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Winter Olympics here we come! I'll admit, I'm giddy with excitement in regards to the upcoming Olympics that are set to take place in my beloved frosty tundra called Canada. I love snow--as long as I don't have to shovel it--and being able to play winter sports from the comfort of my couch in sunny California couldn't be more appealing. Well, in this case, Ricardo, Brian and I were technically playing Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Winter Games with a couple of Sega reps in our demo room under the warm glow of fluorescent lighting.
First up, was alpine skiing and since I'm such a good sport (aka Ricardo forced me) I jumped right in with Wii Remote and nunchuk in hand, picked my favorite green dinosaur and started blazing down the hill like it was second nature. Since you're holding your controller like a pair of ski poles, all you really need to do is pretend you're pulling yourself out of the gate and hit the A button. After that, it's all about leaning, and the closer you get to the bright red flags, the more speed you'll get. The gates are very wide however, so they're actually kind of hard to miss unless you're trying to cut corners for the extra boost. The game can also be played with the balance board, so it's time to break out the Wii Fit again for practice.
Next up was bobsledding, a four player team sport in which we shake the remote to get that running start and then press A to hop into our sled. As luck would have it, Ricardo got the front, then it was Brian me and one of the Sega reps in the back. All we had to do was clutch the Wii Remote to our chest, buttons toward us, and lean. Easy right? Yeah, well Brian didn't pull his weight for half the race so we bounced off the sides of the track a few times before he decided to join us in the leaning. A yellow line on the track is a guide on where you should be (see below for example), so if we had actually coordinated, we would have been able to take those corners without problems. Brian = weakest link? I think so. (And so what if he had dead batteries?)
Skeleton on the DS is almost like bobsledding, except more suicidal as you're going down the track solo, face-first on a tiny sled. This game is fun on the DS though, because the controls are tighter as you use the stylus to guide your character down the track, swiping upwards periodically to give yourself a boost. The other game we played was Snowboard Cross, in which you race down the hill against other boarders--using the D pad and buttons--doing jumps to gain speed and drifting around banked turns so that you don't wind up hanging out with the spectators.
Look Brian, TEAMWORK.
Sophia talking trash about my bobsleigh skills is hilarious to me. She's clearly jealous of my butt. You see, I probably have the most skilled tush in the GameSpot office. My heiny has been gaming longer than Sophia has been alive, probably. True story: My patoot once set a high score in Pole Position at a Jasper, Alabama arcade back in '85. My cheeks were last seen ripping up the slopes in Rayman Raving Rabbids TV Party and now, with the upcoming Mario & Sonic at the Winter Olympic Games, my hind quarters have dominated in Vancouver.
Forget the four-man bobsleigh; the best way to get down with the sleigh is to pop a squat on your Wii balance board. You still start off by shaking the Wii Remote to get a running start and pressing the A button to leap into your sleigh. Once you're in, however, it's all about scientifically precise buttock control; which I have in spades. Just as when you're playing with the Wii Remote, your goal is to keep your bobsleigh in the middle of the track and following the illuminated arrow; doing so will give you a burst of speed that will continue as long as you can keep it going.
While I didn't check, I'm fairly certain that my rear end broke several bobsleigh world records during my time with Mario & Sonic; a fact that makes it all the more clear to me: My ass belongs in the Olympics.
SAN FRANCISCO--Paradox Interactive is one of many game studios showing new games at Game Developers Conference 2009, and we made a point to go and see each of the studio's upcoming PC game titles.
In Hearts of Iron III, you'll do the same thing we do every night: Try to take over the world!
First up: Hearts of Iron III, the next game in the historical strategy series. Our time with the game was spent mainly going over what's new in the new game, which is being developed to appeal to hardcore fans, but also be more accessible to newcomers. To this end, the game's interfaces are being tweaked to include more-accessible campaign quickstarts (there will be four preset campaigns with pre-selected nations and time periods, such as Germany in 1941 as a military superpower, or the USA in 1940 as a burgeoning economic powerhouse). There will also be three levels of toggle-able interface controls--set all nations to computer AI control, the "normal" interface (which will be a more top-level view for newer players), and the more-complex "expert" interface for power users. Experts will find plenty of grist for the mill with the game's expanded number of 15,000 provinces (Hearts of Iron II had 2,500), along with expanded systems for diplomacy (a triangular interface that shows, by degree, how friendly or hostile your neighbors are), production (including a brand-new system that will let you customize war battalions), and technology research (which will now let your nation improve in a specific area with subsequent research projects, and also research individual improvements "infinitely," such as constantly improving infantry rifles, as a means of continuing to have a tech advantage even when you've scrambled up the tech tree and unlocked most every basic tech).
You'll also be able to use a connected set of sliders to manage "leadership" state matters such as research, espionage, diplomacy, or the power of your military officers--emphasizing one or two areas strongly will mean less available resources to develop the other two areas. In addition, in-game politics will be tweaked to make the effects of your judicial decisions "more visible"--for instance, parties may change in popularity over time and lose elections--a sudden drop in the ruling party's popularity might even result in a coup. And also, military intelligence has been rebuilt from scratch with much-expanded espionage options that let you send out more spies to an enemy nation to gather more intel--a very useful tactic to use preceding a war effort so you know what your foe can fight with before you even fire a single shot. What's more, map strategy will be enhanced with two intriguing new features; supply lines (interconnected friendly provinces that can ferry resources) will now appear on the map and act as juicy targets of opportunity, and a new "gradual fog of war," which will reveal, stepwise, what's going on in enemy territory, depending on your level of spy intel and radio monitoring. Hearts of Iron III is currently in an early beta state and planned for launch in a late summer/early fall timeframe.
Majesty 2 will offer fantasy hack-and-slash plus kingdom management.
Next up: Majesty 2: The Fantasy Kingdom Simwill be the sequel to the original Majesty, a cult-classic game that looked a lot like a regular old fantasy-themed strategy game, but had a unique twist--you weren't a hero looking to slay dragons and rescue princesses; you were the manager of a kingdom where such heroes lived, fought, and went about their daily business. The same will apply to Majesty 2, but developer Ino-Co is wrapping the game in a colorful new 3D world and enhancing as many aspects as possible. You'll recruit heroes to your cause who will be tracked in a shortcut menu in the upper-right corner and will be marked with icons to quickly show their status. You'll be able to recruit one of four basic hero types using guild structures, and once your kingdomdevelops further, you'll be able to construct temples that can churn out one of sixmore-powerful, second-tier hero units. Obviously, different units will serve different purposes (high-level mages can blast enemies with powerful magic, while rogues can steal gold from enemies and even gravesites to line your pockets).
The game will offer a campaign with four individual chapters, each of which contains four missions (for a total of 16 in all) that will require you to recruit new armies from scratch each time. However, at the end of each chapter, you'll do battle with a powerful "boss" monster, and after winning, you can seize an even more powerful artifact item, which will remain with you, persistently, throughout the campaign, and grant you the ability to use an extremely strong magical power, though to prevent the abuse of these wondrous trinkets, artifact abilities will have a cooldown delay. The game's single-player content is more or less finished at this point and is being balanced and tweaked, while the multiplayer remains under development, though the current plan is to support multiplayer for up to four players. Majesty 2 will hopefully make its way to store shelves this summer.
The soon-to-be released Elven Legacy will offer wargame depth in a colorful fantasy realm.
On deck next: Elven Legacy, thenow-finished, turn-based, hex-based, fantasy-based strategy sequel to 2007's fantasy-themed wargame Fantasy Wars. Elven Legacy will follow its predecessor with improved graphics, a new campaign story that follows a clan of elves who must hunt down a rogue human sorcerer. This is basically a backdrop that sets up hex-based exploration and battles in a colorful 3D world where your hero character appears in battle alongside his forces on 3D maps where terrain will make a difference (forest hexes will offer defensive bonuses, hilltops will offer height advantages, and so on). Between adventures, you can outfit your hero (who can advance to an experience level of 10) and other army units (who can advance to an experience level of 5) with new skills and abilities. You can get more details in our full review, which will be posted around the game's April ship date.
Paradox Interactive hopes that in Mount & Blade: Warband, you'll have fun stormin' the castle.
Along for the ride was also Mount & Blade: Warband, a multiplayer expansion for the original mounted combat game. Warband will offer competitive multiplayer battles for up to 32 players online, as well as enhanced political options to help you with those larger-scale, kingdom-conquering ambitions of yours, including the ability to marry the daughter of a noble whose lands you covet, and subjugating the rest of those uppity landholders as vassals. In addition. Warband will offer enhanced graphics in the form of better lighting and more art assets to make your heroes look more dashing andvaried in many, many different suits of armor. Warband will ship this fall.
East India Company will offer high-seastrading and ship battles.
And the final game at this stop: East India Company, a game based on, of all things, the historical East India Trading Company, a mercantile powerhouse in the Age of Sail. The game will offer full economic trading gameplay, including the ferrying of goods to and from the New World with a dynamic marketplace with fluctuating prices for each commodity. It'll also feature a hybrid combat system that will let you command a fleet of ships as you would a standard real-time strategy control group by band-selecting your ships and giving them move and fire orders...but will also let you take command of an individual ship and control it manually to get the most out of its firing arcs, multiple shot types (the familiar naval ammunition ensemble of hull-shattering cannonballs, sail-ripping chain shot, and sailor-murdering grapeshot will be available on your ships), and, if you're in the mood for it, boarding enemy vessels. East India Company is scheduled for release later this year.
Last year at PAX, we took a tour around the PAX 10 booth, a collection of indie games that were being displayed on the show floor. Games like The Maw was there, which recently came out on Xbox Live Arcade. There were a lot of PC games as well, one of them being Chronotron, a puzzle game that stars a time traveling robot.
To get an idea of what we're talking about, you can play the game here.
It's a simple set up in which you play as the happy-go-lucky robot that needs to hit the green key in the level and then return to the elevator door-like pod he started from. Obstacles that stand in your way include platforms that can only be raised if someone is standing on it or doors that need to be held open, so they all require an extra hand (or full-sized robot) so that you could get through. This is when you go back to the blue pod--which acts as a trusty time machine--and travel back in time so that your former self will mimic the movements you just did. Now you can follow yourself as you clear the way and open doors for…youself. The game starts off relatively basic, but as you go through the levels, the difficulty ramps up considerably and it starts to get confusing when managing multiple copies of yourself because sometimes you'll need 3 or 4 robots to help you get through the stage.
This game caught the eye of Santa Cruz Games, who is working on bringing Chronotron II to the Nintendo DS and possibly other platforms. A representative from Santa Cruz Games came by to show us what it would look like on the DS. It looks very much like the flash game that you see above, with the stage displayed in the top screen and the bottom screen is currently where the restart button is. You use A to jump and B to enter the pod to go back in time. The few demo levels that we played were very similar to the first few levels of Chronotron; the only difference is that physics have been included so there are now new approaches to completing certain levels. Instead of hitting a switch to raise a level, you can push yourself against it to get it open. If it only moves one way, you still need help to get back out, but this is just an example of how the game will work. Another example is that platforms will rise at a slower speed if there is something standing on it.
The original creator, Joe Rheaume, had other characters in mind when he worked on the first Chronotron, so we were told that we can expect a story with multiple characters and perhaps a reason that could tie together all this robot time traveling. We'll update you with more information as soon as it becomes available. Right now Santa Cruz Games hopes to have the game come out on at least one platform later this year. In the meantime, be sure to check out the original Chronotron for free at Krongegate.
Elemental: War of Magic will be a fantasy-themed strategy game from Stardock, the PC developer that made a name for itself with its Galactic Civilizations space strategy series. GalCiv was an epic sci-fi strategy series that lets you attempt to gain control over an alien-filled universe. Now, the studio is turning to high-fantasy with a new strategy game along the lines of Master of Magic. Watch this video demonstration from Stardock to see the game in motion:
The healthy gaming craze continues to explode. On the heels of Nintendo's Wii Fit, a ton of recent and upcoming games are looking to pick some fruit off the Wii fitness tree. EA is in the game with EA Sports Active , Ubisoft's got My Fitness Coach , and Majesco put The Biggest Loser star Jillian Michaels in her own game . Now 2K Sports is looking to get into the fitness game of sorts with its upcoming Don King Boxing for Wii. Unlike the dedicated exercise games, the fitness aspects of Don King Boxing come in addition to the full-fledged boxing game. A few weeks ago, we went hands-on with the main modes of the game; today we had a chance to check out the training modes in the game.
Training mode features four mini-games: heavy bag, speed bag, fitness, and a jump rope. The first two focus solely on your punching, while the latter pair use the Wii Balance Board (which is optional, of course) and test feature both punching and footwork. With the heavy bag, you're presented with a heavy bag split into four different quadrants. Your goal is to punch a quadrant when it changes from red to yellow; and during the mini-game you'll mix up your punches between upper and lower punches with the Wii Remote and Nunchuk. Lower punches are executed by holding the B or Z button on the Wii Remote or Nunchuk respectively. In the speed bag mini-game, your goal is to punch a hanging speed bag with left and right punches; the timing is tricky on this one, but if you listen for the sound of the bag hitting the board at the apex of its backswing, it makes getting it down a bit easier.
As with all of the training exercises, there are two different skill levels to try: amateur and contender. Amateur level typically involves shorter sessions and less complicated movements, while contender is for folks who have some familiarity with the game's controls are looking to burn some more calories.
Fitness mode is a bit like an cardio kickboxing class, only without the kicking. Here, you'll stand on the Wii Balance Board (after calibrating it, of course) while a sequence of icons runs vertically up the screen. Each icon corresponds to a different type of punch: jabs, straights, hooks and uppercuts. Periodically, you'll also be called on to do footwork, stepping on or off the Wii Balance Board while keeping (more or less) in time with the music.
The final exercise mode is jump rope. Here, you hold the Wii Remote and Nunchuk in your hands and put both feet on the balance board. To begin jumping you lift your heels off the board and begin bouncing up and down, making sure to have your heels land on the board when you come down. To simulate the "rope", you simply move your wrists in a circle, keeping time with your feet. As with the rest of these mini-games, the more successive combos you can put together, the more complicated things will--for example, when jumping rope, you'll eventually move to criss-cross movements with your hands and alternating your feet. Screw up and you'll start over.
You'll earn fitness points after each exercise in Don King Boxing which you can use to track your points on an in-game calendar. There are also achievements to earn if you're particularly skilled at the training exercises. While the punching exercises seemed to be inconsistent sometimes, we have to admit that skipping rope did give our calves a nice little burn. Don King's training mode might not turn you into the next Joe Louis, but it certainly couldn't hurt… much.
Space Invaders Extreme for Xbox 360 likes to mess with your eyes. It's full of dirty visual tricks that keep your eyes darting across the screen at a frenzied pace. It's also great fun. The game, which came out on the Nintendo DS and PSP last year is being revamped for Xbox Live and I got a chance to check it out during a visit by producers. I was reasonably familiar with the handheld versions of the game--including playing it on the DS as nature intended it: with the DS paddle controller--but seeing the game's stylized visuals on the big screen brings a whole new level of challenge to the game.
Taken piece by piece, SIE isn't all that impressive visually. The enemies are still the basic building-block sprites you'd expect from a proper Space Invaders game. However, toss those enemies together into a slew of different formations, mix them up by color, give them unique behaviors, then toss in a bunch of neon-colored madness occurring everywhere on the screen as you transition from one game level to the next (as well as in and out of impromptu bonus rounds), and you've got an beautifully complex visual feast that's constantly changing to keep your eye engaged.
If you haven't played it before, Space Invaders Extreme is a remake of the original arcade game. The goal is still the same--blast the endless hordes of pixilated invaders before they reach the bottom of the screen. What SIE does so brilliantly is take that very basic concept and twist it in increasingly surprising ways. For one thing, the static enemies from the original aren't happy with merely winding their way down the screen. They're up to no good. Some will split in two when shot. Others will make themselves extremely thin temporarily, making them that much harder to shoot. Others carry shields. All are designed to make your life miserable… in a fun way.
While you can certainly play SIE as a straight-ahead shoot-anything-that-moves arcade game, the more you play, the more layers of the strategic onion you begin to peel back. For example, shooting enemies of one color in succession will earn you power-ups like lasers and spread-shot weapons which you can use to temporarily wreak havoc on enemies. A vertical meter on the right-hand side of the screen will quickly deplete; when it does, your power-up will run out. However, in another strategical twist, you can actually pause that meter by holding down either the right or left bumper. Doing so will revert your upgraded cannon into its normal shot, until you let go of the bumper and use up the rest of your power-up shot.
Beyond it's trippy visuals, easy control scheme, and cool soundtrack (which synchronizes your shots and the resulting explosions to the beat of the music), SIE always keeps you guessing. Bonus rounds periodically pop up, where the enemies cascade down in different patterns. There are boss battles that feature huge enemies that often require special circumstances to kill them (the most unusual of which required you to bounce a shot off an accompanying shield and direct it at the boss. Not easy). In all, the game will take you through five acts and eleven levels of invader-blasting action. You'll also be able to unlock additional styles of gameplay, such as endless mode and the ramped-up extreme mode. Space Invaders Extreme will also have both cooperative and competitive multiplayer for up to four players.
It's been more than 30 years since the original Space Invaders hit arcades. After playing Space Invaders Extreme for Xbox 360, I couldn't help but wonder how players of three decades ago might have reacted to a game like this. Part of me thinks that the constant visual buzz of hyperkinetic action and informational overload--perfectly suited to our overstimulated brains in 2009--would have caused them to go into shock. But then, once you get past all of that stylized glitz, this is still a Space Invaders game at its core. And fun is fun, no matter the year…
If you haven't played a good city-building game in a while, you may want to keep an eye out for Cities XL, which will try to combine the peaceful pursuit of building up a tiny virtual city with cooperative (and competitive) online elements and Web-based social networking. We've previously taken an in-depth look at the game and its unusual premise and have new details to report today.
What's better than being a land baron? How about being a land baron...online?
To catch you up, here's a quick recap: Cities XL will basically offer an offline experience right out of the box and a continuing online experience should you want to pursue the dream of being the world's most successful architect. Like in many other city-building games, such as the SimCity series, the out-of-box, offline game in Cities XL will let you use editing tools to build up the virtual city of your dreams, using powerful tools that will include some 500 different buildings, so you can click, drag, copy-paste, and brush-paint tiny individual houses or sprawling roadway networks, then maintain your population's happiness and income while using your funds to build a bigger, better, happier city.
The online portion of the game will let you go beyond just puttering around in your own city; you'll actually be able to, for instance, putter around other players' cities on foot, as well as monitor the progress of your city online through the game's Web site, which will act as both an online scoreboard (which ranks all players' cities by their relative wealth, popular happiness, and other statistics) and a social hub. The Web site will let you create your own profile, write your own blog, post images, and maintain a friends list. You'll also be able to use the online interface to trade any excess resources that your city, or other players' cities, may have produced. All cities produce and consume resources (such as energy, power, and cash), and depending on how you've built yours, you may end up with a town that creates a daily surplus of this or that resource. This daily surplus will disappear from your city's coffers at the end of the day, each day, to avoid the dreaded practice of "farming"--in this case, repeatedly hoarding resources each day until you have an unreasonably huge stockpile. Resources will be traded in the form of "tokens"--one token will represent one unit of resources, and developer Monte Cristo currently intends to let the resource market regulate itself, rather then get too involved in the player economy. However, since you will have access to resource trading online, you won't necessarily need to create a well-rounded, self-sustaining commune. For instance, if you want, you can build an industrial wasteland that's nothing but factories and smokestacks--and just trade for whichever resources you don't generate.
Will you create a simple but beautiful country town with rolling meadows, or a wealthy industrialized wasteland?
Resource trading will be important not only for generally keeping your town running, but also for creating "megastructures"--famous wonders of the world that will grant powerful bonuses to whoever builds them. (Cities XL will ship with about 20 of these right out of the box, and more will be added at a rate of about five or so per month). In order to build one of these impressive monuments, you'll need the blueprints, which will randomly appear in the accounts of a handful of users every so often (and can be used to start construction immediately, or traded for resources, or given away for free...otherwise the blueprints will expire in about a week after use to prevent players from accumulating them in their accounts). Megastructures will be fantastically expensive projects that go through three different phases of construction (and each phase will require a different mix of resources). Successfully building one will grant serious bonuses for your city; for instance, plopping the Arc de Triomphe in the middle of your metropolis will grant your city powerful economic bonuses as tourists from your principality and from neighboring towns take a holiday to come see your wondrous new masterpiece. And the tourists will build up the local economy, presumably by purchasing cheap T-shirts and souvenir coffee mugs.
However, megastructures won't offer clear-cut, no-strings-attached advantages; they'll actually have their own set of realistic concerns that you as the city's mayor and chief architect must address. For starters, an attractive monument will bring in many guests and their big, bulky tour buses--and the buses may congest traffic and lead to noise pollution that creates unhappiness for any of the locals who live or work nearby. More importantly, if your city becomes too wondrous and begins drawing in too many of your neighbors' citizens, your neighbors (other players who are in control of their own cities) may become jealous that you're getting all this great tourist revenue and they aren't. In fact, this will be a real concern for all online land barons when they go looking to trade resources. Yes, you need four tokens of oil for your own town and you'd be willing to trade four tokens of water...but do you really want to give that water to someone who will just end up spending it on building an Eiffel Tower that will draw in your citizens and line your neighbor's pockets?
One day, all this will be yours. Then you can build a frozen-yogurt stand there.
Cities XL is still in development and will likely go to a beta-testing phase in the coming months. The game is scheduled to launch later this year.
Have you heard of these "real-time strategy" games? The ones where you hoard piles of resources, build up a bunch of buildings, then churn out a little army of toy soldiers to go beat up your opponents' toy soldier armies? Yeah, those. They're pretty popular on the PC, but game developers seem to want to bring them to modern consoles too. The next game to make the attempt will be Stormrise for the Xbox 360, PS3, and the PC. The game will take place in a war-torn, futuristic world, where the last remaining resources on the planet are contested by two factions: the Echelon, a faction of high-tech soldiers with attack choppers, tanks, and mech suits to hunker down in open areas and lay down gunfire from a distance; and the Sai, a fantasy-themed faction that uses magic powers and beefy melee units to circle and flank...then beat the daylights out of their enemies up close and personal. We tried out the Xbox 360 version of the game, which will take another swing at the longstanding issue of mapping precise RTS control onto the limited sticks and buttons of a modern console controller.
You'll have a whole army of little guys like this to fight and die for you. Hopefully, your opponent's little guys will die before yours do.
Developer Creative Assembly Australia seems to want to capture the power and elegance of the PC's traditional mouse-and-keyboard control scheme and map it onto a console controller--and streamline out most of the other stuff that doesn't fit. Like in a traditional RTS, you have to amass resources to spend on buildings and armies, but you'll do so by capturing resource nodes, similar to the nodes in the Warhammer: Dawn of War series. Interestingly, the nodes will all be connected in a continuous network across the map, so to capture and continually hold a certain node, you need to have a ground unit capture that node, and you also need links to other nodes in your territory, similar to the node capture system in Unreal Tournament 2004's Conquest mode.
The idea is to encourage players to continue fighting until the bitter end, because instead of matches where one player eventually controls the vast majority of the resource nodes on a map and takes all the time in the world to amass an army while the already-outclassed losing player sits there and waits for the inevitable, a player who is losing significantly can sneak behind enemy lines and cut off the connection to his wealthy opponent's forward nodes, which will suddenly cut down on the dominant player's resources and give the losing player a new lease on life. Creative AU apparently wants to encourage players to be sneaky, since the game's 3D maps will feature multiple elevations. Many maps will have subterranean passages and ruined skyscrapers to perch on in addition to ground-level operations, and both playable factions will have access to flying units that can clear the tallest skyscraper.
Capturing resource nodes will be the key to victory. The weird spider-monster thingy is just the icing on the cake...to whatever extent weird spider-monster thingies can be any kind of icing on any kind of cake.
Stormrise will also slim down some of the other aspects of traditional real-time strategy. For instance, the only building you'll do will be upgrades for nodes you've already captured, such as enhanced resource gathering, defensive shields, and turrets...right on top of the node itself. (But you can build only one improvement at a time, and there's no queueing of improvements; this is to encourage players to stay engaged in the action and the building of upgrades, rather than setting a big, long production queue and forgetting about it.) Also, instead of building a town hall/command-center-type structure, you'll start the game with a single summoning point from which you can immediately call in whatever armed forces you can afford, such as Echelon gunners, tanks, and choppers, or Sai foot soldiers, wizards, ogres, and flying dragons. Like in the Dawn of War series, you don't summon individual units, but rather squads of units, and like in any good real-time strategy game, you can create "control groups" of units (basically, a shortcut that lets you automatically select a group of your forces to give orders to). And there's also a shortcut that lets you create a group for all units of the same type onscreen, so you can quickly and neatly create a single group for all your infantry, another for all your tanks, and another for all your choppers.
However, once you have a squadron selected, you'll still need to use the game's cursor (controlled by your left thumbstick) to choose the destination of your selected unit; so even though the game kind of looks like a third-person action game with a behind-the-back camera like Tomb Raider or Prince of Persia, there won't be any direct control of your units. Fortunately, there will be float-over icons above any and all friendly and hostile units that will appear on the horizon, so if you need to mass troops on a location, you can snap your cursor to the icon hovering over that hotspot and give a move order to send your troops in. Unfortunately, there isn't any "select every single unit you own" shortcut. This is to discourage players from just turning off their brains and sending in all the troops at once; instead, Creative Assembly hopes you'll use each set of units smartly and will have effective control to send each into battle at the right time, and the right place.
The whip select system will let you select nearby friendlies or just jump around to your next squad.
The heart of Stormrise's control scheme is the "whip select" system, which has two layers. First, using the right thumbstick on your controller, you can call up a glowing pointer that "paints" the nearest unit it's pointing to; you can then press the A button to select that unit. This is Stormrise's answer for using a mouse to scroll across the map. The second layer of the whip select system is the way you can flick the right stick in any direction to jump to select the nearest friendly group or structure in that direction, such as the nearest captured resource node or all the way back to your base. (From what we can tell, at launch you'll have only the one base of operations that will require you to constantly hop back to it if you want to churn out more armies; it's possible that future updates such as downloadable content may add in features like forward spawn points).
We had the opportunity to dive into two different multiplayer matches, first as the tech-savvy Echelon and then as the magic-and-melee-focused Sai. It took us a few minutes to get used to the control and grouping systems, but once we figured them out, we found ourselves making aggressive starts to each match by continuously churning out new units while sending all available troops ahead to the nearest resource node. Having a well-balanced force seems helpful to making sure you can take on any kind of threat, but Stormrise's "technology trees" (the order of upgrades and units you can purchase for your structures and armies) are generally laid out in an easy-to-understand, linear way. Basically, the most powerful stuff is the most expensive and also tends to have the best secondary abilities. The Sai dragon, for instance, is a deadly combatant that can tear up airborne enemies as well as bombard ground targets back to the Stone Age. Both of our matches seemed to go pretty quickly and not take much more than about 20 minutes, though they were one-on-one matches in smaller maps using Xbox 360 system link.
If you've ever wanted to command a firebreathing dragon to melt a four-wheeled buggy, you'll get your wish in Stormrise.
For whatever reason, some game companies seem convinced that putting real-time strategy games onto consoles will mean unlimited success, pots of gold, ice cream parties, and all the best things in the world, which is why we're seeing more pretenders to this throne in games like Tom Clancy's EndWar, Red Alert 3, and Halo Wars. Stormrise's unique control scheme and fast-paced action seem like they could be the deciding factors in helping Stormrise ascend that throne...or at least get closer to a good, solid console RTS control scheme. The game is scheduled for release later this year on Xbox 360, PS3, and PC.
Last year's The Last Remnant for the Xbox 360 tried to push console role-playing games in new directions by including larger-scale battles with battalions (or "unions") of characters massed to fight as a group. The game took place in an unusual alternate-fantasy world where talking cat-men with four arms routinely served as royal guardians, and where, like in many console games of this sort, many of the human males that served as main characters were young, slender, and had fabulous hair.
Get ready for turn-based console-RPG battles on your PC.
We got our hands on the PC version of the game and have played through the early part of it, and have found the game to so far be a faithful translation of the original console game. Like in the Xbox 360 version of The Last Remnant, the PC version of the game starts with the story of Rush Sykes, a plucky young lad who sets out to rescue his kidnapped sister, without the help of his workaholic parents (who are off toiling on a potentially world-saving project involving ancient artifacts known as "remnants"). Over the course of the game, he meets various characters (who may or may not be cat-men) to join him in his quest and eventually lead into battle as part of the game's larger-scale combat system.
Keeping a close eye on your union members and building up huge enemy chains will let you quickly develop them into more-powerful heroes.
Like with the majority of console role-playing games since the original Dragon Quest/Dragon Warrior from the 8-bit NES, The Last Remnant's combat is turn-based, and alternates turns between your party's characters (and their planned attack abilities) and your enemies' turns. Each character in The Last Remnant will have various different abilities that will be specialized in such areas as casting magical spell effects or swinging a sword, and additional abilities that can be performed at a cost of "action points," or AP; but interestingly, you won't have direct control over them beyond giving general orders, so you'll effectively act as both a general and a soldier at the same time. However, by attacking and defeating enemies in sequence, you can perform longer and longer "chains" that will net you more experience points so that Rush and his buddies will gain levels (and the new abilities that come with them) faster.
You will come to know the face of your sister's captor as you explore The Last Remnant. POTENTIAL SPOILER: It may or may not be a very pretty man.
The PC version of The Last Remnant seems to run just fine and we encountered no framerate hiccups or significant technical problems of any kind as we played. The game was built using the Unreal Engine and this powerful technology seems to do a good job of translating the colorful graphical look and intricate, cat-man-filled world that first debuted in the console game. The Last Remnant is scheduled for release later this month on PC.
If you're of a certain age--you know, over 30 or so--the first few notes of Ray Parker Jr.'s theme to Ghostbusters invariably will bring up warm memories of the classic 80s comedy film starring Bill Murray, Dan Akroyd, and Harold Ramis. Atari is looking to stoke those nostalgic fires with the upcoming Ghostbusters: The Videogame, a sequel of sorts tothe films,starring all of the original cast of the film. The game has had a long strange trip--including being bounced from one publisher to the next. It appears that we're now in the final stretch, however, as we creep closer to its release and (not coincidentally) the 25th anniversary of the first Ghostbusters film. Having last seen the game in November, I had a chance to try out both the Wii and 360 versions of the game last week.
Though the Wii version follows the same narrative as the other versions of Ghostbusters its controls, as you might expect, are substantially different. When I last saw the game in November, I was pretty much convinced that was a bad thing. Back then, wrangling ghosts into traps using your proton beams was an absolute exercise in frustration; involving slamming ghosts to the ground to stun them, following arrows indicated on screen to keep your beam attached to them, and generally inexact controls that made the whole process entirely frustrating.
While the system for capturing ghosts was still intact in the newer build--you still need to grab them with your beam, slam them to the ground, and then pull them into the trap (which you can toss with a press of the Z button). The improvement here is the controls themselves--it seems easier not just to wrangle a ghost into a trap once you've latched on, it's also simply easier to grab a ghost with your proton beam.
Of course, not all ghosts need to be caught; some just need to be zapped. Your proton beam, after all, is a powerful weapon, one that cause massive amounts of damage to walls and objects around you… which is exactly the point. The game keeps track of all the damage you cause during your missions which, once the ghosts start flying, can be quite extensive.
The Wii version will feature two player split screen co-operative play, where you and a buddy can take on ghosts together. There are points where the split-screen play turns into a single screen, especially when taking on big enemies. Of course, enemies don't get much bigger than the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, which I had a chance to take on during my hands-on time with the Wii version. Here you and your buddy are hanging off the side of a building as Stay Puft scales the side of the building towards you. Most of the fight is spent zapping Stay Puft in the grill with proton beams. Occasionally he'll toss a huge chunk of building at you which you can then grab with your proton pack (by pressing the B button) and then blast back at him by pressing A. Do that enough times--and manage to dodge other debris by moving left or right on-screen--and you'll eventually take the big gooey guy down.
While the Wii developers took a wise route of making their version of Ghostbusters with a cartoonish visual style, the Xbox 360 version of the game is going the more realistic route. From theexaggerated yet realisticreproductions of Peter Venkman, Ray Stantz, and Egon Spengler to a slime ghost that looks better than the original film monster, the visuals in the 360 version of the game are coming together just fine. There's also plenty of little touches--the little lights and detailed mechanical whizbangs that make up the Ghostbusters' proton pack; the deep black scars you leave on hotel walls as you blast your proton beams.
In my last look at the game, I described a fight with the elderly librarian, deep in the bowels of the New York City Library. Immediately after that fight, a portal to another dimension opens up. In a level known as the Hall of Mirrors, you'll fight an enemy ghost who appears and disappears periodically. Using your proton pack you can zap him as he appears--and cause absolute mayhem to the mirrors that line the halls you're exploring.
There's also other types of weapons you'll earn as you go: the slime blower which, as its name implies, sprays green, sticky goop at enemies, as well as a slime tether, which can be attached to objects. At first slime tethers, seem more like toys than weapons--you attach one end to a wall and another end to a piece of furniture, and the tether will yank the object up in the air and suspend it from wherever you first placed it. As producers told us, the tether is more than just a toy; you can tether ghosts to it and use these tethers to help lead them into the ghost containment traps. There's also the PKE meter, which is handy not just for locating hidden ghosts in the area but also as a method for discovering how enemies can be defeated. Indeed, the length of a scan will give you a different level of information--partial scans will only show you so much about a ghost, while scanning it fully will often offer you hints on how to defeat it.
Throughout both versions of the game, the personalities of all of the Ghostbusters shine through--from the egghead ramblings of Dan Akroyd's Ray Stantz, to the wisescracks of Bill Murray's Peter Venkman. The work-in-progress cutsceneswe saw are effective as well--with subtle facial animations, a good-natured sense of humor, and videogame recreations of the film's famous locales that all bring back the feel of the originalmovie. And, of course, that ever-present Ray Parker Jr. theme song doesn't hurt either. Look for more on Ghostbusters: The Videogamein the coming weeks.
We recently had the opportunity to do a one-on-one phone interview with Vin Diesel, the star of the upcoming The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena. If his role in this remake-turned-expansion of the 2004 critical hit The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay doesn't ring a bell, then surely his work in movies like Saving Private Ryan, Iron Giant, and The Fast and the Furious does. As an avid gamer, Diesel even created his own development company called Tigon Studios in 2002 to help work with the developers and publishers of games bearing his likeness. (Tigon is currently working alongside Swedish developer Starbreeze, the studio responsible for the bulk of the work on both Riddick games.) Here's what he had to say about his role with Tigon, what it's been like working on this remake, and if there's any chance he'll be popping and locking in a video game any time soon.GameSpot: A lot of people know that you founded Tigon Studios, but they're probably not too sure with what you do with them on a day-to-day basis. Can you explain your relationship with Tigon?Vin Diesel: I created Tigon as a game developing company, as a publishing company, that could exploit my access into the film world--my position in Hollywood. The objective for creating Tigon was to be able to create video games that set off the core intentions and designs of the films. Meaning, some of the games that were adapted to movies until that point were licensed off to game companies and there was never any kind of relationship between the game company and the film company making the movie. And in my estimation it made for poor games. My objective was to open up the door to the director of the movie, to the actors in the movie, to writers involved in the film, and try to make a video game that is so true to the movie experience that it could ultimately enhance the movie experience.I really created the video game company as a way to take all of these resources that were provided for me in making the movie and make them available for creating the video game. That was basically the objective. To create video games that had that sort of cinematic attention. So, it's fascinating when you ever hear an in-house Tigon production meeting... it's not unlike a film production meeting. We'll bring in cinematographers just to talk about camera angles, and constantly push the envelope in giving you that experience like you're in a movie and get to decide what happens in the next second. It was kind of a harmonious thing--harmonious marriage between my involvement in movies and my involvement in film. I think we've been successful in creating games that enhance the movie experience, or enhance your appreciation for the IP.GS: How has your experience changed working on Dark Athena compared to Butcher Bay? Obviously things are going to be different now that you've got a few games under your belt, but you've also got that confidence knowing the first game was so well received by critics.VD: One of the big things that I felt really ambitious about--and I can remember being at Starbreeze a couple years ago and talking about this early on, and at first people kind of looked at me sideways when I said, "We gotta get multiplayer. We gotta get the multiplayer component here." Because this game is too rich to only be able to experience it by yourself. You want to be able to apply your expertise in a competitive situation. So the multiplayer online aspect of it was very, very import. Very ambitious, I think, for first-person shooter games to try and accomplish--especially when your first-person shooter game is so heavy in melee hand-to-hand combat like Butcher Bay is and Dark Athena is. So for me the big coup, the big victory on this is the fact that you essentially beat the s*** out of your friend in another country online... as Riddick [laughs].GS: That's always appealing!VD: Yeah, that's pretty damn cool. The idea that you can play--all the work that you put into becoming a master in this game you can apply in a competitive sense with your best friend who's also doing the same thing.GS: The current state of a third movie in the Riddick series seems a little uncertain to the casual fan right now. How does that affect the writing and story explored in the new Dark Athena content? Does it sort of give you guys more room to explore this fiction, or does that change anything about how you've approached this game?VD: Good question. Maybe we're too tight-lipped about the next Chronicles of Riddick film, and I think circa the release of [Dark Athena] that's probably when you'll start hearing more about the next Riddick film. It is underway and I almost think it's a coincidence that we haven't heard anything, that there hasn't been a lot of public stuff on the Riddick movie.GS: So it hasn't affected the way you've explored the story in Dark Athena at all, or at least the writing team on the game?VD: No, one of the important things we did early on in the process was really, really, really try to get every developer, every person working, every graphics designer working on this game to understand the mythology of the film and the IP as a whole. So there were bibles being created that talked about what can exist in this universe and what can't exist in this universe. So I'm actually proud about the fact that everyone is a Chronicles of Riddick expert on the game side. I think that adds something special to the game, and it definitely alleviates any concerns about where the story goes in the game. Because I feel like they've all committed so much to the franchise that everything they do only enhances the universe.But it's interesting that you've made that comment. Maybe we've been too tight-lipped about the movie, and you'll probably hear a lot more about it as this game is released. I think we were so adamant about knocking this game out of the park that we've been doing a lot of late hours--the overtime's on the game at the moment while [Pitch Black and The Chronicles of Riddick screenwriter] David Twohy is finishing up the next script.GS: So now that we've seen a few games based on your work as an actor, Vin, could we possibly see any games based on your early days as a breakdancer?VD: [Laughs] That's a good one, I should do one!GS: I would like to see it.VD: What was the other dance game? [Unnamed Diesel associate shouts, "Dance Dance Revolution!"] That's a good one! You know, Shaun, that's not a bad idea. And I'll tell you what, if I ever do--that's actually a really damn good idea now that I'm thinking about it--if I ever do my breakdancing in the streets of New York making money for some French fries and chocolate shakes and McDonald's, running from the police, working in subways, the whole nine yards... there could be a really fun game there. I mean, Tony Hawk did it! Let me think about that! Don't come after me if you see it on the show.GS: We would love to cover it on our website, Vin.VD: You got it. Believe me, I'm gonna give it thought. Good idea, you might have just created the next IP.GS: My pleasure. Thanks a lot.
[Update - The Sims 3 will have 63 character traits, not 65 as previously posted.]
Here are all 63 of The Sims 3's character traits. You can pick up to five traits for each of your adult sim characters that determine your sims' personalities, how they'll interact with other characters, and even their career paths. There's something for everyone, including fans of Arrested Development.
Being a mad scientist will have its perks. You may be able to get an out-of-the-home teleporter, for instance.
Can't Stand Art
Good Sense of Humor
Hates the Outdoors
Loves the Outdoors
No Sense of Humor
Here are all 32 of The Sims 3's lifetime wishes, which you can choose to pursue for each of your sims. Making progress toward your lifetime wishes will earn you lifetime wish points that you can spend on home teleportation devices and other wacky perks:
World Renowned Surgeon
Become a Superstar Athlete
CEO of a Mega-Corporation
Hit Movie Composer
Become a Master Thief
Forensic Specialist: Dynamic DNA Profiler
Become an Astronaut
Master of the Arts
Perfect Mind, Perfect Body
Star News Anchor
Living in the Lap of Luxury
Jack of All Trades
Surrounded by Family
The Culinary Librarian
Golden Tongue, Golden Fingers
International Super Spy
Presenting the Perfect Private Aquarium
Celebrated Five-Star Chef
Swimming in Cash
The Perfect Garden
Leader of the Free World
Become a Creature-Robot Cross Breeder
Want more details? Be sure to check our most recent preview of The Sims 3, which covers these new features, as well as the primary differences between The Sims 2 and The Sims 3.
[UPDATE 6 March, 2009: As mentioned in the comments section, Soviet Assault will be made available for separate purchase for those who already own the original game, as well as packed in as the Complete Edition, which will contain both the original World in Conflict and also the Soviet Assault expansion.]
Before we dive into our play session of World in Conflict: Soviet Assault, a quick history lesson:
2007's World in Conflict was an outstanding game took a very risky step with real-time strategy games, but once the game came out and everyone played it, people found themselves asking, "Why didn't someone do this before?" What World in Conflict actually did was combine the fast pace of real-time strategy games with the class-based, team-based, action of games like Battlefield 2. See, Battlefield 2 was a military team-based shooter where you would choose to play as a certain "class" of character, like a medic, an assault trooper, a sniper, and so on, and you teamed up with other players online who also chose different classes, then moved as a team (assuming no one was being a jackass) to capture key "control points" on the map before the opposing team, which was also composed of players who chose different classes, could snap up all the control points first.
The original World in Conflict from 2007.
World in Conflict basically took the same basic team-based, competitive concept and brought it to real-time strategy games; instead of playing a medic or a sniper, you might control only a tank platoon or a squad of attack choppers. Basically, when you played as a team, your whole team was like a traditional real-time strategy army with mixed forces (infantry, ground armor, artillery, air cavalry), but since you controlled only one squad, you were free to micromanage the heck out of them and focus on causing as much mayhem and destruction as possible with the game's tactical aids, like the almighty nuclear warhead. (World in Conflict was set in a fictitious war between the USA and the Soviet Union during the 1980s--the real Cold War never escalated to actual battlefield conflict, but in WIC, the simmering rivalry between the two nations becomes an actual war.)
The Russkies are coming in Soviet Assault.
This brings us to World in Conflict: Soviet Assault, an expansion for WIC that was originally planned for consoles, but is, for now, currently planned only for release on PC. Soviet Assault adds the actual Soviet faction as playable units and includes a whole bunch of new toys to play with, including Soviet armor, air vehicles, and units, as well as new tactical aids which you can see in action in this recent trailer. The Soviet units and new tac aids will be available in multiplayer, and will also be featured in the modified campaign. As you may have heard, Soviet Assault will be released as an all-in-one package that includes both the original game and also the expansion (so you won't need to dig out your old copy if you can't find it).
"Mr. Gorbachev...TEAR DOWN THIS WALL! Wait, what are all those tanks doing there?"
The single-player campaign in Soviet Assault will feature a handful of new campaign missions that you'll play from the perspective of the Soviets. The missions will actually be inserted in between the campaign missions of the original game where they're intended to make contextual sense (rather than a completely separate Soviet campaign). Missions will be broken up by in-engine cinematic cutscenes that show key characters discussing their missions and rallying the troops along the background story of the full campaign.
Expect to see plenty of stuff getting blown up in Soviet Assault.
The early campaign mission we played started off as a night ops mission in the highly contested area of West Berlin, Germany, which is currently staked out by American forces. As the Soviets, your first mission requires you to attack the American encampment, first by sending in stealthy infantry to quietly neutralize guards on foot so that you can take out a handful of antiair guns, then come rolling in with tanks. Ironically, the much-lauded 1989 teardown of the Berlin Wall does still happen in the 1980s in World in Conflict: Soviet Assault, but not as a result of joyous freedom-lovers taking a few swings with a symbolic sledgehammer, but in a hail of Soviet tank fire as your tank crews blast the wall in an explosive fusillade. We pushed forward with our tanks to help capture Berlin and begin the Russian invasion in earnest. In all cases, the powerful and quick camera controls of World in Conflict remain intact in Soviet Assault and let you quickly zoom and pan around the action to get the best view of what has just, or what is about to, burst into flames.
Soviet Assault's handful of single-player campaigns seem interesting, but like with the original World in Conflict, we assume that multiplayer will be where it's at. The expansion (which will be both sold separately, and also packed with the original game as World in Conflict: Complete Edition) is scheduled to ship later this year.
The 2006 real-time strategy game Company of Heroes for PC offered a fresh new approach to real-time strategy games that went way beyond chopping wood or building up a bunch of arbitrary buildings so you could get to create tanks, or magic ogres, or whatever. It was pretty much all tactical, and took place during real battles of World War II, gave you some mission objectives and a handful of soldiers to guide into battle, then basically let you get to it. You needed to make smart use of cover to not get mowed down by machine gun fire; and lay down covering fire to pin down your enemies to suppress them to either delay their advance or flank them with another squad. And a lot of cover was fully destructible, including buildings, which could be used garrison soldiers, but would also go up in spectacular explosions if satchel charged. 2007 brought with it Opposing Fronts, a standalone expansion that added two new campaigns and some new stuff to play with, and now, in 2009, we can look forward to the pending release of Tales of Valor , a brand-new standalone expansion with three new campaigns, new multiplayer vehicles, and a new firing control scheme. Matter of fact, we just played an early version of the game and messed with the new campaigns. Please note: These are our quickie impressions of the early missions in the new campaigns.
Scenes of explosions and carnage like this will be common in Tales of Valor, the second standalone expansion for Company of Heroes.
The expansion's three campaigns are Tiger Ace, which we've covered previously; Causeway, which covers the adventures of an American paratrooper squad around the La Fiere causeway in France; and Falaise Pocket, an Axis campaign that covers the adventures of a squad of German troops who must aid ground operations on the Western Front.
Both campaigns have a baptism-by-fire start with plenty of ground action. Causeway, in particular, starts with fierce anti-infantry action as you start the mission with one squad of paratroopers and attempt to rendezvous with a second in hostile territory, constantly coming under fire by entrenched Axis soldiers. One squad contains riflemen who can use the expansion's new "direct fire" control scheme to focus-fire on tougher enemy targets, such as small vehicles; the other is a commando squad with grenades and satchel charges, and the skills of both seem required to leapfrog from cover to cover while occasionally blasting the living daylights out of any garrisoned buildings or any Axis vehicles.
Achtung! The expansion has several Axis campaigns where you'll play as the Jerries, as well.
The Falaise Pocket campaign starts with a squad of Axis engineers who must first construct an anti-air MG-88 emplacement to counter Allied airstrikes; then alert a handful of dozing Axis soldiers about the encroaching assault of, what else, American paratroopers. The early missions in this campaign seem more focused on recon than out-and-out assaults and should provide a good amount of variety for players who can't get enough of Company of Heroes' toy-soldiers-like gameplay.
Tales of Valor seems very solid so far and should make a great addition to any Company of Heroes fan's game library when it ships out in April.
Warhawk's got some snazzy new additions coming its way. I got to sit down with Dylan Jobe from Incognito Studios to talk about the new Warhawk Command Center in PlayStation Home. Traditionally (as traditional as a few months can get), Sony's Home is a place you go to outside of your games. You might go there to tool around in your apartment, talk to some folks, or partake in the ever popular dance parties. Or you might not go there at all. With the addition of the Warhawk Command Center, Home turns into a hub, and we think Incognito's got the right tack on this one.
If you've started an online game you generally hop to a server browser and click away. The new Warhawk Command Center fills that role and much more in a war room/lobby of sorts. The Spartan design, industrial fittings, and large sky lights make it an airy, almost cheery place. As you enter, on either side of your character you'll find large monitors. When we saw them they were empty, but Incognito said they'd be filled with videos, and later on leader-board stats. Shoot enough folks down and you'll be immortalized on the walls. In the middle of the room you'll find learning terminals with tips and strategies. Other spots in the large room were mostly for eye candy.
The real draw of the Command Center will be the sand table. Incognito refers to it as "tactical furniture". (Sign me up for a battle stool.) It's really a fully interactive, and rather swankily done, strategy table. Every map from the game, including the ones from boosters, will be on there and you'll have the option of laying down markers for tanks, planes, infantry and more. If you're a fan of drawing arrows and fancy multi-stage attack plans you certainly won't be disappointed. Other players will see what you're doing in real time and you can hash it out until you get it right. To keep things sane, you'll be the one in control of the table unless you let other folks in on the strategery action.
As well as being able to hash out battle plans, you'll be able to launch games directly from within the Command Center. You'll get access to the usual game setup options and the added ability to put all your buddies on the same team so you can duke it out with the world at large. Launching the game makes Home seamlessly flip you over to the action. Once the match is over, it'll plunk you back into Command Center so you can figure out what went wrong with those carefully laid out plans.
The Command Center is a work in progress and Jobe mentioned that there are numerous features that have yet to be incorporated including the ability to save and load strategy sessions on the sand table.
What do you get when a bunch of groggy, half hung-over game developers, publishers and press come together? Why it's DICE Day 2, of course! Lots of tired folks shuffling around the floor of the Red Rock Casino and Hotel, looking for whatever food they could get their hands on and then filing into the Summerlin ballroom to watch a set of session that, ironically, were a bit more lively than yesterday's.
Top of the heap was Bethesda's Todd Howard's amusing, inspiring and LOLcats-packed presentation on the making of Fallout 3. During his presentation, Howard compared game development to the action of leaping over babies (complete with photograph); a delicate, demanding, and dangerous task and one where the slightest mistake can result in catastrophe. Much like Bruce Shelley's Ensemble post-mortem from Thursday, Howard stressed the importance of a tight-knit team of developers working together, putting special emphasis on maintaining a "low a#@hole quotient" within the team.
Media Molecule's Alex Evans followed Howard on stage, and appeared more than a bit overwhelmed by the tremendous success of MM's LittleBigPlanet at the previous nights' AIAS Awards. During his talk, Evans discussed the process or reinvention and iteration that was involved in the creation of LBP and its in-depth user-creation tools. Evans pointed out that, while user-generated content is nothing new to videogames--the big struggle for Media Molecule was to find where LittleBigPlanet's tools fit into the UGC spectrum. Eventually the team landed on the idea of "being playful"--in other words making the creation of games and levels in LBP just as enjoyable as playing the game itself.
Beyond the most cursory of glances at the style-maker in the Sims 3, there was much in the way of new gameplay to check out during today's sessions. However, Nintendo's senior director of project development Tom Prata did give folks a look at an upcoming DS Ware application called Moving Memo for the upcoming Nintendo DSi. Already out in Japan, this cool-looking little app will let you do everything from write and save memos to create animations from simple drawings you scribble on your touchscreen, add sound to it and create your own little miniature animated movies. You can even take video (albeit a grainy black-and-white) using the DSi's camera and then draw on top of your video for some pretty funny effects. No price or full reveal date was announced but I'd guess it would be released some time around the DSi's retail debut in April.
More Day 2 Tidbits:
- According to Media Molecule's Alex Evans, the development studio that created LittleBigPlanet was originally known as brainfluff.
- From Todd Howard: Fallout 3 contains more than one million words and 50 hours of recorded dialogue. And that's presumably not counting the DLC content. Impressively, all of that content was managed by just two developers.
- In his session, Alex Evans once again showed off the first working demos of what would eventually become LittleBigPlanet. At that time, the game was known as Craftworld and the demo didn't focus on the user-generated content or the rich art style. Instead the demo was meant to show off the expressive nature of the game's controls. At that point, Sackboy wasn't even a sack; just a boxy looking, primary colored, geometric approximation.
- According to Kyle Gabler, one half of 2D Boy (the development duo behind last year's World of Goo), the game cost $10,000 to make.
- The creation tools in LittleBigPlanet went through at least three major revisions, according to Alex Evans. At first, creation was done with in-game objects (such a fire hose that might spray water or some other substance, or a hair dryer that would melt down objects). The devs scrapped that idea and moved to a cross-media bar-type tool before settling down with the "stamp" concept for creation that they ended up with.
- During his session, Raven's co-founder Brian Raffel related a story regarding the early days of the Madison, Wisconsin-based development studio. When studio execs began searching for a strategic partner, representatives from one of the first companies to approach Raven decided to arrive in Madison--presumably looking to fit in with the locals--wearing flannel shirts, down vests, and blue jeans. Needless to say, they didn't get the deal.
Codemasters had its very first gamer's day yesterday in San Francisco, where it showed off its lineup of games for the year. In between all the racing games and shooters, there were not one but three different versions of Overlord--none of which was a port. All are scheduled to be released on the same day in June--which date exactly we don't know yet, but Overlord is bound to show up on at least one of your favorite gaming platforms.
Overlord II (PS3 / Xbox 360 / PC)
We recently had a chance to check out Overlord II at the New York Comic-Con (embedded below for your convenience), but last night we got to see some new areas and new features that have been added.
The overlord in his new icy underground lair.
Overlord II is a sequel to the first game, in which you wreak as much havoc as you possibly can as the budding new overlord. To help you achieve this are your minions, which come in the same four flavors of wickedness: brown, red, blue, and green. They function just like in the original, where each color has a specialty, whether it's hurling fireballs or the ability to swim. You'll also have an arsenal of new spells so that you can get off your lazy overlord butt and jump in on the action a bit more. In our demo last night, we explored a gorgeous snowy landscape, complete with a yeti who, oddly enough, behaves very much like Donkey Kong. We were told that everything that is cute and cuddly can be destroyed as we watched the minions approach an adorable white seal. Pandas will also be featured in the game, so animal-rights activists might want to look the other way. We watched as the overlord raided an igloo camp like it was built out of Styrofoam and freed angry-looking wolves that were kept in cages. After freeing the soon-to-be mounts, the minions will hop on and go for a ride. Before we knew it, the entire army was on mounts, ready to take on anything. Another cool feature that comes with the mount is the ability to jump, so you can send your slaves to the other side of a stream to bring down a drawbridge. You'll never have to get your feet wet.
The game is full of parodies--the more obvious one is of the Roman Empire. We saw minions dressed up as centurions, using catapults to launch giant boulders. We were told that at some point you'll be on a ship, with your minions lined up neatly, rowing in beat with a drummer. If you want them to row faster, just beat the drummer (that's one way to get things done). There are also minion-only side quests to take on, if you want to spend some quality time without the overlord getting in the way. Since the game is really about your little gremlin slaves, there is a slight possibility that you'll get attached to a particular one donning an attractive hat. When your minions die, they are sent to the graveyard so you can mourn their passing or resurrect them from the dead. You must, however, sacrifice a minion of equal or lesser value to bring back your favorite.
If you've played the original Overlord, the controls should feel familiar. We didn't get any hands-on time with this one, but from what we saw, it seems to be coming along really well. The environments look great, and with the updated engine that now includes physics, you'll be able to watch in satisfaction as your minions destroy everything in their path.
Overlord Dark Legend (Wii)
Management games have always worked better on a PC because of the mouse, but now with the Wii, you can direct your minions with precision and hack your way through farm animals without breaking a sweat. Overlord Dark Legend is a prequel to the original Overlord, going back to when the overlord was 16 and trying to find his true evil self. The first thing we noticed was that there was a cartoony look and feel to game, making it more comical than it already was. There will be references to popular fairy tales that fit in nicely with the dreamy and magical environment. To add to the personality and charm of the game, your minions will be sporting a variety of goofy-looking hats as they obediently follow you around.
"Say that to my face, squirt."
From what we played, the game retains the comical feel of its predecessor, and it all seems very familiar except for the controls. The camera is still a work-in-progress though. As of right now you use the C button to reset it behind you, but if you hold it you can pan around with the Wii Remote. You melee with the Z button, and the remote is reserved for your minions. Using the B button, you can target and send a minion off to go do something. The A button will reel the minion back in, and if you use the A and B buttons together while pointing up, you can pick up a minion and throttle its neck. Shake the remote until the minion's eyes bug out, and then let go and watch it become an explosive projectile. Poor minion. At least they come in handy when you need to blow up a road block.
To get a feel for the controls, we messed around in the charming countryside, sending minions after large bugs. We eventually wandered into a lovely narrow canyon, passing by spawn points occasionally to call up more minions with a quick press of the A button. Using the pointer, we would point at an enemy or large obstacle and fire the trigger button. Each press of the B button will send an additional minion, so you can easily send a couple one way and fire off a few more down another path. The D pad is used to select minion types, so you can gather all the brown ones, for instance, and send them off in one direction.
While Overlord Dark Legend can't compete visually against Overlord II on the Xbox 360 and PS3, it still looks mighty impressive on the Wii with its charming and colorful visuals that give off a warm and magical glow.
For some gameplay footage, check out our latest video from New York Comic-Con.
Overlord Minions (DS)
Overlord Minions takes a different approach by letting you control one of each minion type with your stylus on the Nintendo DS. You play as the overlord, but your presence onscreen isn't necessary since the goal here is to get your minions through each level. The stages are designed to be played in short spurts, making the game easy to pick up and play. We had an opportunity to see it last year at Codemasters' HQ, but last night we were able to get a feel for how the game is going to work.
Always causing trouble.
Depending on the level, you'll have access to two to four minions. You can control all of them at the same time by swiping your stylus over their icons to the right side of the touch screen, or you can control them individually by picking one and leaving the others behind. The levels are like a maze, with obstacles and puzzles in between the starting point and the finish line. Keeping in mind each minion's talents--for example, the blue minion can heal and travel across streams--you can plan a careful strategy to get to the finish line.
Everything is stylus driven, and to get rid of enemies, just slide your stylus through your minions, and they'll claw their way to victory. Most of the game is focused on puzzles, however, and the story is told through still art in between stages. So far things are looking pretty good. The gameplay is fun and different from the series, and it looks nice on the DS.
Side note: If you're a fan of the humor and the writing, you should be happy to know that Rhianna Pratchett, the original story writer, is back again for all three Overlord games.
Let's face it, we all have the urge to boss little monsters around and this might be the best way to do it. Look for all three Overlord games when they ship sometime in June.
We're here in Las Vegas for the annual DICE Summit. Unlike the hectic E3 and Tokyo Game Show atmosphere, DICE is one of the more relaxing events on the annual events calendar; partially because there's not much in the way of new gaming news. Instead it's a chance for game developers to get away from the office, rub elbows with their peers, and trade ideas. By the looks of things, and unlike last month's underwhelming CES turnout, DICE's attendance numbers seems to be pretty much on par with last year's event. Here's some highlights from the first day:
- I spent the morning checking out Singularity, Raven's new time-bending first person shooter. I've got a pretty lengthy preview up on the site and plan on following the game closely as it leads up to release later this year. Here's hoping the game--with its trippy time-altering mechanic--doesn't merely end up being "Fracture with time travel."
- Ricardo had a chance to see the new Fallout 3 DLC and EA announced (but didn't show) a new Alice game . Other than that--and a sneak peek at Sony's Eye-Toy-powered EyePet family game (more on that in a bit), there wasn't much in the way of new game news.
- With a relative lack of games to cover, the rest of my day was spent checking out some of the sessions that populate both days of the DICE summit.
- I can't fully nail down why I enjoy watching ex-Shiny head Dave Perry talk, but I really do. During his session today, Perry essentially updated a session he presented at Leipzig last year--even with some of the same photos he'd taken from his travels to game development studios and conventions in Korea and China. Still, his relentless focus on what he views as the future of gaming--community-based, free to play, micro-transaction driven games--is refreshing in a gaming industry that too often is dominated in the present-day ever-escalating arms race between Sony and Microsoft.
One thing's for sure, Perry is a great self-promoter. During his talk, he pimped no less than five of his current projects--everything from a community watchdog site of sorts called ReputationShare to his consultancy business, as well as the design book he was writing, and several other projects. It's obvious that Perry has his fingers in a lot of pots and, based on his statement today that he would never develop another single-player game, it seems he's fully intent on making those alternate interests his focus for years to come.
- My niece would love EyePet, the upcoming PS3 Eye Toy game from Sony Europe. During a session titled "Social Gaming: The European Perspective", Sony's Mike Haigh showed off a trailer for the family game which features an animated monkey like creature that you can interact with on-screen. In addition to giving your pet some affection, you can also interact with him using something called a magic card--essentially a card that you hold up to the camera and can be transformed in the virtual world on screen into any number of things, including a food container, a model airplane, and more. Your virtual pet can interact with the object you create--in one instance, the little creature was flying around on a virtual plane. No release date was given for EyePet but, I'm guessing it can't get here fast enough for the five-and-under set.
- The most sobering session of the day had to be Bruce Shelley's honest and somber post-mortem of Ensemble Studios , the recently shuttered RTS development house he helped build from the ground up. During the half-hour presentation, Shelley presented a matter-of-fact account of the things Ensemble did well (creating a close-knit working environment and developing games that over-delivered, content-wise) and not-so-well (failing to diversify the studio's portfolio, not downsizing when projects were cancelled, etc.).
It's hard not to reflect on the Ensemble post-mortem in light of the current economic climate and see it as anything but a warning signal to other developers out there. The sudden closure of the studio came as a shock to Shelley and the rest of the Ensemble team who, according to Shelley, were convinced that the studio's direction was strategically sound.
I wonder how many other development studios feel the same way right now?
Still, some good comes out of the Ensemble closure. The rise of two new studios--Robot Entertainment and Bonfire Studios--comprised of former Ensemble talent, is reason for optimism. Considering the combined experience of the people that comprise those studios, here's hoping the hard-earned lessons that Shelley outlined today will result in the same mistakes not being made twice.
If you hadn't heard, Empire: Total War is coming. This massive game will build on the foundations of the Total War series, which combines turn-based strategic elements (like managing your cities, oppressing peasants, establishing trade routes, oppressing peasants, researching new technologies, researching new peasant-opressing technologies, and diplomacy) and massive real-time battles. This time around, Empire will offer the huge land battles everyone has come to expect from the series (but with more emphasis on muskets and cannon), along with real-time naval battles that are genuinely affected by the realistic physics engine that developer Creative Assembly has built for the series.
These cannons were made for firin'. And that's just what they'll do in Empire: Total War.
We started our session with a few quick real-time battles that are started from the game's conventional multiplayer interface, which lets you host, join, and search for games from a single screen. Empire will support networked play as well as online play over Steam and will actually take your Steam ID into account and let you sync up with players on your Steam friends list and such. Quick multiplayer battles seem to run about the same way they have in previous games--prior to diving into battle, you'll pick and choose from whichever forces you care to bring into battle using a weighted point system to make sure each player is bringing in about the same amount of firepower (unless you're one of those manly men who prefer to give your opponents a handicap). You then set your armies in place in a timed deployment phase, and after that, you're off.
Prior to starting up a match, you can also set weather conditions; things like wind direction may affect the way ballistics work on land. But wind direction and wind levels, as well as general sea conditions, can have a profound effect on naval skirmishes. Because Empire's physics engine models the weight and mass of ships, as well as the effect of wind on the size and number of sails on a ship, speed and maneuverability become a lot more important on choppy seas. Of course, it's ideal to have the wind at your back filling your sails, while attempting to sail straight into the wind will bring your ship almost to a standstill. Standing still in water isn't always a bad thing, though. Based on what we can tell from our limited time with the game, Empire's naval battles seem to do a good job of capturing the feeling of being on a ship that's powered primarily by whatever winds happen to be blowing. Since there were no nuclear engines or turbo boosts back in the Age of Sail, your best bet is to drop anchor to stop your ship's forward motion, and you'll need to do this if a damaged enemy craft is on a collision course for the hull of one of your prized ships, because a good, solid ramming with a heavy battleship can do serious damage.
Our naval battle went fairly well for us; the highlight of the match was the utter devastation of our opponent's smallest ship as we first killed off his admiral with a grapeshot volley, then encircled our foe with our two largest craft, delivering simultaneous broadsides to both port and starboard hulls with standard cannons that smashed up and crippled our target. We felt pretty proud of ourselves going into our land battle, so much so that we decided to go easy on cannons and load up on swift cavalry to overwhelm our opponent, who may or may not have been a polite and accommodating British staff member of Creative Assembly, and who may or may not have let us win the naval battle. And in the land battle, our opponent may or may not also have been polite enough to show us how effective long-distance artillery is on clustered squads of faraway cavalry (here's a hint: It's really effective in killing your cavalry), after which point we may or may not have dropped out of the game, probably not due to bad sportsmanship or anything, but probably because of some kind of network issue. Yes...yes, that sounds believable.
From there, we headed off to try out a single-player campaign, which includes all the game's many nations with the exception of the United States of America (which must be unlocked from the Test of Time campaign's third chaper--a chapter that tells the tale of the American Revolution) and of the Native American nations, which won't be playable in the game out-of-box but will likely be made playable in short order, considering the industrious and clever fan base for this game (a fan base that's clearly clever and handsome enough to leave many positive comments on this blog post). Native American tribal nations...a naval superpower? It's more likely than you think, apparently.
You'll be able to choose a variety of different ways to hoodwink and oppress your citizens.
In our single-player game, we started playing as the royal nation of England, a well-balanced faction with holdings in both Europe and the New World, specifically island nations such as Jamaica and a tiny trading post in modern-day Canada (then known as "Mooseland"), along with a tiny, obscure protectorate consisting of, like, 12 or 13 colonies (or something). Empire has three primary theaters--Europe, the New World, and India. At the start of the campaign, Britain doesn't have any inroads into India, though other sides, such as the Dutch, have access to the near East (and its trade commodities, such as spices--all tradable goods, whether spices, sugar, coffee, or tobacco, will trade on an in-game commodities market whose prices fluctuate each turn and are determined by geographical, technological, and social needs).
Being unable to immediately find the "Oppress Peasants" button (hopefully Creative Assembly fixes this problem immediately), we settled on a plan of economic expansion by way of building up each of our holdings along dual lines of agriculture/population growth (researching such technologies as animal husbandry, which increases food production), and also civic happiness (by building structures such as opera houses), with the thinking that a happier populace early on would provide an early-game production boost and would also experience even more-severe, more-crushing misery and oppression when we clicked and dragged on the "increase taxes" slider and cranked it all the way up later.
You may have noticed that the overland map view in Empire has changed from previous games in a number of ways. Civic structures such as farms and trading posts now appear outside of your main cities, rather than being hidden inside the walls of a single, central location. This change was apparently made to encourage defensive players to be more vigilant and to encourage aggressive players to be more proactive about harrying their rivals, since farms, mines, and other juicy targets of opportunity now lie outside city walls. We dutifully sank all our cash into expanding and improving our holdings' economic infrastructure, with the result being gradually increasing cash reserves and some "trait" enhancements for our military officers, whose inactivity caused them to seek entertainment (and +1 morale bonuses) at the local tavern, though from the looks of it, further inactivity would have caused them to develop somewhat less-savory traits. Fortunately, military training has been streamlined in Empire such that once you research new formations and tactics, you won't have to march your armies back to town to train them; they'll have automatically acquired your new strategems, and you can continue to confidently march forward to war.
We figured our path of peaceful self-development was a can't-fail proposition (after all, who would dare oppose the mighty crown of England? France? Portugal? That little group of 15 colonies, or whatever? Not likely!). Britain starts off in a fairly strong diplomatic position, being either neutral or friendly with a great majority of the Old World powers and already having existing trade agreements with them. Empire's diplomacy interface lets you peacefully negotiate (or threaten for) whichever diplomatic condition you wish, such as trade of goods/territories/technologies, open borders, military alliances, and so on. The interface has a color-coded world map that shows your standing with other nations at a glance. Nations that are bright green are quite friendly, and nations that are bright red are quite hostile. You can hover your mouse over any nation on the map to receive an at-a-glance status report on the various conditions that contribute to your neighbors' attitude; if you have trade agreements, military agreements, or have helped them in the past, you'll have a certain number of positive points. If you've committed hostile actions such as declaring war or declaring allegiances with your neighbors' enemies, you'll have a certain number of negative points, and the total of your points determines how well-liked you are or aren't.
Unfortunately, the wandering pirates of the Carribean, the game's most nonpolitical faction,disagreed with us and hijacked one of our smaller merchant fleets in the Bahamas. Sadly, because this was the early part of our game and we hadn't made any significant investments into our navy, we were easily defeated, though we went out with a bang. In the real-time naval battle we fought, the pirates had our capital ship on the ropes, smashing up the hull with cannonballs and then opening up another fusillade that happened to hit our ships' powder kegs--this is a random event that's much more likely to happen to a severely damaged ship. But as it turned out, even though our ship went up in a fiery explosion, the prevailing wind currents spread the fire to the other pirate ships, which were already severely damaged. One actually routed (retreated due to a morale break); the other sank our final ship. So, at least we went out in a blaze of glory. We're told, however, that in every campaign, the pirates will have a hidden, randomly located base somewhere in the Caribbean that thorough seafaring players can attempt to seek and destroy.
Pirates off the port bow? We'll be sure to take that under advisement as we flee madly in the opposite direction.
Empire: Total War will finally be released in the next few weeks. Keep an eye on GameSpot for a full review in the near future. We'll also have a new trailer for you shortly.
So we're here at the 2009 DICE Summit in Las Vegas and Bethesda had a suite set up to show off the upcoming DLC for Fallout 3, The Pitt. So, unlike the last DLC for Fallout, Operation Anchorage, which is set before the events of Fallout 3, The Pitt is set during the events of the game. You're contacted by a slave named Wernher who's managed to escape his captors. The guy's pretty needy and asks you to help him retrieve a cure for mutations from the Pitt leader. The request translates into a nice, meaty quest that's chock-full of the stuff people want out of Fallout: moral ambiguity, mystery, exploration, and plenty of opportunities to shoot things.
The demo we played started out just after you kick off the quest line and have travelled, via rail, to the Pitt entrance with Wernher. He helps you deal with raiders as you head to the entrance and offers many fun and exciting tips about what to expect in the Pitt.
Here's the biggest problem: Your best bet to get in is to look like a slave, so this means giving up all your worldly possessions. We tried this a few ways and got the option to try and sneak a gun or a knife in (always handy when going undercover) before deciding to try our luck with just our wits. After a bit of walking, we got to the bridge leading into Pittsburgh and navigated through some low-key hazards: mines, dogs, and some raiders that didn't pose too much of a problem. Things changed when we got closer to the chain link fence and saw a small group of slaves trying to escape.
We'll be honest, we got a little trigger happy and plugged a few of 'em full of lead. (What? They surprised us, and it was dark.). The upshot to the accidental killing was that we got a slave uniform (an optional quest) that we could wear while trying to get in. The guard was appropriately disparaging and shoved us on to the Pitt, after taking all of our stuff.
Once we went through the doors, we got a look at the uninviting hell that is Pittsburgh.* We explored an outdoor courtyard area that had slaves and raiders interacting. Most slaves were working while being harassed by raiders; as we were wandering, we actually saw a pair of workers get harassed, then killed by a raider. We went on to explore different areas: downtown, uptown, and the mill. We also had a chance to mingle with our fellow slaves. Chatting up folks painted a unique picture of life there, with some slaves being resigned, even happy, about their current lot in life, while others appeared to be plotting some kind of revolutionary action. We're big fans of the promise of moral ambiguity in the content; you'll eventually have to decide if you're going to help the slaves or partner up with raiders and do some oppressing.
*(By that, we mean, Pittsburgh in Fallout 3. In Fallout 3.)
Unsurprisingly the Pitt has a pretty bleak and oppressive feel to it, which comes through clearly from a visual perspective. The slaves look pretty messed up, the raiders are spooky, and the environment has got that very special "exploded yet lived-in" you've probably come to expect from Fallout. Overall the Pitt's looking cool, and we're really anxious to download it when it gets released this March; so we probably won't feel too bad about forking over the 800 points for the Xbox 360 version. There's a fair chunk of content such as new weapons, plus achievements and perks, so there's a lot to like.