Hey, I'm Martin, though the internet knows me as Dragonzigg
Unlike many self-confessed gamers, I'm not a lifelong fan, in fact I was barred from playing videogames til I was about 13. Unfortunately, I think this had the opposite effect to what was intended, instead simply making me more obsessed with games. Since then it's been impossible for me to get enogh of them, and I'd happily call myself a super hardcore gamer. No matter when it was made, what it is or for what platform I'll play it, unless it's Madden. I'm also from Tea-and-Crumpets land, aka Britain, and thus have got used to waiting twice as long and paying twice as much for my games. Nevertheless, I've managed to scrape together an Xbox 360, PS3, Wii, 2 DS's, PSP, Dreamcast, Megadrive and a gaming PC. Told you I was serious.
What else do people put in these things? Oh yes, I'm a masochist, aka a Sonic fan. Yes I know there hasn't been anything good in a decade. I love adventure and platform games, while I'm not so hot on driving and RTS games, though I'll try anything once. I love good stories and characters in my games, and have no problems wading through a tidal wave of cliche. Proof? I love JRPGs, especially Kingdom Hearts. Don't think anybody can question my nerd credentials there.
Will this do?
A few of my favorite games, in no particular order
Super Mario Galaxy, Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Rez HD, Kingdom Hearts II, Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, Little Big Adventure 2, Street Fighter II, III and IV, Resident Evil 4, Sonic Adventure, Eternal Sonata, Rock Band 2, Burnout Paradise, Prince of Persia (all of them), The Legend of Zelda (all of them)
Programming note - I must begin by apologising for my long, long absence. As it has a habit of doing, real life got in the way. Hopefully updates will be more consistent from now on.
To say that I am a Prince of Persia fan would be a slight understatement. As someone who owns five copies of The Sands of Time and considers it one of the greatest games ever made, my attachment to the franchise is long and highly affectionate. So let's trek back in time and take a little look at how my favourite franchise has evolved over the years. Bear in mind we're only covering the 'mainline' games here - there have been a ton of ports, alternative versions and handheld games, but they're too numerous for me to track here.
Prince of Persia (1989)
The first game was originally a one man coded job created for the Apple II in 1989. Said one man was Jordan Mechner, the father of the franchise who has been a perennially recurring figure across its lifespan. After his first game Karateka had been a success, Mechner was moved in create a platform game in the wake of the massive impact of the Mario series. His major breakthrough however, was the integration of fluid, lifelike animation to his main character. Famously, he achieved this by filming his younger brother jumping across gaps and animating over the negative frames, creating the idea of rotoscoping in videogames. Combined with some neat level design and fiendish traps (it's generally considered a very tough game) it was a huge success, selling a ton of copies and being ported to many different platforms, including PC, Amiga, MegaDrive and a later, enhanced version for SNES. The game was fully remade in 2007 into an 3D rendered HD version which took aesthetics from The Sands of Time and was released for Xbox Live Arcade and Playstation Network. These days it's generally recognised as an important early evolution of the platformer and though it isn't held up as revolutionary in the same way a Mario or Sonic would be, it has the distinction of a minor classic.
Prince of Persia 2: The Shadow and the Flame (1993)
A steady, workmanlike sequel to the original released on PC, Macintosh and SNES. It keeps most of the design points of the original, although it updates the graphics and provides a longer, richer experience. Notably, it introduces the concept of a 'Dark Prince' an aspect that would later return (heavily modified) in The Two Thrones. Unfortunately, there's really not too much else to say about it. It's by no means a bad game, and is probably technically better than the original, but it's arguably the least remembered of all the POP games. After this, Mechner left the franchise to work on his under-appreciated adventure game gem The Last Express.
Prince of Persia 3D (1999)
Oh dear. This is where it all went badly wrong for the franchise. Produced six years after the last game in an attempt to move in on the vibrant ground Tomb Raider had created for 3D platformers, it's a game even die-hard POP fans like myself prefer not to talk about. Developed by the unremarkable Red Orb Entertainment, whose only other product of note was a tangential involvement in Riven, this is a very bad game. What's even worse is that it's a bad game that had the potential to be quite good. There's some neat level design and the graphics were pretty for the time. But it controls like a drunk hippopotamus and some toddlers with ADHD appear to be in charge of the camera, which renders the final product near unplayable. It's also very buggy and it feels like corners were cut at every opportunity. These days it's mostly only referred to as an example of how not to translate a 2D character into 3D, and it's failure meant the franchise would lay dormant for a few more years.
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2003)
For many modern fans, this is where the franchise really began. Ubisoft acquired the rights from the wreckage of POP3D. Seemingly determined to do right by their investment, they hired series creator Jordan Mechner to come back on as a creative consultant, and he was apparently integral in setting style, aesthetics and story. Ubisoft also put their up and coming Montreal studio, fresh off the success of Splinter Cell on to development, and the results speak for themselves.
Sands of Time was ecstatically received by fans and critics alike, and was showered with praise for its smooth platforming, excellent graphics, great level and puzzle design and charming story and characters. Particularly approved of was the clever time-rewinding effect that removed much of the frustration inherent to the platforming genre. The unique combat was more divisive (I like it a lot), but everyone agreed that the Prince's reinvention into a wisecracking adventurer and the interplay he shared with his female companion Farah were highlights of the game. Interestingly, this is also the last time any of the games in the series would be even remotely 'Persian' as after this different aesthetics began to take over. Commercially the game was a sucess, and revived the franchise's good name, but Ubisoft were mildly dissatisfied with sales relative to the outstanding review scores, and set about making a more marketable sequel.
Prince of Persia: Warrior Within (2004)
This game has acquired a reputation as the black sheep of the trilogy, and it's a shame because there's a lot of good stuff here. The dark, gothic design often blends nicely with some great environment puzzles, the new hack'n'slash combat system is a lot of fun and there's a neat plot twist that allows for some nice mind screwing. But unfortunately, it's reputation as a black sheep is largely deserved, because of Ubisoft's effort to appeal more to the lucrative teenage boy market. And that of course that means...more blood! More cursing! More nudity! It's a textbook example of how making something 'darker and edgier' actually makes it less adult, not more. There's also some unfortunate gameplay choices, mainly the introduction of boss battles, which simply do not work and aren't fun. The character derailment suffered by the Prince was another common complaint, with his playful charming personality replaced by, as Gabe from Penny Arcade put it, "a cookie cutter brooding tough guy with zero personality and a handful of poorly written and often repeated one liners." And the inclusion of Godsmack on the soundtrack was so laughable it's something of an in-joke even to this day. Jordan Mechner, who left Ubisoft after SOT was completed, went on record as being against the changes, and that was the general reaction from critics as well. Ubisoft Montreal has since apologised several times, but the damage was done. There's a good game in there, but you have to look beyond the rather ugly surface.
Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones (2005)
This was essentially Ubisoft Montreal's mea culpa after the critical bashing the last game had recieved. An attempt to explain the Prince's sudden personality shift, a return to the more open, outdoor environments of SOT and a neat capstone to the trilogy were the aims here and for the most part they're achieved. The Prince returns to being a somewhat likeable fellow, aided greatly by the return of his charming British accent and a partner to riff off of. The 'Dark Prince' concept is a neat idea to explain the Prince's gradual change in character and provides a decent mixup to combat and platforming also. The combat from WW returns largely unchaged bar the addition of 'speed kills' which add a nice element of stealth. Unfortunately, boss battles also make another appearance, particularly unbearable this time. Overall, the game is a fine effort, a good recovery from the mess of WW. But it's also clearly subject to the law of diminishing returns, and the concept was beginning to wear a little thing. A radical rethink was needed.
Prince of Persia (2008)
Affectionately dubbed Fresh Prince of Persia by myself and others with poor taste in puns, this was the most radical rethink of the franchise in years. Still in the hands of Ubisoft Montreal, they decided to go back to square one and rebuild the franchise from the ground up, as indicated by the title. The result was one of the most divisive games in recent memory.
Everything started again. Based on their stunning Anvil engine (developed for Assassin's Creed) the developers drew a brand new world in gorgeous pastel and watercolour shades, and with it a new Prince and a new mythology. Emphasising a super fluid style of movement, the platforming was reshaped to be simpler and more intuitive, and the world redesigned to be open, with backtracking and upgrades required to traverse its whole expanse. Out went group combat, to be replaced by one-on-one duels with recurring boss characters. And out went the time rewinding sand, replaced by new character Elika, a mystical magician who accompanies you on your journey and facilitates the greatest and most controversial change of all - you can't die. Literally, every time you die she'll save you.
Naturally, opinion on the game has been furiously divisive, and split almost entirely down the middle. Its sizeable force of critics claim it's dumbed down, insultingly easy and removes the intricate puzzles and assault courses of earlier games. Me, I think it's a masterpiece, a textbook example of how to reboot a franchise and focus on core strengths, and that the game rivals The Sands of Time. The debate rages to this day, but clearly Ubisoft were disappointed by what they saw. Though there have been many claims this iteration has not been abandoned, for the next game Ubisoft decided on a step back into familiar territory.
Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands (2010)
An 'interquel' that's set chronologically between SOT and WW, Forgotten Sands also reverts to those games's play style, reintroducing the time rewinding concept and the character of the Prince from SOT. It isn't related to the Sands of Time movie, although the timing is surely just a little too good to be true. Most likely Ubisoft were looking to take advantage of the added publicity swirling about. I'm not going to go into too much detail on this one, because I'll have a review up in the next couple of days.
So, that's the history of the mainline Prince of Persia games up to this point. What's next? Well, it's difficult to say. As critically and commercially successful as the Sands of Time games have been, surely this is as far as the story and concept can be taken. At the same time, given the mixed reaction that surrounded it, there's a undeniable reluctance by Ubisoft to embrace the continuity created by Prince of Persia (2008). Whether they ultimately do decide to continue that story or go for another full-on reboot. I expect a gestation period of a few years as Ubisoft Montreal plans and works on the other projects it has on the go. No matter how long it takes though, I and many others will eagerly anticipate the Prince's next adventure.
The original Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children was an extremely odd film. Lauded for its superb art direction, outstanding animation and excellent action scenes, it ticked all of the major boxes, especially the one marked 'fan service'. But it was also poorly scripted, incredibly confusing and generally really really difficult to follow, and went down as a failure in most people's eyes. Several years on, Square have released this new 'complete' version, offering not only an upgrade to blu-ray disc but also around half an hour of restored or newly created footage. So how well does this new version stack up to the original?
Let's start with the first thing I noticed - visually, this remains an absolutely astonishing film to look at, even more so in the new 1080p transfer. The original footage makes a near faultless transfer to HD, while the new footage is even better. Square's team made efforts to improve the texture quality, particularly on items like metal and cloth, and the addition of blood and dirt adds a bit more bite to the action scenes. The images frequently go into uncanny valley territory, with some tremendous landscape shots (most notably the establishing shot of the city of Edge). Overall, it's a brilliant upgrade, and if watched on the right equipment should blow you away. Sound has been upgraded into a Dolby Digital TrueHD mix, and pleasingly there is a high quality mix offering both English and Japanese voiceovers. I think the quality of the dub is extremely good (though issues with lip synching remain) but it's nice to have the original language track there if necessary.
However, the real question is 'Is it a better movie than the original?' and fortunately I can safely say that yes it is. The new footage mostly goes towards a bit more fleshing out of the story, and clarifying some of the confusing points, such as the exact nature of the geostigma disease and the motives of the mysterious Rufus Shinra. Make no mistake, it's still very much a film for those who have played the game, dealing as it does very heavily into the backstory, but that was never really a problem for fans of the films. There's also a welcome increase in screen time for some characters, particularly the assemblage of the original cast near the end of the film. The biggest increase in depth goes to the character of Denzel, who was so intangible as to be largely irrelevant in the original cut. Here he benefits from much more backstory, balancing his inclusion far better.
Though the renowned action scenes have had less done to them, they benefit greatly from the increase in resolution and the aforementioned 'dirtying-down'. Extra footage has been added to several fights, including the Bahamut battle and the final confrontation with Sephiroth, but the biggest change comes to the highway chase scene, which is hugely expanded and includes a fantastic moment of motorbike/helicopter interaction which is probably worth the price of entry alone.
Extras are a bit thin, but the quality is generally high. Two documentaries cover the original game's storyline and the legacy it left behind, while a third investigates the 'Compilation of Final Fantasy VII' which comprised of the film itself, the anime Before Crisis, the PSP game Crisis Core and several other sources. The main draw here is the half hour anime On the Way to a Smile - Case of Denzel which is a traditionally drawn piece focusing on the history of the character Denzel. Surprisingly bleak and melancholy, it offers a pleasing contrast to the slightly flighty main film and is well worth a watch. There's also the usual assortment of trailers, and a long and impressive Final Fantasy XIII teaser, which replaces the demo from the Japanese edition. It's worth noting that many of the special features from the collector's edition of the original Advent Children are not here, including the animated short Last Order.
Overall then, this isn't a disc which is going to convert any new fans to the Advent Children cause. What it does do is present those fans with a significantly better version of the film. Even if, like myself, you aren't a super hardcore FFVII fan, this is well worth watching for the outstanding audio-visual experience and some killer action scenes. For anyone who already loves the film, or is interested in seeing it for the first time, this is the version to go for.
OK, so just before E3 I made a series of predictions about what would/might/wouldn't happen. Let's go back and see how far off base I was.
Things that were definitely going to happen
Sony announces PSP Go - Hardly needed a rocket scientist to figure this one out and it was actually confirmed before the show got underway. CORRECT!
Nintendo hypes the hell out of MotionPlus - There definitely was another extensive Wii Sports Resort demo, but Nintendo didn't show any third-party titles that involved the peripheral, and the three new Nintendo games revealed all seemed to be MotionPlus free. WRONG!
Microsoft announces motion-sensing camera - Again, quite an easy one, although the software that was shown turned out to not just be 'crappy family friendly casual games' but some interesting and exciting stuff. CORRECT!
Sony and Microsoft go head-to-head on software - Definitely true, although the titles I picked were off. Heavy Rain didn't appear at the press conference at all, neither did Mass Effect 2, and Assassin's Creed II actually appeared at Sony's press conference when I called it for Microsoft's. Also, nothing shown of The Ballad of Gay Tony.
The Beatles:Rock Band to be playable and a show stealer - Mostly correct, although Harmonix didn't reveal a full tracklist. But it was a big sensation, and there certainly were Beatles appearances galore. CORRECT!
Something to appear out of nowhere and blow us away - This did of course happen, as it always does. For me, Final Fantasy XIV took the surprise of the show award, with Metroid:Other M close behind. CORRECT!
Things that potentially could have happened
Nintendo makes partial return to the hardcore - Very much so, with Nintendo debuting several titles for gamers. The WIP of Zelda was so in-progress it only appeared as a piece of art, but Metroid:Other M and Super Mario Galaxy 2 filled the gap admirably. CORRECT!
Sony show 'Project Trico' - I predicted that this would be held until TGS, which was of course totally wrong. The Last Guardian as we now know it, wowed the crowds and almost certainly wold have stolen the show had it not been for the leak. WRONG!
Final Fantasy Versus XIII breaks cover, goes multiplatform - Oh dear. Kind of missed that one. WRONG!
Kojima unveils new Metal Gear, goes multiplatform - Yup, spot on. I also correctly predicted he'd show more than one game, borne out by the three Metal Gears and also his involvement with Castlevania:Lord of Shadows. CORRECT!
Alan Wake returns, is substantially different - It definitely returned, although whether you'd call the differences 'substantial' is up to personal opinion. I'll give myself the benefit of the doubt on this one. CORRECT!
Things that probably weren't going to happen
PS3 price cut/PS3 Slim announcement - Sure enough, no sign of either. CORRECT!
Zune HD integrating with XBLA titles - Apart from the eponymous marketplace coming to Xbox 360, no mention was made of Zune. CORRECT!
DSi Virtual console featuring GB/GBA games A lot of people thought this was a dead cert, and it'll probably still happen at some point, but for now not a whimper. CORRECT!
Beyond Good and Evil 2 shown - I wish this one had been wrong. CORRECT!
Duke Nukem Forever revived - Looks like we'll have to make jokes about Huxley now. CORRECT!
Final Fantasy VII remake announced - Admit it, in a dark shameful corner of your heart, you want it to happen. CORRECT!
These games are shown - I was doing fine until I said 'any Metroid title'. D'oh.WRONG!
It's my 21st birthday on Tuesday, and as a result, my longtime friend and co-conspirator Corporal Rutland, messed around a little with the Rock Band 2 poster editor and Photoshop, and came up with this...
The most awesome thing ever. But then there was also this...
He printed them up and had them laminated, and I'm going to frame them and hang them in my room. Most amazing presents ever.
Hey, welcome to a blog full of E3 predictions. In no way are these predictions based on anything other than my own fevered imagination and questionable powers of reasoning. And with that, let's start with...
Things that will definitely happen:
Sony announces PSP Go! - Pretty self evident, but the rumours have been flying about for months from umpteen sources, so I think it's safe to call this one a fact.
Nintendo hypes the hell out of MotionPlus - Nintendo will push the new addon in a big way. There'll no doubt be another Wii Sports Resort demo, plus a huge reel of thirdparty games with support. I'll also say that there'll be a new title announced which is MotionPlus compatible (see below)
Microsoft announces Motion-sensing camera - Again, pretty much a given after the huge number of rumours that have leaked out. It's what software that is announced alongside which will really make the difference. I'm going to predict several crappy family friendly casual games.
Sony and Microsoft go head-to-head on software - For Sony, it'll be all about the huge exclusives - God of War III, Heavy Rain, MAG, Uncharted 2. Microsoft will have a few of their own, but I predict them to follow last year's example and lean heavily on third party presentations. There's no doubt Modern Warfare 2 will be at the Microsoft conference, and I expect big showings from Assassin's Creed II, Mass Effect 2 and Splinter Cell Conviction also, as well as maybe the first footage of the new GTAIV DLC.
The Beatles:Rock Band to be playable and a show stealer - Harmonix will pull the trigger and unleash full details including an on the floor demo and full track list , and it will take the show by storm. I wouldn't rule out an unexpected Beatles-related celebrity appearance either.
Something to appear out of nowhere and blow us away - It happens every single year. Inevitably the biggest talking point of the show will be something we never saw coming, be it a new game announcement, or a piece of industry news. Remember the FFXIII bombshell last year? Better get your flame-resistant jackets ready.
Things that might happen
Nintendo makes partial return to the hardcore - After taking a great deal of flak for last year's conference, and the subsequent (relative) failure of Wii Music, I predict Nintendo will throw a few bones to the hardcore Wii gamers. There'll still be tons of casual stuff of course, but I think we will at least see a WIP trailer of a new Zelda plus at least one other franchise revival, probably F-Zero or Starfox. Kid Icarus, if it ever existed, is dead and buried.
Sony show 'Project Trico' - I'm unsure about this one. It would provide a huge PR boost, which Sony desperately needs, but at the expense of distracting from important titles like Uncharted 2 for what is at the very earliest a 2010 release with relatively niche appeal. This will come to light for sure at TGS but I don't think we'll see it here.
Final Fantasy Versus XIII breaks cover, goes multiplatform - The first part is a reasonably safe bet, with Square needing to keep the hype machine running and Versus still an unknown quantity at this point. The second one is more of a shot in the dark, but it makes commercial sense, and I think Square and Sony's love affair is well and truly over at this point.
Kojima unveils new Metal Gear, goes multiplatform - I actually think Kojima will reveal something else as well as Metal Gear, but whatever he does, it's bound to be multiplatform. With increased western influence on both himself and Konami, and the furore over MGS4's non-appearance on 360, it would be silly at this point not to. Plus, his teaser site's countdown runs out on the same day as the Microsoft press conference. Coincedence?
Alan Wake returns, is substantially different - Every year we expect this, but the rumours have been swirling stronger this year. For all the vapourware tags, Remedy are a top developer, and the fact that inerest has held together this long shows the excitement about the concept.
Things that probably won't happen
PS3 price cut/PS3 Slim announcement - Sony will stretch out the current PS3 price as long as possible as they look to claw back every last penny and cent. There will be a price drop this year, but it's likely to be much closer to Christmas. Meanwhile, while I'm beginning to believe the PS3 Slim exists, it's no doubt far too embryonic to be shown off yet.
Zune HD integrating with XBLA titles - Too many technical headaches, too many licensing issues and too much wishful thinking. Bonus prediction - Zune HD will again not see release outside of NA.
DSi Virtual console featuring GB/GBA games - Not something I think Nintendo is prepared to put time and effort into at this stage, and the market would be a bit more niche. Maybe at TGS, but it's a little early in the DSi's lifespan.
Beyond Good and Evil 2 shown - Ubisoft seem to have locked it away in the basement, once again the unloved child of the publisher that brings you Imagine Babyz.
Duke Nukem Forever revived - Although 3D Realms has shown signs of life, I think it's best that this one stays dead and fades away, and I'm pretty sure any straight thinking publisher will think that also.
Final Fantasy VII remake announced - Look, can we just let it go already?
These games are shown - Pikmin 3, Kingdom Hearts III, Fallout New Vegas, Deus Ex 3, any Metroid title, Kid Icarus Wii, Half Life 2:Episode 3 and many, many others...
Agree? Disagree? Leave comments telling me how accurate/WRONG I am.
I don't mean achievements or trophies, though they can count obviously. What I mean is - What feats have you
accomplished in games that have made you super proud and satisfied? They don't have to be particularly
difficult or obscure, just stuff that you think would look good on a gaming CV. For example, a few of mine
- Completed Halo:Combat Evolved on Legendary difficulty
- Got 1000 gamerscore in Prince of Persia
- Defeated Sephiroth in Kingdom Hearts II and the Lingering Sentiment in Kingdom Hearts II: Final Mix +
- Chose 'The Needs of the Many' at the end of Fable II
Edit - How could I have forgotten completing the figurine collection in The Wind Waker? That took
You get the idea. Like I said, doesn't have to be hard, just something that you feel proud of. Let me know in the