Death of a Community

 

Last weekend Robert Bowling, Creative Strategist for Infinity Ward, casually dropped a large, megaton-sized bombshell on the PC gaming community: Modern Warfare 2 – sequel to 2007’s critically acclaimed, best-selling hit – won’t have dedicated servers or mod support built-in.

Since then, e-petitions have been signed, journalists have tweeted, and other industry figures have weighed in. Public opinion seems to be split into two camps: most are outraged; others are nonplussed. Meanwhile, Bowling has attempted to calm the waves of discontent through a blog post, defending Infinity Ward’s decision and reassuring the PC community that this is, in fact, a step forward.

Tom Bramwell, editor of Eurogamer.net, had this to say in response:

"IW man's blog about why IWNet is a good thing suggests he doesn't understand why the concept so upset people in the first place."

And this is the point. The heart of the issue doesn’t lie in a list of pros and cons; it lies in a philosophy – a set of principles that have been at the core of the PC gaming experience for as long as it’s been alive.

PC gaming is a fundamentally different beast from that of console gaming; in fact, you could almost say it’s more of a lifestyle choice. It’s not just about being able to play games with a mouse and keyboard. People who play games on the PC don’t just get there by accident; people choose to play games on the PC for a number of reasons that are exclusive to the platform.

They want to be able to mod their games. They want to play at the highest resolutions and at the highest settings. They want to be able to tweak the config.ini file for the absolute perfect balance between performance and graphical awe. They want to be able to have the freedom to play that game in ten years time, without DRM. And, yes, they want their dedicated clan servers, where regulars come together to play, share and frag with the rest of the community.

These are the perks that PC gamers receive for their strivings, through the heartbreak of hardware failures, broken patches, viruses and the perpetual need for better, more powerful upgrades. If you want hassle-free gaming, buy a console, because that’s not what PCs are there for. When you're a PC gamer, you're in it for the long haul.

Bowling seems to be under the impression that PC gamers want what console gamers have – that they want a centralised online service; that they want matchmaking. But they don’t. PC gamers, above all else, want choice and flexibility in the way they interact with their games, not what Bowling laughably calls “accessibility”. In some cases, those who’ve migrated from the console arena have come to the PC to precisely avoid those “features” that Bowling lauds as advantageous.

Activision and Infinity Ward are major players in the games industry. Every move they make is observed, dissected, analysed and looked at some more by their competitors. If this decision works out for them then there is a very large, very worrying possibility that dedicated servers and user mods will go the way of the dodo, while multiplayer matching will become the norm du jour. Say “Bye-bye!” to clan servers, server and client-side mods, free maps and the traditional browser; say “Hello!” to paid-for DLC, unpredictable matchmaking, bad pings and poor server reliability.

The PC gaming scene is not what it used to be. Yes, you can point to the flourishing MMO and casual games markets as sectors of growth, but big house names such as Bioware, Epic, Crytek and, now, Infinity Ward have all migrated at least some, if not most, of their development towards consoles. That’s just the way things have been going for a long time.

That’s not to say that PC gamers have nothing to look forward to. The indie development community, for instance, is a source of excitement, for me at least, as a lot of stuff we’re seeing is often way more creative and interesting than what’s currently out on store shelves.

Nevertheless, if Activision/Infinity Ward’s gambit pays off then it’s just going to be another nail in the coffin for the old ways of PC gaming. On the other hand, if Modern Warfare 2 fails to sell according to expectations then they’ll just point and say how the PC is a platform in decline. Either way, to quote a trashy movie tagline, “Whoever wins... We lose.”

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E3 ‘09: Wrap-up Round-up!

So, E3 is over, but, more importantly, who won?

Well, it seems rather clichéd and non-committal to say this, but everybody did, in a sense. Between the console manufacturers, I’m sure each can be happy with their respective showings. Nintendo, while not having the most groundbreaking Keynote, probably made the shareholders very happy with their re-emphasis on “casual” games, the Wii Fit brand and the ‘tween market, with some “core” franchises also thrown into the mix (for the fans, of course).

Both Sony and Microsoft had very strong showings in terms what games they were touting. Microsoft reiterated its commitment to the social functions of LIVE with the new Facebook and Twitter integration, while further evolving the platform as a viable digital download service. Getting the next Metal Gear Solid and Final Fantasy XIII on-board also was a bit of a coup for them. Likewise, the effort Sony’s put into revitalising their portable console, the PSP, via a new introduction to the product line, the PSP Go, was reassuring to fans of the console and to developers – who, additionally, now have an 80% discount on developing for the platform. Sony also pushed their new “play, share, create” line with ModNations Racers, further strengthening the PS3’s position as the home of user-created content (excepting the PC).

And then there’s Project Natal, Milo and Sony’s new motion controller. It’s impossible to say at this point which one will have the edge over the other; both seem to offer different experiences, with Sony’s controller being a safer, more sophisticated evolution of the now archetypical motion controller: the Wii Remote. Project Natal and Milo, on the other hand, dare to reach for an unprecedented level of interactive experience. Whether they’ll actually get there and whether it’ll be any good, we shall see.

Among the deluge of news and announcements to come out of E3, some lesser-known, more interesting bits-and-pieces often slip through the cracks. Here are a few of my recommendations – an assortment of articles, trailers, interviews etc. – which you may have missed.

1. Joystiq’s Hands-on with New Super Mario Bros. on the Wii. Originally, I discounted the game fairly swiftly as I didn’t believe that an offline, four player platformer on one screen would work very well or be that much fun. From what I’ve heard from Joystiq, Eurogamer and the Giant Bomb crew, they have managed to do it right. I really shouldn’t act surprised; if anybody could have made this type of thing work, it would have been Nintendo.

2. “Sony working on ‘good will’ program to give digital copies of your UMD collection” (from engadget.com). This is interesting as I was wondering if and how they were going to do this. It probably won’t make me upgrade to a PSP Go, but it’s certainly another great move by Sony. Considering my general level of antipathy towards them, they’ve announced some really great decisions at this year’s convention.

3. Giant Bomb’s Brad Shoemaker’s interview with the BioWare guys. Both funny and informative.

4. Kotaku’s “The PSP Go Looks Familiar” article. I think I saw this somewhere else, too, but it’s still vaguely interesting. I also like the strange synchronicity that the device they modelled the PSP Go on is called a “Mylo”. Make of that what you will.

5. GameTrailer’s Bayonetta E3 Trailer. This trailer was actually leaked before E3, but it’s so bat-shit-crazy-insane that I think it’s worth everybody taking a look who hasn’t already. Totally, totally nuts. Five words: gun-wielding nun-vixen/dominatrix.

6. The Giant Bombcast: E3 Day Three. A lot less hectic than yesterday’s episode but just as good. Paul Barnett and Carrie Gouskos from Mythic Entertainment entertain us with behind-the-scenes anecdotes from E3. Best of the bunch: Carrie meets her all-time hero, Tim Schafer, and turns it into a social encounter Larry David would be proud of, and Paul Barnett gets a pizza delivered from Sugar Ray Leonard.

7. Giant Bomb’s Persona PSP Interview. A short but sweet interview from Jeff Gerstmann quizzing Nick Maragos, localisation editor for Persona PSP. Interesting for those addicted to the Persona 4 Endurance Run and looking to get into the Persona universe.

8. Shadow Complex E3 Developer Walkthrough from GameTrailers. An interesting look at Shadow Complex, a kind of Castlevania/Metroid hybrid from Epic Games, soon to be available on XBLA. I like the idea of a new “metroidvania” 2D-style game, but Shadow Complex seems to lack a lot of the flair, charm and personality of those games, which is a shame. Why Epic feel the need to reduce the look of every game they produce to muted grey, blue and brown colours, I’ll never know.

So, that’s it for this year’s E3. It’s been an exciting week for video games and I’m just glad I got to see it all from afar. ‘Till next time.

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E3 ‘09: Day Three – No More Conferences; Lots of Impressions

With all the major conferences now over, most of the reporting from E3 now revolves around hands-on impressions of individual games, interviews, gameplay videos, podcasts and smaller announcements. Since I can’t give you my hands-on impressions of what’s on offer, I can at least point you in the direction of what, I think, are the more interesting articles and features coming out from the gaming press.

From Joystiq, there are a few articles of interest. The first is one that states that Forza Motorsport 3supposedly the “definitive” racing game of this console generation – will be shipping on two disks instead of one. While the first disk is the one you’ll put in the drive to play the game, the second contains various assets and bonus features such as additional cars and courses. Could this be the first sign that Microsoft’s choice of format – the DVD – is finally showing its age? Maybe.

The second article regards Peter Molyneux’s promotion as creative director of Microsoft Games Studios Europe. This isn’t that interesting in itself; in fact, the main reason I paid the article any notice was because of their brilliant picture and caption they had for the piece.

Giant Bomb had an interesting interview with Valve’s Chet Faliszek over Left 4 Dead 2 – a game which has been receiving some mixed reactions across the board. On the one hand, a lot of the fans on the forums feel it’s way too early for sequel; they feel slightly abandoned and are a little worried that this now means that future DLC for the original L4D won’t happen. On the other hand, it’s more Left 4 Dead, plus chainsaws and incendiary bullets – what part of that sentence doesn’t sound awesome? The interview answers some of the questions many L4D fans have been asking themselves, and it personally alleviated some of my fears that this is not just a lazy cash-in for the franchise.

Also on Giant Bomb: the Day Two E3 Bombcast which descended into chaos and mayhem.  Among others, Leigh Alexander came on the podcast for the discussion and, boy, did she have a lot to discuss! Leigh frequently dominated and monopolised the conversation, often trampling over the responses of others to further justify her own opinion. When she was talking, though – and that was, well, most of the time – she came out with some really interesting, and absolutely spot-on, observations about E3, the console platforms, the asexuality of Resident Evil and the myth of PlayStation Home (and of virtual worlds in general). She has since apologised on her own blog for her behavior, so I don’t want to shame her or anything like that. I actually recommend you give it a listen, if only for Ryan’s reaction (”are you fucking out of your mind?!”) to her assertion of Nazi SS uniforms being “objectively sexy.” It was pretty funny, and I fully recommend you have a look at her blog at Sexy Videogameland as well as Gamasutra – the site at which she works as News Director. I hope to hear her on further Bombcasts in the future.

The Guardian Games blog has an article on the background origins surrounding Microsoft’s Project Natal. It’s worth a quick look-see for anyone wondering about the technology behind the thing. Kotaku also had a picture up on their site, which is worryingly reminiscent of HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Kind-of freaky, if you ask me.

Kotaku also asked Sony about the expected PS3 price-drop at E3 – which, incidentally, never came. Their response was that they are going in a different direction of adding more content to the system, thereby increasing its value as a platform. Fair enough, I say. It would be a little premature to lower the price of the PS3 as that is something that would be more effective during the Christmas season. The PSP Go on the other hand…

Speaking of which, there was an article for the Go, in which Sony was asked about the console’s pricing strategy. They commented that “It’s targeting an early adopter, a tech enthusiast.” My question is, will the tech enthusiast want it, though? They also mentioned that they are trying to get retailers in on the digital distribution pie, possibly looking into vouchers sold at retail which would then act as tokens to download certain games via PSN. That’s answered one of my questions, anyway – why would a retailer support a product which takes away part of their business from them?

For those interested in Bioshock 2, there are hands-on impressions coming in from several different sites. The general opinion I’ve observed seems to be of a slight weariness over exactly how well the multiplayer will integrate with the final product.

Finally, the trailer for Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, as seen from the Konami press conference, is now available online for all to witness. Interestingly, Joystiq has picked up on the fact that while Kojima has been emphasising that this is a new game, it actually isn’t, because we’ve already seen it before – albeit in a slightly different form, minus the Castlevania logo.


  


Captain Picard, Begbie, Malfoy and Natascha McElhone: how could you possibly lose?
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E3 ‘09: Day Two – Konami Press Conference

Unfortunately, there were technical issues at the venue so no live video feeds were available this time. Going back to basics, here: live blogger feeds via Kotaku and G4. In the general scheme of things, the press conference seemed pretty low key. Apart from the couple of Metal Gear titles we already knew about – MGS: Rising and Peace Walker – there were a further two announcements made for Metal Gear Solid Arcade and Castlevania: Lords of Shadow. It’s hard to get excited about MGS: Arcade, since there’s practically zero chance it will ever see the light of day in little ‘ol Blighty. The Castlevania title is apparently a reboot of the series, due for release both on Xbox 360 and PS3; it will be an open-world action game and, apparently, looks very impressive so far.

Other news at the conference

  • Saw: The Video Game was shown in a trailer. Tobin Bell came onstage to talk about the game; nobody was listening and nobody cared.
  • Some stuff about Karaoke Revolution. (Again, not interested.)
  • They also showed new DDR: Wii. It uses the balance board, and judging the reaction from the live bloggers at E3, it also looks to be a lot of silly fun.
  • Talked about WireWay – a platform/puzzle game for the Nintendo DS.
  • Talked about Deca Sports 2 – a sports game for the Wii.
  • Showed new DDR for PS3 and announced that there will be over 150 songs available as DLC over PSN and XBL.
  • More details revealed about Silent Hill: Shattered Memories. It is a “re-imagining” of the original Silent Hill but with Wii motion controls. There will also be PS2 and PSP versions of the game. It’s supposed to be shaping up nicely; there will also be no combat in the game (you will be running away from monsters, instead) and you will use the Wii Remote to point your character’s flashlight around. Also, new music from Akira Yamaoka. [Will post E3 demo video on the site when it becomes available.]

  


Not a particularly interesting conference overall, and no MGS 4 for the Xbox 360, it seems. Can’t say I was too surprised, either.
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E3 ‘09: Day One – Nintendo Keynote

I was stifling yawns while watching the Nintendo keynote. The Ubisoft conference was bad, but it was like watching car-crash television – you just couldn’t look away for risk of not seeing what was going to happen next. To me, someone who’s into more traditional games, there was very little to hold my attention at the Nintendo conference. And I imagine that sentiment probably applies to a lot of the folks sat in the audience, as well.

I’m sure several Nintendo fans are very happy to see Super Mario Galaxy 2, Metroid: Other M, and a new Kingdom Hearts game coming out for the Wii; there were also some other good looking games out there in the shape of Dead Space: Extraction, The Conduit and Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers, all for the Wii platform. But what was, sadly, most evident at his conference, was that Nintendo are gradually, but surely, moving away from the “core” loyalist fanbase and towards the untapped “maybe” market – those who might play games but don’t at the moment, as Iwata later revealed.


  


  


Satoru Iwata, president and CEO of Nintendo, came on to talk about how the casual/hardcore divide is a myth and that there is a way to accommodate both loyalists and newcomers to gaming; I think most people know that’s more than slightly optimistic thinking on his part. It didn’t help his cause when he revealed the new – for the first time ever – Vitality Sensor, which looks like a heart-rate monitor, sounds like a heart-rate monitor, is… well, a heart-rate monitor, but re-branded for the Wii. I’m sure no-one expected this, but maybe that’s because the peripheral has no effective application and is, in general, a really dumb idea?

The main emphasis of this conference was clearly on expanding the Wii and Nintendo DS’s user base to get more non-gamers on-board. There was a chunk of talk-time devoted to the virtues of Wii Motion Plus for use in the new Wii Sports Resort game; again, there was the common theme, exposed in every conference so far, of courting the fitness and ‘tween markets – specifically, with Wii Fit Plus, as well as with a slurry of titles for the DS and DSi, including Style Savvy, Cop: The Recruit and Women’s Murder Club: Games of Passion. Emblematic of this turnaround is the now announced New Super Mario Bros. for Wii, which looks very similar to the DS game of the same name but with four-player co-op. Four player co-op? In a 2D platform game? With one screen between the four? It just sounds to me like a principally flawed concept.


  


There were a couple of additional things of note regarding the DSi. Good news for RPG gamers: they’re releasing a new Golden Sun and Mario and Luigi game. Along with Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days, that’s not too bad. There was also mention of the DSi’s download service and with specific mention to Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Minis March Again, seemingly an update of Mario vs. Donkey Kong but with the ability to create and upload your own levels for others to download and play through. Cammy Dunaway, Nintendo’s executive vice president, also went on to talk about how they’re marketing the DSi as a gadget which can be personalised to your express style and tastes. As further evidence of this claim, they’re going to include Facebook integration for the DSi later this summer.


  

It was all pretty routine, pretty straight forward, smart stuff. Vitality Sensor aside (Nintendo, what were you thinking?) it was a rather dull conference; very self-congratulatory and uninspiring.

But why should they care what I think? After all, I’m not their audience anymore, am I?

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E3 ‘09: Day One – Sony Keynote

Great conference from Sony, all-in-all. Despite Microsoft’s surprise unveiling of Natal – and along with it, those incredible promises from Peter Molyneux – Sony put up a great fight. There were some, frankly, amazing looking games on display, sequels from franchises most gamers know and love, as well as Sony’s Johnny-come-lately entry into motion control.

God of War 3, Gran Turismo 5, The Last Guardian (Team ICO’s new game, formerly known as “Trico”) and Uncharted 2: Among Thieves lined Sony’s crown of exclusive titles, all of which looked graphically stunning. There was also gameplay footage present for Final Fantasy XIII and Assassins Creed 2, with another unexpected announcement from Square-Enix: Final Fantasy XIV Online – presumably a sequel to their previous MMO, Final Fantasy XI, and exclusive to the PS3 platform.


  


Aside from some AAA quality titles previewed, Sony spent a great deal of time on re-emphasising their commitment to the handheld market and the PSP platform. The PSP Go was, at long last, officially unveiled to the public. However, since the details of the new platform were leaked before E3 even started there was very little to be surprised about. Kaz Hirai, president of SCE, did, however, raise two points of interest: one, the PSP Go will not replace the older PSP models but will, instead, sell alongside them as an alternative; and two, it will retail for 249 dollars or 249 euros in Europe (we get screwed again). It still hasn’t cleared up my scepticism in regards to where exactly the PSP Go fits within the general scheme of the portable marketplace (and within the PlayStation brand). In any case, it’s way overpriced.

Sony didn’t just stop with the PSP Go, though; in a show of support they revealed three very high-profile new titles for the PSP platform: Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, Resident Evil Portable and Gran Turismo PSP. As a PSP owner and fan of each and every one of the aforementioned series, I am totally stoked to hear about all this. We didn’t see anything of Resident Evil Portable, but Gran Turismo and Peace Walker both looked fantastic. I was very impressed by Peace Walker in particular; it really looks like Kojima is taking care of this game – not as an offshoot, side-story or spin-off of the main series, but as a high-quality title in itself that deserves its own place in the Metal Gear Solid canon.


  


Jack Trenton, executive vice-president, also went so far as to emphasis the PS3’s online capabilities and the potential for community-created content; ModNations Racers was shown as case-in-point. In the game, users can customise their avatar, their motor and create and upload their own custom tracks online. The kart racing looked alright, but the real beef here is the track creation toolkit, which looked both comprehensive and highly accessible. Trenton also mentioned continually the same old guff about PlayStation Home and how the games exclusive to PS3 could only be made on PS3. (Pfft, whatever, Jack.)

My favourite part of the conference and possible E3 so far, is probably when these two engineers came up on stage to demonstrate a very early in development prototype of Sony’s up-and-coming motion sensor “wand” thinga-ma-jig. In essence, it looked and operated in a very similar manner to Nintendo’s Wii Remote. There was one key difference, though, that I could pick out: the accuracy was way better on this thing and was much faster to pick up bodily responses. (As far as I could tell, there was no noticeable lag at all.)

What won the crowd over, I think, was this, though: there were these two guys on stage – honest, humble and, obviously, very anxious about being in front of such a terrifying number of people – and for a while it looked like this was going to be an extremely awkward moment. One guy looked like he was choking back on his own bile and the other hung nervously close to him. When the demo got going, however, things started to change and they seemed to loosen-up a bit. They started to enjoy demonstrating this new toy they had to show us, and, what’s more than that, it wasn’t some bullshit sales talk from a script; it was just two engineers, obviously quite pleased with what they were working on and happy to show it to us. It was probably the freshest, least contrived moment of the conference so far.

The demonstration was impressive from a technical standpoint, as were the demos being shown. Unfortunately, the whole thing did come off as a knee-jerk reaction to Microsoft’s unveiling of Natal. You do get the impression that they saw Microsoft’s conference and thought, “Oh shit, we need something to show here.” I think it’s pretty clear that Sony would have preferred not to show their hand so early in the game, given a choice

Having said all that, it was a consistently good conference. There were plenty of announcements, trailers and gameplay footage to keep things rolling at a decent pace, and given that I hold Sony as a highly arrogant company, contemptuous of their Western customers, I can’t really fault anything they’ve said. I still think they’re overshooting the mark with the PSP Go’s price, but, for once, I’m actually a little jealous of what PS3 owners have to look forward to in the next twelve months.

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E3 ’09: Day Zero – Ubisoft Conference

E3 ’09: Day One – Ubisoft Conference

The best/worst conference of the event so far…

Plagued with technical difficulties, miscommunications, awkward pauses, impenetrably thick French accents, flat jokes, a twenty-five-minute-long stretch of James Cameron telling me the entire plot to his latest film, Avatar (he says it’s good, by the way); non-stop sales talk, contrived banter, an infomercial for their latest fitness product, guys in rabbit suits running about pushing a trolley cart and a man yelling “COWABOONGA!” at the top of his voice, the Ubisoft press conference was so bad even Pele (who came on stage at one point) couldn’t save it. It lasted two goddamn hours – twice as long as both the Microsoft and EA conferences individually and with half the content.

In short, the “presentation” was all kinds of terrible.

The games, funnily enough, didn’t look too bad, though.

There were several announcements made, including: the unveiling of Uplay, a standard cross-platform interface for downloads and game-based networking; Your Shape, yet another game jumping on the Wii Fit bandwagon (but who could blame them?) using a custom USB camera; and a new top-secret project from Rez and Lumines creator Tetsuya Mizuguchi, at the moment just called “Project Eden”. There was also some talk directed – pretty much solely – at the shareholders with regards to their casual brands aimed at the ‘tween market.

What I want to talk about and which, at the same time, worried and intrigued me is Yves Guillemot’s (CEO) talk over the “confluence” of brands, of combining and integrating media such as films and television into video games and vice versa.

We’ve heard this all before for games like Enter The Matrix and the Lord of the Rings series, where the developers talk about how much of a “blast” they had making the game and collaborating with the actors involved, but I thought this was just something the games industry would get over and learn from – that games aren’t like film and television, and that the most important thing is the game itself, how it plays and not what brand it represents.

Yet this ideal of “confluence” seems to be key to Ubisoft’s overarching strategy as a games company, and having first being struck mortified by this, I gained a little enthusiasm back after hearing James Cameron’s high-hopes for the Avatar game and the announcement that both Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson would be working with Ubi to create the Tin-Tin game. King Kong (qua video game) wasn’t too bad, after all, nor was Boom Blox, for that matter. I just hope that they don’t get carried away by the big money on the table, the glamour and the ideal of “synergy” between mediums; hopefully, they’ll remember that they are making games, here.

There were also a series of trailers shown – some just cinematic, others, gameplay – and most of them looked halfway decent. (Beyond Good & Evil 2, sadly, was not present among them.)

Of the really big titles there was Splinter Cell: Conviction, re-showing the previous trailer and gameplay demo seen early in the day at the Microsoft conference (another gaff, if you ask me) and Assassins Creed 2, which only aired a cinematic trailer. Conviction looks pretty good; it’s too early to tell about Assassins Creed 2 based on the limited information we know.


  
  
  


Red Steel 2 also looked fairly solid to me and the graphics look good (for a Wii game) but, as someone else mentioned, it all depends on the controls. While the game was being demonstrated on-stage I felt that I had a handle on how it was going to work, and I predict it will do okay commercially and critically. There wasn’t much blood, guts or gore to be seen, but bearing in mind the market image of the Wii as a “family product” I could see why that was.


  
  


Without much to discuss, No More Heroes 2 was also confirmed and that it was being produced, again, by Suda 51. I’m sure the half a dozen people who bought the game are cheering at home, right as we speak (not that it wasn’t critically acclaimed, of course). Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles: Smash Up also turned up in the form of a trailer, looking like a cheap Super Smash Bros. Brawl knock-off. Really, it doesn’t deserve to be mentioned in the same paragraph as No More Heroes 2 as it looked completely unremarkable.


  


On the “It’s so damned French!” front, we have Rabbids Go Home and . Couldn’t really tell much from Academy of Champions aside from that it has some cool CG and a nice art style. The same could also apply to Rabbids; although, we did see a bit of the gameplay, and that which was on display looked an awful lot like a dressed-up minigame collection. Still, I could tell that Rabbids would sell just based on the wacky graphics design. As I was watching the CG, though, I was still batting in my mind as to whether the Rabbids themselves would have had me in fits of laughter or howls of fear as a child.


  
  


Lastly, there was R.U.S.E. Again, it was the same trailer we saw before but, as of now, GiantBomb have two tutorial videos up on their site here and here showing gameplay footage. I can’t make heads-nor-tails of it. On the surface it looks like a standard RTS, similar to something like a consolised version of Ground Control, but there must be more going on beneath that shell. (Personally, I just want someone to make Herzog Zwei 2: More Zwei.)


  
  


That’s it for the Ubisoft conference. And for those of you wondering: no, it’s not worth watching for that “it’s so bad it’s good!” quality. If I could have those two hours of my life back, I would.

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E3 ‘09: Day Zero – EA Press Conference

A strong showing from EA this year.

Peter Moore was in good form, as always, and EA sports looks to be doing well with Fight Night 4 on the way, along with MMA well into development and to be released in the next year – EA’s response to UFC: Undefeated. They also look to make a bundle on their EA Sports Active product, which is bound to be phenomenally successful based upon how much business Wii Fit did (and probably continues to do).

Also shown was Dragon Age: Origins and Mass Effect 2. Dragon Age didn’t really do it for me, but I’ve never really been into that kind of fantasy universe. Mass Effect 2, on the other hand, had an absolutely fantastic trailer. It looks very much to be more of the same and a little extra, but that’s all I wanted in the first place – so, no disappointments there. The cinematic trailer of Star Wars: The Old Republic was also shown but it was all CGI and no gameplay. It was an impressive trailer, to be sure, but it doesn’t prove anything about the game. There was also the old talk of “4 pillar of the MMO genre: storytelling” crap, but I’ll believe it when I see it.

  

  

  

Starting with APB, the game is interesting for the fact that I have no idea how it’s going to work. It’s supposed to be a GTA-style open-world MMO, set in a modern-day metropolis, where Criminals battle it out with the Enforcers to take control of the city. They were extremely vague as to what the content of the game actually is, as all we got was a trailer which made it look like GTA, but with creatable characters. I’m curious to see how it all works.

  

The Saboteur is another open-world game with elements of GTA, but is set during the Second World War, France, during the occupation, and has the most wonderful Sin City inspired art style. Here, though, the comic book styling of mixing monochrome with flashes of incandescent colour has a purpose and a meaning to it. It seems that the main aim of the game is to go around and blow stuff up, thereby disrupting the Nazi war effort, but as you start hitting various Nazi installations, parts of France start coming back into colour, visually representing a change in sentiment within the French populous. As the Nazi hold grows weaker and the French resistance becomes stronger, the old and tired black and white gives way to brilliant hues of reds, blues, greens, etc. It’s a nice gimmick and the game looks fairly polished. I imagine it will turn out quite well.

Brutal Legend is, uh, well… strange, might be the operative word. Again, it’s a third-person, open-world, action/adventure game and is sort-of like Tim Schafer’s love letter to classic rock and heavy metal. Nothing substantially new was revealed aside from the star-lead voice cast, led by Jack Black and with an up-to-now unknown cameo by the “Prince of Darkness” himself, Ozzy Osbourne. Having seen the E3 trailer for the game even I’m interested in buying it, and I really have no affinity towards heavy metal or rock in the slightest. The script looks pretty sharp, the art direction is colourful and the game world and plot look to be amusingly goofy – something that always seems to strike a cord within me. When there are a bunch of militaristic first/third-person shooters out there, it would seem wrong not to support originality when you see it.


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E3 ‘09: Day Zero – Microsoft Keynote

The conference is now over, and after a pretty formulaic start there were some amazing things said, some incredible promises made and a hellava lot of leftover scepticism from the blogging public.

After a series of impressive – but expected – teaser trailers for Halo 3: ODST, Final Fantasy XIII, Alan Wake and Modern Warfare 2, Microsoft revealed that they were bringing the MGS franchise to Xbox 360. Well, sort-of…

  

  

  

Kojima introduced the slightest of teasers for the new game, Metal Gear Solid: Rising, and without letting anything significant go, said that it would be “a completely new Metal Gear experience”. Note that he never mentioned the word “exclusive” (not that it means that much anymore) and nothing about MGS 4. This came as a bit of a disappointment for me, as this new game seems to be set with Raiden holding centre stage. I didn’t particularly like Raiden in MGS 2, and I have no idea what’s happened to his character in MGS 4. For 360 owners who’ve never played MGS 4, how exactly are they supposed to be excited for a game which probably won’t make any sense story-wise outside of a context – i.e. without playing MGS 4 first?


  


They also didn’t say that they weren’t going to bring MGS 4 to the 360 eventually, so there’s still that possibility, I suppose.

There was also a lot of stuff about Xbox LIVE interactivity with regards to integrating HD Zune Video, Facebook, Last FM, Twitter and Sky into the service. None of this interests me, but it’s a smart move by Microsoft. It costs them little to implement some of this stuff, and it’s just the kind cross-platform integration the ‘tween market will go ape-shit over.

The biggest announcement by far, and which may well end up being the central talking point of E3 ‘09, is Microsoft’s answer to Wii Motion Plus: “Project Natal”. With this device set up right next to your television set, every movement your body makes can be mapped and inputted into the Microsoft console, possibly heralding a new generation of interactivity in video gaming. Most of what was shown was pretty broad stuff precisely aimed at the Wii audience – a painting program and a dodgeball/break-out-style game – but what was really amazing? Peter Molyneux demonstrating “Milo”, an AI avatar which can read the body language and speech patterns of whoever’s playing. I’m not just talking about body positioning, here; we’re talking about an AI being able to read the user’s face, their posture, their voice, their emotions – or at least, that’s what Molyneux seemingly claimed, anyhow.


  


Unfortunately, it was all pre-recorded, pre-scripted at Lionhead HQ. Apparently a select audience at E3 will be able to test the software and try for themselves; maybe then we’ll get an accurate idea of how much of this reality and how much is science-fiction. The overriding opinion of most people, though, seems to be: “It won’t work, but if it does, it could very well be revolutionary.”

Given Molyneux’s track-record for making outrageous claims and then bailing at the last second, I’m most certainly going to stay sceptical about “Milo”. The rest of the motion capture stuff, from what they demonstrated at the show, doesn’t look that far off from being a reality. What it seems to be about, mostly, is getting the lag time down to something that’s instantaneous, which the demonstration showed to be not the case.

The other thing to come out of this conference was a significant market shift towards networking, on-demand services and interactivity. As such, many “core” gamers might be a little disappointed with this recent realignment – perhaps believing that it might indicate an undesirable trend towards “casual” game development – but Microsoft is just being Microsoft; like the hulking behemoth they are, they want to do everything and they want to do it better than anyone else.

One thing’s for sure, Sony and Nintendo are going to be hard-pressed to top this.


  
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