Tag Archives: Shadow Complex

Surveys only tell half the story

Frank N. Magid’s recent survey on gamers’ awareness of downloadable content is just another sign of a half-formed survey that tells only one side of the story. Not a surprise, since most focus tests use narrow techniques to answer specific questions. But the story on IGN and Edge explain it’s asking the wrong people playing the wrong systems. Most of the gamers surveyed were playing PS2 and Wii games. In the vernacular, “well, duh.”

DLC games have been booming since Microsoft introduced the console’s Xbox Live marketplace. Entire studios such as Chair have based their total focus on DLC, resulting in games such as the smart Undertow and the retro Shadow Complex. EA put Battlefield 1943 entirely on DLC, trimming out a single-player campaign and focusing entirely on multiplayer.

Analysts point to Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto IV DLC as examples of how DLC doesn’t work, at least from a pure financial standpoint–Both The Damned and the Lost and The Ballad of Gay Tony didn’t make nearly as much as investors or analysts had hoped they would–but these were Rockstar’s first big attempts at substantial DLC, and while not homers, they certainly got to second base.

I swear, I’m going to conduct my own surveys, each one asking questions like, “Do you think Halo is awesome?” and I’ll make sure to ask only PlayStation 3 users. I’ll ask Nintendo fans “do they love that the Wii is in first place in the console race for the first time since the Super NES?” And then ask Bill Gates, “Have you ever played WOW or LittleBigPLanet?” just for fun. One last question will be aimed at young moms who just bought the Wii to workout; it will be, “How hardcore is Gear of War on a scale of 1 to 17?” Sounds scientific enough for me.

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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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E3 2009: Top 10 Best Games at E3

With the video game consoles somewhere in the middle of their theoretical five-year cycle (I did say theoretical), this year’s Electronics Entertainment Exposition showcased almost exactly what it should: loads of new software.

Yes, we watched Microsoft and Sony unveil their own wireless remotes, which will more than likely serve to extend the current generation consoles to well beyond their five or six-year paths. But given the fact that, with the exception of Nintendo, neither Sony nor Microsoft has made solid inroads into reaping the benefits of software sales match their expenditures on hardware, they are hell bent on issuing as much hardware-pushing games as possible.

Infinty Ward does not disappoint.

Infinity Ward does not disappoint.

In selecting my top 10 games, I could have easily picked all Xbox 360 and PS3 games, for there are enough good sequels to make the grade. And I could have picked all shooters and action games. But there are some different games coming out that I was taken by, and I feel like taking chances, doing something even slightly new, is worth rewarding, which is why I picked the games I picked. All of the games I selected were playable, either by myself or someone else and are presented in descending order.

Heavy Rain doesn't always provide a happy ending.

Heavy Rain doesn't always provide a happy ending.

10. Heavy Rain (System: PS3; Release Date: early 2010; Publisher: Sony; Developer: Quantic Dream): I watched a full 45-minute presentation of this game given by writer and director David Cage and saw characters Norman Jayden and Madison Page go through their scenarios. I was particularly taken when the chose the death path of Jayden; this choice gave the game some finality, some real repercussions, and it made the whole thing feel much different than any other game on the show floor. It’s great to see Sony supporting this kind of game, which is way off the narrow path of action games and shooters.

9. Brutal Legend (System: PS3, Xbox 360, PC; Release Date: October 2009; Publisher: EA; Developer: Double Fine): You know, every time I see this game it gets funnier and crazier. I don’t actually think the game play is all that modern or will be totally sophisticated-stunning in the technical way that, say, Modern Warfare will be. But the writing will be top notch, the scenarios will be ridiculously funny and outrageous, and the story will be better than entertaining. So for whatever reasons it might not match up technically, I am already willing to forgive it because I know it’s too fucking funny to not own.

8. Borderlands (System: PC, PS3, Xbox 360; Release Date: October 2009; Publisher: Take-Two; Developer: Gearbox): I had yet to see this game until my Thursday visit, and wow, I was surprised and excited. Not everyone in the demo was, but I have to say that it’s difficult to get excited about any game on the final day at 3 pm, one hour before the show shuts down. Still, the progression system looks awesome, the new graphical treatment is less realistic and “hardcore,” but it’s also more distinct. Also, this game is funny as shit: Animals are named “Bad-ass,” and dudes have their skull plates flying off and their brains bursting into the air. When enemies die, they yell out the most heinous and hilarious death screams. There is something weird, goofy, and irreverent about Borderlands that makes me lust for it.

DJ Hero: Activision's biggest gamble or biggest jackpot?

DJ Hero: Activision's biggest gamble or biggest jackpot?

7. DJ Hero (System: PS3, Xbox 360; Release Date: September 2009; Publisher: Activision; Developer: Freestyle Games): I am still uncertain whether anybody will buy this thing. It could end up buried in the Western desert next to ET. But it could also succeed beyond everyone’s wild dreams. Truth is, DJ Hero is a wild card. No screenshots can make this game look any more appealing or exciting. For me, I had to watch someone play this, checking both the screen and his hands, to see just how it all came together. I walked out of the demo thinking yes, this might be complicated, but the hardware was so cool that I felt, not thought, “I must have DJ Hero.” I also love the fact that all of the mixes were made for the game, and that you can hook up a guitar and play along with scratching. Effing rad.

6. BioShock II (System: PC, PS3, Xbox 360; Release Date: November 2009; Publisher: Take-Two; Developer: 2K Marin): I kinda just picked this because I have faith that 2K Marin will take what was easily the most original, haunting, and brilliant new IP of 2007 and not screw it up. I’m not certain I want to be the prototype Big Daddy, but on the other hand I do want to fight the Big Sister mano-a-mano. I just hope they can create the nasty weirdness that permeated the original game. The demo looked rocking. It was pretty, full of wonderful watery images, you’ll have to defend the creepy Little Sisters; plus, the new mixture of attacks, like little tornadoes and fire blasts, looks great.

5. New Super Mario Bros. Wii (System: Wii; Release Date: Fall 2009; Publisher: Nintendo; Developer: Nintendo): Wow, I got my hands on this on Thursday and had a hard time putting the controller down. The addition of cooperative multiplayer is simultaneously both impressive and unimpressive. It’s not like anyone else has done this before–many, many developers have! But when Shigeru Miyamoto does something like add cooperative multiplayer functionality to a side-scrolling Mario game, he always executes it with such imagination and skill that it’s almost always brilliant. This game is just pure, unadulterated joy and it’s a must-have Wii title.

Cooperative multiplayer Mario is more fun than you can imagine.

Cooperative multiplayer Mario is more fun than you can imagine.

4. Rock Band: The Beatles (System: PS3, Xbox 360, Wii; Release Date: September 9, 2009; Publisher: MTV Games; Developer: Harmonix): So I’ll admit this upfront: I am a Beatles fan and have been since I was six. I did a survey of about 10 people and most the result was split: Some people didn’t care (and they skewed a little younger and didn’t care about the Beatles much), while others loved this game (skewed a little older–30s, 40s, and liked the Beatles). Whether you’re a fan or not, these things seem to be self-evident: The Beatles are one of the most popular rock bands ever; their songs are copied, sung, and re-recorded for albums, commercials, and movies every year, and this game will sell tons of hardware because casual players will buy a system just to play Rock Band The Beatles. Only Rock Band Led Zeppelin or Rock Band Jimi Hendrix would get me as excited as this.

God of War III looks like it's in excellent hands.

God of War III looks like it's in excellent hands.

3. God of War III (System: PS3; Release Date: March 2010; Publisher: Sony; Developer: Sony Santa Monica): As Jake Blues said in the Blues Brothers movie, “Holy shit!” If one game ever looked as good and played as good as its original, it’s God of War III. The demo shown at Sony’s booth was just plain awesome. The new ramming maneuver–grab an enemy and use him as a ram to mop up crowds of enemies– is incredibly fun to play, and as are the flaming arrows. Just like BioShock 2, my feeling about this game is more from the gut than from the brain. It’s like I just have to play it. There is very little thinking involved. And having seen the GDC and the E3 demo of Dante’s Inferno–which is good–and now having seen God of War III, at this point, there isn’t much comparison. God of War III is my pick.

Naughty Dog completely rewrote its graphics engine and the result is extraordinary.

Naughty Dog completely rewrote its graphics engine and the result is extraordinary.

2. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (System: PS3; Release Date: September; Publisher: Sony; Developer: Naughty Dog): Naughty Dog’s first Uncharted was not fully appreciated for its subtle strengths and hidden gifts. How many games these days throw characters that talk and act and remain ordinary into heroic situations? The story and dialogue in Drake’s Fortune was exquisite and subtle. And sure, the puzzles were kinda easy, but did you actually use the melee system? For an adventure game, it rocked. Actually against most action games, it rocked. Among Thieves switches out the cliff sides and switches in dilapidated buildings, crumbling villages, and gives you rooftops and helicopter chases that are just amazing to watch, not to mention play. That, and the addition of multiplayer should wake up a few million people and let them understand why they should own a PlayStation 3.

Modern Warfare 2 gets my vote for best game at E3 2009.

Modern Warfare 2 gets my vote for best game at E3 2009.

1. Modern Warfare 2 (System: PC, PS2, PS3, Xbox 360, Wii; Release Date: November 10, 2009; Publisher: Activision; Developer: Infinity Ward): I feel a little queasy picking a sequel and a first-person shooter published by the sequel machine, Activision, for my top game. And if Modern Warfare 2 wasn’t made by one of the best developers in the world, I would feel a little sad, a little pathetic inside. But I don’t. The quick demo I watched at the Microsoft conference was followed up by a bigger, more interesting one behind closed doors at Activision’s booth, and it’s pretty obvious that this game is going to slay everything that comes close to it this fall. For a game that started as a WWII first-person shooter, Infinity Ward has created what looks and feels like the modern world James Bond game — the one that EA never made. The one that most developers only wish they could make. From the brilliant snow drift that clouds the air to the more open-world design to the ice picks used to stop snowmobiling enemies to the brisk downhill snowmobile ride itself, Modern Warfare in just a 10-minute demo convinced me right quick that few other games were going to match it at the show. And when all was said and done, and the three days of demos were over, no other game did.

Top Five Honorable Mentions

How many words can you think of that start with A?

How many words can you think of that start with A?

5. Silent Hill: Shattered Memories (System: Wii; Release Date: fall 2009; Publisher: Konami; Developer: Climax Studios): Yes, the Silent Hill series is old, and when I saw this demoed at Konami’s Gamer Day in March, I was still unconvinced. At E3 I got to play it, and that changed everything. The smooth responsive controls, the instant reactions of the flashlight and gun, and the amazingly simple yet surprising real world puzzles energize this former limping series with new life. This is going to be an excellent holiday season to own a Wii.

4. Homefront (System: PC, PS3, Xbox 360; Release Date: 2010; Publisher: THQ; Developer: Kaos): On the second and third day of E3 2009 I must have seen one hundred billion action games and first-person shooters, which made it tough to remember one from another. But for all of the me-too stuff that THQ does, Homefront looked different. Based in a not to distant future and using the energy crisis to set its stage, players take on a ragtag resistance group of Americans fighting against an occupied USA. Taking notions from Frontlines: Fuel of War and building them into a bigger, badder first-person shooter, Kaos has made something very worth your while.

3. Scribblenauts (System: DS; Release Date: fall 2009; Publisher: Warner Bros. ; Developer: 5th Cell): Weird, surprising, and original, this should prove to be one of those breakthrough titles we’ll all look back on fondly and say, I remember when… The game’s hand-drawn graphics are basic but charming. The premise is simple, too. But it’s the massive database of recognizable words that is so cleverly incorporated into the gameplay that captures the imagination, something much needed in today’s rather familiar landscape of game concepts.

As you can see, Rocksteady Games has captured the essense of the characters in the Batman universe.

As you can see, Rocksteady Games has captured the essence of the characters in the Batman universe.

2. Batman Arkham Asylum (System: PS3, Xbox 360; Release Date: Summer 2009; Publisher: Eidos/Warner Bros.; Developer: Rocksteady Studios): Although I only played through the first 20 minutes of the game, what excited and please me most about this new Batman endeavor had everything to do with the way in which Rocksteady Games captured the essence of the Batman universe, from the character models to Arkham Asylum to the voice actors of Batman and the Joker themselves. This looked and felt like a Batman game; and there are very few Batman games one can say that about.

1. Shadow Complex (System: Xbox 360 DLC; Release Date: Summer 2009; Publisher: Microsoft; Developer: Chair Entertainment): This “little DLC game” is going to be the biggest and coolest new game on the system. It’s about five times as big as Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, and will weigh in at 500 MBs, a monstrous size for a DLC game. And the foam gun? Lovely, just lovely. The level of exploration, the amount of weapon acquisition, and the range of combat all come together beautifully in this game.


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E3 2009: Scenes from E3

I’m not sure how many similar shots have been captured (I suspect a lot), but I never have had time to snap shots of E3 before. So this year I grabbed a few.

The biggest bummer was that when I was finally ready to take a shot of the massive Brutal Legend poster, they had already started rolling it down. Sniffle… This little pictorial also includes a few folks I had drinks with Tuesday night.

The Harmonix team behind closed doors at E3 explaining Rock Band: The Beatles' six-part harmonies.

The Harmonix team behind closed doors at E3 explaining Rock Band: The Beatles' three-part harmonies.

Final Fantasy XIII is painted onto the steps of the LA Convention Center. The second day of the show the paint was wet so everyone had to funnel up the escalator to get in. Argh.

Final Fantasy XIII is painted onto the steps of the LA Convention Center. The second day of the show the paint was wet so everyone had to funnel up the escalator to get in. Argh.

Hey look ma, it's Mafia II. It's not Grand Theft Auto V, it's just like a new, prettier Mafia game, with old 50s cars, Sicilian guys, a huge drivable city, and lots of shooting, maiming, and Italian-style mobster missions. Been there!

Hey look ma, it's Mafia II. It's not Grand Theft Auto V, it's just like a new, prettier Mafia game, with old 50s cars, Sicilian guys, a huge drivable city, and lots of shooting, maiming, and Italian-style mobster missions. Been there!

This is the Rabbids' means to getting to the moon. Funny? FUNNY???!!!!

This is the Rabbids' means of getting to the moon. Funny? FUNNY???!!!!

Rock Band, Mass Effect 2, and Final Fantasy XIII all in one shot.

Rock Band, Mass Effect 2, and Final Fantasy XIII all in one shot.

Ms. Tara Bruno, looking fine, Donald Mustard (designer of Shadow Complex designer), and Laura Heeb Mustard (PR queen) laughing it up.

Ms. Tara Bruno, looking fine, Donald Mustard (Shadow Complex designer), and Laura Heeb Mustard (PR queen) laughing it up.

Matt Frary has only one thing to say: That trip to Mexico was GREAT, you F*&^%ing m&^^%$# Fu(*&^er!

Matt Frary has only one thing to say: That trip to Mexico was GREAT, you F*&^%ing m&^^%$# Fu(*&^er!

The Battlefield 1943 at 8:30 am, before the screaming fanboys have arrived.

The Battlefield 1943 booth at 8:30 am, before the screaming fanboys have arrived.

Modern Warfare 2, I'm guess this will win Best of Show from someone.

Modern Warfare 2: Infinity Ward's game will win best game of the show from at least one media outlet.

At day's end, I had to hide behind the trees to block the setting sun. Assassin's Creed II promises to be better than the 8-million-unit-selling Assassin's Creed 1.

At day's end, I had to hide behind the trees to block the setting sun. Assassin's Creed II promises to be better than the 8-million-unit-selling Assassin's Creed 1.

Krato shows us the Power of the PS3. God of War III looked fucking spectacular on screen. A definite, must-have game for the PS3.

Krato shows us the Power of the PS3. God of War III looked fucking spectacular on screen. A definite, must-have game for the PS3.

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E3 2009: Microsoft Delivers Project Natal, The Beatles, Halo Reach, and Forza 3 at Media Briefing

Microsoft held its E3 2009 news briefing at 10:30 am Monday at the USC Galen Center on a three-screen stage lit with its trademark green circle design and delivered its much rumored hands-free controller, along with a top-notch lineup of 15-plus games, 10 of which are exclusive to the system. (See shots of the conference, including Beatles people here.)

Microsoft kicked off its 2-hour conference with Harmonix’s Rock Band The Beatles (due 9.09.09 on Xbox 360 and PS3). The developed showed the first-ever footage from Rock Band The Beatles from flash graphic-style cutscenes to a full band set up including three singers, guitarist, drummer, and basist, demoed by the Harmonix’s house band, and followed up with guest appearances by the last remaining Beatles, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr.

Carefully crafting the order and games for its conference to mix both casual and mainstream efforts with hardcore titles, Microsoft sent Pro skater Tony Hawk to the stage to demo Tony Hawk’s Ride replete with developer Robo Moto’s wireless skateboard controller (due fall 2009 on Xbox 360 and PS3).

Tony Hawk’s Ride was followed by in-game footage of Modern Warfare 2, which will enable gamers to ride and shoot enemies from snowmobiles (due 11.01.09 on PC, PS3, and Xbox 360), Final Fantasy XIII (with in-game footage including a summons spell calling “Odin” to fight alongside you; due spring 2010), and in-game footage from Donald Mustard’s new Shadow Complex, a sidescrolling action adventure game inspired by GI Joe and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (due summer 09).

Microsoft then demoed the free avatar racing game Joy Ride (winter 2009), a GC presentation of Crackdown 2 (which looks to feature big, nasty bosses who are much stronger than you), a CG video of Left4Dead2 (see L4D.com), an in-game video presentation of the exclusive Xbox 360 and PC game, Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell Conviction (due fall 2009), and the not-so-surprising Turn 10 game, Forza 3–which Producer Dan Greenawalt said four times is “The definitive racing game of this era.”

Bungie Studios’ writer Joe Staten then introduced the first in-game footage of Halo ODST, which falls between Halo 1 and Halo 2 and puts gamers in the shoes of a non-Spartan military special ops team called Orbital Drop Shock Troopers (ODST), who, when collecting various articles on his journey, initiates flashback story chapters to tell the story. Halo ODST introduces a few gadgets such as the returning Halo 1 pistol, a scanning visor, two sound suppressed weapons, and a rocket launcher. Halo ODST includes the co-op mode Firefight, and is due September 22 worldwide on Xbox 360. Staten also revealed Halo Reach, which was only shown in video and is due on fall 2010. Staten explained that when you pre-order Halo ODST, you’ll automatically be invited to participate in the Halo Reach beta.

Remedy finally showed Alan Wake, which still isn’t coming out this year (due spring 2010), but its very pretty, polished-looking adventure-horror game featuring tons of lighting effects issued from flashlights and flares.

Microsoft then announced a slew of partnerships to bolster its multimedia prowess. It announced it has partnered with Last.fm, an online music service that has a subscription of 30 million users worldwide, which will be free for all Gold Members. Following that it’s improved its Netflix service, eliminating the need to use the PC to browse for movies and now enables players to instantly connect to movies without wait times. Microsoft also announced a partnership with SkyTV, which will benefit folks in the UK and Ireland to be able to watch live TV shows from their Xbox 360s such as Premiere League Football.

For all those who thought the Zune as gone and dead, it’s not. Zune Video enables Xbox 360 users to see 1080p videos “without discs, delays or downloading, using what MS called its “Instant On 1080 HD streaming service.

Microsoft didn’t stop there. It then announced it’s partnered with Facebook and Twitter, both of which can be used directly on Xbox 360. FaceBook on Xbox 360 enables players to post pictures directly to their 360s; both services are due in fall 2009.

Finally, and perhaps biggest of all was the announcement of Project Natal, a demo driven by designer Kudo Tsunoda and endorsed on-stage by Stephen Spielberg and Lionhead Studios’ Peter Molyneux. Tsunoda showed how Microsoft is taking the Wii controller idea and attempting to take it to the next level of controller-less games by eliminating the controller all together. Project Natal enables consumers to use voice recognition, facial recognition, and motion sensing technology to grant gamers the ability to scroll iPhone-style through the dashboard and pick movies, launch games, or turn off or on their 360s with a gesture. Gamers can play 3D breakout-style games (MS called this game Ricochet) by using their hands to hit and their feet to kick in coming balls, as well as create painted objects on virtual canvases (Paint Party).

Paint Party brought the biggest laughs, however, as the crude painting looked more like Jackson Pollack style abstract expressionism, and the shadow game elephant that was demoed on screen, while fun, also brought on uncontrolled laughter from the audience (as it showed male and female demo-ers bent over to imitate an elephant eating). Tsunoda also showed how the Mii-like avatar that Microsoft introduced last year is now fully useable as a movement controlled avatar onscreen, who looks like and mimics your movements.

Microsoft concluded its conference by showing a Lionhead game temporarily called Milo, which uses the Project Natal technology and showed how users could interact with a crude artificial intelligence “boy” who recognizes the user, speaks to the user, “understands” the users voice textures, and hands users things on the screen. Conceptually, Project Natal is a brilliant idea that was easily the most impressive aspect of the entire Microsoft briefing. The hard part, however, will be executing the concept in a way that works seamlessly and believably. Mattrick added that the technology will work with all games that have been released in the past on Xbox 360 and all games in the future. Tsunoda said the techo demos are shipping now out to developers and publishers.


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E3 2009: Shadow Complex

Chair Entertainment, the Utah studio responsible for Undertow, is in development with Shadow Complex, a 2D shooter designed as an homage to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, infused with the spirit of GI Joe, and which offers a parallel story to Orson Scott Card’s most recent novel, Empire.

Like Undertow, Chair’s first independent XBLA game, Shadow Complex is an Xbox Live Arcade exclusive DLC title, to be published by Microsoft, slated for a summer release. The side-scrolling shooter is, of course, built upon the Unreal 3 Engine, featuring all of the flashiest tech effects that a console game offers. The lead character wields a wide range of weaponry including the innovative foam gun, which can be used for cover, as a step-ladder to reach higher ground, or as a temporarily paralyzing device stopping enemies cold.

The game also features a grappling hook for scaling walls, jet booster pack, and offers a suite of bad-ass mega-bosses to fight, the first that we saw being a spider mech boss.

“When I grew up, I loved GI Joe,” said Donald Mustard, Shadow Complex’s lead designer. “I loved GI Joe vs Cobra. It was fricken awesome. What I really loved about it as I got older, looking back, was a high tech bad guy versus a more low tech hero. When we initially approached (Orson Scott) Card about the book, that was some of our thinking. How could we create a really realistic GI Joe? Where there really was a high tech bad guy and a lower tech good guy and we made it more adult. Buy who would be that bad guy? The United States. We’d be the only one with enough power realistically, so they we thought about how we could make the US the bad guy and we worked that into out goal.”

Shadow Complex will be shown at this year’s E3 2009 event.

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