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Op-Ed: E3 Shows us that 2014 is the Year of Stagnation

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Op-Ed: E3 Shows us that 2014 is the Year of Stagnation

There were more severed heads in trailers at E3 this year than there were women on stage. 

That's a frightening statistic, but let's be honest here, it didn't surprise you, did it? It's E3 after all. Sure, no one made a rape joke on stage this year, but across the four major shows (Microsoft, Sony, Ubisoft and EA) there were five women presenters. Counting Nintendo, which had none, that averages out to one women per show. Meanwhile, the number of severed arms, heads and other appendages probably tallied somewhere in the 50s by the time all was said an done. Hell, outside of Nintendo, individual presentations had more gore than women every single time. Nintendo went zero for zero by the way, but they're something of a special case. Not so special though that they didn't have more women playable characters on screen than every other presentation combined. 

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Op-Ed:  We Need To Talk About Budgets

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Op-Ed: We Need To Talk About Budgets

Yesterday's EA conference bugged the hell out of me. Not because of the constant deluge of sports games, I'm used to that. That bit where they called bothMadden and Fifa football in the span of like 20 minutes was pretty annoying, but I got over it. There was a good 5 minutes there where they were using Bruce Lee's digital corpse as a puppet to shill UFC games, but that didn't annoy me so much as make me deeply uncomfortable. No, the part that drove me insane was when they showed four games that looked to be in varying stages of pre-beta development. Criterion's new, currently untitled, action sorts game, DICE'sStar Wars Battlefront 3, as well as their Mirror's Edge prequel/sequel/reboot and Bioware Montreal's Mass Effect 4. 

Every one of these games was prefaced with plenty of text telling us about how the footage we were seeing was nowhere near final, and, in the case of Battlefront, that this was merely a test of what the engine could potentially achieve. Hell, Bioware announced a new game that didn't have a concept, just a fancy season changing system. 

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Xbox One Launch Line Up Preview- Quick Hits

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Xbox One Launch Line Up Preview- Quick Hits

Microsoft has opened up an Xbox One pop-up shop in Toronto ahead of the system’s launch. On Tuesday, Microsoft allowed members of the press to run around the shop and check out demos of upcoming Xbox One games. Here are some short previews on a few of the games available to demo at the pop-up shop, which opens to the public on Thursday, November 7. It'll stay open until December 27, with all the games previewed here, along with a few more.

Crimson Dragon:

Like Panzer Dragoon, but with even  more  dragons.

Like Panzer Dragoon, but with even more dragons.

The formerly Kinect exclusive, Xbox 360 successor to Panzer Dragoon has been freed of its motion control shackles. Or maybe it’s been shackled to a controller? Either way, the game plays pretty much like Panzer Dragoon, or, if you weren’t one of the five people who owned a Sega Saturn, like Star Fox.

It’s an on-rails shooter, where you ride on the back of a dragon, shooting lasers, fireballs and windblasts at other dragons and alien fauna. The game has a weird sci-fi fantasy thing going for it, with the dragons as the aliens that rule planet Draco, which humans want to colonize. They’re being infected by a disease that makes them go crazy, everybody wears standard space-marine armor, but occasionally there will be another soldier with an anime haircut instead of a helmet. It’s an odd balance, but it works, making for a cool visual style that hides the fact that the game started its life on 360, and it sometimes shows.

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Some bosses take you into a free-flight mode, which functions pretty much like all-range mode in Star Fox. You fly around a giant boss, looking for weak points to shoot at as your wingmen help out. Wingmen can also be the AI profiles of people on your friends list you’ve summoned to help out, so no more blaming Slippy for messing up your run.

Crimson Dragon is a digital-only launch title for Xbox One, from Microsoft Studios.

It will forever drive me mad that the "Multiplizer" is not called the "Multiprizer" IT MAKES MORE SENSE.

It will forever drive me mad that the "Multiplizer" is not called the "Multiprizer" IT MAKES MORE SENSE.

Peggle 2:

Peggle is Peggle and will always be Peggle. You fire a ball at some pegs, watch it bounce around, get points, and become hopelessly addicted. Peggle 2 delivers on all those counts, and actually manages to add some freshness to the mix. The wider screen allows for more space for your Peggle Master (a helper character that gives you magic powers) to hang out in the corner, and get some extra animations. The new Yeti master, Berg, shakes his butt when you do really well, complete with pixelated censoring.

Another new addition are bumpers which line some boards, bouncing your ball around. It’s small, but it adds a little dynamism to the few stages I saw them in. The additions, which also include 5 new masters, sound small, mostly because they actually are. But Peggle was already great, and I can’t wait to become addicted all over again.

Forza 5:

Forza or Fortza? The eternal question...

Forza or Fortza? The eternal question...

I have to be honest, I’m not a car game guy. My primary racing game experience is with Sonic and All Stars Racing Transformed and various Mario Karts. The last “real” racing game I played was Gran Turismo 2 on PlayStation. Nevertheless, I braved Forza 5 and found that...it’s a racing game.

It’s a really pretty racing game, absolutely gorgeous in fact, but as usual, I didn’t quite feel the appeal. The demo featured a rewind function that pulled me back to an earlier point in the race, which helped the one time I crashed, spun out, and went from second place to eighth, but I imagine that it isn’t a commonly used ability in regular gameplay.

What I took away from Forza 5 was its use of the Xbox One’s impulse triggers. When I pressed the brakes while driving, the triggers would rumble more and more the harder I pressed and there was always some slight rumble to the triggers as I held down the gas. It felt visceral, in a non-violent way, though I can’t imagine any other context in which rumbling triggers would make any sense.

Killer Instinct:

Werewolves can be stopped by two things: A silver bullet, and a swift kick to the jaw.

Werewolves can be stopped by two things: A silver bullet, and a swift kick to the jaw.

Fighting games are notoriously hard to demo. A fighting game is usually judged on how tough it is to figer out, how complicated it is to master, what the balance is like, and how deep the bonus modes go, and a short, 5 minute session isn’t really going to tell you any of that.

Killer Instinct was no different, but my 5 minutes were at the very least better than I expected. KI is an update of Rare’s SNES “classic”, which is mostly considered to be just another poor Mortal Kombat clone these days. The new Killer Instinct takes some pages out of the new Mortal Kombat’s book as well, with long juggle combos and a very “X-Treme” attitude. Specifically, an announcer who never shuts up and always sounds like he just smoked a pack of cigarettes in hell.

The game itself is hard to judge for now. Combos seemed fairly easy to do, but so did the combo breakers, which essentially just rewarded random button mashing during the match. But of course, that can really only be proven with more extensive play. The fact that the base version of the game is free, with all the characters running $20, and a deluxe version for $40 is a great business model, and one I hope more fighting games adopt, I just wish it wasn’t in a game I have so many apprehensions about.

Kinect Sports Rivals:

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Kinect Sports Rivals is easily the Xbox One’s prettiest launch game.

The Kinect sensor works a bit better, and you can play while sitting so you don’t look like a madman, twisting your arms and stomping your feet in front of the TV, but I still found that it didn’t quite work without making more exaggerated movements than I thought I’d need to make. That didn’t really matter though, because I was wowed, genuinely wowed, by how much prettier the game was than pretty much any next-gen title I’ve seen.

The difference from the rest of the next-gen line up is colour. Next-gen lighting effects (the real graphical jump that the Xbox One and PS4 will provide) take some of the edge off of the oversaturated primaries the game was using and leaves everything with a semi-realistic palette that still looks distinctly cartoony. The water was a vibrant blue, with amazing transparency, and I realize I sound like the world’s most cliched graphics evangelist, ranting about water effects, but they really are something great.

How much better the Kinect sensor remains to be seen, but if you’re picking up an Xbox One at launch, download the demo for this one, just so you can see that next-gen looks better when it isn’t brown and grey.

Dead Rising 3:

Nick, and his co-op partner Dick. No seriously, that's his name, and he just hangs around silently in cutscenes. It's great.

Nick, and his co-op partner Dick. No seriously, that's his name, and he just hangs around silently in cutscenes. It's great.

Going in, I was worried that Dead Rising 3 would lack the humour and general upbeat spirit that endeared me to the series in the first place. Going out, I was more worried about the game’s world than anything else. The demo had me, as zombie-outbreak-survivor Nick, hunting for some Zombrex (the famed zombie antidote) after an inopportune bite. So off I went into town, gleefully rampaging through zombies with a steamroller-motorcycle hybrid I built on the spot. Not having to search for crafting benches both makes and breaks the series’ trademark crafting. On one hand, crafting any two items I find on the ground is fantastic. On the other, it sort of inspired me to try and combine everything, which mostly had me standing around with a cinder block in one hand, longingly staring at a shotgun wishing I could combine the two.

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The other worrying thing I noted was that the game’s open world made traversing by foot a bit of a chore, which left me using mostly vehicles to get around, and missing out on the various melee weapon combinations. It isn’t helped by the fact that the absolutely massive zombie hordes are a nightmare to plow through without a car.

On the bright side, one of the melee combinations I used was a fire spitting dragon head with umbrella wings and katana gloves, and the guy next to me was fighting off the zombie hordes in a full suit of knight’s armor while using an axe tied to a car engine. So you know, the comedy is still there.

Ryse: Son of Rome:

Why does the guy on the right get a helmet and the other one doesn't? Seems unfair.

Why does the guy on the right get a helmet and the other one doesn't? Seems unfair.

Look, neither of us want to do this. Launch lineups are pretty much always subpar, and, just a guess here, the PS4 and Xbox One don’t seem to be exceptions. But Ryse...well, Ryse is special. First announced as a first-person action game for the Kinect, Ryse was meant to show people that the peripheral could be used for hardcore games. But Kinect was repositioned as the Wii 2.0, and the game never came out.

Until now.

Ryse has been repositioned as a hack-and-slash, God of War style action game set in ancient Rome. Of course, just like God of War, the game tends to skew towards the old ultra-violence. At one point in the demo, after slashing at my enemy maybe five or six times, then bashing his head in with my shield, he ran at me again and I was given an execution prompt. When enemies are low enough on health, you can hit RT to exectue a canned animation and, well, execute them.

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My soldier chopped his left arm off when the game told me to hit X, then it asked me to press Y. I decided I was done murdering this man. But without any orders from me, my soldier spun behind him, knocked him to the floor, sliced off his right leg and then curb stomped him back to the ground. I was pretty much done with the demo at that point, but pressed on. Eventually I found myself in a turret section, with confusing auto-lock-on that someone made it both terribly confusing and insultingly easy, and later a boss fight, which was solved by pressing X with the occasional hit of Y to stun the boss.

The game looks pretty good, better than most of the other launch titles, which are ports of current-gen games, and some scenes in the cutscenes could have passed for photos. I just wish the game could pass for more than a gratuitously violent slash-fest that plays itself. 

 

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Microsoft E3 Roundup: Safe and Sound

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Microsoft E3 Roundup: Safe and Sound

Microsoft kicked off E3 today with their Xbox press conference. After the criticisms surrounding the Xbox One’s reveal, an event more or less devoid of games, the pressure was on to deliver a spectacular performance at this year’s E3.

They managed to deliver on the promise they made after their TV laden reveal event; today’s event was all about the games.  They dedicated the first few minutes of the conference to talking about the Xbox 360, a console, it seems, Microsoft has no plans to forget. The Xbox 360 has undergone a second redesign, which Microsoft says is available starting today. They also plan to keep releasing games new game for the console, listing titles such as Dark Souls 2GTA V, and the PC hit, World of Tanks, as games that will be available on the console in the near future.

Microsoft has also announced updates for Xbox LIVE. Gold Members can now look forward to two free game downloads every month, starting withAssassin’s Creed 2 and Halo 3. Gold members can now share the features of their accounts, including multiplayer gaming, with other users on their home console without having to be logged in. They have also done away with the loathed Microsoft Points, opting instead to use local currencies.

As expected, the Xbox One took the spotlight, with Microsoft announcing a November launch and a $499 price tag. With the announcement of a myriad of new games and exclusive content, Microsoft made this one of the most jam-packed E3 in recent memory. Ryse: Son of RomeKiller Instinct,Forza Motorsport VQuantum BreakCrimson DragonDead Rising 3 and Halo, all exclusive titles coming to the Xbox One. On top of exclusive titles for their console, Microsoft has also managed to convince previously PlayStation exclusive franchises and developers to create content for the Xbox One. Hideo Kojima, vice president of Konami and director of Kojima Productions, has brought the Metal Gear franchise to an Xbox console in the first real way with Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. Insomniac, the once PlayStation only developers of the Ratchet and Clank franchise have also announced their new title Sunset Overdrive is going to be coming to Xbox One.

Microsoft managed to deliver the press conference they needed to in lieu of the negative reaction sparked from the some of the Xbox One’s policies. While they did not address any of the policies that caused said controversies, they did deliver one of the best press conferences in recent memory. With a set of exclusive titles, and a great multiplatform and indie game showing, Microsoft is approaching the next generation of gaming with full force.  

 

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Microsoft Reveals Xbox One Used Game Policy, Finally

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Microsoft Reveals Xbox One Used Game Policy, Finally

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Microsoft’s position on a few key issues regarding used and borrowed games has finally been made clear amid the controversy that arose due to poor messaging surrounding the Xbox One’s reveal. 

In a post on Xbox Wire entitled: “How Games Licensing Works on Xbox One”, Microsoft has finally offered a clear response to how their new console plans to deal with used games – publishers. Apparently Microsoft is placing the decision of whether to allow consumers to trade in their games or not in the hands of publishers, who now have the power to “enable you to trade in your games at participating retailers.” No mention of any specific retailers yet, but you can probably bet that the big guys, GameStop, Wal-Mart and Best Buy, will be on that list. 

On the lending games front, Microsoft has also offered some clarification. All your games are stored to the cloud and connected to your Xbox LIVE account, after which they can be accessed from any console you are signed into. Lending games to your friends, like trading in used games, is also by publisher approval, with a few caveats. Lending must be done using physical copies of the game, the person you lend it to must have been on your friends list for at least 30 days, and each game can be traded only once. 

Microsoft is also letting you share games anywhere with up to 10 members of your “family”. Members of this family will be able to access your entire library of shared games and play them on their own console. No word yet on how users create these families, or whether or not the members actually have to be related to you, but it’s difficult to see how Microsoft could enforce any sort of policy requiring them to actually be related to you. Kinect DNA sampling maybe? 

This news comes amid growing concern that the console wouldn’t allow any used games at all, or that those who bought a used game, or even a friend who had borrowed one, might have to pay some sort of “reactivation fee” in order to be able to play. 

(In the interest full disclosure, I am not a fan of used games and avoid buying them whenever possible. You can hear me speak a little more about this on Built to Play episode 3. )

That being said, I think this was a smart move by Microsoft. It takes the target off their backs and shifts the pressure onto publishers. It will be interesting to see the number of games publishers allow consumers to trade in. In one scenario, they just might forbid it completely, forcing consumers to buy expensive new games which, with they way publishers have reacted to used games this generation, might just be what ends up happening.  Now that publishers have a say in used games, however, there is the potential that they can use this power to cut a deal with the used game retailers, like GameStop, forcing them to give a portion of used game profits to the publishers. 

The new families are a point of intrigue. The details are a bit hazy, but if you can share your games with up to ten people that might prove extremely useful. The best application I see of this is allowing people to play a co-op game from different consoles with only one copy of the game. It’s not clear if this library of shared games is also subject to publisher approval, but if it is, we might not get to utilize the feature as much as we would like. 

All in all it seems as if Microsoft has cleared up a big portion of the controversy. All though a few details remain hazy, majority of their policy has been adequately explained; a stark contrast to the rather incompetent mixed messaging surrounding the Xbox One’s reveal. This news comes none too soon, with E3 right around the corner, Microsoft can now (hopefully) focus on what the consumers want – games.

 

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