Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Best Mods for Knights of the Old Republic

When it comes down to naming the best Star Wars video game ever made, one game regularly reigns over all other contenders. That game is Knights of the Old Republic, the creation of the legendary western RPG developer, Bioware. Knights of the Old Republic and its sequel are not only amazing Star Wars games, but also exceptional RPGs in their own rights. They possess quality leveling systems, unforgettable characters, and captivating stories that can be experienced through multiple playthroughs without getting old. Critics and everyday gamers alike adore and respect the series.

What scores of KotOR fans might not know is that a dedicated modding community exists for the phenomenal PC series. For those unfamiliar with the term, “Modding” refers to the act of making custom modifications to a piece of software or hardware. In the case of computer games, this usually involves adding in new content, such as characters, levels, and weapons. Both Knights of the Old Republic games have received hundreds of such fan-made additions in the years since their releases. With the recent announcement of a bundled rerelease of Knights of the Old Republic and its sequel, it is an opportune moment to review the best of these mods. While the KotOR modding community isn’t the largest on the internet, it has still produced some truly top-quality content over the years.

Brotherhood of Shadow: Solomon’s Revenge 

The magnum opus of the modder Silveredge9, BoSSR is the most extensive mod ever released for the first KotOR game. While the majority of mods for any game are often merely tiny tweaks or minor additions, BoSSR is far more ambitious. It adds to the game an entirely new story arc, one with the size and polish of an official expansion pack. Bioware themselves would've been hard pressed to develop something akin to it with the same limited time and resources of a modder. Just as impressive as BoSSR's scope and technical feats is the narrative it has to tell. Its story is exceptionally well written and features a diverse caste of likeable characters (my favorite being the sarcastic wisecracking Duro mechanic, Mec'Hanic). Not only do the characters and plot fit perfectly within the bounds of the original game's storyline, they enrich it with new perspectives on KotOR's back-story.
Those who play BoSSR can expect multiple new locations to explore. They range from the bridge of a Mandalorian battleship to the depths of forgotten Sith Ruins. Every setting has an engrossing atmosphere, with several possessing the feel of a survival horror setting. While the mod often relies on retextures of existing KotOR areas, a number of completely new modules are also used in the mod. These unique locations stand out the most as being professionally realized and memorable.

Many new weapons and armor are included with BoSSR, along with a number of new player-controllable characters. While these are often only briefly available to the player, their segments are often the most brilliant in the mod. Without spoiling too much, players can expect to play through important events in the Old Republic era. They will experience the  Mandalorian Wars through the eyes of a misguided Jedi apprentice and witness firsthand the reign of the enigmatic Sith Lord, Darth Revan. With a lengthy main adventure and several side quests, BoSSR easily provides well over ten hours of gameplay. Possessing both professional quality and creativity that only a passionate fan could give it, every KotOR enthusiast should make it a priority to play Brotherhood of Shadow: Solomon’s Revenge.

Revans Robes Revisioned
The most stylish attire in all of Star Wars has to be the robes of the Sith Lord Darth Revan. Unfortunately, like enticing forbidden fruit forever denied to those who crave it, players were never able to don these awesome robes in Knights of the Old Republic. Many mods for KotOR have sought to fix this in the past. The best of them however, has to be Revans Robes Revisioned. Not only does it provide players with the best Revan robes ever modeled, it even offers seven different versions of the robes to choose from. The mod also includes a special flowing animation for Revan’s cape. 

 While Revan’s Sith robes are perfect for dark side leaning characters, they don’t really fit the image of a Jedi. Thankfully, there are also versions of the robes that no knight of the Republic should feel ashamed to wear. My personal favorite is “Jedi Revan Robes” by Darth_Shan. Since this mod is only a re-skin, it has to be used with another mod that adds Revan’s robes to the game. Revan’s Robes Revisioned is the ideal mod to apply it to, of course.

Visual Enhancement 2012  
Visual Enhancement by Xarwarz is a series of updates to Knights of the Old republics’ graphics. The mod provides higher quality textures for both the first KotOR and its sequel. While it doesn’t put the games on the level of modern games, it is still a huge improvement over the original visuals.

Nar Shaddaa (KotOR 2 location) with Visual Enhancement 2012 

It is a well known fact that Knights of the Old Republic 2: The Sith Lords was released in an incomplete condition. While its developer Obsidian often receives the flake for this, much of the fault can be placed at the foot of the game’s publisher. There has been much speculation that LucasArts pushed Obsidian to finish the game for a Holiday release. Because of this, a ton of content ended up being cut from KotOR 2. Many of this discarded material would have greatly benefited the game had Obsidian been allowed the time to implement it.

After its release, a number of fan projects stepped up to restore the game’s cut content. Perhaps the best known of these groups was Team Gizka, which worked on their restoration project for years before collapsing due to internal divisions. Thankfully a second group of modders took up the immense task that all before had failed to do. Finish Knights of the Old Republic 2.

Titled “The Sith Lords Restored Content Mod” (TSLRCM), the file contains a compilation of restored content and bug fixes. The degree to which it improves KotOR 2 cannot be fully expressed given the sheer range of dialogue lines, and story events it restores and improves. One of the mod’s crowning achievements is the restoration of an entire level that was removed from the game: the HK Assassin Droid Factory. The inclusion of this area to the game, a feat that required multiple rounds of testing and bug fixing, adds a huge new twist to the way the game's ending plays out.

TSLRCM is an example of what talented modders can do when they band together to realize a common dream. It is a massive undertaking that wouldn’t have been possible without years of dedicated work by passionate fans. Fans who have dedicated hours of their own free time to ironing out the flaws in a game they played no part in creating. That is something that takes true dedication that only the greatest of games could inspire. TSLRCM is currently on version 1.7, with a 1.8 update in the works. When it’s released, it will be closest KotOR 2 has ever been to the complete game Obsidian had intended to make.  

M478-P (Unreleased)
The most significant feature cut from KotOR 2 was the entire planet of M4-78. Inhabited only by droids, it would have given players the chance to explore a completely mechanized planet. While there wasn’t enough of its original data left for inclusion as part of TSLRCM, a separate modding team has been able to create the models, scripts, and storyline needed to finally make the planet playable. While the mod hasn’t been released yet, work on it is progressing smoothly and can be followed on the Star Wars gaming site “Deadly Stream.” 

Revenge of Revan (Demo) 

Many fans of the KotOR series were disappointed when Bioware announced its Old Republic MMO. While they had eagerly awaited a single player RPG continuation of the KotOR saga, and TOR was not what they had expected. Even today, many gamers long for a Knights of the Old Republic 3. While it cannot lay claim to such a title officially, there is one project that is attempting to provide just that.

Revenge of Revan seeks to be an unofficial continuation of the KotOR storyline. Picking up a few years after the end of KotOR 2, its story focuses on the attempts of the Republic and Jedi Order to rebuild after years of war and galaxy-spanning devastation. The project is nothing if not ambitious. It features a robust cast of characters, both new ones and fan favorites from the past two games. It also seeks to bring new gameplay content to the standard KotOR 2 experience. This includes a lightsaber progression system, the chance to play as alien races, and a new system for building trust with party members. At the same time, RoR is shooting to have full voice acting, along with a completely new original soundtrack.

Though the mod as a whole has a long ways to go, it shows a lot of promise. The team behind it released a demo last summer. Overall it offered a total of 3 hours of new KotOR gameplay, and acted as an introduction for what is sure to be an expansive experience. When finished, the project promises the chance for players to continue their KotOR adventure and bridge the gap between the second game and its MMO successor.  
Read more about Revenge of Revan at its official site

Check out the following links to learn more about KoTOR modding:

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Crunchyroll is My New Best Friend

For the longest time my anime viewing has been limited to DVDs and what little I can catch on TV. Like many young fans of Japanese animation, I simply don’t have a lot of money to spend on it. At the same time my honesty prevents me from stooping to pirate my favorite shows from unscrupulous websites. Because of this I have never been very keen on watching anime online. I believed the only avenues to do so were ether illegal or outside my budget. Safe to say, that point of view has changed since I discovered Crunchyroll.

Crunchyroll is an online anime streaming website that allows free access to a vast collection of anime. The site licenses anime legally and uses advertisements to subsidize free users. If you’re not a fan of watching commercials (and who on God’s green earth is) you can sign up for a premium membership. With it you can enjoy ad-free content, HD picture quality, and early access to new episodes. Crunchyroll’s shows range from mainstream hits like Naruto and Bleach, to numerous niche titles. Hunter x Hunter, Eureka Seven, Gosick, and Fate Zero are only a few other amazing shows to view on the site. The only potential downside is that all the audio for these shows is Japanese with English subtitles. 
While Crunchyroll’s past isn’t exactly squeaky-clean, it has come a long way towards cleaning up its act. The web site has gone from being a distributer of copyrighted material to a legitimate company that secures legal distribution rights. Today Crunchyroll is doing the anime industry a world of good by providing a legal (and easy) way to stream anime online. Though I for one still prefer owning my favorite shows physically, streaming on Crunchyroll is a great way to get an early look at the best cartoons Japan has to offer.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Anime I Want to See Localized

Despite the number of stereotypes attributed to it, the word “anime” is simply an abbreviation for the Japanese term for animation. It covers any form of cartoon made in Japan, comprising multiple genres. While cartoons in the States are often unfairly dismissed as juvenile junk, they flourish as a true art in Japan. With content generally more serious than American cartoons, it isn’t surprising that many anime franchises have become mainstays of youth culture in the west. Without a doubt, those who dismiss anime as the obsession of japanophiles are missing out on the best animation in the world.

Before people outside Japan can enjoy an anime (legally at least) it has to licensed for western distribution. Determining what get’s brought over and by who is a long complex process. Anime is first and foremost produced for a Japanese audience and not all of them can find success in front of a western one. The following listing is basically my wish list for the anime I want to see localized. Ideally, these shows would be given Region 1 DVD release, preferably with an English dub.

Hunter x Hunter

Saying that Yoshihiro Togashi is one of the greatest manga authors ever doesn’t even come close to overstating his talents. A gifted minimalist artist and master storyteller, the anime adaption of his first major manga, Yu Yu Hakusho, is one of my all time favorite cartoons. By all regards, Togashi only improved with his adventure series, Hunter x Hunter. While at first glance it appears to be a typical kid’s series, this is purposely deceptive. Boasting complex characters, an intrigue plot, and hidden depth, it deconstructs everything one would expect from a Shonen anime. 

There are two Hunter x Hunter anime series, one that began in 1999 and ended with a number of OVA releases in the mid 2000’s, and an ongoing reboot series that began in 2011. The newer show is being produced by the respected Madhouse animation studio. The company has a well known penchant for quality, which is evident in how seamlessly they’ve adapted Hunter x Hunter. Madhouse has done a great job of capturing the manga’s identity, especially the dissonance between its lighthearted visual style and dark content. With each episode pristinely animated, Hunter x Hunter really has the potential to become the next big Shonen anime in America.

Funimation would be the ideal candidate to bring this masterpiece series to North America. While Viz Media was the company that licensed the first Hunter x Hunter anime, the results of their efforts weren’t exactly ideal. The quality of their English Dub was hit and miss and poor marketing doomed the series financially. Viz Media didn’t even bother to bring the entire series over. Funimation is really the only company with the resources to do Hunter x Hunter justice. Their voice actors are the best in the anime dubbing business. Furthermore, the company already has experience dubbing anime based off Togashi’s comics. Yu Yu Hakusho is one of their most popular series, and their acquisition of the 2011 “Level E” anime shows they have continued interest in the author’s works.


Set in a fictional European country in 1924, Gosick follows Japanese exchange student Kujo’s adventures with a mysterious girl. The girl, Victorique, is shown early on to be far from ordinary. Her deductive reasoning and intuition allow her to solve the most bizarre mysteries with little more than a shrug. Most cases Kujo and her face have a supernatural appearance and the show is decidedly spooky and downright sinister at times. Still, enough humor and heartwarming material is mixed in to keep the mood balanced. Romances in anime are often too over the top for my tastes, but the one between Kujo and Victorique manages to avoid this.
Gosick was originally going to be licensed by Bandai in America. The company unfortunately stopped releasing new titles recently. This means that Gosick is now back up for grabs. Right now it’s debatable who, if anyone will pick it up. Funimation has rescued series from defunct companies in the past but they might not bite on this one. They’ve been burned on detective anime before (Case Closed) but Gosick could be different enough to be successful. The series is much shorter in length, so it wouldn’t require as much money and resources to bring over. Costs can further be reduced through releasing it sub only.
Digimon: Xros Wars 

Digimon became a major part of my childhood when it first hit the States in 1999. Looking back, it’s hard to not see it as an attempt to cash in on the Pokémon craze. Still, the franchise has been able to stand on its own through the years. Admittedly, the cartoon is often ridiculously cheesy, yet it also has some truly profound moments too (I’m looking at you Digimon Tamers).
Xros Wars is the latest incarnation of the Digimon anime. With a fast moving plot and loud explosive battles, it sticks pretty close to the traditional Digimon formula while also managing to avoid feeling stale. The animation is crisp and colorful and I can definitely see it finding a good home on any number of kid oriented channels. A new generation of kids needs to experience Digimon and Xros Wars would definitely get the job done.

Yu Yu Hakusho Poltergeist Report
As I said earlier, Yu Yu Hakusho is one of my all time favorite shows. It’s only natural that I’d like to see its feature length movie get a proper English adaption. While Poltergeist Report has technically already been released in North America, its dub is terrible. So bad that it might as well not exist. Naturally, it would be perfect for Funimation to get the rights to Poltergeist Report. It’s all they need to finish their dubbing of the popular series after their released of the Yu Yu Hakusho OVAs last year. It’s easy to tell from this that Funimation is still interested in the series and capable of bringing their dub’s brilliant voice caste back together.

Dragon Ball Z OVAs
The term OVA stands for Original Video Animation. They are basically mini-films made directly for home video. Currently there are three OVAs in the popular Dragon Ball Z series that have yet to be licensed in North America. Obviously, it would be great to have them become available here so that DBZ maniacs (myself included) could finish their Dragon Ball collections. Obviously Funimation would be the ones to license them. It's probably only a matter of time until they get around to it.
None of these short films have particularly compelling plots, but they’re all well animated regardless. DBZ animated features outside the main series have always been about telling fun side stories that feature our favorite characters. For better or worse, that’s pretty much exactly what these OVAs accomplish.

The oldest of the three OVAs is from the Cell saga era of the series and features the main caste going up against the evil Dr. Raichi. There are actually two versions of this OVA, dubbed “Dragon Ball: Plan to Eradicate the Super Saiyans.” The original was released in Japan in 1993 and the second was re-scripted and re-edited as a bonus feature for the 2010 video game Dragon Ball: Raging Blast 2. While this second version came with the North American release of the game, it included only the Japanese audio with subtitles. An English dub would definitely be ideal and I’d also love to see the original version of the film included along with the new one.

Dragon Ball: Yo! Son Goku and His Friends Return!! premiered in Japan in 2008 and marked the first new Dragon Ball animation since 1999. Set a short time after the end of DBZ, the short film introduced Vegeta’s younger brother, Tarble (for what’s supposed to be a nearly extinct race, new Saiyans really have a habit of turning up out of the blue). Most of the episode is about Trunks and Goten fighting two chubby joke villains. Its focus is definitely more on humor than action. This isn’t a bad thing by any means, given that humor has always been an important part of Dragon Ball.

Dragon Ball: Episode of Bardock is the anime adaption of a short manga story penned by one of Akira Toriyama’s assistants, Naho Ooishi. It tells a what-if story featuring Bardock, a fan favorite character made famous in the TV special “Bardock: Father of Goku.” The gist of the story is that Bardock is sent back in time when the galactic warlord Frieza destroys Planet Vegeta. In the past he fights one of Frieza’s ancestors and turns into a Super Saiyan during their battle. Though the whole plot reads like a bad fanfic, the animation itself is sharp and seeing more of Bardock is definitely not a bad thing.

Dr. Slump
Dr. Slump is the first major work of Dragon Ball creator Akira Toriyama. Being equally as popular as Dragon Ball in Japan, two Dr. Slump anime were eventually made. It would be great to finally see either or both of them brought to states. Considering the phenomenon that Dragon Ball is, it’s amazing that nobody has at least picked them up for a subbed release. My preference would be for the newer 1997-1999 series, as it has better animation. Its shorter length would also make bringing it over easier. Dragon Ball’s protagonist even appears in a few of its episodes and it’s always great to see more of an iconic character like Goku.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

3 Dumb YouTube Videos: 1

Welcome to my first segment of “3 Dumb YouTube Videos,” where I post whatever ridiculous nonsense I come across on everyone’s favorite video sharing website. I’ll be trying to keep these cartoon and or video game related, but I can’t make any promises.
I’ll start things off with Pikachu singing along to an obscure song about butterflies and samurai for 10 hours straight. If you haven’t gone insane by the end of listening to it, you can check out LittleKuriboh’s recent Yu-Gi-Oh! themed parody of a Lady Gaga song. Finally we come to the reason I love the internet, the fact that someone was able to make everyone’s dream of Prince Adam from He-Man singing “What’s Up” by Linda Perry come true.

Pikachu Song

Pharaoh’s Throne

He Man Sings What’s Up

Friday, June 22, 2012

3DS XL Announced

Earlier last week, legendary Nintendo game designer Shigeru Miyamoto all but told gamers not to expect a major revision of the company’s 3DS system. This was a surprise change of pace for a company known for their handheld revisions. In recent years they’ve consistently replaced the first version of their handhelds with a superior model. The original clunky Game Boy Advance was caste aside in favor of the sleek Game boy Advance SP and the DS Lite took the place of its long forgotten predecessor. After such a long pattern of portable reworks, many jaded consumers assumed the same would be so for the 3DS. Many postponed their purchase, hoping to hop on the train when the new version inevitably hit the market.
Such predictions have proven partially correct, at least. Today Nintendo revealed a new version of the 3DS. The 3DS XL. Like the DSi XL before it, the main draw of the 3DS XL is its larger screens. These are almost twice as large as the originals screens. Design-wise, the system isn’t just a rescaled 3DS, but offers a softer aesthetic, with rounded corners and what appears to be a less glossy surface. Along with its upscale in size, the 3DS XL will also offer a longer battery life and increased memory card size. The new handheld is scheduled to be released on August 19 for North Americans. Europeans and Japanese gamers will be able to purchase it on July 28.

The most notable aspect of the 3DS XL however, is its lack of a second circle pad. Ever since Nintendo announced the Circle Pad Plus add-on, people have assumed that an additional circle pad would be a part of any 3DS redesign. It is odd that the 3DS XL lacks what many see as an essential upgrade. For now the original 3DS is ahead of the 3DS XL in this department, because I doubt the second circle pad peripheral add-on for the 3DS will be compatible with the 3DS XL.
While the 3DS XL certainly improves upon the 3DS, I don’t see any reason to trade in for this model. A larger screen doesn’t necessarily mean the games will look better. They might even look worse if the visuals are stretched to fit the larger screen. Longer battery life, while always a plus, definitely isn’t a dealmaker. Seemingly, Nintendo isn’t interested in making major changes to its 3DS platform for now. Overall the 3DS XL feels like an incremental upgrade. It doesn’t bring anything fundamentally new to the table and seems more like a rushed decision on Nintendo’s part.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

My Thoughs on Ubisoft's 2012 E3 Press Conference

Ubisoft didn’t have a perfect E3 showing this year. They kicked their show off with a painful dance routine and their entire conference was plagued with terrible spokespeople. With terrible attempts at humor and hammed up enthusiasm, they went out of their way to make parts of the show akward to sit through. However, as unbearable as the onstage antics were, Ubisoft’s exceptional lineup of games spoke for themselves. They proved that good games are what makes or breaks an E3 showing. Not gaudy gimmicks.

Ubisoft’s succeeded this year by offering a diverse range of games. Specifically, the number of triple A sequels was spectacular. Splinter Cell, Far Fry, and Assassin’s Creed all in one conference. What more could any hardcore gamer want? At the same time, Ubisoft also had one of the few truly unique new IP of this year’s E3. Watch Dogs brought their conference to an exciting end, generating even more buzz than the publisher’s established mega-series.

Adding to the excitement of Ubisoft’s showing was the presence of actual next generation software on display. Long a pioneer in the launch of new gaming consoles, Ubisoft’s planned lineup for the Wii U is filled with compelling software. A full-on Rayman platformer, along with a new Rabbids game should have the family-friendly crowd covered for the system’s launch. Meanwhile, the arrival of Assassin’s Creed 3 on the Nintendo platform is an indicator that the system will have serious third party support. 


Watch Dogs

Watch Dogs is an open-world action adventure game that gives players the power to manipulate a cities central computer network. During the demonstration the main character used these hacking skills to track down and eliminate a targeted enemy. Abilities that were shown off include shutting down cell phone signals to distract NPCs and listening in on enemy communications. Another tool showcased was shutting down traffic lights to trap a target in a multi-car traffic accident. Clearly the protagonist isn’t against endangering innocents to achieve his goals. After casing the pileup, the player maneuvered through the maze of crashed cars, eliminating adversaries tactical gunplay and physical takedowns. Watch Dogs definitely looks like an interesting new IP. It has a unique gameplay hook and clever well acted storytelling to back it up.

Rayman Legends

Rayman Legends is a Wii U launch title featuring colorfully detailed graphics. Gameplay appears to be a mixture of classic Rayman platforming delivered with an innovative flair, and a stylistic presentation. The game will feature a ton of different coop combinations, supporting up to five different player controlled characters. Rayman Legends is bound to be a stellar family-oriented launch title for the Wii U, much like Rayman: Raving Rabbids was for the original Wii.

 Assasins Creed III

Coming to multiple platforms, including the Wii U, Assassins Creed 3 is the latest entry in the titular historical assassination series. Besides featuring improved graphics, Assassins Creed 3 has revamped of the series’ climbing system. Past Assassins in the series were always limited to performing their acrobatic maneuvering on man-made structures. New protagonist Connor is just as at home in the tree tops and along sheer cliffs. The Native American assassin also has several new assassination tricks up his sleeve. One of these involves using a grappling hook to pull enemies up into the tree tops. Another allows Connor's to use a human shield against musket volleys. Furthermore, Connors combat maneuvers are more focused on offense than his predecessors Etzio and Altair.


Just Dance 4

Ubisoft, you do not begin your most important press conference of the year with Just Dance. You just don’t. 

Sports Connection

Sports Connection for the Wii U look’s to be nothing but a shallow sports mini-game collection. These types of useless shovelware games plagued the Wii and it’s disappointing to see them reveal their ungodly presence again. Besides a shallow golf mini-game, footage at the event also revealed the inclusion of a Mario Kart rip-off in the collection.

With polished sequels to successful series,  a robust lineup of launch games for the Wii U, and an intriguing new IP, Ubisoft had the best show of any major company at E3 2012. Thus my final grade for the publisher is an:


Thursday, June 7, 2012

My Thoughts on EA's 2012 E3 Press Conference

Irate gamers across the internet have often described Electronic Arts as the Evil Empire of Gaming. They’ve criticized EA left and right for swallowing up independent studios, stifling innovation, and filling their games with obstructive DRM. Heck, the game publisher even won The Consumerist’s yearly award for most evil company in America.That’s quite the achievement given the countless banks, oil companies, and weapons manufacturers vying for the title. Whether or not there is any truth behind these acquisitions, big companies like EA are always the perfect targets for criticism. After the company’s E3 event this year, gamers certainly won’t be lacking ammunition to take aim with.

E3 is meant to be a showcase of the video game industry’s progress and innovation. We’re supposed to see the latest, most exciting games and have our appetites stroked for the coming year’s releases. Progress and Innovation how aren't exactly EA's strengths. The company instead devoted a good portion of their convention time to updates for two already released titles, Battlefield 3 and The Old Republic. Now the content itself, 5 full expansion packs for Battlefield 3 and a slew of updates and added content for TOR, was certainly a healthy offering. It’s great that EA is providing robust post-release support for their titles. However, while these announcements may pump life into old titles, they lacked the excitement of all out new games. We already know what Battlefield 3 and TOR have to offer and these new additions are merely icing on cake’s whose tastes we already know. They aren’t an entirely new and delicious experience.

And now I’ll be craving bakery sweets as I type the rest of this article…

As far as delivering actual new games, EA’s lineup appears, at least at first, to have blockbuster potential. Dead Space 3 started the presentation off with a bang and it wasn’t the only highly anticipated sequel on display. After years of spinoffs, a new full-blown Sim City game is on the way. Both of these games had been known to the public before the event, so their E3 debuts weren’t the hype-inducing bombshells they could’ve been. In fact, surprises were almost completely absent from EA’s press conference. Every single title was an entry in a long running established series. New Madden and FIFA games are routine and Medal of Honor is such an underdog franchise, it’s hard tell how EA expects it to standout from the competition.


Sim City

2003 was the last time simulation fans enjoyed a full-scale numbered Sim City game. Thankfully, they’ll all soon have a new opportunity to take on the role of mayor. While you can’t fully judge a simulation game without experiencing its mechanics firsthand, it is easy to tell that the new Sim City’s presentation will be top notch. The colorful scenes of rising cityscapes on display were enough to make potential mayors drool.

EA announced that online interaction will be a major selling point for the Sim City revival. I couldn’t help but feel déjà vu when I heard this announcement. Another city-building game, Cities XL, already tried to adapt the city building genre to multiplayer. The results were less than stellar, very few users signed up for the online features and the game’s poor sales forced developer Monte Cristo out of business. Hopefully the Sim city brand will be enough for Maxis to avoid this unfortunate fate.  

Crysis 3

Anyone familiar with Crytek’s pedigree shouldn’t be surprised that their next title is an absolute graphical marvel. Gamers will once again squeeze into invincible nano-suits as they slaughter enemies throughout gorgeously detailed environments.

Need For Speed Most Wanted

Most Wanted is an open world driving game focused on competing with other players for top scores. The driving section shown off was filled with cars plowing down the streets, causing mayhem along the way. Sleek action packed races and automobile destruction should make the latest Need For Speed an intense affair.

Low points

Dead Space 3

As a huge fan of the first Dead Space game, it is disappointing to see the series’ turn into a generic action shooter. This was my impression from seeing Dead Space 3’s fast-paced, coop-focused demonstration. Hopefully the pure action trailer was simply to appeal to action junkies and that it isn't a full indication of the final product's overall pace. If not, then the survival horror genre has lost yet another series to the mainstream action crowd 

SimCity Social

Facebook games have their place in the gaming landscape, but that place isn’t at an E3 press conference. SimCity Social appears to be nothing more than a watered down version of Sim City 4. Move along city building fans, move along.

My final grade for EA is a C+

The publisher simply didn't have any groundbreaking announcements this year. Because of this, its lineup felt stale and devoid of creativity. It was disappointing to see the publisher bastardize Dead Space and even the prospect of a new Sim City game is hampered by the fact it will probably be loaded with invasive DRM.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

My Thoughts on Microsoft's 2012 E3 Press Conference

I'm kicking off my blogging of E3 2012 with my personal thoughts on the first major press conference of the event. This, of course, was Microsoft’s, the company behind Xbox and Windows.

To put it mildly, last year's Microsoft conference was embarrassing. The event was kicked off with a Call of Duty game of all things and too much of the conference was devoted to Kinect hijinks, particularly the voice command system. It had very little substance to offer dedicated gamers, especially those not interested in Kinect.

This year’s event at least started out with a game exclusive to the 360. Predictably, it was a trailer for Halo 4, the next installment in Microsoft's most iconic dollar franchise. Microsoft showed a mix of CG cut scenes and gameplay, both of which were focused on a space ship crashing into a jungle covered planet. Master Chief thankfully happens to be in the neighborhood and makes his way to the spacecraft’s crash site, shooting away at Covenant baddies and new robotic foes. Halo 4 look’s to be shaping up to be a fully qualified entry in the series, despite its new developer.

Microsoft’s President came onto the stage to tout the Xbox 360’s position as the #1 selling console worldwide. All our entertainment all in one place, he declared, brought together by the magic of Kinect (you could almost hear the collective groan of gamers across the internet). He also introduced Microsoft’s new central strategy of bringing Xbox entertainment to our computers, phones, and tablets. According to him, it’s never been a better time to own an Xbox 360 (probably because all the hardware defects have finally been ironed out).

Next up on the schedule was Splinter Cell: Blacklist from Ubisoft. It featured main protagonist Sam Fisher using his mastery of stealth and brutal takedowns to progress through hostile territory. Sam moved quick and smoothly through the environment, shooting and stabbing everyone in his way. Kinect support was confirmed, though it was relatively low-key, such as using the voice detection feature to attract an enemy to a certain area for a stealth kill.

EA Sports came on to hype Kinect support coming to their titles. Madden 2013 and FIFA 2013 were unveiled, though I don't really see the point of devoting conference time to revealing titles everyone knows are going to come out. Joe Madden made an appearance to play his namesake game, but that was the extant of any excitement.

The Kinect Fable game was reintroduced after Madden left the scene. The trailer featured some dude forming magic attacks in his hands and shooting them at bad guys on screen. From what I could tell, the gameplay was strictly of a shooting gallery variety. Nothing about it looked overly compelling, but it's not as though the standard for Kinect games is particularly high after Kinect Star Wars.

Media personality Phil Spencer came on to promote the Xbox's apparently great game lineup and introduced the trailer to the recently unveiled Gears of War Judgment. The trailer didn't really show much, but it's Gears of War, so everyone knows what to expect anyway.

The Gears of War trailer was immediately followed by a trailer for a snazzy-looking racing game. Cars raced through stunning vistas at break net speeds. The name Forza Horizon flashed on the screen and Microsoft’s Head of Marketing and Strategy took the stage to talk about the Xbox 360's non-game entertainment. Kinect's improved voice search abilities were shown off and was just as silly as last year. A huge new variety of ways to watch sports on the Xbox 360 were debuted along with Xbox Music, a huge music library that can be accessed from Xbox 360 and Windows PCs, tablets, and phones. The guy continued his Kinect praise with a new Kinect fitness program developed with help from sportswear giant Nicky. Nicky+ Kinect Training can measure body movements and bring personal training to the living room. I’ll give Microsoft this, it certainly look’s far more substantial than Wii Fit.

The Head of Xbox Live then entered to introduce the Xbox 360’s new interactivity with Tablets, TVs, and smart phones. Xbox SmartGlass allows devices consumers already own to connect to their Xbox and display information about whatever the system is running. I can’t say I'm very attracted to the idea of constantly being distracted while watching tv or gaming, but to each their own, I guess. Finally, through the power of Xbox, the magic of Kinect, and Xbox SmartGlass; Internet Explorer is coming to Xbox 360. Fast intuitive web searching on a TV screen is accomplished by using a tablet or phone to easily control mouse movement. I admit it looked pretty nifty, not that I actually see any reason to surf the web on the TV when it can be done already on dozens of devices, an actual PC or laptop notwithstanding. Xbox content will also be connected to the upcoming Windows 8. Wait, Windows 8! I just got used to Windows 7, darn it!

At last the conference returned to displaying actual games, this time with the upcoming Tomb Raider. Lara Croft is shown sneaking around a mountain path, sniping bad guys with a bow and arrow and platforming across the cliffsides. Along with traditional weapons, Lara also made use of environmental traps such as lighting oil spills on fire with flaming arrows. Lara takes out every thug in her path before falling into a raging river. At the last minute she parachutes to safety at the very edge of steep drop down a waterfall and sails through the forest top, bumping into trees on the way. Overall, Lara’s gritty origin story look’s awesome and I'll be sure to check it out when launches in March 2013.

Microsoft introduced some new IP next, though none of them left much of an impression. The first was a violent fantasy action game featuring a hulking red armored warrior going up against a horned giant. Titled Ascended: New Gods, nothing about it looked very distinct. The next two titles were just bizarre. Loco cycle is apparently about a motor cycle assassin and it was followed by a Kinect game called Matter, which featured a floating sphere going through a series of challenges. We’ll have to wait and see if these three titles have any merit.

Two Japanese developers from Capcom were the next to take the stage, and they showed off a gameplay segment from Resident Evil 6. Leon Kennedy and Ada Wong were faced with a horde of Zombies and a hostile helicopter. Overall, the game seems to be shaping up to be an intense action game, with a constant stream of enemies to kill, little in the way of horror, and fast-paced action. The trailer killed a lot of my excitement for the game, as it seemed to suggest that the Resident Evil has truly given up survival horror. Unfortunately Capcom can’t even make a compelling shooter to replace it, instead filling the demo with quick time events and a constant stream of set pieces. Compared to Resident Evil 4’s expertly paced combat, Resident Evil 6 doesn’t seem to be as focused on actual gameplay.

Following Resident Evil’s showing, a woman named Alex Ruiz hit the stage to show off a useless Kinect game called Wrecker. As a pair of medieval dopes with offensive accents cheered her on, Alex catapulted projectiles into a defenseless a castle, succeeding quite well in making herself look like a complete fool.

South Park: The Stick of Truth was shown next and it looks to be shaping up to be a hilarious parody of RPGs with a capable turn-based battle system backing it up. After the trailer, the creators of South Park came onto the stage. They playfully joked about Microsoft’s previous connectivity spiel, before going into depth about the game. However, not a lot of new content was shown that wasn’t in Game Informer’s South Park cover story a few months back.

Next was Dance Central 3, but I doubt there's anyone who actually cares about that. Just know that alongside some gameplay footage, there was an onstage dance show performed by some celebrity whose name I don’t know.

The event continued with some guy summarizing Microsoft’s spiel about connecting devices before showing gameplay footage of Call of Duty: Black Ops 2. It was…well, what you’d expect from Call of Duty at this point; tons of set pieces, explosions, and linear FPS shooting. While some futuristic tech was thrown into the fray, not even that was enough to produce much excitement. The game definitely looked very graphically impressive with plenty of onscreen excitement, but the gameplay just didn’t seem very compelling.

While Microsoft showcased a number of hardcore games this year, the only major exclusives it had on display were Halo, Gears of War, and some Kinect software. Like last year, a lot of its presentation time was devoted to new corporate sponsorships and gimmicks, this time focusing on a new connectivity strategy. Microsoft obviously wants the Xbox 360 to become a multimedia platform, but at the end the day, it’s first and foremost a video game console, and Microsoft’s game lineup was simply very basic. The most interesting games on display were multiplatform, which further highlighted the Xbox 360’s limited first party support.

My personal grade for Microsoft’s 2012 E3 Press conference is a B- Its main focus was unappealing and there just weren’t many games that I was interested in.