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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 December, 2008

Special: GamerBytes & XNPlay'sTop 10 XNA Community Games Of 2008

December 28, 2008 4:00 PM | Simon Carless

[GameSetWatch's sister console digital download info site GamerBytes has been following the Xbox 360's Community Games project since its launch in November, and is proud to present the Top 10 XNA games of 2008, in association with independent site XNPlay.]

For the first time ever, a major console company has allowed hobbyists to create peer-reviewed console games, and publish them directly onto the console for worldwide download.

Thus, Microsoft's launch of its Xbox Live Community Games service in November 2008 has already brought nearly 100 free time-limited, pay for unlimited-play independent games to the service -- and a distinct need for critics and reviewers to seek out and showcase the best.

For this year-end countdown, GamerBytes is handing over the reins to Robert 'Oddbob' Fearon and his staff from XNPlay, an independent website dedicated to bringing you news, views, reviews and previews of games featured on Microsoft’s Xbox 360 Community Games program.

Here's their picks for the top XNA titles released onto the Xbox 360 in 2008, all currently available for download from the console's Community Games section:

Opinion: You’ve Been Eaten By A Grue - Escaping Game Development’s Dark Dungeon

December 28, 2008 8:00 AM | Simon Carless

[Game development involves a lot of uncertainty -- but could inviting professionals from other walks of life help? Turbine and Disney veteran Patricia Pizer shows how an architect, a naval officer and a professional CSM have helped "serve as examples and inspiration" while working as game professionals.]

If you ever played any of the Zork games, you know that being in the dark for more than a turn or so is a bad thing; it inevitably leads to being eaten by a grue. (If you haven’t, go find a copy to run on your phone or PDA; your education is incomplete.)

Exactly what’s a grue isn’t germane here. The important point is that wandering in the dark is a bad thing. You run into walls, you go in circles, you fail; in general, you’re not the highly productive output machine we like to think of as Game Development.

Fact is, we game developers walk around in the dark a lot. We don’t intentionally do this; culturally we’ve just become accustomed to believing that only game people know how to make games. Largely, this is true. We’ve seen some disasters result from coupling the film industry with game development.

More recently, we’ve seen some better entries in this field (such as EA’s recent Boom Blox) but historically, the track record hasn’t been encouraging. Game dev culture is somewhat insular, like gamers and game devs themselves. Why should we ask some other industry how to do what we know and do best?

Occasionally, we decide to hop on the Escalator of Enlightenment and ascend the Ivory Tower. After all, academia offers so much... information. So much research. Surely there are lessons to be gleaned there. Don’t get me wrong; I’m all for research.

GameSetLinks: The State Of Moral Panic

December 28, 2008 12:00 AM | Simon Carless

[GameSetLinks is GameSetWatch's daily link round-up post, culling from hundreds of weblogs and outlets to compile the most interesting longform writing, rants, and criticism on the art and culture of video games.]

Having just done some rather complex layout work on another Top 10 countdown (coming soon to this very weblog, countdown fans!), I'm attempting to relax a little by penning the intro to the latest GameSetLinks RSS-trawl.

This time round - a little Insomnlunacy about the state of the game media, Momus on games and moral panic, a Joystiq look at developers' innermost design thoughts, the New York Times on the top titles of the year, and quite a few other fripperies.

Good golly:

Insomnia | Commentary | State of the Gaming Media
Not from the regular source of Insomnia lunacy, but a little ranty, even as it praises Gamasutra, which I appreciate. Some good points buried in there somewhere.

Video Games - With Grand Theft Auto and Left 4 Dead, a Bountiful Year for Gamers - NYTimes.com
It's odd how a lot of mainstream critics love Grand Theft Auto IV a lot more than niche critics. Don't really understand it.

'SSH, Games, Blogs, Passwords' - Hak5 — Revision3
The latest Revision3 video podcast show features a look at some of the IGF Student Showcase entries, rather neatly.

Telling stories: Balancing gameplay v. narrative - Joystiq
Ex-Gamasutra stalwart Dobson tries "asking whether or not narrative shares an equal burden as gameplay in carrying the video game experience" to a bunch of industry folks - with interesting results.

New Indie Videogame Movement - WSJ.com
A nice IGF-mentioning WSJ piece on the indie games scene which I (and apparently the rest of the indie world) was interviewed for, heh, although my remarks are on the cutting room floor, I believe.

click opera - A brief history of moral panics
Quirky pop star Momus: 'To recap, our brief history of moral panics sees a pattern emerging which is not to do with general social standards changing, but to do with the same panic happening at different dates around different media. If we use moral panics as a way to measure how hot a medium is, we get something like this: Books: hot in 1959ish. Pop Music: "bigger than Jesus" in 1965 (vinyl, pop) and 1985ish (CD, rap). Film-in-cinema: peak in power 1976ish. Film-on-VHS: peaks 1984ish. Internet: considered at its most dangerous circa 1996. Computer games: hot and dangerous now, baby!' Via Xian.

IndieGames' Best Of Highlights: Freeware Games By Cactus 2008

December 27, 2008 4:00 PM | Simon Carless

[From now until early January, our sister site IndieGames.com: The Weblog will be counting down the best indie titles of 2008, and we'll be reprinting the best here on GameSetWatch for your viewing and playing pleasure.

First up are a pair of novelty but amazing countdowns - alongside a Top 10 for Jesse Venbrux of 'Karoshi' fame that you can only read over on IndieGames.com, this Top 20 consists ONLY of delightfully messed-up retro art games made by Jonatan 'cactus' Söderström this year -- crazy productivity alert.]

For this particular 2008 Best Of Feature over at the IndieGames.com.blog, we're proud to present another slightly novelty -- and pretty insane -- chart, in the form of twenty of the best freeware games released by cactus in 2008.

Known for his broad variety of freeware games, Swedish designer Jonatan 'cactus' Söderström says that much of his work are small experiments dressed up as games. Nonetheless, he has made more than twenty of them over the last twelve months.

So we're presenting you with a selection of his best works released this year, for your gaming pleasure:

Freeware Games by cactus 2008

  1. Ad Nauseam 2
  2. BlockOn
  3. Cactus Arcade
  4. Deep Wing Break
  5. Kryzta
  6. Life is a Race
  7. Lovecraft Game
  8. Minubeat
  9. Precision
10. Protoganda 2
11. Psychosomnium
12. Retro 4
13. Seizuredome
14. Shotgun Ninja
15. Stallions in America
16. Stench Mechanics
17. Vicious Cycle
18. Xoldiers
19. xWung
20. Unfinished Games

[Got feedback? Reasons to disagree? Post a response and we'll do a special 'best of reader comments' round-up at the end of our chart countdowns.]

Interview: Lorne Lanning On Keeping The Oddworld Archive Alive

December 27, 2008 8:00 AM | Simon Carless

[A little while back, Gamasutra and Game Developer's Brandon Sheffield chatted to Oddworld's Lorne Lanning about his company reboot and bringing classic Oddworld-ian titles to Steam - and here's the delightfully pleasant result.]

Oddworld Inhabitants has been largely off the radar for the past few years, having publicly departed from the mainstream games industry following the release of 2005's Stranger's Wrath.

But reports from earlier this year suggest the company is getting back to game development.

The studio followed that up by releasing its first two games -- 1997's Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee and the followup Oddworld: Abe's Exoddus -- to Steam and now CD Projekt's Good Old Games.

In addition, Oddworld Inhabitants got a new president, Brash CCO Larry Shapiro, last month, as part of a plan to "break the model of where games are today in a unique and entertaining way."

Gamasutra recently caught up with co-founder and creative director Lorne Lanning to discuss the decision to publish via Steam, the freedom of digital distribution, and the future of Oddworld:

GameSetNetwork: Best Of The Week

December 27, 2008 12:00 AM | Simon Carless

Even though it's Christmas week, we've still been posting some neat stuff over the past seven days -- both before and following Xmas dinner -- over at big sister site Gamasutra and educational site Game Career Guide.

Here are some of the fruits - including a fascinating postmortem of last holiday's awesome Ratchet & Clank title, an Ian Bogost analysis of Mirror's Edge, a neat interview with Mother 3 fan-translator Clyde Mandelin, and other fun GCG design articles and bizarro Tommy Refenes multi-threading relationship sponsored pieces.

Journey to the center of the Earth:

- You Say Tomato: A Pro on Fan-Translating Nintendo's Mother 3 (Gamasutra)
"Gamasutra talks to Mother 3 fan-translator Clyde 'Tomato' Mandelin on the unofficial translation of the Nintendo classic, his day job in translation, and his localization heroes."

- The Megatrends of Game Design, Part 4 (Gamasutra)
"Veteran game designer Pascal Luban (Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory) concludes his fascinating series on major game industry trends by tackling user-generated content, player aging and emotion."

- Persuasive Games: Windows and Mirror's Edge (Gamasutra)
"In his regular Gamasutra column, author and game designer Bogost analyzes EA DICE's Mirror's Edge, suggesting just why the title "presents a new view of our own experience of the world"."

- Postmortem: Insomniac's Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction (Gamasutra)
"Reprinting one of Game Developer magazine's most acclaimed 2008 postmortems, Insomniac exclusively details the creation of the iconic PlayStation 3 platformer Ratchet & Clank Future."

- Sponsored Feature: How to Start a Multi-Threading Relationship (Gamasutra)
"In his own inimitably amusing fashion, Goo! programmer Tommy Refenes tackles the serious subject of creating and managing efficient and effective multi-threaded relationships for this Intel-sponsored Visual Computing feature."

- GameCareerGuide.com's Game Design Challenge: Eco-Racing Campaign (GameCareerGuide)
"In this weekly edition of the Game Design Challenge, you're in charge of designing a marketing campaign for a new (fictional) game called Eco-Racing Wars, a racing game with user-generated eco-friendly vehicles."

- Characteristics of Successful Game Designers (GameCareerGuide)
"The video game industry is still a meritocracy, where game designers are valued and hired for what they can do and create. And those who ‘do' and ‘create' typically share some basic characteristics, as Dr. Lewis Pulsipher, a game designer and educator, explains in this article."

Analysis: The Heartbeat Of A Game Project

December 26, 2008 4:00 PM | Simon Carless

[In this technical analysis, originally printed in Game Developer magazine earlier this year, former High Moon Studios programmer Noel Llopis provides a guide for setting up your own build server to quickly and reliably compile code for various platforms or ensure assets and levels load correctly, leaving you to work on what's really important -- the game.]

Have you ever given some thought to why you decided to become a game programmer? I’m pretty sure it wasn’t to do mundane, repetitive tasks.

Yet sometimes we find ourselves spending a significant portion of our time making sure that the code compiles for all platforms, or that there are no potential bugs lurking in the depths of the game, or even building the assets for each level and running them to make sure they load correctly.

Clearly, those are all things that need to be done, but if they are so repetitive and mindless, couldn’t we put some of the computers around us to good use and have them do the job for us?

A build server will do all that and more, much faster and more reliably than we could, and it will free us to work on the thing that made us fall in love with this industry in the first place: the game.

Round-Up: Gamasutra Network Jobs, Week Of December 26

December 26, 2008 12:00 PM | Simon Carless

In this round-up, we highlight some of the notable jobs posted in sister site Gamasutra's industry-leading game jobs section, including positions from Armature Studio, NetDevil, Sony Online Entertainment, Longtail Studios, and more.

Each position posted by employers will appear on the main Gamasutra job board, and appear in the site's daily and weekly newsletters, reaching our readers directly.

It will also be cross-posted for free across its network of submarket sites, which includes content sites focused on online worlds, cellphone games, 'serious games', independent games and more.

Some of the notable jobs posted in each market area this week include:

GameSetInterview: The Sweep Of Tilted Mill's Blade

December 26, 2008 8:00 AM |

[Continuing our set of Todd Ciolek-written interviews, profiling offbeat or neglected developers and subjects for the benefit of GameSetWatch readers, here's a chat to Tilted Mill, who seem to be hunkering down and adapting to post-digital life as a PC strateg game developer in a most intriguing way.]

Tilted Mill made a name by making cities, or at least by letting players make them. The developer was born from the ashes of Caesar developer Impressions, and its first major PC strategy game projects were all unified by the theme of urban creation -- from the Egyptian simulations of Children of the Nile to the modern SimCity Societies and its Destinations expansion.

Recently, Tilted Mill announced several new games that diverge from city construction; Mosby’s Confederacy is a wartime strategy title based on the exploits of Civil War cavalry commander John Singleton Mosby, and the fantasy RPG Hinterland requires player to develop a village by exploring the land around it and wiping out supernatural threats.

Nile Online, another new Titled Mill title, takes the Egyptian city-building of the developer’s Children of the Nile into a Web-based online simulation. To find out just how the company branched out with these new games, we interviewed Tilted Mill President Chris Beatrice.

Tilted Mill is known largely for city-building games like Children of the Nile and SimCity Societies, but you've recently developed two games, Mosby's Confederacy and Hinterland, that involve strategic combat. How would you compare the development process for a largely combat-free game like Children of the Nile to a title like Hinterland or Mosby's?

Before starting Tilted Mill most of us worked on a wider variety of strategy games, including war games and more RTS-like games (mostly at Impressions). These were similar in scope to Mosby’s and Hinterland. So it’s not at all something we are unfamiliar with.

Like a lot of PC developers, over the past eight or ten years we trended toward fewer, bigger titles and of course that means less variety in a given amount of time. Tilted Mill did three big titles in our first six years, but we’ve already done three smaller titles since June of this year.

In terms of scale, how did your approach to making a city-building game like Children of the Nile differ from your approach to making Hinterland, which could be described as a village-building game that's a bit smaller in scale?

It was a pretty big adjustment going from SimCity Societies to Hinterland. Even though we’d all cut our teeth back in the day on games that were about the scope of Hinterland, it was still a big transition for us to go through. That’s just on the production side.

As far as the actual approach to the game, well, because Hinterland is so unique, we were always walking a very fine line, and running the risk of being a “not good enough” city-building game combined with a “not good enough” RPG, or whatever. Games are tough that way – if you have some strong RPG elements, you’re compared to the very best RPGs. If you have some city-building elements, people expect a full blown city builder.

On top of that, with the game being only $20 (our plan from the get go), then of course there are limits in terms of how robust each part of the game can be. So, on the one hand, it was tough making sure we were always getting the best bang for our development buck, but, on the other hand, working with a smaller team that was more senior overall was a huge advantage as well.

GameSetLinks: Nightfall Over Theresia

December 26, 2008 12:00 AM | Simon Carless

'Twas the night after Christmas, and all through the GameSetLinks, there were a few things still stirring, in the way of random links. Oh dear, that really is poor.

But luckily the links aren't - and include the ihobo folks (in this case Chris Bateman) on casual games, Greg Costikyan's new MySpace social RPG thingie, the distinctly ignored Japanese horror oddness Theresia from Aksys on DS, and Steven Poole on 'cognitive panic' as a gameplay concept.

Hurray yay hurray:

ihobo: The Casual Players Aren't Coming to Your Party
'Here's the most important thing to understand about the mass market for videogames: these players – the ones who aren't even remotely interested in the kind of videogames the hobbyists want to play – have very specific tastes, and when something takes off with them it continues to sell, and sell, and sell.'

» Why I Don’t Own Stock In Game Publishers »Make It Big In Games
Dynamix/GarageGames veteran Jeff Tunnell is right on the money here: 'I have advocated for years that I think making a game is much more like making music than making movies.'

The Plush Apocalypse » Blog Archive » Your choice, and your fault.
EA LA's Borut Pfeifer: 'Maybe if we work really hard, pacing those rewards and punishments as Randy suggests, we might slowly get over everyone’s impression that games are inevitably going to f*ck you over when it comes to your choices.'

Theresia (DS) - Games - Console, PC & Handheld Discussion - FiringSquad Forums
Spotted this in my local Fry's, here's a decent synopsis of the apparently gory DS horror adventure title which has gone completely under the radar in the States.

Nightfall: Bloodlines: Play This Thing! | Game Reviews | Free Games | Independent Games | Game Culture
Costikyan and Meretzky-designed MySpace/social network-based online RPG vampire thing.

Steven Poole: Don’t panic
An Edge Magazine column talking about 'cognitive panic' as a gameplay state, and asking: 'When we experience it in real life, on one of those days where everything goes wrong simultaneously and there seems to be a never-ending hail of demands on your attention, it’s not usually very welcome.'

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