Saturday, February 23, 2008
About mid-week, Bungie Studios released the first Title Update for Halo 3, which mainly fixes a bunch of Multiplayer issues. You can find the full details here.
Since the Update, some players have reported issues where the game will freeze in the Lobbies while loading maps. If this happens to you, it's likely caused by corruped cache the likes of which we've seen before in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (which coincidently playing The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion has fixed the map loading issue for some players as it's a cache intensive game) and BioShock.
Just like The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion and BioShock, the process for clearing Halo 3's cache is different. To do so, restart the game and on boot up, hold down "A" _and_ "Up" on the D-Pad. Additional cache clearing details are provided in Bungie's Weekly Update here.
In said Weekly Update, Bungie also reveals an awesome new internal tool: The Mancannon Pack1nko Horror. I would give my left nipple to play this. What?
I have yet to see an official announcement for this, however it looks like the Xbox 360 has received another price drop.
It appears that all Xbox 360 consoles have received a $50.00 price drop save for the Xbox 360 Arcade, which is now $20.00 cheaper.
Best Buy also has a promotion going on where if you purchase an Xbox 360 Pro console (now for $349.99), you receive a free copy of BioShock; the highest rated game on the system (according to Metacritic). If you don't yet own an Xbox 360, this is an excellent deal, as BioShock is simply one of the best games I've played in years.
Blu-ray may have won the current format war, but the Xbox 360 is still the better and more affordable gaming platform by far.
Also unveiled at this year's Game Developers Conference is the pending arrival of Xbox LIVE Community Games via the Xbox LIVE Marketplace. Now, members of the XNA Creator's Club will not only be able to develop games for the Xbox 360, but they'll also be able to upload them to Xbox LIVE Marketplace where people can download them, play them, rate them, etc.
Between now and Feb. 28th, you can preview this by downloading the XNA Creator's Club Game Launcher from the Xbox LIVE Marketplace, and downloading several user created Trial Games (which will only play for a limited time, until March 9th, since this is a preview).
I tried out The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai for a while, and it was a lot of fun. While the current crop of preview games aren't anything to jump and shout about really, the concept, the potential that this is bringing to console gaming is very, very important. This is truly a step forward towards creating a real Mod Community, something PC gamers have enjoyed for nearly two decades, and another reason in the list of notches as to why the Xbox 360 is the serious gamer's platform of choice.
For full details, you can check out the official announcement page here, and instructions on how to download this Community Content here.
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
ActionTrip is hosting a nice batch of new Fable 2 screenshots, and is also reporting that the game will feature online Co-Op.
You can check it all out here, and feast your eyes on the visual goodness right here.
While the game is looking nice, upon closer inspection I can't say that I'm too impressed with the character models. We'll see though as development goes on. The first game was a lot of fun, and it's the gameplay that matters most in the end.
Gears of War 2 has been officially announced by Epic Games and Microsoft Game Studios.
To be released in Novemeber 2008 as an Xbox 360 exclusive, Gears of War 2 will continue the tale of Delta Squad as they do their part in the war against the Locust Horde.
The official site has the announcement, allows you to pre-order the game or its Limited Collector's Edition (US Only), has the teaser trailer (link not working as of this typing), and also allows you to take a survey to let Epic Games know what moments you liked best from Gears of War (requires a Windows Live ID to vote).
Until Epic Games sorts out that broken link, you can view the teaser trailer at TeamXbox right here.
UPDATE: The teaser trailer is also available via Xbox LIVE Marketplace, as well as a free Gears of War 2 theme and picture pack.
Saw over at TeamXbox earlier today that the second series of Gears of War action figures have been announced.
The second series includes Dom, Baird, a Theron Guard, and my personal favourite and a figure I have to have: A Drone in the middle of getting his head blown off.
Coolest, action figure, ever.
Sunday, February 17, 2008
Wow, and no, that's not a good wow. Dark Messiah Might and Magic: Elements strikes me as one hell of an The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion wannabe, with more of an action than RPG flavour, and not a really good one at that.
After starting up the game, my first impression was how last-gen this title looks. Visually, it actually reminded me a lot more of The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind and certainly nothing that's sported on the Xbox 360 today. Dark Messiah Might and Magic: Elements was developed using an ehanced version of Valve's Source Engine, and if this is it enhanced, than it's aged rather poorly.
Gameplay wise, the Controller is layed out similar to The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, with a few changes (such as being able to kick and opponent away by pressing both Triggers). While you can level up, the game seems to lack any real stat upgrades, and instead on each Level Up you get a new ability.
In the demo, you have to find and enter a temple and retrieve a special crystal, and you mentor guides you verbally along the way. While there are some cool additions, like mantling and rope climbing, the controls do feel sluggish, overall, especially movement, and on Normal combat was far too easy.
Enemies rarely blocked and you could either power attack or simply hack them to death (I played as the Warrior class). Impaling enemies as a finisher was cool, but nothing ground breaking enough to make combat exciting.
You have a simple inventory to manage and there's a variety of weapons from magical Swords to a Rope Bow that shoots ropes for you to swing from, but the game just couldn't help but feel like a shadow of Bethesda's masterpiece. I'd say pass on this one and go pick up the Platinum Hits version of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion instead.
It's a Japanese-styled game, and really not my style, but damn does it look amazing. As soon as I fired up the demo, I was extremely impressed with the environments, as well as the digital actors. So much so actually that I think I liked Devil May Cry 4's (Xbox 360) environments better than those I've seen with the Unreal Engine 3.
Despite that, though, it is a Japanese action hack and slash, and while certainly possessing some fun moments, even this short demo got rather repetative. There are two parts, the first being moving through some old church and its immediate suroundings, hacking up a few demons in under 10 minutes, the second was in a winter castle setting, fighting a few ice demons and finally a very large boss monster (
Of course, being Japanese, Devil May Cry 4 also features cheesy dialogue and over the top scripted sequences that are typical of Japanese media, as well as out of place rock music, which always leaves me shaking my head.
Despite that, I could see myself enjoying the game as a simple rental.
Saturday, February 16, 2008
There's been ongoing discussions for years now about violent media, such as films, television, and games, desensitising one to violence, and I'm going to have to go and say it's sadly true.
In complete contrast to my feel good story below, I found something a little disturbing recently. That company I work for does a show about murders and such, and one of our interns needed help scanning some pictures to be sent to one of the producers.
Those pictures happened to be actual archive footage of a young woman who was violently raped and murdered, explicitly graphic, bloody, and detailed.
When I looked at these pictures, I felt nothing. No revulsion, no sickness, nothing out of the ordinary beyond a "Wow. That's crappy." sort of thing.
Now I'm not calling myself or anyone else desensitised like me a monster or anything like that, because I _know_ the kind of good person that I am, but this brief experience really makes me wonder about the power of media.
The kind of pictures I saw are the exact style of graphic death shown in many of Burton's flicks, games like BioShock, etc., minus the nudity, of course, and I know the real thing didn't have any effect on me because in essence I've seen it all before.
Of course, desensitization isn't necessarily a bad thing or a good thing, people have been desensitised to violence long before media even existed, I just find it disturbing a bit how easy it is now for one to simply be able to overlook the extreme.
The other day, I was walking back to my car after purchasing my morning parking slip when I found a lost credit card on the ground. Now there's many things one can do with a lost card, especially if it hasn't been reported missing yet, so I decided to call VISA and let them know that I found it, and they got in touch with the owner for me and I was able to arrange to return it to her in only a few short hours.
Sure, I _could_ have tried to buy stuff with it, she didn't even know her card was missing until VISA called her, but that's simply not me. I also decided to do the morale thing simply because if I ever dropped my card, I'm hoping whoever found it would do the same.
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
This happened much earlier than I expected it would, and I wonder if this was always planned or had something to do with BioWare's recent acquistion by EA. Regardless, BioWare has announced that Mass Effect will be coming to the PC this May.
The major announced changes, aside from the interface being redesigned for the PC and prettier graphics, are a new Decryption mini-game, as well as a redesigned GUI for the Equipment Screen.
BioWare has also updated the official site's gallery with screenshots for the PC version.
Now, based on these screens, the character models do look more detailed, but nothing to make me jump and shout about. I _am_ impressed with the look of the new Equipment GUI, which I thought was poorly done in the Xbox 360 version.
Regardless, its nice that PC gamers who have yet to purchase and Xbox 360 will be able to play this solid RPG. I do find it a bit amusing however at the change in trends, were PC gamers are now often forced to wait for console ports to their platform.
Original story spotted at ActionTrip.
Sunday, February 10, 2008
Originally, I found the retail version of The Elder Scrolls IV: Shivering Isles very difficult to find, taking me about a month post-release to locate it. It does not appear that Best Buy or Future Shop is carrying it, and EB Games gave me a whole load of BS around its release date and tried to con me into buying The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion - Game of the Year edition instead.
Ironically, I found it at an out of the way EB Games at the edge of suburbia, and I was able to purchase it there brand new for $34.99. Not only does the disc contain the excellent Expansion itself, but the retail version also comes bundled with one of the most popular Downloadable Content for The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, Knights of the Nine. I have not yet played through Knights of the Nine, and I will do so in the coming months, so for the purpose of this review, I will only focus on The Elder Scrolls IV: Shivering Isles itself.
Like traditional PC Expansions, you basically install the new content onto your Xbox 360's HDD or Memory Unit. Considering that the Shivering Isles content is just under 1 GB in size, an HDD is required, however Knights of the Nine is around 100 MB as I recall, so I believe you could use a 512 MB Memory Unit, though I have not tested this. Suffice it to say, if you don't have an HDD, you won't be able to properly enjoy the Expansion and will be wasting your money.
In traditional PC fashion, the Expansion disc brings up a splash screen as it patches your retail copy of the original game, and also allows you to choose between installing both Shivering Isles and/or Knights of the Nine; with a full installation taking around 10 minutes or so. Once that's done, you'll never need your The Elder Scrolls IV: Shivering Isles disc again unless you have to re-install; you play using your tried and true The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion disc.
Now, after you get to the game's main menu, you'll need to wait a minute as the additional content is loaded every time you run The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. This is a minor inconvenience, and a bit of a time delay, but nothing too serious. I also found that sometimes when bringing up the Save Menu in-game, it could literally take up to a minute or more to actually display the Save Menu or one of my Saves. This was extremely annoying, and while clearing the game's cache would solve this, it would only do so temporarily and every few days I was required to clear The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion's cache (hold down "A" on boot up until you get to the game's main menu).
Now that the purchasing drama and technical blather is out of the way, let's get to the meat of this review: The new content. The Elder Scrolls IV: Shivering Isles is awesome. Simply put, it is an amazing, though relatively short, Expansion that greatly reminds me of many design aspects from The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. Make no mistake, The Elder Scrolls IV: Shivering Isles is very different than The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, but I can certainly see some design influences there, more so artistically than anything else, but more on that later.
The main attraction to the Expansion is the Main Quest itself, which I ultimately found better to think about along the lines of an extra "Guild" Quest Line than an actual Main Quest. Not that there's anything wrong with the Main Quest itself, mind you. It's original, as original as the Madgod himself, and certainly more engaging and entertaining than the traditional and cliche men vs. demonic invasion Main Quest of the original game, but it felt much more linear a bit simpler than the original.
To experience this content fresh, I created a brand new character, an Elderly Altmer Male, and I created my first custom class, a Necromancer. Going against my tradition of playing an RPG for the first time as a hero, I decided to play a "bad guy" character, and I certainly did my share of murders and other joyfully evil things in the Realm of Madness.
You begin the game as normal, and after a day has passed, you receive a message in your Journal regarding the discovery of a mysterious island gateway that has appeared outside of Bravil. This gateway leads to the Shivering Isles, the setting for the Expansion, and the realm of the Daedric Prince of Madness, Sheogorath. Upon entering, you find yourself in a room with Sheogorath's assistant, Haskill, who explains that Sheogorath is looking for a mortal Champion, and that you're essentially receiving a general invitation from a Daedric Prince himself to aid with a coming crisis. Should you except, you'll gain entry to the Fringe, the confined "waiting" area of the Shivering Isles.
Your entry to the Fringe is quite spectacular, and begins to properly set the stage for the colourful world you'll soon become addicted to. For the residents of the Shivering Isles _are_ colourful, both in how they dress, act, and speak. The majority of them are insane, paranoid, obsessive, and all manner of interesting.
The Shivering Isles itself, beyond the Fringe, is essentially split into two haves representing both aspects of Sheogorath's mindset: Mania, and Dementia. Mania is extremely colourful and _almost_ normal looking, and the peace is kept in that region by the lesser Daedra, the Golden Saints. Dementia, on the other hand, is dark and twisted, filled with paranoia and violence (my kind of place), and order there is maintained by the lesser Daedra, the Dark Seducers.
Throughout your Quests, you'll venture through both regions and interact with the residents of both extremes, and it's in this exploration that I found myself reminded of The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind's art design. You also spend a lot of time in New Sheoth, the capital city of the Shivering Isles, which houses Sheogorath's palace and also has a Mania and Dementia district.
I don't want to go into the details of all the Quests, Main or Side, as part of the fun of the game is discovering them yourself and the insane situations around them. Sheogorath himself is truly nuts, and his character features some of the most original and entertaining dialogue I've experienced in a game. One thing to note, however, is that The Elder Scrolls IV: Shivering Isles is not _too_ long of an Expansion. From start to finish I took about 20 hours and I made it to Level 21, completing almost every single Quest the Expansion had to offer. There really are not a lot of Quests outside of the Main Quest, and the landscape itself has significantly fewer ruins, dungeons, and landmarks to explore than the province of Cyrodiil. That being said though, there's nothing wrong with a little focus in a game that's still more wide open than the majority of the competition on the market.
I was disappointed at the lack of horses and purchasable real estate, but otherwise The Elder Scrolls IV: Shivering Isles provides the same play-style and type of content found in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. There are some great new weapons to find and there are two smiths in New Sheoth who can fashion armour and weapons for you out of two new kinds of resources, Amber and Madness Ore (Light and Heavy, respectively). Each smith hates the other, one being from Mania and one from Dementia, and their slurs about one another is certainly entertaining.
You'll also find some new Spells to cast and Daedra/Undead to summon if you have Conjuration (Hungers are back!), but I overall found the amount of new items and spells lacking. The attraction for The Elder Scrolls IV: Shivering Isles is certainly the landscape itself, the Quests, and its unique character.
The Elder Scrolls IV: Shivering Isles is a great Expansion Set to what's arguably the most immersive and open-ended RPG on the Xbox 360, and if you enjoy The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, than you will enjoy its Expansion. Just remember that your stay in the Shivering Isles will be briefer but no less entertaining than your exploits in Cyrodiil, and I recommend the retail version over downloading via Xbox LIVE Marketplace to circumvent Microsoft's shoddy policies.
While I was on Xbox LIVE yesterday, I saw an add for a sweepstakes involving the new Xbox LIVE Arcade game, Poker Smash. Full details can be found on the official sweepstakes page here, but essentially, all you need to do to enter is to download the Trial Version of Poker Smash, and you could be randomly selected to win the Grand Prize of an Xbox 360 Elite, or one of four second prizes of 4000 Microsoft Points (individually a $62.00 value).
While an Xbox 360 Elite would be nice (and I could sell my existing Xbox 360 Pro), I could make better use of 4000 Microsoft Points right now, buying premium content that I refuse to purchase myself out of principle.
Anyway, we'll see.
Since I downloaded the Trial Version, however, I decided to give it a go, and to my surprise, Poker Smash is a lot of fun! It's a flashy Poker-suited wanna-be Tetris, and it's just a lot of fun to play. I actually enjoyed it so much that I Unlocked the Full Version after playing for about 10 minutes.
For a chance at the sweepstakes alone, I recommend downloading the Trial Version of Poker Smash, but honestly, you just mind find yourself buying the full game to.
Saturday, February 09, 2008
ActionTrip is reporting that Newsweek has the story where BioWare finally comments on Fox News' attack against Mass Effect, and why they themselves chose to remain silent:
"We asked Muzyka about this during the last night's D.I.C.E. Summit cocktail party. He told us that he wanted to first let the community respond to the erroneous statements made by Lawrence and other Fox News panelists (which he colorfully likened to having a complete stranger hold a gun to the head of one's newborn baby) and that he'd been heartened by the support that BioWare had received. As for why he and his colleagues didn't take the lead on the rebuttal, Muzyka not only cited the quote he'd given the New York Times, but added that there were different ways to respond to incidents such as these, and that his focus would be to continue to loudly proclaim at every opportunity that videogames are an art form deserving of serious respect. "
The article is a good read, and I say good on BioWare. Lord knows the gaming community responded with zeal.
Kudo Tsunoda is now the general manager for Microsoft Game Studios' Gears of War franchise. I usually don't post about silly political corporate structure changes in the game industry, but what I found interesting was this specific comment made in IGN Xbox 360's report:
"There's additional content that we continue to do. Gears of War continues to be one of the most-played titles on Xbox Live. There's more that one can do to continue to deliver great experiences. And partnering with Epic on where we go from here. How can we make it even bigger and even better in the future. "
I certainly wouldn't mind seeing additional content added to Gears of War, specifically new Single Player content that fleshes out the story, and I'm not just talking about bringing the exclusive PC-content to the Xbox 360. Likely though, it'll just be a cheap cash-in on Multiplayer Maps.
Original news spotted at TeamXbox.
I called it, I've been saying it for years: Valve has no idea what's going on in their Half-Life universe, it's just a bunch of stuff that happens, and this proves it.
ActionTrip has reported that Valve is still figuring out the story of the upcoming Half-Life 2: Episode Three. That's right. We have a full trilogy of episodic content which takes forever to be released despite the fact that the purpose of episodic content is to expediate development time to quickly bring content to gamers, and Valve has no clue what the overall story arc should be for the climax episode.
Awesome. Such a solid development team worthy of all the praise they receive on their exceptionally story-driven, plot-defining games.
Sega of America is publishing a next-gen version of their classic hit, Golden Axe, entitled Golden Axe: Beast Rider.
Some new screens were released via TeamXbox this week, and the title's certainly looking nice. One to keep an eye on at least.
I wonder if I still get to travel on a giant turtle and if skeletons will still burrow themselves in the body of a giant eagle?
Earlier this week, there were rumours flying around that Duke Nukem Forever finally had a release date and that it was also coming to consoles, however that proved to be false.
What is interesting, however, is this quote:
"We're really excited about bringing classic Duke to the 360," said Miller during an interview with the DBJ. "We're talking to Microsoft about getting a release slot sometime this year. "
"Classic Duke" could mean any of the old side-scrolling Duke Nukem titles, but I'd wager we're going to see Duke Nukem 3D on Xbox LIVE Arcade before 2008 is over. Just a rumour, of course, but if this is true, than hot damn.
"Come get some."
Spotted at TeamXbox.
BioWare announced earlier this week that on Mon. Mar. 10th at 2:00 am PST, they will be releasing the first Downloadable Content Pack for Mass Effect entitled Bring Down the Sky.
Yup, that's right, the official link takes you to the regular Gallery on the main site, and you can find two screenshots if you scroll up, but otherwise there's no info. On many professional game sites, like TeamXbox, for example, you _can_ find out the full details.
The big news is the official unveiling and inclusion of the Batarians, a race featured prominently in Mass Effect: Revelations, but who pulled out of Citadel Space for Mass Effect; they really don't like humans much.
The other big appeal is a new Achievement worth 50 Gamer Points.
Bring Down the Sky will be available via the Xbox LIVE Marketplace for 400 Microsoft Points, which equals $6.20.
For me, I don't know. I still have a problem paying for "premium" content that should be free, but at least its not a bunch of overpriced Multiplayer Maps...
Saturday, February 02, 2008
I think. Suffice it to say, I've played through the Xbox version of Halo: Combat Evolved a lot since I first bought it in late November 2004, and its still a great game. Originally released in November 2001, it still looks good, plays great, sounds amazing, and provides a solid, generally well-balanced and challenging Campaign.
This particular play-through was special, however, as it's the first time I've played through the game on my Xbox 360, so instead of going into detail about the epic shooter everyone knows everything about, I'm going to talk about how the Xbox emulation held up on my Xbox 360.
For those of you unfamiliar with software emulation, you can get the jist of it here. In order to get the Xbox 360 to play original Xbox games, Microsoft had two options:
1) To include the original hardware components of the Xbox in the Xbox 360, which would have increased the Xbox 360's size and more importantly, been much more cost prohibitive.
2) Attempt to emulate the Xbox's hardware via software emulation.
For whatever reason, Microsoft chose the later option and took on the immense challenge of emulating the Xbox's architecture on the Xbox 360, no easy task with such vastly different graphic cards. To make a long story short, Microsoft's Xbox software emulation has allowed the Xbox 360 to play hundreds of Xbox games. Like all software emulation I've experienced, however, it isn't perfect.
The Xbox 360's architecture is very different from the Xbox, and no matter how well you're able to emulate the original hardware, it still isn't an original Xbox, and various glitches will occur. An example of this is occasional random or specific crashes, ghosting images, frame rate issues, etc.; it's different, though usually predictable, for every game.
Halo: Combat Evolved has no known issues listed on the Backward Compatibility - Technical Support and Known Issues page, so I'm going to list the bugs that I did experience:
- Occasional frame rate hiccups, often when Shades would fire and on extremely rare occasions, like when you're flooded with Flood or in a large, intense battle outdoors.
- Minor physics issue where an item, such as a corpse or weapon, would get stuck in or on top of an object and make an annoying static sound if you're close to it.
- Occasionally the screen would flash red for a second when part of a level loaded mid-level. This was very rare though.
- Very minor texture detail pop-in.
- The final post-credit video seemed grainy.
Those were the only issues I recall, and to be perfectly honest, they never once disrupted my enjoyment of the game or the pacing and rush of combat. Of the three Xbox games I've played on my Xbox 360, Halo: Combat Evolved has the best quality emulation.
Now, onto the good stuff. The Xbox 360 will both upscale and apply full screen anti-aliasing to any Xbox game. In English, this means that it increased the resolution to 720p, and it got rid of all those "jaggies" common in a standard definition image. To be blunt, Halo: Combat Evolved looked solid on my Xbox 360, I'd have to say as good as the PC version.
It also handled very nicely on the Xbox 360 Wireless Controller. With the exception of the "X" button (Reload should always be on "X." Stupid Bungie), I've adapted well to Halo 3's controls, so I had to quickly relearn which Bumpers to press for what, but once I got that down, it was smooth sailing. I will confess I missed the presence of the old "White" and "Black" buttons, but it wasn't a huge loss.
So, in the end, I've immensely enjoyed Halo: Combat Evolved, both on my Xbox and now on my Xbox 360. If you're a fan of Halo 3 and missed out on the rest of the trilogy, I recommend picking up a copy of Halo: Combat Evolved. Halo 3 really tried to capture the original title's feel over its sequel, both in design, sound (the musical score for Halo 3 was almost a complete remix of Halo: Combat Evolved's sound track), and gameplay.
Halo: Combat Evolved can still be found as a Platinum Hits title at various retailers, and of course as a used title. Failing that, you can now download it via the Xbox LIVE Marketplace as an Xbox Original.
Those of you who've played through Starcraft and Starcraft: Brood War's Campaigns will no doubt fondly remember Jim Raynor. The rough and tough rebel with a heart was a great badass, was betrayed by many, and watched all he loved be consumed, but still he fought on forging new alliances and never giving up hope. By today's standards, he's a lot like Hon Solo crossed with Mal Reynolds, except that Reynolds didn't exist when Raynor was created, so perhaps Raynor influence Reynold's character.
Anyway, Blizzard Entertainment has posted up a Bio for Raynor since he'll be featured in StarCraft II. You can check it out here.