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Archive For April, 2008

World of Warcraft Exposed: 'The Players Behind the Scenes'

April 24, 2008 8:00 AM |

nihilum.jpgDay after day, hundreds of thousands of people across the globe play Blizzard's ridiculously popular game. It's kind of awe-inspiring to think about, the sheer number of humans all inhabiting the same virtual space.

Most are content to enjoy the experience of leveling up a character, raiding with their friends, or engaging in Player vs. Player combat. Some, simply by their actions or position in life, stand out of the crowd. Their influence has changed the face of the game, and in some cases shaped the game itself.

The word player, of course, can have more than one meaning. In this case, we're talking about the movers and shakers that have made Azeroth what it is today. From literal individuals on the Blizzard development team, to player-run organizations, to other massively multiplayer games entirely many hands have shaped World of Warcraft's success.

The Designers

nihilum.jpgThe group of players that have had the most direct impact on the game are, of course, the people actually running it. Blizzard Entertainment's jump from RTS developer to MMOG powerhouse seems like a no-brainer in retrospect, thanks largely to the people behind the project. Rob Pardo, for example, was a Designer on the Warcraft II, StarCraft, and Diablo II games.

Today he's the lead designer for World of Warcraft, but during the time of EverQuest's genre dominance he was best known in the MMO community as leader of the Legacy of Steel guild. When he left the position of LoS guild leader he passed that torch to Jefferey "Tigole" Kaplan, the man who is now lead world designer for World of Warcraft.

GameSetLinks: Invading Your Space Since 2005

April 24, 2008 12:00 AM | Simon Carless

- Gadzooks and Godzuki, it's time for a tad more GameSetLink-age, as the scrappy late week twilight unveils a host of random web goodness.

In there - some limited edition Space Invaders T-shirtiness, discussion on games and addiction from MSNBC, MTV Multiplayer on what games really really mean, and the best record launch party evah. Black hole sun, won't you come?

'SPACE INVADERS and the premiere Italian streetwear brand 55DSL join forces on a special collaborative PC game and t-shirt!'

What makes video games 'addictive'? - On the Level - MSNBC.com
Kalning is a v.smart reporter, having been quizzed in excruciating detail by her more than once, heh.

MTV Multiplayer » The Problem With That Line ‘It’s Just A Game’ — Are Our Games Our Fantasies?
I guess this is important? I'm just a bit grumpy about the whole opportunity it's given for a massive peanut gallery attack.

No More Heroes Remix CD Launch Report | Game | Life from Wired.com
Very cool, both from a venue perspective and Jean Snow (Japanese artgeek-er extraordinaire) writing for Game|Life now.

Level Up : The Big Idea: A Brief Look Inside the Mind of the Monogamous Gamer--And a Plea to Developers to Cater to His or Her Needs
Croal riffing on a GSW Chris Dahlen post, as his subject lines get parodically long, heehee.

Watermarks and (lack of) Studio Communication « Desert Hat
'It seems to me that what we need is not only a better system of preserving game assets, but also of sharing those assets to studios that are working on projects involving those games.'

Load This - The Web Page: Let the gaming begin
'Gamasutra is to sites like Gamespot what Harper's is to USA Today.' Activate gloat mode!

Gism Butter » Blog Archive » Most Legendary Haul at the Flea Market
Nice, there are STILL early '80s ROMs turning up at flea markets, like super-rare Cabbage Patch Kids games, crazy.

LinkUp: Invading MoMA | The New Gamer
I'm linking to a linkblog post from my linkblog post!

SnapShot of gamesindustry.biz (rank #53,054), gamasutra.com (#13,036), next-gen.biz (#32,396) - Compete
Gama doing quite well recently, at least in third-party stats, vs. game biz sites, should you consider them them competition.

COLUMN: Design Lesson 101 - Condemned: Criminal Origins

April 23, 2008 4:00 PM |

- ['Design Lesson 101' is a new regular column by Raven game designer Manveer Heir. The challenge is to play a game from start to completion - and learn something about game design in the process. This week, we look at Monolith's 2005 first-person horror game Condemned: Criminal Origins.]

Design Lesson: Combat in an action game should complement the atmosphere and feel of the game being created.

Combat is the core of an action game. This fact necessitates the need for the combat in an action game to be the most important part of the game. The combat style alone can completely change how a game feels. Imagine Doom, but instead of futuristic shotguns or plasma cannons, you were using old-time muskets and black powder rifles.

It would completely change the complexion of the game, just by the nature of how long it took to reload the weapons and how inaccurate the weapons would become. Not to mention that there would no longer be a rocket launcher! Doom is about fast-paced action, so the weapons support that style of play with their rate of fire, damage, and ability to kill multiple enemies at once.

In Condemned, the player uses melee objects that inhabit the world. You can rip pipes off of walls, pick up wooden boards with nails through them, and even use the back end of a shotgun to kill your opponents. There are pistols, shotguns, and rifles in the game but they have extremely limited ammo.

I would estimate that you spend a good 85% of the time swinging melee weapons at your enemies over shooting guns at them. All of this is done in a first-person perspective, which is very different from most games.

Analysis: The State Of Midway In 2008

April 23, 2008 8:00 AM | Simon Carless

- [We attended publisher Midway's press event in Las Vegas late last week, and Christian Nutt returns to ask an important question to you beautiful GameSetWatch readers - can this year's Midway break its losing streak and turn into a viable publishing entity?]

Veteran publisher Midway has been struggling of late - even the firm itself would admit - posting losses year after year, with its attempted comeback last year stymied by flops such as BlackSite: Area 51 and only marginal successes such as Stranglehold.

Something drastic is required to raise its fortunes. Was that something on display at its recent Editors' Day, held last week -- chiefly for the benefit of the enthusiast press -- in Las Vegas?

While the company showed a strong lineup of core gamer focused titles to a large contingent of the North American and European press, questions remain about whether any of these games will find significant success in the marketplace.

Most crucially, while many will perform, it seems difficult for some to imagine that the success will be significant enough to turn the fortunes of a company that lost nearly $100 million dollars in 2007. Nonetheless, let's examine how Midway chose to walk tall.

GameSetLinks: This One Time At GameCamp...

April 23, 2008 12:00 AM | Simon Carless

- There's a moose loose about the hoose! No? Nobody? OK, I'll just do some GameSetLinks instead, in that case. Yay.

Actually, this time there's some decided neatness - especially in terms of a Band Bros sequel making music on your DS in Japan soon, some smart rhetoric on the Lost game, a little beautifully ramshackle Daniel Boutros prose, and a cornucopia of other fun. Link me, baby:

Geek Studies » Blog Archive » Locating Aesthetics Between Various Game Appeals
Rebutting John Rose's recent Gama article.

PlayFirst - PlayFirst Grapevine - 4th Birthday thoughts from our CEO
They did $10 million in revenues in 2007 and are not yet profitable - iiinteresting.

Announcing GameCamp! | Games | Guardian Unlimited
This is v.awesome.

Japanmanship: Emotional Design
'I think the West can learn a lot from the Japanese approach, where much is dictated not by the player experience, but by the player’s emotional reaction...'

NCSX: Band Bros DX for DS Pre-Order
Hey, Band Bros sequel - any chance of a Western release this time?

Idle Thumbs: No Promises
A terribly late but really rather good GDC 2008 meta-musing.

NOOOZ: Daniel Boutros' Xbox 360 Magazine article reprints, Pt.1
Boutros, you are an awesome crazy.

Kieron Gillen’s Workblog » newuniversal: 1959
Hey, Gillen's doing weird '50s Warren Ellis reboot spinoffs for Marvel now, neat.

Forget Developers Burning Out, What About Our Press? (Magical Wasteland)
Some particularly notable/smart commenters.

Lost: Via Domus - Adaptive Perils | The New Gamer
'While I've previously clamored for improved recap in games, I didn't mean for immediate recaps, regurgitating the events I just experienced.'

Dobbs Challenge Debuts First Month Challenge Winner, Highlights

April 22, 2008 8:00 PM | Simon Carless

2008_04_17_thumb.jpg [Our sister programming mag/website Dr Dobb's Journal has been running the Dr. Dobb's Challenge game competition in association with Microsoft Visual Studio, with $10,000 in prizes. There was an initial $1,000 'First Month Challenge' prize for modding the downloadable Windows game - and here's contest organizer Mathew Kumar outlining the best entries and the 'First Month' winner - all worth checking out for game mod fun, and to see if you can do better for the final June deadline.]

It would be an absolute understatement to say we've been blown away by the quality of the entrants to the Dobbs First Month Challenge. We thought that even with $1,000 on the line to the best entrant with a mere month to develop a serviceable work-in progress it was just going to be too much work.

We were, happily, proven wrong and there's a strong crop of hobbyist games now available up on the Dobbs Challenge Critic's Choice download section for you to check out -- including a one button fighting game from Alexkr; Badly Drawn Robots, which can be best described as "Robotron Meets Castle Wolfenstein Meets Dr. Dobbs" and Dobbs Derby, possibly the most ambitious total conversion we've seen yet, which turns Dr Dobbs Challenge into a racing game!

We've selected five mods from a rich selection to spotlight here -- four runners-up and the $1,000 winner. If your entry wasn't selected, please don't  think that we've lost, missed or ignored it!

COLUMN: Why We Play - “Today, I’ll Stay Inside”

April 22, 2008 4:00 PM |

Virtual%20Magic%20Kingdom.jpg [“Why We Play” is a new weekly column by freelance writer and HardCasual blogger Chris Plante that discusses how video games benefit us when we are away from them, in the real world, and what brings us back. This time - a look at some harsh criticism of a gamer upset when her favorite site went away]

I’m a fan of gaming blog RockPaperShotgun. I think they write intelligent, rich, expansive criticism and analysis. Naturally, I assumed RPS readers were equally intelligent and thoughtful - guilty by association. So then what caused a small group of RPS commenters to attack the gaming habits of an eleven year old girl with Spinal Muscular Atrophy, forcing RPS to shut down the post's comment section?

A Little Background

I was born with a full cleft-palate and cleft-lip. Like all children with birth defects, I never considered it a blessing, just a cross I willingly bear. For better or worse, I usually forgot about the scars on my mouth unless I spotted another child staring or heard an adult make an irresponsible hare lip joke.

Now, I’m twenty-two, and I live the average life of a post-collegiate freelancer in New York City. I have a cabinet full of ramen, a loving girlfriend, and parents that still pay my cell phone bill. And my rent.

For better and worse, I like to think my birth defect shaped me into this person. Truthfully, I’ve never been happier.

A week ago, a friend and fellow gamer, Paul Arzt, responded on our communal blog to my GameSetWatch column, “In the Name of God.” He noted the power of games as safe environments, places where we can make mistakes, learn new skills, and create. He then mentioned a now popular news story, the closing of Disney’s Virtual Magic Kingdom.

This story has attracted a vocal response; many commenters have been quick to write it off as the closing of yet another Disney marketing MMO, but Paul showed me the unique response of a young girl named Madison who took the news in a personal way. She wrote this on her online journal:

"My favorite web site, Virtual Magic Kingdom (VMK) is closing May 21st. I’m sad and MAD! I can’t live without my friends on VMK. PLEASE sign my guestbook like a petition to SAVE VMK for me and my friends. Pass my site on to everyone you know so they can help too. I love VMK cause I can WALK, TALK, EAT, DANCE, SHOP and play checkers all by myself.


p.s. VMK is GERM FREE too!
p.s.s. and no one stares at me there.

As Paul clarified for me, Madison has Spinal Muscular Atrophy (that likely explains her post-scripts). For her, this game, DVMK, is not just a virtual place she can practice life skills free of consequence, as I mentioned earlier; this is a place where she can live life without fear or shame. It’s a place where she doesn’t need someone’s help to live an ordinary life.

Interview: PillowFort's Tommy Refenes Talks Goo!

April 22, 2008 8:00 AM | Simon Carless

[Some more high-quality interview stylings from sister site IndieGames.com and editor Tim W. - this time with the creator of IGF 2008 finalist Goo! - and additionally, the best damn Rocky IGF montage pastiche ever - see bottom of interview!]

We're proud to feature an interview with Tommy Refenes, founder of the company PillowFort which is based in Hendersonville, North Carolina. One might also recognize his name credited as the developer of Goo!, a finalist for IGF's Technical Excellence award this year. (download the demo)

Hi Tommy, can you introduce yourself for the benefit of our readers? And do you prefer to be addressed as Tom or Tommy?

I'm Tommy Refenes. Programmer, designer... uhh, everything-er of PillowFort, creator of Goo!. Tommy works (Tom's my dad). I'll stick with Tommy forever until I eventually change my name to a symbol.

I literally spend all my time either programming, or reading up on programming or just thinking about programming. I think I've built an immunity to sitting and staring at the computer. I've been doing it professionally since I was 18, and for fun since I was 11. I worked out of my house for this company and had like 4 servers in the house, 4 monitors looking at different computers, and terminal services all over the place. I sold that house to do games.

I had a great house in Charlotte NC. Had a bad ass sports car, living it up... and one day was like "I wanna do games", then this company offered me a job and I sold it all, put it in storage and moved out to that company. I'd say what company it was, but they were total dicks and I don't want to be associated with them in any way. So they can just be "a game company".

Nakazato: Is PC Developers' Move To Consoles Key East/West Difference?

April 22, 2008 12:00 AM | Simon Carless

- [This would normally come up in GameSetNetwork links at the end of the week, but it's worth a cross-post to discuss the interesting question raised - has the (partial) death of the hardcore Western PC market led to the vibrant life of the next-gen console market? Or is it a bit more complex than that? Answers in comments, plz!]

Talking as part of an in-depth interview on big sister site Gamasutra, feelplus' Ray Nakazato (Lost Odyssey) has been discussing Japanese publishers' 'struggle', suggesting that any Western lead on next-gen console may be down to great PC developers migrating to console - something Japan lacks.

Feelplus, which developed the Microsoft-published Xbox 360 exclusive Lost Odyssey in association with Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi, is part of new Japanese publisher/developer conglomerate AQI Interactive.

AQI Interactive, which currently publishes games in Japan under that name, includes feelplus alongside Blue Dragon and Blinx developer Artoon, Drakengard creator Cavia, and recently acquired U.S. publisher/marketing firm XSeed.

In discussing the DS' and therefore first-party dominance in the Japanese market of late, Nakazato honestly states of his company's reliance on the domestic market:

"Yeah, I think Japanese publishers still struggle. I don't know how struggling they are, but AQI is struggling, so we need to look at the overseas market more seriously."

Going into more detail on why the higher-end, most technically advanced games are no longer coming out of the Japanese market, Nakazato proffers the following theory:

"I think one big factor is that in Western gaming market there is a long history of PC games. A long and big market with the PC games, so I think there are a lot of great developers and creators who kept making PC games.

I think [for] this generation of consoles, finally those people started showing up in the console game arena... that's one big reason that Japan also seems to be a little behind in that arena."

Finally, discussing the casual market for DS and Wii, both in Japan and outside, Nakazato notes that most of the titles AQI is working on are story-based and slightly bigger-budget, commenting:

"I personally haven't studied that much for that market, but it seems like there's a lot of titles that don't sell at all, and there are a few titles that sell like a million, or two million units. Although the development cost is very small, I personally think it's a high-risk market."

You can read more about Nakazato's opinions on the Japanese and Western markets in the full Gamasutra interview, which also discusses upcoming Sakaguchi games from AQI including Away and Blue Dragon Plus.

COLUMN: 'Jump Button': Men That Build Pixels That Love Dogs — Heavy Metal: F.A.K.K.2 developer Robert Atkins

April 21, 2008 4:00 PM |

-[Jump Button is a weekly column by Drew Taylor, written specially for GameSetWatch, that focuses on the art and substance of video game culture. This week - following on from the interview with Julie Strain, Robert Atkins talks about the making of Ritual's game Heavy Metal: F.A.K.K.2, working with Julie, and things that matter.]

Human body parts.

Scratch the surface of game development, of the team responsible for Ritual Entertainment's third-person shooter, Heavy Metal: F.A.K.K.2, and it's hard not to be reminded of human body parts.

There, beneath the lines of code, the polygons and environmental shaders; beneath the AI path-finding, the gibs, the optimization algorithms, the user interface and multi-level database of localized text. There, beneath it all, are the individuals, the developers and creatives: desk-bound, human-sized, body parts, coming together to create new life.

Claw into the development of of F.A.K.K.2, and some found there will be livers, spleens, ocular cavities. Veins and ventricles.

Previously interviewed actress Julie Strain—the voice and inspiration for the game's lead character—she's the flesh and blood. The estrogen.

Scratch deeper, and others will be calves, vertebrae, toes, urinary tracts. Thumbs and tear ducts. All contributing something. A metaphorical and physical testament to the Biblical passage of 1 Corinthians chapter 12, verses 12-20. A fragile physiological ecosystem of talent, psyche and technological wizardry, melding to form a PC game, released in 2000, that would deliver entertaining, dual-wielding fantasy action.

But scratch deepest, scratch to the very center of it all, and there will be Robert Atkins—then art director and co-founder of Ritual Entertainment. Robert: the heart of Heavy Metal: F.A.K.K.2.

The proud, still-beating heart, ripped out.

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