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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 May, 2008

COLUMN: Quiz Me Qwik: 'A Russian Literature Primer With Akella'

May 31, 2008 4:00 PM |

god.jpg['Quiz Me Quik' is a new weekly GameSetWatch column by journalist Alistair Wallis, in which he picks offbeat subjects in the game business and interviews them about their business, their perspective, and their unique view of life. This time, a Russian literary game adaptation is probed.]

Unfortunately, what I know about Russian literature could fit on the back of a business card. It could, in fact, fit on the back of a business card even if you were using really, really big writing and a big thick permanent marker to write it, and then had to cross out a bit and rewrite it because you'd misspelled a few of the words. I could name maybe three or four authors, but that’s about it.

I know enough to divine, though, that the Strugatsky brothers – Arkady and Boris – are pretty damned popular in the former Soviet territories. They're like, say, Noel and Liam Gallagher, if they wrote science fiction books. Oh, and if they hadn't released complete crap after their first two albums and were still regarded as masters of their craft.

Actually, the Eddings brothers would probably be a more apt comparison, come to think of it. Yeah. Maybe ignore that bit about Oasis, if you could.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Lazily using Wikipedia to fill in the gaps: "The Strugatsky brothers (Бра́тья Струга́цкие), as they are usually called, became the best-known Soviet science fiction writers with a well developed fan base. Their early work was influenced by Ivan Yefremov. Their most famous novel Piknik na obochine has been translated into English as Roadside Picnic in 1977 and was filmed by Andrei Tarkovsky under the title Stalker."]

The brothers' 1963 book Hard to be a God, dealing with "an alien humanoid world passing the phase of Middle-Ages", is one of their most popular – it's been filmed twice, once in 1989 and again this year. It's also now been made into a PC “hack 'n' slash RPG” by developer Akella.

IndieGames.com Interview: Dan Tabar (Cortex Command)

May 31, 2008 8:00 AM | Simon Carless

[Thanks to sister site IndieGames.com and its editor Tim W., we catch up with Dan Tabar, creator of wacky 2D team-based combat game which has neeto pixel graphics - and physics used to simulate every character, particle, and explosion in extreme detail. He's making an interesting living off selling his work in progress, too - more info within!]

An interview with Dan Tabar, the developer of Cortex Command. Data Realms' debut release has been called awesome, astounding, heaps of fun, and even proclaimed as the greatest physics game ever.

Hi Dan, how about we begin with a small introduction?

Howdy, I'm Dan "Data" Tabar. I'm the 'Development Director' at Data Realms, which is the fancy title meaning I simply run the game dev here.

I was born and grew up in Sweden, but now live and work in Phoenix, AZ. Mostly work from home, but a few days out of the week I work out of the offices of the good friends and fellow indie developers Flashbang Studios. Just to get out of the house and be a little social.. also helps boost my productivity to get into the office environment from time to time.

Have you released anything else in the past, besides Cortex Command? Anything that we can download?

Nope! I've worked professionally on several software projects before though, from a lab at NASA Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, to stints at Rainbow Studios and 2XL Games here in Phoenix.

Oh.. the spacecraft docking simulation app I worked on at NASA might still be on the lab's site... but it's not really worth checking out.

GameSetLinks: Naija Circa Aquaria, Tremendosa

May 31, 2008 12:00 AM | Simon Carless

Eureka! Ulrikaa! It's totally the weekend, which means the GameSetLinks shenanigans can continue unabated into the non-work week - starting with Derek Yu's concept art evolution for Aquaria's (pictured) lead character.

In other top linkage action, we have some kind of scary Donkey Kong Country-worshiping webisode, Variety on whether Activision and SAG are smooching, some kind of Penny Arcade/Marx Bros comparison, and what game piracy means to your kids, dammit.

Gotta getta linked-up:

Bit-Blot Forums: 'Character Development - Naija'
Showing how the lead character for IGF winner Aquaria was developed, with lots of neat sketches.

The Brainy Gamer: Hail Freedonia!
Comparing Gabe & Tycho to Groucho & Harpo, sorta!

Team Genius - 'Boyfriends' - Donkey Kong (Country)
Wha some kind of insane webisode geek R&B ode to the SNES game - via XAmount

The rebirth of grue - Feature - Adventure Classic Gaming
Possibly written as a school paper, but good overview anyhow: 'Interactive fiction is constantly evolving, further and further away from the simplistic adventure game concept of its roots.'

A Tree Falling in the Forest: It Was Time for "The Talk": Parenting Anti Piracy Edition
'When it comes to games, we address piracy issues at a macro level, but not at home.'

The Cut Scene - Video Game Blog by Variety: Screen Actors Guild thanks videogames that use its contract, almost all Activision
'Is Activision the only publisher that's using the SAG contract on a regular basis?'

Automated Super Mario World Orchestra « Desert Hat
'A self-playing Super Mario World level that produces sound effects in time with a massive medley!'

Crap artist can't get job, whines about it - Polycount
Interesting discussion thread (with borderline unfair title) on a recent Game Career Guide article about getting into the biz, from a frustrated newbie.

GamOvr - Pix for game geeks
A new site and a '...collaborative effort to share video game pictures we find interesting' - a neat visual collage concept.

Negative Space (1.0) - beyondDS
'Negative Space is a homebrew puzzle/platform game for the NDS, based on the concept of negative space' - very avant DS homebrew, based on Squidi-concepted Flash game.

Column: The Game Anthropologist: Defense of the Ancients: An Underground Revolution

May 30, 2008 4:00 PM |

Dota%20heroes.jpg [The Game Anthropologist chronicles Michael Walbridge's ventures into gaming communities as he reports on their inhabitants and culture.]

If you've played Warcraft III on Battle.net lately you'd feel like more people were playing Defense of the Ancients, popularly called DOTA, than the actual Blizzard game it’s based on. In fact, DOTA is likely the most popular and most-discussed free, non-supported game mod in the world, judging by the numbers. (It's also been a notable inspiration for the plethora of Tower Defense Flash games in recent years.)

Over at the “official” DOTA Allstars forums as I write this, there are 800 people logged in and over 100,000 total topics and over 23,000 topics in the general forum in the last month. By comparison, Warcraft III, the game it is modded from, only has a few thousand topics at most over on the Battle.net website.

Competitive RPG Action the Way We Want It

The game itself is technically played in RTS format but is often described as “RPG combat.” Many players were disappointed by Warcraft III; some were disappointed it wasn’t more like Starcraft, and many found that the heroes system watered the game down into an experiment that was interesting enough to play, but not fun enough to worship.

Warcraft III match strategies are centered around the selection, leveling, and gearing of heroes, with all units simply being support for the hero. Turning points, victories, and defeats are hero-centered. DOTA turns Warcraft III’s hero system on its head—instead of playing an army with an important leader, you simply play the important leader while the computer takes care of the army.

Austin GDC Reveals BioWare, Disney, Cryptic Speakers

May 30, 2008 12:00 PM | Simon Carless

[Though Austin GDC is going to be announcing a whole bunch of neat keynotes over the next couple of months, we thought we'd start rounding up some of the good lectures that have already been 'stealth announced' for our September conference in good ol' Texas.]

The organizers of the 2008 Austin Game Developers Conference have revealed a number of key lectures for the event, with speakers from companies including Nexon America, BioWare Austin, and Disney Interactive scheduled to deliver a diverse set of sessions for professionals working in all aspects of the online, social game, and MMO field.

Sessions from the Online Games Track, which cover topics on Business & Marketing, Design, Social Networking & Community, and Technology & Services, will include the following:

- Nexon America's director of game operations, Min Kim, will share his experience from working with immensely popular MMO MapleStory and other games in a session titled From Development to Launch: the Keys to Building a Successful Free-to-Play MMO. The 101 discussion will cover everything from useful tips on making games to how to work with publishers - professionals working in the free-to-play MMO environment shouldn't miss this one.

- BioWare Austin lead combat designer Damion Schubert is inviting mid and high-level designers to attend his session on "elder gameplay," Endgame: How to Build High-End Gameplay for Your Most Devoted Players. This informative session will focus not only on the importance of "elder gaming mechanics," but also on the subtleties that should be considered when designing them and the dangers of overthinking them - hopefully with some tangential references to BioWare Austin's yet-to-be revealed MMO.

- Cryptic Studios director of publishing Grant Wei plans to evaluate the customer’s relationship with creators in Engaging Customer Service – an MMO perspective, a session on the many channels through which customers interact with MMOG developers - and how companies can take each interaction as an "opportunity to provide a flawless and enjoyable customer experience." With experience from the relatively successful City Of Heroes, and looking forward to Champions Online, this should be an intriguing perspective.

- Flying Lab's director of development Joe Ludwig will be presenting 'Pirates of the Burning Sea: A Post-Partum': "Well, it took five years, but Flying Lab Software has finally launched its Age of Sail MMO! Come hear the ups and downs of the project and all the things the team learned along the way."

- Internet marketing research company comScore's Edward Hunter will be speaking on 'Measuring & Metrics: The Online Gaming Audience', an advanced Business & Marketing session covering the shift in the online gaming audience demographic and where those audiences are headed, complete with relevant statistics!

- Disney Interactive senior designer Patricia Pizer is debuting 'Everything I Need To Know About Virtual Worlds, I learned at Disneyland', in which she juxtaposes Disney's DGamer project, an online world accessible through Disney's Nintendo DS games, with a relevant real-world comparison point: "Walt Disney and his team built Disneyland on a foundation of thoughtful, deep and careful design choices, each made to deliberately address issues such as quality of experience, narrative flow, party-dynamics, crowd control and user retention."

For more information on the 2008 Austin Game Developers Conference, including other key lectures already planned for the September 15th - 17th event, please refer to the official Austin GDC 2008 website.

Opinion: Aggregation Vs Portals: Where Microsoft Is Going Wrong With Xbox Live

May 30, 2008 8:00 AM | Simon Carless

[In this impassioned opinion piece, Lionhead and Climax veteran Tadhg Kelly examines the recent Xbox 360 Live game de-listing changes, suggesting three major problems and six notable solutions that would silence the 'death knell' for Microsoft's digital download service.]

In perhaps the most interesting news of recent weeks, Microsoft have announced that they are going to start de-listing games from Xbox Live Arcade based on two criteria: Sales and review scores.

In their view this means that they are trying to bring some overall quality back to the product line, probably because they've had consumer feedback that says they are tired of wading through lots of mush in order to get to the good games. In my view it's likely the death knell for Xbox Live Arcade as somewhere to go for great games and is leaving the door open for Sony or Nintendo (or someone else, Apple perhaps) to take their crown.

It's also a move that's been a long time coming. If anyone has spent any time browsing through the interface of Live in the last few months, it's becoming an increasingly sodden experience. There are long, poorly maintained lists of product in there. There are a few notable remakes making the headlines (such as Rez HD) but also a lot of really very bad product (such as the Battlestar Galactica game, or the port of Marathon) and the service has lacked focus for quite some time.

But why is proposing to remove the crap a death knell move? On the surface it sounds like a sensible plan because it means that the consumer experience would be improved. Indeed. But the problems are threefold:

1. Any such system is going to be wide open to collusion, politicking and will reward only those companies who are more sales-driven and ruthless about getting good review scores.
2. It reduces consumer choice.
3. It doesn't solve the main problems.

Let's tackle these in turn:

Best Of Indie Games: Son Of Every Portal Extend

May 30, 2008 12:00 AM | Tim W.

[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 independent PC Flash/downloadable titles released earlier this week - including a puzzle game inspired by Portal, two arena shooters and a platformer by O-MEGA, the developer of Every Extend.

Game Pick: 'Epsilon' (EON, browser)
"A challenging Flash-based puzzler based around solving tasks using various fictional technologies such as wormhole manipulation, gravity shift, and even time reversals."

Game Pick: 'Robokill' (Rock Solid Arcade, browser)
"Robokill is a top-down shooter where players can configure their robots using weapons and upgrades acquired from defeated enemies, crates or even friendly shopkeepers. The demo for this commercial release allows players to sample four missions in total, which equates to more than one third of the entire game."

Game Pick: 'inno vation' (O-MEGA, freeware)
"A black and white platformer created by the developer of Every Extend. The game has been out for a while now but was only recently translated for western audiences. In the game, players are given control of a wild boar on a search for treasure and rare items."

Game Pick: 'Paperblast' (Jesse Venbrux, freeware)
"The second arena shooter to be featured this week, Paperblast is a new game from the developer of the slightly avant Execution and the Karoshi series. Fight enemies made out of paper, score points and avoid the bullets."

In-Depth: 'Quality of Life In The Game Biz: The Response'

May 29, 2008 4:00 PM | Simon Carless

lostwinds.jpg Big sister site Gamasutra's recent feature on game industry quality of life, which featured comments from quality of life whistleblower Erin Hoffman (EA_Spouse) and International Game Developers Association executive director Jason Della Rocca, generated a considerable number of responses from the development community.

Commenters on the Gamasutra article spoke on a variety of topics connected to quality of life, including the prospect of industry unions, management issues, developer/publisher relations, conditions in related fields such as serious games, and, of course, crunching.

Interestingly, there were both comments criticizing crunch time as an exhausting result of poor planning, as well as those defending it as an inevitable component of a creative industry.

In addition to those comments criticizing the practices of studios and publishers, there were also those frustrated with members of the industry who do not stand up for quality of life issues - although most commenters were sympathetic to the dangers of doing so.

Because we felt this discussion was worth preserving and distilling, we have compiled excerpts from some of the most interesting responses. Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of respondents to the original article, still available for reading, elected to remain anonymous, as many were critical of common industry practices.

Crunch Time

"I think maybe we should work toward the elimination of ridiculous crunch time from the other end of the problem - from what I can see, the game business needs, more than anything, professional project management and professional creative management.

In my experience, so much time is wasted during the first 2/3 of a project's schedule just figuring out what the game is going to be and working up the tech to handle it, that the game is really only being actually produced during the last 1/3 of the schedule.

Design Lesson 101 - Frontier's LostWinds

May 29, 2008 8:00 AM |

lostwinds.jpg['Design Lesson 101' is a 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 take a look at one of the first titles available on Nintendo's WiiWare service, LostWinds, created by the David Braben-helmed UK developer Frontier Developments]

Original IP is always a tough sell in this industry. According to the NPD, in 2007 the only original IP to break the top ten in sales in the United States were Wii Play and Assassin's Creed. It's debatable whether or not Wii Play even classifies as original IP. The launch of services such as Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network, and WiiWare have been heralded as the impetus for the gaming revolution, with lower budgets allowing for more experimentation in gameplay.

While this may not be the great revolution many predicted or would like, it is hard to ignore that there are some genuinely unique titles available on these services. One such title is LostWinds, for the Nintendo Wii. By utilizing the Wiimote's motion capabilities to move the player character, Frontier Developments is able to offer a unique gameplay experience in the familiar setting of a 2D platformer.

Design Lesson: Changing the method of input can make a familiar genre feel like a unique experience

LostWinds strength is in its usage of the Wiimote. The game places you as a young boy named Toku. Early in the game, you gain an ally Enril; oh, and Enril is the disembodied Wind Spirit. That's right, Enril (and the player) can control the wind, which become the major mechanic of the game. Toku may be the main character of the game, but the star is the wind.

Instead of just pressing a button to jump, LostWinds has you make a motion with the Wiimote to create a gust of wind. This gust will push the player, objects, and enemies in the world in any direction. Gusts will often affect even the backgrounds of the world. While there is no gameplay behind making bushes and trees sway and rustle from gusts of wind, it makes the player feel in control and like he is directly affecting the world.

GameSetLinks: Cahier Meets Drugstore

May 29, 2008 12:00 AM | Simon Carless

- Ah yes, a little GameSetLink-age for your palate, starting out with the New York Times discussing Miyamoto and throwing out a little (perhaps justified) mini-dig at us in the insular game biz.

Also in here - Yahoo! Games on the WiiWare phenomenon, Nabeel Hyatt on what makes gaming social, and the inevitable and wonderful return of Mega64 star Marcus, berating The Behemoth's Paladin (pictured!) and Baez.

Please sample our delights:

Video Games - Shigeru Miyamoto of Nintendo Expands His Empire - NYTimes.com
'Eighteen months ago, just when video games were in danger of disappearing into the niche world of fetishists' - is a phrase that has NeoGAF shaking fists, heehee.

press the ACTION BUTTON!!: Tim Rogers reviews BioShock
Golden if only for the brief discussion of why Kohler should be disregarded because he likes Fleetwood Mac. Obviously.

Driven - Super Mario is in my ears and in my eyes
Showing some Koji Kondo/Beatles melodic similarity hilarity - via Bneely!

AI Game Dev: 'Paris Game AI Workshop'
Day after Paris GDC, neat specialized free conf thing.

Wii Ware: Is This Nintendo's First Blunder? - Yahoo! Video Games
This was front-page at Yahoo's homepage the other day, showing how influential the relatively overlooked Yahoo! Video Games page might be sometimes.

Les Cahiers Vidéoludiques
This looks like a great art-game site, if you read French. I do not!

XBLAH!: Rant Mode: Microsoft to start delisting Xbox Live Arcade Titles
More interesting, upset feedback from an XBLA fan.

IndieGames.com - The Weblog - Video: Drugstore (Earthbound)
No idea what this has to do with Indie Games, Tim, but it's awesome!

What Makes Gaming Social? - GigaOM
'While social networking is focused on connecting people together, we should expect the best of social gaming to be about creating and building relationships with those friends.'

Mega64: Marcus' Corner
This time interviewing Dan Paladin + John Baez from The Behemoth (Castle Crashers), yaaay.

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