It was the year of hacking, the year of breaking records and the year of flinging birds at pigs. The year of gaming in 2011 had plenty of ups and down and that doesn’t even include all the video game titles that were released. While the explosion of social and mobile gaming continues to affect all games, it was a hacking incident that focused attention on the dark side of online gaming.
Gaming Network Hacked
In April, Sony confirmed that its PlayStation Network, the online service that has more than 77 million users and allows online play for it PS3 consoles, was hacked and taken offline.
It was more than just a denial of service ploy. Sony said that personal data, including credit cards information, was accessed and compromised. While they stopped short of saying “stolen,” the company recommended that its customers keep an eye on their credit card accounts and watch out for identity theft.
An outside security agency was hired to find out what happened and the network service stayed offline for several days while changes were made to prevent more intrusions. Sony also offered special incentives to bring back gamers after they fixed the issues.
But in October, the PlayStation Network was hacked again – this time affecting “only” 93,000 accounts. This intrusion affected thousands of user IDs and passwords.
Sony said the lessons they learned from the April hack prevented more information from being illegally accessed. A teenager inLondonwas quickly arrested in connection with the crime.
And before you think this was just a PlayStation problem, Microsoft announced that its Xbox Live customers were the targets of a malicious phishing attempts to scam personal user information. Microsoft was quick to point out that their online gaming service was not hacked and there was no breach of security.
Earlier in the year, the hacker group LulzSec released a data file with names, email addresses and passwords they said could be used to get into Xbox Live accounts as well as other accounts.
Breaking Entertainment Records
You know gaming is big when the release of a game smashes entertainment records for sales.
For the third consecutive year, the “Call of Duty” franchise raised the bar with the release of “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3” by earning more than $400 million and selling more than 6.5 million units in North America and the United Kingdom in the first 24 hours.
If that wasn’t enough, the game had more than $775 million in sales during the first five days. “Modern Warfare 3” also broke the record for peak concurrent players on Microsoft’s Xbox Live online gaming service.
According to Activision Blizzard, the all-time sales for the “Call of Duty” franchise exceeds worldwide box office sales for “Star Wars” and “Lord of the Rings.” There were more than 13,000 midnight openings at retail stores worldwide for the release of the new title.
Last year, “Call of Duty: Black Ops” sold $360 million on its first day while “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2” sold $310 million on its first day in 2009.
Mobile/Social Gaming Explosion
Gaming has transformed from being played on computers to home consoles to mobile phones. With it, game developers recognized they have a new audience to appeal to with games designed to be played quickly and with others electronically.
Zynga, a social network game developer responsible for “CityVille,” “FarmVille” and “Words With Friends,” recently filed an initial public offering with the SEC and began trading on NASDAQ. While the stock failed to rocket as previous dotcom stock did in the heyday of the tech bubble, the market for social and mobile is still very much a battleground.
Companies are developing games for smart phones and tablets and incorporating chat or other social features to allow players around the world enjoy games together. Atari recently announced they were changing their mission to work exclusively on social and mobile gaming while publishers like Electronic Arts continue to push big names (“Madden”) to the small screen. EA also bought Popcap Games for a whopping $750 million.
Facebook made it even easier for game play on their social network while Apple’s inclusion of the Game Center on their iPhones reflect the growing interest by the public toward gaming with others while on the move.
More Than a Gaming Device
Kinect for the Xbox was introduced with the idea of making motion gaming easy and fun for users. But creative people began “hacking” the device and make use of its cameras and sensors for more than just play.
Some people have used the Kinect to create very life-like movies using CG rendered figures. Other use it to manipulate video playback so that multiple screens can be created or erased as the user needs.
Kinect is also a watchdog for your home. A program turns on the Kinect when it senses motion and takes pictures of the “intruder’s” face, which can be stored or even sent online.
While hacking the Kinect wasn’t new this year, the ingenuity at which people were including the motion sensing device rose to new and exciting levels.
“Angry Birds” vs. The World
“Angry Birds” moved out of the gaming arena and into the pop culture spotlight with their inclusion in commercials, being released as stuffed toys and the very real possibility of a full length movie in the near future.
It is also notable for the people who play – U.S. Senator Chris Coons, basketball star Kevin Durant and UK Prime Minister David Cameron, who plays the iPad version of the game.
There is also a yoga philosophy that uses the characters and gameplay mechanics to explain its teachings. Rovio, the company that created the game, opened its first official retail story in Helsinki and plans another somewhere in China.
3D Game Console Released
With much fanfare and hype, Nintendo released a new handheld console – the 3DS – that would let players experience 3D visuals without the use of special glasses. It was supposed to revolutionize what the gaming experience was going to be.
The console was released inJapanin February and inNorth Americain March. But by August, Nintendo dropped the price on the device by $80 after demand for it was softer than expected.
As of March, Nintendo had only sold 3.61 million units – far short of the 4 million the company was expecting to sell. To appease early adapters who bought the 3DS at the early price, Nintendo offered 20 free downloadable games – ten free NES Virtual Console games and ten Game Boy Advance Virtual Console games.
The device also suffered from a perception problem as the company stated publically that the 3D mode should not be used by players 6 years old and younger. While there has been no scientific data to show any harm to the development of eye sight in children, some players did report experiencing headaches after continuous playing.
New Gaming Hardware
This year, two major gaming hardware companies announced they were going to come out with new gaming consoles.
At the Electronic Entertainment Expo inLos Angeles, Sony showed off its new handheld game console, the PlayStation Vita, while Nintendo introduced its newest home console, theWiiU.
The Wii U announcement has been described as the next generation of gaming consoles and is expected to be fully backwards compatible with the Wii. The controller will have an embedded single-touch screen and the console will be able to produce high-definition graphics.
There were worries that the console will be too expensive to compete with the PS3 and Xbox 360. Nintendo has said the Wii U will be released after March 2012.
In contrast, the PlayStation Vita, Sony’s new handheld console and the successor to the PSP, was released inJapanin December and is expected to hit North American andUnited Kingdomshores in February. It boasts touch screens on the front and back as well as dual analog joysticks.
Vita will also be available in two versions: one with 3G support and one without. The 3G service will be provided by AT&T in theUSand Vodafone inEurope.
Moving from subscription to free-to-play
“World of Warcraft” wasn’t the first, but it has been the most successful subscription based game for massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPG) with 10.3 million subscribers as of November.
So it stands to reason that others would try to take a slice of that very large pie. “DC Universe Online” wanted to capitalize on the power of DC Comics and online gaming in a big way.
The game allowed players the opportunity to act out their comic hero/villain fantasies in the DC Universe and interact with iconic characters like Superman, Joker or Wonder Woman. Initially, players paid a monthly fee (around $15 in the U.S.), but by September, there were reports that the game was not doing as well as Sony, Warner Bros., and DC Comics would have liked.
In November, it was announced that the game would be free to play for anyone who wanted to play, but offered optional in-game microtransactions in place of the subscription fee. Two other paying levels were offered with different levels of in-game abilities being released as the price increased.
The strategy worked as “DC Universe Online” experienced a 2,500% increase in total playtime per day and a 1,000% increase in their user base.
More Affordable PS3
Perhaps feeling the heat from their hacking incidents or maybe just an attempt to chip away at Microsoft’s lead in the console market, Sony announced a price drop for their flagship console, the PlayStation 3.
The price drop put the cost on par with the Xbox 360, but didn’t include any bundling with the Move controller (that came later in the year). Some analysts wondered if Microsoft would respond with a price drop of their own – something that did not occur.
The Xbox 360 has traditionally been the top selling gaming console in the U.S.
The Season of 3
Finally, you can’t talk about the year in gaming without talking about games. This year, many of the popular franchises produced sequels with many of the shooter titles sporting the number three in their titles.
“Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3,” “Battlefield 3” and “Gears of War 3” all brought back familiar gameplay and characters while putting them in new situations and scenarios.
“Uncharted 3,” featuring the treasure-seeking ways of Nathan Drake, closed out that franchise. “Resistance 3” also brought an end to the alien invasion of Earth. And “F.E.A.R 3” finally stopped making us dread little girls in darkened hallways.
X-Play host Morgan Webb said all these sequels and finale installments are happening for a reason – new consoles on the near future.
“We’re nearly the end of a console cycle so series that have begun at the beginning of the console cycle, they’re starting to finish up the series,” she said. “People have made the investment in the franchise and they’ve got the art together and they don’t want to create something completely new when new consoles are starting to be on the horizon.”
With an awesome story and continuation of the gameplay that made the franchise great, “Gears of War 3” puts a brilliant and bloody bow on a trilogy that had some risks when it started out nearly 7 years ago.
The “Gears of War” franchise has been described by Adam Sessler of G4TV as “the most influential game of this generation,” but “Gears of War 3” executive producer Rod Fergusson said it didn’t get started without some major concerns.
“We had a lot of variables that were in play for our project (7 years ago). It was a new team that was being brought together to work on a new type of game,” Fergusson said. “They were building a game on top of technology that wasn’t finished. And they were building it for a platform that wasn’t really finished in the Xbox 360.”
The latest third-person shooter game from Epic Games and Microsoft wraps up the story arc for the Gears team and answers all the lingering questions that have arisen in the battle against the Locust and Lambent. Players will control Marcus Fenix for most of the game, but there are certain levels that the player switches off to another member of the Delta Squad.
The game starts a couple years after the conclusion of “Gears 2” and finds Marcus in jail. Characters familiar to the franchise are introduced in the opening scenes and the action kicks off in an unrestrained pace.
Combat typically offers four options for weapons; a primary weapon, secondary weapon, pistol and grenade. Three other players are with the team and they can be controlled by the computer AI or by friends for co-op play.
The weapons have weight to them and feel powerful. Cover based shooting, one of the hallmarks of the franchise, is back and needed as enemies appear from nearly every angle so you’ll want to keep your head down.
Teamwork is key. Not only will a mate come to your rescue when you are down, but they also will set up opportunities to flank the opponents and end battles quicker. It all flows naturally (much like the blood from the battles) and paces well with plenty of ammo and weapons to be scavenged and used.
Fergusson said developers really wanted to make “Gears 3” fun for the long time fans of the franchise, but accessible to those who are just playing the series for the first time.
“Even if you’ve never played ‘Gears 1’ or ‘Gears 2,’ ‘Gears 3’ is the one to play,” he said. “We’ve put in a bunch of accessibility features like the casual and normal are easier than the first two games. Casual mode has an aim assistant mode that automatically lines it up for you.”
Even multiplayer additions have been included to appeal to the new “Gears” player.
“People who have never played ‘Gears’ before can play multiplayer with other people who have never played ‘Gears’ before. There is an overhead map in multiplayer that will actually show you where the weapons are, which direction to run. There’s been a lot of things we’ve done to really help foster new players in.”
The story is immersive and gripping. Lingering questions and mysteries finally get answers and there is a sense of finality that runs through the entire campaign.
The interaction between characters never feels forced or fake. Their emotions are believable and their concern for one another is genuine.
Fergusson said they never sat down in the beginning with the idea they were going to design a trilogy. They wanted to make sure they had a story that had vibrant and deep characters while offering gameplay elements (like cover-based shooting) to keep players interested.
“It’s a fine line. We are a gameplay first company. That’s how we design our games,” Fergusson said. “We try to think about the experiences we want the player to go through and then we craft the story with that in mind.”
There were compromises to be made with writer Karen Traviss. Sometimes, Traviss’ story had to be changed to fit the gameplay and other times, gameplay changed to fit a key element in her story.
It all comes off seamless and leaves the player emotionally invested in all of the characters. But be prepared for the unexpected.
Fergusson said the genre of shooters these days puts an emphasis on multiplayer action and his team worked really hard to make theirs unique. Refining the rules and six modes of action gives players many different options to challenge their friends.
Dedicated servers around the world, something fans really wanted, also will be available. Fergusson said this should eliminate the perception that players hosting multiplayer matches had an advantage over other players.
“What else could we do that’s going to be unique to ‘Gears’ and really push that co-op and that’s where Beast came about,” he said. “A lot of the modern shooters are really human on human and they don’t have this ability to play as the other beast, to play as the monster you fight, and getting to destroy the humans so that was a really novel thing we could do.”
Overall, “Gears of War 3” is exciting, emotional and blends competitiveness with teamwork. Whether playing the campaign alone or with friends, the story mixes with the action fluidly and provides a satisfying feeling even if the ending may not be to your liking. In multiplayer, the different modes offer challenges for any type of player and put a premium on strategy to achieve victory.
While the trilogy ends, don’t be surprised if there is more “Gears” action down the road. But Fergusson said he’s proud of what he and his team accomplished with this story arc.
“It seems to touch people at a really deeper level and I’m really proud of that. The fact that it resonates so much with players. It is a game of character. A game that meant something.”
“Gears of War 3” is available now in North America and Europe and will be available Thursday, September 22 in Japan. It is a Xbox360 exclusive title and rated M for mature due to blood and gore, intense violence, and strong language. This review was done playing the single player campaign and trying out the multiplayer modes on the Xbox 360.
Microsoft’s big announcements at E3 were slightly blunted by a web error that inadvertently tipped off what was going to happen at their press conference.
Xbox.com had a graphic earlier in the day that headlined news about 2 new Halo games (“Halo 4” and “Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary), a Kinect Star Wars game, and a Dance Central 2 game.
There was also a graphic about Voice Searching coming to Xbox Live as well as the promise of a new look and new features.
Now onto the highlights from the actual E3 press conference!
Right out of the gate, a live demo of an underwater scene gets a “disconnected controller” icon. So you know it is happening in real time.
The game footage has a strike team going after a Russian sub in what appears to be a flooded out city. Still no title yet.
After placing an explosive on the sub and surfacing with it, the scene shows a bombed out city. The strike team moves into place to take over the sub.
Breaking into the control room in slow motion, the team takes the access key to the weapons and gets set to launch missiles. Then the team makes their way out of the war zone.
And with that, “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3” kicks off the Microsoft press conference. The game is announced to be available on November 8.
Don Mattrick takes the stage. Talks about biggest year in Xbox history and an innovative time of growth for games and entertainment.
Coming up, more Kinect experiences, entertainment choices, and games.
“Tomb Raider” is next. They are showing the demo, which explains how Laura Kroft becomes the famed archeologist we all know.
The demo shows Laura in some sort of webbing. She escapes and nearly kills herself on bones from the fall.
A human tries to grab her before she flees into a tiny cavern. Puzzle time now as she looks for a way out.
And finally, she’s free. Out of the caves, she discovers a ship graveyard. The game will be out in Fall 2012.
Now we move on to EA Sports. Four EA Sports titles (Tiger Woods, Madden, FIFA, and one more to be announced later) will have Kinect support. Voice control is talked about for Sims and Madden.
Bioware steps out and announced Mass Effect 3, with a brand new adventure. A galactic battle with plantary consequences, but it still has all the choices and karma effects.
The game also will support Kinect Voice Control. A demo shows Voice Control taking over for the controller when it comes to choosing dialog.
Combat with Voice Control allows players to direct troops to location and tell them what powers to use. More to show at the EA briefing.
Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Future Soldier now playing. Cinematic trailer only.
Ubisoft touts their Kinect connection to the beginning. They want to enhance their core games with Kinect and show a demo using Kinect and Ghost Recon gun modification program, Gun Smith.
All future titles with Tom Clancy franchise will be Kinect ready.
Marc Whitten from Xbox Live takes the stage.
Introducing a new way to be interactive with your entertainment, Xbox LIVE will allow your voice to control your music (11m songs), television, games, video. Plus YouTube will be coming to Xbox LIVE.
How will you find the entertainment you want? Whitten announces Bing is coming to Xbox and will help you find your entertainment choices – games, movies, songs.
“You say it. Xbox finds it.”
New partnerships to be announced in the future. Xbox also will have live television with partnerships around the world this Fall.
UFC is up next.
The ability to watch live fights, compete with friends are all available on Xbox.
Phil Spencer, from Microsoft Studios, comes out.
He talks about the interactivity of UFC and ESPN, but at their core, they are all about games.
All the exclusive titles are coming out, starting now.
“Gears of War 3” is first. Called the best, most polished game in the series.
Ice-T takes the stage to help demo the game. He is also part of the game, which is pretty darn cool (pun intended).
A cinematic trailer shows off “Ryse”, using the Kinect as the game controller.
The Halo franchise is front and center.
“Halo CE Anniversay” will be remade and remastered, to make it look up to date. Fully remastered campaign, 7 multiplayer maps, and will be out on November 15.
“Forza Motorsports 4” is the next to be shown. The promise is of a new and best car simulation game ever. Not just for the gearhead, but for the casual racer as well.
Kinect headtracking and voice control will be available during races.
“Fable: Journey” wants to connect you to the world like never before. Cinematic trailer shows a darker world devoid of heroes. Demo uses Kinect to steer a horse-drawn carriage, battle goblins using magic. Different hand movements cast different spells.
Phil Spencer is back.
Minecraft is coming to the Xbox and Kinect. It will be exclusive to the Xbox this winter.
“Disneyland Adventures” has recreated the park to allow people to visit without actually being there. Disney rides are reimagined to allow actual play during the “ride.” It will be available this holiday season.
Star Wars comes to the screen amid a roar of cheers from the crowd.
“Star Wars Kinect” is indeed a reality, allowing players to take be immersed in the Star Wars universe in a variety of ways – lightsaber battles, TIE fights, or just visiting the different worlds.
The live gameplay demo puts the player in the role of a Jedi against battledroids. And the Sith show up. End demo.
Double Fine is ready to show off their latest title, “Sesame Street: Once Upon A Monster.” The live demo includes Elmo and the Cookie Monster mimicking the movements of a different monster. It will be out this fall exclusively for the Xbox.
“Kinect Fun Labs” will give people the chance to play with the next developments to the innovations and features available using the Kinect. Kinect Me lets people make an avatar that looks more like the player. The demo is pretty impressive.
Kinect Finger Tracking is the next innovation to be revealed. It allows people to draw in 3-D around objects and shows in 3-D.
Object Capture lets you scan in items and bring them to life. This will let players customize games and make it unique.
“Kinect Fun Labs” goes live today and available to Xbox LIVE members.
“Kinect Sports: Season 2” brings 6 new sports, in-game voice and new full-body gestures. Football, golf, darts, baseball, and two others will be ready this holiday season.
“Dance Central 2” takes the stage. They’ll use all the songs from “Dance Central” as well as 2 player simultaneous dancing.
Wrapping up, Don Mattick touts the all new features for Kinect with search, voice control, new content partnerships and blockbuster game exclusives. They are aiming to step up from #1 in North America to #1 globally.
One final video showing to close out the press conference.
For the retro geek in your life, “Atari Greatest Hits, Volume 1” will invoke memories of early geekdom at the arcade.
The game for the Nintendo DS accurately recreates 50 of the iconic Atari arcade and Atari 2600 games. It also contains a trivia test, images of original arcade cabinets, game manuals and even advertisements.
The arcade games, like Centepede, Lunar Lander, Asteroids and Pong, were the early trendsetters in the gaming world. Geeks will be thrilled to turn back the clock and relive those patterns they memorized so many years ago.
Is your gamer geek more into first-person shooters? Then the “Halo: Reach” Legendary Edition is the perfect gift to not only provide them with the finale to one of the most popular franchises but also enough extras to make their eyes light up like a plasma rifle.
The package contains the “Halo: Reach” game, the last in the long running series, but actually a prequel to the entire storyline. There is also a Noble Team statue made by McFarlane Toys which has been individually molded, hand painted and numbers.
An embroidered Spartan II patch, an artifact bag containing notes and documentation on how the SPARTAN program began and customized packaging await your Halo geek. There are also in-game bonuses as well – an Elite armor set for multiplayer modes and an exclusive Spartan armor effect.
This will make the perfect gift and a lasting memory for a game your geek has probably spent (and still spends) many hours playing on the Xbox 360. With the end of the series, these items become just a little more special.
Maybe your geek is a thinker, someone who likes to figure out how to take diverse elements and make them work together.
“Sid Meier’s Civilization V” is just the right thing to have your geek huddled over his or her computer trying to play just one more turn. “Civ V” is a strategy based game where players try to build up an empire from starting with just one city.
The game has been updated with new combat techniques, amazing graphics and an artificial intelligence that actually “learns” as you play. It will be a challenge to those geeks who dream of taking over the world without actually leaving the comfort of their home.
If you really want to go all out, the Special Edition contains metal figurines, a CD soundtrack, behind-the-scenes DVD and hardcover art book. Just be prepared to find your geek a-glow from the computer monitor at 2 a.m.
Maybe you have a young geek on your gift list and want to get them something a little less electronic. Why not get them introduce them to Dungeons & Dragons with the new D&D Red Box?
The Red Box is a starter kit that introduces players to the 4th edition of rules for Dungeons & Dragons. The kit comes complete with a solo game to help players understand how the game works, what some of the new rules are and dipping a toe into the waters of role-playing games.
Don’t buy this for someone who has been playing D&D for years. They probably already have it if they want it or they are not interested in learning the new rules.
Do get this for youngsters who are interested in role playing games but don’t know how to get started or for a person who always wanted to try D&D but was overwhelmed by all the books in the old rules system.
With this gift, you will be thanked for opening a door into the world of imagination.
Microsoft’s new controller for the Xbox 360 uses physical movements from the players to control action on the screen. There is nothing to hold and no buttons to push.
Three camera sensors and four microphones help the Kinect recognize who is standing in front of it. Player motions and voice recognition are translated into cursor movements or actions with a game.
Alex Kipman, Director of Incubation for Kinect, said they wanted to break down the technology barriers and make game interaction more natural.
“We wanted to transform entertainment where technology understands you,” Kipman said during a Kinect demo in Washington, D.C. “It was our goal to merge really amazing tech with a really amazing experience.”
Kipman explained that the specific components used to create Kinect have been around for years. He said the real breakthrough was in the proprietary software used to make it all work together.
Cloud profiles, where information is provided and stored on an as-needed basis rather than accessing from a local hard drive, help the Kinect and Xbox 360 learn about the users and the types of entertainment they might be interested in. It also helps with live streaming music, movies and more in real time.
Out of the box, the Kinect sensor is 11 inches long and 3 inches high, including the motorized stand that it sits on. Connecting to the Xbox is easy. For the new Xbox 360 Slim consoles, it is plug-and-play – no additional wires. To use on the Xbox 360 Original consoles, you will need a power source for the device.
After some software downloads, the Kinect calibrates itself to the room automatically. It is actuated by specific gestures (waving your hand at the Kinect) or by using a specific key word for voice commands (“Xbox”).
“It is technology that understands you,” Kipman said. “Kinect looks at 48 points on the body to figure out what it should do. It always knows who is in charge.”
The Kinect should go at or as near eye level as possible so it can easily see all your movements. Also, a clear space to play is needs so nothing impedes its view of the player and nothing gets knocked over or bumped. One player will need to be at least 6 feet back while 2 players should be about 8 feet from the screen.
Kinect is bundled with “Kinect Adventures,” a game that not only gets you moving, but teaches you how to use the device. Hovering your hand over game menu options activates those choices.
Five different adventures require the player to move and react to different scenarios. “Rallyball” will get you reacting to things being thrown at you. “River Rush” and “Reflex Ridge” get the player dodging and steering.
“Space Pop” requires using your arms to propel and move you in a weightless situation. “20,000 Leaks” will stretch you out as water attempts to rush in through cracked glass.
All of these adventures teach players how to use proper spacing and movements to control the action on the screen. These are gestures that will come in handy for other Kinect games.
FUN WITH WILD ANIMALS
“Kinectimals” was demonstrated at the Electronic Entertainment Expo 2010 in Los Angeles in June and received high marks for the cuteness factor.
Players get to adopt a virtual pet. Choices include a Bengal tiger, lion, panther, cheetah or leopard cub.
By using voice commands and body gestures, kids can teach their cub to do tricks, feed and brush it, or just play games with it. It is definitely a game geared toward younger players and the interactivity does rate high on the cuteness meter.
Plus, there is something neat to rubbing a tiger cub on the belly – even if it is virtual.
NOW WE ARE BALLING
“Kinect Sports” really cranks up the action with six different games at four different skill levels.
From the outdoors to the table top, the different sports challenge players to really get involved with the action. Full body movements mimic those that would be needed to really play the sport.
Want to score a goal in soccer? Kick the ball.
Want to knock out your opponent in boxing? Throw a punch.
“The only skill you need is life skill,” Kipman said. “If you know how to bowl, you can bowl in our game.”
The action and movements are life-like and will get players moving. For example, while you won’t actually have a javelin in your hand (more on that later), you will need to run (in place) up to the line and throw.
The different skill levels make it easy for players to learn what to do and master those actions before moving up to more challenging opponents.
HEADING DOWN THE ROAD
“Kinect Joy Ride” is probably the one title that doesn’t feel like it lives up to what a racing game should be.
There are different game modes to race, do stunts or even crash into objects and each other. But it doesn’t feel quite right because, with Kinect, there is nothing to feel.
Your car is controlled by grabbing an imaginary steering wheel. There is no accelerator or brake; the game does that for you automatically.
Turning your hands left or right steers the car, but there is no tactile feedback to give you the sensation of running off the road or colliding with a light pole.
This isn’t a “Grand Turismo” title by any stretch of the imagination. However, a racing game should have a feel to it and this one just leaves you grasping for air.
GET YOUR BODY MOVING
Two other initial titles, “Your Shape: Fitness Evolved” and “Dance Central”, are where the Kinect really shines.
“Your Shape: Fitness Evolved” features workouts created by “Men’s Health” and “Women’s Health” magazines. The exercises are demonstrated and players are scored on how well they match the movements of the instructors.
There are Zen exercises for relaxation or Cardio Boxing for if you want to relax in a different way. There are also personalized exercise plans to help lose weight, tone the body or get more energy.
The Kinect helps correct postures and actions so users can get the most benefits out of the exercises being done. It really does works well.
“Dance Central” aims to get to moving to the beat, but realizes we all aren’t ready to strut our stuff on the dance floor.
The game combines today’s dance hits performed by pop stars with moves that might seem clunky at first, but do get more involved and intense as the difficulty ratchets up.
It is like “Guitar Hero” where you have to match up your movements to the movements on the screen to get the perfect score, but there is instruction to help you fan the flames of your dance fever.
MORE THAN GAMES
Because it does have cameras, Kinect also offers the ability to video connect with other Kinect users or those who use Microsoft’s Live Messenger program on computers.
It also works with the other entertainment selections features for the Xbox 360 like on-demand ESPN, music from Zune, and movies from Netflix.
“It is all about your choice, your content when you want it,” Kipman said.
GOOD FOR SOME, NOT SO MUCH FOR OTHERS
Microsoft said there will be 17 games between the launch of the Kinect and the holidays that will use the new controller. They all will likely not be Kinect only titles like the six featured above, but may use a combination of Kinect and the normal Xbox 360 controller.
The initial titles show where Kinect will shine and where it will stumble.
Games that feature full body movement will really highlight what the Kinect can offer. Syncing up your movements with the movements on the screen is a lot easier and more natural with Kinect than with a normal controller.
A surprise amusement factor in most of the games is the Kinect’s ability to record video while you are playing. While doing hurdles in track and field, my kitten decided to join the fun and began jumping as I jumped. Needless to say, the laughs were better after the game than during.
Games that would be better enhanced with a physical device in hand are going to feel flat and not quite up to the demands that players want from those types of games. Racing games and first-person shooter games may not have the same enjoyment factor with Kinect that they can with regular controllers.
Right now, the Kinect can understand languages from the United States, United Kingdom, Mexico, Japan and Canada with more to roll out in the near future. Kipman said they will be constantly refining voice recognition to help it recognize dialects in each language.
A Microsoft spokesperson said 30,000 North American retailers would have Kinect available on November 4 with 7,000 of those planning to open on at midnight. She would not reveal how many units would be available on launch day so get there early.
Bungie, the developer of the successful series, has said that “Halo: Reach” will be their last game with the franchise. While it is unknown if another developer will pick up the plasma rifle, publisher Microsoft should be pleased with the result.
Microsoft announced that the game generated $200 million in the first 24 hours, making it the biggest entertainment release in the United States so far this year. By contrast, the movie “Alice in Wonderland” made $116 million in its first U.S. weekend, but the “Modern Warfare 2” video game had just over $401 million in U.S. sales in its initial weekend in 2009.
“Halo: Reach” was definitely one of the most anticipated releases of the year after a playable multiplayer demo was available to those who purchased “Halo 3: ODST.”
Players control Noble 6, a member of an elite squad of soldiers known as Spartans, and quickly find themselves trying to defend a planet from an oncoming Covenant invasion. Along with the rest of the Noble team members, they move from one mission to another, uncovering the reason for the alien invasion and doing their best to survive under many different scenarios.
The solo campaign is well thought out and tells the story from Noble 6’s perspective well. Players will immediately identify and relate to the other Noble team members since they have distinct personalities that come out during firefights and in between missions.
The tale of brutality and sacrifice winds its way through the forests of Reach, into the cold reaches of outer space above and into deep caverns holding secrets long buried. While the thrill of blasting more Covenant will be enough for some, the story pulls the player through 11 levels with enough flow to keep it interesting without dragging them through needless scenes.
Armor is customizable, but doesn’t add anything to game play other than looking good. There are armor packs found in the field that do the actual work and add abilities to the player like jet packs, sprinting and camouflage.
Weapons are familiar to Halo players and ordinance packs are readily available. However, attempting to make a stand in the middle of a jungle might not be the best idea unless the player gets familiar with using alien weaponry as well.
The environments are beautifully rendered and majestic in their scope. Animations and effects seem life-like, but nothing less would be expected from Bungie.
Driving is still wonky, with vehicles handing like a go-cart with four different sized wheels. And whatever you do, don’t let the AI drive because you’ll never know how long it will take to get from point A to B and trying to fire at enemies is really an exercise in futility as you lurch in the passenger seat.
Multiplayer action has been a staple of the Halo franchise and “Halo: Reach” offers more choices for co-op and competitive play than its predecessors.
Along with the familiar Deathmatch and Capture the Flag, more choices about how to play, objectives, and scenarios are offered in new multiplayer modes. Players can choose parameters on what type of teammates and opponents they want to battle against.
Firefight puts the players in a game of survival as they face ever increasing waves of enemies who also get stronger as the game progresses. Generator Defense put teams of 3 against one another in a battle of attack and defense. The Invasion scenario pits 6 against 6 in a fight for territory control.
Each mode is customizable and players can earn credits (they can also be earned in the solo campaign) that unlock features to change the look of Noble 6 throughout the game. There are also challenges from Bungie that will help players improve their skills.
Despite all the in-game success, there have been a few glitches along the way. Some players were getting a disc read error and Microsoft is addressing those concerns on a case-by-case basis.
The gaming site Kotaku also reported that the 4GB Xbox 360 Slim is not capable of online co-op. Apparently one of the requirements for online co-op is a HDD (hard disc drive) and the Slim’s Memory Unit is not enough. The only recourse for those users is to purchase a slim hard drive or a 250GB Xbox 360.
Bungie definitely emptied their Halo basket of ideas and put together a fitting ending (or is it a beginning?) for a franchise that has thrilled millions of fans since 2001. Great storytelling, awesome environments and an expanded co-op system should keep players awake into the wee hours of the morning defending humanity from the Covenant scourge.
Larry Hryb, known more commonly by his Xbox Live gamertag Major Nelson, revealed the new controller on his blog. Hyrb, the Director of Programming for Xbox Live, is shown in a video how the adjustable D-pad will work.
With a twist of the wrist, the D-pad goes from flat to a raised plus controller. Hryb said this was in response to many gamers who didn’t like the feel of the D-pad and the engineers came up with a solution that was designed to give options for those who wanted a better feel.
The colored buttons are also gone in favor of gray A, B, X, Y buttons. Concave analog sticks and a matte silver finish complete the transformation for the new wireless controller.
The new device will not be included in new console sales and is only available with the new Play & Charge Kit that will launch on November 9 for $64.99. The Play & Charge Kit includes a rechargeable battery pack, which allows gamers to lose disposable batteries currently used to power the controllers.
Fresh off their convention in Los Angeles in June, video game makers are setting their sights on a new audience as they arrive at the Comic-Con convention in San Diego this week.
Game makers and developer not only get to show off their best and brightest material again, but they hone in specifically on games that have a comic character tie-in. “DC Online Universe” (Sony Online Entertainment) and “Marvel vs. Capcom 3” (Capcom) have direct relationships to the superheroes and villains from the comic book world, but other companies know that readers of those publications also play video games.
Nintendo doesn’t attend Comic-Con every year, but when they have a game that they know might appeal to the comic world, they step up. Marc Franklin, director of public relations for Nintendo of America said hands-on demonstrations of two new games — “Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies” and “Metroid: Other M” — will be featured at the convention, because those themes and characters resonate with the attendees of Comic-Con.
“We have been seeing these kinds of trade shows attract a broader, more diverse audience,” Franklin said. “Which fits right in with Nintendo’s goal to expand the world of video games to new audiences.”
Eric Levine, Sony’s manager of product public relations, agrees. He said Comic-Con isn’t just about comics anymore.
“The show celebrated pop culture from gaming to movies to television and everything in between,” Levine explained. “This show allows us to engage an audience that is passionate and excited about games, so it makes perfect sense for us to be involved.”
Online game review site editor-in-chief Richard Torres says over the past four years, companies are taking Comic-con seriously and plan to debut new material at the convention. He points out that game developers will also experiment with how much they show and even allow attendees to play unreleased software.
It is all about building a buzz with the audience, he explains.
“You live and die with these people,” Torres said. “Now with tweets, you can just see ‘oh my God this panel sucks’ or ‘oh my God it’s really cool.’ It is a great way to find out where on the cool scale they’re going to land.”
In additions to the games already mentioned, here are some other titles looking to find their place on the “cool scale.”
- “Halo Reach” (Bungie/Microsoft) – The end of the legendary series is coming and Microsoft will be showing off new material and revealing details about the final battle between humanity and the alien Covenant.
- “The Force Unleashed 2” (LucasArts) – This title is set six months after the events of the first game and a year before “Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope” takes place. Starkiller, Darth Vader’s secret apprentice, returns as the protagonist to use new Force powers and stronger enemies.
- “Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions” (Activision) – Everyone’s favorite wall-crawler is making a return by sending Spider-Man across time and space to keep reality in balance. The game’s story was written by “The Amazing Spider-Man” comic writer Dan Slott.
- “Pro Evolution Soccer 2011” (Konami) – This sports title hopes to piggyback off the World Cup euphoria and ride the wave through Comic-Con. The soccer game will feature leagues from all over the world and include Argentine star Lionel Messi on its cover.
- “Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood” (UbiSoft) – The follow-up to the immensely popular “Assassin’s Creed” game will be on display. But in a twist, the game publisher announced they will be showing off the first issue of a three-part comic book mini-series based off the franchise.
During the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), one of the games that was demonstrated with the Kinect motion-controller was the driving game “Forza.”
The hands-free Kinect allowed players to examine the virtual cars they were driving, get a look at features and peek inside at the interior. One car manufacturer is ready to use that technology to get people to examine their real cars.
Microsoft announced that it is partnering with Chevrolet to promote the new Chevrolet Volt through a new game for the Xbox 360 using Kinect.
A Microsoft press release said players will have the opportunity to take the test-drive concept to a new level by driving a Volt in “Kinect Joy Ride,” the first controller-free racing game from Microsoft. After viewing a video advertisement on Xbox LIVE or on the Web, consumers will be able to unlock the Volt to virtually drive the car in the game.
“Chevrolet Volt is not only offering a new way for car buyers to interact with and learn about a vehicle before heading to the dealership,” said Darren Huston, corporate vice president of the Global Consumer & Online group at Microsoft. “It’s enabling people to virtually test drive the Volt from the comfort of their own living room.”
Kiosks are also expected to be placed within Chevrolet showrooms to allow people to take a virtual test-drive in the econo-friendly vehicle.
Kinect is expected to be out in November.
One day after a price was “announced” on the Microsoft online store for its new motion-controller Kinect, the company added an explainer and appeared to soften on the cost.
Microsoft never announced a price during the E3 last week, but shortly after its press conference, the online game store GameSpot had the Kinect listed for pre-order at $149.99.
That page was quickly pulled, and Microsoft insisted that a final price for the new controller had not been determined.
On Tuesday, a price for the gaming system, which has no handheld controller and uses a camera to read the player’s movements, was posted on Microsoft’s online store.
The price? $149.99.
But on Wednesday, the Kinect order form had been changed to make clear that the official price has still not been determined.
“Official pricing has not been announced. $149.99 is an estimate only and subject to change,” the site reads. “Quantities may be limited. Orders will be fulfilled on a first in first served basis.”
A Microsoft representative did not return a message from CNN.com seeking to verify the price or find out how many pre-orders had been placed at the $149.99 price.
The order form also includes details about the hardware players will need to have to use the Kinect.
The controller is compatible with the Xbox 360, and Microsoft suggests 6 feet of space between the player and the television. This distance will vary according to sensor placement and other factors.
To connect with friends and family for game play or video chat, an Xbox Live Gold membership also is required.
A power cable, manual and Wi-Fi extension cable are included with the Kinect. The order form said the package will be available for shipping on or after November 4.