after the main quest has been defeated and all 50 of Fei's Problems have been completed. Then, if you go speak with Fei, he'll revealed that his digging has uncovered an unusually large and difficult dungeon. It's a 99-level random dungeon with every monster and item in the game showing up. It also scrambles scroll and herb identities, which in the other dungeons are always known. In short, it's just the challenge that roguelike experts relish. It's Fei's Final Problem!

fp2.pngAs I've said before, I've completed this dungeon. While it can be difficult to get started, however, it's not quite as difficult as escaping with Rogue's Amulet of Yendor. This is because of an interesting little trick that seems to be intentional.

As we've seen, there's an item in the game that raises the player's maximum hit points by 5. There is an item in the final dungeon, the Angel Seed, that raises the player's experience level by 5. There are items that increase stomach capacity, that let pots contain more items or Backs, and even one, the Synthesis Pot, that lets you take base weapons and shields and combine other like-type items with it, adding together not only their plusses but their special qualities.

fp3.pngAnother item in the dungeon is called the Duplication Pot. When an item is put inside, it creates an identical duplicate, which also appears in the pot. When the pot is thrown and broken, thus, the player gets twice what he put in. Imagine what would happen if the player did this with an Angel Seed! Duplication Pots are rare, of course, so this can't be used more than once. Unless....

There's also an item in this dungeon, the Withdraw Scroll, that lets the player, once, remove the stuff from a pot without breaking it. Use it on the Duplication Pot, and you can use it again, making more copies of whatever you want. Of course, Withdraw Scrolls are also rare.

fp4.pngBut just imagine if the player had a Duplication Pot and two Withdraw Scrolls. Then, he took one of those Withdraw Scrolls and put it into the Duplication Pot. If he read the remaining scroll, he could get out of the pot two Withdraw Scrolls. He's gotten the stuff out of the pot without breaking it, and he hasn't lost any items. He could do this again and again and lose nothing except the turns necessarily to perform this little ritual.

This would be just a curosity if the pot was only big enough to hold the Withdraw Scrolls, but it's usually bigger than that. If expanded with other scrolls, the pot can be made big enough to contain up to ten objects. In addition to duplicating Withdraw Scrolls, up to four other items can be duplicated each time.

fp5.pngI take it you see where this is going. The player can duplicate Angel Seeds and, in just a few turns, reach maximum level (70). He can duplicate Life Herbs and reach maximum hit points (250). He can duplicate Expansion Herbs and get to maximum satiation (200%). And best (or worst, depending on your point of view), he can take a +1 weapon and a third Withdraw Scroll, then duplicate them to make two +1 weapons, then use a Synthesis Pot to combine them into a +2 weapon while using the extra Withdraw Scroll to get it out. Repeat over and over to get to +4, then +8, then +16...

The maximum plus a weapon or shield can have is +99, which in D&D is power possessed not even by the gods, but because item special functions can also be added in, the numeric limit doesn't have to be the end. A +99 shield is extremely strong, but how about a rustproof +99 shield which makes half of enemy attacks miss and also defends against item theft, stat draining and dragon fire?

fp6.pngBut here's the thing about the Final Problem. By the time the player reaches around level 70, the only monsters appearing are the strongest in the game. These floors are infested with the top-level Dragon monsters, which in any other context are horribly over-powered. The easiest dragons can breathe fire on the player if he's in a straight line with them. The middle dragons can breathe fire if the player's anywhere in the room. The highest-level Dragons can flame the player anywhere on the floor, regardless of sight,walls, or even knowledge! They breathe, wherever they are, and Shiren is hurt. They breathe, each of them, around one turn in five. Even with the Dragon Shield's fire resistance ability folded in that's enough damage per hit that 250 HP can be depleted in a handful of attacks. But on the other hand, the player can also duplicate healing herbs, undoing that damage in one turn.

This is what the end of Shiren becomes. It is powergaming taken to its ultimate extreme, ruthless exploitation of the system because without it, the player is toast. It is interesting once, but honestly? Once a good duplication engine is going scarcity is destroyed, and the game becomes much less interesting, even with unidentified items. It's probably intentional by the designers (it is "Fei's Final Problem" after all, implying they expect the player to use a trick to succeed), but it's just a trick.

Visual record of the end of Fei's Final Problem (complete with glitchy text resulting from the translation patch authors not having tested this part of the game):

At last we're done, for now at least, with the Mysterious Dungeon games. Word is that the DS Shiren game may actually be coming to the United States, possibly because of the popularity of the Pokemon Rescue Team games. Here's hoping it sticks more to the qualities of the SNES Shiren game, quick, tight roguelike play and not the excesses that later installments have given themselves to.

Speaking of tricks and design flaws, next time out we're back to our more usual beat, with a discussion of the many ways Nethack's rules have been powergamed over the years. Back in two weeks....

August 20, 2007

Inside Two Decades Of Leisure Suit Larry

- This actually popped up a week or so back, but hasn't got much play - 1UP has a fun little feature on 'Two Decades Of Leisure-Suit Larry', with Chris Kohler quizzing the supremely affable Al Lowe on the history of the lounge lizard himself.

The intro is a good set-up too: "The amount of sexually explicit scenes in every Larry game combined wouldn't fill a floppy disk. It was the comedy that made the games worth playing, and even that rarely rose above the level of PG-13 gags, sly references that the kids wouldn't understand anyway. Not to mention that the games had all the tricky puzzles of their family-friendly counterparts."

The quotes are a little short, and it's a couple of months late, but we do get some neat insight on why Larry was perversely... girl-friendly? "Although men were the vast majority of Larry players, says Lowe, the games attracted as many female players as King's Quest. 'What we didn't realize was that because I made Larry a loser, the women ended up being his superiors most of the time. That made women enjoy the games,' he says."

GameSetPics: ACMI's IGF Exhibition Scans, Buscaglia Help

- So, a couple of Independent Games Festival that we'd like to point out (DISCLAIMER: I help run the IGF alongside good lieutenants Matthew Wegner and Steve Swink). In the first case, the organizers have announced that "...finalists and winners of this year's festival will be awarded with free assistance and consultation with 'Game Attorney' Thomas H. Buscaglia."

This is neat news because, from what I heard, many IGF finalists nowadays do get hit with approaches from publishers large and small - and knowing what to sign and how in terms of distribution/publishing contracts is absolutely a big deal in today's indie game market. Many thanks to Buscaglia, one of the most developer-friendly lawyers around, for stepping up to help out here.

Anyhow, on to the main part of this post, which we've previously mentioned on GameSetWatch, is that the Australian Center For The Moving Image has been putting on an IGF exhibition (which may be extended - look for info on this soon!) Anyhow, I got round to scanning in the neat brochure and some fetching postcards they've been giving out alongside the Melbourne-based exhibit, so here they are...

Info on the exhibit overview and the playable games there-in.

More info on some of the featured titles in the exhibit.

Postcard 1: Castle Crashers, by The Behemoth.

Postcard 2: Everyday Shooter, by Jon Mak of Queasy Games.

Postcard 3: Samorost 2, by Amanita Design.

Postcard 4: Aquaria, by Bit Blot.

Postcard 5: Fizzball, by Grubby Games.

Postcard 6: Roboblitz, by Naked Sky Entertainment.

The Death And Rebirth Of Genre

- Former Computer Games Magazine editor Steve Bauman has posted a thought-provoking piece on his weblog discussing what he calls 'The Death and Re-birth of Genre', and focusing on the strange renaissance of the commercial adventure genre - we covered this a bit before.

Bauman notes, by way of an overview: "At one point, adventure games were the biggest, most important PC genre... [but], with the gameplay stagnating, the technology falling behind, and the audience moving on to other genres, adventure games died. But they’re coming back thanks to casual games."

He then discusses the 'Hidden Object' casual game genre, and the evolution of that, explaining: "But a casual game like Azada takes that basic “Seek and Find” formula, adds in some additional bridging puzzles, and you end up with a game with a series of static screens filled with items to discover. You put these items in your inventory and combine them in order to open up additional areas... And it’s all wrapped up in a storyline, further driving your desire to “finish” the game. In other words, it’s an old-school adventure game." Full circle alert!

August 19, 2007

COLUMN: 'Game Mag Weaseling': MagScam: The Tale of Norman Hunt


Off Amazon recently I picked up a book called Priming the Pump: How TRS-80 Enthusiasts Helped Spark the PC Revolution, a personal history of the early home computing era written by two of the entrepreneurs who participated in it. David and Theresa Welsh were the duo behind Lazy Writer, one of several first-generation word processors available for Tandy's TRS-80 series of computers. The Welshes ran one of thousands of small businesses that popped up to support the TRS-80s, Apples, Ataris and Commodores that spread across homes and businesses from 1977 onward, placing dozens of ads in computer magazines every month and ballooning them up to the many hundreds of pages.

I'm a sucker for early computer history, and while Priming the Pump isn't as evocative as On the Edge (or as funny as iWoz), it's a great addition to the library, covering a computer that arguably had the #1 userbase for most of the early era but is all but forgotten today. For mag fans in particular, though, one passage brings up an interesting incident in computer media history: the saga of Norman Henry Hunt Jr. (aka Harry Hunt aka Jim Anderson aka "Colonel David Winthrop"), one of the PC biz's first serious con artists and definitely the first one to work through magazines.

Byte, July 1977

A career felon whose first parole violation dated back to 1965, Hunt was with the PC industry from its outset, joining the Southern California Computer Society in 1975 and ripping off its members by organizing a fraudulent group hardware purchase. (The pioneering computer club fell apart two years later as the ensuing lawsuits dragged on.) In 1977, Hunt founded DataSync, a company that continued the nonexistant-hardware scam but made it national, advertising RAM boards and computer terminals in Byte and other computer mags that were a good 25% off the going prices.

The Santa Maria, CA-based outfit dissolved in late June 1977, when police tracked Hunt down and arrested him on three counts of felony false-pretense theft. Hunt pled guilty and was centenced to 32 months in prison. Although the DataSync operation was on a national level and Hunt had earned about $250,000 between 1973 and 1977 from his criminal operations, federal agencies decided against prosecuting him further. They probably regretted that decision a bit on February 26, 1978, when Hunt escaped from the minimum-security Chino State Prison.

"[Hunt's] method of operation has been to move to a town under a new identity, rent a house with option to buy and to make contacts in his field of endeavor (recently, computer hobbyists)," the Santa Maria police wrote in a 1978 bulletin. "Hunt will generally begin his operation by soliciting backing for product design from private parties. Often he will sell his qualifications so well that it is the victim's idea to ask Hunt to design a product for him.... He will rent a building, hire employees, begin a credit line with suppliers. After enough equipment has been received from suppliers on credit to look impressive, he will apply for a bank loan to start production. If the loan is received, Hunt empties the business of its equipment and leaves the area, leaving the creditors and the bank high and dry."

fraud3.jpg   fraud4.jpg
Kilobaud Microcomputing, April 1979

Incredibly, despite this police bulletin being published in Kilobaud magazine alongside several mugshots of Hunt, the con artist managed to strike the computer industry again with the exact same MO. Setting up shop in Tucson, AZ, Hunt (operating under the name Jim Anderson) signed a deal with hobbyist Perry Pollock to found World Power Systems, a seller of computer hardware and interfaces, with Hunt as president and Pollock the head of R&D. They published their first advertisements in the April 1979 issues of Byte, Kilobaud and a couple other magazines, featuring a beaming Pollock and his wife Korrine espousing the ideals of their company:

"Starting out as a hobbiest, I realize your needs, concerns and most of all the requirements of a good, well designed and fairly priced interfaces [sic] for your computer. It is my goal to supply you with the most for your investment and the highest quality possible... I am available 24 HOURS A DAY. I have a telephone answering service that will put your call through to me anytime day or night, or if you wish you can call me at home. If you have a problem, question or just want to talk, give me a call."

The first product WPS solicited buyers for was the "3S+P Interface Card," a device that allowed PC nuts to interface their S-100 computers with three serial and one parallel device at once -- which, if that flew over your head, was a pretty amazing thing for a $189 board to do in 1979, trust me. The problem was that, if you look at the advertisement above and have any sort of electronics knowledge, you'll see that the board was plainly bogus. There are way too many components jammed on the board, and nowhere near enough traces going in and out of them for the device to function. (Multi-layer PC boards can allow for this kind of density, but that technology wasn't cheap enough in 1979 to be feasible for the hobbyist market.)

Still, enough excited (or maybe just hopeful) users sent in order sto get Hunt's scam rolling. The basics of the scheme duplicated what Hunt did with DataSync two years earlier. First, WPS borrowed cash off Pollock's good credit record, then acted as the model company for a few months -- buying equipment from local businesses for straight cash, shipping out a few orders, that sort of thing. Things went awry when WPS began to place huge orders for PC parts -- RAM, disk drives, whole computers -- on credit, even as they completely failed to ship out enough product to meet the increasing demands customers made for their too-good-to-be-true products. Just enough orders would be processed to keep a mass of irate customers from contacting authorities, and to keep the local cops off their back, WPS would be absolutely sure to pay the rent and salaries on time and ship any Tucson orders immediately.

When the house of cards collapsed and creditors and customers began to threaten criminal action (in WPS's case, about two months after the April 1979 ads), Hunt's plan was set to reach its conclusion. His process: clean out the bank accounts, shift all the merchandise brought on fradulent credit to another state, set up a fall guy (Perry Pollock) as the company's new president, and skip town. After the president was arrested, Hunt would show up in the next state, set up a store front to sell off the merchandise in a Homeboy Shopping Network-type arrangement, disappear again to a third state, and retire rich. Easy. Or, at least, easier pre-Internet.

The jig was up April 25, 1979, when Hunt, fearful that rival hardware makers and some magazine editors were on to him, decided to abort the operation early. As described in the October '79 issue of Kilobaud, Hunt chose to make Texas his next point of operations -- and for whatever reason, he decided to take two employees named "Eva" and "Joan" (pseudonyms used in the Kilobaud article) along with him, ostensibly to a computer training seminar in Florida.

Hunt swore the two ladies to secrecy, but Eva's father contacted police anyway, wary of the sudden "business trip". It turns out the two left with Hunt in a van loaded with computer equipment -- and when they found out that the whole company was a scam and Hunt was out to sell off the goods, they called their parents. The Kilobaud article has all the details on the ensuing police work, but the end results were impressive: "well over half a million dollars" of PC hardware in storage lockers all across Tucson (1979 dollars, remember), and the June 2nd arrest of Norman Hunt in Honolulu, HI, with his wife and about $11,000 in cash. "Jim was actually in the process of dyeing his hair when the FBI broke into his apartment to arrest him," the article gleefully notes.

This sort of thing is the reason why I love having such a big collection of magazines. Somewhere within all the thing three-inch advertisements that swarm all over the pages of early computer mags are some incredibly interesting stories. It's great fun to ferret them out, if you'll pardon the pun, and I can only hope that as the pioneer generation of PC users continues to age, more of them get inspired to write memoirs like the Walshes'.

[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.]

Inside The Short (Bus) Gaming Revolution!

- Two of the higher-profile individual bloggers in the game biz are Newsweek's N'Gai Croal and MTV News' Stephen Totilo, of course, and their 'Vs. Mode' chat this week is full of the kind of pontification that GSW is particularly interested in - the future of 'short-session gaming'.

There is, of course, a Round 2, a Round 3, and a Round 4 to get through as well, because these guys can _talk_, but there's plenty of stuff in here that I substantially believe, especially this Totilo comment: "I like the idea that every couple of days there is a new game for me to play on the 360 or PS3 that I can download in the blink of an eye, have embedded in an easy-to-navigate menu of games, and that I can sample and judge whether I like it in just a few minutes. I feel that this is a more exciting way to be a gamer."

In addition, the dichotomy between short game styles that we love is dissected by Totilo: "As I began to think about the short games I’ve been enjoying, they all fit neatly into one of two categories. Twitch: “Meteos,” “Lumines,” “Pac-Man CE,” “Everyday Shooter,” and others all play out in rapid-fire bursts. They may start slowly in order to settle the player in, but soon enough they’re running at 100 mph. Thinking: “Picross DS,” even in its nerve-wracking multi-player mode is a thinking game and requires a sense of controlled, considered manipulation of the game." Good stuff.

GameSetLinks: Lammy Vs. Everiss?

- Time for some GameSetLinks picked up during the week - a few really old, and a few already remarked-upon, but never quite described in this exact order before. So there:

- Um Jammer Cha Cha: The community-contributed articles on Jeremy Parish's Gamespite.net are pretty much pro quality, and I particularly enjoyed this precis of Um Jammer Lammy from 'Bobservo': "What makes the flopping of Lammy so tragic is that the follow-the-leader gameplay that Parappa made famous is both better and more fun to play around with in the guitar context."

- Wikipedia Scanner And EA: This is well-discussed already, but I wanted to tip the hat to Shacknews for trying the Wikipedia Scanner software with game companies, discovering that someone within EA downplayed original founder Trip Hawkins' presence on EA's Wikipedia entry and "...deleted references to the notorious ea_spouse debacle and spun the class action lawsuit brought on by overworked, undercompensated employees to portray the company in a good light." Journalism + investigating = teh win!

- Everiss On Games: Someone who's been around the UK games scene for almost 25 years is veteran marketing guy Bruce Everiss, responsible for Imagine Software's early-80s 'rockstar' posturings, so it's neat to see him pop up with his own blog, BruceOnGames.com. There's some fun stuff about early Codemasters and budget game pricing tactics, for one.

- Linux Games On Virgin America Flights: Via Dan Hon, there's a BoingBoing post discussing the new Virgin America flights, which include in-seat text chat with other passengers (!), but more interestingly for those reading, the entertainment console comes with: "Games. Including Doom. They're planning an open source game design competition, will feature winning games on the flights." Sounds like the games run on Linux, dunno if they can run Flash. Here's an earlier video - anyone got more info?

- Rhythm Games - The Series!: Very randomly found, James Chen has a gargantuan series of rhythm games spooled out on his personal blog over the last few months, and it's absolutely excellent. An extract from the conclusion: "So unlike what my old friend assumed, memorization isn't required in these games. It's one of the only genre of games where you don't need "prior knowledge" to pass a particularly difficult challenge."

- Sourcing, Gentlemen, Please!: You'll notice that I'm restricting this to a paragraph so I don't get ranty, but business media, if you're not at a conf such as GameFest, you can't, uhh, do unsourced reports on it anyhow. Yes, MCV's Ben Parfitt, if 1UP has the scoop on hard-disc requiring Xbox 360 titles, you can't just copy the story and nick a quote. Even worse, GamesIndustry.biz's Mark Androvich, if 1UP's GameFest keynote coverage says 25 million Xbox Live downloads and subsequently corrects it to 45 million, it's a bit of a giveaway if you run the original 25 million figure, as misheard by 1UP's Patrick Klepek. Bottom line - unless you watched the webcast like Develop did, or also turned up in person like we did at Gamasutra, then cite, for God's sake. Otherwise I have no respect for you at all.

- Plus here's a random assortment of other things - Insert Credit pointing out a weird DS political quiz, The Hollywood Reporter talks to a comedy fest founder/mobile game CEO on why mobile games don't suck, and the awfully geeky Zero Punctuation game video humor videoblog thing debuts on The Escapist, with a Heavenly Sword demo critique. These are fun!

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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