Monthly Archives: April 2009

Dante’s Inferno Preview

dantesinferno_screenshot_springbreak_1Damn it, EA. You with your new IPs, getting all literary.

First, Dead Space, a creepy Alien-like survival horror game. Now, Dante’s Inferno. Must we wade into the dark forest of Hell jokes just to get a preview?

Hell, yes. During a chilly April night in San Francisco, EA gave us the opportunity to play through the first Circle of Hell from Dante’s Inferno, a third-person, single-player action game created by EA Redwood Shores and based on the first book of Italian poet Dante Aligheri’s Divine Comedy. Read the rest at GameDaily.com.

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The Value of a Good PR Junket

Sometime shortly after September 11, 2001, the business of the video game industry changed. Unlike an earthquake that turns a crevice in the ground into a canyon, this American event shifted the plates underneath the ground, re-arranging pieces of the landscape.

Americans on the whole examined their daily lives and mourned the losses of those folks who died senselessly in New York. They examined the language they used. New military terms were introduced and became more familiar while, conversely, they were also examined more closely in everyday language. Many journalists thought twice about the terms “headshot,” “sniping,” and “blowing the shit out that guy.”

Well, OK, maybe some of thought about it…

Along with Los Angeles Times’ writer Alex Pham’s examination of PR junkets and a particular freelance writer’s “excessive” lifestyle, which explored the potential hazards of industry writers and their relationships with public relation teams, things got real quiet on the PR front. Road trips, big-time PR spectacles, and ATV events vanished. As the country settled into a new reality, the video game industry’s events slowly but surely returned, if only a little more reserved.

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Junkets don't have to involve zebra-striped Hummer limos to be valuable and worthwhile. In fact, please, no more zebra-striped hummers. Please?

While no US citizen thought the September 11 attacks were a good thing (just ask the families whose relatives and friends died), the attack, in retrospect, made us examine our practices and values. And the trivial matter of a simple PR road trip designed to promote a game was among those things. Is an extravagant trip necessary? Is it in good taste? Does it exaggerate the violence in the game?

There is not a single junket where riding in a Hummer limousine made me feel anything but a false sense of self value. They were all fun and I appreciated the rides, but whatever games they were pimping weren’t affected in the slightest by that fleeting sense of the high life.

Several trips–including one of the best PR trips of my life, which was organized by former PR manager Mr. Matt Frary when he worked at Atari Games before they imploded–were simply incredible experiences in and of themselves. This particular Atari trip to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, involved game journalists who saw two days worth of games (Driv3r, Transformers, etc.) while residing at a huge beach side resort in perfect weather. In between seeing games all day, during lunch and at night we lounged in a giant pool with a built-in bar that overlooked the beach. All drinks were charged to room 125 (Matt Frary’s room, of course!). Thank goodness, Atari decided to set an embargo date for three days afterward. The Internet connections were terrible and for those of us who stayed out late partying, we were in no shape to write a decent, legible sentence.

I will always appreciate that trip because the setting was beautiful and we were treated to a slice of paradise. I’m sorry, but drinking free unlimited margaritas in a pool by the beach in 85 degree weather is really fucking fun.

Could this trip have been organized in a simple hotel in Los Angeles without the frills? Yes. Would it have been as fun? No. And, perhaps equally worth questioning, would as many people have attended? Also, did Atari create a better image for itself and by association, one for Atari? Nah. Driv3r had the potential to be good, but it ended up being shit.

My thinking is that Atari got to spend quality time with journalists, and by spending that time, got them to think and spend time with their games. They also got dozens of stories and video pieces written about their products. The attending journalists got better insights into games that brought their sites traffic and readers. The revolution was complete.

In this case, the personal experience was greater than the professional experience, and the lasting value equaled a slew of coverage, and I think I got to like and value Matt Frary a whole lot more.

Driv3r didn't live up to the hype. (Image courtesy of IGN)

Driv3r didn't live up to the hype. (Image courtesy of IGN)

But I know just as many journalists who wouldn’t attend such an event because it was either a waste of time or it was against their journalistic ethics. More significantly, they would declare it as the “problem” with video game PR and game journalism. To that I simply say, bah! When Driv3r came out (I still hate that damned 3), I gave it a 5.5 out of 10 and Atari pulled its ads from IGN. If game journalists or game writers can’t separate the wheat from the chaff, and they’re swayed by a few drinks, a limo ride, or a free t-shirt, they’d better pick another profession. If a game sucks, it sucks. If it’s good, it’s good. And any PR person who dares to try and sway your review score should also jump ship, too.

I would venture to say there is great value in the PR junket, the PR outing, and the three-day trip to some crazy desert in Arizona (which I have been to twice for said events). But PR folks have to pick their place well and the event, and in my humble opinion, it has to provide intrinsic value and information about the game.

I remember IGN writer Steve Butts telling me with great appreciation (and exhaustion) that the Medal of Honor Pacific Assault boot camp event he attended was incredible. It gave him a direct insight into being a new soldier. He had the sunburn and blisters to prove it. This event took place in 2003 or 2004 and basically put journalists in real boot camp, running all day while wearing backpacks, shooting targets, and sleeping out in the open desert. The event created for journalists a sense of what it felt like to be a soldier and therefore provided an insight into the game, which in turn put value on presenting military authenticity.

Similarly, when I met Capt. Dale Dye in person at an EA event in Fort Mason promoting Medal of Honor 2 for PlayStation, I learned what I considered a great deal about military strategy. Dye, a retired U.S. army captain who has served as a consultant on military movies such as Saving Private Ryan, was hired as a consultant to Medal of Honor 2. Dye talked about the importance of attacking (having an entrance strategy), but also having a plan to complete the venture (having an exit strategy). He also revealed what it was like to fight in Vietnam in hand to hand combat, a grisly scenario of few bullets and one grenade and sheer smart timing–a scenario in which he lived to talk about it.

Had I not attended, I would have not met Dye. Also I would not have learned from his experiences, which I applied to all future World War II shooters and military based games.

Of course I have been to dozens of stupid, wasteful, and annoying trips. In many of those cases, I would have been more happy to simply receive a disc packed with information, screenshots, and videos. I can think of a half dozen Sony, Activision, Take Two, and Atari trips that were lavish and didn’t provide good people to interview or background data to inform my stories. The aforementioned Atari trip to Mexico was more fun than it was useful.

While this article might seem like a good excuse to reminisce about a great trip to Mexico, PR junkets can be a valuable tool for both the journalist and the PR manager. If video game events, junkets, and even spectacles are well thought out and are tied intrinsically to the game, they can inform and educate the press. Many don’t, but a good junket can provide a different perspective to a game that a poorly-paid, overworked game writer might not have considered. And, hopefully while said junkets are providing new insights, they’re a little fun, too.

ED NOTE: PR whiz Tom Ohle has just launched a new blog called EvolutionOfPR, in which this topic and many others revolving around the growth of public relations are discussed; it’s definitely worth a look.

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Konami Drops Fallujah: Are Games the Best Medium for War?

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After a stormy reception by military groups and a Konami Gamers Night in which Six Days in Fallujah was a key highlight in its presentation, Konami has officially dropped the publishing rights to Six Days in Fallujah, reports The Asahi Shimbun today. [UPDATE: Konami returned my calls today to report that it has officially dropped Six Days in Fallujah. Officially. Really.]

The Asahi Shimbun quoted a Konami representative who confirmed the company dropped it, saying, “After seeing the reaction to the videogame in the United States and hearing opinions sent through phone calls and e-mail, we decided several days ago not to sell it,” a Konami official told the outlet.

We called Konami and were met with a strict “No comment” to all questions. However, Atomic Games gave mixed messages. Public relations Manager Jeremy Zoss said, “Right now we don’t have any comment, but we should have one in the next couple of days.” A second Atomic employee confirmed over the phone Konami is no longer publishing the game. “That’s right,” she told us, “Konami is not publishing it.”

In the next couple days, Atomic is likely to go on the road and pitch Six Days in Fallujah, a first-person shooter that re-creates the realism of the battle in Iraq using former military personnel’s journals and reports including interviews in the game.

One must wonder why Konami dropped Six Days in Fallujah. Did the game draw controversial attention beyond what the publisher had expected? Probably. Did the game look and play as well as Konami expected? The game I saw was early and didn’t look terribly impressive, but to be fair the title isn’t due until 2o10. How much research did Konami do internally and externally before acquiring the publishing rights? Apparently Konami is a more conservative company than even Konami thought it was.

Did the public’s reaction have an influence on Konami’s decision? Clearly, yes; the game has already been in development for about two years.

Games based on World War II re-create a war that’s a generation or two away, making it easier to swallow, as evidenced by the success of Medal of Honor and Call of Duty. The rash of Vietnam games that quickly came and went in 2004 drew some criticism, too, but again because that war had been over for more than 30 years, the raw emotions involved in it had simmered down.

The Iraq War has been controversial since the beginning, based on the notion that Iraq President Saddam Hussein’s government had developed the capacity to develop nuclear bombs. That premise changed when the US government found no such evidence. More to the point, however, the Iraq war is still going on, and soldiers are still dying because of it.

The question that Konami apparently didn’t ask itself was, “Do we feel comfortable making a first-person shooter based on a war that’s still in effect?” Perhaps some people felt comfortable about it, while others didn’t.

In an interview with Atomic Games at Konami’s Gamer Night, Peter Temte told us that Six Days in Fallujah is an important game because it takes a controversial issue and presents it in the medium of video games. “What better way to tell the story?” he asked. Atomic’s goal was to use the journals of several soldiers who wrote about the war, and to include their opinions and insights into the game, bookending missions and providing a human face to the levels.

Are video games the best way to tell the story of a war that’s still raging? Are they better or worse than a book, a TV series or a movie because they’re interactive? Do they under or misrepresent the reality of war? Will gamers trivialize the war because they can virtually kill terrorists?

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Bethesda Pins Mickey Rourke to Rogue Warrior

Bethesda today unmasked Mickey Rourke as the voice talent behind lead character Richard “Demo Dick” Marcinko in its upcoming Navy SEAL game Rogue Warrior due on PC, PS3, and Xbox 360 this fall. barfly_dvdcover-copy

While Rourke had a rough stretch as an actor in the last eight years–even trying his hand at pro wrestling–his value shot straight through the roof, a la John Travolta in Pulp Fiction, with his recent Academy Award nomination in The Wrestler. Bethesda’s selection of Rourke reflects his comeback stretches beyond just Hollywood films.

Rogue Warrior is Bethesda’s upcoming action game is based on Marcinko’s New York Times best-seller. Players take on the role of a clandestine operation militant sent to break up a suspected North Korean ballistic missile program.

Mickey Rourke was our first choice to play Marcinko in Rogue Warrior,” said Todd Vaughn, Executive Producer of Rogue Warrior. “He absolutely, one-hundred percent captures Marcinko’s raw and gritty personality.”

Truth is, I can’t argue against this pick. If Rourke is given good source material, he’ll knock out a home run performance (that’s a big “if,” of course). Rourke played the role of one of my most favorite movies while I attended college, Bar Fly, starring as Charles Bukowski’s drunk, street fighting poet, who co-starred alongside Faye Dunaway.

Famous last words? “To all my friends!”

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New Call of Juarez Video

The McCalls will Ride [this summer.]”

cojbib_all_screenshot_dual_guns_031Ubisoft just handed off a sweet new video of Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood to GameSpot replete with story hooks, sweet looking vistas of the virtual Wild West, a showdown, and tons of quick gameplay tidbits. Looks pretty effing awesome to me. The Wild West was such an interesting mix of untapped beauty, primal human desires (greed, lust, power), and ancient myths, like supposed hidden Aztec gold (“with gems as big as your fists!”).

Look for Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood (previewed here) to arrive in June on Xbox 360 and PS3.

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Brutal Legend Ships October 13

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Electronic Arts today announced it will ship Double Fine’s Brutal Legend October 13 for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. It will ship in Europe October 16.

Have you ever taken a good look at that lead character? Yes, he looks a little like Jack Black, but doesn’t he also look like Tim Schafer?timschafer_11

Ah, yes. Now you see it.

“Wooo! Having an official release date is awesome!” said Tim Schafer, President of Double Fine Productions. “And how cool is it that EA threw down the dough to have the name of an entire month changed to Rocktober?”

I’m not going to re-write this game description for you because I just ate lunch and I’m feeling slow. So here is what EA says this game is…

“Brütal Legend tells the tale of Eddie Riggs, played by Jack Black. The ultimate roadie, Eddie is the first person anyone calls when they need guitars tuned or stages rigged, and has a love for hot rods and a photographic memory for every Heavy Metal album cover, and the lyrics those albums contained. One night, a stage accident knocks Eddie unconscious, and he awakens in a world that looks very strange yet oddly familiar, a world where every Heavy Metal album cover and lyric Eddie knows has come to life, and where the evil emperor Doviculus and his demon army, The Tainted Coil, have enslaved the last remaining humans. When an oppressed people request Eddie’s knowledge of modern warfare, he pulls from his own experience in the only occupation he’s ever had, a roadie for a Heavy Metal band, and under his command, this barbaric force of hot-rods, Marshall stacks, leather, and chrome will bring this ancient world into the age of Metal.”

Go to Brutal Legend’s newly re-done Website to get free stuff–images, movies, concept art and “exclusive blogs” (Huh? Do those two words together make any sense??!!). Then check GDC 09: The Brutal Art of a Legend for images and a story on Lee Petty’s GDC session on the game’s art designs.

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Halo Wars Reflections

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After several nights of intermittently playing and ignoring Halo Wars, I finally hurled myself, like a body against a door, at the last and 15th mission of the game and finished it.

Since I don’t have any deadlines per say, I traded in a few games for Halo Wars for two reasons: 1) it’s another addition to the Halo universe, which I am obsessed with, and 2) I would love to see RTS games make it on consoles, despite their fateful lack of a keyboard and mouse and the unlikelihood of them ever succeeding.  Call me crazy (you won’t be the first), but I just feel like taking the underdog position on this one. One day RTS games will do well on consoles, I swear!

With my inner wishes now in plain view, I return to face reality. Halo Wars doesn’t succeed very well as an RTS, making little headway into creating an equivalent control system like the PC and crushing my basic hopes with a pair of brass knuckles. But what Halo Wars does well is give gamers another Halo game to enjoy. It’s pure fanfare; it will neither recruit PC RTS fans to play it nor does it cast a wide enough net to grab casual console gamers. No sirree.  This is pure fan service, but for the record I like it better than EA’s Lord of the Rings RTS endeavors, which weren’t half bad.

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The engine and systems behind the game are rock solid, and it’s incredibly fun to see the creatures, spartans, soldiers, and Flood appear as mini versions of themselves and control them in vast armies. Similarly, it’s great fun to control Warthogs and Grizzlies and Scorpions and mini-scarabs. Every chance I got to use a Spartan to jack enemy Covenent vehicle, I took it. They’ll jump onto the vehicle hoods, bang on the door and eventually throw out the Covenent driver to its death. Just like old times.

The only real hard levels in the game are level 10 and level 15. Level 10, Shield World, is a Floody mess. The mission is timed against a Flood army that never really dies, and at the end if you don’t place your army exactly on the right spot, at the right time, even if they’re generally in close vacinity of the rally point, you’ll have to start over (and you will do this multiple times, I swear it). The best thing I can say about this level is that in being frustratingly, you will increase your skills through repetition and be better off for it. But the pain and annoyance might turn less determined players away.

Level 15, Escape, is also timed and tough. In Escape, you’ll have to use a narrower technique than in other levels, which is building up ODST troops to swarm across the circular map and beat down both Flood and Covenant forces, while fending off three scarabs, while opening doors in the correct order. Building up your tech in this level is the key, not only with troops, but with the MAC Cannon, too. You know you’ve done well if you beat the level before the timer runs outs, but you’ll have done especially well if you beat the level and wiped out all of the Scarabs, too. Good luck.

So yeah, Halo fans rejoice in all of Halo Wars’ fun little intricacies and inherent scripting problems and lack of control. It’s a bit of a headache but it’ll will satisfy your inner Halo fan.

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