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Archive For November, 2007

GameSetQ: The Unpurchased, The Unopened - Confess!

November 28, 2007 5:01 AM | Simon Carless

- Keeping up the random GameSetQs, it's confession time for all you penitent GameSetWatch readers. As you might have spotted, the past couple of months have brought a veritable whirlwind of quality game titles - for the DS, PS3, PSP, Wii, Xbox 360, PC, PlayStation 2, and augh, too much interactive entertainment to process. And there's niggling lust and caution underlying that mass of games.

Not so carefully analyzing, I've come to the conclusion that there are two types of games that are making us feel guilty right now - the games that we should have bought, but haven't got round to yet, and those that we picked up, but haven't even booted up yet. Let's call them The Unpurchased and The Unopened, eh?

So, my confession - The Unpurchased for me includes both Super Mario Galaxy and Link's Crossbow Training, both of which I intend to pick up as soon as humanly possible, but I just haven't got to yet. Sorry, Reggie. As for The Unopened, the prime culprit for me is Uncharted, which has got buried under a mass of titles - but DDR Hottest Party and Scene It? are also in that bucket right now.

And shazam, I give the floor to you, mes petits chou-fleurs. What games constitute The Unpurchased and The Unopened for you, in the year of the Minter 2007? Extra marks for admitting the embarrassing, but the pedestrian will also suffice, naturally.

Gamasutra Goes To Montreal, Writes Up Neat Stuff

November 27, 2007 10:45 PM | Simon Carless

- So, both news editor Brandon Boyer and special correspondent Mathew Kumar have wandered off to the Montreal International Game Summit, which has some pretty interesting keynotes and lectures this year.

We've gone the extra mile at big sister site Gamasutra by getting full in-person notes on the major lectures, and then having editors back here write them up properly. This means that we get a couple of thousand words and in-depth coverage of the talks, rather than simply edited highlights.

Thus, from the first day, here are the key talks from Nintendo, Retro Studios, and, uhh, J. Blow Esq.:

- MIGS 2007: Retro Studios On The Journey Of Metroid Prime
"At the 2007 Montreal Games Summit, Retro Studios president and CEO Michael Kelbaugh discussed the Metroid Prime arc of the classic Nintendo franchise, highlighting challenges faced by the team - from the trilogy's 3D debut, to incorporating Wii functionality with Metroid Prime 3: Corruption."

- MIGS 2007: Nintendo's Koizumi On The Path From Garden To Galaxy
"In his 2007 Montreal Games Summit opening keynote attended by Gamasutra, veteran Nintendo game developer Yoshiaki Koizumi discussed the path taken from Super Mario 64 to Super Mario Galaxy, growing into the 3D space, and the challenges, inspiration and successes along the way - comprehensive write-up within."

- MIGS 2007: Jonathan Blow On The 'WoW Drug', Meaningful Games
"At the 2007 Montreal Games Summit, Jonathan Blow, creator of 2006 IGF Design Innovation award winner Braid, addressed the subtle assumptions that underlie the modern game development process - sharply criticizing World Of Warcraft and BioShock to illustrate how games can be more meaningful experiences."

GameSetMicroLinks: The Best Of The Left

November 27, 2007 2:00 PM | Simon Carless

- Spooling out the final set of new and older links that were dogging us, there's all kinds of fun in this set of GameSetWatch goodness.

These include the neverending Desert Bus ride and 2D Boy Goo-ing things up for all of us, as well as hilarity from those weirdoes at Soup Du Jour, plus Guitar Hero's audio artist controversy:

Desert Bus for Hope
Former Gama editor Frank Cifaldi's unearthing led inexorably to this - and it's awesome.

Review: Why Assassin's Creed Fails | Game | Life from Wired.com
This is the kind of incisive opinion I want to see on a game, not a 'review'. Bravo.

The Independent Gaming Source: 2D Boy Interview
Great interview about breaking out and trying 'that indie thing' with World Of Goo.

TIGSource Forums: 'Chiptunes'
This is a good recommendation thread, if you like the bleep.

Digital Eel: Soup du Jour
From the 'Weird Worlds' crazies: 'Soup du Jour is a matching game like no other, with rubbery physics, stretchy sound effects and rule-breaking gameplay.'

Video Games Business & Marketing: Paying the Messenger...er distributor
'Viral marketing is really hard. There are very few products that are viral. Expecting your product to be viral is probably not the best approach.'

- Elder Game: MMO game development - Picking Fun Game Verbs
'New verbs can make anything feel fresh. Want to make yet another fantasy MMO? No problem - just make sure it has lots of fresh new verbs!'

MetroActive.com | Guitar Hero Controversy
Very interesting - this is front page of my local San Jose free paper, discussing alleged underpaying of vocalists for Guitar Hero II soundalikes.A bit isolated, but intriguing?

So, you want to be an ARCADE champion? - Blog Archive - Game 23: Armored Car (Stern 1981)
This poor guy is STILL going through MAME alphabetically. He's crazy.

Re: Sega releasing another Brain Age clone, and listing all the others: 'We're okay with you doing this sort of thing, as long as all the profits it makes are reinvested in starting up the hardware division again.'

'Headcase' Flash game reviewed - Jay is Games
'Set in a world of lush pixel art where gravity is fickle and your head is huge, you play a superhero dream-avatar (yes, that's about right) with a big 'up' arrow on your helmet.'

Opinion: Is 'The Orange Box' Name Holding Valve Back?

November 27, 2007 8:00 AM | Simon Carless

- [In the first of a new series, GameSetWatch contacted a couple of our friends in game marketing and PR with a potentially explosive notion we've been mulling over.

Valve's 'The Orange Box' is an amazing package, but we still didn't 'get' why it was called that. Does it do the games any favors with a less informed mainstream audience to be released under that name?

One of the people we contacted, Reflexive marketing director Russell Carroll (Wik, Ricochet series) had some strong, similar personal opinions about it - so we're happy to let him rip in this guest opinion piece.]

"First off I'll disqualify myself by saying that Reflexive doesn't make FPS games or even 3rd-person shooters. I don't have any experience with that specific genre or in trying to reach that segment of the market.

That said, The Orange Box was a critical darling from a popular genre whose sales (at least in the US) are struggling to match the rave reviews. (NPD for October had the game at 6th with ~240,000 units, around 200,000 less units than Halo 3 second month of sales and 1000 units behind Wii Play) [EDIT: To be clear, Russell is referencing the Xbox 360 version here, not the PC retail/digital sales or the PlayStation 3 version.]

It's a marketer's job to make the connection between the product and the audience and it would seem that The Orange Box is a fantastic package struggling to find its audience.

I think the biggest issue with The Orange Box, the number of included games, is also its biggest strength. I think that the problem with the package is that it lacks any strong identity. It's a mash-up of different brands that instead of trying to take advantage of the strength of any one of those brands creates a new brand without any value at all.

The game doesn't come across like 'The White Album' - it comes across as a confusion of messages without any one central point. While it is great show of confidence for Portal to get equal billing (the middle 1/3 of the box cover) with Half-Life, what does that say to gamers about what Valve thinks of the included Half-Life 2 content? (Which, notably, is 60% of the package)

The confusion fire is further stoked by the compilation aspect. Compilation discs are reserved for budget software that is bundled together because none is good enough to stand on its own. The Orange Box is certainly not budget and doesn't fit into the mold created, which means that a mental shift has to be made in the mind of the consumer. Valve has to redefine how people perceive a compilation of games from budget to blockbuster. Redefining long-standing perceptions isn't something to be taken lightly. The question could be posed "Does calling it 'The Orange Box' help to do this?"

I don't think so.

In hindsight, if I were involved I'd have focused on the existing brand strength of Half-Life and built off of that. Ideally I think the package needed to be broken down into multiple packages. With all the games together, it's hard to get past the natural feeling that none of them could stand on their own. It would have been very interesting to release all the games on XBLA as separate downloadable games that together added up to $60. Though we wouldn't have had any NPD numbers to discuss that way, I think the individual sales would have trumped the sales seen from the compilation.

If the opportunity to break it up into two-three different packages weren't available and I had to put all my eggs into one box, I'd call it after the strongest brand available. In this case that brand is certainly Half-Life. I'm not sure exactly what I'd call it, perhaps something like:

Half-Life: Uncut. Unleashed.

My goal would be to focus on a core of the package and try to get a strong message out to buyers about a single brand and let the additional content feel like amazing extras. I'd want the audience to know that this package is hard-core and that everything previous to it was somehow deficient.

While The Orange Box title does give the consumer a single message, I think it lacks identity and devalues the Half-Life brand through both bundling and avoiding use of the Half-Life name."

Blip Festival - The Full Line-Up For Chiptuning In NY

November 27, 2007 12:00 AM | Simon Carless

- Not much to say here except - this is the full line-up, and if you're on the East Coast and you don't check this out, then you are truly not enjoying life:

"The Blip Festival 2007, a four-day [New York-based] celebration of music and art made with vintage video game and home computing equipment, today announced its full schedule of events, screenings and workshops celebrating chiptune culture in all its many forms.

With nightly concerts, weekend screenings and workshops, and a group gallery show “B I T M A P: as good as new” presented in association with the festival at Williamsburg’s vertexList Gallery, The Blip Festival 2007 [held from November 29th to December 2nd, 2007] brings together the biggest names in the field of low-bit art and music for an opportunity to be seen and heard in the epicenter of the creative world.

Among the featured artists who will be showcasing their skills on Game Boys, Ataris, Commodore 64s and other old school gear are Tokyo-based 6955, the Netherlands' Gijs Gieskes, and New York's very own Bit Shifter and Nullsleep. In addition, daytime workshops, held on Saturday and Sunday, December 1 & 2, include such topics as “Break the Circle and Become an Atari DJ” and “Pixel Pushing the PPU: An Introduction to NES Graphics.”

[NOTE FROM SIMON: Chiptune fanatics - some of the top artists I've spotted which the press release didn't mention include Neil Voss, Virt, Japan's Hally, Germany's awesome Bodenstandig 2000, 6955, gwEM, and the spectacular Blasterhead. And that's just for starters!]

The Blip Festival 2007 will also present the world premiere of 8-BIT Generation, a new documentary about low-bit art and chiptune music, and the influence videogame culture has had on an entire generation of artists. Directed by Lionel Brouet, who will be present at the screening and will introduce the film, 8-Bit Generation features punk godfather and former Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren, Role Model (Sweden) Lo-bat (Belgium), Relax Beat (France), and The Wild Strawberries (China).

Among the festival’s related events, vertexList Gallery is presenting “B I T M A P: as good as new,” a group exhibition celebrating the history of the digital image, the aesthetics of early computing, and early videogame consoles, featuring Cory Arcangel, Chris Ashley, Eteam, Kimberly Hart, Tom Moody, and many, many more.

For more information, including a complete schedule of events, visit http://www.blipfestival.org/schedule.html."

GameSetMicroLinks: Delicious, Delightful Leftovers

November 26, 2007 2:00 PM | Simon Carless

- Was doing a lot of prospecting of MicroLinks for my Kotaku guest stint last week, so will be rolling out some of the neat leftover elements from it on GameSetWatch over the next couple of days.

Among the highlights this time is new video of Cecropia's innovative, sadly canned arcade game The Act, Japanmanship on developer burnout, incredibly geeky TRS-80 RPG playthrough, and lots more, yay:

Ascii Dreams - a Roguelike Developer's Diary: Why do games (still) have levels?
'So in this era of multi-megabyte and gigabyte memory and fast access storage devices why do we continue to have games that are dominated by the level structure, be they commercial (Halo 3, Portal, Team Fortress 2), independent (Darwinia) and amateur (Nethack, Angband)."

Teaching Takes Time - Warren Spector's blog
Spector's course at the University Of Texas sounds neeto.

Japanmanship: The Big Dipper
'There is a well-documented problem with longevity amongst game industry careerists.'

Insomnia | Reviews | Atomiswave | The King of Fighters XI
'Taking into account all the above, KOF XI is clearly for the new-schoolers in KOF.'

Worthy Representation: Informing and Empowering Parents of Gamers ¬´ High Dynamic Range Lying
'It is encouraging to see sites springing up that aim to bridge the gap between industry know-it-alls and parents out of the loop.'

Idle Thumbs: Every Extend Extra Extreme: It's in the Game (or How I Learned to Forget About Feedback Loops and Switch-Off
'E4 demands the player understand and embrace the symbiotic relationship between music, light and game play.'

Fullbright: Length
'A straightforward post today: the games I play are just too long.'

- I <3 you Portal. - Chris' MySpace Blog
Another neat Chris Avellone (Obsidian designer) cartoon.

An intimate discussion with Will Wright. | Laura Foy | Channel 10
Fascinating no matter what.

Interview with Arlen Ritchie, Moola's CEO - Business & Games: The Blog
'Basically, you play your pennies against other players in one of the mini-games available and try to climb the advertournament's ladder.'

Gates of Delirium Live - Post 8 | Armchair Arcade
yakumo9275's (Stu) ongoing "Gates of Delirium Live" recounting of his play through this obscure Computer Role Playing Game for the Radio Shack TRS-80 Color Computer.

The Act Part 2 - Physical movement sequence ¬´ Arcade Heroes
Video from the super-rare mood-controlling arcade machine 'The Act'.

Why were we not informed by Homeland Security?

The Designer's Notebook: Ten Years Of Great Games

November 26, 2007 10:01 AM | Simon Carless

- To celebrate Gamasutra's long-running 'The Designer's Notebook' column turning ten this month, veteran game lecturer/designer Ernest Adams has been highlighting the games of the last decade that "showed great imagination, contained important innovations, or left a lasting legacy" - from Starcraft to Rock Band.

Needless to say, this is quite fun and educative - Ernest is always readable - so here's a random bit I enjoyed, a mini-analysis of The Sims:

"The Sims wasn't supposed to work. A game about people living in suburbia, doing perfectly ordinary jobs? A game about buying furniture? A game inspired by A Pattern Language, a book for architecture geeks? It just goes to show you that not all players like to be entertained the same way, and there's more to video games than adrenaline. The Sims established the age of user-created content by letting people take screenshots, caption them, and assemble the result into stories that they could upload for other people to read. Modding had long preceded The Sims, of course, but this was different -- it was easy and required no tools. The Sims' legacy is huge."

Anyhow, there's plenty more in the article itself, in a kind of retrospective-y fashion, as you would expect. I can't spot anything too controversial in there, in terms of missing titles - but feel free to disagree in comment form.

GameSetQ: Rock Band Vs. Guitar Hero - The Final Reckoning

November 26, 2007 6:00 AM | Simon Carless

- Now, we've covered this question before, but now Harmonix's Rock Band and Neversoft's Guitar Hero III have been out long enough, we can talk about it.

For the record, the Xbox 360 version of Guitar Hero III has an 8.5 pro reviewer average and a 7.4 user average on Metacritic. Rock Band for Xbox 360, on the other hand, has a 9.4 pro reviewer average and a 9.0 user average.

I was trying to think how to vocalize my thoughts on GH III and Rock Band - both of which I've been playing a lot, and both of which are going to be smash hits this holiday season - and I think I worked it out.

Here's my comparative review of the two titles - using lyrics from songs featured in each:

- Guitar Hero III:
Poison ft. Bret Michaels - 'Talk Dirty To Me'.

"At the drive-in
In the old man's Ford
behind the bushes
until I'm screamin' for more
Down the basement
lock the cellar door
And baby
Talk dirty to me."

- Rock Band:
The Who - 'Won't Get Fooled Again'

"I'll tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution
Smile and grin at the change all around me
Pick up my guitar and play
Just like yesterday
Then I'll get on my knees and pray
We don't get fooled again."

So - which of the two makes you rock? Which makes you roll your eyes? And which would you recommend to others? And most interestingly, which franchise do you think will be dominant next year, and the year after - what will the public respond to? The GameSetQ is in session, folks.

Kotaku Flashback: Game Inspirations

November 25, 2007 3:00 PM | Simon Carless

- Continuing to round up 'things I did on my winter holiday' at Kotaku, I decided to poll some of the high-profile game developers on the Advisory Committee for the Game Developers Choice Awards, and ask what games really influenced and inspired them, early in their life/career.

There were some pretty interesting choices from the respondents, which included folks from Ubisoft, Eidos, Big Huge Games, and High Moon - here are the resulting mini-Q&As:

- Game Inspirations: Clint Hocking, Ubisoft: "The first game that ever really inspired me was Broderbund's Lode Runner on the Commodore Vic 20. Not only was Lode Runner a fantastic and innovative game for the time, but it had a powerful and easy-to-use level editor, with usability and functionality on par with the best level editors released today - almost 25 years later."

- Game Inspirations: Brian Reynolds, Big Huge Games: "What was the first video game you were ever inspired by, growing up? The "Original Adventure" (also known in later years as the Colossal Cave Adventure -- you know, the bird and the snake and XYZZY)... [I played it] at my father's office in about 1979. He worked at a defense contractor and would take me to work on the weekends sometimes when he was in an overtime crunch."

- Game Inspirations: Clinton Keith, High Moon: "[I was inspired by] Star Raiders for the Atari 800... To this day I prefer "sandbox" style games, especially those that are online. These are truly larger worlds in that the game evolves with the experience of the other players over long periods of time. This influenced my very first game Midtown Madness."

- Game Inspirations: Julien Merceron, Eidos: "I think the one that really shown me the wide potential of this media & art form is Square Enix's Final Fantasy VII. It was both showing how far we are from where this industry will take us, and showing some components that will become crucial in the future: storyline, characters, emotions, collaborative & team experience, and plurality of activities & roles for the player in a game."

COLUMN: 'Game Mag Weaseling': Mag Roundup 11/24/07

November 25, 2007 6:01 AM |

tpcg1.jpg   cgmnotice.jpg

A couple of developments in PC game mags occurred recently that're more related than you'd expect at first glance. First, Imagine Publishing's Total PC Gaming debuted on British newsstands this month with a print run of 40,000, becoming the first computer games magazine to launch over there in many, many years (over a decade, maybe?). Editor-in-chief (and, apparently, Game Mag Weaseling fan) Dave Harfield was nice enough to send me a copy of Issue 1 in the mail for review.

Visually and stylistically, TPCG doesn't stray too far from the Brit-mag norm. You've got bright, long reviews and previews done up with a clean, white background and featuring all sorts of little extra gubbins on the side -- spec discussions, development status, how the game looks at different detail levels (a neat addition), and so on. Reviews are scored out of ten and seem by-and-large forgiving so far, with only one game -- sleep-inducing Taiwanese MMORPG Bounty Bay Online, which gets a 2 -- scoring below the "average" mark. Hardware reviews get a lot of page space in this mag, too, signifying a dedication to covering the after-market modding marketplace with a fervor you don't see in print too often.

TPCG's innovations include:

- No disc. US mags mostly shed their discs a couple years ago, but the British PC mags still sport them. This one drops them for obvious reasons (you can get it all on the Internet! Duh!) and is subsequently two pounds cheaper than PC Gamer's UK edition, despite its larger page count and book size.

- A dedicated MMO section. GFW and PC Gamer US both have regular MMO coverage, but TPCG features 20 pages of it in its own "sub-magazine" after the reviews well. "MMO Worlds" reminds me a lot of the MASSIVE of old -- it's intelligent writing about MMOs present and future, with this month's installment mainly devoted to the Tabula Rasa launch. These 20 pages alone are already better than anything Beckett Massive Online Gamer's done.

- A dedicated retro section. Classic game coverage has served fellow Imagine mags Retro Gamer and GamesTM exceedingly well. TPCG's "Redux" section includes bits on System Shock 2, Duke Nukem 3D, Amiga emulators, and Portal, the 1986 Activision game that invented the "visual novel" genre eight years before the Japanese popularized it. A great start, I'd say, especially considering how many obscure old PC releases are out there waiting for someone to discover them.

Speaking from what experience I have with Britmags (I have yet to see an issue of PC Zone), I'd say TPCG is among, if not the best UK PC mag already. It's big, nicely written, dedicated, and never too boring. I'd love to see something like it over here, but given the American mag industry's situation these days, I'm sure it'd never happen without extensive modifications.

TPCG is also notable for featuring the work of Lara Crigger and Kelly Wand, both of which used to contribute to Computer Games magazine. There was pretty extensive online talk that CGM and sister mag MMO Games (formerly MASSIVE) were going to relaunch in some way sooner or later, but sadly, the idea seems dead in the water now -- this month's issue of Games for Windows includes a notice (reproduced above) that old CGM subscribers will receive GFW for the outstanding remainder of their term. Having been both a CGM and MMO Games subscriber, my GFW subscription now extends into late 2009. Brilliant! It's sad to see CGM go permanently, but with all the main contributors to the mag having moved on to bigger and better things, the party was definitely over long before Ziff bought up the subscription list.

After that lengthy intro, let's move right into the US mags of the past two weeks. Click onward for more!

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