Ender’s Game gets a video game: about damn time

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I’m sure the second thing you thought after finishing one of the most entertaining sci-fi books of all time- after “there’s no way a kid could do all that.” – was “damn, a game based on the battle room or space battle simulator would be awesome!”  Your wish, my fictional reader, is about to come true, as WRAL reports:

Chair Entertainment Group will utilize Cary-based Epic Games’ Unreal engine to develop the first videogame based on science fiction author Orson Scott Card’s international best-seller “Ender’s Game.”

Sure, Chair’s track record may not be incredibly impressive- the reasonably good (in my opinion) Advent Rising, and recent XBLA freebie Undertow being their primary claims to fame- but how could you go wrong with the Battle Room?  Penny Arcade may be pessimistic, but I still have hope for the game I dreamed about back when I was 13.  And the first releases are expected to be downloadable titles, so cross your fingers for a budget price across all consoles.

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Indie Watch- Charles Barkley + RPG = love

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The Great B-Ball Purge of 2041, a day so painful to some that it is referred to only as the “B-Ballnacht”. Thousands upon thousands of the world’s greatest ballers were massacred in a swath of violence and sports bigotry as the game was outlawed worldwide. The reason: the Chaos Dunk, a jam so powerful its mere existence threatens the balance of chaos and order. Among the few ballers and fans that survived the basketball genocide was Charles Barkley, the man capable of performing the “Verboten Jam”…

Flash forward 12 years to the post-cyberpocalyptic ruins of Neo New York, 2053. A Chaos Dunk rocks the island of Manhattan, killing 15 million. When the finger is put on the aging Charles Barkley, he must evade the capture of the B-Ball Removal Department, led by former friend and baller Michael Jordan, and disappear into the dangerous underground of the post-cyberpocalypse to clear his name and find out the mysterious truth behind the Chaos Dunk. Joined by allies along the way, including his son Hoopz, Barkley must face the dangers of a life he thought he gave up a long time ago and discover the secrets behind the terrorist organization B.L.O.O.D.M.O.S.E.S.

A tale of zaubers, b-balls, and atonement; brave dangers unheard of, face spectacular challenges that even the greatest ballers could not overcome, and maybe… just maybe… redeem basketball once and for all.

From that description, you’d expect a game continuing the internet’s tradition of absurdist humor… and you’d be half right. But what sets aside Barkley’s Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden is its entirely deadpan, nearly cliched Japanese RPG delivery. While you’ll be doing things as absurd as searching for “manufacted jamicite,” fighting a surgeon who fufills the wishes of the furry community by turning people into animals, and running away from the anti-B-Ball authorities, you’ll never hear genre-savvy characters remark on the inaneness of the situation. Rather, they take the world entirely seriously, as Barkley comes to terms with the loss of his wife, and Cyberdwarf deals with the intolerance of a society that can’t handle a person with skin made of basketballs. This juxtaposition is quite satisfying, and makes for a far more hilarious experience than most run of the mill internet humor. Add in decent writing, a turn-based battle system that’s better than a lot of commercial releases, tight dungeon design, and excellent music, and you’ve got a game good enough to distract me from Crackdown and Call of Duty 4. Oh, and it’s free.

Download the game here.

Game design and probability- math geeks only!

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Or, as Tyler Sigman states in his introduction:

Be warned: this feature is long and contains a lot of things that are suspiciously and unsettlingly math-like. Go check up on BRITNEY SPEARS or PARIS HILTON or AMY WINEHOUSE if you have a shorter attention span. (Take that, Search Engines!)

Okay, so the article is probably not for everyone. But if, like me, you relish busting out excel to figure out optimal talent point placement, have a calculator by your side whenever making a major decision in a game, and spent hours of calculation discovering the most efficient Pokemon team (take that, schoolyard bullies!), this is manna from heaven.

It’s also good to know that, abhorrent as game design can be in the turn-based space, there’s at least one guy who understands the basics (Mr. Sigman worked on Age of Empires DS).

Instead of using a video game as his example, Mr. Sigman turns to a board game he’s designing, which although is perhaps less appropriate to the Gamasutra setting, is useful for the simplicity of calculation that a lack of a computer requires. Check out the article here.

Echochrome dated in Japan

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The most impressive game from E3 2007 finally gets a release date.

Last week I mentioned Echochrome was arriving on the PSP on March 19. Now I can confirm it will arrive on the PlayStation Store as a downloadable PS3 game on the same day. The price has not been announced, but if Sony is selling the PSP version for 3,990 yen ($36) it will probably fall in the $25-$30 price range.

I know what some of you are thinking, “no fucking way am I paying 25-30 dollars for some tiny PSN game.” You, sir, are dead wrong. Echochrome’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before, the kind of game M.C. Escher would make if he could only draw stick figures. I play games to have this kind of mindbending experience, and just watching the trailer, it felt like I had sprained my brain. Don’t let the lo-fi graphics fool you: Echochrome is one of the most promising PSP and PS3 releases this year. At least, I think I’ll probably have more fun with it than MGS4 and GTA4. If the trailer below doesn’t convince you of its awesomeness, well, you have no soul.

Courtesy of Siliconera.

More cool game swag you’ll never get your hands on.

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Why do developers enjoy tormenting me? First the Weighted Companion Cube plush sells out before I can get one, then the Okami Complete Works book gets delayed indefinitely, and then I hear about the cool chocobo mug several months after Square-Enix sells out its original production. The latest useless bit of junk I’m doomed to lust after and never get my greedy paws on? A kick-ass fan with official artwork of Okami on it. This one they’re not selling at all, so at least I don’t have to blame my chronic late to the party status this time

Blockbuster releases to be more spread out in future, says analyst

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It seems that gaming publishers may finally be getting the message, shouted daily from countless enthusiast web communities, that we want to play good games all year round, not just in the fall. About damn time too; when a quirky, niche Atlus title is the most exciting release for three months, while the next three feature Mario, Mass Effect, and Uncharted, there’s something wrong. Thankfully, the SimExchange’s Jesse Divnich says there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.

A broader release schedule could positively affect retailers such as GameStop and make them more attractive to the investment community as they will have more months of strong sales to hedge themselves against any negative short-term economic factors

It’s the same logic we enthusiasts have been using against game developers for years: while releasing at the end of the year is good for those who can stand out from the pack, just as many titles see decreased sales from increased competition. The logic hasn’t changed from last year, and sales numbers this holiday season were up from last year, so why expect change? While Jesse doesn’t offer an explanation for the publishers’ change of heart, he does provide ample evidence for his claims.

Before the first half of 2008 ends, we can expect the release of AAA titles such as Super Smash Bros. Brawl (expected to achieve 13.95 million units of GLS [global lifetime sales]), Wii Fit (expecting 8.7 million units of GLS), Grand Theft Auto IV (expecting 17 million units of GLS), and Metal Gear Solid 4 (expecting 4.7 million units of GLS).

While I’d be surprised if even half of that list actually releases in Q1 or Q2 2008, the point is well taken. This year’s early releases are the best recent memory. Call me cautiously optimistic that, burned by flops like Stranglehold and Blue Dragon, publishers will be less likely to flood the retail channel around the holiday season.

For more, see here.