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Archive For March, 2008

Interview: Ugobe's Sosoka On Pleo's Game Design Philosophy

March 28, 2008 4:00 PM | Simon Carless

- GameSetWatch recently visited with Pleo, a robotic dinosaur that its developers, Ugobe, call a "life form." We found it quite complex – sensors under the rubbery skin respond to touch, and Pleo is sensitive to light, sound, obstacles and a variety of interaction.

Out of the box, it "knows" a variety of different behaviors, and Ugobe has been releasing more Pleo behaviors accessible with an SD card.

A lot of interaction with the little creature, then, is surprisingly game-like; Pleo’s manual is minimized, prioritizing interaction and discovery rather than specific instructions on how to get it to do various things.

The developer intends to expose the Pawn-based SDK to developers, to allow them to create, share and elaborate on Pleo behaviors. When GameSetWatch's Leigh Alexander spoke to Ugobe chief technical officer John Sosoka, he said he sees Pleo as… a new development platform for gaming?

A Real-World NPC

"We draw from game design," Sosoka said enthusiastically, recalling his experience seeing Davidson and Co. (Math Blaster) through the CD-ROM multimedia revolution, and supporting some contract designers as they formed Silicon & Synapse – the company that would become Blizzard Entertainment. "We’re used to that world," added Sosoka, "So there is a piece of that. This is the first time I got to combine my robotics experience with my game design experience."

He likens developing Pleo to "building this really cool NPC that exists in the real world." Non-player character AI is getting more and more sophisticated with time, he notes, and part of the appeal for players is discovering just how deep that sophistication runs, and figuring out the rules – and the absence thereof – of interaction with those NPCs through experimentation. Like Pleo, says Sosoka, they do things you expect, and then you gradually come to understand what special, unexpected things they can do, too.

Gamasutra Webcast To Feature Introversion On Procedural Content

March 28, 2008 12:00 PM | Simon Carless

-[Wanted to mention this HP/Intel-sponsored webcast Q&A sister site Gamasutra is running next week - with our own Brandon Sheffield quizzing Introversion's Chris Delay on procedural content - should be interesting, we hope, and there will be an archive after the fact if you can't make it to ask questions in real-time, boo.]

Gamasutra is reminding readers of its first-ever live webcast Q&A for Wednesday, April 2nd at 11am PST, with Introversion Software (Darwinia) co-founder Chris Delay being quizzed on procedural content in the company's upcoming titles such as Subversion.

Interested parties can now register for the event, which is sponsored by major technology companies HP and Intel, and also includes a second presentation from Paul Campbell, founder of HP Gaming Business, discussing the company's 'create, power, play' motto.

In addition, those Gamasutra users attending the event on April 2nd who fill out a post-event survey will be entered into a drawing for an HP L3065 30” Flat Panel Monitor.

In the starting in-depth technical Q&A, Introversion Software co-founder and lead architect Chris Delay (Darwinia, Defcon) will discuss the use of procedural algorithms and techniques to create assets in the company's thus-far mysterious Subversion.

Introversion has previously discussed procedural content as part of an exclusive GameCareerGuide.com article on the subject, explaining of its use of it at the time:

"With each new generation of console, the costs of creating game content, in terms of both time and money, are increasing at a tremendous rate, and it is just unfeasible for a small developer to be able to keep up with such escalation. This is where Procedural Content Generation comes in handy. Procedural content is content that has been created by a computer algorithm rather than custom made by an artist. This content can be created completely dynamically, or can be generated based on some external input, from a user, or a text file, for example.

Let’s say that, as an independent developer, you wanted to make a game in a similar vain to GTA3. You could spend months working on a single city, adding buildings and texturing the world, or you could spend a few weeks working on a way of creating these cities procedurally, the end result of which would be that you have an almost infinite number of cities that you can play through, with a vastly reduced development time.

You might argue that a city created in this way would be far less detailed than one created by hand, but that all depends on how much effort you wanted to put into your dynamic content. Your dynamic buildings could be simple boxes, with textured windows and doors, or you could have the buildings include real, dynamically generated windows based on the size and architecture of your building, which could then be textured depending on the neighbourhood that it is placed in."

The included pictures show that, for Introversion, "after a week's work, we now have a way of generating fairly convincing city layouts with dynamic buildings, whose size is dependent on the population density of that area of the city."

These and other discussions will be on show at the event, during which users will be able to use chat capabilities to answer polls and ask questions in real-time. The event will also be archived for later viewing, and interested viewers can register now for the webcast.

@Play: The Delights Of Mystery Dungeon: Shiren the Wanderer DS

March 28, 2008 8:00 AM |

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

(Note: screenshots from the Super Famicom fan-translated version.)

In recognition of the U.S. release, after more than ten years since its Super Famicom origin, of the DS version Mystery Dungeon: Shiren the Wanderer, our column again focuses on that game.

It's very long this time, and divided into three parts:
Part 1 is an introduction to the game for people who have never played roguelikes before. There have been so many negative reviews of this game, written by people who should really know better, that I think a little consciousness-raising is called for. That's what Part 1 is about.

Part 2 is a guide to first-timers to help ease their first trip through Kobami Vally and Table Mountain.

If this seems like rather a lot, well, it is. I was encouraged to see that it's finally available in local department stores! I hope this means that it's selling better than expected. It seems that there's already a Wii update of Shiren in Japan. That could very well be the coolest cool thing of all... just maybe, if the DS version does well, they might consider localizing that game too?

Well, let's not get our hopes up, shall we?

(This column is focused mostly on new players. If you're an old-hand with the Super Famicom game, here's a list of some of the differences between it and the DS version: Download file. Thanks to Teasel from the NeoGAF forums and Gabikun of GameFAQs for some of the items. Further thanks to Lord Gek for pointing me to Gabikun's list.)

GameSetLinks: Welcoming Captain McGrandpa!

March 28, 2008 12:00 AM | Simon Carless

- Be praised, the weekend is almost here, and with it a fresh batch of newly caught GameSetLinks, a wriggling and a jiggling on the Internet filament line, or summat.

Particularly fun here - the TIGSource 'Video Game Name Generator' entries are _all_ now available to play, former co-worker Frank is masterminding some potential silliness at GameTap, and Kudos creator Cliffski reveals the social meaning behind his virtual lottery tickets never paying out. And that's GameSetLinks, folks. Onward:

GameTap: 'Captain McGrandpa - Memory of the Forgotten'
Oo, 'mysterious' new April 1st debuting GameTap Original, eh?

The Independent Gaming Source: Video Game Name Generator game competition voting started
Wow, 48 entries? Tres impressive.

CNET Internal Memo: ‘Difficult Decisions’; Realignment; May Raise Capital For Foreign Ops | paidContent.org
Not sure if this affects GameSpot significantly.

Watch Castle Crashers levels made in real-time - Xbox 360 Fanboy
See Paladin draw!

MTV Multiplayer » Deciding The Fate of Dante and ‘Phoenix’ — How Capcom Predicts Game Sales
Interesting look at retail prediction methodology, pt.1.

The debate over videogame "addiction" | GameCritics.com
Academic journal discussions on the concept - intriguing stuff.

Cliffskis Mumblings...: WARNING - Do NOT attempt social commentary
Haha, the lottery ticket in indie life sim Kudos has zero chance of winning, to make a social point!

Christian Allen's Corner: Piracy Doesn't Matter? O....K....
'A certain PC title (not one I worked on) I looked at the online stats for sold around 300k in the first month after launch. Three days BEFORE the game launched…one MILLION people were playing online.'

GameVideos.com - Off-Road Velociraptor Safari '1UP Review'
A really enjoyable, slightly ranty avant-ish review of the weirdass game from the IGF co-organizers.

Opinion: Feel Lucky, Punk? The Game Writing Fallout

March 27, 2008 4:00 PM | Simon Carless

- [Think the reaction to Adam Maxwell's game writing article was over? Not so - Kelly Wand, the writer on the Dirty Harry game discussed in the original opinion piece, has penned an editorial explaining Harry's (mis)conception and why game writers matter.]

“A man’s got to know his limitations.” – Clint Eastwood as “Dirty” Harry Callahan

For the record, I like Adam Maxwell. As the writer in question to whom he refers in his piece (“The Case Against etc.”), I found our work relationship on Dirty Harry consistently constructive, courteous and professional.

We got along. Ironically (perhaps mistakenly), I gathered that he liked my actual contributions, so while his solitary focus on our collaboration as the “most compelling fact behind avoiding writers [sic]” came as a bit of a surprise, I’m reasonably, maybe naively, sure that he’s speaking from the heart and not just nursing bitter memories of a grandiosely ill-starred production. He was an oasis of sanity.

Usually in this biz, it’s egos that sink projects. I never got that vibe from Adam, and I think he’d agree that I too was always about the material. So even though he’s chosen to reference the experience as proof that writing in games is irrelevant to their success or quality, I genuinely believe he’s speaking from the heart.

I’ve heard this attitude before, from designers, producers, journalists, even other writer types. And every time I find it a remarkably revealing insight as to just how derisively they view the creative process in general and the legacy of electronic entertainment in particular. It’s indifference to mediocrity, usually posed as a loaded “either-or” analogy.

COLUMN: 'Save the Robot': The Lone Adventures of Steve Jackon's Sorcery!

March 27, 2008 8:00 AM |

Khare%20Cover%20Cropped.jpg[Save the Robot is a biweekly column from Chris Dahlen crafted specially for GameSetWatch, dealing with gaming as pop culture and cult media.]

This month’s tributes to the late Gary Gygax gave many of us a chance to look back at our own days of playing Dungeons & Dragons. Some of our greatest game designers first cut their teeth on fantasy thanks to tabletop RPG sessions, with a brilliant dungeon master leading his players through a brainblowing fantasy improv jam.

Of course, for most of the kids who invested in a few books and the starter set of dice, D & D meant making one kid sit there behind a screen - usually the cover of whichever module you were following, to the letter - while everyone else waited to kill stuff and find another Ring of Protection +1.

But even those kids, who plodded through the game until their 9 PM curfew, had a leg up on the lowest caste of D & D players - the people who played by themselves. And I was one of them. How do you play Dungeons & Dragons by yourself? Well, you roll a character, give it a name, and you follow the module room by room, fighting, looting, fighting, looting, slapping on new gear, and fighting again. You don’t need a DM; you just need a long, slow night that needs killing.

The industry was well aware that they had customers who even their other customers wouldn’t be seen with. TSR published modules for solo play, such as Blizzard Pass or Midnight on Dagger Alley. Invisible ink hid all the surprises, at least for the first guy who played through.

And then there were the gamebooks.Back in the ’80s, everykid who was anykid read the Choose Your Own Adventure series. These gimmicky books were such a hit that they spawned dozens of imitators - puzzle choose-your-adventures, horror choose-your-adventures, and so on. But probably the best came from Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone, with their Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks system.

GameSetLinks: Retro Mash-Up Insanity Edition

March 27, 2008 12:00 AM | Simon Carless

- Ah, yes, a little further GameSetLink-age for your wazoo, and this time, a fairly major cornucopia of linkage, including Second Life-rs branching out into ARGs, for starters.

Also below - a Dobbs Challenge update (reminder - the $1,000 'first month' part of the competition ends fairly soon!), as well as the mentioned/pictured neeto indie yoink-age of 'Rom Check Fail'. And onwards:

Millions of Us » Blog Archive » The Reality of Producing an Alternate Reality Game
The Second Life worldbuilders diversify further, I note.

IndieGames.com - The Weblog - News: BusinessWeek Arcade
Wow, BusinessWeek has an indie game portal now? Mind boggles.

Positivity Part 1: Royalties | metablog
'The main problem we have with retail-level royalties is that they lead directly to retail-level quality.'

Klei Entertainment Inc. » Blog Archive » “Crap” games are not the problem
More Metanet fallout: 'Really, lots of shitty games isn’t the problem. The problem is one of control and visibility.'

comics212 - never safe for work. » Blog Archive » PiQ Issue #1: Post-Mortem
Superdetailed slam of the new multi-artform (including game) mag. Unfair? Dunno. Interesting? sure.

YouTube - missFlag - Still Alive (Portal) HIGH QUALITY
Audio only, but yesh, more covers x infinity, yay.

Dobbs Challenge - And We’re Off!
The first updates in the $10,000 'mod a game with source code' competition sister site Dr. Dobb's Journal is running. Yay.

Online Game Fest | GameFest.UGOPlayer.com
Am helping to judge this - should be interesting, hopefully.

IndieGames.com - The Weblog - Freeware Game Pick: Rom Check Fail (Farbs)
Awesome mashup concept alert.

Game Studies - Who’s Who and What’s What… « Digital Worlds
Interesting diagram on the overlap between audiences for game websites.

In-Depth: Inside Puzzle Quest - The Postmortem

March 26, 2008 4:00 PM | Simon Carless

- [Completing the 'best of GDC 2008' series, this Tom Kim-penned write-up sees Steve Fawkner, president of Australia's Infinite Interactive, discusses the development Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords, giving insight into the melding of both match-three puzzle and RPG gameplay elements to appeal to both casual and hardcore players.]

Steve Fawkner began by introducing Puzzle Quest as a project that Infinite Interactive had to start to get themselves out of trouble after a significant period of poor decisions and low-selling games.

The project had to fulfill several criteria: it had to be possible to execute with a small studio and it had to be possible to pull off in a short time with a reasonable number of staff. They examined trends in PC gaming and decided to look at where the industry was heading.

They concluded that games were simultaneously heading in a more casual direction as evidenced by the success of PopCap-style titles, and still held a strong beachhead with more traditional core RPG-style titles such as Elder Scrolls Oblivion IV. They decided to aim for something in the middle. This choice seemed to fit the core competency of the studio: delivery of a focused project with a core mechanic of fun, easy to learn game play.

When they looked at the staff they had at their disposal, they found that most of them were designers. No artists, no graphics programmers, just a few designers with some basic programming skills. This lead to executing a game that was pretty heavily design-focused.

They decided to apply their usual approach of iterative design, following the four word mantra: "Clear Goal, Loose Plan." So they knew where they were aiming, but weren't quite sure how they were going to get there. Their faith was that if they began development, in the process of iteration the game would become clearer and clearer as they went along.

World of Warcraft Exposed: Why WoW Made It BIg

March 26, 2008 8:00 AM |

['World of Warcraft Exposed' is a brand new weekly column by Michael Zenke about the culture and experience of the globe's biggest online game phenomenon, the ten million subscriber-strong World of Warcraft. This first column explores how WoW became so popular in the first place.]

The WoW BC Collector's EditionMassively Multiplayer Online Games are officially mainstream. A title from the genre has had an entire cartoon episode made about it, features in an advertisement starring Mr. T, and hosts some ten million players worldwide. World of Warcraft is a fundamentally important element to the MMO landscape, but more than that it's an ecology, a society all its own. In World of Warcraft Exposed we're going to try to take you beyond the surface of this fantastically successful enterprise.

Why has this game spawned such a rich culture of podcasts, Youtube videos, bloggers, forums, and news sites? What's it like to play World of Warcraft as a new player? What's it like to work your way up through the levels, and what's the experience of playing at the endgame like? All of these topics, and more, we'll explore in future series articles.

Today, though, we're talking about success and the mainstream. We know WoW has hit it big. What we don't know - what we don't think anyone could claim to know for certain - is why exactly Blizzard's behemoth was the one to break loose from that nerd stigma. World of Warcraft's launch and subsequent popularity is a singular event in the history of gaming. Why this game? Why not titles that went before it, like the comic-esque title City of Heroes? Why not Star Wars Galaxies, a title with a huge built-in fan base? Why not WoW-launch contemporary EverQuest 2, the successor to the original MMO superpower?

There's no one answer to that question, of course. There are as many theories about WoW's popularity as there are MMO commentators. It's in between those theories that I think real insight can be found. As much as the venture capitalists might like to hear differently, there's no one reason why World of Warcraft has achieved the success it has. So with that in mind, let's approach Azeroth as a sociologist might: what drives people to inhabit this world?

[WoW Box Set photo courtesy karenchu121's photostream]

Tetroid 2012 - DemoNetLabelArkaTetris Weirdness Alert!

March 26, 2008 12:03 AM | Simon Carless

So, I've been involved in the netlabel scene for a good few years (uh, at least 12) with my Creative Commons-licensed online electronic music label Monotonik, and before that the Amiga demo-scene, so it was neat to get a note from Jan Robbe of net.label entity on a GSW/netlabel crossover:

"Our own little netlabel/indie game scene marriage spawned [NTT040] Tetroid 2012. In short, it's a psychedelic Tetris clone (with references to Mr.Driller and Arkanoid as well), featuring 21 [music] artists. It is meant to bring experimental electronic music closer to the people. Programming was done by Toxie of the Apocalypse Inc demogroup [who also created Tsunami 2010, a 96k (!) Tempest2K clone of some repute]."

And sure enough, here's a slightly grainy YouTube video of the game, in all it's psychedelic glory. It's a shame it 'borrowed' the central Tetris mechanic so obviously, because it would have been neater just mashing up the block puzzle concept in a different way. Nonetheless, check out the Tetris => Arkanoid screen flip at about 00.35, great concept:

Ah yes, some more info: "All the info/screens/youtubes can be found at http://www.entity.be (blog) or simply by clicking on the latest Entity netlabel release @ http://www.entity.be/entity... Some direct links to the game: http://www.download.com/Tetroid-2012/3000-2111_4-10822130.html, http://www.archive.org/download/ntt040/ntt040-tetroid_2012.zip, http://www.entity.be/tetroid2012/ntt040-tetroid_2012.zip."

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