The Video Game Awards 2011

On Saturday night, all eyes were on Spike TV as it hosted it’s annual Video Game Awards. Less of an actual award show and more of a huge marketing stunt for multiple publishers, the 2011 VGAs was heavy on the random celebrity appearances and world exclusives but light on awarding achievement. Nevertheless, take the show for what it is – a good place to see new video game content – and this year’s VGAs did promise some exciting new stories. Prior to the show, companies were hyping their fans by claiming new IPs and titles were to be revealed, making us almost forget that Charlie Sheen was handing out an award (yeah, I don’t know either). And with only minutes to go, one of the big stories of the night, that being the future of Metal Gear Solid: Rising was spoilt online with news outlets managing to get early scoops thanks to the trailer leaking. It then became a matter of whether or not the newly born rumours were true.

But kicking things off were Sony and Naughty Dog whose world exclusive trailer for brand new IP, The Last of Us, sent people into a frenzy. The graphics, as you expect from such a praised developer, were stunning and later claimed to be running in real time from the PS3 for which this game is destined for. Joel and Ellie, one a middle-aged man and the other a teenage girl, are scavenging what they can from an abandoned house when they’re attacked by humans ravaged with some kind of disease. They look mutated and it’s unknown as to whether they’re zombies in the traditional sense but it sure looks like The Last of Us will fall in the zombie/survival horror genre. The end of video sees the two burst out into the street which over looks a city that has been reclaimed by nature. Think I Am Legend. But if you do, prepare to be flamed in forums because this game is proving quite divisive despite so little details. The optimists are quick to say how it’ll be the greatest thing ever with pessimists firing back with sighs of how it’s just another zombie game, ripping off Will Smith’s 2007 hit. And while I am one of those bored with zombie games who did notice similarities with I Am Legend, the important factor is that it’s being developed by Naughty Dog, a studio proven themselves to be more than capable at delivering a fantastic narrative experience. Despite a promotional campaign suggesting otherwise, Dead Island wound up being just another zombie game so it’s understandable for gamers to be concerned but Naughty Dog certainly are a studio who seriously could change the way we play these types of games.

Next up was BioWare who first showed off some more footage from Mass Effect 3 with Shepard and his crew fighting a reaper. It looked very much in-game and a great mix of action and short story sequences that is making the wait between now and March 2012 so much harder. Then came BioWare’s big new game, the next thing to come out of the studio after all this sci-fi shenanigans. And it was a sequel to an existing IP. Command and Conquer Generals 2 is the next instalment of PC real-time strategy warfare coming 2013 (unless the Mayans are right) and the trailer didn’t offer a great deal of info other than it’ll be using the Frostbite 2 engine which currently powers Battlefield 3. So at least we know it’ll look gorgeous. I’m sure RTS fans were delighted but I was a bit disappointed, not being a fan of the genre. I wasn’t expecting any particular title from BioWare but am a little surprised that they’re taking on an RTS. I presume EA are hoping the Canadian developers can sprinkle a bit of their magic onto a once forgotten off shoot of a franchise, bringing it back to profitable status. I do worry that EA are relying on BioWare a bit too much and wonder what other types of games will we be seeing in the years to come from a company whose strengths lie elsewhere. But who knows, the RTS genre could be a perfect fit for them.

The next game that caught my eye was Alan Wake’s American Nightmare, a downloadable action adventure game first mentioned back in May. Then it had no name but was definitely not Alan Wake 2 and from the looks of it, this isn’t. In AWAN, Wake is fighting against his evil double, Mr. Scratch, who is after his wife. Naturally, Wake isn’t too pleased at the idea so must stop him using the same combat mechanics as the first game where you shine light onto enemies to burn off the evil, then blow them away with a firearm. Mechanics that I really enjoyed and am really pleased are making a come back. It looks as if Remedy are taking things less seriously with this game and adding in easier to follow storyline too. The other thing about this game is how its an Arcade title instead of store release and so hopefully will be less of a financial risk for Microsoft who could of easily buried any chance of extending the franchise after the original game didn’t sell as well as it should have. Alan Wake’s American Nightmare is coming early next year.

Epic announced their new game and did prefix the reveal with how it’ll be something entirely new and different from the studio. And it sure did look it. With Epic and its Unreal Engine, a certain art-style is expected but Cliff Bleszinski took to the stage of the VGAs and showed Fortnite, a cartoonish, tower defence shooter where the key is to survive. From the video showing teenage-looking kids rooting around old buildings for scrap, there’ll be a day and night cycle with the day dedicate to strengthening and building your fortress and the night spent fighting off zombies (yep, zombies). Could be interesting but tower defence and/or fortress management never quite appealed to me as it has for many others. It’s good to see Epic expanding on the fortress mechanic from Gears of War 3 however and even better that the art-style is so dramatically different for them.

The show was full of other games with the awards bunched together in montages and respectable heads of studios being T-bagged on stage by a dude in an army costume but the game that closed the show is what I’ll end this piece with. No one was sure what had happened to Metal Gear Solid: Rising after its E3 2010 showing. Konami and Kojima hadn’t said a great deal about it with many suspecting it had been canceled. Which was true, according to Andriasang but that clearly didn’t last long because the game has now been given a different title of Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. Gone is the Solid and storyline set between MGS2 and 4 with Revengeance now taking place after the fourth game. Platinum Games are in charge of development and Hideo Kojima will produce so expect the absurdity of Kojima’s stories and frantic action from a team who gave us Bayonetta and Vanquish. Cosmetically, Revengeance looks more like a Platinum title and moves in much the same way. Stealth is to be replaced with balls to the wall action too making the game the kind of thing fans joked about after MGS4 was released. Back in 2008, we saw Raiden change from the dorky pretty-boy of Metal Gear Solid 2 to the ultimate badass that everyone wanted to play. And soon, I heard more and more people say how cool it would be play an action game featuring the cyborg ninja. Bizarrely, in order to get that, an MGS game had to be canceled and reborn as something else. Still, I cannot wait.


Bayonetta, the western way

Everything about Bayonetta, the game, was ridiculously Japanese from the crazy soundtrack to anime-inspired art style. I loved it. But would the leading lady, who shares the same title as the game, have developed such a cult following globally if her appearance was more westernised? Despite her psuedo-posh English accent and moderately-sized bust, Bayonetta was very much a product of Japan. Hair so animated it could be alive and a wardrobe that wouldn’t keep her warm let alone protected from killer angels could have been plucked from any popular Manga but concept artist Wesley Burt proposed to Sega a number of western orientated alternatives for Ms. B while the game was still being developed (via Kotaku). As history states, none where picked up or changed the finished product one iota which is a shame because they’re pretty cool. Especially the belted badass top left of the image above.

I’m not sure how jarring, if at all, having a very westernised character in an incredibly Japanese infused game would be though. And while Bayonetta wasn’t particularly original she did have a few unique qualities about her whereas some of the designs above could be better suited for id’s Rage or a fantasy MMORPG. But they’re still awesome and raise some interesting questions about character art and the big difference between regions. One thing that stays the same no matter what territory it seems is the appeal of a woman in glasses as Burt’s designs show. I doubt they’re prescription lenses though…

The necessity of Lara’s reboot

When a franchise of any sort becomes a little stale, there are usually two choices. The first is to take the Activision route; cancel it or ‘put it on hold’. Another option is to wipe the slate clean and start again with a potentially life-saving reboot. For Crystal Dynamics, the only real decision for one of their biggest IPs was the latter and that’s why the next Tomb Raider is being receiving a complete overhaul of ideas rather than letting a once mighty star fall deeper into the bargain bin.

In a conversation with Edge magazine, CD studio head Darrell Gallagher spoke of the necessity to make a serious reboot: “Lara had hit her apex in how she was before, and we didn’t really feel we could take that any farther. It was a chance to look at everything again, bring new people in who had been interested in the franchise before but didn’t feel like Lara was modern enough.” It’s interesting that he suggested Lara wasn’t modern enough. The over-sexualised female lead is fast becoming a joke for games with more realistic characters like Faith from Mirror’s Edge and Portal‘s Chell being championed as the way forward. There’s a common debate over Bayonetta who is often portrayed as a sex object yet her dialog in-game alludes to her being the one in charge of her sexuality. Regardless of my obvious tangent, as a character and the incredibly dated use of look-a-like models, Lara is old and people are noticing.

That being said, changing her completely wouldn’t be right either and although all aspects of Ms Croft were analysed, the important thing for Gallagher was keeping the essential familiarities “We left no stones unturned as we were going through the concept, and then kept the right stones. The crucial thing is that it feels like her, even though it’s completely different.” I’m all for change and admit I came to the Tomb Raider series relatively late but if the new Lara was missing some of her attitude and spirit shall we say, the danger would be her loyal audience being alienated.

When Crystal Dynamics first was given the franchise in 2003, the games which followed were often thought of as reboots by the media yet the developer didn’t view them that way. They just put their own spin on it. But this spin received a lot of criticism for being too easy, neutering the exploration element and not pushing the boundaries enough compared to other similar franchises. Over the years the games got better but still lagged behind the new kings and queens of third-person action adventures. The hope of Crystal Dynamics and fans of tomb raiding is that making a prequel where a young Lara is shipwrecked on a Japanese island and must learn to survive, will not only be a great game but one that wins back come credit for the developers too.

Bayonetta, now with commentary

With the arrival of the DVD, creator commentary has become a staple inclusion for many a disc but isn’t something video game developers have tried all that often. Valve is one of the few who have realised its worth but Hideki Kamiya is getting in on the act by playing one of his games from 2010, Bayonetta. The game itself was truly a joy to play and it’s really quite interesting to hear – or read as Kamiya’s Japanese language is subtitled – the thought processes behind one of last year’s best games. Both videos are only short so won’t take up too much of your time and may even rouse interest in playing through Bayonetta again since the likelihood of a sequel is as slim to none. Ho hum…

The saddening of a nation

PlatinumGames ceo Tatsuya Minami has opened his heart via the company’s official site (via Videogamer) about the state of the current video game industry and how saddened he is by the lack of originality. He revealed that one of PlatinumGame’s founding ideas was to “delivery smiles and surprises around the world,” and after five years of dedication from his staff, the studio’s brand has “truly been recognised.” Even with the complete juxtaposition of mechanics, PlatinumGame’s previous big hitters, Bayonetta and Vanquish, are very much linked with their art style and frantic gameplay that have carved a neat little grove in the respective genres.

Minami went on to say how he and his team are following a new ethos, aiming to be the “Japanese standard bearer in the competitive global video game market,” as he’s one of the many voices who claim Japan as a video game originator is a shadow of its former self. To him, games exist to offer fresh surprises to those who play them, however “the current games business is struggling. The ‘fresh surprises’ I mention are becoming few and far between, especially in our home of Japan. Not so long ago, Japan lead the world’s games business, and it was not a stretch to call games a uniquely Japanese speciality; however, now it appears that Japanese games companies have lost their vigour.” Such a change hasn’t happened overnight with the decline in Japan’s influences spreading at least the last two generations. That being said, the games that truly count still have a foothold in the ideas of Japanese companies. Mario titles, more so the platformers, have almost always revolutionised the genre in their own special way, maybe not originating those ideas but certainly pioneering them. Like the eccentricities of Super Mario Galaxy for example.

But Minami is right, generally when you think of video games you think of Western developers and it’s more crushing when it’s for genres that Japan used to excel in. On a global scale, platformers tend to have been taken over by Indie developers adding all kinds of charm and wit to their games. As for RPGs, BioWare and Bethesda seem to almost have equal share in the future of role playing in a video game space with the term ‘JRPG’ reserved for titles riddled with cliche and tiresome grinding. One of the reasons for this is the frequency of sequels that simply don’t allow originality, “Games with new at their core are disappearing. Japanese games that garner worldwide acclaim are slipping away,” said Minami adding how PlatinumGames must adapt to reflect how they’re one of a few healthy Japanese game studios, delivering titles that now represent the country not just themselves.

I don’t think Minami should be quick to dismiss sequels altogether though. Some carry a great amount of change for the better, much like Mass Effect 2. While not drastically different from what came before, it changed enough fundamentals to be original in its own right. And right now, I’d kill for a Bayonetta 2. The first game was unashamedly Japanese and played like a crazy dream. Furthering its ideas in a second game shouldn’t be seen as unoriginal but simply extending an already brilliant concept. Though from Minami’s comments I doubt we’ll be seeing it anytime soon.

She’s as cold as ice

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Here’s the first look at Anarchy Reigns, PlatinumGames’ next Xbox 360 and PS3 title in partnership with Sega. The early screenshots showed not only Jack from MadWorld but a shapely lass all in white kicking butt. Her name is Sasha and continues to firmly place her boot into the posterior of, well, anyone standing near her. When the game was first announced, all the talk was about it being a multiple-genre crossover; a massively multiplayer melee action game and how such a mash up has not really been done before. The makers of Spawn: In the Demon’s Hand for the Dreamcast would probably argue such a claim but despite my nostalgic fond memories of that game, I doubt anyone else would agree. So for many gamers this would be the first of its kind and the trailer looks as if Anarchy Reigns will be full of all the best bits from Platinum’s titles. Fast action, crazy combos and a smattering or eccentricity. Sasha is an ice queen or maybe the ice queen, who knows, just don’t annoy her or you’ll get a hefty icicle to the face. Combat-wise, there’s a distinct Bayonetta flair about it which does leave me wondering how this would translate for a multiplayer game. I would presume there would have to be counters or reversibles otherwise players could get caught in a 36-hit combo or worse, juggled in the air by a superior gamer. But on the other hand, imagine the carnage in multiplayer matches, how awesome would that look!?

I wanna be anarchy

The next release from Platinum Games’ recently extended partnership with Sega is, drumroll please… Max Anarchy! Wait, what? Or rather who? Andriasang stumbled upon leaked scans of the latest Famitsu magazine containing sparse details about the new Xbox 360 and PS3 game. The lack of information was due to its discovery being part of an interview and not an official reveal. Sega or Platinum are yet to formally unveil the game. A game that enters new territory for the studio as it will be an online action combat multiplayer (what a mouthful), the first online game from Platinum. Instantly the mind begins to wonder well they’ll do since tackling a highly competitive genre is difficult even for veterans but Producer Atsushi Inaba feels they have something special; a massively multiplayer melee fighting action game. The word massively doesn’t necessarily mean MMO size either. Inaba said they’ll be a large number of players, not endless.

It’s unclear as to who or what Max Anarchy is but Inaba did say that MadWorld star Jack will be a playable character and that the game consists of a full offline story mode as well as the online shenanigans. Unlike MadWorld, Max Anarchy will be in colour not black, white and red but similar to the ultra violent Wii game, the core mechanic is fighting. Free-for-alls, group fights and cooperative combat were all mentioned by Inaba who believes that a massively multiplayer melee fighting action game doesn’t exist due to complications with online play but is approaching it as a challenge. Again the producer stressed how Max Anarchy will be a fighting game when asked to describe it so expect combos and multipliers aplenty.

Interesting that Inaba said the genre doesn’t exist yet. In 2005 Epic Games released Unreal Championship 2: The Liandri Conflict which merged melee combat with first person shooting with varying success. Some critics loved it whereas others found the fighting overpowered and underdeveloped but from Inaba’s cryptic comments, Max Anarchy sounds to be more like a multiplayer Streets of Rage or Yakuza as he didn’t mention anything about projectiles, only fighting. There’s something intriguing about a new genre like this and even more so if the combat is comparable to competitive fighters like Street Fighter or Tekken. I’m a little bummed at how the next Platinum game isn’t another Bayonetta but since the hirsute honey was rather nifty with her fists, maybe she’ll be joining Jack as a playable character… Maybe? Platinum Games are aiming for a end of 2011 release for Max Anarchy on Xbox 360 and PS3.