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12:45 PM on 01.24.2015

My Year of E-Sports: The Declaration

No pictures, sorry, but I'll try to keep the walls of text as manageable as possible.

Last year,  I watched the DOTA2 Invitationals on ESPN, North America semi-finals for the LoL Championship Series at PAX Prime, the WCS Grand Finals broadcast out of Blizzcon, and the finals for Ultra Street Fighter IV at Capcom Cup. My interest in E-Sports was piqued.

I'd watched pro level StarCraft and a bit of competitive Call of Duty in the past, but those were just the actual matches themselves. Last year was my first exposure to all of the presentation that surrounds all of that. Some of it is great. Some of it is not.

You may have New Year's resolutions to loose weight or to play through your backlogs (I have those too), but this year, I also want to watch a lot of E-Sports, with particular emphasis on presentation. How watchable are games I don't understand the skills behind? What's the tone of the event? Does it feel professional?

So looking for recommendations and leads. So far, I've been following the GSL Code S, Champions Korea 2015, and the MLG CounterStrike: GO at X-Games Aspen. Any E-Sports fans here? Where else should I be looking?

  read


7:26 PM on 02.23.2013

Busy March

Did you know that there are now 11 PlayStation 4 related things you can sign up to preorder now on Amazon? Only Watch_Dogs has an estimated price. Man, $99.99. they're probably wrong about that one.

I just realized it's going to be an extremely busy March for me. Vaccinations for my daughter begin next week, meaning that she may or may not get sick for a few days, so she's going to need constant monitoring and comfort.

Then from a gaming stand point, SimCity releases on March 5th. Perhaps my most anticipated game at the moment, SimCity's made great improvements in representing the condition of the different active systems in the city. Things like water, power, sewage, education, pollution, etc. are no longer just graphs and spreadsheets. Everything is overlaid directly over the city in several different graphical data layers. It makes the game so much more playable, and I can't wait to see all the kinds of cities I'll be able to build without the beta's time limit.

The week after that, StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm and God of War: Ascension come out on the 12th. Surprisingly, I'm mostly interested in StarCraft for the story, and God of War: Ascension for its multiplayer. That's weird, isn't it?

Then, if all goes according to plan, I'll be receiving the Ouya in March as well. It's crazy that a new console is right around the corner. The stuff people have made for system already are hopefully worth checking out, but most interesting to me is what Ouya's staff plan to do as far a curating the content that appears on the platform. Some of the stuff I've heard at least seems like they're thinking hard about how to avoid the mess that is the Google Play Store or the Apple AppStore.

The other exciting part about Ouya is that every console is a development kit as well, so the dream of making and releasing my own console game lives on.

Of course, while it seems like March is all about games, it's not really like I can separate playing and life quite as easily anymore. Like I said, busy March.   read


9:47 AM on 02.22.2013

All Demos? + Hands On, Hands Off [DualShock 4]

All Demos

Perhaps one of the best things that may come to the PS4 is the access, instant or not, to full game trials of every PS4 game. It's very pro-consumer.

I think.

It's definitely not pro-publisher, if Jesse Schell's D.I.C.E presentation, in which he something to the effect that demos hurt sales, is to be believed. According to Schell, the best way to get people to buy your game is to tease them with a trailer, then cut them off. You want to see how the game turned out? Buy it, bad game or not, we're not telling.

Imagine a world where developers have no choice because whether they make a demo or not; every game can be tried first through a timed, full access demo. The pressure would be incredible to make games the best that they can could possibly be because there's no hiding behind the wall of paid access.

So on the one hand, maybe Sony's move could force everyone to make much better games. That would certainly be pro-consumer.

On the other hand, what if you can't make a better game, or at least, no one who could fund your game believes you can make a better game. After all, publishers tend to be pretty risk adverse. If they don't get your experimental, ie. not a shooter, game, you don't get funding to even make it.

And that's how it is now. What happens when they can't rely on fancy marketing to overcome the fact that every game can be sampled? Less games getting funded would probably mean a more homogeneous release line up and that wouldn't be good for gamers.

Maybe this is where Sony's self-publishing initiative comes in. While we may get fewer and fewer interesting titles from big publishers, people who are just in it to make their games available to the world (and of course make some money for their efforts) will provide us with the variety gaming needs to survive.

Hands On, Hands Off [DualShock 4]



Well, that's interesting. Numerous outlets at the PlayStation 4 event in NYC reported that while they got to see the DualShock 4 in the flesh, the moment those controllers were no longer needed for on stage demonstrations, the new controllers were all hidden away. No one got a hands on of anything.

Yet, in the clip above, we clearly see Late Night's Jimmy Fallon and guest Anthony Anderson not only get to touch the DualShock 4, they actually get to play a small segment of Killzone: Shadow Fall.

It's weird how many of us tend to think of the video game press to be an extension of industry PR, yet in this case VG reporters were somehow unsuitable for Sony's means. I mean, the Fallon segment is clearly scripted with the host asking all the right questions. And in the gameplay demo, Fallon and Anderson don't seem to try to do anything that'd break the game, or stand around scrutinizing the texture resolutions, hit detection or the analog stick deadzones. It's like "Home Shopping with Jimmy Fallon."

Still, I wonder how the video game press feels. I'd be a little miffed. Even if reporters aren't experienced in game development, they understand, up to a point, what it means for a game to still be in development. They can understand the little asterisk that means "features are subject to change without notice." Why couldn't they have been granted at least the level of access granted to late night TV hosts?

Granted, none of this will matter in a few months as far as the DualShock 4 is concerned as playable demos will undoubtedly be at E3, but it makes me wonder if perhaps previews as they have been might be on the way out anyways, with every publisher and developer starting up community management in-house and having total control over their messages.   read


7:54 AM on 02.21.2013

PS4: The Real Questions

Is it me or has the preview issue spilled over into this event as well? It just seems that there were a few unusual negative responses to last nights PlayStation Meeting that maybe wouldn't have popped up if reporters weren't suddenly looking for stories, as some have suggested games reporters should do.

Not associated with Sony and I don't mean to be an apologist, but consider:

"Why Were There No Women Presenters At The PlayStation 4 Event"
- Patricia Hernandez [Kotaku]

Don't we know the reason for this? For years, games development has been, and still is, a very male dominated profession. That hasn't changed overnight, but someday it's gonna happen. Probably sooner than you think.

But at this venue, it seems to me that for the material presented, these men were the people to have on stage. A woman isn't the CEO of SCE, Andrew House is. A woman isn't the lead engineer of the PlayStation 4, Mark Cerny is.

Who's the most recognizable face at Media Molecule? Alex Evans, a man.

Who's the most recognizable face at Sucker Punch? Nate Fox or Brian Fleming, men.

I imagine all the people on stage were either the faces of the dev houses they represented or they were the leads of their respective projects. So, for this collection of product reveals, wouldn't any female presenter chosen have been chosen solely because she was a woman? Isn't that sexist?

And I may be completely off base here. If I am, please let me know. From my experience though, being a minority who may or may not have benefited from affirmative action at one point or another, it sucks that my race is considered. Who knows, maybe my race was the only thing considered. If that's the case, what's the point of me even trying? I want to know that the achievements, the things I consciously work towards are the things that matter the most, not that I'm selected to fill some political correctness quotas.

I can only imagine women in the industry feel the same. When someone like Amy Hennig gets to present a Naughty Dog game, we don't get the feeling that she was chosen because she's a she. We know she has earned it through her achievements. Doesn't that feel better than being chosen for something you were just born with?

Bringing up this issue in this context feels akin to when the mainstream media reports on crime, then talks about the criminals playing video games. They don't come out and say there's a link, but the proximity of the words makes readers draw that connection between crime and games. Just like in that scenario, these reports makes readers think that Sony did something really sexist in not having any female presenters, which is unfair.

Is gender equality in the industry a non issue? No, but it's going to take time for these types of setting to change, reflecting the change in the industry.

So, I Guess We’re Supposed to Just Imagine the PS4?
- Brian Ashcraft [Kotaku]

It's perhaps not surprising that a lot of people noticed that while the PS4 was announced, the actual console itself wasn't shown, but it strikes me as odd that some people are making such a big deal out of it.

Historically speaking, games and tech demos (mostly the later) are the first things revealed for a new console. Back in the day, it was processing power and dazzling graphics that were the most important talking points. When the PS3 was announced, we saw lots of ducks and "Killzone 2." (In quotes. Needed to be said.) It wasn't till much later that we actually got to see the console itself.

People may have missed it because somehow they thought that PlayStation Meeting (featuring PS4) meant PS4 Unveiling Event, but this was a pretty standard first showing of a new console, except the focus of the PS4 has shifted away from, "hey, look at all the stuff we can render. Here are the numbers, etc."

Instead, Sony talked about the design philosophy behind the system, how engagement is the most important aspect of the PS4 -- engagement through a large variety of games enabled by self-publishing indies and familiar system architecture; fewer steps between deciding to play and actually playing with suspend states and instant play demos, far easier methods of sharing with friends with dedicated hardware built in for video capture, editing and upload; and so on.

It matters little what the system looks like, right?

Perhaps without seeing the box, people doubt that the PS4 exists or will ever exist in the fashion described? Barring extremely unfortunate circumstances, does anyone really think that's possible? After the countless hours of development, not only in house but with developing partners, spent on making software that depends on the features talked about existing in the final product, can the holidays really roll around and leave us with a PS4 that's not the box they talked about last night? Does anyone really think the games industry is that unprofessional?

PS4: The Real Issues

Reporters don't have to try this hard to come up with stories here, because there are real issues that someone should be finding the answers to regarding the PS4. Price and such, well, there's no point in trying to pry that stuff out just yet. I don't think Sony knows what price they want to charge yet, what with the fluctuating world economy anything could happen. China could, in the next 6 months decide that all workers deserve higher wages.

And stuff happens fast in China. What would that do to the cost of a PS4?

Still, many questions we could be looking for the answers to:

What does it mean to "Build the Fastest Network?"

One of the most interesting features of the PS4 is all of the Gaikai Technologies enabled stuff, like being able to spectate your friends playing, instant access to full game trials without having to wait for a giant download, Remote Play to not just Vita but other portable devices.

While they did state that the functionality will roll out in phases (they even said that some of these things are just what they hope to do), what is it going to take to make it all happen? What does it mean to "build the fastest network?"

If you're a tech guy, I honestly would like to know. Would Sony have to run its own fiber around the globe? Rent out massive amounts of physical space for servers? Are they talking about things that are even possible without doing all that? With ISP's becoming more and more like the airline industry, will anyone have the bandwidth or the money to do any of this stuff?

Being such an important part of the PS4 and its strategy, this stuff is a big deal, and we don't know anything right now.

Is this an attempt to solve the discoverability issue?

There was some talk of how the PS4 is a learning machine that will eventually figure out your likes and dislikes, even going as far as seeding your system with game downloads that are potentially to your tastes. Imagine a person who only plays shooters though, would a game like Journey or The Walking Dead ever show up for that person? How will it know what you could potentially like if a game comes out that is unlike anything before it?

If this is an attempt to solve the discoverability issue, how will the system deal with these types of issues?

Indies get in too?

Just before Jonathan Blow went up, my stream crapped out, but I did hear something about self-publishing. Earlier in the event, they even talked about the PS4 being suitable for free-to-play and episodic gaming. Will there be a PlayStation Mobile type, low barrier to entry, development and distribution solution for the PS4?

There are more people than ever out there with the ability to get their games out to the masses and it would be amazing if the PS4 became another venue for indies to release their games. This, I need to know more about.

As I Write This...

There are answers being found, which is great. This is the world we live in now, a continuous stream of information. Best not to look at just one moment in time and judge. Everything in its context.

Also, sorry for the wall of text. Don't have any pictures handy, new daughter and all.   read


9:53 AM on 02.20.2013

What I Read: The Preview Issue



Wow, this Aliens: Colonial Marines thing has really gotten people riled up about previews. It's gotten me thinking about what it'd be like were "the preview issue" fixed. Would the content for gaming websites become a lot more negative like all the other types of news that are out there?

The headline: "Development in trouble?" "I asked him how the development was going, and he paused, then continued his hands-off preview. What could be going wrong? We dig deeper."

I guess in that world, PR people would be even more cautious than they are now, maybe resulting in management doling out much tighter milestones for game development to ensure that there are no development skeletons to dig up. Stricter NDA agreements for former employees.

Would that result in even less risks taken on more experimental games? Would less former games journalists be working in games production and marketing now if they hadn't been as friendly to developers and marketers at preview events?

Maybe preview events would die out all together. If all the publishers want to do is get their message out, get their trailers and screenshots out, why don't they just release them on their own? After all, it's easy enough to get a website up and if its yours, hype all you want. Or maybe it's not easy, and some of the smaller developers who can't get the attention of gamers without the press would just die out.

Or maybe without the press all playing cheerleader for the big players, the little guys will finally be on equal footing.

What would happen to E3? In recent years, with live streams of all the press conferences anyways, what were the press there for? In most cases, the press just told us what we'd all seen for ourselves. The PlayStation Meeting tonight is going to be livestreamed directly on the PS3, directly from Sony to consumers, so why all the competition for game sites hosting their own streams?

There's a lot to think about in the coming games generation. Perhaps the arrival of Colonial Marines can still be a good thing; the push games reporting needed to becoming more than what it's been. Somehow, I get the feeling I've said that before...

What I Read:

"Previews mostly suck because they rarely serve any of the constituencies we want them to serve."

-Stephen Totilo [Kotaku: Apologies If We Wasted Your Time With That Preview]

‎"Why have we let first-look culture train us to scratch furiously at sources so we can be the first to publish pictures of intransible black cubes, next-gen dev kits, at the risk of the hardware-maker's business? Who does that serve? Is it valuable for game fans to see that stuff eight weeks ahead of E3 instead of during it? Is this still the best way to drive traffic, or something?

"Have we ever thought about this stuff, or are we just racing blindly to enforce consumer product culture around something we stridently claim is an experiential art form, a communications medium?"

-Leigh Alexander [Gamasutra: What are video game previews for?]

‎"For the love of God, don’t pre-order a game based on a preview."

"The problem isn’t that PR creates a wall, that’s their job. The problem is that in most cases we’re not willing to break through it. Previews are often handled by younger reporters en masse at shows at PAX or E3, and those are the people who are often unwilling to get aggressive in their line of questioning or push for hands-on access. This is the sort of job that’s best done by a reporter with a few years of experience under their belt, but previews are often seen as something of a commodity: get them out, get them done, get them up, try to get some hits."

-Ben Kuchera [The PA Report: Previews aren't the problem with game coverage, we are]


Final Thoughts:

Just the other day, a GameStop employee tried to get me to preorder Destiny, which he assured me was coming out this year, despite not being able to tell me anything about the game.

And I've read the previews. All I know is that it's a first person shooter from Bungie. Is that enough for you guys to preorder these days, just a respected developer name and a game mechanic you enjoy?   read


10:58 AM on 08.16.2010

What’s the Console Gaming Equivalent of “gg?”



Battle.net is So Lucky
Having my StarCraft II A.I. opponent telling me “gg,” StarCraft short talk for “good game,” made me doubt for a second whether or not I was actually playing against a computer. It also got me thinking about the custom of signaling the end of a game with “gg.” In the beginning, it must have meant “good game” literally, but now it more something like,

“gg (I’m done. I lose.),” says Player 1.

“gg (Yeah, I know.),” Player 2 replies.

Yet, despite the meaning of “gg” having changed, the very fact that it still stands for “good game” tints the underlying messages of surrender, and the practice somehow keeps the StarCraft II Battle.net community civil.

After all, getting mobbed by hundreds of zerglings or getting carriers warped in behind your base could easily evoke some sort of expletive ridden, “can’t beat’em so hurt’em with words” rage quit. Instead, StarCraft II has this custom of “gg.” Everyone knows that’s what you do.


What About the Rest of Us?
Do other games have something like “gg?” Do they have anything at all? What is one supposed to say at the end of a 750 to 120 point team death match blow out? Perhaps the reason online console gaming can be so unpleasant is because no one really knows what to say. Unlike StarCraft, no custom arose for post game conduct, or perhaps an entirely different custom took hold.

This will sound familiar. Don’t like the way a match is going? Curse out your teammates. Opposition listening in? Curse them out too. Winning a game? Mock the other team’s collective manhood and whatnot. The fact that I can type these generalizations and everyone who’s ever read anything about online gaming can probably come up with specific examples they’ve either experienced or watched on Youtube seems to suggest that there is a customary way to act on XBOX Live. It’s R-Rated, testosterone laden action star style, with a hint of whining.

I think the situation on Live is rather sad. I have many friends who will never know the fun in online gaming simply because they don’t want to be subjected to that community.


Who is to Blame?
I blame the players.(Super generalization alert) Have you ever noticed how gamers also tend to be wise-crackers? In my experience with male gamers I don’t know, everyone wants to say smart ass stuff. Look at the comments on gaming websites for proof. There’s the tough guy persona that really competitive gamers have and also the ever present desire to be “cool” in front of strangers. I think a person from any one of these archetypes would have difficulties saying something like “good game” at the end of a Modern Warfare or Halo match. It just doesn’t sound cool. It sounds much cooler to say something like “You guys *@!#ng suck!” Fits the feel of those games better as well.

I also blame the press in some respects. There seems to be this press perpetuated notion that XBOX Live is this lawless, untamable frontier, where anything and everything goes. This either tells Live virgins to steer clear or makes newcomers think they can do and say whatever they want. There’s not really much condemnation of the way life is on Live, mostly just mirthful smirking. How is anyone supposed to believe that things can change for the better if all they see is “that’s just the way it is” attitude?


Because it’s Not Really About the Blame
I don’t know about the rest of you, but I would like to see a change. Playing games online should be fun and accessible to everyone, and maybe something like the “gg” custom on Battle.net would help XBOX Live and other games reach that state.

In the end though, it’s up to us, the players. What is the “gg” equivalent outside of StarCraft? For all I know, there is something like that out there already, but if we don’t help perpetuate that instead of the status quo, then the status quo wins.

And everyone else loses.   read


9:13 AM on 07.19.2010

MAG and the Power of Double XP

A new Double XP promotion in MAG aims to fix some long queuing times. Will it work?

6 months into MAG, many people have pretty much settled into the game mode that they want to play. Valor player mostly stick to Sabotage and to a lesser extent Domination, Raven players stick to Acquisition and Domination, and SVER with Domination (good thing everyone plays 256 player Domination) and basically also stays away from Acquisition. This makes the wait times for Acquisition and the new DLC mode Interdiction much longer than those of the other modes.

Was it Call of Duty: Modern Warfare? I can't remember. I do know that Modern Warfare was the first major game to implement a perks / killstreaks / rewards system to keep people playing months after months on end after the game's initial release. Who'd have thought a carrot on a stick would be so powerful? You know what would make it even more powerful?

A carrot on a shorter stick.



Or in non-metaphorically terms, in this case, Double XP. A simple, yet again, very powerful way of getting players back in your game, and with the high player requirements for many of the modes in MAG, Zipper Interactive was smart enough to allow for the possibility of Double XP promotional periods in their massive action game. On such occasions, player counts jump, queue waiting times drop, players level up faster and everybody wins.

Especially SVER. They win a lot. Anyways...



Last week marked the beginning of a new kind of Double XP promotion for MAG. Instead of awarding more points to anyone in any game, this one rewards players for picking Directives at the game type selection menu, an option which essentially places a player into whatever game mode most urgently need more players to keep wait times to a minimum.* At this point, Zipper has said that the promo period will go on indefinitely.

To my knowledge, this is the first time Double XP incentives are being used to actually re-balance a game. In the case of MAG, more players of a given faction in any given game mode tends to mean more Shadow War victories for that faction. This promo looks to level that field a bit. It's a interesting idea.

If this is what I think it is, it's pretty clever. Double XP brings in more players, and only offering it to those players who allow themselves to be automatically placed in queues shortens wait times for every game mode. Also, it encourages players to try the different game mode or give them second chances, if perhaps, someone had a bad experience in a certain game type in the past. For me, it's even gotten me to thing more carefully about each of my five loadout slots and try different equipment and weapons to be better prepared for the various game types I might find myself in.

It's a bit early to tell whether or not Zipper's "experiment" will work. I've seen that many people are not yet aware that the promotion even exists. Other times, I have noticed that my scores in these randomly selected game types are lower than what I would be getting in my game type of choice, even with the Double XP, so the change in playing habits may not benefit all players.

Still, I am interested in seeing where this carrot might take us, and I am very interested in seeing what lures game developers come up with next.

Maybe shrimp wrapped in bacon on a stick. Mmmmm...



* I think.   read


11:46 AM on 06.12.2010

Tranformers: War for Cybertron Hands-On


Whoa. So that’s where all the hype for Transformers: War for Cybertron is coming from. The game is actually pretty fun, pretty cool.

A multiplayer demo for the upcoming game from High Moon Studios, Activision, and Hasbro was posted on XBOX Live today so I took it for a spin. The first thing I noticed was this incredibly detailed 3D render of the planet of Cybertron. Breathtaking. In fact, for those of us who are particular about game user interfaces, Transformers is quite a treat. Perhaps not on the level of menus in Dirt and the like, every aspect of the game’s menus, the typefaces, the shape of the buttons, the colors for each element, the animated transitions, all fit well with the Transformers property. It looks really nice, especially compared to the incredibly sparse menu’s of Modern Warfare 2.

Yes, MW2, you can not escape your crappy menus. So bland, so outdated. How many more games do you intend to use the exact same UI in?

Speaking of MW2, Activision seems to be confident that they’ve found the Holy Grail of addictive, online, multiplayer gaming. As with Blur, the “get kills, do challenges, unlock new weapons, loadouts, perks, killstreaks” formula made popular by COD: Modern Warfare is present on Cybertron. Whether you like this or not is a matter of tastes, but as the game features alien robots (Transformers are aliens, right?) instead of regular soldier people, the equip-able abilities and “perks” can be a lot crazier than things like more health or faster reloads. Personally, half the fun of this type of system is getting to try out new abilities every few levels, so the crazier and more varied they are the better.



There are four different classes available to choose from in Transformers multiplayer, two of which, soldier and scout, are in the demo. Each has two slots for abilities unique to each class, mapped to the bumper buttons, two weapon slots for primary and secondary weapons, and three slots for “perks, “ or Upgrades as they are called in this case, which are also unique to each class and in general do things to augment the role that class plays on the battlefield. So scouts get upgrades like increased cloaking times or damage and armor bonuses when coming out of cloak.

Yep, cloaking. And there’s a hammer-throw-like whirlwind melee attack ability too. It’s abilities like these that really make Transformers play differently than other games of this type. In all honesty, without the abilities, Transformers would basically be an Unreal Tournament III mod that was played in third-person. It has a similar gameplay style, similar weapons, and the same graphics (and engine). The abilities add that extra layer of options and strategy that a modern, addictive, game really needs to keep people interested in the long run and keep the game from becoming just another circle-strafing fest.

Of course, this wouldn’t be Transformers without robots turning into vehicles, and that is definitely here. A quick click of the left stick, at any time, and scouts can turn into small cars while soldiers can turn into tanks. Apparently, these vehicle chassis can be customized as well in the full game, so your scout could turn into a jet or something more to your liking. Handling in vehicle form is similar to Twisted Metal in that you can rotate your car-self without any forward momentum. ( I guess alien cars hover) So as far as the differences between this and robot form, it’s mostly a matter of forward moving speed and the abilities you can use. In car form, your left bumper ability is disabled while your right bumper ability is replaced with a quick jet boost that lets you dodge attacks quickly.

Other than that, vehicle form is essentially a third weapon in your arsenal. For example, the default loadout for the soldier is an automatic rifle, a rocket launcher, and a vehicle form tank gun which seems much more powerful than the rifle and is a bit faster to fire than the rocket launcher. Each weapon is good for different situations and gives you more options. Since games started to limit weapon capacity to two to make the characters wielding them seem more human, it’s nice to see that the developers at High Moon have bent that formula here as it is appropriate and fits the world’s fiction.



The demo released today has only one map and only two mode so I don’t have a lot to go on to determine if this game will be a must buy or not. Judging from the inaccessible, but visible menu options, in addition to the 3 player co-op campaign, there will be a 3 player co-op, waves of enemies survival mode called Escalation, a mode similar to Search & Destroy, one like Demolition, one like King of the Hill – basically, your typical suite of online competitive modes. Team Death Match and Conquest (which is basically Domination) have been pretty fun. I suspect the rest will be as well, given that the core running, gunning, transforming is fun, but I can’t be certain.

I can tell you that the fans of this franchise are really going to dig the presentation. The sounds in War for Cybertron are great. The voices of the Transfomers and the old school transforming sound are incredibly nostalgic and wonderful on their own, but they’ve also been transplanted into the rich soundscape of bullets, explosions, the clinking of metal feet on metal floors, running water, and other environmental effects that really made what was coming out of my speakers stand out.

You probably don’t need to be told, but the Transformers themselves also look great. Transformation animations are slick, quick, and cool to watch, even when you’re just switching weapons which transforms your arm. As I mentioned earlier, the environment feel like something ripped right out of UT3, but that could be because there’s just the one map and the game’s built on the same engine. As such, Transformers also has the same texture pop-in “issue” characteristic of all Unreal Engine 3 based products. Still, it is apparent that great care and love of the subject matter were put into crafting the visuals for this game. Little things like Energon cubes as health packs or the neat HUD animation when you bring up the sniper scope all add greatly to the experience.

It’s a shame that Activision has decided not to put a demo of Transformers (or Blur) on the PS3 as well, since actually playing this demo would surely make Transfomers fans and many of those MW2 gamers cast aside some doubts and make them anxious for more. High Moon Studios seems to have put a lot of thought into this one, and judging from the demo, Transformers: War for Cybertron is going to be a great game whether you’re a fan of the franchise or not.   read


2:57 PM on 01.29.2010

What is Camping? MAG Review / Buyer's Guide

What is camping? If you think about it, camping is actually a pretty strategically sound thing to do: sit in one spot that gives you a good view of the battlefield and ample time to prepare for counterattacks, but the fact is, camping is almost universally viewed negatively in gaming. It's like an unspoken rule (the rule is never spoken, the berating always is) of multiplayer shooters. "If I'm going to run around risking my life looking for you, then you have to repay the courtesy by doing the same."

So, the first think that should tip you off that MAG is a different kind of shooter is that camping is not looked down upon. In fact, by developer design, a player gets more XP for staying put and fighting near objectives. Added this to the fact that MAG matches can't be won simply by racking up kills, and it's quickly apparent that MAG may be the FPS for the more strategically minded shooter fan.

Forget about graphics and sound effects because ultimately those things won't matter. All you need to know is that those elements are all solid. The greatest strength of MAG's design is its team and command structures. If you were thinking that for the 256 player experience of MAG, you would need 127 friends to team up with, you should be happy and relieved to learn that all you really need is 7. The seven other players on your squad are the only other players you have any real contact with, and it is those seven players who will help you get the most out of this game. Have seven friends with headsets? You'll have a pretty good time; however, pure headset based strategizing (ever been to a meeting?) would still have been tough though, and that's where the clever command system comes in.

MAG's developers came up with a pretty nifty system in which a squad's leader can mark objectives on the fly, so everyone knows where to go to get bonus points for fighting near. Rewarding players with extra XP for following possibly a random match made player's commands? A pretty smart way to get strangers to work together, I say, and it works. Or I should say, it would work if it weren't for the game's design's biggest failing, not actually telling anyone how all of this command stuff is supposed to function.

Unless I completely missed it in there, MAG's training mode covers all of the basics, but none of the MAG specific stuff. Running to go faster, crouching to go under things, shooting to make people dead; we already know how to use all of that. From playing several games with squad leaders who did no leading, I can tell you that they didn't know how to set objectives. They didn't know that there were carpet bombs to be called in. Even if a poor squad leader is acceptable, poor squad followers are not. I've noticed that often times, most of my squad will completely ignore our leader and hang back getting points through kills, seemingly unaware that actually helping with an objective gives double the points for each kill. I guess that wasn't covered in basic training. Nope, it wasn't.

While I'm pretty confident that those who stick with the game will figure out MAG's systems eventually, it is a shame the developers didn't go for "bakery fresh," instead opting for "gets better with age." MAG is going to need a lot of player to keep going strong, and if initial impressions turn people off, it'll be than much harder to keep on rolling. When the other reviews finally get off the presses, they will vary greatly depending on initial impressions, which is probably why the reviewers are taking so long. They'll range from the "wait 20 seconds to spawn, run 30 seconds, get shot from places unknown, respawn and repeat," to the "and then we had two guys covering each of the entry ways as I sneaked in, knifed the two guys guarding the console and then set my rifle to total pwnage." I have experienced both and the winning one is cooler, but the losing is not totally inexplicable.

So, should fence sitters buy this game? If you've got a headset and the heart of a natural born leader, then yes. If you've got seven friends who love to play co-op, then yes. Also, if you're a team player, then yes. MAG is an excellent, modern day shooter with a lot of depth that should be experienced by all shooter fans. It's just a shame that the best parts of the game are hidden to all but the dedicated and patient.   read


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