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GameSetWatch.com is the alt.video game weblog and sister site of Gamasutra.com. It is dedicated to collecting curious links and media for offbeat and oft-ignored games from consoles old and new, as well as from the digital download, iOS, and indie spaces.

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Archive For April, 2008

COLUMN: 'Game Mag Weaseling': Japan Mag Roundup 2008

April 27, 2008 8:00 AM |

As promised, I bought every (well, ok, most) game mag in Japan while traveling there on holiday, and I thought I'd tell you a bit about what I've found.

A quick history of J-mags

From the late 1970s, video games received coverage in Japan's PC mags and kids' manga anthologies. The first mags entirely devoted to games popped up in 1982, starting with ASCII's LOGiN and Kadokawa Shoten's Comptiq and continuing with Softbank's Beep, the first mag to also cover arcade and home console games.

In 1985 Tokuma Shoten opened Family Computer Magazine, the first fully console (i.e. Famicom)-oriented magazine in Japan. With a design that shares a lot in common with early-era Nintendo Power, it was a massive success and spawned all manner of imitators, including ASCII's Famicom Tsushin (originally a column in LOGiN), Kadokawa's Marukatsu Famicom, and JICC's Famicom Hisshoubon. This situation remained largely the same throughout the Famicom/Super Famicom's reign, with these multiplatform mags dominating the marketplace and maybe one or two mags covering the Mega Drive and PC Engine.

Things changed in the mid-90s when the PlayStation and Saturn became serious forces in the game marketplace. Along with their "flagship" multiplatform mag, every existing game-mag publisher in Japan also launched an arrage of single-platform mags -- which, when thrown in with all the new multiplatform mags hitting stores, made for an extremely crowded marketplace. The saturation point was reached pretty quickly, and closures began in the late 90s and extended all through this decade, with the rise of the Internet only serving to hurry things along.

These days, the game-mag scene in Japan is in a state of near-monopoly, thanks to Kadokawa's purchase/merger/whatever-you-wanna-call-it with Enterbrain bringing production of the Famitsu and Dengeki stables under the same umbrella.

For the purposes of my survey, I bought every video-game magazine on regular rotation, ignoring any one-offs or specials (zoukan in Japanese), PC game mags (LOGiN is the only one left that is not "adult"), mags devoted entirely to MMO's (there's around five these days), and mags devoted entirely to girl or BL games (of which there are about fifty million).

GameSetLinks: The Yetisburg Address

April 27, 2008 12:00 AM | Simon Carless

- A little RSS-hunting has produced this new set of GameSetLinks, including what is almost certainly one of the best names for a game (video or paper-based) in the form of card game Yetisburg. Let's quote from the description, for fits and giggles:

"On the bloody fields of Pennsylvania in 1863, two great armies collided to decide the fate of a nation. The South rose, and the North responded with fervent mettle. At the forefront of the battle stood the mighty Yetis, white-furred giants imported from the wilds of Canada to shred the opposing front lines. The great generals strode through the battle lines, engineering the destruction of the opposing forces while powerful mastodons hurled bombs into the fray."

Awesome. Anyhow, here's that, plus some other just-as-good links:

Giant Bomb » Family Values in Video Games
On Korn's Haze-themed music single. Sigh.

'Rebel Alliance' | Fast Company
David Kushner piece on the transmedia Hollywood geeks, including Jesse Alexander (Lost/Heroes, but a big gamegeek). V.neat.

Sex, violence and video games - Rec Room - The Phoenix
'If we allow our critics to define us, then we will deserve whatever they give us.'

Game-Ism: 'Mo Money or Mo Cap'
'I’ve seen mocap save a project when used properly, and I’ve seen quite a few animator purist conversions to mocap since I’ve been working in the games industry for the past seven years.'

Only a Game: Malone on Curiosity
'One of the more interesting emotional behaviours associated with videogames is curiosity – that powerful drive to seek out new and interesting information.'

NCSX Video Games and Toys: 'Lets' Brass' for DS
Play the trumpet, tuba, etc '...by blowing into the Nintendo DS' microphone and fiddling around on the touch screen with stylus-based motion.'

paizo.com - Yetisburg: Titanic Battles in History, Volume 1
More Civil War vs. Bigfoot card game crossovers, plz! Via OgreCave.

Psychochild’s Blog » The Long Tail and Indie Game Devs
An excellent point on the '1000 true fans' concept - it's a lot harder than you think.

RPS Exclusive: Dinner With Rod Humble | Rock, Paper, Shotgun
Rod Humble: 'Can I steal some of your fries? I don’t know how to do this elegantly.' And he talks about indie games too!

Sexy Videogameland: Ain't No Holiday
Heh, NeoGAF accused Leigh of plagiarism when it was just Aaron Greenberg regurgitating the same comments. Amusing (and tragic simultaneously.)

Interview: Acquire's Ninja Masters Talk Hiding, Surprising

April 26, 2008 4:00 PM | Simon Carless

-[So, this Brandon Sheffield-conducted interview is a couple of things - firstly, it's a really interesting window into the thoughts of a small/midsized Japanese console developer - Tenchu creator Acquire. Secondly, it might be our most-edited interview ever, due to audio and translation issues - but luckily, you can't tell now.]

Formed after a Sony Music Japan PlayStation game design contest that eventually birthed the Tenchu series, Tokyo-based studio Acquire Corp. has over a decade’s worth of history developing ninja and samurai-themed titles.

Acquire recently finished Yuusha no Kuse ni Namaikida, an offbeat RPG released for the PSP December 2007, in which players defend their dungeons against invading heroes.

Manager Kazuhiku Hirose sat with Gamasutra at GDC's 'Game Connection' publisher/developer meetingplace to talk about its ninja games and stealth-based titles from other titles, such as Splinter Cell and Metal Gear Solid.

He also shares Acquire Corp’s philosophy behind Yuusha no Kuse ni Namaikida and the company’s future plans for casual titles and targeting different audiences for releases on different platforms.

Collaborating with U.S. Publishers

So, first of all, why did you decide to come to this GDC?

Kazuhiku Hirose: Our main objective is to attend Game Connection itself, because now we have development work in Japan, internally. But we would like to take our business worldwide because our most famous title, Tenchu, is very famous worldwide, so we need to create good IP in association with foreign publishers.

In a lot of the content we make with Japanese publishers, the IP is not good for use, worldwide. So we need to considering doing deals with big publishers like EA.

I see. So you're looking to collaborate with U.S. publishers. And do you want to develop games based on their IP, or do you want to give your IP to them?

KH: We always make our own IPs, but when we make our IPs, the IP often still doesn't belong to us [rather to the publisher], because who pays the money? That is our problem. (laughs)

Yeah. As you mentioned, a lot of Acquire's games are very Japanese-oriented; do you think that it gives you more or less appeal in the Western market?

KH: Hmm. It's a difficult question, because some Japanese styles of game, like the ninja or samurai genre, are very unique compared to other games. But on the other hand, those titles are sometimes poorly managed by publishers.

For example, according to some publisher promotions, ninja games tend to be centered around the bloody, slashing aspects.

If we would like to play up the story in our games, we will need to make more unique content, like in the fantasy genre. So I think we will make more unique content if we cooperate with foreign publishers.

GameSetNetwork: The Week In Gama/GCG Posts

April 26, 2008 12:00 PM | Simon Carless

- Though we do cross-post a number of our more 'freeform' interviews from big sister site Gamasutra (and other sites like Game Career Guide) across here, if you just read GSW, and don't wade through all the 'conventional' industry news on Gama, there's a few things you will have missed every week.Thus, this post!

Highlights include a long and intriguing Ken Levine piece, a slightly wacky 'underutilized licenses' list (from whence the Ninja Warrior TV show, logo pictured above, is plucked), and a neat casual game postmortem.

Thus, let's go on a crosslink trip (first couple of link comments by Gama editor Christian Nutt):

Ken Levine on BioShock's Narrative Drive
"BioShock is loved for many things, but the way in which it tells its story is chief among them. Here, Levine discusses exactly the thinking and techniques that lead to that. He’s a good talker – it’s an engaging read. 'It's about damaging not the character, but damaging the player. I think insulting the player is something... to put the knife in his back, not just the character's back. Because every game has the knife go in the character's back.'"

Dungeons & Dragons: The Pen and Paper Video Game
"We’re still mulling over the impact Gary Gygax had on video games. Here, Volition designer Alvan Monje posits that it’s wider than the usual assumption of Final Fantasy and Oblivion. 'In creating Dungeons & Dragons, Gygax and co-creator Dave Arneson didn't just build a blueprint for the digital RPGs to come; they built the progentor of most contemporary video games, irrespective of genre.'"

The Top 20 Underutilized Licenses
"Time for a Gamasutra thought experiment - what books, comics, movies, and dormant game franchises richly deserve to be made into games? The site's editors have banded together, locked horns, and produced this no doubt debatable result."

Student Postmortem: SCAD's Project Loyola Alternate Reality Game
"Can student game developers pull off an alternate reality game? Is there enough information out there for them to coordinate and run such a project? Jeff McNab and students at SCAD thought they might try, and if all else fails, they plan to document their experience and share their findings with the ARG community of developers."

Sponsored Feature: Interoperability and Autodesk FBX Technology
"In this Autodesk-sponsored article, Games for Autodesk senior industry manager Michel Kripalani explains the fundamentals of the company's FBX technology, which allows developers to transfer 3D data types -- motion, cameras, characters, skeletal hierarchies, as well as 2D, audio, and video media -- across a wide range of 2D and 3D applications."

Interview: The State Of GameStop
"How is the pre-eminent U.S. specialty game retailer doing in this bumper year for games? GameStop VP Chris Olivera sat down with Gamasutra during a recent tournament event to talk worldwide expansion and acquisitions, in-store marketing efforts, and the rise of digital distribution."

Postmortem: Kat Games' Dream Chronicles by Miguel Tartaj
"Casual title Dream Chronicles has helped to introduce classic Myst-style adventure gaming to the PC casual market, and in this exclusive Gamasutra postmortem, creator Tartaj explains its genesis."

COLUMN: @Play: Larn, Or, I Hocked The Car To Buy A Lance Of Death

April 26, 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.]

We've covered all of the current big-name roguelikes, at least nominally, at this point, so let's look at one of the older games. Released back around 1986, Larn was one of Hack's chief competitors for the title of successor to Rogue.

Hack was known for killing characters with distressing frequency, and dismaying glee, so Larn was popular for being a much a kinder game, although still not a pushover. It was one of the premier roguelikes on the Amiga side of the PC fence.

While it wasn't the first roguelike to use a town level (that was probably Moria), it was the first to give us multiple dungeons in the same game.

The Taxonomy of Larn

Roguelikes may be categorized into those that take after Hack (like Nethack) and those that take after Moria (like Angband), but Larn borrows from both. Like Moria, it uses menu shops, the character's experience growth is more important than the stuff he's carrying, item generation is weighted by dungeon depth, and there's a surface town that must be returned repeatedly.

But like Hack, levels are persistent, the dungeon itself has a kind of character, there are "features" in the dungeon that can be taken advantage of or cause problems, and there is a strong ethic of powergaming: of trying find ways to use the rules in such a way as to gain an overwhelming advantage.

GameSetLinks: Trials Off The Deep End

April 26, 2008 12:00 AM | Simon Carless

- Yay for weekend GameSetLinks. Yay for bright sun and opportunity to play missed Xbox Live Arcade titles. Yay. Wait, do I have to be more cogent than that?

Fair enough - highlights in here somewhere include Kyle Orland's somewhat hidden GameSpot redeemo-journo column, Maggie Greene and Margaret Robertson busting out some high-level concepts, and the shiny, shiny teeth of Henk Rogers. And them's the breaks:

The Independent Gaming Source: Trials 2 Second Edition
Oo, Elastomania's spiritual kid for PC, with pretty graphics.

Kotaku: 'Going Off the Deep End: Has Gaming Grown Up?'
Great Maggie Greene article: 'The fact we have "great stories" — great games, great genres, great tropes — is what makes me think it wouldn't take much to bump stories up a notch.'

Hit Self-Destruct: 'Closer'
'Video gaming is exactly like Quantum Leap, by the way.'

GameSpot News: Kyle Orland rounds up April for games press fun
Wow, I hadn't seen the passive-aggressive Cooking Mama 2 note from a Majesco staffer.

The Escapist : Footprints
Gillen on Mucky Foot, who were rather fun for a bit.

Lookspring » Monotony
'Since we have plenty boring-gameplay games already, and plenty boring-story games already, can’t we make more games that are boring to look at?'

Siliconera » Harry Potter and the unlicensed Famicom shmup

Strange Journeys » Starcraft vs Company of Heroes, WoW vs Every Other MMORPG
'The core of the question is this: if another WoW or Starcraft came out today–and by that I mean a game equally well designed, executed, etc.–would they succeed even one-half as much?'

IGN: Gyrostarr Preview
Oo, High Voltage goes psychedelic for WiiWare - via The2Bears.

Interview with Henk Rogers, video game visionary, on saving the planet » VentureBeat
The Black Onyx/Tetris co-conspirator rocks.

Best Of Indie Games: Get Wired Up The Alley

April 25, 2008 4:00 PM | Simon Carless

[Every week, IndieGames.com: The Weblog editor Tim W. will be summing up some of the top free-to-download and commercial indie games from the last seven days, as well as any notable features on his sister 'state of indie' weblog.]

This week on 'Best Of Indie Games', we take a look at some of the top titles released earlier this week - a lo-fi mutant take on Tetris, something kickflippin' neat from bi-annual game competition Ludum Dare, a WarioWare-style Japanese freeware game, and an innovative browser MMORPG.

Game Pick: 'Tiny Hawk' (pekuja, freeware)
"This miniaturized, hilariously named skating game was one of the highlights from the recent Ludum Dare competition, where all participants engage in a friendly coding challenge with the objective of developing a game in under forty-eight hours. Also, food."

Game Pick: Stormbaancoureur (nop, freeware)
"A rather fun physics-based game which involves driving your vehicle past a number of obstacles. A free roam area and tutorial is included."

Game Pick: 'Made in Wired' (Junpei Isshiki, freeware)
"Made in Wired is basically the result of mashing basic shmup conventions with WarioWare-style gameplay, in which players are allowed only a few seconds to react and complete the random objective given at the start each stage. A simple concept, but surprisingly fun and comes with a decent selection of music as well."

Game Pick: 'Alleytris' (Joseph Larson, freeware)
"Coming in at less than 100 KB in size, the strategies you've been using in Tetris for over a decade aren't applicable in this version - as the well has been reduced to only four squares in width."

Game Pick: 'After Doomsday' (Kenshiro and Tectec, browser)
"Created by a team of two developers using only PHP and MySQL, After Doomsday is a new browser-based RPG set in the distant future with an emphasis on PvP encounters. Like Kingdom of Loathing, Twilight Heroes and Urban Dead, the game costs nothing to play but members who donate will receive special bonuses reserved only for the privileged few."

Opinion: The Rough Road For Independent Console Developers

April 25, 2008 8:00 AM | Simon Carless

- [Industry veteran Keith Boesky - who is both a long-standing game agent/attorney and former president of Eidos - was kind enough to contribute this essay to GameSetWatch about why the mid-sized independent developers can get in trouble in today's market - a sentiment that is particularly true given the recent demises of studios including Stormfront and Pseudo Interactive - and how it can be fixed.]

The numbers are killing the independent console (and PC, where they still exist) game developers. But not the numbers in the budgets, rather the numbers in the titles. Take a look at the top selling games for last year - each title ended with a number. This year's most anticipated titles end with 4s and higher. Like the film business, rising costs and expense management mentality moved the game business from one of innovation to one of risk mitigation. The problem is exacerbated by the influx of soda and soap sellers into positions of power.

When presented with a product, the first thing a publisher does is look for a benchmark. What does this product look like? If it looks like something good, we can build a plan around the budget and then give it to the sales guys. The sales guys can go out into the market and ask the buyers if two years from now they would be willing to buy something that looks like the thing that sold really well last Christmas. Sounds pretty efficient. . . . if you are selling a new brand of tampon.

GameSetLinks: An Eyeful Of French Trouser

April 25, 2008 12:00 AM | Simon Carless

- No, really, delighted to be starting off this near-weekend GameSetLinks with one of the finest Continental European game covers ever - at least if you're enamored with This Is Vegas, clover coloring and crotches.

Also in here - a passionate discussion of Rock Band dropouts, the latest Mega64 adorable randomness, and a fake Battletoads trailer for Wii causes Scientology mayhem. No, really. Really really. Here's them links:

Vertigames » Blog Archive » Viva la France!
Whoa, a big WTF on that French 'This Is Vegas' cover image, heh.

PC World - If It's Good Enough for Shatner...
Benj Edwards scans up a storm for PC World, referencing classic celebrity computer endorsements.

Annoying Scientology with Battletoads - The Gameshelf
This gets linked for the article name alone, though the story (about this YouTube video) is plain bonkers.

Newsweek's Level Up: Announcement: With Apologies to Arianna Huffington and Simon Carless, Level Up Starts Rolling Out Its Lineup of Regular Columnists
Heh, that's the first time I've even been paired with Arianna Huffington, for sure. But seriously, it's good to see the 'contributor' approach rubbing off, cos it's a good one.

Shrapnel Games: Digital Eel free games page
All 3 oldest wacky Seattle-styled alt.indie games from Digital Eel (Plasmaworm, Big Box of Blox , Dr. Blob's Organism) - fer free. Is this old? They sent out a new press release about it, anyhoo!

Worlds In Motion - Analysis: Virtual Worlds And Investment, Q1 2008
Oop, was having a grumpy morning when I wrote this! Still true, though.

Results from James Portnow's Game Design Challenge: MMO Class - GameCareerGuide.com
Looks like the challenge went really well on sister site GCG!

Mega64's Street Fighter II Bonus Round video
I'm really hoping Capcom has commissioned them to do a series of these for HD Remix. Maybe? Hopefully?

sardius_: Outsmarting Rock Band's Online Quitters: A Half-Assed Essay (Assay)
'Playing Rock Band online is less about rhythm and more about psychoanalyzing XxDragonWolfxX and wondering if he'd be less willing to quit on you if you dressed your character up in leopard-print pants.'

Play Doeo, a free online game on Kongregate
Delicious Katamari art style clicky clicky in Flash - via RPS.

Interview: Capcom's Kujawa On Revisiting Classics, Bullet Hell

April 24, 2008 4:00 PM | Simon Carless

- [This Brandon Sheffield-conducted interview with Capcom's Kraig Kujawa discusses Capcom's remake strategy on digital download titles like Commando and 1942, as well as meandering rather wonderfully into classic shmup geekiness - which we heartily approve of.]

Being the lead designer on Midway Chicago's recent Blitz: The League gave Kraig Kujawa some perspective on rebooting a fondly-remembered property.

That experience has carried over to his current role as Capcom's design director for the United States and the UK, where he is overseeing a number of projects that should be familiar to nostalgic gamers.

Kujawa sat down with Gamasutra to discuss Capcom's current third-party development structure, the challenges in revisiting franchises such as Commando and 1942 via PlayStation Network and Xbox Live Arcade, and how the company is trying to straddle the line between accessible shooter and brutal bullet hell.

Keeping Communication Strong at the (Third) Party

Kraig Kujawa: I’m the director of design for the U.S. and UK Capcom CEI. Technically I’m watching over the design and direction of all of our titles. I am heavily involved with [Wolf Of The Battlefield: Commando 3 and 1942: Joint Strike XBLA/PSN updates] right now, working with developer Backbone to just get the direction.

What we have here is an interesting development model. What we have is an internal team who came from development. We have a direction of production (that’s Adam Boyes), a director of design (that’s me), we’re getting a director of art, and what we do is we work with design teams to drive the directions of the Capcom U.S. and UK projects.

Every development team has a lot of strengths, and they have weaknesses, so what we try to do is we try to supplement any weaknesses they might have, and then let them concentrate more on their strengths. That’s kind of our development model.

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