Shooters have once again packed store shelves this year, and it was a great year for fans of the genre. 2K Games, EA, and of course Activison as it was a significant improvement from last year’s effort. Yes there were bad games, but they were very far between. The constant theme this year was story, and success was found. Borderlands 2 witty writing was still there that created many memorable moments, Black ops 2 surprising has a deep storyline with player choices built in was smartly designed, and Master Chief returned in Halo 4 marking beginning of the Reclaimer trilogy. Regardless of what you think of the genre, we had plenty of red targets to shoot at, experience points to gain, and plenty of people to shoot through our Internet connection. So lets recap the top five shooters of 2012.
It’s been since Halo 3 since the last time we have played as Master Chief, and finally the wait came to end. Under 343 studios development, they have brought back the first person shooter icon looking best yet, but I found the juggernaut stumbles a bit. The story just isn’t sharp compared previous efforts, and Halo 4 cliffhanger leaves me wanting more than I got. Multiplayer is back, but it’s mostly what you got before with little tweaks. I felt Halo 4 took zero chances and the game suffered.
5: PlanetSide 2
An MMO first person shooter? Sign me up! What makes PlanetSide 2 a great game is that is consistently ongoing. The combat controls are really tight, and there are to many things that I can recount. In PlanetSide 2 there isn’t any real objective unlike traditional first person shooters. Your goal is to not win a match, but to simply progress your army’s domination forcing players to work together.
Starting of with number five, Syndicate developed by Starbreeze Studios is by far one of the most underrated games of the year, and judging by the sales numbers it appears I was one of the few that played it. The storyline is actually real treat, as it tells a world controlled by corporations with use of tech-mind controlled powers. Even though that was a real treat, where I found most of my enjoyment was the online coop. The four-player mode mixed in with the powers you possess make it to hard to not have a great time.
3: Call of Duty: Black Ops 2
Ok I get it! There has been a yearly iteration of Call of Duty dating back to 2006, but you can’t nark how consistent this series has been. Black Ops 2 developed by Treyarch, might have made the biggest leap in the series since Modern Warfare 1, and what they have done is staggering. The player choice system kept things fresh and interested and actually allowed made me want to go back and replay the campaign. The online play removes many of the franchise, and simply just allows to players. The one thing you can’t say about Treyarch’s effort in Call of Duty: Black Ops effort is they didn’t hold anything back, and took every possible chance to make this the best Call of Duty game in the series.
2: Borderlands 2
I didn’t like the original borderlands when it first hit store shelves. I found the story to be nonexistent, and the game needed to cut a lot of fat in order to reach its potential. Luckily that is the case with Borderlands 2, as the game feels more complete with a hilarious storyline that has a beginning and an end, an actual boss, new abilities to wreak havoc with. However, what made Borderlands 2 a great game is the four-player coop and the addictive looting nature it inhabits. I probably had the most fun this year playing four-player coop over the Internet, and constantly getting supplied with downloadable content made me want to return to Pandora.
1: Max Payne 3
This was my anticipated game of the year when I made my predictions earlier in the year, and it didn’t disappoint. Rockstar games minus L.A Noire haven’t been known for telling a story, but Max Payne 3 told one of the darkest stories about a disgruntled out of shape cop that looks a lot like John Mcclane from Die Hard that video games have seen. Max Payne 3 is the slickest game that I have seen in a long time with the game’s presentation mimicking a comic book layout with flashing texts, and QuickTime cutscene design, which allowed this mature tale to speak volumes.
There has been a lot of fuss about the gunplay, and in my experience that wasn’t a deterrent. I enjoyed the challenge of slow mo diving to clear out a room. I was in control of my actions and felt rewarded whenever I decided to pull the trigger, and some of the negative attention is just nonsense.
It’s the total package! The excellent Health soundtrack that helped make one of this year’s best moments, when Max is in the airport lobby, and the music skyrockets to a new level as take on waves upon armed guards. It’s personally one of the few video game albums that I have bought and listened to because it helped create so many great solo songs. Yes there is online play, but what made Max Payne 3 so great was being able to revisit one of the darkest video game figures in his entire glory. This is one of the most polished shooters that I have ever played, and takes unbelievable risks to be our best shooter of 2012.
Early this year, Bioware’s Mass Effect saga came to five year run. Rest aside the ending; the series is one of the most complete trilogies in video game history. There are two aspects that Mass Effect nails perfectly. The series was first to interweave choices all the way through the third and final installment captivating fans from start to finish. However, you can’t tell a great story if you forget to create the atmosphere for your game to breath in. The music in the game really doses shape Commander Shepard with it having one of the best scores in gaming, but do people notice? Do people look at soundtracks as a whole or as background noise?
It’s often in movies and television that soundtracks are ignored and not given credit for their role in a project. In our five part series, I got a chance to talk with composers and had them recall their pervious work and asked them how they think fans look at soundtracks. Our first roundtable discussion is with the minds behind the Mass Effect score: Sascha Dikiciyan, Cris Velasco and Sam Hulick. Sascha Dikiciyan and Cris Velasco wrote music for Mass Effect 2 Kasumi’s Stolen Memory and Arrival and scored many of the key scenes like Rannoch and Sanctuary. Sam Hulick has been with the series since the very beginning and his suddle work with ambient sounds helped form the Mass Effect galaxy.
GamerLive.TV: Just to start us off, what else have you worked on besides Mass Effect?
Sascha Dikiciyan andCris Velasco: Some of the titles we’ve scored include the God of War series, Clive Barker’s Jericho, Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine, Borderlands, TRON: Evolution and many more.
Sam Hulick: I got my start working on Maximo vs. Army of Zin, followed by a few indie titles. I also composed the orchestral score for Red Orchestra 2: Heroes of Stalingrad. I was immediately drawn to the project as soon as the developer told me they were looking for a very intense and somber score, influenced by Russian and German classical music. It was a chance to veer in a very different direction from Mass Effect. Currently I’m very excited to be working on Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition. I saw the mysterious baldursgate.com website earlier this year and I figured Trent Oster had to be behind it, so I sent him an email about it. He was rather mysterious in his response, but we wound up having a meeting at the Game Developer’s Conference about a week later, after which I was officially invited on board their project as composer.
GamerLive.TV: Growing up, what composers did you listen to and now influence your professional work?
Cris Velasco: I’ve always listened to (and been inspired by) John Williams. It wasn’t until my 20’s when I really started listening to orchestral composers though. Some of the most influential composers for me are Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Stravinsky, Beethoven, and Mozart. I’m also a big fan of John Powell, James Newton Howard, Danny Elfman, and Edward Shearmur.
Sascha Dikiciyan: Growing up in a classical house, the likes of Beethoven and Mozart have left their mark, however when I was 14 I really got into electronic music. After that the works of Vangelis, Depeche Mode, Kraftwerk, Devo, New Order and many others have influenced me. While I still enjoy these artists today, I also love some of the more modern electronic composers out there, Trent Reznor’s work on The Social Network, The Chemical Brothers’ work on Hanna and Massive Attack.
Sam Hulick: Early on, mostly John Williams, Danny Elfman, and Ray Lynch influenced me. At this point, I don't think I can pinpoint specific musical influences that have an active role in my work. I feel like I've reached the stage where I've discovered my own personal signature, or it could simply be that my various influences have been merged into my own style.
GamerLive.TV: Cris and Sascha, Your first experience with the Mass Effect Franchise was scoring Mass Effect 2: Kasumi's Stolen Memory, which is one of one of my favorite parts of the score because it stayed away from the Mass Effect that everyone is adjusted to hearing and gave us something new. Is it easier to work with established themes or do you prefer creative freedom when entering a project?
Cris Velasco: For myself, I prefer to work with a blank canvas. Creative freedom gives me the most satisfaction as a composer. Working with an existing theme can be fun too though. I’ve had my own themes worked on by other composers and it’s always interesting to hear a different interpretation of your own music. Usually, it’s something I never would have come up with on my own. So hopefully, if I have to work with an existing theme, the other composer feels the same way! Mass Effect was a unique situation in that we were allowed creative freedom to do our own thing, but we still worked within the confines of an established style.
Sascha Dikiciyan: While the sound of that DLC was indeed a bit different, we tried to still keep some of the familiar elements from the previous games. Coming onto an established AAA franchise like Mass Effect is never easy and while I prefer a fresh start, I think the original Mass Effect has this brilliant mix of 80’s influence meets orchestra, which we then applied again into our Mass Effect 3 score. So coming onto a new project, creative freedom is pretty much required for me to do great work. In the case of Mass Effect, we wanted to simply add to the universe that was already established.
GamerLive.TV: What was one of the biggest challenges you faced when you were creating the Mass Effect 3 soundtracks?
Sascha Dikiciyan: Well, it was a good warm-up gig for us to compose DLCs for Mass Effect 2 before we were called onto Mass Effect 3. It gave me a lot of confidence that we could pull it off. I always like to do research for the projects before I start. Like what reverb sounds best, what synth would be best for this sound etc. Luckily that was already somewhat established on the DLCs so besides having to write good music very fast, the most important aspect was to keep that Mass Effect sound while still adding our own flavor to it. That was the biggest challenge, at least for me.
Cris Velasco: As I mentioned earlier, we were given our creative freedom but obviously within the confines of the established sound. The challenge for us was to work within those boundaries and still have our own voice heard. We definitely wanted to bring something fresh to the series if possible. One of the best quotes we’ve read online is, “it sounds like Mass Effect music, but new.”
Sam Hulick: Nailing just the right feel for some of the more emotionally charged scenes can be challenging. Particularly, composing "An End, Once and For All" took a few rounds of revising some elements to get just the right feel to it. It had to be very subtle in the right spots. Too much and it would have ruined the scene.
GamerLive.TV: What's your favorite piece you worked on in Mass Effect 3?
Cris Velasco: It’s impossible for me to choose one piece. I still like the “Reaper Chase” though because of its sheer epicenes. Not just the music, but also the scene it accompanies is so much fun! I also really like the track “The Scientists”. It’s another action track, but I think there’s a nice mixture of the orchestra combined with Sascha’s electronics.
Sascha Dikiciyan: I love “The Scientists” cue. There are a few others I love that you cannot find on the soundtrack unfortunately.
Sam Hulick: It's difficult for me to pick just one, but I'd have to say the romance theme, "I Was Lost Without You," is probably my favorite. It's just a really emotional piece of music, and I think the mix of different styles (piano, orchestral, and synth) make for a particularly interesting sound.
GamerLive.TV: What's the composing process for a video game, does inspiration come from visuals only or from written word?
Sascha Dikiciyan: Well, for me most inspiration comes from the visual source material. That can be artwork, actual gameplay or cinematic. For example, For TRON: Evolution I had a ton of amazing artwork. Every piece had a certain color or mood to it. To me that color/mood translates into sound or music. It’s hard to explain but you start to get a ‘feel’ for something. For Mass Effect 3 we had not only artwork but also a detailed script and QuickTime movies of the levels themselves.
Sam Hulick: It comes from both. You have to have a pretty solid understanding of the storyline, characters and settings. Visuals serve to provide a face for these elements, and are usually a huge help for a composer trying to immerse him-or-herself in the world that the game takes place in.
Cris Velasco: It’s all about the visuals for me. Someone could describe one of the Reapers in extreme detail to me, and I’d be able to visualize it in my head and my imagination would make it seem amazing. However, it still wouldn’t get my creativity jump started like seeing a picture of them would. As soon as I saw that Mass Effect 3 trailer with the Reapers invading London, I already knew what I wanted to do with the music.
GamerLive.TV: Besides scoring a soundtrack, how much behind the scenes work (sound effects) goes into a soundtrack?
Sascha Dikiciyan: For music, I do a lot of what I like to call MSD or ‘musical sound design’. There are a lot of sounds that make up the musical soundscape of Mass Effect that you could call sound effects however they are used in a musical way. I usually do a lot of pre-production, creating a folder full of sounds before I would begin writing. However with our tight schedule for ME3, I pretty much had to do it all at the same time.
Sam Hulick: For a game like Mass Effect, quite a bit of work happens before actually jumping into composition. Picking out a synth sound palette can be challenging simply because of the way sounds are named. For orchestral works, it’s straightforward: composers see “oboe staccato” in their patch list and they know what that sounds like. But synth libraries often give more colorful and interesting names to their sounds, and while there are efforts to help categorize these sounds (and there are literally thousands upon thousands of them!) it’s still quite a task to sit down and figure out what to use and how to tweak it. Sometimes composers will actually hire other musicians or sound designers to create synth sound palettes for them because of how time-consuming it can be.
GamerLive.TV: Do you feel you get enough recognition for your work?
Cris Velasco: I actually feel that recognition for game music has taken some very positive steps forward over the years. For example, I’ve had my own music performed at numerous video game music concerts over four continents! We may not always feel the love when a new game comes out that we’ve put so much work into, but there are in fact tons of people that do appreciate what we’ve contributed to the industry.
Sascha Dikiciyan: I think there’s still this misconception that video game music is inferior to its movie counterparts. Which in a lot of ways is ironic since there is a ton of music that's at least equal in quality to movie scores, if not better. When you listen to our Space Marine soundtrack, it could easily be a movie score. I think we need to gain more recognition via award shows. The Grammys, for example, include video games in their awards but we get lumped together with other media. I think video games deserve their own category now. I mean, they have a category for Best Album Notes so why not Best Video Game Score?
Sam Hulick: For sure. There are many awards that recognize video game music, such as the Canadian Videogame Awards, the British Academy of Film and Television Arts Games Awards, G.A.N.G. Awards, the list goes on. Not all of these are what you may consider “mainstream” but video game music has gained much traction in recent years, and will continue to do so, I’m sure.
GamerLive.TV: Do you think people discount your work?
Sascha Dikiciyan: Well the real fans love what we do of course. But as composers it’s tough getting the same level of respect as rock stars. This goes back to what I said earlier. We need to have more opportunities for our work to be taken seriously. Winning a prestigious award would obviously help to get the word out. However, for me, the most important appreciation factor is the fans. They know how much work goes into a score for a video game these days and in the case of Mass Effect 3 it has been really rewarding so far.
Sam Hulick: Just as there are people who are highly enthusiastic about film scores and collect soundtracks, there are legions of gamers who really get into the music for games, buy their favorite soundtracks, collect autographs from composers, etc. So no, I’ve never really felt like my work was discounted or seen as irrelevant. In fact, quite the opposite!
Cris Velasco: Back when I first started composing for games (around 2004 or so) it was a lot different than it is now. When I told people that I was writing music for video games, they would get a sheepish look in their eyes and tell me to “hang in there” and “I’m sure something better will come around soon”. So back then, yes, our work was definitely discounted. Now though, I get a stack of emails every week from fans or other aspiring composers looking for a little help. I think that game music is making great headway and is really starting to be recognized for the legitimate art that it is.
Throughout the history of video games, the oldest stereotype surrounding the industry has always been do violent video games affect player behavior and personality. It is a known fact that people who play games are exposed to more violence than the average consumer. From nuking entire civilization to obliterating players online, it’s has become more and more common now that games are more focus on squarely providing violent action. For this reason alone, parents have long held an underlining negative attitude towards the industry and those who stand by it, but is this criticism injustice or have developers gone to far? Should government step in?
This discussion all stems from last years U.S Supreme Court hearings that brought the amount of violence in video games into the spotlight. The case centered around making the sale of violent video games to children without parental consent. The bill originated in 2005 from California Senator Leland Yee who believe there was connection between violent video games and aggressive behavior in children. Finally after years in delay and stoppage the bill made it’s way to Capital Hill in 2011 titled, Brown vs. The Entertainment Merchants Association. What was the outcome?
The Supreme Court voted down the bill with a resounding 7-2 result. Most importantly, the Supreme Court Justices saw video games as an art form and followed it under the first amendment. Justice Antonin Scalia was credited being the biggest voice during the case and after the trials, Scalia was quoted saying, “like the protected books, plays, and movies that preceded them, video games communicate ideas--and even social messages--through many familiar literary devices and through features distinctive to the medium. That suffices to confer First Amendment protection.”
I couldn’t agree more and was happy that Justice Antonin Scalia saw both sides and wasn’t setting an unparallel president. Far too often, people ignore violence seen in phases in our mass media society. To finding light porn in HBO’s True Blood to violent and un-appropriate behavior violence seen in Robot Chicken. It would be wrong to prosecute one form of entertainment when Movies and TV use it as an key attention grabber.
The most important thing to come out of the Supreme Court hearings was the looming future surrounding this issue. Other states like, Rhode Island, Arkansas, Georgia, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah and Washington have attempted to legislate bills that would make it illegal for minors to purchase mature rated products, but have all miss fired. The most recent attempt came last month when California Senator Joe Baca proposed that video games should carry a cigarette – stylized warning label that says “ Warning: Exposure to violent video games have linked to aggressive behavior.” We are a long ways away from this discussion and it’s for that reason alone that I believe both parties need to finally change for the better good.
First things first, video games have long had a rating system that restricts minors for purchasing matured rated content. As video games were evolving from the 8-bit era to the 16-bit era, the industry was becoming increasable violent with titles like Mortal Kombat and Doom. Established in 1994 by the Congress, the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) has rated every video game to hit the market since then. Ranging from kid friendly games like Super Mario that are rated ‘E’ for everyone, to ‘T’ for teen friendly games like the Need For Speed franchise series and where the highly controversial games like Halo and GTA are given the mature ‘M’ rating are found.
Even though the industry has a rating system, it is still very much overlooked by parents and media personal a like. The concept that video games spark youth violence is still in their minds, but evidence has proved other wise. According to the federal crime statistics, the rate of juvenile violent crime in 2008 in the United States was at a 30-year low. Now this is my biggest argument because video games have skyrocket to new heights and now have become a billion dollar industry (PBS), but we haven’t seen effects on the youth like people have proclaimed. Through more investigation, ages 9 – 14 used video games as a well to relive stress rather than choosing a violent path. Now if this were true we would have already seen the results decades ago. We really need to drop this notion that Violence in games causes kids to be mass murders. If that was true, I would have became a master guitarist from all the Guitar Hero I played in high school.
Currently the industry is in its golden era and messing that up will be catastrophic for many developers who depend on it’s current state. A label of any sorts decimating video games from our mass media society would be the death nail that many have wanted to nail for the longest time. Developers and publishers would lose jobs and have to obey entirely to government’s harsh restrictions or choose a brand new career path. So where should government step in? How much should they regulate?.
Up to now, government has the ESRB rating system, which has been working well with the youth, but how far should they go? I believe we need to let the current system work and not interfere with a proven method. As games are getting more and more realistic, this subject will always be brought up with us always over looking the artistic aspect of the industry.
Wildly known movie critic, Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun Times spoke out how video games can never be seen as art. He said that gamers are more concern about what gameplay features are presented to them rather admiring artwork the setting. While he might be correct, I can’t help go back to Edgar Degas, a famous French artist who said, “Art is not what you see, but what you make others see”. That’s exactly what art has always been about from the very beginning. We have always allowed ourselves to fill in the blanks and let us interpret art in our way and that will never change.
Mark Meer is a Canadian-based actor, writer and improviser. He is a proud member of the Rapid Fire Theatre group and founded the sketch comedy/improv group, Gordon's Big Bald Head. Mark is most known for voicing Commander Shepard in Bioware's "Mass Effect" series. With the franchise wrapping up, I got a chance to ask Mark a few questions and had him reflect on the series, including what the future holds for Commander Shepard.
GamerLive.TV: Did you play games growing up?
Mark Meer: I did, but I'm pretty old. I remember when World of Warcraft was just "Warcraft." I loved Myth, the original Fallout, and Diablo, too.
Do you you ever play any of the games you’ve voiced?
I do. I've done two full playthroughs of Mass Effect 1 and 2, for example. Just got my free copy of ME3, so I'm looking forward to having free time to sit down with that.
From my knowledge, this is the first "Bioware" series you have worked on. What's the story behind you getting cast as Commander Shepard?
I've actually worked on quite a few Bioware games, but Commander Shepard is my first starring role. I first auditioned for Bioware back in 1999, for a single line as an evil cleric in the final cutscene of Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Anm. Bioware liked my work and called me back to play Cyric, the God of Murder in Baldur's Gate II: Throne of Bhaal. Since then, I've voiced characters in Neverwinter Nights: Hordes of the Underdark, Jade Empire, Dragon Age: Origins, Dragon Age: Awakenings, and Dragon Age II - plus the Mass Effect trilogy, of course. Besides the male Commander Shepard, I play several other characters in the series, including random aliens, the Biotic God Niftu Cal, Prazza, all of the Vorcha, and all of the Hanar (including Blasto).
What is it like to voice one of the most recognizable characters of this generation?
It's an honor - one I share with the talented Ms. Jennifer Hale, of course. Getting cast alongside one of the top voice actors in North America was a real thrill. I was a fan of her voice work in other games and cartoons like Justice League Unlimited even before we worked together. I'm a geek myself, so having my own action figure and seeing people at conventions dressed up like Commander Shepard is a dream come true.
What are your thoughts on how the “Mass Effect” franchise has evolved over the years?
It's been interesting to see the leaps forward in technology - even in the recording process. When we recorded the first Mass Effect, we were still working with paper scripts. Since then, we've saved a lot of trees by moving to a system called VADA, where the actor's lines are displayed on a screen in the booth, and the other characters' dialogue plays in real time in your headset during recording.
What's a favorite memory from working on the franchise? Do you have a favorite dialogue line?
I think my favorite memory is getting to meet Martin Sheen during his recording session in Los Angeles. My favorite line of dialogue is Shepard's catchphrase, "I should go." I must have said that hundreds of times over the course of recording the games.
Do you ever run into fellow Mass Effect voice actors?
As I mentioned, I got to meet Martin Sheen recently, he's great and kept us all entertained during his session. I've also had the pleasure of meeting Lance Henriksen, I've been a big fan of his for many years. I had spoken to Jennifer Hale on the phone before, but we met face-to-face for the first time at EXPCon last October. Since then, we've met up a few times in Los Angeles. I know most of the Canadian members of the cast personally - April Banigan (who plays Khalisa Al Jilani) and Jeff Page (who plays Conrad Verner) are both good friends of mine. My wife, Belinda Cornish, is also in the game. She plays Rana Thanoptis and is the very first voice you hear in the original Mass Effect, the Alliance Computer. I tend to run into her a lot.
Recently "Mass Effect 3" has been in the news because of its controversial ending. Longtime fans of the franchise are asking "Bioware" to remake the ending and provide a satisfying resolution to the series. What's your take on the subject and would you be open in returning to the role?
Bioware has said recently that they are considering all fan feedback, positive and negative. I don't actually know anything about their actual plans (and I couldn't say anything if I did), but I do know that there will be upcoming DLC. Changing or expanding the end of the game wouldn't be unprecedented. The gaming community saw it a few years ago with Fallout 3 from Bethesda and the Broken Steel DLC. I really enjoyed Fallout 3, and didn't really have a problem with its ending, but was thrilled to get the Broken Steel disc. Obviously, if Bioware wants to record more dialogue, I'd be there. I'm definitely scheduled to record more dialogue for DLC, but at this stage, I don't know what that will entail.
Currently we are seeing games such as "L.A Noire" and "Uncharted,"using facial capturing software.Do you see a future in this system?
Those games were pretty successful, so I think we'll see more of that in the future.
What do you think of the hot button topics this franchise has pushed such as same-sex relationships?
I think Bioware wanted to be as inclusive as possible, and that included offering romance options to all gamers, regardless of their sexual preference. I'm not sure it should even be an issue - obviously, no one is forcing players to pursue those options if they don't want to.
If you were Commander Shepard, which side would you pick, Paragon or Renegade?
On my Mass Effect playthroughs, I tend to do Renegade first. Then when I do my Paragon playthrough, I feel like I'm redeeming myself for being such a jerk to everybody the first time through.
Jennifer Hale is a long time voice actress, who has appeared on more mediums than you probably thought. From voicing big roles like Commander Shepard in the “Mass Effect” series to voicing Naomi Hunter in the “Metal Gear” Solid franchise. Her voice has made multiple jumps to TV and movies playing such roles like Disney’s "Cinderella" and Cartoon Network's "Powerpuff Girls". I recently got the chance to ask her a few questions about her time with the “Mass Effect” series and what the future lies ahead for voice acting.
What games did you play growing up?
Jennifer: “ (Laughs) Anything outside with dirt and sticks”
Really you didn’t play any video games?
No, I am not good at it. I am an outside person; if I don’t get outside I get a little crazy.
So do you ever play any of the games you’ve voiced for?
It would drive me nuts because I have seen some of the games that I have voiced when friends are playing and it just drives me crazy. I just want to do it again and make it silently better.
What are your thoughts on how the “Mass Effect franchise has evolved over the years?
The writing has become much more character driven not that it wasn’t to begin with. It has just gotten a lot deeper with the character driven nature of the writing and with the depth of the stories and the narrative of the whole thing. The stakes are crazy high in Mass Effect 3, they were high in Mass Effect 1 and 2, but it just dropped into another zone for three.
What's a favorite memory from working on this franchise?
Recording some of the end game for Mass Effect 3
Do you have a favorite voice acting performance that you have done?
Oh my gosh, its like asking to pick my favorite kid. I have a few actually, whenever the writing, directing, and the material come together. It lifts its self up to whole that is greater than some of the parts. I think the end game stuff for Mass Effect 3 is one of my all time favorites, doing the Cowboy Bebop movie and voicing ‘Wolverine: the X-Men’. For me personally and something completely different, the ‘Powerpuff girls. Working on that cartoon was an insane party.
What’s the relationship process like between voice actors and writers?
Oh I wish, but very rarely if ever. I like it when I can hear directly from the writer. What they’re seeing, what they’re envisioning and what their intention is. I did brutal legend, just being in the room with Tim Shafer and talk about the game was fantastic and of course helpful. When we started working on Mass Effect 3, Matt Walters came in and really gave us the run down and the tone of the game. He really helped set us on beautiful trajectory. I don’t get to talk to writers enough because to me without them we got nothing. You know it’s remarkable that they’re so taken for granted.
Do you ever run into fellow Mass Effect voice actors?
Not in video games, but in animation we do. It's a blast in animation. We get to work together and we are all in a room. I worked on couple of shows, which we record invidiously and it’s just so fun when everyone is together. Video games its extremely rare.
For "Metal Gear Solid" we got to record in pairs and sometimes in threes I want to say. For "Onimusha: Raiden" we got to record some of us together, but its very rare for a video game.
Currently right now we are see games use facial capturing software in games like L.A Noire and Uncharted 3. Do you see a future in this system?
Oh I hope so! , mocap is the thing I love more than anything. It’s all I want to do frankly. I would do it for free, but my agents would beat with a yardstick. I absolutely love mocap and facial capture is necessary. I am seeing some stuff of mine, that didn’t have facial capture and I just want to beat the screen. It just makes me nuts that I don’t get to do the mocap for the stuff I do the voice for. You’re missing half the equation or you left half the money on the table. Go get it and put it in there.
Do you see that becoming the standard?
I really hope so. Doesn’t it raise the quality of the game to the next level? Don’t you enjoy it more?
What do you think of the hot button topics this franchise has pushed such as same-sex relationships?
My take relationships is that I am really glad their in the game because they are in our lives. There are people who are gamers who are in same-sex relationship and they should have someone to relate as well. If there were all blonds in video games, I would be bummed. It makes the game much more deeper and meaning full. Mass Effect has always been about the players choose, it just silly to take that choice away. They need someone who they can identify with.
How does working the Mass Effect series compare to your traditional Hollywood work?
(Chuckles) well it’s as if your script was ten to twenty times longer, larger and fatter. Its as if you showed up for work and they took the script, but they didn’t allow you see the script before you voiced it. They don’t really the tell me the story.”
Is there a reason they don’t show you a script?
Yes confidentially, the leaks are ridiculous. I was at an animation set this week and doing pick ups for a cartoon and I left the script their. That’s just my habit; I do not take the script out no matter what job I am doing. I don’t even want to attempt not doing that.
Lets say you have this massive script that's a couple feet high. You show up on the job and you haven't seen it ahead of time. Someone takes the script and cuts it into strips and then throws it in the air. Then randomly the hands you one strip of dialog and ask you to do it. For me, I used to do a lot of improv, so it works out for me.
Is it easier or it more challenging for you to work on a video game?
It’s easier in some ways and more challenging in others. It’s easier because I like the intensity and focus and the ability to go to start to finish in a set amount of time. Working on set, it's a lot of stop start for the actor because there are so many pieces in place. It’s a much slower process and immediacy for voice recording for games. Games are much slower process for the director because its years getting that stuff done.
You have previously worked on the "Metal Gears Solid" and "Metroid" series. Now I know it might be a stretch, but this is your second Bioware game, which leads me to ask. What does Bioware do different?
Not knowing what they do on the production side I can’t speak knowledgeably about that, but I can definitely talk about the voice side. My sense of it from the voice side is they have really strong mastery of the process and their controlling that process tightly. Recording for something like ‘Bulletstorm’ or the ‘Sims’ or something like that, I can deviate from the script but make sure it fits and works.
On a Bioware game, if I say anything that's not on the page, It would create a bug in the system and it would kickback and I would have to do it again due the technical demands they deal with. Having seen little bits of the game and seeing the graphics and depth of it. I can appreciate the amount of technical workload they have going on.
If you were Commander Shepard which side would you pick, Paragon or Renegade?
(Laughs) depends on what side of the bed I wake up on. I love to be Paragon, but sometimes you need Renegade.
It’s been nearly five years since fans last saw Master Chief helm the "Halo" saga, but things have sure changed since then. Bungie, the original creators of the franchise, are no longer working on the game. 343 Industries is now helming the project and is shaping the next generation of "Halo" saga with all the games shifting from the Forerunner saga to the Reclaimer saga.
I recently got to talk with Kiki Wolfkill who is the executive producer on the game. She is responsible for the overall product and making sure the game hits its release date as planned. She as been part of the Microsoft game studio. She previously has helped develop the "Forza", "Project Gotham" and most notably the "Crackdown" series. Why do I bring this up? Is because it all comes back to the "Halo" series.
Throughout "Halos" life span, Microsoft has used the "Halo" brand to help promote its exclusive tittles. "Crackdown" was the first to do be promoted alongside "Halo." If you pre ordered "Crackdown," you earned beta access for "Halo 3." "Crackdown" was a great game, but many bought the game because it was associated with "Halo." The "Forza" motorsports series also had a "Halo" tie-in, but it was more of an Easter egg. You could have the UNSC Warthog in your garage, but you could not race with it for some odd reason. The series is more than just game to Microsoft and you can bet this pattern will continue.
Bridging the gap between the Forunner saga and the new Reclaimer trilogy is the most daunting task. How do you please the hardcore fans, while introducing casual fans into the world? that is the biggest task that 343 Industries is going to have to overcome. Lucky, "Halo 4" is in the right hands. “Halo 3 ends with Master Chief and Cortana entering a cryonic sleep after they wiped out the flood and defeated the covenant," Wolfkil said. "It picks up where the series left off five years later and Chief awakens to continue the saga. This gives us enough time, to develop a new universe around Master Chief and while respecting what happened in the previous games. ”
"Halo: Reach" was the swan song for Bungie, as it was its last "Halo" game and its send off to the series it created. By far "Reach" is the best in the series, but since there's such a huge time gap between pre "Combat Evolved" and "Halo 4," I asked, will we see Reach in the upcoming installment? “Well, 'Reach' was obliterated by the covenant," Wolfkill said. "It’s a place in the 'Halo' Universe that we may or may not revisit. You might see it in future graphic novels and possible novel tie-ins.”
The Forge system has been a key part of the franchise success ever since it was integrated in "Halo 3." It has evolved over time to become a great party tool and has helped form indie machinima developers on the Web. There hasn’t been any news on it yet, but Wolfkill helped assure that the forge system will make its way onto "Halo 4." “Um… What I can say is that 'Halo 4' community involvement is still a core part of the Halo experience," Wolfkill said. "Continuing to developing tools like the Forge mode, are key for us.”
The switch from Bungie to 343 industries is without doubt one of the biggest stories surrounding the series. Bungie is now working with Activision on another IP that we haven’t heard much about. “When we took over the 'Halo' series, we took a deliberate approach," Wolfkill said. "We wanted to keep the strengths that made 'Halo' while cutting out the weakness. We really wanted to improve on telling a better story that surpasses what we did in the Forunner saga.”
The biggest reveal at the event, was the reintroduction of the deadly fan favorite weapon, the battle rifle. I didn’t get a chance to get hands on with "Halo 4," but right away you can tell that the BR is a more improved version than its predecessors. It looks more deadly and is vastly different since the last time you saw Master Chief use the battle rifle.“ We wanted to give familiar grounds to fans," Wolfkill said. "Even though it’s back however, we wanted to give the battle rifle its own distinct look that separates it from previous games.”
Martin O’Donnell, the original composer, will not make the jump to "Halo 4." There is no word yet on what his next project is, but it’s safe to say that he is scoring the next Bungie project. Replacing Martin O’ Donnell is Sotaro Tojima. This news saddens me because of how iconic Martin’s work on the "Halo" series is, but this offers a wide range of possibilities and chance to bring a new vision to "Halo" that fans have never seen before.
"Halo 4" is quite possibly, the most important game to be released in this decade. If "Halo 4" is a great game, then it will reach out to the next generation. But if "Halo 4" turns out like the Star Wars prequals, it could damage the repuation that it has today. I can't wait for "Halo" to return with a new bold vision, but I'm going to remain speculative until I get hands on with the Chief.
Last week, Darksiders II was demoed at the Regency Center in San Francisco. The demo showed off what the newest features were, while providing us an awesome taste of the product. Sadly however, I couldn’t get my hands on with the game, but never or less it was an impressive showing. After the demo, I got to talk with the lead designer of the game, Haydn Dalton and got some insider info on the upcoming sequel.
GamerLive.TV: Haydn Dalton, thank you for talking with us about Darksiders II.
Haydn Dalton: "No problem"
GamerLive.TV: So what is the biggest game-play change from Darksiders 1 to 2?
Haydn Dalton: “ The biggest change we made was the looting and customize system that we have in the game right now. The ability to switch out specific items for your main character visually when you pause the game, is probably the biggest change in the game. “
GamerLive.TV: so how does that play into armor customization?
Haydn Dalton: “Well we have many different armor types, what we showed at the demo was the slayer and necromancer set. Basically we are trying to suit whatever style the player prefers to play and you can mix individual items to the style you want to play . So you can combine them to be more effective in magic or be more effective with your physical attacks, it’s all about mixing and stylizing for what the player wants to do”
GamerLive.TV: The biggest reveal in the demo or at least in my look was the talent trees. This is something the fans of the series were asking for, but i’m interested to know. Why did you decided to go that route and can you explain both talent tress?
Haydn Dalton: “I can’t give you to much detail, but I tell you what was behind the idea. The two-skill tress are formed around two styles of play. One is based around the physical and skilled side of the game, when the Necromancer side of the game is more about the stand off and projectile part of the game. So players have two very distinct of the game on the way they want to play. “
GamerLive.TV: Sounds Cool, so how does Darksiders II continue the trilogy. Will we ever get to see the first protagonist from the first game?
Haydn Dalton: “ Uh … I guess your going to have to play the game find out. The Story is definitely concurrent with the first one.”
GamerLive.TV: When does the story take place?
Haydn Dalton: “Kind of before and after the events of the first game. The main storyline centers around the events of the first game and fans of the series will likely recall events from the first game. The main question center around and what will be driving the storyline in Darksiders II is what was Death doing here at this time and what was going on with him”
GamerLive.TV: What type of weapons will we see?
Haydn Dalton: Yeah there are many different weapons and many are making their return. Obviously you saw the gun and claw briefly, which are returning favorites. You also saw the hammer but we also Axe’s, gauntlets and a wide range of weapons. Again, it was really about player choices, even with the weapons visually and gameplay. We really wanted to give the player different ways overcome the hurdles.
GamerLive.TV: What type of gameplay changes did you make to fully make the transition from War to Death?
Haydn Dalton: “Well the first thing is that War is more of a heroic character. He is somebody who is more grounded by his terrain, but is a ruthless brawler who can take lots of damage. When we started developing and envisioning Death, he seemed more of athletic and dose his own thing and doesn’t really go by the rules. So it’s a polor opposite to what War was all about. So yeah, War was methodical in combat, but Death is more about inversion. Death is more like an assassin in our world.”
GamerLive.TV: Another Reveal in the demo was that you are introducing side quests for the first time. Now the previous Darksiders was 40 hours long. I’m kind of interested to find out, does that take away from the main storyline or enhance it?
Haydn Dalton: “We really wanted to create a large world for the player. So we are give them the cool story, which is our main focus, but while doing that we wanted players to be fully enriched in the setting. When started we designing our side quests, we wanted to further enhance you the world, not just happens in main storyline. That’s why many times you will come across various quests that will often have you facing mini – bosses. That will offer new items to player and totally brand new experience at the same time, and I don’t think calling them mini – bosses doesn’t do them justice. Some bosses will be a serious challenge to defeat.”
Through out the years, video game genres have frequently changed to get ready for the next generation of new consoles. This is understandable sacrifice as developers and fans have profited over yearly growth in technology’s. However, the one game that hasn't changed since it was first release on the first PlayStation , is now getting a completely ballsy addition to the franchise. Instead of Racing the black and white flag, fans of the series will know be racing for their life as all hell breaks lose in Ridge Racer: Unbound.
Ridge Racer Unbounded is the upcoming racing game by Bugbear Entertainment. Bugbear is known mostly for creating the Flatout series. The Flatout series was known for it’s destruction and allowing you to put endless rounds into your opponents. It’s been awhile since we have seen Flatout series since the series last appeared in 2006 as apart of the Xbox 360 launch lineup. Is this Flatout 3 or is this a Ridge Racer that fans will claim as their own?
That is the biggest issue that Ridge Racer has going forward for it. Yes, it still holds on to many of the key concepts that makes Ridge Racer has today. Your still going to find the unrealistic drifting formula that has been the staple of the franchise ever since the inception. Along with that your going to get the non licensed cars developed,but along with that they add muscle cars and a few different types of cars that weren’t in previous Ridge Racer. If you were a fan of the Ridge Racer, you will happy to here that many of the tones from the previous games are going to be in the game. But that's kinda where similarities end with traditional Ridge Racer games and Ridge Racer Unbound.
From the get go, Ridge Racer Unbound is a fresh arcade racer, that in no way feels like Ridge Racer. Bugbear Entertainment drew inspiration from Disney Interactive 2010 racing tittle, Split Second. Instead of shooting the enemy to death, your main arsenal will be turbo, but not to the extent. You can’t bring down entire airports, hotels, freeways, mountain tops or summon Godzilla like you could in Split Second. For the most part, you can use turbo in Ridge Racer to unlock shortcuts or knockout your opponents out of the race.
During my demo time I was restricted to playing the single player due to problems with online multiplayer, but of what I played I was pleasantly surprised. The graphics in the game immediately stands out due to how much goes on the screen. It real enjoyment to just sit back and watch this game unfold due to how frequent cars collide with objects.
What’s kind a disappointing is the lack of single player story content. Now their is plenty of modes in the game like traditional Race types and Frag, which is you ramming the police for eight laps in a eight wheeler truck. From the looks of the single player, it never looks like slows down to provide any story content, which is not really a shock or surprise since Bugbear focus squarely on game-play content.
One of the nice features in the game is called City Creator. City Creator allows you to create your own city and within that city so you can create multiple maps, which you play online and share around the world. City creator makes the game feel endless due to how limitless the customization is.
For the past three years, arcade racing has been at a dormant state. Finally, arcade racing fans have a game they they can look forward to 2012. Can Bugbear Entrainment live up to the Ridge Racer name? who knows. But it’s great to see a franchise like Ridge Racer and do something we would never expect from them. Bugbear is truly sending the franchise unbounded.
The Postal Series has been around for awhile now. Starting off with the original Postal game in 1997, it was a gritty, intelligent and funny, which made it one of the most unique IP on the market. Eight years later after Postal 2, the postal series has finally returned to conclude the trilogy. What could have been a great game is instantly turned it into a cosmic mess with no clear direction, outdated controller and horrible game design. Postal III isn’t just the worst downloadable game I have ever played, it is by far the worst game I have ever played.
One of the first problems you’re going to spot is the overall story. The Story is focused around you as you play as The Postal Dude, your average muscular dude who got thrown into a situation he has to solve. The Story in Postal III has no clear direction and no goal on where it wants it take you. It is seemly just another comedic sketch over and over again.
Postal III puts you in a post apocalyptic world, but it never quit feels like it. You never get the sense that you are isolate, on the run and need to survive. Majority of your time you spend in small town called Catharsis. The streets are always filled with people and the city looks un-scratched from the post apocalyptic climate. All together, you never get the sense that they are in danger and you are never enriched in the setting. One of the many reasons the setting is toned down is because it is trying to provide the comedic attitude that the series is known for.
Through out the game, what would be missions or quests in similar games are replaced with comedic sketches that fail to be funny. Right off the bat, you are tossed into situation that for the most part are hit and miss. There are some sketches that will give you a laugh, but they are very far in between. Along the way, you will come across a few celebrities who lend their talents to the game, but the problem is that they are given little to work with and are poorly executed.
In one of the first missions of the game after you complete the prologue, you are forced to do the most absolutely insane jobs in order to re-fuel your car. From vacuuming up tissues off the floor in a sex shop and shooting them right back at the customers. To helping a local terrorist group battle Osama Bin Laden by rounding up diseased cats. To lastly killing off an angry mob of Mexican -Sushi restaurateurs. Many will enjoy it for it comedic attitude, but it quickly gets old due how linear the game is. What really diminishes the comedic aspect of the game is the dreadful presentation.
Postal III has been in development for eight years, which is one of the longest development cycles in recent memory. You would of thought that the franchise would make leaps and bounds, but the exact opposite happen. Previously, the engine driving the Postal franchise was Epic’s Unreal engine. In Postal III however, Running With Scissors developed the product under Valve’s Steam engine. The results in glitchy experience that looks outdated filled with inexcusable errors for a current gen product.
The graphics are by far the worst thing Postal III brings to the table. The graphics are in creditable out dated. Shadows and textures pop in and out. Facial textures look awful. These graphics are no shape or form acceptable for current gen hardware. What makes it worse are the annoying glitches in the game.
Far too often, your progress in the game will be stopped at a stand still. To entire area’s blacked out because of the extra time need to load part of the map. By far the worse glitch I experienced, was my entire save vanishing from my game. Making my experience more troublesome then it should have be. Another problem I had was the dialogue in the game. Far too often characters fail to lip - sync to the script, resulting in an ugly result. For the most part it will appear that characters are mumbling through the script, making actors performance look below par and highly unforgettable.
These things should have been ironed out with beta testing, but you can tell this was something they overlooked or skipped entirely. Post apocalyptic wastelands are a mess to go through, but Postal III graphical wasteland tops it all. In many ways, I wish Valve stopped this game from hitting store shelves and give them more time to clean up these mistakes. All this could have been forgiven if the gameplay was decent but it follows a very similar path.
Postal III has perhaps has the weirdest shooting set up I have had to deal with recently. For the PC, you can only shoot by right clicking on the mouse and you aren't given control to arc your grenade. Besides grenades, there are some truly bizarre guns that are fun to fool around with. You want variety with your gunplay, well here you go as every gun plays differently while providing a few laughs in the process.
The Gunplay is sufficient, but I wish I could tweak things around in the settings. If your looking for something groundbreaking and original. You’re simply not going to get it with it taking little or no chances. Postal III focuses squarely on its comedic attitude.
I don’t know who I should more mad at, Postal III for giving me everything I didn’t want out of a game or the developers themselves. I can’t believe that the people behind Running with Scissors would take eight years to put out one of the worst games I have ever played. Then to make things worse, every time you die a developer will flash onto the screen and give you the middle figure. I can understand and respect a developer who knows that their product isn’t great, but don’t you dare make fun of the people who support you day in and day out.
Simply put, Postal III is an injustice to game design and most importantly an injustice to loyal fans of the franchise. If Running With Scissors was trying to develop a product that was so bad, it made Duke Nukem Forever look good. Then after eight long years, you can say that it's the only thing they accomplished.
The last two Need for Speed tiles, Hot Pursuit and Shift, were considered more as spin-offs but have provided the best two racing games for the franchise. What The Run has going for it is that it returns to it’s old-school NFS roots. Black Box develops the game this time, making it the first time they have returned to the Need For Speed franchise since creating and finishing Underground and Undercover series. Once again players will return to nitrous-powered action that graced the last generation of NFS gamers. This is a welcome return for many veteran NFS fans, but unfortunately Black Box under-performs severely.
Growing up, the Need for Speed franchise was still rather new. Need for Speed Underground, developed by Black Box entertainment, featured an excellent career mode at the time. Even though it was a small portion of the game, it fulfilled its premise and brought a new dimension for the game. Fast-forwarding eight years to Need for Speed: The Run, it feels like jumping back in time and revisiting an old friend. The problem however, is that Black Box’s formula doesn’t hold up to arcade racing standards and fails to finish on the podium.
Diving right into the single player campaign, the main story line in The Run is your cheesy Hollywood setup. You play as Jack, a marked man who is being hunted down by the mob. The only way to pay his debt is to win a 3,000 mile race that spans from San Francisco to New York. The campaign gets straight to the point on what it wants you to accomplish. Driving from San Francisco to New York is often breath-taking because of the maps you race on through the long Nevada desert, down the cold and edgy Colorado Mountains and the packed Chicago Streets. Don't feel bad if you get distracted while you admire the scenery as you drive along. Even though it’s a beautiful treat, it doesn’t even come close to hiding all the problems with The Run's campaign mode.
The campaign has a good balance of racing types that you will eventually go through. Ranging from the time attack races, one-on-one battles, cop chases and your standard eight car races. These are all fun simply because of how the controls feel. Driving in The Run feels very loose, which is something to actually be glad about. It allows everyone to pick up the controls with ease and not have to learn how a car drives like some games. The only thing that requires learning on your part, is how certain car classes perform. There is a wide range of classes ranging from muscle cars to luxury cars which gives the game much needed variety and spice.
The biggest design flaw in the game is that progress from race to race never transfers over. Every time you race, it’s your mission to pass a certain amount of cars or finish a map with a certain time. If at any chance you fall below these standards, you are instructed to retry over and over again until you beat that stage. This the biggest design flaw because it stops people feeling like they are on the run. It makes the game feel very linear and out of place. If The Run could track progress from start to finish, then it would make players push the throttle more and have more excitement for the story.
Speaking of the story, the highly publicized story of Need for Speed The Run is probably the most disappointing things about the game. From the get go, it tries to be a Hollywood block buster but the problem is that it falters on nearly every level. Starting with Jack, who owes the mob money, but we don't know what he did or how he got in that position.
There are very few times that the game slows down to provide back-story for the main characters in the game but your going to get most information in the loading screens than in quick time events. The Run does provide some cool quick time events that take Jake out of the car but they're so few and far between each other that they are out of place and are not needed. It’s a real shame because The Run does have some good moments, it's just the package doesn't come together making the storyline easily forgettable while your racing towards New York. If it wasn’t so scripted and provided much needed story details, then Black Box might have had a good campaign to go along with its online features.
Online play is the biggest bright spot and will keep players playing for quite a long time. It’s nearly impossible to not early XP for racing. Even if you joined in a race late you can still climb the leaderboards and win. At the start of each race, depending on who you are playing with, you earn exclusive cars and gain ridiculously high XP if you come in first. Most of the modes are the same in story but tweaked a bit to balance the maps for online. It’s a very refreshing feature and you can see they developed the online first then worked on the single player experience.
Even though it has a great online experience, Need for Speed The Run will be a quick finish for most. It only takes three hours to finish the campaign. After the single player experience, you can still complete all the single and multiplayer challenges that await you. There is really nothing besides the multiplayer that will keep you coming back to The Run. To make things worse, the game has only 36 achievements and trophys to get, with most of them on the single player side. With a lack of long term content, people are simply going to be turned off by NFS and be busy playing something else during the holiday season.
Need for Speed The Run looks good on the outside as it provides beautiful visuals and is easily playable. The more you start digging, the more you will see that it’s just an average racing game that crashes in every possible way. Horrible story, dumb AI and the lack of freedom kills The Run's chances of being the best racer on the market. Black Box's under-performs severely, making it clear to EA that the Need for Speed franchise was better in other people’s hands.