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Archive For January, 2010

Analysis: Mass Effect 2's Surprising Genre Experiment

January 31, 2010 12:00 PM | Simon Carless

[Our own Chris Remo analyzes the surprisingly comprehensive changes made to BioWare's much-awaited sequel Mass Effect 2, wondering if it'll serve as "template... or genre experiment" to games that follow.]

As I played the first few hours of Mass Effect 2, I found myself constantly surprised -- not by the early twist which allows for a clean break between the plot of Mass Effect and its sequel, but by how much of the game had been heavily redesigned.

Having now completed the game, I find myself wondering whether BioWare has managed to codify a genre whose relative rarity I have often found odd: the action-game-with-classes-and-dialogue, to coin a clumsy phrase.

Nearly every major player-exposed gameplay system from the first game was considerably tweaked or completely redesigned by the BioWare development team, and nearly all of these changes work to streamline or simplify the game's overall flow and system management.

The original Mass Effect was described as an action-RPG hybrid, thanks in large part to the inspiration it drew from the currently very fashionable third-person cover shooter genre. Mass Effect 2 moves much farther in the action direction.

The Big Changes

It's worth listing Mass Effect 2's noticeably altered mechanics, because direct sequels released two years later are rarely overhauled this comprehensively. They include the following: experience point gain and leveling, skill trees, mission resolution, combat and cover, squad combat control, equipment management, weapon upgrades, squadmate weapon choices, interplanetary travel, clothing and armor customization, hacking and decryption mini-games, resource management, minor planet exploration, and probably more.

In some cases, systems were effectively removed, such as the standalone inventory system and grenades. And in the PC version of the game, even many of the default key mappings were changed (I don't have an Xbox 360 version handy to compare).

COLUMN: 'Game Mag Weaseling': PC Game Mag Obscurity

January 31, 2010 12:00 AM |

pcgames-8901.jpg   pcgames-8912.jpg

Frank Cifaldi, who writes for 1UP and has his own site at Lost Levels, has recently been doing some work collating as many photos as he can find of the Winter 1990 Consumer Electronics Show, back when CES was the biggest trade show for the video-game industry. The results have led to some pretty fascinating discoveries (NEC had a surprisingly enormous booth for what would eventually become the TurboGrafx-16, for one), but that's not what this column is about.

One page Frank found (from a 1990 issue of Famicom Tsushin) has a photo of some American game magazines, one of which has "PC" on the cover but is otherwise obscured. He showed me the page and asked me what other PC mags existed in 1990 apart from Computer Gaming World. The fact he didn't know about the existence of PC Games magazine isn't that surprising to me -- it sort of indicates the problems that title had throughout its surprisingly long history.

Special: The Best Of The 2009 Demoscene, Part 2 - 64k and 4k

January 30, 2010 12:00 PM |

charts_intro%20copy.jpg[In the latest of an occasional series of demoscene-related posts on GameSetWatch before, AteBit's Paul 'EvilPaul' Grenfell presents a multi-part retrospective on 2009's best demos - continuing with the top real-time rendered intros that fit into just 64kb or 4kb in size. Previously: best demos.]

Continuing our round up of 2009's demoscene offerings, this time we'll take at look at PC 64k and 4k intros. Intros follow roughly the same criteria as demos except for one major difference: size. 64k intros must fit all of their code and data into a measly 65536 bytes. 4K intros take this size limitation even further, and cram everything into just 4096 bytes.

For comparison, the logo on the front page of Google's site is over 8k in size, and just 0.4 seconds of CD quality audio would blow your entire 64k budget. Bear this in mind, then, as you look at what people with the right skills can do in such tiny amounts of space.

64K Intros

The 64k scene still hasn't found its feet after the highs of the early to mid noughties, when the likes of Conspiracy, Fairlight and Farbrausch fought for 1st place on a yearly basis. Since these guys stepped out of the limelight a few years ago there's been a bit of a power vacuum, with no-one really stepping up to the plate to take over the fight.

This year felt particularly empty, with few high quality releases, and even fewer of them particularly standing out from the crowd. As a result, I'm only including my top 5 picks from this category, and I found it incredibly difficult to put them into any order - I was even tempted not to put them into any order at all.

1st: Hotel Bar Heroes by Portal Process

A lovely rendering style and strong soundtrack in this intro from Portal Process. The group have been around since the late 90's but this is their first 64k intro.

Best Of Indie Games: It's a Piece of Cake

January 30, 2010 12:00 AM | Tim W.

[Every week, IndieGames.com: The Weblog co-editor Tim W. will be summing up some of the top free-to-download and commercial indie games from the last seven days 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 over this last week.

The delights in this edition include an action game that redefines rocket jumps, a platformer that will test your patience and skills, a first-person roguelike game that lets you take control of nine party members at the same time, a 2D platform game that features cakes prominently, and a browser-based remake of the old arcade classic Qix.

Here's the highlights from the last seven days:

Game Pick: 'Lethal Application' (Daisessen, freeware)
"Lethal Application is a 2D action game that introduces a unique gameplay system for moving your character around each stage. Instead of a jump button that most players are accustomed to, we have here a weapon so strong that its recoil effect can propel the protagonist in the opposite of her shot direction."

Game Pick: 'Flood the Chamber' (Matt Scorah, freeware)
"In Flood the Chamber your job is to help the prisoner escape the chamber, reaching the top of the screen before the advancing water level reaches our agile rogue. A warning: you will not complete this on your first attempt. Or your second. Or your... well, let's put it another way - if you manage to complete the game, you have some serious skills."

Game Pick: 'ro9' (Justin Smith, freeware)
"ro9 is a turn-based role-playing game in which you get to control the actions of nine different characters at the same time, using only one set of controls for all. The objective here is to get all of your heroes down to the ninth and last level of the dungeon to loot the treasure, although you can still win if some of them succumb to their injuries before reaching the goal."

Game Pick: 'Paper Cakes' (HUSCK, browser)
"Paper Cakes is a clever puzzle platformer in which you play as a character who has a craving for cakes. The gimmick here is that each level is drawn on both sides of a paper, and to reach the cake you would have to fold the paper and form new platforms to walk on or make the geometrical-shaped creatures disappear."

Game Pick: 'Reclamation' (Zeke Brill, browser)
"Reclamation is a browser-based remake of the classic arcade game Qix, in which players have to claim a certain percentage of each level as their own to progress. This is achieved by drawing a closed shape around enemies while trying to avoid a collision with any of them. There are a couple of power-up items to collect, ranging from those that reward you with a boost ability, missiles, and even a shockwave weapon that eliminates just about all anthropods in close proximity."

Korg DS-10 Plus Music Tool For DS Hits U.S. In 2 Weeks

January 29, 2010 4:00 PM | Eric Caoili

Xseed has revealed that Korg DS-10 Plus, its music creation program for the Nintendo DS based on the Korg MS-10 synthesizer, will ship to U.S. stores on February 16th with a $30 price tag. As with the original Korg DS-10 released in 2008, the software is geared for both professional and aspiring musicians, giving them inexpensive access to emulated synthesizers and drum machines.

The program's new features include an expanded song mode with programmable track mute and realtime edit. Xseed notes that if you have a DSi, the software uses a "Dual DS-10" mode, in which the Analog Synth Simulator increases from 2 to 4, the Drum Machine increases from 1 to 2, and a 12 Track Sequencer becomes available (as opposed to the standard 6-Track Sequencer).

I've no idea how Xseed can justify bringing over the Korg DS-10 series to the States considering the software's niche audience here, but God bless them for doing so, especially since Nintendo DSi's region-locking prevents importers from running Japanese copies of Korg DS-10 Plus. Also, this time around, the publisher has arranged it so consumers can buy the software from retail locations and not just online shops.

For those of you that still don't understand how a simple DS application can help musicians, I've included three videos below of artists that have integrated Korg DS-10 Plus into their setups. Also, if you remember that odd but awesome chiptune performance by Omodaka, he was also using the original Korg DS-10 in his act.

Round-Up: Gamasutra Network Jobs, Week Of January 29

January 29, 2010 3:00 PM | Simon Carless

In our latest employment-specific round-up, we highlight some of the notable jobs posted in big sister site Gamasutra's industry-leading game jobs section this week, including positions from 38 Studios, Vicarious Visions 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 this week include:

38 Studios: User Interface Engineer
"Would you like to become part of the team that includes the creative visionaries behind Drizzt Do’Urden and Spawn? 38 Studios is currently seeking a User Interface Engineer to join our Engineering department. This is a full-time position with competitive salary, full benefits and 401(k), and the chance to be part of online gaming history!"

Bungie: Gameplay Design Lead
"Do you love the challenge of designing great gameplay? Do you have 10 ideas on how to make Halo’s player interface better? Do you hate that moment in a game when you realize that you’ve found the ultimate powerful weapon, making all others pointless? Are you an experienced game designer looking to work on AAA games with talented and passionate people in a team environment? If so we have the job for you! Bungie Studios is looking for a passionate, creative and hard-working Gameplay Design Lead for our next project."

World Of Goo On A Multi-Touch Screen

January 29, 2010 2:00 PM | Eric Caoili

This neat multi-touch table demonstration of 2D Boy's puzzle game World of Goo was hacked together at Berlin's 26th Chaos Communication Congress (26C3) last December. According to Youtube poster Inh2l, this setup uses the Linux edition of the game (which supports multiple mice) with the Vinput software suite to make World of Goo work on supported multi-touch devices.

This video reminded me that 2D Boy revealed plans to develop an iPhone version of World of Goo last October and actually managed to get it "running well" on the iPhone 3GS -- I hope they're still working on the project. Considering that the upcoming iPad will be able to play iPhone games, I imagine that World of Goo for iPad would look/play a lot like this!

[Via 2D Boy]

In-Depth: Analyzing Xbox Live Indie Games Sales For 2009

January 29, 2010 12:00 PM | Simon Carless

[In this piece, GamerBytes editor Ryan Langley analyzes performance data and sales for Xbox Live Indie Games in 2009 -- and concludes the Xbox 360 service is becoming a much more promising way for developers to reach console gamers with hobbyist titles.]

We've been keeping a close eye on the Xbox Live Indie Games scene for some time now, and while it had a bit of a rough beginning, we’ve seen numerous additions to the service: a ratings system, Avatar support, an entirely new name, and new pricing tiers. Finding the sweet spot for hobbyist and user-submitted indie games has been a long process, but there's definitely been some progress.

Major Nelson may have released the Top 20 XBL Indie games for 2009, but it’s thanks to the participants of the official XNA forums -- including many of the developers -- that we have sales data for their games over the year, and thus a much clearer picture.

The below graph shows the sales of the games, the amount of trial versions of the game that were downloaded, the conversion percentage from trial to sale, the price and the money made by the developer itself.

The money made by a developer on any XBLIG game is 70% of its selling price – Microsoft picks up 30% of each sale:

Road To The IGF: Sidhe's Shatter

January 29, 2010 11:00 AM | Simon Carless

[In the latest Road to the IGF interview with 2010 Independent Games Festival finalists, we speak with Sidhe Interactive's Mario Wynands about the PSN Game Shatter, nominated in the audio category.]

In its gameplay, concept, and audio, Sidhe Interactive's brick-breaking PlayStation Network game Shatter for PlayStation 3 is a nostalgic throwback, albeit injected with a thoroughly modern vibe.

The audio work for the downloadable PSN game, highlighted by an outstanding soundtrack by Jeramiah "Module" Ross, was enough to earn an audio nomination for the 2010 Independent Games Festival Awards.

Here, Mario Wynands, managing director for New Zealand-based Sidhe, offers some background behind the making of Shatter's audio, describes his excitement for the evolution of the indie game development scene, and why nostalgia isn't necessarily the "driving force" behind the popularity of retro-inspired games.

What kind of background do you have making games?

Sidhe has been around for over a decade now, and was personally my first foray into formal game development aside from a few stop-start efforts when growing up. Over that time the studio has developed a number of titles across many different platforms and genres.

In recent years, we have put much more focus onto creating new and original titles that we can self publish via digital distribution, which has generated titles such as GripShift and more recently, Shatter.

IGF Finalist Cogs Rotates Into iPhone

January 29, 2010 10:00 AM | Eric Caoili

Lazy 8 Studios's Cogs -- recently shortlisted for the 2010 Independent Games Festival's Excellence in Design category -- is now available on iPhonefor $.99 (11 levels, with four additional 10-stage downloadable packs at $.99 each).

As with the PC version (download a free demo here), Cogs for iPhone challenges players with a series of 2D and 3D puzzles in which you slide tiles containing gears, pipes, balloons, chimes, wheels, and more to build different contraptions. The game features three modes: the standard Inventor Mode; Time Challenge mode, for solving puzzles in 30 seconds, and Move Challenge, for finding 10-move solutions.

The iPhone edition also includes several social gaming features such as challenges, achievements, leaderboards, and integration with social networks, made possible with the integration of Chillingo's Crystal platform. You can see more screenshots of Cogs at publisher Chillingo's site.

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