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On-Message, Off The Mark

Do you enjoy being fed your gaming information through well-rehearsed prepared remarks? If so, the Electronic Entertainment Expo is for you! During this week in June every year, executives from Microsoft, Sony, Nintendo, and others get up on stage in grand fashion and read pre-written speeches, delivering on-message remarks aimed at getting you excited about their upcoming games and products. This happened at every presentation this week, but there was one notable exception, and it came from an unlikely source.

StoneParker_81057_640screen.jpg

During Microsoft's briefing Monday morning, South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone emerged on stage to talk about their upcoming role-playing game with THQ and Obsidian, South Park: The Stick of Truth. Instead of reading off a teleprompter and delivering planned out lines, the duo ad-libbed, and even poked fun at the event host, Microsoft. Parker mocked Microsoft's super-connected Xbox approach just minutes after the company officially confirmed the Xbox SmartGlass tablet. Here's what he had to say:

"How many times have you been watching an episode of South Park and thought:
'I'd like to be able to watch this on my television while hooked into my mobile device, which is being controlled by my tablet device, which is hooked into my oven, all while sitting in the refrigerator?' Parker jokingly asked the audience. "Well, we're not doing that. We're just doing this game."

This brief respite from the ongoing barrage of prepared remarks from executives like Phil Spencer, Yusuf Medhi, and others during Microsoft's presentation was more than enough to make me smile throughout a presentation that kept me largely stone-faced. Parker and Stone may have had that line planned in advance (they are, after all, comedic geniuses), but it didn't come across that way. It came across as spontaneous and genuine, two adjectives I never thought I'd associate with E3.

I understand why publishers and developers want to be on-message. They have a product to sell. And delivering a consistent message to fans and press is a means to that end. But being so strictly tied to a message can be problematic. In doing so, these people become corporate robots. They make me feel like I'm a consumer, rather than a gamer. Whether or not that's an issue of semantics is irrelevant, because I want executives to talk directly to me, a gamer. I understand that they have a boss to answer to, one who demands increased profits year in, year out. But I don't care about that. I care about the games. And I have a sneaking suspicion, you do, too.

Who I Am and What I Do Here.

My name is Eddie Makuch, and I will be assisting the GameSpot newsdesk, working to bring you the news of the video game industry you so dearly admire. I have long believed that the strength and integrity of the newsdesk is a reflection of the publication itself. In keeping with that mentality, I will do my very best as an Assistant News Editor at GameSpot to work to my fullest, displaying integrity and professionalism in every endeavor I embark upon. It's a tall task for anyone, but if I do not hold myself to the highest of standards, then why do it at all?

If you're interested in some background about me, here it is. I first joined GameSpot in the summer of 2010 as the team's News intern. It was a trying summer. I came from a blog-style writing background, and I had to distance myself from this mentality in every approach. It was a humbling experience, and one that has molded me into a stronger, more reasoned writer.

After that summer came to a close, my internship, however, did not. I continued contributing to the GameSpot newsdesk during my junior year of college. Thankfully, my classes were all in the afternoon, so I was able to give 3 hours to GameSpot every morning, writing about everything from the Call of Duty trial to World of Warcraft. I was kind of living a double life, which was rather exciting. By morning, a video game news reporter, by afternoon, a college student.

When summer 2011 rolled around, I was offered the same intern position at GameSpot, and I was quick to accept the gig. Summer 2011 brought many new experiences to my desk. I traveled with the team to E3, Comic-Con, and other industry events. At these places I worked to break news, interview executives, and soak in the atmosphere of the occasions. I was granted greater responsibility in the summer of 2011, and it was exciting to rise to the challenge.

But that summer, too, came to an end, and I returned to college. While newsman Tom was away in Spain on vacation, I helped out the newsdesk for two weeks. Then, a full-time position opened up at the company--one for an Assistant News Editor. I sprung at the opportunity, and I was again beyond excited when I was told the job was mine.

My task, then, was to finish school. I was able to do this, and graduated with a Communication degree from Keene State College on December 16. After a few weeks at home, I packed my bags, moved in to a new apartment, and now I work for GameSpot full time!

Now it's time to put my head down and work alongside Brendan and Tom to make GameSpot News everything we know it can be. If you have any questions about anything mentioned above, please leave a comment here. Also, feel free to follow my ramblings on Twitter @EddieMakuch

2011 Video Game Awards predictions

The 2011 Video Game Awards are taking place this Saturday at 8 p.m. EST on Spike, MTV 2, and will also be streamed online. And though the event may be a two-hour commercial, we shouldn't forget that the Oscars--arguably the most prestigious awards in entertainment--are handed out at the Kodak Theatre, which isin a mall.

I love video games, and to reminiscence about the years that was, and celebrate the best games, is a fun experience for me on the second Saturday in December.

Below are my predictions for my favorite categories, not all.

Game of the Year.

Nominees: Batman: Arkham City, Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception, Elder Scrolls V: Skryim, Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, and Portal 2.

I believe Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim will win this category, but a selection of Skyward Sword would not surprise me. The sheer buzz around Skyrim was like nothing I've ever experienced. Everyone was/continues to talk about the game. People I didn't even know played video games were posting Facebook statuses like "Skipping my History class to learn some real History...in Skyrim."

Studio of the Year.

Nominees: Bethesda, Naughty Dog, Rocksteady, and Valve.

I foresee Bethesda nabbing this award, as well, forming a powerful one-two punch of Game of the Year and Studio of the Year.

Best PS3 Game.

Nominees: InFamous 2, Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception, Killzone 3, LittleBigPlanet2.

I don't feel any true forerunner in this category, but I do think Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception will win here. The nominees are all fantastic, but I can't shake the feeling that the voters view Uncharted 3 as pure gold.

Best Xbox 360 Game.

Nominees: Gears of War 3, Portal 2, Forza MotorSport 4, Batman: Arkham City.

I would like Portal 2 or Arkham City to win this category, but I think Gears of War 3 will take the crown. The game was so very polished and a truly excellent send-off for the trilogy.

Best Wii Game...Not even going to bother writing out nominees. Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword will win here.

Best Shooter.

Nominees: Rage, Battlefield 3, Modern Warfare 3, Gears of War 3.

I think Rage and Gears can be immediately written off here, leaving the battle that's been hyped for this entire year: Battlefield 3 vs. Modern Warfare 3. I think Modern Warfare 3 will win this category, because it is a refined, polished, and very, very fun shooter with huge mass-market appeal. Wouldn't be surprised if Battlefield 3 wins, though.

Best Song in a Game.

Nominees: "Build that Wall (Zia's Theme)," from Bastion, "Exile Villify" from Portal 2, "I'm not calling you a liar," from Dragon Age II, and "Setting Sail, Coming Home (End Theme)" also from Bastion.

I love music so much, and 2011 was wonderful to gamers with an ear for in-game tunes. I think the winner will be "Setting Sail, Coming Home (End Theme)" by Darren Korb from Bastion. Have you heard that song?It is fantastic.

For the rest of the categories and nominees, check out the official2011 Video Game Awards page.

My Most Anticipated Unannounced Games

The intense fall release season is currently operating at full tilt. Last week saw the release of Uncharted 3, and this coming week gamers will get the hugely hyped Modern Warfare 3 and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Needless to say, it's a busy, exciting time. But I'd rather talk today about what we don't know. Here are my most anticipated unannounced games.

The Re-Birth of Tony Hawk.

Despite less-than-stellar critical reception and sales for the past two Tony Hawk games--Ride and Shred--Activision said in April of last year that Tony Hawk has the staying power of basketball phenom Michael Jordan. That statement, coupled with the Birdman's own admission that a new Tony Hawk game is "probably" happening in 2012, make a new game in the series all but a foregone conclusion.

Mr. 900 flies again? This time more successfully?

Who will develop the new Tony Hawk game and how will it play? My crystal ball says Chicago-based Robodomo will handle development duties, and that Activision will bring something serious and compelling to the table. After two shortfalls, you've got to think some quality brainstorming sessions yielded positive results.

I won't say that this future Tony Hawk game should ditch the plastic skateboard altogether, only that I think it would be wise for Tony Hawk: Reborn (as I'll call it) to offer multiple controller input options. If the developer's fine tune the peripheral, and it works well with the game, that's fantastic. But if I want to play with a standard Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 controller, please allow me that, too.

In terms of gameplay, I'm hoping Tony Hawk: Reborn provides a massive, open-world with story and side-missions, just like the classic entries in the series. I really hope the zany, over-the-top, huge point multipliers return as well. Oh, and the soundtrack must be top-notch, and packed with not only classic rap, but punk, and hardcore. Could it be a Tony Hawk game without that?

Neversoft's Shooter.

Speaking of Tony Hawk...this one has puzzled and perplexed me for a while. Job listings at the Activision-owned studio stemming back over a year reveal that the studio is at work on a shooter with multiplayer to boot. The California-based studio, made famous for its work on the first (and best) Tony Hawk games, as well as the Guitar Hero franchise, is no stranger to the shooter genre. The studio created Xbox 360 launch title Gun in 2005, which was actually quite fun and exciting. But what is the studio up to now?

Neversoft is making another shooter.

It's no secret Activision is in love with the Call of Duty franchise, tapping some five studios for simultaneous work on the shooter franchise: Beachhead (Elite), Treyarch, Infinity Ward, Sledgehammer Games, and Raven Software. Could Neversoft be the latest? If so, could the studio be working on the Call of Duty MMO for Asia?

The job listings in question shed little light on the scenario, but hopeful Eddie wishes that Neversoft is at work on a new intellectual property. This could take any shape or form, because Neversoft's development history is hardly tied to any specific genre.

Bungie's Game with Activision.

I don't know how this happened, but somehow I'm writing only about Activision products. What does that say about me? Anyway. I think Bungie's new universe with Activision is by far the most compelling unannounced property out there right now. We've heard teases of MMO-esque qualities for the game, currently codenamed Tiger, but we have no solid ground to tread on.

A first look inside Bungie's new world?

It's reasonable to believe Bungie's new game will be a shooter, given the developer's lineage, but what will it look like? How will it play? If it is to be a shooter/MMO hybrid, just how will that work, in terms of gameplay and monetization? Will the masses of "Activision haters" re-pledge their allegiance once the Bungie game is revealed? These are all questions to which I have no answers.

Respawn-ing With Electronic Arts.

When Jason West and Vince Zampella were fired from Activision and formed their own outfit--Respawn Entertainment--the world knew it would hear more from the popular pair (and not just through the litigious imbroglio with their former employer). Now that the studio has inked a publishing deal with Electronic Arts, formed and populated a website, and offered a teasing image (below), it's time to speculate as to what the team is at work on. Like Bungie, some sort of shooter seems more than likely. But questions still abound: are the sci-fi rumors true? Will in-game jabs be made at Activision? Will the game receive critical and commercial reception anywhere near similar to that of the Call of Duty franchise? Given that the studio is still quite young, it's likely we won't hear much about their project for some time. Bummer.

Expect Respawn to bring more clarity

Grand Theft Auto V thoughts

It's not every day the day-to-day happenings of the video game industry permeate mainstream culture as heavily as they did today. This afternoon I received a text message from a friend that simply read, "GTAV TRAILOR!! [sic]." He later dejectedly responded acknowledging his excitement got the best of him and that the trailer (with an E) was not scheduled to arrive until next Wednesday. Tuesday, October 25 was the day Rockstar Games officially announced the existence of Grand Theft Auto V.

The News:

Just past 7 a.m. EDT this morning Rockstar updated its website with the logo for Grand Theft Auto V. The text underneath it declared a trailer for the game is scheduled to arrive next Wednesday, November 2. As would be expected, the Internet exploded with enthusiasm. "GTA V" and "Grand Theft Auto V" became worldwide top trending topics within the hour and every major publication had stories up on the matter within seconds. The excitement wasn't limited to gamers, though. Shares of Take-Two ended the day up a substantial 5.77% percent to $15.22. As mentioned above, on very few occasions do non-industry folk get excited about industry news, and today was one of those days. Grand Theft Auto is big, big business.

What to expect from the trailer.

Unfortunately, Rockstar made no mention of what it plans to offer in next week's trailer. Will it be all gameplay? All CG? A mix of the two? Your guess is as good (probably better!) than mine, but I am surely hoping Rockstar doesn't only tease further with the trailer. Will the trailer end with a release date or a release window? Obviously, I hope so, but I'm certainly not expecting that information until later. Surely, Rockstar's PR inbox is brimming full of publications looking for an exclusive hold on the trailer, and who knows, all could be ruined if the thing leaks...which it might!

Timing of the announcement.

I don't know about you, but perhaps the last news item I expected to read today was "Rockstar announces GTA V." It seems odd at first, but upon further review, not so much. First, today marks the three-year anniversary of the day noted Grand Theft Auto slammer attorney Jack Thompson's disbarment went into effect (Thompson was disbarred on September 25, 2008, but the move did not go into effect until 30 days after). Can it be a coincidence? Thompson worked hard as an assailant of Grand Theft Auto games, and just maybe Rockstar wanted to rub it a little in his face. If you don't buy that option, here's another. Brandon Winfrey, Insomniac Games former intern, explained it best today on Twitter.

"In the midst of one of gaming's biggest biggest fall's ever, Rockstar kindly reminds us who's in charge. Bold move. I like it. #GTAV"

I very much agree. Quite a bold move; this is Rockstar we're talking about. Battlefield 3 released today, Uncharted 3 drops next week, then Modern Warfare 3, then Skyrim...the list goes on and on. Rockstar making its announcement of GTA V today is a bold statement, but if any company can follow through, it's Rockstar...or Bungie.

What we already knew.

Rumors about the existence of Grand Theft Auto V have been circulating practically since GTA: IV shipped in 2008. Last we heard, though, was that the game's production was "well under way" with finishing touches like mini-games being applied. We have also heard that GTA V is currently codenamed Project Rush and will be set in a fictional Los Angeles location. That could be true, or it might not be. Whatever the case, Rockstar creating GTA V comes as little surprise. Predecessor GTA: IV sold a whopping 22 million units and received the highest of high praise from many publications. It was only a matter of time before the team made it official.

Setting?

One of the most exciting parts of Grand Theft Auto titles is the city in which the game takes place. And right now, we have no solid ground to go on concerning where GTA V will be set. The game's logo, however, does tease. The "V" in the logo looks very much like the V in the $5 bill. The United States Mint--where money is made-- is located in Washington, D.C., a destination many believe the game will be set. However, past rumors pointed to a fictional Los Angeles as the city in question, and those rumors were further bolstered this afternoon. Gaming blog Kotaku received a tip from a source close to the matter today saying GTA V will indeed be set in a fictional Los Angeles, and possibly might feature multiple protagonists.

I want to believe GTA V will be set in D.C., and let me explain why. D.C. is an area replete with violence and crime. Also, it is the home of our government. It's no secret Rockstar is a studio that enjoys filling its games with violence as well as commentary about the current state of the governing entities. What better way to combine the two then to set GTA V in D.C.? Maybe you think Rockstar will be afraid to "go there," but I doubt that very much.

Release window?


The million dollar question: when can we expect to get our mitts on GTA V? Like Blizzard, Rockstar seem to be perfectionists; finishing development on a game only when it is perfect and polished. That said, the fact that Rockstar is readying the game's first trailer means we can't be more than, what, a year away?

Platforms.

The rumor mill says the next generation of consoles will be talked about at E3 2012 in June, with their release following sometime (perhaps shortly) thereafter. That being said, GTA V very well could be a next-generation console title, releasing on the Wii U, Xbox 720, and the PS4. Sure, that's quite speculative, but can you think of a stronger game to announce as a launch title for the next wave of gaming rigs?

Areas in which GTA V can improve the formula.

I'll never review Grand Theft Auto V, but I will play it, and probably a lot. I enjoyed GTAIV entirely; it was in my mind, the perfect sandbox game (until Red Dead Redemption came along). A short list of improvements I'd like to see in GTA V include designing a narrative I care about and adding MotionScan for animating the game's faces. I did not attach myself at all with Niko Bellic from GTAIV. While I played through the game's main story, I didn't feel compelled to for Niko's benefit, but rather for my own desire to explore Liberty City.

In GTA V I want a story I can attach to. I want to feel. I want to love. I want to blow crap up in the name of story. This narrative believability can be achieved, in part, through the use of MotionScan for faces in GTA V. Introduced in Rockstar's L.A. Noire, the tech is quite neat. The weight of a character's expression are directly tied to their facial animations, and specifically their eyes. The use of MotionScan for GTA V would help achieve this, driving the emotional merit of the story to a level unseen in the franchise. Pretty please?

What are you hoping for from Grand Theft Auto V?

I suppose I should have said this earlier.

Last year I won the great fortune of becoming GameSpot's Summer 2010 news intern. I learned a lot from my colleagues and had a great time living in the San Francisco Bay Area. Sure, it's usually cold and cloudy May through August, but I was here to work...indoors.

I went back to school (Keene State College) in August, at which time I remained a contributor to the site every morning. I never had class before noon, so I wasn't skipping class or anything to write for GameSpot! I wrote 2-3 stories a day for the site, and it felt nice to remain part of the team.
My lovely school in southern New Hampshire


Fast forward to the following June. I completed my Junior year of school, packed my things, and moved back out to California to join the fine folks at GameSpot in the office in downtown San Francisco. Sure, I was no longer able to come to work without pants on, but being around your co-workers is very important, so I was glad to end my time tele-commuting.

This summer was a blast. I joined the team in Los Angeles covering E3 2011, trekked to San Diego to immerse myself in Comic-Con craziness, and took a trip to the Electronic Arts campus in Redwood Shores to cover their event. It's been a whirlwind summer, and I cannot believe I fly back home on August 16.

Expect a proper "goodbye" blog entry next week. There, I'll give more insight into what it's like to be a GameSpot intern, because I'm going to graduate in December, and if management decides to hire another intern...it could be you!

Games I'm Playing Right Now

Here at GameSpot I am part of a four-man news team. We cover the goings on of the billion dollar video game industry with objective, fact-based reporting. There's no subjectivity to our writing. And while many don't believe this, I could never play another game in my life and perform just as well at my post. I don't write reviews or previews…just NEWS.

Having said that, of course I adore video games and play them constantly. Why wouldn't I?!

I've yet to share any substantial list with you guys, so below you'll find a compilation of the titles I'm currently playing. And if you want to jump into a game of whatever with me sometime, here's where you can find me on all platforms.

Steam: eddienoteddy

Xbox Live: eddie_not_eddy (the underscores are spaces)

PlayStation Network: eddienoteddy

Wii: have no idea of my friend code, sorry.

Battlefield: Bad Company 2 (Vietnam)

An explosive moment in BC2


I played this game when it debuted about a year ago, but just recently returned to it because of a little expansion called Vietnam. This $15 offering is well worth every penny. The new maps are sprawling and beautiful, the new chatter is also enticing, and the period songs like "Fortunate Son" and others do a wonderful job at setting the scene. I've had the expansion since it debuted and I have yet to return to the contemporary multiplayer…I kind of don't ever want to, Vietnam is justtoogood.

FIFA 11

Rooooooooooooney


I am a huge soccer fan and FIFA is the best around. I'm currently on break from university and my goal is to beat each and every nation as the United States in alphabetical order. As I write this I just finished up a 2-0 victory over New Zealand, pegging me at about the 50% completion mark. I've tried the Pro Evo series and it just doesn't do it for me. FIFA is the best footy sim out there, and I play it each and every day.

Donkey Kong Country Returns

The donkey (?) returns with a vengeance


I bought this for my brother for Christmas, and just yesterday we completed it. Thank goodness I am bald, because if I wasn't I would have become so, as the title forces you to reach for your scalp and pull out your hair during the latter levels. The game is beautiful, challenging, and ultimately rewarding. My brother and I probably spent a good 12-15 hours completing it, which very well validates the $50 price tag.

MicroBot

The aesthetic is certainly appealing


I actually just bought this yesterday and have wandered through just the first couple of levels. What I've played so far is wonderful. The setting is sanguineous and alluring (being inside the human body will do that, after all), and the twin stick shooter gameplay is pretty delectable. The co-op mode (again with my brother) is proving to be exciting. The enemies are varied, the puzzles are rudimentary (so far), and the aesthetic isunparalleled. I can't wait to sink my teeth further into this one.

3D Ultra Minigolf 2

Frustratingly difficult at times


This $10 addicting mini-golf game for XBLA is pretty compelling. The graphics aren't lovely, but they get the job done. I'm currently playing this one with my 12-year-old sister. Her motto is "slow and steady doesn't screw up" and mine is "pound it hard and hope for the best." I've never played a minigolf video game before, and I will say, this one is exciting. Powerups, a wide variety of sprawling courses, and a little monkey who follows you around are all pretty exciting elements of this game.

Angry Birds

Why are the birds so angry?


I finally caved and downloaded this incessantly popular mobile game for my Motorola Droid. I vowed I would never install games to my phone, so as to keep my device clutter and distraction free, but alas, I failed. I really don't need to say much about this game. It's hugely addicting and pretty difficult at levels past 15. It's also not on the PSN…though I refuse to pay $10 for something I can get on the go for free.

Sometimes I wish I still reviewed video games. During my time at Blast Magazine I played and reviewed too many games to count or remember, and I definitely enjoyed the experience. However, the real nuts and bolts of the industry, and what excites me most, is the news component. Every day I wake up excited to learn what the newsloop is throwing my way, and I have to pinch myself to make sure I'm not dreaming when I see my name on GameSpot.com each and every day.

Anyway, what're you playing right now?