Sengoku Developer Diary #2


Paradox has released another quick video developer diary for its upcoming strategy game, Sengoku. This video discusses the game’s factions as well as tidbits about vassals.

Dungeon Siege III Xbox Demo Available

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The Dungeon Siege III demo is now available for Xbox Live Gold subscribers. Seeing how Daggerdale has turned into a horrible, broken disappointment, I’m hoping Dungeon Siege III will fill my co-op dungeon romping needs. Then again, this is Obsidian, so hoping for it to not be broken is probably hoping for too much.

Call of Duty Elite Revealed


Hey it’s a new way for Activision to make money off of Call of Duty players. Well, sort of…it’s partly a free new online service.

Lengthy PR ahead:

The world’s most passionate (vocal?) online gaming community can now connect, compete and improve their Call of Duty multiplayer experience through Activision’s innovative new online service, Call of Duty Elite.

Developed from the ground up by Activision’s new Beachhead studio, Call of Duty Elite offers cutting-edge features that significantly enhance the franchises’ multiplayer experience and deliver a new level of social engagement that will unite more than 30 million players worldwide. Additionally, the service will offer exclusive, high-production value, original entertainment programming designed exclusively for the Call of Duty community.

“The average Call of Duty player spends 58 minutes per day playing multiplayer. That is more than the average Facebook user spends per day on Facebook. And yet, right now, there are very few tools to unite and super charge that social community,” said Eric Hirshberg, CEO of Activision Publishing. “Whether it’s allowing you to connect with your friends, or people of a similar skill level, people who live in your city, people who share your favorite passions, join competitive clans or social groups, or upload, view and comment on the incredible mass of player-generated content, or watch and comment on exclusive created content, Call of Duty Elite will give people more ways to connect with fellow players than ever before. Elite will also allow players of every level to improve their game with an intuitive suite of tools, and compete in tournaments for both real and virtual prizes.”

Call of Duty Elite will include several industry-first innovations, and is designed to reset the bar for what players can expect from a multiplayer experience for this year’s most anticipated game, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. Elite will offer two-way communication between the service and the game, so that the choices and decisions that players make in Elite through the mobile and web interfaces will affect their in-game experience. The service will be fully integrated into Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 and will launch alongside the game on November 8, 2011.

Call of Duty Elite’s features and services engage the community in three key ways:

Connect: Call of Duty Elite gives players unprecedented control over their multiplayer experience, transforming it into a true social network. Players can compete against friends, players of similar skill levels and players with similar interests, join groups, join clans, and play in organized tournaments. They can also track the performance, progress and activity of their entire network, both in the game itself, as well as through mobile and web interfaces. Elite will be an “always on” way for players to connect with the Call of Duty community.

Compete: Call of Duty Elite establishes the most exciting, competitive environment in a multiplayer game. Players will have available a constant stream of events and competitions, tiered to group them with those with similar abilities. Both in-game and real-world prizes will be rewarded to all skill levels.

Improve: Call of Duty Elite is like having a personal online coach. It provides players with a dynamic strategy guide that tracks their statistics and performances down to the most minute details. It can show gamers how they stack up against their friends or others in the community. Tools and information are provided so players can learn and up their game.

Carrying forward to future Call of Duty games, Elite will chronicle a player’s gameplay history in a cohesive career record, keeping track of every kill, every game and progress.

“Call of Duty Elite has been tailored for Call of Duty’s diverse base of players – hardcore gamers, casual weekend warriors and even beginners — and additional features will be revealed when we premiere Modern Warfare 3 multiplayer later this summer,” added Hirshberg. “Over 7 million gamers play Call of Duty online each day logging hundreds of hours of multiplayer per player per year. Of course, the out of the box Call of Duty multiplayer experience that gamers have come to love and expect will continue as is. However, for those players looking for more, Call of Duty Elite will supercharge their experience.”

Many key features of Call of Duty Elite will be available to Call of Duty players free of charge. Additionally, for players who want to up their game, Call of Duty Elite will offer a premium membership with a wide range of state-of-the-art services, exclusive entertainment programming and all-inclusive game content for less than the cost of any comparable online entertainment service currently in the market.

The service will be accessible on a number of platforms — via web browsers, mobile devices, through game consoles and within the game interface itself — so that players can connect with Call of Duty Elite whenever and wherever they want.

Call of Duty Elite will launch this fall with Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. However, to test the scale of the service, Activision will hold a public beta this summer for Elite with Call of Duty: Black Ops. For more information, go to www.callofduty.com.

Freestyle Games Still on the Ones and Twos

No High Scores

When Activision swung their mighty axe, rending studios such as Bizarre asunder, one of the studios that appeared doomed was the UK’s Freestyle Games, makers of the awesome DJ Hero and super-mega-awesome DJ Hero 2. Eurogamer has word that the studio has not been dissolved, although it did not escape layoffs completely, and that they are now working on a new project.

If it’s not obvious already, I enjoyed both DJ Hero games quite a bit, with DJ Hero 2 being the rare sequel that improved on the original in almost every way. Unfortunately the game didn’t catch on as well as I would have liked, with the sequel’s hardware bundles dropping in price quite dramatically very soon after release. I’m disappointed that the new game won’t be another DJ Hero game, but I understand and am happy to see Freestyle still around and making games.

Seen at Eurogamer.

LA Noire Rockstar Pass Released for Xbox, Savings Abound

No High Scores

When LA Noire was first released, some eagle eyed individuals notices that something called the LA Noire Rockstar Pass was floating around however there were no details about it other than the fact that it existed. Or maybe it didn’t. The pass is now available for purchase via the Xbox Live Marketplace and it includes quite a bit of stuff. For a limited time, 800 Microsoft Space Bucks, or ten bucks, will get you 12 dollars worth of immediately available content, including all of the retailer specific cases and suits, but, best of all, you get the upcoming Nicholson Electroplating arson desk case and Reefer Madness AD Vice case free when they’re released later this summer. That’s not a bad bit of content for the money. Granted, you’re still playing the retailer exclusive DLC game, but seeing how the two free cases will probably run you about 8 bucks, if the price of the retailer exclusive stuff is any indicator, you’re basically getting all of the retailer exclusive content for two dollars. Having finished the game over the weekend, and desperately wanting more cases to investigate, I’m more than ok with that pricing. The PSN version of the pass should be available once the PSN store comes back online, hopefully by the end of this week if not sooner.

For the record, here’s everything you get with the Rockstar Pass:

  • “The Naked City” DLC case
  • “A Slip of The Tongue” DLC case
  • Broderick Detective Suit and Gun
  • Sharpshooter Detective Suit and Gun
  • The Badge Pursuit Challenge
  • Chicago Piano Machine Gun
  • “Nicholson Electroplating Disaster” DLC case released June 21
  • “Reefer Madness” DLC case released July 12

Seen at Eurogamer.

Jumping the Shark Podcast #71


No High Scores
Image: Filomena Scalise / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

For the Memorial Day edition of Jumping the Shark, your trusty team is ready to unveil… a fairly typical episode, although we were sans Danielle this week thanks to some work function. Like meeting Glen Greenwald is more important than chatting it up with us. Sheesh! This week we spend a good chunk of time talking more in depth about Witcher 2 (shocking!), Brandon expresses his disappointment with D&D Daggerdale, and Bill tells us everything he can about Red Faction: Armageddon that’s not embargoed. The verbal gymnastics of that maneuver are impressive to say the least. Along the way argue about the effect the exploding mobile gaming market has had on 3DS development and, for our main topic segment, we dish up a course of transmedia hatred… well, Bill’s angry about it anyway. Enjoy, and a happy Memorial Day to you all!

Direct Download
iTunes Link
RSS Feed
Past Episodes
Embedded feed included after the break…

Calendar Man – Week of 5/30

No High Scores

Welcome to the Memorial Day edition of Calendar Man which means I’m keeping this brief so that I can go back to having the day off. Don’t worry though, it’s not like I’m doing anything exciting. I’m going to buy a new fridge for the basement. Woo, extra fridge space, woo!

On to the games!

New Releases
Back in the day, the day being some time last year, I was supposed to review Duke Nukem: Critical Mass for the DS but it never came out. The Duke Nukem powers that be must have cleared some time off of their schedule to get all Duke Nukem games out and available as this side scroller is finally releasing. Groovy.

The 3DS portable fighter buffet continues with BlazBlue Continuum Shift II. This time there’s a PSP release too, so yay for PSP owners.

The Sims 3: Generations has fun for all Sim ages. Grandparents, teenagers, immature frat boys, they’re all here. Inter-generational hijinks have never been so exciting!

Last but not least, Hunted: The Demon’s Forge is out, bringing a wealth of co-op monster battling. I hope that it’s good, as Daggerdale is lacking in the co-op department, unless you consider running into repeated bugs your idea of a good time with co-op.

I know that these aren’t games, but new albums from Death Cab for Cutie and Eddie Vedder drop this week so my musical conscience has informed me that I have to tell you. I’m sure Bill would hate both of them, being artists that released music after 1979.

Deals
Toys R US – Buy one DS or 3DS game, get one DS or 3DS game for 50% off.

Target – Free $50 gift card with purchase of Xbox 360 4GB Slim. Free $20 gift card with purchase of uDraw tablet. Free $10 gift card with purchase of Sims 3 Generations and Sims 3 Midieval. Following games on sale: Assassins Creed: Brotherhood ($29.99), SOCOM 4 ($49.99), Mortal Kombat ($39.99), Portal 2 ($39.99), LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean ($39.99 / $29.99 for DS & PC), Kung-Fu Panda 2 ($29.99 Wii and DS).

Best Buy – Free $50 gift card with purchase of Xbox 360 4GB Slim. Free $5 gift card with purchase of Sims 3 Generations. Free Nintendo Selects game with purchase of Wii.

Steam – Steam has a bunch of stuff on sale including Frozen Synapse and Shogun 2. Well worth a look-see.

Impulse – Impulse also has Frozen Synapse on sale as well as Dawn of War II: Retribution. Also worth a look-see.

Sunday Time Waster: The Right Person for the Job


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I’ve banged out a lot of words about the odd relationship that exists between the media and game publishers. You can scour the backlog of Sunday Time Wasters to catch up but it basically boils down to this:

It’s a potentially toxic relationship; sooner or the later the publisher isn’t going to like what you say about a game. If the writer is doing his/her job that’s simply going to happen, eventually, and it’s the truly professional public relations specialist that can look at a review, or a preview, or even an interview and roll with the punches. Of course there are times when I get the “You gave this a 75 (a B) and now we’re below a 90 on Metacritic…”

Those are fun conversations…

Now, this isn’t always a case of PR being mad at a bad review and lashing out. Sometimes it’s the case that a writer simply offers up a terrible article, doesn’t give a game a fair shake, prints factual errors, and goes overboard in their criticism. I can only imagine how frustrating it is for PR to read a review that’s not only factually off the reservation but is written by someone who clearly either doesn’t like, or has little experience with a certain genre. It’s one thing to read Mike’s Portal 2 review and think he’s insane — that’s not what I mean. Simply disagreeing with an informed opinion is healthy and is a huge part of the review process. I’m talking about when a review is unfair and is written by someone who is in over their head just to collect a check and/or a free game. I get on PR for a lot of things but it’s not always their fault.

When that happens it’s usually not the writer who has to defend the article – it’s the editor, and rightly so, for assigning someone who isn’t qualified. I can understand that frustration. This normally happens with niche games. It’s not too tough to find people with the expertise and experience and desire to review a shooter or a third person action game or the latest in the Rockstar Open World stable. I seriously doubt you read too many Skyrim reviews by people who have never touched an Elder Scrolls game.

Trying to find someone to review a wargame, a turn based wargame for that matter, a flight sim, an adventure game, an indie strategy game, an MMO (and will devote the time necessary), or a sports game – that’s different.

I’ve been a sports game writer for 15 years. I know the genre and feel qualified to write about most sports games at length – and I have. There are exceptions. You will never see an article where I offer up my thoughts on the latest NASCAR game. I am simply not qualified to do it. I have no interest in it and anything I write about a serious racing game would be of little help to anyone. It’s not that my opinion on a NASCAR game is irrelevant, but it’s certainly going to be irrelevant to those who know that sport. There are details that I’m going to miss and the fact that I don’t particularly like NASCAR is going to cloud what I have to say.

As an editor, part of my job is assigning articles – be they previews, interviews, features or standard reviews. It’s tougher than you think. I love the team I have assembled at GameShark. When I joined GameShark a few years ago the cupboard was mostly bare as far as writers were concerned so I went to work, along with former EiC James Fudge who now writes for Game Politics, in building a staff. I know my team. So this part of the job has grown much easier over the past year or so but the thing about freelancers – they’ll lie to your face. When money is on the line a writer will accept almost any assignment on the table – if you let them. It’s a lesson I learned the hard way.

Think about it: how many articles have you read where the writer started off saying:

“You know I never play adventure games but…”

Or

“I cannot stand real time strategy games…”

However, what’s worse is when they aren’t so blatantly honest and you have to read the article to determine that, yep, this person has no idea what they are talking about. So not only have you wasted the reader’s time but also the publisher’s time and now you’re about to get your editor in hot water for assigning a game to someone who has no idea how to approach the genre.

It happens more often than you think.

I don’t mean to imply that a writer needs to be a certified expert in a genre in order to offer an opinion, but a formal review isn’t the place for such experimentation. A column? A feature about how a writer is trying a new genre for the first time? Those can make for great (and often times hilarious) reads but matching the writer to the game, as an editor, is a critical part of the job. This has been made more important by the emergence of Metacritic because if you hand over an assignment to someone who goes into a game with no experience and thus no sense of history for that type of game, and then they trash the game in a way that the publisher deems unfair – hoo boy get ready for a phone call.

I’ve had phone conversations with people in PR who didn’t like what I had to say about a game, and most can take criticism far better than you might expect. Yes, PR still uses Metacritic ratings to discuss reviews even though most sites don’t use the same grade scale Metacritic uses, and it’s a conversation that I’m quite frankly surprised I still have with PR – you’d think by now the way Metacritic does its business would be well known. Normally, though, after a discussion about why a game received a score (the text itself is rarely the issue) the PR rep has at least an understanding as to why a game criticized.

For readers, it comes down to this, and this is something I have told people for a long, long time. Do not trust websites. It’s a mistake. If you are truly interested and use reviews in order to make buying decisions (a topic for another day…) do not blindly trust websites. Trust people, be they forum members, writers, or those in your immediate gaming circle. If you find a writer whose reviews you enjoy reading, follow them, find out where they write because in the end that’s you who are reading. You aren’t reading IGN or GameSpot or Giant Bomb or GameShark. You are reading people. And until you can get to know what makes them tick you’re basically reading a stranger’s opinion and honestly –

How much weight should that carry?

***

OK a few notes before the holiday tomorrow:

I don’t know how much we’ll be updating the website Monday. I have every intention of playing boardgames, HOPEFULLY Merchants & Marauders or maybe a game of Troyes, and smoking the ever loving hell out of this lovely blade roast which should take about 6 hours. I did a trial run yesterday and man…Brandon would be proud.

After a lot of plays it’s time I reviewed the boardgame Endeavor. Sometime this week, I think.

I’m also working on a game diary detailing a season in our online Out of the Park Baseball league. Should be fun.

We have a contest coming this week! I’ll likely post the details on Wednesday or Thursday. It’s a big one!

Have a great Memorial Day and remember why we have this holiday; it’s not just a day off work, although that part is kinda of cool. For those outside the States: Back to work!

Gears of War 3 Campaign Trailer

You were supposed to see this trailer during game 6 of the Heat – Bulls playoff round but LeBron went and screwed that up for everyone. Good move LeBron. Regardless, here is the campaign trailer for Gears of War 3. I’m not seeing anything here that’s particularly surprising. Big, gruff, sweaty men shooting at large beasts and glowy things. Marcus’ dad is still alive, so there’s that. After Gears 2, any hopes for a coherent narrative went right out the window, so while I’ll certainly play Gears 3, I’m not holding my breath for a story that does anything but try and link the shooty bits together.

Witcher 2 Wrap-up and Hardware Specs


No High Scores

What a week it’s been:

Tuesday – Finish Witcher 2. (Anyone have one week in the NHS pool?) Order new PC parts for replay. (Timing not a coincidence.)
Wednesday – Write Witcher 2 review for the mothership. (A-, btw.)
Thursday – Receive new PC parts. Do podcast. Install new PC parts. Lose ability to boot system. (I’ve been building my own systems since my 486 and there’s always something.)
Friday – OS reinstall (on new SSD drive! Woot!). Start Witcher 2 over, now using tweaked Ultra detail settings. Faint.

So, yeah, that’s why there’s been no initial Witcher 2 wrap-up post. I’m on the job today, though, so let’s discuss…

Most everything I wrote in my Mid-game Impressions post still stands, both the good and the bad. This is a fantastically good game with a few hiccups that in no way should dissuade you from playing it unless: A) Your PC hardware isn’t up to snuff, or B) You really hated the world in the first game (or otherwise take issue with games that present deplorable depictions of human behavior).

Now that I’ve got an initial run-through in the books and a functioning PC that can play it without weeping, I’m looking forward to really exploring its nooks and crannies for a run of Dissecting columns. I’d like to get some in next week, but with E3 coming up the week after, I may hold off on posting those until after we’re back. For now, let’s talk a bit about what sticks out most to me and a bit about hardware performance and how it affects gameplay.

- The ending. It won’t be for everybody. Very little is actually resolved and the fates of very few of the core characters are clear. It was not a cliff hanger in any way shape or form, but what you get from this ending are answers and not resolutions. What’s Geralt’s story? What is everybody’s motivation for doing the things they did? What are everyone’s deep dark secrets? That you get. I loved it. Loved it, loved it, loved it. This is how you set up a future game without sacrificing ideas of choice and consequence in the product you’re actually paying for. (Oh no, I’m not still bitter about DA2. Not me.) In particular, the final sequence involving the kingslayer was just such a remarkable encounter. I’ve got a Spoiler post in mind in which I want to discuss that (and more) with all of you who’ve played and finished the game. (You in for that, Tempest?) Maybe I can punch that one out next week.

- I talked quite a bit with Mitchell Dyer last week. At the end of Chapter 1 there’s a key point where we made opposite decisions and the impact that had on the rest of the game for each of us is remarkable. There’s a core thread that was the same in terms of our goals, but it may as well have been a completely different game in terms of who you were with and the angle from which you approached everything. Seriously, if Bioware isn’t going to school on this game, they’re missing a golden opportunity to look at how choice and consequence can be made to matter while still coming around to the same end point. Granted, Witcher 2 obviously got more development time than did DA2. This is a crafted experience from top to bottom, although the third chapter does feel rushed, leading into my only significant grievance with how the story unfolded.

- The down side to the variability of the game is the degree to which not all the threads get tied off. Significant players just seem to disappear or end up being stashed in some remote corner of the game world, far away from you. Things happen in the story for which you have no idea. There’s a secret one of the characters had – a ginormous, huge secret- about which I only found out from talking to Mitch. Another character died off screen and I only heard about it in passing, “Well, you know because this person is dead that means this other person has to do this other thing.” Huh? That person is dead? What the hell happened? I have no idea. Some of the more personal resolutions also didn’t really come through. For those of you playing, there’s a scene in Chapter 1 with a rose that I was flat out positive would come back around later in the game. It never did, despite my best efforts to make quest choices that would do so, and I’ll bet money it’s not because there was no intention for it to come back. So, you throw all that into the mix with the fact that there are a lot of names, places, and titles being thrown around and it gets confusing. There was a lot of action going on in Chapter 3 about which I had only a loose notion of what the scoop was. Some of that could have been me just not keeping everything straight in my head. It could also have been I missed a couple notable side quests or interactions. There’s a fair amount of optional stuff in the game, which I think is a good thing, but perhaps missing some leaves you in the dark in some matters? I dunno.

Having re-played most of the prologue last night, I can tell you it was much easier to follow the beginning of the game this time around. I’m walking around the siege camp with the king and suddenly I realize what it means for the Niilfgardien (sp?) ambassador to be strolling around and why the king hates his guts. I get the reference in the opening sequence to the battle at Brenna and why Foltest’s death is such a huge deal for the northern kingdoms. Like a lot of good movies, I’ve got a strong feeling a second play through of this game will offer new appreciation for how well thought out the story actually is.

No High Scores

Now, let’s talk about system performance with this game because, as I found out last night, it makes a huge difference in terms of just being able to play the game. My old system consisted of the following:

- Intel Core 2 Duo 2.4GHz; Asus P5N32-E SLI motherboard (uses the Nvidia 650i chipset); 6GB DDR 2 DRAM, Nvidia GTX 460 motherboard

Graphics card aside, you’re talking four year old technology and the Witcher 2 made it cry. I played through the entire game on tweaked Medium graphics settings and, cut scenes aside, it struggled to stay over 20 frames per second. In heavy combat it drops into the teens, which makes an already challenging combat model that much more difficult. I spent a fair chunk of the game playing on Easy because it simply wasn’t worth fighting through the low frame rate. Could I have dropped to Low detail settings? Yep. And I tried. It made little difference because it was my CPU and chipset holding me back, not the graphics card, a fact I confirmed with my new system build. That system?

- Intel Core i5 2500k (3.3Ghz), Asus P8P67 Pro motherboard (uses Intel’s P67 chipset); 8GB DDR 3 DRAM; Nvidia GTX 460 motherboard. (Oh, and Windows is now installed on a solid state drive, but the game is not.)

Last night I booted up the game with Ultra settings tweaked down just a touch (no antialiasing or ubersampling, no depth of field or blur effects). I ran through the bulk of the prologue before calling it a night and, as I suspected, it was a remarkable improvement. My frame rate never dipped below 30, which had an enormously positive effect on my ability to manage combat. Suddenly I’m running out spells and traps, tumbling and blocking, and I’m able to do it without getting stuck in combat animations that leave me staggered and flanked. Awesome. Oh. And it’s the best looking game I’ve ever played, bar none.

No High Scores

Bottom line, take the hardware recommendations for this game seriously. Not the minimums, but the recommended, which says a quad core processor and at least 3GB of RAM.

And with that, I’m digging back in. As I noted above, expect a spoiler post this week and a Dissecting series after E3.