GTA IV trailer thoughts

Just saw the GTA IV trailer. It looks like that RAGE engine could work out just fine for the franchise. If there was ever a design criticism about the series, it was that it was starting to look a little dated visually. Check out the cityscapes, the lighting, the company parodies (Getalife instead of MetLife) and the accent of the main character. It looks like we’re returning to Liberty City (if you see the writing on the ship as well as some of the Gotham-like landmarks), and we’re doing it in the shoes of an Eastern European main character.

The guy reminds me a lot of one of the villains from “Behind Enemy Lines” starring Owen Wilson. Wilson played a downed American pilot trying to escape Bosnia alive. One of his enemies was a skilled soldier who wore a sweatsuit for the whole movie, complete with the stripe down the side of his pantlegs. I’m not saying it’s HIM, but I can see him as the design inspiration for the protagonist in GTA IV.

You can see the trailer here.

Hayter to return as Snake? SNAAAAKE?!?!

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Was there ever really any doubt about this? Konami announced the voice cast for the PS3 exclusive (as far as I know) “Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots.” Among them is David Hayter (pictured) who’s been voicing the character of Solid Snake, the series’ hero. Also coming back are the folks who voiced Otacon, Raiden and Roy Campbell.

In addition to his voice stuff, Hayter’s the writer who wrote the original screenplays for “X-Men” and “X2: X-Men United.” Not too shabby. Here’s the quote he gave for the press release:

I couldn’t be more excited about this game. What I’ve seen of Metal Gear Solid 4 has absolutely blown me away. To bring the focus of the story back to Solid Snake, and to work with Kris Zimmerman and many of the amazing actors that provided iconic voices for the previous games, is like coming home, said David Hayter. I’m so proud and grateful to have been involved with Mr. Kojima as the voice of Snake, for nearly a decade, on this legendary video game series. This game is going to plunge players into the ultimate Metal Gear experience. And personally, I can’t wait to play it.

Nintendo signs with “E for All” Expo

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IDG announced today that the Entertainment for All (E for All) gaming expo has reeled in Nintendo as one of its flagship exhibitors.

If you don’t know what E for All is, it’s one of several events that will be attempting to pick up the pieces left over from the death of E3, which was like the Woodstock of gaming. While the old E3 always took place in May, E for All will be taking over the L.A. Convention Center from October 18-21, right around the time people should be trying to get their Christmas shopping done. You can get filled in on what the show’s about here. Essentially, this is an attempt to give gamers the “show” to call their own. Or, as the Rock would say (if he were still wrestling), it’s “the people’s show.”

The quick move by Nintendo shouldn’t really surprise anyone, given that the Wii was looked at as the most welcoming of the new systems and that the big N has always been seen as the friendly, happy game maker. I’m still not exactly sure what I would see there since October is so close to buying season, but who knows?

Xbox 360 Elite … or not

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Well, in case you didn’t know yet, Microsoft announced the impending arrival of the Xbox 360 Elite, a completely new SKU that comes with a 120-gig hard drive, HDMI port and cable and comes in black. Now it resembles my car.

If you’re tempted to assault the store when the Elite drops at the end of April, be warned. Check out what Joystiq (via Wired) points out about the apparent litany of boundaries that comes with the supposed treasure trove of storage space. The big stinker is that even if you have two 20-gig hard drives, you can only put the goods from ONE of those drives onto the Elite’s big-daddy drive. Boo! There’s more, but just check out the link to see it all … it’ll hurt.

As for HDMI … meh. I’m pretty happy with my premium 360 that’s managed to stay relatively healthy (as I say that, I’ll fire up “GRAW 2″ and watch, it’ll start bleeding) and never really looked at HDMI as a make-or-break feature. I’m curious to see what the launch system owners are thinking … probably nothing I can print. If you’re in the camp that couldn’t care less about HDMI, then paying $180 for more space probably isn’t appealing to you — not to mention the underlying feeling that you’re being told your system is inferior. At least that’s the message I get. And I don’t think I’m alone.

The stupid power of “Earth Defense Force 2017″

After about 20 minutes, it would be easy to point at “Earth Defense Force 2017″ and laugh. You could poke fun at the voice acting, which conjures up memories of those Japanese monster movies, where all we would need is someone pointing and screaming. You can poke fun at the ridiculously simple-sounding plot, where aliens are coming down to destroy us all and we have to FIGHT BACK! You can even laugh at the fact that you spend a lot of time killing giant balloonish ants that are crawling all over buildings. I was tempted to (and did) a lot of those things.

What I can’t say however, is that I wasn’t having a ball doing it.

The folks at D3 publishing have captured lightning in a bottle. As ludricrous as all of the other aforementioned elements in this game are, you can’t pull yourself away from it. Picture a parody of “Lost Planet,” without the snow, and EDF is what you’re left with. There’s a certain campy satisfaction to blowing away ants that shoot TANG-colored acid at you while you hear comrades yell and scream over the radio, “MY GOD! THIS IS ACID! AAAAAH!” It never gets old.

It also helps that you can annihilate any building or structure you lay your eyes on. This is what would have made “Crackdown” an epic title — a fully destructable city. WIth enough rockets, you could literally turn a good part of a metropolis into a parking lot. In fact, I spent a lot of my time playing the game doing just that. The pieces fell in strange ways sometimes (not to mention it does the classic “see the pieces disappear” thing) but I actually didn’t mind. I guess that’s the definition of mindless fun — you don’t mind what’s wrong with it.

However, what’s stopping me from giving a wholehearted recommendation of this game is that fact that you CAN’T PLAY CO-OP ONLINE. Boo! This is exactly the kind of game that Live was almost made for! Sure, you can play two players and do splitscreen co-op, but that’s not the same thrill as raising anti-alien hell with someone across the country.

Visually, I’d say the game is average. The giant ants look rubbery and bouncy, and I had a hard time getting over how dorky the Earth Defense Force troopers looked. Some of the bigger skyscrapers looked decent, but when the fluffy ants started crawling all over them, the building almost looked like props. The same goes for some of the not-so-good-looking background items, like the cars. Everyone from the aliens to the humans moves a little too stiff — it’s like the entire EDF had a body cavity search right before the invasion. One good note of humor is how the game handles new weapons and power-ups — you get to see old-school bitmap icons, jaggies and all, that read “armor” or “weapon.” It’s like 1985 all over again.

Gameplay was fairly simplistic, though I have no idea why the left trigger controls jumping. That just felt strange and unnatural. I was slightly irked at being able to only carry two weapons at a time, though it never really served as a problem. On “normal” mode, the game isn’t that hard — I must have wiped out about 100 or so ants before I got hit with a good shot. Then the flying machines came out, and the pace of the game changed.

I would say EDF is good weekend rental, at best, since even good mindless fun can get tedious after a while. Online co-op would have put the game almost into must-buy status. It can be that fun.

Xbox modder gets prison time; ESA gives thanks

Here’s the release from the Entertainment Sofware Association. A Xbox modder who “possessed and distributed” modded Xbox consoles with games got tagged with four months of jail, four months of house arrest and three years of supervised release.

Read on, and cue the “Hawaii Five-O” music.

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March 26, 2007 Washington, DC The Entertainment Software Association (ESA) today applauded the prison sentence that the U.S. District Court for the District of Hawaii imposed on defendant Don Perreira for his game piracy activities.

Defendant Perreira, who admitted to possessing and distributing modified Microsoft Xbox video game consoles that had been loaded with illegal copies of copyrighted video games, was sentenced by Judge Susan Oki Mollway to four months in jail and four months of home detention, followed by three years of supervised release.

Perreira, 27, of Pearl City, Hawaii, pled guilty on August 16, 2006, to two counts of criminal copyright infringement. Perreira fronted the modified game consoles loaded with games to his co-defendant John Oroyan, 40, of Waialua, who sold them for profit. Oroyan pleaded guilty last year to one count of copyright infringement and was sentenced on July 31, 2006, to five years of probation, three months of home detention, and 300 hours of community service.

We commend the U.S. Attorneys Office for the District of Hawaii and the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) Cyber Crime Squad in Hawaii for bringing these defendants to justice, said Ric Hirsch, senior vice president of Intellectual Property Enforcement at the ESA, which represents U.S. computer and video game publishers. These sentences send a clear message to game software pirates that intellectual property theft is a serious crime and will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

Mail run: ‘Earth Defense Force 2017′ and ‘Virtua Tennis 3′

I got both of these games in the mail today, and I’m slightly afraid. While I’m pretty sure I’ll find some fun out of Virtua Tennis (seeing as how I played tennis for most of my formative years), I’m a little worried about EDF. I watched one of our listeners play the demo not too long ago, and it reminded me a little too much of “Lost Planet” — except there was no blizzard going on. There were giant mechs, little people shooting at the giant mechs, and of course, battle vehicles you can use in combat. I think I’m sick of commanding machines and launching missiles at things.

Anyway, I’m putting together the review for “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” the new release for the Xbox 360 — not to be confused with the game that’s available on XBLA (Xbox Live Arcade). That should be in the paper on Tuesday. Then, it’s “Meet the Robinsons” on Thursday.

A trip to the REAL Disneyland

As I mentioned in the last post, I spent a day in Burbank scoping out Disney Studios, joining a squadron of other gaming media types (including my pal Jessica from All Games Interactive) We were all invited there to not only tour the studios, but also check out the movie itself in digital 3D and then play the game based on the movie on several platforms (and generally mingle amongst ourselves).

This place is cool. It felt a lot like a college campus, with fluffy green patches of land surrounding a lot of the buildings and a lot of fat squirrels running around. There are some great views of green hills/mountains over the horizon, so I imagine it’s to get the creative juices flowing. Sadly, I didn’t get to see any actors walking around.

I’m going to sprinkle in some bad pictures as I write. I say “bad” because my only image-gathering tool is my 1.3-megapixel cell phone camera … not to mention my photography skills are the suck.

Here goes:

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Our tour guide, John, first took us to the common area, where the people who work at the studios mill around, eat and generally interact … like I said, a lot like a college campus. This mouse shrubbery was outside the cafeteria/commisary, which would be of great importance later on. The flagpole you can barely see to the right is one of two that has the Olympic symbols engraved onto them — Walt Disney once had a HUGE role in the Olympics, hence the special poles.

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What can I say? We’re at Disney Studios. Sadly, you actually can’t USE these that street sign to find any destination. I wish I knew that earlier, while I was trying to find the tour group meeting spot. This is a corner near one of the old theatre buildings, which features the sets of handprints on concrete you just saw.

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Away we went to the animation building, where we saw hallways decked out with concept art, cells, early drawing of characters that were tweaked and re-tweaked until the voice actors were brought on board, so they would be tweaked again. We’re told that the process for making movies this way would take about 4 to 5 years. I’d have more pics for you, but a lot of what I took here was blurry and would murder your eyes.

Then, we went to the archives.

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Seeing the Disney archives was one of the big highlights of the tour. We were taken to a room where we’d see a bevy of items — books, cels, figures, you name it — that were used or related to the Disney empire in some way. It was like a museum. Hopefully, you’ll recognize the wardrobe from “The Chronicles of Narnia.”

After ogling the archives, we took a step outside and saw one of the cooler pieces of architecture I’ve seen in a long time.

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Going to the dance

Today I got the chance to check out Disney Studios in Burbank, yet another one of those things I didn’t think I was going to do in my lifetime. I was there for an event showcasing “Meet the Robinsons”, both the movie and the game. I’ll get to that tomorrow … I have pics to upload and more information to share, and I just don’t have the juice to do it right now.

What I am going to muse about is the discussion I had with a few fellow game-writing folks at the event … the invites to the scaled-down, exclusive event that is now E3. I ended up getting a message in my swamped e-mail inbox yesterday, telling me that I had to confirm my info at the end of the week to get invited. After I did that, I was assured I’d get my invitation and other goodies in the mail.

The e-mails were strange … almost cryptic. The sender didn’t read “ESA” or something easily recognized, but rather an address that wasn’t monitored by human beings. It was one of those unread e-mails that could have easily been filtered into the spam or junk folder if you weren’t looking for it.

I thought two things: 1) Wow … they must REALLY not want the “wrong people” at this; 2) Why the hell did I get picked?

Don’t get me wrong … I think it’s very cool I’m able to go, but I find it a little creepy to know that I’m on some sort of master list of names, like the people in “Heroes.” Who gets picked? Who decides? And perhaps most of all, who’s getting snubbed? It’s almost seems like a double-edged sword to getting selected to attend what is supposed to be a landmark event in the industry — it doesn’t feel quite like a blessing. It’s like I was picked to be part of an experimental genome program. Just weird.

I guess I’m also anxious because I have no idea what this is going to be like. Since I’ve been at LANG (that’s Los Angeles Newspaper Group), I’ve been weaned on show floors, giant booths with babes, loud noise and having to fight with eight guys from Best Buy for time on a game. Now I hear it’s going to be tons of keynote speeches and press conferences, and then closed-door, one-on-one meetings. As was discussed at the Disney event, we’re going from about 65,000 – 70,000 people to maybe less than 5,000. That’s a lot of people who aren’t going to be seeing this stuff, and one can only wonder what the result could be. We’ll find out in less than four months.

Spartan week

I saw “300″ over the weekend … and I just got “God of War II” in the mail this morning. If I were to experience both in the same day, I’m pretty sure I would try to rally everybody in the movie theater and lay siege to the Italian restaurant nearby. That’s what material like this does to people.

I think part of the reason so many people fell in love with the first “God of War” and are gushing about “300″ is the same reason people liked the wrestler Goldberg in his prime, or “Gladiator” when it was released in theaters: People just like things that live up to their ideal of the inner badass.

This isn’t to be confused with the inner “thug” — the thug usually preys on the defenseless or helpless. Lots of times, you don’t even see the thug coming. With the vintage badass, there’s no fear of the numbers or how “good” an adversary is. The badass doesn’t care if you see him coming, because in the end, there’s nothing you can do about it anyway.

And in an entertainment sense, that’s empowering. It’s a different kind of satisfaction … you foil a missle plot with Sam Fisher and you can feel proud of your skill and patience. With Kratos, the satisfaction comes with administering merciless, what’s-my-name beatings to hordes of creatures or putting an angry giant on the ground with extreme, bloody prejudice. Kratos allows the player to feel invincible and nasty, appealing to the snarling dog that I think is in everybody to some degree.

That doesn’t mean I’m going to be an apologist for the game’s flaws — the combos are a little too easy to do, and I still thought the game was dangerously close to being considered short. I just didn’t really notice it — I was too busy being The Man.

Well, I’m off to be semi-godlike. Blades up.