Map talk, part deux

Since R6 has enjoyed a renaissance in my weekly playing rotation, I’ve gotten to digest the two play modes available in the new map pack: Total Conquest and Assassination. Both are tons of FPS fun in bunches.

Assassination

Combined with the Doscala Restaurant, this match type has brought me and others the most joy over the past two weeks. Players are divided into two teams: assault and defend. The defenders have to escort a VIP to one of several extraction points on the map, while it’s the assault team’s job to take the VIP out. Simple enough.

Here’s the fun part — one of the defenders has to assume the role of the VIP. He’s a skinny, balding old white guy with no armor (just a shirt and bad tie), no grenades, and only a Glock as his main weapon. Considering you’re going up against guys who could be decked out with shields, riot helmets and assault rifles, you might as well have brought a Nerf gun to the battle.

This could lead to some funny moments. The game picks the VIP at random, so there’s always the inevitable “aww man” when the game starts, and they see bare white arms feebly holding a handgun. In our group, the VIP character has been christened with several identities — our favorite is the “KFC night manager.” We’ve gotten a lot of humor mileage out of that one.

It’s also funny to see the VIP engage in a killing spree. Yes, it can and HAS happened. I remember being part of a game where me and all the other defenders got taken out … and then we watch the VIP (a very skilled player) take out the assault team by himself. There’s almost an unspoken shame in being taken out by the VIP … it’s not supposed to happen. It’s like getting beat up by your sister or something. Good times for all. We ended up playing one map and this one mode for hours. I stop only for work and Guitar Hero.

Total Conquest

You got three small satellite installations scattered around the map. Two teams have to take over and defend as many satellites as they can for as LONG as they can until the score for one team reaches a certain limit. The more satellites you hold for a longer period of time, the faster and bigger your score gets. You can set the score limit to 3,000, 5,000 or 8,000. This is also the kind of match type that begs for you to turn the respawns on.

This game mode almost serves as a crash course for on-the-fly team communication, as well as what your definition is of “cheap.” For instance, I’ve witnessed several matches where a team will take control of two of the three satellites and then camp out at the spawn point of the other team, cutting them down before they can make a move. Without the spawn camping, matches still have their fair share of gun-blazing chaos. As the scores get higher, the competition gets a little more heavy, and the trash-talk after each round can get a little more grating. Among friends, it’s a great change of pace from Assassination — though I don’t think it’s quite as fun.

‘God of War’ coming to the PSP … for real

We knew this was coming for some time, but now it’s “official” — Sony launched the Web site for “Chains of Olympus,” which is the very real name for Kratos’ venture into the world of the PlayStation Portable.

I tried the site, and there’s nothing there (pics, videos) that gives you a sense of what the game is supposed to be like. However, the site is offering free UMD demo discs … but no one knows what’s going to be on them. If it’s anything like the God of War II demo, count me in.

Gamespot reports that Cory Barlog, the producer for “God of War,” has only said that “Olympus” is an entirely new game and not some adaptation of the other games for the PS2.

OK, I’m a little interested about how this game is going to feel. I don’t have any doubts it’ll look great and feature a lot of the arm-tearing hijinks we’ve come to expect from our dead Spartan buddy. However, one of the main gripes about the PSP as a game system is its single thumbstick/speaker button. Unless you’re the type who’s played his PSP to death (and I haven’t run into many of those), you might find the space for your thumb a little cramped. Add that to the fact that rolling and dodging were handled by the right thumbstick (which doesn’t exist on the PSP), and you’ve got a potential issue.

However, also keep in mind that the “God of War” series is one of the button-mashier franchises around (don’t take my word for it … my friend Canan Tasci of City News, a non-gamer, managed to wipe out a small garrison once she found out the attack buttons) so it’s not like Sony will be trying to reinvent the wheel. We’ll see. I just want to see some screen shots.

Map talk

I spent most of my working day poring over the new “Red Edition” pack for R6: Vegas. It’s a big honkin’ download — it took me over an hour, so I managed to fit in breakfast and return some messages while waiting. Instead of of hurling a giant block of text at you, I’ll just break my thoughts (sometimes random) into digestible chunks. I’ll probably go through them again before AGI, because they’re actually quite large.

First, thought on some of the maps:

Doscala Restaurant

In terms of strategic variables, this is probably going to be my favorite map. You don’t just fight in a restaurant — you also have multilevel parking structure across the street, the street itself, a side alley into the restaurant, and of course, the front door. From what I experienced, spawn points are both inside the restaurant and at the structure. You’ll get a lot of closed-combat action in the confines of the restaurant, which comes complete with a good size upscale dining room, bar and back kitchen area (complete with freezer). I have a feeling this is where the shotgun-proficient will live. I could also see snipers setting up shop across the street at the parking structure. There’s a clear line of sight from one corner of the structure into that side alley … anyone who walks into that alley (like me) runs of the risk of getting the Golgo 13 treatment. In other words — boom, headshot. Though after writing that, I now want a custom M-16 in the game. Maybe not.

Kill House Redux

Not as much of a fan of this one. It’s still a fun map to play it, but I feel like I know it already. Only noticeable change I’ve seen is that it’s during the day. There might be some extra doors or something, but I didn’t see anything that made me say, “My god, this feels brand new!!!” In most of the matches I engaged in here, we ended up using a lot of the same techniques and moves (and in my case, I use the word “moves” loosely).

Marshalling Yard

This one feels like the biggest map in the game. It’s got a large, open area loaded with train cars and trucks … along with a lot of ideal spots for sharpshooters. I learned this the hard way, as I kept running from train car to truck while someone was trying to shoot me in the temple. Couple that with the folks who liked to run around in this maze of steel and kill everyone in sight. Scary stuff. My shooting was the suck on this map.

Border Town Redux

You’re going to need night vision here, because it’s very dark. I ended up getting a lot of free kills simply because someone couldn’t see my guy, who looks a little like Scorpion dressed in black. Shadows FTW. However, this also worked against me, as I couldn’t see anyone to save my life, especially in the church.

I didn’t end up exploring the new “Roof” map, but that’s going to change in the next few hours. I’ve actually got to cut this a little short, since I’m helping one of our columnists break into the world of gaming, and we’re also going to do a podcast about it (hopefully, that turns out well). Next time you see me, I’ll share my thoughts on the two play modes: Total Conquest and Assassination. Take care.

Rainbow Six … still waiting.

Nothing to report here, as I’m still waiting for the new R6 maps and modes to download to my 360 (which was without its hard drive for about a week — long story). If you’re not exactly keen on what the new “Red” edition pack entails, you can find most of the pertinent information here.

I’m looking forward to the new maps and seeing what kind of mileage I can get from them. However, I’m going to make an admission — the moment I play a multiplayer match at the LVU campus map, it’s going to feel weird. Sure, the campus is fictional, but my virtual self is still going to running around university buildings, carrying an assault rifle and trying to shoot terrorists or members of the other team. Just a thought that flew through my head … maybe I’ll expound more on it when I’ve actually done some real playing.

The maps that are actually new include a restaurant and a roof setting, so it’ll be nice to get my feet wet with a group of people on my Live buddy list. This map pak also comes at a time when I’m going to try and “educate” one of our non-gaming writers on games and gaming culture. It’s sort of a crash course for her, since (by her own admission) she’s about as far from a hardcore gamer as you could possibly be. However, taking up gaming is one of her New Year’s resolutions, so therefore, I have become her gaming sensei be default. Perhaps I’ll just tell her to sweep the leg or shoot the glass and be done with it : ) That’s advice that can go a really long way.

Chargers fans want LT to elude ‘Madden’ cover

By now, you should know all about the “Madden” curse. If you don’t, here’s a decent explanation.

Fans of San Diego Charger tailback and MVP LaDainian Tomlinson (L.T.), want Electronic Arts to kindly NOT put their star on the cover of “Madden ’08.” Last year, Shaun Alexander was on the cover — and then ended up getting hurt and missing a chunk of the regular season.

Their efforts have culminated in an online petition Web site called SaveLTFromMadden.comin an effort to perhaps sway EA from potentially sacrificing Tomlinson to the injury gods. At the time of this posting, the petition had 821 signatures and counting.

The actual cover athlete is going to be revealed tomorrow on “Jimmy Kimmel Live.”

‘Halo’ and the Aeneid

Don’t ask me. Ask the University of Connecticut literature professor that’s using the Master Chief vs. The Covenant saga to illustrate the nuances of Virgil’s poem to his students. According to the article, he also uses “Halo” to help teach students about The Iliad.

I have a question … what about the two “God of War” games? Especially that one part in the bathhouse during the Colossus battle? You think college kids would pay attention to that?

Virginia Tech

Hot off the heels of the massacre at Virginia Tech, officially the worst school shooting in U.S. history, there’s a post on Kotaku that notes that anti-game crusader Jack Thompson has gone on TV and blamed video games for the tragedy. If anyone has ever followed Thompson and his agenda over the years, you could have almost started the countdown to this from the moment the story was reported.

Within the comments section under the entry you’ll find a lot of the expected venom directed at Thompson for using the shooting as a way to push his “message” to the masses while the dead are practically still being identified. Editor Brian Crescente doesn’t pull any punches in his responding to the Thompson move:

“It saddens me that filth like Jack can get on national television to gloat and revel in the deaths of so many and try to put it off as education.”

What’s scary is that part about getting on national television. As Crescente points out, Thompson has lied, threatened his peers and judges, and is dangerously close to losing his license to practice law in Florida. And now “God’s vessel” is being put on TV as a credible source? Nice.

I’m interested to see what will happen in the MSM (mainstream media) as we all get deeper into the story. I’ve already seen a few comments on various gaming forums hoping that the police don’t find “Rainbow Six” or “Gears of War” sitting around in the gunman’s home. Others are angry that the concept of video games is even brought up, worried about the potential that it would overshadow the fact that more than 30 kids are dead. Fair or unfair, it might be safe to say that gaming is going to be brought up again when it comes to this — it always is whenever a school shooting comes up.

I’m also curious to see how our contemporary society will handle this. I went to Kent State University, where the memory of the “four dead in Ohio” still resonates throughout the campus, even though those kids were shot back in the ’70s. Those four essentially became the identity of the school. And now at Virginia Tech, there are 32 dead. At least, last time I counted. Eight times the death toll at KSU.

I’m sure there are more words I can put here, but I can’t find them right now. I’ll talk more about gaming stuff next time. Til then.

GTA IV preview knowledge

Check out gta4.net, which beautifully summarizes the huge Game Informer preview on GTA IV. Enjoy the nuggets of info below. I’ll have more thoughts on this later.

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* The protagonist’s name is Niko Bellic – an Eastern European immigrant who has come to Liberty City to live the “American Dream.” The game is set in Liberty City in 2007, but it is bigger than the Liberty City we saw in GTA III.

* The GTA 4 equivalent of the Statue of Liberty is called the Statue of Happiness, and DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) is known as BOABO (Beneath the Offramp of the Algonquin Bridge Overpass).

* In Grand Theft Auto IV, Rockstar have recreated 4 of the 5 boroughs in New York, as well as part of New Jersey. Broker is the GTA IV equivalent of Brooklyn, Manhattan is now called Algonquin, Queens is now Dukes, the Bronx is Bohan, and New Jersey is Alderney. The map is smaller than San Andreas, but considerably more detailed. No countryside or desert, we are led to believe.

* Pedestrians are far more realistic in GTAIV than in previous GTA games – they sit on benches, smoke cigarettes, read books and generally act like any real pedestrian would in the middle of a street.

* The screenshots in the preview are not representative of the final quality of the graphics, Rockstar insist. The game will only look better as the release draws closer..

* Niko was persuaded to move to Liberty City by his cousin Roman, who claimed to be living a wonderful life there with two beautiful women, fifteen sports cars, and lots of money etc, but he was in fact telling a lie in order to hide his own failures. Roman is the only person you know in Liberty City at the beginning of the game, and he becomes one of your major connections at the start. Niko is a tough character whereas Roman is friendly. Roman is heavily in debt and a lot of people are after him – he needs Niko’s support. They are constantly bickering.

* The demo (which was played on Xbox 360) begins with Bellic standing inside of the taxi depot, which Roman operates in the borough of Broker in a converted industrial garage. Roman works at a cluttered desk in a shabby environment, and at this point the graphical improvements are extremely evident. Bellic walks to a brownstone house in Broker, where he pushes open the door and pulls out a pistol. The living room however, is not occupied. He then moves onto the kitchen, which he also finds to be empty. He pushes his way through the back door and smashes the window of a red four-door car using his elbow. The broken glass falls onto the street and onto the seat of the car, as Bellic unlocks it from the inside. He hotwires the car and sets off to his next destination. The camera angle behind the car is closer to the vehicle than in previous GTA titles, which enables more detail on the car to be seen. After selecting a radio station, Bellic navigates to a section of the BOABO arriving at a dockside with a terrific view of the city skyline. Pigeons can be heard in the sky, and waves can be heard rustling in the water. Bellic then pulls out his cellphone which has options for Phonebook, Messages, Organizer and Camera on it’s LCD screen. He selects Phonebook, and he is then presented with another set of options: City Contact, Docks Friend, and Cab Contact. After a brief conversation he informs the reciever to meet him at the docks.

* As Bellic walks, you can feel the weight behind each step he makes. Variations in the terrain cause realistic changes in the walking animation. The physics have also improved and character movements are more realistic.

* In previous GTA games you were like a slave because you had to constantly take orders from people when doing missions. There is still an element of that in Grand Theft Auto 4, but you can also choose how you want to spend your time, for example “I want to hang out with him and her. I want to hang out with this guy because he always has fun things to do.” Call him up and maybe you can hang with him. Maybe he’ll answer. You have a lot of choice over what you want to do.

* In GTA 4, Rockstar is giving its players more freedom, more choice, and more sense of control over their destiny – the structure of GTA4′s storyline is quite different to it’s predecessors as it can be told in a number of different ways. You can talk to people in person, by cell phones, and there are a bunch of other ways of giving the player information. In general it’s a different experience, with new ways of interacting with the characters and the game world.

* Rockstar consulted crime experts and ex-policemen when making the game, and they learned that being a criminal is a lot harder these days than it was during the 80s and 90s (for example) and they have tried to reflect this in the game. This means you can expect to see a lot of people getting arrested – the police are a heavy presence in Liberty City.

* There are no planes in GTA IV because there is only one city, and Rockstar want the game to seem realistic. That means there will be no rollerblades, no unicycles, probably no jetpacks and indeed no planes. Rockstar are giving choice and variety which feels right for the character. However there will be motorbikes.

* Rockstar North is approaching the recruitment of voice actors in a different way. This means that we will probably hear less familiar voices in GTA 4, as R* are looking for voices which suit the attitude of the characters, and are not just looking for big names. A similar approach is being done with the soundtrack – Rockstar are looking for great music which works with the 2007 Liberty City.

* After an initial load sequence, the game will never load again. Not even during exterior-interior transitions (and vice versa).

* Both versions of the game (Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3) will likely be identical, but the Xbox 360 version will have exclusive downloadable episodic [sizeable] content. Rockstar have now spent over 3 years developing the game, and Dan Houser compares the leap from GTA III to GTA IV, to the leap from GTA to GTA III.

* GTA IV will have multiplayer, but it’s not going to be a massively multiplayer online game, says Dan Houser. They are trying to make something that is interesting, fun, progressive and which goes along nicely with the single-player game.

May 16. Halo 3 multiplayer beta.

Well, here it is. Microsoft and Bungie confirmed that on May 16 starting at 5 a.m. PDT, the multiplayer beta for “Halo 3″ will become available on Xbox Live. The beta’s going to run until June 6, cutting off at 11:59 p.m. So that’s about three weeks of poor eating, extremely long hours, cursing, headshots, and probably (in my case) the potential to really annoy my wife. I’m in there.

I’m one of the many who snagged a “specially marked” copy of Crackdown, which will grant me access to the beta when it goes online. Anyone who was lucky enough to secure an invitation via the “Rule of Three” promotion can also start counting down the days. I’ll admit this right now — I’m a below-average FPS player. But I’m thinking by the time I’m done milking the beta for all it’s worth, I’ll just be an average player. It’s all about the small steps and moral victories here.

When the game’s afoot, this is what we’re going to get: Three maps called Snowbound, High Ground and Valhalla, all of vary scales and detail. Apparently we’ll get a crack at the new Mongoose all-terrain vehicle, as well as a chance to shoot at each other with the improved assault rifle, Brute Spiker, Spartan Laser and Spike Grenades. Aw yeah. If you want to see more “Halo 3″ stuff, check out the Bungie Web site for a video documentary, also available in high-def over Live.

Three weeks of pain are coming. Sooner than I think.

‘Guitar Hero II’ and the Key Club in L.A.

GHIIparty.jpg

Last night I checked out a Guitar Hero II 360 tourney/party at the Key Club in Los Angeles, a place that’s built a reputation for being a pretty hot spot for parties and checking out music. Honestly, it’s the first bona-fide “club” that I’ve been to in Los Angeles. Most of the action happened in a downstairs lounge area (with an open bar) with the 360 hooked up to a big screen, with a pair of dueling guitar controllers ready to be abused. And abused they were.

GHIIfinals.jpg

There was a sign-up sheet, and players were paired and went at it — best score won. It was a little scary how good some of these guys were. On “expert” difficulty, the notes really fly down the screen and I’m certain my hands would stop working if I tried them at my current skill level, or lack thereof. The final two got to battle it out upstairs on the main stage, being cheered on by a pit of fans who were there to check out the live music. Surreal … I wish I was good at that game (which is out right now). The winner got a copy of the game, as well as an Xbox 360 Premium system. Not too shabby.

I got to hang out with the All Games Interactive crew there, as well as Gerry and Jessica Chobot from IGN, who I almost killed with a drink suggestion (I won’t explain it here too much — this is a family blog, not a place to pontificate on the drunken exploits of gaming media).

I’ll put some pictures up as soon as my phone and e-mail stop acting stupid.