E3 Day Zero: The day before

E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo) in Los Angeles has sort of started, with EA and Bethesda holding press conferences today, a day before the big hardware players hold theirs tomorrow.

PlayStation sent through a link for tomorrow’s presser, which starts about 1pm NZ time. You can watch it here (I’d really like it if you did). I’m hoping I can get up for for Microsoft conference but it’s at 4.30am so we’ll see how things go!

I didn’t watch the EA press event (but did watch the Mass Effect Andromeda trailer tonight: I’m impressed and will keep an eye on things) one but did watch some of the Bethesda one (including the cringeworthy opening sequence until the event proper started), and was impressed by what I saw of Dishonoured 2, a game that I’m keeping an eye on.

Here are some trailers of what happened today:

Dishonoured 2:

A reboot of Prey:

EA’s Mass Effect Andromeda:

Titanfall 2:

What are you hyped for from this year’s E3?

Unravel review: The journey of a character made from wool

unravel1280jpg-b7ace3_1280wMeet Yarny.

He’s the lead character in Unravel (EA, multi-platform), a side-scrolling, 2.5D platforming game.

He’s made of wool – or yarn – and must use his yarn to help him solve puzzles, traverse the game world and avoid dangers.He’s small, too, so the game world looks massive around him.

To help him traverse the game world, Yarny can make bridges using his yarn – but as he moves around the yarn unravels, meaning if he travels too far he runs out of yarn that can only be replenished by balls of red yarn dotted about the game world. It’s a nice mechanic that makes you think about the right path to take to reach an objective or solve a puzzle.

Another nice touch is that if you find that you’ve travelled the wrong way or to the wrong point, Yarny can pull on the yarn and get back to a previous point.

Unravel_20160130214434

Unravel_20160130214434

Yarny is definitely the star here and he has a cuteness about him that is hard to ignore. Unravel is also a game that attempts to tuck at your heartstrings but falls a little short of the mark as I didn’t emotionally connect with the old woman who appeared at the beginning of the game. As Yarny progresses through the game, the old woman’s memories are revealed through a photo album sitting on a table.

The puzzles aren’t particularly taxing in Unravel – many of them are physics-based or basic logic – so there won’t be any controller throwing or tantrums while you play and Yarny is a cute character that will bring a smile (it seems, though, EA have abandoned the Unravel trademark so there might be a question mark over any potential sequel).

unravelI know the developers tried to create an emotional story about love and memories but I just didn’t form an emotional attachment to the old woman at all or her memories (maybe I’m heartless but unlocking more memories wasn’t a driving factor for playing this).

That said, Yarny is a cute character that can’t but help make you smile and Unravel is a nice diversion that might not always obey the laws of physics but it’s a game that is perfect for when you want something cutesy and won’t tax you too much.

DragonAge Inquisition: A game that steals time from me – but I’m not complaining

DragonAge Inquisition: Action RPG that is great fun.

DragonAge Inquisition: Action RPG that is great fun.

I’ve been meaning to write something about DragonAge Inquisition since, well, I first started playing it a couple of weeks and 25 hours ago, but every time I sat down, fingers poised over my keyboard, I was instead drawn to the DAI desktop icon, which I promptly clicked and started playing the game.

I think that action in itself says a great deal about what I think about Bioware’s latest action-RPG: That’s it’s good enough to distract me from writing some thoughts about it.

I’ve always liked Bioware’s games – and I didn’t even rage at the ending of Mass Effect 3 – but after playing the first two DragonAge games I wasn’t sure I’d be interested in the third in the series. I didn’t get as deeply involved in DA as I did ME but after a handful of hours with DAI, I was hooked.

dai_review10Inquisition is an action RPG  where the player controls a character of your own making, depending on the class you choose. I chose a mage and if I have one regret about things it’s that I rushed through the character creation menus a little too quickly, getting a rather generic character. If I have one piece of advice, it’s spend a bit of time getting your character just right: You’ll be playing him or her for dozens of hours so you want to be happy.

The game opens with your character appearing from a green rift in time, just one of many that has opened up along DAI’s game world. As you gain the trust of those around you, you’ll face off against demons, templars … and dragons, if you’re brave enough.

While the first few hours of DAI are fairly pedestrian, stick with it as after a while the game opens up and becomes truly stunning, especially once you reach the Storm Coast and recruit tough guy Iron Bull. Don’t rush from the opening Hinterlands, though: Take your time and explore, close fade rifts, do jobs for farmers, collect magical shards. Just take your time.

DA Inquisition is also a game where you can actually spend hours just doing side missions for the people of Thedas before you even tackle the main story missions. That’s what I’ve been doing and it’s a good way to build up your party’s skills as some of the demons and monsters can be quite tough.

It’s also amazing what you’ll stumble across as you explore the land. I came across a giant fighting a dragon while exploring the Storm Coast.  I get too close but I climbed a nearby hill and just watched the incredible feat. The first time I stumbled across a dragon my party was underpowered so was wiped out pretty quickly.

sep_2_-_quiversDA Inquisition’s combat can be as complex or as easy as you want thanks to the game letting you pause mid-battle to survey your surroundings and issue orders to your three squad mates. It’s a nice option but most of the time I just blasted foes in real-time with spells from my staff.

I’ve ready a few people have had problems with DAI – I’m playing it on PC – and have experienced once crash to desktop and a DX Diaglog error when I start a few missions using the war room. It’s apparently an Origin issue, so I’ll keep investigating.

Would I recommend DragonAge Inquisition? Wholeheartedly yes. It’s an amazing game that has set the bar high, as well as issued a challenge to CD Projekt Red’s now-delayed-again The Witcher 3 for the crown of best action RPG.

We’ll have to wait until May to see how The Witcher 3 stacks up.

Thanks to the team at EA Australia for the PC code that was used for this review

Titanfall: The game that made me like multiplayer gaming again

titanfall_screen_1Titanfall (Xbox One, PC)  is the game that has brought me back to online gaming.

I don’t tend to play multiplayer games much these days.  Maybe it’s because I can’t be bothered playing with  the whiney 12-year-olds that seems to be online when I am  (I always mute other players anyway, both on my team and on the opposition) or maybe it’s because my ageing reflexes just can’t cut it with the young whippersnappers that populate popular online game: I’ll often fumble trying to change a weapon as a foe approaches, only to be taken down by another who has snuck up behind me.

I’ve  dabbled in Halo, Battlefield 4 and other online games I’ve tended to give up after a couple of days (and a few hundred deaths). Titan fall is different, though.

The debut game from Respawn Entertainment (a development studio made up of a lot of people who worked on Call of Duty), Titanfall has, somehow, captured me with its mix of giant robots and fast, frantic combat. It’s prob ably the novelty of controlling the game’s titular Titans that has swayed me but every day since the game launched I’ve played several matches a day, keen to level up my avatar. I think I’m sitting at level 18 at the moment, which isn’t that impressive compared to the high rankings of other players, but it’s much higher than any rank I’ve got in any other online games. It’s clearly doing something right if it can capture the attention of a gamer who usually despises online gaming.

At it’s very heart Titanfall is similar to the bulk of online games out there: pick a character and Titan class (Atlas, Ogre or Stryder), drop onto a map, take out the enemies/capture the flags/hold the markers, re-spawn when you die – but it has a notable point difference in that once a match is over, it’s not actually over: The match doesn’t end  until the victors have either stopped the defeated team from boarding a jump ship or the defeated board the jump ship that evacuates them from the war zone.

If I’m being honest, I’ve hardly made any evacuations when I’ve been on the defeated side (which is many times) – maybe six or seven in the numerous games I’ve played – but it’s thrilling trying to make it to evacuation point without being spotted by enemy foot soldiers or Titans. Do I wait until the last minute to sprint for the waiting ship, fingers crossed that I’ll make it on time? Or do I hide near the pick up zone, cloak then hope like hell I don’t get spotted?

Rodeoing a Titan: this .gif shows just one of the neat things you can do in Titanfall.

Rodeoing a Titan: this .gif shows just one of the neat things you can do in Titanfall.

Players start each match as a pilot class (there are three classes available) and the more kills you get the sooner you’ll gain access to your Titan, a heavily armoured and armed mechanical robot that drops from the sky with a ground shaking thud. But, often, I found many times that I don’t actually call in my Titan during a match, despite the fact that I could. There’s something exciting about being a pilot parkouring around rooftops and walls, activating your cloaking device then dropping silently onto the top of an unsuspecting enemy Titan – it’s called rodeoing – , ripping off a maintenance hatch and blasting its innards, causing it to become doomed and exploding into pieces just as you jump off.

That’s the thrill: Not duking it out with several most likely higher ranked Titan, where the odds are more stacked against an inexperienced pilot. That said, it’s great ejecting just as your Titan’s core goes nuclear, propelling you into the air, the resultant explosion destroying the foes in the vicinity.

As you progress through the game you’ll unlock more tech and weapons for both your Titan and your pilot (sidearms, rifles, ordnance), and at first I favoured the assassin’s smart pistol – a sidearm that locks onto a target before you can pull the trigger – but I quickly realised that while the smart pistol is useful against the AI- controlled grunts that make up the numbers during matches (there are only six human players each match: The rest are AI-controlled minions) that usually just stand there and shoot, it’s not so great against human opponents who are more unpredictable, making locking onto them all that much harder.

There will come a time when Titanfall becomes repetitive and I’ll put it down and move onto something else: That hasn’t happened yet but it’s only been a week or so. I’m hoping Respawn will counter that potential repetitiveness with more maps and new game modes. I’d also like to see match making done a little better: Many of the matches I played had Level 35 players squaring off against Level 10 player. Hardly fair, really, is it? Perhaps Respawn can work out someway to have similarly skilled pilots against each other.

TitanfallcockpitTitanfall will probably result in increased sales for the Xbox One – lets face it: It’s one of the few games worth having on the console at the moment – and it will probably have the same effect on other gamers as it did me but with  no single player campaign, it’s got a limited appeal for gamers who love an engaging narrative.

If you want a story-based game, Titanfall isn’t the one you want to pick up. Another downside for Titanfall is that because it’s totally reliant on an internet connection, if your internet goes down – which it will  – you can’t play it. Keep that in mind.

When the game first launched, my games were connecting to a data centre in the West Coast of the United States, giving pings of about 164ms – not ideal for online gaming where you want as little latency as possible – but since Australian servers came online late last week, I’m getting pings of 62ms, which is much, much better, and I’ve heard of gamers in Sydney – where the Aussie servers are located – getting pings as low as 18ms.

Overall, Respawn has delivered a solid, satisfying game experience that will satisfy online gamers and has done enough to stand out from the stock-standard online games out there. Now the job for Respawn is to make sure it supports it so that people will keep playing it in the months and years ahead.

Uodate: I forgot to mention Titanfall’s burn cards, which, I guess, can be likened to Call of Duty’s perks. You earn burn cards as you progress through the game and while you can activate one as soon as each round starts, generally a burn card will come into effect once you’ve died and you re-spawn. Burn cards can range from anything to reducing the amount of time it takes until your Titan falls to extra XP for killing enemies to spawning a group of grunts around an objective to protect it to swapping out a particular weapon for a higher powered one. You can have three burn cards active at any one time, so you’ll often find you’ll swap and change while you’re in the lobby to find the one that will best fit the situation.

Update two: I finally got around to trying out the so-called campaign mode. What a waste of time it is, to be honest. I don’t really know why Respawn bothered to tack it on, apart from perhaps trying to give a bit of backstory to the IMC and Militia conflict. The campaign is just online multiplayer matches with some narrative layered over it, but sneakily, the only way you can unlock two of the three Titan classes is complete both sides of the campaign. If I thought the campaign was worth playing, I’d be prepared to do that but I’m not, so I’m stuck with the Atlas Titan chassis for the foreseeable future.

Funny how things never turn out quite as you expect them to

I haven’t done much video gaming lately. Maybe it’s because it’s the first-quarter lull before games start arriving.Yeah, that’s probably it.

Maybe it’s also because we’ve temporarily shifted house for five weeks and all (bar about five) my games have been packed away in cardboard boxes and are sitting in a shipping container, waiting until I can take them out and stack them lovingly on my hallway bookshelf and in my entertainment unit (the unit under the TV is where I put all my “currently”playing games; The hallway has all the I-might-play-these-some-time-soon-but-I’m-not-sure games).

That said, I took my Xbox One, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 with me to the temporary house, expecting to be playing lots of games. That was the plan, anyway.

When we did an inspection of the house it had a TV fitted to the main lounge wall so I thought “Sweet. We can watch TV on that one and I’ll bring one from home to play games and stuff on”. It’s funny how things don’t always work out as you plan.

You see, it seems the set-top box that was mentioned on the “House list” wasn’t there anymore. It had been taken away by the owners (the property manager only told me after I’d moaned about it not being there)  – and my usual set-top box has a standard aerial connection not a coaxial one, so I couldn’t get anything to work. Even when I bought an  adapter that apparently should have let me connect a coaxial cable to my Freeview box. As much as I tried nothing.

So we’ve got a lounge that has two TVs but only one of them is functional. It’s not ideal but it’s only for five weeks (hopefully less) so I can live with it: One TV with three consoles and a DVD recorder attached. There are cables snaking everywhere. It’s probably a fire hazard.

I’m still living in the land of unemployed, not having managed to have found a full-time job yet. I have been writing regular articles for Australia website techly.com.au, which is pretty cool.  Of the four articles I’ve done so far, I’ve done one on the Titanfall beta, which I loved and I’m really looking forward to the game.

Falling from the sky: Despite being multplayer-only, Titanfall is a game that I'm really looking forward to - and I don't usually do online-only.

Falling from the sky: Despite being multplayer-only, Titanfall is a game that I’m really looking forward to – and I don’t usually do online-only.

I’m hoping to pick up a copy of Titanfall when it’s out. I haven’t decided whether I want PC or Xbox One. I’ve been internally going through the pros and cons of getting either: The PC one looks better and I can still use a game pad with it, but I’ve got hardly any friends that will be playing it on PC. The Xbox One version might not look as good as on PC but I’ve got heaps of friends who will probably play it on console. I’m sure I’ll make a decision before the game’s released early this month.

King LeBron: My son's loving NBA2K14, but he's not loving being on the Minnesota Timberwolves. The team isn't very good, apparently.

King LeBron: My son’s loving NBA2K14, but he’s not loving being on the Minnesota Timberwolves. The team isn’t very good, apparently.

My son’s played more games than I have lately on the Xbox One, spending his time on NBA2K14, desperate to get his character transferred from the Minnesota Timberwolves. He got his wish yesterday when he asked for a transfer: Turns out he was traded to a team worse than the Timberwolves (the Washington Wizards or something? Is that right). He now wants to go back to Minnesota! I just laughed at him and said he should be careful what he asks for.

I’m still laughing about it actually. It’s virtual basketball and he’s so invested that he wishes he could be traded back to the team he wanted to get out of. Ha.

The war of the war first-person shooters

“Different strokes for different folks”.

It’s one of the English language’s most bizarre sayings – one that would confuse the hell out of non-English speakers, I’m sure – but it essentially means that different people like different things. That one thing won’t suit us all.

I like to apply the phrase to EA’s Battlefield 4 and Activision’s Call of Duty. Both are first-person viewpoint war games, both have single player campaigns, both have online components, yet they seem to be the two games that are the most divisive when it comes to which one is best.

It seems fans of one like to slag off the other but here’s my take on things:  If you don’t like Call of Duty, don’t play it. Same for Battlefield. No-one is forcing you to spend time on a game you don’t want or like. Both have millions of fans, each happy with the game they’ve picked, so why the bitching?

BF4Personally, I don’t have an allegiance to one or other. I’ve played both BF4 and COD Ghosts, and if I’m being honest, my favourite Battlefield game is Bad Company and my favourite COD game is Modern Warfare. Neither of them the latest in the long running franchises.

Now, most people won’t buy either of these games for their single-player component, and rightly so as both are highly MP-focused, but I’m not most people and still like to play solo campaigns, often more so than online offerings. 

Here’s my take on campaigns from BF4 and COD Ghosts: They do a solid, if somewhat unremarkable job. I didn’t hate them but I didn’t fall in love with them either. I wouldn’t take either out for a second date .

Both have a silent protagonist, which sort of bugs me about a lot of shooter games. It bugged me back in the day that Gordon Freeman from the Half Life games was mute. It bugs me now. With today’s games wanting to immerse the player in the experience, having a silent lead character just disconnects the player from the action. I might as well be playing as an ice cream cone. 

Ghosts tries to mix things up a little – one of the opening missions takes place in space but it’s too brief, and the remote sniper is great fun – and Riley, the trained dog, is a nice touch, but it seemed to me that just as you were settling in to controlling him and thinking “This is pretty cool”, the control was ripped from you and it was back to the tried-and-tried “move forward and shoot everything in your path” gameplay.

BF4’s campaign was more enjoyable than I expected but it’s still a cliche riddled affair, with stereotypical characters that I didn’t care for (I couldn’t even tell you their names). I played it on PC and it looks wonderful when things are cranked up to “OMG” fidelity.

Both suffer from instances where one moment you have to lead the way and open a door then the next there’s no way you can progress any further until your team catches up – and open a door for you. Ghosts’ campaign also dishes out trophies (I played it on PlayStation 3) like they’re going out of fashion: It seemed like most missions had two or three trophies each.

call_of_duty_ghosts-wallpaper-big

Right, now to the MP. I’m not a massively successful online gamer – sadly, my twitch reflex isn’t what it used to be –  but if I had to pick a game that had MP that I enjoyed the most, I’d take Battlefield’s MP over Call of Duty. That’s not to say that Ghosts’ isn’t enjoyable – I really enjoyed its infected mode – it’s just that BF4 online game gelled more with me.

BF4’s MP  is an assault on the senses, though, with explosions everywhere, voices echoing in your head  and bullets zipping all over the place (generally into my avatar’s body from an unseen sniper).

It probably doesn’t help that I’m not very good at MP, though: I always tend to get killed more than kill. My Kill/Death ratio would generate much laughter and mirth around hardened MP players, but I stick with it, slowly but surely earning points so that I can rank up.

How bad am I? Well, I’m ecstatic when I manage to hit an advancing enemy with one bullet from the almost entire clip I’ve emptied into him. Some people might call that luck but I call it … Nope, who am I trying to kid: It’s pure luck that I actually manage to kill enemies in this game. And I’m OK with that.

I’m not going to dwell on specific maps and all their intricacies – there are plenty of other reviews around if you want those details – but some of the best moments in BF4 were when I spawned into a vessels and manned one of its side guns. I once spawned into a tank and made so many kills it made me giddy … then the game crashed, causing me to loose all my points.  Another time I spawned onto a boat. I shot down a helicopter that time, just continuously firing at it using the boat’s mounted gun as it flew past. It took a few hits  but he just seemed to hover conveniently near where we were. It was strangely satisfying seeing it erupt into a cloud of smoke and fire. Moments after that, I got killed by a sniper.

One MP mode in Ghosts that I like is Infected, where one player starts out as an infected human while the other are soldiers. Slowly but surely as each soldier becomes infected, it becomes an exciting game of cat and mouse as the surviving humans ward off the advancing infected.  It’s a pretty neat mode and a nice change of pace from the usual capture the flag or deathmatch-type affair.

It may be naive of me, but I believe there is ample room in the gaming landscape for both Battlefield 4 and COD: Ghosts, but, I guess, if someone held a gun to my head and told me to pick one or else, I’d have to say I liked BF4’s overall experience more than COD: Ghosts, both in MP and single player.

Not that I’m an expert, mind you. I can’t tell you the intricacies of how each weapon’s rate of fire differs from the last game, impacting on game play,  or how the scoring system has changed for the better/worse. I can’t tell you whether vehicles are now overpowered (although on some BF4 maps I noted that if you didn’t manage to get a vehicle you were pretty much screwed): I just play the damn things and tell you if I like them or not. That’s how I do it.

“Different strokes for different folks”. It’s rather appropriate here, I think.

Game Junkie 2.0 interviews Suda 51

If there is a game designer that fits the rock star tag, it’s definitely Japanese game designer, Goichi Suda.

Suda, or Suda51 is he is more well known to gamers, is the CEO of Grasshopper Manufacture and the brain behind the No More Heroes series and killer7.

He was in Australia last week to promote his latest game, Shadows of the Damned, a game he jointly made with another famed Japanese game designer, Shinji Mikami.

Shadows of the Damned takes place in the realms of Hell, with the game’s hero Garcia Hotspur having to save his girlfriend, Paula, after she was kidnapped by the game’s villain, Fleming, and taken to Hell.

Thanks to EA, I was able to spend 15 minutes chatting to Suda over the phone last Thursday afternoon. He was a delight to talk to.

Here’s the interview:

GC: Suda, it’s a great pleasure to talk to you. I guess firstly, could you tell me how Shadows of the Damned differs from the earlier works you’ve done.

Suda: A: Thank you for having us for the interview. Well, there are a lot of differences. We developed games for the Wii for a very long time and this is really the first HD title that we’ve done using Unreal (engine) so we definitely had to change the development environment, and also this was the first collaboration with EA, which was to create a game for a worldwide audience. This game was definitely difficult and challenging for us, but at the same time, in a creative sense, we had marvellous support from EA and we remained the same throughout the course (of development).

Q: How did EA react when you first pitched Shadows of the Damned? What was its reaction?

A: It was really surprising. We had a representative meeting with EA’s top members and their immediate reaction was that it (the game) was really different and new and something that EA didn’t have. They wanted to start development very quickly so I was really surprised at how quickly they could actually decide on something and move.

Q: Suda, so do you like to be revolutionary in your games? Do you like to push the video game medium as far as you can?

A: Definitely. I think that it is our job as a game designer to offer something new, always, so I definitely keep that in mind, being revolutionary

Q: How does your design process work? How do you come up with the ideas for your games?

A: OK, first of all, normally my style is to go to the bathroom, get rid of things, and come up with new ideas – that was my style. For Shadows of the Damned I thought my style would change, but actually it didn’t, so …  bathroom (everyone laughs)

Q: I’ve heard Shadows of The Damned described as a punk rock take on grindhouse. Is that how you would describe it?

A: Yep, I think that is very accurate.

Q: With Shadows of the Damned it looks like it has lot of light and dark and parallels with good and evil. Would that be a good description?

A: Actually this game focuses on Hell and you basically kill enemies throughout the world but when you venture through this world you actually encounter this darkness and also the enemies are wearing this darkness around them. In that state, Hotspur (the hero) cannot kill them so you need to use the forces of light to get rid of the darkness – and that’s the logic behind the game.

Q: Has this been the most challenging game you’ve worked on so far?

A: Actually, this wasn’t exactly the hardest game to develop. Of course, yes, it’s taken a long time and it was challenging, but the length of the development and the product testing doesn’t necessarily equate to how hard it is to develop. I think the challenge is always to come up with something new and revolutionary. It’s really hard to say but I wouldn’t say this was really the hardest one.

Q: Suda, is it hard to constantly come up with revolutionary ideas for your games?

A: Ah, I’m OK. I’m doing OK. I still have like 40 other ideas that I want to do but I think the challenge is to really achieve what is in my head as an idea.

<EA’s PR person cuts in telling me I have two questions left>

Q: Suda, you collaborated with Shinji Mikami on this game. How was that process for you?

A:  We got along really, really well and in fact some people think that we could be gay, but of course this really was the second time we had worked together and so we know exactly what’s expected from each other and so we understood each other completely, so it really was a perfect match.

Q: Last question, Suda, your games seem really popular in the west but what do you think it is about them appeals to western gamers?

A: Well I’m really glad that they are popular in the western market, actually more than in the Japanese market, but I’m not really sure. I guess when I was young I really liked a lot of different things and I tried out things and saw and listened to different things. Of course, I like a lot of things from the western world.

Q: Suda, thank you for your time.

I’ll get the American McGee interview done tomorrow night. I promise.