Tag Archives: Bungie

PlayStation E3 2015 Recap

PlayStation E3 2015

Sony this year came out with some heat. We all thought most of it would just be rumors because—let’s face it—a lot of it sounded absurd. A comeback? A remake? Oh come on. We should know better by now. Go back to your village and take your pipe dreams with you.

But wham, bam, holy shit. We really shouldn’t be calling out “winners” for this sort of thing, but this press conference did actually bring down the Internet. Feel free to read on or rewatch the entire thing.

The Last Guardian

Ummm, what? I guess sometimes vaporware comes back from the dead. After being in and out of development and existence for the past 2007, it was pretty safe to assume the long awaited project was simply dead and buried. After the trauma of numerous rumors, the latest rumblings that we’d see The Last Guardian at this E3 seemed to only freshen up old wounds.

But it’s all true. Sony Computer Entertainment Worldwide Studios president Shuhei Yoshida confirmed it would release for PlayStation 4 in 2016. Coming from Team Ico and director Fumito Ueda, the same combo that brought you Shadow of the Colossus and Ico, its expectations were high. After all these delays, are they just as lofty?

Horizon: Zero Dawn

Guerrilla Games, developer of the Killzone series, is throwing quite the delicious curveball here. Going from a stock FPS to this is rather incredible. Perhaps filling the PlayStation 4’s required space marine quota earned them some laterality.

But Horizon: Zero Dawn has a fascinating premise. Something along the course of humanity’s development caused them to plunge back into a pre-civilization structure except machines are still rampant and necessary. So instead of hunting for food, they hunt for parts. Sure, the gameplay looks fun enough, but that setup is incredible.

Hitman

Even if you don’t care for the Hitman games, this is a well put together trailer. It finely composes the idea that he’s a killer of tactics, brutality, and skill. Also, the backing track that surreptitiously features ragged breathing slowly sinks in and is reinforced by the kill shot.

The trailer itself, however, doesn’t reveal much except that the series still animates people a bit too cartoonishly. I guess Square Enix assumes we already know what to expect from the game, which is kind of a sad notion anyway. Hitman lands on PlayStation 4 and PC on December 8. (Franchise reboots that simply start off with the same name is an organizational nightmare, by the way.)

Dreams

Media Molecule is still very much about games in which you create, if you were wondering. The latest is Dreams, and while the trailer is very obtuse about what you’ll actually be doing, you’ll definitely be creating…something.

It looks like you’ll be using your controller to sculpt out characters inside of scenes. The “dreams” motif comes in where everything is fast and impressionistic rather than details and builds upon a previously known (read: made) lexicon of items. You can then grab your creations and puppeteer them to life. (The short demo preceding the trailer shows more than anyone could ever say with words.)

Destiny: The Taken King

While I found Destiny to be somewhat lacking in its original release, the more that Bungie puts out for the game, the more I want to go back and play it. It seems like they’re solving the two biggest problems simultaneously with each DLC, being the lack of content for a massive world and a refinement of how to use that world in interesting ways.

Coming September 15, The Taken King will cost $39.99 for the regular edition and $79.99 for the collector’s edition, both of which will also include Destiny itself. The expansion will include new Guardian subclasses and super moves.

Final Fantasy VII

Part of the crazy heat Sony threw around yesterday. Even more dubious than The Last Guardian comeback rumors, we heard voices on the wind talk of a Final Fantasy VII remake, something fans have been clamoring for since dinosaurs walked the Earth.

And now it’s happening. This isn’t a tech demo or a PC version or an upgraded PC version for PlayStation 4, but this is a remake. At this point, it’s unclear as to what that means. This could end up just an HD remaster for all we know, but hopefully they’re not just misleading us with the word “remake.”

The bigger question, however, is if anyone still cares. Tetsuya Nomura is coming on as director after guiding the Kingdom Hearts series (and directing Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children) while Yoshinori Kitase, original director of Final Fantasy VII, will be returning to produce. Is that enough to garner interest beyond the 18-year-old fan base?

No Man’s Sky

This is the first lengthy gameplay demo anyone outside of the press has seen from No Man’s Sky. Hello Games co-founder Sean Murray hopefully imparted upon the audience the sheer size of what they’re attempting with this procedurally generated universe simulator. (If you still don’t get it, read this piece over at The New Yorker.)

Still no release date, but we do learn that every world is fully destructible. Plus there are fish!

Shenmue III

And here’s the real surprise of the event. No one was even expecting this, but Yu Suzuki, creator of an immense number of classics like Space Harrier, Out Run, After Burner, and Virtua Fighter, came out on stage to announce that he’d like to revitalize the Shenmue franchise through Kickstarter.

And then everyone lost their god damn minds. Which is the appropriate response, I might add. It brought down Kickstarter itself for a brief time as it rocketed up hundreds of thousands of dollars in a matter of minutes. It’s already hit its $2 million goal in its first day. If you’re not jacked for this, then you’re a fool. Or you were too young to have played the first two.

Call of Duty

Now we know why Call of Duty was mysteriously absent during Microsoft press conference. PlayStation CEO Andrew House announced that Sony will get all of the military shooter’s map packs first. The deal will start up with Call of Duty: Black Ops 3, coming to PlayStation 4, PC, and Xbox One November 6.

Map packs have traditionally gone to Xbox platforms first since Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare back in 2007. While not necessarily everyone’s thing, this is a huge move for PlayStation.

Firewatch

Firewatch is pretty much exactly the kind of game I love playing. Or at least it’s the kind of game I love thinking that I would love playing based on the trailer because the trailer sells a very particular kind of game.

The adventure game from Campo Santo and director Jake Rodkin (co-host of the Idle Thumbs podcast) tells the story of a fire lookout in the Wyoming wilderness in 1989. Numerous mysteries begin to unfold as he goes about his patrols.

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

While the return of the Uncharted series still doesn’t seem like the best creative decision, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End still looks pretty incredible. Like, visually, I mean. It seems like it’ll play like the other games, so you probably already know if you’ll be into that or not, but there’s certainly something to be said for a masterful refinement of a craft.

After a little technical hiccup where protagonist Nathan Drake froze in front of a still animating crowd, we go on a classic Uncharted whirlwind ride of shooting bad guys, running from overwhelming odds, shooting more guys, and (as a franchise first) driving a vehicle. Oh, and crackin’ some wise. Don’t forget that.

There are some other odds and ends that came out of the conference (like a new Street Fighter V trailer), but that’s the gist of it. There were several genuine surprises, capping off a rather momentous start to this year’s E3. Look for more coverage as the show continues the rest of the week.

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Halo 2 and the 10-Year Itch

Halo 2 and the 10-Year Itch

There has been a lot of Halo in the air. It’s a bit like a roaming, free-floating sensation of Christmas jollies surrounding you, but it’s far more explosion-y. Halo: The Master Chief Collection is on the verge of release (it’s happening tomorrow), including a fresh launch trailer for the sizable aggregation. The reviews have already hit and roving around. And there’s that Halo 2 documentary.

Freely available on Xbox Video and the general Internet, it’s a roughly one-hour look back at the development of one of the most hyped games ever released and how 343 Industries went about remastering it for the aforementioned collection. The title—Remaking the Legend – Halo 2 Anniversary—is more than a bit presumptuous. There’s no denying the game made a huge splash both before and after release, but legend might be more marketing than fact.

It’s not that anything the people in the documentary said were entirely false. That would just be lying. In fact, Halo 2 did almost singlehandedly manufacture the now standard and widespread concepts embedded within current online multiplayer including playlists, matchmaking, and, well, playing shooters online with a console. It basically took the burden of justifying Xbox Live upon its green armored shoulders and plowed headlong into the future.

What it does manage to gloss over (besides other influences within the realms that Halo 2‘s multiplayer innovations dallied in) is what a colossal disappointment that game was. Okay, let’s dial it back: both “colossal” and “disappointment” are relative. It is, by all means, a great game and still holds up in most regards today, but you have to know the context with which it was released could not generate anything less than some degree of tepid nostalgia.

The two chief pillars to which critics will point first involve the Arbiter, the second playable character in the game’s single-player campaign. The impact upon the mythos this Covenant pariah has is conceptually solid, but it plays out within the rest of the story like a prequel Star Wars. It’s full of politics and not enough basely intuitive or intellectually stirring actuations the brooding conflicts and twists.

Not only that, but playing the Arbiter was far from compelling. For all the ire that the Flood drew in Halo: Combat Evolved, Bungie saw fit to instead excise the entirety of that painful underground exercise into its own segment involving a character no one really wanted to play. Perhaps it was some twisted idea of redemption in proving they can actually make the Flood fun, but the net result was the same.

Halo 2: Anniversary

Then there is the ending, or lack thereof. It does, for all reasonable analyses, end only in the strictest definition of the word. It is the terminus of the campaign, yes, but it goes so far out of its way to be a cliffhanger that it must have been as inconvenient to write as it was frustrating to watch. The only way it could have been more insulting if Master Chief had actually been hanging from a cliff. (The real reason follows below.)

This makes the documentary—this 62-minute trailer barely qualifies as such when it so directly is aimed at wallets—a lackluster addition to the game’s history. It has some neat tidbits and behind-the-scenes clips (who knew John Mayer played on the soundtrack? That’s incredible.) but it also skips over the most compelling arc of all: an education.

It’s lightly touched upon in the part where some folks that worked on the game discussed its genesis, which was sloppy to say the least. It was a haphazard affair with a lot of guns pointed in a lot of directions that all hoped to cooperatively shoot down the giant sequel hype beast while not really planning ahead or even communicating all that well. It serves to highlight the true value of Halo 2, which are its contributions to Halo 3.

Halo 3

Put aside all of the multiplayer influences that linger about today and focus on the broad strokes. Halo 2‘s development was, by all means, a nightmare. Most, if not all, of what was shown as the first bit of publicly viewable gameplay in 2003 was scrapped and the game was not playable until a year later. And the subsequent and seemingly interminable engine work blocked production and design, rendering half of the team useless.

This led to the final year of development to be described as “the mother of all crunches” in an IGN retrospective. A split team structure resulted in broken lines of communication and a prototypical mess with an impending deadline. It was the paragon of poor planning and excessive ambition.

Yet we still ended up with one of the highest rated games of 2004 and one of the best selling games ever. But all it led to was the immediate production of Halo 3, which would eclipse its predecessor in terms of sales and ratings. And if you look at its actual development, it came across as a far more structured endeavor. Instead of spreading thin across arbitrary divisions of labor, Halo 3 worked between a single-player and multiplayer chasm, producing individual builds and weekly, publicly accountable updates.

Halo 3 Believe ad

The end result of this lesson in growing from a “messy adolescence” (as Halo 2 engineering lead Chris Butcher put it) to a legitimate organization and a superior product that had a metered and met ambition and expectation. And from that, we had several ensuing games of the same universe grace our gaming libraries.

It’s interesting to think of the material contributions Halo 2 had on the industry and its studio and our lives directly and in fact makes for a good sell to think fondly on and purchase the Master Chief Collection, but an equally compelling thought is how it shaped the studio that would come to continually pump out game of the year contenders. (And a somewhat average, derivative game about light and dark.)

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The Loot Cave Situation

The Loot Cave Situation

If you’ve played Destiny, you’ve undoubtedly heard about the Loot Cave. Or maybe it’s successor, Loot Cave 2.0. (Not very creative with names, are they?) The gist is this: the way Destiny‘s loot system works is primarily based on Engrams, or little bundles of categorical rarity that you have to have decoded into actual loot. The color scheme should be familiar to nearly all of you, starting with white and going to green to blue to purple and finally to gold.

Destiny, in its pseudo MMO-ness, has a similarly standard respawn structure. There are particular entrance points into the world where enemies can enter. Sometimes they are dropped by massive teleporting alien ships and other times they seems to blip and bloop simply into and out of existence. And then there are the times they come scurrying out of a literal hole in the ground. But they will only appear if the game thinks no one is watching.

This is where the Loot Cave comes into play. The first was located in the Cosmodrome area of Old Russia. With a legion of Guardians huddling around a slab of rock and shooting into a cave, it was a puzzling sight. But combine the two aforementioned aspects (loot drops and enemy respawns), and you have a Loot Cave. From that rock formation, you are far enough that the game thinks you can’t see the furtive birthing of foes. But with a zoom scope and a few friends, you can fire endlessly into that hole and be massively reward for your efforts. We’re talking kaboodles of blues and purps here, guys.

Destiny

In a recent patch, though, Bungie saw fit to nerf the honey pot—among other things. But just as quickly as they did so, another cave popped up. Also in Old Russia, this was even easier because the enemies had a tendency to seek you out if they got past your wall of hot death. And something tells me it’s only a matter of time until they patch this one as well.

The interesting thing, though, is that Bungie seemed to genuinely understand the grassroots thing borne by their game. From a blog post regarding then-impending changes: “The social experience of a cave farming run is amazing…The speed at which the community organized around this activity was inspiring and humbling to us.”

But then further along, they also say, “shooting at a black hole for hours on end isn’t our dream for how Destiny is played.” These words very literally translate to the fact that players broke the system, counter to some opinions that it’s a feature and not a bug. While making good points and well written, the developers are straight-up saying that this was not intended.

Destiny

Of course some people will always choose the path of least (interesting) resistance. Shooting into a dark cave that spits out goodies? Bingo bango. But really the problem here is that the progression after level 20 is so incredibly boring that the best option all around is to join the ammo dump fest into a Loot Cave. That’s why you are so rarely alone at the caves. Even when instanced into separate realities of a handful of players, you will still find people at the caves.

There are other influencing artifacts to this treasure hunt, though. Namely the formerly cryptic rewards coming from the Cryptarch (the guy who decodes your Engrams for you). Bungie had to deliberately drop an injected element of randomness to the decryption, a choice previously made seemingly to only obfuscate the value of any given piece of loot.

The color of the engram didn’t always coordinate to the item it would result in, bringing about many bouts of frustration and rage and tweeting, especially (and usually) when a legendary drop only ended up being a rare piece of armor. The patch that removed the first Loot Cave also forced every engram to decode to its colored value or higher. It additionally forcibly downgraded all legendary engrams to rare ones, with the patch notes suggesting players decrypt before the patch while admitting “but let’s be honest–even if you don’t, we all know they were blues already…”

Destiny

Strangely enough, neither of are the true wrench in the works of Destiny, merely symptoms. Truly, the main problem that sprouts these smaller albeit more visible problems is that Bungie missed a vital part of designing an MMO: communication. It’s fine and well that your mission’s objectives are always delightfully highlighted on your screen but the game lacks communication in regards to how it should be played.

Alternatives to the intended design are usually taught to be less-than-viable. Dark Souls, for instance, teaches you that lesson through severely brutal deaths. But the alternative to Destiny‘s proper way to grind for gear is entirely too sustainable, which is to say shooting for hours on end into a dark Russian hole. Nothing teaches you otherwise because you are rewarded for you efforts eventually. The science checks out.

But much like World of Warcraft, the preeminent product of effective MMO design, late-level progression comes easiest in the form of faction alignment. You earn reputation and currencies and then you get your big rewards. That concept is rather alien to a console game and fighting an uphill battle against the ever so inviting fallacy of uncertain but immediate rewards. Turning in bounties gets you substantial gains in experience and faction points as well as afford you the occasional opportunity to engage with exotic bounties for exotic-level loot.

Destiny

While Destiny intends for you to earn Vanguard and Crucible points to buy gear from the respective charter’s dealer, it doesn’t really communicate to you that is the end game of this point gathering. From the outset, it appears as if you are collecting points for each faction just to collect points. And then along the way you chance into access to engrams and special quests and the like. But through hyperbolic discounting, you trick yourself into playing into the Loot Cave’s hands.

It’s clear that Bungie has its shooting down. Destiny feels as good as Halo ever did. (The similarities between the two games are striking and honestly somewhat disconcerting, but we’ll get to that later.) But it’s also clear that in all that time of hewing one hand into a finely tuned gun, Bungie forgot to shape the other into an MMO, driving you to both loot and understand the loot. Maybe it’s something patchable and maybe it’s something too base to be smoothed over. We’ll soon find out.

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Destiny Review: Bun Gee Whiz

Destiny

There’s no way around it. Bungie is Halo, and the other way around. Despite the Marathon series and Oni, the two are inextricably tied to one another. Even after their last involvement in a Halo title way back in 2010, the storied franchise has left a lingering space marine taste in all our mouths when the word “Bungie” comes into and leaves our ears.

That means even as an exercise of critical analysis, it’s an irresponsible task to remove Destiny, the studio’s latest release, from the context of Master Chief and his multi-planetary shenanigans. Destiny, if it hasn’t been mashed into your skull with marketing over the past few months, is a game that actually takes place well within our world, if several centuries in the future. We, as humanity, live in a Golden Age.

This era of prosperity and peace was brought about by a giant floating planetoid known as The Traveler a few hundred years prior, empowering us with a longer lifespan and the ability to reach out into the cosmos and colonize faraway worlds. There is a thing, however, known as The Darkness, following The Traveler, ostensibly hell-bent on destroying our beneficence. Luckily, The Traveler has created and sent out little autonomous and intelligent robots known as Ghosts to find Guardians to fight back.

That’s where we step in as players. We are the collective Guardians, spread out all over the world in this pseudo-MMO setup. You see, the entire universe of Destiny is structured as literal worlds containing hundreds of instances, each one of which contains several players at a time. It’s all fairly seamless—even remarkably so—where you don’t even notice leaving one area and a batch of friendlies only to enter another with a new set, intellectually understandable as a new load but visually (and impressively) indistinguishable as the sizable landscape unfolds before you.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t make a sizable impact on the game either way. Much of your time in Destiny will go something like this: 1) start mission, 2) see another player icon, 3) ignore it and continue with your mission. Bungie attempts to combat this obvious and solitary loop by adding world events. For instance, drills may drop into the ground and you have to eliminate them before they finish drilling. Or you have to kill a miniboss-sized tank thing within 10 minutes. It’s rare, though, that it feels like anything more than adding another hose to the firefight.

The aforementioned landscape, however, is definitely worth mentioning again and more thoroughly. Destiny, through and through, looks exceptional. It sports wide, rolling vistas of both old Earth and distant planets, all of which appear meticulously sculpted and realized to look as close to living digital art as possible. Almost all that you see invites you to go there and touch it.

Destiny

That doesn’t really get you anywhere, though. For as beautiful as the container is, the contents are exceedingly bland. While the player interactions are structured to be an MMO, the moment-to-moment gameplay is all shooter. And I do mean all shooter; your actions are largely limited to those centered around shooting, throwing grenades, punching things, and jumping. That’s not a terrible setup considering that the mechanics of those actions are well within Bungie’s wheelhouse, many of which were nearly perfected over the course of the Halo games.

What comes packaged with the shooting is the problem. The missions are distinctly MMO-ish: fetching any number of a certain thing over a huge territory, killing a certain number of bad guys over a huge territory, delivering an object across a huge territory, etc. I never felt all that accomplished from any particular task I completed. It all just seemed so hollow.

That has a lot to do with the story, which is especially disappointing when the opening moments and establishing lore are simply rife with potential. Humanity’s struggles, its fortuitous encounter with an alien entity, our immaculate growth, and now the inevitable and dramatic decline. It’s all so delectably sci-fi. And the way it’s presented is topnotch, from the distinctly Marty O’Donnell swelling score to the haunting visuals.

Destiny

But that’s all it achieves. Those first 10 minutes are the best the game has to offer from its mythos. With each mission completed, you have the potential to see more of the story unfurl, but it’s usually The Speaker (the appointed proxy for communications between humans and The Traveler) narrating your goals. Just the goals, though. Your impetus rarely surfaces. (And then the ending confusingly arrives and leaves just as strangely.)

I wish I could say at least the other half of the equation was engaging to make up for the intellectually unstimulating narrative. But many of the encounters with enemies take place in MMO mob-style setups, where they hang about a certain area in predetermined numbers with generous respawns. They obey a patrol fence, too, where you can engage them and retreat and they won’t follow, allowing you to take potshots over and over again. It’s a loop you’ll find yourself in, like, a lot.

This is because there are sections of missions that are arbitrarily labeled as “respawns restricted.” Anywhere else, your death means you respawn somewhere nearby and continue on your merry killing way. In these parts, justified with the presence of The Darkness, your death means you have to start the mission over from the beginning.

Destiny

This compounds multiple problems. The first, which was present in all the demos as well, is that boss battles already take a long time (think somewhere between 10 and 15 minutes, owing to the fact that everything is a god damn bullet sponge). Now, however, with the added punishment of having to start the lengthy mission entirely over, it makes a lot more sense to take the cheap route than the heroic route, adding to the exhausting battle time. (The latter, however, doesn’t feel that much more accomplished anyways.)

The second problem is actually quite symptomatic of a systemic issue. Or rather, it’s a problem with the systems of the game: it’s bare. That’s not to say there are enough to weave an economy of systems together to make a game but that there’s nothing disguising and layering them. There’s no discovery. After your opening missions and you make your way back to The Tower (the social hub of the game), you will have experienced the maximal range of mechanics and systems Destiny has to offer.

The only thing you have to look forward to is latent confusion. Distilled in a single parody Twitter account, the underlying spinning cogs that power loot drops is nigh inscrutable. And in-world elements have collisions with the naming schemes of systemic parts of the game, e.g. The Crucible, which can either be the PvP portion of Destiny, a source of bounties, an area in The Tower, or maybe even something else I’ve yet to discover.

Destiny

And as what seems like a grasp at redemption, there’s the Thrall. They are a particular class of enemy of the Hive species, which are undead aliens looking to, well, I’m not sure. But they’re there, and they are essentially the Flood from the Halo games. When they first show up, it comes across as a yell from deep within Bungie. “Look, we can do this right!” But you only whisper back, “no, you can’t.”

There are a lot of disappointing components to Destiny’s gestalt form. Peter Dinklage’s phoned-in performance as the Ghosts, the poor writing (yes, Speaker, tell me more how the children no longer need horror stories to be scared), uninteresting enemy encounters. It all combats the promise of the game, from the backstory to the continued excellence in Bungie’s shooting mechanics.

But really it comes down to the fact that Destiny is nothing more than a barebones shooter combined with a barebones MMO with not enough of either to make the whole anywhere near compelling. Few parts of it are terribly constructed, but few parts are exceptionally built either. Destiny, such as it is, has found its own fate: mediocrity.

Destiny

+ Gorgeous landscapes of dilapidation and alien worlds
+ The mechanics of shooting and moving are still a strong suit for Bungie
+ More fantastic music from Marty O’Donnell
– Enemy encounters are bland and bosses are predictable bullet sponges
– Systems are shallow and uninteresting (and some are even confusing)
– Categorically poor writing and an uninteresting/unmoving story

Final Score: 6 out of 10

Game Review: Destiny
Release: September 9, 2014
Genre: First-person shooter
Developer: Bungie
Available Platforms: PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Players: Online-only multiplayer
MSRP: $59.99
Website: http://www.destinythegame.com/

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Highlights From the VGX 2013

Highlights From the VGX 2013

This Saturday saw the first VGX, the successor to the VGAs, or Video Game Awards. Or it’s just a rebranding. Whatever. It’s the video game awards show trying to be the Oscars of the industry, but since it’s coming from Spike TV, expectations are, quite honestly, low.

Regardless of the show’s successes and failures from this year, there was quite a bit of news streaming forth from our computers and televisions over the course of three hours. (That still seems ridiculous to me, but here we are.) Here are the big ones.

No Man’s Sky Blows Minds

Let’s start off with the biggest of the big. This absolutely blew up my Twitter feed as well as my mind. No Man’s Sky comes from UK studio Hello Games who you may know best for Joe Danger. In fact, that is the only thing you’d know them for since that’s the only thing they’ve put out.

But here comes this game that we’ve only heard buzzes about (namely from Giant Bomb’s Brad Shoemaker), one that you should, from this point forward, pay extremely close attention to. No Man’s Sky is an exploration sim that procedurally fills an entire universe. I don’t want to spoil it, but there’s a moment where you just might go OH FUCK YEAH. Managing director Sean Murray calls it a “huge game.” To that, I say, “No fucking shit.”

Elijah Wood Joins Broken Age

Even if you don’t like adventure games, it’s worth watching this new Broken Age trailer just to see the art. Seeing it all in motion is absolutely beautiful. Lead artist Nathan Stapley has quite the eye for making fantastical yet realistic worlds in a painterly style.

And then if you’re into it anyways, you’d be happy to learn that Elijah Wood is joining the voice cast of the likes of Jennifer Hale, Jack Black, and Wil Wheaton. He’ll be playing the male half of the two protagonists, a boy held captive by a ship originally intended to save him from his dying homeworld. Apparently Wood also loves to make Rice Krispies treats. Look for (hope for?) the game to finally launch in January.

Telltale and Gearbox Confuses Us All

The first announcement of the night was also the most befuddling. It wasn’t bad but it also wasn’t…desired? It’s hard to explain. Telltale Games, developers of The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us, is teaming up with Gearbox Software, the studio behind the Borderlands series and taking Duke Nukem Forever to the finish line, to make an episodic adventure game called Tales from the Borderlands, the first episode of which will come 2014.

Yeah, right? Unexpected, but not unwelcome. I’m just not entirely sure anyone was asking for this to happen. Are people really that invested in Pandora and its mythos? It’s not a bad thing if there are; I just always went into Borderlands to shoot guns and loot corpses. It also begs the question of how many teams are going on at Telltale at the moment. They’ve still got The Wolf Among Us going and the next season of The Walking Dead coming up. Will we see the A-team or will we see the Jurassic Park: The Game team?

Game of Thrones Game from Telltale

Oh yeah, Telltale is also making a Game of Thrones game for 2014. Aaaaaaand that’s all we know.

New Destiny Trailer

From Friday, we know that we have quite a ways to go before Destiny actually comes out on September 9, 2014. To tide us over, Bungie has given us a new, sprawling trailer that includes highlights on music, weapons, characters, and the world of the game.

Two New Titan Classes for Titanfall

You know what? I really can’t wait for Titanfall. I played it at PAX Prime and E3 and then and now, all I want to do is play Titanfall. It is quite the game from what I’ve seen, though more extensive play once it releases only can tell if it is good as whole. But seeing these two new trailers for the heavy Ogre and the nimble Stryder class Titans just reminds me of what excites me about the game. Look for it on March 14, 2014.

Time Control in Quantum Break

Aside from all the buzzwords Remedy Entertainment creative director Sam Lake throws around, this look at Quantum Break actually seems kind of interesting. I’ve been marginally tepid on the game for the longest time, but seeing that the time manipulation looks nothing like Max Payne‘s bullet time has me looking forward to seeing more.

Oh, and Naughty Dog is the Best

To accept awards for the VGX, studios got to create videos instead of having to go up and awkwardly say words out of their mouth holes. Irrational Games may have had the most endearing and charming, but Naughty Dog went full Banderas. It’s amazing.

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PlayStation 4 Launch Event Recap: Uncharted, The Last of Us, and More

PlayStation 4 Launch Event Recap: Uncharted, The Last of Us, and More

How was your night last night? Go out anywhere? Maybe stand in a big line and get a $400 piece of technology? I didn’t, but I did go check out a couple of midnight launches of the PlayStation 4. For one of the biggest metroplexes in the country, Dallas didn’t really have anything crazy to offer, although a couple of dudes offered me some queso, so there’s that.

UPDATE: just kidding. Apparently I missed Dallas Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant buying five lucky line-standers their PlayStation 4s.

Of course, it (and whatever was happening at your closest GameStop) didn’t compare to Sony’s big launch event in New York. It was just a big ol’ celebration for Sony’s step into the next generation, but they still decided to throw some news in there. Geoff Keighley even asked about The Last Guardian! (We’ll get to that in a second.)

New Uncharted for PS4

In perhaps the teaseriest tease of all teases, we see nothing more about the upcoming Uncharted for the PlayStation 4 except that 1) it exists, and 2) it has betrayal. Oh, also, I guess that is has a super high resolution logo?

At least it tells us what Naughty Dog has been up to since putting out Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception and The Last of Us. And over on the PlayStation Blog, it has been confirmed that creative director Amy Hennig and game director Justin Richmond are both attached to the rather green project and that Todd Stashwick of Heroes fame provides the excellent voiceover.

The Last of Us: Left Behind DLC

Speaking of Naughty Dog, we see them release their first single-player DLC with Left Behind. The teaser is short and poised for a lot of emotional drama as the franchise is wont to do: Ellie and Riley Abel, her school chum from the Quarantine Zone, happen across a carousel.

Like, nothing happy can come from that, right? But it will hopefully at least be a fantastically sad. It’s based somewhat on the Dark Horse comics The Last of Us: American Dreams (which are pretty great) where it shows Ellie and Riley meeting, but this is Ellie telling Joel what happens after that.

Don’t worry, I’ll bring the tissues. Look for it in early 2014 for $14.99.

Destiny Beta

Along with the above trailer, Bungie COO Pete Parsons (what a comic book superhero name) announced that the beta for their upcoming online first-person shooter Destiny would be coming first to the PlayStation 4.

“We’re going to give first access to the PlayStation nation, PS4 and PS3 owners,” he said. If you want to get in on it, you’ll have to have preordered before October 1st, though I’m sure there will be other avenues available as it creeps closer.

Classic Snake in Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes

I guess not everything old made it out when the new stepped in. In a confusingly nostalgic move, Konami will be including Classic Snake as a skin in the Sony-exclusive mission “Déjà Vu” for Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes. So yay next-gen graphics? Whatever, as long as I get to choke dudes.

Dammit

Geoff Keighley asked Sony’s Worldwide Studios President Shuhei Yoshida and Vice President of Publisher Relations Adam Boyes about Team Ico’s mysteriously missing The Last Guardian. God dammit. JUST GIVE IT TO ME.

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What to Expect from E3 2013

What to Expect from E3 2013

I’m filled with dread. And excitement. I’m anxious and paranoid. I’m filled with a glut of emotions that I reserve for times when I’m under prolonged duress, and in this case, it’s because I’ll be in Los Angeles for a week for E3. I feel like a hot little turnip of feelings because for six solid days, I’ll be surrounded by tens of thousands of other people in downtown LA (probably more due to the Kings playoff series once again looks to ravage the bustling, hotel-filled area) and set to meet dozens and dozens of them as I talk about and play almost as many games. And for some reason I do this voluntarily.

And that’s because there will be just so much to see. Outside of the tremendous networking opportunities, there’s just a lot of games to get my hands on and share with all of you. If there’s something in particular you want me to investigate or check out, just let me know in the comments or tweet at me and I’ll do my best. Last year, I tracked down Tokyo Jungle for some folks, an adventure that led me to faking a British accent and landed me square in a room full of European press I didn’t recognize. This year, well, who knows.

But here is what I’m looking forward to most.

Xbox One/PlayStation 4 Drama

PlayStation 4 vs. Xbox One

Word on the street is that the Microsoft press event is going to be…aggressive, which makes sense; they were the last next-gen console to be revealed and now they’re going to be the first out of the gate at E3. By all counts, the initial announcement seemed more aimed to appease partners and shareholders, so let’s so what happens when they have the opportunity to set the tone for an entire week of video game coverage. I’m expecting more games (probably some actual gameplay from Call of Duty: Ghosts this time) and “surprises,” as Geoff Keighley put it. Microsoft did, however, cancel the post-conference press Q&A, so who knows what that means.

As for Sony, well, a lot has happened since the Xbox One announcement. They’ve since been able to cultivate a strategic response to the kerfuffle surrounding used games, always-online requirements, and all that goodness, but they will also have to follow Microsoft (and everyone else seeing as how they’re the last presser to take place) next week. How well will they be able to execute a proper PR message turnaround if something unexpected happens? We’ll probably even see the actual hardware this time, too. This will, undoubtedly, be the most exciting pre-E3 press conferences in recent memory.

Saints Row IV

Deep Silver will be there repping Volition’s Saints Row IV and I have two hours set aside to bask in its glory. I don’t know if I need to say anymore. Just look at that trailer!

Nintendo’s Unusual Tact

Nintendo E3 2012 press conference

Nintendo won’t have their usual press event and is instead opting for a Nintendo Direct streaming thing. This isn’t unusual (big news dropped last year in the following online videos while their event skimped on the goods), but it does beg a lot of questions. Has Nintendo given up on mainstream marketing for the Wii U? Do they have latent plans for taking up the E3 news cycle that no one knows about? Last year they had one of the biggest booths with an entire second floor dedicated to appointments and private demos. The Nintendo Direct is also at the same time as a Square Enix Final Fantasy thing, so, um, yeah.

Plus they’ll have all those games demoed at 100 Best Buy stores across the country, saying they’re “making an E3 for the people.” That’s a smart ploy to put games in more gamers’ hands that won’t be at E3 (which is to say the vast majority of people), but it also feels like a concession in the console battle at a pivotal point where giving an inch anywhere is costly.

Franchises, Franchises

We’ll see more of Call of Duty: Ghosts, for sure, along with Battlefield 4 and Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. There won’t be any sign of Grand Theft Auto V at the show, but there will be Super Smash Bros. Wii U, which obviously has a lot of people excited. Rumors have hit an all-time high for Mirror’s Edge 2 and Rare has been teasing a revival of a “historic” franchise (I’m hoping Viva Piñata, but I’m expecting Perfect Dark or Killer Instinct). We’ll see how Batman: Arkham Origins is shaping up and if Bayonetta 2 is just as ridiculous as the first.

Fresh-Baked Games

And then there’s the new IPs that we hopefully get to learn more about. Watch Dogs will be Ubisoft’s ace, probably, as it will likely take over its mantle for new annual franchise. Harmonix recently dropped the news that they are working on Fantasia and Double Fine will be talking about its latest Kickstarter endeavor Massive Chalice (and might show off Broken Age). Sony will also be showing off Puppeteer, one of the most exciting things I’ve seen in a long time, and we’ll finally see some of Bungie’s Destiny. Of course, there’s much more to E3 than that, but you’ll read about it all next week.

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Internalizing The Different States Of Halo 4

Internalizing The Different States Of Halo 4

Open-world games generally have a very specific save system in that you can save anywhere and anytime. On PC, they usually facilitate this with quicksave and quickload keys so that you can you don’t even have to go through a menu to use and abuse these two functions. In The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, for instance, you just have to press F5 to save and then press F9 whenever you want to return to that point in time.

The purpose of this for developers is to offer players with so many extra keys the ability to utilize them and not be burdened by unnecessary menu navigation (ostensibly, anyways). For players, it works on a different level: experimentation. When I come across a situation that looks to be game-changing or know I’m headed for a conversation in which I’ll have to make a heady decision, I quicksave before I proceed. This way, I can tinker around with the game and see how I can immediately affect the world and my progress. And, sorry to say, I kind of use it as a cheat in Bethesda games like Skyrim and Fallout 3 so that I can get by locks and conversations that are way beyond my skills.

But that’s kind of the point: to cheat the system a little. I remember my first abuse of quicksave/quickload was Max Payne 2 on PC. After every encounter, I would quicksave just in case another one would surprise me and leave me wanting for ammo and health. On a certain level, it’s expected and opens games to a completely different type of gameplay, one where the player treats the world as a sandbox ripe for poking and prodding. Just look at Dishonored of this year. With its quicksave and quickload capabilities, it invites quick and rapid iterative testing. You can easily test the limits of guard patrols and sight distances and reload with no consequence. While the saves and loads may be quick, it slows down the game to a very deliberate pace and greatly expands the experimentation theme of the game without directly affecting how the game plays

It’s different, though, when those reload points land out of your control. When the game operates on checkpoints instead of offering the user the ability to choose when he or she wants to roll back to, it kind of homogenizes the experience. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it just makes for a different kind of game. In Hitman: Absolution, for instance, every person playing the game will always start out from a predefined set of locations and circumstances. There is absolutely zero variability here (especially since everything and everyone respawns upon reloading a checkpoint, but that’s a gripe for another time).

That’s what makes Halo games so special. It kind of mixes the two into a dynamic auto-checkpointing system. People have hypothesized and pondered how it works, attempting to divine what qualifies as a good time to checkpoint in Halo games, but it all seems rather moot. The game chooses and you live and die—sometimes repeatedly—by that autonomous decision. Sometimes it very overtly is based on when you kill enough enemies while other times it’s obviously checkpointing at certain locations on the map, but almost as frequently, Halo saves a checkpoint just because. It might be in the middle of a firefight, you in the middle of retreating behind cover, or it might be as you flip a Warthog over a barrier. Much like life, Halo checkpoints just sort of happen.

More than previous games, Halo 4 made me conscious of this. Maybe it was sheer happenstance or maybe it was a tweaked checkpoint system from past games, but it seemed like Halo 4 would save at the most inopportune moments. A second away from death, out of ammo, or after walking in the completely wrong direction for what feels like far too many minutes, I would see that checkpoint hit and just kind of wonder why. Other times, I would scream aloud WWWHYYYYYYYY, but my point remains: it was all nigh inscrutable.

Until it kind of landed on me—heavy in the chest with a thick and solid thud—that it was opening up the game to a similar sensation to the Skyrims and Fallouts and Dishonoreds of the gaming world; it was opening me up to rapid experimentation. However, my mental model worked in a fundamentally different way. In the discrete save/loading methodology, it was easy to empty my mind of each past and future and just focus on my present (likely dire) situation. I would usually refamiliarize myself with the current state of the world just to make sure nothing had miraculously changed in a world I’d thought static all Pleasantville-like.

In Halo 4, though, I began to notice that I was doing a mental quicksave myself whenever I saw that checkpoint hit. I would quickly internalize the state of the world for future reference. It was more than remembering; it was like a pure data set, an infallible visual representation of the entire world of the game, was stored in my brain. I could see and recall in an instant the exact location of the three Grunts to my left by that pillar. I instinctively know there is a firing Needler coming in from my 5 o’clock. It might as well be a fact of everyday life that an Elite has position (x,y,z) and current vector of (u,v,w). The entire quicksave function had relocated to my brain.

This opens the game up to an entirely different method of experimentation that plays into the puzzle-like mechanics of Halo so well. Since the control of the checkpoints is completely out of my hands, progress soon becomes the only worthwhile milestone of the game, but the necessary elegance soon becomes all encompassing. As I’m sure is the same with most of you, when you begin any encounter, you have some idea of what an optimal flow would be. Head left, throw grenade right, clear out hallway, cut across the center, and choke up on the middle as the Covenant try to overwhelm you.

But that fails. Luckily, you hit a checkpoint right after you threw the grenade and the world at that moment is imprinted on your brain. That frag is flying out over two barriers and a mildly empty expanse. A Jackal is over there, unfortunately pushing you towards the hallway you just died in. More importantly, you know that every part of your plan before that grenade worked. Everything after that? Not so much.

So now, instead, you push forward. Bad idea. There’s a Hunter, and he’s going to need to be taken care of one-on-one. Your mental imprint is updated. You fire right and push the Jackal into your grenade (silly Jackal). You retreat backwards that way and dump into the hallway, clearing it out, so now you can take care of the Hunter, the same one that just smashed the ground not two inches in front of you.

All of this happens in an instant. This all happens without thought so much as instinct because that checkpoint is internalized and made to be a very specific part of you. Emotive associations begin to form with good and bad parts of the surround area, where there will be trouble and where there will be aid. Rather than sit and ruminate on your predicament, you act. The dynamism of Halo 4‘s checkpoint system forces you to not think as much as you do simply react. Saves happen in the moment, so your actions happen accordingly. You don’t have time to stop and think so you don’t. You adapt and the game changes with you.

I’m not entirely sure it started out purposeful or not with Halo: Combat Evolved, but this in-the-moment, mystical checkpoint system that Halo 4 still uses absolutely works. More than that, it’s elegant. Deliberate or not, it a relatively small, front-facing change from the usual checkpoint systems that manages to fundamentally changes how the game works. Later Call of Duty games worked similarly, though it was more a matter of where you were and what you were doing at the time an objective completed, so you could be anywhere doing just about anything when you kill the last guy. It makes for trudging through on Veteran a unique experience, but I digress. Neither Call of Duty nor any other game makes the same instant flash imprint on my brain like Halo 4 does. An entire digital world is stored and recreated and analyzed within a single moment and recalled just as quickly.

There’s still a little part of my brain that remembers where I left off two weeks ago. And I still know there’s an Elite hiding behind that rock.

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Nailing The Fundamentals Of Halo 4

Every once in a while, a development studio will stumble across a hit. Not just one that hits certain sales numbers or is simply critically well-received, but rather they will somehow wring out from nothing a game that is socially impactful. Elements of the game will permeate gamer culture, infusing the zeitgeist with its own original flavor while its mechanics begin to appear in various forms in other products. Resident Evil 4 had “what are ya buyin‘?” and an over-the-shoulder camera; Gears of War brought about trailers of violent gameplay over melancholy music along with the active reload mechanic; and Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare paved the way for main character deaths in the campaign and killstreak bonuses in multiplayer games.

After these seminal games hit, these studios are more or less locked into pumping out more entries into the franchise on a regular basis (or at least revisit it in some way or another). Infinity Ward, for instance, has exclusively produced Call of Duty games throughout its entire existence. Capcom has an entire god damn litany of franchises it has to touch back on every couple of years lest they miss out on a money-making opportunity. It is very much both a blessing and a curse to find such success.

If you look at Halo, though, you find something fairly unique. The series itself is, of course, a landmark in the history of video games. It brought about the two-weapon limit, regenerating shields instead of discrete health packs, dual-stick vehicle controls, sophisticated FPS enemy AI, and so much more, which is not to mention the creation of one of the most iconic characters in the history of anything along with the impetus for one of the first majorly successful machinima series in Red vs. Blue. Studio-wise, though, Halo is also the first to ever spawn a dedicated studio to the franchise.

Treyarch, I guess you could say, is a prototype for 343 Industries, the spinoff studio that formed after Bungie left Microsoft to become independent once again (since Microsoft retained rights to the series). Treyarch used to develop a wide swath of titles and genres ranging from hockey to a Max Steel game to a Minority Report title. Since 2004, however, they’ve developed exclusively Spider-Man and Call of Duty products, save for a brief dip into the James Bond mythos with Quantum of Solace in 2008. They, however, mostly stumbled into this fixed position. 343i was made for it.

While a fledgling studio in its own right, 343i is led by some industry and franchise veterans. However, Halo 4, possibly the biggest release of the year and maybe the most important game in the series since the first Halo, is still a fairly tall order for a new group of developers. Their primary goal could probably be distilled down to this single phrase: don’t fuck up.

It’s crass, but it’s true. Their first outing could justify their whole existence (though from the reviews currently up, it seems like they’ve done a mighty fine job). Not only do they have to create a good game but they also have to appease an innumerable mass of fans that demand consistency, creativity, and reverence. So it’s no surprise that Halo 4 falls fairly hard on the safe side of things.

To put it succinctly, 343i nailed the fundamentals of Halo. The unique interplay between guns, melee, and grenades that has identified the series since its inception is as strong as it has ever been. Each weapon, while workable in any situation, also has clearly defined strengths and weaknesses, making every firefight a puzzle of suitable armaments. The story serves to build on the foundation laid before it, not ruffle any feathers. Halo 4 is without a doubt the most Halo-ass game in quite some time (which is not to put down Reach or ODST; they were excellent games but also definitely departed from the formula).

And that’s fine. It’s like the first time you jump off a diving board; you start out with just a straight pencil dive, not a sweet life-endangering gainer. 343i has created probably one of the top three Halo games and did so with plenty of originality that managed to not alienate any psychotic, die-hard fans. There is so much fan service just from the novels that I can’t believe it isn’t required reading just to purchase Halo 4.

But perhaps that created something a bit too static in some regards. The Forerunner weapons, while visually interesting and easily distinguished, are all too familiar, which is odd for a race so much older and more advanced than either humans or Covenant. These are ancient weapons yielded by the mysterious Prometheans, so why do they all have conventional analogues? The lightrifle is basically the Covenant carbine. The binary rifle is the same as any other sniper rifle in any other shooter. The scattershot even pumps shells like a traditional shotgun despite shooting out god damn light.

The new vehicle even seems a bit too conventional. The Mantis basically a rehash of every other mech sequence you’ve ever played in a video game; you’re slow, lumbering, and overpowered, briefly but severely changing the entire game to serve as a respite from shooting things with significantly smaller guns. Jeff Gerstmann has quite a bit to say about it in the Giant Bomb Quick Look that is, for the most part, spot-on.

Little additions that tangibly change Halo 4 like Promethean Vision and the default sprint (the multiplayer has even more changes that may have serious implications to the long tail of the online game), but for the most part, the game is entirely a product of a super concentrated dose of Halo. It’s not even that you would call it evolution over revolution but instead just severe refinement. Wheat from chaff, fat from meat, and all that. 343i went down to Home Depot, bought a hammer, and put that Fundamentals board up on the wall because they are nailing it.

And that’s fine. For now. This can be considered testing the waters, a heat check for the studio as a whole. But knowing the leads at the company, it’s unlikely they’ll stay this reserved for long. A departure like ODST and Reach can only be expected after six years of hewing the same stone, but 343i and Halo 4 is a big ol’ reset. Now we’ll have to see how they build on the foundation they’ve built for themselves. At least those fundamentals will help.

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