Halo 3 Championship Tournament to begin March 11th…

It looks like Bungie has concocted a way to compete with all of the top of the line games coming out over the next two months. A tournament of unparalleled scope. Open to players in the U.S. (except Vermont and Maryland, for some reason??), the tourment details can all be found on Xbox.com.

The following information is from the website:
Register via Xbox LIVE Marketplace by downloading the free Halo 3 US Championship Gamer Picture before March 17. To download the Gamer Picture:
Sign in to Xbox LIVE Marketplace
Select Game Store
Select Themes and Gamer Pictures
Select All Gamer Pictures
Select U.S. Army & Halo 3
Select Halo 3 U.S. Championship Gamer Picture and select Confirm Download

The tourney will be comprised of three rounds, culminating in an 8 man. The top eight players from the semi-finals round will meet on or around May 3, 2008, to compete in the Championship Round of the Tournament on-site in New York City.

Put down that Grand Theft Auto IV, soldier… there’s Halo 3 to be played, prizes to be won, and celebrity status to be established! At least, that’s what Bungie wants you to think!

[update 1] Best Buy and others drop HD-DVD drive to $50: 3 more days, 5 free movies!


I bought mine. How about you?

Best Buy – $50.
KMart – $50.
Amazon.com – officially holding @ $65, but the “used and new” category has them for $50.
Circuit City still quotes $129.99, but the in store manager on duty has the power to price match, as long as you can show that it isn’t a “sale” price by the competitor (i.e. Best Buy), but a new low price.

What are you waiting for? There are pleanty of good HD-DVD’s, and it’s not like they’ll suddenly stop working – they’ll just end up in the bargain bin soon! 😉

[Update 1]: Special thanks to DeaconBlade 360 for pointing this link out to me. If your purchase receipt is dated between October 1, 2007 and February 28, 2008, you qualify for 5 free HD-DVD’s, as long as you send in the paperwork by March 31st, 2008. That’s 3 more days to make up your mind if you think this is a good deal.

I also intend to test the PC compatability of the HD-DVD add on. I hear it works in Windows!

Slow in the wake of GDC? Let's catch up…

I admit, my posting has been a bit lacking after GDC. I have been crushed with work, and various technical problems with hardware at home (seems like everything from my laptop to my cell phone turned on me this week!). But that’s no reason for you to suffer, is it? This post is going to be a bit more editorial in fashion, just trying to cover a broad range of topics.

X3F: Misguided April Fool’s looks foolish?
So, after this weeks fiasco of Ask X3F (Xbox 360 Fanboy), there has been a small community backlash. It seems it’s a bit early for April Foolery. Many people found humor in the moment, but a lot of others were disgusted when Dustin hijacked the segment and intentionally tainted the image of many X3F’ers. “My Ask X3F hijacking is going to be rude, crude and so very un-helpful (is that even a word?),” he wrote. A user by the name of Graham even commented “X3F lost a lot of credibility when David Dreger left.” His comment was voted down, but I can’t help but think that, no matter how light and humorous the intention was, that a “professional blog” (if there is such a thing?) such as one under the umbrella of Joystiq should never intetionally “ruffle feathers” like this.

Gears of War 2: Where’ve you been all my life?
People have been suggesting that Gears 2 feels “rushed.” Well, fear not. Much like the first Gears, portions of the game are being “contracted out” to partner developer teams (certain multiplayer game types, map designs, etc… [side note: man I wish Psyonix would get a better webmaster!]).

CliffyB’s announcement that the first game was “a set up” to introduce you to the Gears universe is quite believable. While Gears 2 may feel rushed, if it were planned quite a while ahead, it could potentially live up to all things expected of it. Remember, the engine may have changed, and they may update a few textures and what have you, but for the most part, the game is built. It’s running on the same hardware, which they’ve already pushed the limits of once, expecting them to do so again is maybe expecting too much. Still, with some fine tuned mechanics and an even more involved story line, we are entitled to expect a lot from Gears 2!

LucasArts: Thank you.
Yes, we all know about Force Unleashed, but I would like to bring to your attention another LucasArts game that was recently announced and completely overlooked, Fracture. The story line is a little rough, but should prove to entertain. The game has the graphics and the setting that makes you feel like you are early in the history of the Mass Effect universe. And with their new “terrain deformation” mechanic, I think this game is going to be extremely entertaining. Oh, and incase there isn’t enough linkage today, here’s just one more for Fracture.

[Update 2]: Gears of War 2 confirmed: Due as early as October!

Updated: link included.

The press release has leaked early. The announcement due at the end of the Microsoft GDC Keynote (happening as I write). What you’re not gonna hear in the press papers? CliffyB has been strangely very hands off this time around. You didn’t hear it from us.

The GoW 2 video played at GDC, and as Joystiq described it: CliffyB burst in and leaves us with a quick piece of info. Gears 2 in November 2008, only on Xbox 360.

MajorNelson’s Flickr has some fun pictures of he and CliffyB playing with the fun Lancer of Cliff’s. Major also tells us to watch XBLM for a trailer of GoW2 later today!
Still don’t know what’s behind the XNA curtain.

[UPDATE 2] So much attention paid to the thing behind the curtain…

The above picture is from Kotaku, and, in the distance, it shows a mysterious shrouded stand, in the middle of the Microsoft XNA lobby, at GDC.

We aren’t there, we don’t know what it is, either. But there is something behind that curtain – and it is scheduled to be unveiled in about an hour. The teams at WinBreak Central Command and WinBreak Remote Command are all geared up and ready to blog. Of course, I’m a one man show, but I have my own tool set to try and get this news to you as soon as it breaks to the public.

It’s hard to imagine something to do with XNA is going to steal the show, after all, the Creators Club has so far failed to produce the amazing results we thought it would in 2006. But there is something that Microsoft has deemed interesting enough to hype up a little bit, and leave to the imagination, so here’s hoping! More than likely, whatever the surprise announcement is, it will be featured on Inside Xbox, Major Nelson, and Gamerscore Blog.

UPDATE
Community made XNA games will be distributed through Xbox Live. Many games will be playable on Zune. Windows – Xbox – Zune all expected to be ‘cross platform’-ish with XNA.

But behind the curtain? Is it a GoW 2 display? Screenies of all of the XNA games supposedly available on the XBLM? We don’t know yet… but we do know the GoW2 video is playing at this very instant at GDC.

UPDATE 2: Kotaku has presented us with pictures of “the stand behind the curtain.” Just as I (sort of) guessed, it is a demo station featuring the announced XNA games. Also, interestingly, a link to XNA Game Studio Connect at the bottom – must be the one that goes directly to your PC? Don’t know, I didn’t play around enough with XNA last year when I was playing around with it at all… but I’m sure there will be clearer details to come this week.

WBX: Microsoft to buy Epic? Don't make us LOL…

WBX: WinBreak Exclusive
IRISHprik411 pointed me to an article at dbtechno.com which said Microsoft was planning to buy Epic. Unfortunately for them, it’s completely bogus. It might get them some hits, but it’ll die off soon enough.

After CliffyB stating, last week, how Epic intends to focus the majority of their work on consoles, I can’t expect that they’re suddenly going to buddy up to Microsoft. Further cementing the idea that Epic is out on their own, today they announced the implimentation of Scaleform GFx, which “…[enables] artists to create scalable data-driven UI elements for menuing systems, overlays, HUDs and animated textures directly on 3D objects. GFx also provides an innovative text and font system specifically designed to enhance productivity and streamline localization.”

Additionally, I got in touch with a source “friendly” with Epic who, preferred to remain anonymous, who had this to say: “Its a rumor, lol …. well, rumors start easily …. I’m not sure where it came from, or why.” I just had to include the “LOL” in his message, reaffirming that Epic isn’t going anywhere, and they’re certainly not about to join Microsoft Game Studios. Clearly the most popular game engine right now (what game have you played lately that didn’t have the Unreal Engine logo at the beginning!?), Epic still has enough money to resist even the best offers from Microsoft, if they were to make one.

War: It's good for video games (2 of 2)

In January, I had a chance to check out the Frontlines single player demo. It gave a nice cinematic intro, and a brief “the story so far…” moment. Today, I finally took the time to try the multiplayer demo which has made its way onto the Xbox Live Marketplace.

Frontlines, again, has an amazing story concept, and very good combat execution. Allow me to share with you what I posted on Unscripted360’s forums back in January. The following, about the Single Player demo, was my micro review of the game.


I think the game is going to be pretty damn good. Then again, the Demo for Blacksite: Area 51 made me drop $50 on that the week it came out, and I sold that four days later!

Still, the graphics are impressive, the story line is eerily plausible, and the idea that the game is acted out by the player as a soldier, but told from the point of view of an Associated Press writer is pretty freakin’ brilliant (English major geekyness coming out!).

I love Squad Based combat games, where you don’t really have to rely on the squad or direct them. Much like Halo. You get the feeling of a large battle, lots of people fighting along side you, but you don’t have to worry about giving them orders like in GRAW or Rainbow Six. Area 51 was similar, where you could give a few orders here and there, but a lot of it, the AI handled themselves. I like that.

The graphics are certainly “this gen” – not much has been spared here, save for a bit of dynamic lighting, which might be nice… then again the level is broad daylight in a desert-city, so maybe ‘night-time’ missions will be a bit more impressive.

All in all, I’m fairly excited about what I’ve seen so far, and will certainly consider picking it up!

After reading a few people’s comments, I think I can counter a bit of it. The game does indeed feel a little slow, but some of us are used to Halo, where we’re playing a super soldier. This is still supposed to be contemporary combat – think of the “America’s Army” games. I thought that demo had even slower player movement than this.

Similarly, with the ‘sluggish’ tank controls… I’ve never driven a tank, but I don’t see them changing much in the next fifteen years. I don’t think a tank is intended to speed along the way they can in other games (again, Halo?). It takes a few seconds to get it going from one direction to another… but if you hold down that ‘sprint’ button (RB, by default), like you’re running, it gets a bit of a boost. I did have some awkward troubles with it only wanting to turn one direction, even after I pressed the opposite, but I figured I just had to learn the controls a little better.

Also, as far as the AI goes, I’d like to see a bit more of it. Just because it’s not ‘aggressive’ doesn’t mean it’s no good. If I were in battle and saw someone jump out in front of me, I might instinctively turn and run, too. I had a few instances of it running from me while I was in the open, and a few instances where I was getting tagged, and I couldn’t tell from where!

Now, onto the more recent multiplayer demo.

Frontlines: Fuel of War’s multiplayer demo menus are clear and easy to navigate, but the lack of a clear lobby is very confusing. I was suddenly presented with a battlefield. No clear description of the map, or level – just “do you want to join this game?” I pressed a to join the game. I then chose a class (a weapons loadout), and deployed. Deploying seemed to take an inordinate ammount of time, considering the match was already udner way. In some instances I pressed the deploy button several times, only to go back to the loadout screen! Then I saw a smoke signal and headed right for my first objective.

Upon arrival I expected instructions for capturing the site, or at least a timer, showing that if I stayed in a certain area long enough, it would capture the zone… but nothing. I get the capture point, get killed, then stay dead for a few minutes, until it’s the end of the match and I’m back at the main menu.

Upon joining another match, my lag is so bad that pressing the dpeloy button multiple times, again, does nothing. I change teams, then deploy, and it works – but every step I take sends me backwards ten.

Finally I connect to a relatively lag free server. The smoke points actually were capture points, and there are other communication stations you capture by standing infront of a computer and holding the X button. It sure seems like a dangerous thing, especially with the lack of communication I was experiencing from my team, but it worked out pretty well in the end.

The fun part comes as the “front line” of the war changes. When the game starts, the map is dividied in half, with capture points in the middle. The team that captures those expands their control of the map, and more capture points, deeper in the losing team’s territory, are assigned. You are fighting for the front line, that is all. It does no good to run to a capture point that is not active and unguarded. It was a very smart use design that allows them to use these large scale maps, but localize the battle, rather than having it spread all over.

Match lengths can be anywhere from five minutes to an hour. Seems a bit overkill – let’s hope somebody simply WINS in that ammount of time… I’m not the kind of patient person that wants to play an hour at a time, on one map… I suppose with the right company, it could be fun, but I would need to understand if and how they have implimented a party system a little better, when the full version comes out.

As a sort of bonus, the multiplayer demo also includes more of the “story so far” in a Field Guide. You can learn more about the nations involved in the war, weapons, vehicles, loadouts, and role equipment. My favorite little feature is the War Timeline. A quick read of that shows just how much thought went into this universe. While I may have found a few typos and inconsistencies in what was written there (English major geekyness strikes again!), I assume it will be fixed when the game launches, and I believe it is that story that is going to sell to a sometimes forgotten niche market, those who love storylines in their shooters!

All in all, I enjoyed the demos, but I honestly expect that I will be picking this game up shortly after launch, if not at launch. But I have to admit, I think it’s mostly because of the single player storyline!

War: It's good for video games (1 of 2)


I have been hearing a lot about these new war games lately, Turning Point: Fall of Liberty, and Frontlines: Fuel of War. Today, I intend to talk about both.

Turning Point: Fall of Liberty takes a very Command and Conquer “Red Alert” approach to things. It is a “what if” universe, that rewrites history as we know it. The demo opens with a Nazi bombardment of New York City, circa 1940. As you, a construction worker climbing the I-Beams of an finished building, witness the first wave of the attack hit the Statue of Liberty (an ominously threatening act to open a up with) and come ashore with fighter planes, Zeppelins, and paratroopers, you are immediately thrown in to the action.

Without so much as a “ready, set, go” you are off, trying to make your way down the building. Your first encounter with a Nazi soldier is quite simple: press B, then press up on the d-pad. Take him out, and take his gun. Then you can proceed to have fun picking off paratroopers and making your way through New York’s city streets and buildings. That’s… really? That’s about it. The demo just ends in a plume of smoke squeezing its way down the streets, with a visual eerily reminiscent of 9/11 footage.

The demo doesn’t take you very far, and doesn’t really leave you with much of a cliff hanging desire to play more. The combat mechanics are pretty straight forward, nothing too – a big feeling of the first condemned game, when using the d-pad to execute ‘finishing moves.’ The graphics aren’t on par with many of today’s titles, which is a shame, considering it’s using Unreal Engine 3. In fact, it feels like a budget title – like (I hate to say this, because it’s not that bad) King Kong. I certainly don’t see myself spending $60 for it, and this is why I’m a huge proponent of games that take the “value pricing” approach to things… for instance, when Project Sylpheed launched at a realistic $40, instead of $60.

Turning Point: Fall of Liberty has some very interesting story concepts, and has their imagery right. The concept of attacking America, and New York City in particular, is still something that will get under the skin of many. If I were Codemasters, I would do something to play the controversy card: that might sell a few extra copies of the game. The smoke funneling through the streets, bombing of the “Statue of Liberty” – these are powerful, powerful images. The unfortunate problem is the game engine is so basic that these images don’t hit home with the cinematic oomph that they should.

All in all, I want more of the game, more of the alternate universe, more of the feeling that I’m Joe construction worker and I’m America’s last line of defense. But in all honesty? I’m not about to pay $60 for those feelings. It may be a long while before it’s in the bargain bin for $20 or less, so this game is on my “pick it up used” list.

[update 1] Find 360 in the wild: Win Uno… and the winner is…

FIRST, the submissions. 😉

GuyWhoLovesRice submitted a whopping FOUR pictures (remember, I said you could submit as many as you want).

TXPaladin submitted one, which he noted that because it included both the requred 360, and the TX in his gamertag, should count for bonus points.

LancerX7 said he looked all week and found nothing, then finally hacked his Logitech G15 keyboard to give us this message:

And then there was silence… there were no other submissions. Six total submissions from three total readers. Well, for the record, I enjoyed TXPaladin’s picture the most, but… because of the dedication of only three contestants making our first contest all the more special, I’m going to award the game to ALL THREE CONTESTANTS! EVERYONE IS A WINNER!

TX Paladin will get the official Uno CODE, for the other two, I will be “gifting” the game to you. I had no intention of doing this going into the contest, my pockets aren’t that deep, but I wanted to thank you all, and hope that maybe you spread the word. Thanks for taking part in our first contest, and making it memorable and enjoyable! Even with only 3 contestants, I consider the fact that I have any pictures to show off, a sucess. 🙂

Update 1: seems as though I’m a little more used to the “Wii.” I can’t “gift” games, and even the ability to gift POINTS seems to have been a “holiday promition” that billing.microsoft.com has disabled!! Very strange. I will work around this, I do not go back on my word! Lancer and Rice, you will be getting Uno, just hang tight! 😉

[update 3] The UNO Giveaway is over!

Update 3: the judging shall commence… stay tuned! Or even turn on your Xbox incase you get the winning message!! 😉

Remember, the contest ends @ noon EST on Sunday. Get your submissions in.

Now, I know a lot of poeple already have Uno, but I really expected a few people to enter just for fun! Maybe contestants are waiting until the last minute, maybe finding the number 360 in the wild and snagging a picture is harder than it sounds, I don’t know. All I know is that as of right now, your odds in this contest are really good.

Plus, we’re already concocting our next crazy scheme! 😉 More contests on the way, folks, stay tuned!