Tag Archives: Microsoft

Alan Wake Hands-on Impressions

For the last five years, the small Finnish game studio Remedy has weathered a stormy economy, kept its studio small against the trendy tide of high production costs, and has somehow kept Microsoft at bay from canning its project after a half decade of tinkering. Come May 18, Alan Wake will finally have its day in the sun. Unlike so many games that lose their steam and tech edge after a five-year development cycle (witness Peter Molyneux’s first Fable and Dave Perry’s Wild 9), Remedy’s Alan Wake just seems to keep getting better.

For the full preview, see the piece I wrote on GamesRadar.com.

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Fable 3: Why Peter Molyneux Gives Great Demos

During the last demo of Fable 3 at Microsoft’s XO10 conference in San Francisco, Lionhead chief Peter Molyneux asked us if he could sit, as he explained, he had been working 10-12 hour days. Eventually has asked if he could get onto his knees to illuminate actions on the HDTV. Since my associate and I were the only guys in the last session of the day, we agreed. Molyneux, whose repertoire of games reaches back to the 8-bit and 16-bit days and includes hits such as Syndicate, Black and White, and Dungeon Keeper, is known for both charming audiences during his infamous demo sessions and overpromising on games that often only deliver a portion of those promises.

In our demo, Molyneux demonstrated exactly why he is so captivating as a speaker and as a game designer. He speaks personally to as many journalists as possible, to such a degree that his “handlers” have to end the sessions for him. He expresses a child-like joy for the games he makes, which you can hear in his voice and see on his face. And few of his games are proper, predictable sequels. They’re always packed with new ideas and attempts at doing something different. As the chief of Lionhead, he said, he loves his job, asking in what other position could he employ such off-the-wall ideas, or make such drastic changes, or have so much fun at his job?

Of course, the opposite can be said, and with conviction. Molyneux’s games often only contain a portion of the ideas he hypes, leaving lots of gamers frustrated and angry at him, and leaving a game that clearly looks like it has been cleaved (like Fable 1, for instance). 

Fable 3 stands to build upon the previous Fables in the series, with more character customization and innovative options in three ways, says Molyneux: 1) by rewriting the rules of traditional story-telling in games, 2) by enabling an Ico-like hand-holding mechanic called “touch,” 3) and by enabling players to customize their weapon (as an outgrowth of customizing their characters).

THE HERO MYTH REWRITTEN

“Video games are always told by means of the hero’s journey,” said Molyneux, referring to the common concept of heroes from writer Joseph Campbell’s book, Hero of a Thousand Faces. “A big baddy does something really bad, you’re the hero, and you work all game long to beat him. Then, the worst thing happens. The credits roll. When you beat him, the story ends. In our game, after you beat the leader of the town of Logan halfway through the game,  you become the king.”

Molyneux’s premise is that gamers always play the same story model, and by putting gamers in the shoes of the king, they’ll gain an enormous amount of power and then have to make decisions that will make some followers happy, but will eventually let other people down, giving players choices over how they’ll reign.

LET’S “TOUCH”

“Let’s face it, when it comes to expressions in Fable 1 and 2, it really came down to one funny ‘expression.’ Farting.” In Fable 3, Lionhead is borrowing the hand-holding mechanic first introduced in ICO to connect gamers with characters in the story.

Molyneux demonstrated the idea with a family of three, a father, mother, and a young, lost daughter.  In order to find the daughter, the character relies on his pet dog to track her scent. Once located the father lifts the girl into his arms and they hug. Players can then punish or reward the daughter for running away.Your character then tries to lead her into the pub, where she responds by saying, “Daddy, that’s the pub. Mother said she never wanted you to go there again.”

They then walk back home hand-in-hand. “When we have couples who play game in co-op walk in hand in hand, everyone single one of them is moved,” said Molyneux. “It’s amazing how simple and effective it is.”

Molyneux also showed how “touch” negatively affects characters.  By putting his character’s hand on the shoulder of a beggar and misguiding him into believing he’ll be fed, the father leads the beggar to a labor shop. Once the beggar realizes he’s going to the labor plant, he pulls and tugs and tries to break free from your grip. But no such luck. By physically connecting players with characters in the game, they’ll feel more attached and emotionally connected to the game, added Molyneux.

WEAPONRY: SAM’S AXE OF DEATH

Finally, Molyneux explained how the weapons have been changed and improved over Fable 2. “We were in a design meeting talking about weapons,” explained Molyneux. We had created about 300 weapons already (Molyneux signs with boredom at the thought of so many weapons) when we suddenly realized that we should allow you to create your own weapon.”

In the demo Molyneux shows a striped face warrior holding an unusually shaped axe. “It’s tall because of the 1,000 kills you’ve tallied. It’s spiked because of your Xbox 360 gamer skills. And it’s named ‘Sam’s axe of death,'” said Molyneux. The best part? You can trade or sell your weapon online, or buy another player’s weapon.

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The Decade in Review: Videogames 2000-2009, Part 2

By Douglass C. Perry

When we look back 20 years from now, the first decade of the 21st century will look obvious to us, like a paint-by-numbers drawing for kids. It’s almost incalculable how many little triggers have shaped our current place in the games race. But there more than a handful of events, dozens of key games, and entire years that pushed this one-time cottage industry into the full-blown billion dollar industry it is now. While this isn’t the definitive historical account of single thing that happened between the years 2000 and 2009, this Decade in Review is an insider’s look at the decade filled with significant events. This is part 2 of the feature, The Decade in Review. Check here for part 1.

January 11, 2005: The Best Thing About GameCube

Making up for its poor third-party relations on the N64, Nintendo signed a multi-title, multi-year deal with Capcom, securing the Resident Evil franchise for the GameCube. While all of the previous games (RE1-RE3) were updated and released on GameCube to no real fanfare (outside of insanely excited Nintendo fans), Capcom rekindled the sagging survival-horror genre with the remarkable and visionary Resident Evil 4. The action-packed game blended scare tactics with high-level action scenes, quick-time events, and a new story that, while still cheesy in many respects, breathed life into the series.

March 22, 2005: A God Appears

On the heels of Capcom’s Resident Evil revitalization, David Jaffe and Sony’s Santa Monica Studios burst onto the scene with little pre-hype fanfare (due to the ambitious and prickly Jaffe team), but immediately stole the spotlight, stunning gamers with a Greek myth-based action game that maximized every aspect of the PS2 in its final years of life. Introducing Kratos, the vengeance-filled semi God, Sony mixed platforming, quick time events, and a high-impact combat system like nothing else before it. God of War becomes the one of the definitive action games of all time.

March 24, 2005: Sony launches PSP

Seeing that Nintendo’s game Boy has yet to see a substantial rival, Sony engineers the beautiful, sleek, and expensive PSP, the ultimate cool games/music/movie gadget.

November 4, 2005: Microsoft Defines Next Gen Gaming

Jumping the gun by shipping a year earlier than Sony’s PS3 and Nintendo’s Wii, Microsoft stole the hardware spotlight by defining the next-generation with high-definition graphics, connected multiplayer functions, and a virtual, online marketplace. Introducing achievements, a multi-folder interface, an online marketplace, and improving on its already established online gaming service model, Microsoft stole Sony’s thunder and ended its uncontested two-generation rule. Full retail games like Call of Duty 2 and downloadable games like Galaxy Wars paved the way for Microsoft’s insurrection. The American console maker would then pick off Sony’s premiere third-party exclusive titles one by one (Devil May Cry, Final Fantasy, Air Combat, Grand Theft Auto, even Metal Gear Solid). However, consumers exposed Microsoft’s hardware issues (the “Red Ring of Death”), which, along with a media battle between HD-DVD and Sony’s Blu-ray, have tainted opinions about the Xbox 360.

November 8, 2005: Guitar Hero Changes Everything

After quirky-cool endeavors Frequency and Amplitude made gamers feel cool on PS2, Harmonix teamed with Konami to sell millions of copies of Karaoke Revolution, the world’s first sing-a-long videogame. But its best and biggest partnership with Red Octane would revolutionize the game industry. Bravely confronting the statistically proven industry notion that expensive peripherals didn’t sell in high numbers, Red Octane gave the industry’s old idea the finger with Guitar Hero. Merging Harmonix’s innovative music gameplay with Red Octane’s functional, sturdy plastic guitar, the duo would blow past Konami’s musical endeavors, and then blow past everyone else. The rest of the story — Guitar Hero 5, Lego Rock Band, DJ Hero, and The Beatles Rock Band–nearly explains itself.

2005: Epic Floods Next Gen Middleware

Quietly in 2005 and loudly in 2006, Epic Games established itself as the defacto software engine for the new generation of consoles with its Unreal Engine. In the previous generation, a handful of developers created middleware for consoles: Id Software (with Id Tech), and Criterion (with RenderWare) to name a few, but Epic marketed and sold the Unreal Engine heavier, harder, and more convincingly than any other studio. And every time Epic showed game journalists Gears of War, the company’s new in-house game for Xbox 360, a dozen more developers would sign up.

2006: The Music Wars Begin

In May 2006, Activision acquired Guitar Hero publisher, Red Octane for $99.9 million. Then in September 2006, MTV Networks acquired Harmonix, the creative software studio behind Guitar Hero, for $175 million. In November 2007, Harmonix, under publisher MTV Networks and distributor Electronic Arts, released Rock Band, the direct competitor to Guitar Hero, complete with plastic guitar, microphone, and drum kit. Activision and MTV/EA would fiercely compete to out-do one another with new games, features, and exclusive bands, such as with Rock Band The Beatles, in the not-so-distant future.

Fall 2006: PS3 and Nintendo Wii Launch

One year after Microsoft’s Xbox 360 launch, Sony’s newly launched PlayStation 3 had the looks of a lost system. For a Blu-ray player, the PS3 was an economically priced system. For a console, its high price tag was reminiscent of the 3DO–way too expensive. Sony’s gamble on winning a media/storage war started well before mass consumers were even aware they needed a Blu-ray player–and before the world had decided which it wanted more, HD-DVD or Blu-ray. The result? Sony’s powerful new PS3 would start slow and remain in third place behind Microsoft and Nintendo in the console race.

While the PS3 launched November 11, the oft-laughed at, low-end Nintendo Wii launched November 19 with the free Wii Sports bundle. To everyone’s surprise (except Nintendo), the Wii captured the imaginations of consumers worldwide. The Wii, with the equivalent of Xbox 1 hardware and maximum 480p output, would go on to topple Xbox 360 sales, steal the console marketplace crown, and recode the next generation with its non-stop sales to the casual market, females, families, and weight-conscious gamers. If Microsoft defined the next generation with HD graphics and connectedness, Nintendo’s Wii rewrote it with its wireless, interactive Wiimote and its simple, accessible games, broadening the game market in a way Microsoft and Sony could only wish for.

June 29, 2007: Apple Launches the iPhone

Following its string of successes with the iPod, Apple released the unprecedented touch-sensitive interface and app-filled smart phone, the iPhone. While the device sold millions and remained the coolest gadget in the world for a good year, it wasn’t until Jul 12, 2008 when Apple launched its online app store that videogame developers were introduced to the full potential of a publisher-free videogame marketplace. With the app store in place, hundreds more developers started making apps in their garages. Just like old times.

July 11-13, 2007: Good-bye E3, Hello…Business Summit?

Booth babes: Did they make or break E3? (Image courtesy of CNET)

After escalating costs, the expansion of t-shirt-throwing barkers, endless parades of booth babes, stage shows, and a general circus mentality growing each year at E3, a majority of game publishers led by EA, agreed to end E3 as we knew it. In its place appeared a multi-venue, splintered, no-frills “event” known as The E3 Media and Business Summit. To put it mildly, the majority of attendees voiced their opinion that the new E3 was a poor substitution for the old one.

September 12, 2007: The Wii Takes Over

Despite launching one year after the Xbox 360, owning a kooky name, and delivering hardware that wasn’t as powerful as the PS3 or the Xbox 360, The Wii took over the console market in sales. The Financial Times reported September 12, 2007 that the Nintendo Wii had surpassed the Xbox 360 and had become the console market leader, the first time Nintendo had done so since the Super NES. (Sales based on NPD Group, GfK and Enterbrain tracking numbers for North America, Europe, and Japan.) Nintendo fans go berserk (and have remained giddily proud ever since).

October 11, 2007: EA Purchases BioWare, Pandemic

EA takes another big gulp out of the development world. One wonders why Microsoft didn’t buy BioWare, after its long partnerships and Mass Effect. But it took a hungrier, more ambitious Redwood City publisher to take over the reigns of the biggest Western RPG maker in the world, one famous for its work on Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Jade Empire, and Mass Effect, not to mention earlier works with Interplay such as Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights. Oh yeah, and EA got Pandemic too.

Dec 3, 2007: Activision Merges with Vivendi

The Activision merger with Vivendi created “Activision Blizzard,” a publisher that would soon become the biggest independent game publisher in the world, nudging long-time king EA into second place. The deal would be legally completed on July 10, 2008.

Fall 2007: Gamers Rejoice Part 2

In a collective burst of creative output, videogame developers harnessed the new console hardware with dozens of original titles and exceptional sequels on every system. Gamers scored in every genre and on every system. Titles such as BioShock, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, Crysis, Halo 3, Skate, Forza Motorsport 2, Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, Pac-Man Championship Edition, Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords, Assassin’s Creed, Super Mario Galaxy, God of War 2, Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, Rock Band, The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass, Mass Effect, and The Orange Box, just to name a few, stole gamers’ hearts and emptied their wallets.

February 2008: EA’s $2 Billion Move to Acquire Take-Two

In an opportunistic bid just prior to the release of Grand Theft Auto IV, Electronic Arts proposes an unsolicited bid to buy Take-Two Interactive for $2 billion dollars, or $25 a share. After an initial refusal, EA upped the bid to $26 per share, but Take-Two rejects the offer again. The press went hog wild with the story because of all the opportunisties to speculate on how EA would handle Rockstar, which games would get killed, etc. Analysts practically begged Take-Two to accept the offer, but Take-Two’s “take” on the offer was simple: “We’re worth more.” The biggest news? EA would have surpassed Activision Blizzard as the biggest independent softwre developer in the world with the acquisition. Somewhere, Activision’s Bobby Kotick is giggling madly in a room filled with plastic guitars, skateboards, posters of Spider-Man, and World War II guns, with money signs burning brightly in his eyes.

March 2008: The Indie Movement Arrives (Again)

While indie gamers have been around since Nolan Bushnell’s Pong started it all, a perfect storm of marketplace scenarios came to light in 2007 and 2008, creating a perfect environment for indie games to flourish. The world finally noticed in a big way at the Game Developers’ Conference in 2008. Jonathan Blow’s Braid, 2D Boy’s The World of Goo, and a dozen other quirky, creative, and low-budget titles created more than just a lot of media buzz, they showed the world new and different ways of thinking about and playing games.

The Games of 2008

While we can exalt in the monumental barrage of games that flowed through game stores in 2007, 2008 featured distinct breakthroughs. Bethesda’s award-winning first-person RPG Fallout 3 captured the essence of the beloved Fallout RPG series and brought its epic sense of story and size to the IP. Rockstar stunned the world with its updated, realistic vision of New York with an online, multiplayer Grand Theft Auto IV, garnering perfect scores and generating record-breaking sales. And Will Wright’s quirky god-game Spore hit the streets, generating buzz and good scores, but sales that did not match Wright’s previous hit, The Sims. With other breakthrough games including LittleBigPlanet, Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, Left 4 Dead, Gears of War 2, Dead Space, and Prince of Persia, game publishers warded off the beginning of the biggest recession since the Great Depression.

February 12, 2009: Midway Goes Bankrupt

Confronting a $240 million debt, Mortal Kombat publisher files Chapter 11. Meanwhile, the last Midway-made Mortal Kombat, Mortal Kombat vs. DC, ships 2 million units. The last of the Old School arcade publishers, Midway’s closure was cause for a moment of profound silence, followed by, “Get over here!”

March 27, 2009: Square Enix Secures Acquisition of Eidos

Ever since I’ve been in the business of writing about videogames, Eidos has been on the table for purchase. After succumbing to too many Tomb Raider failures (from TR4-TR:Angel of Darkness), Eidos never really climbed back up to its previous heights of success in development or on Wall Street. During that time, nearly every publisher in the world has engaged in talks to purchase the English publisher. But no one in their right mind thought Japanese giant Square Enix would be the one. Anyone for a Final Tomb Raider Fantasy?

March 24, 2009: Could OnLive Change Everything?

OnLive CEO Steve Perlman and COO Mike McGarvey introduced the cloud-based computing online service, OnLive. The service is designed to eliminate the need to continually upgrade PCs or to buy new consoles. EA, Epic Games, Take-Two, Ubisoft, THQ and several others show initial support, but direct issues such as eliminating lag and cost structure posed problems, while indirect worries such as the next generation of consoles led by Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft also weigh in.

June 1, 2009: Microsoft, Sony Reveal Motion Controllers

At E3 2009 (which had returned to the LA Convention Center), Microsoft unveiled the potential next step in controller-less gaming, Project Natal. Combining the use of an RGB camera, depth sensor, microphone, and proprietary software, Microsoft discussed the importance of eliminating the barrier between gamers from games (a la Nintendo’s Wii). At Sony’s press conference, Dr. Richard Marks introduced Sony’s own proprietary engineering prototype which combined the abilities of the EyeToy and a motion sensor. Neither project would ship in 2009.

June 24, 2009 Bethesda Acquires Id Software

After quietly announcing it had transformed from a developer into a publisher, ZeniMax Media Inc., the parent company of Bethesda Softworks, acquired industry pioneer Id Software. Id’s departure from the conservative creative culture at Activision and acceptance at Bethesda’s well-funded, new studio-friendly system was a surprise and a shift whose repercussions have yet to be determined.

November 2009: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 Smashes Records

Infinity Ward’s first-person shooter Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 took in $550 million during its first five days, beating Grand Theft Auto IV’s video game record, while setting a single-day record with 2.2 million unique Xbox Live users playing the game on November 10. Modern Warfare 2’s remarkably fast-paced single-player campaign is joined by a new Spec-Ops mode, and a highly improved, highly desired multiplayer game. Christmas will never be the same again.

***

Surely that’s not everything–not every single thing–that happened. What about…? If I forgot, missed, or ignored an event worth posting, write and let me know! I’ll see if I can post it in the story.  Missed part 1 of The Decade in Review: Videogames 2000-2009, part 1? Check it out now.

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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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WTF? Video Games are Dying?

I got an email from an associate the other day about a mini video documentary called “Digital Trends Presents Players Only with Scott Steinberg: Video Games are Dead.” The headline irked me because to say that ‘video games are dead” is a shock-jock journalistic trick to get attention, and instead of watching, I ignored it.

The story is better than its gimmicky headline.

The story is better than its gimmicky headline.

A half dozen months back when Wired wrote that blogs are dead, I felt the same way (ugh, more gimmicky headlines), but I work in the video game industry and from all accounts, the industry is far from dead. So I went back to playing Resident Evil 5 with my son.

But while reading VentureBeat.com over coffee this morning I watched the whole piece, and the content of the story has real meat to it. Its author asks good questions and gets a surprising wealth of responses from industry designers, businessmen, and presidents, and analysts including Chris Taylor, Michael Pachter, the good doctors from Bioware, David Perry (yes, he’s my long-lost Irish brother), and more.

What’s it all about? The video game market isn’t dying, it’s changing.  From the popularization of online casual games to the iPhone to the immense cost of production, the video game industry is still in its teenager years and still sprouting. How exactly is the gangly, pimpled kid turning out? I recommend watching the video; it might surprise you.

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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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