Leftover E3 Thoughts: Sony’s Show

Sony, among the big three console makers, appears to have had the most interesting show at this year’s E3, at least in terms of making promises that will actually interest gaming enthusiasts.

And this happened even though I’m not sure I can say Sony had a stellar E3. Keep in mind the company did not reveal anything about a PlayStation 4 (wait until next year’s show, I guess) and its big hardware reveal was for something called Wonderbook, which is something that I still don’t understand except for the fact that it appears to be aimed at small children.

Sony succeeded because aside from Wonderbook – which I count as a potential success – they focused on big-time exclusive games. If Twitter feeds are any reflection on reality, anyone who owns a PlayStation 3 and is following E3 is excited about the post-apocalyptic “The Last of Us.”

Sony’s other big reveal, “Beyond: Two Souls,” is surely not the kind of game one expects to jump to the top of sales list but Sony’s willingness to give the E3 spotlight to what should be a highly-narrative game featuring voice work by actress Ellen Page shows the company wants to be taken seriously by gamers.

Microsoft, by contrast, spent so much of its energy explaining their plans to use the XBox 360 as just about anything other than a gaming console. Nintendo, who I have yet to praise or complain about, turned in a mediocre performance (everybody says so!)  and I doubt Nintendo really knows how to market their next console, the Wii U.

More on that later. This is Sony’s turn.
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E3 Thoughts: Ubisoft’s Press Conference

French games publisher Ubisoft had Monday’s third presser and by all indications, execs decided they needed more than games to get everybody’s attention because their show had more bloodshed and partial nudity than the day’s others presentations put together.

Ubisoft also previewed “Assassins Creed 3,” being the fifth Assassin’s Creed title for consoles and “Watch Dogs,” which is thus far the most intriguing title of E3. Watch Dogs looks something like a cyberpunk “Grand Theft Auto, and promises to deal with relevant themes such as electronic surveillance, cyber warfare and shooting people.

Snark aside, watch this and think about it:

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E3 Thoughts: EA Games Press Conference

EA Games had the second of today’s pre-E3 press conferences and somehow had time to promote three first-person shooters and a couple sports games called Madden NFL and FIFA. Readers of this blog may have heard of them.

The publishers also previewed the new SimCity, which filled this former city beat reporter with dreams of finally being able to run a major metroplitan my way. (At least for the first time since I played SimCity 4.)


EA Games, in their own way, also continued the social-media-and-connectivity-are-good-themes Microsoft established in their show. The publisher advertised social media tie-ins for at least three titles (there’s a lot of new info swimming in my head today) and we’ll see how that goes. From my perspective, the audience that is willing to pay $60 for a premium game is not necessarily the same audience that wants a quick bit of fun on a mobile device, but I’m happy to reserve judgement until the social media stuff actually comes out.

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E3 Thoughts: Microsoft’s Press Conference

Microsoft led off Monday’s rush of pre-E3 press conferences and observers may be forgiven if they got the idea that Microsoft forgot the XBox 360 is a video game console.

Sure, Microsoft opened their presentation with new Halo 4 footage, but company seemed to spend more than half of its time promoting anything the XBox 360 can do besides play video games, such as the aforementioned Halo 4.

Microsoft’s biggest announcement was for a forthcoming feature called SmartGlass, in which customers would be able to link smartphones or tablets to their 360 and access info related to a movie or television program while the content streams through their console. Microsoft also promised SmartGlass functionality with games, so it looks like somebody in Washington State liked Nintendo’s planned tablet controller for the forthcoming Wii U.


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Review: Kid Icarus: Uprising (Better late than never, right?)

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“Kid Icarus: Uprising” is the
first Nintendo release to bear the Kid Icarus moniker in more than
two decades and its blend of humor, mythological references, dynamic
visuals and old-school sensibilities are almost enough to make the
title one of the great ones.

The only really big problem – and it is
a big one – is the game’s control scheme. The unfortunate fact is
that although the Nintendo 3DS handles Kid Icarus: Uprising’s visuals
just about perfectly, the game’s controls are about as unwieldy as
can be. It’s telling that Nintendo included a special stand with the
game so players could set the game on a table instead of twisting
their wrists into an unnatural position in order to handle the 3DS’
buttons, circle pad and stylus at the same time.

It’s a shame the control scheme mars
Kid Icarus: Uprising’s gameplay, because this could be an ideal game
for anybody who grew up on the Nintendo Entertainment System and
still appreciates Nintendo’s zany approach to game design. Kid
Icarus: Uprising has enough wacky dialogue and flashing lights to
entertain just about anyone who doesn’t need all of their video games
to be grimdark and ever so “mature.”

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From bloody sock to bloody balance sheets: Curt Schilling’s 38 Studios goes under

Gaming websites and the Providence Journal are reporting today that Rhode Island-based 38 Studios has today laid off all employees, as well as those of its Maryland-based subsidiary Big Huge Games.

The Rhode Island studio’s only release was this year’s Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, a fantasy RPG. The studio may be best known however, for the jock-nerd partnership among its “visionaries” (38 Studios’ term) of former Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling, fantasy author R.A. Salvatore, comic book artist Todd McFarlane and game designer Ken Rolston.

Big Huge Games was probably best known for “Rise of Nations,” a highly-regarded 2003 PC strategy game.

As of today’s developments, 38 Studios will now likely be remembered for the ill-fated financial incentives Rhode Island officials used to entice the game developer from neighboring Massachusetts.

From Polygon:

The news came as a surprise to nearly everyone involved, including
the state of Rhode Island and Governor Lincoln Chafee who during an
afternoon press conference said that as of this morning they hadn’t
heard a word about possible layoffs or a closure.

During the evening press conference Chafee attributed the sudden
studio closure and financial plummet to their fist game: Age of Amalur:
Reckoning, which he said “failed.”

“The game failed,” he said. “The game failed. That was integral to the success of the company.”

He told reporters that experts told them it would have had to sell 3
million copies to break even. Schilling has said that the game sold
about 1.2 million copies in its first 90 days.

“Companies fail over night,” Chafee said, in response to a question about the sudden closure.

The studio’s financial turmoil first came to light earlier this month
when they first missed and then later made a $1.125 million payment to
the state of Rhode Island.

The studio’s failure could result in the Ocean State now owning the Kingdom of Amalur IP, which our reviewer happened to think has a lot of potential, at least from a player’s perspective.

But Joystiq reports the IP rights may be only worth $20 million, and 38 Studios owes some $50 million to Rhode Island taxpayers.

As of this posting, there’s no statement on 38 Studios’ website regarding the layoffs. The company’s most recent release is a video showing assets for Project Copernicus, which is reportedly a World of Warcraft-style MMO based on the Amalur universe.

The studio calls Project Copernicus “a world worth saving,” but will the taxpayers of Rhode Island agree?

Review: The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings: Enhanced Edition

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The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings:
Enhanced Edition is many things – some good, some not – but it is
certainly a demanding game.

Indeed, The Witcher 2 is a role-playing
game that demands at least two playthroughs just to make sure one
gets a taste of its entire plot. The idea of offering players a
chance to make meaningful choices is a big one in modern games, and
The Witcher 2 not only challenges players by forcing them to choose
from many tactical options, but also forces them at an early point in
the game to decide which storyline they wish to follow.

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Black Ops 2 Trailer: Blow stuff up in Los Angeles, future style

As an objective writer, I have to say one thing about the new trailer for “Call of Duty: Black Ops 2″:

It looks pretty amazing.

The trailer appears to show, among other things, future special forces operatives fighting drones in Los Angeles. It’s very Terminator-esque, and a nice break from the “Kill Russians!” theme of we’ve seen in recent video games that seem to have been made by people who don’t realize the Cold War ended more than two decades ago. (I’m looking at you, “Bad Company,” “Ace Combat: Assault Horizon” and well, “Call of Duty.”)

Being someone who plays games for their single-player than multi-player modes, I haven’t really been excited about a Call of Duty game since the series was still set in World War II and I played Call of Duty 2′s demo at the Circuit City in Newport Beach. I thought that game, as well as original “Call of Duty and its “United Offensive” expansion pack for the PC did a great job of allowing players to imagine the chaos of a World War 2 battle from American, British and Russian perspectives.

I have yet to even get around to playing “Call of Duty 3″ or “World at War. Regarding the games set in the modern era, I think “Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare” deserves much of its praise whereas the storyline for “Modern Warfare 2″ didn’t make any sense to me and Black Ops was OK, except I thought the twist at the end was pretty ridiculous. I’ll probably eventually find time to try “Modern Warfare 3″

I know judging recent Call of Duty games for single-player is kind of missing the point, but I don’t have enough time to play multi-player to compete with all the players who take it seriously.

I’m sure Black Ops 2 will continue to emphasize multiplayer, since that’s what the games biggest fans like most. But giving the game a drastically different setting from its predecessors should allow some opportunities for gameplay innovations and wild new weapons. The futuristic setting should give the developers an incentive to be creative, as opposed to “realistic,” and I’m all for it.

Free multiplayer expansion announced for Mass Effect 3, or is “The Truth” true?

In what could be either a desperate attempt to win back Mass Effect fans’ love or a Machiavellian scheme to discourage used games’ sales, EA Games announced today the “Mass Effect 3: Resurgence” expansion will be available for free download on April 10.

The news follows Thursday’s announcement of an “Extended Cut” download to be released this summer for Mass Effect 3. That content, also to be released free of charge, would expand upon the game’s ending. Many fans hated Mass Effect 3′s ending because they felt it did not adequately fulfilled producer’s claims that players choices could result in dramatically different conclusions.

The past couple days’ news seems close to confirming “The Truth” rumor I first saw on Game Front last
month. The rumor held that players would be able to continue their Mass
Effect 3 games after the on-disc ending, and also had it that players
could look forward to extended multiplayer content.

As of Friday, there is no confirmation that the Extended Cut will include playable content, and it may just be new cinematic scenes. Nonetheless, the rumored multiplayer classes are the very ones that EA confirmed today.

From Friday’s announcement:

  • Two New Action-Packed Maps:  Take the battle to Firebase Condor, a warzone outpost located on one of Palaven’s moons and Firebase Hydra,
    an old abandoned quarian colony which has since been converted into a
    critical power facility. Each map represents a crucial asset in the
    overall fight against the Reapers.

 

    • Six Powerful New Unlockable Characters: Assume the role of new characters for each class, including the Asari Justicar Adept, Krogan Battlemaster Vanguard and characters from new playable races with the Batarian Soldier, Batarian Sentinel, Geth Engineer and Geth Infiltrator.

 

  • Lethal New Weapons: Obliterate wave after wave of enemies by unlocking the Striker Assault Rifle, Kishock Harpoon Gun and Geth Plasma SMG.

As an aside, the idea of playing as a Batarian is pretty cool. The four-eyed aliens were generally portrayed as unsympathetic characters in previous Mass Effect games, and one of my small disappointments with Mass Effect 3 was that the storyline did not do more to show the galactic conflict from their perspective.

So what’s going on with all this free content? Are EA and Mass Effect 3′s developers at BioWare begging their fans to love them again? Maybe, but my hunch is that EA and BioWare planned this release pattern all along to discourage gamers from selling their games to GameStop or other retailers after finishing the single-player campaign.

The plan, as it seems to me, is to convince players to hold on to their copies for Mass Effect 3 for a few more months than they may have planned. My guess is that BioWare and EA deliberately crafted an open-ended climax in hopes that players would enthusiastically wait for additional content, but were instead blindsided by the past weeks’ fan backlash.

The makers’ willingness to release free content makes me suspect this content was paid for within Mass Effect 3′s main budget, and was not separately accounted for as a downloadable expansion that EA planned to release as a means to achieve additional revenue. Whether my assumption is correct, and whether this move assuages fans’ anger, have yet to be seen.

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