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Continuing The Game: E3 Expo 2009 – Part II

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The inlkings of the first impressions of E3 show a change in structure but in impressing the point of some new ideas like “Dante’s Inferno” versus established franchise. The second iteration of what is shown takes the same balance.

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Sony The insistence of new technology and offering integrations against competitor XBOX is always a challenge but Playstation on many points both hardware and pixel related have a tactical edge. Upstairs in the booth as the game play raged below, advance looks at games and hardware still in active production and development made the rounds, each with a decidedly different approach.

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The first, “Uncharted 2: Among Thieves” capitalizes on its predecessor with the distinct enthusiasm and graphical brilliance of the team at Naughty Dog Studios in Santa Monica who made the game. Sitting down and talking with the producer of the game, you get a feeling of how these things come together. The game itself is not out until later this year but the angle of it is coming along. The game follows its lead character as he attempts to make his way through the levels of gameplay without destroying himself. The scenario shown to me takes places at the base of the Himalayas in Nepal. The city stretches out before you with both jungles and the distant snowy peaks. Everywhere in the city is discoverable and, according the producer, the city itself was hand built and not photo scanned which gives it more of an artful texture. The key of course is to catch the player off guard. One sequence played for me that makes it way through an office building shows a military helicopter hovering outside the broken glass of the building like Arnold’s Harrier jet within Miami’s skyline in James Cameron’s “True Lies”. What you don’t expect is when the building is hit by gunfire that it starts toppling while you are in it. The physics adjusts to it but it is something new to be seen in terms of the realism of it.

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The second game explored was “White Knight Chronicles” created by Level 5 out of Santa Monica. Sitting down with one of the Associate Producers who splits her time between LA and Japan, the key was taking this initial Japanese property and adjusting and re-imagining it to appeal to a North American audience. The hunger for more things manga and anime continues to build. The key within this conversation that began the discussion was the ability to purely design your avatar. The controls of facial structure, expression and integration are further integrated than what has been seen before. Like recent manga like “HACK/G.U.” where the agreement that people who have avatars who look like them and have friends who have avatars that look like them as well will call more engagement in the online world. The thought is that it will be harder to tell truth and virtual online elements from reality. This is a disturbing but inevitable thought. This game which ships on the PS3 and has the full integrated online component gives you the ability to progress through consistent worlds in a mission basis. The worlds vary from deserts to jungles to beyond. The story was created by the principal at Level 5 and encompasses over a dozen worlds. The creatures (one seen was a three headed dog) draw a lot of influence from mythology. Characters can join guilds and in essence pool their power. Another interesting aspect of this game is the ability of characters to build their own towns which people can visit, much like a home away from home.

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The third aspect explored upstairs in the Sony Booth was the physical inspection of the PSP Go. The new design of the PSP has interesting differences but also distinct similarities. The screen itself is smaller but the colors when experienced using a new game altered for the new system is much more vibrant when compared to the bigger and bulkier earlier generation. The slip up controls allow the device to be used for watching movies. The one thing that many basic users didn’t know about was the device’s Wi Fi compatibility. The keyboard element here is still not upgraded but the actual game controls are smaller. Unlike the UMD basis, this new PSP is based solely on flash drive interaction with an included 16 Gigs. Now the question of how high it is upgradable to is up for grabs. From what could be gathered, the content still needs to be side-loaded from a PC (or hopefully Mac). Also the ability to interact with the PS3 gaming system which was long been discussed could not be confirmed.

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One of the games that was recently upgraded for distribution on the Go (which is set to be available within the next months for a retail of $249) is a sequel to the Jax and Dexter game. The response element on the game and the intense if not understandably anime graphics of the ported game show definite improvement in terms of fluidity of graphics on the smaller device (which is something that the DSi seems to be grappling with). The cinematic intro sequence which shows a battle in small catwing fighters moves like silk leading into game play situation in the middle of the title according to the Sr. In-House Producer who explained the essential controls. The game play offers the simulator inverted controls which give a more realistic vice to the proceedings. There are special moves which include circle loops and banks that can catch an enemy by surprise. The Alpha isn’t completed yet but work continues towards the release in fall of this year.

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The breaking new game that look resolutely beautiful in terms of both ambiance, tone and sheer interactivity is the new game “Heavy Rain” due out next year. Designed by Paris Studio Quantic Dream, the game was explained to me by its managing producer as a thriller along the aspects of the film “Se7en”. While not a copy of that film, it takes a lot of the tonal elements. The opening vision show is that of an eye (much like the opening shots of “Blade Runner”) which establishes the visceral nature of the game. It is more an experiential game. The level that was played has the lead character in a construction area of sorts which is almost flooded and shrouded in rain. The soft focus element and especially the low angle (almost dolly like) movements give the game a sense of motion that makes it different. The different interaction options also let you hear what is going on in the guy’s head which let you make more informed decisions. The pacing is deliberate with the sound design truly immersing the player. The managing producer relates that the game itself has a wondrous array of different ways to end that is influence purely by the decision making process. The first character you run into is a construction worker that is both brute and dangerous but the key is whose side will he be on and can he be trusted.

Sega Certain companies make their progression know in incidental spots. Sega has always been in the game but with the advent of the PS3, the Dreamcast came down but the intensity of a given game can bring the brilliance out.

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The first new game that piqued the interest was “Alpha Protocol”, a adventure of mercenary proportions from game studio Obsidian. The underling equation gives you the perspective of life in the ranks but the different AI proportions that the characters might have. The level that was shown was a capture of a stolen arms shipment in the heart of Moscow. Our bearded commando in aviator glasses has ultra sniper like precision as trains speed past him in the yards at breakneck speeds. His ultimate encounter after deciding to fulfill his orders by taking out the weapons dump is a boss mercenary Mina who seems to be attracted to his agressive stance. It could move either way depending on consequential responses and actions of a give player. You could take the shipment as your own and then live with the consequences. The aspect is what kind of mercenary do you becomes. The plethora of different weapns including incentiary grenades and the requisite mortar launcher can give a finite definition to the one man army.

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The second new game show behind closed doors was the re-imagining of “Aliens Vs. Predator” for the next gen thought. The great aspect was the studio that created the original back more than a decade ago, Rebellion Studios is back in earnest using a new engine called Zero which allows for random shading and an overall tone that brings to mind the Aliens we all know and love. The level we were shown that was the most done was that of the Marine where you enter C Block where the sentries are set up as the alien move in. The fluidity of the creatures and the ambiance makes you feel right at home and the dialogue is familiar and razor sharp. You can be betrayed and betray. The producer and project manager were in full mode and the general party atmosphere with a heavy metal tinge ingratiates the pace of the game which comes out next year.

Lucasarts The last stop of E3 was the upstairs and almost secret lair of Lucas’ continual domination of the digital form. Stormtroopers guarded the outside of the door as showmanship is half the battle.

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The big buzz was the new introduction of the MMO game “Star Wars: The Old Republic” which takes place 3000 years before the events of “Jedi”. Entering a would be Republic briefing room, a combination of team members from Bioware and Lucasarts proceeded to show the “Deceived” trailer which highlights the sacking of Coruscant by an evil Sith Lord that looks like Vader without the mask. Many fanboys were convincingly excited by the visuals that it shows since it is on the level of many of the CG scenes in the last trilogy. While it falls short of that bar by a tad, it is still very much a great interpretation of a major event in “Star Wars” canon as a huge ship crashes through the Great Hall as an army of Sith fights against the Jedi and wins as the capital city is consumed by fire. Granted the game play is nowhere as intense as this in the perspective of an RPG but it continually allows a different perspective. A new character in the case of Smuggler was introduced at E3. This character has cover and holds requisite blasters and the usual quick wit that was a stalward of Han Solo. Another interesting player is that of the Sith where the intentions of a Dark Master can change the command of a certain mission depending on who is willing to bow to the whims of a homicidal leader. The key with Bioware was in keeping time with canon for the universe while also taking into account elements of such games as “Knights Of The Republic”.

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Two other Star Wars games took precedent on the outside demos within the Lucas arts suite. The first one was “Star Wars Battlefront: Elite Squadron ”  for the PSP which allows a portable game play within the confines of earth and space. The progression of being able to take off from the planet and get into a space battle definitely give a sense of scope to the game but the immediate engagement and possibly was not fully realized.

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By comparison, “Clone Wars: Republic Heroes”, built to coincide with the Season 2 premiere of “Clone Wars” on Cartoon Network, knows the exact trajectory of what it needs to create. Using the current assets directly from the TV show, playing the game is exactly like playing the show down to nuances, character and most importance voices. The game play uses the same structure as the show allowing you to play certain characters in play through mode. All the requisite force elements permeate through allowing for an optimum of play. The actual story structure is meant to bridge the plot between the end of the first season and the beginning of the second but that revelation has yet to be shown.

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The last game introduced was because of the immense popularity of the original. “LEGO Indiana Jones 2: The Adventure Continues” shows more interpreting of classic Indiana Jones scenes in LEGO style. This time “Crystal Skull” is introduced into play with Mutt and Indy being shown getting into a piece losing fight inside the cafe. Also shown was a disco interpretation of the final Ark sequence in “Raiders” with definite ironic effects. There is also an addition of level building (ala SIMS) which seems to be something that quite appeals to fans of the game. The progression can be assimilation into a level which is also based in a new “Home” feature where multiple players can hang out in a split world between Cairo and Nepal and everyplace Indy has been in between.

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E3 returned in its old form in full force but the balance was much more maintained. The exhibit floor buzzed with definite hype while hidden away in other rooms the creatives were able to break down for both buyers and media the essence of what is coming. Among the most intense and cool seen included EA’s “Dante’s Inferno” and Sony’s “Heavy Rain” with definitely more surprises to come.

First Look: Clone Wars Republic Heroes – Multi Consoles – Lucasarts @ E3 09

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With the success of the series on Cartoon Network, the essence of the bridge between Seasons 1 & 2 comes through the pipeline using all the requisite assets with the actual production to fuel a console game breaking in September just in advance of the next premiere.

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