Two cool Japanese iPhone apps

Via App.itize.us, a new iPhone apps blog, comes 51 Japanese Characters. Simple but fun, it features 51 Japanese “characters” – otaku, samurai, gyaru etc; give it a shake and it’ll mix and match their body parts.

Secondly, from the Japan Graphic Designers Association (JAGDA) and Heidelberg Japan K. K.,  “(^_^)365(O_O)” (Hello 365) tear-off calendar for 2010. 365 varying images from a variety of designers which the app makes it easy to export, so they’re ideal for use as iPhone wallpaper. The image above is from the 2nd of Feb, and it’s the one I’m currently using.

Added to the wishlist: PIXEL!

PIXEL!

[Game] PIXEL!, an Xbox 360 Arcade title, recommended by Jean Snow’s new Game blog:

“The third entry in the ‘Arkedo Series’ of retro inspired games, PIXEL! is a mostly straightforward take on the platforming genre, mixing 8-bit visuals with a current gen sheen. Arkedo still manages to give the game a very modern look, with simple but enjoyable gameplay that harkens back to old-school 2D platformers (with a few little twists). Arkedo is a French independent studio founded by Camille Guermonprez and Aurélien Regard. Releases so far include two other titles in the ‘Arkedo Series’ (the puzzle/platformer JUMP! and the puzzler SWAP!), as well as DS titles Nervous Brickdown and Big Bang Mini.”

8-bit trip: Lego bricks as pixels

This video comprises “1,500 hours of moving Lego bricks and taking photos of them.” It’s not particularly coherent in terms of theme, unless you call “8-bit games and music rule” a theme. Which maybe we should. Worth it for the chiptune soundtrack, the use of Lego as pixels and the particularly nice Pacman shots, which put you right into the maze.

Konami has dropped Six Days in Fallujah

Despite/because/completely independently of me writing a long and reasonably thought-out blog post about how Six Days in Fallujah might have the chance to address some of the long-running issues with war games making killing fun, its publisher has dropped it.

Too controversial, it seems:

‘”We had intended to convey the reality of the battles to players so that they could feel what it was like to be there,” said a Konami spokesperson in a comment to Asahi.com. “[But] after seeing the reaction to the videogame in the United States and hearing opinions sent through phone calls and email, we decided several days ago not to sell it.”‘

Of course, the developer might still carry on coding the game, but with a big publisher such as Konami dropping it so publicly, I wouldn’t put a huge bet on it actually getting a release.

In war games, killing is fun

[I wrote this for the blog I contribute to for work, over on bit-tech. I don’t generally cross-post stuff I write for work here, but the idea for it grew out of writing the Peleliu post, so I think there’s a good case to be made that it belongs here, too.]

Konami’s recently announced Six Days in Fallujah game rolls into town at the head of a of convoy of outrage over the fact it’s based on a very real and very contemporary battle of an ongoing war.  In a well-weighted editorial on Eurogamer, Rob Fahey nails why this outrage is nonsensical, and why it’s particularly unpalatable when it comes from the tabloid press:

“It’s not just the fact that the [Daily] Mail and others are essentially calling for the worst form of censorship, the blocking off of an entire event and saying ‘this is off limits, and may not be portrayed’ – something which would stab to the very heart of the freedom of expression our media should be championing… the thing that rankles most about this situation is the fact that this is a tabloid newspaper telling another medium that the way in which it’s handling current events is insensitive. I won’t need to remind any reader who walks past a news stand on the way to work, or flicks on Sky News or CNN in the evening, just how ‘sensitive’ the news media is in its coverage of war.”

The whole piece is worth a read as it eloquently defends the right of games to portray reality. Fahey’s defence of games isn’t totally blind though – indeed, he challenges those making games such as Six Days in Fallujah to engage more fully with their subject material:

“If a game like Six Days in Fallujah is to have any value, it must come from adding something to that discussion [of the war]. This isn’t about taking a pro-war or an anti-war stance – although both are valid starting points, there are countless others. It’s about making people think, informing them through their entertainment experiences, and commenting, as creators, on the media we create and the events we portray.”

Games based on real combat aren’t uncommon – the Call of Duty series has been at it for longer than the duration of World War 2 – and Call of Duty 4 is the most notable depiction of combat in Iraq gaming has seen so far (although, bless its little corporate socks, Activision has decided to tell players it was actually set it in unnamed MiddleEastistan). What makes Six Days in Fallujah interesting is that unlike other ‘real war’ games, it’s not an FPS, or an RTS. Instead, it’s a third person ‘action’ game.

The problem previous ‘real war’ games have had is that none has managed to rise to Rob Fahey’s challenge. This is because of the problem of fun, namely that war games – and FPS war games in particular – make killing people fun. This is because killing is the central mechanic of the game. If there was no killing in CoD 4, for instance, there wouldn’t really be any game left. You’d be able to run, reload, crouch and open doors, but really, those actions are solely there to support you killing people.
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The Custom PC book: Ultimate Guide to PC Gaming

CPC UGTPCG

I’m pleased to announce the first ever Custom PC book, the Ultimate Guide To PC Gaming, out just in time for Christmas on the 4th of December. It’s everything you need to know about PC gaming in one 174-page book.

It went to press yesterday, so we’ll get copies in the office at the end of next week hopefully. A lot of work went into the book – and I’m really pleased with the design and writing in it. The internal design was inspired by the design of Factory Records sleeves, as I was recently given a book called FAC461 – Factory Records, The Complete Graphic Album, which features lots of the famous Manchester record label’s beautiful designs. We used a font very similar to the one found on the front of Joy Division’s Substance, and the bright colours and grids were developed from the look of some of New Order’s singles.

The writing’s aimed at a more mainstream audience than CPC is,the idea being that there’s a very strong line-up of PC games at the moment (WoW, Warhammer, Left 4 Dead, Crysis, Fallout 3 etc etc) but that people might be put off playing them because the PC is typically thought of as a difficult machine to use, especially in contrast to games consoles. Hopefully the book will succeed in demystifying PC gaming and showing what a rich, varied and involving experience it can be. It’s going to cost £7.99 and is available from WH Smiths and Borders. You can also buy it from Amazon.

Updated: The book’s official site is up now at www.custompcbooks.co.uk.

Can the PlayStation 3 do anything right?

Like many tech journalists, I’ve certainly done my fair share of Sony hating. What makes Sony such an exasperating company for me is its past: Sony used to make technology that was genuinely interesting, inspired even, and it was worth buying. Its stuff used to be so good. I wrote a review of an all-in-one Sony PC a couple of years ago that touched on Sony’s background:

"Not all PC manufacturers aspire to £499-plus-free-printer-scanner-kitchen-sink ignominy… It should not come as any surprise that Sony also considers itself above the vast swathe of beige PC builders. In John Nathan’s biography of the company, former CEO Norio Ohga talks about its approach. ‘Sony must always be extraordinary,’ Ohga says. ‘I always asked myself what was essential to the company. I find myself thinking about the Chinese character san, which means to shine dazzlingly like the sun. It’s not simply a matter of brightness. San means an extraordinary radiance.’"

These days of course, Sony usually comes across as bitter (why else would it stick Rootkits on customers’ PCs?) and out of touch (claiming people should work extra hours for a PS3!). Nothing embodies the fall of Sony like the PlayStation 3 – it comes across as overpriced and not very innovative, but having seen Sony’s presentations at GDC, I’m feeling perhaps all is not lost for the Japanese giant. In fact, I’m really surprised PlayStation 3 Home, LittleBigPlanet and the SingStar stuff haven’t garnered more praise.

Matthew Ingram, whose blog I really, really like (and respect – he’s a tech journalist *AND* he keeps his blog updated with smart posts daily, which is more than I can do) rounds up and summarises much of the criticism in a a post entitled ‘Can Sony Get Anything Right?‘ He focusses on the fact that PS3 Home is a bit of a Second Life rip-off, but lacks the open and flexible nature of the original:

"It sort of looks like a really nicely designed shopping mall where you can only buy things from one company… As for the likelihood of success, Tony Hung has a great phrase in his post at Deep Jive Interests, calling it “charming, desperate and futile.” I couldn’t have said it better myself."

Now, I do agree with the first bit, and on its own, i think Home would be an underwhelming riposte to Microsoft’s decent Xbox Live, but with SingStar and LittleBigPlanet, Sony is showing that it really *gets* online, and perhaps in a more radical way than Microsoft and Nintendo do.

Let’s compare SingStar with the upcoming Xbox360 version of Guitar Hero 2. I’m a huge GH fan, and the biggest, biggest problem with the PlayStation 2 version is the songs. There’s some good ones, some bad ones… but what you get on the disc is all you get. Clearly, when we have Emusic and the iTunes store, that’s hopelessly old fashioned. Yes, you can mod new songs into the game, but not easily or officially: what most Guitar Hero players want is a huge and deep catalogue of songs to explore, whose wares are cheaply priced and delivered instantly over the net. The Xbox 360 has the technical infrastructure, but it’s not there. From Koatku’s preview, the 360 version sounds
identical to the PlayStation 2 version, but shinier. Now SingStar for the PS3 (a roughly comparable music performance game) sounds like it delivers online functions like Mariah Carey delivers diva behaviour and high notes: in spades. 

Secondly, check out the video below for the PS3’s LittleBigPlanet: awesome physiscs, totally customistable levels, including the abilities to import your own stuff, and a way to share them: it’s basically Flickr for games. And that is awesome: fun, collaborative, competitive, inspiring: a complete other world.

I’ve posted before about how awesome GamesIndustry’s editorials are, but this week’s hit the nail on the head when it comes to Microsoft’s online approach:

"For all that Microsoft talked the talk about customisation and user participation when the Xbox 360 was rolling out, the company hasn’t really walked the walk. Xbox Live is beyond a doubt the most robust, consistent, fully-featured, user-friendly and generally brilliant online service we’ve ever seen… but Allard’s proud boasts that the HD Era would be all about user customisation seem to have been reduced to snap-on covers for the console, downloadable skins for the interface and the ability to play your own music in games."

Xbox Live is good, but it’s basically a store for buying games, a shared leaderboard and a way to hook up with friends for a game. it’s basically Steam + XFire + TeamSpeak/MSN/Skype wrapped up in one slick package. Which is good, but it’s not the be all and end all of online. Sony has got some neat new ideas, bright shiny ones. Watch the last 5 minutes of the LittleBigPlanet presentation and then see if you can honestly say Sony can’t get anything right.

Ghosts and Goblins and difficulty

Until now, fingerprints have been the most deadly threat the super-shiny PSP has had to face. Now, it is wrath. The frustrated wrath of a player of Ultimate Ghosts n’ Goblins. Man, it’s tough… but strangely compelling, too:

“So why did I keep on playing? Partly it was because I didn’t want to write an article for Bit-Tech having only completed the first two levels. But it certainly wasn’t because of any involvement with narrative or plot, or any sense of satisfaction from solving puzzles, and nor did I give a toss, really, about any of the characters. Initially, I didn’t think I had any emotional involvement with the title, either, until I realised that actually, Ultimate GnG’s difficulty enables it to harness one emotion extremely well: it’s probably best called exasperation. I realise this doesn’t sound good (you can’t imagine it listed on the back of the box, can you?), but exasperation is a key part of the audience’s emotional response to many thrilling scenarios. Exasperation is present – and crucial – in everything from horror movies to romantic novels.”

The full article on Ghosts, Goblins and difficulty in games is here.

Top 10 Unique Game Controllers

Another article of mine is up at Bit-Tech – a top 10 list of ‘unique’ game controllers:

“There’s only so far you can go with a traditional gamepad. A few talented, brave and frankly bonkers designers have managed to convince and cajole their corporate paymasters into creating a special, unique add-on controller, solely for their game.”

You can have a read, here. As a writer, it was nice to do something more light-hearted after the politics piece last time, and it did well on Digg, too, which is great. Top 10s make for quick, fun reads, so I felt like the format suited the idea nicely.