E3 2009 Predictions

May 31st, 2009

e3-2008-psp-go

Yearly predictions, managed to scrape this one in on time. Phew!

I still don’t understand the pessimism leveled at last year’s E3. True, it was less of a spectacle and Nintendo had a rather lite showing and all, but if you cared enough, you’d realize that were plenty of interesting games on offer, as the past 12 months have proven. This year E3 is undergoing a glorious resurrection, returning from the ashes like a phoenix. Of course, I think people will still wage their cynicism over the show, and I’ll still probably love it. So onto my predictions;

Microsoft’s Conference

If I could watch only one of the three conferences, I’d probably choose this one. Keep your friends close and your enemies closer, I guess. It’s no secret that I have a great distaste in the way Microsoft has co-ordinated themselves this generation with the Xbox 360 Even though I personally dislike the way they go about business, no one can deny that Microsoft have made many a smart move this generation to constantly undercut the competition. It’s not PS3 fanboy fury, I just don’t like cooperate Microsoft, but more importantly the exclusive games on the system are generically western orientated in a way that purely disinterest me.

This year I think Microsoft will gear the conference to the same tune as 2008; consolidating their key assets of services, internally produced games and a few key, bought exclusives to deliver a persuasive presentation. I think that they’ll roll out the next phase of the Xbox experience which will attempt to match the approachable aesthetic with a more workable environment, creating a more cohesive package and probably rolling out some surprise new features which accentuate the tweaks. I guess one of those will be to give avatars a purpose.

Their main line up of games will include Splinter Cell: Conviction, Mass Effect 2, the new Molyneux title, Alan Wake, one or two new internally developed games, possibly a shared release with next Valve game and Metal Gear Solid 5 . The latter of which will be another show stopper for Microsoft. As much as it pains me to say, all the evidence in the teaser site points to the 360 conference. I’m guessing that the new title will have some new twist such as being a series of downloadable episodes filling in the gaps of the series. I think it’s a stupid idea to drag the series on like this, but they’ll do it, I just hope they remove Hideo Kojima for good this time. He’ll be there to spruik the new game, so I doubt it. Microsoft will also use their timely advantage to premier videos and announcements for top-tier multiplatform releases like Assassin’s Creed II. The video has already been leaked supposedly.

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I don’t think that there will be many new IPs in their casual gaming sector, resulting in less time with the daffy performances that degrade the very sector they’re trying to market towards. A large part of this year’s casual gaming effort will be iterative of previous attempts, including Lips 2, a repackaged 1 Vs 100 and anything else that got left on the cutting room floor from last time.

The big news will be Microsoft trumpeting their MGS5 victory (it’ll be multiplatform) as well as dropping a bomb on services and wooing fans with with video footage for the new games. Honestly, any video of Halo:ODST will grab headlines, no matter how uninteresting, but that’s their strategy; to steal the thunder from the competition by igniting the noise of their inflated fan community. Overall, it’ll be a well rounded success. Maybe they’ll mention Xbox Live Arcade or the neglected Community Game and Games for Windows.

I cant shake an itch that Final Fantasy XIII and MGS5 will eventually expose teething weaknesses in the Xbox 360 hardware. Kojima Productions last year finished producing a mammoth 4-year project for the Playstation 3, filling up a 50gb dual-layered Blu-ray disc and now they are producing a sequel to that game on a technically inferior system with discs that hold less than a 1/3 that size. The same with FF XIII, Square-Enix is producing the game ground up for the PS3 and then once its done, will port it across. I’d be cautious here.

Sony Conference

This year Sony’s conference will continue to ascend in quality after last year’s good presentation. The justification remaining the same; games. Last year Sony delivered a solid conference, sporting a series of top-tier 1st and 3rd party titles for all their systems and PSN. This year, the number of those titles is set to increase and with the PS2 out of the equation, they can now concentrate on the products which need it.

The PSP Go! which has already been legitimately leaked, will be announced. They’ll have to work around the leak somehow, I suspect they won’t do it very well. Everything else about the system is already known, go out and read about it! This is a huge announcement that will create only rather small impact since it was already a given, no real surprises there. What will surprise though are the number of big brand titles coming for the system. The following should all be due in before this time next year, no doubt they’ll feature in a montage;

Soul Calibur Broken Destiny
LittleBigPlanet
Assassin’s Creed PSP
Dissidia Final Fantasy
Rock Band Unplugged
MotorStorm Arctic Edge
Tekken 6
Metal Gear Solid
Final Fantasy Agito XIII
Gran Turismo
Jak and Daxter
Lunar remake
3rd Birthday
(Parasite Eve 3)

Video for all of these games will be shown, I suspect most will be playable. They’ll all be due in the next year or so, bolstered by a strong marketing campaign for Christmas time. These titles should also plunger another hole for the PSP Go! that is, with no UMD drive, how will players access games? Sony will combat this by announcing that all future PSP titles (including all of the games just listed) will arrive on the Playstation Network for download in time with UMD release or earlier. They’ll also likely reiterate their push to back-catalogue older PSP titles. This will then be coupled by announcing a slew of new PSone games for the service, including support by developers Capcom, Namco and Square-Enix. Capcom already began their push early this week with Resident Evil: Director’s Cut, I think the other games will be arriving shortly, starting June.

They will then talk about managing the two systems and prove their case by reiterating previously announced bundles for the second half of the year including the FF Dissidia and Hannah Montana packs. The latter represents a push towards the tween market, maybe they’ll mention that too.

From there they’ll probably discuss either the PS3 Slim or a price cut, hopefully both. It would be wiser for them to announce the price cut later, but doing it at E3 will only aid in Sony in their tussle for the headline with Microsoft. They’ll probably lose the attention seeking battle overall, but have more interesting content in greater quantity, as was the case last year.

They’ll then likely unveil new PSN games and DLC at the same time they discuss the PSone classics. The next Jenova Chen game and Fat Princess are to be expected. Some mild surprises here, hopefully no more Pain add-ons.

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In the PS3 discussion Sony will focus on their key 1st and 2nd part titles including Uncharted 2, God of War III, Heavy Rain, MAG and the new Rachet and Clank. They’ll probably talk about this purposed LittleBigPlanet web portal and announce some new titles such as Sly Cooper and something else. Sony are meant to dropping bombs too this year, but I’m not so sure. I suspect that more PS3 games will be downloadable through PSN as they begin their push into that territory. In fact I think all of their game announcements regarding PSN will in combination cause quite a stir. This presentation will prove that the service is coming into it’s own, in an unique way with lots of original content.

As for the headlines? Everything I just mentioned can more or less be assumed.The big announcements really depend on which 3rd parties Sony reel into the conference. Microsoft are ace are pulling together developers from all over the place to legitimize their argument, in contrast Sony often boast the work of their internal studios. I think they need to open up if they want to take the show. They have drummed up plenty of great PSP support, if they can do the same for the PS3 and then get developers on stage for a song and dance then victory to them. PSN will be the defining point of their conference, prove why it matters with 3rd party friends. I suspect that their guests will link into their big announcement. I also hope that they discuss PS3-PSP compatibility with their newly acquired 3rd party PSP titles. Soul Calibur, Assasian’s Creed II, Tekken, Final Fantasy, GT…lots of potential.

Nintendo Conference

I’m out of predictions for Nintendo. Honestly. Iwata has mentioned key titles for the end of the year which he expects will see Wii sales spike again. I suspect that one of those is a previously existing franchise, I’d hedge my bets on Pikmin 3 as it makes sense with the recent Wii re-releases. The other will be a mass market title on the same scale as Wii Fit. They will again highlight 3rd parties on Wii. Ubisoft will be invited back in the conference to express their enthusiasm for the new Red Steel 2, Rabbids and hopefully show off the Assassin’s Creed II for the Wii. Yes, very odd that last one. EA Sports will be present as a supporting act for Wii Sports Resort and the Motion Plus, they’d be on for a winner if they invited Peter Moore on stage as he loves the device. Sega would be another good third party to invite.

Zelda: Spirit Trackers will spearhead the DS line up, followed by some curious new titles and the healthy combination of games from Square-Enix and other 3rd party regulars. The montages of video for new Wii, DS, WiiShop and DSiShop titles will feature plenty of neat games that’ll all brush by too quickly. They’d be wise to remind the audience about the Metroid Prime Trilogy and indie darlings such as Night Game, Bit Trip Beat Core, Meat Boy and Cave Story.

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Nintendo won’t announce a new blockbuster franchise. They’d be stupid to as whatever they have under wraps won’t see a release until Christmas next year. I say wait until early next year for a teaser and then next E3 for the unveiling.

Nintendo is the only safe bet here. I think they’ll have a solid showing, and the truth is, Nintendo’s selection of games is just as good as the competition. Their new titles for the end of the year will grab the headlines, although I think they’ll become too bogged down in speeches, product demonstrations and sales reports. I’m curious to why Mr Miyamoto will be absent from the conference and whatever Mr Iwata has to say about company culture. At this stage though, I’m more distracted with the Microsoft-Sony punch up.

Conclusion

Although I’ve just posted another super long post, I think that there will be a number of key surprises from out in left field from every company that no one would be able to predict. I’m not sure if I should continue posting next week as I’m sure you’ll all be busy with E3 news, me included. No worries, I’ll keep chugging and you can all touch base once the shows over.

Mega-Self-serving Anniversary Jib Jab

May 30th, 2009

sack-boy-cute-smile

Consider the past weeklong vacation as a short respite to pace out the writing routine. I’ve been maintaining a steady pace since January and although I could easily keep the flow going, I wanted to just relax for a few days while I round up the rest of the working semester and finish the latest column for GSW. I’ve also managed to clear off two games in the downtime too, which should pave the way for upcoming content.

In a few days it’ll be the second unofficial anniversary of this blog. That is, two years ago I separated my game-related writing from my personal blog and channeled it through here. In reality though, I’ve been writing for maybe two and a half years plus, it’s just that when I made the cross over I timestamped the older content with more recent dates to give the site better structure. Confusing backstory aside, I think it’s worth reflecting on my blogging journey, particularly as I’ll likely be sharing E3 commentaries next week.

A Story of How I Found Some Words

I’ve always considered myself lucky that I’ve been a retro gamer before such a term even existed. Even though I’m only 20 years old, I lived through the remaining parts of the NES era playing catch-ups as the system was fading out, thanks in part to later PAL release dates. Eventually I migrated to the SNES and Gameboy. Years later I finally caught up in the Playstation era while simultaneously enjoying games handed down by family members on the Amiga 500 and so it goes..

This scatterfield history as a player always on the fringe of the latest releases, trying to cover his tracks, ensured that I was always mining for information on past-hit games. I spent healthy amounts of time investigating old games, when I started coming across topics that were unfamiliar and decided to investigate those as well. It was this curiosity which lead to the post ‘The Official CD-I Reference’ on my long-running personal blog.

From there I slowly started to migrate from writing routine diary entries to writing about games. I started blogging about games before I’d even consciously read a video game blog. I just pursued games writing for my own interest in mind as I wanted to not just learn more but to fill a void where I had no one to discuss games in such a light.

Although some of the earlier pieces of content were solely news pieces cribbed from other sources, I began airing concern over a series of congruent topics that I felt were being overlooked elsewhere. Such as; how gamers play a role in representing the medium, the hardcore disregard for casual games, the mix of quality titles for traditional players on the PSP and retro gaming.

At this stage, I still didn’t have much faith in other gaming blogs. The first time that I actually took an interest in other blogs was after landing on Retro Gaming with RacketBoy for the second time, where I spent maybe 9hrs straight reading every article on the site, as well as finding other sites such as Press the Buttons and Siliconera through the portal. Racketboy really opened my eyes to another side of retro gaming and it was from there that I started having faith in other people’s opinions on games.

After stumbling across Racketboy, I began to find my place within the blogging community. From there I began to come in contact with more academic blogs such as the Brainy Gamer, both of these writers influenced the type of content I was producing. Like a young infant I was replicating what I consumed. This second phase brought about a greater critical perception of what I was reading and my tastes shifted accordingly.

Then in July last year I brought out a redesign of the site (the same design you see now). The new design idealized the direction I wanted the site to move. A month after the re-design I was living in Shanghai. The experience of being away from everything that previously defined my place on the earth, allowed me to find my writing slant as well as become re-accquainted with myself in an almost enlightening manner. The process allowed me to think through my future direction and form a methodology to approach it. I applied this to the only game I was playing at the time; Quake and it was met by some kind words by Simon Carless over at GameSetWatch, confirming that I was on the right track.

Since then I’ve managed to take aspects from all of the previous forms of writing and turn it into a style of my own. Last year, I expressed concern about my writing level, and while I’m miles away from the dream, I’m rather chuffed with how I’m going. Proofreading this article displeases me, but I still have a solid handle on my words and a level of writing that can get me into sites like Racket Boy, Video Games Blogger and Gamasutra. I guess GameSetWatch/Gamasutra is more or less the top of the unofficial hierarchy of video games writing, so I have little to fret over.

Writing Voice

With all that behind me, I want to quickly map out what I consider to be the skeleton of this blog as well as the pieces I write externally.

Anecdotal Writing

Games are deeply personal experiences. They have to be, we all have different mental, cultural, and social make-up that colour our interpretations – there is no way they aren’t personal so we should speak in a way that justifies this ideology. I’m not sure how well my writing achieves this, but it’s an unwritten rule.

Approach to Criticism

There is an awful amount of noise relating to what insecure individual might call “games criticsm”. The unanimous part is that there is a lack of it. I personally feel weary of using the ‘c’ word simply because of the snotty-nosed stigma that’s associated with the term in a gaming context. In anycase, there is no doubt that much of what I write can be classified as critique.

People make a big fuss about the methodology towards criticism, when actually it’s really simple. Criticism requires one to explain how something achieves a set task, so all that’s required is choosing what those things are and investigate. The difficult part is making it sound interesting. Games are just sets of rules (factor in presentation if it’s relevant) therefore explaining the rules sets and design, and relating them to a 3rd party topic can be kinda tiresome. ie. Part A works with part B to achieve segment C which is part of overarching topic. It takes a really good writer to weave it well. Oh, and be sure to talk about the game too, 99% of people that attach the ‘critique’ banner to their writing often talk phat air.

Writing Content

There are four self-explanatory areas that I write about, being;

Editorial
Retro Games
Games and Culture – My calling card
Criticism/Games Discussion

The editorial ranges considerably as do retro games. Games and culture is obviously what I am slowly becoming famous for while at the same time trying to avoid people falsely perceiving me as some kind of expert. And of course, study games as texts, talking about the merits of games.

I’ve found that every time I try to work outside of this rubric, my writing suffers greatly. Makes it difficult trying to write for external sources after the news-reviews-previews trifecta.

…And My favourite Posts

You thought it was about to end right? No, not before I spout out my favourite articles from the past 2 years. Sorry;

Retro Review Lufia 2: The Rise of the Sinistrals
Thorough for the time of writing, I was particularly proud with how I handled my write up on my most liked RPG.

Hidden Secrets/Clues in the Resident Evil 5 Trailer
I’ve always felt as though us bloggers are the chief scrutinizers who are quick to react to the latest stories with keen investigation, surfacing any hidden details. I learnt that from Stephen Totilo and I think that this article was the first instance where I applied it.

Super Mario Land 2 and Totally Rad Retro Review
Matt sounds rather terrible voicing the reviews, we just couldn’t work around noise issues with the mic, in anycase, I’m proud of the two video reviews we produced.

DP’s Retro Gaming Compilation Wishlist
During this time I was on a high of unique ideas showing off another asset that all bloggers should strive for; a constant stream of creative ideas.

Watch Morgan Webb Totally Degrade Video Games on the Tyra Banks Show
The language analysis is pretty weak, but again, I came across a good idea, fleshed it out and made it into a rather successful post. I don’t think I like it as much as other people did.

We Place Faith in The Conduit
I just enjoyed writing this piece. I really ought to do another posts that looks at the way IGN stimulates the Nintendo fan culture into supporting Red Steel, Conduit, Nitrobike and now even the latest High Voltage software.

MGS4 After Thoughts
I covered MGS4 quite extensively and through many articles I eventually articulated myself decently. The series is very grey in a world that only accepts black and white. It’s still a pity that people either evangelize or crucify the series.

How Does it Feel to Play a Video Game?
This article represents me finding my feet and summarising my feelings at the time to a tee. Reads poorly now. Second favourite.

Culture Bred Through Game Design
Up to this point I’d made a raw mess when discussing games and culture, this post is the first step in the right direction.

The Love of the Land – Zelda: Twilight Princess
I just love the eloquence of this piece. I hope to follow it up, but I’m bloody stuck again. Argh!

Marketing Stimuli, Previews and Chicken Feathers
This reads like a dog now, but it represented the raw state of mind I was living through at the time. Wrote this while in China, killing myself through meditative jolts of culture shock. I cringe to read it again, but easily my favourite article.

Quake and the Feeling of Nightmare
Nailed my new approach for the first time, rather pleased. Also feel like I represented the strengths of the game, particularly the way the assets take on new meaning in a modern context.

Yakuza 2: The Cultural Dynamite
Finally nailing this cultural thing. Still rather scratchy though.

Downloadable Drug
I like describing gameplay and game experiences, it doesn’t work with all games though, but it worked here.

Play Impressions (And the Rest #1)
There’s a lot of dribble regarding Flower out there, I bloody hate it.

Bookworm Adventures Deluxe – Linguistic Observations
Angled this one well, related to an academic discipline too, which always makes me appear cultured.

Hyper, Print Media and Tips for Survival
I have second thoughts about some of my points here, but still a strong article that drummed up some attention.

Metal Gear Solid Novelization Break down (Part #2 Tangible Differences)
Thinking outside the cube again. I need to submit this to a MGS fan site someday.

Tuition of Curves: WipEout HD
I failed to capture the feeling of playing this title due to my weak English skills. Very difficult to describe, feels deeply intimate and much like women – I hope I got that message across.

Opinion: The Place Of Games In Culture
Yeah, they posted it on Gamasutra, yikes! This post represents the footing that I can now step off from to talk about games and culture.

Classic NES review: Nintendo World Cup
I liked all the reviews I contributed to these guys, and hopefully I’ll do some more sometime. This one was probably the best.

Conclusion

So this is what happens when you become over accustomed to writing disrespectfully long articles. I ought to finish on a high note, so with that in mind, look for more content on the way, as per usual. I’m also writing for another source now, I just hope that I’ll be able to talk about it real soon. Sorry for making this so self-serving. Toot toot!

Prince of Persia Classic Criticism

May 23rd, 2009

prince-of-persia-classic

[After returning to this title for a further play through, the combat suddenly made itself perfectly clear, meaning that some of the arguments below aren’t so much applicable, but definitely representative of what the game was like at the time. I’m not sure why the suddenly clicked for me, but considering that I had to play through the complete game to reach that point where the combat mechanics made itself evident, the criticisms seem valid. Frame this article to the time of the first playthrough. I may write a follow up soon. Thanks!]

I never made it very far through the original Prince. The acrobatics were delectable, but oh how I loathe the swordplay. The graceful display of kinetics is paused so that a two person fumbling act can take place. It’s not a matter of the swordplay breaking the pace, but rather a clumsy mechanic impinging upon a polished one.

It’s almost ironic too that the publisher who bought into this brand name, had similar issues with their own title; Assassin’s Creed, almost 20 years later. Where the climbing outmatched the dueling to imbalanced proportions. I haven’t played to length Assassin’s Creed, nor have I of last-gen’s Prince of Persia Trilogy (it’s on the shelf though, gotta love those 3-packs!), so Prince of Persia Classic comes with no strings attached. I can just jump back into the title, and see if my older self can overcome the flimsy combat.

As you’re no doubt aware, Prince of Persia Classic is the titular, modern take on the original game, furnished with the décor of Sands of Time. Classic was pioneering in a way; being one of the first titles on the downloadable services to cover a remade, repackaged retro classic. Let’s not take for granted now.

Prince might have all the modern trimmings, but the issues of the past are quickly resurrected. Esteemed mobile phone developer Gameloft have done a great, if not occasionally sloppy job at this adaption, mending the melee combat as well, yet the same old problems still show through. Whether these issues can be attributed to the past design or the changes to the new model, I’m unsure (it’s been a long time), whatever the case it’s still problematic.

prince-of-persia-classic-sc

The core problem with combat – and let’s get this right out the way – is the lack of clarity presented to the player. This operates in two ways, firstly it’s not always clear when the enemy will/can attack you making it very easy to misjudge, go for the swipe and lose out. The new-fangled slow motion has no effect at aiding in the timing of blows whatsoever, it paces the back and forth jabs nicely, making it a good moderator of battles while looking aesthetically swish. In terms of the suggested function (allowing one to determine the preceding action of a combatant), what the slow motion suggests and actually services are at ends, causing confusion by contradicting the perception put forth. The second issue is again related to the interplay of the characters. When one attacks, the other can receive the blow, dodge it or shield it with their sword. Once I became as accustomed as I could to the relative combat system, I found that the jousting felt out of my control, perhaps even automated. That is, when I attack and they shield, then we enter a rather shifty, on-edge combo, which may extend 3-5 turns by either player. When implanted in these combos, I reacted almost quicker than I had imagined myself doing so. There was no mental assuredness to affirm the move I’d just input. I’m not particularly sure if maybe it’s my zen like sword skills (I was a sword master in another life you know) or the game itself – the inner-workings of the combat system are rather vague.

The original title was glamoured for its smooth animation, and this – unsurprisingly – stands true today as a glowing testament. Wisely taken, the animation remains unaffected by the change, but much as it did in the day, there are still some oddities about it. Prince of Persia had a very unnatural aesthetic. Many games before the 3D-era, particularly on the PC front, were pushing for heightened realism and as a result created strange amalgamations that represented some form of attempted realism tainted by hardware limitations. Prince of Persia was the polar opposite, it flowed so smoothly that it was unreal to watch.

There is a slight jerkiness in animation though, as caused by the piecing together of overtly smooth animations to the stationary frame. Every time the animation loops back to the default we witness the crink in the bones, and it happens frequently.

Prince of Persia Classic is a mostly well done, sometimes awfully sloppy remake. The new coat of paint looks spiffy and fits appropriately with the flesh of the original game. Sound design is also well done, but like the original you probably won’t notice it much*. The ear murdering menu sound effect must be mentioned and then destroyed as it’s blatantly offensive and overused beyond irritation. As for the rest, the screenshots more or less give you the general picture, I’m not here to describe graphics.

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The sloppiness is unfortunately rather apparent. Close up the texturing leaves a little to be desired. This is noticeable during the cutscenes lifted straight from the original. Unfortunately the cutscenes feel awkward as they’re spliced between two loading sequences which just elongate them, and come off stilted rather than effective. Ah, the curses of modern technology. The text in menus and story sequences look atrocious. For some reason, the transparency is lowered and it becomes difficult to read as by conscious design decision. The animation too can be a little rough. When a character dies on the edge of a platform, they jolt before transiting down the crevice. It looks ugly. The whole production is remade faithfully to the series, but be cautious of the rough patches which can become a slight detriment to the overarching quality.

Excluding the cosmetics, it’s still hard to see why they didn’t properly address the combat. Gameloft approached it, fiddled around, and the end result is better but still highly flawed. Like all of the criticisms listed, it’s significant, but doesn’t damage this title as an essential purchase, and the definitive iteration.

So I’ve barked on for some one thousand words now, yet I still love this title. There’s an innate magic to Prince of Persia. It’s the Arabian Nights for this generation. As one of my tutors would call it “an intervention of this tale passed down for centuries. Prince of Persia is the ideal electronic embodiment which I think explains a large part of it’s appeal; it’s divinely pure in its subject matter. I hold a lot of sentiments towards this game, which I hope carry onto the other titles when I do get around to eventually playing them in full.

Additional Readings

Prince of Persia Classic/Original Video Comparison
Mobile Phone Iteration
Prince of Persia Classic Shows How 2D Remakes Should Be Done

*Did the original PoP even have a background track?

[Pro-trip: You can walk through the spikes, just do it slowly]