Lionhead Studios Quells the Complainers


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In a brilliant move, Fable II developer Lionhead Studios announced that the previously known “Pub Games” will be available free to those who preorder Fable II.

When the arcade games were announced back in March, gamers the world over condemned Lionhead of double dipping. Lionhead originally came back by insisting that the games would each stand well on their own as fun Xbox Live Arcade Experiences, only enhanced by the fact that you could be amassing an in-game fortune prior to Fable 2 launch day. But in a move to amass a fortune of their own prior to launch day, the company decided to switch tactics, include all three games in one “shell”, and, you read correctly, give them away free to those who preordered the game.

The Pub Games will be available shortly before the launch to all players, pre-order or not, but will cost others 800 Microsoft points (already turning your $59.99 purchase in to $69.99).

Pub Game preorder offer is not exclusive to the “Collector’s Edition” which was also announced today, at $79.99 – which I consider quite a kind move on the part of Lionhead. Pay sixty bucks or eighty bucks, they don’t care, if you preorder it, you get the $10 package of XBLA games for free. Commendable.

Mega Man 9: 8-Bits of Fun?


By now you’ve no doubt heard of the new Mega Man title coming this Fall or Winter. Lots of confusion as to what platforms it will launch on. Wii-Ware has been confirmed, and Xbox Live Arcade is all but confirmed. But the other issues I am having all fall into different categories.

First: 8-bit? Really? I’m with Nintendo Wii Fanboy’s opinion that 8-bit game design is an art. I can appreciate that. But why does it seem so impossible to design a game with that classic platformer gameplay and do some cool graphics? Even using the Mega Man X “engine” (was it considered an “engine” in the days of side-scrolling sprites?) would be a nice little improvement. But it seems that every time somebody wants to gloss something up, visually, then they get side tracked trying to makea 3-D as well. Duke Nukem: Manhattan Project is one of my favorite good examples of combining old school play with more contemporary graphics and design.

Based on just a few screenshots, the experienced eye might guess that this Mega Man 9 will be loosely based around the Mega Man III (3) engine. I could be wrong – after all, I never got the Blue Bomber to “duck” or flatten-out like the screen shot above. Plus each of the Mega Man titles used to play just a little different, but if my prediction is right, you can get your reaction time fine-tuned by going back and playing the third installment.

My next gripe… er… question, comes along the lines of controls. If the game launches for Xbox Live Arcade, it seems pretty straightforward. But on the Wii? If they’re going with the classic game-design style, they simply must go with a classic control scheme. Holding the Wii Remote like a classic NES controller and going to town on it. I hope! If I have to wave my arms around like I’m Harry freakin’ Potter, I’ll be quite disappointed.

With all of that on the table, I’m still looking forward to Mega Man 9. It will be a great return to something classic, and I have confidence that, if anyone, Capcom can do justice to bringing back a classic franchise without malforming it “because they can” (are you listening, Nintendo? Mario doesn’t always need gadgets like water jets and star guns!). The saddest part about this article? We’ve still got months before we’re going to know anything more!

WBX: "Told you so" would be mean, but…

WBX: WinBreak Exclusive – Follow up
Remember in EARLY JANUARY, when I said two specific games would be making their way to the still-new Xbox Originals? One of those games I mentioned, was Guilty Gear X2 #Reload. Well, as of yesterday, June 11th, Major Nelson has confirmed Guilty Gear X2 #Reload will be released this coming Monday, June 16th, along side The Legend of Spyro™: A New Beginning.

While Spyro might be for the ESRB aged “E10” in your home, and not getting a warm welcome from the “gaming elitist” community, I have actually heard many good things about Guilty Gear X2 #Reload and think that there are more than just a few people excited about this one coming to the Originals program.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, don’t distrust the WBX, you’ll only end up embarrassing yourself. 😉

Xbox 360 vs. Apple TV: an overlooked battlefront?


Crave, C|Net’s Gadget Blog, has posted a lengthy article about the often overlooked battle (if you can call it that) between the Xbox 360 and the Apple TV. They mention the install base (around 18 million 360’s compared to less than two million AppleTV’s), but they are claiming that the Xbox Live Video Marketplace is essentially untapped.

I would disagree, as Microsoft sees respectable sales, rivaling the likes of NetFlix and other on demand services. The article goes on to say that …”most of the future Xbox 360 owners are looking for something more than gaming and Microsoft is the only company that can provide it.” Not to shine a light on the competition, but I’m pretty sure Sony has gotten a good chunk of sales with the Playstation 3 since the definitive victory of BluRay! Why the article seems to ignore the fact that, while it may not have an on demand video service (yet), the BluRay feature is a driving force behind making the PS3 quite the home-entertainment choice.

So, even I say the article is a bit spotty – but it’s a good read and brings up some valid arguments about the future for the service.

UPDATE 1: As an additional side note, for our Mac owners out there, a new piece of software called Rivet promises to stream Mac video, music, and photos to the Xbox 360. Though it does carry an $18.95 price tag, there is a trial version for everyone to check out. Let’s hope Microsoft doesn’t get touchy and decide to block it’s functionality, some way, in a future dashboard update!

Safran Digital helps Xbox go Hollywood

It’s all over the inter tubes. I don’t even know what to say, or what to think. Introducing exclusive video content to the Xbox Live Marketplace? It’s going to be tough without a massive marketing rush in advance, and at least a pilot episode being available for free download. And they want these shows to be ad supported (as mentioned in the first article I link to) – but if I buy it from the marketplace, should there be ads? There’s a lot more to be discovered about this recent announcement!

The King of Kong: A new record may be set at Microsoft's Conference!

At this very moment I am watching the final minutes of the movie “The King of Kong, A Fistful of Quarters.” I have heard good things about this movie for several months. I have seen ads on TV, reviews on websites, and now the movie has even been placed on the Xbox Live Video Marketplace. Major Nelson even mentioned it in a podcast a few weeks ago.

Why is this important? What does this have to do with the Xbox 360? Twenty four hours from now, at Microsoft’s MIX08 Conference, in Las Vegas, Steve Wiebe (one of the guys in the movie) will be attempting to set yet another world record. Rather than attending a multi day venue, he intends to attempt this new record in a four hour period. That gives him, technically, less time than 2 play-throughs of Donkey Kong would take.

The following information (and the picture above) is from the Twin Galaxies website:

Steve Wiebe Attempts Donkey Kong Record
Walter Day to referee High-Score Attempt at Microsoft’s MIX08 in Las Vegas
3/4/2008
March 3, 2008 — Las Vegas, NV — Noted Donkey Kong competitor, Steve Wiebe, of Redmond, Washington, rolls up his sleeves at The Venetian Resort Hotel Casino in Las Vegas on the night of March 5th and tries to make history by taking back the highly-coveted Donkey Kong Crown.

Right now, Steve and the equally-as-famous Billy Mitchell, are running neck-and-neck on the high-score circuit, with Billy currently in the lead with 1,050,200 points to Steve’s 1,049,100 points. With only 1,100 points separating them, Steve poses a serious threat to take back the world title.

And, in the referee’s outfit, performing Master of Ceremonies duties, is Walter Day, Twin Galaxies’ Chief Evangelist, who will monitor Steve’s record-breaking attempt while ensuring that the strictest Twin Galaxies Tournament Settings are enforced.

The event takes place during Microsoft’s TAO NIGHTCLUB PARTY from 6:00pm to10:00pm in The Venetian Resort Hotel Casino. Hosted by Microsoft, the high-score challenge is one of the cultural highlights of this year’s MIX08 gathering, an annual techological smorgasbord titled MIX08: THE NEXT WEB NOW.

The Mix08 conference will also play host to a one of a kind Rock Band tournament this weekend. But, really, who cares when there’s a world record at stake!?

To step back a bit, I have heard people think that this movie is good, and others that think it’s horrible. Maybe it’ll just make you feel good that you have a little more substance to your life. Maybe it will make you question the motives of men retiring at age 30, without a girlfriend, so that they can spend time playing 1980’s arcade games, maybe it’ll make you wonder how Billy Mitchell fits in those jeans, or if Steve Wiebe really should wear a purple shirt when he teaches junior high science classes… who knows. But the thing I want to make you think right now is… maybe I should go watch this! Screenings at MIX08, downloadable on Xbox Live Video Marketplace, and generally just something every true gamer should see just once. Get to it!

[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.

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.

GDC content is going to be available on XBLM

The 2008 Game Developer’s Conference is almost here. Microsoft has announced that on February 20th, they will post the keynote address from their own John Schappert on Xbox Live Marketplace, in HD. Additional GDC content may also become available, but we don’t know what that means. Gamerpics and themes? Trailers? Demos? We’re in wait and see mode already!