We're always focused on what's next: upcoming games, behind-the-scenes reports from industry events across the world, interviews with game developers, and a few surprises here and there.
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When you've reached the top of the hill like Activision has, there's probably not a huge amount of pressure to go and shake up the status quo. Perhaps that's why today's press conference was so light on new details and announcements. It was more of a reassurance to the European press that this holiday's release schedule does indeed look awesome. But despite the relatively conservative approach, there were a few interesting tidbits thrown into the mix. Behold!
Quantum of Solace
As reported earlier today, the latest Bond game will feature a variety of voice actors from not only Quantum of Solace, but also Casino Royale. The actors playing the roles of Bond, M, Le Chiffre, and Vesper Lynd will all lend their voicework to the game, but also new names like Eva Greene and Mathieu Amalric.
Call of Duty: World at War
At E3, Activision announced that Kieffer Sutherland would be playing the role of an American Marine officer in Call of Duty: World at War. Now we can add a new celebrity to the list of voice talent. Gary Oldman will be playing the role of a Russian officer in the game's European campaign, which depicts the fall of Berlin toward the end of the War. In this part of the game, you play as the Russians taking on the Germans, but now you'll have Police Commissioner Gordon from The Dark Knight guiding you along the way.
Guitar Hero: World Tour
We all know that Guitar Hero will arrive on a variety of consoles later this year. But now, the decision whether to buy the game for your PS3/360 or your Wii might be a little tougher. Well, for anyone with an extensive collection of Miis, that is. Yes, the Wii version of the game will support Nintendo's cute little avatars in what's being called the Mii Freestyle mode. Wii owners will also be able to play air drums with the Wii remote and Nunchuk.
Another Guitar Hero announcement dealt with the European market specifically. The European version of the game will ship with a select number of songs from European artists. Those groups include but aren't limited to Oasis, Lost Prophets, Negramero, Tokio Hotel, The Enemy, Anouk, Beatsteaks, Hush Puppies, and Kent.
Rumour surfaces about new controller from Microsoft; Konami rep. claims new '16-way' d-pad will be bundled with Pro Evolution Soccer 2009.
While Microsoft claims that it has nothing new for Leipzig this year, a new controller for the Xbox 360 has surfaced on Konami's booth. It appears to be the same as the standard wireless model, but in a brand new fluorescent green colour. When questioned about the new model, a spokesperson for Konami UK said that it features a new 16-direction d-pad that improves the previous version's four. He also suggested that the new controller would be bundled with Pro Evolution Soccer 2009, at least in Europe.
A report on Eurogamer says that Microsoft has confirmed the existence of the controller, and that it will be a limited edition release in Europe, Asia and Latin America.
Leipzig Day 3 kicked off this morning, beginning with the EA press conference on the show floor. As expected, the conference featured a mixture of stuff we've seen back at E3 and at least week's EA Summer Showcase , but there were also a few new announcements made on-hand that kept things interesting.
On the sports front, EA is finally jumping into tennis, with an unnamed game announced by EA Sports president Peter Moore this morning. Not many details were given about the game but we do know that it will be leading on the Nintendo Wii and will be making use of the new Wii Motion Plus controller. A full list of players wasn't given but, during his introduction of the game, Moore mentioned a number of tennis greats by name, including Pete Sampras, Martina Navratilova, Roger Federer, and Chris Evert. Moore also said the the EA tennis game will be the "home of the Grand Slams" and will feature the Wimbledon stadium exclusively. A few screens of the stadium in progress were shown, as well.
This being Europe, it wouldn't be an EA Sports press conference without at least something about the upcoming FIFA 09 . It looks like the soccer game will be following in the footsteps of NBA Live 09's dynamic DNA feature, with something called Live Season. Billed as a "premium service" (and sponsored by Adidas), this feature will let players download new attributes on a weekly basis based on real-world performance data. This feature will be available for the six top leagues in England, France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Mexico, and will be free for the 2008/09 season. Does that mean that FIFA gamers will be paying for this "premium service" once FIFA 2010 rolls around? Time will tell...
You can't stop the Sims franchise, you can only hope to contain it. A pair of Sims titles were shown at this morning's press conference: The Sims 3 , where you'll be able to assign complex personalities to your on-screen avatars from a seemingly huge variety of personality types (evil, charismatic, kleptomaniac, neurotic, to pick just a few). The game is due for release on February 20, 2009 and, in addition to box copies at retail, players will also be able to download the Sims 3 in its entirety on release day.
If you can't stand the human Sims meaningless jibber-jabber, then maybe SimAnimals is for you. Announced back at E3, this is a Wii and DS title that will let you interact with a variety of wild creatures, by literally dragging and dropping them with the Wii Remote or DS stylus. We tried that once with a rattlesnake and lost two fingers for our trouble.
EA Casual/EA Games
On the casual gaming front, showed off games like Boogie Superstar , Monopoly, and Littlest Pet Shop, while EA Games spent a good deal of time talking about celebrities. During the gameplay demo of the new Harry Potter game, the crowd welcomed twins James and Oliver Phelps (better known as Fred and George Weasley to Potter movie fans), who came on stage to give a demonstration of the wizard duel. Wouldn't you know it, it ended in a tie...
Two Harry Potter stars isn't a bad start but, if you're looking for pure star power, you need look no further than the upcoming Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3 . The game will follow the struggle of three groups--Soviets, Allies, and the Empire of the Rising Sun--and those campy cinematics will be brimming with well-known actors this time around. A few names for you: J.K. Simmons (Spider-Man 2, The First Wives Club), Tim Curry (The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Rugrats Go Wild!), George Takei (Star Trek, Ninja Cheerleaders), Kelly Hu (X2, Surf Ninjas) and Jenny McCarthy as the fan-favorite commando Tanya.
if those are the household names in Red Alert 3, the cinematic EA showed proved that there will also be other recognizable if not nameable stars lending their talent to the game including--as near as I could tell, anyway--the bad guy with the Irish accent in Ronin, that English girl who's always on showing her stuff in UK lad mags, and that girl from The O.C. (no, not Mischa Barton, one of the other ones).
Back to, you know, actual game stuff, id CEO Todd Hollenshead came on stage to show off the E3 trailer of id's Rage. Upon second viewing, this game looks more exciting--here's hoping it's mix of FPS gameplay, post-apolocalyptic setting, and off-road racing pays off. It certainly looks great, if nothing else.
Finally, we also got a brief look at the combat system in BioWare's upcoming Dragon Age: Origins , which looks to be pretty standard from what you'd expect from the folks at BioWare--a mixture of real-time and turn-based attacks combined with pretty effects and lots of variety. In short, it looks addictive as hell and I can't wait to see more on this one.
If there's one person who can accurately predict the future of the videogame industry, it's Don Daglow. He's been designing games since the days when computers filled an entire room. Since then, he's done work for Intellivision, EA, and the recently hibernating Stormfront Studios. Despite all his years of experience, Daglow was quick to mention what a fool's errand it is to predict the future in an industry where advancing technology constantly takes us by surprise. Despite this, he did his best to sum up the most important trends from the past few years so that developers can best stay aware of where things area headed, if not predict the next two decades with deadly accuracy. Here are the ten key points Daglow laid out:
1. In order to understand where a tree is going to grow, you need to be able to see its roots. With the gaming industry, those roots are with stories, sports, and board games. Daglow mentioned that the sophisticated stories of today's games aren't too much unlike the sports games of old, where every story (game) has a hero (the star of your team) fighting against the villain (the star of the other team).
2. Technology will always take us by surprise. To illustrate this point, Daglow showed a few screenshots from baseball games over the past three decades. In the 80s, it looked like someone "spilled something on the screen." In the 90s, you could finally see the form of the players. But now, the shadows, lighting, and surface textures are closer to real life than anyone back then could have imagined.
3. Today's developers should take pride in what they do. Great artists, Daglow said, are almost never appreciated in their own time. Just because people don't "get" games today doesn't mean you should put all you have into making them. A few decades down the line, games that are overlooked today by the public at large will be remembered fondly as the innovations they weren't considered at the time.
4. Emotions tend to distort history. What seems to be important today will often seem embarrassing down the line, and just like with the previous point, we often don't realize how a game will be perceived in the future.
5. Game interfaces are shaped by the culture around them. It's hard to say what games will look like in the future because such a big part of them (the interface) relies upon the changes in culture and people's ability to perceive and understand various imagery and functions. He used the example of how elevators used to have operators, but people learned to operate them manually, which then led to people's ability to operate elaborate multi-button input devices.
6. We the gaming public control the future. It's not the developers, publishers, critics or investors. The players determine what sinks or swims, and trying to read into the minds of millions of people is a tough job.
7. The rise of social gaming. Suddenly, games like Guitar Hero and most everything on the Wii has created a trend of games as a social venture.
8. The console wars will continue to wage on. Game companies are publicly traded, and as such they're always feeling the pressure from Wall Street to grow and expand their empire. This, in short, means they'll always be at odds with each other, never setting into a comfortable niche. Maybe with the exception of Nintendo. And on a related point…
9. The lifespan of consoles will grow. Systems have become more expensive to produce, so in order to make more profit, they need to be sold for a longer period of time. One thing that helps tremendously is that the trio of competitors now have been in place for eight year's time. At no point in the history of games have we seen the same companies engaged in a fight for so long. We don't need to worry about a rogue company coming in and launching a console early, forcing the big boys to match the pace.
10. The gap between core and casual gamers will shrink. For this we can thank digital distribution, which helps publishers reach out to both kinds of audiences. It helps narrow the gap between big budget retail games and free online games into games with a medium price tag whose size helps reduce complicated gameplay.
As you can tell, Daglow's "predictions of the future" were less predictions than they were ruminations on the history of the industry and a few important signs for where it may be headed. Maybe he didn't go out on a limb and describe what type of controller the PlayStation 7 will use, but it was a in interesting lesson in placing things in context.
You can listen to Daglow's entire panel right here.
Ex-Shiny head talks about the future of electronic entertainment; extols the virtues of free-to-play.At development house Shiny, David Perry was responsible for creating some of the most iconic characters in gaming. Earthworm Jim was a giant of the 16-bit era, and his success allowed the creative freedom for a dark leather-clad superhero in MDK. Now a consultant within the industry, Perry took to the Leipzig Developers' Conference to talk about his vision of the future, as well as his recent activity in Asia.
Perry opened the session by saying that under-the-TV games console will become obsolete, thanks to the increasing speed of broadband and the rise of remote play. He envisages a time when incredibly expensive machines will be hired out from afar, and like an arcade machine, you'll pay a small premium to play them for alloted times. "Our industry is going to move form a retail industry to a service industry," Perry said.
Perry then moved back to traditional consoles and produced a controvertial quote."By selling the PlayStation 3 at a loss, Sony has lost more than they made during the entire five year peak of the PS2. This will force them to make the PS3 last longer."He expects that the next Sony machine after the PS3 will have a longer life span because of this very reason.
Perry also praised game critics for their job in predicting best-selling titles. He produced a chart to show how top-rated games are also the top sellers by and large, saying, "90%-plus [scoring] games sell 20 times more then mediocre titles. Reviewers are doing a really good job. If you're a developer in your office fighting to get another three months [of development time], then show them this chart."
But the main point of the lecture was the rise of the Eastern market, both in terms of its potential and threat to the industry as it stands. He talked about the importance of "free-to-play" games that are released without cost to the public, but which make money back through advertising and optional in-game upgrades. "MMOs have to be free to play for Asia," he said. "I see a lot of Western publishers creating MMOs with boxed products and subscriptions. These will not work in markets like China and Korea." He warned about the dangers of ignoring such a market, especially if China produces the next Shigeru Miyamoto or Hideo Kojima and their games are available for free.
It wasn't all bad news for the West though, and Perry ended his session by complementing Microsoft on its efforts to coax more people into the games industry. "I just want to say thanks to Microsoft for XNA. Well done."
Earlier today, in one of the smaller rooms being used for GCDC sessions, Alex Laurant gave a presentation titled Media Migration: The Transition from Film to Games. Honestly, I went in there expecting a discussion on the pros and cons of developing movie-licensed games, but what Laurant really wanted to talk about was how it's possible to take skills from one industry and apply them to the other, amongst other things.
Laurant currently works as an art director at LucasArts, where he has no doubt had a hand in the development of Star Wars: The Force Unleashed. Laurant spent a good deal of time working in movies for Industrial Light & Magic before moving to LucasArts via a stint at EA, though, and early in his presentation attendees had an opportunity to check out a mixture of work-in-progress and final cuts from movies like The Day After Tomorrow, Minority Report, Saving Private Ryan, and Minority Report.
One of the first points that Laurant made was simply that "games are not movies" and that anyone working in either medium needs to respect the differences. To illustrate this point, a slide depicting the linear storyline of a movie was shown, and then contrasted with a far more complex diagram showing a branching storyline that could have been taken from any number of games in recent memory. "Games are more complex than movies", stated Laurant, who went on to say that that's true regardless of whether you're a consumer or a developer.
It's clear that, in his time, Laurant has attempted to apply his movie-making expertise to game development with varying degrees of success. While at EA, for example, he worked on Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, which was intended to replicate the experience of watching the movie quite closely. The game was far from perfect for a number of reasons, though, one of which was the camera, which according to Laurant was especially disappointing in co-op games where it was forced to pull back in order to keep multiple players in view simultaneously.
Cameras, it seems, can be one of the most dangerous pitfalls for a game designer with a background in movies. Techniques that work well in movies, such as "organic camera tracking" that mimicks the less-than-perfect movements of a cameraman as he pans to follow a fast-moving character, for example, don't always work well in games. After citing another example or two, Laurant wrapped up that part of his presentation with two statements that, if taken to heart by developers the world over, could conceivably (at least in my mind) make problematic cameras a thing of the past.
Statement 1: "Watch what you're doing, look where you're going."
Statement 2: "Don't disorient the player."
It sounds incredibly simple, but you know as well as I do that plenty of games still get this stuff wrong.
On a similar note, Laurant touched on a pet peeve of mine; invisible walls that impede your progress. He didn't waste much time on the subject, but every developer in the room was left in doubt that they should "use only visible barriers in environments". Again, it sounds obvious.
Before wrapping up the session with a showing of a Force Unleashed trailer, Laurant explained that while game makers can definitely still learn from their counterparts in the movie industry, they need to be selective about the ideas and conventions that they import. He also encouraged game developers to work with experts in other fields when necessary, whether it be an architect, a psychologist, a dancer, or a skydiver. Developers can't be expected to be experts at everything after all.
And then I headed to the press room which, seemingly, is a smoke-free zone for the first time. Result.
Day 2 started off for me with back-to-back sessions this morning, covering the future of gaming. The first session, hosted by WildTangent CEO Alex St. John, and dealt with "Gaming in 2020". Crytek's Cevat Yersi hosted the second session, discussing the future of gaming graphics.
St. John's session dealt much more with the business side of the industry, while Yersi was strictly focused on the future of gaming visuals. Still, both had fairly hardline projections for what to expect in the near-future of games, even if sometimes their predictions clashed.
As for St. John, his boldest statement had to do with the future of gaming consoles. In a word, he thinks console gaming is on its way out, doomed to go the way of the arcades. He cited a number of examples to support his theory: including his assertion that Sony and Microsoft would never recover the losses they respectively incurred for the research and development of the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. St. John also mentioned the "era of production values" is ending, as games featuring excellent graphics become more and more prevalent.
In a sense, it seems Crytek's Yersi agrees. During his lecture, he repeatedly pointed out the fact that thanks to increased graphical capabilities, game developers are creating games that look more and more alike. Yersi predicts that a graphical renaissance will occur at the earliest in 2011 with the next major graphics engines (including the next engine from Crytek); until that time, developers on this console generation will need to focus on things like AI, physics, and by developing an artistic style for their games in order to set themselves apart from the competition.
While Yersi feels certain that new consoles are around the corner from Sony and Microsoft, St. John says that the dominant gaming platform will be the PC and that the faster consoles move into the online space, the quicker they'll die. The logic here is a little twisty but it makes a strange sort of sense: As consoles increase their online presence, and more games become available via download, the need to have those games on store shelves will eventually become minimal. According to St. John, retailers like Wal-Mart receive very little premium on console sales; instead, they make money on the games that line their shelves. If, in 2020, everyone is downloading their games online, why would retailers carry games (and, by extension, the consoles that play them)?
If I was a betting man, I'd come down on the side of Yersi for the next console generation. I think Sony and Microsoft will make at least one more go in the console wars--and it's probably a safe bet that both companies are elbow-deep in R&D right now preparing for those console launches. How about you? Do you think we'll all be playing on PCs in the year 2020 or will we be plugging away on our PlayStation 5s and Xbox 1440s?
It's a bit ironic that today's Leipzig keynote focused on Gears of War 2, which likely won't be released in Germany due to the country's laws regarding in-game violence. Still, any chance to check out Gears 2 is welcomed, even by people who might not get a chance to play the game.
Forget Cliff Bleszinski's "bigger, better, more badass"; the alliterative trio of adjectives he used to describe the upcoming Gears of War 2. If you ask Epic Games' president Mike Capps, those three words would be "new, better, more." Capps gave a standing-room-only presentation on the development of the sequel to one of the biggest games of 2006, focusing on the aspects that the team at Epic looked to improved with heading back to war with the Locust horde. He also delighted the crowd with a play-through of the same demo the company was showing off back at E3 in July.
Capps defines GOW 2 as the first "true" sequel the company has created, and said that creating sequels brings with it a unique set of challenges, one of those being the heightened expectations of the fanbase. When a new game is released, Capps said, it's expected to be bigger, longer, with more features packed inside. While Capps said he expects Gears 2 to be longer than the original, the development plan for has been focus on "fun-per-minute."
As a result, Capps and the Epic team developed the "new, better, more" plan, a comprehensive method of breaking down the first game in the series, figuring out what worked and what didn't, then choosing the most essential elements and focusing on them for the sequel. Part of the focus of this approach is to spend time improving not just the areas that were strong in the original game (such as the cover system) but on the areas that were relatively weak. Capps pointed to the story line of the original game as an example. While the four Delta Squad members felt like fleshed out characters practically from the start, Capps admits that the first Gears was a bit thin on the plot. That should change with Gears 2, Capps said, because the team felt more comfortable in telling the story, now that the player has had a chance to immerse himself in the world of Sera.
There seemed to be a myriad of examples from Capps of improvements that resulted from the "new, better, more" approach. From a technology standpoint, there will be a new crowd systems, destructible environments, improved cover methods (as well as destructible cover), and better graphics. In multiplayer, you'll find AI bot support, new MP game types including the CTF-inspired "Stranded" and "Horde," which will pit you and your buddies against wave after wave of oncoming bad guys. Speakikng of co-op play, Capps said this area was a huge focus for Epic as well; the result will be better drop-in/drop-out play as well as more chances to drive vehicles together. And by "vehicles" I mean monster trucks with tanks on top of them. So, yeah, in addition to paying attention to Capps' "new, better, more" mantra, it seems like the team still had room for some "badass" as well.
Gears of War 2 is still on track for a November release.
In game advertising is a rather controversial subject, but despite the numerous sides to the issue, it's really only the opponents whose voices are ever heard. It's that vocal opposing side that shouts the loudest, complaining about how silly it is for Snake to fight the atrocities of war with the help of an iPod, almost never those who tolerate or even enjoy this emerging market. However, one of the panels I just attended here at the Games Convention Developers Conference in Leipzig gave me a little insight into those whose job it is to explore video games a way for big corporations to market their products. It was a rare chance to see how and why in game ads have been growing so quickly.
The discussion was given by Nick Welch, business development manager for Massive Inc., an advertising company who acts as the go-between for publishers of Xbox 360 and PC games and those seeking to advertise their wares (the company was purchased by Microsoft 18 months ago). He began by talking about the need for companies to reach the young male demographic, and how traditional media has been steadily losing its ability to do this in recent years. Games, however, have continued to grow as an industry, which represents a fertile ground for which to explore marketing opportunities.
Besides the increasing audience, what is it that makes games so attractive to companies? Attention. Being an active form of entertainment, games force the player to focus on what's going on, lest they die, crash, or just simply fail at their goal. This falls in contrast to television where there's no guarantee the viewer isn't slowly drifting off to a rerun of Everybody Loves Raymond. Games keep you watching, keep your eyes on the screen.
If there's a reason why in game ads incite a lot of outcry, it's because they're not exactly subtle. For one, advertisers are trying to reach the biggest audience they can. Welch's company only deals with games with a reasonable chance of selling more than 200,000 copies. (But not every big game can work. FIFA, for example, has its own licensing agreements in the real world, which makes working with them in the virtual world a difficult proposition.)
Advertisers also need to start early, exploring the best places to put their ads. Welch says the timeline for implementing a working dynamic advertising system in a game (the process by which ads are automatically refreshed and swapped out for new ones through your internet connection) is usually around three months. Once they complete the process of analyzing a game, getting the technology in place, and going through an extensive multi-stage QA process, it's finally time for the game to release and the viewer to soak in all the less than subliminal advertising.
To nobody's surprise, Welch's company likes to focus on the most visible areas of games when analyzing a game for the best placement. These include choke points, checkpoints (remember reloading a dozen times before the last tough boss you fought? Now think of doing that with a McDonald's ad there), high traffic areas, and areas with ample lighting. Then it's a matter of what sort of ads. Sponsor screen? Billboard? Soda can? They'll explore anything that works, and the only real limitation seems to be the game's setting. They don't often deal with futuristic sci-fi because the glaring contrast between spaceships and sneaker ads puts too much negative focus on the ads. It doesn't help to advertise a product to a large audience when that audience is just going to scratch their heads at it.
The presentation was interesting considering it was the first time I got to see the other side of the story. But despite being glued to my seat the whole time, I felt a little uneasy about the possibility games being less emerging artform and more FM radio. It certainly didn't help that Welch mentioned during a Q&A session that his company is exploring the idea of user-specific ads that track each players personal traits and tailors the ads accordingly. As much as I want to keep the retail price of games steady despite skyrocketing production budgets, that was a slightly worrisome revelation.
If nothing else, though, it made me appreciate games like Grand Theft Auto IV that much more. Here's a game whose massive audience and modern urban setting makes it the perfect game to fill with billboard advertisements. But instead of doing that, Rockstar went and made a game that uses its own fake TV and radio spots to satirize (among other things) the idea of invasive marketing. And to think, I thought GTA IV was great because I could run over a grandma with a garbage truck.
While I'm an avowed (former) Lego junkie, I had forgotten that a fully dedicated Lego game was still in development. Announced in 2007, the MMOG Lego Universe promises to differ from the licensed Lego games such as Lego Star Wars and Lego Batman; instead, it's more of a return to Lego's roots, allowing players to build and create collaboratively. Henrik Lorenson, VP of business development, headed a panel today on how the company has been enhancing the Lego brand over the years, and Lego Universe looks to be the next step in that process.
While the session was mostly light on actual gameplay details, Lorenson did say the focus of the game would be the same that the company has held on to with its physical toys--gaming, socializing, and building. And unlike the licensed Lego games (where, beyond the visuals, the actual Lego affiliation is not always that apparent), Lego Universe will be all about doing the kinds of things you did as a kid with Legos, only this time in a virtual space.
(Read on for more)
During his presentation, Lorenson mentioned three of the pillars he expects Lego Universe players to take part in. First will be having a fun play experience with the basic tool sets that will be found in the game. Second, players will be ablee to build and play their own mini-games using virtual Lego bricks. Finally--and the ultimate goal--will be in players creating entire worlds within the game, all built with the familiar Lego bricks. Lorenson showed a brief video from a recent fan convention in Denver--where dedicated Lego professionals and fans came together to try out the tools in the game to see how it will work when the game is released.
Beyond a few pages of concept art (and some vague shots of gameplay during the video), not much was shown of Lego Universe. However, according to Lorensen, the company (along with developer NetDevil Studios), the game is due for release at the end of 2009. While he wasn't willing to discuss the economy of Lego Universe, Lorensen did say the company was exploring a subscription model for the game, which was sort of surprising to me. Back in the day, I used to have to beg my parents to buy some additional Legos so I could finish my masterpiece (a dragon shaped like the Millennium Falcon).
Not sure if I'll be a dabbler or a regular subscriber in Lego Universe, but I'm curious to see how it comes along.
Before the public comes storming into the 2008 Games Convention in Leipzig, there's three days worth of developer-focused panels called the Games Convention Developers Conference. Like the Games Developer Conference in San Francisco, the focus here is on the business, technical, and creative side of games--not the actually playing of them (much to our frequent dismay). But nevertheless, for every panel dryly labeled "The Current State of Game Development Contracts," there's an interesting one like the discussion of episodic games I just attended.
The episodic gaming panel was led by Telltale's Dan Connors. And by "was led" we mean "featured from start to finish." Since he was the only one there, the discussion consisted entirely of Telltale's episodic business model. He began by talking about the reasons for why they use the business models they do. He listed several points, but the main theme driving all of it is that episodic releases help the company stay nimble. For one, the smaller sizes and frequent release dates are well suited for the emerging distribution channels like PlayStation Network, Xbox Live Marketplace and WiiWare.
In addition, the cycle allows them to both continue to develop their existing stories and characters, and keep the audience's attention over a longer period of time. And when they fail to do their job, the rhythmic nature of Telltale's releases allows them to quickly correct the faults and address them for subsequent releases. This is something a development studio with a two or three year retail release cycle can't do. He gave the example of the Soda Poppers from Sam and Max, characters developed to be bizarre and strange, but it turns out the audience found them to be really obnoxious. So what did Telltale do? Turned them into bad guys, naturally.
Once a series is complete, Connors drew a comparison to television shows as far as what sort of path they like to take. Telltale starts out by releasing the games on their site (network television), then brings the episodes to third-party distribution channels (Steam, Yahoo! Games) and finally, they release the entire series as a retail box set (collector's edition DVD).
But Telltale can't always rely on their existing series. Like with the new Strong Bad games, they need to introduce new series in order to grow. Choosing Strong Bad was no coincidence; they're focused on licensing existing franchises when it comes to new source material. Why? Less of a risk. Connors likes the idea of taking the characters and settings from existing works and focus the developer effort on making an entertaining game, rather than attempt the monumental task of creating a brand new world that audiences will want to be a part of.
You can listen to the panel right here.
Okay, I'll admit the title of this blog entry is slightly misleading. Thanks to EA's multiple-embargo situation coming out of last night's unveiling of their latest action-racing game, Need for Speed Undercover, there's only so much I can tell you about the game right now. That said, I've got something better than heavily embargoed information; I've got pictures of actress Maggie Q, who will be starring in the game as no doubt tough-as-nails federal agent Chase Linh:
In the game, you'll play an undercover cop who's looking to take down a crime syndicate (BY RACING!) and Miss Q's Linh looks to act as your guide through the world of Undercover. From the brief look at the game's story last night, the team at Black Box look to be relishing in the campy cinematic stylethat the last few games in the series (NFS Pro Street excepted) became famous for. I'm a little disappointed that Most Wanted's Razor Callahan or NFS Carbon's Darius won't be making cameos. The only thing that will make me feel better? This:
Look for actual, you know, relevant information on NFS: Undercover next week. Oh and:
So, obviously EA focused a lot of effort showcasing its new, upcoming titles at today's press event. It was interesting to see that, amidst all that new content, they managed to set up some kiosks with Burnout Paradise and the title update formerly known as "Davis". Davis has been renamed the bike pack because it adds motorcycles to the Burnout mix along with day and night cycles, dynamic weather updating, and 70 new challenges for the bikes. The playable demo of the game didn't show off most of that, we were just able to zip around the city with one other person, but it gave a pretty good feel for the bike handling in the game. If anyone out there is hoping for some kind of detailed, realistic racing sim guess again. Criterion has kept things good and simple: the bike control has a good feel to it and walks the line between sim and arcade just like the car control does. The only slight alteration to the Burnout formula is the crashing and deformation on the bikes. There are crashes and some mild deformation on the bikes but nothing along the lines of the cars. Your racer also disappears pretty quickly when you wipe out and quickly resets.
Besides the playable content, the reps milling around the kiosks also took the time to point out the other upcoming Burnout business. Trophies are supposed to be added to the PS3 game in the fall at around the same time it's made available for download on the PlayStation Network. The additional content is a nice touch, especially the part where it's free, and making the whole game available on PlayStation network is interesting. Big question is going to be how big a footprint it's going to make on the hard drive but a game like Burnout's worth the space.
Electronic Arts had their studio showcase today where we got to see what they had lined up for the upcoming year. We recenty did a hands-on preview for MySims Kingdom for the Wii, but we had a chance to check out some new islands. MySims for the PC seems to be coming along nicely, the original preview can be viewed here.
MySims Kingdom (Wii):
We got a tour of some of the new islands that have opened up in MySims Kingdom, including Rocket Reef, Unchartered Isle and Forest of the Elves. Rocket Reef is the home of Dr. F which you may recognize in the last MySims, he seems to have gotten himself into a bit of trouble, so as the kingdom's wandolier, it's up to you to put together his rocket and other robots that he accidentally dismantled. Rocket Reef has a very different feel when you compare them to the other locations. The other islands are generally bright, colorful and lush, but Rocket Reef looks like you've wandered into another planet. Unchartered Isle was amusing because we met the adorable caveman Gonk, who needs help saving his lady friend, Bobaboo. Vincent, a sinister looking man who wanted to trap a bizarre little green creature ended up trapping both the creature and Bobaboo by accident. Riiight. Through socializing we were able to get Vincent out of the way and work toward saving Gonk's feisty friend. Forest of the elves is a beautiful animal sanctuary that used to be filled with animals until a man named Leaf decided to take down the unicorn temple so that he could put in a hot tub. By doing this, the whole island is thrown off balance so you'll find demon toads that need to be lured back to their pond. There are a variety of tasks to bring all these little critters back, but apparently the unicorns will only come back if they have a rock concert. You help Leaf put together an elaborate rock concert and you'll finally be able to bring those unicorns home. All is now right in the world.
These were just a few of the islands in MySims Kingdom. There are many more to explore and uncover. We were told that there is over 20 hours of gameplay depending on how much time you take building or doing tasks. MySims Kingdom seems to be coming along nicely, with plenty of cutesy goodness that will lure in players of all ages.
The MySims franchise has now sold over 3.5 million units and will head to the PC in an updated version. Not much has changed from the main game but they have added an online component where you can chat and play with your friends. Up to eight players can get together in a garden to build, trade items and play a rousing game of tag. There are two versions of tag, one is classic tag and the other is zombie tag. In zombie tag the person who is "it" has a storm cloud over his or her head and he or she has to tag as many people as possible until there is only one person left. There is a 90 second time limit and you have a small map at the bottom right corner or your screen to track the other players. It's a fun break between building furniture and it allows people to socialize and mess around with emotes.
There are six new NPCs to meet on the PC version and you can also send files of your creations to other friends via e-mail. This is to encourage people to go online and share their creations, which is the foundation of the Sims community. Visually the game looks fantastic and it doesn't require a heavy duty PC to run either.
Both games are expected to release this fall.
Koei recently put on a press event here in San Francisco, and just as leaves change color in the fall, we had the chance to check out a couple new games from the long-running Warriors series. Those titles would be Dynasty Warriors 6 for the PlayStation 2 and Warriors Orochi 2 for Xbox 360.
Dynasty Warriors 6
As Warriors fans are no doubt aware, the sixth installment in the Dynasty Warriors series actually came out a few months ago. But that was the current-gen version, whereas the game designed for the not-quite-dead-yet PlayStation 2. Despite being ported to a system of lesser hardware capabilities, this version of the game will actually have some exclusive content.
Most notably, there will be six exclusive characters to play as while you smash your way through hundreds of unsuspecting soldiers. Those characters will be Cao Pi, Ling Tong, Ma Chao, Zhang He, Taishi Ci, and Yue Ying. Each will come equipped with similarly exclusive weapons and movies for the campaign. Once you choose your favorite newbie, you can jump into the action on one of five new stages and 10 new scenarios.
Warriors Orochi 2
Once again, the dreaded wizard-snake-man Orochi is up to no good. Sort of. Slain at the end of the last game, he's currently resting in the netherworld, while evil forces seek to bring him back. Naturally, your job is to stop them and their unsavory intentions. To help shed some light on the game's story, there's a new Orochi storyline that's sort of a prequel, giving some insight into Orochi's origins.
New game modes include a two-player versus mode that includes a tag team option, which is essentially a traditional fighting game, and a survival mode that's more or less a single-player tag team bout with you going against the CPU rather than a friend. In terms of more traditional combat, the team battle system has been given a minor upgrade to allow your reserve characters to defend you or team up for a three-person attack. These moves are both used at the expense of your musou gauge, however.
The final character lineup will clock in at 90+. We're not sure who the new ones are, but some of those will include faces you might recognize from Samurai Warriors 2 Xtreme Legends. A grand total of two new stages will be available, including a dreamy cloud level called the Wuhang Mountains.
Kingdom Hearts Coded (Mobile)
The trailer for Kingdom Hearts Coded for mobile phones starts off with Jiminy Cricket flipping through the journal that he's written during his adventures with Sora. For some reason, all his entries have gone blank except for two pages with short lines. One simply says "Thank Namine", and the other says "We must return them from their torment". Puzzled, Jimmy runs to consult the King (Mickey Mouse), who decides to search for answers by digitizing Jiminy's journal.
The player takes the role of a Sora that was born inside the digitized world of Jiminy's journal. Similarly to last year's trailer at Tokyo Game Show, we were shown screens that looked like the original Kingdom Hearts game. We also got to see some new gameplay including a side-scrolling action game a bit like mario, where Sora needed to jump from one platform to another and attack enemies while proceeding right. Another scene required the player to input directions, kind of like in a music game.
After the in-game scenes, the trailer turns back to Jimmy Cricket and the King, who are looking back at the journal and notice that there's a new entry that says "Their torment has been lessened". The trailer ends with an announcement that the game will be available in winter 2008.
Kingdom Hearts Mobile (Mobile)
Square Enix also showed off a trailer for "Kingdom Hearts Mobile", which is apparently an online community for mobile phone users in Japan. Slated for fall, this new online mobile service features cute Flash-animation style graphics and lets you dress up your avatar like Kingdom Hearts characters. Aside from Sora and Riku, we spotted an odd-looking Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, so apparently you can dress up as Disney characters as well. Details on the service wasn't unveiled in the minute-long trailer, but we saw that you can play a number of games including a card battle game featuring Final Fantasy and Disney characters, and an action game where you float through trees on a balloon with Winnie the Pooh to collect items. There's also some kind of a co-op mode where you can play together with friends and earn rare goods for your avatar.
It's hard not to get excited about Quake Live, especially when you're currently at QuakeCon 2008 and the game's concept is being explained to you by id software executive producer Marty Stratton.
Announced last year at QuakeCon 2007 by John Carmack, Quake Live is, on the surface, a free, web browser based update of Quake III Arena. But it's also a lot more. First, it's free. Woot! Second, it's browser based, so you never have to download game updates or patches -- you can also sneak in a few games at school or work when no one's looking. Finally, it's a radical departure from anything id software has done before.
Id is the originator of the FPS as we know it, and the Wolfenstein, Doom, and Quake franchises represented major advances in gaming technology during each of their respective releases. Quake Live goes in a different direction, but is nonetheless ambitious. Most gamers will immediately cringe when they hear the game is supported by advertising. We've had enough Axe Body Spray billboards in our full retail games as it is. But here's how it fits Quake Live, says Stratton. Think of Quake Live as a sport. Heck, the battles are already fought in arenas, and don't many professional stadiums feature ads on their walls? So as you're fragging, you'll run into some billboards that take the place of blank walls from Quake III Arena. No big deal. At least the ads, says Stratton, are geared toward the Quake player, much like Google ads are based on your own internet searches (by the way, my Tara Patrick searches are for research purposes only).
Sponsors will also host contests and special events that will translate into real-world prizes for Quake Live players. We already see plenty of sponsored contests on Xbox Live, and they are only going to increase. And if you love prizes and competition, that's a good thing. Finally, sponsors may decide to offer free skins of their products for you to use to customize your avatar. Who knows where that could lead… Quake Live teams with sponsored colors, just like we see in professional soccer and stock car racing? Just maybe.
Id could have rested on its laurels and splashed a few ads on the Quake III maps, but instead it's working tirelessly to update the visuals and textures for every map. There are more than 30, but they first appeared nine years ago. You can see for yourself in the image the improvement.
Finally, the last major focus of Quake Live is making it accessible. When the site is launched, all you have to do is head over to Quakelive.com and log in. If you want to participate in marathon sessions and jump on top of the leaderboards (as do many of the fans here at QuakeCon), you can do that. If you want to chat with a buddy and set up a quick team deathmatch before heading to work, you can do that to. A matchmaking system will ensure new players are matched with players of similar skill, so they don't go running for the hills when pro players blow them to hell and back with rocket launchers.
We don't have much information on mod tools, but Stratton says community is what will drive Quake Live, so we look forward to some mod options in the future. We'll let you know after QuakeCon wraps up and we take a much-needed shower.
PARIS--Unsurprisingly, there's lots to do here at the 2008 Blizzard Invitational. When attendees aren't checking out playable builds of Starcraft II or World of WarCraft: Wrath of the Lich King, they're busy dressing up, participating in dance contests, checking out the tournaments, or spending money in the Blizzard Shop. If, after all that, you're still craving more Blizzard saturation, you can always attend a session or two dedicated to specific Blizzard games. All weekend, we've seen seminars on Starcraft II, Lich King, and, of course, the just-announced Diablo III. Yesterday, Blizzard held a gameplay panel, details of which can be found in our latest first-look preview of the game.
This morning, I attended a panel dedicated to the story and art style of Diablo III. The session, hosted by Blizzard's Leonard Boyarsky and Brian Morrisoe, was an interesting look at the world building that has gone into the Diablo III version of the world of Sanctuary. While Boyarsky and Morrisoe were still tight-lipped about much of the game's story, there was still plenty to take away from the session.
Boyarsky started off the session with a discussion of the backstory in Diablo III, specifically with reference to some of the worlds that make up Sanctuary. Some of them, like the trade city of Caldeum, you'll see and explore in the game. Others, like Skovos (home to the Rogues from the first Diablo and the Amazons from the sequel) will only appear in the game as a method of enriching the game world. As Boyarsky put it, real civilizations don't just spring up overnight but are, rather, built over many centuries; the goal with Diablo III is to build that kind of deep sense of history into all of the cultures you encounter in the world, no matter how brief the contact.
In terms of story, Boyarsky said that Diablo III will pick up 20 years after the end of the events in the Diablo II expansion, Lord of Destruction. Deckard Cain, the storyteller and quest giver in the previous games, returns in Diablo III and, at the beginning of the game, is convinced that the forces of Hell are intent on invading Sanctuary. Cain is desperate to find a way to stop this invasion and, it seems, will work with your character to that end as the game begins. Worse yet, the general population of the various cities of Sanctuary--traumatized by the events of the previous games--has begun to put those evil events behind it; many believe that the demons that previously appeared in its cities were just myth.
Beyond that, we don't know much about the story in Diablo III. Morrisoe threw out a few more nuggets of info, just to tease attendees with where the game might be heading. For example, he mentioned Tyrael, the archangel you meet in Diablo II. Tyrael helps mankind (again the will of Heaven) during the events of the previous game, eventually destroying the Worldstone to allegedly prevent an invasion from Hell's minions. So, for Diablo III, the question becomes: What has happened to Tyrael? Has he been punished for his actions? What is his role in the events of this game?
Speaking about the game's art style, Morrisoe said that, despite Diablo III's new 3D engine, the decision to keep the game's camera in a fixed isometric position was a deliberate one; one that he feels will help make Diablo III a better more authentic experience. He also went into lots of detail about the bold silhouettes that make up the architecture and character design in the series and help give the game its epic feel. The goal, it seems, is to create heroic characters with making them appear cartoony, behaving in a world that acts realistically (thanks to the addition of destructible environments to the gameplay) while maintaining a fantasy feel.
Perhaps one of the most obvious questions to ask about the story in Diablo III is one that was asked by an audience member just as the Q&A portion of the panel began: How does Blizzard justify another Diablo game when, by the end of the previous game, the player had killed Diablo, Mephisto, and Baal? Boyarsky referred to it as a "very complex chain of events" but wouldn't divulge much more than that--except that it will be "very entertaining". Later, when asked about specific new enemies that the character would encounter, Boyarsky dropped the tantalizing hint that there are seven lords of Hell in the Diablo universe... Assuming the player has killed three already in the previous game, could we meet the final four in Diablo III? Time will tell...
Not long ago, we brought you our first hands-on impressions of Wheelman, Midway's upcoming driving-action game starring Vin Diesel and a cast of shady associates plucked from the European crime circuit. Wheelman puts you in the role of an American abroad named Milo Burik. As a driver-for-hire, Milo's basic job is to get from one point to another in an expansive, open-world representation of Barcelona. But the slightly illegal nature of Milo's work means things aren't always so easy. That's where Wheelman diverges from your standard driving game: Speeding through these Catalonian streets is just as much about taking out enemy cars as it is about beating the timer. We recently spent a bit more time with this upcoming title, a second look that gave us the opportunity to see some more driving mechanics, a few side missions, and a glimpse at those few moments when you'll need to bust some heads on foot.
Wheelman starts you out with a tutorial giving you the basic fundamentals of driving. Those fundamentals all seem very standard until you're introduced to the melee stick. By using the right control stick, you can perform 180 degrees of takedowns on nearby cars. Pushing the stick to either side, you'll violently veer in that direction, but at no penalty to your handling. Likewise, nudging forward on the stick gives you a quick speed boost to pummel any unfortunate soul caught in front of you. We spent our fair share of time cruising aimlessly through Barcelona, using the melee stick on any and all cars on the road. As odd as it sounds, the precision and quick response gives you the feeling of using your car to punch someone. (Using it to sandwich motorcycles against buildings was especially entertaining.)
Taking out cars is done in a few other ways besides just the melee stick. You can also use your focus gauge to slow down time and fire shots from the driver's seat. This gives you the ability to aim at enemies, enemies' cars, enemies' cars' gas tanks, and, well, you get the idea. It's called an Aimed Shot while driving forward, and a Cyclone when you perform a quick 180 to take out the thugs tailing you. Time slows down just enough for you to pull off three or four well-placed shots. It's up to you to use these fleeting seconds to make sure it's the best shot possible, one that will cause a chain reaction of cars tumbling into each other or just plain exploding. Besides these focus attacks, the environment also plays a factor. For example, plowing through scaffolding on the side of a building will bring a barrage of wood and poles toppling down on those behind you, while luring cars off a particularly hazardous jump could spell their undoing if their car isn't as fast as yours.
The story unfolds over the course of 24 primary missions, but you'll be able to explore the alleys and forgotten side streets of Barcelona over 105 side missions and events. We got to check out two of these side missions. One was a pretty standard event where you start out in a plaza and race to pick up packages from five nearby locations. This one is aimed to give you a better feeling for the roads and alleys since most of the goals were tucked away in less than clear locations. The other event we tried was more about the visceral thrill of messing stuff up. This one is sort of a rampage mode where a specific object is displayed on the screen and your job is to destroy as many of those objects to build up your multiplier, then take out cars to collect maximum Euros. So if you see a bench on your HUD, you'll need veer onto the sidewalk, take out a few benches, then drive like a madman through traffic to collect the Euros. The challenge here is to keep an eye on your rapidly changing multiplier target while being sure to time your melee stick strikes for the ideal traffic pileups.
All of this driving will make up about 80% of the game, with the rest going to on-foot destruction. The actual combat is nothing out of the ordinary. The way the controls were mapped the Xbox 360 version we played were left trigger to aim, right trigger to shoot, B to crouch, X to reload, and left bumber to sprint. It's all very standard, so the key thing to keep an eye on is how it's integrated with the more ambitious driving elements. Punctuating your driving with the occasional need to unbuckle and stir up some trouble should add a nice sense of variety, but lengthy and prolonged on-foot sections probably won't work as well.
The most impressive thing about Wheelman is the depiction of Barcelona. From the opening camera shot that hovers over the harbor, past the Monument a Colon, through La Rambla and into your first set of wheels, the imagery feels very authentic. We're told there's at least 2,000 miles of road, including the ability to drive into the mountain passes toward the north end of the city. You can expect to argue over whether Vin Diesel or Barcelona is the biggest star of Wheelman when the game ships this fall.
Check out a pair of new Wheelman screens here.