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.


Miyamoto ISN’T retiring

The big news last night was that Shigeru Miyamoto, the saviour of home consoles, was to retire from Nintendo. An announcement like that unsurprisingly sent shockwaves throughout the gaming community ranging from those saddened by such news and others (ignorantly) cheerful that Miyamoto would be leaving games. But as with so many things on the internet, the facts have become somewhat misunderstood. The original story was from who stated that in an interview with Miyamoto (59), the legendary creator said he wanted to retire from his current position and take on a smaller role still within Nintendo, allowing younger designers to be in charge. His plan was not to ever really leave the company but focus on less demanding games and was excited to show off his first mini project next year.

Shortly after the news spread online, Nintendo was quick to clear up the potential PR nightmare by issuing a statement (via Reuters) saying this was not true and that what he has said all along is that he want to train the younger generation.

“He has no intention of stepping down. Please do not be concerned.”

And why should we be concerned? Firstly, it’s not ‘we’ as such but investors in Nintendo whose market stock has been rather turbulent ever since the launch of the 3DS which didn’t go exactly to plan. But in the last couple of months, after the price drop and release of Super Mario 3D Land and Mario Kart 7, things have started really kicking off for Nintendo’s handheld. So when the man responsible and who has very direct links to all of the company’s main IPs – the games that people buy Nintendo hardware for – confidence will naturally begin to falter.

However it does indeed have an effect on the everyday gamer as Miyamoto’s influence is pretty much everywhere. Most if not all platform games look to the Mario franchise for inspiration and the Mario games themselves are nearly always superb in their execution. And even further a field, game designers are applying ideas from Miyamoto’s games in titles that you’d never expect. Cliff Bleszinski of Epic games was famously quoted in saying that Gear of War was like Mario without the jumping. And of course, there’s the Z-targeting. Pioneered in Ocarina of Time, Z-targeting has become such a staple of third-person action games that it’s hard to think of a time when it didn’t exist. Lastly, we have motion controls. Love them or hate them, they’re now a huge focus for all the main platform holders and if it wasn’t for Nintendo and Miyamoto’s desire to push the boundaries of video game interaction, we wouldn’t be where we are today in the industry. The neigh-sayers may argue that motion controls and casual games are ruining the hardcore but in reality, that’s not exactly true so their importance is very much valid.

The idea that a visionary like Miyamoto could be working on smaller games that may not feature any of the usual characters is quite an exciting one indeed. The 3DS has the space and delivery method for these smaller games to exist and the chance that new IPs may spring up with of the same quality of Mario and Zelda is reason itself for at least some of the original story of Miyamoto’s stepping down to be true. But whether it’s PR tidying or delaying the truth, the fact is that one day Miyamoto will have to retire and even sooner, younger designers should be allowed to take control of Nintendo’s top franchises though for now, I’m quite happy to see Miyamoto on stage at each E3 to reveal the next big thing from Nintendo. Apart from Wii Music.

The casualties to Gears of War

Discussing the third instalment of the Gears of War franchise at the San Diego Comic-Con, Epic game designer Cliff Bleszinski said Gears 3 will include a casual mode for both online and offline play (via Eurogamer). The main feature in this mode will be an aim assist that should allow less experienced players to lay waste to the Locust threat without becoming worm food themselves. But the mode isn’t available for everyone because if you’ve had even a whiff of Gears of War, you’ll be locked out. Anyone who has played the first or second game or took part in the multiplayer Beta earlier this year won’t be able to select the casual mode. Nor will can they play in the dedicated casual multiplayer channel, giving newbies the chance to learn the ropes instead of repeatedly dyeing.

Having a casual mode in any game makes a lot of sense with the stigma that online gaming has of being an area unfriendly to anyone who doesn’t spend their life with a controller in hand. If only Modern Warfare 3 were to include a similar mode then maybe it would escalate to an even greater fan base than it already has.

But like Mass Effect 3, it does seem a little odd that an easier mode is included after two games have already shipped. Back in May, John Riccitiello spoke of how BioWare are adjusting Mass Effect 3 in order to appeal to the largest market possible. In short, he wants casual players to pick up the game as well as veterans. Though I suppose in Gears 3‘s case, it’s a bit different since the story is enjoyable but not essential to the entertainment. If you miss the Gears 1 and 2, sure you’d have missed out on two fantastic shooters, the first being incredibly influential on this generation of video games, but you’d be able to catch up on the story pretty quick. And it’s better late than never to try and wrangle in even more customers to a very expensive franchise.

Kinect just got Epic

One of the reasons why Microsoft’s Kinect has been so very popular is because of the family focused games but as if to counter that, it’s also been the reason why the core audience has shied away from the device. Rumours have been circling the web about the possibility of Microsoft’s hardest of hardcore titles getting a Kinect game but as of yet, a hands-free Gears of War is still steeped in speculations. Today, they’re getting one step closer to reality with a trusted source telling Kotaku that a Gears game is coming to Kinect and it will be an on-rails shooter. An image has even been sourced of an early concept using Gears of War 2 assets.

Trusted sources can always be taken with a pinch of salt but Kotaku aren’t the kind of site to follow up empty leads and there has been a few anomalies regarding Gears in the last few months. At last year’s VGAs, a surprising Gears of War reveal was planned but pulled at the last minute because the timing wasn’t right. When the rumours about a Kinect game first came about, Cliff Bleszinski tweeted there would be “No Kinect in Gears of War 3,” though didn’t rule out the existence of another Gears specifically for Kinect. As of last month, Epic own the trademark for something called Gears of War: Exile but haven’t announced anything or even confirmed such a thing.

But is Gears of War suited for a controller-less experience? If it is on-rails chances are the game will be a shooting gallery of sorts though the famous cover mechanic would be an interesting implementation. Physically ducking in and out of cover may work like it has done for certain arcade shooters and if done correctly, chainsawing Locusts could be very satisfying. Though to be honest, I’d prefer if it were something different altogether, something new to gaming like Kinect, or rather its success at being a hands-free controller. Classic on-rails shooters are great but this device has the potential to treat the genre in brand new ways. I guess we’ll find out soon enough.

Gears of War: Exile?

Just what exactly is Gears of War: Exile? Epic Games have filed a trademark and registered a logo (via Siliconera) that points to some new kind of Gears of War game. The fact that it has no number would suggest that it’s to be an side story rather than direct follow on from the Marcus Phoenix narrative. When you think of the word exile you think of expulsion and banishment. Maybe part of Gears of War 3 has you play or support a Locust fighter whose changed sides. Like the Arbiter of Halo and Exile is a spin off of that. Or maybe this is some kind of prequel featuring to Marcus Phoenix’s father who was hinted to having links to the enemy at the end of Gears of War 2 when the Locust Queen spoke of him quite favourably. And could Gears of War: Exile have been the game Cliff Bleszinski was supposed to announce at last year’s Spike VGAs? At the last minute, Epic decided not to show anything because “the timing wasn’t right,” and to be honest, I would be surprised if we hear anymore before the release of Gears of War 3 this Autumn since all marketing focus will be on that game. Unless Exile is a downloadable supporting Gears 3. Yeah, okay, I’m speculating like crazy now so I’ll just stop. But I am pleased that more Gears is on the way, whatever it may be.

A storm of misconception and a mind-blowing twist

People Can Fly founder Adrian Chmielarz was interviewed by Eurogamer recently about his upcoming FPS Bulletstorm. Apart from looking stunning, the game has often been criticised for looking like a juvenile, brain-dead blockbuster that is more harmful to the games industry than good. I personally don’t see it and think that Bulletstorm is shaping up to be ridiculously fun which leads me onto the Chmielarz’s answer to the question, Is Bulletstorm misunderstood?: “People have a certain opinion of the game, that it’s mindless or old school. We have an amazing ratio of people who are converted when they touch Bulletstorm. I’ve seen people playing Bulletstorm at E3 and other shows, and 98 per cent come away being fans.” And remember people, words can be hurtful: “Because of the fun elements we have, the over-the-top gameplay, people start throwing around words like old school or mindless. Old school, maybe that’s fine, maybe that’s not, but mindless is something that bothers me a lot.”

Going back to my point about the game looking like a great deal of fun, Chmielarz added credence to my thoughts: “If you want to let off some steam after work and just blow s*** up, sure, you can do this in Bulletstorm. We do have explosive weapons and crazy gameplay. But if you really want to play Bulletstorm the Bulletstorm way, which is to execute skill shots and earn points to unlock stuff, it is one of the most engaging and complicated experiences, but complicated in a good way.” I’m one of those people who welcomes any game that can help rid those daily stresses and would happily argue their place within gaming genres. One thing that hasn’t helped with Bulletstorm‘s public perception is the writing and dialogue that’s been shown so far. Chmielarz promises that there’s more to it than that: “The story is way more engaging, serious and, basically, good, than what people expect.” He then states why gamers are yet to see any of the greatness he speaks of: “Here’s the problem. Imagine you’re at a promotional event for Sixth Sense. How does this guy sell this to you? ‘There is a great twist in our movie in which the main hero is actually a ghost.’ That’s the problem.” Sorry if you haven’t seen Sixth Sense yet…

But like Shyamalan first and best movie, Bulletstorm is said to have a twist of such magnitude, it will blow our (absent) minds: “It’s everything. It’s me, right, it’s in my best interest to advertise the game, but we have a moment in the game that people are going to talk about for years to come. I’m absolutely, 100 per cent sure of that. But I don’t want to spoil it for you. I want you to experience it as a gamer who sees that for the first time. That’s the tricky part.” What on Earth could that be? The game’s marketing has centred around the phrase “Kill with skill” but that in itself has shaped the story into the jaw-dropping spectacle that we’re lead to believe it is: “It turned out our story is in the way of that kind of gameplay. It turned out from the various tests we had with regular gamers that they get so engaged in the story they sometimes forget the skill shot gameplay. It’s our job they don’t forget it, so we try to combat that with the design, but they only scratched the surface because so many other interesting things are going on.”

Wow, impressive talk eh? That may have changed your views on Bulletstorm or add to the excitement for February 25th when it’s released on Xbox 360, PS3 and PC. I’m a hell of a lot more excited about the game now. If People Can Fly have truly made something that allows you to switch off and have fun one minute or become deeply engrossed in a competent story the next, I’m all for it.

New Bulletstorm trailer not safe for people with sensitive hearing

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Epic Games and EA have released a new trailer for ‘kill with skill’ shooter, Bulletstorm that, among other things, looks stunning. All the hallmarks of an Unreal Engine game are present but that doesn’t take anything away from its lurvly visuals. The scripting on the other is something else altogether with lines like “son of a dick” and “pull up your skirt and strap that dildo on,” summarising the dialog shown. After recently finishing a certain famous FPS, the complete tongue-in-cheek self-ridicule that developers People Can Fly and Cliff Cliff Bleszinski are apparently going for is a welcome cleanse to my gaming palette.