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September 1, 2007

Inside The Space Giraffe/Ulysses Crossover

- Having just debuted his Independent Games Summit lecture video, I had a chance to go check out Jonathan Blow's blog, and there-in he has a very interesting post on Space Giraffe, dealing with the minor critical dust-up currently going on over whether Jeff Minter's new XBLA game is, uhh, any good or not - and suggesting: "Dare I say that Space Giraffe is something like the arcade game analogue of Ulysses? Is that controversial enough?"

Blow notes: "The first time I saw Space Giraffe, I didn’t realize it was an excellent game. Jeff Minter was showing it off at the Game Developer’s Conference, and it looked just like Tempest, except you could push guys off the top of the web sometimes. And Jeff kept saying it wasn’t Tempest. But he was not sufficiently able to communicate to the audience why the game was interesting."

He then explains that his opinion of the game started middling, but ratcheted up super-high: "As you proceed through the levels, the enemies not only get more numerous, faster, and more devious, but the game also pushes you deeper into the land of warped perception, and then demands that you see through that. Well, often you can’t. At first. And then you start to see the patterns, and then you break through, and then you are sailing through this batch of levels, dancing the whole time. This game is about expanding your perception. It demands that you learn to see."

My own views? I am obviously pre-identified as a Minter fan, having set up his GDC appearance in the first place. Overall, I've been enjoying Space Giraffe. I haven't played the game quite enough yet to know for _sure_ (only have the one Achievement), but my main observations are that:

- The obfuscation in terms of so much blurred craziness happening onscreen is perverse but addictive - some of the key gameplay cues could stand out a lot better. Yes, it's intentional. But it's a bold, alienating move. I think the basic game itself is harder to grok than most other Minter titles I've played, especially with the enemy-pushing angle being so key. Yet I love it, and I'm going to play it a _LOT_ more.

- I personally think the game should have launched at 800 points ($10), not 400 ($5), because its appeal is definitely hardcore gamer-specific. I'm a little concerned, looking at the high-score tables so far, that the same XX,000 people would have paid twice as much for it - and the pricing structure should have been set up a bit more like the Japanese super-niche dating titles, which deliberately price higher for a limited audience. Just my 2c.

Anyhow, Minter has spotted the Jonathan Blow post, too, and his reaction is, well, cute: "I think at this point it's all beyond me now. We've been hated and loved for it, it's the best game ever and absolute rubbish, we are great, we are evil, we're the future and the past, we are masters, we're incompetent, we are ERROR_SUCCESS and ERROR_ERROR. At least we provoked a response. I think that's good. I feel like I'm Schrodinger's cat." Meow.

COLUMN: 'Game Mag Weaseling': All About Amiga Game Zone

amigagamezone1.jpg   amigagamezone2.jpg

On Ebay the other day I got a complete collection of Amiga Game Zone, the United States' first, last and only magazine devoted entirely to Amiga games. A complete collection's only three issues, yes, but it was still a major feat in my book -- after all, publisher/editor Geoff Miller states in his page on the mag that the title had a subscriber base of about a thousand and a total circulation of 5000. I remember seeing it on the newsstand once, at a Micro Center somewhere outside of Philadelphia, and the sheer novelty of discovering a US-produced Amiga game magazine was such that I still remember the encounter today.

It could be said that launching any sort of Amiga games mag in the US was a pretty foolhardy idea. The platform was big in Europe, especially after 1988 or so, but whether through sheer bad luck or due to Commodore's well-documented inability to market the machine in its home country, it was never a mainstream success in America. I remember seeing demo units maybe around 1990 or so at software stores, but that was about it. And this situation was doubly true in 1994, the year Amiga Game Zone was launched -- Commodore declared bankruptcy early in the year, which pretty much eliminated any advertising base AGZ would've had even in the best of times.


But Geoff wasn't pessimistic enough to let these little details stop him. Amiga Game Zone is very much a one-man production -- Geoff was the editorial, publishing, and sales department, wrote a lot of each issue, and also ran a mail-order Amiga software store from the magazine's pages, all while toiling as a grad student at the University of Illinois. Thumbing through the three issues (which range in size from 40 to 48 pages) really gives you a feel for how much enthusiasm he had for both the print medium and the Amiga. The internals are black-and-white, but the design's obviously inspired by the British Amiga mags of the day, and every page is packed with eye-pleasing screens and catchy headlines. It really reads like a cut-down version of Amiga Power, which is pretty high praise in my book.

Sadly, the market was beyond not there, and although Geoff states that the magazine was profitable in the limited scope he was working in, the "bimonthly" magazine was released haphazardly in 1994 and closed up shop with its third issue.

A pretty cool mag, and reading it, I can't help but think in "what if" scenarios. Namely, what if there was a 100% games magazine devoted to the Commodore 64 in the US, like there was in the UK with Zzap64? There were several home-oriented C64 mags, of course, including RUN, COMPUTE!'s Gazette, and Transactor, not to mention Commodore's own self-titled rag. But the funny thing was they all acted like reviewing games was beneath them, giving them only small, text heavy coverage and often talking very little about the substance of the game they were reviewing. It was obvious that no one in the regular editorial staff were real gamers -- this, despite the fact that at least half (if not three quarters) of advertising in these mags was for recreational software by the late '80s. What if there was the Commodore, or Amiga, equivalent of Nintendo Power on the stands in 1988? It could've made a mint for the mag publisher willing to try it out.

PS. Condolences to the Game Informer staff for losing circ manager and long-time writer Paul Anderson, who passed away Tuesday from ALS at the age of 38. He had been working for the mag since 1992, making him one of the title's most experienced veterans alongside Andy McNamara.

[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.]

Mario's Traveling Without Moving, Kinda!

- Former Gamasutra news editor and current Atlus localization guy Nich Maragos has just updated his blog (hurray!) with notes on a very neat Mario video series, and one that showcases an oddly passive angle on everyone's favorite moustachio-ed plumber.

Nich reveals: "The Detteiu Mario series (available in eight installments [in video on YouTube] so far: one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight) is the work of a man who decided to hack his own levels of Super Mario World, the first 16-bit Super Mario game, in a way that allows the levels to be completed with no controller input whatsoever."

He continues: "This isn't so clever in and of itself; it wouldn't be so hard to construct a level that drops Mario onto a conveyor belt that takes him directly to the exit. What makes these videos so incredible to watch is the style, inventiveness, and wit that goes into the design... Under the direction of the designer (one 'daigam'...) Mario becomes sort of a cross between Buster Keaton and Mr. Magoo, blithely making razor-thin escapes through impossible deathtraps... the capper gets more and more outrageous until Mario literally sleepwalks his way through defeating one of the game's major bosses." These are, as Nich says, awesome - peruse through them and grin handily this weekend!

August 31, 2007

Halo 3: When ARGs Go... Almost Right?

- So, ARGNet is still the place to go to learn about bizarre cross-media Alternate Reality Games, and it has a particularly interesting new piece up analyzing the creation and slight unraveling of the Halo 3 ARG, or "spiral marketing campaign", as it seems to be better dubbed.

Rather than going full-out this time, some of the mysterious elements to the marketing for the game were explained in an internal Microsoft article posted on the Unfiction forums. As ARGN notes: "The article reveals that Iris was developed by "more than 50 people from 20 Microsoft teams [who] contributed time, coding expertise, and industry contacts." The attempt was ultimately to provide a grand marketing scheme incurring little cost while attaining "critical mass" -- defined in the article as getting "interview requests from The Wall Street Journal"."

However, it's clear that the ARG-ers were a little skeptical, given the class act the ARG had to follow: "Strictly speaking, given the resources used to produce the campaign and the costs (or lack thereof) incurred, Iris may be considered an impressive success. However, if one includes the overall sentiment of the demographic that was actually actively playing or following Iris, one might say that their reach had exceeded their grasp. They seem to have ignored (or miscalculated) an inherent factor in the kind of campaign they were hoping to produce - most players had expectations, whether misplaced or not, of another I Love Bees."

There are also some fascinating accounts of problems with Halo fans swarming the puzzles, such as: "A paperboy with a user account on Bungie.net leaked the content of the Best Buy ad circular before the papers hit the newsstands." (The article reveals that the site was found prematurely and was still being tested, and that the response from the game designers was to slow people down with a countdown.)" Or: "During episode one, an executive e-mail sent to employees leaked to game bloggers, and parts of an internal Q&A document were inadvertently distributed with a press release."

Anyhow, it does seem like there were some pretty big, neat and interesting moving parts in the campaign, even if it didn't mesh completely in the end, particularly because planning executionally for so many intermeshing puzzles, campaigns and hints is terribly difficult - the Halo 3 Iris Wiki has lots more info. [via Clickable Culture.]

Heaven 2 Ocean Birthed From Dare To Be Digital

- Got a neat little note from Kieran McCabe a few days back that's worth passing on: "Just saw a mention of Dare Protoplay on the frontpage and decided I'd get in touch. I was on the Republic of Ireland team (zerO.One), we made a 2D platform puzzle game called Heaven 2 Ocean wherein you controlled a drop of water by tilting the world. Also, you can turn into ice and steam."

Aha, most interesting - the game, which was one of the 12 student titles entered into the UK-centric Dare To Be Digital competition is downloadable from the website [.ZIP link], and there's also a fun, now-concluded developer blog about the experience of making Heaven 2 Ocean into some kind of reality.

Looking further into the student competition, there are even video diaries on the Dare To Be Digital site itself - each viewable and rateable per week for each of the teams entering. Blimey! Here's the text diary link, and here's the full list of winners - though I think you need to register to access the full 2007 game showcase? That's a tad annoying.

2007 Independent Games Summit: Jon Blow On Indie Prototyping

- So here on GSW, we're continuing to publish videos from this year's Independent Games Summit, which took place at Game Developers Conference 2007 last March as part of the Independent Games Festival.

The latest and fifth 2007 Independent Games Summit lecture to go up is from Jonathan Blow, creator of 2006 IGF Design Innovation award winner Braid, and pretty watchable, as Blow takes us through the theory and practice behind several fascinating game prototypes, many also available on his website. These include a gestural spellcasting 2D and 3D game prototype, so-called Oracle Billiards (which is playing pool when you can see where all the balls will end up, thanks to the fact that 'Newtonian physics is easy'!), and a detailed demo of Braid itself - which starts at 15.10 into the lecture.

The lecture ends with a demo of a painting game where you must reproduce Old Masters and create new art, and get rated on them by art critics, crafting the pics to appeal to their tastes. Overall, it's just one of the most watchable demonstrations of intriguing design ideas I've seen in a long time.

[Oh, and you'll possibly want to skip to 01.45 into the video when you watch, since there's a not quite brief enough intro featuring me (!) telling people to fill in ratings cards and turn off cellphones. If anyone wants to cut this off and re-upload, feel free.]

Here's a direct Google Video link for the lecture, plus a higher-res downloadable .MP4 version and an embedded version:

Here's the original session description: "Former Game Developer magazine code columnist and 2006 IGF Design Innovation winner Jonathan Blow, the creator of innovative time-manipulating platform title Braid, discusses the deliberate methodology behind his indie game prototyping. He shows how he conceives, develops, and tests out indie concepts in playable form, and discusses how you know when a prototype is working, and where to take it from there, demonstrating multiple in-development prototypes (including Braid) along the way."

(Other IGS 2007 videos posted so far are Matt Wegner on physics, alongside the Gastronaut founders on 'Small Arms' for XBLA, the Telltale folks on Sam & Max/episodic gaming, and Gamelab's Eric Zimmerman on 'The Casual Cash Cow'.)

August 30, 2007

GameSetNetwork: From Wii To God To Animals

- Uhoh, there's been a great deal of good stuff posted on CMP Game Group-run GameSetWatch sister sites such as Gamasutra, Worlds In Motion, and Game Career Guide, as well as Games On Deck while I've been blogging about dubstep and EA Monopoly, so I would be remiss if I didn't take you through it swiftly. Here goes:

- 'Analyze This: Are Game Publishers Late To The (Wii and DS) Game?' (Gamasutra): "In the latest 'Analyze This' feature, we asked notable game analysts from IDC, Wedbush Morgan and GamerMetrics to name the publishers have capitalized the best - and fared the worst - following the swift rise of Nintendo's Wii and DS consoles to the top of the game hardware charts."

- 'Q & A: Nexon's Min Kim on KartRider, MapleStory and Things to Come' (WorldsInMotion.biz): "A giant in multiplayer gaming in the East, Nexon’s accessible-to-all MMOs have garnered considerable success here in the US. Worlds in Motion recently visited the singular, stylish sidescrolling MapleStory world, and we have the upcoming American launch of the multiplayer racing game KartRider to look forward too, too. Already one of the top-selling online games in the world on the heels of its success in the Asian market with millions of users, rumor has it that we could see an open beta in America as soon as early October."

- 'From God To Cock: Mike Wilson On GameCock's Publishing Party' (Gamasutra.com): "Mike Wilson exudes flamboyance, and after the success and then acquisition of publisher Gathering Of Developers (G.O.D), he's back with Austin-based 'big indie' publisher Gamecock. But what's the idiosyncratic company's developer-centric philosophy and artistic drive all about? Gamasutra finds out within."

- 'GDC China: Glu Mobile’s Future of Mobile Gaming' (Games On Deck): "The Game Developer Conference China included a mobile track, highlighting the importance of the mobile games industry within China. Kim Daniel Arthur, CTO of Glu Mobile's Asia-Pacific operations discussed "The Future of Mobile Gaming" on stage in Shanghai, looking at current and upcoming trends and technologies... "The future mobile games distribution will also change, getting to be rich and flexible," Arthur suggested, "probably based on game communities. Flexible in the sense, for example, of billing methods, using things like episodic content, in-game billing and pay-per-play schemes.""

- 'The Original Gaming Bug: Centipede Creator Dona Bailey' (Gamasutra.com): "Dona Bailey, creator of 1980 arcade classic Centipede at Atari, was a trailblazer -- the only female software engineer at the company during its early peak. Now an educator, she's set to deliver the keynote for the Women in Games International Conference -- and Gamasutra caught up with her to speak about the past and future of women in games in this exclusive interview."

- 'From Intern to Artist: How Diane Stevenson Broke Into the Game Industry' (GameCareerGuide.com): "One day, budding art student Diane Stevenson found herself at an internship fair talking to a representative from Large Animal Games. More than a year later, she’s a permanent fixture on the team. Find out how she made the jump from intern to employed artist, and what she’s up to now."

IGF Mobile Awards Announced, Submissions Open

-So, we just announced this over at Gamasutra, and I wanted to reprint the news and then provide some 'color commentary' at the end of the announcement here on GSW:

"The organizers of the Independent Games Festival have announced a sister event for the handheld game industry, IGF Mobile, with entries open for innovative indie cellphone, DS, PSP and other handheld titles, and $20,000 in prizes to be awarded at GDC 2008 next February.

Submissions for the event are open at the official IGF Mobile website through Friday, October 26, and winners of the event will be recognized with multiple prizes at the IGF Mobile ceremony, taking place during the GDC Mobile event at Game Developers Conference on February 19, 2008. The event will run parallel to the main IGF competition, which retains its $50,000 prize pool and current categories.

IGF Mobile is launching with NVIDIA, creator of the GoForce family of GPUs for handheld devices, as the Founding and Platinum Sponsor. In keeping with the company’s philosophy of encouraging and fostering new technology innovation, NVIDIA is particularly supporting the ‘Innovation in Augmented Design’ category as part of its sponsorship. The prize specifically honors mobile games that were developed using GPS, camera, motion sensing, and WiFi elements, along with other unique and differentiating features.

This $2,000 prize will be awarded in addition to other $2,000 prizes for Innovation in Mobile Game Design, Audio Achievement, Technical Achievement, and Achievement in Art. Finally, the title named Best Game of IGF Mobile will receive a $10,000 Grand Prize. IGF Mobile will also feature all finalist games in playable form within a special pavilion on the Game Developers Conference 2008 show floor, alongside the main IGF Pavilion, on February 20-22, 2008.

A statement from the organizers of the event on the official website explains: "We believe that there are great, innovative indie games out there which use the unique advantages of handheld hardware, from Gamevil's Nom and Skipping Stone for cellphones through DS games such as 5th Cell's Drawn To Life or even group games such as Pac-Manhattan, and we're delighted to set up a new awards to help honor titles such as these.""

So, elaborating on the paragraph above - there are two or three angles from which this sister IGF competition should be good for indie developers. Firstly, there really are some great overlooked cellphone games out there - from developers like Capybara Games and others - which these awards should highlight in the context of GDC and the Independent Games Festival. Secondly, there's the DS, PSP and other handhelds angle - and there are plenty of prototypes or homebrew-like games out there which deserve honoring - heck, maybe that Shantae DS title I was drooling over the other day will enter.

Finally - and this is the particularly interesting 'augmented' angle - there are all kinds of cool game design things you can do if you have a handheld device and other add-ons such as GPS, a camera, Internet connectivity and so on.

A few examples from games big and small - Final Fantasy: Before Crisis for cellphones had a camera-based materia collecting feature, in which: "The goal is to photograph something that contains the predefined colors that will produce new materia. For example, photographing something that is predominantly red will yield a Fire materia." Awesome idea. Elsewhere, there's other neat concepts like the solar sensor in Konami's Boktai and even Gizmondo's (!) augmented reality project, using the camera and overlaying computer-generated art based on a grid.

Encouraging innovative projects like these - which actually take advantage of the fact that you're holding the game device and carrying it around - is why Nvidia signed up to be a multi-year sponsor and help give out the money to deserving games - who knows, maybe games like these will be created just so they can enter IGF Mobile in subsequent years? Hopefully so!

The Aberrant Gamer: 'Choose Your Own Adventure'

-[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.]

In last week’s column, we discussed BioShock’s Little Sisters as part of a legacy of creepy, ambiguous little girls in survival-horror who highlight our dark sides with their innocence and shame us by letting us see ourselves through the eyes of a child – even if those eyes are a pair of eerie orange headlamps. Mention the Little Sisters, though, and the question’s bound to come up: Harvest or rescue?

Whichever your pleasure, chances are BioShock fans (and those who are damn sick of hearing about it) have heard or participated in a discussion to that effect at some point over the past week. And in those discussions, chances are someone’s raised the issue of choice in games; that very issue came up in the comments on my last column. As I mentioned last week, I have heard in my colleagues’ work, in emails I’ve received and in various discussions lately – whether about BioShock or other games, such as in the comments of my recent column on Persona 3 – that thus far, what we’ve been offered in terms of "choices" from gaming often tend to amount to little more than what one reader called a “cost-benefit analysis”. In other words, since the impact of our choices is limited to a statistical benefit or penalty (with perhaps a different ending tacked on), any moral or emotional decision presented to us can be reduced to a technicality.

In a recent article at Sexy Videogameland, however, I explained why I feel that the immersive, richly-realized environment of BioShock makes the moral issue very much a choice[spoiler-free link], in that it very greatly alters how it feels to play the game. The sensation of having a choice, an impact, comes from my relationship to the game, a connection that I actively choose to make whenever a game is fleshed-out enough to make it possible. If you aren’t particularly absorbed in or affected by the experience of playing BioShock, or any other game, chances are you’re calculating cost and benefit rather than feeling anything significant changing for you, either.

“Choice in games” is the new Holy Grail, it seems. In the comments on the article I just mentioned, one reader raised PC games like Fallout and Baldur’s Gate as his ideal example of how a game should handle choice. When applied to console gaming or a single-player closed story, though, they become less possible because of the lack of open-endedness, real-time dynamics, or other players. But what would real, definitive branching in games, real gratification for decision-making, look like? And could it be that – of all things – Hentai games know something we don’t?

-Plenty of games previously discussed in this column have incorporated some very appealing choice elements. Fan favorite Silent Hill 2 will penalize you for choices you aren’t even aware of making; the story’s outcome is affected by player behavior that indicates a certain preference or state of mind, rather than a single decisive path taken or action chosen. For example, things like examining in your inventory overmuch the knife with which Angela wanted to commit suicide, or staying too physically near the manipulative, sexy doppelganger of your dead wife – such behavior assumes a certain morbidity or weakness of character that reflects on you in the end. You’re never told this, either; if not for GameFAQs, fan forums and strategy guides, nobody would even know.

But Hentai games have choices at their crux. In fact, choosing is the only gameplay to speak of. You watch a scene or an animation, look at some still images, read some narrative and some dialog. Then, the game asks you what you want to do, and you pick. You make your choice with an objective in mind, and there are several objectives – in other words, potential mates – from which to choose. Sometimes it’s not clear whether the decision to be detached or affectionate, to stay after school and help your buddy with his homework instead of going to your club meeting, to snoop in your sister’s room or leave her diary alone, will help or hinder you trying to score with the library girl, your Mom or the interdimensional magical warrior. You can guess, but it’s not always eminently clear (in the more complicated H-game) – and if you don’t choose well, you might lose your shot.

One game I recently reviewed, Yume Miru Kusuri, takes this decision-making to a particularly advanced extent. There are actually three disparate games here; at times, they overlap, and at others they're broadly divergent. A character may die if you don’t take the opportunity to intervene in her life early on; another may fall in love with you but disappear forever if you don’t keep your commitments in mind. Granted, this setup is still relatively simple compared to what choice in games could be – picking plot branches and then getting a “good” versus a “bad” ending is hardly sophisticated. But it’s notable in that what you get for your decisions is a wholly different experience that reflects the fact that you selected one option over another. And each disparate branch feels like a separate relationship evolving, the story beginning to show influence of the traits and tendencies that may have led you to choose that girl in the first place.

When Aberrant Gamer discussed text adventure sex games, I picked the oddball Moist to demonstrate how erotic games might work without pictures. You’d think that a text parser wouldn’t offer much in the way of flexible experience, but Moist is about one thing and one thing only – sex, of course – and as such, the programmer thought of everything. While there are only four different women in the game and they’re all pretty unremarkable “types”, just about any action in your deviant imagination is understood by the parser, and its result is explained in lush detail. Having sex with these women is the vehicle by which you must progress the game’s plot, as flimsy as it is, and you can accomplish this in any fashion that appeals to you. While each girl prefers something specific, after a certain point you can get them to do anything, which means that Moist is an entire game, beginning to end, that you can play your own way. Pretty revolutionary for text-only.

-Sex games have been thinking about choice for much longer than mainstream ones; after all, the allure of sex as a computer or video game is that, unlike a still image or porn flick, the interactive element in gaming allows you to have things your way. So to build a better sex game, Hentai titles and their ilk have been adding more and more options for helming your very own personal ship of love. One of the reasons this column exists is to highlight some subtle things that sex games get “right” in terms of the overall gaming experience – like creating a visual experience, or treating emotional relevance as essential, for example – that are overlooked because they’re, well, porn.

There’s another reason, though, why sex games might be more effective at creating choice – or, at least, the impression thereof. When we play a Hentai game or any other interactive sex game, we know precisely what kind of experience we want from it, and what we want our end result to be. There’s no need even to think about it. However, when we play a mainstream game, our reasons are much broader and much more subjective, justifiably. When you sit down to play BioShock or Persona 3, what do you want from it; why are you playing, and what do you expect? That's entirely subjective, and the answers will be as numerous and varied as the individuals in the gaming audience.

Are you playing BioShock because you love action shooters, or because you love exploring complex scenery? Or are you going into it looking explicitly to be rewarded – or punished – for your values, whatever they may be? Do you enjoy video games that challenge you to puzzle out combat strategy or stat allotment, or do you prefer to pretend you’re in a fantasy, with as little interruption between you and the virtual as possible?

The difference between a choice that feels impactful and a cost-benefit analysis that feels hollow or manipulative is not only in the validation that the game provides for one path versus another, but in how it changes our experience of the game. And that needn't be something we can see on the screen. Whether, for example, Persona 3’s social elements feel like a superficial and mindless leveling system or a systematic, emotional power-game is entirely up to the player. Games have a great deal of power to give us experiences – but primarily, they offer us the structures to create our own. Good structures are essential, but at the end of the day, we get out of it what we put in. As for how you are affected and what it means to you -- ultimately, that’s your choice.

[Took the lead image from Bonnie's Heroine Sheik -- you'd think such a picture would be easier to find, right?]

[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.]

August 29, 2007

The Eight Greatest Mistakes In Game Design

- So, you might know Soren Johnson for being the lead designer of Civilization IV at Firaxis - and you may also remember that he recently joined EA/Maxis to join the admirable brain trust working on Will Wright's Spore.

Most recently, on his Designer-Notes blog, he's been discussing the eight greatest mistakes in game design - that's the first part with four of them, there's also a second part, which I had to wait for before posting this, curses.

In any case, fine mistakes they are - including 'Hard-core game conventions' in Part 1 (No, not PAX, but: "One of the most common pitfalls for a game designer is to fear that the game is not hard enough. This fear often leads to hard-core game conventions, like restrictive save systems and unlockable content, that only put roadblocks in the way of the mainstream gamer who is just looking to have a good time.")

Probably the most controversial is 'Putting Story In The Wrong Places' in Part 2, which starts out like this: "I still want to make my point, though. I don't like story in games. I don't like the boring cut-scenes. I don't like the stereotyped characters. I don't like the plots that I have no control over (and, sorry, the Bioware you-are-either-God-or-Satan twists count too). I especially don't like it when games stop me from fast-forwarding through the crappy dialogue (I'm looking at you, Japan). But what I really hate is when a story gets stuck somewhere it really doesn't belong. Like in a strategy game." Read and gesticulate wildly, go on!

[An aside - it would be worth doing a little employee map on the sheer amount of hyper-intelligent eggheads employed at Maxis nowadays - it really is the Google of developers in terms of attracting brilliant minds, from Chris Hecker to Chaim Gingold and beyond.]

Opinion: Burial, Hyperdub, And Crackle In Games

- Been meaning to post this one for a while, though it's more about a feeling than anything explicitly tangible. Nonetheless, I'll try to explain. It starts with me discovering, and absolutely adoring, the self-titled 'dubstep' music album by Burial, on South London electronic music label Hyperdub.

As the release info for the album explains: "Burial explores a tangential, parallel dimension of the growing sound of dubstep. Burial’s parallel dimension sounds set in a near future South London underwater. You can never tell if the crackle is the burning static off pirate radio transmissions, or the tropical downpour of the submerged city outside the window." And that's the key - the static, the fizz, the grit inherent in this exceptional downtempo electronic music.

The extremely mysterious Burial was interviewed on the Blackdown blog early last year, and, while also revealing his entire output is done in sound editing tool Soundforge (!), we get his comment on how and why he uses obfuscating static so much in his recordings:

"Pirate radio crackle, vinyl crackle – I like. But most of all I like rain. Fire. I’ve got recordings of rain and fire crackle that would put most electronica producers to shame they’re so f*cking heavy. That crackle sits over my drums, hides the space between them. When I started making music I could see through it and I was disappointed because it destroyed the mystery for a bit. But when I chuck crackle over it, it hides it under layers, it’s no longer mine. And you get a feel of a real environment."

In fact, this mini audio-clip of Burial track 'Distant Lights' [.M3U] shows this well - other clips are at the bottom of the Blackdown interview, and Burial's entire output is available on Emusic.com with samples, if you want to purchase it, as I did. And maybe it's because I grew up in South London and empathize with the dark feelings, the pre-D&B jungle roots of this sound, I'm particularly enchanted with it. But it leads to a whole other question about what GameSetWatch is about - where's the 'crackle' in games?

What I'm talking about is simple - why aren't more game creators using filters, dirt, and chaos - even on more abstract games - to create more sinister and emotion-provoking kinds of ambience? Why can't there be more grit in games? I'm not talking about the dirt in Motorstorm that (while nonetheless cool) hangs out beneath your wheels - and I'm not talking about photorealistic textures at all. The lo-fi nature of Burial's sound is testament to the fact that less sophisticated solutions can be just as beguiling.

Oddly, I think Japanese creators have come the closest to understanding why grime and chaos is so important - and possibly, it was the texture memory limitations of the PlayStation 2 that partially pushed them into it. Both Konami's Silent Hill series and Fumito Ueda's recently GSW-discussed ICO/Shadow Of The Colossus seem to grok that key to an evocative, memorable game world is a color palette that isn't necessarily rainbow-colored, and a certain level of analog imperfection. These worlds aren't sharp and digital, and that's why we love them.

However, taking it a level more psychedelic, I think that pure digital chaos works too in games - particularly with games such as Xbox Live Arcade's Mutant Storm Reloaded, which shimmers with morphing and echoing shapes and color shifts, even after the player dies, and even the upcoming Everyday Shooter, which shifts chaos and blurriness into simultaneous visual and audio realms. It's still crackle, it's just a more uniquely game-like variation on the theme. And it gives games echo, and emotional resonance, and personal artistic value. So creators, think about adding some crackle to your games. I'd like that, at least.

Knytt Stories Makes Triumphant Debut

- A bunch of people are shouting about this, but TIGSource says it best, yay: "Knytt Stories and a lunar eclipse in one night? Surely it’s a subtle sign from the Universe that this is something special."

From the official site: "Knytt Stories doesn't have a specific plot. Instead, each level is its own little adventure. A level called 'The Machine' is included with the game, where you have to stop a machine that draws the life out of the planet." Wow, weirder and weirder - we ran a preview of the game just 3 days ago, lest you forget.

Anyhow, Lim-Dul is already salivating on TIGSource: "Holy macaroni! This game is AWESOME! That is - all of Nifflas’ games are but this one upped the ante yet again. All the small details, the wonderful music, the smooth controls, the overall design… AND there are 9 additional worlds ready to be downloaded already!" Dominic White adds: "Isn’t it a GOOD thing that the moment you beat the game, there’s already another nine (four by Nifflas, five by his beta testers) stories waiting for you?" Indie madness!

August 28, 2007

Bozon On WayForward's, Uhh, Way Forward

- Regular GSW readers may recall that smallish portable developer WayForward, the folks behind Shantae and the upcoming Contra IV, are particularly appreciated by us for their nimble, smartly drawn, intelligent takes on classic gaming. So it's cool that MTV News' Stephen Totilo chatted to WayForward creative director Matt Bozon last week, touching on a multitude of neat stuff.

Particularly, there's info on the notably semi-awful Pictochat-duplicating Ping Pals: "In mid-2004 the publisher THQ came to WayForward with a DS idea. THQ had licensed artwork from the makers of the hit online Korean game "MapleStory" and wanted to use the art for a DS instant-messaging program called "Ping Pals."" And yes, THQ knew that it was a bit useless and wanted it anyhow, in, uh, 5 weeks for DS launch!

Also v. interesting for Shantae fanboys: "Inspired by the DS announcement, the team assembled a 13-page treatment for a "Shantae: Risky Waters" DS game. The game had players rafting in 3-D on the DS' top screen while simultaneously controlling a bird on the bottom screen that was flying over a 2-D version of the river. Another phase of the game had the player digging caves in the bottom screen, while characters battled on the upper screen. They pitched it around, but no publisher took them up on the offer." Aw.

Working On XBLA Without A Crystal Ball

- Xbox Live Arcade game portfolio planner David Edery has an intriguing post on his Game Tycoon weblog named 'Working Without A Crystal Ball', and it discusses his attitude to indie developers and XBLA, as well as what indies can do to help maximize their success potential.

I thought this passage was particularly interesting, since it discusses a system of peers in both content and marketing at Microsoft who help rate submissions - and of marketing, it's mentioned: "But first (for all you marketing haters out there), let the record show that XBLA’s two most experienced marketing people have regularly out-predicted the rest of the “experts” on the team (myself included) when it comes to sales of upcoming titles. Unfortunately, they stumble where everyone else does… attempting to predict the truly big winners."

Edery's conclusion discusses both the platform and the developer approach to games big and small: "Publishers can also do well by placing many (small) bets across a wide area, while (as always) relying on established IP to help stabilize revenues. But independent developers need to find their own solutions. If quickly creating and sharing prototypes doesn’t work for you, find something else that does. Hoping to be “the next Blizzard” is great, but 99% of developers won’t be the next Blizzard. In the off-chance that your company falls into that 99% bucket, having a plan B could help."

GameSetPics: Want To Play EA/Spore Monopoly?

So, you may have heard that Electronic Arts signed a new deal with Hasbro to create casual games based on notable Hasbro licenses such as Monopoly, Scrabble, Yahtzee, Nerf, Tonka and Littlest Pet Shop (?).

As a results of this, Hasbro and EA jointly set out a special promo-only commemorative Monopoly set, featuring both Electronic Arts and Hasbro properties in place of the normal property names - and kindly sent one over to GameSetWatch (and yes, publishers, we can be sent stuff, we're not below mentioning that!) Anyhow, here are a few pics I took of the special board:

An overview of the board - with EA & Hasbro in the middle.

Zooming in on one of the sides, featuring The Sims 2, Pogo.com and Spore (just $220 to buy!)

The actual cards for the red set - great rent for Spore with a Hotel!

The other EA area, including Battlefield 2142, Medal Of Honor Airborne, and Need For Speed Carbon - also see Hasbro title Risk to the left..

Final shot of the card - note that it says '2142 Battlefield' thanks to odd logo text positioning, heh.

Honestly, the real story here - which I sadly don't have time to recount in detail - is the completely terrible deal Hasbro did in selling their interactive division (along with the Atari and Microprose brand names and games!) to Infogrames for about $100 million - mainly in stock - back in 2001.

Hasbro has spent tens of millions of dollars since buying their interactive rights back - for example, $19 million most recently and $65 million back in 2005. In fact, if you count the $22.3 million that 2K paid for the Civilization franchise, then Infogrames effectively got rights to the Atari name and all their games - plus other Hasbro rights they still hold such as those for Dungeons & Dragons, and other stuff like Games.com and various other Microprose properties - for free. OUCH.

Mind you, Infogrames is gradually drowning under its long-term debt after its massive spending spree, of which this acquisition was just a small part - but this one was the steal of the century. Still, should be fun to see some of these Hasbro properties in slightly better-funded hands, as long as you're not an EA hater, mm?

August 27, 2007

ErotiSim - Sex And The Sims: The Article

- Over at new PC uber-blog Rock Paper Shotgun, there's an excellent new Kieron Gillen article called 'ErotiSim: Sex and The Sims', which starts with, well, a call to Gillen "...from a freelancer from help-the-homeless-help-themselves magazine The Big Issue, which wanted to run a feature on The Sims’ runaway success. He was, essentially, looking for a quote saying that it was played by those with no social life to indulge in a surrogate fictional one."

Gillen continues: "He wasn’t interested in the truth – he admitted he’d been provided an angle by his Editor and was working to fulfil it. So I just informed him that, actually, The Sims was actually already receiving a snobbish backlash from actual hardcore gamers, and its fans were in fact non-typical players. Normal people were digging it, not just crazed obsessives." But, Gillen goes on - he thinks the angle that The Sims really thrives on is one that's very much hidden in the game itself:

"While sex is only a relatively small part of The Sims - crucially, your Sim can meet and form relationships with other Sims - it’s the dark heart that underlies everything. It’s not the engine of the game, but the romantic potential is its fuel, driving it onwards. Perhaps appropriately. The Sims simulates life and life’s nothing but a mass of social fabric wrapped tightly around that spark of attraction." More darkness within!

TO Jam Serves Up More Indie Goodness

- Aha, got sent a note from the folks at the Toronto Game Jam, aka ToJam, which we've covered before: "We recently finished a backlog of game uploading and website design. Since I last emailed you we've added at least 16 new games!" This is the second iteration of the Jam, btw - and it's pretty neat to see what people can come up with in just 2 or 3 days.

It's noted: "There have been 19 more games added [to the ToJam 2007 website] such as... * Two by Two * Noodle * Emergency Response Team * Super Defender Robo * Speakeasy * Monkey Banana Blitz * Yarrgh! * Box Wars * Urban Tactics * Sex Drugs & T3chno * Killer Coding Ninja Monkey." Poking around a bit, Urban Tactics has pixelated zombies in a Flash game, for starters!

Oh my, and there's also a music game called 'Sex, Drugs And Techno' - terrible name, but free music rhythm games are not to be sniffed at, and even Yarrgh!, which is a DS homebrew title that runs in an emulator: "Defend your airship from the merciless air pirates with the help of your rocket." Feel free to recommend/disrecommend other games in the comments?

GameCareerGuide Vs. Fumito Ueda Vs. NeoGAF - Fight!

- Something posted late last week to relatively little fanfare was Eric-Jon Waugh's 'Rock in His Pocket: Reading Shadow of the Colossus' - the latest in his series on our GameCareerGuide.com, which follows similar critiques for Viva Pinata and for Dead Rising, as well as an earlier look at Animal Crossing.

Waugh starts by suggesting, perhaps a little provokingly: "Paired with a more down-to-earth design team to translate his ideas (someone with a Valve mentality, perhaps) Ueda could change the world of games. But so far, he's been the master of the golden arrow. His ideas are so poignant yet so tediously executed that they create a certain cognitive dissonance in the player, inspiring not so much awe as transcendence, a deep need to puzzle over what went wrong and how to better it."

More fun still, the dangerous leprechauns at NeoGAF have been poking at the feature, group-tussle style, and I really appreciated the synopsis from Lemming_JRS: "What I took away from the article was this: SotC is a brilliant game that prevented itself from gaining a wider audience through design decisions that, while they might have served Ueda's vision, did not serve the player. Frame rate issues aside, SotC is not a game that most people, non-hardcore gamers especially, can just pick up and "get" right away. Does that make it a bad game? No. Does that prevent more people from seeing the entirety of Ueda's interesting ideas and vision? Yes." I never got into SotC, actually, and agree with the above.

August 26, 2007

Telespiele 1972-2007 Picks Most Influential Games

- So, the Leipzig, Germany-based Games Convention trade/consumer show ends today, but something that's relatively little-reported is the Telespiele 1972-2007 mini-exhibit at the show, with an all-star collection of German journalists voting on the most important and influential games of all time.

Obviously redolent of the Digital Game Canon project, which now has a much more filled-out entry at the IGDA's Preservation SIG Wiki, incidentally, the folks at GC organizer Leipziger Messe sent over a press release for their own project which I can't easily find anywhere online, so I'm going to reprint it here.

For those who can't be bothered to scroll down/click through - the list, organized by Leipzig-based game journo Rene Meyer, includes 16 titles that the assembled voters found particularly seminal. It's implied that the four most-voted titles, in descending order, are Tetris, Pong, Doom, Pac-Man. Ah, look, and the German-language site has a full list of nominations, which is additionally interesting. Anyhow, read on for the full release...

"Two lines and a square - the first, and still best-known video game, "Pong", spawned a billion dollar industry. Books, comics, cinema films, series and audio books have all been developed from games. They inspire information technology, media, industry and medicine, as technological influence, advertising medium, educator and the basis for virtual worlds.

Now a jury sitting at the GC special exhibition "Telespiele 1972-2007", compiled by the Leipzig games journalist René Meyer, has made a selection of the games that have exerted a particular influence. The panel of over 20 games experts - collectors, journalists and publishers - has chosen its favourite from a list of 150 nominations. The most influential games in chronological order are:

1972 Pong (Dexterity/Arcade)
1978 Space Invaders (Dexterity/Arcade)
1979 Pac-Man (Dexterity/Arcade)
1980 Ultima (Role Play)
1984 Elite (Space Trading Simulation)
1985 Tetris (Dexterity/Puzzle)
1985 Super Mario Bros. (Jump'n'Run)
1986 The Legend of Zelda (Action/Adventure)
1987 Maniac Mansion (Adventure)
1989 SimCity (City Building Simulation)
1991 Civilization (Strategy)
1993 Doom (First-Person Shooter)
1996 Tomb Raider (Action/Adventure)
1999 Counter-Strike (First-Person Shooter)
2000 The Sims (Relationship Simulation)
2004 World of WarCraft (Online Role Play)

In the selection the following four titles were named most frequently:

"Tetris" (1985). The dexterity game with the coloured cubes is the brainchild of the Russian programmer Alexey Pajitnov. "Tetris" became a hit when Nintendo included it with its portable games system: it was almost as if Game Boy and Tetris were made for one another. Today there are hundreds of different versions of the game, for almost every computer system.

"Pong" (1972). The idea for this simple tennis game was developed as early as the late 60s by German-born Ralph Baer. However, it was not until the arrival of arcade machines from Atari and later the home console that it became a hit. "Pong" demonstrated that video games offer most fun when mastered together or against one another. Countless Pong clones appeared, including in the GDR.

"Doom" (1993). The first-person shooter promoted the idea of shareware: the first chapter was a free gift, with the aim of advertising for the following ones. "Doom" is not only a milestone in 3D technology. Its sophisticated network support means that it enjoyed particular popularity in multi-player mode, leading to the creation of LAN parties. "Doom" was played intensively on home and company networks, as well as via modem. In addition, "Doom" also heralded the breakthrough for the modding scene, with hobby designers creating thousands of additional levels.

"Pac-Man" (1979). The yellow pill-popper is redolent of one of the prime forces driving humankind: eat to survive. it was the first pop star among the video game heroes; appearing on the covers of magazines, it was also printed onto mugs, was the title of records and even had its own TV series.

The jury includes the following individuals:

Alexander Schön, private collector; André Peschke, Krawall; Andreas Kraemer, Andys Arcade; Christian Keller, Retrogames e.V.; Christian Stöcker, DER SPIEGEL; Dieter König, Classic Consoles Center; Enno Coners, CSW-Verlag / Retro; Gunnar Lott, GameStar; Harald Horchler, Skriptorium-Verlag; Heinrich Lenhardt, Buffed; Jan Fleck, Arcadeshop; Jörg Luibl, 4Players; Matthias Oborski, d-frag; Michael Spehr, F.A.Z.; Petra Fröhlich, PC Games; Robert Glashüttner, ORF; Sebastian Eichholz, Kultpower; Stephan Freundorfer, eGames; Sven Stillich, Stern; Sven Wernicke, DemoNews; Vitus Hoffmann, Gameswelt; Winnie Forster, Gameplan."

COLUMN: 'Might Have Been' - Monster World IV

Holy crap, Asha is ugly.[“Might Have Been” is a bi-weekly column by Todd Ciolek that explores the ways in which promising games, characters, and concepts failed. This week’s edition looks at Sega and Westone's Monster World IV, released for the Mega Drive in 1994.]

The Monster World series is often recalled as one collective gem that went unappreciated in its time, but that isn't quite true: not only were there mediocre installments, but the series also had plenty of exposure.

If the original Wonder Boy was quickly overshadowed by Hudson’s fully licensed Adventure Island rip-off of it, Westone quickly developed the Monster World/Wonder Boy/Monster Lair/Whatever line into a succession of fairly popular action-RPGs, and nearly all of them came out in American and Europe. The only truly underrated, only-in-Japan Monster World was, sadly enough, the last and best of them.

There, that's better.Wonder Girl in Monster Land

Monster World IV is perhaps the only part of the series that can’t be mislabeled a “Wonder Boy” game; instead of an armored (or diapered) young swordsman, the lead is a silent, green-haired girl named Asha (“Arsha” shows up in some halfway official materials, but I don’t like it as much ), who pluckily departs her parents’ caravan to see the world.

And instead of a rudimentary Western fantasy realm, Monster World IV’s world is the stuff of 16-bit Arabian myth, full of ornate palaces, turban-sporting shopkeepers and bustling, sandy bazaars. The only things truly out of place are a breed of round flying creatures called Pepelogoo ("Peperogu" is another possible spelling, but it's not as aptly cute).

Shortly after arriving in the kingdom of Rapadagna, Asha hatches a rare blue “Pepe,” and it follows her throughout the game. A floating, dutiful little blob resembling both the title creature of My Neighbor Totoro and the Gundam franchise’s Haro robots (essentially the R2-D2 of Japanese pop culture), Pepe seems a highly marketable mascot that Sega never really tapped.

Asha is a very common name in India.Stuffed Pepes should've lined toy store shelves

Compared to other 16-bit action-RPGs, Monster World IV is spare. Asha doesn’t have the massive arsenal of Link or the special moves of Terranigma’s Ark, and though she’s able to pull off some graceful stabbing, her options feel particularly anemic after the shape-shifting of Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap (which was technically Monster World II). Her quest sees her rescuing the helper spirits from Wonder Boy in Monster World (again, that was actually Monster World III), but Asha doesn’t get to use them in combat. Even a sour-faced genie, freed from a lamp in the first level, is merely a means to a warp zone.

In place of varied weapons or supernatural allies, Asha has her loyal Pepe, and the ear-flapping little bugger is remarkably versatile. Asha throws him around, uses him as a parachute, stuffs him into volcano geysers, freezes him in blocks of ice, employs him for boat propulsion and has him indignantly fish her from a soggy grave, all to navigate Monster World IV’s levels. Pet abuse is rarely quite so adorable.

Cornershop's 'Brimful of Asha' is the worst song ever written.High above the Mucky-Muck

Those levels are nothing original: a volcano, an ice pyramid, a water temple, a floating castle, and the subterranean lair of the game’s last-minute boss. Yet they’re all well-designed, if sometimes needlessly long, and using Pepe to solve puzzles and squeak by traps never grows dull. The enemies follow predictable routes, but the game’s overall layout punishes careless players harshly, and making it through any stage but the first demands patience.

Monster World IV isn’t terribly long or challenging. It's merely a charmer. The prior Monster Worlds had fairly generic character designs, but Westone took some welcome chances in the series finale. Asha never says a word until the end of the game, and she doesn’t need to. She's a remarkably well-animated heroine, whether she’s wiggling into a water pipe or straining to lift an overweight Pepe. Her pet grows several times throughout the game, and so do his mannerisms; it’s worth tossing him in the water just to see him blink in surprise and shake himself dry.

Asha is a bitchy and generally awesome character in George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire.Yes, go outside. Asha would.

In other words, it’s the sort of game that's out to make you happy. The soundtrack’s full of upbeat remixes of the main title theme, and the colorful surroundings of Asha’s world host all sorts of little details: books reference previous Monster Worlds, merchants rattle off their personal issues, and yellow Pepelogoos crowd the skies all over the kingdom.

Yes, it's a happy game. Mostly. The fluttering little puffballs are actually part of Monster World IV’s story, and while it’s primarily a thin, kid-level motivator to get Asha from one dungeon to the next, there’s a twist later on, and an unexpectedly depressing sacrifice. Rest assured that there’s also a happy ending, but as in all stories with childlike appeal, it’s the tragedy we remember most.

And in that ending, there’s a strange sense of finality. Seven years before Metal Gear Solid 2 adroitly told players to TURN OFF THE GAME CONSOLE NOW, Monster World IV’s genie popped up in an epilogue to announce that the Monster World series was indeed over, and that all those watching should “go outside and play.” Westone apparently took that advice to heart and didn’t bother coming back inside, because they’ve never made anything to equal Monster World IV.

Uh, there was an Asha in Blue Breaker, a mediocre RPG for the Saturn and PC-FX. That's all I got.We don't need no Wonder Boy

Monster World IV’s only real misstep was its timing: it was a cute action-RPG when no Western company wanted one. In 1994, Sega of America preferred abortive experiments with full-motion video and pricey console expansions, and a bright, appealing game like Asha’s would just have taken attention away from the latest Sonic title. Even Westone wasn’t satisfied with the game’s reception. On the recent Monster World Collection for PlayStation, IV's creators mention that some devoted fans of the series actually disliked Asha. Those people were morons.

If there was a minor backlash over the lack of an actual Wonder Boy, it seems even more petty now. Monster World IV’s generally regarded as the highlight of the series, as evidenced by Asha and Pepe showing up front and center on Monster World Collection’s cover.

It’s unfortunate that an official English release eludes the game; it’s available in Japanese on GameTap and in the aforementioned import-only Collection, yet the sole translated version is a fan-worked ROM. There’s but a slim chance that Sega will localize Monster World IV for the Wii’s Virtual Console, but with other games from the series showing up there, it'll be a shame if we never see what was the best of the line, and, indeed, one of the best action-RPGs of its day.

Penny Arcade Gets Wired, Not Tired, Expired

- Now, we've already linked the Halo 3 metrics cover feature from the new issue of Wired Magazine, but there's also another major video game-related article in the October mag - Chris Baker's very readable profile of the Penny Arcade chaps.

As Baker ably and correctly points out: "Penny Arcade may be invisible to the vast majority of Americans, but it has enormous reach and influence among people who care about games — the developers who create them, the publishers who sell them, the retail wage slaves who put them on store shelves, and the gamers who buy them."

For me, the sharp and accurate tongue of Holkins makes him possibly the most potent and important taste-making columnist in the entire game world - which is why Wired is profiling him, I'm guessing! In any case, Robert Ashley also has a pictorial preview of Penny Arcade Adventures, the upcoming game from the duo and Hothead Games, over on the Wired site.

[And yes, this post is handily located in the same spatial time continuum as the Penny Arcade Expo, which Gamasutra has been covering, including write-ups of a storytelling panel with Sam & Max, Penny Arcade Adventures and Sly Cooper staffers, plus the surprise Uwe Boll appearance, roughly equivalent to introducing Frankenstein at an angry villager convemtion.]

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