Monthly Archives: September 2011

The Battlefield 3 edition: chewing the fat with Radio Wammo

Short and sweet for today.

Last Friday I flew up to Auckland – the city of sails – to get some hands on time with EA’s upcoming games for the next few months: Battlefield 3, Mass Effect 3, Need for Speed: The Run, Sims Pets and Fifa 12.

Of those games, Mass Effect 3 and Battlefield 3 are the ones that captured my attention the most – I really couldn’t care less about Fifa 12, Need for Speed or Sims Pets – so my time was spent guiding Commander Shepard, in Mass Effect 3, and controlling Sgt Henry Blackburn, a 1st Recon Marine, in Battlefield 3. I played one game of Fifa 12 with Austin “Wugga” Sedgwick from Buttonmasher: it was a nil all draw with penalty shootouts delivering a result (I lost one nil).

So, on Tuesday, I spoke about the EA showcase with Glenn “Wammo” Williams. You can watch it up the top of the post.

Leave a comment on what you think. Go on. It’ll give me something to read later on tonight.

Oh, I’m playing through the HD revamps of Ico and Shadow of the Colossus at the moment. I’ll write my thoughts up later this week.

Well Played podcast: the Gears of War edition

The latest edition of the Well Played podcast is up with the usual crew: me (obviously), Julie Grey (@GamecultureNZ), Siobhan Keogh (@SiobhanKeoghNZ), Aylon Herbet (@Aylon133) and Chris Leggett (@Leggetron) and last week one of the games we talked about was Epic’s Gears of War 3, which is pretty good actually! (Actually, it’s bloody good and the best Gears yet).

Chris and I also talked about Xbox Kinect game The Gunslinger, which is from the makers of The Maw and ‘Splosion Man. It’s a game where you control a puppet called the Gunslinger, who is a skeletal cowboy on the hunt for the posse that left him for dead. We liked it but it seems to getting a little flack for not-so good controls, but I think it controls well.

I also talked a little about my trip to Sydney last week where I got hands on with Modern Warfare 3’s new multiplayer modes and spoke to Infinity Ward’s Robert Bowling. I’ll post that interview up soon when I’ve got it finished.

Have a listen and leave a comment.

Tuesday usual: Radio Wammo and I talk Gears of War 3 (and The Gunstringer)

Two posts in one day? Wowsers, that’s incredible.

With Gears of War 3 launching at midnight this morning (Tuesday, September 20), Glenn Williams and I talked about Gears of War 3’s campaign mode today – which I think is bloody brilliant. The best campaign yet – and not a giant worm to be seen anywhere. I played a little bit of the multiplayer and Beast mode tonight so I don’t really have a strong opinion on those yet: give me another couple of days.

We also talked about The Gunslinger, a game for Microsoft’s Kinect where you control the movements of, well, The Gunslinger, a skeleton cowboy who’s come back from the dead and is out to get his posse who did him wrong. You use your left hand to move The Gunslinger left and right and pull it up to make him jump, and use your right hand to paint targets and shot them by pulling your right hand upwards, as if firing a real gun.

It’s a quirky game that works and has a good sense of humour.

Have a watch and let me know what you think in the comments section.

Rod Fergusson interview: part two

Here it is: the second part of my interview with Epic Games’ Rod Fergusson, who was the executive producer on the Gears of War games.

Executive producer: Epic Games' Rod Fergusson

Run through some of the major changes with Gears of 3

Wow, there are so many. Four-player co-op is definitely one of the major changes, then we’ve got arcade mode, which is on top of the campaign mode. The campaign mode is significantly longer in Gears 3 than in Gears 2 but even so, we wanted people to go back and play that content over and over, so we created this arcade mode where you can play the different chapters in the story for score. Then we have Horde 2.0, which is basically a revamped Horde mode where you’ve got essentially a tower defence vibe to it now where you have fortifications and turrets and sentries that you can build, you have boss waves, we’ve got mini-challenges while you play, and a sort of persistent skill level where you initially can only build barbed wire but then you can build up to a laser fence. With Horde being the number one way to play online for Gears 2, we were kind of like ”OK, we need another co-op mode” and we looked at what else was uniquely Gears and a lot of shooters today are human vs human so we decided to let people play as the locust, which is Beast mode, and your goal is to destroy the humans in five player co-op.

And then we have our multiplayer, and we’ve made a lot of changes. We’ve got dedicated servers around the world so things like host advantage is no longer an issue and it avoids things like people trying to cheat by doing lag switching, that sort of thing, and we’ve actually created a casual area inside our competitive multiplayer so that when new players come and have never played Gears before, they can actually go into a special area where they can play against other people who have never played before so they can have that fun and learn without being harassed by hardcore players all the time. And then we’ve got new weapons, new abilities (see where weapons spawn, etc). We really focused on making this game the most accessible version of Gears yet. We realised that, OK, we have our fan base and have our core that love the game but what we want to do now is create a game that satisfies them but also reaches out to a new audience. If you haven’t played Gears 1 or 2, then Gears 3 really is the best way to get into this franchise.

Do you find that a lot of people play Gears just for the multiplayer and not look at the campaign?

We usually have an achievement pretty early on in the campaign so we can see roughly how many people play the campaign, and I think it’s about 20 per cent of the [Gears of War 2] players have played multiplayer but haven’t played campaign. So there are some people who come to it for that but predominantly people come to play the campaign, at least in the past. Something that we really focused on in Gears 3 is that we recognise that in this industry now, multiplayer is kind of king and so we really tried to balance it. In the past in Gears 1 and 2, we put a lot of effort into the campaign and not as much effort into the multiplayer side, whereas now in Gears 3 we’ve really put a lot more effort into that side to kind of raise them both up equally, so with the dedicated servers and the six multiplayer modes and all the features you can get in those modes, we’ve really put a lot more investment into that side.

Having worked on the franchise for so long, how do you feel personally that this is the end of the trilogy featuring Marcus, Dom and the other characters?

It’s hard. It’s bittersweet because I’m really proud with what we’ve accomplished with the trilogy, and specifically with this game. One of the things I’m always proud of is just the values in the game. As a developer, I probably buy three or four games a month and I don’t think that much about it but I know there are people out there who only buy one or two games a year and so when I look at what’s in Gears with all the features, I’m really proud of what we’re delivering to the customer.

We’ve been with these characters for so long and it gets comfortable and when we were first writing Gears of War scripts and we didn’t have the voices yet it was hard to think about what they were going to sound like and now it’s really kind of easier to write these scripts, because you can hear the actor saying it in your head as you type. So, it’s a little bit sad but I think harder, too, is the fact that I do have that relationship with the cast: it isn’t just about these digital friends. I have actual, real friends who are the voices of these characters that I’ve worked with for the last six years and have real meaningful relationships. To know that what was once ”OK, see you in a year when we’ll do this all over again” to now an uncertain future, it’s harder.

How important is getting the right voice to creating credible characters?

Oh, it’s hugely important, hugely important. I’d never worked with union talent before – like true professional voice actors – and having done that with the Gears franchise, the difference is just amazing. There’s such a quality level that speaks to you: you can actually feel it in the game. In the long run a union actor will be more expensive, but they have this work ethic to get through so much and you’re not having to go over things. Originally we did some sample tests and had people do stuff and it would take half an hour to get one line out of them whereas with union actors they work so much and it’s so easy to say ”I’m looking for this” then bam, 10 seconds later you’ve got the line. Part of it is beyond the quality of the talent because I really do think when you look at the talent that is on Gears of War as a voice cast, we really have one of the best casts in the industry. They’re just so good. But what really matters to me is their engagement level in the game, and by that I mean they just are fans of their own characters and it’s not just showing up for a pay cheque.

It’s they come and they care and so now especially on Gears 3 (and we found this on Gears 2) we’d come to them and they have a line to read and they say ”You know, I don’t feel like Anya would say it that way or Anya is feeling like this. What do you think about that?” and they could bring their own performance and bring their own ideas because they’re invested in the characters.

You see that with Carlos Ferro (who voices Dominic Santiago). He just loves getting out there, and he was with me in Mexico where he met 2000 fans and the game is part of him. Dom is part of him now and he likes to represent that as much as he can. I like that. I like working with people where this isn’t just a gig. I like working with people who have a care factor because I’m coming in as a passionate creator and as someone who loves this franchise and loves these characters and I don’t want either to be disrespected so when we hire new people and we bring them in, I literally welcome them to the Epic family. I’m like ”Welcome to the Gears family. This is a close knit group and we’re really glad to have you.”

How hard is it to create such a memorable cast and series like Gears?

It’s hard because you’re walking a fine path between character types that people can relate to instantly versus cliches and so it’s a difficult line, then trying to find those interesting personality quirks to make them human and give them a reason for people to care about them. It’s been interesting for us to have three different writers on all three games and I think each of the writers has bought their own aspect in and helped develop those characters.

Do you have one character that you really identify with, one you have an almost spiritual connection with?

Ah, a little bit. To me I have a real connection with Marcus. I laughed the other day because I realised that I say ”Nice” a lot. People will show me something and I’ll say ”Nice”, I’ll do that, and I realised that ”Oh wait a sec, I think I’ve taken that, one of my own speech patterns and I put that on Marcus.That’s one thing Marcus is known for: saying ‘Niiiice’,” (Ferguson does an impression of how Marcus would say it). “So, I actually think that came from me but when you look at all the characters there’s something about each of them that I really like and enjoy.

Like when I play Horde now, I play as Dizzy. Peter Jason, who does the voice of Dizzy, has some of the greatest ad-libs ever and so they make it into the game, and listening to some of his stuff just makes me laugh out loud. And when I think back to the Maria scene in Gears of War 2 and thinking about Carlos in the studio, I mean, Carlos literally cried in the studio when he was doing that scene and so I have this affection for Dom, too, in the way I think about Dom as a character. And Lester Speight is a living Cole: he’s about as big as Cole and just as enthusiastic so it’s kind of weird that Lester really is the kind of living and breathing Cole Train. Then amongst all these really big men and big personalities is Nan McNamara – who voices Anya – who I found while watching the movie The Avengers on DVD. It opens with this scene of them looking for Captain America on an iceberg and Betty Ross is reading off all these technical requirements and I’m like ”Oh, that’s the voice we’ve been looking for for this woman who can carry off a technical conversation but still have a sexy voice to her.” So Nan was cast from me watching cartoons.

Is this the end of Marcus and Dom? Really?

Well, this is the end of this story and we’ve already announced the Season Pass for the four pieces of DLC that we’re doing so we’re really focused on that, but we’re not really sure what the future holds for the franchise.

The Gears of War 3 edition

I finished Gears of War 3’s campaign mode on Sunday at 8.30am after three days of on-off playing since I started playing it on Friday.

I’ll post my review tomorrow but I’ll tell you right now that I loved the game from start to finish and it’s definitely the best Gears game to date. The narrative is much improved on the first two games. There are some really poignant and emotionally-driven scenes that tug at the heart strings, that’s for sure.

SO inn anticipation of the game’s release tonight at midnight, here’s part one of my interview with Epic Games’ Rod Fergusson, who was executive producer for the three-game series (part two will run tomorrow). Today, Fergusson talks about what he thinks made the series appeal to fans and how he never expected the series to be as popular as it became.

Executive producer: Epic Games' Rod Fergusson

You were executive producer on all three Gears of War games. What does your daily work entail?

When I was executive producer of the whole franchise it was my job to make sure that everything was of a certain quality and made sense, and I’m including in that the video games, the novels, the comics, the action figures, all that stuff. I was really the first point for continuity. I was sort of the touchstone for all stuff Gears related.

And then on the video game side specifically it was really overseeing the project: what are the milestones? What’s the feature set? What are we working towards? Basically working to facillitate everything the team needed to ship the game. A lot of people think it’s sort of a project manager but the nice thing about being an executive producer, especially at Epic, is that I have a little bit more chance to get my hands into everything. I helped with the voiceover casting recording, I helped with the design, I helped a little bit on the dialogue of the combat chatter, so you get to put your fingers into a little bit of everything.

Did you or Epic expect the franchise to be as popular as it has become?

No, you don’t really expect this kind of success. One of the things we did have was a goal when we started Gears 1 in that we didn’t want it to be ”just a game”. Six years ago we were really thinking that we want more than just a game. We wanted to make a world that has an opportunity to create a lot of stories so that we could do comic books, so we could do novels, so that we could do action figures and so it wasn’t just about the video game at that time. When I spoke to the team that year, 2006 when we shipped, I spoke them about how fortunate we are in that this was like a bottle and that we had captured something that was really, really rare, so to go on and not have that one success but continued success is great. Gears of War 3 is probably the best video game that Epic Games has ever made and we’re really, really proud of it so to be able to not only continue to work on this franchise but to continue do such quality as we do so has been exciting.

For you, what is it about Gears of War that has struck a chord with gamers and made it popular?

I think there are a couple of universal things. One is that we try to ground the world that you play in so I think Sera as a planet, we made it very familiar with a lot of similarities to Earth so that it’s much easier to engage with. When we were designing this world we decided we don’t want a science-fiction world of chrome and glass and neon. What we want is something that feels old and feels ancient and feels like a civilisation has lived there. There’s a lot of weight to it: there’s marble and granite and big men – when they slam into cover they hit hard and the dust kicks up. So before we could do this fantastic stuff of all the creatures and monsters, we wanted to have a solid grounding in the world and we feel that that resonates with a lot of people. If you look at the action itself, too, it’s so visceral in that over-the-top way with the chainsaw gun, and how tight the camera is when you roadie-run. That visceralness, that intensity, we call it the ”sweaty palms” in that when you play the game you find your palms start to get sweaty because of the intensity of everything – and I think that really brings people to it.

And third, I think it’s the characters. Every time we do a satisfaction survey with customers, they always talk about the story and characters. I think a lot of shooters nowadays have the faceless hero when they try to make the player the character and so you kind of get this silence on the screen and a lack of personality. Gears is never afraid to show personality and have the characters have character and I think you see that resonates with people, that people are hardcore devoted fans of the Cole Train or of Dizzy or of Baird or of Marcus and people just love the characters for what they are. I think people have a real attachment to it and because of that, it’s one of the reasons we brought female Gears into GOW3. We saw that everyone had a character to latch on to – almost all personality types are reflected in the Gears squad  but we didn’t have that character that a female gamer could really relate to and really represent themselves into the game, so in GOW3 we decided to bring female soldiers so that when they play online (female gamers) they can play as female soldiers.

For me, characterisation is really important and it seems that in GOW3 the characters have developed more?

Right. When we started off in Gears 1 we didn’t have a lot of time to communicate with people about the characters and all their backstories and we wanted to have this sort of blockbuster pace – a summer popcorn movie pace to it – and because of that you sort of paint with broad brushstrokes to get across these kinds of characterisations really quickly so you try to find things that people can relate to immediately: ”Oh, I get the African-American jock in Cole, oh I get the white sarcastic bastard in Baird, oh I get the anti-hero in Marcus, oh I got the best friend in Dom,” that sort of thing. They are immediately recognisable and people can latch on to them, which was great through one and two, but now in three we’ve been able to develop those characters more so they become more archetypes rather than characterisations: getting to show a little bit of that background of Cole and show some chinks in the armour and that he’s getting a little old and he longs for the days of being a superstar again. It provides a deeper meaning to all the characters.

Who puts the most pressure on you for the series: yourselves? The fans? Microsoft?

I think a lot of the pressure we put on ourselves. We look at what the fans expect and what the industry expects and we kind of put it on to ourselves. I think that when Epic builds games we want them to be as polished as possible so we’d rather build a smaller game that is high quality than build a big game that is mediocre. In Gears 1 and 2 we were like ”OK we’re not going to be able to polish that part so let’s just cut it out,” and that way we’d make a better overall product and as we get ready for GOW3 it was harder to do that knowing that this is the end of this story with Marcus and we just felt we didn’t want to cut too much. It was sort of, ”Well, we can’t cut that because we won’t be putting it into the next one” – and there was a lot of pressure to make this the biggest and best game we’ve done, the biggest, best Gears you can do. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to make it the biggest and the best. I’m really grateful for the extension that we got from April to September from Microsoft because we were on track to ship but what we decided to do was rather than add a bunch of new features we just decided to put it all into quality so we did the beta to make the multiplayer a higher quality and just spend a lot of time on the campaign and Beast and Horde modes. We just pushed to make those more and more polished. I think a lot of that six months of extra time really fed into making Gears 3 such a great game.

How hard is making the second game in a series?

It depends on how you define hardest. Gears 1 was really difficult in a sense of how much extra effort and teamwork was required to get it out. When you look at all the risk that was involved: we had a new team that hadn’t done a story-driven game since Unreal 1, on top of a new platform that hadn’t even been released yet, on top of an engine that wasn’t finished yet and when you put all these risks together it was a miracle that Gears 1 shipped at all, and especially in the time frame that it did. For me, Gears of War is one of the things I am most proud – the ability of us to come together as a team to deliver such a product. Gears of War 2 was a little easier because all we had to do was put in a lot of stuff that we weren’t able to put into Gears 1. GOW3 wasn’t as hard from a production standpoint as GOW1 because we’d been through this before and we knew what to expect and how to plan our time better, and manage risk better, but it was harder because Gears 3 is a game of nuance. Where GOW2 was kind of obvious, by the time we got to Gears 3 it was sort of ”Well, we’ve kind of made some of the big things we wanted fix with 1, now what?”  With Gears 3 there tended to be a lot more subtle things and that was harder to lock on but it came out with cool things like the mantle kick, where you can mantle over cover and the bag-n-tag, where you can take a meat shield and punch a grenade on them and kick them away … it added a layer of finesse to the series.

I’ll post the second half of the interview tomorrow, when Fergusson talks about the main changes in Gears of War 3, getting the voice acting right, and which character he identifies with most.

The Well Played and Sydney edition

I did something rather out of character for this week’s Well Played podcast with my fellow gaming writers Julie Grey (@GamecultureNZ),  Siobhan Keogh (@SiobhanKeoghNZ),  Aylon Herbet (@Aylon133) and Chris Leggett (@Leggetron). I actually sang “Space Mariiiiines”, on the spur of the moment, in my talk about THQ’s Warhammer 40,000: Space Marines.

No, really I did. I’ve listened to it and am rather embarrassed about it. Listen for yourself and see if you can hear it. I’ve gone all red in the face just thinking about it now.

We kick the podcast talking about Nintendo’s “surprise-but-not-a-surprise” add-on analogue stick for the Nintendo 3DS. Apparently it’s going to cost something like $US19, which isn’t a great deal but still, I find it unfathomable that Nintendo is mucking about with the design of a not-even-a-year-old console so early in its lifespan. I know a while I ago I said Nintendo wouldn’t do it: but I’ve been proved wrong.

We chat about Resistance 3, the latest game from Insomniac in the fight-against-the-aliens game, Chris gives his opinion on the HD remakes of PS2 classics Ico and Shadow of the Collosus: his verdict is they are well worth buying so I think that’s what I’ll be doing when they come out, and Siobhan, Julie and Chris discussed the Assassin’s Creed Revelations multiplayer beta –  I downloaded the beta client but then didn’t have time to look at it. I think it ends this weekend after Ubisoft announced it was going to extend the testing for an extra couple of days.

But hey, if you want to skip everything else and go straight to the Space Marines start-point, fast forward to 42min 26secs, and be prepared to hear me singing “Space Ma-riiines”

MW3 USB stick: hup, hup, hup, hup, hup!

Call of Duty multiplayer

The highlight of this week was a trip across the ditch to Sydney on Tuesday to chat to Infinity Ward’s creative strategist Robert Bowling and have some hands-on time with some of Modern Warfare 3’s multiplayer modes. Apparently this was the first time the multiplayer maps had been played outside of the recent COD XP event in Los Angeles. A big thanks to Activision for getting me across to meet with Bowling and spend some time with the game.

I’ve never been a big one for COD’s online game. I enjoyed the single player campaigns mostly, apart from Black Ops which I actually thought sucked big time but have never really had the time or the skills to actually devote hours into the game’s multiplayer modes. Now, I’m not going to say that after my hands-on with MW3 online modes that I’m going to suddenly forsake everything and only play MW3 – because I won’t – but it got my interest up.

I also got to spent 10 minutes (yes, 10 whole minutes!) chatting with Bowling about MW3-related things then playing the game: I especially like the mode where you have to collect the dog tags from fallen enemies for the kill to register: No dog tags, no confirmation. It was fun – although the only downside to the multiplayer session was the two Aussies who just refused to shut the hell up while they were playing.

One of them especially loved the sound of his own voice as he was just blabbering on continuously, most about crap. It was like he was the appointed cheerleader and team leader all in one. I was almost tempted to not wear the headset just so I wouldn’t hear his voice – that’s how annoying he was.

I got a pretty neat USB stick in the shape of a MW3 soldier, as well. Someone at work thought he looked a little like Chuck Norris. He does, kind of.

 

 

Game Junkie chats with Radio Wammo: the games are coming edition

Good evening to you all.

On today’s gaming chat on Kiwi FM with the fine chap that is called Glenn “Wammo” Williams we did a bit of a round-up of some of the games coming out over the next few months. It’s going to be hard on many gamers wallets, I can tell you. There are also a lot of games coming out before Christmas with the number 3 in them.

I mentioned games like Assassin’s Creed Revelations, Modern Warfare 3, Battlefield 3, Uncharted 3, Resistance 3, Skyrim and Gears of War 3 but just now realised I forgot to mention one of the games I’m excited about the most: Batman Arkham City. How could I forget that one? Alzheimer’s maybe?

Xbox 360 meet Samsung monitor

Tonight, I hooked up my Xbox 360 to my Samsung 22-inch monitor so I could play Deus Ex Human Revolution while my wife watched the Grey’s Anatomy/Private Practice. I’ve done it before in the past but thought I’d do it more regularly at the moment given how many games are starting to pile up on my computer desk calling out for me to review them.

Everything worked well – I’ve connected the 360 to the monitor using the DVI connection – but I bought the wrong audio connection (one of those Y-cables with a read and white RCA connection on one end then a 3.5mm connection at the other) as I should have got one with two male/one female connection (to connect my speaker connection to) but got one with three male connection. Doh! I’ll look out for another cable on the weekend as I’d like to be able to connect my headphones to my speakers so I can actually have the volume turned up!

It felt good playing games while the girls watched the evening soaps.

Resistance 3: not like Resistance 2 – and that’s a good thing

I’m playing through Resistance 3 (PlayStation 3)  as well and despite only having played a small amount I’m already liking it more than Resistance 2, which to be honest I didn’t really like that much. It plays a lot like Resistance Fall of Man, which I liked a lot, and I like that R3 has bucked the trend of current FPS games and doesn’t have recharging shields for the game’s hero, dishonoured soldier Joe Capelli. Want more health? Find a health pack and use it.

Those of you who have played Resistance 2 will know about Capelli: he was on the same squad as Nathan Hale. If you finished R2 you’ll know what Capelli did and what happened to Hale.

So far I haven’t come across any weapons that haven’t featured in previous Resistance games: the magnum is a personal favourite, especially with its explosive secondary fire, and the auger, which lets you shoot through solid objects without losing the line of sight, is great as well. I’ll play some more this week and give a verdict later on. I hear there is a particularly creepy section involving riding down a dark river on a boat. Creepy …

That’s me for the week. Deus Ex Human Revolution and Resistance 3. Although, Driver San Francisco just arrived today and I hear it’s pretty good. I’d better find some time for that this week as well.

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