Rez HDSan Francisco -- You'd be hard pressed to come up with a game concept farther removed from hardcore gamers than a title focused entirely on relaxation through meditation. Yet that's the subject of Wild Divine's "Healing Rhythms," one of three games featured at the Meditation & Relaxation with Games panel (part of the Serious Games Summit at GDC this year).

On Monday afternoon, Wendy Goldner, VP of Marketing at Wild Divine, walked the crowd through the software, which operates based on bodily responses picked up by several sensors placed on your body. Goldner then outlined some consequences of stress -- moodiness, change in sex drive, feelings of helplessness -- and this got me to thinking: due to their competitive nature, are games driving us to depression?

Do we need something like "Healing Rhythms" after a few rounds of "Call of Duty 4" multiplayer?

Video games are very often designed around a competitive mechanic that's meant to drive the user to play over and over again, meaning frustration -- thus, stress -- is often part of the experience. Whether a player is after a new high score ("Geometry Wars") or topping a leaderboard during a clan match ("Halo 3"), if you're invested in winning, chances are you're stressed about achieving that goal during a play session.

Some gamers might argue competitive video games actually relieve stress, even if such relief comes at the cost of producing a little more stress. That said, while most gamers aren't likely to strap on body sensors, Tetsuya Mizuguchi's "Rez" has proven many will do something like that when handed a Trance Vibrator (or an Xbox 360 controller, in the case of "Rez HD"). "Rez" does have a scoring mechanic to it, but the combination of vector-inspired visuals, thumping techno and minimalist gameplay seems to inspire a zen-like feeing during the experience.

"Rez" has certainly expressed those qualities during my time with it recently, especially so in its high-definition state, allowing you to simply surround yourself in Mizuguchi's world. Stephen Totilo has waxed repeatedly about his adventures in "Endless Ocean" on Wii, another game that technically has gameplay mechanics, that are primarily a means to an end: quietly exploring the ocean is the draw there.

So, do video games stress you out? After a long day of work -- or more likely a string of bitter losses in "Halo 3" -- what games do you pop in to calm down?

tetris_slimjim.jpgSan Francisco -- "Tetris" is the "Slim Jim" of mobile games.

At least that's what I learned at a panel I attended yesterday at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco.

The first two days of the event are largely focused on satellite conferences, including one all about mobile games. I decided to check out a session called "TETRIS: Best/Worst Mobile Game Ever."

"First off, 'Tetris' is the best game ever. Not the best mobile game, but the best game ever," said speaker Rick Marazzani. He's worked in casual games for over 12 years at places like Broderbund, Maxis/EA/Pogo and Digital Chocolate and is now a co-founder of mobile/web/PC development studio iQ212. And the man loves his "Tetris." Or so I thought...

After a brief history of how "Tetris" came to be, including the rights debacle and commercialization of the game, he talked about its monumental success -- over 70 million units have been sold across different platforms. For mobile games, he estimates that it garnered about one-third of the $140 million revenue that rights-holder EA made on handheld games in Fiscal 2007. It is currently the best-selling mobile game, accounting for 8.5% of all mobile games sold in North America.

Thus, Marazzani called "Tetris" the "Slim Jim of mobile games" (and "not rib-eye or filet mignon"), I guess because of its universal accessibility, although I'm not really sure why meat products were the analogies of choice. So far everything he had said pretty much made sense and was nothing new... But then he pondered the idea of "Tetris" being made today instead of back in 1985. With that in mind, what's his advice to aspiring mobile game developers?

"If you want to make 'Tetris' for today, don't make 'Tetris,'" he said. ... Wait, what?

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Age of ConanOur last post covering Funcom's "Age of Conan" hasn't moved off the front page, yet Multiplayer is already prepared to share some more with you about the upcoming MMO. Sorry, no nudity this time (though we did see some during our presentation!), but we do have some news on the eventual Xbox 360 port that Funcom's been kicking around.

The Game Developers Conference doesn't properly start until Wednesday, but companies are taking advantage of the gathered press in San Francisco to show some 2008 wares. One of Multiplayer's first appointments was an updated look at "Age of Conan," currently scheduled to drop on PCs sometime in May.

But, it's also coming to the Xbox 360 -- eventually. While catching up with Funcom Product Manager Jorgen Tharaldsen, he updated us on the Xbox 360 version's progress. Unfortunately, Funcom doesn't yet have a timeframe for release, as the their resources are devoted to ensuring a May ship date for the PC version.

Once that's out the door, however, Funcom can prep their move into the console space. Such a transition doesn't come without substantial hurdles, says Tharaldsen. The four and a half years of developing "Age of Conan" on the PC means their work has been crafted around a mouse and keyboard.

While "Age of Conan"'s combat incorporates real-time combos not unlike "God of War", the interface powering "Age of Conan" was built for a PC gamer. As such, the interface won't necessarily transfer 1:1 onto a control pad, thus requiring a complete interface revamp. When asked if a PC user could hook up an Xbox 360 controller to their PC and play "Age of Conan," Tharaldsen shook his head.

Still, Tharaldsen maintains "Age of Conan" will end up on Xbox 360. Is it coming in 2008? Probably not. Have they made substantial progress on the console interface? Not yet. Does the recent confirmed cancellation of "Marvel Universe Online" worry us? A little. But, Funcom remains confident, and you know what? At least they're taking their time.

everydayshooterlowgraphicsSan Francisco -- You know you're at the Game Developers Conference and not E3 when you leave a panel talking to your friends about ideas, not games or products.

As I left the kick-off panel for the Independent Games Summit -- a satellite event of GDC running today and tomorrow (when I'll be speaking), my head was spinning. I had just heard two provocative ideas I'd like to share.

The panel included Jonathan Mak, the one-man band responsible for the PlayStation 3's "Everyday Shooter." Mak is young, but he presents his ideas with an old-school touch: he didn't navigate his laptop, which was projected onto a big screen, by using Windows. He types his commands right into his computer. And when a sample game he was running to make a point wasn't displaying a bouncing red ball well enough, he jumped right into the code and reprogrammed it, on the fly.

Mak's idea: Arguments about gameplay vs graphics don't lead to any useful conclusions. Instead, think of games as a system of inputs and outputs. Press a red button at the right time and rock music plays: you've got "Guitar Hero," proof that a rudimentary input, if triggering an engaging output (rock music), can make for a great game.

His idea expanded more --> See that picture at the top of this post? That's "Everyday Shooter" as represented by Mak in the form of game icons. He showed that running in motion. everydayshooternormalDoes it look familiar? It's the same as the image here. But now you're seeing it with the graphics turned on. Now you're seeing it with a more engaging output.

So what makes the game fun and satisfying? The input? The output? Mak said he was bored by "Call of Duty 3," but thought he'd love it if it looked like 'Rez.'" Where that leads him, he's not sure.

That was one interesting idea, amplified by Mak's demonstration of a bouncing red ball he was controlling with "Mario"-style jump and run commands. It only looked engaging when he added a shadow, a propeller and some squishiness to the ball -- all outputs representing his inputs. Subjective, but compelling. Outputs and inputs working together.

Then came the second head-spinner:

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gdc_281.jpgCan you spot the logos of your favorite game developers? Even if we just give you a tiny glimpse?

The Game Developer's Conference is rapidly approaching, and this year is stacking up to be one of the biggest and most exciting years ever. In honor of the many great developers that will be in attendance we have put together another one of our photo quizzes for everyone to enjoy.

Below you will see the details of 10 different GDC attendees' logos. Each of these developers will be represented at the show, either on the floor, or via a speaker. You should be familiar with each of these logos from those screens that pop up right before you start playing some of your favorite titles from the past few years. Try and see how many of them you can recognize.

Click the images for the answers.

1. studio1_70.jpg                              2. studio2_70.jpg

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Gdc

As you might have noticed, MTV Games made it out to the annual Game Developers Conference in San Francisco to give you the latest and greatest updates of all the happenings in the games industry. In case you missed any of it, check out the stories below, straight from the frontlines:

* GDC: The New E3
* Live From GDC: Mass (Mal) Odorous
* Live From GDC: Box O' Cake
* Live From GDC: It's a Big LittleBigPlanet After All
* Live From GDC: Sony Going Home
* Live From GDC: Meeting of the Minds
* Live From GDC: Peter Gets a Dog
* Live From GDC: Force Unleashed!
* Live From GDC: Face the Music
* Live From GDC: Foot, Meet Mouth
* Post-GDC: Fable 2  
* Post-GDC: Lovin' the GameCock
* Post-GDC: Dracula's Caretaker
* Post-GDC: This Guy

This guy pretty much sums up GDC.

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I could have just as easily posted a picture of a young-to-middle-aged man-nerd with a prominent gut. A lot of game developers, it seems, could stand to lay off the puddings.

GDC is a weird conglomeration of lectures, exhibits that no one on Earth would have interest in visiting, and lines. People lined up to get the crappy food boxes they hand out everyday. People lined up to see Shigeru Miyamoto, Phil Harrison, and Eiji Aonuma. It's not quite the madhouse that E3 is (or was). And it's still struggling with whether or not it wants to be cool.

Mostly, though, it's five days of schwag and handshaking that you will never get back.

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Koji Igarashi likes to apologize.

We're sitting in a private room, and Igarashi (the man shepherding Konami's Castlevania franchise), is having a hard time with his own game. He's showing off Castlevania: Dracula X Chronicles for the PSP, and he's doing pretty well, but is still unnerved whenever his character in the game dies.

"I'm a terrible gamer, don't you think?" he asks me through his translator. When I suggest that he's not bad, and that maybe the game's difficulty hasn't been tuned yet, he says, "Maybe I am too old."

Self-deprecation and apologies for the unfinished state of his video game aside, Igarashi is a pretty neat guy to talk with, even if a lot of stuff gets lost in the translation. When I asked him about the changes he's made to the Castlevania timeline, I got a 20-minute explanation in Japanese and three sentences in English from the translator that boiled down to, "the story in Castlevania Legends makes no sense."

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Peter Molyneux, love him or hate him, gives a really good speech. At GDC, he had a packed crowd laughing and booing and hanging on his every word.

This, I thought, bodes well for Fable 2.

Anyway, Molyneux revealed some new features for his game. The big reveal, of course, was a dog companion that every player in Fable 2 will have access to. And this, of course, was to make the player care, to feel something, even if it's indifference.

Players will be able to use the Xbox Communicator headset to call their dogs, Molyneux said. And, he hinted, players will be able to meet other players' dogs?most likely online.

Also, Molyneux is cool enough to refer to a certain natural, biological act as "rumpy-pumpy love."


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It happened at GDC, and I totally missed it.

On Wednesday, a bunch of game developers held a seminar titled "Burning Mad: Game Publishers Rant." And, as befitting a seminar about game developers ranting, there was much ranting to be had.

Enter Chris Hecker, one young brainiac who never heard of the old saying, the frog does not befoul the pond in which he swims.

Hecker called the Wii a piece of feces. Only he didn't use the word feces. And he claimed the Wii was nothing more than two GameCubes held together with duct tape. There was still some room in Hecker's mouth, so he opened it to stick the other foot in, when he suggested Nintendo make a console that does not suck ass.

Needless to say, the apology soon followed...

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