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.

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Triple threat

Yesterday, one of the creative directors of Halo 4 spoke to Kotaku about his departure from 343 Industries blaming a lack of interest in the project. Ryan Payton, who previously worked on the amazing Metal Gear Solid 4, joined Microsoft’s purpose built Halo studio to work on the fiction and story development for the new trilogy of games, starting with Halo 4. However, instead of thriving on the potential storytelling opportunities in the universe of Halo, Payton grew bored of what he was apart of. But he isn’t bitter:

“I had a great run at Microsoft. I don’t regret one day of it. But after a few years, there came a point where I wasn’t creatively excited about the project anymore.”

Does that mean Halo 4 won’t be any good? Of course not. No one can be sure of how it will play beyond the fact it’ll be a first-person shooter but from the sounds of it, Payton wanted to make a Halo game unlike anything we’ve seen before.

“The Halo I wanted to build was fundamentally different and I don’t think I had built enough credibility to see such a crazy endeavor through.”

Payton’s time at 343 Industries was spent as a narrative director working closely alongside Frank O’Conner and the rest of the creative team focussing on the story. His work at Kojima Productions on MGS4 gave him what he calls “a crash course on AAA game development,” readying him for the big budget world of Halo. It transpired that such a world just wasn’t for Payton and when watching his buddy Jake Kazdal work on the upcoming Skulls of the Shogun, he began to question whether or not triple-A games are right for him. So rather than continue with his position at 343 Industries, Payton has left to form his own studio, Camouflaj, and is in the process of designing two games.

The breaking of this story came on the same day as Ninja Theory co-founder Tameem Antoniades told GamesIndustry.biz that triple-A games are fundamentally bad for the industry and unhealthy for future development.

“If you’re paying that much [to develop a game], you don’t want to take chances. You want everything to be there, all the feature sets. You want it to be a known experience, guaranteed fun.”

With budget spiralling out of control and millions upon millions poured into a project, the pressure is on to make something that will sell exceptionally well. That means, as Antoniades points out, the risk and experimentation plays second fiddle to, say, building an online multiplayer component with perks. That’s why indie games and smaller titles are pushing the boundaries of video game entertainment and if it works well enough for them, triple-A studios have a reason to follow. But it must be crushing for any creative to work down a check-list of features and giving precedence to a tired mechanic over innovation. What is a little ironic is the actual gameplay elements of Heavenly Sword and Enslaved, two Ninja Theory games, weren’t amazingly innovative and felt as if they were produced under committee. The story and digital acting were however but you did have to fight in order to get to the best bits. At the moment, the studio is hard at work on a reboot for Devil May Cry and have already gathered a fair amount of controversy by challenging the pre-conceived idea of how its lead, Dante, should look. I wonder if similar risks will be seen in-game too.

So what’s going on with triple-A games? They used to be the epitome of game design and what many aspired to be a part of. Sales of said games still range in the millions and profits are good but talk of them being a safe bet and subsequently uninspired is becoming louder and louder. Both Payton and Antondiades may be less than happy with the triple-A development scene but Take-Two and Ubisoft are believe that anything less just isn’t profitable and therefore not worth the time to make. And it’s comments like these which drive the idea of big budget games being little more than a milking of a market, not the furthering of an industry. But the reality is, it really might just be too expensive to make a game and for it not to attempt to sit in the triple-A category gathering triple-A sales. At least not for disc-based console releases as the Limbos, Angry Birds and Minecrafts of the world are doing just fine in the relatively low cost area of digital downloadables.

The next generation in portables

Big news! Sony have announced the PSP2 is in development! But then we already knew that since for months, information has leaked about its existence and features. Today, or last night in America, Sony held a press conference in Tokyo to officially reveal their successor to the ill-fated PSP and the rumours where right; Wifi and 3G connectivity, dual analog stick, OLED touchscreen, tilt controls, touch sensitive back, flash memory for games and two cameras – one on the front and the other on the back of a machine larger than its competition. For now, Sony are calling it the NGP or Next Generation Portable which fits amply with their marketing techniques of latter years. Remember when the PS3 was launching and they said the next generation doesn’t start until they say so? It’s a similar deal with the PSP2 whose specs are sounding like a considerable leap into the next generation. Sony are claiming it’s capable of producing PS3 quality games and before attendees at the conference could scoff at such claims, they showed it doing just that. Hideo Kojima proudly displayed Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots which used direct art assets from the PS3 game and looked almost as good. Backwards compatibility is included so original PSP and PS1 games are via download (probably have to buy them again then) and a whole host of Sony franchises will also be headed to the portable. Such as:

Uncharted
LittleBigPlanet
Resistance
Killzone
WipeOut
Hustle Kings
Hot Shot Golf

With third party support from the likes of Konami, Activision and Capcom including:

Metal Gear Solid 4
Lost Planet
Yakuza 4
Call Of Duty

The next generation in portables? Where have we heard that before? The Nintendo 3DS. So who will win, who’ll be the next king of portables? Nintendo, Sony? From the type of games shown by both parties it looks like they’re again going after different audiences with some overlap to keep things interesting. Nintendo still have the family gamer in their sights with more hardcore titles backing up those aimed at a wider market. With the Street Fighter IV and Resident Evil there remains Nintendogs + Cats and Pilotwings Resort. Deals with movie studios have so far been focused on family film though of course, other 3D-centric flicks will no doubt be coming.

From the list of games revealed by Sony, the PSP2 looks to be, like its predecessor, all about the traditional gamer with experiences potentially found on home consoles. That may not have worked too well for the original PSP but then the PSP2 has something gamers have been begging for; a second analog stick. With it, titles won’t only look like those on the PS3 but play like them too. I can’t see the touchscreen being used for a great deal of things when the way you hold the PSP2 seems designed for two hands either side of it but its inclusion means nothing gets left out of the second PSP and all options are open to developers.

What is a little troubling is the way games appear to be distributed. It sounds like they’ll be download only with Sony saying “NGP adopts a new game medium, a small flash memory based card, dedicated for NGP software titles. Taking advantage of the flash memory feature, this innovative card can store the full software titles plus add-on game content or the game save data directly on to the card.” The concern is what kind of marketplace this would create. Less deals and no preowned games is good news for publishers but not so much for the consumer. Who knows, we could be surprised yet and nothing has been confirmed on that side so no need to worry. Early reports are suggesting a battery life of around five hours max (as they are with the 3DS) but no price or date has been mentioned other than Winter in Japan. It’s great to see a handheld like this with such promise and one that looks to offer something different and complimentary to the others. Colour me interested!

UPDATE: More reports are coming in about the ‘new memory card’ feature of the NGP which suggests it’ll be more like the DS with cards sold in stores. The PlayStation Store will of course be present but hopefully won’t be the only way to obtain titles.

Jiggle on the move with Dead or Alive 3DS

If anyone where to include breast-jiggling motion-controls for the Nintendo 3DS it would be Tecmo. An investor who had some hands-on with Dead or Alive on the 3DS overheard a Tecmo rep state that shaking the handheld would cause the boobies to bounce. It moved him so much he wrote about it in a personal blog. Will Konami include a similar feature in Metal Gear Solid Snake Eater 3D? One of the many easter eggs in Metal Gear Solid 4 was to shake the Sixaxis to wobble Rosemary’s funbags so there’s no reason why Kojima wouldn’t follow Tecmo and utilise the motion-controls for portable debauchery. Still kinda odd though.

{Thanks Siliconera}

Metal Gear Solid Rising E3 2010 debut trailer

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Once again, Hideo Kojima and his merry band of developers have created one hell of a trailer for an upcoming game. Microsoft’s E3 press conference revealed the first gameplay footage of Metal Gear Solid: Rising featuring the once hated Raiden as the lead character. Now of course he’s a complete badass and knows how to use a sword – much to the discomfort of those around him. For an Xbox 360 game this looks very close if not identical to Metal Gear Solid 4 on the PS3 in terms of graphics but is appears to focus solely on balletic hack and slash instead of sneaking and shooting. Direct control over the angle of slicing is shown during specific segments of slowdown so some kind of focus metre or special skill is likely to be included. Metal Gear Solid: Rising is a lot more violent than previous MGS games that nearly always allowed for a peaceful solution. I’m not sure if Raiden remembers what the word peace means! Check it out and hopefully soon we’ll get an official release date.

Heavy Rain is better than you

I can’t wait for Heavy Rain. From everything I’ve seen and read, it looks to scratch that itch left behind from the cliffhanger ending of Shenmue II. But to suggest it’s anything but a game seems a little pretentious to me. Not to David Cage however if his comments to Destructoid‘s Nick Chester are anything to go by:

Heavy Rain is about playing with a story almost in a physical sense, changing it, twisting it, discovering it, making it unique, making it yours.”

Fair enough, other games have done such a thing and been successful with it. Chester likened Heavy Rain to an interactive movie (for lack of a better term) which Cage initially agreed with:

“Using the term ‘interactive movie’ to describe Heavy Rain has been a tricky question from the beginning. It is in many ways what Heavy Rain is – a visually told story that the player can affect by his actions.”

Again, fair comment but of course the words ‘interactive movie’ are somewhat of a curse for gamers who are yet to experience a decent one. Metal Gear Solid 4 has often been referred to as a playable anime which didn’t quite fit as it’s really just a game with long cut scenes. Heavy Rain seems like a movie that we get to manipulate. Isn’t that just another term for interactive movie? Not quite:

“In Heavy Rain, the player is in control second to second,” says Cage, “he tells the story through is actions. All this is done in a very fluid, seamless way, with no cut scenes, no big flashing sign to make decisions, and this is what makes the game really unique.”

Heavy Rain is not a videogame anymore in my mind because it breaks with most of the traditional paradigms, but it’s fully interactive. If the format becomes successful, we will probably have to find a different name for this type of experience.”

I have no problem with Cage and his developers shouting their accomplishments and championing their title because of everything new it brings to the world of videogames. But distancing it from the medium sounds a little conceited. Heavy Rain sounds awesome, looks beautiful and has the ability to make even the seemingly mundane tasks appear fun all while delivering a engrossing story. Is it a videogame? Well that depends on where the lines of games and interactive experiences cross. Is it an interactive experience? Well that depends on whether David Cage feels such a phrase is fitting.

Play Call of Duty: Classic from tomorrow!

Last night I finally completed the single player campaign of Modern Warfare 2 and thought it was a great ending to a highly entertaining game. There were moments of fairly cheap AI but not enough to hamper my time and It was nice to see similar tricks and interactivity that Metal Gear Solid 4 promoted. This leaves me one day to relax my thumbs and catch my breath before jumping back into another finely crafted Infinity Ward adventure – Call of Duty: Classic. Kotaku reports that from tomorrow, Xbox Live Arcade will offer the originator of the franchise for 1200 MS Points. Shortly after on Thursday, PS3 owners will equally treated with appearing on PSN for a slightly cheaper sum of around £9. Special edition owners of MW2 will already have access codes for CoD:C but those of us who didn’t fancy night vision goggles or a making of DVD, can spend around a tenner and may even have a bit of change too.