G1 Autobots, roll out!

A new trailer for the upcoming High Moon developed title, Transformers: War for Cybertron, has been making the rounds and one of the things that’s surprising about it is that everyone actually looks like a stylized Generation One character.

I’m actually happy that the designers are hitting the G1 designs again as a big fan of the original series. While I understand the positives that Michael Bay’s interpretations have done for the franchise in bringing it to a new generation, one of the things I wasn’t as much a fan of were the redesigns for the characters. Or in picking Hugo Weaving over Frank Welker for Megatron, but that’s just me.

Other fans haven’t been as forgiving, though. On the Transformers Wiki, there are even a few entries focusing on the terms that have come out in the wake of Beast Wars, the Armada series, and Bay’s films…terms like “trukk not munkey”, Pokeformers, and Bayformer, so it’s not unusual to see how much love (or hate) fans of either side have for the franchise. There are even those that take the extreme stance in standing forever vigilant against anything that might see it ruined FOREVER.

But the game looks like it’s going to try and bridge some of that with some fantastic action backed by old-school awesomeness. And Megatron doesn’t look like a walking splinter farm in this one, so I have hope.

Review: Heavy Rain

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Quantic Dream’s Heavy Rain can leave you feeling drained and beaten. As the name implies, it aims to soak you in sheets of emotional precipitation, doing so not with hurricane force, but with unrelenting, constant pressure.

Stories are the lifeblood of almost any game that doesn’t involve a ball. Told well, they can keep the player sucked in for hours, jostling everything from their psyche to their moral compass. A poorly done story turns the experience into a chore, also shining the spotlight on the game’s other problems.

Thankfully, Heavy Rain leans more toward the former, while also doing as much as it can to forward Quantic Dream’s efforts to advance a gameplay style past the “acquired taste” phase of acceptance.

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Are you a part of Cerberus?

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If you had bought Mass Effect 2 as a brand new game, you would get an access code to the Cerberus Network which came with a few pieces of free DLC as a nice bonus.

It was also another way of making a brand new purchase a far more attractive option than a used one since the code could only be used once. If you wanted the goodies but bought a used copy, you’d have to pony up $15 for a fresh code. It’s also part of a trend in trying to make new copies of games more attractive to buyers than used ones. And Bioware is raising the ante with even more free DLC for would-be operatives.

According to the announcement on Bioware’s Mass Effect 2 site:

“Free to all Cerberus Network members, the Firewalker pack includes 5 all new missions featuring the Hammerhead. Hovering over the battlefield at up to 120 kilometeres per hour, the Hammerhead also boasts a guided missile system ensuring accuracy even during aggressive maneuvering.”

It won’t kill the thrill of finding a favorite oldie at rock bottom prices, but it certainly gives another reason to buy a new copy depending on how much you think the DLC is worth it since it’s still the complete game without all of the additional stuff. But getting a heaping load of free fun on top of what is already there? Now that’s fan service.

Manuals were awesome back then

Open up a game nowadays and you might get a warranty card disguised as a manual. Get a new computer, and you might get a fold-out poster showing where all of the color coded plugs go. But hop into the Nostalgia Machine, and you might discover how weighty manuals were back then when they couldn’t stuff all of that information into a game or when companies needed to explain how PCs worked with ring bound booklets.

But how about a manual that ranted against the idea of DRM before it was known as DRM? A post on Ironic Sans (thanks BoingBoing), a site run by professional photographer, David Friedman, has a few snippets of a manual for the Franklin Ace 100 from the early eighties that rants against copy protection. Seriously. And this was from a PC manufacturer. Here’s an excerpt:

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The rest of the manual was also as humorously written and you can read the whole thing on Ironic Sans. Though the writer probably couldn’t foresee the impact that technology such as torrents, FTPs, usenet, IRC, would bring to the table in conversations on piracy, some of what he says resonates pretty strongly almost thirty years later when brought up against draconian approaches like Ubisoft’s online DRM.

It’s also too bad that no one can get away with even a little humor within manuals due to someone that might take it seriously. It’s probably along the same lines of why the trash talking in ads between console manufacturers had died out. For example, I can bet that you won’t see a PS3 ad making fun of how many discs it takes for Xbox 360 owners to play FFXIII in the same way that Square had openly mocked cartridges (and the Nintendo 64 at the time) with a two page spread for FFVII.

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But it would probably have been funny.

Commander Shepard: The Jerk Edition

I played through Mass Effect 2 as a nice guy, so this clip showing Commander Shepard in full-on Jerk Mode let me know what kind of fun I missed out on.

I should also mention that it’s a sometimes violent, but utterly spoiler-filled, clip, too, in case you’re still trying to make your own way through the galaxy as either a friendly savior or a coldly ruthless space cowboy. But if you ever wanted to know how a recorded store endorsement could go horribly wrong, sit back and just wait for it. Shepard’s in top form here.

There are…creatures…here…

As Funcom’s MMOG, The Secret World, creeps closer to release by inches, the mystery surrounding the sleepy Maine town of Kingsport reaches another level with the discovery of a blog written by one of its characters.

There’s some weirdness bubbling up from its streets, and here’s the proof:

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The author says it “might” be the Toad-Woman…or it might not. There are a few other ‘photos’ on the site that try to shed light on just what it going on down there, but if you happen to be driving along a lonely stretch of coastal road running through the New England States and have the itch for lobster, you might want to think twice about dropping by Kingsport. Unless you happen to belong to one of the secret societies that’s trained for this kind of thing.

John Carmack Earns an Achievement

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The Game Developer Choice Awards have picked coding guru, John Carmack, as this year’s recipient of their Lifetime Achievement award according to the newshounds at Blue’s News. With it, he joins other names such as Hideo Kojima (Metal Gear Solid, Policenauts), Wil Wright (SimCity, The Sims, Spore), and Shigeru Miyamoto (Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda) who have also won the annual award.

If you’re not sure who he is, Carmack is the co-founder and technical director of id Software, the developer that many credit with single-handedly starting up the FPS revolution in the early nineties. The 3D engines that he developed for Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, and Quake along with his continual improvements have made an undeniable impact on the modern FPS. I can’t even begin to count the hours spent in Quake II’s multiplayer, or modding maps for Wolf 3D.

He also launches rockets in his spare time through the aerospace company he founded, Armadillo Aerospace.

It’s been a long time in coming, but as a programming pioneer whose contributions have helped shaped how we play, it goes without saying that it’s also as well deserved.

Review: Bioshock 2

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Bioshock 2 is the sequel to the “thinking man’s” shooter which had shaken expectations within the slowly drowning underwater utopia of Rapture. The first game took place in 1960 and escaping it was the player’s only goal after a mid-ocean airplane crash leaves him the only survivor. But in doing so, they also unraveled the city’s fiction of shattered lives and lost, art-deco glory to individualism run amok.
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Mass Effect 2 minerals, what!

I had meant to post this earlier, but got swamped. Everyone who’s played ME2 has mined random planets for minerals. Minerals, as you know, contribute to research for weapons and ship upgrades. Some people, like myself, compare the scanning experience to that of maintaining a miniature zen garden, while others liken it to watching paint peel.

And there there are those who attempt to make hip-hop gold out of it. See. Love it. It even uses the music from the scanning / probing screen. Warning, there’s EXPLICIT LYRICS, kids.

Ubisoft Online

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Tom Francis over at PC Gamer has a blog entry spelling out his experience with Assassin’s Creed 2 on the PC. It’s also one of the first titles to roll off the assembly line equipped with Ubisoft’s new online-only service that I spoke about here and it’s already sparked heated reactions.

Basically, Tom tested whether or not he could keep playing the game without an internet connection so he unplugged his network cable to simulate the effects of actually losing it, presumably in the middle of poisoning a few guards or while leaping across rooftops. He had to do it this way because he wouldn’t have been able to even start the game if the launcher was unable to verify a connection in the first place.

Sure enough, the game reacted….in the worst way imaginable. It kicked him right out with a little message that said it had lost a connection to the server and was attempting to reconnect to restore the last checkpoint. The game uses the saves it has on the server to restore his progress. He notes that the saves are also local with an option to upload them or not, so in essence, the saves aren’t all on the server – but he still needs to be online to even play the game.

So what will happen if their servers, your router, or even your cable service goes down? Exactly what happened to Tom. Assassin’s Creed 2 doesn’t even have multiplayer. The only reason to stay online is to play the game. You’ll lose out on whatever progress you might have been making and be unable to play the game you paid for until the problem is fixed. And it isn’t even a bug, it’s a feature.

They won’t be winning friends among the PC faithful that want to experience titles such as Assassin’s Creed 2 with this approach despite the pleasant language Ubisoft’s FAQ on the service is written in. I didn’t even know that online saves were a feature that PC users desperately needed, but apparently Ubisoft has access to poll numbers that probably say otherwise.

Magic poll numbers that claim everyone’s hard drive is liable to crash in the next 24 hours.