Xbox truly here to stay

If you’d like to be part of the next Microsoft product, then you’re in luck because the company are looking for testers for an Xbox 360 system update (via 1up). But this isn’t an ordinary update which tinkers around with the dashboard or adds avatars, the thousands of people picked will be helping Microsoft “prepare for an updated Xbox 360 disc format.” Initial thoughts skip to the now defunct HD-DVD discs but the likelihood of that is slim considering Toshiba, the main manufacturer, dropped the format swiftly back in 2008 plus it would mean all Xbox 360 owners would need a player, which they don’t have and part of the reason HD DVDs died out.

Nothing more was said other than those who partake in the testing will receive a copy of Halo: Reach, presumably in this new disc format and possibly more rewards in the future. While it’s all a little bit cryptic, it does suggest the Xbox 360 isn’t going anywhere soon with Microsoft instead choosing to upgrade the existing hardware. It’s sensible really, over 10 million people have bought Kinect with a good number of Xbox 360 bundles as part of that figure so releasing the next piece of hardware anytime soon would sour this new audience.

Other than having to be a resident of the US with an Xbox Live Gold account, testing is open to anyone by simply clicking here.

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Bungie cracks us all up

Knock knock, why did the chicken cross the road and other such dreadful jokes have got themselves a new friend, that Bungie are making an MMO for Activision. I know, it’s barely even funny but according the the official site, comments by lead network engineer David Aldridge were taking out of context and where nothing more than a joke.

On one of the slides Aldridge used in his presentation at GDC, there was a line about Bungie hiring for an MMO but after the internet blew up with apparent confirmations of the studio’s next game, this was posted on Bungie.net: “An industrious journalist noticed the final slide from David’s GDC deck which apparently proclaimed that we were hiring for a ‘massively…multiplayer action game.’ Ruh oh. Now, in rehearsal Aldridge was convinced that everybody got the joke. It was all in the delivery, he assured us, and he was certain it was clear that he was playfully riffing off of the recent rumors. Unfortunately, most people can’t figure David out – they can’t process him. And we don’t expect them to.”

Surely if you don’t think a comment like that would be understood for being a humorous stab at rumours then it’s a little odd to include it in the first place. Especially now that it’s causes even more whispering and speculations amongst the gaming media. It should be noted that neither Bungie or Activision have gone on record denying an MMO is in the works, just that they’re not announcing anything right now. And that everything you’ve heard so far is purely intended to make us laugh. It didn’t.

Halo HD. Fact?

Microsoft’s most successful franchise is soon to return to its roots in glorious HD according to Joystiq who are reporting a Halo remake is being made. A rumour about a high def Halo has been around for some time and at the start of December, Microsoft commented, or rather, chose not to give any details away by saying they had nothing to announce at the time. In gaming terms, you can take that as a yes. The studio behind Timeshift, Saber Interactive is said to be tasked with porting the game to the Xbox 360 and despite earlier thoughts, it won’t be running on the Halo: Reach engine but something new altogether with new art assets too.

Its release of November 15th this year would mark the ten year anniversary of the original versions launch which is frightening. Ten years have passed since I first played Halo!? In that time we’ve seen an adoption of the two-weapon limit in a lot of shooters and a desire to add vehicular combat to campaigns thanks to the pioneering work of the folks at Bungie did. Vehicles weren’t new to shooters but the brilliant implementation was, particularly on a console.

An upscaled version of Halo can be played at the moment via backwards compatibility or Live but the new game will be full 1080p and have a multiplayer mode featuring online co-op. The audio and now-iconic chanting monks are likely to remain the same whereas everything else is getting a once over. And it won’t be the only Halo either with 343 Industries supposedly working on a brand new game too. A high definition remake would be a fitting salute to Halo‘s achievements so let’s hope these aren’t just more rumours and Master Chief will indeed return in November. Even if it is to redo a mission he’s already conquered.

Now I am the master

Like it or loathe it, Halo is huge. Not as big regarding game sales as other popular first person shooters but the franchise, with all its toys, books, games, clothing and sponsorship deals is something many publishers would love to have (and exploit). Though, really, Halo wouldn’t be anything if it wasn’t for the lone soldier, risking his life for the fate of humanity, Master Chief and the creation of said gaming superstar began right at the conception of Halo, back when it was still a real time strategy game. In an interview with IndustryGamers, Joseph Staten from Bungie reveals how they made one of the most recognisable faces – or helmets – in recent years. Staten spoke of the importance of making a lead character because of its ability to ground players in the game’s world. For a number of years, Master Chief had no name but was always thought of as a soldier whose development was a result of his functionality within Halo, especially when the team decided to practically re-make the game as a first person shooter.

The importance of immersion is particularly apparent from Staten’s answers. It’s clear that Bungie really wanted players to make a connection with the Chief and hold onto that long after the game is finished. Unless you’re a die-hard fan and have read some of the many books and comics, it would be fair to say that not a great deal is known about Master Chief. Staten and the rest of Bungie believed keeping fans in the dark about his back story allows for an even greater level of immersion. This obviously worked and did so very well. The majority of games are all about allowing the player to become the protagonist so if you don’t know much about him or her, it’s easier to apply your own personal attributes to them. Eventually Master Chief had a real name, not just a rank (for lack of a better term), he is John. For the most part, John says relatively little even when chatting to Cortana, a character who became a source or his few comedic interactions. Bungie could have gone down the route of not having a voice actor but instead allowed the Chief to be heard, just on rare occasions. Which is cool, I can suspend disbelief and be a husky-voiced John for a few hours.

The site asked Staten why exactly they went through so much effort in making what is essentially a hand and a gun into a character with such depth – even if that depth is provided by the player themselves. He answered: “Why not? At Bungie, we make the games—and by extension, the game characters—we want to play. We think our fans are a lot like us: they want their time in games to have value, to be a personal experience that means something when they’re through. These shared expectations demanded a protagonist that was more than a bipedal platform for powerful weapons.”

Other successful, slightly ambiguous heroes like Gordon Freeman and Link also come from ground breaking games and do a lot of the same ‘tricks’ that are applied to Master Chief in order to get the player more involved. But their developers have chosen to keep them silent with the reaction of others being their voice. It’s weird, with all the customisation in games nowadays, keeping the character simple in form can provide the more involving and deeper experience. How does the old saying go? Silence speaks louder than words?

Check out the full interview, it’s really interesting stuff.

The best games of 2010: Halo: Reach

Wow, what an ending. I’m not talking about what happens before the credit role, though that part is particularly good, I mean after the mass of names flood the screen. As video games go, it’s one of the finest. As for the combat leading up to such an intelligent finale, Bungie have spent years perfecting the first person shooter genre and made their best game with Halo: Reach. Firefights aren’t so heavily scripted that they break any sense of immersion but rather treat the player with some degree of dignity, opening up the playing field to allow for multiple paths and skill sets. And isn’t it nice to have enemies that actually react to you, running for cover when shot at or mocking your existence if they’re doing the killing? Numerous multiplayer modes help keep the game firmly in the disc trays of Xbox 360’s all over and a loyal group of players help keep this online space a fun place to visit. Yep, Halo: Reach is like all the other Halo‘s before it only better looking and grander gameplay. Is that such a bad thing? No, it’s a great thing.

Halo: Combat Devolved

The greatest form of flattery for this generation of video games is to have an 8-Bit de-make created, summarising all those months of hard work in a gloriously retro fashion. The chap behind such gems as Pixel Force: Left 4 Dead and Pixel Force: DJ Hero, Eric Ruth has turned his talents towards making an 8-Bit Halo: Combat Evolved merging the most influential console FPS with graphics from the saviour of console gaming, the NES. A side-scrolling shooter is how the FPS translated into the world of retro but there are also top-down mission involving a Warthog and some circular bullets. How utterly darling! Check out the trailer after the break.

Hopefully, Microsoft will keep a somewhat cooler head about the game and appreciate it for what its worth instead of following Universal Music’s humourless approach. They ordered Ruth to remove his version of DJ Hero despite the creator distributing it for free without any profits being made or suggestion that the songs used were his own, crediting all the artists and groups. However Pixel Force: DJ Hero is continuing its life amongst the file sharers and Bit Torrent users alongside ripped versions of the songs that Universal were trying to protect. Not exactly the victory they were trying to achieve.

Is Pixel Force: Halo a cause for Microsoft’s concern? I don’t think so. But Ruth’s suggestions for what gamers do to Cortana may be…

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Reach for the stars

Not even a day old and Halo: Reach was already breaking records. Bungie proudly announced on twitter last night (via Video Gamer) that Reach already surpassed the all-time highest record for Halo 3 concurrent unique users on LIVE. Woot!” Woot indeed and with good reason. I’ve only played a small amount of Reach and so far it’s proving to be the Halo game that we’ve always wanted, perfecting the gargantuan franchise. Please Bungie, don’t go!…