Tag Archives: Halo 3 ODST

VGA 2009 Winners: Who won? Uncharted 2 or Modern Warfare 2?

The Spike Video Game Awards televised, and in their own strange way legitimized, what most gamers already knew. With Saturday night’s awards, Spike TV’s 7th annual show delivered awards–game of the year went to Naughty Dog’s Uncharted 2–and a slew of new game reveals.

The winners were:

  • Game of the Year: Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
  • Studio of the Year: Rocksteady Studios
  • Best Independent Game: Flower
  • Best Xbox 360 Game: Left 4 Dead 2
  • Best PS3 Game: Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
  • Best Wii Game: New Super Mario Bros. Wii
  • Best PC Game: Dragon Age: Origins
  • Best Handheld Game: Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars
  • Best Shooter: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
  • Best Fighting Game: Street Fighter IV
  • Best Action Adventure Game: Assassin’s Creed II
  • Best RPG: Dragon Age: Origins
  • Best Multiplayer Game: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
  • Best Individual Sports Game: UFC 2009 Undisputed
  • Best Team Sports Game: NHL 10
  • Best Driving Game: Forza Motorsport 3
  • Best Music Game: The Beatles: Rock Band
  • Best Soundtrack: DJ Hero
  • Best Original Score: Halo 3: ODST
  • Best Graphics: Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
  • Best Game Based On A Movie/TV Show: South Park Let’s Go Tower Defense Play!
  • Best Performance By A Human Female: Megan Fox as Mikaela Banes in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
  • Best Performance By A Human Male: Hugh Jackman as Wolverine in X-Men Origins: Wolverine
  • Best Cast: X-Men Origins: Wolverine
  • Best Voice: Jack Black for the voice of Eddie Riggs in Brütal Legend
  • Best Downloadable Game: Shadow Complex
  • Best DLC: Grand Theft Auto IV: The Ballad of Gay Tony
  • Most Anticipated Game of 2010: God of War III

A big round of applause for the folks who made Shadow Complex, Flower, Uncharted II, Batman Arkham Asylum, and for “newcomers” Rocksteady Games.

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What’s wrong with the VGAs

When Zach Braff (Scrubs) stepped on stage at the VGAs Saturday night, his face said it all. Escorted on stage by a model dressed as valkyrie warrior (or something), Braff sized up the tall vixen at his side, feigned fright, then appeared on the verge of laughter. He looked embarrassed. To begin his speech, he yelled, “Hello, fellow nerds!”

Last night as I watched the VGAs, a landslide of feelings poured across me, and like Braff, one of those feelings was embarrassment. I felt pride, happiness, and angst, too. But it’s the former emotion that raised my hackles. I was embarrassed by the very tall model having to wear those stupid get-ups. (She never spoke, but she certainly gave Braff a look.) I was embarrassed by the mention of the phrase “balls” more than a half dozen times, courtesy of Jake Gyllenhaal’s game of the year monologue and Joel McHale’s catchy little mid-show appearance. And I was angered by Hollywood’s general sense of embarrassment at appearing on the VGAs, while talented and hardworking designers and producers got on stage, unfolded their acceptance speeches, and bravely flashed their souls in front of millions of people.

Naughty Dog's Amy Hennig receives the game of the year award at the VGAs (AP).

The Video Game Awards (VGAs), the closest thing the video game industry has to Hollywood’s Oscars, still has a long way to go before it really makes sense of the videogame industry–and before it’s taken seriously by the Hollywood stars that line its runways. What I saw last night was a flashier, better produced, and certainly more star-studded show than ever before (with fewer gaffes, to be fair), but I still got the sense that, from a show about video games, video games are still very much Hollywood’s nerdy little cousin–and they still haven’t found their place on TV.

I wonder, is it possible to air a video game show without the constant flash of violence, big tits, and an endless array of explosions? The collage of images I saw Saturday night showed little intrinsic value to video games. Perhaps that’s why Braff, along with Olivia Wilde (who was thrown off her short script by calls from the audience), didn’t take it seriously. If there is anything genuine, human, and real about the video game industry, is there is any art, innovation, or brilliance, it wasn’t shown at the VGAs.

There were sparks of human emotion, and these were the few moments where I felt the show succeeded. It’s great, truly great, that Flower won the Best Independent Videogame Award and that Chair Studio won Best Downloadable Game. These weren’t even categories a few years ago. One of the most genuine acceptance speeches I saw all night was from the Flower team, where they briefly explained the absurdity of pitching a game about emotions and blossoming to Sony, and ended by asking all of the millions of laid off game makers to join them in indie development.

Naughty Dog creative director Amy Hennig gave a heartfelt acceptance speech, and because I have spent many hours talking with Amy about games, I could tell she delivered a genuine heartfelt speech that didn’t fit any mold or formula. I am so happy for her and her team. They fully deserve all the recognition they get.

It was great to see the Assassin’s Creed II team receive their award for best action-adventure game. The Ubisoft Montreal team spoke in both English and in French on stage, didn’t ham it up and, for anyone paying attention to the shift in talent traveling to Canada, represent some of our Northern neighbor’s growing top talent.

Perhaps the biggest win of the night was the best studio award. The guys from Rocksteady, basically an unknown English studio whose claim to fame was the totally ignored Urban Chaos: Riot Response, were grateful, excited, and earnest. Their success story is just fantastic, and their game, Batman: Arkham Asylum, is equally fantastic. It perfectly balances high production values and smart writing that shows the writers really get the Batman character and the universe, and an excellent balance of stealth, action, and adventure. Every comic book videogame from now on will have to reach as high as Batman Arkham Asylum from here on out.

When I think of the Oscars, I often remember the collages of movies and actors who have been a part of the industry’s success; the retrospectives about people who made a difference. When the great directors, actors, writers, and special effects technicians who excel at their craft are recognized and rewarded for their achievements, it puts in perspective what the industry has achieved in the past in comparison to the achievements its awarding today. When I saw the VGAs Saturday night, I saw a show that gave no recognition to its past, that gave no award to its founders, that didn’t seem to have a past or a future, just a right-here, right-now orgasm of action, flashing lights and…the Bravery. Yes, I too like action, flashing lights, and a little Snoop Dog in my cultural diet, but when I eat a meal, I don’t just eat steak by itself.

What’s perhaps equally disturbing is that all night I listened to invisible “professional announcers” guide me through the show. There was no guide, no host, no person, who represented the world of videogames to hold my hand, make me laugh, show me the history of the industry, and again, put the awards, and the industry, in perspective. What does it mean to win best shooter of the year? Who won last year? Are their any journalists out there who could be interviewed to put the games in perspective? One easy solution is to have the previous year’s winner present the current year’s award, informing the audience and passing the torch in a way that means something.

There is a reason no real host was called upon last night. That person doesn’t exist. For starters, actors regularly fail at representing the industry because it’s clear they get paid lots of money to act in films, and that they appear on videogame shows for charity or because of a contract agreement (with notable exceptions like Vin Diesel). Second, there is no charming gamer nerd with the savvy to get up on stage and ride the fence between games and film/TV with moxie, perspective, and charm. From the game industry, the closest anyone has come to nailing that perfect blend are Tim Schafer, Will Wright, Cliff “CliffyB” Bleszinski, and Ken Levine. I am sure there are other talented game creators and personalities around who could pull it off.

Perhaps the show could hire better, funnier writers, too. The joke Tony Hawk told about action adventure games created a dreaded void of discomfort afterward. Almost every actor who took the stage was given sub-par lines, and the Tiger Woods jokes were just plain terrible. Stevie Wonder’s appearance was smart and his challenge to developers to create games for the blind and handicapped will be remembered as a highlight of the show. Jack Black’s entertaining skit for mistaking his best game of the year acceptance speech was pure Jack Black–silly, ballsy, and fun. But in all, instead of being helmed by a person, the host-less VGAs were peppered with Hollywood actors who looked out of place, embarrassed, and itching to get off that stage.

In the end, the VGAs represent the video game industry’s struggle for acceptance in the mainstream world in just the same way movies and TV are accepted. The truth is, the video game industry isn’t the same as the movie industry–though with shows like the VGAs, it’s clear the desire to be like Hollywood still burns brightly. And while I understand last night’s show was fully sponsored by Mountain Dew (the night’s biggest message), and it has to make money and attract an audience, the game industry needs better representation than last night’s show. It needs smarter, funnier video game people and less Mike Tyson. It needs fewer embarrassed actors and more genuine ones. It needs better writing that doesn’t rely on mentioning testicles over and over again to show that the industry actually has balls, and it needs to show its rich heritage, interesting origins, and the stories and characters that made it what it is today. And I don’t mean just trotting out Nolan Bushnell again and again (although he is great in his own way), but getting Shigeru Miyamoto out there to give us a sense of where we started and have come. Putting Will Wright out there to share with us his rocket scientist vision of the future of games. Hauling out Jordan Mechner to put the upcoming Prince of Persia movie in perspective–and not just his happiness at its acknowledgement. What about getting Ken Levine on stage to show us his quirky brilliance? Or having David Jaffe up there? That man’s blog is a world of entertainment.

With a better mixture of video game talent, more relevant Hollywood talent (Jake Gyllenhaal, Jack Black = good; Tyson, Jersey Shore = bad), a perspective, and a smart host, the VGAs could really be something worthy of the industry it represents. As it is, the VGAs are just a sideshow in Hollywood’s ongoing carnival.

Check this story for the show’s full list of winners (a lot of news stories out there show incomplete lists).

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The Games of Fall 09 (on GamesRadar)

While most folks mourn the end of summer, gamers are different. They creep around in their dark rooms all summer staring at brightly lit computers yelling things like, “Eat it, motherf*(*&^%!!!” And “Hey mom???!!! Where’s my motherf*(*&^%!!! milk!!!!” Gamer rejoice when summer is over.Birthday_NOHUD--article_image

The reason is simple. It’s a well known fact that they dread human contact and sunlight. (It’s true! Check Wikipedia.com). But there is a second, less significant reason. It’s more of a footnote about a guy born in a barn…

The end of summer means the beginning of the game season. Publishers jam the fall with games to challenge the true worth of your credit card–a double dog dare in 2009. And contrary to what you might have heard about a handful of games shifting into 2010 (some of which is true), this fall is still bursting at the seams with an enormous lineup of top-notch games. Here are the noteworthy games for this fall.

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GameStop: Play Halo 3: ODST Firefight Early

Seen enough Halo 3:  ODST previews and impressions? Ready to play? Your time has come, rookie.

In conjunction with Microsoft and GameStop, Bungie is fueling its custom Halo 3: ODST Transport and is scheduled for a  22-stop, nationwide roadtrip to offer gamers a chance for hands-on sessions of Halo 3: ODST’s new Firefight mode.

Visit GameStop in the day to play Firefight at night.

Visit GameStop in the day to play Firefight at night.

Starting at 12 pm, Saturday, August 22 at the GameStop in Redmond Tiwn Center, Seattle, WA, Major Nelson and his Xbox Live crew will head up competitions that start this Saturday in the Pacific Northwest and end at the Sunset Plaza in North Babylon, New York on September 19.

For those folks who live in the Bay Area, the “Bungie-Mobile” will stop at Union Landing, Union City, CA on Tuesday, August 25, and Wednesday, August 26, at the Center at Slatten Ranch, in Antioch, CA.

Check Major Nelson’s blog for the full schedule.

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Halo 3: ODST Firefight, Multiplayer Hands-on Preview

We sat there glued to our TV screens. The familiar countdown sounded off–four, three, two, one… until the black TV screen revealed a narrow hallway where I stood shoulder to shoulder with my team, three ODST soldiers. Stepping into the sunlight we saw Covenant Phantom dropships appear from left and right. Grunts and Snipers descended onto the grassy slopes of Security Zone, the first of three Firefight maps shown during a hands-on session at Bungie’s Kirkland studios Tuesday.

Finishing him off only brings more.

Finishing him off only brings more.

The first wave of Covenant was easy: Four of us against a bunch of alien meat puppets. But it was the appearance of two Covenant Wraith tanks coupled with the re-appearance of new dropships and the constant, accurate plasma blasts reigning down on us that made me nervous.

The silence between waves was even more nerve-rattling. During those short windows of time (maybe 10-15 seconds), we sprinted across the green searching for ammo or any ammo-filled enemy gun we could find. The third wave of the first set brought Brutes. The fifth wave finally came, bringing the distant icon of the Brute Chieftain, with his elaborate headdress protruding into the air and the massive, powerful hammer clutched in his paw. You could hear him grunting a hundred yards away. I watched one teammate take the Chieftain’s first swing, his body like a puppet slammed 30 feet back. It took all four of us to mow him down.

That was wave one.

Survive This

Firefight is the new survival mode in Bungie’s Halo 3: ODST. Along with a fleshed out single-player campaign, ODST comprises a multiplayer mode, Forge, Theater, and all of the community tools first revealed in Halo 3. Additionally, if you purchase Halo 3: ODST, you’ll be invited to play the Halo: Reach beta next year.

Firefight reminds most people of Gears of War 2’s Horde mode, although Survival gameplay modes have existed in fighting games for dozens of years now; they’re nothing new. But Firefight is new to Halo, and it’s a logical extension of the Halo play style that bolsters co-op play and camaraderie, as up to four players team up to fight endless waves of Covenant enemies. Bungie’s Lars Bakken, senior designer on Halo 3: ODST, said he recalled being aware they had something great just after Halo 3 shipped. “In the first section of Halo 3, when the jungle opens up, we toyed around with the idea of Firefight. We just reset wave after wave of enemies, and we could see the making of something really fun. It was stripped down, not at all like what we have in ODST, but that’s when the roots of Firefight began.”

Use the night visor to illuminate the tight, circular Crater map.

Use the night visor to illuminate the tight, circular Crater map.

In Bungie’s version of survival mode, you and three other ODST soldiers start with a single suppressed SMG and (scoped) pistol each, and you’ll fight off five waves of Covenant enemies, each wave separated by about 15 to 20 seconds before the next wave hits. Your team shares a pool of seven total lives (shown the upper right hand corner); meaning you get seven lives to survive three sets of five waves before Bungie rewards you with a Bonus Round. Survive that, and you’ll get new ammo, extra health, and new lives. The Firefight maps are specifically designed for ODST and there are about 10 of them.

Adding to the fun are skulls. Skulls are like wild cards or little dark clouds, depending on your point of view. Bungie and its massive ark of fans love the skull challenges. In our sessions, each new set of enemies added a new skull to up the ante. In the first round of five, Tough Luck, which directs enemies to dive away from grenades, is employed. The second round sees Catch, a skull that enables enemies to hurl dozens of grenades at you. And, finally, on wave three, you’ll see Black Eye, a brutal skull that forces you to physically attack enemies with melee attacks to regain health.

Getting to the third set is easier said that done. The par goal Bungie set for the game is 200,000 points, and our team, using the normal setting, averaged about 68,000 to 80,000 points. In our several attempts we nearly beat the third and final round, but our last human fighter died, having run out of bullets with nowhere to go against the Chieftain. High points are earned for doing cool things, like attaining multiple deaths in a row, gutsy kills, or successful melee attacks.

The Grunts? Throw a grenade at them and watch the fireworks begin.

The Grunts? Throw a grenade at them and watch the fireworks begin.

For instance, one guy on our team hurled a plasma grenade into a group of Grunts and watched five of them explode–he gathered a hefty number of points for that. On normal mode, I snuck down into the lower green and jacked both of the Covenant Tanks, for which I was awarded handsomely. In the same way that multiplayer modes require study and patience, Firefight requires teamwork, quick assessment of dead aliens’ weaponry, and weapon placement. For instance, on a lookout spot at the top of the hill, you can grab a detachable turret, but once those bullets are emptied, whatever the aliens dropped after dying is what you’re left with. One strategy is to save the big guns for the later, tougher battles.

Fighting with Four and Seven

Bungie showed off three Firefight maps during its all-day, hands-on MP/Firefight session: Security Zone, Crater (at Night), and Alpha Site. Security Zone is like Zanzibar in that it quickly demonstrates the full potential of Firefight. It’s simple, easy, and a quick map to understand. It’s also the first map Bungie showed of the mode, so by now everyone has seen a portion of it. Security Zone comprises a gradual grassy slope anchored with three lookout points at the top of the slope and has a few structures creating partial barriers near the slope’s bottom. There, a flat grassy section ends with a gray alcove designed for various purposes (such as hiding or grabbing a sniper rifle, for instance). When the mission begins, players start at the top and fan out across the field as Covenant dropships blast cover fire while dropping their soldiers. This Environment is both wide and long, and if you look hard enough you’ll find a power rifles, rockets, and sniper rifles in the wings of the level.

Crater (night) is a smaller, circular map built upon three or four split level balconies and ramps, along with a crater in the middle. This map, as indicated, demonstrates what a night map looks like, and you’ll need the night visor to handle this level best. Hit X and the dark, hidden enemies will appear for a limited amount of time in full light. Crater is full of mischief. It’s packed with circular sloping paths, alcoves, and tons of little nooks to duck into and re-appear in to handily slaughter enemies. Since Firefight is limited to four humans per team, this map delivers the perfect size and structure, giving you the ability to always seen your comrades if need be (and there will be the need!).

The third map, Alpha Site, is another circular one; only it’s flat and appears during the day. Covenant waves appear on a wide balcony at the far end of the level, split in the middle and connected by two narrow-ish doorways, creating potential for bottlenecking. This level, however, is distinguished more by the multiple columns that split up the opposing end, giving both you and the enemy cover sections and hiding spots from which to recover and attack.

Full-on firefight at Alpha Site.

Full-on firefight at Alpha Site.

I liked Security Zone in the same way that Zanzibar was the picture perfect capture-the-flag map. It’s big and obvious, but there is room to play. And it’s also wonderfully balanced. Its biggest fault is that it’s actually too big; you often find yourself completely adrift from your teammates more often than not. All of the maps are solid, but I found myself really liking Alpha Site, as the environment is filled with columns, walls, and areas to avoid fire and surprise enemies. Moreover, the many columns stop the Chieftain from performing his deadly hammer attacks.

In each of the three Firefight maps shown, not one included drivable vehicles. Bakken explained that a handful of the other Firefight maps were large enough to include vehicles, specifically citing Warthogs. He pointed out, however, that you couldn’t jack a Wraith tank, which I so desperately wanted to do in Security Zone; you can however, plant a bomb to destroy it. Jacking the Wraith tanks was something Bungie toyed with early on, but it quickly became apparent, as Bakken pointed out, that it threw the game out of balance and changed things for the worse.

Hands-on Multiplayer with Citadel, Longshore, and Heretic

The all-day session also offered us a look at the three new multiplayer maps: Citadel, Longshore, and Heretic, a remake of the previous released map, Mid-Ship. With these three new maps, Halo 3 and Halo 3: ODST offer a total of 24 total multiplayer maps.

“Our fans have been asking (demanding) more symmetrical maps,” said Brian Jarred, Bungie community director. “We assessed at all the Halo maps and looked to see what niches were missing. The areas we were short on were small and symmetrical maps. Heretic, a true re-creation–although I won’t say it’s a pixel perfect one–of Mid-Ship, is a fan favorite. A small team of eight people is perfect for this map.”

Citadel: The center area is big, wide has an upper bridge connecting two sideds.

Citadel: The center area is big, wide, and has an upper bridge connecting two sides.

Citadel is a solid symmetrical map that’s somewhat similar to Heretic in that it offers multiple pathways and a center piece, but it’s got a larger diameter and so it’s got wider paths and slightly bigger spaces. Both Citadel and Heretic are especially good for shotguns. “Citadel is simple and pure,” said Jarred. “And dare I say it, it’s my favorite.”

Longshore is a big team battle map like High Ground or Zanzibar. It’s an industrial warehouse setting that delivers a sense of vast size. It’s asymmetrical and has multiple stories, includes a Covenant Ghost, a rocket launcher, and an Energy Sword and we were able to play Capture the Flag and One Bomb on it. There is little else to say than it was a blast. Although, I’ll add that there are multiple ways to get the flag, perched on a four story high tower, including an extension bridge that expands almost directly above the tower.

This map is s touch too big for eight players, but it's suited perfectly for 16.

This map is s touch too big for eight players, but it's suited perfectly for 16.

The extension bridge can be activated by running up to the second (or third) floor and hitting a green-lit button. The activated bridge makes a big lurching sound, so it’s obvious it is extending, which can be useful for an attack or as a decoy. When on defense and we heard the bridge extending, we all focused our attention on it, even though the opposing team wasn’t coordinated enough to use it.

Look for Halo 3: ODST to ship September 22 for $59.99, and check Bungie.net for updates on the game over the next several weeks.

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Halo 3: ODST Preview Coming Wednesday

Bungie Studios is holding a day session on location for select journalists to play Halo 3: ODST and yours truly will be there to report on it. Microsoft has placed an embargo on the material, so expect a hands-on report at 9 am PST, Wednesday, August 12. H3ODST_Firefight_SecurityZone1stPerson

For what is essentially an add-on pack, ODST is turning out to be something quite big, and despite Halo 3 ending the story arc of the vaunted series, ODST this year will be followed by Halo Reach next year, giving gamers two straight years of new Halo games. Additionally, Microsoft recently announced three new maps for Halo 3: ODST: Longshore, Heretic, Citadel. And at Comic-con in San Diego, Bungie announced its intention to Matrix-ify the IP, an anime-style series consisting of seven short films.

Check back tomorrow for a detailed preview.

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343 Industries Sparks Halo Legends, Bungie

Microsoft’s Halo series just fastened a powerful spark plug to its massive engine.  In conjunction with a recent rumor about 343 Industries (343 referring to Halo’s mad bot Guilty Spark), and a San Diego Comic-Con announcement about Halo Legends, an anime-style series consisting of seven short films, Microsoft today announced the official creation of 343 Industries, helmed by everyone’s favorite Halo artist and message board master, Frank O’Connor. O’Connor is 343 Industries’ creative director, first revealed in the LA Times.

The master expands his legend.

The master expands his legend.

“343 Industries is the publisher of the blockbuster Halo series of videogames and, as part of Microsoft Game Studios, oversees the Halo franchise, including novels, comics, licensed collectibles, apparel and more,” Microsoft said in a press release today. “343 Industries is home to world-class developers working on future Halo projects, including Halo Legends and Halo Waypoint, as well as partnering with renowned developers such as Bungie LLC and Robot Entertainment to produce Halo games for Xbox 360 and Xbox Live.”

“If you look at how George Lucas held on to ‘Star Wars,’ not just to make money from action figures but to control the direction the universe went in, you can see why we think it’s pretty vital,” Frank O’Connor told the LA Times. “Luckily, Microsoft has the resources to enable us to do that.”

Halo Legends is in development with five animation production houses: Bones, Casio Entertainment, Production I.G., Studio4 C, and Toei Animation. Microsoft will supervise, approve, and manage the Halo property–including all art, presentation, and written material.

After a good long stint working as a social media manager at Bungie, Frank O’Connor left Bungie (about 8 months ago) to work at Microsoft. It wasn’t just an ordinary side-stepping job, it turns out. Put that together with Bungie’s separation from Microsoft to become its own studio, and now it all makes sense.

Bungie split from Microsoft to become more independent and gain a little more control over its destiny (although arguably all we have seen is more Halo games, and Halo 3: ODST seems a little like contract filler, to be fair). With O’Connor at MS looking over what is essentially a new publishing division at MS, Bungie is very likely going to be under different restrictions (fewer), and have better management over its properties than before. It’s essentially a custom publishing brand specifically made for Bungie.

Better custom management by a Bungie insider who knows games? Sounds like a great idea to me. Congratulations, Frankie!

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