Family Enjoyment With Where’s My Water! (Swampy)

I recently made a rapid survey of the the latest games I had noticed on iPhone, and quoted Beat Sneak Bandit, Forget.Me.Not, Blocks of Pyramid Breaker, and I finished with:
But it is obviously Swampy (iOS, Android) which is the most popular at the moment, especially when played by several players, whatever their ages :-)

This led to a few exchanges from which I will extract the most essential elements here. First of all the title of the game:
It is in fact the name under the game icon which is called Where’s my water!  in English and Jetez-vous à l’eau ! in French. Swampy is the name of the main character, a crocodile...

Then the gameplay:
What you have to do to pass on to the next level is to make some water get to Swampy’s shower. At the beginning it is simple enough. You just have to dig a little through the earth so that water can flow to its destination. Then the gameplay becomes more complex, with hot water, doors, pressure control, movements, etc. It is rather progressive, clever, based on real world physics so that even young children can reach rather complex levels with great pleasure.

I have seen few video games of this type able to reach this quality of family enjoyment. You can play it on your own or with your family, with one other player or more. Previously, I had identified Kiko, a game that had this feature:
I enjoy some games meant to be played individually much more if played with one other player or more. It is the case of the excellent Kiko!

But Where’s My Water! has attracted my interest for another reason too: it contains another story which implies a reversal in the gameplay. Indeed, some levels introduce another character, Cranky, to whom hot water must be conveyed, which changes quite a few elements of the game.

As a matter of fact, I will soon come back to reversals in the gameplay or even reversals of the gameplay concerning other games like Smasheroids or some other topics that I discuss with my students.


My Impressions About Gran Turismo 5

I have been playing Gran Turismo 5 (a car driving simulation on PS3) for a few weeks. Now and then, at the weekends, I’ve had time to test its arcade mode and spend quite a few hours on the GT mode. For the moment I tend to agree with a form of criticism that I often read: yes to the very precise driving of the series, no to some less important aspects. In the following paragraphs I will detail this opinion and add a remark on the difficulty of the game.

Arcade Mode: a (Re)Discovery

The arcade mode has been for me the opportunity to test a few cars, to use once more some circuits that I had appreciated in GT4 and to enjoy the rally mode, which I have particularly liked in this series since GT3. It has also been a first contact with the realisation. Indeed, I had a vivid sensation of realism, particularly at the level of light control (for example with the dazzling light at the end of a tunnel). But at the same time, some elements have disturbed my feeling of immersion. I am referring to the differences in terms of the precision of models and of the concern with depth in the 3D (clipping).

GT Mode: Driving

Rapidly, I turned to the GT mode, that is the mode by which you have to begin to buy a car with a small budget, obtain a driving licence, take part in races to earn money, etc. Given the richness of content, that offers dozens of hours of gameplay. In this mode, you are supposed to start with driving all over again. And, in this respect, GT5 is up to the reputation of the series: a very precise driving, exactly what I am looking for in this type of game (one of my references being F355 Challenge on Dreamcast, without the automatisms of course...). I heard negative opinions on the subject, most of the time something like « Gran Turismo should now propose a more accessible gameplay ». I don’t agree at all. It is a simulation, there is therefore no reason why one could take a 90° bend driving at 200 km/h...

Negative Aspects

I’m not going to make a list of all the drawbacks one can find in GT5; I’m rather going to underline those that bother me the most. First: artificial intelligence. It has sometimes been qualified as ridiculous. Anyhow, I can’t see a real progression from GT4 (which already lagged behind the other games). Second: loading time. Even after having installed the game on the hard disc of the console you’d better read something or do something else while the game is loading. Third: damages. Whereas the game puts forth convincing arguments as far as simulation is concerned one can still arrive too fast in a bend, bounce on a car and start again normally. The car is not projected off the road and can keep on going as if nothing had happened...

Difficulty or... Easyness ?

I have just evoked a problem concerning difficulty (one can overtake too easily in a bend) and I will now stress another: if you chose sports cars that are light, powerful and cheap you end up the races too easily in first position. Examples: Mazda MX-5 then BMW Z4 then Nissan GT-R.

To Conclude

I will keep playing GT5 for its driving and its content, but I will probably not do it to the end. My preference in the series will remain GT3, a decisive progress compared to GT1 and GT2. In short, I will repeat this comment: despite a long development, GT5 is certainly too similar to GT4 (itself too similar to GT3) to really thrill those who have been following the series since GT1...


iPhone Games, My Selection

Dark Nebula Episode 1 (0.79 €): You have to move a ball forward in a futuristic environment. View from above and control with the acceleration meter and your finger (excellent!)

Rolando (2.39 € or free): You have to guide some characters towards the exit. They are driving in an environment of coloured platforms, some of which you can control. Side view and control with the acceleration meter (excellent!)

Soosiz (1.59 €): You have to guide a character towards the exit in an environment where each platform or planet has its own gravity. Side view and control with a virtual joystick (excellent!)

Eliss (3.99 € or free): organise the universe...

StoneLoops! of Jurassica (unavailable for the moment): You have to create gatherings of balls that are advancing on a path according to their colours.

Crayon Physics Deluxe (3.99 €): You have to draw the missing elements so that a ball can reach a star.

Tiki Towers (0.79 €): You have to build a structure that enables monkeys to go through a level as they are eating bananas.

PocketBall (0.79 € or free): You have to build a structure that enables balls to fall into boxes corresponding to their colour.

Geared (2.39 € or free): You have to arrange gears wheels so that all those of one given level can turn.

ColorBlind (1.59 € or free): You have to pass ribbons through spots corresponding to their colour.

LinkLines (0,79 €): Coloured balls have to be gathered by fours, horizontally, vertically or diagonally.

Elementz (1,59 €): You have to inverse coloured balls horizontally or vertically to gather them in threes horizontally or vertically.

Traffic Jam 2 (unavailable at the moment): You have to drive out some vehicles blocked in a car park.

Jet Car Stunts (1,59 € or free): You have to drive a car a certain number of laps on a circuit constituted of platforms.

Pinball Fantasies (4,99 €): Pin-ball game.

Commodore 64 (3,99 €): It’s a Commodore 64 emulator enabling you to play Nebulus for example.


Sooziz, a Game on iPhone and the Pleasure to Master a System

When Sooziz was released on iPhone, I didn't test it. Its description and the screenshots I had seen made me think it was perhaps too simple. But then, recently, I noticed it was usually well rated. So, I downloaded it and began to play this platform game, just to see...

I first appreciated how user-friendly it is. Then, my progression in the game allowed me to take advantage of the specificity of its gameplay better: each platform has its own gravity. From level 2 of the second world onwards, the different levels enable you to enjoy it better: they are more elaborate, you make great leaps, you open passages, etc. You master, then, a system that obeys to different physical laws from those we have on Earth and you can take a great pleasure in that.

So, for me Soosiz joins games that I particularly appreciate on iPhone like Dark Nebula and Rolando.


IT Magazines, Video Games, and Shinobi

Since the middle of the 80’s I have been buying a lot of magazines concerning all the aspects of computer science and video games (I got interested in the other aspects of IT a little later). At that time, I bought for example Soft & Micro, Hebdogiciel, and the unavoidable Tilt. Later, I read Décision Micro & Réseaux a lot, and Tilt, unfortunately stopped being published. But thanks to Alain Huyghues Lacour (AHL), the console spirit of Tilt could be found in Consoles +. And fortunately, Consoles + still exists. AHL is not its editor in chief anymore, but I am still a subscriber and therefore, I read this magazine every month.

In the March issue, I found a rapid test of the Sega Megadrive Ultimate Collection on PS3. I had already checked the list of all the games included in this compilation, and having all the games in their original version in other compilations I had not found anything of real interest in it for me. Except that… Among the illustrations of this test there was a screenshot of Shinobi with this caption: "Finish the first level of Shinobi III in one credit to open Shinobi Arcade."

Shinobi was at first a platform game by Sega released as an arcade game in 1987 on the excellent platform System 16. The game is not based on a particularly original idea and it was not a revolution for this type of games but it ranks among my preferred games beside Tetris, Bubble Bobble, Puzzle Bobble, Final Match Tennis, the Marios, etc. I spent a lot of time on it in arcade rooms and I still play it at home on my own arcade cabinet. I can end the game, play again and again, experiencing the same thrill. I think that Shinobi’s gameplay is just incredibly deep. The player finds a great pleasure in gaining playing fluency through the precision of the game. Shinobi represents for me a real achievement in terms of video games conception, just like Flower, nowadays on PS3.

Unfortunately, none of the versions on consoles and computers has been able to convey the extremely rich gameplay of Shinobi. It seems to me that the least catastrophic version is the one on PC Engine. And it is incredible to note that the game had not yet been published in a compilation based on the emulation technique to reproduce its functions identically. For a long time I have been hoping that Shinobi would come back in its original version and be accessible to all. It is now done even though it is a bit confidential.

In this compilation on PS3, the emulation of the arcade version is excellent and the bonus is that you can save a game to play it again later. But there is a recurring problem concerning emulation: The standard joystick doesn’t offer the same control as the control of an arcade cabinet and the image on a flat screen is quite different from that produced by a cathode ray tube screen (on this subject, see my project of a second book on video games). Moreover, There is no option to make it possible for the player to get near it, and when you plug the PS3 on a cathode ray tube TV the result is rather a catastrophe. Despite all this, the great pleasure linked to gameplay is there to be enjoyed.

Thanks to Consoles + for the info about this version!


Digital TV: A Video Portal About Video Games

A few weeks ago, DigitalGames.fr launched a video portal dedicated to video games. Its name is Digital TV. There, you will find exclusive TV reports of a surprising quality, particularly, a series about the history of video games : The Fabulous Story of Video Games, Mythical Consoles, and Cult Video Games.

Last month, I interviewed Jean-Philippe Alba, the chief editor of Digital Games and Digital TV. So, you will know more about the creation of this video portal very soon…

UpdateThe Fabulous Story of Video Games is available in its entirety (two parts) on Dailymotion:


A Method to Classify Video Games

GameClassification.com is a website where you can find a method to classify video games and a database of classified games.
It is the result of an academic research project launched in 2006 by Julian Alvarez et Damien Djaouti
The method is based on gameplay bricks: avoid, manage, random, shoot, create, destroy, match, write, move, select. The classification is detailed here. It is described in this article and in this video :


My Second Book About Video Games

Since the publication of my first book on video games (Émulation et jeux vidéo, 2001, Micro Application), I have been working on a second book on the subject : Video Game Screenshots: Cartridge Quintessence. This book, written in three different languages with Lilian Piluso, will present a selection of about 250 video games sold in cartridges on the following systems (between brackets, some precisions, particularly the names of the games in different parts of the world) :
  • Atari 2600,
  • Atari 8-bit (particularly Atari XE Sytem),
  • Nec PC Engine (Nec Turbo Grafx 16),
  • Nintendo Entertainment System (Nintendo Famicom),
  • Nintendo Super NES (Nintendo Super Famicom),
  • Nintendo 64,
  • Sega Master System (Sega Mark III),
  • Sega Mega Drive (Sega Genesis),
  • SNK Neo Geo.
At the start I worked on a much greater number of systems (including arcade), but I had to select only a few otherwise the book would have had far too many pages. My talks with Winnie Forster from GAMEplan allowed me to define the editorial line more precisely. It is therefore a selection of cartridge video games, not including portable consoles. This basis anchors the selection in time and in the market of video game consoles. A part of the book explains this approach and another presents the selection. For each game there is on one page :
  • the title,
  • the year of publication,
  • the picture of the console,
  • supplementary information (alternative title, name of the console, publisher, developer, name of the series and information on the arcade version if there is one),
  • a presentation text (thanks to Lilian Piluso for writing it) in three languages (German, English and French),
  • a photo of the title screen (1/8 of the page),
  • a photo of the first level (half of the page).
The particularity of this book is to propose high quality screenshots. Not just screenshots made from emulators but real photographs taken on a cathode ray tube TV set showing the signal coming from the original consoles. The idea is to reproduce in a high resolution medium (a book), a visual impression of the games identical to what the players saw. The ambition is therefore linked to the conservation of this very particular visual impression (with horizontal lines being clearly visible).

This approach is complex :
  1. It is necessary to make a selection by associating simple criteria. I have spent a great number of hours playing, but I am not an expert in all the genres and most of all on all the consoles. So I have proposed provisional versions of my selections to friends and contacts and more generally on specialised forums such as those of the site Gros Pixels.
  2. It is necessary to gather varied information on the games. I found help in some big data bases, for example Moby Games.
  3. It is necessary to possess all the games and consoles in question. This took me several years. Fortunately some of my contacts in Japan and the US have been able to help me.
  4. It is necessary to make photographs which is difficult for many reasons, particularly because you must avoid the too dark or too bright bands on the picture and the watered effect (as well as a visible twinkling on the photo). After having tested different professional video equipment I finally found a really satisfying solution.
  5. It is necessary to write presentation texts. In that, I was lucky to meet Lilian Piluso who wrote them all.
Another very important point: I have to find a publisher.


My Experience of Online Modes

After a period of game sessions on local networks at friends’ at the beginning of the 90’s, I was naturally brought to test some PC online games. But, as I mostly play on consoles it is on a Dreamcast and its 33.6 kbps modem that I really explored different types of online games. I particularly have great memories of ChuChu Rocket! and of Phantasy Star Online. The idea was two-fold: to find other players and live this kind of experience at a distance but also to enter into virtual contact with them in the case of Phantasy Star Online. Then, as I was taking part in the creation of an online multiplayer sport-game development company, I noticed from within the difference of process between an artificial intelligence and a community of players.

When the network card of the PlayStation 2 arrived, I mostly used online modes for race games. At the beginning, it was just to try. Then, I played with a definite aim: to meet experienced players. A game against the console is generally predictable in terms of difficulty. Hence a double interest in online games in this context: competitors with very different game levels and the opportunity to find particularly gifted players. I have, today, the same approach on PS3 with the same kind of games. For example, I begin to play Pure online and I clearly realise that I haven’t played enough and that I lack quite a few hours of playing.

But, there remains a dimension which, I hope, will spread my online games practice: the materialisation of virtual relations such as what can happen on the Web. Indeed I haven’t yet physically met a person I have known through online playing. But this should rapidly change as the public of video games gets larger and with the new game platforms focusing on the relationships between the players.


Different Levels of Production Tools for Students in Video Game

Update (2010) : students are now encouraged to make their games using HTML/HTML5, without code without using a tool like Dreamweaver, or with code using the new features of HTML5, which does not prevent them to use another technology if they have the skills to do that.

The students of my new course (Video Game Industry and Design) will have to design a video game and to implement it. Some of them will be students in computer science, but not all of them. Then, I have to provide them different levels of production tools:
Web also have:


Book: L'année du jeu vidéo

One of the author of L'année du jeu vidéo, Jean-Philippe Alba, lets me know that only 500 copies are still available. Don't miss this book if you are interested in the French video game industry (I will talk about its content later): only 10 € on this site.


Amusement: "Videogames, interaction, style, inspiration"

A few days ago, I was at a video game party in Paris (5ème Petite Soirée entre Amis du Jeu Vidéo). There were some friends and I met very interesting people, among others: Abdel Bounane. He is the co-founder and editor in chief of a new magazine about video games. Have a look at www.amusement.fr and you will feel the spirit of the mag...


Description of My Course About Video Games

In March, I will open my course about video games (IC06). Here is the description of this course:
Nowadays, video games are recognized as artistic creations and their industry plays an important part in the world economy. IC06 proposes an introduction to the world of video games: to understand what's at stake, to study the industrial process, and to finalize a production project. A video game will be designed and then realized, with or without programing, during the semester.


Book: Teaching Videogames

I like James Newman's books (senior lecturer in Media Communications at Bath Spa University). Previously, I read Videogames (2004): this is one of the relevant books to start studying video games. I also read 100 Videogames (2006): a selection of 100 video games and I am one of the contributors of Difficult Questions About Videogames (co-edited by James Newman).

Soon, I will begin a new course about video games... So, I have just read another book by James Newman: Teaching Videogames (2006, written with Barney Oram). Here is a selection of very relevant sections for my course:
  • Why study videogames?
  • Genre classification of videogames (adventure, beat'em up, platform, puzzle, racing, rhythm action, role-playing games, shooters, sports, strategy)
  • Game analysis (narrative/structure, action, character, visuals, sound)
  • Womem and videogames
  • Videogame fans: From players to producers
  • Composition of the videogame industry

Video Games Live: A Musical Show Based on Video Games

Sometimes, I sing a video game theme... For example: Magical Sound Shower from Out Run. I did a cover of this theme in the 90's with my first band!

This is why I will be at Video Games Live, in Paris (December 18, 2008). This is a musical show based on video games: an orchestra plays video game themes and the public can watch videos from theses games. What a cool idea!