Archive for June, 2008

Identity in Second Life: part one

A few weeks ago, I loaded up Second Life. It was the first time I’d touched the game in about a year. I halfheartedly installed all the updates.

If you’ve ever tinkered with Second Life, this probably comes as no surprise: the service manages to hemorrhage almost all of its potential new customers, quickly. In fact, most new users are alienated by the whole experience within their first hour, thanks to an unnavigable interface loaded with super-cryptic nomenclature.

Perhaps the most unwelcoming aspect of the initial user experience is your avatar’s own appearance. It is textureless, low-tech, doll-like, and it brands you as a Linden newbie (until very recently, the default avatars were just terrible). And although the character creation tools are actually great, they take time to learn. I remember it seemed every attempt at designing a realistic body resulted in a bubble-ass. And at any length, the default hair is a she-male’s pompadour.

How could I have known during my very first hour of play that I was able to purchase not just clothes and toys, but also hair and skin and eyeglasses? The average new user has no idea how mutable his appearance really is—and by extension, how mutable his sense of identity is.

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This week’s Monday Miracle: Retro Reality

This week’s Monday Miracle is Retro Reality, in which 16-year old Lee Vidal cleverly superimposes game sprites atop real-world locations.

“Retro Tower: Donkey Kong,” my favorite image manipulation from the series, is below:

Retro Tower: Donkey Kong, by Lee Vidal

It’s well worth noting that the stock photographs Vidal employs as backgrounds are absolutely ghastly. Somehow, the blandness of the photos makes them perfect for reappropriation as the game sprites’ playgrounds.

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Soopa Coin-Up Bros.

Recent reconnoitering of the Rotofugi webstore turned up this gem. Erick Scarecrow’s Soopa Coin-Up Bros. figure Soopa Coin-Up Bros DIY toy at Rotofugi.comis, essentially, an arcade cabinet with feet. And at US$30, it is blank and consummate for the stroke of your genius.

To accommodate the less artistic, of course, Soopa comes prepackaged with lots of stickers.

But prepare to be totally inspired! More than 30 gorgeous custom figures were exhibited at the “Soopa Show” (which coincided with New York Comic Con this past April). Most of those Soopa customs are truly works of art, to be sure, but Jude Buffum’s “Cock Blocker” is maybe the raddest:

Cock Blocker by Jude Buffum

Splendid! (The i am 8-bit curator already bought it.)


Catch Retro Game Master in NYC this weekend!

Yesterday, Wired’s videogame blog, Game Life, posted my blarticle, “Japan’s Cult Retro-Gaming TV Show Debuts in English.”

Last weekend, as part of the New York Asian Film Festival, moviegoers were treated to screenings of Retro Game Master, a lovingly localized version of Game Center CX. I happened to be in the city at that time, so there you are.

I hope it’s OK that I post this—I think the sound of the U.S. audience giggling at Shinya Arino in a theatrical setting is what really makes this so charming.

As for the event itself, the screenings were only half-hour clips, and derived from episodes I’ve already seen (without subtitles, of course), and not many people were there. “But!” I said to Emily Balistrieri, “the real thrill is what it all could mean.”

You can still make Retro Game Master part of your weekend plans:

If you’re in New York City, you can catch an encore presentation of the Retro Game Master episodes. The Mystery of Atlantis episode will be screened Saturday at noon. The Ghosts ‘n Goblins episode airs at noon Sunday and again at 11:30 a.m. July 2. Admission is free.
IFC Center 323 Sixth Ave., New York 10014 Box office: (212) 924-7771


Shawn Smith’s DIY plush toy: launching tonight!

The Ninjatown cast of characters is already pretty diverse: there’s a Zombie Ninja, an Anti-Ninja, even a Baby Ninja. But what if you could design your own ninja? A Chef Ninja, a Bunny Ninja, a Ninja Librarian…?

Plushform Launch Event and Gallery Exhibit - flyer

Shawn Smith’s Plushform is a blank, customizable canvas, a DIY ‘plush’ toy that shares the Wee Ninja’s iconic silhouette. And at 20 bucks, he’s pretty cheap.

Plushform launches tonight, June 27, at Rotofugi in Chicago. For the event, artists from around the world have customized their own Plushform, which will be on exhibit in the store’s gallery space. If you live in or near Chicago, there’s really no excuse to not go.

Rotofugi Designer Toy Store and Gallery
1955 W. Chicago Ave., Chicago
June 27, 6-9 P.M. (CST)



Play Super Mario Bros this July (for a good cause!)

Hey, New York City!

Beginning July 1 (it’s only a week away!), VideoGamesNewYork is hosting a month-long Super Mario Bros. tournament. The scant $2 entry fee benefits Penny Arcade’s Child’s Play.

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Apart from Electroplankton and Jam Sessions, what software can DS owners use to compose music?

This week, Ryan O’Donnell and Torrey Walker took a look at KORG DS-10, the first software for the Nintendo DS that makes music composition possible. And it is incredible. Check it out.


Game Feel: a Game Designer’s Guide to Virtual Sensation

Game Feel cover imageWell, now, here’s a book to add to the Backburner in a few months.

Two years ago, independent game designer Steve Swink wrote an essay, an amazing, brilliant manifesto titled “Principles of Virtual Sensation.” In this design primer, Swink lists the tenets of movement and animation, and how these principles correspond to virtual sensation, which in turn makes for what Swink simply calls “good-feeling gameplay.” But what is virtual sensation? Swink explains:

Driving a car, you have a very strong sense of the position of that car, the feel of steering and controlling it, of mastery. This is the ability that every person who’s ever learned to drive a car has: the ability to extend precise control over something outside your body. There is a great amount of pleasure in the learning and eventual mastery of such a motion translation. [...] Many people also find this pleasure in video games, where it is both distilled to its essence and free of the constraints and dangers of more physical activities. You can change the turning radius of a car, but you can’t change gravity. This experience of control is derived from an artificial kinesthesia. This is the ‘feel’ of the game, the thing that makes your mom lean left and right in her seat as she tries to play Rad Racer.

If Swink’s essay leaves you wanting more, don’t worry!

Game Feel: a Game Designer’s Guide to Virtual Sensation is over 300 pages of game design philosophy, with plenty of insights from Swink’s indie design peers. (Incidentally, Phil Fish of Fez designed Game Feel’s cover jacket.)

Game Feel drops this October.


Open Mic Hero

According to Derek Yu over at TIGSource, Alexander Shen’s Open Mic Hero software “is a neat program that lets you play sounds with an XBox 360 Guitar Hero USB guitar (or keyboard, alternatively).” Yu continues, “The program comes with two sound banks, ‘Acoustic Guitar’ (shown in the video) and ‘Drum Kit,’ but you could easily create and load your own sound banks.”

In his demonstration video, Alexander Shen aptly describes the program as “kind of like Jam Sessions, but for your computer, with a Guitar Hero controller.” The demonstration, below:

You know, the beautiful, wireless drum controller for Guitar Hero World Tour will have bluetooth and/or USB connectivity; will it work with Open Mic Hero, as well? Regardless, we can’t wait to see how people hack that.


The Dark Knight: Play Till It Hurts

At our last office job, a certain coworker was quick to email with links to every new microsite that pertained to Dark Knight’s ongoing ARG/viral marketing campaign (each new puzzle is part of a larger online scavenger hunt, see). Frankly, it’s really very interesting—and maybe heartening, in a way—to see all these fans assembling clues, as if the whole internet were tackling a single problem together.

Yesterday, fans received SMS messages that eventually led them to

Laugh Til It Hurts carnival/circus flash game

...which is the site of the boringest flash game in the world. Think ‘Desert Bus’. Seriously, it’s horrible.

But the forumgoers at are relentless. And thanks to the efforts of someone who a) hacked; b) actually played an utterly perfect game, or c) works at Warner and deliberately leaked some information to hurry this along, the message board discovered the knack to escaping the game and getting a redirect to the super-secret video. The video itself contains one still frame of Heath Ledger as the Joker; the internet kids have continued to painstakingly analyze the footage.


Ninjatown Tower Defense

We’ve been thrilled about Shawn Smith’s Ninjatown DS game ever since we first heard about it through the grapevine. Ninjatown is based on Shawnimal’s line of plush ninja toys.

Ninjatown screenshot

To be sure, the pixelicious sprites do blocky justice to Shawn’s character art. But is the game any good?

Kotaku’s Leigh Alexander sat down for a hands-on preview of the game, and from her description, Ninjatown sounds like a real-time strategy based on the “tower defense” template, like PixelJunk Monsters and Desktop Tower Defense before it. (And yes, she says, it’s good.)

DS owners can expect to push shinobi this October.


Well, where do YOU buy your vibrators?

This is not game-related in the slightest, but here goes:

American Apparel, manufacturer and retailer of blank T-shirts, pants, skirts, and gymwear, is selling the Hitachi Magic Wand on its website. For anyone not in the know, the Hitachi Magic Wand is the most time-honored, beloved friend of self-lovin’ ladies everywhere. It’s also the housewifeyest.

Hitachi Magic Wand at American Apparel

The best part of the American Apparel page, though, might well be just below the ordering information. If you like vibrators, you might also like: lip gloss and pens.

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BodySurf: an adaptive hack

Speaking of Audiosurf and its adaptability...! Yesterday, Game|Life reported on BodySurf, a script authored by Evan Jones for use with Audiosurf, your computer, GlovePIE software, and both the Wii balance board and remote.

With BodySurf, you control your ship in Audiosurf by shifting your weight from side to side using the Wii balance board. Witness Evan’s demonstration, below.


Audiosurf: an “adaptive” experience

AudiosurfHere is what makes Audiosurf, for us, so incredible: the software manages to analyze music files and generate ‘playable tablature’ in a way no other rhythm game can even approach. Just as no two iPods are alike, the Audiosurf we play is not the same game that, say, Sharkey plays. (Sharkey—who proselytizes for Audiosurf any chance he can get—plays Audiosurf with a library full of prog-rock, for instance.)

Dylan Fitterer, the one-man team behind Audiosurf, recently spoke at a Valve press event (Audiosurf is now digitally distributed using Valve’s Steam service). Chris Remo of Gamasutra wrote up the best bits of Fitterer’s presentation, and the resulting article is Inside Audiosurf: the Indie Adaptive Steam Music Experience?

Part of Audiosurf’s success was due not just to Fitterer himself having easy access to his customers, but also due to potential customers having open communication between themselves.

The game’s design, he argues, lends itself very much to viral marketing, something Steam facilitates. For example, he saw users linking one another to the Audiosurf Steam page, which contains a convenient purchase link. Some evangelists went as far as purchasing the game for their friends with Steam’s gift function.

On the development side, he implemented a simple feature that encouraged competition between users, as well as providing automatic, but personal, encouragment keep coming back to the game.

“Dethroned” emails are sent to users when they are knocked off a song’s leaderboard, informing them of their defeat.


Scarygirl game shaping up nicely

We love the art of Nathan Jurevicius—the pride of our Scarygirl vinyl toy collection is our Tree Dweller figurine—and that’s why we can’t wait to play this gorgeous Scarygirl online Flash game based on Jurevicus’ art and characters. Australia-based developers Touch My Pixel expect the game to launch in three months. The preview video is absolutely beautiful.

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