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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, 2009

Korea's Dog-Sledding MMORPG: Husky Express

April 29, 2009 2:00 PM | Eric Caoili

Steparu, which covers foreign online games, put up a curious review of Nexon's odd MMORPG Husky Express. Created by Mabinogi-developer DevCat Studios, the game doesn't feature player versus player combat or even enemy mobs to grind against -- instead, Husky Express focuses on nurturing your dog-sledding team and making deliveries to different outposts.

The game, however, includes other traditional genre elements, like story quests, equipment upgrades, and resource farming. It also implements cool ideas like reselling items you've bought from NPC stores to nearby towns for extra profit (which isn't common in most MMORPGs), the importance of weather when planning your travels and deliveries, and the special abilities of the higher level dogs -- some can smell goods to determine the quality of products, and others have a leadership instinct that will enable your pack to jump crevices and cliffs.

You can watch a trailer for the game after the break, and see more videos on Steparu's review:

GameSetInterview: Rebooting Adventure 2600

April 29, 2009 12:00 PM | Eric Caoili

Adventure 2600 Reboot recreates Atari's genre-defining 1979 classic with "16-bit-like" graphics, new sound effects and music, a more convenient front end, and more. The unauthorized remake also tracks players' best time for each difficulty, challenging players to complete quests with the lowest time score and adding an element of replayability.

William Stiernberg and a team that came together and organized their efforts on the Penny Arcade forums released the game for PCs earlier this week. We talked with Stiernberg about some of his design decisions for Adventure 2600 Reboot, including his changes to some of the game's pivotal elements, as well the advantages he sees in the original's simple graphics.

What's your game development background? Have you put out any other previous projects?

William Stiernberg: I don't have an extensive game development background, really. My first experience with programming at all was when I was in middle school, and I taught myself Q-Basic so that I could program some simple text based games. Later on, I would learn how to make custom levels and art for games as mods, although I rarely did any mod programming.

Eventually I sought out several projects over time, offering to do the artwork, because that's what I enjoy the most. Unfortunately, nearly every project I created artwork for fell apart before it could be completed. This is part of the reason I was so determined to bring this game to completion -- after so many projects that fell apart in the past, it kind of fueled my determination to see this one through to the end.

Jason Scott On Platform Studies, Super Mario 64's Relevance Today

April 29, 2009 10:00 AM | Eric Caoili

Textfiles.com's Jason Scott presented an engaging lecture earlier this month at Cleveland demoscene event Blockparty 3 (which he co-organize), beginning the session with an explanation of "platform studies," a growing field of study that examines the context in which games were released.

"It is extremely hard to understand software unless you understand the platform that the software came from," Scott argues. "If you have an emulator, you get a certain amount of knowledge from that game -- often it's rules, how it sort of looks -- but you miss out on other things. and you especially miss out if you don't understand the context in which that game was created."

He uses that as a jump-off point to talk about the history of the Nintendo 64 platform and to take attendees through Super Mario 64, sharing what lessons modern game designers can learn from the seminal 13-year-old game. "There’s a ton to be learned from this game, and the Mario series has really given us a lot to learn from, even if not everyone can get their heads around the idea."

He adds, "We're currently in a very interesting wave of the last five or six years towards nostalgia for these games. But I think way too many times ... we look at them merely as works of art, background dressing, or interesting nostalgic icons to point and go, 'Super Mario! Cool!' and move on without really understanding why Super Mario stayed where he is."

If you have trouble viewing the hour-long embedded video, you can also watch it or download it at the Internet Archive.

Opinion: Redefining Casual For The Hardcore

April 29, 2009 8:00 AM | Simon Carless

[In this Gamasutra opinion piece, designer and Divide by Zero Games founder James Portnow looks at the definitional divides between casual and 'hardcore' gaming, asking whether there's a market gap for core games with casual-style mechanics.]

To date the ‘casual’ market has targeted the ‘casual’ gamer -- but the question arises: "Do the ‘hardcore’ need casual games as well?"

Y’all know I get uppity about definitions, but here’s one term really does need some defining: "Casual Game". Who knows what "Casual Game" means these days? Unfortunately, I’m not really qualified to make a sweeping definition of "Casual Games"(I know there are some guys at PopCap that have put a lot of thought into this, and I encourage them to share those thoughts with the rest of us!) but I’ll give you a little bit of the reasoning that led me to pen this.

This year, Braid won the Interactive Achievement Award for best casual game -- but by the definition I’ve been running with, it’s not a casual game. So I started looking at media use of the phrase "casual games." It’s all over the place, but I’ve really only seen one constant: at this point, casual games are defined in the popular media as "non-violent games," and we’ve begun to adopt this definition.

For the game designer, and for the industry as a whole, I believe this definition to be counterproductive. Non-violent games are great, and they deserve a lot more discussion then they currently get, but to me, "casual" is a play style, and "non-violent" is a descriptor of one aspect of a game’s creative IP.

Heart, Ludum Dare 14 Entries

April 29, 2009 6:00 AM | Eric Caoili

Game designer agj (The Lake) has put out a polished version of his Flash entry for Ludum Dare 14, the 48-hour game development competition that took place three weekends ago. He describes Heart as a "bleak and short 'experience' game", and also put up a postmortem explaining his decisions behind his contest entry.

Though it's a linear title, one which you can finish by holding down the right arrow on your keyboard, its playthroughs are cumulative, offering you more hints at its depressing premise each time you guide your character through the blocky office, struggling to escape the darkness crawling behind you.

Heart's oppressive experience fits the Ludum Dare 14 theme that people voted for: an advancing wall of doom. You can play the 130+ other entries from the competition designed around this idea, as well as read more postmortems for some of the submitted games at the Ludum Dare site.

GameSetLinks: Being Bad, Analyzing Braid

April 29, 2009 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, links, and criticism on the art and culture of video games.]

Midweek is approaching, and with it a mass of new links trawled up at the weekend, and only now being communicated to you, the great unwashed, via the miracle of the RSS feed and the Internets, hurray.

First up is a neat Crispy Gamer piece on character in games, before we move on to trawl through a fun Cory Doctorow editorial in the UK Guardian, some discussion on Free Realms, being rilly, rilly evil in Knights Of The Old Republic, and lots more besides.

For the win:

Crispy Gamer - Feature: Character: The Next Great Gaming Frontier?
'Even in a Game of the Year-quality title like Fallout 3, we're still presented with primary story characters about whom we know virtually nothing, and with whom we have a hard time forming compelling, coherent relationships.'

Cory Doctorow: Game developers find ways to make industry recession-proof | Technology | guardian.co.uk
'The economics of gaming mixes retail psychology, games theory, ethics and legal speculation – and just who's prepared to pay in order to play.'

Cuppytalk: It’s Your World! (Free Realms)
Some interesting non-NDA-ed comment on SOE's Free Realms, This, at least, makes it sound interesting - but can it differentiate from the masses of free-to-play worlds out there, given that its budget (and therefore required player #s) must be on the higher side?

Bastard of the Old Republic Article, Pt.3 - Page 1 // Retro /// Eurogamer
Walker concludes his three-part EG article on being baaad in KOTOR. Good to see EG encouraging some more experimental journalism.

Copperpott's Cabinet of Curiosities.: Indie Games Are Go!
A useful list for the uninformed, yay - via InfiniteLives.

Braid @ Critical Distance
A v.interesting new blog does a giganormous round-up of Braid (tangentially pictured) analysis.

Homebrew Robot Odyssey For DS On The Way

April 28, 2009 8:00 PM | Eric Caoili

VMware's Micah Dowty is working on a neat personal project: porting The Learning Company's logic adventure game Robot Odyssey to the Nintendo DS, possibly with some added touchscreen support. This comes after a month spent playing and reverse engineering the old title, which he says is "one of the games that [he has] the fondest childhood memories of."

For those of you unfamiliar with the 1984 title (released for Apple II, TRS-80, and DOS), it tasks players with finding their way back home from Robotropolis, an underground city full of robots. In order to escape, players have to program their robot helpers to solve puzzles.

Dowty explains the homebrew project:

"Before you ask, this is not a general-purpose DOS emulator for the DS. It's actually a static binary translator which does most of the work in porting a DOS game to the DS, but there's still an awful lot of manual intervention required. I only really developed the translator with Robot Odyssey in mind, so there are sure to be features missing that you'd need in order to use it with other games.

My intent is to turn this into a real port of Robot Odyssey to the DS, not just an emulation. In particular, I'd like to re-do the load/save game UI to support timestamps and thumbnails, and I'd like a soldering mode that makes use of the DS's touchscreen."

Here are a couple shots from the DS port so far:

Mark of the Mole: Music Game Milestone

April 28, 2009 6:00 PM | Eric Caoili

Though never advertised outside of a brief mention in an old Atari marketing tape, Mark of the Mole for the Atari 2600 could have been one of the first music-based video games (if not the first), had it been finished and released.

Developed sometime between 1982 and 1984, the game was based on the Residents' experimental album of the same name, and at least two prototypes were made, an early copy that was given to the band, and a later 75% complete version that former Atari designer Greg Easter lost after he left the company.

Easter explains the game:

"First a line of music plays (one of the songs from the Residents' Mark of the Mole record) - you are a mole with a hammer who travels down into a cave and taps on walls with a hammer. Different parts of the cave make different musical notes, and when you find the next note you need to complete the line of music which was just played.

You are building a song note by note, and you have to remember the tone of the next note you need in order to get it right. Each time you play the caves are different, so you can't just remember where to go. The game actually teaches you what is called 'perfect pitch' in music - the ability to hear notes and know where they are on the staff."

While the game is now lost and perhaps never to be found again, Easter sold off a collection of materials from Mark of the Mole late last year, including sheet music written by the Residents, three polaroids of the game, and a page of programming notes that described how to convert code into musical notes on the Atari 2600.

Opinion: The Breadth Of Game Design

April 28, 2009 4:00 PM | Simon Carless

[In this new opinion piece, BioShock 2 lead level designer Jean-Paul LeBreton looks to the past, present and future of gameplay mechanics, and how designers may use them to adequately reflect true human experience.]

As of 2009, the game industry seems to want two fairly contradictory1 things:

- Make games, using proven mechanics from the last 20 years, that sell millions of copies.
- Give people a broad range of experiences that affect them as powerfully as those found in other forms of art.

Let's link to two visual aids to help with this:

- The Onion: Hot New Video Game Consists Solely Of Shooting People Point-Blank In The Face
- God Of War: Chains Of Olympus in-game video (Ignore the kid yammering over the video, until about 1:10 in, for the quicktime event sequence.2.)

We can debate whether encompassing a broader range of human experience is indeed a goal of importance, but if even a God of War game feels the need to have scenes that evoke strong emotions, you might at least concede that it’s something many developers seem interested in furthering.

To cut right to the heart of the conflict I see here, I don’t think we as developers can continue holding our breath and waiting for games that revolve around shooting, driving, running and jumping to someday make a great leap into expressing all kinds of things they were heretofore incapable of.

For Hip-Hop Heads: Console Wars Beat Tapes

April 28, 2009 2:00 PM | Eric Caoili

Cortez " Ferno" Almanza released The Console Wars, a series of beat tapes collecting instrumentals from artists like Darkseid (presumably not the actual DC Comics villain) and Stir Crazy who've remixed memorable video game songs into bass-heavy rap tracks. While they're not the sort of productions you'd hold up against J Dilla or El-P's catalogs, I wouldn't mind if they popped up in iTunes during a random shuffle listen either.

BLU LYC's "Welcome to tha Doom", a track mixing gun blasts with a looped voice sample from Sega's Altered Beast, is surprisingly listenable, more so than Lil' Wayne's flip of the similar "A Milli" beat (which my wife refuses to let me play in the car). Another highlight from the two Console Wars volumes is Chane's "Supa Mario", a laid back tune recalling Super Mario World.

You can download the albums at the following Mediafire links: The Console Wars 1 and The Console Wars 2

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