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1:07 PM on 12.05.2009

A visit to the Grand International Cosplay Ball

Last Sunday I attended a rather unusual invitation, that being the Grand International Cosplay Ball. This of course being something slightly outside of my usual remit but itís the lifestyle of gamers, gaming and their associated hobbies that really interest me. Itís often inspiring to see the passion from every aspect, be it motoring or gaming, in taking it that stage further, people releasing their own creative influence. Indeed Cosplay is an interesting phenomenon, I use that word because though itís been acceptable in Japan for many years itís only in recent times that itís began to properly expand in European markets. Popular in Japan, Cosplay is huge and almost common place, the Japanese like to dress up, not as a sexual event but by a fun form of action, essentially acting out their favourite video game or anime characters, you get the chance to be someone else, completely transform while having a great deal of fun.




Moving to Europe and it was initially a cliquey affair, almost dominated by niche Anime fans itís expanded due to a more publicly acceptable approach. Very similar to video games themselves, taking a committed hardcore to expand and rightly so, itís a fun and welcoming scene, though be prepared to drop those inhibitions. This is now backed up by shows such as the MCM Expo we reported on in October with many thousands of visitors attending, demonstrating a healthy level of growth even if it is still not fully understood by many of the general public.




So onto my personal experience of the Ball, located in the decadent surroundings of the Clapham Grand night club, itís a perfect scene for this kind of event. Spread over 4 floors there are loads of places to route around or find your own space. On walking in I was instantly impressed with the quality of costumes, stunning examples that wouldn't have been out of place on a movie set. This being an awfully long way from the poorly made ill fitting examples of yesteryear. Everything was covered from period drama to Disney to anime, gaming and Hollywood. Finding my feet and it was time for a few snaps, and how handy it is for a photographer to find willing participants, everyone was friendly and approachable, as ever a very welcoming atmosphere.




The stage performances were also well selected, a varied range of musical talent and stage live action, suiting the atmosphere. Indeed it was entertaining to hear one the singers hitting the Initial D style tracks, always brings a smile to my face. The longer the evening went on the better it became, not least helped by ever consuming alcohol but on saying that it was a fun and sensible crowd though it has to be said, the drinks certainly weren't cheap. But that didn't stop everyone having a great time and indeed I took the opportunity to bust out VVV Afro Ninja. As you can see he wow'ed the crowds with his unique ninja stylee, or maybe his ninja skills made him just too invisible.



As the night wore on and my feet began to feel the strain it was time to head out into the pouring rain and make my way home but as a closing thought, the Cosplay Ball was both welcoming and entertaining and if you haven't investigated the scene its worth popping along to one of the major Expo's. I for one will be looking forward to covering future events, roll on 2010.   read


5:30 PM on 11.20.2009

Can Forza 3 make you a better driver?

Earlier last week I was invited along to the historic Silverstone race track where Iíd get the opportunity to race Forza 3, then go onto the circuit and see how our skills had improved. As a racing fan this is always a wonderful opportunity to view behind the scenes; in this case a nose around above the pit straight. A bit like ďThrough the Key HoleĒ except you donít meet the owner (or in this case BRDC members), damn I was dying to meet Damon Hill alas that will have to wait, still its very exciting having a nose and rummage, while appreciating the classic events this venue has seen over the years.



A great view above the pit lane, the Champions Room as seen after any given Grand Prix[/B]
On to the morning breakfast briefing and as the racing gaming community expert of the day it was my job to do my bit in informing a range of journalists on the basics of the games content and clean driving, gear changes and braking markers, then giving some helpful assistance where required. Initially it was slow progress but continued practice yielded greater results, of course there was that pre race tension in the air. A great buzz at a circuit, from karting to track racing youíll always feel it before you step into car and get on with the job at hand, everyone just wanted to get their experience and for first timers its always a fear of the unknown, as they sign their lives away on the regular racing forms. Its funny, Iíve been here many times but the buzz of excitement of getting to a new piece of the circuit or behind what are usually closed doors always gets me, imagine watching the Grand Prix from this viewpoint.



Informing the gathered press on the key details Forza 3 contains before giving a driving demonstration

Running the South circuit it was unfortunate that this happened to be the only variant not featured in the game, hence FM3 practice sessions were conducted on the Grand Prix circuit in the Lotus Exige. Following a briefing by the racing instructor it was off to Stowe Corner where lucky journalists would have their opportunity to try the real thing, how would it square up? The Lotus Exige is a very sporty car, a low centre of gravity combined with great power to weight ratio makes it great fun for anyone to drive while giving that racy experience. So making our way down to the corner itís a quick scenic tour of the typically freezing circuit before pulling up next to the two motors that would be the feature of the dayís events.


Mike the Instructor gives an explanation of what we'll be doing


Stowe cabin, our cosy'ish home for the day


Helmets at the ready and the all important, lifesaving heater fan

Alas I couldnít fit into the car or indeed out of the car, but in preparation for this I rolled in Pat; Pat was our cameraman of the day and has supported VVV in many ways over the years so it was nice to give something back. Concealing his enthusiasm he goes for a quick spin around the circuit while I take a few sporty snaps, first a couple of slow laps by the instructor then its time to swap drivers. I asked Pat to give his impressions of the racing experience:


Lotus Exiges at the ready, alas I tried in vein to fit in but with no joy

My years of Yoga and study of special circus contortion techniques came in handy for me when it came to entering the side window of the lotus (Oh sorry was that the door?). You suddenly feel your world has shrunk, surrounded by the race spec roll cage interior of any given racing car; I do up my very elaborate safety belt/harness, as my instructor talks me through what we would be doing today. First a two lap warm up of the Southern circuit by my instructor, with me sitting in the passenger seat as he shouts out over the roar of the engine what gears will need to be selected for each corner, when to accelerate when to brake and also where i need to be positioned on approach to the bends I feel fully confident in taking this power house around the track and giving it my all.


Pat pushes a bit harder in his later laps
The time arrives to swap positions and for me to demonstrate my skills, ( I havenít told the instructor that I already own a fiercely powerful supercar, a 1994 1L fiat Panda. So I expect that vast experience of darting around the Streets of London at 29 miles per hour in the Panda will hold me in good stead. Seatbelts sorted, seating position adjusted and Iíme ready to go, noticing the Pedals are tight, the gear stick is tight, everything feels very close together, forget luxury this is a racing machine!


Pat = Racing Hero

First gear selected, I over-rev the engine darting forward, 2nd Gear, working progressively though the gears reaching 120 MPH and now learning about speed deception. I could compare it to Forza 3, only that instead of hurtling off the track and pressing the rewind button, my friendly instructor shouts "BRAKE!" as i approach a right hand bend, ok so shifting down to 3rd and taking the corner smoothing, accelerating out at some crazy speeds. After a few laps my instructor has a quick talk and explains a few things to increase my speed and handle the car better, so off we go again this time keeping a constant speed around the corners instead of the aggressive and somewhat jerky accelerate/brake/accelerate method I had previously been using. Much smoother driving follows, picking up my vision in to the distance and breezing around the track. The handling of this car is excellent; every bump every turn is felt giving great feedback while I improve my overall feel of the car and circuit.


Note the brake disks used as weights, previous remains of an unlucky spectator

Following a 2 hour session it was back to the pits and a that all important test to see if the driving experience of the real circuit could improve those in-game lap times. The result was a resounding yes with all contenders at least 5 seconds a lap faster, all noticing the key details of the real course expertly recreated within the game. So following his racing experience and as someone not totally sold on the video game realisation first time around, how did Pat find Forza 3 now?

Itís hard putting this kind of experience into words, so Iíve picked out a few key bullet points, main differences and benefits of playing Forza 3 and real race driving are as follows:

1) You donít have any danger of dying if you crash in the game.
2) Game has rewind button / real life doesnít.
3) Electricity costs a lot less then Petrol and i would imagine this baby uses a lot of petrol!

Finally i would like to suggest how you can add a little bit more realism whilst racing along with Forza 3:

1) Play Forza as normal with a wheel set up, use a racing seat and TV positioned fairly closely; important to wear a crash helmet!
2) Position your washing machine / tumble dryer / electric drills/ lawn mower / cement mixing machine and anything else that makes a lot of noise behind you and switch them all on when racing (replicate amazingly loud engine sound).
3) Have someone who shouts really loud sit next to you shouting "Brake" "Accelerate" "get to the left you idiot" and have this someone occasionally take the wheel from you to correct your racing line.
4) Have a few other people kicking the bottom of your chair every now and again for when you touch the sides or spin off in to the distance.
5) On that note you could also have someone nearby with a few very angry dogs to be unleashed if you crash or spin off (Simulate crash injuries ) - could provide adrenaline rush.



So some helpful advice on replicating the experience but did it result in better times for Pat? Yes again he was faster, noting the exact details present in the game and replicated perfectly in the FM3 realisation ďits perfectĒ noted Pat, ďI can see all of the markers just where they are on the real track and recognize every corner, its identical to the real thingĒ. Its great seeing this test working but this is where driving games are quite unlike any other gaming experience. Driving games require exactly the same controls to play the game as it would a real car, the feeling is of common sense and the heightened perception from being in a real racing environment it what worked to improve these drivers. Coming back they focused on what they would do in the real car, what braking markers to look for and how to get out of trouble, how to hit apexes; keep consistent apex speed and acceleration, overall how to be a better driver.



You canít replicate the visceral feeling of being in a racing car but if you can detach that element and look to the basic operations and interaction of the driver its all here and as technology improves itíll only become better. Overall a successful experiment and this is what VVV is all about, gaming fans getting into real racing and vice versa, it gives an opportunity many of us will never experience while the safety of never risking our lives.


If there's one thing about racing, it always brings a smile to everyone's face   read


12:23 PM on 11.14.2009

MCM Expo musings

Wrote this a couple of weeks ago but thought I'd share it here, the MCM Expo has been running for several years now, from its humble beginnings the show has grown to a behemoth of, for want of a better word "creative culture". From anime, to gaming, Sci Fi to cosplay, everything is covered with the offering always expanding.



Having been several times myself, it can be a mixed bag so embarking on my journey I went along not knowing what to expect, always finding shows within the genre to be a mixed bag. These depending heavily on the product range displayed or the quality of entries to the ever popular and ever growing cosplay competitions. On arriving at Docklands Custom House Excel Center I immediately felt a huge buzz in the air, great waves of cosplay fans surrounding the venue.


Let us just add that Snow White is definitely the fairest of them all...

Battling through the huge crowds, everyone was having great fun with a friendly atmosphere, while mixing and open for a natter about any aspect of their given passion. Working my way into the main hall and it was encouraging to see support from games companies increasing in its variety, the Expo is an ideal opportunity to show off gaming wares to a more mixed audience and there's no doubt all who attended were glad they did, all around were positive comments, especially from key Community Managers. Indeed more than just playing games, Koei were selling a range of wares while running show activity really embracing the atmosphere of the show. Capcom, Namco Bandai and Sega also consolidating their ever dedicated following though alas the Bayonetta girl was not present, a missed opportunity but there were more than enough *ahem* sexy cosplay opportunities present.



Elsewhere on the show floor, we found a full size fully working Halo Warthog, a stunning replica of the iconic in-game vehicle; we had a chat with the owner and will be running more in-depth content relating to this soon. Indeed there were other automotive displays including the ever popular Ghostbusters car and a surprising replica of the Back to the Future Delorian, complete with all working internals and accurate movie props, a surprising but exciting find.



Of course from the many stands selling unique bitsín pieces to the all important cosplay competitions and this was an area that has always required investment, happily the organisers have finally addressed this issue with quite frankly the best organisation and selection of cosplay Iíve ever seen. Exquisitely designed costumes were all abound and great kudos to those who really pulled it off, indeed Iíve never seen so many attendees in costume and it demonstrates how the show continues to go from strength to strength, expect an even bigger turnout next year.



Overall itís a great day out, with the options to make new likeminded friends from a range of fantasy genres, but be warned you will need some spare cash as there are simply too many goodies on offer, I for one will be back next year but until then Iíll leave you with a range of pictures of our adventures.

So to finish off the day, how about a bit of music from a rather unusual band...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0NpJrkCFhhI&feature=player_embedded   read


5:46 AM on 08.26.2009

Been playing Need For Speed Nitro

This year we've seen a significant stage in the evolution of the Need For Speed franchise, its now grown to such a level that one game simply can't please all and so the decision was made to break the franchise up enabling a wider range of experiences. This also gave the opportunity to focus those experiences to directly suit the target customer. Barring that in mind the decision was taken to separate the Wii version from the other NFS titles, aimed at a slightly younger audience this will represent yet another new step into virgin territory.

Kicking off with a brief presentation we went straight into a hands-on session and graphically the title is very nicely presented, sharp and bold while running at an impressive 60fps, backed up with a fantastic feeling of speed. The first thing that strikes you about Need For Speed Nitro is its striking artistic approach, combining a well implemented fusion of design, colour and general feel. Cars are all based on real models but altered to fit this slightly surreal racing universe. Featuring a comprehensive car design garage, the colours and designs painted on the car actually alter the environment around you, so whenever a player takes the lead the environment changes to match the colour of that car. You also design your own design / graffiti style which literally paints the town as you drive along. Its a great effect and really makes it worth while when you take the lead and begin overwriting the previous race leader, giving a real urge for competitive racing.


Note how the players car colour and design are reflected in the local environments.

As for handling the game is a complete arcade racer, with car control being basic but effective, simply drive fast, turn in and hit the brake with the car gliding in a very Ridge Racer esque on rails style. So no realism here though there is a car damage system, which racing damage will affect the performance of your car so keep an eye out for the giant floating spanner pick-ups dotted around the course, these are vital to your survival. The other pick-ups you'll see are giant police badges, grab one of these and you can redirect the heat on to a competitor, so while the cops bash them about and damage their car in the process you'll be able to make a few places, of course that swings both ways to prepare for a bumpy rides and some very aggressive cop action. Of course the distinctive art style leads on well to the games many environments, all based in major cities around the world but with a Nitro twist, we look forward to seeing more in the final release including more details on the many vehicles available.



The Wii remote has two forms of implementation, you can either race one-handed then twist the remote from side to side or use the nun chuck to steer, suffice to say I did better with the latter, being rubbish at the twisting motion and feeling like I was straining my admittedly powerful wrists. The game also features some fun 2 player split screen modes, demoed was the Eliminator mode. With the car in last place turning into a cop car and then chasing the field, every 30 seconds another player would become a cop until it all became too much for the front runner, always an exciting mode but the cop element that players always had something to achieve despite being eliminated.

Overall the game looks solid enough, great graphics combined with gameplay carefully tailored to the Wii audience means that this new direction could be the best way forward and demonstrates the quality of EA's support of Nintendo. The length or depth of the game could be its only true weaknesses but as ever EA tend to have these things worked out and Nitro looks like it has the potential to be another Wii winner this Christmas season, Nitro is due out in November with a full review in due course.

  read


2:31 PM on 08.15.2009

Made a video of me playing Supercar Challenge

But then realised I couldn't embed it :/ so I thought I would list my impressions here and if you're interested you can see my brief hands on video here.

2009 is fast becoming one of the greatest ever years for racing fans but surely it's now an unenviable time for publishers and developers as development costs rise and rivals eat up potential market share, and in particular on the PS3 we have the looming cloud of Gran Turismo 5 hovering over the horizon, the racing landscape is about to change significantly. It's also tough for the smaller developers, last year System 3 released Ferrari Challenge as a exclusive for the Playstation 3 console. With little or no direct competition the title fared well, receiving critical acclaim, it was a solid well constructed racer and supported with regular DLC. This year the plan is to recapture that success with Supercar Challenge, similar in structure to FC but adding a wide range of new motor manufacturers.



VVV Gamer has had a lengthy hands-on an almost final build, again with a polished and classy front end backed up with the usual rousing soundtrack taking you into the initial menu options. Moving swiftly into the racing and of course handling is always key, in many respects it's a similar feel to Ferrari Challenge but with fine tuning, again we'll be looking at this in more detail but FC did a decent job at conveying weight and we'll expect this to do the same. For those of you new to the genre, this feel is critical in the way the car reacts under braking giving the handling more depth and enabling expert players to find new limits within any given cars performance.

Enter the System 3 games room and you're faced with a pretty impressive set-up, 60" TV, playseat and G25 steering wheel (see videos below), it gave a great opportunity to test the real racing pedigree of this new contender, alas the gearstick wasn't attached on this occasion and with limited time to alter button configurations I opted for automatic gears. Kicking off with the Time Trial Mode, jumping into a Zonda and hitting the F1 Nurburgring Circuit it was initially an uphill challenge, the Zonda suffering massive understeer when any power is applied, combined with rubbish brakes and terrible oversteer at slow speeds. Very much a tip toeing experience but switching the wheel to a higher sensitivity yielded greater results and improved lap times, though this was still a mighty and somewhat frustrating challenge.



Following a few installation laps I hit the arcade mode and swapped to an Aston Martin DBR9, with ABS, TRC, and STC on, the first track being Monza, turn 1 resulting in the usual 1 mph carnage but swiftly sorting it out as we got up to speed. However the difference in handling was profound, better grip, more control and more fun to drive. The wheel combined with a decent car suddenly brought Supercar Challenge to life, through the chicane then the long right-hander before the second chicane, this being an area that many FC owners will be aware that a great line here with aggressive exit can get you through at a mighty speed, again you'll see more that in the video I managed to smuggle out below. Towards the end of the lap the biggest challenge and weakness at this stage was keeping the DBR9 straight at high speed, the car beginning to feel light and twitchy creating an imbalance. This makes some bumpy or off camber braking zones very difficult to master in a short time, though the general rule will usually keep you on the road "slow in, fast out", keeping the car as straight and balanced as possible under braking, while barring in mind that as a stock set-up there could be greater performance with some tuning.


Further testing revealing the 599XX as being the car of choice on this occasion, great power, controlled power-slides and more stable down the straights and fantastic in Simulation mode. Choosing the right car will clearly be critical to your enjoyment out of the gaming experience.

As for the graphical approach, there have been a range of alterations, though its debatable at this stage whether they will be better or different? They certainly are solid but some course representations still appear to lack vital undulation and gradient changes. Car models are again decent representations but lack some of the polished shine of potential rivals notably lacking in metallic and alloys, however notable effects such as smoke, dust and rain have real impact and I look forward to testing more in our final review. The sound too was very impressive, accurate and individual engine sounds with a range of gear changing effects, this is supported by detailed ambient sound including both crowd and trackside commentator effects.

A possible jewel in the crown is the inclusion of 16 player online racing, the first racing title this console generation to be so ambitious and a daring step that step should be applauded, but will it work? Over the last 6 months System 3 have been running a beta test for the title and so far so good, of course we'll have to wait for the finished game to see how this stands up to the pressures of mass demand. Not too much more to add till we play the title again but expect a detailed review of the final release, handling analysis besides interviews with key figures involved in the project, in the meantime the official System 3 press release is added below featuring many of the keys aspects you can expect to find, Supercar Challenge is released in the UK on the 4th September.   read


4:42 PM on 08.11.2009

Been playing Dirt 2

I feel like a broken record this year, every time a new bit of racing info comes out I go on about how competitive this scene is becoming, of course one of the front runners has now shown its hand. Colin McRae Dirt 2, this being a new evolution of the Dirt franchise and yet again moving further from the games rally routes. Now with the recent announcement of the X-Games partnership it all begins to fall into place, introducing a new style and perspective of where the rally genre is looking to expand its audience to new demographics. I have to admit I'm not a massive follower of the X-Games and hadn't been following the development of the racing scene within, Ken Block is well known as a quality driver but seeing old BMX champs such as Dave Mirra make the leap into automotive racing shows the growing importance of the genre. Of course X-Games is about as American as you you can get, nothing like the standard WRC we all know, they've basically taken the Super Special Stages, combined that with the Race of Champions and then added additional over the top glam with jumps and fireworks, so bigger and bolder than anything you've seen before, and there's no doubt this approach works in finding new audiences. Indeed Codemasters have looked at how best to differentiate Dirt from its rivals in more ways than one going to great lengths in redefining its corporate identity.


The home menu (top) Rally Action (center) Battersea Power station (bottom) but with a hue not unlike the US based courses

So onto the presentation with a commentary by Game Design Manager Ralph Fulton, explaining the basic layout of the game and revealing that this is the result of just 1 years development, a staggering achievement and by the same team that brought us last years commercially successful GRiD title. The game also features the 3rd generation of their in-house developed EGO engine, this clearly becoming a hot property both for racing and fps as demonstrated in the forthcoming Operation Flashpoint, both versatile and impressive in its development and execution. He was keen to point out the artistic approach and design philosophy besides announcing that the feeling from within Codemasters is that this is the strongest racing title they have ever produced, we've had a one to one interview with Ralph and will be putting that up in the coming weeks.



Entering the game and there's a similar 3D world menu process as we've seen in titles such as Grid, every year these are refined and improved, this is no exception with a very polished front end though sometimes it would be nice for the simple menu systems but maybe I'm just being too picky. A range of modes to be revealed in the game and of course we'll go through those in our eventual review.

Moving on to my hands on and I can announce I'm very pleased with the complete redevelopment in the handling, the game now feels much like the older titles in the series, controlling slides with power and and all round a more intuitive feel within the car. I don't feel at this stage that the car conveys weight in the way I would like but that might depend on the different vehicles so its something we'll analyze given more in-depth play. Having said that I did have great fun, the graphics are stunning and provide a fantastic sensation of speed, the final package will no doubt provide a considerable challenge.



This play session also gave the opportunity to test out the 8 player online play and again great fun it was too, rally stages are a good example, you now start with all 8 cars in a queue with 1 released every 5 or so seconds. It reminded me of going to a water tube theme park, seeing your friends dive in and waiting for your shot before meeting them all at the bottom, I sit there seeing everyone power off round turn 1 then bang I'm away. Often gaining on rivals but this style really gave you something to aim for. Next was the full on 8 player races, as you might expect turn 1 can be a tad messy but somehow always entertaining, again something to test more in a relaxed gaming environment.



Overall a very positive event, Dirt 2 looking like the step back to form but walking a very careful line, on the whole I'm very pleased with the handling improvements though can't help but miss the standard rally stages of the earlier titles, of course I could go into huge detail there but instead I'll leave that to our review and interview with Ralph Fulton, in the meantime I've added a video below which gives a good idea of what to expect and I'll be adding a video diary of my progress through the game in the coming weeks.   read


5:25 AM on 08.03.2009

So I got to play Forza 3

It occurred to me that I still don't have any friends on here, its must be that that gaming nerd recluse from the 1980's that still lurks deep within or perhaps I'm just too lazy but I will get to it eventually and follow the forum process.

Anyway, more importantly I finally got a long awaited and much anticipated opportunity to have a decent and uninterrupted hands-on at Forza Motorsport 3, I have to admit I've been pretty excited about this game but at the same time not entirely convinced that the package had moved forward. Yes the graphics look superb but what progress had been made with the handling? Had the complete package taken a step forward or was it a little bit of smoke and mirrors? Like all aspects of technology and gaming the benchmark moves very quickly but occasionally something comes along that really exceeds expectations, visually Forza Motorsport 3 is one of these, resulting in a product that simply wasn't possible on the hardware two years ago, but before I ramble on any further its time for some brief reflection around the heritage of the series.


The evolution of the Forza Motorsport franchise

Back in 2004 Forza Motorsport was announced to the world as Microsoft's answer to Sony's behemoth Gran Turismo franchise, a huge project that would tie in XBox live to every aspect and demonstrate the flexibly of online gaming. So important was this that even Bill Gates played the title on stage at the CES 2005, further backing if it was needed and indeed it didn't disappoint, presenting a level of detail detail which blew away any opposition on the Xbox format. It may have only been running at 30fps but exceptionally detailed graphics combined with the most advanced handling model ever seen on a home console title helped Forza Motorsport to exceed all expectations. Sales wise the title did well too but this came at a point very late in the life-cycle of the Xbox, so perhaps wasn't entirely representative of its potential.


VVV were among the first to play Forza Motorsport 2 and helped produce this handy beginners guide

However the franchise quickly built a solid fan-base and with no serious racing titles on the 360 the result was putting even higher expectations on Forza 2, indeed on first playing it I was excited for the prospect, handling seemed a little off, perhaps a bit floaty but with a short few goes and stock set-up it was very hard coming to any meaningful conclusion, suffice to say it was the best racer on the Xbox 360 for that period. But the package didn't match that of the prequel, handling issues and glitches affected its early life, on the whole Forza 2 felt rushed and on meeting Dan Greenawalt I got the impression it wasn't all he wanted it to be with the cost of development weighing heavily on its development process and possibly rushed release.

Move on two more years and we see Dan on stage at E3 2009 presenting Forza 3 with absolute confidence, he conveyed the level of enthusiasm we all know and expect, this is the game he's always wanted to bring to the 360 and it's going to be something special. Now was my first chance to get stuck in and really analyze the improvements this package brings to the table.


The three screen set-up for my hands-on and an Audi R8 I decided to sit in without the owners permission for a laugh

Sitting myself down in the racing seat and starring at the 3 screen set-up I felt like a big bag of excitement, playing on the E3 build, I selected the longest of the Monserrat circuits and opted for a 2007 Lamborghini Murciťlago LP640, ABS on, TCS on, Racing line - Brake Assistance on, Manual Gears with everything else off. We see the cars revving on the grid briefly before the race starts, the vibrating camera building the intensity of the scene and away we go. Jostling for position before diving into the the dark shadows and tricky mid corner apex of turn 1, I loose a few places before accelerating hard down hill (curiously picking up a penalty for getting some air), braking into a longish hairpin at the bottom I gain a place but suffer some understeer. It was at this point that I felt the feedback for the first time, as the car lost grip I felt a detailed response in traction and relative grip, the car felt good and traction response was superb, back up the hill before two more slow corners and I already felt at home with the controls, relative grip combined with the cars limits of performance for my short term experience were giving great feedback and enabled me to push harder in really getting the most out of the car, already this demo capturing that racing spirit, I was enjoying the driving and pushing just felt like more fun.


Great views and an unparalleled level of detail present in the car models

Following a quick run about on the other circuits in the Ford GT40 I decided to go back and really have a pop at honing the longest of the 3 courses, taking out a Porsche 911 GT2 (997) and turning all assists off. Of all aspects I hoped to see fixed, the ABS would probably be top of my list and thankfully Forza 3 didn't disappoint, indeed it again exceeded my expectations. Racing down the hill to the first hairpin I snatched a wheel and it sent me wide, typical when you change from ABS assistance but in making that mistake I felt clearly when the wheels were turning, going round and up the hill I broke early just over the crest, again feeling the wheels locking under braking but not locking my steering, off the brake, wheels turning and the car was gripping well. Up the second part of the hill and I was really building some speed, this game giving an unparalleled sensation of motion that only 60fps can provide. Braking into the final corner and it was a tricky late apex, the wheels again locking slightly making me cautious and with the Porsche's big ass wanting to overtake me its a corner that seemed to go on longer than you ever expect, round onto the final straight and I was again finding a comfortable balance, 10 laps later and it was time for a muscle car.


Three shots here of the long hairpin at the bottom of the Monserrat hill

Having a search and I opted for a 2009 Dodge Challenger SRT-8, all assists off I leave the grid and the power is obvious, this car has torque and plenty of it. Taking turn 1 and my back end steps out immediately, quickly counter steering and reducing the power I straighten out down the hill, braking into the apex and the the back end again comes out sending me into a full on powerslide, I hit the opposite lock to control the slide but it's too late and the car spins out. It seems at this point that the car really needs a different set-up to slide comfortably, the stock car giving a driver two options, either come off the power or spin out. Either way it was great fun racing this beast around the track and it gave the opportunity for some really aggressive driving, coming up to the final few corners and I almost loose it but the road is in a heavily positive camber, giving me the grip for a save from a possible heart stopping accident, camber really affecting the cars as it should.

This was just a taster of the final game, we've seen very little so far with a wealth of modes and game options still to be revealed but what I have discovered on this brief experience is that Forza 3 is going to deliver both in handling and graphics. It was exciting feeling just how different each car handled, weight distribution and traction all very unique in their response. Even at this very early stage the game feels right, it feels new and so it's difficult to compare with anything I've played before, that would simply be an injustice, so for now I look forward to getting my hands on future builds before our interview with Dan Greenawalt later this year, in the meantime check out the latest Forza Motorsport 3 shots in my gallery.   read


10:15 AM on 07.30.2009

My impressions of Outrun Online Arcade

So after my Outrun recap I decided to have a bash on Outrun Online Arcade and write a little review too :)

Originally launched in the arcade back in 2003, Outrun 2 came as a refreshing surprise, it represented a brief respite to the failing arcade scene giving a new lease of life while taking a classic title and putting its simplistic gameplay values back in vogue. As for the gaming community, well lets just say everyone was suddenly an Outrun expert, even those who weren't seemingly born when it originally came out. Anyway back the game and it was a pretty straightforward race to the end using a similar structure to the original title. Wonderfully smooth 60fps and a perfect powersliding motion, it may not have been the most critically acclaimed title nor the most financially successful one but Outrun 2 did a solid job and was a worthy official sequel to the 1989 hit.



One of the largest XBLA and PSN titles to date, Outrun represents a new level of quality on what we'll be seeing online taking what is effectively a full game and using the growing direct online retail options. So moving on and the menus though basic are perfectly formed, again walking a strict path with the original title, players are given the choice of Outrun Mode, Heart Mode, Time Attack and online Multiplayer featuring 6 player races with the standard in-game options. Outrun mode being the classic race to the finish of course you can always try the endurance 15 stage option which encompasses every stage environment the game has to offer.



However some of the best fun is to be had on the Heart mode, this was first introduced in Outrun 2 and basically its about keeping your girlfriend happy. She sets a range of tasks and your level of completion depends on her love rating, these tasks include overtaking cars without crashing, drifting through coloured pieces of track, collecting coins or drifting through checkpoints amongst a range of other activities.

However gameplay is not all hunky dory, the control from the original conversion does not appear 100% converted, with overly sensitive commands making it very difficult to turn the car without massive oversteer. There is an option to reduce sensitivity however this brought in considerable understeer resulting in my play experience being unable to find a comfortable balance. Many of these hurdles can be covered with extended play but control is neither ideal nor inkeeping with the Outrun philosophy.



Graphically the game is a solid representation of the arcade but at the same time its somewhat underwhelming, the resolution just doesn't seem that high? There appears to be an odd mist covering the screen, this could be interpreted as a severe lack of anti-aliasing or simply a lower resolution, either way after the success of REZ this is disappointing in the technical department and could have just as easily been sold on the marketplace as an Xbox/PS2 Original and really doesn't appear upgraded to next gen hardware in any way. In essence this is just an emulation and even includes slow-down on the first stage of the Heart Mode, very disappointing and not what we expected.

Overall Outrun 2 is still a fantastic game and fans will always enjoy the challenge, a reasonable price for a full game but its a little bit cheeky to sell an Xbox/PS2 original in this way, I hope that future arcade titles do receive the upgrade treatment we expect, for now though my Ferrari and sexy though slightly moody girlfriend are waiting for a quick spin.

7 out of 10
Outrun Online Arcade is out now both on XBox Marketplace and Playstation Network.

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7:40 PM on 07.28.2009

Outrun Old and New

With the recent release of Outrun Online Arcade I felt it would be a good opportunity to look back at the heritage of the series and the aspects of this title that continue made it a classic loved by fans of the genre to this day, besides my own personal and reflective take.



Outrun was originally developed by Sega Amusements for the arcade in 1986, a time when the vast majority or racers were either top-down view such as the Segaís Monaco Grand Prix or simplistic 3D in the form of Namcoís Pole Position. The objective was simple, to take your girlfriend for a drive in your swanky new Ferrari Testarossa and go as fast as you can making sure in the process that sheís suitably impressed with your manly driving technique. Though for the eagle eyed of you, youíll notice itís not actually a Testarossa at all, Sega did not secure the official Ferrari license and opted for a cheeky duplicate, certainly not something a developer could get away with today, with the 2003 release of Outrun 2 featuring the full Ferrari license.



Developed by legendary designer Yu Suzuki, Outrun grabbed the attention of on-lookers with its bright bold and colourful graphics, while providing an exceptional interpretation of speed using Segaís Super Scaler technology to great effect. As discussed within our feature The Art of Racing, the visual approach was one which dominated the era, the colour palette used within the new generation of Japanese developments giving games a bold and happy feel. The music too was a perfect fit, with this game being the first to give a player the opportunity to choose which track they would prefer to drive to. Sega were obviously very pleased with the result and even went to the extent of including an audio cassette with the home conversion featuring the full soundtrack, this meant players could play the actual theme tune rather than listen to the often appalling chip generated conversions. I have to admit I missed this cassette edition and had to suffer with the best my Amstrad CPC 464 could manage, which was rubbish.

So youíve got the car, youíve got the girl, now you need some serious speed and Outrun provided that in buckets, this involved driving recklessly fast on open roads through a wide range of environments split into sections with timed checkpoints. Toward the end of every stage the road would split into two, with the left track pointing to the easier section and the right to the harder more complex routes, fail to reach the checkpoint in time and it was game over. The in-game environments covering pretty much anything you can think of and with some of the tightest time limits ever in an arcade racer it was certainly challenging and on my first impression intimidating too. The furious speed and vicious crashes conveyed through the force feedback really made this a somewhat nerve wracking rush with a high level of skill and concentration required in reaching the games 5 route destination goals. Though I confess I never did manage to reach the goals, Outrun was always more expensive to play than any other cabinet and a tad costly for repeated play. However reach new territory and you could quickly attract large crowds, every section was a journey of discovery, it seems silly by todayís standards but the change in background colour really did cause an awful lot of excitement.


Home conversions were a mixed bag, usually rubbish. From Left: Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, MXS

Outrun immediately became a classic of the arcade marketplace, this was an era when the arcade experience far exceeded that of home systems while representing the beginning of a new era which would prove to be a magical and exciting experience for arcade goers, with cabinets ever increasing their complexity in making that experience as inclusive and immersive as possible. Outrun pushed these boundaries yet further with AM2 leaving no expense sparred in their realisation of cabinet design resulting in the first ever force feedback steering wheel and moving cabinet, a revelation in design, a revolution in execution and an evolution of the experiences arcades were going to be expected to provide.

Between the mid 1980ís and early 1990ís arcade technology would continue to strive forward and provide experiences way beyond that of home systems, the difference between the arcade and home conversion being poles apart. The Outrun conversions suffered too, often woefully inaccurate to say the least, some lacked sound while others lacked colour but all lost that critical feeling of speed. But this didnít stop the title selling as Sega maximised their in-house development with the worldís first home conversion of the title to their Master System format in 1987, simple yet effective and highly impressive for the time.

Interestingly the Spectrum packaging (left) featured the Ferrari prancing horse

Outrun was a benchmark and though I loved the arcade experience, the home conversions never did it justice. Most were also impossible to complete, but despite that, it didnít stop me trying and I was always being hopelessly conned when it came to box art, often screen shots of the arcade Atari ST and Amiga versions would be pictured on the back of the Amstrad, Spectrum and Commodore conversions with the now classic phrase ďscreen shots from various formatsĒ, but it never stopped me wishing for better.



Since its release Outrun has been converted to a range of different formats, and took a further 17 years before we saw a proper sequel. But over those years a range of titles were released using the Outrun name, though none captured the magic of the original they all deserve their place in history and we'll report more on these in a later feature, in the meantime you can can find more in our Outrun gallery.

We've taken the time to find a few helpful videos, the first represents the original classic arcade machine in its original guise, the two offer a glimpse of the kind of conversion to the home you could have expected in that era, suffice to say gamers today have never had it so good.   read


5:37 PM on 07.20.2009

Batman: Entering the Arkham Madhouse

Another week, another bunch of launches, last week I was lucky enough to go to both the 1 vs 100 launch and the Batman community day, I hadn't had the opportunity to play it before now but noted my day in the article below. :)

Last week Eidos invited VVV along with many of their forum community members for an exclusive showing of the upcoming Batman: Arkham Asylum; not a direct relation to the recent movies, instead a new vision of the Batman universe inspired by the ever popular comic series. On my arrival and after battling through the queue of excited gamers it was time for a brief introduction by the Game Director of RockSteady Studios Ė Sefton Hill. Who later answered a few questions before heading into a demo of the game in-action being played live by lead level designer Ian Ball, and jolly good he was at it too. Though very little new information was released Sefton again confirmed that the PS3 version would feature an exclusive additional playable character; that being the Joker who would have 8 playable challenge mode combat levels. The game would feature online time attack modes and DLC is planned.



Moving into the game and it becomes immediately apparent the focus has been on the one player mode, creating a detailed story and in-depth adventure, on the watching the demo I likened it to 2008ís excellent Dead Space with use of the HUD options reminiscent of the latter, both visually enticing while practical in their execution. The premise of the story being that Batman has caught the Joker (voiced by Mark Hamill) and imprisoned him in Arkham Asylum but catching the Joker felt all too easy, indeed it was the Jokers plan to be caught, now he takes over the Asylum, turning the tables on Batman and trying to imprison him.



The gameplay is split between combat and exploration, you have a detailed world to discover with a variety of ways in picking up clues which take you to the next part of the level or reveal new aspects of your quest. One such example is when Batman recovers an explosive gel that enemies were using to blow up the batmobile, this then comes in handy for blowing through doors and weak walls, the explosion often downing enemies on the other side.



Then there is the hand to hand combat which forms a large part of the gameplay and is nothing short of brutal in its execution. Batman certainly isnít mucking about, he wants to hurt people and get the job done, this is conveyed via a range of intuitive fighting moves, both defensive and offensive with the ability to counter should it all get a bit hairy. Of course should the bad guys pull out a few guns its time to change the approach, it certainly doesnít take much to see your hero taken down in a hail of bullets making for a far more tactical game.



Though loosely based on the 1989 DC comic Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth you canít look at this game and not liken it to the visually stunning 1992 comic book adaptation of Judgement on Gotham, Batman vs Judge Dread vs Judge Death and a whole bunch of bad guys in between. Using a modified version of the Epic Unreal 3 engine, graphics are superb while the artwork featured has been realised in outstanding detail, environments have been aged from use giving the game a very organic feel, while Arkham is seeped in a feeling of age and misery, a dark place for bad people. Meanwhile the soundtrack though reminiscent of the recent Dark Night movie theme fits the action perfectly while being of an outstanding quality; we look forward to sampling more of this in the finished product.



Following the presentation it was time to get a hands on, while competitive players could try their hand at a competition with the winner winning a Batman Batarang, this all involved beating up as many bad guys as you can while retaining a combo, the combo system being vital to gaining a high score. Certainly enjoyable, the fighting is reminiscent of classic 2D scrolling beatíem ups and these challenge modes have been well implemented. That rounded up the days proceedings and alas there were no booth babes or Batman cosplay so we at VVV have scoured the net for a few good examples, totally irrelevant to the game but its always a good excuse to expand some general Batman love.


We took the opportunity for an internet search of Batman Cosplay goodness, all pictures are the property of their respective owners

Weíll be featuring more on Batman Arkham Asylum in the coming weeks but in the meantime you can have a good look through our range of shots in the gallery and watch this space for further information.   read


3:55 PM on 07.07.2009

Racing and Tecmo Bosom Love

It's been a few weeks since my last update, the majority of that time going into the new VVV Website which has now seen its soft launch in time for the summer. Good and bad, good that I have time to get organised, bad in that this is the usual summer drought of news. But its also nice to know that when it is all running I'll be in good shape with loads of news to work on and right now I'm pleased with the huge range of racing related titles coming soon.

This week I wrote a brief review on Hang On, Sega classic biking title, added a range of new Forza and Shift shots, attended the Ninja Gaiden Stigma 2 launch and met EA for some additional Shift news to follow shortly



June 26th saw the announcement that KOEI (developer of the Dynasty Warriors franchise) and and Tecmo (developer of Dead or Alive and Ninja Gaiden series) would be coming to together in a sizable merger to form a new powerhouse Japanese publisher. This also gave the chance to show off the latest build of their much anticipated Ninja Gaiden Stigma 2 coming exclusively to Playstation 3, certainly a good shot in the arm for Sony and they were represented in full force by a range of senior management.

Following introduction announcements by European VP Will Curley and President and CEO of Tecmo Koei Kenji Matsubara, it was time to hand over to the games producer Yousuke Hayashi, with the exclusive first showing of a new character to the series Momiji. Now for those of you that know of the Momiji figurines pictured below it appeared at first to be an unusual name for this spear wielding beauty. However taking to the first level and it was classic Ninja Gaiden action, intense and unrelenting from the off. If you're new to the genre and you play Ninja Gaiden there are several things that come to mind, great graphics, old school arcade chopping games, rock hard gameplay and last but certainly not least very large animated bosoms.


Noooo not that Momiji! The middle one!

The demonstration continued with Yousuke displaying a racing of finishing moves before fighting his way to the first mid level boss, following a frantic confrontation and several top-ups of heath the giant winged foe was eventually defeated, flying away to fight another another day, applause from the gathered press with a Q & A session to follow.

This revealed several key changes to the Ninja Gaiden we all know and love, firstly and most importantly the introduction of an online co-op mode. Not only making the game more approachable but this genre has always been one of those best played with friends, VVV Gamer put forward the question of online score boards and there will indeed be a range to aim at but exact details are being kept under wraps for now. On the whole the game appears to have gone through a complete revision, reworked graphics, revised difficulty making the game more approachable, a wider range of enemies and a completely new camera system which should give many more options to view the action from a playing style or position that suits you.

Key New Aspects to Ninja Gaiden Stigma 2 include:
[LIST]
[*]The new Momiji Character
[*]2 player co-op modes with cooperative attacks and online scoreboards
[*]A range of new enemies with variable AI
[*]New weapon reward system and devastating finishing moves.
[/LIST]

You can have a quick gander through the images below or check out more in our [URL="http://www.vvvgamer.com/gallery/browseimages.php?c=8"]gallery[/URL].





Following the presentation it was time for some refreshment and a hands-on for the attending press to get their feel of the new iteration of this franchise. Feeling great but certainly not as great at the amazing booth babes, Rachael being a particularly impressive cosplay, and giving VVV Gamer cause to looking more into the aspects of the gaming genre in the future, as for the hands-on, regrettably booth babes not included. We'll be looking more at Ninja Gaiden Stigma 2 later in the year.


KOEI moving into the world of booth babes and with the kind of results Tecmo would be proud of!

Its interesting to see these two companies come together, on the one hand they are polar opposites, KOEI with their games containing an historical value to their gaming experiences and interpretation, more of a traditional Japanese. Where as Tecmo have moved into a much more forward facing style, their games being built on glitz, glam and rather bouncy boobs so the combination of these two coming together could yield some exciting results in the coming years, suffice to say VVV Gamer will be keeping a close eye on proceedings.

Ninja Gaiden Stigma will be released exclusively for the Playstation 3 in Fall 2009.   read


12:48 PM on 06.12.2009

Forza 3 reveal Le Mans while we see new shots of Shift

Games are like buses, you wait all day and then a whole load come along together, the driving genre seems to aptly represent this analogy and right now gamers are buzzing with the big titles around the corner. In a way its a shame these titles will be competing so hard against each other, between 2006 and 2009 Xbox 360 owners only had 1 major release to look forward to, that being Forza Motorsport 2 meanwhile Playstation owners have had to make do with the glorified Gran Turismo 5 Demo.




But its all going to change and today Forza 3 fired its second shot with its press release that the Le Mans circuit will be featured within the game, new screen shots in our gallery but its looking ace and you can see all the details.



Meanwhile Need For Speed Shift haven't taken this lying down responding with their new screen shots, both games look awesome, both will feature realistic driving engines, so its really going to come down to personal preference and word of mouth. I'll be interviewing the developers of both games shortly with in-depth analysis to follow later in the year, you can see my previous hands-on here.

Again you can find all of the current NFS Screen in our gallery.

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