E3 2010: Ubisoft Press Conference

Ubisoft was the last press conference of the 14th and was a little bit bizarre. In part this was due to the presence of the announcer, Joel McHale who spent most it the time alternating between gushing praise for gaming and making sarcastic comments about the games being shown. And also some of the stuff they showed was mental.

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Take, for example, the opening game Child of Eden from the maker of Rez. Its a trippy music inspired game where blocks are exploded in time to the music. The game was being controlled via Kinect and so the player was simply swiping their hands around in midair to hit the blocks. It seems like more of a challenge than the first party games at the Microsoft Press Conference and also more fun, backing up my idea that it will be the 3rd party games that will use it the best. The designer also came on stage and his description that the game was all about using most of your senses to play actually didn’t sound as pretentious as it normally does.

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After this it was business as usual with the reveal of Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood. After a pre-rendered trailer, an actual game play demo of what seems to be the start of the game was shown off. Starting off with Ezio relaxing in bed with Caterina Sforzia (the lady of Forli in AC2), they are rudely interrupted by a stone ball crashing through the wall. The Assassin’s villa is under attack by the Borgia and you must fight to defend the town. After a brief horse ride to the walls through crumbling streets (while the narrating developer promised much improved horse combat), Ezio climbs up the wall and mans the cannons to bring down two siege towers. However, others have broken through and their are enemies on the walls which allowed the developer to show off the much faster combat system which is a fix to my major problem with last game. The demo ended with your new nemesis revealed and both Enzio and Mario shot repeatedly before the view shifts to a load of assassins climbing up the coliseum in Rome. It has the potential to be REALLY good.

Next up was Shaun White Skateboarding. After a little bit of banter between the MC and Shaun White, they went on to reveal the new game mode. Rather than the realistic approach of skate, it instead focuses on bring back life to an authoritarian world. By skateboarding. As you perform tricks, it brings colour back to the surroundings as well as changing the terrain. One example is the fact that fulfilling an objective changes a fountain into a half pipe. The trick system also looks pretty solid but the main change is the new mechanism. You can also make grind rails extend out to gain access to new areas which seems to be a time limited ability as well as requiring you to retain momentum so no vertical rides. I’ll take a look but it does depend on what else the game does.

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And then they started playing Quasar. Seriously. Go and watch the live stream. Its for a product called Battle Tag. It features guns you can reload, the usual jackets with the sensors on and a set of blocks. These sensor blocks can then be used to form little games, such as a race which was shown. It also has a PC connector which can be used to upload your stats from your games to share online. Now, I can be a cynical man but I can honestly not think of any other way to make me any less interested unless it actually stabbed me. It is a bit strange for Ubisoft to invest in this.

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The oddity was brought up a notch by the Innergy, a game that uses a heartbeat sensor to help you become both fitter and less stressed out. The thing they showed was a breathing exercised that ask you to keep you timing of your breathes in line with a path on the screen. This was then followed up with a repeat of the Your Shape demo from the Microsoft Press Event (it still looks dumb). The Rabbids then made their appearance in a Wii exclusive focused on time travelling which looks alright although I wish they would bring a game featuring them to the Xbox 360 as they are brilliant characters.

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The next game was Ghost Recon: Future Soldier. I love GRAW and this looks pretty good. As well as a short trailer, they also had a gameplay demo that looked quite interesting as well. They have made a few changes, the biggest being the new optical camouflage that makes it more like a stealth game than the previous. It also included a new cross com that highlighted all the bad guys allowing the player to avoid the bad guys. It look really slick and when the guns came out it was a pretty solid first/third person shooter. I like the idea of some of the new stuff like the drones and I’m looking forward to the beta this summer.

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They also announced a few other things. Driver is coming back in a new game set in San Francisco which harks back to the original. Also you can switch cars because the main character is in a coma. After that was the mysterious Project Dust which is about controlling a tribe by manipulating the weather. It actually looks quite interesting so I’ll be keeping my eye on it. Rayman Origins, a co-op platformer featuring everyone favourite ‘armless guy and his brother was unveiled as part of the description of a  new toolkit coming from Ubisoft. In the same vein, they mentioned what the Trackmania guys have been up to which is a social creation platform featuring Trackmania, Shootmania and Questmania which focus on driving, first person shooting and RPGs respectively. The final thing was a Michael Jackson dancing game but nothing was shown and at that point, everyone in the audience was just wishing that the horror would end.

You may notice I sound rather down at the end. In part this was due to the fact I was still watching this at about 2 in the morning but the other thing was just how much of the announcements were just games for the motion devices. After the big hitter of Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood at the start and Ghost Recon near the end the rest were just disappointing. Now admittedly someone somewhere is very excited about Battle Tag, but for journalists and the vast majority of gamers we just don’t give a shit. However, the stuff shown at the very end such as Rayman and the new Nadeo stuff look interesting but should have received more time. Overall, it was better last year where James Cameron bored us with Avatar talk.

I’m not doing conference write ups for Sony or Nintendo but will mention both in a wrap up at the end of the week

(Gametrailers will be having all the trailers and gameplay from the live events up all week and eventually the complete streams later if you want to watch. Thanks to Joystiq, Destructoid and IGN for most of the pictures and Giant Bomb for the reference live blog)

E3 2010: EA Press Conference

Both Ubisoft and EA are big enough to have their own press conference alongside the Big Three and seem to use them better than the console manufacturers. There is very little talking in them and a big focus on the games and developers. Which is good.

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EA started theirs with a trailer for the new Need for Speed. After the rather bad previous games in the series, Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit is being made by Criterion, the team most well known for the Burnout Series. As well as the a new social network setup, the team also showed off a two player mode between a cop and a criminal. It looks pretty good and the cop chase mode could potentially be brilliant to play online.

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Next up is a sequel I’m looking forward to – Dead Space 2. The first game was one of the scariest games I have ever played and combined it with a good story and solid mechanics. The second looks like it is taking further being set on the Sprawl, a huge city. The demo levels are set in a gothic cathedral and the necromorphs are back. The shooting/statis looks pretty similar but also fun and the new bad guys look great to fight with. The setting still looks as grim as ever, but with some stunning architecture. And it still has the scary “just walking but oh shit something bad is about to happen” sections.

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After that was the new Medal of Honour (or Honor to you Americans). Set in Afghanistan, the main focus of the presentation was the 24 player multiplayer made by the genius minds behind the Battlefield games at DICE. They actually showed a live 24 player team deathmatch set in Kabul, with all 24 people on stage. It looks a lot like Battlefield Bad Company 2 to the point where I am actually thinking it runs a modded version of the Frostbite engine which makes it vital that the unlocks are very different from those of Bad Company 2. For those interested in preordering Medal of Honour and already own Bad Company 2, then if you put it into the new EA Gunclub (a cross platform unlock system similar to Uplay) and you can be playing the two map beta on the 17th while the rest of the world waits until approximately the 21st. It looks rather good.

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Even better for me is the news that Bad Company 2 is getting an expansion – we are going back to Vietnam in Battlefield Bad Company 2: Vietnam. They didn’t show much apart from a huey flying over some jungle but the Hanoi Rose propaganda over shows they are going for a pretty good atmosphere. If its even half as a fun as Battlefield 1943 (the last game of a similar size), then it will be money well spent.

And then Peter Moore came out and I went to sleep and it went on to EA Sports. I’m not a fan of the sports genre but EA always do something crazy with each game so I actually watched this bit. EA MMA was there (it featured men grappling) as was EA Sports Active 2 on the HD consoles as well as the Wii. Worryingly for some, it also dumps the information up onto the net. Also there was Madden 11 which was labelled as being the simplest, quickest and deepest game in the series so far. The mode I’m most intrigued by is the new 3 on 3 mode, previously seen in NHL. It looked good but in my lack of knowledge on American Football I didn’t have a clue what’s going on.

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After  a brief showing of The Sims 3 console version, EA moved onto the partner program. Jason West and Frank Zampella were brought out to say they are working on something before shuffling off stage to bring on Cevat Yerli of Crytek to show the brand new Crysis 2. It takes place in Grand Central Station in New York and focuses on a boss battle against one of the new aliens. I’m really excited about the next game in the Crysis series and based on previous previews from PC Gamer it looks to be a really good change. It seemed to look really good as well and it is available to be played in 3D.

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Mr Cliffy B was brought back to the stage to show off Bulletstorm, a new game from the brilliantly named People Can Fly studios. This game looks absolutely bonkers. Like Bizarre Creations’ The Club, the game is not just about killing people but killing people with style to gain points. It looks much brighter with all the alien flora than most other Epic games but still has the look of meaty men scrapping. It also a game for men with some of the filthiest dialogue I’ve in games for a long time (“you scared the dick off me” was an actual line) as well as fart jokes which will probably go down in gaming history. But it looks pretty good and People Can Fly are makers of some of the most competent first person shooters. I’m looking forward to this.

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Finally EA came to one of the most eagerly awaited games of the year – The next Star Wars MMO, Knights Of The Old Republic. Very little was talked about, but it was mentioned that every player would have their own ship and the first PvP battlezone is Alderan. But the most impressive part was the new CG trailer for the game. If you interested go find it on Gametrailers and enjoy it as its rather good.

EA has a pretty strong line up for the next year, with a big focus on the mainstream despite the increase in motion controls. In fact, only EA Active really uses the new accessories for the consoles, with the rest all using the normal control setup. I get the feeling EA will be the sanest publisher at this E3.

(Gametrailers will be having all the trailers and gameplay from the live events up all week and eventually the complete streams later if you want to watch. Thanks to Joystiq, Destructoid and IGN for most of the pictures and Giant Bomb for the reference live blog)

E3 2010: Microsoft Press Conference

For those of you not in the know, E3 is the gaming industries biggest trade show, allowing all the publishers, developers and journalist to gather in one gaming hall in America and announce most of the coming year’s games and hardware while spending money and making journalist unable to go feel jealous and slightly annoyed about how much they have to write about it despite receiving next to no info on things. This year is supposedly a return to the old style featuring booth babes and enough excess to make everyone forget we are in a recess and the Gulf of Mexico is rapidly filling with a black, gloopy substance that isn’t liquorice. Hopefully, this isn’t the case so some bright spark at the Daily Mail doesn’t go on a massive “Games are evil rant”. But I digress.

This year is pretty big for the youngest of the Big Three, Microsoft. As well as being the 10th year of the Xbox Division’s trips to E3, they are also announcing their main attempt to grab the younger audience and get away from the Frat Boy image that “Gears of Halo” have helped to propagate. Their ace in the hole is “Project Natal” which was revealed to be actually called “Kinect”. I don’t have a problem with the name – it gives across the idea of being kinetic and full of motion which it does promise to be via the camera, microphone and its ability to perceive in 3D. Its name was properly unveiled on the 13th at a Cirque De Soleil event which, based on the Giant Bomb staff’s description, was the freakiest thing this side of last year’s Milo demo.

On the 14th was the official Press Conference for Microsoft where actually details and things were revealed instead of just marketing hype. As with all these things, the first couple of item were 3rd party games.

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Call of Duty: Black Ops – I’m not as down on Treyarch as most people are and so I’m looking forward to the latest Call of Duty due in part to my love of all things Vietnam War. The demo they showed doesn’t disappoint, featuring the Tunnel Rat section (going through the dark, water filled tunnels that the VC used) followed by the usual shooting and then a jump in a helicopter to blow some Vietnamese away. It looks like World at War did – like Infinity Ward’s work but a bit more gritty and focused on “Fuck Yeah” moments. Its also a bit gory – the .357 used in the tunnels looks like it can rip guys in two so expect more bodies lying around. The helicopter moments I’m less excited about – its doesn’t look quite as sharp as the run and gun combat. Based on the fact your character speaks while your playing as his shows another shift towards a single focus as opposed to the previous game’s multiple characters

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However more interesting from a business point of view is that Microsoft and Activision has signed a deal that all Call of Duty DLC for the next 3 years will be exclusive to the Xbox 360 for at least the first month of release. Based on the success of the MW2 packs, I think Microsoft has just found themselves another system seller, as most of the people who will buy Call of Duty will want the DLC packs as soon as, an experience only available on the Xbox.

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Next was Metal Gear Solid: Rising (AKA Raiden’s messing dudes up adventure). After Kojima symbolically handed over control of the main franchise to his producer, a short, pre-rendered cutscene (just like 80% of the full game will be based on previous form) was shown featuring Raiden cutting up man and machine with a big sword. Personally, I have little interest in MGS, but this game does sound quite interesting – it appears to be closer to  Devil May Cry then the previous games.

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After a short interlude from Microsoft’s Phil Spencer where he said all the following games will be exclusive to the Xbox 360, Cliffy B from Epic came out to show a 4 player co op demonstration for Gears of War 3. It looks like more Gears which is no bad thing. The addition of 4 player co op helps to improve on the overall package, while the section played looks quite good. The new enemies, the mutating Lambent, look pretty nasty (as they can transform mid combat to new forms) but this time you have a normal bayonet which allows you to spear a guy through the stomach and then hang him over your head. It looks like the same feelings we all had when we first chainsawed a guy will return. One of my major concerns with the previous games was the fact that 90% of the screen at any time was brown making it look just a bit too bland. The new environments help to correct this and means I may be keeping an eye out for this when its released.

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Then Peter Molyneux popped up. Last year he was gushing about Milo, but this year his is back to talk about Fable 3. Or show a trailer at least. The trailer looks rather good, continuing on with the good bits of Fable 2 but with a whole new set of things. Unfortunately it was only a trailer and so Microsoft moved on to announce a partnership with Crytek to produce a game called Codename Kingdom. It looks to be a gladiator style game but it was only a teaser trailer so not much could be really gleamed from it. But Crytek is really going for the consoles with this and Crysis 2.

It isn’t a Microsoft press conference without Halo, and this year’s showing of Halo: Reach fitted the bill. After a successful beta, they talked first about singleplayer and showed off some it. It looks like a better looking Halo – I’m guessing that if you don’t like Halo, you won’t like this. But I think it looks like it could be great fun, with the new weapons and a better story. And you go into space in a jet which is pretty cool.

 

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And then came the moment that we were all waiting for – Microsoft’s Marc Whitten came on stage and told us the future of gaming – Kinect. Before any games for it was shown they focused more on the general dashboard – by waving he logged in. He waves again and he selects Kinect app app. He says Zune to load up the Zune app. It all looks like a feature you could comfortably use and not feel like a tool. It also looks the part as well – shiny black plastic with several cameras on the front. The selection are done by the appearance of a virtual hand on the screen which is then used as a cursor which is slightly freaky seeing ghost hands. He also mentions Voice Kinect which will allow Xbox users to voice chat to their Windows Live Contacts which could be quite funny – sat on the sofa and talking like your some big time boss. Or it could be a feature that, like its current gen version is never used.

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Then he announced something that made most of the British watchers not give a damn. They announced ESPN was coming to the the Xbox 360 in the states and showing nearly all the major sports APART from the NFL which strikes me as odd – wouldn’t that be the one thing you would want to have on your streaming service? However, it is free for all Gold users which is a nice thing rather than charging another huge amount. I could see this being used a lot by many people but it is of no use for the UK.

Of more use were the Kinect games, all of which would be available on launch of the new hardware add-on in the Autumn.First up was Kinectimals which looks like it could make Microsoft a bucket load of cash. The system is two fold – first is the soft toy animal of various big cats like Lions or, in this case, a tiger. As well as the soft toy, you can scan in the barcode around its neck to import it into the game which allows you to play with it, a bit like the Milo demo. They showed a little girl playing with the Tiger named Skittles and it looked like for a certain age it could be fun (such as the moment when it goes into a slow motion Matrix style spin around as the tiger jumps over the skipping rope). However, look closely and some of the actions just didn’t seem right or match up properly. Also that tiger is scary as fuck – tigers shouldn’t smile.

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Next on the list of motion controlled games was Kinect Sports. Its basically Wii Sports but better looking and on an Xbox 360 with avatars. Rare has been working on it and it does look good but at the end of the day its Wii Sports. Joyride, the kart racer announced last year is back and now Kinect exclusive requiring you to use an air steering wheel (yet another thing that makes me think actors and/or mimes are going to be the best at all the Kinect games). It actually sound really fun through with several different modes. However, I really hope its going to either be reasonable on XBLA or free with the Kinect device itself. Then there was a rafting game and the knowledge that the Kinect will be able to automatically take pictures of you playing the games and then auto upload to Facebook.

Fuck.

To round out this section, they also made mention of an exercise game from Ubisoft from Your Shape. It features standard exercises as well as Yoga and Martial arts which sounds pretty good. I know from other people that the Wii Fit has be used a load just for the Yoga – bringing this to the Xbox is a pretty good idea. It also showed just how accurate the Kinect is by showing off 1:1 motion. In a similar vein of burning calories, Dance Central is Harmonix’s/MTV’s latest music game focused on dancing. It seems like a quite good idea and the announcement that it would feature Lady GaGa makes me think it will sell gangbusters. Also announced for the Kinect was a Star Wars lightsaber game and a new version of Forza which will use Kinect.

And as the show was wrapping up, Don Matrick, Microsoft’s Senior VP, came out with a new design for the Xbox 360 which is quieter, cooler, smaller and contains integrated wireless and a 250gb hard drive. Even better was the news that it will be out some time this week.

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Overall Microsoft showed off some pretty good games at the start. All of them look really, really good. However, I’m not quite as keen with the new Kinect stuff. As a device it looks like it could be quite fun, but all the games are not really that interesting. Its going to be up to the other third party developers to make games to really take advantage of it. But many of the Xbox’s big games will be shown at the EA and Ubisoft conferences later today.

Write-ups of all the conferences will be on the site at various points during the week

(Gametrailers will be having all the trailers and gameplay from the live events up all week and eventually the complete streams later if you want to watch. Thanks to Joystiq, Destructoid and IGN for most of the pictures and Giant Bomb for the reference live blog)

Gearbox, I am Slightly Disappointed – Borderlands DLC

Before I get into this let me say that Borderlands is a brilliant game mixing the genres of RPG and shooter into a fun co-op experience. It was my number 1 game of last year. However, I feel Gearbox may have dropped the ball on the 2nd and 3rd DLC.

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So Zombie Island of Dr Ned was pretty good. Nice new area, some pretty cool enemies (Were-Skag! In a Straw Boater!) and more of the Borderlands humour. It felt like a true deleted scene, something Gearbox had in the drawer while they were making Borderlands but wasn’t quite there when Randy Pitchford came down and told them to get the thing sent off to be printed to disks. Its just a continuation of all the cool things that made Borderlands good. I wrote my review on the old site and it was reprinted on geeks.co.uk.

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Mad Moxi’s Underdome was just a catastrophe. It was just stupid – focusing on the combat which isn’t quite Borderlands best point (its the RPG and loot-lust thats the main bit). On top of that, all of the challenges are not only really, REALLY hard (just ask Giles) but also monotonous. Its simply a hard slog to get through all of the parts in order to get the achievements. I still haven’t gone through this DLC pack due to these reason, and Giles only got through it via godlike patience and by utilising the split screen mode to lower the difficulty. Jeff Gerstmann of Giant Bomb also found issues with the pack, giving it two stars out of five and saying:

“These are nice benefits, especially for players who have hit the level cap and are looking for something–anything–that will let them advance. But everything in the Underdome is a total hassle, and that gets old fast.”

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So onto the Secret Armoury of General Knox and at first glance it seems to have all the required features – level cap increase, new cars, new guns and more quests. And those parts are pretty good. I’ve only really done the first couple of quests but it was a serious pain. In the first area, before you really seen much, you encounter your first set of new enemies, the Crimsion Assassin’s. These girls were hard to take down in solo play, even as the basic versions. But its the named boss that is among them that is the true pain – I actually had to trap her on a piece of scenery before slamming a load of grenades on top of her to kill her. Later on you have to fight through a road block, which almost made me turn off the game due to the difficulty. In solo, the difficulty is far too high leading to some very frustrating sections. I just hope that co-op is better.

The thing is, the rest of it is actually brilliant. Scooter, one of the best characters from the main game, is back and in the spotlight. In fact the entire thing is funnier even after 5 minutes play. Its just a shame the first taste is just a bit bitter.