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December 8, 2007

GameSetMicroLinks: Christmas At Ground Zero

- Jeez, is it already that time of year when game companies start sending out Christmas cards? It doesn't feel like it should be, but it absolutely is, by jove.

Anyhow, we'll try to do our 'company Xmas card round-up' just like we did last year, presuming game companies remember to put us on their lists (ahem, contact address!) And in the mean time - onward with the linkses:

bethesda_christmas_card on Flickr - Photo Sharing!
Jason Dobson gets some Fallout in the first Xmas card of the season (pictured).

GameTap Features: 'No Doubt, Get Loud!'
The 10 greatest rhythm games of all time. Innit?

game girl advance: Speechless
I guess this 'Speechless Hollywood' writer's strike promo was directed by Jordan Mechner, then? Neat.

Jaynatopia.com: Portfolio page
Not much info here, but... there was gonna be an arcade update of Track N' Field from Ed Rotberg and friends? It got canceled? Nuts.

Scribble Pad - game concept artist blog from LA
Really beautiful art - via The-Inbetween

GameDaily - Media Coverage: Gamers Go Gaga Over GameSpot's 'Gerstmann-gate'
Orland's round-up of the whole thing well-trodden, worth perusing.

Heise.de article on the state of game journalism (auto-translate from German)
Mentions GameSetWatch alongside The Escapist as alternatives to the mainstream, possibly.

Newegg.com - eDoc laundry 'The Seeker'/NewEgg.com T-shirts
Whoa, a terrible grossing movie plus an online retailer plus a competition plus ARG-style T-shirts equals craziness.

Manga Fighter Producer Talks Free to Play « Free To Play
A little more Korean invasion for you.

Akihabara Channel » Stores in Akihabara Part 3
Go search for the previous guide parts, these are _excellent_ if you're trawling the Tokyo game stores for the first time.

Editorial: Gamevil's Social Cellphone Game Future

- [In this editorial, originally written for sister site Games On Deck, Gamevil USA President Kyu C. Lee discusses the ways in which mobile publisher/developer Gamevil has used multiplayer social elements in cellphone games in South Korea, with plans for similar work in the States. It's an interesting read on a very innovative, sometimes overlooked game company that I think is worth disseminating to a winder audience.]

Social Networking has become a phenomenon in the U.S. with the advent of websites such as MySpace and Facebook, but when it comes to mobile games, the popularity of social networking is already on the rise in other countries. Gamevil, the top publisher in Korea, has already developed games that allow players to network with others through their mobile phones. In other words, this isn't about social networking through websites like MySpace. It's social networking through mobile games.

Previously, mobile games had been limited to single player games. Gamevil, however, has enabled the networking of single players in their games, thus expanding the mobile gamer's experience. The publisher currently leads the trend in Korea not only with its large portfolio of games with multiplayer features, but also with its innovative ideas and application of social networking in its games, revolutionizing the mobile game industry.

- In one of Gamevil's social networking games, Mini-Lovey, players can raise pets, decorate their rooms, visit the rooms of their friends, and play multiplayer mini-games, all through their mobile phones. Social networking is established among many users, except through mobile phones instead of the Internet. Not only do players have the option of visiting other players' rooms, but also sending messages to their friends through a capsule.

A capsule contains a new pet the receiver must raise, but in order for the receiver to view the message that was sent to him, he must raise the pet first until the pet matures. This concept encourages game play while also connecting players, allowing them to communicate with friends through the game.

Another innovative social networking feature Gamevil has incorporated in their games is the idea of "School Competition," which is currently used in Skipping Stone 3, the sequel to ROCKin' Stone, in Korea. This social networking model encourages viral marketing through recommendation, cooperation, and competition. The game works where players participate in a competition either individually or as a group. The individual or team with the highest score will win a prize. If a team wins, each team member will receive the same prize.

Through this social networking system, players begin recommending the game to others, thus forming groups. Cooperation occurs. As players form groups to combine their scores in order to achieve the highest scores, they are also competing with other groups. Social networking naturally comes into play as players must now interact with other players in order to increase their chances of winning as large groups. A nation-wide Skipping Stone promotional event called "School Attack," which used the "School Competition" model, was held in Korea. The participants represented their schools and classes to compete with other groups in this event. Gamevil's Skipping Stone 3 clearly shows how recommendation, cooperation, and competition successfully create social networking and promote the game.

Social networking has been applied in other ways to Gamevil's games as well. Pro-Baseball 2008 (known as Baseball Superstars in the U.S.) uses a new game point system in Korea called "G-Point." A G-Point serves as the game's virtual cash and is also transferable among players, which is where social networking is established. With G-Points, players can purchase items to enhance the overall stats of their characters, an alternative to developing ones character by playing for a long time. In Nom 3, Gamevil's popular 360 degree rotating mobile game, players can exchange game backdrops among one another as opposed to obtaining the backdrops by completing different levels in the game.

On a more advanced level, Gamevil has also incorporated various multiplayer features into their games. No longer are games limited to only term-based multiplayer poker rounds, as now, mobile games have evolved to even enable real-time network battles. Gamevil incorporated this new revolutionary technology in Baseball Superstars NET 2007, where players can play against each other, such as in a batter vs. pitcher game play, all in real-time.

- Lapis Lazuli, another one of Gamevil's multiplayer games, has the real-time network battleship feature, where players fight as guilds on a separate client called Battle Royal. A five vs. five ship battle enhances the player's experience as guilds cooperate and battle their opponents over the ocean with weapons they customized. One of the social networking aspects of Lapis Lazuli is that the real-time network battles encourage the creation of these guilds as players must communicate with one another and choose which ones to ally with and which ones to fight against. Other multiplayer games include Mini-Lovey, where players can play multiplayer real-time games as well. With the largest portfolio of multiplayer-featured games, Gamevil has shown how successful these types of social networking games can be.

"We've customized the SNS (Social Networking Service) features according to each game's concept and property," said James Song, CEO of Gamevil, Inc. "As a result, we could promote high participation among our customers and our SNS has been a smash in the market. Now, this feature has emerged as a new trend in mobile gaming, and in terms of revenue generation, it has showed its potential forecasting a new business paradigm."

Gamevil is now bringing these innovative social networking games to the U.S. This winter, Gamevil will be launching Big Trouble On Little Earth, the first title ever on AT&T to have the Challenge SMS feature. Big Trouble On Little Earth has various fun mini-games that players must achieve high scores in. After completing a mini-game, players have the option of sending a challenge note with their high scores to their friends who also have the same game.

The receiver, who would see the challenge as a text message on his mobile phone, must then try to beat the high score of the challenger in the same mini-game. This further promotes game play among users and also encourages P2P distribution as users would recommend the game to other players and send challenges to them, thus creating a viral effect. The Challenge SMS feature has already proven to be successful in networking players in Korea when the game was first launched there. Currently, the total number of Challenge transactions has reached 784,239 in Korea. Korean Internet portals are overwhelmed by the number of users asking other players to challenge them, as users would even go so far as to post their phone numbers on a bulletin board.

Social Networking is certainly the next generation of mobile gaming, enhancing the gamer's experience and inviting more players to enjoy the games together as a community. As this trend in mobile gaming correlates with the networking trends in other platforms, such as console and online gaming, all eyes will be on how this social networking craze will evolve from hereon. Currently, Gamevil's the leader of social networking in mobile games. Soon, in the U.S., as games like Big Trouble On Little Earth become more common on carriers' decks, Internet sites such as Facebook and MySpace will not be the only phenomenon driving social networking. Mobile games will as well.

[Kyu C. Lee is President of Gamevil USA, the North American arm of the South Korean developer and publisher of mobile games. Kyu has been with Gamevil since the year 2000, and has played a key role in the evolution of Korean mobile gaming. Kyu graduated Seoul National University with a B.S. in Physics.]

The Pickfords On Minter, Indie Gaming, And Quality

- One of the more interesting duos in the UK independent games scene are, of course, the Pickford Brothers, responsible for games that stretch from the awesome Zub on the ZX Spectrum all the way to Wetrix, Future Tactics, and, uhh, Sticky Balls for the Gizmondo.

Anyhow, the intriguing, turn-based, play by email Naked War was the duo's first indie PC release after striking out on their own, and Ste Pickford has just written up a mammoth blog post called 'The First 30 Seconds' which talks about the reception to that title, Jeff Minter, and the future of independent games in smart, very readable terms.

Also, it outs that the duo are working on an Xbox Live Arcade game: "The game John and I are currently working on is being developed with Live Arcade in mind, and as the follow-on project to another brilliant game which got great reviews and didn't sell too well (Naked War, of course!), the Space Giraffe story is something I've been paying close attention to."

But this is the key bit: "For the second time in my life I think I'm seeing a seismic shift in video game design; in developers' attitude and approach to their customers. It's the result of the explosion of casual games, the rise of download systems like Live, and the increased availability of playable demos even for retail games... More than ever before a player's first impression of a game is critical."

There's another couple of thousand words of smart musings from there, including this very relevant note: "If anything, the changes being brought about by free downloads and demos are actually forcing today's video game designers to think more like coin-op designers." Read, link, and enjoy. [Somewhat via Rock Paper Shotgun - thanks, lads!]

December 7, 2007

IGS: 'Building The Future Of Indie Games' Panel

-Here on GSW, we're proud to present the latest video from this year's Independent Games Summit, which took place at Game Developers Conference 2007 last March as part of the Independent Games Festival.

This was the final panel of the inaugural Independent Games Summit, and it was somewhat optimistically called 'Building The Future of Indie Games'. It featured the following delightful indie folks: Greg Costikyan, Manifesto Games; Mark Morris, Introversion; Eric Zimmerman, Gamelab (kindly standing in for originally scheduled panelist David Jaffe, who was down the chip shop or something); Derek Yu, Bit Blot (this is coincidentally posted on the day Aquaria will be released!)

Ah yes and Moderator: Simon Carless, IGF - that's me! The original description for this 'future of indie' lecture is below, and was obviously quite idealistic and 'big picture'. But the reality of the unscripted panel involved some horrible ass metaphors and extended, entertaining arguments, as far as I recall. Which is good news, in the end.

Therefore, 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 description: "In a much more wide-ranging discussion, we look at the next two, five, or even ten years for the independent games movement. How will the opportunities to make a living change? Where is the innovation going to come from, and how? And why is it a particularly good (or indeed, bad!) time to be an indie game creator? We've picked some leading lights and opinion-makers in or bordering the indie scene to discuss this in detail."

(Other IGS 2007 videos posted so far are Kim Swift on going from Narbacular Drop to Portal, plus Daniel James discussing indie MMOs, and an indie innovation panel w/Mak, Blow, Chen, Gabler, Swink, plus Matt Wegner on physics, alongside the Gastronaut founders on 'Small Arms' for XBLA, the Telltale folks on Sam & Max/episodic gaming, Gamelab's Eric Zimmerman on 'The Casual Cash Cow', and Braid's Jon Blow on indie prototyping, as well as Russell Carroll on 'indie marketing'.)

GameSetMicroLinks: Totally Almost The Weekend

- Time to dig out the old link stick again, and dance around the maypole randomly slapping our knees and... wait, do Americans know what Morris dancing is? Consider yourself lucky if you don't.

Anyhow, highlights from this set of links include Petri Purho's latest, extremely bizarre fast-prototyped game, as well as a new Wacky Races arcade game from an odd Anglo-Japanese developer and some random GameTap goings-on. And Finnish building Tetris (thanks, Aleksi E!):

Tales of the Rampant Coyote: What Were the Best Indie CRPGs of 2007?
Good look at a neglected micro-genre.

Surfer Girl Reviews Star Wars: December fourth things.
Treyarch's 3 in-development games seem on the money.

the2bears.com » Humpsters
Petri Purho's latest game (pictured) dissected - it's a tad disturbing.

Video Games Business & Marketing: Who are casual gamers?
Referencing a Post-Intelligencer article on casual games, excellent.

Water Cooler Games - Playing Columbine Screening, Rejection
Ledonne is the closest to Michael Moore we have in the game biz, one suspects.

Canned Dogs » Blog Archive » Game Center CX live on TV for 9 hours
I love the Japanese for loving this.

Location Test Video: Wacky Races - Arcade Heroes
Very interesting - from Banpresto and an Anglo-Japanese developer called Gamewax.

Angled Whiteboards » Blog Archive » GameTap 3.5.
Some notable community and look changes and a unified Player, interesting.

YouTube - Mikontalo Tetris
Tetris on buildings... in color... in Finland! Score.

GameTap : Disappearance of over 70 games on ...
Licensing agreements ending for EA/Interplay games, among others. Hmm...

What's This Friday? Aquaria Friday, Isn't It?

The folks at indie developer Bit-Blot have been making a post a day leading up to the PC release of the IGF Grand Prize-winning 2D underwater action-adventure game Aquaria, which is happening Friday 7th December - likely the same day that you read this!

We were originally going to wait for the game to be released to put up the post, but I saw the Aquaria teaser trailer posted on Day 6, and honestly - it blew my mind. So I'm embedding it now to whet everyone's appetite. I mean, seriously - the game has evolved into one of the most gorgeous-looking 2D titles I've ever seen, with crazy boss monsters and turtle riding for supper and heck, just watch it already:

For reference, the other 'Seven Days Of Aquaria' info posts on the official blog, all of which are very readable, include a look at the concept art, a mix of Alec Holowka's lush music, an interview with voice actress Jenna Sharpe, a look at the evolution of the game, and a message from tester Daniel-D. “Guert” Guertin.

Also, I'll update with a link when Aquaria is actually released to buy, at which point a demo version will also be available. It costs $30, and if you like independent gaming, and want to support the future of 2D gaming in particular (oh, and Derek Yu's ability to eat, of course!) you should consider picking up a copy. And yes, it _needs_ to come to console digital download soon, and no, I don't know when and how and where.

[UPDATE: Aha, and Aquaria is officially available, with both the full PC version and a demo available. From the FAQ: "Right now a Macintosh port is confirmed, with no release date set... Regarding gaming consoles, we're doing our best!"]

GameSetNetwork: It's The Prince Of Physics!

- So I ended up linking quite a few of the top Gamasutra stories here already this week, because one or another of them felt a bit GSW-y, but here's a nice round-up of some of the other original stories we ran so far this week.

Actually, it's been pretty busy, what with Lyon GDC and leftover goodness from the Independent Game Conference in Austin, plus various Q&As, 'Top 20' rundowns, and other piece of goodness. Here goes:

- Q&A: Mechner Talks Prince Of Persia Movie, XBLA Remake
"Prince Of Persia creator Jordan Mechner is working on a Jerry Bruckheimer-produced Disney movie version of the classic game franchise, and Gamasutra quizzes him on the game-film transition, the movie's new director, and what he thought of Ubisoft's XBLA remake of the original PoP."

- Game Design Essentials: 20 Unusual Control Schemes
"Continuing Gamasutra's 'Game Design Essentials' series, this fascinating installment examines unconventional control schemes, from Robotron through Crazy Climber to the Wiimote and Guitar Hero, with detailed design lessons for each concept."

- Physics in Games: A New Gameplay Frontier
"How can physics make a genuine difference to gameplay in today's AAA games, beyond the novelty? Veteran designer Luban (Splinter Cell series) discusses his work on physics-enhanced Unreal Tournament 3 mods and general principles of design that are enhanced by physics elements."

- GDC Lyon: Normandon, Gounon On Rabbids' 'Bunny Humor'
"At the Lyon Game Developers Conference, Ubisoft creative director Nicolas Normandon and international product manager Loïc Gounon, two people behind the 2006 Wii launch title Rayman and the Raving Rabbids, discussed how humor and variety can elevate gaming to a cultural phenomenon."

- Making Video Games ... With Fifth Graders
"Giancarlos Alvarado is a teacher who believes in an integrated classroom, using technology across the curriculum by having his students -- just 11 years old -- develop a creative and educational video game in class."

Some more random highlights of the week's posts (including info on changes at Gamasutra that include comments on news/features!) after the cut...

- Q&A: Coca-Cola, There.com Team For CC Metro Online World
"In a pair of interviews reprinted from sister online world weblog Worlds In Motion, we talk to Coca-Cola VP Carol Kruse and There.com VP Ben Richardson about a new Coke-themed online world called CC Metro, including game elements, music mixing, voice chat, and in-world theaters."

- Garriott: Too Many Beta Invitees Hurt Tabula Rasa
"At the 2007 Independent Game Conference in Austin, Tabula Rasa creator Richard Garriott discussed the marketing of the just-launched, NCSoft-published MMO, suggesting that too many beta invitees too soon might have damaged sales - and that the company was striving to fix this."

- GDC Lyon: Everyone Wins In Dyack's Open-Standards Future
"At the 2007 Lyon Game Developers Conference, Silicon Knights founder and president Denis Dyack, an outspoken proponent of the "one-console future," discussed how eventual open standards in the console market are a sure thing -- and why it might be good for publishers to nudge the evolution along."

- Gamasutra Debuts Enhanced Job Section, Story Comments
"Gamasutra has debuted a redesigned job section on its industry-leading game art/business site, including enhanced functionality and ease of use for job posters - also adding integrated login to Gamasutra.com and user comments on news stories and features."

- Road To The IGF: Reflexive's Kinesthetic Axiom Overdrive (pictured above)
"Continuing Gamasutra’s ‘Road to the IGF’ feature, we talk to Reflexive Entertainment's Simon Hallam about the developer's IGF 2008 Technical Excellence Award finalist Axiom Overdrive, which, he says, uses physics-based play to "get people physically in tune with what they are doing on screen.""

- GDC Lyon 2007: Yerli's Lessons From Crysis' Development
"At the 2007 Game Developers Conference in Lyon, Crytek CEO Cevat Yerli discussed the story behind the development of Crysis , highlighting the tenets on which the company hinges its development strategy -- designing around solid AI, creating sandbox gameplay and showcasing one central feature."

December 6, 2007

Weisman Licenses MechWarrior, Shadowrun, Crimson Skies Rights From Microsoft

- Gonna cross-post this one briefly from Gamasutra, not least because I owe a debt of gratitude to new GameSetWatch columnist Chris Dahlen for discussing Weisman's new venture with me and therefore helping me stumble across this rather unpublicized announcement. Also - really looking forward to see what these smart folks cook up:

"FASA, WizKids and 42 Entertainment founder Jordan Weisman has announced, via the website of his newest venture-backed startup Smith & Tinker, that he has licensed the 'electronic entertainment' rights to his MechWarrior, Shadowrun and Crimson Skies properties from Microsoft.

The recently founded Smith & Tinker, named after two minor characters from the Land Of Oz books, describe themselves as "...a venture-backed company that builds intellectual property across a wide spectrum of interactive products, weaving games, toys and publishing into immersive transmedia experiences."

Weisman is a serial entrepreneur, and is best known in the video game industry for forming MechWarrior and Crimson Skies game developer FASA Interactive, sold to Microsoft in 1999 and closed down in September 2007.

But his work pioneering 'Alternate Reality Games' such as the Microsoft-backed 'The Beast' and 'ilovebees', latterly at 42 Entertainment is also notable. A recent announcement from 42 revealed that Weisman, billed as 'Chief Creative Advisor', will "...spin off a new company called Smith & Tinker to develop transmedia connected toys and entertainment, some of which are based upon intellectual property created by 42 Entertainment."

It is unclear as of yet what form Weisman's plans for these franchises might take. But given the transmedia nature of his recent ventures, and job advertisements asking for experts with Web 2.0 and online game expertise, online world/MMO elements to the company's projects seem likely.

The full announcement of the license, from the company's website, is as follows: "Smith & Tinker is pleased to announce that it has licensed from Microsoft the electronic entertainment rights for Mr. Weisman's previous creations of MechWarrior, Shadowrun, Crimson Skies and the other properties of the FASA catalog.

We’re not quite ready to announce our plans for each property, but please be assured that our goal is to surprise and delight old fans, while welcoming new fans to these fantastic worlds."

COLUMN: 'The Aberrant Gamer': Playing The Hero

-[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.]

If creating motivation in gameplay were a simple matter, designers would be all set. As it is, there are many kinds of gamers, and many kinds of motivation to which they respond. One tried-and-true motivator that has been a standby through the ages is the "save the princess" mechanic -- create some simple emotional or conceptual attachment to a character, and then whisk her away. There are many variations on this, of course -- find the lost relative, rescue all the hostages on the floor, extract the military scientist.

This mechanic works well not only because it can create a high-stakes purpose, but because the idea of being on a rescue mission endows the protagonist -- and, thereby, the player -- with a sense of his or her own heroism. It's rewarding to feel you can make a difference, that you are critical to someone else's survival. Usually, this savior role means defeating a boss, navigating a difficult terrain, or assembling the clues to solve a mystery.

But this is the Aberrant Gamer, and we don't do usual.

Nocturnal Illusion (JAST USA, 1997) is a dreamlike, surreal immersion into emotional purgatory. Nondescript college student Shinichi Kashiwagi -- unusually mute and story-less even as hentai game protagonists go -- is on his way to a dream vacation when bad weather knocks him unconscious. On waking, he finds himself effectively trapped in an elaborate mansion, full of odd and mysterious characters who drift in and out of the periphery like apparitions from a dream. Many of them, of course, are hot girls of varying ages, but all of them are trapped here somehow, same as Shinichi.

Some are imprisoned by a dark secret, others by fear or madness. Some of them are ghosts, stranded in the wrong era. To escape the strange mansion, Shinichi must save each and every beautiful, suffering maiden, by enlightening them all, liberating their spirits, introducing them to their true selves and releasing them from the chains of their past.

Translation: You need to screw the brains out of every last one.


-Particularly appealing about this title is the sheer variation on order. The game does, of course, haul out many of the usual archetypes -- a curvaceous, maternal house Madam in lingerie and her tormented, submissive maid, a traumatized teenager, a tomboyish schoolgirl and a prissy, abusive reporter, for example. And yet on the other hand, the game crosses unflinchingly into the realm of fantasy. There's a mermaid, a vampire, and the juvenile ghost of a doll. Pushing the envelope further, Nocturnal Illusion also features a beatific shrine maiden who has an incestuous relationship with her brother -- who happens to be a beastly monster -- and, last but not least, the apparition of Little Red Riding Hood of fairy tale fame.

The oddest thing about this game is not the girls themselves -- such variation, coupled with the dreamlike, dark-fantasy tone of the story are actually refreshing. Nor is it the fact that, after the fashion of old point-and-click adventures, you sometimes have to wander the entire mansion and look at everything in order to trigger the next event, which can result in plenty of time commanding Shinichi to "look at the dresser" and "think about the dresser".


What stands out about Nocturnal Illusions is the concept that your intercourse with these women, sometimes forcible, somehow holds the key to their individual salvation and self-actualization. Even after rape, the girls are tear-filled and blushing, grateful and transcendent. Given that this is a game where a good many of the characters blatantly mock the tedious claim by publishers and retailers that "all characters depicted are 18 years of age or over" (there are also patches available to show the underage nudes), the idea of heroism in this context is partly laughable, partly unsettling. After all, don't pedophiles often testify that in their twisted minds, they'd reasoned they were "helping" or otherwise nurturing their victims?

Still, the concept is obviously more than a little appealing to more than a small segment of the H-game audience, since Nocturnal Illusion is not unusual in this respect. In several titles we've looked at recently -- for example, The Sagara Family and Yume Miru Kusuri, sex is often viewed as a way to salve, aid, soothe or support the women involved, and to help them solve their family problems. Which isn't necessarily so far from real life, but the way that the male protagonist's indiscriminating lust tends to result in significant life changes for the woman, resulting in her undying gratitude, is rather distinct in these games.


-Nocturnal Illusion, like most of its kin, lets the player choose one of the ladies at the end of the game to marry and live happily ever after in one of multiple different endings. These always feature an uplifting, cheerful picture of a girl who was a tormented victim or monster inside the mysterious mansion when you met her -- you'll instantly get a warm, fuzzy feeling from the fact that you rescued some girl from sexual bondage (by putting her in your own sexual bondage, no less). Oh, yeah, and despite having plowed through every other girl in that mansion, you suddenly realize you love this one, you moral savior, you.

Shinichi isn't necessarily a serial rapist per se, even if a lot of his couplings in Nocturnal Illusion are manipulated, or slightly violent. But is the concept of aggressive sex as well-intentioned, or even life-saving, simply a way to assuage players' guilt about playing smut? Is it an attempt to enrich the game experience by adding, albeit poorly, some emotional dimension?

Despite the strange mechanic, Nocturnal Illusion is a lot richer and more atmospheric than many of its peers. It's often outright philosophical, metaphors, symbolism and all, with a distinct tone of melancholy beauty, sometimes a creeping darkness, throughout. It's a pervasive, oppressive sadness that the protagonist actually has an opportunity to address, replacing beautiful, fearful faces with more beautiful smiling ones. With all this in mind, it makes one wonder -- is this a hero story first, with sex scenes secondarily? The materialization of a wish that we could sleep with Zelda after we rescue her? It puts a whole new spin on "saving the princess," that's for sure.

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

GameSetQ: Peggle Nights And The Art Of Sequel Names

- So I was reading the latest issue of PC Gamer U.S., profiling 'The Top 8 Games Of 2008' for PC - headed by Spore, of course. But one of the titles in there is the next sequel to Peggle from PopCap, and it's got a rather wonderful name, it's revealed - Peggle Nights.

This is wonderful news, firstly, because Peggle is too addictive, and we deserve as many versions of it as possible. But more to the point - any sequel naming itself in the fashion of Baywatch Nights deserves special plaudits. Why don't more sequels go off in the style of the Hoff?

In turn, this triggers a possibly interesting question. What kind of sequel naming do you prefer, and what are your favorite sequel naming choices in games?

There's everything from the simple and straightforward (Half-Life 2) to the slightly sophisticated (Deus Ex: Invisible War) all the way to the just plain odd (Marble Man, the prototype-only sequel to Marble Madness.) Examples of sequel names or desired sequel names are welcome...

GameSetMicroLinks: Tuesday, Uh, Thursday Terrors

- Oops, a couple of these got delayed for a couple of days, and then my Delicious exporter has decided to have a bit of a screaming hissy fit - these things come in twos, of course.

But fortunately there's still some goodness in here - particularly a reminder of the classic, classic original N-Gage launch and some thought-provoking editorials from the gaming blogosphere. Avast:

MTV Multiplayer » Game Of The Year - ‘Desktop Tower Defense’ (Or, Why Michael Pachter Is Talking Trash About My Wife)
Indeed, a really, really fun game. Uh, not talking trash about someone's wife!

OgreCave » Something of WotC’s probably headed for Xbox Live Arcade, who knows what
Interesting - a Stainless/WoTC hookup on something or other.

PlayStation.Blog » Monster Madness
Dylan Cuthbert talks about his next PSN PixelJunk title (concept art pictured).

The Plush Apocalypse - Super sized? I just want a f*cking small!
'But there’s two problems: one is just trying to make games that aim to be more mentally nutritious. The other is actually communicating why they’re of value to people eating the equivalent of tasty, tasty cheeseburgers.'

Reliving N-Gage Mk 1’s launch: E3 2003 tummy pricing at The Pocket Gamer Blog
We STILL talk about this in the office.

What's New in Indie [November Edition] by Game Tunnel
A mixed bag this month, I think.

Functional Autonomy » Blog Archive » Never Mind The Polygons
Video at Archive.org, with "...a panel made up of Andrew Oliver from Blitz, Louise Ridgeway from Rare, Iain Simons from the GameCity Festival, Tom Scutt From Gusto Games", among others.

Article - The Story Behind: Hacker // None /// Eurogamer
Eurogamer's Retro section is well played.

COPE: James Wallis levels with you » Beat It
'Tetris has sold 60 million copies... So why isn’t it as feted as Thriller is?'

December 5, 2007

Harmonix Talks Guitar Hero's Genesis

- [I originally wrote this for Gamasutra but it has some editorial elements in it that I thought are GSW worthy. So be it! Also, look for some Guitar Hero-related guest posts very soon that I'm quite excited about.]

As part of a new book extract debuting on Gamasutra today, Harmonix's Rob Kay has been discussing the creation of the original Guitar Hero, revealing the original game budget of $1 million and the Konami-inspired, hardware-based project genesis.

In particular, the following exchange from the interview explains exactly how the game started - partly notable because Guitar Hero III's use of Konami patents further underlines the direct lineage to Guitar Freaks:

How did [the Guitar Hero] project concept emerge?

Rob Kay: RedOctane had been talking to Harmonix for a while. It was a rental company and then they made dance mats for DDR [Dance Dance Revolution]. It ended up selling a bundle of these dance mats and wanted to progress that side of its business.

The company was interested in making a guitar game as they'd seen Guitar Freaks, which Konami had done. So they came to Harmonix with the request, "will you make us a great guitar game for our new piece of guitar hardware?"

The peripheral led the project?

Yes. At that time, Konami hadn't released Guitar Freaks in the US, and I don't think RedOctane had any particularly grand ambitions other than needing a game. Relatively speaking, it was a pretty low-budget game -- about a million dollars, which is pretty tiny as a game budget.

We had a team that had just been freed up, as we'd just finished AntiGrav. This seemed like an awesome project. Everyone here was really psyched to work on a rock guitar game; it really fitted in with people's interests here. No one had any notions about it being a massive success; we all just thought it would be fun to do.

In relation to these comments, it's clear that Harmonix took the ball and ran with it to create Guitar Hero, which has a style and appropriateness for the West that is quite distinct from Konami's music games. However, Kay's comments may lend further credence to claims of lack of major creative input from RedOctane on initial versions of the series.

Activision and RedOctane have been keen to dispel these as they position the franchise as workable without Harmonix's input - which indeed it has been from a sales perspective on Guitar Hero III, thanks to Neversoft's execution of the non-Harmonix sequel, as the Boston developer moved on to Rock Band.

The extended interview with Kay is now available on Gamasutra, including more fascinating details on the genesis of the first iteration of the smash hit franchise.

ECA Launches GameCulture.com, Intriguingly

- Now here's something interesting from the ECA - which is Hal Halpin's non-profit aimed at banding gamers together to defend games as an art form, and also runs GamePolitics.com. I still don't quite get where they're going - but I like their chutzpah, abstractly:

"The Entertainment Consumers Association (ECA), the non-profit association which represents game enthusiasts, announced a new web-based publication launching in beta form today, GameCulture. The site will be a destination for gamers, mass media outlets and entertainment consumers of all sorts to visit and experience a unique editorial voice that will provide a sense of how videogames, game technology, and game culture are changing the world around us. GameCulture was designed and will be managed by veteran journalist Aaron Ruby, co-author of “Smartbomb,” a 2005 New York Times Editor’s Pick about game culture...

In describing the strategic positioning of the product, [ECA President Hal] Halpin explained that he sees GameCulture’s popular sister site, GamePolitics, as serving “the very pinnacle of the consumer pyramid – the gamers who are most passionate about their rights, are early adopters and even hard-core gamers, people who are highly educated about our collective challenges. In contrast to that, GameCulture will focus more on the influence and future of games, and is thus set to serve the broader base of the pyramid, targeting not just the hard-core but also those that occasionally or even regularly play games, but might not identify themselves as gamers per se. They likely don’t visit endemic websites, nor do they subscribe to enthusiast media."

"They aren’t aware of the issues that we, as consumers, must face and rally around. Nevertheless they represent an increasingly important segment of the market, and I think it’s crucial that there is an outlet that includes them and can also serve as a resource for the mass media, helping mainstream journalists understand how game culture has permeated society in some meaningful and tangible ways.”

The site is currently live and features daily headlines, webcomics and video from leading outlets, as well as original content. Additionally the publication will provide resources for those interested in game-related issues, including links to the ECA’s own site, career opportunities via GameJobs, and exclusive discounts on game-related merchandise and magazine subscriptions. GameCulture’s mission is to display and highlight the many ways in which gaming influences broader society and provides a glimpse into the future. The full site launch is planned for early 2008."

The Gentle World Of Harvest Moon's Wada

- Just wanted to highlight Brandon Sheffield's interview with Harvest Moon creator Yasuhiro Wada over at Gamasutra, which talks about why the farming sim and other of Wada's games are so relatively... humanistic? Is that the right word? Witness the following discussion:

"Brandon Sheffield: 'It almost reminds me of... many traditional RPGs begin with the hero losing his memory. But in this case, he has lost something which he does remember. Like, "Your parents are dead, and you're going to see your grandfather," or, "Your grandfather lost his farm, and you have to get it back." It seems like it always begins from a point of hardship, and I wonder why it's always focused on family first.'

Yasuhiro Wada: 'Think about what it's like if you went through a loss of someone in your family. But here in this game, I want people to be able to get it back. As I said before, if you were happy in the beginning, there wouldn't be any story. So the main goal is, maybe you start from a loss, something really hard, but you can become happy in the end.'"

There's even a curiously ecological, personal bent to the game series, as Wada explains later in the interview: "I'm not pushing to go back to the countryside life. I want to tell people that you need to take care of nature and the forest, and since everybody's going to the cities, there's no one in the countryside, and nobody is taking care of nature." Isn't it refreshing to hear about games and game concepts that aren't just 'kill the bad guys, get the girl'?

[UPDATE: Oh yes, and the extract we used for the news story was also interesting: "Harvest Moon creator Yasuhiro Wada has been discussing games he would like to create in the future, saying that he'd "love to make [a game like] Spore", and expressing interest in a game where "new stuff is going to be created again and again".]

GDC Director's Cut Confirms Jones, Koster MMO Talks

- It's that man again! My colleague Jamil has popped up over my cube wall to point out his latest blog post about plans for Game Developers Conference in February, and I'm happy to mention it here - partly because it seems like we'll finally be getting some concrete details on APB, Dave Jones' return to GTA stylings with an MMO flavor:

"As part of his latest Director's Cut post, GDC 2008 executive director Jamil Moledina has revealed new MMO-related talks from Real Time Worlds' Dave Jones and Areae's Raph Koster as part of the February conference's line-up.

The 'Director's Cut' section of the weblog is slated to run regularly leading up to the GDC 2008 show itself (part of CMP, as is Gamasutra), and Moledina's second entry reads, in part:

"Dave Jones, the creator of Lemmings, Blood Money, the original Grand Theft Auto and the Xbox 360 hit Crackdown, will be giving an MMO design theory talk at GDC 08. While the first three credits were under the classic DMA Design banner influencing a generation of games and game designers, Dave and his team have been hard at work on breakout innovation in modern game design at his Real Time Worlds, where he presides as CEO and Creative Director.

Now, none of these titles is an MMO. However, I had a chance to catch up with Real Time Worlds' Mario Rizzo, whom you may recall from his pioneering work on the EverQuest games, at Austin GDC. Since then, he and the team have been kind enough to clue me in as to the goings on at Real Time Worlds, and all I'm going to say here is that the GDC audience is in for a real treat. While there is some information out there, I'd encourage you to also scrutinize Dave's description of his talk for clues:

My First MMO

Another proven, veteran developer is Raph Koster. In Raph's case, he's already had the chance to design huge groundbreaking MMOs such as Ultima Online and Star Wars Galaxies. But now he's through the looking glass. We caught up around his presentation at TechCrunch 40, and he shared the structure of his new venture, Metaplace.

He modestly described it as a cross-platform standard for anyone to develop their own online worlds and games. As he continued, I slowly realized that he was effectively describing the holy grail of games, namely a game experience that can be shared on multiple platforms by players anywhere (the game equivalent of hydrogen cars) as well as the holy grail of the Web 2.0 industry, namely a user created experience that can retain loyalty through community interaction and fun (the open web equivalent of WoW).

The game industry has admittedly lagged behind YouTube and social networking sites in creating what Sulka Haro calls "gamer created activity" -- even though we have the edge in interface and gameplay design. At this year's GDC, we intend to rebalance things on that front, starting with Raph's postmortem of his game/platform/community. Maybe we can invent some new words too to describe these experiences, but for now we'll start with how they're made:

Metaplace Postmortem: Reinventing MMOs."

Game Developers Conference 2008 itself is scheduled for February 18th-22nd 2008 at the Moscone Center in San Francisco - more information is available at the official show website."

December 4, 2007

Kokoromi's Pixelated Paradise, Explored

- Over at Wired News, Paul Arzt (whose name increasingly sounds like a louche pseudonym) has a write-up of the Kokoromi goings-on at Montreal last week, and it's neat to hear some of the fine results of their competition relayed by a third party.

As is explained: "Eight indie games, winners of a contest sponsored by a Montreal-based collective of experimental game designers called Kokoromi, tackled such subjects as life, death, and marriage, all within 256 pixels each. "Limitations are a challenge, a puzzle," says Kokoromi member and award-winning indie game designer Heather Kelley. They called the contest "Gamma 256." The rules: Design a game with graphics that fit into a space of 256 by 256 pixels, playable with an Xbox 360 controller."

Also, since I last linked, the games are now almost all available to play, and as also noted in the article, Ian Bogost has briefly been praising Jason Rohrer's 'The Passage', a game that [slight spoiler alert!] "...in only five minutes, tracks the course of a life from the early years, to marriage, to death." Altogether, some really notable creators made some really neat low-pixel games, and everyone should be linking this, now.

Rock Band: The Best Of The Best... Band Names?

- So, Harmonix's Rock Band is, it's true, a bit of a blast. Only a few minutes ago me and my wife were playing it and I was happily inciting her to give it more cowbell during my 'Don't Fear The Reaper' guitar solo (not a euphemism).

But what's almost as fun as playing is going through the user-created band names on the top Rock Band leaderboards, and examining them for irony, humor, and mock gravitas. After all, what you call your group is almost more important than how well you play, huh?

So, after scanning the Top 1000 on the online leaderboards, here are some band name categories I've come up with:

- The Pop Culture Reference: For when you'd like a selection of your audience to grin knowingly, and the rest to sit there looking oblivious, you poseur. Rock Band Top 1000 leaderboard examples include The Potent Potables and The New Originals - with a special award to Larry David And The Hipsters. [EDIT: Ah yes, and a fine tweaked-up consumer culture reference I forgot, though it's not in the Top 1000: Blood, Bath And Beyond.]

- The Totally Surreal: For when you want to be so darn cool that you're practically unintelligible - could be a pop culture reference too, but _nobody_ gets it, and that's totally cool, right? Rock Band Top 1000 leaderboard examples include One Million Doll Hairs and Unicorn Being Stabbed By Stuff.

- Mock-Serious Names: Somewhere in the grand lineage of Dethklok, these names work on some levels, but rule on various others. In the Rock Band Top 1000 leaderboard, a lot of these use umlauts, so I couldn't quite work out how to replicate them in HTML form. Two that don't, but rock even more because of it, are Perpetual Halloween and the immortal Wu's Dragon Wang.

- Wholly Descriptive Names: Finally, what if you don't want to tell people something, not name a cool band? In the Rock Band Top 1000, there's at least one great candidate for this - the purely monikered We Broke The Drums.

As for our band name, we started out with The Rollos, naturally named after our dachshund, but unfortunately the founding member of The Rollos left to go study for his MCAT or something (thanks a bunch, Raj, this is how bands break up!) So we started again with the Gallagher-baiting Rolloasis. All together now... 'You've got to Rollo with it, you've got to take your time...'

So, go on... what's your Rock Band band name, and why? Is yours named after your high school teacher, your high school band, or more likely, an obscure Happy Days episode, you big GameSetWatch-reading nerd? The world awaits your proclamation.

Joystiq Podcast On Actiblizzard Talks Marginal Sense

- In between the various trillion things I had to do today, I got a chance to jump on a conference call with Chris Grant at Joystiq and some other smart folks, and blimey, there's a podcast that resulted, with info as follows:

"The Joystiq Podcast Roundtable returns to dissect the latest megatons in the video game industry. This installment we're talking about the new corporate entity of Activision Blizzard ... err, Blizzavision ... err, Actiblizzard? Whatever you call it, it's complicated.

To make sense of the deal, and its ramifications, we've assembled an all star panel. Seated at the roundtable are James Brightman, Lead Business Editor for Game Daily BIZ; Simon Carless, [Publisher] of the CMP Game Group (think Game Developer Magazine and Gamasutra.com); and lastly the alphabetically prejudiced Michael Zenke, Editor at Slashdot Games, blogger at Joystiq's own Massively.com, as well as blogger at his own MMOGNation.com. Topics discussed include Blizzard's independence, Activision's gains, Sierra's status, the possibility of console games from Blizz, the possibility of MMOs from Activision, and whether or not EA needs some new drawers, so give it a listen."

Possibly the most controversial thing I said on the podcast was that I'm wagering that Blizzard's mystery third team is working on a new iteration of Diablo for both PC and console. Of course, I have no proof or inside knowledge of this - I'm just hazarding a guess, in a vain attempt to be the next big game industry analyst. It's either that or a restarted version of Warcraft Adventures, anyhow.

December 3, 2007

COLUMN: 'Save the Robot': Why I Had Sex With The Alien

- [Save the Robot is a new, biweekly column from Chris Dahlen crafted specially for GameSetWatch, dealing with gaming as pop culture and cult media.]

Count me in the camp of people who was disappointed by Mass Effect. I expected to be lured into a rich, alien world, and seduced by the exotic races and intricate politics that BioWare had crammed into the story.

But what I got was less a classic like Knights of the Old Republic and more like - well, you know when you start a cheap paperback and you just can’t put the damn thing down, and the writing’s sloppy and there are typos and the cover’s cheesy, but you just have to get to the end? And the end still doesn’t knock you out? I could go on about how the incredible hype and AAA-prestige that latches onto titles like this blinds critics and fans to the not-quite-awesome product that finally hits the stores.

But let’s not talk about that. Instead, let’s talk about that girl-girl alien sex scene.

Didn't that soft-core sex scene in the clip – come on, you've seen it - take you back to late-night Cinemax? Did Emmanuelle ever make it into outer space? But that said, how much does it suck that they leaked this early? The gay relationships in Knights of the Old Republic, Jade Empire and that D & D game that nobody played, Temple of Elemental Gay Marriage, were all snookered in under the scenes. I beat KOTOR and didn’t even know that Juhani, one of the female characters, swung that way. (I was too busy trying to mack on Batista.)

Same goes for the boy-boy kiss in Bully. Or the easily-assumed homosexuality in Planescape: Torment (the Nameless One is a sensualist whose many identities swung from ridiculously lawful to brutally chaotic; who’s betting he didn’t plane-hop on the downlow somewhere down the line?). These encounters were like Easter eggs, and they were really only for the fans who actually wanted to hit on same-sex characters – because if you weren’t flirting, then you wouldn't get a prize.

Anyway, when I got my copy of Mass Effect, I rolled a female character. Hey, stop looking at me like that! Given a choice, I always play women, and the female Commander Shepard is voiced by the inimitable Jennifer Hale. If you don’t play as a woman, and specifically as a kick-ass renegade woman, you’re missing some of the most entertaining dialogue of the year. So I picked a woman – but I wasn’t one of those guys who was slack-jawedly jonesing for a sex scene.

In fact, I figured I would probably skip the romance subplots. Even as an observer, none of the non-player characters were that interesting. I met the handsome, earnest guy with a sensitive backstory – who’s a total drip. And then I met Liara, the blue-skinned alien chick, who also turns out to be a drip: she’s a historian who gets all nerdy and nervous whenever you talk to her one-on-one. She’s nice enough, but not really my type.

- Let me also add that the NPCs in this game are a major step back for BioWare. They never talk with you in the field, aside from a couple generic lines about how “This building is very cold” or “This planet is very hot.” The extended get-to-know-you conversations I’m used to never happen. And as for flirting? Back in the day, when an NPC had a thing for you, they were subtle about it. A hint here, a jealous comment there, a few tests to make sure you would do nothing but agree with their every suggestion – and whammo, the screen went black and you got lucky.

But Mass Effect doesn’t have time for that. Your romance options basically hand themselves up on a platter: the first time you get to talking with them, they start dribbling about how impressive and intriguing you are and, hey, space is lonely and sometimes it’s fun to share a bunk. In fact, they don’t even say anything that romantic. They basically just say, “Keep talking to me and someday we’ll have that sex scene you saw on YouTube.”

Like I said, neither of my suitors did it for me. But of the two, Liara was the less obnoxious. She gave me a whole spiel about how her race is entirely female, meaning they reproduce bisexually, and their matings are a serious union of body and spirit, and it’s really a whole credible thing that they go around the galaxy banging aliens of either gender. Like, it just made perfect sense the way she explained it. Also, maybe if we had sex, I would get to father a kid. In real life I’m a dad, and in Second Life I’ve been a mom. But a lesbian dad? That would be new.

Also – and I don’t mean any disrespect to Liara, or any other fictional characters in this game - but have you ever been far away from civilization, and you really wanted a cheeseburger? That’s how I role-played this one. I figured Commander Shephard was happy to keep her own company – but she could probably use a good, hot cheeseburger.

But that didn’t mean we hooked up. No sir. We kept working, saving the galaxy a planet at a time, chatting between missions. Liara was all into me, but at the same time, nervous about taking things too fast – plus, the galaxy’s about to blow up, and it didn’t seem like a good time to start something serious. About halfway through the game she said she wasn’t ready, I said that’s fine, and then – she dropped the subject! That was it. Somehow I’d blown the romance subplot. And I was never going to get that Paramour achievement (worth 10 points).

Or so I thought. The night before the last mission of the game, I was typing away at some space age keyboard thing when there’s a knock on my door. It was Liara. She wanted to come in and talk – but clearly she wanted something more. She was lonely, she was nervous and – well, don’t we all feel that way sometimes? Don’t we all need a little company? And I don’t need to tell you, she got it.

But look. That wasn’t my goal. It just happened. I didn’t get this game, choose that character and follow all those options just so I could say that I became a lesbian dad in space. I mean, how hard up would anyone be to play hours of a video game just for a cutscene? And I don’t even think it was as persuasive as some of the other romance subplots out there – I mean, I could go on for pages about Annah in Planescape: Torment, and that just ends in a smooch. I've had whole relationships that didn't last as long as the time we spent circling around each other. Sure, this was a lot more cinematic, but I never bought Liara’s attraction to me, I didn’t like how little conversation and build-up we had, I just didn’t buy the whole thing – any more than I bought Mass Effect. Liara, like BioWare, promised me a “life-altering experience”: I sure didn’t get that.

But at least I got my cheeseburger.

[Chris Dahlen reviews games for The Onion AV Club, writes about music and technology for Pitchforkmedia.com, and blogs at savetherobot.wordpress.com. Contact him at chris at savetherobot dot com.]

IGF Focus On: Seumas McNally Grand Prize Finalists

So, we've announced the 2008 IGF Main Competition finalists, as you might have spotted - which is awesome news. But sometimes, the information available on the Net for these awesome indie games is a bit splintered - and I've had a chance to check them all out to work out what's interesting about each of them.

Therefore, over the next few days on GameSetWatch, we're going to list each of the categories in turn with a little more information on each of the finalists - from what's unique about them to whether there's a playable demo or video and who's been talking about them. And the first category to be examined is the big one, the $20,000 Seumas McNally Grand Prize, as follows:

- World Of Goo (2D Boy)
[Building off the concepts from Tower Of Goo, one of Kyle Gabler's projects from the Experimental Gameplay Project at CMU, the first game from Bay Area duo 2D Boy uses the hitherto unexplored structural ability of blobs to make an addictive construction-based puzzle action title. There's no release date or demo for the game yet (aside from Tower Of Goo, a kind of 'prequel'), but there's screenshots and a trailer on the official site.]

- Hammerfall (No company)
[A low-profile but enchanting steampunk Russian-developed title in which you control a 2D ship with an attached mace/sword. You swing the attached weapon around using mouse controls, and destroy other flying craft, using momentum. Fun-Motion has a video review and download links for the current free version.]

- Noitu Love 2: Devolution (Konjak)
[The indie scene already adores the original Noitu Love, a freeware 2D tour de force from Scandinavian artist Joakim Sandberg (a contributor to Contra 4 on the DS) The sequel, not yet released to the public, continues the awesome-looking Metal Slug-ish action with combos, new mouse control and massive bosses to the fore. We've done a 'Road To The IGF' interview with Joakim on Gamasutra.com already, and there's a YouTube video featuring boss gameplay. Konjak is also responsible for freeware title Chalk, another excellent title.]

- Audiosurf (Invisible Handlebar)
[This multi-nominated game has you controlling a craft that's block-collecting, matching, and avoiding on a multi-lane cyberpunk-ish highway - but with the shape of course and frequency of pickups dictated by music. A brilliant, original melange of F-Zero, Frequency/Amplitude, and Klax (believe it or not!), the game, unreleased and in private Beta testing, can use any custom MP3 soundtrack and create a completely new course for each song.]

- Crayon Physics Deluxe (Kloonigames)
[Petri Purho's extended version of his 'made in a month' prototype extends the idea of the freeware original, which allows mouse-drawn objects to interact with other onscreen hand-drawn objects to complete puzzle-style levels with heavy use of physics. His official Crayon Physics Deluxe site also includes a video of Petri playing the game on a tablet PC with a stylus, a massive hit on YouTube recently, and Purho's Kloonigames blog has lots more of his swiftly constructed, innovative titles.]

Well, there you go - there's some details on the Grand Prize finalists. Check back soon for this kind of detailed (hopefully useful!) info on the other major nominees for this year's IGF.

2008 Independent Games Festival Announces Finalists

- The IGF organizers have announced the Main Competition finalists for the 2007 Independent Games Festival, from a field of 173 entries, with nominations led by titles including 2D Boy's physics construction game World of Goo and Invisible Handlebar's music-adapting puzzle racer Audiosurf.

The Independent Games Festival website now includes a full list of finalists, including screenshots and links to videos and demonstration versions where available.

As well as World Of Goo and Audiosurf, which were both nominated for three prizes, including the $20,000 Seumas McNally Grand Prize category, other multiple nominees included 2D/3D platform title Fez, physics-heavy steampunk flying combat title Hammerfall, and Guitar Hero controller-using action game Fret Nice.

The full list of finalists for the IGF Main Competition, all of whom will be showing their games at the IGF Pavilion during Game Developers Conference in February 2008, are as follows:

Seumas McNally Grand Prize:

* Audiosurf
* Crayon Physics Deluxe
* Hammerfall
* Noitu Love 2: Devolution
* World of Goo

Best Web Browser Game:

* Globulos.com
* Iron Dukes
* Tri-Achnid

Design Innovation Award:

* Battleships Forever
* Fez
* Fret Nice
* Snapshot Adventures: Secret Of Bird Island
* World Of Goo

Excellence in Visual Art:

* Clean Asia!
* Fez
* Hammerfall
* Synaesthete
* The Path

Excellence in Audio:

* Cinnamon Beats
* Fret Nice
* Audiosurf
* Clean Asia!
* OokiBloks

Technical Excellence:

* World of Goo
* Audiosurf
* Goo!
* Axiom: Overdrive
* Gumboy Tournament

In addition, an initial set of sponsors for the 2008 Independent Games Festival Festival have been announced, with Gleemax.com revealed as the Platinum Sponsor this year, alongside Sony and Microsoft as Silver Sponsors and DigiPen as Platinum Student Showcase Sponsor.

The winners of each of these categories, including an Audience Award for which every finalist is eligible, will be announced at the IGF Awards ceremony on the evening of Wednesday, February 20th 2008 at Game Developers Conference, when nearly $50,000 in cash prizes will be given away.

GameSetMicroLinks: Monday Messings

- Ah yes, even amidst the craziness of the Activision/Blizzard merger, which is probably the most exciting thing that's ever happened on a Sunday, if you're easily excitable, there are still GameSetLinks to be harvested.

This time, we found a particularly psychedelic version of Space Invaders upcoming for DS, as well as some neat paper games and social gaming advocacy galore, as follows:

YouTube - Space Invaders Extreme DS trailer
Whoa, synaesthesia alert - via Indy Gamer.

OgreCave.com - Christmas Gift Guide 2007
'Twelve Stocking Stuffer Games' - of the paper-game variety.

Pop Cosmopolitanism » Introducing the After School MMO Group
'The program involves working with a group of middle school and high school boys who don’t feel strongly affiliated with school.'

Journalistic Integrity and Holding the Line « High Dynamic Range Lying
Another view from a GSW columnist.

mbf [email protected]: Who needs game reviews, anyway? (updated)
Further thoughts on Kevin Gifford's recent GSW editorial.

Return of videoGaiden | Games | Guardian Unlimited
The Scottish wits hath returned to TV in the UK - some promos available.

Values At Play - Designing Social Values In Computer Games
Worthy, conceptually - via Tale Of Tales.

Surreal Game Design » Rejected Game Concepts #92: “The Thief of Thievery: A Thief’s Tale”
Very cute.

Women in Gaming: Ariella Lehrer, Legacy Interactive - Gamezebo.com
Legacy are a bit odd, in a Hollywood fashion, but a nice anomaly.

Filed Under Finally: XBLA Trials Automagically Disappear From Games Played | XBLArcade.com
Thank you, Microsoft.

December 2, 2007

Games, Choice, And The Future Of Free

- Over at FreeToPlay.biz, Relic Labs' Adrian Crook has been discussing a key harbinger: 'FREE is the next Long Tail', specifically referencing this because Wired editor Chris Anderson's post-'Long Tail' book is called, uhh, just that.

Crook notes: "Having read Chris’s original Long Tail article in WIRED and being subjected to endless recitations from his book over the last year, I’ll wager a guess that “FREE” will be equally influential. Chris is writing “FREE” not only about games, but from a pan-industry perspective - which means by this time next year boardrooms the world over will be dreaming about how they might make more money by giving away their product free of charge."

Or not make money, perhaps? The Internet and its amazing capability to create microcommunities is such a tremendous leveler that it spreads smaller levels of income out over so many more sources - whether it be in game creation, game journalism, or... anything.

Of course, there are still spectacular opportunities there - especially in the game business - for the aggregator, the distributor, and the recommender, as well as for the power of communities.

But eventually, just like the music biz, the power of choice and the breaking down of distribution barriers is going to further divert power into the hands of creators in the game biz, and away from massive conglomerates. And blended levels of free will be a big part of that (it's happening already - see Runescape, for one). It's going to be a fun ride, kids.

Opinion: 'Five Key Points From The Activision/Blizzard Merger'

- Early on Sunday, a surprising press release debuted on the wires - one that revealed Activision and Vivendi Games were merging, in a complex, yet-to-be-approved deal that will end (providing regulators and Activision shareholders agree) with a 52% majority Vivendi-owned 'Activision Blizzard' entity trading on NASDAQ.

But what are the major points and lessons we should derive from this mammoth deal? There are a plethora, of course, but here are some of the key points we think you should take from the Activision and Vivendi Games merger announcement:

1. Activision Is The Dominant Partner
You can read this multiple ways, but in general, the company whose chief exec becomes CEO in a 'merger' such as this is in the driving seat. One good, if more extreme example of this was the GameStop/EB 'merger', which concluded with the EB executives and name largely removed from positions of power in the company.

In this case, Activision boss Robert Kotick will be President and Chief Executive Officer of Activision Blizzard, and Vivendi Games' Bruce Hack will be CCO of the combined company. Vivendi is still majority shareholder, but as for who's running the business - you do the math.

2. Blizzard - New Billing, Same Independence
One of the intriguing things about the old Vivendi structure was that, even when Martin Tremblay joined to run Vivendi's publishing, it was specified: "World Of Warcraft creator Blizzard Entertainment has been designated a stand-alone division reporting to VU Games' CEO, and is not part of Tremblay's product development mandate."

And it's the same deal, more or less, in the new system - Mike Morhaime will continue to serve as President and Chief Executive Officer of Blizzard Entertainment, and no explicit reporting structure is even discussed in the release. Blizzard will continue to plough its own furrow, then.

3. World Of Warcraft's Revenues: Absolutely Staggering
And there's a reason why Blizzard have been and are left well alone - the clout that comes with this mindblowing statistic: "Blizzard Entertainment [which has "over 9.3 million subscribers" to World Of Warcraft] has projected calendar 2007 revenues of $1.1 billion, operating margins of over 40% and approximately $520 million of operating profit."

This disclosure separates out Blizzard's revenue from Vivendi Games and Vivendi very explicitly, and shows why the division has been key to holding Vivendi Games together in recent years.

4. Vivendi's Non-Blizzard Assets? Way Downplayed
One of the things that came up repeatedly in detailed responses to Game Developer's Top 20 Publishers Report was that Vivendi's non-Blizzard assets, which includes multiple development studios (Radical Entertainment, High Moon, Swordfish, Massive Entertainment) and publishing labels (Sierra, Sierra Online, Vivendi Mobile) have a relatively low profile, with confused brand messaging for the latter - and their relative unimportance is shown in this announcement.

In fact, all that is commented regarding those elements of the business is: "Mike Griffith will serve as President and Chief Executive Officer of Activision Publishing, which after closing will include the Sierra Entertainment, Sierra Online and Vivendi Games Mobile divisions in addition to the Activision business." Sure, it's also noted: "Vivendi Games also owns popular franchises, including Crash Bandicoot and Spyro" - but those franchises are thus far past their prime, minus their original creators.

5. Electronic Arts: Still Bigger, Probably Worried
While the release notes that the merger will be "creating the world’s largest pure-play online and console game publisher", with the "highest operating margins of any major third-party video game publisher", it sounds like Electronic Arts is still the largest - predicting net revenue of between $3.8 and $4.0 billion for its 2008 financial year, as opposed to $3.8 billion for Activision's (not concurrent) 2007 calendar year.

However, given that EA's BioWare/Pandemic and Mythic/Warhammer Online acquisitions were partly to plug a gap in the MMO and RPG genres - one that Blizzard is already a master in, then... not a worry for EA CEO John Riccitiello just yet, perhaps, but a pause for thought.

GameSetMicroLinks: Sunday Specials

- Blimey, a gigantic trawl through Bloglines has unearthed all kinds of interesting things - I'm particularly taken by the Game Boy vs. Kindle discussion points, since it's easy to dream about a WiFi, insta-download portable console.

But there's some other interesting material in here - and I'm particularly pleased to see that Aquaria, the IGF Grand Prize winner from this year, is finally making a commercial appearance (with accompanying demo!) on PC this Friday. Here goes:

Come One Come All Kongregate
A good Kongregate community blog.

Capcom US - The Blog » Blog Archive » Sad News: Monster Hunter and Resident Evil: Outbreak servers shutting down
This would be a big deal in Japan, less so (though a bit early, esp. for Monster Hunter!) here.

HenryJenkins.org: Why You Should See Spencer Halpin's Moral Kombat (Part Two)
'An important work which deals fairly with all participants and which offers a more indepth and nuanced account of the issues than any I've seen elsewhere in the media.'

The Brainy Gamer: What the next Game Boy can learn from the Amazon Kindle
Digital downloads, accessibility, etc.

Bit Blot: 'Seven Days Of Aquaria - Release Imminent'
Out on Friday 7th for $30, with an accompanying demo. Buy!

MLG TV Show Is On the Air! | Major League Gaming
Just TiVo-ed this - it's watchable and well-done, good commentators and explanation of strategy for Halo team action.

The Man Behind the TheFunded.com's VC Slagfest Reveals Himself to Wired
Notable because it's a casual game company exec - Game Trust's Adeo Ressi.

selectbutton :: Animal Crossing cartoon
A poignant illustration of a touching Animal Crossing story about gifts received.

GameSpite.net: 'GameSpite: Issue 2'
Parish's fan-driven game virtual-magazine takes on Final Fantasy in high style.

Eurogamer TV: Top 50 Spectrum Games montage
There's also a C64 one, to commemorate the new Eurogamer retro section, but yay, this is awesome.

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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