Our Steam Game on Sale! Launching in 6 Days

Our Steam Game Goes on Sale in a Few Days

I’m happy to announce that our Steam game goes on sale in less than a week! The project is the brainchild of my client, David Nguyen, and it’s titled Crimson Sword Saga: The Peloran Wars. Built in RPG Maker, it’s a “visual novel,” a role-playing game (RPG) in the style of Final Fantasy and Tactics Ogre.

There’s a lot of turn-based monster-smashing fun, but it’s also an epic story exploring the lives of a case of 57 characters over the span of 74 chapters. Building out these characters and giving them all human concerns, quirks, and dreams was a true privilege and I thank David for bringing me this project.

If you’re interested, check out The Peloran Wars on Steam! From the game page, you can add it to your Steam wishlist, visit the game website (where you can download the free five-chapter demo!), or… in a few days… buy the game!

Okay, here are some screenshots:

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Gauntlet Revived: Reworking a Classic

Just saw this trailer for the reboot of the arcade original, and it’s well done. It shows how the gameplay echoes the original, and even more importantly, it’s humorous. I like how the arrowshot at the beginning draws you through the story it’s telling.

The new game can be found on Steam.

An Indie Game Afternoon

Indie Game Madness at Fantastic Fest

Spent a chunk of the afternoon at the “Fantastic Arcade,” something I had no idea existed until a few weeks ago.

I was pretty impressed with the polish on most of these games, which are ripe and ready for DLC publication. Some of them are doubtlessly soon to hit Xbox Live and the Playstation Network. Here are some snaps of the most notable indie games my friends and I saw, but it was impossible to see them all in the time we had.

If you’re a developer on one of these games and want me to pull any of these images for any reason, or if you’d like a full review, just say the word.

Papo Y Yo

This charming game was a little rough around the edges, but has some promise. This shot shows one of the best sequences, where you (the little boy) lift a cardboard house, only to see a full-sized house on the opposite side of the gorge rip out of its foundations and hover in the air, mirroring the movements of the cardboard one. The protagonist also works with a little robot, reminding me of Ico gameplay, which the producer acknowledged as an influence.

Journey

Coincidentally, this game, another Ico-influenced experience as far as I can tell, was right across the aisle. I think our new pal Lauren said it’s from the same devs as the indie game Flower. Gorgeous minimalist art design.

Sideway

My friend Daniel was especially impressed (as was I) with the innovation of this title. You play as a graffiti character, and when you pass between, say, sidewalk and wall, the perspective shifts and suddenly you’re looking at a new set of Mario-esque challenges and rewards on that new plane.

Closure

Reminiscent of a top-notch Flash game, Closure’s gameplay seems to focus (ha ha) on the challenge of arranging floodlights so they properly light your path ahead. The moody grayscale environments and character design add to the flavah.

Fez

Like Sideway, this is another Paper Mario-esque game that puts rotating/alternating 2D gameplay in a 3D context. Very popular with attendees, featuring attractive yet chunky 8-bit style graphics.

Are Games and Workout Machines Crossing Over?

Will Your Next Game Console Make You Sweat?

A recent article about exercise equipment with gaming features caught my eye recently: Nexersys, a new Austin-based workout machine maker, is pointing out that videogames and exercise equipment are reaching convergence. It’s worth taking a look at this crossover phenomenon.

Fitness is a huge industry, and entertainment is already trickling into the gym. People want flat-screens on their treadmills to take their minds off their workouts. Other gym equipment taps into natural competitive instincts with simple videogames.

At the same time, gaming has always been a hotbed for accessories that extend the fantasy, from lightguns to plastic guitars to the Wii Fit. Maybe a device like Nexersys’ iPower — a striking simulator with seven punching pads and an LCD monitor that provides training and feedback — is the next stage in the crossover.

Action Games Are Getting More Active

Have you been jumping up and down in front of your TV lately? A lot of folks have been, now that Sony and Microsoft have tossed their motion-sensing input systems into the market.

One caveat in the “gaming workout” or “exercise gaming” sector is the form factor. It’s hard to control safety and ergonomics when gamers can be playing in all kinds of environments. Nintendo certainly experienced some amusing embarrassment in this regard when reports of Wiimote-flinging destruction caused them to issue safety wriststraps.

Traditionally, these kinds of games have been a better fit for the arcades, simply because the equipment for sensing a game player’s movements wasn’t available on a computer or game console. Dance Dance Revolution, Time Crisis, House of the Dead, all arcade draws. The arcade was the home of novelty input devices. Now, as arcades are fading into oblivion, that barrier has been shattered.

A Better Experience?

Although there’s a masochistic pride in mastering the universe with two tiny plastic joysticks, I believe most gamers would rather dominate with lifelike actions than with a controller. Some would argue that motion sensors and “exercise gaming” are the next stage in a button-mashing, casual-gaming flaming descent into the Great Sellout. However, these new methods of gaming are new and — in the case of the Wii, Kinect, and Move — tantalizingly well-distributed. If the market is big enough, these games can be as hardcore and diverse as any we’ve experience with a controller or keyboard. Motion-sensing gameplay has the potential to introduce all kinds of new ideas and gameplay.

At some point, though, the pleasure in realism starts to break down. Few gamers want to run 26 miles at Murchison High to get the track and field high score in their Olympics game. And should games require players to crawl on their hands and knees to sneak up on foes in the next Metal Gear game? Would you ask your mother to crawl around to play a game? Would you want your Nexersys machine to punch back? It’ll be interesting to see how game designers handle this problem as the games mature.

Will Nexersys and other workout hardware makers like Bowflex and Nordic Track horn in on Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo? I wouldn’t put money on that particular angle. But if Tony Hawk can make his own custom skateboarding controller, why can’t these muscular brands get in on the action?

Who knows. Maybe the next time we hear about “gaming” and “exercise” in the same breath, the story won’t be about childhood obesity but instead life-transforming fitness.

Game Cover Showdown: Motorstorm

Videogame Cover Art One-on-One

The MotorStorm team at Evolution Studios just posted their cover art for the new MotorStorm Apocalypse. They’ve got two covers, one for the EU and one for the U.S. Same game, two covers.

Why do marketing teams do this? Well, for one, there are different requirements for the labeling and legalese. But also it’s well-known that certain approaches do better in different regions. Sadly, in my opinion, the demographic studies seem to indicate that, when selling an over-the-top racing game in the U.S., your goal should be to look like a generic traffic jam with a generous dollop of asphalt crumbles, flames, and (especially) motion blur. The EU version is more cohesive, dramatic, and most importantly, sharp.

Here’s the art – take a look and decide for yourself. EU on top.

game cover-eu

game cover-us

The Stupidest Names in Videogames

by the Game Writer Guy

Honoring the Stupid

Writers and readers, let’s face it. The grimy menage a trois of videogames, science fiction, and comic books has spawned some really stupid character names.

Of course, I love all that stuff, and a lot of the writers and directors in the field have sired visionary work that will still be giving geeks chills in the distant future, long after 2001 has come and gone… oh, wait. You know what I mean.

Anyhow, without further mastication, here’s this humble game writer’s list of…

The Stupidest Names in Videogames

#6: The Wii.

We can now say it without sniggering, which is a testament to how well the actual product served its function, even if it’s going to be the Xbox 1 of the current generation. I.e., the first to leave the table and go to the bargain basement. Both Microsoft and Sony are now pimping their motion controllers. Nice ideas, guys.

But as far as pure naming goes, the Wii was different, but hardly genius.

#5. Sodom from Final Fight/Street Fighter Alpha. Enough said. You can see an image of this zombie samurai/hockey goalie to the right.

#4. Lord British.

We don’t want to ding Richard Garriott for a name he came up with when he still had peach fuzz on his face, but still. What gets us about Lord British? Is it the pomposity? The slavish Anglophilia?

Steve Wilson, one of the editors of the sci-fi/humor ‘zine Space Squid, says, “It almost seems redundant: You hear Lord, you think British automatically anyway, so why bother?”

Lord British, please pick up line 2. Czar Russian is holding on line 2.

#3: Max Payne.

This one has gotten more euphonious over time, but if you’re like me, it hit you like a ton of pun when it first crashed on your ears. Max pain?!?

Max Payne is the name of Duke Nukem’s less civil second cousin. Fortunately the game itself didn’t turn out to be quite as blunt and tone-deaf as the name. Thanks, Max. You brought us bullet time. Now go back to the markdown aisle.

#2: Darth Maul.

When George Lucas came up with this one, maybe he was thinking of where Star Wars action figures and videogames might be sold in ridiculous quantities rather than the enduring legacy of the Star Wars universe.

Darth Mall would be a fun place, though. Instead of muzak, the soothing sound of heavy mechanized breathing would lull shoppers and seniors out for a climate-controlled stroll. Customer service, however, would be a little frosty, and the penalty for shoplifting would be… wait for it… to have your hand chopped off at the wrist with a light saber, of course!

Honestly, the Star Wars universe is littered with laughable names, Jar Jar Binks and Count Dooku being two prime examples. George, we know you want the kids to know you think Dooku is a poopy-head, but let’s try not to be so freaking literal.

#1. Big Boss.

You know, Metal Gear Solid is just ripe with ridiculous names. Hideo Kojima must like the devil weed. Liquid Ocelot, Big Mama, Para-Medic, Raging Raven… these are all chuckle-headed even if they’re code names. Big Boss is notable because he’s not only the imposing sire of the games’ primary hero, but he’s also the star of MGS3, the president of Zanzibar Land, and the protege of the double-agent named The Boss.

Confused yet? You’re getting the idea.

Big Boss has three genetic sons, named Liquid Snake, Solid Snake, and… Solidus Snake? Pick your favorite quip here:

  1. Must have been tricky sorting out the mail.
  2. Solidus was always the Pope’s favorite.
  3. I guess the neighbors already had a kid named “Gaseous Snake.”

Still, I give Kojima props for including self-parody content like this MGS3 unlockable in which the director of the CIA journeys to Russia for a reconciliation and flower-meadow dance with Snake.

Dishonorable Mentions:

Alan Wake

Game designer Keith Meyer suggests Alan Wake. Wake is, of course, a writer of thrillers who suffers from blackouts and visions of characters from his new book coming to life. And he doesn’t remember writing the book. It’s almost like he’s been… uh… sleepwalking?

Keith says, “It just feels weak.”

Joe Hayabusa

The father of Ninja Gaiden’s Ryu, Joe is the leader of the Hayabusa Ninja Clan in medieval Japan, and also apparently the descendant of nomadic Japanese who traveled to ancient Israel where they appropriated his name. Also the star of the sidescroller Viewtiful Joe (kidding).

Snake Plissken

I can’t write a post about horrible names without mentioning the hero of Escape from New York. (I’d love to make him #1, but he’s really a cinematic character, more so than Darth Maul. By the way, the credited writers on the 1981 movie are John Carpenter and Nick Castle.)

Sure, it’s a comic book kind of name, but there are limits to what even DC and Marvel are willing to slap on a hero. What, was Viper Urineflesh shot down in audience testing?

As an added bonus, in the first Metal Gear Solid game I think, Solid Snake disguises himself as a Navy SEAL named Iroquois Pliskin. Clearly, like inspires like.

Feel free to submit your suggestions in the comments or via the contact form.

Want a PS3?

want a ps3

PS3 Photo

Tower of Sony Playstation 3 computing power, anyone?

Suggested Use

I hear that Kim Jong-il has networked five thousand of these together to plot trajectories for a new Earth-to-Jupiter interplanetary expedition. They are looking for mutant ladies of the night.

Now Really

And no, commenting on this post will NOT win you a free PS3. I just thought you folks might enjoy seeing this excess. My old roomie bought them as prizes for long-term participants in a University of Texas Austin research study. She says it caused a few raised eyebrows at the checkout at Fry’s Electronics.

Can You Be-Gleeve It?

The Gleeve: Frog’s New Power Glove

So Frog Design has a new unstructured-play concept called the Gleeve. Cool concept that lends itself to horrible blog puns and nightmares of Nintendo’s abortive power glove.

I think it has potential, although the description does seem a little light on details. I’m not about to criticize a simple introductory post for lack of structure, but I do want to plant a suggestion in the Froggies’ heads — a little structure can be a good thing.

It might be premature to proclaim the complete death of imagination. I’m sure there are kids right now, sitting in an empty lot or on a baseball diamond, making up their own games as I type with nothing but enthusiasm and body language. However, attention spans are short and a blank canvas can be as intimidating as prison bars.

If I were in the Frog’s shoes, I’d package that product with a few addictive, premade games that have prominent tunable characteristics or several radically different rulesets that invite experimentation.

Or better yet, I’d hire a game writer/game designer to make those games. :)

I also found this diagram in the Fast Company announcement quite thought-provoking, although I don’t know if I’d rank the Sims as more open than a mod. Click to see the full size image.

Rapidfire Review: Sengoku Basara

Hi, videogame fans. Today we’ve got an update for you about the PS3 title Sengoku Basara: Samurai Heroes, or SBSH. (It’s also been converted into an anime and a manga title.)

I’m still trying to recover from the discovery that this game was developed by Capcom, not Koei, because it smells, tastes, feels, and plays just like a “Dynasty Warriors” game, except with a squirlier camera.

Dynasty Warriors is an evergreen (or interminable, depending on your perspective) series out of Japan in which you play a hero on a vast battlefield, “leading” your army to take strategic camps as part of a larger battles. Each stage basically plays out like capture-the-flag as you try to hold camps and eventually win the battle. The scale of the battles can be invigorating, with dozens of AI characters on screen, but DW has been criticized for its relatively simplistic “button-mashing” gameplay. Frankly, I think the series would be fairly well-accepted if this same formula had a different IP behind it — a Marvel comic book, for example.

Anyhow, SBSH is very similar, even down to the sheeplike AI of the minor NPCs, who have a tendency to trot around the battlefield and stare numbly at their opponents, waiting ages before taking tentative stabs using their weapons. At first I thought the difficulty on SBSH was cranked down, because I got most of the way through the first level in the demo without ever taking damage. Then I encountered the first major boss, who immediately used his nijitsu skills to split into three devilishly nimble selves, none of which dissolved when first being hit. No, these chaps were definitely tangible. I passed them on the second try, but only after limping around the level and scarfing up all the healing and magic powerups I could find.

SBSH isn’t terribly impressive except for its slavish imitation of DW. Save your ducats for the real thing.

The Janus Fund Fee Game

janus fund feeThe Janus Performance Fee Proposal

The Janus fund fee (“performance fee”) recently pitched by Janus Funds is a good example of gamesmanship for higher stakes than seen in your typical RPG or RTS. We don’t usually talk about financial matters here at Game Writer Central, but I believe that it’s important to recognize game elements in all environments, especially when those elements are subtle and insidious.

Just like the manufactured financial instruments that were a large part of our recent economic meltdown, mutual fund fees are arbitrary structures that exist only on paper. Like the rules of a board game, mutual fund fee rules don’t come from any governing body — they’re agreed-upon between the shareholders and the fund management, and they can be changed by a simple vote. Like the Janus fund fee that’s being proposed for their Janus Forty, Janus Fund, Janus Global Opportunities, Janus Overseas, and Janus Twenty Funds.

Janus Funds wants to change the usual percentage management fund fee to a base fee plus or minus a performance-based amount. If they beat their benchmark index (an unmanaged group of similar investments), they get more money; if they don’t they get less.

The Janus Fee: Fair or Fail?

This sounds great until you realize that Janus is never going to pitch something that’s not in their best interests. A little investigation on the Janus fund fee proposal reveals it isn’t really in the shareholder’s best interests:

  • A simple Google search yielded this article from Smart Money that cites a NYU/Fordham study showing that performance-based fund fees actually caused fund managers to take abnormal risks. Unsurprisingly, when given short-term goals, people often sacrifice what’s best for all to grasp at the dangling carrot. If you ask me, this kind of thinking infects Wall Street in general: CEOs sacrifice the company’s well-being for quarterly earnings, because the CEO plans to cash out ASAP and ride his golden parachute away from the smoking ruins.
  • Benchmark indexes are by nature mixed bags. They’re representative of a certain slice of the market, and they contain dogs as well as stars. Although it’s true that many managed funds struggle to beat the S&P 500 on an year-over-year basis, sector indexes are often much more motley. Here’s an example: Janus Overseas Fund is benchmarked to an index that it consistently beats. Of the eight sample periods shown on Janus Funds’ own website, the Janus Overseas Fund beats the index six of eight times, including the entire past decade.

So… this is some interesting game design. If you’re an investor, do you want to change the game rules so that the game scalps up to 15% more off your hard-earned winnings with that kind of frequency? Or do you vote to keep the rules the same?

Of course, if fund management takes abnormal risks and performs badly, the fund could perform worse than its historical tracking and be penalized by the Janus performance fee. But if the Janus fund fee is ticked down, so are your earnings. That’s a lose-lose game, with you holding the bigger share of the risk.

Don’t Play Hooky On Fund Fee Proxies: Your Power Is Your Own

It’s my opinion that we Americans as a nation often fail to look out for our own best interests because it often requires a bit of painful research and thought. Whether it’s investigating the track record of a politician or taking the time to vote on school board elections, we don’t like doing our homework. And as a result, we get “gamed” by the entities we’re supposedly overseeing.

Keep this in mind the next time you get a boring fund fee proxy statement in the mail. If they’re asking for your signature, you have power. Signing blindly isn’t as dramatic as kneeling in fealty to a demonic end-game boss, but the consequences can be more dramatic for you and your family.