Saturday, July 6, 2013

By: Jamaal Ryan

Microsoft had me at Phantom Pain.
The Microsoft E3 press conference was everything I hoped, wrote about and more. Its was a dense show busting at the seams with game after game after game, and was easily one of the high points of this year’s E3.

The kick off with Metal Gear Solid V/Phantom Pain was pitch perfect; Kojima Productions know how to put together trailers that give us goose bumps. Opening with a blend and bounce from horse-leaning stealth mechanics, to its day and night cycle, to its weather system, to open world and on-foot stealth gameplay, all was brilliantly edited with each feature linked by fast forwarding in the interest of time. It also captured the scale of the game’s massively open environment.


Microsoft then looked to the 360 discussing its continued support of the platform. They unveiled a new SKU announcing that it would be available the day of the conference.
Additional perks were added such as the new program which gives Gold members 2 free downloadable games a month, which sounded too similar to the far better offers in Playstation Plus.
This was followed be a few new (though not newly announced) titles: World of Tanks, Max the Curse of Brotherhood, and Dark Souls 2. But this came along with the statement of hundreds of titles coming to 360, which tells us that 360 support is in the long haul for years to come.
About World of Tanks
World of Tanks is built from the ground up for the 360. This was integral because of the community behind Xbox 360’s shooters which influenced Wargaming West’s focus on making the controls for the 360’s World of Tanks as approachable as possible with analog sticks. Being able to bring tank movement and aiming to the 360’s controller was a project of development in and of itself.
The current hardware that World of Tanks runs on is easily more powerful than what lies within the 360. But instead of moving to Xbox One, Wargaming West wanted to target an established install base with a free-to-play game; not start fresh on completely different hardware on the next Xbox.
RYSE, the game from 2010 then known as Codename Kingdoms, was first unveiled as a Kinect game in its second showing at E3 2011 under its current name.  Now, it’s become a third person gamepad controlled action game. It was an impressive showcasing of the Xbox One’s hardware. But while the scope of the background battles and the scale of destruction happening around the character, nothing from the core game itself was terribly impressive. In its most basic form, RYSE looks like a hack and slash action game with brutal yet within-bounds combat.
For me, it was slightly frustrating to look at. The combat is so hard core that you almost hope that there was a bigger payoff within the context of the setting, the war, the realism, and the violence. As a charging Roman, if I’m swinging a sword hard enough at a guy’s neck to send his head soaring, I expect him to be decapitated. This rarely happens in the demos, with the only sighting of dismemberment I’ve seen were dude’s legs.
Crytek is pushing a lot with the Xbox One’s hardware, so I don’t expect to see this change.

About RYSE
RYSE’s combat system had a long road ahead of it as a Kinect Game. The game’s designers scrapped the motion control after figuring that having to teach players how to do basic sword swings and other actions would be spending too much time having them do things that’s not fun.
The system now hinges on payoffs in the form of execution choices. After players whittle down enemies, button prompts will appear, opening a window for executions. Crytek emphasizes that these aren’t QTE’s, but opportunities to gain more experience to upgrade your character later in the game.
Beyond the images capturing the carnage of war, Crytek also tries to differentiate themselves by pulling the camera closer into the character than most action games. With their proprietary CryEngine, they’re not only capable of rendering large scale environments, but they can also capture the detailed armor and the emotion of the characters.

RYSE will be available at launch for Xbox One.

It wasn’t until Insomniac’s Sunset Overdrive that I began asking questions. Sunset Overdrive is said to take place in a “growing world”, where new content can be generated by the cloud. With that being said, Sunset boasts an incredibly vivid art style that keeps things interesting, and the enemies look suspiciously like Resistance’s Chimera.
Forza did the same with its new cloud messaging, claiming that Forza’s AI system will be adjusted in accordance to your play style. With both games said to be constantly iterating the software for the players and the community, could we be looking at two always-online required games?
About Forza 5
Forza’s Drivatar system will be Xbox One’s leading cloud based system at the console’s launch in November. Completely revamped from the 2005 version, it’s more characteristic to “big data” as it gleans loads of information from your behavior on the track and sends it to the cloud which calculates these variables into AI behavior that you’ll see in game; it’s directly reactive to the way you play, driving more like humans than system generated bots.
Turn 10 has always boasted an incredible attention to detail, and that shows on Xbox One’s hardware. Colors pop out in a surreal fashion, the dashboard reflects off of the windshield in cockpit view, and there’s fabric-fine detail in the gloves and the steering wheel. Games like Drive Club and Forza 5 give the finest demonstration of rendered rubber, asphalt and metal.
Their dedication to driving simulation dives deeper into science. The developer has teamed up with Calspan, a science and technology company that studies flight, transportation and aerospace research, in order to accurately depict physics simulation.
Forza 5 will be available at launch for Xbox One.
After a short trailer from Minecraft, Quantum Break hit the stage with the most realistic facial animations I’ve ever seen in a video game. There was a tint of exaggeration to the character’s features, with the woman frozen in a cartoonishly looking scream-face. But little hints of confusion and concern were easily communicated through the characters on screen. It stands as one of the most visually stunning games at E3.
About Quantum Break
The fragile entity of time is under you control as one of the few that can manipulate it. In this ambitious television inspired, time warping, high action game hybrid, Quantum Break occurs after the events of a time traveling experiment gone wrong which results in the breaking down of time itself.
Remedy is building upon its history of story-telling by making live action inclusive to the narrative. We’ve seen this in Alan Wake within its cutscenes, but Quantum Break seeks to reach far beyond that. Unlike the game related show, Defiance, Quantum Break’s season will be included on disc.
Theoretically, the television show will act as a payoff of the decisions you make in the game. Following a series of choices, the live action will play the episodes in response to that.
The game itself plays as what you would expect from a third person shooter. But to give more insight into the TV show itself, you will be able to play as two protagonists along with the bad guy at some points in the story who has the power to make dramatic decisions as to what fate will become history.
At this time, the team behind Quantum Break’s story has only 4 writers compared to the standard count of regular television sitting between 5 and 20; and the little bit of footage that we’ve seen from the live action show wasn’t all that impressive. But Remedy has already proven its worth as a third person action developer in both Max Payne and Alan Wake. At its worst, we might get a third person shooter with neat episodic content attached to it. At its best, we could have the most innovative conduits of storytelling in video games.   

Unexpectedly came along a little game called D4 from the mind behind this generation’s most divisively received title, Deadly Premonition. With just a quick look, it’s captured in an anime style that’s similar to that seen in [Catherine]. In the trailer itself, nothing was shown in reference to the story and the characters, yet most intriguingly was the game’s control scheme. Two hand icons swiping across the screen suggested Kinect controlled, yet each were labeled L and R which could have represented left and right analog stick.
Slightly less obscure, though no less “un-Microsoft” was Project Spark, the most Little Big Planet game since LBP for Vita. It opened with a SmartGlass controlled creation tool, then moving over to large scale gameplay with multiple players fighting up against a horde of fantasy monsters, and then it closed with a quick look at the different types of games in which can be created from the tools of Project Spark. This was enticing part of the demonstration which brought that same level of excitement from the premiere of Little Big Planet 2. Hopefully for those of us who are less creative, they can offer a single player component that can guide us through pre-made creations that we can appreciate.
About Project Spark
Enabling players to bring their imagination to life in an “open world digital canvas” is what Microsoft Studios want for Project Spark.
You will be able to create content in three ways: You can build it from the ground up from a blank slate; you can take advantage of Cross Roads which is its story builder feature in which players can organize their own series of narrative choices – from quest embarking to fighting monsters -- into a small campaign. Lastly, players can augment and modify the creations of others in the community. Over time, one can see the lineage of iterations of one person’s creation evolve. Much like Little Big Planet, these creations can be built off of templates, whether it would be RPG, an FPS or a third person action game.
One thing that is impressive about Project Spark it the ability to apply behaviors to any object in the game like seen with the rock in the demo. Taken to the next level was the mechanized machine seen towards the end of the demo. Interestingly enough, mechs aren’t supplied by the developer. It’s essentially an assembled structure from a house and other parts that was given the behavior to act like a mech.
Entering a robust creation tool such as Project Spark can be daunting, especially if introduced with its full girth with no prerequisite coaching. The dev team gives players a few options. One is simply allowing players to play community creations on their own to draw inspiration from. The team will also offer tutorials on how to use the different assets within the game creator. And lastly, players will be able to play creations offered directly from the developer.     
Project Spark will be available on Windows 8, Xbox 360 as well as Xbox One free-to-play. Beta signups for Windows 8 are available at joinprojectspark.com/
The teased franchise that Rare was to revive was indeed Killer Instinct from Double Helix Games. Microsoft presented K.I. with a “we listened” wink and a nod before showing off on stage gameplay. Though people claim that the fighting game genre is picking up again with the somewhat recent release of Injustice: Gods Among Us, I’m having trouble seeing who this game is speaking to. Newer gamers certainly don’t have the access or the remembrance of games like this, and older gamers that may or may not have played the original version likely lost interest.
This also gave a chance for Microsoft to roll out their partnership with Twitch, one of the most popular streaming sites for video games. This is arguably more significant that Sony’s deal with UStream.
About Killer Instinct
Killer Instinct may not have been the fighting game to beat back in its 1994 days, but the team behind this reboot has an impressive pedigree of fighting game designers from Skull Girls to Street Fighter 2 Turbo to Super Street Fighter.
The veteran talent behind Killer Instinct shows with its fast, furious, and very Street Fighter-esque combo system. Looking and playing Killer Instinct, it comes to no surprise that K.I. has already confirmed its place at EVO. You will not see boss characters right away such as those in the older games. The developer is specifically focused on the fighting system, ensuring that it’s as competitive as it can be.
Killer Instinct is making its way to the Xbox One in the best possible way: free-to-play. Though fighting games have been on the rise, a full retail asking price is still a gamble in today’s market. A full price version will be available, but for those who just want to check the game out who withhold pause and intimidation for fighting games can take advantage of K.I.’s free-to-play option and purchase characters individually if they so choose.
Killer Instinct’ will be available at launch for Xbox One.
After the mute and underwhelming debut of Crimson Dragon we were hit by what was then my game of show, Dead Rising 3. Now I’ll admit, I never cared about the Dead Rising franchise. The endless wading through pools of zombies didn’t entice me. It felt like a whole lot of zombie killin’ and not enough direction. It was a technical marvel with the amount of zombies that could be placed at once; and though such aesthetics didn’t catch me then, they do now.
In a full open fictional town of Los Perdidos California, Dead Rising 3 showed off not only a level of visual fidelity for such an open world, but the seamless movement from inside an abandoned house, to evading and killing out in the lifeless streets, to running over droves of zombies all in a dense and heavily populated area. Despite the gritty sheen, there’s still a level of goofy-ness to the game’s attitude. You can knock enemies off their feet with a swing of your wrench, the core mish mash of items and weapons still exist, and the crowd reacted when a hammer and saw hybrid, the SledgSaw, was thrown at a zombie, cleaving him into a banana split.
The demo kept me completely enamored until SmartGlass showed its ugly face again with Josh Bridge’s seemingly resentful, “and with the addition of SmartGlass” with yet another useless implementation by calling down an air strike from the heavens pounding zombies into dust.
With that said, it’s still silly fun powered by next gen technology.
About Dead Rising 3
Dead Rising 3 wouldn’t have been immediately recognizable if the name was shown at the end of the E3 gameplay demo. The look of more skewed realism was intentional to highlight the threat of the zombies. Let’s admit, they were nothing but fodder in past Dead Risings. And while they’re clearly fodder here as well, the look and the feel of them pose more of a danger.
One criticism is the absence of ostensible humor. Capcom’s Josh Bridge stresses that there’s ample opportunity for unintentional humor which can be better appreciated than the forced laughs of past Dead Rising games.
Dead Rising has historically implemented a timed mission structure that pressure players to manage their tasks within the specific time limit. In 3, players can approach Dead Rising in two different fashions: through a normalized time limited-free mode that follows the main storyline. In Nightmare Mode, time limits and singular saving points are back. Nightmare Mode won’t compromise the main story, however it would be more difficult to access all of the game’s content while on a rigid schedule.
As players level up, they’ll be less and less restricted to blueprints in combining weapons and more capable of assembling any assortment of deadly combinations
SmartGlass integration isn’t, as expected, required. It’s an auxiliary addition to the experience if anyone wants to use it. It does have a narrative involvement being that on the other side of the SmartGlass device is another survivor that has access to a military control center who can speak to you which explains the airstrikes seen in the demo. It will also enable side quests that players can embark on.
Dead Rising 3 is a launch title for Xbox One in November.

Like many of the open world games at E3, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt at first glance doesn’t look much better than what was seen in the current generation, particularly comparing The Witcher 3 to The Witcher 2. However the major difference is that unlike The Witcher 2, Wild Hunt doesn’t have to make technical sacrifices such as narrowly structured levels with pockets of free roaming space that are all disconnected from one another. The Witcher 3 is a massive RPG with the square mileage that trumps even Skyrim.

About The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
A follow up to one of the most acclaimed RPG’s this generation, The Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings comes the final chapter of Geralt of Rivia’s saga, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt.
Impressions of the game are unparalleled to RPG standards. Wild Hunt boasts a persistent open world orders of magnitude larger than others in the genre such as Skyrim, and comes full with a dynamic weather system that affects the behavior of the people you come across as well as your ability to access different traversal options.
Monster Hunting plays a major role in The Witcher 3, which allegedly are more significant qualitatively and quantitiatively in terms of tracking, preparation and fighting. There looks to be some massive beasts such as a giant club swinging troll and a frightening moose looking thing.
Combat design is more fluid, commanding spells and battle tactics on the fly unlike the time crawling Vigor menu that allowed you to equip each cast. The player in general holds far more control, able to interrupt spells and melee combos – all improvements over Assassin of Kings’ weaker moments -- turning The Witcher 3 into more of an action game but without compromising its deep rooted RPG elements.
If you’ve played The Witcher 2, then you’re probably as excited as I am, looking forward to what could be one of the best action RPG’s in the entirety of the next generation.
EA seeks out to out-do Call of Duty once again with Battlefield, and it succeeded in its Battlefield 4 demo. The demoed shootout was interrupted by the air craft carrier they boarded splitting in half, parked fighter jets on the outer deck of the carrier sliding down taking enemies it caught along the way into the sea below, all while you’re being abused by a gunfire and violent waves. Those disappointed with the lack of multiplayer got their fill at EA’s press conference; and for everyone else, this was yet another worthy military shooter to capture your attention besides Call of Duty.

About Battlefield 4
Off the heals of its Microsoft showing, Battlefield 4  absolutely delivered it’s multiplayer presentation at EA’s. In the full 64 multiplayer demonstration, you were treated to the return of Commander Mode, where the lead player and his squad dropped in the massive city of Shanghai  Very early, the demo floored us as they shot a grenade launcher at a support pillar in an underground parking lot which caused the ceiling to collapse and the tank in the street above to fall through.
In a mad dash on foot and on sea with a machine gunning boat and jet ski, the players entered a skyscraper to reach their final point of objective. This is where the sheer size of this multiplayer map was fully realized. On one of the top floors, an enemy helicopter leveled with the window, tearing the through the windows with bullets until it was shot down by a squad member. Then the player approached the window looking down over 100 stories at tanks and the enemy team below looking no bigger than dots as a team mate screams, “They’re trying to shoot down the building!”
After the completed objective – capturing the last of a number of control points, the squad jumps out of the window, deploying parachutes and after landing, turned to see the towering city building come crashing down.
This is Battlefield 4’s multiuplayer.   
Super Brothers Sword and Sworcery EP is one of the most acclaimed iOS titles on the App Store, so it was a pleasant surprise to see the developer bring an all new project to Xbox One in Below. It’s one of the most Journey looking games I’ve seen since…Journey, and somehow I feel more comfortable with Below’s more traditionally looking gameplay other than the obscure concept of Super Brothers that I couldn’t quite wrap my head around.
The most teasing trailers came from Black Tusk’s first game trailer and the announcement of a new Halo. Many guessed that Black Tusk’s new game would be shown at this year’s E3, but its incredibly brief and non-telling trailer was the lowest point of the show; not to mention that concept of what was seen doesn’t scream “the next big exclusive AAA franchise” to join the likes of Halo and Gears of War.
Speaking about Halo, the announcement of a new Halo was an expected surprise. We all knew that there was no way 343 could have shown anything in terms of gameplay, but they pulled together a sick CGI trailer and presented it in a fashion that’s best served at a conference such as E3.
Then Titan fell.
Respawn’s Titanfall was my game of show above Dead Rising 3. Titans, jetpacks, dudes with jetpack blowing up Titans, Titans throwing dudes with jetpacks, it’s every nerd’s wet dream all mashed up into a multiplayer shooter.
The DNA of the former members of Infinity Ward was present. Titanfall is incredibly fast paced with snappy shootouts and agile movement. Players are seen wall running and boosting to higher ground, taking up vantage points in shooting down the surprisingly fast Titans. And in the cockpit of these fast Titans, controls don’t look restricting as they do in other mech shooters, as movement looks identical to as they do on foot. It was the most interesting and consistently impressive multiplayer showcasing at this year’s E3.
About Titanfall
Titanfall is a multiplayer focused shooter where players can not only be present on the battlefield as soldiers, but they can also call in mechs called Titans -- which are essentially extensions of their pilots -- that they can enter and control into battle.
Titan fall’s exclusivity deal with the Xbox brand, particularly Xbox One, allows them to take full advantage of the platform’s cloud based service with Microsoft’s pitch of cloud based computation.
In this multiplayer focused game, Titanfall will offer large scale multiplayer like battles across the board. Seemingly regardless of the numbers, the game will generate AI that both control the NPCs that you’ll see reoccurring in the game, and you’ll also come up against in battle as ally and enemy controlled players that you fight with. Overall, much of what you see on screen is thanks to Xbox One’s cloud service.
Though there is no single player component to tie in the world of Titanfall, there are contextual references around the battlefield that speak to what went on. The divided factions also speak of the game’s fiction.
Interestingly enough, Titanfall is running on the Source Engine. In an interview with Polygon, Zampella stated that the engine’s ability to allow rapid prototyping was one of the main reasons why they went with Source,  and it’s likely how the game came out with what seems to be in such a short space of time building from the vision of Titanfall from around late 2011 early 2012.
From a visual standpoint, Titanfall looks stunning. In the absence to a single player component, Respawn has dedicated all of its production value into multiplayer. The environments are heavily detailed and populated. Firefights are quick and explosive, keeping the speedy gameplay that many of these developers are known for historically. Even incidental touches are neat such as the orbital drop of your Titan and even the 5 part HUD orienting into view once you enter your Titan cockpit.
Zampella emphasized that the significance of Titans (specifically not referred to as mechs) withhold the same level of control and agility as humans. While they don’t have the traversal abilities that the humans do, i.e. wall running and jetpack-double jumping, their controls are identical to humans.
Titanfall ensures a balance between pilots and Titans. The maps are designed to facilitate an advantage for controlling the two, such as in-doors and vertical areas that can only be accessed by pilots, and large open spaces that are dominated by Titans.
Titans can side step to evade oncoming fire, and they also have an ability to catch bullets in a field and project them back to the shooters; think Bioshock Infinite’s Return to Sender Vigor.
Pilots move quickly around the battle field, but their traversal is characteristic to their vertical access in almost every sense of the term. Each are equipped with jetpacks that power their double jump. In the gameplay reveal demo, they showed pilots wall running and boosting, wall running and boosting to get to higher ground on the map. When your Titan takes critical damage, you can eject out of the cockpit, and if you’re close enough, descend to an enemy Titan, rip out the latch to its brain and empty clips to destroy it.
The weapons look fantastic and proper futuristic with neat yet conventional rifles, rocket launchers that are essential for pilots to take out Titans, and the most interesting was a pistol that can target multiple enemies at once and potentially kill all with three locked on headshots.
And Finally, taking from their heritage in the Call of Duty franchise, we can expect that there will be some form of upgrade system where you’ll be able to customize your own Titan and human.
Titanfall was one of the most exciting games shown at E3, and was a fine way to close Microsoft’s press conference. Look for Titanfall’s release in Spring 2014.
Microsoft did not disappoint. The slew of games shown at their press conference was enough to win over any naysayers who were worried about the absence of games at the unveiling of the console. It was a surprisingly healthy mix, from shooters, action games and an number of AAA titles, to indies and other obscure games such as D4 and Below; all with none of the bulls**t of sports, TV and Kinect casual games. It was the best lineup of titles I’ve ever seen at an E3 press conference.
Many were suspect of Xbox One’s cloud data off loading, but with Forza, Sunset Overdrive and Titanfall, developers (and more notably, third party developers) seem to be taking advantage of the online service’s capabilities, which is telling of the legitimacy of seeing it as a next generation advantage. With Microsoft locking down exclusivity deals with Insomniac and Respawn based on the cloud service shows signs of a promising future for Xbox One.
In addition, Microsoft seems to have its hand in nearly all of the major first person shooters in the present and future outside of Destiny. With Halo as their flag ship title, Call of Duty along with its competitor Battlefield, and the aforementioned promising Titanfall, Xbox looks yet again to be the console for fans of the shooter genre.
It wasn’t all perfect, with the occasional surfacing of SmartGlass’s useless integration in all of the games showcased with the exception of Project Spark. It also had the best f**k up of E3 since Wonder Book in Battlefield 4 with someone yelling “Quiet!”
Microsoft’s other ancillary announcements gave us a better picture of what consumers can expect from the console, for better or worse. Finally after their nonsensical Points monetary system, Xbox will finally measure currency with real money. Embedded here was a sign that delegitimizes assumptions that Xbox One wont release in Japan as the Yen symbol was shown along with dollars and euros.This, along with their increased cap of 1000 friends, add a little more to the foreseen convenience of Xbox Live.
However the $499 price tag is deeply concerning, especially in the light of Playstation 4’s $399. Many were almost convinced that Microsoft will roll out a subscription based model with a low bar to entry. This sends a mixed message to the consumers, more specifically to the more generalized demographic they seemed to be speaking to at the Xbox One event in Redmond. I don’t see how a football fan who enjoys television would be willing to drop over $500 for a system that provides a convenient alternative to the things that they can already do now. 
Microsoft remedied a potential catastrophic dilemma with the reversal of their DRM, especially seeing that they were going to release a console at $100 more expensive than their competition without the restrictive headaches. But many claim that more needs to be done to equalize their market penetration: packed in headset, cheaper SKU options. 
We're still several months away from launch. Perhaps we'll see a different Xbox One (albeit the hardware infrastructure) announced before then.

Be sure to check out all of our post E3 2013 coverage:



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