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The First Templar Goes Gold; May 10 Release Set

Before I start the morning’s news run (damn..it’s 12:15?) I’m going to plead to your better sense of understanding that if I’m lacking my normal razor sharp wit and impish grin it’s because I’m sick today. Fever, aches. The works. But I’m also restless and can’t sleep so I figured I’d post some news. Dedication, people. That’s what it’s all about. So off we go.

Kalypso Media USA, Inc is pleased to announce that The First Templar, its action/adventure game for the Xbox 360 video game and entertainment system from Microsoft and Windows PC has gone gold. The First Templar follows the story of the brave Knights Templar as they search for the Holy Grail, and defend themselves from their enemies. The game features co-operative combat and puzzle solving in both single- and multiplayer modes, and allows for split-screen play on the Xbox 360. Kalypso will release The First Templar on both platforms on May 10 in North America. For more information, please visit www.thefirsttemplar-game.com

The First Templar is a co-operative action adventure game, set in a dark and gritty portrayal of the late 13th Century during the Crusade where old friends become enemies, corruption spreads throughout the Church and once noble knights oppress the weak and renounce their oaths.

Follow the path of two unlikely heroes on their search for the Holy Grail. The young french Templar Celian teams up with the noble lady and proclaimed heretic Marie to unveil a grand conspiracy within the Order of the Knights Templar. The heroes face opponents at every turn including the Saracen, King Philip of France and the Holy Inquisition.

The First Templar offers a captivating campaign that can be enjoyed alone or cooperatively with a friend. When playing solo, the player can switch freely between the two characters, leaving the control of the second hero to the game’s AI. At any time, a second player may join in and take control of the second hero.

PSPgo Has Got Up and Went

No High Scores

Rumors have been swirling for a couple of weeks now, but Sony finally made it official. The PSPgo has left the building with development resources now focused on the upcoming NGP. Remaining stock will still be sold and Sony will still support the device, but no new units will be produced. I always felt bad for the PSPgo as it never seemed like Sony knew what to do with it, which is why it was consistently outsold by the PSP proper. The success of the iPad and iPhone shows that digital only games can succeed, however I still think there has to be some sort of price reduction. If I can get God of War: Ghost of Sparta for 40 bucks as a digital download, or spend the same amount of money on a disc that I can either loan to a friend or sell for a small return, why would I pay for the digital only version? Personally, I wouldn’t and it looks like a lot of other people wouldn’t either.

A View From the Other Side

There is always another viewpoint. Tom Ohle, one of those “PR” people I deal with on a regular basis, wrote an interesting op-ed today that you should read as a counterpoint to my ramblings about storms or whatever the hell that was.

Tom’s one of the good guys.

In this piece, which he calls The Case of the Great Game Nobody Saw, Tom talks about working as a PR rep for smaller companies, trying desperately to get games that they think are worthy some attention from large game sites.

Call of Duty: Black Ops Escalation Multiplayer Trailer

In this new trailer, Treyarch discusses the multiplayer map design in Call of Duty: Black Ops Escalation.

The due date is May 3rd for the Xbox 360.

The Storm?

One of my daily stops when I’m making news rounds or when I just want to read about an old man living in Austin, Texas is Bill Harris’ Dubious Quality blog. I’ve known Bill for a long, long time. I only “met” him once at a drive-by “hello!” at E3 one year but we have been talking games for over a decade.

Fun fact: Bill Harris is responsible for me hiring Brandon to write at GameShark and thus why Brandon is co-hosting the podcast and why he writes here for your reading pleasure on a daily basis.

Yes…yes…you have Bill Harris to “thank” for that.

Today I came across an interesting story at DQ. It’s about how mega publishers are starting to limit access to the media in terms of review copies, overall access, as well as in potential ad money.

Bill calls it a storm.

I’m not so sure…

There are a lot of great things about working in the games industry.

You know what the best thing is?

I work in the games industry.

Every day I get to play, talk, and write about games. I get to talk to people who make games. I get to share my opinions with other people who play games and they get to tell me how brilliant or how stupid I am when it comes to games. When people in the sleepy Ohio town in which I live ask me what I do and I tell them they stare at me with both amazement and sometimes derision.

“Yes, Marge, I’m a 39 year old child. Just give me my mail already.”

You know what I don’t like? The other stuff.

Fighting with PR over review copies. Being told that we can’t post a review of game X before the embargo “unless the grade is at least an 85 on Metacritic.” The sites to DO score that high get all the pre-release traffic so we’re forced to ether inflate a grade or lose the hits.

Being told that sites which use letter grades do not get advanced copies. (Because of the way those scores are translated on Metacritic.) Knowing this is untrue because 1Up sure does. Then realizing we aren’t 1Up.

Defending my writers’ competence when they “score” a game lower than the average for a game.

Defending Tom Chick. (Which I will do until they kick me out of the business.)

Being told that we can’t get review code (at all) for a game because we didn’t post positive previews and/or screenshots every time new ones were released.

Having to worry about how many hits we’re going to lose because we don’t have a day one review of the hot new title because we tend to get review copies later than everyone else (don’t get me started on this one) and the fact that I let the staff take their time when evaluating games.

Add those together and you usually get reviews that are several days late. It is what it is.

So when I read something like the post at DQ the only thing that pops in my head is, “It was a matter of time.”

This is the truth: Publishers have every right to give out review copies and offer access to whomever they wish. It’s their dime. Just because we claim to be “media” doesn’t give us the right to complain about not having said access. They hold every card when it comes to that side of the relationship.

The gaming industry, the media part, has always struck me as a very odd entity. 15 years later — it still does. We are in an extremely unique situation in that our livelihood, well, to an extent, is reliant on complete cooperation from the people we are trying to objectively cover. I don’t mean to be a pain in the ass, but if a publisher thinks I am, why bother dealing with me? Kindness? Do you know how many websites are out there that cover games? All a game publisher has to do is cut off access and poof. You’re done.

But would that really be a bad thing?

“Day one” reviews have been a problem in the industry for YEARS. It used to be, back in the old PC magazine days, that reviewing “late betas” allowed you to get your review in a magazine a month early. There was a magazine that was notorious for this and everyone had to follow suit. So what if the code wasn’t final? Close enough! We have a deadline here people!

Today, the idea of reviewing betas isn’t as prevalent but instead reviewers review special builds that will only run on special units. When you review games on these machines you (normally) get the full experience, unless a day one patch is issued which can then make you look like a dope. (NCAA 11…) It’s also really hard to test multiplayer — especially in games with a high use rate. So in a perfect world reviewers shouldn’t have to worry about day one reviews as much as they should worry about writing good reviews. Even if it takes longer.

Speed.

We’re so concerned with speed in this industry. First to review, first to post news, first to post a rumor. It’s everywhere. Games are hyped to no end and after they are released they’re usually ditched to the side of the road and the next big thing starts to make the rounds. You see huge displays at conventions, all hyping the next great game from Publisher X and after it’s released you don’t hear from it — until the sequel/DLC/expansion is announced. Reviewers are pressed by their editors to get a review done by an embargo date at all costs even at the expense of actually finishing it. Miss the review window and the freelancer doesn’t get called again.

Fact is, the game media needs desperately to cut the cord from publishers and if you believe what the DQ piece says, it sounds like the publishers are going to do the cutting for them. I haven’t seen any evidence of this yet, (well, maybe some but it’s hard to say) but that’s not to say it isn’t happening. Regardless, we honestly need the media to be more Consumer Reports and less Entertainment Tonight and definitely less Fan Club. (Stop cheering at a press events.)

Now, it’s important to note that I abhor generalizations and there are many examples of media outlets, and many individuals, that don’t fall into that category. And I would be equally wrong to insinuate that every publisher and PR person is an “only numbers matter” monolith of impenetrability. There are a lot of good people in this business. But it’s such a slippery slope.

What does all of this mean to you?

Let’s say this comes to pass and that publishers will only play ball with “the top two game outlets” then the question flips around back to you.

Just how gullible are you? Would you notice? Would it matter? If publishers try to control the message to that degree, wouldn’t you be able to tell? I think you would.

In another perfect world the game media would be no different than the average gamer. Sure, we’d have access to trade shows, talk to people, do interviews, maybe a preview if a game truly interests us, but in the review circles the fact that the media and the publishers have been working so close to one another for so many years simply isn’t good — for the consumer.

The other part of the article — the ad part? Maybe it’s not the best idea for media who cover the industry to have ads plastered all over the place to begin with? I have never been told to write a good review because company X advertises with whoever I was writing the review for, but it just looks bad. If your website has a lot of traffic there are many ways to advertise other products. Trust me — if you have the numbers ad agencies will line up.

In the end it’s a losing proposition for publishers because they can’t completely control the message. They’re trying, though. Why do you think we’re seeing so many internal interviews and developer diaries? It’s all message control. It’s just business. Why HOPE an editor or some jaded writer will say what you want when you can do it yourself? Self Press. It’s the future.

That said, that only goes so far. People talk. A bad game will still be a bad game regardless of when the reviews go live and if we only see two or three sites with day one reviews, you’ll notice it. And if this happens game websites will once again have to reinvent themselves, which may not be a bad thing.

But people will always want that fast review. It’s like I said Sunday.

The Whales need feeding.

3DS Ocarina Harder and Easier At the Same Time

No High Scores

We already knew that the upcoming Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3DS remake would feature the difficulty raising Master Quest mode, since lost to the sands of time and the Wind Waker preorder disc (which I still have, by the the way), but Nintendo isn’t done bringing the hurt. The newly 3dified version of the game will also have a boss rush mode in which you can fight the bosses, you know, again, sometimes all in a row! Why you’d do this I have no earthly idea. For all of you new players out there, don’t worry as handy videos are nestled deep within the code to help you out when you can’t decide where the hell Epona is supposed to go, what notes you’re supposed to play and the correct spelling of Rupee. Ok, maybe they won’t tell you all of those things, but they will help you when you get stuck.

Hunters: Episode One Impressions

No High Scores

If you listen to the podcast at all, you know I picked up an iPad 2 a couple weeks ago. It was a real show of dedication on my part that involved falling asleep on the couch at 8:30 one night, waking up at 5:30 and thinking, “Hell with it, let’s hit the Apple store.” I got in line (#18) at 6:30, waited an hour in the cold (not knowing if any were in stock), waited another hour in the mall, and walked out with a 32GB Wi-Fi only white iPad 2. (I wanted the black bezel one, but wasn’t about to be that picky.) Score one for me!

In the weeks I’ve had it (love it, btw) I’ve only tried out a couple games, but the first one to catch my eye as worth writing about here is called Hunters HD: Episode One. It’s a squad-based, turn-based strategy game, from British developer Rodeo Games, that’s got a bit of an X-COM gameplay vibe in a setting that evokes the Aliens movies (sans actual Aliens). Corporations rule the day and your team of ultimate bad asses make their hay by taking on corporate contracts to do all sorts of things that involve guns and killing…

It’s really quite a beautiful marriage of premise and mechanics. You can rename your squad and your squaddies. You start out with five troopers, but can pay money to recruit (purchase) more as you get deeper into the game. Each trooper can be outfitted with various classes of armor: Light, Medium, and Heavy. The heavier the armor the fewer movement points the trooper has. (The range appears to be 5 points down to 3.) There are various categories of weapons, each with their own range, accuracy, and critical hit ratings. Some of them take more action points to fire than others. The weapon types range from SMGs, to shotties, to assault and sniper rifles, and RPGs (which I haven’t tried). When you level your boys up to Level IV (I’m not quite there yet), you unlock other side equipment you can use, like health kits. Also, you can reserve movement points such that the Hunter is able to fire as soon as an enemy enters his field of fire. This is all very X-COM and it works incredibly well in the game. It’s perfect for a touch-interface.

As you level up your Hunters, at specific levels they get an extra skill point you can use to enhance their abilities. There are team-based leadership skills (a bonus to your team’s criticals, armor, etc.), agility, damage, and health skills. It looks like it maxes out at three bonus skill points used on skills of increasing power. I love the limited use of skill points, which lets you really differentiate how you use your Hunters in combat.

The only disappointing angle so far is that there really isn’t much range to the gameplay. There’s a handful of different environment types and the mission maps themselves appear to vary a fair amount, but I’ve only seen about five or six different mission types (rescue the scientist, destroy/protect the generators, take out the enemy squad, etc.), and even within those types the encounters don’t really play out all that differently from each other.

The Episode One moniker evokes the notion that you’re playing out some kind of story, but if there’s a story here I haven’t gotten it yet. You have a handful of replayable missions made available to you over a real time period of 24 hours. You pick a mission, assign your squad, and do the mission. There’s no sense of story to it at all. You don’t have specific corporations you can work for or try to work against. Success or failure doesn’t appear to help or hurt your squad’s reputation. It leaves a very real sense of potential unrealized on this front, but maybe that’s a lot to expect from an iOS game?

As for the AI, it does look exploitable. I’m not going to call it bad. It can and has caught me off guard with some frequency. But there are also times when you walk into a room to see an enemy turned and facing the wall. Maybe he’s in time out? He’ll react if you shoot him, but if you just walk back out again he’ll stay there, allowing you to more carefully position your Hunters and plan your assault. And I can’t say I’ve seen an enemy squad trying anything particularly advanced, like taking the long way around a map to outflank and assault you. They also tend to make illogical target selections. Maybe there’s a threat assessment factor I’m not seeing, but when they attack one of my guys with full armor while the guy next to him is down to just his health (no effective armor left), you have to wonder. That said, I have seen them use tag-team tactics to maximize damage and they do a respectable job of putting themsleves in spots where, if you’re not careful, they can flat out unload on you. All in all, I think it does a fair job, but I’m also still just getting used to the overall strategies in play.

Given that it’s a free initial download, this is a game that’s well worth checking out. If you want to play your squaddies past Level 2, you’ll need to fork up ($7, I think) for the full version, which I consider a very fair price for what you get. (It is a good looking game.) Hopefully Rodeo Games keeps working on it and adds a few more layers because the core they’ve got here is extremely promising.

Skyrim PC to Eschew DX11 Support… For Now

No High Scores

PC Gamer has Skyrim Game Director Todd Howard on the record this morning as saying the PC version of Skyrim will launch without support for DirectX 11. I think we can all agree the game is pretty striking without that support, but as a PC guy, that’s still disappointing. There’s nothing a PC gamer appreciates more than being thrown a bone. And Imagine what it could look like, amiright?

I still remember when Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls Games were PC only affairs that took months and months of patches before they could be played properly. Ahhh, it was a happier simpler time. (It wasn’t, actually, but it’s fun to say.) Anyway, not all hope is lost. There’s a chance they’ll throw us that bone in time and add DX11 support. Maybe.

Since Todd’s (Howard, not me) being so direct with us, I feel I can be so with him: Todd. Buddy. I’ll buy your game when you can tell me when, not if, DX11 support will be added. I don’t need a date. A ballpark will do. This year? Q1 2012? Heck, I’ll buy your game if you tell me DX11 support flat out won’t be added. Do I really care that much? Nah. I’d just like a straight answer, if you please, because PC gamers get strung along on this stuff all the time and it’s tiresome.

Could also be I’m just grumpy this morning because I’m not at home playing Portal 2.

Portal 2 Is Not Four Hours Long

No High Scores

Along with being an awesome place for PR to get pissed off over nothing, Metacritic is also an awesome place for people with no lives to assign games bad reviews for no other reason than to fill whatever bleak, yawning pit inhabits the place where your soul usually exist. I don’t know if this is simply a cathartic exercise or if these jagoffs actually hope to dissuade someone from buying a game with their inane chatter and outright balderdash. Yeah I sad it, balderdash.

Portal 2 is the current target, what with it being the new hotness and the Metacritic trolls are currently waging a war against it. Thankfully we have Rock, Paper Shotgun to address the “criticisms” and bring the light of truth to the dank cave of bumbling incompetence. The whole article is an excellent read, but the main takeaways are:

1. Portal 2 is not four hours long.
2. There is no Day One DLC.
3. It is not a console port.

I can’t personally speak to any of this as I don’t have the game but I trust RPS more than I trust some random Metacritic loser.

Under Siege on PSN Release Looming

Under siege, the oft delayed strategy game from Seed is finally reading to go and will drop on PSN April 27th in Europe and May 3rd in North America.

PR ahead:

Developed by Seed Studios especially for PlayStation3, Under Siege will be available for PlayStation 3 Network on April 27th in Europe and May 3rd in the US. Gamers in Europe and the US will finally be able to play the first RTS (Real Time Strategy) created from scratch and exclusively for PlayStation3 and supports the new PlayStation Move motion controller. Available for PlayStation Network The download will cost 14.99 Euros in Europe, 11.99 pounds in the UK and 19.99 dollars in the US.

Under Siege is an action and strategy game in real time, where a small group of heroes fight against an invading army. The game is set in a medieval fantasy world and follows the story of Eirik, Kari and Asgeir. Designed to be played with the DualShock 3 controller or the PlayStation Move motion controller. The built-in editor is one of Under Siege’s most brilliant features – it allows players to create their own maps and game modes.

In addition to the game, Under Siege was adapted to comic book format. This is a great way to get the grips (understand what the hell is going on) with the story of the game and gain some background knowledge. Available for free online at www.undersiegegame.com

Features:
Supports PlayStation Move motion controller
2 players online and 2 players in split screen
Audio and video chat (while playing or at the menus)
Custom soundtrack
Video recording and screenshots capturing
Plays in Full HD 1080p
Supports Dolby Digital 5.1
Available in 6 languages: English, German, French, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese.