Shepard’s last hurrah

You’d best say your goodbyes to Commander Shepard next March as Mass Effect 3 will be his last appearance in a video game. BioWare ceo Ray Mazuka was asked as this year’s Gamescom by PC Gamer whether Mass Effect 3 will be the last game set in that universe. Echoing comments from previous interviews, Mazuka once again confirmed the company’s desire to further the fiction and world they so painstakingly created:

“We have ambitious plans to continue this franchise going forward. Mass Effect 3 is simultaneously a couple of different things; a thrilling and epic conclusion to the trilogy as we promised our fans we’d provide for Commander Shepard, but it’s also a brand new beginning – it’s an entry point for new fans and it’s also a brand new beginning.”

When asked if Shepard would appear in any more Mass Effect games, producer Michael Gamble said how ME3 will complete the Commander’s storyline and therefore will not be making a comeback.

With the level of detail put into the first two games, following one Commander and their loyal team is just a tiny part of a much larger story. Sure, whether Shepard succeeds or not has greater consequences on the universe as a whole but, like Star Wars, the lesser characters are equally if not more interesting than the one in charge. The loyalty missions from Mass Effect 2 and the franchise’s extensive codex scratch the surface on a vast number of species and personalities all ripe expanding on in someway. I’m curious to find out just how the third game in series can successfully draw in a large number of newcomers but it’s something both BioWare and EA have said a few times now so there’s something going on and I doubt it’s just the optional Kinect features revealed at E3.

Could this latest statement from BioWare add a little more credence to the rumours of a multiplayer co-op shooter set in the universe? It’s been lingering for some time now and was expected to be announced at last year’s Spike VGA’s but never showed up. Some claim it’s an additional mode in Mass Effect 3 whereas others say it’ll be a standalone product. I think it’s safe to say that no one really has any idea. Other than BioWare. And EA. So a couple of people then…

The force unleashed on Star Wars Kinect

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Praise be! After pondering for many a minute whether what Microsoft showed for Star Wars Kinect was real or another concept demo (my polite way of saying fake), CVG captured real people really playing the game. For real.

The footage shows two people playing through the live demo from Microsoft’s press conference on Monday proving the competence of the game, even if it is a little laggy in places. But that’s to be expected from a game still in development that uses motion controls. The bigger question is not how well it will work as it’s bound to be tighter before it ships this Christmas but who the game is aimed at. It was pegged as one of the hardcore experiences for Kinect yet from the graphics and what we can understand from the gameplay, it’s quite a casual kind of game. That’s not bad and I even think someone referred to Star Wars Kinect as the peripheral’s Infinity Blade which may not be a bad thing either. Taking away the running around and leaving just lightsabre battling and force powers as if some kind of semi on-rails brawler sounds like a lot of fun to me.

Kinect’s triple A future

With only relatively small number of titles available and fewer still being announced for the future, Microsoft’s Kinect has no problems when it comes to selling. So far, somewhere in the region of 12 million units have been sold since its launch last November with eager modders, casual enthusiasts and tech-geeks making up a large percentage of that audience. Those known as the hardcore aren’t as embracing as the rest but that could be soon about to change thanks to Microsoft Games Studios Vancouver. One of their artists, Shawn Woods, posted on his personal blog (via NeoGAF) how the studio strategy has changed from social games filled with microtransactions to “developing a core AAA shooter experience using Kinect.”

If this is true, and considering it’s from a member in-house the likelihood is high, it would be the second core game said to be headed to Kinect. The first being whatever Epic is allegedly working on with the Gears of War engine. Kotaku was given a screenshot which supposedly showed Marcus Phoenix mimicking the actions of a human player filmed by Kinect. No one quite knows how much truth can be harvested from it and exactly what the game will eventually be but MGS Vancouver are very openly saying they’re making a shooter and their site claiming a devotion to making games for core gamers.

The big question is how a shooter will control via Kinect and if it’ll be a comfortable experience or one that gamers wish they had a controller for. One title that may be able to answer this is The Gunslinger. In it, you control a puppet on strings with one hand and shoot enemies using the other by shaping the hand like a gun. The trailer look as if it could be a lot of fun but the art style gives an impression that The Gunslinger is more quirky than core. Not a bad thing at all if that’s what you’re going for but from the sounds of it, MGS Vancouver are striving for something more in the realms of a military shooter. I could be way off and am only jumping to such conclusions because that’s the first thing people think of when you say “AAA core shooter” and their site shows two dubious looking chaps overlooking the Vancouver skyline. Just a nice image for the site maybe? Maybe.

Since E3 is just over a month away there’s a strong possibility we’ll see some more information and hopefully more on Kinect’s future developments in general. Like some real in-game footage of that Star Wars title and whether or not Infinity Blade will hobble onto Kinect as it did begin its life there.

The Nintendo Stream

UPDATE: Nintendo have officially announced their next home console code named Project Cafe and said that it won’t be out before April 2012.

No sooner had Shigeru Miyamoto confirmed the existence of Project Cafe, gaming site IGN managed to get hold of yet more alleged details about the Wii successor including a name, release date and price. If Nintendo don’t officially unveil it soon they’ll have nothing left to say! According to IGN’s trusted source, Project Cafe is expected to launch at the end of this year, around October or November and retail for either $350 or $400. But they also say that Nintendo may decide to hold off until the beginning of 2012 allowing studios to have longer with dev kits and potentially boosting the launch game line up. In the past, the Japanese gaming giant have been very secretive with their tech which annoyed a number of developers who could have benefited from the knowledge. Like LucasArts. They found out about the Wii MotionPlus add-on the same time as consumers and by then, they had already developed a light sabre-based fighter that could have been a great deal more successful if it included Wii MotionPlus support. If Project Cafe is as feature rich as everyone says it is, I’m sure devs would want to know about it way in advance and be at the forefront of the launch window.

Project Cafe is also said to be a bit of a beast, with insides that are meant to out perform both Xbox 360 and PS3 and have the potential for stereoscopic 3D too. But I highly doubt such a thing would be a integral to games since it’s taken this long for Nintendo to make the jumo onto HD TVs so they’re not about to leap frog that for 3D TVs. So the guts of the system will be ultra high tech but the outer is said to look like an updated SNES and have similar proportions to the first Xbox 360. As for the frankly perplexing name of Project Cafe, IGN say Nintendo have plenty of official names in mind with Stream being one that stood out. Probably due to the rumour surrounding controller. Project Cafe, Stream or Wii 2, whatever it’s to be called, will supposedly stream games straight onto a HD touchscreen fixed to the controller not so unlike the Dreamcast’s VMU or indeed the GBA and GameCube. They could be seen as early concepts for what Project Cafe is to become but possibly on a grander scale.

But that got me thinking, if the controller can be a gaming device all by itself, where does that leave the 3DS? Nintendo are potentially creating their very own iPods and you’d have to imagine they hold some form of memory capabilities. If they’re able to play standalone games as well as being accompaniments to Project Cafe titles, the 3DS could become an even harder sell. I think Nintendo will be very careful with what they do with the controller and how they market it. They’re not stupid and wouldn’t create a competitor for one of their own devices but would they also pass up the opportunity to make even more money off a peripheral? Think about it, WiiWare, DSiWare or Virtual Console style games playable on something that would be designed to fit snuggly in your hand. Sell them for a couple of quid or more and they could become very popular.

Nintendo, quite expectedly, declined from commenting on rumours when quizzed by IGN but all eyes will be on their press conference at this year’s E3 when we’re likely to hear more about the system. Unless of course more sources leak information before then. Ooh, isn’t it exciting eh?!

The force is weak with this one

UPDATE: Because of all the noise Kotaku made when reporting the pulling of Star Wars Arcade: Falcon Gunner, LucasArts has allowed the game to stay on the App Store. For now. There may not be any kind of timescale for when the game has to come off but you can be sure that one day it will so if you’re at al interested, you may want to pick it up sooner rather than later. The cynic in me is saying the move is nothing more than a publicity stunt aimed at obtaining those last few purchases while the situation is still fresh in our minds. The rest of me thinks it’s LucasArts doing something cool for someone else.

In November last year, I reported about an iPhone game that uses the Star Wars license in a new and interesting way by incorporating an Augmented Reality feature. Star Wars Arcade: Falcon Gunner put you in the seat of the Millennium Falcon’s gun turrets, filling the screen with TIE fighters as you twist and turn to shoot them all down. I bought it, I played it. It’s cool though my compass kept crapping out on me obscuring the view for some reason but still, SWA:FG is a fun and innovative little shooter. Or it least it will be remembered that way because come March 31st, the game will be yanked from the App Store, possibly for good (via Kotaku).

The reason isn’t sinister or anything to do with Apple themselves but an unfortunate loss of licensing. THQ Wireless who had held the right to distribute Vertigore’s Falcon Gunner which uses the intellectual property of LucasArts. But THQ have lost those rights meaning the distribution of games using it has to stop. In the world where that distribution is digital, Falcon Gunner will simply disappear. If you already own it like I do, fear not, nothing is going to happen to your copy or at least that’s the general consensus, it just won’t be able to be downloaded ever again.

Why this particularly sucks is how it highlights one of the problems to a future where games are sold only via digital distribution like some industry insiders believe will happen. With a physical disc, you’re more likely to find a copy kicking around in various locations if production halts or you could even borrow it from a mate. It’s a lot harder if not impossible to do the same when the process is purely digital.

Kinect to be four times as fun?

Think of it what you will but Microsoft’s Kinect is selling incredibly well at the moment. So much in fact that the company upped their sales forecast from three million to five million units sold to consumers by the end of the year. Not long to go before we find out whether such a prediction is flattery or farcical but Eurogamer unearthed an interesting rumour as to the future of such a new technology. They’ve come to understand that the team behind Kinect are busily coding away their days with the goal to quadruple its accuracy and ultimately detect simple motions like finger movements and hand rotations. Currently, the sensor tracking depth of field on Kinect has a resolution of 320×240 pixels but the rumour is that this will be sharpened to 640×480 by means of a teensy dashboard update that also improves the USB data speed from 15 or 16 MB/s to 35MB/s.

Concerns of performance slow down in games due to a boost in Kinect’s needs are all avoidable and Rich Leadbetter points out that PC modders have already accomplished a similar upgrade to the depth camera. What it means for future Kinect games is a dramatic increase in genres and game types. Large gestures can be replaced with something altogether more subtle in a move much like Nintendo’s release of the Wii MotionPlus add-on. That added 1:1 motion-control and has the potential for greater things (if more developers adopted it). With a higher level of precision, Kinect could seriously become part of a hardcore gamers paraphernalia, aiding the controller in various ways. Something like a squad-based shooter could see players point their teams to tactical advantage points and a Baseball sim where you tell the pitcher what kind of ball to throw with a few flicks of your finger would indeed mimic the real sport.

An upgrade of this type would silence critics like Sony’s software engineer, Anton Mikhailov, who publicly criticised Kinect’s abilities while leaking evidence that suggests a Move Star Wars game in the works. Last month he said: “I’m usually not very aggressive. But I will say [Move’s Star Wars game] be damn better than Kinect could ever do,” adding his disapproval of a good Kinect version “because there are so many ambiguities, and it’s nearly impossible to track the angles of your wrists”. If the rumour is indeed true, the nearly impossible would have become a reality.

Sony looks to the future

November’s sales figure for the US were released last night and the Xbox 360 came out on top for the sixth consecutive month, besting the Wii and PS3. Whereas Nintendo’s platform was only around 100,000 units out, the PS3 was less than half selling a comfortable but still concerning 530,000 systems despite being America’s busiest retail period. Responding to the numbers, Sony reminded us how their hardware sales were up 112% month-over-month and that three PS3 games were sitting happily in the top 10 all-software charts for November; Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, Call of Duty: Black Ops and Gran Turismo 5. Two of those are multiplatform titles so the fact that the PS3 versions are in the top 10 is even better for Sony. It shows their system is just as competitive with third party titles as it is with first party.

But the company chose not to directly comment on their less than impressive numbers and instead credited Move as a “blockbuster success” which “undoubtedly helped to pave the way for [Sony] as [they] head into 2011.” Patrick Seybold, senior director of corporate communications at SCEA, then went on to name four huge PS3 only franchises (via Industry Gamers) that are heading our way next year and their ability to “solidify our place in the living room.” By ‘our’ he means Sony but since the franchises are of particularly high quality, many gamers will be reluctant to leave their living rooms. The newly announced Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, LittleBigPlanet 2, Twisted Metal and Killzone 3 are all scheduled for a 2011 release and as of now, Sony are looking to have the more robust exclusive titles for the year ahead of us.

That’s not to say Microsoft don’t have a few secrets up their sleeves. This weekend’s Spike VGAs will surely out a couple of zingers like the much-rumoured Mass Effect project from BioWare. Given the history of the series, MS could bag themselves an exclusivity deal on that. Forza 4 has been promised for 2011 as is the Star Wars Kinect game. And Gears of War 3 was famously moved back until Autumn next year in order to fill a gaming hole for MS in that particularly affluent period. In that respect, both HD platforms are still very close in the ‘battle of the consoles’ and their efforts in winning are only help entertain us with games. Carry on lads!