Results tagged “online games”

Full House Poker vs 1 vs 100

5638935722 cebd40cfc3 bMy online-multiplayer itch has been acting up again, so on the recommendation of some of my Xbox Live-playing friends, I recently started playing Full House Poker. Designed by Microsoft Game Studios, it provides a satisfyingly polished implementation of Texas Hold ‘Em. It manages to really impress me in a couple of more subtle and surprising ways, though, one of which has little to do with Poker itself.

With delight did I realize, after spending an evening with it, that Full House Poker is the spiritual successor to the late and quite lamented 1 vs 100, a game killed long before its time. I managed to write about that one only once during its brief life, recounting a wonderfully humiliating moment I suffered before an audience of thousands. Between the banter provided by a live host, the clever blend of game show and videogame tropes, and the simple fact that it really was a simultaneous ludic experience shared among a huge and diverse audience, 1 vs 100 was the closest thing I’ve ever experienced to true interactive television.

And I assume that’s what did it in, too; when you mix a videogame with a television show so successfully, I suppose you must also introduce television-specific risks to your game’s health. And so I witnessed a game near to my heart suffer the same fate that befalls half the TV shows I discover and love: it got cancelled two seasons in, for reasons the audience can only guess at. It will almost certainly never come back, forever buried under the immovable weight of expired intellectual-property agreements.

So you can imagine how pleased I was to discover though Full House Poker that Microsoft didn’t write off the entire parcel as a failed experiment. While it doesn’t present the same experience, or at the same scale, I find it very clear that a great deal of technology, philosophy, and in-house experience developed by Microsoft for 1 vs 100 lives on in Full House Poker, despite the significant differences in the games themselves.

Shelf Space

2920993639_173d82738e_o.jpgOne of the more memorable chapters of Scott McCloud's Reinventing Comics - his somewhat obscure followup to the paradigm-shifting Understanding Comics - is a critique of how much of the comics market (outside of Japan, anyway) is given over to superheroes. While acknowledging that he'd launched his own career with superhero tales, McCloud described the frustration that a comics creator faces when they wish to tell any other sort of story: that a graphical medium of boundless possibility should fail to have significant sales for anything other than the ripping adventures of flying musclemen in longjohns.

This came to mind for me as I recently started exploring multiplayer online games. Leaving aside certain Facebook games and other capital-c casual exercises, the space seems clearly dominated by either first-person shooters or MMOs. Wandering through discussions on web-based forums, or browsing the games that people were playing together on networks like Xbox Live or Steam, I found very little activity that didn't involve a picture of a gun poking out of the lower-right of the screen. This leads me to think about connections between these games' predominance and the consistent rank-and-file of men in tights on the walls of the comic shop.

Farewell to Megaton

mw-t.pngI have decided to spend less time playing solitaire digital games. I won't hold myself to a zero-tolerance limit on this; petit fours indie efforts of all stripes certainly remain fair game, for one thing. (Most recently across my plate: Continuity. Delicious.) But high-budget blockbuster attention-sinks are off the menu for now. Here you observe me not playing Bioshock 2, even if I rather liked the first game. Now see how I sit perfectly at peace about leaving Grand Theft Auto IV unfinished, though I certainly had fun banging through its first third or so last Thanksgiving.

The experience with Team Fortress 2 I described a couple of weeks ago has had a clarifying effect on my relationship with games. I've come to realize that, more than questions of art, story or mechanical design, it is games' ability to bring people together through play that I find their most interesting and engaging aspect. I mean this in all of games' non-solitaire forms, from board games straight through to Super Smash Bros. And, yes, even to sports, though you won't mind if I leave it to others to write about that...

Of particular interest to me today is online multiplayer games, a field of vast potential whose successes uplift me as much as its shortfalls and untapped areas intrigue me. I admit that I feel a little defensive about this, when the digital realm has lately enjoyed a lot of very interesting experimentation with local multiplayer games, those that you play with friends in the same room. (For example, have you seen Pax Brittanica yet?) Online play, meanwhile, seems much less vibrant at first glance, dominated by MMOs and shooters on one side, Farmville on the other, and not much in between.

But, given my own history as a game-player, my specific attraction to online play doesn't surprise me at all.

Planbeast is live

I can finally announce that web-based service involving games which I have been coyly hinting at in recent posts here: Planbeast, a free scheduling service for Xbox Live games.

In a nutshell, Planbeast lets you use the web to schedule times that you'd like to play your favorite Xbox 360 games online. You can use RSS or iCal to know when other fans of these same games set up matches of their own, which you can then join as a guest. When the time comes to play a scheduled game, everyone who has opted-in for notification receives an email or an IM telling them who's playing, and how to get started.

Xbox Live is a very clever and robust online game network, but - like all the major such networks - its "matchmaking" functionality is rather wanting. Depending on the game, trying to play online with strangers all too often means either finding nobody at all online, or finding yourself playing with unsavory sorts. Planbeast aims to help this by connecting fans of games with one another, and letting a game's online players know who and what to expect from the other folks at the table.

We think it's really cool, and if it proves popular enough, we'll consider expanding it to cover other online game networks as well.

I've been working on this project with my Volity Games colleagues Andy Turner and (the Gameshelf's own) Andrew Plotkin in what time we could scrounge over the last six months. There's lots of work to do still (holy cow is there), but the site does everything it says it will in its present state. It's going to be in public beta for a while, so I would be thrilled if you visited and let us know what you think. We plan on making daily tweaks and updates to the site for so long as our users continue finding bugs and making suggestions.

Help me research some Xbox Live stuff

As I mentioned last month, I'm leading the development of a new, game-flavored, web-based service. We're now very close to launching its first draft, but before that happens, I could use a little community help with a certain aspect of it.

In order to make sure its user documentation is correct, I need some experience playing Xbox 360 games over Xbox Live with non-random people. In other words, I need to get more familiar with XBL's invitation and "party" systems, versus just hitting "Quick Match" after firing up a game and taking your chances playing with the total stranger the system pairs you up with. (Which is often nobody at all, for games other than the most popular.)

Because of my confidence that viewers and readers of The Gameshelf are some of the finest and most erudite game-players on the internet, I would like to invite whichever of y'all have an XBL Gold account, a headset mic, and some free time to give me a hand here. Basically, I'm just asking for folks to play a game or two with me, sometime in the near future. The main goal is for me to better grok how invitations work in XBL, but if I must actually play the games in order to do this, then this is a burden I am willing to bear.

Here are the titles I would be willing to try this with (but feel free to suggest alternates):

• Carcassonne
• Catan
• Bomberman Live
• Castle Crashers
• Team Fortress 2 (The Orange Box)
• Schizoid
• Assault Heroes
• Aegis Wing
• Ticket to Ride
• Lost Cities
• Every Extend Extra Extreme
• Heavy Weapon
• Uno
• Worms

If you are able to help, feel free to contact me about this through comments here, via email, or, yes, via XBL (that's my Gamercard there on the right). All I offer in return is a thank-you note in the project blog, along with the knowledge that you helped improve a project that is seeking to make online gaming a better experience for everyone. Also you get to play a game with me, so there's that too.

Weekly Werewolf at

The user midnyte007 on Volity's discussion forums has suggested that a weekly game of Werewolf really ought to happen Saturday nights, at 7pm Pacific time.

As Volity's principal founder, and a fan of Werewolf (whose Volity version was developed by our own Andrew Plotkin), I encourage readers to give it a whirl. (If you don't already have a copy of Gamut, the cross-platform desktop application you need to play Volity games, you can download it from's front page.)

Obligatory Gameshelf link: Werewolf on YouTube.

Gleemax Games

The WotC social network for gamers, Gleemax, launched the alpha version of its online games page. The games are all free to play for a limited time (no clue when that time will be up, or what sort of charges will apply later). Right now, the games they have are Axis & Allies, RoboRally, Acquire, Guillotine, Desktop Tower Defense, Vegas Showdown, and Magic the Gathering: Online. And it looks like they have AI for each of them except MtG:O. I haven't played any of them yet. Free registration required.

Pylon online (and other stuff)

pylon.pngDoug Orleans' Pylon, winner of the 2007 Icehouse Game Design Competition as reported in Episode 6, is now an online game! It's hosted on the Volity Network, with art and programming by Doug himself. The user interface is rather basic but entirely functional, and the game's playable against both human and automated opponents. Give it a try!

(Special insider Gameshelf trivia: I referred to Doug as "Somerville's own" during that show, even though he had moved to Billerica, several towns away, by then. But I figured that he probably at least started to think about the game that would become Pylon while he still lived here, so it was all good.)

Some unrelated notes, while I'm here:

I discovered a couple of days ago that the spam-fighting features of this blog were wound a bit too tightly, and perfectly legitimate comments were getting treated as junk. If you got a message that your comment was being held for moderation, but you never saw it appear even days later, please accept my apologies! All such comments have been promoted to their rightful, visible status now, and I've tweaked the blog's spam-fighting settings to act a bit more lenient. Please let me know if you sense anything fishy going on in the future.

In happier news, I'm pleased to announce that production has begun on our first couple of new episodes for 2008. These shows will be different from those that came before, in several ways. We're trying new things with the format, and we're also shooting footage for more than one episode at once, which I will later edit into separate half-hour shows; this is my attempt to complete more than two shows per year. It's gonna be the best year yet for The Gameshelf, and we're happy to have you watching!

Acquire updates

A couple of updates regarding the Sid Sackson classic Acquire, which we covered in episode 6. (And here's a YouTube review excerpt.)

First, I'm happy to report that Hasbro is bringing it back into print, by way of its Avalon Hill imprint! It's due for a June 13 release in the US, where it will cost $30. I look forward to seeing what shape it will take.

In sadder news,, the online clone of Acquire that we mentioned in the show, seems to be offline for the time being. If you visit the site now, you get a message from its owner, Brian Nahas, saying that the traffic was just too much for his modest server to bear. He hopes to bring it back online sometime this year, and is open to offers of hosting assistance.



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