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Harumph's blog

3:13 PM on 03.28.2011

'Prey 2' might actually be awesome

If you read my review of ďPreyĒ in the Shippensburg Slate (and you most likely didnít), youíd know I wasnít a fan of the game. The gameís big draws felt gimmicky and nothing really stood out to me. The portals, wall-walking and alien settings just didnít do anything for me Ė even the later ďspiritĒ powers seemed to be a tad racist (Tommy is a Native American so of course heíd have a spirit bird, right? Right???).

Recently, to my surprise, a Prey 2 was announced. Though the series has changed hands, now being developed by Human Head Studios and published by Bethesda Softworks, the sequel will allegedly keep many of the seriesí traits Ė first person shooting and alien abductions. Only this time, with a slight twist.

Preyís protagonist Tommy has been replaced by a U.S. Sky Marshall named Killian Samuels (have you ever heard a faker sounding name?). The first teaser trailer for the game showed what appeared to be aliens abducting an airplane full of people, with Samuels on board. The game will still be an FPS but the presentation will be different. Rather than having Samuels take on a space ship full of hostile aliens in a linear story, Prey 2 will allegedly feature a large, open (alien) world where Samuels will (you know, allegedly) be taking on the role of an intergalactic bounty hunter. The story (details of which are still unknown) will apparently be open-ended and Samuels will employ ďparkour-style movementĒ to traverse the alien setting. Other confirmed elements are the ability to move stealthily in the shadows and will also not support multiplayer, 3D or motion controls.

If all those things turn out to be true, Prey 2 could soon find itself near the top of my most wanted list. From the sounds of those details, Prey 2 could be a mix of Deus Ex: Human Revolutionís open-ended mission structure and the easy, free movement of Brink Ė unsurprisingly, DX:HR and Brink are two of my most wanted games right now. But Iím trying not to get too excited yet. Literally no other information, screens or a release date have been given to the public. Iím pretty interested in something they havenít talked about yet Ė are the aliens still using those weird looking doors? Because that could be a dealbreaker.   read

5:11 PM on 03.22.2011

Gaming Regrets - Steel Battalion

Even though Iíve been playing video games in some form or another since I was a wee babe, there were some games or fads that I missed or just didnít have the time to play. Though there were plenty of games I wish I had played at the time (most of the SNES catalogue, for instance) the one game that sticks in my mind the most was Steel Battalion. Though it wasnít a particularly outstanding game, (from everything Iíve heard, I havenít played it obviously) that doesnít stop me from wanting to experience Steel Battalion. Iím no genius, donít have 20/20 vision, and have no desire to join the armed forces so playing that game with its giant controller is about as close as Iíd get to flying a jet or driving a tank.

Being a boy and having been a child once, I went through a period of time where I thought there was nothing cooler in the world than giant robots blowing each other up while simultaneously stomping through a city. As such, I was pretty big into BattleTech and MechWarrior as a kid. I played the Sega Genesis BattleTech game, the MechAssault games on the Xbox, MechWarrior games on the PC (MechWarrior 2: Mercenaries being my favorite), read BattleTech books and can even recall watching the short-lived BattleTech cartoon. Hell, some of the earliest things I wrote were basically MechWarrior Mercenaries fan-fiction. Not only did the giant mech battle aspect keep my interest but being able to buy new mechs and outfit them with whatever weaponry and armor I could salvage sated my micromanaging desires nicely as well.

Needless to say that when I first heard about Steel Battalion I damn near wet myself. Not only was it another modern (well, you know, at the time) video game about giant robot warfare but what caught my attention (and Iím sure everyone elseís) was the controller Ė oh man that controller. While some people thought it was ridiculous and unnecessary, I thought it was about the coolest thing Iíve ever seen.

Who could possibly call this ridiculous?

I mean just look at that thing. Itís got two joysticks, dials, switches, buttons, toggles and foot pedals for everything from magazine changes to windshield wipers. From what Iíve read, Steel Battalion made full use of the controllerís large array of buttons, requiring you to perform a start-up sequence at the beginning of each mission. You had to keep careful watch of your VTís (Vertical Tank) heat and if you turned while moving too fast you could fall over (thank you Wikipedia Ė I did say Iíve never played it before).

Even back then I knew it would probably be more annoying to play/use that controller and I also knew I couldnít afford it. Iím pretty sure the game and controller cost almost as much as a new console when it was released. Regardless of all that, I was still dying to play it. None of my friends ever bought one and sadly I never even saw one of those controllers in person. Sadly, my dreams of piloting a mech seem about as likely to happen now asÖummÖwhat kind of gaming analogy for unlikely events am I supposed to use now that Duke Nukem Forever is actually coming out? Anyway, about the closest I ever got to playing a game like Steel Battalion was playing Virtual-On at Dave and Buster's.

If I really, really wanted to play Steel Battalion now, I still have options. Wait scratch that Ė people on eBay are still selling the game and controller for over $100 and as much as $300. Even though Iím an adult now and should have expendable income to waste on nonsensical purchases like this, no one told me just how poor Iíd be in pursuing a journalism career so it pretty much still is out of my price range. Sadly, it seems Steel Battalion will always remain one of those games that Iíll never play.

But what about you? What games, systems or peripherals did you always want but never got around to playing? Everyone canít always play everything they want Ė or can they? Let me know!   read

3:37 PM on 03.11.2011

An open letter to Harmonix: Why do you hate 311?

Dear Harmonix,

First of all, I just wanted to say thanks for so many awesome games over the years. I thoroughly enjoyed Guitar Hero while it was still yours and I currently enjoy shredding or crashing my drum pads in Rock Band. Iíve even been a fan as far back as FreQuency and Amplitude Ė fun games just to mess around with but take a certain dedication to master. Not to mention that your dedication to providing quality, weekly DLC for Rock Band is something to admire and itís unfortunate more developers donít provide the same kind of support for their games.

With that being said, and on the same note as DLC, I just wanted to ask Ė why do you hate 311, Harmonix? Sure, I canít prove you hate 311, but in the four years youíve been releasing DLC for Rock Band games (the first pack of which released in November of 2007), not one single 311 song has ever been added to the Rock Band library. Not one.

I felt that, as an opinionated gamer and because it is 311 Day (3/11/11), this matter needed to be addressed. 311 has been one of my personal favorite bands for a long time Ė Iíd even go so far as to say they were my first favorite band. Not just the music you get into because your parents listen to it but the first band you got into because you liked them Ė that is 311 for me. Sure, Iíve gotten pretty big into metal since then but Iíll never turn my back on my roots Ė my Grassroots, you could say.

Though 311ís first two albums, Music and Grassroots, didnít receive a ton of media exposure, their third studio album, the self-titled album 311 (or The Blue Album as itís also known) was a gigantic hit. Their biggest hit, ďDown,Ē reached #1 on the Billboard Modern Rock charts in 1995 and the album went triple-platinum in 1996. Since then, 311 has released many more albums Ė Live, Transistor, Soundsystem, From Chaos, Evolver, Donít Tread on Me and Uplifter. The band tours nearly every summer, has a huge following of die-hard, oldhead fans as well as making new fans all the time with their catchy grooves, funky rhymes and exceptional beats. They even have another studio album in the works to be released sometime before the summer of 2011. And just to prove their staying power, their most recent album, Uplifter, debuted at #3 on the Billboard Top 200 in 2009.

Not only are they multi-talented, multi-platinum musicians, but 311 has literally risked life and limb to bring the rock to their fans. In their early days, to promote their album Music, the band financed their own tour and rode from gig to gig in a borrowed RV, towing their equipment in a VW Bus. On the road to a gig during the tour, the RV caught fire and the whole band barely escaped the blaze. They even finished the tour using borrowed instruments. If risking their lives and continuing a tour with no instruments doesnít prove their Rock Band worthiness, I donít know what does.

Iíve written Harmonix a few times now, suggesting they add 311 to their DLC schedule. Yet my pleas continuously fall on deaf ears. Granted, I havenít checked the Rock Band Network any time recently but whenever I have itís usually full of new, awful metal and equally awful indie rock so I wouldnít hold my breath to see 311 show up there. Not only that, RBN songs arenít developed by Harmonix and thus pretty much makes that point moot in these shenanigans.

311 would be perfect for Rock Band. Their music is relatively inoffensive, their songs are either usually about ladies or partying and on top of everything, their music is just really, really fun. Their earlier songs are very funky with their hip-hop influences strongly shining through while their later albums tend to use more layers of sound, synth and a much harder-rocking sound.

I also firmly believe that their music lends itself quite well to the Rock Band formula. Many songs make use of harmonies between Nick Hexum and S.A. Martinez, bassist P-Nutís lines are solid and flashy only when they need to be, Tim Mahoneyís guitar work is always awesome (Grassroots definitely showcases some of my favorite Mahoney work) and drummer Chad Sexton is always just simply amazing. Honestly, itís Sextonís drumming I want to play more than anything else Ė but that point is neither here nor there. A lot of their later songs could even utilize the keyboard.

Iíll even take the time to write up suggestions for DLC (or for those unaware of 311ís kick-assery. You have no idea how hard it was for me to only pick a few and not every song I love):

Music - Plain, Feels So Good, Unity
Grassroots - Lose, Applied Science, Grassroots
311 - Down, All Mixed Up, Donít Stay Home
Transistor Ė Prisoner, Jupiter, Strangers, Stealing Happy Hours
Soundsystem Ė Large in the Margin, Mind Spin, Flowing
From Chaos Ė Uncalm, From Chaos, I Told Myself
Evolver Ė Donít Dwell, Crack the Code, Still Dreaming
Donít Tread on Me Ė Frolic Room, Solar Flare, Waiting
Uplifter Ė Itís Alright, Jackpot, Two Drops in the Ocean

Man, this letter is a lot longer than I thought itíd be. But that only goes to show the dedication of just one 311 fan Ė someone desperate enough to play digital versions of some of his favorite songs to write a nearly 1000 word letter on a whim (and also because itís 311 Day Ė I think I mentioned that).

I think Iíve made it clear that I love Rock Band and Harmonix. None of the above was written out of anger at Harmonix Ė rather, a dedication to a band whose career has spanned two decades and continually entertains and impresses. And who, somehow, doesnít have a single song featured in Rock Band.

Yours truly,

Harumph (aka Grizzly)   read

3:40 PM on 03.09.2011

Grizzly Gaming's Digital Deathmatch Tournament needs your help

As the old Monty Python phrase goes, ďAnd now for something completely different.Ē

In the interest of doing something a little bit more creative and different than just spouting off about games that are out and games I want, Iíve decided to meld together two of my favorite childhood pastimes Ė videos games and pro wrestling Ė into something Iím tentatively calling the ďDigital Deathmatch Tournament.Ē Iíve been toying with the idea for some time now and decided that itís time to actually do something with it.

So here are the rough deetz that Iíve got running around my brain Ė a 16-man tournament, featuring non-super powered game characters (like Max Payne, for example) minus superhero characters (like Batman). A certain level of ďsuspension of disbeliefĒ will be employed so as to make match ups more interesting (this is partly where pro wrestling comes in) so matches consist of a little more than ďIsaac Clarke slices Gordon Freeman in half with his plasma cutter Ė flawless victory.Ē Though this is a deathmatch tournament (also drawing on pro wrestling) so a bit of the ultraviolence will definitely be in store.

Iíve got it at two brackets of 8 right now Ė an East and West division if you will (though the divisions arenít based on anything right now). Each character will enter the match with a melee weapon and a ranged weapon. I was originally toying with the idea of flipping a coin to decide whether characters would bring in either a melee or ranged weapon Ė but then I thought, ďScrew that Ė why choose?Ē I havenít decided on where to set these matches Ė maybe in some third-party location, maybe a coin flip would decide who had home-field advantage, so to speak, but like I said Ė these are just rough ideas at this point.

The last and perhaps most important aspect of this will be the participants. I have a list of entrants in mind Ė except my list is only 15 characters long. I need one final suggestion and I need your help. I tried to make these cross-platform characters for the most part but Iím not ruling out console exclusive characters. Here is my list:

-Isaac Clarke
-Gordon Freeman
-Max Payne
-Chuck Green
-Alan Wake
-Dom Santiago
-Mordecai (Borderlands)
-Ezio Auditore da Firenze
-John Marsten
-Eddie Riggs (Brutal Legend)
-Ethan Thomas(Condemned)
-Zoey (L4D)
-Jill Valentine
-Alec Mason (Red Faction Guerilla)
-Johnny Kibutz (Lost and Damned)

Before you start Ė yes I know Clarke and Freeman wear protective suits, that Eddie Riggs is part demon (And before you give me the Ďoh noes, spoilerz!í címon manÖif you didnít play Brutal Legend by now, you arenít going to) or whatever, just remember the whole ďsuspension of disbeliefĒ thing and go with it. This is for funsies. Damnit.

Iíve been sitting on this idea too long and itís time to make something of it. And the sooner I have a 16th, the sooner I can start.   read

4:04 PM on 03.07.2011

Battlfield 3 hand-cam footage has me all atwitter

Sorry about the long layoff - my birthday was last week and I didn't get much extra work done. Speaking of - you didn't get me anything. What gives?

But I'm not just here to talk about me (seriously, though, I'm waiting on those presents) - I'm here to talk about the recently released in-game footage DICE showed off of Battlefield 3 at the GDC. The video can be seen here ( provided it hasn't been taken down yet.

Itís hard to be unbiased when writing about video games. Everyone whoís in the field got there because they love video games, or tech, or both. Itís because of this obvious bias that we all share that itís so hard to be objective about certain games or franchises. As I watched the recent footage of Battlfield 3 from DICEís developer presentation at GDC, it was all I could do to not drool, let alone keep my jaw from dropping. Donít expect much unbiasness (is that a word?) out of this post Ė Iím going pretty crazy for BF3.

One of the most amazing things I noticed about the footage was how improved the visuals looked. Even though it is a YouTube video of a shaky, hand-cam filming a screen and projector, the visuals looked crisp and sharp Ė I canít imagine how good itíll look firsthand on an HDTV.

The animations and lighting also look to be greatly improved with the Frostbite 2.0 engine. The characterís movement was all very smooth and the engine kept up when the action picked up. The video started off with the player in a dark room, lit by flickering fluorescent lights and a gun-mounted flashlight. Itís great to see that even little elements like lighting will be getting better polish in BF3 but the most amazing lighting effects were saved for the end of the video.

DICE showed off the engineís ďparticle lighting effects - the effects fully integrated into the world lighting model.Ē What that means, in regular people words, I honestly couldnít say for sure but they also included a visual aid in the form of two different colored lights (one blue, the other orange) above a city as smoke and dust swirled around them. The light refracted and bounced off the smoke, creating new lighting patterns in real-time.

The lighting in general was also shown off, with DICE showing an overhead view of a vast city at different times of the day. We got to see how the lighting would interact with the environment in daytime, morning, in fog and also at night (with and without city lights on). Not only were the lighting effects impressive and smooth, but the draw distance of the city was incredible Ė hopefully indicating the massive scale of the maps in the final game.

Perhaps the addition most immediately noticeable is one that people on the internet have been screaming about Ė both negatively and positively Ė is the return of the prone position. We got to see the player crawling through a vent, which isnít very exciting, but its closer to the earth than you got in Bad Company 2, so I guess thatís something.

After exiting the vent, the player sat down to (what seemed like) disarm a bomb. This indicated there could be minigames or other such quick-time events in the single-player campaign of BF3. Of course, DICE didnít let us watch any of this and skipped ahead to the player exiting the building and we get to see some action.

Everything about the gameplay Ė player movement and animation, character speed and gunplay all seem to be refined even further giving the game a feel distinct from Modern Warfare.

As the player worked his way down a street of a large city, which seemed to be in the Middle East but couldíve been anywhere, we got to see a few different guns, with different sites, in use as well as the player dispatching a few enemies. A helicopter flies overhead and, taking a look around the city, you can easily tell that this game will easily stand heads-and-shoulders above Bad Company 2 in terms of visual eye candy.

Soon, the player hopped onto a mounted gun and began unloading down a street where enemies were camped. We got to see not only the smoke from the mounted gun silkily waft through the air, but also got to see the impressive smoke effects at work in real-time. A few seconds later, an earthquake rips through the area, throwing the player from the mounted gun. As the shockwave approached the player, we got to see the Frostbite Engine at work, ripping up the pavement as it rippled toward the player like a wave. A moment later, a smoking building begins to collapse, falls sideways, crushes the chopper that had been flying around as well as the player.

Not only did I go nuts watching a skyscraper smash into a still flying chopper but I noticed something that I hope is indicative of all the destruction in BF3 Ė the building toppled to one side. While that may not sound like anything special, keep in mind that buildings in BFBC2 collapse in on themselves Ė not in whichever direction has the least support. If this means that buildings will be crumbling all over the place in multiplayer, I may just cry tears of joy because thatís the coolest thing Iíve ever heard.

To wrap up the video, quick snippets of footage were shown Ė a night-time missile attack on a city, (what seemed to be) the first person view from the main gun of a tank as it thundered through a desert among a few other tanks, soldiers diving off the back of an airplane and, most spectacularly, being inside the cockpit of a jet fighter during a dogfight!

I still play BFBC2 every now and then but after seeing whatís in store for the Battlefield series, I donít know how Iíll be able to not compare my current favorite FPS to whatís bound to be my next favorite FPS. Battlefield 3 is set to release Quarter 3 or 4 2011.   read

1:03 PM on 02.18.2011

Cautiously optimistic about Dead Island

If you have eyes, been on the internet lately and are a fiend for zombie games, youíve no doubt seen the trailer for Dead Island Ė the open-world, zombie FPS action RPG. Though itís one of the most ambitious titles Iíve heard of in a long time (outside of Awakened), Iím trying not to drown in the sea of hype that its teaser trailer has unleashed on the unsuspecting masses of the interwebs. Donít get me wrong, the trailer is amazing - the way itís cut together and the story it tells definitely gave me chills. But the meager amount of information Iíve seen about the game so far isnít enough for me to buy a ticket on the hype train just yet.

Iím gonna take a moment to examine the tags put on this game Ė open-world, zombie FPS, action-RPG. Each of those genres is great on their own but put them together and Iím not quite sure what you get. Sure, it sounds amazing in theory Ė but then again so did the giant controller that came with Steel Battalion (well it sounded awesome to me back then anyway). Action-RPG would be easy enough to pull off Ė most games (like Borderlands and even Dead Rising fits into that category) manage to integrate some kind of RPG element(s) pretty successfully. The open-world/zombie FPS aspects of Dead Island have me slightly more concerned, though.

With the info that there will be running zombies and unique zombies along with the standard shambling buggers, Iím a little wary of the FPS aspect. FPS zombie killing in Left 4 Dead is one thing, but an open world filled with zombies where you could potentially be playing solo is a whole different situation. In L4D, you have guns along with melee weapons to stave of the zombie horde, but you also always have backup. I canít shake this feeling that in Dead Island Iíd be constantly surrounded and harrassed if I were playing by myself.

Speaking of playing with myself, errÖ by myself, Dead Island will have drop in/drop out co-op play. Youíll allegedly have four different characters/classes to choose from and can jump into games on the fly - similar to Borderlands, Iím guessing. What concerns me is whether the game will scale to your characters or whether areas of the game will be geared toward different levels (newer characters to more leveled-up characters). Even though I loved Borderlands, the way the game scaled to your character (and the playthrough youíre on) was incredibly annoying. It basically meant you had to play with other characters the same level as you, or else the lowest level character was going to be getting stomped on quite regularly.

The FPS melee part of it kinda makes me a little nervous, too. Even the melee combat in L4D2 is spotty sometimes and thatís what theyíre looking to emulate? If anything, Techland should be shooting for a gameplay style similar to the Condemned series. The combat in those games was intense and brutally satisfying where as the combat in L4D feels almost arcadey at time Ė like how you can just run around, swinging your weapon without looking (if youíre covered in Boomer bile, perhaps) and still manage to take out zombies.

But beyond the mechanics of the gameplay, with such a huge, persistent, open-world Iíd be more than a little worried about how smoothly Dead Island would run. With such a high level of detail Iíve seen in the screens and with all the elements of RPG and exploration that will allegedly be available, Iím more than a little worried that Techland will have trouble getting it to run at a reasonable frame rate.

And if you still havenít gotten enough of me being a Debbie Doubts-a lot, I wasnít sure where I had heard of Techland before. Well, Wikipedia helped in giving me another reason to be uneasy Ė the biggest games to Techlands credit are the Call of Juarez series and the recently released nailíd. I donít mean to be a jerk, but Call of Juarez is okay at best and I donít even know how nailíd could translate to a game like Dead Island. Itís great they have FPS experience with the CoJ series but the first game was pretty rough and the second was decent but couldnít really compare to bigger name FPSes (Halo, COD, etc.).

Still though, Iím holding at cautiously optimistic. Open-world games are awesome, zombies are awesome as are FPSes Ė itís almost blasphemous for me to think something combining all those elements could be bad. Maybe I just want so bad for Dead Island to be mind-blowing that I canít help but think about how easily it would be to screw up. At least thatís what Iím telling myself.   read

2:33 PM on 02.10.2011

About time for Activision to unplug Guitar Hero

Oh my, the situation does seem to be getting dire for rhythm gaming fans. After news at the end of 2010 that Viacom had sold ďRock BandĒ developer Harmonix, it seems that Activision is following suit with its own rhythm franchises in a similar fashion. The company announced yesterday their plans to discontinue development on the Guitar Hero series, as well as DJ Hero and all skateboarding games. They also announced that after the DLC slated for February has been released, they wonít be supporting any games with more.

And you know what I say? Itís about time. For so long now, Activision has been flooding the market with all manner of GH games Ė World Tour, 5, Warriors of Rock along with countless other band specific spin offs. Itís no wonder the games got to cost more to produce than they were bringing in Ė constantly having to release new packages with more plastic instruments would obviously get costly after a while. Makes me wonder if Activision has ever heard the term ďQuality over quantity.Ē

Admittedly, Iím a bigger fan of the Rock Band series, anyway. I have been since Harmonix lost the rights to the series and created their own, superior product. RB games have always felt like they played smoother, the notes were tracked in a more entertaining manner that werenít just fun but challenging too. Harmonix continued to innovate RB in its latest iteration, including the Pro modes as well as creating new instruments to accommodate this mode. What did GH 5 or Warriors of Rock introduce to the formula? Letting people play as Kurt Cobain and pissing off former members of Nirvana because you could use his character model to play any song you felt like?

But thatís not all. After the GH and DJ Hero DLC packs for February are released, thatís it Ė no more support for either series. Even though Harmonix had to go back to being an independent developer, they still support RB3 with weekly DLC releases, as well as managing the Rock Band Network so up-and-coming bands (and plenty of others, too) can produce their own RB content.

Also on the Activision chopping block were skateboarding games, which means extreme sports fans wonít have Tony Hawk Eleventy-billion to look forward to this year. This is much less surprising to me Ė I didnít even realize they still made Tony Hawk games. In fact the last skating game I really enjoyed was the original Skate by EA Ė the sequel didnít do much for me.

As a fan of rhythm games since the first (Harmonix produced) Guitar Hero title, Iím a little sad to see the genre in such a state of decline. I literally just got Pro Drums for RB3 a few months ago and enjoy messing around with the free play and (Indie game) drum kits almost as much as playing songs (Expert for me only, please. Iíll beat some songs off ďPeace SellsÖBut Whoís BuyingĒ one of these days. Actually, thatís not true, I beat ďWake Up DeadĒ on Expert [not Pro] once. Once.).

As long as Harmonix keeps pumping out the DLC, Iíll keep a-rocking. And yes, I totally still use my GH2 Xplorer.

Also, if you read my about me, you saw that I work for a newspaper. Thatís no big deal, I bet most people on Dtoid donít even read newspapers, but I do run a blog for my paper called Grizzly Gaming Ė a continuation of a weekly gaming column I did in college. Check it out at, would you kindly?   read

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