February 2008 Archives
February 27, 2008
For those of you who have not played much of the long-running Wipeout series, allow me to explain what it's all about. Basically, the series is set in the future, where F1 racing is now seen as old-hat, so the people have decided to create anti-gravity racing machines capable of achieving speeds up to 1000km/h for their racing pleasure. Not content with injecting more speed and lack of gravity into the mix, they also apparently decided to give the racers access to weapons, boost pads, and shields, as well as what can only be described as brain-bending tracks to race their little ships on. Even the most speed-loving gamers should be quaking in their boots just thinking about it.
Back when I was younger, with my little grey PS1, I had the attention span of a small fish and the gameplay experience of Jack Thompson. In essence, I was awful at games. When Wipeout came out, I played the demo, crashed a load of times, and subsequently threw it away. The series went on without me, achieving greatness in the form of various sequels across various platforms. Following a mediocre stop on the PS2, it's now becoming a nice little series on the PSP, with the prequel Wipeout Pure back in 2005. This was a good return to past form for the series, and now we pick the story up with its sequel, Wipeout Pulse.
The game is not easier than its predecessors, but it is a refined beast, carrying on the good standing the series has on the PSP thanks to Pure. This is a game fans of the series and those that are new to it all can enjoy, and Sony chose this specific title to bring the PlayStation Network to the PSP for the first time. It's packed full of nice little bits that add up to give a nice big result.
What's most important to the Wipeout series is its unique gameplay. Pulse doesn't disappoint in this area, it's full-on, mad, and incredibly challenging. This is all achieved by the viciously tight courses and the dangerous AI, which coupled with the new weapons, will make you feel lucky every time you finish a race.
The game modes are now built to show this off, with Eliminator returning from Wipeout 3 to truly put the cat amongst the pigeons. If you cannot remember what this one is all about, it's basically what it says on the tin, an epic battle taking place across a single course, with the first team to 10 kills winning. In short, it's not for those with a nervous disposition. Other additions include the Speed-Lap and Head-to-head, which are fairly self-explanatory but they don't add too much to the gameplay, or at least not as much as Eliminator.
When information of the game was first revealed, everyone went mad about the "Mag-Strip", which basically sticks your craft to the track. This was included because it allows the player to go down straight 90 degree drops and to go through the loops. Apparently it was going to "break the gameplay", but I can assure you that it doesn't detract anything from the game, mainly because you only experience it for a few seconds as you speed straight on by. Loops are quite fun, but soon the novelty wears off when you realise it's just another distraction in the game's box of tricks to slow down the feeling of monotony so common with Wipeout games.
As is usually the case, the full game doesn't start until the Phantom Class. This is the very pinnacle of speed, where everything starts to fall into place and it all goes so fast that you are actually guaranteed to crash. That's all well, but you still have to grind through all of the other slow classes until you can get to the full meat of the experience, and that is not good at all. If there was some way to skip the slower classes, it would allow those that are fairly experienced with the game to get to the part they want.
Looking at the multiplayer features, there is obviously the traditional Ad-Hoc mode, but what I liked was the Infrastructure Mode, which actually uses the PlayStation Network, the first time it's appeared on the PSP. However, there was a few glitches signing in with the system, but once I managed to get into the server list, it was remarkably easy to join a match and get going. My in-game experience was very solid. The loading times were adequate, there was barely any lag, and it was just generally fun. Disappointingly, there is no way to communicate with your enemies, but I think a rocket up the back of their ship is all the communication that's needed in this arena.
Music is another key feature of the Wipeout series, and while this list could be described as being a bit too "European" for western audiences, I think it's a genuinely good playlist that sets the tone of the game nicely, with some thumping beats and electronic. The game also supports custom soundtracks so you can play your mp3's from your memory sticks if the included playlist isn't your bag. Another useful feature is the ability to take screenshots in-game, which came in rather useful for this review funnily enough.
To conclude, this is a great start to what could be a great year of releases for the PSP. Even though the system has an abundance of racing games, Pulse definitely stands out amongst the crowd despite its flaws and repetitiveness. There is quite a lot on offer here, and I think it shall keep you busy for quite a while. Besides, I don't think you're going to see that many games this year that let you travel over 900km/h, unless Fable 2 has an anti-gravity hovering vehicle mode or Wipeout HD finally arrives for PS3.
PLUSES: Great gameplay, online multiplayer, huge amount of content. Genuinely mad speeds that seem audacious even in today's fast world.
MINUSES: Slightly repetitive, real action still doesn't start until Phantom class, new modes seem tacked on.
FINAL VERDICT: 8.0 BUY IT!
A few important pieces of Sony news surfaced yesterday, most notably a slightly more finalized release date for the highly anticipated Metal Gear Solid 4.
Gamers can expect to see the game sometime in "late Q2 2008". Earlier reports stated the date as June 12, 2008, but that date has been shot down by Sony.
Sony also confirmed that the Dualshock 3 will be coming to America in April for $54.99 alone, or in a special $499.99 PS3 Metal Gear Solid 4 bundle which includes the game, an 80GB PS3, and the new rumble equipped controller. Sound like a good deal to me!
Last but not least is a special Beta for the separate game, Metal Gear Online, accessed by pre-ordering the Metal Gear Solid 4. The Beta will be launched some time in April. All together, this looks to be an oddly excellent summer for gamers.
February 25, 2008
If you thought that the Falling Sand Game and Desktop Tower Defense already took up too much of your time, then quick, avert your eyes! The simple, 2D physics simulator, Phun, will suck you in and never let your go!
Phun is a fairly deep, yet easily accessible 2D physics simulator. It's not a "game" in the technical sense, but you can easily spend hours messing with it.
You can create blocks, springs, pistons, liquids, and freehand objects, all of which can have their friction, mass, and "bounciness" changed. Examples of complex motors and machines come with the game, as well as catapults and cars.
The possibilities are almost unlimited: make two battering rams and charge them into each other. Build a tower and play a game of Jenga or just destroy it with a catapult. Change their density, friction, and gravity to create perpetual motion machines or super dense bullets of doom. I'm sorry if you enjoyed your spare time. Really I am.
Video after the jump.
February 24, 2008
VirginWorlds.com, Michael Zenke from Slashdot and Massively.com, and Michael Gordon Shapiro from MikeMusic.com (and the man responsible for the Gaming Steve theme song).Mike even sings a bit of his theme song on the show ... something to behold. Enjoy! Gaming Steve Episode 71 Program
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Earlier it reported that EA's John Riccitiello contacted Take-Two in the hope of purchasing the publisher in a $2 Billion deal. Take-Two released a statement and rejected the deal as inadequate.
The main complaint over the alleged deal from Take-Two is that EA only wishes to purchase them to take advantage of the upcoming release of Grand Theft Auto IV, and quoting their press release; it was "highly opportunistic". Also, the press release stated that "the offer values the company at a significant discount to its public peers and does not compensate Take-Two for its intrinsic value and the substantial synergies that the proposed combination would create".
Strauss Zelnick, Executive Chairman of the Board of Take-Two stated,
"Electronic Arts' proposal provides insufficient value to our shareholders and comes at absolutely the wrong time given the crucial initiatives underway at the Company. Thanks to the extraordinary efforts of our creative and business teams, Take-Two has made enormous strides in the past 10 months toward our common goal of being the most creative, innovative and efficient company in our industry. We're extremely proud of our unique portfolio of game franchises, exceptional creative talent and loyal consumer following. Our Board believes that we will build greater value for our stakeholders by remaining relentlessly focused on our strategy and delivering on our mission of making the highest quality interactive entertainment."
Personally, I'm really happy to see Take-Two fighting back and showing that they are the ones with all the cards. This news should also be a cause for relief amongst fans too, who had a meltdown earlier following the unveiling of the EA proposal. The options for EA are now fairly limited, with the unconfirmed key prospect of them now going for a hostile takeover of the company.
On Sunday, EA announced that it has proposed to purchase Take-Two for $26 per share in cash, which is equal to approximately $2.0 billion and an 64% percent premium on the going rate for the stock over the last 30 days. The move is bound to give the publisher near-complete dominance in the gaming world, giving them complete control of some of the best IPs in the industry. EA have cheekily set up a takeover website, eatake2.com, which outlines the takeover details.
"Our all-cash proposal is a unique opportunity for Take-Two shareholders to realize immediate value at a substantial premium, while creating long-term value for EA shareholders," said John Riccitiello, CEO of EA. "Take-Two's game designers would also benefit from EA's financial resources, stable, game-focused management team, and strong global publishing capabilities."
However, this is not going to be pretty for us gamers, with EA's current strategy of releasing sequels every year not only hurting the pockets of gamers, but also perhaps the quality of it's games. Hopefully, EA can see that some of the best titles in the industry are those which have been given a reasonable amount of time to ferment.
Also, we must remember this is just a proposal, and Take-Two recently dismissed a $25 per share merger from EA, so perhaps it might not happen, if we're lucky. If it does happen though, it raises a huge question for the future of the industry, with less competition and too many "super-publishers", could creativity be throttled in favor of regular yearly sequels?
The sequel to last years surprise hit "puzzle RPG hardcore casual game", Puzzle Quest, was revealed last week as the Sci-Fi themed hexagonal puzzle RPG, Puzzle Quest: Galactrix.
The game was actually announced last year in April, but was today re-branded as part of the Puzzle Quest series. The game's basic puzzle combat has been tweaked beyond the implementation of the hexagonal shapes. Gravity will now play a part, meaning when orbit around a planet pieces will fall down, but in empty space pieces follow their momentum and will move wherever you send them.
Players can also look forward to building space ships and traversing solar systems (and perhaps entire galaxies) as well as another ... deeply involving plot. The game will be released later this year for Xbox 360, PC, and DS, but strangely has not confirmed for the PSP.
February 21, 2008
Nintendo today confirmed that it will be expanding its Virtual Console selection to include the legendary Commodore 64 in Europe. American Commodore fans are currently being snubbed, with no confirmation of them appearing on the Virtual Console service over the pond. Moreover, each game will cost you 500 Wii Points, which is actually more expensive than most of the new C64 games back in their day. The first few games that will be available on the service will be International Karate and Uridium, with more titles to follow.
"The massive impact the Commodore 64 had on video-gaming is still evident today with many gamers remembering the computer and its games with great fondness," Bala Keilman, CEO of Commodore Gaming stated. "By working with Nintendo of Europe, we are ensuring that future generations of gamers can play some of the best and most popular titles that kick-started the computer games revolution and so keep the C64 legacy in gamers hearts."
Laurent Fischer, Managing Director of European Marketing & PR of Nintendo Europe continued: "We are extremely pleased to be working with Commodore Gaming to provide even more retro hits for Wii owners to choose from on Virtual Console. With over 184 classic titles now available to enjoy, Virtual Console on Wii is a great way for users to access a breadth of classic retro games. We hope that this great choice of games will bring nostalgia to our gaming fans, while an entirely new generation of video game players can experience a host of classic games for the very first time."
Personally, I am quite looking forward to revisiting old Commodore 64 classics, but that price point is nearly enough to make me get up and climb into my attic to try and find my original C64 console. Moreover, I'm skeptical of how some of the games will handle on the Wii, and the reception they will get on VC will definitely be something to look out for.
Huge Success! The song that kept GlaDOS in all of our hearts well after Portal came to an end (which won GDC's Game of the Year award by the way) will be coming to Harmonix's rock band simulator... Rock Band in the form of DLC. From the Rock Band Blog:
That is when we jumped on-stage and pulled out our Rock Band equipment piece by piece. Dan Teasdale (one of our senior designers) started picking a three person band with Jonathan and Alex Rigopulos (co-founder of Harmonix and head honcho). When they got to the song list they scrolled through an almost infinite amount of DLC until eventually they stopped on one-
Details including "when" and "how" weren't released, so we can only hope it will be soon (and cheap or free!). It's hard to overstate my satisfaction...
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Sony touted their free to use cross-platform development engine at GDC, with some interesting details. Perhaps most of note is the fact that this Sony created development engine can be used to make games for the PS3 as well as the PC and Xbox 360.
So far three games have used the engine (flOw, Gripshift, and DiRT), with two of those games being available on the Xbox 360 (the fact that two of them have sTranGe CAPiTALiZATiON is mere coincidence). So why give a powerful "graphics engine", with "full source code and artwork" to developers working on multi-platform titles?
It would seem Sony is looking at the market realistically, and seeing more and more games going multi-platform. With the PhyreEngine, Sony hopes game developers will make games on the PS3 first (like Burnout: Paradise) and then port them over the the Xbox 360. Usually multi-platform games are made the other way around, being that the Xbox 360 is easier to develop on (and slightly less powerful). Sony understands that the console the game is made on first (the Lead Platform), is usually the the console the game ends up running on better. Hopefully we will see the continued success of Sony's new found "logical thinking" strategy.
A demonstration of the city music planner that I recorded from the Spore talk, "Procedural Music in Spore" from the Game Developers Conference 2008.
A demonstration of the spaceship editor that I recorded from the Spore talk, "Procedural Music in Spore" from the Game Developers Conference 2008.
A demonstration of the creature editor that I recorded from the Spore talk, "Procedural Music in Spore" from the Game Developers Conference 2008.
February 20, 2008
Today I attended two different talks on Spore today and managed to take as many pictures as I could while liveblogging those events. I'll also be posting several videos I took at those events later today once I can find some stable bandwidth to upload these monsters.
All of the pictures were taken from the latest build of Spore , enjoy!
More details about Fable 2 have been revealed at GDC including 2-player co-op on one machine, though Peter Molyneux wouldn't rule out the feature being implemented online. Currently players will be able to instantly join another players game (unfortunately without their now synonymous canine companion) to delve into dungeons and even meet the family.
In order to keep the context of a world that responds to all of your actions, Molyneux explained that a friend you bring into your world can have a drastic effect on it. In a specific case, a friend Molyneux brought into his world shot and killed the husband of his female character. His husband would be dead for ever and his child would most likely be sent to an orphanage.
During combat your friend could gain experience and money, even playing on someone else console, by using their Gamertag. The graphics have reportedly been made much prettier since the games last showing. Also announced was an Xbox Live Arcade full of minigames related to the Fable 2 universe. Players will be able to earn money through activities such as gambling and then use it in the full game, which will be released a few weeks later (neither games release date was announced).
Microsoft finally lifted the curtain on Epic’s highly-rumoured Gears of War 2 at their GDC Keynote today. The game is slated to be released this November in a press release after the conference, which also included a nice quote from everyone’s friend, CliffyB, lead designer for Epic Games:
"To our team the original game was just a tease, the appetizer to the Gears of War characters and new style of gameplay. We were so amped to get to the next chapter, and dig deeper into the universe of this franchise. Gears of War 2 is an even bigger, better, and more badass experience than the first game, and we can’t wait to get it in the hands of eager gamers this November."
Also, the trailer that appeared at the keynote was released on Xbox Live earlier, along with a free picture pack and a free theme for your perusal, as part of Microsoft’s “Bringing it Home” initiative. Full trailer after the break.
2:25 – Okay, this I did not expect. The talk is in a conference room underground and I can’t get a signal. So this will be a delayed liveblog, sorry everyone.
2:28 – Caryl Shaw started her talk, said that the European version is coming out first is that Europe is a much larger PC market than the States.
2:30 – Started the talk, explaining how they thought the game was going to dispute the content using an aesthetic matching system, but it seems like they are going in a new direction.
2:33 – They needed to build a way to organize the content and distribute it. This is what her talk is going to be about, how to organize all of the content.
2:34 – Their main goals were to encourage content discovery – the first time you encounter something within the game which is new you will get the “card” which contains all of the user creation information on it.
2:35 – Achievement system will reward you throughout the game using a variety of features and methods.
2:36 – Talking about quality and how quality metrics are being measured. The best content is not always the most popular content and they wanted to create a system which will reward content which isn't just the most popular.
2:37 – You can create buddy lists, Sporecasts, ban stuff that you don’t like, can browse, search and sort for items both within the Sporepedia as well as on the web.
2:38 – Showing the community web site, looks like a social network site for just Spore. Has personal info, featured content, subscribed Sporecasts, my creatures, widgets, stats, and more. This will live at Spore.com
2:39 – There is an in-game user-page for Spore very similar to what is on the web site. Looks very similar to your profile within Steam
2:40 – Extensive social networking tools – search, comment system, storytelling movie-making system,
2:41 – Cayrl opened the game and showed how the login feature worked. Looked like any other MMORPG login screen actually.
2:42 – You can put your creature on a t-shirt or mug and they are working on the ability to create a 3D creature but they are really fragile and they need figure out how to ship these figures without breaking them.
2:43 – You will also be able to create comic books based upon your Spore content. They are working with a comic book software creation company, but she wouldn’t say who.
2:45 – You can jump right into the game and access ANY editor at any time.
2:46 – Got yelled at that I couldn’t film the talk, nice.
2:47 – Caryl started to build her creature, the interface is REALLY cleaned up from the last time I saw it.
2:48 – You can paint a creature “like” something. So she tried to paint her creature using the same paint scheme as a Gamecube. I also saw an Xbox 360, PS3, and other systems in there.
2:49 – You can record a movie directly within the game and then upload your move, from within the game, directly to YouTube. That is slick.
2:50 – Showing off the Sporepedia now, you can “test out” other people’s creatures and see how they work.
2:51 – All the card within the Sporepedia are only a PNG file and ALL the information for each creature is within the PNG file. Each file is around 30k in size. You can email these PNG files to anyone you want and then drag-and-drop those PNG files directly into the game and it will be added.
2:53 – Demoing a cheeto creature, it is amazing that you can basically make anything you want within this game. The creatures she is showing is going by fast and furious but it seems like you can make anything you want.
2:54 – You can leave comments on other people’s creatures, users,
2:55 – You can “subscribe” to your friends stuff and the game will increase the chance that you’ll see creatures within your game.
2:57 – Demoing a creature which looks like a cricket and it actually got a gasp from the audience it was so cool.
2:58 – Sporecasts are themed groupings of content. So you can create groupings on any subject you want, demoing “cool buildings” right now.
2:59 – They made it really hard to make “realistic” creatures on purpose, but people are still managing to do it.
3:00 – Showing off a city hall which looks like a stack of sushi.
3:01 – Showing off how you start a new Civilization game. You first select your “theme” for the game based upon a premade list, you then select the “type” of game you want to play – Military, Religious or Economic, name your planet, select your color for your empire, and then select your assets within the game. Your creatures and your city hall.
3:03 – They are working on the transitions on the game.
3:04 – The game crashed while she was going to start showing the Civ game, I guess they have more work to do on it.
3:05 – Tried to show off the Civ game again, again it crashed. Doh.
3:06 – Started the backup version of the game and is now playing the off-line version.
3:08 – Took a question, the DS and the PC versions won’t share content. But the PC and Mac versions will share content.
3:09 – Game started up, it looks like a simplified version of Civilization actually. She places a few vehicles, buildings. Showing off the music system within the game and how you can create music and then save it as a PNG file just like anything else within the game.
3:12 – Caryl finished up her talk early and is now taking Q&A.
3:14 – Expects people to create their own widgets for just Spore.
3:15 – Looking at the live Sporepedia. Interestingly there are only 1791 of “everything” on the server right now, and Caryl herself made 70 items. So it looks like they have a lot more, a lot more, to add to the game for the “off-line” experience.
3:17—You can’t take someone else’s creation, add a single thing, and then upload it and take credit for it.
3:18 – Someone is asking if you can sell your content within the game or you can buy content within the game. So far that is not within the game and right now everything is free, but EA owns the software and he will have the final decision.
3:23 – Talking about load testing the Spore servers. The Sims 2 had over 700,000 people register within the first week and they know that Spore will likely far exceed that number. So they are testing the servers extensively and will try to have 100% uptime.
3:25 – Talking about toolsets for just people to manage community aspects – Sporemasters.
3:26 – All movies are saved in AVI of the PC and something which works within iMovie on the Mac.
3:30 – The talk ended and I have a ton of pictures and video to show. I'll upload those later for everyone to see!
Today, Nintendo has revealed the dates for two of their most anticipated Wii games in Europe. Mario Kart Wii will be released on April 11th, with Wii Fit slated to be released later on April 25th.
That Mario Kart Wii European release date is good, as it’s a day after the Japanese release, and a US release date hasn’t been confirmed yet. Perhaps Nintendo is feeling guilty about the Smash wait and wants to make amends to their loyal European fans. This could also be a tactic they are adopting that stops fans from importing consoles, as people are so fed up of the delays that they are just simply getting a US Wii and a small power transformer, and reaping the rewards.
The fact that Wii Fit is coming out a month before the US release in Europe is also a very good move by Nintendo, as it allows them to test what the US reaction to the game will be in a “lesser” territory, and thus prepare accordingly. Such an obscure title could go either way in terms of sales, so this idea of a “first-run” will help them in pitching to the right market.
Nintendo is showing Europe that it can have some games before or around the same time as the US, and this is extremely encouraging for the foreseeable future. If this trend can continue, then perhaps there is hope for this unfortunately unlucky region.
After two years of keynotes and press events, Microsoft seems to have finally committed to their "YouTube of games" with Xbox Live Community Arcade. Based of the XNA development software, gamers will soon be able to make games on PC and move them to either the Xbox 360 or the Zune.
Using peer reviews, Microsoft hopes that "Game distribution will be democratized, allowing the community to control the content". (Chris Satchel, Game Developer Group General Manager). Gamers will be able to create a "creator identity" similar to that of their gamer tag (though couldn't they use the one they already have?) so users can find preferred game makers, as well as games that suit their tastes based on descriptive sliders.
This could potentially be huge, considering how big social networks and YouTube have gotten. Hopefully Microsoft can make an experience as cohesive as the rest of the Xbox Live experience.
11:57 - Just ran from the Microsoft keynote -- biggest news was Gears of War 2 announced for release this November 2008. Also ran into Caryl Shaw who is giving a Spore speech at 2:30 PM PST. She said to me that she was "going to be showing a lot, I should be really happy with what I see." Can't wait.
12:02 - Still waiting for the talk to start, the lots of people still walking over from the Keynote no doubt.
12:02 - Kent Jolly began his talk, started to talk about the background of procedural music in Spore.
12:04 - At first they didn't think they were going to do procedural music as it was going to be a huge undertaking on top of an already huge project.
12:06 - The other issue was making sure that procedural music didn't take up too much CPU-wise. So far this is a very hardcore developer lecture where they appear to be talking about the real background info on making a system rather than gameplay elements so far...
12:07 - Big turning point was Brain Eno and when he joined the team to develop the music.
12:14 - Kent demoed very simple drum sounds being created using a simple procedural tool. Mostly just demoing very simple sounds, very hardcore development talk right now.
12:17 - Yeah! Jumping into the game and the creator editor!
12:18 - Slight detour, showing Brain Eno's thoughts on how to make the music and it looks insanely complex, sounds it too and they dropped his tool from the game. Still waiting to see the music in the game.
12:20 - Finally jumped into the game and the creator editor.
12:24 - Sorry for the delay, just recorded several minutes of creating a creator. Each section of the editor will cause a different type of sound. Also depending upon the "type" of creator you create will change the music type. Create a create with a lot of weapons and the music will be much darker. The music will try to reflect the "feel" of your creature AS you create it.
12:27 - Aaron McLeran started to talk and is now speaking about the spaceship editor.
12:28 - Main goals was to create music which never repeats, is always interesting and fun to listen to, the music is playful, and that the music responds to the user.
12:29 - In the UFO editor it will be more "futuristic" while the creator editor had more "tribal" music.
12:32 - Now showing the Air Vehicle editor.
12:33 - The music will also change depending upon the "type" of society you build. If you build a religious society your music will have a more "religious" feel with pipe organs and such. The music will reflect the type of game you are playing as well as the society you are building.
12:35 - Wow, I just looked behind me (I'm in the front row) and the room is freaking packed. Who would think that a talk about music would get sold out?
12:36 - Each and every aspect of the various editors will play music and beats. You can actually create a song just by building a creator. Aaron actually created a small song while creating a UFO while he was painting it, very cool.
12:39 - Back into the programming tool and back to hardcore development talking.
12:45 - Hardcore music theory going on right now, showing how they managed to take classic pieces of music and had it procedurally generated within their tool.
12:47 - More talk, starting to upload the videos I took from the editors for you to see these editors and music in action...
12:50 - About to start taking questions, still demoing the music tool and how simple beats can be created. Interesting but really high level that people within the game itself wouldn't care anything out.
12:51 - Wrapping up, whoa, just went back into the game.
12:52 - Showing where you can customize the music yourself. You can do it within the Civ game and we're seeing the city music planner.
12:55 - You can create the beat, anthem, and ambiance sounds within the City planner. The music creator works very much like the other editors within the game -- very simple to use yet amazingly complex.
12:56 - You can save your music and trade it just like anything else within the game.
12:59 - Q&A time, nearly all of the music within the game is created procedurally. Another person asked that if you create music within the game and then want to release it who gets the royalty checks. Kent joked that EA would get those.
1:02 - The talk is over, I'm uploading the videos and I'll post those as soon as they're ready. Also the program they were using to create the music was MAX/MSP and PD ... probably should have mentioned that earlier.
Hey all I'm here at GDC, waiting for the Microsoft event to start, but I won't be liveblogging the Microsoft Keynote in order to save my laptop battery for the two Spore talks later today.
Tune back at 3:00 EST PM for "Procedural Music in Spore" and then later at 5:30 PM EST for "Pollination the Universe: User-generated Content in Spore" where I'll be liveblogging those two talks.
Also make sure to check back for my podcast which wraps-up the day's events. Need to save my battery for the back-to-back Spore talks!
February 19, 2008
Without the need of those goofy mo-cap ping pong balls, motion capture company Mova is bringing near photo realistic quality motion capture to the most popular current generation graphics engine. Using an array of cameras, powerful software maps 100,000 polygons in real time to create highly life like facial expressions. Mova founder Steve Perlman had this to say in Joystiq's scoop:
"This pushes Unreal Engine 3 to its very limit ... it's about as photo-real as you can get in real time. People have never had this kind of data available before in a game context ... their heads are spinning. What you're seeing right there is the result of, having time to wrap our heads around this thing and see how we're going to use it, and yes, we can in fact get a face that looks almost photo-real – you know, not quite, but almost photo-real – running in a game engine today."
This technology could save thousands of dollars and time. With the traditional mo-cap of the day, game makers get blocky, skeletal motion that they then have to turn into a convincing character. Mova's technology makes a near perfect face almost immediately after a shoot and seems to actually avoid the uncanny valley. Combining this with the extensive technologies already found in the Unreal Engine III, we games can hope for developers to spend more time on gameplay and story, and less time trying to get the tech right.
The high-def format race is finally over. Toshiba announced today it will no longer develop, make, or market HD DVD players and recorders.
"We concluded that a swift decision would be best," Toshiba President Atsutoshi Nishida told reporters in Tokyo after making the announcement.
To some this may be a surprise, and to HD DVD owners possibly even a huge letdown, but to others it's simply understandable as to why Toshiba has discontinued the HD DVD player. Blu-ray was winning the format wars and it seemed that Blu-ray finally got to a tipping point where it was inevitable they were going to win in the long run.
Perhaps it was the inclusion within the PlayStation 3, perhaps it was superior format, perhaps it was millions in back-door bribes. Whatever the end reason, Blu-ray has won and HD DVD is now officially dead.
This holiday season Sony's Blu-ray had a much more appealing marketing and management plan, dealing a massive blow to HD DVD's sales and ultimately leading to their demise.
Fortunately for XBox 360 owners the HD DVD is not an allowed format for video games on the console, but anyone who bought the extra accessory to enjoy the high-definition quality DVD's on their system are going to have to consider other outlets. Not to worry though; at CES 2008 Microsoft stated that if the consumers demanded Blu-ray over HD-DVD, they would certainly begin supporting it.
Sorry to see you go HD DVD. You had a nice run.
Yesterday a GamePro editor created quite the stir by speculating that Microsoft may be acquiring Epic Games for approximately $1 billion. While Microsoft would certainly be interested in Gears of War and Unreal Tournament, the majority of the buyout would certainly be for the Unreal Engine 3.
Of course this is all purely speculation – however, Microsoft is holding a briefing tomorrow (February 19) where they are expected to make a couple announcements, and Epic is having theirs on Thursday (February 20). Coincidence ... or the announcement of a big acquisition?
It's become quite a task in this industry to find out when a large company will be buying another, and most of the time any false accusations are almost immediately shot down by the smaller company. This is not the case in this incident, however. Epic Vice President Mark Rein told GamePro that if they wanted speculation, they should start out at least $2 billion as Epic wasn't going to be cheap.
What does this mean for gamers? Besides the fact that Microsoft would have a powerful engine licensed for all their future games (Unreal Engine 3) and Gears of War 2 and Unreal Tournament would certainly become Xbox 360 and PC exclusive. Or this could just be a crazy rumor and nothing more. Find out later this week.
Devil May Cry 4
DMC ain't normally my thing to be honest. While dabbling in past Cry titles for example, I've typically given up within the first hour or two, convinced that Team Ninja has little to worry about, and content in the fact that Ryu could throttle lady-boy Dante any day of the week. Needless to say, I'm more of a Ninja Gaiden guy.
At least, I was until 4 arrived. Quite simply, it won me over. It may be the fact that DMC3's insane difficulty has been replaced with a far more gradual and finely tuned learning curve (hypocritical, coming from a Gaiden fan I guess). Perhaps it's the inventive new combat system that the awe-inspiring addition known as the "Devil Bringer" affords. Or maybe it's just the swishy new next-gen visuals re-awakening the graphical harlot within me. Who knows? All I can say, is that numero quatro here has been devouring every spare hour of my life this past week. Sorry it took so long, sons of Sparda.
I therefore approach this game from far more of the perspective of the newcomer, as opposed to the devoted die-hard. Make of that what you will....
As luck would have it, DMC4 introduces a playable newbie of its own to the series; emo bad ass Nero, thus providing quite the convenient in-road for those in my shoes. Gorgeous early cut-scenes – all rendered real-time, as panning around with the right analogue stick soon proves – show Nero late for a ceremony at the local Opera House, in which his special lady friend is performing on stage for the Order of the Sword. Whoever they might be. In a minor hurry, Nero dispatches demons in the typically ludicrous DMC fashion amidst his brisk wall-run there, but you'd be forgiven for thinking you were actually watching good old Dante on first glance; bizarrely similar artistic design decisions ahoy.
No sooner has he shown up, when a mysterious (and rope-less) abseiler – who just so happens to be Dante himself – crashes the party from above and starts with the unprovoked assassinating. Nero promptly jumps into action and fends him off, and thus our game begins ... though you might be hard pressed to figure out just who you're actually controlling at first. Where the plot heads from here, I'll let you find out for yourself, but it's surprisingly riveting stuff that kinda caught me off guard actually. Epic cheddar-tinged brilliance awaits, I assure you.
As a character, Nero's fab in particular. While imbued with the trademark sword 'n' gun combo the series is known for, he's also host to a crazy blue demon arm; the previously touched upon Devil Bringer. Seemingly invincible – regularly punching its way through solid concrete and stopping razor sharp swords dead in their tracks – the arm works its way seamlessly into his arsenal to much bone-snapping amusement. You can ram enemies into the floor with shocking power, as well as fling the suckers around as if made from cotton wool, and it's spectacular looking stuff I must say. Meandering such tomfoolery into your turbo-charged melee combos becomes quite the sight in particular, with Nero – for example – able to slice and dice enemies all over the screen, grab 'em before they fall down dead, drag 'em back kicking 'n' screaming, then continue the pummeling with nary an interruption. You will smile.
The beauty of DMC4's fighting system is how many similarly great little nuggets of brilliance there are tucked away to discover should you so wish to though. Insane amounts of combos to learn, tons of weapons to unlock, and crazy magical powers are all a given, but there's also a great little charge-up mini-game to contend with too for instance, one barely touched upon in the tutorial. Coming across like a beat 'em up twist on Gears of War's much loved "active reload" feature, "instant revving" your sword up in this manner enables it to not only fire off even more unlockable specials, but also ups your damage quota in the process, and is yet another means of sprucing up your kills and raking in the style points. Yet I doubt many even know it's there.
Unlike Ninja Gaiden, you can randomly button bash your way through Nero's various abilities to quite some success you see, pulling off some pretty damn impressive stuff, lack of dexterity be damned. Mastering them all to perfection will of course take far more perseverance though, affording Cry with however much depth you so desire. Lovely.
Yet there's more. Halfway through the game, Dante himself turns playable, giving you a whole other character to factor in on top. From what I understand, little has changed from controlling ol' white pubes since his previous outing – other than a newfangled real-time style change ability – but hey, it's still one hell of a pleasing addition that adds a ton more depth to an already insanely robust fighting system. One could never claim this game lacks stuff to do betwixt the hack 'n' slashing.
You could say DMC4's combat is what stood out to me above all else then. There are simply so many different combinations, weapons and techniques at your disposal, that each and every player essentially gets to craft their own distinct fighting style out of it. I love that. You just know a game's on to something special when every single time a wall is sealed and you're forced to bash your way through further hordes of respawning enemies in order to proceed, you get a brief surge of adrenaline and a smile creeps across your face. 4's battles just never grow old, it seems.
Of course, I have to mention how stunning the game looks too. From Lost Planet, to Dead Rising, to DMC and (one hopes) Resi 5, Capcom's ever impressive next-gen engine continues to drop jaws the more we see of it. The moody art design, Ico-esque vistas and effortlessly rich detail impress all the more when blazing along at a gloriously flawless 60 FPS, while character models and their subsequent animations are more than up to the task too. With some of the most spectacular looking bosses seen this side of God of War – many 30 times Nero's size at that – our boy's ability to then hurl such colossi around like a sack of soon-to-be-drowned kittens is the kinda giddy-infused video game experience that leaves you ready to give up on life and retire to your death bed. Resigned to the fact, that few experiences in the boring old real world will ever match up.
Gushing aside, I do have some niggles, that said. As spectacular as those boss battles are – and believe me, they really bleedin' are – the game seemingly runs out of ideas in its latter half, repeating 'em on a loop. In fact, the entire second half of the game is essentially a repeat of the first, played in reverse. This is a minor let-down in and of itself, yet making it considerably worse is the introduction of a pair of god-awful new grunts around this point who will burrow away at your very soul with their sheer and utter lame-ness. I refuse to call them by their official monikers, as to me they will always be the "Flying Blue Boob" and the "Electrically Charged Spazzer". And you've never experienced frustration until you've been introduced.
A lot of the goodwill the game sets up early on goes straight outta the window as a result, knocking DMC down a peg or two from where I'd initially placed it I'm sad to say. Don't even get me started on the penultimate "dice" level.
The trademark ear-bleeding fighting music that's plagued previous DMC games returns too, although at least that's nothing a little custom soundtrack twiddling won't fix if 360-endowed. More aggravating are some middling – to downright ginormous – camera issues, whose presence in this day and age is ... somewhat perplexing, really.
Disappointments an' all though, DMC4 is quite the achievement never the less. I think it speaks volumes that despite how far the game seemingly goes out of its way to shoot itself in the foot in its latter levels, I still returned day in, day out, ready to smother it with love and huge chunks of my time.
In fact, between the depth of the combat system, the insane technical accomplishments, and just that final unlockable gun alone (details of which, I'll resist spoilerating for now), I'd even go so far as to call it the first truly great game of 2008.
The question is, can Team Ninja now recapture the throne?
PLUSES: Fantastically balanced fighting action with scale-able depth and difficulty for all types of player. Hundreds of moves to see and learn, and at 15 to 20 hours long, plenty of game to use 'em in too. Graphics impress like nothing else.
MINUSES: Second half loses some of the early magic. Combat music blows, giving PS3ers major mp3 envy. Devil vets may feel déjà vu, given Dante's lack of upgrades (no skin off my back though!)
FINAL VERDICT: 8.0 BUY IT!
February 18, 2008
Today Wizards of the Coast announced that they have begun developing games for the Xbox Live Arcade and PC based on their Magic: The Gathering franchise. With their partnerships with Stainless Games and Mind Control Software, Wizards of the Coast have begun work on two games: one for the XBLA and PC, and another for PC and Mac.
"We’re excited to bring the Magic brand to new platforms and give our fans new ways to experience this great property,” said Jared Gustafson, Brand Director for Magic: The Gathering at Wizards of the Coast. “It’s partnerships like these that will advance the strategy games category and transform it to meet the needs and desires of today’s digital gamers."
On would think that they were created an online version of Magic: The Gathering for XBLA, but earlier today I was standing right next to Ilja Rotelli, the Director of Online Media for Wizards of the Coast, as this announcement was made and he personally informed me that these games were not an online version of Magic: The Gathering.
He explained to be that if you wanted to play Magic they already have the brand new Magic Online III coming out later this year. That is their online version of Magic and it's nearly complete.
Instead they are brining "the Magic: The Gathering brand to multiple platforms." Exactly what this means Ilja wouldn't tell me. But he said to expect to hear a lot more on Wednesday at GDC.
After all, Wizards is the Platinum Sponsor for this year's Independent Games Festival, you don't throw around that sort of cash unless you got something big to announce...
Tomorrow I leave for San Francisco and my 10th Game Developers Conference ... and oh how things have changed.
When I first started to go to GDC it was a small, intimate affair that didn't even register a mention on even the most hardcore gaming sites. Even people within the industry rarely heard of GDC, and you could tell.
Lectures were never crowded, game companies never made major announcements, and you easily walk right up to Will Wright or Warren Spector or anyone at all and have an informal chat about their latest game – GDC was about as low key as you could get.
And it was beautiful thing.
GDC was a hidden oasis in the gaming world, and we liked it that way.
But with the death of E3 and the explosion of gaming in general, the oasis has transformed into an all-night kegger with an endless stream of party-crashers. Somehow GDC became mainstream and now everyone and anyone attends GDC.
But yet I still love it and wouldn't miss it for the world! If you want to learn about videogames, how to make them, market them, sell them, or do anything at all within the industry, GDC is the place to be. And I'll be, right along with the other party-crashers celebrating my love for gaming.
With that being said, tomorrow I am off for GDC 2008 and this year I have a full-schedule. Just a few highlights:
In addition, I'm going to be helping out my good friends over at Evil Avatar in covering GDC this year. So look for some of my coverage there as well.
So stick around, hang out in the forums, and check back frequently. It should be a crazy week!
Gaming has recently been attacked yet again in the media following another terrible America school shooting. Mainly, games are being lauded as training tools for the perpetrators of these crimes, so I thought I would take my FPS skills into the paintball arena to see if games really have conditioned me to deal with shooting people and dealing with the consequences, and thus prove if they are to blame for society’s ills.
After watching FPS Doug on Pure Pwnage, who had a hard time comprehending the difference between gaming and reality, I was all set to go and test the respawn times and lag in real life.
From the beginning to the end of proceedings, it was a dangerous affair with what can only be described as a menagerie of vicious characters who would continue to shoot you when you were trying to get off the map.
Firstly, getting your friends altogether and organized is much more difficult in real life than in games, especially games with a decent party system such as Call of Duty 4 and Halo 3. Our group took a whole hour to finally get together.
Moreover, getting to the indoor arena took a solid fifteen minutes, which is a massive difference to the quick loading games we experience on our consoles.
So far, I was not impressed, and this mood did not improve when I discovered that it would cost me £31 of my own money for the pleasure, and a minuscule amount of ammo that I would normally use in the first five minutes of any FPS.
The worst was yet to come, as we were all handed Killzone-esque masks, a big boiler suit, and was forced to stuff my poor coat into a locker and wear some incredibly muddy shoes. How anyone could fight in this attire, I do not know.
When I play FPS, I just wear whatever I want and sit down in front of my glorious TV; I don’t have to dress up. However, I’m reliably informed that some fanboys and cosplayers wish to dress up in the attire associated with their favourite games when they play them, which I can assure you is not my bag.
Then, just as I thought we would be going to lay the smackdown in the arena, the “Marshall” took us into a bizarre little classroom to teach us how it all works. The controls are actually pretty good in real life actually, a lot of the stuff such as jumping and getting into cover are done automatically, and there’s only a trigger when firing a gun, and now pesky grenades to worry about.
However, reloading is completely flawed, you had to actually open each canister and open the cartridge to fill it up. When I discovered this, I was suitably outraged, but carried on in the name of good journalism regardless. This “Marshall” business was not what I was expecting though, if a game tried to bark orders at me during a multiplayer showdown, I would just ignore it and dish out my own brand of justice.
Going on to talk about the respawning system, I did inquire about this to the aforementioned “Marshall”, and was informed that there are no respawns, at least not in his religion. Moreover, there was not a lot of lag during the games, but we were only playing with 10 players, and we were all interfacing over real-life connections.
Also, the rumble and force feedback seemed to be much more pronounced in real life, and you could actually tell where you have been shot, which proved to be a vocal point of discussion. “That one in the head hurt” said one person, “I’m sore after that one” proclaimed another. Is this really a good thing? Surely us gamers enjoy games because they don’t kill us.
Furthermore, there were yet more differences between FPS and real life. Did you realize that you don’t get a HUD when playing paintballing? You have no indication of ammo, no on-screen reticules, and your helmet gets incredibly dirty and fogged up.
However, the difference in graphics and definition was so pronounced that it proved gaming has a long way to go to match their real-life equivalents. I’ve heard that real-life runs even better than the 1080p 24 Frames Per Second pinnacle of technology, and the screen size is simply incredible, offering a maddeningly expansive panoramic format.
The sound was also pretty good as well, going beyond that 7.1 barrier and achieving full 3D sound. All this contributed to the amazing atmosphere, which was much more involving, scarier, and fun than that of Team Fortress 2, for example.
So what did my hundreds of hours of gaming teach me about fighting in the real world? According to the media, I should have been a fully-trained one man army, having powers akin to that of Rambo.
In actuality, I was scared, tired, bruised, and actually terrible at shooting my enemies. I was so bad that other people had to humour me after my pitiful performance. I used up all my ammo over the course of one round, I couldn’t hold the gun right, I couldn’t take cover properly, and I was shot. Jack Thompson would probably be better at paintball than me.
The media has lied to me once more, and I am quite disappointed actually, and I guess we have to look in different places for something to blame.
February 15, 2008
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Recently it was revealed that the Marvel MMO canceled and that Cryptic Studios was instead working on a Champions MMO named Champions Online. Champions is one of the longest-running and best superhero RPGs and as the resident RPG guru, Steve asked me to take a minute and explain to folks why this is an awesome move.
First, I don’t really have any specifics about the upcoming MMO, so a lot of my feelings will change depending on whether the new game simply uses Champions characters and settings, or whether it uses the actual Champions game mechanics in any form.
I’m hoping it’s the latter myself.
One of the greatest things about Champions was the ability of the game system to model any superhero you wanted to create. It’s a point-based effects system, which means the game describes how it works, and you describe how it looks.
This gives you more variability and a greater ability to model characters. Here’s an example of what I mean. In Champions, the Flight power determines how fast you can fly, based on how many points you spend on it. Whether that Flight is you being carried along by a gust of wind (like Storm) or generating a jet of fire (like the Human Torch) is meaningless.
With a huge amount of effects to choose from, this allows Champions to model characters that are very difficult to model under any other supers system. This would be a great system for a MMO, since you’d almost never see characters that were similar.
Of course, Champions has some great IP as well, some excellent villain teams and some great super-agencies such as U.N.T.I.L. and their villainous counterpart Viper.
But it was always the game mechanics of the Champions system that drove me, and countless other players wild, so here’s hoping this game uses a system derived from Champions and not just the City of Heroes rules with a coat of Champions paint on it.
February 14, 2008
It seems Wired have managed to beat most of the other sites to the punch with the NPD results for January. There was little to separate the main consoles this month, mainly due to the supply constraints of both the Wii and the 360.
Here are the all-important hardware numbers:
These numbers are pretty disappointing, but it was just after Christmas and the whole madness of that time has died down somewhat, helped along by all the shortages. However, it does raise the question about what the companies are going to wheel out at GDC next week, as new SKUs by both Sony and Microsoft are rumored to be unveiled, and perhaps this could just be channel clearing on Microsoft’s part.
The total of the video games industry for January 2008 is down by 6% from last year, which may not sound like much, but is a worrying difference. However, software sales are up by 11%, which is pretty good news when you consider we are indulging in a bit of a quiet period in terms of new game releases.
Here is the software top-ten:
Nothing really stands out here either, apart from the fact that the Wii version of GH III has outsold the 360 version and Rock Band, which was more unexpected than the PS3 ever beating the 360 on the hardware side.
Overall, it’s a nice quiet month, which should get better within the next few months with the approach of some earth shaking games like GTA IV in April.
In the first of a series of articles where I detail things I love about games in the form of some lists, I decided to take a look at Advance Wars: Days of Ruin for the Nintendo DS.
The game has split opinions in the industry, with some people saying it’s become too easy and doesn’t have as many features as its predecessor (Dual Strike) and others proclaiming it to be a huge leap forward for the series in terms of gameplay and it’s much more mature storyline.
Furthermore, the new online multiplayer has taken centre stage alongside the series’ iconic gameplay. Please remember that I am still fairly new to the series, so don’t bash me if I find something interesting that may have been in the series for a while.
Without further deliberation, here are my top 5 things I love about this game:
1. It is still Advance Wars. When it was first announced that Nintendo wanted to go with a darker and brooding theme for this sequel, I was scared that the gameplay was going to be impacted to compensate for the lack of cute, young characters. However, that same old rock-paper-scissor type of gameplay is still in place and working exceedingly well with the new additions to the game. Even the new units such as the bike snap right in place like Lego.
2. The cutscenes are skippable. The much lauded new story is so bad that it makes Ugly Betty look like Shakespeare. For the purpose of writing this article, I had to endure what can only be described as the most mind-numbing melodrama present in video games to date. Nintendo should realize that making a game’s storyline “dark” does not mean “emo”. Nearly every character you meet has a tale of woe where they reminisce about how they had to survive by hiding under a load of dead bodies, and this gets incredibly depressing after a short while with the game.
3. The online mode is brilliant. My Xbox 360 has fallen off this mortal coil once more due to the incurable red ring of death issue, so thus I have had to rely on this one single game to provide me with all my online needs (I could hardly rely on my Wii, and no one was currently playing online in Wipeout Pulse). This is a pioneering online title for the DS, showing the hardcore audience that the DS can cater to them just as well as the rest. I really enjoyed fighting random people across the vortex of time and space of which we call Earth. What I like about it is that it really thinks about past mistakes games have made in this area, with players that drop out losing points, and rounds are timed so someone can’t leave it for an hour before making a move, for example. Moreover, the map centre is a great addition, allowing you to upload and download custom maps from all over the community.
4. The new map designer. This is the single best innovation of the series, and is accomplished and feature complete to the fullest detail, whilst being a simpler and streamlined experience than the map designer in Dual Strike. Building the maps is a surprisingly therapeutic experience, and to see your creation crop up in the map centre to be played by others all over the world is liberating. Custom content is the future for online gaming, and Days of Ruin is really leading the charge with something so small and simple, yet hugely significant to players.
5. The music. When I initially picked this up, I didn’t expect to be playing to the sounds of an electric guitar coming out of my DS Lite’s little speakers. The DS has generally been detached from such escapades into modern rock, immense classical scores, and haunting melodies, so it is quite refreshing to hear something different. It seems Nintendo agrees with me on this, and thus created an enhanced music player within the options menu, where there are a total of 50 small midi songs to play.
Overall, it’s clear to see that Days of Ruin is an evolution rather than a revolution of the series, and even though the hardcore purists may moan about the lack of modes such as war room and survival, there is no doubt that new and inexperienced players will not feel their loss and make do with the plethora of things to do in the game. The hardcore can now just jump on the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection and fight each other, so you could say that is a replacement for the more obscure modes.
Hello your royal readership, I am a brand new writer for this wondrous oasis of gaming journalism that is more commonly known as Gaming Steve. My name is Chris Holmes, and my Gaming Steve forum alias is “homez99”, which I actually use for most of my online services, thanks to someone already taking “Homez” on Live when I first got it way back all those years ago with my little Xbox.
Bringing up systems, I can officially confirm in this post in the very etchings of my Gaming Steve career, I have a PS2, Xbox, GameCube, Wii, DS, PSP and a 360, with intentions of purchasing a PS3 once they settle on a main SKU and I get a new television, which Steve can hopefully supply after he sees my delightful work.
I would say that I try to get my gaming equipment day one, but this strategy has not worked well with the 360, which has suffered the ill-fated “Red Rings Of Death” disease three times, and I can reveal that my fourth 360 has just arrived as I am writing this via the magical brown UPS van and the kind-hearted gentleman driving it.
To me, games are at the very crux of my existence, and a matter which I take very seriously, even when I inject a bit of comedy into proceedings to help the ebb and flow of my masterpieces. I do not have a favorite genre or system, and try to provide a balanced view whenever I can. However, this article has probably proven to you that my writing is a bit eccentric and mad, but I think it certainly livens up the page when compared to some of the stuff that makes it into the big name blogs.
I am accused of being opinionated and a bit dominative, but I think you’ll like the style. Articles you will see me write will be all over the spectrum of usual content; such as news and reviews, but I’m planning to throw some other stuff into the mixer as well, when appropriate. Moreover, I am completely wired into this industry with my Firefox mutated via the use of extensive add-ons and RSS feeds, as well as my insatiable appetite for podcasts.
My past experience has been quite tenacious, as at first I worked on a website with a few friends when I was much younger, called “Klik Gamers”, and I can assure you that name was not my idea, and if you find any archived articles I made for that site, ignore them, I was young and innocent. Then, I moved up to “Club Skill”, which has survived multiple supernovae, and it was with these gracious men that I had the opportunity to attend the Leipzig Games Convention in 2006. At this esteemed event, I got to see Crackdown and Viva Pinata in development, play with some Wii games that still haven’t been released (Wii Music), and most importantly, I got to experience the true power of Gaming Steve favorite Spore, albeit only in creation mode.
So there we are, after the long wait I am ready to write, and write I shall. I would like to encourage you to leave feedback whenever you see my work, as it will help me improve and feel happy about myself.
I've been immensely enjoying playing Professor Layton and the Curious Village on my DS, but I have yet been able to enjoy the weekly bonus puzzle. I've been trying to download this new content for days now and it always stops downloading around 3/4 of the way through. A quick search on the Nintendo Tech Support Forums and it appears that I'm not the only one experiencing this issue.
I even tried downloading bonus puzzle yesterday from the Nintendo World Store and it still "broke" after downloading about 3/4 of the way through. That is not a good sign....
Professor Layton is a fantastic game, but I know a lot of people who purchased this game specifically for the downloadable content (myself included). And to date Nintendo hasn't addressed this issue or released an update as to their progress on fixing this issue. If they don't do something soon I can already see the lawsuits start flying.
UPDATE: It appears that perhaps this content wasn't ready to be released as Nintendo "officially" announced the launch of the DLC content for Professor Layton via GoNintendo.com. Nintendo states, "The first in a series of free downloadable Professor Layton bonus puzzles is now live. Every Sunday at 4 a.m. PST, a new puzzle will go live and be available for download. The next puzzle will be posted on Feb. 24."
Sure enough the ability to download new puzzles appears to be now working.
February 13, 2008
Sam & Max Episode 203: Night of the Raving Dead
With minimal spoilers, Sam & Max Episode 203: Night of the Raving Dead, Sam and Max have to stop a flood of zombies who are invading from the “zombie factory”, try and help Sybil get her groove on and sell their soul to mass market a new online service. In short, it’s a nice satire of various horror genres, especially the ISP-marketing-horror genre, one I certainly miss from the days when I was drowning in discs arriving in the mail.
I’ll start right off and say that I was really looking forward to reviewing this game. I had heard nothing but good things about the Sam & Max series, to the point that I’d categorize it as a “critic’s darling” for whatever that’s worth.
I realize the point of this review is what I thought of the game but I wanted to establish my mood going in which was terribly positive.
Since life is too short for negativity, I’ll start with the positives for this game and there are a lot of them.
The game looks beautiful. It’s not photorealistic beautiful, more cartoon beautiful but beautiful nonetheless. The main characters are well designed and everything has a richness that just makes the game nice to look at.
In addition to being nice to look at, the characters are all well voiced, especially the main characters and those I’d guess are recurring, this being an episodic game and all. I especially like Sybil and found her story, her light-hearted search for love the most interesting storyline in the game.
Which brings me to another positive about the game: silly as it was (and again – it’s a cartoon so silly is a plus not a minus) I really wanted to see how the story ended. That’s a very nice trick for any game to pull off, since I often want less talk and more gameplay.
Speaking of gameplay, this seems like a nice place to segue into the part of the game that I did not care for. One reason I perhaps failed to resent the dialogue for getting in the way of the gameplay in Sam & Max is that I found said gameplay to be an exercise in tedium.
If your idea of a good time is mousing over every square inch of a room looking for that one item you missed, then this will be gaming nirvana for you. If your idea of the perfect evening is a glass of warm milk and a 200,000-piece jigsaw puzzle, then this will be the best game ever made.
And so my review really comes down to one of personal tastes. If you like hunting for clues and piecing puzzles together, then I can’t recommend this game highly enough. It has great production values, is very well put together and has an engaging story.
On the other hand, if you’d like something in a game, even a single time, to be solved simply, by say, taking out your big gun and putting holes in dudes, then this is probably not the game for you.
PLUSES: Fantastic art direction, story and dialogue. Great voice acting. Genuinely funny.
An article that Steve posted recently regarding the greatest gaming console of them all has spurred me on to post some thoughts regarding that of my own. Yes siree, the good old Super NES. Please, allow me give you 20 reasons as to why it holds such a crown....
20. It Looked Fab
The American model looked ghastly by comparison – purple, blocky and really rather hideous – also marking an ever rare moment where PALers avoided the short end of the stick from Nintendo to boot. The happy times, as I like to think of them. Which promptly ended about five minutes later.
19. Super Mario All-Stars
Via the Super Mario All-Stars compilation, you not only got the original and charming Super Mario Brothers in all its simplistic box nuttin' glory, but also its demented sequel, the startlingly brilliant Super Mario 3, and even the previously unreleased "Lost Levels" collection too. Even cooler? All of the above had been remade to make use of the redonkulously ferocious power of Nintendo's new machine; flat and dull backgrounds were now gorgeously rendered parallax vistas, characters had detail and personality they could never have dreamed of previously, and damn, that vintage SMB music was better than ever also.
The whole thing looked, and indeed sounded amazing, and arguably still does ... which is a relief, seeing how often Nintendo have since whored these games out on every other platform known to man.
18. Japanese RPGs
Like your Final Fantasy XII? Dig your Lost Odyssey? Can't wait for White Knight Story? Thank the SNES. Chances are you wouldn't be playing 'em without it.
17. The SuperScope
Sure, there weren't a ton of games released for it at the end of the day (Mole Patrol!), and those too cool for school simply pointed and laughed. But us true believers? AKA those blessed with rich parents? We had the last laugh. The SuperScope rocked. Hard.
16. Pilot Wings
A flying sim for kids, essentially, your goal was to sore through the sky as everything from a hang glider trying to make it through floating rings, to a sky diver trying to land without going splat. It harnessed the Super NES' crazy new "Mode 7" graphics to render and distort truly massive environments though, fooling your eyes into thinking you were actually there, when in reality, it was doing little more than zooming in and out of flat 2D planes.
As an innocent young whippersnapper, you had no idea about such things though. For all you could tell, it was real. It was amazing. It was frakkin' Pilot Wings. Just don't play it these days if you value your memories.
15. The Sound Chip
This extended to the music, of course, which had a depth and a style to it just leaps and bounds ahead of the bleeps and boings previously associated with gaming, and about as close as you could get to full blown CD quality tunes in them there days. If that wasn't enough, the console's enhanced CPU power (a whopping great 3.58mhz) and its ludicrously insane wad of memory (128k!) made it one of the first to boast extensive use of genuine voice sampling too.
Dying in Alien 3 for the first time to hear Hudson yell, "Game over man!" was enough to melt pre-pubescent hearts.
14. Mortal Kombat
Strangely though, with all the hilarious violence removed, Kombat was forced to rely almost solely on good old fashioned gameplay instead, and as a result? I became mildly obsessed with it. Believe it or not, a fab 2D beat 'em up was buried deep down beneath all the splodgy red paint. Matches were fast, skillful and satisfying, while blocking and specials proved deep enough to give it some surprising tactical value as well.
And cripes, how about them graphics?
The Sega Genesis muppets laughed at us with our sweat covered Rayden merely scorching dudes instead of blowing their heads apart – while they enjoyed full-blown violence and decapitations as the Mortal Kombat gods intended. But hey. You know what, guys? At least our version was playable.
Oh no he didn't...!
For me though, pace, excitement and good old gameplay took a distinct second place to simply the sheer style of the thing. Taking those aforementioned Mode 7 capabilities to the next level, F-Zero was truly stunning to behold. The courses – set high above everything from Blade-Runner style metropolises to massive desert canyons – were 100% epic in every sense of the word. It may look blocky, low-rez, if not down-right ugly these days, but back then ... this was the future. Hitting a jump at the wrong angle and going hurtling over the edge into the great abyss thousands of miles below had never been so much fun.
It didn't hurt that this sucker had officially the best music ever heard in a game either, hinting back once again to the aforementioned killer sound capabilities of this demented beast of a machine. No F-Zero since has touched it; could the Wii perhaps remedy that?
A great grandfather to Black & White of sorts, you played a god watching over a typical medieval fantasy land here, but you did so through a variety of different means. On the face of it, it looked like any other old god game, one where villager's needs had to be met and peace constantly maintained as you'd expect. Yet while tending to structures, building houses and leveling forests for the growth of civilization took precedence, evil flying meanies would continually rain down havoc upon your towns, resulting in a constant need to shoot the little mongrels outta the sky with your cupid-like avatar. As a result, Actraiser became the first – and indeed last – god-game-slash-vertical-shooter ever. T'was an ingenious way of intertwining proper action into an otherwise somewhat slow and more thought-provoking genre, and made the hours simply fly by.
But wait. That was barely half the game, as particularly nasty monsters and lairs could only be destroyed by actually traveling down to Earth yourself, taking over a full blown human body, and kicking ass mano a mano. Just like that? The game became a side scrolling beat 'em up, with your sword-wielding Barbarian tearing up enemies like a crazed Conan.
It was truly inspired stuff, full of variety and invention, with no doubt its baseline premise of melding a ton of these different games and genres together proving a blue-print for future such genre-benders for generations to come. As a bonus, it too had the best music ever.
11. Prince of Persia
Has there ever been a game quite so atmospheric?
A ludicrously enhanced take on the original, SNES Prince was not only twice as long as its PC counter-part, but also came totally revamped from top to bottom to harness true next-gen sound and visuals on top. The Prince himself looked better than ever, animated and detailed gorgeously enough as to pass for real in those days, but it was the levels themselves that saw the true fruits of the upgrade.
Not content with mere character-less corridors and nondescript platforms here, now we had beautifully extravagant palace interiors and stunningly epic caverns to behold. Exploring the game's every nook and cranny took on a whole other level as a result, one bulking up and adding immeasurably to the otherwise somewhat simplistic trial and error puzzle-based gameplay at its core.
Many cite Flashback and even Another World as the classics of both this genre and system, but as ace as those games indeed were ... Prince was the one for me. Unless I'm mistaken, it too had the best darn music ever.
10. Multiplayer Gaming
Killer Instinct, Zombies ate My Neighbors, Sunset Riders, Smash TV, Turtles in Time...not to mention the various others mentioned on this here list that I'll resist spoilerating for now, all proved alarmingly fun and utterly hysterical with a pal by your side.
But it didn't end there. A copy of Super Bomberman with the oh so sexy Super Multi-tap adapter provided instant 4-player craziness in your very own living room. And you know what? The world would never be the same again.
The SNES brought multiplayer gaming to my life with that in mind, and for that I'm eternally grateful.
9. Super Tennis
As an early launch window title that experimented with taking simple, every day games, then sprucing 'em up and re-branding them as home-grown Nintendo titles, Tennis revamped an arguably somewhat dull and lifeless concept into one so full of character, charm, and sheer fun that I'd even go as far as saying was one of the coolest games on the system.
Needless to say, when played with friends – either on the same team, or in cut-throat versus matches – it took on a whole other life of its own. Simply amazing stuff, that's still a blast here in 2008.
8. Super Mario Kart
Gotta love that DS rendition.
Of course, with Crash Bandicoot, Star Wars, Diddy Kong, and even Mortal Kombat all jumping on the cutesy go-karting spin-off bandwagon in more recent times, the concept as a whole has dropped to depressingly sad at this point. All it takes is one single lap of Mario Circuit 1 to remember just why we all fell for it in the first place though. That's right; pure, adulterated fun.
I love you, Mario Kart.
7. Sim City
Sim City marked another fab Nintendo-ization of a comparatively bland game. Don't get me wrong, I was a huge Sim City PC guy, but what Maxis did for its console port is deserving of wedding night bliss.
You still had your residential, commercial and industrial zones to build. You still had to contend with power supplies, traffic, and mass transit systems. You even had earthquakes, fires and Godzillas running rampant around your beloved city. But the whole thing had been blessed with personality at last. There was a nutty professor guiding you through the game now, your citizens regularly blessed you with amazing
For those who missed out on it first time around, this title was quite rightly one of the very first SNES games to see its way onto Nintendo's Virtual Console service, and as a result, needs a purchase right now from each and every one of you.
Cast all memories of the recent cross-platform FPS from your mind, SNES Shadowrun was a far more divine and stylish works you see. In fact, you could call it Deus Ex before it was even a whisper of an idea in Warren Spector's oh so young head. Fusing cyberpunk grittiness with quasi-real-time combat and an expert conversation system that I've still to see beaten, it holds up wondrously to this very day. Trust me, I'd know; I play it through at least once a year!
Undoubtedly one of the finest RPGs ever made, I still lay awake at night crying over FASA's ill-conceived, 14-year late follow-up. Is redemption on the cards?
5. The Controller
The fact that the SNES pad also proved ever so comfy to hold, looked amazing, and boasted the sweetest D-pad of them all didn't hurt either. Wisely Nintendo trademarked the cross style design itself, resulting in minor alterations on all other pads since as to avoid copyright infringements, none of which have ever thus matched up.
More than anything though? It was all about them triggers. So clicky, they were. Without 'em, Halo would nay exist.
4. Super Street Fighter II
I mean heck, now you could get that same hardcore fighting experience in your very own home, and it didn't cost 20 pence a go either. Forget putting on clothes and leaving the house!
Street Fighter II really took console gaming up a notch with that in mind; clearly we were now entering a whole new age. Graphics were arcade-quality, sound was phenomenal, and you had the first real glimpse into just what these machines were gonna be capable of in the coming years.
Incidentally, I remember paying a whopping great £75 for an early import copy back then. Which in them there days ... was about 500 zillion dollars.
3. Star Fox
I guess what one could only compare to perhaps buying a new PC game and having it come with its own built-in 3D card, the Super FX imbued the SNES with incredible new extra-dimensional graphic capabilities. Now it could render full 3D models and even entire games with startling beauty and razor-sharp crispness.
Star Fox proved the first such title to make use of this technology, and seeing it for the first time was to behold a sight unlike any other. Wow. These were actual spaceships. Those were real buildings. You could look around and see an entire bloody city. One could say it practically set every other SNES game back an entire generation by comparison.
Of course, it didn't hurt that Star Fox itself – or Star Wing as us Euros bizarrely called it – was a dynamite game in its own right. A genuine, epic space opera brought to video gaming for the first time. Like the Star Wars game we'd always dreamed of, mixed with a zany, Japanese twist. Crazy talking animals and insanely brilliant gibberish speech brought it all to life particularly well, the latter being a feature in fact, that I wish the subsequent sequels hadn't scrapped ("MY EMPEROR!
Between blazing through asteroid fields, skimming along planet surfaces, and weaving in-between massive space armadas along the fringe of space, it left your jaw-gaping open wide from beginning to end. It's truly odd how successfully Nintendo captured that exquisite, galaxy hopping sci-fi atmosphere in fact, compared to how disgracefully they since fumbled it in all subsequent sequels and systems that followed.
There was a SNES-boundStar Fox 2 incidentally, but it found itself canceled towards the end of development and its better ideas set aside for use in the upcoming N64 sequel. Leaked screens and even half-finished roms of that game litter the internet's seedier corners, but I for one would rather not. No doubt it'd just gimme a lump in the old throat over what could have been ... as opposed to what this series has instead since become.
I have to mention incidentally, that this game has the best music ever.
2. The Legend of Zelda – A Link to the Past
None of its relentless follow-ups – as highly praised as they all were by pretty much the entire gaming world -–have ever really knocked it off that top perch for me; it's just an ever so rare marriage of sheer perfection right across the board. 100% faultless gameplay. Cartoony, yet timeless graphics. And the music? Quite simply ... the greatest ever heard.
Unforgettable moments. So many housed within one meager game. Waking up to Zelda's cries of pain. Grabbing that lantern and setting off into the rainy night. The death of your uncle before your very eyes. Taking his sword in your hands. Your first spin attack. Beating your first boss. Nabbing the Pegasus boots. Battling Gannon. Saving Zelda. Perfect snapshots from a perfect journey.
Go on. You know you fancy a replay.
1. Super Mario World
No I'm serious. It is. I can prove it, in fact. Quite easily.
Just play it.
Super Mario World truly revolutionized what to expect from a video game. No simple platformer like its predecessors, what Nintendo admirably nailed so spectacularly well this time around was the concept of having a huge, gargantuan, and truly enormous world to explore. Split into literally dozens of different areas – including underground caverns, beautiful forests, and lava filled dungeons plucked straight outta hell – Mario felt truly unleashed at last.
Yeah, you still had linear(ish) levels to complete, a central goal to accomplish, and a very clear – if ludicrously long – straight path with which to get there, but you were also free to splinter off and explore to your heart's content if you so desired. And my god, the game sure as hell rewarded you if you did.
The sheer volume of secret passages, hidden levels, even entire unlockable worlds was so ludicrously alien and new, I honestly didn't know half this stuff was even in there 'til years later. I worshiped this game back in its day, you see, but it took a more recent replay via its GBA port – one in which a far older and more experienced Mr. Robinson was able to revisit it with a fresh outlook – to really explore and uncover just how much sheer game it contains. That's a true sign of a title made ahead of its time. It's enormous. It's daunting. It's epic. 96 full-blown levels so.
Of course, Mario 64 went on to define 3D gaming years later, and is thus the one many look back on as the more pivotal and revolutionary title. Fair enough. But make no mistake. The blue-print was forged here. The underlying concept, the wealth of content ... heck, just the pure vision alone? All present and correct. 64 simply made it 3D.
Super Mario World is the ever rare golden oldie that holds up just as well today as the day it was released, if not more so. To replay it here in the new millennium is to see it instantly spring to the top of your fave games of all-time list, and then some. Not only was it the single title to make the Super NES the most important and downright greatest machine of them all – regardless of the wealth of additional classics mentioned above – but that this baby came out on day one of the system's life? Wow. What a stark and alien concept next to more recent console launches.
SEGA were cool. I love my 360. And I hope Sony aren't destined for doom as many have trumpeted these last few years. Ya know what, though? Compiling this list, I've come to the conclusion that deep, deep down ... ignoring swishy next-gen graphics and HD-TVs ... with age and "wisdom" and jaded cynicism aside ... I'll always be a Nintendo guy above all else.
Do a barrel roll!
February 12, 2008
A leaked cover from PC Guru and the newly revealed PC Gamer confirmed the development of the next game in the Command & Conquer: Red Alert series. Rumors have formed around this game before, but this seems to be just short of an official announcement from EA.
Presumably, this game will be released on PCs, though considering the recent fad, perhaps also on Xbox 360. Their really aren't any other facts on the game currently.
I've been looking forward to this game for a while now. In a choice between Starcraft and Red Alert 2 (being that I played them both at the same time), I'd almost have to say I favored the latter. Something about the alternate time line, campy storyline, and creative units really drew me. Speaking of the alternate time line, I'd be really interested to see which side they'll use as the "winner" from Red Alert 2 and whether the telepathic Yuri will be making an appearance.
Wow. After months/years with little to no information on Will Wright's Spore we were treated to an explosion of new information in a matter of hours. With so much concrete information released it almost makes you believe something crazy ... like, you know, they might actually release the game in the near future!
For those who might have missed some of the Spore-related articles that suddenly appeared in the last 12 hours here's a quick recap:
With no warning and little fanfare the release date for Spore has finally been announced – September 7, 2008 Spore will be released for PC, Mac, DS, and mobile phones.
As Grand Theft Auto IV approaches release everyone’s favorite lawyer, Jack Thompson, has made his usual unspecified legal threats against the release of the game. In these threats he once again refers to any Grand Theft Auto game as a “murder simulator."
I’ve been working with simulator programs for the US Army for about six years now, which I believe makes me an expert on exactly what a simulator is, what a simulation does, and the goals of these simulators. Comparing these simulators to GTA it cannot in truth be called either a “murder simulator" or a “murder simulation" in any sense.
"Simulators" are devices used to mimic the actions and functions of a real thing, a real situation, or both. A flight simulator will typically have a mock-up of the interior of the aircraft being trained, and usually involves some sort of realistic motion. This is because they need the skills in the simulator to map to the actual skills being trained, including certain motor skills when finding and adjusting instruments.
With this in mind, what kind of simulator would be a "murder simulator"? Something which actually put you within the role both physically and mentally to become a murder? First and foremost to learn the role of the murderer, you would have to have a life-sized, anthropomorphic dummy that would react like the human being murdered. Another way is to simulate the weapon with realism, but use a trained human to portray the victim. A third way is to simulate the murdered person using an accurate "human analog" – you need look no further than some of the more elaborate humanoid representations on CSI: Crime Scene Investigation or Mythbusters where they often use dead pigs to simulate the size, weight, and reaction of human body.
"Simulations", on the other hand, only attempt to demonstrate how devices and/or situations are realistically. Simulations are best thought of computer programs and software. Our sandbox gang-related games are definitely software, very complex software. Simulations also tend to be very specific.
Gran Turismo is a driving simulation, with its primary focus being realistic handling of licensed car models on realistic terrain. In this respect, Gran Turismo games are simulations with a ton of game elements added on so that doesn't become too boring.
How well does GTA simulate murder? Just even a cursory look can see how GTA fails this test:
Our "gang games" mentioned above do not even represent murder, but rather a cartoony environment where you have all the time in the world to take on the tasks built into the game to entertain the player.
It’s not just unfair to call Grand Theft Auto a “murder simulator," it is laughably incorrect. It is best described as a fantasy world and can't even be classified under the more forgiving "murder simulation". Aside from all of the inaccurate ways it handles violence, the physics are only barely related to the real world, the psychology of the computer people is totally wrong, and apparently gang members are infinitely patient with no concept of time at all – the sun always shines in video games. Even the "realistic" graphics in GTA are cartoony at best, and if translated into the real world, we’d all be plastic and look like the Burger King.
However, all of the games that have kill-or-be-killed type plots or actions are rated "M" for Mature by the ESRB and intended for ages 17+. These are games which aren’t made for children or marketed for children. Though not murder simulators in any understanding of the phrase, the animated violence is generally considered inappropriate for young children, just like cinematic violence is rated "R" for ages 17+ in the movies. Young children simply cannot separate fantasy from reality very well, and may overreact or misunderstand any medium, not just video games.
In the end, games cannot be labeled "murder simulators," but fantasy violence or any other mature theme depicted in games can be difficult or confusing to children. Depending on the individual child, even seemingly simple topics can be scary, like deers escaping from a fire in Bambi, virtual pets getting sick in Neopets, or believing that little Pikmin are infesting the nooks and crannies of their house.
Ultimately, it is the job of parents to watch, monitor, and participate in what their kids see and play and be there for the child when a they have questions, and understand that kids don’t always comprehend situations in the same way as adults.
Sins of a Solar Empire
A really simple, two-word summary of Sins of a Solar Empire would be "ridiculously epic". If you think spending 2 hours playing a single RTS game is long, then I'll tell you right now, this is not your game. My shortest game on the smallest map with one enemy clocked in at over 3 hours. But for those who love their gigantic games of galactic conquest to span multiple solar systems and hours, then this truly is a gift from the strategy-game gods.
Sins of a Solar Empire is in the simplest description an RTS set in space. You build space stations, take over planets, and command massive fleets of frigates and cruisers. But where this game differentiates itself from other space strategy games, like say Homeworld 2 , is the addition of 4X turn based strategy mainstays, like culture, trade, and long term tactics.
You begin a game of Sins of a Solar Empire with a single planet and a couple of construction ships. This planet (and all other planets, stars, large asteroids, and various other space oddities) is surrounded by a "gravity well" where your buildings, spaceships, and resources (crystal and metal asteroids) are located. Your spaceships travel through warp lanes that connect these gravity wells, which makes the maps focused and strategic. By making a majority of the map that would ordinarily be empty space actually empty space the maps end up very concise and goal oriented. Claiming a resource rich planet or the only route into another solar system creates true tactical points worth fighting over. Resources are harvested in much the same way as Company of Heroes or Dawn of War – once you have built your harvesting buildings resources will automatically be gathered. The last resource, money, is gathered through taxes collected on your planets or trade routes you can set up between your colonies.
Like most RTS games a detailed research tree is included, though here it's split into two distinct trees: the resource, culture, and building upgrade-oriented "civic tree" and the spaceship upgrade-oriented "military tree". Diplomacy is also included, though with a few interesting additions: bounty missions and tribute are demanded by your opponents which gives you the chance to build up allies and resources. Another interesting addition is pirate bounties: through an auction-like bidding menu, civilizations can place a bounty on enemies (or allies!) to encourage a pirate raid. This interesting wrinkle in strategy allows an economically oriented player to keep their enemies at bay while they build up their economy.
The game includes 3 different civilizations: the Vasari (the aliens), and the TEC (the humans), and the Advent (the freaky humans). There's some fairly generic science fiction lore behind them, but without an actual story driven campaign, it's not that important. All that I've described so far is effectively universal to each race as their largest differences is in their combat abilities. As far as I can tell after playing each is that the TEC appear to have brute force on their side, utilizing powerful planet destroying bombs, armored capital ships, and nuclear missiles. The Advent focus more on lasers and shields, along with their telepathic special powers to turn battles in their favor. Finally, the Vasari are perhaps the least focused on direct combat, opting to use nanotechnologies to "poison" enemies and repair their own vessels, and using their advanced manipulation of "phase-space" to zip around the map. Each civilization is distinct enough to make for varied strategies, but don't expect Starcraft levels of variety.
Sins of a Solar Empire's combat effectively takes place on a 2D plane with 3D space, though ships can pile over each other automatically. The games combat relies on the classic "rock-paper-scissors" style countering with frigates, cruisers, and support ships all taking part in the epic battles. The more interesting feature in the combat is how the game handles capital ships. Each capitol ship has various power-ups and fight/bomber fleets that are upgraded through experience in battle, much like heroes in Warcraft III. These powers range from super powerful planet bombs to powerful reflective shields.
Together, all these things wrap together to make Sins of a Solar Empire a refreshing, deep, and above all fun tactical experience. What I found really amazing is how well the developers integrated 4X turn-based strategy into an RTS experience. The games pacing gives you free range to actually create tactics and analyze the situation, something most "rush" oriented RTS simply don't allow. If you love turn based games, but find most RTSs to be to twitchy, I highly recommend this as a first step into the genre, and vice versa. If you find the game to be too slow, you can increase the games speed as well as resource gathering and researching.
Despite the very intricate nature of the game, the interface is surprisingly elegant and user friendly. A search option allows you to quickly find that rouge colony ship of yours or figure out just where your scouts are exploring. A useful "Empire Tree" sits on the left side of the screen, giving instant access to all your ships and buildings. The game also has a Supreme Commander like mega-zoom feature where you can zoom right up to an individual fighter all the way out to an icon represented view of you multi-solar-system galaxy. With all these incredibly useful interface innovations, I do find it odd that simple double clicking isn't in the game. This is partly remedied by the fact that you are more "fleet" oriented with your ships and assign fleets to all ten of your numerical keys with a quick Ctrl-Number, but when was the last game you played that didn't have double clicking?
Not only does the interface look great, but the game as a whole is beautiful. I'm running the game on a 2.2 Ghz Core2Duo, with 2 gigs of ram and 128 MB of video ram to fantastic effect. I only have the settings on high, but the glowing stars, the pulsing quasars, and the intense hundred plus ship battles all look fantastic and almost never stutter. The game is also purported to sun fine and even look fairly acceptable on older machines. The game is purported to run on four to five year old machines, and even some laptops.
Lovers of deep strategy games should definitely consider this game, especially if they're fans of Galactic Civilizations as the game seems highly influenced by it. The game doesn't include a campaign mode, so if you enjoy this aspect of strategy games it could be a minus for you. Right now I'll say this is easily recommendable to hardcore strategy fans, and a great gateway for turn-based strategy fans to try out an RTS.
PLUSES: Incredibly deep and strategic. Deftly combines RTS and 4X Turn-based elements. Beautiful graphics, art direction, and user interface. Some unique tactical elements (pirate bidding, intricate warp lanes). Suprisingly easy to grasp, considering how complex the game is. A passionate developer that promises and delivers extra content (and no need to have the DVD in order to play). Well thought out multiplayer. The Novalith Cannon!
MINUSES: No Story driven campaign (though I know many who never bother with these anyway). The 3 races aren't all that unique, save their art direction. The huge levels also means it takes a long time to cross the map. The combat seems just a little shallow. No double-click?
FINAL VERDICT: 9.0 BUY IT!
February 11, 2008
If you own an Xbox 360, love puzzle games, poker (or better yet both), then you owe it to yourself to try out the new Xbox Live Arcade game, Poker Smash. A deceptively simple and addicting game, you'll find it hard to put down after one try.
If you've played Planet Puzzle League, then you know the basics of Poker Smash – colored blocks scroll to the top of the screen and you need to eliminate them by matching groups. Groups can be matched horizontally or vertically, but you can only move the blocks sideways. Poker Smash adds in a few interesting twist, and obviously a poker theme.
Blocks are one of the 5 face cards in a standard playing card deck (that includes the 10) and one of the four suits. To score, you create "hands" like flushes, straights, and full houses. Other tweaks to the formula include an FPS like "slow-mo" ability and bombs to clear away unusable blocks. Challenges pop up every minute that ask you to quickly get four kings in a row or make a flush of clubs for a doubled or quadrupled score. Some fantastic presentation that includes having your score tracked with 3D poker chips and some slick, colorful graphics complete the package.
With multiplayer, timed, action, and puzzle modes, the game includes a everything you'd expect in an 800 Microsoft points Arcade game. I implore you to give the game a try and would be surprised if you aren't immediately hooked.
FINAL VERDICT: 9.0 BUY IT!
February 7, 2008
Upper Deck can't seem to get enough of the World of Warcraft gaming franchise (and who can blame them). Last year they released the World of Warcraft Trading Card Game, and now they are planning to release the tabletop miniatures game World of Warcraft Minis.
"Each premium pre-painted miniature will showcase a detailed version of an iconic World of Warcraft character and be mounted on a uniquely engineered removable base, allowing each figure to serve as both a game piece and a collectible. In the spirit of the action and adventure of the MMO, the World of Warcraft Miniatures Game will offer standalone raid and dungeon scenarios, letting players battle either individually or cooperatively against other teams of players or the game itself.
Of course this really shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone with the recent success of the Halo ActionClix game from WizKids that WoW would go this route.
The game is to launch in "Fall 2008", so expect to hear about this game ad nauseam until it's finally released. The official site WoWMinis.com has very little information about the game (they promise constant updates), but the four minis on display look to be very detailed a definitely have that "Wow-feel" to them.
Ah hell, they could probably take a piece of coal at this point, paint it green, call it an orc and I'm sure it would sell a million copies! Let me at this game! Need more WoW!
In perhaps the largest rebuttal for the whispers of the death of PC gaming since World of Warcraft reached 10 Million users, Steam today announced that they have surpassed 15 million users of their digital distribution and community driven PC gaming platform. Straight from the mouth of Gabe Newell (President of Valve):
PC gaming is thriving, and has evolved into an era of constant connectivity. That connectivity gives us the ability to have a much better relationship with customers, not just for delivering our games, but across all aspects of our business - including the design, development, and support of our games. Features like Guest Passes, Free Weekends, Gifting, and the Steam Community have been very well received both by customers and the developers who are using Steam.
2007 was definitely been a good year for Steam, with the release of Xbox Live like community features including Friends, in game messaging, and even clans as well as the recent release of Steamworks, a set of completely free development tools including encryption, in game voice chat, and multiplayer matchmaking. More and more game studios have also joined Valve in selling their games over Steam, including both Take Two and Activision.
I gave up on PC gaming for a few months after getting my Xbox 360. The community features and ease of use (no installs, free demos, and automatic patches) was such a pleasant upgrade from the hassles of PC gaming I just didn't think I'd ever go back. That all changed when Steam turned itself from just a store to a platform, a platform that works so well, I have no idea how Microsoft is going to keep trying to sell Windows Live for $50. With the recent release of Steamworks, I know it won't be long before Steam is the De facto platform for PC gaming. The last piece of the puzzle would be the ability to launch World of Warcraft from Steam, something that may no longer be such a ridiculous proposition.
Have some games you've finished last year? Would you rather not add to Gamestop's insane used sales numbers? Well with Cheap Ass Gamer's help, you can send your old (or new) games to deployed troops in Iraq. From CheapyD's post:
No matter your stance on the war in Iraq, I think we can all agree that our soldiers have a very rough time over there. Therefore, I am very happy to bring to your attention the CAG "Donate Games to the Troops in Iraq" Campaign. CAG neushane, who is a member of the US Navy and is currently deployed in Fallujah, is spearheading the effort to collect your used (or new) games, and distribute them amongst his fellow troops.
What's also very cool about this charity is that you'll be given a picture of the troop with his or her new game (your old game) once it arrives. This is also a great way to show that gamers are truly good people and not what the media and popular culture tends to portray us as.
February 6, 2008
BioWare has announced on their forums that the first piece of downloadable content for the virtual orgasmic rape simulator ... err, I mean the awesome interstellar action-RPG, Mass Effect, will be available March 10th for the low low price of 400 MS points ($5).
"Bringing Down the Sky" will include an entirely new planet to explore as well as the talked about but never seen Batarians. A rouge group of extremist Batarians have hijacked an asteroid space station and are attempting to fly it into the colony world Terra Nova, and only you and your group of roughnecks can plant the nuclear bomb in time to blow the asteroid and ... oh wait, I'm confused again.
The DLC is estimated to contain 90 minutes worth of intense action oriented role-playing. And for all you Achievement whores their will be an added 50 achievement points for your unlocking pleasure. This is also only the first it what is presumed to be many pieces of additional content for Mass Effect.
While I loved the game, I honestly haven't touched it after my second play through (one good, one bad) and unlike Knights of the Old Republic, I'm just no that drawn in to playing the game any more (I must have played Knights of the Old Republic 5 or 6 times). As long as it isn't just another barren Mako oriented world with one little outpost (and at 90 minutes long, it doesn't sound like it), I'll definitely pay $5 for 90 minutes of gameplay.
February 5, 2008
Over the years video games as a medium have become a larger and larger force, soon infiltrating nearly all aspects of our popular culture. Video games were soon poked fun at on late night talk shows, various sitcoms, and nearly any movie that contains the titular "hacker nerd". But being so involved with video games we "hardcore" gamers have multiple outlets of our own self referential video game humor. Our complex and multi-layered games are ripe for satire in the form of comics, videos, podcasts, and written word.
Here's my list of the top 10 funniest places for video game humor on the web. Also, because humor is so subjective I'm not going to rank these in any specific order, especially since at times one can easily be funnier than another.
Sony Defense Force
Red vs. Blue
Joystiq Comic Wrap Up
Video Game Article
February 4, 2008
This week's question is so simple I'm surprised I haven't asked it before.
My question this week is, "What is your favorite video game of all time?"
It's surprising just how often I get asked this question (all the freaking time), but yet I never seem to have an answer. I like so many games for so many reasons that I find it difficult to narrow down my answer to any one game.
Back in college I loved, and still love, playing Tetris, but yet I wouldn't call it my favorite game of all time (but it's still "the perfect game"). And when arcades ruled the world I must have poured thousands of quarters into Dragon's Lair, but yet again I wouldn't call it my favorite game of all time (although close). And when I was a kid I used to love playing a crazy Atari 2600 game called DragonStomper, but once again I wouldn't call it my favorite game of all time (although this guy from Forbes did).
But when push comes to shove I would have to say my "favorite game of all time" would be No One Lives Forever: The Operative. This first-person-shooter was a bizarre game that mixed so many genres and play-styles that it's no surprise that this game had a hard time finding an audience (much like the fantastic Psychonauts).
Mixing first-person-shooting, first-person-sneaking, colorful graphics, British '60s spy humor, clever A.I., psychedelic music, innovative weapons, fantastic level design, original mission structure, amazing voiceovers, and the best dialog writing ... ever, NOLF is a constant surprise from beginning to end.
Perhaps that's why it's my favorite game of all time, not only does NOLF contain dozens of gameplay elements that you rarely/never see but it somehow manages to combine them into a nearly perfect package. Oh yes, and it's perhaps the funniest game of all time without even trying. Again, best dialog writing ever!
If you haven't given this game a try I would strongly recommend you do. Sure the graphics aren't quite as good as Crysis (to say the least), but the gameplay is so strong you won't care. Just play up to the mission "Unexpected Turbulence" ... trust me, that mission alone is better than most games.
What about you? What is your favorite game of all time?
So here I am with four brand new copies of Culdcept Saga just sitting on my deck (pictured), waiting for people to play them. It would be a shame for these games to go to waste so I guess I'll just have give them away to some loyal Gaming Steve listeners!
The rules couldn't have been easier – all you had to do was post your Gaming Steve forum name and sticking with the Culdcept Saga theme explain what "real world object" you would like to turn into a living creature to fight for you and why.
Many of the entires were quite humorous and innovative, make sure to check them all out and don't forget to listen to the podcast itself and my interview with the designers of Culdcept Saga.
Of course, you want to know who won. Nearly 100 people entered, but only four can win ... and the winners are (find out after the jump)....
BlueBottle and the "Statue of Yoda"
Congratulations to the winners! Just send me your address and I'll send over the game ASAP.
And be on the lookout for new contests and new prizes on upcoming shows!
February 2, 2008
Brash Entertainment revealed at a recent press event that a Saw game is currently in the works and slated for a October 2009 release. The brief presentation showed a grainy trailer featuring the Jigsaw puppet, telling attending journalists that they were wasting their lives playing games and we should check out whoisjigsaw.com instead.
Brash is working closely with the creators of the Saw franchise – Leigh Whannell & James Wan – to bring the Saw experience to gamers. The game will be using Epic's Unreal Engine 3 – hinting most likely to a PS3 and XBox 360 release – and promises lots of blood and gore.
Personally I'm a huge fan of the Saw movies and have seen all four the day they came out, not to mention own them on DVD. While the movies themselves may be a little sick or twisted, they always have a great plot with an ending you don't expect. I think a solid game experience is quite possible although with constant controversy with Manhunt 2 it will be interesting how they will be able to pull off a "horror porn" game in this age of constant media scrutiny.
Oh yes. There will be blood.
I've already expressed my personal anticipation for Stardock and Ironclad's upcoming game, Sins of Solar Empire, but here's another reason to give it a look: it has the simplest copy protection I've seen in a PC game. And how do they do that? By having none at all!
In a dramatic difference from the terrible copy protection implemented into BioShock over the past summer, publisher Stardock is continuing their incredibly simple approach to avoiding piracy: by making it worth your while to actually buy the game. In their blog on ign.com, Stardock writes:
Any system out there will get cracked and distributed. But if you provide reasonable after-release support in the form of free updates that add new content and features that are painless for customers to get, you create a real incentive to be a customer.
Stardock included this system on their previous game, Galactic Civilizations II, and never having to worry about the CD, and being able to let my friend try out the game (sans any new updates or patches), was great. He liked the game so much, he bought the gold edition of game himself once it was released, something that couldn't have happened with most any other PC game. I was already excited for this games excellent looking combination of 4X strategy, real time combat, and epic space theme, but this is just icing on the cake. Check out this great interview to learn more.
February 1, 2008
Just a quick reminder that we're giving our four free copies of the upcoming Culdcept Saga for the Xbox 360. Entering the contest couldn't be simpler, just wander on over to this post and leave a comment about what "real world" item you would like turn into a living, fighting creature.
Just post your Gaming Steve forum name, the object you want to turn into a creature and why and you're all set! Make sure to check back the site in a few days where I'll announce the four winners and you too can enjoy the Magic the Gathering meets Monopoly madness of Culdcept Saga!